News

Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich; Another Fun Adventure with Stephanie and the Gang!

Posted by Frederick Parker on

Lean Mean Thirteen is the thirteenth book in the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. I am a faithful fan of the series, even though it really is not what it used to be.

I remember the days when I would frantically search for the next book in the series days before it was set to be released in hopes that some over eager store clerk would make a mistake and put up the display early. I didn’t do that this year, mainly because I was going to a Janet Evanovich book signing and had to buy the book there in order to get it signed. But, also because I just wasn’t as excited this year as I have been in the past. I’d just really gotten worn out by the repetitiveness of the series. I mean, seriously, how many cars can one person destroy in a lifetime?

A brief history of the series for those who have not read it. Stephanie Plum is a Trenton, N.J. Bounty Hunter. She’s a bit bumbling and always gets herself in to a mess of trouble, but she’s also smart, sassy, funny, and doesn’t take much garbage from anyone.

Stephanie and her partner in crime, Lula, the bonds office’s file clerk, spend their days and sometimes nights chasing down skips and the rest of the time Stephanie bounces between the two men in her life, Carlos “Ranger” Manoso and Joe Morelli. Steph and Morelli have been on again off again since high school, and Steph met Ranger when he was a full time bounty hunter. Now Ranger owns his own a security company and only picks up high bond skips, like; murderers, rapists, drug lords, dirty politicians. Stephanie and Morelli are usually in couple status, but her feelings for Ranger seem to increase with each book. There are excellent supporting characters in addition to Lula, Ranger, and Joe. Stephanie’s grandmother most notably who often steals the show all on her own.

LMT has Stephanie, Ranger, and Joe frantically searching for the answer to Steph’s ex-husband, Dickie’s disappearance. It seems that Dickie and his law partners may have been involved in some shady dealings, and when Dickie comes up missing, Stephanie is suspect numero uno. Of course, everyone at Dickie’s office saw Stephanie lose her cool with him just hours before his disappearance, so the accusations are not terribly far fetched.

Eventually Stephanie and Ranger discover more dirty dealings than they ever expected to find, but unfortunately none of the discoveries lead to proof of Steph’s innocence. Joe insists she not worry, but Stephanie Plum accused of murder is not a formula that equals no worry. Joe is also being secretive and distant about his current case which doesn’t help Stephanie’s overall calmness factor. When Joe takes off in the middle of the night after a call from the station, Stephanie ends up not seeing or hearing from him for days, and the few times they talk on the phone, he’s grumpy, which has Steph a bit put off and more than curious. When she finally finds out what he’s up to, things start to come together.

Lean Mean Thirteen was not my favorite book of the series, but it was certainly not my least favorite. There were not nearly as many laugh out loud funny moments as other Plums books, but there were many times that I chuckled. There is one in particular scene with Lula losing her cool over a situation with her current honey, Tank that is quite hysterical. Stephanie and Lula also have a few scenes with one of Stephanie’s FTAs, a taxidermist which involves exploding rodents which made me laugh more than once.

Anyone who reads this series knows that one of the most important and often frustrating parts of the story is the triangle with Ranger, Stephanie, and Joe. Joe is her “boyfriend”, but there is a strong attraction between Steph and Ranger that often crosses the line of inappropriate. Fans of the series hold their breaths each year waiting to see which guy will play the bigger role in Stephanie’s heart in the latest book. In the last book, Twelve Sharp, Stephanie took a big step and told Joe she loved him. Of course, after twelve books that span at least five years, the declaration was ridiculously overdue, but let’s not go there. Stephanie finally said it and probably had Morelli fans all over the world fist punching the air saying “YES”!

In Lean Mean Thirteen, Stephanie seems to have settled in to a more committed relationship with Joe, but there is still that not so underlying thing between her and Ranger, which for me, a die hard Morelli fan, was extremely frustrating.

During the days of Joe’s MIA status, Stephanie spends a lot of time with Ranger. Granted, it’s all in the name of business, as they are searching for clues to Dickie’s disappearance and for ways to clear her name of his murder, but regardless, it was still a bit too close for comfort. Joe enlists Ranger’s help in protecting Stephanie from the bad guys, but he most assuredly did not mean Steph should move in to Ranger’s house, which is precisely what she does.

