Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Life According to the Books I Read in 2013

Well hello dear blogging friends.


It's been way too long since my last post. While I may have lost my blogging mojo in the last several months, I haven't forgotten all of you sweet friends and I have been missing you all and thinking of you often. I'm looking forward to some new blogging energy in 2014!

It's that time of year again! I first spotted this meme on Angie's blog [http://angie-ville.com] several years ago and have made it an annual end of the year tradition on my blog ever since. I love this book meme--it's a fun, creative way to reminisce all the books you read throughout the year.

What's even more fun?

Having your friends do the meme, too!

To play along, use only titles of books that you read this year (2013) and complete the prompts below.

Try not to repeat any book titles. Think creatively and have fun!

Once you've posted your Life According to the Books You Read in 2013, grab the link to your blog post and come back here to add you name and link to the Simply Linked list below. I can't wait to see what you come up with and spread the word! It's so much fun reading everyone's responses.

Also, Happy and Healthy New Year to you and your loved ones.

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My Life According to the Books I Read in 2013:

Describe yourself: 
 The Girl Who Owned a City by O.T. Nelson

How do you feel:
 Spellbound by Nora Roberts

Describe where you currently live: 
 Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:
 Paradise by Meljean Brook

Your favorite form of transportation: 
 The Last Unicorn [graphic novel] adaptation by Peter S. Beagle

Your best friend is: 
 Any Man of Mine by Rachel Gibson
(my husband)

You and your friends are: 
 Working Out by Marie Harte

What's the weather like: 
  The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsely

What is life to you: 
  Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Favorite time of day: 
 Midsummer Nights Dream by William Shakespeare

Your fear: 
 A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

What is the best advice you have to give: 
  Wanderlust by Kitty French

Thought for the day:
 It Happened Under the Mistletoe by Valerie Bowman

How I would like to die: 
 At Home in Stone Creek by Linda Lael Miller

My soul's present condition: 
 One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry

My family is:* 
 To Die For by Linda Howard

*this last prompt idea is from Tanya @ Mom's Small Victories http://momssmallvictories.com/ Thank you, Tanya!

Can't get enough of reading these lists? Check out past years:
My Life According to the Books I Read in 2012
My Life According to the Books I Read in 2011
My Life According to the Books I Read in 2010
My Life According to the Books I Read in 2009

If you have any suggestions for prompts to add to next year's meme, please leave it in the comments below!

Happy New Year and here's to some more great reads in 2014! xxx

This is my first time using Simply Linked widget... hope it's friendly.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Boo !

Well the cobwebs building up around here on this blog are certainly apropos for Halloween, don't you think? This has been a pretty pathetic year of blogging for me.. so sorry about that.

October has been another whirlwind of a month for me.. lots of things going on. Mostly good or at least productive things going on.. a few not so good things, but everyone is healthy, hanging in there and doing their best so that's a plus.

So here I am on Halloween night and have no trick-or-treating costumes or stories to share with you because Anna didn't dress up this year and Maria is away at school. I do know she dressed up as a flapper for a Halloween party tonight and she did text me a photo that she also posted on instagram, but it's not the same as seeing her in her costume in person and taking my own photo. Then to top it off, we got ZERO trick-or-treaters at our door today! So sad...

Despite the lack of child involvement, though, I do have a few fun and festive Halloween photos to share.

This is a sunset photo that I took from the Home Depot parking lot a few weeks ago.

This is that same photo all dressed up for Halloween! I edited it right on my iphone using a really fabulous photo editing app called Rhonna Designs. I was lucky and bought it while it was offered for free but I think it's 99 cents now. Still a bargain if you're into this sort of thing.

Home Depot Sunset

Home Depot Haunted Sunset

I may have eaten a piece or two of Halloween candy before Halloween..

From where I stand at the welcome mat to our home..

Always a favorite time of year for black cats.

A house in my neighborhood with spook-tacular Halloween decorations. Even better up close in person and even spookier at night with creepy-scary music and sound effects. Yikes.

Trick-or-treat! I'm ready for the monsters to come!

There's something in the attic!!! (From the spooky house in town after dark.. )

I hope you had a safe and happy Halloween!

Do you have kids who dress up? If so, what were they? 

... still can't believe October is over already and 2014 is only two months away! Now THAT'S frightening!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

REVIEW: Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

Relish is a food-themed memoir that reveals a young woman's love of good food through fond memories. Lucy Knisley grew up in both New York City and rural Hudson Valley, New York with a chef mother and gourmet-loving father who both exposed her to a wide variety of luxurious foods from babyhood through young adulthood. In this graphic novel, Lucy explores her relationship with and love of food through a series of vignettes and anecdotes from various stages of her life and several international trips as well, all of which instilled in her strong connections between food, places, and people. Her stories are honest and open, often laced with humor and sentimentality to which readers can relate well such as a grandmother's famous pickle and a mother's perfect chocolate chip cookie. Although Lucy clearly developed a gourmet palate like that of her parents, she still has a fondness for processed junk food every now and then, something that I think helps dilute the level of privilege that runs through this novel.

A few months ago I read Knisley's earlier work, French Milk, another food-themed graphic memoir that chronicled the author's month long visit to Paris with her mother, which I found to be a boring and pretentious recount of what should have been a trip of a lifetime for a college-aged girl yet instead was a whiny recollection of a trip of complaining and examples of how to be an ungrateful brat and treat your mother poorly. Anyway, I'm pleased to report that Lucy has matured a bit since she wrote French Milk and it shows in Relish. Each chapter of Relish visits a different place, phase and food experience of Lucy's life and each ends with a delightfully illustrated recipe (probably my favorite part of the book). As Knisley reflects on some striking food memories, she shares them with a fond affection for her family and friends connected to those experiences. I would have liked to see Knisley share more about other people's connections to foods, especially relating to her international travels. I was disappointed that Knisley never attempted to learn about or connect with any local people and their culture during her trips. Or if she did do those things on her travels, she doesn't share them in her book, which is a shame because I think those experiences would be a huge asset to her books.

