Monday, November 14, 2005

Only the good die young...

At noon today, my friend, Bob Betcher, lost his long battle against cancer.

And the world lost an incredible person.

The first time I met Bob, I never would have guessed he was 52. He had bounding energy, and a yearning to hang out with us "youngsters."

Though he had worked at The Stuart News for more than 30 years, he was never condescending, and it never even occurred to him to tell anyone else how to do their job, even though he knew the business like most of us know our own names.

Always the giver, Bob always wanted to hear your problem before bringing up his own -- even when he too weak to work full days and carried a chemotherapy monitor around on his side day in and day out.

I last saw Bob when I left The News in May. Though he was sad to see me go, few were more overjoyed than he that I was getting to follow my heart and embark on an exciting chapter of my career.

He carried our staff. When we all had nothing but bad things to say, Bob didn't tell us to stop whining. And he never just heard us -- he listened and he cared.

Even in his beleaguered state, Bob spent the majority of his time doing his job and taking care of his aging mother. He never seemed to have the time to be as sick as he was.

I heard last week that Bob was back in the hospital after contracting pneumonia, and they were concerned the cancer had spread into his lungs.

I bought him a card Friday, with the intent to send it sometime this week. I was too late.

But I don't think I was too late to tell Bob how I felt about him. I always admired his strength, character and patience, and I'm positive he knew that.

Now, a family of journalists is grieving. A community of readers is mourning. And all I can do is sit here and remember.

Bob, you were too good for this world. Rest well.

Monday, November 07, 2005


Living with a boy -- particularly mine -- is great.

I go grocery shopping , do the dishes and laundry and cook dinner half as often. We share chores; we share money; we share bills; we share responsibilities.

But there comes a point in every relationship that the sharing goes too far.

That recently has happened for Jeremy and me, as we are now sharing a cold.

Before we could even board the plane to come back home to Naples from Raleigh two weekends ago, I knew I was in trouble. I was already scanning the back of Jeremy's throat for redness, and pulling napkins and tissues out of my purse for his use.

By Monday afternoon, he had a full-blown cold, and I knew that no matter how much Vitamin C I crammed down my throat, it would be my turn soon enough.

By midweek, as Jeremy's cold seemed to be on the mend, mine was just beginning.

With our original plans for a long weekend together out the window, I set myself up on the couch with Simpsons DVDs and plenty of throat spray.

As I was struggled to remain awake, I was all prepared to curse Jeremy for delivering his illness to me. That is, until he came home with flank steaks to cook and to cure me of my woes.

Though it was a bit more low-key than I had originally planned, our weekend lazing about in recovery-mode was just what we needed.

After all, getting comfort and cuddles at home is, by far, the best part of living with a boy!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The good 'ol days...

If going home again puts me back in a tiny dorm room with horribly dyed blond hair and biology homework to do, you can count me out.

Fortunately, going home again for me this past weekend was filled with fun, friends and, of course, there was some booze.

Homecoming weekend at Appalachian allowed us to take the best parts of the college experience, and leave the stress behind. For just one weekend, we weren't reporters, or lawyers, or accountants, or whatever professional label we now carry -- we were friends.

Now more than ever, I understand why I value the friendships I have with my ASU brethren. Here, more than 1,000 miles away from the mountains I called home for four years, my friends consist of fellow journalists.

That's it.

Not that it's bad to befriend those in your industry, but you should hear our happy hour discussions. Blah, blah, deadlines... blah, blah, editors... blah, blah, politics. We can never seem to leave work in the office.

I think it's great that we've chosen a career that we can be animated about; One that allows us to be, to some extent, who we are at home in the office. But sometimes, you need a break from the same 'ol, same 'ol.

Enter my Appalachian friends.

These are people who knew me, and loved me, before even I knew what I wanted to be. When my girls befriended me, my plan was to be an archeologist... then a theatre major... then public relations person...

But when those plans changed, my friends didn't care. I'd stake a wager that they probably didn't even know about it, because they liked me for who I am -- not for what I do.

Sitting here, a staggering distance from "home," it's clear to me that I need those friends in my life -- be it on the telephone, or in person -- more than ever. Because when things get hazy, and I start to forget that there's a world outside my newsroom, I count on them to remind me who I am and where I came from.

And that -- looking beyond my own nose -- will ultimately make me a better journalist.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The night that the lights went out in Naples...

