Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I have been reading PBJdreamer for about a month now and even though she is living her own special brand of Hell, she has dedicated Tuesdays at her place to finding happiness in the details. If anyone needs a Gratituesday tonight, it's me. My heart is still so heavy from reading Katie's blog...as I work my way back, I find I have to pause, take a breath, say a prayer, remember that as we say in the 352, she's GOT THIS! And know that God has her and Chad's entire family in His hands and the only thing I can do is check in, read their words, let the feelings come, and give the best support I can. I want to drive to Katie. I want to give her a hug and slip her sweet lil' 20-year old self something with tequila in it, and then stay up all night swapping stories about life in the military. But I'll stay put for now and let her know that I'm reading...as are you all. So...my first Gratituesday, with a nod to PBJdreamer goes something like this (she lists 10, so I'll do the same):

10. I spent the day fighting back the tears for Katie and her family. It felt like if you just scratched my surface, the floodgates would open. I took a moment to pop over to Katie's blog and check her comments section and found YOU ALL were leaving her love, support, and encouragement.

Being able to use my blog for good and not evil?
*by the way, you all ROCK and I want to thank each and every one of you for the words you left here, the ones you left for Katie, and the prayers that have been sent up. Just in the past 24 hours, I've had 240 page views of last night's post!!! You all are reading and you're telling your friends and you're spreading Katie's story. My cup overflows. Thank you for getting it out there.

9. Last night as I was shutting down the laptop, I knocked over my wine glass, spilling red wine all the way down my legs and all over the desk. I had barely drank any of it so it was everywhere.

Having reflexes that are faster than a puddle of wine inching toward my computer and the huge stack of D&E letterhead that has to be printed at FedEx?

8. Neal asked me this morning to look for his European adapter in the boxes he shipped back from Kuwait last time. His mini-Keurig finally arrived in country and he couldn't plug it directly into the wall. Of course, it was in the bottom tough box underneath 3 other tough boxes and I had to sit on it to get the lock to release. And then dig through uniforms, boots, and gear to find it.

Discovering that he kept every single letter, card, and note from me while he was in Kuwait?

7. My restlessness today could have resulted in hours upon hours of television viewing, probably in the form of "The Notebook" and "PS I Love You." Instead, I rearranged furniture and re-purposed baskets that I found in the shed while digging for the adapter.

Loving the new look that comes with redecorating?

6. I gave up all alcohol except red wine for Lent. This means that I've been sipping on a lot of Cabernet, Shiraz, and Pinot Noir. Tonight at Publix, I discovered Pomegranate Wine.

Exploring the seemingly endless array of red wines while still adhering to Lent?

5. Yesterday, I had to take the Pathfinder to address yet another maintenance issue. Apparently, 8 years of Kentucky winters is hard on a car. Specifically, the salt that they lay down with wild abandon. I took it to a place in town where 5 guys about my age all work doing something different...one guy does exhaust, one guy does kitchen renovations, one guy does auto body repair...you get the idea. At first I was a little skeeved out about the quality of work, but quickly saw it for what it was...5 guys doing what they love with the lowest overhead possible.

Checking my judgmental attitude at the door?

4. I picked up a couple of new followers after last night's post. One of them is Chad's mom. I started following her blog, Boyette Babble Time.

Adding a Fallen Marine's Mom into my network and reading the stories from a mom's perspective?

3. This afternoon, I got an email from UPS*. It was notifying me that my package would be delivered in 3-5 business days and had a tracking number attached. I opened the attachment because with our anniversary coming up in a couple of days, we have shipped packages to one another. I wanted that tracking number so I could stealthily follow it across the U.S. Suddenly, my computer crashed and a virus showed it's ugly, horned face. I slammed the laptop shut, packed it up, and rushed it all 911-like to the Geek Squad at Best Buy. Who told me it would be $200.

Being able to really belly-laugh for the first time in 2 days?
*Clearly, it was not really UPS. I hate hackers and my momma told me I should never "hate" anything.

2. I had passed a tiny, locally owned computer repair store on the way to Best Buy. I waltzed right out of that blue and yellow madness and drove my little space car to the one-man show down the street. A kind man with gentle eyes told me he would be happy to help (and did not at all make me feel like shiz for not installing any sort of anti-virus software). And it would not be $200.

Giving Neal's hard-earned money to the Mom n' Pop shops?

1. I am shoving food processors under the passenger seat and spatulas into the tire well. It all has to fit and get me through 3 months in Kentucky. The last boxes to be packed contain all of my beads, wire, and tools. It takes up a lot of space in the Prius.

Having a business (and a husband) that will let me work wherever and whenever I want to?

All of my love to each one of you for the comments, emails and texts over the past 24 hours. Please keep reading Katie's blog, give Tami a read, too, and continue to share the story of a Fallen Marine and the loved ones he leaves behind. These wars need a face and a name and Chad's is simply perfect. Our freedom is not free...truer words have never been spoken.

Getting Real

I am supposed to be blogging about this amazing Nook cover I purchased from an Etsy artist.

I am supposed to be blogging about UK's Road to the Final Four, which was cemented last Sunday.

I am supposed to be blogging about the 352's smooth transition into the driver's seat...relieving the previous unit and taking over the day-to-day operations.

