Thursday, August 31, 2006

Writing Reality

Kirk was still doing work creating excercise scenarios. He was very good at it in Alaska, and he was good at it here; still coming up with creative ideas to test people in new ways.

The trouble is, sometimes people don't want to be tested in new ways. It's much nicer to be tested in old ways, so you're ready and you have all the answers set to go. Notice, this isn't something unique to the military! Don't we all want to have the questions before hand? Don't we wish we could take the test we did last time, because now we know exactly what to say.

So in the Spring or Summer of 2000 Kirk wrote up a little scenario that involved a large navy ship. The idea was that a few terrorists would load up a small zodiac - an inflatable boat with a great little engine and no draft - with explosives, then float it up right next to the ship and detonate it.

The navy was not amused. Their ships, their nice, big, powerful ships, were not vulnerable to things like this. Terrorists would never attack a heavily armed and armored vessel - it just didn't make sense. The scenario was disgarded, never seriously looked at.

The USS Cole was bombed on October 12th, 2000. 17 sailors were killed.

Kirk was deeply troubled. He knew it had just been an idea, just one of several concepts he had come up with. But there was such a large 'if only' there. If only they had run the excercise. If only someone had noticed that this was a possibility. If only...

There had been so many people saved at Y2K, such an amazing day of success. Was this the inevitable flip side? And how do you cope with something that was, however improbably, preventable.

I know he thought about it. I don't think he ever found any real answers.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Curiouser and Curiouser

Friend: You had a secure telephone line in your bedroom?

Me: Yup, at least for a while.

Friend: And you didn't ask why?

Me: Nope.

Friend:... sure you did.

Me: Nope.

Friend: I mean, you didn't come out and say 'Kirk, why do we have a huge ugly secure telephone in our bedroom,' but you asked anyway.

Me: Nope.

Friend: Hinted

Me: Nope.

Friend: Suggested.

Me: Nope

Friend: Oh come on!

Me: Honest! I double dog swear with cherries on. I never asked, never hinted, never suggested. Not once.

Friend: You have GOT to be kidding.

Me: He wouldn't have been able to tell me anyway, so what would be the point?

Friend: You're unbelievable.

Me: Gets worse.

Friend: ?

Me: One day he came home really super late and he said he had just gotten back from briefing the White House. They had flown him in by helicopter.

Friend: The White House White House?

Me: Yup, the one with the annual turkey reprieve and the friendly men with very large guns.

Friend: Don't tell me.

Me: Yup, never even asked. I have no idea why he went, what he briefed about, or who was there.

Friend: That's not natural. There would be smoke coming out of my ears.

Me: That's because you keep your head stuffed with brains and things. Mine is a splendid wasteland and therefore free from overheating.

Friend: Well, that explains a lot.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Little (off-white, clunky) Security

'They're going to put a secure line in the house,' Kirk announced one day. It was well after Y2K, and no naturally I don't know why. I also didn't ask.

Hmmm... a secure line. Like in 'get the president on the line' - the secure line.

It would go in our bedroom. My. A top-secret secure line in our bedroom!

This would probably mean a bit of redecorating. I mean, we didn't have really swish black furniture or anything, and our mossy green duvet cover would definitely not go with subdued blue lighting and lots of plexiglass panels for Kirk to scribble meaningful things all over. The banks of flashing LED displays could probably go up against the East wall next to the attic door. There was just enough room there for a couple of low-ranking flunkies to look intense while wearing headphones. Also my wardrobe would need to be updated to include a lot of very streamlined suits with exceptionally short skirts. Wow. A secure telephone line.

I don't remember seeing it installed. I would like to say there was a small army of coveralled burly people with suspicious bulges around their persons and paranoid twitches. But so far as I know it simply appeared one day. And actually, it turned out to be an enormous, clunky off-white thing that sat glumly by Kirk's side of the bed and got in the way of the alarm clock.

And when he was away I was always just a little worried... what if ...

... but it never rang.

Monday, August 28, 2006

But it NEVER Snows Here...

It snowed. It snowed real snow, several inches of it, in Virginia. The kids were beyond pleased because the green winter that had been confronting them was suddenly and comfortingly coated in white - as it should be.

