Category Archives: published writing

Learning how to dine solo

ImageDinners are a family affair for me. Unless it’s an extremely rare occasion where I eat out with friends, I eat dinner with my parents every night, whether we go out or stay in for one of Dad’s delicious, home-cooked meals. But ever since my nephew was born five years ago, my parents have been traveling to Chattanooga once or twice a month to stay with my brother and his family, leaving me to my own devices when it comes to dinner.

Usually I would dig into the fridge for leftovers or pop something in the microwave to eat, as I am too dangerous to be let loose with the stove. Other times I would pick something up from a local restaurant and take it home. But lately, I’ve taken to eating out alone, something I would have been horrified to do just months ago.

The very thought of eating out alone, especially in a sit-down restaurant, used to cause my rotten social anxiety to soar. What would people think if they saw me eating solo? Would they pity me for not having anyone to eat with? Would they think I was some spinster who couldn’t get a date? Well, why that last one may have a ring of truth to it, I decided one night that I really didn’t care what people thought of seeing me alone in a restaurant, so I picked up a magazine and took myself on a date to a local eatery.

Talk about a nerve-racking experience. The first time I ate out alone, I was so nervous, I sat myself in the very back of the restaurant, hoping no one would notice me. I kept my eyes glued to the magazine I had brought, not daring to look up, afraid of people staring at me. Despite the fact that I had told myself I didn’t care what people thought, I lacked the confidence of believing it. I ate as quickly as I could and left as soon as possible.

I didn’t think I would be able to do that again, but the next time my parents went to Chattanooga, I decided to try.

The second time was easier. The hostess just gave me a friendly smile when I told her, “It’s just me tonight.” I went armed with a book again, but found myself so engrossed in my delicious dinner, I barely looked at. This time I raised my eyes and did a little “people watching” of my own. Nobody seemed to notice me all by myself, aside from my waitress who was extremely friendly and charming. Success!

This past weekend, I ventured out by myself for the third time, this time to a fast-food joint. I took my tray to a table, deliberately not choosing one in the back. I had a magazine with me again, but I didn’t touch it. Instead, I just sat by myself, by the window, and watched the world outside while I ate. I was halfway through my meal when I noticed a man sitting two tables away eating by himself. And not long after, another lone woman entered the restaurant, taking her food to the back of the dining area. I had to smile. I was not alone in being alone.

A Google search yielded some helpful hints on dining alone.

1. If you’re in the mood for conversation, ask to be seated at the bar or counter if available. If there’s not one available, go at off-peak times and spark a conversation with your server.

2. If talking to strangers isn’t your thing, bring a book or magazine.

3. Take along your social network. You’re never really alone if your online friends are along for the ride.

4. Ask for the check even if you aren’t finished eating. This will cut down on the time you must sit alone at the table after you are through.

5. Have confidence in yourself. Eating alone should be enjoyable, not something to be afraid of.

While I will probably always have that burst of social jitters before stepping into a restaurant alone, I know now that it is something I can do. And if you happen to see me out and about myself, stop by and say hi. Even if I have a book or magazine with me, I always enjoy a friendly conversation.

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Filed under published writing, this is my life

Things I’ve learned from ‘Doctor Who’


With filming for the highly-anticipated 50th anniversary special under way, fans of the BBC television show Doctor Who have taken to social media to scrutinize every little detail of production stills being released. I confess, I’m one of them. A Whovian, as we call ourselves. And I will be waiting in breathless anticipation when the BBC celebrates the golden anniversary of the longest-running science fiction show on television.

Doctor Who premiered Nov. 23, 1963 on the BBC network in Great Britain. It chronicles the adventures of a space- and time-traveling alien, a Time Lord named simply “the Doctor,” and his (usually) human companions. He explores space and time in his sentient, bigger-on-the-inside ship called the TARDIS. With his companions, the Doctor faces a variety of foes while working to help ordinary people, save civilizations and right wrongs.

The show ran continuously from 1963 until the late 80s, with one television film in 1996, with eight different actors playing the Doctor. (Time Lords “regenerate” into new bodies when mortally wounded, a handy plot device used to pass the torch between actors.) In 2005, the show was rebooted and added three new actors playing the title role.

