Thursday, July 31, 2008
Some people just can't get enough summertime, but I am NOT one of them. I am never sorry to see the last of July; I could only be happier if August didn't follow. The end of July means we are halfway through the hottest part of the year and that much closer to Autumn ~ my far and away, no-contest, absolute favorite season.
This July has been particularly unpleasant: It is my first month M-less after 20+ years of daily doses. That is enough right there for a total writeoff, but on top of that, we have had 100+ temperatures with humidity to match, to say nothing of NO rain the whole month. Even Hurricane Dolly turned out to be nothing more than an overblown threat with barely a mist to its credit.
Tonight is July's last possible chance to redeem itself, and we are being subjected to a real, honest-to-goodness thunderstorm. But wouldn't you know, that's all it is: a generous lot of pompous bombast. No rain, no substance.
So, goodbye, July. For M, one more reason to cheer your passing: one month down, 46 to go...
The officer got out and walked up to the door where we were standing.
"Is your dog in the car?" I asked.
"Yes, ma'am," he replied, and then indicating the kidlets, "I can't show them the dog, but I have cards." He pulled a pack of trading cards out of his pocket and handed them around. Cool!! Next to an American flag sat Azor, straight and tall.
Azor. What a cool name for what a cool dog!
"Your dog isn't going to get hot out there, is he?"
"No, ma'am! We keep the a/c running for him." Well, I don't suppose they are afraid anybody is going to steal their car or anything like that, and what a great deal for Azor. That's waaaay better than what I get when I have to wait in the car.
"Are you going to get your dog a taco?"
"No, ma'am!" No junk food for these dogs. For us people, bring it on! But for these guys, let's have the scientific, vet-approved diet.
Ever since S was a boy, he always loved dogs and he always wanted to be a cop. Thinking it the best of everything in his world, I often suggested K-9 cop-pery to him, but he showed not the barest hint of interest. Finally one day I asked why, and he said, "Mom, if somebody hurt my dog, I would have to kill them."
I am fascinated no end by working dogs, completely awed by the relationship between a trainer/handler and a dog. The things these people can get these dogs to do...and the things these dogs will do for these people. I have always thought that if just a few people would learn just a few lessons from just a few of these animals, the world would be a whole lot, all-around better place.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Last night as I talked to my friend, she commented on how content she was with her imperfect life, yet how unhappy her mother was with it, and we wondered...Why should her mother care about all the quirks and glitches in her life if she was happy with it herself? Does contentment make her some kind of underachiever? Not ambitious enough? Not that she is problem-free, but contentment, cliche as it may be, is a choice, and perhaps it is more an indicator of maturity than of ambition or the lack thereof.
My friend is happy in her home. She is happy in her life as a wife and a mother and a grandmother. A gardener and a crafter, a teacher of her children, a hospitable friend. And what might be better contentment than family life at home?
Monday, July 28, 2008
Ever since we got on board for West Point we have been looking forward to our phone call from the legendary Ice Cream Social. It had been drilled into us that we would have ten minutes to talk to our nc, if we were lucky: there could be ten other nc's waiting for their turn; there could be one oh-so-homesick nc that might go past his ten minutes into your nc's ten minutes; or your kind-hearted, well-adjusted nc might donate his call altogether to someone that needs it more than he does; or your nc might be the one that is so homesick he is afraid to get on the phone and break down; or, yours could be the one that sleeps the afternoon away and never calls at all. How easy it is to borrow trouble!
But all that worrisome speculation was for naught, because not only did our boy call, his 10-minute call was a 45-minute call! We listened fast, in anticipation of some 'higher' counting down his minutes, but time kept passing and we kept talking. Maybe this was an exchange for the abbreviated 90-second goodbye we didn't get on R-Day...?
We had already been coached to listen much and say little, and we mostly complied, though every now and then I could not help asking him a question, and gentleman that he is, he would stop what he was saying. Then we would waste a few minutes trading a few "go aheads" before we would get back on track. It's a hard thing to cram weeks of missed daily conversations into one phone call, even a 45-minute one, so a lot of things went unasked and unsaid, but before we hung up, M opened the call for questions, of which we had many.
Later we discovered email from him, also written at the Ice Cream Social. How very accommodating of his host/sponsor, and how thankful we are.
Now that The Call is behind us, we have one more ten-minute call to look forward to in two weeks, and then A-Day, after which he will be allowed to rejoin the unlimited world of e-communication.
Meanwhile, things here are oh-so-quiet, except for the days when the Blue-Eyed Boy comes and fills the spaces. This empty nest thing is pretty, well....empty....
Friday, July 25, 2008
What is there not to like? All I have to do (once the sorting is done) is stuff it into my state-of-the-art front loader, add some soap nuts, push a few buttons, and voilà. When I hear the buzzer, I remove the clothes, put them into my piece-of-junk drier, push another button, and go on to other business. I could have had a nifty new drier to match my snazzy front loader, but I'm not really a drier fan. I use mine under duress.
If I had my druthers, as they say in Texas, I would definitely hang my laundry outside on the clothesline, as I did for years after years of pre-puppy years. Alas, no more, at least until Chudleigh outgrows his puppy-ness... During the first few months we had him I got really, really tired of refereeing between him and the clothesline; hence the enlistment of the drier into service. I just did not have the time to sit outside and babysit the laundry until it was dry. More my style is to leave it hanging out there until I am good and ready to bring it in, kinda like I do with the drier now. But Chudleigh is approaching adulthood, and I will be expecting a higher standard of behavior.
When Chudleigh learns to "Leave the Laundry Alone, You Little Twit!!!" (oh, how I hope he does!), I guarantee I will go back to my pre-Chudleigh practice of using my clothesline, because the best bonus of all: the smell of fresh air and sunshine! Luxuriate in the matchless pleasure of the scent of outdoors when you go to bed on clean sheets at night. That (along with the smell of petrichor) is absolutely as good as it gets. Come to think of it... Haven't I noticed detergents with "Clothesline Fresh" scent for sale in the grocery store aisles? Not that it bears even a slight resemblance; but doesn't it prove that somewhere underneath our modern penchant for the fabulous fakes we yearn for the real thing?
