Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Little Help?

I have a favor to ask.

And although it feels like that's all I've done recently (Military Missions, thanking our troops), I'm going to ask once more.

Because I feel like it's important.

Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the death of Cpl. Chad Wade, a member of 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines out of Camp Pendleton, CA. If you've been reading 400 Wakeups for any length of time, you know that I've grown close to Chad's mom, Tami of Boyette Babble Time, since I found her through Chad's widow, Katie. The money I make from RED Friday items at Daisy & Elm almost always goes to Tami's foundation, Wings for Our Troops, which collects money to buy a plane ticket home for Marines about to deploy. And we often drop each other emails throughout the day, trading jokes or concerns. Things have grown quiet over there as she continues to process her grief through the first anniversary. But we are still here....we still think about her...we still honor the ultimate sacrifice that Chad made one year ago tomorrow.

Chad's favorite team was the University of Tennessee Volunteers (I know...try to control your gag reflex). So, he and construction zone orange were BFF. I am asking that if you can and don't mind, please wear some orange in honor of Chad tomorrow. His mom and her posse (including me) will be wearing these orange ribbons.

But any orange will do. I just happen to have some orange on hand right now. Secondly, if you could take a picture of you wearing your orange and email it to me, I would like to post it on the blog tomorrow.

I know this is extremely short notice and I understand that not everyone has a Michael's or a Hobby Lobby in their back yard...but what's most important is that we continue to show Chad's family and friends that we love and support them, especially on such a dark day.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Oh For Pete's Sake

I wrote the below post yesterday morning, right before we left Chicago...with every intention of publishing it somewhere around Indianapolis. Except that I completely forgot. And then I was befuddled as to why I wasn't getting any comments on it. Until I just went in to write this morning's post and discovered it still sitting there....patiently waiting to be published. But both of these offers are still good. My offer for Surferwife's readers is valid until the end of the year and Cathy's Movember auction doesn't end until 9 PM CT. I believe the bidding is at $18.00 right now....which is still, y'know...super cheap! Now, off to have another cuppa because clearly I'm still a little foggy from the weekend. Happy Tuesday!

West Love Fest

Today, 2 events regarding Daisy & Elm will happen simultaneously. And they will both occur in California...but will hopefully create a ripple effect across the country, radiating out to anyone with Internet access.

The first is Cathy @ Antsy Pant's posting of the very last Movember item...a Daisy & Elm original mustache necklace! Pictures always tell more than words so I'm sending you over to her world to check it out. Be the highest bidder, with all proceeds going to prostate and testicular cancer research, and you may call this whimsical and very appropriate piece yours!

The second is Surferwife's post about her favorite businesses, just in time for Cyber Monday. She is posting a new business every hour, with D&E making a debut at 2 PM, her time! And because I believe in getting just as much as you're giving, there is special offer to all Surferwife readers. So jump on over to check out all of her beloved businesses, but stay to get the code you'll need for a little extra D&E lovin'!

We are leaving in 17 minutes to make the 7-hour drive back from Chicago. As long as I'm not driving, I can still answer emails and tweets about either of these offers. And thank you ladies for asking me to be a part of them! I love being enabled to do what I adore most!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Little Man Gets His(Her) Day

As I bounced around the this morning, wiping the sleep from my eyes and burrowing down against a Chicago morning, I noticed a growing love for Small Business Saturday. After yesterday morning's absurdity in Wal-marts across the country (not the least of which was the mace-ing in LA), smart shoppers are turning to online stores for Christmas shopping. As someone said on Facebook yesterday, Black Friday undoes all of the goodwill I feel on Thanksgiving.

So what's the antidote for crossing off the Christmas list at the expense of your sanity, dignity, and basic self-decency? Small Business Saturday....where store owners are also the creators and, of course, everyone knows your name. This weekend I challenge you to spend just as much time surfing handmade goods (either online or in your local stores) as the toy aisle at Target. And, when it's all said and done, if you are not more relaxed, more confident in your gifts, and more satisfied in supporting a small business, then I'll buy you a Coke...from the cafe down the street, of course.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Random Musings Friday

I was going to pimp Shana's new Random Musings Friday-specific blog button for this post, but I can't find it. So I'm going to give her approximately 24 hours to get it to me before I pick a random photo from our ShanAlly Chronicles. Although I will pick a skinny picture of the both of us....

1) As we were lying in bed the other night, me slogging through a Stieg Larrson novel on the Nook and Neal playing 80's music videos on Youtube, he turned to me and said, "This Bieber guy has a video with 6 million views in the past week. That's like 2 hits every second. It can't possibly be that good. Now here's a good band...Mike and the Mechanics. That's a video worth 6 million views in a week."

Indeed. All I need is a miracle.

2) While we were hanging with friends earlier this week, I shared the fact that the only German I remember from college is underwear in German translates to bathroom pants. Wonder Woman's daddy took this and ran with it.
Make sure you put on clean bathroom pants in case you're in an accident.
Victoria's Secret is running a sale on bathroom pants. 
He was hanging from the flag pole by his bathroom pants. 

I nearly peed my bathroom pants. 

3) Our Thanksgiving gathering includes 3 children around the age of 5 and a bunch of adults (who mostly belong to the 3 kids). Neal, who does not have any children in the mix, was wallering (which I believe is my grandmother's bastardization of the word wallow) with all 3 of them on the couch. There was screaming and flailing. My aunt leaned over and hollered, "Neal! You won't let them hurt you, will you?" Which made us all erupt into laughter because he just returned from a war zone where insurgents were actively trying to kill him and my aunt is worried about 3 5-year olds who weigh about 100 lbs collectively.

4) We received a box of thank you goodies in the mail on Tuesday. It included the best bagels I've ever had, as well as several kinds of chocolate, smoked salmon and babka. It was my first taste of babka. Once you've had babka, you never go back.

5) I'm now logging off so that we can get on the road to Chicago. It's been several years since we've seen the Christmas decorations in Chicago and we haven't visited Queen Elizabeth since the last deployment. Also, I'll be knocking off another item on the 101 list....walking out on the Sears Willis Tower ledge. It's 6 hours of 4-lane roads...better get crackin'.

