Diary of an Ex-Smoker...Part One


It was twenty years ago that I quit smoking.

Requests from my local convenience store clerk for "a pack of Virginia Slims Menthol Ultra Lights" or "a pack of Benson and Hedges Menthol Ultra Lights" (depending on the country I was currently living in) was quite the mouthful. By the time I had finished placing my order you would have thought that I would have lost interest or at the very least forgotten what I was asking for. That was far from the case. I loved my 'smokes' and had to have a pack with me at all times. Money was no object. At about $6.00 per pack, I fed my addiction without fail. One to one and a half packs (30 cigarettes) daily. It seems hard to believe that I had time to do anything else.
The ad text reads: "Back then, every man gave his wife at least one day a week out of the house. You've come a long way, baby. Virginia Slims – Slimmer than the fat cigarettes men smoke."

Work was no problem. I had to work. How else was I going to pony-up for my smokes?  As a nurse working in a hospital, smoking was not restricted - at all.
I recall walking into patient's rooms where cutting through a cloud of smoke was a common occurrence. Even if the patient was a non-smoker, their visitors did not seem to have an issue with smoking over them while sitting vigil at their bedside. For safety reasons, patients who were elderly, oxygen-requiring and/or forgetful would be wheeled to the Nurse's Station at night where we could all enjoy a smoke together. This practice was frowned upon by hospital administration during the daytime of course, but staffers could feel free to get their "nicotine fix" in the medication, dictation, conference rooms and/or hospital cafeteria.

Smoking while driving required essential multi-tasking capabilities. Friends were amazed at the fact that I could drive while smoking a cigarette, applying eyeliner and drinking a cup of coffee simultaneously. That took talent, if I say so myself.

I never did learn to knit, crochet, type or play an instrument and I didn't care to.

And then the boom came crashing down on my love affair with smoking...  In 1990, a Harvard study involving hundreds of single college-graduate men was released. The men were asked... "If given a choice between a woman who smoked vs. a woman who was overweight, which one would you date?". Their resounding response? The fat woman.

That was it. Time for a change.      

Diary of an Ex-Smoker:Part II

Living the Dream...


OK. So it's taken me about a week to come down from Vegas.

As an ICU nurse, I think I may have spent a little too much time in the casino. Upon returning to work, the bells and whistles of all our various alarms and alerts sure sounded a lot like the familiar rush of fake coins from slot machines. It wouldn't have surprised me if the enticing 'come-on' of  "WHEEL-OF-FORTUNE" was heard down the hall. LasVegas and my real life became intertwined for a few days. But now I can confidently say that I'm back.
Gone, is the ringing in my ears, the chronic fatigue and my money. 

It wasn't all gambling however. My friend JoBeth and I had planned for a few casino-breaks during our three days in Sin City.

We stayed at The MGM Grand and soon after arriving, made our way to The Monorail and bought a 3-Day unlimited pass for $28. The monorail runs along the Vegas Strip to most of the hotels and is a great alternative to the lengthy taxi lines. 

That night we had dinner reservations at 7 pm for The Venetian's "Tao". A chic and very dimly-lit Asian-fusion restaurant where the likes of Britney and Paris frequent. No luck in celebrity spotting for us however. My guess is that Britney or Paris dine a little later in the evening and even if they were there, it was so dark that we would have had to literally bump into them. I guess that's why they like it there. 

Afterwards, we walked across the street to The Mirage where we had tickets to see the abdsolutely fantastic Cirque du Soleil "Beatles Love". If you like The Beatles, you've got to go to this.
Tuesday's dinner was at Mandalay Bay's "The Red Square". A beautiful Russian restaurant with a bar topped in ice. The service and decor was outstanding. The food? Not so much.
From Mandalay Bay, we zipped back to The Venetian via the Monorail and saw "The Jersey Boys" a musical regaling the life and times of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.
  On Wednesday we were back at The Mirage - dinner at "Japonais" 
Then, Terry Fator. If you've never heard of him it's because he was unheard of until about three or four years ago when he won"America's Got Talent" The guy is a singing ventriloquist and a hoot!

Anyway, when it was all said and done, the bleary-eyed JoBeth and I both agreed we had a great time and would do it all over again. 

Viva Las Vegas!

Technology - Gotta Love It


I am 30,000 feet in the air and en route to Las Vegas.
Sometimes, the sheer awesomeness of the world I live in rises up and slaps me in the face. This is one of those times.

A few minutes ago I was somewhat frustrated at not being able to watch the most current episode of  "The Office" on Hulu as my in-flight wifi connection was not fast enough. So I decided instead, to update my blog. Then it struck me... Technology and I have grown up together.

It all began in high school with an invention called "the calculator". OMG it added, subtracted, multiplied and divided. Whoa Nelly! The hot debate at the time amongst high school administrators was whether or not bringing a calculator into math class should be declared "cheating".
Then came "The Epilady". A barbaric, handheld electric little gizmo that was outfitted with wire coils. When turned on and placed firmly against your skin, it would literally pull your hair out by its roots. I swear to God. The pain was excruciating and I still wince at the thought of it.

Next was "The Mobile Phone". Mine was about the size of a liter bottle of Coke and weighed about as much. But despite its clunkiness - I loved it.
Just look at the smile on my face ...kidding.

