Sunday, October 31, 2004

Happy Halloween (for another 90 minutes anyway)! Halloween is usually one of my favorite holidays, but I wasn't especially looking forward to it this year. It just seemed like too much hassle. I put off buying a pumpkin so long that by the time I got around to it (Friday night), there were no more in the commissary.

Fortunately, the kids had finalized their costume choices a month ago, so I didn't have to worry much with that. Annabelle was Wednesday from "The Addams Family":

And Mike was . . . um, some crazy dude with a cleaver and a bloody knife:

Here they are together in a lovely brother-sister portrait:

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Saturday, October 30, 2004

Fall has fallen here in Germany, and it really is gorgeous. Much prettier, in fact, than I recall last fall being. I went to Kaiserslautern today with my friend Amy for the Rhein-Ordnance Holiday Bazaar, and we were just amazed by the scenery as we zipped along the Autobahn. Multicolored vineyards stretched out on either side of us--tidy squares, some still green, others turning yellow, orange, or brilliant red.

Many of the military communities over here host international bazaars throughout the year. Some are huge, while others are tiny. This one was, like Baby Bear's chair, just right. There wasn't a lot of duplication, but there was a healthy dose of almost everything. There was a Polish pottery stand (bought a cookie jar on clearance, which I'm going to use to store cat food), a couple of toy stands (a new Beanie Baby rodent to add to the kids' collection), tons of antiques, cheeses from Holland, leather and glass from Italy, our favorite wine vendor (bought 2 bottles each of his homemade Glühwein (think hot sangria--we already killed off one bottle tonight), and of course plenty of nutcrackers:

If shopping for Belgian chocolates were a video game, I am pleased (dismayed?) to report that I probably hold the high score for the day if not the entire weekend. Here's a shot of the fellow Amy and I call "Belgian Hot Chocolate Guy"--I always begin and end every bazaar with a visit to his shop:

After we finished off the bazaar, we stopped by Zofia's, a little Polish pottery shop nearby. I did a bit of Christmas shopping and also managed to score a really cool liquid soap dispenser for myself.

Zofia's is located in the basement of a small hotel. In the backyard, there's a swingset much like the ones that were in backyards when I was a kid. That swingset cracks me up. You know how in the United States everybody freaks if the mulch or rubber chips underneath the play equipment isn't so thick? Well, here they have POURED CEMENT SLABS underneath the swings, I suppose to keep little swinging feet from wearing away the earth. Check it out for yourself:

All in all it was an excellent day of much-needed retail therapy!

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Thursday, October 28, 2004

There I was a minute ago, sitting up in bed, watching episode 3 of "Desperate Housewives," when suddenly my laptop battery died without warning. The housewives were in the middle of the dinner party from hell, and I absolutely had to see the rest. So I came downstairs to grab my computer power cord and figured while I was here, I'd check my email and visit a few of my favorite sites.

I'm so glad I did! There is a new post on the Baghdad Burning blog. This blog is kept by a 25-year-old Iraqi woman who is truly a gifted writer. My only complaint would have to be that she doesn't post nearly often enough. This new post is an open letter to Americans regarding the election. Read it. And then go back and read everything she has posted before.

I'm going back upstairs now to see how everything turns out for the housewives. Now that I'll have the power cord, I don't suppose there's anything (like self-control, for example) to keep me from watching episode 4 as well.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Well, I finally voted in Flori-duh today. I hope I did anyway. I dropped my ballot off at the post office this afternoon, after my attempt at faxing it failed yesterday.

When I received my absentee ballot from the Mosquito State, it was printed on regular (bright orange) paper. This, I was told, was because the whole issue of third-party candidates was not resolved in time for them to make the mailing deadline with official ballots printed on cardstock. Absentee voters were encouraged to use these "advance ballots" to cast their votes--either by mail or fax--and the results would be transcribed onto cardstock ballots back home if their cardstock ballots never made it out to the voters and back again. I'm still waiting for my official ballot to arrive. Anybody but me nervous about this?

