Candid Chat with a Soldier

Monday, 31 May 2010
I sat down at an airport bar in Atlanta to have a beer before catching my plane to Cancun.  A man in uniform sat down next to me and ordered a double Jack and Coke.  Since I am forever grateful to men and women who serve the United States, I asked the waitress to please but his drink on my bill.  He thanked me and then started talking.

He said he was 25 years old and had just completed a training course to become a Sergeant in the U.S. Army after putting in two tours in Iraq.  Sgt. John was an Army Reservist but decided to go full time after being offered a deal he couldn't refuse. After hearing my story of being married to (but apart from) Kingsley he seemed very surprised that we could remain faithful.

Sgt. John said he told his soldiers to "expect the worst from the women at home because a year away is a year."  I told him in the grand scheme of life with a partner, one year is nothing.  He raised an eyebrow and said, "Well, how old are you?"  When I answered (30) he said "Oh, that's why. Most of my soldiers are 20 and they just get married before they deploy. They're too immature and so are their wives."  I laughed inside about a 25 year old guy playing the "wise card" about 20 year olds.

He ordered another double Jack and Coke.  I was only a sip or two into my drink.  Sgt. then opened up about suicide in the Army saying this year, more soldiers committed suicide than any other in combat history.  I felt sorry for him and then felt sad.

Memorial Day is more than a remembrance of sacrifice or celebration of freedom.  Beyond just taking the holiday to enjoy time at the lake, let's consider using our voting rights to support diplomacy and peace.  Does the Western World have to protect itself?  Yes.  Are there other ways to do so beyond age-old active combat, excessive use of fire power and force?  Yes.  The trickle down effect may be that fewer young men and women take their own lives, 25 year old men aren't drinking 2 double Jack and Cokes in less than 10 minutes and more young families stay together.

I said, "Well thank you for your service and protecting our freedoms."  As he got up he thanked me again for the drink and laughed in a cynical way.  "It's just a job.  I hate to let people deceive themselves."  Oh.

Service men and women that deploy to combat zones exist even for a short time in a hell civilians will never know.  They often have no clue what they're up against until they're literally shoved out of a plane into the red zone.  Did you use your vote to send them there (by electing a candidate who is pro-combat)?  Did you use your vote to elect leaders who are making every single soldier's life count in a mission that makes sense?  I thought about that for a long time before I voted in the last election.  My brother survived Iraq in a medical battalion for a long tour when the war was incredibly intense.

I tried to send some fast/high/good energy with the Sgt. as he left but he didn't even glance back.

May all of our service members be blessed with wisdom and safety.  May families who have lost service members be blessed with wisdom and comfort.  May our leaders be blessed with wisdom and bravery to achieve peace when possible.

Hacienda Mundaco

Sunday, 30 May 2010
There once was a pirate who sailed the seas between Africa and Cuba.  By the 1850s he'd make a fortune selling slaves (some say he made his money another way but most historical accounts say he was a slave trader).

In 1870, Pirate Mundaco landed on Isla Mujeres and began building a house on property which took up 40% of the island (it's only 5 miles long).  He planted vast gardens, kept animals in pens, farmed and brought in plant species from all over the world and dug deep wells.  Now on the island local people are working to restore the property.  The first well is still standing and part of the original house has been reconstructed.

Mundaco built the property to woo an 18 year old woman.  She eventually chose to marry a fisherman instead.  Legand says the old pirate slowly lost his mind from heartbreak and died in Merida.  

He has a tomb on the island that is still empty (Kingsley and I found it after roaming the cemetery).  It's marked with a skull and cross bones supposedly made by Mundaco himself.  We took pictures of it last time we were in Isla.  Creepy - but interesting.

Seeing the sights

Friday, 28 May 2010

Relaxation abounds in Mexico - island style.  I heard a man ask his lady friend from the United States, "Honey how do you like it here?"  She said "It's pretty but too poor."  Ack!  She clearly doesn't get it.  The island is full of culture and different styles of living.  It reminds me of Barcelona near the ocean. Not everything is Western Style.

Kingsley is a freak (my words).  He rises at 5 or 6 a.m. and feels he owes it to humanity to go out and make sure everything has made it through the evening.  I'm a late sleeper but we get along fine.  The compromise is that he brings coffee to my bedside table with a generous pour of milk and sugar.  Then at least I have protein to get me going before 8 a.m.  This morning we explored the entire island before most shops opened and dreamed about where we would like to buy.

