Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Graduating from basic is apparently now a Big Deal. When Kirk graduated he did it pretty much on his own, celebrated with a free head shave (mandatory) and showed up at the local airport a day later bald, limping and about 15 pounds lighter. For Child 2 I was sent a large packet about two weeks in explaining all about graduation and what the FOUR DAYS would involve. Four. Days. High school graduation was all of 3 hours (two if you don't count trying to find the darn Child in the scrum after). There was information on hotels, on travel, on getting cars on and off base and, right at the end, a tasteful note pointing out that graduation was not guaranteed and so travel arrangements should definitely be of the returnable variety.

There was also a large section on the Very Exciting DVD which would be available for purchase! It was hours and hours long and had footage of every last important moment, really, with up-close bits of all the recruits's agonized little faces. Just imagine!

Still, I do quite like the Child and so we did make a hotel reservation (non-returnable. I'm just living life on the edge baby) and inform Child 3's school that it would be missing a few days. Then we drove through enormous amounts of Texas (note to self: never, never ever again, never no matter what ever, NEVER go through El Paso) and arrived tired and only slightly cranky on Wednesday night.

Thursday we opted to skip the Family and Friend Briefing because A) it was at 0-early in the morning (and would then leave us sitting on bleachers for 2 hours) and B) given the choice between sitting for an hour or so and being bored or counting on Child 2 to know approximately what we were and weren't supposed to do I totally decided Child 2 would be on top of things. So we had a nice leisurely morning and managed, with only three u-turns, to arrive at the right place in more than enough time.

In fact, we thought for a moment that we had inadvertently arrived in time for the briefing because there was a man cheerfully haranguing a large crowd of people. There was also a huge line right in the middle of the concrete pad but I have learned not to line up for something without first knowing what it is and we instead decided to find a place on the bleachers, preferably of the Easy Exit variety. It quickly became clear that the man was giving a detailed and enthusiastic pitch for the Very Exciting DVD, a pitch which went on for another 30 minutes, and the people in line were waiting in the sun for the chance to wave-and-smile for their particular recruit. Yup, along with muddy children with concrete guns and glimpses of your own child running around the base there would be about 2 hours of total strangers doing a two minute 'Hi BABY!!' humiliation message for their kid. We decided, with only a few pangs, not to purchase the DVD. However, the line of people provided at least moderate entertainment while we waited for the actual event to kick off.

This began with the traditional Introduction of the Worthies which started off with Colonel In Charge, And Wife Rhonda. For some reason that struck us as incredibly funny and for the rest of the morning we kept inserting 'and Wife Rhonda' into every announcement and giggling. We could see blocks of blue sort of arranging themselves down the street and were all getting a bit antsy what with the sun being rather warm and the bleachers rather hard so it was rather a relief when they finally set up the Drum and Bugle types (recruits - wasn't clear if they will Drum and Bugle for the rest of their careers or if they just happened to be Drumming and Bugling aficionados who volunteered out of a deep and abiding love of Sousa) and began marching in the kids. I was maintaining a dignified pose, natch, while trying to see if it was possible to tell the difference between one blue-clad person and another (answer - no. With luck gender is at least guessable, particularly as they clump the genders together and Never the Twain Mix) and had to be elbowed in order to appreciate the fantastic move the recruits were doing. They would get their little block of people into approximately the right place and then the In Charge Scary Person (they were) would bark something and the entire group would do this fantastic penguin shuffle until everything was beautifully lined up. We got to see it about eight times and it never lost its charm - 30 or so blue people all waddling rapidly in formation. Fantastic.


After all that the ceremony took about two minutes flat as each recruit was handed a Basic Training coin, were led in a Group Shout and finally announced to be released. Our bleachers swayed disconcertingly as the Rather Large Family members all stampeded forward and we all sort of cautiously approached the recruits. And there was Child 2! In blue! With a coin (that she nearly dropped during the Group Shout but saved due to clever use of Parade Rest hands)!

She wasn't allowed off base that day and had a curfew so we spent the rest of the day sort of wandering around the mini mall (being a) allowed to admire the Place Where Child 2 Shopped; b) shown the Off Limits Area; c) told that the most valuable, wonderful items in the whole wide world ever are small packs of toilet paper and disposable toothbrushes - the green ones taste best apparently). We fed the Child (ice cream) hugged it and deposited it back in its designated return area before heading back to the hotel.

