Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Best Part of Traveling is...

While our two sons were young, we lived in Florida, where seasons and cooler temperatures were non-existent. So, every winter break we loaded the car with heavy coats, sleds, and Christmas presents, and traveled to some faraway state, hoping to find snow.

After arriving at our destination, we would tuck all the presents under a miniature artificial tree and turn on the sparkling lights. Then, we’d snuggle in front of the fireplace and cheer for our favorite football teams or watch a movie, sipping hot chocolate loaded with whipped cream and sprinkles. In the morning, we’d all scramble to the window to see if it had snowed during the night. Nothing beat that first sight of freshly fallen snow, clean and pure, and shimmering like diamonds.

Now that hubby and I are empty nesters, we travel quite a bit more than we did when the kids were young. We’ve taken to cruising every year and have enjoyed visiting Italy, France, Croatia, Spain, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Netherlands, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. We’ve tried new foods, explored new cultures, experienced unfamiliar situations, deciphered foreign languages, and encountered wonderful people along the way.

As much as I love traveling, the best part for me is…wait for it, wait for it…

Coming home. That sweet feeling that wells up as I walk in the door. Home, where everything is familiar, where our dog roams the yard without a leash, where I don’t need to pull up a map on my cellphone. Home, to a soft mattress and pillows shaped just the way I need them, coffee just the way I like it, and local restaurants with food and words I recognize. Home, to precious family nearby, where we don’t have to rely on Internet connections to chat or Google Hangouts to soak in their sweet faces. Home, to the comfort of a routine because that’s the way I roll.

Beck Harmon, fictional hero of Beck's Peace, left home and wandered for ten years, seeking peace over his father’s death. Our motivation might be different, but he would say the same about his travels. The best part was coming home.

Which states/countries have you visited? What’s your favorite aspect of traveling? Least favorite?

Coming JULY 24
with Pelican Book Group
Burn survivor Savvy McCord doesn't blame her best friend for running away. She can't even look at her scars without wincing. When Beck's disappearing act spans years, she relinquishes dreams of love and marriage. Unable to face Savvy's expectations of happily-ever-after, Beck Harmon deserts her, far away from the rumors that he's just like his father. When the wanderer returns, dreams of forever blossom in Savvy's heart, but she worries he'll leave again. Can Beck convince Savvy that her true beauty comes from her inner strength and faith? Will his idea to help burn victims regain their self-confidence restore Savvy's trust in him? Will love be what the wanderer needs to find peace for his hurting soul?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Excited about Reading: Hope Harbor by Irene Hannon

Amazon Purchase Link
The Cover Story~ 
Tracy Campbell never wanted to leave Hope Harbor, Oregon, or the idyllic three-generation cranberry farm where she grew up. But life--and love--altered her plans. When tragedy strikes and changes her plans yet again, she finds herself back in her hometown with a floundering farm to run and a heartbreaking secret. Romance is not on her agenda. Nor is it on Michael Hunter's. The visitor from Chicago has daunting secrets of his own. But when Tracy recruits him to help save a struggling charitable organization, the winds of change begin to sweep through Hope Harbor, bringing healing, hope, and love to countless lives--including their own.

Sharing my take~
Meet the major players. Tracy Campbell, part time accountant and full time cranberry farmer. Michael Hunter, guilt-ridden, grieving businessman from Chicago who came to Hope Harbor to honor a wish of his late wife. Anna Williams, recluse, taking in wounded animals to make up for the two-decades-long rift with her estranged son. Charley, artist and taco maker (and angel?). And Floyd, a lonely seagull.

"In the beginning he brought his wife, but he's been coming by himself for the past four months. I guess something happened to her."
A husband and wife seagull pair.
Tickled by that fanciful notion, Michael dug out a few stray pieces of taco filling and tossed them to Floyd, who scarfed down the treat. "Maybe he'll get married again."
"He might, down the road...but gulls mate for life, and this one's still in mourning." 