Folding the laundry can be a pleasure of another kind, particularly when there are little clothes to be taken care of. I no longer have small kidlets of my own, but I do enough of the Blue-Eyed Boy's laundry to stay in practice. And, of course, I have my Man. Every piece of clothing, big or little, that passes through my hands evokes awareness of people and family and relationships in my life, and what can top that? And don't forget, a couple of baskets of laundry to fold make a perfectly legitimate reason/excuse to sit down and watch that movie you don't have time to sit down and watch. And if you do happen to have kidlets hanging around your ankles, sorting socks and folding small, flat items will entertain them while teaching them math skills and spatial relationships and hand-eye coordination. That is a whole lot more than anyone has a right to expect from one simple household chore.
And the old-fashioned wringer? Well, it certainly has charms of its own. What child does not thrill with suspense when feeding socks and sheets into the maws of the wringer! Will you be able to yank your fingers away in time? Or will the wringer eat your hand up to your elbow before your excitement attracts the attention of your mother who will drop whatever she is doing to hurry over and hit the red *release* button to extricate your throbbing arm? Of course, if you do manage to withdraw your hand in time, there is still fun to be had playing a "what is it?" sort of game when you see familiar colors and textures coming out the other side in an unrecognizable context.
Pleasant indeed, but all in all, past and present, I think I am going to have to upgrade laundry from merely pleasant labor to a most pleasant labor.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Monday, July 21, 2008
My Man and I took the day to babysit for the Princess and the Gingerbread Cookie while their dad had knee surgery. It was day surgery, and he had to be at the hospital at 7 a.m., which means we had to be at their house well before 7, which means that we had to leave our house well before 6, which means that we had to get up well before "up time," as the Blue-Eyed Boy would say.
We got there in plenty of time, and D and Da were on their way well before babies woke up. But when they did...the race was on! It's hard to imagine, in the middle of raising kidlets, that life could ever be any other way. It's impossible to imagine that you would ever forget what an all-consuming way of life it is. But it is. Looking back, it's hard to imagine that my life was once that way, and then some...every single day. But it was... How could I forget?!!!
When I think about the early days of life at home, I remember all the cute things they said and the funny things they did. I think about their precious innocence and their ability to make me laugh till I cried, and being so besotted with them I could hardly stand it.
What I don't think about is the crying and the clinging and the fighting. I don't think about the referee-ing or the relentless dailiness of the whole operation. Which just goes to show you that in time, almost everything becomes either funny or forgotten.
So back to the kidlets... we were doing ok. Two of us, two of them... It was a pretty even match, though you might think that since we outsmarted them by over half a century each and outweighed them by five or six times each, we would be a shoo-in. At least we should be...You know, might makes right and all that. But you just may want to reconsider. True, we were holding our own, but that's about the best we could say.
Made me wonder all over again how we ever survived those early years. We did what we had to do, and we survived because we had to. We survived the same way and the same how that every other mother of small children has survived through the ages.
But those early days are gone. This is now, and all I had to do was get through today with two wee little girls, and with a lifetime of wisdom and experience under my belt...Well, this oughta be a piece of cake! I am, after all, a card-carrying member of the Grandma race with seven grandchildren to my credit.
We got through breakfast and getting dressed. We did the getting dressed part twice, because I dressed them before breakfast, foolishly forgetting that a meal is followed by a change of clothes, if not a whole bath. We read stories, we watered the "garden," we played with water balloons, we went swimming, we had a tea party. Actually, all told, I'm thinking we probably changed clothes about half a dozen times before we even got to the lunch part.
About the time lunch was over, the Patient showed up. On crutches. He made directly for the recliner where he settled in and promptly went to sleep. He had orders to keep his leg, bandaged from mid-thigh down to his foot, propped up, and I'm quite sure that would be good for it. But I'm not so sure that sticking it out as an easy target for careless passersby was the best thing for it.
After we put a few down for a nap, things settled down a bit, but only for a moment, because just a short time later, S, Blue-Eyed Boy in tow, came along to help Papa sweep some chimneys. S and Papa quickly made their escape, leaving the Blue-Eyed Boy to join our menagerie, thus shifting the dynamics somewhat. Now, instead of an even match, there were three of *them* and only two of *us.* No, make that four of them. I forgot about the New Patient. Definitely one of *them.*
Being that the two of *us* outranked the rest of them, and being that we are at least fairly sharp, we managed to get through the rest of the day unscathed. Exhausted, but in one piece. And then it was time for me to go home, leaving the little family in the capable hands of their dedicated caretaker.
But what about the Blue-Eyed Boy? Well, Poke, gear up for second shift, because the Blue-Eyed Boy is coming home with you!
The little guy slept all the way home, giving me a bit of a respite and a moment to appreciate God's wisdom in the way He set things up. Did you ever wonder why God would give the awesome responsibility of molding and teaching and shaping a little person to a couple of young, innocent novices who don't have the wisdom to keep up with themselves? Well, wonder no more. Little kidlets are relentless, and it takes someone with a whole lot of energy just to keep them corralled. And not only that... if these novices actually had the wisdom to take on the job, they wouldn't.
My hat is off to the moms, sometimes not much more than kidlets themselves, who give so much of themselves, tirelessly and unselfishly.
And as for this Grandma, well, after getting the poor little Blue-Eyed Boy to bed for the night, at last, peace. Don't know how long it will last, but at least for now, peace, at last.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
- When you make a purchase, you don't get a receipt if you don't ask for one, and then sometimes you still don't get one.
