Author Matt Brauer with His Hero Bob Newhart

Comedian and author Bob Newhart is Matt Brauer’s hero. Bob Newhart grew up in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, near Oak Park, in a working class family. His early career included pin spotter at a local bowling alley, law clerk and accountant before Bob’s comedy routines were picked up by local radio stations. The rest is history.

During our Algonquin Area Writers Group holiday book swap, I received a copy of Bob’s book I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This!: And Other Things That Strike Me as Funny from Matt Brauer. With the book came the story of why Bob Newhart was Matt’s hero.

Through some wheeling and dealing with Bob Newhart’s crew, I arranged to get an autographed picture of Bob for Matt. He was thrilled to receive this gift. Thanks Bob!

Authors Matt Brauer and April M. Williams with a authographed picture of Bob Newhart

Authors Matt Brauer and April M. Williams with a autographed picture of Bob Newhart

All you Bob Newhart fans can keep up with him by following Bob on Facebook and Twitter.

Fine Featherheads Hair Extensions Jewelry Clothing and More

My friends at Fine Featherheads surprised me with a cool swag bag! Guess what was inside?

April M. Williams wearing Fine Featherheads Native earrings

April M. Williams wearing Fine Featherheads Native earrings

The Native Earrings are a unique combination of 3 natural, maroon, and turquoise feathers. The dangly pair touch my shoulder with the feather itself just over three inches long. Since each pair of earring is made with unique feathers, no two are identical.

The Fly Ties are soft stretchy hair ties that will not damage your hair extensions. Fly Ties can also be used as bracelets.

Orchid Fly Ties from Fine Featherheads

Fine Featherheads are best known for their feather hair extensions and ship both retail and to salons around the world. Dakota and her partner Ryan visit campuses and beauty shows near and far. Check out their Fine Featheheads blog to read about their adventures.

Who are the Fine Featherheads? Fine Featherheads was first born in early 2010 when founder Dakota Hills started selling feathers at concerts and farmers markets in Boulder, CO with her sister Dana. Dakota quickly saw the greater potential of these beautiful creations and started visiting salons across the country to show off her product. The product literally sold itself and word spread like wildfire.

Now Dakota has a whole staff and the Fine Featherhead Family assists her with production, packaging, shipping and customer service. Check out the Fine Featherheads on Facebook.

Army Veterans Angelo Diliberti and Andy Balafas at Pillars of Honor

I met Army Veterans Angelo Diliberti and Andy Balafas at the Pillars of Honor program in Elgin honoring local veterans. These two gentleman shared a couple of their stories with me.

Andy Balafas was a teenager when he joined the Army then decided to make a career of it. He was just 19 years old when he attended jump school. Andy is the first to admit that this program was physically taxing. During his career, he made an impressive 7 jumps.

Angelo Diliberti also attended jump school, though not until he was 47 years old. In his long career in Special Forces, he completed over 100 jumps.

Army Veterans Angelo Diliberti and Andy Balafas at Pillars of Honor

Army Veterans Angelo Diliberti and Andy Balafas at Pillars of Honor

Angelo’s most memorable jump occurred during a demonstration at Cantigny with the Airborne Reserves. A sudden wind gust yanked his parachute off course in the cramped drop zone and he found himself dangling with his shoot entangled in the trees.

Angelo attended President Eisenhower‘s funeral, attending to General Omar Bradley for the week.

Angelo is Commander of the St. Charles Amvet’s Post and a member of the Amvet’s District staff.

Thanks to all our veterans and service people who protect our country.

Army Veterans Angelo Diliberti and Andy Balafas talk with April M. Williams

Army Veterans Angelo Diliberti and Andy Balafas talk with April M. Williams

Pillars of Honor Brings War Memorial to WW2 Veterans

More than thirty World War 2 veterans were the heroes at a Pillars of Honor program hosted by Elgin’s Gail Borden Library. Family, friends and community members gathered to show respect for these local men and women, former Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Frances Mai-Ling, an alternative-classical pianist, set the mood performing original compositions.

The packed room enjoyed period songs before a mixed branch color guard presented the colors. Guest speaker Lt. Kevin Milligan, US Navy, thanked the vets for their service and shared stories from his four tours overseas.