Lonely and wounded by love...kind of sums up all of the characters in Hope Harbor except Charley, who seemed to be the orchestrater of healing. I enjoyed the story and how the characters grew during the course of the book, and I appreciated the parallel of their relationship with that of the seagulls. That said, the romantic chemistry was stiff and a bit lacking for me.

Ever read a book where you almost felt as if you were there? This is one of those books. The "charming Oregon seaside village" came to life. At times I felt like I was walking along the dikes of the cranberry farm flicking away bees or sitting on the picnic table outside Charley's food trailer, the sea breeze kissing my cheeks.

But what really ramped this book up for me was its theme of forgiveness and restoration.

"Are you condoning her behavior?"
"No. But I guess I've gotten more tolerant of mistakes as I've grown older and made plenty of my own. It seems to me it's better to treat people in the midst of a crisis with compassion than censure or criticism."

Hope Harbor isn't a fluffy book to wile away a lazy afternoon. It's deep and packs a powerful message. Don't pick up this book for the romance. Pick it up because of the story.

Disclaimer: Sending my thanks to NetGalley and Revell for the privilege of reading and reviewing Hope Harbor. I was provided a free copy of the book in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. I was in no way compensated for my review.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Excited about Eating by Ernie Hiers

This edition of “Excited about Eating” takes us back to the Plaza-Midwood neighborhood of Charlotte, to a restaurant recently featured on Food Network's “Diners, Drive ins and Dives,” Intermezzo Pizzeria and Café. This European style restaurant serves hand-tossed pizza and traditional Serbian dishes. It reminded me of some of the cafes we visited on our past trips to Europe. 

Dora here. Yeah, especially the cozy interior with brick exposed walls and only a smattering of tables and booths surrounding a hearth-like bar. But they don't need many interior tables with this generous outdoor patio!
After DDD's feature, I was all set to order the cabbage rolls (Sarma), but they were out. So, at the waiter’s helpful recommendation, I ordered Karadjordjeva,
 a ham and cheese schnitzel breaded and pan fried, served with skillet potatoes and tartar sauce, although not the typical American tartar sauce, with a definite hint of dill. Similar to Cordon Bleu, but elevated a few notches, especially with the drizzle of lemon on the top. 
Dora here. I ordered the Burek, ground beef and onions baked in Fillo dough. An unusual combination, right? But isn't it beautiful? Nothing spicy or too complex. After a few bites w
hat came to mind was comfort food, much like Mac 'n Cheese is to Americans. Between Ernie and I, we finished off the whole thing. Didn't touch the salad, but that cucumber mixture made for a nice dipping sauce.
I'd definitely order the Karadjordjeva again, but I'd also like to try the Sarma or the Piroska. And the pizza... 
Dora here. Guess that means we'll be going back. lol

We rate this restaurant 5 forks out of 5 for a family friendly restaurant serving outstanding food.
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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Excited about Reading: Love Arrives in Pieces by Betsy St. Amant

Amazon Purchase Link
The Cover Story:
Former pageant queen Stella Varland doesn’t trust beauty anymore after her divorce. Her appearance betrayed her and led to her brokenness—so instead of being beautiful, now she tries to make beautiful things, but always falls short. So she keeps her passion for her secret art to herself and focuses on her interior design work. But if she doesn’t get another job soon, she’ll be stuck living with her parents.

Contractor Chase Taylor is determined to live a life of no regrets after losing his fiancée in a car crash. Now he lives life at full speed, striving to see how much he can accomplish. He knows if he slows down, he’ll fall apart. So he returns home to Bayou Bend to renovate the town’s old theater, and is shocked to learn former flame Stella is the designer for the project.

Forced to work together, Chase and Stella battle their chemistry and their pasts as they struggle to compromise and come together on a vision for the theater. Chase doesn’t understand why Stella is such a subdued version of herself, while Stella doesn’t get Chase’s constant need for productivity and speed. Their wills clash as they attempt to hide their brokenness—and their unresolved feelings for each other—until Chase breaks through Stella’s walls and convinces her to enter her mosaic tile art in a contest.

