Back in New Orleans

New OrleansWhat a treat it was to be back in New Orleans. I love this city with it’s distinct French and Spanish Creole architecture. Who can resist the charm of the French Quarter where vining plants spill over the edges of balconies?

I love the multi-cultural atmosphere of the city, the complete mix of architecture from Greek revival, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco, to Renaissance Colonial, and Gothic. I love the street performers, the ghost and voodoo stories; the street cars, the parades and the people of New Orleans.

New Orleans, catastrophically affected by Hurricane Katrina, hurt by the recent recession and the BP oil spill is still struggling to recover. While the city welcomes back thousands of visitors yearly, many of the bayou inhabitants have yet to return as post-Katrina housing has become quite unaffordable.

New OrleansI was in town as part of a team competing in the Ironman 70.6 triathlon. What an amazing experience. I cannot begin to express how grateful I am to ALyce Weixler and her husband Andy Gunkler for having me as ‘their’ half marathon relay runner.  We had so much fun together and seeing the city through their eyes was wonderful.

Together we experienced the amazing cuisine of Nola that you really do not get anywhere else in the country. Jambalaya, Gumbo and Muffulettas are all traditional dishes and no visit would be complete without beignets from Cafe du Monde.

New OrleansThe cafe was established in 1862 in the New Orleans French Market and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It closes only on Christmas Day and on the day an occasional Hurricane passes too close to New Orleans. So make sure to visit. People watching on the terrace of Cafe du Monde is my favorite thing to do in New Orleans, rain or shine.

And then there is New Orleans Jazz

New OrleansOn arrival day we had a lovely drink at the bar of Brennan’s where a Jazz orchestra provided a festive welcome.

To best describe Jazz in New Orleans I will borrow a phrase I read in the New Orleans Official Guide: “Jazz, of course, is not an invention. It’s alive. It grows, it dies, it changes, it stays the same. Jazz is to American music what the Mississippi is to America, and just as many rivers feed into the Mississippi, music (and musicians) from many cultures came together in the creation of Jazz. And they came together in perhaps the only place in the world where it could have happened, a place where multi-culturalism was, and is, embedded in the fabric of everyday life: New Orleans.”

Jazz was of course not born in one day, one place nor was only one particular person responsible for it. Jazz is when a variety of influences come together to create something special. In New Orleans they call that gumbo. And I agree that nobody makes gumbo like they make it in New Orleans.

I can’t wait to visit again!

 

 

 

 

Spring Has Sprung in Birmingham

“Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!” — Sitting Bull

ZachNothing could be more true and I am embracing the results of their love. I cannot express the degree of gratitude I have to be able to welcome spring and further down the road, summer.

First we welcomed Zachary to the family. What more can one ask for? It is amazing how littlest feet can make the biggest footprints in our hearts.

As I learned to cope with running outdoors during winter here in Birmingham I realized that the joy was in the act of running and in the journey, not in the destination. So I run all over this city and if I ever get a car I think I will not get lost as I know every part of Birmingham by now.  Running has become the road to self-awareness. Being able to rely on myself and see how far I can push myself is pretty amazing.

Mercedes HalfI cannot imagine a time when I won’t be able to be outdoors and run. Encouraged by my colleague Tanya I did sign up for the Birmingham Mercedes Half. I loved it!  The race was fun and the post-race activities so much better than any RunDisney event.

Winter in Birmingham was very different from anything I ever experienced in 25 years in New York. An inch of snow is likely to shut down the city and Birmingham’s kids had a lot of ‘snow days’ even though I never saw more than an inch or two.

IHeidit was wonderful to welcome friends to the city. Heidi Hoover and I had a blast at the Ringo Starr concert. Who would have thought that Ringo and his All Star Band would play Birmingham? At age 74 he was still going strong and his drumming simply fabulous. With only two Beatles left on this planet we felt blessed to just be there. Stan and Sandra Phillips-Posner, the authors of “Drive I-95″ made Birmingham a stop and so did Dan Benjoseph with his lovely daughter Marija.