Yes, as a matter of fact! John Schorr, a sociology professor at my university (go, Hatters!), wrote a good editorial on this topic for the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

I hope that I can soon return to posting about the quirky experiences that make life as an American in Europe unique. We've got a 5-day trip to Austria planned for early November with my friend Gretchyn and her daughter Alex, so I'm sure I'll have interesting tales from that. Plus, I've still got to blog the second half of our Russia trip. For now, however, I'm obsessed, and I honestly can't see much beyond the election.

That doesn't mean, however, that I'm immune to a good chuckle. I found the following just a little while ago:

It was posted on one of my all-time favorite blogs, Today in Iraq. I read it faithfully every day and would encourage you to check it out.

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Monday, October 25, 2004

Dubya: Flip-flopper? Or just stupid?

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Sunday, October 24, 2004

My morning routine has changed a bit with Fred's deployment. I used to stop by the bathroom on my way to check my email. Now I just head straight for the computer.

With Iraq being a couple time zones ahead of Germany, Fred is usually well into his morning by the time I roll out of bed. Unless he's in a trial or visiting one of his field offices, I can generally count on starting my day with a good morning email. In today's email he wrote:

I was awakened by a rocket hitting our base this morning at 0455. Not the way I envisioned starting my Sunday last night when I went to sleep at 11:00. I am OK as are my folks.
Not everybody was so lucky. The mortar killed Ed Seitz, a US diplomat.

Lest you should think that this is an anomaly, a bit of graffiti perhaps in an otherwise good neighborhood--I'm amazed at how many people tell me "well, at least Fred's a lawyer, so he should be safe"--let me assure you that this is not the case. On September 30, when Fred was in Kuwait on his way to meet us in the States, Staff Sgt. Darren J. Cunningham was killed in yet another mortar attack on Fred's base. SSDD. It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood . . .

So here I sit, drawing connections between international headlines and my husband's daily emails, and it all seems rather unreal. Of course, we knew going in that it would be dangerous--it's a war, for crying out loud. I hate these random moments of clarity though where it hits me that this is REALLY dangerous. As clear as it all becomes, my immediate response is anything but realistic: "Jeez, Fred, I think you need to get out of there!"

I know as soon as the thought travels through my brain that it's impossible. My husband is stuck there for the next 9 months and there's nothing I can do about it. Nothing like a little helplessness to turn on the anger, and I am filled with rage for Bush and the axis of evil and incompetence that he calls his advisors. We marched in like rats behind the piper to find weapons of mass destruction that no longer exist or never did exist. We believed lies, and American soldiers and Iraqi civilians are paying the price.

I realize that the bulk of my readers feel like I do. I'm pretty sure most of the others stopped reading me last spring when my light-hearted travelogue veered toward the political. But if anybody out there has stuck with me this far and still plans on casting a vote for Bush on November 2, may I implore you? Please, please, please . . . don't vote for that asshole.

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Friday, October 22, 2004

If you're wondering who deserves your vote this time around, check out 100 Facts and 1 Opinion: The Non-Arguable Case Against the Bush Administration. You can even print it out in a handy-dandy 1-page PDF format.

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Jet lag continues to kick our collective butt. In the 9 days that we've been home, I've seen 4 a.m. at least 4 times (once with the kids and never because I've woken up early) and none of us have fallen asleep before midnight once.

We've tried coping with a variety of pharmaceuticals. TylenolPM, Dramamine, Benadryl, Melatonin--we've tried them all. Tonight I made everyone drink a nice hot cup of "Schlafundnerventee" (German sleep- and nerve-tea: it contains the herb Valerian) at around 9 p.m. Four hours later, and here we are, still awake.

We're starting to feel rather desperate. I read my spam and I see offers "Need V*A*L*I*U*M?" And all I can think is, "Heck, Y*E*S!" Mike suggested a couple of days ago that we simply embrace our new schedule and start living the graveyard shift. To my sleep-deprived brain, that doesn't sound like such a bad idea. I figure at the rate we're going, we should be fully readjusted . . . oh, about the time we go back to the States later next month.

