Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday: Coconut Artwork

Although I’ve dabbled in drawing, beadwork, basket-weaving, and a few other artistic disciplines, I’m definitely more comfortable with photography and the written word. So, I’m fascinated by those who can create art from an ordinary object – even those who craft silly Key West souvenirs from coconuts. On my last trip to the Florida Keys, I was tickled by a particular vendor cart in Mallory Square, where a whole plethora of coconut figurines was on display.

Coconut pirates (of varying hues) hung beneath the roof of the cart, while the bin below teemed with more civilized coconut people, from professors...

...to mother-baby pairings.

Looking at such clever coconut creations, I so wish that I had the ability to craft something from seemingly nothing. Ice sculptures, ornate sandcastles, and sidewalk chalk paintings make me equally envious – despite the fact that their beauty, their very existence, is ever ephemeral.

What ability – artistic or otherwise – do you wish you possessed that you currently don’t?

P.S. Coconut pirates so enthrall me that I even featured one on Come In Character today. Come over and share your thoughts – if you’re so inclined.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday Travels: Highway Nostalgia Revisited

Hi, everyone! I’m still trying to juggle way too many projects this week – and I might have to keep some posts short to save time – but you knew I couldn’t stay away for long...

I’d like to begin today’s post, though, by saying thanks to my hubby, Dan, for helping me out yesterday – and thanks to all of you for being so gracious to him!

Last month, I told you that Dan and I would be leaving Michigan by the end of September. Well, that hasn’t happened yet. For a number of reasons, we decided to extend our “summer” stay to the middle of October. Anyway, in that same post, I shared my dismay regarding a formerly frequent stop along the highways and byways of America: Cracker Barrel, a nostalgic, country-style restaurant and gift shop that was once a staple of my road trips with Mom but has since become a haven of lukewarm food and slow service. According to the comments that day, it seems that I wasn’t the only one that Cracker Barrel had disappointed. Stephanie Faris, whose had several bad experiences there, even suggested that I visit their website, comment on my poor experiences, and link CB to my site.

In response, I wrote:

I’m totally with you, Steph. I don’t think this is simply a case of romanticizing a place of my youth – I think the food and service at Cracker Barrel HAVE declined in recent years. And you’re right – I should let CB know about my disappointment – instead of simply venting my frustrations on a blog (although, as a side note, a blog is a terrific place to vent one’s frustrations). And I think it’s great that you’re planning to follow through with the CB survey. How else will they know that they could be losing long-time customers? The servers I’ve met recently certainly wouldn't care. Maybe the corporate office would?

Then, I took Steph’s advice. I left a heartfelt comment on the CB website, linking it to my post, to which I received this reply:

Thanks for visiting our website. We’re glad you wrote, giving this Old Country Computer a chance to say “hi” back. Please know that a “real” guest relations representative – a person! – will take a look at your message, sharing your thoughts with the right people, and will e-mail you back if that’s what’s needed.

As expected, I never heard from the “Old Country Computer” again. Then, just the other day, I received a long-awaited packet of mail from my New Orleans postal address – and lo and behold, I discovered a letter from Cracker Barrel (dated August 20, 2009 – the day after I received the automated email reply):

Thank you for bringing to our attention your recent concerns regarding visits to various Cracker Barrel Old Country Store locations. Please accept our sincere apologies for any disappointment you have experienced.

Please be assured that steps have been taken to address the experiences you had and to make certain the necessary corrections are made. I have contacted our Operations Department and they will be addressing your issues to ensure that proper procedures are being followed.

Please accept the enclosed complimentary meal card as a token of our appreciation for your patronage. The gold card may be used at the Cracker Barrel location of your choice. We hope that your next visit to Cracker Barrel will be much more pleasant.


Now, while I’m tickled that someone actually paid attention to my complaint, the cynical side of me knows that it’s just a ploy to lure me back to the Cracker Barrel fold. So, here’s the question: Do I swallow my pride and use the “gold card” the next time I spy a Cracker Barrel on the road, or do I follow my instinct and forget the card exists? Dan, naturally, says we should stay away and avoid further disappointment. But I'm curious – what do you say?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday Munchies: Guest Chef!

This week has just gotten officially crazy. After speaking with one of my editorial contacts at Avalon today, I’ve promised to prepare a book proposal over the next week (or two, if necessary), so I won’t be able to devote as much time to blogging as I’d like. Given the upcoming frenzy that will be my schedule, my hubby has generously offered a guest post for today. It only makes sense since he’s the chef in the family – and I’ve often featured his food for “Monday Munchies.” So, with that, I turn over the reins to Dan. Enjoy the yumminess!

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Hey, everyone! I'm glad I could help Laura out with her blog this week. It’s given me a kick in the rear to get moving on my Wooing with Food blog. Originally, I thought my target audience would be guys who don't know how to cook, but I quickly realized that anyone can woo with food, so this and the other recipes I’ll be posting are geared toward anyone wanting to woo over someone with their culinary chops. This also applies to wooing over that significant other's friends and family, so the recipes are sometimes geared toward more than two servings. So, enjoy the jambalaya recipe and check out my other recipes, which will be posted once a week.

Jammin’ Jambalaya – Cajun/Creole Style

Like so many things, I like to mix the Cajun and Creole styles to make my Jambalaya. Cajun tends to be based on a roux and have chicken and andouille sausage, while Creole tends to have tomatoes and shrimp... I love this mix. It’s just spicy enough to heat up the dinner conversation.

Also, most of the recipes I give make three to four servings, so if you aren't cooking for more than one other person, you should have leftovers.

