Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year 2013 giveaway hop

For my portion of this blog hop hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and Babs Book Bistro, I am giving away:

Under Wildwood by Colin Meloy
Published: September 25, 2012
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Format: Audiobook, 11 CDs, 13 hours
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Middle Grade
Disclosure: Audiobook provided by publisher

Goodreads summary:
Ever since Prue McKeel returned home from the Impassable Wilderness after rescuing her brother from the malevolent Dowager Governess, life has been pretty dull. School holds no interest for her, and her new science teacher keeps getting on her case about her dismal test scores and daydreaming in class. Her mind is constantly returning to the verdant groves and sky-tall trees of Wildwood, where her friend Curtis still remains as a bandit-in-training.

But all is not well in that world. Dark assassins with mysterious motives conspire to settle the scores of an unknown client. A titan of industry employs inmates from his orphanage to work in his machine shop, all the while obsessing over the exploitation of the Impassable Wilderness. And, in what will be their greatest challenge yet, Prue and Curtis are thrown together again to save themselves and the lives of their friends, and to bring unity to a divided country. But in order to do that, they must go under Wildwood.

Top 12 Travel Memories of 2012

I have done my top 10 favorite books, my top 12 favorite food memories, now it's time for the last installment: my top 12 favorite travel memories of 2012. I feel so incredibly blessed that 2012 afforded us with so many travel memories that I had to do a top 12 list (with honorable mentions) instead of a top 10 list.

1. Nerdy Book Club party at NCTE in Las Vegas
As a bookish introvert, you can only imagine that mingling at parties gives me a wee bit of anxiety. But being in a room full of 60 book lovers meant that every conversation I joined was light and easy and involved very little awkwardness since conversations immediately turned to books. 

With my homies from Michigan: Brian Wyzlic, Niki Barnes, and Colby Sharp
With author RJ Palacio who wrote one of my favorite books of 2012: WONDER
Author Jonathan Auxier gives an epic yo-yo demonstration/book talk for PETER NIMBLE AND HIS FANTASTIC EYES

2. Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona, Arizona
 Wow! is all I can say about Pink Jeep Tours of Sedona. What a fun and exciting way to explore the beautiful, enchanting red rocks. I would recommend this tour to anyone visiting Sedona.

3. Spending Thanksgiving at the Grand Canyon
When I found out that NCTE was going to be in Las Vegas this year, the wheels immediately started turning as to how my husband and I could extend our trip out west so we could visit the Grand Canyon, one of our Bucket List destinations. Turns out, that involved spending Thanksgiving there, but despite missing family, it was the opportunity of a lifetime and we don't regret it for one second.

Thanksgiving dinner with a view at El Tovar Ranch

4. Parasailing for the first time in Key West
Yet another Bucket List item ticked off the list. I've always wanted to go parasailing and Key West was a wonderful place to do it.

5. Visiting the Hemingway House in Key West
Despite being an English teacher, Ernest Hemingway has never been on my list of revered authors (I'm more into contemporary literature than classic literature). But a trip to Key West would not be complete without a visit to Ernest Hemingway's house just for the stories alone. The tour guides are fantastic at telling the soap opera that was Hemingway's life as you meander through all the rooms of his beautiful island home.

6. Visiting The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida
The Turtle Hospital offers daily tours to the public in order to help raise funds for the medical treatment and equipment that is needed for its temporary and permanent residents. It is a wonderful educational facility for tourists and students alike. If you can't visit The Turtle Hospital, you can also buy Turtle Hospital merchandise like t-shirts and hats, and/or adopt a sea turtle to help them raise much-needed funds. A tour of The Turtle Hospital lasts about 90 minutes and begins with a slideshow of the different types of sea turtles and the reasons for why each species is endangered or threatened. From there, the tour group is escorted into the medical facility where you get to see how the turtles are treated. And then comes the fun part: meeting the turtles. Hearing about each turtle's story and reason for being at the facility is both sad and uplifting at the same time. It was definitely one of the more memorable moments of our road trip to Florida.

7. The perfect warm, turquoise waters of Miami Beach
Neither  my husband nor I are really very beachy people. We do not relish in sitting around at the shore and starting at waves for an entire week. We like to go and see and do. But South Beach is a completely different best entirely. Not only is the water the most perfect shade of turquoise, but staring at waves is the last thing you'll be doing because people watching is a sport here. 

