When you visit a city enough times, you learn some fantastic things about it. One of my best friends lives in Seattle, and it is an easy plane ride from Los Angeles. So, I have become a frequent visitor to the rainy city up north. As a 10-years-running SoCal resident, I can’t quite get used to all the gray skies and moisture, but Seattle still boasts many charms, including the famous underground (click here to read all about that).

On my latest visit this past April, my friend took me to another Seattle attraction that is um… well… not like something you would find in other cities. In a word, it’s gross. However, I mean that in the most amazing way possible.

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Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the Seattle Gum Wall! Which, as you can see, is actually an entire alley way covered, from top to bottom, in sticky, germ-infested, multi-colored, disgusting wads of already chewed gum that smell like a stale candy store. From the minute I smelled it coming, I could tell I was in for a treat. And trust me, you definitely smell it before you see it. My friend and Seattle resident who took me there, Erin, warned me that I would – “that wall is two senses in direct contrast to each other,” she said. “Everything smells amazing, but I don’t want to touch anything!”

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It was 1944 in Benouville, a little village in France. German soldiers had occupied it for four years. Every day, they infiltrated the humble little town for food, drinks, and supplies. They didn’t always ask nicely either. They invaded private homes for billets, and they constantly paced back and forth over the gray-painted road bridge over the Orne Canal. Their boots clunked on its metal surface, and the shadow of its tower enveloped them. They nestled machine guns in its steel flanks, and they strapped packs of explosives underneath it, with a single button to set them all off.

It seemed like a small bridge to make such a fuss over. However, along with another bridge in Ranville, this was the only crossing of the River Orne and Caen Canal. Without those two bridges, German defensive units would be ensnared with delays and run-arounds in the event of an invasion. German command wanted those bridges held at all costs when the allies came. If it looked like they would be taken, then they would have to be destroyed.

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Picture this.

It is early 1942. Memories of a vicious attack in Pearl Harbor burn hot in your mind. They especially trouble you, because you are a young man in the Seventeenth Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Corps. Now, war has been declared and training has begun. You suspect you will go to battle soon. You’re restless, and your nerves jangle and rattle.

One day, you attend a meeting with a high brass officer who is part of a special mission. He says it will be dangerous and some of you will get killed. You will leave the country for a long time too. He can’t tell you where you are going or what they have planned for you. All he can say is he needs volunteers.

This is the exact scenario, and the choice, that one hundred and forty men faced in 1942. When it came, their hands shot up in the air. Little did they know, the mission would be one of the most dangerous and daring of the second world war, and it would come to be known as the Doolittle Raid.

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The “Let Me Tell You How I Died” series is back! Continuing this week with Part II, which has seven segments about World War I. Segment two of Part II covers the horrors of charging out of the trenches against well-fortified positions, machine guns, and barbed wire. It was a tragic scenario that played out countless times across the Ypres Salient, and I saw the results with my own eyes – the thousands of white grave stones all across Belgium.

LET ME TELL YOU HOW I DIED

PART II – SEGMENT 2

Over the Top!

Over the top and give ‘em hell!

That’s the command we know so well

The watch hands tick, it’s almost time

The shells start flying and churn up the grime

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Fire in the Wilderness

May, 1864.

Spring had arrived in the state of Virginia, but so had the Union army. It wasn’t the first time, either. Since 1861, the boys in blue had slugged it out, and lost, against the formidable General Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. These fights carried a heavy price tag too. Thousands of soldiers lay buried under Virginia’s thick soil. Countless more bore wounds from physical scars, or the painful emotional blows from the hell they endured. That said nothing of the civilians caught in the crossfire, who lost their lives, their homes, and their precious family members who never returned from the fields. Few tables across the country escaped the tragic vacant chair.

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If any of you followed me around Halloween, you probably know that I have a bit of a sweet tooth. It’s really hard to refuse candy, especially when it comes to Candy Corn (click here to read all about it).

Well, I decided to make a two-parter out of that post, because it’s not just Candy Corn that I love. It’s holiday candies in general. Something about seeing it packed on the store shelves makes me giddy. Maybe it’s all those fun shapes and pretty colors, because I have somewhat of a short attention span at the supermarket. Who doesn’t, right?

Easter is an exceptionally festive time at the grocery store. After a hard winter (and I think we all had one this year), all those pastel pink, yellow, and green wrappers are a sight for sore eyes. So are all the chocolate bunnies, rainbow jelly beans, and brightly-speckled Robin’s Eggs.

You know what makes eyes even sorer though? Peeps. Those mangy Marshmallow creatures that swallow up every candy aisle at Easter. Even through my deep love of all things holiday, Peeps have managed a place on my hate list.

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The first time I saw “the Sound of Music,” I fell in love. Not just with that happy-go-lucky story (quite a boast for a movie with Nazis), but also with Salzburg. The mountains that drew Maria to their wild peaks also had a powerful hold on me. So much that the opening sequence, where the camera just sweeps over Austria’s beauty, has always been my favorite part.

Although, to be honest, I didn’t believe it really looked like that. I’ve been around film and its “movie magic” for too long. The mountains couldn’t possibly be that green. The waters wouldn’t be that clear. In this day and age, no village is that picturesque. I was a cold, hard skeptic. So, I made myself a promise. Someday, I would go and see it with my own eyes – no “fixing it in post,” and no movie magic. Read More

Last year, I tapped into my long-dormant poetry well, and I posted a series of seven poems about World War II.  They were all from the vantage points of the many people, from many places, killed during the conflict.  This year, the “Let Me Tell You How I Died” series is back with seven segments from World War I.  It was a conflict so encompassing in its devastation that it came to be known as “the Great War.”  Before it was through, it had laid waste to most of Europe as well as an entire generation of fighting soldiers.  Here for you is the first segment of Part II of this poem epic.  I hope you enjoy it, as well as the following six that will be posted over the next few months. Read More

Messines Ridge – And the Big Kaboom

It was June 7, 1917, a little after three in the morning. Over a small swath of Belgium known as Messines Ridge, the first rays of dawn glittered on the horizon. Mud-splattered German soldiers slumbered in their trenches, while their British counterparts huddled across the way. A few flares fizzled over the soggy fields riddled with shell holes and puddles. Sporadic artillery guns woke up and belched the first cannons of “morning hate.” A day that started out like any other…

…Until the clock struck 3:10am exactly. Then, the Battle of Messines Ridge opened with a bang. A really, really big bang. One that took almost two years to put into place, that involved nineteen separate mines, thousands of personnel, and about 990,000 pounds of explosives. A bang that killed 10,000 unsuspecting German soldiers in one fell swoop, injured countless others, caused eternal hearing problems, and left a permanent scar in the plains of Belgium that remains visible today.

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The sun burned hot in the isolated countryside of Belgium. So hot…. and the horizon lay vast and unbroken. On either side of the car, we only saw open farm lands, and tidy hay blocks stacked in pyramids or speckled in uniform over the fields. Tall, green grass rippled in the wind. The sky topped it all with its fantastic sapphire dome. While my husband drove, I fiddled with the GPS, which babbled some robotic nonsense back at me. It couldn’t help me, because it didn’t really know what I wanted. 

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