Saturday, December 24, 2011

Weekend Mishmash: Happy End-of-the-Year!

Despite the fact that my husband, Dan, and I are lifelong atheists, we admit to being fond of the Christmas season – if only because it gives us a reason to shower each other with gifts and eat yummy food. While the commercialistic aspects of the season can be disheartening at times – not to mention having to brave traffic jams and frenzied shoppers at the mall – I've always found other aspects, like Christmas carols and holiday lights, to be downright uplifting. Even in the French Quarter – where snow is a rarity – it's hard not to embrace the spirit of the season.

There's also something indescribably joyous and magical about the holiday. After all, as a child, I fully believed that Santa Claus would visit my house on Christmas Eve, eat his ration of homemade cookies, and, in exchange, leave behind a present or two. Anticipation of the next morning's surprises always made it tough for me to fall asleep – in fact, writing my wish list for Santa and imagining all the possibilities was almost more exciting than opening the gifts themselves. Now that I'm an adult, I can't believe the crazy things for which I sometimes asked – from ponies to sorceress outfits. Needless to say, I didn't get everything I wanted, but just the act of asking was a lot of fun.

Imagine, though, if Santa Claus wasn't age-limited. Imagine if, as an adult, you could get anything you desired from Santa. If that were the case, what would you want? Feel free to answer here or on the Come In Character site, where I posed the same question to authors and characters alike.

In the meantime, I hope that you all have a wonderful holiday season, no matter what you choose to celebrate, and if my end-of-the-line work on Moon New Orleans, my current travel guide project, keeps me away longer than I'd like, then I wish you all a happy New Year, too. See you in 2012!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Monday Munchies: Dunces and Lucky Dogs

Although you might already know this about me, I was born and raised in New Orleans, a city celebrated around the world for its cuisine, among other attributes. While working on the third edition of Moon New Orleans, a guidebook published by Avalon Travel, I've had the privilege of reliving a lot of my fondest memories about this one-of-a-kind place – many of which, not surprisingly, revolve around food. Here's just one example, a callout from my as-yet-unpublished guide:

As a child of New Orleans, I found it hard to avoid reading John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Confederacy of Dunces (1980). Posthumously published by LSU Press more than a decade after the author's tragic suicide, this zany depiction of life in the Big Easy during the early 1960s (not to mention a skillful exploration of the city's unique dialects) has since become a cult classic – and a canonical work of modern Southern literature. This picaresque novel centers on Ignatius J. Reilly – a lazy, overweight, quixotic, yet well-educated 30-year-old man who, while living with his mother and searching for gainful employment, meets a host of colorful French Quarter denizens, from kind-hearted strippers to belligerent lesbians.

Though some of the New Orleans landmarks referenced in this madcap novel, such as the old D. H. Holmes department store on Canal Street, no longer exist, some, like the Prytania Theatre, still do. Perhaps the most famous references, though, are the “Paradise Hot Dogs” vending carts that figure prominently into Reilly's angst-filled search for a permanent job. Clearly, Toole was influenced by the ubiquitous, red-and-yellow, wiener-shaped Lucky Dogs vending carts that have prowled the streets of New Orleans, particularly the French Quarter, for more than five decades. Especially popular among late-night partygoers, these street-corner hot dogs may just be mouth-watering to some, but for me, they'll always be a reminder of the first time I read – and fell in love with – A Confederacy of Dunces, a book that, as many writers and scholars believe, aptly captures the indomitable spirit of New Orleans.

True, hot dogs aren't exactly a New Orleans staple on par with gumbo and jambalaya, but for those, like me, who live in the French Quarter, the Lucky Dogs carts can be a welcoming sight, especially after a long night of partying on Bourbon Street.