- Every single time we asked for something in a store or ordered a meal in a restaurant, our request was answered with "You gaht it."
- When they say "toll road" in New York, they really, really mean it.
- It costs a whole lot of $ to get into New York City. What I cannot fathom is WHY?!!!
- New Yorkers in general, and New York drivers in particular have a reputation. All I know for sure is that I have seen polite-er and courteous-er drivers in Houston and Dallas and Los Angeles.
- Bumper sticker on a taxi: "Save gas, call a cab." Do cabs in New York run on air or something?
- Police cars in New York have light bars that can stick straight up!
- Hwy 117K... Exit 1-41P.... Huh?
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
I love pot luck dinner after church on Sundays. It is the all-around perfect opportunity to try out a dubious recipe on a crowd of willing tasters. The tasters get to try something new, and if it isn't any good, the cook (and her family) aren't committed to eating it for the rest of the week. So it's my big chance to try out a recipe I'm not too sure about, without any repercussions.
onions, sliced, lots
cheese, grated, some
pepper, as you like it
1/4 c. milk
double pie crust
Preheat oven to 400. Put one crust in deep dish pie plate. Fill pie crust halfway with sliced onions. Top with a layer of grated cheese. Sprinkle pepper to taste. Fill up crust to the top. Top with more grated cheese. Pour milk all over pie filling. Put other crust on pie. Pinch edges closed and poke holes in the top. Bake 40-45 minutes. That's it.
This definitely fell in the category of "recipes I might not be too sure about," but...it's easy, and it has lots of onions, and in my book, that's enough to make it good. Not everyone around here subscribes to that philosophy though, and lots of them wouldn't even want to try it. Well, to be honest none of them would try it.
So I made it for potluck one Sunday, and it was the Belle of the Ball! I had the happiest of surprises to discover how many closet onion-lovers are out there. I took my dish home empty of every last crumb, and it is now a staple on the monthly pot luck menu.
And did I mention, the first time I brought it, in addition to being just plain GOOD, it provided some seriously funny moments masquerading as an apple pie on the dessert table!
Monday, July 14, 2008
I mailed his packages today, in bubble envelopes. Hopefully they will be small/flexible enough to stuff in his mailbox so he won't have to try to figure out how to get to the post office to pick them up during regular hours.
This morning during my "Where's Waldo?" search, I found two possible pictures. When looking at these mystery pictures, it is important to look at the "big picture" along with other features, and not just the face.
The first picture showed a new cadet in the back of a truck wearing a helmet and sunglasses, so only the nose and mouth were visible. It looked a whole lot like S, but then, M looks a whole lot like S, so...? Possible. M has distinctively long fingers, so I checked the hands. What I could see looked promising, but one hand was sorta cupped around the other one, so I couldn't really tell. M also has long feet, so next I checked out the boots. As much as I wanted it to be my boy, the feet didn't look exactly like size 15's, but they were wearing those camel-colored combat boots, and as I am not yet an expert on those, I still couldn't really tell. So...my final call on this picture is: A Definite Maybe.
The second picture was much more straightforward. There is a group of new cadets standing in formation, apparently sipping out of their camel back waterers. Either that or talking on their cell phones, but that doesn't seem likely. My nc possible is, of course, the only one whose face is not clearly visible, but, I must say, the ear and the neck and the back of the head that I can see look like a pretty good bet!
While I can't say with any degree of certainty today, there is always tomorrow; and there is one thing I know for sure: the search will go on.
We got up none too early today, but early enough to get Nellie to the shop to see why one front tire is wearing so unevenly and so much faster than the other tires.
Then back home to do online battle with our medical insurance. It's time to enroll, change, or just renew our policy. If you can get online, that is. We didn't have the right password, Firefox couldn't find the provider, we were not authorized, etc. When it comes to online, quirks and glitches abound.
So we tried the phone, but after 15 minutes on hold, a mechanical voice asked us to leave our name and number and they would call us back "within one business day." We did, and they didn't. We'll see if they do tomorrow. I called back a bit later, and to my everlasting surprise, I got a person. Not only a person, but a helpful person, and that is one chore taken care of for another year.
Then off to pick up Nellie. An alignment was recommended, but they do not do alignments, so that will be another chore at another place for another day.
Back at home to wrap up some packages for M. They are not allowed to receive packages at this time, but he has special permission for these, so I have them all ready to go and I will mail them tomorrow.
A lot of the afternoon was spent, as have been so many (well, most, really) afternoons since we came home, playing "Where's Waldo?" on all the West Point pages. It's a fascinating, but time-consuming pastime. I am guessing that one of these days it will lose its luster, but so far it's been over two weeks, and it is as intriguing as ever.
I had hoped to go to water aerobics this evening, but the weather pretended to turn bad. Big black heavy clouds, the sound of thunder, and the smell of rain. But, as they say in the South, it "didn't mean anything by it," and sure enough, it didn't. Now that it is too late to go, the clouds are moving on and the sun is peeking out, and not a single drop of rain did we get.
I suppose that some day it will be fun to look back and remember an everyday, ordinary day... the kind of days that make up an everyday, ordinary life.
Kids, for instance. One day they're born, the next day they're leaving home to seek their fortunes. When/How did that happen?
And then there are all those other people. You know the ones. They started out just as ordinary people. The next thing you know they are gray-headed and wrinkled and stooped over, with gnarly, spotted hands.
I may not feel any older, but those newly old people around me must be looking at me the way I look at them. Here's evidence:
- Just before we hit Highway 17K in New York to come home, we stopped to eat lunch at Denny's. While trying to decipher the menu, I happened to look at the back page. "Senior Menu" it proclaimed. Must be 55 or older. I pointed it out to my Man. Unlike the multi-page menu for the rest of the population, this one was easy. One page. Large print. Smaller prices. Choices, but not toooo many choices. He being 55 or older, we decided to order from this page, and when our waitress came back, she did not bat an eye. Just took our requests without even asking to see our ID's! I can only guess that she must have thought we looked the part.
