Friday, December 28, 2007

Merry Christmas

Whew! For all my worrying, we really did have a nice Christmas! It was a bit surprising, but we managed to pull out a nice Christmas eve evening, as well. Christmas eve day started a bit rocky - the kids were fighting, got in trouble with daddy, etc. Somehow, I organized them to do a bit of cleaning in the afternoon, using lots of "this is your last opportunity to show Santa what great helpers you are" for prompting. And when that didn't work, "Santa still has time to turn the sleigh around...". I forget how well it works. Usually I use "Santa motivation" for a good 2-3 weeks before Christmas, but I forgot this year. Anyway, the kids grumbled at first, but soon got into the cleaning. We stayed busy after that - TJ helped me make dinner, then we went caroling to all the neighbors. The caroling is an important family tradition for me, and I wanted the kids to learn to love it too. We came home, read the Christmas story from the bible, opened one present, and then the kids went to bed, where they actually stayed. Amazing.
I wrapped the last 5 or 6 presents, and started putting Emma's doll bed together. It needed a canopy, pillow, and quilt. A couple who lives in the area made both the bed, and a doll wardrobe - perfect for the clothes my mom made for my doll (which is now Emma's). The bed is large enough for 2 dolls, probably about 24 inches long and tall (the canopy part). Painted white with lavendar and green flower detailing (handpainted!). The wardrobe is similar. I was so tickled by how well it turned out! I used 4 long strips of lavendar sheer material, doubled and tied together at the top and gathered at each post. Found some cute purple fleece with ballerinas on it for a pillow and blanket (just added some satin blanket trim around the edges). It was quick! I was in bed shortly after midnight - has to be a Christmas record! The kids slept in until shortly after 8am, and loved their gifts. No one cried because they didn't get what they wanted. It didn't feel like there was too much or too little. And best of all, no plastic toys with the wire twist ties holding them securely to the packaging. (Well, ok, there was one game with those (*&^ ties, but we didn't open it until the day after Christmas). My neighbor, Diane, came over and borrowed our oven as hers went kaput on Christmas eve (right before baking cookies for Santa). It was nice to see her and chat a bit. I relaxed in the bean bag and read a couple of books sent to TJ and I, while Tracy and the kids played outside and built a fire. Everthing felt peaceful. We remembered the people we loved who were struggling with illness or other problems (in fact one of these good friends visited Christmas evening), but it didn't shake that feeling that all was good and right with the world. What a blessing.
Wishing you and your families the same peace, and a blessed new year!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Religion and Politics

OK, new territory for me. I am generally not good at political dialogues, but here you go. Politics and Religion - separate and distinct? Or impossible to separate?

So, I'm religiously inclined, Mormon by birth and practice. I've been following Mitt's campaign with some interest. I've heard many comments about how, no matter his qualifications, or his personal morality, people won't vote for him because he is Mormon. In fact, last week he "reinvented" a JFK speech about religion and politics that sounded quite good from the sound bites I caught on the radio. Romney's message was this - he wasn't taking orders from the LDS Church, he would work for the good of the nation as a whole. Yet, some of the media were upset that he didn't delve into Mormon theology. Why would he? He's not running for president of BYU. He's not bidding for apostleship.
Granted, our faith is often misunderstood, and has some fantastic claims and practices. One columnist I read noted that all faiths do. Politics is not the place to lay out your most private and personal ideas about faith and God for public scrutiny. But is it possible to truly separate religion and politics? If so, is it advisable?

Separately but related - the Golden Compass, and the turmoil surrounding the movie release. This book is the first in a trilogy of books written by a self-described athiest. Per my sister, they were first released in the UK as books for adults. They were then given new child-friendly covers and some new titles, and marketed in the US for kids. My sister has read all three books, I have read the first. I've also received many different e-mails warning me that the reading of this book or the viewing of this movie will ultimately corrupt my children, as it is the author's intent to turn children away from a belief in God.

So, in our very free country, is there true freedom of religion? Do we tend to fall for age old thinking that to protect the tender souls of our children we need to aggressively ban anything dissimilar to our own religious ideology? I vote for religious freedom. I am wary of warnings that seem to come without some balance and discussion. Don't vote for Mitt, he's one of those Mormons. Don't read this book, it will corrupt your children.
I guess it's because I don't like people to tell me what or how to think. That is my job - the job of parent, to filter through all the media (books, movies and games, etc.) to find out what is most appropriate for my children. Likewise, it's my job as a citizen to vote for someone who I think is most capable and qualified. Let me do my job. Let me exercise my freedom.

With regard to Mitt, shouldn't the question be more individualized? What does this particular mormon bring to the table? Does he have the integrity and the ability and the appropriate plan for the future? That's where I'd like to see the discussion move.
As to the books/movie - I find the themes are too dark for my taste. My sister loved the books and plans to see the movie, but considers both to be for adults because of the content. But, she's not afraid that her spirituality will be warped upon viewing the movie. She's open to alternative views of religion and spirituality.

So, if you have more e-mails warning me away from Golden Compass, please don't send them. I'm not interested.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Christmas thoughts

It's been a bit blue here today. I'm sure the cloudy, rainy weather may have something to do with it, but for Christmas, it's been a little bit less than cheery. It's been an unusually difficult Autumn among our tight-knit military community. I've already written about the broken arm saga, and the break-ins. I think I've even mentioned our friends' daughter with the aggressive brain tumor. I spoke with her on the phone today, and went by to drop off a basket of lighthearted reading for her boys. Played with Sarah, hairless from the chemo, but walking and talking and doing so well in spite of the horrible tricks her own body is playing. The poor baby can't get a break. There are indications the tumor may be metasticizing. Her parents have been told the prognosis is worse than poor. We have other friends going through severe marital problems; a friend who recently miscarried. Granted, much of this trauma isn't even really ours. Tracy and I love each other and our doing well. Our children have seasonal sniffles but are otherwise healthy and strong. But we feel for our friends. Tracy lost two classmates from Ft. Riley last Christmas Day - killed when their vehicle struck an IED. We wondered how their families might be holding up now, faced with the anniversary of their deaths (coming at what is supposed to be such a joyous time). And on a much less serious note - I've been under the weather too, for about a month now. I'm struggling to recouperate and get appropriate treatment.
So, here we are at Christmas, with all the expectations to make THIS Christmas special - the first one we'll celebrate together since Tracy returned from Iraq. And we are so relieved and grateful. He is home with all his limbs, without the mental anguish of PTSD. The children are doing unbelievably well at school and in their activities. We have wonderful friends and family and are so blessed. But this year it seems like trama and tragedy are walking hand in hand with our gratitude. Is this the way it's supposed to be? Is this what happens once you live so long (and we are getting on in years) - that the beloved holidays serve as reminders of people loved and lost, of the trauma of those who struggle with illness and trials?
I really don't know. Of course, the life of our Savior was no picnic either, not even the circumstances surrounding his birth. Who would better understand our frustration at not being able to get the health care we need than a man whose parents were turned away from every Inn? Who would better understand the pain of our friends struggling in their marriages than a man who was betrayed by his own friend. And who could possibly understand the feelings of those who have lost babies, or spouses, or who are watching their child die - than someone who bled from every pore and gave up His own life for those He loved.
Maybe I'm looking at the whole holiday joy thing backwards. Tracy and I are adults now, and maybe it is not for us to return to the untried, naive wonderment that makes up the joy of Christmases past. I love the passage from Isaiah - Chapter 53: "He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and aquainted with grief....Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." Maybe the hope we cling to at Christmas time is the healing power of Him whose birth we celebrate. So, this season, I pray that He who has endured all and suffered all will be with us, to heal us all.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Good parenting moments

