In Search Of and Others, by Will Ludwigsen

I just picked up a copy of Will Ludwigsen's In Search Of and Others.

You should too. The book is half off right now at Amazon.

Will's stories are supremely imaginative and carefully crafted. He writes in a variety of genres, and this is a collection I've been excited about for a long time... 


The Croods

The Croods is the best animated feature I've seen since Wall-E, and it blows that great picture out of the water. I haven't had this much fun at the movies with a G-rated film since The Goonies.

The writing, the voice acting, the story, the animation, and the sense of pacing were fantastic. Nicholas Cage was really good (all of them were, but he stood out as the patriarch of the cave folk), and I thought the message in the story was awesome. It's about change and hope and optimism and overcoming fear. 

Lyla was extremely well behaved. It's our first movie together, and I'm glad we made The Croods that special event. I give it an 'A' and recommend you enjoy it in the theater, little one or not. The images of the apocalyptic earthquakes and the action sequences were stunning, and the story just screams out of the credits toward a fantastic resolution... 


Your Brief Guide to Key Largo

It's been a couple of weeks since the girls and I caught a flight down to Miami before driving down to the Florida Keys for spring break. A very busy work schedule, coupled with some coaching (the Angry Birds are 1-0 after our first victory last week!) and birthday stuff has made it tough to write up a little guide here to Key Largo, but I have some time and thought I'd share some thoughts on the area.

First off, I've flown into Atlanta, D.C., Houston, and Chicago. Those are big airports, but I can't recall ever having such a long series of connections and surface travel just to get to the rental care center than we had in Miami. I grew up in a town of around 20,000 souls, and Pendleton would fit into one wing of Miami International. We must have walked a mile before hopping on a train to take us clear across the space and into a gigantic parking complex to grab our car. Tip here: when returning to Miami International, give yourself an extra twenty minutes to get through the obstacle course of trains and escalators.

Heading south is fairly simple, but Florida is filled with toll roads. I recommend you just stay in the Sun Pass lane and skip all of the starting and stopping. You'll have a toll heading down and one coming back, and the state of Florida will photographically identify your rental car and just bill your credit card. No big deal, no hassle, and it's cheap. My charges showed up yesterday, and it was just a few bucks.

We had great lodgings. We stayed at the Pelican and at Sunset Cove. Our room at the Pelican was bare bones, but at $100 it was fine. The management was helpful and pleasant at each spot. Both have very inviting grounds. Both provide a decent breakfast (coffee, cereal, juice, fruit, and pastries). Both offer awesome access to clear tropical water via their decks, and both have kayaks and canoes to take out for free. The folks at Sunset Cove, however, went above and beyond. They had free DVDs to borrow, and they loaned us a fishing pole they rigged up for fishing on the docks. I hope the Pelican buys some fishing gear and loans it out in the future. It's the sort of thing that will tip us in favor of Sunset Cove the next time we make reservations (the properties literally border each other).

Our room at Sunset Cove was larger, and had a kitchenette. At $150, we'd stay there again in a heartbeat. They also have room to dicker, and if you have a boat to launch, either place is great. Both have ramps. 

Jeanne caught a dozen yellowtail snapper right there on the dock. Awesome fishing. There were many folks that came in each night with a stringer of fish. They cleaned them on the dock, and Lyla fed the pelicans the remains. Folks pan fried snapper every night for dinner. Awesome! Just go to Publix and buy a dozen fresh dead shrimp. Cut them into thirds (small bait for small fish on the dock) and just let them bump along the bottom. You'll catch a fish per cast, and little kids just adore it. 

The Keys are filled with abundant seafood options, many of them right outside your door. If you wanted to camp at one of the state parks, or just fish each day, you could skip paying for dinner. Seriously, you can just dive down and rip lobster straight out of the structures if you have a mind to (and a license, of course).

Go to the Theater of the Sea and attend all of the shows. It can be spendy ($80 for the three of us), but it's well worth it. We spent about three hours there. We saw the wildlife show (turtles, alligators, crocks, and fish), the bird show, the sea lion show, and the dolphin show). They let our daughter come out of the stands to pet a dolphin named Sherman! She also got the chance to toss a ring to Wilbur the sea lion. Lyla and Jeanne snorkeled there with a bunch of colorful fish. It was awesome, and a great way to start our first day in Key Largo.

Also, you need to go to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. We brought our own snorkeling gear, and I went out one afternoon. There is a ton of coral structure right on the beach, with stunning dropoffs and lots of fish. Also, on the day I went, there was a manatee. Seriously, it followed me around, snuffling up sea grass. Those things are so huge it was unsettling, but they're gentle. This one seemed playful. It had a notch out of its tail (boat, most likely), and it was clearly fine with humans in its proximity.

Dr. Beach loves Bahia Honda, and you will too. Sugar crystal beaches with clean, clear water and plenty of snorkeling. We had a great lunch at the little cafe inside, and spent an afternoon collecting shells, swimming, and searching through the coral tide pools.

There's golf in Marathon, though I didn't play the course. It's a pitch and putt, very relaxed atmosphere in a beautiful little place called Key Colony Beach. You don't need to bring clubs, as they rent them for $3.

