The P.J. Hoffmaster State Park is located between Grand Haven and Muskegon, Michigan, on the shores of Lake Michigan. The park features a nature center, trails to hike, dunes and some very nice beaches. If you hike into the beaches along the south side of the park, you will very likely have them all to yourself (or at least, very few other people).
Since I usually try to discuss travel, food and green living, you'll have to forgive me the occasional indulgence to show you... my cats. I photographed them over the past two weeks and I'm just particularly pleased with how these shots came out.
The camera I used is a Panasonic DMC-FZ28, which I bought a few months back to replace my Canon PowerShot S3 IS (I managed to break the back viewscreen). So far, the DMC-FZ28 has been quite the little workhorse for me, easily transitioning for a wide range of uses - pet photography, portraits, get-togethers, outdoor scenes, architecture, night captures. The Lumix lens is sharp! And the camera - while lightweight - has enough heft that it feels pretty solid in the hand.
This is Simon; he's the more difficult to capture on film. (He can't be bothered to sit still when I want to take pictures - either that, or Kaylee comes to check out what's going on, and ruins the shot.) So when I capture good snaps of him, I'm doubly pleased.
Kaylee, on the other hand, is a massive goofball. Not only does she constantly seek out attention but she is a big ol' ham:
Sadly, what I remember most about this trip was that I came down with terrible altitude sickness, so there's a number of pictures I took on the last two days of the trip (including this one) that I cannot precisely pinpoint where I took them. Albuquerque sits at over a mile high (5,312 ft.), and so we went from pretty much sea level up to very high altitude. Then we drove up to Durango, Colorado (6,523 ft.), Mesa Verde (around 8,000 feet) and on to Taos (6,969 ft.) and Sante Fe (7,260 ft.).
Unlike when I went to Tibet - when I took Diamox - I didn't realize the altitude at which we'd be travelling, so on the next-to-last day of the trip I ended up in the ER with typical altitude sickness symptoms. But apparently the doctor who attended me wasn't familiar with altitude sickness, assured me it wasn't the plague (which is apparently alive and well around the Four Corners area), and sent me back to our hotel with a prescription for antibiotics. Pretty much as soon as I went home to Chicago, I predictably felt better.
One question I was asked on occasion when I told people about the bag's safety features was, "Wow, that's really great. Do they make anything, you know, more feminine looking?"
Traveling fashionistas need not worry any longer: Pacsafe has come out with a women's bags with that thought in mind. I was recently given the opportunity to field-test one of these bags, and here's what I think about it.
This is the TourSafe handbag in "taupe". Like the MetroSafe, the bag features the common Pacsafe safety features including eXomesh® Slashguard, tamperproof zippers, slashproof shoulder straps, and a snatchproof anchor clip.
Another view of the bag as modelled on a friend. This is one of the larger purses in this product line, so you can see it is a good-sized purse. (If you have a very small frame or you simply want something smaller, you may want to consider their TourSafe petite handbag or one of the SlingSafe series instead.)
Like most of their bag products, this purse comes with what they call the "snatchproof anchor clip", which is a heavy-duty metal clip that will allow you to easy run your purse strap through the slats of a chair, around a table leg, etc - thus discouraging run-by purse snatching. Of course, you should always exercise caution in areas known for crime by keeping your bag in sight, but this provides an addition deterrent to thieves. Somebody who is looking for easy pickings doesn't want to wrestle with your bag; they want to grab-and-go.
The other half of this safety equation is that Pacsafe has twin lightweight wires concealed within the construction of the straps to make them slashproof, thus further deterring thieves. (A technique used in some areas of high volumes of purse snatching, theives will slash your purse strap and run away with your purse before you've barely realized what happened, even with it crossed over your torso. The wires in the Pacsafe prevent this technique.)
The strap also comes with a cushioned removable shoulder pad, but whether you find this useful would be up to the individual user. I am more of a messenger bag-type user, so I tend to sling my purse back and forth quite a lot. In my case, the shoulder pad ended up sliding around a lot, and then I ended up using it to cover up the zipper clasp. (see below) I had a friend try out the purse as well, and she did not report the same issue. The bag is very light, and even when I had the bag full of stuff, I did not feel like the strap was digging into my shoulder - a big plus.