My oldest child is a bit dramatic. Friday he came home from school totally exhausted and hungry. He quickly became frustrated that his dad was not responding to his continual pleas to take him fishing. "Dad, can we go fishing? Dad, what's your plan for bringing in the big catfish?" Can we get ready and go fishing now?" So, in his tired and hungry state, he started to melt down. "I'm never going to get to go fishing again! Dad will never take me!" etc. If you have kids you may have seen something similar. He wasn't really getting much attention, so he pulled the garbage can out of the corner cupboard in the kitchen and told us since he was so unloved, he was putting himself in with the garbage. He didn't actually try to get in the garbage can (because even the dramatic have their limits, and I'm sure it didn't smell good). He did crawl into the cupboard and shut the door. Normally I would have just let him come out when he was ready. He has ADHD, he doesn't stay anywhere long. But I knew he was hungry and would feel better if he ate something. Anyway, after a few minutes I knocked on the cupboard door and said, "O, prisoner of the darkest dungeon, would'st thou desire a small snack? Alas, all I can offer thee is a mouldy dry crust of bread and stale water, but if thou ist hungry, I will provide thee some food." Pretty good, huh? He knocked three times on the door, which apparently, is knight code for please feed me. I passed him some sugar snap peas (mouldy crust of bread). After a few minutes he came out feeling a bit better. If only I had remembered a cockney accent, it really would have been cool! Anyway, crisis averted.
So, this was a point I wanted to make about deployment (no I am probably never going to leave the deployment topic alone. Sorry). I think it was pretty obvious to me that deployment gives you plenty of opportunities to see your weaknesses as a parent. You are tired, stressed, the kids are stressed, and all they have is you. But deployment sometimes gives you the opportunity to think outside the box - be creative, do things you wouldn't normally do. During baseball season, for example, the boys wanted to get out in the backyard and practice catching and hitting. Normally, I'd turn that responsibility right over to my husband, the high school and college pitcher. Since he wasn't around, I stuck that child sized t-ball glove on my own hand and went out to pitch to the kids. It was great! I have wonderful memories of all my kids (even Emma), and several of the neighbor kids, out hitting the ball and running around our makeshift bases - the big pine trees in the middle of the back yard. The mosqitos were out, sometimes it started to rain, but we played anyway. We kept up the baseball for several weeks. Next we rode bikes in the evening, and even played a few games of dodge ball. I found myself outside more often with the kids than I had been, and I loved it. Now that Tracy is home, he takes the kids out in the evening and I can clean up dinner. I sometimes miss being out and active with them. Those were the good kind of deployment and parenting memories. There are a couple more moments I can think of - usually coming after I'm tired or sick or stressed past capacity. I guess a big parenting challenge that took a lot of effort was starting TJ with piano lessons, and helping him follow through. There were days when I was so angry at him I yelled and threatened to not let him out of his room until his dad came home. But we finally have a routine down, one that works for all of us, and that minimizes complaints from him. He practices in the morning before school, but after his siblings get on the bus. Then I take him to school, giving him a bit of one-on-one time with me (although usually this one on one time includes a lot of "put your shoes on! Where is your back pack? We have to leave now!) He is doing well, and won't admit that he likes being able to play (but I think he does). Ahh! The great parenting moments may be infrequent, but they are sweet.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Emu in our neighborhood

So, I was unloading groceries a few minutes ago, and had just fished our 24 pack of bottled water out of the back of the cruiser, when I turned around and spotted an emu or maybe an ostrich walking down our street. Seriously. One of those enormous birds, just strolling through our neighborhood, 20 yards away from me, with an MP following slowly along behind it in his police cruiser. It was like a little emu parade, but the emu wasn't waving or throwing candy. I must have spooked it when I said something like "Oh my .*&%" as I backed up to my house for my camera. When I ran out the side door breathless for a picture, the MP was at the other end of the street, out of his car, looking over the sloping lawn and large tree filled space before the airstrip. I loped toward him, hoping for another emu sighting, but he pulled by me, on his way out of the neighborhood. "What????" I guestured to him, and he just shook his head.
I thought this was a quiet neighborhood!
I couldn't resist attempting another sighting, so I ran home, jumped in the truck, and trailed the MPs. They were around the corner, 3 or four of them now, driving deep into the strip of grassland between the highway and the airfield. As they drove out of my sight, I gave up my quest, and headed back to the truck in time to see a pick-up truck with a horse-trailer pulling up to follow the MPs. Good luck! There was even a helicopter in on the action, an Apache, with it's menacing guns, circling overhead. Now that's good use of taxpayer money! Wonder if they will catch it before it reaches the highway? I sure hope so. I'm developing a certain interest in that emu. Hey, I'm hearing some sirens, and the helicopter just circled over my house. Maybe it's back. Excuse me, I may head back outside to look for the emu again. Or ostrich. Whatever. I wonder where it came from? Was there a mass outbreak at a near by zoo? What will I see next? A penguin? A tiger?
On second thought, maybe I'll stay inside!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Army Family Covenant

Emma and I attended the "historic"? Army Family Covenant signing. We're sharing a reading moment.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

baby steps toward health

Just a comment about the last post. I don't really feel unsafe, not here in America - even with a bunch of kids roaming the neighborhood breaking into vehicles. This is still America, where I don't have to worry about people shooting at me, or being arrested for no reason. This is not Iraq or Afghanistan. Safety here is not an illusion, not where we live.

OK, but this post I wanted to write a little bit about my goals towards healthy eating for my family. Maybe I should call this post baby steps toward health, or something like it. For me, it's been a slow process. Tracy and I started thinking more about nutrition when we started having kids. I think it's something parents worry about. Are you feeding your kid the right foods so they can grow up healthy and strong? Pretty basic. When we moved to Austin, this was a frequent topic of conversation among us new moms. One of my friends spent a lot of time researching health, eating, and non-traditional healing. I was totally fascinated, and loved asking her about the interesting things she was doing (from a grinding her own flour, to her wonderful garden - hi Brooke!). She inspired me to take a closer look at what I was feeding my family (and what products I used to clean the house, too). Maybe a more natural way would be better?
The more I thought about nutrition, the more it all came down to "you are what you eat" for me. Did I want the bulk of my nutrition to come from bleached white flour, shortening and processed sugar; or did I want to focus on more healthy building blocks and more natural food. Anyway, I have focused on making some gradual changes in my family's diet that I think have been some good baby steps. If you aren't interested, too bad. It's my blog:)

Here's what we have done.
1. Made the switch to whole grains.
Bread is easy, I also look for whole wheat hamburger and hotdog buns, use whole grain side dishes (we switched to brown rice, but I also like the boxed rice and Whole Grain blends from Near East). We even have tried multiple varieties of whole grain pasta. My kids surprisingly, put up with the chewy, nutty texture of whole wheat macaroni better than I do. I prefer Ronzoni Healthy Harvest whole wheat blend pasta (these are great, you can't taste the difference). That's what we do eat. We don't eat a lot of processed baked goods that are another source of bleached enriched white flour. I'll talk more about this later on. I think it's one way to look at maintaining a healthy weight, too.

2. Started eliminating hydrogenated oils, as much as possible. This means reading labels, and occasionally going for organic foods. The only two foods that I haven't found convenient non-hydrogenated substitues for are peanut butter (I hate the mess of having to stir the organic stuff up after the oil separates from the peanuts. But, we do buy the Simply Jiff reduced sugar and sodium variety); and graham crackers. My husband and boys love graham crackers and the organic types I've tried taste like cardboard. I also have a few favorite recipes that call for cool whip. Oh well, we aren't perfect.

