Tuesday, June 28, 2016

VALLEY OF TEMPLES, SICILY


  If you want to feel like you are truly far, far away, without leaving our galaxy, go to the Valley of Temples in Agrigento, Sicily. Talk about a step back in time! We’re talkin’ 2,500 years back. Most of the Greek temples in Sicily were destroyed as the island was conquered again and again, but somehow these seven temples escaped demolition. The combination of natural and man-made beauty, with the sheer enormity of the ruins surrounded by hills and valleys as far as you can see, well…. it’s almost too much to take in. But take it in anyway, because the experience will never leave you.

Standing amidst the giant remnants of Greek temples, built to honor the mythical rulers of Mt. Olympus, will imprint surreal images in your memory that could never be duplicated in photos. From the Temple to Hera Lacinia (Juno) to the Temple of Concordia (one of the best preserved Doric temples in the world), you’ll walk a path that will take you past burial sites, picturesque flora and fauna, fascinating statues like the horrifically beautiful one at left (serpent children???), and of course, more temple ruins. I thought it a bit ironic that the Temple of Hercules had suffered the most damage over the years.

As you walk, you may ponder the question that plagued me throughout the journey: How on earth did ancient peoples, with none of our modern technology, build these massive structures? And moreover, build them so well, they are still standing after 2,500 years of attacks from humans and the environment? Well, that’s another of life’s great mysteries. I’m just grateful that they exist and I had the opportunity to see them. I hope you do, too!   

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Anna Maria Island

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Just returned from an amazing, soul satisfying, week in Anna Maria Island, just off the coast of Sarasota, FL, where I stayed at the lovely Via Roma Beach Resort. You can fly into either Tampa International or Sarasota-Bradenton, but the latter is definitely easier (smaller and less crowded), as well as a shorter drive to the island. 

Anna Maria is as beautiful as it’s name, with long, uncrowded beaches edging most of it’s 7-mile length, and sunsets on the western side that will take your breath away. It’s definitely got that no-hurry-no-worry ambiance that you’ll find in the Keys. If you love nature and the ocean, this is the place to be. Leave your make-up and dressy clothes behind, and just immerse yourself in the Gulf. Go fishing, diving, or beachcombing. Take a dolphin watching catamaran tour or try parasailing. Flop down on the beach with a book, or just close your eyes and listen to the gulls. If you’re into photography, you’ll find no shortage of subjects, especially seabirds.
Just a short drive away are great places to visit, like Mote Marine Lab and Aquarium, and Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Love seafood? Try the Gulf Drive Café for beachside dining, or the super casual Starfish restaurant, where you’ll get delicious, fresh seafood in a box.

Oh, Anna Maria, I miss you already!  






Wednesday, May 4, 2016

SANTORINI

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SANTORINI, GREECE
I love the geological drama of Santorini, which may sound nerdy, but imagine a volcano eruption so massive it sunk half an island! Breathtaking Santorini, often high on the lists of most beautiful places in the world, was oval-shaped before the big eruption around 3,000 years ago. Now it’s a crescent, with whitewashed villages perched atop sheered cliffs. Getting to the top means taking a slightly harrowing bus or taxi ride up the narrow, winding, roads. Once there, prepare to be awed at the mind-blowing splendor of the island, and views that will leave you speechless. It was enough to cause Brad and Angelina to buy a cliff top house overlooking the sea in lovely Oia, the village from which many of those dramatic blue and white photos are taken (like mine, at left.) Oia is a photographer’s dream, but then again, from my perspective it would be anyone’s dream. The view of the sea and outlying islands is surreal enough to make the most pragmatic mind imagine mermaids lounging on the rocks. Meanwhile, the whitewashed houses, built into the cliff sides, certainly made me guilty of coveting.
 
