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Thursday, January 19, 2012

So much for resolutions . . .

So much for my resolution to post a new entry to this blog every day, eh?  It has been 5 days since my last post.  So be it.  I've found that I can only have one obsession at a time, and if writing isn't the current one, well . . . it just doesn't happen.  For a few days there I was writing every day.  Then my daughter bought me a jigsaw puzzle.

Oh, shiny!

That's pretty much how I am.  Stick something new and shiny in front of me and I completely lose focus on what I was doing before and must chase the new sparkly.  So I started this puzzle, and I would stop at it occasionally, thinking to myself, "I will just find a couple of pieces and then get back to what I was doing."  An hour later, I'd still be staring at the puzzle.

The worst part was that I finished that first puzzle in a couple of days, and then she bought me ANOTHER ONE!

Evil child.

And after that one I remembered that there was one in the closet that we bought a few months ago but had never opened, so of course I had to do that one too . . . sigh.  I'm hopeless.  I'm finished now though.  I was doing puzzles in my sleep last night.  Madness.  Pure madness I tell you.

So today I've been back on making jewelry.  I found this new design for pendants that I wanted to try.  I made one yesterday that turned out pretty cool, so of course I had to make another one today.  Here is the first one I made:


Not the best picture, but you get the idea.  It didn't take long and I liked the result, so I decided to try another one today.  This is the second one:


The point to sharing these photos is to point out that when I am distracted by other projects, i.e., puzzles, making jewelry, I don't find the time to get on here and write.  So saying that I will write a new blog post every day is obviously a bit ambitious because to do that means I don't get to do any of the other fun things I like to do.  I hate to admit it, but I may have to do what my husband has always told me that I need to do, and that is to schedule time for all of my different projects.

GASP!!!!

I know he's laughing right now.  I just hope I am not in the same room - preferably not even the same building - when he reads this.

If I were to be completely honest though, I haven't had much to write about anyway.  I have gotten some things started this week that I have wanted to get the ball rolling on for a while, so I feel good about that.  I managed to annoy a good number of people on Facebook yesterday, all because I decided to state my opinion of people who (I think) misuse the word "depressed."  That was kind of fun, although I never meant to hurt those people who took it personally.

Why is it that it's never the people an insult is meant for who take it as one?  So unfair.

If there is one constant in life I guess, it is that people are unpredictable.  Me included.  You just never know what rant I am going to go off on, or who I will annoy.  It definitely keeps life exciting though, don't you think?




Sunday, January 15, 2012

Kokeshi Dolls

Living in Okinawa, for me, is so exciting.  Every new sight brings the excitement of a child.  I want to see everything, learn about every tradition, holiday, practice.  The feeling I get when I am out in the community, doing my best to interact with the local people, is indescribable.  It's a great adventure.


There are so many different icons of Japan, and of Okinawa specifically, that can be found all around the island.  Things like Shisa dogs, goya, eisa, sanshin, and the one I want to talk about today - the Kokeshi Doll.


Kokeshi were first made in the northern provinces of Japan as toys for children, but have come to be an important traditional folk art form.  Since arriving on the island, we have seen Kokeshi everywhere, from kiosks in the Bx to outdoor markets to Kokusai street.  They come in all shapes and sizes, depicting everything from Japanese scenery and traditions to old people and ninjas!  Each one is handmade, so even if you buy two of the same design, they will not be exactly alike.  The craftsmanship is intricate and beautiful, and so unique to the Japanese experience.


I have wanted to buy myself a Kokeshi ever since arriving here, but I also wanted to be wise about it and not buy the first one I saw.  Sadly, there are just so many that I like, I'm afraid I may have dozens of them by the time I leave here!  I officially started my collection today though, so let me introduce my two new girls.


Spirit of Japan





Spinning Wheel



Thus begins my newest collection!  




Thursday, January 12, 2012

Death is so . . . weird

I found out just a little while ago that I guy Mike and I met back when we were in the Army, stationed in Germany, died a few days ago.  He was only 39-years-old.  It's so weird to think that he is no longer alive.  You'd think by now, having lost my own son, I'd have wrapped my mind around the idea of death, right?  But no . . . it's still so strange to me.