3. Started eliminating foods with artificial colors and flavors, MSG, high fructose corn syrup, and gratuitous sugar. With TJ and his ADHD, I've tried to minimize his exposure to these. I don't see much difference in his inattention, but I think a diet that sticks to natural foods helps to keep him more even keel behaviorally. This can be a tough call when it comes to purchasing snack foods. We end up eating a lot of real granola bars (not the chocolate candy coated ones). We like Cascadian Farms organic chewy chocoloate chip and Nature Valley regular old crunchy granola bars. We steer clear from most fruit snacks and fruit rolls, except for FruitaBu - organic fruit roll ups. Those are great. Target also has some organic fruit leather snacks too. Oh, I do buy pudding for the kids - I figure it has milk in it:). The kids and I actually prefer some organic cookies (which are still cookies, still not whole wheat flour, so we go easy on them) Back to Nature (oreos and chocolate chips). Excellent! We even find some popsicles that have natural colors and flavors. For canned soup I purchase Healthy Choice (no MSG). We try to eat lower sugar, whole grain cereals. I tried switching over to totally organic, but the kids rebelled. So we try to do lower sugar, whole grain varieties. They do like Kix & Kashi Autumn Wheat (like shredded wheat, both with no preservatives), and my favorite is Kashi orchard Spice granola. Yum. My kids really like real oatmeal too, if I have the time. I splurge and buy only real maple syrup. I don't think I can ever go back to the fake stuff now! For crackers we buy the Back to Nature wheat thins (which are better than the original, but still with white flour), triscuits, and my new favorites are the All-Bran multi grain crackers.

4. Drink more milk and water, juice sparingly (and the 100% variety, for kids recommended only one serving daily). I have heard so many good things about cranberry juice for women that I try to make it part of my routine (right now my favorite is a cranberry blueberry 100% juice blend). Be careful, most cranberry juice is cranberry cocktail - cranberry juice with lots of high fructose corn syrup. Read the labels. My kids and I don't drink much soda. I don't buy it (except for my husband, who loves his Cokes). Since I am becoming pretty lactose intolerant, we tried some soy milk. The kids and I love Silk Chocolate soy milk. I eat it on my cereal in the morning. The day is usually brighter with a bit of chocolate.

5. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Sometimes I put the veggies out on the table before dinner is ready, when the kids are hungry and want to snack. It works well!

6. Reduce amount of meat, eat more fish, more vegetarian dishes. All of my kids will now (frequently but not all the time) eat Salmon! I'm so excited! Often if I am fixing a dish with meat, I try to use less than the recipe calls for. Or I'll do a stir fry or a stew that has meat, but not a huge serving of it. We even experimented with tofu this summer after trying it at my brother and sister-in-law's home. TJ loves it, but the younger kids aren't so sure. I sliced it and fried it in canola oil, then tossed it in with some boxed asian noodles and veggies. Very yummy.

Anyway, those are our baby steps toward a more healthy diet. We break rules often, but at least we have some shopping parameters and goals! I wish I could say that we have broken our hold on sugar and chocolate, but alas, it is not to be. We are die hard chocolate fans here. We just try for moderation....
Also, Nathan is my pickiest eater - he often isn't interested in the funky healthy foods I make, and would just rather have a hot dog and apple sauce. So, I fix him an Oscar Meyer beef hot dog (fewer artificial colors and flavors), on a whole wheat bun with a good dose of ketchup (hey, it's tomato based!) with unsweetened applesauce, and call it good. You can't win em all.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Illusions of safety

Well, we've had an interesting few weeks. Just as I thought we would survive this deployment with only minor scrapes (and 2 new appliances)......

So it was Monday, the Monday that started the week that Tracy would come home. I was busy making preparations for his homecoming, getting my hair done, organizing the house, etc. The school nurse called me to tell me that Nathan had fallen at school and broken his arm. I was luckily around the corner from the school, at a playdate with Emma and one of her friends. Poor Nathan was in bad shape. He was pale, still, moaning quietly. His arm was obviously broken - a little u shape in his wrist. He started to go into shock when we tried to move him, so we had to transport him to the hospital via ambulance. Oh the timing! It was pretty dramatic. By the time we had finished that day, we found out he had broken 3 bones (radius, ulna, and humerous), one was displaced. The orthopedist put him in a temporary (but hard plaster) cast, with instructions to follow up in two days. We did, still he delayed putting on a new cast (it would have been very painful, fracture was pretty unstable). We were to be seen the following Monday. Since we were going to be in Kansas that day, we were given a referral to take to the hospital there. Yeah, good luck with that. I called to warn them we were coming. "I'm sorry m'am, but you aren't in our system, and we don't have any available appointments." I called the rear detachment there at Fort Riley for help. I called Tricare. I spent at least 2 hours on the phone trying to get something worked out. "M'am, we need Tricare North to fax us an authorization for care, or we can't treat him." "M'am, we need a referral from your primary care provider." "M'am, we need the name and contact information of the treating physician before we can send a referral." I got nothing but run around. In the meantime, I was hysterical by the time Tracy actually was released after his homecoming ceremony (a day later than we had planned, and on the Monday Nathan was supposed to be seen.) After fighting with insurance companies all morning, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, and did some combination of the both. Anyway by the time we made it back home and had him seen by the doctor here, the fracture had slipped. Poor Nathan waited in the hospital all that day for the breakfast I had fed him to clear his system so the doctor could set the arm surgically (now 2 weeks after the initial break). Later that week, he finally had a permanent cast on the arm. He missed 3 weeks of school.
It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that a kid as healthy as Nathan should not have sustained such a severe injury on his school playground. Nathan drinks milk all the time. He is strong from his gymnastics and soccer, and he is thin. His body can withstand a lot. It couldn't withstand about an 8 foot drop from the monkey bars onto hard dirt. The school nurse told me he was the 3rd kid so far this year to break an arm on those monkey bars. Hello, he was injured in September. Can you say problem? The school teachers and nurse have been great. They love him, they were concerned. But I don't think their playground is safe. You know, it is so hard to see your kids hurting at any time. I think the context of the situation made it worse for me. This didn't have to happen. He didn't have to get hurt. If the playground had been maintained properly, with something to cushion his fall - I'm convinced it wouldn't have been so bad. And, if he had received the treatment he needed at Ft. Riley, maybe he wouldn't have even had to undergo surgery. I have been so angry I've been nearly out of my head! It took about 10 days from the initial injury before Nathan would move that arm away from his body at all. I'm concerned that he also injured his shoulder, although it was never evaluated. All for nothing. In the mean time, our reunion was severely disrupted, as were our vacation plans (hotel with an indoor waterpark). He missed 3 weeks of school, the entire rest of his soccer season, and maybe out of gymnastics semi-permanently (since we are moving after Christmas). His whole life has been disrupted.
So, last week, as we were outside cleaning off the back porch, we noticed that two of our window screens had been adjusted, and both window locks were broken. Someone tried to break into our house. As we checked around, we heard about several cars in the neighborhood that had been burglarized. When we returned today, our Trooper door was open, and there had been several more burglarized cars. Our neighborhood has always been quiet. There are almost never any loud parties, no one speeds through, no MPs called out to break up any family fights. This is one of the most peaceful neighborhoods on post. It's so peaceful here, it's downright idyllic. The large common background area is usually full of kids. The large trees provide shade for even the warmest summer days. We congregate in the backyard - around our patio fireplaces, roasting marshmallows in the evening. This yard, these neighbors - they have been our safe haven and safety net this past year.

