Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Fantasies: Big Easy Film Fest

For the past several years, Dan and I have operated two very different film festivals: the Beverly Hills Shorts Festival and the Big Easy International Film Festival. It’s time-consuming work, yes, but very rewarding. We especially love being able to share new cinematic voices with audiences that they might not otherwise reach.

Although we haven’t had much time the past few years, we used to love traveling to Park City, Utah, every January for the Sundance and Slamdance film festivals. We got a real kick out of seeing indie shorts and features that might never appear at the multiplex – but often, we were disappointed by the selections, especially regarding the short films. We just knew there had to be better shorts in the world, and for whatever reason – whether the filmmakers lacked connections or the films lacked star power – they just weren’t getting accepted by the “big” festivals.

So, we decided to start our own annual celebrations of cinema, and despite the hard and sometimes thankless work involved, we relish the chance to see new and unusual films. Since the winter of 2006, when we started the Beverly Hills Shorts Festival, we’ve literally watched thousands of films – some admittedly better than others. This year has been no different.

Despite a drop-off in sponsors, due to the poor economy – which has affected cultural events and artistic groups around the country – our third annual Big Easy Film Festival is less than two weeks away, and the line-up is terrific. From Trapped in Katrina, a taut thriller that unfolds amid the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, to The Magistical, an animated tale about an unlikely hero who must save the world from an evil Draken, we'll be presenting 48 eclectic films in all – and many of the filmmakers will be in attendance, which will ensure some very lively, post-screening Q&A sessions (my favorite part of the festival – besides the parties, of course).

So, if you happen to be in New Orleans during the weekend of November 13-15, stop by the Canal Place Theatre to see some awesome films – and say hello, of course!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday: Adaptable Kitty

Dan and I both love animals, so naturally, we both adore having a pet of our own – especially one that we found in a pet rescue facility in New Orleans. Ruby Azazel, who was featured during the first week of my blog, is our beloved thirteen-month-old kitty cat, a domestic short-haired tabby with adorable leopard spots on her belly. At once affectionate and mischievous, she’s the perfect addition to our little family of two. Even better, it turns out that she also travels well – which is a good thing for two nomads like us.

When we adopted her last November, we quickly discovered that she was a whole lot more rambunctious than our first kitty, Pawws. Despite her need for affection, she was awfully curious about her new surroundings and more than willing to get into trouble. She especially liked to bite things – cardboard boxes, important papers, my arms, my legs, even my backside once or twice – and she had an unbelievable infatuation with doorjambs. Seriously. Without rhyme or reason, she would hurl herself against the wood – it would have been hysterical if it hadn’t been so weird.

Because she was so different from our even-tempered Pawwsy, we were admittedly concerned that she wouldn’t be as adaptable a traveler. But has she ever surprised us! True, Pawws was so well-behaved that she was able to travel around the country from the comfort of her beanbag – while rambunctious Ruby must ride in her carrier – but still, Ruby is remarkably flexible. Although she doesn’t like to be restrained, it never takes her long to settle down on the blanket inside her carrier. In fact, she can pretty much fall asleep anywhere.

Likewise, she never seems dismayed by the change in scenery. Together, the three of us have already journeyed from an apartment in the French Quarter to a hotel in Los Angeles to another apartment in New Orleans to a home in northern Michigan and back again to the Big Easy – and she always seems to embrace her new environs. I attribute such adaptability to her unabashed curiosity and enviable serenity. As long as her mom and dad are around – and she has access to her favorite blanket, a gray fleece that once belonged to me – she seems to roll with the changes. If only I could learn to emulate Ruby’s ability to adapt to new situations, embrace unfamiliar stimuli, and maintain some semblance of tranquility – oh, how happy I would be!

For the pet lovers out there, what characteristics do you love most about your pets? What have you learned from them? And if you don’t have pets, what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday: Dangerous Beauty

On my last stroll through the French Quarter, I paid a lot of attention to the wrought-iron gates and fences that surround and divide many of these historic buildings. As lovely as these fixtures are, many of them are topped with truly terrifying spikes, the kind that have long been intended to deter unwanted visitors. Seeing such deadly adornments, even those that encircle Jackson Square, made me acknowledge my fascination with things that are beautiful in spite of, or because of, their potential for danger.

Elemental entities, such as air, water, fire, and earth, are the obvious examples of this dichotomy. All of the above can be incredibly remarkable – and incredibly destructive. A windswept palm tree might be a soothing sight, but a hurricane is no laughing matter, and though I love sitting on a beach and watching the waves crash ashore, that same magnificent ocean has destroyed many a sea-faring vessel. Likewise, flames and mountains are equally amazing – but wildfires and landslides are rarely auspicious.

In fact, many aspects of the natural world are simultaneously gorgeous and perilous. I’m particularly smitten by alluring plants – such as the cacti varietals of southern Texas. At certain times of year, they are in full bloom, with vibrant flowers that can easily tantalize the gullible and ensure a rude awakening for those unfamiliar with their baneful needles.

