What They Are Saying...

"This book was a fast easy read, and a fun romp. All in all, the book charmed me."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas 2014, NOLA

It seems no matter where you live or where you call home, that is the place you consider most awesome for Christmas, or whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year. If you live in Denver then nothing says "merry" quite like crisp, powdered mountains. In New York City it's the twinkling tree and ice skaters at Rockefeller Center. I have a friend in New Zealand to loves barbecues on the beach!

Holiday lights at the Roosevelt
In New Orleans, a Catholic community by large, it's lights. From the Celebration in the Oaks to the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel, let there by lights.

There's nothing New Orleans does only half way. Our attitude is, if you're going to bother, do it right! Keep it original, and keep it real. The holidays are no exception. No matter where you walk, whether in Bywater or Uptown, someone somewhere has done LIGHTS! Not just a bush or two, or a creche, or an animatronic reindeer. We're talking lights!

Take a look at this yard. These are three (3) eighty foot tall oak trees, and not one inch of them isn't covered!

Three Oak Trees in the spirit

I know, there are lights by you, too. I've seen the awesome light shows done to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's cacophonic Wizards of Winter (Google it, if you haven't). I'm impressed. 

How about restaurants? This is a Mexican place just down the road. The "ornaments" you see are four feet in diameter.
Okay, why do we bother? I'll let you in on a little secret. These aren't the efforts solely for the Christmas season. That's just the start of it. We take the 12 days of Christmas very seriously around here. It's a timer, a countdown, if you will. Because our first parade of the year happens on January 6th, the twelfth night. 

Then, it's Mardi Gras!

Most venues change out the "red" lights for "purple" lights, and we get Mardi Gras lights for the next how-many weeks until Lent. See? We got a plan! It's worth setting up for three days since they might last three months!

Happy Almost Mardi Gras!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Illusion of Las Vegas

My husband and I frequently travel to Las Vegas. By car. From New Orleans. The trip takes about three days, and we've done it enough times that we have it wired – we know which roads, which hotels, which eateries. We also have a list of “best Mexican food”, “best donuts,” and “best hamburgers” (if you leave me a comment I'll share them with you!)

Most people describe Las Vegas with terms like “legal gambling”, “bright lights”, and “all-you-can-eat buffets” and they are correct. 

That's not why I go there, however. For me it's an adult Disneyland.

Think about it. Disneyland is a fantastic place where they turn dreams into reality. They focus on children, however, so the dreams are castles, the yukon, and futuristic worlds with flying cars. Meanwhile, Las Vegas is a fantastic place, focusing on adult dreams. 

Get your head out of the gutter! I'm not talking topless dancers, although they have those, true. I'm talking about world travel. In one city, on one street, you can walk from France (Paris), to Italy (Bellagio and Caesar’s Palace), to Hollywood (Planet Hollywood). The attention to architectural detail in some of these casinos is amazing, stunning, and nothing short of gorgeous.

I know. You never noticed. You were too busy looking at the wheels spinning, or the dice tumbling, or the cards dealing. LOOK UP. LOOK AROUND. The architects and builders perfectly duplicated a number of cities and buildings and venues for you to ignore.

And none of it is real.

That's the kicker. There is no Las Vegas. There is no strip. There is only random collections of edifices designed to dazzle. And none of it is real.

Take a look at the Pallazzo/Venetian Casino. Do you see that building, the part on top? No, you really don't, because it's not there. That's a giant scrim, a cover over partial construction that stopped in 2008. Rather than finish they threw a big cover on it and never bothered to complete it.

Here's the Mirage, and its lake/lava pools. This is a desert, yet it was turned into a tropical oasis and volcano (bonus!). I love that. I love that someone had a dream, someone had the capitol, and someone had the determination to build paradise in the desert.

The Venetian is one of the most beautiful casinos on the strip, in my humble opinion. But you wouldn't know it from these pictures. Consider that they spend countless hours designing the front, countless dollars to create it by duplicating the details of the hundreds-of-years-old buildings, then decided to cover it with banners and adverts. Sheesh.

