Thursday, July 31, 2008

Warrior Transition Battalion: The Announcement

(Part 2 of 2 of 2-part blog)

Aaaaaaaaaaan, here's the Announcement I spoke of in Part 1...

Warrior Transition Battalion


Sunday September 21, 2008

2:00 in the afternoon

Chanute Air Museum

1011 Pacesetter Drive

We are proud to announce that Toys for Troops will be working hand-in-hand with Family Services at The Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB) in Fort Gordon, GA.

When soldiers are injured on-duty, they are flown home via MedEvac. Family Services at the WTB contact the spouses and parents of these soldiers, and arrange for them to fly in to meet their loved ones.

As you can imagine, the family members are often distraught, and leave home without remembering to bring baby's favorite teddy bear, or their own toothbrushes. They face hours in waiting rooms before they get a chance to see their soldiers or to talk to physicians.

We at Toys for Troops hope to make the arrival and the time in those waiting rooms a little more comfortable for these family members. We will be filling bags/boxes with nonperishable food items, various sundries such as tissue, hand sanitizers, lip balm, etc, and toys and activities to occupy both the adults and the children.

We will send 200 packages to begin with, and then maintain that inventory for Family Services. There are currently 420 soldiers at the WTB in Fort Gordon, with 3 incoming influxes a week.

We hope that you'll join us in our endeavors.

We need:

ITEM DONATIONS to include in the boxes (see list below)

on September 21. Join us in assembling bags and boxes

YOUR TIME after September 21. This will be an ongoing project. After the initial 200 boxes, we hope to work with smaller groups, on a smaller scale, to maintain inventory of these bags and boxes. If you work with or know of a youth group, scouting group, classroom, church group, or anyone else that would like to help out with a packing event on a smaller scale, please contact us.
YOUR GREAT PR SKILLS! If you don't have time or other resources, we'd appreciate it if you can help spread the word. Forward this letter to anyone that you think might be interested in helping out the cause!

Items You Can Donate:

Toiletry Items: tissues · wet wipes · hand sanitizer · toothbrushes · toothpaste · lip balm · aspirin · deodorant · fingernail clippers/file · band aids · sewing kit · razors · shaving cream · lotions (Please note that we will only accept donations of new, unopened items.)

Nonperishable Food Items: Hard candy · cereal bars · nuts · Pringles potato chips · gum · cheese or peanut butter crackers · dried fruit or raisins · individual drink mixes for water bottles · individually wrapped goldfish crackers · lifesavers · trail mix (Please note that we will not accept expired or opened food items.)

Toys/Entertainment for Children and Adults: puzzle books: word search, sudoku, etc. · coloring books · crayons · playing cards · UNO/Old Maid, etc cards · stickers · stationery and envelopes · children's DVDs

If you are interested in donating any of these items, please contact me, Lori Stewart, at, or Marcee Hampton at We will arrange a pickup or delivery time.

You can also drop your donations off at the Chanute Air Museum, 1011 Pacesetter Drive, Rantoul, IL.

We will try to keep an inventory of donations as they come in, and can make further suggestions to you for donation ideas.

All donations must be in by Saturday, September 20.

Don't forget that your monetary donations for tax deductible!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Market Report: Soulard & Kirkwood (St. Louis)

Jen and Bill were so nice to drag themselves out of bed early Saturday morning, to take us Farmer's Marketing. They took us to not one, but two farmer's markets! Have I died and gone to heaven?

First up, the Soulard Farmer's Market.

Soulard's been around since 1779. It's more of a produce market than a local farmer's market, these days—unless there's a pineapple farm in St. Louis that I don't know about. That's ok with me, the fruits and vegetables were abundant and cheap! $2.50 for a pineapple, and 95 cents for asparagus! There were also meat markets, fish markets, and spice markets at Soulard, and I was enamored with them also. I foresee framing some of the photos from these markets, and hanging them in the new house.

There's a photo in the following slide show of a little girl "helping out" some of the street performers. She had downs syndrome, and the guy playing the banjo here just handed her the pick and let her strum, while the guys behind kept up, and sang Polly Wolly Doodle. I still have that song in my head.