Ingredients:

8 oz. Smoked Sausage (sliced)
4 oz. Ham (¼” cubes)
16 oz. Shrimp (peeled/deveined)
4 oz. Chicken Breast (¼” cubes)
Medium Onion (chopped)
½ cup Green Pepper (diced)
½ cup Red Pepper (diced)
½ cup Parsley, fresh (chopped)
2 Celery Ribs (chopped)
3 Garlic Cloves (minced)
15-oz. can Petite Diced Tomato (don’t drain)
1 tsp Dried Thyme
2 Bay Leaves
2 TBS Cajun/Creole Seasoning (see this post on how to make this mix)
¼ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cups Instant Brown Rice (uncooked)
1 tsp Salt
½ tsp Pepper
¾ cup Water

Instructions:

In a large frying pan, over medium-high heat, brown the Sausage and Ham. Set aside once browned.
Add Olive Oil.
Add Garlic.
Stir so the Garlic does not burn.
Add Chicken and Shrimp.
Sprinkle 1 TBS of Cajun Seasoning over everything.
Cook for 4 minutes, stirring to avoid burning.
Add Onion.
Reduce heat to Medium.
Cook for another 3-4 minutes until Onion becomes translucent.
Add Green Pepper, Red Pepper, Celery, Diced Tomato, Thyme, Bay Leaves, Sausage, Ham, Salt, and Pepper.
Bring to a boil.
Cook for 5 minutes, stirring.
Stir in the Water, 1 TBS of Cajun Seasoning, and Rice.
Cook covered, for 20 minutes.
Remove cover and turn heat up to Medium-High.
Cook for another 5 minutes or until most of the liquid is gone.
Turn off heat, remove Bay Leaves, and let it set for 5 minutes before serving.

Four Heaping Servings

Serve with some Corn Bread (muffins or standard), and some slices of Green and Red Pepper. Garnish with a sprig of Parsley. You can also have a bottle of Tabasco sauce at the table for anyone wishing to kick it up an extra notch.

If the weather is hot, ice-cold Beer goes best with this dish (nothing too dark) or, if you want Wine, a chilled bottle of white.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Weekend Mishmash: A Furry Meet-Cute

Sometimes, it seems that, despite a film degree from Northwestern, I missed a few cinematic concepts and terms during my college education. “Meet-cute” is one such example, and I have the recent film The Holiday (2006) to thank for my newfound knowledge. As Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach), an adorable screenwriter from the “golden days” of Hollywood, explains to Iris Simpkins (Kate Winslet), “Say a man and a woman both need something to sleep in and both go to the same men's pajama department. The man says to the salesman, ‘I just need bottoms,’ and the woman says, ‘I just need a top.’ They look at each other and that's the ‘meet cute.’”

Well, in my world, a “meet-cute” has been a long time in coming. It’s not my meet-cute, of course. It's Ruby's. You see, for months now, Dan has been trying to get Ruby Azazel – our feisty, one-year-old cat, with a need for affection and a mind of her own – to interact with Gypsy – his in-laws’ sweet-tempered, bird-hunting, eleven-year-old wirehaired pointing griffon. The reason is simple: Despite my fervent desire for a kitty in my life – and Dan's willingness to appease said desire last year – he's made it quite clear that he just as fervently wants a dog. Hence, the need for a meet-cute – to see how Ruby might get along with a future canine in the family.

The problem, of course, is that, even as a kitten, Ruby was not fond of canines. On the few occasions that I had to transport her between the apartment and the car and back again, she would crouch down in her kitty carrier and observe the world around her, seemingly searching for enemies everywhere. Whenever she spied a dog – be it an obnoxious terrier or a pleasant labrador – she would hiss loudly until it went away. So, I had my doubts that Ruby would express anything but scorn toward poor Gypsy, sweet as she is.

Earlier in the summer, when Dan began bringing Gypsy over to the house, ostensibly to interact with our indoor kitty, things went roughly how I thought they would. As soon as Gypsy crossed our threshold, Ruby would come running from wherever she’d been napping to watch as Gypsy sniffed her toys, attempted to sample the food in her bowl, and tried to edge nearer to her furry little neighbor. But, despite her own curiosity, Ruby would never let Gypsy get very close to her, and if Gypsy ever stepped over the imaginary line of tolerance, Ruby would let her know with a tail puff, a hiss, and a swat, normally signaling the end of the visit. Over the ensuing months, Gypsy figured out that staying clear of Ruby, at least for part of the time, was advisable.

But, perhaps due to their ever-growing familiarity with each other, recent visits have proven to be a wee bit more promising. Ruby seems less wary of Gypsy’s presence and more, dare I say, eager for it. If she’s sitting up in our bedroom window (one of her favorite spots) and sees Dan and Gypsy headed for the house, she comes pounding across the second floor so quickly, it sounds like a sudden thunderstorm has descended upon the forest. Over the past few weeks, she and Gypsy have touched noses, sniffed each other’s rear ends, and alternately stalked each other around the house. Ruby even hisses less than she once did, reserving that unpleasant behavior for the moments that she feels really cornered.

Recently, I’ve noticed yet another change in Ruby’s behavior. A month ago, she would flop onto the floor and roll around on her back, as if inviting Gypsy to play with her. As soon as poor Gypsy would lumber over toward her, however, she would hop onto all fours and brace herself for the puff-hiss-and-swat routine. Devious as a, well, cat, she had obviously been luring the dog into a classic feline trap. But, during today’s visit, when Ruby flopped onto her back, she actually allowed Gypsy to get close enough to lick her belly – if the dog had been so inclined. Finally, a real meet-cute! For once, I had hope that we would one day be able to welcome home a dog of our own. I refuse to think about the obvious – that it’s a lot easier for my temperamental kitty to interact with an elderly dog than it might be for her to tolerate an energetic puppy. Guess we’ll just have to enjoy these interactions for the next couple of weeks – and cross the puppy bridge when we come to it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Fantasies: Recommended Review Sites

Things are starting to heat up in the Martone household. Besides the three blogs that I try to maintain on a regular basis, I’ve been working on freelance projects (articles and the like), beta-reading other writers’ manuscripts, and reviewing critiques of my own novel – in preparation for my much-delayed revision. On top of that, I just found out that Avalon Travel wants me to prepare a book proposal for another travel guidebook – and all week, I’ve been helping my husband finalize the line-up for our next film festival.

So, I’m definitely meeting myself coming and going these days – which means that I haven’t had any time to see any new films or finish any good books lately (although I am currently reading Barbara Kingsolver’s fascinating Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life). But that doesn’t mean you don’t have time to catch a movie or read a book. Here, then, are some of the review sites that I’ve recently perused:

Chick Plix: Jennifer Bennett offers pithy, up-to-date movie opinions from a “chick’s” perspective – and as a bonus, the site plays movie scores while you read. Recent reviews have included The Informant, Jennifer’s Body, and The Hurt Locker.

Funky Fruit Book & Movie Reviews: Christy and Kristi, two very different women, just started this review site. Their first review covers Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s book The Angel’s Game. Check it out!

