Fiction Faith & Foodies

Fiction Faith & Foodies: May 2015

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Excited about Eating by Ernie Hiers

This edition of Excited about Eating takes us to the South End neighborhood of Charlotte to Tupelo Honey Café which is located on the second floor in a renovated historic building near Charlotte’s light rail. The interior is a mix of industrial and rustic with lots of wood, exposed brick walls, and high ceilings.
Exterior
Interior
Dora here. Don't you just love the interior? This is my kinda place. Parking around noon on Saturday was non-existent in the lot behind the restaurant, but no worries. There's free on-street parking on the other side of the light rail. Also, the 35-minute wait only ended up being 15 minutes. Another score!

Rather than table bread, Tupelo serves scratch-made biscuits with blueberry jam. These biscuits were great, crispy and buttery and warm, and the blueberry jam was the perfect pairing. We would have preferred to eat ours prior to the meal, but with a packed dining room, they came out with our meal. Dora here. I don't care what time they got to the table. I could've stuffed myself with these biscuits! The food did seem to take awhile, but service was very attentive and gracious.

I chose the Tupelo Farm Fresh Burger with cheddar cheese, lettuce, house-made pickles and a secret sauce along with fried okra and tomatoes. The burger was outstanding, grilled perfectly, tasty, and the secret sauce brought it all together. The okra and tomatoes were fresh, lightly battered with just the right amount of crunch.
Tupelo Farm Fresh Burger
Dora here. So many choices! But I finally decided on the Charleston Chicken Sandwich, a marinated grilled chicken breast with lettuce, Havarti cheese on sourdough wheat bread with a side of mac-n-cheese. Doesn't that sound great? The chicken was oh-so-tender and juicy, and I really liked the cranberry flavored mayo. First time eating sourdough wheat bread, and I liked it. The mac-n-cheese was creamy with just the right amount of firmness and kick. 
Charleston Chicken Sandwich
I would rate this restaurant 5 forks out of 5 for a family friendly restaurant serving outstanding food. Definitely worth a return visit!

Tupelo Honey Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Crazy about Writing: Interview with Graham Decker #RorisHealing

“Graham Decker. Great to finally meet you.” I try hard not to blink at the strong odor, a mixture of cleanser, steel and rubber, as we shake hands, his grip firm and confident.

The man lapped a track at almost two hundred miles per hour. His grip should be firm, and with the number of wins and top five finishes he’d accumulated, he’d earned the right to be confident.

“Come in. Please.” With his trademark smile, Graham gestures for me to enter his office and sit. “Is this your first time visiting Graham Decker Racing?”

“Yes. What gave it away?”

He chuckles, the sound genuine and down-to-earth, as he settles way back in a leather chair. “Might’ve been the wrinkled nose. If you’d like, my assistant can give you a tour after we’re done.”

“That’d be great. So tell me a little about yourself, Graham. Besides the fact that you’re a highly competitive racecar driver. Everybody knows that.” I push the record button on my phone and set it on the desk.

“Let’s see. I just got married.” Graham’s face lights up and he leans forward abruptly. As if he couldn’t wait to ditch me and head home.

I couldn’t blame the guy. I’d seen pictures of his wife. “Rori, right?”

He nods.

“Wasn’t her father the—”

“Yes.” The warm welcome slips away. His jaw snaps closed tight as a jail cell.

Hmm. Interesting, but I better switch tracks. “So do you still live in Charlotte?”

“No. In Harrison at the Forever Family Animal Sanctuary. Rori’s like a llama whisperer. She works wonders with the animals that come to live with us.” Pride laces his tone. “Actually, that’s how we met.”

“Through your non-profit?”

“Yes. My sister does a fabulous job running the Foundation, but she was on bed rest because of complications with her pregnancy. She asked me to make a site visit since Rori had applied for a time-sensitive grant.”

“Not the typical way to pick up a woman.”

He smiles, wistful like, as if he remembers something special. “Rori’s anything but typical. And so was our meeting.”

“Care to elaborate?”

His mouth stretches to a grin. “Nah. She values her privacy and might not appreciate me sharing all the details. Let’s just say it involved mistaken identity and a llama delivery and leave it at that.”

He was going to leave me hanging with that juicy tidbit? I make a mental note to redirect later. “Ohhhkay. So how did you know Rori was the one? After all, you’ve been married before, right?”

“Yeah. That didn’t turn out so well, but it was my fault. God wasn’t at the center of that relationship. Unlike with Rori.” He scrubs a hand across his whiskered jaws, his expression lightening as if the sun just came out. “And Rori didn’t recognize me.”

Really? How was that possible? I have no words.

He steals a glance at the clock and drums a pencil against the desk.

I’m losing him. “So was it love at first sight?”

“Definitely on my part, but not so much hers. We had some issues to work through before she’d commit.”

“Like what?”

“For starters, I had to prove that I wasn’t going anywhere. That I could be there for her—” His cell phone buzzes, and he checks the number. “Excuse me.”