- Shortly after we got home, I was driving M's car, the one with the expired inspection sticker, and was pulled over by the police. First time ever in my life! I threw myself on his mercy and explained that we had just gotten home from out of town (true), and we were on our way to a funeral (also true). Fortunately everything else was in order~registration, insurance, driver's license~so he sent me off with a written warning and an admonition to "be sure and get that done on Monday." I took a couple of deep breaths and proceeded to our destination. Well, on our way, my Man read my warning to me: DL#, DOB, Eye Color: green, Hair Color: grey.... Hair color GREY?!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOO...
- But the very worst thing of all is having to wear glasses. Having never worn glasses before, having to get used to wearing them now is a real nuisance. They make me hot, they pinch my head, they pull my hair, and I can rarely find them, even though I have five pairs of them. You would think, wouldn't you, with that many of them floating around the house, that at least one of them would turn up. But no. They buddy up and manage to connect somehow, and then they hide out together in some obscure corner. So you find them all, or you find them none.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
- There is a serious distinction between the "Delaware beaches" and the "Jersey shore." And don't you forget it.
- From antiquity, Easterners seem to have a predilection for bestowing odd sorts of names on places. Most notable are those containing the words "kill" and "neck."
- Favored convenience store in Delaware: Wawa's. Wawa's...?
- There is a lot more to Delaware than you might think there would be.
- There are stinging flies back East. Burly, belligerent, territorial stinging flies, to borrow a phrase from my favorite cousin.
- When they say "toll" in this part of the country, they are not kidding around!
We had spent a happy weekend at the beach and were all set for a three-hour drive to West Point. Our friends saw us safely to the Delaware Bridge, and then we were all alone, armed only with a printout of Google directions. We decided, early on, to stop and buy a road map, for "just in case." Easy enough.
We pulled over into the first truck stop and went inside, where a rack of maps beckoned from the far corner. We made our way over there to find myriads of maps, from a NASCAR Atlas and a city map of Philadelphia to all sorts of other obscurities, but the multi-state (small states, mind you) map we sought did not seem to exist. There were maps of individual states galore ($5.00 each), but do we really need a Texas-size map of New Jersey? If we can get the whole state of Texas on one $5.00 map, the New Jersey map ought to go for about 25 cents.
We already knew we were going to be too late for the Highland Falls reception that afternoon, but we had tentative hopes of arriving in time for the evening's band concert at West Point, and after a cursory study of the map, we were pleased to determine that the Google directions were right on track. So we folded the map, replaced it on the rack, bought a couple of sodas ("pop" in New Jersey) to mitigate our guilt at not buying the map, and hit the road.
We were making good time, keeping one eye on Google, and all was well until we exited, as per Google directions, and found ourselves in Never Never Land. Just like that, we were lost, on a freeway that Google never heard of. After wandering around like the tribes of Israel, we stopped at a gas station to see if we could figure out where we were. It was absolutely the only civilization in sight, and we were happy to see a sign proclaiming "Open 24 Hours a Day." Only when we tried to go in the door was locked.
Then we noticed the attendants across the parking lot at the pumps. Oh, yeah, we found out later, this was New Jersey. The only state that doesn't allow self-service. No wonder the price of gas is $4.79. After finally getting the attention of a non-English-speaking attendant,we were directed through a garage door where we were met by a non-English-speaking customer service specialist.
We asked if he had any maps and he took us into another room where there was a whole counter full of maps...under lock and key. We asked if we could see the maps; he countered with which map did we want? It took every persuasive power we could muster up to convince him that we did not know where we were, and we really didn't know which map we needed.
I'm not so sure he knew where we were, either, but abruptly, after soundly berating us for using Google instead of MapQuest, an "AHA!" look came over his face and he began pointing frantically at the highway in front of us, directing us to "Tappan Zee Bridge." Huh???
Not knowing enough to even discuss the situation intelligently, we got back on the highway in search of the Tappan Zee. At one point we actually saw a sign for it, but then all at once we were at the George Washington Bridge. Well, there's nothing like the blind leading the blind, and across we went. Suddenly the highway was tracking with Google again and we were feeling hopeful that we might actually make West Point in time for the concert.
And then it began to rain in a torrent that would have done credit to Noah. The rain went on for miles, or maybe it just seemed miles, reduced as we were to a speed of about 10 mph. We re-evaluated our goal: Forget the concert, let's just get there.
On we went, holding our breath, while the storm raged away. It eventually cleared up and gave way to the most gorgeous of scenery, but we could not afford to squander one bit of our attention on it. Up and up and up we went into the mountains, sheer rock walls going straight up on both sides. And then going around a bend, we unexpectedly came to the edge of a cliff. We pulled over and got out of the car and found ourselves looking down in amazement at a medieval fairy tale of clouds and castles.
West Point! And in time for the concert! But, alas, when we presented ourselves at Stony Lonesome Gate, we were informed that due to the rain the concert had been canceled. All that worry for nothing! And then all that was left was to get ready for tomorrow.
Before going to the hotel for the night, we visited the local convenience store on a quest for local picture postcards, the kind that used to proliferate at every gas station and drugstore. It seems they are becoming a thing of the past, and there were none to be found that night. But, we did find that mythical multi-state (the entire northeast) map we had searched for earlier, and I was semi-happy to plop down $5.00 for it. Where was this map when we needed it? Well, never mind, we had it now.
We went back to our hotel then, but between another roaring thunderstorm and knowing we had to be up at 4 the next morning, sleeping that night was something of an exercise in futility.
The next day, my Man and I dropped M off at R-Day and prepared to head home. On our way north, we had been faced with a superfluity of toll booths, and while they were many, we consoled ourselves with the fact that the tolls were small, ranging from 35 cents (Why do they even bother?) up to $1.10; now we armed ourselves with a pocket full of quarters, in addition to our new map and our trusty Google directions. And optimism.