Becky’s Book Reviews: For over three years now, Becky has been providing her readers in-depth reviews of modern and classic books. You’ll also find mini-challenges and author interviews here.

Roses & Thorns: Staff members of The Rose & Thorn Literary Ezine post various book reviews as well as writing/editing insights and author interviews.

Just Me & You: Martha Warner shares periodic book reviews with her readers. Her last review covered Bryan Gruley’s Starvation Lake – a book that I’d actually recommended to her.

Fiction Groupie: Among her plethora of interesting writing-related posts, Roni occasionally offers reviews of romance, paranormal, urban fantasy, mystery/suspense, horror, and young adult novels.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday: Eleven Keys to Serenity

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been a frequent visitor to a site called Come In Character, where authors and characters can interact in a creative, sometimes therapeutic way. Well, yesterday marked my first day as a regular contributor to the site, and perhaps due to my current frame of mind, I decided to focus on “frustration” as a conversation starter.

As it turned out, several authors and their characters had frustrations of their own, which was infinitely reassuring. Not that I wish misery on anyone else, but sometimes, when you’re feeling a bit lost – hurt by the economy, confused about your path in life, doubtful that your fiction will ever see the light of day, and overwhelmed by the responsibilities and promises in your life – it reassures you to know that you’re not alone in your daily struggle... that you’re not like this sad gorilla, isolated by your own dismay.

Airing a few of my frustrations and hearing others’ troubles – even in an entertaining forum like Come In Character – actually urged me to consider the things that routinely make me feel happy, grateful, inspired, and tranquil – especially when life seems most stressful and uncertain. In no particular order, here are my eleven keys to serenity:

Willie’s music: Even as a child, I found Willie Nelson’s unique voice incredibly soothing, and his laidback spirit extremely inspiring. I listened to my mom’s records often – so much so that he quickly became my favorite musician – and still is today. I’ve even seen him in concert on more than one occasion – once, on a trip to Branson, Missouri, with my mom, and, several years later, at the House of Blues in Chicago. When I was considering a career in the U.U. ministry (a long story that I won’t divulge today), I even wrote and delivered a sermon about him – in particular, about how spirituality can be found in the most unlikely of places. For me, a lifelong atheist, I’d always gotten a spiritual jolt from Willie’s songs – somehow, his words and music calmed me in a way that prayers do for others. Even today, when deadlines and commitments threaten to break me, I just have to listen to one of his many albums, and the stress dissipates. While many different types of music – from movie scores to Irish ballads – can calm me, too, there’s nothing quite like Willie – whatever you might think of him, he’s truly one-of-a-kind.

Favorite flicks: Some of my favorite movies can do the trick, too. Whenever the current state of publishing unnerves me – whenever the stiff competition, troublesome guidelines, and improbable odds make me question the sanity of my writing goals – I simply have to watch one of my favorite life-affirming flicks, from Waking Ned Devine (1998) to Wonder Boys (2000), and I’m back on the path again.

Good food: What can I say? I was born and raised in New Orleans – how could food not be a big part of my life? In fact, it’s often too big a part of my life – I depend on it, at times, for more than just sustenance. Certain foods – like raw oysters, dark chocolate, sweet cherries, tomato basil bisque, havarti cheese, kalamata olives, and lemon poppyseed muffins – have a way of bringing me a lasting moment of joy and reminding me that there’s a lot to appreciate in this complicated world. Of course, when it comes to yummy foods, it’s all about portion control – not just for health reasons, but also because the less often I indulge, the more I appreciate it when I do.

Yoga: As I explained in a recent post, I’ve been practicing yoga (off and on) for nearly a decade, and the only thing that derails me at times is my inability to stick to a schedule. It actually has nothing to do with yoga itself – which I absolutely adore. Like many people, though, I often let projects and responsibilities usurp things like exercise – and it’s a constant struggle to realign my priorities. But when I do make time for a few yoga poses, it does wonders for my body as well as my psyche – and relaxes me like nothing else. Maybe what I need is more yoga and less cheese in my life. Hmm... that’s something to think about.

Natural world: Although I grew up in an urban area, I’ve always loved the outdoors. Whether camping in a forest, hiking up a mountain, fishing in a bayou, swimming alongside a beach, even exploring the desert, I feel a sense of wonder and peace in the natural world. That’s why I love living in northern Michigan during the summer months. It’s hard to stay stressed in such a beautiful, somewhat remote place. A long walk in the woods or a nice swim in the lake is usually all it takes for me to relax and refocus. If only I could take this clean air with me back to New Orleans and Los Angeles.

Meditation: Yoga certainly incorporates an element of meditation. Key poses – such as “cat” and “corpse” – as well as the focus on breathing help me to quiet my thoughts, unwind my nerves, and concentrate on, well, nothing. But sometimes, it’s nice to roll up the yoga mat, find an out-of-the-way place, and simply sit still for a while, meditating on the cosmic web, the meaning of life, my place in the world, or nothing at all. In our fast-paced world, it’s hard to take such time for ourselves, but I always feel better after I do.

Sleep: No matter what I do, it seems as though my “to do” list grows longer every day, and my schedule gets more inconsistent all the time. Ironically, though I make less money now as a freelancer than I did when I worked for “The Man,” I find that I work harder and have crazier hours than I ever did when I was living a normal post-college life in Chicago. I’m juggling so much more these days, and sleep is not the priority that it once was. That’s not a good thing, I know – as my mother is fond of telling me, poor sleep habits can cause all sorts of problems down the road, from hypertension and heart disease to stroke and cancer. Besides body health, though, sleep is also excellent for mental health – something I experience for myself whenever I manage to get a good night’s sleep, and I must admit there’s nothing quite like waking up after a solid rest and a medley of memorable dreams, some of which have inspired my stories.

Writing passion: This might seem bizarre, but sometimes, when I’m feeling discouraged by the modern publishing industry and stressed by all the revision work ahead of me, I find strength and peace in the realization that there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than writing. I wrote skits as a child, short stories and scripts as a teenager, longer works (like novellas and screenplays) in college, and a novel in my post-college life – and at every step of the way, I’ve loved escaping into the worlds I’ve created and interacting with my characters. They’ve calmed me – even when the road to publishing seems insurmountable – and given me a reason to keep trying.

