Archive for the ‘pre-deployment’ Category

Cold and colds

Winter is definitely upon us, and I don’t mean the snow (because right now we don’t have that much for us). However, the temperature has dropped below freezing the past few days, which is no fun. It’s been cold enough that CaseyJones has been sleeping on the bed with me and Zoe at night. He usually prefers his own bed to my crowded one, so I know the cold is affecting him too. The last few mornings the temps have been in the single digits and I’m getting to the point where I think 30 degrees is warm. I guess I’m adjusting faster now that it’s my third winter here. I’m not quite a local yet though, because I do not go food shopping in sub-zero weather wearing flip-flops. Don’t know that I’ll ever be that adjusted.

I’ve been trying to work through this cold weather and not let it set off the hibernating instinct even more, but I have picked up a new concern about the cold. We have a dog loose in the neighborhood, Leroy, and he has been a rogue puppy since March. He belongs to two of the shelter workers across the street and he got away one day and has not been re-caught in spite of numerous attempts. He’s been living in the woods behind our neighborhood and foraging in garbage cans and living off the kindness of strangers and forest animals I’m guessing. Leroy was abused and on his own for a time before the shelter workers took him in, so he is wary of humans and apparently knows how to survive by himself. Being the bleeding heart that I am when it comes to dogs, I used to try to leave him something beyond the electric fence line, but I haven’t in a while. He won’t come close to our yard because of Casey and Zoe. (Although I wonder if he is the one who killed that possum and left it in our yard.) I think our neighbors a couple doors down have left a shed door open for him to have some shelter and I think they feed him regularly, but I’m not certain. If I do see him, it’s usually in their yard.  I used to get really irritated when he would bark at 3 a.m., but with these extremely cold nights we’ve been having, I worry if I don’t hear or see him every now and again. Zoe spotted him the other day and I was glad to see his leash-dragging hide. He looked fluffier, so I’m guessing he’s gotten his winter coat too (Zoe is at least 1/3 bigger with hers). I would hate to find out on a snowshoeing expedition that Leroy had succumbed to the cold all by himself so everyone cross their fingers that he makes it to the year anniversary of his Great Escape.

K is suffering a different kind of cold at training (although it’s cold and snowy there too). He has an upper respiratory infection. That’s bad enough, but when you are away from home it’s that much worse. Add to that sleeping in barracks, and it’s the Army joke of “make it suck more.” K assures me that the drugs he’s been given work well enough for him to get some sleep (as much as you can when you share a room with other people) and help him function through some of his classes, but he is still feeling like crap after several days of it. He’s not the only one. I guess there’s a fair amount of kennel cough going around as well as a case or two of pneumonia. I hope he starts improving before making the journey home for Xmas. Looks like Santa’s going to give him a free pass to sleep in all day. In the meantime, I’m starting the kids on their immune booster vitamins so we won’t get an extra present this vacation. You all might send him some healthy vibes so he spends his last leave with us in relative good health. It would no doubt be appreciated.

And now I’m off to ignore the cold and drag the kids out into it for a trip to the library. After that, I’m spending the day in the kitchen baking baklava and making soups. It is, thankfully, warm inside.

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Christmas makes me feel like the Wizard of Oz. I get to be the (wo)man behind the curtain orchestrating the gifts and making sure the munchkins don’t stick lollipops in each other’s hair while I turn everything green. I suspect, though, that I am busier at Christmas time than the Wizard is running Oz. I would love to complain that with K away I have more to do, but I’ve always been the one doing the majority of Christmas planning and executing (and there are years I wish I could execute Christmas!), so this year is not all that different. The only thing I’ve added to the to do is list is kid wrangling which just means things take a little longer.

Since K was leaving early in December, we decided to knock out some of the things we would normally do later so he could be here. First on the list was decorate the tree, of course. It wasn’t just K wanting to participate that drove us to decorate a little early. Nope, it was Monkey who had been talking about Santa and Christmas trees since before Thanksgiving. He could not be denied any longer. I was actually beginning to worry that if we didn’t bring the tree down from the barn (we have to have an artificial tree because of his allergies), he would and end up hurting himself. I blame Dora and her Christmas Time Adventure ads—they brainwashed the boy.