I was a late bloomer to the show. Though it played on PBS here in America in the ’70s and ’80s, I did not get hooked into this fantastical world of the Doctor until 2008, after several of my friends had recommended it to me. It only took two episodes for me to become a devoted fan, gobbling up both “classic” episodes and the newer reincarnation of the series. Along the way I learned some valuable lessons about life, the universe and everything.

1. There’s no point in growing up if you can’t be childish sometimes. Too often, as adults, we let the real world turns us cynical and pessimistic. Sometimes we just need to let the grown up slip away and regain some of that childish innocence we had when we were children. Run through the grass barefoot. Play with dolls. Have a tea party with friends.

2. Everyone is important. This is one I struggle with, especially when it comes to myself. I battle depression every day, and sometimes, when it feels like the world is caving in on me, I have to remind myself I am important, too.

3. Time can be rewritten. Of course, we don’t have a fancy time machine like the Doctor, but we can rewrite the past in other ways. A heartfelt apology for a past wrong can be offered. Forgiveness can be given. A fresh start can be had.

4. Not all victories are about saving the world. Even the smallest victories, such as achieving a personal goal, is every bit as important as the world-saving victories.

5. Nothing is impossible, just highly unlikely. Even then, those highly unlikely things can become likely if you just persevere.

6. Stand up for what is right, no matter the odds. Don’t ever give up on your personal convictions.

7. The bad things in life don’t spoil the good things. Learn from the bad memories and cherish the good ones. When life throws you for a loop, take out a good memory and relive it. Don’t give in to the bad things in life.

8. The most ordinary person can change the world. You could change someone else’s world for the better and never know it. Be a positive force in the lives of those around you.

9. The best weapons in the world are books. The knowledge within books are the best arsenal you could hope to have.

10. Be proud of your beliefs… and your fashion sense. Your beliefs make you who you are, not what kind of clothes you wear. But it’s OK to be proud of both. After all, bow ties are cool.

Of course, there are many other lessons to be learned from Doctor Who, such as angel statues are things to be feared, the adipose diet isn’t a good idea and despite their appearance, Daleks can climb stairs, but it’s the ones you can apply to real life that have stuck with me. And in 50 years of traveling through time and space with the Doctor, I know I’m not the only one whose life has been affected for the better by Doctor Who.

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I am a Twitter-stalker

A couple of weeks ago, Twitter released its top ten most retweeted tweets of 2010. (For those unfamiliar with Twitter lingo, a “retweet” is sort of like an online thumbs-up or a way of saying, “Hey, that was a funny tweet! Let me share it with my followers.”)

It comes as no surprise to find that the number one retweeted tweet of 2010 came from Stephen Colbert (@StephenAtHome). His tweet, from June 16, was “In honor of oil-soaked birds, ‘tweets’ are now ‘gurgles.'”

I admit, I was one of those who retweeted that one. I’m something of a Twitter addict.

Recently, I happened to catch a little snippet on a TV talk show. One of the guests commented that there were no big celebrities like there used to be. I thought it rather strange as I can probably name half a dozen without batting an eyelash, but then she went on to explain how celebrities of yore were more ethereal than they are now and I think I get what she means.

Of course, I wasn’t around during the age of Cary Grant, Grace Kelly or Katherine Hepburn, to name but a few, but I imagine they weren’t as accessible as the stars of today in this new technological age. Even celebs I used to crush on as a kid seemed out of reach. They only way we could “get to know” a favorite star back in the day was to buy an issue of Tiger Beat magazine and pore over the photos of our teen idols, or watch “Entertainment Tonight” for little snippets of information.

Then along came the Internet and the fourth wall was stripped away.

Access to celebrity gossip is just a mouse click away. Type in any star’s name, like Angelina Jolie, will bring you over 28 million sites to peruse. But it’s not just the ease of gathering information about a favorite celeb that has stripped some of the mystery away. The stars themselves have made themselves available to their fans via social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook.

I don’t consider myself someone who obsesses over celebrities. I’m not the kind of person who will go see a movie just because someone I like is in it. I see movies because the story looks good. I don’t google my favorite stars to see what they’re up to. I will look through my mother’s People magazine from time to time, but I don’t care about who is dating, or wearing, whom. I do admit to driving all the way to Montgomery, AL, with a friend to see “A Mid Summer Night’s Dream” at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival because one of our favorite TV stars was in it. But “A Mid Summer Night’s Dream” is my favorite Shakespeare play. (Plus my friend did all the driving.) But it was just the one time. I swear, I’m not a celebrity stalker.