Penn Gillette said the lights of Las Vegas are powered by two things: the Hoover Dam and bad math. I'd like to include an active imagination. 

But you should never argue with an illusionist. I think he got it just right. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

What Halloween Means in New Orleans (The Snarkology Halloween Blog Hop!)

What does Halloween mean anymore? When I was a kid it meant free candy, of course. As I got older it meant cool costumes. Oh, and free candy. As an adult, however, the purpose for the celebration has changed. Now, at least for me, it's a time to embrace the creepy, the spooky, and the gruesome, something I never, ever do! Halloween is my annual chance to scare and be scared.

Most of us do some kind of Halloween recognition. Some cities have turned their community centers into haunted houses. Some malls have “monster crawls” so toddler trick-or-treaters can show off their garb in an indoor environment. Some of us decorate our houses, and buy goodies for the visitors, and wear our own costumes to greet them. It's a time to relish the villainous pirates, the waiting cemeteries, and zombies created by dark voodoo.

It's different here, though, in New Orleans. We ARE pirates and cemeteries and voodoo. That's not Halloween. That's Tuesday.

So what does Halloween mean here? It means bigger. BIGGER. B I G G E R!
Dead Duck... Ice Bucket Challenge No longer "Stayin' Alive"
You can still recognize him!

It's a bit unfair really. We don't have to try. Some of our houses already look like Disney's Haunted Mansion, so simply adding a jack-o-lantern immediately throws them into your nightmares.

See? Scary, and not even trying!

But many don't stop there. Many do BIGGER!

We can't help ourselves. Our cemeteries, for example, are above ground. They advertise themselves. Much like your reaction to walking in the French Quarter or the Garden District where you oogle and awe at the architecture, you'll pass a cemetery and gaze at grand mausoleums – with their symbolism and stained glass and sculptures – and speculate about the occupants. Visitors are dying (wink, wink) to walk among our “cities of the dead”. It's no wonder that as soon as your plane lands you're bombarded with adverts for cemetery tours.

Lafitte's Blacksmith Bar

One of our history's most famous pirate, Jean Lafitte, traded in his pirate life to own a blacksmith shop. It's a bar, of course. We use that more than a smithy these days.

And the world's foremost voodoo queen, Marie Laveau, lived, died, and was buried right here in the St. Louis Cemetery in the French Quarter. Her grave is among the most visited, with people leaving gifts for her constantly.

Marie Laveau's Tomb
New Orleans is among America's most haunted city. It was established in 1714, which makes it older than our country. We are passionate about keeping our architecture as preserved as possible. As a result, we have haunted hotels, haunted restaurants, and haunted bars. From the street car to the oak trees, you walk the sidewalks of history here into the struggles and successes of the past.

Walking in the past... what better way of seeing ghosts? Especially on Halloween.

The Snarkology Rafflecopter Giveaway Thank you for visiting my Fantastic Imagination!

The Snarkology Blog Hop continues...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Halloween Food, an insight by Hercule

Greetings. I am the Great Hercule Poirot, cockroach extraordinaire. And I'm taking over this insipid blog just in time to share with you some perfect foodstuffs for the upcoming holiday you call Halloween.

Over the many years that Americans have celebrated the holiday the sole culinary focus has been on the sugar stuffs retrieved by your children. Food has had little place in the celebration beyond that. Oh, sure, people give silly names to food to make them sound scary (“please, have another helping of my Ghoulish Goulash”) or you have to be blindfolded to be scared of the food (“what you are feeling are eyeballs, certainly not peeled grapes!”).

But I'm so happy to see chefs truly embrace the foodstuffs of Halloween with much more creativity than ever before! Not only with the names silly but with wonderful visuals and textures.

Let us start with breakfast. Why not start scaring the young ones right from the start, eh? Behold these lovely Zombie Pancakes, the secret of which is to apply batter you want darker first to the hot pan so it browns more than the rest. True, this technique could be made to any picture, but it is Halloween!

