Book Review: Wedding Girl by Stacey Ballis

wedding girlEvery time I finish a book by Stacey Ballis, I want to do two things: cook something amazing (and then eat it, of course) and finally book that ticket to visit Chicago. That feeling continues with her new book, Wedding Girl.

Wedding Girl tells the story of Sophie Bernstein, a top pastry chef with a runaway groom. Sophie moves in with her grandmother, starts working at the neighborhood bakery, and in the process becomes an online wedding planner.

Wedding Girl is full of wonderful characters and vivid descriptions of Sophie’s culinary creations and her beloved Chicago. This was such a fun, light-hearted read that I couldn’t put down. Put it on your list of beach reads for this summer.

I received access to galleys of this book through the First to Read Program.

Snakes in a Rest Area

This is our fourth year going to the Rolex 24 in Daytona. Every year we do the same thing: we fly into the west coast of Florida to visit for a couple days and then head up I-4 to Daytona. And every year we stop at the same rest area, which has this sign:

snakes

For those of you who live in Florida and other parts of the country, this may be a normal thing for you. For this Jersey girl, it’s not. Add to the mix that snakes are in my top five fears. Maybe even top two. You would think that would stop me from getting out of the car. Nope. I stop and take a picture of this sign every year.

One of the great things about traveling is that you get to see things you wouldn’t see at home. Like snakes in a rest area.

Snow Jam 2016

This blog post was supposed be about my monster truck appetizer before we headed out to Daytona for the Rolex 24. But a winter storm with the same name as a trio of pop-singing brothers had other ideas and dropped more than two feet of snow on the area. So instead of some awesome photos of Grave Digger, you get this photo of our cars buried under feet of snow:

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Instead of the almost 1,500 horsepower that a monster truck generates, I give you the 8-horsepower beast that Matt used to clean our driveway. Here’s one from Saturday afternoon. I call it Man With Snowblower:

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Or this one from Sunday morning:

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But what will you get instead? A photo of the comb over on the front of our house:

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Is Simon LeBon Right?

My first “real” concert ever was Duran Duran in the eighth grade. God bless my mother, who took my brother and I to the then-Brendan Byrne Arena to see Simon, Nick, John, Roger, and Andy. I adored Duran Duran. I had pictures of Simon and John in my locker, and all their songs were on whatever was the 1980s equivalent of “Repeat.”

Thirty years later, there’s Duran Duran on CBS Sunday Morning this past weekend promoting their new album, and I’m embarrassingly giddy as a schoolgirl again.

Discussing the less-than-favorable reviews that Duran Duran got at the height of their success, Simon LeBon said, “The more girls we got kind of following the band, the more [critics] hated us.”

Hey! Wait! I was one of those girls.

It got me to thinking. Is there really any truth to Simon LeBon’s statement?

Because if he’s right, that means I may not be giving the music of  Justin Bieber and One Direction a fair shake?.But that can’t be right.

And if he’s wrong, that means Duran Duran was the New Kids on the Block or Backstreet Boys of my time. That definitely can’t be it.

Rather than actually face the answer to this question, I’m going to hop back into my bubble of 80s nostalgia and pop in my Duran Duran Greatest Hits CD. And maybe I’ll go out buy  their new album, Paper Gods. Rolling Stone said that if the album was “a debut from some upstart band, the buzz would be insane.”

These guys just can’t catch a break, can they?

 

Four Things I Learned at Book Con

In honor of the release of Mindy Kaling’s new book, Why Not Me? today,  here’s a recap of my trip to see her at Book Con in New York this past May.

I’d never been to a “Con” before,  but that all changed this past May. My “Con” of choice? Book Con, which is an extension of Book Expo America and has exhibits from publishers big and small as well as panels from authors. Book Con was quite a learning experience. Here are four things I learned:

1) “Con” means standing in long lines for long periods of time. I spent most of my day on some sort of line: the line outside the Javits Center before the doors open, the line to get wristbands for the panels, the lines to get into the panels, the line to the ladies’ room (because there were more females than males there), the line to buy books, and the line to have a book signed. When I walked around on the show floor, I got onto lines and had no idea what was at the end of them. But all of the line waiting proved to be worth it. (Side note: I learned the hard way that line buddies are imperative because they can hold your place in the panel line while you get in the restroom line.)