In the future, I'd like to see Knisley develop a more heightened awareness of the world around her and write with a little less self absorption. I realize Relish is a memoir and therefore focused on the individual, but I still think a well written memoir includes some attention to the rest of the world and Kinsley's writing could be stellar if she wrote with a bit more substance and depth overall.

In the meantime, Relish is a quick, fun graphic memoir to read. The drawings are well done and I found the human expressions are accurately expressed as well as charming. Again, the recipes at the end of each chapter are great and a special touch to this food-based book. I also have to admit I particularly enjoyed reading the chapters in which Lucy was living in the Hudson Valley since I'm familiar with that area and have visited it regularly over the years.. both downtown Rhinebeck and Grieg Farm as a very close friend of mine lives in that same area.

GRADE: 3.5+ out of 5 stars. Maybe 4 stars. I really did enjoy it. :)

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Weekend Cooking, a weekly blog event hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food related post to share--a food related book review (fiction or nonfiction), cookbook review, movie review, a recipe, random thoughts, gadgets, food quotations, photographs, etc. Please visit Beth's blog for more information and join the fun!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Birthday Gift Winner!

Thanks to everyone who stopped by with birthday wishes over the last several days!

Rafflecopter has randomly selected a winner for my Belated Birthday Giveaway and the winner is....


Congratulations, Sonia!

I hope you enjoy the facial kit, tea, chocolate and book and that it both relaxes you and brings you joy.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, October 7, 2013

My Book Bingo Scorecard: 3rd quarter

It's time for a Book Bingo update! I'm actually doing a lot better with this challenge than I expected. I've completed quite a few more squares since the last quarter update, but I still have a lot of reading to do to complete the grid. Some squares will be easier than others to complete.

I need to read:

2 TBR books
3 books from a series
5 books released in 2013
5 books everyone else has read
3 re-reads

Not too bad, but I still think it's going to be a close finish!

Read From Your TBR Pile: [15] [see 1st column]
[X]ONE book:
    1. Surrender At Dawn by Laura Griffin

[X]TWO books:
    2. Promises in Death by J.D. Robb
    3. A Rogue By Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean

[X]THREE books:
    4. First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones
    5. Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale
    6. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

[ ]FOUR books:
    7. To Die For by Linda Howard
    8. At Home in Stone Creek by Linda Lael Miller

[X]FIVE books:
   11. Any Man of Mine by Rachel Gibson
   12. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
   13. The Lost Duke of Wyndham by Julia Quinn
   14. Mr. Cavendish, I Presume by Julia Quinn
   15. Spellbound by Nora Roberts

Read Books in a Series: [15] [see 2nd column]

[X]ONE Book in a Series:
    1. Mercy Thompson: Homecoming by Patricia Briggs

[X]TWO Books in a Series:
The Works Series by Marie Harte
    1. Bodywork by Marie Harte
    2. Working Out by Marie Harte

[X]THREE Books in a Series:
The Princes Trilogy by Elizabeth Hoyt
    1. The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt
    2. The Leopard Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt
    3. The Serpent Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

[ ]FOUR Books in a Series:
Elemental Assassin Series by Jennifer Estep
    1. Spider's Revenge by Jennifer Estep
    2. "Thread of Death" by Jennifer Estep [novella]
    3. By A Thread by Jennifer Estep

[ ]FIVE Books in a Series:
Guardians Series by Meljean Brook
    1. Demon Bound by Meljean Brook
    2. Demon Forged by Meljean Brook
    3. "Blind Spot" by Meljean Brook [novella]

Read 2013 Releases: [12] [see 3rd column]
[X]ONE book:
   1. Sins & Needles by Karina Halle

[X]TWO books:
   2. Crystal Cove by Lisa Kleypas
   3. On Every Street by Karina Halle

[No THREE books in this category - see FREE SPACE below]

[X]FOUR books:
   4. Wild Invitation by Nalini Singh
   5. Hearts of Shadow by Kira Brady
   6. A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
   7. Primates by Jim Ottaviani & Maris Wicks

[ ]FIVE books:

FREE SQUARE: [middle square] 
Read ONE book someone else has read for this challenge
[X]1. Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi ... read by http://msbuff.com/reading-challenges-2013/

Read Books Everyone Else Has Read: [15] [see 4th column]
ONE book: [X]
    1. The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

[X]TWO books:
    2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
    3. Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie

[X]THREE books:
    4. Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
    5. Dirty by Megan Hart
    6. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

[X]FOUR books:
    7. Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey
    8. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
    9. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
   10. Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

[ ]FIVE books:

Re-Read books: [15] [see 5th column]
ONE book: [X]
   1. The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

[X]TWO books:
   2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
   3. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Expuréry

[X]THREE books:
   4. Demon Night by Meljean Brook
   5. "Thicker Than Blood" novella by Meljean Brook
   6. Sins & Needles by Karina Halle

[ ]FOUR books:
   7. Amulet, Vol. 4: The Last Council by Kazu Kibuishi

[X]FIVE books:
   11. Hearts of Darkness by Kira Brady
   12. "Falling For Anthony" by Meljean Book [novella]
   13. Demon Angel by Meljean Brook
   14. "Paradise" by Meljean Brook [novella]
   15. Demon Moon by Meljean Brook

Friday, October 4, 2013

Someone had a birthday!

Hello 45

Hello 45! Ready or not, here I am!