My favorite part of the journey thus far, was the snorkeling.  I cannot believe how beautiful the underwater world is.  I saw Starfish, Barracuda, Angel Fish and at least 10 other species.  We're excited to buy a book and study the wildlife we witnessed today together.

On Island Time

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Kingsley and I like to stay in condos rather than hotels when we travel so we can make our own breakfast and have an outdoor space.  It also allows us to experience a bit of the local culture.  We're staying in one of the above condo for the week, located in a fishing village in the middle of Isla Mujeres.  We rented a scooter for so we can choose from 3 sides of the island where the beaches are quite gorgeous.  The place has a roof terrace and a pool and a one bedroom condo with a full kitchen and luxury bathroom.  We snapped these shots from the terrace our first full evening on the island.

The roof top has a 360 degree view of the 5 mile long island.  We can see the ocean on three sides but our place isn't quite tall enough to see the point.  This morning, we enjoyed a lovely breakfast on Norte Playa near Cafe del Moar at Jax's.  There's Mayan influences everywhere.

On our first day in Cancun, we went into the city for a few interviews (Kings is considering moving to Mexico) and had lunch at a traditional restaurant near the hospital.  It was muy delicioso. 

I know I'm just being picky but ugh - do we have to have the red fire extinguisher in the middle of the shot?  Hope you are having a great week.

Dig It

Sunday, 23 May 2010
My friend Larsen gave me a huge pile of flagstone for free so I felt I should do something fun with it.  I decided to create a 6x9 patio on the back of my property at the "mouth" of my small forest. 

It took me two days to load and  unload all of the flagstone from the warehouse.  Then I read on eHow how to build a patio.  First, you have to measure the space, outline it with spray paint or a garden hose and get to digging.  I dug up an inch of grass and an inch of dirt all while enjoying being in the great outdoors.  I've never glowed (ladies don't sweat, right?) so much and had to remind myself to keep going.  Indurance is key with the digging. 

There are tree roots in the ground that are as hard as rocks.  Bugs come wiggling out of the soil and worms are everywhere.  I also questioned my placement of the patio after seeing lots of little ants.

After finishing the digging, I raked the area to try to get it as level as possible.  Then, I laid down the sand.   Once the sand is down you have to wet it and pack it all down again with a shovel. That also has to be level. 

Arranging the flagstone is difficult and HEAVY but not as hard as digging for an hour and a half, bent over and forcing the shovel forward with your hips.  Thank goodness I was wearing leather work gloves (lucky to have a nice neighbor to give them to me didn't know I needed them) but I still had to pop a blister on my thumb last night.

Once most of the stones were arranged, I quit for the evening.  It was getting dark by then.  I'm on my way home now to add sand to the cracks, wet it all again and then sweep.  This, I found out, is not a beginner project but it isn't bad and I can see two comfy loungers sitting back there around a fire pit.  We have a deck but this spot is in the shade.  How was your weekend?

Facebook for Kids Under 10

Friday, 21 May 2010
New York Times photo

I'm reporting on timely, relevant stories at work so it just makes sense for me to blog about it.  Today's report was on a site that's similar to Facebook, it's just for kids under the age of 10. 

What do you think?  I was especially interested to hear from parents on this.  My FB friends helped me out with feedback and here's some of the comments:

I don't see a problem with it but would have to play with it and monitor it to be sure. My girls have done the pre-set chat before on Webkinz, which has a community section. And it would be good to teach them how to be safe on social networks before letting them get a real Facebook account.

I think it is a bad idea!!! -Elizabeth

Ugh. Hooking the kids early, I see. Shouldn't they be doing something other than maintaining their social lives? Whatever happened to play dates?!  -Amber

Generation Z is just naturally digital native community. For these kids, social media is not an optional form of communication or entertainment like it has been for many of us parents.  -Patty

I had a pen pal growing up. Maybe this is the modern age of pen pals? Still I wish kids would still write letters and make a trip to the post office. It's fun!  -Adrian

As a teacher and a parent, this is not appropriate. There are too many bad people in the world who want to hurt kids.  -Mary Katherine

There were many other thoughtful comments too which led me to believe social media is still certainly a talker.  My opinion?  I'm not a parent and who knows if I'll ever be one but I think it's a great idea.  Why not have a forum where I can sign up with my kid and experience social networking with them before they're turned lose to do it on their own.  Interaction online is the norm now days even for kids so why not monitor it?

