Thursday, December 6, 2007

Heroes: whether they like the title or not

I just finished reading Babe Heffron and Bill Guarnere's gut wrenching book about their 63-year friendship that started during World War II with Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division - it was absolutely overwhelming. It is a humbling experience just to read their thoughts, and the journey brings tears down my face.
My grandfather and one of his brothers fought in the Pacific Theater during the war. He was shot in the backend during the Battle of Guadalcanal, while his brother was dodging bullets with the Flying Tigers. Their four other brothers fought in the European Theater - two jumped into Normandy and the other two were in the Navy. They all died before I could hear stories from their own lips and before I could say thank you.
This book, Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends, is exactly what I've wanted from my own family. The story. The true story in a candid, forthright and sometimes funny manner.
Some of the stories are the same as in Stephen Ambrose's book and in the HBO series, Band of Brothers, but in much more vivid detail. Their illustrations put the reader right in the stream where they found water for the dehydrated boys...full of brains from a dead soldier.
I was in Bastogne one night last Christmas and saw the field that lay before the paratroopers of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment as they held the line during the Battle of the Bulge. The forest looms over the field, dark and foreboding. The whispers of a half century ago can be heard through the wind. The blistering cold slithers and tightens around anyone it meets. As I drew my coat closer, all I could think about were the boys who lived in holes in the ground for nearly three months in this exact spot with little to no clothes or food.
There are no words to describe the raw emotion I feel when I read their words or watch their story. Our country owes them everything. And I am humbled at their generosity, their own humility and their dedication to this country and to their men. We must learn from their story. We must preserve it. And we must raise our children to appreciate every thing they have. Because nothing is free. Freedom isn't free. McArthur didn't do it alone. Patton didn't do it alone. The men of Easy Company did the dirty work and that sacrifice is worth more than all the things we could ever buy for ourselves.
My sincere gratitude goes to them and to every man who fought, every mother who lost and every wife who prayed during their war and every war this country lives through. Babe and Bill don't like to be called heroes but whether they like it or not, they will always be the real heroes that this country so desperately needs.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

For my mom: a reprint

Standing on the flightline at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, I watched the fiercely blowing snow fly over the asphalt slamming into aircraft and into the med-evac personnel who were patiently waiting as the crew of the newly parked C-141 Starlifter readied the aircraft for offload.
The cold cut my bones and the night surrounded me but neither could do anything to the tightening of my chest as I watched the stretcher carrying the first wounded Soldier emerge down the ramp out of the back of the Starlifter.
The Army green blankets were wrapped tightly around him, and the large white instruments that sat on his chest blinked and whistled as his medical team walked with his gurney to the waiting evac bus – a dark-colored old school bus with a white cross on the side. His doctor, nurse and two orderlies efficiently held the various instruments that monitored his vital signs.
One, two, three, up and he was slowly lifted into the back of the bus to lay in the dark, awaiting his comrades who would join him in the ride to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center – the U.S. hospital that readies all wounded for return to their home units or for transit to Walter Reed Medical Hospital in Washington.
All I could think was that I didn’t know his name.
I knew he was wounded by a suicide bomber who penetrated the perimeter of a U.S. air base in Iraq and unloaded his devastation in a crowded mess hall. But as more and more stretchers appeared, one after another, all I could do was stare. My heart swelled with pride for these men. These are the true heroes of the war.
Behind me, news camera’s carried the story live: CNN, BBC, ABC. My job is to help the Air Force tell its story and this was one story I wanted to make sure the world knew. These heroes needed to know that Americans cared about them in spite of anti-war sentiment and constant negative war news. If my meager contribution can educate the American people about the sacrifices that real human souls are making for liberty and freedom, then other small gestures can go a long way.
The yellow ribbons, American flags and signs that are splashed all over small American towns mark a unified community. They are a genuine symbol of appreciation for the generosity of our military men and women and say that what we are doing isn’t going unnoticed. So, to the proud citizens of who show this type of appreciation, I say thank you for making each of my homecomings special and those who may not see them by displaying your personal signs of thanks.

(this was published in the Sparta Expositor two years ago and my mother asked to see it again. So Mom, this one's for you.)

Monday, October 8, 2007

My NASCAR trip

The Nashville NASCAR Cafe was my first experience with the super-cool, stock car craze. That was only because I was offered two jobs when I went to grad school -- waiting tables at NASCAR or waiting tables at Hooters. Of course it didn't help that I only applied at two places. But being the prude Southern girl that I was, I chose the one that wouldn't have my boobs and butt hanging out for all to see. That application and interview was thanks to a very close friend who was pulling strings to help me find a job fast so that would be one less worry for me with the BIG move from Cookeville to Nashville -- a 90 mile expedition that included tears and hugs for my parents, a Blue 1989 Chevy Cavalier and the smallest U-Haul on the lot.
A year later I graduated and never gave NASCAR another thought.

But while I was there, I had to choose. See no non-fans can work at NASCAR Cafe. And I was definitely a faker. Never had I rushed home from church to watch the race. Never had I played interference at Wal-mart so my sister could grab the last Jeff Gordon t-shirt on the sales rack. And never had I tail-gated in an open field outside Talladega watching tatooed-clad, barely-clothed biker types screech various rival racer names.

So as I brought sweet tea and fried cheese to the hordes of real fans the question always came, "Who you for?" With 4 enormous, television screens surrounding the walls above the wire fence that gave the illusion of being at a track blaring around me, I always smiled coyly, glanced at the eater's shirt, tatoo or hat and replied, "Same driver you're for, of course." And the tips fell. My bills were paid.
But that little ploy didn't always work. I had to have a back-up plan.

