Thursday, December 28, 2017

Good Friends, Acai Bowls, and Kitten Yoga: What a Way to Wrap Up Another Year

December was filled with holiday cheer and good times with family and friends. It was not, however, filled with blog posts! 

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on perspective), other areas of life have monopolized my time and energy leaving nothing left for blogging. And, despite the fact that I have drafted multiple posts in my head over the last several weeks, none have made it to the keyboard. If I could figure out a way to dictate via A.I., you would have a new post to read - DAILY!  But, until then, I will just give you a few highlights of this last month and vow to write more in the New Year. 

Horse Jumping Show in Wellington, FL 

My love
My new addiction! 
First, I enjoyed multiple nights of holiday lights displays with my beau. I also enjoyed Christmas shopping and time with my oldest sister who recently retired and moved to sunny Florida. I enjoyed some delicious meals and conversations with friends and colleagues in a few local restaurants offering stunning views and trendy menus. I went to my first horse jumping event where I made a special connection (for me anyway) with a sweet calf. I have continued my search for the perfect acai bowl - which I hope you all appreciate because that is an expensive research project!

Lunch in Palm Beach - not too shabby. 

Kitten Yoga is good for the soul! 
So, as you can see, a great month filled with many memorable moments. But, my favorite experience this past month was partaking in my first ever Kitten Yoga class at a "Pup-Up" location of the animal rescue I have volunteered at for 4+ years.  Now, I have my sights set on Goat Yoga! (Stop rolling your eyes....)

I wish you all a very Happy and Healthy New Year filled with friends and family, opportunity for new experiences, and peace. 

Read more Lavender Inspiration

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Celebrating the Holidays Florida Style

Picture of the 2016 "Sandi" by local photography Kim Seng

Nothing says Christmas in Florida quite like Sandi, a 600-ton sand tree standing 35 feet tall in beautiful downtown West Palm Beach. Sandi has been a city tradition for the last six years. (Although, I am embarrassed to say I have never seen it in person - until now that is!) This year's official lighting and opening night celebration takes place tomorrow, November 30, beginning at 6:00 pm. It will include fun activities for the entire family including glow-in-the-dark mini-golf and several smaller sand sculptures on display. 

I was in downtown the other night and got a glimpse of Sandi and some of the works of art before the sun set, but more sculptures will be revealed tomorrow night.  

This year's theme? Animal rescue and adoption! At least two sculptures are expected to make their debut tomorrow evening honoring specific local animal rescue groups. I am definitely planning on going back in the month of December to see the light show for myself! This post is just a sneak peek of this year's sand art on Clematis Street. 

Season's Greetings, everyone! 

For more information, visit the City of West Palm Beach.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Echo of the Cliffs (Book Review)

NOTE: I received this book free from the author requesting an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's rules and guidelines. 

I previously reviewed the first two novels in this Young Adult Fantasy trilogy, and am so honored to have been given the opportunity to read and review the final Juniper Sawfeather novel by D.G. Driver.  Echo of the Cliffs surpassed my expectations and ended up being my favorite of the three novels. 

Read reviews for Cry of the Sea and Whisper of the Woods

In books one and two, readers are introduced to June and her parents, local and influential environmental activists in the state of Washington. Echo of the Cliffs comes full circle tying the trilogy together - from mysterious mermaids to spirits trapped in ancient trees. Driver does an excellent job filling in all the pieces and connecting the novels that span a time frame of only a couple of months. 

In Echo of the Cliffs, June once again runs into mysterious circumstances while working with her parents to expose a construction company responsible for polluting the ocean and causing harm to the environment and the creatures that live in it. Still, in the back of Juniper's mind are the aching questions, just what happened to the mermaids she rescued only weeks earlier, and how are they connected to her ordeal in the tree? However, when her mission puts her friend in grave danger, June will stop at nothing to save him. 

Driver's writing style brilliantly paints vivid images for her readers, and I loved the way June's relationship with her mother changes over the course of the books. Echo of the Cliffs was also the most suspenseful of the novels - the ending really had me turning the pages faster than my eyes could read. 

