Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dogs on the beach

When we were in Virginia Beach last weekend Gregg and I headed for the main beach downtown. I can honestly say without hesitation that I have never seen so many dogs being walked. The weather was great and I had fun taking photos of the many different kinds of pooches that there were out there. I'm quick to add that I did not see any unsightly messes left behind. I didn't even see one dog do a doo-doo and if they did their owners must have diligently picked up after their four-legged friends.

During the summer months pets are not allowed in the mostly populated areas and you can find out where they are allowed if you click here. Virginia Beach seems to be very pet friendly.

There was even a removable paddock set up on the sand holding several horses. If you paid $30 you could take a half-hour ride on one. I'll have photos of people riding in another post.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An inspiring animal story and a good reminder to adopt from your local animal shelter.

I thought I would share this story found on the Animal Planet website here.

"Dog Saves New Family Six Hours After Being Adopted

A gentle giant named Hercules proved his worth as a loyal canine companion only six hours after being rescued from an animal shelter and brought home by Lee and Elizabeth Littler last Wednesday.

Just as the Littlers were preparing to take Hercules outside for a walk Wednesday night, the 135-pound Saint Bernard who had not made as much as a peep since being adopted that afternoon, started growling, plowed through their screen door and charged after an intruder trying to get into their house through their basement door!

Brave Hercules even managed to chomp on the man's ankle as he climbed a fence and got away. Police say the home's phone and cable lines had been cut. They have not yet found the man that Hercules chased away.

"When I saw Hercules for the first time I fell in love with him" Elizabeth Littler told ABC news. He is 75-pounds underweight and just, he looked awful beat up."

The Littlers initial intentions were to foster Hercules and find him a good home to keep him from being euthanized. But Hercules has officially earned himself a permanent home with the Littlers, his new forever family.

"To have adopted a dog six hours before the incident and have him already defending you with that resolve, it's amazing. If you show care and affection to your animals, they will return it," Lee told ABC news.

Yay for the Littlers for giving Hercules a new lease on life and what a wonderful testimonial to the innate loyalty of our canine companions.

Looking for your own Hercules? Visit and see thousands of loving animals that would love to meet you and become part of your family."

You can read other animal stories if you click right here.


"You think those dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you they will be there long before any of us."
~Robert Louis Stevenson~

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Today I am sharing some photos taken on a walk around the Norfolk Botanical Garden a few weeks ago.

TODAY’S FLOWER’S was created by our good friend Luiz Santilli Jr.

Camera Critters

The Day After Thanksgiving!
This is a little North American Kestrel I took photos of a couple of weeks' ago.

Thank you Misty for hosting such a wonderful site.
To see other fun critters please click here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

More Photos Of The Great Horned Owl

Continuing from my other posts on these amazing birds, this is one of the young ladies who did a great job of introducing us to a selection of raptors, one of them being the Great Horned Owl.

The Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) is the most common owl in North and South America, and has adapted to a wide variety of habitats and climates. It has an average life span of 5 to 15 years in the wild but can live anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five years in captivity. His body is 18 to 25 inches (46 to 63 cm) and his wingspan is 3.3 to 4.8 feet (1 to 1.5 cm). His weight is 2 to 5.5 lbs. (1 to 2.5 kg). The male is smaller than the female and has a much lower-pitched call.

Its range is large as it can be found in North, Central and South America, from Arctic tree regions in the north, to the Straits of Magellan in the south. It lives in woodlands, along cliffs and canyons, and at the edge of forests.

Its coloring is great camouflage as it has brown, white, gray and black markings that look like the bark of a tree.Another way of recognizing the Great Horned Owl, is by the white patch on its throat.

As you might already know, owls have very good eyesight and excellent hearing that help it hunt at night. Its loosely packed feathers make it almost silent when flying. This makes it easier to sneak up on its prey. They also only see in black and white but their eyes are as large as humans and are 35 times more sensitive. They cannot move them up and down like we can, so they have developed the ability to rotate their heads approximately 270 degrees. They have 14 neck bones whereas humans have 7.

Adults have large tufts on the head. These are called "plumicorns" and resemble horns to some and catlike ears to others. Those tufts of feathers that stick up like ears aren't ears at all. No one really knows what they are for. An owl's ears are actually on the side of its head. When an owl is hunting and hears an animal, the sound of it is louder in one ear than in the other. This tells the owl that the animal is closer on that side. The owl turns its head until the sound is equally loud in both ears, then it knows it is facing the animal. They do not have a good sense of smell but their hearing is so acute that they can hear sounds 10 miles away.

The stiff feathers around the eyes act a lot like dish antennas. They reflect sound toward the ear openings.

The structure of an owl's foot is referred to as zygodactyl. This means that two of the toes face forward, while two face backwards. This enables the owls to capture and grasp prey with greater ease. Sometimes the third toe can be rotated forward into a position occasionally used for perching. Of all the owls, the Great Horned Owl has the strongest talons. About 30 pounds (13,000 grams) of force is required to release the owl's grip on an object.

