Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday Munchies: Bailey’s Irish Cream

Today is one of those days. You know the ones I mean. Where the harder you work, the longer the to-do list grows. At the moment, I’m juggling several tasks at once, not the least of which is helping a colleague prepare a book proposal for an overseas publisher.

That said, I have precious little time for my precious little blog – which really bums me out. As it’s Monday, I’d normally be offering lengthy descriptions of my favorite foods or my favorite restaurants or my most successful recipes, but, alas, it’s not meant to be. I’m just too harried to eat today – but not, incidentally, too harried to drink. Man, do I need a drink. But, no, I must refrain... for the moment that gulp of merlot, or swig of Blue Moon beer, or sip of something harder touches my lips, I’d be a gone pecan. I’d be in bed (or on the floor), napping, instead of striving to shorten the aforementioned list.

Still, this line of thought got me thinking (which is dangerous in my condition)... If I could have any drink in the world right now, what would it be? A mojito? A margarita? A piña colada? Though all of the above are wonderful choices – which I’ve either prepared at home or ordered in any number of restaurants and bars, from Los Angeles to the Florida Keys – what I’m really hankering for is a nice glass of caramel-colored Bailey’s Irish Cream over ice. Mmm... that’s the ticket to paradise.

As with many of my beloved vittles and beverages, I have many wonderful memories involving my dear Bailey’s. There was the time Mom bought me Bailey’s-flavored ice cream, courtesy of Häagen-Dazs. Then, there was the time I ordered a glass of Bailey’s in an actual pub in southern England (forget the fact that the bartender was surely thinking, “There goes another damn American! Ordering Bailey’s when a pint of Boddingtons is the proper choice 'round here!”). Then, there was the time that my beloved Danny bought me a bottle of yummy Bailey’s for my thirtieth birthday. And there have been numerous occasions when I’ve sipped a Bailey’s coffee drink while listening to live country, rock, folk, blues, or Irish music at one of my all-time favorite spots: The Kerry Irish Pub on Decatur Street in New Orleans.

Forgive me for offending the non-drinkers out there, but I love Bailey’s so much that every time I see that color – that creamy light brown – along the exterior of a house, on a pair of pants, or in a muddy puddle of water – my eyes get a little misty, and I begin to recall that sweet, smooth taste. Much as others have come to spot sickly Pepto-Bismol Pink or radioactive Mountain Dew Green from a mile away, I am now a hue-seeking missile for soothing Bailey’s Beige, and at the risk of sounding like a lush (which I’m not – honest), I’d give almost anything for a sip right now. Good thing there’s none in the refrigerator – the temptation would be too humongous indeed.

So, what about y’all? What beverage – alcoholic or otherwise – gets your heart racing?

P.S. I just realized that while I intended to write a short ode to Bailey’s for today’s post, it ended up being longer than intended. That’ll teach me for letting my taste buds wander...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Weekend Mishmash: Another Award? You Don’t Say?

Last Monday, I was pleased to discover that two of my fellow bloggers, online buddies, and beta readers extraordinaire – Bridget Chicoine and Weronika Janczuk – had awarded me the “You Don’t Say? Super Comments Award.” Although I’ve been blogging regularly for a couple months now and doing my best to comment on other folks’ blogs (after reading all the other comments, of course), I’m not always as consistent a visitor as I’d like to be. Thus, believe me when I say, I’m tickled by and grateful for this honor.

So, thanks, Bridget and Weronika – I appreciate the nod!

In keeping with the tradition of these awards, I’m supposed to pass it along to five more “super-commenting” bloggers. Now, although I received these two awards on the same day (and could, therefore, get away with combining them), I’ll pretend I received them days apart... which means that I plan to honor ten bloggers, not just five. Now, these ten bloggers not only make me feel warm and fuzzy by consistently and/or meaningfully commenting on my near-daily posts, but, as Bridget so eloquently explained on her website, they also, “as a general rule... graciously acknowledge each comment left on their posts.” And, just like Bridget, I don't take for granted the time spent making their followers and commenters feel welcome.

So, without further ado, here are the ten treasured commenters (including the two that gave me the award – sorry, ladies, if the shoe fits and all...):

Stephanie Faris of Steph in the City

Bridget Chicoine of J.B. Chicoine...Aspiring Novelist

Chris of A misinterpreted wave

Weronika Janczuk of Weronika Janczuk

Stephanie Damore of Stephanie Damore

D.L. Strange (a.k.a. Strange Fiction) of Ranch Girl Ramblings

Anita Laydon Miller of Anita Laydon Miller’s Blog

The author of

Bryan Russell (a.k.a. Ink) of The Alchemy of Writing

Morgan Xavier of The Fire in Her Eyes

As my pal Bridget wrote on her blog, “the only requirement for claiming your award” is to “pass it on to five other worthy commenters!”

Oh, and as a final note, I’d like to thank my new friend Becky Johnson, whom I met at my book signing on August 1st. Since we met, we’ve discovered all sorts of commonalities – including our connections to New Orleans, the West Coast, northern Michigan, and Kentucky (the site of my novel, Hollow Souls) – and in recent weeks, she’s been a terrific contributor to my blog. In fact, I would’ve honored her with the “You Don’t Say?” award, too, but, alas, she doesn’t have a blog of her own. What a major bummer – ‘cause, as funny and enthusiastic as she is, she’d surely put my blog to shame. Here’s hoping that she’ll join the blogosphere soon!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Fantasies: Ruby Hollow Unearthed

Fridays are usually reserved for reviews of existing books, plays, movies, TV shows, and music. But, today I’ve decided to focus on my novel, Hollow Souls, which is unfortunately not published yet. But, hey, it’s my blog, and I can boast if I want to...

As I’ve already mentioned on one of my other blogs, something very exciting is happening today on Come In Character, a creative site launched in January by two wacky writers (Mira and Ann) to focus on characters... and their authors. Of all the writing-related blogs that I follow, CIC is the one that most inspires me to write (or at least get to know my characters better). Every Friday, one lucky character is featured in the “Character of the Week” post – which offers him, her, or it the chance to share with the other characters and, perhaps, teach his, her, or its “creator” a thing or two.

