I went on some fantastic adventures in 2011–Copenhagen, Iceland, Jamaica, New York, St. Louis. But without a doubt, travel in 2012 is going to blow 2011 away. Sadly, Iceland won’t be on the list this year, but just six weeks into the year and I’ve taken four trips already, three of which have been for work, with more on the horizon.
–I started the year out in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where I got to know Linda Fondren, an inspiring (and fun!) woman who’s whipping that town into shape. For six years now, Mississippi has ranked as the most obese state in the nation. Fondren decided to do something about that. Two years ago, she issued a challenge to the city of Vicksburg: Lose 17,000 pounds in 17 weeks. She got the whole town on board–the mayor, the aldermen, the chief of police, teachers and the list goes on. She began monthly walks to encourage people to get out and about (which is not easy in Vicksburg, a city with hardly any sidewalks). She had weigh stations set up in spots across town (Wal-Mart, storage facilities, gyms, etc). She got the hospital on board to provide free health screenings. And by the end of 17 weeks, the town was thinner … by 15,000 pounds. What many people saw as a success (huge weight loss!), Fondren saw as a failure. She hadn’t met her goal, and she wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. So she kept at it. Now, two years later, the town has shed a collective 30,000 pounds. I wrote an in-depth feature story about Linda and her impact, which will appear in Southwest Airline’s Spirit Magazine in April.
–Next on the docket, Texas. Even though I grew up in Houston, I had somehow never traveled to Fort Worth. That is, until I got the chance to write about it. I kind of love this town. For one thing, it’s weird, and weird is lovable. There’s a district call The Stockyards where two times a day, a cattle drive rumbles through the streets. The cattle are actually owned by the Fort Worth Convention Bureau (what other convention bureau can lay claim to a herd?) and the drovers (i.e. those who drive the cattle) are employees of the convention bureau. The point of the whole thing is to pay tribute to Fort Worth’s history as the last watering hole on the Chisholm Trail, before opening up to the wild, wild west. So twice a day, seven days a week, drovers dressed in old-fangled clothes drive the cattle down the cobblestone streets in the middle of this historic district. Also in Fort Worth: Billy Bob’s, the world’s largest honky tonk (and also the first honky tonk I’ve ever done seen). While all of these things are pretty fitting for a Texas town, what surprised me about Fort Worth is its impressive museum district. There are multiple art museums, the Museum of Science and History and even the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, all within walking distance. Just a couple miles away is the lively downtown, where tasty Texas restaurants and darling boutiques make for an entertaining stroll. The travel piece I wrote about Fort Worth will run Luxury Las Vegas magazine, and I’m working on getting it some press elsewhere, as well.
Speaking of Texas, Neil accompanied me to Houston–where I grew up–for a quick weekend trip. It was his first time to visit, and my parents and I made sure that he was well fed. Surprisingly, we only went to Ninfa’s once. We also hit Frenchy’s for the best Italian in Texas and Gaido’s for delicious seafood. We walked the beach in Galveston (it was in the 60s in January), did a five-mile run around my parents’ neighborhood, drove around Seabrook and Clear Lake (I took him to see the glowing grave off Toddville road), and got our arses kicked by my dad at Scrabble. It was a really fun escape. We need to take advantage of that getaway every winter.
And last weekend I spent all of 30 hours in Las Vegas for a Pigtails & Crewcuts conference, where I conducted workshops on blogging. I flew in Friday night and got to have dinner with a few friends. Then I was up early Saturday for a full day of conference activities, following by dinner with the franchisees. It was a fun crew, and I look forward to working with them more throughout the year. They’re forward-thinking and open to new ideas, and I’ve become a blogging machine, so it’s a good match. I had about an hour between my workshops and the dinner, so I walked up the Strip and checked out CityCenter and the Cosmopolitan. I can’t believe I’ve been gone nearly three years….and yet, aside from the new buildings, nothing really felt different. I caught the red eye at 12:40 a.m. and landed in Chicago at 6 a.m. Sunday. It’s been an energizing couple of months. But now, for the foreseeable future, I’m pretty darn thrilled to be home.