Sunday, December 28, 2008

Life on Saltines and Jell-O

I had a recent bout with some bad gastrointestinal mojo, which landed me in the hospital for a few days. Not a fun place for a paramedic to be. Us medical people don't make very good patients.
Turns out I have ulcerative colitis AND bleeding peptic ulcers AND ulcers in my duodenum, thrown in for good measure. I'm pretty much full of holes. Why? Stress, spicy food, H-pylori, who the heck knows. Can't get a straight answer of any of the doctors that I now have to see.
What they DID tell me is not to eat anything heavy, greasy, fried, spicy, creamy, acidic, alcohol-based, vinegar-y, and caffeine-laden. This is pretty much everything out there. The good stuff. Like coffee. Or a cocktail with dinner. Or dinner at all.
And hot wings. You guys have followed my mission to find the best wings in Tampa Bay; alas, I'll never know. They just don't make enough Mylanta for me to chance it.
So I have been living the last few weeks on saltine crackers and different flavors of gelatin. If I am feeling brave, I sneak down a little chicken soup. This is not fun. I LOVE food. Lots of food. And having to go around watching people eat it all up is, at the very least, excruciating.
Right now as we speak, the guy next to me is eating gumbo. And yesterday my husband actually ordered a pizza and wolfed it down while saying to me "You poor thing."
Poor thing indeed. I am usually laid-back about a lot of things, but I now am in a constant state of being on the verge of throwing a tantrum. Especially during the holidays when full platters of heavenly stuff are being passed under my nose. My mother even makes her own holiday candy! It's got chocolate and peanuts and peanut butter all rolled into ...
I can't even talk about it. It's too upsetting. And when did every commercial on T.V. become involved with food?! Does every fast-food restaurant have to launch a new burger at once? And can't people meet for a facial instead of a drink?
And just who does Outback think they are with those steak ads?
O.K., I'll stop. But let me tell you this: Appreciate and love and each little snack you're munching right now. When you go out, order everything on the menu for me. Raise a toast to my ulcers. I'll be the one in the corner having green Jell-O and a side of cardboard.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Black Friday, the Sequel

So Christmas is here, everything's been unwrapped, and we're all laying around fat and happy. But not for long.
Somewhere around ten o'clock tonight, we'll all get that little itch to get back out there with the masses tomorrow and do more shopping. Return stuff. Get more stuff. Use the gift cards that are already burning a hole in your pocket (like they are in mine).
Retailers, David and Goliaths alike, are waiting for this day to potentially save their holiday season. Sales percentages this year represent the worst numbers in decades. The majority of retailers, despite monster deals and promotions, are reporting losses.
Not a good forecast for our already bleak economy. Bad revenue now leads to more layoffs later, which has a ripple effect that touches us all.
So tomorrow is perhaps the second biggest shopping day of the year: Black Friday, the Sequel. And I hate to keep beating this drum, but if our big retail giants are going a little hungry right now, that means our local independent retailers are starving. So if we're going to spend a little post-holiday cash and scratch our shopping itch, let's all try to do it at our favorite mom and pop places that need it a little more than Target and Walmart. So everyone can enjoy the holiday bacchanalia!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Thanks, AJC

Too often mainstream newspapers focus on what the Big Box stores are doing. Pick up any major metropolitan paper on Black Friday, and you'll most likely see a story about what's on sale at Macy's, Sears, Target, Walmart. Story will probably be on the front page. Of course, you can flip through the paper and see their full-page ads, too, touting these very same sales.

As it gets closer to Christmas, you'll probably see a variation of that article again and again. Stocking stuffers, gift guides, last-minute gift ideas. ... all focus on what's available at the chains and franchises.

So we were happy to see a fresh approach at the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Along with their stories on the chains, AJC reporters also went out into their own neighborhoods, checked out what the local businesses were doing.

We hope other papers follow AJC's lead.

Here are excerpts and links to two stories the paper recently published:

Little stores, big hopes
Location counts for local, independent retailers. During dismal season, intown shops with higher foot traffic may fare better than those in suburbs.

By Jamie Gumbrecht
Tuesday, December 23, 2008

During this scrimp-and-save holiday shopping season, the problems hitting major chain retailers are being felt by small, locally owned stores, too.
In fact, it may be even worse for the little guys, such as Peony Lin, owner of Lavender boutique in Alpharetta.
“We have seen an increase in shoppers versus last month, still not as good as it was last year,” Lin said. “They’re cutting down on their purchases, much more cautious. They’re always asking for sales, coupons. They’re always trying to find the best deal.”

Go local for unique gifts

By Nedra Rhone
Sunday, December 07, 2008

The holidays can drive even the hardiest of shoppers batty, and the mall-averse may find themselves particularly vulnerable to the holiday shopping blues. Fortunately, there are more and more options —- local craft markets, neighborhood specialty shops and online shopping —- to satisfy the nonmall shopper who seeks a one-stop experience.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Show charity year-round

I always feel a little bad for the Salvation Army bell-ringers. Lots of people do anything they can to avoid them, like putting their heads down, walking around them quickly or using another entrance and exit from the store.

And still they stand, silently soliciting by their lone kettles. I stopped to talk to one in Ellenton recently on my way into Publix. I only had a couple of dollars, but as always, it was appreciated. And I hated to ask, but since we are living in scary economic times, I wondered how the donations were faring.

Horribly, he told me. No one has any money to spare, which means the less fortunate shall get less help. It's everywhere; every time I turn on the news there's an update on the crisis situation in our food pantries and homeless shelters. Things are dire.

"Maybe things will perk up soon," I told him. "Then next Christmas will be a little better for all."

But he told me something that we all know in our hearts but tend to forget in the minutia of everyday life: "We need to give all year. Not just as Christmas."

How true. People are poor year-round; children don't stop needing clothing and toys because the holiday season has ended. Families don't stop needing food on the table. And I took a look at my life after he said this, and counted how many times I've cleaned out the pantry and tossed away things that the soup kitchens could have used. How many articles of clothing have been gotten rid of with the tags still on them.

We need to show charity as much as we can, not just at this time of the year. So I'm urging all my readers, join with me. Make a pledge for the New Year to give something to those who have nothing.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Let there be light!!!

This is a magic time for everyone.

Christmas is in the air, can you feel it? See it? Taste it?

Being that I am a very visceral person, I like tactile things, things that I can wrap my senses around and get the full effect. One of the best things about this time of year are the various light displays around the Tampa Bay area. I don't mean the commercial ones, I'm talking about what people put up at their own houses.

This time of year, I drive around after dark with some Christmas music playing on the radio and some hot chocolate in the thermos (I know it's too hot for that, but I still need the effect!) and just look at what our Tampa Bay neighbors have done. There's nothing like a little holiday sight-seeing to get everyone in the mood.

I have literally driven all over the area these past few seasons and witnessed all kinds of Christmas sparkle: the beautiful, the festive, the religious, and of course the ridiculous. But even the ridiculous is not so ridiculous, if that makes any sense. It seems the more overboard these displays are, the bigger the oohs and aahs.

One the best holiday set-ups I have ever seen is in south St. Petersburg in the area of 17th Avenue South and Youvil Court South. There's only maybe three houses there, but they all join in and put up a mega-display that rivals any commercial site anywhere. Over the top doesn't even cover it; there are just no words. Go and take the kids and see it for yourself. (and if you can, drop them a couple of dollars toward their respective electric bills; they have a collection box outside to help fund the effort.)

I'd love to hear about any other displays that have struck you. Sign in and blog here!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas is too far away - I gave in!

Every year this happens to me, and I hope that I'm not alone: I can't make it all the way to Christmas. Someone just has to open something NOW!

You see, each year someone gets a big gift from me; something that they've dreamed about having or something maybe they saw on TV or in a store and thought they'd never be able to have. I don't have kids, so I like to spoil at least one family member this way. It's not that I have a tremendous amount of cash, but when I have it, I like to spend it on people.

Like one year we sent my mother for a full day at Safety Harbor Spa - some place she'd never go on her own. One year it was Coach bag my sister was in love with but couldn't afford. And last year I got my hands on a painting by Luke Chueh that my husband wanted.

