Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Home On American Soil

Those four words. So simple. So beautiful. So deep in meaning to the citizens of the United States of America.

Home is where you were raised. Home is the sounds of your house. It is the wind coming across the wheatfield or the symphony of the city streets.

Home is the way sunset looks across a Mongolian plain, or the sound of the water lapping against a Newfoundland riverbank.

Home is the way people dress where you were raised. Home is the music of the instruments they play, the sounds of your language on the radio, the foods of your holidays.

Home is home all over the world, in whatever country you live.

What is it like to be Italian, and come to your country and hear the rhythms of your language, when you have been long away? A friend from Australia told me once that when she got on the plane to home and heard Australian accents, it was like warm water washing over her, with peace.

Home is your country, your country’s cities, your ways of educating your children, your transportation methods. Home is your culture. And at its root, home is the soil of your country, for the soil determines the food that is native to your land, the shapes of its fields and hills, and the look of it: the trees and flowers and animals that live upon it.

Let us be human, and appreciate the importance of home to every single person on our planet.

We, in this country that is America, love our home land as you love yours. We are just human beings, and we love our country as simply and earnestly as the citizens of every country love their home, and we love returning to it.

When we come home, we leave the plane and put our bags down for a moment to rest. We will pick up our bags and continue on our journey, from the airport to a connecting flight or to the highway, from the highways to our county, to our township, to our street, to our front door. We will carry the bags a long way before we are fully home and can unpack them.

But there is one bag Americans never unpack. One bag that we carry with us always when we travel, and always as we live in our homes in this country. That package is our national awareness.

Our national awareness is complex and can be difficult to shoulder. Perhaps more than the citizens of most countries, we carry with us always the good and challenging parts of our heritage and our culture. Do we, upon meeting individual Chinese people, hold them subconsciously accountable for the sins of China upon human rights? No, I don’t believe we do that on an individual basis. On meeting a person from a repressive regime, do we assume they are an automatic extension of their country’s politics, its strengths and weaknesses? I don’t think so.

But it is a given that Americans are held accountable for America.

We are reviled, sometimes justifiably. Personally innocent or not, as Americans, we bear in the eyes of the world the sins of our brothers and sisters who have parochial attitudes and ignorant arrogance.
.
We are envied for our riches. Wealthy or not, we are seen as wealthy. Even when poor, we are seen as having limitless opportunity.

We are desired for our freedoms, and we are hated for them. Parts of the world wish they shared our government, our economic opportunities, our courts – and part of the world fears them, and tries to destroy them.

Our country bears the stress of feeling responsible for caring for the world. We know that when there is a big problem, all eyes look to us to see what we will do. If we do well, it is expected. But if our government as a whole or our citizens as individuals do less than well, or differently than we would have chosen, we are often damned as a whole in the eyes of the world. We – politically contentious, religiously fractious Americans - are seen as one cohesive group, and we are held jointly responsible.

We know this. It is our challenging gift, our burden to carry, in exchange for the right to be citizens of the United States. I wonder if other citizens of the world understand the weight of that individual little piece of the American Ideal that weighs always on our shoulders and in our hearts.

And when we do leave, wherever we go in the world, we carry that invisible burden. We carry the praise and fault the world finds with the US as its citizens. We shoulder it like one of our traveling bags. It is sometimes heavy, requiring work - but there is never the thought of not wanting the burden. We never unpack it, and we never put it down. Except once: the first moment back after long and weary travels.

As travelers worldwide feel upon reaching their own country again, we are deeply happy to be home.
As American travelers, we can put momentarily put down that other package.

We have carried it as travelers, and we will carry it as citizens living at home - but for one brief moment, as we cross back into our own country, as a kind of salute crossing back in, we can put it down in a moment of grateful welcome home.

We love our country with a passion that is part normal love of home…and part appreciation, bordering on reverence, for being a human piece of what the United States is to the world. Heroes come from every country in the world - but the United States is expected to step up regularly. We love our country for giving us, over and over, the opportunity to be heroic, to be expected-of…and to live larger by doing so.

Our soldiers? We send our children, our sons and daughters, our husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends and nieces and nephews and friends out as our military, carrying the supersized version of The American Ideal. Our soldiers do humanitarian work all over the globe, and they do the work required of them by acts of Congress and their squadron leaders. Our soldiers, more than any other American citizen, carry that invisible burden of world expectations, reverence and revilement.

Beyond the pledge of allegiance, they have literally sworn to lay down life and limb to care for our country and our citizens. They have seen death take people who wanted to come home as badly as they did. They have had to put their trust in leadership with whom they may or may not agree, and just do the work they’re told. They have worked really hard and have done without for months, far from those they love. Their chunk of The American Ideal is bigger and heavier than the ones we each have to carry.

If they are lucky, their whole squadron returns safe and sound. And on one fine day like today, a day of blizzards and record snows, the telephone rings unexpectedly early in the morning and we hear a beloved voice saying the sweetest, sweetest words: “I’m home.”

I don’t know what the future holds for our warring, willful species. I only knew in that moment one wonderful, wonderful thing: my son is home on American soil and he will be not be shot at any more.

All the air went out of me. I’ve cried off and on all day. And now, I can put down an invisible burden too, one I’ve carried for the last several months.

But I never have to pick this one up again.

Thanks for checking in,
Katie

Monday, February 8, 2010

Nothing but joy...

..joy, joy joy and happiness.

We don't know where he is, but we know he's on the way.
smiling, laughing, happy tears, so happy!

Thanks for checking in,
Katie

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Kind Of Mad At Myself, Part II

So little time to squeeze in so much stuff to still say….

I’m kind of mad at myself still, but in little ways.
I’m disappointed in myself. With all these months to focus on it, I thought I would be a better person in some way, but I am no different in any way that I can see. Except a little fatter and a little more out of shape…instead of the other way around, as I intended.

Zach is different, and I am sure his squadron mates are. They have done so much, worked so hard, stood so much, and so of course they have grown as human beings and adults, even though they may not know it yet. They may have some emotional stuff to clear out, over time. I hope they will come home to good relationships and that it’s all good moving forward.

Most of them will likely look back on this time as one of the most important in their lives. What they hated about it will diminish fast with time, and, like all experiences that teach us a lot, the good will grow in their minds and their memories.

But me and my family: how have we used the time to grow? As much as we wanted?
The lesson here is that good intentions need focus or the time can slip by!

But also, I believe that having good intentions in and of itself is pretty important. I’ve thought about being fair to the Afghan people, and about being understanding of the pressures faced by our family members in the service. So that’s maybe not a growth, but I hope I stuck by my beliefs.

Part I was about how I was kind of mad at myself for being afraid so much; Part II was going to be about being a little mad at myself for not growing or deliberately improving in some way during the same time.

Now, this post towards the end of this experience is going to either go way south or way deep, and I’m not sure which it will be. But I will be honest. A few days after I wrote the Part I post, I woke up at 1:30 in the morning, having what I think was the last opportunity for fear to ambush me. A kind of last-flight last-hurrah for the fear. How many times have I fought it off, but here it was again, in full attack mode.

And I’ve written, either here or other places, about the process of coming to see fear as a thing to be loved and forgiven, so that it has less power over us. It doesn’t change the fact that it harasses me constantly. But it was a kind of another-epiphany along that line of thought.

This is a little out there. So buckle up and I hope it makes sense!

Fear is stupidness. Fear is dumbness. Fear is not-knowing, not-understanding. Fear is the emptiness of knowledge; it is the opposite of fullness. It is the sucking-out of the marrow, the destruction of the Good. It comes to us in loneliness, unalterable, unable to change itself or be other than it is: wistful, ugly, and hoping we will understand, even while it scorns us if we do.

Fear does not want us to yield to it; even fear hopes that we will be stronger than it is, and secretly hopes that we will triumph over it...but it must do its job. The harder we resist it, the more insidious it becomes. The stronger we grow, the more it must try and topple us. It is required of the universe; it is the gravity we must have to push against so we can prove to ourselves that we can fly. Poor fear cannot be a friend even to itself, for it must attack anything good.

Fear hates itself for being as much as we do. It must try to poison the well even while it hopes that it will be an abject failure, and that we will not drink.

So we must / should be patient with fear, and compassionate to it. We will never change fear. We will never improve upon it's condition; that is impossible. But we will deepen ourselves. In the effort to do good to it, we will increase our capacity. We will fly.

It is in our willingness in offering food and drink and shelter and welcome to the self-loathing wretch at our gate that we define our goodness.

The feral cat can not be tamed; but what does fear do with the knowledge that it could not destroy us?
Nothing; it is incapable of understanding. It can only assault.

We can never destroy it. But we must not ever let it destroy us.
Love, instead.

So when fear comes to call, speak kindly to it. Doing so will not improve fear's condition. It can not and will not take on any of your nature. We may need to be strong. We may need to take action.

But with kindness as your shield and interface, you are protected: you will not take on any if its nature, either.

Kindness towards fear renders us more impervious to its assaults.


I wrote that from 1:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. If it makes sense to you, that’s good. If it doesn’t, blame the hour.
I’ve said I was Over The Fear so many times before that it seems ridiculous to say so again. But something changed.

And shortly after that, Zach laughed at me and said carelessly, “You worry way too much. You should stop that.”

And I did.

Well, damn. We should have had that conversation a lot earlier…!

So, a little work left. And a next phase in life, for good intentions, for onward and upward, and for the dance.

For making time to smile.

Thanks so much for checking in. Be well,
Katie

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kind Of Mad At Myself, Part I

I'm mad at myself. I promised myself in this experience that I would not, would not give in to the fear which so often has run me in the past, and what did I do? Totally every day give in to it. Every day, let it come in and boss me around and mess up what in retrospect was a perfectly good day.

