Events Uncategorized

Day 4: Biloxi, Mobile, Panama City Beach

Saturday,  September 7, 2013

Biloxi, Mississippi has a lighthouse smack in the middle of a highway.  At one time, it was a working lighthouse.  Eventually, the town grew around it.  Built in 1848, the lighthouse has a rich history with two generations of one family operating it from 1866 to 1929.  We’re too late for the last tour at 9:30am, but are able to glean more information about it from the Mississippi Visitors Center next door.Biloxi lighthouse

The center is the most beautiful visitors center I’ve ever seen!  Rising like a grand southern mansion, it’s a mini museum of exhibits, a theater, and an event venue.  There’s a model of the lighthouse, a video on Marlin Miller’s journey to beautify the Gulf Coast, Elvis Presley’s jacket, Bo Diddley’s square guitar and more.  On the wide veranda, two sisters are enjoying the beach view. They came in for a Girls’ Week.

Off we go to Alabama!  The Visitors Center that we visit may be an older building, but they sure make us feel welcome.  An enthusiastic young woman, by the name of Amanda, greets visitors with a mile-wide smile.  Every guest I saw her interact with was treated with attention and lots of suggestions for places to go and what to expect, her ponytail bouncing as she emphasizes points of interest.  So far, she’s the best visitors center employee we’ve encountered.  Wished I’d asked her for a picture so you could see that mega-watt smile.

We stop by Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile to see the USS Alabama and decide we didn’t have time to tour it and still make it to Panama Beach City, Florida at a decent time. But, we did get some photos …

USS Alabama
USS Alabama
This beautifully rendered American flag was painted on the side of one of the buildings two days before!
This beautifully rendered American flag was painted on the side of one of the buildings two days before!
U.S. Coast Guard plane
U.S. Coast Guard plane

Minutes down the street, we have a late lunch at Felix’s Fish Camp Grill in Mobile. It was very pleasant. My husband had Grilled Red Snapper with Green Beans Almondine. I enjoyed the Ahi Tuna Salad. We’re trying to eat lighter as hours of sitting in the car doesn’t burn many calories.

Lunch at Felix's Fish Camp Grill
Lunch at Felix’s Fish Camp Grill

We come into Panama City Beach as the sun begins to set and pull over to see our first Florida sunset on the trip. I’m so happy!

Another gorgeous Florida sunset!
Another gorgeous Florida sunset!

When asked where to go for dinner, the hotel front desk clerk recommends Capt. Anderson’s. We drive a mile or so down the street to the Marina. There’s a one hour wait at Capt. Anderson’s, so we decide to try the Marina Cantina next door. We had Chicken Chapatula and Fish Tacos. The food was alright, but the view of the marina was better.

Capt. Anderson's Marina
Capt. Anderson’s Marina

To top off the night, we went to Bruster’s Ice Cream next to our hotel, where the ice cream is made fresh daily.

Travel Uncategorized

Day 3: Baton Rouge, Bay St. Louis, Gulfport

The towering Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge
The towering Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge

Friday,  September 6, 2013

Not so bright and early, we drive to the State Capitol building, where we meet Miss Lulu! She greets us and says that we are free to take a self-guided tour. When asked if someone could please show us around, she, with a big dollop of southern charm, proceeds to proudly share the Capitol’s history. We walk through the Great Hall as she tells us that this is the tallest State Capitol building in the United States. I ask if we could please go up to the gallery overlooking the Senate. It is roped off, but Miss Lulu has connections! The security guard allowed that we may go up the marble staircase as she was with us. Once there, our enthusiastic guide gave us a brief history of how a pencil wound up stuck into the chamber’s ceiling.

With such a friendly tour guide, we talk about what we experienced on the trip so far. (Miss Lulu is 77 years young and has a boyfriend!) We thank Miss Lulu and proceed up the elevator to the observation deck. It’s a clear day and so cool to see Baton Rouge from all angles!

Coming down and out of the elevator, we notice a flyer with the day’s lunch menu. Hmm … catfish ‘n fixins. We head down to the lunchroom. Visitors can sit in a simply furnished area. There’s a separate room for employees. It’s only 10:30am and we hadn’t taken time for breakfast. We’re ready! It was a good deal: 6 pieces of fried catfish, two sides and garlic bread. Done. Happily, we are on our way.

Louisiana State University campus, Baton Rouge
Louisiana State University campus, Baton Rouge

I want to go by LSU (Louisiana State University) to see Mike, the school’s mascot. Heard he had a $4 million dollar home! Well, that sounded interesting. We arrive and start over to see Mike. My husband pops into a store to buy yet another school t-shirt. He likes to collect school t-shirts where ever we go. When he wore the Oklahoma State shirt, our daughter looked at him in disbelief – Oklahoma State and the University of Texas are sworn football enemies! We eventually find Mike. With such a nice home, yard and pool available, he was taking an afternoon nap in the dirt next to a concrete wall. As we leave, a group of girls ask to take a picture with us. We oblige and I ask why.

Floating around the Mississippi Visitors Center
Floating around the Mississippi Visitors Center

Off to Mississippi! First stop, Visitors Center. We like to stop at Visitors’ Centers to stretch our legs and maybe hear of places we didn’t know about. There are usually corny cutouts to pose behind too!