A near catastrophe, a fire, and a small-town gossip mill finally force both Stella and Chase to realize that they have a choice—to hold on to the shards of their pasts, or surrender their fragmented pieces to the One who makes a beautiful masterpiece from the broken.

Sharing my takeaway:
Back home in Bayou Bend after the death of his fiancee, Contractor Chase was hired to restore the town's old theater. From the blurb, I expected him to be a risk taker, but he wasn't that way at all. He was steady and kind, quite the hero, coming to Stella's rescue several times. Recently divorced Stella, a preacher's daughter and ex-pageant queen, is trying to make a living as an interior designer, but will soon be evicted if she can't work with Chase on the theater's design. She hides her pain behind a fake pageant smile, baggy jeans, and no makeup. I could relate to Stella's feelings of inadequacy and loss of self-esteem from divorce. 

The cover is stunning, a perfect match to the inside! The writing was exceptional. The author dug deep into relationships, and this book was so much more than a romance. It's about people and pain, and how we hide it, and how a person so broken can find their beauty or, in Stella's case, her "colors" again. It's about loving people through their brokenness. The story kept me flipping pages, but some threads just didn't come together as neatly or as satisfying as that last piece in a jigsaw puzzle. As the title implies, Love Arrives in Pieces seemed a bit fragmented, but maybe that's by author design.

This is the first book I have read by Betsy St. Amant. Readers who appreciate a hefty dose of drama in their stories will enjoy Love Arrives in Pieces. This isn't a book you'll whiz through in a couple hours. Set aside a few nights to really dig in. :)

Disclaimer: Sending my thanks to NetGalley and Zondervan Fiction for the privilege of reading and reviewing Love Arrives in Pieces. I was provided a free copy of the book in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. I was in no way compensated for my review.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Excited about Eating by Ernie Hiers

This edition of Excited about Eating takes us north of Charlotte to Huntersville and to the first gastro pub in Mecklenburg County, Killington’s Restaurant & Pub. This pub located in Rosedale Shopping Center has a great atmosphere with outstanding food and covered outdoor seating. They claim to serve “high quality food in a casual atmosphere.” After our experience, we’d agree.
As an appetizer, we ordered a cup of chili sprinkled with cheese, a smattering of onions and a few tortilla chips. This chili had robust flavor and included at least three different types of beans, chick, black and pinto, and the spice level was perfect. Dora here….coughing. Yeah, perfect for one of us. Maybe that’s why I chugged two full glasses of iced tea before the main course arrived. Yowza! :) 
Cup of Chili
On weekends Killington’s offers some additional brunch items to cover those appetites craving a breakfast alternative. I chose a brunch special: steak kabobs and poached eggs served over home fries with sourdough toast. The kabobs consisted of colorful red and green peppers and onions and were blanketed with salsa verde. The steak was cooked perfectly, the veggies still had a crunch, and the salsa verde was the perfect complement for the dish. Outstanding, and I’d definitely order this again!
brunch special: steak kabobs
Dora here. So many items on the menu were calling out my name, but I finally decided on the Monte Cristo, ham, turkey and Swiss cheese piled on sourdough French toast sprinkled with powdered sugar and raspberry preserve for dipping. Oh my!! It’s been ages since I enjoyed a Monte Cristo. The batter on the bread was light and subtle, not eggy, and the raspberry jam took this sandwich from ordinary to lick-my-fingers delicious! 
Monte Cristo
Oh, and the outdoor covered patio was so relaxing, not too loud or hot, the best spot to enjoy this summer lunch. 
Covered Patio
We rate this restaurant 5 forks out of 5 for a family friendly restaurant serving outstanding food.

What about you? Have you eaten at a gastro pub yet? What did you think?

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