Cool Stuff Archives

February 13, 2008

My Camera is Going

Awww shucks! I might have to buy a new camera. I'm sure I won't be able to find the exact same camera. I'll have to settle for a better one, one with more bells and whistles.
This camera is only 2 years old. But, it's been dropped on concrete streets more times than I can count. It's been dunked in the Mississippi River once and a glass of wine once.
Now it is having trouble timing the flash with the shutter.
The flash fires everytime I press the button, but it fires a split second AFTER the shutter. If I take the same shot 5 times in a row, I may luck into one where they synchronize themselves. But, that would be random luck.
So, I guess I will make a half-hearted attempt to check into getting it fixed....just to satisfy Dan. Then I'll begin shopping for a new camera. Lousy luck.

February 15, 2008

KIVA is an Addiction!

For Christmas, my aunt gave me a $25.00 gift certificate to

I'm hooked! And I've not even had a paid back loan yet. I can't imagine how excited I will be when the first payment comes in and I get to send it out again to a new borrower.

I spend hours browsing the potential loan opportunities. I debate the virtues of one type of business to another. I log on every day to see if any of my favorite countries have new opportunities listed.

When I choose a new loan opportunity, I begin to fret over how long it will take for the entire request to be fulfilled. I'm really worried about my latest loan. He is not raising his requested amount as rapidly as the others did. I'm worried that it is because his picture is not very flattering. I'm worried that people won't understand how much he needs a new grinder.

I've had to put myself on a STRICT budget. Only one loan every two weeks. That's $50 a month. A lot less money than my Starbuck's habit costs me.

February 17, 2008

See Johnny Jet's 2005 clip of St. Louis

I was browsing Johnny Jet's site again tonight, and discovered that in October of 2005 he visited St. Louis. Here is a link to the video he did about his visit.

He obviously was as taken with City Museum as everyone else is when they experience it.

February 18, 2008

The Millionaire

Not many of my readers will remember this classic TV series that ran from 1955-1960.
But, since Kim has started everyone in the "February Blog Challenge" group posting about what they would do if they won the lottery, I flashed back to this TV show.

The premise was that a gazillionaire who lived on a huge 60,000 acre estate entertained himself by giving away One Million dollars per episode to a stranger.

He would call his trusty personal secretary: millionaire.jpg

Who arrived in the required hat with the required briefcase and was handed an envelope with the instructions to deliver it to the unsuspecting beneficiary.

We then heard the "back story" for 30 minutes while the guy hunted the person down to deliver the check.

Back to Kim's blog entry...what would I do with a windfall. First of all, if you compare the average household income in 1955 to 2008, that million dollar tax-free check would have to be 17 Million today.

So- if the never-seen John Beresford Tipton sent his faithful secretary, Michael Anthony to give me Seventeen Million dollars, what would I do with it?

1) 1.7 million to a list of worthy causes. [15.3 million left]

2) $500,000 (less 10% that I would donate to the charities of their choice) to each of my siblings and my siblings-in-law. They would each be responsible for using that money any way they choose. But they would also be responsible for passing a portion of it along to their own children and grandchildren. I would not give money to nieces and nephews or grand nieces and nephews. [10.8 million left]

3) 500,000 to the non-profit retirement community where my mother lives. [10.3 million left]

4) One million in a higher education trust fund for the benefit of our grandchildren, great grandchildren, and so on. Given their young age and with good management, the principal should remain intact. [9.3 million left]

5) Three million each (less the 10% we will donate to charities of their choice) to our daughters. No strings attached. No advice. No demands. BUT with the understand that they need to build their own estate with that money, because our entire estate will go to charity when we die. [3.3 million left]

6) Three million to be invested for income to live and travel on for the rest of our lives.

7) After all of those initial disbursements, we will have $300,000.00 to celebrate the windfall with. We will use it to start chipping away at our 100 things to do before we die list. Since 90 of those 100 things are travel related, I figure (given that even unlimited money won't turn us into 5 Star travelers) we will get through about 18 months before we need to start using income.

OH, by the way....I did buy a 100M Power Ball ticket today.

February 21, 2008

Unexpected Holiday

I feel like a third grader - giddy with excitement. Weather has closed most of the businesses in our town.
We've got a major ice storm in the area. The St. Louis television camera crews have parked themselves in Fenton to get footage of all the people foolish enough to get into a car today.
I would have been one of those people, if it were not for the fact that wisdom prevailed and our store isn't opening.
So, I have a snow day! Except, it is really an ice day. And that means I can't go out in my snowsuit with the mittens attached to each other by a string running up my sleeves to make snow angels.
Instead, I'll stay inside with a glass of wine and try to get some vacation planning done.

February 26, 2008

Invested in Slow

Shirley is seriously invested in the philosophy of SlowTrav.

She's my aunt - my mother's baby sister. But it feels weird calling her "aunt" since she is only a year older than me and we grew up together. I much prefer to just call her my best friend, because that is what she really is.

When she isn't traveling, Shirley lives on a ranch in the Sierra foothills. She just recently turned a chunk of that property into a culinary grade lavender farm.

Anyway, back to the subject of her investment in Slow. Shirley has this habit of going to the same places for the same reasons every year. She goes to Cody, WY for an annual cowboy art festival. She goes to Clarksdale, Mississippi for a Blues Festival. She goes to Lake Tahoe so her dogs can play in the snow.

