Strategic Thoughts of a Bubble Girl by Terri Pham

I’ve known Terri Pham many years and she is just awesome! She was telling me about one of her Paleo Recipe Exchange groups. Every Sunday, members bring their cooked recipes and everyone goes home with an assortment of delicious, nutritious food for the week. She has valuable tips for healthy living and I am proud to introduce you to my first guest writer, Terri Pham!

Strategic Thoughts of a Bubble Girl

by Terri Pham

I was coined “Bubble Girl” by a very dear friend.

For those of you who don’t understand the reference, the 1976 movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, inspired the 2001 movie Bubble Boy. In both movies, the main character was born without an immune system, was confined to the bedroom in a sterilized dome, and was restrained from the outside world to protect him from germs.

For me, I have food allergies. When I first found out, I was sensitive to 65 different foods, including black pepper, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, garlic, and many more. For a moment, people felt so bad for me and just wanted to confine me to a bubble for my protection, hence the nickname “Bubble Girl.”

After years of a clean diet, I can eat everything except gluten, dairy, soy, and peanuts. Gluten is my leading arch nemesis and will continue to be the antagonist in the story of my life. Black pepper, garlic, broccoli, and about 40 other foods have been reintroduced with success once my body healed from the years of toxicity.

I can hear your thoughts now. “Gluten, dairy, soy, and peanuts? Soy is in EVERYTHING. So what do you eat?”

My answer is the same every time. I eat a Paleo Diet: Meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts.

Your mind is probably racing with the foods you love that contain gluten, dairy, or soy and how you would feel if you had to give all that up. You are probably thinking of the foods you ate today or at social settings and wonder how I deal with it. You probably feel empathy or feel bad for me. Well, I will stop you there and say, “Don’t, but thank you.”

So let me divulge some tricks and strategies when I am traveling or at a restaurant with friends, co-workers, or clients. Hopefully, you can take these same tricks to live a healthier life when traveling or eating out. Hopefully, these tricks help you realize it is all in how you look at it.

  1. Go for a salad. I love salad! I love the crisp of the greens, the sweetness of any fruit, and especially the full-but-not-so-stuffed-it-is-uncomfortable feeling after you are done. I always order mine with some protein like fish or chicken and no dressing, no cheese, no croutons, or no bread.
    1. A DRY salad with no dressing?” Yes. You never know what is in the dressing so I don’t risk it. Plus, you’ll be amazed at how the crispiness is refreshing to your mouth. Remember, I don’t eat chips or anything packaged so I’m a fan of crunch.
    2. You LOVE salad? How?” I never eat salad at home. I don’t allow myself to make it or buy it. So getting salad at a restaurant is a welcome treat. I have caught myself completely content with a pre-made salad I picked up between flights at an airport. With that airport salad, I didn’t use the dressing, didn’t eat the cheese, and savored the crisp sweet apples and tart mandarin oranges that came in the salad. It was glorious.
  2. Go for seafood or anything steamed, grilled, or boiled. I love crabs, shrimp, oysters, and anything seafood related. I probably was a sea creature in a past life. When I don’t see salad on the menu, normally, there is always fresh oysters, shrimp cocktail, or grilled fish on the menu. These are easy staples that you can find on any menu and even at a local pub. I just order the seafood with no butter. I remember eating 2 orders of shrimp cocktail with no cocktail sauce, ordered off the appetizer menu at a birthday party which was thrown at a bar. If not, stick to grilled chicken and steamed vegetables. This is normally super plain, so personally, I don’t do this often. I’d rather the flavorful seafood.
    1. But I don’t like seafood, what do I do?” Did you not read the second part? Go for something grilled, steamed, or boiled. Most restaurants have steamed, boiled, or grilled menu options.
    2. The menu has good salad choices and good seafood choices. What do I do?” Order both! I recommend the oysters on the half for an appetizer and the really good salad, no dressing or cheese, for your meal.
  3. When in doubt: Go for a Steak. You can never go wrong with steak. This normally comes with some type of steamed vegetable or a baked potato. I just order it with no butter and no bread. Some people with food allergies go to this step first since steak can be found on every menu at any type of restaurant. Just ask if it is marinated in anything. Most really tasty steaks are not marinated since it is a culinary crime. My whole first year when I was avoiding the 65 foods, I ordered steak with no butter at every restaurant I went to. It was a safety blanket, but it worked.
    1. I thought red meat was bad for you? I cut out all sugar, processed food, gluten, dairy, soy, and peanuts. With a diet like mine, red meat is actually very good. It’s all the sugar and gluten that is bad for you.
  4. When traveling to a different country: you’re safe with a salad. Before I go to any country, I make sure I know the translation for my allergies and even the word salad. I even carry a food allergy card with the translation of my allergies in that language. You can order food allergy cards online at http://www.selectwisely.com/. If not, knowing salad in that language helps with ordering if there isn’t an English menu. Salads are very common in other countries. They definitely got the healthy memo before us Americans.
    1. Salad in another country? You miss out on trying different foods. This is just the safest. Because I carry a food allergy card, I normally still eat the food of the country and not a salad. Again, seafood is normally what I get.
  5. When you are driving: stick to real food. Rethink the term “fast food”. Most people think a burger from a drive thru is the option. My fast food stop is the grocery store, if not a convenience store, if not a pharmacy. At the grocery store, you got everything. There are so many easy, portable finger foods. Vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes are easy to eat. Add protein like a can of Tuna or chicken, some smoked salmon, or even some cured meat like salami and you got a complete “driving” meal or snack to hold you over until dinner. At the convenience store, there are apples, bananas, almonds and plenty of healthy snacks. I have stopped at a pharmacy to get a can of chicken and then pulled into the convenience store next door for an apple and to fill my gas on my way to the airport to return a rental car.
    1. Grocery store as fast food? I never thought of that! I have my moments. Welcome to my bubble. It’s cozy, huh?

