Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hallowe'en Memories: Before There Were
M-n-M's


One of the purposes of the business I run from my home is to preserve memories. On occasion I want to share some of the more poignant memories I come across - whether in my day-to-day activities or in my business.

On one of the religious discussion forums on which I am a member, we recently had the annual "Hallowe'en-is-evil/good/okay" debate. This is the discussion during which we go over whether or not Hallowe'en is of Satanic or Pagan origin, whether it is okay for kids to dress up and go trick-or-treating, whether we should be rejecting the holiday all together - even whether or not it should even be called a "holi (holy) day!"

Well, we "do" Hallowe'en with a pretty closed view on which types of costumes are allowed and which are on the "banned" list. The kids go door-to-door with their friends before retiring to one porch or another to check out their hauls. Some memories, when shared, just grab me and invite me to become part of that world, if only for a few minutes. There were two people who shared their Hallowe'en memories on the forum that reminded me of my own childhood. Several of us on were inclined to remember our own memorable Hallowe'en moments as a result. These are the two I'd like to share in this post.

Both are from around the time of WWII, during which rationing was taking place and things were harder in terms of day-to-day life. I share their memories here, with their permission...


This first was written by Theodora in the Mounain (Hermit,)

During the war, that is the WWII era, rationing and hard times were the sign of the times (and for you young ones who think all of this wasn't real but just propaganda for the movies, it was life as lived then) Halloween was quiet different. Now remember these are the days before "M&Ms" for these little treats were developed for the soldiers...to have a high energy pick up that would not melt all over everything. What we got was "homebaked" cookies, candy in the form of sticks or hard handy (also homemade or saved up over the year just for the kids) and asorted nuts (we had pecan tree in our back yard and saved alot for this night and Christmas) and if you were really lucky you got real fresh apples or oranges (things you couldn't get much on rations). My brothers and I would bring the apples and nuts home to my father who would diced them up and make apple turnovers the following Sunday. What a treat for all. We dressed in homemade outfits: hoboes, soldiers (if you were lucky to have a real army metal helmet), Huck Finn, tramps and princess, nurse, gypsy, etc for the girls. We would usually meet after"doing the neighborhood" at someone's house and dunk for apples (more to take home to dad) and play games and such. You see it wasn't until after WWII that the soldiers got home to discover that the bits of chocolate they came to love wasn't make for us civies. And when one could save enough coupons for "dried chocolate" it was used only for that special cake. But the soldiers wanted their "M&Ms" (Military ---- I forget what they called them). I remember eating my first when a neighbor came home from the war and brought some and gave us kids a few each. We didn't celebrate the devil or anything "bad", it was just "kids' night" and yes, All Saints was observed and in many a family one went to Church and then to the cemetery to put wild flowers or bright leaves on the graves of those we loved so..especially those killed in action.


And a recollection from a man in the same generation, who was in a California neighborhood...

Ah! You bring back memories: the neighborhood 'haunted house' where the kids lined up to crawl through the window, and had to feel the 'dead man's eye balls' (peeled grapes) and the dead man's guts (cold spaghetti!) and a few other things, and then we had the party in the living room. We had ghosts in old white sheets, fairy princesses in little ballerina costumes with tinsel crowns and glittered wands, and pirates etc. Lots of fun for all. And there were lots of apples and oranges handed out.

In our house, these are the types of memories we try to encourage. My own childhood Hallowe'ens were similar - my most memorable costumer was when I wore my mother's wedding dress and went as a bride. She worked so hard to pin the dress up so it wouldn't drag the ground! I don't remember ever buying our outfits, but I remember all the excitement and planning and anticipation that went into making our costumes! What could we pull together from what was already in the scrap bag?

I am fond of those memories - so for those who say that Hallowe'en is borne from times of pagan worship, well, perhaps it is historically, but in our church it has been said that God makes good come of all things. For me, those long-ago Hallowe'ens were times that helped bring me closer to my then-new stepfamily. I use it now to help my children come closer together as they plan and create their own costumes, learn to compromise over the "favorite" candy, and bond in ways that they will reminisce over in the years to come. In three days - I'll post pictures of the costumes they have picked this year - for now, I give you pictures of past outfits. Last year we had a scarecrow, a bumblebee, a horse, and I do believe a campy vampire did sneak into the fray, using an old tux shirt and a handmade cape - no blood allowed though, he was a sugar vampire ;) Enjoy!


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Operation Purple - a Worthwhile Cause

While watching the comments fly on Facebook about the Susan G. Komen foundation recently, it occurred to me that I know of yet another organization that is entirely deserving of support and encouragement, besides Honor Flight, which I've blogged about once (in five installments) before. I will not give my money to the Komen Foundation because they like to support Planned Parenthood, one of the largest abortion providers in the United States. The Komen Foundation's support seems like a total conflict of interest because abortion makes breast cancer more likely to happen.

So here is a post about the ever-worthy Operation Purple Summer Camp program. Operation Purple provides free summer camp for children who have a parent deployed. Maestro went in 2007. It was his first sleep-away camp experience. I applied for him to go because I really felt like he could use some contact with other military kids who could understand what he was experiencing when his pop had to go away.

I'll admit that I was a little worried about my then-eight year old being with older kids for a week away from Mom. I worried that perhaps there would be foul language used that I didn't approve of (come on, they are military kids!), social pressure about dating, etc. In picking him up the following week, I found none of those things - and, he had a blast!

When we first arrived to drop him off, we entered the building where they were staging the check ins. They had us fill out paperwork (medical forms, etc.) and took his picture in front of a flag. They asked us if we would be willing to fill out an evaluation form when we picked him up - all those good things. He was assigned a cabin and we helped him carry in his gear. On each bunk bed was a small teddy bear to welcome the children in. After that, away went the rest of us - on back home. My oldest boy didn't seem at all nervous about being away from me for a week. I suppose that made me a little sniffly to think I was no longer needed in the same way that I once was, but life does have to move forward at some point, doesn't it?

The house was so quiet that week! All of a sudden, it was me, our five year old (Smeagol) and Bruiser, then three. So... a three and a five, maybe not so quiet as all that, but quieter at any rate!

A week later, we hit the road for the hour-long drive to pick Maestro up. He was exuberant. He won a dance contest (a complete surprise to me, because he tends to take a little while to warm up for things like that), and a grass hula skirt for a prize. He talked a mile-a-minute all the way home. They had a man come out and talk to them about various military jobs, he gave them each a dog tag of some sort, and answered all their questions. To that end, he helped put Maestro's mind at ease about the jobs our military members do when they have to go off to war.

He had the option of going out to camp in a tent for a night, and took advantage of it. My only complaint? They let him watch High School Musical - and I tend to be kind of... overprotective... when it comes to the media my children are exposed to. As parting gifts, he received a mouse pad with his photo printed on it and a DVD that had photos from the week, set up as a slide show to music. He also had contact information for many of the kids he met while he was there.

He really wanted to go back the next year, but alas, we were not able to send him. They do have kids who return multiple years - because their parents deploy so frequently. Like almost any military family, we have been separated a few times but are fortunate enough to have Pop home for quite a little bit of time this time around. So I've contented myself to tooting the Operation Purple horn whenever I can and donating money to let other kids go as well.

To find out more about Operation Purple camps, make sure to visit the link I've provided - you can donate from that link as well. For my money, it's a far better organization than some of the others that get so much notice and attention.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Divorce and the Military Family

I wrote most of the following as a response to a question posted on CafeMom.com. I realize that parts of it may upset or offend some people. If you get offended, forgive me, but it is what I truly believe. The original post was talking about how many military folks get divorced and how sad that is. I agree: it is sad. It is also largely preventable, and really not so different than the civilian world. My answer seemed to touch some of the other readers, so I am posting it below.This is the second part.



The divorce rates are sad - and as in the civilian world are rooted (so it seems) in a bit of selfishness (which I'll delve into below) and a lack of communication - with the spouses themselves and with the outside world in general. Not sure what else the military can do to help except be more encouraging of spouses joining various "military-focused" groups such as the spouses groups or the other volunteer opportunities out there.

