Lions and Tigers and Bears…Oh My!

October 2, 2015

I’ve always had a thing for animals.  Not just the domestic types, but the big “I could eat you if I wanted” type.  So when I had the chance to do the private training course at Hollywood Animals, I couldn’t resist!


Hollywood Animals, located in Santa Clarita, California provides big cats to the movie, television and advertising business.




If you saw the movie, Evan Almighty with Steve Carell, the 2 lions, 2 tigers, 2 spotted leopards and the hyena from that movie were all cast from Hollywood Animals.

These animals travel all over the world to work with actors and models so they need to be socialized – continually exposed to a variety of people and comfortable performing in different environments.

The animal training course is not just about petting tigers or hugging bears (though you do get the chance to do that – eventually).

Bear Hug

Bear Hug

Five days a week you work a typical 8-10 hour day that starts with prepping food for each of the dozens of animals on property.  Imagine handling and weighing approximately 10 pounds of raw meat each day for each big cat.  This is not a job for the squeemish! In addition to the food, you also have to cube some of the meat into 2″-3″ chunks to use as treats when training.

Then there are enclosures to clean.  Cats are moved from one part of the spacious enclosures to another and locked off so you can rake, sweep, rinse and clean their living space.  Yes, it’s a lot of work and physically demanding, but the reward – if you find a whisker during your cleaning, you get to keep it!  I have one of Flynn’s affixed to the mat framing a photo of him that hangs on the wall in our home.

Flynn, my blue-eyed beau!

Flynn, my blue-eyed beau!

Safety is always stressed.  NEVER turn your back on a big cat.  NEVER, NEVER, NEVER.  Even though the animals at Hollywood Animals are specifically raised from cubs and are at least 5th generation born in captivity, they are still large, potentially dangerous animals.  Even if not intending harm, if a big cat were to pouce on you like your domestic cat is known to do when playing – it could hurt!  When a trainer is inside the enclosure with an animal, another person is at the entrance with a fire extinguisher to provide distraction if needed.  These simple, but carefully followed guides along with the wonderful care the animals all receive is likely why they have not had an incident requiring even a band-aid in all their decades in business.

Animals are trained using a positive reinforcement method.  Treats for good performance, not unlike what works best with humans.  That little bamboo stick in my hand is just to point and direct the animal – it wouldn’t serve as much of a defense weapon!

The bears in particular have a sweet tooth and will do just about anything for a marshmellow – even take it from my mouth!


Bear “Kiss”

They call it a “bear kiss” because bears pick up their food with their tongues and bring it into their mouths to chew. Warning!  Don’t try this at home or on your next camping trip, but hold a marshmellow in your teeth and stands still…then be ready to need to wash your face!  He’s not “foaming at the mouth”, that’s melted marshmellows…we’ve been “kissing” awhile!

My weeks at Hollywood Animals were some of the most fun and educational I’ve ever spent.  If I were to live in the LA area, I would sign on as a volunteer and spend at least a day or two a week working with my animal friends.

They also offer a weekend course at times so perhaps YOU might want to check it out for yourself!

Eat Like a Local

October 1, 2015

Getting ready to visit another city?  Groupon and Living Social are great ways to take advantage of deals in your destination city.  Using either your computer or the phone app, change the location using the zip code of where you are staying.  You can search for restaurant or activity deals to stretch your travel budget.

Groupon is a little more user friendly by letting you show the deals on a map rather than just a list but the few minutes of research you need to do using either is more than made up for by the bargains you’ll find.  The app makes it so you don’t have to print out anything so you can even grab a deal on your way out the door!

Here in Scottsdale, I’ve so far taken advantage of deals at:

Thirsty Lion Gastropub & Grill – Fashion Square Mall location
We went for Happy Hour and tried a number of their food offerings including Pulled Pork Sliders, Bacon Cheddar Potato Cakes, Sauteed Brussell Sprouts Pretzeland the Oven baked hot pretzel with beer cheese dip.  Off the Seasonal Menu I had the Pan Seared Shishito Peppers – a favorite of mine.  The table agreed that everything was great EXCEPT the hot pretzel which was dry and the ale cheese dip that looked unappealing and lacked flavor.  The manager was quick to take it off our bill though and even gave us coupons for a free appetizer when we return – and yes, we will!