Everyone expected the power to be out in Naples after Hurricane Wilma.

Everyone expected trees would fall down, leaving a wide open view of the sky.

Everyone expected there to be quiet and darkness throughout the night.

But no one expected how nice Naples would be when everyone shut up and looked up at the sky.

Last night was like a perfect camp-out at home. The air was cool and crisp (a first here this fall); the sky was bursting with stars that we could finally see with the city's menagerie of lights out; there weren't even any ticks or raccoons to spoil the experience.

Last night, we set up camp on our patio, cooking hamburgers, roasting corn on the cob and listening to classic rock music on our battery-powered radio. Candles burned softly inside and we snuggled up under blankets while we looked out into the darkness.

I even toasted marshmallows over the grill, just to make the experience complete.

I must say, if ever a hurricane decides to barrel through Florida again, I hope it'll restrict its visits to October.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Still standing...

For those of you who have been waiting anxiously on the edge of your seats to see if you still have a friend Jen living in South Florida, relax. All is well here in Naples following Hurricane Wilma's strike.

As expected, our power is out, but we still have water. Every tree in our apartment complex is down, and the parking lot has so many green leaves sprayed around it that it looks like Emerald City.

But, after a long day driving around and interviewing people in Marco Island and surrounding areas, everyone here seems to be fine, and the damage appears to be minimal.

The Naples Daily News is kicking ass and taking names covering this storm. We've gotten into places and talked to people that even the national media cannot get to.

If you want to know what I've been up to all morning, check out our Web site at, and look for coverage of Marco Island.

Also, Jeremy had an interesting blog posted about his night in the Marco Island Fire Department, where he rode out the storm.

I'll be posting more about my night sleeping in the hallway of our apartment later on, but I just wanted to send a quick update to let everyone know we're alright.

Until I write again, just know I'll be busy reciting my new mantra: "Just 3 days 'till vacation..."

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Extra! Extra! Read all about it...

For those of you who would like to read my news story about my flight with the Hurricane Hunters, click here.

You will have to log-in to the Naples Daily News Web page to get it. If you haven't registered before, it's free, and it only takes a second. They just want to know who is reading the paper.

Also, sorry about the difficulties with the pictures. I will try again to post them. There are a bunch of professional pictures accompanying my story on the Web too.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Picture pages, picture pages...

Here by popular demand, here are the pictures from my Wilma excursion. As soon as I get the professional ones from the photographer that accompanied me, I will post them as well. Also, I will post my newspaper story on the trip when it runs in Sunday's paper. Enjoy!


Put down your rosaries, I'm back safe and sound!

All I can say is, "What a ride!"

Since I was incommunicado for the duration of the flight, I kept a computerized journal, beginning with my arrival at the Raytheon Aircraft Services hangar at Tampa International Airport. Enjoy!

MIDNIGHT -- Arrived at the hangar. Greeted by the flight crew and pilots lazing about on sofas, drinking all of the Starbucks they could get their hands on. I, having enjoyed four sweet teas, decided to keep up the caffeine kick, and gulped down a hot tea as well. It's going to be a LONG night.

1 a.m. -- Briefing in the pilots' information room. Right now, Wilma is moving at only 3 mph, and is still a strong Category 4 storm. Tour the plane and get basic safety tips about oxygen masks, etc. Sit around and listen to tales of hurricane flights past.

1:45 a.m. -- Very smooth take-off. Realized quickly that arm rests are the single most under-rated aircraft piece ever, as our seats have none. The seats all have computers at their terminals, but using the Internet costs about $10 per minute. Sorry guys -- you'll just have to wait until I hit the ground.

2:40 a.m. -- First major turbulence shifts me out of my seat so hard, that I would have been on the floor were it not for my 5-point seatbelt. The seatbelt has harnesses that go over each shoulder, across my lap, and between my legs.

2:45 a.m. -- Pilots and flight director begin discussing aforementioned turbulence. "We didn't even see that coming!" said the pilot. NOT what a passenger likes to hear...
The thrust from our seats was apparently caused by a cloud growth, which can sprout up like a slow volcano. As we are flying at 42,000 feet (the normal altitude for commercial flights is between 31,000 and 39,000 feet), it's hard for the pilots to see what's going on below them, especially in the middle of the night.

Sounds simple enough, but still -- yikes.

