The Eternal Choice

I am a writer. I cannot deny or ignore my impulse to write. It may seem that I do just that since months go by without a post to this blog, but in actuality, I write every day. I comment on current events and structure sentences and arguments while I vacuum or drive. I have several blogs saved on my computer that may never get published because I do not consider them good enough to share yet, or in some cases, I do not think they will be well received. That may sound cowardly, but in seeing what people post on social media, I know that my opinions on current events will be met with derision and possibly anger. I happily entertain respectful debate, but not profanity-laced abuse. So, I have kept my blog light, largely humorous, and anecdotal…until today.

I know what you are about to read will anger some and be ignored by others, but I have to write it. I saw a documentary recently that profoundly concerned and affected me, and this message has been writing itself in my head ever since. Just now I read a news story about “agitators” burning Bibles and American flags in Portland, and I rushed straight to my computer.  However, I want you know that I am not writing this with sanctimonious intentions, judgmentally believing myself better than others. On the contrary, I am fully aware of my failings and my imperfections. I have a temper, which still gets the better of me at times. I sometimes use bad language. I have told lies. I can be selfish. I appeal to you simply as a human who eventually found strength and peace in something larger than herself, and who wants to share that with all of you.

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure, rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power…Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” 2 Timothy 3:1-4, 12, English Standard Version (ESV)

This scripture gives me hope and makes me terribly sad at the same time. It makes me hopeful because I see all these things happening in the world right now, which means that my Lord will return soon and set things to right, but it makes me awfully sad and afraid for all the people who do not and will not believe in Him, and, therefore, will not make it into His kingdom, into the glorious perfect world that He intended from the beginning. I want us all to make it, and so does He. 1 Timothy 2:4 says that God “desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.”

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’…But for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for the murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Revelation 21:1, 3-4, 8

Imagine having God himself living with us, to see Him, talk to Him, and praise Him in His very presence! Imagine an end to all sickness, death, sadness, pain, and evil!

In order to be included among those who get to live with God eternally in peace, harmony, unity and perfection, all we have to do is believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, who gave His life on the cross for your sins, my sins, and the sins of the whole world. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God…Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” John 3:16-18,36

I sit here, writing these words, with the enemy whispering that I have no right to tell other people what they should believe, but I know he’s a liar and would do anything to keep even one more person from turning their life over to God. So, I remind myself of the indescribable joy and gratitude for the grace and mercy of Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf and the redemption we attain through belief in Him. My sins may not seem so bad by human standards, but to God all sin is abhorrent, even the little white lies. In Matthew 5:21-22 Jesus said that even calling someone an abusive name is as bad as murder! Without Jesus I would be in trouble. I called someone an “idiot” for cutting me off in traffic the other day.

There is nothing anyone can do to earn their way into God’s presence. Only Jesus in His perfection can ever atone for our wrongs and bridge the divide between us and the Father. It is a free gift. All we have to do is believe and follow Him. Part of my obedience in following Him is to share with others who He is and what He did. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your doing; it is the gift of God….” Ephesians 2:4-5, 8

We all are sinners. We have all fallen short and broken God’s righteous standards. (Romans 3:10, 23) He loves us all, no question, but He hates sin. And He’s so holy, good, and pure that only a holy, good, pure and perfect sacrifice could atone for us, which is Jesus Christ, His Son. (Romans 3:23-25) Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” I make mistakes every day (like calling the person who cut me off in traffic an “idiot”) because I’m still a work-in-progress, and every day Jesus intercedes on my behalf with the Father and covers me with His blood so that when the Father looks on me, He sees the perfect light of His son, rather than my imperfections. (1 John 1:9, 2:1,2)

I could go on, but I’m afraid I’ll muddy the waters. So, I’ll leave with you with this. God created you. He loves you. He knows every hair on your head. (Luke 12:7) But if you reject him, He will reject you. It’s your choice. It’s called free will. He doesn’t force anyone to love Him, because He is love (1 John 4:8), and love is not forced; it is freely given. I keep hearing that Beatles song in my head, “All we need is love, sweet love,” except I would say, “All we need is God’s sweet love.” Don’t take my word for it, take His. Look into the Bible. All scripture is given by God (2 Timothy 3:16,17), and if you ask for His guidance, He’ll give it to you. Deuteronomy 30:15 says, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.” Seek Him. Choose life and good.


Maybe This Wasn’t the Year

Jay and I recently completed our 10th move for the Army. We both could’ve sworn we’d moved more than that, but we counted, twice. Over 22 years, that equates to a move every 2.2 years, which is probably about average for a military family. Each of our moves had some sort of mishap, and over the last few years as the Department of Defense has cut its budget for moving contracts, fewer companies are willing to take the profit loss, which means military families don’t exactly get the picks of the litter. From what we hear, the mishaps seem to be increasing. Add to that the pandemic and the problems moving companies have with staffing, and this move season has been fraught with horror stories. People have posted all sorts of stories about their movers on military Facebook pages, everything from not showing up at all, to only working a day and not coming back, and, of course, there are always the tales of those who demonstrate little to no care for the household goods they are handling. One friend posted a picture on social media recently of a Chick-Fil-A bag full trash and stale, left-over food. She’d purchased lunch for her movers, and they packed their trash in with her kitchen items. That was her answer to the question: How has your move gone? We prepared ourselves for the worst.

Our company was originally scheduled for June 29th. We received a call the week before informing us that they were coming on the 30th instead but still planned to load the truck on July 2. That would mean a two-day pack and one-day load when normally we’re a three-day pack and a two-day load. Our house and garage fill a tractor trailer. And we were already dangerously close to the Fourth of July holiday, which we knew they’d want to take off. This didn’t look promising. The morning of the 30th, we’d barely gotten up and started getting ourselves together when the doorbell rang. I was still packing my suitcase. It might have been 8 a.m. Our driver/crew supervisor, Chris, and the lead packer, Tobias, took a quick tour of the house, directed the other two packers, Christopher and Steve, to their posts, and everyone got to work by 8:30. Tobias took the kitchen, Chris started on the dining room, Steve headed to the basement, and Christopher began on the living room. The crew left at 5 p.m. that first day, but the basement, dining room, and living room were finished, and Tobias had put a big dent in the kitchen. They’d asked us questions throughout the day about how we wanted certain things packed, and we began to feel cautiously optimistic.