Next, the Kirkwood Farmer's Market. Smaller than Soulard, but just as nice, and definitely not lacking in any produce. Meat, Alaskan salmon, goat cheese, honey, plants, and cut flowers were also available. The pictures I like here are of Mama Patrina's Spaghetti Sauce stand. Mama Patrina is 93 years old and still going strong, says her son, who was working the stand on Saturday.

While we spoke to him, customers from last week approached with one of his gallon-sized jars. A complaint: They can't get the jar open! Here he works with the customer's son, to loosen and then reseal the lid, before he bagged it back up for them, and apologized for the inconvenience.

I love our local market, but it was nice to visit the big city markets, and enjoy access to a few more choices. Soulard left me wishing that CU had a produce market—any produce market—outside of a grocery store. Remember Palmisano's, on Washington? And was it Pontious that had a produce market at Mattis & Church, years ago? It's kind of amazing to realize that we don't have anything of the sort in this berg!

Someone! Start it up! Here's your million-dollar idea!

But for tales of tarantulas in boxes of bananas, I'd do it myself.

For more photos, see my Soulard Gallery, on Smugmug.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Emergency Phone Call from My Son

We were traveling home from St. Louis this evening, when I got a phone call from Brian.

Brian: Mom! You know that little saying, "Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice?"

Me: Yeah...

Brian: What are boys made of?

Me: Snips and snails and puppy dog tails.

Brian: Ok. Thanks. Love ya.

Me: I love you too.


Have any likewise, short, humorous conversations to share?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Market Madhouse

No great pictures of last week's market this time: It was simply too packed! Even more amazing, it was packed in the midst of scattered thunderstorms. We sat one shower out under a tree, made our purchases (basil and new potatoes), and took off.

The driver in blue car at the front of this line parked here for God-knows-how-long, waiting out a parking space in the front row, hence creating a terrible bottleneck in traffic. This guy jammed traffic through the entire south parking lot AND the east parking lot, as folks rounding the corner couldn't, well, round the corner. That guy in the orange shirt has had enough. I didn't stick around to watch the fight.

It was raining in this pic; you can see how many people cared not. Getting pix of fruit and veggies in this crowd is trying. I didn't try.

And as far as crowd control goes, I'm not sure why the market folks cordon off a 20-foot entryway to make it 3-feet wide. Throw in dogs, wheelchairs, strollers, walkers, and 1000 people trying to get in AND out of this area, and you get quite a bottleneck here too. Clint and I found ourselves just standing in line to get out of here.

In addition to our veggies, we picked up a bag of homemade pasta. We bought the spicy cajun angel hair, and plan to toss it with shrimp and fresh tomatoes. This is Pasta Alley, out of Decatur, Illinois. The company is a developmental services company, providing jobs to handicapped persons who are quite capable of making some great pasta. Check them out tomorrow!

I'd normally love these market crowds; I'd like to just park myself and my camera on a curb, and wait for an interesting shot. As I've said before, though, it's a different sort of year, and Clint and I were racing rain on Saturday, trying to get something accomplished before we were stormed out of our jobs at the house.

Next week's market report will be a good one. We're heading to St. Louis, and Clint's daughter Jen, knowing my love for a good market, will be taking me to The Soulard Farmer's Market.

Hm. Starts at 6 a.m....think I can drag her out of bed to have me there by opening time?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Comment Moderation

All righty, kiddies, I've finally enabled Comment Moderation on my blog.

Our local blog troll...

—oh wait, not this cute troll...—

...thaaaaaaaaaat's more like it.

Where was I?

Oh, yes. Our local blog troll has been stopping in on weekends, between 2 and 3 in the morning, and leaving increasingly vicious messages for me to wake up to.

I've said before, I care not the things he says about me. I do, after all, know who my baby daddy is, and I'm relatively straight with myself that I'm not, as he reminds me constantly, "Pure white trash."

Alas, if only. I've never been pure anything.