But all I can think about is Katie.

Neal sent me the link to the Stars and Stripes newspaper. I tend to forget that it exists until he emails me a story or comments on a photo they posted. And then I remember and I read...until I forget again.

I think the purpose was to show me a story about the gradual shut-down of Iraq and all of the issues related with closing a base....an article called The Long Good Bye. But what captured my attention instead was the headline, "War widow blogs the next chapter of her life." And it showed a photo of the war widow. She is 20 years old.

I would be a liar if I said that every time Neal laces up his boots, packs his duffles, and heads to the Middle East, I don't consider the law of averages. How many times can a Soldier deploy and still return safely? It's the same logic that makes frequent fliers anxious and skydivers wary. Someday the law of averages will win.

I'm not sure why I have been so reluctant to blog about my concerns, my fears, the thoughts that roll around from time to time. But Katie has put it all out there, from the first moments that she learned of Chad's death in Afghanistan. On December 1, 2010, she blogged:

RIP sweet husband...
I never thought this would happen to me...
I lost my husband, but Heaven gained a damn good Marine.
I am so proud for you Chad. I am truly at a loss for words...

Just hours after someone (probably in uniform), knocked on her door and knocked the breath right out of her, she sat down and began the story of ultimate sacrifice. Her last entry was almost a week ago and she is beginning to question how much more she has to tell...what more she can give...what to say when she feels so empty and alone. But for me, she has only just begun because what the world needs to see is something only she can show. What do you say to a 20 year old war widow? I'm sorry seems hollow and self-righteous. There are no words, but perhaps we don't need to give her our words, we should be listening to hers.

I think I have been holding back because I know that other wives in the unit read from time to time and it is certainly not my intention to instill fear or worry during these long and lonely months. However, I cannot honestly say that I have been Little Miss Sunshine these last few days, either. Maybe it's the rain. Or maybe it's Train's new song, Marry Me, that they play repeatedly on satellite radio. Or maybe it's the fear of the unknown...Katie's new known. Whatever it is, it is sitting on my shoulders while I am packing to leave for the summer. It is reminding me that as glorious as it is to be going home for several months, I would trade it all in a second just to have Neal home again. I made the choice to marry a Soldier, just as Katie made the choice to marry a Marine. We helped them pack and watched them load a bus. We said a prayer and asked everyone we knew to say a prayer. Now I count the days by wake-ups and Katie counts the days until the rest of Chad's unit returns home. I have 333 wake-ups. Katie has eternity. It is easy to push her away because it is what we fear most, shaped into the beautiful face of a 20-year old woman. But it could just as easily be one of us, opening the door to a somber Soldier, dressed in uniform. So, we pray for their continued safety, we say I love you a hundred times a day, we sit in the car and cry to Train songs, and we give Katie all the love we have because even though we still fall short, she is deserving of it all.
This image is borrowed from Katie's Blog, Wade's World. If you can, please pop over and give her some love, some support, some whatever you have in your heart. And read her words...even though the tears will fall and your heart will break. Read them because this is what happens during war and Americans should not forget our heroes...especially when they come home draped with a flag.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Birthday Wish for Army Dad

Today is Army Dad's birthday. He will be older than the dinosaurs, but not quite as old as dirt. And he has aged in that Sean Connery/General Patton sort of way. When I think about the life he has lead thus far, I know that someday (very far down the road, hopefully...I still have more grandchildren to give him) he will go to his grave with a smile on his face, a German beer in his hand, and proclaiming, "What a ride!" from his Harley.

*Almost* everything I needed to know, I learned from Army Dad (because he knows pretty much nothing about jewelry design or assembling an Easter outfit). When I was a WeeAlly, his constant teachable moments would send me sighing and stomping in the opposite direction. But whatever Army Dad lacks in compassion after a middle school break-up and patience during the tween years, he makes up for in consistency. Even though his advice often bounced into one ear, reverberated enough to give me a slight headache, and then slid right on out the other, it must have left a residue over the years. Sometime in my late 20's I found myself spewing Army Dadisms. It was alarming at first. "Hope for the best, but expect the worst." As soon as it came out I clamped my mouth shut and squeezed tight to keep everything else in. Did I just SAY that? As I approach my mid-30's, they come with much more regularity and very little surprises me anymore. "There is always someone less fortunate than you." and "It's better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it." It doesn't help that these phrases also slip from my husband's lips. I try to block the fact that, essentially, I married a 40-year old version of my father. If Mama Virgo wasn't a psychologist, I probably would have landed in therapy years ago.

To you, Army Dad, on your ___ birthday...a photo gallery of moments and the lessons I have taken from them...

 Never stop being grateful for what you have. Keep the joys in life close to your heart and protect them the best you can. And it's OK to go shirtless every now and then. 

A little rest and relaxation is good for the soul and your relationships. The couch is the ideal spot for a good cuddle. And, with the exception of The Rock, the tummy makes an excellent pillow. 

 Support the troops, salute the flag, be proud to be an American. You will never understand the gift of freedom until you lose it. But try very hard to not let that happen. Serve your country, even when it means sacrifice and absence, but remember that at the end of the day, family comes first.

Always keep a watchful eye. Sit back and enjoy a drink but never lose sight of what is important...especially when it's clinging to your leg hair. Don't be afraid to wear the same shirt for YEARS. It's not trash until it's being held together by static cling. 

