Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tuesday Travels: Touring Michigan's S.S. Keewatin

Over the weekend, I recounted a recent tour of the historic S.S. Keewatin in Douglas, Michigan, on my American Nomad blog. If you're curious, you can read all about it there, but in the meantime, here are some of the photos that I couldn't post on my other blog.

the main lobby for boarding passengers

the purser's office, located in the lobby

a porthole amid the sleeping quarters

the bridal suite

the preserved wheelhouse

smokestacks and lifeboats on the upper deck

amusing potty doors at the adjacent bar on the dock

four friends having lunch beside Kalamazoo Lake

And, of course, if you ever have a chance to see the Keewatin for yourself, I highly recommend taking the Grand Tour, as Dan, Warren, Missy, and I did!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Whimsical Wednesday: Texas-style Treasure Hunts

Roughly a year ago, I told you about the passion that Dan and I share for treasure hunting. In fact, over the past decade, we've experienced an assortment of treasure hunts, from gold-panning in northern California to diamond-digging in southwestern Arkansas. Of course, our most memorable excursions have taken place on South Padre Island, the budget-friendly barrier island near the southern tip of the Lone Star State. Although we've never stumbled upon a Spanish galleon filled with oodles of misplaced jewels, we've certainly found some interesting items in the sand dunes and tidal flats north of town, usually in the company of local historian Steve Hathcock. Such adventures have been on my mind a lot lately, perhaps since searching for Petoskey stones along the shores of Lake Michigan a few weeks ago. As with many of the items found on South Padre, Petoskey stones have more figurative worth than monetary value, but they sure are fun to find. So, although I look forward to our next treasure-hunting adventure – or should I say misadventure? – on South Padre Island, it's comforting to know that plenty of locales offer their own share of hunt-worthy features. After all, the hunt should matter more than the find itself... uh, right?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Monday Munchies: Our Beloved Mojitos

Given that I've previously shared my passion for alcoholic treats, key lime pie, and fresh mint, it probably comes as no surprise that Dan and I are particularly fond of mojitos: refreshing, Cuban-style cocktails that blend rum, sugar, lime, mint, soda water, and ice. Unfortunately, my round-the-clock work schedule makes it rather impossible for me to enjoy mojitos, often the inevitable cause of sleepiness, on a regular basis – which is why this weekend was so wonderful. Both in dire need of a mini-vacation, Dan and I headed south to Saugatuck, Michigan, a lovely resort community along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. For three days and three nights, we spent plenty of work-free time with another couple, relishing the chance to relax, visit area art galleries, and, yes, savor a variety of regional wines, yummy beers, and other libations, including our beloved mojitos, which Dan prepares better than anyone else I know.

So, what's your favorite refreshment, with or without alcohol?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tuesday Travels: Free Admission to America's National Parks

During the course of my travel-writing career, I've often been surprised to find that many of America's national parks, such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles Tennessee and North Carolina, charge no entrance fee. Well, this weekend, even those that do will be waiving such fees, according to the National Park Service. So, if you have the time, head to your nearest national park unit. For me, the closest one is lovely Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula. Of course, my favorite national park is Kentucky's Mammoth Cave, the inspiration for my first-to-be-completed and soon-to-be-revised novel. Although I wish I were headed there this weekend, I'm excited about my upcoming getaway to Saugatuck, a resort community alongside Lake Michigan, where the hubby and I will be venturing with some old friends of his.

Naturally, if you can't make it to a national park this weekend, you can always vie for the free annual National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass that Moon Travel Guides is giving away. As one of their authors, I'm sadly not eligible (sniff, sniff), but most of my blogalicious friends are, so good luck, everyone!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Monday Munchies: Scratched Legs and Stained Fingers

Perhaps you're wondering what sort of “munchies” would involve scratched legs, stained fingers, and potential bug bites. Well, here's a riddle for you... what is black and bulbous, grows on thorny bushes, and makes delicious jam, scones, muffins, and cobbler? Why, blackberries, of course! That's the reason that, despite the prevalent pitfalls, Dan and I ventured out yesterday afternoon to explore the tangled blackberry bushes along a particular country road in northern Michigan. Early August is usually a prime time for such a rewarding activity, and given the fair amount of rain and sunlight that we've received this summer, we were hopeful about our prospects.

