Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Scotland Report: Installment I 

We left Germany on the evening of Tuesday, June 22, on a Ryanair flight from Frankfurt-Hahn. Ryanair is an Irish budget-airline that has carved out quite a market share for itself by offering cheap flights into and out of obscure airports. Hahn, for example, is about as much a part of Frankfurt as Lake Helen is a part of Orlando. Still, the tickets were cheap enough--100 euro each roundtrip. (One hundred euro is currently $122; however, note the new currency converter in my list of links if you're reading this sometime in the future when the dollar sucks even worse than it currently does.)

After an uneventful 90-minute flight, we landed at Glasgow-Prestwick (with "Prestwick" being the name of the actual town and "Glasgow" being the major city an hour away that people have actually heard of). The Prestwick location was fine by us though, as we had booked a room in a dormitory at an agricultural college in nearby Ayr.

When we arrived at Wilson Hall, we weren't sure how to go about checking in. I asked some students who were hanging out in the TV lounge, and one volunteered to go get the "warden" for us. I'd never stayed in a facility with a warden before (well, except for that one time, but those records were expunged long ago), so I was curious to see how this would turn out.

Our room was definitely on the spartan side of things, but it cost only 46 pounds (roughly $84) and included breakfast. We had two twin beds and a set of bunks for the kids. The ladies' bathroom was just down the hall, but the boys had to go down to the floor below. Here are the kids settling into their beds:

The next morning we had breakfast in the refectory. Annabelle ate Rice Krispies while the rest of us dined on scrambled eggs, bacon, and baked beans, which apparently are quite common on Scottish breakfast tables.

After breakfast we left Ayr and headed north toward Fort William. Dad did a great job with the driving, but the ride was quite the thriller. Our first challenge was negotiating around the edges of Glasgow proper and getting across the Clyde River. Our second challenge was skirting the shores of Loch Lomond without getting mowed over by the lunatic drivers heading the other direction in our lane. Keep to the left, people! I can backseat drive only one car at a time, you know.

We reached Fort William, which is a charming little town, in the early afternoon. Unfortunately, the weather was most disagreeable--cold and rainy and just generally yucky. We bundled up in our jackets and raced from shop to shop, trying to stay as dry and warm as possible:

Our first stop in Fort William was at the local office for the National Tourism Board. For the price of 3 pounds, the tourism board will book you into a hotel or bed-and-breakfast. We wound up staying in a little bed-and-breakfast called Corrie Duff for 66 pounds ($120). I introduced Dad and the kids to the joys of Indian food for supper that night, and we were in our beds fast asleep by 9:00 p.m., exhausted from our shivery afternoon.

The next morning we enjoyed our bacon, eggs, and beans and then headed off in the rain for Drumnadrochit on the shores of Loch Ness. To be continued . . .


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Home again, home again! It's 2:00 a.m., and we just pulled in a few minutes ago. I'm facing 290 emails and a week's worth of unread newspapers, but I just had to post to let everybody know that we made it home safe and sound (though I'm pretty sure I got a speeding ticket on the drive home--no mistaking the blinding flash of the camera in the middle of the night when you're the only car on the road).

I took tons of photos and even a few videos, so priority number 1 for tomorrow is to figure out how to hook the new camera up to the computer, so I can get them out. I'll also post a little review of how much I love my new camera.

For those of you who were looking forward to reading tales of my harrowing adventures driving on the left side of the road, I'm afraid you're in for a disappointment. Hertz wanted 10 pounds a day to add an extra driver to the contract, so Dad became our designated chauffeur for the week. Backseat driving, however, is free, and I am proud to report that I have elevated it to an art form.

I was full of good advice. At every (stupid, fargin') roundabout, I issued a standard reminder: "Now yield to the right and stay to the left." Once we had mastered the art of not getting creamed by oncoming traffic, I started offering hints on technique: "Swing wide; make it round! It is, after all, called a roundabout."

Dad seemed to appreciate my assistance for the first few days, but as his confidence grew, he needed my help less and less. "So tell me," he said today when I was being exceptionally helpful on the trip to the airport, "does Fred ever just reach across the car and backhand you one?" Mike and Annabelle had already assured him days earlier that I'm much louder and screechier when I'm helping their father drive. He got off easy.

