Thursday, September 30, 2010

Guinea Dog by Patrick Jennings

In this charming book by Patrick Jennings, Rufus longs for the day that his father lifts his "no dogs" ban in their house. But since there seems to be no sign of that ever happening, his mother tries to appease him by getting him a guinea pig. But Rufus soon discovers that this is no ordinary guinea pig. This rotund little rodent with a white mohawk runs, fetches, rolls over, and even barks!

I could not stop smiling the entire time I read this book. Patrick Jennings had me believing that there was really a guinea pig out there in the world that acted like a dog, and not only that, but he made me wish I could have one!

Guinea Dog by Patrick Jennings
Published: April 2010
Pages: 183
Audience: Middle Grade

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sophie Simon Solves Them All by Lisa Graff

Sophie Simon isn't like most eight-year olds. Instead of eating cupcakes at birthday parties and having playdates with her friends, she'd rather be reading college textbooks on calculus and psychology. Who has the time or the inclination for friends?

Her parents, however, would much prefer to have a normal, "well-adjusted" child and worry about her strange hobbies. So despite Sophie's pestering, they refuse to purchase the Pembo Q-60 calculator for her that she's been pining away for.

So in order for Sophie to get the calculator she so desires, she finds herself having to *gasp* help some of her classmates and, heaven forbid, behave like a friend to them.

Will Sophie just use her classmates to get what she wants, or will she eventually learn the true value of friendship? Find out in this charming book by Lisa Graff, author of Umbrella Summer.

Stop by on Friday, October 8th for an interview with the author and a chance to win a copy of Sohpie Simon Solves Them All.

Sophie Simon Solves Them All by Lisa Graff
Illustrations: Jason Beene
Publish date: September 28, 2010
Number of Pages: 107
Audience: Primary (grades 2-3)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Banned Books Week: Why Banning Books is... GOOD??!!

Author Jackson Pearce proposes that banning books can be a good thing. Here's why:

Author Interview: Michael Zadoorian

Michigan author, Michael Zadoorian, wrote the effusively memorable book The Leisure Seeker:

"John and Ella Robina have shared a wonderful life for more than fifty years. Now in their eighties, Ella suffers from cancer and has chosen to stop treatment. John has Alzheimer's. Yearning for one last adventure, the self-proclaimed "down-on-their-luck geezers" kidnap themselves from the adult children and doctors who seem to run their lives to steal away from their home in suburban Detroit on a forbidden vacation of rediscovery.

With Ella as his vigilant copilot, John steers their '78 Leisure Seeker RV along the forgotten roads of Route 66 toward Disneyland in search of a past they're having a damned hard time remembering. Yet Ella is determined to prove that, when it comes to life, a person can go back for seconds—sneak a little extra time, grab a small portion more—even when everyone says you can't." - from Goodreads

Foodie Bibliophile:
Thank you Michael for agreeing to this interview. The Leisure Seeker is such an unusual plot - probably one of the most memorable and unique I've read in a long time. How did the idea come to you? Was it an inkling of a particular character? The desire to write a road trip story that no one had tried before? A personal experience?

Michael Zadoorian:
THE LEISURE SEEKER was definitely inspired in many ways by my parents. All through my childhood, my Mom and Dad took my sister and I camping (we had an Apache pop-up tent trailer built in Lapeer, Michigan) and many of those experiences informed large parts of the book. We traveled all over the country (often out west), staying in many of the same kinds of places that John and Ella frequent -- everything from KOAs (Kampgrounds Of America) to small trailer parks to state parks to fanciful tiki-themed campgrounds.

Later, when my sister and I grew up, and my parents started camping on their own, they graduated to a small custom van. John and Ella’s Leisure Seeker is a little bit fancier than what my parents used, but you get the idea.

FB: A scene in the book that really stuck with me, but would probably pass most people by is when John and Ella encounter a man in Oklahoma who asks them where they're from. When he hears they're from Detroit, instead of cringing like most people do, this guy does something unheard of and says, without any sarcasm, "Beautiful town." Coming from Detroit like you, and spending my entire life having to apologize for where I'm from, this scene really touched me, if not perplexed me. What was your motivation for writing it?

MZ: Good question. I’m not entirely sure how that scene came about. But I guess I did want to give Ella a chance to talk about what you just mentioned: that cringe that Detroiters get from people from other cities and states. I also wanted someone else to remember the Detroit of years back that Ella and John remember, although in a different way. (The character who approaches John and Ella is about the same age as them, but he’s African-American, so his experience in Detroit would have been somewhat different.) And I have to say, it was fun to write a scene where, when someone brings up the subject of Detroit, another person says: “Beautiful town.”