This year, I found out that my sister's two boys, 10 and 5, had no computer. The older one is starting to need one for school projects; the little one loves playing the Sponge Bob Squarepants game on Nickelodeon's website. And they only have access to a computer when they visit their grandparents. So I splurged: A full HP desktop, flat screen, printer, the whole she-bang (at a small LOCAL retailer, thank you very much).

I dropped the gifts off so they could have them Christmas Day, but I couldn't take the anticipation anymore - so they opened them right then! (It took very little convincing.) I was more excited, I think, than they were. At 36, I was jumping up and down when the wrapping paper came off!

But I couldn't stop there. I had my sister and brother-in-law open their stuff, too. Awful, I know. But this way, I think, Christmas lasts just a little bit longer, doesn't it? In these scary times we're having, with the economic downturn and all the federal bail-outs, I think it's important to make all the good times last as long as possible. Give out as many smiles as you can. Show some love.

After all, isn't that what it's all about?

Monday, December 15, 2008

A heart-lifting childrens' Christmas tale by local author

What if your Christmas tree could talk?
What would say exactly? And what would it think of our Christmas traditions?
Local Tampa Bay author James Andrew Bowen explores these very questions in “A Tree’s Christmas: A talking tree’s story of its Christmas adventures.”
Yet however whimsical the subject may e, the story is anything but silly. A tale of family memories, of love and of faith, “A Tree’s Christmas” is told first from 13-year old Anne’s point of view. Through her eyes we see her family’s Christmas traditions, and learn of the special memory her and her father share every year when they lay their Christmas tree down in the garden to become part of the earth again.
It is a story not only children can relates to , but the adult audience as well; we all have those special ornaments that are handed down season to season that bring with it tales from Christmases past, and memories of departed loved ones.
Later chapters pick up this unusual story in the Christmas tree’s voice, with a running commentary given by Lucky, a 14-year old Irish setter and steadfast sidekick. The emotional adventures these two experience is sure to put a new perspective in reader’s hearts, both young and old. And the circle of life theme alone will tug at your tear ducts. I won’t give away the surprise ending. A great read!
Bowen is a local writer from Tampa, and this new Christmas classic can be purchased at It will be in local book stores soon, and I hear rumors of a local book tour and signing by the author. A Spanish-language version is also available. (Psst! A portion of all proceeds go to benefit the PACE Center for Girls in Hillsborough!) I’ll keep you guys posted on local dates.

Sunday, December 14, 2008 members in the news!

Two of our members have recently been in the news! (for doing GOOD things!)

Michele of North Tampa
is the queen of spice! Her hot sauces -- Intensity Academy -- have been featured on the Today show, too. And we hear she recently won a bunch of awards! Everyone, please congratulate Michele. Or better yet, buy her sauces :)

Here is the link to the Times article:

And our very own Old Gold Lady, aka Jackie Simpson, also has much to brag about. She was recently featured in tbt* and then again in the Times.

Here are the links:


Need extra cash? She'll buy your old gold. Broken, even!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tips for business owners: Thriving during the recession

Business coaching seminar
Tom Shay,

Business owners gathered in Gulfport on Monday for an informative seminar by nationally acclaimed business coach Tom Shay.

Among this tips:

* If something hasn't worked for a year, drop it. Go over your advertising and marketing budget. If you're not getting return on it, maybe it's time to reconsider where your money is going.
* Don't forget about your customers. It's important to get new people in, of course, but retaining existing customers is just as important. Send them cards, let them know you're thinking of them. And remember, happy customers will refer friends to you.
* Times are tough, we know. But the average recession lasts 17 months. Now is not the time to slash your prices or lower quality. Remember, your image is very important. Don't sacrifice it just to get through the next few months.
* Read, read, read. A good business owner isn't someone who's good at his or her craft. A good business owner is someone who knows business. "The average business owner doesn't read business books," Shay says. "That's why he's average."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Independent Retailer by Carolyn Weise

Independent Retailer by Carolyn Weise

What's all the hoopla about independent reatails?

I mean, what's the difference if we buy from a large box store a small Ma & Pa store in town? We're looking for bargains, right? We're looking for the best bang for the buck, you're darned right. When it comes to my pets, especially my koi, these days I am looking for real value and honest workmanship. I want to buy something that will stand up to weather, time and whatever else I can throw at it in the course of my hobby.

My purchases need to be more than inexpensive, they need to be durable. They need to be backed by knowledgeable vendors who just might care about me and my purchase. It's not enough to have the salesman smile at me when I pay for items. I want them to talk to me like I matter! I love it when they know my family. I'm not going to be "cheated" by friends who care.

If I return an item and tell them it didn't work for me, I want them to figure out why, not just give me the money back.

I want to know if its something I did wrong or if there is a better product to use. Sometimes, if rushed to make a purchase, or if there isn't a sales assistant at hand, as i most big box stores. I will buy the wrong thing. But having a sales person who knows my hobby and is familiar with his stock, I am in safe hands. He will recommend something that has worked for him, personally.

That's the difference - and the value - I am looking for in an Independent Retail Store!"

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

How do you officially kick off the holiday season?

So what's the true start of the Holiday season for you and your family?

Some people tell me it's when they buy that first Christmas present. Or the Black Friday shopping craze the day after Thanksgiving. For my mother, who picks out a new ornament every year for the tree, it's finding that perfect one.

For us, it's when my husband puts up the outside lights and something goes drastically wrong. Like the year we didn't use enough clips to secure the icicles to the roof and they all sprang off at once, while we were in the driveway admiring our work. The year before, something wasn't grounded right and things got sparkly and bright in a way we didn't mean.

This year, we laid everything out perfectly, bought the correct anchoring, made sure there were no splits in the extension cord ... and hung everything up without testing the lights first. Two strands are out, and my husband says they're staying that way until the end of the season. Unless I want the season to end now.

Oh, and my wayward dog has christened the tree by whizzing on the stand. Does it every year.

So it's officially the holidays for us. Long may they rave.

Log in and share your own stories here! (Mostly so I know that I'm not alone.)

We're on the radio!!

In case you missed it, was featured on WMNF, Tampa Bay's community radio station, on Monday night.

One correction, though: has almost 600 businesses listed. The report gives an incorrect number.

Here is the link to their story:

To hear the complete story -- and preview's song! -- you need to download the audio portion. Segment of localshops1 is about 45 minutes into the program ... The above link also includes this shorter, text version of the report:

Though rain may have cancelled most of the performances that were scheduled for a children’s talent show in Gulfport on Sunday, it did not dampen the spirits of, the organizers for the event. The Gulfport-based website is devoted to the promotion of independent, local businesses in the Tampa Bay area.

David Knoll a local Gulfport singer, serenaded the crowd with an original song about The audience consisted mostly of parents and the owners of the neighboring shops that line Beach Boulevard and who came to support the website. Pat Largo, the marketing manager for the website, said was launched on Aug. 1. He said the website was created as a resource and alternative method to shop and keep money in our local markets that thrive in Pinellas and the surrounding counties.

The founder of, Ester Venouziou said the website helps bring the community together, and the talent show was just an example of their outreach efforts. Shopping locally helps support your neighbors, Venouziou said, instead of helping to support huge corporations.

The proceeds from the raffle that was held at the talent show were being donated to the Woman Warrior. Inc., a non- profit organization that brings spoken word poetry and other artistic outlets to at-risk teens.

Adrienne Nadeau, president and founder of the Warrior Woman, said she has always loved poetry and felt that it was an important form of expression to bring to young adults. She said she looks forward to the future plans of the organization.

Bianca Cypser is the owner of Complexions Skin Care in Gulfport; she has worked with the founder of Local since the beginning. She said since working with the website and participating in their events, it has given her life a new meaning.

-- Ester

Monday, December 1, 2008

November contest finalists!

In November we asked, what are you most grateful for?

Want to see who won the great prizes from Backyard Getaway in Bradenton and If and Only If in St. Pete? You'll have to wait a few days. Winner will be posted this week, on

Meanwhile, here are five of our favorite responses:

"I am most thankful for The Word Of God. Whatever problems you face in
life, I know what book can show the answer. Isn't this Reason for the
-- Jackie L. Simpson, aka the Old Gold Lady

What or Who Am I Most Grateful For

*Her name is Mimi. She is small, still young and came into my life three
years ago and is the one who I am most grateful for.