Bink’s Kitchen + Bar – 6107 N Scottsdale Rd.
Bink'sWith all the accolades Chef Binkley has received we had high expectations and were disappointed.  The food certainly tasted fine, but both the Baby Beets Ceviche and the Heirloom Tomatoes were such tiny portions – certainly not worth their $9 and $11 price tags respectively.  It almost felt as though they were running low in the kitchen and we got what was left – certainly neither item matched pictures on the web of those dishes.  The Gazpacho and Fried Shishito Peppers were more appropriately sized to their prices and the Moroccan Fried Chicken was the hit of the table.  Part of our disappointment was in the extremely slow service.  We were there on a Tuesday night early – hardly the middle of a busy weekend evening and the food took an exceptionally long time to get to the table.  When we inquired with our server, he acted as though we had personally insulted him!


Rosati’s Pizza – N. Scottsdale -10989 E Dynamite Blvd
We love pizza.  Just not THIS pizza.  I try to say something positive in every review but in this case, I can’t.  We ordered the “Double Dough”, a medium thicknessCholula crust with a hand-rolled edge.  The dough is the foundation of every great pizza and this dough was just bland.  It had no flavor what so ever!  The sauce was okay and the toppings (Pepperoni, Bacon, Black Olives and Fresh Tomato slices) were equally bland.  To add insult to injury – it took forever!  We looked surprised when another table that had been seated at least 30 minutes after us received their pizza first and the customer explained they had phoned in their order 15-20 minutes before they arrived!  Yes, it took nearly an hour to get a marginal pizza.  Thank goodness we had ordered the fried zucchini to tide us over!  We took most of the pizza home with us and using heavy doses of Cholula Hot Sauce we were able to make it more edible.

One of the great things about getting a deal, it takes some of the sting out of the lackluster experiences whether it is small portions, bland food, slow service or all of the above!

Desert Authors Lunch

November 15, 2013

Kathy Reichs at the podium

Every November, typically the first or second Saturday, some of your favorite authors can be found at the Arizona Biltmore in Scottsdale.  The Annual Authors Luncheon is now in its 23rd year raising money for kidney patient services ranging from transplants to medications or dialysis transportation.  The Arizona Women’s Board continues the tradition started by Erma Bombeck by inviting a handful of MAJOR authors to speak at the event.  A local bookstore sets up shop in the lobby so you can buy the latest book and the authors are available both before and after the luncheon to personalize and sign your books.  What great holiday gifts!


Wally Lamb signing books

This year’s all-star line up of authors included:  Delia Ephron, Linda Fairstein, Wally Lamb, Kathy Reichs (Bones TV show) and Lisa Scottoine.  Last year Brad Thor was a crowd favorite.  Past years have included some of my other favorites such as Susan Issacs, Anthony Horowitz, John Sandford, Gregory Maguire (Wicked author), Lee Child (Jack Reacher books)  and countless more.  With rare exception, the authors are gracious and happy to chat or even pose for photos while signing your books.


Brad Thor & Sunny Kobe Cook aka “Travel Queen”

If you spend some time in the Phoenix area to escape the weather where you live, why not sign up to be on the mailing list for this great event?  What better way to spend a Saturday in November than decked out with 1000 ladies (and a few men) in the ballroom of the Biltmore listening to some of your favorite authors talking about their new book, the writing process, how they got started writing and much more?!?  My sister and I go every year.   As we listen to the authors share their stories, we make a list of people on our holiday list who would enjoy each person’s book and a chunk of our holiday shopping is done by the end of the day. Even if you don’t see your favorite author on the list for next year, I guarantee you will have a NEW favorite by the end of the luncheon! 


Ladies at the luncheon

Hard to imagine having so much fun AND helping to support a great cause.  Hope to see you there next year.

Only in America

October 4, 2013

As faithful readers you know I have traveled extensively both domestically and internationally.   If you don’t regularly travel beyond our shores, there are a few things that will surprise you.