It is only as they round the last turn in this period that I am finally able to think for real with pleasure about what Zach’s day might be like today, and be happy, for him, and just happy in life, carefree. That’s so stupid. I’ve wasted all this time being worried, like so many other times, and I promised myself I wouldn’t, but I did. Any comments of reassurance aside that we’re all human, I genuinely wish I had done better.

I don’t have a handle on how my particular variety of fear works. I intend to think about it and study it from my own perspective until I understand more about it operates for me, so I can help other people who get in the grip of it like I do.

I imagine as the folks on deployment go through their day, this is the priority list of how their awareness is focused:

1. Lots of doing their work, whatever it is. Thinking about and paying attention to the job at hand

2. Social interactions, both while working and on the bus and during meetings, while eating, showering, sleeping, relaxing. Lots of laughing and joking, plenty of regular conversation mixed with work conversation, some annoyance and bitching

3. The deprivations of camp life, which they probably got used to in the first couple of months and don’t think about so much unless the weather is seriously crappy

4. Thoughts of home and wanting to be home

5. Fear and worry

For people who have a loved one on deployment, depending on the nature of the work that person is doing, I’d recommend that we have the same basic sequence of awareness. If who you have there is stationed on a base, just relax. Although you miss them being there, they are really very safe. Maybe treat the separation as a time of discipline for us at home too, to get stronger and more effective. Calm discipline can be such a great thing!

For people who have a loved one on deployment who is not regularly on a base and may be exposed to danger, I’d still recommend the same thing. It gets you through faster and helps to keep item number 5 at bay. And statistically, as I said in the very beginning of this blog, they’re really pretty darned safe, so don’t spend the time making yourself sick over something that’s not likely to happen.

Great advice. I wish I’d taken it.

Instead, my awareness sequence is kind of in reverse. I worried so damn much. Too many scary thoughts. I fought off the scary imaginings by deliberately picturing him laughing, talking, joking, working on work. And when I wasn’t fighting fear, when I was enjoying my hot bath or my air conditioning or the refrigerator right there when I was hungry or having the bathroom a quick dry walk from my bed when I woke up in the middle of the night…when I was enjoying those luxuries, I kind of anquished about the deprivations, about what they didn’t have.

That was stupid. They didn’t worry about that stuff even a fraction as much. And nothing will faze them now. They survived basic training, and they’ll be so much tougher from taking this in stride.

We knew our fears and tears and worries can make them focus on that stuff more. They shouldn’t have to shoulder any more burdens than they already are, so we bucked up and didn’t discuss it, but boy, I have discussed it here ad nauseam, I’m sure. I apologize.

I’ve learned this: fear loses some of its grip on us when the end is in sight. Is it that hope gets stronger, and that encourages faith that all will be well? Or is it that the diminishing of days left to worry, we get a little brassier, a little more confident, and we win more rounds just because we fight fear harder?

I don’t know.

In the meantime, happily, all is well. Kudos to them once again for the work they are doing.

Thanks for checking in,
Katie

Monday, January 18, 2010

Letter From Riley To Zach

Dear Zachary,

I hate Mom. She says I have to hand in my man card and apparently that is pretty funny to her.

I also hate The Little Cat. It is all The Little Cat’s fault.

Which, did I mention, The Little Cat has claws? Really sharp claws, which I do not?

And that it stalks me?

Ben and Gabe got home from going to the mountains and they unloaded all the food and the cooler and Ben put The Little Cat in the cooler because you know that sick little skulker likes to get in any new box or bag or anything new and it was in the cooler and I did not know this important fact and I smelled into the cooler poking my nose into a little crack of the lid which was open from which really awesomely good smells of food and stuff were coming and while I had my nose stuck deep into it…The Little Cat put her paw out of the cooler and swiped me.

I wasn’t sure it was The Little Cat at first and thought I might have just bumped my nose on something and the cooler did smell so wonderfully of food that I went back to the crack and as I was putting my nose towards it The Little Cat pounced out - she POUNCED ME, I tell you - and startled me.

I walked quickly away from the cooler because on second thought I decided it was kind of stinky and I did not like the smell of it any more. Mom was laughing at me because she said I was afraid of The Little Cat but I was not, truthfully, the cooler on second thought just did not smell that good. It smelled like Little Cat Pounce Tricks and the last time I intersected with a cat’s claws, you will remember, was the time I got blood, well, all over the house.

(Literally, Dad says is the word I should use here. He said it louder: “Blood Literally Everywhere.”)

So I walked away kind of quickly (Mom is still laughing and she says I bolted but I did not) and kind of coughed (Mom says I yelped in squeaky terror but I most definitely did not do that either) to show The Little Cat that I thought its pounce tricks are stupid and now I am behind the couch and The Little Cat is looking for me and Mom is laughing and laughing and says I have to hand in my Man Card.

Whatever that is.

So if you have an extra one will you please send it to me because I have a feeling it is something important I need to show The Little Cat that it is not the boss of me.

On second thought it might be a good idea to send two in case I lose the first one. I mean, in case I drop it somewhere, not in case I have to give it up, which I would never do. Unless The Little Cat keeps looking at me like that in that taunting way. Do you think The Little Cat looks a little like a clown? Tell it to stop looking at me and looking at its claws!

Or send an extra one in case I need to give it to Mom so she can stop laughing and breathe again. Because I’m a Big Tough Dog but I’m just nice that way.

I miss you and can’t wait to see you.
Love,
Your dog,
Riley

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Spread Healing, What Little Bits You Have To Share

It’s hard to feel like these words matter very much in the face of what’s going on in so many places around our globe, especially in Haiti. But I believe human pain, even on a massive scale such as they are facing there, comes down to little equations of one and one. One person may feel for many people, but it’s done on a one-by-one basis.

So maybe one-by-one words, even in such a little remote corner of the world that this blog is, matter. This blog is about one mother loving her son and his co-workers, and loving utter strangers in the world where they are working, both enemies and friends, in the hopes that it will encourage goodness and safety for all.

One person grieves for, misses, loves, hopes for one other person one at a time, no matter how many there are. One person celebrates and loves others, one at a time, no matter how many there are.

We empathize with the people of Haiti now because we grasp what it is like to worry about a missing brother, or father, or sweetheart. The part we cannot comprehend is feeling that way about so many at once. 9/11 was the closest we’ve come recently to understanding that. All of the Haitians in the world and Haitians in their country ares bearing those heavy burdens; hoping, loving, worrying.

Did you see the news footage of the people there singing? I don’t know what started it, but there they were, hundreds or thousands of people, walking two or three or four wide, singing.

Whatever that stuff is deep in us humans that causes us to love life, to find happiness in the midst of the worst, wow. And when we share it, it grows and grows and grows.

I wish them recovery.

In the middle of my quiet winter month, I noticed again this January that it is right around Twelfth Night that I feel the grip of winter loosen. It’s not even close to spring, but the days are suddenly a heartbeat longer. Something wild and circadian in me picks up on it.

In the middle of this quiet winter day, I have just finished an article on maple syrup. How the sap starts up in the tree long before there is any real evidence of spring.

In the middle of this quiet winter hour, I want to share a little personal happiness. I would be almost afraid to say it, except for I said No More Fear.

Zach is coming home soon! Soon we will see him, strong, safe, smiling. Healthy and happy.

You know how good that is going to feel.

I wish the world well. May happiness spread out from one little pocket and another and another to patch together and help heal the rough and raw places.

Thanks for checking in,
Katie

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Choices

There is a sobering website I go to frequently: http://icasualties.org/oef/.

The nightly news is often full of one of our nation’s wars: members of congress refusing to work as partisans, instead fully engaged in proving that the advancement of their political party is far more important than the good of the country. It seems from watching some congressmen that destruction of the other party - even if it means destruction of our country - is the most important goal.

The news of the other war, the one where people get killed, is sporadic. I give the news agencies credit: they try to feature it. But if you don’t have a loved one over there, people lose interest.

So when we haven’t heard from Zach recently - which means something has happened to a soldier - I go to the icasualties.org, Operation Enduring Freedom (read: Afghanistan), which offers dates, names, hometowns, marine bases, and where they were stationed.

The silence from our son is because of these young men:

The Department of Defense announced today the death of Marines supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Meinert, 20, of Fort Atkinson, Wis., died Jan. 10 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.

Lance Cpl. Mark A Juarez, 22, of Bakersfield, Calif, died Jan 9 while supporting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.

Sgt. 1st Class Jason O. B. Hickman, 35, of Kingsport, Tenn., died Jan. 7 at Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered earlier that day at Combat Outpost Bowri Tana, when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device and small arms fire. He was assigned to Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Fort Richardson, Alaska.

And a young Danish man, Constable Simon Sejer Hoffman. You can see his face and honor him by reading this page, which Google will translate roughly for your (click Translate, upper right corner): http://forsvaret.dk/HOK/Nyt%20og%20Presse/ISAF/Pages/simonhoffmann.aspx

Today, the soldiers of their units will need to grieve - but they will also need to work and they will need to laugh. They will need to eat and take care of their bodies and reassure those at home and be fully alert in their jobs. They will need to work with partners and leaders who may be great friends or irritate them. They may need to put their very lives in the trust of soldiers who have radically different political and religious beliefs than they hold.

They may need to face and work with and talk to Afghan people who may know who placed the bombs that killed their friends, or who may be innocent and hate the violence, and they will not know on which side those people stand.

And they will do their jobs. Having received Marine training, they will do so with more respect, more restraint, more responsibility, and far less interest in self than some of our most outspoken members of congress.

We choose daily in life who we will emulate, what we will be, what we will build. Our words, our thoughts, our many small actions daily are the bricks with which we create our life.