Rich experiences: I think it’s easy for all of us to slip into regret and disillusionment at times. Am I on the right career path? Am I with the right person? Should I have waited to have kids? Should I go back to school? Should I have sewn my wild oats when I had the chance? No matter what the pressing issue at the moment, it’s critical that we embrace the positive aspects of our life experiences. When I’m feeling down about something or confused about my direction, I try to focus on the rich experiences that have defined my life: fishing excursions with my dad, road trips with my mom, close relationships with my grandparents, my vision quest experience as an adolescent, good times at Northwestern, all of the unusual travels that I’ve shared with my husband, and all the crazy things we’ve seen over the years (including the Florida Keys’ obsession with manatee mailboxes). And I realize that I wouldn’t trade any of those memories for all the money and fame in the world.

Supportive hubby: No doubt about it – what really keeps me going at times is the love, respect, and support that I get from my husband. Dan is truly my best friend, my favorite traveling companion, and the person who keeps me on track when stress and self-doubt threaten to derail me. He encourages me when the odds of publishing success seem impossible. He urges me to keep trying, no matter what, and in the immortal words of Galaxy Quest to “never give up, never surrender.” Hopefully, I do the same for him.

Loving kitty: During the first week of this blog, I posted an ode to my cat, Ruby Azazel, a furry feline with a sweet face, an affectionate nature, and a mind of her own. What I said then still holds true today. “When the best of intentions fall apart, all I have to do is look at Ruby – sleeping on a pillow, nibbling treats from my palm, staring at a chipmunk outside the window, leaping up and down the stairs, or doing one of a dozen other favorite activities – and I feel a great sense of calm, love, and perspective. Because most things – save for perhaps death or the knowledge of some terminal illness – aren't worth all the worry through which we put ourselves. One look at my crazy, little girl, and I know that’s true.”

So, what helps you overcome stress, frustration, self-doubt, and all the other nasty little entities that plague us at times?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday: Object Monologue

A few days ago, Jennifer J. Bennett announced her latest writing contest – a curious challenge to write a monologue of an object in your home. Of course, you can’t indicate what the object is, you can’t go beyond 1000 words, and you must provide a photo of the object. The contest ends on October 1st – at which point the voting begins (ending on October 4th)! The winner receives a Barnes & Noble gift card, courtesy of the generous Ms. Jen.

The last time that Jen ran a contest, I was unable to participate, so this time, I jumped at the chance. The name of my story is “Always a Nook or Cranny” – and per the contest instructions, I’m sharing it with you today. Also, per Jen’s instructions, I’m refraining from posting the photo of my object – which is hard for me, as I have yet to post words without at least one photo – if not more. But there’s a first time for everything!

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For a long time, I sat in a store, waiting. Admittedly, it was a spacious store, with tall ceilings and plenty of other waiting objects, but it was hard nonetheless, sitting amid others like me – alike in material, if not in color – waiting for someone to take me home.

Then, one afternoon, about nine months ago, an eager couple came into the store, made a beeline for my section, and picked me out from all the rest.

The woman seemed particularly excited. I even overheard her say, “I’d like to see the mess she makes
now!”

The man, however, wanted a variation on my design – something even bigger and more contained. But, since the woman would be tending to me on a daily basis, her vote overruled his.

“That one’s way too big,” she said. “How can we travel with it? And it’s way too expensive. This one will do just fine... for now.”

The others of my kind glared at me.
Why him, they were probably thinking. Why not me?

If I could’ve shrugged in reply, I would have. Deep down, I knew that I was special – that I could please the nice woman if only I tried hard enough – but I didn’t want the others to feel bad for not having been chosen.

As the man carted me to a checkout counter at the front of the store, I took one last look around. Since I’d first entered the place through the back door – after being plucked from a delivery truck – I’d never seen this part of the store before. Filled with shelf after shelf of assorted containers, scrumptious treats, and animated oddities, it was truly a wonder to behold – if only for a few minutes.

After the man paid for me and a few other items, he carried me to a minivan, tucked me inside, and started the engine. Once the woman had positioned her seatbelt, we were soon whisking down the highway and meandering through the narrow streets of the French Quarter – apparently in search of a parking space, which I soon realized was not easy to find.

Not long afterward, the woman lugged my lightweight but awkward frame along several blocks, through two outer doors, and up three flights of stairs. It was then that I had my first glimpse of the couple’s temporary apartment, the tall windows of which overlooked bustling Decatur Street. I also had my first glimpse at the third family member, a rowdy kitten named Ruby Azazel, who did not seem pleased to have been left behind, locked in the bathroom to muffle her cries from the neighbors.

Soon, the nice woman had arranged me inside and out, tucked me in a corner of the small room, and left me to do the only job that I know how to do – more sitting, more waiting – but at least I felt welcome in this new place. Every day, the woman made sure that I was neat and tidy, free of unnecessary debris.

“So, how are things going?” the man asked her one afternoon.

“Terrific,” she said. “The messes are much smaller now. Think we’ve solved the problem.”

“No more screaming and threatening to take her back?”

She blushed. “No. No more screaming... for now.”

Of course, messes still happened. The woman had to use the broom or mini-vacuum every day. Sometimes, plastic bags and deodorizer were required, and once a month, I underwent routine maintenance. But, on the whole, she seemed to be happy with me – so much so that I was invited to travel with the man, the woman, and the kitty to their next destination: an extended-stay hotel room in Los Angeles, where I was promptly tucked beneath a sink.

From my shadowy nook, I witnessed a lot of frenzied activity over the next two months. The ever-curious kitty sliced her paw on a misplaced razor, upsetting the woman greatly. The man made a lot of aromatic meals in the small kitchenette, while the woman tried her best to keep up with the dishes.

Once, a horribly high-pitched fire alarm went off – due, as I later discovered, to someone else’s culinary mishap – and the couple rushed outside to await the fire brigade. Even after the threat was neutralized, the alarm wouldn’t stop blaring, and the woman returned for the kitty, who had apparently flipped over her carrier and crawled beneath the blanket inside, to evade the screeching sounds. This time, the woman took the kitty with her, worried that the alarm might have damaged Ruby’s tiny ears. It saddened me that she didn’t think to take me, too.

Occasionally, the man and woman donned nice clothes, fixed their hair, and headed out to see some old friends – folks with whom they used to socialize more often, back when they were living in Los Angeles year-round. I gathered that they didn’t like the city very much – not that I ever saw anything more than my corner. Supposedly, they were only in town for a film festival that they’d run for several years. I guess that explained the bins of supplies and videotapes that frequently passed through the door, especially toward the end of their stay.