Well, today, one of my characters – Olivia Harper – is in the spotlight – thanks to Christine H., whose character Ginger was featured last week. So, thanks, Christine! I enjoyed exploring Olivia’s past, which included her childhood in New Orleans and her strange experiences in the secret, underground village of Ruby Hollow. I just hope no one gets upset with her for revealing so many secrets. The Hollow does have Internet access, after all.

Regardless, I’m excited to see how the day unfolds for Olivia, who’ll be checking in frequently from her home on South Padre Island. And, of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few other key characters stopped by to say “hello” (or something worse), too. So, if you’re curious about Olivia and my other characters – or just intrigued by the concept of Come in Character – please pay us a visit as soon as you can.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday: Vision Quest Revisited (Again)

As promised last Thursday, I’ve decided to examine a little more of the journal from my first vision quest – if only to relearn the lessons gleaned from this meditative journey. If you’re confused, please feel free to read the first post I wrote about this amazing experience, which occurred in the piney woods of southern Mississippi when I was thirteen.

Last Thursday, I shared my ramblings from June 25, 1990 – the first day of that weeklong La Terre Quest. Following my afternoon journal-writing session, I joined the others – James, the leader; his assistants, Steve and Keith; and my five fellow questers, Julia, Antonia, Daryl, Jeremy, and Sean – for dinner and conversation (about all sorts of things, including the works of Carlos Castaneda). Here’s what I wrote the following day (and, as before, please remember that these are a thirteen-year-old’s words, so be kind):

Life’s good, you know. It can be weird and sometimes complicated, but it’s alright. Things happen, you make mistakes, but you just go right on living, trying not to make the same mistakes twice.

Nature is really beautiful, but when you have to try going to the bathroom in a hole in the ground, it can be kind of rough. Last night, after hearing James, Steve, and Keith talk about Carlitos and Don Juan and the Allies and infinite realities and how their friend Tim M. went messing around in the Earth’s funnels of energy and has now been missing for four months, Julia and I slept in her tent. I was kind of cold and grimy. I’ve got to take a shower today. This is going to be great.

Oh, one final remark – though, I don’t quite comprehend what being a Warrior is all about, I know this: You can’t worry or regret about things in the past or future; you can only do the best you can
now and it’s imperative that you live each day to the fullest, as if it were your last.

Following this entry, I listed a few guidelines for becoming a “Warrior,” many of which I shared last Thursday – things like working on basic needs, avoiding fear and doubt, taking nothing for granted, and living life to the fullest. The advice I found most interesting, though, was also the most ironic for a blogger like me:

– By telling all of your personal history, you indulge in self-importance. You cannot get to the point where you are annoyed by every little thing and leave if you don’t get your way.
– Do not take yourself too seriously or think everything you say is worthy of being said.
– Others can “push all your buttons” if you reveal too much of your personal history.

Perhaps James was right. Perhaps revealing too much about myself – on this blog and in other forums – does give others “ammunition” against me. Knowing that I’m a sensitive person, who fears hurting others or being misunderstood by them, has certainly enabled some people to manipulate me on more than one occasion.

But understanding who you are and where you’ve been can help to inform your present being – self-examination and self-revelation don’t have to be exercises in self-importance. Just because you’re willing to share yourself with others doesn’t necessarily mean that you take yourself too seriously or that you believe everything you say is worthy of being said. I certainly don’t. Of course, that doesn’t stop me from being a chatterbox.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday: Being a Lighthouse Keeper

I’ve only been blogging for six weeks, and I may already be deviating from my plan. According to my initial post, all “Whimsical Wednesday” entries should focus on my hobbies and interests. Memorable places are earmarked for “Tuesday Travels,” but today’s topic doesn’t fit exclusively into one category or the other.

True, lighthouses have intrigued many a traveler, but they’ve also captured the hearts and minds of countless writers, painters, photographers, historians, and preservationists – and the lighthouses of Michigan are no exception. The state’s 3,288-mile shoreline – which traces four of the five Great Lakes and is second in length only to Alaska – has nurtured over a hundred lighthouses, some of which are still operational. Some of these historic landmarks have even become inns and maritime museums.

Lighthouses have always fascinated me, and ever since I was a little kid, I’ve dreamed of being a lighthouse keeper. How I’ve longed for the peace of isolation, the promise of inspiration, the pride of conservation. Perhaps it’s the writer in me, but I’ve surely romanticized the life of a lighthouse keeper. It’s simple to focus on the positive aspects – the scenic beauty, the remote location, the chance to write – and forget the negative ones, such as loneliness, storms, and, of course, hard work. After all, I’m sure it wasn’t easy for lighthouse keepers of old to lug barrels of lantern oil up those narrow, winding staircases.

Such considerations, however, didn’t stop me from inquiring about the Keeper Program at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse on a recent visit to the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula. Built in 1858 and situated within Leelanau State Park, the Grand Traverse Lighthouse is one of the most well-preserved in Michigan. For a small fee, visitors can tour the restored keeper’s residence, check out maritime exhibits, and climb the lighthouse tower for a spectacular view of Lake Michigan and a few outlying islands.

From April to December, volunteers can stay for one or two weeks in the former assistant’s quarters on the northern side of the lighthouse as a lighthouse keeper. During this stay, volunteer lighthouse keepers are responsible for greeting visitors, providing historical information, assisting in the gift shop, cleaning and painting the buildings, and maintaining the grounds. Like lighthouse keepers of old, they must be in good physical condition, able to climb stairs, and willing to work long hours. Unlike the romanticized vision of 19th-century lighthouse keepers, however, these volunteers must be comfortable dealing with the public.

And, of course, that’s only one of many reasons why Dan thought I was insane for asking about the Keeper Program. “Let me get this straight,” he said on our way back to the parking lot. “You’d have to deal with the public, do manual labor, and pay for the privilege?” ‘Cause, oh, yes, I forgot to mention that it would cost us $880 to stay and work at the lighthouse for two weeks. As he pointed out, this wouldn’t exactly resemble the dream in my head... of staying in a remote lighthouse for a season, away from people and urban stresses – just us, our kitty, the lighthouse, and the freedom to craft our stories.