I have several friends who are in the midst of divorces right now: one was/is dual-military and I honestly don't know what happened there. I pray every day that they reconcile for the sake of their awesome boys. The other is single military/civilian. I know what happened there - and it is too common a story but one that plays out in all areas of society not just military. They also have children. I have one neighbor that has divorced in the past three years. I don't know what brought it about, but I know that their children are suffering from it and the aftermath. I pray for them too.

I suppose the point is that some of the problems are inherent regardless of your status in life. Unfortunately. But in my mind, it comes down to a bit of selfishness, a lack of communication and a lack of determination. This has been a topic of recent - and frequent - discussion between Maestro and me.

I've felt it important for him to understand this concept before he meets any potential future wife. So I have pointed it out to him: like it or not, every divorce I've ever seen has involved an element of selfishness. Please see that I did not say that all who divorce are selfish, only that there is an element of selfishness somewhere in the mix.

If you're cheating on your spouse, you want to have that bachelor/ette lifestyle still; if you are fighting all the time over money, children, etc., you have not worked hard enough to listen to one another as well as you should - you want it "my way or the highway." If you work so many hours "for the good of the family" that your family rarely sees you, you've placed money and "things" too high on your priority list. You get the idea. Perhaps this seems harsh, but how often do we work on what we're going to say next instead of really listening - not only to what is being said to you, but to how your words sound coming back. (Communication: another post altogether!) I will say it once more: every divorce I have seen - since I was a girl - has involved an element of selfishness. You can't be selfish and be in a happy marriage.

My oldest son has watched his friends' parents divorce and fight and he has asked if we will ever divorce. We decided long ago that divorce is not even an option. If divorce is not an option as far as you are concerned, then you look for other ways to solve the problems that come with living in close quarters with another human being.

That's my opinion on divorce.

I hope someday that our society comes to see that we can change the divorce dynamic, and that it doesn't require simply not getting married, but more of a willingness to put our personal "wants" to the side for the good of the family unit as a whole.

Linked to:
Christian Marriage Advice

Monday, October 25, 2010

Stress in Military Families

I wrote most of the following as a response to a question posted on CafeMom.com. I realize that parts of it may upset or offend some people. If you get offended, forgive me, but it is what I truly believe. The original post was talking about how many military folks get divorced and how sad that is. I agree: it is sad. It is also largely preventable, and really not so different than the civilian world. My answer seemed to touch some of the other readers, so I am posting it below. I have split it into two parts because of the length. For non-military readers, perhaps this will give people something to think about into the life of the military family and divorce in general.



When my husband and I first met, we were both active duty. Many of the people we've known over the years have been dual military. We've seen marriages that have worked and those that have split up. DH has now been in 16 years; I was in for six (four married) and have been out for nine.

For dual military couples, there are a few factors involved that we've seen. 1) you work in a VERY close environment a lot of the time and so feel like you know each other better than you really do

2) people marry regardless of their chances of getting to be stationed together in the future

3) the jobs tend to be high-stress regardless of whether or not your job is "high stress." I suppose that is confusing.

As an example, Jeff was a flight chief in his unit at one time and had almost 50 subordinates. Each of the nearly-50 needed to have evals done, reports turned in, counselings (sometimes) done, etc. Even though he was "home" (i.e.: not deployed, which is a whole 'nother story) he was never - and I mean... er... almost NEVER - home in reality. He would routinely spend up to 30 hours at the office, with me driving him in and back so that he wouldn't crash. Alternately, he would come home after about 15 hours, sleep for two hours and head back in. That was stressful in a different way than the civilian world might consider - I heard more than once, "at least he's not deployed." Well, no. not really. At that point, he might as well have been deployed because of how little we actually got to see him at home!

From the perspective of a "mixed-military" family (one civilian, one military) - a lot of times, the spouses don't know what to expect from the military. The scenario I've described above is not something that one might expect coming from the civilian world. Add to that deployments and a lack of information and you have a high stress environment no matter what you do. Many bases offer classes for the spouses to take prior to a deployment, and those are marginally helpful. They give needed information but no one tells them: get to know your spouse's commanding officer, finance and support personnel, etc. 

No one takes spouses under their wing the way they should. The services try: the Army has a family support thing (sorry I forget what it's called) and the Air Force has the Key Spouse program. When properly used, these programs can be huge advantages, giving the spouses access to *someone* who can hook them up with the "right people" when needed. But the spouse has an obligation to step out of her shell and find friends and join groups as well. There is a real need for the spouse at home to see that those military links, whether or not they like it, can be a huge benefit, at the least in terms of being with people who understand what they are going through both during deployment and during off times.

So what is a spouse to do? Reach out, ask for friends, let people know that you're looking for someone to get together with. Know that those deployments, and deployments-at-home will come, and they will be hard. 

Most importantly: Support one another. Look to give as much as you receive. Here are links to two other posts that I think dovetail with this one. I hope you'll give them each thought as well.

The first is How to Support a Military Family Member During Deployment - I give 10 ways to support those around you whose spouses are away. 
The second is Divorce and the Military Family - in truth, this post can be applied to civilian marriages as well

At the end of the day, let's find ways to uplift one another and support each other in our day-to-day struggles. It can make such a HUGE difference to know that others care enough to reach out. Do you?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Book Review: The Boneshakers



I try to screen books before Maestro reads them. This is a difficult task because he is such a voracious reader. One day not long ago, I was trying to put Buttercup down for a nap and wanted something to look at to pass the time. Enter The Boneshaker by Kate Milford. This is not a book we would normally purchase ourselves perhaps, but was sent to us by Jeff's sixth grade teacher, and the author's uncle. Please do not mistake this book for the one written about zombies in WWII. This Boneshaker is actually using the term as a reference to the early bicycles, which went by that name. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

The book is set in a small town in the 1920's, a time when superstitions were prevalent and traveling shows were easier to find than they are in the present day. This is very much a "good versus evil" book. I enjoyed it and was struck by the depth of some of the passages, but I will not be allowing my own ten-year old to read it until he's closer to twelve. Some of the imagery is quite haunting. There are no graphic scenes, in terms of violence or sexuality. There was one description of the devil that was particularly vivid - and relevant to later parts of the story - that made me shudder a bit.

The main character is a girl of about thirteen named Natalie. She is talented with her hands and very interested in "automatons" - what we now call wind-up toys, and really all things mechanical. She has other ... gifts, of which she is not really aware though and has to try to use those gifts to fight the evil that comes to the town later on. With the help of her four friends, and a few choice adults, she works to understand what is happening within the town and the gift that is slowly revealing itself to her.

One of the additional things that I really liked about the book that also makes it a particularly good fit for the older "tween" set are the little unspoken lessons scattered about. I'll give one example, but I don't want to give them all away so you'll have to look at the book for yourself to see more. There is one of the four friends of whom Natalie is not so fond, finding her obnoxious and tedious to be with. She turns out to be one of the stronger friends in the book and someone who stands by her and supports Natalie at some of the toughest times. The lesson I took from that was that sometimes we are a little too quick to write off those that we dislike for (mostly) superficial reasons. For me, this lesson is particularly dear because some of my closest and dearest friends now are people I didn't particularly care much for upon our first meeting. Boy am I glad God overtook me in my stupidity and personal arrogance!

The book does move quickly. On one hand, it has to in order to get in all the detail that it does; on the flip side, the fast pace means that fleshing out many of the background characters cannot happen. For those characters, I would have liked to have seen a little more, but given the scope of the book, and that it is Ms. Milford's first published effort, the details included made up for the lack of detail elsewhere.

In the end, I'm glad to have spent the time with The Boneshaker. I found my thoughts wandering to the story line while working around the house, and in the end, spent most of last Friday absorbed in finding out what was to happen to them all. In my house, that is a sign of a good book!

Incidentally, here is a link to the books official site. Small though the site is, it does give a fuller review of the book (I didn't want to risk giving away any secrets!) Clock Work Foundry

And a link to order the book (including another reader's excellently written review and a fuller synopsis): Powells Booksellers

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sneaky

Last night... I did it. I snuck out. I have needed to buy some new underthings for a little while now, but it is hard to stand and look for the right size bras with three boys and a girl antsy to get moving on to do other things. And really, don't we all just need a little time for ourselves every so often? Even Mother Theresa took time each day for silent, personal prayer time during which she was alone.