So, are there any novels that make you think of specific foods?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Weekend Mishmash: Music for Traveling

It's hard to believe that I'm still working on the third edition of Moon New Orleans. After all, it's been over a year since the process began, and I've never taken so long to complete a travel guide. For a combination of reasons – including the fact that, as a native of the Big Easy, I'm even more concerned about this book than I've been about my other ones – it just hasn't been the smoothest of projects. Whenever I feel like running for the hills, however, three things stop me: pride in my work, the possibility of disappointing my editors as well as my hubby, and my lifelong passion for this one-of-a-kind city. Taking a stroll through my beloved French Quarter – where Dan and I live for much of the year – certainly helps, too, as does listening to one of my favorite New Orleans albums, from Dr. John's Goin' Back to New Orleans (1992) to Tab Benoit's Best of the Bayou Blues (2006) to Lucky Devil (2010), the debut album of local favorite Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns (pictured above). These and seven other albums always have the power to transport me to New Orleans (if, of course, I'm not already here) and inspire me to share a few stories about this amazing town. If you're curious about my other album picks, check out the latest entry on my American Nomad blog.

In the meantime, though, I have two questions: How do you deal with troublesome writing projects, and what kind of music has the power to transport you to other places?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday: Holiday for Foodies

Last week, one of my editors asked me to post a Thanksgiving-related article on my American Nomad travel blog. So, after a little thought, I decided to offer a few last-minute suggestions for Thanksgiving weekend getaways – from exploring the theme parks of Southern California to experiencing the shops and attractions of the Windy City. While traveling during the holiday season can be loads of fun, though, I must admit that holiday food is the biggest attraction for me – and for my hubby. It's no wonder then that I find myself excited about today's plan: In lieu of venturing somewhere exotic, Dan and I are headed across Lake Pontchartrain to my dad's house, where there will be plenty of yummy vittles, from the traditional turkey to my hubby's not-so-traditional pumpkin bread pudding. How thankful I feel to be a well-fed American – especially since not everyone in the world (or even in my own country) can claim as such.

So, how are you spending the holiday?

Of course, no matter what your plans are, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Whimsical Wednesday: Kitty Lovers

Wednesday's post is usually reserved for chatting about hobbies and interests, and though I feel a little strange about classifying kitty love as an interest, I have to admit that Ruby's been on my mind a lot lately. It probably has something to do with the fact that I've recently written about hiking and traveling with pets on my American Nomad blog – not to mention the fact that, as a stay-at-home freelancer, I'm constantly around my beloved kitty. If she's not trying to crawl across my keyboard, ripping up a cardboard box only a few feet away, chasing random insects and milk jug rings, or suddenly springing upon me with plaintive meows and relentless nibbles, she's snagging my attention just by sweetly napping in one of several favorite spots closeby. Even at night, she rarely leaves my side. So, it's easy to see why I love her so much – even when she drives me batty, I can't help but be grateful that Dan brought her home nearly three years ago.

It also doesn't hurt that, as I've expressed before, she's fun to watch and easy to travel with. In fact, Dan and I have been lucky enough to love two kitties during our time together – a sweetie named Pawws and our current fireball, Ruby – and both have given us more joy and peace than we'd thought possible, especially since, prior to being kitty parents, neither of us had had many positive experiences with cats. Though both of us have always loved dogs, I must confess that, when it comes to kitties, our tunes have changed a bit over the years. Now, we find it impossible to resist petting the feral kitties that prowl the streets of the French Quarter or sniffling every time we see a heart-tugging commercial courtesy of the ASPCA or Humane Society. Of course, even before becoming kitty lovers, each of us considered animal abusers one of the lowest forms of humanity, but now, as self-proclaimed kitty lovers, we find such heinous behavior even harder to tolerate.

So, what about you? Do you consider yourself a pet lover? If so, what furry critters are currently in your life?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday: Empty Brain Syndrome

There's so much to think about today. Last night's Republican debate. Sexual abuse allegations at Penn State. Memory-preserving health tips. The fact that so many bad restaurants lure unsuspecting patrons through Groupon. And so on and so forth.

Oddly enough, though, my brain feels sort of empty this morning. Perhaps it's the lack of sleep or the stress over my latest writing project or the inevitable condition of brain overload, but whatever the reason, I simply don't feel like thinking today. Although it's not going to happen – 'cause, unfortunately, I have lots of work to do – I would love to just spend the day meditating, lying on a hammock, floating in a pool, or watching a marathon of silly movies.

