St. Petersburg Garden

St. Petersburg Garden

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Spooky Fascination

I have always been fascinated with all things scary. Some might even say obsessed. I don't know why, I don't even know when or how it started but for as long as I can remember I have always enjoyed anything related to all things scary. Books, movies, rides, games, I'll take it all. I'll try it all. It's ironic really. My mom is terrified of anything scary. Definitely not her first choice. I don't know where I got it from. I'm telling you, an obsession.

I remember going to the library and picking up my first Dean Koontz book. It was called Darkfall. Great book. I couldn't wait to finish it. Until my mom saw me reading it and took it away. Said I was too young. What?? Nine is definitely not too young. Do you know how hard it is to finish reading a book when you have to sneak read chapters every time you go to the library and do covert ops? Leave your mom and brother in the kid section while you run to the adult section looking for Dean Koontz? Not an easy task. Same thing happened when I tried reading The Exorcist when I was eleven. Confiscated. This time by a teacher. What's with this censorship? I even had to sneak my movies in. A classic like Poltergeist. Imagine that. I had to wait until the parents were out before I could catch up on my horror classics. What's a girl to do? Thank goodness for Nana and the babysitter. Whew.

My friends can attest that it's been like this forever. They've all been sucked into my world of ghosts and horror movies. Yes, we've all watched great movies and cheesy movies. Those are the best ones of course. I'm not ashamed to admit it. They might be but I'm not. Classics. That's what I'll call them. As I got older I discovered the mother lode. All over the world. This was brilliant. Everywhere you went you could be entertained and learn. Yes, that's right, it was a history lesson. Sure, that's what it was. I was learning all about the history of where I was. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Ghost tours and museums and much, much more. Now these were definitely the kinds of museums I could visit all day long.

Throughout the years I've been on a few ghost tours and a few interesting "horror" tours as well. Whether or not they are scary I guess is up to the individual but you definitely learn some cool facts and depending on who is in your group you can be entertained. I'm pretty lucky. I always have a good group with me. It's always me and whoever I take. So yes, that's a good group. We know how to entertain ourselves, no matter where we are.

First stop - London Dungeon on Tooley Street. It looked like Sarah need a little head chopping. I was up for the task. This place was fascinating. It told 1000 years of London's most dark and gory history. There are different rooms that tell the tales of what went on throughout history and most of it is in the dark. The anticipation of what you think is going to happen is probably what is the most scary. We loved it. Of course you can't leave London without going on a Jack the Ripper Tour. Also a night tour, which you'll find is the best for a ghost tour. Trial and error, my friends. I remember a lot of walking down cobblestone streets for this one. Sure, not as scary as a traditional ghost tour might be but still a pretty interesting walk when you try to think of walking down the same paths as others did so long ago.

By far one of the coolest ghost tours I have ever gone on was in Edinburgh, Scotland. I was flying solo for this little bad boy. Walking around the old streets of this beautiful city was amazing and to cap it off with a visit to the underground haunted vaults was fascinating. You would never think while you are walking around above ground that there is a complete city underneath you. These vaults have been featured on T.V. as being the most actively haunted and paranormal experiencing locations in the world.

Much like in London, you learn about the historical dark side of Edinburgh. I think it's time I go back for another tour. I see they've added some new things. At the end of the tour they now take you to Scotland's most haunted pub for a drink, The Banshee Labyrinth. Wait a minute. Look at all this history. This is actually a very educational fascination. Learning and getting entertained at the same time. Really, what more could you ask for?

Now it was time for us to hit up San Diego. We'd done a brief tour on our own before. The Whaley House in Old Town. The Chamber of Commerce had dubbed it the most haunted house in America. Now that's a pretty good title. However, we had made a mistake. Day time. I know I mentioned that earlier. Never take a day tour of a haunted location.

Now I'm not saying you're guaranteed to see anything at night but hey, it's more fun. Plus, there aren't children running up and down the stairs going "wooooooooo I'm a ghost". This does not make for a good atmosphere. I do actually recommend going to The Whaley House. I'd like to go back at night. It was interesting. But this time we decided to take a walking tour of the Gaslamp District in downtown San Diego. San Diego is perhaps known as the most haunted city in the United States. We started off at the Georges V Hotel on Fifth Street which was once owned by Wyatt Earp, but not haunted by him.

