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Beltane – Fire, Roaming Spirits, and Hanky Panky

When I was a kid May Day was an event. Granted it was in Minnesota, so maybe a bunch of Scandinavians and other Nordic people just really know how to have a good time. Ahem–when you are six years old. We’d get out our construction paper and make little heart shaped baskets with a handle that we’d fill with candy (one for the basket, one for my mouth – religiously upheld standard) and then go about the neighborhood and do…

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Nessie, Unicorns and Scotch

I recently had the good fortune to travel to Scotland (granted in January) and I took full advantage. Once my business was done in Edinburgh, I rented a car and got my arse into the highlands. My personal navigation skills are somewhat legendary in my family, (I once drove to South Dakota by mistake – please don’t ask) so I wasn’t entirely surprised that even when I used GPS, I still ended up on the hardest road that traveled rocky…

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Easter – Peeps with Battleaxes

I admit to a slight obsession: queue the clucking bunny and bring on his Cadbury Cream Eggs. As a child I was neurotic, leaving these gooey beauties in my basket to savor last. Keep your jelly beans, your marshmallow peeps, even the chocolate bunny and gimme, gimme the cream eggs. Easter is upon us and already I’m trying to curb my Pavlovian response. In celebration of Easter, and since I have been neck deep in Viking era research, I thought…

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Ireland – A Wee Drop of Whiskey for St. Patrick

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, created to celebrate a monk who drove the snakes out of Ireland. Well, not real snakes, just those pesky Celtic pagans. Thanks to my latest writing endeavor, I’ve been researching Vikings, which landed me in scads of fun information about Ireland, particularly St. Patrick. Though history favors the tales of Viking’s invading Ireland and taking slaves to bring back to Scandinavia, it would also seem that the Druids routinely went across the channel to pillage…

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Viking Rune Stones: Unlock Your Right Brain

I was sitting in a candlelit room, trying not to cough through a haze of incense. On the table in front of me were strewn a handful of stones all carved with sharp angled symbols. I had never seen Rune Stones before, and being the more nerdy, scientific sort, I never thought to seek them out. So it was a surprise to me when one of the psychoanalysts that helped me with my first novella I’m a Nightmare, introduced them…

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St. Barths – French Island of Pirates, Swedes & hella good Wine

Somewhere around March your endurance for winter becomes a fine thread ready to snap. The ache for sunshine and warm feet sends me into the arms of the island of Saint Barthélemy. It is French owned and affectionately known as St. Barths in the Caribbean. Only 8 miles long, you can travel by car from one end to the other in 20 minutes. But to reach the island requires a touch of bravery. You fly into St. Maarten next door…

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Valkyrie – Nordic Bad Ass

The ‘Valkyrie’: either you don’t recognize the word at all or immediately think of that Tom Cruise movie. Or maybe it conjures images of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries (which always reminds me of the Bugs Bunny parody – who says you can’t be exposed to culture via Saturday morning cartoons?). Regardless, you are missing out on one of the best bad asses in history. I’ve been working on a historical fiction book set in 898 AD, the middle of…

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Vikings – Let’s Get Pillaging

Most people about now are starting to feel the Game of Thrones itch. Those that don’t have HBO suddenly are magically granted a free month and the previous seasons are on a perpetual loop. I am not immune, but there is another show that has me sitting on my hands on the edge of the couch, impatient: Season 3 of the History Channel’s Vikings series. Oh, Ragnar, what mischief will you and your Nordic people get into this season? I…

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Oregon Wine Trail

I have sipped my way through my luggage wine stores from France and must replenish. When a working trip to Oregon came up, I knew it was the perfect time to sneak in a day in Pinot Noir country. Willamatte Valley is quickly becoming known as the best U.S. grower of Pinot Noir. But with only one day to capitalize and a strict budget, it needed to be a mission of the surgical strike variety. After extensive research, I ended…

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Wine Mule

When I went to France, I had every intention of bringing back a ‘few’ bottles. After all, when in the land of good wine at a fraction of the cost, why not? Now, I’m not a wine connoisseur, nor do I have a vast wine cellar (unless you consider a wine fridge and the cold dark reaches of my closet a cellar). Getting wine from France to the US is snarled in paperwork and ridiculousness, so finding anyone set up…