Now, If you know Shirley, you know she just doesn't like to stay in hotels. She likes the convenience of having an entire house to herself. She's also a pretty shrewd business woman.

So what does she do when she wants to keep going back to the same place at least once a year? Is she a regular at some cute little B & B? Does she find a favorite vacation rental?

HECK NO! She just buys a house.

She fixes it up to suit herself; blocks the dates she wants to use it every year and then lists it with vacation rental companies. She puts that sucker to work paying for itself.

Here are her three places here in the US. She has all of them listed on VRBO so I will just post the photo along with the listing number if anyone is interested in looking at them.

Tahoe VRBO #146495

Clarksdale, MS VRBO #146407

Cody, WY VRBO #69995

I'm just waiting to find out what will be her next new place to go, since that means another house will join the VRBO list.

Evidently there is a hotbed of lavender farming in Sequim, Washington. That's where the Lavender Festival is held in July every year.

SO, my bet is on the northeastern corner of the Olympic Peninsula.

February 27, 2008

First Grade Musical

Last week I got a call at work from the principal of one of my elementary schools.

The first graders were producing a musical. The name of the musical is "First Grade Musical". Cute, huh?

As part of their ongoing community service, the were also presenting several businesses in the area with potted plants. The flower pots were custom decorated by the kids. And, Barnes & Noble was one of the four businesses they chose.

So, I was invited to be a guest of honor, sitting in the front row at "First Grade Musical".

First Grade Musical is about Old McDonald's Farm. It seems that the cow wouldn't sing. All the animals in the barnyard were enlisted to try to convince the cow to break her silence.

The Pigs told silly jokes with vaudvillian timing. The Rooster brought all his cute little Chickies to dance. The Lambs sang a lament about losing Little Bo Peep. And finally, the Donkey suggested that if all the other barnyard animals would say nice things to Miss Cow to boost her self-esteem, she might have more confidence and be willing to sing.

So, after a series of gooey compliments about her big brown eyes, beautiful coat, great bone structure, and refined way of chewing cud, Miss Cow did indeed come out of her self imposed silence to sing a mooing song.

It was great fun, the kids were amazingly talented, and the costumes were adorable.

March 2, 2008

Who Says Lights are Only for Christmas?

We've got some wonderful new neighbors. I could tell I was going to like them when they moved in this fall. But, it wasn't until two nights ago (Feb. 29th) that I realized just how much.

This is the display on their front lawn! My kind of people! (Thanks to Palma's post, I was inspired to go out and take the photo for my blog.)


May 12, 2008



My Mom is an amazing woman. She is 88 years young, healthy, active, and loves adventure.


I get my wonderlust from her. If you say "Go" she will be packed and waiting at her front door without bothering to ask "Where?"

This year, my slightly delayed Mother's Day gift to her is a trip down Memory Lane. In a few weeks, I'm taking her back to the place we lived from the time I was three until I was 14.

When I was a kid (1953 - 1964), my dad was a teacher at College of the Ozarks.

Back then, it was called School of the Ozarks and was a four year boarding high school and junior college, founded in 1906 by the Presbyterian Church to give an education beyond 8th grade to kids from the Ozark backwoods.

S of O, as we insiders called it, was the closest thing you could get to a commune and still be mainstream protestant.

Teachers all lived in free housing on campus. Each teacher's spouse (who wasn't also a teacher) held a support job on campus. In the 1950's there weren't any Barbara-Billingsley-stay-at-home-moms at S of O. My mom was in charge of the Student Bank, & Commissary/Snack Shop.

Faculty kids called their friends mothers "Mama". My next door neighbor was Mama Good. My best friend's mother was Mama Clark. The fathers, however, were still all called "Mr." or "Dr."

Staff families were encouraged to eat their meals in the campus dining room if they wanted to. Mom always fixed a hot breakfast at home but we often had dinner with the students.

Speaking of students, they weren't allowed to pay to go to school at S of O. Instead they worked for their education, their room and board, and even their spending money.

The campus was amost totally self-sustaining. Students made their own furniture. Produced their own electricity. Raised all their own produce and livestock. They had a fire department, telephone company, printing plant, post office (Point Lookout, MO 65726), hospital, canning factory, dairy, flour mill, bakery, and weaving studio. They didn't have any police, however, not even a Barney Fife.

When we needed eggs, my mom sent me to the poultry farm with an empty egg carton. I signed a 'chit' and came back with a dozen fresh warm and still unwashed eggs that were laid that morning.

When we needed milk, she sent me with our wire basket full of empty glass bottles to the dairy. I signed another chit and came home with replacement bottles full of milk pasturized that morning.

Students held jobs in areas of campus life that gave them experiences toward their future career goals. Our family had a houskeeper who planned to be a high school home-economics teacher and a gardener who was studying horticulture. When our house needing painting, or a new roof, or a screen door fixed, one of the students who was studying construction sciences was assigned the task.

When school was out for the summer, we went barefoot six days a week and spent every one of those days in the schools olympic size swimming pool where students watched over us - kind of. If we were able to climb the ladder to the high-dive, nobody cared how young we were.