If you like fantasy novels, particularly those based on Native American legends, along with novels that focus on modern day environmental concerns, you will enjoy these books. I highly recommend you read the first two novels to better understand the plot and history of Echo of the Cliffs. I am disappointed that there won't be more Juniper Sawfeather stories. She is a fabulous role model for teens, and a charismatic character for all fans of young adult fiction, regardless of age. 

Read more of my Book Reviews

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Vegan Eggplant Parmesan

Being vegan doesn't mean giving up your favorite Italian dishes. Last weekend I was craving eggplant parmigiana and decided to try this vegan variation on the Italian classic. 

My new addiction! 

What you need (serves 3-4)
  • 1-2 large eggplants (Peel skin to create stripes.)
  • all-purpose flour
  • olive oil  
  • One 16.25 jar of your favorite sauce (My all time favorite is Mezzetta Italian Plum Tomato!) 
  • 1/2 bag of Gardein Ulimate Beefless Ground  
  • vegan shredded mozzarella cheese (So many yummy ones available today. Try Daiya, Go Veggie, or Follow Your Heart.) 

Unlike the traditional version I've made over the years, I decided to cut the eggplant lengthwise instead of in circles. Then, instead of dipping the slices in egg and breadcrumb, I just lighted dusted them with flour before cooking them in olive oil over low heat in a skillet. Cook until the slices are golden brown, remove from pan, and place on paper towels to absorb excess oil. 

In sauce pan, bring sauce to a low boil. Add 1/2 bag of frozen Gardein Beefless Ground. Bring to a boil and simmer until Beefless Ground is thoroughly cooked. 

So good, I sneaked a bite
before taking photo! 
Add a few tablespoons of sauce to bottom of glass pan. Make 3-4 layers of eggplant, sauce, and cheese. Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes. 

Tip: Let them sit for a minimum of 5-10 minutes before serving. 

Leftovers are just as good and can be frozen!

Have leftover "meat" sauce? Add cooked brown rice and diced garlic to make stuffed peppers!


Finding tasty vegan or vegetarian alternatives is getting easier and easier, and I love hearing from people who give these options a try - even if just for "Meatless Monday." 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sign of the Times: What the Harry Styles Incident Can Teach Us

This morning I woke up to the news that singer, Harry Styles, was groped while performing on stage last night. The perpetrator, I believe, was a young female fan. First, let me just say, that this is not acceptable. However, what strikes be odd is the outrage all over Twitter from women AND men. Women have put up with this crap since the beginning of time - but now it happens to a man in the public spotlight and men are offended?! GOOD, they should be. 

To play devil's advocate for a moment, I can't count on my fingers how many times I have jokingly said to both men and women that women should start treating men as mere sex objects. We should leer, make inappropriate comments as they walk by, and maybe cop a feel as we brush past them. And, EVERY time I have made this snide comment, I have been met with the same response - from both sexes. Men would love that! 

Maybe this young woman from the concert incident last night just learned her behavior from the men in her life or stories in the media of powerful men harassing and assaulting women. Or, maybe Styles' pants were too tight, making it irresistible for the young woman to control herself. 

Listen, of course this behavior is disgusting and unacceptable. However, I didn't see the same outrage on social media when Taylor Swift's backside was grabbed by a fan during a photo shoot. In fact, I didn't hear anything about that until she filed a lawsuit against the jerk. Then, most of the comments were about how Swift was overreacting. UGH! 

Exasperating this culture are women, yes, I said WOMEN, who make dumbass comments such as Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson who came out this past week and said this ridiculous statement:  

“I grew up in a time when it was as much the woman’s responsibility as the man’s — how you were dressed, what your behavior was,” Ms. Johnson, 81, said. “I’m from the old school that you can have behaviors that appear to be inviting. It can be interpreted as such. That’s the responsibility, I think, of the female." (Read complete article here.) 