Until I discovered Twitter.

When I signed up for a Twitter account, the first people I followed were some of my favorite celebs. Kevin Smith, Wil Wheaton, Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day. Pretty much the entire cast of “Star Trek.” It was amazing to me how I didn’t have to rely anymore on third party sources to hear news about Smith’s new movie or Wheaton’s guest appearances on “The Big Bang Theory.” I could see, firsthand, in real time, what they were up to.

Then I took a bold move and decided to tweet to them personally. Never did I think I’d receive a reply. But I did. Last February, I happened to be online at the same time as Kevin Smith. Impulsively, I shot him a question, “What are you getting the Mrs. for Valentine’s Day.” I was not expecting a response. I know celebrities rarely pay attention to their online followers. But when I checked my replies later that afternoon I was floored when I received an answer, “What every woman wants: obedience.”

The answer made me laugh. Then it made me giddy. For a moment, my thirty-something-year-old self reverted into a silly, screaming preteen who just got a glimpse of her favorite boy band. And it was a good feeling.

I didn’t let it go to my head. I’m not delusional to think that Smith and I are now BFFs (that’s best friends forever in Internet lingo). But it was fun getting a reply from someone I admire.

I do admit, I feel a little voyeuristic sometimes. Without Twitter, would I have known that Felicia Day was cooking Irish oatmeal the other morning? No. But that little peek into celebrities’ lives makes them seem more real and less out of reach. And I do find these little details fascinating.

I think Twitter has brought society closer together. I’ve “met” some interesting people from all over the world I might never have known without Twitter. I hear about breaking news before most of the major websites have it up. I get sneak peeks into parts of the entertainment industry which I never would have discovered. And I get to stalk my favorite celebrities without fear of being slapped with a restraining order.

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Filed under fangirl squee!, internet buzz, published writing

I don’t need all the answers on ‘Lost’

“It’s very stressful being an Other, Jack.” — Juliet Burke, “The Other Woman”

Oh, Juliet. If you think being an Other is stressful, try being a member of the viewing audience. For six long seasons, we’ve laughed, cried, scratched our heads and been utterly, well, lost with “Lost.” But the long journey both the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 and we as an audience have endured will finally be over this Sunday, when the two and a half hour finale airs on ABC.

Make all the jokes you want, I'm still going to miss seeing shirtless Sawyer on my TV every week.

When “Lost” premiered in 2004, it earned a ratings record with 18.6 million viewers. It was also the most expensive television pilot ever made, which probably helped draw in many of those viewers. I was not one of them. I don’t remember the reason why I did not watch the pilot episode, but I heard so much about it the day after it aired and of the next two episodes, I decided to give it a go when ABC aired a mini-marathon a couple of weeks later.

I was hooked. Plane crashes, polar bears, underground hatches, a monster in the jungle, and a ragtag band of survivors who were all mysteriously connected lured me in and caught me hook, line and sinker. I had absolutely no idea what was going on. And I loved every minute of it. For the first season at least.

But serial programs take commitment. And with a plot with more twists and turns than a back mountain road, trying to keep up with “Lost” became something of a chore by the time season four rolled around. The writers’ strike didn’t help either and I think “Lost” lost a little bit of its magic after having such a long hiatus between seasons three and four. There came a point where there were just too many characters and two many subplots to keep up with. Thank goodness for the Internet and for fans more dedicated than I. Without them, I don’t know if I could have kept watching.

By season five, the show was really starting to drag. I almost gave up on it, but knowing that the show only had one season left made me keep watching. I had invested way too much time and brain power to give up so close to the end. And I’m glad I didn’t. Because the final season has been spectacular. It may be because we know it’s ending that we tune in eagerly every week now and secretly wish it wouldn’t end, despite the disappointment of earlier seasons.

And now, after six long years, “Lost” fans the world over will tune in this Sunday to see how it all ends — and hopefully get some answers in the process. The mysteries of the island were what kept many of us tuning in year after year, and many of those mysteries have been explained, or half-explained, this season. Of course, in those explanations, more questions are raised, but it wouldn’t be “Lost” otherwise.