So decorate we did. I usually prep the tree before everyone decorates. Apparently I have the most patience for fixing and stringing the lights (a little secret: I actually enjoy repairing the stupid lights as long as I have enough replacement parts) which isn’t saying much. I’m usually tapped out on patience after that for at least a few months. Aside from electric circuit puzzles, my favorite thing about decorating our Christmas tree is putting up the picture ornaments. Since R was a baby, I’ve been putting together picture ornaments for the tree. I’ll pick out my favorite picture from earlier in the year and up it goes. I absolutely love to go through them and see how much the kids have changed or laugh over the sometimes very goofy pictures I’ve chosen (like Monkey sitting inside the toilet when he was first potty training). My goal someday is to have a tree that is just these pictures. We could probably do it now, but I keep getting vetoed. The other tree I want that no one else in my house wants is the lights only tree. After I put so much time into making the damn things work, I don’t want them covered with stuff. One day…

And here is our pretty traditional looking tree. Normally I do red, white, and green lights, but I couldn’t revive the red and green lights for a full compliment, so we went with white and blue. I do not like blinking, multi-colored lights. They make me feel like I’m going to have a seizure. Since K likes multi lights and I prefer white, this is our compromise.

And here is the kid’s little tree they decorate without our help at all. We put it on the dining room table so they can still rearrange it when they want. It’s pretty small and when they are done, I am reminded of modern art.

One of my favorite things about this house is that we have a working fire place with a real mantel we can hang stockings from. In our last house we had to hang them from the staircase banister which is just not the same. There are actually many things I love about Christmas time: my blue snowflake dishes, the icicle lights out on the porch, our little Santa collection, and figuring out how to keep Santa’s secret while he is still a revered figure. I enjoy making our goofy Christmas cards (traditionally I make us stick figures, or, like this year we are gingerbread cookies), and I love to make baklava to give as gifts. I often wish these things would take care of themselves, but they don’t and I do get a fair amount of satisfaction out of managing it all. I just need to hire the occasional elf.

Last year I started a new tradition with the kids by taking them to Santa’s Village up north in the mountains. Santa’s Village is actually an amusement park. Yes, I said amusement park. There are roller coasters and a ferris wheel as well as other typical outdoor rides that run all summer and through to Christmas. And I can say only people who live this far north would consider riding a ferris wheel in the freezing cold after a snow storm. And only people who live this far north would actually wear shorts to the tundra. (The guy in front of us to see Santa was wearing shorts while the rest of us were in snow suits. Dude was hardcore!) We are insane because our blood does not flow in the winter making us nearly impervious to the cold. (I wish!) The kids love it though and they get to visit with Santa and my kids are never so well-behaved as they are at Santa’s Village. Visiting the snowy playground is becoming my favorite tradition of all.

K didn’t get to go last year due to a slightly catastrophic ice storm that the Guard was called out for and that we lost power for several days (but was not catastrophic enough to stop a trip to the Village!). We lucked out this year with only minor snow and a free weekend so K could make this trip. It was one of the better family excursions we’ve taken this year.

Monkey is talking to Santa about Handy Manny tools while he waits for the obligatory candy cane.

I left the red-eye in on purpose because we like to tease our devil-child who looks so sweet (if not amazingly like Pepto) here.

K and R on the Ferris wheel.

And here is the view from the top. Almost makes the nausea and extra cold worthwhile.

R couldn’t wait to “drive” the old-fashioned cars. All I can say is I’m glad it was on a track she couldn’t hop.

And finally, the goofy face picture of the day… The little girl in the middle is cute though.