I can’t help but eavesdrop. I lean forward slightly, refusing to miss any opportunity for a scoop. Besides, I’m sitting close enough that I can almost hear her voice. At the very least, my recorder might be picking up their conversation.

“Jumbo did what?” He launches from the chair, banging my phone off the desk.

So much for that. I bend over, retrieve the recorder, and hit the off button. It didn’t take a doctorate degree to know that this interview was over.

“No problem, sweetheart. I’m just finishing up here. Be there soon. Love you.” He disconnects, mashes a cap on his head. “It’s been a pleasure, but—”

“I understand.” I do. Really. The guy’s practically still on his honeymoon. No wonder that fat grin is plastered across his face. Jealousy sprouts and curls up my spine like a weed. “Hey, does Rori have any unattached sisters?”

On his way to the exit, Graham angles over a shoulder. “Sorry. Just twin brothers, Beck and Burk.”

He dives into a sports car and cranks the engine, those high-performance tires squealing out of the parking lot. Nope. He doesn’t look the slightest bit sorry to be going home.

Rori's Healing
Coming June 5 with Pelican Book Group

****
Available on JUNE 5
with Pelican Book Group
Still stinging from the publicity surrounding her father's death, social phobic Rori Harmon prefers the solitude of her animal sanctuary, accepting that marriage isn’t in her future. Racecar Driver Graham Decker refuses to be wrangled into a relationship by another money-hungry female. On a philanthropy mission, he arrives just in time to assist Rori with a llama birthing, but his appearance thrusts her into the media spotlight again. Has Graham found a woman who doesn't care how deep his wallet extends? Has Rori finally met a man who will stick around when times get tough? Is healing for a hurting heart finally within Rori's reach?

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Blog Tour: Saving Mossy Point by Donna Winters




About the Book
When retired schoolteacher and widow Betty Hanson learns that the 51st State of Superior is about to close Mossy Point State Park, she expresses her concern to Ray Engstrom, the head of the General Land Office. But Mr. Engstrom reveals a discouraging fact: the park has never paid its own way since it opened back in 1959. And according to him, it “has the same chance of running in the black as a turtle has of flying.” Undaunted, Betty gathers help from friends and neighbors, but an accident threatens to destroy both Betty’s and the park’s finances. What can possibly turn their fortunes around and make a turtle fly? 

                                                                       

Read the first chapter of Saving Mossy Point!
“Mr. Engstrom, you can’t sell Mossy Point State Park!” Betty Hanson slid to the edge of her chair and stared straight into the pale blue eyes of the head of the General Land Office in the recently formed State of Superior. She’d sought this meeting with him at his office in Superior Bay, the new state capital, to warn him of the devastating effect a park closing would have on the Village of Mossy Point. But convincing him wouldn’t be easy. His gaze never seemed to meet hers for more than a nanosecond.“Is that what you came here to tell me? You said you had some urgent information on a serious threat to state land. I assumed it concerned illegal activity, but selling a park? Come, now.”

“Selling the park is a serious threat.”

“Why not sell it? That park’s a real money pit.” As Mr. Engstrom leaned his bulky torso back in his creaky leather chair, Betty envisioned a button popping off his too-tight shirt and splashing in the coffee mug on the edge of his desk. Her lips twitched into a smile that she instantly suppressed. Now was no time for humor. She narrowed her brows and followed his wandering gaze like a guided missile locked on a target.

“Think of the consequences, Mr. Engstrom! Without the park, the village where I have lived for the last forty of my sixty-five years, will fold up! We’ve already got half-a-dozen ghost towns in this county. I understand you were originally from Mossy Point. You don’t want to add your own hometown to the list, do you?”

He took a deep breath, exhaling the stench of stale ci- gar smoke. “Now I doubt Mossy Point will turn into a ghost town anytime soon.” His dismissive attitude fueled her sense of urgency.

“Seventy-thousand people come through there every year for one reason, and one reason only—to get to the park. Without it, every business in the village will close, and then the Post Office and the school.”

Mr. Engstrom put his palm out. “That park loses money. When we were the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Lansing funneled off income from the parks farther south to keep Mossy Point open.”

“And now that we’ve become the State of Superior?” “If parks don’t support themselves, they’re done.” He propped his feet on his desk as if the case were closed.

A yellow sticky note had taken up residence on the bottom of his shoe. She casually leaned forward and pointed to a figurine on a bookcase a few feet to his left. “Mr. Engstrom, what’s that thing next to the ream of paper on your bookcase?”

When he craned his neck to look, she snatched the note and tucked it into her pocket.

“A snapping turtle. If anyone gets in the way, snap ’em where it hurts the most.”

“Sounds like the campaign you ran in Lansing to pass the resolution for us to separate from Michigan.”

He grinned.

“By the way, I never quite understood why you moved back up here after that. I assumed you’d stay be- low the bridge and take advantage of the economic improvements.”

He cocked his brow. “Opportunity.”

“You were promised this job if the  resolution passed?”