Well, what about you? What "dangerous beauties" fascinate and inspire you – despite their drawbacks? (And, no, I don’t mean the movie starring Catherine McCormack and Rufus Sewell – although that’s quite a flick indeed.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tuesday Travels: Literary Trips

Considering that literature and travel are two of my favorite things in all the world, it might come as no surprise that I love visiting places or witnessing sights mentioned in novels. For instance, every time I spy a Lucky Dog vendor in the French Quarter, I can’t help but think fondly of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces (1980), a posthumously published Pulitzer-prize winner (say that five times fast!) that features the inimitable Ignatius J. Reilly, who, during the course of the novel, briefly sells these ubiquitous hot dogs in downtown New Orleans.

Of course, the Big Easy and its environs frequently appear in popular literature, from classic plays like Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) to horror novels like Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (1976). More than an atmospheric backdrop, New Orleans and the rest of southern Louisiana often become characters of sorts. How could they not – with such rich scenery, history, and personality? And I must admit that I do adore spying some of my favorite haunts within the pages of my favorite books. Cafe Du Monde, for instance – which I mentioned last Monday – shows up in many a James Lee Burke novel, from Burning Angel (1995) to The Tin Roof Blowdown (2007).

Now don’t get me wrong – New Orleans isn’t the only literary locale that gives me a teeny thrill when I spot it in a novel. I remember feeling pretty tickled by the appearance of Chicago’s Field Museum – one of my all-time favorite museums – in Audrey Niffenegger’s debut The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003). And the same thing happened every time I encountered a familiar Roman sight in Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons (2000).

So, when one of my colleagues at Avalon Travel asked me to feature a Washington, D.C., itinerary based on Brown’s latest thriller, The Lost Symbol, on my American Nomad blog, I was more than willing. Admittedly, she made the suggestion over a month ago, when the novel was first released. But, since I don’t feel comfortable featuring books, movies, restaurants, and so forth that I’ve never experienced myself, I naturally had to read the book first. Well, I finally finished it yesterday – which means I was finally able to post a Langdon-tailored D.C. itinerary. Check it out if you have a chance!

In the meantime, I’m eager to know if you’ve ever felt a little thrill upon recognizing a locale in a novel. Or, better yet, have you ever planned a whole trip around your favorite book or series – as some die-hard Harry Potter fans have done in merry ol’ England?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday Munchies: Cafe Maspero

I realize that I’m a bit of a broken record at times. After all, when you’re trying to blog nearly every day – about your favorite topics, interests, and destinations – you’re bound to repeat yourself every now and again. But I simply can’t resist mentioning my favorite French Quarter restaurant for “Monday Munchies” – especially given that it’s my first week back in New Orleans, a gourmand’s veritable paradise.

As I mentioned on this blog over two months ago, Cafe Maspero is indeed my favorite eatery in the Vieux Carré – it has been ever since I was a child, when Mom and I would eat here almost every time we visited the Quarter. I even devoted part of an American Nomad post to this casual corner joint at Decatur and Toulouse. Surrounded by shuttered French windows that are often wide open during business hours (especially during pleasant weather), this popular eatery frequently sports a lengthy line of hungry tourists and locals on the front sidewalk... and it’s no shock as to why.

For decades, Cafe Maspero has welcomed tons of eager folks through its narrow doors. With weathered brick walls and scuffed wooden floors, it definitely looks as though it’s been here a while. Upon entering the restaurant, you’ll spy a long bar on the right, where locals especially love to sip cheap daiquiris and beers and munch some of the best fried seafood in the city. At the end of the bar sits the open kitchen, where extremely efficient cooks prepare a range of classic dishes, from jambalaya and hot roast beef sandwiches to fried oyster plates and toasted muffulettas. To the left is a sea of old tables and chairs, crowded so close together that it’s often necessary to befriend one’s neighbors before maneuvering into a seat.

But that’s part of what makes Cafe Maspero so darn special. While you’ll spot plenty of empty seats during the off-hours, prime meal times (especially on the weekends) are a different story altogether. At such times, the tables are teeming with diners, the air is rife with munching, clinking, and conversation, and the busy waiters and waitresses are ever on the move. “Lively” doesn’t even begin to describe the joint, especially on a Saturday night, when a delay is not uncommon. Although Dan and I didn’t have long to wait this past Saturday, we definitely got an eyeful while our table was being prepared – many of the tables were filled with well-dressed captains and wenches. Apparently, a pirate convention was in town (ah, New Orleans, how I love thee).

Of course, despite the old-world décor, fresh air, and ever-present vitality, the real reason to come is the food. Believe me when I tell you – you’ll be hard-pressed to find a place in the Quarter that offers such large portions for such low prices. A seafood plate, for instance, boasts a heaping pile of fried shrimp, oysters, catfish, and calamari (plus steak fries and a yummy salad) for about six bucks less than the average (much smaller) seafood plate throughout the rest of the Quarter. One of my favorite dishes, though, is the muffuletta – a warm Italian sandwich filled with ham, salami, pastrami, provolone, and olive salad and served with steak fries. On Saturday night, Dan and I naturally shared a “muff” and a seafood plate. Hey, what’s the fun in being married if you can’t share your meals?

(In the interest of full disclosure, though, I should warn you that people aren’t the only happy diners at Maspero’s. Pigeons, mice, and cockroaches appreciate the place, too – which is not uncommon in the dingy Quarter, I’m afraid.)