As mentioned, on this particular model, the purse is also lined (lower front, lower sides, bottom panels) with Pacsafe's eXomesh® Slashguard. Like the slash-and-grab technique, some thieves prefer the method of slashing and bag and grabbing whatever they can out of it (or what falls out of it); the eXomesh® Slashguard helps prevent this technique from being effective. It's certainly better to have your bag's slightly ruined and still have the contents safe, than to lose all you've got.
In addition to the other safety precautions, Pacsafe uses what they call tamperproof zippers. While not as well-concealed as the MetroSafe's zipper, it does offer more peace of mind that it's a little more difficult for unwanted fingers to get into your bag.
Let's talk about the exterior of the bag now. This particular bag does also come in different colors (black, and "tabasco" - a warm auburn shade); and their various other women's bags do come in a variety of trendy colors such as sage, gold, powder blue, chocolate, and charcoal. (My favorite color from their women's lines would be what they call "red" but is more a cranberry shade on products such as the ToteSafe 200 computer tote.)
Like the MetroSafe, I found this handbag to be incredibly water resistant for the contents inside. It must be noted that the outside fabric itself is very smooth and glossy to the touch; but it does soak up water. The liner of the bag seems to be what makes the difference in this case. I washed the bag twice: once after noticing normal day-to-day wear, and once after intentionally dropping the bag into a Chicago puddle. (You may think a puddle sounds innoculous, but trust me, any puddles in Chicago after a rain are an odd shade of dark grey. I figured if I could wash that nasty stuff out of this bag, then I would definitely give it a thumbs-up.) The bag does clean up easily with soap, shampoo or detergent, although you may have to scrub a little with some kinds of stains. (The Chicago puddle nastiness did wash out.) In fact, I would be willing to bet this purse could easily be thrown into a washing machine and drip-dried if need be. When in the middle of washing the bag one time, I left it under a heavily running sink for at least five minutes, and came back and found the inside was still dry.
All that being said, I must say one caveat. The zippers are not waterproof, so if you spill or get anything liquid directly onto the zipper areas, not only will the contents of your purse get wet, but the lining is so wonderfully waterproof that you may find you have water pooled in the bottom of your purse. This is a minor detail, but one you will want to pay attention to if you get stuck in a downpour!
The exterior of the purse has three pockets. There is one on each end of the purse for which the purpose is not immediately clear. That being said, the two pockets are very different in appearance. The first is designed to expand a little bit, and I found that it is more secure for putting a cell phone or even a small pocket camera into. It takes a little bit of effort to put anything in the pocket, as the elastic does not give a great deal - which balances things out, because nobody is going to easily get something back out of that pocket without you noticing. (However, for safety's sake, I would always recommend putting any tempting electronics inside your purse!)
I also discovered it was also the perfect size pocket to fit one of those tiny Starbucks Double Shot cans in. Red Bulls also fit into the pocket, but a tradition-size soda or a bottle of water will not fit. If you have a really small compact folding umbrella, it may also fit in this pocket as well.
** Edit - update 9/24 - I have found out that this pocket has now been modified and should fit a Nalgene 16 oz water bottle. Good news!
The other end pocket can accommodate a cell phone (for a size comparison, I use an LG Voyager), but I would only use that pocket as a means to temporarily free my hands of a phone or other small, slim item; or to stick a map, etc. into.
On the back of the bag, there is a zippered component that covers approximately 2/3 of the back panel. This is fairly spacious, easily big enough to hold a paperback novel, a stash of maps, or whatever you would like to stick in there.
The inside of the bag has two main compartments. The smaller of the two compartments is large enough and deep enough to hold one of those larger paperbacks (5.5"x8") that seem to be the more common size today. However, because this is the zippered inner compartment, it is probably where you would want to stash your passport, checkbook, etc.
The larger inside space has a decently-sized slash pocket for loose change; the pocket also contains a snap for attaching your keys. The center divider has two pen slots, a couple of credit card/other slots, and two "padded electronic gadget pockets" which are a good size for cell phones, pocket cameras, MP3 players, or anything else you may wish to protect a little better. This primary interior space is spacious indeed - I was able to stuff it with my cell phone, pocket camera, hefty tour guide, wallet - and still have plenty of room.