“Your words, not mine.”

“But if you snap at Mossy Point by selling off the park, this state will lose even more revenue. Once busi- nesses close, folks will move to Michigan or Wisconsin. Tax dollars will disappear right across the state line!”

“The legislature doesn’t see it that way.” He checked his watch, swung his feet to the floor, and pressed against the arms of his chair with a grunt, eventually reaching a vertical position. “Now, you’ve had your say, Mrs. Hanson, and I have another meeting to attend.”

Betty slung her bag over her shoulder, took one step toward the door, and turned to face him. “Just promise me one thing, Mr. Engstrom. Promise me you’ll keep the park open if it’s self-supporting this year.”

He shrugged. “I’m only one voice among many when it comes to these things.”

“Don’t be so modest. Everybody who knows the first thing about politics in the State of Superior knows you have  influence  over  the  legislature  and  the  governor when it comes to land.”

He shook his head. “You flatter me, Mrs. Hanson. As for promises, I usually avoid them, but I suppose there’s no harm this time. You know why?”

She drew a breath to say, “Because it’s the right thing to do,” but he went on before she could get the words out.

“Because Mossy Point State Park has never paid its own way, not since it opened back in 1959. That park has the same chance of running in the black as a turtle has of flying.” He winked.

Betty thrust her hand out. “It’s a deal, Mr. Engstrom. The park’s going to make money, stay open, and a turtle will fly.”

He pumped her hand once and ushered her through the office door, past his secretary, and into the historic oak-paneled hallway that led to the lobby of the former Superior Bay Hotel. “So how are you going to do it, Mrs. Hanson? How are you going to get that park to make money?”

She shrugged. “I’ll think of something. Then I’ll be back here at the end of the season to show you a flying turtle.”

“Looking forward to it, Mrs. Hanson, but not holding my breath. Good luck!” When they reached the lobby, he passed the security guard with a nod, burst out the front door of the state office building, and disappeared down the street quicker than any three-hundred-pounder had a right to.

Betty returned her visitor I.D. to the security guard and stepped outside. She slipped her hand into her pock- et and retrieved the yellow sticky note she’d pulled off Mr. Engstrom’s shoe. “ExlandGroup, 11:30 Monday.” Evidently that was the meeting he was headed for. But what or who was Exland Group? She’d look them up later.

Tucking the note back into her pocket, she drew in a deep breath of the late April breeze blowing in off semi- frozen Lake Superior, a block away. Azure ripples be- tween ice floes sparkled with sunlit diamonds, beckoning her. She headed down Hill Street and across Lakeshore Drive to Superior Bay City Park on the shoreline. A pang of nostalgia pricked her heart. She’d met Harry here in April forty-seven years ago when she was a freshman and he was a sophomore at Superior Bay Community College. How she missed him. Would she ever get used to widowhood? After five years, probably not.

She sat on a bench facing the water. Icy reality washed over her. How was she going to save Mossy Point? She lifted her gaze heavenward. “Well,  Lord, what have I gotten myself into this time? In sixty-five years of living, you’d think I’d have learned by now that I can’t fix everything that’s wrong with the world, or my world, anyway.” She paused, her mind in a spin. “I haven’t the slightest idea how Mossy Point State Park can make enough money to stay open. If it’s going to hap- pen, you’ll have to show me the way.”

She slumped down until she could rest her neck against the top of the park bench. The sun warmed her cheeks, tempered by gentle gusts off Lake Superior. She closed her eyes. The cry of gulls made melody against the dull roar of Lakeshore Drive traffic. Just as she start- ed to drift to sleep, a thought bolted her awake.

Start a folk school.

Her eyes sprang open and she sat upright, her mind racing. Could it work? She and Harry and Angie had loved their classes at North Country Folk School. Probably the best family vacation ever. Of course, Petite Baie, Minnesota, with its artsy, upscale atmosphere, had a lot more going for it than Mossy Point. But it could work. The up-north location on one of the most picturesque stretches of the Lake Superior shoreline ought to be a draw.

But what building could she use for classes . . . ? There was the old Lahti cabin at the park, a board-and- batten place about twenty feet by sixty feet, probably full of junk. It needed work. Paint for the wood siding, a new coat of paint on the metal roof, and who-knows-what on the inside. Big job.

Who could she get to help? Lee Nylund for sure, maybe Wayne and Doris Reed. Some others came to mind.

She’d need teachers. Steve Taylor. He was an ace with that photography club at school. If he could get two-dozen high school kids to shoot artistic photos with digital pocket cameras, he could get adults to do it, too. Lee could teach fly-tying. Maybe Wayne Reed would teach decoy carving. He’d created some really amazing ducks since retiring from his plumbing job.

Her stomach grumbled. She checked her watch. Time for lunch; then she had to get back to Mossy Point and talk to Thad. She recalled her phone conversation with the park supervisor that morning before she had headed to Superior Bay. She’d speed-dialed his landline and caught him before he’d left his office for the morning rounds.