Day 1 was just warm up for Day 2 though. Day 2 found us in a totally different set of bleachers (unfortunately in full sun), 2 hours before the start of the Official Graduation. We did get to see the TI's (Training Instructors? I think?) practice the parade part of the whole thing which was entertaining as apparently there wasn't a lot of communication at first so they solemnly marched past, the important types at the front peeled off and marched beautifully to one side and the rest sort of continued on, disappearing into the distance until a runner was sent to retrieve them and make them quick march back (with some choice shouting) for another go around. There was also a loud and probably normally unbearable man behind us who told a very funny story about how, when the minister at his daughter's wedding did the 'if there be any here present who knows any just cause why they may not lawfully be joined in marriage, I require him now to make it known or ever after hold his peace' bit this guy stepped forward, opened his mouth and paused a second, then snapped a photo. He said his daughter's face was a treat. I figure he was lucky to have survived the experience.

At any rate, we sat, baking and gasping in the now extremely hot sun and, at least me, wondering WHY ON EARTH they couldn't have just done something quick and simple yesterday and let us have the rest of the weekend to frolic (only I understand the military is a bit down on frolicking in general) when they finally paraded the recruits in and stood them all on the grass in their neat little rows. At which point we were all asked to rise while the base chaplain gave an invocation.

'Oh Lord,' he started, 'you formed us out of this DIRT.' there was a snigger. It wasn't me.

'The DIRT these recruits have crawled through...'

'... as their TI's SQUEEZED THE WEAKNESS OUT OF 'EM!' there were several more sniggers. I held it together.

'For their perfume was the SWEAT of HARD WORK'


'the FUNK! Of gunpowder and steel!'

At which point I lost it completely and had to be supported.

It was the best darn invocation I ever heard ever, in my whole life. And I know Child 2 will never forget it.

I'll make sure of it.

Friday, September 25, 2009


I've been a bit defensive about Child II. A lot of my friends both online and off are what I would consider intelligent, educated, broad-minded people whom I both like and respect. If they were jackasses it would all be rather easier (well, okay if they were jackasses they wouldn't be my friends either, but why be logical?) because I wouldn't care what they say or think. And actually, what's making me defensive is not necessarily anything that HAS been said (although there are a few of those), it's what MIGHT be said.

Because, as charming and wonderful as all those people are, a lot of them are also a bit judgmental. It comes from having firmly held opinions and thinking about things a lot usually but, like all judgments, it also comes just a little from making broad assumptions. And I'm tender to those judgments about Child II.

But I've done a lot of thinking about it all over the last few days and I realize that I'm also making assumptions, assumptions about what people I care about will say (and thus about what they think and feel), assumptions that make them out to be simpler, narrower and less thoughtful than I absolutely know they are. So this is about Child II and what she is doing and why I am deeply, profoundly proud and amazed by her. And yes, I did just give Child II a gender which breaks all my rules but this is personal and I think it's important.

Last year as her final few months as a high school student ticked away Child II came to me with a staggering announcement. She was going to take the ASVAB - the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery - because she was thinking about joining the military. It was the first I'd heard of any such idea. She had certainly never talked about such a thing and was, among the three, the only Child to show no interest in anything military at all (quite the contrary). I tried to be as neutrally supportive as possible while sort of reeling a bit inside and, when asked, dropped her off at various offices and things so the test could be taken. She had arranged it all with an army recruiter who was friendly and casual to me right up until the moment when Child II was brought back from the exam and the results were read: she scored a 99, which is 100%. Including the automotive and sort of DIW type sections - this from a Child who does not drive and has not shown the least interest in learning to do so. Immediately the recruiter became terribly keen and helpful and Child II was whisked through the list of jobs available to her (all of them) and shown facts and figures on how much the Army would give her for enlisting (a lot) and just how long she would have to be in (too long... well, that was my opinion and I admit bias). I waited until we were alone in the car and gently suggested it might be worth talking to a few other services as well.

And we talked and talked, about why she was even looking into this, about what she really wanted, about what she should do now. Child II, it turned out, had been quietly thinking things over seriously. She wanted to do something with languages as she has a tremendous aptitude for them. She also knew, as I did, that she was far from ready for university and that going now would probably do more harm than good. She didn't just want to get a retail job somewhere and see how she felt a year or so on - she wanted to learn something, achieve something, and more importantly she wanted to do a meaningful, useful job. It was a little hard to argue with.