In their next home, a high-ceilinged studio above Bourbon Street, I dwelled beneath the stairs that led to the sleeping loft and kept my eye on the kitty, whose paws were sore from having been declawed. Here, in northern Michigan, I’ve sat in a corner, between a storage closet and the bathroom, for the past five months, and soon I’ll be returning to New Orleans, where my life with this small nomadic pack began.

Even though I’m always relegated to an out-of-the-way nook or cranny, I’m rarely ignored for long. My adopted family seems to approve of me – even little Ruby, who incidentally isn’t so little anymore – and I do my job admirably. Moving around the country so often isn’t so bad either – at least the scenery changes – from what I can see of it.


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Can you guess what the object is? I didn’t make it too difficult, I must admit.

But, even if it is easy to guess, I loved writing it. It’s fun – and enlightening – to write from a completely different point of view. I do something similar at the Come In Character site, where authors converge to interact with one another’s characters. Writing from the perspective of an object, however, was a whole new experience. Maybe I should do it more often. As Pixar films have done for toys, bugs, monsters, fish, cars, and rodents, this kind of writing might just let me see household objects in a whole new light. Thanks, Jen!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday Travels: All Aboard!

For my American Nomad blog, I recently posted an article about train travel. Although Dan and I frequently travel by car, we’ve certainly been known to board a train or two over the years. Before I even met Dan, I had ridden my fair share of trains, even taking Amtrak’s City of New Orleans from the Big Easy (my hometown) to Chicago (where I was attending college at the time). And right after meeting Dan (but before we were an “item”), I took a trip to Italy, where I experienced a six-hour train ride from Venice to Rome – what an amazing journey that was!

When Dan and I lived in England, we often used trains to get from Henley-on-Thames, where we were living, to towns like Reading and London. It really was a more efficient and less harrowing way to travel than driving on Britain’s poorly marked roadways. And, of course, while residing in places like Chicago and Los Angeles, we used the public trains a lot – especially in the Windy City, which has a truly incredible system. Chicago’s trains almost always got us to our destination on time – whether it was an office building in the Loop or the Midway airport – and it was so much cheaper and faster than driving in the Chicagoland area.

Although I never collected trains as a child, I’ve always been fascinated with them. Despite the decline in U.S. train travel over the past century, America’s history will forever be intertwined with locomotives – and there’s nothing quite like riding the rails. If you don’t have time for a lengthy Amtrak journey, there are plenty of smaller lines throughout the country, offering short, nostalgic train rides for visitors. And, in lieu of that, you can always take the silly tourist train rides on offer in certain resort towns, such as Key West’s Conch Tour Train. Hey, don’t laugh – it’s fun!

While doing my research for the travel article, I discovered this interesting partnership between Amtrak and the National Park Service. Called Trails & Rails, the program “provides rail passengers with educational opportunities that foster an appreciation of a selected region’s natural and cultural heritage... promotes National Park Service areas...” and attempts “to encourage train ridership” – which I think is pretty awesome. Apparently, Amtrak and the National Park Service are also helping to celebrate the next National Train Day (yes, we have one of those), which is scheduled for next May. I’m personally heartened by all this attention to train travel, which is slowly becoming a thing of the past.

So, do any of you have fond memories of past train rides? Or is it time to take your first trip?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday Munchies: Eggplant Parmesan

Back in July, I wrote about the little garden that Dan and I typically grow every summer in northern Michigan – or perhaps I should say “attempt to grow every summer” because the unusually cool weather has not been kind to our veggies this season. Many of our herbs shriveled early, and the cucumbers were less than promising. As usual, our zucchini thrived – a few even grew to record size – and the cherry tomatoes, though late, have been consistently delicious for the past few weeks. But the big surprise this summer has been one of the plants that I’ve been tending. Every season, I try something new – and this year, it was – you guessed it – eggplant!

Early in the summer, Dan had had his doubts. The wee card embedded in the potted eggplant that we’d bought at the hardware store promised that this particular bush could produce up to fifty eggplant in one season. Dan scoffed at such a number, but the prospect intrigued me – and served as a challenge to my nonexistent gardening skills. In Dan’s defense, neither of us had attempted to grow eggplant before. But, since I’ve been on an eggplant kick lately – perhaps recalling the delicious eggplant parmesan I’d had at Mona Lisa, a quaint Italian restaurant in the French Quarter – I was determined to watch it grow... and grow it did. In June and July, it did little more than stay alive, but by August, the lavender-hued blossoms were beginning to transform into purplish-black pods – like something out of a “body snatcher” flick.

I was so bloody excited the day that I noticed my first eggplant “pod” – and soon, there were seven little pods of various sizes. One, in particular, looked pretty darn healthy. It grew at the base of the stalk, eventually growing too long to hang. For a long time, it lay atop the potting soil, getting longer and bigger every day. Concerned about rot, I checked it regularly, but I was emphatically told by my mother (via a long-distance phone call) not to pluck it until it was tender. I felt it daily for signs of a change in texture, but it just continued to grow. Eventually, I broke down and bought a full-sized eggplant from the grocery store (pictured here beside my little homegrown one). I know it seems like a betrayal, but I was dying for a nice plate of grilled eggplant. If you must know, Karma got its revenge – I ended up burning the store-bought eggplant on the grill. Sigh.

As Inigo Montoya says in The Princess Bride, “I hate waiting.” And yet, that’s exactly what I did. I waited and I waited and I waited some more, and finally my low-hanging eggplant seemed ready to pluck. It was on the small side – compared to those found in most produce sections – but it definitely felt right when I squeezed it – and another one of the seven was close on its heels, almost ready to be plucked as well. Visions of eggplant parmesan began dancing across my inner sanctum. I had promised Dan for weeks that I was going to prepare eggplant parmesan, but as usual, I procrastinated and Dan eventually decided to make it without my assistance – which, while I felt bad about breaking another cooking-related promise (for, yes, this was hardly the first time), was ultimately a good thing.

After all, Dan is the chef in the family – and he’d actually been proactive enough to find a recipe that included red, orange, and yellow peppers (the very peppers that were waiting patiently in the refrigerator to be eaten).

“What?” I said. “Peppers in eggplant parmesan? Who would do such a dastardly thing?”