None of us is perfect. But daily, let us do our very best to choose wisely the legacy of our lives to our children and our communities.

Thanks for checking in,
Katie

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Problem With Not Writing...

…is that nothing gets written.

Do you ever have that feeling, when you’ve been working on something really hard, and you know, suddenly, when you have reached the point when you know it’s going to happen?

I arm wrestled a young relative recently. I thought for sure he would win, the first few seconds of the challenge. But I held on, and managed to get us back to an even, straight-up position. We locked into it, and I just made up my mind to hold on. I didn’t think I could win, but I was pretty sure at that point I could just stay steady. So we kept going, the laughter set aside for the moment as we gripped each other's hand intensely.

And then, somehow, I suddenly knew I was going to win. And I did – to, I will add, astonishment and laughter and a certain respect from the other guys in the room. It was all in good fun, but what an experience!

This experience of having my son doing stuff in the course of his job which, while not always dangerous, certainly has its moments, has been hard. I have struggled with fear on a daily basis. Often my first thought on waking has been of him, and the last one before sleeping. All this despite me knowing that statistically he is very safe.

So every day, I said my prayers that he would make good* decisions when needed and that other people, including the folks shooting at them, would make good decisions, so that in creating an environment where good was encouraged, it had a better chance of happening.

*Note: my personal definition of a “good” decision while engaging in conflict with another group, be it a tiny conflict or a national one:

1. that you follow the orders and procedures you have promised to follow, except where doing so would more deeply endanger the lives and safety of those you have pledged to protect

2. that you take good care of yourself as well

3. that we keep an open mind, and, when no one is in direct danger, and where no orders are being contradicted, when a decision is made, the path which offers the most good for all involved, including one’s adversaries, is chosen, whether the good be immediate or future.

4. that, wherever possible, compassion and kindness are weighed as heavily as personal gain in making the decision

I just figured that the worry would never leave me. That’s okay. I was prepared to stay locked in with it.

But two things happened: I finally got one of the newsletters sent from Louise Yeager, the Family Readiness Officer whose job is help keep up morale of families back home. Her primary service is to young husbands and wives and children of those on deployment, but moms can benefit too! The pictures of young soldiers fooling around doing Halloween stuff – dressing in costume, decorating the area with Halloween icons, etc -was hugely healing.

I always had the sense that they worked, ate, slept and got up to work again. It was so great to see them…playing.

And in talking about those pictures with Zach, just before Christmas, he gave me a huge present. He said, “Oh yeah. There’s still time for shenanigans.”

The word shenanigans has a great connotation in our family. Understanding what it means exactly is complicated, but it was a blazing lighthouse signal to me that he was really okay. That despite the physical hardship and boredom and fatigue and all that, he’s still finding ways to laugh and have fun.

That little comment broke the months-long logjam of fear in my mind - and that was that. Just like in the arm-wrestling match, a little bit later, I suddenly knew I had won the battle with fear for this deployment. I felt it deep in my body, a sense of release, of not carrying that weight any more.

I’m at peace.

I trust that Zach and his squadron will be fine and come home fine, happy, and safe in body, mind and spirit.

Fear is not nipping at my core or eroding little happy moments, any longer.

What happiness!

In the busy days of holidays and blizzards and work and deciding to paint during blizzards and the house being a mess and trying to sum up these feelings, I have procrastinated writing in this journal.

It’s been bothering me. The problem with not writing is that nothing gets written. And the longer I don’t write, the harder it is to start again.

There is so much backstory still. Stuff I can’t put into the blog that caused a lot of the fear. Close calls, danger faced, that kind of stuff. But with the fear gone, all that stuff becomes stories to hear when Zach gets home. Serious stuff...and shenanigans.

Thanks for checking in,
Katie

Ps. there is no doubt in my mind that my dear young relative is going to come back and crush me in arm wrestling next year - ! In the same way, fear of something may attack me again, and I may struggle again. But both of these contests, the small one arm-wrestling and this big one of fear-wrestling have taught me an invaluable, bone-deep experience: Just Hang On, and in so doing, you may achieve something you never thought possible.

Pps. if you too want to understand the lighthearted silliness that the word shenanigans can convey, rent a movie called Supertroopers. It’s absolute pure nonsense…but sometimes truly deep, truly giddy silliness really is a powerful antidote to the evils of boredom, meanness, and fear.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Dear Zach,
Hi, love. So it's Christmas Eve for you. I imagine you coming to work and thinking about it. Slogging through cold rain to the Portapots and the showers and to the buses. Feeling far away from home.

With all of you there, I also imagine you will find a way to have fun there. Someone will do something funny or nice, and it will spread (good and bad emotions spread so quickly from person to person!) and the next thing you all will be laughing about something and it will become a Christmas funny memory you'll tell us about.

I love you! We all LOVE you!

It's just dawn here. We are all going different directions all day. Dad is getting ready to shower to go to Owings Mills to work. Gabe has an Rx checkup and a therapy appointment today. Maybe in between he'll resume dry-walling the laundry room shelves....hmm. Maybe! I have about fifteen stops to make today, as I am astonished to find that it is Christmas Eve and I am actually getting presents for your brothers (not all from Sears lol), and due to late planning I will no doubt be on the road most of the day. Ben will be working hard at catching up on his much needed sleep (seriously, he’s training to go pro), and then he has claimed Dad to go to the gym with him tonight. So just a mostly normal day. If you were here, of course, the fun-insanity would be greatly increased!

I will, among those stops, be picking up toffee apples from my friend Lisa Anne (www.theapplelady.com). Never fear, yours will be here when you get home (we can buy it then!) And my last stop will be to send you a box with vitamins and your Little Debbie Christmas Trees if they still have them in the store today.

The last plan of the day will be to go to evening services at Immanuel. From years past, we have a 50/50 shot of going or of everyone planning to go and then getting tired and about 9 pm deciding to watch Bad Santa instead.

If you feel far away tonight, feel a hug instead from all of us. Tell everybody to watch out for Santa while flying. Steer clear of Seriously Stupid Shenanigans but engage in lighthearted ones.

And no matter what, no matter where you are, the party is made by whoever is there. Have a merry, happy Christmas, Zachary.

All our love! All our love! See you soon!!!!!
big ol' hug,
Mom

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Riley, On Being A Gentleman. Or GentleDawg, As It Were.

Dear Zach,

You know, your mom is kind of persnickety. All Miss Manners and Emily Post and such.

I heard her making Gabe take his elbow off the table the other day and she is always making people say “me” instead of “myself” and you know she doesn’t let anybody talk about Mr. Hanky or Poop stuff or the "F" word. She says it's vulgar. (Ha Ha she can’t hear me, I said it. Fart.)

Well I think you should talk to her and tell her some stuff is just Guy Stuff and not to get her knickers in a bunch.

I mean, if a guy wants to be a guy, well he should be.

Here’s the thing: I have been practicing being a Guy. So I can hang out with you and the other guys when you get home. It is very difficult being down here on the floor on all four legs when you are all way taller than me. So I am practicing standing up.

I practice standing up all the time now! I put my paws on the kitchen counter and stretch and then I am almost as tall as Dad. I put my paws on the back of the kitchen barstools and I can get ever taller! I put my paws on the dining room chairs and I can see over Mom’s head.

Isn’t that great?!!! Aren’t you proud of me? I’m sure I’ll be walking around and doing high fives soon.

There is only one small problem with this that I have not figured out how to fix yet. Maybe you can give me some advice.

When I brace my front paws on something and stand up really tall on my back legs, there is an unfortunate little sound.. I mean, a little, um, Toot.

Okay, maybe it’s not so little. The other day I stood up and Ben got a very surprised face and said, “Did you HEAR THAT?”

And then, “Was that RILEY???!!!!!

So what I need you to do is to tell them to just cover their ears (earmuffs) when I am getting ready to stand up and don’t act like they just heard a thunderclap or something. I mean, listen to Dad’s sneezes! Nobody says anything about them and he sounds as if he’s exploding.

Right? Right?

So please tell Mom to stop being all Miss Manners and to loosen up a little. I mean, what’s a little gas expulsion among us guys?

Love,
Your dog,
Riley

P.s. Why does Ben keep asking somebody to hold a lit match to my butt to see the jet stream? What does that mean, exactly?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Just To Remind Myself

I have a literally impossible work schedule this week. A project for my church which HAS to be completed on time with no wiggle room, an editorial plan that was supposed to be turned in yesterday, a semi-favor that is expected this week, and a shop to decorate for a candlelight tour in hopes that sales will be good this weekend. And a Chanukah celebration which I am looking forward to very much because Leora’s potato latkes are just fabulous.

The teensiest bit of Whine snuck in on me while I was working at home late last night. Delightfully, Zach called us – YAY!!!! – and in just a minute, I remembered: this is The Year Of No Complaining.

He’s working the same long days I am this week…every day. It’s raining, and cold, and the portable toilets are a walk from their tents. They get shot at frequently. Schedule changes. Other stuff.

Despite that, they find time to laugh and be happy. He’s in pretty great shape, physically and emotionally.

I just got my first newsletter with pictures of the crew (problems getting them, so I missed all the first ones if there were pictures. They are decorating for the holidays, putting up strings of lights in their tents.

It helped me remember how very lucky I am to have all this work to do. Second, that I am healthy enough to do it. Third, and most importantly, that the folks I love are healthy and well so that the foundation to do all this work is in place.

So to Zach, this time, I’d like to say: thanks for checking in.
Love,
Mom

Monday, November 30, 2009

Still Here. Just Quiet.

It’s been fifteen days since I wrote last.

I feel badly, in a way, for Zach, that I have to deal with so much fear over and over.

He’s pretty good. He had a tough time after the – gosh, it’s still so hard to type certain words. After what happened. For a while, flying was hard for him.