I am a big fan of Joe Morelli and want desperately for him and Stephanie to find happily ever after together. Because Janet Evanovich has said Stephanie will not choose between the men until the last book of the series, I know I have some waiting to do. It seems that all arrows point to my desired conclusion, but I wish at this point, Stephanie had more strength when it came to standing up to Ranger and telling him to take a hike. She’s much better at it, but it’s obvious her heart’s not always in it. Maybe not sleeping at his house and not wearing his clothing would be a step in the right direction?

One of the things I enjoyed about this book was that in all other areas of Stephanie’s life, she really seems to be maturing and growing up. She is not as bumbling as usual, and although she’ll never win Bounty Hunter of the year, she’s come in to her own as far as her job and could almost be considered good at it.

Lula and Grandma Mazur were around frequently, which is always a bonus, and we had two Plum dinners to enjoy, one with Ranger in attendance and one with Joe. It’s always fun when Stephanie’s family sits down to the dinner table. The possibilities for humor are endless.

Overall, Lean Mean Thirteen was a light, fun read. It did not have the comedy or the depth of previous books, and there were things about it that made me think it might be time for Stephanie to hang up her handcuffs, don that wedding dress and walk off with Morelli in to the sunset. But, I’m sure when next June rolls around, I’ll be happy Janet didn’t take my advice.

 

Travel

Shopping and Having Fun in Galveston, Texas

Posted by Frederick Parker on

Galveston, Texas, offers 32 miles of beautiful beaches where adults as well as children of all ages may build sand castles, picnic, wade in the Gulf of Mexico, fish, surf, or swim. A large portion of the beach is topped by a seawall that was built to protect the town from hurricane damage. The seawall and adjacent boulevard are great places to bike, walk, roller skate and cruise. It is certainly the attraction of the fun in the sun that brings multitudes of families back to Galveston year after year, but Galveston also has a lot to offer those looking for cultural, shopping, and dining experiences.

Galveston was home to one of the United States foremost architects, Nicholas Clayton. He designed many building in Galveston, including the Bishop’s Palace that was home to Bishop Bryne of the diocese of Galveston, before the official diocesan office was moved to Houston and the Galveston-Houston diocese was born. The Bishop’s Palace was originally built as a private residence in 1886 at a cost of $250,000. The architecture is still ranked among the top 100 most historic homes in the United States and daily tours are held for a nominal fee. The home offers a stunning look at stained glass windows, beautifully painted ceilings, and a glimpse into the historic past of Galveston.

Another home available for touring are the 1938 Michel B. Menard home, which is the oldest home still standing in Galveston. It is of Greek Revival and filled with old south charm. The 1839 Samuel May Williams home is a combination of a New England sea captain’s home and a creole plantation. This home was actually built in New England and hauled to Galveston on a barge. The 1859 Ashton Villa is an Italianate mansion also on daily tour where a look into the lifestyle of a prominent Victorian family is available. Many original furnishings are intact and a portion of the mansion is available for rental for weddings, receptions, parties, and the like. The 1895 Moody Mansion and Museum is another historical Galveston home that was built by W. L. Moody, Jr., who was a financial pioneer in Galveston. Rounding out a tour of Galveston homes and buildings would surely be the Rosenberg library, which opened in 1904. This is the oldest public library in Texas and features several art and history galleries, a rare book room, a tremendous collection of Lalique. The Rosenberg library was established as a gift to the people of Galveston by Henry Rosenberg.

Another wonderful piece of architecture exists in the 1921 City National Bank Building that is now home of the Galveston County Historical Museum. This museum features a Thomas Edison footage of the 1900 Storm and many rotating exhibits from quilts to Native American exhibits. Available for touring from this same era is the 1930s passenger deport of the Santa Fe railroad. The building is rented out to offices but the main floor has been preserved as a museum featuring an old waiting room, model train layout, railroad china exhibits, and original Pullman sleepers, cabooses, diner and mail cars open for inspection. It is a wonderful look into the railroad history of the country.

More current museums include the Mardi Gras Museum and the Lone Star Flight Museum. Both of these entities feature dramatic glimpses of history pertinent to Galveston and the United States. The Flight Museum is also available for for private receptions and features programs especially designed for children.

Other great places to visit include the Moody Gardens situated on 240 lush acres on Galveston’s West End. This entity has a 10 story glass pyramid which houses the rain-forest pyramid, a ride film attraction, a private white sand beach, the Colonel Paddle-wheeler boat for touring the bayou, a 3-D theater, a beautiful hotel, and lush, tropical gardens. Each Christmas a beautiful festival of lights is held on the Moody Gardens grounds, which also include hiking trails. There is a beautiful hotel, convention center, and several restaurants featuring fine cuisine to hamburgers.

