Friday, April 21, 2017

Dream Author Panel

Have you ever dreamed about meeting some of your favorite authors? Or thought about how amazing it would be to hear them speak about their books, characters and life in person? I think about this ALL the time when I’m reading a book by an author that I really love.

Recently, I was inspired by Eventbrite to come up with a dream author panel. No limitations – if I could put anyone together in a room, who would it be? Sign me up.

Eventbrite has a great tool on their website to help anyone plan and execute events in their local areas. With an awesome tool like this, maybe some of these dream author panels really can come true!

I thought a lot about who I would want on this panel and it was not an easy choice. I finally decided though that if I had this ONE shot, I would want to see a panel full of bad-ass female authors. Remember, there are no limitations with this so, it’s really not a lot that I’m asking for some of these authors to come back to life for this event.

Here are my choices:

Virginia Woolf

Woolf is one of my absolute most favorite female authors of all-time. She was such a free-thinking, influential author of her time that I just can’t help but be inspired by her. To imagine hearing this woman who gave us the quote, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” in person…I would not be able to contain my excitement.

Margaret Mitchell

Mitchell is not quite the same feminist powerhouse that these other authors are but I couldn’t leave her out of this. Gone With the Wind is my favorite book and I would love to see her in the company of these other powerful women. Mitchell was much more understated in her rebellion and dealt with a lot of struggles in her short life, including spousal abuse. I believe, that rather than incorporate feminist themes in her work, she preferred to offer a more romantic view of life and love to fill those gaps she had in her own life.

Jane Austen

It’s hard sometimes to remember that Austen was writing novels during the late 1700’s. She consistently pushed the boundaries with strong female characters who challenged the social and economic status of women. It’s not surprising that her characters, themes and messages have stood the test of time and ring true still to this day.

Toni Morrison

There is no denying Morrison’s influence as an author. She wrote novels with complex, rich characters and deep, meaningful themes. There’s also no doubt that she is a strong, opinionated woman. However, she is careful to somewhat distance herself from the term feminism and offered up a different view on her writing when she said “In order to be as free as I possibly can, in my own imagination, I can't take positions that are closed. Everything I've ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it, to open doors, sometimes, not even closing the book – leaving the endings open for reinterpretation, revisitation, a little ambiguity."

Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale is one of Atwood’s most popular novels and due to the recent social and political climate in America, it’s been making a resurgence. Atwood consistently portrays female characters in her novels that are held down by an overpowering patriarchal society. However, it appears that Atwood prefers to take a more “realistic” approach to her world than a feminist one. Regardless of how you coin her, Atwood absolutely tackles gender and societal issues and would be incredible alongside these other writers.

Who would be on YOUR dream author panel? I want to know!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Guest Blogger - Nathaniel Danes

We have a special guest on the blog today - author Nathaniel Danes talking about his new book, BattleMaster. The book's release is April 20, 2017: BattleMaster, military science fiction. Book one of The BattleMaster Corps Trilogy. 

Nathaniel Danes is a self-diagnosed sci-fi junkie and, according to his wife, has an over active imagination. Mostly blind, he writes to create universes where he has no limitations. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Washington, DC area.

His eyes shifted toward his own line. That’s when he saw her, saw the BattleMaster. The twin moons stood at her back, illuminating her presence with a mystical glow. She was alone on the ridge but not for long.
Eight machines-of-war, battle-drones, emerged along her side. Half were small tracked vehicles with twin fifty-calibers and rocket launchers on a turret. The rest looked like six-legged spiders with a ball-shaped laser cannon and mortar tube on top.
She flung her arms forward and her minions erupted.

Check out what he has to say about his inspriation for this book!

