Old Courthouse, Warren County - Vicksburg, Mississippi: A Place Not to Be Missed

Traveling on a steamboat in the 21st century is not only unique but allows you to relive an era long past that was filled with beauty and strife. My recent journey on the American Queen Steamboat was such a trip. The boat is the largest recreation of a passenger steamboat in the United States, and represented the beauty, atmosphere and grace of the antebellum history of our country. (americanqueensteamboatcompany.com/‎)

One of the stops on our itinerary was the Old Courthouse in Vicksburg, Mississippi. (http://oldcourthouse.org/) The building is significant to the state of Mississippi for many reasons and having luminaries such as Jefferson Davis (President of the Confederate States of America) ,and Booker T. Washington speak here underscores its place in history.

It was late February and when we pulled into Vicksburg, it was a cold day and freezing rain coated everything - roads, trees, flowers, and buildings. But, being from Chicago, I just bundled up and set off on the boat's Hop-on, Hop-off bus to see the original courthouse of Warren County that was built in 1858 and opened in 1860.

Sitting on a hill, the building was imposing and yet beautiful. Struggling not to slip on the steep, icy path, I made it to the magnificent, original doors. Slave artisans constructed this building and, as with so many buildings in those days, showed they were first-rate craftsmen. In fact many of the streets still being used in Vicksburg are made of bricks - hand made by slaves. We were told that if we looked very carefully we could still see hand prints from some of those slaves on these same bricks.

When you first enter the building you are overwhelmed by the large number of exhibits stuffed everywhere on two floors. There's so much to see! Local residents donated most of the artifacts and many were very personal. Everything from small memorabilia to large era artifacts is on display. In the Courthouse chamber pews and desks are still arranged as they were in the 1860's with lovely dark wood and hand carved benches.

I was intrigued by the Civil War relics - I had never seen so many Confederate pieces- flags, uniforms, munitions, and letters. At one point, I walked into a room that had large bookcases filled from floor to ceiling with hundreds of old books. As I was examining them a nice man came over and said I was in the museum curator's offices - I was so embarrassed, but I was so enthralled with the displays - I didn't notice the sign over the door that said - "Do Not Enter Museum Directors Office! But, he wasn't upset and actually gave me a private tour explaining what I was seeing and how proud the people of Vicksburg were of the museum.

As we walked, he pointed out that they had an entire exhibit on slaves that joined and fought for the Confederacy. This was an eye opener to me as I wasn't aware that so many slaves supported their owners and fought willingly for them. There were photos of slaves in uniforms and holding the confederate flag, and many artifacts used by slaves during the war. (http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/jefferson-davis.html)

I wasn't sure how I felt about seeing them in this role but then I realized that life and their stories are all about a balance. There's never just one side, and learning about both sides gives us an opportunity to understand that we are all people with dreams, wants and needs, and the hope for a better life for our children.

There are several levels of exhibitions, but I particularly enjoyed my visit to the Old Courthouse and was glad it was on our off-shore excursion schedule.

The early American and post-Civil War exhibits were each extensive. However, I didn't get to spend very much time in perusing these exhibits, but I hope to come back again to explore them.

It seems to me the best way to see a good chunk of America is on a steamboat while cruising our rivers. The American Queen Steamboat Company has cruises on the entire Mississippi River, and the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers. The company also has another boat, The Empress, that cruises the Columbia and Snake Rivers in the Northwest. There are plenty of itineraries to choose from and I encourage you to take a look and pick the one that peaks your interest about our country's history.

The cruise was outstanding, and I enjoyed having the opportunity to see my country on a steamboat and on a river that represents America's past and present.

Granny Regina cruising the Mississippi and seeing America up close and personal.

Am I in Africa or the Americas? “Venturing into Belize’s Afro-Caribbean Garifuna Festival”

                                   Am I in Africa or the Americas?  “Venturing into Belize’s Afro-Caribbean Garifuna Festival”

Elaine Lee is the author/editor of “Go Girl: The Black Woman’s Book of Travel and Adventure” published by Eighth Mountain Press. 

She is a freelance travel writer who work has appeared in numerous national magazines and webzines. She co-hosts a monthly travel radio show and has appeared on numerous local and national radio and TV shows. Elaine Lee is also practicing attorney in the San Francisco/Bay Area. Several years ago, she traveled solo around the world and continues to travel regularly. She has visited 56 countries. 