Granted it was a sort of strange white. It was a white that didn't squeak underfoot, and that packed easily into various sculptural shapes. Alaska snow is too dry for snowmen. Our neighbor built a snow fort by simply wedging up the concrete-like chunks discarded by the snow-scraper, then spraying them down to make an ice palace that lasted until well into June. This stuff was wet and sloppy and when thrown at a sibling it splatted delightfully before trickling down necks or into boots.

Then there was the fact that most of the neighbors came out to marvel at this odd whiteness covering their landscape. They commented on it loudly for hours as well. By the end of the morning it was clear that they all agreed - it never snows here. Not here, nope, not snow, never.

Nothing phased the kids donned coats, mittens and boots like the snow-experts they are and headed off to school It was only a five block walk, but they left a bit early because with this much snow-ballable material it was going to be necessary to pause now and then.

Kirk had left hours before, powering out with our newly purchased old-clunker truck, but I enjoyed watching the Edie Bauer edition SUVs around us fizz and whine in the snow that was icky and slippery and probably ewwwwwww getting their detailing all mucky!

Then the kids came bursting back in the door.

'Mom! Mom! The school is closed! Closed!'


'Well... I don't know really. What's a snow day?'

Three years in Alaska, feet of snow every season and at least one winter where it didn't get above zero for what felt like months and we hadn't once, not once, had a weather closure at our school.

The Virginia school was closed for 4 1/2 days. It appears the city had sold off all their snow plows several years before. Why?

Well, it never snows here.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


I flew on the day the London explodable-liquids arrests took place. *

Being a former military-intel counter-terrorism wife paid off here because I immediately recognized that a. security was going to be trying to be tighter but wouldn't yet quite know what that meant so things were probably going to be a complete pig's breakfast and b. it would be a really good idea to rid my carry-on of anything liquid.

So, wearing free-from-metal slip-on sandals, checking my quite small enough to carry-on suitcase (only it weighed about 40 pounds or something), and carrying only my inoffensive not-a-purse (I don't do purses. It is not a purse, it is a quite artistic satchel that I happen to carry pens and wallets and unmentionables in) I felt pretty darn smug when I showed up 2 1/2 hours before my flight. Actually, I hadn't anticipated that 1 oz tubes of $1.69 lip gloss were 'liquid,' but my kind and not-yet-frazzled check in person thought to ask me about these items and I stuffed them into my checked bag just before it was whisked off.

I had been right about security as well. They were definitely on high-alert, but hadn't yet figured out just what that meant. So there were hastily printed signs saying things like: 'NO LIQUIDS!!! This means no: _________ ' with a long line of printed items and then, right as you got to the actual checker people, some hand-printed additions as well.

There weren't all that many people checking through though, so I kicked off my sandals, piled them into a bin and carefully displayed the artistic satchel nice and flat so they could clearly pick out things like tampons and stuff when it went through the scanner.

They decided my satchel wasn't actually dangerous although it did get scanned three times. Just as well otherwise I might have felt left out because the bag before me and the bag after me both got special hand-search treatment. And there was the lady who was informed that her eye drops were going to be confiscated. She was furious. She offered to pour the drops in her eyes right there, right that moment. She'd also pour them in her husband's eyes if they liked (husband shifts and looks desperately uncomfortable - probably because he had to convince the wife that he was totally backing her up on this while he was showing the security people that he agreed she was making too much of a fuss). Nope she was told, the eye drops are history.

'But they are my $25 dollar eye drops!' She wailed that really loudly and I HAD to look - I had to. Because what kind of eye-drops cost $25? And it was a mid-sized bottle of off-the-shelf contact solution. And I wanted to tap her on the shoulder and suggest she check out Walmart because her local drug store was really marking it up on her. She pouted and whined and shouted and threatened but security held firm and finally she stormed off through the automatic rotating door still muttering about how unreasonable it was that her eye drops were so dangerous.

I really felt for those security people, because you knew it was only going to get worse through the day.

Of course now I was only 2 hours early for my flight, but I was prepared with a brand new book, and there were still enough seats at the gate that I could sit down without deciding who would be least offended that I took the open seat at their side.

Over an hour later a woman of about 60 sat down next to me. She sat down with that exhale of breath, that sort of sigh that's a humph pushed out by the force of her body hitting the chair. She immediately pulled out her cell phone and began a loud, indignant conversation.