Yep. The good ol' age machine flipped another digit on me earlier this week. (hahaha! Get it?) I'm taking it well, though, reminding myself that every day is a gift and it's so good to be alive! And I vow to embrace every age as best I can, striving to be healthier, happier and a better citizen of the world every day. Some days are better than others because let's face it, as fabulous as the 40s really are..sometimes it really sucks when I think about how I'm probably closer to the end than I am to the beginning. Oh I try not to think about it too much or let it get me down, but sometimes it sneaks in on me! Not good.

cupcakes for my birthday!
Anyway, I had a fabulous birthday on Tuesday. My husband gave me flowers and the new iphone 5S woot! which totally delights my youngest because she promptly inherited my 4S the lucky (spoiled) kid. My dear friend Claudia treated me to a fabulous lunch at nice Italian restaurant and the weather was so nice that we dined on the restaurant patio. It felt so decadent. I was flooded with birthday wishes from friends and family all over the world (thanks to Facebook and Instagram) throughout the day. Thank you so much for those of you who did this! Then around dinner time I got the sweetest surprise.. Maria came home from college for the evening just for my birthday! Wow! I was so surprised and so delighted. We all went out for sushi, came home for cupcakes and then Maria and I watched some cooking shows we had recorded while she was away. (We got into Cupcake Wars, Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen just before she left for college). What a special day!

It turns out this is the first time since I started my blog over five years ago that I didn't post on my birthday and do a birthday giveaway. I feel badly about that so I'm doing a belated birthday giveaway now.

My Birthday Present to one of you:

The 'Fabulous At Any Age' Gift Bag

Mini facial kit 
Package of Harvest Blend Herbal Tea*
Fancy chocolate bar.. your choice of dark or milk chocolate 
Book of your choice, up to $15 US value.

*Harvest Blend tea is caffeine free and contains cinnamon, ginger, hibiscus, natural cinnamon and apple flavors with other natural flavors, chamomile, roasted chicory and orange peel. Other tea may be substituted per winner's request or if it becomes unavailable.

Sounds nice, right? To enter this birthday giveaway, all you need to do is fill out the Rafflecopter form below and then leave a comment in the comment section of this post telling me what you love best about October.

I love pumpkin desserts, cool evenings and warm sunny days and colorful leaves swirling to the ground in the breeze.

Giveaway terms and conditions:

  • Giveaway runs from today, October 4, 2013 through Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 12 am EST (midnight). All entries received after the close of the giveaway will be disqualified. 
  • You must be 18 years or older to enter. 
  • No purchase necessary to win and void where prohibited. 
  • Book may be sent anywhere in the world via TheBookDepository as long as they deliver to your mailing address. I will do my best to mail other gift items via international mail as allowed per shipping restrictions to your country. 
  • Prize value: $25 US plus shipping 
  • Odds of winning are dependent on the number of entries received. 
  • One winner will be drawn on October 11, 2013 and notified by email within 48 hours. Winner will have one week from the time I send my email to get back to me with their book choice and mailing address or their gift will be forfeited and a new winner will be chosen. 
  • Contact information [email and mailing address] will only be used for the purposes of contacting the winner and prize delivery. Information will not be saved, sold or used for any other purpose.

By entering your name in the Rafflecopter form below and in the comment section below, you agree to these terms and conditions.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

From my Garden [Wordless Wednesday]

Another weekly blog meme I've been wanting to do for so long. But.. but..  WORDLESS Wednesday? That's going to be soooo hard not to type anything. See? I've messed up already. ;)

photo taken on iphone 4S

For more wordless wednesday posts, visit here.

Monday, September 23, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Happy Monday, everyone!

I've been thinking about participating in some weekly blog memes in hopes of sparking some blogging consistency on my part and this meme is one of them. It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly blog meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, the goal of which is for readers to share what they're reading, spark conversation and maybe expand our reading lists. There's usually a link up at Sheila's blog every Monday, but of course the first day I decide to join there isn't one. ;)

Sheila has been busy hosting a Reading to Beat the Band book event for Banned Book Week last week, so go check that out.

Now for the the books I'm reading this week. Normally I am a one book at a time kind of girl. Maybe two if one is a graphic novel and the other is a regular full length novel. But right now I find myself pages deep into not one, not two, not even three books but SIX! Who does that? Okay it's really more like five because I shouldn't be counting Anna Karenina if I haven't cracked it open in a few months already. Still, five is just ridiculous, but I couldn't seem to avoid it. I want to read all of these books yesterday.

1. Demon Forged by Meljean Brook (p.148) 
Guardians series, #5
The concluding book of this series that I LOVE so much came out in August so I am playing series catch up and LOVING it. I started reading Demon Forged within hours of finishing the previous book and I just can't put it down. So much is going on in this book's plot and the overall series arc, it's fantastic. Every single page is gripping! I have to tell you, it's going to take ALL of my resolve to read all the other books I've started reading already before reading the next book in the series. I don't know if I'll be able to do it!

2. A Study in Scarlet by Ian Edginton (p.11) 
This is a graphic novel adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes novel of the same title, of course. I've been on a graphic novel kick lately (I've recently read some really awesome ones, by the way..) and I picked this one up over the weekend. Would you believe I've never read a Sherlock Holmes story before? Have you?

3. Lady Susan by Jane Austen (maybe 10%?) 
I started reading this book in late August for the Austen in August book event hosted by Adam who blogs at Roof Beam Reader. I chose Lady Susan out of all of Jane Austen's books because it was the shortest in the collection I own, which I thought would increase my odds of reading an Austen book in Auguts, but alas, I still haven't finished it. Truthfully, I find it a little boring. Is that terrible? I'm determined to finish it though. Austen in September, perhaps?

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (p.67) 
I started reading this beloved classic (yes, for the first time!) in August while on vacation for the July read along hosted again by Adam at Roof Beam Reader. My high school freshman daughter is reading it right now in her English class so OF COURSE this would be the ideal time to finish it!

5. The Fault of Our Stars by John Green (p.1) 
This book topped my 'The Ones That Got Away' 2012 list which consisted of a handful of books published in 2012 that I really, REALLY wanted to read when they came out, but never did. It was my suggestion for September's book club pick and it is the one we are reading. Yay! So I MUST read this before the end of the month! Which uh... is any day now. Yikes! I have to read this book NOW. (I haven't really started this one yet..)

6. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (p.252) 
Okay, okay, I guess I'm not really reading this NOW if I haven't picked it up in months.. but my bookmark still sits at p.252, so I'll list it here once but won't re-list it again in future What Am I Reading? memes unless I am ACTUALLY reading it at the time. Fair?

So What are YOU reading right now?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Library Loot LXXII

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries! 

Hello friends, how is everyone?
Things have been busy around here.. when are they not, right? Anna's in her second week of high school now and we are already counting the days down to summer! Oh yes, we are having that much fun. It's actually not that bad.. I think overall she's just not one of those kids who likes school and so far she says she's not crazy about any of her teachers and she barely has friends in any of her classes. She only has time go to her locker at the beginning of the day, at lunch time and at the end of the day, so she has to carry a lot of her books and notebooks around all day and up and down flights of stairs. Hey, at least it's exercise, right? Tonight is back-to-school night for parents, so husband and I will walk through her schedule and meet all her teachers. Maybe leave a little mommy & daddy love note in her locker.

In other news, Maria came home last weekend! Yay! Those two weeks were the longest we've ever been apart since she was born (since I was pregnant with her?) but frankly she was more traumatized by the three weeks she had been apart from her boyfriend for the first time in 3.5 years. Oh how their love-priorities change so quickly yet a momma's love never does.. sigh. Her boyfriend, Nick came home this weekend, too (he goes to school in NYC), so we had to share her with him, but we'll take what we can get! Actually, Nick wanted to come hang out at our house so he could visit with us, too, which was very sweet.

I picked up a pretty neat mix of books at the library in the last week or so, including an art how-to book, some cookbooks, a health and nutrition book, several graphic novels, and one novel.
a stack of library books

nigellissima by Nigella Lawson
VB6 by Mark Bittman
One Zentangle A Day by Beckah Krahula

graphic novels: 
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle adapted by Peter B. Gillis
The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman
A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle adapted by Ian Edginton
Amulet: Prince of the Elves by Kazu Kibuishi
The Girl Who Owned A City by O.T. Nelson
One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

The last one is a re-loot from last year. Planning to read it for R.I.P. VIII along with The Sandman graphic novel.

I also picked up (on a separate trip) three other books:


Another cookbook and graphic novel:
What Katie Ate by Katie Quinn Davis (not pictured - this is a re-loot)
What's For Dinner by Curtis Stone
A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel adapted by Hope Larson

See anything interesting in my stack?

I've skimmed through all of the nonfiction already and read a couple of the graphic novels. If you have any questions about any of them, please ask!

What are you reading from your library right now?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

REVIEW: At Home in Stone Creek by Linda Lael Miller

Published in 2009 by Silhouette Books.

This is my September selection for the #TBRChallenge hosted by Wendy the Super Librarian. This month's theme is 'Western' and well.. I thought this was a western based on the title and cowboy hat on the cover, but it's actually a contemporary romance with no cowboys or even a ranch really. Well, the main character's brother runs a ranch but the story doesn't have anything to do with the ranch or ranch life at all.

Ashley O'Ballivan is one of the only single women left in Stone Creek. She's had two pretty serious flings with Jack McCall but he's up and left her and Stone Creek without a word to anyone not once, but twice! Lonely and pretty much broken hearted, Ashley is trying to find some happiness in a simple life by cooking, quilting and taking care of guests in her bed and breakfast. Well, maybe she's not getting many guests, but that better change soon if she's ever going to repay her brother's generous business loan.

After a very long dry spell of no customers, someone finally shows up to rent a room from Ashley ... and it's none other than Jack McCall. Jack actually arrives at her door in an ambulance after having been injected by a lethal toxin on a dangerous and secret assignment, but determined to recover in Stone Creek where he knew he'd find Ashley. Jack remains pretty secretive about his job and why he's walked out on Ashely in the past, but he keeps no secrets about how he loves her, 'always have, always will.' Ashely, in turn, has a soft spot for Jack and takes him into her bed and breakfast and into her bed without any hesitation. Her protective siblings want her to be happy, but no one seems to be thrilled with Jack showing up again, and rightly so if you ask me.

Jack's work quickly gets in the way of any progress between Jack and Ashley, and complicating things for everyone. Eventually these two get together and get their happily ever after but it sure did take a lot of let downs, heartaches and half baked excuses before they got there.

The premise of this story is very appealing--I really wanted to see Ashley and Jack solidify their love for each other and plan for a future together, but I felt none of that happened even though they did get their happily ever after by the end of the book. I understand the Silhouette line produces relatively shorter stories, so there's only so much page time for the characters, but still, I felt everything in Ashely and Jack's story was rushed. The worst part, I think, is that they never really discussed how hurtful it was every time Jack left Ashley for months and years at a time without warning, explanations or even an 'I love you' note. After being treated that way twice over several years, Ashley takes Jack back into her bed and into her heart so easily that she comes across reckless and even desperate. Although as I write this I wonder that perhaps Ashley takes Jack back into her heart and bed so quickly because she wants to experience something--anything close to a happy, loving life before someone else decides otherwise on her behalf! Why not forgive Jack for walking out on her twice before and take what she can from him while she can when her siblings and even Jack himself seem to make all the decisions in this book, know 'what's best for Ashley' and leave her practically a puppet in her own love story.

Overall this story is cute, but both Jack and Ashely's family were way too controlling over Ashley's life and way too quick to make decisions for her. Neither party really ever gave her the chance to express how she felt or what she wanted. On the other hand, Ashley was too soft hearted and forgiving when it came Jack and she really deserved better from him even right to the end. So a few too many disappointments in this one for me to strongly recommend it to other readers, unless you are a fan of the Stone Creek series.

It was okay, so 2 out of 3 stars on goodreads.