When the crew returned the next day on time and ready to work with two extra packers to start on the upstairs while Christopher and Steve starting loading the main floor and basement, we actually began to see a new, more efficient system in action. Why had none of our previous movers done it this way? One crew usually comes and packs the whole house, then a second crew comes to load it all a day or two later. It made so much more sense to have all the same team for the entire job and to start loading while packing continued. In the end we were loaded by late afternoon on July 2, and our household goods arrived at our new home right on time the next morning. They had us unloaded, our furniture set up and put together, and were done and gone by 3 p.m. with nothing broken and only a few minor scratches. This was the best move we’d ever had!

We’d been in the house three days and were making headway on unpacking when disaster struck. It’s almost as if the military moving gods said, “Oh, no, you’re not getting off that easy!” I was getting ready for bed when Jay came running upstairs distraught. He held his head in his hands and kept saying, “I messed up! I messed up bad!” Jay is as stoic and unflappable as they come, and he does tend to joke, so I was torn between concern over his distress and a suspicion that he was messing with me. It took me a minute to get him to tell me what on earth was wrong, but he finally cried, “The basement’s flooding!” I went running downstairs carrying a couple of towels, with Jay hot on my heels saying, “That’s not going to cut it! The basement is FLOODING!!” When we got downstairs, I fully realized that he wasn’t joking. There was a waterfall coming down through the bedroom ceiling, and the water was spreading out into the main room. I needed a lot more towels. It occurred to me that it might just be easier to move.

Jay, still stunned, ran to the garage and grabbed the shop vac, and I retrieved every towel we owned. We vacuumed and mopped well into the wee morning hours, but we did manage to dry up all the water. It turned out the drainage hose on the back of the clothes washer had disconnected itself somehow while I was washing a large load of curtains. The laundry room is on the main level, off the kitchen, and the water had drained into the floor behind the washer, under the baseboard, and down into the basement bedroom. Jay thought it was his fault because he’d hooked up the washer, but then I admitted that I had moved the washer back further toward the wall when I couldn’t open the laundry room door far enough, so it could just as easily have been my fault. Either way, it was an accident.

We called our insurance company the next morning. They were a little surprised to hear from us so soon, since we’d only been clients for about three weeks, but they were good sports about it and sent out a water mitigation service who cut out the soggy ceiling, pulled up the damaged flooring, and set up blowers and de-humidifiers. The repairs start next week. I believe I failed to mention that we bought this house. It’s a lovely, 15-year-old custom built house that had been cared for really well. We managed to fix that in less than four days. On the bright side, we get to renovate the basement a little sooner than we planned. I think we’ll wait till next year to get new countertops, though. I’ve had enough home improvement for the time being. Besides, it’s 2020, and…let’s just leave it at that. No need to tempt fate.

Servant Leadership

Leadership is a privilege. I think our society by and large has forgotten that. Too many of the leaders I’ve encountered in my adult life treat leadership as a right, or even an entitlement, but to be entrusted with the health and welfare of others should actually be viewed and approached as a privilege and an act of service. Whether we’re parenting, governing, soldiering, doctoring, or running a business, we should view our position with humility and respect for those we lead. We should always consider our actions in light of their benefit, rather than ours. Leadership means to serve others, not to force others to serve us. If we only consider what we, as an individual, want, or what we personally stand to gain, our organization is doomed to fail, or at least, flounder.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is quoted as saying, “We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice, not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.” This is the heart of the matter. How can anyone hope to be an effective leader if their main concern and motivation is their own agenda and self-aggrandizement? They can’t, unless their personal objective is despotism and dictatorship, then self-centric leadership is effective, to the detriment of those being led.

Several recent events prompted these thoughts. Foremost are the impending presidential election, the COVID-19 upheaval, the presidential impeachment proceedings a couple of months ago, and the sickening behavior of many of our elected officials. Too many congressmen and senators have made a career out of their positions and forgotten just what they were elected to do. The word “representative” seems to be used euphemistically rather than literally. Most of the longest-sitting have lost all touch with their constituents and all sight of the purpose of their office. They exist solely to debauch the Constitution, make money at the expense of their people, and besmirch the integrity of the offices they hold.

In considering my colleagues in the Fourth Estate, by giving up any concept of ethical responsibility and unbiased reporting, they, in consequence, lost the greatest privilege they ever had – leadership. The reporters and journalists of this nation were once relied upon to keep the government in check by truthfully and accurately reporting both sides of every event and political dispute and shedding light on the deeds done in the dark. Do “Watergate” or the names, “Woodward and Bernstein,” ring any bells? Walter Cronkite, known as “the most trusted man in America,” enjoyed a level of power few men outside of government ever know, and he wielded it with humility and morality. I wrote a paper on him for my journalism ethics class in college. (Yes, that was an actual class, and no, it was not an elective.) Trust me, Cronkite’s doing cheetah flips in his grave right now, and my professor’s head has probably exploded. Once upon a time, it didn’t matter which newscast you watched. They all told the same stories. Most people chose based on the anchor they preferred. I remember seeing a lot of Dan Rather as a kid. (“What’s the frequency, Kenneth?”) Today, there’s a network for every viewpoint, political preference, and ideology.

In 1789, Thomas Jefferson asserted, “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”

And therein lies the rub. We, the people, are supposed to be the leaders of this country. Our government was established of the people, for the people and by the people. Our elected representatives serve at our will, and yet we set them no boundaries. We’ve grown complacent, content to give the horse its head and allow it to wander where it will. We’re becoming an oligarchy rather than a democratic republic. In consequence, we’re losing our civil liberties, handing control of our economy over to foreign countries, and allowing ourselves to be divided by political ideologies and infected by socialism. For the first time in my life, I’m disappointed in my country.

