Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Interview with a Soldier

When I was 10 I founded the Pickle Club and solicited memberships from everyone I knew. In the end I converted only one member, my 5 year old brother B.J.C. That must be when my special friendship with him began. So you can imagine my happiness when he returned home safely from Afghanistan last week. Even though his contract with the Army ended in January, all soldiers are required to serve an additional 90 days after returning from combat. So this exclusive interview with B.J.C. comes from Ft. Brag, where he is still jumping out of airplanes and playing war games.

Where were you stationed in Afghanistan? We were in the Paktika province, which is like a state. I lived in 4 different locations in that province, the majority of the time on small fire-bases with about 30 U.S. and 10 or so Afghan border police. We could see Pakistan out our front gate. That's about as specific as I can go with that.

Your platoon's responsibilities? COIN (counterinsurgency) operations in our assigned sector. Basically separating the enemy from the local population and getting the people to understand that we are there to help them and the Taliban is not. The less they support the Taliban, the more we help them.

Your responsibilities? I'm a team leader in charge of 3 to 4 guys. Responsible for everything they do and everything they know. It's my job to monitor their health, keep them proficient at their jobs, lead them in combat, and bring them back. Over there the biggest thing was never letting them quit or let their guard down, and having a good attitude. I also assisted higher leadership in mission planning and execution, supervising base security, and training the afghan border police.

B.J.C. is the one standing up

What surprised you the most about Afghanistan? Honestly, I knew there were poor countries out there butI never would have imagined the way people live there. That may sound kind of ignorant, but the majority of how they live is the same as it was at the time of Christ.

Your best day? Tough one. Either when I realized I would be home for my little sister's wedding, or the day I changed squads and took over Alpha team. I had been in charge of my previous team for like 18 months, so I was ready for a change.

Coolest thing you did there? Well there is nothing cooler than a firefight. The craziest roller coasters in the world can't touch it. One night we were in a huge firefight and we called in 2 apache helicopters. It looked awesome in the dark when they fired their rockets and machine guns.

What will you miss the most? We had a couple dogs that we raised from the time they could fit in two hands. Belle and Lexie. I really love those dogs, we all did. They really were the center of our morale. Every time I came back from a mission they would run up and greet us as soon as we got out of the trucks. No doubt, that's what I miss the most.

Best part about coming home? The day of - seeing mom and dad. In general - the food, the amenities, accessible technology, pretty females that you can actually see cause they're not covered head to toe in burkas.

How have you been treated since joining the army? Good in general. Most people I meet are very appreciative. Every once in a while I talk to someone who says they're sorry I do what I do or they're sorry I have to go to war. I can't stand that. Don't tell me you're sorry I have a job i volunteered for.

Has your opinion about war or U.S. foreign policies changed since Afghanistan? Oh boy. I could go on all day about this and it wouldn't be what you'd think. Bottom line, as a soldier our perspective is so different that politics is obsolete. My opinion about war has not changed. This type of war is far beyond the average citizen's understanding, but my platoon's motto is 'sic vis pacum para bellum.' If you wish for peace prepare for war. Foreign policies? We're helping a lot in both countries. How can that be wrong? Until you've been there and seen those things you will never fully understand that. They need us. Taking casualties sucks. But to keep it simple, if it's about whether or not us being there is good or bad, it's good.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

smelly cat

Buying ice-cream from the ice-cream truck is like feeding a stray cat.  They keep coming back.  It really isn't an ice-cream truck. It's an old van with stickers all over it and a set of speakers rigged to the top that plays a carousel-like song.  How can anyone want to buy something to eat from something that looks so dirty?  

In the three years we've lived in this house, that van has been driving down our street from time to time but I've never allowed my kids (despite #1's begging) to buy whatever it is he's selling.  All that changed a couple weeks ago, when Spouse was home one afternoon looking after the kids. When I got home the first thing #1 tells me is, "Daddy let us buy ice cream from the ice cream truck!"  