So, as always, using that innate sixth sense that nearly-two-year-olds have, Buttercup came to me and was very agitated. I picked her up and told her that I would not be gone long, that she would stay home and play with her Pop and her brothers, etc. Don't we so often try to find a way to go out without all of the tears involved in helping our youngsters become comfortable with separation from us as parents? This is never an easy process but sometimes seems to be a needed one, at least for the parents. I have not felt it harmful for the child as long as we make sure they are with someone that is trustworthy and loves them - such as their Pop, in this case. When I told her I'd be gone for a little while, etc., she put her face in my shoulder and in a very muffled tone said, "No."

Not crying; not wailing or hollering, but just, "No."

Then I went up and got some change from Jeff's change box. I set the pennies and nickels on the table alongside a piggy bank that we have, (the "Nana Jar") for her to use. She took the ... ahem... bait immediately. I took that opportune time of distraction to take out a bag of trash - through the back door. And, looky-here, somehow the keys just happen to be in my pocket. So into the car I went, backing silently down the driveway in neutral with the engine off. Once I hit the street, I turned the key... and ran, leaving my pint-sized warden behind, happy and content with her pennies and bank.

At the mall, I got my new clothes, bought myself a small bag of swedish fish, and took my cell phone to a "corporate" store to see if it can be repaired or do I need to send it in for replacement? With that, I closed down the mall and headed home in triumph. Being that it was only 9:30 when I arrived home, the kids were all still awake but all were happy and well cared for. They had had "Papa time," which I think is important for children to get on occasion. Even Smeagol, at eight, has commented on society's tenancy to marginalize the father's role in the life of a child.

(How's that for home schooling? Yesterday we had a whole discussion about in-vitro fertilization and whether papas are really necessary for life and for children... I was a little surprised, I'll admit, because he doesn't tend to think that deeply on a lot of things, or so it seems, but there were good questions in there.)

And I agreed with him: Papas are more important than society - and sometimes our friends - give credit for. And so my sneaking out was of benefit to all. For me, surely, but to the rest of my family as well. Think I'll have to do that again every few weeks. Where to go next? Perhaps just for a walk in the park, or to get my hair done, or to take a friend out for tea, or.. or... or... so many options I will have to make time for them all!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Chef's Secret... Spiced Nuts for Christmas

Okay, I hesitate to write this recipe out because so many of my gift recipients get these for Christmas... I don't want them to feel like they're getting the short end of the stick because of how easy they are to make. Don't tell, okay?



These spiced nuts are gift recipient favorites for those who like spicy foods. I have a "Sweet" recipe that I do for the people who can't stand the heat, but that is for another time. I get my gift tins for $.50 or less at garage sales, thrift stores or free if I just ask people for them (believe me, neighbors tend to be happy to give them away because they take up so much space but are too nice to throw away!)

Ingredients:

Olive oil
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper or to taste
1/2 tsp. chili powder or to taste
1 c. mixed nuts - I'm not a peanut fan so I use the Deluxe variety
2 to 3 Tbsp. soy sauce
paper towels (2 or 3)

Method:

1. Over medium heat, warm 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a frying pan; add the cayenne pepper and chili powder and heat for about 30 - 45 seconds - if you do it too long, the spices will turn black and will lose some of their potency.*

2. Add the mixed nuts and coat them with the spices - for 2 or 3 minutes.

3. Add the soy sauce to the nuts and coat the nuts. Stir over the heat until the pan is nearly dry. This will be the longest part of the recipe.

4. Put the nuts on the paper towels off to the side to cool.

5. Once the nuts are completely cooled, put some saran wrap into your gift tin or box so that the wrap is coming out over the top - it should make a little "Saran Pouch" inside the box. Fill the pouch with the nuts and tie off with string or ribbon. Put your lid on to keep them relatively air-tight and to complete your gift wrap!


* The amount of cayenne pepper and chili powder is easy to adjust. I would play with it a bit before sending these out as gifts. You might like a little more... or a little less!

This is one of our healthy snack recipes in the fall. Try some out - you can make them as spicy as you like! Check out for more great tips, ideas and Christmas goodies!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Get Back to Work!

Diligence... Lacking in so many, so hard to maintain in oneself, especially when working from home. I have three jobs that I count as "top line" in my occupation list: my children (that encompasses homeschooling, training, upkeep, etc.), my house, and completing the books I've been working on for far too long. Obviously, my children are going to come first, then the house - work that I do throughout much of the day. But the books are contracted, I've been paid for them and have set my goal for finishing them up. Those books are far more important to me than any contract though. I suppose I need to explain...

Somehow, as a military spouse, you have more free time when your spouse is deployed. I've never been able to explain why that is, since when Jeff is not deployed I have an extra set of adult hands in the house to help me take care of things, but somehow I am busier when he is around. Regardless, when Jeff was deployed in 2007, I had enough time and extra money to start up on a business idea that I've long considered but never knew quite how to begin. My idea was to write personal histories for people - the family stories you tell around the dinner table at Thanksgiving, Christmas and family gatherings. I thought to record these family members telling their stories, transcribe them and put them into bound books.

As I researched the idea and looked for a printer, one printing company in Utah mentioned that they print short-run books for many clients that are members of the Association of Personal Historians. Well, I joined the association to get some inside tips on how to get started, and had someone contact me from Afghanistan. My new client had had five members of his unit killed while doing an operation on deployment; all five men had families and young children and the unit wanted to have memorial books made for each of the widows. The timing worked out perfectly for each little step of the way... at first. Then we hit some snags in getting the interviews made and to me through the military postal system. We were unable to truly get moving on the project until mid-2008 as a result.

I finished the interviews - again - at the end of summer, 2009. Throughout this year, I've worked on finishing the transcription and have only two interviews remaining before I put everything into its final form and get it to a printer - before my client leaves with his family for Europe. Needless to say, now time is ticking down. My conscience weighs on me with these books, but not because of my client, he has been beyond patient and understanding. I worry about making these books truly worthy of the memories contained inside. Most of the work I've done this year has been at night, after Buttercup is in bed, sound asleep. I can get more uninterrupted work done that way and get further along in less time.

In completing my degree earlier this year, I hope to have shown my children that their education is important; in completing these books, I hope to show that being thorough and taking care to do a good job are also important. Through other events this year, my children have also seen what happens when we don't worry about the smaller details: the extra work that someone else has to do when trying to pick up the pieces, or how much work we cause ourselves when we don't do the job correctly the first time. They have also seen that postponing the work does not profit them either. Schoolwork and chores still have to be taken care of, regardless of whether it's during work time or time designated for play.

Do they always understand the lessons we're trying to teach them? You and I never did as children and pre-teens, so I'm sure they don't either. I am equally sure that over time they will see these lessons manifested more and more as their friends are not always held up to the same standards or as they see people in their own age groups leaving work behind that has to be taken care of by someone else. So what now? What can I do, while Buttercup is napping, to show my children the value of diligence? I can...

Get back to work!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hitting the Patch

Ahhh... We have lived here for seven years and now hit at least one (if not more!) local farm a year - for pumpkins, apple picking, berry picking, peach picking... you get the idea! The last couple of years I have tried to hit a farm with a corn maze. Now that the boys are older, I don't have to coax them through it and can let them run a little more safely. So here are the farms we've visited, and our thoughts on them. I am not including pricing because prices change, of course, but I will include web links!

This is one of the more popular farms in the Columbia area - and so frequently crowded. Clark's is located off of Rte. 108. We've been there for pumpkins, Christmas trees, hay rides, and games. We also went with friends one year for a birthday party.

The hayride is one of the better ones we've been on. They take you on a trail through the woods and along the trail are old faces salvaged (saved) from Enchanted Forest over on Rte. 40. Enchanted Forest is closed now, but the dragons and other characters are being preserved by Clark's for all to enjoy. As you ride along, sitting on the hay bales, you hear shouts of joy and surprise as new faces are spotted. The ride ends at the pumpkin patch where you disembark to pick your gourd.