Happy Day After! May your pants be loose and your leftovers just as delicious.
Turkey pie...turkey spaghetti...turkey loaf...turkey lasagna...turkey jello...turkey and waffles...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gratituesday: The Thanksgiving Edition

I must first say that the blogger who introduced us all to Gratituesday is no longer blogging...due to people beyond her control (read: the over-reaction of a malicious and abusive ex-husband). But maybe she'll swing a turkey leg and raise a glass to her legacy. We are still finding the positive side of a negative situation....particularly on Tuesdays.

#10 Shana's dad was physically run down by a hit-and-run driver this week.
It's reaching to say that there are any positives to this event (we could only call this an accident if the driver had stopped, performed the ABC's of first aid and/or called 911. Apparently he never even tapped the brakes...therefore, so not an accident). But I have been bending God's ear a little more this week. While I usually mutter a breathy "thank you, Jesus" when I skirt through a yellow light or a "Hallelujah" when I receive genuinely good news, I don't generally offer much in the way of prayer requests or gratitude. That changed some this week.

#9 The drive through Atlanta was, as always, an extravaganza of recklessness and idiocy. 
But we survived. And it only further justified my decision to stay put in Georgia for 9 months while I grow a human....whenever that occurs.

#8 I broke the frame on the couch in KY.
This actually happened last spring (hahaha. How ironic. I just put that together.). I sat down a little too enthusiastically and found myself clawing at the arm rest as a piece of the frame completely gave way. I am not what you would call handy or even able to use a hammer without crushing 2-3 metacarpals in the process. So, I left it...thinking I would, at some point, drive across the street to Haverty's and raise holy hell about the inferior product they were hawking to the unsuspecting public. Instead. Neal fixed it today. With power tools and everything. It was drop-dead sexy and a little uncharacteristic. I like what this mustache is doing to him.

#7 Mama Virgo reads the blog.
Which normally falls under "things that make me smile and proud to call her my mother." Except when she calls to demand a retraction. Full disclosure: she did not actually think Debra Winger was the star who played opposite Warren Beatty in the Zelda mystery movie. But she couldn't remember who she had said and neither could I, so I named the oldest actress I could think of...besides Betty White. Eventually, it came to both of us. She thought it was Faye Dunaway. Who is probably not anything like Debra Winger.   

#6 I have been hobbling around like someone missing a toe for about 5 days.
Apparently, when you wear over-the-knee, pole-workin' boots for 8 hours, followed by 6 days of ballet flats and several hours of walking in tennis shoes that you've owned for over 3 years, there is a possibility that you will develop what is called a neuroma. This will make it feel like there are thousands of tiny steak knives stabbing the ball of your foot and then your toes will swell to the size of breakfast sausage. And you will seriously consider carving that bunion right off...with the ass end of a tuna can. Until your husband drags you to the local running shoe store....where they will fit you with shoes and an arch support. Four days later, you will be walking like it never even happened. Three cheers for Brooks shoes. And husbands.

#5 Neal has 50 days off. 
Fifty. 5-0. I have no doubt that this influx of free time is a welcome change from the routine grind of war. But I'm about to put him to work stringing jewelry. My Christmas orders are piling up and he looks like he may need an excuse everyday to stop watching old episodes of Wings.

#4 Handmade items for everyone on your Christmas list is hard work.
Fortunately, I'm almost finished. And if you have still not convinced yourself that Etsy or some other artisan website is the way to go, allow me to share this anecdote. Last week, I purchased 3 items from 3 different shops, knowing that if they shipped immediately, we would not be there to receive the items. So, I convo'd the owners and asked them to hold shipping until our return to Georgia. Not only did they comply, they were thrilled to do so. Etsy or bust for Christmas 2011.

#3 The stairwell light burned out almost a year ago.
When I returned to the townhouse in Kentucky last April, I flipped on the stairwell light, only to be answered with darkness. And I can't first thought was "fuck. How am I going to change THAT?" So, I left it. And developed a routine of leaving one light on downstairs and one light on upstairs to counteract the darkness in between. Yesterday, Neal went to Lowe's and bought this claw on a telescoping pole that extended up to the ceiling and gripped tightly enough around the light bulb to allow him to twist it off and retract it safely without shattering a flood light on the landing below. And Neal said (literally) let there be light.

#2 We haven't visited with most of our friends in almost a year.
When he's deployed, I put on 10 more hats and lose hours of my day to washing machines that crap out and cats that can't clean their ears effectively. This week, we've eaten all of our meals with friends who have been, I'm sorry to say, neglected over the past 11 months.  Tonight, we had pizza with Wonder Woman in Training, her parents, and our friend who has just been asked to be a Nielsen household. I should have asked her if it was too late to save The Unit. It is not, it seems, too late for there's that...

#1 Last year was a 95% dark chocolate kind of bittersweet.
I stood behind this turkey head
thinking that this year I would be flying solo. A typical 400-day deployment would mean that his turkey and gravy would be served by a Pakistani contractor in a pair of plastic gloves. But this is no ordinary year. Bring on the turkey toboggan....we have a short deployment to celebrate.

I hope you all have a grateful and gorge-licious Thanksgiving holiday. One more full day of feasting with friends before we head west to the family's main event. And to all of the families who will toast a turkey leg to their deployed servicemember on Skype sometime Thursday or to the ones who have to pray to talk to their loved ones, you are the wind beneath our wings. Keep on keepin' on. We love you...we salute you...and above all....we honor your sacrifice.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Screw Cowbell...We Need Mo 'Stache!

There are some truly talented marketing geniuses working in the U.S. right now. Specifically, I'm thinking of the individuals responsible for the Old Spice guy, the Mayhem guy, and whomever convinced a mess of (or mess'a...depending on your geographical location) moms to meet up for sparkly vampires at midnight...without their tweens. Then there are the PR firms responsible for educating the public on their health....the condom folks, the quit smoking organizations, and the posse of PINK people (who have watched their breast cancer awareness campaign morph from pretty in pink into a myriad of sexual innuendos and baseball analogies). The newest (and most beloved to me) is Movember...brought to us by the Mo'brothas and Mo'sistas of the crusade to heighten awareness about prostate and testicular cancer.