So to all the Harry Styles of the world who have had their crotch, or breast, or ass grabbed by a total stranger, I apologize on behalf of the human race who seems to have lost any remaining decency. However, I refuse to give up the hope that the culture can be changed. 


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The DREADED Cone of Uncertainty

With Hurricane Irma barreling down my path (and Harvey fresh in our minds), I declared to co-workers yesterday (including my boss who said I would have to work remotely) that I am done with Florida, and in five years, when my youngest graduates high school, I am outta here!  

But, as my boss reminded me, every area has its natural disaster risk. At least with hurricanes, we get notice and time to make preparations. True. Irma, one of, if not the strongest hurricane to grace the Atlantic basin (we’re hearing the term Category 6 thrown around), is on a course toward south Florida – well, we think. The dreaded cone of uncertainty is something residents in hurricane prone regions are familiar with, but never get used to. The days before a storm hits is one of the most intense, heightened anxiety producing events imaginable – the not knowing for sure, the possibility, the “do we or do we not” put up shutters, evacuate, etc – can drive people insane. Fear is a terrible motivator. Yesterday, I waited in line for gas like many others and then headed to Target for supplies – I didn’t even need them, just felt I should be doing something.

Yesterday, a colleague came into my office and made the observation that everyone is “on edge.” Some, like myself, have lived in Florida for decades. You would think this makes us immune to the panic that sets in the days leading up to the arrival of a storm. But, in actuality, it makes it much worse. Especially those who lived through the seasons of 2004-05 when we were hit with multiple storms and faced wide-spread power outages and property damage.

Last year, as we prepared for Hurricane Matthew (the first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane since 2007), which was headed right for my coast, I recall friends and neighbors just looking at each other, but afraid to express the fear in their hearts. Has the many years of being spared finally come to an end? People took this storm seriously, as it had been over ten years since our area received a direct impact from a hurricane. Was our time up?

And then it happened. The WOBBLE. I remember getting a text message just hours before Matthew was supposed to make landfall. The storm shifted east and, once again, my area would be spared. You see, no one ever can predict Mother Nature. It is as if she is playing with us, testing us.

In 1992, I was a young college graduate living alone in an Orlando apartment. Hurricane Andrew, a monster Category 5 hurricane was coming right to the center of the state. I taped my windows (we now know NOT to do that), bought new batteries for my flashlight, and hunkered down. I went to bed, praying it wouldn’t be as bad as they had predicted.

I woke up the next morning, surprised I had slept so soundly, and looked out my window. I recall seeing blue sky and wondered, “Did we even get rain?”  I thanked God, the storm must have dissipated (I was a hurricane newbie). I turned on the morning news and that’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks. Homestead (near Miami) had been devastated, practically wiped off the map. What the hell??

During the night while thousands slept, and without much, if any, notice, Andrew made a sharp turn and hit an area not expecting or prepared for such a massive storm. Few, who lived here during that time, will ever forget those images.

And, so, you see, these last minute curve balls by Mother Nature, is what always gets me all riled up anytime meteorologists take out their damn cone of uncertainty and spaghetti models. There are many times I want to tell the weather channel to take their cone and shove it where the sun don’t shine, but then I breathe and do what any rational person in this situation can do – prepare for worst, pray for the best.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Taco Tuesday - VEGAN STYLE!

Hey all! Have another deliciously fun vegan recipe for you to give a try. Tacos are fun to make, and the entire family can have a say in which ingredients they want to add. While there are many vegan ground beef alternatives on the market, many of which would be delicious with this recipe, we fired up the grill for this one using one of my favorite vegan proteins - tofu!  But, probably my favorite part of tacos, and practically all plant-based recipes, is how colorful your final dish will turn out.

First, start by slicing tofu thin enough to get cooked all the way through, but not too thin that the pieces cannot be placed and maneuvered on the grill (I like mine a bit crunchy!). Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper, or any of your favorite seasoning such as Adobo, and grill.  

