Events Food People Travel

Icelandic Christmas

Last month, I gave a talk about an Icelandic Christmas at our church’s “Christmas Around the World” event and thought to share one more post about a country I really enjoyed visiting!

Iceland is really pronounced, (deeper 1st syllable) “EEs-land.” (All the pronunciations in this article are my clumsy attempts to say it as well as I can after listening to the phonetics online.)

It’s a beautiful country! Europe’s largest glacier shares the island with many bubbling hot springs and spouting “GAY-sirs”, where the word geyser was born. It has active volcanoes, like the one no broadcaster can pronounce. You have a choice of where to sink in and relax in the many spectacular geothermal hot pools around the island. The island’s cold running water comes straight from natural springs; hot running water is from the thermal springs, but don’t drink it!

Many movies and TV shows have been shot here. Iceland is the only place in the world that you can actually see the collision of BOTH the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates! Iceland’s Thingvellir (THING-vet-lish) National Park is the UNESCO World Heritage site of one of the world’s earliest and longest running parliaments, starting from 930 AD!

When Iceland was settled in the 800s, most residents were pagan, worshipping Norse gods. Their language is almost unchanged from ancient Norse! Before Christianity was introduced, winter solstice celebrations were extravagant events.

When Olaf Tryggvason, a Christian, ascended the throne of Norway in the late 900s, more people in Iceland became Christians. So much so that strong religious differences between the pagans and the Christians stirred up the beginnings of a civil war.

So, in the year 1000, after a meeting of all of Iceland’s leaders, the country’s official religion was declared to be Christianity. Christmas is called, “Yule” or “jYu ol” (“Jol”) in Icelandic. It is not a reference to Christ or the church. It’s a Norse word and existed in Old English as Yule. So, Christmas in Iceland is a mix of Christianity and old Norse traditions with two celebrations – celebrating the birth of Christ and the beginning of the lengthening daylight hours.

Christmas is a serious event. People start decorating as early as October to brighten the increasingly longer nights. They have Christmas markets, even one by an ice skating rink, concerts and Christmas buffets filled with delicious Icelandic Christmas foods!

The whole house is cleaned, everyone gets something new to wear, the best food is purchased, the house is decorated and HUNDREDS of cookies are baked!

Yule time “officially” lasts 13 days, from December 24 to January 6, when all Christmas decorations are removed from the streets. Christ’s birth is celebrated on December 25th and the Three Wise Men are celebrated on January 6th.

Beginning 13 days BEFORE Christmas, the first of 13 Yule Lads comes down from the mountains. Old folklore says that they were the sons of trolls and each day a different boy would come down to cause trouble. These days, they’re “good” lads that look more like skinny Santa Clauses. Each child puts their best shoe on the windowsill. The lads pass by. If a child was good, a small present like candy, a book or a toy is left. If a child was bad, a rotten potato is left in the shoe!

Another strange, yet popular, tale says that EVERY Icelander MUST receive a new piece of clothing for Christmas. If not, the Yule Lads’ HUGE black cat, known as the Christmas Cat, will wander around the island on Christmas Eve and EAT those who don’t have new clothes!

A much more inviting image than that of a human-eating cat is of a child happily reading a brand new book in a cozy bed. Did you know that 93% of Icelanders will have read at least one book each year? And, one islander in ten will publish a book in their lifetime – fascinating!

The annual Jólabókaflóð, or “Yule Book Flood,” is a Christmas tradition that had it’s beginning in World War II. At that time, foreign imports were limited, but paper was plentiful. Nowadays, publishers release a flood of new books right before Christmas and people go bananas! What a beautiful way to spend a quiet Christmas evening, settling down with a good book.

On December 23rd, three things occur:

1) December 23rd was once a religious day. That’s when Saint Thorlac (Tour-r-r Lack), the patron saint of Iceland, died. Now, it’s traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year and has become the “last-minute-shopping-like-crazy” day! Icelanders spend the evening in the city, and shops and cafes stay open late.

2) In (R-r-rAY-gya-veek) Reykjavik, the country’s capital, the annual peace walk goes down the main shopping street with marchers carrying torches. It’s a pretty amazing sight!

3) And, December 23rd is when many families make and eat skata (SKAH-ta). It’s a dish made from a member of the shark family that looks more like a stingray. Much like Asia’s stinky tofu and durian, it has an OVERWHELMINGLY foul odor. Skata smells like something is rotting, although it’s only fermented. This is usually the only day it’s eaten ALL year because the disgusting smell is so strong that if you’ve been cooking or eating a lot of it, it gets into your clothes and stays with you!

Cemeteries are often decorated with Christmas lights! The Christmas, or Yule tree, is usually decorated early Christmas Eve. Originally, decorations included candles, fruit and popcorn or cranberry garlands. Nowadays, a star or crown will top the tree, and the Icelandic Flag is often used as a decoration, along with garlands, lights and more decorations.

A popular Christmas side dish is laufabraud (LAY va bredt) meaning leaf bread, which are wafer-thin rounds of wheat dough cut into delicate patterns and quick fried. (The bread goes back at least to the 1700s.) Early December, the whole family, even the men, get together to make the bread so that it can be enjoyed with the Christmas meal. Nowhere else in the world does anyone make such unique “breads.”

A simple Christmas meal also includes lamb, often smoked, red cabbage and boiled potatoes. The Christmas cake, jolakaka, has raisins in it.

Another unusual tradition is that on Christmas Eve, at 6pm, Christmas Day starts!

After dinner, presents are taken from under the Christmas tree and opened. Some will leave their cozy warm houses to go to church. It is like a typical American family holiday. People eat at home, play board games and snuggle under blankets watching Christmas movies. Christmas Day, December 25th, people visit family. The day after, Boxing Day, involves going to MORE family gatherings.

Years ago, TVs would be turned off on Christmas between 5p and 10pm, to focus on Christmas activities, but that’s no longer the case. Still, there’s no public dancing or entertainment on the 24th and 25th. It’s family time. This is Iceland’s longest holiday – everything is closed from noon on Christmas Eve until December 27!

The Aurora Borealis often appears during this time. And if you want a White Christmas in Iceland, you’ll do well to head to Northern Iceland.

On a side note, some of my Sunday school classmates made four Icelandic Christmas cookies: Silver Coins (Spesiur); Rice Krispies Muffins; Chocolate-Cornflake (Marens-Kornflexkokur; Soft Chocolate Pikes. The overwhelming favorite was the Marens-Kornflexkokur cookies from the recipe.

These are the sources I can remember: wikipedia;;;;;;;

Events Food Houston People

White Linen Night in the Heights

The DJ on the platform takes a selfie with two young women.
The DJ on the platform takes a selfie with two young women.

This past weekend, we attended White Linen Night in the Heights. It has been a popular event in Houston for the past 11 years, but this was our first time. The lively affair started when a couple of transplants from New Orleans suggested it to generate more interest in businesses along 19th street in the Heights area.

Vanity Salon on 19th St. provided hair braiding for a donation to their designated charity.
Vanity Salon on 19th St. provided hair braiding for a donation to their designated charity.

