Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Eve of Eve

I wanted to sit down and write one more nugget of love before Christmas officially arrives. Neal is off tomorrow through Monday and I anticipate lots of kitchen time, a fair amount of couch time, and maybe just a smattering of bed time. Not much blogging time. We are under the 30-day mark and if I don't think about it, I'm perfectly content. Once I start dwelling on the events Neal will miss and the shear loneliness that always accompanies a deployment, it's a total tailspin into multiple tubs of Nutella and bourbon. But I am making you this promise...there will be blogging! Magnolias and Mimosas burst onto the scene approximately a month after Neal arrived home from Kuwait. And what I regretted most about my decision to begin blogging was that I hadn't made that decision 13 months earlier. Not for the ego-stroking or self-gratifying posts about a military wife's struggles. It was more about providing the truest glimpse into deployment and the sorrowjoygrieffrustrationdelight that comes with it. I heard a pundit say once that only 5% of the American population is really affected by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The other 95% is at the mall. But what if you could read the stories from the front line? Breathe in the honesty? Translate that into action for our men and women in uniform and their families? We all sleep under the protection of the flag, sometimes blissfully unaware of the men and women who are providing that protection. I can be one story. From one perspective. I promise that over the next year, I will give my version of events...not for sympathy or even empathy...just to give a viewpoint.

But for now, the gifts are all wrapped and placed under a tree that is up and decorated only because I was bitten hard on the bah-humbug butt by the Christmas spirit at The Biltmore. We have more food than our base housing fridge can hold, a true testament to the blessings we are bestowed. And a wreath holds all of the Christmas cards we have received over the past couple of weeks. More blessings. We will spend the next few days baking, cooking, laughing, lounging, and being together. I will soak up every minute and store them in the footlockers of my mind so that I can pull them out when I see a movie that I know Neal would enjoy or bake a dish that he would lick clean. Facing a year without your best friend and life's partner is a daunting task, but why squander hours away on that thought when there are so many moments to enjoy now? Tiny, joy-filled moments that make up the length of life...that is my Christmas wish for you. Thank you so much for reading this past year; I hope you will stick around for the next one. Merry Christmas from the Miller household. I will see you on the other side, a few pounds heavier, but no worse for the wear!
xoxo and Cheers!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Twas the Night Before Mobilization

Neal poses in front of a HET.

'Twas the night before mob'ing, when all through the halls,
Not a creature was stirring, not even the Slaws.

The duffles were packed with thought and with care,
In hopes that everything was all crammed in there.

The colonel was nestled all snug on her cot,
While visions of logistics danced in her thoughts.

And Captain in his beret and Giles in his fleece,
Were having a long talk about war and peace.

When out on the road, there arose such a clatter,
They sprang from their desks to see what was the matter!

Away to the window they poured like the rain,
Yanked up the blinds and peered out from the frame.

The moon and the light of street lamps below,
Gave the luster of mid-day to events they'd behold.

When what to their bomb-searching eyes should attest,
An up-armored Humvee and 8 rumbling HETs!

With a fiery lieutenant leading the show,
They suddenly saw, it was Firrento!

More rapid than gunfire, the 5-tons rolled on,
Soldiers all driving, destroying the lawn.

"Now Grayson! now Martin! now Paxton and Sheal!
On Weston! on Hayman! on Hammond and Deal!

To the front of the gate! to the top of the wall!
Now drive away! drive away! drive away all!"

As dry leaves will whip in the December wind,
When met with an obstacle, they all did ascend.

So, up the rooftop, the HETs they all flew,
With a Humvee of gear; Firrento, too!

And then in a flash, they heard way up higher,
The squealing and screeching of their balding tires.

As Giles grabbed Captain and was turning around,
Down through the air shaft Firrento was bound!

He was clothed in Dress Blues, from service cap to shoes,
Limping from the fall, he threatened to sue.

A bag of OCIE he had flung on his back,
He looked like CIF, just opening his pack.