Things to do in Santorini: Eat. Seriously. Some foods here cannot be found anywhere else, as Santorini’s unique climate and volcanic soil produces distinctive fruits and vegetables. If you like baklava - the crispy, sweet, nutty pastry that is paradise on a plate – order a piece at an open-air café, look out over the Aegean, and experience bliss. Try some wine, if you’re so inclined, as Santorini proclaims it makes the best in Greece.

Activities: Make sure you experience the sunset, best seen from Oia, or better yet, take a sunset cruise. Adventurous? Try the five-hour catamaran cruise, which includes hiking the volcano, swimming in the hot springs, exploring the shops and beaches of Thirassia (small island near Santorini) and swim, snorkel and eat lunch or dinner on board. Or try a half hour helicopter cruise.

Another option: just hang out and relax amidst all the wonder that is Santorini.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


CAMBODIA
The hiatus is over – time to start blogging again on travel and international cuisine, with a dash of book talk and something new: HOPE! Sometimes the ugliness in our world seems hopeless, but when determined people come together in love to help their fellow humans, miracles happen. So let’s start with Cambodia: the good, the bad…and the HOPE.

First, the good. Breathtaking beaches, temple ruins, lush jungles, fascinating wildlife, and cuisine bursting with flavor. Located in the southern portion of the Indochina peninsula, Cambodia provides an unforgettable travel experience. Visit Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, the largest religious monument in the world. It’s a great place to see the sunrise, but get there by 5:30 a.m. and expect a crowd. Dating back to the 11th century, Angkor Wat is now considered one of the Wonders f the World. Another temple in the area is Angkor Thom, with its entrance bridge flanked by 54 stone warriors. While in Siem Reap, try a meal at the New Hope Restaurant. Run by the former chef of a five-star hotel, this place serves as a trade school for those rescued from human trafficking. Love the beach?  Check out Koh Rong on the Gulf of Thailand for endless stretches of white sand, palms trees and turquoise waters.  Snorkelers will see an abundance of colorful marine creatures. For an otherworldly experience, visit Long Set Beach, also on Koh Rong, where you can swim at night amidst the phosphorescent glow of plankton.

Faith+Frogs=HOPE
Stunningly beautiful, Cambodia is still dealing with the aftermath of infamous former dictator, Pol Pot, whose communist regime destroyed more than a quarter of the population. Abject poverty is prolific here, as is disease, starvation and human trafficking. Enter Kone Kmeng, an organization started by a pastor who knew the miracle his country needed had to start with the children. So, long story short, Kone Kmeng equips churches with resources to educate kids and launch small businesses through micro loans and training. One of the most popular home-based businesses is FROG FARMS!  Frogs are cheap and multiply quickly. Families can eat what they need and sell the rest, which provides money for basic needs and school. For kids, an education lowers the risk of being trafficked, and greatly increases the chance of a brighter future.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ever just want a little romance…with your own spouse? A little alone time to remember you’re more than a parent, cook, carpooler, chef, and bringer home of “the bacon?” If any of that hits home, grab a copy of Madily in Love, the second book in author Lynda Lee Schab’s 3-book series about Madi Lee McCall, who just wants her kids to follow the rules, her mother-n-law to stop stealing, and her husband to sweep her off her feet. Is that too much to ask?

I’m proud to call Lynda my good friend and critique partner, and happy to have her visiting my blog today. She got her writing start in greeting cards and from there moved onto magazine articles and short stories. After winning several awards for her fiction manuscripts, Lynda signed her first fiction contract and the Madi series was born!

After meeting Lynda, leave a comment for a chance to win a Christmas ornament!

Writer’s often say they remember one particular piece of advice that helps them. What’s yours? That’s easy: Apply the Butt Glue and just write. In spite of my battle with discipline, that book won’t get written unless I park my behind in the chair and start typing. Even when I don’t feel like it. Even when I have a million other things to do. One of my favorite quotes on writing is “You can fix bad, but you can’t fix blank.”

