Monday, July 31, 2006

I'm a Yankee, Dammit!

Isn't it funny how in our politically-obsessed world we're careful to watch international cultural boundaries but don't pay attention to those within our country. I don't mean of those people from other countries, but those from various regions throughout the U.S.

I learned today that I'm a "half-backer." A Yankee who's moved to Florida then eventually moves half-way between Florida and New York. And did you know, the true, original, cracker-Florida exists when the 10 miles of coast from either side of the peninsula and Orlando is taken out of the center of the State. And I think you need to be born into a state that has "y'all" in the dictionary in order to speak it. It just doesn't roll off my tongue gracefully.

Soul Searching Highway

I'm on the road this week. The idle time gives me a chance to think. I'm staying in the north Georgia mountains on a military campus. Some of the students are around, the campus is in full session next week. God, they look young.

I wonder how different my life would have been if I went down the military track. If I let the high school military recruits persuade me. I briefly considered Army ROTC but decided it would cramp my summers. And although I played field hockey in high school (and was captain; thank you), I had a fear I would not be able to survive basic training. Strangely, I was fascinated by the ROTC students. Had a thing for one of the guys who happened to be in some of my classes, until he became a Crow. Was also afraid, maybe intimidated is more appropriate, of some of the ROTC students. My fear gave me something to laugh about.

I think it was the movie, "The Boys in Company C," which piqued my military interest. It wasn't the cussing, but the camaraderie and tradition that grabbed me.

"Kids" from school served in the first Gulf War. Remember their stories upon their return. Although they were gone, it didn't seem that long. The war didn't seem that dangerous. There wasn't fan-fare upon their return. We didn't lose anyone, physically. I now wonder how many we lost mentally.

Being on campus here, I see a handful of young cadets dressed in camo. I see innocence and wonder what goes through their mind. Maybe it's good to be young and in the military without many life experiences. You wouldn't know any other way.

I paid my respect at a memorial sitting next to the gymnasium. It honors students and alumni who have died serving our country. Students. Blinking back tears, I wondered what it would have been like if my ROTC crush's earth science seat was never filled. How do today's students cope with a fallen classmate? How often do those classmates think of the fallen?

I digress, this is not the purpose of my post (well, maybe it is, I'm feeling extremely random). When I landed in Atlanta Sunday, I learned the plane was continuing on to Portland, OR. Strange. It's a place I'd like to go. Was it a sign?

Driving up GA 400, I thought about major life mistakes and how I always take the long way around to resolve them. The solution can be starring at me, yet, I don't see it. My eyes have been adjusted and I need to work on my action plan. No, my name won't be chaning to PFC Huber, I'm too old, or...

Friday, July 28, 2006

Inky Fingers

When the Iraqi people had the freedom to vote in 2005, they dipped their index finger in purple ink. This signified they had voted. For the first time, the world had a conceptual image of a liberated Iraqi.

What does it mean in America when we are asked to dip our fingers in ink? Freedom and liberation is the farthest thing from my mind. It's usually means we are suspected of doing "bad" things. A verification that we're not a criminal, or, a way to track our activities.

Today when I asked whether I can deposit this week's expense check without worries, I was instructed to go the company's bank, tell them to waive the check cashing fee and take the cash to my bank to deposit. And so I did. Which meant I had to fight with the cashier about waiving the check cashing fee, leave my thumbprint on the check and drive to my bank to make the deposit. In which I missed the cut-off to be counted in today's deposit.

I now look at my purple-inked thumb wondering...

Thursday, July 27, 2006

It's Like, Totally Awesome!

Seeking quirky, groovy, unique gifts that will really "wow" the recipient? Check out this site, Awesome! It's full of unique, offbeat things that will really make an impression. And, there's some pretty funky stuff that will look cool in your living room!

It's a blog written by "a bunch of girls" who know their stuff. Sign up for the blog's web feed to stay in the know.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Sharing My National Park Experience

Thought I would share some of my national park safety tips with visitors to our natural treasures. I could have expanded on water and camping safety but that gives reason for future article :) Enjoy it here.