For as much work and thought that goes into Christmas preparations, I’m glad we did these things while K was still home to enjoy it too. It was the most fun we had and the least stressful between all his travel and long hours since this pre-deployment phase started. Sometimes I forget how much I like this time of year. Expectations can run too high and the workload and expense seems to grow exponentially, but these little things are the best parts. I’ve been doing my best this year to remember that these smaller things count and I don’t have to let out the humbug that lurks inside.

This year I’ve asked Santa to give me the patience to make it to next year’s visit with him. I have an inside connection and I’ve been less naughty than usual, so I think I’m in good shape. Time will tell.

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Winter Wonderland

For the record, I’m not an outside Winter person. Can’t say that I ever was either. I remember the blizzard of ’76 because it was the most snow I’d ever seen and we had several days off from school which was probably a first for me given my age at the time. The novelty of large amounts of snow wore off for me somewhere around 1977. And if not then, certainly the year I walked to school in a snowstorm and managed to hit a tree because I had my head down most of the time would have sealed the deal. I am a hibernator and will squirrel myself away and never be heard from until the apple blossoms bloom on our trees in early May if I’m not careful.

As I’ve mentioned, we now live in the North Pole (well, almost) and I was not interested in moving this far north knowing it would be colder, more inclined to snow, and less populated. Move we did though, and the day after we unloaded the trucks, we got the first of eight feet of snow that season on top of the six or so inches already there. The next winter was no better. When your 8 year-old-whines when she has another snow day, you have too much snow. After a while, I made a point to not acknowledge the white fluffy stuff falling from the sky because I didn’t want to give Mother Nature the satisfaction of knowing she’d finally gotten the better of me. Needless to say, knowing K would be gone for a whole year where about half that time is meant for hibernation, I was concerned for my mental well-being. I think in the right circumstances, I could give Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining a run for his money.

Obviously I needed to do something(s) to turn my attitude at least 45 degrees from where it was when we got here and about 90 degrees from where it was at the end of that first winter. Appreciating the aesthetics of winters here is the most obvious step when breaking coping with winter into inside and outside components. I have to say that we live in a beautiful area and I would have been far more stubborn about moving if it weren’t for the sweet piece of property and awesome house we found. I love my back yard all year long. The first snow of the season is really stunning as are all the subsequent snow storms. It is the only saving grace to the sheer volume and inconvenience of the stuff. Let me show you how pretty it can be. Here’s the first snow from last week. It’s only a couple of inches of sticky snow, but at sunrise, it’s quite lovely.

See? Beautiful. I could look out there all day (and sometimes do thanks to my bedroom being at the back of the house!) Wish it were frostily beautiful a little less often, but I feel lucky to have that view. My old apartment in grad school overlooked a concrete shaft which was no doubt listed as a courtyard. The cockroaches and I felt that was a misnomer. I’m definitely partial to this view no matter how much snow—as long as I can see out the window, that is.

Next, to get a hold on joining winter so I wouldn’t be beaten by it again, I needed to find something to get me out of the house so I didn’t die of cabin fever. I’m not afraid of too many things, but I am terrified of blowing my knees out skiing, so I won’t consider downhill skiing, but have given some thought to cross-country, only not enough to take the plunge. What I found I really enjoyed doing is snowshoeing. I got a pair for Christmas before we moved up here and I love trucking out my back door and into those woods behind us. Beyond that clearing is a tree farm and some conservation property with a very small set of trails that I like to follow. Here are a couple of pictures from last winter’s snowshoeing escapades out back after a good size storm…

Here’s the tree farm…

Here’s one of the trails…

…and my favorite stand of pines when it snows.

Since K won’t be around for me to head out alone, we also have snowshoes for the kids so we can all go for a walk even if the snow is past Monkey’s knees. I just fitted them yesterday so they could give them a test run before the rest of the snow comes in. We got over six inches the other day, and it was nice and fluffy until the freezing rain came later that day and the temperature dropped, so now it’s just kind of treacherous even for snow shoes. I’m sure it will be covered over soon enough and then we’ll be able to play. Luckily, the kids love snowshoeing too, so I’m hoping this will help all of us be more active and take our minds off missing K some.