Fast forward a bit. I dragged Child II in to talk to the Air Force recruiter as well as all the other services and, after enduring weeks of high-pressure sales from the Army and comparing it with what she saw in the Air Force office she decided that was what she wanted to do. She was whisked off to take another test, the DLAB (Defence Language Aptitude Battery) which is a strange and quite difficult assessment and again she scored extremely high. She took physical exams, passed multiple drug screens and cheerfully and patiently answered the same 20 questions a gagillion times. She was finally given a career assignment (assuming she passed basic) and told when to report to the down-town whatsit place where they administer oaths and ship everyone off to training.

She would leave in July, leaving us a few months to get her graduated (just) and wait. I spent it usefully shoving her out the door to go running and leaping out at her in the hallway to ask if she had done any sit ups or push ups that day. I also spent most days assuring her that while I supported her absolutely in her goals she should also know that at any time, any time at all, if she felt she was uncertain or didn't want to go ahead with this thing she could do so. I watched her avoiding her daily runs (she never did get up to a full mile) and fretted over whether this was the right thing, whether she would regret it, whether she could even do it.

It turned out she reported for basic training the day I left to go on holiday. She had to spend the night at a hotel the night before (I think probably to avoid last-night parties and accompanying stupidity on the part of young recruits) so I dropped her off, gave her a quick hug and said good bye. The next morning we all showed up to see her take her oath - roomful of solemn, terrified infants and their proud/apprehensive/terrified relatives. We had to leave her there but promised to try to meet up again at the airport. We missed her by about 2 minutes.

They don't let recruits have much contact at first. She was allowed one very brief phone call to let us know she was there safely, and one pre-printed post card with the relevant gaps filled in with a scrawled blue ink to tell us what her address was. I began writing a daily letter, sending them off without any idea what was actually happening with her. Then, a couple of weeks in, the first phone call. And she was... different. Confident, happy, sure of herself. Where I expected a few tears and some need of moral support there was calmness and, very evidently, a new maturity.

It's eight and a half weeks in all. Lots of running and a fair amount of shouting, some carrying around of rifles (which have been filled with cement to avoid any creativity on the part of recruits who want to make them functional), a smattering of stuff on sexual harassment, money management and first aid. The Air Force, as any Marine will tell you, is pretty soft - or maybe it's just a different approach to produce a different type of military member for a different kind of job. Still, it's not easy, and Child II, in phone call after phone call, was clearly thriving.

So last Wednesday the car was packed up with an unreasonable amount of baggage and we drove for 12 hours to go and see Child II graduate. We met up with her, recognizable in her dress blues, but slimmer, fitter and, again, more mature. She surprised us all by happily and freely hugging us (apparently bunking with umpteen women does a little to remove any lingering personal space issues) and proudly showed us around 'her' base, talking non-stop from the moment we saw her to the last minute when we dropped her off on Saturday night.

On Monday morning she flew to Monterey, California to start the next adventure at DLI. Her scores were high enough to test her out of most of the languages so, to our surprise, she will be spending the next two years learning Korean.

I know her friends and mine will, some of them, be worried for Child II. I know some of them will be bothered by association with the military. But I hope they also know what an amazing person she is, and how important it is that our military is staffed with people like her, people who care deeply, people who are intelligent and gifted and strongly compassionate: people who want to do something good in the world.

I certainly do.

Friday, September 11, 2009


I went on holiday in July.

A real one, a holiday just to be a holiday - with time off and no additional goals like, for example, moving across the country. A whole holiday intended simply to relax and recreate.

I can tick off one more item on my 'things to do in order to be a real grown-up' list. It's all very exciting.

I'm sort of going on another holiday next week but as it is a) to San Antonio, TX and b) really not intended as a holiday but as Celebration of the Achievements of Child 2 I don't think it counts. Of course, we will go to Sea World one day, but as I've already set aside ten minutes for standing near the orca enclosure and crossing my arms and disapproving of the enslavement and exploitation of our cetaceous brethren (or sistren, I'm not choosy) I think it will count as political activism rather than sheer unadulterated Good Times.

Where was I... oh yes! What I did on my summer vacation:

1) Slept in! Mostly. Well, okay, got up pretty early still BUT I could have slept in and that's the really important bit.