So, perhaps Dan’s right. Perhaps we would be better off spending that same amount of money on a writer’s conference or a romantic getaway. It wouldn’t be the same as experiencing the life of a lighthouse keeper – but, then, neither would participating in the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Keeper Program. Although I understand and appreciate the necessity for such volunteers, who contribute to the preservation of one of Michigan’s most treasured landmarks, I’m just not certain that it’s a good match for me. And besides, I’ve already climbed the tower steps. How can working the cash register at the admissions desk top that?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tuesday Travels: Nuptials at the San Fran Zoo

Do you remember the tiger attack that occurred at the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas Day of 2007? Well, I do. It’s hard for me to forget the media frenzy that ensued following the death of a tiger that I had photographed only a few months earlier. It’s even harder for me to overlook the fact that the murderous feline was shot and killed in front of the Terrace Café, not all that far from the spot where my good friends, Halle and Erik, had tied the knot on Labor Day weekend.

Although this same 350-pound Siberian tiger, Tatiana, had mauled a zookeeper a year before her violent demise, I still felt sorry for her in the aftermath of that horrific event. After all, the subsequent police investigation indicated that the three victims – one of whom died and two of whom were critically injured at the time – had taunted the animal prior to her escape and rampage. True, some experts later accused the San Francisco Zoo of having substandard enclosures, but still, it’s hard to believe that the same lounging tiger I encountered would have attacked those three young men without a reason. And it’s certainly not the first time that careless, ignorant, cruel people have been harmed by a caged animal – nor is it the first time that such an animal has paid the ultimate price.

But, regardless of this horrible event, I still remember my experience at the San Francisco Zoo fondly. Actually, I remember the whole weekend fondly. Dan and I had cut our summertime stay in northern Michigan short in order to head west for the wedding, for which I was happily going to be a bridesmaid. The bride, groom, and most of the wedding party were staying at the Ocean Park Motel, not far from the zoo, where the wedding and reception were set to take place. We arrived on Friday afternoon, checked into the motel, and ate at a Thai restaurant for dinner.

On Saturday morning, Dan and I took a walk along the nearby fog-enshrouded beach, then we headed to Fisherman’s Wharf to watch lounging sea lions and eat lunch with Erik, Halle, and her parents. Later in the afternoon, I attended a brief wedding rehearsal at the zoo, then it was time to get ready for the rehearsal dinner at Ghiradelli Square – which, as I remember correctly, entailed a yummy meal. In fact, there was a lot of eating going on that weekend – and drinking, too.

Sunday, of course, was a frenzy of activity – the bride and bridesmaids getting manicures, fixing hair and make-up, arranging table centerpieces, and donning vibrant dresses that were destined never to be worn again. Following the outdoor wedding, the bridal party endured a rather lengthy photo shoot, then scurried off to enjoy cocktails at the carousel, followed by a tour of the zoo. As usual, the giraffes, gorillas, and chimpanzees were some of my favorite animals to watch. Soon afterward, we headed to the reception in the Great Hall – where we spent hours stuffing our faces, drinking way too much wine, and trying not to fall down on the dance floor. All I can say is thank goodness I brought a change of shoes – how anyone can shimmy and twirl in uncomfortable high heels is beyond me!

Labor Day was all about winding down – a post-hangover brunch, another tour of the zoo (including the adjacent meerkat and prairie dog habitats), more Thai food, and board games with the happy couple. All in all, it was a terrific weekend – filled with fun, laughs, and goofy memories. So, even though something terrible happened at the San Francisco Zoo only a few months later, I’ll always think of that place fondly. It just goes to show you that sometimes it is possible to keep things separated... and not mix the good with the bad.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday Munchies: Blackberries Galore!

Today has become one of those days when there are more items on the to-do list than there are available waking moments. And yet, to preserve my sanity, I managed to allot a few minutes to one of my favorite activities: hunting for blackberries.

Only, it wasn’t much of a hunt. By August, roadsides throughout northern Michigan are bursting with ready-to-pluck blackberry bushes, and our driveway has been no exception. Indeed, despite the fact that I picked enough blackberries yesterday to fill a small plastic container, many of the berries that were red last night turned black by midday. Yahoo!

I'm utterly convinced that food tastes better when you have a hand in catching, picking, or preparing it yourself. The speckled trout that I snag on my father’s boat is far superior to any fish I could order in a restaurant – even in New Orleans. The tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant that Dan and I grow in our garden are more flavorful than the produce we often find in a grocery store. The treats that I bake in my own kitchen (like my blueberry scones from a month ago) are far yummier than any I could find in a coffee shop. And the wild blackberries that I pick every summer are far sweeter than those I might spy in an overly priced produce bin.

Although I’ve been known to hunt for all manner of wild drupes during the summer – from raspberries to huckleberries – my fondest memories are of my blackberry adventures. As a child, I picked them with my mother in southern Louisiana. As an adult, I gathered them along the American River on a gold-panning trip with Dan and even discovered them outside the flat we inhabited in rural England. And, just today, I added a few more to the memory bank. The only question now is what to do with them. No matter how sweet they are, I can only eat so many before I tire of getting the teeny seeds stuck in my teeth. Maybe I should bake the next batch - which I plan to gather tomorrow morning. Hmm, what to make? Oh, I know! Blackberry scones, anyone?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Weekend Mishmash: The B-I-N-G-O Beautiful Blog Award

On Friday morning, Weronika Janczuk – fellow blogger and beta reader extraordinaire – awarded me the “B-I-N-G-O” Beautiful Blog Award, which means that she believes my blog is...

B: Beautiful
I: Informative
N: Neighborly
G: Gorgeous
O: Outstanding

Weronika kindly included me in a group comprised of four other bloggers – all of whom maintain blogs that are way more professional and informative than mine, so believe me when I say that I’m stunned, humbled, and ever-so-grateful for this award. So, thanks, Weronika!

And, without further ado, here are the rules:

Please look carefully at as many blogs as you can to find the top FIVE blogs that YOU think also exemplify these standards and pass it along to them. Please don’t break this chain of FIVE! If you are someone who doesn’t want awards or doesn’t pass them on, please tell the person who is giving it so they can share it with someone who would want it. Thank you. Also, link your award to the person who gave it to you so when people link on the person’s name or blog name, it will take them there to see that person’s BINGO-RIFFIC BLOG.