8. Art Deco walking tour of South Beach
The Miami Design Preservation League hosts a walking tour every day of the art deco buildings in South Beach. Leave it to my husband and me to find something educational to do in a town where everyone else goes to party. :)

9. Walking under the Spanish moss in Savannah, Georgia
Savannah is enchanting. Walking under the Spanish moss makes you want to don a hoop skirt and start interjecting, "I do declare!" into your conversations.

10. Visiting Mercer House in Savannah
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is one of my favorite movies, and an equally good book. The people of Savannah are obsessed with this story, and there's even an entire gift shop dedicated to "The Book" as the people of Savannah call it. Mercer House was definitely something I wanted to check out during our day in Savannah and it was a fascinating tour, fraught with history and scandal.

11. Get your kicks on Route 66
Upon driving back to Vegas from the Grand Canyon, my husband and I made an impromptu decision to drive a majority of the way on Route 66. That proved to be a fun, kitschy look into old Americana. I'm glad we ventured off the freeway and chose the more colorful route.

Get your kitsch on Route 66

12. Chicago Christkindlmarkt
One of my fondest memories of living in Germany is all Christmas markets that dot the town squares during the holiday season. I had heard a few years ago that Chicago hosts a traditional German Christmas market, and I was surprised and pleased to discover upon my visit to it this year that it was very authentic, albeit a little to crowded for my liking. But still, I'm happy to know there's a little corner of Germany not too far away and that Chicago knows how to do a Christmas market right, replete with quaint wooden stalls, a "town square" location, and yes, even traditional German Glühwein to keep you warm on those cold December days.

Honorable mention:

Finding the street where Turtle lived in one of my favorite books, Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm
One of my favorite books I read this year takes place in Key West. It's called Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm. I listened to the audiobook earlier in the summer and immediately fell in love with the characters. I decided that I needed to find a copy of the book and re-read it while I was in Key West, which I'm glad I did because on our last night there, I realized that we were only a few streets away from where the family in the story lived: Curry Lane. So I had to get my picture taken reading the book in front of the Curry Lane sign. Too bad I couldn't find the Curry family anywhere.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Cleveland, Ohio
I had never been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame until this summer.  It was all in the name of "research" for the novel I'm kind of half-heartedly writing right now that my husband and I decided to take a day and drive to Cleveland to see it. I think we might have to go again just to soak it all in. My iTunes account sure took a hit after we came back upon realizing how many great rock songs needed to be on my iPod.

Well that's it. I can't believe how many wonderful travel experiences 2012 has afforded me. I can't wait to see what 2013 has in store.

What were some of your favorite travel memories this year?

Top 12 Food Memories of 2012

Since this blog focuses on food, travel, and books, I figured I should give the food and travel its equal due by creating their own top ten lists. But actually, I have so many fond food memories of 2012 that I had to make this my top 12 list instead. So here it is, my top 12 food memories of 2012.

1. Eating at Frontera Grill in Chicago and meeting Rick Bayless

Eating at Frontera Grill and visiting the Christkindlmarkt was the goal of our recent trip to Chicago. Getting to meet Rick Bayless was a completely unexpected, yet delightful surprise

2. The BEST salad and margarita I've ever had in my life at Elote in Sedona, Arizona

Sedona is one of the most beautiful, enchanting places I've ever visited, but even if it wasn't, I'd still return just to eat at Elote. I still remember the crunch and vibrant flavors of that jicama salad and the punch and kick of the chili margarita. Elote is a place frequented by locals and tourists alike, but get there early because they don't take reservations and the dining room fills up quickly. I'm so glad I took it upon myself to ask our driver Jason, of our Pink Jeep Tour for some suggestions of places to eat in town. He did not steer us wrong.

3. Grilled radicchio salad with smoked mozzarella at Otto in Las Vegas

To call this a salad is really quite comical. It's more of a gratin. And while it doesn't look like much on the plate, oh boy is it a flavor explosion in your mouth. The char from grilling the radicchio gives this dish a complexity you would not get from any other cooking method and the combination of the charred radicchio with the smoked mozzarella means there is lots of umami happening in your mouth. My husband and I ate at Otto in Las Vegas this year due to our fond memories of eating at Otto in New York City a few years ago. While the entire meal at Otto Las Vegas was sublime, this is the dish that will forever be burned in my memory.

4. Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

I have heard from personal accounts and from many food TV shows that Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams is the holy grail of ice cream. Well this year I finally got to visit the ice cream mecca and guess what?  It is!