So, now that you’ve tolerated my food-related ramblings, what's your favorite hometown restaurant?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Weekend Mishmash: Family Football Party

This afternoon, Dan and I ventured across Lake Pontchartrain to my father’s lakeside house for a family football gathering. In attendance were my dad, my stepmom, my stepsister and her husband and young daughter, Dan, and you-know-who. As with most football shindigs, munchies were present (tortilla chips and salsa, pita chips and hummus, beer and wine, and a dinner that included fried trout, sautéed cabbage, French fries, and blueberry crumble).

In addition, some of the attendees were less enthused than others. My stepsister, for instance, couldn’t care less about the game, while my father and step-brother-in-law couldn’t stop screaming at the television. Although I certainly cared about the outcome, I found it difficult to step away from my laptop long enough to watch more than one play at a time.

I’ll give you three chances to guess which team that we, as a family, were supporting. Here’s a hint: It might have something to do with the sticker on my minivan. Here’s another hint: The team’s catchphrase is "Who Dat" (which even my two-year-old step-niece can say). Here’s yet another: There’s only one football team in New Orleans.

Of course, it looked pretty grim for our undefeated team in the first half of the game. In fact, my father – who’s used to the “jinx” that has plagued the Big Easy for decades – was utterly convinced that the team should just pack it up and head on home. Although the rest of us tried to cheer him up and put the game into perspective, he was beginning to wish he hadn’t cut his morning fishing trip short, just to watch this particular match. Nevertheless, despite a less-than-stellar performance from the defense, our boys pulled it off in the end, beating the Miami Dolphins 46-34.

And all I can say is "The Saints won, the Saints won!" My father’s faith has been restored... again. What does it say about me that, in spite of a lukewarm interest in football, my faith in these particular "saints" never once wavered?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Fantasies: Movies in the City

Last night, Dan and I stopped in Slidell – a town north of Lake Pontchartrain and thirty or so miles shy of New Orleans – ‘cause, frankly, we were sick of the road. But we finished the trek this morning, making it to the bustling French Quarter by mid-morning. After checking our mail and scouring the streets for an apartment, we decided to have our first official meal (this time!) in our beloved New Orleans. So, we strolled to the Oceana Grill on Conti and proceeded to share a dozen raw oysters, a shrimp po-boy, a bowl of seafood gumbo, and an Abita Amber (which, for you non-Louisianians, is a regionally brewed beer).

Afterward, we headed to Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans, where we’re staying in a strange little hotel until we locate an apartment. And suddenly, we realized that as much as we’ll miss the beauty and solitude of northern Michigan for the next six or so months, there’s at least one thing that New Orleans has over that isolated region: movies that aren’t widely released! Movies like Paranormal Activity (2007), which we saw tonight.

While this horror flick has received plenty of amazing reviews, I’ve also seen several negative ones, most of which cite the overacting, plot holes, and general ridiculousness of staying in a situation that’s causing such unrest. To such naysayers, I would say that although I agree the acting isn’t always believable, the plot has a few questionable turns, and the whole situation is slightly harder to accept than, say, the documentary-style nature of The Blair Witch Project (1999), I think that overall this is an effectively creepy and suspenseful film, with some genuinely startling moments and several well-done special effects, especially given its extremely low budget. So, I, for one, am pleased that I was able to see it in a theater.

Sorry, my dear northern Michigan, New Orleans has won this round, I'm afraid, but the battle's not over yet. Of course, I should add, the food and music aren’t so bad here either.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday: Yoga on the Move

Well, we’re close to Louisiana now – and thank goodness! Long car trips aren’t what they used to be... or maybe I’m not what I used to be.

True, the changing scenery is lovely, and the sudden rainstorms are revitalizing (if only because we have to concentrate on not getting blown off the road), but by the end of the journey, my head aches, my body’s itching for some exercise, and my spirit cries out for some much-needed meditation.

Luckily, though, it’s still possible to get my daily dose of yoga on the road. Rest areas – especially pleasant ones with shady trees – are terrific places to do some of the bigger postures (downward facing dog, sun salutation, etc.) – as long as you don’t mind a few odd stares.

Hotel rooms aren’t so bad either – some are even spacious enough for me to unfurl my yoga mat. Even in a small hotel room, you’d be surprised how creative I can get with my yoga routine – the half-moon, tree, and eagle poses are ideal for cramped spaces. Besides, you really don’t need much space to sit still for a while and concentrate on nothing more than your breathing.

Doing yoga on the move might not be ideal, but it’s better than nothing. So, what concessions do you have to make on long journeys?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday: Car Diversions

Since I was a small child, traveling with my mother on lengthy road trips across America, I’ve clocked a lot of miles on America’s highways and byways. Though I’m accustomed to the long drives and the sometimes boring stretches (especially that particular part of I-10, from San Antonio to El Paso), even I need ways to pass the time – and the state lines.

Now, that I’m on the road yet again – making the seasonal journey between northern Michigan to southern Louisiana – I’m giving some thought to such diversions. Here, in no particular order, are the six ways that I often combat boredom on the road:

Conversation: Whether riding with my mom from New Orleans to New York or traveling with Dan from South Padre Island to Los Angeles, I’ve always found that conversation is an ideal way to ignore the discomfort of road travel. With Mom, I could talk about movies and music and current events and our upcoming destinations – while with Dan, well, the topics haven’t really changed, which is helpful for me.