Seeds of Imagination

            I can't speak for any author other than myself but I find the world ripe with seemingly insignificant scraps of information begging to be nurtured, grown into a story. I look at my ordinary life with the goal of finding hidden adventure.
            I'm low vision, functionally blind in most situations. As you can guess, my degrading retinas restrict what I can do in the real world. I love skiing, scuba diving, and a host of other activities I can no longer do, or do how I want to do them. This fighting retreat has been the story of my life since being medically discharge from the Army at the old age of seventeen, following my diagnosis.
            Simply put, I can't live the life I want to so my imagination has become my keep. My final impenetrable stronghold, impervious to the ravages of my affliction. I can go anywhere and do anything. It's an escape I utilize regularly.
            Maybe it's just me because my mind is so desperate for new material to chew on but I'll grad ahold of a minor piece of information and build an entire universe around it. That's how my latest novel, BattleMaster was born.
            Several years ago I saw a short segment on TV about the US Air Force's experiments with craft controlled by a pilot's brainwaves. The pilots were hooked up to simulators but the results were still very interesting. A female subject remarked that initial findings suggested women were better at this method of operation.
            The seed had been planted.
            That fact whispered in my ear for years and I combined it with others I picked up. Such as, knowledge the female brain is wired to maximize multitasking while males are superior at focusing on a single objective. Both have their advantages and are likely a result of survival demands Datong back millennia. Men hunting and providing protection while woman cared for the young and performed any number of important tasks.
            These two bits of information are what formed the roots of BattleMaster. I asked myself, if women are better at multitasking and the future of warfare is drone based, wouldn't they one day reign supreme on the battlefield? My imagination went from there and the story blossomed until it found its way to the page. 
            So, pay attention to the world around you. Seeds of imagination are adrift everywhere. 

Author Links:

Book Links:

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

VA Wine Expo 2017

I can't believe that I'm writing this already but - the VA Wine Expo has already happened. Everything that I was looking forward to for so long all came true this past Saturday.

For a wine lover, there really isn't a more amazing place to be than this event. I mean, there are over 650 different wines available to taste during this expo - that is insane! Obviously, it's impossible to taste all 650 wines but you sure can try to get close.

For me, this year was especially exciting because the International guest region for the expo was Spain and Portugal. Some of my most absolute favorite varietals come from Spain and I literally COULD NOT WAIT to try to some new ones.

Of course, the main event is all of the amazing Virginia wineries that come to the event and showcase their delicious wines. One of my favorite things about the expo is that there are often some Virginia wineries that we haven't gotten a chance to try either in person or at another festival. It's also a great opportunity to purchase some bottles from some of those wineries that don't distribute and are a little bit of a drive from home.

There were a few Virginia wineries on my list for this year that I had never tried such as Notaviva, 90+ Cellars, Whitebarrel, Gabriele Rausse, Castle Glen and Cunningham Creek. Don't worry - I'll be featuring some of these wineries in future posts so you can learn all about them. I have to admit that I did not make it to all of these tables - it was a long day y'all. And, it became glaringly obvious that I am not as young as I used to be. Day drinking is ROUGH.

Before you feel too bad for me that I didn't make it to all the wineries I wanted to, let me explain. First of all - we got the VIP tickets which got us in at 10am. You guys...we were drinking at 10am. That is craziness. Also, as I mentioned, I was SUPER excited for all the Spanish wines that were going to be at the expo this year. To me, these tables really were the shining star of our day.

We could not stop visiting all of the tables with the wonderful Spanish flags hanging behind them. We just kept tasting amazing wine after amazing wine. There was such a great variety and SO MANY BUBBLES. We had some delicious sparkling Rose's and Cavas. There was Garnacha, Tempranillo and Monastrell. It was just glorious.

If you get the chance to come to Virginia and attend the VA Wine Expo - do it. It's a day you (probably) won't forget.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Wine Expo Is Coming!

One of my favorite days of the year is almost here and I’m so excited. The Virginia Wine Expo is happening THIS WEEKEND!

Last year was the first time I had been and let’s just say – I was hooked. You’ve never seen so many wineries all in one place. It’s fabulous. It’s mostly Virginia wineries but each year they have a special “featured region” that they celebrate. When I saw what the region would be for this year’s expo, I could barely contain myself.

They are featuring Spain!

Spain is my absolute most favorite wine region around and they produce some of the tastiest varietals. Needless to say I am really looking forward to tasting some delicious new Spanish wines.

In preparation of our visit to the expo this year, I went onto their website to peruse the list of Virginia wineries that would be in attendance. While the tasting is an all-day event, there’s still always too many wineries to hit all of them. So, it’s important to prioritize.

I tend to gravitate towards wineries that I have never heard of, been to or seen at other festivals around Virginia. This year, there are 7 wineries that have made the top of my list as “must tastes” this year.