But he got better. Last week he emailed me that he was enjoying flying again. That was great to know.

Sometimes I wish I was tougher. But I’m not. I’m not tough at all. I’m a big wuss.

I’m sorry. But I promised to keep this honest.

So anyway. Cripes, I’m never at a loss for words.

The truth is, this is just hard someyimes. And that’s that.

It’s time for Courtney to text me that she got a phone call or an email. That’s a great thing I look for each day ;-)

Okay, better stuff now!

Zach sent us pictures for Thanksgiving. He and Scott took a stuffed turkey to the airfield and took silly pictures of it flying, facing down the tail gun. Chillin’ with them in the plane. I loved the photos!

He spent Thanksgiving day flying the Commandant of the Marine Corps around the country (pretty cool!). They got back long after dinner time so his Thanksgiving dinner consisted of frozen pie. Not funny, but I know he doesn’t really care about that. We’re betting the general got some turkey though!

The best news of all is that home time is on the horizon. Clock’s ticking. I think it’ll go faster and faster as we get closer.

Time to remind myself that I planned to use this experience to do good. I’ve been writing about fear a lot. Although I feel it every day, and fight it back when it comes, I feel it lifting. So there are some posts I’ve been meaning to write since the beginning. I’ll get to them soon.

To my friend WarPony who reads: thank you for the Thanksgiving hug! Wow, I appreciate that! And KathyB, your encouragement is so much appreciated. No, Zach doesn't read the blog. Sometimes I send him posts via email, but not all of them; and not the tough ones. When he gets back he can read it, I figure. To my family, to Betsy of HVFC: thank you too. Again and again and again.

Thanks for checking in,
Katie

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Panic Attack

This writing thing, I am just beginning to understand. It wakes me up in the middle of a perfectly good night and demands that I put down the words running through my brain and body. Literally, demands it.

So it is three in the morning. I have been awake since 2:30. It’s time to write.

I’m going to describe for you a full-fledged panic attack.

I woke from a nightmare, a ridiculous dream.

My thoughts segued to Zach. What if this dream had something to do with him? What if his plane was down? What if he’d been captured?

My heart started racing. All the awful imaginings began, the what-ifs, and it began to feel like something real.

The heart beats faster and faster and harder. Awareness of it fills your whole perception, and you breathe trying to keep up with it, knowing it is not good for you. It was overwhelming.

I did not know what to do. So I did the only thing I could do, my prayer thing: I sent pure love to him.

You can survive anything, dear heart.
Calm yourself if this is your fear I feel, my son. Take whatever you need from me. Calm strength and deep strong humor can get you through so much. Through what seems almost impossible. I know how deep you run.


My heart was beating so hard, so fast. I knew I was talking to myself as well: calm yourself, Katie. Calm strength and deep strong humor can get you through so much. Through what seems almost impossible. You can survive anything, dear heart.

This stress can kill a person. My son could be fine, and the fear of something happening to him could kill me.

This stress could kill a person if someone they loved actually was in danger. The loved one could be coping, surviving; but the ones waiting could be in mortal danger as well, from the stress of fear.

So what would you do if someone you loved actually was a prisoner of war?

You have to live your life believing that they will be okay.

I was telling myself this, and it calmed me some. I could feel my heart rate going down, but it was still racing, fighting the fear. I was putting everything I had into the contest, but at best was just holding even.

And then some being reached into my heart, and held it. Grasped it firmly.

He’s going to be okay, she told me.

I was told this several months ago. I believed it then, and I believe her now.

He is going to be okay. That belief will get you through.

And my heart suddenly calmed. I could feel her holding it firmly.

What do I do now? I asked her.

Hold up your heart’s light for anyone to see who needs it, she said.

And then she showed me. In my mind's eye, I saw/felt her reach in and take my heart. She held it up high, and it glowed in her hand. She held it like a symbol, like a torch, like something to offer.

I trust her completely.

So here you are, whoever might be reading this, worrying about someone. Believe that the person you love is going to be okay. That belief will get you through. And then hold up your heart’s light for anyone to see who needs it.

We all seem strong at times, but we are all vulnerable. I am too. Faith and fear duke it out daily on the battleground of my soul. I see them, circling like wrestlers, each watching the other carefully, trying to find the advantage, to get a hold on the other and to take it down.

But the victory is always brief; the whistle blows and a new match begins.

It is an inexorable, unstoppable part of life, this uncertainty, this grappling with fear.

So I will approach it the way I have learned to approach anything unsolvable in my life. I will unconditionally love it.

I will reach out to fear with open arms and take it close to me.

Come here, fear. Come here, you bully you meanness you deceiver. I believe that no one got to be awful because he or she was loved too much as a child. I may not be able to make you better, but I will not make you worse. I will treat you with respect and kindness and gentle honesty.

Come here, fear. Come here, you frightened child beneath the awful skin you put on to hide how vulnerable you are.

Come here, and I will hold you and love you.


Of course, I am terrified to do it. Fear can be mean and cruel. I am certainly not up to the task. But I know no other course. And I have to believe that this one will work.

At the end, I thought of the Statue of Liberty’s torch. I thought how the shape of the flame she holds aloft is much like the shape of our human hearts, if we pulled it from our chests and held them high.

It looks like what the other she was doing, holding my heart aloft, its light glowing out.

I heard the words again. Hold up your heart’s light for anyone to see who needs it.

I am just one person. But I will trust her, and not feel foolish, and hold up my light for whoever needs to see it.

The Statue of Liberty is holding her heart’s light high up, for anyone who needs to see it. I pulled up pictures of her on google.

She looks serious. This is serious work, this fighting of fear. But she looks determined and calm.

I will think of her. I will think of what she stands for, a symbol of our American struggle for independence from the lack of freedom and choice. I will think of her holding her light up high for anyone who needs to see it.

Hold up your heart’s light for anyone who wants to see it.

Good night, Zach. We look for you to come home safe. And now it is time for me to go back to sleep.

love,
Mom

Thanks for checking in,
Katie

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Letter To Zach From Riley

One December, Riley arrived at our house. Riley is a big young Weimeraner. He's Zach's dog, and he'll be living with us while Zach is in the Marines.

think bouncy, like Tigger. And then add Extremely Very Bouncy Lived With Marines And Is A Big Goofball.

Every now and then, Riley writes Zach a letter to tell him what it's like living at Camp Home. He gets in trouble a lot and it makes him feel better to complain about how unfair it is in a letter to Zach.

This is his most recent one.

Dear Zach,

Well, something remarkable has happened. Something truly wonderful!

Someone besides me is in trouble!

It is always me who is In Trouble. I have to tell you, it is just wonderful to hear Mom mad at somebody besides me.

Now, Really Perfect would be if The Little Cat got in trouble! I mean, Mom dotes on The Little Cat as if it was her baby. But no, that thing is never going to be in trouble. No.

And I don’t care if the Big Cat ever gets in trouble. I mean, that thing is almost like a dog itself. It is massive. And it’s not all cat-persnickety.

And it’s not me. I already told you that.
So have you guessed? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s Amy.

Now, you know Amy and I get along pretty good most of the time. But sometimes she annoys me.

I mean, she does her stupid little Trick and everybody goes on and on about what a cute little beagle she is. So I have to knock her over. Then I get yelled at for being too big and too bouncy and too rough.

And, okay, sometimes I do Bounce her and knock her down just for the fun of it. But honestly, it’s not because I’m jealous of the attention she gets.

Not exactly.

But anyway, I’m just delighted that SHE got in touble today instead of ME! It’s ALWAYS me! And this time it’s AMY! And it’s the worst kind of trouble.

You know Mom hates poop. Hates it.

Especially, especially dog poop. She absolutely cannot STAND the smell of it.

I’m laughing already telling you about this.

Two nights ago Mom was turning on the lights and looking furiously all over her bedroom in the middle of the night. She had been sleeping and had woken up, as she was saying, to the “horrific smell of dog poop in my bedroom”.

Apparently Mom’s nose is pretty good. Because she found a pile of poop right on the floor next to her bed. ON HER SOCK.

Oh, she was mad. She was SO Mad. Amy must have gotten up, took a dump on her carpet, and then trotted into the bathroom to get a drink.

Mom was so gagging she had to wake up Dad to clean it up. She tried, I’ll give her that. But it was pretty bad.

Then they went back to bed. And I was all pleased. I laughed to myself over and over because Mom was mad at Amy all the next day.

But
It
Gets
Even
Better.

It gets SO much better.

This morning, Mom was getting dressed and I heard her say
…wait for it….
….wait for it…

“Why is my heel all black?”

Then there was a little quiet moment and she picked at it... and then

She started making The Noise Mom Makes When She Is Absolutely Repulsed.

Mixed in with cuss words at Amy.

She had dog poop on her foot. She must have stepped on it when she woke up. And then went back to bed and didn’t even notice.

THEN it got EVEN BETTER!

Mom called Dad and was telling him how upset she was that she had dried dog poop on her foot, and while she was on the phone, she said that she remembered that when she went back to bed that night, she had kept feeling something wet on her sheets.

She said she thought she had stepped in the wet clean rug, and that’s what the wet was.
…wait for it again….

And while she was on the phone with Dad, she pulled back the sheets and saw that SHE HAD LITTLE BITS OF DOG POOP ON HER CLEAN WHITE SHEETS WHERE HER FEET GO.

Isn’t that wonderful? !!! Do you see why this is So Very Good?

I mean, she NEVER lets me sleep on the bed. Never. “No dogs in my bed!” How many times have you heard her say that?

But Amy got poop IN her bed. In it. On her sheets. And on her foot.

That’s just money, my man.

