Related Posts with Thumbnails

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Be Back Soon

Just a quick update to let you all know I'll be back to blogging soon ... we're leaving Kansas tomorrow (or is it today as I'm writing? Hmm....yep. Maybe this is why I haven't been blogging.) We'll be stopping in Kansas City to visit my friend Kim and her family, which will also help break up the trip a little bit. Kim is a friend I grew up with in little 'ole McPherson, Kansas, and about the only childhood friend I (sort of) keep in touch with anymore! *sniff* So sad. But I digress.

The forecast looks clear, so we should be home soon and back in the grind of daily living. It's been a good visit, and the week's flown by: I just hope the drive does, too. Please offer up a prayer for us to have a safe trip!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Buckets of Christmas

Before leaving for Kansas to spend Christmas with relatives we celebrated our own Christmas at home. Of course, Santa had to be notified, so Conner obliged with a note:"Dear Santa,
Please come to the ____ 's house tonight because we will be in Kansas over Christmas.
P.S. Enjoy the cookies"

Good thing he put our name in there. Or, you know, Santa might have gotten confused.

This next picture is completely gratuitous. I'm just so proud of how smart I am...

Yes, the broom and dust pan set was a Christmas present for the little guy. (A miniature set I found at the thrift store, by the way.) I'm no fool -- might as well capitalize on his more, er, fastidious qualities. And now no more whackings on his sister's head from the broom handle.

John and I did a very good job for once of saying we weren't going to spend a lot of money on each other and then actually following through. However, we apparently still spent a little too much.
What can I say? Great minds think alike.

Quintessential John Cusack. You gotta love it. The 80's left us some some wretched music, but some classic teenage angst flicks to make up for it.

We aspired to make the 850-mile trip to Kansas in one day, but were thwarted a little over half-way through by the weather. After passing through St. Louis it started dumping buckets of rain, which turned to buckets of ice after the temperature dropped 25 degrees in about as many minutes.

Did you know you can just call the highway patrol and ask them what certain road conditions are? Well, my mom did. And she found out that the the interstate was closed west of Kansas City because of a 30-car pileup near Topeka. We don't have to be hit over the head twice, so we cut our losses and got ourselves a hotel room somewhere in the middle of Missouri.
Oooohhh were we glad. The next day we saw evidence of the storm that we just got a small taste of...
Many, many cars abandoned off the road, in Missouri and on into Kansas. The sky was clear the next day and conditions were much improved over driving at night in an ice storm, but the plows still had work to do and big bits of road were still treacherous.

We drove by at least two fresh accidents like this one above, but fortunately no one looked too worse for the wear. Too bad we couldn't say that about their cars.

We arrived safely at my parent's in Kansas today, where Olivia has already performed her singing and dancing for a very willing audience, and Sean-Peter has already initiated some rearranging of some Christmas decorations. I figure let 'em go hog wild and by the end of the week they'll be more than ready to see us go ... Hopefully the weather will cooperate for us, too.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tithing and Vegas

*Author's Note: I just retrieved the post below from draft form where it has been languishing for a week or two ... for those of you who have been privy to our struggles with the Vegas house ... IT IS NOW RENTED! Can I get a w00t?!

Have I ever mentioned that we're really rich? What? You say I haven't? Hmmm ... well, maybe that's because WE'RE NOT. At least not in the fiscal sense. But we've been pretending like we are: We've been going around like we're All That and A Bag of Chips and it ain't no thang to pay on two houses -- yes, TWO -- and still keep the shirts on our backs.

It really hasn't been our fault, completely. We’ve had this cute little house in Las Vegas that we bought when we moved there right after 9/11, just the three of us, since this was pre-Olivia and Sean-Peter. And it suited us just fine, this little house, and the Vegas market took off and we were so pleased that we had taken the Homeowner Plunge, what with our lifestyle of moving around making that kind of scary. God Was Good and All That. And when it came time to move, not quite three years later, we decided to rent it out, you know, "just for awhile". The market was on fire and it seemed like there was no stopping it.

Yes, yes, I know. It's easy to hear the fire alarms going off now. Because stop it did, as we all know. And while hindsight is 20/20, I do feel I have to defend our lack of prescience by explaining how we had decided to go ahead and sell, the summer of 2006, at a time that we now recognize would have been the last possible good time to sell. But literally two days after we gave ourselves the nod and contacted our property manager to talk about the next step -- John got his orders for deployment, and we decided to put it off until he got back. Heh-heh. God was chuckling. Or maybe just shaking his head, those poor, poor fools.

Because John got back last Spring and we all know what was happening with the housing market by then, all over the country, but especially in the places (like Vegas) that had seen such tremendous -- and ridiculous -- skyrocketing property appreciation. We should have just left well enough alone, of course. The house was rented out just fine, after all. But as my grandma used to say, "Some people are just meant to learn from their mistakes". So we very naively decided to put it up for sale, "just to see what would happen".

What happened was a big, gigantic snowball effect that started out as a query to a realtor and reassurance to our tenant that he could stay there until the place sold, if it did -- no one was getting booted to the street or anything ... but resulted in an empty house that has steadily been draining our resources ever since.

The amazing thing, really, is that we have been able to financially support that house for as long as we have. A big reason we were able to for so long was because of the additional living allowances that you get when you're stationed overseas, not to mention the financial compensation when you're deployed (which isn't nearly as significant as most people think).

When John got his first pay after moving to Ohio, I was looking at our account and I said, "You need to check your LES, because this can't be right." I had known we were in for a pay reduction after moving Stateside, but I hadn't actually sat down and spelled it out, so to speak.

Indeed, we hadn't been in Ohio long when I spoke to my friend Ruth, who had moved from Italy to the States the same time that we did. How about that sticker shock? was what I clearly remember her saying. Thing is, Ruth and Mark had actually bought a house in Texas while still in Italy. (Yes, it was a headache, but so is house-hunting with preschoolers. I'm still not sure who suffered more.) So they pretty much landed on American soil with their first mortgage payment in hand. Sitting in our hotel, I was still just musing that our pay seemed awful low...

Just to spell it out a little more clearly: John's take-home pay went down almost two thousand dollars. A month. He did bring home an LES, and there was no mistake. Um, living in Italy is more expensive, but...

After we bought our house here in Ohio that whole thing with the house in Vegas started to hurt. Really bad. It was clear that the housing market had tanked. We were liking our realtors but they just didn't have much to work with: no one wanted to buy houses, and if they did they wanted one of the brand-new ones with the free pools and cash allowances and three-years-with-no-payments perks that builders in Vegas are now offering because they can't sell their houses, either.

So we took it off the market, and we got with a new property manager, and we signed a new contract and put it out for rent. And that sentence doesn't quite illustrate the slow and arduous torture it has been to deal with this Vegas house while moving from another country and buying a house to live in and finding our way around a new city whilst unpacking boxes and feeding and caring for three children and otherwise keeping them alive.