This is haunted by former women of ill repute. Well what to you know because we also found out that the Gaslamp used to be the red light district. I love history. We had fun running up and down the stairs at this location and it's a good thing we did because unfortunately many of the buildings that we were shown we could not enter. One, which used to be a mortuary and was very haunted, was now a private jazz club. So private that there was no phone number and had a fake law office door to fool people into thinking it was something else. Really? Also on Fifth Street. It costs $300 to get into. I'd rather be a ghost. Another building that we couldn't enter was a restaurant. The owners believed it was not good to mess with spirits. What the hell is going on here?

Our last stop on the tour was the Horton Grand Hotel. It was actually two hotels split by a lobby. This place was haunted by two ghosts. The Horton Grand was graced by the ghost of Ida Bailey. She preferred showing herself to the men and didn't appear to women. Sure, I can understand that. Which is why I gave up Mike as a sacrifice. Our tour guide said she was fond of money. Well, duh, who isn't? Mike pulled out that cash and sat on the stairs. I didn't want to leave him out there too long so I just made him pose for a few pictures and I let him come back down.

The other side of the hotel is called the Kale Saddlery and is haunted by Roger Whittaker, who was a gambler. He haunts room 309. Of course we were told that we couldn't go up here either because it was occupied. Well of course it's occupied. There's a ghost in it. Apparently if you want to see ghosts you have to make a reservation to stay at the hotel for which there is a three year waiting list. For room 309 anyway. Looks like I'm going to have to find my ghosts somewhere else. I wonder if the tour group is in cahoots with the merchants around San Diego. Apparently the only way to get inside these buildings now is if you pay. Or if you're a ghost.

For an alternate ending and for different pictures, go to my other blog at:

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Way Camping Should Be

I've always loved camping. Been doing it all my life. Literally. From the time I was a baby I've been hitting those woods. Sleeping bags, tents, firewood, roasting marshmallows over an open fire, yes, it's an old familiar feeling to me. I've always been a big fan. When I was growing up I couldn't wait to get out in those woods. The campsite we used to go to had so many things to do - even blueberry picking. That was one of my favorites. I love berry picking.

Even now when I smell wood burning the first thing I say is ooh it smells like camping. It's a great smell. It takes me back to good old Mongaup Pond in the Catskills of New York State. We used to go there every summer. Or at least it seemed that way. It was almost like a home away from home. The crisp, fresh air. The cool, clean lake. Relaxing in the hammock. That was good stuff. Until one day it all changed. Mosquitoes? Humidity? Sweat and dirt? Where the hell did all this come from? Where was the fun? Where was the relaxation and zen-like aura? Was this what camping was now all about? I think we might have a problem.

Don't get me wrong. I don't mind getting a little dirty here and there. I like to play. I'm all for adventure. But I have to draw the line somewhere. At this stage in the game, do I really want to go on vacation and "rough it"? I don't think so. But I was willing to give it a try again. Last year we really did try to go camping. A new way. On the beach. We'd never been beach camping and we thought it might be fun. Apparently so did everyone else. All of the sites were booked. So we did what every normal person would do - we improvised and went camping in our backyard. It was a perfect plan really. We already had a fire pit. We had the s'mores and everyone knows that this is really the most important part to any camping adventure. We had the tent, the air mattress, our sleeping bags and we were all set. We got our pillows, put little Charlie Brown inside and we were all set. What could go wrong?

Apparently someone forgot to tell the flea that he was not invited. Damn. Just when you think you're safe from all the perils of regular camping, you can't even make it without a scratch from backyard camping. What had happened since I was younger? It was all so innocent and fun. I knew those days were over. We had to change our tactics if we ever wanted to use our tent again. We had to clean the sleeping bag and air out the tent well. All because of one uninvited guest. Charlie wasn't too happy either. He had to go to the doctor. It was his first camping experience and I'm pretty sure he was done with it. We packed up our equipment and were done with the tent.