Do you ever have days like that?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Weekend Mishmash: Museums for Train and Trolley Lovers

As a native of the Crescent City, I've long been a fan of trains and streetcars. During college, I relished taking Amtrak's City of New Orleans to Chicago and back, and since I was a kid, I've enjoyed numerous rides aboard the Big Easy's historic streetcar line. So, it's no wonder that I often have railways on the brain. If you're a fan, too, take a look at my picks for some of the finest railroad museums along America's East Coast, in the Midwestern and Southern states, and throughout the American West – not to mention some of the best trolley museums in the country.

So, do you have a favorite?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Whimsical Wednesday: A Foodie's Confession

Given that I was born in New Orleans, it might come as no surprise that I've been a lifelong foodie, and luckily, I married someone who appreciates food just as much – if not more – than I do. Cherries, nectarines, avocados, pecans, lemon poppyseed muffins, key lime pie, dark chocolate, sharp cheddar, raw oysters, oyster artichoke soup, shrimp po-boys, mojitos and margaritas... the list of my favorite foods and beverages could go on and on, making it incredibly difficult for me to answer the question I recently posed on the Come In Character blog: “What if you were granted an endless supply of your favorite food – and calories weren't an issue? If so, what would it be and why?”

So, how about it? Could you answer such a yummy question?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Whimsical Wednesday: A Haunting Fascination

Over the past couple of weeks, it seems that I've been obsessed with haunted places. It all started two weekends ago, when Dan and I decided to visit our friends Warren and Missy near Flint, Michigan. While down there, the four of us dined at the supposedly haunted Historic Holly Hotel. Although we didn't experience any paranormal activity that night, it led me to think about all the other allegedly haunted locales in the United States, from San Diego's Whaley House to Miami's Biltmore Hotel.

Despite being a hopeful skeptic who's never witnessed any otherworldly entities, I was intrigued enough to write a travel blog series about the 10 most haunted cities in America, including such atmospheric places as Key West, Chicago, Savannah, and New Orleans. If you have a chance, take a look at my list – and let me know if I've missed a town or two. And, of course, feel free to share any spectral encounters of your own.

Unfortunately, given my lack of real-life ghost stories, I can only contribute to fictional ones, like the one we're currently unraveling at Come In Character. Of course, if you're interested, you're welcome to join in the spooky fun!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuesday Travels: Riverboat Respite

While working on the third edition of Moon New Orleans, I've made sure to include an entry about the Steamboat Natchez, one of my favorite diversions in the Big Easy. Launched by the New Orleans Steamboat Company in 1975, the current Natchez is actually the ninth steam-powered sternwheeler to bear the famous name. Equipped with steam engines that were crafted in 1925, this authentic vessel was modeled after the Virginia and the Hudson, two sternwheelers of old. Today, this nostalgic riverboat – which leaves from the foot of Toulouse Street in the French Quarter – offers daytime harbor excursions and dinnertime jazz cruises on the Mississippi River all year round. During the daytime trips, you can visit the steam engine room, listen to live narration about the history of the port, opt for a Creole lunch, and enjoy a concert of the on-board, 32-note steam calliope (which I can often hear from my French Quarter apartment), while the nighttime cruises feature buffet-style dining, live jazz by the Dukes of Dixieland, and gorgeous views of the city.

Reflecting on the cool breezes that I've often enjoyed while riding the Natchez riverboat, I couldn't help but promote it and the nearby Creole Queen (also docked along the Crescent City's riverfront) on my American Nomad travel blog. Still fixated on the cool breezes – especially given how warm this summer has been in northern Michigan – I decided to explore other sternwheelers around the country, from the Pride of the Susquehanna in the Northeast and the Minneapolis Queen in the Midwest to the Colorado King in the West and the Belle of Louisville in the South.

So, do you enjoy taking riverboat trips? If so, do you have a favorite?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday Munchies: I Got the Garden Blues

For the past several summers, my husband, Dan, and I have called the shores of Big Bear Lake in northern Michigan home. Although we both love it up here, we especially look forward to having our own garden – something that's not easy to come by in our French Quarter apartment (where we spend much of the rest of the year). I even wrote about our seasonal efforts in July of 2009, when I first started this blog.