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Monday, October 18, 2004

When I was a kid, I adored watching "Schoolhouse Rock" during Saturday morning cartoons. Conjunction junction, what's your function? So I was thrilled this evening when I was browsing through American Leftist and found a link to "Pirates and Emperors," an animated short done in classic Schoolhouse-Rock style and based on the writings of Noam Chomsky:
'Cause there are pirates and emperors,
but they're really the same thing
When they go and try to reach the same ends
By using the same means.
Well, they do it big
or they do it small
From a little tiny boat,
or from hallowed halls.
Bully is as bully does, that's plain to see.
Everybody sing!

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Sunday, October 17, 2004

Don't read this without a hanky.

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Jet lag is nature's way of making you look like your passport photo.- Linda Perret

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Saturday, October 16, 2004

My faithful readers might recall back in the summer when my friend Amy surprised me with a special gift to help me count down the days until Fred's return. It was a beautiful Polish pottery canister full of M&Ms, one for each day of the deployment. The idea was that I would eat one M&M per day, and as the jar got emptier, we would be that much closer to Fred's return.

Apparently there are people who can be trusted around chocolate. And then there's me.

I started off really well. In fact, I started off so well that it took me days to eat the first piece of candy. As I wrote back then,
I haven't actually started eating the M&Ms yet. I want to, but I know how my mind works: "Hmmm . . . after I finish all this chocolate, Fred will be home." It doesn't take a psychic to foresee me sitting there 15 minutes later, waiting for Fred to walk through the door and wondering why on earth my stomach hurts so bad.

Gradually though, I started dipping into the jar for an occasional treat. "I haven't had one in a few days," I would reason, "so surely this will keep me more or less caught up." Or, "This day has been exceptionally stressful and therefore equal to 2 days," and down would go 2. Or 3.

I wasn't even greedy about it. Sometimes, if it had been a while since I had reached into the jar, I would toss a few M&Ms at the kids, urging them to "have a bite of Dad." Perhaps they wondered if this was some bizarre military ritual of transubstantiation, but they never turned down the chocolate.

Somewhere along the way though, things got out of control. According to my jar, Fred should be home in 4 days. Make that 3. No, 2. Oh, screw it, 1.

Last Wednesday we hit the 21-week mark, and Tuesday will make it an official 5 months. If he were on a 1-year tour, we'd be within sniffing distance of the halfway point.

It occurred to me while we were with Fred in Charlottesville that Martha Stewart will be released from prison before he's released from Iraq. When I shared this thought with Fred though, he just smiled ruefully and said, "I've got clients who will be out of prison before I'm out of Iraq." Now THERE is a cheery thought, don't you think? Pass the M&Ms . . .

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Thursday, October 14, 2004

Oh, they grow up so fast, don't they? Seems like only yesterday that I signed up to be a puppy walker for Guide Dogs of Texas. We brought a cute yellow lab puppy named Coral into our home for a year of fun and training. Here she is with me at about 3 months old:

And here she is, all grown up:

I checked in with the Guide Dog foundation on our recent trip to Texas and was happy to learn that Coral has gotten past some very bad habits (like eating socks) that might have derailed her future as a guide dog. If all continues to go as well as it has lately, she could be placed with a client by the end of the year.

Her trainer tells me that Coral will most likely be going with a musician from Austin. Mike was very excited about this news. "Awesome!" he exclaimed. "Coral gets a COOL blind person." I'm sure Mike envisions electric guitars and garage bands, although for all I know her future master plays polkas on an accordion.

It's hard to believe that our sock-eatin', remote-chewin', poopin'-3-times-in-the-mall-in-1-day baby is about to get a job!

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Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Just a little note to announce that we're home! The flight finally left BWI at 1:30 a.m. EST and was delightfully uneventful. We slept all the way over, and my internal clock is completely out of whack. Why, I keep wondering, is it pitch black at mid-afternoon?