Do you read western romances? 
I have very, very few western romances on my shelves. If you had to recommend just one book to me, what would it be? 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

My 2nd NJ Gran Fondo

Hello everyone! Do you remember my super duper 107 mile Gran Fondo last year? Well I did the same event again this year last Sunday, September 8, 2013, but a shorter course. My friend and I decided over the winter that we'd do the Medio course this year instead so we wouldn't have to kill ourselves with all the training we'd need to do for the grueling full length Gran course. It turned out to be a really smart decision for us for a bunch of reasons, but most importantly because we really didn't have the opportunity to train much at all beyond our regular 20-40 mile rides once or twice a week. We each also put in solo 50 mile rides while the other was away on vacation, but that was pretty much it. We still did well, though!
At the start line, ready to roll!
The Medio course in the NJ Gran Fondo event was named one of "The 50 Best Rides in America" by Bicyling Magazine in 2012, so even though it was just under 63 miles [99 km], it's a pretty intense course with over 5200 ft. elevation gain-- a lot of climbing!

Speaking of climbing, the best part of the day for me, which was also the most difficult, was the first category 4 climb that always kicks my butt. The climb is about 2.4 miles long, but it's the last mile of the climb that's killer. It ranges from from 8% to 13% elevation for the entire last mile. Oh man, it's tough. The good part about this climb on Sunday was 1 - feeling so good mentally that I actually DID IT and 2 - the ego boost I got from passing the men who were walking their bikes up the hill! Oh I wanted to stop... but I didn't! Yay for me!!!

That climb is at the 24 mile mark of the course and by the time we got to the 45 mile mark or so, our legs were getting pretty tired from all the hills. But we were rock stars and finished strong with a total cycle time of 4:43:27.

My friend (and cycling partner) and I
at the finish line.
My lovely friend Mari, who is a fellow NJ blogger and athlete (go visit her blog.. she's got a Fondo post up, too!), saw my the photo to the left that I posted on instagram after picking up my race packet the Friday before and was inspired to join the Fondo at practically the last minute! She pulled her hybrid bike out of the garage (not a road bike), got it tuned up, bought herself a helmet and rode the entire Medio course on her own! Talk about inspiring, right? She's AMAZING! We were texting over the weekend and she found me at the start line where we had this cute photo of us snapped before we headed out onto the course. I took the liberty to spiff it up with some fun graphics to play tribute to her sense of adventure. ;)
Mari and I at start line!

What about you.. what kind of fitness adventures have you been on lately?

I'm linking this post up over at Joy Weese Moll's blog where she hosts a weekly blog meme for Readers' Workouts. Head on over and check it out.. it's a great way to stay connected, inspired and motivated with other bloggers (most of who happen to also love books and reading) who are working out for pleasure and health. All fitness levels are welcome!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

We will never forget..

Union County September 11 Memorial (NJ)
I rode my bike this morning to my county's September 11 Memorial which serves as a tribute to the 60 men and women from out county who perished in the tragic events of 9/11. Seeing these steel girders up close and being able to touch them and read the names of the people who perished never fails to move me to tears.

Close up of a steel girder from ground zero
at Union County September 11 Memorial (NJ)
Twelve years later, my heart still aches for the families who were shattered by this horrific event.

But they are not alone.. our entire nation and millions of people around the world stand with them and share their grief.

We will never forget.

United we stand.

Monday, September 9, 2013

First Day of School

Anna's first day of high school. :)
Finally the first day of school for my youngest, who started high school today! This is the first 'First Day of School' photo in which Anna poses alone. She has had her sister starting school on same day with her for the last nine years! On one hand I think Anna's pretty psyched to have the bathroom to herself.. but on the other hand, I think she misses her sister.

I can't believe I've got one off to college and now my baby is in high school! All these wonderful milestones for my girls which are really super fantastic, yet at the same time kind of suck for mom and dad. I'm not gonna lie.. I cried after dropping Anna off at school today. I know it will get easier with time and probably sooner than later, but in the meantime, I'm trying not think so much about how grown up and independent my girls are getting every day. Even though I know that's really a good thing.

If you've got kids back in school, how's it going for you?

For everyone, whether you have kids at all or not, what's your favorite school or office supply?

I love those little post it tabs. I sometimes use them to mark favorite quotes or passages in books I'm reading or recipes in magazines or cookbooks. So handy.

And have you seen the new white-out pens? They're not so new.. I bought one last year and they are the BEST! Not that anyone writes on paper a whole lot anymore.

Friday, September 6, 2013


This year marks the 8th annual R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril or R.I.P. reading event created and hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings. This year will be my 2nd year participating.

The purpose of R.I.P. is to enjoy books, movies or television shows that could be considered mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, gothic, horror, supernatural, etc. and to share your experience with others. Um. Like maybe reviews? I'll try.. ;)

R.I.P. VIII takes place from September 1, 2013 through October 31, 2013 and includes a read along of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I actually have this book on my shelves, but I'm not really in the frame of mind to tackle it just now (752 pages!) even though a read along would be a great motivator for this one! Instead I'm going to attempt to tackle this list of books that I've been wanting to read for sometime now, although I'll probably really get going on them in October when I'm more in the mood to read spooky stuff.

I'm aiming to read (and review!) at least four of these books and anything else that might grab me:

The Rose of Fire by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Joyland by Stephen King
Darkhouse by Karina Halle
The Devil's Metal by Karina Halle
Unnatural Creatures by Neil Gaiman

What do you think? Have you read any of these?

Want to join R.I.P.? You can even read just ONE book!

Sign up for the R.I.P. VIII event HERE on Carl's blog.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

REVIEW: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

first published in 1943
I first read Le Petit Prince in high school French class several decades ago and recall enjoying it very much. While my recollection of the story itself got very fuzzy over the years, the way it made me feel has always stuck with me... charmed, sentimental, sad, hopeful. I recently read a contemporary novel in which the female protagonist's favorite book was The Little Prince. She painted quotes from the book along the borders of her dining room walls and the book became a topic of conversation several times in the story, most significantly with her lover during which he speculated with whom she identified herself most--the fox or the rose. Of course, this promptly compelled me to re-read The Little Prince. I had no excuse not to revisit this French classic when I had a copy of the book in English on my bookshelf. So yesterday I read The Little Prince for the second time in my life, the first time in English.