I can do almost anything, and she’ll forgive me in a day or two.
But Amy is going to be In Trouble For Life.

For LIFE, I tell you!

I’m so glad I didn’t do that.

Love,
Your dog,
Riley

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Welcome Back, Peace Of Mind

When I’m not posting here, it’s one of two reasons:
Swamped…or I don’t want to be dithering on and on again.

The news last Monday of the helicopters that crashed in Afghanistan took a lot out of me, writing-wise, for a little while. I had been driving back home late the night before, and I was thinking about Zach.

It’s true that moments of worry hit me, despite my general determination that worry is of no use, and that he is likely to be fine. I have my ways of dealing with them so that they pass.

But this mood was a little different. Something felt wrong. I worried that my instincts were in active mode. I remember thinking to myself “am I going to have to write AGAIN, ANOTHER post, about fear?”

And I remember thinking to myself how stupid I must look sometimes, always focusing on “WHAT IF” drama, worrying unnecessarily. They’re safe, I told myself. You don’t have to keep doing this to yourself.

Kathy Wilt woke me up to tell me about what was on the news. We agreed to start trying to find out whatever we could.

Here is how human nature works.

Our concern…or is it our fear?...spreads out like a ripple from our core.
It must be some kind of instinct, some drive to survive. Because the first thought is Let it not be mine who is hurt.

And then with a little hope, your heart has a little generosity, and it says let it not be ours that got hurt.

And the awful thing is that the whole time you are hoping and praying it’s not your loved one especially, and then not his friends, and then not his squadron…

You know it’s somebody.
It’s an awful truth that can’t be made better.

In addition to the worry about who it was last Monday, and the worry about Zach, about Scott, their squadron, and whoever it was that would bear it,

there was a weird little sense of vindication in me. Of, see…you were right to worry.

I was going to write this last Tuesday. But I’m glad I waited a week.
Because now I know who that voice was, saying that.

Hello, again, Fear.

Fear is almost an embodiment to me. I can talk to it when I’m not afraid. I give it a name so folks know who/what it is I’m talking about. Some might say hello, Satan…there you are again. Or maybe hello, Mara the Tempter.

I believe that fear is the root of all evil. So I just call it the simple name. easier to understand. Harder to misinterpret.

As I write this, Amelia Buttercup, my little cat, is curled up in my lap. Amelia Buttercup is the antithesis of evil. She is the most loving little creature. Love comforts us and makes us strong.

Of all the animals I have known across the years, Amelia Buttercup is unique in how dearly she loves. I wrote a children’s book about her, and I am hoping to get an agent for it soon.

In fact, what I really want is for Candlewick Press to publish it. They do many of the finest children’s classics, and I want the stories about her to reach a lot
of children. Her love can go even farther that way.

So if you know somebody at Candlewick Press, please let me know.

Know why I’m talking about that here? Me neither. But I think it’s just another way of me saying to fear, hey, buddy…wait your turn. You’re not that important to me.

Back to last Monday. Anyway, this little voice was saying, see! See! You SHOULD worry!

And last week, I believed it.

Fear almost got me roped in again.

But I’m back! Because not too many moments ago, I finally translated what it was saying to me, and here it is, unpackaged by the moment.

Translation: you should live your life in anticipation of bad things happening. You should always be on guard, expecting it.

Oh, Hell, no.

Read that sentence again. Literally. Oh, Hell…no, I am not going to give in to your temptations.

When we talked to Zach after the news, he said, with tremendous frustration in his voice, “I don’t know how those two helicopters could have collided. I just don’t understand it.” He knows the formations they fly, and the precautions.

So I am back to not fearing.

Now: I promised myself that I would be completely honest in writing this blog, unless it compromised the security of the men and women working over there.

Here’s a truth.

Zach’s helicopter was involved in a crash landing a few weeks ago. But good training kicked in, everyone stayed calm, and they landed safely in a textbook demonstration of handling that particular incident. Helicopter repaired, they flew home.

I don’t feel ready to put anything more than that in here just yet.

I don’t think Zach and I have the same views on how Afghanistan should be handled right now. He is over there right in it regularly, and I have the luxury of the mile-high view. I have to completely respect his opinions, while keeping working on my own.

All I know is that he loves the packages we all (you all!) have been sending. Little gifts of healthy food have mattered a lot. I think little things to distract them and give them humor have helped.

There are so many thoughts. The timeline of when they come back is fuzzy to me. I feel bad for National Guard soldiers, who go for a far longer timeline. The desire for all of them to come back safe regularly fills our thoughts.

And the mom advice. My emails seem to hardly ever get through, but I want to say to him if you have an approaching date, it will chafe at you as it gets closer. Don’t look at the whole thing that needs to be done or it gets harder. When you are climbing a mountain, do not look at the whole rise above you, or it will defeat you. Look at your path right now, right this second, and do that. Never look at the hill.

So stop looking at the calendar. Look at today.


I think that is good advice for me, too.

I have good things to do today. I hope you do too.

Thanks for checking in,
Katie

Monday, October 26, 2009

Dear President Obama: No Drama Decisions

I am the mother of a U.S. Marine who flies as part of a helicopter crew in southern Helmand Province. You can imagine that this morning was a tense one for us, as we wondered.

It was not aided by news of the riot in Kabul. And as I watched the news footage, I thought of you and your upcoming decision.

I hope that you will let me share my thoughts with you.

Although I have emotions just like any human being, I run my decisions on logic and data.

First: despite the drama and pain of today’s loss, I remind myself that there have been hundreds, thousands of helicopter flights which have taken off and landed safely. The few dangerous incidents that happen cannot be allowed to override the vast majority of safely executed missions.

Second, I would not let Americans who get worked up about the riot in Kabul (perhaps thinking that “they” want us out so we should get out) influence my decision either. A thousand students protesting in Kabul is just that: people expressing their feelings. They have a right. Even if they were manipulated into doing it. That doesn't mean it should drive your decision.

While students express their opinions with more passion and volatility than many older people…let us not forget that students in Kabul may be influenced by forces not felt by elsewhere in the world. People in Afghanistan live side by side with Taliban believers, and their actions may therefore be more vulnerable to family members or themselves being in threatened.

This is not to say that I disrespect their right to voice the opinions they are expressing. As an American who believes in free speech, I support their right to express their opinion. If someone burned a bible, lots of folks in these parts would be upset - even if it wasn't true.

This is also not to say that I don’t believe they mean their protests. For heaven’s sake…Americans have hurt one another over their political and religious differences! Some Americans feel passionately that you’re doing a bad job. So I wouldn’t worry about another group having that opinion.

The truth is, Mr. President, that I don’t believe that you (or Mrs. Obama, who I admire) have ever done things because someone told you to. I believe you are one of those rare individuals who have the strength of their convictions and are not afraid to make decisions based on your personal popularity. And while I know you are a Democrat, and therefore have party loyalties - and obligations? - I do not believe that you succumb to that terribly dangerous partisanship of ‘party first’ – that too many elected officials practice, which is insidious at tearing away the work that good people try to do.

I believe that you will make your decision based on what you truly believe is the best thing for our country, our soldiers, and the peace of the world...not based on how it would affect your ability to be re-elected.

So, President Obama, while you grieve at the crashes of today, as you do every day we lose a soldier...do not let the painful drama of today overwhelm the data and logic of your best advisors. Listen to all of them. Develop a strategy that will accomplish good work in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and other places in the world.

And do not fear.

Do not make your decisions based on fear.

When my son said he was joining the Marines, I cried. Now, there, he is proud of helping both American and NATO soldiers, the Afghan people to whom he has delivered grain, and the Afghan soldiers with whom he has flown.

Am I scared? Sure. Every day. And every day, I remind myself to choose not to give in to that.

President Obama, you came into office during one of the two worst financial disasters our country has ever faced, with health care looming as a disaster both financially and management-wise right behind that.

At the end of this term in office, you’re facing the 12/21/2012 predictions. I think it’s hogwash; but I’d be planning some major craziness-control to deal with the folks who decide to use that date for their personal agendas.

I mean…really. Dude; with those bookends, you might as well just do what you want. I mean, you’ve got so much stacked against you that you might as well throw away the memo about how to protect your reputation, and just be strong.

You’ve just got to do your job. No matter what you do, half the country will oppose it.

You’re not perfect. But I believe you’re intelligent enough and responsible enough and caring enough - and courageous enough - to find the best possible course through this.

You’re welcome to read the blog I wrote on October 16 on www.afghanistantourofduty.blogspot.com to see my thoughts on increasing troops. Just do it with wise strategy. I believe you will.

I think that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda must not be allowed to run the world through fear. Don’t you be afraid to do what you believe should be done. Ever.

I don't think you will.

Our hearts and prayers to the people who lost someone they love.

Sincerely,
Katie Aiken Ritter

Friday, October 16, 2009

CBS News

I meant to watch Katie Couric’s coverage on CBS during this week. Entitled Afghanistan: The Road Ahead, it’s a series of pieces about the goals in Afghanistan, the ways they are being approached, and the frustrations of the work.

I only got to watch one episode – so I’m looking it all up via Google. Please take the time. Oh, I hope people watched it. I talked with a friend after seeing the 60 Minutes coverage on Sunday the 11th. We had completely different takes on “what should be done”. But at least we were talking about it.

It’s too easy to forget about it.

What happens if we forget about it?

What happens if we go away, as a government? If we say, well, we can’t beat the Taliban, and we have no business being in this other country…what happens if we pack up and go away?

Well, let’s think.

1. The Taliban will open champagne bottles. Actually, they don’t drink alcoholic beverages. But they’ll celebrate. They will dance and sing and talk about how they kicked America’s ass.

