pen rainbow

Monday, April 30, 2012

Monday—The gif corner

I made this little gif animation of the wild cracker horses that I saw at Paynes Prairie on my Florida vacation.  Same pic, 6 ways...

Click the photo to view in full screen

Sunday, April 22, 2012


photo by heidi harris

Holy cow!  Wild gators & cracker horses

Today, we spent the afternoon at PAYNES PRAIRIE & saw two of Florida's most amazing creatures—wild alligators & wild horses called "cracker" horses, which are descendants of Spanish horses brought to the Southeastern United States in 1521.

These sturdy little horses are gaited horses, which means that they have a naturally smooth style of movement in addition to the usual walk, trot, cantor, and gallop of most horses.  Cracker horses got their name from the cracking sound of bullwhips used by early cowboys.

2 nursing foals + 2 mares + a colt or a filly

a family of Florida cracker horses
It was a thrill to see a small family of cracker horses cross the trail right between us and another group of walkers.  These horses nearly became extinct after the 1930's when quarter horses were brought into Florida to herd larger breeds of cattle.  Their numbers are considered critical and their status endangered.

Seeing wild gators lying next to the trail is, as my sister, Heidi, put it, like seeing lions on the side of the trail.  It is an absolute rush and the thrill of a lifetime to see these critters in their natural habitat.  We were in their territory, not the other way around.  In the presence of a top predator, everybody obeys the rules!

Check out my slideshow on Vimeo!

super-cute baby gator 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Wednesday—Good For You, Good for the Home

Kayaking on the Ichetucknee  is GOOD for me & you!  

Check out our 2-1/2 hour kayak trip down the Ichetucknee River near Fort White, Florida.  A PERFECT day on this spring-fed, pristine river!

Tuesday's Cupboard — Heidi's Crockpot Taco Soup

Heidi's original recipe
Best taco soup I've ever had!  And easy, too!  

Serves 8

•  1 pkg. Morningstar Farms Veggie Crumbles
•  1 sweet onion, chopped
•  1 16-oz. can pinto beans, undrained
•  1 16-oz. can lima beans, undrained
•  1 16-oz. can kidney beans, undrained
•  1 16-oz. can black beans, undrained
•  1 pkg. (1-1/4 oz.) taco seasoning
•  1 (1 oz) pkg. ranch dressing mix
•  1 can (14 oz) chopped regular stewed tomatoes

•  2 cans (14 oz. each) chopped tomatoes with zesty mild chilies (Del Monte)
•  1 can (14 oz.) hominy or corn (drained)

•  Optional:  shredded cheddar cheese (Mex-style or any blend of shredded cheddar) for topping
•  Optional:  For extra heat, substitute 1 can of Mex-style canned tomatoes for the regular canned tomatoes & 1 small can of mild chopped chilies.  Otherwise, this is a MILD soup.

Make It
1.  Throw all of the ingredients into a crockpot.  Cook on LOW for 4 hours.

2.  Season to taste with salt & pepper, if needed.  Heidi does not add salt or pepper, and it's delicious!  There is a lot of salt already in the canned beans.

3.  Serve with grated cheese & tortilla chips or fresh tortillas & sliced avocados.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Monday—The Reading Corner: Pulitzer Prizes 2012

Two big surprises:  NO AWARDS for fiction or editorial writing!  Holy cow, that says something!  (I probably will never get a Pulitzer as long as I am using the phrase, "Holy cow.")  

Pulitzer Prize_For excellence in journalism & the arts

2012 Pulitzer Prize Winners  

Here's a link to with a list of the winners in each of the categories.

•  Nice to see that the online news website, THE HUFFINGTON POST, has picked up its first Pulitzer in the hefty category of national reporting for David Wood's stunning, in-depth series, Beyond the Battlefield, about wounded American vets returning to life after service.

•  Also worth noting, a well-deserved Pulitzer went to 24-year old crime reporter, Sara Ganim, of the Patriot News in Harrisburg, PA, for breaking the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse story.  Her exhaustive coverage of this horrifying story also revealed the all-too-familiar warped perspectives of those who willingly participated in the cover-up.  I say, give her another one, just for good measure.