Clark's also features animals to feed, a horse ride and a haybale-type city for the smaller children. There is not as much to do for the oldest children, but all do enjoy the hay ride and it is not too big for the youngest, who might tire out more easily.

Larriland is also one of the better-known farms in the area and frequently very busy, especially on the weekends. The best time to go? When there is a light drizzle - then you practically get the place to yourself (better bring a jacket though!) Larriland is open most of the year and has multiple fields that they rotate through, depending on the crops and the season. It is a good idea to check the website before going so you can see what is ripe and ready. We have picked apples, peaches, blackberries, spinach, and pumpkins there ourselves.

Standard Fall/Hallowe'en things at Larriland include apple fritters and cider, a hay ride, pumpkin picking, a small hay maze for the youngest kids, and a haunted house. Their hay ride is also pretty good and winds along around parts of the farm and a small lake on the property. Along the way are signs to read, ghosts hanging from the trees and riddles to solve. All of these enhance the ride as you keep an eye out for what's next.

The haunted house is short but the kids enjoy going through multiple times and you do hear occasional shouts and screams coming from within! I usually have a small child with me so have not gone with my olders so have not seen the inside. The hay maze is where the kids tend to go... and stay. The walls are tall enough that the kids cannot see over so for them it is great fun as they usually get a game of hide and seek going or something along those lines. The older kids get bored a little more quickly but enjoy it all the same.

This is where we went this year. As it seems to be with most "corn maze farms", the biggest draw for North Run is the corn maze. I'll get to that in a second. North Run features two corn mazes - 0.4 miles and 2 miles - and you solve a mystery while inside. They also have a hay ride, pumpkins, animals and a couple of "hay structures" for the children to run on, around, and through.

The hay ride is ... "eh." It goes in a simple squared-off circle around a smaller corn field and then you get off. It's too short to be exciting, you don't really sit on the hay unless you sit in the middle (benches line the two sides) and except for the youngest riders, it's just kind of dull.

Bruiser on a crawl tube in the mini-maze
Some of the pumpkins here had HUGE vines attached. Wowee! They had "regular" pumpkins, white, purple, and all the various gourds you would normally see at a fall farm scene. They also had a selection of apples that were very tasty but not too many of those. There was a mini-hay maze for the very youngest kids, with short walls that made it suitable for even our 22 mo. old Buttercup to go through and walk on. In another section, they had half-tires set up into the ground for the kids to climb around on. They had a corn teepee the kids could go into (and back out of) and then "Hayland" for the biggest kids to climb and jump around on.
Maestro and Smeagol jumping down at Hayland


As I said though, their big draw is the corn maze and the North Run folks put the bulk of their effort into that. To the left (this year) is the 0.4 mile maze. As you go through the maze, sound is muted, breezes are largely blocked off an you enter a kind of creepy little world! You take a maze guide in with you that shows the path and where certain clues are located. There are additional unmarked clues scattered throughout as well. The remainder of the clues are located in the 2-mile maze. They do a different shape each year and this year the maze is in the shape of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. I do believe we hit every tooth! We had a good time looking for the clues, but being with the youngest child in our group (22 months), did not finish. Two other groups that we were with did finish though, including the group with the five year old. The teens petered out before the fivers
- go figure!

Those are the three that we've been to most often or most recently. I hope they are helpful to some!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fall, Pumpkins, and Life's Lessons!


I love this time of year! Getting to walk down the street, dry leaves crunching under my feet on the sidewalk, always reminds me of when I was younger- mostly around junior high age, I suppose, when I walked everywhere. Ahhh... those were the days. I remember being 12 or 13, somewhere in there, and using tin foil to put braces on my Hallowe'en pumpkin with a friend.

And those were times of high anxiety too - but for reasons I now look on as being ... well, stupid. I don't say that to belittle what we - and now our children - go through at that sensitive age range, but what my peers think of me and my decisions matters far less than what my true friends think of me. Those friends who love me and have proven their love and respect for me by being honest even when it hurt my feelings and being available even when they didn't particularly want to be helping (babysitting, anyone?) and just being there in general to celebrate our lives together. I now know that for every hobby we enjoy, someone else does too. I recognize that we all feel "alone" sometimes, but rarely are in reality. And am trying to guide my almost-11 year old Maestro through the rough waters he's already entering, before he is fully immersed in (and swallowed up by?) the stormy sea of adolescence.

In the meantime, I'm building as many good memories as I can, hoping to give him an anchor to family and an example of what true friendship is. So we went this past Saturday to a new pumpkin farm with some friends - North Run Farm. We went with two other homeschooling families, of whom I think very highly. One family has four children and the other three, many around the same age as my own older boys. They are all very well behaved and pleasant to talk to, in spite of being "unsocialized" by the local school systems, but socialized within our groups and our family environments (that's my nod to homeschooling here... perhaps I'm a bit biased though.) One other person came along - a friend who is single and whom Jeff and I have known, worked with, disagreed with (on occasion), shared fellowship with... in short, a true friend, Beth. You've seen her blog mentioned on here before, but she's such a great friend, I'll link to it again - you can see her knitting accomplishments here.

Beth is not a big crowd fan. She likes quiet, animals, knitting, long walks, etc. But she is a great friend and so she gamely comes over on Saturday nights to have dinner and be with our family and a few other friends. This weekend, she joined us for our pumpkin patch and excursion through the corn maze. She took pictures of Buttercup as she ran ahead for a bit before getting screechy-tired (and driving us all crazy!) and the boys while they ran and played. Beth is awesome. Everyone should have a Beth like ours (but you can't have ours... :) The picture at left is our Beth - not from the farm, but from her birthday, but it is a picture of which I am enormously fond!



The corn maze was fun but gave us all fits! We started out at the 0.4 mile maze. Throughout the
maze were stops where "clues" were located to try to solve a mystery. There was no gain to solving it, simply fun in making the effort. We found clues 1 - 4 on the smaller maze and then proceeded to the larger. Maestro and Smeagol went with the older boys while Bruiser went with the other two mothers and the younger boys - we got Buttercup, trust me when I say that she was plenty by herself and I am totally grateful to my friends who were willing to let the boys go through with them.

Beth, Jeff and I made it through about ten minutes or so of the 2 mile maze before deciding just to focus on finding the way out! The funny thing about a corn maze is that even when the temperature is very pleasantly in the low 70s, inside a corn maze is a bit of a hotbox because the corn prevents most breezes from going through and so you bake, where you would otherwise be quite comfortable. Buttercup began to complain no matter what we tried to do, "Do you want down?" "NO!"

"Do you want your shoes off?" "NO!"
"Do you want a drink?" "NO!"

(Then Beth asked, "Do you want to be good?" ... no answer!)

We found our way out - and then called Maestro on the cell phone I had given him (my own, he doesn't have one for himself as yet) to see where they were at. I get a grumpy answer, "Hello."

Such a down-in-the-mouth tone was hardly what I expected from him while he is with his friends, having freedom without the parents and supposedly enjoying being a big kid. His group had just exited the maze, but hadn't found all the clues. They had two left and he wanted to find them all. The group he was with outvoted him and decided to throw in the towel. For Maestro, this was a sign of "immaturity." One more stumbling block in getting older: realizing that sometimes you get outvoted and have to find the joy in being with friends - or take the difficult steps of going without the group - anyway.

So, not without some small protest, we moved on, and went to find pumpkins and the hayride. In the end, we all had a great time with true friends. I am grateful that Maestro got to see that regardless of our sometime-disagreements, they are not the end of the world, nor do they have to mean the end of the friendship. I hope the lesson stays with him, even as we continue our foray into the (homeschool) junior high years and in the meantime, I am still enjoying the times when he decides just to play!

Tomorrow - a review of the various pumpkin patches we've visited in the area over the last several years and what we like about them!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Little Green Monster

I am a strong believer that God sends us messages, and sometimes, if we ignore His message, and it's really, really important that we listen, He says it a little stronger until we get the hint. Right? Right. Well, today is a very good example of why we should listen the first time. Read on, friends and you'll see exactly what I mean! Be forewarned though that drinking while you read this post might not be in the best interest of your computer and you may end up with a "message" of your own!

