A “First Class” Start

27 February 2013

Creative writing teachers will tell you that bad experiences make for good stories. It’s true.

And I’ve had my share. The “wisdom” behind posts like Tips For If You Miss Your Flight usually comes from really stupid things I’ve done while traveling — like missing my flight because I’m sitting at the wrong gate or I’m waiting at the gate for a plane that’s going where I need to go and I think it’s my flight but, oh, it’s not my airline. I’ve slept overnight in airport lounges enough times to feel like a supporting cast member in Tom Hank’s movie The Terminal.

But every once in a while an experience falls into your lap that’s too good not to share.

Thanks to my uncle who trains pilots for a major airline, I was flying “non-rev” from Dallas, Texas to Norfolk, Virginia. Flying non-rev is a gamble: sometimes you don’t get a seat and get bumped to the next available flight, sometimes you manage to slip into the last seat available on the plane, usually a middle seat. And sometimes — blessed times — you get to fly First Class.

Yesterday was one of those blessed days. As I sat there in my luxuriously roomy seat watching the other passengers go by, I was trying to look sufficiently calm and composed on the outside while I was doing a happy dance on the inside. Thank you, Uncle Robert, thank you, thank you for your choice to work for the airline and support your family members’ addiction to travel. You are my hero.

I’ve already described in detail the pleasures of flying First Class, and how humbling it is to be given this gift through no merit of my own, symbolic in a way of that Other great gift we’ve been given through no merit of our own. So I’ll limit this post to describing what I had for lunch at 30,000 feet: grilled shrimp and cheesy grits. And they were surprisingly good.

This writers’ retreat week is off to a great start. Bring it on, Lord. I’m ready.

“Hatteras Girl” provides much-needed inspiration

25 February 2013

I was searching for information on the Wright Brothers and Kitty Hawk for a story I’m writing. The local library’s online catalog brought up about 4 or 5 promising titles, mostly in Children’s Nonfiction. I scrolled down to the bottom of the page and noticed a listing for a fiction book called Hatteras Girl by author Alice J. Wisler. Cape Hatteras is in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, as is Kitty Hawk and the Wright Brothers memorial, hence the computer-generated connection.

I read the summary and was intrigued. The heroine of the story, like me, was a journalist and was, also like me, an older single who has had her share of unpromising blind dates. Another thing that caught my attention was that the book was put out by a Christian publishing house, Bethany House. The last time I read a “good” mainstream novel there were so many bad words and compromising scenes in it that I had to put it down in disgust, even though it was captivating, well-written, and had won numerous awards.

Because of life’s craziness and lack of leisure time, I haven’t read a book “just for fun” in about six months. I decided to indulge — and read the book in three days. I liked how the author created such a warm and complex main character and also the inviting way in which she described the Outer Banks, with so much local color sprinkled in. There was a lot of real, human emotion in the book.

As I read, I was reminded of a novel of my own I had begun many moons ago but put aside to pursue more “serious” writing, i.e. the kind that pays the bills. Currently, the manuscript sits in my laptop under several layers of virtual dust. The file has the optimistic label “My First Novel.” I first started it in 2003 and haven’t written in it (or thought much about it) since 2005.

Tomorrow, I head out to the East Coast for a writers retreat in the Outer Banks. I’ve decided to take “My First Novel” with me and see if I can’t resurrected it. Might even give it a more exciting title. Thanks for the inspiration, Alice J. Wisler!

Homemade Hummus and Pita Chips

1 August 2012



A few days ago, I was on vacation in Greece eating souvlaki and swimming in the Mediterranean (not at the same time!). So today, to extend the experience a little, I decided to make that staple of the Mediterranean diet — hummus.


This recipe, posted by ROYHOBBS at Allrecipes.com, is super simple and easy to make.


1 (19 oz) can garbanzo beans, half the liquid reserved

4 TBS lemon juice

2 TBS tahini (I put in 3)

1-2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 tsp salt

black pepper to taste

olive oil


1. In a blender, chop the garlic. Pour garbanzo beans into blender. Place lemon juice, tahini, chopped garlic and salt in blender. Blend until creamy and well mixed, adding in liquid from can as needed.

2. Transfer the mixture to a medium serving bowl. Sprinkle with pepper and pour olive oil over the top.



The recipe for baked pita chips has been modified from an online recipe located at theshiksa.com.


4 pita bread rounds (I use whole wheat)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil



1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush your baking sheet with olive oil, coating the entire sheet evenly. Brush the top of a pita round evenly with oil oil. Sprinkle pita with salt to taste.

2. Cut the pita in half, then in quarters, then in eighths to make eight equal sized triangles.

3. Place pita triangles seasoning-side up in a single layer on the oiled baking sheet. Repeat process for remaining three pita rounds.

4. Place baking sheet in the oven. Let the pita chips bake for 8-10 minutes, turning the sheet once during the baking to ensure even heat distribution. Chips are done when they’re golden brown and crisp. Towards the end of baking keep an eye on the chips, as they will brown quickly and can burn if not watched.

5. Remove chips from oven and allow to cool. Serve the chips on their own or with a dip like hummus or baba ghanoush. Store in a sealed Tupperware or Ziploc bag.

Nat’s Notes

* Hummus can be served with vegetables as an even healthier alternative

* Chickpeas contain loads of fiber and nutrients

* Hummus makes a healthy snack as well as a great sandwich spread



Helping the Greek Economy

25 July 2012

While I’m here, I’ve decided to make an effort to support the Greek economy … primarily by supporting the food industry. 🙂

My first attempt is seen below:

Clockwise from left: black olives (wrinkly kind), Greek yogurt, stuffed grape leaves, and green olives in brine.