Now, I could easily bestow the B-I-N-G-O award upon a ton of worthy blogs, but since I can only pick five, I’d like to pass it along to the following:


The Word Wire

Cinnamon & Spice

Thinking Out Loud

Miss Snark’s First Victim

Thanks again, Weronika!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Fantasies: District 9

Well, poop. I was all set to discuss my reaction to District 9, Peter Jackson’s latest producing effort, but my pal Weronika beat me to it. No worries, though – a film this good deserves lots of positive reviews. And isn’t that the point of blogs? To spread the love around?

On Monday, Dan and I decided to visit our local movie theater – which lies twenty miles away from our house (!) – for a couple hours of mindful entertainment. We could have opted for G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, but as much as we both adore Dennis Quaid, we were in the mood for a grittier action tale – something with a bit more soul. And we definitely got our money’s worth with District 9, the grim saga of an unsympathetic corporate field operative who, while trying to evict alien refugees (derisively known as “prawns”) from South Africa’s District 9, contracts a mysterious virus that alters his DNA, allows him to utilize alien weaponry, and subsequently makes him the most hunted and most ostracized man on Earth.

Now, I realize that the documentary style and strange content of this poignant sci-fi flick might not be for everyone – even my brother-in-law, who saw the film at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, had lukewarm feelings about it. But, without further ado, here are the top ten reasons (in no particular order) that Dan and I appreciated this movie:

1. We pretty much love everything Peter Jackson has written, directed, and/or produced – from Dead Alive (1992) to King Kong (2005) – and we could definitely see his creative influence in this movie. [Incidentally, the only Jackson film that I will never see again is his first, an alien flick called Bad Taste (1987), and anyone who’s witnessed the vomit scene might understand why.]

2. We both liked the journalistic style of filmmaking, which allowed us to immerse ourselves in this made-up world, added to the believability factor, and seemed a lot more genuine than similar styles in movies like Cloverfield (2008) – where we just kept screaming for that stupid kid to drop the camera already and get the heck out of New York.

3. The film constitutes an engaging social commentary about racism (or species-ism, to be more specific), corporate immorality, and the dearth of human compassion.

4. The unknown actors – especially Sharlto Copley, who plays the tragic main character, Wikus Van De Merwe – are not only excellent, but they also make it easier to believe that this story could actually happen. No Oscar winners, heartthrobs, or starlets to distract from the “truth” of the tale.

5. The special effects, as with all of Peter Jackson’s films, are stellar – the alien spacecraft, the alien weaponry, and the aliens themselves all mesh well with the live actors. And when you consider the relatively small budget ($30 million), it’s even more impressive.

6. The dialogue is sparse and necessary – no fluff in this sci-fi saga.

7. The editing is equally tight – adding to the tension of many a scene.

8. The main alien and his son are truly engaging characters – despite the fact that they are essentially special effects with voices [much like Sonny in Alex Proyas’ underrated I, Robot (2004)].

9. The director – a young South African named Neill Blomkamp, whose short film Alive in Joburg (2005) is the basis for this feature-length flick – doesn’t hold back on the necessary violence – which makes the story all the more real and the fictitious humans in charge all the more vicious.

10. Without giving anything away, there is a definite sense of justice in this film. In other words, some of the least likable, most amoral characters get exactly what they deserve.

So, all in all, Dan and I enjoyed our recent excursion to the theater, and we’re delighted that we were able to experience District 9 in all of its larger-than-life, surround-sound glory. Whether or not you’re a fan of science fiction, I highly recommend seeing this film as soon as possible. If only to appreciate the tight writing, the skilled acting, and the underlying lessons about hate and intolerance.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday: Vision Quest Revisited

Two weeks ago, I shared the story of my first vision quest in the woods of southern Mississippi. Since I received such a favorable response to that post, I thought that I’d unveil a little more about that life-changing experience.

This weeklong La Terre Quest (as mentor James called it) – a self-imposed coming-of-age ceremony that I underwent with three of my Unitarian Universalist buddies – taught me a wealth of critical life lessons, including the importance of writing things down if I have any hope of remembering them. Although I once believed that I had a memory “like an elephant” (whatever that means), I’ve come to accept, at the age of thirty-two, that some memories are beginning to elude me – which is why I’m so grateful that our fearless leader, James, encouraged us to record our thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a journal bestowed to each of us at the start of that amazing week.

So, given that this is “Thoughtful Thursday,” I realize that it might be beneficial for me to open my weathered journal and take a peek inside, with the hope of learning a little something from my first foray into the therapeutic act of meditation. The first entry – which I recall writing after trekking through a bramble-filled ravine and having an orientation lunch with James; his assistants, Steve and Keith; and my five fellow questers, Julia, Antonia, Daryl, Jeremy, and Sean – was enlightening in a way, but please remember that I was thirteen at the time (so be kind and judge the writing style accordingly):

Well, here goes! The start of my first self-discovery trek. Things started out unexpectedly, but nevertheless terrific. The birds sound lovely through the trees, along with the woodpecker. You should see my legs – they look as if a cat (with very sharp claws) just ran amuck, dragging its hind legs behind it.

But does that matter? Nah.

I sort of found my meditation area near my home – among the tall trees in a fairly shady area. (I felt like the child in
My Side of the Mountain – one of the best books, in my opinion, I have ever read).

James, the head leader of this expedition, said we have to write an analysis of needs
[as I remember it, he wanted us to make a list of the things we required during the vision quest and how that would translate in the “real” world]:

Shelter – tarp over rope between trees {a house}
Coolness – shade (lots of it) and water {air conditioning}
Hunger – food supplied by the camp, cooked by me {a refrigerator}
Thirst – water {plumbing}
Bedding – sleeping bag on leaves {bed}
Comfort – me {?}
Bathroom – hole in the ground {toilet}
Light – candles and flashlight {electricity}
To keep dry – cover everything, go in tent {?}
Entertainment – sing, read {?}

I know, I know. You’re probably even more mystified than you were two weeks ago. Despite the fact that I wasn’t much of a writer back then – and forgetting that “hunger” and “thirst” are technically not needs but conditions, and that I apparently didn’t know how comfort, dryness, and entertainment could be satisfied in the “real” world – I think that analyzing my needs was an extremely helpful exercise. After all, it forced me to meditate on my present situation and my immediate concerns. For, as I understand better now, once a person’s basic needs are satisfied, he or she will find it much easier to clear the mind and focus on the spirit – which is, after all, the goal of meditation.

