Category Archives: Tips



 I once took a train just for the experience. Only a 6-8 hour trip. Romantic journey—not. The only thing I enjoyed was the dining car.  Not because of the food. Because there was no reserve seating.  We sat at first available and had opportunity to interact with strangers. In a relatively safe environment. We enjoyed a lively, enjoyable conversation with “train” people who were travelling across country. One of their many trips. is similar. A relatively new concept. Social networking plus a lively dining experience.  With strangers. Strangers with a commonality like love of Italian food. Or people wanting to network. This social dining network brings people together at great restaurants. In over 70 U.S. cities and Canada, Sydney, Tokyo and Seoul.

Public domain photo

New to a city? Traveling alone? Simply want to met new people? could be the answer. You choose appealing groups and join arranged meals. Or, if none set, suggest one and wait for like-minded diners to join. If you don’t get enough people, no harm, no foul. If it’s a go, you prepay for your meal, tax and gratuity online. Participants pay for any drinks, separately, at the end of the meal.

Meals like the Food Revolution @ Hillside Farmacy in Austin, TX. This event celebrates Food Revolution Day, highlighting the world’s food issues and conspiring to make a difference. They also raise funds to advance food education projects in the US through the work of the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation.

Join ones like the Westside LA Entrepreneurs at the Brick + Mortar in Santa Monica, CA. They share tips, information and life stories.

If you’re a fan of Ashton Kutcher’s Airbnb and live in Chicago, you might try the Unofficial Airbnb Supper Club. They all love to travel. And to share their adventures and tips.

All of these dining experiences cost less than $25.

There are a few non U.S. cities as well (i.e. Tokyo, Sidney, Vancouver).  

Check out Grubwithus’ FAQ page ( and their etiquette page ( for more info.

Grubwithus gets good reviews with NY Times, Daily Candy, Washington Post, and similar.

This could become a winning concept. At least you’ll get to check out some good restaurants without having to dine alone. And you might make worthwhile acquaintances who really become friends you can FB & Twitter with online. At the very least, the dinners should be interesting!


Happy grubbing!


© DLewis2011


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100+ Places to Park Free in the U.S.

The National Park Service Free Entrance days are back. Free entrance to over 100 National Parks and Historical Landmarks. See detailed coverage in Free U.S. Parking in September 2011.

Vernal Falls, Yosemite Park, California

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend in January has passed. However, opportunities remain to check out one of our national treasures in 2012:

  • April 21-29                     National Park Week

  • June 9                            Get Outdoors Day

  • September 29               National Public Lands Day

  • November 10-12           Veterans Day weekend

The fee-free entrance includes:

  • entrance fees; 

  • commercial tour fees; 

  • and transportation entrance fees. 

Other fees, such as camping, tours, concession , etc, are not included.

Although these will be great outings for couples and families, singles (as a group or solo) will have an awesome experience, too. For me, simply taking in some of the majestic views that ease stress away makes a trip worthwhile.

Sawmill Geyser in Yellowstone National Park

In addition to beauty, you’ll find lots of magnificent flora, birds and geological treasures.  Oh, and wildlife. Probably no tigers, but lots of bears. Don’t worry, the parks with a bear population will give you safety precautions and tactics should you meet one.  Most parks also offer loads of walking trails, which give new meaning to walking in majesty. Or, take a driving tour. The rangers in the parks also lead programs specific to each park. The kids get educated without even realizing!

Morning Glory Pool in Yellowstone Nat'l Park

You can also enjoy biking, fishing, lunch in the great outdoors; as well as a multitude of exhibits and films. In the National Landmarks, you’ll relive history.

The Vanderbilt Mansion in New York provides a “complete example of a gilded-age country place, illustrating the political, economic, social, cultural, and demographic changes that occurred as America industrialized in the years after the Civil War.”

Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site
Photo – National Park Service

Gardens at the Vanderbilt Mansion. Located at ...

Gardens at the Vanderbilt Mansion. Located at the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, 4097 Albany Post Road, in Hyde Park, New York. Designed for Frederick W. Vanderbilt (1856–1938) by McKim, Mead & White in the Beaux-Arts style, and built between 1896–1899. Historic house museum and gardens maintained by the U.S. National Park Service. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The National Park Service’s (NPS) list of free entrance sites includes several National Historic sites.  These include ones within the parks, like The Yellowstone Fort; in addition to stand-alone monuments (i.e. the Vanderbilt Mansion).