Sometimes we climbed down the bluff behind our house to the river to fish for blue gill. Or because there weren't any horses, we would go out to the fields with rope, and coax the cows over to the fence so we could climb up on them for a 'ride'. On rainy days we played inside the Museum (which was unlocked 24 hours a day). There was a fully furnished one room log cabin inside the museum that we used as our own personal playhouse.

My favorite holiday was Halloween. The "Campus Brats" as faculty kids were called, went trick-or-treating to the dorms --- with bushel baskets.

That life seemed so normal to me. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized how truly charmed it really was.

Now it is time to take Mom back to see how much has changed, and how much has stayed the same, and let her know how thankful I am for her part in giving me that childhood.

June 2, 2008

Back from the Commune

We got back from our memory lane trip late last night.

I had a 7 AM meeting this morning.

So, not only did I not get my Sunday Slow Baking done, I also didn't get my trivia contest questions posted.

I'll post the questions this afternoon and not post the answers until Wednesday instead of tomorrow.

I'll bake this weeks SSB assignment at the same time I bake next weeks.

16 more sleeps until Budapest!

August 11, 2008

Street Safety Lessons

My almost-five-year-old grandson recently completed a week at "Safety Camp". Eager to share his new wisdom, here he is giving his little brother and twin cousins a lesson in street crossing safety.


At the moment I snapped this photo, he was patiently explaining that you must first listen, then look left, then right, then left again.

October 6, 2008

End of Season at the Gardens

Yesterday was one of my favorite days of the year in St. Louis -- The Best of Missouri Market at the Missouri Botanical Garden.
I love browsing the 200 some-odd vendor booths to see what new tastes and smells Missouri based food artisans have come up with this year.


These are the things I came home with from the market. If any of it catches your interest, just post a comment and I'll add any info I can.

But what I really love about the Garden at this time of year is wandering through the gardens and finding just a few end of season splashes of color fighting to hang around for as long as possible.









January 24, 2009

Year In Review

This is a belated recap of 2008. I got this meme from Kim's blog.

1. What did you do in 2008 that you’d never done before? Reached my all-time high weight. I'm now 25 lbs overweight.
2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? Didn't make one for 2008. My 2009 resolution is to get rid of 2/3rd of the unnecessary useless possessions in my home by the end of the year.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth? My niece had her second son.
4. Did anyone close to you die? Not yet. But, now it is day to day.
5. What countries did you visit? Hungary, Romania, Montenegro, & Italy. (Our train went through a corner of Bosnia, and our plane connected through London. But they don't count.)
6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008? A passion to exercise.
7. What dates from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? Election Day. Duh!
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? No spectacular achievements in 2008, I guess.
9. What was your biggest failure? See answer to question #1.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury? No.
11. What was the best thing you bought? Ice cream freezer.
12. Whose behavior merited celebration? My daughter began work on her doctorate.
13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? If you can't say something good about someone, don't say anything at all.
14. Where did most of your money go? Travel.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? Visiting Montenegro.
16. What song will always remind you of 2008? I'm not big on music.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer? Happier. Fatter. Poorer.
18. What do you wish you’d done more of? Exercise
19. What do you wish you’d done less of? Eat mindlessly.
20. How did you spend Christmas? Hosted extended family and friends.
21. Did you fall in love in 2008? No, but stayed there.
22. What was your favorite TV program? Discovered "The Unit".
23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? As Pollyanna as it sounds, I really don't hate anyone. I don't understand hate.
24. What was the best book you read? I am surrounded by more than 100,000 books every day. How could I choose just one?
25. What was your greatest musical discovery? See # 16.
26. What did you want and get? A great summer trip.
27. What did you want and not get? nothing.
28. What was your favorite film of this year? I've only seen two films all year. Bolt and Tale of Despereaux. I only see movies with my grandkids.
29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? Didn't remember to celebrate until the day was almost over. 58. (But, I immediately started calling myself 59. It's just easier to do the math since I was born in 1950)
30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? More time for long weekend trips.
31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008? Going downhill since I can't fit in most of my clothes, and don't intend to buy more.
32. What kept you sane? Travel planning.
33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? I'm not a celebrity watcher.
34. What political issue stirred you the most? Again, can't pick just one.
35. Who did you miss? I miss my brother who is stationed in South Korea.
36. Who was the best new person you met? See my blog entry for the photohunt theme "Beautiful"
37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008. No new life lessons this year. Just reinforcement of some of the old ones.
38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year. See answer to # 16 & #25.

February 8, 2009

Elephant Seals

Last weekend, when we were at SlowBowl, we took a morning drive over to Seal Beach. Here are a few shots.
Each bull has his harem around him. As they all snooze in the sun, a rogue male will try to move in. The cows are having not of that, so they rise up and make a bit of racket to wake up their bull. He lazily lifts his head and bellows at the approaching male to let him know he isn't welcome.


From the looks of this bull, he has a bit of experience defending his harem.


And from the looks of his claws, he's inflicted some damage of his own.


Here is a picture of three well fed, well tended pups. When a pup gets hungry he begins calling his mother with a distinct call. The mother begins calling back, and the first thing you know they are reunited for meal time. See how smooth their skin is with the underlying layer of fat?