Moving onto lunch you don't want to stuff your children too much; we must save room for the candy! So may I recommend these tasty Stuffed Pizza Skulls! Yes, you will need the special Wilton Skull 3D pan, but think of all the other wonderful things you could do with it! It will be the best $30 you ever spent.

Next is the dinner, and I'm sad to say that my recommendation is still not yet available here in the states, which is sad because 1) it is available at Burger King and there seems to be no shortage of those and b) it is disgusting to look at and Americans seem to love that. It is the famous Black Burger (or Darth Vader Burger).

Now for the best part, the sweets! You cannot have enough of these, even after the kiddles have brought home buckets of the chocolate. Besides, you'll want something different, something wonderful... something spoooooooky.

These chocolate skulls are life sized and anatomically correct. Go ahead and envision your nemesis groveling before you begging for mercy! Buwahaha!

Ahem. A smaller version may be these. I so love the walnut brain. Reminds me of someone...

So you don't want ALL sweets at your party, and who could blame you -- besides me, of course. Look at these lovely appetizers to kick things off. You can see it now, can you not? Instead of blindfolding your guests to trick them into thinking a hotdog is a finger they will scream, "For the love of all things holy, the hotdog is a finger!"

Looking for something you can make at home? Perhaps these Spider Cookies appease, or this Panna Cotta Brain with Raspberry Sauce.

I for one am glad to see the holiday take an intriguing culinary turn. To find more such delights please paw through my own website, bugsmind.com. It's vastly more educational that this one you read now!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

She's a Writer???

[repost from Leasspell.net/blog]

Moreover, how did she get published? Keep in mind that I majored in math for two reasons. The first was it was fun. It’s okay…I’ll wait for you to stop laughing. Really. I’m serious. I enjoyed it. I’m a puzzle person, and most mathematics is solving puzzles, which appealed to me.

But I confess that a part of me majored in math because it wasn’t English. It didn’t involve English. To get my degree I needed little more than English 101 to graduate, and that sounded like a good deal. In fact, I put it off until my senior year—yes, I hated English that much. The whole “writing papers” thing…what a waste of time! And the reading! Bah! However, there was this other part of me that daydreamed. A lot. A lot, a lot. I’ve been guilty of that since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Music, TV, movies, all of these generated a constant stream of playmates, friends, and distractions. As I got older, these “phantoms” had adventures.

I decided to write these down.

Oh, they were horrible! I really needed to learn how to write. Yes, I could see these people and describe what they did and said, but reading it was more like a data stream of animated robots. The writing was lifeless, colorless, and cumbersome.

Wow. I should have taken more English.

One day, waaaaaay back in 2002, I met a woman (oddly through a stained glass class) who was an editor. She and a friend were writers, and—and I’m not sure why I confessed this to her—I mentioned that I’d dabbled at it myself. She offered to organize a small writers group, just the three of us. We could get together once a week, read each other’s stuff, have some dinner, more of a social thing. I scoffed at the idea. She was an editor! Her friend had some success in minor publications. And I…I was a math major!

“She” was Jennifer Carson, the head blogger at Leasspell. Her “friend” was Denise Robarge Tanaka, a fellow blogger.

If you’ve never been in a writers group (and prior I HAD NOT), it is daunting. You see your works as an extension of yourself. You liken its creation to birthing, giving life to something that didn’t previously exist. It is glorious. It is good. Then these interlopers come along and rip it to shreds! The first time you experience this you’re left almost bleeding. It isn’t good. You failed.

Once the frustration passes, however, you can reflect on what was said, what they suggested, what they saw lacking, where they saw room for improvement. They were professionals in this craft, after all.

I moved out of the Bay Area and our little group dissolved, but I always recalled their words and points. And the stories kept coming in my wacky head, so I kept writing.

If you’ve read Jennifer’s blog on Laura Granger, our UK representative, then you’re aware that Laura sparked the desire to rekindle a writers group. But gone were the days sitting around a dining room table, swapping copies of chapters written while eating Indian food. Undaunted Jennifer called me with a “Hey, let’s get the band back together!”, and with a little ingenuity and Google Docs (now Drive), we laid down some basic rules for who posts what and when and how long and how to comment. And viola! Leasspell was born.