“Thad, did you see the article in yesterday’s paper about the possibility of selling the park? I just got around to reading it a minute ago.”

“I saw it. Not much I can do if the State decides to close us up and sell.”

“I’m going to see Mr. Engstrom. Tell him he can’t sell our park.”

“Good luck. And Betty? You’d better pray for me that I can get a transfer. It’ll be tough finding another job in the State of Superior that will support a wife and two kids.”

“This park won’t close, not if I can help it. But you can count on the prayers, buddy. Talk to you later.”

That promise had been made three hours ago; now she had to make good on it. Rising from the bench, she set a brisk pace for her truck. A roast beef sandwich at the Beef Palace would quiet her stomach, then off to meet with Thad.

~~~

Half an hour later, Betty hit the road to Mossy Point. There was hardly a car to be seen in either direction, and nothing but woods and an occasional cabin on either side for twenty-five miles. The hardwoods hadn’t quite leafed out yet, but soon their canopy would dapple the sun, turning the road into a storybook lane.

She eased down on the accelerator, eager to get to the park, talk to Thad. While trees sped past, she organized her thoughts. Half-an-hour later, she pulled into the parking lot marked “Employees Only” behind the administration building.

Thad’s truck was there. Good. She wouldn’t have to hunt him down. Moments later, she headed through the workshop and down the hall. Thad’s office door was open and he was sitting behind his computer, staring at the monitor and running a hand through his wavy chest- nut hair.

“Hey, Thad!”

He looked up with an unconvincing smile. “Betty, how’d it go?”

“Great!” She helped herself to the chair beside his desk.

“You convinced Ray Engstrom not to sell this park?” “Not exactly. But he did promise to keep it if the park runs in the black this year.”

His shoulders slumped. “Fat chance. I’d better update my resume.”

“Not so fast! I’ve got an idea. You know the old Lahti cabin?”

Thad’s brow wrinkled. “What about it?” “A folk school, that’s what!”

“A folk school?”

“A place where folks of all ages come to learn arts, crafts, recreational skills, all kinds of things. Harry and Angie and I went to a folk school over in Minnesota on our vacation one year and it was fabulous! Angie learned jewelry making, Harry learned birch bark canoe construction, and I sewed a pair of Chippewa-style moccasins. I figure we can start small here at Mossy Point with the old Lahti cabin, fix it up for classes, put the word out, and cha-ching! Money will flow in faster than you can count it!”

“D’ya think?”

“Absolutely! Folks coming for classes will stay at the campground, fill up those empty sites you’re always complaining about, buy your firewood for campfires at night, and tell all their friends to get up here and join the fun.”

“You make it sound easy.”

“Hard work, more like. Come on. Let’s go take a look at that cabin, see what has to be done.”

He put his palm out. “Not so fast. I’ll have to clear it with the higher-ups.”

“I’m sure you can convince them, or let me. What’s your boss’s number? I’ll talk to him.” She reached for his portable phone.

He grabbed it first. “Her. Eva Underwood. And I’ll do the talking.”

“Maybe we should call her later, after we’ve inspected the building and know how much work has to be done.”

“Good idea. You can ride with me. First, I have to find the key to that building.” He searched his desk drawer, pulled out two keys on a tag, dropped them into his shirt pocket, and escorted her to his truck.

They proceeded down the gravel road into the campground where a familiar young woman was cleaning a fire ring at one of the campsites.

“I see you’ve got Janna Jarvis on the job again this year. Seems awfully early for her to be out of school.”

“Her term at Superior Bay Community College ended last week.”

“I’d forgotten how early they go on summer break.” One more person who would lose a job if the park closed. Betty couldn’t let that happen to a nice kid like Janna who needed the money to stay in school.

As they approached the far northwest end of the park, Thad turned to her. “Have you got any idea where the start-up money is going to come from for your folk school? We’ve got a moratorium on spending in Parks and Recreation right now.”

“I’ve got some ideas. I’ll hit up the home improvement place in Superior Bay for a few gallons of paint.”

“Stain, Betty. Board-and-batten needs stain, not paint.”

“Stain, then. Maybe they’ll throw in a few sticks of wood for any broken boards or battens that need replacing.”

As Thad drove along the road through the deserted campground and out the other side, his questions continued. “Who’s going to do all this work? My staff is already cut to the bone. It’s all we can do to get the campground ready to open in the next two weeks.”

“I can get volunteers.”

He rounded a curve and pulled to a stop in front of the building. Betty’s heart sank at her first glimpse of the place in—she couldn’t remember when. The last time she’d seen it, years ago, she’d thought of it as quaint. Now that she needed to make it usable, it looked more like a neglected shack surrounded by juniper and weeds. Boards covered the windows; streaks, stains, and moss obscured the old metal roof; a metal bar and padlock secured the double front door.

She turned to Thad. “A good pressure washing and new paint on the roof ought to freshen the place up for starters, don’t you think?”

“Roof coating, you mean. Metal roofs need a special coating, and it’s not cheap. You’ll have to hire a contractor that’s licensed and insured to apply it. Volunteers aren’t allowed to use ladders or stepstools.”

“You’re kidding! Not even if we have our own insurance?”