•  Another worthy online website, POLITICO, received recognition for editorial cartooning by Matt Wuerker for his entertaining illustrative commentaries on partisan politics in Washington.

•  The Pulitzer in music went to Kevin Puts for Silent Night: Opera in Two Acts, the astoundingly beautiful modern opera based on the true story of a spontaneous, Christmas time cease-fire among opposing Scottish, French, and German troops during World War I.

The Pulitzer Prize celebrates remarkable achievements in the humanities, specifically in the areas of journalism, the arts and letters.  For those of us with college degrees in Humanities, it is a reminder that these things matter.  These are integral components of human culture, and when it comes down to it, everyday life.  Achievements in these areas do no less than enhance the human condition and bring quality, depth, and richness to our lives.

Congrats to all of this year's winners!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Friday's Art Gallery—Beyond Layers

koi from the pond behind Va de Vi in
Walnut Creek
My most recent textured work from Kim Klassen's online texture class using 2 of her textures, kk_i am & kk_let go

Go to my flikr page

And, 2 more from Easter Sunday

a white poppy from Monterey 

Bluebells from my yard for Easter

Thursday Mini-Post: Henri — Un Film du Will Braden

le tiggy
A funny vid for the cat people out there!  Complete with subtitles...

"Je suis un chat noir..."  LOL

And, now I give you...Henri

And, the even funnier sequel...
Henri 2, Paw de Deux

Merçi, Monsier Steve, for sending me this vid!

Saturday—Extra! Extra! ...Wednesday

Double handled bags are easier to maneuver
in the airport
Wednesday — Good for You, Good for the Home
Rule of thumb:  Cheap luggage won't last, fancy luggage will get stolen, so shoot for the mid-high price range.
As long as I'm watching a Rick Steves' livestream on Euro travel, let's talk about luggage!  Well, my favorite luggage, anyway.  I fly to Vegas every other month, and next week, I'll be flying to Florida to visit my sister, Heidi, so traveling is on my mind.

Our Hartmann
I've shopped for a lot of different kinds of luggage, most of it designed for durability and practical use, not looks.  Luggage is either stylish, but terribly expensive, or affordable and in shades of neutral-colored blech.  Fancy luggage also represents wealth, so thieves traditionally target attractive luggage.

The one large piece of Hartmann luggage we owned was stolen off of the United Airlines carousel in Anaheim when we arrived for a family vacation at Disneyland.  We stopped at a bathroom on the way to the baggage claim, and by the time we got there, our bag was no where to be found.  The value of the bag alone was worth stealing, and I read later that United clerks had been implicated in baggage theft in LA.  So much for our Hartmann suitcase.   

•  Stay away from expensive, designer luggage.  It's practically asking to be stolen.  
•  Conspicuous bags are less likely to be stolen than those that blend in.  Add colorful ribbons and tags that will easily identify your bags.  Buy colorful luggage that will stand out in a crowd.    
•  Get to the baggage carousel before the bags start coming out so that no one else can accidentally or intentionally grab your bag(s).         

My great carry-ons!
Eddie Bauer
Okay now, let's get to carry-on luggage.  Go as small as you can and travel light!  My best bag for short trips is my little brown 18" Eddie Bauer Timberland backpack/roller bag.  I've had it forever, and it's just a great little carry-on.  Unfortunately, I've had it so long that it is no longer in production.  The next best thing is the 22" medium roller from the Adventurer collection on the Eddie Bauer website.  Reviewers give it high marks, although it looks like the retractable handle could be problematic.  For $199, it's still a nice bag with overall good reviews.  I wouldn't recommend a bag longer than 20 inches, however.  You'll see why in the paragraph below...

Briggs & Reilly
We both needed a larger rolling carry-on for traveling to Florida, so we went luggage shopping last year.  Steve and I both purchased Briggs & Reilly (Transcend) 20" expanable, wide-body, wheeled carry-ons ($329 retail), and they have performed spectacularly!  Omigosh, I LOVE this bag!  Plus, I got the deluxe tote that sits on top of the bag.  It is roomy enough to carry my cosmetics, cables, Kindle, camera, plus my purse and a lined windbreaker when I go through security.  The tote easily slides under the seat, and it is easily accessible during the flight.  Great zippers & outer pockets!  Well worth the additional cost (from $143 on sale now on the Briggs & Reilly website to $179 regularly).