The guy spent God knows how many hours surfing through my photos and leaving a slimy trail of racist, sexist, and downright hateful comments through my Smugmug account.

Ew. I know.

It's only a matter of time, I've decided, before I won't be able to intercept a hurtful comment to my friends or family.

Can't have that.

So, here's what we do: You go ahead and keep commenting the way you always do. I'll get an e-mail (I love getting e-mail! Win-win!) asking me if I approve of your comment, and I will give you

Thanks for working with me, and keep commenting.

Most of you.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Toys for Troops: SSG Kim



Thank you.

I haven't updated you lately, but I just want you to know that Toys for Troops is still alive and kicking over here. We have a lot going on in the wings, are expanding our services, and you'll be hearing more about it in the days to come.

In the meantime, I want to share an email I got on July 3rd, from SSG Kim, serving in Kosovo. She wrote:
We have already been deployed for 4 months and spirits are getting low. I would like to request some beanies to hand out to my younger Soldiers to help them get through this. I also leave the wire every day and would love to hand some out in the poverty ridden villages. God Bless you and your organization for all you do for those of us so far from home and and the ones we love.
The day before the holiday weekend! I couldn't wait until Monday! I left work early and sent 250 beanies on their way, with promises of more. And we continued to correspond. Her next email read:
I am very lucky as my job allows me to go out into the orphanages, displaced persons camps, and the villages of the war torn. It's quite heartbreaking to see. I met an older couple the other day that watched three of their sons butchered in front of them in 97. Through my translator I asked why they didn't leave. She kept telling me that she knew the Americans would come. She has 35 people, all family members and mostly children, living in three rooms.... I see these things every day. I can guarantee that I can find a home for as many [toys] as you can get to me.
And, a few days later, she sent photos:

Friends, these are OUR American soldiers. Stuff is really happening out there. It's more than the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and CNN and Time magazine. These are real soldiers, helping real people. I get letters from them. Their mothers, fathers, stepmothers, wives, sisters, brothers.

Thankfully, I get emails from you. Every. Single. Day. Every single day, someone from this United States e-mails me, and asks me for an address, or how to send beanies, or what can go in a care package. I wrote to Florida and Minnesota this morning, and I talked on the phone with an Army administrator this afternoon.

We are very, very busy. And there's stuff to do right now, and there will be stuff to do later. We'll be here, if you want to play in our sandbox.

In the meantime, show SSG Kim a little love, will you? I'll save you the cost of a stamp, and direct her to the comments here; she can forward them to her guys, who are our guys, too.

If ever a record should be broken this is it.

Who's on deck?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cooling Off Tip: Frozen Green Tea Lemonade

One of my favorite summer coolers is Starbucks' Frozen Lemonade and Green Tea. At $3.69, though, I won't be drinking one every day—as I like to calculate the cost of a gallon of something, I also like to calculate the cost of a month's worth of something. A Starbucks lemonade every day for a (30-day) month comes to $110.70.

Who in the hell needs a $110 lemonade bill every month?

Not me, that's who.

So, I set about some internet surfing, and talking to employees of other places that serve expensive frozen lemonades (Panera) to get a few tips for making my own. I've hit on a recipe for a refreshing drink that almost mirrors Starbucks' in flavor. It has ZERO calories, and only two ingredients:

Tazo Zen Green Tea (Starbucks uses this; it is infused with lemongrass and spearmint)
Crystal Light Lemonade (Powdered beverage. I know. It's beneath me...but there's no sugar in it. And it tastes good. So there.)

The trick is to make these double strength; it keeps the ice from watering down the flavor too much.
  • Make a pitcher of the lemonade using only 1 quart of water.
  • Make a quart of tea using 3-4 tea bags.
  • Toss some ice in the blender, pour in 1 part tea and 1 part lemonade (or however many parts of each that you prefer), and blend, baby blend!
I'm not crazy about a gooy sweet drink on a hot summer day, so this one really fits the bill. The mint tea cuts both the tartness and the sweetness of the lemonade, and even my inexpensive home blender does the trick well enough that the icy drink lasts forever.