The Great Horned Owl is nocturnal and hunts for small mammals like, mice, rabbits, squirrels and skunks. It also eats birds like ducks and quail. We were also told they have even been known to make off with cats if the opportunity presents itself. It can eat small prey whole but larger prey it will tear into pieces that it can swallow. It cannot digest hair, bone or feathers, so nature fixes that. It regurgitates the undigested parts in owl pellets -sorry if you've just had a meal. You can often tell what an owl has eaten by looking at these pellets.

In January and early February it is mating time for the Great Horned Owl. The male and female call to each other during courtship and also bob up and down and puff up to attract a mate. They use abandoned nests of other birds, usually hawks or crows. The female lays two to three eggs. She will raise one family each year. Both the male and female incubate the eggs and provide food for the owlets.

It is a very hardy species and can not only survive temperatures close to forty below zero, but it can sit in that frigid air while incubating those eggs, keeping them at a toasty 99 degrees F. (37 degrees C). A healthy bird's body temperature fluctuates more than a human's would, but a Great Horned Owl's body temperature in Minnesota during February, has been recorded from 100 degrees F (37.5 C) to 105 degrees F (40.4 degrees C). The owl's abundant, thick body feathers allow her to share her warmth with the eggs while keeping the frigid outside air out. Of course, her body is warming the eggs from above.

Would you like to know how it got its name? The scientific name comes from the Latin word 'bubo', which refers to an owl, and the Latinized name is for the state of Virginia, where the first specimen was taken for scientific collection. The common name refers to the large size of the bird and the feather tufts on its head.

This owl has also been called Big Hoot Owl, Cat Owl, Chicken Owl, Eagle Owl, Horned Owl and King Owl.
The Great Horned Owl can hoot, bark, chuckle, growl, hiss, screech, scream and clack its beak.

If crows, jays, magpies and songbirds find an owl roosting in their neighborhood, they will harass or 'mob' the owl until the owl finally decided to leave. This is undoubtedly because unwary crows or songbirds are likely to wind up as one of their snacks.

I have enjoyed learning about the Great Horned Owl. I am very grateful to The Raptor Conservancy of Virginia, and I look forward to attending another of their photo sessions in the not so distant future.

Once again I would like to wish all of you who are celebrating, A Very Happy Thanksgiving. To everyone else have a great week. This will be my last post until after the holiday.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A foody post with a bit of a ramble

Saturday night Gregg and I had a very enjoyable evening listening to the American Festival Pops Orchestra at the Hylton Theatre Arts Center in Manassas. They performed a salute to our Veterans. We listened to patriotic music from WWI to the present day. There was a young lady who joined in for two or three of those songs, a soprano from the Washington National Opera. She sang beautifully.

I took the photos when we first arrived and the orchestra and audience were just beginning to seat themselves......

and Gregg was reading the program we had been given at the door.

There is also box seating up there.

We arrived a half hour early but it wasn't long before the performance began. Throughout I was very impressed with the conductor talking to his audience as though we were all sitting in his home, so naturally warm and friendly with a great sense of humor. He is the founder and artistic director and also Associate Director of George Mason's School of Music, who had brought together 60 very talented musicians from the DC metro area. He had his audience captivated as did this wonderful orchestra. We heard pieces originally composed by George M. Cohan, John Williams, Duke Ellington, Glen Miller and John Phillip Sousa.

High energy music for most of the evening, but there was a slow piece playing in the background as a letter going back to the Civil War was read by one of the conductor's neighbors, a two star army general. He spoke eloquently. The letter was written by a man called Sullivan Ballou to his wife, a soldier who was subsequently killed a week later at the First Battle of Bull Run. It was very moving and you can actually read that letter if you click here.

All round a fabulous evening and one we look forward to repeating at another concert in the not too distant future.

Earlier on in the day we went out for lunch. Gregg felt like a hamburger but I asked if we could find a new place, rather than go to the usual ones we've been to before.

I remembered several weeks ago our son told us about The Counter at the Reston Town Center. He had said the burgers were great and so we decided to drive over and give it a try, about a half hour drive.

When we looked at the menu we found the items a little pricier than usual, but everything was organic and I try to eat organic foods whenever I can. They have a set menu but you can also build your own burger, choosing the size, what kind of roll you want, any kind of topping, ticking all these off on a form you give to your waiter. He was very nice by the way and that's always a big plus. Much to our delight we both agreed that they were the best burgers we have had in a long, long time.

To be perfectly frank I couldn't decide what toppings to use on my burger, there were a lot of choices and when we go there again, I will not order the guacamole but go for the lettuce mix and the sundried tomatoes. I loved the roll and the blue cheese and the grilled onions, but I will probably also check the menu ahead of time so that I will be more prepared.

Gregg had a horseradish cheddar cheese, a slice of avocado and chopped red onions. He had a ranch dressing on the side. Of course he says the best topping is French's mustard, a true American Classic. I'm not a fan which I know he finds strange because he says a cheeseburger without French's mustard is like McDonald's without the golden arches. I said I don't think a classic burger has avocado on top either but we're both open to new taste sensations and we both like avocado.

