Fall in Forest City, Iowa.

It’s been three months since I moved out of Iowa. And I’m so glad to be back in a big(ger) city. I love the traffic, the noise, ethnic restaurants, beautiful parks, Starbucks, the bling and the glamour. Mostly because it reminds me of home. When I was leaving Forest City, I never thought I’d miss it one bit. But I found myself thinking about the beautiful town a few minutes ago. I wondered how cold it might be, whether the holiday lights were up on the main street where I lived, if Scoopy Doos (the local ice cream place) has some new flavors.

I think I miss Forest City.

Strange how life works. Of all the places I’ve lived in, and I’ve lived in many, I never thought I’d ever miss Forest City – a rural American town of 4,000 people (I guess lesser when students aren’t around) in cold, cold Iowa. Having spent a year and three months up north, I believe I started loving it. I don’t particularly miss the loneliness or the fact that there were no restaurants or shopping malls around. But the fact that the city made me feel safe. Safe from everything – the crime, the evil, the negative. Actually, it was like a dream. A good dream. It was a happy place. Even when I was lonely, the town and its people made me feel at home.

I don’t take anything for granted in my life. Not my family, friends or career. I didn’t take Forest City for granted either. I live with many happy memories of this awesome town in Iowa! Miss ya :)

5 Big-Ticket Billionaire Sales

Posted: February 28, 2011 11:22AM by Riya V. Anandwala 

The rich get richer as the market gets bullish. But when the market slumps, even the wealthy have to pay a price. Since the recent recession hit the world, several billionaires have decided to give up their lavish mansions or yachts. Not too long ago, Russian billionaire Sergei Polonsky sold his hotel Sungate Port Royal, yachts and the house on the Côte d’Azur to put all the proceeds into further construction of his projects. With the market’s ups and downs, the economic downturn is still hurting some of the rich and famous. (For related reading, also take a look at 6 Outrageous Billionaire Purchases.)

IN PICTURES: 6 Millionaire Traits That You Can Adopt

David Siegel’s $75 Million Mansion
In an effort to save money, chief executive officer of Orlando-based Westgate Resorts, David Siegel announced the sale of his unfurnished 90,000 square-feet mansion in July last year. The property in Windermere, Fla. has been listed for $75 million. Continue reading…

Warranties That Aren’t Worth It And Why

Posted: February 15, 2011 9:21AM by Riya Anandwala

Remember your recent electronic purchase when the salesperson said, “we highly recommend protecting your item with our store’s extended warrantypackage that will cover all repair costs incurred within three years”? More often than not you get sucked into buying the package, as the investment in the electronic item is huge. But will you get the best returns? Chances are little to none. A recent Consumer Reports article released in December 2010 labeled extended warranties as bad deals in general and suggested buyers avoid them. (For more, see Extended Warranties: Should You Take The Bait?)

IN PICTURES: 6 Worst Financial Mistakes And Why You Made Them

Manufacturer Warranty vs. Extended Warranty
It seems as though almost every electronic item comes with an extended warranty plan that acts like an insurance policy, promising to cover all your repair and damage costs for a particular period of time after your purchase. How can that be a bad deal? In most cases the appliances you buy come with a manufacturer warranty that will cover your repair cost for a year. In that case, your retail warranty plan will more or less be a waste at least for the first year. Read More…


Kids enlightened at Proctor Center’s Black History Month celebration


Posted Feb 26, 2010 @ 12:42 AM
PEORIA — At least a 100 people gathered Thursday at Proctor Center to celebrate Black History Month.

“We hope to enlighten our young children and learn some history of black people, ancestors,” said Deborah Totten, the organizer of the event.

The event began with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the unofficial African-American national anthem, followed by entertainment programs by children of the community.

While a group of children performed a play about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., others recited poetry such as “My World” and “Nappy Hair.” Read More…

Ready to roll

Peorian tackling multi-day Alaskan Iditarod Trail race on bicycle


Posted Mar 02, 2010 @ 01:52 AM

Winter is about to get a whole lot colder for Vanessa McKenzie.

The 36-year-old Peorian is among the 50 participants in the 350-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational in the Alaskan range, which started on Sunday.

When a friend suggested the bike race, McKenzie, 36, thought the idea was crazy. But that changed when she and her boyfriend and race partner, Aaron Fanetti of St. Louis, began seriously thinking about it. Read more…

Girl Scout cookies coming in by the truckload


Posted Mar 02, 2010 @ 10:24 PM
Last update Mar 03, 2010 @ 09:18 AM

PEKIN — Girl Scout troop leader Jamie Webb started sorting out about 4,000 cookie cases at 7 a.m. Tuesday at the First Church of the Nazarene.

“People are here to unload the semis, we have two trucks,” said Webb, who had 10 to 15 volunteers helping her.