Free refills.  At virtually every US restaurant, non-alcoholic beverages are bottomless. Unless it comes in a bottle such as gourmet sodas, refills are free. Soft drinks, iced tea and coffee-all free refills.

Even at Starbucks I can drink my Venti iced tea and get a refill for only fifty cents.

Unless you are in an all-inclusive resort, this is not true elsewhere. A soft drink or iced tea – if they even know what that is – typically costs about $4 or $5 PER GLASS.
When traveling internationally, I try to limit myself to 2 glasses if tea per meal to avoid sticker shock when the check comes!

The other place travelers often find themselves homesick is the bathroom. Other parts of the world have not caught up with what we consider standard. I’m always thrilled when I find a familiar toilet! Even those with Western style plumbing fixtures often have attendants who hand out 3 squares of toilet paper in exchange for some local coins.

In the Far East I left the table during dinner at an upscale restaurant to use the restroom. I hadn’t brought my purse because I was not expecting to need to “tip” in the toilet. Upon seeing I had no coins, the attendant hissed and kicked at me!

Even your hotel bathroom may not be what you have come to expect. Hair dryers are still mounted to the walls and are boxes with a vacuum cleaner style hose and are about as strong as the air escaping from a balloon.

Showers still don’t always have curtains or other means of keeping the water inside the shower area. One 4 star European hotel had a 12″ wide piece of glass attached to the wall the shower head was on. No door that closed to join it, no curtain either. Of course this did nothing to contain the water so we used countless towels to absorb the flood.

Slowly but surely American style showers are finding their way into more and more international hotels, but if you are in villages, small towns or lesser developed countries – don’t say I didn’t warn you!

All that being said, there is a world of great food, culture and adventure out there to experience. Just don’t be surprised when you sit down to lunch at a US airport while changing planes on your way home and you find yourself saying “Ahhhh” when the waiter automatically refills your freshly brewed iced tea – for FREE!

Don’t Look Down! Final Chapter

September 27, 2013

By my second foray into the jungle to meet Pygmy tribes, I had learned a few things.  First, you will notice I’m NOT carrying my purse!
Zaire032I am also wearing a longer skirt. Despite the varying states of undress of the natives, a white woman’s knees would have been considered “enticing” to the tribe we were about to meet.  This route also went deep into the jungle and at one point, we had to cross a river using the fern covered log that served as a bridge.

Zaire033The water below was not the least bit appealing and I did my best to not look down as I crossed.  Once safely on the other side, my pilot/guide said “Sure good thing no one fell in, there are piranhas in that river.”  NOW you tell me!

Zaire034Once again we came to a clearing and found what were now familiar huts.  There was one under construction so I got a chance to see the simple, yet effective design.  Long, thin, flexible branches are collected and all the leaves removed.   One end is sunk deep into the earth then an arch is formed and the other end is also anchored into the ground.  The series of arches create the frame which is then covered with large leaves.

Zaire022Again, the band was very welcoming even though we had to rely on pantomimes and smiles rather than words.  It was apparent that despite how harsh the conditions were for ALL the residents of Zaire, now the Congo, it was especially so for the Pygmy tribes.


In addition to the natural challenges of living deep in an inhospitable jungle, the Congo war was heating up when I was there.  Within days of my visit to this band of Pygmies, the rebels overran the nearest village and during the course of the next few years, over 70,000 Pygmies fell victim to the violence that still plagues this region.

My pilot/guide/host was monitoring rebel movement via short wave radio and a couple of days after my Pygmy visit he announced, “I think it’s time we leave.”  We packed up, loaded the plane and headed back into Kenya.  There, on my hotel television, I received the news that the country which was Zaire when I arrived a couple of weeks ago had been taken over and was now to be known as the Congo.  The hospital, schools and most of the buildings of the mission station were destroyed.  A doctor and his family walked through the jungle to Uganda to escape.

One of my husband’s nieces has been on the Mercy Ship for the past 2 years and is getting off when it docks on the west coast of the Congo in a few weeks.  My deepest admiration goes to all those who volunteer in this harsh place to try and bring some peace and comfort to the native people so long ravished by disease, poverty and tribal war.