The tote's wide back strap securely slides over the double handle

Super roomy deluxe tote

The Transcend 20" wide-body bag has 3 important features that made us choose it over other brands & models:

•  It's light-weight (8.4 lbs)
•  It's guaranteed for life (all B&R bags have this guarantee)
•  It has a tri-fold garment hanging system that holds 3 suits on hangers!

Side loading with wet & net zippered compartments on top

I keep my Mac Air in this front zippered pocket

The tri-fold garment area holds up to 3 suits

The dongle on top is where the hangers attach; velcro
straps hold clothing in place

"Wide-body" is the key to fitting carry-ons into the overhead bins on most domestic flights.  The 20" wide-body has the same amount of interior space as the next size up, but it's shorter, so it slides into the overhead bin perfectly.  If you take a carry-on that is longer than 20 inches, it probably won't fit vertically into the bin, and you'll have to turn it sideways.  As a regular passenger, I can tell you that trying to stuff an oversized carry-on into an already crowded bin gets everyone's attention pretty quickly.  Save yourself the hassle and get a wide-body 20" if you can go with the smaller carry-on size.

The Briggs & Reilly (Transcend collection) 20" wide-body bag comes in 3 colors:  dark red (Sunset), black with orange front-pocket interior, and dark sage (Rainforest).  There is another collection of B&R bags in ocean blue that are quite nice, including a 20" wide-body rolling carry-on ($240 retail).  There is  also a nifty 20" wide-body spinner in bright red ($359).  Briggs & Reilly understands the practicality of these wide-body bags!

We have a larger, wheeled 27"Briggs & Reilly bag that we've had for several years, and it is as good-looking and functional as the day we bought it.  The little rolling cabin bag that we bought with it is perfect for light travel.

Briggs & Reilly bags are well made, practically designed, easy to maneuver, and affordable.  They aren't overly flashy, but they have a sophisticated style that rivals Hartmann without the snob factor.  Later, I'll talk about bigger bags and international travel!

Happy trails to You!

Saturday—Extra! Extra! ...Tuesday

2 cups per serving - Serve with a fresh Spring greens salad
Tuesday's Cupboard—Shrimp & Chicken Jambalaya

Oh, this is so good!  And, as an added bonus, it's good for you!  ...AND, guess what?  It's an economical dish with lots of brown rice, chunks of tender white chicken breast, and yummy shrimpeez.

I made this for Easter this year.  I started with my Black & Decker rice cooker to make the rice.  I don't do the old-timey, rice-cooked-in-a-pot-on-the-stove-routine.  Rice turns out perfectly in a rice cooker, and iffy if you try to do it on the stove top.  If you don't have a rice cooker, go to Target right now and get one.  I'll wait...It's fine, go ahead!  

I'll be watching the live online Rick Steves' travel festival.  Pat O'Connor is talking about Ireland, right now.  Omigosh, I wish I were going to Europe this year.  There is some info on the website about a group trip to Paris.  Btw, on this morning's vid, I noticed that the host for the France talk, Steve Smith, was rockin' some very distinguished white hair.  Wow, it looked great!  That, alone, is worth a LIKE click on the facebook page.

Okay, back to my recipe...

Adapted from an online Weight Watchers recipe — February 2011

Servings & points:  11 points per serving with the original recipe.  Add a couple of points if you bulk up the recipe — 4 to 6 servings, 2 cups per serving
Prep time:  1 hour, if you include cooking the rice
Level of difficulty:  EASY!

DSMP tip:  This is even better as leftovers reheated in a casserole in the oven on 350°F for 45 minutes.