 The NPS also provides a listing of the National Historic Landmarks such as the Jekyll Island Historic District in Georgia, Valley Forge in Pennsylvania or the F. Scott Fitzgerald House in Minnesota. This listing also includes landmarks in U.S. territories (i.e. American Samoa.

Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, designated thirteen (13) new historical landmarks this past March. Landmarks such as the Carrizo Plain Archeological District in San Luis Obispo County, California. It’s described as representing “a unique concentration of pre-contact sites, art, and artifacts, the outstanding significance of which has been recognized for almost a century by anthropologists, archeologists, artists, and novelists.”

As you can tell, the NPS offers much to do, see and experience. You’ll find reasonable fees outside of the fee-free days. too. The parks also offer packages and passes (i.e. seniors, lifetime, etc.).  And, like last year, you’ll find discounts and special offers from park partners and neighboring businesses. These come in handy for the amenities and services not covered in the fee-free deal. Services like camping, concessions, etc. 

For more details on activities the parks offer and fees, if any, see the 2011 article, Free U.S. Parking in September 2011.

Go here for a listing of the fee-free parks for 2012. Parks like Yosemite in California; The Petrified Forest in Arizona; the Everglades in Florida; Big Bend in Texas; Yellowstone in Idaho, Montana or Wyoming; the Vanderbilt Mansion in New York; Death Valley National Park in Nevada.

The fee-free days and other discounts apply, again, to over 100 parks in the National Park System.  41 states and 2 territories.  Is your area among them?  The list probably includes one you’ve wanted to visit.  And, there is probably one, or more, within driving distance from you.

Go out and enjoy these U.S. National Treasures when you can.  If you can’t go, at least visit the sites and enjoy the photos, podcast, videos and historical facts the NPS created for you – fee-free or otherwise at

And, if you have 45 minutes, watch the film, THIS IS AMERICA, which gives the diverse history and stories of the National Park system. The film includes some gorgeous footage of various parks, too.  

Big Sur, California

Big Sur, California (Photo credit: CCC the_tahoe_guy)

©2012 DLewis



Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Economic, Tips, Uncategorized


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Two previous articles provided tips on surviving stinging flying insects. Summer Fun: Taking the Sting Out deals with preventing pests from taking up residence. Getting Rid of the Swell shares a recipe for a natural repellant. Another natural defense against flying, stinging insects, such as wasps and bees, involves choosing the right plants to border your home and patio.

A European honey bee (Apis mellifera) extracts...

Keep in mind that your don’t want to kill hoards of these insects even though they’re pests.  After all the bees’ absence impact our flowers and food supply; and other insects eat to keep that species population down and stop them from eating our gardens and flowers.  With that in mind, we just want to discourage the stinging pests from camping out near the places we often inhabit.  

If flowers or plants with a sweet aroma sit around entryways, patio or deck, move these nectar producing plants if you’re concerned with flying insects. These plants attract them. The same goes for any tree or plant producing anything with an enticing sweetness.

Eucalyptus - public domain photo

It appears that herb plants with distinct aromas work well. Often people think of eucalyptus and citronella plants. Thyme is also a good one. Plus, as a bonus with thyme, you can snip off some for cooking. All are good at warding off pests if you’re wearing the aroma, or burning from a diffuser or candle. According to some nurseries, these plants’ effectiveness as repellents require planting lots of them in one spot.  Check with your local nursery on care information and best results for your geographic location.

Marigolds via public domain

Marigolds reportedly have an aroma (Tagetes spp) that turn flying pests off. These pretty flowers come in many colors. Marigolds fit in well with other flowers. Neither bees nor wasps like mint (peppermint, spearmint, etc.). It’s a hardy plant requiring little maintenance. Experts recommend keeping mint in pots as, like wild flowers, mint has a tendency to spread and take over a spot.



If you like shrubs around the house, consider wormwood.  The same substance,  absinthe, that makes this plant poisonous also wards off the pests, wasps in particular. For this plant, it’s important to check with a nursery to decide where to plant and what other plants/flowers shouldn’t be near it. That same absinthe could kill surrounding flora after a rain storm as run-off.