Now, this was about the time when Adelphia (as it was called then) Stadium opened and the Tennessee Titans finally played in their own home instead of the cursed one the Vanderbilt Commodores lost in. Downtown 2nd Avenue and Broadway was alive and in full swing with Titan fever. That year we actually made it to the Super Bowl and players like Eddie George and Steve McNair were gods. One afternoon during the holidays, the cutest little boy wearing a little tie, little shorts and a little boiler cap was in my section standing with his little, fat fingers on the fence looking at the stock car below. I walked up behind him and asked him who his favorite driver was. He smiled shyly up at me. From around him and at my newest table, I heard a deep voice tell him to go ahead and tell me. Little boiler hat whispered, "Dale Earnhardt." I melted. From that moment on, I had my back-up plan. I was a Dale Earnhardt fan. Little puppy dog eyes just did me in and I caved. I would stop faking. Later I would find out that the deep voice behind me urging cute, little Earnhardt fan was his father -- back up QB for the Titans, Bruce Matthews.

But finally having a driver would pay off. It certainly helped my conversations with the locals. And my co-workers stopped making fun on me. Especially snotty bartender girl who loved to tell anyone who would listen that she dated Tony Stewart once. (Who?) I even started paying attention to the screens that blared the races -- just to get a few more tidbits. But tidbits was a far as I was willing to go. This was just a job to get through school. Not an obsession. Nothing I grew up with. Some of my girlfriends loved it but I was the outsider who frankly didn't realize was an outsider. And then Daytona came. My first Daytona. The restaurant was slammed packed. Black and red and blue colors were everywhere. People came out of the wood work. Flags flew, cars honked. Fans screamed drivers' names in total fanaticism and little kids jumped up on the flag platform to yell "Gentlemen, start your engines!" Absolute pandamonium. And it lasted all weekend.

Now I grew up the daughter of a University of Alabama football player. Yes, one of Bear's boys. So I understood absolute devotion to the team, the coach, the school. Wearing crimson and white and plopping down in front of the TV every Saturday in the fall was a given. Obsession was nothing new to me. But NASCAR obsession was a sight to behold. Tatoos were my favorite new curiousity. Numbers, cars, faces adorned more body parts than I really cared to look at. But the proud displayer would roll up sleeves, pull down pants, take off shirts to let everyone have a peek. This was nothing like Tuscaloosa on a Saturday where dresses and ties were the normal wear of the student section. This was NASCAR and fans displayed their pride in extremely unique ways. As I walked among this fascination that Sunday, occasionally I would look up when the Gordon half of the room would shout for joy and the Earnhardt side would boo or vice versa. The only thing I could equate it to was Saturday football in Bryant-Denny stadium, especially at the end after the Tide won and the crowd launched into "Hey Hogs! Hey Hogs! We just beat the hell outta you! Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, give 'em hell Alabama!" Not very gracious for a team that was known for its class but exactly what NASCAR reminded me of. Blind dedication to your team and rubbing it in after you win. It was great.

The next fall I would graduate and leave the Cafe. The restaurant would eventually bankrupt and close up shop. And the following February, the #3 would be killed in a last turn crash at Daytona as team mate Michael Waltrip would drive on to win. I would occasionally watch the standings or to see who won the race that weekend. But not until this past Saturday would I give NASCAR more than a fleeting glance.
My husband is a huge NASCAR, Jeff Gordon fan and he convinced me to go to a race. Talladega of all races. And everything I ever saw or felt at the Nashville NASCAR Cafe came rushing back. Flags of every known size, shape and color flew over RVs, trucks, camping spots, and grills. People of all walks of life sported t-shirts of drivers, cars, racing teams, or they just sported their tatoos. Merchandise trailers were set up behind the track and my daughter hammereded away on a tool box at the Home Depot trailer (where's snotty girl dating Tony Stewart now?). We waited in line to get free t-shirts after signing up to win a million dollars in the unlikely event Bobby Labonte won. And we watched taped NASCAR races in the air-conditioned HDTV expo to see how much better the screen quality was.

Once in the track, I drank sweet tea and sat next to two tan, no shirt men drinking buckets of beer. From our vantage point I could see Kurt Busch's pit crew. The sun blazed and the gas stank. Roaring and screeching of engines and tires just about blew my hearing. But watching, in person, 43 stock cars fly single file, three wide, around the turns and into the pits was indescribable. Jr blew out an engine after leading 30-something laps. John Andretti lagged 25 laps down but kept pushing. Juan Pablo Montoya finished a respectable 15th as he raced for Rookie of the Year. And teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson led one lap...the last one. Gordon pulled ahead and won. My husband threw fists in the air and yelled. My first-grader jumped and down and screamed. Victory. Now the NASCAR episode in my life was over!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I want a President to Repair Relations

I want to see the next president repair our overseas relations. Now most people I know say it doesn't matter. They would love to see us thrown back to our isolationist days where we grew our own food, raised our own cattle, made our own toys, drilled our own oil and absolutely did not get involved with disputes outside our borders without prodding and incentive.
These days though the world is much smaller than it used to be. You can be from Atlanta to Seoul in a day; to London/Frankfurt/Rome before lunch and back after dinner. In Europe, you can drive to five different countries in one day.
Another noteworthy add-on here is that our economy is completely wrapped up with everyone else's. From Africa to Russia to Japan, I have seen Shell gas stations, Nike shoe just walk into Wal-mart -- everything is made in China or Taiwan. We are importing more goods than we export. The average person may not care but if we don't have good relations with the countries we trade with we may be on our own and right now we can not produce enough because we are not set up for it.
I don't think it's hard for the average American to understand how international relations affect them every day. Mexican immigrants are opening restaurants all over the place. Hispanics have replaced African-Americans (or Black Americans if you prefer like a friend of mine who made it clear that he was born in Louisiana not Africa) as the largest minority in the United States. Although we produce most of our own oil, we still import some from South America and Africa.
So for me it is very important to find someone who can make the dollar rise to the Euro. Someone to repair the image of Americans. We are strong, capable people who still act prudently. The world will remember that. Let's help them by choosing the right person.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

So I've turned into a movie critic but I had no choice. I just had the privilege to see the fruits of my labor. Rare in my business to be sure but I was able to finally see the results of all my long, hard days punching computer keys to send dozens of emails.