I guess it's no wonder I've had some trouble sleeping, and even a nightmare or two. As a parent, I work so hard to keep my kids safe, to minimize risk. With all my work and vigilance, Nathan was still was hurt. And for all the safety that I feel here, in our neighborhood, surrounded by our friends, My family is still vulnerable.

So, today I also heard the news that a friend's daughter was diagnosed this week with a severe, inoperable brain tumor. I can't imagine hearing much worse news than this. Compared to this, a broken but healing arm is hardly worth mentioning (though i managed several paragraphs). Compared to this, what's the loss of a stereo? Talk about a good dose of perspective.

I do want to comment about the whole safety issue, because the ideas have been related to the deployment as well. Here are my observations.
1. Our physical safety is probably an illusion. Who can predict what might happen to us, or to someone we love, or when? I do actually believe that living good clean lives and praying a lot do help keep us safe. Though I think God may have some plans for us that we aren't aware of. And afterall, we are mortal.
2. Threats to our safety and stability (these stressors that make us want to dig in, secure the neighborhood, keep our kids within arm's length) are real. They have real impact on children and adults. My boys, who should be sleeping soundly, are suddenly worried and afraid to go to sleep. I understood this when dad was deployed, but now that he is home, they should be better. They aren't. I should be able to talk to my friends without endlessly rehashing all the trauma. I should be glad to send Nathan back to school, not paranoid I'll get another call from the nurse. I'm not there yet. Deployment was basically an exercise in dealing with constant threats to our family's safety and stability. If I didn't hear from Tracy for a day or two, I started panicking. When he deployed to Baghdad, that was a good 3-4 months of additional stress. And we had it easy. We have friends who haven't been so lucky, whose husbands are deployed in dangerous parts of the middle east, constantly in harm's way. How they function daily is astounding to me. As I've been talking with some of the local school staff, one complaint from teachers and principals has been a handful of families who have trouble sending their kids to school. The parent is deployed, and the non-deployed parent is so stressed and worried they do not regularly keep the kids in school. After this past month, I am starting to understand this kind of thinking better. Sometimes you are so worried and feel so unsafe you go into crisis mode. You keep everyone at home where you know nothing bad will happen to them. Is that the correct response? The school doesn't think so. I'm sure the routine of school is the best place for kids, but I can sure empathize with the parent.

So now I'm going to go start of some socks for my friend's baby, and plan the meal I'm taking to them next week. I'll do yoga and deep breathing. I'll send my kids to school praying they will return safe and sound. I'll have faith that they will be protected, even though I know God may have other plans for them. And I'll hug and kiss them a bit more often. Who would blame me?

Friday, October 5, 2007

Surviving deployment

First of all, thanks to friends and family for reading and commenting. It's such a treat to read your kind thoughts! Miss you all!

I'm appologizing in advance for this (and probably several future) post(s). It will probably be of no help to anyone but me. I do enough speaking about the effects of deployment on families and children, that I thought I would take some time to consolidate my thoughts while they are still fresh. So, this post is about what I've learned from deployment '06-'07.

This post has several subtitles:
You can never have too many friends (and family!),
Find out who your friends are,
Walking the tightrope

As independent as I am, I could never have survived the responsibility of raising three kids on my own without help. There are just too many things that go awry. There are meetings that I wouldn't have been able to attend without someone to watch the kids. Football, soccer, and baseball games and practices on opposite sides of post at the same time; sick kids, doctor's appointments, Nathan's broken arm (and the resulting 5 hour hospital stay). Beyond just the needed help with the kids, my friends and family were there to send me books, to relate to what I was experiencing, to offer support and prayers. What would I have done without you? Lately I've been thinking about my support systems as a giant, many-layered safety net, with each friend or family member making up a spoke or square in the pattern. The wider and stronger the net and its connections, the more stability and safety it provides for me and my family. The less likely I am to go mad from loneliness or even hurt my kids (there's a new study out talking about deployment and an increased risk for child abuse). Of course, I can talk about this NOW, at the end of the deployment. You'd think I would have learned the first time that it is so much easier to walk the deployment tightrope if you are confident of a strong safety net to catch you when you fall. Some lessons are hard to learn, or unlearn, if you like. I think I have persisted in my 2 year old wisdom - "I can do it myself!" to the point of stupidity. Even at the beginning of this past deployment, when I should have known better, I insisted in trying to load and unload my new dryer without enlisting the help of any strong male neighbors. It was not until I had the thing loaded in my SUV, sitting in my driveway that I knew I was in over my head. I ran up to my neighbor, Hank, desperate for someone to bail me out. Hank wasn't home, but his wife Becky was. She was the one to help me unload the dryer, move out the old one, and hook up the new one. Who'd have thought this very gentle, Southern lady (who always had hair and makeup done to perfection) was so handy with a wrench? It was the first of many revelations that showed me not only how I couldn't do everthing by myself, but that I was surrounded by people who were happy to help.
A common topic for discussion at church is service - giving service, receiving service. Not only is it nicer to give than to recieve, it is easier. It's easier to be the one to make dinner for a family who has just had a baby, than to admit that I am floundering and need some help. Fortunately, deployment provides many opportunities to learn to accept service. The learning curve is a little slow or prolonged (well it was for me due to my own stubbornness). At first I was guilty of the "ledgerbook" ideology. I tried to return babysitting for babysitting, meal for meal, a plate of cookies for a ride to take the car in for service. Soon I found I just couldn't keep up. It seemed that my need for help pretty quickly outpaced my ability to give back. (Now there's a good Relief Society lesson). I was humbled. Really, deployment is a lesson in humility. It becomes quickly apparent where your weaknesses lie. It becomes pretty apparent where you don't measure up. This is where deployment changes you, really marks you so that you are different at the end from the person you started as at the beginning. All those moments of weakness, the times you yell at the kids for no good reason, the times the house is a total disaster and you stay up late reading a novel, the times you aren't emotionally available when the people around you are huring or angry. Those low times for me will not completely be erased from my memory - they'll stick around, my personal deployment scars. But then there are the care packages that arrive in the mail, the neighbor who takes the kids for a whole afternoon, the telephone calls from family and friends. That's when you really come to understand the true meaning of Grace: Undeserved kindness and generosity, love. I found myself singing "you find out who your friends are" a lot. Somehow it's having to go through the low times that really allows you to really experience the love of family and friends. It's the best band-aid in the world. By the end of the deployment, I was able to take the frequent hits to my tightrope stability without so much panic. I knew that no matter what happened, my own safety net would be there to catch me, to wrap around me and comfort me. So when my two younger kids freak out because they don't want to go to TJ's piano lesson, and my neighbor is happy to watch them for me, it's one battle I don't have to fight. A bit of energy saved for the time I will really need it. My family and friends have asked how I did it, how I survived. It's pretty simple, you made me strong.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Reading Explosion