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Saturday, June 26, 2004

Greetings from Scotland! This is the first time I've been on a computer since last Tuesday, and it's like breathing air after a very long dry spell. Unfortunately, I have only 8 minutes left on my session here at the Portree visitor center on the Isle of Skye, so this will be a quickie. I'm having trouble sending email, so:

Mom--we're at the Rosedale Hotel in rooms 10 and 16. Number from the States is 011-44-1478613131. We'll be out most of the evening at the pipeband festival.

Don and Mary--so glad you've got your email up and running again! I tried answering, but this time I was the one having problems sending.

Phil and Amy and Rebecca--thinking of you guys lots and lots! Be strong. Phil, stay safe. Amy and Rebecca, I'll see you on Wednesday.

Fred--hope all is well with you. The lack of internet access for following the world news is about to drive me crazy. Love ya! Kids say to tell you that we miss you a lot and they will neomail you in a few days.


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Tuesday, June 22, 2004

this is an audio post - click to play

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Monday, June 21, 2004

From Fred--written 06/17/04 

I normally get up at 0500, get dressed into my running gear--Army PT shorts and shirt. I then grab my toiletry bag and walk about 50 meters to the trailer with sinks and toilets. I brush my teeth and shave, then walk back to my sleeping trailer, leave my bag, and go run.

I run around one of the man made lakes/ponds here on Camp Victory. Camp Victory was one of Saddam Hussein's hunting and fishing spots. There are several ponds within the walled compound. Anyway my run is about 3.5 miles long and takes about 25 minutes. I am inside our walled camp all the time. The lake I run around has several houses built on it. One of them was damaged during our invasion. I plan on getting a picture of it soon. Usually at this time in the morning it is between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the coolest it will be all day.

Once I finish my run I go get a shower, once again this requires walking from the sleeping trailer to the shower trailer in flip-flops (this is where my new shower shoes will be handy--the gravel is pretty rough on the thin rubber slippers). Once cleaned up I get into my DCUs, put on my pistol, and with my roommate (one of the attorneys who works for me here and is deployed from Alaska) we go to the dining facility. Dining facility is about a 5-minute walk from our sleeping trailer. It is now sometime between 0650 and 0700.

We eat breakfast; I usually have cereal (Total Raisin Bran or Raisin Bran Crunch), a bowl of fresh fruit, a grapefruit juice box, and a cup of coffee.

We meet the other 2 folks that work with us at 0730 at our SUV and we drive to the office. The office is a series of 4 trailers in a traffic circle next to a mosque that remains under construction.

Generally I do paperwork and answer e-mails till close to 1230 or 1300. The others see clients for Article 15s or chapters. At 1230 or 1300 we drive to a dining facility for lunch. We change the dining facility we eat in to give ourselves some variety. Food is about the same. I generally have a plate of salad; it is just too hot to eat anything heavy, as by this time it is normally 39 to 40 degrees Celsius(100 degrees+ Fahrenheit).

After lunch we return to the office. I continue to do paperwork and answer e-mails; the others will see more clients. All this ends around 1600. We will all then do more paperwork and answer e-mails till 1830 when we will leave for dinner. It is back to a dining facility we go.

The NCOIC will generally call it a day after dinner; the rest of us will often come back to the trailers to continue our e-mailing and casework. We definitely call it a day by 2000 and drive to our trailer. We will sit around--read or, now that I have a portable DVD player, watch a movie. The PX has an assortment of DVDs, and we borrow from each other. On Saturday nights we are starting up a TDS movie night. This is an opportunity to kick back and unwind.

We generally follow this same pattern Monday through Wednesday. Thursdays and Fridays we keep open to do trial preparation or go out on a convoy into Baghdad to visit a unit and do Article 15 and chapter counseling. Saturdays and Sundays are pretty much open, although we work on these days too.

I have no set travel day. I go as I need to go and return. My trips so far have been 3 or 4 days long so I will just take a 3-day expandable "bugout" bag. I don't foresee me changing this routine or schedule.