The couple, Chris & Kay Thayer, had a business on Magazine Street in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit and flooded 80% of the city. Their shop was not damaged, but they knew life would be very different if they stayed. They became part of the exodus of over 250,000 people resulting from the devastating levee failures against Hurricane Katrina’s powerful winds and water surges during that fateful summer of 2005.

The woman, below, looks up at a gorgeous chandelier rescued from an estate sale in River Oaks!
The woman, below, looks up at a gorgeous chandelier rescued from an estate sale in River Oaks!

Because of that evacuation, many New Orleanians decided not to go back to a place they loved dearly but knew they had to start afresh elsewhere. Plenty settled in Houston and brought their wonderful Creole culture with them. You can drive around the Heights and realize there is a definite influence.

I always wanted to meet famous women! This art car gave me the opportunity to hang out with bigger-than-life portraits of Mary Tyler Moore, Yoko Ono and Frida Kahlo!
I always wanted to meet famous women! This art car gave me the opportunity to hang out with bigger-than-life portraits of Mary Tyler Moore, Yoko Ono and Frida Kahlo!

The organizers of the annual free event only asks that you come dressed in white (preferably all white) and browse the local businesses.

Well, it wasn't quite a luau, but it felt like it in one of the shops that offered hair braiding along with clothes shopping, with a Hawaiian twist!
Well, it wasn’t quite a luau, but it felt like it in one of the shops that offered hair braiding along with clothes shopping, with a Hawaiian twist!

There are lots of freebies like water, teas, photo booth pictures, ice cream samples, appetizers, etc.

Large pitchers of complimentary iced tea in an antique shop greeted thirsty customers coming in from the Houston heat.
Large pitchers of complimentary iced tea in an antique shop greeted thirsty customers coming in from the Houston heat.

If you come before 6:30 pm, you can easily find a parking space at the Chase bank parking lot. It gets harder to find a parking space as the night gets longer. There’s a younger vibe later in the evening.

An Old English Sheepdog, or Bobtail, sits watching the crowds go by.
An Old English Sheepdog, or Bobtail, sits watching the crowds go by.

People packed the upper terrace at Harold’s restaurant and dined on authentic creole cuisine as they viewed the activity down below. We skipped the crowded restaurants and festival food trucks and left around 9 pm to stop at a local Mexican restaurant on the way home.

As the day wore on, no one seemed to notice as day seamlessly drifted into night.
As the day wore on, no one seemed to notice as it drifted seamlessly into night.

If you don’t mind the heat that will ease a little as the sun goes down and you enjoy shopping, this should be a night to put on your calendar for next year!

Sources: Creole vs.Cajun ;;

Food People Travel Uncategorized

Iceland Goes Before Istanbul

Last fall, my husband and I left our home in the sunny warmth of the Texas heat to begin an almost 3 month adventure! The plan was to start in Iceland, travel across Western Europe and fly back from Istanbul.


We headed to “The Land of Fire and Ice”, also known as Iceland, Island (pronounced “istlant”) and the Republic of Iceland. It has other, older names that I can’t pronounce. One that I can, is the Kingdom of Iceland. Yes, kingdom, and with their own coat of arms!

Wait! I can’t go on about our trip without giving props to Iceland’s amazing football team’s performance during the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament! With a bit over 330,000 Icelanders on 40,000 scenic square miles, it’s the most sparsely populated nation in Europe. And yet, it’s national football (soccer) team beat England … ENGLAND!!!

Do you know that joke? “A Swedish coach, a part-time dentist and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson walk onto a field …”

It was just awesome when 27,000 Icelanders (about 8% of the country) flew to France and vigorously supported their team.  Heard they were model fans. They stayed out of trouble, unlike the rowdy, brawling British and Russian fans! And for the team to arrive home to a sea of people carpeting the field near the harbor and singing the “Viking War Chant” in unison, so cool! (Thanks, RT global news!)

Well, we arrive in Reykjavik to no such glorious welcome. It’s overcast and a bit dreary-looking, with a constant misty drizzle. We booked an AirBnB, just a five minute walk to the downtown shops and restaurants. It’s a one bedroom apartment with a decent sized kitchen/living room in a residential area.

CityWalk tour with Marteinn
Oh, the stories Marteinn can tell you!

We go on a free CityWalk tour with energetic Marteinn. The drizzle lets up and I get some photos. Marteinn is the walk’s founder and he’s very informative.

Reykjavik City Hall
We walked along Lake Tjornin and right into Reykjavik’s City Hall!

We visit City Hall, the building on the left at the end of this path along the lake. There is a restaurant in the building where the lake’s fish swim by the window. Tip: There’s also a giant map of Iceland and clean public restrooms!

Funny thing. Even though it’s called Iceland and has glaciers, you won’t see ice floating in the water, not even in winter.

Another funny thing. Their telephone book is alphabetized by first name, then surname, occupation and address. The exception, people like singer/composer Björk. She’s so famous only her first name is needed!

Hallgrimskirkja church interior
Inside Hallgrimskirkja church is uncluttered simplicity.

We roamed the city, stopping at the local main landmark. The magnificent image of Hallgrimskirkja church belies the sleekly designed interior. It was nice. We went up to view the city from the church’s observation tower.

Hallgrimskirkja church observation tower
Harbor view from the observation tower of Hallgrimskirkja church.

Lunch found us at a local restaurant that served Icelandic food. I enjoyed my lamb soup and sandwich! At dinner one night, my husband ordered whale. Ugh!!! I couldn’t watch him eat it, even though he said it was similar to steak.

Harpa Concert Hall & Conference Centre
Can you just feel the Harpa Concert Hall & Conference Centre’s space?!?

Harpa Concert Hall & Conference Centre view of the old harbor, Reykjavik, Iceland
Enjoy this view now, as the old harbor will eventually be blocked by tall buildings in the name of commercialism!

One of the more interesting halls I’ve been to is the Harpa Concert Hall & Conference Centre. It’s honeycomb-like framework and great expanses of space are beautifully open to gazing out. Sunrises and sunsets must be spectacular when viewed from its upper floors!

Icelandic waterfall
Another of Iceland’s scenic views.

We also booked a Golden Circle tour. Tip: Don’t wait and book it the day before like we did. Book well in advance as all the better companies will be super busy when the cruise ships arrive! We wanted to go on the small group tour that pulls over and lets you take photos with Icelandic horses. We wound up with a tour company whose guide said little about the surroundings on the way to each destination. It seemed she was just there to ensure that everyone got back on the bus. Good thing we read up about Iceland’s natural beauty and history!

The first stop was just outside of Reykjavik in Þingvellir (Assembly Plains), site of Alþingi (General Assembly), Iceland’s first national parliment. To be standing where chieftains gathered to form the country’s very first national parliament was pretty amazing to me!

Althing, Iceland
Alþingi, Iceland’s first national parliament was formed in 930.

Next stop, the roaring Hvítá river where the two waterfalls of Gullfoss (golden falls) guide the rushing, teeming water straight down into a 105 ft. gorge!

My husband took the photo at just the right moment.

Gullfoss rainbow, Iceland
A rainbow arches over Gullfoss’ two waterfalls at  river.