The major down side I see to this - marketing and advertising.  The site will fuction as a money maker.  It will be sponsored, it will somehow generate ad dollars and it will mold children's minds to the message of the day.  Don't think that message won't include the products and trends the makers of Togetherville want the kids and adults to see.

Can't Get in the Door? Try the Window

Wednesday, 19 May 2010
I went outside this glorious afternoon to leisurely water my plants.  I have a green pepper plant, cucumber plant, tomato plant, banana pepper plant and now Pesto Basil, Lemon Thyme, Italian Oregano, Rosemary, Mint and something else.

My neighbor was across the street pulling weeds out of her flower bed.  The sun was shining but the temperature was just perfect.  The plants looked great.

I finished up, wound up my new hose and picked up a piece of paper from the front lawn.  When I turned the door knob to go into the house, it wouldn't turn.  I was locked out.  I'm not the type to panic so I took a deep breath and checked out the plants again.

Without letting the neighbors notice my dilemma, I nonchalantly looked up to see if the front windows were all locked.  They were.   No problem.  I walked around to the side of the house and BINGO the window wasn't latched.  I pushed it open but I was too short to even kind of crawl up into the living room.

I went to the back of the house and carried around 2 cement cinder blocks.  After climbing onto those, I could dive head first into the window next to the couch.  Violet was embarrassed.  My neighbors are ashamed of me but I conquered my first problem as a homeowner.   :)

Green Solution to Kudzu

Tuesday, 18 May 2010
I took this picture today while covering a news story.  Yep.  I wrote a story about goats - but it's much more interesting than you might think. 

In the late 1800s people introduced a vine to the south eastern part of the United States called Kudzu.  It was meant to help control erossion.  Instead, it overtook the landscape killing native plants by using up sunlight and water.  Kudzu is now know as "The Vine that Ate the South."  On some highways in the Knoxville area, the green vine with huge green leaves drapes over everything.  Trees, bushes, buildings, fences and plants are covered by the stuff.  It literally grows one foot a day. 

Herbicides can slow the growth down but it won't kill it.  Enter this new herd of goats.  They arrived at the Knoxville Botanical Gardens last night to get to work.  They LOVE Kudzu.  The weed is the goat's version of chocolate.  I watched the animals munch and munch on the stuff for at least an hour and they didn't slow down.  It was amazing to see.

The group Keep Knoxville Beautiful would like to introduce goats to some city parks overrun with Kudzu but the ordinance has to pass the city council first. Currently, farm animals aren't allowed in city limits.  To me this is a great way to clean up Kudzu and stay green with the method.  No more useless herbicide leaking into our groundwater.  And while you're at it, Councilmembers - would you make chickens legal too??

On the Catwalk

Monday, 17 May 2010

Disclaimer:  When I was a freshman in college, I participated in the Miss Carson-Newman (college) pageant.  It included an interview, evening gown and talent competition.

I was purusing the farm/garden section on Craigslist last night (Why am I obsessed with that site these days?) while the TV was on and before I knew it, I was watching the Miss USA pageant on NBC.  50 ladies who were no doubt beautiful began hoofing it across the stage in stilletos and very short sequined mini-dresses to very bad music. 

The first part of the show narrowed the ladies down to the Top 15. 

All of the remaining contenders had long, flowing locks but most of them were extensions.  The women were all tan (they paint or spray on an un-natural color) and many of them had clearly paid for breast implants.  Their teeth were shiny, the color of snow and they wore heels close to 5 inches high. 

What's my point?  Pageants are a bunch of baloney.  They are put on to produce advertising revenue for television networks and pageant chains.  Last night, Donald Trump hosted the event in conjunction with NBS and his Trump hotel in Vegas flashed on the tube several times.  His wife and friend were judges.

But come on, pageants are harmless, what's the big deal? 

I don't care for them because they glorify and categorize beauty rather than brains.  Pageants teach young ladies to care about looks and conform to long hair, tan skin and white teeth not to mention very skinny bodies with large, fake breasts.  The outgoing Miss USA interviewed with presenters and when asked what she'd do with her time off she said, "I'm going to sleep in tomorrow to get my beauty rest and I have lots of passions to pursue like dancing."  Fascinating and inspirational, I'm sure.