It all began one cold, windy November afternoon in a sedate
Clearwater neighborhood. My dear church friend, Edward had called
me and said that I should meet and get to know Mimi. He said
he was interested in finding a new, loving home for her.

When I arrived at Edward's spacious home, I was enthralled by the
many miniature Dachshunds running happily throughout his
living room. I learned that Edward breeds Dachshunds
and when they have reached an adult stage he tries to find good
homes for them.

A happy group of young and adult Doxies yelped, jumped, begged
for attention and,wouldn't your know, managed to set a nice run in
my new pantyhose.

"Well ,which one is Mimi?", I asked Edward. He pointed to a corner
of the living room where, curled up on a large soft pillow was the
sweetest, little Dachshund I had ever seen.

Her soft, long haired coat was reddish-black. Her graceful snout
and dark eyes added to her overall beauty.

I called to her and she slowly, shyly came to me. Edward said it would
be okay for me to pick her up which I did. Once in my lap, Mimi
immediately lay down, gently resting her head on my breast and looking up
at me with her large,sad eyes.

I fell in love at that moment!

Mimi is now my constant companion. We take drives together to a park,
to the grocery store and a drive which she does not always enjoy, to
the vet. Otherwise, she loves to ride in the car.

She sleeps with me at night and even begins to yawn, perk up her ears
sit up straight to alert me that it is time for us to retire. This happens
every evening at 10 o'clock. Mimi must have a built in timer.

Yes, I am so very grateful that Mimi has come into my life. She has
brought joy and love to me.
-- Joanie Simpson

*I am grateful for the ability to BE grateful.

*I have experienced death, loss of love, heartbreak, parenthood, business
success & failure, drastic life changes,
trauma, and many other /seeming/ reasons NOT to be grateful. However, in
the face of all of these outside circumstances
I have learned to go within and find gratitude FOR those experiences and the
lessons I walked away with in the end.
And, with these new eyes my life has become a journey into a daily gratitude
list. So, the act of giving thanks is done
with a smile and a loving heart, which, I extend to my fellow human being
wherever and whenever I can.
I have learned to view the world differently than I once did, and in that
the gift of being truly grateful was born.
Living my life in a state of appreciation is gratitude in action for me.

Jennifer Steele, Spinderellas boutique

I am thankful that my 76 year old father has found some happiness
in working part-time after a rough 2007. In February we lost my Mom (they
had been married for 52 years), a month later I had to have their beloved
dog, Elle, put to sleep and two weeks after that his good friend, Bill, died
in an home accident. Just when he thought he was able to start working
again - we found out he needed quadruple bypass surgery in November. He
came through with flying colors and started working in April - four hours a
day, four days a week. I am grateful he has found some purpose.
-- Linda Flack

*First let me say, we are not always born into the family we want to be in.
As we grow older we can pick who is apart of our family. The one person that
I am most grateful for is a woman who didn't know if she wanted children. I
was dropped into her lap at the age of 5 and I didn't know her anymore then
I knew the other people in my life. She stepped up and took on that role
into the unknown. Uncertain of everything she would do or say. I wasn't born
to her and I was already my own person. She was concerned of the trauma I
had already faced at such a young age. She showed me love, understanding, a
caring touch and always an ear to hear what I had to say. If it had not been
for this wonderful 5 foot 1 very petite but voiceful women who I learned to
call MOM, I would have never known love. She was taken from me way to early
and there was still to much for her to be apart of. I am so grateful that my
mom took a chance on a little damaged 5 year old girl and wrapped me in her
unconditional love. *
-- Tamara Hart

Promoting your business

Tom Shay, a nationally acclaimed writer and business coach, offers marketing tips on his Web site, ... it's free to browse.

Here's a marketing tip, especially for December:

'Tag team' coupons

December is the month when we see the most cars in the parking lot and you should take advantage of the opportunity to get your message to as many people as possible.

When we first did this in our business, we partnered with another business that was located on one of the out parcels of the shopping center where we were both located; for the most part each business had its' own unique customer base so by working together we could introduce our customers to each other's business.

We created 7 coupons - one for each day of the week, and we used the same 7 coupons for several weeks before making any changes. Each of the coupons were printed on a different color of paper so that a customer shopping on multiple days would easily see they were getting different coupons. One side of the coupon featured one business, and the other side was for the second business.

Each business agreed to hand out coupons to their customers as well as put coupons on the windows of cars parked in the immediate area of each store. This promotion is easy to create and implement, and costs very little.

--- encourages businesses to work together. It really does benefit everyone.

Please check out our Web site for hundreds of listings. If your store isn't there, you can add it. It's free.

-- Ester Venouziou

Friday, November 28, 2008

Survey time!

Just a few questions (about shopping, of course!) and you can win $25:

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Let's all show some local love to our shops!

Every year I cringe when I watch the news stories about people that actually SLEEP outside the big ticket stores to get their hands on whatever thing is "it" that year for gift giving. Has the holiday season really become that commercialized?

Maybe I just see another side. I have responded to injuries and assaults in stores when shoppers flip out after Best Buy runs out of iMacs on sale or Target didn't stock enough Bratz castles. And I won't even get into when Walmart doesn't have things at the price they advertised them at. Last season, in the wee hours of Black Friday, I drove through Tyrone on my way back to the station and watched the cops wrestling someone to the ground outside Macy's.

I mean, really. What have we become?

This year, I say we boycott the whole deal. How about spreading the wealth to our local businesses? And get some original gifts for everyone on our list, things that they'll never expect and that no one else will have! One of a kind boutique things, or a gift certificate to that little mom-n-pop place on the corner that you know has the best lasagna. A day of spa gifts from a place that's not on the map, or an awesome coffee gift set from that cafe you love to sit in on a Sunday morning. A handcrafted journal from the local stationary store.

If we all pitched in, this could be the year that we shift the tides. And make it a happy holiday for more than just the department stores.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A bit of Chicago in the heart of Bradenton

Just like my endless mission to find the best hotwings on earth, my other half is always on the lookout for real Chicago-style food. I've been dragged in and out of various hotdogs and pizza joints taste-testing beef sandwiches and such (well, o.k., not dragged per se; I love food).

I think we've found what he has been looking for: Joey D's of Bradenton. This little family owned and operated eatery is tucked in on 14th St West, and admittedly doesn't look like much from the outside. Inside, though, is an impressive shrine to Da Bears. They boast to be the only local place you can actually watch the Chicago football games, and have huge screen TVs on every wall.

But what got me was the smell: that warm, cheesy, baked, meaty, garlic-y goodness that wraps around you when you walk in the door. Pure olfactory heaven.

"I want some of whatever that is that I smell," I told the waitress when it was time to order. It turned about to be their special deep-dish Rush Street Stuffed Pizza, filled with onion, green peppers, mushrooms and sausage. And while it takes 30 to 40 minutes to cook, it was well worth the wait. A medium 14" pie was more than enough for the two of us with leftovers for the next day. A large, I'm told by other patrons, will kill you.

They also have a full menu of other Chicago-style goodies, like Vienna beef hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches. My picky husband, who grew up in Chicago, swears that Joey D's is the real deal.

Joey D's is right on the corner of US 41 and Cortez Road, open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays until 11 p.m. Dine-in, take-out or delivery. (941) 753-8900. Give them a try if you're in the neighborhood. Amazingly wonderful good eats!

Or as one customer put it, their pizza is "Un-frickin'-believable!"

We agree.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My traditional Thanksgiving includes lights and siren

Like the rest of the civil service world, us paramedics tend not to get to celebrate holidays as traditionally as we would like.

And if you work nights like I do, Thanksgiving dinner is more often than not a hotdog from 7-Eleven at about 2 a.m. I'm not complaining; it's the nature of the business. I haven't had a Thanksgiving Day off in ten years or better. I've delivered a baby, taken care of umpteen choking victims, gone to fatal wrecks and shootings, and everything in between (except sit down and eat turkey). My mother in law makes me a plate every year, and every year it gets eaten the day after.