FB: What made you decide to choose Ella as the narrator instead of John? I've heard that one of the hardest things for a writer to do credibly is narrate for someone of the opposite sex. Obviously with John's Alzheimer's he couldn't coherently narrate, but was there ever a temptation to give John the cancer and Ella the Alzheimer's?

MZ: It may have crossed my mind once or twice, but never seriously. Using Ella as the narrator was always what felt right to me. I don’t know why writing a book in the voice of a woman in her eighties felt so comfortable to me, but it did. Let’s just say that as a child and as an adult, I always listened to my mother. She was definitely a big influence on the character of Ella.

FB: Did you have to research how someone with Alzheimer's would behave or was it all coming from personal experience?

MZ: Unfortunately, that part of the book was inspired by my family’s experiences with my father’s Alzheimer’s disease. When he got ill, we went through a pretty awful five-year period before he passed away. Much of John’s character was influenced by my father and my experiences dealing with his illness.

FB: When I was in high school I used to always wonder if writers intended for the symbolism and "hidden meanings" in the stories they wrote. Actually, I used to think that the symbolism the teacher was trying to force on us was BS. But now that I'm an English teacher myself, I wonder if the writer intended the symbolism or it was just happened upon by readers, reviewers, and critics. In The Leisure Seeker, the symbolism of John and Ella traveling down an old and decrepit road practically shouts at the reader. Was this by design or just divine serendipity?

MZ: Both, I suppose. When I originally decided that John and Ella should travel Route 66, I hadn’t really given any thought to the symbolism of it. It was a draft or two later that I realized it was the perfect road for these two characters to travel. It was falling apart, but full of history, just like them. That’s when I started to turn it all up in the narrative. This is what re-writing is for me, a kind of discovery process. So was it an accident that I chose Route 66 or did it just take a while for my conscious mind to catch up with my unconscious? For me, that’s one of the mysteries of writing. And one of the reasons why it’s so important to go with your gut when it comes to the choices you make when writing. Later, those reasons may become apparent.

I assume you've traveled route 66? Was it in a Leisure Seeker?

I did travel Route 66 in small sections when I was a child, camping with my parents. Maybe that’s why it always held a fascination for me. After I finished a few drafts of The Leisure Seeker and was pretty sure that I had a book, my wife and I took the trip, one way from Chicago to L.A. It was one of the best vacations I’ve ever had. A true American adventure. We didn’t camp, though we did stay in a teepee hotel in Arizona though.

Do you write knowing the ending of a story or do you have to ramble and meander to figure out the character before you decide how a story should end?

MZ: There’s definitely quite a bit of rambling along for me, which can be dangerous. But sooner or later, I usually know how the book is going to end. It just seems to present itself.

Are there plans to write a book with characters from places other than Detroit or will you stay loyal to your roots?

MZ: I’m open to anything, yet I just seem to write about people from around here. I’m fairly well traveled, but I’ve lived here all my life. I know the people around here. Detroit, good or bad, is a huge part of what I am as a person and a writer. When I was a kid, I couldn’t believe that I was so lucky to live where they made all the cars. It just felt special to me. Now in a lot of ways, it’s kind of a low self-esteem town. Either way, I like writing with a strong sense of place, so I always feel the need to write about Detroit. My story collection, THE LOST TIKI PALACES OF DETROIT, has a lot of pieces about living here.

FB: What inspired you to be a writer?

MZ: Like a lot of writers, I was heavily influenced by Raymond Carver's short stories. His work allowed me to understand the inner-workings of fiction in ways that I never had before. I don’t know why, but he allowed me to think that maybe I could write fiction. His work is deceptive in that manner of extraordinarily talented people: he made it look easy. Once I started though, I found out differently. Like a lot of people, I wound up writing my share of Carver stories. Still, it was a way to learn. And whatever helps you to find your personal style or voice or whatever you want to call it, is a good thing.

FB: What are some of your writing habits? Do you listen to music? Write at a certain time of day? Hang out at coffeeshops?

MZ: Since I work afternoons in an office, I write in the mornings, Monday through Friday. I’m usually sitting in front of my Mac at my slightly scraped-up Paul McCobb desk between 7:00 and 7:30. I try to work until 11:30 or so. We have a small study filled with all our books and music. It’s nice. I’m facing a window but it just faces the side of my neighbor’s house, so it’s not much of a view. I usually keep the curtains drawn so I’m not distracted. I drink coffee if I’m not feeling jumpy. Unfortunately, I’m pretty jumpy these days. I can’t listen to music while I write. It’s just too distracting for me.