(Oh, and have I mentioned that John has been consumed with SOS?)

A couple of weeks ago, shortly after we got everything squared away with our new property manager, John got online and told me that there were many, many (many-many) houses just like ours for rent in the MLS system. I don't remember how many he said because I gave him the wave-off: I really didn't want to hear it because I wasn't worried. Even at the time I wondered if I was just putting my head into the sand, but I simply wasn't concerned. No matter that we had reached the end of our financial tether. What would happen would happen. Fretting about it wasn't going to help, though Lord knows I did throw up many a prayer along the lines of, "Uh, help?"

And thank God, because there really is something I'm trying to say with all of this. Two things, actually. The First Thing is that our house rented!! Hallelujah!! Can I get an amen? And just in time for Christmas! -- can it get any better? And the second, and Greater Thing, is that through all of this we never stopped tithing. And don't think that I didn't think about it. Because I did.

But to the credit of both of us, when we sat down and looked at our mutating financial situation and tried to get a grip on our responsibilities in our new home and were faced with the fiscal reality of the Dollars That Don't Be, neither one of us suggested not tithing for awhile. At least not out loud. And now that I look back, I don't think for a minute that Thing One and Thing Two are unrelated.

This whole tithing thing does freak me out. It's not a word I grew up hearing, possibly because I just wasn't paying attention, and it totally takes me out of my skin and makes me want to hyperventilate. Over the years I have been hearing others' inspirational tithing testimonies, and eventually I realized that they had something to do with me: I already knew what the bible said about it, after all. It took a bit longer for John and me to be in sync, and when we finally took the plunge to tithe, to really tithe, not just "give an offering", it was pretty scary, but ultimately uneventful. The roof didn't fall in and the heavens didn't sing out. But we were being obedient, and it felt good.

My favorite passage about tithing is from Malachi in the Old Testament:

"...Bring all the tithes into the storehouse,
That there may be food in My house,
And try Me now in this," Says the Lord of hosts,
"If I will not open for you the windows of heaven
And pour out for you such blessing
That there will not be room enough to receive it..."

I've been told that this is the only place in the bible where God challenges us to test him. It's like he's saying, "Just try me, and see if I don't take care of you better than you could ever think to take care of yourself". The beginning of the passage starts out with a little fear, by the way, but I'm okay with that: More people could stand to have a little fear of God put into them, what with God Is Love being preached and harped about everywhere you look. God is Love, but He is also Sovereign and Holy and Just, and a little reminder of that is not a bad thing.

But I don’t believe we were testing God so much as simply trusting Him: That He is who He says He is and He will do what He says He will do. At the time the house in Vegas rented we had just reached the point where we were hanging on by a thread and something needed to be done -- we were down to the wire where decisions needed to be made and plans needed to be waylaid. If tithing didn't go, something else had to. I mean, those tithing dollars could sure take care of a lot of expenses ...

But it just felt like, if we stopped tithing, then we would be getting rid of the only thing we could be sure of in this unsure world. Continuing to tithe despite our dwindling balance felt more like we were saying, "Okay, God, we're doing what you told us to ... uh, now what?" I guess this is my little way of shouting out to the world that It's Real and It's True. Now, we were never starving, people: It wasn't a matter of putting basic food on our table. But we decided to be obedient, and I guess we took God up on His challenge as well. And I feel like, a couple of days ago, when we found out our house rented so quickly it was like a little wink with a thumbs up and a nudge in the ribs: Good job staying on track ... it does matter, and it does make a difference.

And if anyone is interested in buying a cute little house in Vegas, just let us know. I'm sure we could work something out.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


For you scrooges out there, or for people like me are just now realizing that Christmas is just around the corner and YOU'RE NOT READY.
The video is under three minutes -- just give it a few seconds to get to "Part II". Even non-scrooges can appreciate this one: a wry, dry rant about a Christmas gone awry.

"Oh, The Weather Outside Is Frightful..."

"But the fire is so delightful...
And since we've no place to go...
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!"

Actually we did have Olivia's dance class to go to this morning. This was the first class since she started that the parents were invited to watch.
Isn't she adorable??

No, really. Isn't she a hoot?? She really loves dance class, and it was only that much better with an audience.

By the time we left, it was really coming down, and we were very glad we had made a point to drive the car with the snow tires.

Now we're just hoping that it gets this out of its system by the time we plan to travel next week. Because before daylight was gone today the snow had turned into freezing rain, and no one has to tell me what this reminds me of. At least it's not so bad that we're losing our power lines. Yet. Because ".... it doesn't show signs of stopping..."
(Did I just say next week? How is that possible??)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Merry CHRISTmas!

Thanks to Becky, my mother-in-law, for sending me this fun song ... your teenagers and preteen types ought to especially enjoy it. And an early Merry CHRISTmas to all of you!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Wand of Common Sense

John is learning that his position here means lots of meetings. Meetings and conference calls and briefings and power point, blah blah blah.

A couple of days ago he was in a meeting and someone brought up mentoring and asked for input on how to improve it. John suggested that you allow your people to make mistakes and encourage them to come to you when they've goofed so that you can develop a solution together and they can, you know, learn from it. Or something along those lines.

The response was blinks and crickets. (Did he really just say that out loud?)

The Air Force does not tolerate mistakes very well. In a service facing chronic shortages of many things, this is almost understandable. In many situations, you don't have the resources to recover from mistakes. But John was talking about giving someone something within their span of control, and from which you could all recover if some foibles occur along the way. He was saying he uses this to test and grow people, and it went over like a pork chop at a CAIR conference.

Its system of EPRs does not allow for an airman to be any less than perfect on paper: on a scale of 1 to 5, if anything other than a 5 is on your EPR it's the equivalent of a career-breaker. So, you have either Jesus working for you, or someone you'd like to show the door. There is no middle ground. With the meaning of these numbers taken away, raters are left with getting creative with the bullets: using just the right verbage; putting exclamation points just so. I shouldn't have to say how much of this "creativity" becomes outright falsehood; it's simply not realistic to think every airman has to be superman. Or wonder woman, for that matter. But having to make them all sound like that on an evaluation can be quite the writing exercise.

When no one is allowed to fail, or to even be mediocre, what motivation is there to excel? And you guessed it -- those young airmen who do want to excel, who are self-motivated and do want to improve their skills and be recognized for their efforts, they're looking around for a reason to do it. And from where they stand they're not seeing it.

Coupled with that is all the airmen the Air Force has steadily been booting out. This knee-jerk reaction they have as a "solution" for budget shortages. Some of these involuntary separations are airmen with over ten years in and working towards retirement: poof, all that time in and now they're starting over. Here's some money - now go figure out what to do with yourself. The promising new, young airmen who are looking around at this, what are they to think? I give my all and dedicate my career to serving my country ... only to get the boot at the halfway mark? No, thanks: I'll take control of my life now, thank you very much. And the ones with options -- the smart ones, the hard workers, the ones with education and wherewithal -- they are going to get out while the getting out is good. And they are getting out. That's all they talk about, when I get out, I can't wait to get out, I am sooo out of here as soon as my time is up.