Although, technically, Neal could get breast cancer, I am pretty safe from both prostate and testicular cancer. And because I will never have it, I know nothing about it. Which means I can't effectively nag Neal about going for exams. But when he looks in the mirror (from now until 30 November) and sees the caterpillar building a home above his lip, he will remember that there was something he was supposed to schedule.

Because I think that Neal bears an uncanny resemblance to Ron Jeremy or any mid-30's, Mario-Kart playing, cheese puff-eating man still living in his parents' basement (and I can't look at him without laughing or singing brown-chicken-brown-cow in my head), I feel the burning need to explain to every person we encounter about the bristly bro-stache. And, believe it or not, most people already know about Movember. So, to the marketing team behind this, good job! It's working! 

Without further ado, I bring you 9 days of growth. We're a little late to this party, but y'know how the Army feels about hair of any kind.
This is a good example of how super sneaky I can be on the new stealth mode setting of the silentsnap app on my phone. Thank you, Hutch....and look out people of Walmart!

Because I can't pass up the opportunity to do a little charity work through Daisy & Elm (and because it was so much fun to create), Cathy @ Antsy Pants 2.0 is auctioning off a D&E original for Movember. The auction begins 28 November! But you don't have to wait until then! She has been auctioning items (with 100% of the proceeds going to research for the cancers affecting men) all month. Every item is handmade and beyond beautiful. In addition, she's accepting cash donations to her Mospace page - all to benefit cancer research. And should you want to start to following along with her own mustache experiment, Jordan (who I am going to just start referring to as Jord-ache) makes a weekly appearance with his own dash of stache.

For the record, 30 November can't come fast enough. We cannot have a serious conversation when all I can think is brown-chicken-brown-cow (or bow-chicka-bow-bow...for those of you who haven't quite put it together yet).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

From the Outside, In

A little peak inside a Parisian dressmaker's studio. Lexington is lovely...Paris would be better.
Happy Weekend!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Living in a Black and White World

I'm going to tell this story this story on myself because I tell so many on everyone else in my family. But, when it's all said and done, I still think it's a completely valid question.

Yesterday morning, Neal was trying to find some sort of happy medium on daytime TV. Apparently, Anderson Cooper has sold his soul to Ricki Lake and is now hosting an hour of parents who abuse their children/children who are transgender/why the plastic in baby bottles is turning our boys into girls, etc. I'm not saying these are not important topics to cover, but (as Neal put it best) Anderson was more valuable in the field, dodging bullets. Now he just looks like a eunuch.

So cross off AC360 the Jerry Springer-wannabe with the Ken doll hair and that leaves Hoda and Kathy Lee (I think I misspelled both of their names but they are collectively so obnoxious that I haven't even bothered to Google it) and Regis and Kelly (which will be playing on a continuous loop, projected on all 4 walls of a 10x10 prison cell if I happen to go to Hell). But it also leaves "MeTV", which I think is Georgia's daytime answer to Nick at Nite. Little House on the Prairie, westerns, and Perry Mason play throughout the week. Yesterday was Perry black and white. Can I just say how bizarre it is to be watching a black and white television show on a 42 inch flat-screen, HD TV? And wasteful. Bizarre and wasteful.

As I was lying there in my PJ's, drinking eggnog coffee, and pondering the idea of filming a show that would be viewed in black and white, it forced the question...

"Do you think they wore clothes with color when they filmed these? Or just shades of black, gray, and white?"

Neal: You mean, is that woman wearing a blue sweater, or is just gray?
Me: Exactly.
Neal: hysterical, gut-grabbing laughter

I still see nothing extraordinary about the question. Why would you bother to wear a burnt orange blazer if the audience will only see gray?

Although once the color television made its big debut, it would have meant all new wardrobes for each studio and I can see how that would have been a problem. Also, now that I am sitting here typing this out, it occurs to me that when they converted all of those shows into Technicolor, that the actors were not in a continuous parade of shades of gray....which was quite insightful on somebody's part. And this is why I don't work in Hollywood.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Fitzgeralds for $500, please Alex

As I was surfing around the blogosphere this morning, I came upon a story that Shana was relaying about her mom. And it reminded me of a similar conversation I had with Mama Virgo while we were on vacation last month. Any insight you may be able to lend to this particular question would be most we have Google'd, IMDb'd, and Wikipedia'd for hours using every keyword we can think of and we are only left with 2 possible scenarios:

1. We just haven't searched the right term.
2. Mama Virgo has lost her mind...which is a terrible thing to lose.

Mama Virgo: What are you reading these days?

Me: Oh I finally started reading A Moveable Feast by Hemingway. He focuses on his day-to-day life in Paris and all of the expats he encounters. The stories he tells on them are pretty interesting. Like Zelda Fitzgerald was bonkers. And Scott was really not much better.

MV: That's pretty much how she was portrayed in Midnight in Paris, too. Although there's a movie specifically about her. With Warren Beatty. And somebody else...Debra Winger, maybe?

Me: Really? Let me see if I can find it on Netflix. (opening the app, searching around a bit for all Warren Beatty films. Nothing about Zelda.) What's the name of the movie?

MV: Zelda, I think.

Me: Hmmm....let me look it up in IMDb. (more tapping on my phone as the appetizer of brie and a second glass of wine arrives) Are you sure that's the name of it?

MV: I think so. But definitely Warren Beatty. Look him up.

Me: OK, so it's not Bugsy, Bullworth, Bonnie & Clyde, or Dick Tracy. What about Town and Country?

MV: When did it come out:

Me: Uh...2001?

MV: Definitely not. This movie is from the 70's.

Me: So in the 70's we've got Heaven Can Wait, The Fortune, Shampoo, The Parallax View, some movie with a dollar sign, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and The Only Game in Town. Any of those sound right?

MV: No...

Me: Well, those are your choices.

MV: Maybe they forgot a few.

Me: Mom, it's the Internet Movie Database. It's what they do. It's their thing. They didn't inadvertently delete a few. If it's not listed, then he wasn't in it.

MV: Let me check Wikipedia.

And on and on it went...through the rest of dinner and for another 2 hours back at home. Still...nothing. We can only assume that she watched Tender Is the Night and has, in her feeble mind, exchanged Jason Robards for Warren Beatty.