Security, it appears, had not been kind. They had not cared that she was a first class passenger. They had insisted on searching her purse. Her. Purse. Hers. Uh huh (excited chatter on other side) I know. And she had checked her suitcase even though she never checks her suitcase, but she did and now she'll have to wait at the other end, wait while they do god knows what with her things. And you know what they're like in baggage handling. I mean it's not like she's going to Europe for god's sake. I know. (more chatter). But then... and there was a deep inhale here... they confiscated her perfume. Her perfume. Her Perfume. I know! Very expensive. Oh, my dear very expensive. Well, no just the travel one but still. I just hope those security men like Chanel because you know they're just going to take it home to their wives and...

... and the battery on her phone died. And she snapped it shut, threw it in her purse, crossed her arms over her bosom shelf and looked at me.

'This,' she said dramatically, 'is the worst day of my entire life.'

And I said it. I smiled at her, very sweetly and nicely, and I said:

'Lucky you.'

*Where does the context come in? It was the day after I found this out.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


I do a lot of people watching while I walk to work. It's not the world's longest walk, but it does take me past about 200 constantly changing, endlessly fascinating people. It doesn't hurt that at least four of them on any given day will make me feel much, much better about myself and my life choices. Others... will simply confuse.

Last week I walked behind a man whose outfit revealed itself to me in small pieces. I think that was all my brain could cope with at a time; it had to see, analyze and accept each small portion before it could move on.

It began with the hat - the crocheted hat. The rainbowy, bobbles on it like an afghan hat. This is not an unusual sight where I work so I just thought 'hmmm... wonder if that guy went out with the strange woman who seems to compulsively crochet horrible accessories for all she knows?' until he took it off and revealed the carefully plastered four strands of hair stretched over his bald spot. Then I was impressed because a. the strands had survived the hat and its removal and b. the plastering which had made them survive had yet not managed to tame the inherent curliness of the hair. Never seen anything like it. Very interesting.

Then I noticed that he was wearing a brand spanking-new t-shirt. I know this because it still had the sharp square wrinkles left from being pressed in a plastic package at the bottom of a slippery stack of orange and brown t-shirts.

I thought I had hit the highlight though with the shorts. He was wearing black briefs - I know this because he was also wearing paper-thin white shorts. They were that indeterminate length where you can't tell if you're grateful they're not shorter or you wish they'd just said to heck with it and splurged on another inch or two. They also hinched up around the crotch so they had a sort of disconsolate droop at the edges.

I was so pleased with the shorts I nearly stopped there, which would have been terribly, terribly sad because I would have missed the most amazing thing I've ever seen. Over his black ankle socks (passed by without comment because:) he wore... well the closest I can come is saddle shoes. You know those 1950's black and white shoes that bobby-soxer's wore? Only his were sort of camel dung brown on the toes and heels, and a very pale creamy green across the middle. And his feet must have been at least size 15. Huge.

But the very best bit was that he was walking with a slim, silky-tressed blonde wearing a close-enough-for-government-work Chanel little black dress and classic pumps.

And she was holding his hand.

Friday, August 25, 2006

New Year, New World

We prized our weekends. We did more than that, we seized them from the first moment and squeezed every possible bit of time and happiness out we could. Because weekends were all we had, and we knew we were lucky to get those.

There was a silent battle going on, one most people still know nothing about. It had nothing to do with computers or millennium viruses. It was the fight for the next millennium, and it was deadly.

I don't know how many plots there were. I have a strong sense of the most vulnerable places in the world simply from reading the signs around me; I know where, almost certainly, things were stopped. But in the weeks leading up to Y2K there were dozens certainly - probably hundreds - of people who spent every waking moment thinking about the end of the world. They ticked off the things they knew, the things they stopped and worried constantly that they hadn't found it all.

At first Kirk left the house before 5 in the morning, generally didn't get home until after 7. Christmas day he didn't get home until 3 a.m. He slept a little, woke up to watch the kids open stockings and exult over presents, then by 9 he had gone back to work again. After that he was often gone by 3 or 4 a.m., not home until 8 at night.

New Years came. Kirk of course was at work. It's funny I just realized I have no idea where he actually was; I assume it was the ops room at Norfolk, but it could have been anywhere. I was home with the kids.

We piled up cushions and blankets on the couch and settled in; big plans for the new millennium - we were going to watch the Crocodile Hunter marathon. We must have started watching at 7 (crikey! There's a little beauty!), then as each hour ticked by I would flip quickly over to the news channel and we would watch 2000 roll across the world. The kids couldn't have been less interested; they didn't want to miss Steve but I insisted.