Serenaded By The Beauty Of Croatia

Picturesque seascapes, pulsating waterfalls, bountiful green valleys... such was the palette of backdrops we discovered while driving through continental and coastal Croatia a few months ago. And after spending almost two weeks there, on our last day, we were serenaded by an amazing collection of soothing (and may we say pretty cute) male voices of the singing group Klapa Subrenum. There's something unforgettable about visiting a fantastic destination and then having a group of men sing, cook and clean that turns any sightseeing trip into a "wow I've just been woo'ed with a farewell serenade!"

We picked Croatia as a destination to feature as part of our upcoming 2013 season of Grannies on Safari. Our producer, who is of Croatian descent, gave us the initial nudge because she wanted us to discover the rich cultural and historic treasures the country had to offer. And right she was -- what a destination -- with bonafides on par with the star power escapes in the Mediterranean!

We've decided to share a little bit from our last day in this beautiful country -- a special experience of singing and cuisine in the famous city of Dubrovnik. Once we arrived, we hurried to board the last cable car that took us up Srdj hill -- a most glorious evening view of the city from above. Wow! The prominent wall jutting around the heart of the old city, sprinkled with orange tiled roofs and surrounded by a super palette of crisp greens and blues of the Adriatic were spectacular. It was well worth the wait!

Our introduction to the city began on the classic promenade inside the old walls -- the place to "be seen" as our guide said. So of course, we took position and parked ourselves in a strategic coffee shop with a five-star view. And there we enjoyed sitting and people watching for more than an hour, learning about the city from our tour guide as she briefed us about the centuries of historical significance, highlighting countless landmarks inside the cobblestone maze of walkways.

As we prepared to leave the old city were treated to the traditional singing style of a "klapa," harmoniously serenaded on the main promenade by the famous group Klapa Subrenum. This form of a cappella singing has been around since the mid 19th century. Within minutes their soft tones lured passerbys, families and tourists, all crowding around to hear the source of the rich, multi-voice harmonies.

Klapa Subrenum, in this case, includes a group of male vocalists who sing a repertoire of Croatian songs that often include plaintive lyrics of love, lost and found, and poignant events that play out in their daily lives. These men have performed all over Europe and even in the U.S. Their strong voices, rich harmonies and clear enunciations were a joy to hear.

But our entertainment didn't end there on the streets of the old city. The group invited us to join them for an exclusive "behind the scenes" dinner at their recording house! And it literally was that -- no blinking lights or fanfare, just an old stone cottage in a remote area of Dubrovnik in which the upper room was converted into a studio and the bottom floor into a dining area. This was definitely one of our memorable "off the beaten path" adventures.

We arrived at dusk, as the high-pitch of crickets filled the air and insects buzzed to and fro to finish off their early evening tasks. There was no fancy valet, just a small rocky path that led to a small clearing and a wooden picnic table and benches. We were welcomed with a toast of local fruit liquors (some pretty potent moonshine may we add!) and an intoxicating aroma of meats, fish and other delicacies being prepared inside the small cottage and on outdoor grills. We watched as the male members of the group scurried around organizing the meal preparations. We kept looking for any sign of help needed or a woman's touch in the kitchen, but with the brush of a hand, we were reminded that the men were the chefs and they were busy preparing our five course meal. As we relaxed -- a perfect balmy night in a convivial, rural atmosphere -- we drank, relaxed and -- when the locals weren't looking -- whisked away the pesky mosquitoes as most city girls do!

Within an hour, the men signaled us to enter the dining area, a small room with a super long wooden table and a hearth with a "sac" (a type of dutch oven). The meal was a gastronomic amalgam of grilled meats, fish, with accompanying salads and vegetables.The courses were offered by the gents in great quantity, on hefty platters and large serving bowls, while the singers took turns joining our group at the table. We dined on a traditional Dalmatian fish stew called "brudet," tender octopus and scrumptious potatoes baked in the traditional "sac" method, grilled meats, salads made with freshly picked garden lettuce and homemade cheeses. Everything was incredibly flavorful and delicious and all of us grazed until we were absolutely stuffed.

The sumptuous dinner party was the fulfillment of a Croatian cultural experience that I don't believe most tourists have. And that was not all! After the multi-course meal, the men all gathered round and we were serenaded once again by this fabulous Klapa. Some of us swooned to the melodies under the moonlight, others were too full to move and instead were moved by the soothing voices of romantic harmonies. We definitely could have spent the rest of the night with these delightful men if we didn't have to return to our hotel and catch our flight to the U.S. the next morning.

We were indeed honored to have shared a special night with such a hospitable and talented group of gentlemen, and to have had a night of music and food in Croatia that was truly memorable and a great finale to this fabulous destination. Stay tuned for more serenading in song, culture and arts on our next season of Grannies on Safari airing in spring of 2013.