There have been many, many blog posts this season listing all the unanswered questions that have yet to be answered, and while I have a few myself, I’ve resolved myself to not be disappointed in the ending. Not every question needs an answer. I don’t need to know what, exactly, the golden light at the heart of the island is. I can live without knowing why women can’t give birth on the island. I even don’t really know why the numbers are so important. I accept the fact that the island is a place where mysterious things happen. I accept the allegorical good vs. evil plot. I accept that many things won’t be explained.

I know that the final episode won’t please many of the hardcore fans because of all the questions it won’t answer. But personally, I’m not worried about that. The most I’m hoping for is a satisfying ending to a show that has left me lost and confused and loving almost every minute of it. I will be unplugging the telephone Sunday night so I can sit back and enjoy the final episode without interruption, hoping the creators of “Lost” end this phenomenon in a satisfying manner that doesn’t involve one of the characters waking up in bed at the end with Suzanne Pleshette.

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Culture Wars: Hardee’s vs. the grilled cheese sandwich

Actual conversation between the assistant editor and myself, 'CSI: Miami' style.

Culture wars can get ugly. I try, for the most part, to stay out of them. But I don’t always succeed. Sometimes, one of these hot-button issues will irritate me so much that I just have to speak out and stand up for the underdog.

Just what does Hardee’s have against guys who like grilled cheese sandwiches anyway?

Perhaps you have seen the fast food chain’s recent attack ads against ordinary guys who just want to eat a simple grilled cheese sandwich. In it, four friends sit around a table in a restaurant. Three of them order what I assume to be “manly” meals of giant burgers and fries while their friend has to order off the kids’ menu in order to satisfy his craving for gooey cheese on toasted bread. The waitress in the commercial doesn’t help this poor guy’s reputation when she offers him crayons and a coloring book to go with his sandwich. He gets heckled by his friends and given looks of contempt from the hot girls in the booth next to them.

Hardee’s solution for “guys who like grilled cheese but hate ordering off the kids’ menu” is the Grilled Cheese Bacon Thickburger.

Now, stop me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t adding bacon and huge slab of grilled beef to a grilled cheese sandwich make it no longer a grilled cheese sandwich? Doesn’t it then make the grilled cheese sandwich a bacon cheeseburger? If I wanted a bacon cheeseburger, I’d order a bacon cheeseburger. But when I want grilled cheese, there had better be nothing to that sandwich besides two pieces of bread and hot, gooey, melted cheese.

But, to be fair, I’m not a guy. Ordering a grilled cheese sandwich — or anything off the kids’ menu for that matter — does not make me feel less of a woman than ordering a big honkin’ thickburger. Perhaps guys do need that extra ego boost. Perhaps they do suffer from a secret, forbidden longing for grilled cheese, but because they don’t want to be mocked like the poor fellow from the Hardee’s commercial, they’ll order any kind of meat on their cheesy sandwich. I cannot know from experience. So I asked my co-worker, Gary Nelson, if he felt at all emasculated by the grilled cheese sandwich.

“No. Absolutely not,” was his emphatic reply. Sometimes, a grilled cheese sandwich is just what he wants — one without a big, fat burger and bacon on it. And ordering from the kids’ menu? It’s something he does all the time at Cracker Barrel, a restaurant that boasts a kids’ menu for “kids of all ages.”

Of course, asking one guy his opinion on the grilled cheese doesn’t make for a scientific poll, but I do know for a fact that my brother and my nephew love grilled cheese sandwiches. Granted, my nephew is only 2 years old, and grilled sandwiches are practically the only thing he eats, but even at 2, he knows the difference between “grilled cheese” and “burger cheese,” as he calls them.

Still, if there are any guys out there who love grilled cheese sandwiches, but don’t feel they are a masculine enough food choice (and for some reason can’t be bothered to order a bacon cheeseburger), I recommend a restaurant in Atlanta called Vortex. Order the “Double Bypass Burger.” You’ll get a half-pound sirloin patty topped with two fried eggs, six slices of cheese and eight slices of bacon, all sandwiched between two grilled cheese sandwiches in place of a bun. You’ll be able to have your grilled cheese and feel like a manly man — right before you keel over from a heart attack.