I have tons of readers who are Mama Virgo's age (let's say 60-ish) and you may be reading this and thinking OH! I know that movie! and if so, please share. Because I would really like to watch it and Mom would really like to start sleeping better.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Just another Manic

So, I missed a day. Which is completely different than skipping a day. Skipping implies that I was completely aware of the fact that I hadn't posted anything and was consciously and voluntarily not posting anything. Missed means that I thought I had put something up at 1 AM the night before, when in fact, all I had done was choose the pictures for the post. And it was 1 AM, after all. I could have been doing the limbo with Matt Lauer under the Eiffel Tower and I probably wouldn't remember the next morning at 10 AM.

This morning, I remembered. Crickets from over here yesterday.

I sat down to download the 20 or so pictures I took of Homecoming with my camera on Saturday. I selected. I copied. I pasted. I then selected them from the camera. And I deleted. Just as I always do. Except when I went back into the folder on my computer, there were 4. And none of them were of us. Crestfallen doesn't even begin to describe it. Had Neal not been standing in front of me, offering a plate of fresh-from-the-oven biscuits drizzled with Savannah Bee honey, I would have erupted into a twisted face cry.

I hate it when I do things like that. Thinking back on it, there are only 4 or 5 photos that I took on Saturday that I'm truly sad I lost. It's a lesson learned, definitely. And I'm glad I learned it when I have some back-up photos taken by a photographer and friend, rather than learning it with, say, our photos from Paris. But it's a moment in time that is vulnerable to my memory, which, unfortunately has been gnawed through by moonshine and age.

Much love and appreciation goes to Dane Cook's Baby Daddy for snapping these on Saturday. They are suddenly more precious than gold.

I felt a tiny bit ridiculous waving this fun-sized American flag around when I really just wanted to wrap the biggest one I can find around me like a shawl and go sprinting down Main Street.

You may call it Ho-tard or Hot-tard...we called it hysterical. But that may have just been the mix of insomnia and Scrubbin' Bubbles fumes talking.

First one off the bus and carrying his trash from a carry-out order of Burger King. Not exactly how I pictured this moment. Luckily, I've learned to roll with it.

I'm not sure what he's saying here but I would be willing to bet both of my beloved fur balls that it's "Woo-hoo!", which is his default expression for any situation that calls for jubilation.

I did make him set down his trash before kissing me. I do not need Burger King to be immortalized in our Homecoming photos.

ChiefHasNoRhythm and DivaVee were reunited, as well.

 Although I had just seen Chief a month earlier, when he came back to Georgia for his R&R, DivaVee hadn't seen Neal since the 4-day pass at Ft. Bliss.

Chief and I exchanged a quick "welcome home" hug as I had, just a month ago, dined on his famous spaghetti (prepared with a stick of butter, thankyouverymuch. As Kallay would say, oh my thighs).

Home at last. This deployment was, apparently, a little harder on some than it was on others. The 352 was directed to retrieve their bags from the bus and then everyone was to reconvene in the drill hall. Our chaplain, who was also returning from Iraq, unleashed a little Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was asked to pray towards the end of a short ceremony. He started innocuously enough...thanking God for the beautiful day and a safe return to friends and family. But then that bald-headed, country boy bust out with, "And we are free at last, free at least. Thank GOD ALMIGHTY we are FREE AT LAST." That is a Soldier who is happy to be home.

And the people said AMEN!

In the time it has taken me to write this post, Neal, who is a cheesy appetizer of awesome, has managed to restore the deleted photos. He just handed me a memory stick and, unceremoniously, muttered, "here ya go." The man deserves a parade...a galaxy named after him...or, at the very least, some homemade cookies. Here is a just little bit of what he has managed to salvage in the past 20 minutes. God save the queen, God bless the U.S.A., and God love my husband, who fixes everything I break.

DivaVee says these boots are the very reason that everyone thought I was married to a brotha. Sorry to disappoint. Neal is basically snow white.

If I didn't think DivaVee would stalk silently in the night, all the way across base, and tie dead fish around my front door, I would show you a photo of what she looked like last Christmas. This woman is proof that a low-carbohydrate diet and daily exercise will melt those pounds right off. She greeted Chief as a more slender, much stronger, version of her former self. I just think she looks hawt!

There's very little in this world that's as delicious as a tutu'd baby's butt. Our fearless FRG Leader holds a 352 baby who was born during the deployment. Mama is bringing her up right, complete with Army tutu, ACU headband, and matching ACU shoes (notice the shoes, people. *swoon*).

Things are slowly falling back into place around here. Neal has diagnosed the washing machine, installed an HD antenna in the living room, baked biscuits, and updated his Facebook status. Having them home full time is an adjustment...don't let anyone tell you otherwise. But at least I can work all day knowing that if I want a hug, I just have to walk down the hall.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Salute and Support

Every time there is a military-inspired holiday...Memorial Day, Veterans' Day...well, OK that's about it (I feel like there's I missing one?)...there is a blogosphere outcry over the mattress sales and car sales that eclipse the meaning behind the holiday. We encourage everyone to remember our veterans and to say thank you. And that is all well and good...except when you are paralyzed by the fear of strolling up to a stranger. Even if it is to say something nice.

Today, I'm pimping Military Missions like it's my full-time job because donating is still saying thanks without the anxiety.

I stumbled upon Beth and her foundation towards the end of Neal's last deployment. I don't exactly remember how it all started, but I think I attended a care package assembly. That's how most people find Beth. They see an ad in the newspaper or online that calls for all hands on deck to help get care packages to our military stationed in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan. Although Military Missions focuses mainly on Kentucky troops, Beth never turns down a care package request.

Over the years, Beth has added features and people to her ever-growing mission of supporting our military. Even her slogan, Reaching Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, indicates that she may begin with a box of hot chocolate and hand sanitizer, but she is also ready to assist troops and their families with any aspect of military life. Her resources for dealing with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury are vast and varied, as she has come face-to-face with it in her own life. Dealing with post-combat stress and injuries is a marathon, not a sprint, and she believes in having a running partner when you're on that long, lonely stretch of dark road.