When I was 12 my brother and I fed a stray cat, contrary to my mother's wishes.  The cat kept coming back, so we kept filling his bowl with milk.  A few weeks later we discovered it wasn't a he, but a she. Not just a she, but a she with 12 kittens that needed to be fed!  We could no longer hide our deviance from my mother, who ordered us to close down the cat soup kitchen.  But the darn cats wouldn't go away. They hung around and hung around.  Their patience ran out and then the meowing and whining started. For days we could hear them outside our door, begging for food. It was pitiful but my brother and I had learned our lesson.  Animal control came and set up a humane trap and in 24 hours the cats were gone.  

Well, that darn ice cream truck keeps hanging around and hanging around.  It drives past our house every day, multiple times.  And today it parked itself right next to our house and just sat there, with the music churning for 10 minutes.  It's almost like he's trying to smoke us out of the house; to buy his ice cream just to get him to leave.  But his persistence is making me even more certain that we will never feed that stray cat again.  Too bad there is no ice-cream truck control to remove this unwanted pest.  

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Karma that came back to bite me on the neck

Yesterday I was victim to the bad karma I sent out into the universe 19 years ago when in an irrational 11 year old rage I did something awful.  My older sister is just 13 months older than me so for many years we shared everything: clothes, bedrooms, bed, bathroom and curling irons.  One morning we were both in the bathroom getting ready for school and we started bickering.  I have the image cemented in my mind of the two of us, fighting with each other through the reflections in the mirror, not actually even turning to look at each other.  Something was said that put my pre-pubescent hormones over the edge and without even thinking about it I took the hot curling iron and pressed it against my sister's neck.  I felt terrible immediately but because she was in so much pain I never really got to express my apology.

Fast forward 19 years to yesterday morning. Again in a bathroom. No fighting this time, except with the clock because we are racing to get to church on time.  I'm curling my hair and in my rush I clumsily burn my own neck.  EEEEEOUCH!  Unless you've burned a sensitive part of your body before there is no way to comprehend the concentrated burning that I felt.  And it burned for several hours afterwards.  Today it still feels tender and it looks like a big hot dog shaped hickey.  

I'm paying my penance, suffering the consequence, purging the universe of the bad karma I released years ago. Have you had any of your past sins come back to haunt you?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

To Homeschool or not to Homeschool; this is my question

I've always associated homeschooling with these sorts of people:

But now that I'm supposed to be sending my firstborn to Kindergarten in August, I'm totally rethinking the issue. Why send her to the wolves so she can be 1 of 25 needy kids, waiting on someone else's time to learn? Why wouldn't I keep her where she is loved and her personal needs can be met? These are questions I'm sure every mother wonders, even if only briefly, before putting their first child in Kindergarten. These worries would most likely be assuaged if there was an excellent, safe school, with a remarkable teacher I could send her to. But round these parts, no such school exists. I have three options that I'm considering. Each has its strengths, but also serious disadvantages. For example, the one school is a nice, new school. The Kindergarten classroom and teacher are SO cute. But the school itself is overcrowded, failing and full of violent, delinquent 7th and 8th graders. Like this:

The other two schools have equal ratios of drawbacks and strengths. I've observed, gone to parent's meetings, researched and prayed my heart out and I just do not feel good about any of those choices.

Which brings me to homeschool. I've always flippantly pronounced that I would homeschool if the schools were unacceptable. And here were are: unacceptable schools. Can I really do it? Can I really organize my life and be disciplined enough to make it a valuable experience? I've been looking at curriculum just in case and there is so much out there, so many options, I don't know if I could even choose the right method.

I was talking to a friend who I really respect and found out that she will be homeschooling her daughter (also starting Kindergarten). I asked her about it and she basically recited back all the things I've been worried about. She knows some other moms that will be homeschooling and said they are planning field trips and play groups, so they won't be isolated.