Auto bingo: When I was a kid, I used to love playing auto bingo with my mom. Since she was driving and unable to have her own card, we would share one – trying, together, to spy the things (from silos to police cruisers to tanker trucks) pictured on the bingo card. It was a hoot and a half, especially the time that we needed to spot a pig, and a whole truckload passed right by my window. Today, Dan and I have our own bingo card – but we have yet to play it. Maybe tomorrow?

XM Radio: What would Dan and I do without our XM? From comedy channels to old radio serials to Monty Python skits to classic tunes to news programs, our XM keeps us entertained for hours on end. However did Mom and I travel without it?

Truck stops: If our legs are feeling sore, or we just can’t stand another moment in the car, Dan and I simply seek out a truck stop – whether it’s a Pilot, Petro, Flying J, Love’s, or Travel Center of America. There, we typically find quirky gifts, yummy snacks and beverages, relatively clean restrooms, paperbacks and audiobooks, and, if we’re feeling so inclined, a restaurant, an arcade, and private showers.

Wireless Internet: I must admit that, as with my childhood journeys with Mom, Dan tends to be the designated driver while I tend to be the designated navigator (ironic considering that I’m directionally challenged). Since I often sit in the passenger seat, I often have access to my beloved laptop, which can usually find a wireless signal, even in the most remote of places – meaning I can surf the blogosphere while the asphalt passes beneath me. What a world we live in!

Audiobooks: In recent years, Dan and I have discovered the wonders of audiobooks – particularly audiobook versions of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series, as read by the amazing Will Patton. Why, just today, we listened to Burke’s fourth Robicheaux novel, A Stained White Radiance – and it was awesome indeed.

Have you ever experienced lengthy car trips? If so, what do you do to fight the boredom?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tuesday Travels: The Part I Despise

If you’ve been to this blog before, then you’ve probably already figured out one of my chief interests. Heck, I’ve dedicated a whole day of each week to it.

I’ll give you a hint: It rhymes with “gravel.”

But as much as I love being on the move, there’s one part of my seasonal nomadic shifts that I’ve never quite embraced: the packing. Of course, unpacking runs a close second. I’m a very slow packer – and unpacker, for that matter. Perhaps that’s because I find it hard making decisions, and since Dan and I are usually away from each of our three home bases for several months at a time, I have plenty of decisions to make.

Headed from Michigan to New Orleans, for instance – as we will be tomorrow – I have to consider such things as how many nice dresses to pack. One for the opening night party of our film festival. One for the closing night awards ceremony. One for Thanksgiving. One for Christmas dinner. One for New Year’s Eve. You get the idea.

And then there’s the weather concern. Although it’s usually pretty mild in New Orleans during the fall and winter months, low temperatures are possible, which means shorts and a heavy jacket are equally likely. On top of that, we’ll be traveling to the Florida Keys and Los Angeles before returning to Michigan next May, which opens up a whole slew of other concerns – including the kind of equipment we’ll need for our various ventures – from a digital camera for travel work to supplies for our film fest out west.

Of course, it’s gotten better over the years. We’ve been living this nomadic lifestyle for over three years now, so we’ve learned not to bring everything with us. For example, instead of lugging around our coffeepot, teakettle, dishes, and other kitchen gear, we store what we need in each of our three main ports of call... which has definitely eased our minds a bit. But still, there’s only so much we can purchase in duplicate. Some things – like our laptops – will forever be dragged around in our minivan.

So, I’ve spent all of today packing, and I’m not done yet. Needless to say, it’s going to be a long night, but I’ll get through it. I always do.

P.S. In case you're wondering, the place pictured here is not, in fact, our home in Michigan. It's a cabana where we stayed on South Padre Island, when we first began this nomadic adventure in the spring of 2006 (when the kitty pictured on the beanbag in the first photo was still alive - sniff, sniff). But it gives you an idea of how much junk we carry around...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday Munchies: Cafe Du Monde

Two months ago, I was already anticipating the seasonal move from northern Michigan to southern Louisiana. As I expressed then, I always have bittersweet emotions about this particular move. It’s hard leaving the beauty and solitude of Michigan behind, but it makes it easier knowing that Dan and I are headed to New Orleans, the land of plenty. Plenty of yummy food, plenty of great music, plenty of sensory overload.

For a variety of reasons too silly to list here, we ended up delaying our trip, but we’ll finally be packing up the van and heading south for the winter – in less than two days. And all I can think is... Cafe Du Monde, here we come! ‘Cause just after ordering a plate of raw oysters from Oceana Grill, Dan and I will make a quick stop at this historic twenty-four-hour coffee shop on Decatur Street.

True, we’ve been there more often than we should, but it’s just too hard to resist our standard order: a café au lait and a trio of beignets – essentially, French doughnuts covered in powdered sugar. As I wrote in August, I’ve been to Cafe Du Monde numerous times – it was often the coffee shop of choice among my Quarter-hopping friends and always the preferred after-hours stop following a high school dance.

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.

But it’s well worth the mess. I have the dusted pants and heavenly memories to prove it.