Asia changed over. Jerusalem celebrated and Turkey. Then Eastern Europe slowly ticked across, and Paris. And London. Each time there was a sick, horrified tension and then miraculous release: nothing. Thousands of happy, shouting people and... that was all.

Now, with the horror of 9/11 a constant reminder, with arrests in London, and kidnappings and bombs across the Middle East maybe we forget something. The new millennium, our time, was begun in peace.

That was the victory. There are thousands of people alive right now who owe their lives to the folks in Kirk's unit and others like them. And they don't know it - and that's how it should be.

Maybe it's good now and then to remember that.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


The HMS Indefatigable was a noble vehicle for many things. It swallowed five mountain-bikes of varying sizes without even a hint of indigestion (although come to think of it, the kids sometimes came out with tire marks on their faces...). It navigated entire states with a self-deprecating dignity that was beautiful to behold. It even gave us the unbelievable joy of pulling up at a rather posh winery and piling out to demand a tour at the same time that a BMW-load of Texans arrived elegantly hatted and sporting entirely improbable cowboy boots (yup, you can sneer at our travel-stained jeans, but you still bought two bottles of hyper-sweet sissy dessert wine from the gift shop. I saw you).

However... nimble? Not so much. Economical... hardly. Something anyone but Kirk was even remotely willing to get behind the wheel of? Well... no.

Which is why we were in the back woods of Virginia (no, no banjo music) checking out a car. We had already done the preliminaries which consisted of me giving Kirk the 'oh my word this is such a COOL vintage car! We will buy it at once' meaningful stare while he returned with an 'are you out of your mind? We have to check for [car buying stuff] and I haven't even begun the man connection thing with this guy so he'll drop $500 off the price' blank gaze. Now we were in the kitchen, slightly disturbingly lined with thousands of rosy-cheeked Hummel figurines. Turns out the wife is German which allowed me to try and chat her up (useless) and Kirk to slide in the we-were-in-Germany-military-connection thing. That goes quite well, and inevitably the question is asked - so, where you coming from then?

And that's when it happened. 'Alaska, eh?' The guy leans forward and drops his voice to a confidential whisper. 'Don't have many... coloreds up there, do they?'

I couldn't help thinking about how just a day or two before we had gone to a local air museum where we saw a film and then heard a lecture by a pilot from the Tuskegee Airmen. Fantastic talk; amazing guy. Afterwards he signed a mug Child 1 had won as a door prize, and kindly answered our questions and chatted with us for a while.

This guy was a World War II vet too. He had met his wife in Germany and brought her over. He had missed D-day, but was there for the push deeper into France.

We didn't say any of the number of things that occurred. It wouldn't have changed his mind; wouldn't have shone a light in his dark, cramped world.

We just thought about it. Yes sir, actually there were any number of people from all sorts of backgrounds, because that's what the military is like, thank god. What I do know though is that at least in our experience there weren't many ignorant, cave-dwelling bigots around.

And, no I don't think we'll buy that car.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Battle Scars

Weekends we biked. Within three weeks we had done Jamestown, Yorktown, York River and Colonial Williamsburg all on two wheels. You should take a moment to feel for the poor tourists who were trying to really live the pre-revolutionary world of Virginia (visions of periwigs and authentic horse poop are free, food and drink extra) with a family of padded-shorts clad cyclists whizzing past at full speed: 'quick, look kids! A colonial town drunk!'

Mountain biking had become a passion during the previous summer in Alaska. Kirk already had a gorgeous Trek 9000 - midnight blue and stunning; and I had, with some of the first money I earned for my own self with my own company, bought a violent green but entirely lovable Trek 7000. Eagle River has a network of wonderful paved paths snaking through the neighborhood, which sufficed for the first two days. But a mountain bike has to be taken off road and thrown down gullies and things to be really appreciated. I was, admittedly, timid at first but then learned the quite obvious rule of biking - look where you want to go, not where you don't. Once I figured that out the bike lost its habit of steering into trees and over steep drops and things and life was very, very good.