This center had a nice wood sculpture by Marlin Miller, an artist who gave two years of his life to carve wood sculptures out of trees left after the devastation from Hurricane Katrina. What a beautiful gift he has given to the Gulf Coast!

Tree sculpture by Marlin Miller
Tree sculpture by Marlin Miller
Take a break in Bay St. Louis!
Take a break in Bay St. Louis!

We stop off at Bay St. Louis to admire the wide expanse of water and browse the shops. The Redfish Gallery had some wonderful art – from signed and numbered editions to delicately rendered original watercolors. I thought what the owner and his wife did for fun was also interesting – they like to go alligator hunting! Twin Light Creations is a shop filled with eclectic home and garden items. The owners live in the apartment above. But, after many years, they are ready to sell. If you have a hankering to own a shop by the bay, give them a call! I bought a pair of starfish earrings to enjoy and to remember our trip by. Strolling along, we saw a shop that had a curious name, Serious Bread, Handmade Artisan Breads. We HAD to go in. Al Jensen is a retired oceanographer. He uses a sourdough starter that takes many days to develop the flavor of the bread. We didn’t want a full loaf as we were worried it would go stale too soon. Serious Bread doesn’t sell half loaves. We asked if we could have half of the loaf he was cutting for samples. He thought about it, then named a fair price. The bread lasted several days and every time we untied the plastic bag, a wonderful just baked bread smell floated out.

There are many little, and I mean LITTLE, towns on the way to Gulfport, Mississippi.Bay St. Louis

Bay St. Louis 3

Bay St. Louis 2

Best Western Sea Way's complimentary breakfast buffet
Best Western Sea Way’s complimentary breakfast buffet

From the outside, Best Western Sea Way did not compare favorably to newer hotel chains nearby, so we were a little concerned. Sadly, we were in an outside room that could use a paint job on the building front and the interior walls were kinda thin. Thankfully, it’s been renovated and had some nice touches. I assume that because they are an independent, they don’t have soap, shampoo and conditioner under the hotel chain name. I really liked that they used name brand products such as Pantene shampoo and conditioner. There was a problem with a lamp and the maintenance crew was pretty quick to replace it. We were happily surprised see sausage and eggs included in the complimentary breakfast. They did a really nice job updating the lobby and public restrooms.

iPhoneography Travel Uncategorized

Day 2: Beaumont, Port Arthur, Baton Rouge

"Is he here?"
“Is he here?”

Thursday,  September 5, 2013


We went by the Edison Museum on the way out of Beaumont.  It’s behind the Edison Plaza building.  We were told that it was the brainchild of a group of employees from the local electricity company.  They had a passion to promote the wonderful inventions that Thomas Alva Edison created to make the world a better place.

Would you name your child "Dot" or "Dash"?



There are many interactive displays and equipment, along with Edison’s thoughts and quotes.  (Would you name your child “Dot” or “Dash”?)  It’s a pocket museum that is well worth driving back into town to visit – and it’s free!

Sculpture of Janis Joplin
Sculpture of Janis Joplin

We drove to Port Arthur to see the Museum of the Gulf Coast. Brittney,the manager at Floyd’s restaurant, is from the area and said we really should “see Janis Joplin.” Well, there are absolutely no restaurants near the museum, so we drove back into the middle of downtown to get lunch. Wound up at Tony’s BBQ. It looked familiar to my husband, then he realized he’s eaten at the Tony’s in Houston.  That’s another franchise we’ve mistaken for a local eatery.

A canon was used as a novel safety tool!
A canon was used as a novel safety tool!


We did enjoy going through the museum.

Janis has her own little corner of memorabilia. There are several areas to explore.  I liked the story about the canon that was used in the early years to put a hole in a burning oil tank to relieve the pressure so it wouldn’t explode. It was an interesting idea. When it was finally used, the canonball went through the first tank and through a second tank that was fine, before lodging in a neighboring field!

Heading into Baton Rouge.
Heading into Baton Rouge.




As we headed toward Baton Rouge, the last of the sun’s rays bathed the sky in warmth.  The lovely combination of a beautiful sky and sparkling water is one of my favorite views.

Zea Rotisserie & Grill's specialty dishes are s-o-o-o good!
Zea Rotisserie & Grill’s specialty dishes are s-o-o-o good!




Zea Rotisserie & Grill was wonderful! It IS a chain, but it’s a small chain. Reviewers gave it high marks. My Shrimp and Corn Maque Choux was flavorful.  It was late and we didn’t want to go to bed on a heavy meal, so we split the Twice Cooked Crispy Duck with Snap Peas and Roasted Corn Grits.  

Holiday Inn Baton Rouge has nice rooms!
Holiday Inn Baton Rouge has nice rooms!


Looking forward to a good night’s sleep.  Hubby bid on another good deal.  Holiday Inn Airport is a 2 ½ star for $50.  He told the front desk that we both hit a milestone birthday this year (which is true) and we were taking a long road trip.   She congratulated him and upgraded us to a room in the main building – much nicer!    

iPhoneography Travel

Day 1: Winnie, Beaumont

Wedneday,  September 4, 2013

We didn’t venture very far the first day.  There are things to see in Texas too!