What's your favorite doughnut of choice?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Weekend Mishmash: A Belated Bloggy Favor

On Tuesday, Angie Ledbetter, Gumbo Writer extraordinaire, asked her friends, colleagues, and blog followers for a little favor. Because it was the day after I’d turned in my book proposal – and, therefore, I was still suffering from an overwrought brain – I failed to notice her request in my inbox. But I noticed it today – only five days late. Oops.

I’m sorry, Miss Angie. Will you ever forgive me?

Apparently, she and fellow writer Kat Magendie have been working hard (or, as Angie so eloquently put it, working their “bahonkusses off”) to renovate and remodel their online literary journal, in preparation for their re-launch this week with the fall issue.

So, although I’m a bit late with this announcement, it can’t hurt to post it anyway. What’s that saying? Better late than never? Describes me to a tee.

Anyhoo, here’s the good news that Angie would like me to spread:

You are cordially invited to attend an “open house” beginning Wednesday, October 14, in honor of the newly renovated Rose & Thorn Journal:

Drop by, sign up for the newsletter, check out the new digs (and blog!), follow us on Twitter and Facebook, leave us your comments/thoughts, and wish us well!

Rose & Thorn is a quarterly literary journal featuring the voices of emerging and established authors, poets, and artists.

Now...go enjoy the open bar and appetizer spread!

Angie Ledbetter & Kathryn Magendie
Rose & Thorn Journal

P.S. Because I find it difficult posting anything to my blog without a photo, I thought I’d offer some delicious New Orleans-style appetizers of my own (Oysters Rockefeller and Oysters Bienville). Angie and Kat should appreciate the cuisine – after all, Kat formerly called Louisiana home and Angie still does!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Fantasies: Graveyard Memories

Two days ago, featured a post about “tombstone tripping” – visiting graveyards not with a purpose but with fascination. Perhaps I’m a little disturbed, but I love strolling through interesting cemeteries. I respect the fact that they memorialize others’ loved ones – and I always walk quietly and with care. But I must admit – I’ve long been a fan of cemeteries, especially at this time of year, when Halloween and the Day of the Dead are upon us.

Part of this fascination comes from the thrill of being just a little unnerved, and part of it stems from the curiosity of some cemeteries, especially ones where famous movie stars are buried (like the Hollywood Forever Cemetery) or the architecture is particularly creepy and/or stunning (like the aboveground cemeteries and mausoleums in New Orleans). While there’s nothing quite like visiting a cemetery in person, I often get just as effective a fix from watching graveyard scenes in certain movies – comedies, dramas, thrillers, and horror flicks, it makes no nevermind. Here, in chronological order, are some of my favorite morbid movie moments:

Easy Rider (1969) – Amid a drug-induced haze, counterculture bikers frolic with some lovely ladies within an aboveground cemetery in the Big Easy. After seeing this film as a teenager, I never looked at Mardi Gras – or Dennis Hopper – the same way again.

Harold and Maude (1971) – The intergenerational title characters first meet at a funeral, where neither one belongs, and soon realize their mutual fascination with death. Oh, how I adore this movie – and hope it’s never remade.

Phantasm (1979) – The entire story revolves around a graveyard and a funeral home operated by a lanky alien, bent on destroying humanity. All I can say is... cloaked midgets, flying orbs, and marble walls are one freaky combination.

Poltergeist (1982) – During a torrential rainstorm, Carol Anne’s mommy falls into a muddy pool, filled with corpses. And, seriously, who can forget the line, “You son of a bitch. You moved the cemetery, but you left the bodies, didn’t you?!”

The Return of the Living Dead (1985) – Most of this classic zombie flick takes place in a cemetery, where a small band of young partygoers offer easy access to the undead. Bloody hilarious!

Army of Darkness (1992) – In an utterly memorable scene, Ash, a hero of questionable ethics, ventures into a graveyard to retrieve the Necronomicon, only to misspeak the magic words and inadvertently raise an army of the dead. Oops.

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) – It’s a brief moment, but I find it hard to forget. Assassin Martin Blank visits his father in a hometown cemetery, only to pour an entire fifth of alcohol into the grass above his father's grave. What a thoughtful son!

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) – The reporter and the millionaire venture into a creepy Savannah cemetery, where a spiritualist tries to quiet the soul of the millionaire’s murdered lover. There’s no doubting the effectiveness of some well-placed mist and moss.

Stir of Echoes (1999) – A loving mother takes her strange little boy for a walk that ends up in a cemetery, where a touched police officer stalks them, only to demonstrate his psychic connection to the child. Truly an underrated film!

My Dog Skip (2000) – A remorseful young boy finds his beloved dog in a cemetery, where moonshiners have nearly beaten him to death. Don’t worry – the doggy recovers.

Hellboy (2004) – The climax of this entertaining yarn occurs in a Russian cemetery, where the resurrected Rasputin attempts to open a doorway to the Seven Gods of Chaos. Every time I watch this movie, I believe this place is sinister – and cold.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) – If you’ve seen this movie (or read the book), then you know where I’m going with this one. At the end of the labyrinth lies a portkey that transports Harry and Cedric to a moody cemetery, where You-Know-Who is waiting...

So, what’s your favorite cinematic cemetery scene?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday: Applying the Vision Quest

It’s easy to feel discouraged sometimes. Self-doubt is such a common human condition – it happens to all of us.