It’s the End of the World…Again

You all think this is about the pandemic, right? Well, maybe it sort of is, but not directly. I’ll get to that later. It’s about the end of an era, the old adage, “Out with the old and in with the new.” How many times in the last 100 years have we been told, and had to accept, that life would never be the same? I’m well aware that the one constant in life is change, but wars, pandemics, terrorist attacks, space travel, and technological advances have made the changes come so rapidly, it seems we’ve barely had time to adjust to one new reality before another follows close on its heels.

Two weeks ago, our post newspaper arrived in the mail, as it had every Friday, and under the banner was a valediction. As I read it, my eyes welled up with tears. Maybe it’s the stress from the COVID crisis, maybe it’s cabin fever, or maybe I’m just sentimental, but seeing that farewell broke my heart. The newspaper started in 1899. It had different names and different owners over the decades, but it faithfully covered the news on this post. It covered another famous pandemic, two world wars, and myriads of deployments, and its last message was touching and poignant.

In reading that missive, I realized that I, like the newspaper, am an anachronism. Like all the Generation X’ers, or the “in-between” generation as I call us, I grew up learning the old ways of living and doing things from my parents and grandparents, the simpler, slower ways. The first telephone I used was a rotary, attached the wall in our kitchen, and now, I hold one in my hand that has more computing power than the ones used to put the first man in space. We had four channels on the TV, and we sometimes had to go out and turn the antennae to tune in the reception. We had 8-track players in our vehicles, and a record player in the living room. My grandmothers quilted, put out gardens, and canned vegetables. (I wish I’d paid more attention to how they did that.) I learned typing on a typewriter. I remember life before call-waiting, VHS recorders, or cable TV.

Jay and I have maintained an excellent collection of DVD’s, CD’s, and even VHS tapes and cassettes. You can trace the technological advances of our society over the last 20 years just by surveying the entertainment options in our living room. We own two VHS players, a DVD player, and two Xboxes. In addition we have a record player, a pretty decent vinyl selection, plus a stereo with DVD and cassette players, but we also have an Apple Music subscription. We subscribe to Netflix and Amazon Prime, but if Amazon wants to charge me to watch a movie or Netflix doesn’t have it, there’s a good chance I already own it. Case in point, I wanted to introduce my daughter to Steel Magnolias a couple of  weeks ago. Netflix didn’t have it, and Amazon wanted money. So, we watched it on tape. Ha!

I have a Facebook account, but I don’t need to check my feed umpteen times a day or post every little thing that happens in my life. In fact, I purposely don’t post a lot of things because I don’t feel the need to have my life choices constantly, externally validated. If we suddenly entered a time warp and reverted to the 1980s (Please, Lord!) I’d be just fine. I can even drive a stick shift.

I attended the University of North Carolina and graduated at the turn-of-the-century from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication with a degree in the news-editorial track. The department is now called the “Hussman School of Journalism and Media.” Back in my day, (I’ve always wanted to say that!) we learned to write and edit news articles the same way students 50 years before us had, except we did get to type them up on computers and print them out on ink jet printers. We received our graded papers back with editorial marks written in red, wax pencil.

My first job right out of school was with a small, local weekly, and we did our layouts by hand on big sheets of grid paper tacked to a huge drafting easel in the middle of the newsroom. I was the advertising manager, the only job available at the paper at the time, and my ads went in first, then the news stories were trimmed to fit in the space that was left. I enjoyed being there in the newsroom, bantering with the reporters and discussing current events. Once the editor approved the layout, the huge sheets were picked up by the printer, then returned with the printed papers. We took everything off and reused the grid sheets week-to-week as long as we could to save money. Layouts aren’t done that way anymore. At the last paper I worked for, as a reporter, we submitted our articles to the editor via email. She made her changes, sent them back to make sure we were good with the revisions, then she emailed them on to the graphic designer who did the layout with some fancy computer program. From there, they were emailed to the printer. There was no banter, no camaraderie, no big sheets of grid paper and paste.

Maybe the current health crisis has me waxing nostalgic for the good ole days. I’ve been thinking about the way a lot of things used to be, like when you could actually accompany someone to the gate at the airport, without having a boarding pass or going through a dozen levels of security, and although I know things will get back to normal, I’m afraid it, once again, won’t be the same.


The “D” Word

I’ve worked on this blog for two weeks. I started it at the request of a friend whose daughter-in-law is going through her first deployment. My friend thought it would help her to read words of wisdom from an experienced military spouse. I’ve written multiple versions, deleted, re-written, started over. I have two others saved on my computer that may, someday, find their way to my readers, but for now, this is all I can say…

If you walk up to any random military spouse and say, “Let’s talk about the ‘D’ word,” I bet you $10 they will immediately know you mean “deployment.” Jay and I have been married for 21 years and survived six deployments. Deployments are dreadful. You dread the first one because you don’t know what to expect. You dread the rest because you know exactly what to expect.

Often, when I say that Jay is deploying soon and I see that look of sympathy cross someone’s face, I quickly and cavalierly say with a shrug, “Oh, you get used to it,” because I really don’t want to talk about the gut-wrenching emotion that I’m feeling. I’m a bottler. I bottle up my stress, anxiety, and, yes, fear, until I have dropped Jay off, hugged him, and said, “See you later.” I calmly get back in my car, drive home, hug our girls, excuse myself, go into my bedroom, close and lock the door, and then, and only then, do I cry my heart out. I give myself that one good cry, then I dry it up, head back out to our girls, and we get on with it. The first time Jay deployed I cried every day for a week.

So, while it’s true that you never truly “get used to it,” you do get better at it. You get to the point where you can establish a rhythm and routine faster. You just accept it quicker. In fact, after your first couple, you start making jokes about how easy the next one will be. “Nine months? That’s it?? I can do that standing on my head!” And, really, you can. After a couple of 12-monthers, nine seems like nothing. It still stinks, and you don’t want to do it, but you know how to do it.