2. Then they’ll regroup.

3. Remember 9/11? Oh yeah. That was the Taliban, coming from Afghanistan training bases.

And if you think planes crashing into buildings is, well, passé, they’ve got plenty of other ideas.

From http://www.blogger.com/www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/10/15/eveningnews/main5386052.shtml?tag=cbsnewsMainColumnArea

"I lost my leg," 11-year-old Eidullah says, "I'm angry because we were not guilty of anything."

Eidullah was asked by the Taliban to deliver a fruit basket to a local commander who was cooperating with U.S. forces. Hidden in the basket was a bomb. However, the commander wasn't hurt because the bomb exploded prematurely -- maiming Eidullah and injuring his eight friends.

Some of their lives were saved by American surgeons at a nearby military hospital. Doctors say they are seeing more children involved in bombings.

"It shows the lengths that al Qaeda will go to and the indifference that they have to these pure kids," said Lt. Col. Benjamin Kam, an orthopedic surgeon.

The children recruited by the Taliban and al Qaeda are often willingly sent to the terror camps by their parents. The promise of free food, shelter and education for their sons is too difficult to turn down.

But the children who were tricked face a lifetime of painful procedures to treat their wounds.

Nine-year-old Mohammad had a nerve in his leg severed in the blast.

"Unfortunately he will lose function in this section of his leg. He'll eventually have to have it amputated," said Dr. Scott Russi, chief of surgery at Shamrock Combat Hospital.

Out of the nine children injured, two lost limbs, one lost sight. All of their lives will be forever altered.

Eleven-year-old Bachmaner was one of the lucky ones. He only suffered a broken leg. He wishes he could go back to his old life. "We all used to play soccer," he says, "now we can't walk without pain."

It's not childhood games that Eidullah is worried about now. His father is blind and as the oldest son, tradition demands that he take care of his family. Now, he doubts he can.

He, like hundreds of other children, are caught up in a war they had no expectation of fighting.

When we spoke with Zach not long ago, they were working, among other things, on delivering sacks of grain to the Afghan people.

Hungry people do desperate things. See in Red above.

How many of us here in our country ever, ever have had to think about having to give up a child just so he can eat?
I couldn’t even bear to think of them going to sleep-over camp.

Okay, I don’t care what people believe or what their religious beliefs are or what their political views are. They should not have to give up their children to terrorists so their kids can eat.

No.

And if it’s the Taliban keeping them growing poppies to sell heroin to our kids, and not letting them grow crops to feed their kids…um…well, we need to stop that.

For our kids, so they won’t get addicted to stuff that will ruin our families here at home.
For their kids, so they will be able to live a little kid’s life. And play soccer.

Winning, war, politics, Dems, Republicans….The Bush/Cheney legacy, Obama’s campaign, McCrystal’s strategy….I have to think of this in the way I think of everything:

That imaginary tattoo on my left forearm.

Treat other people the way you would want to be treated.

If I couldn’t grow food for my kids because I had to grow poppies for somebody who was holding our village in fear, I would want some help.

I might ‘hate’ an occupying army…but like they say, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
I would want somebody strong enough to help me get free of the hunger and the fear and the oppression.
I would want somebody smart. Because the more I trusted them, the more at risk my family would be. So I’d really, really need them to be smart enough to come out on top.
I would be afraid to trust them. Because what if they didn’t? What if they left? What would happen to me and my family? It’s happened the last eight years. They don’t know the American president, and many of the American people are wanting less troops, not more. So yeah, I’d be afraid to trust.

I can’t believe I am in the position of saying something I never, ever, ever thought I would say.

What can we possibly say that will erase the fact that we focused on Iraq and let the Taliban grow strong there?

We can’t say anything. We can only do.

We need to do what we need to do. We don’t need to tell them who should run in their election. We don’t need to tell them what to believe, what to eat, how to raise their children.

But we need to make sure they are not hungry, and not afraid.

Fear is a terrible, powerful force. Let us not be afraid to face it down.

With love, patience, respect, hard work. And generosity.

Plant that, consistently, and watch it grow.

Just my opinion. Kudos to HMH-463 and all the men and women over in camp there. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your hard work, your good spirits under pressure, and just for volunteering in the first place.

Thanks for checking in,
Katie

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Birthday Treat.

We're on a family weekend. It's the one place I really want to go each year, my birthday trip to the Virginia mountains.

Next year, we really want so much to be all together. Up there, laughing, the guys throwing acorns at each other, arguing with me about hiking. Happy.
To paraphrase a saying from Passover:

Next year, in Virginia.

Thanks for checking in,
Katie.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fear, Revisited: The Other Tattoo (on my left forearm)

I’m really having trouble with some of what I wrote yesterday, for three reasons.

1. I think I may be a hypocrite
2. I worry what reactions my honesty about what I think causes in others
3. The accident that happened while I was writing it

Last things first.

Monday morning, right while I was writing yesterday’s blog post, a 911 alert went out about an accident that had just happened a mile away from my house.

A mile, here, is close. We live in a very rural area. A mile in the city isn’t in your neighborhood. A mile here, at the intersection where it happened, means that a neighbor was hurt.

My husband Mark, who is an EMT, went out knowing that he could get there minutes before the fire truck, to be of whatever assistance he could in that little time. Pressure on a bleed. Traffic control. Reassurance. You never know.

Timothy Wheatley, father of three, waa killed when his Honda Civic was broadsided by a UPS truck. His little girl in the car had to go to shock trauma in critical condition.

There is a report by an eyewitness that indicates the UPS driver may have run the red light. But why?

And that brings me to item 2. I really care about not doing any damage of any kind to the people of HMH-463.

I cannot imagine what it is like to be them, living away from home in the conditions I have described. Add a lot of testosterone on overflow – there’s no place to really blow it off the way men can here at home – and all kinds of things can happen. Two of them are ridiculously funny humor…and anger.

I worry, in the little worry factory of my brain, that something I say will be distressing to an HMH-463 friend or family member who reads this blog, and somehow that will translate into a bad experience for the men and women over there.

We’re all human beings. We humans have the best of intentions on our good days, and we’re nasty on our bad days. The same people who would risk life and limb to save someone will also blow little things out of proportion, and take offense when we shouldn’t, and read emails the wrong way. I do it just like everybody else.

So, in this journal, do I tell the truth…and the whole truth...or do I keep some of my thoughts and opinions to myself?

Do I talk about my beliefs about how God does or doesn’t protect people? Maybe some of us need that belief every single day to get them through. Maybe I don’t need to say something that might challenge their feelings. It’s my blog, I know, and I can write whatever I want, and people can either argue with me (and post it, right there on the blog, if you want) or just stop reading…but I’ve never been one to not care what others think or feel.

So how do I be honest to the task of recording our family’s experience of this deployment? What goes in…and what thoughts are kept silent?

Not an easy choice.

Not an easy choice.

What can we at home here do that will protect them most in the end?

We’re not over there. We can’t see. We only get little bits of information, filtered through short phone calls and each person’s perspective. But if one of them has a worry about a girlfriend back home, or has a fight with his wife, or money troubles on the mind, or an argument with a co-worker…how’s it affect the unit?

I don’t think that what I say could upset anyone…but you never know. And as far as I’m concerned, all the folks who care about HMH-463 are one big family. We all want ALL of them home safely.

And the folks at home, all of us dads and moms and wives and husbands and fiancés and kids and grandparents and brothers and sisters and grandparents, and girlfriends and aunts, uncles, cousins, friends…the whole shebang of us…well, we’re all connected. We all have this shared hope. I want to support that, share they’re okay information with folks who don’t get regular calls, lighten the load, whatever. Connect with each other in this shared experience.

Timothy Wheatley. The UPS truck. What happened?

Maybe the driver saw the red light. Maybe he hit his brakes. Maybe the truck didn’t stop.

I woke at 3 am today, worrying about brakes and mechanical stuff and praying.

Do the mechs at 463 know how important they are? How treasured?
Do the pilots?
Do the cooks?
Does the guy who cleans the toilets?

Because in the dark hours of the night when I wake up and worry, I love the team that keeps each other safe. You want your loved one home. The people who run the kitchens, may they do it with pride in their work, so that our loved ones have that small comfort of good food. The pilots and crew chiefs and AOs who crew the planes, may they do the best they can, so the flights with their precious cargo of humans and comfort and supplies get where they need to go.

And the mechs. I think I love them the most, and have the whole time my son has been at his job.

I don’t know that the mechs get a lot of recognition or notice…but I want to say on behalf of the home team listed above…we know.

Those of you who make sure those crazy birds can fly safe…thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for every bolt tightened, every belt tested and replaced, every fluid topped off. Thanks for making sure that baby works like a charm.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I pray you keep doing that job well. Your work is incredibly important to us.

And now, to item 1.
I’m a hypocrite. Because even though I talk out loud about what I believe and what I don’t…I still pray.

Maybe the biggest difference between me and another is not what we believe, but how we believe.

I believe that by asking questions and testing ideas and thinking, we can sift the wheat from the chaff, the good ideas from the stuff that’s been tacked onto it later, and come closer to the Central Stuff that is at the core of our humanity, the divine spirit that makes us instinctively try to do good.

Some folks just believe.

That’s their way. It sure would be more relaxing than this 4 am thinking, but this is the spirit the good Lord gave me, so I figure I have to work with what I’ve got.

But what matters is maybe not how we go about doing good, but simply that we’re all trying in our own way to do a little bit of good in the world.

Treat other people the way we want to be treated.

In case you’re wondering, that would be the matching tattoo on my other forearm. Pretty? No. But wouldn't it be a good reminder, every day, to remind us of how we could take care of each other?

Thanks for checking in,
Katie

Monday, October 5, 2009

Arrgh! I Might Have To Get The Tattoo After All.