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Filed under culture wars, published writing, totally random topic

Losing sleep over the Chilean earthquake

I’m sure everyone, at one point in their lives, has felt that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. I know it sure feels that way to me. If you’re anything like me, your day probably goes something like this: get up, shower, get dressed, go to work, come home, eat dinner, clean up and go to bed to begin all over again the next day. There’s barely any time left to do the things you want to do, like read a book, play with the chinchilla or watch that one TV show that you just can’t miss because you’ll know everyone will be talking about it the next day and you don’t want to be spoiled.

Coming soon: "As the World Turns Faster"

And studies have shown that we don’t get nearly as much sleep at night as we need. I know I don’t. But lately it seems like the night just flies by, and I wake up grumpy because I haven’t gotten the 5-6 hours of sleep that I usually get. My days seem even more crammed full of things that need to get done before I can hit the hay. I thought perhaps I just needed to improve my time management skills. Then I saw a news piece on that explains why my days seem to be getting shorter.

Because they are.

The massive magnitude 8.8 earthquake that hit Chile on Saturday caused the earth to shift about three inches on its axis, creating a shorter day. According to scientists who know about such things, our days are now 1.26 microseconds shorter.

No wonder I’ve felt so tired this week.

A microsecond is one-millionth of a second. That may not sound like much, but we already lost 6.8 microseconds in the magnitude 9.1 earthquake that hit Sumatra in 2004. That’s over eight-millionths of a second lost in the last decade. Just think of all the sleep we’ve lost due to earthquakes over the years.

Of course, this all pales in comparison to what the people of Chile are facing, and what the people of Haiti still face eight weeks after another devastating earthquake left so many people homeless. The earthquake in Chile created a tsunami that put many Pacific nations on alert. CNN and other news organizations spent the better part of Saturday in Hawaii, where the tsunami was due to hit around 3 p.m. CST. That was quite possibly one of the most surreal moments of journalism I’ve ever witnessed — a scheduled disaster. While watching the water around Hilo, Hawaii rush in and out of the bay was fascinating, thankfully no one was hurt. I do, however, wish the news anchors covering the tsunami hadn’t sounded quite so excited about the prospect of imminent destruction.

Our planet is amazing. To think that a shift in land mass can cause the day to shorten sounds like something straight out of a Hollywood disaster movie. But it’s not science fiction, it’s science fact. And a little bit scary. But I’m going to try not to lose sleep over it… well, anymore than I already have.

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Will we reboot the reboots?

Until just recently, the term “reboot” was only associated with my computer. To “reboot” meant holding in the power button on my ancient PC to get rid of the Blue Screen of Death. But lately, the term has been given a new meaning — and been overused — by the entertainment industry.

Last week, it was announced that “Spider-Man 4” was essentially scrapped. Franchise director Sam Raimi and star Toby Maguire were dropped over “creative differences” and Sony Pictures has announced that the series will be “rebooted.”

Now, I have to ask, does “Spider-Man” really need rebooting?

Maguire secretly relieved; says costume "chafed"

It seems as though there are no new ideas in Hollywood these days. Movie-makers are scavenging my childhood in order to make big bucks at the box office. Along with last week’s announcement of the “Spider-Man” reboot came the Internet release of the trailer for the reboot of “The A-Team.” Starring Liam Neeson. And not starring Mr. T.

In what crazy, mixed-up world does that even make sense?

I watched the trailer. It looked OK. I think it might have been an all-right movie if it had been an original idea and not another tired remake of something I loved… as a kid.

Reboots are dubious at best. “Charlie’s Angels” brought in money at the box office, but served little purpose in reviving the classic series. Did anyone really think Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore could replace Jaclyn Smith and Farrah Fawcett, or even do justice to Charlie’s original angels?

“Superman Returns” might have looked good on paper, but the end result was not well received by fans. And does Lex Luthor have any nefarious plans that don’t involve a land swindle?

“The Incredible Hulk” was rebooted not once, but twice, in 2003 and again in 2008. Both contained CGI versions of the not-so-jolly green giant that looked… well, silly. Lou Ferrigno was much more believable as the Hulk than these two cartoonish ones.