These products were all purchased from the local store in the closest village, Agii Apostoli. The descriptions were all in Greek so I relied entirely on the label photos. They all had a Greek flag on their packaging, which I’m assuming means “Made in Greece.” Yum! Everything tastes so good!


Greetings from Greece

25 July 2012

Near village of Agii Apostoli

On Monday, I flew from London to Athens. After 3 1/2 weeks of rain in England with highs barely reaching the 60s and lows in the 40s, I had one desire: warmth!! And Greece delivered. It’s been lovely, with temperatures in the 90s, beautiful, consistent, reliable sunshine but a gentle breeze from the ocean and lots of shade to cool things off.

I flew Aegean Airlines, the largest Greek airline. Flying a non-US airline was something I hadn’t done in a while but I was impressed by the quality of the service (okay, so that’s code for “they served a free hot meal and it was good!”). We arrived an hour late but no one seemed too concerned. Everything is so laid back. No customs forms to fill out and just a short passport control line to get through, separated into EU and non-EU members.

The owner of the villa we’re renting picked me up in her car and we drove about an hour to the village of Agii Apostoli where I’ll be staying for a week with my sister, her husband and my two little nieces. I was pleasantly surprised at the modern infrastructure — nice highways and a subway system — and Amelia, my hostess, said all of that is new since the 2004 Olympics.

I found out a lot of information from Amelia concerning the political and educational system here and Greece, and asked her lots of questions about the political climate since the recent elections. As we drew closer to the ocean, the views grew increasingly dramatic and I’d interrupt her every once in a while with a gasp. What a beautiful country!

Smart Money: Cash Passport

11 July 2012

Sorry, folks. Traveler’s Checks are a thing of the ancient past. They’ve been replaced by debit cards, credit cards and most recently … Cash Passports.

I’d heard about Cash Passports for several years but was skeptical about them: I always felt deep down that it was some kind of scam. However, after reading some positive testimonials, I decided to try one this year for my trip to England.

You can get a Cash Passport at the exchange company Travelex, found in the international terminals of major airports. You put an initial sum on the card (you get the best deal on exchange rates if you go over a certain amount, like $700) then use it as if it were a debit card, either as a swipe card or to withdraw money from ATMs. It’s widely accepted here in England.

So why use a Cash Passport instead of a debit card? Several reasons.

(1) It has a “chip and pin” system which makes it very secure for use in Europe; over here they consider our non-chip US cards (both debit and credit) very unsafe as it’s much easier to steal information from them.

(2) The amount of the card is in British Pounds (you can also choose Euros) so you only have to deal with exchange rates one time, upon purchase of the card at the airport, and the rest of the time you can figure out everything in British Pounds based on the remaining balance on your card.

In my opinion, it beats having to monitor the exchange rates on your checking account as transactions go through, as well as being charged a percentage for each transaction. The advantage of a Cash Passport over a credit card is similar to that of a debit card with the additional advantage that the CP lets you withdraw cash without charge, whereas a credit card would charge for a cash advance.

You can check your balance online (supposedly — I’ve just been keeping a tally of all my expenses) and if it gets lost or stoelen there’s a number you can call immediately to deactivate the card and you’ll be issued a new one with the remaining balance.

Bottom line is that everyone has a different system and preference for how to handle their money abroad. I’ve tried the CP this year and been very pleased with how it’s worked for me. I think I’ll continue using the CP in my travels in the future. You might want to check it out, too!

4th of July in England

4 July 2012

Happy 4th of July!

We would soon be heading out to the Boathouse where our Oxford RAs are preparing for us a dinner to remember. Who would have thought that 236 years after our little revolution, the Brits would be hosting us in a little barbecue to celebrate our Independence Day? Just a little twist of irony.

But not the strangest thing that’s every happened here. I think that award goes to last year’s Oxford program students Trey Ramsey and Alycia Graves teaching the Chinese students how to do the electric slide, after they’d helped us celebrate the 4th of July — a holiday they’d never heard of before.

I love these multicultural interactions. 🙂

Will have photos later!


View From My Window

26 June 2012

Western Road Rowhouses, Oxford, England

Sunshine in Oxford

25 June 2012

We had a sunshiny and — get this — warm day here in Oxford for the first day of class and the Welcome Tea. In fact (and this is a first-ever phenomenon for me) I got a little sunburn from sitting in the Hertford College quad for the better part of an hour. Sunburnt. In Oxford.

Yesterday’s lunch was chicken in a white wine sauce with a sort of rice pilaf, snowpeas and carrots. Chocolate cake for dessert.

Chicken in Wine Sauce

Walking back from class today, I made the mistake of taking a shortcut through the Covered Market. I came out on the other side with two flower containers and 3 bouquets of flowers from the discount bin!

Blue Flowers

Lilies in my dorm room


An English Breakfast: The Stuff of Dreams

24 June 2012

Ahhhhh! A traditional English breakfast. The smell wafted up to me on the top floor of Abingdon House as I woke up this morning, my stomach rumbling in anticipation. The fare did not disappoint.

An English Breakfast

Eggs, “bacon,” mushroom, tomato, hash browns, sausage plus toast, croissants, fresh fruit and berries and several options of cereal, juices, milk and coffee. It’s the breakfast of kings. What a great way to start a Sunday morning!

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