My story actually began two days ago. For the past two days, I have been very seriously contemplating whether or not to attend a church meeting taking place tonight. If I go, it will be really only to resign my position on the council in person vs. over e-mail or through snail mail alone.

Yesterday I waited for a message, but what I wanted to hear didn't come, so I second guessed what I thought of it all. Then this morning, I got up and our middle child - Smeagol - was ill with a fever. Hmmm... clue one, people. But... Papa is a good dad and can take care of a sick kid.

So to give myself a mental distraction, I pulled out my Little Green Clean Machine and used it to fulfill a promise made to Jeff just over a week ago: to steam clean the dining room chairs. My chairs are now drying and look so much better! In the meantime, Smeagol had a couple of Children's Tylenols and slept on the couch.

Then I got an e-mail about tonight's meeting. The way it is being set up, the meeting looks more like a lecture-to-be or a firing squad than any kind of a true meeting. This is not a very comforting thought - (let me be clear: this is clue 2.) But still I prayed and contemplated on, Lord, please give me some sign of whether I should go.

I did the dishes and began making lunch: a bit of rice for Smeagol and Miso Soup for the rest.

Then I came 'round the corner a short while later to see this:


This is my Little Green Monster, aka "Buttercup." She found all the rubber stamps and ink pads and went to town. Papa, before you panic, please know we cleaned up fast enough that none of it is on floor or furniture, etc. For the rest of the world, this is a sneaky and smart almost-two year old and what can happen in fewer than five minutes, even just after she has been fussed at for something else. Pop, also know that we have thrown out most, if not all, of the ink pads in the house now. Until I have a lock box for such items, nothing in the house is safe! I'll be getting one tonight or tomorrow. Trust me!

This, I suppose would be God getting a bit louder and more emphatic. I'm beginning to listen.

What I now perceive He is saying is,

Do go out tonight, but do not go to the church meeting. Nothing good awaits you
there. Instead, go to the mall, alone, and enjoy the peace of using the gift card
you've had for the last two months. Have a cup of coffee and sit and read a book.
In the meantime, know that this too will pass and you'll laugh at your hard-to-
manage smart almost-two year old that I've given you. Send a picture to your
parents and your in-laws so they can laugh at your predicament. Be blessed in
knowing that one day, this same daughter will have a child and will call you at 34
and ask you how to get ink out of a blouse - or a child's outfit - and you'll be able to say:

  1. Divert your prayer attention from the church meeting to the clothes.
  2. Spray hairspray on the stain.
  3. Soak it for 30 minutes in a tub of water with laundry soap and a bit of white vinegar.
  4. Try giving it a scrub. If the soap and vinegar don't work, allow it to dry
  5. Then put a cloth with rubbing alcohol on the stain and let it sit. Rinse the cloth periodically as the stain is lifted.
  6. Barring that, try resoaking for another 30 minutes in a tub of water, laundry soap and 1 Tablespoon of ammonia. But be careful, Grasshopper, ammonia can be a little tough on clothing fabric. Rinse the garment and let it dry.
  7. Hopefully - with the prayer you were using for the upcoming church meeting diverted to the fabric, the stain will be removed by the above method.

After that, laugh. It is all that's left sometimes and you don't have to wait 30 years for that to happen. Time to e-mail Jeff that I'll be going to the mall tonight. Enjoy the laugh-for-the-day... On Me!

p.s. - having written this, Buttercup is now taking her nap and not getting into anything at all and Smeagol is playing in his room with Legos. Still slightly feverish, but clearly on the mend.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Home Made Christmas Gifts


To give warning, this post is intended to be the first of many as we close in on the holidays. Does it seem too early to you? If you're making your own, I promise you it's right about the best time to start!

The picture at top is a shirt we've done twice now. We will probably use this idea a few more times in the coming years as our family grows and our children get bigger. Four out of four grandparents polled love this gift - what more can be said in its favor? If my informal poll is not enough to entice you, here are other reasons this makes a great gift:
  • Each shirt costs less than $25 to make
  • This creates a lasting, make Grandma cry reminder of where-your-kids-were-when
  • Takes as little as 15 minutes to make (not including drying time), depending on the age and number of your children
  • You can tailor the shirt to match whatever style and color the grandparent prefers - short sleeves? Check. Long sleeves? Check. Turtleneck? Check. Yellow/green/blue/tan/red? Check/check/check/check/check. I think you get the idea!
So here are the nitty-gritty details:

What you need:

Shirt(s) in the correct size(s) for your recipient
Fabric paint in a color that contrasts well with the color of your shirt(s)
Child/ren
Grocery sack or piece of cardboard
* Puff paint fabric paint to outline the hands/feet

What you need to do:

1. Launder the shirt ahead of time in case there is an issue of shrinkage.

2. Lay the shirt out as flat as possible with a large piece of cardboard or a cut up paper grocery sack laid flat inside the shirt. This keeps your paint from bleeding through to the other side.

3. Make sure your children are in clothes that you don't mind getting paint on - this paint is designed to stay in unless you've washed the garment around 2,000,000 times. Make sure your clothes are similarly carefree!

4. Have the child hold their hand or foot (we do both if the shirt is big enough or maybe hands on front, feet on back) flat open and smear paint all over the hand/foot. Then carefully help the child push their hand flat against the shirt and pull it off again. The first time or two is tricky but you get the hang of it pretty quickly!

5. We outlined the handprint in puff paint to make it stand out a bit. This helps because where the palm imprint is does not usually fill in all the way due to the natural lay of the hand.

6. If you'd like, write a cute message on the shirt. Ideas: "Hands on Grandma/pa" near handprints; "My grandkids walk all over me" near footprints, etc. We also write in names and ages around the prints themselves and put the year on there somewhere.

7. Lay flat to dry out of eyesight of the recipient and out of reach of the children and other clothing for at least 24 hours before wrapping carefully and doing the tissue paper, gift wrap thing.

8. Washing and care: we usually advise our grands to wash these inside out so they don't get so much friction on the other clothes in the wash, on cold water, no bleach, etc. Low heat in the dryer or hang to dry.

More gifts to come! Come back to show off your "Grand"shirt!

Magic Flat-Dough Recipe

I am on a baking/cooking blog kick lately. So be it. I'll just put them in as drafts and then post them when I go a while with few other ideas on what to write about. But I've been thinking: I suppose this blog doesn't really have a "point" to it yet. I started it with the idea of seeing where it goes over time. Will I have an eventual purpose that jumps out at me? Well, so far, I have to say that I don't see much of a pattern yet and can only hope that my posts are edifying to someone. My friend Beth has a blog with the primary focus on knitting. Another friend focuses on the journey she is making to adopt a child. I've consider making mine cooking - but do I want to jump in with the 2,000,000,000,000 other "cooking" blogs out there? And what would my focus be? Breads, I suppose... Eh. Homeschooling? Again - it's being done to death by voices more experienced and wiser than mine. Same thing for religious studies, Orthodox Christianity, home businesses and so many others. Well, for now I'll regale you with another recipe and say only that if you see a pattern that I have missed, feel free to jump in and help me narrow it down some!

Like so many families, we like to occasionally gather 'round for pizza night. By and large though, we've expanded our idea of pizza night to make-your-own-pizza night. Once I discovered how easy it is to make the dough, I can't help but put it on the menu occasionally.

One of the things I've discovered only today is that this dough is more versatile than I thought. If you bake it with holes poked in the dough, it makes pizza; bake it without the holes poked in, just rolled out flat, you have pita bread (let it rise a little bit to get "pocket pita"); fry this dough in a skillet to get Chapati bread - similar to what you find in a Kebab house or like Indian Naan bread. Fried it makes a super tasty, quick lunch bread!

This dough freezes well - but freeze it in smaller batches so you can make one pizza out of one frozen loaf and you don't have to worry about what to do with the rest or wait for it to thaw for a long time.

So without further ado, here is the

Magic Flat-Dough Recipe

This takes about 15-minutes to make and makes one extra-large or two standard large pizzas. The basic recipe is taken from the Reader's Digest, Down Home Cooking, cookbook, but I have changed the method slightly, being the ... expedient... cook that I am!