If you haven't yet read The Little Prince, I urge you to do so. It's a classic story loved by readers all over the world, and because it's a short book under 100 pages, there really is no excuse not to read it and decide for yourself if it's worthy of its accolades. I adored the The Little Prince and love that it appeals to so many readers. There are important messages about love, relationships, give and take and not taking your family, friends and lovers for granted. The book is often considered a children's book and comes across as such in its whimsical way, but ultimately, I believe adults are its intended audience and its ultimate message is to remind adults not to get so lost in the material and superficial matters of consequence where we ultimately lose sight of what's really important in life.. matters of the heart. To quote the wise fox,
"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
My sentimental heart gives The Little Prince a five star rating, but I wonder if a large part of its charm comes from the affection I have for this book having read it in French as a young teen at a time when I probably enjoyed a book for the first time for its philosophical overtures in a foreign language, no less, and not because I truly think today that this book is perfect or near so. Still, the life lessons learned by both the Little Prince and the narrator in this book, and hopefully by readers as well, are truly timeless and invaluable, which maintain that The Little Prince is a true universal classic.

A sentimental 5 out of 5 stars.

On a side note, if you read up a bit on the life of the author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, you will see why Le Petit Prince is often considered an spiritual autobiography. I found it quite interesting.

Have you read The Little Prince?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

My oldest has left for college!

Can you believe it's September 1st?! Aside from the jet lag after our trip to Asia that sort of put us in a sleepy slow motion for a week or so there, the rest of August was a complete blur! From Japan to home, an evening in NYC with some book club friends, a couple of beach days, some bike rides, our 20th wedding anniversary, a weekend getaway for two to Boston, and getting Maria ready for college, it was one awesome month! Well.. the part about Maria going away to college is awesome for her..... not so much for mom and dad. I mean it is.. but you know. Our baby has flown out of the nest.

We helped Maria move into her college dorm yesterday. What a milestone! I'm so proud of her for so many reasons and excited for her as she stands at the cusp of this new life experience that will further shape her into the person she is meant to be. Then there's this other part of me that's crying NOOOoooooo! DON'T GO! Mostly I keep that one to myself, knowing that the time is right for her to go out on her own (more or less) and discover herself and the world around her. I just can't figure out how we got to this chapter in our story so darn fast and I'm trying to not to think that my job is more or less done. I know she'll still need us for quite some time .. both financially and for guidance and emotional support.. but it's kind of different now, you know?

Anyway, here's a fun video I made using the iphone app Flipagram that pretty much shows what August looked like through my eyes, squeezed into one minute and two seconds. Don't blink!

Hope you liked it. : )

How was your August? Any changes in your life this September? 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

twenty years...

My husband and I are celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary today.. :)

On our wedding day.. August 21, 1993
He stole my heart pretty much from Our First Date...
he's my lover, my best friend,
my co-pilot in this parenting stint,
my workout partner,
my travel companion
and the keeper of my heart. 

He truly is my prince from a far away land who swept me off my feet. 

I'm so lucky to be living happily ever after with this man.
Today on our 20th wedding anniverary.

I love you. xo

My apologies for the repetition to those of you who saw these same photos and sentiments on facebook or instagram earlier today.. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Library Loot LXXI

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries! 

I returned a whole bunch of library books before going on vacation, but as soon as we got home, I hit the library! I already had (have) several books on my reading queue right now, so I didn't get too many books. I didn't read much in July and because I've been doing some re-reading lately, I've fallen at least 10 books behind in my 2013 goodreads Reading Challenge to read 101 books by the end of the year. I really wish goodreads would allow us to count re-read books to our annual stats. I mean, I read the whole book again.. it should count! Anyway, to help me along a little bit, I decided to check out the graphic novel section for some quick reads. I was psyched to find some pretty awesome--and fairly grown-up-- newly released graphic novels at my library! Check it out:

Primates by Jim Ottaviani & Maris Wicks This one is a nonfiction book about three scientists who dedicated their research efforts to studying primates! Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas.

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation by Tim Hamilton So psyched about this one. I read and loved The Illustrated Man when I was maybe in 8th grade but never read Fahrenheit 451. I figured this was a great but sneaky way to catch up with this classic.

The Kite Runner Graphic Novel by Khaled Hosseini I know, I know... I should just read the full book. I even have it! My daughter read it this spring, loved it and implored me to read it, too. And I should. But when I saw the graphic novel I couldn't resist the temptation of a short cut.

The Pickled Pantry by Andrea Chesman Finally, as always I had to visit the cookbooks in the new book section where I found this delightful book on pickling. I'm planning on making at least one of the recipes and posting a review, but in the meantime, know that it is fabulous!

What do you have borrowed from your library?

Do you like pickles? Not just cucumbers.. pickled anything?!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Haru Cooking Class in Kyoto, Japan & other vacation food

This is the FOOD post that accompanies my Asian adventure travel post from the other day. It didn't turn out quite as exciting as I think I made it out to be, but I hope you enjoy the photos and bits of information about the food we ate in Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines. I'm going to mention the food on our trip in reverse order, starting with Japan and ending with the Philippines because I want to make sure the best part--the Japanese cooking class in Kyoto-- is at the top of this post.

As many of you know, I love food! Who doesn't? I love trying new foods and my favorite food next to treats and desserts is Indian and Thai. I really didn't know much about Japanese food before our trip other than the sushi, yakatori and yaki udon we typically order at local NJ sushi restaurants. I honestly just haven't put much thought or exploration into the cuisine before. Needless to say when my husband suggested a Japanese cooking class as part of our itinerary while in Japan, I jumped at the chance (He found it through TripAdvisor). I'm so glad I did, too, because The Haru Cooking class that we attended was absolutely the highlight of my culinary experience on our recent trip to Japan. The Haru Cooking class is hosted by a Japanese husband and wife team who have put together a small group cooking class right in their Kyoto home. The class size is limited to six people, so our group consisted of our family of four plus a couple also from the US.