Pat Johnson

A Journey Through Australia's Northern Territory

(Reprinted from Huffingtn Post November 2014)

I had been to Australia more than 10 years ago and spent time exploring bustling Sydney and beautiful Cairns.  Two of my most favorite places ever! So when the opportunity to travel through the interior of Australia and to the “Top End” – Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, I just jumped at it! 

My main reason for the trip was to learn more about the connections of the Aboriginals, the oldest people on the planet, where it is estimated that they have roamed the continent between 40,000 and 60,000 years, to what is now Australia.

I began my trek north via a plane ride from Sydney to Ayers Rock and entered the Uluṟu Kata-Tjuṯa National ParkMy first sighting of the iconic big red monolith, Uluru, was during the short hop from the airport to our hotel. Even from some distance its powerful burning red presence is jaw dropping. With a circumference of 5.8 miles and a height of 1, 142 feet, it is impressive.

Uluru, is the proper Aboriginal name for this largest and most well known of the two red sandstone rock formations, and is considered by Aborigines as a sacred and spiritual place. It sits almost half way through what is called the red center of the continent, and is Australia’s most famous landmark and a UNESCO world heritage site.  It attracts thousands of visitors every year.

After many years of negotiation with the government, it is finally managed under a partnership between the Anangu Aboriginal clan and an Australian government authority.  The clan oversees access to the park and orchestrates the activities it stands on. Visitors need permission to enter the park and must pay a $25 AUS fee. (http://www.parksaustralia.gov.au/uluru/)

Later in the afternoon of our arrival we were driven into a desert dunes clearing where we enjoyed a wide shot view of this magnificent rock.  This was the beginning of The Sound of Silence, a nightly entertainment.   At sundown, while sipping sparkling wine and sampling assorted canapés - including roasted kangaroo – I mingled with a small group of tourists from around the world, we socialized; while standing on the red dirt; but most of us kept our gaze on Uluru as the sun melted into the horizon. Later on we were escorted further into a clearing where a blaze of white tablecloths adorned tables set for dinner.

A first class on-site staff prepared and served an appetizing dinner with premium Australian wine, while a Didgeridoo - an ancient Aboriginal wind instrument, serenaded us. Out of the dark a trio of young Aboriginal men appeared in full clan make-up and began ancient call and response chants accompanied by dance steps. They were painted in shades of gray and white and appeared almost as ghosts  - haunting and eerie, but meaningful.

The culmination of the evening was a night sky tutorial presented by an astronomer who guided our stargazing at a dazzling sky while listening to him as he located constellations and individual stars using his digital sky wand. As he decoded the southern sky, I felt as far away from ‘civilization’ as I have felt a long, long time.  The four hours was captivating and delicious – and went by in a flash.

This evening of events is known as an ‘Australian Hall of Fame’ tourism experience and is offered 365 days a year. In my Chicago  neighborhood I rarely see many, if any stars.  This evening certainly was a highlight of the beginning of my trek.

 I can see why Australia draws one to its shores, but if you miss the center of the country and the Northern Territory, you miss the heart of this wonderful country. 

Pat Johnson



We were invited by the tourism office of the Northern Territoy Australia to visit Darwin as well as, Alice Springs and Uluru (Ayers rock).  It was a trip of a lifetime, and we went in early October 2014, and learned so much about the country and the Aboriginal clans who have lived in Australia for more than 55,000 years.  Below is my top 10 list of things to see and do in the Northern Territory.  We hope you will visit this unique and exciting part of Australia too!

Granny Regina

1.    Uluru or Ayers Rock: An impressively large, red sandstone monolith rising from the Central Australian desert. A spiritual and sacred place for the local Yankunyjatjara and Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal clans. Ancient rock art can be found throughout the monolith. Standing 1, 142 feet high and 5.8 miles in circumference, this huge red rock is part of the Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park. This rock is breathtaking and watching the sun set against this background will stay with you for the rest of your life. (http://www.parksaustralia.gov.au/uluru/people-place/amazing-facts.html)

2.    Alice Springs: The heart of the Red Centre of Australia and the 50,000-year-old cultural/arts center of the Aboriginal people.  Home of the Royal Flying Doctor’s Service, and gateway to Uluru and Kata- Tjuta (the sister rock to Uluru). A good walking city and I loved the parks and art galleries. Enjoyed the local shopping mall and looked at how foodstuffs were displayed.  Stayed at Lasseters Hotel – it’s a casino too!  Great food and friendly people in the casino and bar. (www.lasseters.com.au/)