We enter Haukadalur valley. The valley is known for the Strokkur and Geysir geysers and various mudholes and fumaroles. Yes, the name geyser came from Geysir. We didn’t have to wait very long for Strokkur to erupt. It happened every 8-10 minutes.

Strokkur Geysir steam
Strokkur geyser blew, mudholes bubbled and gaseous steam filled the area!

On the way back, I spot a group of men standing by a river. When asked, the guide explains that it’s a rescue party. Someone is in trouble further up the river and it looks that they are deciding how to handle it. The rescuers are volunteers and they put their own lives at risk each time they go out. So, please exercise good judgment when crossing streams and such when travelling this magnificent, wild country.

Rescue party by the mighty river
The rushing, powerful waters make the rescue party (on the left bank) seem quite insignificant.

Iceland is presumed to have been formed from volcanic lava and is sitting atop two of the earth’s shifting plates, Eurasian and North American, causing earthquakes and geysers and volcanoes to erupt. Speaking of volcanoes, Iceland has more than 200 of them. There are 30 active systems running through the island. They put out so much heat that Icelanders harnessed it to supply the entire island with hot water and energy. Careful, you can drink the cold tap water, but the hot tap water is not drinkable!

Remember Eyjafjallajökull, the 2010 volcano that no newscaster could pronounce? It erupted and caused flight delays in Europe and its lava created two new mountains!

Now, if you want to really view a volcano from the inside, that would be Þríhnúkagígur. It’s the only volcano in the whole world you can actually go down, deep inside!

We were so happy to have experienced a little bit of the island’s natural beauty. I created a flipagram of our time in Iceland.

If you want to read more about the culture and history of Iceland, Katharina Hauptmann shares some interesting articles about Iceland. I researched online at wikipediaVisit Iceland and several sites that I’ve forgotten already. Just google Iceland and you will see lots to educate yourself on this amazing nation and its storied history!

Events Food People Social Media Travel

Where’s Soo?


The Question

Did you wonder what happened to me this year? Did you think I dropped off the face of the earth??? I admit it. There wasn’t much reaching out this year, but I’m still here. Really. I am.


The Explanation

For one thing, I became more active on Twitter. Quickly posting 140 character tweets, including images, is so freeing. And I learn lots by following amazing people in various fields of interest. I even won an ASUS tablet on Twitter! (Tell you about it in another post.)

The second reason is because we have been traveling quite a bit. Often, in my posts, I try to research places or subjects I mention to give you interesting tidbits and facts. That requires a little more thought and planning, which can be difficult to do when we’re on the go.


The Gratitude

But, let me tell you …

This has been a wonderful year! A blessed year! A year of thanksgiving!

A little one has come into our family and enriched our lives immensely. And to add to that, my husband and I have taken more time to travel our beloved United States and beyond.



DSC06416We visited Ice Land at Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas. It was 9° inside! They brought in a team of experienced ice sculptors from Harbin, China. Also known as ‘Ice City’, Harbin is the acknowledged cradle of ice and snow art in China and is famous for its spectacular ice and snow sculptures.  

The Moody Gardens theme was a SpongeBob SquarePants Christmas and went into the first week of 2015. 


Before heading home, we had dinner at Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant, the largest fresh fish house along the Gulf coast. With over 100 years of seafood service in Galveston, this is the place we go when we want a view of the water and to be pampered in a lovely setting.DSC06488


Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the United States and has a large number of Asian residents. Understanding the need to educate Americans about Asia, a group led by former First Lady Barbara Bush and former Ambassador Roy M. Huffington established Asia Society Texas Center in 1979.



I visited the Asia Society Texas Center when there was an exhibit of The Noh Masks of Bidou Yamaguchi. His 2005 mask of Johannes Vemeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” was so unexpected! Can you imagine being behind the mask, trying to feel what she was thinking?






Oni Sadobo, 2011, was made of the treacherous monk from a famous Kabuki play. Very meticulous. Even the brown specks on his face replicated the foxing seen on the original woodblock print!







I couldn’t resist trying on a mask! Like it?





The Museum of Fine Arts Houston offers free general admission every Thursday. Lots of wonderful things to see. One of my favorite pieces is by Mary Cassatt. Mary was one of only two women and the lone American to join the Impressionists. Her close friend, Edgar Degas, encouraged her to join and what a gift she has given us! “Susan Comforting the Baby” is such a lovely snapshot of a typical moment in everyday life.IMG_0561


Really like this sculpture by Robert Rauschenberg, born just down the highway from Houston, in Port Arthur, Texas. Only then, he was called Milton. The chairs are really metal, assembled to appear wooden!


Interesting man. In the mid-1940s, Robert had planned to go into medicine, but after serving in the Navy, he enrolled in art school in Kansas. The following year, he went to Paris to study at one of the art Academies.

In the 1950s, Rauschenberg recyled found things like tissue paper and dirt into his art. Throughout the years, he designed costumes, sets and lighting for dance companies. He also founded or co-founded several organizations to help artists.



The Chinese Lunar New Year brought out some beautiful clothes. This shy young boy was kind enough to stop a moment and let me take a picture. (As with any recognizable close-ups of children, I ask their parents or guardians for permission first.)



We head north to spend time with relatives. It snowed, which doesn’t happen often in the Houston area. It was lovely!



This is also the month trail riders and wagons start the trek to Houston’s Livestock Show & Rodeo! It can take weeks for some teams. This particular team, Los Vaqueros Rio Grande, drove their five wagons the farthest: 386 miles!  It starts in Reynosa, Mexico, crosses into Hidalgo, Texas and comes right by our community on the three week ride into Houston. They have been riding into the HLSR for 42 years! I have only seen them go by our community THREE times in the 20 years we’ve lived here, so it was a real treat to take a quick shot as they rode by!




I went to Arizona to visit my old roommate. We celebrated Palm Sunday at an inspiring, bonding outdoor mass. (I’m Baptist, but she didn’t know of a Baptist church, and well, we worship the same God.)



Afterward, we walked the Labyrinth at the Franciscan Renewal Center. The labyrinth is a physical representation of the journey of one’s life, including experiences, changes, discoveries and challenges. As you walk the path, you are invited to remember the story of your life. For medieval Christians who couldn’t take the long, hard pilgrimage, labyrinths were the alternative form for prayer. The seven circles are shaped like the Cross and you can walk it any way you like.


This particular labyrinth was designed by Taffy Lanser, a founding member of the international Labyrinth Society.


We also went to a festival in Scottsdale.The theme might have been Spain. They had gorgeous Andalusians (Pure Spanish Horses) walking about, singers and (I think) flamenco dancing. Gorgeous desert blooms!



The only down side of the trip was when I was catching a flight back. I had just found out I had to change my flight and leave a day earlier, which was that day! The flight was moved to two hours before take-off and I rushed to find a taxi to take me to the airport. Compared rates and went with Discount Cabs. BIG mistake! Wished I’d taken the time to research it. I gave location and destination and was given an approximation, give or take a few dollars. The cab was late, it didn’t look like a cab, and the driver was new. I had to get in or miss my flight. When I asked the driver why he was so late, he said he didn’t take his phone in when he had to stop at a store. NOT very professional. The final bill was $17 more than the quote. I lost a few minutes trying to speak with a supervisor about the outrageous overage. Three people later, no refund. So, the moral of the story is to use Yelp or check the Better Business Bureau or Google search (or ALL of them!) when comparing prices. The least expensive may not be such a bargain in the long run. Beware Discount Cabs!!!