But to me, the unusual has become the usual during the holidays.
I'd like to share this bit with you: One year, I was at a bad accident scene in St. Pete that happened in a residential neighborhood at dinnertime. The car was twisted around a tree so badly that it took the fire fighters more than 30 minutes to get the patient extricated out. I was waiting with my equipment, and was aware that families had come out of houses to watch. An older lady asked me how we could do this job on Thanksgiving. My answer is the same it always has been: "How could we not?"

Later at the hospital, my patient safely delivered, I got in the cab of the truck to write my report and almost sat on a plate of food! Turkey and gravy and potatoes and collard greens and stuffing and corn bread! No 7-Eleven hotdogs that night, as my partner and I got to have a feast thanks to that lady, who snuck that food into the ambulance while we busy taking care of the patient. Just one of the little miracles along the way...

So I invite all of you to tell your unusual Thanksgiving stories, as I'm sure there are some out there that need to be told. Log on and share your tale! We all need some little miracles and laughter.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pick 'em fresh!

With the weather being pleasant and cool during the day, it’s a prime opportunity to take advantage of nature’s fresh bounty. Many fruits and vegetables are in season right now at the local farmer’s markets, bursting with fall’s explosion of colors and flavors. A feast for the eye.

Because I’m a New Englandah, autumn to me means picking it myself; I miss the days when we went out as kids to select pumpkins and gourds, and picked apples from the trees. When times were simpler and slower; and the only rush was the sun going down.

Locally, there are still places you can pick the produce on your own, and load up a basket or two of the freshest stuff around. Dover, Ruskin and Plant City all have u-pick ‘em farms, and there are a few more off of I-4 going towards Orlando.

Closer to home is Hunsader Farms in Bradenton, 5500 C.R. 675, which is about half-way between State Road 64 and State Road 70, about ten miles east of I-75. They’re known for their cantaloupes but have a bevy of other fresh fruits and vegetables. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, they have a U-Pick Hotline at (941) 331-1212 listing the produce and their harvest dates. How convenient is that!

Ready right now are cantaloupes, various citrus fruits, cucumbers, gourds, hard squash, beans, okra, black-eyed peas, zipper peas, peppers, pumpkins, sweet corn, tomatoes and watermelons. After December 1, broccoli, cauliflower and Florida sweet onions join the list.

It’s worth throwing a cooler or two in the back of the car and taking the family on a little daytime getaway. Beats a trip to the grocery store any day.

Promoting yourself

Tom Shay, nationally acclaimed writer, speaker and business coach, has tons of ideas to help you promote your business. His Web site is

Here are a couple marketing tips:

Public speaking: Many community organizations need speakers for their meetings. If you sell clothes, you can talk about fabric care and the colors and fashions for the coming season. If you sell auto parts, you can talk about how they can take care of their vehicle to maximize mileage. When you complete your presentation, you can give away samples, have a 'door prize' and leave your business card with attendees.

Advertise your employees: What is one of your biggest competitive advantages? It is likely that you would say it is your employees. So, why not make a point to remind your customers? In your print advertising you could include a picture of an individual with each ad. The copy in the advertisement could have an employee telling why they like a particular product. Your television advertisements could utilize employees as models or the voice of the commercial. Your employees could be the voice of your radio commercials. In the store you can put photos of the employees so that your customers can get to know them on a first name basis.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

It's official!

In the Times' business page Monday!!!

Ester Venouziou announces the launch of Local Shopper LLC, P.O. Box 530144, St. Petersburg, at Local Shopper promotes locally owned, independent shops, and previews about 500 stores and restaurants in Manatee, Sarasota, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties.

Gift ideas that'll rub you the right way

I'm sure, like me, you guys get some strange gifts each holiday season. Like frou-frou bath stuff in some weird scent that gets thrown in a drawer, or a crazy sweater no one has an use for. I admit, it gets tougher and tougher to shop for people as the years go by. Sometimes, I give up and get people gift cards.

If we're going to go that route this year, let's at least make it something you know that they will use and love: massage and spa gifts. An affordable way to support local business, and much more appreciated than a plastic card from Target.

The best gift I ever got under the tree was an hour-long massage at a small local spa in Ellenton, North River Body Therapies, given to me by my hubby. Yes, jewelry is pretty and perfume smells great, but an hour under the expert hands of Nicole Dietrich took the cake.

It's one of those little places that you miss if you're not looking for it; it is hiding in the Plantation Bay Ellenton Plaza, tucked away far from the madding crowd. The signs on the parking spaces read "Relax - you're here now!"

Soothing doesn't even begin to cover the atmosphere inside.

I looked around. These little local spas in our Tampa Bay area are advertising great specials right now for the holidays. Hot stone relaxation massages, facials, sugar scrubs, body wraps and more. What better way to say you love and appreciate someone than to give them an hour of bliss for Christmas?

My spa near me, North River Body Therapies, has an interactive website at www. and offers evening and Saturday appointments. I think most of them are extending their hours for gift-giving and getting.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

They really do have what I'm "craven"

The advent of cellphone use has done nothing to improve my husband's communication. He hates the phone. He hates being on the phone. He carries one only for emergencies - and, I'm certain, to watch it flash and ring and ignore it when I'm calling.

So if he's off to the store with a list, and heaven forbid I need to add something, most of the time the call goes unanswered. And we go without peanut butter or something crucial like that.

He backed out of the driveway just the other night on a mission to secure us some pizza. Raven's Pizza to be exact. There's a little buzz in the backroads of Manatee about how good their food is. So when I got an ad in the mail from Chef Marko telling me not to cook that night, I took him up on it. Then I saw them on the menu, just as my husband was leaving:

"WINGS!" I shouted in my driveway, waving my arms. "Get the hot wings, too!"

He would have never answered the phone had he hit pavement. Good thing, because those wings were GREAT. Definitely not the typical wings you get as an afterthought from some pizza places. Saucy, and big, not a bit dry. Even the mild ones had some bite! They get a place on the list!

Of course, I welcome you to judge for yourselves. Raven's is open daily at 8255 U.S. Highway 301 N in Parrish. (941) 776-9116 take-out or delivery. Or logon to to order that way, too.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Second-hand stores a better stop for knick-knacks

It's not everyday that I get to educate my very-savvy mother.

She has all the tricks when it comes to deals, and seems to be forever pulling some little unknown mom-n-pop place out of her purse for the cutest shoes or dress. She's the kind of gal that always has a one of the kind accessory or wrap or conversation piece on the table.

So when she dragged me recently into Pottery Barn to look at some knick-knacks for the house, I was a little fahklempt. Not that I have anything against Pottery Barn, mind you; it's just that I bust my butt for every cent I earn and like to hang on to as much of it as possible. I'm a little thrifty.

The things she picked up, like an antique-y looking wooden photo frame and watering can, were cute, yes, but when I glanced at the price tag .... whew!

"Ma! You can so get this stuff at a little second-hand place, and do it yourself!" I whined. My mother, besides being savvy, is very skilled with the whole crafts thing. (I haven't gotten farther than making the clay ashtray in grade school.)

There are little second-hand places all over the Tampa Bay area, too numerous to count in fact. And the treasures there are great! I can't believe some of the things that get left at these little shops, just waiting to be discovered and reborn with a little TLC.

We easily found a similar wooden frame and watering can between a couple of stops at some thrift stores. My mother picked up the few necessary supplies needed to finish them at a crafts store, and over she saved about $75. Yeah, $75. That's a nice chunk of change right now.

And, we supported two local businesses! Yay, us!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Did you all see this?

We were in the St. Petersburg Times!!!

Here is a preview!

Web site for independent businesses is off the chain

By Austin Bogues, Times Staff Writer
In print: Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ester Venouziou enjoys shopping at independent stores with good customer service.

The 38-year-old page designer at the St. Petersburg Times avoids the big-box stores.

In fact, her devotion to shopping small was so great that she started a group on the social networking site

The group, "Breaking the Chains," was an instant hit with friends and co-workers.

In August, Venouziou took it a step further. She launched an online business that promotes locally owned, independent stores, restaurants and service providers.