My 8 year-old (third grader) is a big reader - so much so that it is often a problem at school. Last year his teacher often had to physically remove books from his hands to get him to pay attention during class. This year appears to be much the same. I have talked to him until I'm blue in the face. Usually my first question to him after school was "did you get into trouble for reading today?" Seems funny, doesn't it? He told me yesterday that he just doesn't hear his teacher when he's reading. Now that is escapism at it's finest, I think. To be so involved in a book that the world outside melts away. If it didn't happen in the middle of a math assignment, I'd be a bit more excited about it. Anyway, his reading list is an interesting one. He and I have read some of the same books, but his taste often differs from mine significantly (why I am surprised by this I don't really know). We both read Harry Potter - all the books. He read the Black Stallion and liked it, as did I at about that age. Last week he came home from school and told me he was reading Moby Dick. Ok, I read that book in AP English as a senior in high school - only because it was mandatory reading. I sweated through it and finished it, but it certainly wasn't one of my favorites. He loved it. After school on the car trips home all that week he updated me on what he had read that day. I honestly don't remember much from my reading, but had a few inklings of familiarity when he talked about Quiqueg, Ahab, and Ishmael. He loved the book, finishing it in about a week. I guess it's easy to underestimate the pull of a good book, even a classic - for kids. Sure he reads plenty of modern children's lit, but it's nice to know that I may be able to steer him in other directions too. I'm hoping he'll notice a copy of Johnny Tremain that I've stacked on the bookcase next to his bed, and tackle that next. We'll see.
There is a reading counts program at his school, they get points for reading books on the reading counts list and taking short comprehension tests afterward. I sometimes ask why he doesn't take out more reading counts books from the library, and he rolls his eyes at me. For him, reading is it's own reward. Another recent favorite of his is Runny Babbit, a Billy Sook, by Shel Silverstein. This was a loaner from his cousins. I was tickled to hear him on the phone the other day, with the book laid out in his lap, talking with his cousin about their favorite passages. I guess it's never too early to discuss great literature.
My husband and I are pretty conservative with our parenting. (Well, some may call it conservative, some may call it old fashioned). We don't have a videogame system of any kind. The kids watch TV, but I am very particular about which shows they are allowed to watch. We watch a lot of PBS and Disney Channel and Scooby Doo. This past week the boys have been on the computer non stop, playing games on two new websites - Pokemon and Club Penguin. I'm not really sure how I feel about this. I had hoped to prevent Pokemonitis as long as possible, but it looks like he has finally succombed. Along with all the time spent on the computer, I've noticed an increase in tempertantrums and hyperactivity (again, why am I surprised). We are going to have to significantly limit their computer time, even on the weekends. They need outside time to run off energy, to play and be normal, healthy kids. I'm a firm believer of this "green time". I also pay the consequences if they don't run off their energy because it comes out in the most uncharming ways otherwise. Anyway, tying this back to reading - I am hopeful that a little Melville will help balance the Pokemon influence, just like I hope the piano lessons will balance any exposure to Rap or other questionable music. I know I can't protect him from all the cultural experiences that I find objectionable. But there is always a hope for balance.

Catching up with my reading

Thought I'd spend a few minutes listing some of the books I've read most recently, as a continuation to the Bookworm post of a few months ago.

Books for Adults:

A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini, author of Kite Runner. Kite Runner was a little too graphic for me. I liked Suns better. Still heartbreaking, but hopeful.

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte. A classic!

The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde. Very imaginative, and it was helpful that I had recently read Jane Eyre. That helped me follow the plot a bit better.

Eat to Stay Young - Catherine Christie and Susan Mitchell - both Ph.D./R.D. ok read.

YA Books

The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien - we listened to this on tape as we travelled this summer. Some scary parts, but still a classic.

Eclipse - Stephenie Meyer, the third in the Twilight trilogy, it's as great as the first two.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling. Book 7. We even went to the bookstore at midnight and stood in unearthly long lines to pick it up.

No Talking - Andrew Clements. Been looking at his books for my oldest son, but this was the first of his that I read. Great book!

The Thief Lord - Cornelia Funke. Loved this book! I started another book by this author - Inkheart.

Surviving the Applewhites (or something like that) a loaner from my sister that I already returned.

That may not be a complete list, but it does include the stand-outs. Have a good day!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Top 10 ways you can tell you are lonely for your soldier

Here's my own top 10 list-
You know you are lonely for your soldier when:

1. You experience a strong gravitational pull toward anyone or anything in a uniform. - I remember when the younger kids and I were Christmas shopping at Toys R Us at the same time the Marines were there collecting toys for their Toys for Tots program. Several of them were in their dress uniforms. The kids and I couldn't shop, we just stood there watching them.

2. The kids want to jump on and wrestle with every adult male they meet. (Luckily, I'm a little more restrained).

3. You can't get to sleep because the house is too quiet after the kids are in bed.

4. You check e-mail several times a day.

5. You become so unused to attention that holding comversations with other adults makes you giddy and you sound like a total goof.