The first week is always the hardest because you have to adjust to flying solo, and because something will inevitably go wrong. I call it “Military Murphy’s Law.” You see, the moment your soldier leaves, there is an accident waiting to happen. It might be something simple like the battery in your car dying or your washing machine kicking the bucket, or it could be big, like a surgery or your ceiling falling in because of a leak from the upstairs bathroom. (Yeah, I’ve dealt with both of those.) But large or small, something… will… happen.

I look back on my deployment mishaps and misadventures and recount them for younger wives like a crusty ole first sergeant telling a war story.

“I remember our third deployment, back in ’07. Jay’s battalion was the first unit in as part of the Surge, and I came down with these awful chronic sinus infections and had to have surgery…” Or

“In 2009, Jay was in Afghanistan, and I went out to the garage one Saturday and felt water dripping on my head. I looked up, and there was a huge bulge in the ceiling. I ran inside and called the plumber right as it gave way…”

Yeah, that happened…Jay and I had finished the upstairs of our house and had a bathroom installed. The plumber didn’t seat and seal the tub properly; so, when my sister came to visit and showered up there every day for a week, the water just ran right under the tub and out over the garage ceiling. That was fun. I use that story with young spouses to emphasize the importance of knowing their financial details and having access to important papers and accounts.

Another story I love to tell to encourage spouses to make friends and form a support system is from our fifth deployment. Both the girls came down with a heinous stomach bug. Grace was only two and had it first for just a couple of days. Then Breanna got it. It hit her harder. She was down for a week. I thought I’d gotten lucky and been spared, but a few days after Breanna got well, I attended her school open house. In the middle of the principal’s plea for PTO volunteers I started having terrible stomach cramps. By 2AM, I was curled up in the bathroom floor. I had a neighbor, a fellow milspouse, who dropped off dinner for my kids every night while I was sick. By the fourth day, I was no better and truly felt like death. I called my neighbor and said, “I really think I might die today. I need you to take the kids and send a Red Cross message to Jay.” She kind of chuckled at me and said, “You’re not going to die. You just want to.” I more firmly asserted my belief in my impending demise. This time she got annoyed, “You are not going to die! I’ll be there in half an hour.”

True to her word, she showed up 30 minutes later, wearing a mask and gloves and carrying grocery bags containing Pepto, Immodium, chicken broth, and Gatorade. She instructed me in no uncertain terms to take the medicine and drink the liquids. She said, “I don’t care if it comes back on you, drink it, then drink more! I’m taking the baby for the day, and I’m getting Breanna from school. You rest. I’ll bring them back after dinner.” With that, she picked up Grace and left. I followed her instructions, and she checked on me throughout the day. By that evening I was on the road to recovery, and I had a new forever friend. Five years later, she and I still keep in touch, and our kids write letters.

I could tell all kinds of stories, some truly awful, some funny, and a few heroic tales of friendship, but the bottom line is this: if you married someone in the military, deployments will happen, and, to use one of my favorite Army phrases, you just have to suck it up and drive on. With every caved-in ceiling, flat tire on the side of the road, and time that you’re so sick you can’t even sit up but still manage to take care of your kids, you get stronger, more resilient, and a little better at figuring out how to survive the “D” word. You might even make a few amazing friends along the way.  And you do it for the love a soldier, sailor, airman, pilot, or marine who couldn’t do his or her job without you.






Jay and Goliath

Jay and I have a comical history with Christmas trees. Our first tree was about four feet tall and artificial. My boss loaned it to us along with some ornaments. I worked for a gift shop at the time, and the tree and decorations had been part of the previous year’s window display. The decorations were, shall we say, not to our taste, but, hey, it was all free. We were in college and not exactly rolling in the dough. It did make our tiny apartment a bit more festive for our first Christmas as a married couple. That January we started saving for a tree and ornaments of our own for the next Christmas though. Jay vowed to never have an artificial tree or “snooty falooty ornaments” again. And, so, over the years we’ve accumulated quite a hodgepodge collection of ornaments, each with a story or memory tied to it from places we’ve lived or visited, units we’ve served in, and things the kids have made.

Christmas of 2017, the Army saw fit to move us from sunny Georgia to the arctic environs of Kansas. That’s a story for another day, but, as a salve to our wounds, they did give us a beautiful, 5,000 square foot, historic home. It truly is a lovely old house with gorgeous hardwood floors, stately rooms, and high ceilings. So, this Christmas, we decided to get a tree that would do it justice.

A friend told me about a tree farm not too far out of town where you can cut your own tree. We headed out there on a Saturday night with wet, slushy snow falling, and by the time we arrived the already damp ground was downright soggy. The farm is owned and operated by three generations of the same family, and the grandsons very politely suggested that we start our search in the barn where they had a few trees already cut. Anxious to avoid the muddy fields and hoping to find the perfect tree ready and waiting, we went in and inspected the inventory. The trees were nice and full and very fresh and the building smelled heavenly. We had an eight- or nine-foot tree in mind, but we’d come late to the party. They’d had a rush Thanksgiving weekend, and all the eight or nine-foot trees were gone.

We wandered through the aisles inspecting mostly six-foot trees and declaring them all too short. They’d be dwarfed by our soaring ceilings, which we declared “must be 15 feet high, at least!” At the very back of the barn, leaning against the wall we finally found three really tall trees. Two that were 11 feet tall, and one that was 12. Jay’s face lit up with childish delight, and I immediately laughed and tamped down his enthusiasm.

“They’re too tall, honey,” I said, shaking my head. “We don’t have enough decorations for a tree that big. It’ll look silly.”

Jay sighed and acquiesced and out into the muddy field we went. We roamed up and down the rows, slogging through mud and blinking past cotton ball sized snowflakes, but alas, no eight- or nine-foot trees. We headed back to the barn and huddled around a heater while we debated our next move. I’d seen a couple of tree lots in town, and I suggested trying one of those. As we discussed our options, Jay’s eyes strayed back to the Goliaths at the back. I followed his gaze and said, “You really want one of those trees, don’t you?” Jay’s eyes brightened again, and he vigorously nodded with a sheepish grin. I studied the trees.