When I sent the recipe to Melissa, she replied back, "add a shot of vodka, and I'm there." She may be on to something, don't you think?

Stay cool, kiddies!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Worshiping at the Brian Shrine? I Think Not!

Just before Brian returned from Iraq, a news crew contacted me for an interview. The anticipatory Mom story. Sure. They asked if they could come to the house, so that they could get extra footage, of say, photos of Brian.


I have a confession: I didn't have photos of Brian around the house.


Gahhhhhhh, I'm a bad Mom! Not a single recent photo of Brian in the house!

I have one on my desk at work. I have them in my wallet. I have them on my blog, my Smugmug, my Myspace account. But in my home? No. He didn't like his bootcamp portrait because there's a hint of a black eye. I never received a portrait of him in his Class A's, and I'd handed out others for Toys for Troops displays. I had just this one, taken while he was in bootcamp.

Scandalous! And with a TV crew coming to the house! What's a mom to do?


I sent 4 photos off to Walgreens, ran in after work and picked them up along with some cheap frames. I frantically, strategically, placed 8 x 10s of Brian around the house. Here's the previous shelf, with another photo up-top, now.

Ah, there! I was as ready for the interview as I'd ever be. I'm always nervous, but Jenny Gastwirth had interviewed me before, and I like her. She's good at making me comfortable.

The photos? I guess they did the trick, because Gastwirth reported, and I quote, "Stewart's home is a shrine to her soldier son."

"A shrine?!" I squealed, when I watched the news. I was both highly mortified and terribly amused. I didn't have any photos 3 hours ago, and now I have an entire shrine?! defines a shrine as

any structure or place consecrated or devoted to some saint, holy person, or
deity, as an altar, chapel, church, or temple
How creepy. Well, shrines aren't creepy, but the idea that I'm worshipping at my own little Brian Shrine is. Hmph! I did NOT have a shrine to my son! What kind of weirdo will the world think I am?!

Here's my pretty little mantle, before I arranged a few photos on it:

And after:

See? Nothing but photos, candles, stained glass, flowers...

...wait a minute.

Holy crap! There's even a Jesus candle on the first shelf, one a neighbor gave me on the morning Brian left to bootcamp. Gastwirth was right! I had created a shrine to my soldier son!

Good Lord, I'm running around trying to portray an image of a doting mother with actual photos of her son in the house, and I come off looking like I'm worshipping at the First Church of Brian Jolley.

While it's true I do dote, I certainly do not worship the ground my son walks on! We are real people with a real relationship, like any other family, and I'm here today just to set the record straight!


It feels good to get that off of my chest.

Can we just put this behind us and move on then? I really came here today to show you a picture of the lovely flowers I picked up at the farmer's market on Saturday morning.

Little yellow flowers, and I put them in a quaint, antique bottle filled with water, and I think they look perfect here, over the headboard of my bed.

Aren't they just precious?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Market Report: July 12, 2008

We worked at the new homestead until about 9 on Friday night, and had intended to get up early, at 7:00 a.m., hit the market, and get back to work on Saturday morning.

Ahh, thunder. Sweet thunder. 7 a.m. found it pouring, and, though devastated that we wouldn't accomplish as much as we hoped for the day, what were we to do but hit the snooze button? If nothing else, we are resilient.

Out the door at 10 a.m., then, to clearer skies...and breakfast at Sam's Cafe. We hit the market around 11, by then panicked that we'd tarried away the morning. We made one lap and raced out with green tomatoes.

Green tomatoes. My great grandmother used to pickle these. You can find them pickled, by Clausen, but they're soft and mushy, and don't touch the crunchy, pickly goodness that Great Grandma used to produce.

Owning no canning equipment, we decided to skip the pickles, and try, for the first time, Fried Green Tomatoes.

We went the no-frills route: dredge in egg and bread crumbs, fry in olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

To. die. for.

We only fried up 3, ping-pong ball-sized tomatoes, as an appetizer to tide us over until dinner was ready Saturday night—after yet another thunderstorm sent us home early.