In early March I was fortunate to have a few days at Juniper Springs. It was so good to be back at this peaceful place. Juniper Springs is as close to nature I probably ever get and I cannot convey how healing nature’s powers are. It was ‘what the doctor prescribed’ for my winter blues. And while the bugs ate me alive I can’t wait to go back. Juniper

Next came the annual research trip to Walt Disney World with two events for Unofficial Guide authors at the Osceola Library in Celebration and miles of walking in the theme parks.

I am grateful for my new job, my home on Highland Avenue and the kindness extended to me here in Birmingham but after nearly a year here in Alabama I also know that my heart is still set on one day being able to live in Florida. It does not have to be Orlando. I am not a fool, I know that there is a big difference between Disney and a real live but I also know that every time I land and see a palm tree I feel — at home.

Spring in BirminghamCelebrating Spring

In the meantime I am celebrating spring, spring here in Birmingham. I am amazed to see the flowers blossom so early. The amount of pollen blanketing everything here is quite something — thanks God I am not allergic.

In another week the popular Pepper Street Farmer’s Market will open again and I will be there bright eyes and bushy tail.

Spring is all about renewal, the mystery and the creative power of nature and the music of Igor Stravingsky “The Rite of Spring” comes to my mind. Spring is love, spring is hope, spring is happiness.

 

 

 

Snow Days

Snow Days or what you need to know about Birmingham and Snow

Snow DaysMost schools and many businesses in the Birmingham area close as soon as the weather forecast predicts snow. Courthouses, libraries and many shops are closed and buses won’t run either. Since snow or freezing rain is rare all roads are instantly considered dangerous due to the weather and the citizen of Birmingham and the surrounding counties are asked to stay off the roads.

We really do not have snowplows but the garbage collecting trucks are fitted with a plow that helps clearing our streets and highways. Alabama Power is working 24/7 to restore power to homes that go without electricity quite often as soon as a winter storm hits the area.

After living through 25 years of New York City winters it was quite amusing to see the effect so little snow can have on the entire State.  However, the amusement stopped when I suddenly found myself in the dark due to freezing rain on power lines and realizing that if I wished to go to work I would have to walk.  All considered it was only a minor inconvenience that latest two days. It left me wondering what would happen if we really would get a considerable amount of snow. The answer is simple: we all would stay at home and wait till it is over.

“Do you want to build a snowman?”

 

Running Again and Then Some

Running again and other mischiefs

Running Again

Wine & Dine Half Marathon Bib

It is not as if I had been sitting idle since my last post, on the contrary I have been busy.  I know it is a lame excuse and one that no New Year resolution helped alleviate. The truth is I write for a living. There are the blogs, the Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest accounts and the avalanche of emails, press releases, pitches and other Pulitzer Prize winning activities.

But back to running again. My last race was in November at Walt Disney World. Together with thousands of runners I participated in the runDisney Wine & Dine Half Marathon. This year the weather god was not with us and we ran for 13.1 miles in the pouring rain.  I can think of only one thing that would have made it more miserable and that would have been if Disney had canceled the race.
Running Again

Mulan and Mushu warming my hands

So we went our merry way from the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, onwards to The Studios. At Disney Hollywood Studios my iPhone rebelled against the rain as I tried taking pictures of the Osborne Family Spectacular of Dancing Lights. So much for race pictures!

By the time I reached the Boardwalk I thought that once at Epcot where the race ends I would jump on a bus and go straight to the hotel. Well, seeing Spaceship Earth and the volunteers cheering us on this cold and rainy night changed my mind. Why going home? I was soaking wet and so was everybody else but we did it! Another half Marathon and for me a Coast-to-Coast for that! I crossed the finish line and after getting my bling I headed to the Finish Line Party at the Food & Wine Festival at Epcot. And while the rain kept pouring I made a tour of World Showcase sampling foods and meeting characters. My favorite interaction was at the Temple of Heaven at the China Pavilion where Mulan and Mushu where holding court. They didn’t mind my tired and not too sophisticated looks. They posed for a picture and took my hands in an effort to warm them.
Running Again

Wine & Dine Half Marathon Bling

My iPhone dried and decided to come back to live. The only casualty of that night was my wig, so this princess is going to be shopping for a new Merida wig.