And John will ask them, "Do you have a plan?" And many of them will blink and guffaw and insist it will all be better, even though they have no clue what it is they are going to do. But some of them do have a plan, and they're the ones the Air Force is going to be sorry they're losing. Especially when they realize about 5 years from now that -- surprise! -- they need a bunch of new people.

John has had many a bad day in his many days in the Air Force. He has even waxed nostalgic about his Army days when, maybe the BS factor was higher, but the backstabbing ratio was lower. But I always say, when anyone asks, that as his wife I am confident that he is a lifer -- unless they kick him out, that is. And you never know, really. Even though John of course is one of the "good" ones, that doesn't seem to matter to the number crunchers. They're just trying to save a buck; never mind they're shooting themselves in the foot in the process.

I often muse on what I would do if I could wave a Wand of Common Sense over the whole thing. If I could change just two things, I know exactly what they would be: I would get rid of the mentality that every airman walks on water come Eval time, and that anything less than a 5 on an EPR was a career killer.

And I would change the way they base next year's budget on what was spent this year. I don't know what the best solution is, but this Use It Or Lose It system they have now is completely asinine at a time when no one has money for what they need. But let's buy another $3,000 plasma TV we have no idea what to do with because if we don't, we won't have that $3,000 next year.

I can't even imagine how many millions or even billions of dollars could be saved if a government entity didn't have to look around at the end of their fiscal year and come up with ways to spend their remaining balance so that their budget wouldn't get axed the next year. Because this is not just an Air Force thing, but government-wide. They can't even carry the balance over into the next year. They have to use it now or not at all, and the presumption is that not spending it now means you won't need it next year, either. Can you imagine how much is wasted? How much frivolous spending that encourages? How much those dollars could be doing to effect change in our economy instead? Or even simply keep them from kicking out airmen that our country needs? (Because the need won't go away just because the airmen do. And what do you think costs more: retaining the airmen you have or training some new ones?)

But rather than rant on and on and making yet another gargantuan post even longer -- oh, wait, too late -- I am curious as to what you would do if you had a Wand of Common Sense of your own? What changes would you make?

** Author's note: I had John fact-check this, and he went ahead and added a little flavor of his own as well. Bet you can't tell where, can you?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Say What?

*Author's Note: this post is all about my recent exploration into my son's speech delay, and learning new words like "apraxia", and I really drone on and on... So unless you are interested in these things, or you are familiar with how Sean-Peter "talks" and are curious about what the professionals say about it, or you just think Sean-Peter is so darn cute and you can't believe that there could be anything wrong with him . . . you might want to take a pass on this one. I won't hold it against you. Honest.

**To my family -- I don't think I have grandma's quote quite right at the end. Can someone tell me what they remember her saying?

Sean-Peter's lack of speech is apparently more lacking than I had even realized. After meeting with an audiologist, a speech pathologist, and an ENT, it has been determined that Sean-Peter has ... a major speech delay! Okay, so that wasn't exactly a surprise, but I have been learning some things about my son along the way that have been illuminating for me, and portentous of a longer road of therapy ahead of us than I maybe realized.

The base doesn't do speech therapy, so we got a referral from TriCare to have a speech assessment done by a private company off-base called "Therapy Connection", where they were very insistent that I understand they have a year-long waiting list for children needing therapy. They said it so many times I got confused. "But we can be on the waiting list, right?" I mean, I understand there's a waiting list. But everytime I said that they kept telling me that there was a waiting list so I might want to look around for availability elsewhere, because they, you know, have a waiting list. Well, of course I'll be looking around for other care, but in the meantime can I get on the waiting list? You know, the one that I do understand you have?

Anyway, once they understood that I understood that there's a waiting list we were all good. It was like they were going above and beyond being all nice and concerned, and it just served to confuse me more. I'm accustomed to military healthcare: I don't do nice and concerned. And this place did seem very good, judging by the service they gave my son as well as by the reviews I got from other moms in the waiting room. And truly, seeing what some of the problems are that other children have out there, I have nothing to complain about.

Whenever the subject of my son's er, um, speech has come up, I have found it very difficult to accurately describe what it is he does. I have tried to explain that he is unintelligible because he swallows his words, or that the sounds he makes are gutteral; more often than not he doesn't even open his mouth and will "speak" entire paragraphs without moving his lips until he ends with a punctuated "Mahm!" Or, just as often, "Bap!", his all-purpose word.

But the pathologist who did his assessment helped me to understand that most of the sounds he makes actually get lost up in his nasal cavity, not down in his throat. She also confirmed that he can make many of the sounds a three-year-old should physically be able to make: he just doesn't put them together to form intelligible words. I went into this assessment with my son with terms like "articulation" and "phonological deficit" bouncing around my brain. However, by the end of the hour, it was clear that his speech is not even far enough along to "label" him with any of these terms. In short, his speech is not far enough along to determine what kind of speech problem he has.

Toward the end of our time with the pathologist, she was finally able to get a better look inside Sean-Peter's mouth to see that there weren't any apparent physical or structural issues. And with that possibility ruled out for now, she wondered aloud if he might have apraxia, a term I was not at all familiar with. She quickly explained that childhood apraxia of speech has to do with the connection between the brain and the mouth, and she gave the simple example of a TV and an outlet: both function fine, but the cord connecting the two isn't working. Or, as I googled it later, apraxia has to do with "speech motor planning and programming". Children with apraxia have "difficulties transmitting the speech message from their brain to their mouths". This would explain why Sean-Peter can make these sounds but has difficulty using them in words.

A couple of other descriptions of apraxia resonated with me while I was googling; one said that children with apraxia may not speak intelligibly, but they sure do have a lot to say! This is so true for SP: he will go on and on and on and on ... even gesturing and jabbing his finger at you, and it's obvious he's giving you the business, but you have no idea what he's saying. John and I have laughed many times because one day it's all going to become clear and we'll get a taste of how much smack-talk he's been dishing out without us knowing to curb it.

Another description that struck me talked about those moments when you're trying to get them to say a certain word, and you can see in their expression that they really are trying. But he opens his mouth and kind of moves things around and ends up not making any kind of sound at all. And you can see the confusion come over his face like what is it I'm supposed to be doing, anyway? and it really is so sad because you can tell that he really is trying but he just can't do it. It's at this point that I say "Good job!" or something just as inane, because I am loathe to see that expression of confusion turn into frustration.

Of course, these moments of cooperation aren't as common as the times I ask him to say something and he simply responds, "No!" That's one word he doesn't have any difficulty opening his mouth for.