Until one year later. An idea came to me. They generally do. I like to entertain myself. Sometimes others. But mostly I need to keep myself entertained so this is why I am always coming up with new things to do. This time it was camping. In the living room. Why not? Bug-free, heat-free and it was a nice change of pace. I told Mike my idea and we ran with it. He moved all of the furniture into the office and we set the tent up. Charlie wasn't happy at all. He remembered his nemesis. He could have done without the tent - inside or out. But hey, we were loving it.

It was perfect for a couch too. A couple of snack tray tables and we were good to go. I've decided that maybe this is the way to go - who says camping has to be in the woods? Camping is all in what you decide to make of it. I can camp out where ever I want. I used to love making tents in my room with my brother when I was little. Who says you have to stop? The only difference now is that we can use an actual tent in my room. Brilliant I say. Want s'mores? Just use that fire pit in the backyard. Same results, same smoky campfire smell. Then run back into your tent in the living room. With the air conditioner keeping you cool. Luxury camping. Now this is much more like it.

For an alternate ending and for different pictures, go to my other blog at:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Just like Venice...but with Fireworks.

The Grand Old Gondola. We've all heard of it. Seen pictures. Envisioned floating down the canals of Venice as your gondolier belts out beautiful music. Well, perhaps most of us have. And perhaps it doesn't always go exactly as you have might have dreamed it would. It usually doesn't but then again, that's what makes the best memories. I was in Italy with my cousin Margaret in the summer of 1998. We were staying at an apartment in Florence but we had a Euro rail pass and on the weekends we would travel all throughout Europe. We decided it was time for Venice. We didn't have a game plan. We never did.

I'm generally a wing-it type of girl. A basic game plan is fine but nothing was set in stone. We had a few ideas. Shopping. Check. Drink wine. Check. Did I mention shopping? I wanted Venetian glass. I knew my shopping. I was a professional. Oh and of course we knew we wanted to go for that gondola ride. I mean, seriously, who goes to Venice and skipped out on the gondola? We didn't waste any time.

Day one - shopping. Mission complete. Drink wine. Mission complete. Day Two. Uh oh. Drank too much wine. Get on a gondola after too much wine. Damn. Apparently I didn't think this through. I knew I couldn't skip out on this so I had to suck it up. We were pretty excited. We boarded our gondola and couldn't wait for the music to begin. What fine opera would we hear this morning? Pavarotti? Bocelli? Nope. Elvis Presley. That's right. Our gondolier excitedly pressed play on the tape recorder and said for us he would play Elvis. We couldn't stop laughing. Don't get me wrong, it was an amazing ride and I like Elvis but we were in Italy. On a old fashioned gondola. But hey, he was thrilled so we went with it. The history and architecture of the buildings was absolutely amazing. I could have ridden all day. Almost. When you decide to ride a gondola, or any kind of sea-going vessel, remember to do it on an alcohol-free stomach. I learned my lesson that day.

It's ironic. Italy had never actually been one of the countries on my "to visit" list and yet I had the best time ever and I have always been plotting a return trip. The gondola is also another ride that I needed to revisit. I didn't know when it would happen but I knew it would. I put it out of my head though and moved on. Then came my birthday. Mike had a surprise for me. I'm not a good surprise person. I detect. No, I don't snoop, I detect. It's not my fault if I just figure things out. Sometimes with no clues at all. It's a gift. But I promised that I wouldn't even try and I didn't. So this time I had no idea what I was in store for.

We headed South. When we reached our destination I still didn't know what we were doing. We were on Coronado Island and that's when Mike pointed it out to me. There it was. The Grand Old Gondola. Whoa. I smiled and started to tell him about my first gondola experience. It brought back so many memories. This one would bring new and different ones. For starters, I could happily say I did not drink too much the night before. This is always a great start to any boat excursion. This time we actually had the wine with us. This is definitely the way to go. Drink the wine on the boat. On the boat.