During that unusual week in June of 1990, James spoke a lot about becoming a “warrior” (in a spiritual sense, not a militaristic one) and learning to “walk the red road” (a prevalent Native American concept whereby a person learns to follow the “right” path, in harmony with nature and those around him). So, the next entry in my journal (also from June 25th, the first day of the quest) outlined the steps to becoming a warrior. Because my note-taking skills were less than perfect then, I’m going to paraphrase here:

– Erase personal history.
– Take control of your own life.
– Have a cloud around you; don’t let other people know all about you.
– Lose the self by contemplating the self.
– Lose self-importance – if you refrain from taking yourself too seriously, you will learn to control your reaction in situations where you fail to get what you want.
– Remember that everything is equal, so talk to plants, apologize for your actions, and never waste resources.
– Use death as an advisor – if you realize that each moment might be your last, you will accomplish your next task to the best of your ability.
– In a world where death is the hunter, remember that there is no time for regrets or doubts – only time for decisions.
– Embrace no routine so that you have a choice between being accessible or inaccessible.
– Leave nothing to chance, and take nothing for granted.
– Stalk your prey and do not worry, for only then will something happen.
– Do not cling to something that longs to be free; it will only lead to exhaustion.
– Do not embrace helplessness, as it only indulges in self-pity, remorse, boredom, and apathy.
– Allow petty tyrants to test you, then stalk them in kind.

Now, I’m not sure how I feel about all of these lessons. Some, like not letting other people know much about you, seem to conflict with the very nature of blogging... and, for that matter, writing. Others, though, like purging yourself of regrets and doubts, seem like sound advice – and a lesson I’m still struggling to absorb.

So, how do you feel about some of these life lessons? Have you applied some of them to your own life? Do you disagree with one, more, or all of them?

In the weeks to come, I plan to explore other journal entries from my thirteen-year-old self. Perhaps it seems self-indulgent, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to channel the optimism I felt that summer – and apply a few meditative concepts to the chaos that is my current life.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday: Pass the Pigs

Reflecting on yesterday’s post about Cracker Barrel and the misleading nature of nostalgia, I stumbled upon an old game this evening – a game that I’d rescued from my mother’s house less than a year before Hurricane Katrina slurped all the rest of our board games and jigsaw puzzles under eight feet of water. It’s called Pass the Pigs – and if you’ve never heard of it, you’re in for a treat. It was, in fact, one of my favorite games as a kid, and my mother, an avid swine lover, was equally fond of Pass the Pigs.

The particular version that I own is, big surprise, intended for travelers. Contained within a sleek black case (embossed with two pig shapes at the top) are two small plastic pigs, two golf-style pencils, and a tiny score pad. The object of the game is simple: to be the first player to reach 100 points, which you earn by rolling the two pigs simultaneously (like dice) on a smooth surface. How the pigs land is what determines your score – the more difficult the position, the higher the score.

This is where the game gets really hilarious. If the pigs land on opposite sides (with one pig lying on its right side, and the other lying on its left side), this is called a Pig Out – you get zero points and lose your turn. Common positions include the Sider (one point for both pigs lying on the same side), the Trotter (five points if a pig lands on all four feet, twenty points if both pigs land that way), and the Razorback (five points if a pig lands on its back, twenty points if both pigs land that way).

The toughest positions are the Snouter (ten points if a pig lands on its snout and two front feet, forty points if both pigs land that way) and the Leaning Jowler (fifteen points if a pig lands on an ear, its snout, and a front foot, sixty points if both pigs land that way). Of course, most of the time, the pigs will land in different positions, which is called a Mixed Combo. Pray to the Piggy God that you don’t roll an Oinker – where the pigs are touching when they land – a position that will end your turn and zap all of your accumulated points. The worst roll that can happen, though, is a Piggyback – whereby one pig ends up standing on top of the other one – “an unnatural pig position,” according to the instructions, resulting in an instant boot from the game.

Not comical enough for you? Well, in Pass the Pigs, the scorekeeper is called the swineherd and the players can opt for another version of the game, Hog Call – whereby players must predict the position in which the pigs will land. Take my word for it – this game is a family-friendly laugh riot, and even though I miss all the games, puzzles, stuffed animals, trophies, photographs, and other childhood memorabilia that I lost in Katrina, I thank my lucky stars that smile-inducing things like Pass the Pigs were spared from Mother Nature’s wrath. 'Cause, unlike Cracker Barrel, this game is still just as awesome as ever - I even plan to challenge my husband to a round tomorrow night. I'll let you know which pig-tosser prevails.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tuesday Travels: Highway Nostalgia

Yesterday, I told you that my husband and I will be trading Michigan for New Orleans in less than six weeks. We’ve made this particular interstate journey several times, which means that we’ll soon be passing the same exit signs, rest areas, and eateries that we’ve often spotted during previous trips. While I love to travel little-known roads and discover little-visited places, it’s comforting to traverse familiar interstates, with their recognizable hotel and restaurant chains (and related billboards). One of my favorite stops has often been Cracker Barrel, an old-fashioned restaurant and country store that now exists in 41 U.S. states, from Idaho to Florida.

Every time I spy a Cracker Barrel billboard, I feel a little thrill inside, mostly because my mother and I used to eat there often, while on our many road trips across America. I can still remember the delight of strolling past the rocking chairs on the porch and into the inviting country store, which offered a cornucopia of old-fashioned candies, cookbooks, home furnishings, and other comforting souvenirs. (This was, of course, before I understood the corporate cleverness of positioning a gift shop between the entrance and the dining area.) I can still recall the down-home menu, the tableside peg games, and the yummy meals – from full country-style breakfasts to dinner plates that included entrées like gravy-drenched roast beef or hickory-smoked ham; sides like fried apples, turnip greens, dumplins, and breaded okra; plus a dish of homemade buttermilk biscuits or corn muffins. True Southern cuisine at its finest!