Google came into question once more, almost immediately, when it directed us to Highway 17K. K? What kind of a highway number is that?! But, whaddya know, Google was right again, and we took off down Highway 17K on our "three-hour" trip to Long Island MacArthur Airport.
That three-hour trip was replete with its own set of quirks and glitches. Right off the bat we met up with a toll booth. "Only" $1.10. We were amused (well, sorta amused) by the EZ Pay signs announcing an upcoming toll booth. Like they were advertising a desirable product of some sort. We forked over our $, and went through, and as soon as we got up to speed on the other side, the traffic started s-l-o-w-i-n-g d-o-w-n. It stayed that way for quite awhile, making us glad that we had allowed five hours for our three-hour trip. We never saw what happened to cause the delay, but after awhile it sped up again, just like it had slowed.
Before long we started to notice signs for the Tappan Zee/George Washington bridge. Google had noted this stretch of highway as "partial toll," so we weren't overly disturbed to find ourselves confronted with yet another toll booth. I stopped and rolled down the window, little coin purse in hand, ready to whip out a couple of quarters when I heard, "$8.00." "EIGHT DOLLARS?!!!" I shrieked. The toll taker calmly pointed down at a sign, and sure enough, there it was: "Cars $8.00." Well, then...Excuse me while I dig deep down in my purse for my big bucks. I apologized for my outburst, explaining that we were from Texas and knew nothing, thank goodness, about that sort of thing.
While I had his attention, I inquired about the bridge. Is it Tappan Zee, or is it George Washington? He took it all in stride, and bless his heart, being that rarest of public servants who is not only courteous, but actually knows more than just "his job," he was able to he clear up that little mystery for us. He explained that the northgoing lanes make the Tappan Zee bridge, and the southgoing lanes make the George Washington bridge. The Tappan Zee, as we had already noticed on our way north, was free, while the George Washington more than made up for that fact.
Then he asked me where we were going. I told him, and he offered directions which, we were pleased to note, matched right up with our Google directions. "After you cross the bridge, go right and then get on the Trog's Neck bridge." Trog's Neck?! What kind of name is that? Oh, wait. I know, I know...whatever a trog may be, the name is pure, quintessential New Yoahk. What he failed to tell us was that it would cost us another $5.00 to cross the trog's neck. I guess he was saving that for a surprise.
Lacking any sort of options, we girded up our loins and set out across the bridge. So far so good, but as we merged onto the trog's neck, we just barely missed being sideswiped by a car which almost missed the bridge altogether. We made it across untouched, just barely, and into Queens, down through a tunnel, and out into the Twilight Zone on yet another freeway unknown to Google.
We were going along at a pretty good clip, not really knowing where we were going. We would have liked to pull over somewhere and consult our map without having to worry about dodging anything, but there isn't enough space to stop a car in that part of the country. I really don't know how they do it. So we kept on going, and just about the time we were ready to throw in the towel, the sign changed, and we were back on track with Google! That was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.
Queens was the last obstacle in our quest for LIMA. That and the rubberneckers ogling a wreck on the other side of the freeway (hate their luck, but, thank You, God, for ours) backing up the traffic for miles. I cannot conceive of anything more nerve-wracking, and how four police cars managed to make it to the scene I cannot even imagine.
One particular point of interest while negotiating the Trog's Neck/Queens/Long Island labyrinth was a sign pointing the way to King's Point, home of the USMMA. M had a passing interest in going there at one time. Good thing that didn't work out.
My hat's off to Google. In retrospect, all of our troubles came from putting our faith in the highway signs instead of in Google. Thanks to M and what turned out to be Google's letter-perfect directions, we were never lost; we only thought we were lost. But sometimes that's as good as the real thing.
From safe at home, thank God for M and Google.
Friday, July 11, 2008
On Thursday C got a letter, and we got a surprise phone call! We were expecting one this weekend, between July 11th and July 13th, according to the supe. I asked M if this was the weekend call, and he had no idea what I was talking about, so I assume it was. But, just in case it wasn't, I will make sure to carry the cell phone with me wherever I go this weekend.
And today another surprise: a video email! The quality wasn't the best, but it was our boy~YES!~complete with what looks like a poke in the eye. But he never mentioned anything like that, so either it's just a shadow or something on the video, or more likely, something he deems not worthy of mention.
Some highlights of life at Beast Barracks:
- One of his friends from home is in his company. She is doing well, in spite of a burn on her finger;
- His other friend from home is in a different company, but he sees him at Chaplain's Time, and they sit together in church;
- He "lucked out" with his company/platoon/squad, and he likes his roommate;
- He was sooooo hungry he ate a pear! Just the thought brought gales of laughter from all of us!
- He has NO blisters!
- It's tough, but he is proud and happy to be there. Well, happy-ish, but definitely proud;
- He has been able to try out for chapel choir;
- He passed all his physical tests;
- Barbecued chicken (even with bones) for 4th of July.
At home we keep the internet hot playing "Where's Waldo?" daily. Well...hourly, if you want to know, and we actually find him from time to time. We all feel better getting to see him. He really is ok!
Already his 47 months is down to 46 months and 2 weeks. I wonder if it is going as fast for him as it is for us?
Just like that officer lectured on R-Day, just like we expected...He has what it takes...
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Like new cadets, parents do a great deal of walking on R-Day, and it isn't just a stroll around the block. One of the things you notice immediately, and you will continue to notice throughout the day, is that everything is uphill. It is definitely a day for walking shoes, and if you had the foresight to join your cadet candidate in his physical conditioning program, it is going to pay off right here. Of course, unlike the new cadets, parents have the option of the shuttle bus... If they can figure out how it runs. In our case it was pretty much of a crap shoot, so we depended mostly on our own feet. Thank goodness for all those long walks with our new cadet over the past few months.