Stuckey's was the precursor to the Texas-sized gas stop, Buccee's.
Stuckey’s was the precursor to the Texas-sized gas stop, Buccee’s.

We stopped by Stuckey’s for old times’ sake. It’s a gas stop/convenience store that was very popular decades ago that was the precursor to Buccee’s. Nowadays, when driving through Texas, many residents know to stop at Buccee’s for gas, food supplies, baked goods, deli food, gift items and CLEAN, CLEAN restrooms!

We had lunch in Winnie at Al T’s Seafood & Steakhouse, a pick.  

Overheard from one customer to another: “I’m sure they have healthy choices, but I’m not here for my health!” My husband enjoyed his chicken fried steak.  My gumbo was different from what I’m used to.  There was no okra.  😦   I will say that 30 shrimp are a LOT to put in one bowl!

A veteran fireman with his grandson,  possibly a future firefighter?!!?
A veteran fireman with his grandson,
possibly a future firefighter?!!?

Beaumont is a nice town.  We went to several museums.  My favorite is the Fire Museum of Texas.  There are descriptions with the displays but I was able to persuade the museum’s manager, Ami Kamara, to give us a tour and let me videotape some of it.  She took a little heat (pun intended) from the firefighters about being on YouTube, but she handled it well.  As we walked past a rack of pint-sized yellow firefighter jackets and boots, I wished I had a little one along to enjoy activities geared for the younger set.  Ami was a good tour guide. Watch her spiel about the origin of “tapped out” and how they received a 25′ fire hydrant from Walt Disney Studios!  The tale of superbly trained fire station horses is my favorite:

A note of encouragement to young women aspiring to excel in their chosen field – Ann Huff was a rookie firefighter in the 1980’s when she helped design and build the Beaumont Fire Department’s Fire Safety House.  As their current Fire Chief, Ms. Huff is setting a wonderful example of perseverance and following your dream!

Texas Energy Museum Executive Director, D. Ryan Smith, chats with my husband.
Texas Energy Museum Executive Director, D. Ryan Smith, chats with my husband.

The Texas Energy Museum had some nice interactive programs.  One, at the end of the exhibit, gives you a quiz on what you remembered about the historic discovery of oil at Spindletop.  My husband missed just 2 out of 20 – an “Excellent” score!

We went by Ana’s Mexican Bakery to get a couple of pastries to hold us ’til dinner. The Texas Energy Museum’s Executive Director recommended it for a quick snack with an interesting twist.

Does this sculpture speak to you?
Does this sculpture speak to you?

The Art Museum of Southeast Texas has works from local and national artists.  It may be a small museum but it is nationally accredited.  We were the only visitors and the security guard actually followed us around.  Finally, I turned to him and said, “If you’re going to be following us, you might as well tell us something about the art.”  Surprisingly, he did!  He also brought over the Curator of Education/Outreach, Andy Gardner, to speak to us:

“We had a delicious dinner at Floyd’s Restaurant.  Brittney, the manager, talked with us about the owners of the multi-store company.  They are two Floyds, plus one: Floyd Landry, Bret Floyd and Gary Pearce.  Floyd Landry is a member of the family that formed the very successful Landry’s, Inc., which is among the nation’s largest and fastest-growing restaurant corporations. Floyd probably wanted to do things his way and broke off to go on his own.  He oversees his Sugar Land restaurant and can occasionally be seen hitting golf balls in the parking lot.

We stayed the night at the Holiday Inn for $50, booked through It has a 3 star rating.  They turn the gushing, tiered fountain off at 11pm nightly so visitors can get a good night’s sleep.  The beds were well-padded and everything was in order.  

Good effort to be Texas proud, but the Lone Star is off kilter.  :(
Good effort to be Texas proud, but the Lone Star is off kilter. 😦

The only real complaint I have is with the huge Texas flag hanging in the multi-story atrium. As you walk in, it grabs your attention, being six stories tall. It’s a lovely effort to honor our proud state, but it obviously wasn’t installed by a Texan. It’s backwards. Oh, well, it’s time to think about other, more pressing matters, like getting some shut eye. Nite-nite!


iPhoneography Travel

A Welcome Break!

Lobby of the Houston Marriott Westchase
Lobby of the Houston Marriott Westchase

What happens when you’re pushed to your limits and beyond? You break! You can break, as in crash and burn, or you can step back and take a break.

In our case, my husband and I took a breather for a little cosseting before starting our trip. After the mad rush to pack up the house so we can “Get out of Dodge”, staying at the lovely Houston Marriott Westchase was a welcome break. Several friends and relatives offered to put us up before we left, but we didn’t want to inconvenience anyone and chose to find a hotel through @priceline. My savvy husband usually starts off at $40, changing prices and locations to get the best deal. We have found out that booking a room the day of our stay brings the best price. (Maybe that’s when hotels release rooms that were previously reserved.) He went for a 3 star hotel and nothing popped up. Then, a message said they could offer an upgraded room at $46 (plus taxes) in the same area. Hubby agreed and found out that it was a suite at a 3 1/2 star property. “Yippee!”

Comfortable bedroom!
Comfortable bedroom!