Winter will also be more amusing for sure thanks to my dogs, Casey (aka Jones or Jonesy) & Zoe (aka Bean). My dogs love the snow. Bean especially (I’m pretty sure it’s because she’s got 2 extra layers of fur thanks to whatever crazy Lab mix she is). As soon as the snow starts falling, she’s whining at the back door to go out in it. Much like this only with noise.

I love to watch her and Jones bound through the snow or spend a long time sniffing out the whereabouts of neighborhood creatures. Nothing escapes their attention and they chase each other all over the yard like a couple of gazelles. These days they’ve taken to bobbing for fallen apples under the powder for snack time. If you click on the picture below to look at the larger size, you can make out a red thing in Zoe’s mouth. That would be her apple. That’s Casey in front waiting to steal it from her. That is a typical snowy day for them.

While I have not warmed up completely to winters around here (and honestly, I doubt I ever will), I have latched onto parts of the season with some affection if not outright enthusiasm and I figure that’s a good place to start. I predict that looking on the bright side of winter (and I don’t mean the sun glaring off more snow) will wear out again sometime around February, but by then I’ll start thinking about spring, planning my garden and around the house projects, and hiking in the woods with the dogs and kids. In the meantime, I’ll keep learning to love the bomb, so to speak.

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Hello again! I didn’t mean for yet another week and change to slide by, but it has. In the tumult of teeth removal, Christmas preparations & field trips, the first (and now second) snow of the season, my new drawing class, and K leaving yet again, my brain has been everywhere and unable to really pull it together to write. Not that I haven’t wanted to or that I haven’t tried, I just haven’t completed. And honestly, it’s made me rather cranky. I not only love to write, but I need to write.

K made it to his mobilization station safely (as did Uncle P) and is going through more training before he comes home again for the holidays. I really don’t want to complain because I am glad we are getting some time with him, but the constant adjustments—especially around the holidays—is just chaotic and what I like to call “Death of 1,000 Cuts.” I’m always prepping for something rather than really enjoying what’s in front of me. I’m already pretty horrible at relaxing (in spite of being convinced I’m actually lazy) and this mental shifting sets me even more on edge and scatters my brain cells to the four winds. I think I might understand why Monkey sits and scratches if he is not at peace with change. I do pretty much the same thing mentally and I’m just as cranky as he is only it takes me even longer to come out of it. Sadly, I’m not known for cutting myself any slack so my frustration with myself compounds. Old dog, impossible trick. But I’m trying.

I always have high hopes and a big box of ideas and projects I really want to work on, but actually doing them takes time and motivation. Swinging back and forth between co-parenting and single parenting, not to mention the whole alone but still married thing, saps me of pretty much everything for at least a couple of days. Add to that the short days and long nights of a very drawn-out and ridiculously snowy winters and not hibernating becomes a full-time job. If I listed everything I felt during these transitions, you would A) think the men with the straight jackets were going to be along shortly, and B) understand why I’m behind in life.

In the next few days I’ll be catching up here with all kinds of non-angsty things (some with pictures!). I just wanted to let people know I haven’t dropped off the face of the Earth, nothing is wrong, and I haven’t quit doing this. See you tomorrow!

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Tonight is the official leaving ceremony for K’s unit even though they are not leaving right away. After a short discussion (because we were in agreement), K and I both decided it would be better for the kids and me not to go this time around. I have already been to one of these affairs and it was a lot of speeches—some heartfelt, some political— a fair amount of crying and trying not to cry, and a spectacular sense of dread for the coming months. The men were leaving the next day for their mobilization station and the last place I wanted to be was surrounded by people who looked as lost as I did. That night I managed to get physically ill from the pressure of it all. That hasn’t happened since, and I have no intention of it ever happening again.