Beth's most extensive annual project has just kicked off. OpSend Christmas begins in October and continues through Thanksgiving, until 30 November. Her objective is to make sure that every servicemember deployed at Christmas receives a gift from all of us back home. Each flat-rate box includes personal care items, such as chapstick, baby wipes, and foot powder; snack items like trail mix, coffee, and cookies; and gift items such as travel games and music CD's. For the holiday assembly, the gift items are increased and Christmas cards are added. Military Missions tries to include at least 10 hand-written cards in each box. The goal is at least 5,000 boxes. Last month, Beth wrote an article that described the best part of a care package: the cards and letters. Our troops may occasionally fist-pump over some beef jerky and a good book, but what they anticipate most is the correspondence from us.

Today, Veterans' Day, 11-11-2011, you can make it your mission to help Beth accomplish hers. If you are currently living in the Lexington, KY vicinity, the Military Missions office is located in the Millpond Shopping Center. They have extended their hours for Operation S.E.N.D. and are available to receive donations or answer any questions about how you may best donate your time, energy, finances, or all 3. She has also included a list of drop boxes for OpSend items (ideas, suggestions, guidelines and prohibited items are listed here) on the Military Missions website. The actual packing assemblies will be held on Wednesday, 16 November and Wednesday 30, November and anyone who is available to come lend a hand is encouraged to do so.

For the rest of us, we have options.

If you would prefer to donate hand-written notes or cards (or children's drawings), details can be found here. If you would like to write a check to be used toward the purchase of care package supplies or to help pay the shipping fees for all of these flat-rate boxes (wouldn't it be awesome if the federal government would ship them for free? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Yeah.), check out this page. Getting the word out to your friends is easy with this page dedicated to all of the social media where Military Missions has a presence.

Neal and I are experiencing a deployment first. He is home for the holidays at the beginning and end of the deployment. A 400-day mobilization usually means that you miss Christmas at the front end or the back. Holidays without your servicemember is a giant pot of suck and although the American public tends to be hypersensitive to military families over the holidays, it's still nice to receive some recognition for (what I consider to be) a deep sacrifice. Email a little information about your servicemember and Beth will make him or her the Hero of the Day, which gets posted on the blog and Facebook. And, as always, you can add your hero to the mailing list here.

Beth and her husband have worked with civilians in the central Kentucky area and beyond to grow Military Missions to what it is today. Through personal heartache and seemingly insurmountable circumstances, they have to continued to reach beyond the yellow ribbon to support our troops and their families back home. She only asks that we support her mission in return. I ask that you find something in this list or on the Military Missions website to assist with over the holidays. As for me, I have a few boxes of Christmas cards to buy and a Sam's Club run to make!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Trading in Housewives for Horses

It's my day to preach it from the mountain tops (or as the case may be, from the laptop on my dining room table). I'm over at From the Sidelines talking about the Breeders' Cup this past weekend and how horse racing is faring in the sports world overall. Join me and give me a nugget of thought to chew on with my coffee.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wednesday's Insanity

The business side of me is getting pimped today over at Taming Insanity! Her iPhone Picture Wednesday blog post features several online shops that sell handmade goods...including Daisy & Elm! Check out the blog, check out the stores, and thank you for supporting handmade items!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Back in the U.S.A.

As of 6 hours ago, Neal and the 352 were on American soil.

Their mission has ended and now all that's left is outprocessing the unit, which equates to standing in long lines to fill out packets of paperwork and receive any last parting words of wisdom that Uncle Sam feels fit to share. It's boring for him and annoying for I would just like him home, please. But we have our own list of tasks to prepare for their arrival. Each one completed in hopes that it will all result in a wild ruckus of jubilation when they pull in.

And I've had the most interesting reaction to this shortened deployment. I cannot stop crying tears of happiness. I can't watch any old episodes of The Unit, listen to any Toby Keith songs, see any photos of Homecomings (much less watch Homecoming), or hear the American anthem (which they play everyday at 5 PM or Taps, which they play every night at 10 PM)...among the 3732629732 other things that bring tears to my eyes throughout the day. I know that we've done 2 full tours of 13 months each, but the fact that this one will only be about 11 months from start to finish has me leaking joy fluid all day everyday. That has never happened before. It is simply an outpouring of relief...all the way down my face.

The situation in Iraq has been unstable at best. And with the deaths of Osama bin Laden and Gaddhafi while the 352 was deployed, it created an even more dangerous living environment. I've been holding my breath for 11 months, hoping and praying and asking others to do the same. And now 352 boots are on American soil. And in just a little bit, Neal's boots will be next to our front door.

I know that I haven't always blogged as often about this deployment as I had initially planned. There was a lot that, come to find out, I couldn't post. And there was some that just sounded like whiny drivel when it was all typed out. There were many items on my deployment checklist that never got done. There are many more that got added along the way. But when I look back on the year that has passed, I know that I put it to use in the best way I knew how. If I let myself go there, I can be sad for Neal and all of the events he has missed...weddings and births, announcements and travels. He has looked through my pictures and listened to the stories, but in the end this was a year that he missed.

When you celebrate Veteran's Day on Friday, in whatever way you see fit, please remember that the sacrifices that a veteran makes are many. Neal would gladly board a plane, fly across the world, and take up a weapon to defend this country that we love, but he dreads the holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and all of life's moments that he misses while he's away. His life has been on pause for 11 months. He couldn't bring a child into this world or congratulate a friend on his wedding day or take his mama to lunch on her birthday. Our lives, like those of so many military families, is segmented into chapters: Neal was home or Neal was at war. And I'm only reminded when I begin by saying, "remember that time we went to Savannah/Kentucky/the gym and..." and he turns to me and says, "I wasn't there. I wasn't at home."

And then there are those who have sacrificed the ability to ever come home and push "play" on their lives. They leave a gaping and raw hole in those who patiently counted down their own wake-ups. Our words and actions will never be enough, but we have to show them that the sacrifice is not forgotten, that they are not forgotten. I will make waffles for Neal next week, knowing that Tami will never again sit down to dinner with Chad or that Army Dad will never again swap Christmas gifts with his brother or the Pucketts will never again call their son. I am relieved. I am grateful. I am a hot and sloppy mess.