His eyes - how they twinkled! his smile was so merry,
His cheeks rosy red - like chow hall cranberries!

His pursed commander's mouth, drawn up in a grin,
Baby butt's got nothin' on his clean-shaven chin.

The white of his teeth, his slim silhouette,
What keeps him from bouncing around in a HET??

He had slender man-hands and toned runner's calves,
He smelled a little like patients and Tiger Balm salve.

So clean-cut, so fit, so essence of brass,
Leading HRC was his skinny lil' ass.

A wink of his eye, a click of his heel,
Giles rubbing his eyes to see if it's real.

He spoke not a word, just unpacked the gear,
Sunglasses, Gortex, wet weather pants in here.

He turned to his men, a salute he then mimed,
And giving a nod, up the air shaft he climbed.

He sprang to his HET and called to move out,
They shot to the sky, broke free of the clouds.

"We got this!" he screamed, as they roared out of sight,
"Merry Christmas to all! And to all a goodnight!"

by: Moi

* I apologize for the all of the acronyms. I can only tell you that OCIE is the gear that Soldiers get - and usually it's pretty fancy stuff (in the way that everyone who has ever slept in an Army sleeping bag will never appreciate North Face sleeping bags again). And CIF is who gives out the OCIE.

*Firrento (also not his real name) is the commander of our unit and is truly a skinny little dude. And a physical therapist, hence the Tiger Balm.

*Also I am not an Australian journalist leaking sensitive documents over the WWW. Names and unit abbreviations have been changed to protect our men and women in uniform.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Champagne Friday: The Little Village That Could (with your all's help!)

A Christmas Story
by Mama Virgo

Most American school children, OK and some adults, would have a difficult time finding Zambia on a map of Africa. Hopefully, most would be able to point to Africa – “you know, kids, it’s the really big one between two big oceans”. Depending on their age and interests, they might have heard of Dr. David Livingstone who has a large town (pop. about 90,000) named for him in southern Zambia. But the vast majority of the world population has never heard of the Kazungula District of Zambia. And only a handful of people, including you folks who frequent this blog, have ever ever heard of a remote forest village called Namapande (you won’t find it on Google Earth). This geography lesson is intended as a reminder of how special you are! Not only are you aware of this village but some of you sent contributions to help put a roof on their school before the fragile bricks were destroyed by the rainy season. So settle in, grab the drink of your choice and listen to the Christmas story about Namapande and how a few good folks made a difference just by caring about people you will never meet; people who want their kids to have an education; people who are on the margins of the marginalized; people who can never repay you or do anything for you – except of course make you feel warm all over because of your generosity.

Many villages in Zambia were flooded during the rainy season several years ago. This season can last from about October until April with an average of nearly 40 inches of rain. Unable to rebuild their community after another flood, the government advised about 400 villagers that they would be relocated to a new area, Namapande, virtually flood proof as there is no water in sight. The villagers were allowed to take minimal possessions to their new land. One gift that they did not realize at the time was that they were placed in a part of the Kazungula District which is an area loved and served by two Kentuckians, Lonnie and Fran Turner. There is some discussion/debate about why the government chose land that was isolated; had no readily available water source; was at least 10 miles from a main road; was covered with bush and vegetation; and had no visible means of obtaining food. I prefer to think that they did not intend harm or hardship.

But these villagers are tough. They did not whine and complain (which is the American way…why did the government do this to me…nobody likes me…blah, blah,blah). Nope, they dusted off their machetes and started clearing the land by hand. Keep in mind, this is an area about the distance from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial if you squared it up. And if you think that’s not far, try walking it sometime in July or January and imagine clearing your way with a machete. For housing, the government gave them military style tents, which when we saw them were fairly tattered. These villagers, being more comfortable in thatch huts, started building their homes quickly. Soon, the government installed a well about mid range of the property. Helpful, but not sufficient for all these folks. Onto the scene arrived Lonnie and Fran, having heard about this remote cache of people who had few resources, a village now called Namapande Resettlement. Who knows how these things become known in a forest of no computers, no phones, a community not visible from the highway. Nonetheless, Lonnie and Fran’s humanitarian organization, Partners in Development, went to work and put in another well and started visiting the village on a regular basis, providing some resources, and developing a relationship with the people and the village president, Billy. Guess what, you must have a relationship with people before you can help them! Sweeping in, destroying their village, setting up a democracy, and arranging the village American style does not work.