Our appointment with the ENT specialist proved to be quite interesting as well, although I went in there really just to rule things out. You know, so I can tell people with confidence, Yes, his hearing is fine; yes, his ears are fine, no excess fluid; no, he doesn't have enlargened adenoids or anything growing on them. That last one really has come up. The things out there you can worry about, if you really wanted to worry about something. Sheesh.

Sometimes in the military healthcare system you get a doctor who really makes you forget that they have nothing to lose by treating you like everyone else in the system. John and I have wryly joked over the years that with military healthcare you sure do "get what you pay for". Ha-ha and all that. Occasionally you come across a military doctor that doesn't remind you that their uniform shields them from malpractice suits. They're usually the ones that care so much they seem completely burned out, or they're counting the days until they're getting out -- and they always have a plan.

This doctor was one of those -- one of the good ones getting out, that is. (And, yes, he does have a plan: Eau Clair, Wisconsin will soon be gaining a very capable ENT.) He really seemed to be interested in Sean-Peter's particular condition. It wasn't the first time I'd heard, "He really is doing something unusual there, isn't he?" But it was the first time I finally had it labeled: "Hyper Nasal Speech". And he explained that he sounds the way he does because his palet isn't touching the back of his throat when he "talks". But it is capable of touching the back of his throat, because he can make the hard "g" sound. He did examine inside his mouth to rule out any physical abnormalities ... and then he left the room to do some research. Maybe this isn't novel in the "real world", but it is in the one I live in. He also acted very concerned that SP won't be receiving the therapy he needs if there's a waiting list, and he put additional notes on his file in the computer for his primary care provider that should help us if we need to come back for another referral.

But hopefully it won't come to that, because I have been working the local school district as well for what therapy Sean-Peter will qualify for through the public system ; it's just taking longer to get that paperwork squared away and appointments scheduled. In the meantime, meeting with these professionals and focusing on what I am now learning is a real problem with Sean-Peter's speech has subtly changed how I am doing things at home. I really don't think I was ever treating him like he didn't want to talk. I mean, he's sharp as a whip and twice as ornery, but it's been pretty clear that he isn't doing the mumbo-jumbo speech thing on purpose. But I do have more compassion now and am simply paying more attention to every sound he is trying to make -- and he is gaining ground in opening his mouth for more and more words, even if those "words" are still unintelligible. That's still progress, in my book.

I'm also slowly reintroducing sign language -- something we stopped doing over a year ago, I don't remember why. And I'm trying to incorporate some word drills that the pathologist suggested to me as well as some simple things to work on at home that I picked up from my googling. So far as I can tell, it's too soon to "diagnose" him with apraxia, but it's as good a place to start as any. There are worse things to be wrong with my kid, that is for sure. When I look at my little family, I am downright amazed at how amazingly healthy they all are. And when I look at my extended family -- seven nephews and all -- I am downright dumbfounded. In reference to my sister's recent blog post, if talking too much is the worst thing we have to deal with in this family, I will thank my lucky stars.

Of course, it's not luck at all. As our grandma used to say, looking at a roomful of grandchildren, "Lord, bless these wonderful children." Thanks, grandma. It appears to be working.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Snow Day!

The kids were so excited this morning to find the snow that was promised to come while they slept.It started snowing sometime during the night, and continued into the afternoon. True to their word, the base did not close, and John got to commute to work with all the other crazy commuters who tried to avoid being one of the many hapless drivers who wound up in the ditch. He wasn't quite so enamored with the snow by the end of the day. Conner fared better and got the day off. Here he is getting some help starting a HUGE snowman.

He was trying to roll it from the front yard to the back. But his helpers quickly tired and abandoned him...

This little guy lasted outside a lot longer than I thought he would.

And Olivia finally got to make the snow angel she's been talking about ever since she heard that living in Ohio meant snow. Snow that sticks. She was just a little disappointed to learn that snow didn't automatically mean Christmas...

I even played Becky Home-Eckie and brewed up some real hot chocolate, which Conner enjoyed by the fire before he went out for another round, this time with some friends his own age who invited him to go sledding. We may not have mountains here, but this part of the country does have some pretty good hills. We experienced a little round of nostalgia when we thought about the last time he went sledding -- in the mountains by our home in Italy, which now seems like a world away.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

snow and sos's

I am no longer an SOS widow! John officially finished yesterday -- a few days later than planned, but no matter. He is now a man of leisure ... until he starts a Master's program in January, but I say again -- no matter. As I write he is putting snow tires on his car, happy as a kid in a candy store in anticipation of the 2-3 inches of snow they are calling for tonight. That's my Southern boy. He's so cute.

He's also been forewarned that this base here is loathe to call a snow day unless it's a national emergency. Not that 2-3 inches is cause for a snow day. At least not in Ohio, I'm sure; though that would not be the case in many parts of this country where a few snowflakes would be enough to close down schools and make jack rabbits out of drivers with their brake pedals and send them skidding on imaginary ice into the ditch with only themselves to blame. I hate driving in Texas when it snows. The drivers are a more dangerous variable than the weather.

But speaking of SOS, I guess Sandra and Stephanie are the only ones who found the video in my previous post as hilarious as I did? Though Stephanie's email wasn't quite as enthusiastic as Sandra's comment -- at least, I don't think she scared her little girls with loud guffaws.

** Update **

Make that Melitsa, too!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Why you should learn English

This is so stinking funny, I don't care who you are. Once John and I picked ourselves up off the floor I thought of my amazing friend Stephanie, a German herself and speaker of many languages who is currently attempting to instill a working knowledge of English to a classroom full of Russians, among others.

This one's for you, Stephanie. I hope you found it to be as hysterical as we did!

Friday, November 30, 2007

"Just Call Me Sven"

It's official: John is changing his name to Sven. At the risk of spelling it out to any heeber-jeebers out there who by some weird coincidence happen across this post because they googled military families with the name Sven so they could hunt us down in Ohio and stalk our children ... suffice it to say, our last name ain't exactly original.

There are at least four people at the base with John's name. Exact name. First and last, spelling and everything. When you're sending someone official email on base, you go by the person's name: a list will pop up, and you pick the one you want. There are other identifying factors: rank; organization; etc; so it's not like you don't have some other information to go by when you can't spell the name or the names are similar or there are four people with the exact same name. But some, uh, people don't do this very carefully.

There have been numerous occasions over the years when his name has gotten him mixed up with someone else. Probably the worst example was last year during his deployment in Afghanistan when his mail kept going to the other John -- and the other guy kept it. "Um, honey, I don't know why you haven't gotten anything from me. I must have sent that package a month ago..."

Oooh, yea. Someone wasn't happy.