And this time it was in the gold medal of locations that I got to see these satisfying results. The big screen. The silver screen. The place that makes stars. I got to see my work in action as I watched "The Bourne Ultimatum." One of the hottest movies of the summer. And I helped make it happen.
Me. PR guppy in a little known organization had the privilege to help with the making of Jason Bourne's ability to find himself and answer three years worth of questions. It was my role to ensure adherence to even the most minor of details. This was so that Matt Damon's speeding across-the-world-in-search-of-answers super assassin would have sets as real and authentic as possible.
I pushed ordinary folks out of the way of the ticket line. I sloshed coke and popcorn all over the poor sap sitting in front of me so that I could get the best seat in the house. Sitting on the end of my chair, my teeth impatiently chomped butter and salt through endless, seemingly hours long previews. But I had to be there. First day. Had to see. To see what my boss had thrown on my desk as the umpteenth tasker of the week had grown into.
Secretary and security look alikes.
Yep. Extras. For "the London office." The people that my fast moving fingers requested through email. Now when Jason Bourne raced through the office building, it looked as authentic as possible. Like the international office it was supposed to be ... complete with office administrators and security guards.
My contribution to millions of dollars and millions of fans. Secretaries and cops for one of the coolest films this year. And was the urgency of my virtual note across channel worth it?
You bet. Action, drama, car chases, fight scenes, Morocco, London, Paris, New York. All the right places. All the right jaw jacking, butt kicking you'll need to satisfy a weekend craving for high speed, ground pounding battle rattle.
The coolest scene in the movie was at Waterloo station in London with a prepaid cell phone, thousands of people and two CIA assassins playing cat-and-mouse over a reporter with information so valuable to Bourne and so dangerous for the agency. If you haven't seen it, take from me...the Bourne trilogy extra requester, this is the movie of the summer!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Lay Offs

So -- my work is downsizing. But they don't call it that. Force Shaping is the title of the program. What is that??? They are getting rid of people. The boot. The ax. Pink Slip. Whatever happened to layoffs? Why can't they call it that?
Because it hurts poor little feelings.
Like losing your ability to put food on the table doesn't already do that.
Two years ago, they did the same thing and completely gutted certain areas.
My area is cutting by 30%.
Thirty percent.
Odds are in my favor and we find out tomorrow.
I'm drinking a big ole glass of wine.
Probably won't sleep much.
Heart is racing.
0915 is twelve hours away....
I'll be filling out job applications online until then.
Who knows?
The blog could get real full if I have a lot of time on my hands.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Who's gonna be president?

I'm not happy about either field for president. A born and bred southerner, I am of course a card-carrying Republican but I will lean to the left on a very few issues from time to time.
For instance, I am for ... "limited" gun control. My poor father is rolling over BUT I don't think we need to be able to sell bazookas and RPGs on the street. Defending ourselves is important and the founders wanted us to be able to but that was back in the day when it took ten minutes to pour powder and stuff metal balls down a long pipe with an equally long rod. I don't believe they meant for us to load up our AK-47s and sit on the front porch. But I do think it is cool that in a Kennesaw, Georgia, there is a city mandate passed that each head of household is required to own a GUN with ammunition. (This is response to an Illinios town banning all guns in its town, except for police officers). There are of course religious objector clauses but the crime rate dropped 89% and has stayed that way with no murders since the law passed 25 years ago. Not bad odds if you ask me.
Yet I digress.
Today I'm thinking about the 2008 election. Isn't everyone? It's about 17 months out and both the Democrats and the Republicans don't seem to have anyone I'd vote for. While fundamentally disagreeing with Hillary Clinton on every single level, I admit to a begrudged admiration of her tenacity, intelligence and perseverance. It's time for a woman in the White House and she would probably be very good at it. There is no other Democrat that I believe has the wherewithall or experience to beat her or to do a better job.
On the other hand, the Republicans are looking pretty slim. Poor John McCain won't last the year with his less-than-stellar fundraising and Guiliani can't seem to decide which side he's actually on -- something the Republican base won't forget. Then there's Fred Thompson, my personal favorite and not because he's from Alabama like me or that he went to college in Tennessee like me, but because he is a straight shooter and as close to a "real" Republican as we have.
But then there's the sleeper...Michael Bloomberg. He recently went Independent and has more money than that Harry Potter kid that he can use to finanace his campaign with barely making a dent in his interest. He seems pretty smart and he's done some great things from the ground up in business but also in New York, he's enhancing Guiliani programs. He's banned smoking and trans fat when the industries refused to care about health-related issues. Crime has actually gone down in NYC and he turned a deficit into a surplus in just under three years by making the difficult and unpopular decisions to increase taxes on "luxury" items and close some of the city's fire houses. Leading a coalition of other mayors, he has signed up over 300, to increase gun control laws -- a nice slap to our ever slow public servants in Washington.
Time, Newsweek and the Economist have done pieces on presidential prospects lately and if Fred will ever make his announcement (expected in July), I believe he will be the nominee come next summer.
Hazelnuts predictions: Hillary for the Dems, Thompson for the Reps and Bloomberg for the Indies. Spoiler? Who knows but it will certainly be one of the most watched, talked about and covered elections in modern history. Let's sit back and enjoy the fun!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

How far have you traveled?