The Girl Scouts who took orders in January will be delivering the boxes all through next week. The Girl Scout leaders of Peoria will pick up their delivery Thursday and start delivering this weekend. Webb’s troop managed to sell more than 2,000 boxes, making a profit of $1,100 so far. Read more…

The hunting’s great in Elmwood

Outdoors enthusiasts pack AllOutdoors Show in search of equipment

Story on the Journal Star

Posted Mar 06, 2010 @ 09:24 PM
Last update Mar 06, 2010 @ 09:37 PM
ELMWOOD — With winter chills fading slowly, families and friends stepped out Saturday to buy fishing and hunting equipment at the inaugural Elmwood AllOutdoors Show.

About 100 sales booths were set up inside Elmwood High School for the two-day show that began Saturday. While some people shopped for their outdoors expeditions, others participated in contests, seminars and a raffle.

A fishing pond and an archery range were available for youngsters. A major attraction was the big-buck contest, in which hunters nominated deer they had harvested.

“We have had an overwhelming response since we started this,” said Janice Nash, one of the show’s organizers.

After helping operate an outdoors show in Tinley Park, Nash and a few others got together in February 2008 to discuss the prospects of doing the same in Elmwood. The plan is for this to be a yearly event, Nash said.

Proceeds benefited Elmwood High School athletic programs and academic scholarships. Nash expected between 2,500 and 5,000 people to attend, and proceeds are expected to reach $25,000.

“It is going awesome,” said Vianey Payan, 16, an Elmwood freshman who was among the volunteers working at the event.

Payan and another volunteer, Nicole Coffey, 14, spent Saturday making announcements and helping vendors with anything they needed.

“I was the first to volunteer,” Coffey said.

According to Nash, more than 100 Elmwood students joined Coffey and Payan among the volunteers.

One of the biggest crowds at the show was gathered around the fishing gear.

“I am ready for spring fishing,” said Jean Fahnestock, 61, of Pekin, who attended with her husband, Roger Fahnestock.

Aside from what was offered for sale at the booths, Jean Fahnestock also was pleased about the show’s potential benefits for the Elmwood community.

“It is a good idea to earn some money for the school,” she said.

Vendors paid $50 to set up a booth for the weekend.

Matt Birmingham of Cisco, located northeast of Decatur, sells custom-made baits and lures. The owner of Build Your Own Baits apparently had a very busy Saturday morning.

“Great turnout,” he said.

Tomatoes in short supply for central Illinois restaurants, grocery stores

Harsh weather in Florida hurt crop, resulting in bare shelves and higher prices for consumers

Story on the Journal Star Web site

Posted Mar 08, 2010 @ 07:53 PM
Last update Mar 08, 2010 @ 09:16 PM
PEORIA — Don’t be surprised to see fewer slices of tomatoes on a six-inch sub at the local Subway.

The loss of 70 percent of crops in Florida because of harsh weather has left the country dealing with a shortage of tomatoes. Local grocery stores and delis are bearing the brunt, too.

Haddad’s, a grocery store in West Peoria, would normally sell a pound of tomatoes for $1.50 but has increased the price to $1.99.

“The price went up last week,” said Jim Hoyle, produce manager for the store.

“Some of the supply was lost (last week). Our cost price more than doubled.”

Haddad’s buys a case of tomatoes for $25, Hoyle said, but has been spending $50 a case since a couple of weeks ago.

Hoyle expects the price to go up again. The shortage in Florida has strained the distribution network, with more businesses lining up for the same suppliers.

Regular tomatoes are the not the only high-priced tomatoes in the market. Rates of grape tomatoes have doubled, too. Though you won’t see a dearth of tomatoes in stores, the prices will be high.

“There are less tomatoes out there. Consumers will see higher retail,” said Schnuck’s spokesman Paul Simon.

Schnuck’s, which normally gets its primary produce from Mexico and Canada, also is getting supplies from New Zealand and Holland.

“They (tomatoes) are out of sight,” said Bob Ritt, 69, of Peoria, who was comparing prices of canned tomatoes with fresh ones at Kroger on Sterling Avenue.

Ritt said that he uses tomatoes every day and expected the prices to go up this year considering the weather last year.

Another customer shopping at Kroger said she is paying a dollar more for four tomatoes. She believes paying $3 for tomatoes is outrageous.

“I can grow tomatoes in my backyard,” said Ashley Irons, 23, of Peoria.

Delis, too, are paying more for the vegetable.

“We got worried a week ago,” said Angela Alexandar, a local Subway store manager.

She said the company decided to put four slices of tomatoes on a foot-long sub, and two on six-inch sandwiches.

But if the customer asks for more, they don’t refuse them or charge extra.

Schlotzsky’s Deli is struggling with finding cheaper tomatoes, too.

“It is too expensive, but I need it in food,” said store manager Peter Patel.

Patel fears losing a lot of business if they don’t provide customers with extra tomatoes.