This guy who died - I'll just call him J - was never someone I would consciously call a "friend."  He drove me up the wall most of the time.  He was more like an annoying little brother that I couldn't get rid of.  He was loud and obnoxious.  He "borrowed" money I left laying in the open in my barracks room.  He and I once got into a heated argument in a bar about whether or not Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody was on the same album as Another One Bites the Dust (it wasn't).  I am a HUGE Queen fan.  I even saw them in concert twice before Freddie Mercury died.  Seriously, do NOT argue Queen with me.  I told him I could prove it because I had both CD's in my room.  He still swore he was right.  He was just that kind of guy.


Argh!


J liked piercings.  One night we were all going out and J showed up with a chain running from his ear to a piercing in his nipple (he was wearing a tank top).  Mike - being the older, more straight-laced sort of leader of our group - wrapped his finger around the chain and twisted it.  J was immediately alert and paying attention to what Bear had to say!  Mike then told J that he could take the chain out or Mike would take it out for him.  J took it out!


Bizarrely enough, J and his wife (who we also knew in Germany) ended up living across the street from us in Illinois after we all had got out of the Army.  Once, just after Keeghan was born, I was sitting in the living room in my pajama's nursing the baby and J just walked in the door from the garage to the house.  I flipped out!  Mike ended up pushing J out the door and then proceeded to give him a lecture on how we didn't live in the barracks anymore and that he couldn't just waltz into our house unannounced. 

I could tell so many other stories about this guy.    In fact, I have told stories about him for the past 20 years, and they were all pretty much the same.  J driving me nuts.  So why am I so sad that he died?  It's just so hard to believe that this bigger than life, annoying-but-oddly-endearing boy - because that's really all he was when I knew him - is gone.

Death has always been weird for me.  I have a grandfather who died before I was born, but when I was a small child I always felt like I knew him.  I had a dream once that I was having a conversation with him.  Even though I was a little kid at the time, to this day I remember that dream so well.

When I was about 20-years-old, a girl from my high school died in a car accident.  She and I were anything but friends.  A guy I dated for a long time in high school had dated her briefly during a period of us breaking up and getting back together.  From the time he broke up with her to get back with me, she hated me.  Passionately.  Even after he and I were no longer an item, she hated me.  That's high school for you, right?

So it came as a real shock to me when she died and I was so upset about it.  Just my basic humanity made it seem like such a crime for someone to die so young.  But selfishly, I also felt horrible about the fact that this girl went to her grave hating me so intensely!

A few months after she died, I once again dreamed of talking to someone who was dead.  She and I had a long conversation about how silly our feelings for each other were and how the guy we had dated was SO not worth that kind of hatred.  Essentially, we settled our differences.  From that point on I no longer felt so bad about her hating me when she died; I knew that we were square.

Since Keeghan died, I have had numerous dreams of conversations with him.  I don't always remember the conversations vividly, but I remember the feel of being with him again.  Dreaming of him is almost like charging my batteries.  I feel stronger, like I can keep up this pretense of life again, after "seeing" him in my dreams.

I know all of this sounds insane.  It sounds that way to me too.  I know it is all probably just my brain trying to help me work through my inability to grasp death.  I think it's that inability to know exactly what happens after that is so hard.  The hardest part of Keeghan's death for me was the feeling that he was alone, that I wasn't there to take care of him anymore.  So many people say they "know" what happens after death, but 99% of it is religious dogma and I have no time for that.  In my mind, religion is man-made.  I am a spiritual person, but not a religious one.  I don't want people's religious beliefs thrown at me to explain the unknown.  I want to KNOW!

Which basically means I'm screwed until my time comes.  In my heart though, I hope that death brings peace.  Freedom from pain and suffering.  Freedom from sadness and stress.  Freedom to do things that weren't possible in life.  Rest.

Rest in peace J.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Friends make everything better.

Not a lot to say today.  Not that anything is wrong.  Just not a lot to say. 

The day started off with me feeling like I only got 3 hours of sleep (I actually got way more than that), and then having no motivation to do anything at all.  I went to lunch with Mike, mainly because it forced me to get showered and dressed.  Then I came home, called a friend in California, and gabbed on the phone for two hours.