In addition to walking, walking, walking, another similarity between cadets' R-Day and parents' R-Day comes to mind, namely weight training.
Cadets get issued a bag of some sort that they carry with them all the livelong day. Every time they stop, someone adds something to the bag, so that by the end of the day I imagine it is quite heavy. And I'm not sure what they did to deserve it, but I noticed in the R-Day pictures, that more than one cadet had two full bags to carry. Did they disregard their packing list and bring too much with them? Well, they were instructed about that before they came, unlike their parents , who received no warning whatsoever.
Upon exiting the auditorium, after the abbreviated 60-second goodbye, most of the parents headed straight for the ballroom where every imaginable vendor had a booth set up. Every parent passing the USAA booth was graciously issued a sturdy canvas tote bag with "Proud Parent of a West Point cadet" written on one side (We made sure we kept that side facing out on our trip home.), and big enough to carry every little thing we might decide to pick up during the day. In addition to this nice roomy bag, most parents opted to spring for the "USMA Class of 2012" bag with their new cadet's name on it, and these, too, were fully loaded by the end of the day.
One problem parents faced that cadets did not, was finding their car when it was time to go home, and before they could look for their car, they had to locate the correct lot. Thanks to our early morning report time, we were able to park in the first lot, and we had actually taken note of where in the first lot we had parked, but not everyone was so visionary. On our way back to our car at the conclusion of the parade, we were surprised to see quite a number of parents sitting on the ground around the edge of our parking lot. Having failed to train adequately for the rigors of R-Day, these parents, defeated by the almost-vertical path up to the first parking lot, sent out scouting parties to search the upper lots and then sat down and waited to be rescued.
And on that car issue...it is hoped that the cadets can follow orders better than can their parents who clogged up the entrance to the first lot in order to avoid having to venture farther up.
But not all was peril at R-Day. Much more was praiseworthy:
Outside of the few who could have benefited from some etiquette training (People standing at the front and holding their cameras at arm's length up over their heads, so that not even the tallest in the back could see over them, come immediately to mind.), most people were friendly and gracious, with a "we're all in this together" sort of attitude.
The MP's were unfailingly polite and ready to give a ride when the shuttle bus service didn't measure up.
We were able to catch welcome glimpses of the new cadets here and there throughout the day, in varying stages of their in-processing and training.
The informative and humorous tone (as well as the content) of the supe's briefing was highly appreciated. Just the chance to sit down and cool off was appreciated by that time, so being educated and entertained all at the same time was a welcome bonus!
And don't forget the parade and the oath ceremony at the end of the day. We had no trouble at all locating our own new cadet, but even before we saw him, we were filled with awe at the accomplishments of the day. The scene at Trophy Point that evening was a whole different world from the scene at Ike Hall that morning.
Perils and Praises...both sides of R-Day. The outstanding one, though, the ultimate peril... was going home cadet-less. That is going to take getting used to.
Monday, July 7, 2008
It was our first time there, and while we had seen pictures galore, we were totally unprepared for the splendor of the real thing. West Point is breathtaking. It is beautiful. It is magnificent. It is awe-inspiring. It is mighty castles of granite and slate rising majestically from the river's very edge. It is indescribable. It is spectacular. It is a national treasure.
One of the most salient features of West Point is the steep hills rising in every direction. About the only level place we saw all day was The Plain, an ultra-impressive expanse of tenderly-cared-for soft green grass ~ the second-most expensive lawn in America, after the White House lawn.
We were happily surprised to find that if the shuttle bus service leaves something to be desired, at least on R-Day, the MP's are friendly and helpful and willing to do taxi duty if necessary.
We learned that, no matter what obscure need a cadet might have, West Point can meet it. A ride to the train station across the river? The West Point ferry boat stands at the ready. A specialty uniform? They are made in-house in West Point's own Uniform Factory.
West Point is a rich lesson straight from the heart of America's history, the wondrous stuff of legends and epics and heroes, and I am at once proud and humbled to be a part, however minor, of this stately American tradition.
It's hard to imagine that exactly one week ago we were traipsing all over West Point with our mouths hanging open in absolute awe of the our magnificent surroundings, and now we are, amazingly, safely home.
Other than unpacking and feeding us, the last week was invested mostly in staying in e-touch with the other 2012 parents and playing "Where's Waldo?" with all the new pictures that keep appearing online. That may be my new career.
I keep thinking of those pre-computer-days families who had to leave their kidlets in Army hands and then wonder, wonder, wonder... while thanks to computers, we know, even though we don't hear directly.
So far, I am still in pretend mode. In the morning it's easy to pretend M is sleeping late. During the day it's easy to pretend he's at school. At night it's easy to pretend he is at a speech meeting. Weekends it's easy to pretend he is on a speech trip. If I look at it that way, I don't have to miss him at all.
But I really need to stop expecting him to show up for dinner or to call saying he's on his way. I need to stop lying half awake at night waiting for the squeak of the door to announce his late arrival. It's time to man up and start taking my life in hand. I'm all mine now, sorta, and it's time to start taking care of myself. My health, my $, my house, my interests...wow, whatever I want to do, I can do.
Now if I can just figure out what exactly it is I want to do...
Saturday, July 5, 2008
Our leaving adventure was actually pretty uneventful, if you overlook getting up at 4am to make it to the airport in time, and if you overlook getting crammed into not-the-smallest but definitely the most crowded airplane I've ever been on, and if you overlook lugging four hefty carry-ons half a mile in the wrong direction while changing planes in Charlotte with no time to spare, and if you overlook getting trapped for 20 minutes in the plane at Newark and finally having to move the whole show to another gate because the jetway at our original gate wasn't functional, and if you overlook the culture shock that hit us while waiting for our ride out in front of the airport (That was an education all by itself...).