The next day I returned to Epcot and so did the sun. Given enough time the memory of this wet and at times miserable race will become a fun story to tell.

I have been twice to Orlando since the race and will do so again in March. I can’t wait.  In the meantime I signed up for three more races. One here in Birmingham is coming up real soon. The Mercedes Half Marathon will be my second non Disney race.

I’ll follow that one up running again in April by joining the Ironman 70.3 team of a friend. Her husband will do the swimming, she’ll bike and I’ll run the Half Marathon.  The race takes place in New Orleans and we aptly named our team “For Food, Booze & Bling” – stay tuned for updates from The Big Easy.

Running Again and Then Some

May will bring a new challenge. While visiting my son in Los Angeles I am signed up for the Pixie Dust Challenge held during the Tinker Bell Half Marathon weekend in Anaheim. A 10K followed by a Half Marathon. I am so looking forward to be back in Los Angeles. What could be better? I’ll be spending time with my son, celebrating my birthday, Mother’s Day and pushing my limits – just one bit further. And there is always the next Wine & Dine Half Marathon to sign up for!

Winter Tales

IMG_4510The Earth is tilted to the plane of its orbit and we no longer directly face the sun. At this time of the year I wish I could freeze moments in time. It would be hard for me to adequately describe what winter means to me. Nothing, not even the most beautiful moments during that time of the year reveal what it takes, every year, for me to simply get through it.

Thankfully Winter also meant to be reunited with my son and to be welcomed in Laura’s family for a week. It had been over six month since I last saw Idan. Never before had I been away from him – or New York City for so long.

Stepping out of Grand Central Station and hearing people talk in different languages was the most powerful reminder of what had changed for me over the past six month.  I did return to Forest Hills to meet friends but never summoned the courage to go back to Burns Street and look at what used to be my home for so long. Home, what does it really mean? My mom always said that home is where the heart is. While I understand what she meant it is not always as simple as that.  My heart first and foremost is where my son is — in Los Angeles. My heart is — where my brothers and their families are– in Belgium. My heart is — with the family in Israel.  All places familiar yet none is really home for me, and neither is New York anymore.

Gary Zukav said it best “We cannot stop the winter or the summer from coming. We cannot stop the spring or the fall or make them other than they are. They are gifts from the universe that we cannot refuse. But we can choose what we will contribute to life when each arrives.”

 

Boo to You – Halloween Down South

IMG_3337Autumn comes late to Alabama and I truly enjoyed being able to be outdoors for most of October and November. Hiking in 70F temperatures and I enjoyed the change of seasons in what seemed like a slow motion picture. Halloween and even Thanksgiving were festivities that seemed in no way connected to temperatures or seasons anymore.

Talking about Halloween and Thanksgiving… Like every year, I had to have a pumpkin and on a sunny autumn day I went with friends to a pumpkin field about an hour north of Birmingham. Little did I know what it entailed. Upon arrival at the farm one had to go on a ride for another 20 minutes and suddenly I found myself in a ‘real’ pumpkin field. Pumpkins everywhere and next to it a cotton field and a beautiful sunflower field. At first the photographer inside of me went ballistic and I was content shooting pictures of flowers, cotton and pumpkins. At some point however I realized that I was not alone out there and every step I took became a prayer “”please don’t let me come anywhere near a snake”. It was a futile exercise. While I did find my perfect pumpkin I also did encountered my first snake in Alabama.  I did not scream, as a matter of fact I was speechless, frozen in fear and wowed never to insist on pumpkin picking again.

Halloween Down South

HalloweenBack home I started preparing for my first Halloween Down South. I missed my New York Witch Hazel and the amazing over the top Halloween party at Sandra’s house but did my best to bring the spirit of the holiday to my new home. I cooked up a storm and decorated to the max.