I'm very relieved to have successfully completed this trip and to have the whole month behind us. I'm surprised though to discover that I'm not as thrilled to be home as I thought I'd be. Ever since Fred left on Saturday, the kids and I have been obsessed with just getting home. But driving in after being away for so long, I had a distinct feeling of "Eh, is this all there is?" Bah, humbug. I'm going to bed.

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Monday, October 11, 2004

OK, I know I said I wouldn't post again until we got to Germany, but I'm bored. We made our way up to BWI this morning after stopping off in Woodbridge for one last Chick-fil-a and another trip through Borders. Arrived at around 4:30 after dropping off the rental car and discovered that Evan, Mike's best friend from Hawaii who currently lives in Maryland, had come up to the airport with his mom and brother.

We had a great time visiting, and they held our hands as we waited for the third call for space-available passengers before we finally heard our names called. They left around 6:30 p.m., and we headed down to the gate. Unfortunately, our plane is stuck in Indianapolis and hasn't arrived yet. They finally gave us meal coupons and sent us away with instructions to return to the ticket counter at 11:00 for more information. So here we sit, me surfing the web and the kids watching a DVD.

I've had deja vu over and over again tonight as I watched other women sending their men off to the sandbox. Very sad indeed.

Cross fingers that we get out soon. The kids are being great sports, but that's good for only so long.

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Saturday, October 09, 2004

Greetings from the USO at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. We just checked in at the AMC counter and I found out that my space-available upgrade to Category 3 from Category 5 (on account of Fred's deployment) is good on this side of the pond as well as the other. So we're now on the list as Cat 3's, which is a good thing, and there is a flight Monday night to Germany, which is an even better thing. Right now they're showing 5 available seats, but there's always the possibility of no-shows. So the plan is to turn in the rental car Monday afternoon and cross our fingers. We came to the USO so that I could get on the internet and check out rates for hotels in the area in case we can't get out on Monday.

Mostly though I'm procrastinating. Fred and the kids are hanging out in the waiting room, and when I sign off of here, it's going to be time for The Big Goodbye. We all seem to be taking it much harder this time around, although thus far it's been for a briefer period of time. I felt horrible for a solid month leading up to the last farewell, and this time we actually had about 5 good days before reality started hitting.

I probably won't post again until we're at home in Germany. Let's hope it doesn't take too long to get there. We've had a great vacation--a wonderful time in Texas and such fun reuniting with Fred--but we're all feeling pretty burned out right now, and frankly we just want to go home. Clicking heels and hitting "publish post" . . .

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Thursday, October 07, 2004

I'm taking advantage of our last night with high-speed internet access for a while to get some more photos posted. We check out at noon tomorrow and head for Springfield, VA. The kids and I will hang out there with our friends the Koltons and try to meet up with other friends in the area; Fred heads back to Baghdad by way of Detroit, Amsterdam, and Kuwait on Saturday afternoon.

I'm so glad we got this week together. I know Fred must feel like he's under interrogation, but I just can't quit picking his brain. The number-one thing that I have missed over the past 4.5 months is talking about stupid little details at the end of the day. So I'm trying to fill up on trivial information to last me until he gets his mid-tour leave sometime in January or February.

Last night we had a formal dinner for the conference. The food was delicious, and I always love a man in uniform:

Yesterday I had the last of my official meetings, so we slept in this morning. This afternoon we went over to my friend Nell's house so I could visit with her and Melissa, another of my internet buddies. On the way there, we saw this amazing squirrel sculpture, and the kids insisted I take a picture. Makes me wish I had a treestump and a chainsaw:

We hung out at Nell's house for a couple hours and had a great time visiting. Mike took this picture for us:

You might remember from my post from the day Fred left that we took pictures of him standing back-to-back with the kids so that we could have a clear measure of how much they grow over this next year. We re-took the photos this afternoon, and here they are--the new and the old:

If I were truly dedicated, I would re-crop them all so that Fred maintains a constant size. Maybe once I'm home in Germany. For now I think they successfully convey the message--these kids are gettin' BIG!