Pageants which include a talent competition have a bit more depth, in my opinion.  But what does a woman's appearance in a bikini have to do with how she will represent the United States?  Nothing.  It just objectifies the body and raises money for Trump, a powerful, rich guy.

You know me with the blog posts, I like to get my opinion out there in the hopes that you'll share yours.  Am I over the top here?  Are pageants just good fun?

Bible Belt

Sunday, 16 May 2010
A very nice middle-aged man came to my house recently to haul away an old mattress on the back of the property.  I found him through Craigslist and he only charged me $50 for the job.  Let's call him John.

John showed up on time with the tools he needed to strap in the mattress for the haul and we loaded it in.

While he was working, he started to tell me about a Christian rock band he's really into.  I nodded my head and encouraged him to go on and he did.  After about 10 minutes of him discussing the band's purpose and message I realized he was evangelizing. 

John wanted to make sure I understood that Jesus died for me and that life isn't worth living without his love in my heart.

The man was harmless but wow it was another stark reminder that I'm back in the Bible Belt.  I politely interrupted John as he was working up to the final sell (He going to pray with me there over the stinky mattress?) to let him know I graduated from Carson-Newman College. 

Most people in East Tennessee know all about C-NC.  It was a Southern Baptist college with no boys allowed in the dorms after 10 p.m. and yes, we signed contracts saying we would not consume alcohol.  I said, "John, I had a very involved Christian upbringing but thank you for your kindness and care."

What about folks who don't believe in God, Christ, Heaven, Hell?  It is amazing to me how bold people can be about their religion in the South.  Some might even call it extreme.  Yes, many Christians believe they have to lead others to Christ in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven but I've yet to meet believers from other religions that are so invasive.

John kept me waiting while he loaded up his cell phone video.  He still wanted to show me the band's latest performance.  He had a huge smile while saying, "Listen to the words here...such a great message." 

Government regulation - not always a bad thing

Monday, 10 May 2010
Associated Press photo

We've been covering the Gulf Coast oil rig explosion since it happened, killing 11 people and spewing millions of gallons of oil into the water.  This is such a sad situation regarding loss of life, devastation of wildlife habitat and fishermen out of jobs in a sinking industry. 

I listened to an interview this morning on talk radio about oil drilling.  The debate centered on whether the U. S. should still pursue this mode of independance of other oil sources.  Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says now he will not allow it off the coast of California. 

In my opinion, the U.S. should still move forward with drilling.  However, we MUST realize the enormous risk to our environment and precious ecosystems.  There are those who respect the big picture more than others.  Rather than cheer and shout in the streets "Drill, baby, drill!" we should approach the task with extreme caution and more government regulations.  Yep.  I said it:  MORE government regulation. 

BP is a money-making machine (reporting billions of dollars in profit in 2009).  The executives have one goal:  make money.  The way they make money is by keeping operating costs down and revenue high.  One way to keep operating costs down COULD BE by cutting corners.  Oil services contractor Halliburton says it is investigating the blast but some people have already filed lawsuits saying workers improperty capped one of the wells possibly leading to the explosion.

This is all part of a congressional hearing into the disaster.  Should we have a government that works for the citizens who elect it?  Why not take powerful companies to task before a horrific disaster?  The top decision makers are not on the oil rigs doing the grunt work.  They are not in harm's way.  Who protects the worker, our environment and the gulf states suffering from the explosion? 

A similar situation, the mortgage crisis that helped lead to the recession seems to be somewhat under control.  Companies handing out bogus loans didn't protect clients or their homes - nor did they want to.  The goal was to make money, work for the bottom dollar.  Like the shady car dealer who sells cars to people with poor credit at a high interest rate and then repossesses the property for resale, oil companies were lucky to operate under Bush who protected the industry.  Executives knew there would be eventual set backs and problems.  They probably never thought it would be this bad. 

The current administration and members of Congress are stepping in to lay fire lines around future home buyers, investors, our environment and now people who might suffer from future oil spills.  Who else is going to do it?  Should big companies with big money be held responsible or should they have the freedom to operate without boundries?

Home Owner

Sunday, 9 May 2010

I signed the documents for the house on Thursday and moved in that night.  My movers set up my bed and I dumped my suitcases and most boxes in the floor.  Getting ready for work the next morning was like searching for artifacts in a disaster zone.  I waded through clothes, shoes, toiletries, and books searching for towels and shampoo.