Butt Glue—got it. Now that we know your secret, tell us what Madily in Love about. Madi McCall is just coming out of a marital rough patch (you’ll have to read Mind over Madi for that whole story) and she’s trying to get her marriage back on track. But that’s easier said than done, especially because her mother-in-law has moved in, Madi’s recently started working again after years of being a stay-at-home-mom, and her kids seem determined to do everything they can to turn her hair even grayer than it already is. Madi attends a “Revitalize Your Marriage with Romance” class at church and gets some great tips…that fail miserably. All she wants is some peace among the chaos. And some quality time with her husband would be nice, too.

Your publisher tagged this series as “Delightful. Witty. Entertaining. Real. Poignant. Light-hearted Women’s Fiction at its best.” Can you expand on that at all? How does the Madi Series live up to this description? While I certainly hope my stories are delightful, witty, entertaining, and poignant, the word in that description which I feel is most fitting of this series is, “real.” Women can relate to Madi because she battles with the same things we all do. No, not just chocolate, although that’s one of them! Madi has insecurities that affect her relationships – with her husband, her kids, her mother, her best friend, and God. If there’s one thing I know is that we all have “stuff.” Maybe not exactly the same stuff as everyone else, but “stuff,” nonetheless. Madi helps us realize there are others out there who probably deal with their issues just as poorly as we do sometimes. But God’s grace is enough to cover our insecurities, our faults, and weaknesses, even when we mess up and our lives feel insanely out-of-control.

What do you want readers to take away from reading Madily in Love? Although this book has to do with the importance (and fun) of adding romance to marriage, the main thing I hope readers can take away is that even though life seems unmanageable, disorderly, and chaotic, God is always in control. One of the recurring phrases throughout the book—as mentioned by Madi’s counselor—is “Embrace this place.” In other words, no matter what you’re going through, recognize that it won’t last forever. And down the road, you might just look back and see just how that “unbearable” season was essential in moving you to a place of growth and necessary change.
 
So what’s next for Madi Lee McCall? I am currently working on the 3rd and final book in the Madi series, due out in the fall of 2013. It’s titled Sylvie & Gold. Madi’s best friend Sylvie is preparing for her wedding (and if you’ve read Mind over Madi, you know who she’s marrying). With just a few weeks before the wedding, Sylvie is dealing with a lot: Her meddling and feisty soon-to-be mother-in-law, her son’s sexting issue, planning her mom’s sixtieth birthday party, and her fiance’s ex-wife, who has come back to town after a seven-year absence. Sylvie is normally pretty calm and collected. But her stress card is quickly getting maxed out. The question is whether she’ll completely lose her cool or find the happily-ever-after she longs for.

Since Taste the World readers are interested in travel, please tell us MIL is set and why you choose that location. The Madi series is set in South Haven, Michigan. I chose that location not only because it's a beachtown, set on the shore of Lake Michigan, but because the winters tend to be extreme, as well. In Mind over Madi, the heavy snow plays a big part of the storyline. Madily in Love is set in the summer, during a heatwave. The best of both worlds.
What are some of your favorite spots in Michigan? Despite Michigan's economic challenges, I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. Every season is beautiful and vivid. Traverse City is my favorite place to visit in the fall, when the changing leaves are at their peak. Mackinaw Island is wonderful in the summer, Holland is fun to visit in the spring, especially during Tulip Time, when the city is blooming with thousands of tulips. Being surrounded by water, there are plenty of beaches to choose from. And nothing quite tops a Lake Michigan sunset.
Do you have a recipe to share--something from the book, or just a family favorite? Well, Madi is not much of a cook. Takeout is her meal of choice, whether pizza or Chinese. But she does make a mean Mostaccioli, which you posted on your blog last year. This time, because of Madi's chocolate addiction, and because Christmas is right around the corner, I'll share a recipe that’s quick, easy and delicious. My family and friends beg for these every year. And because they're so easy to make -- and so good! -- I have no problem complying.