3:30 a.m. -- Encounter pretty bad turbulence all around coast of Cuba. We are not permitted to fly in Cuban airspace, and are forced to go around the western edge of Cuba, adding about an hour to our trip. Damn Castro.

4 a.m. -- Try for a nap as we head towards the Yucatan peninsula. Failed miserably. Too bumpy and the plane keeps shifting. No worries, though. Except that the research meteorologist comments this is the bumpiest flight he's been on during this storm (it's his third). Super...

5 a.m. -- Flying over Cozumel, Honduras and Belize. The meteorologists are beginning to get data that can be read. The way they collect data is by dropping small tubes containing global positioning devices, which read the air's atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity and wind directions, among other things. These devices are dropped 24 times during the course of the flight in pre-planned locations near Cuba, the Yucatan and all over the Gulf of Mexico. Readings are received immediately and are transferred directly to Miami's NOAA Hurricane Center for analysis. All together, they will help determine predictions for the 11 a.m. advisory.

I also got to log in the coordinates that help the NOAA make their predictions. The ones I did were for the sensor drop on the southern end of Cuba. Cool!

5:45 a.m. -- Just took a few gulps of air in the oxygen mask overhead. The air is extremely thin here, making it difficult to breathe at times. Also have been warned to stay hydrated, as there is a risk of passing out once departing the plane. Again, super...

6:50 a.m. -- Have received our first comprehensive data readings from the previous drops. It appears that the winds from this storm will reach out for more than 200 miles, and will begin affecting SW Florida sometime later tonight. Tropical storm winds will begin whipping the coast by tomorrow morning. Research meteorologist predicts the storm will most likely hit Naples, or some area just north of it, head-on. All computer models thus far have lined up in agreement that Collier County is likely in the path of the storm. All could change, however, depending on how slowly the storm moves over the Yucatan. Meteorologists are beginning to see signs of a heavy front that will inevitably push the storm into Florida's west coast.

OK, so they told us that we need to stay hydrated, because of the intense pressure, but what goes along with hydration? Urination! A lot of it. In the world's smallest, most uncomfortable bathroom in the world. I think I may have been better off in a litter box. I swear, if I come off this flight with an injury, it will have occurred in that bathroom.

7:20 a.m. -- The sun is beginning to break over the clouds, producing the most beautiful red and purple sunrise imaginable. We are just south of Louisiana, and the coastline is lit with bright lights just below the horizon. Unbelievable.

7:45 a.m. -- For the first time, we are able to see just how high above the clouds we are. Everything below looks like little pillows, glistening in the orange sunlight. Soft, fluffy pillows. OK, maybe I'm getting a bit delirious...

8:30 a.m. -- After rather smooth sailing, we are back to extreme turbulence. Mostly bumps, though. Nothing like the drops we experienced in Cuba. The pilot just broadcasted over our headphones that the duration of the flight will likely be as bumpy. We still have 4 or 5 sensors left to drop. Great.

9:30 a.m. -- After another hour of turbulence, we finally touched down back at Tampa International. While the pilots got to debrief and go home to sleep, I have to drive back to Naples and write my article. Will post it when I'm done. Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Crazy is as crazy does...

Let me go ahead and quickly answer everyone's questions/comments that I've been sent regarding my flight over the hurricane tonight:

No, it's perfectly safe. The governor of Florida even takes these hurricane flights.

Yes, it will be quite an amazing experience. I'm looking forward to it.

No, Jeremy doesn't mind. He thinks it's great.

Yes, this was my idea.

No, I wasn't born under power lines.

Hope that clears things up a bit.

So, here's the update on my flight, scheduled for 2 a.m. tonight: I received a call from the publisist who arranges these flights yesterday telling me to make sure I bring my own food and drinks for the plane (what, no steak or fish option?).

Which prompts me to ask what the length of the flight will be.

Response: "Oh, about eight hours."


Well, the good news is, we'll get to see the sunrise over the hurricane, which I'm told is quite an amazing sight! More good news: I'll have a wireless laptop with Internet connection and my digital camera with me, which means I may be able to update this blog from the plane, so you know what I know before the rest of the world.

If you happen to be up at 4 in the morning...