The James Bond reboots made a lot of money, but frankly, I thought Daniel Craig’s Bond lost most the whimsy I had come to associate with the character and became simply another action hero.

“The Dukes of Hazzard,” “The Brady Bunch,” “Bewitched” — all shows I loved as a kid made terrible, terrible movies.

I can understand why Hollywood moguls like the idea of reboots. Creating new fans for a franchise while bringing in the old ones could equal box office bliss. And some have been quite successful. As a Batman fan, even I cringed at the thought of another Caped Crusader movie after the horrific farce that was “Batman and Robin.” But “Batman Begins” treated the source material with respect, giving it a new life, new look and a legion of new fans.

Five series and 10 movies later, J.J. Abrams not only rocked the screen with “Star Trek,” he also managed to completely change the entire history of the “Trek” ‘verse without die-hard Trekkies rioting in the streets. Which just proves the man is a genius.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” made a dismal movie, but when moved to the small screen gained a cult-like following that lasted seven seasons and produced a popular spin-off series (and a snappy musical soundtrack).

With franchise reboot successes being few and far between, I have to wonder just how long this trend will last. In 10 years’ time, will we be seeing a reboot of “Batman Begins”? Will George Lucas take a page from James Cameron’s book and reboot “Star Wars,” this time using using 3-D CGI? There certainly doesn’t seem to be an end in sight, what with series reboots of “Friday the 13th,” “The Fantastic Four,” “Tron” and “Ghostbusters” coming soon to a theater near you. I might have hope for the “Spider-Man” reboot if J.J. Abrams or Chris Nolan were in charge. But as I don’t foresee that happening, I think I’ll skip the reboot and wait for the new “Star Trek” sequel to hit the screens instead.

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An improbable anniversary

Mom, Dad and Ben

The 278th left for Camp Shelby last week with plans for deployment to Iraq in February. I don’t have any family or know anyone who has been or will be deployed to war on foreign soil, but I can’t help wonder what it must have been like for my dad, who was sent to Vietnam in 1967. I can’t really imagine the things he saw there, even after listening to his stories. But I also can’t help to be in some part grateful that he did serve – because if he hadn’t been sent halfway around the world to fight, he would never have met my mother and my brother and I would not have been born.

But the story of how my parents met doesn’t begin with an American soldier in Vietnam. It begins, as my mother tells it, with two drunken English sailors in a bar.

My mother is from Sydney, Australia. In 1969, she was training to be a nurse with dreams of traveling the world. During the war, Sydney was a popular destination for soldiers on R&R, and my mother’s parents had joined a program that offered hospitality and home cooking to soldiers on leave. So when the father of a friend of my mother’s gave his daughter’s address to two English sailors in a local pub one night, it set in motion a chain of events that would cause my mother to leave her family and country behind to marry my father.

The two English sailors eventually ended up in Hong Kong where their ship was docked next to an American ship on its way to Vietnam. They passed mom’s friend’s address to the American sailors, who eventually wrote and asked if she had some friends who would like to become pen pals. My mother volunteered and began corresponding with a young sailor named Eric.

They wrote to each other for several months. From listening to my mother’s stories, I gather this Eric was a bit sweet on her. But he made a mistake one day when he heard a soldier from Tennessee whose Army unit was stationed on board his ship mention he was heading to Sydney on his leave. He gave the soldier my mother’s name and address along with some money and asked him to send her some flowers on his behalf when he got there.
Instead, the dashing young soldier arrived in Sydney, obtained my mother’s phone number and asked her to dinner – using the money the sailor had given him for flowers.

It was June 1968, and my mother had just finished her nurse’s training and obtained a position at a hospital in Toronto, Canada. She and a couple of friends were leaving in a week to sail across the Pacific and tour America before beginning their new jobs in Canada. Meeting an American soldier on a blind date was one last hurrah.

They hit it off and mom enjoyed his company so much, she invited him to her bon voyage party at her parents’ house the next day. Dad got to meet her whole family at the party and gave Mom his address so they could write when he returned to the war.

Dad left to return to Vietnam the same day my mother left Australia. She wrote to him several times over the next few months, but didn’t hear back from him for a long time, as the mail was often slow and unreliable.