The weirdest incident must've been the time I got a call from a guy asking for John. Turned out he was some "investigative reporter" who was searching for a fugitive and he decided it would be a good idea to call all the John ____'s in the phone book within a 400 mile radius. Well, ma'am, just how well do you think you know your husband? .... Oooh, creepygoawayrightnow! Like, if I was a fugitive would I have my name in the phone book?

John signed up for this SOS correspondence course before he went to Afghanistan -- before he knew he was going to Afghanistan, actually. Which was kind of a problem, because you're supposed to complete it within a certain time frame. He got an extension, of course, but it was like minutes after he got back from deployment until we found ourselves in full PCS mode, and he didn't get much done.

He had to make up for lost time once we arrived in Ohio, and I've been an SOS widow ever since. He had his last test scheduled for today. Woo-hoo! Yay! Yippee! HALLELUJAH!

"Oh, we don't test on Fridays afternoons anymore ... didn't you get my email?"


He then went to work and found an email from a CMSgt (aka Chief Master Sergeant) who was chewing him out for a lousy EPR that a MSgt John _____ had turned in. (My) John bothered with the courtesy of replying that he had the wrong John -- something none of the other Johns seem to do -- and that next time he might want to at least double check the rank of the recipient.

There is a reason neither of my sons are named after their father, despite John being a family name on both sides of the family as well. If we ever had another baby WHICH WE AREN'T we have joked about what a perfect name Sven would be for a boy. Besides Sven being an awesome name, surely there can't be many others out there, you think?

However many there are, John is thinking he needs to join their ranks. At least that way, if we did have an accidental fourth in the future (something my family seems to be way too good at, so I know enough to say Never Say Never) we could name him after his dad, after all.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

My Baby's 3! (Ode to Sean-Peter)

To my son, on his birthday:

It's okay that you can't speak intelligibly and I am often frustrated to the point of exhaustion because I don't know what you want. There are many, many days ahead of us when I will wish I could not understand what you are saying and will wish I could plead ignorance to what you want.

It's okay that you're not yet potty trained. That's pretty much your mom's fault as much as yours by this point. I plead myself overcome by events that are not within my control. Maybe if I wait long enough your dad will get so disgusted he will take care of it himself once he finishes his SOS coursework TOMORROW and reintroduces himself to his family.

It's okay that you seem to destroy everything you touch. It makes my job of decluttering that much easier and really makes me think twice before I bring something new into this home.

It's okay that you pick your nose to the extent that I have never witnessed a child picking his nose before. And that you eat your findings. Like you're starving. Which you might be because you never eat the wholesome food I prepare for you. And it just makes me laugh because it disgusts Conner so much and I tell him I prefer that to wiping the boogers on the walls, which is what he always did.

It's okay that this move whacked you out so that you only want mom-mom-mom-mom-mawm-maaaawm! That's completely normal and understandable, and I get that. This, too, shall pass. Three nights ago when I told you I needed to say goodnight you even let me because for the first time since we moved you wanted your daddy to come in and lie next to you. And I actually felt a little pang of jealousy. But just a little one. I knew enough to let it pass.

And it's okay that you want me to lie down with you until you fall asleep, even when that means you get me up in the middle of the night or that you pull me from the depths of a mountain of laundry beckoning to be folded while I'm engrossed in a cheesy Nora Roberts made-for-tv movie that just got to the best part. Last night I realized I was lying next to my two-year-old baby for the last time, and I had the sense to savor the moment.

Happy Birthday, big guy. You may give me a run for my money, but my days sure wouldn't be the same without you.

Monday, November 26, 2007

ipods and tennis balls

There's a lot of talk out there about Christmas being too materialistic. And it's true, it really is. But what doesn't seem to get talked about is how fun it is to give gifts. The act of gift giving, truly, is okay, too. Good, even, in my humble opinion.

I love knowing that I am getting something for my children that they are going to love. Knowing that their eyes are going to shine in wonder and amazement upon opening. I try to put some specific thought into what I am getting; I hate buying a gift just for the sake of buying a gift, which is sometimes necessary -- it's the thought that counts and all that. But for my children, and for the things that are coming into my house, I try very hard to get something that represents them and is something that they actually desire. As well as something that I don't mind having around.

For the little ones it's a matter of paying attention to what they already have and enjoy as well as to what their natural interests are. Now that I have a preteen I can appreciate how easy it is to shop for preschoolers: the hard part is holding back! And it doesn't take a lot of money at all. They don't blink an eye at second-hand toys from thrift shops. And their favorite items that provide immense joy are often the simplest: I will always remember that Conner's favorite gift one year was a container of tennis balls.

Of course, that was ten years ago. Now he's a wee-bit more complicated. And so hard for me to relate to. Toys, I get: It's all these electronic gadgets that elude me. I was never one as a kid to even play video games, for pete's sake. It's not like he's even asking for much, or for many, I should say. But of the three things that made it on his list, two of them cost over $100. A Wii? Fat chance. An ipod? Is that really necessary?

The quagmire I want to avoid is ultimately spending as much on miscellaneous stuff that he never asked for as I would on just getting him one thing that he did. This is what came to my mind when my mom pointed out the prices on a "Zune" in the sales flyers for the day after Thanksgiving. A Zune? What's that? Is that like an ipod? Oh, it's Bill Gates' version of an ipod? Like, ipod has just become a generic name like Coke, only sometimes when people say Coke they're really talking about a Pepsi and now Zune is like a Pepsi so people will have Zunes but they'll still call it their ipod?

A couple of sharp tacks, she and I. I could go on but you get the idea. The rest of the conversation was just as pathetic. Poor Conner and his archaic mom. It's so much worse than "becoming your mother": here we were commiserating about not being able to keep up with all the electronics out there -- and, yes, that was the first time I had heard of a Zune -- and it takes my mother to tell me about a latest thing.

Of course, after she and I finished this incredibly enlightened conversation, John walks into the room and I ask him if he knows what a Zune is. "Oh, yea. It's the Windows version of the ipod." You don't say.

I totally blame him for my ignorance about everything electronic, by the way. It's like the woman who doesn't bother to cook because she married a chef. Except, er, I don't exactly have that problem.

Then I tell John that Radio Shack has Zunes on sale for $99.99 on Black Friday. Twenty minutes later I scream-whisper him into the room to tell him I found them for $79.99 at Target on Black Friday. He looks at the ad with me, "80 gigabytes! 80 gigabytes? Do you know that this time last year if they'd had 80 GB ipods for $80 at Bagram the BX would have been overrun?? Forget Conner -- get it for me and we'll give Conner mine!" Uh, that's the spirit, hon'.

But little did I realize how portentous his remark was. The one about being overrun, that is. I did attempt to take advantage of the Black Friday sale on the Zune ipod. (Or is it just a Zune?) But I am sooooo out of practice with American consumerism. Getting up at 6:00 for a sale that begins at 5:00 just isn't going to cut it, at least not around here. Especially when you go to the wrong store. And since the right store got in like, 12 zunes, my chances of getting one, even if I'd spent the night in the parking lot, were like, nil. Sorry, bub.