My friend, we call him Fry, has this cool map on his MySpace account that show he has visited at least 10% of the world's countries. So I decided to see how much my husband and I have seen. Not much more than Fry at 15% but 100% more than I ever thought I would see growing up in Podunk, Tennessee. So I linked it to this post.

Yall know I love those cool and unusual websites and this one is pretty cool. Register, takes 2 minutes, and check all the boxes for each state and country you've ever flown into, laid over, beached on, lived in or partied with. It will generate a colored version and tell you just how much you've actually seen. Ours has more color on it than I thought it would. Looks like we should visit north and west US more...we'll have to get in some cattle drives and mountain climbing.

So try it out. and see just how far you've been. It may surprise you.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Headaches - yeah right

I get them all the time. Painful, searing, stabbing, throbbing, aching...all in my forehead and skating down my neck. Doctor, you say? The quack my doctor recommended diagnosed me with migraines because of my obvious intelligence that he deduced from the fact that I was reading an Economist magazine. That Harvard neurosurgeon school really paid off.

It must have been where they taught him that because my father had headaches, then mine would be worse due to a strange phenomenon of cross over DNA traits passed paternally to the daughter. Huh?

Jumping on the bed when I was five and crashing headfirst into the window sill TWICE and thus, cracking my skull, causing my poor mother to have her first heart attack at the ripe old age of 25, couldn't have anything at all to do with it.

But regardless, here I am after months of shoving pill after pill in my mouth in a fruitless effort to regulate or prevent more onslaught on pulsating steak knives into my head. Not much has changed. Nausea and debilitating pain still wreaks its daily havoc causing me to continually endure the "yeah right" looks from friends and family. I'm not sure my insurance company will even reimburse my ER visit for one a few months ago.
There has to be a better way.

No one ever believes headache sufferers because there is no obvious pain. Just constant bed lying, pill taking, sun glass wearing and asking to turn down the television. But alas, we still suffer. And we will prevail in a cure that is pill free and allow me to spend more quality time with my family. Maybe the 10 day fast will do it. Maybe not but it's sure worth a shot because the one I'm aching from right now is quickly bringing my typing time to an end.

Headache sufferers everywhere: Never fear, I'm on a mission to seek out a better solution!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

10 day detox: starvation or rid-ation

So some friends of ours have decided to do the 10-day liquid only detox...not for weight loss reasons but because they think it is a good idea to rid their bodies of all the toxins they've been packing in with Burger King and McDonald's over the last three or four decades. I completely agree. But 10 days of no food? I read that Beyonce did it right before shooting the Dreamgirls and lost 22 pounds -- because of course, super skinny model/singer types need to lose more weight. She claimed that it was not a good weight loss method but she did feel better.
So I've been digging to see what I can find.
The premise is this: toxins find ways to get in your body through the food you eat and the air you breathe and it must find a way to extracate the crap. It can do it by coming out your pores on your face, rot for years in your colon or come out with your daily bowel movement. The 10-day detox diet or "lemonade diet" helps your body grab the stuff rotting in your colon and pass it through your bowels...but more often than once a day. So that by the end, theoretically, all the bad rot is gone through the bottom end.
And what do you get to put into your body during that period? A sea saltwater concoction in the morning and throughout the day, a cocktail of water, lemons, cayenne pepper and organic maple syrup. My friend says the sea saltwater makes her gag and tastes like crap but she rationalizes that it's only once a day.
And, as many times as she runs to the toilet, she can not understand why she is still going after six days on the diet. Evidently, she had a lot of rot in her colon. I'm sure my husband and I will also as we spend most of our meals rotating the fastest food in town. Chefs, we aren't.
So the other night at dinner, we tried the cayenne lemonade and believe it or not, it wasn't so bad. I know you're thinking, yeah right. But it seems like the key to success is to keep stirring. Stir the cayenne until little round red balls float homogenously through the water. Can't let them settle 'cause a throat full of cayenne will also make you gag.
So what happens when the ten days is up? No way can you plow back in solid foods like before. The idea is to go slow with fruits and salads. You know mushy foods like bananas to help you get used to eating again. Peas, carrots, potatoes...all mushed up. Be careful of the tottler flash backs.
Anyway, so we're convinced. I bought the book. Read the testimonials. Listened to a real live participant. No problem. Sold.
Now I just have to find organic maple syrup and we'll be in business. If you don't see another post about this particular topic, you'll know I failed miserably and am sitting comfortably on my front porch swing with a pizza in one hand and a Guiness in the other.
Happy eating!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Where we rank

So where do you think we rank against the world in production, consumption, military spending, adult literacy, doctors and hospital about Olympic medals and Noble prizes? The Economist Magazine just put out their annual "how the world ranks" book and it surprised me ... a little.

I love the Economist. I'm a political junkie and love foreign/world politics. So of course as soon as I got my subscription in the mail, I ripped open the plastic cover and devoured the stats in less than an hour. Most of it is what you would expect. Germany was in the top ten in Beer Consumption. France in the top 5 for wine. African nations ranked highest in infant mortality rates and AIDS but not too surprisingly, they also ranked highest in clean air.