In spring of 1969, Mom got an opportunity to drive across Canada to Vancouver with some friends. She had to quit her job to do so, but she wanted to travel and see new parts of the world. When she got to Vancouver, she got a surprise visit – from Eric, her first pen pal. They had never met in person before, though Mom had met his family when they came to meet their son’s pen pal when her ship docked in Los Angeles the summer before. Eric asked her if she wanted to drive with him to LA from Vancouver, and Mom agreed, always up for an adventure.

But before they left, her roommates in Toronto had forwarded her mail to Vancouver – including a letter from my dad. He was back in America, stationed in San Antonio, and wanted to know if she would be interested in meeting again. Mom was already headed to LA. She figured she could stop in San Antonio on her way back to Toronto.

And thus began their courtship. Through letters, phone calls and the occasional visit, they built a relationship. One night, in late October of 1969, Dad called her again and asked if she could come see him – but this time he wanted her to stay. My father proposed to my mother over the phone. She had to call him back to ask if he was serious. He was, and she accepted.

She flew to San Antonio in November, but because she wasn’t an American citizen, the Army wouldn’t let them get married. But he had only five weeks left until he was due to be discharged, so they waited. On Dec. 13, 1969, they were married here in Crossville in his brother’s living room.

My mother once counted the number of days they were actually together before they got married. They saw each other for only 30 days. Nearly their entire courtship was done via letters and phone calls.

My brother likes to tell people that our parents met when our mother was being held captive by Charlie in the jungles of Vietnam and our dad bravely fought his way through the enemy camp and rescued her, fell in love at first sight, and lived happily ever after. And while that scenario sounds like something out of a 1980s Chuck Norris movie, their meeting was no less amazing in and of itself. If America hadn’t gone to war with Vietnam, if Dad’s first letter to Mom hadn’t arrived before she left Vancouver, if my mother’s friend’s father had never met those two English sailors in a bar – my parents would never have met, let alone recently celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.

My dad is my hero and my mother is my best friend. I love them both, and cannot begin to express how grateful I am for everything they’ve ever done for me and my brother.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad. May you have 40 more wonderful years together.

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A Thanksgiving conundrum

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It’s one of the four days of the year I can cash in my calorie coupons and feast until I feel as stuffed as the turkey on the table. (The other three being Christmas, my birthday and the day after Lent ends, because after 40 days of no chocolate, it’s hard to control myself.)

But on Thanksgiving, it’s all about the turkey. And the dressing. And the sweet potato casserole. And all the other delicious sides Cracker Barrel has to offer. Going out for Thanksgiving dinner has become a tradition for my family. All the delicious food — none of the cleanup.

However, Thanksgiving does pose one small problem for me — how to get all that yummy food on one plate without any of it touching. Yes, I am an adult. But I don’t like my food to touch on the plate. Even though I know it all ends up in the same place, I just can’t stand the flavors mixing before it gets there.
There are a few exceptions, of course. Gravy can go on the turkey and dressing, but I have to construct a dam of stuffing to keep it from getting into the green beans. Sweet potato casserole is delicious — but not when smeared on the ham. And the cranberry sauce is the worst contaminant on the plate. I loathe the stuff, and anything that comes into contact with it must be immediately quarantined from the rest of the plate. Sure, I could ask for it to be left off, but then my dad wouldn’t be able to protect my dinner by nobly offering to eat it for me.

I could, I suppose, ask that everything be brought out to me on separate plates, but five adults and one toddler make for an already crowded table. Not to mention all the extra dishes that would have to be washed. So I just have to make the most of what I’ve got to keep my food separated for maximum enjoyment.

My dilemma is not just limited to Thanksgiving — it’s a problem I face every single day. Corn cannot mix with mashed potatoes. General Tso’s chicken should not come into contact with fried wontons. Spaghetti and salad? Forget it. I’ll need a separate bowl for the salad. Just the idea that I might get spaghetti sauce in my salad — even though I may have tomatoes in my salad — gives me the willies.

While in the process of writing this column, I started wondering if I’m the only adult permanently stuck in childhood mentality when it comes to food on a plate. Surely not! So I decided to use a highly scientific process in order to poll my peers. I posed the question on Facebook. And according to my friends on Facebook, I’m the only picky eater not only in this state but in half a dozen others and two countries as well. Even my friend’s 16-year-old daughter chimed in to say that everything tasted better with gravy on it.