Our trip home, well, it was a bit more exciting, beginning with the fact that we were on our own!!! Well, not completely. Our ex-resident travel agent/tour guide had thoughtfully equipped us with all of our flight paperwork and detailed directions to the airport, and our handy $5.00 multi-state map of the northeast United States was at the ready.
After successfully navigating the LonGIsland freeway, as the natives would say, we saw an opportunity for a real bargain...$4.24 gas! So we stopped to fill up before we returned the car. Much to our amazement, the gas station would not take cash! Or so we mistakenly thought. After some frantic negotiation, it turned out to be nothing more than a slight cross-cultural misunderstanding, and we left feeling victorious: We had outwitted the Cross-Island Expressmaze, paid cash for bargain gas, and almost made it to the airport. Now, according to Google, it remained only to "turn left at Arrivals Avenue." NO! NO!!! We don't want Arrivals! We want Departures!
Well, it's all the same to the Long Island airport, so we turned left and followed the "Car Return" signs on Arrivals Avenue. There were signs for every car rental company, except ours, but luck was with us, and we had to try only two car lots before finding the right one. But that was the end of easy. The parking spaces were labeled with letters and numbers and the name of the company, but nowhere, nowhere, nowhere, was any kind of directions or an attendant to be seen. Was there a shuttle bus to take us to the terminal? Were we supposed to walk to the terminal? Where even was the terminal?!
We decided to go back to square one and take Arrivals Avenue from the beginning, only this time we would take the "This Way to Terminal" lane. We found our way around easily enough and pulled up in front of the terminal. Well, as close as we could get to in front of the terminal. Unattended cars and double parking are apparently the order of the day at the Long Island airport, if that nearly lounging security guard was any indication. We waved and yelled to get his attention and finally persuaded him to come over. Not that he was any help. The best we were able to get out of him was that the car rental counters were clear at the opposite end of the airport, so we took off again. At the end of the terminal, my Man went inside to inquire and was able to ascertain that we should leave our car in the lot, write down the mileage, walk back to the terminal, and return the key.
We still didn't know where the lot was relative to the terminal, and we had a lot of baggage, so we drove back around Arrivals Avenue one more time to the front of the terminal where we unloaded and momentarily abandoned our (triple-parked) car while we lugged all of our stuff into a shady place. We agreed that my Man would babysit our luggage while I hopefully went off to divest myself of the PT Cruiser.
This time, as soon as I pulled into a parking place in the lot, a young man came right up and held out his hand for the keys. Should I give them to him? Where was he the first time we were here? Why did they tell us to bring the keys inside? Who is this guy, anyway?! Well, he had a scanner in his hand, and he was wearing a B_____ Car Rental shirt, and he seemed to be asking the right questions: "Do you have your contract?" "What's your mileage?" "Did you fill it up?" Sooooo...I threw caution to the wind and gave him the keys. He said, "If they say anything in there, just tell them to call me." Oh, ok, noooo problem....
Well, we only thought we had unloaded the car. After really unloading it, I headed out across the wasteland like a pack animal, loaded down with two sweaters, a briefcase, a bottle of water, a bottle of Coke, and of course my purse, and made it into the terminal and to the right counter where I attempted to return the car to a not-too-communicative clerk. Oh, dear...I can see the makings of another cross-cultural misunderstanding here. But the other clerk at the counter was merciful and came over to get things sorted out. Turns out the Phantom of the Parking Lot was actually their guy, so that was good news.
Finally free of the PT Cruiser, I set out to join my Man and our luggage, only to find that they were not where I had left them. Oh, no! Lost in New York! I located them shortly, though, where they had managed to drag themselves out of the shade into the air conditioning.
We proceeded to the checkout counter where we got our boarding passes and were directed to check our luggage at a distant counter (huh???!), and then we headed over to join the short line to go through security. We passed the metal detector portion of the test and were putting our shoes back on when a burly security guard came rushing over. "Sih! Sih! Sih! Is this youah stuff?" Yes, yes, what about it? He held up my Man's treasured pocket knife and said, "You can't take this with you." Oh, rats. This is the only knife he has managed not to lose, and he really likes it. "You'll have to put it in your checked baggage." Oh, really? That baggage is already long gone, or I wouldn't be here, now, would I? "Do you have someone you could give it to?" Oh, sure. Would you like to have it? Well, whatever the fate of the pocketknife, it's safe to say that unlike at some other airports, the Long Island security guys are definitely on their toes.
Slightly (well, more than slightly, to be honest) peeved at being left pocketknife-less, we made our way up the escalator to the boarding gates and paused a moment before the monitor to see that our gate, and everybody else's gate, was A-2. Could that be right?
We took off in that direction, and sure enough, A-4 empty, A-3 empty, but A-2...Well, now, A-2 was host to a multitude of Biblical proportions, well appointed with a host of screaming little kidlets. We found a seat over by the wheelchairs and settled in. Surely all of these people weren't as early as we were? Surely there was another departure before our own flight two hours in the future? Well, whaddya know, there was (#3169 to Foht Lawdehdale) scheduled out of A-2 an hour ahead of ours (What was wrong with the other gates?) (Maybe the jetways didn't work...?), and we fantasized that all of these screaming little darlin's might sail away on it.
We found a row of empty seats in the waaaaay back and sat down to wait while the rest of the passengers boarded. Most of them were filling in the gaps toward the front, but then a family carrying an odoriferous bag from McDonald's espied the very last empty row on the plane directly behind us and came barreling down the aisle to stake their claim. Finally, The Groom, as identified by his t-shirt, made his way back to sit in the last empty seat left. Next to me.
After a minor mishap of two cans of soda ("pop" in New Yoahk) exploding and spraying the back galley, the pilot revved up the engines and dimmed the lights, and we all settled in for our restful late evening flight (leaving Flight 3169 to Foht Lawdehdale of bird-in-the-engine fame still perched at Gate A-2, over an hour late by this time).