“Well, we aren’t likely to ever have a house this big again, and one of those would be pretty impressive…”

Jay got a big grin…. “Okay, why not!?” I agreed, catching Jay’s enthusiasm.

We chose one of the 11-foot trees, and the son of the owner came to load it for us. He asked what kind of vehicle we drove. I told him it was a 4Runner. He gaped at me a minute, then recovered himself and said, “Well, um…alright, ma’am, uh…let’s take a look and see if we can get this tree on the roof.” I turned to Jay and said, “I’ll go pay while you and he go try to load this thing.” An image of the Griswold family flitted through my mind.

The girls and I left the tree barn while Jay and his new friend went to inspect the truck. We entered a small trailer and found a charming older man behind the counter and his wife next to him, making wreaths. I handed him the tag from the tree.

“Oh, so, you’re taking one of the bigguns,” he said.

“So, it would seem,” I answered. “If we can get it on top of the truck that is.”

“Whatcha driving?” he asked.

My lips twitched as I tried to contain my mirth, “A 4Runner,” I answered.

His eyes widened, “Uh, you know, we’ll hold it for you if you want to come back with a big truck.”

I grinned. “My husband drives a Tacoma,” I replied.

He looked crestfallen. “Oh, well, that’d probably be worse.” He thought for a minute. “Where do you live? I might could deliver it for you.”

I told him, and he knew the place exactly. Turns out he’d worked on post for years and retired from government service. Just then Jay came in and triumphantly announced that they had successfully tied the tree to the top of the truck. I paid for the tree and a wreath, but as I turned to leave a thought struck me. I very much feared our tree stand would not be up to the challenge of holding up Goliath. I turned back and asked if they had any tree stands made for large trees. Turns out, they did, and after a few minutes of debate and inspection of the device, we made the purchase.

As we finally headed out the door, the old gentleman said, “If it fits, and you decide you want another one that big next year, just give me a call Thanksgiving weekend. I’ll bring it to you on the trailer.”

As we stopped at the gate to post and showed the guard our ID’s, he looked up at our tree and said, “That’s a nice, big tree you have there, sir,” without even the hint of a smirk, but I saw him laughing in the rearview as we drove away.

Once home, the first task was, of course, removing the tree from the top of the vehicle. We decided the best course of action was to cut the twine and roll it off the side. Then, we’d carry it to the house and prop it up on our screened-in porch so it could dry off before we carried it inside. It was pretty wet from the snow. The roll off successful with no damage to tree or vehicle, I bent to pick up my end, after Jay assured me it wasn’t heavy. I tugged, managed to lift it about six inches, and dropped it. I suggested Jay either call a buddy or just drag it to the porch, but not willing to lose anymore needles than necessary and determined that we could get it, Jay persuaded me to try again. It ended up taking Jay, our 13-year-old, and me to maneuver the behemoth onto the porch. When we finally stood it up, it hit the ceiling. This gave me a moment’s pause, but I reassured myself that it was only because the porch ceiling slopes. Happy with our purchase and looking forward to the next day’s decorating, we trotted off to supper.

The next afternoon, we began “operation: decorate for Christmas.” First on the agenda was moving Goliath to its position in the dining room. I had posted pictures on Facebook of the tree on top of my truck and sitting on the porch, and my friends were all atwitter to find out if the tree would actually fit in the house and anxiously anticipated pictures. I suspect they may also have been taking bets on whether it would fit.

On the way home from church that day, I’d had a moment of uncertainty that turned into full blown panic that the tree would be too big and look ridiculous. “What if it’s a Clark Griswold tree?” I fretted. So, to assuage my worry, Jay measured the ceiling height to prove to me that the tree would, in fact, fit. The ceiling measured 10 feet. Jay measured again. 10 feet. Jay dejectedly went outside to cut Goliath down to size, thereby lowering it to the aforementioned desired height of nine feet.

The tree cutting complete, it was time to bring it inside. We began by moving all the furniture along our path so we’d have more room to maneuver. Then, Jay, Breanna, and I once again took up our positions around Goliath and lugged it into the house, through the “reception hall” and into the dining room, where we positioned it a corner in front of two windows. Jay had insisted on “at least trying” our old tree stand and had left the new one in the back of my truck. After a bit of back, forward, left, right, we managed to get the tree seated and tighten the bolts. It appeared that our old stand would, indeed, hold the now shorter Goliath, and I planned to return the new stand the next day. We were pretty tired by then, so we decided to hold off on the decorating till the following evening.

The next morning, as I passed through the dining room on the way to the kitchen, I paused in mid-stride and looked at the tree. I cocked my head. I took two steps back and assessed it from a different angle. It was leaning, but it did not appear on the verge of actually falling, so I proceeded into the kitchen and poured two cups of coffee. I took one upstairs to Jay, set it on his nightstand, and said nonchalantly on my way to the bathroom, “The tree is leaning.” Mentally, I decided to hold on to the big tree stand.

Over the course of the week, we began a nightly game of “adjust the tree.” Jay would come home from work, and at some point, I would conversationally let it be known that Goliath was, once again, leaning. By Thursday, Jay had had enough.

“Fine!” he said in exasperation. “We’ll use the new stand!”

I refrained from saying, “I told you so,” and went out to retrieve the contraption from the back of my truck. It became a whole big thing, to use one of my sister’s favorite expressions, to move the tree from one stand to the other, and then to properly tighten the chains meant to hold it secure and upright. By the time it was all said and done, we were sweating and not at all in the mood to start dealing with tangled Christmas lights.

We finally decorated the tree on Friday night, and I dutifully posted pictures on Facebook to end everyone’s suspense. It turned out beautifully, and we got lots of compliments. It was just the right size.