I've definitely learned so much through the years. We also had snacks and a blanket. Now that is what I call planning ahead. We settled into our gondola, food in lap, wineglass in hand and pulled our blanket all around us. We were toasty warm and settled in. All we needed was our musical selection. Uh oh. What would we get? A flashback to my 1998 Venice gondola ride where the gondolier was trying to be more American? Or would we actually get an authentic Italian experience, right here in the heart of San Diego? Authentico it was. We cruised the bay for the next hour, relaxing to the sounds of Italian opera, enjoying our Italian wine - compliments of our friend Kevin - and eating our antipasto. For a brief moment, we didn't think about anything else. It was just the two of us. And the gondolier. Enjoying the peace and tranquility of everything around us in San Diego. One last time.

It was a perfect day. No rushing, no worrying about what to do, where to go or who we were going to do it with. It was just us. And for that day Mike transported us back to Italy. It started with homemade pizza for lunch. Compliments of Chef Mike. After we left "Venice", we went to Il Fornaio for dinner and completed the taste of Italy. There was even a fireworks show put on outside our restaurant window. How many people can say that they have a fireworks show put on just for them on their birthday?

That Mike sure is an amazing guy. I don't know where we'll be for the next birthday but it doesn't matter. We can transport ourselves to anyplace with an idea and a little imagination. As long as we enjoy ourselves along the way. And don't drink too much the night before getting in the gondola.

If you'd like to experience a taste of Venice in San Diego, visit The Gondola Company at to find out how.

For an alternate ending and for different pictures, go to my other blog at:

Friday, August 12, 2011

On Second Thought, Can't YOU Color Me Mine?

I love planning events. I'm sure many of you know this about me. Yes, there are also many of you that don't know this but are just as quickly finding it out. I like to find new and unusual things for me and "the gang" to experience and every now and then I even like to bring back an oldie but goody. This time I was bringing back an oldie.

Back in the day, way, way back in the day, my mom used to take my brother and I to ceramics class. I don't remember too much of the details but from what I do recall I know it was definitely much different than the way things are now. For starters, it was in a house. Uh oh, wait. The basement. I think it was in the basement. Isn't this how horror movies started? Interesting. I'll have to revisit this later.

I don't know how long we went for but I know it was a pretty happening gig - all the neighborhood kids were going. The only thing I remember making was a cupcake. My mom still has it. It's sitting on her dresser. She refuses to get rid of it even though I gave her my blessing. It has a pink bottom, chocolate frosting and a cherry on top. I think it even might have sprinkles. Or does is have strawberry frosting and a brown bottom? Damn that memory. Well, you can see where my artistic talents stretched. I had fun. I liked to paint that cupcake. It was cute. I knew I was not an artiste. But hey, I was okay with that. I still am. Which is why I decided a few weeks ago it was time to revisit ceramics class. That's right. I was bringing pottery back.

I knew Mike would be in. He's usually up for all of my plans and adventures. I found my other willing participant - Mellissa "2 L's" - and we were ready to go. Well, technically we did have two others join us but as they did not partake in the artistic adventures they are not permitted to be mentioned in this blog.

Just kidding. Lyndon acted as 2 L's "artistic supervisor" and Vicki was our photographer. Every group needs those. We arrived at Color Me Mine in Rancho Bernardo and at first we didn't know what to do. There were too many choices. Two huge walls filled with ceramic just stared back at us. We stood there for 15 minutes in complete silence. We didn't know what to do.

That's when it hit me. Mike is an artist. Mike can draw. Really well. I mean, really, really well. I can not. An idea popped into my head. Well, more like a scam. What if I convince him to pick a more expensive item and instead of both of us painting, just he does and I'll have creative control? I tried to work it. He wasn't falling for it. He insisted that he wanted me to have fun too and paint. Damn. I really wanted that large funky bowl. As we kept circling the choices, 2 L's got right to work.

Apparently she had arrived with a game plan. Seriously, a game plan! All along she planned to work a dog bowl and from the moment she arrived she got busy. We finally settled on the original bedrock mugs and got to work. I decided to go with simple elegance. It looked great in my head. And then Mike started on his. We all knew we were in trouble. Especially when he busted out the pencil and started free-forming. I should have known.

Once you are finished painting, it takes another 5 days before your work is completed. We didn't know what our final projects were going to look like. Well, we all knew what Mike's was going to look like. Fabulously awesome. This is what it's like when you play with the top dogs. I knew what I was getting into. As we stepped into the studio I realized my mistake.