“They won’t come back,” he said.

3-D televisions coming to a store near you

Story on the Journal Star Web site

Posted Mar 09, 2010 @ 09:17 PM
Last update Mar 09, 2010 @ 09:20 PM
PEORIA — The latest in electronic innovation has hit the Peoria area, but no one seems to care – yet.

Samsung and Panasonic will start selling 3-D TVs in U.S. stores this week, inaugurating what manufacturers hope is the era of 3-D viewing in the living room.

A handful of stores in the Peoria area, including Best Buy in the Glen Hollow Shopping Center, have stocked the newly launched 3-D TVs. Samsung’s 55-inch 3-D TV, priced at $3,300, has been on display at Best Buy since Friday. Todd Murphy, the store’s assistant manager, has not received a lot of inquiries about the product.

Murphy believes customers who are into electronics and have read about the sets in magazines or on the Internet will inquire about it. The usual customers would learn about it when they see the demo in one of the stores.

American Appliances, Electronics and Furniture on War Memorial Drive is scheduled to receive a few models of 3-D sets in two weeks.

A salesperson at the store said that “LEDs have been attracting a lot of customers.” But as far as 3-D TVs are concerned, “It is expensive and might turn people off.”

Other stores are either skeptical of the product, or want to sit back and watch how sales go.

Sound of Peoria is one of the stores that is not expecting to stock the 3-D TVs for a while.

The target audience for such TVs, said owner Byron Yang, is mainly people without glasses and with decent disposable income.

One challenge will be that the 3-D effect requires viewers to wear relatively bulky battery-operated glasses that need to be recharged occasionally. They are not like the cheap throwaways that have been used in theaters since the 1950s.

When you’re wearing these 3-D TV glasses, room lights and computer screens may look like they’re flickering, making it difficult to combine 3-D viewing with other household activities. Anyone who’s not wearing the glasses when the set is in 3-D mode will see a blurry screen. (The sets can be used in 2-D mode as well, with no glasses required.)

“Peoria is usually behind in cutting-edge things,” said Yang.

Though most customers may be out of touch with the 3-D TVs, some are clued in and are willing to spend the thousands of dollars for the sets.

Aaron Lewis of Canton, a shopper at Best Buy, bought a 46-inch LCD TV for $1,500. If he likes the new 3-D TV, he will buy it, he said.

“I would really spend $3,000 on a 3-D TV,” Lewis said.

For Lewis, investing in a 3-D TV is cost-effective, as he often goes to the movie theater with his three children.

On the other hand, Arthur Lindsey of Bartonville said, “I don’t think people are interested in wearing glasses and watching TV all the time.”

Out at long last

Peoria Zoo letting animals outside as weather warms

Story on the Journal Star Web site

Posted Mar 10, 2010 @ 07:25 PM
Last update Mar 10, 2010 @ 09:31 PM
PEORIA — As the Peoria Zoo sees signs of spring, officials let Scout, Cody, Tanna and Maude out to play in the grass and bask under the sun.

The four colobus monkeys were released from their heated dayroom Wednesday morning.

“Colobus takes time to get comfortable on the ground,” said Dawn Petefish, curator for collections at the zoo.

With the temperature climbing to 65 degrees Wednesday, the zoo let out the animals, many of which had been resting in their warm barns and dayrooms all winter long.

The warming trend is expected to continue Thursday, when the National Weather Service forecast calls for a high of 61. The average high for March 11 in Peoria is 47.

Getting ready for the season also means maintenance of the pathways and the ground at the zoo. Workers sweep the dead leaves, rake up gravel and make touch-ups as needed.

“It’s time for us to re-evaluate the art,” said Petefish, who is excited about the season ahead.

All the animals have a different temperature requirement to be let out in the open. Zebras are well off in 20 degrees or above, whereas rhinos need a warmer climate, about 50 degrees.

But monkeys need the warmest weather of the lot.

Take mandrills for instance, closely related to baboons, who have been getting anxious to be out with the others.

“They are picking up anything green,” Petefish said.

The temperature may have touched high 60s this week, but the ground still has some slick spots. Such conditions can prove dangerous for the giraffes, Petefish said.

While it was a great day for the animals, it also was a good day for visitors to see them.

Marie Carey, 42, of Bloomington was watching the colobus monkeys jump around the little tree with her two children.

“We have not been to a zoo in 13 years,” said Carey.

Carey recently moved back to Bloomington from California. When she heard about the Africa! exhibit last year, she yearned to see it.

When the Africa! exhibit inaugurated in June, many school groups could not visit the zoo. Petefish expects a lot of schools to make field trips this year.

But that is not the only spot to visit in the zoo. Officials also are renovating the meerkat exhibit this spring. The mount inside the enclosed area where the meerkats will dwell has an interactive feeder filled with worms and crickets.