Although it is definitely not designed as a camera bag (although Pacsafe does design camera bags as well), the whole bag is lightly padded, and you can fit a larger camera into the bag as well. I have carried around both my Nikon D80 with a large zoom lens together with my Panasonic DMC-FZ28, plus at least one Pacsafe CarrySafe 100 camera strap (I love my Pacsafe camera strap) in the bag, as well as a book, my wallet, and a rolled up t-shirt. So the interior of the bag is definitely spacious for the size of the bag. And even when I had the bag full, it didn't look like it was bulging or misshapen - it still looked like a handbag.
In summary, this bag is a good value for a woman looking for a travel purse that is secure, yet stylish enough to wear in a more formal travel environment. It cleans up quickly, and can easily accommodate large volumes of items. Thumbs up for this bag.
To my reading faithful: sorry for the dearth of posts. Been super-busy with the end of summer, and am finally catching up on a huge pile of photography, reviews, and writing. Will post a LOT in the next week!
I'm getting quite a collection of recipes and pictures to go with them. People keep telling me I should write a recipe book, but - well, I'm no Julia Child. And I also have a really bad habit of "winging it" in the kitchen. Hard to write a recipe book when your recipes rarely come out the same way twice!
Vanilla ice cream with vanilla-bourbon sauce and fresh fruit
Ingredients: 1 cup bourbon (I used Knob Creek, but that just what I had in my liquor cabinet) 1 fresh vanilla bean (I make my own vanilla extract, which is vanilla bean-heavy, so I just used that) 4 Tbsp honey or agave 1/2 cup sugar juice from 1 orange (or 1 large tangelo), strained pinch of nutmeg pinch of cinnamon a few slices of fresh ginger, peeled
1 pint vanilla ice cream (Ben & Jerry's fair trade vanilla is excellent) fruit of choice - either half a cup of berries per person; or 1/2 fruit per person (pears, apples)
Makes 4 servings.
Slice open vanilla bean and scrape out the beans. Place them in saucepan with all other ingredients. Cut the bean in half and put it in there, too. Notice the aroma of the mix; you should currently be able to strongly smell the alcohol in the mix.
Bring up to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cover. Stir or swirl regularly. You want to cook the sauce until the pungency of the alcohol disappears from the cooking scent, about 10-15 minutes.
This sauce will not be thick like a syrup. (You probably could add corn syrup to thicken, but I thought it tasted great as-is.) You can cool the sauce and then put it in the freezer for about 15 minutes if you want a slightly gooey consistency.
Two ways to serve:
- Scoop ice cream on a plate or in a bowl. Spoon some sauce around the ice cream; add fresh berries on top. I thought the tang of blueberries went particularly well with the flavor of the sauce. (This style would probably also work for sliced bananas.)
- Slice and core pears or apples. Place in sauce and cook 5-10 minutes, until fruit is tender to the touch but not mushy. Scoop fruit and sauce around ice cream, same as previous.
This sauce went fantastic with vanilla ice cream. I'm going to have to try it over coffee-flavored ice cream next!
The 60-second pita pizza
- 1 pita (whatever your brand of choice is. I like Trader Joe's.) - your cheese of choice, approx 1/4-1/2 cup - cheddar and mozzarella work fine; in the picture above, I used a hard cheese called Parrano Uniekaas (a Dutch Gouda varietal) because it was all I had in the house.
If you use a cheese that melts easy, put a little extra in the center and don't put the cheese all the way out to the sides. If you're using a firmer cheese, slice thinly and cover the pita evenly.
Place in microwave (recommend putting parchment paper or a plate underneath) and cook on high for 45-60 seconds depending on how quickly the cheese melts.
This is easily adapted to any number of toppings, so long as you know they'll be cooked (or melted) in under a minute.
Sprinkle some spices over the top (optional). Slice into 6 pieces and enjoy!
Eggs "frittata" on pita with fresh veggies and hummus
This is the "oops" version of my omelette efforts this weekend. However, like Julia Child would advocate, I am showing you that it's possible to make an "oops" and still make it look nice and yummy for your guests.
In this case, I had whisked the eggs and thrown some spices in, then poured in my frying pan over some sautéed mushrooms. A phone call distracted me longer than intended, so when I came back and flipped over the omelette, it looked more like a pancake than an omelette.
I threw it on a pita, slathered on some red pepper hummus, did a quick sauté of shredded kale, chopped up some peppers and tomatoes on top... yum.