Hot Zigity Dog!


One of the many things I've inherited from my Mom is the quest for freebies, deals and rebates. These are easily found in the Sunday paper (although the Internet has made them pretty accessible, too).

When I saw the brown envelope in my mailbox today, I KNEW what it was - my Zigity card game from the Cranium peeps.

Can't remember what I had to buy to get my cool, clear cards, but whatever it was, I had a need for it. Tissues, maybe?

I realize this game is for kids, well, really for ages 8 to Adult, but there's a bit of kid in all of us, right?

Today's Bumper Sticker of Note

Saw a great bumper sticker today (sorry, no photo). It was the American flag - red, white and blue. In the blue area was the word, "think." Under the flag the caption read, "It's Patriotic." three simple words can make an impact.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Ban: Online Poker or Using a Computer in Lightning?

Have you heard about the teenager struck by lightning while playing online poker? Poor kid felt the electrical jolt radiate through his body. Read the story from the Pensacola News Journal here. The story neglects to say whether he was winning his "hot" hand or not.

In the last five years, I've lost the following electrical appliances to lightning: telephone, television, computer modem and computer. Regardless of proper surge protection, I feel like a magnet!

And I don't know if the Big Bend Area of Florida is more prepared or struck more times by lightning, but I notice more television advisories about thunder storms and lightning strikes up here compared to living in Sarasota. As the warnings say, "lightning is nature's number one killer." Be warned.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Time for a Change


My friend ZeldaMae teased me about my previous head shot photo. Since this is a family-friendly site, I won't elaborate to what she said, so I've decided to [finally] update my photo.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"War is Hell"

A friend's son returned home from Iraq several months ago. She writes that, David's "adjusted well to civilian life." He's finishing up his Associates Degree and planning to begin working on his Bachelor's in January.

He's compiled a handful of videos from his deployment and has them posted at YouTube.com. View his collection here, but be warned that the "War is Hell" video contains graphic images.

Yes, that is my politically correct warning. Which makes me wonder. The Iraqi children are living with this violence. What kind of people will they grow up to be? Will they become numb to violence and death and continue the cycle? Or will they be so tired of it, that they will become a pacifist generation? We'll have to wait.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Afghanistan: Two Steps Back?

I was sent an email stating that Barbara Walters visited Afghanistan pre-2001 and post 2001 (after the Taliban were ousted). She noticed that women continued to walk behind the men, but at a greater distance than pre-2001. She asked a woman why and the dead-pan response was, "land mines."

I haven't researched to see if this actually happened, but I thought about it when I read today that the Afghanistan government is considering bringing back the Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Under the Taliban regime, this body was responsible for brutal attacks, torture and killing of women who appeared "unvirtuous" by Islamic law. This included the public killings in the Olympic stadium.

Karzai's cabinet has passed the motion and it's on its way to Parliament. Apparently, the Department is to educate people as to what is "allowable and forbidden by Islamic law."

I saw the good that our military and government have done over there, but don't think it's enough. Reading this reminds me of the ghosts I hear each day from the people I met with, "we don't want to be forgotten."

Will the Afghan people be forgotten? Have they taken a step backwards?

Lightheartedly, I'm reminded how we women felt our guest house friends and guides worked at "protecting our virtue." No T&A! (toes and ankles). I imagine they took a big risk: men taking care of a house full of women. I wonder if they suffered any repercussion?

Lift Off! Round 2

Tickets go on sale tomorrow for the STS 115 Atlantis Shuttle launch. The lift off window is August 28 - Sept. 13 and I'm hoping I'll get to see this one. This will be the shuttle's 19th mission to the International Space Station. Some of the astronauts have been training about a decade for a chance to walk or float in space.

When I had lunch with Colonel John Blaha (at the Kennedy Space Center), he talked of his days on the space station. Specifically, I recall him describing the "smell of Earth" when a new rocket or space shuttle would dock and unload with fresh supplies. I asked if he ever got jet-lagged while in space (yes, I was serious). He was stunned at my answer, "no, not if you're properly trained, there's no jet-lag," was his response.