Sadly, though, because of a combination of factors – namely, our later-than-usual arrival and our preoccupation with various tasks, such as my struggle to update the Moon New Orleans guide and preparations for our first-ever Traverse City Shorts Festival – we weren't able to start a garden this summer, and believe me, we're both missing the usual sight of our ever-growing tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and other produce. We're especially bummed that there are no mint leaves this year – as each of us does dearly love a refreshing mojito from time to time. But, alas, life intervened, and it just wasn't meant to be.

Of course, there's always next year. In the meantime, though, I'll have to live vicariously through my online pals. So, what's growing in your gardens this year?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday Munchies: Wild Michigan Blueberries

Though I'm still plugging away at my update of Moon New Orleans – yes, it's true, I'm still not done – I'm trying hard to enjoy my summer stay in northern Michigan and take advantage of the state's berry-licious bounty. Right now, it's wild blueberry season, and due to favorable weather conditions, it already looks to be a, forgive the pun, fruitful season. Just today, I managed to gather quite a few of the yummy little devils. Now, the only question is... what to do with them? Bake some blueberry muffins, make some blueberry jam, opt for some blueberry pancakes, or simply add them to my oatmeal? Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday: Comfort Zone

Two weeks ago, I took a solo drive to visit my online buddy and fellow writer Bridget Chicoine, who lives more than 100 miles south of my home in Michigan. For many of you, that might not sound like a big deal, but as you'd learn by reading my recent post on my American Nomad blog, this was a huge deal for me. In truth, I was terrified of driving as a teenager, so much so that I didn't get my driver's license until I was 22 years old. Since then, I haven't driven nearly as often as I should, so now, at the age of 34, I've finally made driving a priority. As part of my “training,” I typically drive at least one way on any trip that Dan and I take, whether we're driving one mile to pick up groceries or more than 70 miles to see a movie – but making a 210-mile, round-trip journey by myself was a first for me... and I've never felt more liberated.

So, when have you ever ventured out of your comfort zone... and more importantly, how did it feel?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Whimsical Wednesday: Dreaming of Other Places

As a travel writer, I've explored a variety of destinations and activities over the years – from RV-ing down Interstate 40 to snorkeling in southern Florida – but I certainly haven't gone everywhere or done everything I've wanted to. Horseback riding in Costa Rica, sampling wines in southern France, exploring the Great Barrier Reef... the fantasy list goes on and on. Perhaps it's that kind of dreaming – and curiosity about other folks' wish lists – that inspired today's “What If?” blog post on Come In Character.

So, where would you go if you had endless amounts of time, money, and, perhaps most importantly, energy?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tuesday Travels: Happy Summer Solstice!

Here in America – and the rest of the northern hemisphere – today is the summer solstice: the longest day of the year, the official beginning of summer, and a great time to plan a summer vacation. If you're looking for a coastal getaway, you should consider the northwestern part of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, an area rife with beaches, dunes, lighthouses, wineries, golf courses, and resort towns. Besides featuring this region – which happens to be one of my favorite parts of the Great Lakes State, where my husband and I spend our summers – on my American Nomad blog, I've also covered it for My Itchy Travel Feet as well as National Geographic Traveler. So, read all about it, enter the Moon Michigan giveaway at My Itchy Travel Feet, and pack your bags for this incredibly stunning and diverse place.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Fantasies: A Winnie-the-Pooh Escape

I can't believe that it's been almost seven weeks since I last posted something here. Without intending it, I'm afraid that my poor blog is, as with so many others, at risk of becoming obsolete. Unfortunately, that's what happens when you allow work to get in the way of your non-paying interests. But, even with impending deadlines for my current guide, Moon New Orleans, I've found time for sources of relaxation, such as biking, hiking, yoga, swimming, going to the movies, and reading on my in-laws' hammock.