It's amazing how talking to a friend can change your mood.  After I got off the phone, I cleaned the kitchen, got three boxes ready to mail to friends and family tomorrow, helped Maxx get dinner prepped, and then took a long, hot bath and read.  It was amazing how much I got done in a short time.

I think I need to call friends more often.

Thanks Jess.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Vampires, Uglies and Angels . . . oh my!


I've been on a reading kick lately.  I love to read, but I go through phases.  Sometimes I read five or six books a month, and then I'll go a couple of months where I don't read at all.  For a few years I devoured all things vampire.  Mind you, this was long before the whole Twilight craze, and most of the books I read were adult paranormal romance genre.  I did read the Twilight books though, and I enjoyed them very much . . . until the craze started.  Since the movies started coming out, I'm just sick of it all.

Here's the thing, I get caught up in a certain type of book and then I want to read everything out there of that same type.  Like the vampire stuff.  I was reading so many different books, and series of books, that had vampires.  Of the series that I started reading years ago, I still read the new books that come out, but I don't go looking for new vampire series to read anymore.  I think I met my vampire quota.

My latest obsessions are urban dystopia and fallen angels.  In the urban dystopia category, I like the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and Divergent by Veronica Roth, which is the one I read most recently.  The idea that humanity is always trying to perfect society intrigues me.  In Divergent, at the age of 16 every child gets to choose which "faction" of society they want to spend the rest of their life in.  What aspect of their character drives them the most - fearlessness, honesty, peacefulness, selflessness or intelligence.  A standard theme in all of these books is that the "perfect society" that has been created is flawed in some way.

Of course it is.  

I haven't found any new, similarly-themed books to read yet so now I am on a fallen angels kick.  I am not religious.  I've never claimed to be and I refuse to pretend to be.  But one thing I love is when anything of a "heavenly" nature is portrayed in a less-than-perfect light.  Even Heaven can be flawed, right?  So right now I am reading a series called Hush, Hush.  I'm on the third book, and once I finish it I will have to wait a few months for the next one to come out.  Luckily, in researching this particular plot theme, I've found quite a few other books with the same premise - fallen angels on Earth, falling in love with human girls that they shouldn't be with, other angels get mad about it, blah, blah, blah.  It's all fluff, but it's sweet, romantic fluff.  I can think of worse ways to pass a few hours than reading this.

I guess I should mention one other common theme among the books I love to read - they're all YA books.  I'm 45-years-old, and yes, I read books aimed at teenage girls.  There, I'm out of the closet.  Weird?  Maybe, although I know a lot of adult women who read them.  I can't speak for everyone, but for me I think the attraction is that they're innocent.  Sure, some of them have some bad language, but nothing worse than what I probably say on a daily basis.  Some have sex, but not the graphic, tell you the size of his . . . well, you know, kind of sex.  They also are so far removed from the reality of my life.  Bottom line, they're a great escape.  

Now, that is not to say that my life is so horrible that I need to escape it.  It's more of a "Calgon, take me away" kind of escape, a sort of nap-with-sweet-dreams that I don't have to wake up and feel groggy from.  

I know people who read thrillers, mysteries, autobiographies and horror books and if that's what floats their boat, good for them.  Not for me though.  I don't need something that is going to scare me at night.  Mysteries make me so crazy that I end up reading the ending before I'm even half-way through the book.  As for autobiographies, well . . . I figure it this way.  The only way a person gets a book written about them is if their life has been hard and they've somehow come out ahead, even with all the pain/loss/(insert horrible trauma here) that they've faced.  

Ummmm, hello?  I've had enough of that kind of reality in my own life.  Why would I want to pile all of your drama on top of my own?  You can keep yours, thankyouverymuch.

Maybe I should start a therapy group for old women who escape reality through the lives of fictional teenage girls?  "Hello, my name is Shannon and I'm a closet teenager."  We could open the group up to women who like fan fiction too (don't even get me started on that free form of crack addiction).  Do you think my group would be big?  We'd certainly be an interesting group to listen to.


Who do you think is dreamier?  Peeta, Four, or Patch?

