New Mexico Chilis: Know Your Boundaries

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Sometimes you need to set your own boundaries, know your limitations.  That’s especially the case with chilis.

They may merely add flavor to cooking or set your mouth ablaze in a manner that will send you running for the icewater (and have other repercussions, too, if you know what I mean.)

I was in New Mexico a couple of weeks ago where chilis–red and green–are in just about everything you eat.  Fall is the height of chili season there and you’ll find them piled in farmers’ markets and smell them roasting, “New Mexico aromatherapy,” at the market or on the roadside. You’ll find them in restaurants any time of year.  When ordering, your server may ask, “Red or green?”  By that she means the color of chilis you want.  If the answer in both, it’s common to say “Christmas.”

Some chilis hot, some not.   In some cases it’s like playing roulette–one in ten is hot, you just don’t know until you eat it.  Either way, they’re beautiful to look at.

Half Moon Bay, The Ganges and Reading in Minnesota

Hi fellow readers and travelers:

I’ve done a lot of traveling this summer, but I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus, so I have plenty stored up to tell you about.

The winner of the 2014 pumpkin weigh off in Half Moon Bay, California. Photo courtesy of Miramar events.
The winner of the 2014 pumpkin weigh off in Half Moon Bay, California. Photo courtesy of Miramar events.

I’ll start by sharing my new article on the USA Today travel web site. It’s about the pulchritudinous pumpkins of Half Moon Bay, California, and all the food-related activities there are to do there even after all the orange orbs have been made into pie.

Ann Bancroft (right) and Liv Arneson are know for their adventure in cold climates, but on their next trip, they navigate the Ganges.
Ann Bancroft (right) and Liv Arnesen are know for their adventure in cold climates, but on their next trip, they navigate the Ganges.

Speaking of travel, I also had a great time interviewing Ann Bancroft, the famous polar explorer, for the Minnesota Women’s Press. She’s off on a new adventure in October, this time to India where she and Liv Arnesen and their team will navigate the length of the Ganges River. This hot, dirty, overpopulated trip seems an unlikely choice for someone who is used to the isolation and the pure, crisp air of the frozen poles. Yet, the more we discussed the perils of such a trip, the more her eyes lit up with anticipation of the challenge. The trip is part of a series she plans to undertake that will bring attention to the crisis of fresh water around the world. Find out more about the expedition at

Last week was a big one for literary events here in Minneapolis. I attended Pen Pals, an author series presented by the Friends of the cover225x225Hennepin County Library, in which famed librarian Nancy Pearl interviewed Judy Blume about her new novel, In the Unlikely Event. Blume is chiefly known for her middle grade girls’ novels such as Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. The new book for adults is fiction based on the true story of the series of three commercial plane crashes that occurred in her home town in 1952. I haven’t read the book yet, but it sounds like it could put me off air travel for a while.

Finally, Faith Sullivan launched her new book, Goodnight Mr. Wodehouse at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. I aspire to be like Faith, not just for her literary expertise, but for her vivacious goodnight-dpipersonality, humor and grace. She alternated reading from her book with short pieces of music from the time played by her friend Michael Anthony.

Set in Minnesota around the turn of the last century, the book is the story of a woman who has more than her share of tragedy in life, but keeps on going, buoyed by the diversion and humor of British author P.G. Wodehouse. Readers will love her comments about the joys and life-saving aspects of reading:

“Life could toss your sanity about like a glass ball; books were a cushion. How on earth did nonreaders cope when they had nowhere to turn? How lonely such a nonreading world must be.”

And, on retiring from teaching, the heroine hopes she “left her charges with a love of reading, one of the few things they could count on in life. The years could rob them of friends and farms, of youth and health, but books would endure. She eased deeper into the chair and turned the page.”

When I’m done reading Faith Sullivan’s book, I’m stocking up on a few volumes by P.G. Wodehouse.

Doors in Morocco

Doors inspire my imagination. Who lives inside?  What’s their life like?

Poet Carl Sandburg* said “Shadows and ghosts go through doors.”  None are more mysterious or elaborate than the doors in Morocco.   Here are a few.

Morocco Doors
Morocco Doors

An open door says, “Come in.”
A shut door says, “Who are you?”
Shadows and ghosts go through shut doors.
If a door is shut and you want it shut,
why open it?
If a door is open and you want it open,
why shut it?
Doors forget but only doors know what it is
doors forget.

–Carl Sandburg

This post is in response to the weekly photo challenge:  Doors

New Book Ideas from the Deep Valley Book Festival

One of my favorite authors, Faith Sullivan, and her husband Dan.
One of my favorite authors, Faith Sullivan, and her husband Dan (notice the book she just purchased).  Keep an eye out for her new book Goodnight, Mr. Wodehouse, coming out in fall.

Book festivals make great entertainment for readers.  You get to talk to authors, check out new books and strike up conversations with fellow book lovers.  I’ve found that there are little book festivals going on all the time, in addition to the big fests, such as the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. or the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville.