In closing, I still travel, date, go to social gatherings, eat at pizza places, go to birthday dinners at restaurants, eat bar food, and participate in the many activities that involve food. I make smart choices with food, and I don’t really worry about it. Eating is not complicated, even with food allergies. The interesting thing is, this “Bubble Girl” loves food and hopefully these tricks help you live in a healthy traveling bubble too.

Terri Pham works in the hospitality industry and resides in Houston, Texas. Three words to describe her are: passionate, energetic, and positive. She is a Level 1 Crossfit trainer, a volunteer for the Gluten Free Society, and a part of many Paleo Recipe Exchange groups. She loves crossfit, animals, helping others navigate their personal food journey, and food.

You may contact Terri at terri.pham@yahoo.com and on Facebook.

Terri Pham

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Teens Learn About Filmmaking

I recently participated in a local shoot for a film about one teen’s journey from having a home to being put into “Foster Care” (the name of the movie). This is just one project from a local award-winning production company.

Cross Wind Productions is a non-profit Christian film ministry. Through auditions and interviews, Houston area teens are chosen to participate in a film and video program and to receive “hands-on” training during the internship. From acting to educational workshops and behind-the-scenes duties, students, ages 14 to 18, come out with a deeper understanding of filmmaking. You can log onto  http://www.crosswindproductions.org to learn more about the program.

I took some quick video of the nice people I met. Sorry guys, I haven’t yet set up a personal royalty-free music library to use on the “Takes” app. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_feAUdo-Ikc

Barbara Sundstrom is the driving force behind Cross Wind Productions. She gave me a quick interview during a lull in production. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyWtSXs7bLY

Sundstrom graduated from Baylor University and added a M.A. in Communications from the University of Houston. After teaching English, Speech and Theatre, she decided to expand her talents. God was willing and she did! Barbara became an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and director. A popular film that won an award at a recent international film festival in Milan, Italy, is “The Guardian”. A girl is saved from the evil intentions of a surly gang of troublemakers by a stranger. He continues to help her, but she can’t shake the feeling that she has known him before.

7 Things I Love About Hong Kong

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Last March, our family spent Spring Break reveling in the international allure of Hong Kong. These images are just some from the hundreds of shots I took. There is excitement in being a part of the passing flash of color in the ever changing sea of people crowding the streets. It’s a delicious melding of office workers, locals out for the day and tourists with necks craning to take it all in.  Exotic smells of spices and sizzling meat waft out of cafe doorways. A repairman climbs up lashed bamboo scaffolding. Off a busy side street, an older man lounges around in his pajamas (I swear!). It was the perfect experience.

Armed with the list my brilliant husband compiled, off we go!