Unfortunately I went directly from 'oh dear, maybe I shouldn't take on that hill' to 'hey! If I think I can do it I can!' leaving behind all sorts of little things like logic and common sense. Which is why when we were biking the Yorktown battlefield tour one day (it's just road bike stuff, but several miles of it, nice and green and great for kids. Plus hardly anyone bothers to drive the whole circuit so you mostly have the place to yourself) I decided to put on my biking gloves while riding directly behind Child 1.... while I held a set of hex-keys in one hand... so I was entirely incapable of using the brakes. Naturally Child 1 swerved right in front of me and... well I'm not entirely sure what happened then, but I do know that evenutally I was sitting against a tree looking at a fairly large hole in one leg and anxiously asking about my bike! Are you sure it's okay!?

Kirk looked at me.

'The bike's fine. You I think we're taking to the hospital.'

'Oh. But I don't want to have to explain how I did this. '


'Because it might sound stupid!'

'Not at all.' He paused for a moment, 'We'll just say you were wounded at Yorktown.'

Sounds quite impressive when you put it like that! You want to see my scar?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A New Approach to The Pamper Problem

So we were in Virginia... yes, sorry I couldn't come up with a neater, tidier segue than that.

Kirk was quickly absorbed into the counter-terrorist world. I was used to secrecy, used to not knowing details about what he did, but this was a step beyond that. There was more pressure, and far greater stakes. Before Kirk had protected 'assets' with secrecy, now it was clear those assets were lives.

He was also having to learn an enormous amount in an incredibly short time. There was no easing into this world - things were happening right now, and mistakes were simply not acceptable. Being Kirk he just stayed quiet for a few days and listened hard. He said he overheard one man being asked for an opinion on the new air force guy. 'Nice enough, but not the sharpest tool in the shed' was the verdict. That man ended up being Kirk's best friend in the unit - and he did revise his opinion. Kirk started making a few suggestions, throwing out a carefully casual comment. He was the outsider after all, and intelligence people can be clannish. It didn't take very long, he was allowed inside.

They had a pretty major coup within weeks of Kirk's arrival. As always I don't know details. I think it might be the incident that got a little publicity - the one that was to come through Canada. I do remember Kirk saying there were some Mounties somewhere that he really wanted to buy a drink. And I remember the quote from the unit commander when they gave the briefing after it was all over.

The terrorist was trying to smuggle something over the border apparently, and it must have been something pretty large, and fairly strange. But he was prepared, he was ready for questions this guy. This thing? This contraption I'm bringing into the country? Why... it's a diaper cleaning machine.

Right, the commander said. It'll blow the sh*t out of them.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Who You Calling a Victim?

I'm sitting here waiting for another 25 minutes to tick by so I can call the Victim Assistance people at the FBI. How's that for an opening sentence? Lousy actually, when I think about it. One of my more useless excercises has been avoidance of the 'victim' label.

It's one of the reasons I didn't (don't) tell people about Kirk and what happened. As soon as I do there's a huge sign posted over my head, and every time that person looks at me my features disappear and instead I'm a Situation and a Circumstance and a Reason For Pity. Ages ago I ended up telling a woman I deal with at work (she asked and asked and asked and there's only so much vague avoidance one can do before it stops being sidestepping and becomes outright lying. I don't like lying). Now every time I see her she gets a particularly wide smile on her face, tips her head to one side (right, always) and says 'how are you?' And I think, she couldn't really care less about how I am, she just likes thinking of herself as a really nice person who is terribly empathetic and that's what nice empathetic people do. Which is actually pretty nasty minded of me, but there you are.

I'm afraid too of the ease of being a victim. People are nice to you, they want to help you and do things for you. You might not have to try too hard because, poor thing, think of what you're going through. It's true of course. There are days when waking up is the hardest thing in the world, when I don't want to make those umpteen tedious changes to a page or copy edit that submission because it's trivial and pointless in the face of everything. But it still has to be done, today and tomorrow and for the rest of my life. Years from now won't that victim crown be getting a little tinny? What if I get too used to being the princess of pain and can't do things for myself anymore?

But some things I just don't feel adequate to deal with alone, and Social Security is one of those things. So I'm hoping somewhere out there is a person who can help me out. And if that means I have to be a victim today... well I suppose I can do that.

Fifteen minutes.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A Question of Tense

For nearly three years there has been the problem of tense. When I talked of Kirk was it present tense? Did I say he 'was' or he 'is' something. Kirk has a gift with languages... or is it he had one. Tricky thing, language.