Sadly, the beach was also littered with pups who can't find their mothers. It could be for any of several reasons. The mother may be inexperienced and not know how to BE a mother. The mother may be dead. The pup may have been rejected. Or some bull may have isolated the mother from her pup. This photo is of a pup who has cried for his mother and can't find her. He only mewed a few times while we were there. Probably too weak to keep searching for her. As you can see from his wrinkled skin, his reserves are almost gone. He probably didn't last more than a day after this picture was taken. Nature is harsh.


February 12, 2009

YEAH! I'm finally an Italiana!

I got this from Kim who got it from Amy who got it from

I'm flattered to be considered from Italy, but very surprised. I don't consider myself to be chic by any stretch of the imagination! And anyone who looked at my neglected fingernails or style-challenged shoes would have to agree. A fun test, but probably not one of Blogthings' more accurate.

You Are Italy
You are incredibly chic. Your confidence and sense of style always shine through.
You are obsessed with presenting yourself well. You understand how much first impressions matter.

Your family is very important to you. You provide them with any emotional or financial support that they need.
But more than anything, you just enjoy spending time with your family... especially when food is shared!

February 15, 2009

YouTube of Last Night's Valentine Party

Again this year, we went to Viviano's Festa Italiano, our little local Italian Deli/Market for a very fun, funky Valentine's Day party.

This is NOT your average romantic evening for two. This is a rowdy, happy gathering of our little community's Italian's and (like Dan and I) "wanna-be" Italians. Its about food, wine, fun, & singing.

Here is my favorite of the four videos I took last night!

I'll post more pictures later, but, here is one taken of Dan and I at the END of the evening. That bottle of A.Mano was empty, as you can tell by the glazed look in our eyes.


February 16, 2009

The Letter "L"

Kim tagged me with the letter "L". So, now I must list 10 of my favorite things that begin with that letter.

Number one on the list used to be one of the things I hated most, my middle name: Louise.
My mother promised her best friend that if she had a daughter she would be named after her.
Growing up in the age of Susies, Vickies, Patsys, Lindas, & Sandys, the name Louise seemed hopelessly old-fashioned to me. I hated it and refused to tell anyone what it was. I was, however, grateful that it was only my middle name, and that my mom chose her friends middle name to saddle me with instead of her first name -- Edna. Now, 50+ years later, I love my middle name!

Here are the other nine of my favorite "L" words.

Literature - duh, I do work in a bookstore after all.

Ladybugs - The coolest bug in the world. They are cute and they are a garden's best friend.

Fresh, warm Loaves of homemade bread.

Lemon flavored ANYTHING!

Fried Chicken Livers. With onions, mashed potatos & country gravy.

Making homemade Liqueurs.

Packed Luggage! That means we're on our way!

Lollygagging - Wasting time doing nothing. Just being in the moment.

To continue the chain, leave me a comment on this post and I'll assign your letter. I promise I'll stay away from Q, X, or Z. Thanks to Kim via way of Girasoli for the idea!

February 18, 2009


Missouri has changed the style of its licence plates. That means I have to get new plates in May.


They tell me I can have my same personalized plate name in the new style. That's good. They also are encouraging people to recycle their old plates. So, I'm contemplating how I might want to do that.

I can't just toss it in the metal recycling bin. I guess I could frame it and hang it on a wall, but it really wouldn't go with my decor. A friend at work suggested that I auction it off on my blog for charity. But, I can't imagine that there is anyone out there who would want it, even if it was for a good cause. So, I guess I need to ask for suggestions. Any ideas?

February 20, 2009

Allora - Solution

Thanks to all of you for your suggestions. For now I'm going to do the easiest thing. I'm going to frame it and hang it on the wall.

I have this little bit of wall in my home office. It is between my computer desk and the window. There is about a two foot square piece of bare wall above a VERY messy bookcase devoted entirely to travel books.

I think the word will fit perfectly, don't you?


February 23, 2009

Sunday Morning Uno Game

When we babysit our grandsons, we try hard to keep them away from television and computers. I looked down from my office to the family room below and when I saw this scene, I just had to grab a shot.


March 3, 2009

Essay on Babies, Random Stranger Remarks, Martinis, & IHOP

Below is a cut and paste (with full permission) Facebook note written by a talented young woman who is one of my favorite co-workers. You're going to love her writing...

Appropriate Response !?! by Jane McNamara

Being a parent connects you to the world around you like nothing else before. I learned this rather quickly, after Mara was born and complete strangers often felt the need to rush up to my shopping cart and peer into the contents of my pumpkin seat to remark on who was within.

My personal favorite was when they would offer unwanted advice such as, “Oh, she’s teething? Why don’t you just rub a little scotch on the sore spot? It numbs the gums and soothes the baby.” I smiled and nodded, but dark sarcastic recesses of my mind I thought, “Great idea. Why I don’t I just make her a martini, dress her in a bathrobe, put her hair in curlers, and settle her on the couch with a cigarette?”

The stranger remarks have not diminished as she has grown older, in fact, they might have increased. Now Mara actually responds to their coos. Sometimes, she offers a smile showing off her proud addition of four hard earned pearly white teeth. Other times, she just stares at them as if they are from the planet Jupiter and she is wondering if they are going to beam her up to their homeland. At worse, she takes one look at them and for whatever reason bursts into random tears of offense. This makes for awkward conversation where I usually mumble something about her needing a nap while I’m attempting to telecommunicate to Mara that social graces are not always a bad thing.