Use caution when grilling corn with husks directly on grill. Wrap in aluminum foil for safety! 
At the same time, get your corn on the cob ready for some grilling. Peel back the husks and lather on some butter (or vegan butter alternative), and sprinkle with some salt and pepper. Pull husks back over the corn and grill directly on the barbeque turning occasionally.  When finished and slightly cooled off, cut the grilled corn off the cob to make one of the best taco toppings.

To add more color, chop up your favorite veggies (and fruit!).

Orange pepper, scallions, red onions, multi-colored grape tomatoes, fresh ginger, and fresh MANGO! These toppings can be kept raw or sauteed slightly - whichever you prefer. And, don't forget the shredded vegan cheese.

Grab your favorite soft or hard, corn or flour, tortilla and start creating. You may wish to warm tortillas or shells in oven or on the stovetop. Finish off your masterpiece with a dollop of guacamole and a side of grilled asparagus.

Fun to make and eat for the entire family. Bon Appetit.


Finding tasty vegan or vegetarian alternatives is getting easier and easier, and I love hearing from people who give these options a try - even if just for "Meatless Monday." 

Have a good topping suggestion for me? Please let me know in the comments section. 

Read more of my Going Vegan series here

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Florida Supercon: The Good, The Bad, and the OMG, WTF Were Organizers Thinking

For the last four days, fans flocked to the Greater Fort Lauderdale / Broward Convention Center for the biggest comic convention in South Florida - Florida Supercon.  For those not familiar with comic cons, they are much more than comic books and memorabilia. Sure, there is a ton of merchandise - from t-shirts, toys, and artwork, to DVDs and rare collectibles, but there is also a variety of panels, improvs, games, and contests happening. Plus, cosplayers, cosplayers, and more cosplayers!! The highlights for me, however, at any com-con, are the celebrity appearances. Although, some of the best fun I've had at these shows is with lesser known guests who really give their time and attention to those who stop by for a visit. 

Related Post: Palm Con 2016

DC Comic Artist, Jose Delbo
Another highlight, Meeting Chris Sarandon
aka Prince Humperdinck from The Princess Bride

This year's predominant theme was anything Dr. Who, led by the appearance of the twelfth doctor, Peter Capaldi. Fans I spoke with said he is one of, if not the biggest, star ever to grace the Florida Supercon's line-up. All one had to do was look around the exhibit floor to notice Dr. Who fever was rampant. Also, appearing was Karen Gillan (who played Amy Pond) and Sarah Louise Madison, who is best known as one of Dr. Who's scariest monsters, the Weeping Angel. She is anything but scary in real life. My son and I were thrilled to meet all three (We waited nearly two hours in line to meet Capaldi - TOTALLY WORTH IT) and grabbed seats for Gillan's Q&A session over an hour in advance.

The Doctors are in the house! 
Missy and The Doctor

Amy and Rory

While event organizers were anticipating 53,000 attendees, they may have miscalculated their numbers causing a slew of logistical nightmares. Thursday and Friday were the mellow days, with the crowds starting to increase Friday night. By Saturday, it took me an hour to drive the 20 minutes from my hotel thanks to the traffic - which is nothing compared to the three to four hours it took some people to get through the last few miles leading to the venue. According to many fan tweets, some just gave up and turned around. Other fans told me that after waiting in traffic for 3 hours, they arrived - with pre-purchased tickets in hand - only to be held outside for a half an hour because the event was sold out, and they weren't letting anymore people in. The droves of people wrapped around the entire convention center at one point! Event organizers quickly tweeted that Saturday tickets would be honored on Sunday. This really IS a big deal and proof that, if the event is going to stay at this location (the event used to be held in Miami), organizers are going to have to deal with parking, traffic, and ticket sales issues. 

The only legal picture I was allowed to take of Capaldi - the
photo nazis were out in full force! 