3.    The Ghan Train: Named after the Afghan cameleers who worked the trade route between Adelaide and Darwin.  One of the finest luxury trains ever, it traverse’s right through the middle of Australia.  One wonderful stop was at Katherine to visit the Katherine Gorge to see Aboriginal rock art. Best train cabins, food and drink - and all while watching the most spectacular landscape ever rolling by. (http://www.australia.com/explore/itineraries/sa-ghan.aspx)

 4.     Kakadu Crocodile Hotel:  Found in Kakadu National Park, and managed by local Aboriginal clans, this hotel is shaped like a large saltwater crocodile!  So unique, with the guest rooms forming his body and other rooms forming the rest of his body.  A picture of the hotel from the air gives you a good idea of the shape and layout.  Artwork throughout the lobby and other areas is from local artisans. The restaurant has great food and a delightful pool that provides a cooling diversion from the park heat and humidity. (http://www.gagudju-dreaming.com/Kakadu-Crocodile-Hotel/Overview.aspx)

 5.    Kakadu National Park: A two-hour drive from Darwin, the park is not only Australia’s largest national park but was designated in 1992 as a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Full of wildlife – including wild camels, horses, pigs, feral cats, and water buffalo, which are not natural to the environment but left over from earlier importations for agricultural needs.  Ancient Aboriginal rock art (more than 1500 sites), are found throughout the park. It’s worth the climb to see most of it and don’t miss the chance to climb the steepest escarpment to see a 360 degree view of the landscape. This is one of the most beautiful wildlife and conservation parks in the world. (http://www.parksaustralia.gov.au/kakadu/)

 6.    South Alligator River: No… there are no alligators in Australia but a European explorer mistook the crocodiles for alligators and thus, named the rivers and the name stuck. (There are three rivers in the area: South, North and East Alligator Rivers.)   Cruise with a local Arnhem Aboriginal Ranger and learn all about the river and the history of their culture along the rivers.  See the large water lily pads with huge pink flowers and beautiful birds as you float along the river – so beautiful.

 7.    Nigel – Our Arnhem Ranger/Guide on the South Alligator River:  One of the most spiritual and knowledgeable rangers I have ever met while on any “safari.” We couldn’t count the number of crocodiles we saw – and some big ones too!  Nigel shared clear and in-depth information about his people and their mores and culture.  He was respectful and articulate.  He demonstrated spear-throwing techniques, and when we left we respected the park, the Aboriginal people and … the crocodiles. (http://www.australia.com/explore/states/nt/arnhem-land.aspx)

 8.    Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Center: As part of Kakadu, this center represented and offered information about the many cultural aspects of Aboriginal life.  Art was displayed from the Arnhem, Binijn, and Katherine clans.  It was a great place to buy local art pieces, which support their communities. (www.gagudju-dreaming.com/)

 9.    Darwin and the “Top End”: This tropical capital city of the Northern Territory is the closest Australian city to Asia, and accounts for its diversity. This friendly, laid-back city has so much to see and do that if you ever go to Australia – don’t miss it!  Darwin has a history of natural and man-made catastrophes – the city was totally destroyed in WWII and, in 1974, Cyclone Tracy destroyed most of the city again.  But, like a “Phoenix”, the city rose and is bustling and important on several levels. Take the “Hop on Hop Off” bus to get the best overview of the city. ( http://www.tourismtopend.com.au/)

 10.Museum & Art Gallery of Northern Territory: In Darwin, this museum holds a large collection of natural flora and fauna of Australia and specifically from the Northern Territory.  Make sure you see “Sweetwater” a huge crocodile who was very famous in the area.  The display of contemporary and ancient Aboriginal art is outstanding.  Each piece tells a story of the history and culture of this civilization which is thought to be the oldest continuous civilization on earth and more than 50,000 to maybe 60,000 years old. (www.magnt.nt.gov.au/)

 11. Okay I said just 10 but we can’t forget the people and food of the Northern Territory.  We ate Kangaroo and crocodile prepared many ways and it was good! My favorite – a gelato parlor near our hotel in the center of the Darwin.   I would go back just for this treat!


Granny Regina, dreaming of Uluru and listening to music played on a didgeridoo!




What’s a “Moose” and an Apple Pie Doing in the Desert of Namibia?

Our tour guide on the “Jewel of the Desert” luxury train said we were in for a treat today – apple pie, Namibian apple pie! So up and early we left our comfy cabins, boarded a bus and set off across the Namib Desert.