White Chocolate Clusters
(a.k.a. "Albino Reindeer Droppings")

Melt in microwave:
1 package White Chocolate CandyQuik
2 T. peanut butter

Stir in:
1 C. Rice Krispies
1 C. mini marshmallows
1 C. (or 6 oz) redskin or salted peanuts

Drop by teaspoonful on wax paper. Refrigerate until firm.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Falling in Love


How did you meet your spouse? The answer to that question is often stranger than fiction! Check out Falling in Love with You, a love story anthology compiled by Jennifer Wessner and Ramona Tucker, and read the story of how I met my husband. You'll also find many other crazy tales of how marriages came to be...sometimes against all odds. Here's the opening line to mine:

A cop once told me to listen to your instincts. The prickle crawling up your spine is sending you a message, and you better listen. As I pulled into the parking lot of my apartment complex, the prickle was shouting loud and clear. Danger. Evil. Drive away. But when I looked at the stranger walking aimlessly around the lot at 10:30 on an autumn night, I ignored the warning.

Don't worry -- the creep in the parking lot did not go on to become my husband. The guy who got my hand and heart comes along later in the story.

If Falling in Love with You sounds like a book worth reading, you can get it from amazon.com, oaktara.com, barnesandnoble.com, and many other booksellers. It was just released a couple of weeks ago by Christian publisher OakTara.

Since this blog is mostly dedicated to travel and recipes, I'll tell you that my story is set in a suburb of Chicago. Here in Illinois, we're famous for our corn, so I'm sharing one of my family's favorite recipes: corn casserole. You may have seen this before, but we add a secret ingredient to sweeten things up a bit.

Corn Casserole

1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup sour cream
1 egg
1 can whole kernel corn (16 oz.)
1 can creamed corn (16 oz.)
1 pkg. corn muffin mix (I use Jiffy, 8.5 oz.)
2 Tbs. sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix butter, sour cream, sugar and egg. Stir in both corns. Blend in dry muffin mix. Pour batter into a well-greased casserole dish (I use a shallow one). Bake for 1 hour until puffed up and golden brown so it's crispy on top. Don't underbake. This is meant to be soft and very moist inside. Great side dish!

Monday, October 1, 2012

BOOK CONTRACT!

It finally happened! When I returned Sept. 23rd from the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Conference in Dallas, I had a BOOK CONTRACT waiting in my email for Show Me a Sign, my young adult novel! Woo-hoo! For years I have ached for this moment, and you know what? It was just as good as I imagined! Now I can’t wait to hold that book in my hands…but wait I must. There is more work to be done…once I stop dancing.
 
Many thanks to Ramona Tucker of Oak Tara for taking my story and making a dream come true. I met Ramona last February at an ACFW chapter meeting, where she was the guest speaker. I seized the day by talking with her before and after the meeting, and she asked me to send her my manuscript.

Many thanks also to Patti Lacy, who entered my life as a friend and became a mentor and inspiration. And to Lynda Schab, who began as a critique partner and became a friend. To my family, who believed in me even when I didn’t, and mostly…

To my Savior, who loves me…despite everything.

THE BOOK: In Show Me a Sign, seventeen-year-old Nathan Boliva is under investigation by the FBI for a kidnapping he didn’t commit, but is desperate to solve. The victim, deaf and beautiful Haylie Summers, had just agreed to go on a date with him days before her disappearance. When the FBI finds evidence in Nathan’s backpack, they consider him a prime suspect. Determined to rescue Haylie, Nathan follows clues that soon have him staring down the barrel of the kidnapper’s gun. Plenty of drama mixed with bits of humor fill this action-packed story, which is told from Nathan’s and Haylie’s points of view.

I don’t have a release date yet, though I believe it will be sometime next year. I’ll keep you all posted. In the meantime, this announcement serves as the restart of my blog, which took a summer hiatus.

Now, for some unfinished business...

Congratulations to Karen Robbins who won The Four Ingredient Cookbook by commenting on my last post.