People Uncategorized

Freedom & Faithfulness


The Issue

Can’t sleep. I’m up at 4:30am this morning, coughing and thirsty. It’s that time of year when the weather changes and my body protests. Take another allergy pill. Been praying for the headache and coughing to go away. Guess God will take them away in His time as my faith is built up.

More Remedies

* Massaging sinus points on my face

*  Drinking a warm, frothy mug of Vitamin C+

*  A very warm salted water gargle

Ah-h-h, that all helps! While waiting for everything to settle, I turn on the TV.

The Glitch

An old episode of the Danny Thomas Show (1953-1964) is on. Danny’s in court to fight a parking ticket. It’s proven that the parking meter was more than five minutes too fast. (A different situation, but it reminds me of last year, when we visited New Haven Green in New Haven, Connecticut. A local said to return to our parking meter at least five minutes before it expires, as the meter people have a penchant for writing tickets early if they think you’re not coming back in time!)

That fast meter caused Danny to receive a ticket, though he returned within the allotted time.

The Outcome

During closing arguments, the city prosecutor derides Thomas’ profession as an entertainer, saying he’ll probably grandstand and open with a song. Danny Thomas stands up and faces the jury. He says only one song will fit the situation and solemnly quotes, not sings, the first line from the great patriotic anthem, “America.”

“My country ’tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty …”

Thomas went on to point out our freedoms. One being that we have the right to stand and speak up if we feel an injustice is taking place, even if it’s against our own government (which was formed for the people, by the people).

Otherwise, the injustice would continue, affecting more and more people until someone finally stands up to fight it.

Danny won the case.

The Point

He also made a point that is still relevant 60 years later! Our freedoms are not guaranteed to be forever. We must be diligent and protect them when they are threatened.

The Lesson

Well, now I know why I’m up at 4:30am. God has a message for me to share.

If you see an injustice and are in the position to right it, please take action. There are many, many things in this world that we by ourselves can’t change. But, there is one simple thing we can do.

One Last Thought

P r a y.

Pray for guidance and the strength to do the right thing.

Pray for our families.

Pray for friends and others who are hurting and how we can help them.

Pray for our nations’ leaders and the world’s leaders.

Pray for hearts to open up to see other options.

Prayer works wonders.

I just prayed for everyone who reads this.

God bless you.


Events People Uncategorized

“Happy Veterans Day!”


“Happy Veterans Day, Baba!”

That’s what I would have said to my father, were he alive today. “Baba” served in the U.S. Army during WWII. He was assigned to mess duty and used those skills to open a succession of restaurants years later. He re-enlisted in the the U.S. 14th Air Service Group, 407th Supply and Service Unit that supported the Flying Tigers stationed in China.

His good friend, Staff Sgt. Lewis Yee, taught him how to drive the big tankers hauling fuel for the airplanes. There were harrowing trips driving convoys through The Hump, that treacherous area of the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains. The Burma road was a deeply winding route between India and China that was taken with big, unwieldy tankers next to sheer drops that required drivers with nerves of steel to navigate. I’ll tell you more about my father and his friend, Staff Sgt. Lewis Yee, in a later post.

If you see or know a veteran, please, please, take time to thank him or her for their service to our country. It can be any day of the year to do it. We owe them much!

“God Bless America!”



Food People Travel Uncategorized

February 2014 Nicaragua!

The present situation regarding Central American children seeking refuge in the United States is disturbing. There are strong, emotional pros and cons on both sides of the issue. I won’t go there. I just want you to know the beauty I saw there earlier this year.

In 1524, the Spaniards established two settlements in what is now Nicaragua. The pre-Colombian Indian civilization there was decimated by their cruel acts. Strange foreigners with powerful weapons came ashore, seemingly out of nowhere. They forcibly took land, tore apart families, forced relatives to toil for them and sent others off on slave ships, never to be seen again! And to top it off, the Spaniards brought deadly diseases that no one had ever experienced before, slowly and painfully killing off the population.  

So began a tumultuous history through multiple centuries. From power struggles, becoming a part of the Mexican Empire, breaking away from Spain (1821), an American mercenary becoming Nicaragua’s president (1856), assassination plots, horrendous civil war crimes, terrifying dictatorships, the U.S.’s unwanted presence, the birth of guerrilla warfare, government corruption and the list goes on and on.

Nicaragua may be the largest of Central America’s countries, but it is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. No wonder it is still trying to recover from centuries of turbulent upheavals!

I hope the time we spend here helps a tiny bit towards that recovery. We arrive in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital. The plan? Leave the next day for Granada, a city known for having some of the finest colonial-era architecture in the country. We spend the night at a backpackers’ lodgings. Oh, joy! Our room has a private bathroom and is air-conditioned.

Next morning, as we prepare to leave for Granada, the owner introduces us to another English-speaking tourist. Gerda’s from Canada. She’s a veteran firefighter from the Northern Territories. Gerda is enthusiastic and persuasive. Very persuasive. She talks us into going with her to Chocoyero-El Brujo Natural Reserve, a secluded tropical forest in Ticuantepe, outside of Managua. It’s named after the green Pacific Parakeets known as Chocoyos.

A local taxi takes us on a jarring, pothole-filled ride up, maybe an hour.

Gerda peeks out from the bunkhouse
Gerda peeks out from the bunkhouse

We three are the only overnight guests in the 455 acre tropical forest. We go up a steep, three tiered walkway. Lonnie & I have the bungalow. Gerda has the bunkhouse all to herself. She has electricity, but just a trickle of cold shower water. We have cold water, but no electricity. (The bulb blew out twice.) Out come the headlamps! At least we have mosquito nets. With the two screen-less windows shut at night, it was pitch dark. The cabin could have used a really, really good cleaning, but since the reserve is operated by (wilderness) men, that’s not going to happen.

Alan Pasos is our very competent guide for the morning, evening and 5-hour hikes. He goes home each night after our dinner and two others keep watch overnight. Alan’s English is good enough that we communicate reasonably well. For two days, he leads us on nighttime and early morning walks to the two waterfalls, often pulling out a birding book to identify a species. He took several of the photographs below, often nimbly scurrying up trees and steep terrain!

We walk silently behind Alan, watching for his signal to stop as he listens for animals traversing the brush and trees. We must be quick to see a furry animal slip across the path or rustle through trees, many pairs of hidden eyes following us. Alan finds a BIG, squiggly night crawler. Of course, Gerda has to pick it up!

Some of what we see:

Chocoyero 11
Welcome to adventure!


Chocoyero 7
A colorful resident


Chocoyero 6
I was surprised to see a little crab scuttle across the path!










Chocoyero 9
Blue Crowned Motmot


Chocoyero 8
Cricket: “Hola, my little cousins!”










Chocoyero 4
A beautifully bushy tail


Chocoyero 5
An owl eye butterfly. The eye scares away predators!