The Web site,, allows independent businesses in the Tampa Bay area to market themselves online.

Follow link for the full story:

Monday, November 3, 2008

How many lives did you save today?

If you don’t have a fire extinguisher in your home, the answer may be none. And the better question is “Why?”

The reason shouldn't be because you or family don't know how to use one. I know they look intimidating. But a local fire equipment distributor (there are quite a few in the Tampa Bay area) will come out and not only install extinguishers in your home, they'll give a how-to lesson for the whole family. Good way to protect yourself, your loved ones and support local business while you're at it.

Fires, no matter what their cause, grow and spread rapidly. They feed on oxygen, and will use almost anything in your home as a fuel source. Small fires become big fires, and then become tragedies.

A portable fire extinguisher can save lives and your home by putting out a small fire or containing it until the fire department arrives. Multi-purpose fire extinguishers that can be used on all types of home fires are large enough to put out a small blaze and compact enough for anyone to handle easily.

And most can be purchased for under $20. Less than the price of a pizza.

And far less than the cost of a tragedy. Local fire equipment distributors offer hands-on fire extinguisher training in addition to professionally installing this life-saving device. So everyone in your home has access, and knows how and where to use it.

Of course, having a fire extinguisher in your home is only part of your survival planning. An escape route laid out ahead of time with your family, along with smoke detectors on every level in your home, can mean the difference. Know when to go.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Featured Business: If and Only If

Our awesome intern, Lauren Fuino, recently caught up with Teresa Letize, owner of If and Only If in St. Pete. They talked about Black Friday, happy customers, and, of course, fashion!

You can read more about Terese and her wonderful shop on our Web site,, under Featured Businesses.

You can click here for the direct link.

And make sure to check out the Contests link to find out how you can win this beautiful purple necklace and some other prizes!

Halloween contest!

Local Shopper had lots of great entries in our October contest at our Web site, Here are some of our favorites! Can you guess which one we picked?
Answer, of course, is on!

-- Ester Venouziou


Two entries by Tamara Hart

First, we dressed our two year old son up like a killer tomato. He was so fat with all the newspaper we stuffed in him that we had to put him in a wagon to go door to door. We went to visit our nieces and trick or treat with them. Our youngest niece as we started walking around to collect chocolate, started screaming and ducking. We asked her why she was doing that and as she started running home she yelled, "BATS!! BATS!! BATS!!". We didn't she her the rest of the night. Oh, yes there were bats. The rest of us thought it was pretty cool seeing it was Halloween, plus they eat the bugs that fly around and bite us.

The second Halloween was when one of our other nieces, who is was a teenager, decided to put make-up on my husband. He was going to wear the blow up ballerina costume. She made a real production of it. He looked pretty good too. Even with the mustache. When we went out with the kids to get treats someone yelled at my husband, "Show us what's was under the skirt!!" Well, the costume was connected from neck to ankle, but he could jump up and down and the skirt would fly up and down with him. He twirled around and acted like he was dancing then lifted the little skirt in the back as to moon them. Everyone laughed so hard just from him dancing and then a man fell out of his chair when he lifted the back of skirt to moon them.


By Lena Hunt:

When I was in fifth grade, my teacher appointed me the task of being a vampire for our school's spook house. Thoughts of strobe lights and being chased by people in black with "chainsaws" crossed my young mind as I pictured the spook houses I had experienced. I begged the teacher to let me be a greeter. She refused.

Grand opening night of our haunted abode, I laid shivering with fear in my own cardboard coffin. Even my fake vampire teeth were chattering! Suddenly, our first paying visitors came through and boy, did I ever scare the living daylights out of them when THEY SCARED ME by simply walking past my spray-painted coffin. I jumped up and dashed out of the mock coffin, nearly leaving my black cloak behind. Strobe lights, figures in black, and screaming chainless chainsaws followed me all the way out of my own haunted haven.


By Lena's daughter, Lauren Mabra

When I was only seven I dressed up as a rock star; I thought it was the coolest idea. So I threw on my pink wig (compliments of the Dollar Store) and some purple leather pants, then we were off on our Halloween adventure.

Our neighborhood was the ultimate trick-or-treating place. People would give out the whole six-candy-bar pack and not just individual candy bars! My friends and I would be having a heart attack over how much candy we've gotten from just the second house and our parents would be having a heart attack over how cold it was!

By the time we got home, my wig was a huge, pink fuzz ball (so much for Dollar Store quality), but I didn't care about that… I wanted the candy! All of us kids had a secret annual trade-your-bad-candy-for-someone else's, so we dumped all of our sweets out and began.


By Backyard Getaway, host of our Nov. 15 garden party!

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. My favorite halloween memory was when we took our 2 year old grandson trick or treating for the first time. He was a bit shy at first but once he realized that he was getting candy from every person he met he couldn't wait to get to the next house! But, I have to say my most memorable halloween was a few years earlier. When our kids were young we would have costume parties. My husband would create a haunted house. We had added a room to our home. The roof wasn't on yet just cement block walls. It made the perfect haunted house. One of my sons friends was a bit of a prankster & he decided he would scare the guys working the haunted house. I got the bright idea to scare him. As he entered the room he was suprised by one of the guys & he started swinging & backing up. I was right behind him & ended up with a broken nose & toe!


By Andrea Johnson

Magical and memorable: Halloween 2003 will always be very close to my heart. Bo and I eloped and were married in Gatlinburg, TN on November 1, 2003. We arrived in town the day before, on Halloween. After checking into a cozy room, and racing to get our marriage license before the courthouse closed - we ate a great dinner, we strolled around Gatlinburg, enjoying the town and the amazingly cool weather. People in bizarre and outlandish costumes roamed the streets. For everyone else, it was just Halloween. For me, that night, everything was right in the world because I was holding Bo’s hand. I lost Bo just 10 months later in a car accident. We would be celebrating our fifth anniversary this year. Instead, I hold the memories from that Halloween weekend very close to me and try to smile when I think of how very blessed I was.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

This place should get their own trophy!

Sometimes I find wings when I'm looking for something completely different...

Since the Publix ate my Albertsons, I have found myself sans a dry cleaner. And since my husband and I both live in uniforms, well, you get the picture.

So we took a drive around Palmetto and Parrish, looking for a new dry cleaners. Our adventures always take us someplace interesting; years ago when we first moved to Manatee County, we got VERY lost looking for the mall but found a good place for margaritas instead.

My husband found a little family dry cleaners off US 301 near Taco Bell. Of course, they were closed because we night folks do everything after dark. But the place next door, Trophy's Sports Pub and Wings, was serving up a storm.

"Wings!" I yelled. (And my husband was more than ready for a beer.)

Deceiving from the outside, this place had two pool tables, room for a band and lots of seating. They also had booths for families to sit down and eat - a practical thing since Trophy's boasts a full menu. I almost stole a bite of my husband's cheeseburger because it smelled soooo good with all the big slices of fresh onion and real cheddar melting down ... but alas, my recent quest for the area's Best Hotwings has already forced me to spend more time at the gym. I didn't want to push it.

Their wings are more than a meal, anyway! I love a good wingsauce that has flavor, not just heat! (and I didn't ask, but I swear their bleu cheese dressing is home-made.) And so crispy, without being dry. So they earn themselves a place on my Best Hotwing's list.

The ambiance is good, too. Kind of like walking into someone's personal sports memorabilia collection that got too big for its britches. Lots to look at here.

Trophy's Sports Pub and Wings, 1035 Hasko Road in Palmetto. Full bar, full menu, nonsmoking, live music on Fridays and Saturdays, karaoke on Thursdays and GREAT hotwings. (941) 981-3803.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Last Minute Costume Ideas

Well, it is the week of Halloween and I know there are some of us that just haven't gotten a Halloween costume ready yet. Every year I say I am going to plan ahead of time and somehow it just never happens. So I have brainstormed with friends for some really easy, somewhat innovative, last minute ideas. Oh, and they are relatively inexpensive also.
One year my mother-in-law dressed up as a cereal (not serial) killer. She wore a black dress and glued a bunch of little individual cereal boxes to her dress and all of the boxes had plastic knives through them. She even put some fake blood on the boxes. It was very cute.
If you have any long pj's you can always put them on with some slippers, put your hair in pig tails and carry a stuffed animal and go as a todder/baby. (thats what im doing this year)
A play on words is always an easy way to go too. A friend of mine came to work one year as "smarty pants" by safety pinning a bunch of smarty candies to her jeans. That went over wonderfully. I have also seen a "sour puss" (cat costume with a lemon) and "black-eyed peas" (a bunch of letter p's and a black eye on the person). Just to name a couple.
And last but not with boxes. You can be a lego, a dresser, a clock tower, a box of shoes. So many things!