Praying for a Village

I wrote this blog over a year ago and saved it, intending to post it once we were settled. Obviously, I forgot about it once the boxes arrived and the frantic need to unpack and decorate set in, but regardless, it holds true, no matter which move we’re on or where we’re headed:

Jay and I are in the middle of our tenth…no, ninth?…eleventh?…oh, who knows? At any rate, we are in the middle of yet another military move, right at Christmas, perfect timing. Jay is in Kansas, signing into our new quarters, while I’m still in Georgia, signing us out of our old ones. I walked through the house yesterday, saying good-bye, and I realized that this house, unlike all the others, had become home.

It’s not just the house that makes a home. It’s the people, certainly the people who live in the house, but it’s also the neighbors. We had wonderful neighbors here, families who looked out for each other and spent time together. We’ve had the most fun on random Friday nights, when someone would pull out a couple of camp chairs and sit out in their yard. One by one the neighbors would saunter over to chat. Then more chairs would appear. Before long, someone was pulling out corn hole boards or a fire pit, someone else would order pizza, and we’d end up sitting outside way past dark, letting the kids play, just talking and laughing.

We said it was like living in the 1950s. Our kids played outside every day. They would come home from school, have a snack, do homework, and out they’d go. On Saturdays, they’d be out for hours. Every family had kids, and they all came out to play. They had races and battles. They rode bikes, scooters, and pogo sticks. They built forts and jumped on trampolines. We knew everyone on the street, and the number one rule was: don’t go past the stop sign. Otherwise they were free to roam. We knew where they were from the happy sounds of playing coming from the backyards. When the street lights came on, moms would come out the front doors and start calling in their progeny, tired and filthy, ready for dinner, baths, and bed. They’ve lived an idyllic childhood on this street, and we made some of the closest friendships of our adult lives.

I had other moms I could call on when I was running late or had an appointment, who were always willing to pick up my kids when they picked up their own and look after them till I got back. I could send our oldest next door to ask for an onion or a tomato when I found myself short of an ingredient. Once, when our neighbor’s wife went out of town for a funeral, he was left home with their toddler, and she got sick. All the moms rallied around and told him what to do, giving him popsicles to feed her when she wouldn’t eat or drink and her fever got too high. That’s how life should be. That’s the real meaning of “neighbors.”

As we move on to our next assignment, I find myself praying, not for a bigger kitchen or more closet space, which would, of course, be nice, but what I really hope for is a family of neighbors. I’m praying for my kids. That they can still have the idyllic childhood, where they can get out and run and play with friends, learning how to converse and solve problems and work as a team. I’m praying for people who’ll help me when I need it and who I can help. I’m praying for a village.



Deluded World Class Traveler

Jay and I recently moved from Georgia to Kansas. Since traveling is part of our lifestyle, you’d think we’d be really good travelers. Jay absolutely is. He packs appropriately. He’s patient and laissez faire about delays or less than stellar accommodations. Me, I’m a terrible traveler. I over pack. I over analyze, and I freak when the accommodations are less than pristine. The girls and I also tend to need and expect a certain amount of infrastructure over the course of a road trip. You know, bathrooms…the occasional restaurant. Jay can drive for hours on just a pack of crackers.

Our most recent family vacation was in South Dakota. It’s about an 11 hour drive to get there from our current home. We decided to do it all in one day, and Jay wanted to get on the road early. Over the years, Jay has learned that leaving “early” means something different to me than to him. If he had his way, it would still be dark when we hit the road. Think the Great Santini. I tend to want to get up, shower, have coffee, pack my last few toiletries, and get on the road about nine. This used to be a source of great consternation for Jay and resulted in a few arguments, which inevitably delayed us further. I can’t pack while I’m yelling at someone. I must focus all my energy on making my point. Bless him, Jay has finally yielded to my travel pace rather than continuing to try to force me to yield to his. Really, I think the girls sealed the deal. Once he had three females to try to hurry along, he just gave in. I mean, let’s face it…he was herding cats.

So, off to South Dakota we headed, bright and early, at 9AM. Now, the majority of the drive was through Nebraska. It’s a lovely state, very rural, and with a landscape not much different from Kansas. I hear they have a nice zoo in Omaha. The thing is…they don’t seem to believe in rest areas or restaurants. We literally drove for hours without seeing anywhere to stop. We passed through several towns which consisted of a smattering of houses and a post office. I don’t know where those people buy groceries!

We finally ran across an interstate oasis that had a couple of gas stations, an Arby’s, a Wendy’s, and a place called “Runz,” which I didn’t think would be a good idea. So, we chose Arby’s. Now, I guess Jay and I are food snobs of the highest order because our kids had never had Arby’s before. The only fast food they’ve ever had is Chick Fil A and Subway. I asked the girls how their first Arby’s experience worked for them, and Grace, our youngest, responded with, “Good. I’m not hungry anymore.” She’s our pragmatist. For the record, “Runz” was actually “Runza.” Apparently, the “a” was missing from the first sign we saw, and it’s a Nebraska thing. Even with the “a” I couldn’t get past the name. I laughed till I cried at the implications.

Our next opportunity to eat finally came about two hours after dinner time. We’d spent a couple of hundred miles driving through a reservation and playing cows and windmills, Jay’s version of “I spy.” The game is simple. The first one to spot a herd of cows or a windmill gets a point. We didn’t actually keep score, but I’m pretty sure Jay won. Out of nowhere, like a mirage on the prairie, we spotted an exit with two gas stations and a restaurant called The Covered Wagon Grill. Thankfully, I had cell service and could check Trip Advisor to make sure they weren’t in the habit of giving their diners food poisoning. The place had a respectable number of stars and decent reviews, so we ate there. It might have behooved us to wait till Rapid City, but hindsight, ya know? The food was fine. Stomachs were filled, but it certainly wasn’t worth the $58 we paid. Of course, it was another two hours to Rapid City.

Ah, Rapid City, a mecca of civilization in the middle of nowhere. We had to stop there for groceries because upon checking for a grocery store near our rental in Lead, we discovered that the store closed up shop at eight. We were an hour past closing and still just under another hour to the house. We found a Walmart Supercenter and got the basics for breakfast. The stop was uneventful, except for the people of Walmart. Enough said.