I know that many readers came over from Magnolias & Mimosas when we began our 400 wake-ups. I haven't yet decided what I will do or where I will go. I kind of like it over here. And, as long as we are employed by the Army, we will always be on some kind of countdown. So...I may stay. But I also may change my Twitter name back to Bubbles Friday.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Gare de Lost

As I was editing photos for this post, I realized that I almost skipped our first Saturday in Paris...mainly because there aren't any pictures from that day. None. And this was an alarming awakening because it means that if I don't photograph it, I will not remember doing it. I want to stitch that on a shirt and wear it when I'm traveling so people will stop giving me nasty looks as I freeze to take a picture about every 3 seconds. Quit judging me...I'm preparing for early onset dementia.

So, to the Musee d'Orsay we go...the only museum in 6 days that prohibited all photography. That means all photos are courtesy of Google Images...which I promise to credit. (Does it mean I've hit the big time when websites go all super-stalky if I fail to credit every. single. photo. I. post?)

As I think I mentioned earlier, I read Eiffel's Tower before arriving in Paris. Based on the events that surrounded the 1889 World's Fair in Paris, Jill Jonnes' book details how the Eiffel Tower came to be, as well as the relationships between the artists living in Montmartre in the late 1880's. But Paris hosted yet another World's Fair the following year, in 1900. The Gare d'Orsay...or Orsay train station...was constructed to coincide with the 1900 World's Fair and accommodated the lines from southern France, until the short platforms were no longer suitable for the longer trains. After it was closed to rail traffic, it was used as a mailing center during WWII and then as a film set. Today, it houses an astounding amount of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces. Basically, if you know anything about art from the late 1800's, you'll recognize something in the Orsay. 

The proposed idea behind the Orsay was to bridge the gap between the 1700's art of the Louvre and the ultra-modern here and now art of the Pompidou. This also happens to be my favorite period of art history. I grew up with prints of water lilies hanging in Mom's bedroom and attending Renoir exhibits at the Art Institute in Chicago. Monet, Manet, Degas, Gauguin, Cezanne, Seurat, van Gogh, Cassatt, Toulouse-Lautrec...I don't love it all, but I recognize and respect the talent.

So...the down and dirties on Musee d'Orsay...absolutely no large bags allowed in the museum. And baggage check does not accept coats or anything of cameras. So we shoved the big ass camera that we weren't allowed to use into the tiny black purse that I toted all day. And do not get too attached to the idea of where a painting should be. For example...apparently, when Rick Steves wrote his travel guide for Paris, the Musee d'Orsay had an additional floor. As in...floor 1, floor 2, floor 3. It's now missing an entire floor (I find this incredulous as we had the 2011 version of his guidebook. So either he has gotten lazy with the updates or the Orsay has nixed a floor in the past few months...). Also, after following along with the podcast and the guidebook for 2 rooms, nothing was where it was supposed to be. Admitting defeat, we put it all away and just walked aimlessly through. 

You are probably mumbling to yourself something like, "that's the best way to see a museum! Stop trying to control the situation! Relax!" And that is true. However, I enjoy a museum best when I have a story to take away from what I've just seen. And although I know these artists and the work they've done, I still like to have some nugget of backstory to share with...whomever. It's not about being a's about understanding the circumstances surrounding a piece of art.

Also...Neal and I can now say with absolute certainty that a train station is a horrible design for an art gallery. The platforms restrict traffic flow and you find yourself doubling back and questioning whether you've been in this room or down that hallway. It's a twee bit maddening. If it were anything but impressionist art, I would have lasted about an hour before waving the white flag and begging for a glass of wine. To complicate matters, it was, of course, Shark Week and I was soon familiar with every single bathroom. It's truly a miracle we stayed for over 2 hours.

But I was captivated both by the art and by the very idea that I was staring at the original after the postcards had hung on my walls for so many years. A few of my favorites included:

La Classe de danse (The Dance Class) by Edgar Degas
Although ballet dancers and Degas are practically synonymous to me, it should be noted that he mainly painted these scenes because people loved them and he knew they would sell...which did help when it came time to pay the bills. 

Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe (Luncheon in the Grass) by Edouard Manet
Oh how Manet loved to give the cauldron of controversy a good stir. The nude female loses the angelic perfection often depicted in Medieval art...and since she's the only one not clothed at this picnic, we Southerners would call her nekkid (as in, "I had this dream I was dining on fruit and bread with 2 bearded and well-dressed gentleman and one hand maiden. But I was nekkid.")

 La Danse mauresque by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Toulouse-Lautrec was drawn to the tawdry nightlife of Paris because he sensed it was where he belonged. His parents, being first cousins, produced a child with numerous health problems and by the age of 14, he had broken both femurs. This resulted in a stunted growth of the legs but a continued growth of his torso. In addition, Wikipedia adds that he may have had hypertrophied genitalia (do you ever wonder if someone just types this crap in to see if anyone catches it?). Shrinky dinks or not, he became thick as thieves with the prostitutes of Montmarte. The underworld of cabaret is where the outcasts would gather after the average man went home to his wife and kids. And this is where you would have found Toulouse-Lautrec, drinking his signature cocktail which was 1/2 absinthe and 1/2 cognac. That right there will give you hypertrophied genitalia. 

L'Eglise d'Auvers-sur-Oise (The Church at Auvers-sur-Oise) by Vincent van Gogh
van Gogh was a little batshit's difficult to deny that. He attacked his BFF, Gauguin, with a knife and basically drove him out of Arles after just 9 weeks. But if you happened to catch the recent 60 Minutes story about him, then you know that researchers believe he may have suffered from a constant ringing in his ears, which eventually drove him to lop one clean off. Not quite as romantic as thinking he severed it due to the unrequited love of a woman...but much more conceivable. Also, they now believe that van Gogh was accidentally shot by 2 brothers and, instead of identifying them, lead everyone to believe that he had committed suicide. After years of depression and a couple of failed suicide attempts, that wasn't such an unreasonable notion.

La Naissance de Venus by Alexandre Cabanel
Here's what I can tell you about this painting...Rick Steves began describing the details of Venus emerging from the water and he droned on about how sexual this painting was for the early 1800's...basically how every French citizen would gaze upon this painting and practically orgasm right where they were standing...and we still thought he was talking about this one...
...right until we strolled through the gift shop and saw the postcard and realized that this is Botticelli. But I think both scream "Let's get drunk and screw" so I don't feel quite so bad about the confusion.

Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette, Montmartre (Dance at Moulin de la Galette) by Pierre Auguste Renoir
In true Impressionist style, Renoir depicts a snapshot of time at a district in Montmarte. Working class Parisians are shown dressed in their finest; eating, drinking, and dancing the night away. Renoir himself was a little bit of all over the place. He started out studying the French masters at the Louvre. Then he and Monet started hanging out and playing with layers of color and the ever-changing light. But after a trip to Italy and an introduction to the Italian Renaissance, he reverted to a much more severe style of painting and outlining his figures. But when it was all said and done, as arthritis crippled his hands and he had to wrap them tightly in bandages to continue working, he returned to the style of dappled light, vibrant color, and diffused lines for which he is most famous. He will always be this painting for me. 

Le cirque by Georges Seurat
My favorite painting of all time is Suerat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
I don't know if it's the riverbank scene, the combination of colors, the random monkey or the incomprehensible amount of time it must have taken to place each tiny dot on this massive canvas (it hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. I've seen it almost a dozen times. It takes up the entire wall)...but I've adored it from day 1. I had no idea that Seurat had painted anything else (although in the back of my mind I'm sure I knew that he must have produced other work). Seurat's circus scene is a glimpse at a moment in time, when performers defied gravity by balancing on a galloping horse and the clowns, dressed as jesters, weren't nearly as creepy.

Olympia by Edouard Manet
Again Manet shocked the public and outraged critics with his own version of La grande Odalisque. Except instead of lying seductively on a chaise, discretely covering her girldom, Manet's nude is propped up and forward while she clutches her hand protectively against her secret garden. She is anything but a goddess reclined. She is waiting on her next client. But celestial beings were hard to come by in Montmarte. Prostitutes? Not so much. You have to paint what you know, even if you are ostracized for it.
There was much more to the Orsay. A fair amount of Monet's wheat field paintings are hung there and there is an entire furniture gallery upstairs. But we were hungry, tired, cross-eyed, and ready to move on. And we still never found Whistler's Mother
I would give the Musee d'Orsay 4 out of 5 stars and absolutely insist on going again should we ever find ourselves back in Paris...but you have been warned...make a day of it and get the museum's audio guide. 

I can't quite remember where we grabbed lunch. I know we were at a food stand on the left bank, near Saint-Germain-des-Pres, and we teetered on the edge of parking barriers as we ate. It was an unusually warm Saturday in autumn and every square, park, and churchyard was packed. We were trying to escape the people...without much luck. I was feeling the evil clutches of Mother Nature and Neal was still fighting the flu, so we hopped the metro back to the hotel and then laid in the bed drinking wine until dinner time.

Dinner was a do-over with Gil & Gabrielle after I had spent my entire birthday showing how I can't hold my champagne (shameful considering I host Champagne Fridays). They are the masters of finding delightful cafes where the guests are French and the entrees are proudly authentic...and within walking distance of the hotel. Dinner at Flaubert on Rue Gustave Flaubert was nothing short of perfect. A couple of glasses of wine, an appetizer of escargot, a perfectly cooked piece of fish, and a slice of chocolate heaven for me and similarly delicious meals for my dining companions made this meal more than memorable. Somehow, it was almost midnight by the time we strolled back through the revolving doors of the Hilton. We all had big plans for the next day. Gil & Gabrielle were going to try to make it out to Giverny and we were headed to Versailles. But even with a late start to the next day, the evening before was more than worth it!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Shake a Tail Feather

Well, we survived Savannah....which is nothing short of miraculous because I apparently have very little self-control in any city that allows you to roam the streets with open containers. Although our lodging and events were a drive down 516, in Port Wentworth, we spent Friday and Saturday night shopping and eating our way down River Street. After a late Friday afternoon snack of Wet Willies frozen drunk-in-a-cup (I will always wonder how they make 190 proof taste like a Frosty) and an early dinner at Paula Deen's (save your money, y'all. There's better chicken to be had in Savannah), we headed back to our hotel, with few plans but high hopes. Next door was a little honky tonk called "Silverado's" and they just happened to have live music that night...The Fig Neutrons. I'm not kidding. The entire band looked like they were suffering from a rabid case of failure to launch and were exploiting the only way they knew to get start a band. Although they were certainly talented...even if the lead singer did need to stop buying Russell t-shirts from Walmart.

But the real show of the night was this couple. We noticed them dancing the first song. We stopped and watched in amazement during the second one. I broke out the video function on my phone for the third...because, really, no one dances like this. And it wasn't as if they knew one dance and adapted it to each song. I counted at least 5 different dances, but my favorite is this one, purely for the knee-hike. I have to hand it to this couple. They may have been drinking tap water out of the men's bathroom all night, but they certainly motivated the rest of us to try a dance other than the Watermelon Crawl. It's 30 seconds...and you don't even need sound. Actually it's probably better on mute, as I just realized that I busted out a little "Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-tee da, brown-eyed girl" in the middle....and no one wants to hear that.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

It Tastes Like Chicken

I can only tell you that this was taken with my phone as we were hoofin' it to a metro stop in Montmartre. We had just spent 2 hours with a tour guide who talked all about Van Gogh and the Moulin Rouge and Toulouse-Lautrec...and we were starving. So, I saw...I snapped...and I barely broke stride. I don't know if "ass" is actually short for something, but I can tell you that more than once we were pretty sure the French kitchens were in hysterics over what they had just served the Americans....and what the Americans had just eaten.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Rippin' Up River Street

As you read this, I'm barreling down Highway 16 with some of my comrades in camo, headed for a conference in Savannah. We fought tooth and nail to secure this workshop. Our first one, last May, was canceled due to lack of funding. And this one was slow to take off the ground. But it's a family event and the best time to host family support events is during a deployment. I had already told Neal that if this workshop got canceled, I was writing a letter to the higher higher higher higher headquarters. I don't know who the hell that would be...but they would be hearing from me. I don't think that's the threat that officially launched the weekend...but maybe we won't tell my over-inflated ego that.

Anyway, the last time I was in Savannah was over a year ago...when Shana and I braved the city during Halloween. We had our fortunes read...

adorned some fangs...

drank a lot...

saw things for which there is no explanation...

got hit on by Gumby...

and I cured myself of Yellow Fever with Paula Deen's Sunday brunch...