One of the several reasons we decided to forgo this event (beyond too late at night and too far away) was that we both felt it would just upset R. Maybe we are wrong, but right now, she is doing well with everything and neither of us want to change that. If she were older, I might consider it so she could have the experience of going through the event, but I prefer that we stick to coming home ceremonies which are by far more joyous. Monkey could never sit for all the talking that goes on and I don’t want to chase him around telling him he needs to be quiet and that would be reason number 2 for not going. Monkey was an infant the first time around and he had to come with me, but he was so tiny and quiet and accommodating then. He kept me as focused as I could be that day. We had a small baptism at the armory after the ceremony proper because Uncle P (aka Uncle Fungus) was also deploying then and we wanted him to be Monkey’s godfather. It was a nice little non-denominational service where they used a helmet as the baptismal font. K was pleased even though neither of us is particularly religious and the Army is certainly such a large part of our lives, it seemed fitting.

I suppose there may be those who think I’m not being supportive or that I’m just shoving my head in the sand, but I don’t really care what anyone else thinks. This is one small event in the grand scheme of things and not even the most important one. I will do whatever it takes to stay sane and make sure my kids feel like their lives are, for the most part, normal. Speeches about the bravery of men, the point of their mission, and the sacrifices of family do not play into either of those goals. K knows that even though I may find parts of this Army life distasteful, I still support him in his career because he is happiest being a soldier. I would, and do, expect the same in return. As for the ostrich tricks, I know what his deployment means and don’t need a general to brief me on it. I’m good.

This deployment I’m going to change things up a bit. I’m going to pass on the mainly military moral support and stick with a mostly civilian pack. I don’t feel that I need to cling to some arbitrary requirement that the people surrounding me should understand what I’m going through. I have those people too, though, should I need a different ear, but I think most people understand what it is like to miss someone else or to feel lonely which are probably the most prominent feelings. Those are pretty universal. The only difference is that the odds of my situation becoming permanent are higher than others for about 10 months. No matter how many times or how confidently you say “when,” in relation to your soldier coming home, the voice in your head replaces it with “if” just loud enough for you to hear it. Of course anyone can have their life change in an instant, but rarely are people so aware of it the way they are when a loved one is in a war zone. That knowledge is like the constant hum of electronics in the background until the deployment ends one way or another. There are days when you can block it out with ease and there are days when that is all you can hear and you wish there was an annoying song you could be singing over and over instead.

I know that there are families who will be grateful for the send-off of their soldier and will enjoy the pomp and circumstance and the special attention the generals, politicians, and public will give them tonight. I hope they find comfort in the sentiments and strength in the words they will hear to last them for the next year. I’ll be happy to read about it in the paper and find my own strength and comfort my own way.

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I hope everyone had a pleasant Thanksgiving. We enjoyed both a nice overnight stay with our families and some time away from the kids who stayed with my parents an extra couple of nights after we left. As much as we love the kiddos, it is always nice to have a break. We are lucky to get that opportunity with some regularity. I head down to pick them up this afternoon and on the way home we are going to listen to more of Madeleine L’Engle read her novel, A Wrinkle in Time. It is my all-time favorite book and R’s first time hearing it. I’m tickled she wants to hear more (we only listened to part of it on the way down) and I really love to hear the late, great Ms. L’Engle read her own words. I enjoy hearing the author’s interpretation of what they wrote—I like to know how they heard what they wrote as they wrote it. Plus, for me, I just feel such a connection to her, that it’s a treat to her her voice.