If eating is your thing, Galveston offers terrific Italian food at Di Bella’s, a little place in mid-town that is favored by locals. Luigi’s on the Strand is also a great place to wine and dine, as is Rudy and Paco’s next door to the 1894 Grand Opera House. Take in one of the fabulous shows at the Grand then slip over to Rudy and Paco’s for a really fine meal and great ambiance. The Grand features performers from Willie Nelson, the Oak Ridge Boys, and Jerry Jeff Walker to the Nutcracker Ballet. There isn’t a bad seat in the house and some seats are just terrific with original boxes still available. Again, a great glimpse into the past.

Also remember, that Galveston has two of the finest seafood restaurants known – Gaido’s and Clary’s. One is on the Seawall and the other is on the West End of the Island. Other great choices for dining are Landry’s, the Steakhouse, and fun spot with the kids, the Rainforest Cafe, which also features a lagoon ride that is lots of fun. Just 20 minutes from Galveston is the Kemah Boardwalk featuring several top name restaurants, a hotel, rides for the kids and the young at heart, fireworks, a fast boat ride, and live music. An entire day can be spent at the Boardwalk. Bring a folding chair for the outdoor concerts.

In 1877 the tall ship, Elissa, was built and put into service. It is now a museum that provides an audiovisual presentation in the adjacent museum and a computerized immigration database for those entering the United States through the Port of Galveston. The Elissa and museum are located at Pier 21, just a short walk from the historic Strand which is a national landmark. The Strand features one beautifully restored Victorian style building after another with many providing restaurants, unique shops, souvenir shops, clothing stores, and all manner of entertainment. The Strand is also a center of attraction for the Lone Star Motorcycle rally, Mardi Gras, and a unique Christmas festival entitled Dickens on the Strand. During this street festival, the Strand is turned into a Victorian shopping and entertainment paradise with many vendors and participants dressed in period costume.

Also in close proximity to the Strand is the Pier 21 Theater which features the film “the Great Storm”, about one of the nations’ worst natural disaster, a hurricane that hit Galveston in 1900, killing more than 10,000. After the storm, the entire city was elevated and sand pumped in as a new foundation and raising the city above sea level. It was a tremendous undertaking and even the historic St. Patrick’s Church was raised during this time. Just a short trip over the Pelican Island Causeway will take any visitor to Pelican Island and the Seawolf Park that offers a pavilion, fishing, a magnificent view of the ship channel and the opportunity to explore the USS Cavalla and the USS Stewart. Pelican Island is also home to the Texas A&M; Maritime University.

Besides TAMU, Galveston also offers a medical school, a nursing school, a junior college, and a school of allied health sciences. Galveston actually has the oldest medical school in Texas, with the original medical school building, “Old Red”, still standing. Old Red is another product of Nicolas Clayton, and is a tremendous tribute to the history of medicine. The huge rotunda once used for surgeries is still used as a classroom.

Likewise, the NOAA/Fisheries Sea Turtle facility in lid-town Galveston is a constant place of learning and research. The laboratory opened in 1978 does extensive research into the Kemp’s Ridley turtle and the Loggerhead sea turtle.

Galveston is a great place to live and to visit. If you want to swim, fish, surf, sail, visit museums, have a big party during Mardi Gras, or just eat some great food and stroll down the boulevard, Galveston is the place to do it. This article mentions only some of the available entertainment options. Look online at for more information.

 

Ideas

WESTERN CRAFTS for FUN and FLAIR

Posted by Frederick Parker on

A wonderful gift for friends and family, to spice up your home décor, or for some creative family fun, there are many western-themed crafts that will take a minimal amount of time, effort and money. Here are a few great ideas for western crafts you can do at home:

THE CACTUS POT

Adding a bit of western flair to a room is very easy with a cactus pot display. Purchase a potted grouping of cacti, and a terra-cotta planter big enough to accommodate the pot. With some acrylic paints and a few western stencils, found at your local hobby store or online, you can paint the pot and add some of the old west to any table or shelf. Place the pot on a folded bandana to make a western placemat. If you do not have a green thumb, just remember that cactuses do just fine with neglect- often its over watering that kills them. Total cost of the project: $15-30. Time spent: 2-3 hours.

DREAMCATCHERS AND OTHER KITS

Many places online sell make-your-own dream catcher kits. Depending on the size of the dream catcher and the skill required to make it, these fun craft kits can take an hour or more, and add a little of the southwestern flair to any room. Kids’ kits are also available, which makes this a great family activity.