Just this week, I doubted myself a few times: right after I turned in my book proposal and wondered if I even had a chance to snag this project, when I realized that the first paragraph of my novel wasn’t good enough for Nathan Bransford’s latest contest, and when a virus nearly destroyed my computer and made me kick myself for forgetting to back up my latest files.

But, given that it’s “Thoughtful Thursday,” and it’s been a while since I explored the journal entries from my first vision quest, I thought I’d look for a few nuggets of wisdom to provide a bit of perspective. As with the previous five blog posts about my vision quest experience, I’ve opened up my old journal to shed some light on my present state of mind. On June 28, 1990, I wrote three statements (based on my mentor James’s teachings) that seem to apply to the happenings this week:

Nowness is the only reality. – So, I should stop worrying about what may or may not happen with my book proposal. I did the best I could, and there’s no point in fixating on it now.

The essence is refusing to give up; the key is not fearing yourself. – So, there’s no point in focusing on the difficulty of the revision process. All I can do is plunge ahead, and the next time Nathan holds a first-paragraph contest, I’ll be ready.

We cannot control the situation, but we can control our reaction. – So, while I can’t eradicate the world of hackers, I can refuse to let such impotence overwhelm me.

And here I thought I couldn’t learn anything from my thirteen-year-old self.

So, what do you do to combat the voices of self-doubt? How do you quiet them – at least for a little while?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday: Love and Hate

So today, I was all set to return to the blogosphere, when a funny thing happened. I accidentally downloaded a virus, and now my computer is acting crazy – so crazy, in fact, that I must stop writing and surfing, and turn my beloved laptop over to the hubby for an all-night repair job.

Since it’s “Whimsical Wednesday” in my little world, I was reflecting on one of my favorite interests... words, of course! I love words, breathe words, live for words. Don’t most of us? So, taking a cue from my fellow blogger Martha Warner, who typically features an unusual or interesting word on Wednesdays, I’ve decided to focus on two: one that I love and one that I hate. The one that I love is “chocolate” – as in, “I just ate a piece of dark chocolate, and it was awesome.” The one that I hate is “hacker” – as in, “I really wish that a hacker hadn’t messed up my computer for no good reason.”

Why are there such mean people in the world?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tuesday Travels: Guide Giveaways!

This summer, I was officially accepted into the Society of American Travel Writers – SATW for short. In order to qualify for membership, I had to meet certain criteria – like adhering to ethical standards in travel writing, providing colleague recommendations, and having enough “points” (i.e., recent articles and travel guides) to demonstrate my travel experience.

So, needless to say, I’m tickled to have been accepted into this professional organization. Silly as it might sound, it feels like a modicum of validation for years of hard work in my chosen field. It’s heartening, too, to think that I’m part of a group of like-minded folks who all love travel and genuinely want to help one another. Besides, in two years, the national convention is in New Zealand!!!!


Apparently, there are SATW members everywhere. My sponsor, Cindy, lives just down the road in northern Michigan, and Christopher Baker happens to be one of my fellow bloggers at

And not to change the subject completely, but speaking of, there are a few travel guide giveaways happening over there. So, if you’re restless wherever you are at the moment – and hoping for a getaway – here’s your chance to win a free travel guide. You never know – it might just inspire a mini-vacation.

Author Wayne Bernhardson is hosting a contest to give away two free Moon Chile guides, while the Moon editors are offering a free copy of Moon Monterey & Carmel. So, of course, I jumped on the bandwagon. I, too, am giving away a free travel guide: the third edition of Moon Michigan. To win, you just have to answer a few trivia questions. Give it a go – it just might be the start of a wonderful trip to the Great Lakes State. (And for those who live in Michigan, feel free to enter, too. Anyone can benefit from having a guide to his/her home state. I mean, you haven’t been everywhere yet, have you?)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday Munchies: Comfort Food

Well, I did it. I finished my book proposal and submitted it on time. It felt good hitting the “send” button. Now, all I can do is wait for the decision. Maybe a voodoo spell would help?

Needless to say, I’ve been pretty preoccupied the past two weeks – and at the moment, my brain aches something awful. Putting together a 50-page document on which my livelihood depends can do that, I guess.

After I reviewed the proposal for the last time and sent it on its merry way to northern California, all I could think about was the dinner that Dan had planned for his father’s birthday tonight: yummy meatballs, pesto lasagna, and garlic bread, with a bottle of Cabernet Franc from Chateau Chantal, a winery in northern Michigan. Mmm-mmm. Talk about comfort food. And as usual, Chef Danny’s delicious vittles were just what the doctor ordered. All I need now is a good night’s rest.

So, I apologize for being less than engaged in others’ blogs lately. Just rest assured that I miss all my online buddies – and hope that life is treating you all swimmingly.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Weekend Mishmash: A Mini-Hiatus

As previously mentioned, I’ve spent the last two weeks laboring on a book proposal. Well, today is my last day of these crazy work habits (at least until the next project), as it’s due tomorrow.

I’ve been up all night, putting the finishing touches on seven of the eight sections, but I still have one left to complete. Though I’m fairly exhausted right now, I’m still thrilled by the possibility of writing this book. So, of course, I have high hopes.