Want to experience weightlessness in space? By the end of the decade, Virgin Galactic, led by Sir Richard Branson and others, will be transporting travelers into orbit. Amazing.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Dear Miami Cuban Exiles: Can you see the irony?

I read today that the Miami-based Cuban Exiles want to pull a book out of the Miami -Dade Public School System. The book in question, "Vamos a Cuba," apparently portrays Cuba as a "paradise" and does not mention the hardships caused by a communist government.

Dear Miami Cuban Exiles: You now live in the United States. The fabric of our values is founded in freedom of speech. Poll citizens outside of Florida and sadly, none of them care about your war to starve the Cuban nation by continuing to demand the embargo. During my December 2003 visit to Havana (may I remind you, Mr. Ashcroft, legally), Cubans I met with were stunned to learn this. They thought the entire US population despised them as much as you. (Don't know which is worse: to be despised or to be non-existent).

I am continually amazed that after 30-some years, the Cuban government continues to survive without doing (direct) business with the United States. After the US government eliminated cultural visas (which was how I traveled there), Fidel Castro banned the US dollar. Two years later, the country is still surviving. Have to admit, they're pretty darn resourceful.

Do you realize that the rest of the world can legally travel to Cuba? Have you seen a travel brochure about Cuba? The beautiful beaches, friendly people and island attitude promote the country as a Caribbean paradise. Do you ban tour companies throughout the world from publishing these brochures and getting in the hands of children?

I have always wondered if a population is so miserable under its government's control (as I am led to believe the Cubans are), why don't they organize and overthrow the government? Or better yet, all you exiles who vowed to return to Cuba, why haven't you joined together to overthrow the Cuban government? Hint: the embargo isn't working.

Yes, I am thankful each day that I live in a democracy where I have choices. But, the rest of the world cannot be the United States.

During my visit, I witnessed what Americans would consider poverty. I was proposed marriage (twice) on the street by young men wanting to start their lives in Miami. One man told, "Miami is Florida." The beggars were aggressive. And sanitation was poor. But, I also met people who were genuinely happy. By American standards, they lived simple lives and I realized how little we really need to survive and be happy.

Banning a book is a communist action. Being able to express myself is freedom. If you haven't yet, check out the Bill of Rights here.

Man! Why Wasn't This Around When I Was Growing Up?

Ok, I really wish I had this in February when I visited Animal Kingdom with my New York family. How cool is this? RideMax: a computer software program to help you cut the wait-time lines in Disneyland and Disney World Orlando.

It's sounds complicated on how it calculates everything, but it basically uses historical (not hysterical) wait time in lines as a foundation to calculate the best route to take. Users simply input which attractions they want to see then a schedule maximizing day spits out.

Now if it could only do something about airport security waiting lines...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Sweet Melody

I did something I swore I would not. Shop at Best Buy. See, tonight my $50 PC bit the dust. Can't complain, I did get a full year's worth out of it. Not sure what it died of. Contrary to popular belief, I am only a beginning geeket, so all I can tell you about my machine is that the screen is black and the fan and red light are the only things operating on it.

And so, still finding my way around Tallahassee and not having a computer available to MapQuest Circuit City, I decided to give Best Bay another chance.

After 15 minutes of stalking the computer sales team, I realized I was wearing the wrong apparel for an evening of shopping among geeks. Those shoppers wearing Daisy Dukes (short, shorts) and tiny tank tops were doted on while those of us serious shoppers seeking to drop some serious dough were ignored.

While pulling up Circuit City on my crackberry, I headed towards Customer Service to ask, "do you know of any stores around here that sell computers?" But paused. The cell phone department staff were free.

Andrea restored my faith in Best Buy. She assisted me and others, never saying, "this is not my department."