Our host, Taro-san emailed us detailed instructions on which bus to take from Kyoto station and which stop to get off the bus. Taro-san met us at the bus stop at a predetermined time and we walked with him to his home from there. It was very easy. His adorable little daughter accompanied him and she immediately stole our hearts. Not only is she very cute and gregarious but I have to admit little girls speaking Japanese is one of the sweetest sounds! Honestly.

Once at Taro-san's house, we met his lovely wife who welcomed us into their home and served us cool drinks and snacks. The cold tea we were served was fire roasted tea. It had a fairly strong smokey scent, so the girls didn't like it so much, but Gabe and I found it appealing.

We spoke for a little while to get to know each other and then we promptly began learning about every day Japanese foods and cooking techniques, including Kobe beef which is extremely exclusive to a specific region of Japan and only very, very recently exported to a very, very small number of restaurants. I think only two in the US and only in the last 8 months. So basically if you think you've been served Kobe beef in the US, you weren't.

Taro-san also answered any questions we had about Japan and Japanese culture in general. Taro and his family were so lovely.. warm, welcoming and patient. And of course, the food was wonderful! I can't wait to try some of the recipes at home!

Here are some photos from our cooking class:
Haruko playing

Taro-san showing us how to make dashi
(Japanese broth used in everyday cooking)

Haruko inspecting the cooking students' work

Haruko looking up to Maria 

Haruko playing ball with her friend.
Plating up the food!

Our beautiful table!  "itadakimasu.."
[translation: "I gratefully receive.."]
Before eating, we put our hands in prayer position and balanced our chopsticks in the space between your thumbs and first fingers. Gently bow your head and say "itadakimasu" before eating. This translates to "I gratefully receive". Then enjoy! Slurping soups is a sign of a good meal and encouraged. :)

Hosting a cooking class is hard work! 

I loved the cooking class experience. Not just learning some basic Japanese cooking, but also the experience of meeting and dining with a Japanese family in their home. Just lovely.

Our other food experiences in Japan mostly include ramen, sushi, pastries and ice cream.

When we were in our cooking class, I asked Taro-san what the average Japanese person eats for breakfast. I was curious about this because the only places we found serving food at breakfast time were coffee shops serving a few pastries and convenience stores. Taro-san explained that most Japanese eat a simple meal of seasoned rice for breakfast, a bit of fermented vegetables (similar to kimchi) and on a good day, breakfast will include a little bit of cooked fish. We ended up frequenting a small coffee shop near our hotel for iced coffee, bagels and pastries, grabbing a yogurt at the convenience store a few times. I must admit that I think I ate a sweet red bean bun with coffee for breakfast every morning in Japan.

My standard Japanese breakfast:
red bean bun and coffee
While walking from bus stops to the different shrines, sometimes you find a really great cafe food or snacks from street vendors such as these...

Japanese Udon

Green tea ice cream! yum

goma dango (yummy!)
sweet glutinous rice ball with sesame seed and honey paste
I later saw these similar fun Japanese snacks while helping my daughter shop for gifts for her friends back home. I should have bought them when I saw them, because I didn't see them later when we were shopping for gifts.
hanami dango
Recognize them from the iphone emojis?
[Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/]

I only learned exactly what they were a couple of months ago myself, but it was fun seeing the real thing. They are hanami dango or sweet glutinous rice dumplings.  The green are flavored with green tea powder, the white are either plain, almond or vanilla flavored and the pink is either flavored with rose water essence or sakura, which is cherry blossom flavor. I really regret not buying a box! [740 ¥ is about $7.40 US]

One evening, my husband and I went to a sushi restaurant recommended by the couple with whom we took the Haru-Cooking class. It was one of those conveyor belt sushi restaurants - have you heard of those? The sushi chefs are in the middle of the room making different kinds sushi and they set them on little plates that go around a conveyor belt. When a plate comes by your table that you'd like, you just take it! You can also ask the chef to make something specific for you. Each plate costs 137 ¥ or around $1.37 or so and the end of the meal, the waitress counts up your plates and you pay. So easy! Except it was also easy to eat something you thought was raw fish and was really something else like I did. Oy. Anyway, I thought the sushi was just okay. Very plain. Next time we're in Japan we'll do some research ahead of time and try a different sushi restaurant with good recommendations.

Previously in Tokyo, we ate many of the same foods as in Kyoto.. lots of ramen, pastries and ice cream. On our first day in Tokyo we sampled some yummy food near the popular Sensoji shrine. my first snack food was a ningyo yaki (a pancake filled with sweetened red bean paste), which is popular in the street of vendors leading up to the Sensoji Shrine in Tokyo.
ningyo yaki in shape of bird

The inside of a lantern shaped
ningyo yaki
We also got ice cream cones in this street area. We tried chocolate & vanilla swirl, green tea & vanilla swirl, red bean and blueberry ice cream (we think!). Omg sooooo good! I liked the red bean best, but the green tea swirl comes in a very close second.

We scream for ice cream!
Sorry I cropped off our faces..  Anna is inadvertently making a funny face squinting in the sun and would be so mad if I posted that. ;)

We grabbed a quick lunch at a small restaurant where we ordered dishes of dumplings and ramen. In this restaurant, there's a vending machine when you walk in the restaurant where you place your order. You put your money in the machine, then press the button to select what you want to order and a little receipt pops out of the machine. Then you sit at a table and give the receipt to the waitress who brings it to the kitchen. Within minutes we had our food! Oh and by the way, ramen in Japan is nothing like the instant ramen soup you can buy in cups at the grocery store. In Japan, ramen is a big bowl of flavorful broth with thick udon or ramen noodles and assorted Japanese additions such as seaweed, other greens such as spinach, pickled plums, hard boiled egg, maybe sliced pork or even tofu. Very delicious and filling.