Regardless, I'll do the best I can to keep everyone informed. Right now, the storm is directly over the Yucatan Penninsula (Cancun and Cozumel, for those of you who know it only as a party spot). It's apparently stalled there a bit, bringing its possible hit to us sometime on Monday, as opposed to Sunday morning as originally thought.

Everyone here is in limbo. Gas stations are low on or out of gas. Stores are boarded up, but trying to remain open. And, to quote my new favorite singer, Jack Johnson, we're all just "sitting, waiting, wishing."

More tonight when I fly the horribly unfriendly skies!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Hurricane a-comin'...

So, for those of you who may have been in a cave for the past few days, there is a massive hurricane churning in the ocean, and it's headed straight for your good friend, Jen.


Yup, we Floridians are pretty well-versed in hurricane-speak. Phrases like "hunker down," "storm surge" and "cone of probability" are all too common-knowledge here.

We also know all the basics of preparedness. If fact, most of us start sounding like a how-to pamphlet every June.

We know it all so well, we could be experts, and, whether we should or not, we tend to treat hurricane threats with a high degree of complacency. Kind of a "been there, done that" outlook, if you will.

But this isn't most hurricanes.

Hurricane Wilma has a number of features foreign to even the most-experienced weather-watchers here. For starters, it's late-October, which is an unusually late time in the season to be experiencing these storms.

According to meteorologists here (and you're talking to someone who's interviewed them, so I have the inside scoop), the same thing that is going to weaken the storm is going to push it right into Southwest Florida. In October, cold fronts tend to drift farther south, which weakens the storms, but also causes them to drift northeast, right into us.

But that's not the worst of the news.

As of Wednesday, Wilma took a historic leap from a low Category 2 storm to the strongest Category 5 in recorded history.

I don't care if you're Jim Cantore or if you've been through every hurricane ever to pounce the state -- this is a big deal.

For those of you concerned about my safety, you should know that I plan to be perfectly safe -- in a military plane which will fly me directly into the storm.

At 2 a.m. Friday night/ Saturday morning, I will be with a team of meteorologists and pilots, and we will head to the eye of the storm to scope out its progress to report it to the rest of the world. So, for the duration of the flight, I will be among the most knowledgable people in the world regarding Hurricane Wilma.

And shortly after touchdown Saturday night, you will be too. As long as you are a loyal blog reader...

Wish me luck!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

My Mona Lisa is a martini glass...

My hands and arms are completely covered with paint that I can't scrub off.

How cool is that??

I've always wanted to be artsy and creative, because I admire artists and their work so much. But alas, my hands are primarily used to type out stories, not to sculpt or paint a masterpiece.

I was talking with someone recently about an artists village that is in the works here in Naples. Jokingly, I asked if there was any room for "starving journalists."

With the straightest face in the world, the man's answer was "absolutely."

I guess what I do can be considered "art." I craft stories out of nothing, using the tools at my disposal and the world around me to create pieces that others can enjoy or reflect upon.

I guess that's really what art is -- taking the things that you feel, that you see, that you know and making them into something others can appreciate.

All the same, I feel like my work is just too literal, as newspaper articles don't (and shouldn't) leave things to the viewer's imagination.

I've had the extreme privalege of visiting some of the finest art museums in the world: The Louvre, Musee' d' Orsay, the Tate and Tate Modern and the National Gallery of Art. In each of those places, I was able to marvel at the works of revered artists, who seemed to be bursting with things to tell me through their works of art. Though not of all their messages were clear, I always felt inspired by the genius of creative art and its deeper meanings.

This weekend, I visited an art festival in Naples, and, as usual, I was mesmerized by many of the works I saw. When I came to a neat (albiet, very literal) painting that didn't look too difficult to recreate, I decided to try my hand at the painting game.

I stayed up nearly all night mixing paints, trying new techniques and just having a blast creating very amateurish works of art. In the end, I had two paintings of a wine glass and martini glass to show for my efforts. They're certainly never pieces you'll find hanging in any gallery, but they gave me a sense of accomplishment and glee to do.

I took a blank canvas and, for the first time ever, made it my creation.


Monday, October 10, 2005

The Music of the Night...

Sitting five rows back, I felt like I might as well have been on the stage for the production of Phantom of the Opera I saw this weekend in Ft. Lauderdale.

It was the fourth time I've seen the show live, and the very first time I've actually had a decent seat for it. And the experience was incredible.