I did find another Black Friday bargain for Conner that I know he'll love, so the morning wasn't a total loss. But it did make me nostalgic for the little guy who used to go around, happy as a clam, a tennis ball in each hand; items so precious he wouldn't even throw one, so certain was he that it might get snatched up and not returned.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Now That's a Mess of Leaves!

The kids have been having some fun with a final foray into the fall foliage (how's that for some alliteration, eh?), as the temperatures are supposed to drop precipitously today and tomorrow.

Isn't she cute?

Conner and his friend Mitch bagged many, many leaves this afternoon. They even kept at it when it started to rain.

Olivia and Sean-Peter helped, too. In their own special way.

Here's the little guy, making out like a little elf with Santa's goody bag. He actually was helping by hauling the bags to the shed for temporary shelter. The clouds were looking ominous.

Olivia mostly just checked the status of the piles. But isn't she cute?

The boys weren't being altruistic; rather, they were motivated by good old fashioned bribery: I told them I'd pay them $1 a bag. Problem is, they ran out of the 30 gal. black ones and moved onto the 13-gallon white ones...resulting in a total of 37 bags. Full. Of leaves. And that was just the backyard.

I think I got gypped. I also grossly underestimated the girth of Ohio foliage. They don't make 'em like this in Kansas.

That's not really true. I just felt like putting that in there.

But seriously, isn't she just so cute?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Forget the Christmas list

The other day I turned around from working at the kitchen sink and found the little ones rolling tape back and forth to each other with these:
Yes, that's a strainer spoon and a potato masher. Their own little hockey sticks.
Afterwards they began some mysterious project that included taping the potato masher to the floor. I never quite figured that one out, and apparently they didn't either because they ended up carting the utensils off to the rec room where I found the masher in one of my copper-bottomed pots.

Forget the Christmas list, Grandma: just get them some kitchen utensils and some all-purpose tape, something that always seems to be in short supply around here. They'd probably think they've hit the jackpot.

Friday, November 16, 2007

olivia: budding photographer

I let Olivia take some pictures today, something I don't do often, mind you. But it does afford me several minutes of peace. And it looks like Sean-Peter enjoyed being her subject.Here I am trying to pry apart his cold, dead hands to see what mischief he has inside.
Turned out to be some screws he found lying around, waiting to be put back into the stereo that inexplicably hasn't worked since we got here. Maybe he thought he could fix it.


Here she got a view of our rec room.

Emphasis on the rec.
And my personal favorite, the self-portrait.
She took several of these, her face completely washed out in most of them. I doctored it up as best as I could, but I don't exactly have mad skills in the photo shop arena.

That sweater I'm wearing? The orange one up above? Yes, that is one of my thrift shop finds. You know you're jealous.

Thrift Store Haven

I just experienced the Thrift Shop on base, and I think I’m in love.

I got seven, count ‘em, seven sweaters. Just for myself. Over the last couple of years I have slowly been getting rid of my stack of sweaters left over from the early 90s. I'm serious. Some were even older, from, like, *gasp* high school. (And, yes, that means before the nineties.) In one evening I got myself a whole new (half) wardrobe for $23.25, and I am seriously stoked. Man, I’m livin’ now.

I almost lost them, though. After my bargain-laden arms became weary I set the sweaters down for safekeeping in what I thought was a safe set-down place. Alas, I was mistaken. I went to get them and almost gasped out loud when they were gone. Gone! And then just as quickly I spotted some woman -- some woman -- with my sweaters draped over her arm. But before I whipped out my can and thoroughly embarrassed myself she spied my daggers glance and said, in that utterly cheerful nicey-nice way Ohioans have, “Oh, are these yours? I was about to put them back on the rack.”

So I do think she volunteered there, as do all the employees, and I made a mental note to put away that can, for pete’s sake. We are in Ohio now, where the people are nice and friendly. Now would be the time to bring out your inner Kansan and play nice back. Phew. What a relief.

I am no stranger to thrift stores, to garage sales, yard sales, flea markets... to junk, for that matter. And this thrift store certainly has its share of that. But when you don’t have small children with you, which I didn’t this evening (hey, maybe that was part of the excitement?) it's not real hard to cull through and find some real gems, or just some basic, decent stuff. As I was realizing this, I chided myself to Be Good, and I did hold back on some things. But I’m already thinking about a couple of items I passed up that I might have to go back to look-see if they’re still there…

I got a few things for the kids’ Christmas. Some stocking-stuffer stuff, mostly. But also this little monkey for my little monkey. It’s a backpack, see? My little ones sure do love their backpacks. And now Sean-Peter can see what it feels like to have a monkey on his back, too.
And for only $3.75.

I scored these Barbie dolls for Olivia.

Guess how much? Go ahead, guess. Come on! Betchya can’t.

I love the practice of recycling, but it can be hard to be on the receiving end because the stuff is usually just junk pretending to be a bargain, or it’s gently used and priced like it’s 20% off the retail rack. A good number of the clothes in this thrift store were probably brought there because the owner realized that they never really wore it, and that shows. But they (usually)priced it right anyway! Amazing.

The only place I came away disappointed was the selection in Olivia’s size, since she’s the one child who could actually use some clothes right now. I only found one (cute-cute!) sweater for her, with one of those pom-pom scarf thingies that I think she’ll get the biggest kick out of. Although, now that I think of it, maybe I could have found more for her if I had ahem not spent quite so much time on myself…

As I was waiting to check out I noticed the woman in front of me had a couple of items that I personally had just consigned this evening. Don’t even tell me that this isn’t going to be a new addiction. Better lock up anything you consider sacred, John: if it ain’t bolted down, it might up and disappear one day.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

yea, yea

Um, yea. I was apparently a wee-bit tired when I wrote the last post, and obviously #5 should read the doctor told my mom that I was going to be a boy...

What a difference three little words can make.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

tag, you're it

I started this blog as an overdue medium to reach out to family and friends that were never going to live next door. I quickly realized how much fun it could be, but I still didn't post to it very often. Mainly because we had dial-up. Yes, it still exists, and in our little corner of Aviano in teeny-tiny San Martino di Campagna, it was our only option.

I knew there were blogs out there, of course, but I really had no notion of what a Big Blog World it was: dial-up is not real conducive to surfing, and that was my internet world for three years. And it was during that time, so far as I can tell, that the blogging world really took off.

After we moved back to the States a couple of months ago I started getting into this blogging thing a lot more. It really is a happy medium and it has been a great distraction during this move and going from being too busy, really, with outside commitments, and back to being a literal stay-at-home mom, whatever that means. And the more I get out there and peek at other blogs, the more I realize what a learning curve I am on: there are some fantastic blogs out there. No matter what your druthers, there's a blog for it. And then some.