Cosplayers getting into character
Not a com-con without Princess Leia, and BABY

The traffic wasn't anymore organized once inside. The wall to wall crowds could be forgiven, but queues to get autographs were very cramped. My biggest complaint about the flow of things inside is the operation of the escalators. For some reason, most escalators were heading upwards, so when hundreds of people exited Gillan's panel, they had to walk the length the center, passing six or more nearly empty UP escalators, to find the ONE down escalator. 

My son testing a lightsaber
The problem I have with any of these conventions is the outlandish prices organizers charge the patrons for autographs and photo ops. For example, a one day ticket for Saturday was $45. That will get you on the exhibit floor and into the panels. But, if you want a photo-op or autographed picture, you will pay anywhere from $20 to $155!  Yet, as long as people are willing to pay (and many ARE!), the prices will keep going up. Another fan brought up the fact that if conventions didn't charge for autographs, non-fans would just stock pile signed pictures and merchandise and profit off of them online - which makes sense. But, still......this is not a cheap form of entertainment and family fun! 

When all is said and done, my son had a blast and going rounded out his 13th birthday celebration just perfectly. However, as with others I spoke with, the event would be better off returning to Miami. Next year, I'd probably skip it and just drive a bit further to attend MegaCon in Orlando. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Best VEGAN Burgers for Summer Grilling

Summer means burgers on the grill, and just because you might be vegan or vegetarian, or simply want to go plant-based for a meal, doesn't mean you have to forego this favorite American cookout food! While there are more and more cruelty-free BBQ options popping up, these are my two favorite substitutions to the traditional beef or turkey burger. 

The recent unveiling of The Beyond Burger by Beyond Meat boasts it is perfect for those non-meat eating individuals who want a more beefy consistency in their veggie burger, complete with "blood" - courtesy of beet juice. I'll admit, at first, the thought of a vegan burger that acted more like a real meat burger grossed me out. If I wanted my food to bleed, I would just eat animals. But I don't, so I was hesitant to give these burgers a try. 

But, boy, am I glad I did. The Beyond Burger definitely beats the more common (and drier) black bean burgers popular in restaurants and the frozen food aisle. On the grill, these meatless burgers are fabulous, and I enjoy experimenting with the toppings. Here, I topped my burger with lettuce, tomato, and avocado and served it with a side of grilled zucchini. 

TIP: Since I really didn't want a vegan burger that "bleeds," I grilled mine for five minutes on each side, instead of the recommended three minutes. The burger is still juicy and delicious, and leftovers warm up nicely the next day. 

My second favorite "burger" is a grilled portobello mushroom. Simply brush each side with olive oil and season with salt and pepper before grilling. This one is topped with tabouleh, lettuce, and Follow Your Heart pepperjack vegan cheese. 

TIP: Make sure you cook the mushroom all the way through, otherwise it will be tough (up to ten minutes on each side, depending on thickness.) 

Finding tasty vegan or vegetarian alternatives is getting easier and easier, and I love hearing from people who give these options a try - even if just for "Meatless Monday." 

Have a good topping suggestion for me? Please let me know in the comments section. 

Read more of my Going Vegan series here

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Nik's Piks)

Spider-MAN? Well, maybe not quite yet, but this 15-year-old is getting there. We were first introduced to Tom Holland's Spider-Man (aka Peter Parker) in the 2016 film Captain America: Civil War.  I loved him then, and I love him now in the recently released Spider-Man: Homecoming. Die-hard fans must forgive me. This is not a comparison to any other Spider-Man film or portrayal because I've never seen any others. With that said, I can only say this is yet another Marvel success and a truly enjoyable superhero film. 

"If you're nothing without this suit, then you shouldn't have it." ~ Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming is not an origination film, but is the coming of age story of the youngest Avenger. Having recently been recruited to assist Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, (Robert Downey, Jr.) in the battle against Captain America, Peter now finds himself back in his mundane high school life waiting to be called upon again to help the Avengers. In the meanwhile, he gains experience using his new suit created by Stark Industries and being the friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man by fighting crime in Queens, NY. When Peter finally stumbles upon something big - enter the after-plot of the 2012 film The Avengers - he must prove to Stark, and, more importantly, himself - that he is worthy of the suit and a place on the Avengers team. 