We’d been driving for hours on dry, hard, bumpy, and deeply rutted dirt roads.  Massive swirls of dust clouds followed our van as we sped down the road. It was mid morning and the sun had been up for hours, and it was hot.  A desert colored in muted browns and light grays stretched for miles on both sides of the road, with an occasional rocky array jutting out of the flat ground.  It seemed our journey would never end. We were thirsty and hungry, and in the middle of this seemingly empty desert.

A few hours after nto the journey our guide pointed to a small cluster of structures in the distance.  “That’s Solitaire” she said, our destination. A true oasis for travelers, it has a gas station, post office, general store, and small overnight lodge. And a bakery?

Located between the massive sand dunes of Sossusvlei and the coast at Walvis Bay, our destination was in the middle of Namibia.  Our reason for this adventure, a visit to the world- famous “Moose” Macgregor Desert Bakery for apple pie.  A bakery you in Namibia for what is traditionally known as America’s favorite dessert?  Yep!

This place had character.  Strategically placed corroding and deteriorating vintage American cars were strategically placed around the compound - as if they were part of a desert story movie set.  Originally built in 1848 by a Mr. van Collier, it was to be used as a sheep farm.  Legend has it that his wife named the town because there were diamonds in the area and the location fit the name (nothing out there!). 

 But what about the bakery you ask? 

More than 20+ years ago a Scottish adventurer moved to the town and opened the bakery.  A man bigger than life in all aspects, Percy Cross “Moose” McGregor, was a wonderful baker and started selling a variety of bakery items including a German apple pie (Apfeistrudel), made from an old family recipe.   His pie and warm, friendly attitude soon became the reason thousands of people – local and worldwide came to Solitaire.  We stopped to taste his pie ourselves and were not disappointed.  In fact, Mr. McGregor was right there behind the long wooden counter supervising his staff and talking to people. Next to the counter was a room where you could sit and eat, and people watch.

After consuming a piece of apple pie and a piece of cheesecake – all delicious I must say – we continued our exploration of the compound and did some shopping in the general store and purchased a nice cool bottle of water to take with us when we left for a climb of the stunning red sand dunes.

I like to cook and even published a cookbook last year (Granny Regina’s Favorite International Cookbook – Amazon).  In gathering recipes for a follow-up book, I remembered “Moose”, the Namib Desert and his unique apple pie. I started looking for a way to get his recipe. Because I have cooked with locals from all over the world and tried everything put in front of me, I believe it’s not just the food but the connection and joy of sharing food that makes it taste even better. Cooking and eating is a form of communication.  I felt a connection to “Moose” when I was in his bakery in the middle of nowhere and wanted to introduce his story and apple pie recipe.  When I reached out to his bakery I learned that this interesting, friendly and unique individual passed away in January of this year.  He touched so many lives not only with his baking skill but with his openness and presence. He is and will be missed.  The “Moose” McGregor Desert Bakery will go on and I encouraged anyone going to Namibia to stop by , eat a piece of pies and tip a fork in memory to “Moose.” 

Unable to get his recipe – still a family secret - I found one that seems similar to what I ate at his bakery, and I hope you will try it.  Listed below is a German Apple (Apfeistrudel) Pie recipe.

 Streusel Crumb Topped Apple Pie

Total Time: 55minutes

Prep Time:1 5 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes


1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell, frozen, preferably a name brand

3 large granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced

1/2-cup sugar

1/4-teaspoon salt

1/2-teaspoon cinnamon

1/4-teaspoon nutmeg

1-tablespoon flour

Streusel Topping

1-cup flour

1-teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2-cup butter, softened


Preheat oven at 375 degrees with a cookie sheet on the center rack. Mix peeled and sliced apples in a large bowl with sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and flour.

Pour apple mixture into frozen piecrust.

Make the streusel crumb topping by mixing together with a fork in a medium bowl the flour, cinnamon, and light brown sugar. Then mix in the softened butter with a fork, stirring and blending until the mixture resembles crumbs.

Top the pie with the crumb topping, place on the cookie sheet in the preheated oven and bake for 40 - 45 minutes until the crust is a deep golden brown and the filling bubbles.

Remove from oven, cool 30 minutes. ( The pie I had in Namibia did have ice cream or but you could serve the pie when it’s warm with ice cream and caramel ice cream topping)



Close to 300 schoolgirls between the ages of 15-18, were kidnapped two weeks ago in the dead of night, from their beds, and from their school in Nigeria.   A radical organization Boko Haram, whose name means, "Western education is sinful,” appears to be the likely suspect. Some of the girls escaped and the tales they tell are every family’s worst nightmare. 