I worry a little bit about the addictive nature of this whole Blog Thing. I mean, just because I just moved here and don't have a life doesn't mean that I don't have a life. There are these kids here, after all, that need some tending, meals and all that. And a husband, even, who wants a little attention now and then when he comes up for air from his Life With SOS. Oh, and there is the part about us moving. All those boxes.

All of this is trying to lead into my first blogging experience of getting tagged. But I've droned on and on too much now so I'm just going to give it to you and you can figure it out for yourself, these "Seven Random Things About Me" that blogger buddy Karen tagged me with. These things are kind of fun, I think. But then, I almost always responded to the "Questions About You" emails that went around, too, so what do I know.

Seven Random Things About Me

1. I can't whistle.

2. I write with my left hand.

3. But I throw with my right.

4. I've given birth in three countries.

5. The doctor told my mom that I was a boy, and she believed him.

6. After I start a book and get familiar with the characters, I skip to the end to find out how it all turns out.

7. I often don't ever get around to finishing the rest of the book in between.

And with that being said, I just visited Karen's site to get her address to link to, since it's so complicated and all, and she had posted a poem she wrote about why she blogs that I thought was really beautiful. And it's her birthday! So isn't that nice. How about a shout out to Karen -- "Happy Birthday!"

Monday, November 12, 2007

whole nuther country

This evening at dinner, Conner was trying to console himself about having a full week of school after his four-day weekend.

"We have a full week this week but last week we had a short week because of conferences and next week we have a short week because ... because of something, I don't know what."

Um, maybe because of Thanksgiving? You know, that American holiday?

We're back in Amer'ca now, son. It's, like, a whole nuther country.

Veterans' Day Tribute

Karen passed along a tribute to me as a military spouse on Veterans' Day, and I just wanted to shout out a "right back at you!" and pass it along to "Dragonfly", an Army spouse currently stationed with her husband in Germany. Ahhh, the memories...

If you were interested in peeking at the lives of other military spouses (who are people just like anyone else)(Shh, don't tell) Karen and Dragonfly would be good places to start.

Hope most of you are enjoying a peaceful (and healthy) day off!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

"I Love My 'ia..."

Poor Olivia is not well. And she has no voice. I guess the upside is that it's been a bit quieter around here. Or maybe that's a downside.

She hasn't been eating much, so I asked her what she'd like for dinner. When she barely managed to whisper "broccoli", I thought it an odd choice, but I steamed her some and heated up some nuggets to go along. She barely touched her plate, and after a steamy shower, she was quite content to snuggle in my arms with a dreamy smile on her face, seemingly pleased with herself that mommy was suckered into dressing her, head-to-toe.

She was well enough before bedtime to push her little brother off the couch headlong into the coffee table, and she was well enough to saunter in sheepishly five minutes later to hug him and whisper she was sorry. But when she didn't budge from my lap even after we heard daddy starting the after-bath routine with Sean-Peter, I knew my little"'ia" was not wholly well.

John has never been exactly up to par with his nursery rhymes, but sometime when Olivia was quite small he started this routine of wrapping her up in her bath towel and swinging her by the ends and singing his version of "Rock-a-bye Baby".

Rock-a-bye baby
In Daddy's arms
If I let go
You will be harmed


I love my 'ia
'ia loves me

Often this ritual, which occurs after almost every bath, has Olivia and Sean-Peter vying for their turn and shrieking. Then ends when Sean-Peter pees on the towel or John's arms give out, whichever comes first.

But not tonight. Olivia didn't budge when she heard John in the other room with her little brother. "I love Sean-Pe-ter..." And every night since we've been in this house she has begged for someone to lie down with her, which usually results in her daddy taking an evening nap. But tonight she just rolled over, and when I checked on her she was sawing logs, like a chip off the old daddy block. Only she's got this yucky cold to blame. Poor little thing.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Death of Me

We are all so tired right now. John has been marathon reading SOS material, even at work, and he came home and fell asleep on the couch. Conner took great advantage of his day off of school (parent-teacher conferences) and played hard outside with his friend Mitch. Thank God for a school friend within biking distance. Even Olivia seemed worn out this afternoon, all nestled under my tiredness on the couch with me in front of HGTv.

Only Sean-Peter seems unaffected. I took him for a doctor's visit this morning, just for a check-up. Which just happened to coincide with a cold and some diarrhea he's been having. Not that you'd know it based on his hyper spastics in the doctor's office as I'm trying to explain to this guy who doesn't know us why I'm concerned about my son's speech. Sean-Peter supported me readily enough by incoherently jabbering on in that muttering ventriloquist way of his, with jabs of "No!" and "Mom!" thrown in here and there to confirm that, yes, he thinks he's speaking English.

I got the referrals I wanted and corralled Sean-Peter around the hospital like a puppy dog straining at a verbal leash while I gathered prescriptions, scheduled referrals, and corrected newly found mistakes in our records. Then he had the nerve to try to fall asleep in the car five minutes before we got home, which led me to some pretty interesting spastics of my own in my effort to keep him awake so he'd still nap in the afternoon, something I was desperate to do myself.

At dinner we're all talking about our day and how tired we are. Do you think we could have carbon monoxide poisoning? Is that something they check for when you buy a house? Oh, we would all have headaches, too? Oh. Then I guess I'm just tired.

I'm telling John that Sean-Peter's going to be the death of me and how he could put that on my gravestone: "Sean-Peter Was The Death of Me". And the conversation is continuing until we could no longer tune out Sean-Peter's incoherent babblings, which steadily get louder and louder until we tell him to be quiet, then get louder and louder again, until Olivia wails because "He hit me!" or Conner interrupts with something mind-boggling off the topic or all three kids simply leave the table and we don't even care because our ears are just so glad to be ringing from the silence.

But this time John notices that there is some substance to Sean-Peter's gutterings, even actual consonants.

"Dee-dee-da-mmm-mm-mm dee-da-mm-mm-da-dee-da-deh-da MEE!" And he's repeating it over and over.

"I do believe he's saying, he's going to be the death of me." Convincing us even further that he is harboring a 5000-word vocabulary that one day will come spewing out until we think fondly of the days when we could shake our heads and plead ignorant.
Keep laughing, snot-nose. You'll miss me when I'm gone.

Then who's going to put lotion on those cute little chapped cheeks?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Mama's Helper

I am slowly getting the hang of having a little girl who is dying to help in the kitchen. This is quite a switch from begging my son to do one thing, then having to holler at him to come back and do the next thing because he disappears as soon as he (thinks he) is done.

I have worked very conscientiously at letting Olivia "help" even when that was the last thing she was doing. And the thing is, already at the age of four, she is, truly, often helpful. It may take her 30 minutes to fill the muffin pans, for instance, but she keeps at it. And that's 30 minutes that I can use to clean up and/or otherwise do something else. Like, oh, write in this blog. Just to, you know, arbitrarily throw something out there.