And yes there was an after-party at “Das Haus” and all I can say is that I went for it, costume and all. I love Halloween and welcome any occasion to dress up. A return to the pumpkin field for the 2015 edition however is questionable.

 

 

Living Highland Avenue South

Living Highland Avenue South

Running “Over The Mountain”

Not in my wildest dreams would I have sought to be living Highland Avenue South.  Yes, “The South” was always a place I wanted to be but Highland Avenue South in Birmingham, Alabama?  I don’t think so!

Living Highland Avenue South is wonderful. Picture a green and prosperous neighborhood and you get a good picture. Not quite ‘over the mountain’ but just about that spot geographically. It is as beautiful a neighborhood as you could possibly wish for and at the same time living Highland Avenue South is a huge challenge for a ‘flat land’ runner like me.

Living Highland Avenue South

Home on Highland Ave S.

All along Highland Avenue South you can find the most wondrous vistas and at the same time experience the most excruciating training runs.

Suddenly names like Niazuma Avenue become the equivalent of Kilimanjaro. No longer do I think that I can run the upcoming Wine and Dine Half Marathon in Orlando in November, no, I think that having signed up for the Pixie Dust Challenge in May of 2015 was cheer insanity!

Whenever I train for the upcoming races – and train I do – I feel exhausted and totally overwhelmed. There are muscles that hurt I did not know I even had and try as I may there is simply no long distance road I can possible map which does not involve some crazy elevation.

Living Highland Avenue South

The Donnelly House

Having said all this I would not want to live anywhere else in Birmingham but on Highland Avenue South.  I recognize that I am blessed to have found a neighborhood that is beautiful, welcoming and historical. I have three parks to pick from, each one of them in literally five minutes walking distance from my doorsteps.

At any given time and everywhere I look there are historical homes and the buzz of Five Points South and the entertainment district. The homes on Highland Avenue South are amazing such as the Donnelly House, a prime venue for weddings located a mere three minutes walk from my home.

Is living Highland Avenue South the Dulcinea of my Dream?

Palms at sunset in Orlando

Palms at sunset in Orlando

So what am I whining about? Nothing much really except for the physical pain of learning to run in a hilly terrain.

But wait, there is a little more. If I am honest I admit that deep inside there is the dream of a place where palms are swaying in the wind, a place that illuminates nightly to a tune that dreams are made off. A home I never called my own, a home that family and friends feel is far fetched for someone like me, a home that no matter what everyone else says, I still desire. Is it a realistic dream? Nope but does it really matter?

For now I will run like if my life depended on it. I’ll be running and living Highland Avenue South and save the dreams of Windermere for a later time.  Windermere after all sounds like putting a name on a windmill. I just hope that – unlike in Don Quichote – Dulcinea will indeed be waiting for me.

 

 

 

ScareFest – Horror and Paranormal Convention

ScareFest, the annual Horror and Paranormal Convention is my first business trip. Armed with our books and a costume my colleague Tanya and I set out for Lexington, Kentucky.  We were to bring attention to one of our imprints – Clerisy Press – and America’s Haunted Road Tripa one-of-a-kind series of haunted travel guides.

Each book profiles 30-100 haunted places open to the public. From inns and museums to cemeteries and theaters, our authors visit each place, interviewing people who live and work there. Books also include travel instructions, maps, and an appendix of 50 more places the reader can visit.

ScareFest - Horror and Paranormal Convention

Over 200 vendors converged at ScareFest7. Film screenings, a gaming con, anime screenings, guest panels and parties were part of what was served to ghoulish fans at ScareFest7.

I am no fan of ‘scary stuff’ but I am fascinated by the paranormal at the same time. I love Halloween and wouldn’t miss any occasion for dressing up in a costume but – at the same time – I am easily scared and in general prefer not to meddle in all things paranormal.

I always wonder why so many people believe in parapsychological claims.