Grammar was never my strong suit anyway. I sprinkle dashes and semicolons around with reckless abandon, and commas are like salt in my opinion - they add flavor to a sentence. I've been known more than once to start a sentence or even a paragraph with And or But. I'll split infinitives because it just sounds better sometimes to boldly go, and I'm not always careful about thatting and whiching. Microsoft Word scolds me something awful. My typing is always littered with chastising little wriggly green and red lines.

But the question of time... well pardon the pun but it was fraught with tension. I might not have picked up much beyond je voudrais manger avec vous demain in language class, but I know the theory behind perfect, imperfect and plu-perfect. I just didn't like the implications. I forgot as well. Kirk is (pardon) was such a vivid person that he is still very immediate to me. So more often than not I still use the present tense. There are people I've met casually who probably believe I have a living husband because that's how I speak of him.

I'll probably still do it when I write.

After all. He does live in the stories.

Investigation Status

I have to be really careful answering the question in the comment to the entry below. Keep in mind that I'm stating what I understand about things, and I might not have everything just right.

The investigation into Kirk's disappearance is not exactly closed. They still want to find the people who killed him - I think they know who it is, but those men are hiding. They also want to find Kirk's body if possible and there is still a reward out for information that will help in these things.

The large investigation is more complicated. There were three parts - Kirk's disappearance, Ryan Manelick's murder, and the allegation of fraud. The other two pieces are still unsolved so far as I know.

I should probably emphasize that - so far as I know. I was not given any information about anything other than Kirk's death, and since his death had nothing to do with the fraud or the murder, those things were not addressed. So my understanding is that the investigation is ongoing.

I want to publically thank the agents who met with me on August 9th. They flew out so we could meet in person, and were willing to take as much time as necessary to answer as many questions as possible. In a situation that was terribly painful and difficult they were thoughtful, considerate, and kind. They never forgot that this is a human story, and their humanity was their greatest gift to us.

Friday, August 18, 2006


Went to California for a week - back to the Bay area where we last lived as a family with Kirk. It's a beautiful place, if slightly insane (2 bedroom house for $800,000? What a bargain!). There are hills with eucalyptus groves where, when the wind is right, you can ignore the fact that several million people are within a few miles; and there is the ocean with its comforting habit of continuing to sweep in and out whatever insanity is going on around.

I had some decisions to make, some things to work out - some big, some less so. One of the smaller was this blog.

You see, I had a meeting with the CID (that's Criminal Investigation Division remember - don't hold me to the exact wording though) on Wednesday, August 9th. It was two years and ten months to the day from when Kirk disappeared. They gave me their report, as much of it as they could.

So I've had a week to decide what to do about this story, about a blog that was started because Kirk was missing. And I think that I want to keep on telling the story - his story, our story.

But it's important to say that Kirk was killed. On October 9th, 2003, Kirk was killed by Iraqi hostiles when a kidnap attempt went horribly wrong.

So the story has an end.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Time Off

For various reasons I'm not going to be updating for a few days. Back in a week.

Monday, August 07, 2006

How to Defeat Y2K Without Really Trying

Call me cynical, but I think it's just possible the navy wasn't taking the whole Y2K computer security threat very seriously. Waiting until November, and then assigning the brand new guy, the guy from a different branch of the service, the guy who is supposed to come in and set up something that will likely make you change the way you're doing things - well, it just seems a bit superficial as efforts go.

I can image one of two things happened:

1. Senior officer type calls up Navy guy. 'I hear there's a new millenium coming our way. And some guy buying thirty cases of toilet paper informs me that we should be concerned about our computer situation. Have we got this handled?' Navy guy answers: 'Sir, I assure you we're putting our top man on this. Nothing to worry about.'

2. Navy guy ups and realizes that in two weeks there's going to be a huge briefing involving all sorts of senior types who will likely ask slightly uneducated and ridiculous questions about a situation they have read of in the popular media, but do not understand. Navy guy senses at once that this is not a good career situation. Either nothing will happen, and some poor other Navy guy will be needlessly sacrificed on the great altar of Briefings That Cause Pain and Agony, or something will happen and some poor other Navy guy will be thoroughly barbequed on the even greater altar of Save the Higher-Ups! That's What Lower Grade Officers Are For!

Anyway, Kirk became the Y2K goat. There was already a counter-terrorism unit so he was sort of cobbled onto that, and had to suddenly come up to speed on the counter-terrorism world in a matter of weeks. His initial focus was supposed to be on the rollover situation. He did his research, looked into the whole thing thoroughly, and when the briefing came around, he was ready.