Cheese and peppers omelette with kale topping
I make my omelettes with 4 eggs, no milk. I find if you whisk the eggs with a proper whisk instead of a fork for a little longer, the eggs get fluffier and set better as an omelette. I also dice red peppers and throw them into the eggs just after I have poured the raw eggs into the frying pan.
I would definitely not impress anybody with my omelette-flipping technique, so I'm glad I found the extra-wide spatula at Ikea. Once I get it flipped, I toss a little bit of cheese on top to soften while it finishes cooking, then fold and slide off the pan onto a plate. To balance out the flavor of the kale you'll add later, I'd recommend a harder cheese, like shaved parmesan; something that will melt a little but will not look gooey and runny when the omelette is cut open.
For the topping, while the pan is still warm from the eggs, I shred some kale - I prefer the darker varieties that look like oversized spinach vs. the "curly" varieties. Toss the kale into the pan, squeeze a half lemon over it, a touch of salt and pepper - and heat it just long enough so it looks cooked but has not turned limp. Pile over the omelette.
I must admit, I did not used to be a fan of kale. But after tasting some cooked properly, I changed my mind, just like Brussel sprouts. It has a flavor similar to spinach, although a little stronger; and holds up much better to cooking. Besides, it packs a big nutritional punch - low in calories, high in vitamins A and C, and high anti-inflamatory properties.
* * *
So there you go - the latest in (mostly organic) experiments from my kitchen!
Sunset on the Sky Deck, Willis Tower, Chicago September 2009
They might've changed the name, but I still get people who ask me for directions to Sears Tower. It's Willis Tower now. They have these new additions to the Sky Deck, the tower's 103th story observation deck - called "The Ledge". Three boxed windows jutting 4.3 feet out into the sky, 1,353 feet up. A fourth is under construction.
Have I mentioned the Ledge boxes are all glass? All four sides?
If you peer really, really closely at the top of the tower in this picture, you can see the Ledge boxes sticking out.
Different angle, at 18x zoom (love my Panasonic DMC-FZ28's zoom capacity). You can see the decks more clearly - and the people in them.
It now costs $14.95 to go up in the tower; if you want to skip the lines, you can pay twice as much for "express" (which also allows you to skip the 10-minute mini-documentary they show you to distract you from the length of the line you've been standing in). Our wait was close to an hour from the time you step through the front doors until we got up to the Sky Deck; this includes going through a metal detector and having any bags you brought with you x-rayed. I haven't been in a couple years, and some friends from Michigan came down and wanted to go.
The Ledges have been incredibly popular since they opened, and you can expect to wait several minutes to get into one at busy times. (I must say, some people are some real time hogs while they're in there, too, as if they didn't know there was a big line of people waiting to get in the same spot they just waited a long time to get into.)
I don't have a fear of heights; however, the thought of falling from heights is a different story. I will admit I clutched a bit at the framing (which prompted a female Japanese tourist to offer to hold my hand if I was scared... hello, embarassment city...) when I stepped in the first time. I mean duh, of course the thing is safe. The Mayor was up here, for crying out loud.
Still - when you step up to the Ledge, and put your foot out over the emptiness... it makes your stomach take a little leap of faith.
The long view down, Willis Tower "Ledge" at the Sky Deck September 2009
This isn't a HDR shot - this is just me pressing my camera up to the glass, holding it as steady as possible, and hoping I didn't shake the camera while the exposure shot.
Phew - it was a wild experience and I would do again - minus the wait!
In traveling across Tibet, I found the landscape reflected exactly - for the most part - what I had expected of it. But there were moments of visual delight I did not expect: tree-lined roads outside of Lhasa; lazy turquoise-blue rivers and lakes laying among green hillsides. Tibet is one of the most visually spectacular regions of our globe and I cannot wait to return and explore further to see what it has to offer.
When you say "the Middle East", what do you picture? Deserts, camels, bare rock? Yeah, I thought that too. Then I discovered Lucie Debelkova's incredibly lush, startling photography. In addition to her SmugMug-powered site, she also has an extensive collection on Flickr. I would highly recommend perusing her photography - not only is it richly saturated and eye-poppingly gorgeous, but she gives a different view of the Middle East than we see through traditional news media.