Chocoyero 12
A young owl peers through the brush


Chocoyero 10
Alan gets up close and personal to a howler mother and her child











One of the days, Alan and his father take Lonnie and Gerda on a mid-day five hour hike. Steep terrain, stringing ropes from tree to tree and unstable paths causing mid-air dangling at times!

That’s not for me.

A hammock is on the cabin porch, tied. It’s so pretty!

Tip: If you see a hammock lying around, ask for help.

I ask. They climb up, wrap and tie the ends. I swing on it, daydreaming, until motion sickness sets in. Time to climb down and write in my journal. Later, I take my cell phone down to the lobby to charge – that’s a pleasant surprise! I bring a puzzle from the suitcase. Spend a little time there before leaving the puzzle for another lazing tourist.

Lonnie comes dragging in, cut and bruised. Gerda bounces in behind him, dimples flashing, eyes alight with the joy of testing one’s endurance! She had wanted the six hour hike, but that would have pushed past Lonnie’s limit.

Lonnie shows his hiking wounds to Cricket
Lonnie shows his hiking wounds to Cricket.


Each morning and evening, Alan would lead us to the waterfalls to be amazed at the hundreds of chirping birds roosting in holes in the limestone walls. We peek in a few holes after the birds fly off and there are crickets, too. Alan is so dedicated, making sure we see the beauty of his forest. To me, it’s a jungle, with long, trailing vines and lush foliage. We see so many interesting inhabitants and plants that make up the teeming life of the woodlands!

A 6am walk to the waterfall to hear and see the birds start their day:

Alan’s mother cooks our meals. We eat beans, rice and plantains … three times a day. I find out that plantains can be boiled, fried, grilled, smashed, mashed and sliced. At breakfast, boiled eggs and stewed tomatoes are added. At lunch, boiled eggs are added. At dinner, a piece of chicken is added. There is a cup of delicious fresh squeezed orange juice with meals. Gerda, the ever polite Canadian, asks to meet and thank Alan’s mother in person. Gerda brings treats for the children. Seeing the dirt floors and little chicks running around, we realize how fresh our meals are!

Chocoyero 13
Alan picks oranges along the way for juice later.


Chocoyero 15
Family and friends gather for fellowship and prayer

Gerda starts a two-week bike ride through Central America this weekend. She brought school supplies for the tour donation, but decides the elementary school down the road needs it more. We add a monetary gift and start walking toward Escuela San Jose de los Rios.  We visit classrooms and go out to the courtyard where we officially present our gifts to the principal of the escuela, Senor Corea.

Chocoyero 16
Gerda and I sit with one of the classes after passing out bags.  Gerda included Canadian maple leaf pins!


While we are passing out bags, the exterminator begins fogging. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get service in an isolated area. They come when they can.

Chocoyero 16
Students gather in the courtyard as classrooms are fumigated


If you are planning to visit Nicaragua, consider Chocoyero-El Brujo.

Tip: It is one of a handful of Nicaraguan nature reserves that allows camping. To wake up to screaming howler monkeys or the raucous chatter of thousands of little green parrots starting the day is so cool! You can bring your own gear or reserve the bungalow or a bed in the bunkhouse.

Tip: Contact the reserve as early as possible if you plan to stay there. It may take some time for them to email you back, but it’s worth it. I don’t know if Alan even has international calling on his phone. Gerda tried calling, unsuccessfully, for weeks from Canada to confirm by phone. In Nicaragua, she was able to get through.

You’ll learn a lot with Alan and you’ll be helping a country that can use all the help it can get.

And please tip generously! This is a cooperative that is not government funded. Alan says that the people who maintain Chocoyero are volunteers who are paid ONLY when there are visitors. Life in the forest is hard. Tour companies may bring in daytime visitors, but with their own guides.

You can click on Tripadvisor to read recent reviews.

Sources on Nicaragua:

Events People Travel

“Happy July 4th!”

A reminder to my fellow Americans:

This female eagle was seen in Yellowstone Park.
This female eagle was seen in Yellowstone Park.



“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” ~ from the Declaration of Independence




The teeny, tiny white dot in the background is the eagle. We had a wonderful time!
The teeny, tiny white dot in the background is the eagle. We had a wonderful time!


Last week, we visited Yellowstone Park. Matt from Buffalo Bus tours did a great job showing us bison, elk, a bear and deer in the park. More in a later post.

A “Happy July 4th!” shout-out to Em, Miss B., J., K., E., R., M. and all the lovely people we met on the shuttle!


This year is the 200th anniversary of our national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner:

“God Bless America!”

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February 12, 2014 Meet Cricket!

You will love my lovely hometown!
You will love my lovely hometown!




Hola! My name is Cricket. I was born in the central plaza of La Antigua, Guatemala. I am made of twisted wires and two pretty turquoise bead eyes.

Are you my cousin?
Are you my cousin?






I have looked for other family members, but it seems that they are not nearby. It is good that I am curious and make friends easily.




Let me show you some of the lovely things in my picturesque hometown.Cricket 2

Rooftops are perfect for exercising and reading!
Rooftops are perfect for exercising and reading!

Exotic ice cream creations to tickle your taste buds!
Exotic ice cream creations to tickle your taste buds!

Cricket 9

"Painting" sawdust carpets for Semana Santa
“Painting” sawdust carpets for Semana Santa

Though not considered lovely, the painted public wash tubs have seen decades of dirty clothes.
Though not considered lovely, the painted public wash tubs have seen decades of dirty clothes.

Senor Crepe makes Cricket a complimentary dessert
Senor Crepe makes Cricket a complimentary dessert


There are many pretty flowers here.
There are many pretty flowers here.


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Three Blog Tips

I just read a comment from one of my posts. The blogger mentioned that she is an “aspiring blog writer” and asked for suggestions. I thought about it and decided to share some basic steps for newbies.

1.   Bloggers are learning all the time. Check out sites like Dear Blogger, I follow Greg as he’s generous with his advice. Anyone can ask him anything, whether they are a beginning blogger or well established. He started a YouTube channel,, with tutorials on how to start a blog, different costs of hosted sites, how to make your site more attractive, etc. I started with before following him, but he uses to be able to do some beautiful enhancements to sites using plugins, etc.

If you’re hoping to profit from your blog, there are several big guys out there, but I like Nate Smith, He is encouraging with good tips and spiritual inspiration. You can search around and follow many others, but look for sites that fit your needs as a blogger.

2.   This is very, very important! Please remember to pull from your passion. Post articles that you are truly interested in, not those that are just current topics that you hope people will link to. Cover subjects you know or that you researched and have a working knowledge of, that might be of value to others.

3.   Mix it up! Some entries I will post describe just what happened and photos. Others, I will add some background about the area we visited, photos and a video or two. Sometimes an opportunity arises that I can’t let go by, like when I learned about The Internet of Things, It’s fascinating to me how everything is moving at warp speed!

Experiment with tones and textures. I posted a video of a Savannah, Georgia Trolley Tour in sepia. “Johnny Mercer” came aboard and gave a spiel of his life in music. It begged for that treatment,

And, here’s a photo I took of actors in a Tombstone, Arizona re-enactment of the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral. (p.s.: The gunfight wasn’t really in the corral!) Thought it would look more striking with texture and a feel of the Old West. Edited it on my iPhone in Snapseed, blurring present day shoppers and vehicles in the background with TouchReTouch. Both are free apps. It could have been nice in black and white, but I do like tints!

