John Green, Libraries and The Fault in Our Stars

Earlier this year, I got to attend the American Library Association’s Midwinter convention in Dallas. Not only was it an awesome opportunity to connect with publishers and score some books that I was super-excited about, but the keynote speaker was one I couldn’t miss: John Green.

If you don’t know John from his amazing novels (Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns, just to name a few) you might know him from the Vlog Brothers YouTube channel, where he and his brother Hank send each other weekly updates. It’s really great.

John is known for his social media prowess and he spent some time during his address to a room full of librarians discussing the merits of social media and how they can use social media communities to impact the lives of youth who frequent their libraries.

It was a really interesting lecture, and I’m so glad I got to attend. Here are some of my favorite quotes from John during the address, which I tweeted:

“I like talking about stuff I find interesting with people I find interesting. That’s what digital media is about.”

“People are building real life connections in real places online.”

“We can use online communities to respond quickly and efficiently to the kinds of projects that get us excited.”

“Now we can have these much more meaningful connections with people who live much differently than us.”

“Libraries help people toward answering the overwhelming question of what we are going to do with our human lives.”

“One of the things I love about books is you can’t do anything else while reading. It’s the last thing you can’t multitask.”

“I like writing for teenagers because I find them interesting. But not in a creepy way.”

“They’re going thru things for the 1st time: falling in love for the 1st time. They’re experiencing loss for the 1st time.”

“This story (The Fault in Our Stars) is the one I wanted to tell. And I kept coming back to it.”

 After the keynote, John signed copies of his new book, The Fault in Our Stars, and, of course, I scored a copy for one of you!

Enter using the Rafflecopter form below. 

Contest open to US and Canada only. Must be 13 years or older to enter.


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Contest Ends 4/5. Good luck!


What You Should Read Next After The Hunger Games

Were you one of the thousands of Hunger Games fans who piled into theaters last weekend to catch a glimpse of Katniss and the Boy with the Bread?

Yeah, me too. In fact, I went to see the movie twice in one day. Can I say how much I LOVED it? J-Lawrence, you’re my favorite. But I digress.

Now that we have to wait a WHOLE YEAR for the next installment (and since Hunger Games fever is sweeping the globe), everyone is wondering what to read now. I’m a huge fan of dystopian stories and have a few favorites that have held up to Hunger Games standards. I thought I’d share a few of my favorites with you!

 

1. Divergent by Veronica Roth

 

Divergent by Veronica Roth tops my list. This fast-paced novel, set in a futuristic Chicago, had me flying through the pages just like the first HG installment.

Tris is a kick-butt heroine who has to make a difficult choice and discover who she is. She also has the deep ties to family that were a huge part of Katniss’ character.

But that’s where the similarities stop. Katniss kind of fell into her dispute with The Capitol… Tris faces her rebellion head-on. She knows how her actions will play out throughout the novel and that she’s fighting a dangerous battle. She doesn’t back down. She doesn’t try to figure a way out of it. She just moves forward.

She also has a dark secret, which makes the story that much more intriguing.

The sequel, Insurgent, will be released in May. This is definitely one you should check out!

Full review here!

2. The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal

 

This is not a dystopian story… it’s a fantasy, with magic and wizards and kings and queens. But the political intrigue is just as good, if not better, than that of Panem. I mean, a girl who’s raised to think she’s the princess, then suddenly finds out she’s a commoner?

And there’s a twist at the end that will leave you roiling in your seat. It’s THAT good.

I’ve heard it described at the Game of Thrones for younger generations…and I can see that. It’s a great, quick read that will make you wonder what could possibly happen next.

 

3. Graceling by Kristin Cashore

No one kicks butt like Katsa… except maybe Katniss. This is another fantasy, but don’t let that turn you away.

There’s plenty of political intrigue and self-discovery in this story, too.

Katsa is “graced” with killing and is forced to become the king’s assassin. When she decides to put her abilities to better use, she embarks on a quest that will have you turning the pages as quickly as possible to find out what happens next.

Oh, and Po! Dear Po. He rivals Peeta as best boy who wishes he wasn’t in the friend zone.

The highly-anticipated sequel, Bitterblue, comes out in May.

 

If you read any of these fun stories, let me know what you think! And if you have any to add to the list, leave them in the comments!

Verizon Wireless: Getting Started with Android Workshop!

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I’ve had the Droid RAZR and Droid XYBOARD for a while now, and have been doing my best to figure out their functionality on my own. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of utilizing their potential, especially coming from iOS devices.

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But when Verizon Wireless challenged me to attend one of their in-store workshops on getting the most out of your Android device, I gladly accepted. I signed up for the Getting Started with Android Workshop at a local store, and prepared myself for a two-hour lecture on things I thought I already knew.

Boy was I ever wrong.