Navigating the busy waters to reach the dock.
1.  We ride the Star Ferry out to Victoria Peak. It has been cloudy and a little rainy all week, so a big burst of radiant sunshine on happy faces gives us a much needed shot of vitamin D as the ferry steadily churns water across Victoria Harbor. Views of the coastline are amazing, especially from the top deck. Victoria Peak is best seen on a clear day. Many prefer a romantic view of twinkling city lights, but we don’t want to worry that clouds will drift in at dusk and obscure the glittering night scene below. People in the long line that snake around the tram depot tell us they have been waiting 45 minutes, and they are not even near the front of the line. There are just two Victoria Peak trams on one looping track. We decide to grab a cab up. Cabs are reasonable and afterward it will be much easier to catch a tram for that steep ride down. On the way to the observation deck, we browse through several small floors of colorful shops with various price ranges of good and “meh” types of souvenirs. At the top, a stunning 360° view greets us, as far as the eye can see! Gentle breezes under the sunny sky nudge us. Hong Kong is beautifully laid out – a miniature city by the sea, nestled between lush green mountainsides dotted with the residences of those blessed be able to take a daily drink of fabulous views.

The cable car to Lantau Island isn’t working. That ride is the cool factor. We cross it off the list. No one cares to go to the racetrack, another cross through.

The unjust Opium Wars.

2. The Hong Kong Museum of History takes us on a journey that chronicles the wonders and tragedies of China. There were tales of majestic dynasties, ancient relics, beautiful works of art and thousands of things to see and learn. The most eye-opening exhibit to this American born Chinese was the turbulent periods of China’s Opium Wars with the British Empire and the resulting “Unequal Treaties” with other nations. Reading about it is one thing. Viewing old pictures and paintings and poring over detailed accounts during that time really touched me. That epoch is considered to be the start of China’s “Century of Humiliation”…

Restaurants put chairs and tables on the street to serve customers.

3. We check out some of the nicer shopping malls, but they’re the same everywhere. More intriguing are names like “Night Market”, “Ladies Market” and “Sneaker Street”. There are many markets. We walk through several of them. After a while, they all run together with rows and rows of stalls going up and across several streets. People jostle by stalls packed top to bottom with all sorts of merchandise. Our kids go from booth to booth, comparing prices, trying to bluff the seasoned vendors. At night, there is an exciting vibe as strings of lights guide bustling visitors and locals through the maze. On the outskirts, people sit at tables and chairs by the lights as dishes of savory delicacies are brought out. A wonderful aroma lingers in the air as we walk by.

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4. Dim Sum at Super Star Seafood Restaurant in Times Square, Causeway Bay was lovely. A friend insisted we join him for dim sum. The dishes he ordered were excellent! So many tasty dishes that we had never had before! 

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5. Exploring eateries is so much fun! A friend took us to a well-known multi-story roast goose restaurant. Another local promised us that there is a better one in the New Territories outside HK. The taxi drops us off in front of a nondescript storefront. We have to wander a bit further to find the restaurant around the side of the first building. There is no fancy dining room. Judging by the families and busy wait staff, it is a local favorite. This restaurant had tissue packets with their logo on them, and the roast duck IS better!

Even in the serenity of the garden, one can't escape the HK skyline.6. Chi Lin Nunnery is a peaceful oasis of quiet reflection in Diamond Hill, on the Kowloon side. It isn’t on the top of the list, but it is wonderful to slow down and take in the calm pace. It, unfortunately, was rebuilt in 1990. Still, one can wander through the serene gardens with a backdrop of soaring skyscrapers. There is a little shop for refreshments and delicious chocolate covered truffles!

7. The places we visit and the sights we see are wonderful, but it is knowing that this is the first family vacation we have taken since our daughter married that makes it a truly magical time. We will never be at this point in our lives again. The memories are priceless!

BONUS! Accommodations and Other Sights:
Our daughter and son-in-law stay at a lovely high-rise, Hotel Panorama, with floor-to-ceiling views of the harbor. We and our son settle in at a charming little boutique hotel, The Minden, two blocks over. It was one of the top choices of The Lonely Planet. There are some great hotel deals in the U.S., but hotels overseas aren’t as accommodating, price wise.
On a misty wet night, we pop open the handy 7-Eleven umbrellas we picked up the first day and make our way to the Avenue of Stars promenade. From there, we can view the nightly show of the Symphony of Lights. As we wander along the Victoria Harbour waterfront in Tsim Sha Tsui, many more hardy souls begin to appear. Music plays and light bounces off buildings up and down both sides of the harbor. There were probably no fireworks due to the light rain. It is a nightly show, but it’s not something to see again.  I fear I have been spoiled by laser shows in Texas http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PylKtOqqwK4 . After the show, we enjoy a walk down the Avenue of Stars. I am happiest when I can link an arm through one of my children’s as we stroll along. To explore Hong Kong with them is my heaven!

I only mention the Central-Mid-Levels escalators because my dear sweet husband cheerfully put me through that l-o-n-g, l-o-n-g, torturous ordeal. Guinness World Records lists it as the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator system. It’s a series of escalators with some moving sidewalks thrown in.