Saturday morning at IHOP was a new low, however. In the span of one hour, we had three random stranger remarks, or R.S.R.s. Two out of the three were Generic Grandmothers. Generic Grandmother number one bombarded us while we were sitting on the bench in the entrance to the restaurant waiting for a table. “OHHHH, she’s SLEEPING!” She shrieks in delight and points a finger at dozing Mara in my arms, who won’t be dozing much longer if Grandmother doesn’t lower her voice. I nod and smile, and think to myself that you can’t get much past this lady. (Again, so glad my inner monologue always stays inner) Generic Grandmother then offers up a story that has nothing to do with sleeping Mara, and is all about her three year old granddaughter making a witty quip at the dinner table the other night. I whip out my usual placating the stranger smile, all the while hoping that a table will open up and I can stop politely nodding. She eventually flights out the door. And I relax and go back to patiently impatiently waiting for a table so I can get my pancake on.

Generic Grandmother number two leaps out of a booth and spies Mara like sniper honed in on it’s target. I’m wondering if there is some machine in the back of the IHOP that keeps replicating Grandmothers with a mission. “How old is she?” She asks. I actually think for a second before I respond, “Fourteen months.” (Keeping track of age was much easier before year one) “Awwww. Well, I just wanted to tell you. These are the BEST years of your life. I want you to know that. My mother told me that years ago, and she was right. Those were the best years of my life. When your child is small, it is the greatest time ever.” Then she asked the question that I always find the response of amusing. “What’s her name?” “Mara.” I respond. The reactions always vary. The most common one I get is “Oh, that’s cute.” As if I named Mara Fifi or something you would name an endearing toy poodle. Occasionally I get a “That’s unique” which I take as a synonym for “I hate your babies’ name” This Generic Grandmother nodded, and said “Oh, that’s pretty.” Which suited me just fine. After she left, my brother mumbled, “If these are the best years of your life, lord help you.” Of course he was referring to the divorce, the fight for custody, and me working far too many hours than any single mother should have to work. I told him I knew what she meant, though. Right now, it is easy for me to solve Mara’s problems. And while she slept serenely in my arms, she was one hundred percent safe. I won’t always be able to say I feel that way. Eventually, Mara will grow up, and fly away. I won’t be able to protect my little chick infinitely with my Mama wings. But heaven knows I’ll try.

R.S.R number three came after we sat down at our booth. Mara woke up, and sat in a high chair at the end of our booth. She began to flirt, and smile at the men seated at the table across from us. I had to commend her for her good taste. The handsomest of the two Random Strangers smiled and waved at Mara. “How old is she?” He requested. “Fourteen months” was my instant reply. ( I was all practiced up from my earlier RSRs) “Aww.” He said. “I once had a nine month old.” I wasn’t sure if he had said HAD or HAVE. I asked him to repeat himself. “I said I once had a nine month old. Turns out he wasn’t mine.” I think my jaw dropped open at that moment. I did not have a polite response for this one. My Generic Grandmothers never produced statements such as this. I sat there and stuttered in my mind through a few responses. Mara decided that was perfect opportunity for her to laugh. “That’s not funny!” I whispered to her, as if she had any idea what was just said. The men went back to eating, I was still trying to come up with an appropriate response to Mister Man’s overshare. Needless to say, I didn’t have one. Later, when relaying the story to my Stepfather, he said that he would have said, “That doesn’t mean you still can’t love him.” Good one. But I’m not sure what I was supposed to say. So I said a whole lot of nothing.

As we were preparing to leave the restaurant, other customers began talking about how cute Mara and her Daddy were, which of course was not her Daddy, but was her Uncle Robby. I didn’t have anything to say to this, and I guess you shouldn’t. Society still likes to make assumptions, and frankly I’m too worn out to try and correct them.

On another note, I learned today that Mara does not like baby talk. I knew I personally always found it particularly vomitous, but didn’t know she did, too. When I took her to JC Penney’s for her year old pictures, her well meaning photographer kept making lovey-wovey talk at her to coax a smile out. Mara looked at her, and I swear to god she raised an eyebrow at me, like “What’s wrong with this chick?” Not only that, the photographer kept calling her ‘Maras’. I don’t know if she thought that Mara had a clone somewhere, or if she was addressing Mara’s multiple personalities she might assumed thought the baby had. Example: “Okay, Maras, can you smile for the camera-wamera? Huh, boo-boo bottom? Come on Maras!” All in this sing songy voice that would sweeten mud tea.

Well, the pictures turned out fairly decently, even though I earned some may-jah exercise points after chasing an energetic Mara all over the portrait studio. I made up my mind that we were done with pictures until Mara was old enough to reason with, or at least bribe with some sort of high fructose treat. That being said, Mara’s Mommy Wommy Lommy is going to get some scotch now that the baby is asleep. I think I might be teething, too.

March 4, 2009

Want a Free $100,000 Wedding?

My daughter and son-in-law are in the business of illusion. They routinely disguise big empty box like rooms in order to make a little girl's dreams of a 'someday' wedding day come true.

On Friday morning a room will be full of gastroenterologists earning CEUs on the latest techniques in bowel resection -- courtesy of the mega drug company that wants those same doctors to pimp their products to every new patient.