The timing was perfect for me. I had just finished a book I called “The Trek of the Trio,” which is what I had reviewed in those Leasspell formative years. Again the comments could be harsh, but I’d learned how to make these insights useful for me; take what I needed, and disregard the rest.

While driving across the country one day I heard Tom Petty host a satellite radio show. He talked about a song of his, “Good Love Is Hard To Find,” and when he first wrote it, he played it for his friend, George Harrison. George frowned as said, “You can do better than that.” He was reacting to a particular line in the song, which Tom replaced with the line “you got lucky, babe, when I found you,” an integral part of the song’s color and tone.

Here’s the bottom line for me: These people are reading my stuff. I’m writing to connect with an audience. If the people who know me best aren’t getting it, then I don’t stand much of a chance with anyone else.

Out of nowhere I’m slammed with some inspiration. I feverishly write down this work in a matter of days. I arranged for Jennifer to edit it, thinking I’d pass it onto a publisher. Her reaction?

You need to turn your hero into a heroine. Doh! I was so close!

…Sigh… I thought, I stewed, I chewed my nails, but I took a deep breath and tried again.

The result was released from Assent Publishing on August 12, 2014. It’s called The Dead Man’s Deal, and it kicks off a series, The Witherspoon Mansion Mysteries.

So, how did a math major write a fantasy novel? Practice, a bit of a thick skin, and a really good writers group.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Oh, What A Night!

On September 16, 2014, the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans saw the official launch of The Dead Man's Deal. We enjoyed food, refreshments, give-a-ways, beads, and books.
Setting up the PRC hall with music, food, and balloons.
Mardi Gras colors, of course!

The signing table, with me and my husband, Russ.
The Preservation Resource Center was perfect for the event. A small museum with lots to look at and alcoves for conversation allowed everyone to hang around, mill about, and chat.

 Time flew by. The two hours we set for the party seemed like two minutes. 
The catering table, with hummus, tomato basil tarts, chicken skewers, and cookies!

My many and humble thanks to those who could join me. I'm overwhelmed -- no words can truly represent my gratitude.

Also, my thanks to those who purchased the book online, who joined me in spirit.

You are all excellent! 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

When treading about NOLA: Watch Your Step! (Repost)

[Given I'm having a party in September to celebrate the launch of The Dead Man's Deal I thought I'd repost a couple blogs about traveling here in New Orleans. -jax]

Once the plane touches down in NOLA, once you’ve gotten into the taxi and headed to your hotel, just as soon as your foot hits the pavement you need to know one thing. Watch your step.

You might have notice the taxi ride was a bit bumpy, but you passed that off as “bad shocks”. But I’m tellin’ ya, it’s the roads. Somewhere deep in the New Orleans culture is a love for pot holes. It’s right there, nestled in between our love for hot and spicy crawfish and the Saints (WHO DAT!). As a transplant myself, that’s just a guess; I’ve noticed we don’t seem to make fixing potholes a priority.

Odds are you’re going to take a walk somewhere. Most folks would recommend the Garden District, Audubon Park, Uptown, or around the quarter, which are all fabulous hoofs. But let me say again. Watch. Your. Step.

Sidewalks here are a kind of afterthought to urban living. We have them. Mostly. But they’re not exactly pedestrian friendly. Like our potholes, broken stretches of sidewalks are just our way. A NOLA local who recently moved to California marveled at the flat and even sidewalks of San Jose! That possibility had never occurred to her.

Where'd it go?

Here in New Orleans sidewalks are not the responsibility of the city; they are the responsibility of the home owner or business. It’s their land, they can do what they want. Which means they can simply not have sidewalks at all. If they do they can be cement, blacktop, paving stones, stepping stones, or a little trail through the grass. It’s not uncommon that along a smaller street you’ll trend upon an assortment of textures.

The city has the final say, of course. If your sidewalk is a particular problem or danger they can fine you. Having spent many hours stepping over an array of sink holes, concrete chunks, and bumptious roots I shudder to imagine what might be finable.