Well, I hope this helps out any of you last minutes types, like me!

Your Local Shopper


Sunday, October 26, 2008

A lost art rediscovered

We live in such a point-and-click, click-and-print, click-and-ship world.

I'm not complaining; it makes life a lot easier sometimes. But it is nice when you find someone who takes the time to design and custom make things, who makes sure that the job is perfect and takes lots of pride in their finished work.

It's even better when they're local.

I had a great find in Palmetto while looking for someone to frame some art work my husband just bought. He was a little stressed out about anyone handling the paintings, so it was such a relief to find Robin.

Framing By Robin, Inc., at 731 7th Street West, has been quietly designing custom framing right under my nose for the past 25 years. Robin considers herself a true artist, and when we got the paintings back, it was easy to see why!

She was able to find and match some very unusual framing to these paintings to make them great conversation pieces. And, she was patient with us!

Robin does not have a website; her phone # is (941) 723-1487.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Gulfport clothing swap pictures!

You might have read about it on our Web site -- -- our clothing swap was a huge success. The response was overwhelming. Close to 100 people must have shown up, some to trade clothes, some to give clothes, some to share their stories. We met a couple from Tampa, one from Tierra Verde, several women from St. Pete Beach, and tons of our neighbors here in Gulfport.

The event raised almost $60 -- and enough clothes to pack three cars -- for CASA, shelter and advocacy group for victims of domestic violence. We heard from CASA volunteers, past and present; as well as women who say CASA saved them. We heard from teenagers who were bored of their clothes, but too broke to buy new stuff; we heard from moms who wanted to surprise their kids with new outfits. Friends were picking out clothes for each other, and strangers were becoming friends. It truly was a wonderful day, and we are grateful to live in a place with so many generous people.

Many asked if we would do this again. We hadn't been planning to, but after seeing how happy people were, we decided that yes, of course! Next one probably will be in early February -- time to start clearing out winter clothes and getting outfits for the spring. Of course, we'll keep you posted on

A huge, huge thanks to Bianca Cypser, owner of Complexions skin care, for co-hosting this event. And thanks to the other shops in the courtyard -- Sunny Bay Trading, Yummy's hot dogs, Java Nirvana coffee shop and the Industrial Arts Center -- for letting us share the space, use their tables, and turn the courtyard into a clothing shop for the afternoon. You are all absolutely the best.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Grab your free taco, but finish meal elsewhere.

A stolen base in the Rays World Series game the other day is paying off for us: Taco Bell is giving away one free free taco to anyone who drops by one of their restaurants 2-6 p.m. Tuesday (Oct. 28)

So who are we, to pass up free stuff?

Our suggestion: grab your free taco, then head to one of the cool independent Mexican places around for the rest of your meal ... and for some margaritas!

For details on the Taco Bell promotion, you can go here.

For info on the coolest indie restaurants (and shops), come visit us at, of course!

You know it by now: It's always free to browse, free to register, free to get listed.

Stanley is hitting the town!

All this talk about Halloween and pets has goaded me into making a confession:

I’m dressing up the dog for trick or treating.

Yes, I’m one of those people. I have no kids, only a Shih Tzu that acts like a small child. Stanley, or ‘Sir Stan Bumley’ as his AKC papers read, is the king of the house. He has no manners, he has no discipline, he has no social skills.

So I figured, hey! Why not take that out on the road? Last year I dressed him as Dogzilla and we answered the door and handed out candy to people that belly laughed over the angry look on his face. This year, I got him a big, purple monkey costume and we are taking to the streets.

When I tried the costume on him the other day, he got stiff like he was having a seizure, then lay down on his side and refused to move. My husband told me that Stan has enough emotional problems and does not need the added stress of looking ridiculous.

I don’t care. We’re going! After all, who’s in charge here, me or the dog? (O.K., it’s the dog, but we’re still trick or treating!)

When I capture this monumental event on film, I’ll post it here so that the world can laugh… at me.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Want to open your own bookstore?

We spoke with Mojo Books & Music in Tampa.

"First, know what you’re getting into. No matter how much research you do ahead of time, when you open your shop, you’ll find out there’s a lot you don’t know and have to catch up on fast. But you don’t want there to be really big surprises. If you have a unique type of shop in mind, but a lack of experience in that business, you might consider ‘interning’ or just taking a short-term job at a similar existing business. Find out if that’s really what you want to do, because opening up a store is a big commitment, of both time and money."

For more advice from this awesome store, please go to Featured Businesses on (yes, it's free)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Awesome wings at a British pub? God Save the Queen!!

My quest for Tampa Bay's Best Hotwings has taken me to quite a few interesting spots. Some good, some not so good. Hey, I'm picky about my wings, what can I say? I'm hard to please, but at least I admit it...

So I was blown away by the unbelievably huge, saucy, yummy wings at Mike & Lisa's Cricketers pub in Dunedin. Great wings at an authentic British pub! Who knew! Shame on you Dunedin people for keeping this place a secret.

This little neighborhood pub and eatery on the Dunedin Causeway is known for their fish & chips, and for their loooong selection of beers. My sister's smiling face is among the locals that flood in for a great bite to eat, and a place to kickback and relax. They also have some cool events there, she tells me.

But the biggest event for me was these wings! When I can smell them before they're even at the table, you know that means the wings are spectacular. These beauties are more than a mouthful, and are saucy but not breaded. (The drumsticks and wings are separated at the joint, thank you very much.)

You need lots of napkins for these. And the price was just right, too: 10 wings for $7.50. You can get them mild, medium, and hold-on-to-your-hat hot. They also make them jerk, teriyaki and BBQ if this is your taste. My taste runs hot, baby, and Cricketer's did not disappoint!

So Mike & Lisa's Cricketers pub and eatery earns a spot on my Tampa Bay's Best Hotwings list. But of course, please go judge for yourself! You can find them at 2634 Bayshore Blvd. in Dunedin, open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Their website is

I have no idea where this tour takes me next ... stay tuned!

Halloween Tips for Pets

I have a fondness for black cats, so I have pretty much had one all of my life. So when Halloween and even Friday the 13th roll around I am extra cautious. I have heard horror stories about what some horrible people can do to animals just for fun. So I thought it would be good to spread the word. Looking around on the Internet I found a site that has some pretty useful is the link that I found. Here are some quick tips...

#1 First and foremost, try to keep your pet inside the night before Halloween, sometimes called "Hell Night" and on Halloween itself. If you cant bring them inside your home maybe put them in your garage or patio?

#2 Do not feed your pet any candy! It is lethal to most animals.

#3 Be careful where you put a lit pumpkin, or any candle for that matter. An animal can rub up against it and it would be a mess and possibly cause a fire. That one I learned the hard way a long time ago. :)

There are a bunch more tips if you want to check them out. But mostly just use common sense and keep the happiness and wellness of your pet in mind. I hope everyone had a wonderful and safe Halloween!

Your Local Shopper



Hey all!

For those of you who love Halloween like me, check out my forum at and let me know what you're going as, where you found your costume and what you're doing for Halloween!

Click here to go to my forum!

And if you have a shop or restaurant that is doing something special for Halloween, post it in the forum as well! I have three threads going about Halloween and I want to hear back from all of you! :)

Lauren the Intern

Monday, October 20, 2008

Frou-frou girly, flouncy, Tu-tu heaven!

Calling all Little Divas!

Great find, from a local Dunedin girl who turned a hobby-gone-haywire into a local business.