“Not even. You’ll have to get each volunteer to sign a waiver, too, to hold the state harmless in case of an accident or injury.”

“Not a problem. You give me the forms and I’ll get them signed.” She pushed through the juniper and stepped around a wooden box-like protrusion to reach the other side of the building, the side that faced Lake Superior. The view gave her pause. Nothing but cool blue waves lapping a rocky, sandstone shoreline as far as the eye could see in either direction. Beautiful. Remote. Inspiring. The perfect place for a folk school.

Then she turned to look at the building. Not so perfect. Wind off the lake had torn at the siding. Some pieces of batten were missing. Others had buckled. She’d need a good carpenter to make it right. The door, barred and padlocked like the double door on the road side, appeared ready to rust off its hinges. At least the foundation seemed solid. They continued around the building, making a path through the brambles back to the roadside door.

Thad pointed to an overgrown juniper bush. “You can have your volunteers trim back the foliage near the building. It should have been done years ago.”

“Check.” Betty added the chore to her mental list of jobs.

After some wrangling with the rusty padlock, Thad managed to force it open. The wooden door, evidently swollen from spring rains, didn’t want to budge. Thad yanked on it once, twice. The third time, the door popped open so fast he nearly fell to the floor.

Betty covered her mouth to stifle a laugh and stepped inside. A strong, musty odor emanated from the dark interior, so black because of the boarded-up windows that she could make out nothing of the contents. She heard Thad click a light switch, but the building remained dark.


Donna Winters
Donna Winters
 adopted Michigan as her home state in 1971 when she moved from a small town outside of Rochester, New York. She began penning novels in 1982.

Her husband, Fred, a former American History teacher, shares her enthusiasm for the Great Lakes. Together, they visit historical sites, restored villages, museums, state parks, and lake ports purchasing books and reference materials, and taking photos for use in Donna’s research.

Her familiarity and fascination with these remarkable inland waters and decades of living in the heart of Great Lakes Country have given her the perfect background for developing her stories.
Visit Donna’s Website!

A complete list of stops on the tour can be found at 

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Excited about Eating by Ernie Hiers

This edition of Excited about Eating takes us to the historic Elizabeth area of Charlotte to Kennedy’s Premium Bar & Grill. This pub is tucked into a neighborhood friendly area that boasts many family restaurants and has a huge outside deck. Dora here. Wish the sky hadn't been so overcast because I would've enjoyed sitting outside on the gorgeous deck. 

We started with the Pretzel Bites appetizer served with Queso and Dijon mustard dipping sauces. Dipping in the Queso took the pretzel bites from OK to good. The server warned us that the Dijon mustard was spicy and she was right. Dora here. Phew! Have a tissue handy. The mustard sauce will clear out your sinuses, but I liked it! I was expecting these little nuggets to taste chewy and soft, but instead they were a bit crispy.
Pretzel Bites with Queso and Dijon Mustard
I chose the Shepherd’s Pie with Guinness gravy, layers of beef, mushrooms, carrots, celery, and onions topped with mashed potatoes along with a side of tater tots. The meat was tender and the vegetables cooked so that they still had a crunch. The mashed potatoes were creamy and the tater tots outstanding. My biggest issue with this dish was that it was only lukewarm, causing the flavors not to mix well. 
Shepherd's Pie
My wife had the Fish & Chips, deep fried Haddock, battered with Harp lager, an Irish beer. Dora here. Since Kennedy's is a pub, I had high hopes for this dish. 
The fish was lightly battered, flakey and tender. The sweet potato fries were a bit lackluster, and the slaw was just average. Nothing  really tantalized my taste buds. And the iced tea? A total loss. Bummer. But then I'm quite sure people don't frequent this establishment for the iced tea. :)
Fish & Sweet Potato Fries
I would rate this restaurant 3 forks out of 5 forks for a family friendly restaurant serving good food.



Do you set expectations for your dining choices based on a review, recommendations from friends, or perhaps from the name of the restaurant? 

Kennedy's Premium Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Crazy about Writing: Snickers had her cria today!

Rori’s Journal
Date: Monday, October 15

Snickers had her cria today. Oh my stars! She’s just beautiful, and just as sweet as her mama. I hope Snickers will rub off on Jumbo. Haha. Probably not. Poor Jumbo had such a tough life until he came to live here at the sanctuary. People can be so vicious and cruel. Isn’t that why I’m here? So, I don’t blame him for being a bit cantankerous.

But I bet the new vet could!

<Laughing out loud now.> You should have seen the on-call doc Corbin’s office sent to help. Unlike any vet I’ve ever met. I mean, really, what vet shows up at a working ranch in a fancy sports car? And the man never even dragged his medical equipment out to help with the delivery! Maybe the trunk wasn’t big enough? Or Corbin told him I was qualified? Whatever, but he sure looked a bit green around the edges. Must’ve had a long night with calls, but he handled Jumbo’s poor manners with grace and humor.

Other than appearing tired, he was mighty nice to look at. Thick dark hair. Heavy stubble on firm jaws. Cocoa-colored eyes that sparkled with kindness. A deep rumble for a voice. <insert dreamy sigh> Not that I’m looking.