Oh.  My.  GAWD!  It's SOOOOOOO Patch!

Oh no, Four is totally hot!

:::: phone rings :::

Oh, hi honey, yes, I'll be home to cook dinner as soon as I finish with my, ummmmm, book club.  Love you!!!!


Then again, maybe I should keep my book love in the closet for a little while longer . . .

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Wanderlust

I grew up in a small town.  Tracy, California isn't so small now, but when I was growing up there I thought it was the tiniest town on the map.  I hated it.  When I was a teenager the town had only one high school, so everyone knew everyone.  Some might think that sounds nice; I thought it was torture.  I couldn't wait to get out.

I've tried to figure out where my wanderlust comes from, and I think growing up in Tracy is a big part of it.  I also blame my love of books.  Ever since I was a small child I have loved reading.  I read to escape to far off places, with imaginary, extraordinary people and creatures.  Oftentimes these fantastical stories take place in real locations, like Artemis Fowl fighting in Taipei 101, or Percy Jackson racing across Washington, DC.  Fictional characters, but real places.

I remember once, when I was in high school, reading a book that took place in Idaho.  It was some fluff romance thing (because I've always had a soft spot for a good love story).  I told my boyfriend at the time that I thought I might like to live someplace like Idaho after graduation.  I wanted someplace with mountains and lakes, something different than the flat farmland I was surrounded by in Tracy.  He got angry with me.  He couldn't understand how I could possibly want to move away from Tracy, away from all of our friends and our families.  I couldn't understand why he didn't want to get away from all of that.

After high school I went away to college in Texas.  It wasn't exactly my dream location, but it was somewhere else, and that was what I wanted.  Sadly, that only lasted a year and then I found myself back in Podunkville, USA, living with my parents.  Over the next few years I left and came back a few times - Portland, Oregon for a couple of months.  Los Angeles for a few more.  I managed to make it out of Tracy to live one town over, but that wasn't much of an improvement.  I lived in the Bay Area for a while.  All temporary solutions though.  I wanted OUT.  I wanted to go places, see things.  I didn't know what.  I just wanted to go.

That was one of the factors that spurred me to join the Army.  I had this intense need to go somewhere else.  Joining the Army definitely made that dream come true, much to the chagrin of my family probably.  Since 1990 I have lived in South Carolina, Texas (twice), Germany, Colorado, Illinois, North Dakota, North Carolina, Washington, DC, Northern California, and now Okinawa, Japan.  Throw in with that a vacation taken to Ontario, Canada and Keeghan's Make-A-Wish trip to Northern Ireland and that's a lot of places to see.

But I still want more.

Now that I live in Asia, it's like a whole new world of possibilities has opened up, places I've read about but never thought I'd get to see.  I want to cross the equator, stand on top of the Great Wall of China, drive an RV around New Zealand, go to the top of Taipei 101.  Vietnam.  Thailand.  Korea.  Tokyo.  Shanghai.  So many places . . .

When Keeghan died, there was a part of me that wanted to never do anything new again, because it would hurt too much to not have him with us to see it also.  It was so unfair . . . unfair that he only got 12 years.  Granted, he did so much more than the average child does in 12 years, but still . . . it sucked.  Then Mackenzie said something that has really stuck with me.  She said, "Keeghan is still with us, and he sees what we see."  If that is true (and I truly hope it is), then I want to show him the world.  I want to take Mackenzie as many places as we can.  I want to learn about other cultures, ones that have centuries of rich history.  I want to learn other languages.

Somehow I don't think I'll ever feel like I've done as much as I want to do.  But I'll keep trying to see it all because to stop and stay in one place forever feels too much like giving up on living to me, and let's face it - life is way too short.  I'm glad that there are people who do like to stay in one place because the world needs constants.  I just don't think I'll ever be able to be one.



Me and ADD

I've never been diagnosed with ADD, but I'm pretty sure I have it.  I am the Queen of Ping.  At any given time I have a virtual list going in my head of all of the things I need to do, the things I want to do, the things that just sound fun, things I'd like to learn how to do, things I forgot to do, things someone else wants me to do . . .

No lie.  My mind is a scary place.