I do want to figure out a time to go to a gym. There is not one of sufficient size open on Camp Victory yet. They are talking about opening up a new gym, a sorely needed facility here, especially if we are going to stay here in Iraq for a while. There are a couple of pools to cool off in, but they have limited hours and I am not completely sure they have the water balanced yet.

That is a typical day in my life here at Camp Victory.

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Sunday, June 20, 2004

Bye bye, birdie. Beanie has flown the coop!! I didn't expect it to be today, but I'm so relieved.

The kids and I took my dad (who just arrived from the States yesterday) out to a Father's Day lunch at our favorite restaurant in the Odenwald. When we got home, Beanie was standing on the edge of his dish of mushed catfood having a little snack, which was a nice development.

We took him outside expecting to spend a little time just letting him do short practice flights. My dad had asked me how I would know when it was time to not bring him back in with me, and I replied: "When I can no longer walk up to him and pick him up." I figured if I can't get him, nobody else can either.

Beanie was so excited about being outside. He hadn't made a peep inside the house except once when he talked to my computer, which was making chirping noises. Outside though, he was quite the blabbermouth in answer to all the other birds.

He sat on my finger for a while, fluffed out his feathers, and then took off. Forget walking over and picking him back up! He flew at least 40 yards before he landed. We walked down to where he had gone, and we saw him one last time as he flew up into a tree. Then when we got back to my house, we looked up and saw a whole flock of swallows circling overhead. As far as we're concerned, those were his relatives, coming to take him home.

There were high fives all around and absolutely no tears. Of course, I think it helps that in a stroke of rare brilliance, I had told Annabelle that she could have the sack of McDonald's Happy Meal Neopets toys that Papa brought with him only AFTER Beanie was gone. So her reaction was pretty much, "Bye bye, Beanie. Now where the heck are my Neopets?!"

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Saturday, June 19, 2004

Meet Beanie. Annabelle found him on the ground at a birthday party today. As his rescuer, she also got to pick his name. We were really scared that he wouldn't make it when we first brought him home, but he has perked up quite a bit. He loves to sit on my chest and eat watered-down cat food from a spoon. Tomorrow we plan on spending quite a bit of time with him outside in the yard, giving him a chance to work on his flying and bug-hunting skills.

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Thursday, June 17, 2004

How precious are these?! T-shirts and onesies for Babies Against Bush. Almost (but not quite) enough to make me want another.

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Forgot to mention that I had company in my bed the other night. It was almost midnight, and I getting ready to turn in when Annabelle appeared before me and complained that she couldn't get to sleep. The problem, she said, was "I can't stop thinking about The Shining as reenacted by bunnies in 30 seconds." Apparently, what is very funny with your brother by the light of day is scary when you're all by yourself at night.

The same person who did The Shining also has clips of The Exorcist and Titanic. Click at your own risk, and don't expect to sleep in my bed if it scares you.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Happy anniversary to me (and to Fred too, if he happens to be reading this)! Yep, today marks 14 years for us.

Equally incredible (to me, anyway) is that it also marks 4 weeks exactly since he left, and Saturday gets us to the official one-month mark. When I look back on it, it truly has gone by fast. It's only when I look forward and think of doing this another 11 or 12 times that I start to get panicky.

Here's a picture that my Aunt Suzie took of me, Fred, and my dad on June 16, 1990:

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Tuesday, June 15, 2004

I'm behind the power curve on everything here. I didn't even get around to reading Sunday's comics until last night. I got quite a chuckle out of Mother Goose & Grimm, especially in light of my recent Girl Scout camping experience:

Now THAT is my kind of camping!

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From Fred--written 06/11/04 

There are 3 main dining facilities here at Camp Victory. The Engineer Dining Facility, which primarily serves the Engineer Brigade here; the Black Jack Dining Facility, which primarily serves soldiers assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division; and the Phantom Dining Facility, which serves soldiers assigned around the Palace (headquarters types) .