As I close my eyes to sleep in my comfortable bed, I think back to the time I slept under a mosquito net and the glimpse into a world few ever get to see that I was fortunate enough to have.

Deep in the Jungle, Part 3

September 20, 2013

Not only did I hike out into the jungle to meet Pygmies with my PURSE, I was also wearing ALL my jewelry – diamond rings, diamond stud earrings – all the classic hallmarks of a rookie traveler which I was at the time!  Fortunately, though they did notice, these items and their value was not relevant in the world in which they live.


I had brought candy and toys for the children.  They didn’t know to unwrap the candies before popping them into their mouths as they had never had a candy before.  Since we didn’t share a common language, pantomime and lots of smiles aided communication.


The women quickly took me into their huts to show me what they were cooking for dinner.  I couldn’t imagine a family huddling together in the small area of one of their huts to eat and sleep.  Hardly the spacious living quarters most of us enjoy!


The men used handcrafted bows and arrows to hunt birds and small animals in the jungle.  Women gathered nuts, fruits and other edible plants to complete their diet.  Being nomadic, the tribe did not plant crops but rather harvested what the jungle provided and then moved on when there was no more food in that area.


I did say that my jewelry did not go unnoticed.  One of the women gestured to my diamond stud earrings and then proceeded to show me how they pierce their ears and weave plants and flowers together to make ear ornamentation.  She even gifted me with the tools they used to pierce – two porcupine quills which I still have to this day.

This was the first of two treks made deep into the jungles of Zaire, now the Congo, to meet Pygmy tribes.  Next week I’ll share some photos from the 2nd hike which included crossing a river, a close up look at the huts under construction and more!

A Long Way from Home, Zaire Part 2

September 13, 2013

Once on the ground, the harsh realities of life in Zaire quickly became apparent.  Officials had to be bribed with “gifts” to allow our entry and cameras hidden deep in a compartment under the seat in our plane to keep them from being “taxed” or worse, confiscated.










The “roads” were mud tracks through the fields and the market serving the area did not inspire holiday shopping.



In order to visit the Pygmy tribes, we had to first obtain permission from the local Chief.  Even though the Pygmies are not part of his tribe, he is responsible for everyone in his region, including the nomadic Pygmies.  Our visit with the Chief was interesting, one of his only questions was “Do you have a camera?”  We hesitantly admitted yes not knowing what would come next.  We were surprised when he asked us to take a picture of him with his wives, children, brother and security chief.  With that we had his blessing for our visit.

Local Chief with Family

Local Chief with Family

Zaire020Now the Pygmies do not live on a street or in a neighborhood.  They live deep in the jungle and we had a local missionary who, armed with a machete to clear a footpath, led the way to their current camp.  He also shared some of the edible plants and fruits we found along the way.

Zaire028The trail was thick with vegetation and the ground, slick red mud.  Even with a walking stick, climbing up some of the hills was challenging.  Coming down was just as difficult and I ended up being the only member of our group who was NOT covered head to heel with mud from sliding down one of these paths.  My socks were definitely beyond saving though!

Zaire021After about an hour hiking, we came to a small clearing with several huts made from bent branches and leaves.  At first we didn’t see anyone, but upon seeing our missionary guide, suddenly dozens of what appeared to be children came running out of their jungle hiding places.   The adults were not much larger than the adolescent children but interestingly, the babies and younger children did not appear smaller than their western counterparts.  It seemed the dwarf stature became obvious about the time of puberty.


Yes, I’m the travel novice with a PURSE out in the middle of the jungle!
Next week I’ll share more of our visit, let you see inside the huts and more!


September 6, 2013

I recently had a chance to once again listen to Helen Thayer share her amazing adventures such as walking solo with a dog to the North Pole.  In the Q&A session that followed, she was asked where she would like to go. The Congo to live among the Pygmies was one of her goals not yet realized due to the dangerous political climate that still exists there today.