We left the bright lights of Rapid City and headed into the Black Hills. The next town of note was Deadwood. I had such high hopes for Deadwood. It was on my list of must sees, but after passing through that night and seeing casino after casino, I crossed it off. It’s definitely a gambler’s paradise. I wonder if Wild Bill would approve?

We finally found our vacation rental in Lead. The first thing our headlights lit upon was a broken window. This did not bode well. Jay got out and went in first to check it out. He came back and proclaimed it safe to enter. We found a fairly comfortable abode, but it did not meet my fastidious standards for clean. I had to clean the bathroom before our daughters could bathe. The sheets and towels were clean, and I chose to ignore the mouse traps under the kitchen sink and in the laundry room. We got our cleaning fee refunded.

We had five days in South Dakota, and our first stop was Mount Rushmore. It is truly amazing. The fact that Gutzon Borglum managed to carve something like that in the side of mountain without the benefit of today’s technology and in only 14 years is truly remarkable. The museum has his working models and depicts the adjustments he made so his sculpture could fit the mountain. The man was a genius, plain and simple.

We did some hiking, toured a cave, and then, Jay discovered Black Elk Peak in one of the guide books. Lord, help us all. I generally have a strict protocol of carefully reviewing any attraction before I recommend it to Jay to ensure that every member of the family has good chance of survival and that it doesn’t require that we all have Ranger tabs to participate. Sometimes I think Jay thinks those things are hereditary. I must of been lulled into complacency by the miles and miles of unbroken prairie because when I read to Jay about Black Elk Peak and the watch tower on top that you can hike to, I failed to notice that the hike is seven miles roundtrip and takes an average of five hours to complete. I also failed to note the “steep and rugged” terrain which comprises the last hour of the hike.

We got a late start that day, and I really doubted we’d make it back before dinner. At one point very early in the trek, Jay paused as we came around a bend and pointed out the lookout tower across a gorge and at the top of the next peak. I looked along the ridgeline and around to where we stood and seriously considered turning around because it looked way further than three and a half miles. All along the way, Jay kept pointing out rock overhangs or big trees and saying, “That would be a good place to shelter.” I just ignored him and kept plodding along.

The next stop that gave me serious misgivings was right about the time the terrain got really challenging. There was a box fixed to a post in the center of the trail with a sign instructing hikers to fill out a white card and drop it in the box. This was so the rangers would know how many hikers they had in there in case someone didn’t come back.

As we got closer to the lookout, and the trail got steeper and rockier, we met a family coming back the other way. I couldn’t help myself and asked, “How much further?” They said, “maybe a half hour.” Then, the man added as he got out of reach of my walking stick, “And, you know, it only gets steeper from here.” I just missed him.

But he wasn’t kidding. It did get steeper and rockier, and just when I thought we’d never get there, we rounded a bend and saw it, right overhead. Unfortunately, there were what looked like about 300 stairs to the top. Actually, it was more like 30, but to my quads, at 7,200 feet, it might as well have been 300. The kids ran it, and I shook my fist at their backs as they disappeared from view. The panorama at the top made the pain worth it, and as Jay said, the pain made the trip all the more memorable.

The downhill trip was easier, and shorter, as it so often is. We did get rained on and hailed on, but we took shelter under a friendly pine that Jay had noted on the way in. Now, I understood what he meant by “a good place to shelter,” and I appreciated his infantryman’s instincts. The storm soon passed. I left my walking stick by the informational sign at the trailhead for some other gullible tourist to use. We stood in silence around the tailgate of the truck, gratefully drinking from the gallon jug we’d left in the cooler. We ran out of water on the way up. We’d made it in three hours and 45 minutes with the 30 minutes we spent at the lookout.

I insisted on hobbling into the park general store for a Black Elk Peak destination sticker for our Yakima. I wanted proof for that one.

We spent our last day shopping in Hill City. Jay figured I’d earned a reward. We decided to take two days to drive home and went out through the Badlands, which are another amazing sight to see. Nebraska from a different angle is pretty much the same. The gas station beside the hotel we stayed at in Lexington had a sign that said, “You are NOWHERE.” I’m pretty sure they meant,”You are NOW HERE,” but I told Jay, “See, they even admit it!” I think they can keep that zoo in Omaha.


American Muscle

I have a thing for fast cars, especially muscle cars. If Jay and I ever got rich, forget buying a mansion, we’d build a 30-car garage. My first boyfriend in high school drove a spiffy little 4-wheel-drive Nissan pickup. It was new, and somewhat sporty, but I soon dumped him for the guy who sat next to me in math. He drove a 1977 Corvette Stingray, which was arguably not Chevrolet’s best Corvette, but if you’re going to give a 17-year-old boy a Corvette, that’s the way to go. It’s relatively inexpensive, there are parts in abundance, and with a stock 350 and an automatic transmission, it was fast, but not crazy fast. I loved that car. The problem was that I wasn’t the only girl who loved that car, and I wasn’t the only girl that boy loved. My family soon moved away anyway, but I sure did miss that car.

After the move, I was walking through Walmart one day in my new hometown and met a really cute guy in the gardening section.  We chatted for a bit, and I soon learned he drove a 1965 Mustang. I sealed the deal by leaning in attentively and asking with the utmost interest, “So, do you have the 289?” To which he stammered in reply, “Do you want to go out Friday night?” Why, yes, I did!

See, I grew up the only child of a man who loves Chevrolets and taught me all about the American muscle car wars of the ‘60s and ‘70s. I learned about Chevelles, Novas, GTOs, Camaroes, and Mustangs: engine sizes, transmission types, the advantages of manuals versus automatics, and the difference between a carburetor versus fuel injection. I could throw around names like Holly, Edelbrock and Shelby and sound like I knew what I was talking about. I had posters of Steve McQueen and James Dean on my wall in high school when all my friends were swooning over New Kids on the Block.