But here’s the thing. Nostalgia can be misleading. The same billboards that elicit all these wonderful memories of vacations with Mom have also managed to lure Dan and me from the highway on several occasions – only to be disappointed each time by cold food and slow service. The porch, with its rocking chairs and checkerboards, is still just as inviting as ever. The country store is still brimming with the same pecan logs, ginger snaps, candles, kitchenware, and classic dolls and games that tantalized me as a child. The country-style décor still comforts me as it always has, but the food is less than appetizing these days.

No matter which Cracker Barrel we’ve tried in recent years, the experience is always the same. And yet the chain keeps expanding – despite the fact that we’re not the only ones who have lost their initial attraction for the place. Even my mom – who tends to be less critical than Dan and me – refuses to eat at the Cracker Barrel in Baton Rouge, where she lives. She, too, has been burned by too many unpleasant meals. So, it begs the question – why does Cracker Barrel continue to thrive? Do other diners simply have lower standards, or do many of us crave a place that feels like home?

Of course, Cracker Barrel isn’t the only thing that didn’t weather the storm of adulthood. Vienna sausages aren’t as tasty as when I used to swipe them from my grandfather’s pantry, and after raving about the Lonesome Dove television series for years, I finally convinced my husband to sit down and watch it with me – only to realize that it’s just not as good without commercials. Ah, the folly of youth. Sometimes, I miss the naiveté of those days. Don’t you?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday Munchies: Big Easy, Here I Come!

Well, it’s official. The leaves have commenced their change-of-life in northern Michigan, which means summer is coming to a close, and autumn is on its way. As always, I have bittersweet emotions about this inevitable seasonal shift.

On the one hand, I hate knowing that I’ll soon be vacating my relatively peaceful habitat beside Big Bear Lake. On the other hand, leaving Michigan in less than six weeks means that Dan (the hubby), Ruby (the kitty), and I (the blogger) will be in New Orleans by late September. So, what we typically lose in serenity, we’ll surely gain in gastronomic pleasure. New Orleans, after all, offers a veritable cornucopia of culinary delights – and despite an unwillingness to wish my summer away, my mouth is starting to water at the thought of fresh seafood, yummy Southern cuisine, and other diet-busting delectables.

‘Cause let’s be honest. Though Dan and I have every intention of sticking to our present diets (or, as my mother likes to say, “healthy lifestyle changes”), we’re not foolish enough to think that we’ll be able to resist the Big Easy’s evil temptations for long. There’s just too much awesome food in the region!

While I could write several hundred blog posts about my favorite New Orleans dishes and treats, I’ll spare you the agony and just share a handful of my greatest weaknesses – in no particular order, of course:

Oysters: Although Dan attests that I’m the worst New Orleanian he’s ever met (given my lack of an accent, aversion to spicy foods, intolerance of extreme heat, and poor sense of direction in the French Quarter), I am definitely a good little Louisianian when it comes to seafood – and I mean, all seafood. You name it, I probably love it – shrimp, crab, crawfish, alligator, catfish, trout, redfish, oysters – well, especially oysters. In fact, one of the first things I usually have to do upon arriving in the Big Easy is to head to Oceana Grill for a platter of fresh, sizable raw oysters (otherwise, known as oysters-on-the-half-shell). Oh, man, just thinking about slurping those little suckers down with some lemon juice and cocktail sauce is making my tummy grumble.

While I’m always – and I mean, always – in the mood for raw oysters, I’m a fan of cooked ones, too. At Café Maspero, I like to sit beside one of the open French windows, watch the passersby on Decatur, and munch on a plate of fried oysters. On other days, I’ve been known to stop by Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar for a mixture of Oysters Rockefeller (for those who like spinach) and Oysters Bienville (for those who like a little of everything).

Seafood boils: While I do love a mean cup of seafood gumbo (which can vary in flavor and excellence, depending on the joint), I’m an even bigger fan of boiled seafood. Depending on the season, you can purchase boiled shrimp, crawfish, or crabs in many restaurants and seafood markets throughout the city. Of course, at the risk of sounding like a Daddy’s girl, the best boiled crawfish and crab I’ve ever had is at my father’s house in Slidell (which lies north of Lake Pontchartrain). During the spring, Dad routinely buys large sacks of live crawfish for weekly crawfish boils – and for these awesome occasions, I usually lift my “no spicy food” ban and go hog-wild... ‘cause my dad sure knows how to add the Zatarain’s seasoning – sometimes, so much so that the corncobs, mushrooms, and garlic bulbs that he tosses into the bubbling pot are just too darn hot to eat! Even better than the crawfish, however, are the crabs – which Dad catches from his boat or from the traps that hang alongside his deck. They might be time-consuming to eat, but the meat sure is worth every sweet bite.

Fish fry: Naturally, the best food is the kind you catch yourself. Last spring, Dan took his first crabbing trip with me and my dad – and while pulling up the nets was backbreaking work, even he admitted that the boiled crabs were well worth the agony. Of course, he’s an even bigger fan of our frequent fishing trips into the salty waters south of New Orleans. Over the years, we’ve headed out there several times – usually returning to the boat launch with at least a few speckled trout and redfish – both of which make for excellent meals. Our best trip was several years ago, when Dan, Dad, my stepmom, and I spent a weekend out at Dad’s old fishing camp (since lost to Hurricane Katrina). Late one night, by the glow of a floodlight that seemed to attract a million insects, we lured seventy-five trout into our coolers. What a haul indeed! And there’s nothing quite like a fish fry to punctuate such a trip. Mmm-mmm, good.

Muffuletta: Now, just so we’re clear – seafood isn’t the only thing that New Orleanian cooks prepare well. Another favorite treat of mine is the muffuletta: typically, a combination of ham, salami, mortadella, provolone, and olive salad on a round load of soft Italian bread. And, though some New Orleanians might disagree, my muffuletta of choice can be found at Café Maspero (which, if you haven’t guessed by now, is my all-time favorite restaurant in the French Quarter). A twist on tradition, the muffuletta at Maspero’s includes pastrami, is served warm, and comes with delicious steak fries. Man, am I gonna get fat this fall!