Seated that close, I could actually see, for the first time, the phantom's distorted face. I was so close, I could actually feel the musical notes pounding into my head, raising goosebumps on top of the goosebumps already on my arms and legs.

I was even close enough to wonder why all of the actors had make-up covered lumps on their heads (until I realized they were strategically placed microphones).

The evening's production was magical, and completely unforgettable, but it wasn't my favorite.

No, it couldn't hold a candle to the first time I watched the phantom row across the stage on a magical lake filled with candles, or heard Christine hit that high note I thought would surely shatter the chandelier that I had no idea was doomed to fall.

I remember it well: I was a senior in high school, and it seemed as though everyone I knew was going to see the show during its run in Raleigh, N.C. Everyone except for me, of course.

After hearing far too many of our friends rave about the magic of the opera, my friend and I pooled our money and bought the only tickets we could find on short-notice: obstructed viewing.

The demand for tickets was so great, we found, that even our terrible seats, which were nowhere near one another, cost about $50. That's a lot of money for an 18-year-old, (hell, that's a lot of money for me now) but we were determined to see the show.

We got all dressed up in formal attire, and even treated ourselves to dinner at the Olive Garden. (Hey, if you're going to go broke, might as well do it all at once!) After we arrived at the theater, we bid each other goodbye (until intermission), and set off to find our awful seats.

I was greeted by an unwelcome feature at my seat -- a large pole blocking my view. Realizing nothing could be done about it now, I shrugged, cocked my head to the left, and settled in for the performance.

Despite the crick in my neck, which lasted the rest of the week, I knew I'd witnessed a masterpiece. I laughed, cried and gasped at each scene, and when it was over, I realized gladly that I had completely lost touch with the outside world for the duration of the play.

Even more amazing was the lingering effect the phantom had on me. So blown away by its power, I found myself unable to sleep that night. The songs kept dancing around in my head as I laid awake trying to make sense of each scene I had enjoyed.

The power of the performance was so real, in fact, that I took home with me the fear portrayed by the characters, and found myself scanning the room for weeks, checking for any man/ghost that might be stalking me. Sadly, I wasn't quite lucky enough to be visited by the angel of music!

Every time I see the play, it's a new experience; a new memory imprinted on my mind forever. But it'll never compare to the first time the phantom rocked my world, and I never saw it coming.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Working to tears...

I wish I could make sense of why bad things happen.

I suppose if I could, the Nobel prize committee may be knocking down my door, or I'd have to start my own religion or something. As it is, I do not hold the answers, nor do a have many theories.

Unfortunately, in my business, it's so easy to get jaded. Human tragedy fades into the background of routine "work stuff," and we become numb to the things that horrify unsuspecting others.

Even in the aftermath of devestation and uncomprehendable anguish caused by Hurricane Katrina, I found myself blocking out reports that seemed to be running on an eternal loop on CNN, MSNBC and other news stations.

I'm not proud of this.

Maybe I was just over-inundated. Maybe I've just seen too much of it all before. Maybe I just can't relate.

I've written countless stories about hurricane destruction; stories about the massive tsunami that swept portions of Asia earlier this year; stories about murder, rape and child abuse. And yet, these things seem foreign to me.

Am I being cold, or am I just doing my job?

Staying objective should be the responsibility of every reporter, but compassion should be the responsibility of life. We're granted daily glimpses of tragedy; reminders that any day, any second, it could happen to us.

So, how can we, a society overloaded with images of death in Iraq, drownings in Lake George and flooding and poverty in New Orleans really "let it in?"

For me, it's a matter of relativity. When I'm writing a story about a girl who was snatched from her house and raped by 14 men, who has it worse -- the rape victim, or me, who has to take time out of her busy day to write a story about it?

It's a no-brainer.

I can't force myself to tears every time I see a disturbing image flash across the television, and I can't (won't) live my life constantly feeling sad for the pain in the world, or constantly worrying that I or one of my loved ones could be the next to be hurt. But I can show compassion by treasuring each gift that I have -- knowing their are people worse off in the world than I can ever imagine being, and being grateful for the people and things I've been blessed to receive.

After the news story is run isn't the time to tell someone how you feel about them. Show your compassion for the world through the small few whose lives you impact everyday.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Is autumn in Boone a color?...

There's something completely magical about October -- even in Florida.