As for movies, my husband, Dan, and I have recently seen X-Men: First Class and Super 8 – both of which we enjoyed immensely. As for books, though, I'm not at all embarrassed to admit that I recently read A. A. Milne's beloved Winnie-the-Pooh, and I was shocked to discover that Tigger doesn't make an appearance in this first collection of stories about the Hundred Acre Wood. Even Dan was surprised when I told him that Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Eeyore, Kanga, and Roo meet Tigger in the second book, The House at Pooh Corner. How silly we both feel for thinking that Tigger and Eeyore – our favorite characters – had always been friends. But memory is a funny thing – childhood memories are especially susceptible to distortion and manipulation – and it makes me wonder if it's better to stay ignorant or realize the truth.

Perhaps, in the case of Winnie-the-Pooh, it's just better to enjoy the stories and forget all the fuzzy memory business.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Weekend Mishmash: Road Trip Mania and a Travel Giveaway

This week, is running a contest in celebration of road trips. To enter, you simply have to share your favorite road trip song with the folks at Moon. The deadline is tomorrow evening at 5 p.m. PST, and the winner will receive a free 8GB iPod Nano and a Moon guidebook of his or her choice.

To help promote the giveaway, I've spent this entire week blogging about road trip-related things, including a long-ago RV adventure on Interstate 40, between Tennessee and Arizona. In addition, I've shared 10 of my favorite road trip routes in America as well as suggestions for road trip essentials – basically, everything from snacks to audiobooks to jumper cables. So, take a minute to check out the posts – and don't forget to enter the contest. Good luck, and happy travels!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Fantasies: A Source Code Break

For the next few weeks, I'll be hard at work on my Moon New Orleans manuscript, but that doesn't mean that I (a professed perfectionist) can't stop and smell the roses every now and again. Just to prove my point, Dan and I did two fun things this week: a wine tasting class at the Wine Institute of New Orleans (a.k.a., W.I.N.O.) on Tuesday night and a free screening (thanks to the New Orleans Film Society) of Source Code last night. And I must say, despite initial trepidation about this flick, Dan and I both found it most enjoyable, far more entertaining, for instance, than the insipid Insidious, which we also got to watch for free. Not only were the performances in Source Code solid (especially those of Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, and Vera Farmiga), but the plot, even with its rather predictable turns, was also more riveting and less convoluted than I anticipated. Plus its 93-minute running time was the perfect length for such a sci-fi, time-travel yarn. So, all in all, a good way to spend an evening away from the laptop.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday Munchies: French Quarter Fest Vittles

Today's post at Come In Character (one of my other blogs) was inspired by the 28th annual French Quarter Festival – one of the largest free music festivals in the American South and, frankly, my favorite festival in New Orleans. Besides the music – which entails hundreds of performances, from solo guitarists to lively zydeco bands – the festival also features a ton of awesome food (the purchase of which helps to fund the free event).

As usual, most of this year's vendors were local bars and restaurants – such as Pat O'Brien's, which served its classic hurricane; The Court of Two Sisters, which offered its traditional turtle soup; and Antoine's Restaurant, which prepared its famous baked Alaska dessert. So, despite the fact that the small, pricey items can add up quickly, sampling food at the fest is a great way to familiarize yourself with the city's local cuisine.

Although Dan and I weren't able to spend all four days at the fest, we did manage to venture outside a few times – and of course, we opted to sample a few dishes along the way. Perhaps our favorite was in Jackson Square: Jacques-Imo's delectable shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake, a rich concoction that seems more like a casserole than a cheesecake. For a long time now, Dan had wanted to try this dish; when we were in Los Angeles not too long ago, he even attempted the recipe – and though his version came out pretty darn good, we didn't realize how close it was until we tried the cheesecake at the fest.

See, Dan? I told you that you got it right! (And he says I never listen to him!)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Weekend Mishmash: Brief Reflections on Marriage

As I've noted before on this blog, I feel incredibly blessed to have the hubby that I do. Over the nearly 12 years that we've been together, he's cooked me lots of yummy meals, randomly brought home flowers, listened to my troubles, shared my passion for cinema and travel, tirelessly supported my desire to be a writer, and, most importantly, tolerated my rather high-strung nature – especially whenever a crazy travel guide deadline looms. Even now, as I struggle to complete the manuscript and maps for my latest guide, Moon New Orleans, he's doing his best to support my perfectionistic work ethic while encouraging me to get proper sleep and venture out into the world on occasion.