Beignets: No trip to the French Quarter is complete without a visit to Cafe Du Monde on Decatur – a historic coffee shop that’s unbelievably open twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year. Dan and I have been there more often than we should, and though we try hard, we usually can’t bring ourselves to leave without having a café au lait and an order of three beignets – essentially, French doughnuts covered in powdered sugar. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been to Cafe Du Monde – it was always the preferred after-hours stop following a high school dance or other blessed occasion. So, if you ever find yourself in the French Quarter, make sure to stop there at least once. Just be forewarned – that sugar can be messy, so messy, in fact, that all self-respecting police officers (dressed in their customary black uniforms) must order sugarless beignets, or else face the consequences – because, no matter how hard you try, the powdered sugar will find its way on your clothes. Trust me.

Lucky Dog: I’m sure, by now, you’ve wearied of my ode to New Orleans cuisine, but I must share one more nugget with you. For those who have ever read about the misadventures of Ignatius J. Reilly in John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer Prize-winning A Confederacy of Dunces, you might recognize the Lucky Dog carts that pepper the French Quarter. Of course, if you’re not into hot dogs, then, by all means, don’t stop by one of the ubiquitous umbrellas. But I, for one, am grateful for their presence. When the late-hour munchies set in after a night of boozing on Bourbon Street, you just might be grateful, too.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Weekend Mishmash: Kreativ Blogger Award

Wow, I’m very nearly speechless. Bridget Chicoine – my online buddy, fellow blogger, and speedy beta reader extraordinaire – just nominated me for a “Kreativ Blogger” award. This is totally awesome for at least two reasons: First, it thrills me to be nominated for a blog that I only started last month, and second, it gives me something different to discuss for this weekend’s “mishmash.”

So, thanks, Bridget, from the bottom of my heart. According to your profile, you follow several blogs (despite what you claimed on your latest post), so I’m pretty darn touched by your kind nomination – especially since I’ve been such a late little beta reader for your novel, Story for a Shipwright.

Now, the rules for the “Kreativ Blogger” award are as follows:
1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award. (Done!)
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog. (Done!)
3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award. (Done!)
4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting. (Done!)
5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers. (Done!)
6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate. (Done!)
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated. (Soon to be done...)

Here are some tidbits about me that you may or may not already know:
1. As a little girl, my mother had me convinced that I was allergic to cats and dogs, so my only pets were a goldfish that I named Daisy Duke (after the character in The Dukes of Hazzard, my favorite show back then) and four snails named Bo, Luke, Uncle Jesse, and Boss Hogg (yeah, I was pretty obsessed with that show).
2. Long before I decided to be a writer, I was a big ol’ math nerd. I even won team trophies (that were sadly lost in Hurricane Katrina) – and traveled twice from New Orleans to Iowa City for a national math competition.
3. I’ve only broken one bone in my lifetime (so far) – as a high school student, I was helping to decorate my Unitarian Universalist church for Mardi Gras when I climbed a ladder that, unbeknownst to me, had a broken brace, causing me to fall onto the altar, where I broke the middle finger of my right hand.
4. When I was in high school, I was an anchor on our closed-circuit morning show; my classmates knew me as “Perky,” a nickname that I had emblazoned on my high school class ring.
5. With my husband-to-be, I once lived in England and, less than a year later, traded an apartment full of furniture for a home-on-wheels on the highways and byways of America.
6. When I’m done with a book at the library, I have a compulsive need to re-shelve it (despite the librarian’s protests), and likewise, whenever I decide not to buy a grocery item, I always go out of my way to put it back where it belongs (despite my husband’s protests).
7. I hate kettle corn and have yet to understand its purpose in the world.

And here are 7 unique bloggers that I follow often (but not as often as I should):
1. The author of A misinterpreted wave
2. J.B. Chicoine, author of J.B. Chicoine – Unsupervised & At Large
3. Mira and Ann, moderators of Come In Character
4. Ink, Wanu, and Bookworm 1605, authors of The Alchemy of Writing
5. Rick Daley, author of My Daley Rant
6. Stephanie Faris, author of Steph in the City
7. Melanie Avila, author of What Am I Doing In Mexico?

All of the above deserve the “Kreativ Blogger” seal of approval. They’re not the only blogs that I find interesting and/or hilarious, but the rules limited me to seven – and I try to follow the rules whenever my husband’s not looking.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Fantasies: From Book to Screen

The much-anticipated cinematic adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s best-selling novel The Time Traveler’s Wife opened earlier today in thousands of movie theaters across America. Since I read the book two years ago, I’m curious about the movie, but given my mixed feelings about Niffenegger’s debut, I’m in no big hurry to see it. Still, the film’s release sparked a private debate about Hollywood’s obsession with mining novels for box-office gold.

After all, The Time Traveler’s Wife isn’t the only current movie inspired by well-known literature. Right now, moviegoers can catch Julie & Julia and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – both of which were adapted from recent bestsellers – in a theater near them. Several other adaptations of popular novels – from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Stephenie Meyer’s New Moon, and Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, to children’s favorites like Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland – will soon hit theaters as well. And do remember that The Reader – which was adapted from Bernhard Schlink’s well-favored book – was nominated for numerous Academy Awards earlier this year.

As someone who studied both film and literature in college – and who hopes to turn her future novels into screenplays – I am indeed in favor of cinematic adaptations – if they are done well and with the spirit of the source material in mind. Novels, after all, provide the three elements key to any engaging film – character, setting, and plot – and they usually offer a built-in audience (which studio executives naturally love). Of course, I realize that most novels must be edited to suit the typical two-hour movie length. One of my all-time favorite trilogies, The Lord of the Rings, was simply too long to avoid being shaved a bit for the three cinematic adaptations, but even though I missed hearing the hobbits’ folk songs, I felt that Peter Jackson and his producing partners (not to mention the cast and crew) did an amazing job of bringing J. R. R. Tolkien’s beloved saga to life – and, in my humble opinion, deserved more than just the one Best Picture Oscar (for the final installment, The Return of the King).