Oishi (delicious) Japanese Ramen!
..with seaweed, egg, pork, spinach and fish ball with swirl
We had lunch in the Museum Cafe at the Studio Ghibli Museum and were delighted when our dessert was served on a Totoro plate! It was delicious, too! We shared a delicious strawberry shortcake and a sponge cake with sweet red bean filling.
Strawberry shortacke on a JiJi plate!
[From the film "Kiki's Delivery Service"]
Sponge cake with read bean filling
on a Totoro plate!
[from the film "My Neighborhood Totoro"]
On our way back to Tokyo from the Ghibli Museum, we passed this quaint bakery at the Mitaka train station. I have to say the Japanese are excellent pastry chefs! Absolutely delectable pastries that could really give Paris bakeries a run for their money!
Adorable Bakery at Mitaka Station,  Japan
From the platform in Mitaka station, I spotted a little Italian Pizzeria. I would have loved to have tried pizza in Japan to see how it compared to New York pizza! What do you think?
Spotted a pizzeria in Mitaka, Japan
from the train platform.. 
As I mentioned in my previous post, there is a profusion of vending machines in Japan. They are everywhere! Very convenient and actually quite affordable, I think. You can find a good selection of cold teas, cold coffees, water, carbonated drinks, sometimes fruit juices and even beer!
Beverage vending machines are EVERYWHERE
in Japan. 
One evening we hunted down the world famous Sukiyabashi Jiro sushi restaurant in Ginza station, which is where you can supposedly find the world's best sushi. It is also the subject of the documentary "Jiro Loves Sushi."  We were tickled pink to find the restaurant and to have even caught a glimpse of Jiro himself!
Sukiyabashi Jiro

The highlight of our very limited and very brief culinary experience in Hong Kong was probably our hotel's continental and asian style breakfast buffet. The buffet was a cross of American and English breakfast foods and some Hong Kong dim sum foods. It was a great start to a busy day walking around the city and up Victoria Peak.

omelet and dim sum
at the YMCA Hong Kong
Of course, more ice cream!
Cooling off with ube ice cream
Ube is a purple yam or sweet potato and makes a delicious sweetened potato paste commonly used for desserts and snacks. It's also very common in the Philippines.

I also had my first taste of dragon fruit! Believe it or not, this was on the flight from Cebu City in the Philippines to Hong Kong. I loved it!

Have you ever had dragon fruit? I think it tasted like a softer, more mild kiwi fruit.
Would you agree?

My first dragon fruit!
Our first meal in Manila. Maria eating meat and rice for breakfast like a true Filipina! Would have been an even more authentic if she was using a fork and spoon. ;)

meat and rice for breakfast
 A sampling of Filipino foods for lunch. We were out to eat with Gabe's first cousin (who is the oldest in that cousin generation) and her lovely, lovely family. Her husband and their three grown children, daughter-in-law and their youngest child. It was wonderful meeting them for the first time and spending the day together.
Filipino lunch!
For dessert almost every day, we ordered a popular Philippine frozen dessert called halo-halo made with shaved ice, sweetened beans, ube and other jelly or jellos, sweetened cream and topped with ube ice cream and corn flakes. Sometimes sweet corn and chunks of flan are added. It was different from the way my mother-in-law used to make for us and not as good as hers either. But still delicious! I'm going to try to recreate my mother-in-laws version sometime this month.

halo-halo by the pool
One evening while out to dinner with some cousins (second cousins, actually), I tried a new-to-me main called sisig. It was really delicious. I don't know if I'd call myself an adventurous eater, but I do tend to agree to try foods before someone tells me what's in them. Too trusting, I know. Sisig is a dish that originated from a province called Pampanga because the US residents of Clark Airfield would discard parts of the pig they wouldn't eat such as the ears, cheeks and some inards. So the Filipino people came up with this recipe using those parts, finely chopped and served on a sizzling plate. Hmm. Well it tasted really good.. salty, fatty and delicious. I don't know it I'd intentionally eat it again, though.

Would you try sisig? 

Again for dessert we had more halo-halo and some leche flan. Why not? We're on vacation, after all. Again, neither was as good as my late mother-in-law's!
leche flan and more halo-halo
I mentioned in my vacation post the other day that the crew of our dolphin watching boat cooked for us right on the back of the boat during our time at sea. They grilled chicken and shrimp for us and we also brought along local bananas and steamed rice in these little pouches or baskets woven out of palm or banana leaves that they called 'hanging rice.' I wish I had a good picture of it, but you can see it in the lower left hand corner of this photo of my husband eating his lunch. We used forks at first then decided what the heck, it's easier to just eat with our hands. ;)

Lunch on the boat: grilled shrimp and chicken
"hanging rice"
and local bananas
On our last night in Dumaguete, we had dinner with my husband's cousin and her family. They had so much food prepared for us, but unfortunately I didn't take a single photo! This was the evening after we were at sea all day, so I think I was just so tired. Wait! I just asked my husband and he took ONE photo of dinner that night and of course I am in it with my eyes closed! However.. I am in the photo with Gabe's first cousin whom I met for the very first time and we totally hit it off, so I'm posting it even though I look silly. ;)
A feast prepared for us!
We ate rice, pancit, fresh lumpia, delicious pork adobo and a marinated salad. For dessert we had 'suman' and 'bud bud kabog.'

This is casava suman.
Bud bud kabog looks nearly identical.
Source:Wikipedia | Author: Obsidian_Soul 
Suman is sticky glutinous rice steamed with coconut milk wrapped in a banana leaf, which I've had before and is really tasty. Theirs was made with a bit of chocolate in it, too. This was my first time having 'bud bud kabog' and I loved it! It is sweetened millet steamed with coconut milk wrapped in a banana leaf. You unwrap the banana leaf and just eat the sweetened rice or millet on the inside. So yummy!

And so it appears I've wrapped up my post on our vacation food with a banana leaf! 

Haha I'm so punny. ; )
Hope you enjoyed it! If you have any questions about the food or our trip, please ask.