I try to make lists for myself, but then I get distracted by something else, so I add it to the list so that I can finish it first (because it is what I want to be doing anyway), and then I can cross it off when I'm finished so that I feel like I did something on the list.

Are you following me?

Here is how my day normally goes.

Get up.  Make coffee.  Feed dog.  Check email.  Shower.  Check Facebook.  Start to write a blog post.  Remember that we are out of clean towels.  Start load of laundry.  Begin to fold clean load, but then remember that I needed to email (insert name here) about something, so quit folding laundry, head to office, send email, but then start reading new email, which reminds me that I need to work on my blog post.  During blog post, dog lets me know she needs to go out.  After taking her out, notice that kitchen needs to be cleaned.  Unload dishwasher.  Reload dishwasher.  Notice that the living room is a mess.  Start picking up living room.  Upon taking a pair of shoes that were in the middle of the living room floor back to the closet, notice that there are dirty clothes on the floor.  Pick those up to take to the laundry room.  Notice that the cat box needs to be scooped; do that.  After that, come back in the house from taking garbage out (because no one wants to smell cat little left in the garbage), and stand in the middle of the living room thinking, "Where was I?"

This goes on all.  day.  long.  I do manage to finish certain things every day, like cleaning the kitchen, but that is only because I like to eat and I know that, in order to make dinner, the kitchen needs to be cleaned.  Laundry never gets completely finished because, by the time I remember to finish what I started, there is just as much dirty laundry that needs to be washed.  I finish blog posts, but that is only because I can't stand to get rolling on a post and then get up in the middle, so once I get far enough into it and have my Writing Groove going, I ignore everything else until I'm done.  But the living room never gets completely picked up.  The rest of the house is pretty much the same.  It only gets completely cleaned when I know someone is coming over.

And all of that is just the stuff in my house that I am ADD about.  There are things for the squadron, specifically for the spouses, that I want to do.  They've been on the "want to do" list for months now.  But I haven't done them yet.  Same goes for my jewelry stuff.  I get on a roll with that occasionally and get tons of things made really fast.  Then I go for a few weeks without doing anything.  Writing my book?  Well, that's been on the list of things to do for years now.

I'm sure there are ways I can fix this.  Mike has tried for years to get me to use a calendar and write down not just what I want to get done in a day, but block off specific times to do it.

:::shiver:::

Just the thought of scheduling my time that rigidly makes me want to burst into tears.  It amazes me that I used to work 40 hours a week and was actually very efficient at what I did.  I don't know where that Shannon went, but she is long gone!  It almost seems like I've become some carefree, granola, Birkenstock-wearing hippie who just flows through life, but that isn't true either.  The fact that there are so many things needing to be done, but that I'm not getting done, makes me crazy.

Yet tomorrow, when  I get out of bed, I'll be bouncing around like a pinball again.  It's what I do.

Sigh.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Pet Peeves

Someone on Facebook mentioned pet peeves a few days ago, and it made me start thinking about my own pet peeves.  As anyone who knows me can attest, I have many.  In fact, one of my husband's favorite phrases with me is, "Don't hold back babe, just tell us how you really feel."  I wish I was one of those people who could love everyone exactly as they are, seeing each little idiosyncrasy as endearing, but I'm not that person.  In fact, people who can do that annoy me.  Go figure.


So I'll give you my Top 5 Pet Peeves.  For better or worse, they make me who I am.


1.  Butchering the English language.  


One of my biggest pet peeves, the one that makes me physically twitchy, is poor grammar, spelling and punctuation.  I don't expect everyone to be able to write perfectly, and I certainly don't think that I do.  All I really ask is that you use an occasional comma, period and capital letter.  OH!  And please, if you're going to write a 5,000-word essay on what's going on in your life right now, make it more than one paragraph.  I've seen full page posts from people where it was all one paragraph and there was only one period in the whole thing.  Seriously?  It isn't that difficult people.  


Another thing . . . if you want to use big words, please make sure you know what they mean.  I once knew someone who loved to throw out big words but she never used them correctly.  It was the hardest thing in the world not to fall down on the ground laughing when she completely misused a word.  Example: to say that someone personifies something does not mean they blow it out of proportion.  Really.  Look it up.