OK, so the leaves here don't change color; the breezes don't turn crisp and chilly; we don't even get to experience that invigorating smell that permeates the air when a fireplace is lit for the first time in months. It's too early to dig into the bins beneath the bed in search of moth-eaten sweaters; too soon to schedule golf games at noon; and we're a lifetime away from a premature snow flurry, indicative of a chilly winter to come.

So what is it that makes October, and, in essence, the arrival of fall, so wondrous for me?


Thank God for Jeremy's patience. He's not quite to the point yet of threatening my life if I "tell one more damn Appalachian/Boone/North Carolina in the fall story."

But I'm sure he must be getting close.

In my mind, they're great stories: Stories about football games in a stadium surrounded by majestic mountains, dotted with patches of burnt sienna, lush auburn and shimmering gold. (Sorry, the colors are far too awe-inspiring to be called red, orange and yellow.)

I've got stories about pumpkin beer in an underground cafe'; ones about walking out of my way to crunch wayward leaves that have fallen ahead of schedule from towering trees above; and even tales about smelling snow in the air before it has even thought of falling from the sky.

But my favorite stories, the ones I will always treasure, and the ones that make people want to toss me off the beautiful mountain overlooks I keep babbling about, are the ones about my friends.

I've been privileged in my life thus far to enjoy many spectacular moments: A first kiss with my true love; the first times I got to hold my brothers and sister; two graduations with all four of my parents, a handful of grandparents and my great-grandmother Grums nearby; the first time my puppy nuzzled his tiny head into the nape of my neck.

And now, the moments of coffee and conversation in a cozy coffee house, the times we walked, instead of driving, because the weather was too nice, the cooking together and the Frisbee games on the lawn occupy my mind each time a taunting wisp of cool air slides through my hair.

It was around this time last year when I looked up to see a grayish sky, and that cruel wind sent me a chilly reminder, raising goosebumps on my arms and legs. It was about the same time that a frigid tear streaked across my wind-whipped cheek.

But this year is different.

This year, I can't stay away. This month, I'm going back to where the memories were made.

My friends are all different people now. I'm a different person now. Yet, we're all going back, seemingly for the same reason: Not to remember, but to make new memories we can store up and unwrap on those warm or cold fall nights whenever we need them -- wherever we are.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Welcome baaaack...

Well, it's been almost a year since I've updated this site, and a lot has happened. I've been through two jobs, moved from the east coast of Florida to the west coast of Florida (where the sand is finer and the water warmer) and moved in with my wonderful boyfriend, Jeremy.

At the urging of some -- sadly, not many -- I've decided to pick up where I left off, publishing my columns on the Web so you can pretend that you're interested. (Hey, I appreciate whatever verbal petting I can get -- even the insincere kind!)

So I thought I'd begin with a general update. When we left off, I was moving to my paper's main office in Stuart. After six months, I left what turned out to be a very frustrating job as a religion/social services/features writer in pursuit of personal and professional happiness in Naples.

In May, I accepted a position as a general assignment writer for the Naples Daily News. It's been a fantastic challenge, because the area that I cover is more than 100 miles long (from West Miami to East Naples). Being that I'm general assignment, I get to cover a little bit of everything, so it's never boring.

Jeremy, Pickle and I moved into an apartment in North Naples, and it's going great. We have a guest bedroom, so anyone who wants to come visit is welcome anytime. In fact, for those of you up north, Southwest offers fares of $39 each way to and from Florida. Just a suggestion...

I no longer write personalized columns that run in the paper, and I miss it a lot. That was the greatest outlet I had for creative writing, which is why I've decided to continue doing that here for you bloggers to enjoy. My columns will be a lot like they were in The Jupiter Courier, but maybe a bit more personalized, since you all know me (or, hopefully, know of me). My goal is to update the blog with a column at least twice a week -- maybe more if I can swing it.

A lot of people have also expresed an interest in checking out the articles I write for the paper as well, so I will post those from time to time too (unless they're boring government pieces). If you ever want to read up on my work, the paper's Web site is: A search engine will be in the bottom righthand corner of the page. To view my articles, just type in my last name in all lowercase letters: brannock. You will have to register the first time you sign-in to view the articles, but it's free, and you'll never have to do it again after the first time!

Well, I'm off to work now. Just wanted to post a first entry. Please feel free to e-mail me with comments, questions or column ideas at

Happy reading!