We also added onion strings, rings or whatever they're called. They were good but a little too much food and the burger was more than enough. We will probably not get them again.

We probably won't be going here too often as it's just that much further away, but next time Gregg feels like a burger, it's definitely the place we'll head for. You can click here to check out their website.

Sunday was a quiet day. Gregg enjoyed his football games and I enjoyed relaxing and pottering around the house.

To those of you who are celebrating it this Thursday, I want to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. May you all have a wonderful day with your loved ones.

This is nothing to do with the holiday but as I have been talking about food and it's been a while since I put a recipe on my blog, I thought I would add a dish that I made the other night. I got it off the Food TV Network. I am always hunting around for soup recipes now that the colder weather is here and we also have some tried and true favorites that I have been making for years, but an added bonus for this one is being able to prepare it first thing in the morning. By the time Gregg walked through the door the house was filled with a wonderful aroma. This is for the Slow Cooker (Crockpot) and I had everything inside the pot by 9.15 a.m.

The show is called "Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller" and you can find the recipe right here.

Minestrone Soup with Pasta, Beans and Vegetables

Total time: 4 hours 15 minutes
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 4 hours 0 minutes
Yields: 4 servings.
Level: Easy


3 cups reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth (I used vegetable)
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can white Cannellini or Navy beans, drained
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 cup onion, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
2 bay leaves
Salt and ground black pepper
2 cups cooked ditalini pasta
1 medium zucchini, chopped
2 cups coarsely chopped fresh or frozen spinach, defrosted
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Basil sprigs for garnish (optional)


In a slow cooker, combine broth, tomatoes, beans, carrots, celery, onion, thyme, sage, bay leaves, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and black pepper. Cover and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours or on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours.

Thirty minutes before the soup is done cooking, add ditalini, zucchini and spinach. Cover and cook 30 more minutes. Remove bay leaves and season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle Parmesan cheese over top. Garnish with basil if desired.

We both enjoyed the soup and it will be one I will be making again.

I had one request from Gregg, to use cabbage instead of spinach next time. He doesn't really like cooked spinach and I had thought that because it was part of many other ingredients that I could slip it on by, but I saw that he had left quite a lot of the dastardly green stuff in the bottom of his bowl, and he had actually picked out as much as he could. He also said it had taken 60 years for him to eat cooked spinach - meaning why would I cook it after all this time? Yes I am smiling. Every once in a while I try to camouflage said dastardly vegetable into a dish and we play this game, will he find it? I used to play the same game with beloved son, like all mothers have done at some point I'm sure. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. This is one of the times it didn't.

The other thing I didn't do which I wish I had, was to thaw the packet of frozen spinach out before I put it into the pot. I took it out of the freezer last night and it was still a block of ice this morning. What I should have done was thaw it out in the microwave, or remember to take it out earlier to thaw in the fridge.

Also the carrots were cooked but what you would call crisp-tender. Some people like this - Gregg does - but I like my carrots totally cooked through, I don't enjoy the al dente effect. Now, did I alter the cooking time by putting in the frozen spinach? That could well have been the case. Or should I parboil the carrots before I put them in the crock-pot? Puts an extra couple of steps in there but wouldn't be too bad. I cooked this soup on low for 8 hours and maybe I should have cooked it on high. Everyone's crockpot is different. All this being said, I will be making this soup again as the broth and other ingredients were delicious. I will, however, be using cabbage next time and also making sure the carrots are cooked to the way I like them.

I had also made some cornbread and it went very well with this.

For those of you who have never had cornbread, I have included this recipe I found online. I took the easy way out and used Jiffy, a mix from a box. This is Gregg's favorite, his Mom used to make it for him. That's good enough for me, and he always has seconds. I remember the first time I ever tried it at one of my first meals when his Mom cooked for us as a married couple. It was delicious and what I thought was, "Hmmm, interesting, Americans actually eat cake with their main meal." Of course, it isn't 'cake' but it is on the sweeter side, more than bread. It's more crumbly, just like cake can be. Hence my confusion at the time because I hadn't been in this country long. I had experienced a lot of new taste sensations. Traditionally it is served with chicken or turkey. People will often make cornbread stuffing at Thanksgiving. You can find a recipe for that here.

The following recipe I have not made before but it does look good and it will be a change to make cornbread from scratch, which I have not done in a very long time, thanks to Jiffy. Jiffy has always been fail-proof. I got it here, from a blog called The Fresh Loaf, and the recipe also gives you a pretty good history of corn. For instance, did you know that it was first cultivated in southern Mexico 7,000 years ago?

Basic Cornbread

1 cup corn meal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/3 vegetable oil
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Combine dry ingredients in one bowl, wet ingredients in another. Combine the two and mix until just blended. Pour into greased pan. Use an 8 x 8 inch pan if you like it fairly (2 to 3 inches) thick or 13 x 9 inch pan if you like it thin. I used a 13 x 9 inch pan for the loaf pictured above, which produced a 1 inch thick loaf.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove and serve while still warm.