Similar bead projects and crafts with feathers are also available. Try or for some affordable kits and ideas. Total cost: $10-15 Time spent: Varies

WOODBURNING

Wood burning kits are widely available in many stores. Frequently they come with all the tools you need, as well as wood for door hangers, wooden signs, and often leather for making key chains and other hanging decorations. Western themes are easy to incorporate into this medium, simply by lightly sketching boots, a western hat, a cactus, chili pepper or other western-theme icon into the wood, and carefully tracing it with the wood burning tool. Total cost: $25-40 Time spent: Varies

WESTERN THEMED LAMPSHADE

What better way to really add style to your western-themed home than with a decorated lampshade! Again, using stencils and acrylic paint, you can add any variation of designs to a simple, flat lampshade. Use vibrant colors to add to the appeal, for example, use a sky-blue shade with brown boots, vibrant red peppers and Kelly green cactus stencils. A simple, plain lampshade can be purchased at any discount store for relatively cheap. The stencils, through any craft supplier or online merchant.

Knot a red bandana around the stem of the lamp for a little extra flair! Total cost of this project: $10-25 Time spent: 1-2 hours, depending on how fast the paint dries.

POTTERY

Finally, a little bit of western-style pottery can go a long way to dress up a shelf or table. Clay can be purchased at any craft store. Be sure the type you purchase can air dry and does not need a kiln. Depending on your skills and budget, you can try and make western style figures, purchase a pottery wheel, or you can make a simple pot.

To make the simple pot, take a good amount of clay and roll it out on a flat smooth surface to make a long cord. Once the cord is relatively thin, begin to wrap the cord into a circle, gradually increasing the height of the pot by placing the clay coil on top of itself, leaving a hole in the middle. Once the pot is complete, smooth out the sides using your hands and a little water, if needed. Let it air dry, and then paint with a western design or motif, or simply leave it as is for a more primitive western look. Total cost of this project: $10-50 Time spent: Varies on project.

Western crafts can add some style to your home, dressing up an otherwise boring room, or provide a fun family activity. Check the internet and craft store for more ideas on other western-style crafts, because with a little creativity and time, you can redecorate your home or make great gifts for friends and family alike.

 

News

VirtualNes.com Is a Fun Place to Play Even More Vintage Nintendo Games

Posted by Frederick Parker on

I have been cruising EBay and Craigslist for months now trying to find a great deal on a NES system so I could play all of my favorite past time games but now I have found another site dedicated to emulation of NES games. The site is and it has 500 NES games for you to choose from and it has some of my all time favorite games that didn't have. Since the discovery of this totally free site I have abandoned all plans of buying a NES system, why spend $50 bucks and only get a few games and an old system when I can play all of my favorites on my computer at home?

The website is very simplistic and easy to use. Once you get to the site first thing I would do is click on the option that says Public Terminal Mode, once you click it the option will be set to on. This makes sure that your machine will be able to load the Java virtual machine in the window, for some reason Microsoft blocks it and this option will make it work properly. Otherwise if you leave this option off then you might see a page that says page can not be loaded, if you click on a game and this happens then come back to the home page and toggle this to on. You shouldn't have any other issues once this is turned to the on position.

You also have the option to turn the sound off if you want, I guess in case you are playing a loud game or don't know how to work your computers sound, what ever the reason they have included this option. Once you have your options set then you can go to the games, I stick mainly to the English language games because I am more familiar with them. What ever game link you click on will bring you to a long list of games you can play, now you just have to make the difficult decision of which game you want to play first!

I was impressed with the selection of games they have, I found so many that didn't have and was very pleased with some that I wanted to play badly but the other website didn't have. gets an A+ for game selection.

So next I was wondering if the quality of the games would be as good as and I have to say that the games are actually more impressive. Most of the screens are larger than at and game play didn't ever freeze, which was a common problem I had with . The quality is by far better here at compared to and I am going to stick to this site for most of my NES gaming from now on.

The games load so fast it's amazing, I mean I know the Nintendo was only an 8-bit system but still other sites that offer emulation of these games don't load nearly as well. The game play is always steady and I love this site for just killing time during the day or night. To use you will need a computer that has internet of course, and very minimal system requirements. Just a mere 192 MB of RAM and a Pentium 3 or better processor, so it's not heavy on system resources.