6. The kids' arguments make sense.

7. The phrase "Go talk to your father" is automatically paired with a gesture toward the computer.

8. You look forward to going off and on post for the conversation with the gate guards. (at least they are adults).

9. You check e-mail several times a day.

10. You start to wonder where your life has gone, if you'll ever get it back, and if anyone but you would notice.

24 shining stones

I really don't feel much like writing. It's been one of those not so good days, when I wish I could have stayed in bed. It's not like anything really went wrong, I must have just rolled out of bed on the wrong side. Well, which is the good side when there are 3 children in bed with you? I didn't even have a "side" of the bed to sleep on, more like 6-8 inches. But every so often I have a day when I'm sure I am going to lose my mind - when I'm sure I can't take another day of this. I'm tired, I'm lonely, I need an adult to talk to. So, tonight I read from the book of Ether in the Book of Mormon. For those of you who aren't familiar with this story, the Book of Ether is about a separate group of people at the time of the Tower of Babel, when the Lord confounded the language of the people so they couldn't understand one another. It was a consequence of their wickedness (to think they could build a tower tall enough to reach heaven!). Anyway, Jared, his brother, and their families and friends are preserved by the hand of the Lord and are preparing to cross the ocean to get to a promised land. The Lord instructs them to make vessels that are tight enough to keep out water (but also air and light). The people are afraid to travel such a long way in the darkness, and come up with a solution. The brother of Jared cuts some clear stones and asks God to touch them to make them shine so the people have light on their trip, which He mercifully does. There's a whole part of the story that goes with this encounter, but I'm skipping it to keep this generally brief. Anyway, the voyage takes 344 days. Can you imagine being trapped inside a ship, on the ocean, without seeing the sun often (they had a small hole to let in air, which they had to keep plugged some of the time because of storms and tall waves). Could you imagine doing this in total darkness? Luckily, they don't have to make the trip in total darkness because of the light from the stones. Anyway, the people miraculously don't complain, and when the reach the land, they get out of the boats (probably kiss the land), and thank God for his tender mercies. 344 Days of rolling, stormy seas, and they were uncomplaining and grateful after so long? Tracy has been in Iraq 341 days. We have our own stormy days too, days like today. There is a very well known Conference talk given by Elder Bednar on this topic, the Tender Mercies of the Lord. It is all about the small and simple ways the Lord shows his love for us. For Jared, his brother, and their families, he was merciful enough to give them light for their journey. He didn't miraculously whisk them straight to the promised land to spare them pain or suffering, but he gave them the small miracle of the stones, a reminder of who was really in charge of their safety and lives. Similarly, for us these past months, he hasn't taken away the fatigue, or the loneliness, or the stress of this deployment, not totally anyway. But he has given us many little miracles to help us get through day to day. We have wonderful, loving neighbors and friends, hugely supportive family (who always seem to know when to call or send care packages). We have friends from church. This past Sunday I was reminded of all the support we get from our church friends. One of our home teachers (who was passing the sacrament at the time) returned my kids' waves and smiles. Emma went to sit on the bench between her favorite two babysitters, and TJ sat with our neighbors. I sat in the back with Nathan (and a few extra friends who wandered over) and was grateful for the sustaining love I feel from all the people around me. It's good to have a reminder, even on the bad days, that God is really in charge. That even though I can't see his plan for my life, He knows the plan he has for me and for our family. Now, with the end in sight (we're under 20 days now!) it's my turn to come through this deployment voyage with a grateful heart, thankful for the tender mercies of the Lord.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Ok, I'm an adult. I watch Disney Channel movies. Is that so wrong? I get tired of 30 channels of Law and Order at night, or whatever the current adult themed drama is. I get tired of the reality shows and the game shows. TV for adults is either too adult, or too lame for me. So, I've been channel surfing with Disney. It's about my speed. I was actually planning to watch Disney tonight, the opening weekend of High School Musical II. Here's my reason. It was filmed in my hometown of St. George (in Southern Utah). My boys and I stayed up late watching all those disney kids prancing around my old turf - hanging out on the golf course, running through the sprinklers, watching the stars at night (no trees in the way), hiking (or in their case bouncing) on the red sandstone. Doing all the things I used to do as a kid when I lived there. It was such a tremendous feeling of deja vu. I found myself getting homesick right then for the place - well, not necessarily just for the place, for the whole experience- being there as a kid, with a whole life ahead of me. That was the place where I met and fell in love with my husband. He's in a lot of those memories too, and I really miss him. (Or obviously I would have some better things to be doing at night than watching the Disney channel).
And I've been thinking about my own kids. Right now my boys think of texas as home, because that's where they lived the longest. My daughter thinks of this place as home. She was only one when we moved from Texas. We're planning another move after the first of the year. My boys are already upset about it. My oldest, TJ had a horrible day yesterday. He was plain old mean to everyone - his friends were furious with him. When I asked him what in the world was up with him he cried and cried. It took him a while to catch his breath and tell me that his missed his friend (the one who moved back to Kuwait), and that he didn't want to move away from here. He wanted all our friends to stay here, permanently, too.
So, seeing this movie tonight, with all my memories - I guess that was the first time I really wondered how our military lifestyle and its frequent moves might feel to my kids. Maybe it will be more difficult for them than I thought it would be. I mean, we make friends and watch them leave with regularity. We'll do our own leaving soon - relocating to a new state for only a year, then on to somewhere else. Sure, they get to meet so many people, see so much of the country, but maybe it isn't all good. Kids like stability, predictability, and those words aren't in the Army dictionary. Will they be ok? Will this be bad for them, in a permanent, life-changing way? I sure hope not.
The good news is that the Army family is only so big. We'll run into people we know wherever we go. In fact, our next door neighbors may follow us to our new duty station just a few months behind us. That made all the difference to TJ - knowing his friends would be there too. So maybe he won't really have one "home", or place, where he grew up. But maybe his big (Army) family will be enough. I hope so.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

International life in a rural setting

Tomorrow morning our Kuwaiti friends are leaving here to return home. It's an interesting thing, striking up a friendship with people when there is very little common language involved - but somehow it has worked. Maybe some aspects of friendship don't need much shared language. It was my brother's idea to write about it.
So, it all started with a game of Uno. That part you know. It's ironic to me that during the same time that my husband is in Iraq, immersed in this culture, we get neighbors from Kuwait. How strange is that? These past two months have felt like some wierd split parallel universe - an American in the Middle East, and the Middle East comes to America. However it happened, It's provided Tracy and I with more common knowledge to use in our discussions about Middle Eastern politics and culture. He shares some Arabic phrases for me to use with our neighbors, I tell him what it's like to attend a segregated dinner party. It's also turned simple neighborhood birthday parties into something resembling a UN Summit meeting. There are at least 3 different languages and often as many as 5 nationalities present (Poland, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, India, and us). I'm becoming skilled at pantomime and pidgeon English. It's stressful, at times. I don't want to risk offending my new friends by not accepting their food or drink, but I don't drink coffee or caffeinated tea (I'm Mormon) but how do you explain this to an Arabic woman in full burqua who brings her china tea set to the party to share her gingered coffee with us? Who doesn't speak English? I didn't even try. I just took the miniature tea cup and thanked her. It is very strange to see the Arabic women here - completely robed, having picnics at the park. It's not what you would think of when you think US Army.....
So, about a week ago, our Kuwaiti neighbors invited me and the kids over for dinner. This was the third time at least they've fed us - wonderful baked chicken and rice with raisins, stuffed grape leaves, tabouli. When my mom and stepdad flew out to visit, they insisted on making dinner for us all - but the flight was late, and they ended up just sending the food over late at night for us to eat in the morning. The first dinner party I attended should have prepared me a little for the most recent. While there were mainly Americans there - soldiers and wives, there were also many Middle Eastern men there. After dinner, the men made a circle with their chairs and brought out these tower pipes (my husband knows what these are called, I don't). My oldest son cheerfully went about trying to convince each of the men of the hazzards of smoking until I could drag him away to play with his friends. The women sat on the outskirts, kind of misplaced and forgotten. It felt very strange. So at this most recent party, my children and I were the only Americans who attended. After getting some strange looks when I sat down outside in the chairs set up there, I was ushered in by the older girls to one of the bedrooms in the house, where some appetizers and coffee were placed on a rug in the middle of the floor. The women came in, closed the door, took off their veils, said their prayers individually on a small rug. My children wandered in and out, even the boys (which I was told was OK since they were only children.) How weird that it should matter. It was difficult for me, because it was a school night, and the time was getting on - by the time we were served our own food it was past nine o'clock. I tried to wander in and out myself to keep better track of the kids, but one of the girls always came to fetch me - "Come, Miss Lisa, Come." I really wasn't quite sure how the kids were going to be taken care of or watched (and was thankful for very good neighbors who I'm sure were close by). We ate the same food as the men, just from completely separate dishes, and after the men were done eating - all closed in by ourselves in our segregated room. The Arabic women were clearly comfortable with this. They chatted with me and with each other. My Kuwaiti friend told them all I was "sister, sister". It's similar to "Army family" - how we think of our close friends and neighbors here. I didn't stay long because I really had to get my kids in bed. After they settled down for the night I had plenty to think about. The experience was pretty far outside my comfort zone because what it means to be a woman in this culture is so practically different. As shy as I can be, I didn't like feeling so invisible. I understand modesty, I really do, but I don't understand the burqua. And I have serious concerns that when you are invisible as a woman, you are at risk for being mistreated. If you want some fictional but probably pretty true to life pictures of this risk, read "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini. It's a story about two women in Afghanistan during the many years of recent conflict. On reason I have loved my Kuwaiti friends is that I can tell they love each other. The father treats the mother and children well, they are happy. The children are well-mannered and kind. They are good to my kids when mine don't deserve it. But I worry about their two beautiful daughters. Will their husbands be as kind and good? What will their life be like? Maybe I am concerned for nothing - this is what they know, how they understand life to work. Maybe living differently would make them uncomfortable. I don't know.
So, how did I wind up with Arabic friends, who are so different from me? I may not understand their definition of modesty, but I do understand the desire to be a faithful wife and loving mother. I know what it is like to leave your friends and move somewhere where you are a stranger (even though I've only done this in America). I understand wanting to broaden the horizons of my children by exposing them to new people and places. And part of me knows that our country and culture is not always well received by our Middle Eastern friends. Why not try a little harder to dispell any American myths they may have. Maybe this is a baby step toward peace. I'm happy with baby steps. I'm also eternally grateful that my daughter will grow up an American.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

AWOL book review

Today is Independence Day, a perfect day for finishing a book like AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service - and How it Hurts our Country, by Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer.