I want to sincerely thank Michael Zadoorian for agreeing to this interview. I encourage everyone to go out and read The Leisure Seeker. You'll be hard pressed to find a more memorable book to read.

My review

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Celebrate Banned Books Week

In honor of Banned Books Week, practice your intellectual freedom and make it a point to read some of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009.

Turn this list into a meme. Bold the ones you've read and star the ones you plan to read. Then do something to combat censorship: read some of those books this week!

1 Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2 Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3 The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4 And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5 Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7 Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8 His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman*
9 TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10 The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11 Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers*
12 It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13 Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15 The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16 Forever, by Judy Blume
17 The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18 Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19 Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20 King and King, by Linda de Haan
21 To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22 Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar*
23 The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24 In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak*
25 Killing Mr. Griffin, by Lois Duncan
26 Beloved, by Toni Morrison
27 My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier*
28 Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson*
29 The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney*
30 We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31 What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones*
32 Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya*
33 Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
34 The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler*
35 Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison*
36 Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
37 It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris*
38 Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39 Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40 Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank*
41 Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
42 The Fighting Ground, by Avi*
43 Blubber, by Judy Blume*
44 Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45 Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly*
46 Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut*
47 The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, by George Beard
48 Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
49 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50 The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
51 Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52 The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson*
53 You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco*
54 The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole*
55 Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green*
56 When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57 Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
58 Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going*
59 Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes*
60 Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
61 Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle*
62 The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63 The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney*
64 Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park*
65 The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien*
66 Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
67 A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68 Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez*
69 Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury*
70 Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen*
71 Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
72 Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73 What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74 The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75 Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry
76 A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77 Crazy: A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert*
78 The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79 The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80 A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck*
81 Black Boy, by Richard Wright*
82 Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83 Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84 So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins*
85 Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher*
86 Cut, by Patricia McCormick*
87 Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
88 The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood*
89 Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90 A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
91 Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Graighead George
92 The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar*
93 Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94 Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95 Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96 Grendel, by John Gardner*
97 The House of Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98 I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte
99 Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume*
100 America: A Novel, by E.R. Frank

Friday, September 24, 2010

Days When I Love Being a Teacher...

Yesterday the entire junior high was put into mixed groups to do some team building activities that involved doing an art project and making up a dance. When we were doing the art portion of the project, we all went up to my classroom and worked on it at my big round table.

One of the 7th graders, who was a student of mine last year, looked over at my word wall that I have divided into nouns, verbs, and adjectives that students share with they class when they come across cool words from their own independent reading. This was the conversation that was inspired by what she saw:

7th grader: Oh, you put kerfuffle on the wall?
Mrs. S: Of course, that was one of my favorite words I shared with you guys last year.
7th grader: What about agog? You really liked that one too.
Mrs. S: Oh yeah, I forgot about that one. I do really like that word.
7th grader: Remember that word humdrum that I put on the wall last year? Well you know those vocabulary workbooks we have in 7th grade? Well humdrum was one of our words last week and when I saw it I started freaking out and was like, "Oh my gosh! That was my word last year!"
6th grader enters conversation: Mrs. S, we were all using kerfuffle at lunch the other day.

It's conversations like these - something so simple as a 7th grader remembering (and getting excited about!) words we shared on a wall - that just make me sigh in contentment and remind me on discouraging days that I'm doing something right.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Author Visit: Michael Zadoorian

I was very excited to attend my very first book signing last night at my town's public library. Michigan author Michael Zadoorian came to talk about his latest book, The Leisure Seeker. He was wonderfully engaging, humble, and even downright hilarious. Some writers are very intense about their craft, but Zadoorian treats everything with a light, humorous touch. I can't wait to read more of his books!

Reading from The Leisure Seeker

I get some face time with the gracious author

My well-worn, post-it flagged copy of The Leisure Seeker

Love the Route 66 sketch! (You can really see the post-it flags here. My book club is meeting this Saturday and this is the book we're talking about so I've got tons of passages flagged to discuss!)

After I returned from the event last night, I contacted Zadoorian and asked if he'd be willing to do an interview here on my blog. Being the ever gracious author that he is, he agreed. So be on the lookout for his interview coming soon!

1,000 Places to Eat Before You Die

Well, not exactly 1,000. This post is entirely FMI, so feel free to skip. I'm posting this here as my travel/food reference if I'm ever in the area of these places.