The website also has a forum and a help page incase you run into issues or just want to discuss the website. In the help section there is an extensive FAQ with some answers to common questions and a place to request a game be added to . There is also a section where you can donate to because as they state on their website hosting fees get expensive for a site like this and to keep it free to all the users. So think about a possible donation before you start to play or after if you are as impressed with the site as I was.

This is a very impressive site with hundreds of my favorite games from my childhood past, I have spent hours here playing games and Re-Learning how to win them. I didn't remember excite bike being this hard! I have had lots of fun here and hope you all will too, it's a great way to reminisce about your past and relive those childhood memories, also teach these young punks what real games were like! My cousin can take in Madden 2007 but he can't stop be and Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl!

Have fun playing the games and be sure to check out if you can't find a title you like at . So don't waste your money buying an old NES when you can play almost any game you can think of right on your home computer!

 

Travel

Cheap Ways to Have Fun in Upper Manhattan (Harlem area)

Posted by Frederick Parker on

It is not impossible to relax and have fun on a tight budget. Yes, having money can certainly make things easier, but there are little tricks out there if you keep an open mind and learn to think outside of the box.

First and foremost, learn to have a sense of humor about your financial situation. Unless you’ve murdered someone (which, if you have, shame on you, but see my article “Top Ten Reasons to Have Trunk Space”), remember that with time and patience, most things, including money troubles are reversible. Remember that you are not the only person struggling given the current state of the economy, and that there are always ways to still relax and have fun if you do your research. Even in NYC, one of the most insanely expensive cities on the planet.

If You’re a Foodie…

At the risk of stating the obvious, eat in. There are certainly plenty of specials out there, but nine times out of ten you would be amazed at how much you’d save if you simply ate at home more often. If you really love to go out, sign up on your favorite restaurant’s website so you can keep yourself up-to-date with any upcoming specials. Designate one night a week or every two weeks, depending on what you can afford, and make going out a special occasion where you get all dressed up and spend time with someone other than your dog. If you’re new to the area and don’t know of any places, but love eating out, check out “Frizzante,” on 117th and Frederick Douglass Blvd. It’s an adorable, atmospheric Italian bistro that offers a very reasonably priced menu.

Most entrees are $10 or under. Not one for Italian? Located at #964 Amsterdam Ave., Sushi Suma is probably the cheapest (without sacrificing on quality) Japanese restaurant in the area. They have free delivery if you order out and have some terrific sushi and sashimi deals. (On a side note, a brand new three level supermarket just opened up on 118th and Broadway called Best Ever Market. The selection is incredible. It has everything from fresh lobster to balogna and the prices are the cheapest I’ve seen anywhere in Harlem.)

If You’re a Spa Fanatic…

When I initially moved here, I was amazed at how many places offered mani/pedi specials for as low as $19.99. Is it more fun to visit the fancy ones that smell like candy and fan you down with a giant peacock feather while you get your nails painted next to Jennifer Aniston? Mmmmmaybe. However, there are tons of little gems on Broadway (between 110th and 90th), for example, that are much more cost effective and get the job done. No, they do not feed you grapes while charging your i-pod, but you are much less likely to leave feeling guilty about how much money you spent, and take it from someone who’s experienced both ends of the luxury spectrum, your toes will look the same walking out either door.

If You’re a Movie Goer…

There is a theater on the corner of 74th and Broadway that has a great morning special. If you don’t mind seeing movies that early, all shows are half price before noon. Also, I would highly recommend NetFlix. My fiancée and I have been using this service for the past four months and only pay about $9 a month. They also offer full seasons of television shows, in case you are considering cutting back on your cable bill by foregoing HBO. You can keep the movies for as long as you want and there are never any late fees.

If You Don’t Like Anything I’ve Listed So Far…

There are tons of museums to see in NYC. Most of them offer children’s, student, military, and senior citizen discounts. Before visiting a museum, be sure to visit its website to see if they are offering any discounts or coupons. The majority of places do. Remember, EVERYONE is being affected by this economy and as many people have cut back on outings in order to save, places will do what they can to get your business. (Fun fact: Once a month, the Natural Museum of History will turn itself into a night club. See its website for details.) Also, provides some terrific tips on cheap things to do in NYC from people who’ve lived in the city all their lives.

Hopefully, this has provided some insight and helpful tips on having fun in upper Manhattan. If not, let me know and I will be happy to return to the drawing board and do some more research. I have only been living here for about five or six months, so this is based solely on what I’ve learned living here thus far. Thanks for tuning in, and remember not to let your light pockets weigh you down.