•  2 tsp olive oil
•  1 medium sweet onion (Maui or Vidalia), chopped (about 1 cup)
•  1 medium green pepper, chopped (I bulked up the recipe with 2 bell peppers, 1 red & 1 yellow, instead of 1 green pepper)
•  8 oz. uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut-up bite size (I used 2 individually packed chicken breasts)

•  29 oz. canned Italian-style, chopped tomatoes - undrained
•  12 oz. shrimp, peeled & deveined if you use fresh.  I used up the rest of a bag of small, frozen shrimp from Safeway, which came to about 16 oz. of shrimp.   I rinsed the shrimp in a colander & let them defrost while I sautéed the chicken, onion & peppers.
•  1 tsp. Italian seasoning, dried
•  1 tsp. hot pepper sauce

•  4 cups COOKED brown rice

Make It
1.  Start cooking the rice in the rice cooker.  Allow about an hour, depending on what your rice cooker tells you to do with the amount of rice that you are cooking.

2.  Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over med-high heat.  Add cut-up chicken breast & sauté about 5 minutes until no longer pink.  Add chopped onion & pepper to chicken.  Cook for about 7 minutes until crisp-tender.  Season lightly with kosher salt (non-iodized) & freshly ground black pepper.

3.  Stir in remaining ingredients, except for the rice.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat & simmer, stirring occasionally until shrimp are cooked through, about 10 minutes.

4.  Stir in cooked rice & continue cooking until liquid is almost absorbed and rice is thoroughly heated, about 5 minutes.*  Remove from heat & stir to fluff.  Season with salt & cracked black pepper to taste.  Serve with delicious hot sauce!  I like Cholula hot pepper sauce available at Safeway.  I also love Tobasco with lime.  I could drink the stuff, it's so good!  And, neither variety is too horribly hot.  They are just right, very tasty, and hot sauce complements this dish very nicely.

*  I usually ladle the sauce over the rice on the first night of serving this dish.  Then, I mix the rice & the sauce together when I store the leftovers.

Yields 2 hearty cups per serving.

Add Ins
•  1 can of kidney beans
•  Top with grated cheddar or Parmesan

Saturday—Extra! Extra!

Happening RIGHT NOW!
Alright, so  I've had 2 cups of coffee, and I'm totally wired for cranking out a week's worth of blogs in one day.  Wooohoo!  Here we go...

Monday—The Online Video Corner
Okay, this is cool!  Right now, as we speak, travel guru/geek, Rick Steves, is offering a day-long series of Euro travel videos on his facebook page.  Go there now if you want some really great and practical tips for traveling around Europe (or, for traveling, in general).  Here's the link to his facebook page:

Here is today's schedule:

  • 9 a.m. France, with my co-author Steve Smith
  • 11 a.m. Ireland, with my co-author Pat O'Connor
  • 12:30 p.m. Packing Light & Right, with packing specialist Joan Robinson
  • 2 p.m. Italy, with tour guide Heidi Van Sewell
  • 3:45 p.m. Michelangelo's Italy, with my co-author Gene Openshaw

So, check it out!  Fwiw, I loathe fb, but as long as fb is here to stay, I like to see it used for online events like this that provide useful and entertaining information to the public.  Good job, Rick Steves & staff!

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Chocolate & peanut butter wonderfulness!
I'm back.  I've been busy with my online Photoshop class and have neglected my beloved blog for over a month.  No more! Back to blogging, I say.

Today, I'd like to share a really fun Easter vid that is over-the-top on cuteness and as irresistible as Dove milk chocolate peanut butter eggs!

What's cuter than puppies?...Darling chicks?...Adorable puppies with bunny ear collars?...Baby bunnies in a basket?...How about white baby bunnies with pink noseez & chicks in an Easter basket?...How about all of them playing and romping around in soft, green grass?

Indulge your inner cutefulness & have a great Easter!

Tonight's supper:  Jambalaya & shrimp made with Zak's homemade veggie broth seasoned with fresh rosemary & oregano from our garden.

Now, for your enjoyment, I present:  Puppy Easter on You Tube!  Vid by Devin Graham, music by Stephen Anderson.

To enlarge, click on Puppy Easter and go to the You Tube site.  You can also scroll over the You Tube icon in the bottom right corner of the vid and go directly to You Tube.  To watch it full-screen on You Tube, click the 4-arrows icon in the bottom right corner of the vid.


More Easter yumfulness...

i ❤ Dove peanut butter & milk choc