Oh, wait...Forget restful... As soon as the engines started to roar and the pressure started to change, all those little kidlets started to cry. And then The Groom whipped out his little iPod or MP3 player or whatever it was, stuck it in his ear, and cranked it up loud enough for me to hear over the wailing kidlets. And then the girl behind us started to sing. Yep...On Top of Old Smokey, belted out in a quavering off-key voice that sounded unlike anything we'd ever heard before. And when the song was finished, she started LAUGHING OUT LOUD in an eerie sort of cackle. I hazarded a quick glance behind us to see if perhaps a Twilight Zone escapee might have taken refuge there, but no...it was just this everyday, ordinary, normal-looking family of two old parents and one late-teenage girl. Fortunately, my ears plugged up, as ears are wont to do on airplanes, so quiet reigned for the rest of the way home.
Yes, adventures are definitely marvelous...but nothing tops the comfortable and comforting adventure of coming home.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Home alone, just like we started out. Except that when we started out we didn't know our kidlets, and you don't miss what you don't know.
That we made it home all by our low-tech selves in this high-tech world is a relief and a bit of a wonder. We were without the benefit of any kind of escort, but we were fortified and well-armed with printouts from Google and flight confirmation numbers, courtesy of our travel agent who is now interned at West Point. How quickly one comes to depend on one's kidlets, and how would it look if one of them had to come to our rescue?!
So now I can add "scrub egg off house and van" to my list. I'll get right on it, as soon as I deal with the three suitcases, the three briefcases, the two new totes, the untold quantities of laundry (most of which is another empty-nest reminder), the mile-high mail pile, the long list of phone calls to return, and of course the refrigerator to restock. Oh, and don't forget the purse to clean out!
Home again, home again.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
This year we have been having some fun times and some not-so-fun times, and sometimes they are the same thing. This past week, for instance, is going to stand out as both.
The fun was the trip, meeting/making new friends, a weekend at the beach, a beautiful drive (in spite of the freeway fiascoes we met along the way) in a cool new (rented) PT Cruiser, absolutely breathtaking scenery, and a chance to participate in the tradition of America in a way like never before.
The not-so-fun part, of course, was going home M-less.
So there you have it. Like the two-edged sword in the Bible. Fun/not fun. I better put on my running shoes and keep my eyes on the fun part because 2008 is already halfway into history, with me or without me. Maybe I can catch up!
We did not see many cars on the road, but they were somewhere out there, because by the time we arrived at the aptly-named Stony Lonesome Gate, there was a bit of a line to wait through, even 30 minutes early. Thanks to the early report time, we were able to get a spot in the closest parking lot, for which we were very grateful later in the day. Across the parking lot we trudged, down a steeeeeeeeeep path, and across another lot to line up and board the waiting shuttle buses.
After the short ride to Ike Hall~the only brick building on the place~we got off the bus and were greeted by a cadet shouting, "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WELCOME TO THE UNITED STATES MILITARY ACADEMY. IF YOU HOLD A BLUE CARD, LINE UP ON THE RIGHT FOR IN-PROCESSING. IF YOU ARE HOLDING A YELLOW OR SALMON CARD, GO LEFT TO THE CREST-SOMETHING-OR-OTHER FOR A SHORT ORDER BREAKFAST" (M looked at us incredulously... breakfast? Had we but known...it wouldn't have helped us, as we were the holders of a blue card.). We heard that speech repeated often throughout the morning with the arrival of each new bus.
Well, "the long grey line" begins right here...down the sidewalk it goes, down one flight of stairs, around the corner, and down another flight of stairs. Then back on itself and under the stairs into a steamy tunnel in the bowels of Ike Hall (once again we were thankful for the early, cool-morning report time), around a U-turn, and finally into, ironically, a door marked "No Entrance." We learned later that we were being ushered in in groups of 44 cadets (# of seats on a bus) plus entourage.
When our turn came up, we were taken into the 4,500-seat auditorium, where we were given a lecture by a regular Army officer. All I remember from that lecture was, "They have what it takes." This is going to be my mantra/motto for the next 47 months. The honors were then turned over to a Cadet officer, and all I remember from her speech was, "You have 60 seconds to say good-bye." WAAAAIIT A MINUTE!!! We have just been gypped out of 1/3 of our seconds! We want our 30 seconds back!!!
Sorry, but in the Army our wants mean very little, more like nothing, so, we got our 60 seconds of smiles and tears, and then off went our now "new cadets" out the front door to the buses which would take them away to get haircuts, physicals, uniform fittings, etc, etc. The rest of us were directed to exit out the rear doors, where yet another Army officer handed out small packs of kleenex as he instructed the weeping horde to "Have a nice day." You bet.
The high point of R-Day came with spectators lining up to witness the parade late in the afternoon. The new cadets had spent the day being transformed, and it showed! Out of the sally port they came, down the street in front of "the supe's" house, and then a sharp right to march down to stand in front of the Battle Monument where they would be sworn in.
We had been advised that all new cadets look alike, and we should just pick one out and call him "ours." But I am very happy to say that we had no trouble whatsoever picking out our very own. It probably didn't hurt that he is taller than most and has shaved his head many times in the past, so he didn't look all that strange to us. As his company marched up and turned to face the Battle Monument, I saw him cutting his eyes back and forth, even while facing straight ahead, and was suddenly rewarded with a WINK! I can see it still.
After the oath was given and taken, shouted orders brought the new cadets to face front once more and continue their march down the road, across the parking lot, past The Plain, behind the Eisenhower Barracks, through the sally port, and up the steps into Washington Hall, never missing a beat. After the last new cadet was safely inside, the last of the cadre turned to close the massive doors. They thundered shut, followed by a quiet I will never forget. I am humbly, sincerely impressed.GO, TEAM!!!