On Saturday evening it's a fairytale castle complete with mote and drawbridge; or it's a swank, sleek supper club from the golden age of art deco; or it's a Chinese street market scene.

Their company, Exclusive Events, Inc. is considered to be one of the premier event design and production companies in the Midwest. That's not a proud Mama bragging - just fact.

So, because they are the best, they're part of this really cool contest. The best-of-the-best businesses in all aspects of weddings, from invitations to limos, are joining forces to throw a $100,000 wedding for one lucky couple. Do you know anyone who could use a free wedding?

Here's a link to the contest website: TenTenTen

Be sure to take a few minutes to watch the video on the opening page before you click on "enter site". It's really cute.

So, if you know anyone out there who is willing to get married on October 10th, 2010; willing to turn all decision making and COMPLETE control over to the professionals; and willing to travel to St. Louis for that wedding; tell them about this contest.

June 1, 2009

Our New Upstairs Neighbor

We weren't aware that our house was going condo. We just started hearing strange noises in the ceiling above my office last year. Turns out it was a raccoon - raising her babies in the attic. How the heck did she get up their - almost three stories up?

We hired a humane trapper to come in. He had to wait until we were sure the babies were gone. Then he trapped and relocated her. The problem was, her babies remembered their first home, and one of them decided to follow family tradition. Now we have to wait for this litter to grow up. Then we'll take Momma on a trip of her own. And we'll spend a lot of money trying to make sure her offspring can't get back in next year.

Somehow, I think the raccoons will always win.


June 2, 2009

Allora On My Wall

Well, guys. Here it is. The new plates are on the car as of today. The old plate is on the wall over my bookcase full of travel books. Weird how the reflective paint pops in the camera flash, huh?


June 3, 2009

Three Tenors for the Next Generation

While we were all busy going ga-ga over Susan Boyle and Britian's Got Talent, this was what was happening on RAI ! And by the way, they are all 14 YEARS OLD.

(Move forward to the 25 second mark to avoid the blabbermouth blond MC.)

And don't think only the boys have voices. Listen to these two girls, only 14 &16 year old! I think they hold their own pretty well with megastar, Charice Pempengco. Don't you?

If you would like to find more of these amazing young Italian teens' performances, type into your YouTube search box one of the following names:
Gianluca Ginoble
Piero Barone
Ignazio Boschetto
Sara Pischedda
Sonia Mosca

August 10, 2009

What Is a Float Trip?

Funny, when you have a summer activity that is so ingrained in your regional culture you expect it to conjure an identical set of mental images all over the world.

I don't know why I would expect that. I had absolutely no idea what "The Ashes" was until we happened to be in Scotland while they were going on. Until I became aware of it as an Olympic sport, "Curling" to me was the act of wrapping your hair around a hot round appliance.

When I mentioned on my facebook page that we had gone on a "float trip" on Sunday, I guess I just assumed everyone who read those words would picture in their mind their own version of the following photos.

So Marian, these photos are for you. This is what a float trip looks like down a lazy river in the Missouri Ozarks.

For one of the last weekends of the summer, we were pretty suprised to see so few other floaters.


Bryan and Dan not doing their share of the paddling.


Grandson #2 catching mostly rocks.


Grandson #1 shooting the "rapids" with grandog.


Notice the guys on the tree with the rope swing?


All tuckered out -- Maya finally gets her turn on the mat.


December 17, 2009

My 50th Kiva Loan Milestone!

I received a $25.00 Kiva Gift certificate for Christmas 2007. I made my first loan the very day the certificate arrived in my email.

Today I just made my 50th loan. A milestone!

In the last two years I've loaned $1,325.00 to entrepreneurs all over the world. Of that amount only $400.00 actually came from my own pocket. $25.00 was that original gift certificate. And all the rest was the proceeds from repaid loans.

That money has helped a man in Mongolia buy a truck so he could transport his chickens & eggs to market.
It helped a woman in Moldova build greenhouses so she can move from a roadside stand to the wholesale market.
In Peru, it helped move a street vendor florist into her own shop.
A baker in Tajikistan now has expanded his business to a second location.
A couple in Cambodia now cultivate twice as much rice land as before.
And, a woman in Nigeria is a tailor who makes the most beautiful traditional costumes.

So what has it done for me? It's given me hours of pleasure as I research each new loan. I love being one of the first two or three in a new lender pool. Or clicking the button that means mine was the very last $25 to fully fund a loan. I read about the areas my borrowers live. I put a tack in the world map on my wall. I dream about visiting those countries someday. In my dreams I picture myself walking into a local market and buying a loaf of bread, or a boquet of flowers, or a half-dozen eggs from a successful business person. Then I walk out again, remaining blissfully unaware that my $25.00 was part of their success.

On a day when I pull up my email and have a notice from Kiva that enough money has been repaid for me to make a new loan, it's like Christmas all over again.

I've given Kiva gift certificates myself. And then eagerly watch to see what kinds of business the recipents will support.

So, this Christmas, how many unnecessary gifts will you buy for friends and family? Will you give someone a gift card to Starbucks? Will you send them a basket of overpriced fruit from Harry & Davids? Why not consider a Kiva gift certificate instead. Give them a world full of people they can help succeed with a simple mouse click.


January 1, 2010

How We Celebrated New Year's Eve

Our lives have changed considerably since the days when we got excited about the prospect of New Year's Eve.