Jay recently acquired a 1964 Chevy 10 pickup. It’s red and gorgeous and rumbles when it runs, and every time I drive it, I feel 16 again. It’s a short bed step side with wood paneling in the bed. It has a 383 Stroker, and people turn and stare when it goes by. It reminds me of those summer nights, cruising with my boyfriends in their hot cars, taking off a little too fast at the lights, just out driving to see and be seen. I love the simplicity of those old cars. I spent a lot of Saturday afternoons sitting in a driveway, watching a boyfriend work on his car. Now, I sit in a camp chair by Jay while he works on Big Red, as we affectionately call the truck, and hand him socket wrenches and screwdrivers while he fine tunes Big Red’s mechanics. It’s amazing to me that he can adjust the carburetor with a screw driver, just listening to the sound of the engine, while my modern truck has to be taken to the service department of the dealership to be fine-tuned by a computer.

My personal dream car is a ’69 Chevelle Super Sport with a 396 and four on the floor. I would paint it black with candied apple red racing stripes, and it would have black leather bucket seats. I found it once. It was sitting on the parking lot of a storage facility on the side of a state highway in North Carolina with a “for sale” sign on the windshield. I stopped and drooled for a while, walking around and around it, staring in the windows, trying to figure out any possible way we could buy it. They wanted $13,000 for it, which was so far outside my price range at the time, it might as well have been $13,000,000. Jay and I were still in college, and money wasn’t just tight, it was practically non-existent. Dejected at the impossibility of buying the car, I cried when I walked away. I looked Chevelles up on Autotrader the other day. Most of the restored ones go for $30,000 or more for the ones with matching numbers, which the one in North Carolina had. I wanted to cry all over again because between orthodontia and private school tuition, there is no way we can shell out $30,000 for a hobby car. I’m beginning to understand why most sports cars are driven by old men.

I don’t know exactly what it is about the old muscle cars that’s so appealing, but there isn’t a single guy who has ever owned one who hasn’t bemoaned the day he got rid of it. My dad drove a 1969 Camaro SS in high school, silver with black leather bucket seats. He traded it for a 1972, which was traded for 1978 Ford Thunderbird after I came along. When I was almost 16, we started looking for me a Chevelle or a Mustang that was in relatively good condition, and he said to me one day, as we were leaving the garage of yet another disappointing rust bucket, “I wish I’d known that I’d have you one day, and that you’d be into old cars. I would’ve kept that old Camaro for you.” Newman!!

I’ve given Jay and our girls fair warning, if they both get scholarships to college, that college fund is becoming mom’s sports car fund. I hear Chevy released a new Chevelle SS concept car recently. It should be out in a few years, and it looks pretty sweet!

Man of the House

I love Jay. He’s a handy guy to have around. Given the right tools and the time, he can fix or build just about anything. When we finished the upstairs of the one and only house we ever owned, he did most of the work. He finished the drywall, installed the bathroom fixtures, and even put in a beautiful flight of red oak stairs. I’m convinced that the finished upstairs is what sold that house for us.

Jay is also quite the auto mechanic. Until just recently and unless it was something really big, he always performed our vehicle maintenance. He changed the oil, the belts, the fluids, rotated the tires – you get the picture. Just last weekend, Jay replaced the carburetor in his 1964 Chevy pick up. It’s a beauty – a candy apple red step-side with a wood paneled bed. I love driving that truck and watching mouths drop open as we roll by.

Jay chose a Holly to replace the old Edelbrock carburetor. The Edelbrock caused Big Red, as we affectionately call the truck, to stall and rattle, and you just can’t have that in such a handsome vehicle. The day the Holly arrived was like Christmas. As soon as the package landed on the porch, Jay was out the door, scooping it up. He carried it with great care to the dining room table and slit the tape with his pocket knife. He lifted out the packing paper, and there, gleaming, lay the Holly double-pumper, the stuff of every gear head’s dreams.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Jay asked, as he gently lifted the carburetor from the box and held it to the light. “Uh, yeah…it’s…great,” I said. He looked at me with annoyance for my lack of enthusiasm, put the steel vehicular heart back in the box with all the care a surgeon who’s just harvested an organ places it in the cooler for transport. He gingerly set the  box on the floor and announced that he’d be busy Saturday making the transplant.

On Friday about lunchtime, I arrived home to see Jay’s truck parked in front of the house. His office is only about ten minutes away, so he usually comes home for lunch. As I entered the front door and walked through the foyer, I looked to the right into the dining room, expecting to see Jay at the head of the table, feasting on last night’s leftovers and reading the news. What I saw instead made me gasp! There was Jay with the carburetor’s box open and pushed to the side on the dining room table. The Holly lay before him on his placemat where his lunch should have been as he squinted down at it in concentration, attaching the fuel line.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I demanded.

Jay looked up and distractedly answered, “Oh, hi, baby. I’m putting together Big Red’s new heart.”

“On the dining room table?!” I asked, shocked. Now, I feel I should point out that this is no ordinary dining room table. It’s a handcrafted Amish oak table that seats 10! It’s virtually irreplaceable. The faint smell of gas fumes flared my nostrils.

“I smell gas,” I said.

“Well, yeah, they test ’em before they ship ’em,” Jay answered, still looking at the carburetor, brow furrowed. I just stood there, waiting. He finally looked up.

“What?” He looked confused. I just stared at him. “What?! The table?” I nodded slowly, eyebrows raised, a look that said, “Yeah, dummy, the table!”

“It’s fine. I put a placemat down,” Jay said, sounding as if that settled the matter as he turned his attention back to the job at hand.  My shoulders slumped. Shaking my head, and acknowledging defeat, I went to the kitchen and made some lunch. I tried to sit in my usual spot to Jay’s right, but the smell of gasoline drove me to the other end of the table, where I sullenly ate and watched Jay work.

Afterwards, I took a picture of Jay at the table with the carburetor and posted it on Facebook. We got quite a few “likes” and “laughs,” especially since I’d posted a picture back at Christmas of Jay sharpening his chainsaw blade while the saw sat on the coffee table in the living room. His excuse that time was that it was cold out, and there was a good movie on. He’d put a towel down on the table under the chainsaw so it wouldn’t get scratched. I wasn’t sure if he meant the table or the saw.