2) Admired green things. Claims were made that the area was suffering a drought. In fact, apologies were made - statements like, 'I'm so sorry things are so brown, we've just not had that much rain this year' while looking sadly over the verdant, velvet green lawn in front of us. Their darn brown was greener than our green.

3) Admired Historic Things. Mostly houses really as I quite like houses if they're nifty and have twiddly bits on them or are Architecturally Interesting. Or just mad - there was at least one that was simply, wonderfully mad. Still, it was quite good fun and many pictures were taken and not one, not one single one at all, was a brown adobe box. (nor were there any visible howling coyotes with bandanas on their necks OR chile ristras OR cut out silhouettes of cowboys leanng on walls. Not sure what passes for culture in this area really...)

4) Went to a Very Large Lake, which was so very VERY large that it had ginormous sailing boats on and really looked entirely like the ocean which was very soothing for someone who has had ocean withdrawal for a terribly long time. Well, it looked like the ocean until, standing at the end of the pier, I saw a flotilla of ducks on the water which was so entirely wrong that a) I mentally insisted they were cormorants until the reality based half of my brain shouted so loudly I had to abandon my delusions and b) I had to turn my back because of the horror of ducks on the ocean.

5) Ate ridiculous amounts of sushi although in a land-locked state. Sushi which arrived on a decorative boat thing because there was so much of it. Sushi which was ordered off a menu which included a Harry Potter roll (which we opted out of. There is such a thing as Too Much). Sushi which was, I admit, extremely good. Also warm saki which was also good.

6) Followed up by visiting a beer garden. Which did have a very loud band of... interesting value and very good beer indeed but was, possibly, not quite all that it could have been as it was raining. However, we managed, while sheltering on the band stand, to successfully research the names of all 9 muses which was educational. I can still name five.

7) Went jet skiing on yet another (much smaller lake). AND did not fall off although the driver braked while turning or maybe didn't brake while turning or maybe turned and then braked... anyway, the driver certainly made things exciting and while I might have squeaked I did not fall off. Also I saw several turtles and some very nice birds. Also I kayaked (and did not turn over).

There was some other stuff too making for a rather full week.

This holidaying lark is not for the weak.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


There are certain truths about movies that I think are self evident but I will outline them here just because:

1) movies are made, primarily, to provide a venue for the display and appreciation of certain arts. These arts are (in no particular order) graphic, costume, set design, art direction, typographic (well, okay credits in general), lighting, editing and... well, I'm sure there's other stuff but these are the important things.

2) the single most important advancement in cinematic arts ever, bar none, is the bonus features dvd.

3) this important advancement is egregiously and criminally underused.

4) the best way to appreciate a movie is to watch the bonus features FIRST so when the movie is actually playing you can really watch for that particular bit of color grading or the costume with the exceptional fabric weave.

5) the worst possible way to watch a movie is in the actual cinema theatre. It is vile. It is horrid. It is, further, impossible to do point 4 what with there being no bonus features released to cinema (note to movie promoters - dudes! What a great idea!). To expand on this point we'll move on to:

a] People lose at least 20 IQ points when they walk into a darkened cinema. This drop in intelligence produces behavior such as: Use of cell phones during the movie; attempting to interact/advise characters on the screen; choosing to bring infants or extremely young children to movies that are i. loud ii. violent iii. dramatic iv. dependent in any way on the dialogue being actually audible or v. longer than 15 minutes.

b] Cinema theatres are not comfortable. The floors are sticky, the chairs oddly shaped (and often... warm... or... worse), the sound is too loud and the screen often at a terribly uncomfortable angle.

c] It is difficult if not impossible to walk away from a movie without irritating or disrupting other people.

All these are, I feel, wonderful and viable reasons why watching a dvd in the comfort of your own home is actually a superior means of truly appreciating a movie.

And my Children should rest assured that these reasons are why I did not go to Harry Potter The Most Recent One with them and NOT because I'm a great big ginormous chicken who can't bear to watch:

1) People being embarrassed
2) People being threatened or tormented
3) People being unfairly accused or suspected of something
4) Several other minor things which are totally understandable and logical and shared by all right minded individuals.

Besides, I'll bet the bonus features are going to be amazing. Just you wait.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009



It's now past the Tuesday deadline and everyone who was going to bundle has bundled (you did bundle, didn't you? I mean, unless you have some horrible condition where going into a store with FIVE aisles of scrapbooking supplies and SIX aisles of Christmas gee-gaws [in AUGUST PEOPLE!! AUGUST! So wrong it's made me break out the square-brackets-within-the-parentheses {dang, where was I...oh yes}] makes you develop weeping purple hives or something /*phew thought I was going to be caught forever in a labyrinth of nested asides*/) so I can get back to that dusty old list of things I was going to blog about. Most of which I've forgotten what I was going to say...