Restaurants to try:

Beverly Hills, CA

Umami Burger
Santa Monica, CA

The Publican
Chicago, IL

Xoco and Frontera
Chicago, IL

The Purple Pig
Chicago, IL

Trattoria Stella
Traverse City, MI

Amelie's French Bakery
Charlotte, NC
(Provided the treats in The Hunger Games movie)

Brooklyn Bowl

Brooklyn, NY

The Meatball Shop
New York, NY

The Schoolhouse Restaurant
Camp Dennison, OH

Salt & Straw
Portland, OR

Try for specific dishes:

Beer-Spiked Cupcake
San Francisco, CA

Fritta Esotica (Fried pineapple wrapped in speck)
Boulder, CO

The Original Cuban Sandwich
Tampa, FL

Concrete Frozen Custard
Ted Drewes
St. Louis, MO

Bacon Maple Doughnut
Voodoo Doughnut
Portland, OR

Old-Fashioned Biscuits
Loveless Cafe
Nashville, TN

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Note to self:

Always soak fingers in milk immediately after handling hot peppers. You will save yourself and your eyes so much grief later!

I like to think my kitchen "accidents" are akin to Tim the Tool Man Taylor's home improvement accidents - minus the hospital visits.

What's been your stupidest kitchen accident?

Mine was when I almost chopped off part of my finger with a chef's knife. But the Multiple Injuries Award goes to the times I've 1) Grated my knuckles with the cheese grater and 2) Burned my hand on the saute pan that I just took out of the oven. I have learned my lesson on the latter, however, and keep an oven mitt securely on the handle until the pan cools.

Stand up and SPEAK out against censorship

Laurie Halse Anderson posted this article on her blog today about a professor, Wesley Scroggins, in Missouri who is calling her book Speak softcore pornography.

As an English teacher and someone who has read Speak, I am disgusted that someone could reduce this story to mere titillation. And, as Anderson stated, "The fact that he sees rape as sexually exciting (pornographic) is disturbing, if not horrifying." Speak is one of the most well-known, contemporary books taught in high schools today. It deals with a teen girl who used to be social and well-liked but has turned inward due to a violent sexual encounter. The book is in no way graphic. Shielding teens from this topic does nothing to educate them about violence against women. It is meant to spur discussion, not encourage promiscuity!

But once again, we have a book-banner here in America who is choosing to judge the merit of a book based on its parts rather than looking at the big picture. Speak is NOT about glorifying sex or dysfunctional families. It's about finding your voice. It's about how not speaking out can impact your life. It's about giving young girls the power to refuse to let men treat them like objects. And it's about showing young men that you DON'T treat women like objects.

Or is that what REALLY disturbs Professor Scorggins so much about the book?

If you, too, are appalled by this censorship attempt, write about it on your blog, and leave Laurie Halse Anderson a link on her blog. Given that Banned Books Week is coming up soon, this is a great time to SPEAK out about this issue.

Please read author Myra McEntire's blog post about this issue. It brought tears to my eyes. Giving a DIFFERENT Christian perspective, McEntire shows just how misguided, if not downright sinful, Scroggins's logic is.

Something else McEntire proposes is to go out and purchase several copies of Speak to get it back on the bestseller list. Don't let the likes of close-minded censors prevent teens from reading books that deserve to be and SHOULD BE read!

The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian

This was one of the most memorable books I've read this year. Very rarely do you read fiction about the elderly, and even more rarely do you read about an elderly couple facing their imminent mortality.

John and Ella Robina have been married more than fifty years. Now that Ella is battling terminal cancer and John Alzheimer's, they decide to gas up their RV and head out for one last adventure. Despite the horror and pleadings from their children and doctors, Ella refuses to just sit at home at wait to die. John, however, rarely remembers where home is and just does whatever Ella says.

There is symbolism abound in this book. The idea of taking a road trip on an old and decrepit road like Route 66 is not lost on the reader and Zadoorian writes in such a way that makes Ella and John's journey feel like your own - something that many of us have never stop to think about out of fear.

Once you get past the fear, however, you see the tenderness of this couple, and that even when faced with the end the road, they still choose to be on it together. What could be more hopeful than that?

I can only hope that if my husband and I make it to our eighties, that we decide to keep the adventures going like John and Ella, even when we're close to the end of the road.

The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian
Published: January 2009
Pages: 272
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Adults

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Picture Books Reviews

I have a couple picture books to review today that I just absolutely loved.