Doc Holliday and the Earp Brothers are ready
Doc Holliday and the Earp Brothers are ready

There are plenty more tips I could give, but off the top of my head, these three simple steps will help you on your way!

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Magic Day 5: Belize City, Belize

Thursday,  November 7, 2013

"Sorry, what can I do?"
“Sorry, what can I do?”

We’re told to not venture outside of the tourist areas, so Lonnie & I sign up at Belize Caribbean Tours to visit the ruins. We hope that a small group with a guide will be a nice experience. It was a mistake … a BIG mistake. They herd four of us around for almost an hour, to three different “waiting areas” as they try to get more people to fill up the van. There are about a dozen of us who finally leave. But not before the agent gets an earful, even after he offers to add another stop along the route (that would squeeze the schedule’s timeline). If there’s a long wait time, passengers should be told. They probably didn’t want to lose customers, but it’s still a poor policy. We know better now that unless you already have a group going, DON”T sign up for a van!!!

Mayan ruins
Mayan ruins

Imagine their lives ...
Imagine their lives …

To be fair, our guide, Richard, is quite good. With 16 years as a guide under his belt, he’s a constant stream of Belize history. He says to ask him anything, even about his family. (We now know how much it costs for his child to go to school and what color her uniform is.  We also go by the school she attends.) There’s a short tour of the city, then countryside, before taking an hour long trip to the ruins. Okay, it’s fun speeding past the huge, lumbering cruise buses that sway along the horribly pockmarked excuse of a road. Thinking positively, our oft times jarring ride can also be seen as an invigorating seat massage. An advantage of a small group is that we can listen up close to the commentary – we definitely would not be able to hear as well in a large group walking the ruins. 

If you plan to visit for a while, this is some of what Richard shared with the van as we went hurtling along. Belize’s top four industries are agriculture, aquaculture, tourism and oil. There is no local paper, but they have electricity and lots of cable shows to keep them connected with the world. Water is 1/2 a U.S. cent per gallon. Belize is the only English speaking country in Central America. Thirteen years ago cruise ships began docking in Belize and Americans came, buying property and building homes here. Every citizen in Belize who turns 18 is gifted property from the government – in the city, a small property, in the country, up to 10 acres. A 2000 sq. ft. home in a decent neighborhood in the city runs about $250 for property tax. If you have someone working for you (maid, gardener), you have to pay income tax, about 7%.

June to November is the rainy season. We come at a good time. Last week everything was flooded and all tours were canceled! The last big hurricane here was in 1961. The crime rate is very low, 89 homicides/murders so far this year for the whole country. Richard talks about concrete homes, delicious fruit, the population, and much more! 

Happy image compliments of the house photography team:

A magical Elegant Night
A magical Elegant Night

Dining room dancing! Add another performance from Marlon, the Singing Waiter:

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Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas

Saturday,  October 26, 2013

At least we get bagels and biscuits with gravy for breakfast! Other friends are getting powdered donuts and milk!
At least we get bagels and biscuits with gravy for breakfast! Other friends are getting powdered donuts and milk!

Yesterday was our first day back in seven weeks! We only had time to change out clothes for others and spend the night with relatives. Today, we take care of some business before driving an hour to Galveston. A good friend’s daughter is getting married this evening and we just made it home in time for the event. It’s the weekend before Halloween and hotels are packed. There are ghost tours and all sorts of activities during this time. When my husband made the Priceline online reservation, he wasn’t using the mouse. Somehow, scrolling down, a one star hotel in an adjoining city was confirmed. It’s the first time we have ever hit a one star. Eeek! What are we in for?!? After talking to a friend who also couldn’t get the room they wanted, we don’t feel so bad. They wound up with a one star in Galveston because everything else was booked. 

Perfect day for a wedding
Perfect day for a wedding


The wedding is a beautiful affair! It’s held in the circular garden next to the 1859 Ashton Villa, an elegantly restored Victorian home.

Victorian style and gold filigree touches enhance this Texas Historic Landmark
Victorian style and gold filigree touches enhance this Texas Historic Landmark





Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, nowadays the villa’s only available for private events.

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Day 46: Toronto

Saturday, October 19, 2013

It’s laundry day again. I only mention it if Lonnie makes me go with him when there’s no hotel laundry room. When the hotel charges $6 to pick up, launder, fold and deliver just one t-shirt, it’s time to find the laundromat. (Along the trip, we stayed with several different friends and family and used their machines.) Lonnie googles area laundromat reviews and finds one that’s “very clean” with shiny front loading machines, etc. that’s just down the street. A nice man shows us how much to load and how long to dry the different size loads.


Several of the recipes were created by Milestones chefs!
Several of the recipes were created by Milestones chefs!

Lunch time! We go to Milestones, a Canadian franchise. It’s like a nicer Cheddar’s. We’ve been to several Canada-only franchises along with independants. Then, more shopping with our son before he’s dropped off at the airport. Bye, Baby Boy.

Boo! I’m back to navigating. No more long naps and less mindless daydreaming.  😦  😦  😦


This part is a lesson in being prepared and consequences:

A rainy, windy trip to the U.S. Border
A rainy, windy trip to the U.S. Border

It’s pouring rain all the way to the American border. We’re asked for proof of vehicle ownership. We can’t produce it! We had it when we started this trip and it’s nowhere to be found. After more scrambling around, we’re told we have honest faces and we’re let through. “But … if a trooper pulls you over and you can’t prove vehicle ownership, it will be impounded.”  Needless to say, my husband becomes an even more careful driver than he usually is.

Redhawk Grille's cod

We pull up at the Redhawk Grille in Painesville, Ohio for a late dinner. It’s been a long drive from Toronto and a light meal is in order. The menu sounds so creative. I have high hopes for the chef. Well, maybe their specialty is steaks and chicken, but Lonnie’s cod is overcooked and dry.



There are more than 5 dozen sweet scallops in this dish!
There are more than 5 dozen sweet scallops in this dish!



My scallops are the tiny sweet ones. There are more than enough, but they don’t taste sweet or fresh. Sigh … another dish I don’t finish.





Quail Hollow Resort's lobby
Quail Hollow Resort’s lobby

We arrive next door at the Quail Hollow Resort. It’s a well-aged beauty. (Sorry for the distortion of the long back railing. It isn’t curved, but a straight rail across.)



Ice cream any time you want it!
Ice cream any time you want it!


We had read negative comments on Tripadvisor, but our fears are groundless. Issues we’d heard about are resolved and the room is fine. What’s even fine-r is the choice of ice cream for purchase in the lobby! 

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Day 45: Toronto

Friday, October 18, 2013

Tasty Ramen Noodles with Satay Chicken Wings soup!
Tasty Ramen Noodles with Satay Chicken Wings soup!



We don’t usually eat at a place more than once, but we enjoyed yesterday’s breakfast so much that we go again. I fancy a richly flavored soup and cup of sweet Hong Kong tea.

On the way to Niagara Falls
On the way to Niagara Falls



Now we’re ready for Niagara Falls! It has been raining, but the sun breaks out as we arrive.