Pillars of Honor

Vets and families viewing a model of the Washington, DC WW2 Memorial

On display was a scale model of the World War 2 Memorial on the mall in Washington DC. This is the original model Senator Bob Dole presented to Congress to gain approval for the memorial. Many of these veterans are unable to travel to the memorial and the Pillars of Honor program brings the memorial to them.

Dessee Dye

Retired Army veteran Jessee Dye. His son shows photo of his Dad as a WW2 medic

We met Retired Army medic and author Jessee Dye. His son showed us a photo of his Dad back when he was a medic in Europe.

To date, fifteen Pillars of Honor programs have shown appreciation for our vets with plans to continue at least one a month. Follow Pillars of Honor on Facebook for details on upcoming programs.

Happy Buddha Vietnamese Vegetarian Restaurant

We had lunch at Happy Buddha Vietnamese Vegetarian Restaurant in Barrington this week and look forward to a return visit. This tiny diner shares a building with a computer repair business. Look for the McDonald’s next door as a landmark.

Happy Buddha opened 7 months ago as a vegetarian only restaurant. Many patrons requested items with meat and a non-vegetarian section was added to the menu.

We started our meal with a pot of green tea and vegetarian spring rolls filled with soy shrimp, tofu, bean sprouts, mint, lettuce and rice vermicelli noodles wrapped in rice paper. A dish of peanut dipping sauce came on the side. These were a delicious blend of crunch and smoothness.

Vegetarian Spring Rolls and Hot Green Tea

Vegetarian Spring Rolls and Hot Green Tea

The lunch menu includes many choices reasonably priced at $6.95. We both chose pho from the regular menu, a broth with rice noodles and vegetables served with bean sprouts, bay leaves and lemon to add yourself. I had the vegetarian version while my partner had the beef version.

Vegetarian and Beef versions of Vietamese Pho soup

Vegetarian and Beef versions of Vietamese Pho soup

I also tried the avocado shake which I highly recommend. The generous serving was so thick it towered over the top of the glass. While we usually thick of avocado as an ingredient in Mexican foods and salads, my son has used them as an ingredient in his smoothies for several years.

Happy Buddha is alcohol free. Two Vietnamese sisters run the restaurant and be aware of possible language barriers. Be patient as the confirm your order with you. Service was attentive on our visit. If you have a party of six or more, they request you call in advance.

Happy Buddha on Urbanspoon

Mission Hope Chicago Operation Supports Our Troops

The goal of Mission Hope Chicago’s Support Our Troops drive is to provide care packages for all 225,000 deployed US soldiers to remind them that we appreciate their service. Since Memorial Day 2011, they have delivered packages to over 3,250 solders.

Mission Hope Chicago partners with Operation Support Our Troops to determine items requested by deployed solders. Donations are used to purchase and ship these goods overseas. What’s on these soldier’s wish lists? Things we often take for granted in the United States. Most requested items include:

  • Tuna
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Crackers
  • Canned soup and pasta
  • Granola bars
  • Canned nuts
  • Eye drops
  • Foot powder

Collection sites are conveniently located throughout the Chicagoland area.

Troops also appreciate your cards and letters of support. A tax deductible contribution of $200 will purchase packages for 10 soldiers and cover shipping expenses. Gifts of any amount is welcome.

Submit your soldier’s address to Support Our Troops. For more information on the program,  email Ben Thompson. Mission Hope Chicago is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization.

Ben Thompson working one of the many Mission Hope Operation Support Our Troops donation collection events

Homemade Food at Country Kettle in Hancock Wisconsin

Just north of Madison, Wisconsin is home to the Country Kettle Family Restaurant. Sisters Tina and Kristi opened the diner in June 2005. The pair built their business on an empty field at the intersection on County Road V at I39.

While the restaurant was built new, it captures the feel of a 50-60’s era small town diner.

Country Kettle in Hancock Wisconsin

Country Kettle in Hancock Wisconsin

The quaint location is a local favorite, known for hand-dipped fried chicken, fish fry and prime rib dinners. The dining area is divided into three areas plus counter service. Wait staff was friendly and helpful and our food came up quickly.