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
Published: September 1996

Chrysanthemum was born loving her name. But on her first week of school some mean girls in her class tease her and make her wish for a new, shorter name.

This book teaches kids about accepting yourself for who you are, no matter what others say. It's not only a great book to read to little kids, but it's a great mentor text for older kids to write about.

This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt
Pictures by R.G. Roth
Published: November 2006

This is by far far one of my favorite picture books ever. When you pair the story (a jivin' retelling of "This Old Man" with a jazzy makeover) with the audio CD, your toes will be a tappin', your fingers will be a snappin', and all you'll be asking yourself is how long will it take to download some Louis Armstong or Charlie Parker on your iPod.

Play this audio CD to a class full of kids when you need to wake them up and get them moving or you just want to teach them about a genre of music that is inspiring and unique to our country.

Is This Thing On?

So ummmm... either my Google docs aren't working or I'm really unpopular. According to my Google docs, no one entered my Bon Appetit subscription giveaway. If you entered and and it didn't go through, please let me know in the comments. Otherwise, I think I'm going to go in a corner and play with my dolls all by myself...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Giveaway: Free Subscription to Bon Appetit

I just received an email the other day about renewing my subscription to Bon Appetit and along with my subscription, I can choose one person to give a gift subscription to for free. Instead of giving it as a gift, I thought I'd do a giveaway here on my blog.

To enter, all I ask is one thing: I am shamelessly resorting to the one catch that many bloggers fall victim to these days: the follower catch. Fill out your name and email address in the form below then explain how you "follow" my blog. I'm not particular about following it a certain way. You can click the "follow" button, you can subscribe to an RSS feed, or put my blog on your blogroll. Just indicate to me in some way how you're reading my blog in the form.

Entries must be received before 10 PM EST on Tuesday, September 14th. Sorry, this giveaway is for U.S. readers only. Good luck!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Real Food Has Curves: How to Get off Processed Food, Lose Weight, and Love What You Eat by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough

This book was very well-researched and went beyond just the basic "eat more veggies" and "high fructose corn syrup is bad" platitudes. Yes, those things are said in here, but there's much more to it.

Somehow Americans have lost their way when it comes to the food we put in our bodies. We've prioritized speed and convenience over nutrition and pleasure. Not only that, but we've fooled ourselves into thinking those convenience items taste good, when they really have very little complexity and are just pumped full of preservatives, salt, or sweeteners. To quote the book, we excessively eat these things "not [because] we love food too much. It's [because] we love food too little."

But this generalization is backed up with experience and research. The very first chapter talks about creating a "bolus" in our mouths when we eat. A bolus is simply the wad of chewed up food in our mouths right before we swallow. Food corporations have figured out how to develop food that creates a bolus quickly and effortlessly. The reason for this is:

1) to get us sated before we realized the flavors in our food were absurdly elementary

2) to get us full with minimal effort

3) to get us in and out of a restaurant's door as quickly as possible.

The sub heading under this list is titled "The Chewless Society." It goes on to talk about how our jaws have devolved from our lack of chewing. But the research indicates that "people who chew more eat less. Chewing means more time at the table. And people who spend more time at the table tend to consume fewer calories than those who don't."

This book gives you a step-by-step process of how to rid yourself of those processed food and actually enjoy eating. The real food recipes that are included in this book are not rabbit food. One of the first recipes to introduce us to REAL food is a home-made chocolate pudding. The authors of this book ask you to try the fake stuff out of the box and then compare it to the real stuff. Along with chocolate pudding, some of the other mouth-watering recipes included are: walnut-date scones, the perfect salad (that includes BACON and a poached egg), red pepper hummus, cheese toasts with pears, minestrone burgers, spaghetti with sausage, carrots, and frisee, and many more!

So do yourself a favor: if you find your meals more often coming out of a box, a jar, a can, or the freezer rather than the produce, meat, or dairy section, then it's time to read this book.

Real Food Has Curves: How to Get Off Processed Food, Lose Weight, and Love What You Eat by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough
First Published: May 2010
Pages: 256
Audience: Adult
Genre: Nonfiction

The Hunger Games Has Forever Marred My Spelling

I was just making a list for my weekend grocery shopping and part of my list is to get ingredients for a dip I'm planning on making for a neighborhood picnic tomorrow. I need some sort of chips to go with the dip so I started to write peeta chips instead of pita chips.