A hand on the shoulder is all a person needs sometimes. Whether it's to give comfort, understanding, or just to hold someone vertical, it is an undervalued touch. Such a small gesture that can show just how much you care. 

You will hold on for as long as you can and then comes the time when you must let go and just watch. But no harm in being close behind in case they wipe out. Also it's OK to be shirtless a LOT. 

 Support and love your children unconditionally. They are your legacy...even though one likes to dress in costume from time to time. 

Happy Birthday, Army Dad. You have lived a novel-worthy life but you have so much left to do. We can't wait to see what the next 30 brings. 
Army Husband and WeeAlly 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

WW: His and Mine

More on this in the coming days, but the 352 is slowly taking over full-time for the unit that they are replacing. This means lots of meetings, lots of briefings and lots of PowerPoint slides. And for some, many hours on the road to other Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). In the meantime, Macon is celebrating its annual Cherry Blossom Festival. So, while the Soldiers were being briefed to death, the Army Wives of Macon went to the Cherry Blossom Festival Balloon Glow and, in short, had a blast.

And the best for last....

On Sunday, I went with Dane Cook's BabyDaddy to Savannah for the day. I had never been during the spring and Forsyth Park was oddly deserted...the perfect combination for some amateur photography!

I photographed this house so that Neal would know what to buy the next time he was in the market for a vacation home...

Au revoir, Savannah....until next time...
While we were enjoying the glowing balloons and spring in the south, the 352 was moving onward and upward in their mission to close down operations in Iraq...starting with relieving the outgoing unit.

More words to come when it's not Wordless Wednesday! Cheers!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Red Wine Friday: The Method to My Madness

There is a lot of random to talk about today, but I am afraid I must focus on the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. If this is not your flute o' bubbles, simply exit quietly out the back and return tomorrow. I am not at all offended. If, however, you are about to lose your freaking mind over The Big Dance, have I got a little something for you!

Isn't it beautiful? It's my NCAA 2011 Mascot Bracket, brought to us by Amanda @ It's Blogworthy (well, and Slate.com, of course). Until I discovered the goodness that is Amanda, I had never even heard of a mascot bracket and now I can't imagine a March Madness passing without me completing one. Since I'm really only following one team in the tournament and couldn't care less how anyone else performs (unless they bring my one team down...C-A-T-S, Cats, Cats, Cats!), a mascot bracket is a much better place for me to focus my energy and creativity. And to learn what the mascots are for each team. There was a lot of work that went into the above bracket. Lots of Wikipedia'ing and note-taking. And I'm still not entirely sure what Otto the Orange is. A little help, Hutch?

So, here are a few general rules that I followed when filling out my mascot bracket and a few observations from it, as well (please, no more bulldogs, wildcats, Native Americans, or mascots that I have to look up in a dictionary).

  • I just finished watching the American Experience/Frontline 5-part series, We Shall Remain, which chronicles the lives and struggles of the Native American tribes, from the very first Thanksgiving, all the way to the occupation of Wounded Knee in the 70's. Even though I am like 1/16 Cherokee, I still feel bad that I'm mostly of European descent and this is how we treated the people who were here first. So, when I had to choose between a Native American mascot (an Aztec, a chief, a Seminole, etc) and anything else, I chose the Indian every single time. Oh, except against a gator and a cougar, because they are both very fast. 
  • If the mascot smiles, it's out in the first round.
  • Dogs (especially of the Boston Terrier variety), peacocks, kangaroos, and spiders also lose in the first round (really, Richmond? A spider? Y'all need to have a meeting). 
  • Typically, a man with any sort of firearm will win out over an animal. 
  • It's very difficult to choose between various species of cats...lions, tigers, bearcats, wildcats, wolverines...and since I don't remember a lot of my biology from back in the day, I just went by which mascot looked the scariest. Although my wildcats will always win. Except against a cougar because they're fast. And it's a pipe dream to think we will ever make it past the Elite Eight. Dream on, Big Blue Nation.
Now a couple of observations...
  • I really need someone to tell me what a bruin is...also a buckeye, a gaucho, and a boilermaker.
  • It's very hard to choose between a Rebel and an Indian Chief. Of course, ultimately, I went with the Indian Chief. 
  • It's really too bad that UAB didn't make it into the tournament this year because a green dragon could make it all the way to the Final Four. I would put a dragon up against an Indian Chief any day. 
  • I chose the University of Washington Cougars to win the entire tournament because it goes against every fiber of my being to choose the University of Florida Gators. Go COUGARS! 
  • Finally, I really love it when a school names their mascot. For example, Bucknell has Bucky the Bison and University of Missouri has Truman the Tiger, and Indiana State has Sycamore Sam. It prompted me to look up U.K.'s mascot name because it occurred to me that I didn't know it (which is embarrassing, considering I know all the words to the fight song...On, On, U of K...). As it turns out, our mascot's name is....wait for it....Wildcat. Apparently, we need to have a meeting, too. Although they did create a more child-friendly version named Scratch. And there is a live bobcat at the Salato Wildlife Education Center named Blue. Blue does not attend games, though because, according to Wikipedia, "bobcats are very shy by nature and do not react well with large crowds." Also, our wildcat logo underwent a little facial reconstruction several years ago because somebody mentioned that his tongue looked like a...rhymes with "venus" (so that I don't get barraged with dirty spam comments). I wore that venus-tongued wildcat shirt around everywhere when I was a kid and it hurts my heart to think someone took that leap of the imagination, but now the tongue is most assuredly a tongue. 
I hope everyone is enjoying some sun and warmer temps on this Red Wine Friday...and maybe even a little NCAA basketball. NCAA.com is streaming all games. I watched UK play (albeit, badly) while I stood in the line at the post office yesterday. Technology is amazing and beautiful.