Ireland did not rank on the list for Top Beer or Alcohol consumption. So much for the whiskey, Guiness lovers. In their defense, I think the caveat on the stat was skewed against them. It didn't count consumption per capita but sales per capita. Either way, they claim they're up there.

Switzerland and the US tied at 28 for defense spending. If you can believe that. We spend 3.8% of our GDP on defense. North Korea spends the most at 25% and China spends 10%.
Funny enough if you compare that to how much we spend on medical care (12%) and education (5.7%), it makes me wonder how our military is so spectacular but our education system is dismal. Theoretically, it should be the other way around.

Our divorce rates are comparable at 50% (not the high 80s like my family thought) but so are our marriage rates. And our crime rates didn't even make the list! That makes me feel much safer than the news.

I'm working out of the library today since we're in the process of moving so I'll stop here. But if you get the chance to check out the stats. You should.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Give me running with the wind

So, I've decided I'm a runner.
Since I was a junior in high school, I've tried running. Just simply dragging my "wanna be eating in front of the tv" self into my blue and white Nikes seemed like it took an eternity. But eventually I'd do it and heave down the road at a lumbering pace huffing red faced and bent over. All passer bys and onlookers shook their heads in pity and had only one thought. Why bother?

My sister and I even helped start the women's track team that year; although neither of us was tall enough to do anything but long distances. And since no one else volunteered for that, the coach grudgingly agreed that we could race in two events. We'd trade off. One race I would pound around the track for four laps and she would run eight, the next race we'd switch...never coming close to breaking any records; although we may have set them for longest events in history. But we kept at it. Every Saturday was a new race, always finishing at a different line. And the next year we did it all over again. Watching the clock became an obsession. Beating the time before was essential. But for some reason, my stocky little legs would not break a 9-minute mile pace. Could be the reason it took another five years before that school finally started a cross country team.

And in college I ran in a club that more resembled an Army platoon than a club. The lead runner screamed my butt all the way to kingdom come for two years before I'd had enough. My beloved Nikes were worn through before Christmas the first year. Given that we ran five days a week, that's probably believable. By far, I was the worst runner and being the shortest at not even five feet tall, I had to set the pace during group run day. Me, setting the pace for these super macho, skinny, tall run fanatics who could all outsprint a cheetah. It made a little faster but I never broke 8-minute miles. And let me be clear. Group running is NOT my thing. And neither is running to a predetermined finish line only to have the screamer leader shriek at me to keep going right passed it. I would break down in misery as I could not eke out another step. I took a year off.

Then I ran "the loop." It was 1.8 miles around campus. Right passed my boyfriend's fraternity house so I got to wave to all my friends as a sprinted by. No jogging on that section of the loop was allowed. Occasionally my roommate would run with me and it was a nice easy pace. If I could do it in 15 minutes or less, then I belonged in a runner's hall of fame. It was thrilling to have the wind whip my hair skipping away on the pavement down roads I had known for years. People honked. I waved. I was a runner. Then it happened. Volleyball at the fraternity house one late summer afternoon. Not too many people around. Enough for fun and a couple of beers. But then she ran by. A deep voice behind me commented in an extremely appreciative tone about how that was the second time he'd seen her already. Yep, Ponytail had shown me up. She ran the loop twice. Everyday. And my boyfriend had noticed.

It became my goal in life to run that loop twice and after years of on again, off again running three miles or less, I did it this past fall. Ten years after Ponytail had impressed my boyfriend (a guy I of course quickly dumped after that), I made it an easy 3.6 miles. Two laps around familiar territory that I had not seen in a long time. That fraternity house was now owned by someone else and there were no people there I knew. But the motivation was the same. One lap was ordinary. Two laps was impressive.

Wearing down the Nike tread, pushing passed three miles. Over and over again. Even after making the two laps, I realized what I had actually discovered was that I love running. There were no cheering fans or old boyfriends around when I crossed the finish line; although a couple of trucks honked as they drove by. And I don't need to run half marathons like all of my office mates. Discovering trails and watch-free wrists increased my enthusiasm for aching lungs and sweat-clung hair. Feet on gravel or dirt or road, air racing into my lungs. An overwhelming feeling that I can run as far as I want. Oh, I still time myself to see if I'm improving but having fun with the rhythm and the scenery is much more important now than mileage. Times have gone down and distances have increased because I've understood that it isn't a chore to run. It's a blast and I love the way I feel when I'm done. All hot, sweaty, tired and all of a sudden, at the same time exhilarated and full of energy.

And now I get to run with my husband which makes it even more fun. It helps that he was impressed when I made it further than my brother the other day. Guess the competitive spirit didn't totally go away after all.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Fortress Dining

Rubble sits defeated between two towers of the Ministry of Defense building in one of the busiest sections of Belgrade, Serbia, a constant reminder that NATO put Milosevich in his place in the late nineties. They can’t afford to repair the buildings even now, nearly 8 years later. Taxi drivers blame the US and American passengers are quick to remind them that NATO drove the attack, not the US. And the response is that NATO is the US. Pretty heady stuff and all I’m looking for is the local red at the tower restaurant overlooking the Danube.

Montenegro voted to become its own independent state last year when I was here but at the time, Belgrade appeared more like an impatient sister waving her hand at the departing younger sibling finally on his way. But this year will also see the vote over Kosovo once again dominating the headlines. Kosovo? An independent state. Not likely. This is the issue wars have been fought over. If the Serbs have anything to say about it, the Kosovars will stay in the play room and share their toys with the other kids forever.