I'm relatively new to the culture of the military. Although my husband has about 18 years or more of time in the National Guard, I was very much removed from most of the military culture. Tracy usually drilled 4 hours away from wherever we lived, so I only met the other soldiers and their families for special occasions - Christmas parties and the like. All that changed when we arrived here - our first duty post as full-timers. While there are some challenges, I have really loved it. I love the sense of community here, the closeness with our neighbors, the many smart, independent women I've met. In fact, I recently returned to Bryn Mawr for a reunion (the first I had attended), and many of my college friends complained about feeling isolated, or not having a community of interesting, intelligent women to be around. "Not me," I told them, which it totally true. I wouldn't replace my college friends (or any of my Utah or Texas friends either), but I have been continually surprised by the kind of support and friendship military families extend to one another. They have to find support somewhere - moving every couple of years, often living hundreds or thousands of miles away from family. Plus the deployments - If you don't have a good dose of independence before these, you soon learn some.
Anyway, back to the book. Written by two military family members - one a spouse of a marine (Kathy Douquet, she also happens to be a Bryn Mawr alum - and political campainer for Bill Clinton. Her stories didn't always go down well with me). The other author is a father of a marine; both are well-educated and self-proclaimed upper class folks. As the title describes, the book describes the relatively recent (within the past 50 years) significant decline in numbers of upper class kids who join the military. The authors reported that if you look back to the Constitution, the founding fathers pictured a military that was representative of the population, a citizen/soldier model. They shunned the idea of a professional military class of people (bad experience with the Hessians?), suspicious of the development of any kind of "elite-led caste" that could influence public policy. However, military service was a point of pride, it was an honor to be able to serve our country. The authors noted that this sentiment is often lacking today. The focus today seems to be more like "what can you do for me?" Military service is portrayed not as the "patriotic" thing to do, an honorable way to give back, but a way for poorer kids to earn money for college, or a good trade for people who don't have other choices. The authors clearly pointed out that most current military personelle really do join to serve their country - and this desire to serve is often misunderstood by others. (hear, hear!)
The authors also noted that significant problems can develop if our "ruling class" are not personally invested in our military. It's easy, with the high level of professionalism generally presented by the military, to send them off to solve problems in other parts of the world. Would our leaders think these decisions through more carefully if their own children were in uniform? Would they be as likely to send our troops out ill-prepared and ill-equiped if their own sons and daughters were among those serving? And, with the lack of military experience in our leaders, who will be able to advise them about the feasability of military operations? All great questions!
I can't really do the book justice with just a paragraph or two. I highly recommend it to any grateful citizen of our country. Happy 4th!

Funny things the kids say

My kids are hilarious. They come up with some very interesting statements at times. Thought I'd have a place to record these as they occur. Here's the latest TJ (age 7) comment.

Yesterday he was playing with his feet, flipped a bird with his toes. "Mom, is this an obscure gesture?" he asked. "Yes TJ, yes it is." my reply.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

vacation pictures

Ode to our deceased gerbils

I had a gerbil, but he died.
I don’t know how, I’m mystified!
Maybe my little sister’s hug
For gerbils- was a bit too snug.
We dried our tears and bought another.
(We think it was our gerbil’s brother).
And mom, I wonder how she knew,
That this time we should purchase two.
These gerbils lasted slightly longer,
Grew up leary, bigger, stronger.
But Tylegnaw would rue the day
He ever tried to run away!
It seems his running days were through,
When he ran underneath my shoe.

Concerned our gerbils were too frail,
Mom asked if we would like a snail,
Or something sturdy and robust.
(An exoskeleton’s a must!)
When baby turtle came along,
We were thrilled! What could go wrong?
Our turtle, speedy as a mouse-
We think he’s somewhere in the house.
We’ve left some food out in the hall,
But haven’t seen him, not at all.
We’ll find him, surely as he sneaks.
We’re good – it’s only been 8 weeks.

Our final, lonely gerbil gent,
Was in a little accident.
He hit his head – no, not so wise,
And wound up mostly paralyzed.
Sweet thing, I loved him anyway.
(At least he couldn’t run away).
When someone used him for a seat,
Our gerbil graveyard was complete.

Sadly, there was one pet more-
A hermit crab found at the shore.
This pet had no staying power.
He lasted only half an hour.
It was really not my fault
I added too much table salt.
A cup of water from the tap
Was not his ocean habitat!

I’m pet-less, now, maybe for good.
I’d bring them all back if I could.
Don’t judge too swiftly, for I’m small.
I did my best and loved them all.
And though I cry and beg and moan,
Mom said no pets till dad gets home.
Unless I find a nice bullfrog-
I’ll have to wait to get a dog!

(It is all sad and true).

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Universal Language of Uno

We live on a military installation, and in our housing area are some finished houses and duplexes that are reserved for foreign officers and their families who come here for military courses. We've met many different families from all over the world - Pakistan, India, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Poland, to name a few. We are also on very good terms with the British and Canadian Liason officers and their families. Getting to meet these individuals has been one of the highlights of my experience here. We have built friendships with some of these families, particularly our Lebanese and Pakistani neighbors (who have since returned to their own countries). I have to say that it is easier to do when they all speak English. Recently, a new family moved in across the street with 5 beautiful children. I took over some fresh baked apple bread (which was still warm and promptly crumbled; Nice to meet you, have some mangled bread:) and attempted to talk to them only to find out that the wife and children didn't speak English and the husband was asleep. "We'll come back later," I told them, though I don't know if they understood. I met the family the following evening at the park and found out they were from Kuwait. I am a sucker for these beautiful brown eyed children, who sit on their front porch with their hands on their chins waiting for someone to come by to play. I encourage my kids to go out and meet them, find some game they can play together. This sometimes works, and sometimes does not. Last year, a family from Saudi Arabia lived behind us, and their kids were a little young, a little more rowdy (like my own), and my kids had a difficult time with them. They did try hard, bless their hearts, but were constantly upset when the other children didn't understand the rules of the games they were making up, or ran off with their toys, etc. I also had my first experience visiting with this Saudi mother (who couldn't leave the house to supervise the kids unless she had on her robe and veil). Making small talk with anyone is not my strongest point - I get nervous and can't think of a thing to say. So, it was even worse when the person sitting across from me didn't speak English. She ended up pulling out a picture dictionary, and we made a go of it as best we could. Apparently, social visits between women are an important part of life in the middle east, and it is considered sort of rude to not sit down and accept their drink (I've usually been given some kind of orange drink - Tang or Sunni delight) and food. OK, fast forward to this week. Early this week, the kids and I went outside and filled up our little swimming pool, and coaxed the Kuwaiti kids into coming over. They filled up their bigger pool and organized a few games. Turns out the oldest girl (about 11), knows enough English to organize the younger kids (aka, boss them around:). My kids did really well - they had fun. So, yesterday, when their kids came over and wanted our kids to go over to their place, I was all for it. I'd been watching them sitting on their porch and sidewalk waiting for us to get home from our errands. Emma wanted me to come with her, so I went along. Sat down, was given my traditional orange drink and slice of cream pie, and tried to think of something simple to say. It was painful, really. I asked about the ages of the children, which towns here they had visited (not sure she understood that question). After a few minutes the conversation started to lag. Then I noticed a deck of familiar looking cards on their table. "Do you play Uno?" I asked? "Uno, yes, yes!" they all said. I ran to fetch TJ who was next door, and we all sat down to a rousing game of Uno (which I actually won, though it isn't important). What was important to me was finding some common ground, some way to break though the language problems and make friends. I am optimistic that our relations with this family will be enriching for all of us. Already my boys are requesting more soccer time with Abdurazag (their 9 year old), and Emma lets the two oldest girls (Manar and Najed) carry her around and dote on her. I think this is the beginning of a nice global friendshp -although I know it will be sticky at times due to lack of a common language. Lucky for us there is the universal language of Uno.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

half of my heart

This being father's day, it's the perfect time to explain my blog name, if I can. Half of my heart refers to one of the popular window stickers found on military posts - "Half of my heart is in Iraq", or "Half of my heart is in Afghanistan". The sticker lets people know the family has a servicemember deployed - their husband or wife. If I ever write an autobiography, this will be the title. For military wives, deployment stories are like childbirth stories or family lore. Military wives swap them over cups of coffee or happy meals while your kids play together at McDonalds. Deployment is part of our shared history.