Apparently, Giada De Laurentiis, the Food Network’s lovely Italian vixen, would. It was her recipe he’d found, and then, being Dan, promptly manipulated. And even though I’d never before spotted a single pepper piece in a dish of traditional eggplant parmesan, I was more than willing to give it a try. For one thing, Dan was eager to cook in my stead. For another thing, I trusted his judgment – and I pretty much like everything that Giada makes.

So, though I offered to help him slice the peppers and eggplant, he shooed me into the bathroom to take a shower. We were, after all, having dinner with his parents, and it’s usually polite to be clean for the occasion.

“But, Dan, will two eggplant be enough for all for of us?”

He sighed. “Yes, more than enough. I’m making sausage, too, you know.”

Naturally. The Martones are Italian, after all; there’s almost always meat at a family dinner. In fact, I think I might have been the only one to have ever eaten eggplant parmesan as an entrĂ©e.

Without another peep, I dutifully shuffled into the bathroom. By the time I’d emerged, Dan had already sliced and grilled the eggplant. Then, I watched him as he lay the thick eggplant slices on a layer of tomato sauce, followed by a handful of shredded mozzarella and parmesan, more sauce, and rows of vibrant pepper slices, above which he added more cheese, more sauce, and, of course, more cheese. Didn’t I mention we’re Italian? (Well, for the most part anyway.)

I have to admit that, after all my skepticism, Dan’s eggplant parmesan turned out pretty good. It was delicious, in fact – and, as with most dishes he prepares, the best I’ve ever had. He was right, too, about the amount. With the stewed sausage, there was plenty of eggplant parmesan to go around. In fact, there were enough leftovers that I was able to have three more meals’ worth over the course of the week. I’m more than happy to admit that he was right about the recipe – if only Dan were willing to admit that he was wrong about my poor little bush. It might not have produced fifty eggplant as promised, but it gave us seven more than he expected, and that’s reason enough to be happy with “the little garden that could.”

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weekend Mishmash: Story Time!

As many of you know, I’m about to embark on what I hope will be the final revision for my first novel, Hollow Souls. Given the momentous task ahead of me, I’ve naturally procrastinated all summer, and yet I’m still thrilled by the world I've created, and excited to see the novel in its finished (and hopefully much shorter) form.

So, it might come as a surprise to learn that I’ve already begun drafting my second novel, a coming-of-age, cross-country drama entitled Red Road Crossing, which, as the title implies, has a Native American theme. While my first novel is told in third person, from the perspectives of a mother and daughter, Devi Marconi and Olivia Harper, my second novel will be told in first person, through the eyes, ears, hearts, and minds of five characters: Meg, a seventeen-year-old girl in search of her long-lost mother; Meg's half-brother, Jonathan; Meg’s stepmother, Billie; Meg’s first lover, Indigo; and Meg’s father, Thomas, owner and operator of a vision quest camp for troubled teenagers.

Since I plan to explore such varied voices in my second novel – in a similar vein to William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying – I’ve begun to practice writing the voices with which I’m unfamiliar, such as ten-year-old Jonathan. A while ago, I tested my abilities by writing a short story from a young boy’s point of view. Called “351” – and posted on my Ruby Hollow website – the story draws its inspiration from my own childhood fishing trips with my father. I’ve decided to post it here today – just to see what you think about it. Have I accurately captured the thoughts of this boy, or is he too smart for his own good? I’m looking for honest opinions, so please don’t hold back.

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My dad's boat is older than me. I know every dent. Every leak. I know how the cushion feels on the green aluminum seat under my shorts. I know the metal side is cold in the morning and burns my hand by noon. Even when I'm back home, I can hear the sputtering motor in my head.

There's a slight breeze as we skim across the water. We're going fast, trying to make the most of the day, so the ride's a bit bumpier than usual. I'm glad for the cushion.

The sun's coming up, and the water's still. Dad's behind me, steering the boat.

“Smooth as glass,” he says. “Fog's burning off. Shaping up to be a nice day.”

I can feel his eyes on my neck.

“You okay, Charlie?”

I listen to the motor and the splashes below. “Wish I could stay longer.”

The marsh comes into view. “I know. Two weeks is never enough.”

What he doesn't say is what I'm feeling. I wish I could live with Dad all year long. He has a small house on stilts, in the middle of a marsh near the gulf. Bought it after the divorce. He uses the beat-up boat to run errands and ride to and from his bait shop on the shore. He's got a few fishing buddies around. He may have a car somewhere, but I'm not sure.

I look forward to our summer visit. We get up early every morning, when the sky's still a purplish blue, before dawn breaks. We head out, whether the radio says rain or shine, to fish for trout or redfish. The redfish are fun to catch – tough to find and even harder to reel in.

We return to his tiny dock by late afternoon, and I usually swim – though when the tide brings the jellyfish in, it's time to get out. We spend the evenings playing cards, taking boat rides, or just talking about stuff. We usually fry up the day's catch, if there is one, and eat it with our fingers. Something I could never get away with at home. When it's dark, we fish some more. The light on Dad's house attracts bugs, which lures some pretty huge fish, and we use his big nets to scoop them up onto the dock. We get to bed by ten or so, and we're up again by five.

It's a routine, but it's ours – those two weeks a year. The rest of the time I live with my mom and stepdad in Chicago.

My folks split when I was seven, and me and Mom moved a thousand miles away. We didn't take much with us. A man up north was waiting, and he had a lot of nice stuff to share. Maybe that's why they split, I don't know.

Dad fought to keep me, but Mom wouldn't let up. I guess when he was eighteen, he held up a gas station on a dare. The gun wasn't loaded, but it didn't matter. He had a record, and Mom brought it up as much as possible, saying he wasn't fit to take care of me, and the judges always agreed with her. Dad used to say it was the stupidest thing he's ever done. But, after awhile, he stopped talking about it, and we settled for our summers.

We're deep into the marsh now. There are seagulls in the sky, screeching and searching for food. I can see other fishing boats anchored in the reeds.

Dad and I haven't had much luck this time around. We've caught a few trout here and there, but often, come suppertime, we've had to thaw out packages of frozen fish from last month's catch. Course, as Dad always says, “A bad day fishing beats a good day working.”

He shuts the motor, pushes his pole along the bottom, and guides us through the reeds. I spot a few swirls near the water's edge, so Dad drops anchor, and we quietly bait our hooks with raw shrimp.