I think back 38 years to a time when Dan and I were young, married, and not yet parents.

I remember buying tickets for New Year's Eve parties at local social halls like the Knights of Columbus, the Elks Lodge, and American Legion.
I remember getting all dressed up and going to party with all our friends ... plus a hall full of our nearest and dearest strangers.
I remember cheap champagne and plastic cups.
I remember really bad buffet meals served from sterno warmed aluminum pans in wire baskets.
I remember that they ALWAYS featured mushy mostaccioli, corn dumped straight from #10 cans, and flavorless iceberg lettuce salad with that ugly orange colored French dressing.
I remember never-to-be-famous live bands playing the hits of Jim Croce, Tony Orlando & Dawn, & Roberta Flack.
I remember them totally destroying "American Pie", and everyone loving it.
I remember my clothing reeking of tobacco after the hours spent in a hazy, smoked filled hall.
I remember waking up the next day with a headache and cottonmouth.
I remember having a blast and loving every minute.

We haven't gone to a ticketed New Year's party in many, many years. Do they even still have them in small towns?

As the years progressed, we upgraded to expensive special events at fancy restaurants. The food and champagne were much better. The musical entertainment more refined. But, we were still celebrating with a bunch of strangers. Then we began to gravitate to house parties with only immediate friends and family. Those were nice. We'd probably still be doing that if we hadn't become grandparents, and by extension babysitters.

This year, we are celebrating the New Year with two of our grandkids. Their parents are in the event business. And as you can imagine, New Year's weekend is a busy time for them. That means Dan and I get to spend three full days with the boys.

Grandson #1 started out yesterday by making "Happy New Year" cards for all of our neighbors. We're going to walk around the neighborhood and deliver them today.

Then, both of them got into the foam stickers and decided to create scary New Year masks. It turned into a sort of fusion of Halloween and Mardi Gras. But, somehow it works. Don't you think?


Today, we're going to visit the Science Center to see the new Dinosaur exhibit. And we're planning to take a drive through Lone Elk Park to see all the elk and buffalo. We still haven't decided what we might do tomorrow or Sunday. So many possibilities.

Mostly, we're just going to be grateful for our family and extended family and friends.

And grateful that we didn't spend last night eating bad food, drinking bad champagne and listening to a talent-challenged band.

Happy New Year to one and all!

January 6, 2010

From Quiet Dinner to Huge Celebration

Last week --

Me to Dan: "Let's have T & C(1) up for dinner to celebrate T's birthday.

Dan to Me: Call K & D. We'll make it the six of us."

Me calling T & C(1): "Nice quiet dinner, just the six of us. It will be fun and relaxing."

T & C: "Great, we'll bring dessert."

Me calling K & D: "We're having dinner at our house for T's birthday. Can you two come?"

K & D: "Sure, sounds like fun. But, did you know that B & S are going to be in town that weekend? They're coming to visit S's mother in the nursing home."

Me: "Wow, no I didn't. Guess I'd better call and make sure they come too."

Me to Dan: "Looks like B & S are going to be in town to visit S's mom in the nursing home. I'm going to call and see if they can come."

Me calling B & S: "K told us you are going to be in town on Tom's birthday weekend. We're having birthday dinner here. Can you join us?"

B & S: "That would be great. The whole family is coming. We are trying to figure out now what we are going to do about sleeping arrangements. It's a long way to drive down to K & Ds"

Me: "We can sleep up to six in beds, and another four on couches. You'd be welcome here."

Me to Dan: Well, it isn't just B & S. It's B, S, three kids and their families."

Dan to Me: "I'll call C(2). Maybe he will have J that weekend and the two of them can come to."

Fast forward to a few days ago --

Email from C(3) & D(2): "I hear there's going to be a family gathering at your house for T's birthday. We've got a long weekend and are thinking of coming to town."

Email from Me to C(3) & D(2): "Great! It will be fun. Everyone will be here by mid-afternoon."

So, our nice quiet little birthday dinner for six, where I was going to fix goat stew, has now morphed into a family gathering of more than 30 people.

Our house will be rocking, with family we only get to see a couple of times a year. VERY COOL!

Oh, yeah. No cooking....I'm ordering pizza.

February 22, 2010

The Sunset Tradition

A few weeks ago we made our all too short, annual winter Estero Bay getaway to visit my brother and sister-in-law. The weather wasn't Florida perfect, but it was better than the snow back in Missouri.


We don't do much on these visits. No sightseeing. No frantic rushing around. Mostly we take turns cooking for each other, discover new restaurants, and visit old favorites. Sunset is the one sacred thing that the rest of the day's activities are planned to accomodate. We're alway on the lanai, drinks and appetizers ready in time for sunset.


What is it about sunset over an expanse of water? Why does it continue to be the best show on earth? You can actually feel your blood pressure sink along with the sun. Your mind relaxes. The sun moves slowly toward the horizon. Then dissappears so quickly. Watching for the green flash, you try not to blink. You discuss the distant odds that it will appear. It doesn't.

You can watch the sun set over a body of water many days in a row and it will be different every time. The colors change with the cloud formations, air temperature & moisture content. Even recent boat activity stiring up the water will cause reflective color changes.