Even the children are showing me up!

Fortunately, my coworkers bailed me out from feeling alone in my pickiness. Heather Mullinix and Missy Wattenbarger both agree with me that food should never, ever touch on a plate. We all agree that if we could develop a line of nice-looking divided plates made of china or some kind of stoneware, we could probably make a fortune catering to other picky adult eaters. Because I’m sure we’re not the only grown-ups in America who believe baked beans should not come into contact with your hamburger — despite the results of my Facebook poll.

So this Thanksgiving, as I’m separating the food on my plate, I’ll give my thanks for the meal on the table, the health of my family, and for parents who understand my culinary peculiarities and know to put my peas in a bowl when we have hamburger lasagna.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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The hidden dangers of Halloween

Tomorrow is Halloween, and by now, I’m sure you’ve read or heard many safety tips concerning this fun-filled holiday. Wear reflective tape. Only trick-or-treat at houses you are familiar with. Throw away any loose or open treats.

But there is one safety concern which hasn’t been talked about much, but which everyone should be aware of before heading out Halloween night.


I know what you’re thinking — zombies aren’t limited to coming out on Halloween, but it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get the word out about this ever-present threat. Werewolves and vampires have been getting all the press in the past few years, and protections against such creatures have become widely known. But zombies are just as dangerous — perhaps even more so — and one should take any and all precautions necessary to protect yourself and your family from becoming one of the flesh-eating undead.

Historical films such as Night and Return of the Living Dead and more recent docudramas like 28 Days Later and Zombieland show that there are two basic types of zombies. The first is the slow-shuffling, brain-craving zombie. These are considered the least dangerous, as they are easily escapable by running in the opposite direction, or putting on some early ’80s Michael Jackson, which will compel the zombie or zombies to break out into a choreographed dance routine and distract them long enough for you to make your escape.

It is important to be able to tell these zombies from other creatures which exhibit similar symptoms. For instance, a mummy has nearly the same shuffling gait and lack of hygiene as the zombie but is easily distinguished by the rotting bandages wrapped around his body. The zombie’s incoherent ramblings and lack of rational thought can easily be confused with the behavior of most politicians. It is important to know the difference in order to choose the appropriate weapon to combat such menaces. You wouldn’t want to attack a zombie with a voting ballot, for instance.

The second type of zombie is the one you should really be worried about. They are quick, agile and possess an insatiable appetite for human flash. Unlike their slower cousins, which are usually nothing more than re-animated corpses, these more-evolved zombies are actually biologically-infected humans, who contracted zombieism after being bitten by another infected person. Once bitten, the victim has anywhere from a few minutes to several hours before the overwhelming urge to consume the flesh of the non-infected overrides higher brain function. This is cause for concern, as the rapid spread of the zombie disease can easily lead to an outbreak of global proportions, which scholars refer to as a “zombie apocalypse.” The number of infected will quickly overwhelm the general population, leaving only pockets of survivors trying to eke out an existence inside boarded-up homes with (hopefully) stockpiles of shotguns and canned goods. This should be avoided at all costs.

Though the above scenario may seem like something out of a B-movie, I can assure you, the threat is very real. A zombie attack was averted last January in Austin, Texas, when a small group of freedom fighters hacked into a road sign to warn motorists with the message, “Caution! Zombies ahead!” And earlier this month, the University of Florida added a disaster preparedness plan in the event of zombie attack to the university Web site, which included useful information on how to spot signs of zombie infection and a form for university employees to fill out after dispatching an infected coworker.

So as you venture out this Halloween, be aware of your surroundings. Watch out for pedestrians. Take note of the houses that give out the good candy for repeat visits. And, at the first sound of strange moaning, your companion’s appetite for flesh, or other flu-like symptoms, leave the area immediately. Board up all doors and windows to your home. Take inventory of any weapons available that are capable of dispatching zombies — baseball bats, shotguns, flame-throwers. Ration the Halloween candy collected, as it may be days, even weeks, before it will be safe enough to venture outside for supplies. And if you happen to have a suit of chain mail handy, wear it at all times to help protect against being bitten.

Have a safe and happy Halloween — and with any luck, a zombie-free night.

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