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Burgundy

Two weeks into the journey finds me on the road again. Having left Champagne country, I have traveled west to take a gradual tour down through Chablis before settling in Burgundy for the next several days. Chablis is a region apart. Technically, it is within Burgundy country but boasts much the same soil type as Champagne, but their white wines are distinct. Crisp, dry, perfect on a hot summer day, and infinitely drinkable. We visited several producers, but found a…

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Odd French Observations

Every country and every culture has their quirks, that ‘je ne sais quoi’, that makes you tilt your head and go, “Huh.” France was no different, and from an American’s perspective, here were some observations that stuck out. George Michael – 80’s pop star. I haven’t actually heard a George Michael song on the radio since I was in early middle school. In France, over the course of six weeks, I heard George Michael crooning his golden oldies at least…

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Tours – Castles and Bubbles, what a great combo!

The Loire Valley is the final stop on this mega spirit quest through France. We began the trip with bubbles and now we end with bubbles, seems fitting. And though the process for making bubbles in Loire Valley is exactly the same as that of Champagne, it can’t be given the iconic name and must settle for ‘sparkling wine’, joining its fine brethren from Napa Valley, northern Italy, and several other lovely locations. It was a sultry morning, never a…

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Cognac – French or Irish?

We took a day trip to Cognac country, wandering through field after field of sunflowers. They were everywhere, their happy faces spreading to the horizon, always gazing towards the sun. After the uncountable number of sunflower fields I had to whip out Google and figure out what the deal was. Turns out they are a gift from the Americas. Though France is number one in sunflower production in Europe, and all the other good stuff made from them, it was…

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Bordeaux, the Right Side

Just north of Bordeaux is another famous city, Saint-Émilion. This right bank wonder has prehistoric roots and in the 8th century was named after a travelling confessor monk. We can thank his monks for the bountiful wine in the area. We stopped in Saint-Émilion for lunch and wandered, ice cream in hand, around its streets marveling at the Romanesque churches and the many wine shops. In fact, one shop was selling a grape vine starter kit. Grow your own wine…

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Bordeaux, Baby

The river Garonne determined our time in Bordeaux. Notoriously hard to cross we decided to do a few days on the left bank first and then ferry over to the right bank. Unlike the states where you’ve got a bridge every few miles across any and all obstruction the French prefer the romance of adventure, which means either a ferry or driving down to the city of Bordeaux to cross. We didn’t stay in Bordeaux itself instead attempting the winery…

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The Bells are Ringing

Airbnb – how I love and hate thee. It has hooked us up with several wonderful places. Reims, Burgundy and Barcelona were spectacular, all clean, functional, and with kind hosts. But there have been others that have been, let’s say, less pleasant. I didn’t have a lot of money to fund my spirit quest so I found a cheap alternative: Airbnb. At first I was pretty sure I made a Mensa worthy decision as the first few places set the stage with…

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My Crazy

All Spirit Quests have ups and downs, am I right? You just have to choose to take the adversity as a laugh worthy lesson. I’m fairly certain France is trying to do me bodily harm. With ten days left to survive I have been ravaged by insects twice resulting in golf ball sized welts numbering no less than fifteen at any given time. They are all over my body, even on places you don’t want to be seen scratching in…

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Provence, thou art beautiful!

France, thou art beautiful…and thou haseth tiny, scary roads. You can see by the pictures how hold-your-breath magnificent Provence is with rolling hills, villages dotting the terrain at both peaks and valleys, their terra cotta roofs and timeless stucco fooling you into thinking this is how it looked thousands of years ago. Driving east from the quaint little cottage we rented in Courthézon, we ascended into the lavender sprinkled hills of the countryside, braving twisting ‘roads’ and gasp inducing run-ins…

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Chateauneuf de Pape

Avignon was just the beginning of our time in Provence. With our stalwart car, Prince Albert’s bumper now carefully duct taped, we are braving the high winds to tour Chateauneuf du Pape. This little town just north of Avignon and south of Orange once housed the summer home of the Pope in the 14th century and the ruins can still be found perched upon the hill. The story goes, Pope John XXII, weathering in his summer home away from illness…

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