Tonight I've set up my ultra-thin monitor, key board with way too many keys, the shiny silver tower with a pretty blue light and something I haven't had in a while: speakers. For the first time in a year, I now hear when I have an IM, can understand a video and oh yes, hear those sweet words, "you've got mail."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Finally, A Story About My Trip to Afghanistan

Well, it's been four months since I returned from my trip to Afghanistan and it's only now that I've been able to wrap my arms around the experience and write about it. I'm still working on other stories for other publications, but this is the first one. Feel free to share it. Enjoy it here.

Friday, July 07, 2006

What Happens in Vegas...

Despite Las Vegas being overcrowded, commercial and excessive, I love it. It's escapism at its finest.

Their tourism office recently came up with an excellent way for visitors to have a really good time, incognito. Visitors to this website: Be Anyone in Vegas can create their own identity, including business cards, background profile, telephone number and website.

Who will I be on my next visit to Vegas? According to the parameters I entered, my name is Ginger, a double-agent from Kansas. Is that clicking I hear on my phone??

Seeing Double Vision in Tally

Tomorrow, Double Vision Pictures will begin filming the feature film called, "Finding a Good Man." The production company is co-owned and co-operated by the multi-talented Cassandra Henderson.

Cassie's "day job" is with the same organization I work. I'm not sure if others in the office are aware of her accomplishments outside the workplace. She also owns Po Folk Productions, another film production company. She's young, driven and following her dream. You go girl!

One of my office buddies has a key role in the film, too. Playing mother of the lead character. Brenda, this may be your big break. Remember me on the red carpet.

Last Weekend's Trip to the Kennedy Space Center

Pictures speak a thousand words, so enjoy:

Another Minute Ticks Off My 15 Minutes of Fame

This year I'm showing up in all sorts of media! (But my favorite - for this year - is being shown on the English-language news station in Kabul, that's going to be a difficult one to top).

Imagine my surprise today when I opened the weekly E-Newsletter of Associated Content, the online content site I contribute to, and see that I'm the featured "CP" (Content Producer) this week. Best of all, the newsletter is about "space." (Can I say it enough, "yup, I'm a geek!")

Read the newsletter here and enjoy!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Is This How Marketing-Obsessed We've Become?

What's happened to reality? Has our thirst for voyeurism blurred our perception as to what is real and what isn't?

While trolling for writing leads, I came across this on Craiglist: a 50-something male looking for a writer to re-write his on-line dating profiles so they jump out at the type of woman he wants to attract!

This is what we've become: dazzled by packaging with no care for the internal substance.

But, we Americans are fickle. Eventually, we will tire of the bling and desire real substance. Right?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Jenn-less Lift Off

No, I didn't go back to the Kennedy Space Center for the Space Shuttle Discovery launch today. I checked the weather this morning and it wasn't any better than Saturday. But I was wrong.

Rather than watching the launch on the grassy lawn next to the Rocket Garden with thousands of other space-enthusiasts, I watched it on the comfort of my sofa.

Oh, well. Atlantis is scheduled for an August lift off.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Scrubbed! But I Found Christmas

The STS-121 Space Shuttle launch was scrubbed yesterday and rescheduled to launch tomorrow. Although it would be pretty cool to be at the launch for a Fourth of July lift-off, don't think I can make the LONG drive again. Oh, well. There's another launch scheduled in August.
I did, however, get to see Christmas, Florida. I've always heard of it, but really didn't realize it's located on the very eastern edge of Orange County on Hwy. 50. Cattle roam rather than reindeer. Streets are named "St. Nicholas," "Cupid," and "Blitzen." A Christmas tree is decorated year-round and garland and lights drip off the homes of some of the residents. Ft. Christmas was erected during the Seminole War on December 25, 1837. The fort is on display at the county-run historical site, along with other buildings from that era.

My Fall 2004 Trip to Japan

Wonder HOW I was able to live in Japan for a month through Rotary International's Group Study Exchange program? Read the story here.

Speaking of Japan, the stories I contributed to an upcoming guidebook should be out by the end of the year. Visit Celeste Heiter, the editor's blog, about Asian cooking and film (and see the chopsticks I sent her earlier in June - from Philadelphia's Chinatown).

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Como se dice en Espanol: "Toilet Plunger?"