Spiritual or supernatural forces beyond our understanding seem to be the topic of about three in four Americans, according to a recent Gallup survey. So without further due I admit there was some fascinating weird stuff out there and there was – as it is to be expected – some commercialized fun.

In the end I join the rows of all those who want more!

 

Ratatouille – Disturb, Shake and Stir

RatatouilleThe Webster dictionary describes the origin of the word Ratatouille as coming from the verb ratouiller which means to disturb, shake and to stir.

If you are like me you probably think food, as Ratatouille is a wonderful classic French dish originating from the Provence. Of course there are those who assimilate the word Ratatouille with the rat Remy turned chef in the Pixar movie Ratatouille. Yes, I am guilty of that too.

So to me Ratatouille is really all of the above and it describes perfectly my life in the past three month. Disturb, shake and stir! And God knows I had my fair share of turbulences. It is now three month since I left New York City for Birmingham, Alabama. I am happy to report that I love discovering my new hometown and that I am re-discovering my love for cooking and entertaining.

Caramel Apples - RatatouilleMy blog and some of my freelance writing was put on a back burner but never really extinguished. The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids 2015 is shipping to a store near you and gave cause for celebration.

My latest article for Undercover Tourist was about my favorite snacks at Walt Disney World and I did report about the Frozen Mania that is sweeping The Kingdom of the Mouse.

Running on the other hand was put on ice for a while after foot surgery. Let’s just say it was another ‘disturbance’ in the force. I am up and running again in another and most of all ready for the Wine and Dine Half Marathon in Orlando early November.

Book signing at Todd English - RatatouilleSo what else? Well, was a book signings at Todd English P.U.B. for Gone Pro Alabama and I can’t wait for Paul Chibeba visiting me here Down South in just a few weeks.

Except for Paul’s visit the most exciting item on the menu is my first business trip. In a few days I will be heading, costume and all, to Lexington, Kentucky to attend ScareFest.

My company publishes America’s Haunted Road Trips, a series of twenty-five books describing places that are known or said to be haunted. We will be presenting and selling our books for three days. I am really excited about this opportunity and hope to stir up interest in some of the most ghostly trails in this country.

It would seem unfair to talk about Ratatouille without sharing at least a good recipe. So without further due I give you Julia Child’s Ratatouille recipe.

Sweet Home Alabama

Wedding party at beachTwo month ago I lost my job of over twenty years. At first there was the initial shock and the fact that I had to tell family and friends. Next I embarked on a four-night cruise to witness the wedding of cousin Sergio. It was wonderful and being surrounded by loved ones was much needed and welcomed.

Back in New York however my type A personality and what I call my single mother syndrome kicked in and all I could think about was finding a new job and securing my future. My son is grown and supports himself but would I have enough resources to retire in ten years from now? Would anybody want to hire me at age fifty-six? So what came next felt like being on a roller coaster except that it wouldn’t end after sixty seconds of thrill and anxiety but it kept running on a loop.Moving

Tempus Fugit and two month later I can report that I found a new job, packed up my home and moved to Birmingham, Alabama. I am waiting for the closing date for the sale of my home in New York and rented an apartment which I hope to move into soon. I am living with friends hoping my furniture makes it Down South soon – there is only that much I can control after all.

I managed to produce five articles whenever my back needed a rest from packing boxes and yes I turned in – on time – the 2015 revisions for the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids. I recommended Summer Fun at Walt Disney World and gave tips for visiting Disney Hollywood Studios during Star Wars Weekends. For those who have a green thumb I suggested the Behind the Seeds Tour at Epcot and I kept my books Facebook page up and running with daily tips.

NatureAt times I wonder if I could have done anything differently or simply if I did the right thing. I guess only time will tell. What I do know though is that I am grateful to have found a new job, grateful for family and friends and grateful for the kindness of the people Down South.

While I have not explored much of my new hometown my friends took me on several beautiful outings. Hikes in Red Mountain Park and Oak Mountain State Park provided much needed relieve from anxiety and stress. There is nothing more restoring than the healing powers of mother nature. Onwards! Sweet Home Alabama