We are so enjoying the stay. It’s an older hotel that brought back fond memories. I remember when this hotel was named “Adam’s Mark.” Many years ago, it was special to come to wedding receptions here. There was a gracious air about it then that I can still feel as we walk down the corridor. The bellhop said they still have nice events here. For instance, a Nigerian couple recently renewed their vows and a Vietnamese wedding reception had 500 guests.

Sitting room in our suite
Sitting room in our suite

Wish we weren’t so tired that we couldn’t invite people over for a little get together. 😦  We could all reminisce. Those were the days of younger ideals and attitudes.

Normally we would leave the hotel to eat. We were beat, so decided to try out their restaurant. It was good to wind down with a nice meal. We skimmed complimentary issues of the Wall Street Journal and USA Today while waiting for dinner. My Waldorf salad was a bit overdressed, but my husband’s schnitzel was tender and crispy. 

Eating in-hotel
Eating in-hotel

The raspberry/peach/blueberry cobbler was fine. Now, it’s time for bed. Let’s see what awaits us just ahead!


It’s a New Year!

August is coming to an end, but our new year is just beginning! My husband and I decided that we would like to travel before we were too old to enjoy it. This past week we leased out our home for one year. Next week we hit the road on a 6-8 week tour of the eastern part of our wonderful United States! We live in a beautiful country and there are so many interesting places to explore.  First stop is New Orleans, Louisiana. Then, it’s down to Miami, Florida and maybe to Savannah, Georgia before heading up the East Coast. I have never seen a true “turning of the leaves”, so we have to visit that gorgeous national forest in Maine! Since we’ll be so close to our northern neighbor, we’ll pop on over the border to Canada, “Ay!” If we hear of some place interesting nearby, we may go off the beaten path – who knows. 


Along the way, I have tentative interviews set up. Several are with people I follow on Twitter and vice versa. Expect photos of our stops and short videos created through Qwiki, my very, very most favorite photo/video app! 


Houston will be our home base as we work our way through the states. If you have any places we should check out for you along the way, just send me a reply!


If all goes well, we plan to head overseas next year!




Sometimes It’s Best to Let It Go

We’re now in the wait and see part of our plan. There are still lots of items to donate, trash or keep. I look around and think that half of what we have should be gone. Having a load of material things can often weigh you down. But, it’s just so hard to let things go.

Forgiveness is freeing
Forgiveness is freeing

That’s the same with thoughts and feelings. Sometimes you may want to re-hash a bad experience over and over in your mind so that you can hold on to the anger and bitterness. It keeps the hurt alive. It also weighs on you. I have prayed about it. I would rather hand over the heaviness and move on. Try it. You might be surprised at how light you feel!


A New Chapter

Please forgive me. It’s been a while since I posted an entry. So much has happened in just a few short months. Starting another decade of my life, deciding (along with my husband) that change is good and taking steps to begin that change … takes planning and implementation.

If my thoughts seem a bit disjointed, it’s because I’m writing this on the fly. There’s no time to read, re-read and re-read everything. It’s an early night for me. Tomorrow will be quite busy as we rise early to pull things out of the house and garage for our second yard sale in as many weeks. As we de-clutter our house, we are also de-cluttering our lives. My mother was a packrat and I am trying to recover from such bad habits. Nowadays, I may snap a quick photo of a worn item that is weighed down with memories before determinely tossing it. Not everything is going, but one must be strong and selective while moving through rooms of things remembered.

When we begin the next phase of this process, I hope to be posting my feelings and photos of what we are seeing. It’s an adventure and I’d love for you to join me!

iPhoneography Social Media

Vine vs. Takes vs. Qwiki

When Vine came out, I read reviews and watched a musical rant by the talented Toby Turner and decided I was too long-winded to use it effectively. Takes came out in March and I fell in love! Qwiki jumped in and I’m s-o-o-o happy!

I just downloaded Vine so I could try it out for this story. It’s quite limiting and I haven’t been pleased with my efforts. There are about a dozen song clips already loaded, plus you can use the original audio or music from your library. Some of the Vines are nice, like when @erskin and his daughter, Emma, Buy a Rainbow. I’m a sucker for cute kids and puppy dogs. One Vine, Nordstrom’s tie tying, is so abrupt that after a few loops, it gave me motion sickness. Too, I was warned that Vine allows offensive and possibly inappropriate postings. Takes and Qwiki, so far, have been wonderful family friendly experiences with no unpleasant surprises.

Takes is a string of 3 second clips that you can link (up to 15) into a video. After picking clips to use, you can easily change the order by dragging and dropping them in the bottom sequence strip. It starts taking video before you even take the shot. You can get about 3 seconds of action before pressing the shutter for the still shot. The still shot is automatically saved to your camera roll. Those photos are usually snapped at the end of a movement and are often not as clear as a true still shot. When possible, I’ve quickly switched to the regular camera to take a still shot. There are 18 different song snippets already loaded, in addition to using original audio or music from your library. It uses facebook and I don’t, but my private Takes can be tweeted or emailed. The Takes below is from my YouTube channel, SooSooSees.