And the food was really good. I ate seafood just about every meal, every day. One night, we just bought a pound of Key West shrimp and ate cocktails with lemon. I had mahi, snapper, conch fritters, and shrimp. We loved feeding the tarpon at Robbie's. Though the service was slow, our lunch there was really good (dig the blackened mahi sandwich) also. 

Mrs. Mac's is awesome. Walking distance from our lodgings, it's old school conch republic at its finest. They know how to do Floribbean, and it shows. The Tijuana mahi was awesome, and there conch fritters were unbelievable. Get a pint of Big Rod's Coconut Pilsner and an order of conch fritters at the bar while you wait for them to do your fish. They'll also cook your catch for you!

The Keys are delightfully kitschy. There's tons of oddball stuff to see and do, and we didn't even come close to doing it all. We went down to Big Pine Key, home of the notorious key deer. Sure enough, one tiny deer came right up to Lyla and sniffed her hand!

When we do it again, perhaps this summer, we'll bring better snorkeling gear. We'll probably drive the 500 miles from Jacksonville with our own fishing gear. We'll try to do some camping on the beach, and we'll do lots more fishing. We'll try to harvest some lobster, and maybe spend a few nights in Key West. Each island has its own flavor, and we found Key Largo to be amazing. If you like being close to wildlife--to crocodiles, manatees, barracuda, snapper, deer, ospreys, pelicans, and iguana--then the Keys are your place...


Wednesday Roundup...

So it was bound to happen. If you live with a three-year-old, you're going to eventually visit the emergency room. It's as inevitable as the tides. Last night, that was Jeanne taking Lyla in for an object extraction.

Our little girl stuffed a plastic rhinestone up her nose and it got stuck in there. 

I wonder why that happens so often? Seriously! I mean, at some point the kid has to rationalize to himself or herself that whatever it is they are holding really belongs somewhere else, and that the particular somewhere else is right up there in the ol' nasal cavity.

The rhinestone is out and she's doing fine, so all is well...

I received the good news yesterday that a proposal I wrote for a chapter in an influential and forthcoming text on horror literature was accepted. The final draft of my chapter is due, appropriately enough, on Halloween...

We hit a new record with the DOW yesterday. It hasn't happened quickly enough for many, but the economy is definitely perking up. Housing was up 9.7% year to year in January. The market has proven remarkably resilient to all of the political shenanigans going on in Washington, and we're even talking about a modest raise for teachers in the state of Florida.

Shot an 87 yesterday out at Mill Cove. Drove the ball well but chipped like an idiot. It could have been ten strokes better...


Monday Tidbits...

Congratulations to Michael Thompson on his break-through win this week on the PGA Tour! Michael played a phenomenal strategic game, and he has one of the best short games I've ever seen. His feel around the greens was locked in all week (that chip on 18 was just nails), and he one-putted just about every other hole.

It was odd listening to the telecast. Both Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller were spewing negativity about how far Thompson hits the ball, but he was consistently knocking it out there in the center of the fairway. Just because he was hitting irons and three woods off the tee doesn't mean that he can't drive the ball. 

Hicks couldn't stop talking about how many cuts Thompson has missed in his career. Well, shoot Dan, he also finished runner-up last year in the U.S. Open. He plays big tournaments well, with a decorated background as an amateur and a nice run as a collegiate at Alabama.

I bet he wins again this year.

At twenty-seven years old, and with that short game, plan, and temperament, he's going to cash a lot of checks on the tour. I was happy to see, also, that he was able to make that putt on seventeen with the drunken yahoos hooting in his back swing. Seriously? It's more than enough to hear these idiots in Arizona. No more of that, please, anyplace else on tour.

Sixteen years since leading my last squad into battle in the rigorous U7 division of the McMinnville Parks and Rec league, Coach Dan is taking up the whistle again. Our U5 squad has our first practice tonight; hopefully, I'll have a team name to report here soon. Coach Jeanne stands ready to help, and I think we'll have some good parental buy-in based on my first contacts with folks. 

So here's to a good season! There's going to be a lot of oranges and Capri Suns knocked back, let me tell you...


Best Wings in JAX?

There are lots of places to grab great wings in Jacksonville, and I've tried just about all of them. I love the Mojo Kitchen's smoky, savory wings. Ten of those bad boys, a cold People's Pale Ale and a bit of their spicy barbecue sauce and I'm in heaven.

But my favorite wing joint is just a half mile from my front door. Seriously, how great is that? I live in an awesome part of town--close to some tremendous hiking trails, great fishing spots, my favorite golf course, and a lovely local watering hole. If you drop by the Mudville Grille on Monument Road, I recommend getting the cajun ranch, grilled (just tell them you want 'em "Big Dale Style" and they'll hook you up). They aren't on the menu, but they're pretty freaking good!

If I can talk the girls into it, I want to try out Big John's Crumpy's Wings. Big John Henderson held it down in the center of the Jags' interior defensive line for years. The man was a vicious run-stopper, and a heck of a fan favorite. I loved watching John do his dance when he got a pressure or a sack. The big man could move!

Review pending upon successful consumption of these crumpy delicacies!

You Know When It's Good

If you spend any real time at the word processor, you understand that sometimes the writing flows and you just know in your heart and in you...