All of these plants have specific care needs, but seem easy to grow and maintain (read: not kill).

The insectivorous plants are the undisputed champions to control flying pests. These carnivorous beauties are climbing evergreens. With these plants near your doorways, patios, etc., their receptacles’ siren songs entice the pests come in and never go out. Although they do kill them, at least it’s part of the circle of life! And, I think that the critters learn to steer clear after a few of them don’t return from scouting missions! These plants attract the flying insects through nectar and subterfuge.

Insectivorous (carnivorous) plants have a bizarre appearance, but have a strange beauty also. Experts strongly suggest that carnivorous plants be purchased from a knowledgeable and reputable grower. The reason:  uprooting these plants from their habitat has resulted in habitat destruction and over-collection. At any rate, the grower or expert nursery can ensure a healthier plant and offer maintenance instructions.

North American Pitcher Plant via


The carnivorous pitcher plant’s leaves form “pitchers” or “cups” containing intoxicating nectar. Insects fly in, get trapped and the plant’s leaves fold over on the pest. Digestive enzymes do the rest—the circle of life.

Green Pitcher plant -public domain photo


The insectivorous sundew has its own delicate and deadly beauty. Sundews’ also produces an alluring nectar.

Sundew Plant - public domain photo

However, it has glistening, brightly colored stalks as an added attraction. The stalks give the illusion of dew. Insects land and get stuck on the sticky stalks. Enter digestive enzymes.

Sundew plant - via public domain/DO'Donnel






Other carnivorous varieties to investigate:

  • Butterworts sport leaves covered in stalked glands that give off sticky nectar.

  • Venus fly traps feature leaves that snap close when insects enter.

  • The bladder-shaped leaves of bladderworts imprison them too.

  • Corkscrew plants trap insects in twisted tubular channels.

Carnivorous plants are reportedly easy to grow. Certainly, they will be a conversation starter at your next barbecue.  Check out Growing Carnivorous Plants to decide if these pest eliminating, strangely alluring plants might be the answer.  The following care articles provide information that is specific to the pitcher and sundew:, and

©2012 DLewis

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Posted by on March 27, 2012 in Tips, Uncategorized


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The wife of a seventy-plus-year-old relative told me he refused to even discuss a will. She thought it was because he didn’t like to think about dying.  Well, hello!  You’ve  over 70, man, and in poor shape. If anyone should be thinking about dying, it’s you.

All jokes aside, many people don’t want to talk or even think about this topic.  In my experience, this is especially true of elderly and people with crippling ailments. With the elderly, it seems that they think, when they die, their “loved ones” will figure it out among themselves. Or, that doing a will and having an exit strategy where their affairs are in order, will jinx them into heaven sooner.  And with those with crippling ailments, I wonder if they fear signing over rights or giving someone privy to their personal stuff.

To the elderly,  those with crippling ailments and the young with the elderly mindset, death is one certainty for you. For the first group, you have to realize that you’re closer to “going up yonder” than most people. Even if all you have is a house and/or money in a bank, you leave the people you claim to love with legal problems and headaches if you haven’t taken care of business. Not to mention the potential fights between Ginny and Oscar over the cherry 1969 Mustang.  Your will needn’t be elaborate, simply unambiguous.

Why, also, would you want to leave the care of yourself and your assets to chance?  What good are any of your asset accounts if they end up on your state’s Unclaimed Funds list because no one can get access to your accounts? Especially when completing a power of attorney (medical and financial) is easier than ever. Do you want your children to have their childhood home or not?

Suze Orman has proved herself as a trustworthy financial adviser.  She says that the four most important documents you should prepare for your future (especially your demise) are a:

She also offers a self-contained, nearly indestructible kit with these and other “life” forms. Everything in one place for you to grab in case of emergency, or to make it easy for relatives who may take over your care or handle your death.

A Wall Street Journal article last year also made a good point. The article began with: It isn’t enough simply to sign…end-of-life instructions. You also have to make your heirs aware of them and leave the documents where they can find them. Why do all that prep then drop the ball? At least tell a couple of people now where to look once you’re dead or incapacitated. That includes safety deposit boxes, home safes and inside your mattress or favorite recliner.

I heard a sad recount of a dear uncle who passed away. His close relatives knew he had socked away some money, but had no clue where.  They broke down his favorite recliner, for disposal, when they cleaned out his house. Inside was remnants of paper currency that the rats had feasted on. I’m pretty sure that the Mint only replaces bills if you have at least half of it.


