Cats on a Shelf

“That’s right, you’ve tuned into the Kool Kat blog–hosted by me, The Big Purr, straight out of the Fox River Antique Mall in Appleton, Wisconsin. And when I say out, I mean–get me out! Reeeeeooow!”

“That Big Purr–he thinks he knows everything…always threatening the customers with his mouth open. My excellent strategy is to sit here in the shadows and wait for the perfect opportunity to pounce…”

Ophelia: I’m going to bite the next person who picks me up.
Romanesco: Your claws are showing, darling.

“My name is Chester, and The Big Purr’s goin’ down tonight. It don’t matter that I ain’t a real cat–I’m takin’ over this blog. No more pussyfootin’ around.”

“Would anyone like some fruit? Fruit here!”

Bang! Bang! Bang!

“I would LOVE some sweet, juicy fruit…”

“Hello, Liver–I mean Lover. Just ignore all of those kitty-its…you can have me for just $4, here at the Fox River Antique Mall in Appleton, WI. I’m scratching–I mean itching–to come home and claw–I mean call–you Daddy…

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Drivin’ the Lincoln

Lincoln Highway Welcome Sign

I just returned from exploring a portion of the Lincoln Highway in Central Nebraska; it’s the 100th anniversary of this first-ever, grass-roots road stretching all the way from New York City to San Francisco. I loved it. The sign above is one of the displays inside the Great Platte River Road Archway above Interstate 80. The “show,” as they call the educational museum inside, was created by Disney designers, and it’s a must-see attraction in this part of the state.

The Classic Car Collection in Kearney is one of the best car museums I’ve seen–and I’ve seen quite a few, since my husband is into them. Most of the 130+ cars were donated by Bernie Taulborg, who amassed his collection over 40 years. They’re all in mint condition. You’ll see everything from Rolls Royces to Shelbys, and several one-of-a-kind models. My imagination was piqued; after all, any of these retro beauties could have driven along the Lincoln Highway–which dates back to 1912–at some point. I love the old unrestored Saxon on the left (below) that sits in the museum front yard, but I think I’d prefer to tool around in this Lincoln LeBaron roadster!


Of course, it wasn’t only cars that provided transport in those early days. Long before the Lincoln Highway was conceived, the Union Pacific Railroad began laying track in hopes of reaching the 100th Meridian (where the town of Cozad later formed) before any other company. According to President Lincoln’s Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, the winning RR received the right to complete the first transcontinental railroad. In 1866, the Union Pacific won. Today, from the Lincoln Highway, which follows the course of the track, you can watch freighters speed by, carrying coal to parts west.


In Nebraska, the Lincoln Highway follows US Highway 30 for the most part, but you have to look for the signs, since sometimes the route digresses. The sign in the middle, below, is a classic, found in the Lincoln Highway Visitor Center. Shelton, by the way, contains two blocks of original bricks from the Lincoln.

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And here’s Dick Grudzinski, owner of Kensinger Service & Supply. When you drive along US 30 in Grand Island, be sure to stop in for gas–you may have to do a U-turn, but it’s worth it to see this classic station, open since 1937. Dick’s a classic too; ask him to show you some photos from the old days. He won’t volunteer a lot of information, but if you ask him a few questions, he’ll bend your ear a bit.


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Drinking In The Past

In the 70’s, my parents had highball glasses, each with the name of a poison–hemlock, belladonna, arsenic…I never saw anyone drop dead at their parties, but those glasses were chillingly cool.

I always get a kick out of retro barware, and I like visiting taverns that feel like my parents might have hung out there. Here are a few bars where you can don your hotpants, try a couple of Tequila Sunrises, and even shake your groove thing:

At The Pinup Bowl in St. Louis, patrons sip classic cocktails like the Algonquin while they’re bowling on old-school wooden alleys. The cocktail lounge is filled with colorful, kitschy decor, including bowling pin furniture and plenty of Big Lebowski memorabilia.


Milwaukee’s hottest libation vacation is at Lucky Joe’s Tiki Room. Here, amid thatched-hut booths, hanging pufferfish lanterns and tiki gods, you can enjoy a satisfying Painkiller or a Kitten Mittens, served in a take-home cat mug!


At the Sixth Street Bistro and Loft in Hood River, OR, my favorite cocktail is the Pendleton Nut Squeeze, made from locally produced Pendleton whiskey and a few secret nutty ingredients. Overhead, a charming tandem bike said to be Steve McQueen’s hangs from the ceiling.



For retro romance, try an evening at the Peppermill’s Fireside Lounge. The best seats at this ultra-hip hangout are in a round sunken booth around a fireplace, where you can have martinis and appetizers with your main squeeze.


But my favorite bar is The Kacz-Bar, in Menomonee Falls, WI. Full disclosure: I live there–well, upstairs, anyway. This basement bar was designed by my husband Jerry, and it’s…well, you’ll just have to see for yourself.


The best part is that my parents actually DID hang out here!

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I Saw The Light

Some things are just too good to change…spending time outdoors, traveling with friends, studying the powerful universe around us.

I’ve just returned from Canada, where I was fortunate enough to view the Aurora Borealis in Churchill, Manitoba, do a little snowshoeing, even try dogsledding, all in the capable hands of Travel Manitoba and Frontier North Adventures. These chilly pursuits have been shared for hundreds–if not thousands–of years around the world, in all places cold. And when I say cold, I mean -40F or lower. The interesting part is that, although gear may have changed a bit, the activities really haven’t. Retro lives!