Macau is primarily known for its casinos. A couple of old school friends of our daughter living in China meet us. I’m not a gambler and spend my time walking around the outer edges of the many casinos the group visits because the concentration of cigarette smoke is horrible! Would have much preferred to see the Ruins of St. Paul. A bright spot of the side trip is the interesting Portuguese food at a local cafe!

Nathan Road becomes our main base as we are there every day of the trip. Our son knows that a tailored suit would cost much, much more in the States so he goes searching for the perfect suit. After some negotiating, so begins several days of re-fittings. He is looking forward to flashing that camouflage lining!

Our daughter and son-in-law take a couple of days off on their own. They visit one of the temples. The lush vegetation and monkeys playing nearby are a novel experience.

The kids head home after the first week and my husband and I will continue on to Shanghai for a one week guided tour. (I may write about it in another entry.) Son and husband go off to find a local laundry. Someone sends them down a side street. Lo, and behold, that boy finds another tailor and negotiates an even better price! Oh, no – the daily fittings continue!

Things we wished we’d made time for:

*  Sit atop double decker #6 bus Central to Stanley or #15 bus Central to The Peak
*  Jordan Road at Temple Street Market at night to hear ear-splitting Chinese opera
*  Tram – goes Kennedy Town to ShanKeiWah (since 1904, nail-biter!)
*  Panoramic elevator view – get on from the 17th floor for a 40 story ride in the glass “bubble lift”
*  Early morning stroll through Causeway Bay’s Victoria Park to see tai chi and kung fu

Maybe on the next trip …

To My Beautiful Bloggers

“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,” Ephesians 1:16 ESV


Last Friday I posted another blog entry. Saturday morning I woke up and checked to see if anyone had read my post on travel tips for Hong Kong. What joy! It received seven “likes!” I’ve never been “liked” before. (Years ago, I signed up on Facebook twice and quickly left twice due to private information leaks.) 

I would like to thank the kind bloggers who took the time to respond. I started this adventure last month after two years of saying I wanted to start a blog. At Christmas, my son basically said, “Alright already, just do it!”

There was a definite curiosity about the type of person who would enjoy my travel piece. I clicked on the “Comment” box, then clicked on the “7 bloggers.” What a surprise, the bloggers came from various countries and had so many different areas of interest! And I thought there would just be travel bloggers. That’s exciting – who could they be?!?

The first click brought me to LEANNE COLE Photography, http://blog.leannecole.com.au/. Yes, I can definitely see her focus is on wonderful images. There are some great shots of life in Australia. She holds classes, posts tutorials and even has a photography software discount coupon code.

Skinnywench, http://suellewellyn2011.wordpress.com/a-word-a-week-photography-challenge/
is another Aussie. Travel is one of her passions. I loved her shot of a young Filippino sitting on a rope swing in the water, the sun catching his face as he leans ever so slightly out of the shadows. I may have to join skinnywench’s “Word a Week” photo challenge. If her reference to “barack” is the second definition I looked up, she also has a mad love for Chelsea football!

Cristian Mihai, http://cristianmihai.net/, writes short stories and novels. He grew up in Romania and has a wonderful writing style. Visit his site and read about his writing thought processes and wonderful excerpts from his books. He has a lovely flow and a delicious way with words!

Then, there’s Elena, http://mselenalevontraveling.com/. She’s led a truly glamorous globe-trotting life. I haven’t read many biographies that in two paragraphs listed as many talents and accomplishments with as much savoir-faire in such a young life. My favorite Elena quote: “Buying hundreds or thousands of dollars stuff in order to look classy, stylish and expensive won’t work, if you don’t know how to wear a 20 dollar dress and look like a million bucks.”

The interesting name of Justin’s blog, http://www.mrwalkntalk.com/, pretty much describes his love of men’s fashion. He saw a need to help other young men pull together looks for casual to sophisticated occasions. The commentary is spot on as to why and how each look works for him. It’s not just a great “How To Dress 101” for any male who wants to dress with style. Many of the tips and overall attitude can benefit anyone wanting to have confidence in their clothing choices. I sent his blog link to my son. (“Not that you need it, Sweetheart. Just letting you know that others also value the fit of a good coat and good style choices.”)

When I clicked on Brad Stanton’s site, http://bradstanton.com/, I almost just as quickly clicked off! I’m a gore and horror scaredy-cat, and the first photo of his “Frankenstein-ish” image threw me. Well, I was determined to learn about the nice (?) blogger who “liked” me. The title was reassuring. “Give me 5 minutes a day and I’ll give you a happier, more successful life! He uses references, stories and positive encouragement to connect with readers. It works for me!