The Engineer and Blackjack Dining Facilities are new. They are big gymnasium-sized buildings. Inside, the floors are tile, the walls painted off-white, the ceilings are drop panels with many lights, and the tables are spread out--there is a light, airy feel to the place. Each has 2 main lines and 2 short-order lines. Both have adequate salad/pasta bars. There are big coolers for canned drinks and fruit juices. All in all, not a bad place to eat. Food is served by either third-country nationals or local Iraqis in blue pants, light blue or white shirts, bow ties, and some wear chef's hats.

The food itself is cafeteria style. It is not bad; it is not gourmet either. Generally, there are 4 main dishes--tonight we had turkey, beef and noodles, beef brisket, and chicken wings. There have been nights when we had surf and turf. Generally you get a couple of vegetables and a couple of starches.

The Phantom Dining Facility is an older building. It is not as pleasant because it is more crowded. It has the same food service plan and menu. Big thing that Phantom Dining Facility has going for it is the ice cream bar. You can get scooped ice cream and then put various toppings on . . . broken-up Oreo cookies, broken-up Reeses peanut butter cups, M&Ms, cherries, caramel, sprinkles. Add a piece of cake as a base, and you are in sugar overload. One of my captains has a special place in his heart for the ice cream bar--it is the kid in him, I suppose. He takes the ribbing in good spirits and dishes back when I eat just salads. I do this at lunch because it is too hot to eat anything else.

I generally have my cereal (Raisin Bran, Total, Cheerios, or Raisin Bran Crunch--I can't stand high-sugar cereals) for breakfast, but have added a bowl of fresh fruit--pineapple, watermelon, melon, cantaloupe, grapefruit, or oranges. The fruit varies from day to day. Left over fruit from breakfast is often seen again as lunch's fruit salad. Lunch is generally a plate of lettuce with some tomatoes and other toppings-- Annabelle would appreciate the "purple crunchies"--purple cabbage. I often add some potato salad for substance. Dinner is whatever is being served.

I have not had a bad meal yet, but some have been better than others.

We sometimes vary our routine by eating at a different facility each meal. Variety is the spice of life, and when you are otherwise eating dust and heat all day, it is the little things that make you laugh.

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Monday, June 14, 2004

How bizarre. Late last week, I got a call from a German fellow at DPW (Department of Public Works) informing me that I live in building 809 and that he would be coming at 8 a.m. on Monday to fix the boiler. I kept insisting that I do not, in fact, live in building 809 and that the houses out here don't have boilers (our hot water is piped in from somewhere else). No, no, no, he insisted. If I was at this phone number, then I lived at building 809. Finally, I agreed, just to get him off the phone.

I then called Housing and informed them that come Monday morning, DPW was going to be trying to get into building 809 and to please figure out who does live there, so they could let him in. Otherwise, I figured, he would just be calling for me again. They assured me that they would take care of the problem.

Fast forward to this morning: I just got another call from my German DPW friend, and he sounded quite irritated. "Why you not here at Building 809 for me to fix the boiler," he demanded. For all I know, this guy looks like Brad Pitt and moves like Patrick Swazy in Dirty Dancing; in my mind though, I see Rumpelstiltskin, hopping around indignantly.

I met his irritation with my own: "Listen, I DON'T live in building 809! I told you the other day--the houses in my neighborhood don't even have their own boilers!!"

"Yes, yes, you do!!!" he insisted and then started reading to me: "LOST: Swiss army knife. If found, please call . . . "

Then it dawned on me--this poor fellow was at the Scout hut, where my son managed to part ways with his Swiss army knife about a month ago. He was reading off of the posters we put up (in vain, as it turned out).

Long story short, I made a couple of phone calls and managed to track down a parent volunteer who does have the key to the hut, and she is on her way over to let Herr Stiltskin in. It cracks me up though to think that it seemed reasonable to him that somebody might actually live in that decrepit, windowless shack. Then again, considering the substandard conditions of so much army housing, maybe it makes perfect sense.

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Sunday, June 13, 2004

Here's a postscript from my gardening post of the other day. Have you ever been mooned by a bee?

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And now a brief musical interlude, in celebration of me surviving my first camping trip in 20 years. Cue the music!