Our group, who was visiting with Lonnie and Fran, arrived at Namapande on Sunday, August 1, 2010 to an unbelievable welcome. The only indication from the main road (a two lane highway through the bush country) that a village is near is a road sign made from a log with Namapande carved its length.

The road that traverses about 10 miles back to the village is composed of packed and loose sand, one lane and barely passable in places. Its’ condition in the rainy season is unimaginable.

The road ends in a clearing where many villagers were gathering, cooking fires were burning and two large tents stood as the centerpiece with UNICEF stenciled across them.

These were the tents, equipped only with small wooden benches, which served as the school buildings for what appeared to be several 100 children of all ages. Behind the tents was a newly constructed brick building, a skeleton of a structure with no roof, made from homemade bricks and mortared with local material (not your Daddy’s bricks and mortar).

As we unloaded, we were surrounded by smiling, eager children who are unaccustomed to seeing pale skinned, pale eyed people. As we began to take their pictures with our legion of digital cameras, feeling so paparazzi-like, and then show it to them, they were aghast. Many, if not all, had never seen a picture of themselves. They pushed, crowded, all wanting more photos taken. That afternoon evolved into music, the performing of plays which they had written for us, dancing, laughing, eating familiar as well as new foods, and sharing, although we did not speak a common verbal language. The Turner’s brought $5000.00 worth of donated textbooks from the U.S. and presented these to the headmaster of the school and her two assistants.

Some of the children were allowed to hold the books and were visibly upset when it was time to return them to the teachers for safe keeping. As we toured the school shell, we were told how the funds had been exhausted and the danger of the bricks crumbling when the rains came if no roof was in place. There was no question that we had been placed there at that moment in time to serve a purpose. We could be the feet to make sure that school was protected; knowing in our hearts that Americans are generous and that we would not be alone in our commitment.

In many African countries, children complete Basic School which is comparable to our elementary education. If they are to go further, then families must pay for them to leave home and live in boarding schools. Understandably, few are able to further their education due to finances and the need to stay and help the family. At a minimum, children need that basic education and hope that they can go further. The intellect of these children is quite amazing. We were saddened to know that many will not be able to attend high school. But the building in Namapande is the beginning and prayerfully not the end for many of these children. The roof is now on and the building is protected. Plans are underway for finishing the building when weather permits.

If anyone dares to tell you that a few people really cannot make a difference, especially halfway around the world, tell them the story of Namapande. If anyone asks why you are here, what is your purpose in life, tell them the story of Namapande.

Writer’s note: This about the 4th draft of this blog. I started out trying to be cute, caustic and comical, and a bit critical of the government. Entertaining, but stupid. It dawned on me, Duh, that this will be posted on the internet which means the government can see it which could result in consequences impeding the work of the Turner’s. So, a word of warning, if you care to comment on this piece, please be aware that if you Google Namapande, this blog will likely be there, as it was when I did so in preparing this post. Please be mindful of how your comments could be taken. It’s preferable to believe that everyone is doing their best to help these folks.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Champagne Fri...er...MONDAY!

OK, yes, I think my exact words were "and there will be a Champagne Friday this week! I promise!"

And then Neal came home from work.

And opened the bourbon.

Not just any ole nasty gut-rot redneck stuff, either. The Woodford Reserve. (Tip to the bourbon afficionado wannabes: Maker's Mark is for your wife to mix with her Diet Coke/7-Up/triple-distilled sparkling water. If you are asked at the office Christmas party, Woodford Reserve is your drink of choice. Ascot is optional.)