Other favorite adaptations include Rebecca (1940), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973), Jaws (1975), The Princess Bride (1987), Dances with Wolves (1990), Interview with the Vampire (1994), The Green Mile (1999), Wonder Boys (2000), and The Jane Austen Book Club (2007) – all of which are slightly better than the source material. My absolute favorite adaptation, however, is The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – which faithfully follows Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, line by line and scene by scene. There are plenty of other well-done adaptations that I could cite here – from The Grapes of Wrath (1940) to What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993) – but I hesitate to fill this post with a laundry list of classics.

Of course, not all adaptations have turned out so well. Three such films come to mind – Heaven’s Prisoners (1996), an adaptation of James Lee Burke’s second Dave Robicheaux mystery, with Alec Baldwin terribly miscast as the Cajun ex-detective; The Cider House Rules (1999), which, save for Michael Caine’s stirring performance, seemed flatter than the John Irving novel; and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), which convinced me that Tim Burton has no business adapting beloved children's books, including his upcoming Alice in Wonderland. I'm sure there are more book-to-film travesties, but their names escape me at the moment.

Given Hollywood's tendency to remake classic films or turn beloved books and television shows into movies, it's a wonder that executives haven't yet adapted every book imaginable. But, surprisingly, they haven't. One treasured book – John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer Prize-winning A Confederacy of Dunces – has yet to be made, despite numerous attempts to do so (with stars like John Belushi, John Candy, Chris Farley, and Will Ferrell set to play Ignatius J. Reilly).

Taking a cue from my online pal Rhonda’s “Books as Movies: Picture It” post from last month, I’m curious about other writers’ take on Hollywood’s book-to-movie obsession. Do you think that, overall, novels and memoirs provide good source material for movies? If so, which adaptations are the best? Which are the worst? And which books would you still like to see become movies?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday: Places of Serenity

There’s no doubt that one’s environment can enhance or hinder the act of meditation. Woody Allen, for instance, once said that he finds it easier to fall asleep in Manhattan – with its 24-hour soundtrack of horns, sirens, and other urban distractions – than in the countryside, where the crickets and, worse, silence drive him insane. (Perhaps that explains a few things about that strange little man.)

In my case, though, I definitely find more peace in the natural world – which is probably why I always look forward to my summers in northern Michigan. Doing yoga amid the maple and birch trees, watching the sunrise over the lake, heck, even lying on the hammock, I can literally feel my blood pressure lowering, my lungs breathing easier, my muscles relaxing. And I know that it simply wouldn’t be the same in a city like New Orleans or Los Angeles, where it’s hard to escape the ever-present sounds of crowds and traffic.

Luckily, despite its bustling cities, crowded national parks, and other overwhelming destinations, America boasts an assortment of tranquil places. Some of my favorites include the desolate coastline of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the sculpted cliffs of California’s Red Rock Canyon State Park, the quiet saltwater marshes southeast of New Orleans, and the isolated mudflats on the northern end of South Padre Island. Regardless of what I’m doing – hiking, fishing, or just sitting in the sand – such locales make it easier for me to be still for a while, forget the day-to-day grind, and contemplate the bigger questions about life, the universe, and everything.

So, what about you? Do you believe that a person’s environment can enhance his or her meditation, and if so, what’s your favorite place of serenity?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday: Wine Tastings

One of the many interests that my husband, Dan, and I share is a passion for wine. Pinot grigio, riesling, cabernet franc, shiraz, merlot, port – you name it, we’ve probably tried it. While I must admit that Dan is much better at the actual art of tasting wine – with an uncanny ability to discern the individual flavors that contribute to a particular vintage – I am nevertheless an avid wine lover. Although I might not always be able to differentiate between plum and cherry, oak and coffee, I sure as heck know what I like – and don’t like.

Given our mutual interest in wine, we were thrilled, earlier this week, to explore Michigan’s Traverse City area, a region that has slowly won acclaim for its grape growing and wine production. Surprising as it might seem for those more familiar with California’s Napa Valley, Michigan is an ideal place for vintners, vineyards, and viniculture. Two of the state’s most celebrated regions – Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula – lie north of Traverse City, on either shore of the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay. The reason for the success of wineries in this region is fourfold: The sandy soil, hilly terrain, moderate temperatures, and lake-effect snows nurture the grapes and protect the vines during the winter.

On Monday, we decided to visit the Leelanau Peninsula, which lies northwest of Traverse City. Our first stop was Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor. Although Cherry Republic doesn’t have a vineyard of its own, its intimate tasting room offers cherry-influenced wines produced especially for sale at the Republic. While neither Dan nor I is a fan of fruit wines, we thoroughly enjoyed our laidback experience at Cherry Republic’s Stomp House, where we were able to sample (for free) as many varieties as we desired. My favorites were the cherry white wine (made from pinot grigio), cherry spiced wine (perfect for the winter holidays), and sangria (a blend of cherries, pineapple, lime, and lemon).

Afterward, we headed to Black Star Farms (10844 E. Revold Rd.) in Suttons Bay. A complex that includes a vineyard and winery, a creamery, and a bed-and-breakfast, Black Star actually charges for its tastings, but we were nonetheless curious about its offerings. In the end, I wasn’t enamored of the reds I tried, but I did enjoy the sparkling white wine and late-harvest pinot gris that I sampled.

On Tuesday, we toured the wineries of the Old Mission Peninsula. Our favorite stops were Chateau Chantal (15900 Rue de Vin), where I relished the Tonight and Celebrate! champagnes, and
Peninsula Cellars (11480 Center Rd.), situated in a converted one-room schoolhouse built in 1896. Not only are Peninsula’s wines quite good (like the 2006 Gewurztraminer), but the winery also has a more relaxed, fun-loving vibe than many of the others in this region. After all, staff members celebrate their schoolhouse history by writing lines like “I will only drink good wine!!! I will only drink good wine!!!” on the chalkboard and naming some of their wines clever things like Detention and Homework.

Since it would have been impossible to sample all of the more than 25 wineries that comprise the Grand Traverse Bay region, we were grateful for our abbreviated trip into wine country. If nothing else, it inspired us to (finally) take a wine-tasting class together. Perhaps then, I’ll learn to do as real wine connoisseurs do and spit out each sip before I'm tempted to swallow. The way I gulp it down now, I can’t usually visit more than two wineries in a row before feeling the adverse effects of such a haze-inducing hobby – if you know what I mean.