We fish for a long time, feeling a nibble here and there. But the swirls soon disappear, and our luck runs out again. We move to another spot, but it's the same story.

Dad takes us for a boat ride, perhaps to a better cut, but we have even less luck here. Not even a nibble. So we take a lunch break, eating our ham sandwiches in silence. I feel terrible, and Dad doesn't look much better. It's our last day together. My stepdad will be waiting on the shore in a few hours, next to his rented sports car. They don't even trust me to take a plane by myself. Or maybe it's Dad they don't trust.

After lunch, we search for a luckier spot. It's the hottest part of the day, but I'm determined to catch a big one.

A few hours pass, and still nothing. I see Dad glance at his watch.

I cast my line out toward a lonely bunch of weeds. “I wish time could stop.”

“I know what you mean, son.” He smiles.

Maybe a boy isn't supposed to say so, but I love my dad's smile.

The gnats nip at our faces and limbs. My sunburned skin itches in places. But the breeze feels nice. Suddenly, I sense a tug on my line. Often, a nibble can catch you off guard, and the fish is gone with your bait before you've even had a chance to touch the reel. But, this time, I'm ready. I pull back gently and snag him. He puts up a fierce fight, pulling out the line as fast as I can reel it in.

“Got something?” Dad keeps a firm grip on his own pole, eyeing his bobber but watching my struggle closely.

“I think it's a red.” I'm excited, but it's hard work.

“That's it, son. He's wearing out – holy shit! I've got one, too.”

We're playing tug o' war with our lines. I pull my red in first. He's a big guy – nearly twenty-eight inches. The hook's deep inside, but I manage to yank it out, and he falls near my feet. I grab him quick, slimy as he is, and drop him in the ice chest. Dad flops his own catch next to mine. It's a few inches shorter but still beautiful.

“Looks like you beat your old dad this time.”

I'm beaming, worn out but proud. The fish are flopping about, slower now but still fighting to find a way overboard.

Dad glances at his watch again and frowns a little. “I'll have to take you back in a few minutes.”

My throat feels choked. The fish look lifeless now amid the chunks of ice. “Too bad there's no time to eat 'em.”

“Oh, these are too good to eat. I'll have 'em mounted for next time you come.” Dad shuts the ice chest. “Well, let's get going.”

We each take our places – him near the motor, me up front.

The ride's long, but not long enough. It's late afternoon and cool again. The wind blows my hair. Mom'll make me cut it first thing.

Soon, the boat slows down, and I can see the dock, surrounded by seagulls. My stepdad is on time as usual, leaning against the hood of a slick black car.

The boat putters toward the wharf, and Dad ties a rope to a crusty post.

Mr. Chuck, the nice old man who owns the boat launch, stands nearby. “Your son's getting big, Lou. He'll be a man soon.”

“He already is.”

We climb onto the dock. My stepdad watches silently. He doesn't even wave.

Dad opens the ice chest, and Mr. Chuck spies the fish. “Nice catch.”

“Charlie got the bigger one.”

There's an awkward pause. Mr. Chuck knows I'm going back. “You know, Rita just bought me a Polaroid. Haven't tried it out yet.”

My stepdad stands up, waiting, probably wondering what's going on.

Mr. Chuck's back in a flash – well, for an old man, he is.

Dad kneels and reaches for the redfish. We hold them high, though I want to put an arm around him.

The picture soon fades into view. My eyes are shut a little, but we're both grinning.

Mr. Chuck hands it to me. “You gotta remember these moments.”

“Oh, we will.” Dad gives me a hug. “Good luck at school. Call me if you need anything.”

I fetch my backpack from the bow and head toward the car, but I want to turn back.

My stepdad opens the door. I look down at my picture. What a fish. My friend Bryan'll be jealous. As I get in, I see my dad watching me from the dock. He looks sad. I try to smile. It'll be a hard year, but next summer will come eventually.

In 351 days.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Fantasies: All About Expectations

I have a confession to make. After all my blathering in the blogosphere a couple weeks back about the thrill of driving two hours to see the 3-D spectacle The Final Destination, I must admit that I was less than thrilled – even despite very low expectations. True, it didn’t help that the couple that went with me and Dan walked out halfway through the film. After all, I tend to be overly sensitive about disappointing people – despite the fact that I didn’t make the movie, that I warned them it could be bad, and that the male half of the couple has notoriously bolted out of 20 percent of the movies he’s seen. What can I say? I’ve always been affected by other people’s moods.

But beyond all that, it’s just a horrid movie. First off, the acting is fairly dreadful – even from the likes of Mykelti Williamson, who’s usually good in everything he does, from Forrest Gump (1994) to August Rush (2007). Secondly, the kills are pretty outrageous, even by Final Destination franchise standards. Lastly, due to poor writing (as well as poor acting), I really didn’t care about any of the characters – which means I really didn’t care if anyone lived or died. Whether you like horror movies or not, you can probably agree that the more you care about the characters involved, the higher the stakes and, therefore, the scarier the film. Scoff if you will, but that’s what I like about the first three films – true, they’re gory and outrageous, but each one also has at least one character for whom I can root – though, admittedly, the films have gotten progressively worse in regards to character development.

Going into this fourth film, my expectations were super-low. For one thing, while the first three films focus on tragic accidents that terrify most folks in the modern age – plane crash, highway pile-up, and roller-coaster snafu – this one begins with a rather ridiculous fiasco at a racetrack – which I’ve feared less during my lifetime than getting hit by a wayward puck at a hockey game. The other thing that concerned me was that I suspected the filmmakers would be so preoccupied with setting up elaborate death scenes that made the most of the 3-D technology that they would fail to concentrate on something more important – the screenplay – and sadly, I was right.

So, I guess even my low expectations just weren’t low enough. And yet, despite the fact that the movie was mediocre and our friends’ sudden departure perturbed me, I’m glad that we saw it. ‘Cause the 3-D technology was indeed well done – and boy, did we laugh! It might not have been billed as a comedy, but it sure does seem like one. In its own way, it also respects the franchise audience – even having a unique opening credit sequence that uses skeletons to demonstrate kills from the previous three movies. And there are a couple scenes that genuinely freaked me out – guess I’m not the only one who finds escalators and automatic car washes terrifying.