But I’m still looking for the old fortress that now houses the best view in the city. Iron lattice decorates the interior winding its way around tables and snaking across walls creating the illusion of privacy pockets. A three-tiered patio sits enough for a small army and the wind blows the sheer, white curtains through the windows making even the most cynical bow to its beckon.

That wind will blow over Belgrade again when Kosovo finally hails its independence. And one generation may demand unity while another shrugs. The fragility of the democracy needs attention, soothing, TLC. Ego may deny the struggling state what it needs. Maybe it’s best to let our little sisters find their own path. And ‘salud’ with grapes of land that belongs to all Yugoslavia.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Moving Nightmares

Are you moving? I am. Made a list. Read reviews. Tore my hair out. And we still have a month to go.

I flew to Alabama last month to make sure we had temporary lodging and a school for our soon to be first grader. The only other thing we’ve done is ship one car and buy a new one and that’s another blog. So now we own three cars for two license-carrying auto drivers and have no garage attached to a house to put them in. I’ll save that worry for when we get there.

For now, I’ll worry about terminating our rental contract, our phone and internet contract, utilities, cable, get the house ready for the movers, schedule the movers, change our health insurance, ship another car, get a rental, reserve a hotel and change our address. I did at least get a UPS box while I was on my visit so I can check that off the list.
That takes care of household items.

Now work. I am in PR and my husband is a security specialist…interesting combo, we know. Both of us will have a million things to do for work before we can leave and none of it can be done together.

Security badges, special gear, and office keys must all be turned back in. Medical paperwork and records must be up to date, which means there could be doctor’s visits and then we have to ensure we have copies of it all because our organization is notorious for losing medical records. Five types of ancillary training must be accomplished before leaving, the post office across town will make us show up to close a box we don’t have because our box is on our side of town but that doesn’t matter, we must go in person to the other post office. The education center, the library, the furnishings office all must be visited in case we have an overdue book or borrowed lamp. I have to clear my email account and don’t forget, I’m still working.

The current project is planning a summer concert. Just a little thing with three stages and anticipating 53,000 people. Right. No problem.
When's my flight out??

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Not Enough Heat in Ghana

Jungles of Ghana are the land of milk and honey. They overflow with fruits and meat. There is no danger of starvation or epidemic hunger. No mud huts in this village --concrete homes and an old Mercedes. And a heat that sticks to everything. AIDS is not even a cultural factor like in other parts of Africa. Rwanda is 90% -- Ghana is less than 20. Mosquitos kill here. Malaria runs rampant. There aren’t enough doctors, medicine or facilities and they have to decide who will live long enough to receive treatment. Those that won’t, stay at home.

We are greeted by the village chief – a 37 year old man who drives a taxi for a living. With a big smile, he beckons us to sit in plastic, Wal-Mart chairs under an enormous shade tree. The area has been cleared and is flat dirt. Chief’s sister brings cold water in plastic bags, which we politely do not drink, and cold beers in sealed glass bottles, which we politely do. Chief explains that although they have enough food for everyone and that starvation is unheard of, the people in the capital, Accra, do starve. Never mind that they are on the coast where a large fishing industry booms, the city people do not have fruits and vegetables and there is no way to transport it from the jungle.

But the freshly slaughtered goat boiling in the cauldron pot puts thoughts of hunger out of our minds. A man, whose face was older than the jungle and whose mouth had seen more teeth in its day, was stirring the pot with an enormous stick. I walk over and look inside. He and his equally ancient wife take great pleasure in showing me the goat’s entrails – heart, liver, intestines and of course bellow at my face as they lift his male reproductive organs out of the broth. I need more beer.

Over the course of the next week, I took 700 photos. When the heat became overbearing and tempers soared, I took out my camera. Laughs were achieved from old women, young children, official men and every one in between when they saw their faces instantly in my digital camera. Smiles did not come before the shot like they do with American children, they came afterward – with revelation at what was happening.

Photos of doctors, nurses, technicians showed the constant stream of patients and the pharmacy that handed out something to every single person who came through. If a case was too big for the makeshift clinic, a referral was written for the local hospital. Malaria pills, pain relievers, and antibiotics were handed out by the truckload. House calls were made, elderly were seen, young children had teeth pulled. Staff ran from sun up to sun down to make sure every person was seen. Clinic halls overflowed with people and every one left with something.

But the constant asking for more or asking for something else was taxing. Exhausting. Annoying. With the exception of the Chief and his entourage, very few ‘thank yous’ were uttered. Volunteers stole from the pharmacy. Patients came back two and three times. Hands always open.

No matter how much we gave, they always wanted more. And rather than feeling like we were doing good, it started to feel like we’d never do good enough.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

No need for Tiki huts 'cause the Mai Tais rock

Go to Thailand. Just go.

Everything you ever thought about tropical, beach vacations can be found in Laguna, Thailand on the Island of Phuket. Palm trees, beaches, sun, towels, loungers.

Breakfast by the waterfall with fresh pineapple, kiwi, watermelon, and every other kind of fruit found in the jungle. Passion fruit juice with egg white omelets overflowing with fresh veggies.

Lunch by the pool in a blue flower two-piece with a wrap skirt. Drinking mai tais with umbrellas and listening to the ocean kick up the sand all day long.

Thai spa hit the spot. Massages, scrubs, wraps, bamboo showers underneath the moon. The grand finale was ginger tea with fresh mango.

Dinner at the traditional Thai restaurant. Mandolin music played by two local musicians sitting on a low table by the entrance. Tables with candlelight sat on the deck overlooking the laguna.

During the day there were jungle treks and ocean safaris, elephant rides and hammock naps.