Room filled with officers so highly ranked their noses bled. Much discussion of various security issues. Finally, senior official leans forward and asks about Y2K, computers, security, and the rollover.

'So, should we be worried?'

Kirk leans forward to his mike: 'No.'


'Son, could you expand on that a bit?'

Kirk leans forward again: 'Hell no.'

Well, they remembered his name after that.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Pearls of Wisdom

First babies are watched with intensity. These little squashy bundles of potential are just oozing around waiting to produce a large litany of 'firsts' that you, as parent, are expected to note down with date, time, and place so you can answer appropriately at doctors' offices and school gifted assessment interviews. Also it's handy for playing the one-up game with other parents and their inferior offspring.

High on this list is the First Word. Most cherubs trot out a 'ma-ma' on schedule, or if they know which parent is most likely to reward biased behavior with sugar-laden snacks, they go for 'da-da' or (for the pretentious set) 'pa-pa.' The parent can then glow smugly with the knowledge that their infant truly loves them because at 8:42 on a Wednesday morning...

Yes. Well, then there's Child 1. Child 1 had been quite content to get along with a series of emphatic grunts. Mostly because its idiot parents responded to these grunts. Fun times those were - 'GRUNT' milk? you want milk? Or hungry - maybe you're hungry? Outside, is that it? 'GRUNT' oh. Kirk? It's your turn to change it...

We were visiting some friends in Nierstein - friends we had known since language training in Monterey. Male friend and Kirk were in a car, female friend, Child 1 and I were on the kerb. One of the males (no names, protect innocent) turned, saw us, started doing an idiot wave, and promptly ran into the back of the car in front. Loud and clear female friend says... well, this is a family blog so we'll say it started with 'SH' and rhymed with hit, bit, and... um... sit.

'[not sit!]' my innocent said promptly and delightedly. Also clearly. And loudly. First word. No question. It even passed the full first word test by repeating the word. Multiple times. With emphasis.

'Oh.' Said female friend, looking at my child's delighted face. 'Um. Sorry about that.'

Later that afternoon Child 1 produced its second word - 'fly' which, with a bit of encouragement, became the word of choice.

When asked, for most of Child 1's life I have blatantly lied. Fly was its first word I say, without a blush, definitely fly. Now that Child 1 is older however, it's time the truth was told.

I wonder if this will change its gifted status.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

La Llorona

Desert soil isn't made to cope well with water. Sun it can take - soaks it right up and happily bakes itself hard and dry. Rain water though can't find a place to stay. The hard land just runs it right off again.

So if you're a kid in the desert you're taught pretty early to stay out of arroyos and gullys. Keep away from anything that looks like a ditch, manmade or otherwise. Rain miles and miles away can fill a ditch without a moment's notice.

There are two ways of getting this lesson home. First, scientifically describe the run-off process. The teacher explains that in our area there are mountains and hills that collect the water and send it hurtling downward where it will scour away anything small and two legged stupid enough to skateboard or paddle in the ditch. Those might not have been the exact words, but that was the gist.

Then the whole class goes to the library where the librarian turns off all the lights and gathers the kids in a circle back in the reading area. The librarian is pretty creepy even in full illumination, so shivers are already gathering on small spines. In a low voice she begins the horrible tale of La Llorona, the ditch witch.

Naturally half the class has already heard the story from uncles and aunts looking to terrify the next generation as one traditionally does. This group pipes up with various additions and expansions on the story, so for those who haven't heard it yet things get a little muddled.

Here's what I ended up with:

La Llorona was a beautiful old woman. With lots of white hair. And yellow teeth and green fingernails. And she had two small children. That she ate. No she didn't, she pushed them in the ditch. No she didn't, she was walking by the ditch and they fell in. And they drowned. But they cried. No they didn't, they were dead. So La Llorona was so sad she threw herself in the ditch. No she didn't, the villagers were angry so they killed her. No they didn't she died of sadness because she was so beautiful. And now she walks by the ditches and snatches children who play in the ditches and she kills them. And eats them. No she doesn't, she warns them not to play in the ditches because you could die. And there were blooooooody footprints (I especially remember this bit because most of them agreed but no one seemed quite sure where the footprints came from). And that's why you don't play in the ditch. I know. My auntie told me.