Cheers and GO BIG BLUE!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

WW: Idle Soldiers Will Build Big Toys

Proof that Iraq is not necessarily where the action is...
Built by a unit that is preparing to re-deploy back to the U.S. and is wondering how they will get it home.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Gator Tail Tastes Like V-I-C-T-O-R-Y!

This weekend was one wild ride.

Let me first say that I completely appreciate that many people are just not that into sports, specifically basketball, more specifically University of Kentucky basketball. It's fine. I don't hate. I don't understand, but I don't hate. But I'm from Kentucky and regardless of where Neal drags me around this world in the next 12 years, you can take the girl out of KY, but you can never take KY out of the girl. Someone joked when we got stationed in Georgia that I would become a bulldog. No offense, GA, but no way, no how. Stick me and I bleed blue. Just ask the phlebotomist at my physician's office.

I was a sophomore at UK when they won the NCAA Championship in 1998. Even though the game was far from our Lexington campus, we still collected in the streets to turn over cars, burn couches in the road, and climb onto the top of whatever was closest. (To this day, I still wonder why destroying personal property is the appropriate way to celebrate a national championship, but it is and continues to be.) In short, it was a victory party unlike any I had ever attended. And I was just sober enough to remember it.

So, when it looked like my beloved Wildcats were going all the way to the final game of the SEC (Southeast Conference) tournament in Atlanta last Sunday, it set off a chain of events that simply couldn't be undone. My Saturday/Sunday timeline went something like this:

1:30 PM - It was 10 minutes into the SEC semi-final game with Alabama. UK had pulled ahead and they were playing very well. Even though I was listening to it on XM, I could tell that Our Boys in Blue had caught afire.

2:00 PM - Half-time of the game. I had been looking for tickets for Sunday's final game on StubHub for at least 20 minutes. I found 2 tickets, center-court, behind the pressbox, for $55. I called my cousin, who is also a resident of Big Blue Nation and was watching the game in Lexington.

"Cuz, we could win this game."

"I know!!!!!" 

"I think we should go to Atlanta. It's 90 minutes north for me, 6 hours south for you. Leave after the game and we'll spend tonight in Atlanta. You could be back home on Sunday by 11."

"Buy the tickets!"

"Are you sure?"

"BUY THE TICKETS!!"  Best case scenario: we had center-court tickets to the final game, which was probably going to be UK vs Florida (an SEC rival that I love to beat because they sort of have an ego. OK...they definitely have an ego...Freud would be so proud). Worst case scenario: somehow the Cats throw away the ballgame and I would have to drive to Atlanta on Sunday morning to scalp these tickets on the corner of bitter and crotchety. At least I could get a trip to Trader Joe's and IKEA out of it.  I bought the tickets. And then had to buy 2 more because people got word that we were going.

9:00 PM - Arrived at Dobbins AFB, where we got a very clean, updated room for $39/night. Sacrifice to your country has its benefits.
11:00 PM - Cousin and The Love Interest arrived at Dobbins and the first words out of her mouth were, "We are going out, right?" I was in cut-off sweats, a hoodie, and flip flops. I hadn't showered since the day before. Yeah...we're going out...to Applebee's.

1:59 AM - We had returned home from Applebee's and I had just finished painting my toenails. I watched my cell phone intently so I could witness it change from "1:59" to "3:00." It. was. awesome. Like time travel...but without Mary Steenburgen.

10:00 AM - We checked out of Dobbins and made our way to the train station. Traffic-free drive to the train station, followed by a crowd-free train ride straight to the Georgia Dome? Win.

11:15 AM - Picked up tickets from StubHub desk after leading my fellow travelers around in a 2 mile circle when really, we should have just come out of the train station on the other side of the street. Oopsie. But there were mozzarella sticks to walk off....(which, I'm pretty sure, is not on my Eat-Like-a-Caveman Diet)

11:45 AM - Lunch at Max's Coal-Fired Pizzeria. I don't think the cavemen ate pizza, either. *epic lunch fail* Cheese, dough, and Coke Zero are noticeably absent from my meal plan, but it was the first pizza I had eaten in almost a month. It was slightly orgasmic (or maybe this whole giving-up-sex-for-Lent/War-thing is starting to get to me).
That is a beautiful pie, no?And some beautiful people...
12:30 PM - Headed to the GA Dome, along with throngs of other True Blue fans. Hey Gators...I don't know where you were on Sunday, but you were pretty much not at the Georgia Dome. Maybe you had a lizard to shampoo or a nail to file? 
12:45 PM - Looked for t-shirts (generic SEC t-shirts that listed all of the teams in the tournament...nothing about how gator meat tastes like a win), beer (or red wine for me, since I gave up everything but the vino for Lent. But nothing brewed or fermented to be found in the Georgia Dome. Something about no alcohol during a collegiate game. Boo-his), and our seats (which rocked hard. I didn't need binoculars or glasses).