While we're on the subject of language, I have to also say that mispronunciation of English words is a little irritating.  Example:  I am an American (uh-mer-i-kuhn).  I am NOT an Amurcan.  Nuclear is pronounced noo-klee-er, NOT noo-kyu-ler.  


Library, not libarry.  


Supposedly, not supposably.  


Jewelry, not jewlery.  


There are so many . . . but you get what I mean.  I could also write pages and pages on phrases that bug me also, like "fixin' to" and "right quick" but I won't.  Yet.  I'll save that for a later date.


Moving on  . . .


2.  Annoying Americans


Since I mentioned "amurcans", this is probably the best time to talk about those Americans who think that, as Americans, they are better than everyone else in the world.  I get it, America is great.  We're a superpower.  Blah, blah, blah.  I live in a foreign country right now though, and seeing American military members walking around wearing "America is great" shirts, complaining (loudly) about the local nationals, whining about having to be "stuck on this godforsaken island" makes me want to grab them, smack them around, and then throw them on a slow-boat back to the States.  It's embarrassing.  You think America is the be all and end all of the universe.  Fine.  You do not need to intentionally offend the people who live here and are just as happy to be from Okinawa as you are to be from America.


With that said, tell your wives to stop being so loud and whiny about being here.  No one made them marry you.  No one made them move here with you.  Suck it up and show a little respect for our host nation.  This especially makes me crazy when it is the wives of high-ranking officers complaining about the locals.  It's shameful.


Let me see, what's next . . . ?


3.  Bad Parenting  


Good parenting is a lost art form.  At least that is the message I get every time I go into the Commissary or Base Exchange here.  When a child is screaming in a store, take them out of the store.  It really is that easy.  The same goes for that behavior in restaurants.  Does it mean you might have to come back at a later time to buy what you want, or you might have to get your food to go?  Why yes, yes it does.  But the child will learn that they cannot get away with that behavior.  Ignoring them, letting them scream like little hellions and annoy everyone else in the establishment, reinforces in their minds that the behavior they are exhibiting is acceptable.  It's not.  




Personally, I think the parents of those screaming brats should be (very publicly) asked to leave.  Maybe then they would correct their own behavior and start actively parenting their children.  Better parenting of these young screamers might even help with one of my other pet peeves - rude children - which is yet another subject that I will leave off for another day, because if I get started on it now, I'll be at the computer for hours.  


4.  Cancer BFFs


Facebook has brought a whole new pet peeve to my attention.  I am a cancer mom.  My son died at 12 from a brain tumor.  There are a lot of cancer parents on Facebook.  A lot.  I know this because I have received friend requests from a gazillion of them.  When I first started getting the invites, I accepted every single one.  Big mistake.  HUGE.  Why?  Because cancer has no biases.  It can hit anyone.  Therefore, just because your child had cancer, and my child had cancer, does not mean that we are just alike and should be best friends forever.  I learned this the hard way, having added many people as friends on Facebook who were not at all compatible with me.  I'm not saying there is anything wrong with them.  They have every right to have different political views, religious views, etc.  But we need to be able to say, you know what?  Yes, both our kids had cancer, and that sucks, but we really don't make very good friends.  Thinking that we do based on that one connection is naive and extremely annoying.


5.  People who think handmade = cheap.


I make jewelry.  I take pride in what I make.  I like to sell what I make for two reasons.  The first is that it is a way for me to raise money for childhood cancer research, something that is very important to me.  The second reason is because I like to make jewelry, and the only way I can keep buying more supplies to make new things is if I sell the pieces I've already made.  I can only wear so much jewelry, and truly, the joy for me is in the making of it more than in the wearing of it (although I do try to always wear something I've made).  My pet peeve in all of this is the people who look at what I've made, look at the price, and then make comments like, "Oh, it's pretty, but way too expensive."  


Really?  I spent $40 on the supplies to make it, and then anywhere between 1 and 15 hours of my time (depending on what type of piece it is) and you're going to tell me that what I'm charging is too much?  Handmade does not mean cheap.  Something that is one-of-a-kind and handmade is worth more than the costume jewelry you find in the mall, and when you imply that what I make is the same as that stuff, you offend me.  Take your money to the mall and step away from my jewelry.