If you have a loved one who’s elder  or has elder mindset, or an ailment that might render them incapacitated or dead sooner than later, then please give them the information to make an informed decision about unnecessarily burdening those left to mourn or care for them.

Then give them a chunk of the cake you baked (OK, picked up) to soften the message. 

©2012 DLewis

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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in Consumer, Tips, Uncategorized


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If there was a court for snake bite offenses, I’m sure the snake’s defense would be: Your honor, they threatened me.  I was snoozing under the bush when he kicked the ball right into my head, then came over and seemed like he was going to smash me with that ball again. I had no choice!

Snakes aren’t out seeking to bite us according to all snake experts I’ve heard, or read.  However, you threaten or surprise them, then well… See you in the ER–or the morgue if you delay seeking help and/or the snake is venomous.  Be aware that lack of poisonous venom doesn’t necessarily make the bite less life threatening. Why take the chance? 

But, if the venomous snake is poisonous, a bite means complications. Bleeding from any cuts could become dangerous as the venom causes blood clotting problems.  The venom could cause tissue/flesh around the bite to die, leaving an unsightly reminder.  And, the one most of us have heard: nerve damage which could result in conditions such as paralysis.

No, this isn't a colorful rope

This link , from the University of Pittsburgh, provides names, classifications, and pictures of snakes in North America. Most importantly, the site identifies the venomous species.  The pictures help if you want to know what specific snakes known to your area look like, or if you’re wondering if the snake you’ve seen has been ID’d correctly.  It isn’t much good if all you have is a description of the snake.

You’re in luck, though, if you live in Texas, Oklahoma or Kansas.  There’s an app for that.  While you can’t yet snap a shot of the creature and have these apps ID it, the TXSnakes, OKSnakes, KSSnakes apps lets users search for every snake species in that state. Users can also search by region, county, pattern, venomous and non-venomous species. The app includes details on each snake, as well as photos to help identify the biter. Jeremy Weaver, a Texas Tech herpetology  (meaning he’s an expert in snakes) graduate student, invented all three apps, which sell for .99.

Another great thing about the apps–neither cell phone signals or internet connections are necessary to use them.

These apps sound great, but don’t take it as a license to get close to a snake. Any bite you get will likely cause extreme discomfort and unsightly swelling. Swelling that lasts a while. That  isn’t pretty. And hurts a lot.

Don't do it, Rover! Run!

Best advice: If it isn’t violating  your space, leave the snake alone. Whatever it’s doing, avoid approaching it unless you know how to handle it or  plan to dispatch it to snake heaven.  According to experts, a snake can strike the distance as much as 2 1/2 times the length of its body. I’ve witnessed this with a relative who believes the “only good snake is a dead snake.” He saw a snake under the bushes and called for a hoe. I think the snake heard him because it started to slither away.  Did he let it go on its way? No, he chopped at it and got the tail. Pissed off snake whirled around with a quickness and lunged at its attacker.  Said snake only missed the attacker because part of its tail was missing, but it came mighty close.  The snake might even have gotten him if he hadn’t had the presence of mind to jump back and bring down the hoe at the same time. Headless snakes are less dangerous.

Here are some tips to avoid bites as much as possible. Be aware as you go out your door and while in the yard. If  you’ll be walking outside, especially in tall grass or brush, wear boots or at least closed toes shoes and long pants. Better yet, stay out of tall grass, brush, bushes or clumps of leaves.  Stomp the ground as you approach any of these type places as the vibrations will annoy the snake enough to make it slither away. If you’re out walking, take a stick and occasionally beat the ground. Also use the stick to carefully move the grass/brush aside (Use a long reach for this. Remember: long striking distance; doesn’t like surprise or threat.) Don’t go to known snake hangouts (i.e. water, boulders, logs, etc.) And, for heaven’s sake, don’t reach into dark holes/places. Even if the winning lottery ticket is in there, stand back and poke around first. Be ready to sprint some distance just in case something slithers out or strikes.

Do I really need to tell you not to go near or touch any snake that you see? Rumor is that even a dead one might have one last bite in it.  Some kind of last bite reflex . Gotcha! And afterwards, you don’t even get the pleasure of slaying it.