1:00 PM - Got FIRED UP!! 
1:30 PM - Watched 2 sorority girls almost get into a fist-fight with a couple of guys sitting behind them. The girls wanted to stand through the whole game...the boys wanted to see the game. Words and nasty looks were thrown, but in the end the girls moved. And then they sat through the entire game. Maybe the decision to not serve alcohol was a good one.

2:00 PM - Half-time and we celebrated the Wildcats' ability to sink the 3's, over and over again. This hand-sign was created by someone during the season and now it's everywhere...on t-shirts, posters, bumper stickers.
In Kentucky, we count by 3's!
3:30 PM - And that's game! See ya later, Gators! Even with 2 of our best players injured, we still sent you home with your tail between your legs. 
4:00 PM - We stayed until the trophy was awarded and the net was cut down. Our Boys in Blue played so well for us, we had to stay and support them in their moment of triumph.
4:30 PM - One last photo op for the scrapbook. Most Impromptu Roadtrip Ever. And going home victorious...there is nothing better.
5:00 PM - A crowd-free train ride back to the northern outskirts of Atlanta, followed by dinner at Popeye's (oh shrimp po'boy sandwich, how I heart you...alas, you were not on a caveman's menu, either. I must be better this week!), and Cousin and The Love Interest were ramping onto I-75 North, as I looped onto I-75 South...I would be home by 7, they would roll in around 11.

Through it all, my most constant thought was I really wish Neal was here for this. A couple of weeks ago, we were exchanging emails about installing our security system in the townhouse when he said, "I just want you to have fun and be safe." I had fun. I was safe. And I was still consistently aware of his absence. He was all that was missing.

Part of surviving a deployment with your sanity in tact is filling your days and nights. Whether it's with work, kids, or roadtrips...it's an undeniable fact that if you stay busy, the wake-ups will pass much more quickly. It's easy to keep my nose to the grindstone and work. work, work through these next 350 days, but it helps to have something to look forward to. I always tell first-timers to plan something that brings them immense joy every 4-6 weeks. Not just a movie with the girls or dinner out, but a treat. This was my treat and it worked...the days continue to fly as I walk on the sunshine of witnessing a Big Blue Win.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Random Champagne...er...Cabernet Friday: Lent, Sadness, and an Education

This is Shana. I am borrowing her Random Musings Friday today and because she doesn't have a button or graphic that I can post, giving her credit for such an awesome meme, I am posting a random picture of her. And I will continue to do so until she creates something. I have an almost unlimited supply, seeing as I also have access to her Facebook page. So...no pressure, Shana. Also, I cannot think of anything more random than Shana and Zoltar, together in Savannah, GA.