I promised myself to be honest with this blog. Not to worry about who was reading it and why, but to just honestly record for our family and for myself what the experience of having our son in Afghanistan was like.

So, here goes…again.
I’m scared.

Again.

Dammit, I get so mad at myself. Because it’s unnecessary!
I’m not scared because Zach is in some great danger.
I’m scared because I’m inclined to fear.
Yep; a little kid would call me a scared-y cat.

A scared-y cat is afraid to touch the things other kids would touch. Afraid of stupid stuff. Well, I have been afraid of things my whole life. I keep thinking I’ll beat fear, finally; but it keeps coming back in a different form. I'm always scared of something.

So, I’m saying to you, Fear…let’s tango again.

I wrote this blog several weeks ago, and life was really busy, and a couple of days passed by and I didn’t get it up, and then it was out of sequence, and it sat on my computer. And I thought, oh, I won’t have to post this one. I’ve gotten my fear under control.

Well, I woke this morning, counting hours again, and realized, no…it’s getting ahold of me again. So it’s time to put this one up.

Dammit.

Dammit, damn it, damn it.

…counting hours? That means I take whatever shift Zach is working and, even though he hasn’t told any of us the hours of the shifts, Courtney and I have each tried to guess what time they start and stop. (We had very different ideas!) So I count the hours forward from Eastern Standard Time to their time, and if I think his shift is over, I feel better.

Here’s why this is stupid:

1. He could have died from the freakin’ appendicitis, for God’s sake, had it ruptured during one of the long flights over to Afghanistan.

2. Him being finished flying doesn’t mean I know anything about how that day went. I only really know he’s fine when he calls us or Court texts me.

3. Gabe's accident, the writing below, and the death here of one of Zach’s classmates last week tell me regularly that he’s just as safe there, maybe safer, than folks here.

So here’s the post I wrote earlier. I’ll add the rest to the end.

I’m feeling reckless this morning, and I want to take it on.

Fear, that is.

When we tell someone our son is serving in Afghanistan, they get a horrified look and say, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

Well, I’m not.

I’m not sorry, because I was not afraid when he left. I got my act together for that, and now, I deal with fear if and when it comes up, and I am not afraid because I decided it was stupid and wrong and bad and wasteful to be afraid.

People say "I’m so sorry” because to them, Afghanistan means The Possibility Of Bad Things. Well, of course there is the possibility of bad things happening there, especially to soldiers who are serving on the ground and exposed to IEDs.

The days we don’t hear from Zach, it’s usually because communications have been shut down because someone has been hurt or has been killed and their family members are being notified.

The three ugliest parts of war are loss of life, loss of wholeness, and torture. Unfortunately the human race seems to be hard-wired to go to war. But that does not mean we have to accept it or ignore it.

But listen. It’s not all bad over there...and it’s not all good over here.

On Friday, my husband went to the funeral of a co-worker’s son. Heartbreaking.

He wasn’t in Afghanistan.

He was in Arizona.
He was just a kid who got caught up in things that hurt him.

There is risk everywhere. Sometimes people here are in more danger (uh, see recent posts!) than our soldiers there. Plus, our people over there are so well trained. So strong. So capable. So good. They are. They really are.

So, I see it differently. I choose to see that Afghanistan means opportunity: learning, horizons widening, new friends, trusting in yourself, growing as a person, appreciation for home, appreciation of another culture.

To me, the most beautiful word in the English language to me is possibility. And in Afghanistan, there is so much for them to see and learn and experience that is good.

This is not to diminish one iota the frustration, the stress, the danger, the heat and cold, the privation, the loneliness, the longing for home and the hard work that our people in uniform have to manage every day.

But they working so hard, trying to do good there. And they are justifiably proud of their work. They will come back here stronger than before, in every way.

The possibilities for good happening to each of them is significantly better than the possibilities of bad happening.

Let us offer compassion that is deep and warmth and healing to those families who have had to bear a death or a traumatic injury. Let us be strong for them, and let us help them to celebrate life again, and the possibility of all the wonderful things that did happen, and should have happened for their loved ones, and can still happen in their hearts and for ours.

Possibility. Celebrate life.

And that was the end of that blog.

I thought when I wrote it that I had put fear to bed. Silly, silly girl!

Now, I am starting to wake up and regularly hear in my head Bill Murray in the old stupid movie Stripes bawling "Blowed Up, Sir!" in response to his leader’s question about a squadmate.

And I get angry. I get angry because I feel the fear slipping in. I start to have ugly images in my mind that I do not want, that are not necessary, that are not connected to the likelihood of things happening. Images created by fear to serve itself only. They do not improve my life in one way – so they are not of value to me. More importantly, they do not keep Zach safer in any way – so they are of no value to him. And if they are of no value to any of us…that means they are TRASH...so why am I allowing them to live in my mind?

I don’t have an answer for the question. But I’m sure as hell going to put it out there for others to think about as well:

IF FEAR IS TRASH, IF IT OFFERS NOTHING OF VALUE TO US...WHY DO WE REGULARLY WELCOME IT INTO THE BEST PLACES OF OUR HEART, WHERE IT POISONS OUR LIVES?

Take that, Fear.
We’re on to your game.

You trick us into thinking you’re helping us… but you’re not. You don’t keep my son safe.

His machinery operating correctly, and good training, and his presence of mind and great co-workers, and a great ground crew, and the kindness of other people, Afghan and otherwise, and good weather and good luck – all these things keep him safe.

Note to my Christian friends who read this blog: you may say, hey, something’s missing from that list…! While I deeply respect the goodness of all religions, and I’m deeply reverent myself of Jesus’ teachings, Jesus never promised his disciples that faith in God or His ways would protect them against physical harm. In fact, most of them came to pretty terrible ends.

So, while I regularly pray for Zach’s and Scott’s safety, and for the whole squadron (and okay, for the whole world to live in peace and safety)…please, in the forgiveness that Jesus specifically requires of us, forgive me for not listing God on that keeping-them-safe list.

To me, it seems exceptionally disrespectful of those who have had to live through the death or traumatic injury to their loved one to somehow imply that God was okay with ignoring their prayers.

Nope. I don’t believe that. I believe that one of the things on the list above didn’t happen right, and I don’t for one instant believe that God caused that because of some “everything happens for a reason” intention.

Note to self: read Bad Things Happen To Good People soon, and Lewis Carroll’s The Problem With Pain, to see what they say.

Back to this writing.

I’m feeling really cocky and reckless now. I took on Fear, and dude, for now, I’m winning again.

Take that again, Fear. I’m not inviting you into the living room of my mind any more.

You snuck in again, lying to me that you were somehow protecting me, and I stupidly believed you again, and now here you are, talking trash and stinking up the place and making me feel bad and putting those terrible, terrible images into my head, and meanwhile telling me how you’re protecting me and I should feel you more often….

…well, no. NO.

You don’t keep me safe.
You don’t keep Zach or any of our men and women safe.
You don’t keep the folks here at home safe.

You tell me that you take care of me...but you hurt me.
You’re an abusive liar.

Get out of my head and my heart.
Get out of my home.

FUCK you.
(um, hey Mom…sorry for the language.)

Here’s what we’re going to do, Fear. We’re going to do the OPPOSITE of what you recommend we do. Instead of reverencing you, and letting you control us, …we’re going to be happy. Recklessly happy! Unfearfully happy! Unafraid! We’re going to choose life and celebration and possibility. We're not going to spend any time listening to you and worrying.

Because the truth is, fear diminishes life and destroys it. Fear takes away moments of gladness-now with threats of sadness-then. Fear tells lies about the odds.

Life is creation and creativity. Life IS celebration of what-can-be, and possibility.

Even in death.

This starts getting to the heart of celebrating even in the presence of death.
Not celebrating the pain of it; no: but celebrating the existence of the life that gave birth to love so great that it causes us pain to lose any of it. Celebrating the possibility of coming to full life again, and feeling happiness again, and celebrating again.

That is at the very, very core of choosing life over fear. Choosing faith in all the good things of life over how fear tries to take them away from us.

That, I think, was one of the things at the heart of Jesus’ teachings, as well as so many others. I’ll go on and on some other time about how Jesus chose kindness over rule-keeping, or chose inclusion over exclusion. These are the parts of the message that appeal to me. So I work on them.

There are other parts of the universe for which I have no answers: real evil, and what we do with it. Why Creation seems to require an equal balance of destruction. Still working on those bits.

Anyway, this has been a long post, and I thank you for your indulgence if you are reading it. Thank you for your understanding. Thank you for your thoughts in reply, whether you agree with me or not.

Thank you most of all for maybe standing with me and looking at how Fear tells lies to you, and maybe throwing it out of your house for a bit, too.

Your decision will help me get stronger. We’ll help each other.

And now, the tattoo:

I got a tattoo when Zach left (another story). I told him there was the possibility of me getting another one.

Think of kids taking a test, and writing the answers on their hand where they could surreptitiously look at it if they were in trouble during the test.

Knowing myself and my susceptibility to fear, I told Zach that if it got too hard for me during his deployment, if I started succumbing and feeling fearful, I was going to get the answer to the Test Of Life written on my forearm, where I could look at it if things got tough.

A tattoo:
Choose Faith Over Fear.

Oh yeah! That’s the answer! Now I remember!

Okay, I’ll do what I wrote on my arm. I'll choose faith over fear.

Faith that everything CAN and USUALLY DOES work out just fine. Faith in goodness. Faith in kindness. Faith in picturing all the good things that could be happening, right this minute.

Let’s forget Bill Murray and the stupid movie line. Forget drama. Forget stupid fear. Invite a good, happy picture into your mind of your loved one. For me, Zach’s in the dining hall eating dinner. I picture him laughing and talking to the folks he’s eating with. Making jokes as he bitches about something. Feeling good about being healthy and working hard. Feeling proud, deep inside, of what it feels like to hand off bags of grain to the Afghan people, or bring mail from home to the soldiers in the forward operating bases. Feeling proud of whatever work it was he did that day, the big bits and the small bits.