Well, I should get back to work. I promise that, after turning in my proposal tomorrow (and taking a much-needed nap), I’ll rejoin the blogosphere in earnest. In the meantime, I’ll just envy my cat.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday Fantasies: In the Electric Mist

In case you missed one of my very first posts, it bears repeating that I’m a huge James Lee Burke fan. As I explained in that previous post, the irony is that I, a New Orleans native, had never even heard of Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series until my mother-in-law, who lives in Michigan and Florida (far from Burke’s bailiwick), told me about it. Well, so what if I was a clueless Louisianian! At least I know about him now.

While I haven’t read all of his Robicheaux mysteries, I’ve perused (or listened to) many of them, and I’m in the process of reading them (or rereading them, as the case may be) from the beginning of the series. This summer, I read The Neon Rain (1987) and Heaven’s Prisoners (1988), and as soon as I’ve turned in the book proposal on which I’ve been working, I’ll plunge into Black Cherry Blues (1989). Dan and I also plan to while away the driving time between Michigan and New Orleans with a few of the audiobook versions of Burke’s Robicheaux mysteries. The great thing about them, incidentally, is that they’re narrated by Will Patton, one of my all-time favorite actors and, as a husky-voiced native Southerner, a terrific choice to speak as the flawed but noble-hearted Robicheaux.

So, in keeping with the family’s obsession with all things Burke, my hubby, my in-laws, and I watched In the Electric Mist, the latest cinematic adaptation of a Robicheaux novel, last night over a dinner of pepperoni pizza and root beer floats (a cuisine choice that has less to do with the Cajun themes of the story and more to do with a desire to be naughty). Based on the novel In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead (1993) and starring Tommy Lee Jones as the inimitable Dave Robicheaux, the film is indeed entertaining. After all, it was filmed exclusively in southern Louisiana, so the setting and atmosphere are evocative and true, and the supporting roles are believably portrayed by the likes of John Goodman, Mary Steenburgen, Peter Sarsgaard, Kelly Macdonald, Ned Beatty, James Gammon, Pruitt Taylor Vince, and Buddy Guy. The accents are right, the scenes make me hungry and homesick, but still, something is missing.

Afterward, we all agreed that no one – not even Oscar-winning Tommy Lee Jones – has successfully portrayed the complicated Robicheaux. Alec Baldwin, who starred in Heaven’s Prisoners in 1996, seemed far too young at the time, while Jones is far too old and run-down – not so much in appearance but in attitude. Jones is tough at times, violent when necessary, and compassionate when it counts, but for most of the movie, he seems close to retirement – which is disconcerting, given that there are at least eleven more novels after this one.

Should Hollywood ever consider another Burke project, the four of us are all in agreement on who should play Dave Robicheaux – why, Will Patton, of course! His audiobook versions are incredible in every way, and as his on-screen roles illustrate, he has the perfect mix of tenacity, humor, loyalty, and energy. So, what do you say? Think Hollywood’s listening?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday: A Photographic Ode to Autumn

This evening, I went for a wonderful walk in the woods, near my home in northern Michigan. Despite the lack of sunshine and the threat of rain, I ventured onto one of my favorite trails. It’s a shady path, lined with tall pine trees, that divides at a crossroads into three distinct routes, which meet again at the top of the middle one, creating a lopsided loop, cleaved in two. I’d left my weights at home and taken my camera instead. Borrowing an idea from my friend Becky, I wanted to capture the fall colors before they faded into memory.

As I hiked the middle route of my favorite trail system and looped back to the crossroads, I couldn’t help but notice mankind’s influence: deep truck ruts, chopped logs, “No Hunting” signs here and there. But, even with such reminders of civilization as well as the cool raindrops that fell on my silly hatless head, I savored the kaleidoscopic forest that enveloped me. Leaves of nearly every hue – crimson, orange, yellow-green, brown, and purple – were everywhere. Even my beloved blueberry patch, always eerily lit by sunshine even on an overcast day, was surrounded by trees that resembled the fluorescent Play-Doh from my childhood.

During this damp but rewarding walk, I realized that Becky was right: Northern Michigan is “the most incredibly beautiful place.” Of course, I also thought about my lifelong fascination with autumn, which has in fact been my favorite season for as long as I can remember – and truly a delight for the senses. The sight of vibrant colors, the smell of burning leaves, the taste of hot apple cider, the feel of a cool crisp breeze, and the sound of revelry in the French Quarter.

Because, yes, I attribute my love for the fall, in part, to the holidays in October and November – namely, Halloween and the Day of the Dead, holidays that celebrate those who have passed between life and death. What an appropriate time for such a celebration – after all, isn’t that what all those vibrant leaves represent? A time of transition, between the vitality of summer and the dormancy of winter? As I returned home and gazed at the nearby cove, I thought that death had never seemed more beautiful...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday: Writing Distractions

You’re probably tired of hearing that I’m working on a book proposal – frankly, I’m sick of saying it! But I’m definitely making headway, and I’m so bloody excited about this project that the proposal process – though a lot of work – has actually been rather fun.