I spent much of yesterday at the Deep Valley Book Festival in Mankato, Minnesota which is part of the Betsy-Tacy Deep Valley Homecoming. I sold a truckload of books—-okay about ten and I swapped one of those with another author for her book.  However, I met a lot of local authors working on fascinating topics (fiction and non-fiction), swapped book promotion ideas, and gained lots of inspiration.  Best of all, I met one of my favorite local writers, Faith Sullivan, a generous, delightful person and great writer who enthusiastically purchased a copy of my book, Off The Beaten Page.  Keep an eye out for her new book, Goodnight, Mr. Wodehouse, coming out this fall from Milkweed Press.

I met a few other authors whose books I have to share with you.  Odds are, if you’re not too far away, they’d be happy to stop by your book group to talk about their book.  First on my list to read is Nancy Koester’s Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life.

Nancy Koester's book, Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life won the 2015 Minnesota Book Award.
Nancy Koester’s book, Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life won the 2015 Minnesota Book Award.

Allen Eskens‘s debut novel, The Life We Bury, is a story of suspense involving a University of Minnesota student, set against the harsh winter of Minnesota.  I’ll be settling in for that one this winter.

Allen Eskens's  and his debut novel, The Things We Bury
Allen Eskens’s and his debut novel, The Life We Bury

I also met the bubbly Anne B. Kerr, author of Fujiyama Trays and Oshibori Towels, a memoir of her experiences as a Northwest Orient Airlines stewardess in the 1950s.  I pickup of a copy to give to my mother-in-law who was also a flight attendant in that era.

Anne B. Kerr (right) tells the tales of her days as a Northwest Airlines flight attendant in the 1950s.

And finally, if you’re a fan of young adult paranormal romance, a very specific category,  check out Unclaimed by Laurie Wentzel.  Laurie shared book promotion tips and also explained that my college dating life didn’t qualify as paranormal.

Laurie Wetzel
Laurie Wetzel is the author of the Unclaimed series of young adult novels.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Rainbow Colors at St. Peter’s Fiesta, Gloucester

St. Peter's Fiesta Carnival in Gloucester, Massachusetts
St. Peter’s Fiesta Carnival in Gloucester, Massachusetts

You can’t beat a carnival for color. Each June, on the weekend closest to the Feast Day of St. Peter, the Italian-American fishing community of Gloucester, Massachusetts, comes together to celebrate the patron saint of fishermen, St. Peter. These photos are from last year’s fiesta, which opened with a carnival, music, art, and plenty of nasty-greasy-good food.

The Fiesta opens this year in St. Peter’s Square on the Gloucester waterfront on Wednesday, June 24 and ends on Sunday, June 28.

weekly photo challenge 

Travel Before TSA: Were the Skies Really Friendlier?

3022215-slide-8267210465670e3d76e5oOne of the best things about blogging is interaction with readers who share their stories, comments and their own travel experiences with me. Of course, I especially love hearing stories of their literature-inspired travel. Sometimes authors send books they’ve written that fit into that category for a review or a mention.

I recently received a couple of volumes from a former TV journalist Unknown-1and travel writer, Walt Christophersen. In A Temporary European and By Ship, Train, Bus, Plane and Sometimes Hitchhiking he recounts his adventures as a journalist in the 1960s and 70s and includes some of his articles from that period.

What I enjoyed most about Walt’s books is the look back they provide to a time when traveling seemed much simpler. Remember what traveling was like before 9/11, TSA screening and all the other hassles we now endure? The books made me think back to the days when flying was actually glamorous. I remember traveling as a child with my parents to visit my grandparents in Florida. I wore a spiffy little knit suit, my dad wore a suit and tie, and mom was glamorous in her mink stole, which was much more useful on the return trip to Michigan than trotting around Florida’s east coast. We had actual meals served to us—with cloth napkins and silverware! We had leg room! We checked our luggage—for free!

Walt’s books are a refresher on the days when adventurous travelers could go to places such as Afghanistan and Syria without too much danger, though as he reports, not without discomfort. (If you’re a freelance writer, the really depressing part is that from his account it appears that the wages for writers, particularly freelance travel writers, haven’t changed much since the 70s.) Still, his stories remind us of the lure and fascination of travel to exotic places.

In a lot of ways, those days of air travel weren’t as idyllic as they seem in my memory. People travel all over the world now, much more than in the 60s and 70s, despite the hassle. I ran across a fun article in Fast Company that compares travel in the 50s and 60s with the present. As it turns out, the skies weren’t quite as friendly as I remember.

For example, airfares were 40 percent higher, adjusted for inflation, with the average person in the 1950s paying up to five percent of his or her yearly salary for a chance to fly. There were no movies on long flights, but plenty of smoking, drinking and, ultimately quite a bit more vomiting en route. Stewardesses looked great but had to retire when they got married. I never saw a female pilot.

Despite the ups and downs of air travel, Walt certainly enjoyed the adventure and his readers do, too.

He says, “To borrow a modern cliche, it was a great ride.”

Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.


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