Castle Glen
Cunningham Creek
Gabriele Rausse

90+ Cellars

Of course we will make it to more than these 7 booths but these are at the top of my priority list!

Another fun thing that I’m debating for the expo this year is something that I saw some people with at the event last year. Pretzel necklaces! I thought this was the coolest idea. When you are wine tasting ALL DAY, sustenance is so important if you are actually going to still be standing when the day is over. This might be just the ticket to keep us going in between food vendors!

I can’t wait to share all of my adventures at the expo with all of you so stay tuned!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Let's Celebrate - Read Across America Day

I love all of these fun National Holidays – especially ones that celebrate books and reading. I was so lucky to be raised in a household that loved and encouraged reading. I think it is so important, especially in today’s tech-driven world, to encourage kids to read. Reading is such a great habit and hobby to have in your life!

Read Across America Day was started by the National Education Association in conjunction with their Read Across America initiative. Read Across America Day is always celebrated on March 2nd – Dr. Seuss’s birthday! This holiday is meant to motivate and encourage children from every community across America to celebrate reading. The first Read Across America Day happened back in 1998.

“Ok”, you say, “I’m in – how do I celebrate?”

Well, it’s pretty simple. All you have to do is pick up a book and read! It’s even better if you have children in your lives that you can read with to celebrate this day. If you are into the social media thing then make sure you share your reading adventures with #ReadAcrossAmericaDay or #DrSeussDay.

If you really want to go all out for this fun holiday, I’ve got a couple ideas to share. Since this is also Dr. Seuss’s birthday – make the whole day Dr. Seuss themed! Cook up some green eggs and ham for dinner. Have craft time with your kiddos and make some cute Cat in the Hat cardboard hats. After dinner, sit down and read together.

Another fun idea to keep the reading celebration going all month – or all year -  is to do some reading challenges. These are great for kids and adults alike!

  • -          Hot Fudge Sundae Challenge: challenge yourself or your kids to read a certain number of food themed books. If they complete the challenge – take them out for ice cream!

  • -          Read Your Bookshelf Challenge: if you are anything like me, you have a number of books on your shelves that you’ve never read. There’s no good reason for this, it’s just how it is. Make it a point to finally read those books! Reward yourself with a trip to the bookstore for a new find.

  • -          Book Club: Start a book club with some of your friends or with your family. Make a night out of it once a month and do pizza (and wine for the adults!) and talk about the book. If you do this with your family, let your kids pick out some of the books that you all will read.

No matter how you celebrate – JUST KEEP READING!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Mardi Gras Wines

Happy Mardi Gras everyone! I love this holiday because it falls during the perfect time of year where we all really need a little celebration. This is that long period of time on the calendar once New Year’s is over that we have to make it all the way to Memorial Day for another holiday off work.
It doesn’t matter that Mardi Gras is on a Tuesday – you can still celebrate!

Here’s a couple of my favorite festive Mardi Gras wines for your party tonight. Even if it’s just a party of one.

Fat Bastard Syrah

This wine may not be called “Fat Tuesday” but it’s close enough! One of the most popular Mardi Gras dishes is Gumbo and this wine pairs perfectly. It’s a flavor-packed, fun Cajun dish that’s sure to complete your festive evening. This dish is traditionally spicy so you want something that can hold up to those heavy, complex flavors and not overwhelm your tastebuds. This Shiraz is just the ticket.

Marques de Monistrol Semi Seco Cava

Another traditional Mardi Gras treat is the King Cake. If you pick one of these up (or make one of your own) for your festivities, you’ll want something a bit sweet and definitely sparkling that can hold up to the sweetness of this dessert. Any sweeter, sparkling wine will do but be sure to avoid any of them that have Brut in their name. Those are typically drier and don’t pair as well with sweet dessert.

Honoro Vera Garnacha

One of my favorite varietals is Garnacha and it also happens to be a perfect Mardi Gras wine. This Garnacha specifically is easy-drinking and fresh and should pair nicely with pretty much any dish you end up serving tonight. And really, you can’t be the price on this one!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Cider and Girl Scout Cookies with Buskey!