Many of the “Lost Girls” are being sold as wives to the organization’s members for $12.00 USD, girls taken over the borders of neighboring countries and disappearing to who knows where. When this was happening, the Nigerian government seemed to not react, and the rest of the world seemed to be riveted to their TV’s waiting to see if a selfish, bigoted “Neanderthal” who owns a professional basketball team in the U.S. was going to get his team taken away from him.  His behavior and words were considered an outrage, unacceptable, and inflammatory.  But, the end game for him compared to the end game for these girls was nowhere near the same.  He might lose $2.5 million dollars, and lose his right to owning his team, but after all is said and done, he will remain a billionaire, free to come and go as he pleases, exercising his free will.

But what’s the end game for these innocent girls, who were trying to get a basic education? And, most importantly, where is the hue and cry for them? Who will raise the flag and rally thousands demanding that something be done for their plight? So far, the Nigerian government is slow to do anything, and neither have we.

For the last year I have been working to increase awareness in the United States on the global issue of neglect and abuse and health problems that plague pubescence girls – globally.  We know that if girls don’t receive the right kind of support to stay in school, have positive self-esteem about themselves and their bodies, when they turn 12 (when puberty begins), they will not succeed.  Education in all forms is a must for girls as it affects their ability to fight issues associated with health (HIV, sexually transmitted disease), early childhood pregnancies, youth prostitution, female genital mutilation and in many countries, honor deaths.  Without education there are so many barriers girls in the global arena face from cultures that place educating girls on the bottom rung, or not at all. It’s not a priority.

The fact is, that educating girls educates the world.  It’s the mothers who teach their children right and wrong, who nurture intelligence and self-esteem, are role models for their boys, and reaffirm to girls that they too, can achieve their dreams.  Lacking an education about their bodies and self-worth increases the likelihood that the cycle of poverty and abuse of girls will continue.

There are private organizations – Girls Inc., Girls Rising, Nike’s Girl Effect, UNESCO and P & G’s Always Program – as well as enlightened governments, and even villages all over the world, that see this issue as paramount to the economic and human future and survival of their communities, towns, cities, and countries. Awareness is the key and action is the solution. 

We cannot afford to sit and shake our heads and make clucking noises when we read about what is going on in Nigeria.  There is too much to lose for these girls, and their lives are at stake.  I have granddaughters, and when I think that they are immune in the U.S. to the types of abuse and terror these girls face, I say to myself, don’t believe for a minute that this couldn’t happen here. It’s time for us to act and make our feelings known.  A thousand voices, notes, calls to the Nigerian embassy here in the U.S, or our own government representatives is needed. Tell them that we are outraged and we expect them to throw their resources behind finding and saving these girls. And then, contact and support agencies doing something globally to educate girls and their families.   Take time to enlist our local communities - contact universities and high schools, church groups, YWCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, and ask them to reach out to agencies that are helping girls become educated.  Spread the word...be an ambassador for educating girls.

I don’t know what will become of these “Lost Girls” of Nigeria, but I do know that I won’t remain silent and I will continue to raise my voice and tell anyone who will listen, that it is time to act now.


Granny Regina Fraser

Hugging my granddaughters tight and praying for the “Lost Girls” of Nigeria

Don't Touch Our Bacon!

I am one of the co-hosts of the Grannies on Safari internationally syndicated travel show, and I have traveled the world. There is a food item I look for wherever we travel - bacon! And in most places I have found it or a variation of bacon that hits the spot. Some say I am addicted to this meat and well...okay...I am! NO apologies. There is something about this smoky, crunchy (I like it fully cooked), meaty and fatty piece of meat that soothes all my senses. I'm drooling right now...seriously!

This food is one the most addictive and delicious ever, add it to anything - vegetables, hamburgers, wrap it around chicken, beef etc., and you've really got something there!

I've done some research on where bacon comes from on a pig, and I try not to think about what has to happen to these adorable creatures so that many of us can enjoy bacon. I found it's better for me to just think of something else as I chew away.

But when I am in Africa and on a safari, and they tell me my meal for the evening is wart hog, or in Europe and its wild boar, I must admit I don't get too upset. When I see them running around in the "Bushveld" in South Africa with their little tails up in the air, and there are so many of them, I think of myself as just one of the other carnivores helping the environment. After all, they are food for lions, leopards and cheetahs too.

I live in Chicago and know that it was the meat processing capital of this country. So it makes sense that bacon reigns king here. For the past six years I kept reading about Baconfest Chicago, and knew I just had to be there, but each year the date rolled around and we were out of town shooting one of our travel shows for PBS, and missed it. But this year we didn't!