My working theory about deployment is "That which does not kill you makes you stronger."
I've started trying to narrate our first deployment story, but haven't made it all the way through yet. I'll probably post it once I finish. We are nearing the end of our second deployment now, with plenty of adventures that need recording, too.

Anyway, back to the title - Our first deployment started almost 6 years ago - and it was one of those trial by fire experiences. Terrible but important at the same time. A little background on me - I come from a family of strong women (the men are strong and unique too) and was raised on the saying "Anything boys can do, girls can do better." My feminist leanings were further encouraged at Bryn Mawr. On top of this, my parents divorced when I was 21, leaving me all kinds of confused about how to manage in a marriage. My husband Tracy, bless him, came from a very stable, traditional family. But we had different ideas about marriage - does a marriage mean you belong to each other, or is it made up of two individuals choosing to be together? It may seem esoteric, but it was upsetting. And, how do men and women truly work together in a marriage? What unique abilities do fathers bring to the table when compared with mothers (here I have to say my Psych background was completely unhelpful). Introduce kids to the mix, and introduce our first deployment. In one way, deployment is like a carefully controlled experiment about the importance of fathers in the lives of their children (or mothers, for those deployed moms). There is no confounding effect of divorce (at least not in our case) or significant parental conflict (usually). You take a (fairly) normal family, remove the dad for a long period of time, observe the reactions of the remaining family members. Classic. Introduce situational stress (lots), which magnifies the reactions of the family members. What do you learn? Or really, what did I learn? It also helped that I reviewed what little information I could find about the importance of fathers in the lives of their children for a father who was looking to gain custody of his adolescent son (I was paid for this, it wasn't my idea). All these events propelled me into much more serious pondering about this man I married, and his importance to me and to our children. The whole experience was incredibly humbling. I really didn't manage as well as I thought I could by myself. I needed him - not just to help clean, or take care of kids, or fix the broken down trucks and sink. As I said, my psychology background didn't really help me figure this out at all. There aren't many theories about the critical nature of fathers (though I found some good information in long term studies of children of divorced parents). So, I searched for answers in church materials and scriptures. My church teaches that fatherhood is a sacred responsibility. Fathers preside over the families, they provide and protect. I used to think of that as old-fashioned, but it suddenly made much more sense. I missed his leadership, his protection, his thoughtful decision making (I'm far too impulsive). Now, during this current deployment, I see how the kids need his firmness. I see how much they miss him. I really was unprepared for how much the kids missed their dad. The incredible sadness due to the separation. All of the sudden, the account in Genesis seemed so important - "And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." Genesis 2:22-24. I love the fact that Eve was made from a rib - her origins were close to Adam's heart. And, that through marriage, two individuals are united into one flesh. One heart.

I'm not meaning to get preachy. I'm not sure I can even put into words how exactly my thinking changed, though it did. I made up my mind to search for ways to better support Tracy in his roles as father and patriarch of our family. My illusion of my independence (which was pretty well blown by the whole deployment experience) softened. I depended on him and needed him. What a difference it has made.

I haven't ever told Tracy about this soul searching. Frankly, I'm embarrased that it took me so long to really value the unique gifts and abilities he brings to our marriage. It's not that I didn't love him, because I have, from the time we met. But now I'm more aware of the problems that crop up (subtle and not) when he isn't around. I'm more aware of his place in our lives. So, I titled my blog half of my heart out of gratitude for what I've learned, and for Tracy.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Confessions of a bookworm

My husband has been deployed for almost 11 months, and should be home in just a few more. As we near the end, I'm looking back at the highs and lows. Many of the lows were soothed by an escape from my own reality into a book (or a pile of them). I think I've read more this year than any other year of my life. I thought it might be fun to produce my reading list here. I know this is not a complete list - many of the books I've read I've sent back to my mother and sister (who love me and keep me in reading materials). As I remember them, I'll add them.

I love fiction, and tend to stick to YA (young adult literature) mainly for content (plus great writing). I find that I'm just not up for the adult content in adult fiction nowadays.

YA fiction:

*Twilight - Stephenie Meyer
*New Moon - Stephenie Meyer

Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants - Ann Brashares (great characters)
Second Summer of the Sisterhood - Ann Brashares
Girls in Pants - Ann Brashares
Forever in Blue - Ann Brashares

Eragon - Christopher Paolini
Eldest - Christopher Paolini

Sorcery & Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot - Patricia Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Keturah and Lord Death - Martine Leavitt

Son of the Mob - Gordon Korman

The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman (a little creepy)

Chasing Vermeer - Blue Balliett

Al Capone Does my Shirts - Gennifer Choldenko

Saving Francesca - Melina Marchetta

Princess Academy - Shannon Hale

Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix (re-read via audio tape)
Harry Potter & the Half-blood Prince (ditto)
Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban (reread)

Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson
The Great Gilly Hopkins - Katherine Paterson

*Sarah, Plain and Tall - Patricia MacLachlan

The Boxcar Children - Gertrude Chandler Warner (for my second grader)

My Mom's a Mortician - Patricia Wiles
Funeral Home Evenings - Patricia Wiles
Early Morning Cemetery - Patricia Wiles

Joey Pigza Loses Control - Jack Gantos (didn't like at all)

Becoming Naomi Leon - Pam Munoz Ryan

*Soldier Mom - Alice Mead

Adult books

Cry, The Beloved Country - Alan Paton

Heroes at Home - Ellie Kay

The Work and the Glory: Pillar of Light - Gerald N. Lund
The Work and the Glory: Like a Fire is Burning - Gerald N. Lund
The Work and the Glory: Truth Will Prevail - Gerald N. Lund

A Sense of Wonder - Katherine Patterson

Far from Cactus Flat - Lyman Hafen

*ADHD with Comorbid Disorders - Steven R. Pliszka, Caryn Carlson, James Swanson (CE credit)

I'm also halfway through Patriots -by A.J. Langguth
I read a good chunk of the Old Testament before moving on to the New Testament
Read a bit of A Mormon in the White House? 10 things every American should know about Mitt Romney - Hugh Hewitt (though it seemed redundant so I quit)

As of 6/17/07
I forgot a few:

The Samauri's Garden
The Toughest Show on Earth? (Autobiography of Joseph Volpe - Metropolitan Opera)

New Reads:

Crispin: The Cross of Lead - Avi
The Thief Lord - Cornelia Funke
Mothering with Spiritual Power - Debra Woods (comes out in a few months, gave endorsement)
The Minstrel's Tale - Berit Haahr (a classmate from Bryn Mawr)