Qwiki pulls photos and videos from your phone’s camera roll to create a fun collage with lots of personality! It can create a random collage or you can take over creative control. It will only pull a snippet from videos longer than a few seconds, but you can actually edit it down to the part you want to show! It has 9 free music choices, plus library options. Click the little timer icon on the right of the video and you can set it to play in one of three speeds – slow, normal or fast. Another cool feature: six different exposures you can play your Qwiki in, such as Sepia and X-Process! It’s not as easy (as Takes) to move photos and videos around. I found that loading each photo/video in its own slot and loading from the last to first shot you want to see, makes it easier to move things around. I can combine some to create group collages within the Qwiki and add titles to different sections of footage. It allows a nice amount of photos and videos to construct a wider, fuller view of the event.

What I LOVE about Qwiki is the option of pulling photos and video from my camera roll. I shot lots of Takes of a colorful Asian celebration and didn’t immediately create videos to save to my camera roll. BIG mistake! Takes caught a bug and locked me out. I contacted them and got a quick reply. They sent out an update with a bug fix the next day, but I had to uninstall, then reinstall. Everything was GONE, save for the photos that are auto-saved in the camera roll. That’s when Qwiki came to the rescue! I was able to create a nice collage. If not for that, I would have been really sad. The only negative is that I can’t get original audio.  Come on, Qwiki, you can do it!

Below, I shot the same scene with Vine, Takes and Qwiki. It gives you an idea of which works best for you in any given situation:

Vine of Fish Gotta Swim

Takes of  Swimming by a Sea of Titles

Qwiki of  Swimming by The Little Mermaid

So, it doesn’t hurt to have several photo apps that offer different options. Do you have an app you LOVE that others should have too???


Security Social Media

Kids and iPad Security

I have known Charles Swihart for many years. He owns Sugar Land PC, an onsite computer repair service. The company also removes viruses and spyware! Charles was nice enough to agree to let me re-post the article below from his column, The Computer Corner :

I see lots of parents handing off their iPads to the kids to play on, but if they are connected to a Wi-Fi connection, they have just as much access to inappropriate material from the iPad as they do on the home computer.

Here is a built-in method to lock down their iPad activities. Go to Settings, then General, then Restrictions. Tap “Enable Restrictions” and set a 4 digit Passcode. Within the Restrictions, you can disable the ability to install or delete apps. You can set the age rating for apps so that your 9 year old cannot run apps rated for an adult and disable in-app purchases and iTunes so a child cannot make purchases.

You can also set rating restrictions for music, movies and TV shows. You can turn off the camera, face time, safari, Facebook and multiplayer games.

There are also many other things you can restrict. Look it over. Be careful with the app ratings. When you disable an app, it disappears from the screen. When you bring it back, it will no longer be in its group. So if you disable and enable a lot of apps based on rating, you may find yourself reorganizing icons.

iPads are all standard. This means that they all have this Restrictions feature. iPhones and other iOS devices also have the Restrictions feature. Android devices are each customized by their manufacturer so some may come with parental controls and others without, but you can search the Google Play Store for “Parental Controls” to find several different apps for restricting access on an Android device.

For the home computer, Windows 7 has a built-in Parental Controls feature. Just click on the start button and type “Parental Controls” to set it up. On a Mac you can enable Parental Controls under System Preferences and Accounts.

It is very easy for a child to stumble upon things online that they should not be exposed to so take the time to protect them on the devices they use. If you have questions about parental controls or tracking online history, give us a call. Feel free to pass this along to your friends.

Charles Swihart, Sugar Land PC;


“Flee, Hide or Fight!”

Tonight, I watched ABC’s 20/20 episode on what to do in case of a dangerous situation. It showed armed ex-employees in the workplace, store shooters and other situations. It interviewed people from multi-car pile-ups, rescuers of customers trapped in a burning building and those involved in the car hijacked by the alleged Boston bombers. It also gave suggestions of what one can do in such a volatile situation. It was riveting!

One of the video clips shown was from the City of Houston, regarding steps to take in case of an active shooter. I remember it well as I had a small part in the taping of that video. I was one of the people who fled and hid behind a fire truck. (You can’t see much more than my sunglasses in the half second the camera panned by.) There was plenty of down time, so I would pump the assistants who worked on the script for more information.

Tonight’s show had me thinking about school shootings. I googled active shooter videos. Currently, Ohio is giving out an active shooter training video from the Attorney General to every school district in the state. In such situations, school staff and other employees become first responders. Every second counts. The video is titled, “School Shootings: How to be Aware, Prepare, and be a First Responder in a Crisis.”

One of THE best videos for high school and college students to fight back that I found is by Alon Stivi, ex-Israeli Special Forces commando. It requires a determined mindset as students must step up. If there is no door lock or the attacker is determined to sho0t his way in, Stivi gives simple step-by-step manuevers to distract and disarm the intruder. It doesn’t require brute strength. It requires staying calm and having an action plan. If you are cornered, hiding under a desk will make you a sitting duck. Empowering students to fight back can save lives. Many of the techniques demonstrated are adaptable for other defensive situations. It’s excellent!

In Bergen County, New Jersey, a training video called, “Lockdown,” shows what two “teachers” did when active shooters entered their school. It goes on to explain what each did and did not do right. Knowing how to make split second choices under intense circumstances is a valuable tool.