Today she caught me getting ready to dice some green pepper, something I have never let her do because it requires a sharper knife. I hesitated, then I thought of pioneer women in the wild west who were married and having babies by the time they were, like, thirteen. By the age of four they were probably not only using sharp knives but were dropping the fresh-cut vegetables directly into a boiling cauldron over an open fire ready to stitch up any gashes they might incur with a needle and thread before dousing it with some hard liquor they kept handy just for such medicinal purposes.

So I showed her a safe technique and gave her the knife.

She kept at it for at least 30 minutes and cut up the whole darn thing.

Then she washed my teapot.

And then this is what she said. Really. I wrote it down as soon as it came out of her mouth. You know you're a blogger when... and all that.

"Next time, when it's time for you to do the dishes, call me and I'll do the dishes. Because I love to do dishes. And I came just in time, right?"

Don't you all wish you had an Olivia?

Any tips on how to best utilize this stage before it's gone will be heartily welcomed.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Spidey Sense

So I get out of the shower this morning and I notice the hand soap is missing from my sink, and my Spidey Sense immediately pricks up. Sure enough, I soon discovered the culprit, suddenly not looking too sure of himself.

I guess he thought Thomas needed a cleaning.

And I wonder why I don't have anything to show for my time at the end of the day. Oh, wait. I do have this blog. Aren't you all so privileged?

"Life Is Good" by Conner, Part II

A month ago or so Conner came home from school and started asking what some expressions were, sayings like "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen". Or, "The early bird gets the worm", things like that. So I'm giving him a few of these examples off the top of my head, casual-like while I'm in the kitchen making dinner, until he gives me the wave off and tells me he gets the idea. Of course, the thought occurred to me that, as a kid who spent the last three years in a non-English school system and who isn't a voracious reader, he really wouldn't have the occasion to know many of these.

I didn't give our "conversation" much thought until he came home with this assignment. As promised, here is the next installment of "Life Is Good". Conner explained to me that he didn't concern himself with learning traditional quotes because the teacher told them they could just make them up.

You don't say. All things considered, I think he's got something going here.

"Life Is Good" by Conner

Eclectic Wisdom

Always take small sips of hot liquids, I learned this from my burnt tongue.

Never look in a mean dogs eye, you come home looking like a poor kid.

Don't pull on a cat's tail, you'll never see them again.

Don't joke about bombs in an airport, the security will get you before you know it.

Never run with your shoelace untied, your knees and elbows will hate you for quite a while.

If you don't like fire don't go in the kitchen, you can ask my grandma.

Don't try to trick your parents, they have eyes on the back of their heads.

Don't talk to strangers, you might end up someplace odd.

Don't jump in the pool if you don't know how to swim, you can ask my 2 year old brother.

If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all, it's not a good way to make friends.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Teacup

One bad thing about moving with the military is always having to leave your friends behind. The only thing worse is when they move and leave you first. Sometimes I picture a little piece of heaven as a front door where I can walk out and visit all the friends that I have made over the years, right there in the same neighborhood. They'd all know and love each other, too -- this is heaven, after all -- and we'd all sit and laugh over tea and interrupt each others' sentences.

Liz is a (Canadian) friend I met in Italy, where she and her family still live. She became a fast friend as well as Conner's piano teacher, passionately using her musical education to pass on her gift to the next generation. I met her through Ruth, and the three of us got together as often as we could. That is, with three deployments and eleven children between the three of us, not nearly often enough.

Several weeks before Ruth and I moved from Italy, we went over to Liz's for some rare girl time, and Liz surprised us each with our own teacup: all three had the same design but a different color scheme. She had recently returned from a trip to Canada, and while passing through London on her way home managed to get a bit of shopping done. (Typical Liz: her husband's deployed; she's traveling alone with three young boys; and she thinks to go shopping for teacups.) She got one for each of us so that, whenever we have a cup of tea, wherever that may be, we will be reminded of our friendship. I don't have to tell you how touched Ruth and I were by that gesture, and by the sheer ingenuity. I am definitely going to use that idea myself some day and pass it off as my own.

Though it really shouldn't be surprising: Liz is nothing if not interesting. After she studied music she went on to earn her law degree -- a natural transition, to be sure. And throughout our friendship I have garnered snippets of these years in school and the three roommates of hers that she has often spoken of who have all stayed close since that time. And I am so sad for my friend Liz right now because, as I am writing this, she is traveling to the funeral of one of these dear friends who just died in a car accident, leaving behind a husband and two young children of her own.

I am so sorry for what you are going through right now, Liz. And I want you to know that I'm thinking of you and sending out my prayers, for you and your friend's family. And I am picturing your friend opening her own front door, the same one that you and I will someday see her in. And she'll be waiting for us -- no introductions will be necessary -- and we'll all talk and laugh like it was just yesterday that we last met. Because it is heaven, after all.

But for now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go get myself a cup of tea.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

So Conner came home from school yesterday and tells us, "It's Halloween!" And we're like, "Uh, no, it's not." We totally blew him off.
Then John is outside and runs into our neighbor, who has had his entire lawn decorated as a cemetery for weeks now, complete with a boulder-sized inflatable spider and gargantuan skull.

He invited us to stop by later for their annual neighborhood gathering; they all hang out by the haunted garage and cook hotdogs over a fire. So John's like, "Isn't Halloween tomorrow?"

Color us ignorant, but we don't have to be hit over the head twice. We learned that in this area if Halloween falls on a Wednesday, Friday or Sunday, it's celebrated the day before. Wednesday because of church, Friday because of football games, and Sunday -- well, duh.

Even if John hadn't run into our neighbor we probably would have caught on pretty quickly when the trick-or-treaters started showing up by dinnertime. We struggled to get the little ones to eat a few bites of dinner before we gave up and got them into their own gear.
A couple of weeks ago I had asked Conner if he wanted to look for a costume and he professed zero interest. Of course, last night he declared he wanted to go trick-or-treating after all, which you absolutely do not do without a costume. That's the ultimate tacky. So Conner thought of going out in one of John's uniforms. And I'm like, uh, don't you think it's a little too cold to go swimming? Then I remembered that I had recently come across an old uniform of mine, which is only barely too big for my preteen son and quite a bit less inappropriate for him to wear as a costume. If it weren't for the tennis shoes, he might look a little too legit.

Sean-Peter got tired of taking pictures pretty quick. We assured him we would get going in just a minute.
Okay, all better. What a stinker.

We just went up and down part of our street, and it was more than enough.

Man, does this town get into Halloween. We did go by our neighbor's and enjoy their cookout and haunted garage. They seemed fascinated that this was the little ones first real Halloween experience, and the kids enjoyed the good luck of living next door to a couple that really go all out. Can't wait to see what they do for Christmas.