We don super thin yellow plastic ponchos before going down the elevator.

View from the Canadian side
View from the Canadian side

Perpetual rainbow
Perpetual rainbow



There are plaques with historical facts along the tunnel to the second level lookout – oh yeah, look out for heavy mist coating the camera lens!

Along the Wine Country trail
Along the Wine Country trail



Once we have our fill, it’s on to the wine country trail. Lots of winding country roads. We get to a small town overrun by tour buses and shuttles. People pack the sidewalks, going in and out of cute little shops. It’s Bar Harbor all over again and no place to park. We don’t stop. Another day, Niagara-on-the-Lake!

Woo! Hoo!
Woo! Hoo!

Heading back, our son wonders if diesel truck drivers still pull the stack cord if you motion pulling it. We slowly pull even with an 18 wheeler with a shiny diesel stack. Our son waits to catch the driver’s eye, then pumps his fist up and down. The white mustached driver looks a little startled, then reaches up and gives the horizontal cord a quick pull. We cheer loudly and clap!!! It still works for a 20-something. Thank you, Grant Haulage, for such accommodating drivers!

A sweet break
A sweet break

Back in the city, Lonnie & I have our first visit to Tim Hortons. There are now Tim Hortons in the states, but we want to try it in Canada. I bite into a chocolate glazed donut. Hmm … it’s okay. I prefer a Shipley’s donut. I like to think that it was Shipley’s that ran Crispy Creme out of Houston. I probably prefer Shipley’s due to the fact that our dad would come home from an occasional all night mah jong game after the restaurant closed. If he did well, we might get a bit of his lucky money. Other times, he would bring home a white box of freshly glazed Shipley’s donuts and wake us up. It’s hard to beat a melt-in-your-mouth, still-warm Shipley’s!

Beet salad
Beet salad

Award-winning poutine
Award-winning poutine

French Onion Soup
French Onion Soup


For dinner, we go to Coquine, a restaurant recommended by a friend. My beet salad is very good. Lonnie’s $28 cod is not a generous serving, as our server claimed.




Our son enjoys his the most. He ordered French Onion Soup and … you guessed it, poutine!






Both have been voted Best of Toronto two years in a row. The poutine is especially tasty. The gravy includes a duck comfit and is rich and savory.




Back at the hotel, our son catches up on his social media while we go downstairs for dessert. The crème brulee is the best I’ve ever eaten! It’s creamy, rich with flavor and most importantly for me, not too sweet. If something is too sweet, you can miss the dish’s true flavor. Ah, the perfect end to a full day!

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Day 44: Toronto

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Marathon Cafe


Marathon Cafe is a typical no-frills place, but they have an award-winning milk tea and decent food. They offer western-style breakfasts with bacon, eggs & toast. They also offer Chinese noodle soups and dishes.


Rainy Toronto
Rainy Toronto

We do a lot of window shopping at Eaton Centre before going to their huge food court. It must have over 50 options! We go in three different directions and meet over Chinese, American and Indian dishes. Bellies full, time to drive by Casa Loma, the local castle. It’s taken over by multi-story scaffolding. Cross that out for another trip. It’s raining. Cross out the CN tower.

Nicely wrapped vegetables are so different from those in most U.S. Chinatowns
Nicely wrapped vegetables are so different from those in most U.S. Chinatowns

Roast pig with slivers of pickled vegetables
Roast pig with slivers of pickled vegetables

Thought we had ordered the Mayonnaise Shrimp ...
Thought we had ordered the Mayonnaise Shrimp …




To the biggest of the five Toronto Chinatowns, the one downtown. Canadian Chinatowns are the cleanest!





Then, to the House of Gourmet Seafood BBQ and Noodle Restaurant. It’s packed with Asians, a good sign.





Again, we order in English, are misunderstood and get a different dish than expected. Still, the food is flavorful.

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Day 43: Montreal, Toronto

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Yesterday, a lovely Dutch woman greeted me in her native language at breakfast. Today, I try to repeat it and I mangle it badly. The man next to her smiles and repeats it. I do better the second try. He invites me to join them. I do! They are brother and sister, in for their older brother’s 50th wedding anniversary. They show me a photo of a happy group and we share family stories.

WelcomInns Hotel has a simple and nicely presented continental breakfast
WelcomInns Hotel has a simple and nicely presented continental breakfast

WelcomINNS is a simple, clean hotel that has a simple breakfast. The difference from the average American hotel that has complimentary breakfast is the way guests are treated. There are bright white tablecloths, silverware, ceramic mugs, juice glasses and trays to carry everything. The petite blonde who maintains the dining room greets everyone with, “Bonjour!” and a sunny smile. She hums as she bustles about stocking foods and condiments and cleaning off tables. A co-worker pops in to get a muffin and stays to help her re-stock some supplies, cheerfully chatting away in French. You can tell this hotel has great team chemistry!

Our sweet daughter has been calling us throughout the trip to see how we are doing. It is good to hear her voice.

I do not do well connecting with tweeters on this trip. @AnnTran_ , @earthxplorer @DanielHebert, all a miss! They agreed to meet with me, but it always depends on schedules. Ann Tran had just returned from hosting a tweet-up in Maui, Hawaii. She hosted a tweet-up in Washington, D.C., her home base, that Thursday. I had planned to attend, but we were still in Virginia. Then, she was playing catch-up when I was free. She tweeted me later to see how I was doing. What a lovely person! She has over 350,000 followers and still makes time to connect one-on-one. J.D. Andrews, was exploring the earth in Paris when I came to Miami, but took time to wish me safe travels. Daniel Hebert was coming back home to Kingston, Ontario but I couldn’t be sure when we’d be going through that day. Oh, well … there’s a reason for everything that happens and I accept that.

Montreal's underground shopping experience
Montreal’s underground shopping experience

Everyone’s back from their Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, so it’s harder to find a parking space. We ask for directions to a tunnel entrance and a kind woman walks us to the nearest one! It’s a BIG underground system and we go to the area with lots of shopping. (Most of the businesses provide services for the downtown workers: eateries, cleaners, convenience stores, shoe repair, etc.)

One of Montreal's underground eateries
One of Montreal’s underground eateries

Eureka! After looking for the past two years, I find my winter jacket! Most quilted jackets make me look like the Michelin Man – puffy. Or, they are short ones. I want one that gives a little more coverage. This one does that. It’s on sale and its slim-fit sillouette doesn’t make me look like a marshmallow. Happy, happy!


Biodome's version of the Antarctic
Biodome’s version of the Antarctic

We enter the Biodome. It reminds me of Galveston’s Moody Gardens. The dome houses everything, whereas Moody Gardens’ three pyramids are separate buildings.

A beaver chews wood in the North American wilderness
A beaver chews wood in the North American wilderness

The five ecosystems represented in the Biodome are rich in animal life and flora & fauna.

Leap frog!
Leap frog!

We’re too old for the kids’ activities, so we make our own!

Tour the Biodome with us!

Toronto, here we come!
Toronto, here we come!

Tonight we lay our heads in Toronto. We’ll be based at the Delta the next three nights. It’s near the Markham Chinatown and is a former Radisson. It could use some updating, but right off the bat, I love it here – there’s a big view of the city lights, recycle trash bins, soft beds with fluffy pillow tops and a separate switch for the bathroom fan!