Like yesterday, my day began around 5:30 a.m. Not by choice. A horrible, blarring alarm startled me - I thought it was the alarm clock. After playing with it, I heard an announcement coming out of the wall. "A fire has been detected in the building. Please evacuate immediately."

Within three minutes of the hearing the announcement, I was one of a dozen people standing outside. Mind you, I was staying on the 12th floor. Other guests wandered down - some fully dressed and others with luggage (ok, I did grab one bag - but again, I was out of the building within 3 minutes) as late as 20 minutes from the initial alarm.

There wasn't a fire, I'm not sure what it was. But the Orange County Fire Department did clear the building. I was back in bed by 6:30 a.m.

Until my work phone rang at 7:30 - wrong number. A visit to the bathroom to discover the toilet is plugged up and back to sleep...

...until 8:20. *Knock. Knock. Knock.* "Housekeeping."

ARGH! I didn't have a do not disturb sign in the room so I ASSUMED housekeeping didn't clean rooms until the computer told them they were vacant.

She apologized and asked what time I would be checking out. I tried to count to "10" in Spanish but kept counting in Japanese (the few words in Japanese that I can remember are numbers) and gave up and told her in English.

Seeing an opportune time to ask for a toilet plunger, I asked. It's obviously not "plungero" because she handed me a roll of toilet paper. Well, that was probably what caused the blockage - by a previous guest. "No," I told her.

"Sorry, I do not understand English."

I then used hand gestures to mimic a plunger. She still didn't understand and after investigating her cart, she didn't have one.

Now I head back over to the Space Center for a 30% chance of a Shuttle launch. *Sigh.* Me thinks I won't be seeing this Space Shuttle lift off.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Houston, We Have a Problem

Twenty five years ago, my grandparents dragged my brother, sister and I to the Kennedy Space Center. We loved. Well, I can't speak for my siblings, but I loved it. It was when the Space Shuttle program was young and fresh. I remember attending a demonstration where some guy took a blow torch to a shuttle tile and lit it until the tile was orange hot. He then touched it - demonstrating how fast it can release heat. I also remember the long lines for food. And as my grandma reminds me, "the expensive rubber hot dogs."

It's now 2006 and my day began with rising at 5:30 a.m. then driving down to the Kennedy Space Center for the STS 121 Mission. I planned it just right, arriving in my specified "window" of time. After parking, I stood in line to get into the complex, through security. I then stood in line for water and a pretzel. Feeling the need to purchase the obligatory souvenir (pink NASA ball cap and STS 121 pin), I stood in another line. My first hour of the visit was spent standing in line.

I found a place to plop down with the other space enthusiasts - in the lawn by the Rocket Garden. Funny. I was at the Space Center last week - had lunch with Astronaut John Baha (my question to him was: do you get jet-lag? He responded with hesitation, then, "well no, not with proper training."). Today, two other astronauts were making the rounds, talking with visitors and signing books.

I sat waiting, along with thousands of other people. Communication between the crew and Houston's Mission Control were periodically broadcast. A large screen showed views of the Shuttle. It was gearing up, smoke floated from the jets as we waited. Periodically, an announcement was made in case of a disaster. Something to the affect of, if it [shuttle] blows up, find covering in an air conditioned building.

I was surrounded by an interesting mix of people. I'm sure I was interesting to some people - single woman by herself. But there were families and people throughout the world, all anxious to see the Space Shuttle. And cameras with long lenses mounted on tripods. Wish I was still into photography like that.

Weather was not the day's friend. As any Floridian knows, every summer afternoon, thunderstorms roll in. The scheduled 3:26 p.m. EDT launch was called off about nine minutes prior, due to a nasty anvil thunder head. I did learn that the launch times are partly scheduled to easy accessibility to the International Space Station - which explains the afternoon time.

Yup, I'm disappointed. But it's for the safety of the crew. The launch has been rescheduled for tomorrow at 3:39 p.m. EDT, but weather is anticipated to be just as bad.

Tonight I'm at Orlando's very comfortable Sheraton World Center and will get a good night's rest.