Lunch and dinner menus include Burgers and other sandwiches, shrimp, salads. We started with the mozzarella sticks with were served piping hot and golden brown with a side of marinade sauce. this is Wisconsin and cheese curds are also on the menu.

Breakfast menu items include pancakes, French toast, eggs, hash browns and more.

I tried the soup of the day, creamy vegetarian green bean casserole with carrots for color, Our patty melt and veggie cheeseburger came to our table fast and hot, cooked to order. The fries golden brown with a hint of seasoned salt.

The Country Kettle is known for their desserts. We could not leave without tasting the Cherry Crumble pie served warm with two scoops of rich vanilla ice cream.

Homemade pie ala mode served with a smile at Country Kettle in Hancock, Wisconsin

Homemade pie ala mode served with a smile at Country Kettle in Hancock, Wisconsin

Kristi is known for her custom cakes. One wall is covered with pictures of her whimsical creations.

While we dined, we heard another table send their kudos to the kitchen staff for a delicious meal.

Tina told us, “we are known for our homemade food. We make our our gravy, soups and peel potatoes for our mashed potatoes.”

Near the door is a sign asking “Where are you from?” and maps of the local area and the United States. It was surprising to see pins marking visits from diners from Alaska to Hawaii to Florida.
Country Kettle Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Milwaukee Lakeshore State Park

Lakeshore State Park is on Lake Michigan in downtown Milwaukee adjacent to Discovery World and Festival Park home of Summerfest. During our visit on a warm summer afternoon, the 22 acre park was bustling with bicyclists and walkers enjoying the day. Canada Goose lined the banks of the fishing area while a few walkers looked out from the fishing pier. People on kayaks and stand up paddle boards sporting the top rated water sports products and gear.

As we strolled along the paved path, we stopped to enjoy the wild flowers and native vegetation. Found a nice branch to widdle with my best bushcraft knife. Signage and markers helped us identify the specimens. A few benches are strategically placed with views of the boats and Lake Michigan.

Lakeshore Park is a sanctuary for people, birds, plants and mammals too. On our walk we saw a red fox checking us out. The park is home for both red and grey foxes, minks, woodchucks and rabbits.

I learned some interesting facts at the park:

  • The water held in the Great Lakes could cover the entire United States by 9.5 feet.
  • The Great Lakes hold nearly 20% of the Earth’s and 95% of the Untied States’ fresh surface water.
  • 30% of Wisconsin lies in the Lake Michigan drainage basin – whatever is done to the land and surface waters in this area can eventually affect the lake.

The boat slips were mostly empty on the beautiful summer day. Canoeing and kayaking are also encouraged at the park. Admission to the park is free.

Lakeshore Park in Downtown Milwaukee

Lakeshore Park in Downtown Milwaukee

Milwaukee Pedal Tavern Bicycle Pub Crawl

Take your next Milwaukee pub crawl on a Pedal Tavern bicycle powered party. Sixteen people can hire this mobile party on wheels. Get your exercise and enjoy drink specials at the same time. Tours take guests to pubs and bars in Milwaukee’s Third District.

Up to 1o passengers do the pedaling while additional riders can relax and enjoy. Leave the steering to the company employee.

The middle section is open for a guest to play bartender and serve food. Bring your own food and music to enjoy on your ride.

Rates vary based on the date and time. Figure about $10 an hour for a full bike.

Follow the Pedal Tavern on Facebook.

Milwaukee Pedal Tavern

Milwaukee Pedal Tavern

Aladdin Deli at Milwaukee Public Market Third District

We had lunch at Aladdin Deli while at the Milwaukee Public Market. Many Middle Eastern favorites are on the menu at this fast food location. Select your choices including vegetarian selections to prepared to eat there or packaged to go.

The deli counter offers portions for dinners or parties. Hummus, Egyptian Rice, Dolmas, Baklava and other specialties are available in the glass case.

We had the Vegetarian Combo and Gyros plates. Both were served with pita and hummus. The falafel was crisp and hot. The Egyptian rice had lentils, garbanzos, elbow noodles as well as rice. It was an delicious combination.

Aladdin Deli at Milwaukee Public Market

Aladdin Deli at Milwaukee Public Market

Aladdin Deli at Milwaukee Public Market on Urbanspoon

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