We initially considered perking these up with a little cayenne pepper or something, but after a bite or two, I decided that they were perfect as they were. A little breading, a little salt & pepper, and you've got a Fried Green Tomato as God intended it to be.

If you get a chance, pick up a few tomatoes before they get to that sun-ripened state. There's a reason these are a staple in Southern diners. Fry up one or two, and you'll find out why.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

California Girls Come to Small Town America

Although I've lived here most of my life, most of you probably don't know that I was born in San Diego, California. Yup, Mom grew up in sunny California, married a sailor from Central Illinois (our Dad), and moved back to Urbana when his Navy stint was done. Still, my mother's parents were both originally from Illinois, and this weekend our California family flew in for a reunion. Despite 3000 miles between us, and not corresponding as much as we should, we remain close and are always happy to see them.

Here's my mother, her sister Karla, My cousin Kim, and me. Oddly enough we'd all been having a goodbye boo-hoo just before this picture was taken, but it was still the best group shot I ended up with.

We had all of 24 hours with them before they had to return home, but we still managed to laugh. A lot.

Here's the clan:

The matriarch of the bunch, my great Aunt Dorothy, is 84 years old, and works as a bookkeeper at a small sporting goods store. She runs the local PNA (Polish National Alliance), drinks her beer on ice, and will kick your ass, if need be. When one of her nephews didn't quiet down properly while she was giving a speech, she interrupted herself to yell, "Larry, shut the hell up!" before turning back and graciously thanking us all for coming.

She has more energy than all of us put together; you just try to keep up with her. You can't. I promise you, you can't.

Here's Clint, and Kim's girlfriend Karen, standing back in the corner together, trying to stay out of photos, and pretending they aren't affiliated with this family whatsoever. We thought it a good sign that they didn't just jump in the car and hightail it out of there.

One of Kim's favorite past-times is jumping into other people's photos. Don't you love that? She's been known to just saunter into a group picture and smile along with the rest of the family. Living in touristy San Diego, and working on Coronado Island, she has plenty of opportunities to do so—if you've visited either of those places, I'd recommend checking the frame on your mantle, to make sure that you really do know everyone in that picture.

After stuffing our faces with all sorts of picnic food, we retired to Aunt D's house for the afternoon. While everyone found a chair on the deck, Clint, Kim, Karen and I decided to walk off our lunch. We grabbed our cameras and set out in this small town Streator, IL (pop. 13,899).

Nice view from this bench, don't you think?

Click to enlarge. You can't get out on Out Street.

I took this picture just in case I ever meet someone named Tony that needs a graphic. Tony's is a meat market. Not a pick up bar, a real, old-timey meat market, with a butcher case and a scale up top.

This track runs through my Aunt's back yard. I hear that you get used to the sound of the trains, and can eventually sleep right through them.

What a beer costs at the PNA.


King of Beers and Catholic Schools.

Don't all churches open their bibles?

This was in the parking lot of the Church of the Open Bible.

Clint and I are planning to garden next year, so we've taken to stopping and admiring other gorgeous gardens, looking for tips. The picture doesn't do this one any justice; it was at the end of the day, and needed some watering. It was located next to a floral haven that the same owners had set up around their house. I wish I'd have taken a picture of that also.

While we were taking pictures, an older couple stepped out onto the porch. We told them that we were admiring their garden, and chatted for a few minutes about all that was planted there. I asked them if they would can their harvest. "No, no, we just give away what we can't use," they told us. "Come back in a few weeks, and get some vegetables. We'll have way more than we can use, just the two of us."

A typical, small town conversation, yes? We bid them goodbye, and headed on. I looked over to see Kim and Karen with dumbstruck looks on their faces. "That would NEVER have happened in San Diego!" It would have been more along the lines of "Hey, what are you doing? Why are you taking pictures? Give me that film! [Punch to your face]."

Ha! I felt so smug. HA!

We might not have mountains and oceans here in Central Illinois, but a girl can still get a free tomato.

That's something.