Mindy

Photo by Jen Thompson

2) Mindy Kaling has very rabid fans. I was just excited as everyone else on line to get inside to see Mindy and B.J. Novak (and in all honesty, to sit down because I had been on my feet for hours). I know there was much love for Mindy, but I wasn’t prepared for the rush when the doors opened. Everyone started running for the door. A few uncool people tried to jump the barriers. I ended up with a pretty good seat, and she proved yet again that I want to be her when I grow up (even though she’s about 10 years younger than me).

3) The future looks bright. A large percentage of the Book Con attendees were pre-teens and teens (and their parents) there to see John Green and Rainbow Rowell and so many other YA authors I’d never heard of. And they’d read all their books. Multiple times. That’s cool.

Nick and friends

Photo by Jen Thompson

4) Nick Offerman is awesome. He writes awesome books and was awesome enough to talk about them. And he brought his awesome friends (John Hodgman and Paul Rudd) with him. And he has an awesome laugh. And he sang awesome songs about his wife (who is also pretty awesome). And he was awesome enough to sign my book. It was awesome.

 

Happy Labor Day Weekend!

smoke

Happy Labor Day! The unofficial end of summer is here. Well, except for that heat wave we’re expecting the next couple days.

This year, we continued our five-year Labor Day tradition (OK, four out of five since we went to the Baltimore Grand Prix one of those year) of smoking meat. Lots of meat. Six pounds of brisket. Eight pounds of pork shoulder. Two racks of ribs. And three chicken breasts.

I know what you’re thinking. Jen, that’s a lot of meat for two people. Where’s my invitation to the BBQ? And usually we like to share. But after two days of prep and actual cooking, we keep the fruits of our labor for ourselves. Most of it will go straight into the freezer. So when there’s feet of snow on ground and we can’t remember what the backyard looks like, we can defrost a piece of summer for dinner.

So summer is coming to a close. By Tuesday or Wednesday, everyone will be back to school, and my commute will turn back into bumper-to-bumper traffic. Football is only a couple days away, and the temperatures will (eventually) turn cooler. Until next year, summer.

How I Spent My Summer (Vacation) in Watkins Glen

Everyone has a favorite place to be during the summer. Maybe it’s going to the beach or sitting by the pool. Or braving the lines at Disney World. For Matt and me, that place is Watkins Glen. So it’s no surprise that Matt and I spent most of our summer vacation at Watkins Glen (or driving to or from Watkins Glen).

To all you non-race fans out there, I know what you’re thinking (and thank you, non-race fans, for reading this far). We took the same trip three times. And yes, there are some similarities. There were cars racing. We watched from the same location (the Glen Club) with many of the same people. We took a lot of photos (most with that iconic blue guardrail in the background). And we had a couple beers at the Seneca Lodge each night.

But really, that’s where the similarities end. Below are the highlights and some photos from those three races. Click on the photos for a larger slideshow. And there will be more stories to come from our summer.

The one with all the rain (Six Hours at the Glen). One of the great things about sports cars is they race rain or shine. Which was a good thing for the Six Hours of the Glen. Because it rained. A lot. Rain can make for good racing. It can also make for messy conditions, including ponds (probably more like lakes) in the turns. But these are race car drivers, and this is what they do. Somehow they powered through six hours of racing in the rain. And we watched the whole thing from the comfort (and dry) of the Glen Club. (We did leave for at least a couple minutes to snap some photo because race cars in the rain are pretty.)

The one with all the old cars (U.S. Vintage Grand Prix). While the Six Hours at the Glen was all about the driver, the U.S. Vintage Grand Prix was all about the car.  Really old cars, kind of old cars. Really fast cars, kind of fast cars. Retired race cars—an Audi prototype, Indy cars, stock cars. Plenty of eye candy, which made for a great weekend of shooting. An added bonus—Jaguar’s autocross course in the infield. So I got an exhilarating, hold-onto-the-f*&%ing-handle ride in a 2016 F-Type with former F1 and Indy Car driver Roberto Moreno. So maybe it was a little bit about the driver.