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Day 36: Cavendish, Manchester

Wednesday,  October 9, 2013

Vt. Apple Pie Co.There aren’t a lot of restaurants around, but someone mentions Vermont Apple Pie for breakfast. We recognize the couple at the next table as being at the hotel last night. We strike up a conversation. Another table comes in. They join in on the conversation. A fourth table is seated and asks if we all know each other before jumping into the lively conversations floating around. One of the diners impresses me. He’s 78 years old and used to ski in the area. A couple of weeks ago, he bought skis and will be taking to the slopes this winter! (His wife voiced her concerns with a “What can I do?” shrug.) Lonnie’s breakfast is fine and my breakfast quiche is pretty good. Hmmm … apple pie after a full breakfast? Well, that’s what the place is named for, so we order Apple Pie a la Mode. Another hmmm. Let’s just say that if the pie is not freshly baked or has not been re-heated in the oven to crisp up the crust, microwaving it is not a good way to go.

Sharon, Vermont visitors center houses a Living Machine Center with a 360° view of the fall foliage!
Sharon, Vermont visitors center houses a Living Machine Center with a 360° view of the fall foliage!

Behind the center, visitors are encouraged to sit back and enjoy the view
Behind the center, visitors are encouraged to sit back and enjoy the view


When we reach Vermont, it’s time to go by a visitors center. Sharon, Vermont has an interesting one. It has a Living Machine System (with a glorious view of the countryside). There are two tanks – an anaerobic (without oxygen) reactor and a biosolids holding tank.



The man at the front desk says on Father’s Day, in the valley below, there’s a hot air balloon festival. When they launch, a magnificent mass of brilliantly colored balloons gently rise up past the center!



Rock of Ages quarry


Rock of Ages quarry is a short stop. We go to the visitors center first to watch a video about the history of the quarry before walking across to the visitors’ platform in the factory. The video is interesting, but it’s really an infomercial. We don’t make time to visit Hope Cemetery to see the granite car, soccer ball, etc.  Maybe the next trip around.

Love the tasting tables!
Love the tasting tables!




On to take the Ben & Jerry’s tour and drop by Cabot Cheese. I especially enjoy trying more types of cheeses than the ones I usually buy in Sugar Land.




We'll be waking up on the bright side tomorrow!
We’ll be waking up on the bright side tomorrow!

Arriving at the LaQuinta in Manchester, New Hampshire, we’re pleasantly surprised. The last LaQuinta (New Haven) was the worst LQ we’ve experienced on this trip. Happily, this one was renovated in 2011 after its purchase. It has had at least five owners and was a neglected child in the Clarion family. LaQuinta came in and changed everything! Along with a cheerful, professional staff, it was awarded a 2013 Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence. It’s also the #2 LQ in the East Region. (One of my very favorite LQs is in Aurora, Colorado!)

The front desk gives us a list of area restaurants and we Yelp the Red Arrow Diner before heading over. It seats maybe 25. It opened in 1922 and besides a short break, has continued to serve the surrounding community. The third owner created an interesting menu. It even has a favorite of Guy Fieri’s. My husband’s Chicken Fried Steak has a cream gravy with sausage bits. He says the sausage doesn’t overpower the other flavors and it’s good! My Turkey & Rice soup has lots of vegetables, so it’s a pretty balanced meal. Red Arrow Diner has a really nice way of welcoming newcomers. If they find out it’s your first visit, they have a surprise for you! It involves the whole diner and includes a small commemorative memento. Come visit and feel the love!

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Day 8: St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Naples

Wednesday,  September 11, 2013

As we head down Central St. straight to the pier, there are shops, restaurants, tattoo parlors.  A trip to the pier in St. Petersburg before leaving town sounds good.  We want something local, not another chain restaurant.  Leafy Greens Cafe caught my eye.  It’s vegan.  Never had it.  Vegetarian, yes.  Vegan, no.  I LOVE it!  Every spoonful of their Thai Curry Soup is full of flavor.  Spices roll over the tongue, cool bits of cucumber give a rich pop of freshness.  Hubby struggled with his burger.  He’s so used to red meat that it threw him a little.  It’s pricey, but expected for raw dishes that require the safest of preparation procedures.

We see flags flying at half mast today in memory of 9-11.  I thought of a friend who was part of the mass exodus from New York City to the suburbs after the Twin Towers came crashing down.  No city transport services were working.  She, along with hundreds of thousands (dare I say even a million?) of others walked for hours to reach their homes.  The disbelief, shock and fear that transpired was earthshattering.  A year or so ago, we talked about it.  I ask if she thinks about that day.  She says, “Yes.”  It never goes away.

Sarasota was the winter home of the John & Mabel Ringling.  They left a rich legacy for all to enjoy.  You can go to and be amazed at what 20 acres can house!

One of two centaurs guarding the Ringling Museum of Art
One of two centaurs guarding the Ringling Museum of Art

It’s said that one morning, one of the centaurs at the front of the museum had been pushed over.  After questioning everyone, it was discovered that a group of Russian musicians, who had performed at an event on the grounds the night before, had imbibed a bit too much and pushed over the centaur!

Ringling Museum of Art
Ringling Museum of Art

A 1200' terrace with fantastic views at Ca d'Zan, the Ringlings' palatial home
A 1200′ terrace with fantastic views at Ca d’Zan, the Ringlings’ palatial home

We would like to thank Francesca, one of the golf cart shuttle drivers, who went past her shift time to give us one last view of each of the buildings on the Ringlings’ vast estate!

Arriving in Naples around dinner time, we check out a local restaurant, Noodles & Sushi.  I recommend it for an eclectic meal in a trendy atmosphere!

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Day 5: Tallahassee, Ocala

Sunday,  September 8, 2013

We enjoy a complimentary breakfast at LaQuinta before leaving Panama City Beach at 11am. (I try to balance 2 biscuits & sausage gravy with rice krispies, low fat milk and apple juice.)

This squirrel pauses to stare back!
This squirrel pauses to stare back!

 We arrive in Tallahassee and head to the Tallahassee Museum of History & Natural Science.  What a nice outdoor venue!  The museum covers 52 acres and has many outdoor exhibits, lots of water (or is it considered a swamp?), zip lines and an obstacle course.  Shady trees keep it from being unbearable and areas such as the science lab and art gallery are in air-conditioned buildings.

This torn web reflects the fierce struggles of the spider's victims
This torn web reflects the fierce struggles of the spider’s victims

Big Bend farm building

This tiger eyes an intruder
This tiger eyes an intruder

Relaxed feline contemplates its day
Relaxed feline contemplates its day

Is the sea otter hiccuping?

Today, the John Spohrer wildlife exhibition opens in the museum’s art gallery. Mr. Spohrer has his photography book available and takes time to give us a tour of the photographs.

Dinner at Harry's on the Square
Dinner at Harry’s on the Square

Dinner found us at the Ocala town square. We were told that Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grill has good food with a New Orleans flair. The dishes we had were quite good! And the gumbo is how I like it – with celery and bits of other vegetables in the thick broth.


“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!


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.


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)

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