Although, as with any marriage, we've experienced our momentary rough spots over the years, we're pretty well suited for each other – in spite of our differences. Even long road trips don't phase us too much. During our most recent drive between Los Angeles and New Orleans, for instance, we found ourselves at a truck stop near Benson, Arizona, shortly after witnessing a terrible, flame-enshrouded automotive accident. After using the bathroom facilities, we each gathered a few snacks for the road. Being somewhat indecisive, I was still trying to find the perfect treat to accompany my cup of hot tea when Dan was en route to the register.

“I'll be waiting in the car,” he said. “Do you need any money?”

“No, thanks. I'm good.”

After Dan left the store, a pleasant, female truck driver looked at me and chuckled. “You two must not be married,” she remarked. “Or else you'd know never to turn down his offer of money.”

I smiled. “Actually, we've been married for over ten years.”

“Oh, never mind. I guess you'll never learn.”

Now, it was my turn to laugh. “Nope. I guess I never will.”

After all, that's one of the many things that I cherish about me and Dan. We share everything – including money, a similar sense of humor, and a determined effort not to play relationship games. Maybe that's why we're still married – and the female truck driver, who found my lack of an opportunistic streak amusing, had been admittedly divorced for a good, long while.

Then again, who knows why some couples last, and some don't? Love, like many things, is not an exact science – a fact that I'm grateful to have learned firsthand.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Weekend Mishmash: Notes from Underground

Although I'm a bit late in doing this, I'd like to take a moment to promote a wonderful new anthology of short stories, novel excerpts, poems, and other enticing writings. Published by the folks at The Literary Lab and dubbed the Notes from Underground Anthology, this intriguing collection presents a wide array of stories, one of which is written by my online pal (and helpful beta reader), J.B. Chicoine. Having purchased the book through Kindle for my new iPhone, I've already read several of the entries, including Bridget's heartbreaking story (an excerpt from an unpublished novel that I badly want to read), so I can say without a doubt that I highly recommend this collection – which captivated and entertained me immensely during the long drive between Los Angeles, where my husband and I recently ran our sixth annual Beverly Hills Shorts Festival, and our home in New Orleans.

Not only is the anthology worth reading, but I also relish the fact that, by purchasing it, I'm supporting my fellow writers – both those whose works are included within the anthology as well as those who will ultimately benefit from the Writer's Emergency Assistance Fund, the charity that will receive all proceeds from this anthology. Every little bit helps after all – especially in these challenging times.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tuesday Travels: Happy Mardi Gras!

As I mentioned last week, Dan and I are currently in Los Angeles, preparing for our sixth annual Beverly Hills Shorts Festival. Despite our professional responsibilities, we've had a good time seeing some of our old pals, but given that today is Fat Tuesday, I can't help but think of the shenanigans that I'm missing back home in New Orleans. All night, revelers will continue to celebrate Mardi Gras in the streets of the French Quarter – and I'm a little sad that I won't be there to experience it this year.

Why else would I try to relive it on Come In Character? Isn't that what writers do – live vicariously through their characters?

So, if you have a minute, stop by CIC and celebrate with us! After all, everyone deserves a happy Mardi Gras – no matter where he or she is at the moment.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tuesday Travels: Long Road Trips

Ever since Dan and I purchased a 25-foot travel trailer in the summer of 2000, we've logged thousands of miles on the highways and byways of America. Although we no longer own the travel trailer – or, sadly, have the same kitty that we had back then – we still spend a lot of time on the road every year.

Most recently, we covered nearly 1,900 miles between New Orleans and Los Angeles, where we'll soon be overseeing our sixth annual Beverly Hills Shorts Festival. Such an exhausting, three-day drive – on some rather boring stretches of Interstate 10 – would have been nearly unbearable without such on-the-road diversions as audio books, wireless Internet, conversation, and random roadside attractions.