Fru Fru Tu Tus, created by Meghan Cox, specializes in princess-wear straight out of a child's dreams. She offers hand-made tulle tu tus trimmed in satin satin ribbon, in any color combo you can think of.

They have specials going on for Halloween and the upcoming holiday season. And, no additional charge for any special orders! The tu tus can be sized from infant to toddler and up. (Ahhhhh, to be small again!!! The diva in me wants one of my very own!!!)

Flouncy, glitzy, glam tulle heaven!!!! And since she only charges $15 to $17 each, this is a great local find in these lean times. She even takes Paypal.

Since Meghan works out of her house, tu tus are offered through her website, Meghan says though she may start selling her tu tus in local boutiques that do consignment. You can also call her at (727) 768-2721.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

$450 raised for Friends of Strays would like to thank Dee, owner of Rose Garden Boutique, and all the great people who came to our party in Dunedin today. We raised almost $450 (!!) and lots of merchandise for a great cause, the Friends of Strays in Pinellas County.

A special thanks also goes out to Chip Marshall of the Broadway Training Institute in Dunedin for bringing along the Broadway Babies.

From the school's Web site: The Institute provides professional vocal training, film acting, dance and stagecraft. Students learn by doing, as the Broadway Training Institute also produces shows for the Human Rights Group Inc, the Junior Storytellers, Artistry Players, the Pinellas County Public Libraries, and other organizations.

We know you're here for our pictures, not our exceptionally well-crafted chatter, so here they are:

Friday, October 17, 2008

On the hunt for hot wings!

I’m the kind of girl who prefers good bar food to a 5-star culinary masterpiece any day. I’m just not the fois gras type. And who the heck knows what wine goes with what today anyway?

I can put on a gown and diamond studs, go to some event, and within 10 minutes my slingbacks are under the chair, my hair’s down and I’m looking for a nice plate of …

Hot wings.

Yep. Tough to be glam when your chin’s dripping red sauce and your manicure is greasy. Not to mention the breading stuck to my hair.

So, I consider myself to be quite the hot wing connoisseur, since I get them wherever I go. But recently, I’ve had my expertise challenged by a couple of friends who in were in quite a brouhaha over just who has the best wings. Their choices were the place with the, uh, owl on the logo and the house where they boast that they, um, serve ‘em naked.

Since these friends are male, I countered that they’re rating a couple of other things than the quality of the wings.

To make a long story short, I am on a mission. For the next few weeks, I’m officially on the hunt for the area’s Best Hot Wings. I’ll be sampling at every mom’n’pop nook and hole-in-the-wall pub around. I’ve got plenty of wet naps and a bunch of antacid. It’s a dirty job, but hey, someone’s got to do it.

Suggestions are welcome. No jacket or tie required.

If you can't make it to our party in Dunedin ....

... here is something else you can do!

I was looking through the paper today and I found this little festival that is going on up here in Pasco. It's 11am - 4pm. today, and it looks like it will be a lot of fun for the kids. They are having face painting, games, raffles. And they are even having a costume contest for kids ages 3-12 with a prize of a gift card! Oh, and if you are a kid who is wearing a costume, you can get a free slice of pizza and some cotton candy. Mmmm, Mmmm, Good! For more information you can call 727-863-5100 or 727-862-4090.

I, of course, will be in Dunedin enjoying the party at the Rose Garden Boutique. That's at 737 Broadway, and we're having tons of snacks and drinks and raffles. We hope to see you there!

Have a great weekend everyone! And GO RAYS!

Your Local Shopper


Thursday, October 16, 2008

New web site

We recently came across a new Web site,, a site in which current and former employees talk about the company.

First, the background and the disclaimers:

The site is a project of Wal-Mart Watch, a decidedly anti-Wal Mart group, and obviously not affiliated in any way with the company.

The stories deal with wages, discrimination, corporate culture. Site says all are true, but of course we have no way of independently verifying it. Many entries are anonymous; others signed just with initials.

Now, for some of the stories:

M.L. in Illinois on Wages

"When you have your evaluation each year, you get a very small raise. Then they cut your hours back so that you don't make anymore take home than you did before."

Anonymous on How Not to Vote

"We were told that if a Democrat president is voted in, that the first bill to be reviewed is the union bill and if it passes we will loose benefits, pay, etc."

Anonymous mother of two

"I am not available at night. That is not an option for me, being a single mom. I feel like I am getting pushed out of my full-time job because of being a single mom."

Late For Lunch

"I was a ten year Associate at a Wal-Mart. After all those years of dedicated service I was fired for going to lunch one minute late."

Some thoughts.
Now, we realize Wal-Mart is a business and must look out for its own interests. The mom of two, for example, she might not be able to work nights, but if that's when Wal-Mart needs workers, she needs to find way to make that work, or look for another job.

Wal-Mart is not a charity, and we are not expecting it to operate as if it were. We do ask for some compassion, though. Perhaps offer her a job at a different store, if she's an otherwise good employee? But that might not be possible. Not giving her day hours doesn't necessarily make Wal-Mart evil.

I have personally worked at several reputable companies, often working the late shift. That's just the nature of my business (journalism). But the companies have often tried to take into account that staffers have outside lives, too. It doesn't mean giving us all day shifts -- that just wasn't realistic -- but it meant maybe giving us a day off on short notice, when a family thing came up.

If Wal-Mart is making an effort, we can't blame them for asking the single mom to work night hours.

Now, for the one-minute late worker ... that, if true, is unexcusable.

We'll certainly be monitoring the site, and urge you to do so, too.

Cleaning up a mess

This past weekend I had some family in town, with dogs. It was wonderful to see my family, but with the large dog ... not so much. I have 2 cats at home so they weren't too happy about it, either.

But the biggest problem I found, besides the screaming cats, was the mess a dog can leave behind. I have a lighter colored carpet and at one point the dog had gotten his dirty little paws on the carpet, with mud! I was not happy, but I did find a little bit of info on cleaning it up.

I, of course, looked at our local news stations website,, and found something pretty interesting. I wanted to clean the mess up as quickly as possible, but according to Mrs. Fixit, it is best to let it sit and dry. Once it dries you can just get a broom and brush it til it breaks up and then vacuum it.

Well, I tried it and it worked wonderfully. You can't even tell there was anything on it at all. I just wanted to share this with everyone because I was amazed. :)

Your Local Shopper


Happy people

Found this in and thought it was interesting enough to pass along to you ...It's from a study on job satisfaction, byt the University of Chicago.

According to the study, here are the jobs with happiest employees:

1. Clergy Jobs
Job Description: Conduct religious worship and perform spiritual functions associated with beliefs and practices of religious faith or denomination. For clergy, job satisfaction is gained through intense faith, and the act of providing guidance and counsel to others.

Very happy: 67.2%
Median salary*: $44,102

2. Firefighter Jobs

Job Description: Control and extinguish fires, protect life and property and conduct rescue efforts. Firefighters live their lives on the call to public service. Although the hours are long, and risks are high, firefighters also experience high job satisfaction, and are held in high esteem by their communities.

Very happy: 57.2%
Median salary: $45,553

3. Travel Agent Jobs
Job Description: Travel agents plan and sell transportation and accommodations for travel agency customers. Imagine the job satisfaction of creating vacations for others. Everyone love a vacation, and the happiness rubs off on travel agents.

Very happy: 56.5%
Median hourly rate (travel agents): $14.23

4. Architect Jobs

Job Description: Plan and design structures, such as private residences, office buildings, theaters, factories, and other structural property. Not only do Architects create the buildings we depend on to live and work in, but they also obtain job satisfaction from using creativity in their designs.

Very happy: 53.5%
Median salary: $54,079

5. Special Education Teacher Jobs

Job Description: Teach school subjects to educationally and physically handicapped students. Teaching is not necessarily an easy thing. But most teachers have at least one story of connecting with a student, and the job satisfaction that comes with knowing they've helped someone.

Very happy: 52.6%
Median salary (preschool, kindergarten or elementary school): $41,344
Median salary (secondary school): $43,060

6. Professional Actor Jobs

Job Description: Actors play parts in stage, television, radio, video, or motion picture productions for entertainment, information, or instruction. Not only do actors experience job satisfaction from using creativity, but they also get to entertain people, and make them happy.