But he was here when I needed him, the first man besides Burk or my stepdad, and plans to come back as a volunteer. Yeah, right.

Anyway, Graham, the vet, named the cria, Reesie. Think it was from all the chocolate I stuffed in my mouth?


Until tomorrow, Rori

****
Available June 5
with Pelican Book Group

Amazon Pre-Order
Still stinging from the publicity surrounding her father's death, social phobic Rori Harmon prefers the solitude of her animal sanctuary, accepting that marriage isn’t in her future. Racecar Driver Graham Decker refuses to be wrangled into a relationship by another money-hungry female. On a philanthropy mission, he arrives just in time to assist Rori with a llama birthing, but his appearance thrusts her into the media spotlight again. Has Graham found a woman who doesn't care how deep his wallet extends? Has Rori finally met a man who will stick around when times get tough? Is healing for a hurting heart finally within Rori's reach?

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Excited about Reading ~ Until I Found You by Victoria Bylin

Purchase Link
The Cover Story~
Finding each other was only the beginning . . . 

When Kate Darby swerves off a mountain road to avoid hitting a California condor, she ends up trapped in her car, teetering on the edge of a cliff. Terrified, she breathes a prayer that changes her life.

It's Nick Sheridan who comes to Kate's rescue. Nick is handsome and confident, and he seems to develop a habit of rescuing her, but Kate is in town only until her grandmother recuperates from a stroke. She's not planning to get involved with one of the locals.

Nick is a reformed veteran of life in the fast lane, a new Christian, and a travel writer. When he sees a car dangling on the edge of a cliff, the daredevil in him jumps into action. He doesn't expect to be swept off his feet by the car's occupant. He's made a vow--no dating for a year--but keeping that vow is going to be a lot more difficult now that he's met Kate Darby.

My takeaway~
Kate Darby's career is on the fast track until her grandmother's stroke. Leona is all the family she has left, and she's determined to help her grandmother until she's back on her feet. But she has a hard time accepting her grandmother's faith, and has lived her adult life making "safe" choices and being independent, relying only on herself. Travel writer Nick Sheridan has always lived life on the edge until a tragedy sends him to the top of Mount Abel to wrestle with God. He came off that mountain a new man, vowing a year of not dating.

Kate laid her head on his shoulder. "I'm scared."
"Of what?"
"Everything," she said in a whisper. "I don't know how to live like this, how to mix the old and the new."
The black and white balloons were more fitting than he had imagined. An artist blended the two colors to make shades of gray. People compromised. But some decisions really were black and white. A person couldn't go east and west at the same time, but two people could walk side by side in the same direction. At some point, though, they had to agree which way to walk. If they couldn't and they still wanted to be together, someone had to make a sacrifice.

That excerpt pretty much sums up the book for me. Nick and Kate were attracted to each other immediately, and the story was a romance from the first page to the last, but that doesn't mean they didn't have to work through their share of problems. I felt that Nick's love for Kate was a symbol of Christ's love for us. Saddened and distressed by the gulf widening between them, he woos and loves her back.

I thoroughly enjoyed Until I Found You. Bursting with emotional depth, packed with a spiritual punch, it also carried just the right amount of sizzle for me. The parallel between human relationships and condors, rare birds who mate for life, was a bonus. Definitely a keeper!

"Faith is what allows us to see the daffodil in an ugly seed, the chick in an egg. We don't understand how God works, but if we look, we see His handiwork everywhere--even in the mirror." ~Leona


Disclaimer: I received this book free from Amazon. The opinions expressed in this review are my own, and I received no monetary compensation.

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Excited about Eating by Ernie Hiers

This edition of Excited about Eating takes us to the Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte and to Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar, which is scheduled to change hands for a whopping $21 million soon.
Bad Daddy's Burger Bar
This family oriented eating spot boasts an industrial feel but includes TVs and a patio to cater to all clientele. Dora here. I think Ernie just got all excited about the diamond plate wainscoting. Reminded him of a fire truck. :) Seriously, folks, Bad Daddy's attracted all ages, and is in a walkable, bikable neighborhood. Be warned though. Parking is tight, and by Saturday at noon, people were lined up outside, waiting to get in.

We started with the Fried Pickles appetizer. These dill pickles were very good; sliced lengthways, fried very crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The only thing that would have made these better would be a little less salt. Dora here. Anybody else getting tired of seeing fried pickles on here? Note to Ernie: next time go with a different appetizer! 
Fried Pickles
I chose the Classic Southern Burger, a basic burger topped with chili, American cheese, relish, mustard and slaw and served on a Brioche bun. Basically a Carolina burger except swap the onions with relish. This burger was huge, sloppy and had to be eaten with a fork. The flavors were outstanding and the chili actually had beans. Tater tots were crispy and had an excellent taste. Dora here. There was nothing basic about that burger.