Thanks a lot Suzanne Collins.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Why You Should Consider Asheville, North Carolina for Your Next Vacation

On our trip to North Carolina this summer, my husband and I decided to veer off the path of the masses and steer clear of the Outer Banks. We headed west instead and visit the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

Our home base was Asheville, which is one of the most wonderful places to live and visit. I have never visited a place before and thought to myself, "I would love to move here someday." Asheville was the first place I visited where I felt that way. These are some of the reasons you should consider Asheville for your next vacation:The Blue Ridge Parkway

Asheville is a great jumping off point to drive the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway - one of America's most scenic drives. Starting in Virginia and ending in North Carolina, it is 469 miles of mountain beauty.

Beautiful bed & breakfasts

There appear to be more bed and breakfasts in Asheville than hotels. Take advantage of this and stay in one. If you've never stayed in a bed and breakfast before, let me explain what it's like: think staying with relatives without the annoying relatives!

While in Asheville, we stayed at the Black Walnut Inn run by Peter and Lori White. The home was gorgeous, and the 3-course breakfasts were even better.

Peter and Lori take their hospitality a step further by hosting a cocktail hour every evening that includes a variety of teas and wines, and delicious homemade hors d'ouerves, while their big fluffy samoyed, Belle, welcomes guests.

And, when it comes to dogs, Asheveille seems to welcome them everywhere. Even at work, as witnessed at this store that was locked up tight with a sign on the door that said, "Back in 5 minutes" and this dog faithfully waiting for his owner to return.

Asheville loves art

When you think of an art town, oftentimes you think that you have to have deep pockets in order to do anything other than admire. That's not true in Asheville.

At the Kress Emporium gallery, art is accessible for every pocketbook. As I walked through the gallery, I was amazed at the great prices and even managed to leave with a purchase of my own, which is something that has never happened in the few art galleries I've walked through.

This little $20 number that I purchased for my classroom.

Asheville loves food

Don't let this sleepy little mountain town fool you. There are some serious food people here. So serious that the #1 thing to do in Asheville according to Trip Advisor is Asheville Food Tours, which to a foodie like me, is just my idea of what a walking tour should be: walk around a few minutes and stop in at a bar or restaurant every few blocks to sample some of the delights of the local establishments.

Asheville hates corporate America

After walking around Asheville for a few hours, you will notice something obviously absent from their downtown area: no corporate conglomerates like Starbucks, McDonald's, Barnes & Noble, Macy's, etc. All of the business in downtown Asheville is locally owned which makes it wonderfully unique. and fun to explore.


So if you love nature, food, and unique downtowns, Asheville, North Carolina is the place for you!

Monday, September 6, 2010

I made it to year five: I'm no longer what you'd call a risky investment

I have been absent from my blog as of late because I have been busying myself getting my classroom ready for a new school year. Michigan always starts school after Labor Day so even though in many parts of the country school has already been in session for many days now, my first day starts tomorrow.

Over the summer the classrooms in our school were remodeled, and I was thrilled with the results. I already had a beautiful classroom, but I am housed in a section of the building that was built in the 1920s, so it was in desperate need of some updating. Now the room is clean, light, and beautiful:

Tomorrow marks my 5th "first day of school" as a teacher. I've made it to that infamous 5th year - the year in which half of new teachers don't make it. I've had my crosses to bear in these last four years, but all of the difficulties I've endured were backed by a supportive administration. If I didn't have that support, I surely would have become one of those 5 year statistics. With everything that a new teacher gets bombarded with, it's no wonder so many of them walk away if their administration leaves them to the wolves.

Even though this will be my 5th time doing this, I still get nervous. I'm always afraid I'll forget what I wanted to say, I'll have no idea what to do, and/or the kids won't like me (which as a teacher I could care less about, as long as they're learning from me, but as a person, I secretly want them to like me).

With the nerves, however, I still get excited about the wonder and possibility of a new year and a new class of students. Whenever I'm talking about my students outside of school I always call them my kids. Since I don't have children of my own, I get to lay claim to about 50 or so children for about seven hours a day, five days a week, nine months of the year. Just like parents do, I feel proud whenever they hit a milestone. Though instead of crawling, talking, and walking, the impetus for my excitement is when they show an untapped talent for writing, find a book they love for the first time, or hand me a draft of a poem that moves me to tears. These are the moments that help me to remember why I'm here - beyond the politics, the difficult parents, and standardized tests, it's really just you in a room with some kids, hoping and praying that your words and actions are making a difference. That's ultimately why I'm here. That's what my hope for tomorrow brings.