As a bonus, this curious experience has made me reflect on the nature of expectation: how, sometimes, high expectations can ruin a perfectly good movie (like Signs, which I hated the first time I saw it and have now grown to love) and how the opposite can also be true – that low expectations can often heighten the movie experience. That’s what happened with this summer’s Star Trek remake. Despite some serious doubt, I enjoyed the heck out of that flick – especially Karl Urban’s spot-on performance as the insufferable Bones.

So, have expectations played a role in your movie-going experiences? If so, what film overcame your lowest expectations, and which fell far short of your hopes?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday: Vision Quest, Part 5

Although I’d intended to use my “Thoughtful Thursday” posts to explore the journal I kept during my first vision quest experience, I was compelled to deviate last week in order to share my yoga woes with you. What can I say? The kitty looked so darn cute under the yoga mat, I simply had to rethink my intentions.

But, this week, I’m back in full vision quest mode. In case you’re utterly confused, please check out my four previous posts about the weeklong vision quest that I experienced during the summer before ninth grade, in the woods of southern Mississippi.

My five fellow questers and I spent six days under the tutelage of a long-haired, big-hearted vegetarian named James, who lived on the expansive, wooded property with his wife and two daughters. What I remember most about James was his hearty laugh, his intense eyes, his bushy mustache, his refusal to watch television, his passion for the environment, and his fascination with Native American myths and traditions.

In previous blog posts, I covered most of what happened on Monday, June 25, and Tuesday, June 26. On Wednesday, June 27, it seems that I was in a serious writing mood. I even recapped the initial events of the quest:

The first day was rough. When we got here, we rode to the camp in James’ flatbed. Then Margaret [James’ wife] checked our supplies, and we were on our way. We trekked with all of our heavy things through the woods, up hills, across the creek, to our campsite. After some instruction, we found our areas (now called homes) and set up our “tents” (a tarp over a rope tied between two trees). The rest of the day we just got settled. After dinner, though, Steve, Keith, and James talked to us about "warriors" and the ultimate one, Don Juan... [not the infamous lover but the man featured in Carlos Castaneda’s mind-bending books]

The second day, we cooked our own food and washed our own clothes in our Maytag™ or Kenmore™ (really buckets to scrub our clothes with Octagon™ soap and rinse them twice). I finished mine late at night, missed eating dinner, but got to eat a few eggs instead. I’m going to have to use my pot somehow though – if I want to get the full effect of independence. We had also gone swimming in the creek for the second time. Then we were allowed to clean off (Advice: Use just a little Octagon™ soap – it goes a long way). After that, we planted our stave in the ground that has the medicine wheel colors on it. Then the Three Musketeers [Julia, Antonia, and I] carried two buckets of water uphill from the creek without a mishap. (Daryl fell in yesterday...)

At night, we went to a Council of the Great Spirit. We smoked the pipe twice and James read something about the Great Warrior Chief Seattle, and we passed a rock around (sort of like a conch) and could only speak when given this rock.

James said we’d be different now. It feels more like a family...


The rest of the day’s scribblings focused on the events of the third day, which mostly consisted of listening, learning, and meditating:

Today, he [James] talked about Little Mouse, who was busy working when he heard a roaring. He asked two other mice [about it] who said they hadn’t heard it and kept working. The mouse went back to work, but heard the roar again and went to investigate. He met a raccoon who showed him the roaring river and a green frog on a green lily pad. The frog told him to crouch and jump; the mouse did this and saw mountains and forests; he fell into the river, thinking the frog had tricked him. He was scared, but swam to the bank. The frog reassured him...

Did I mention that much of the vision quest consisted of learning myths? Of course, some made more sense than others. The above one, about Jumping Mouse, illustrates a willingness to leave innocence and security behind. But this next myth still boggles my mind a bit. Perhaps you can shed some light on it:

James read us a story about two fawns whose mother is killed by their aunt, Bear. They know she will kill them, too, so they leave to go to their Grandpa, Lizard. They take all of their baskets except one. When Bear returns, she sees they are missing. She goes after them but hears a whistle (from the last basket) and returns home. This occurs continuously, each time with her getting angrier and angrier. Meanwhile, the fawns cross the river on Daddy-Long-Legs and go to the Lizard, explaining the situation to him. Bear finally gets to the river and Daddy-Long-Legs sticks out a leg, but then tips her over. She proceeds to the house where she is told by Lizard to climb down the smoke hole with her eyes shut and mouth open. She does this and he thrusts hot coals down her throat; she dies...

I must admit, that one leaves me a little clueless. Do you have any thoughts?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday: Riddle Me This!

Perhaps it’s the curse of being an only child, but ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a fascination with riddles and logic problems. In fact, I’m mad about them – mad, I tell you!

Occasionally, when free time has seemed possible, I’ve even been known to purchase mini-mystery collections and those giant puzzle books often available on the bargain racks of Borders and Barnes & Noble. Although such volumes usually teem with crossword puzzles, acrostics, and other similar word challenges – all of which I happily attempt – I’m truly tickled when I stumble across a logic problem, which is essentially a complicated riddle.

When I was really young, the riddles were fairly simple, but I have no doubt that they still helped to develop my intellect and stimulate my creativity. Here’s one that I recently remembered:

What word can be written forward, backward, or upside down, and can still be read from left to right? (Hint: You must use capital letters to figure it out, and although there’s only one accepted answer, I’ve since figured out at least two more.)

As the years passed, I began looking for harder and harder riddles, especially the philosophical ones... which is probably why I liked Gollum so much. Although he’s a selfish, pathetic, conniving creature in J. R. R. Tolkien’s masterpieces, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, he won me over with his repertoire of riddles. Here’s one of the oft-quoted ones (which Bilbo figures out by accident):

This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.


As a teenager, I was especially intrigued by the rash of mystery riddles (usually involving a murder or suicide) that my classmates and I exchanged in the schoolyard. Here’s one that I actually figured out on my own:

A dead man is found in a locked room, hanging from the ceiling a few feet above the floor. The room is completely empty, except for a puddle of water below him. How did he die?

No doubt, you’ve heard all of these before. But, if not, do you care to venture a guess? Oh, and please feel free to share a riddle of your own – I’m always on the lookout for a challenge.

(Note: If you’re curious about other clever – and not-so-clever riddles – check out RiddleNut.com or Riddles.com.)