As it turned out, our hopes were well-founded. Although several bushes lay on the other side of a no-trespassing fence, and many of the available berries were still red and unready, plenty were black and ripe for plucking... which is exactly what we did. While the sunshine warmed our backs, and bumblebees hovered above the purple and yellow wildflowers that surrounded us, we picked a veritable heap of berries, even sampling a few along the way. After about an hour of picking, we managed to fill a large plastic bag with delicious, perfectly ripe blackberries. Ultimately, there were more to be picked, but frankly, we had tired of the prickly thorns – because, yes, as expected, we had succeeded in scratching most of our limbs. Perhaps it didn't help that we'd worn shorts and short-sleeved shirts, but it was simply too warm for denim and flannel... at least for me.

So, the question is... were the two pounds or so of yummy blackberries that we picked yesterday worth all the war wounds? Well, in my humble opinion, our hard-fought battle with sudden depressions, thorny vines, and annoying insects just made the berries even tastier, which is usually the case with anything worth having. It's almost always worth more when it takes a little effort to achieve or attain. So, what do you think? Would we – and our limbs – have been better off with store-bought blackberries instead?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tuesday Travels: My Dream Guide

Despite the fact that maintaining my American Nomad travel blog and working on back-to-back travel guides tends to stymie other beloved interests – such as playing my guitar, reading books on the hammock, writing this blog, and revising my novel – I'm grateful for my travel-writing career and delighted that my English degree has been put to good use. Frankly, I'm proud of the way my latest guide, Moon Florida Keys, is turning out, and I'm excited to be working on the fourth edition of Moon Michigan. Reflecting on my career thus far, I'm even happy with the work I did for Insight Guides, a London-based company for which I updated and revised several books, including ones about Los Angeles, San Diego, and America's national parks. Still, there's one place that I have yet to cover in book form, and given some of my previous posts – which explore everything from Cafe Du Monde to king cake season – I'll bet you can guess which one... Although nothing's carved in stone yet, it looks like I might be writing the third edition of a guide I've long wanted to write. Let's just hope that Avalon likes my book proposal!

So, what about you? Any good news?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Monday Munchies: Better Than Sex

As I lamented last Thursday, breaking bad habits is not an easy task, especially when you're enduring a so-called diet – or, as my mother says, a healthy lifestyle change – and you find yourself fantasizing about yummy treats from the past. True, the past that concerns me now happened fairly recently – only six months ago, in fact, when Dan and I were exploring Key West in preparation for my Moon Florida Keys guide. You see, it was at that time that we ventured into Better Than Sex, a bordello-style dessert lounge and wine bar just a block from Duval Street, the city's main drag.

Back in April, I wrote about our sensual experience on my American Nomad blog – an experience that I won't easily forget. In fact, every time I sit down to eat my perfectly proportioned bowl of oatmeal and blueberries, I dream about the tempting delectables we consumed that night, and I try to take small comfort in the fact that I'm a little lighter than I was then, so at least this diet – I mean, healthy lifestyle change – is good for something. Still, at my most desperate moments, I gaze at the photos we took during our memorable meal, and I try hard not to salivate at the thought of my Kinky Key Lime Pie, a fluffy, tangy lime chiffon mousse pie covered with macadamia nuts.

It might seem like pure torture – just as Dan torments himself by watching Giada, Paula, and his other favorite Food Network stars – but I actually find it comforting to remember how delicious the Peanut Butter Perversion was that night. At least, it gives me something to anticipate on our next trip to Key West. Besides, we've come to realize that deprivation is no way to modify our eating habits. Frankly, neither of us is ashamed to admit that we relish food – so I suppose it's just moderation that we need...

...and a white chocolate-rimmed glass of sparkling red Dolce Stilnovo Moscato – otherwise known as Kelly's Klimax – wouldn't hurt either.