It made a great impression on me, that story. I didn't believe in La Llorona, but I sure learned a lot about uncles and aunts. Fortunately mine were all a fair distance away.

And I still want to know what happened with the bloooooody footprints.

Friday, August 04, 2006

November, 1999. Welcome to Virginia.

I would use the term culture shock to describe the transition if it weren’t that Virginia was too much of a lady to do such a thing to a stranger. It was more the opposite of culture shock. It was like swimming through a clear, crisp mountain lake to pull up on the shore of a giant squashy marshmallow. Terrible analogy, but true nonetheless. Virginia was civilized and soft and safe (although that didn’t break Kirk of the habit of calling out ‘come on, victims’ to bring straggling kids running to his heels when we went hiking). It was, at least at first, a bit boring.

There were gentle rolling green hills and great tall green trees. There were enormous, unbelievable herds of deer – a sight that completely baffled the kids who couldn’t imagine what those dog-sized edible creatures could possibly be, standing around simply waiting to be devoured. Stupid animals. And there were people, many, many people.

We did all the usual settling in things – going to the housing office to get the list of possible places to rent, scouting out the local base, the schools, the recreation areas. As usual as well we only looked at two houses before we settled down; always anxious to lose the uncertainty of TLF. We rejected the ranch house in Norfolk (even though the commute would be fairly easy) after a neighbor confidentially told us about the major fire the house had suffered the year before. They had fixed it up beautiful, she insisted, and it only smelled a little bit when it rained.

Home would be a large colonial. It was the biggest house we ever lived in. There were only three bedrooms, but (mirabile dictu) a real, genuine playroom for the kids where the mess of toys could be confined to one area. There was a huge family room, a breakfast room, a formal dining room, and even a livingroom that frankly was too much for us as with no budget and three growing children we didn’t have anything upholstered that could be remotely considered formal – comfortable would be true, and kind, shabby would be closer.

Within a week Kirk reported to the Naval base for work. He went through the rigmarole of getting a pass and signing in, and walked onto the floor. Ah, they said, the Air Force guy. Right. Well, actually we’ve decided we don’t really want an info ops unit. Instead, you’re going to join the counter terrorism group. We’re putting you in charge of Y2K.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Cross Country Holiday

We didn't take vacations. We never, in our entire marriage, packed up the family and just took off for the purpose of having a holiday. Not once.* Partly it was having a reasonably sized family and no money, partly it was not having time - and partly it was because we treated every day off as a holiday anyway so why bother?

But we were nerds enough to treat a trip down the Pacific coast and then a drive across the entire width of the country as a sort-of-kind-of vacation, so we enjoyed it as thoroughly as we could. Which meant we had a fantastic time until we reached somewhere in the middle states - around Tennessee - at which point too many days on the road simply packed in on us and we set our teeth and just sprinted for Virginia. However, there were a lot of very good memories.

There was Child 1, for instance, trying fish and chips for the first time in Haines, Alaska and deciding it was Food for the Gods. Child 1 fish and chipped its way down the entire coast - three days on the ferry, one day each in Washington, Oregon, and California. I believe Child 1 is now able to look fish and chips in the face again, but it's only been in the last year.

We learned that Alaska kids get a slightly skewed perception of what constitutes an exotic animal. viz:

Me: 'Hey guys! Look! That's an ostrich ranch, can you see the ostriches?? Look how gorgeous they are...'

Van Center en masse: 'mmmm.... yeah.'

Moments later:

Child 1: 'Oh my gosh! Look! LOOK! It's a cow!!!'

Child 2: 'Where? WHERE? I don't see it!?'

Child 3: 'A real cow? Really??'

It only took a day to realize that cows are a. not rare and b. quite boring. But it was a rush while it lasted.

We looked at seals in caves, we went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, we headed inland and admired the very large hole in the ground caused by a meteor.

But it's a very big country, and eventually we all did get a little grim. We were tired, and slightly grubby, and very grateful when we finally rolled into Virginia, ready for the next stage.

*edit - now I have to take that back a small bit. We did take weekend trips, camping trips and the like, going up to Denali, or heading to DC etc. But we never did the week-long or two-week thing.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Took a little longer than I expected. Mostly because I had to find the pictures I had forgotten about - the huge collection I had carefully archived in non-acidic tissue... like that's never happened to you!

anyway, as promised, here's a pictures of Sophie. You can read her story here.