While I did not “live” among the Pygmies, on my first trip to Africa in October of 1996, I hiked out into the jungles of what was then Zaire (now the Congo) and met with 2 different Pygmy tribes.  I thought I’d share my unique adventure with you here over the next couple of weeks.

Those of you who know the “Travel Queen” for luxury experiences may be surprised, but I’ve always had an adventurous spirit.  In 1996 there was no tourism in Zaire.  There was already unrest and tribal skirmishes between the Hutu and Tutsis.   I traveled into and around the country on a missionary visa in a 5 person MAF plane and stayed on the mission station near the schools and hospitals built there with private donations to serve the local population.  These were the ONLY educational and medical facilities in the country.

Zaire002The scenery flying into Zaire from Kenya was spectacular!  Towering trees, huge cliffs, waterfalls and Lake Victoria.












Shores of Lake Victoria


My favorite sight from above was of the villages surrounded by what appeared to be planted circles of trees.  In fact, these are Acacia bushes planted around a village or cut branches woven into a “fence”.  The large, sharp thorns of this nature plant serve as an effective deterrent to carnivorous wildlife who would otherwise raid the village of chickens, goats and yes, even people!  No Dorothy, we are not in Kansas anymore!


Chocolate Lovers Dream

August 23, 2013

Name your favorite food.  For so many people the answer is chocolate.  Those who regularly eat chocolate like to justify it with “health benefits” but let’s face it – it’s chocolate!  Did you really need a good excuse to indulge?

Chocolate TastingHow about a weekend of indulgence?  How about indulging at a discount?  Home Run, one of the daily discount sites is offering admission for 2 on Sunday, September 22nd to the Northwest Chocolate Festival.  Sample chocolate from over 50 artisan chocolate and pastry artists plus learn more about your favorite food.  I’m sure you can find lots more reasons to justify your love of chocolate!  Sounds like a great way to spend a weekend with someone you love – or a fellow chocolate lover and for only $35 – that’s HALF-OFF!  Have an odd number of friends (3, 5 or more?) Living Social has the same value on single tickets!

Can’t make that Chocolate Festival?  There are LOTS of chocolate festivals to choose from.  Type “Chocolate Festival” into your favorite search engine and be prepared to be amazed – I certainly was!  February is “off season” at the beaches of Washington so you can book a reasonable priced room for the 7th Annual Chocolate on the Beach Festival.

Portland has Chocolate Fest in January.  Enumclaw paired wines with Chocolate for their festival.  Port Orchard will have their first Chocolate Festival in November which opens with a Chocolate Ball followed by 2 days of chocolate fun!

Tasty Chocolate Festivals are not limited to the Pacific Northwest.  You can make a Chocolate Festival part of your travels to placeschocolate_fest ranging from Mobile, Alabama to Belize to Hawaii and beyond!  Communities both large and small are hosting Chocolate Festivals – many as fundraisers for worthy charities (see, another good excuse to indulge).

hershey-kisseesOf course, the “ultimate” for chocolate lovers could be “Chocolate-Covered February” in the home of Chocolate here in the USA, Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Great memories often center around great food.  Take a girl friend, your sister, your lover, your spouse and indulge in a little chocolate.  Life is so much sweeter – with chocolate!

Nothing to “Wine” About

August 16, 2013

WAWine2011Washington Wine Weekend has begun.  When you think of a wine vacation, you may automatically think of Napa, Sonoma – the California wine region.  Certainly you can go there any time of the year and visit wineries, taste great wines and have some fun.  But there are also wine festivals all over the country, including some places you might not expect!

Here in Seattle there are wine events all year long.  Home to many boutique wineries, you can book a tour or just go visit on your own. Wine Country On the other side of the mountains in Eastern Washington, where the grapes are grown, there are even more wineries.  You can find wine events all over the area including one next weekend at Snoqualmie Casino complete with live music and over 20 local wines.

But don’t think you have to be on the west coast to enjoy a wine getaway!  There are wine festivals in North Carolina, Florida and even Iowa!  A useful website is  You can find wine events all over the country in places that range from actual wineries to art galleries.  With all these great options available in all price ranges, you surely will find nothing to “Wine About”!


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