Ingredients:

1 c. warm water (110 - 120 degs.)
1 packet active dry yeast
3 c. flour (I use bread flour, but it calls for all-purpose)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil

To Make:

1. In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt and make a small well in the top of the mix. Put the dry yeast in the well. Pour the water over the yeast, drizzle the olive oil over the top of the water before mixing! Mix the water into the flour with a wooden spoon (or spatula) until the mixture is a soft dough-ball.

2. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes or until smooth and elastic.

3. Use the dough in accord with one of the following recipes:
  • Pizza Dough: I recommend cooking slightly before adding toppings (think of how the crust looks when you buy a Boboli atthe store.) To do this: roll the dough out into your preferred shape (rectangle/circle/triangle, whatever), poke holes in thedough with a fork, unless you have one of those fancy pizza-poker-thingies you see at the pizzerias, put in the over at 450 deg's F. for 10 minutes. Add toppings and bake for another 10 - 15 minutes
  • Pita: Roll out slightly thinner than for pizza dough, do NOT poke holes in the dough, bake for 15 - 20 min. at 450 deg. F.
  • Chapati bread: put some olive oil or butter in a fry pan, roll the dough out fairlythinly (it will puff up a bit when frying)and fry it briefly on each side in the oil.
In the picture: pita on the left (before baking), chapati on the right (during frying.)

Eureka! Biscuits!


After eleven years (almost twelve!) of marriage, I have finally managed to make biscuits that I can feel good about. The NHL may be saddened by this news - they will have lost a major supplier of hockey pucks, but I know that some other young (?) bride will soon replace me in this ministry!

So how did I do it? I am here to share my recently-gained secrets with you... There are additional tidbits in there as well about ... Bisquik, Buttermilk and what's a gal to do if she doesn't have either in the house??

Here is the general recipe:

2 c. flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3-4 Tbsp. shortening
2 Tbsp. cold butter
3/4 c. buttermilk OR just under 3/4 c. milk and 1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

1. Mix 1 1/2 c. flour and the rest of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside the final 1/2 c. flour for kneading. Cut in the shortening with a pastry cutter.
Incidentally, at this stage you have homemade Bisquik - has a decent shelf-life when stored in an airtight/bug proof container, wonderful to have when going camping or on trips!

2. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or two knives. Little tip: Cut the butter up into pieces before adding to the flour mixture. If you don't have shortening in the house, add in extra butter. The chunks of butter/shortening should form small "peas" in the flour by the time you're done, but those "peas" make it so the dough is extra buttery and good so don't mash them all out!

3. Add in the buttermilk. Stirring it in until you have a soft dough - this will actually still
be slightly sticky because we kept out that last 1/2 c. of flour.

** So what is a girl to do if she doesn't have any buttermilk in the house? The buttermilk is, believe it or not, an integral part of this recipe. The acidity in the buttermilk reacts with the baking powder to make the biscuits rise and fluffy! SO, the secret is... vinegar! Mix your 3/4 c. of milk with 1 Tbsp. vinegar to curdle it just the right amount. **

4. Preheat the oven to 450 deg. F. Put 2 pats of butter or a bit of oil into your biscuit pan and place it into the heating oven to melt. This step will give a nice crust to your biscuits. Pour the reserved flour out onto a clean counter and knead the dough onto the flour three or four times until your dough is soft but not stiff.

5. Roll the dough out to about 1/2" thick and cut into 2" wide circles with a glass or a biscuit cutter, rerolling and cutting the scraps as you go. Place your biscuits into the heated pan and bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until golden on top.

In the picture on the left you'll see my new biscuit cutter - the center piece comes out to make biscuits, or you leave it in to make doughnuts! Haven't done those in ages - perhaps Saturday before the pumpkin farm, then we can share with friends! (If I do, I'll try to get pictures to share here!)

Here is an extra tip, just for reading this far:

How to make the flaky layer biscuit similar to the ones you see in the store (Shhhh... don't tell my secret!)

Instead of rolling the dough out to 1/2" thick, roll it out thinly, cut it and stack it several times. Then bake as before!



Sunday, October 10, 2010

Oh! The Bullies!

... Of a grown-up kind!

Can I rant and rail for just a minute? I am sick and tired of telling my children how to behave and how not to be a bully and then watching them get shoved aside by the adults who were allowed to grow up and remain that way - sometimes for 30, 40, 50 or even 80 years! People who, for whatever reason, have been accommodated in their demands and rudeness, often because we are afraid and don't want to face their wrath and anger.

Take these examples that I have seen of late:

This one is actually a little older - from about two years ago: In the grocery store, a large man was with a woman in an electric cart. The woman was taking a rather long time to decide on her produce, but in the meantime, her cart was blocking the entrance to that section of the produce area. Another lady was waiting to get by - I was also waiting, but ultimately decided what I wanted was not worth the wait and began to move on to the rest of my grocery list. The second lady waited several minutes and finally, politely said, "Excuse me, please."

The man immediately began to berate her in a rather loud voice (I don't know that he was shouting so much as that was just his normal tone, more or less.) He railed against her about how his companion was handicapped and can't she see that?! And informed her that she just needed to wait while his friend picked her produce out. I do not blame the woman in the motorized cart at all, really, she looked up at the sound of his voice and was rather confused as she asked, "What's the matter? What's going on?" and was told by the man not to worry about it and that he had everything taken care of.

The second woman, who had been very polite, moved off - embarrassed and ashamed at having been yelled at and lectured by this man in front of a large number of people. Sad to say, no one else was moving to confront this man in his rudeness. I did. I was shaking from the ... fear? Adrenaline? Anger? of it all but I approached him and told him that he didn't have to be so nasty to that woman - that she was only asking, politely, to get by. Again, loudly, he informed me that it was none of my business.

Ah! But I disagree - then and now (and told him so!) It is my business because at the time, my husband was in Iraq so my children took their cues on how to behave from other men they saw around them. He was setting an example for my boys to follow; he was inflicting everyone else in that area of the store with his nastiness, rudeness and bullying tactics.

More recently at the WWII Memorial down in Washington, D.C.: As we helped the veterans around the memorial to see the different pictures and reminisce, there were protestors everywhere, as is their right. We asked people to please move in a specific path around the monument or to wait just a minute while our slow-moving veterans made their ways around the monument or back to the buses. How very many of those protestors gave us dirty looks, shoved past us, or adjusted their paths to keep moving but to make room to intentionally try to ram us! In their minds, it was their right to be there protesting (and so it was) but also to be there to move where and when they pleased regardless of what else was going on around them. R-U-D-E.

But we want our children to behave in a certain way. To be kind to one another. To love one another. To be polite.

One last example: A friend's boss. He makes claim to a head injury from a past accident - and so he has one. BUT, does such an injury give him the right to call my friend names, berate her, attempt not to pay her salary, yell at her in front of customers for making sure his supply bills are paid? No, no, and no.

I had an uncle with a head injury from a similar accident - in fact, my uncle was a quadriplegic from his accident (this boss isn't and in fact, hits the gym quite regularly.) My uncle was not always pleasant to be with - and I say that even though I loved him dearly. There were times when he got mad and threw things - or on rarer occasions even attempted to ram people with his wheelchair, so great was his frustration. But by and large he managed to keep himself cheerful and polite - especially given the circumstances. He managed to even be too nice and polite sometimes!

But this boss of my friend's has been allowed and enabled by the people around him to act in a certain way because he is loud and because he uses his head injury as an excuse to push his weight around. In short: he is rude and obnoxious and has been accommodated in that for far too long.

I'm sure we all have examples to throw into this pot. But as for me, I am tired of watching churches crumble because of bullies deciding they don't like the way that the rules go because the rules aren't working for them; tired of my children seeing poor behaviour accepted and allowed, even as I tell them that they have to do x, y, and z because it is the "right" thing to do. I am tired of people deciding that rules of civility apply only when it is convenient to follow them. And I have begun to fight against it.