  • I must start by saying that y'all rocked the camo-colored socks off of Neal's birthday this week! Thank you so much for your comments, Facebook posts, and emails! He said to me, "I am such a lucky guy!" Not lucky, honey...blessed. And y'all were spreadin' the blessin' around like it was apple butter. Thank you!!!
  • In other Neal news, he is on the advance party that is headed to Iraq. Their primary task is to arrive ahead of the unit to secure billets (lodging), computers, and any other equipment or space the other 72 Soldiers will need when they touch down. This means that his schedule is rather erratic and instead of making routine phone calls home, he calls when he can. Last night, that meant 3 AM...my time. I had been asleep for about 3 hours. I have no idea what was said during those 20 minutes. It's possible that I agreed to any number of things...having 7 children...becoming Mormon...getting a pair of socks for my birthday. Who knows. It took almost 2 hours for me to fall back asleep. I had been dreaming of fall in Paris for about 3 hours when my phone rang again. It was Neal. "Oh! I woke you up again! Hehehehe...Sorry!" Sleep-deprivation is not funny, CPT Miller. I managed to pull myself awake enough to have a normal conversation. It helped that the sun was up and crashing through my bedroom windows. It also prevented me from going back to sleep when my 20 minutes was up. I would never discourage a phone call from Neal, but clearly I need to send him a world clock to mount on his wall.
  • I am discovering that irritation and conflicted feelings about being irritated is causing my skin to break out again. My physician thinks it's a yeast infection. On my face. And I must apply Monistat on it throughout the day. That, alone, is a great reason to take up Yoga and/or meditation. 
  • Bloggers all over the sphere are giving up or taking on something for Lent. While I always participate in Lent, I'm extra-inspired this year. Shana has started walking and cleaning her house more regularly, Fojoy is giving up shopping (but not before she bought her 40 days' worth of stuff. A girl after my own heart...), Kelly is giving up sugar in her coffee, and Hutch is giving up pasta and sweets. So, I am ready to give up something as well...in fact...I'll give up 2 things. Sex and alcohol. Um..well, everything except red wine. Because red wine is served at mass and I'm also going to add mass back into my schedule, I certainly can't give that up. Sex is an easy one so I'm not sure that's considered sacrifice...however I do consider it a sacrifice when it lasts way longer than 40 days. And this turns Fridays into Red Wine Fridays. Even the blog is experiencing the sacrificial nature of Lent. 
  • I fell asleep watching Silk Stalkings on Netflix last night. After the opening credits, I was stunned that I got away with watching this show in middle school. And it made me regret giving up sex for Lent. Wow that's a lot of skin and lace in the first 30 seconds of a show. 
  • There has been a lot of death around me this week. Anna Banana's aunt passed away this week from a rare form of cancer that ripped through her body like a hurricane. When she was diagnosed last winter, she was given 6 months to live. I think she lasted 4 and the last couple of weeks were excrutiating, according to Mama Virgo. I will always remember AB's aunt with laughter on her face, a kind word on her tongue. I didn't spend much time with that side of the family and I was always surprised to find a birthday or Christmas card in the mail from her. Even though I was not around, she took great care to make sure I was not out of sight, out of mind. She is going to be greatly missed.
  • If you read Kiera @ Imperfect Daisies, then you know she went to her doctor's appointment yesterday, only to find that her baby had passed away in utero. She calmly blogged about it last night, although I think she is still in shock. If you have a moment today, please click over and give her some bloggy love. Don't worry about finding the right words, there really aren't any. Just let her know that you're thinking of her. Losing a child is unnatural and my heart breaks every. single. time. it happens to a mother. It also happened to another mother and sweet friend of mine this week. I am just so sorry, ladies. There is not a word in our dictionary that expresses my sadness and grief. 
  • When people pass away and mothers gain baby angels, I can't help but think of the adults that are now there to raise Shepherd like we never could and the children he will get to play with. It's silly and naive to think that babies grow to be adults in Heaven or that they will even recognize one another when they get up there. But no one knows...so that's my fantasy and it has evolved into a lovely coping mechanism.
  • Finally, I received the most educational comment I have ever gotten this week...from Hutch @ Be Awesome Instead. On the spelling of facetious, she said that spelling it has not been a problem for her since her 4th grade teacher pointed out that it is the only word in the English dictionary that lists the vowels in correct order...a,e,i.o.u. That is genius. 
I will leave you with that little piece of wisdom on this sunny, yet disaster-stricken Friday. Please keep the Japanese residents in your thoughts and prayers. It is only because they are so proactive in implementing building codes which account for possible earthquakes that more damage was not done, but it doesn't lessen the loss of life yesterday. And to the extremists, this is not God's punishment on Japan...so don't even start.
one of Saddam's palaces...during Neal's first tour, 2005

Cheers, my loves. Be good to yourselves and to each other. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Gift is in the Mail

I created this video tonight using some of the pictures I've taken of Neal over the past 6 years. Amazingly, this is not all of the goofy ones, just the first 3:21 worth that I came across. Sometimes I forget how much he makes me laugh on the daily. Usually, I get one shot to capture the funny and then he gets serious again. I've developed a very quick trigger finger.

This is Neal's third birthday that he has spent serving our country in either Iraq or Kuwait. And we can't even count all the birthdays he has spent training, drilling, or going to mandatory schools. Mama Virgo and I take off on our birthdays - we do everything short of declaring it a national holiday. But Neal just laces up his boots, slides on his sunglasses, and starts another day. And honestly, he would not have it any other way.

The video is a collage of Neal's greatest, set to Devil Take My Soul, by Son of Dave. What I really wanted was Blues Brothers' Soul Man...but YouTube is being all hallway monitor about music files (even though I just purchased it from iTunes an hour ago). Dear LimeWire users, you ruined it for all of us. Anyway, this was a "YouTube approved" song and it works too. Like Neal, it's funky, jazzy, and just a little bit dirty.

And even if you don't get a chance to watch the video, please leave him a birthday wish in the comments section. I'm sorry I no longer accept anonymous comments, but if you don't have or don't want a Google ID, then shoot me a note on Facebook and I'll make sure he gets it. It's hard to have the best birthday ever when you've just landed in a war zone, but maybe we can rock the comments so he feels the lurve from 1000 miles away!

PS I apologize for the distracting "Konica Minolta" text that keeps popping up. It it wasn't 2:30 AM and I hadn't just tried to load this video 8 times on YouTube, I would try to fix it. But maybe you can just think of it as anything with "Minolta" is back in the day. Our fancyschmancy Canon doesn't do that crap.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

On the Move

I got a call at 7:30 this morning. It sounded like there was an ice cream truck in my hallway. Groggy and still dreaming, I stumbled into the living room to answer a Tango call from Neal. Tango is our answer to Skype. Skype is a great invention, but it is well used and sometimes for us that means dropped calls, bad reception, and lots of feedback. When Skype is experiencing heavy traffic, we usually can't hold a call for more than 10 or 15 seconds. But Neal found Tango in the Droid app store and it is clear. Crystal. And when you turn the video camera on, the incoming video is almost real-time. We've never had such luck with Skype. But when a Tango call rings through, it sounds like a carnival is parked in the kitchen. That distinctive ringtone is probably the only reason I was able to pull myself out of REM sleep to answer the phone.

"Hey! Are you awake?" asked Neal.

The correct answer would be "oh yes. I've been up for hours, just waiting on your call!" But the yawns and inability to make my nouns and verbs match gave me away.

"Mmm-now. How was...flight?"