Holland is adorable (Yeah, I know, not the first word that comes to most people's minds when they think superhero.) and he, along with his sidekick Ned (Jacob Batalon) will have you laughing the entire film. The film also stars Michael Keaton as our villain, Vulture, Marisa Tomei as Peter's Aunt May, and Zendaya, as Peter's classmate, Michelle. 

Watch Official Trailer

Spider-Man: Homecoming is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language, and brief suggestive comments. What does that mean for parents? There are a ton of loud explosives and action sequences that might be too much for young viewers, but nothing gory, and the worst of the language is "bullshit" and "shitty". In my opinion, as far as PG-13 superhero films go, this reboot of a Marvel classic is one of the more family-friendly films. 

Check out more summer movies including Wonder Woman

Read more Family Movie Reviews and Nik's Piks: After Hours reviews for mature audiences. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Wonder Woman (Nik's Piks)

Well, I have nothing to say - nothing negative, that is.  I finally went to see Wonder Woman, a film I was excited to see, then wasn't, then heard such great things about it, I figured I would go.  However, I am sure that if someone (ANYONE) told me Chris Pine co-stars in the film as our heroine's love interest, I would have made a harder effort to get to theaters on opening weekend! Needless to say, Robin Wright's performance of Antiope made my day as well! 

"It is our sacred duty to defend the world." ~ Wonder Woman

As all first installments of superhero films go, the entire film is the backstory to Princess Diana aka Diana Prince, whose current day resurrection was introduced to movie fans in the 2016 film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  From the secret Amazon island of Themyscira, to the battlefields of World World I, the story of how everyone's favorite Amazonian came to be was nothing short of spectacular. In fact, don't be surprised if you get chills when she finally lets her hair down and goes to battle. 

Gal Gadot is the perfect Wonder Woman - strong, determined, and absolutely beautiful on the inside and out - not an easy feat when you consider she had some big shoes to fill.  I am sure the original Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter, was proud of Gadot's portrayal of the beloved television character Carter brought to life some 40 years ago! If I have to give one criticism about the film, I would say that it was a shame Warner Bros. didn't bring Carter back for a cameo appearance - you know, for old time's sake. How cool would that have been??!!

Watch Official Trailer

Regular readers know I prefer Marvel to DC, but, with that said this is the best DC film, and I loved the not-so-subtle messages of how humankind is its own poison. The film also boasts the first female director, Patty Jenkins, of a studio superhero film. Double bravo! This film will please most, if not all, moviegoers, whether they are comic fans or not. As of the writing of this review, the film is still out in theaters, so try and get there if you can. 

Wonder Woman is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content. 

Read more of my Nik's Piks: After Hours reviews. 

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too! 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Szen Zone (Book Review)

NOTE: I received this book free from the author/publisher requesting an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's rules and guidelines.

The self-help book, Szen Zone: Reaching a State of Positive Change by Gary Szenderski took me months of attempting to finish it, and, although I made it through most of the book, I just couldn't do it.  It has a great concept - I mean, who doesn't need even a little bit of help being more positive - but, often the concepts were not fully explored. The book is very choppy and unclear.  

When I was first approached with this book, I was looking forward to it and figured it would make a great nightstand book - one that can be read piece by piece each night and reflected upon.  However, while Szenderski does provide the reader with some opportunity for self-reflection,  he provides little to no concrete steps for self-improvement.  At least, no innovative ones. 

I enjoyed some of the relatable stories and scenarios, and, at times, they did draw me in, only to lose me again with the imprecise chatter that followed. 

The best self-help books are written in a way that not only inspire and encourage, and identify common misconceptions or practices in us, but does so in an entertaining way. Unfortunately, this author falls short of that.  Overall, the book is nothing more than a collection of obvious observations with no new insight. 

Read more of my Book Reviews