In order to be sure we had a good seat I called one of the founders -Seth Zurer (the others are Michael Griggs and Andre VonBaconvitch) - and asked if we could come and "review" the event; it was sold out and I really wanted to be sure we got in. I told him I was doing "research" on bacon and their festival, and we needed to be there to sample the "wares." This was the 6th annual event and boy was it crowded. Pat Johnson, the other co-host of Grannies on Safari, went with me, and when you read her blog below you can see that although I had to convince her to go, she was more than happy to have attended. Our photographer Kevin Connor had no complaints either - he loved bacon.

I had never tasted so many incarnations of bacon and enjoyed them all. These guys knew their stuff - everything revolved around bacon, and some of the most famous chefs were there with their take on how to incorporate bacon into a creative dish. This was a gourmet event and well worth the cost to get in. I even purchased a bottle of bacon hot sauce and still enjoy it today! The event was also a fundraiser for the Chicago Food Depository and funds from a raffle netted them more than $75,000.

Needless to say, I am hooked and plan on attending in April 2015 the 7th Annual Baconfest Chicago, at the UIC Forum. It was so successful, and given that 4,000 people attended in 2014, I think it's going to be scheduled for the entire weekend. We very much endorse this event especially if you love bacon, and hopefully the pictures below will generate a desire for you to attend next year.

Did you know there are more than 41 (+) festivals celebrating bacon in the USA? The largest festival is the Blue Ribbon Baconfest in Des Moines, Iowa. More than 12,000 people attended in 2014. To find the nearest festival in your area, check out this link, and happy eating!

Now Pat has some words to say about Baconfest Chicago too. Read her blog below. I can honestly say she is a real fan now!

~Regina Fraser
Becoming a bacon connoisseur.

A Nigerian Horror Story With No End in Sight

In the early evening of April 14, 2014 at a secondary school in the serene village of Chibok in Eastern Nigeria, all hell broke loose. As students were finishing final exams in their one story school, the balmy twilight silence of the enclave was shattered by the rat-a-tat of gunfire and roar of truck engines. The sounds were terrifyingly loud and the voices that called out to them sounded like gruff sirens from hell.

A gang of Jihadists known as Boko Haram (defined as "western education is a sin") swarmed the building wielding AK 47s, and demanding that all the girls climb into trucks or be killed. About 50 girls managed to escape into the bush, but the others, crying and screaming, did as ordered. In a matter of minutes those who escaped were scurrying into the woods and running as they held their skirts above their ankles fleeing like breathelss young antelopes into the looming darkness with the moon providing the only illumination for the path into the village and safety. When they finally arrived in the village, in terrified voices, they reported to neighbors the horror of what they had just experienced.

Word of the horrific kidnapping quickly spread. It summarily arrived in the Capitol, Abuja, and within days to the West through multiple media outlets. It took however, two weeks before President Goodluck Jonathan offered any comments about the ghastly attack. And another couple of weeks before he proffered any government action. His matter of fact demeanor on both occasions presented no sense of urgency or resolves to find the girls or the perpetrators of the terrorist attack.

It has now been nearly four months since the kidnapping. My captured sisters are still hidden by Boko Haram in locations that could be as far away as Chad and Cameroon or as near as the Sambisa Forest several kilometers to the north. The purported leader of Boko Haram has issued a couple of videos offering to exchange the girls for release of some of his cohorts. This was declined by the Nigerian state.

The United States offered assistance in locating the girls and the Nigerian military has indicated they know where the girls are being held. But no deals have been made, no surreptitious capture plans have been leaked, and President Jonathan has remained amazingly quiet about his next moves.

Similar heart breaking attacks on schools and homes in towns and villages across Eastern Nigeria have played out over the last three years reportedly killing thousands. On July 22, Boko Haram attacked another village killing at least 51 people. The killing and mayhem goes on.

The Economist has labeled President Jonathan "as incompetent." That's the strongest "outrage" I've read about a leader who appears to be, as the saying goes "fiddling while Rome burns." Many people, including me, have participated in demonstrations in Chicago and globally calling out "Bring Back Our Girls."

Perhaps this refrain has not been loud enough. Or maybe we should ask, "does the Nigerian Government care?" I only wish I had been in Washington last week to ask President Jonathan that question.