"Long," he answered. He had been on a plane for most of a day and had been waiting on a plane + on a plane for over a day. And he didn't even have Australia or Hawaii to make it all worth it. "But we're in Ireland now. Just here for a little while, but I found a hot spot and wanted to call."

I was unable to express my happiness. Through the morning haze and pre-coffee lips it came out sounding like, "Oh yeaahhh...dat's goood." But I was thrilled that he had managed a phone call. The trip across the Atlantic always makes me anxious and with the plane they were on ("They have ashtrays in the armrests" was one of his first statements when they stopped at Ft. Hood to pick up another unit), I was relieved to hear his voice.

Everyone had scattered to grab a bite or a decent cup of coffee (in Ireland? Good luck. You're better off with the tea. It's part of Britain, y'know...home of the instant coffee) or try to place a call home.

The conversation was short. There is always something else that he must hurry up and get to, just to wait for an hour or two. But we've come to accept and even expect that. I call it the Army's Patience Program.

So, the 352 should be landing soon in Kuwait, where they will train just a little longer before flying into Iraq. That means limited Internet access, long days, and sleeping in open bay tents (with all of the music playing, alarms going off at all hours, conversations conducted at outside voice levels that comes with living in a 70-person tent). And I am assembling Neal's first care package...complete with Fiber One bars (going to war is no reason to not stay regular), calling cards (if AT&T really wanted to support the military, they would waive all fees for calls made from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. I hope the CEO sleeps soundly while he's snuggled under that blanket of freedom that our troops are providing), and his birthday gifts (TOMORROW is Neal's birthday! Please stop back over to send him a birthday greeting in the comments section!).

He did text me a few photos from their last hours at McGregor and their layover at Ft. Hood. I am posting the picture of them loading the plane, although every time I look at it, I have to choke back the tears. Leaving on a jet plane...don't know when you'll be back again...*sigh*

Bags lined up for inspection.
These dogs can sniff out drugs, bombs, and bad attitudes. So leave it all at home!

Neal has my niece, Flat Repunzerella, with him so I'm sure more pictures will follow. Thank you for all of your kind words, thoughts, and of course prayers on the blog, Facebook, and email. I finally feel like we are on a countdown. 356 wake-ups to go! 

I would also like to extend an extra-spectactular HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my girl and fellow beading goddess, Salt @ Salt Says! She crafted this bodacious UK headband for me to wear during March Madness and I'm just certain it's going to carry my boys all the way to the final game! C-A-T-S, Cats, Cats, Cats!! 

Thanks, girl and Happy, Happy Birthday!!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Day 4: What to Do With a Problem Like El Paso

Ah...and we have come to the end of our journey....

But WAIT! The road to El Paso is lined with all sorts of tourist destinations! Like the city of Hatch, NM...Chile Capital of the World!
And you thought I was being facetious (and if anyone tries to tell you that blogging is a waste of time, I now know how to spell facetious. I swear it started with a "ph"...).

And the New Mexico Spaceport
As I mentioned last week, this is where completely normal, albeit way too wealthy, American citizens are going to be launched into outerspace a la Richard Branson. These are diamond in the rough tourist destinations.

As we were pulling out of town, I asked Neal if we could make one stop at Celestial Creations (the only boutique to make the TripAdvisor shopping list). Of course it had been closed the day before. It was on the way out of town and open, so we stopped in. Celeste, the owner (get it..."Celest"ial Creations. Clever they are in New Mexico), explained that her inventory was from almost all local artists...many of the pieces were only available in her store. She had the jewelry, too...over 700 pieces! And some completely amazing artwork, as well. Unfortunately, southwest decor is a look and not one that we have adopted in any of our homes. We lean toward eastern-seaboard-beach-chic with a touch of French coffeehouse. Think shells and tan and lots of blue-gray. Basically, every time Lisa posts something that she has created, I want to own 10 of it. So, we politely let ourselves out without cracking the Coach open, and headed south. And Neal couldn't have been happier. We had skipped breakfast so that we would be appropriately famished for Sparky's in Hatch. Neal is Mr. Crankyshorts when he gets hungry.

Sparky's is, evidently, an institution. Even as we finished our fries, a couple was coming in from T or C, just for lunch.
They are most famous (and most reviewed) for their green chile cheeseburger and green chile cheesefries, which look a little something like this:
I inhaled this like it was the last supper. I eat cheesefries about once a year and, usually, I immediately regret it. Not so with Sparky's. I am still thinking about that lunch. In fact, sometimes I go back and re-read my posts just because I hate typos and try to catch them all before posting. If not before, then I re-read and fix, then re-post. I can't do that with this one because I'll be jonesing for Sparky's cheesefries - which are not all that accessible.

They are also famous for their BBQ, though. And that's what Neal chose for his mid-day gorging.
When I ask Neal how his meal is when we're dining out, the typical Neal-response is "Not bad"...but this got a "really good." Way to go, Sparky's!

The decor is funky and eclectic...

"Sparky" is a robot and if you buy a t-shirt or cap, you can help send him to Robot College. Sorry, Sparky...looks like you'll have to take out student loans like the rest of us and pay them off until you have one foot in the grave.

This is what Neal looks like when he's hungry...
minus the moose, of course. But really, would you willingly deny this face a meal? It says to me, "I know how to kill you 4837 ways with just my thumb. Give me the damn bag."

