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 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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Yesterday’s Trash is… Tomorrow’s Toothbrush?

This is information worth digesting. What are you/can you do to make a positive impact, be a solution to this problem?
Whatever that is, start it today. If you’re already contributing, keep at it and expand it more each week.
We, of the Earth, thank you.l

Cold Mountain Collective

There is a thing, formless yet complete. Before heaven and earth it existed. Without sound, without substance, it stands alone and unchanging. It is all-pervading and unfailing. We do not know its name, but we call it Tao. .. Being one with nature, the sage is in accord with the Tao.—Lao Tzu

Despite recent good news on the writing front, I am constantly mired in fear and frustration that our human desire for more and more objects and consumption of objects (if only we understood objects the way the great Taoist poets did!) is utterly wrecking this home that hosts us for such a short time. As a result, I’ve scoured the web for eco-friendly resources, including ways to recycle typically unrecyclable trash (calculators, pens, etc.) and a calming discussion of climate change by my favorite Buddhist monk (wait, is that anti-Buddhist of me to pick favorites?), Thich…

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Posted by on March 28, 2012 in Environment, Uncategorized



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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I got to thinking about inventions in the shower this morning.  What if no one had invented the shower head? The

The photo of Gleb Kotelnikov, the inventor of ...

Image via Wikipedia

thought of daily baths doesn’t appeal.  In fact, what is there was no plumbing system? Well, that thought just makes me nauseous. Small things like this should make us appreciate the inventors and innovators who keep striving with their ideas, sometimes in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.  This thought made me wonder about what new ideas are in the near-future queue.

Gamers will be happy with a report in Popular Science.  It indicated that upcoming game systems will allow players to “start a game on their console, for example, but they’ll be able to pick it up again on their smartphone.”

The 2011 Popular Science Invention Awards yielded some remarkable inventions.  The Antenatal Screening Kit, developed by a dedicated group of students at John Hopkins University, screens for disease with a stroke of a pen. A drop of urine (or blood) on a line drawn with the special ink of this revolutionary pen singles out diseases. While cost-effective ways exist in the developed countries for these simple procedures, the pen will be revolutionary in developing nations where citizens, especially women, don’t have access to health care. Currently, the pen being tested is for preeclampsia. However, the developers work on creating pens for several diseases, such as diabetes. Medical organizations in the developing countries express excitement and hope about the widespread impact of the screening pen.

G20 developing nations

Image via Wikipedia

In a similar vein, scientists at the University of Tennessee work to finalize a microchip for detecting disease. The microchip identifies antibodies in the blood placed on it and alerts medical staff if it detects infection.

Those who commute to work facing the rising sun will appreciate another 2011 Invention winner. Chris Mullin took eight years to create the Dynamic Eye. Sunglasses with a brain.They boast a small sensor on the nose bridge that detects glare, which trips a black square to block the glare. The liquid crystal Mullin used in the lenses still let the wearer see through the black square, so no worries about accidents. Not because of the glasses or sun glare anyway. And no more trying to adjust the visor because the special square moves as the wearer moves to combat glare.   A codicil: you will have to wait to get your pair for the morning commute.  The U. S. Air force have requisitioned Mullins’ initial units.

Once you get to the office, wouldn’t it be great to process through computing just as easily. Or imagine

IBM desktop 2

IBM desktop 2 (Photo credit: Jiri Brozovsky)

downloading several thousand movies to your smart phone. IBM Researcher Stuart Parkin has created the “racetrack memory”. It provides much faster data access than current hard drives; but without a price increase. IBM says that racetrack memory could potentially enable a personal storage device, no bigger than a lapel pin, to record every conversation the wearer encounters for years before the device reaches capacity.  Somehow, I imagine the CIA has already commissioned prototypes for their agents.

Wow, necessity–and sometimes just plain demand–is the mother of invention.  Have you heard of any great inventions that will improve our life experience?

©2012 DLewis

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Posted by on March 4, 2012 in Know this?, Uncategorized


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AN APPLE EVERY DAY—Enjoying that Mark-up?

Cnet’s recent article on the likely cost to manufacture iPhone and iPads after Apple allowed ABC News into its Chinese factories.  Would it make you sick to know that  expers calculate that cost at less than 10% of the retail price? I understand R & D, but come on this is the 4th generation. And if I remember from my school courses (yes, I was listening professor), there’s a thing called amortization that should diminish that cost over time; and each generation seems to have fewer new bells and whistles. None of the creations were cheap. The  iPhone4S reportedly brought in four million dollars for Apple in the first few days of its release.  Even if you inflate the cost to 25% to take marketing, etc. into account, that’s still a 75% profit.

Per CNet, even adding in shipping from China and cost of potential warranties for Apple, it’s still seems a rather ridiculous mark-up. Especially, sin
ce Apple has a ravenous market in Asia, so shipping there would likely be pretty inexpensive. A mark-up, I think, that Apple knows they can get away with because of our need for the cache.  The latest and greatest.  As well, as the psychological: many of us think that (insert the name of any “high-end” product here) must be good, special if it’s really expensive.  And, it could be that many of you really, really, REALLY love that phone and find it indispensable.
Only the recent version of the iPhone held any interest to me. Still, the cost never matched up to its worth. But, then I’m a Frugalista. Also gadgets don’t make me salivate. If Siri and I ever get together, it will likely be after another generation comes out and the price drops to more Macy’s than Bergdorf Goodman. For those of you who have held out against purchasing the (whatever) new generation of Apple products, you might find this website helpful: iPhone Repair Services, Top Ten Reviews 2012.


As an iPhone owner if the markup info wounds you, here’s a bit of a salve. Cnet has a whole section dedicated to comprehensive coverage about your iPhone. It also answers questions, such as: “Why does my iPhone take upside down photos?  Go here to check it out.

©2012 DLewis

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Posted by on February 23, 2012 in Consumer, Know this?, Uncategorized


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President’s Day

Thought provoking and well said. Read it and ponder where you are in relation to the issues raised. Ponder what you’ll do about it? Ask yourself if you’re in the irrationally angry, intractable group on either side of the spectrum. Is that who you want to be? Will it solve anything?
There’s a disconnect between what the mainstream wants and upper class politicians (I don’t think of them as representatives or public servants) ideology.
Does anyone know of organization(s) that actively & successfully work to change or circumvent the quagmire we’re in?

in case i'm gone

My plan was to post about Boundries today, but yesterday was my baby’s 4th Birthday and today is President’s Day and it’s got me to thinking, so I’ve bumped my prepared post for this, my train of thought on politics in America.

When I married Sean I remember being struck with the idea that if we had a child, that child could grow up to be President of the United States. Growing up as a Canadian, that was a trip to me. I’m sure other countries would have cause for debate, but with the power that the United States has wielded for so long as the “leader” of the free world, you could argue that being the President of the United States is, perhaps, THE most important job in the world.

The thing is, where we stand now, it’s a job I wouldn’t want my son to touch with a…

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Posted by on February 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

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