I think the reason we are so continually facinated with sunsets is simple. I think they remind us on a personal level how it feels to be at peace. And maybe if we're thinking about it, it also gives us hope that Peace is still possible.

March 3, 2010

Tom's Quiet Birthday Dinner

For everyone who read this blog post in January, From Quiet Dinner to Huge Celebration I thought I'd post a few pictures.

This is how we solved the issue of kids asking for new cups every time they forget where they put the last one down.


I had my camera set on sport action speed here. Didn't make much difference.


We're a clan of 46. Thirty of us were able to show up on less than a week's notice. I'm really not sure where we would have put the other 16. But we'd have found a way.


March 6, 2010

Ancestry - Who Do You Think You Are?

Periodically, I do a little work on my family tree. It's not easy. My maiden name after all is Johnson.

I've only been able to trace the Johnson side of my father's family back to my great, great grandfather. My father's mother's family - thanks to some unusual given names - was a bit easier. So far, I've made it to the year 1501 and my 13th great grandfather, John Jennens born in Birmingham, England.

SO, when NBC announce the new television show "Who Do You Think You Are?" to follow the family tree of a different celebrity in each episode, I thought, this is my kind of reality show!

I watched last night. The opening scenes of the show were snippets from all seven episodes. And a shot of Brunelleschi's Dome was part of it.

Last nights celebrity was Sarah Jessica Parker. At first I was having trouble connecting to a story about a celebrity's (any celebrity's) family tree. But then Sarah finds out that an ancestor was one of the accused in the Salem witchcraft hysteria.

I plan to make this new show a regular watch. Can't wait to see who has an ancestral connection to Firenze!

March 7, 2010

Garden Eels & Cherry Pickers

Yesterday, I took two of my grandsons to the St. Louis Science Center for the day. We started with the IMAX movie - Under the Sea.

One of the scenes in the movie was an amazing field of garden eels. These animals anchor themselves on the sea floor and then extend their bodies straight up so they can feed on the tiny sea creatures that float past. Here is a youtube tutorial I found. I apologize for the too close and slightly disturbing camera view of the narrator. And also for the 'ad by google' that will pop up. Just x it out. The info itself is facinating. In the IMAX movie, however, the eels were of a much, much large species.


On our way home we decided to stop at Maggie Moo's for ice cream, I took a different route that took us through an industrial park and past the headquarters of a large equipment company.

My grandson Sage yelled "Look MeeMaw! It looks like the eels in the movie!" And it did.


March 10, 2010

What Kind of Plant is This?

While in the Ft. Myers area of Florida the end of January, we saw trees in a grocery store parking lot. On the trees were these "blooming" seed pods. Does anyone know what they are?



March 18, 2010

Taking Votes on Pomodori Header


I've designed a header for our Pomodori e Vino blog. I need feedback.

This is reduced to fit the box, but it will be a traditional sized header.

What do you guys think of it?


March 24, 2010


September is just around the corner, honest it is. And it isn't too soon to begin planning for the 2010 FamiliesRoc Walk/Run for Ovarian Cancer.

Here is a video from last year's 5th annual. An amazing turnout! Won't you join us? And, by the way, Kristen has put out a call for a volunteer sports photographer. If you know anyone who has high speed sports photography equipment and would like to help this great cause by photographing the runners as they finish, it would be so appreciated!

March 28, 2010

Undertaker Visits the World

I had a most fascinating customer in the store today. He teaches mortuary sciences at a local college. He's planning his next sabbatical. He spends every summer in a different culture learning about how they bury their dead.

Last year he spent the summer in Roma and most of his time in catacombs. This year, he's going to Jordan - specifically Petra & Amman.

How cool is that?!

I told him about my long running facination with the practice of "sin eating" in remote parts of the Appalachian Mountains. I also told him about the time we got trapped in the middle of an illegal walking funeral procession in Naples. And my plan to have my ashes divided up and distributed throughout the world by my friends and family.

He told me about some of the funeral preparation he has studied in various parts of the world.

I've always thought someone should write a really cool coffee table style book about the ways various cultures around the globe bury their dead. I've even got a name for it... "Following the Hearse".

He thought the idea had merit, too. I gave him my card and told him I knew the perfect publisher for him if he decided to give it a try.

In the meantime, he's on his way to Jordan for the summer. Lucky man.

July 10, 2010

Time to go to Japan

All I wanted to do was find a place to order a mattarello. In her post today on our Pomodori e Vino blog, Palma mentioned a plan to bring one home from Italy on her next visit, and I thought there had to be an easier way than trying to carry a forty inch rolling pin home on a plane.

So I started a search of kitchen stores online and came across

They have one of natural birch wood, made in Canada. There was a note on the listing that suggest the pins are likely to bow, but it won't matter if you know how to use them properly. Then it pointed to a YouTube demonstration.

That demonstration was one of 28 in the account of a restaurant in Japan called Tritone. I got a fresh cup of coffee and sat down to enjoy all 28 of them. One of them is actually a waiter's entrancing tableside preparation.

They are completely facinating, but my favorite has to be this demonstration of soba noodles. It begins with the grinding of the grain and ends with the chef enjoying the fruits of his labor.

Now I have an overwhelming urge to book a flight to Japan.

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Old Shoes - New Trip in the Cool Stuff category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Budapest, Montenegro, Italy 2008 is the previous category.

EITHER/OR is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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