Classic Southern Burger with tots
My wife had the Frenchie which is a turkey burger with brie, applewood bacon, grilled apples and garlic mayo served on a Brioche bun. Dora here. I was torn on this one because I really was leaning toward the Mama Ricotta's Burger, just to try it. Doesn't that sound intriguing? Anyway, the Frenchie with the grilled apples won. The bun was soft and fresh, as if they baked it on site, and the cheese literally oozed from the sandwich. Good thing the tables sport a roll of paper towels because you'll need 'em. But, let me tell you, the jalapeno honey mustard and bad daddy sauces on the side were ah-mazing! They jazzed this yummy turkey burger to awesome, but too much of a good thing might leave your tongue on fire.
Frenchie - turkey burger
And get a grip! Check out the size of this burger!

I would rate this restaurant 5 forks out of 5 forks for a family friendly restaurant serving outstanding food.

What's your favorite burger joint? How about a fave burger?

Bad Daddy's Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Crazy about Writing: What Inspired the Harmon Heritage series?

It was our granddaughter’s fifth grade graduation. Award recipients pranced across the stage to thunderous applause and hundreds of camera clicks. One particular girl accepted her award and then skipped down the steps, racing through the center aisle all the way to the back to hug her mama. When she finally rejoined her class, sniffles could be heard across the crowded auditorium.

Yeah, I was digging in my purse for a tissue. But my writer’s mind was already at work. Where was her daddy? Why wasn’t he there? How could he miss such a momentous event in his daughter’s life? Was it because of divorce? Could he not get off work? Perhaps he was in the military and currently deployed. The possibilities, the what if’s, continued rolling through my head long after the program was over.

Just a handful of days before this ceremony, we received shocking news that our son’s childhood friend committed suicide. Terribly upsetting because as a twenty something he was just beginning his journey, but also because our lives had been so entwined with his family’s for many of their elementary school years. This, just after learning that a neighbor of ten years committed suicide. An international athlete, a mighty giant devoted to his two kids, and newly divorced.

To honor a shy fifth grade girl and two precious children, who adored their daddy and had to be reeling over his death, the inspiration for my Harmon Heritage series was born. Three siblings whose celebrity father committed suicide leaving them hurting and angry, with more questions than answers, more pain than peace. Rori’s a social phobic, hiding behind a wall of fear, preferring the solitude of animals to the whispers and pointed fingers of blame over her father’s death. Beck abandons his family and the love of his life and wanders for a decade because he fears he carries the same genes as his father. Burk, the oldest and Beck’s twin, feels like he’s the glue that holds his family together and puts his personal and professional life on hold until Rori heals and Beck finds peace for his wandering soul.

Perhaps you’re hurting, the enormous waves of pain dragging you under until you lack the strength to claw your way back to the surface. Or the chains of sorrow shackle you to this moment, blinding you to the promise of a new day, a brighter tomorrow. God, with His knows-no-bounds and nothing-holds-Him-back love, can take those dark places, those huge gaping chasms of loss, and meld them into a beautiful tapestry of healing and peace, of hope and joy.


 Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. ~Psalm 30:5 NLT

Available June 5
with Pelican Book Group
Still stinging from the publicity surrounding her father's death, social phobic Rori Harmon prefers the solitude of her animal sanctuary, accepting that marriage isn’t in her future. Racecar Driver Graham Decker refuses to be wrangled into a relationship by another money-hungry female. On a philanthropy mission, he arrives just in time to assist Rori with a llama birthing, but his appearance thrusts her into the media spotlight again. Has Graham found a woman who doesn't care how deep his wallet extends? Has Rori finally met a man who will stick around when times get tough? Is healing for a hurting heart finally within Rori's reach?

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Excited about Reading: London Tides by Carla Laureano

Purchase Link
The Cover Story: 
Irish photojournalist Grace Brennan travels the world's war zones documenting the helpless and forgotten. After the death of her friend and colleague, Grace is shaken.

She returns to London hoping to rekindle the spark with the only man she ever loved—Scottish businessman Ian MacDonald. But he gave up his championship rowing career and dreams of Olympic gold years ago for Grace ... only for her to choose career over him. Will life's tides bring them back together ... or tear them apart for good this time?

My Takeaway:
I read Five Days in Skye, and LOVED it. You can read that review here. It's not necessary to read Skye first although London Tides revisits Skye for a joyous celebration, so I'd recommend it. :)

"She shouldn't be here." London Tides pulled me in with the first line. It didn't take long for Ian and Grace to reconnect after a ten year separation, and, oh, what a sweet romance for a few pages! Always a but, though, right? This is one of those books where I knew the bottom was going to drop out any minute and that my heart would be ripped into shreds. Yes. That's exactly what this book did.