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Our instructor, Brianna, was very knowledgable. She took time to answer questions as we went along. We started by discussing the Google Android Operating System and how it is Open Source, unlike Apple’s iOS. Brianna shared the benefits of that, along with the drawbacks (like how ANYONE can develop an App, so you have to be careful what you download).

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She then walked us through the different gestures associated with using a touch-screen Smart phone. There were several attendees in the class who said this was their first Smart phone.

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We learned how to utilize Android’s AWESOME voice dial and text-to-speech functionality. That in itself deserves its own post.

We also learned how to set up speed dial, walked through the Phone icon on our devices, discussed text messaging and even explored the Google Play Store to download some free apps. Brianna recommended the Zedge app to download and personalize free ringtones.

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While the class was very basic and I already knew how to do a lot of the things we discussed, there were several new things I learned!

Did you know you can set up a contact in the Droid RAZR that will go directly to Voicemail any time they call? It will never even ring! Never take those annoying calls again!

You can also send a picture slideshow in a text message. How cool is that?

I would highly recommend the classes for all skill levels… the class covered a range of topics that would be helpful and interested to anyone with a Smart phone!

And I had such a great time and learned so much that I signed up to attend another Verizon Wireless Workshop next weekend on using the iPad for Business! I’m really excited for that one.

Do you have a Verizon Wireless device you’d like to learn how to use? Attend a workshop! They offer classes in retail stores and online! Visit the Verizon Wireless Workshops website for more info and to sign up for a class!

**Disclaimer** I am a Verizon Wireless Ambassador. I received a wireless device and phone/data plan free of charge to use for review and evaluation of Verizon Wireless products and services. As part of the program, I was asked to share my opinions with others, however, my opinions are my own. Please contact vzw@comblu.com with any questions about the Verizon Wireless Ambassadors’ Program.

Slow-Cooker Shredded Beef Tacos

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This week in the Texas Beef Council’s Healthy Meals to Fuel the Family campaign, we’re sharing tried and true recipes from our own kitchens! I’m excited to share this one with you. It’s one of my favorites!

Family mealtime often gets lost in the shuffle of busy days jam-packed with activities. An important step to fueling the family with nutritious foods, studies show children who dine with the family are healthier, happier and better students. Make mealtime a priority by planning ahead and focusing on simple and healthy recipes.

Make the most of family mealtime with these five easy tips:

  1. Enjoy one more family mealtime every week!  Take a quick inventory of how many times you usually eat together as a family and look for easy ways to add one more family meal to your weekly schedule.  If evenings are too hectic for a family dinner, set aside time for a weekend breakfast or lunch.  After a month or two of this new pattern, you can then add another family meal each week until you are enjoying mealtime together most days of the week.
  2. Enjoy tasty menus for family meals!  If you think putting a meal together had to be complicated or time-consuming, think again!  The best meals are simple, delicious and planned together.  Let everyone choose a favorite menu.  Even small children can pick a main dish (like tacos or pasta), a vegetable (green salad or cooked carrots), and fruit for dessert (sliced apples or a fruit salad).
  3. Set an appealing table for family meals! Food is just one important part of mealtime.  There are really easy ways to set the mood for a relaxed time around the table.  A little extra attention to the actual table setting can add a lot to mealtime atmosphere.  Go for a theme night like taco salad and Mexican fiesta décor using leftover souvenirs from your trip to Cancun or have one of the children make a centerpiece by folding colored construction paper.
  4. Enjoy conversation at the table! The conversations families have while eating together offer many benefits.  Children learn new words from adults and adults are able to share the values with the next generation.  Choose topics that are positive and allow everyone to talk.  Even toddlers like to discuss topics like “what is your favorite color” or “what made you laugh today”.
  5. Enjoy distraction-free meals TVs, DVDs, multiple phone calls and text messaging can distract anyone making it difficult to eat or carry on a conversation.  The solution is simple: Declare mealtime an electronics-free zone (except for an emergency, of course).  Imagine that you are dining at a nice restaurant and play some soothing background music at low volume.  It will be much more relaxing for everyone to be unplugged, especially you!

My recipe this week definitely fits the bill for an easy family dinner. I threw all the ingredients together on Sunday morning before church, put it in the crockpot and it was ready to go by the time we got home. It was AWESOME! And the good news is that most of the cuts you use in the slow cooker are LEAN, that’s why they need to be slow cooked, they are so lean that they aren’t tender at all!

We had family visiting, so there were 10 adults in our house. I tripod the recipe and every single bit of it was gone by that afternoon.

The nice thing about these Slow-Cooker Shredded Beef Tacos is that you can customize the toppings however you’d like! The experts at the Texas Beef Council recommend fresh toppings that are packed with nutrients, like avocado, lime, cilantro, onions and other veggies instead of sour cream and cheese!