The one with all the people (Cheez It 355 at the Glen). With fans camping all throughout the track’s property, Watkins Glen turns into a mini-city for the NASCAR weekend. The infield is this crazy combination of people, with fans, crews, and drivers all within close proximity of each other. It’s where a walk through the camping area for some people watching is mandatory. It’s where you can see Jimmie Johnson out for a run or tell Bill Elliott he’s got one hell of a son there. Oh, and there’s some racing too. Some of the best NASCAR racing of the season.

See you again next summer, Watkins Glen!

VDG Treks to Fenway Park

There was all kinds of traffic heading up to Massachusetts, which allowed VDG to check out the scenery ...

There was all kinds of traffic heading up to Massachusetts, which allowed VDG to check out the scenery …

... including the progress on the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

… including the progress on the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

But he was rewarded at the end of the long trip with a visit to the 99.

But he was rewarded at the end of the long trip with a visit to the 99.

Saturday night, VDG took in one of Matt's old haunts.

Saturday night, VDG checked out a couple of Matt’s old haunts in Lowell.

But he was up and ready on Sunday morning for first trip on the T to Fenway Park.

But he was up and ready on Sunday morning for first train trip to Fenway Park.

VDG's first look at Fenway.

VDG’s first look at Fenway.

But first, a Green Monsta at the local bar.

But first, a Green Monsta at the local bar.

Finally made it to Fenway! Hopefully the Red Sox will win next time.

Finally made it to Fenway! Hopefully the Red Sox will win next time.

VDG Explores the Six Hours at the Glen

During the almost 11 years that Matt and I have been together, I’ve considered us to be explorers, going to new places and trying new things. We’ve now added a new member to our posse—meet Vasco de Gama, or as we’ve come to call him VDG.

VDG made his maiden voyage a couple weekend ago to the Six Hours at the Glen. Here’s what he  discovered.

VDG Bullfrog

An overnight stop in Williamsport on the way to Watkins Glen means a a beverage or two at the Bullfrog Brewery. VDG wants to know more about how the beer is made.

VDG fence watching

The weather forecast made it clear that Friday was going to be a very rainy weekend. VDG made the most of the sunny day and took in the sights from the fence at the off-camber.

VDG twins

VDG checks in with his good friend, Mr. Bib.

VDG hiding from rain

VDG hides from the rain for the rest of the weekend.

VDG eye on the prize

VDG keeps his eye on the prize.

VDG Seneca

Rain or shine, VDG enjoyed a beverage or two at the Seneca Lodge and took in the racing history. He enjoyed himself so much one night …

... he ended up howlin' at the moon.

… he ended up howlin’ at the moon.

Reality Bites

AGTAmerica’s Got Talent returns this week to NBC. In its tenth season, it’s become a summer staple in our house.

When Howard Stern joined  the judging panel three seasons ago, the live elimination shows were moved to the East Coast to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. Matt and I took full advantage of the show being only a half hour from home, and we went to two live tapings. Except for one act that had to be pre-taped because of a complex set-up, what happened in front of us was exactly what was being broadcast on TV at home.

This past March, AGT was back at NJPAC to tape auditions for season 10. Matt and I headed into a slushy Newark for one of the tapings.

Everyone was settled into their seats, and the anticipation started growing. But before we got even a glimpse of Howard, Heidi, Mel B., and Howie, we spent a half hour taping crowd reaction shots that would be cut into the auditions during editing.

“OK, everybody! Stand up and applaud!”

“Alright. We need you all to look surprised!”

“How about some laughter?”

“Now we need to you look horrified!”

“Stand up and cheer!”

Matt looked around in disbelief as everyone pretended for the camera. It was as if he found out there was no Santa.

So much for reality television.

P.S. Heidi Klum has the longest legs I’ve ever seen.