"You can't see all the suffering and violence and hatred without wondering if there's still good in the world. Most of my colleagues see evil as proof that God couldn't exist. But despite all the bad, there are still people who help others when their safety, their very lives are at risk. When I see that, I know without a doubt he has to exist. I think without God, the good that remains couldn't survive." ~Grace

I was so invested in the characters. Grace because she was hurting, suffering from PTSD after living through the horrors of war zones and, since her identity had always been wrapped up in her job, wondering who she was now. Ian because he never gave up loving Grace, not after ten years apart and not even when a close friend and his well-intentioned mother tried to convince him otherwise. But at a crucial spot in the book, I wanted to throw my hands in the air and scream at Grace, "What are you doing? Just tell him how you really feel!"

For me the ending was a bit too abrupt. After ravaging my emotions, I wanted a little more happily-ever-after, a bit more "ahhh" factor when I flipped to the last page. But don't let that stop you from scooping up this sweet romance! With a subtle faith thread weaved throughout and a plot that'll keep you guessing whether Ian and Grace will actually enjoy a happily-ever-after, London Tides will appeal to contemporary romance readers across genres.

Disclaimer: I received this book free from NetGalley and David C. Cook Publisher for the purpose of sharing my review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own, and I received no monetary compensation.

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Sunday, May 10, 2015


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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Excited about Eating by Ernie Hiers

This edition of “Excited about Eating” takes us to the downtown district of Indianapolis, Indiana. Downtown Indianapolis is more modern than we expected, with professional sports teams, hotels in all price ranges, and restaurants featuring almost every cuisine. We chose three of our best experiences to be included in this edition. Dora here. Want to know the coolest part of Indy? An intricate maze of sky bridges and walkways that allowed us to wander through downtown without ever having to brave the wind and 30 degree temps! And, for Pete’s sake, there’s a four-story mall!

Our first evening we visited Rock Bottom. During our visit, a fire department instructors conference was taking place at the convention center so the restaurant was decked out in fire department paraphernalia.

Dora here. Imagine that. Isn’t that why we were in Indy? Lol. Even bursting with fire personnel, we didn’t wait long for a table, and our server was friendly and knowledgeable, even recommended a couple spots for ice cream later.

I chose the Chipotle Brisket Barbacoa Pizza with honey chipotle BBQ sauce, mozzarella and asiago cheeses, beef brisket and pineapple salsa.  The pizza was outstanding, and the sweet pineapple salsa took this dish to a new level. 
Chipotle Brisket Barbacoa Pizza

Dora here. I stole a piece of hubby’s pizza, and I totally agree! I opted for their famous Classic Mac’n Chicken, creamy spiral macaroni and cheese loaded with chunks of chicken and chased with a bit of a kick from Tabasco and Paprika. Awesome, and just the right portion size for me. Some of the best Mac’n cheese we’ve ever tasted. 
Classic Mac’n Chicken
 I would rate this restaurant 5 forks out of 5 for a family friendly restaurant that serves outstanding food.
Rock Bottom Brewery on Urbanspoon
 **
For another dinner, we dined at Weber Grill, the first location outside of the metro Chicago area. One thing that makes this restaurant unique is that all cooking is done over authentic giant Weber Charcoal grills.
Weber Grill

Since there was so much on the menu that we wanted to try, we chose the three meat BBQ Combo with Hickory BBQ Ribs, Beef Brisket, and Black Angus Meatloaf served with a sweet and tangy Hickory BBQ sauce, Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Mac N’ Cheese. The ribs were BBQ competition quality, tender but not fall-off-the-bone. The brisket was tender and had deep smoke favor, and the meatloaf was smoky with great texture. The sides were equally good; the mashed potatoes full of favor and the mac n’ cheese firm and cheesy. Dora here. Only one word: yum!

I would rate this restaurant 5 forks out of 5 for a family friendly restaurant serving outstanding food.
Weber Grill Restaurant on Urbanspoon
**
We'd read good things about Pearl Street Pizzeria in the Warehouse District and couldn't wait to try it. This locally owned back-alley restaurant is in the heart of downtown and just a couple of blocks from Monument Circle, Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium.
Pearl Street Pizzeria
For dinner, we shared a twelve inch deep dish pizza, meatlovers on half with sausage, pepperoni, bacon, ham and mozzarella, and just pepperoni on the other half. This pizza would stand up to any deep dish pizza we have eaten in Chicago. The meatlovers side was full of meat and the entire pizza had just the right amount of cheese and sauce. The crust was firm and the pizza was not greasy. So tempting, we dug into it before taking a picture. Sorry. 

Dora here. Not a fan of real saucy pizzas or thin crusts, so whenever I can talk Ernie into deep dish, I’m all over it and this pizza was perfect! Just the way I love my pizza. Heads up, though. The place is small, and it was jammed and really loud. Get there early if you don’t want to wait to sit or order one to go. :) 

I would rate this restaurant 5 forks out of 5 for a family friendly restaurant serving outstanding food.
Pearl Street Pizza & Pub on Urbanspoon

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