And we used whole wheat tortillas instead of flour for a healthier option.

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Slow-Cooker Shredded Beef Tacos
Adapted From: Gimme Some Oven

Ingredients:
1-2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 lbs trimmed beef brisket
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 c beef stock
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp chipotle powder
1/2 large sweet onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
Whole wheat tortillas
Favorite taco toppings, like cilantro, sliced avocado and pico de gallo

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.

Combine the chili powder, cumin, and smoked paprika in a small bowl. Then, rub the spice mix into the beef, covering each side evenly.

Once the oil is hot, place the beef in the skillet and brown evenly on each side.

Remove the beef from the pan and place it in the bottom of a slow cooker.

Leave the pan on the heat, and pour in the beef stock to deglaze, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the tomato paste and chipotle powder and whisk into the pan sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for a few minutes until the sauce has reduced and thickened slightly.

Place the diced onion and minced garlic on top of the seared beef in the slow cooker. Pour the pan sauce down over the onions, garlic and beef. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Remove the beef from the slow cooker and shred with two forks. Use a slotted spoon to remove the onions from the slow cooker, and mix into the shredded beef.

Serve the shredded beef in the whole wheat tortillas, topped with fresh toppings like sliced avocados, guacamole, pico de gallo or cilantro and onions.

Enjoy!

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Be sure to follow the other nine Texas Beef Bloggers to see the other fun recipes they’re sharing! You can also follow our Fuel for the Family board on Pinterest!

Disclosure: I am participating in a four week campaign with the Texas Beef Council and am being compensated. All opinions and photos are my own. Recipes are courtesy the Texas Beef Council.

Breathless Reads Tour {and a Giveaway!}

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A few weeks ago, I got to attend the Breathless Reads tour stop in Frisco. I love nights like this when I get to hang out with my super-awesome blogging friends: Rose, Stacy and Nancy, and Kari!

The lovely authors Beth Revis, Andrea Cremer, Marie Lu and Jessica Spotswood discussed their novels, giving little tidbits of info that we all gobbled up!

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Beth Revis, author of Across the Universe and A Million Suns, told us that the first character who dies in AtU was named after a particularly annoying student of hers named Ben. And then many of her students asked her to name murder victims after them once AtU was published, so she complied in A Million Suns!

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Andrea Cremer, author of Bloodrose (the third book in the Nightshade trilogy), shared that she tries her hardest to write stories that are brutal but awesome.

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Marie Lu, author of Legend, gave us lots of fun trivia about her debut novel. She said that June and Day’s relationship was inspired by Les Miserable. The American Dictator in her story was named after her boyfriend. Oh! And Day has Type O and June has Type AB blood! :)

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Jessica Spotswood told us that the romantic parts of her stories are her favorite parts to write!

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And I just HAD to snap a picture of her CUTE shoes! :)

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Beth Revis is one of my FAVORITE authors. She even wrote the most awesome guest post ever about the brilliance of Firefly.

It was such a fun and awesome night!

Of course, I HAD to score some extra copies of books to share with you!

Enter using the Rafflecopter forms below. Each form contains a different prize, so fill out the forms for the prizes you’re most interested in!

Contests open to US and Canada only. Must be 13 years or older to enter.


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{DFW Services} Foundation Repair Solutions

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As the weather gets warmer, it’s time to do some spring cleaning! I know I have lists and lists of areas things in my home that need attention: windows, flower beds, base boards. But one area of your home that may be neglected in your efforts is your foundation.

I know what you’re thinking…foundation issues with your home can lead to costly repairs that you might not be financially ready for. But here’s the good news: There are some things you can be doing BEFORE your foundation shifts to help prevent issues that arise.

I recently had a representative from Foundation Repair Solutions come out and evaluate our house. George was wonderful. He chatted with me while he analyzed our home, pointing out flaws in the structure and things I could do right now to help prevent future damage.

Our home is about 10 years old, and George said that movement in the foundation is normal in any home in DFW. In fact, he said that DFW is one of the worst areas for foundation movement – that’s why you see very few homes in this area with basements.

The most common cause of foundation issues is erosion. And one of the best ways to prevent that is to keep moisture in the ground surrounding your home.

soaker hoses

George suggested installing soaker hoses around the perimeter of our house so that we can continue to keep the ground saturated during the upcoming summer months. We have water restrictions in place in our city that only allow us to run our sprinklers twice a week. But there are no restrictions on soaker hoses, and we can use those to supplement our watering schedule, he said.

soil

You can also add dirt around the perimeter of your home to ensure that the slat is covered at least half-way by dirt. Plant sod on top of the dirt to hold it in place and reduce erosion.

freezer boards

Common warning signs that your home has foundation issues are cracking in the freezer boards around the outside of your house, damage to sheetrock and doors that stick.