Life is a bit more organized now and I really love having a house.  It is small but compared to my studio apartment on the West Coast, it feels HUGE.  I unloaded my dishwasher yesterday and raked out the front flower beds.  The largest pile of clothing is now sorted and hanging in my large (relatively speaking) closet.

Sorry I've been slow with updates.  I don't have internet yet at home and blogging on a Blackberry is not recommended.  Hope you had a lovely weekend.  


Thursday, 6 May 2010
Looks like we'll close the house today.  I could barely sleep last night.  This feels like a true movement into adulthood.  Hooray!

I'll be sure to update you as soon as I get internet at home.

Kathy Griffin Plays in Knoxville

Monday, 3 May 2010

Kathy Griffin came to Knoxville last weekend to tape episodes for her show on Bravo (it will air on June 8th at 7pm).  The first show was sold out but one of our producers couldn't go so I bought her ticket.  Kathy, as expected, was fabulous.

If you don't know much about her, this red-headed comedienne makes money by shocking others and she's never afraid to poke fun at herself.  She's skinny, funny and knows what she wants.  Kathy campaigns for Emmys and Grammys and has a new book out.  Kathy's material centers around A-list celebrities (Sharon Stone, Renee Zelwegger, Oprah) and she constantly plays to her biggest fans:  gay men. 

There were so many men in drag at her show - I was shocked!  Not shocked by the men dressed as women, mind you, shocked because I would never think people in East Tennessee would feel comfortable enough to go out on the town in drag.  So, good news, E-TN isn't as restrictive as I first thought.

Kathy was certainly funny but if you aren't a regular follower, you'll miss out on some of the jokes.  Her act covers everything she is doing and is like a "tease" to tune in.  She joked about her role on Law and Order, she talked about her Grammy nomiations, she talked about dinner with Liza Minelli and Morgan Freeman, she talked about meeting Zellwegger... I felt like it was:  "Me! Me! Look at Me!"  But that's how she's made it from a D-lister to an A-lister, self promotion.

Even though her show was "Kathy Griffin" overkill, I was inspired by her hard work and I laughed, a lot.  She's certainly used her networking skills and determination to make it to the top of her career.  I believe she's in her 50s and now most everyone in the U-S knows who she is.    Want to read her bio?  She's achieved an amazing amount on her own.

East Tennessee Historical Center

Saturday, 1 May 2010
East Tennesseans and people that enjoy history should visit the East Tennessee Historical Center on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville.  The center is the only museum in the state which goes into details about the specific settlement of East Tennessee.

Settlers pushed the Cherokee Indians out of their homeland in the late 1700s.  Eventually they were forced to leave the Tennessee Valley all together.  Some of the moves were amlicable but the more forceful treaties sparked hatred and war.  The British even became involved and the Cherokee Indians sided with the Mother Country because they hoped the white frontiersmen would be overcome.

Years later, East Tennessee was divided again by the politics of slavery.  There were many in the Volunteer State who agreed with the decision to end slavery and wanted to be part of Kentucky's Union forces.  Others thought it was there right to own men and women and sided with Confederate forces. 

In the exhibit, a piognant video plays on the wall of a genuine log cabin from the 1800s.  The short documentary chronicles the Civil War years of a poor East Tennessee woman who lived in the rural hills and supported the Confederates and a rich East Tennessee woman who lived in the city and supported the Union forces.  Both women had very hard lives for five years during the war.  They lost their husbands and sons and almost everything they owned.

I couldn't help but think of how modern day polictics mirror the historic divide during the Civil War.  It seems there are always only two strong camps of thought and only a narrow middle ground of diplomacy. 

Vanishing Appalachia is also currently showing at the East Tennessee Historical Center.  The exhibit was compiled by photographer Don Dudenbostel and journalist Tom Jester who set out to document the true Appalachian culture, which they fear is dwindling.  The two document cock fighting (which is now illegal in TN), moonshine brewing, Evangelical snake handling and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.  I learned from the exhibit the hate group was formed in Middle Tennessee after the Confederates lost the civil war.

I found the most interesting secion of Vanishing Appalachia to be the profile of Pastor Jimmy.  He is a preacher in a small church in Cocke County.  He "speaks in tongues" and will even hold his hand to a flame  in front of his tiny congregation to test his faith.  He often preaches with two Copperhead snakes wriggling on his bible.  He has had one finger amputated from snake bites.  The pictures are truly amazing.  

Admission is $5.