I digress. We had a lovely time at Auntie L and Uncle D’s for Thanksgiving dinner. We hung out with Grammie and Auntie S & Uncle Fungus and got to see how much little E has grown since he stayed with us this summer. The four bigger cousins: R, C, A, and Monkey all ran around together like good cousins do, with very little tattling, fighting, or arguing which is always a bonus. Earlier in the day I had brought over the furry kids, CaseyJones and Zoe, to play with their cousin Ayla. We wanted to wear them out so they would sleep while we ate copious amounts of meat. It worked like a charm. They ran around playing fetch and they wrestled and Zoe and Ayla cut each other off from water and people, trying to prove who had the better position in their temporary pack. I was amused to watch Zoe cutting off Ayla from Casey who apparently is only allowed to be tormented by Zoe. Ayla, a beautiful German Shepherd, is the youngest, but as big as Casey who is an adult male Lab, with Zoe, coming in a close third size-wise. But my girl is tough and liked to remind Ayla that she was the elder of the two. There wasn’t any real fighting, but a fair amount of teeth showing and warning growls. Luckily, all of them are smart and good listeners so nothing ever went too far. All in all they were great dogs and they were definitely tuckered out.

After dinner, R and I went over to visit with my side of the family for dessert (not that I could eat anything, I was so full). We got to visit with some of my cousins who live even farther away than I do, which was fantastic. I’m pretty close to my cousins and always miss them even if I’m lousy at letting them know. The next generation of cousins all ran around screeching and giggling and singing like a band of pixies on crack…or frosted cupcakes as the case may be. In any event, it was good to see my family even if it was for a short time. We’ll see them again around Christmas when we head down one more time before K leaves the country.

Before we came home to enjoy the quiet, we stopped over at my grandfather’s house so K could visit with him too since he didn’t get to the night before (not that we could have heard a conversation over the screaming mimi’s). I loved to hear his stories especially the one when he was a young boy hitching a ride on the bread guy’s horse-drawn cart. Stories he told of my great-grandmother’s brushes with death always amaze me : on her way over from Greece on a freighter carrying marble, the cargo broke loose during a storm and ripped a hole in the ship, forcing the passengers into lifeboats for 2 days; and a few years later, when my grandfather was very small, their landlord set the house on fire for the insurance money but blocked the main way out causing my great-grandparents to make a jump from their house to the house next door. It always makes me pause to consider how many different times our family could have ceased to exist. I’m glad all my grandparents were so tough.

Those great stories weren’t the only treasures we got to leave with. Oh, no! My grandfather’s tenant recently passed away and apparently he was a hoarder. While his family did take care of most of what he left behind, my grandfather held on to a good chunk of the guy’s cigar box collection. The boxes are not really worth much, but for some of us, it was like Christmas come early to get to poke around and find the most unusual or useful of the many varieties. I, personally (and R, too) love wooden boxes and I if I hadn’t shown some restraint would have come home with several more than I did. Here are the ones K and I chose to bring home and eventually put to use:

I loved the shape of the inside of the box in the upper left of the picture:

It is rounded on the outside to accommodate rounder, more natural cigars.

This next one I was so excited to find among the boxes my mom had. It’s going to be my new art supply box for when I start my drawing class next week.

I love that it has all the different compartments. I don’t particularly care that the box isn’t in mint condition because it will be so useful to me. All my different pencils and erasers and sharpeners will fit beautifully in here.

I suspect I’ll be using at least one box to hold letters from K should he decide to send any while he’s away. And I might keep one for the various little things the kids make for me. I love to put things away to find later and reminisce over and these cigar boxes are perfect.

K and I have had a very mellow weekend without the kids. We slept in, started (and almost finished) watching Generation Kill, food shopped, sat in front of the fire, I went for tea with B again, K and I went to dinner, and we just generally took advantage of the quiet. I should have enough peace stored up to last me at least the drive back after picking up the kids. I’m glad one holiday is down and just one more to go. I’ve got lots of organizing to do for Christmas and even more freelance work to do before the end of the year. Fitting it all in should be quite the juggling act. We’ve got one more short time with K being gone, and then we all need to get into longer-term mind-sets of separate lives after the new year. It’s a lot to contemplate, so I’m thankful we’ve had this little quiet before the storm.


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There was a turkey loose in my back yard yesterday. He tried to make a break for it, but I caught him…on film anyway.

There’s no getting away, little turkey!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I’ll be off for a couple of days visiting family and friends.  Hope you will be too.

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