Here’s a shot of what a typical Inuit woman wore to stay warm in this part of the world, all the way into the 20th century. Typically, this parka was made of caribou skins. The shoulders were huge so that babies could be carried in a pouch behind, or easily transferred to the front for feeding. No one is absolutely sure what the pouches on the sides are for, but it could be that they served as cushions for kneeling:DSC_0188

Gear has changed a bit…here’s my faux leopard!


Dogsledding–or mansledding–was how they got around in the early days. Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930), a Norwegian explorer, scientist, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, traveled with pack sleds in his own polar region of Norway.


These days, you can get an “Ididamile” certificate from Dave Daley of Wapusk Adventures in Churchill. Dave just took 4th place in the Hudson Bay Quest this past weekend. Here’s what our sled ride looked like:


The best reason to come to–or to live in–the Great White North is the Aurora, caused by solar activity that interacts with the earth’s magnetic fields (although some still say the lights are restless spirits…). Nansen, in his explorations, occasionally pontificated about the Northern Lights, and made drawings of them, too. Of course, we’re still fascinated by them. Here’s a drawing by Nansen and a photo by me:

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The vehicle in my photo is a Tundra Buggy. Shout out to Frontiers North Adventures!

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Really Big Shoe

Ed Sullivan didn’t wear platforms, but he did host a lot of performers–Jackson 5, Sammy Davis Jr., Santana–who did.

Stacked shoes are just as popular today, after several revivals through the last 500+ years. That’s right; these killers have been around since 1500 or so, when the female nobility of Venice wore them to keep the mud off their skirts. Some of the early models were as much as 30 inches high, and the belle donne had to have assistance walking. Here’s an image of a pair from the Museo Correr dei Veneziani:

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Platform shoes didn’t surface again until the 1930s, when designers such as Salvatore Ferragamo brought fun and frivolous stunners like these onto the fashion scene:hb_1973.282.2

And then there were the 70s–yes, I had platform shoes just like everyone else. In fact, no one knew I wasn’t 6 feet tall until 1981! Even my dad had platforms–shorter white ones, to match his white tie and belt. Here are everyday–and famous–shoes worn during my high school days:



Now, you see platforms everywhere, from this horrifying Chanel gold member

chanel-cruise13-gold-sneakers-medto these dangerously sure-to-stumble Nicholas Kirkwood animalistic spikes. Remind me to tell you about the day I fell off my shoes right before a class at UWM a few years ago…


But my favorite platform shoes were worn by this exotic dancer in 1985, during a hot rendition of the classic “Tequila.” It just doesn’t get better than this:


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The Neon Bones of Old Vegas

I once had an otherwise very smart professor tell me, “Nostalgia is never good–it leads only to depression.” I disagree–although constant rumination and regret can prevent someone from moving ahead with life, nostalgia is simply a fond, wistful feeling about something from the past. Who doesn’t spend a few dreamy, goofy-smile moments once in awhile, remembering something wonderful (a favorite song, the game where you scored that touchdown, the restaurant where you got engaged)?


I love nostalgia, especially when it leads to education and preservation. And I’m not alone; after all, we live in a world of classic movie networks, farm-to-table restaurants and vintage boutiques. Even that damn McRib keeps showing up!

So let’s celebrate it…in this blog, I’ll feature the past that lives on…and show you how it’s been revamped, restored, repurposed, or simply retired as a once hard-working original.

Today’s post features the Neon Boneyard, part of the Las Vegas Neon Museum Opened last fall outside the restored clamshell-lobby of the old La Concha motel–now the museum’s lobby–the 2-acre yard has more than 150 old neon signs in various stages of disrepair. The good news is that you can tour the signs, and the best news is that 15 signs along Fremont St. and Las Vegas Blvd. have already been restored and relit by the non-profit that runs the museum.


Today, the theme song for Binion’s says “Good food, good whiskey, good gambling!” I’d say that pretty much represents what Benny Binion was trying to achieve when he opened the Horseshoe Casino on Fremont Street in downtown Vegas in 1956. Binion’s questionable past (they say he committed seven murders in Texas) led to jail time, but his family continued to run the casino until 2004. The first World Series of Poker was played here, continuing until 2003.


See the lump of gold on top? Jerry’s Nugget, opened in 1964 by two guys named–you guessed it, Jerry–is still in North Las Vegas today, and still run by the family of one of the original Jerrys.


Yikes! I hope that if space aliens ever land near Vegas, they see this guy’s face and figure they better behave. This is one of the original skulls from Treasure Island, built only 20 years ago by Steve Wynn. The current TV show Las Vegas has filmed here–only now the place is officially called “TI.” Sigh.


Ah, the Sahara! This “jewel of the desert” has anchored the most walkable part of the Strip since 1952. The Beatles played here, as did Frank Sinatra, Louis Prima and Johnny Carson. The North-African themed oasis featured camels, Moorish windows and Arabian statuary. Sadly, the Sahara closed its doors in 2011, but there’s a new kid in town–SLS Hotels. By 2014, the property will reopen as a resort including hotel, retail and–surprise!–a casino.


Now THAT’S a margarita! It’s not just casino neon at the Boneyard–you’ll see lots of outdoor decor from hotels, restaurants and bars, too. Kinda makes you thirsty, doesn’t it?

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