Do you guys remember that time last year when I did a wine and Girl Scout cookie pairing party? It was awesome. It was also just a really great excuse to eat Girl Scout cookies. “We are PAIRING the cookies with wine. It’s fancy”.

Well, when I saw that Buskey Cider was hosting an evening where they paired their delicious ciders with Girl Scout cookies, I knew that I wanted in on the action.

Buskey Cider opened in April of 2016 in historic Scott’s Addition in Richmond. It’s ridiculously close to where I live and I was ridiculously excited to hear that FINALLY a cidery was opening in the same neighborhood that is home to quite a few craft breweries.

When the hubs and I showed up for the event, we got to spend a little bit of time with Will, the owner. It was really cool to get to hear him tell a bit about his story and why he loves what he does. Richmond itself is rich with history and Scott’s Addition is no different. Buskey laid down its roots in a cool old train car building. When speaking to Will, his desire for both preserving and highlighting that history while at the same time making something new was apparent.

Of course, I had to find out a little something about the name “Buskey”. It’s obviously a name with a story behind it. Much like Richmond, Buskey comes with a bit of history. Apparently back in the days of Ben Franklin, he and his friends used the term “buskey” to describe the tipsy feeling you get after drinking a few too many pints of – you guessed it – hard cider. How can you not love this?!

The cider tasting with the cookies was fun but I learned some stuff too! I had no idea that the cider making process was so similar to the wine making process. I feel like this is absolutely the reason why I love both wine and cider. Cider is a really cool sort of hybrid between beer and wine and makes itself a nice little home in the middle. Buskey does some fun things with their ciders. They aim for a semisweet to dry cider but love experimenting with different flavor combinations and techniques, like Randalling.


I hear you. Now that you’ve gotten your education – let’s talk delicious pairings.

First – let me give a shout out to Troop 4905 for providing the cookies for the event. FANTASTIC collaboration here y’all!

Thin Mints with Nitro Coffee Cider

I love me a Thin Mint cookie. I mean, who doesn’t really? They paired this with their Nitro Coffee Cider which is literally exactly what it sounds like. It’s a cider that tastes like coffee. I’m going to be honest here, this one threw me for a loop. Don’t get me wrong – the cider was not bad. It just played tricks with my mind. I tasted coffee but it was cider at the same time. The cookie was good with it too but I had a hard time moving past the brain games on this one.

Peanut Butter Patties with Cascade Hopped Cider

Next up – my favorite cookie! God I love peanut butter and chocolate. Because I don’t like beer, I typically shy away from anything that says “hopped”. This cider was delicious though. You got all the sweetness from the hops and none of the bitterness that you get in a beer. Peanut butter is usually pretty hard to pair up too but this worked very nicely.

Caramel Delights with Belgian Candi Cider

What about this pairing does not scream AMAZING? Just the words alone are awesome. This did not disappoint. The cider was semisweet and just rich and full of flavor. When you paired the caramel delight with this one – match made in heaven y’all. I could have eaten a whole box with a pint or two of this cider.

Lemonades with RVA Cider

OK, first of all, this was a new cookie for me and holy crap. It was so good. They paired this one up with Buskey’s traditional RVA Cider. I love this cider because it’s not fussy or fancy. It’s just a great, refreshing cider. It can literally quench your thirst. Paired up with this cookie was sweet, perfect harmony and possibly my favorite pairing of the evening. Jury is still out because I loved that Belgian too so I may have to go back for round 2 – just to be sure.

Shortbreads with Cranberry Basil Cider

The shortbread cookie is such a clean classic and Buskey had just the cider to pair with it. The Cranberry Basil is a great example of how they like to play with fun flavor combinations. The cranberry and basil flavors really shone through but weren’t too overpowering. The perfect balance. You could seriously serve this cider with Thanksgiving dinner and it would be a perfect match. Much like the shortbread cookie was!

As you can tell, I had a really hard time deciding which was my favorite. I walked around the event and polled some of the other attendees and the results were pretty unanimous. Everyone really loved the Caramel Delight with the Belgian Candi but an equal amount of people were super passionate about the Lemonades with the RVA Cider. These people all had great taste, obviously!

There’s nothing left to do but go grab some boxes of cookies and head back to Buskey for a final determination! Or maybe that’s just an excuse to go back for some great cider.