At first I was aghast, I was horrified,
Kept thinkin' there's no way you'll ever make me sleep outside.
But then my daughter came to me and she said, "Mom, it's time to go."
Her hopeful smile, there was no way to say "no."

So now I'm here, Camp Germany,
There's a baker's-dozen Brownies and they're buzzin' all 'round me.
This one wants to take a hike,
That one wants to have some fun,
And I just want somebody else to wake me up when this is done.

All right, let's go, let's get it on!
Let's put those tents up, where the heck's my situpon?
The 'smores taste fine, and it's grand to be alive,
And I'm starting to believe that I just might survive.

Oh, yes, I did! I did survive!
I smell like smoke and froze my tail off, and I surely didn't thrive.
But I made it through the night, in fact, I lasted well past dawn.
I did survive, I did survive,
Hey, hey!

Yesterday morning Annabelle, Mike, and I met up with her Brownie troop at the Scout hut here on post and headed for our temporary home, high atop Koenigstuhl, which rises over 1800 feet above the city of Heidelberg. Mannheim and lower Heidelberg were bright and sunny, but as we drove up, up, up, we disappeared into the clouds. When we arrived at the campsite, the cold wet weather clued me in that we hadn't packed very well. Annabelle stayed with her troop to help set up camp while Mike and I made an emergency run back to Mannheim for heavier clothes and dry firewood.

When we returned to camp, the girls and other leaders had all the tents set up:

This handsome fellow welcomed us to the camping area and reminded us about the importance of environmentally friendly behavior:

We were just in time to enjoy lunch: hobo dinner, which is a foil packet of chicken and assorted veggies baked over a campfire or--in our case--a charcoal grill.

After lunch, the Brownies went to visit Märchen Paradies, which struck me as being a German version of South Carolina's infamously tacky South of the Border. Mike was naturally way too cool for the kiddie rides:

But Annabelle and her friends had fun:

That evening we huddled around the campfire, trying to stay warm, roasting hotdogs, and toasting marshmallows for 'smores. The smoke was rather intense, and we had a lively debate over whether saying "I like rabbits" could chase the smoke away from you:

Here's a picture of Annabelle bundled up by the fire:

Poor Mike was so cold that he completely lost his head:

We got the kids tucked into their tents between 10 and 11 p.m. All the Brownies congregated together in one tent, with the leader and the moms in another, and the dads and tag-along brothers in yet another 2. The other adults and I headed for bed a little after 11. As I crawled into my sleeping bag, the bitter cold reminded me of why I haven't camped in the past 20 years.

Somehow I did manage to drift off to sleep, but I was awakened at 3 a.m. by a shivering Annabelle. She burst into tears and said: "Th-th-this j-j-just isn't wh-wh-what I had in m-m-mind!" I grabbed her and tucked her into my bag next to me, and she promptly conked back out. I thought I'd never get back to sleep, but somehow I did, for the next thing I knew it was 7 o'clock, and one of the other Brownies was delivering a most obnoxious wakeup call from the next tent over.

We had a breakfast of apples and yogurt bars (and Slim Jims filched out of the secret food supply in my van), and then the girls had their flag ceremony. I don't know all the details, but I understand that this flag was sent to them from friends in Iraq:

After the flag ceremony, the girls did a Girl Scout circle where they each got their camp patches and got to say what they liked most and least about camping. Annabelle's best: hanging out in the tent with her friends. Her worst: the cold. Amen, little sister. Amen.

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Friday, June 11, 2004

Given my recent trepidation regarding the mowing of our lawn, you might have accurately guessed that I have absolutely zero love for grass. Perhaps it dates back to our time in Charlottesville, when my husband carried on a weekly affair with our one-acre lawn. Fred spent hours each weekend of the warmer months watering, mowing, edging, fertilizing. He even wore a weighted rucksack while pushing the mower around so that it would be a "real workout." I begged him in vain to at least take it off when he worked near the street, lest the neighbors should suspect what I already knew to be true--my husband has a chronic grass addiction.