Remember, too, we’re in the deep south. Which means warm climbs. Which means lush greenery. Which means things grow faster here than and angry bees zips along in July. Our neighborhoods are bursting — literally — with awesome trees. And big, healthy trees come with big, healthy roots that have no issues about breaking up concrete and mangling sidewalks. They can turn up a sidewalk more quickly and efficiently than the homeowners can repair them.

The city of New Orleans was established in 1714, which makes it older than the United States. Most of the buildings within the French Quarter are younger than that, thanks to the fire of 1788 which destroyed all but two buildings (a convent, spared due to it’s large courtyard which separated it from other burning buildings, and Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith shop, saved by it’s slate roof). Even in the reconstruction safety regulations were a bit more lax then than now. For instance, stairways may be narrower and steeper than any in modern buildings you’re used to. This is in my own home. Notice the first step?

Walk around, enjoy the gorgeous gardens and flowers and buildings and bars, and all the while remember our matras:

“Laissez les bons temps rouler”, “Who Dat!”, and “WATCH YOUR STEP”.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

New Orleans -- Getting Around (Repost!)

[Given I'm having a party in September to celebrate the launch of The Dead Man's Deal I thought I'd repost a couple blogs about traveling here in New Orleans. -jax]

Traveling to New Orleans? First time? It can be overwhelming. Even if you’re a seasoned traveler, coming to New Orleans is a bit of a trick. You can Yelp the good restaurants and hotels, you can find online lists of things to see, places to go, venues to hear amazing music, and there is always something happening almost every weekend. But where to even start? You get into a cab and say “Take me to…” You’re bound to get it wrong because, well, it’s New Orleans.

Let me give you an example. Throughout the US, states are divided into counties. In Louisiana we have parishes.

You might live in a neighborhood. In New Orleans we call them faubourgs (pronounced “foh-burg”, and translates into “suburb” according to Google).

Why? Partly because, unlike most of the US which was founded by the British, Louisiana was French. This is a broad brush that explains everything different about New Orleans, from the law to food to architecture — which I’ll elaborate on in future blogs.

I know what you're thinking. “Good. French. I took some French back in high school. Surely I’ll know how to pronounce street names!”

You've got another think coming.

Nothing here is pronounced the way you think it should be. Or the French, for that matter.

I’ll begin in the French Quarter (which, you’d reason, must be French — kinda in the name) you’ll find road names like “Chartres”. Any Frenchman would pronounce this “shar-trah”, with a very soft emphasis on the “trah”. The New Orleanian calls it “Charter”, as in “I want to charter a boat”.

There’s a road called Burgundy. It’s spelled just like the color; ask a New Orleanian for a glass of burgundy and you’ll get just what you’d expect. But if you want directions, the emphasis is different. It’s BurGUNdy.

Walking along the Mississippi River you’ll hear the piping music coming from the paddle wheel boat, Natchez. Everyone knows that’s a calliope (pronounced “kah-LIE-oh-pee”). The road along highway 90, however, is Calliope (pronounce “KAL-ee-ohp”).

If that weren’t perplexing enough keep in mind that the city is split right in two. After the Louisiana purchase there was a plan to build a canal that connected the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain (pronounced “PAHN-chah-trane”). It would act as a break from old New Orleans (the Vieux Carre, pronounced “view ka-RAY”) and those new comers from America. The canal was never built. But a road (Canal Street) is in its place. Thus, the names of roads from the French Quarter and down river are different from Canal Street and up river.

If you’re walking along Bourbon Street, heading to the Audubon Park, once you cross Canal you’ll find yourself on Carondelet Street (pronounced “cahr-on-duh-let”).

Given that, I’ll let you try to pronounce this:

Every New Orleanian can say it. But none can spell it.

Here are a few websites the will help you get around town:



If you’re planning a trip here and need some pronunciation guidance, comment here.

Oh. And please, just call it New Orleans (pronounced “new orlenz”). See y’all soon!