Scott with Pragmatic Survival goes over some insightful tips to survive an active shooting. He points out possible tricks attackers may use that I didn’t even consider might happen. Years ago, I wouldn’t think that attackers would take the time to set traps. After seeing video of police swarming a shooter’s booby-trapped apartment, it’s no longer a far fetched idea. Scott’s video is worth watching.

The school year is winding down, but we parents can’t let our guards down. If you are able, consider volunteering at your child’s school. Seeing many extra sets of eyes watching out for our children’s safety might deter potential attackers. Whatever you read or watch, please do something to help prepare yourself and your family against a possible attack. The more we know, the better the chances for survival. We can’t always be with our children. Praying daily for our families is a good thing.

Events People

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:5 (NIV)

A week ago, on a bright, glorious day in Boston, two brothers decided to show their contempt and hatred for the country in which they resided. Video shows them making package drops along a street teeming with spectators during the Boston Marathon. First, a bomb blast sent an enveloping cloud of smoke into the crowds. Further down the street, another bomb discharge caused more pandemonium. Three, then four casualties and close to 150 injuries later, a bewildered and shocked city struggled to take in what had occurred, Boston Marathon. A roar of deep pain and an angry determination for justice mobilized one of the most comprehensive manhunts in Boston history. Several days later, a suspected attacker is killed and his brother is in police custody in a hospital. One striking photo from that horrific day is of a woman kneeling on the sidewalk fervently praying.

Two days after the Boston bombing, a fertilizer plant in West, Texas blew up, sending a huge plume of smoke and fire into the evening sky. In a small town of 2,800, emergency first responders arrived quickly to contain the fire. That’s when a second, even more powerful explosion rocked the plant, knocking people to the ground. It launched into the night air flaming embers, pieces of burning metal and anything else it could to decimate a four block surrounding area.   The fire took 14 lives, of which 11 were emergency responders, West, Texas Plant Explosion. Approximately 200 people were taken to area hospitals. In such a close-knit community, most everyone knew the 11 emergency volunteers. The U.S. Geological Survey stated that the explosion registered a magnitude 2.1, comparing it to a minor earthquake.

Please pray for the people affected by these two devastating events. Their hearts must be breaking over the many lives lost or affected physically and emotionally by unexplained circumstances.


Marketing People Social Media Travel

Simple Marketing

Bucko & Mac wait for trick-or-treaters
Bucko & Mac wait for trick-or-treaters

Years ago, I fostered two adorable puppies for the Houston SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). The energetic, furry bundles of joy each had to weigh five pounds before they could be available for adoption. I, along with our children, took care of brothers, “Bucko” and “Mac” (so named by my son), for six weeks. When I brought them in to be weighed and they hit the magic number, the shelter took them. My son cried when he came home from school and they weren’t there to jump for joy and lick his face. He said he didn’t even get to say goodbye. The next day, Saturday, we went by the SPCA around noon. They were gone … both of them. He was very sad. We were both teary eyed. There were plenty of puppies and kittens at the shelter. I think that my information about the pups helped find them new families. I had brought a photo of them obediently sitting by the doorway, wearing capes at Halloween, along with a brief description of their personalities. Both pieces were attached to their cage. (“Bucko is like the Energizer Bunny and his brother, Mac, is a little lazy.”) Unfortunately for my son, sometimes a bit of marketing can bring about a speedier response.

When my husband and I owned a retail shop, I made a point of getting to know the neighbors along the strip shopping center. Small business owners are not known to have large advertising budgets. I went to all the merchants and asked if they would like to meet and see if we could all work together on combined promotions. We met before retail hours in one of the shops and brainstormed. A successful promotion was the sidewalk sale. Stores displayed merchandise outside the door, sale signs plastered the storefronts and cross promotion offers were handed out. If I remember correctly, the photo processing store (a rare sight nowadays) gave out a discount coupon with purchases, for picture framing at the frame shop next door. When we wanted support from the landlord for events or a shop owner had an issue, I was nominated to represent the merchants. When we moved the shop a decade later, I repeated the process. It’s a good way to get to know others who may come back into your life. Years later, when I was organizing Women in Action luncheons, I was able to get my old landlord to be one of the sponsors!

I also joined a couple of networking groups. One was of merchants in my shop’s area that focused on projects to help the community. We sponsored events for kids, volunteered with children’s activites at the community center, supported the police bike patrol and looked for ways to build up the area. The other was comprised of professionals that met in the Galleria, an upscale area of town.  There could only be one of each type of business and members (attorney, courier service, etc.) gave each other business. I learned that marketing in numbers is a good thing. Working with both groups, any projects that we promoted together was stronger. 

Ed Shaerf is the chef patron of One Blenheim Terrace in St. John’s Wood, Westminster, in the United Kingdom. He re-tweets followers’ photos/comments on his wonderfully creative dishes! One of the amazing things that social media allows is real time interaction. Chef Shaerf knows how to connect. He entices walk-ins with tweeted “tonight only” freebies:

    Ed Shaerf ‏@EdShaerf  6 Apr

    We have a few tables left at @oneblenheim tonight! Come and try our new menu and have a glass of champagne on me!

    Call 0207 3721722 to book!