I'm sure our current lawn care standards would give poor Fred heart palpitations. We aren't watering, and we aren't fertilizing. We aren't edging, and we aren't mowing underneath the trampoline. And--don't read this part, Fred--we sure as heck aren't bagging the clippings! There's a new regime in this town, and it wasn't elected on a lawn-friendly platform.

Considering my lack of warm fuzzies where the grass is concerned, it amazes me to realize that I have become somewhat of a plant slut. Over the past year, I've yet to meet the plant that I can say no to, especially if it puts out flowers. (I just love a plant that puts out, don't you?)

I spent the month of May getting my summer plants in place, and I'm afraid I'm still not done. The more I plant, the more plants I see that I still want, and the more spaces I find in the yard where I could cram in "just one more." I am like a lapsed Atkins dieter at Krispy Kreme when I go to the garden departments at Walmart or Bauhaus.

Here are some scenes from my yard, which I shot this morning. This is the right side of the front of the house:

The 2 hanging plants in the middle are strawberries. Here's a closer look:

And here's an even closer look:

This is the left side of the front:

We used to keep the wrought-iron table and chairs on the balcony behind our bedroom, but we never sat out there. I like it much better in the front.

Here's a shot of the left side from a slightly different angle, which better shows the geraniums in flower pots behind the table:

This is a closeup of my bag of petunias:

Planting that sucker was 6 different kinds of fun. My plants were a bit too large to fit through the openings in the bag, so first Fred and I performed surgery on the bag with a knife to enlarge the holes. Then I stuck my hand in the bag and out the hole, while Fred handed me each plant with its roots as smooshed together as possible. I grabbed the roots and puuuuuuuuuulled them through, added more dirt to bag, and repeated the process.

While I was outside this morning taking pictures of my plants, I became fascinated by a bee who was equally fascinated with my geraniums:

There are more photos showing the many moods of Mr. Bee here and here.

Here is a picture of a tree in my side yard that is currently covered with the most amazing smelling blossoms. If you look hard, you can kind of see my doomed impatiens in the background:

On to the back yard! Annabelle wanted a vegetable garden this summer, so we planted it in containers along the edge of our patio. From left to right, we have: carrots, radishes, broccoli, marigolds, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, more marigolds, cucumbers, and lettuce:

And out at the fence line, I have put in seeds for morning glories, sunflowers, and bush beans. They're just starting to pop up, and every morning feels like Christmas as I hurry out to the fence to see the progress my precious seedlings have made from the previous day. Here you can see a morning glory (top left) and a few sunflowers (bottom right):

My bush beans seem to be growing by leaps and bounds in recent days. They might not look too tall yet, but considering they just poked through the ground a few days ago, I think they're doing OK:

When I'm in my front yard I wave at my American neighbors as they pass by and sometimes sit on the porch or at the little table for an impromptu chat. From my backyard, I can see my neighbor's parrot hanging out in his favorite tree, watch the horses in the pasture, and nod a reserved greeting to the Germans who go past on the other side of the fence. When I'm out tending to my seedlings, German dogs frequently run up to the fence line to check me out. I'm sure this one's owner wondered about the crazy American, down on the ground taking pictures of 4-inch bean stalks:

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Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Lately I've accumulated quite a collection of blogs that I check out on a fairly regular basis. One blog that I make sure to hit on a daily basis is [random acts of alex], a site maintained by a teacher at the American high school in Baumholder. He is a fellow recent transplant from Texas and has the impeccably good taste to include my blog in his list of "Sites Worth Your Time." His entry from Monday, about the teleconferencing of Baumholder's graduation for parents in Iraq is truly moving, as are the photos he posted of the event.

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I've got so much to catch up on! It's been a very busy week, plus I still have the rest of our whirlwind journey from a couple weeks ago to post. It seems like every time something happens, I think, "Oh, I should blog that! But first I have to tweak and post my bazillion-and-one Switzerland photos. So I'll just check my email instead."

This is the same logic that leads me to occasional paralysis in the housekeeping area: "Wow, this floor needs sweeping. But what it really needs is sweeping and then scrubbing, and I just don't have the time or energy for that. So I'll just check my email instead."