So we had a bourbon with dinner. And another with dessert. And then another while we watched Wall Street (the original, not the one where Charlie Sheen is trying to fit another movie in between jail terms). And then, well...I don't quite remember. A Christmas tree was definitely involved, though. Suffice it to say, the good Cap'n needed to blow off some steam. It was our first weekend home with nothing to do since the first part of September. And in just a little over a month, bourbon will be nothing but a wet dream for him. So, rev up the ice maker and pass the bottle!

Anyway, here it is Monday and while things have calmed down some, I still have a couple of projects I'm finishing up. But I wanted to spread Christmas joy through the WWW. So...first...

Isn't this AMAZEBALLS?? I bet bourbon would be very tasty in an angel mug. Or Champagne. Or something non-alcoholic. Bwahahaha...whatever.

Anyway, as part of Shana's 12 Days of Christmas, this is today's giveaway item. Just by telling you about it I get 3 entries. Which is awesome. Unless 3 of you enter because you saw it here first. Or 4. And then I'm in the red as far as entries go. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on today's post....which you should do anyway because she is, once again, letting us live vicariously through her and Christmas in NYC.

Secondly, the children of Africa are singing your praises because the school in Namapandi has a roof!! Mama Virgo sent me these pictures on Friday:
Isn't the most beautiful thing you've ever seen? Yes, well it's no Frank Lloyd Wright...but it's a fully functional school building. When you're comparing it to a tent, it may as well be the Louvre. If you have forgotten how the school looked when Mama Virgo and her team of IBC volunteers left, here's a refresher:
And then I did that annoying and pushy thing where I asked for money/prayers/a band of angels and *voila* we raised the roof! So, to all of those who sent checks, prayed about it, told a friend who sent a check, or told a friend to pray about it, THANK YOU! Here is proof that money and prayers work hand-in-hand.

To celebrate the completion of the school in Namapandi, Mama Virgo has graciously agreed to write a blog post about her experiences there last summer. She has been known to string a sentence or two together into paragraph form (and once, into book form...God bless the dissertation) so expect great things. No pressure, Mama Virgo.

Congratulations on making a difference, good luck on Shana's wing-ed coffee mug, and Happy Monday! Just 12 more days until Christmas!! I can hardly stand myself...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Random Musings on a Wednesday

I sat down at my desk this morning instead of my workbench.

I opened up Blogger instead of the Daisy & Elm email account.

I started blogging instead of stringing pearls or answering emails.

It's a step, right?

I've caught a lot of flack lately about the tumbleweeds blowing through this place. And (borrowing from Obama) let me be clear...I am not abandoning my blog. I have not burnt out, run out of things to say (hahaha), or taken up a pseudonym (although some days it is so tempting). I'm just busy. B-U-S-Y. Busier than I ever thought I would be with a hobby. A hobby that I sold as a business but never actually thought it would become one. And now it has. The thing about being a business owner is you work 27 hours a day. I've always known that little nugget of wisdom, I just never thought I would live by it. I had decided that you owned the business, therefore you decide how much you want to work. Unfortunately, that could not be more false. The business owns you. Well, it owns you if you want to be successful anyway.

I am in no way complaining. In fact, I started thinking about it last night and if you consider that I actually started this venture the week I found out I was pregnant (that's a hormonal tangent for you....Oh! I'm going to have a baby! Let's start a business!), I've been running Daisy & Elm for 18 months. That is the longest I've ever held the same full-time job. That speaks volumes to me...like I clearly have issues with authority and the only authority I respect is my own...like I would rather peel my eyelids off of my face than punch into a time clock...like I'm not exactly the social workplace butterfly I thought I was. It has nothing to do with working in my pajamas because I get dressed everyday. Well, *almost* everyday. And it tells me that being creative is what keeps me happy, keeps me sane, and minimizes the fights over stupid in the Miller House. It's just a bonus that people seem to like what results from a day in the studio. Part of the agreement that Neal and I made when we went AGR was that he worked outside the house and I worked inside. Yes, it is basically 1945 all of the time here, except that I refuse to wear high heels while vacuuming. He works his 8 hour day and I keep the house clean, the fridge stocked, the dinner on the table, and clean laundry in the closet. Except now I also have this thriving business. My infant hobby became a flourishing (and sometimes cantankerous) teenager. And I couldn't love it more. But that's where I've been.