We came, we saw, we ate until our eyes rolled back into our collective heads and then pondered a mango-green chile milkshake. And then thought better of it. And then I played "Frogger" across 4 lanes of traffic so that I could fit both Uncle Sam and Neal into a picture. You wouldn't think of that as a monumental task and yet...
When Uncle Sam is like 3 stories tall and I have the long lens on the camera, it requires planning. Uncle Sam wants you, Neal...and a green chile. I wonder if they had to pay a licensing fee to the U.S. government for this guy.

Hatch definitely has a thing for monumental men. This RV salesman looms just down the street.
Yes, that is a tiny RV he is holding in his hand.

Once we were on the road again, Neal agreed to stop at the New Mexico Spaceport because, honestly, it is probably the closest we will ever come to space travel. So, we took the exit and hung a left and drove about 1/4 a mile before coming to this:
A sign that read "25 miles of survey crew ahead." What this means is New Mexico Spaceport is at least 25 miles down a gravel road. On the one hand, I'm glad the Spaceport authorities had enough foresight to not launch shuttles from a pad that is 2 miles west of Hwy 54. On the other, I had no intention of driving 50 miles on gravel just to see something that was not yet fully operational. And I was a little bummed. Never one to miss an opportunity for new and exciting experiences, Neal announced that 3 miles down a gravel road in the middle of the New Mexico desert was the perfect place to take a leak.
And then, like the chivalrous husband that he is, invited me to do the same. Death grip on a tailpipe while I try not to pee down the last clean pair of jeans I had? No thank you. I'll hold it. (And men think their lives are so hard.)

No Spaceport for us and no more stops until we hit El Paso (trust me, I was burning up that "what is near me now" search button on TripAdvisor. It kept coming back with "there is nothing near you now." Thanks, Sherlock.) If we trucked on, we would hit El Paso around 1 and Neal didn't have to report back until 2000. 7 hours to kill. S-E-V-E-N. What do you do in El Paso for 7 hours??

We photographed Mexico.
I mean, I photographed Mexico from the highway while Neal maintained a safe speed of 75 mph and weaved through traffic so we would be a harder target to hit.

We went to the Saddleblanket Company because they got rave reviews and also I had decided that I simply could not leave New Mexico without a sombrero.
They had sombreros. They also had caskets.
Neal points out how roomy they look. He obvis didn't read the sign that says "Do not open or handle the caskets."

But WAIT! You say you would rather be buried in something a little more primal? They got that, too.
Nothing says Rest in Peace like cow's hide. This was about the time that Neal showed me how to take a picture silently.

I eventually decided against a sombrero. Apparently, I have a big head. And those things are not at all flexible. Not like my Savannah floppy hats. I was afraid Delta would make me check it and I had no interest in buying a Halloween hat, only to pay $23 to get it home.

But fret not, I did get something in our last hours together. We had to run into Military Clothing & Sales at Bliss to buy another bag so I could avoid the heavy bag fee (I was heavy coming out and if you add the bottles of wine plus fleece blanket..well..new math tells me I was going to be heavy returning, too).

Neal got a camo duffle and I got these:
That's right! My elephant butt(e) will now say Booty Camp! I was floating on a cloud of giddiness...until the cashier told me that to get the correct size, I would need to go up a couple from my normal Victoria's Secret size. Undergrodie Nazis. At least she told me, but now I have a pair of underwear with at least one "X" in the size. *sigh*

We now had 4 hours to kill so we drove up and down a street in El Paso, looking for a gelato cafe that had, seemingly, been replaced by a hair salon. So, we stopped at Baskin-Robbins for Neal's last pre-flight ice cream. That knocked off 20 minutes. Then I got a driving tour around Ft. Bliss.
Lodging (his, not mine)
Chow Hall (I gotta say...that's the nicest chow hall I've ever seen. So nice, in fact, that it's called a "dining facility." Fancypants. 

And then we were down to 3. Dinner at Chili's (which was also the last meal he had in the Atlanta airport before his deployment to Kuwait)
...and dessert...
and it was time to head back to McGregor.

The last few hours before reporting back are always strained. You don't want to argue, but you don't want to make undying professions of love, either, because once one starts crying, the other is not far behind. You want to enjoy every minute without mentally tagging it as "this is our last hug/kiss/hand hold/joke/smile for 6/7/8/9/10 months." You try to memorize how it feels to be together so that you can draw on that in the empty nights ahead. But what you find is that as soon as you pull out onto the highway, you're losing the memory, the feeling, the warmth. And now it's just you and all of the days that lay ahead. You think about seeing him just one more time. You almost turn around. But there will come a time when there are no more one more times. So, better to just make it now. And then it never fails..."your song" comes on the radio. It happens every. single. time. And I'm secretly glad that McGregor is something of a hike back to Bliss. I will need that time to re-compose.

There was the very real possibility that the 352 wasn't going to get this 4-day pass. And now, I can't imagine not having it. If you're listening DoD, we need this time to take one more long drink of each other before heading into the desert. We send our husbands/wives/children/siblings packing to fight a war that feels like it is going to last forever. And we do it over and over and over again. The least you can do is give us 72 hours of bliss.