During the evening, fresh seafood. Dancing, bars, Thai boxing, shopping, music or just walking with your shoes in your hand on the warm sand.

Hands down one of the best vacation spots I've ever been to and can't wait to go back!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- is the best website for finding great deals on airfare and hotels. It combs all low fare websites to show you the top two or three choices for your destination. It gave me – a great website for inexpensive rooms in excellent resorts in Asia. All three of us made it to Thailand for two weeks for less than our income tax return checks!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Spinning out of control

Ever had so many things happen at once that your heads spins out of control? A car accident where the driver flees the scene after she hit a police car at the same time a thousand protestors shout, scream and punch signs into the air, your boss is on holiday and the only other person to help you out has been on the job less than a week!
Grab a lawyer and head to the scene.

Make the new guy write the press release that will get the media off your back long enough to get the low-down from the on-scene commander. The only person hurt is the driver and the protestors aren’t violent but are pushing into the road.

Have the photog snap away on the riot before the cops grab him to cover the crime scene.
Phone rings. Big Boss wants a status report. Every paper, TV station and radio has been ringing your phone off the hook. Snag the commander and put him in front of the press.

Corral the new guy, the cop, the photog and the lawyer. Throw out the gameplan....after the press conference, keep tabs on the situation and update press and Big Boss as needed. Riot seems to be dissapating with the sun so concentrate on arrest of hit and runner.

Ready? Break.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Cake Catastrophe and the Lightening Quick Script

In the world of public relations, there is no daily work schedule. The exciting, boring and demented happen every day. This week, my big coup was pulling off a 4-hour birthday dinner concert for 300 of the Big Boss’ closest friends, one of whom is a US ambassador.

With only 10 days notice.

The day of, seven hours before the event, I show up to see how prep is going.

Blaring band sounds great. Slides are working. Half of the 31 eight-top tables are set. No big deal, we’ve got time. My partner in crime from the office, Chris, will be around shortly.

In the meantime, I go look for the club manager. No where to be found. OK, still have time. I’ll put the finishing touches on the 23-page script and put out the balloons.

Now, it’s an hour to cocktails and the tables are set but there are no candleholders. Finally found a manager who just walked in the door. Got holders and gave that job to two women from my office.

Paintings are being put on display and the overhead is out for a rotating powerpoint. No laptop. Chris is on that.

The bar floor is disgusting. Todd’s getting a vacuum.

Where are these club workers?

60 minutes until cocktails. Where are the wine bottles? Each table must have an open bottle of red and one of white.

Club manager rushes away to avoid me but I catch her. She doesn’t have the staff to put out the wine bottles. Lord help us. Alison and Bill jump on that as the manager slinks away.

Chatting with the band on last minute slide concerns, I see the manager rushing up to one of her waiters and something doesn’t look good. They’re pointing at the largest birthday cake ever made in the corner. It’s actually supposed to be in the back so they can cut it up and serve it at intermission. There is a smaller cake already in the back that will be wheeled out on a table so the Big Boss can cut it in a huge ceremonial, photo op, pivotal point in the evening.

She keeps looking at me. Wringing her hands. Points the waiter to the kitchen and looks around.
I walk from behind the speakers and slowly walk over to her. The MC glances at me and holds up the script. I give him the thumbs up and keep walking.

45 minutes til cocktails.

She wrings her hands.

John asks me where to put the remaining balloons. Point at the bar.

She shifts her feet.


The ceremonial cake is ruined. Dropped by the club staff.

And that’s not all. There is no table big enough to hold the other cake and still wheel it in the back to cut, which will take at least 45 minutes because it’s so big.

Breathing. Breathing.

Boss is looking at me.

OK, change the ceremonial timing, change the script, change the order of the slides. Put the big table with the cake out front. Everybody get busy.

30 minutes til cocktails and I’m scrambling to find a laptop, a printer, my thumbdrive and deal with the cake. The MC comes over and tells everyone to get busy and leave me alone. Typing, typing, typing….printing. Change the slides.

Cocktails have started. Guests are arriving. I’m hiding in the band’s dressing room, slamming away on the laptop. Maybe next time I'll use

5 minutes til start time. Running the script up front. Doublechecking.

Lights, camera, action. Official party enters.

Big boss’ speech. Slide show starts.

SHIT….slides weren’t changed.

Breathing. Breathing.

As soon as dinner is served, I can change the slides before the next speaking part and no one should notice.

Prime rib comes out. I jump up. MC rushes over. Slides are changed.

Cake cutting ceremony. Off without a hitch.
Intermission is called. I grab four guys to move the cake to the back.

Saber drill team performs.

Dessert is served.

Band performs.

Big boss dances.

He smiles.

He laughs.


It's over and I'm still in one piece. But my goodness do I need a drink. Paco the bartender pours me a pretty one with an umbrella and I toast with Rosa.

Boss comes over. Great job. Terrific. Clinks my glass.

By the way, his anniversary's in April.


Sunday, March 4, 2007

Mochas Podcast - Moving cemetery plots: to tell the news or not?

I figured out how to make my own podcasts and racked my brain to come up with something edgy and interesting. What do most people care about? Things that make the news. Be they celebrity news or politics or the gruesome stuff, most people watch or listen or hear about the news over coffee.
Since my office is full of folks who get to decide what information the press is privvy to, I thought how we do that would be pretty cool.
Some information is withheld because it is embarrasing (not a good idea) or because it's classified (can't divulge that) or it's against company policy (could get fired over). Other information is blasted to the news because it's a good news story or because it puts the company in favorable light -- won't get the top story but will probably make the ticker.
Either way, you'll hear about debates and discussions and full-blown arguments about differing and similar philosophies on putting out news. Is it an exact science? Of course not. But lots of group paperwad throwing goes into what you get to know and what you don't. Listen and see what you think.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Pickle Pod and the Zedcaster

I love podcasts! And not just any podcasts. News podcasts.