The biggest problem is, if I don't write almost daily, I feel like my head is going to explode. Like the verbs are going to start leaking from my nose as I empty the dishwasher or I'm just going to pee those past participles right out and they'll be lost forever. This, however, is easily remedied. I just sit down and type. But I also experience massive guilt because I can't take the time right this second to read all of the blog posts by all of the bloggers that make my life so jolly. So, I pick a few. More guilt. Then I don't read any. And I post to my own blog. And lovely bloggers comment. Exponential guilt. Way too much guilt for a converted Catholic. Anyway, I think I have a solution. I can read your blogs on my Droid through Google Reader...I just can't comment. So, I will start reading. I will read everything you guys write. I just won't always comment...at least until Neal deploys and I find myself with oodles of time and way too much solitude for a girl. Is that fair? I miss all of you and your stories and what adventures life is taking you on...I miss the connection. But if I miss a deadline, there are also very real consequences...financial and otherwise.

So, for some random musings (if you love random musings like a Sour Patch Kid at the movies, check out Shana @ Fumbling Towards Normalcy. She does them every Friday) before I get back to work....

1. The Deployment gods smiled down on us as we left Ft. Lee last month and we were lacking orders to attend a pre-deployment conference that Saturday. So, we took a tiny detour as we drove through North Carolina to see The Biltmore at Christmas. Neal scored us the last two tickets to the Candlelight Tour for that night (which was opening night) and he grabbed us a room at The Hampton Inn in Hendersonville (which I highly recommend). We only spent 24 hours in Asheville but we toured The Biltmore twice, once that night and then again the next day. It knocked the Bah Humbug right out of me and convinced me to haul all of our Christmas decorations back to Georgia when we went home at Thanksgiving. And it gave us some much needed together time before D-Day (Departure Day).

2. A couple of amazing bloggers have welcomed new bundles of yummy into the world! Amanda @ Its Blogworthy and Kallay @ Kallaydoscope all have new holiday babes! Congratulations, girls and as my sister would say, "Welcome to the Club!"

3. While I realize there are always two sides to every story, I will forever think that John Edwards sucks and I hope that Elizabeth Edwards is having the time of her life with her son, Wade, right now. I hope they are eating chocolate directly from the fountain as she is being fitted for her wings. I hope that Heaven gives her everything that those on Earth could not or would not.

4.
RIP John Lennon. I never knew you as an activist but I grew up on your music. Strawberry Fields, forever!

5.A day that will live in infamy. Remembering all of those who lost their lives on that dark day and all of the ones after. You are gone, but you are certainly not forgotten.

6. There are 2 contests/giveaways going on right now that I absolutely must tell you about. One is over at Shana's place. She's doing the 12 Days of Christmas and today she is giving away a canister of Serendipity's Frozen Hot Chocolate Mix. She can do this, you see, because she lives in NYC. So, check out her blog daily, leave a comment, and get yourself entered to win some of this Big Apple goodness!

Secondly, I'm hosting my own giveaway on the Daisy & Elm Facebook fan page. Entry is easy and multiple entries are even easier. Click on the Discussions tab on the fan page, then Accessorizing with Memories Contest post. Share your favorite holiday memory and you are entered to win a FIFTY DOLLAR gift certificate to Daisy & Elm!! Refer others to the fan page to share their holiday memories and for each referral, you get another entry! The winner will be randomly drawn on Christmas Eve. As bloggers, this should be an easy cheesy task. Even...dare I say...enjoyable?

I promise a Champagne Friday this week and...drumroll, please....an award! Happy Hump Day and just 17 shopping days left! No pressure.

Are you done with your shopping? Do you wish you could hire a team of elves? Have you ever tried to teach your cats how to wrap gifts?