I promise that you will see the Switzerland photos, if only a few at a time. In the meantime though, I have to do some everyday blogging as well.

For starters, today was our official day for doing battle with the lawn. I managed to wheel the mower out of the carport, and I was standing there looking at it when Mike came out and announced, "I know how to do this." Apparently he spoke the truth, for he checked the gas and the oil level (something it would never have occurred to me to do), flipped a few switches here and there, gave a good yank, and started it right up. Not only did he mow our yard, but he also mowed for our next-door neighbors as well. Here's a shot of Mike, truly outstanding in his field:

For her part, Annabelle has been busy lately doing some artwork. Mike has turned her into a Lord of the Rings junkie, and here's a poster she made of a hobbit:

I just love his furry feet, and I think his eyes are amazingly well done. He truly looks like what's-his-face from the movie!

My big accomplishment for today was going to a women's fitness orientation offered by the gym here on post. They really did an outstanding job with the program. First we watched a slideshow on weight-training for women, and then we broke into small groups to go through the gym with personal trainers. We got to try all the machines for an 8-week program that they devised for us. I figure if nothing else, I'm at least going to try to make it through the 8 weeks!

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Sunday, June 06, 2004

I'm still here, and everything is fine. I just had an insanely busy week, and getting to the computer to work on my Switzerland pics hasn't been an easy task. I hope that things will settle down now for a bit, so I can get those posted in the next day or two.

I spent a fair part of last week on Scout stuff. Mike received his Tenderfoot rank at the Boy Scout June Court of Honor Wednesday night, and Annabelle bridged over from Brownies to Junior Girl Scouts at a ceremony Friday night. I put a couple of hours into sewing the patches onto her new vest for Friday's ceremony, and then Thursday night at their rocket-launch/picnic she received another half dozen that go on her Brownie vest. I may never be done sewing patches at this rate!

I've also been busy in the yard. Our weather has been nice on a more consistent basis recently (still the occasional damp, dreary day though), and the plants are really starting to take off. Unfortunately, the grass is also starting to take off, and I'm not quite sure what to do about it.

I've never actually cut grass before and frankly never want to. It's loud and seems dangerous. Mike keeps insisting that he can do it, but I think he needs some adult supervision and don't think that the 30-minute lesson he got from Fred is sufficient.

Frankly, I wish I could just hire somebody to come cut the darn grass! Try saying that around here though, and people look at you like you're crazy. I've even had other wives OFFER to cut my grass when I've asked if they knew of anybody who does lawns for money. I would rather die. If I said I wanted to hire a cleaning lady and asked for recommendations, nobody would offer to come scrub my toilets for me.

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Friday, June 04, 2004

NOTE: The post below is authored by our very own embedded journalist (Fred). Just didn't want anybody to read "I spent today on the road around Baghdad" and wonder what on earth I'm up to now. Looks like you'll have to pay attention to how the posts are signed from now on!

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I spent today on the road around Baghdad in a convoy (I was in an armored humvee), providing Article 15 counseling to soldiers in two forward-operating bases outside both Green Zones. No one fired a shot and all returned home safe and sound.

The city of Baghdad is a mess. It looks like a third world country--poor, dirty, drivers making up rules as they go. The drivers respect the Army vehicles--they get out of the way. You can see the destruction from the war and years of neglect. I think most is from neglect as it looks just like cities in Philippines, Thailand, Korea, South America. Every once in a while you see a building complex we hit . . . generally the building is flat or, if it was a large building, there is a large hole from top through 4 floors and all windows are blown out--the mark of a JDAM--a big cruise missile.

Tomorrow is admin day at the ranch. Haircut, vacuum room, do admin stuff here in the office.

It is hot and sunny. I am dusty and sweaty, but generally happy.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2004

I got a pleasant surprise at the mailroom today. Along with my printer from OfficeMax (finally!), my books from Amazon, and the kids' books from Scholastic, we also received a postcard from Fred:

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Fred just emailed to say that he has arrived back at Camp Victory from his weekend jaunt to Kuwait. He sent along a photo of himself with his friends at the USATDS Region IX Southern Field Office:

(Fred's the one in the middle of the back row.)

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