So, what helps you pass the time on lengthy car rides?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Weekend Mishmash: Dying U.S. Cities

A few days ago, I received an unsettling email from the nonprofit organization Friends of New Orleans. Apparently, Newsweek had published a list of America's top 10 dying cities in late January, and poor, beleaguered New Orleans was at the top of the list. Being a native of the Big Easy and a part-time resident of the French Quarter, I couldn't help but question the magazine's motive in publishing such a one-dimensional piece. So, although I'm a month behind the times, I felt a strong urge to discuss this misleading article on my American Nomad blog, which I did late last night. After all, though it's true that cities like Grand Rapids, Flint, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and New Orleans have suffered population declines over the past decade, demographic information isn't the only factor that determines a city's worth, especially from a traveler's perspective.

So, what do you think of the list?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday Munchies: Mealtime Interview

While this particular post might seem like a stretch for my “Monday Munchies” theme – which usually focuses on yummy, food-related topics – I just couldn't resist a little plug. After all, how often do we bloggers get the chance to speak with our actual voices – and not just through the written word? Well, in celebration of President's Day, I'll be discussing the country's top historical sites and presidential attractions with Michelle Wargo and Mary McBryde on Heartbeat Radio for Women today at noon EST (9 a.m. PST) – just in time for breakfast or lunch, depending on where you are at the moment.

Anyway, while I hope you'll tune in to the live stream, you'll also find president-related posts at two of my other blogs: American Nomad, where I'm exploring five of America's earliest presidential homes, and Come In Character, where authors and characters are discussing the governing bodies in their fictional worlds.

But, whatever you choose to hear or read today, I hope you have a wonderful President's Day!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday: Hero or Coward?

Today, I posed a “what if...?” question to the authors that frequent Come In Character: What would you do if you spotted someone drowning? Hopefully, characters will offer truthful confessions, but you can't predict anything with this bunch.

Even though the exercise is intended for fictional people and creatures, I couldn't help but wonder what I would do in a similar situation. Would I ignore the victim's frightened cries, jump in after him or her, seek some professional help, or do something else altogether?

Although I'd like to think that I would come to the immediate aid of a drowning victim – whether that means jumping into the water myself or tossing him or her a handy flotation device – the truth is that I'm not sure I'd do much more than holler for a police officer or, at the very least, dial “911” on my ever-available cell phone and pray for cellular service.

So, the question is... what would you do in a similar situation?

(P.S. The picture accompanying this post does not, in fact, depict a drowning victim. It's actually me getting splashed by dolphins in Key Largo, Florida.)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Monday Munchies: Valentine's Day

While posting a love-related question on Come In Character and reflecting on the top romantic U.S. cities on my American Nomad blog, I couldn't help but think about the goodies to be had today. Chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate. After all, what else is there to eat on February 14th?

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday: Favorite Possessions

Earlier today, several authors stopped by Come In Character to share their characters' most important possessions. The answers ranged from photo albums to weapons to musical instruments – and the discussion made me wonder how I would answer the question, “What is your most important possession, and why?”

To be honest, I'm just not sure. Given that my husband, Dan, and I live in three different places, I'm often forced to consider those items that I can't live without – including obvious items like toiletries, kitty toys, my laptop, and my cell phone, plus precious things like my grandmother's wedding ring, my own treasured baubles, the medicine pouch that I made on a vision quest when I was 13, perhaps even my bunny slippers. So, how can I possibly name just one thing?

After all, despite my wish to be less materialistic, the need to possess is a very human trait. In fact, right or wrong, what we possess partially defines who we are – especially our most beloved possessions. But, of course, that need to possess can become an obsession for some of us. When my grandfather, for instance, passed away last June, he left behind a house nearly filled with possessions – so many records and clothes and coins and knick-knacks and dishes and bicycles and such that it was hard to discern what he'd really treasured in life. Upon seeing what his house had become, I couldn't help but recall Ruth Gordon's advice from Harold and Maude: “Here today. Gone tomorrow. So, don't get attached to things!”