I feel like I should homeschool, but I'm afraid and I don't want to accept it. So readers, once again I come to you for wisdom. What would you do? What advise or opinions can you offer me?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Weekend Update

Care For Life 5K - 7:30 am Saturday. It was a beautiful, sunny, cool morning. I ran my guts out, almost literally, and improved my previous race time by 1:50. I placed 2nd in my age group. Note: the friend that ran the race with me beat me by 10 seconds and placed 4th in her age group. I guess there are a few advantages to being 30.

There was a "kids dash" that #1 and #2 ran in. They were so excited to line up. #1 was a good little mother, holding #2's hand. My kids were exactly in last place and 2nd to last place. Nevertheless, they each got a ribbon and felt like winners. See this post to understand how important winning is to #1.

Typically at races like this every runner gets a little gift bag with promotional things in it like chapstick, sunscreen, coupons, energy bars etc. It's nice to feel like you get something for your $25 registration fee. Well, at this race instead of handing out gift bags they issued you a raffle ticket. At the end of the race they raffled off gift baskets, gift certificates and even two ipods. I never win anything, but the odds were good for this raffle and I did end up winning a gift certificate to Safeway.

After the race activities died down, we flew our kite for a while. There was the perfect amount of wind and a huge grassy field, so we were able to get it up pretty high and keep it there for a while. I say "we" but it's really Spouse. He is like the kite whisperer. If you haven't tried to fly a kite since you were 12, go try it and you'll find that it is tricky business.

We made a quick trip to Safeway, using my newly won gift card and bought ourselves a picnic lunch, which we brought back to the park. Except for #2 walking dangerously close to the lake's edge, we relaxed , fed the ducks and got sun-burned.

Perhaps what made this morning most enjoyable was knowing that it was most likely our last beautiful, bearable one until next October/November. Good Bye 80's, hello 100's!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

My little artists

The kids got model kits in their Easter baskets and were pretty excited to put them together. #1 made her bird house almost entirely unassisted. No nails required, just wood glue. #2 painted his little race car and I assembled it. It actually works! I know he loves it because it has earned a place in his bed at night along with his orange hard hat and his wooden sword, his most prized possessions. Here's the crazy part, I'm pretty sure the Easter Bunny found them at Michael's for $1. $1! And they came with sand paper, glue and paints.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Domestic Goddess

Yesterday I heard an uplifting, interesting and inspiring talk in General Conference about young mothers. My first thought was, "Do I qualify?" Is there an age limit before you aren't considered to be a young mother anymore? Ok, whatever, I've got young ones so I kept listening. The talk was sympathizing to our struggles and yet challenging us to overcome our weaknesses. It was great and so I woke up today with every intention of making good on that counsel. However, by 8:30 am I was sweating profusely as I wrestled #2 into his time-out corner for picking my flowers (my poor struggling Arizona flowers!). I had a big day ahead of me I had little or no hope of being the sparkling, shiny mother I had planned on being. So I pulled out the big guns: my new sassy, skirty apron I've been saving for a special occasion, like looking cute in when we had people over for dinner. But if I didn't get through today, we may never have friends over again, let alone a house that I hadn't burned down.

I put the apron on, but it just didn't look right over my pajamas (not really pjs, just the clothes I spent most of yesterday's afternoon in), smeared mascara eyes and greasy hair. I needed to shower. This is pretty huge for me, seeing how it was before 9:00 am. By 9:30 I was dressed, de-greased and made up. This time the apron made me feel like a princess. Ok, it made me feel like a 50's house wife, but I did feel domestically superior wearing it.

Doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, wiping bums suddenly seemed like worthy tasks while I had my apron on. So it stayed on all morning, all afternoon and into the evening. The apron awakened my inner Stepford Wife, so I made bread and chocolate cake wearing lipstick. I felt more patient than usual. Now if I were to follow this through all the way I should have been wearing high heels, the apron (of course), and not much else when Spouse came home tonight. But since it's Monday, the kids are still up so we'll have to save the apron's homecoming debut for another night.

Thank you to my mother in law, for providing me with just the thing I needed today, a pretty apron.