... except the Falafel King who is, I can honestly say, unforgettable.

A month or so ago I noticed a bright yellow sign up outside what appeared to be a gas station, a sign saying something like "now open! Middle Eastern Restaurant!" The gas station seemed to still be fully functional and there were also signs suggesting an oil change might be in order and wouldn't now be a great time to consider buying a fleece blanket devoted to the promotion of the Denver Broncos?

Unfortunately at that moment I didn't have time to take a left and so sadly I did not stop for lunch.


I mean, come on - a middle eastern restaurant - plonked down inside a not-quite-7-11? Irresistible!

So a few weeks later I convinced a weak-minded friend to join me and we swung in the door to find: The display of rolled up horoscopes, the display of novelty lighters, the large sign promising meeeellleeeeons of dollars if you just buy the nice lotto ticket, the seventeen magazines about hot-rods, low-riders or customized bikes (all with EXACTLY the same woman in a bikini draped over them - and I'm darn sure she's going to burn something sensitive on that tail pipe if she's not careful), four aisles of lentils, dried chickpeas, spices and sugared almonds AND two small diner booths with tables. And flowers. And little menus. One booth was already occupied by two couples who seemed to be struggling not to giggle, but the other was free and immaculately clean so we considered sitting down but really didn't want to commit too much so we just walked up to the counter (next to the horoscopes) and cleared our throats to be heard over the arabic soap opera playing on the television.

Which is where we met the falafel king.

We would, we told him confidently, quite like the falafel sandwichy thing which had falafel wrapped up in flatbread and some sauce and pickles and nice stuff. He looked at us fondly. 'You eat here or you take it with you?' he asked and, 'oh, to go, please,' I said happily. 'You want those toasted?' 'Oh YES!' I said (because I couldn't quite hear him as the very lovely busty woman with the purple blouse had just burst into tears all over the chest of the tall man with the mustache and the green shirt with the sort of weird flowery vesty thing and it got a bit loud). He looked at us sadly and turned to his grill. We decided to browse through the lentil section for a bit.

Five minutes later he came up to us, clearly agitated.

'You see, you can't take them with you. If you take them with you, because they are toasted, they will become soggy, you see? They will no longer be crisp. And the heat, it will be gone, and the flat bread, it will NO LONGER BE CRISP. You must eat them here.'

We blinked at him. He leaned forward a bit.

'I make them, you see, I make them myself here, right here, I make them all, and the bread, when you toast it, you must eat it here, hot, while it is crisp and nice. IF YOU GO IT WILL NOT BE NICE!!'

We meekly sat down in the booth and accepted our crisp, hot falafel sandwiches. He smiled at us in satisfaction and then moved on to the other booth where he scolded them for wanting to take the remains of their hummus and pita with them.

I have to say, the falafel? It was superb.

And crisp.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Bundles II

So I got some stuff on Monday, bundled everything up on Tuesday and was going to mail them today, Wednesday, until life intervened which means, sadly, I'll be bouncing off the deadline by shipping them tomorrow. But! They're all ready to go which makes me happy. Here's what I put in my two bundles:

Both have:

5 yards of fabric (a nice restrained green check as Art mentioned that less vibrant patterns were best and that green is a favorite color)
1 pair scissors
1 bundle elastic
2 spools of thread
1 set of pins
1 wheel of needles
1 seam ripper
1 thimble
1 measuring tape
1 small box of safety pins, buttons and snaps

Then one bundle has:

1 bag of sequins (mixed)
1 bag of beads (mixed)
1 card beading needles
[in the belief that kids love shiny, sparkly things and even if they can't or won't be used for sewing they can be treasure!]

The other has:

1 embroidery hoop (plastic so as hopefully not to break)
2 spools grosgrain ribbon
assorted embroidery threads
[in the belief that most little girls love hair ribbons and that embroidery thread colors make everyone happy]

They're all bundled and tied per instruction and will go off in a flat rate box (or two) tomorrow. Don't forget to check IBOL for instructions and leave a comment there (on any post at all) to get the address for shipping if you haven't yet.