5. A package of Moorenko's Ice Cream arrives on my door just in time for Christmas

A Facebook friend of mine is the brother of the owner of Moorenko's and because he knows how much I love ice cream, decided to send me a package of a few of their delectable flavors. Moorenko's definitely competes on the same playing field as Jeni's. I ate an entire container of Salted Caramel with Pralines in almost one sitting and my carton of honey lavender is dwindling very quickly.

6. Red velvet pancakes at the Hudson Cafe in Detroit

Red velvet cake in a pancake? Is that even legal? I don't care. If this is wrong, I don't wanna be right.

7. Baconfest Michigan

Yes, there is an entire festival dedicated just to bacon. And since my love for bacon has been well documented here on my blog, well, I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to go a place that served up nothing but bacon-themed dishes. Methinks we will be returning again next year.

8. The Ferndale Food Truck Stop
I have been lamenting for a while now that I wish metro Detroit was more hip with the food trends. So many other big cities have tons of food truck options and up until the Ferndale Food Truck Stop, I had only heard of one. I'm hoping an event like this will help inspire more people to start their own food trucks in the area.

9. Giant key lime pie at Blue Heaven in Key West

Blue Heaven is an overpriced restaurant with average food where you pay for the quirky ambiance (chickens running around underfoot). Until the key lime pie came out. Then all was forgiven.

10. Cuban food binge in Miami and Key West

One of the things I love to do is get to know a place through its food. So when we visited South Florida this summer, I knew that Cuban food was high on the list of  "things to do." It did not disappoint!

11 . Butterbeer!!!!!

So um, I'm not ashamed to admit that one of the main reasons I wanted to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure is for the butterbeer. And guess what? It, too, did not disappoint! Yum! I want some right now!

12. The polenta fries at Grizzly Peak Brewing Company in Ann Arbor

I know I should probably extol the libations at Grizzly Peak since they do make all their own beer, and it is quite tasty, but I want to praise their creative menu which is much more sophisticated than just plain bar food. When I took my first bite of these polenta fries, my eyes rolled into the back of my head and I almost had a When Harry Met Sally moment. These fries are crispy and golden on the outside and smooth and creamy on the inside. They are fried food bliss.

Honorable mention:

Dinner at Lolita in Cleveland

While I like Michael Symon's restaurant Roast in Detroit better than I did Lolita, I still loved the experience of eating at one of his hometown digs.

What were some of your favorite food memories of 2012?

It's Monday! What are You Reading? 12-31-12

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen and Kellee  over at Teach Mentor Texts also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

Happy New Year's Eve! I can't believe  another year has just blown by! 2012 was an amazing year. I'm anxious and excited to see what 2013 has in store!

With this being Christmas break and all, I've finally had time to catch up on my reading and this past week. I'm looking forward to another week of rest, relaxation and good books!

Last week I read:

Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou
I found myself skimming through quite a bit of this book though there were a few treasured nuggets of wisdom I'll be using in my classroom.

You Tell Your Dog First by Alison Pace
Alison Pace not only gets dogs, she gets dog-people too. I think I might call her the quintessential dog person. Love, love, love this book. I'll be writing a longer review of this one after the first of the year.

Just One Day by Gayle Forman
This book lagged in the middle but had a great beginning and ending. Gayle Forman just knows how to weave a page-turning story and craft unique, interesting characters.

Picture books I read and loved last week:

Hello! Hello! by Matthew Cordell
This book reminds me of one of my student's 6-word memoir from last year:

Forget i-everything. Go climb a tree.

Hello! Hello!
is a nice reminder to us of the beautiful world beyond our gadget screens.

Sit, Truman! by Dan Harper, illustrated by Cara and Barry Moser
Oh Truman, you are just a great, big, lovable oaf, aren't you? I read this book in the car and laughed the whole time, thus my husband kept looking over at me wondering what was so entertaining. A giant bull mastiff, that's what.

I also reviewed five titles in a speed review post (kind of like speed dating, but for book reviews).

Currently reading:
The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy
My students can't wait to read this one so I promised I'd read it over break so I could finally start passing it around after the first of the year. (Even though I tell my students no one can call dibs on anything, I sure get to call dibs on books. It's good to be the teacher. :-P)

Currently listening:
A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink
I listened to the audiobook of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates us probably like two years ago and have been meaning to read/listen to this book for a while now. I'm finally getting around to it and it is no less brilliant and mind-blowing than Drive was.

Since my blog hasn't seen so much activity in a while, I thought I'd also give you a recap of all I posted last week:
Audiobook Review: The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond
My Top Ten Favorite Books of 2012
The best gifts are unexpected: Moorenko's Ice Cream
And the Babymouse Thief was...
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good book!