I don't know what the weekend holds for us but we will be running head-on into thousands of runners from the PF Chang's 1/2 marathon. But something tells me that we won't see them Friday night at Paula Deen's. At least that's still safe.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

No Mo' Shaving

This photo was taken when Neal returned home from Kuwait in 2009. He had been home for about a week and hadn't shaved since his boots landed on the front door mat. It is the most hair I've ever seen on my husband's face and I made him shave it shortly after this photo was taken because sand paper on my own hairy porcelain face hurts! But what he doesn't know (and I don't think I'll tell him until his stateside arrival) is...we are both going to have to take one for the team this month because...


I was actually unaware of the campaign to raise awareness for the cancers that affect men, mainly testicular and prostate. But I think that men, more than women, should be hyper-aware of the need to schedule that annual exam. Women bitch about it, schedule it, bitch about it some more, go to it, and then bitch about it some more over margaritas and shoe shopping afterwards (and if that's not how you roll, you should definitely give it a go). But trying to get a man to book his annual exam is like trying to get Ken Burns to create a documentary featuring the Kardashians.

OK...that is not true for all men. Neal, for example, gets a lovely written reminder in the mail from the VA letting him know it's time. And then he gets additional mail and then phone calls. I guess the Army likes to know what they're dealing with regarding their active duty Soldiers. But it's time to create a catchy marketing campaign to encourage men to get their "pen and bubbles" checked (sorry, I'm a glass of wine in and just saw the new episode of "New Girl"...which...if you aren't watching, you should be. Zooey Dascheaenael and I are going to be BFFF soon). So, out with the pink and in with the sky bleu for the boys! 

I will not be hosting a Blue Campaign over at D&E..I'm doing the butterfly stroke in Christmas orders currently. BUT I will be creating one lovely item for this chick (that's not derogatory...she's a "From the Sidelines chick" too): 

She's Cathy @Antsypants and she's hosting an auction with handmade goodies through the month of November to raise money for prostate cancer research. This makes her a MoSista, helping her MoBros in need. This makes me a MoSista, too, because D&E is donating something to the cause! I can't tell you what it is, but every MoSista I know is going to need one. 

So, head on over to check out the auction rules and get ready for a hair-raising good time (I'm thinking of challenging Neal to a hair growth contest by refusing to shave my leg hair. That would make it a hair-racing good time!). 

And if you would like to pimp this cause on your own social media sites, I'm sure Cathy would be down for that. It's for the boys, after all! Let's hear it for the boys.....

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fashionably Late

Today is 2 November...which makes me officially late to the NaBloPoMo party...also known as that month where bloggers work feverishly strive to post once per day, everyday, for a month. This is an ambitious goal that I have set for myself, during one of the craziest months of this year. The only one that has been slightly more ridiculous was January. But over a bottle of white wine and under the setting sun, I was reminded of how much I love to upside down I feel when I don't write regularly. And it's been sporadic over here lately, to say the least. Partly it's because I want each Paris post to be perfect with pretty little Photoshopped pictures and links to the museums we visited...but that takes time. I know the Paris posts are lengthy and I have one friend who has admitted to reading them in installments...but they take 3 times longer to write. And with The Pink Campaign running during October, I simply ran out of hours in the day.

November is not going to be much better. This weekend there is a Yellow Ribbon event in Savannah (where we and thousands of P.F. Chang's 1/2 Marathon runners will battle it out for dinner tables on River Street), Neal returns home, and then we're headed to KY and up to Chicago. Pile on that the Christmas orders that are rolling in and the fact that I'm contributing to Cathy's Movember event...and's hairy. But maybe hairy is exactly what I need right now.

I sort of feel like I'm coming apart. And I always feel better when I write it out.

The date for Neal's arrival has changed about a 1/2 dozen times. And it has changed drastically. Even though it's fairly firm now, it could still change. And it's more than just annoying, it's frustrating...because you can't make any plans. In a fit of tears and anger I asked him why it's always like this (re-deploying has been a hot mess every time) and he said it's because sending units home is like a puzzle. And if one piece is put in the wrong place, it throws everything else off. And not only are pieces being put in bass-ackwards, they are missing pieces altogether. Want to understand the ripple effect? Talk to someone in the military.

So you get a date. An hour later something changes. The next day something else changes. Add to that the spouses and family members on Facebook and email who have "heard" things about what's going on there, about how it's all going to go down and are spreading what I can only define as rumors. I was never a cynical person...until our first deployment. If it did not come from the commander's very own lips, then I don't believe it. Even Neal, who is in the know most of the time, doesn't know the whole plan. I have made plans based on his intel, only to find it fall apart as I opened an email from someone who knew more.

Foolishly, I did it again last week. I got a date, I made a plan, I almost bought tickets to an event from my 101 list. $120 tickets that I would have never been able to sell. And then everything changed. And I did the only thing a girl could do...sit down and have an ugly face cry about the whole thing, then pour a glass of wine, and pull my big girl panties up. Because this is how it goes. I'm certainly not the first milspouse to deal with it, nor will I be the last.

It has also been pretty quiet around here since they've cut communication. I know that not every spouse in our unit got to talk to their Soldier everyday, but Neal sacrificed his after-work time to call as often as he could. He could do that because he wasn't on the road this time. Although, we did that deployment once...where he ran missions and I got a phone call when he got to a place with a phone. Sometimes it was a few days, sometimes it was a few weeks. But desk jobs, however boring, have their advantages. So, I'm certainly spoiled to a phone call everyday. And this evening, the washing machine died. I did everything Neal has taught me to do...I Google searched until I found the right forum with a relatively reasonable answer...which is basically "the control panel is fried." That's a $400 fix to have a Maytag guy come in and do it...or a $200 fix for Neal to do it...which he totally can. So, I'll wait. And try not to spill anything on myself. But I really miss relaying the story and getting his advice.

I am certainly not lacking for topics. I need to finish Paris, talk about my amazing weekend with Hutch and Shana, post the pictures from "Sit Down Lexington" and a million other tiny posts that are sitting in the notes section of my phone. I just need a reason to stop during my day and write. And now I have it. A day late...but better late than never.