I have to add this as I just viewed the fun video: Talented songbird,  Jeanie Barton, will be performing at the restaurant’s jazz brunch. And because this restaurant has posted offers on Groupon and received 4.5/5 stars from TripAdvisor, I must remember to join Groupon when over there and to check out other great travel offers for hotels, events, etc.!

Lynne Smelser, @LynneSmelser, was a literary aide at a Michigan elementary school when she made up imaginative stories of an inquisitive young sheepdog and his friend. She hoped to spark a love of reading through the adventures of “Noodles & Goo.” She began with copies of word documents and worked up to self-published copies. Now, she is on Kickstarter, seeking a relatively small amount to take her stories to the next level. That includes a more polished version of the series utilizing industry professionals and marketing to a wider audience. I am considering donating $25 so that I can get an autographed copy of the book when it comes out in a few months. It will help an educator encourage young readers and make a wonderful gift for a  little one!

These are just a few simple, affordable ways to market your business or projects. I hope these ideas get your creative juices flowing to find ways to easily promote anything!

Events iPhoneography People Social Media Travel

iPhoneography is Growing Up!

Recently, a professional photographer was scolded for mis-titling his article. Maybe “CONNECT”, the photography site he guest blogged on punched it up a bit, not taking into consideration that it might seem misleading. After that, commenters found fault with his using an iPhone instead of his wonderful DSLR to capture wedding shots at a secluded island’s mass wedding. As the islanders had possibly never seen a professional photographer with big-lensed cameras and blinding light accessories, Kevin Kuster used his iPhone so as to not intimidate them. (His DSLR was used in a smaller capacity.) He also showed two images he had taken at another time of a reenactment soldier. I personally preferred the one taken close up. The other, taken with an iPhone, didn’t have the sharp, polished look of the first, but it seemed to me that he captured more personality. Judging by the blistering comments, you would have thought Mr. Kuster had committed a sacrilege by not using his big camera for the wedding couples! Now, before the DSLR League starts getting riled up, I L-O-V-E the wonderfully crisp, detailed shots from DSLRs. I REALLY do!!! I greatly admire those who take the time and effort to share just gorgeous, phenomenal images with the world. I defer to their dedication to the craft and step aside to go another direction. I can’t afford hundreds of dollars in lenses and I’m too lazy to do more than compose the image, check the lighting, hold steady and click. Anything more is done through my blessed apps, Camera+, Snapseed, etc. ( App designers, has anyone told you lately how wonderful you are?!!? )

Many of the scathing comments to Mr. Kuster were quite mean spirited. Never mind that he was not charging the non-profit group that organized the event and went at his own expense. Or that the couples were quite happy with owning their first ever photographs, holding precious images that would last longer than their lifetimes. An old adage came to mind: “No good deed goes unpunished.” I will say that Mr. Kuster replied with good humor and took the high road. There’s another saying: “Virtue is its own reward.”

I can understand Kuster’s reasoning. I have also photographed people for interviews, albeit for a much, much smaller circulation. They would face my modest Canon PowerShot SX and start fidgeting, becoming a portrait of restless discomfort. Maybe they were just plain shy. Maybe they realized that friends and neighbors numbering into the thousands would see them in a publication that also has an online presence. Having a decent sized camera aimed at you, and only you, can be unsettling.

Well-known sports photographer, Nick Laham, recently used his iPhone to get the perfect shot of the New York Yankees’ third baseman, Alex Rodriguez, That appeared on the New York Times’ front page … yes, the NEW YORK TIMES.

VII Photo Agency Mentor, Peter DiCampo, has stated that his smartphone allows him “to return to photography’s original and vital purposes: self-exploration and remembrance.”

Photojournalist Ben Lowy covered the Libyan riots last summer, using his iPhone. An iPhone was used instead of a DSLR to allow easier access to the real people. Regarding the Libya assignment, this is what Ben Lowy put on his site: “I was also tasked with using social media platforms like Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook to immediately post images of Libya, bypassing traditional print venues and perhaps paving the way for a new type of interactive and immediate visual storytelling.”

That last thought perfectly echoes my sentiments!

Events Uncategorized

Easter has Past, but This Never Will …





 “For God so loved the world

   that He gave his only begotten son

   that whosoever believeth in Him

   shall not perish

   but have everlasting life.”


   John 3:16


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 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 and on Facebook.

Terri Pham


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 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.

Barbara Sundstrom is the driving force behind Cross Wind Productions. She gave me a quick interview during a lull in production.

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

Liu - China Trip 2012 748

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.

Liu - China Trip 2012 218 - Copy

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! 

Liu - China Trip 2012 454

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 . 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, 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.

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,, 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, 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,, 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,, 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,, 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

Liu - China Trip 2012 281 - Copy

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

Houston People

Yao Ming? Moses Malone?