Very happy: 51.0%
Salary varies greatly

7. Science Technician Jobs
Job Description: Use principles and theories of science and mathematics to solve problems in research and development, and to help invent and improve products and processes. Scientists experience the job satisfaction of contributing to people's health and the understanding of the world.

Very happy: 51.0%
Median salary (research scientists): $72,435

8. Automotive Technician Jobs
Job Description: Automotive service technicians and mechanics diagnose, adjust, repair, or overhaul automotive vehicles. With diagnosing and repairing vehicles comes the thrill of solving puzzles, and the job satisfaction of providing service to others.

Very happy: 53.6%**
Median hourly rate (mechanics/auto tune up): $15.26

9. Industrial Engineer Jobs

Job Description: Design, develop, test, and evaluate integrated systems for managing industrial production processes. Job satisfaction for industrial engineers comes from designing and managing systems that make jobs easier, and improve efficiency.

Very happy: 48.4%
Median salary: $61,729

10. Airline Pilot Jobs

Job Description: Airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers pilot and navigate the flight of multi-engine aircraft in regularly scheduled service for transport of passengers and cargo. Pilots carry a lot of responsibility on their wings, but they also experience job satisfaction from having others depend on them for safe travel.

Very happy: 49.1%
Median hourly rate (airline pilots, copilots, or flight engineers): $63

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gulfport-St. Pete Beach trolley

Gulfport is now linked with the Gulf beaches. A new trolley takes residents to and from St. Pete Beach and Gulfport. The service begins tomorrow (Thu., Oct. 16) and is available daily, 7:45 a.m. to 9:50 p.m. Going shopping back and forth just got a lot easier.

Here's where you can get a copy of the schedule:
Gulfport City Hall, 2401 53rd St. S.
Gulfport Senior Center, 5501 27th Ave. S.
Gulfport Library, 5501 28th Ave. S.
Gulfport Recreation Center, 5730 Shore Blvd. S.

The schedule is also available on line at

Pink flamingo signs will make it easier to find the trolley stops:
Gulfport Senior Center
The Gulfport Casino
58th St. and 28th Ave. S.
61st St. S. and Gulfport Boulevard
Pasadena Shopping Center
Palms of Pasadena Hospital
Corey Ave. and Blind Pass
75th Ave. and Gulf Boulevard.

Cash fare and exact change are required. The fares listed are for one way. Regular fare is $1.75, seniors 85 cents; students $1.25*. The new trolley will accept PSTA bus passes. PSTA GO Cards are also accepted.

Party reminder!

Hey, everyone!

I hope you can make it to our party in Dunedin this Saturday. Dee, Rose Garden boutique's owner, tells us she's preparing quesadillas, baked beans, cole slaw and some other treats for you. It's all free, of course!

Party takes place 1-5 p.m. in downtown Dunedin, 737 Broadway. In the cute courtyard, outside Rose Garden, right by the coffee shop and the chocolate shop! (Boutique's number is 727-734-5052)

For your entertainment, the very funny Pat Largo (you might remember him from his radio host days) will be making the rounds.

If you want some extra cash, the Old Gold Lady tells us she'll drop by for a few hours (1-4). So if you have any old, broken or otherwise unwanted gold, bring it by and she'll make you an offer.

We'll be collecting donations for Friends of Strays: they need pet items, plus clothing, etc., for their thrift store. Donations are welcomed, but not required.

Save the dates:
Oct. 25, Gulfport: Clothing swap with Complexions skin care
Nov. 15, Bradenton: Garden party at Backyard Retreat

-- Ester Venouziou

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Coffee shop closed

Local Coffee + Tea in St. Pete has closed. You might have read our blog, a week or so ago, about how the owner was backing out, and the three 20-something staffers had pledged to take over and keep it going.

They had grand plans, bringing in artists and poems, making it a place to go for entertainment, for meeting new people, and of course, for having some great coffee and snacks.

They had a big party, "save our store" sort of thing. Another nearby indie coffee shop, Bohemian Cafe, even closed early that night and asked its customers to support Local Coffee + Tea.

They printed T-shirts, asked for contributions. We were there one day last week, and they asked for help coming up with a new name for the shop. The new owners were excited and looking forward to their new venture. They had stocked up on supplies.

Then two days later, we heard rumors the coffee shop had closed.

We went by. The rumors were true. The sign simply said that another great restaurant was coming soon.

In the St. Pete Times today, Waveney Ann Moore brings the rest of their story. The owners tell her they were just as surprised as we were, with the abrupt closing. "We didn't fail at what we were doing," they told her. "Somebody just pulled the rug from under us."

The new owners say the landlord got a better deal, someone who offered him more money. They had been paying him $500/week and were working on a formal lease. It didn't happen soon enough.

The landlord sticks by his decision: "We tried to have the kids run it, but nothing changed."

We don't know what really happened, of course. We don't know how long the week-by-week arrangement had been going on. But we think if "the kids" were paying, they should have been given some more time to bring in new business and re-energize the place.

A new Italian restaurant will open in its place. Galeano's Buono Vita will be "a very mom-and-pop thing," owner Allan Galeano says in the Times. Galeano is an experienced restaurateur, and we hope he does well here. We will dine there, of course; the smoked salmon ravioli mentioned in the Times article sounds quite tempting.

But right now, our thoughts are with Kyle DeStefano, 24, Nathalia Estrada, 25, and Ellen Augeer, 26. The three friends who were trying to keep their local coffee shop alive. We wish them the best. If they open another shop, we'll let you know.

Click here for the link to the Times article.

-- Ester Venouziou
Local Shopper

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bike Fest 2008 in New Port Richey

Come and join the fun! The Cotee River Bike Fest is taking place right now. Lots of bikes, food, and fun. It runs until 9pm tonight and goes on tomorrow from 9:30 - 6. This is a great event to go to. And considering that the weather has been a little bit cooler, it makes the evenings so nice. They have live music tonight at the bandshell. If youre in the area come and check it out. Hope to see you there...

Your Local Shopper


Friday, October 10, 2008

Celebrate Cinco De Mayo a little early...

I absolutely love Mexican food - authentic Mexican food, not the chain stuff! One of favorite Mexican restaurants in Tampa is Casa Mexicana Bar & Grill, located at 4115 E. Busch Blvd.

Not only do the goblet-sized margaritas make this place memorable, but the food makes you feel you slipped away to Mexico for an hour or two. The menu is like a book, with several pages of mouth-watering, authentically spiced dishes to choose from! My favorite? Hm. That's a hard one seeing there's so many delicious choices! I'd have to say it's the fajitas or the enchiladas verdes (my "old faithfuls"). The sirloin is cooked to perfection, the salsa is homemade - I mean, really, what more can you ask for?

Oh, you want all you can eat you say? Well, go there for lunch and you can get all-you-can-eat lunch combos, burritos, quesadillas and more! can only go on Wednesdays? Have no fear! All-you-can-eat Wednesdays from 4 to 11 p.m. offer specials on appetizers, soups, salads, tacos, quesadillas, burritos and more for $7.95 per person! Bring the kiddies on Wednesday - they eat for $3.95!

Jeez, I'm getting hungry just talking about this place, and I know you are too! So after you and your friends spend the day at Busch Gardens exploring the Eastern world, head down to Mexico for a bit at Casa Mexicana. Trust me, you won't be disappointed!

ConsumiciĆ³n feliz,
Lauren the Intern

P.S.: here's the link for their site and menu.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Think Pink!

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There is so much information out there on the Internet about breast cancer, but it seems as though we dont really pay attention to it until it hits close to home. I, too, am guilty of this. But once I was aware of all of the issues that can afflict a cancer patient I was hooked on spreading the word. Im not going to torture you with the details, but there are issues above and beyond just having cancer. I know that may sound callous, but it is true. Insurance coverage, hospital stays, early discharges from hospitals are just a few. Please check out these websites for some more information. I believe it is a worthy cause considering at least half of our population is women. (this site offers a way for you to "click" for free to donate) (very informative site, a must see for any woman)

Dont forget your pink ribbons...

Your Local Shopper