But, nevertheless, it's hard to let go. So, I ask you... what is it that you couldn't live without?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Monday Munchies: Reliving Good Eats

Although being a travel writer has its negative aspects – as I explained in a recent post on my American Nomad blog – I must admit that having the chance to sample various cuisines and other tasty treats isn't one of them. While researching my recently published Moon Florida Keys guidebook, for instance, my husband, Dan, and I devoured everything from mojitos and crab-stuffed artichoke hearts at Key Largo's Coconuts Restaurant and Night Club to tempura lobster tails at Pierre's Restaurant in Islamorada to blue cheese chips (pictured here) at Sparky's Landing in Key Colony Beach to “kinky” key lime pie at Key West's romantic Better Than Sex dessert lounge. The only trouble is that, once the book was published and I began promoting it through blog posts, radio interviews, and the like, I was forced to relive all those wonderful memories – and long for another taste of Florida's culinary delights, especially some classic key lime pie.

Of course, it's at such moments that I realize how lucky I am to be in New Orleans right now – a city whose cuisine is, after all, legendary. So, pass me a plate of raw oysters, please, and I promise to stop wishing for what I don't have. Honest.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Weekend Mishmash: A Story Break

While I know it's not true, it often seems as though I'm never not working. Whether writing or promoting travel guides, working on articles and blog posts, or helping my husband, Dan, with one of his film fests, it feels as though I never make much time for fun – whether that might be reading a book, going to the movies, listening to live music with Dan, or writing some purposeless fiction. I often have to remind myself – due, in large part, to my husband's prodding – that fun is a necessary part of every day, which is why I appreciate creative outlets such as Come In Character, where authors are free to write through their characters' voices, no matter if they're from published stories or works-in-progress. Unfortunately, I haven't had much time for CIC as of late – in fact, I'd been on hiatus since before the holidays – but last week, I decided that the hiatus had lasted long enough. On Friday, I posted the start of a group story – a winter's tale, to be exact – and while my fellow writers have already begun contributing, the story's not over yet. So, if you find yourself overworked at the moment, and in need of a story break, feel free to stop by, too!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesday Travels: My Kingdom for Key Lime Pie

While I'm extremely proud that my latest guidebook, Moon Florida Keys (Avalon Travel, 2011), is now available in bookstores across the country, I'm especially proud of the fact that most of the photographs included within its pages were taken by either me or my husband, Dan. Not only do these images make this first edition feel even more like a labor of love, but they also allow us to relive our incredibly memorable research trips to the Florida Keys. Of course, seeing our photos in print also means that it's easier to miss that famous island chain, especially the food down there. This photo, for instance, was taken by Dan on the night we first tasted the delicious key lime pie (incidentally, my favorite dessert) at Mrs. Mac's Kitchen in Key Largo – and all I can say is... I sure wish I had more than a picture right now.

P.S. If you're curious about the Florida Keys, consider “liking” my Facebook page. Thanks!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tuesday Travels: More Than a Decade of Memories

My husband, Dan, and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary this past weekend at a romantic little restaurant in the French Quarter – and while I'm still happy to be with my sweetie after all these years, I find it rather hard to believe that more than a decade has passed since we exchanged our vows in that little chapel on the Las Vegas Strip. As with most people, I just can't believe how fast the time has flown. Of course, when I reflect on all the places we've traveled together since meeting in early 1999 – from Chicago to London to Yosemite National Park to many towns in between – it does seem a bit easier to fathom, and all I can say is that I look forward to many more years with my favorite traveling companion. Happy anniversary, Danny!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tuesday Travels: Another Giveaway!

In my last post, I told you about a trivia contest that I was running on my American Nomad travel blog at Well, I'm happy to report that there were two winners – Sean Landon and Shannon Edris – each of whom won three of my guidebooks. So, congratulations, you two!

To ring in the new year, is hosting yet another travel giveaway. One lucky reader will win a $250 Southwest Airlines gift card in exchange for answering a simple question: “What U.S. city, town, or national park do you most want to visit in 2011?” For a few ideas, check out my list of the best places to travel in the U.S., which features everything from Santa Barbara to Chicago to Washington, D.C. Good luck, fellow travelers!