If you had a chance to chat with an NBA star or two, what would you say? If you have had that opportunity, did you regret not saying everything you wanted? The other day I saw Yao Ming on the news, watching his former team, the Houston Rockets, play. A camera had panned the arena and I was happy to see that Yao looked to be in good health. He’s in town for the All Star weekend, which promises to be a fun event. His parents and the family restaurant are here in Houston and it’s assumed that he comes in when he can. Ming has kept busy since retiring from basketball in 2011. He’s taken university courses and become a vintner. It seems that his company made an excellent first effort with some lovely Napa Valley cabernets. Several years ago, I had the wonderful experience of sitting next to Yao Ming for an hour. We were filming a spot for a conservation organization called WildAid ( The group is dedicated to ending illegal wildlife trade through public awareness campaigns. It’s motto is “When the buying stops, the killing can too.” (Afterward, I went to their website and signed the pledge to not eat shark fin soup. So, at Chinese weddings and banquets where it’s served, I’ll pass and share with tablemates why. ) The shoot took most of the day, but Yao & Team (or should I say Entourage?) came in later. Joe Grisaffi of Southwest Casting had assembled a large group of students, waitpersons, and other non-actors to simulate a busy restaurant in Asia. It was being shot in the beautiful Landry’s restaurant, Downtown Aquarium. There typically aren’t a lot of Asian actors in the Houston area, so a call went out to all sorts of groups. I do the occasional talent gig so was quite happy to be cast as a principal. (In the group photo below, I’m the one in red.) Before Yao Ming’s arrival the group received instructions, including no photographs and no rushing the man when he came in. You could feel the excitement, as Yao is such a megastar to Chinese around the globe. His group sat off to the side while everyone else snacked and chatted and made a miniscule effort to not stare. When everything was set up, we sat down. There were instructions of “Look at the shark”, “Look at the soup”, “Look a little longer”. In between takes I introduced myself and the other table mate, whom I had met earlier. As time wore on, the directions became repetitious. Finally, when the director told Yao to look at the soup, Yao misunderstood and looked at the “Soo.” I did what anyone else would do to help the scene along. With my back to the camera, I made a scrunchy silly face! After the take, Yao looked at me and said he almost laughed. That broke the ice and it became easier to talk. I asked how his leg was doing. The last six years of his basketball career was spent recovering from injuries. With the amount of wear and tear that extremely large frame received, it was not unexpected. His reply was pretty direct. With a slow shake of his head he said, “Not good.” Said he’d just come from physical therapy and it wasn’t healing as well as the doctor thought it would. Now, mind you, this was a day or two before a news release stating that same fact. That was the moment I wished I had said more, that I would pray for him. Sometimes it can be a comfort to know that others will be thinking of you and supporting you. That was actually the second time I had met an NBA star and wished I had said more. The first was way, way, way back in the days of the Rockets’ Moses Malone. At the time, I was working a talent gig for a builder by the name of General Homes. If you remember Arte Johnson of “Laugh-In” fame, you might remember him playing a general in a series of television commercials. The scene was a dinner party in one of the homes. A couple of the men recognized the towering Moses Malone, so we went over to introduce ourselves. He wasn’t very talkative, so after a few minutes we left him alone. One of the guys said he probably came from a small town and was shy. Later, I was placed next to him at the dinner table. Between takes I tried again to start a conversation. No progress. I was also young and didn’t want to seem pushy. It would have been nice to ask him about his exciting career, but some people like to keep to themselves.   If you’d like to share your story of meeting a celebrity, please comment! Click to see: Yao Ming, Shark Fin Soup Image

Social Media

An Intervention – Mine!

The year began with an unexpected scene. At least to me, it was…

Our car is just leaving a relative’s house after a satisfying New Year’s Day lunch. The conversation begins immediately. One child clasps my hand for support (or to keep it from doing harm?). The other launches into a long list of family and friends’ reactions to my “addiction.”

“Mom, you gotta stop taking so many pictures with your iPhone! The cousins and my friends are telling me that’s all they see you do. Adam was telling me about all your photo apps.”

Well, Adam didn’t know what Aviary was until I showed him! My response? “Almost all of them were free.” I was brought up to be fairly frugal.

The other child chimes in with, “My friends told me you were taking pictures at a Red Egg party and you’re not even family! And you were taking pictures all during a baby shower.”

I had no defense for the first party. Then, an indignant, “I was assigned to take photos for the shower!”

“You’re always checking your phone, even during dinner.”

“Oh, do I?”

“You spend too much time playing with your pictures.”

I DO have to edit them.

“You always were taking too many pictures, but since you got that phone, you’ve gone crazy!” That comes with a silent “I told you so” thrown over my husband’s shoulder as he continues driving. Now, mind you, I struggled that first week of learning how to use such an unfamiliar phone. So much so that one child said, “Mom, you’re not ready for this.”

Finally, I conceded. I agreed that the past year of enjoying a new toy with awesome apps and learning to tweet just sucked me in. They didn’t buy the “I’m doing it for research” bit, though it IS partly true. Who can resist exploring when the world is at one’s fingertips?!? Any question or subject can be googled! Tweeting with new friends across the globe is sweet!

Even so, I stated that I would try to do better this year. Went home and within two days deleted not all, but close to 2,000 images from my camera roll. Of course, those were copied over first!

I make a conscious effort to not take my phone with me everywhere around the house. There have been a couple of days I forgot my phone when leaving home… and I’m still alive!

If you have a similar addiction, don’t wait for an intervention. It’s quite unpleasant. Take baby steps, like mine. Come on, we can do it together!

“This is the day that the Lord hath made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 118:24