But the absolute BEST way to determine if your house has foundation issues is to schedule a FREE in-home estimate with Foundation Repair Solutions! Right now, if you LIKE their page on Facebook and schedule an in-home estimate, you can receive a $50 Visa gift card! Be sure to also follow them on Twitter – @FoundationRprSo.

I know that for many of us, the potential cost of foundation repair can be daunting. But Foundation Repair Solutions is one of the few companies in the DFW area who offer financing for their services.

And it’s better to take care of any issues as soon as possible, rather than letting the situation get worse and incur higher costs to repair your foundation and remodel your home.

They also offer a lifetime transferable warranty. This means that any work you have done with them is guaranteed for as long as you own your home. And if you sell your home, you can transfer that warranty to the buyers. How awesome is that?

I’m really glad I had the opportunity to meet with George and learn all the ways I can be proactive about taking care of the foundation in our home. What are some ways you try to prevent foundation issues in your house?

 

Disclaimer: Foundation Repair Solutions sponsored this post and I am receiving compensation. All opinions are my own and information was provided by Foundation Repair Solutions.

 

Beef Pot Roast with Maple Sweet Potatoes and Cider Gravy – Healthy Meals to Fuel the Family: Week Three

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It’s Week Three in the Texas Beef Council’s Healthy Meals to Fuel Your Family campaign! This week, we’re focusing on Healthy Family Favorites.

These meals are the perfect to fill up your family. And when you make healthy choices, like using lean meat and nutrient-rich veggies, your family gets the benefits!

Here are some tips to help you make healthy choices:

  • Shop the perimeter of the store for the freshest, nutrient-rich foods including brightly colored fruits such as blueberries, strawberries and oranges and vibrant green, red, yellow and orange vegetables like tomatoes, spinach and orange bell peppers.  The more colorful a fresh food is the higher in nutrient and cancer-fighting anti-oxidants.
  • Choose whole grain, fortified and fiber-rich bread and whole-grain pasta products instead of white breads and pastas.
  • Select lean ground beef that is at least 90% lean for hamburgers, chili or other dishes that use ground beef.
  • Always eat breakfast and include a lean protein when you can.
  • Make an easy breakfast or snack from low-fat yogurt and fresh fruit.
  • When snacking, choose brightly colored red, green, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy or lean beef jerky.
  • Make a healthy sandwich using whole-grain breads and lean protein such as roast beef and top with dark green lettuce and bright red tomatoes.
  • Turn a salad into an entrée by including fruits, vegetables and a lean protein such as grilled steak (just like in last week’s recipe!)

And now, for this week’s yummy recipe! This was my favorite dish we sampled at the Appetite for Inspiration cooking event last year.

Be warned: this recipe is SWEET. If you are not a fan of sweet foods for meals, steer clear! This time around, I loved the pot roast and gravy. But I wasn’t really a fan of the mashed sweet potatoes… not sure what the difference was. It’s still worth a spot in your meal rotation, though!

Plus, I LOVE that this is a one-pot meal. Fewer dishes to clean afterwards is a MAJOR PLUS in my book!

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Beef Pot Roast with Maple Sweet Potatoes and Cider Gravy
Source: Texas Beef Council

Ingredients:
1 boneless chuck shoulder pot roast (3 to 3-1/2 lbs)
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 c chopped onion
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 c ready-to-serve beef broth
3/4 c apple cider
3 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled, cut crosswise into 1 to1-1/2-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbsp brandy or water

Directions:

Heat oil in stockpot over medium heat until hot. Place beef pot roast in stockpot; brown evenly on all sides. Remove roast; pour off drippings and season with 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.

Add onion and thyme to stockpot; cook and stir 3-5 minutes or until onion is tender. Add broth and cider; increase heat to medium-high. Cook and stir 1 to 2 minutes or until browned bits attached to stockpot are dissolved. Return pot roast to stockpot; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover tightly and simmer 2-1/2 hours.

Add sweet potatoes and garlic to stockpot; continue simmering, covered 30 minutes or until sweet potatoes and pot roast are fork-tender.

Remove pot roast; keep warm. Remove sweet potatoes and garlic with slotted spoon to large bowl, leaving cooking liquid in stockpot.

Add maple syrup, ginger, 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper to sweet potatoes. Beat until sweet potatoes and garlic are mashed and smooth; keep warm.

Skim fat from cooking liquid; stir in cornstarch mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly; cook and stir 1 minute or until thickened.

Carve pot roast into slices; serve with mashed sweet potatoes and gravy.

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Enjoy!

Be sure to follow the other nine Texas Beef Bloggers to see the other fun recipes they’re sharing! You can also follow our Fuel for the Family board on Pinterest!

Disclosure: I am participating in a four week campaign with the Texas Beef Council and am being compensated. All opinions and photos are my own. Recipes are courtesy the Texas Beef Council.



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