I speak out now and do my best to stop the rudeness that I see - to stop people from shoving past my children without a word of apology or a simple "pardon me." I now loudly say, "Excuse us!" when this happens. These people need to know that they're being watched and that they are not exempt from basic manners. Even when they're handicapped, or 80, or grown-ups interacting with children. I hope you'll join me. It is not a fight I wage alone, I know. I see others who are tired of it too. But I'd love to see the trend turn so that we don't have to fight any more and can just have a pleasant day, with a tip of the hat and a "thank you."

A more pleasant post next time, I promise - and pictures to go with it! But as this is a part of life, though an unfortunate one, so I thought to address it here. Thank you for the time.

Secrets of a Long Life

I've had some time to think about the older members of our society that I've met lately - at the Honor Flight event, at the grocery store, just in passing... And I've been asking them questions: What is your tip for a long-lasting marriage? What are your hobbies? Tell me about your life...

And I've found a few things they seem to have in common (no surprise to those social scientists, I suppose!)

By and large, those who worked hardest earlier in life - the mill workers, farmers, gardeners, wood workers, etc - have the softest hands. Their skin is like that of a newborn baby's. So soft, and by that point, callous-free somehow. You never want to lose that feeling - it is the symbol, I think, of a long life, well lived.

Almost all of those I've talked were in their mid-70s, 80s, and 90s and so many of them talked about their gardens, their puzzles and taking a walk every day. They talked about their wives (most I met have been men of late, not sure why!) and their old friends from past days. They talked about other hobbies as well: wood-working, sewing (for the ladies usually,) trying to get out to watch their great-grandchildren's ball games, making new friends and new memories every day. Refreshing the old memories from before. They remembered so much...

What stories they have been able to tell! I hope to save some of those stories - for myself, my children, and maybe to share a few on here in this blog. It seems that in gardening, cooking, reading, and playing games with my children, I am on a good track for a long, fruitful life. Or at least I hope so. I plan to keep asking questions and listening to their stories, so they can live on - even when they're gone...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Happy and Back to BWI - "Honor" part 5

It is taking quite a while to get in all the details of my one day with the Honor Flight veterans. If you want to start at the beginning (I've tried to make it a worthwhile read), head over here.

Chuck, whom I was still pushing in the wheelchair, did not need the facilities, so while our Columbus Guardian stayed with our two walkers (Paul and Bill.) I worked to get Chuck's chair up over the curbs to get to the Memorial. Off in the distance, towards the bell tower that is near Iwo Jima (given to the United States in 1960 by the Netherlands), were several Marines in full dress blues, walking in our direction. The cut quite a picture - blue coats, swords strapped on, medals - the works. I wondered if anyone would walk over and ask them to come spend a few minutes with our vets - but didn't want to leave Chuck to do so myself and was struggling still with a rather high curb and a wheelchair. For the record, it is better to back the chair up over the curb as opposed to trying to pop up the front wheels!

Each of the three buses were on a different side of the Memorial for group photos. Our group headed to the far right. We gathered the Red Bus veterans for a group shot, just as we were getting ready to walk around the perimeter of the Memorial, the Marines walked over to join us! They were very respectful, stood behind our vets to get their picture taken, shook each hand and talked and laughed with them for a bit. Our Guardian, Rich, went over to talk to them as well - who knew he was a former Marine?!

While the Marines had their pictures taken with our group, the group shot with the Guardians was forgotten about (and that's okay - those Marines were better dressed, hands down!) I noticed a family of five sitting off to one side, watching our events take place. They asked what we were doing that day. When I told them, the matriarch of the family said that it was her birthday and she had come over to Arlington that day to visit her son's gravesite. He was one of the Infants laid to rest in Arlington nineteen years ago. Her grown daughter, also there with the family that day, had a 9/11 birthday. Her grandson shared his deceased great-uncle's name - he considered it carrying on the legacy of his uncle and proudly told me as much. The family was there at Iwo Jima together remembering, sharing stories and love on a day important to their family.

As the Marines finished shaking hands with the vets, the boy went over to shake hands with them as well. His grandmother explained that her husband had retired from the Marine Corps after 21 years. Right about then, we saw the boy and the Marines laughing - the Marines had asked him if he was going to join the Corps after he got older. He told them no, he was joining the Army! Grandma said she had expected her Marine husband to be angry about that when the boy first announced it, but he had been supportive and said whatever service the boy decided to join was fine with him! How great is it to belong to a family that is so close and so supportive of one another? Between that family and the Marines coming over to offer us a few minutes of their time with us, we more than made up for the protestors we saw at the WWII Memorial when we started the day!

All too soon, we boarded the bus to head back to BWI Airport. The veterans were inquisitive still, asking questions about this building or that one, looking at the various parts of Washington, D.C., with the eyes of an outsider (one told me earlier in the day that he really expected our capital city to be cleaner!) and creating memories to take home with them. One of the last things we saw on our way past the city, before getting on the freeway was one more satisfying moment of the day: While we had been allowed to take our buses straight to the WWII Monument, the protestors had had to park their buses at the edge of the City. The reasons were probably pragmatic - there simply wasn't room for all of those buses inside the city's main area - but it did not dim the glee I must confess I felt when I saw all of the protestors had to walk about 2.5 miles back to their own buses.

With that final image in mind, we gazed out the windows as the last glimpses of the Monuments and the Capital building faded from view. We were tired, but happy on that bus. The atmosphere was a little more subdued, the conversations quieter. Until they announced it was time for MAIL CALL! One last vestige of old, come to life and renewed. A local school from Columbus had sent letters, personally addressed to each veteran on the Honor Flight buses. There was a murmur of excitement (and a few of confusion) as manilla envelopes, filled with letters, were handed to each veteran as they answered to their names. Bill sat in the seat next to me, opening a few letters, dropping a few more on the floor (and we retrieved them!) and ultimately he decided to put them up until he arrived home. They each received goodie bags to take as well.

We parted ways at BWI Airport Saturday, and will not likely ever meet again. Each veteran is (to my knowledge) only allowed one trip on the Honor Flight, in order to allow other veterans to go. Those men and that day will remain in my memory for a very long time - and I have every intention of returning to help with Honor Flight again in the near future. For now, I am working to try to get my lovely White Knight out there in his Dress Blues to help out as well - it is an honor and an opportunity not to be missed!

Leaving Arlington for Iwo Jima - ("Honor" part 4)

This is the fourth in a series about my day helping with WWII veterans participating in the Honor Flight program. To see the first post, head over here. I encourage you to consider helping with this wonderful program while we still have time to honor our WWII veterans!

Upon the completion of the Changing of the Guard, many of the tourists who had watched drifted away, while many of our vets lingered for a minute, watching the new guard as he began the slow march that would take him through the next hour. We still had about fifteen minutes to look around before our buses left for the Iwo Jima Memorial.

We crossed the street to see the mast taken from the U.S.S. Maine. The sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in the Havana, Cuba harbor, began the Spanish-American war back in 1898. In 1905, prior to sinking the ship completely with full military honors, the mast was removed for installation at Arlington National Cemetery as a Memorial to those who died in the 1898 battle. On the way up a small incline to see the Mast, were three stone monuments off to the right. Those three commemorated the Shuttle Challenger, and two others, which I am sorry to say I was unable to see as I escorted another vet to the Mast instead.

We also took time, like many others, to linger before some of the graves in that area, reading the headstones and talking about who was there. We saw graves for an infant daughter, a man who had been not only in WWII, but also in WWI, two mass graves (one was for the men who tried to help rescue American hostages in Iran,) and many in which the spouses had been buried alongside the fallen military members. Our Columbus guardian told us that one of the men on our bus knew his father was buried in Arlington, but had never seen his father's grave. The Columbus guardian had told his local guardian to take a few minutes to help the man find the gravesite - when will he ever get the chance to see it again? I don't know if the guardian helped him or not, but how moving to know your father is there, but never to have seen it.

After about an hour in total, we boarded our buses again, were offered more ice-cold water (those poor vets had water coming out of their ears! But it was all to keep them safe and comfortable), and headed out for our next stop. On the way out, our lead guide asked if we had any former SeaBees on board the bus. He wanted to know whether they had looked like the man pictured in the SeaBee Can Do Memorial found on the roadside on the way into and out of Arlington - he joked that they all said they looked just like the man in the statue when they were younger. The vets appreciated the military camaraderie and humor just as they had in their younger days!