Nevertheless, it’s an all-consuming prospect right now. You see, I’m competing against another author, which has, for me at least, never been the case before, so I’m really nervous about the outcome – which might explain why I’m taking longer to finish it than I’d originally planned. My acquisitions contact gave me until this Monday (October 12th), so I’m not late or anything (nor will I be), but I’d hoped to have it to her sometime this week. I have mixed feelings, though, about sending it to her now: On the one hand, knowing that I’m in competition for this project makes me want to send the proposal to her sooner rather than later, but on the other hand, I'd like to take my time to make it the best proposal it can be.

So, needless to say, it’s been a nerve-wracking few days. It doesn’t help, of course, that while I’m working on the proposal, I need to make last-minute preparations to leave northern Michigan and help Dan with our upcoming film festival. Still, despite the stress, I thrive on being busy and juggling multiple projects – it certainly keeps life interesting.

No matter how much I’ve enjoyed crafting this proposal, however, I find that distractions are sometimes necessary. At times like these, I long for a lovely beach on which to take a lengthy, relaxing stroll, but, alas, there are no such beaches nearby.

If it were earlier in the summer, I could reenergize my brain with a visit to a local farmers market. But, alas, the sweet peaches are long gone.

And if I were already in New Orleans, I’d be hopping over to Café Maspero for a muffuletta break. But, alas, we’re not in the Big Easy yet.

In lieu of such distractions, then, I often find that writing something else (namely, fiction) helps me to recharge my brain cells and refocus on the writing project at hand. That’s why I’m so grateful to be a part of the Come In Character site – a great place to blow off some steam and have a little fun via one’s characters. If you’re in need of such a distraction, pop on over – today, we’re emoting wonder, which is a good place to be as I complete this proposal. After all, that’s the feeling that I want readers to get from perusing the potential travel guide that might result from said proposal.

At crazy times like this, it helps, too, to write something completely different – something unrelated to any current project (fiction or otherwise). That’s why I’m so thankful for Jennifer J. Bennett. A few weeks ago, she ran a contest to write a monologue of a household object, and I actually took the time to do it – an excellent exercise in seeing life from an unusual perspective and a terrific way to distract myself for a little while. If you have a chance, please visit Jen’s site today – and vote on your favorite object monologue. No matter the voting outcome, though, I’ll forever appreciate the distraction.

I have no doubt that I’m not alone in needing distractions from time to time. What do you do when you need a break from the project at hand? And, please, try to keep it family-friendly.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tuesday Travels: Key West on the Brain

The Florida Keys have long constituted one of my favorite regions in America. Always warm, often sunny, and virtually isolated, they comprise a world all their own. So, perhaps it’s no wonder that, as the days get colder and drearier in northern Michigan, I have Key West on the brain. Palm trees, banana leaves, Victorian inns, Caribbean bungalows, fresh seafood, French crepes, Hemingway haunts, lively annual events, and snorkeling opportunities galore – yeah, it’s safe to say that I adore that crazy little island.

In fact, I felt so inspired today that I even featured Key West cuisine on my American Nomad blog. Check it out if you have a chance.

And then riddle me this: Do you like islands? If so, do you have a favorite one?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Monday Munchies: Gourmet Personal Pizza

For the past week, I’ve been working on a detailed proposal for Avalon Travel. Since it’s due next week, and I still have a lot of work ahead of me, I’ve asked Dan, my cooking hubby extraordinaire, to once again be my guest chef for today’s “Monday Munchies.” Over on his blog, he’s offered his awesome Summer Stew recipe, which just happens to suit any season. But, over here, he’s featuring his yummy, customized, interactive mini-pizzas – one of my favorite Danny Boy creations. So, start your engines – and may the gastrointestinal fun begin!


Get away from the humdrum pizza you have delivered or prepare from a cardboard box. This recipe provides an easy-to-make, yet original pizza, to impress your family, your friends, and your significant other.

Gourmet Personal Pizza

Serves: 6-8
Total Time: 30 min.


  • 1 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil per pizza
  • 2 cups of Mozzarella, shredded
  • Havarti Cheese (1 slice per Pizza), cut into strips
  • 1 medium Tomato, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 medium Onion, diced
  • 1 can of Baby Corn, diced
  • 4 oz. sliced Pepperoni
  • 2 slices of Ham, cut into half-inch squares
  • 1 ripe Avocado, thinly sliced (3-4 thin slices per Pizza)
  • 4 oz. of fresh Mushrooms, sliced
  • 15 oz. can of Medium Ripe Olives, sliced
  • 1 tsp Garlic Powder for each Pizza
  • 15 oz. can/jar of Pizza Sauce
  • Whole Wheat Pita Bread, 6-8 rounds
  1. Pre-heat oven to 375.
  2. On baking sheet, spread 1 tsp of Extra Virgin Olive Oil over the top of each Pita Bread.
  3. Sprinkle Garlic Powder around edge of each Pita Bread.
  4. Bake the Pita Bread for 5-7 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
  5. Spread 2 TBS of Sauce on each Pizza.
  6. Layer each Pizza with the ingredients, careful not to go overboard. You can ask your guests what they would like on their Pizzas, but encourage them to try a fully-loaded one (start with the thin, flat ingredients).
  7. Sprinkle the Mozzarella on top, covering each pizza.
  8. Lay the strips of Havarti on top.
  9. Bake for 6-8 minutes, until the Cheese is completely melted. For crisper crust, bake for 8-10 minutes.
Once you see how easy it is to put these together, you'll be making them all the time!