Pat Johnson
Grannies on Safari




Rediscovering The Watts Towers of Simon Rodia

Los Angeles is one of the epicenters of my life's work in arts management and cultural discovery. During my years of living in this entertainment capital, with its super-sized landscape, I loved navigating its maze of freeways and discovering a plethora of arts and cultural treasures around L.A. County. I fondly remember setting out in our grocery getter (a station wagon, that is) one Sunday afternoon in the late 1970s with my two little boys to visit one particular Los Angeles treasure: The Watts Towers. Before the visit, I had talked with several artist friends who suggested it was a very special place, and added that a pilgrimage to this national landmark site was certainly in order for a treasure hunter like myself.

As we parked across the street from the complex, my oldest son, David, about ten at the time, quizzically looked at me and said, "Mom, it looks kinda like a colorful rocket launch site that was maybe built in the wrong place?" As I vaguely recall, I responded that it did appear to be "other worldly." But as I got closer, I thought about Gaudi's mosaic installations and, of course, his still incomplete cathedral in Barcelona. I quickly recognized that although this spectacular construction had some European antecedents, it was not a copycat of any monumental installations in Europe or anywhere else for that matter.

I was an art history student at Oberlin College in the 60s when I read about (Saba to), Simon Rodia, the Italian self-taught artisan who singlehandedly forged and sculpted the Towers over a 34-year period beginning in 1923. His neighbors, mostly Black and Hispanic working class homeowners, watched him fabricate a series of 17 structures, which he called "Maestro Pueblo" (our town), including three towers, the tallest of which is 99 and one-half feet tall. Years later, I watched a documentary film that presented the small-framed, short little man, scurrying up the towers with no scaffolding. He carried his tools secured in a window washer's belt, and a bucket thrown over his arm.

The metal armatures were embellished with glass, ceramic and thousands of found objects and materials of an astonishing variety of textures and sizes. He used steel rods to frame, and mortar to secure the elements. Using found objects from bottle caps to small appliances, this folk art masterpiece is an almost dizzying kaleidoscope of patterns and colors -- a real feast for the eyes. It was really an environment -- with places to sit, stand and admire and maybe even hide from the streetscape in little corridors.

Simon, early in the development of the site, reported to visitors that he wanted to build something BIG. When asked why he built it he usually answered, "For me."

His neighbors called him Sam. He bought the parcel on 107th Street in 1923 and worked diligently on his creation evenings and weekends. He supported himself as a construction worker and tile setter for most of the time he lived in his one room house on the property. He reportedly told visitors that he didn't hire helpers because he couldn't afford to pay them. A usually hospitable neighbor, he often let his neighbors use his property for special events. There were, however, reportedly times when minor conflicts arose; but they didn't impede his progress. In 1955, he abruptly left the property, deeded it to a neighbor, and moved to Martinez, California to be near his family. Over the years, it changed hands several times and was almost torn down. But it has survived. Thank God.

My recent return to the Towers was 30-plus years after my first visit. I was thrilled to see that it remains a dominant presence in this Watts neighborhood. It's now secured by a tall metal white fence, and open for a small admission fee with limited hours, to the public.

The additions to the property include a cultural center where a variety of activities including exhibitions by local artists are mounted regularly. There are also special events including a "Day of the Drum Festival" held every year in September.

A lot of local history has happened in and around the Towers over the last four decades. Interestingly, during the Watts Riots in 1964, the Towers were not touched. The Northridge Earthquake in 1994 did extensive damage to several elements, but restoration was funded and the site opened again to the public in 2001. The property is now owned by the State of California and managed by the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. Thirteen years after earlier renovation, another round is planned.

My visit this year to Watts reminded me so much of a trip I made in 2012 to Havana, where I toured a remarkable arts space and neighborhood called Fusterland, developed and orchestrated by Jose Fuster, a painter and mosaic artist. This visionary man (with family participation) has built a complex of vibrant structures radiating from a small house that he bought decades ago on a modest street of single-family houses, just outside Havana. I was mesmerized by the imaginative settings that he has fashioned in a complex of many habitats for sitting, climbing and walking. His mosaic complex, inspired by Cuban history and culture, and European artists like Picasso, is constructed with found objects and is a magnet for tourists, plus the pride of a neighborhood of working class Cubans -- an environment much like some of the houses on 107th Street in LA. Several of the houses on the street of Fusterland have mosaic embellishments -- just like Rodia's street. I wonder if Fuster has ever been to Watts?

Rodia's old neighborhood remains quiet. The Towers still count among the top cultural attractions in LA. I returned to an installation that presents a sublime tribute to the vision of a man who completed the big project that he started and didn't ask for applause; but it came nonetheless. He never really returned after 1957. I am glad I came back and saw that his Towers are still strong -- and big.

Pat Johnson
Grannies on Safari