I'm absolutely addicted to whether or not North Korea will demand food and money for compliance with some agreement that it will inevitably pull out of like a spoiled brat throwing a temper tantrum; and to crossing my fingers in the hopes that one of the "Friends" alums will star in a new television show that will last past Christmas; and to listening for Cuban Salsa music fade into the night on hot rods speeding to Havana after Castro finally goes "muerto."

Doesn't matter where in the world or what in the world, I am addicted to knowing what is going on in it. Not to mention sticking the earphones in is a great excuse to ignoring the acrobatic chaos around me at work.

See I'm in public relations and therefore required to be up to date on the latest happenings everywhere. How made for me is that? Funny thing is that it is made for all the guys around me too. We get to dissect then debate, curse and spit at each other over every political, social and economic issue as if our opinions on the matters will be drafted up for Congress.

So my iPod has podcasts from every news outlet there is from Asia to Africa to Texas. And now that I'm looking at all those Time Mag 50 Coolest Websites, I can tune in even more. was one of their picks and with its subtle green banners and cucumber-shaped font, I am directed to the craziest, freakiest, stuffiest and coolest podcasts available on the web. You can even sign up for a random drawing that, if you are just that lucky, gives you the honor of being the Pickler and tracking down the newest podcasts and posting them to the site.

It's a total underground for edgy casts that wouldn't make it to places like iTunes. Can't get more ahead of the news than with Griddlecast Radio, The Nate and Di Show or the Zedcaster. Wait til they read this at work. I'll lose my edge.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Living a Century

I'm the middle desk in an office with five desks...kinda like the center of a three-ring circus. My companions at Barnum and Bailey are four men, who act more like fraternity brothers than serious colleagues at a professional place of business. But in our line of work, frivolity is a must. The Ringleader works in the office directly attached to ours at the top of the room--naturally, we all face that office paying daily homage to the fact that we are indeed the peons.

But one of our best "fun things" to pass the time is Jon's "Climb into the Wheel" board. A rat runs on the wheel in one corner and underneath it is a list where we ensure immortality for our work mates. Say something stupid. It goes on the board. I generally make the list a couple of times a week.

It's hard to surf the net, buy stuff or chat online in a room with no walls and absolutely no privacy. But sneaking in a surf or two, I've found some really cool things to keep me from drowning in our serious work (you know, the endless lists, stimulating briefs and super important research I have to do everyday.)
One of those things is how to live a long time.

Time Magazine did a piece called "50 Coolest Websites of 2005." I didn't see one for '06 but these will do. The first one to catch my eye was -- although I'm not sure why anyone would want to live that long.
Checking to make sure everyone was on the phone, watching the news or otherwise busy, I took five minutes to fill in my unhealthy eating habits, running-to-the-couch exercise routine and avoiding my sister's nasty smoking habits; and of course, a short medical history bit like ulcers from Texas Pete and high cholesterol from Taco Bell.

After the relatively invasive questions, I ran to the printer before anyone else could see and guarded the 33-page document as it printed. I will indeed live until I'm 88 years old...probably in a nursing home somewhere in Florida since my husband's swears he's going by 60. But shuffle board aside, it listed a dozen or more things I can do to ensure I live the extra 12 years. But concealing online questionnaires is easier than reading a huge printout of stolen ink so I'll have to wait until I snuggle on my fluffy living room couch to reach the highly anticipated ending.

Besides, the secretary just ran in here. The boss is ready for her major important briefing.


My important work must be done.'s ringing. Secretary's arms are crossed. Foot tapping. Finger on her watch.

Gotta run. Important work to do....

I'm planning the big boss' birthday party.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Out Your Secrets

Trendy website that is what it says. Posting secrets. Mostly short one or two liners. Some are funny….”I sent my husband flowers with a note that said “Give these to your wife tonight when you get home.”

Others are serious: a photo of a dead man marked in white chalk reads “When they asked me if he suffered, I always say no. The truth doesn’t matter anyway.”

More are sappy—taped to a Mexican flag is “I’m learning Spanish so I can tell you I love you and it will mean more than if I say it in English….Te quiero Mateo.”

Even more are wistful…a photo of a waterfall splashing over boulders and surrounded by trees reads “I want to go home, but I haven’t found it yet.”

And of course, the angry ones “I hate your post punk guitar riffs; I never told you I was a concert violinist.”

And all this tornado of emotion does is make me think about what secret I would write. But why? Is it kinda like that whole write a letter to yourself about something that’s tearing you up and then burn it in symbolic release? Maybe but not for me.
Could just be that some of the posts are so hilarious that I want to join in. I had a liposuction consult by a German doctor with crazy, wild hair who used to work in LA. He laughed out loud at me for wanting to get rid of 5 pounds. Probably because I could shed them if I’d stop eating and get off the couch. But my irritant flab is not really a secret.

How about my secret desire to quit my PR job and be an Oscar winning actress. Good timing since the 2008 Oscar field is wide open right now. But I don’t think that would shock most folks either.

Could just be that I’d like to be able to express my opinion and damn the consequences. Nay…I do that anyway and the consequences aren’t as bad as I fear they will be before I just do it.

Maybe I just don’t have any secrets but I’d like to hang out with the cool people that do. The website is just too cool….so I’ll just put it in my favorites or make it my homepage and read all about every one else’s secrets. I can always post mine right here.