When I learned of "The Internet" I had no idea of its capability. I recall saying to my friend Rob... "Rob, did you know that in the future, with the internet, I could send you a message and you could send me one back...on our computer?"

Search engines like 'Google' and 'Ask.com' were just too much for my little mind to embrace .I actually thought that there were people, possibly a group of researchers that were perched in front of their computers at the ready to answer any obscure question. Boy, did I feel stupid when I found out that technology was responsible for the response.

So, as I publish this post, I am humbled. And I like it

Audiobook Review: The Millenium Trilogy


I happened upon "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" during a cyber-search for something interesting to listen to. Finding a good audio-book can be a tough one at times. Narration is key and even though the book content may be decent, a lousy reader can make or break an audio-book.  Despite the fact that "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" was originally written in Swedish and translated for us, the stories were interesting and the narration was impeccable by Simon Vance. I found it by searching "Staff Picks" at my audio-book website.

The stories surround Mikael Blomkvist, a local investigative journalist who works for 'Millenium' magazine. He has recently taken a hiatus from his job and has been hired to research the mystery of a missing woman from many years earlier. Through this opportunity, he meets 'Lisbeth Salander', a young, tragic, pierced, sort of girl who has a photographic memory, a brilliant mind for mathematics and just happens to be a computer whiz. Salander sports a tattoo of a dragon on her back, has been known to play with fire on occasion and tends to stir up shit (sorry, my simple mind couldn't find a better word). Together, they make for an interesting team.

I'm not the biggest fan of the cloak and dagger genre but these books were really captivating.

Currently, the trilogy has been made into (subtitled) Swedish-made movies. I've seen the first two and they are not all that great.

But, I've been spoiled by Hollywood.



Several years ago, I read somewhere that 'no soul enters your life without reason - it's up to you to embrace and appreciate their energy - good or bad, pure or not - and learn from it'. 
Who could not love this face? 

His name was Nick and he was a good soul. All five-feet two-inches of him.

We met when I was in my early twenties. A single nurse, working deep nights in an inner city emergency room. Still relatively new to Dallas and without any family or "solid" friendships, a lot of the 'souls' I came across had been stabbed, beaten or shot. They included nasty drunks, drug addicts, gangsters, violent offenders, prostitutes and the like.

Nick ran the cash register at Little Gus' a local diner and he was like a breath of fresh air...
Little Gus' procedure was simple... approach the order counter, place your order, take a seat and wait.

The beauty of this place was in the fact that instead of giving you a 'number' when you placed your order, they would ask for your name. When your order was 'up', Nick would bellow out your name from the cash register at which time you were expected to get up and retrieve your order.

The procedure made for instant introductions and I soon had a new peer group.

My visits to Little Gus' were like coming home. Having breakfast with Johnny,  who owned the local Hobby shop or Dolores who ran a little antique store was great but it was Nick who I needed to see the most.

Me:    "What time do you get to work Nick?"
Nick:  "Joanie, I open this place up at five o'clock every morning. Last week I saw an old woman walking around with a big bag, collecting cans. She told me that she didn't want people to see her collecting cans in the day time. She's too old and it's too dangerous for her to be out collecting cans in the dark. So now I get here at four-thirty and collect cans for her, she comes by to pick them up before we open at six - if you've got any cans, bring them to me OK?"

Me:    "What have you been up to, Nick?" I ask. 
Nick:  "Joanie, I was in a little car accident last week. No problem. Everything was OK but the lady was too upset. Ahhh, she just lived around the corner so I picked her up and carried her home."
Me: "You drove her home?"
Nick: "No Joanie, I picked her up and carried her in my arms - she wasn't so heavy."

On the surface, our conversations were not exactly profound but they validated my intrinsic belief that people are good and at that time in my life, I needed that confirmation more than he will ever know.

Today, sadly, I learned at Tributes.com that my friend, Nick died at the age of 87 years on May 3, 2008 in Little Rock, Arkansas...

"He is survived by his beloved wife of 57 years, Georgia Grivas Hronas, three sons, Harry N. Hronas and Peter N. Hronas of Dallas, and Dr. Theo N. Hronas of Little Rock; two daughters, Presvytera Maria Hronas Varvarelis and her husband, Rev. Fr. Michael Varvarelis, of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Katherine J. Hronas, R.N., of  Dallas. Also survived by six grandchildren, Rev. Fr. Efstathios Varvarelis and Wife Presvytera Paraskevi, Dr Nicholas Varvarelis and Wife Bethany, Aggeliki Gentis and Husband Angelo, Georgia Fliakos and Husband Chrysovalante, Paraskevi Kotsatos and Husband John, Joanna Varvarelis, and four great-grandchildren, his brother, George Hronas, and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by an infant daughter, Christianna, an infant brother, George I, his brother, Jimmy Hronas, and sister-in-law, Mary Artemas Hronas".

"Nick's family moved to Greece when he was two years old, and he grew up in Andritsaina, Olympias, Greece, returning to Arkansas at the age of 16, where he lived with cousins, Pete and Elizabeth Harris, in Malvern. He spent most of his life in the restaurant business in Pensacola, Little Rock, and Dallas. He took great pride in his relationships with his customers and maintained lifelong friendships with them."

Paranoid in South America

Anticipating travel to South America was both exciting and scary. Admittedly, reports of muggings, kidnappings and police corruption go...