Manon, http://manonlesko.wordpress.com/, is a bright young professional making her way in beautiful Sofia, Bulgaria. Reading some of her entries, she seems to be a sweet soul with lots of family and friends, a penchant for cute animals and creative art in various forms – drawing, music, movies and fashion. Wish that she would post photos of some of the events she plans!

I feel very blessed to connect with such interesting people.

From Texas, with

Rose love (100x100)

12 Tips for Hong Kong Travel + Top Sights!

What M saw.

Spring Break is almost here! Do you have travel plans? Maybe to Asia? Last March, our family spent Spring Break reveling in the international excitement of Hong Kong. With preparation, it was the perfect experience!

The internet is your friend. Here are some tips picked up from web searches and from our trip:

1.  An Octopus card (to get around by trains, trams and buses) may be purchased at the airport express counter. If it’s a relatively small group, you might want to forego the card and use taxis for convenience. It pained my frugal mindset that we left money on the card. Be warned, any money left on the card will be forfeited if not used within a certain time frame.

2.  Tourism brochures can be had from visitor centers at Hong Kong International Airport, Causeway Bay MTR Station, Kowloon, Star Ferry and The Peak.

3.  It’s best to drink bottled water. We used the coffeemaker in the room to boil water daily for drinking and brushing teeth. (We also asked for and received TWO adaptors to charge our phones and cameras!)

4.  ALWAYS, ALWAYS carry tissues. A travel size sanitizer wouldn’t hurt either. Hard to believe, but many of the eateries don’t supply napkins and many of the toilets won’t have tissue.

Put on your bargain face!

M with his bargaining face.

5.  Research items you are planning on purchasing
Know what you’re up against. If you are looking at an expensive item such as a camera or jewelry, check it out online first. HK deals for such items aren’t as great as in years past. If it’s a little less than what you’d pay at home, don’t buy it. Purchase it at home for an easier return or exchange.

6. Offer less
Our HK born friend, Henry, said to start at 50% less. Inexpensive souvenirs might not apply for that discount, but it doesn’t hurt to bargain for some sort of discount.

7. Use local currency
We knew what we were negotiating with in HK dollars. Those little calculators merchants use to convert U.S. dollars will usually give you a worse exchange rate than when you first converted over. If you do use U.S. dollars, I suggest you pull your cell phone out and calculate along to be sure they do it correctly.

8. Buddy system
Don’t get pulled in by the exciting locale and enticing deals. Have someone be the voice of reason if the bargaining bug bites and you lose sight of the whole picture.

9. Dress Simply
The U.S. thinking is to dress nicer when shopping as you will get better service. When traveling,   over dressing can make you a target. Vendors may try to overcharge you or not go down in price as much, especially because you look like you can afford it!

10. Don’t be fooled by the merchant’s spiel
Many items can be knockoffs. (Shanghai has a below ground shopping system that is Knockoff City!) Unless you really know about the item you want to purchase, buy at your own peril.

11. Let it go

If you’re not satisfied with the negotiated price, be prepared to let it go. If the merchant calls you back, good for you. If not, don’t look back.


12. If possible, experience Hong Kong with loved ones.
The freedom to share hugs or reach for the hand of a child or spouse whenever I wanted was pure heaven! Our children don’t live nearby and it’s always a joy to spend time with them.

I am blessed with a wonderful husband. He collates information for a living and googled “Top Things to do in Hong Kong.” He then compiled the contents from 15 websites to get a list of 132 things to do. Of that, there were 69 unique listings. Below are the sites that had at least 2 recommendations. I don’t think much has changed in Hong Kong in the past year, so the list below should be fairly current.

Activity Grand Total
Victoria Peak / Tram / Harbour 16
Lantau Island & Cable Car 10
Star Ferry 8
Happy Valley Racecourse 5
Temple Street Night Market 5
Stanley Market 4
Aberdeen Harbour Sampan Ride 3
Lan Kwai Fong 3
Mid-Levels Escalators at Rush Hour 3
Ocean Park 3
Symphony of Lights from Avenue of Stars, Kowloon Promenade, 8pm. 3
Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade 3
Dim Sum 2
Hong Kong Museum of History 2
Hong Kong park 2
Hong Kong Wetland Park 2
Macau 2
Mong Kok Tung Choi Markets 2
Repulse Bay 2
Street Car tram ride 2
Tian Tan Buddha 2

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Next, I may write about my favorite things to do in Hong Kong!