I picture him content. He tells us over and over how much he enjoys his work there.

Good. Good, good, good. Good to all. Let’s be good to all. That, bit by bit, may actually help keep our loved ones safe in countless little and big ways.

Thanks to those of you who also struggle with fear for your honesty and courage in facing it and fighting it.

And thanks for checking in. I may be at the tattoo parlor when you read this.

Smiling,
Katie

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Comforting Sounds

I often clean the kitchen late in the evening. Never particularly strong in the homemaker department, I seem to get organized later rather than earlier, and well…that’s just how it is.

I used to worry that the noise of clinking of crockery (crockery, isn’t that a great word?!) and the banging of pots and pans would wake my children as they were falling asleep…back in the days when they went to bed before I did. I didn’t want to make so much noise, and I felt a little bit like a bad mother.

One day Zach told me that he loved the sound of me cleaning up the kitchen. He would lay in his bed and hear the noises of dishes and running water…and it comforted him. He was home, in his bed, Mom was downstairs working, and all was right with the world.

Certain sounds can mean so much. ‘

During this deployment, Ben misses his brother Zach so much. Gabe misses him too, but Gabe is steadier, less emotional. But Ben and Zach are like twins born five years apart, and the strain of not talking to Zach was mounting up in Ben.

Now…Ben never answers his phone. As in, N-E-V-E-R. And Zach has small windows of time he is able to call, and sometimes it takes ten or fifteen minutes to get a line thru. Our house phone is VOIP, and will often not ring when a call comes through – it goes straight to voice mail, and we don't even know someone called when we're sitting right there.

So our phone protocol with Zach is Call Mom’s Phone First. I have it with me always, and I will answer it any time of the day or night. I can be awake in a flash.

But I told Ben to watch his phone, because I’d asked Zach to call him and catch up.

One morning not long after, Zach called us. He’d tried Ben already earlier, but Ben was sleeping over at a friend’s house, and of course did not hear his phone ring, or answer it. Zach told us he had tried, and had left a message for him.

We were all taking turns talking at home, and I heard Ben come in. I met him at the door with the phone, so happy he would not miss talking to his brother…and saw tears streaming down his face.

He had heard the voicemail, and his heart was breaking with the need to talk together with his brother.

Which he got to do! I’m so very grateful that he came home when he did, rather than five minutes later. It just worked out. They had a blissful, long ten minutes or so. It helped immensely.

What is it about the sound of a particular human voice that we need to hear SO MUCH, and hearing it soothes our heart so much?

What is it about that particular vibration coming over the phone lines, creating a matching vibration in our little ear bones, traveling the nerve synapses to the part of our brain that recognizes it and translates it to concepts, ideas, words, and those somehow traveling on to our heart…how does that sound create something that soothes us so?

I don’t know what complex mix of brain chemistry and physical energy takes place. I only know that a kind of magic happened. Brothers connected. Everything got better.

There is no medicine like the sound of a loved one’s voice. Thank goodness for telephones, and a HUGE, HUGE thank you to the United States companies that sponsor free calls for our men and women on deployment.

Thanks for checking in,
Katie

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I (don't) Love The Smell Of PooBurning In The Morning

Saturday morning, hometown USA:

People stretching, someone up early, dishes making noise, cupboards slamming, rolling over, thinking no, I'm too tired stretching more, and then that smell, that irresistable smell, that oh, it's not healthy but DAMN that smells good I better get up or I won't get any, the smell of fat and plenty and harvest time wakes you up for real.

It's like the smell of hot buttered popcorn; bad for you, but irresistable.

Wafting up. Teasing you out of bed. Seducing you away from your partner, the Healthy Diet.

Bacon sizzling in the pan. Oh...My...Gosh.

Smell it. It's wonderful. Fat and intoxicating. Your butt can grow just breathing it in, it's so rich.

Zach, waking up for work, half-asleep, dreaming of home, breathing in deep, deeper, smelling that rich fragrance of his dreams.

Oh, wait.

That's not bacon.

What the hell is THAT???!!!

That's AWFUL!

Cue the sound track banjos screeching to a halt, lights up, eyes startling open. What the hell IS that???"

That, dear soldier, is the smell of last night's spaghetti dinner, processed hour by hour through the digestive tract, garlic bread and salad and the brownie and intestinal gas pooped out into the portable toilets,

...being burned.

Oh,yeah it is.

Times several thousand soldiers.

Every....single....day.

Can you imagine how that must smell?

Zach told me that one of the things he fantasizes about having when he gets back home is a clean, shining white porcelain seat with a lovely nickle-plated flush handle. The sound of water, swishing through pipes. A vent fan.

Not the rows of portable toilets lined up, baking in the sweltering desert sun, which he swears get emptied and cleaned once every week...or so...whether they need it or not.

Oh, my gosh, I almost cried right then and there. Of all the dangers and rigors of deployment, if I was the one out there, that's the one that would be hardest for me.

I can face many, many things, but the prospect of several trips a day to that thing would probably cause me to lay face down in the desert sand and I don't know, just give up.

Germaphobes, quit shaking in your boots and stand tall. We can face this enemy. We would have to. All of our soldiers on deployment over there have to. Every day.

So this year, when I am inclined to bitch and moan and complain about some little thing or other, some little problem of life or person or whatever, I think of what it would be like to live, eat, sleep, work, and try to relax to the constant, daily, everpresent smell of burning shit.

Remembering that I do not have anything, anything, ANYTHING in my life as bad as Shit On Fire, I shut up and just git 'er done.

Feel better now? Life not as bad as you thought? I hoped this might help!

Thanks for checking in,
Katie

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Faster, Shorter, More Often

I have gotten stuck in feeling as if I have to write something profound for these entries. But the original intention was to simply keep a journal, and write something profound if it came up.

With a big item finished in my life - the novel finished - I'm going to try and now stick to that original intention better. Here's the letter I just sent to Zach:

So, dearest heart,
I was picturing you the other night, when you guys were broken down. Going over you detail by detail, your smile, your beautiful neck, your shoulders, your feet. Only a mother and a girlfriend do stuff like that! You are so beautiful, and I love your smile, and everything about you.

Just everything.

Grandmom or Dad told me about the cigar smokes in the desert and the talks about life and big ideas. While I don’t love the cigars (LOL, mom talking :-) I do love that Pop and Grandmom sent them to you and you get time to think about stuff bigger and beyond. I like that.

Courtney and I talked yesterday for a few moments. She is stressing about the next upcoming test. I gently laughed at her and told her it would be fine. I know she’ll do just fine. She always does.

Cripes, that was actually two days ago. We were in the grocery store getting stuff for Gabe. Yesterday I was a the annual Legacy Chase in Baltimore, the big horse race at Shawan Downs that my dear friend David Ashton invites me to. She and I talked then and I promised to call her back after the event – but, oops, went home, took care of Gabe, cleaned for Gmom and Becky and Andy to come visit, helped Gabe take his first bath (yay!) welcomed Dad home, and forgot. Darn it. I’ll call her later today.

It’s a steady autumn rain today. The trees have barely started changing colors, just the first few, but even though everything is still green, green, green, it’s becoming that kind of olive-green, so you know they are ready. Except the grass, which has grown all summer as if it’s spring. Dad and I hardly ever fight, so he hasn’t needed to mow it all in a huff to calm down, but it seems to get done. Although I am still not allowed to use the mower, which is stupid.

You said your weeks go so fast - in that way, mine are a little like yours. I feel as if I have two days in the week, Monday and Friday. Monday I start my home week, and Friday (except the last two weekends) I start my Cheapeake City week. They come so fast. Spring, gone. Summer, gone. Autumn…whoa.

The Big News: I finished my book. Yep.

I had hoped to finish it by the time you went on deployment so that I could focus on writing the Afghanistan blog, but missed that deadline. Then I got to the very ending – the last few thousand words – and I just couldn’t write it. I wanted the ending to be strong, and good writing, and set up the sequel nicely, and I just had no idea how to do it and pack it into so few words. But Friday morning, I woke up and could feel the little fiddling feeling in my brain that I am starting to recognize as it’s time to write and I just sat up in bed, opened my computer, and five hours later, the end was written.

I will send you a CD copy to read, if you like. I have to go over the whole thing again, for typos and to format it properly…but it’s now time to start finding a literary agent.

I told Dad, Gabe, Ben, and then about an hour later, it kind of dawned on me..."I just wrote a whole book…I just finished my first novel!!!!!" I felt like a little balloon, the one Eeyore gets for a birthday present, just flat and like all the air had gone out of me, as if I’d been holding my breath since December when I started. And then I took a great nap.

Gabe is able to put a little weight on his leg – just for a short while. But it eases the trip down to the bathroom, although the trip back he can’t do it yet. The wonderful thing to him was to get into a hot bath for the first time in three weeks. I imagine you’ll make the same "ahhhhh" sound when you can when you get home!

We love you so much. Ben was very impressed with the Legacy Chase, which is exactly why I took him. Ben was my date while Dad covered the shop for me, which I hugely appreciated). I think it really made him think about life and how he wants to get where he wants to go. The first two people we talked to there were a former fighter pilot and a former CIA worker. I told him to write it down so he doesn’t forget by Thursday. But it was a good conversation. I have great faith in him. He'll start slow but I think he'll build up to a pretty good cruising altitude.

Take care, stay safe. I update folks all the time about you. We all love you and are proud of you and so very,very glad that you are happy.

Tell us little details. We love hearing them. Love to you,
Mom