The Iwo Jima memorial was far less crowded when we got there. The road up to the Iwo Jima Memorial winds around and around and around while you get to the place for buses to park! Teasing our Marine vets on board, the head guide for our bus pointed out that the WWII Memorial has it's own permanent bathroom facilities, while the Iwo Jima Memorial has only port-a-potties. The vets all chuckled at that joke too - then many headed over to use them. I suppose, in a way, it is fitting that the Marine Corps would not provide a cushy place to go at their memorial, especially seeing that they pride themselves on being tougher than all the rest! But an 80-year-old tushie might have appreciated something (if you'll excuse me here) ... cushy!

With that poor joke to sustain you, I end this fourth post, in the idea of keeping them still readably short... More in part five (how many posts does it take to get in all the details of a day? Five so far!)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Visiting Arlington - ("Honor" - part III)

This is, as you can see, the 3rd part in a series of posts about my day helping with Honor Flight, to see the first post, start here. Otherwise, I invite you to read on as we visit Arlington Cemetery with our World War II veterans!

When last we met in post 2, the vets and their Guardians were finishing up an hour-and-a-half at the WWII Memorial. We were fighting off protesters ("Anti-Tea Party") as they moved in great waves through, by and around the Monument.... Sorry - I did promise that for a later, non-Honor Flight related post! We'll get to those protestors later on.

Several of the veterans had on ball caps, old uniform jackets (they still fit fifty years later. Impressive!), old uniform hats or rank patches from their days in the service. With my own three vets, I had the pleasure of a five-minute discussion about whether or not the Navy uniforms still have bell bottoms on the pants. They asked questions about what various medals and awards indicated on the uniforms; they were moved by the PBS documentary that was shown about the building of the Monument while we were on the buses.

One thing I didn't know about the WWII Monument, though it doesn't surprise me to find out, is that Kilroy is on the side of the Monument that faces the Lincoln Memorial. So I will definitely have to check that out next time I am down there!

At 1:30, we mustered back up at the buses to load up for Arlington Cemetery and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. We boarded the bus and the vets received their free boxed Arby's lunches (sandwich, chips, fruit cup and yet another ice cold water and home made cookies), and we were on our way. Our previously broken down bus had returned so we were glad to be rid of the five blue shuttles, though having them earlier in the day had been a blessing - the alternative was to miss the day altogether!

The original plan had been to see Iwo Jima first - in the end, I was grateful that we came back to it. When we circled around Iwo Jima, another Honor Flight group (there were three in town) was already there snapping pictures and seeing the sights. I'll get to why it was better to be last later on. For now, on to Arlington - finally!

When we reached Arlington, our bus/group leader gave us some of the history of the Cemetery and the buildings we saw around us. He told us a great story about General Lee, the way that his house was taken over and the fact that he was the great-, great- nephew of General Lee. He then told us, as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story," but so as to avoid butchering a really well told, funny tale from his family history, I will encourage you to join the Honor Flight for their ride into the city so you can hear the story in full from his own mouth.

We drove on up and unloaded across the street from Audey Murphey's grave. We crossed the street to see the grave of the Most Decorated War Hero of WWII. After taking pictures of that, we headed over to see the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. First my vet, his name was Chuck, needed to use the restroom. As we had about fifteen minutes left, we decided we had plenty of time. The only problem was that the restroom was on the right side of the amphitheater while the most available space to view the guards was on the left. Once Chuck emerged, we decided we could speed-walk to the other side and settle in. We had just over five minutes to the ceremony. Chuck really wanted to make sure he was there to see it so boy did I walk fast with that wheelchair! Being pregnant with number five, and worried too about tripping the chair on an uneven bit of pavement, I didn't go so fast as to be running, but we moved quickly and made it just in time.

The guard marked off his steps - 21 in all - twice before his replacement appeared at the far end of the guard area. The replacement guard stood through his inspection and the Sergeant came to the front center of the steps and in a loud voice announced his name and the all should remain silent, respectful and standing during the duration of the ceremony to follow. My vet struggled to his feet and stood as long as he could, as did several others of our 80- and 90-year old companions. Though a few took pictures, our vets were all silent, many doffed their hats; they were respectful and, as always, the ceremony was intensely moving to watch.

Each step marked off, 21 in all, day in, day out - even during a hurricane several years ago, when the men were told that they could stand down if they wished. All elected to remain at their posts.

(I hope you'll continue on with me in part IV, but this seems the best place to end Part III... so I shall.)


"Honorable" Intentions (Part II)

This post is part two of my Saturday as an Honor Flight guardian. To see the first part, head over here... Then read on below!

During the bus ride down into the city, I sat next to a man who was 80. He had been married to his wife for 65 years! I was so impressed with that. He told me that he almost had cancelled his trip because his wife had reached for his hand in bed earlier that week and they held hands for a while, he said, just stroking each others' fingers, and the next morning, his daughter came to check in on them to find his wife had lapsed into a coma. In spite of that, he had come at his daughter's insistence and showed me a picture of Morgan's Surrender Sword (from the Civil War,) that he said he had dug up out of his yard. He told me other things as well, but he was a little difficult to hear at times because of the bus's engine being so loud.

We left off at the wonderful D.C. traffic jam in part one. I must say that those Honor Flight folks are right on the ball - once we broke through the main traffic jam, which was unavoidable, really, they managed to get National Park Police (Thanks, guys!) to come out and give us a police escort into the closed-off streets of D.C. so we could park right there next to the WWII Monument.

That part was fantastic and mighty helpful! Our "bus" (five replacement vans) alone held twelve wheelchair veterans that needed to be unloaded, gotten into their chairs, taken for latrine/head/bathroom calls and then to visit their monument. The crowds were unbelievable! We did get everyone unloaded (can I just say that I really was taken by how soft their hands were - like a newborn babies' hands) and headed for the bathrooms that were built alongside the WWII Monument. For once, I was glad to be on the girls' side! Normally the line out the door comes from the women's room, Saturday there were around 40 male veterans waiting for the men's facilities! We finally decided to speed things up a bit and did as the ladies do when the situation is reversed: we commandeered the women's room and siphoned some of the men that way. Trust me when I say that some of these guys looked about as uncomfortable as a pregnant woman waiting to go!

We did get some dirty looks from a few protesters who wanted into the ladies' room and whom we asked to wait. Meanwhile, to the side of the permanent restroom fixture, there were at least 30 port-a-potties that had been set up specifically for the protestors to use. I finally emerged from guarding the bathroom door until all of our men came out and it warmed my heart to hear three medics nearby (on hand in case of anyone getting hurt in the protests from heat exhaustion or whatever) ... discussing ... the protestors who had complained about our use of the ladies' room for the vets. Their take on it was that the port-a-potties were set up specifically for the protestors and that the vets who had fought in the war should have had every use of the restrooms that went with their monument. Made me smile.

My group had one Columbus guardian, myself, and three vets - one in a wheelchair, two walkers. When I got out of the restroom duty, they had disappeared. Crap. So I headed for the Monument itself to try to find them. What a mess! I will not ruin my commentary any more than needed talking about the behaviour of many of the protestors toward our veterans. That will be for a follow-on post that I have plans for. But suffice to say that finding my little group of four was going to be nearly impossible. So I grabbed a vet who had lost his group and we walked around the pool and he told me stories about the war, his wife and his garden back home. He was lovely to be with.

As we rounded off the circuit, we found his Columbus Guardian and he went back to his group. I remained behind, both looking for my group and helping "make a hole" (path) for the vets to move through the waves of protestors moving by. The man who started Honor Flight was on hand to help out and welcome the vets as well and they did have several tourists who stopped our men to ask for their pictures and shake hands. The men took group photos in front of the wall of stars, they shared their stories and laughed as they remembered the past. Some of the men even made mock passes at the ladies - they were mighty sweet. Mine gave me a kiss on my cheek and told me I was pretty. Flatterer.

More in part 3 - this part seems long enough for now! ....

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