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Tuesday, October 05, 2004

I just got back from running Fred up to the school. I have a while before my round of meetings starts, so I thought I'd use the time to post a few random items.

First, one of the coolest things we did in Texas was go to the cute little town of Gruene and meet up with my brother- and sister-in-law James and Meredith, Meredith's mom, and my nephew Sanders. We had a most delicious lunch at the Grist Mill and then wandered around the town. Here's a picture of Sanders perched on his grandma's shoulders:

Second, I got to meet up with my internet friend Nell on Sunday afternoon while Fred was in his meetings. Nell makes the seventh (I think) of my "invisible" friends that I have been able to meet up with IRL (In Real Life). We spent a delightful afternoon hanging out in Nell's living room talking trash about George Bush (what's not to love?!). Here's a shot of us together on her back porch:

And finally, last night when we went to The Outback, there was a Crossfire sports car in the parking lot. The kids insisted that we take a picture of Fred next to it to send to our friend Phil who has sports-car lust. They were hoping we could convince Phil that this was either Fred's new car or the car we rented for the week (because wouldn't it be the most logical choice for a family of 4 with 3 huge suitcases?). Phil's response: "Yeah, any closer and he'd have set off the alarm." I guess Phil isn't easily fooled. Here's the shot though:

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I need to take a minute here to blog all the happy stuff before we get too far into the week and I start feeling sad about Fred having to go back.

We left San Antonio in the pouring rain Saturday morning and made it to Baltimore with absolutely no problems. Fred and I had agreed that we would meet at the USO there at the airport, so that's where we headed as soon as we got our bags. I ran up to the AMC counter to try and get the October space-A schedule (no luck) and returned to the USO about 5 minutes before Fred showed up.

I saw him cruising past in the hall, looking anxious as he tried to figure out where he was going. I waved and he ran in and gave me the biggest hug of my life. This was the most emotionally worked-up I've ever seen Fred, so when the kids jumped on him, I reached over and snagged the fake earring out of Mike's head. In the emotion of the moment, it just didn't seem as funny as it had in the Halloween store.

We got our rental car (minivan actually) and hit the road. We stopped for supper in Springfield, VA, at my all-time favorite Thai restaurant. I hadn't been there in years, and the proprietor was so excited to see Mike and Annabelle all grown up. After supper, we continued on and reached Charlottesville at around 10 p.m.

Our hotel is great! We're in the Residence Inn by Marriott, which is just behind Barracks Road Shopping Center and just down the hill from the JAG school. The kids are excited to have their own TV in the living room with all those good American cable stations and high-speed internet access--the better to feed their Neopets!

Yesterday afternoon Fred had meetings, so I went out to meet one of my internet friends (picture to follow later). We had a great visit, and then I met Fred back at the JAG school for the icebreaker. Here's a picture of us sitting in the lobby at the school:

Fred's parents arrived today, so tonight we went to The Outback for a reunion supper. Tomorrow they are planning on taking the kids shopping in the morning (I have a half-day of meetings), and then we'll take them to the pool in the afternoon.

Having Fred back feels even better than I had expected!

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Friday, October 01, 2004

You know what true relief is? True relief is hearing on the radio yesterday that 3 car bombs exploded in Baghdad, killing 50+ people--most of them children who were getting candy from soldiers--and KNOWING that there is no way your husband was anywhere near there. Not thinking "Well, odds are that Fred wouldn't be attending the opening of a sewage treatment plant," but knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that he wasn't even in the country at the time. I feel so bad though for the people who don't get to share my relief.

Fred was in Kuwait yesterday, and last night he flew home to Germany to collect the clothing and uniforms he needs for the conference next week. Tomorrow he will fly from Frankfurt to Baltimore by way of New York/Newark, and the kids and I will meet him at the USO at BWI.

Fred's Blazer is in storage in Mannheim, and my van is in the parking lot at Rhein-Main AFB. Fortunately, Fred was able to rent a really cool ride for the day:

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