But if you do get bitten, there’s and iPad/iPod/iPhone app–a free one–from the University of Maryland to input injury description for a general diagnosis and advice.  It also includes the ability to get information on other health ailments (i.e. disease, nutrition, etc.), but we’re talking snakes here. Although, I think the best advice I read for the most appropriate reaction to a snake bite:  make bitee comfortable and use cell phone to call 911.  If there’s no cell phone, get the patient to the hospital stat!

©2012 DLewis

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Posted by on February 8, 2012 in Tips, Uncategorized


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In the last blog on price comparison sites, I mentioned product reviews in passing. I considered a short follow-up on that topic in regards to being careful about trusting product reviews on these sites as if they were gospel. Today, I caught part of a CBS This Morning story on problems with these reviews.

 If you’re making a large purchase, read reviews from several sites, retailers and otherwise. Do keep in mind that there are sources with nothing to gain from reviews. I’ve added a few more to the ones CBS mentioned:


 You’ll find product reviews on price comparison/deal, retailer’s and blogger’s sites. Some of them have begun to pay consumers to write positive reviews. It’s too much for some companies to resist.  Bad reviews can cost companies money—lots of money. Some companies put up fake reviews. The NY Times discusses this practice. It’s a good article to help understand how this practice works.

It might look enticing, but is it really?

Experts suggest employing these tips to avoid being seduced:

1)  Click on the “reviewers” name/handle to bring up other reviews they’ve done. Are there too many to be believable?  Have they reviewed several different variations of the same product? Are they effusive in every review?

2)  Did the reviewer do several reviews on the same day and/or within a small window of time?

3)  Does a glowing review seem out of kilter with the product to you? For example, someone rhapsodizing about a hair ornament.

4)  Does the review contain marketing speak? For instance, they describe something as “lightening fast”.

5)  Does the review include specific specifications like model numbers?

6)  Does the review fail to discuss the reliability, performance, and perceived value of product being reviewed? An average consumer would note these things in a review.

Lifehacker offers more suggestions for spotting fake reviews here.  

The FCC says fake reviewing is a pervasive practice. They claim it’s difficult, and tedious, to uncover and prosecute the fake reviews; and have neither the budget nor staff for this task. Additionally, the FCC only acts on reported incidents.

 So, if you encounter a retailer, product manufacturer or comparison site soliciting glowing reviews for cash or goods, report them to the FCC.


Also, pay attention. Be cautious. Buyer beware has taken on a whole new dimension.

UPDATE: A couple of articles (below) from help clarify this issue. Although these are meant as a caution to businesses, it could also help you recognize foul play. Sure, some will say reporting will be useless given the governmental agencies track record.  However, no change happens if there’s no change agent.

©2012 DLewis

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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Consumer, Economic, Tips, Uncategorized


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  When I was searching, of all things, an Internet price comparison/deal site, I found a recipe for making your own soda.  The site,, has a blog with these informational type articles. A plus being that if you find a product you like in an article, you’re in the right place to research and price it. 

Read the article, “Make your own soda with an organic soda syrup”,  here.  

Great article and now I can attempt to make healthier sodas.  I see lots of floats in my future–with frozen yogurt, of course.  After reading the article, I searched for the root beer extract–which I didn’t know existed until now. I not only found it at a great price (4 oz/8.25), but discovered a great site for extracts and flavorings.  It’s now bookmarked.

FYI, in case you want to distill some soda after reading the article, the retailer is Cook’s Vanilla. They have other flavors, like Bourbon Vanilla, Chocolate, Hazelnut , coffee and Peppermint. Lots of flavors; organic, flavored extracts, powdered, and alcohol free; as well as premium vanilla.

I will have to get a carbonation machine, but as I recall Doctor Oz featured a mini-one that should do the trick.  And now I know all the places to search for the best price. If you want to compare other items beyond, read here. 



UPDATE:  I found a carbonating system that’s not only reasonable, but is also eco-mindful.  The iSi Twist ‘n Sparkle Beverage Carbonating System is priced at $44 on Amazon. Use the comparison sites listed here to get the best price.  Read about the system at

©2012 DLewis

English: Collection of Jones Soda Flavors Hous...

Image via Wikipedia

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Posted by on January 29, 2012 in Consumer, Tips


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