Next time, we make sure we tell Mike ahead of time that he's doing all of our mugs. That way there's no confusion once we get there. Here is a shot of Mike's mug eating mine. Yes, I am happy with my final product. It does look much better than it did when I left the studio. But then I look at that fish. Some people just get all the talent.

For an alternate ending and for different pictures, go to my other blog at:

If you'd like to check out your own ceramics skills visit

Friday, August 5, 2011


I am not a big fan of summer. Of all the seasons, it ties with winter as my least favorite. Ok, maybe that's not completely true. Maybe winter slightly edges summer out as my least favorite but then again maybe not. In case you haven't already guessed it I don't like extreme weather. Don't like it hot. Don't like it cold. It's currently summer. And hot. So at the moment summer wins that title. I wouldn't even say it's a love/hate relationship. It's more of a like/tolerate relationship.

Sure, I like everything that summer brings - barbecues, swimming, warm sun - but did I mention the heat? There was never really anything that got me so over-the-top excited about summer that I couldn't wait for it to be here. Well, of course with the exception of my birthday on August 13th but that's just a given. That was already a previously known holiday and was celebrated throughout the land. For those of you who are just learning this fact, you may now proceed with the festivities as you like.

Every year, there is something that I look forward to. We've already established it's something besides my holiday, er, I mean my birthday. As the months get closer to August, I get excited. I count down the days with eager anticipation. Like a little kid at Christmas, the excitement builds. I know it's August when I see those fins swimming across the T.V. That's's Shark Week.

Shark week is currently upon us. Night after night, Mike and I sit on the couch to see what kind of education the Discovery Channel will give us. One of the first programs we watched was called "Summer of the Shark". It was interesting. Experts were trying to explain why there was an increase in shark attacks. I have my own take on the attacks but first I'll give you the expert opinion.

There was a change of weather patterns - warm water currents pushed cold water currents - which increased the number of great white sharks in the area (off the coast of Australia). They were juvenile sharks, or as I like to call them, "teenagers". Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. The juveniles don't have parents to guide them and as many animals do, they take test bites to see if something is edible. They were learning how to hunt. Great whites generally take a test bite and spit out. Unfortunately humans sometimes can't spare a piece, even just a taster. It's the other sharks you have to worry about. Those damn Tigers and Bulls. Those bad boys don't just want the sampler platter. So the increase attacks came down to lower water temperature which brought more sharks and they were learning how to hunt for new prey.

Here's my theory. Revenge. Plain and simple. The sharks have had enough. It's bad enough that years of over fishing have depleted their food source but now they are being ripped out of the ocean for some lousy shark fin soup. What's up with that? Cut off the fin, throw the shark back in the water and leave it to die? Of course they're pissed. I'd be pissed too. I'd be on the hunt. If people can hunt them down than really, what's so wrong with a shark hunting down a person? After all, the ocean is their domain. It's not like they're running out on land, shooting a man and running back into the water.

It's amazing how people get so angry when a shark attacks a person and they want to kill all the sharks. Aren't you were swimming in their domain. Why do people think they are entitled to everything - land, sea, air? If something gets in their way then they need to be taken out? I say go for it shark. I'm not getting in their way. Yes, I respect them. Yes, I would love to go cage diving with the great whites. Notice, I said cage diving. With use of cage. I'm not just jumping in the water, swimming freely, oblivious of my surroundings. I've always had an overactive mind. Many of you might refer to this as one of a paranoid or delusional variety. Say what you will. It will save me from being eaten. Crocodiles in the lakes, piranhas and giant sharks in the or oceans, you name it I can imagine it.

I also never go in the water alone. Safety in numbers my friends, safety in numbers. I also recognize that I'm getting into their ocean. If something were to happen is it the shark's fault? Not so much. Now if the shark came into my house that would be a different story. And incredibly interesting as well.

In honor of Shark Week, we thought we would let Charlie Brown join in the festivities. This is a little something we like to call Chaws. The way this little guy has been eating lately he can most definitely be compared to the Great White.

For an alternate ending and for different pictures, go to my other blog at