I have so many other silly little pet peeves.  Music without melody.  Snobs.  Pilots.  Sitcoms.  True TV.  White meat chicken.  Extreme side parts (in hair).  11-year-olds.  The list goes on and on and on.  But these are my biggies.  


What are yours?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

When?

I'm having a hard time thinking of a post today.  It isn't that I don't feel like writing.  I just don't know what to write about.

In surfing around, trying to find inspiration, I read about a little girl who died today.  Well, I guess she died yesterday in a way, since it is still "yesterday" where she is.

How weird is that?  Where I am it is January 6th.  A day she will never see.  Yet it is still the day she died where her family is.

Anyway . . . another child lost to a brain tumor.  I've lost count of how many children I've read about who have died from brain tumors.  Sadly, I can count the number I know of who survived on one hand.  That doesn't mean those are the only ones who have survived; it just means I know of far more children who didn't survive than who did.

When is it going to stop?  When are children going to become important enough to the future of the human race that people will finally put some money into finding a cure.  Not just for cancer, but for every disease that takes our children away.  It's so easy for people to put money into fancy cars, big houses, jewelry, vacations . . . Starbucks, Coach bags, shoes.  Material things.  Donating money to find a cure doesn't become important until they are directly affected.

I know this because that is how it was for me.

I'm guilty of buying material things also.  I like shoes and purses.  But I love my children.  I am trying to spread awareness, raise money, honor the kids fighting as well as those lost.  I'm walking around with a bald head right now, all for $365 that I manage to raise in one day.  Not a big amount of money, but as the saying goes - every little bit helps, right?  But when I get weird looks from people, even when they know why I am bald, I just want to throw my hands up in the air and scream.  They just don't get it.

You know how they make suits that people can wear to see what it feels like to be pregnant, or fat, or old?  I want there to be some way to make every person feel what it felt like when I was told my child had a brain tumor.  To feel what I felt when they told us there was nothing more they could do for him.  To feel what it felt like to kiss his cold forehead one last time before I let a funeral home take his body out of my house.

Just for a minute.  I wouldn't want anyone to have to feel that pain for longer than a minute, because I know how much it hurts.  How hard it is to tolerate that kind of pain.

Trust me.  I know.

But maybe if they had to feel it for that one moment, just maybe, they would open their eyes and start fighting for the future of these kids.  The kids deserve that much.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How I Met Your Father, Part 2

I landed in Frankfurt, Germany in April 1991.  I had been married for 11 days and had no idea what to expect - from marriage, from the Army, from Germany . . . from life.  I had really messed things up.

I spent four days in Frankfurt waiting to see where my final assignment would be.  I was trained as a psychiatric specialist, which limited where I could be sent.  There were only two American hospitals in Germany that had psych wards, so I knew it was one or the other.  In the end, I was sent to work at Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center.  I arrived there jet-lagged, mentally and emotionally exhausted, knowing no one.  At the time, all new soldiers arriving in Landstuhl were given 30 days to in-process.  During that time I met my new roommates, met a few new people from the barracks . . . what an eye-opener THAT was!

I had three roommates.  One was a young girl who was in the process of being chaptered out of the Army for being pregnant.  While she waited to be discharged, she . . . entertained herself, and quite a few of the young men in the barracks, in our room.  I didn't have to worry about my other two roommates bringing guys back to our room though.  They were seeing each other.

Seriously, where was I?

One evening, not long after moving into the barracks, there was a knock on my door.  I opened it to find a guy standing there.

Are you Private Kelley?


Yes.

You want to go get a beer?


No.  I'm married.

Is your husband here?


No.

So what's your point?


I felt like I had walked into the Twilight Zone.  This place was seriously weird.  One of the guys I in-processed with had made the same mistake I had and married a girl he met in AIT.  The girl that he married was one of my roommates - one of the ones who had changed teams, if you will, and was now dating the other roommate.  Trying to keep it all straight was making my head spin, and I had enough of that just trying to figure my own life out!

Before I had even finished in-processing though, I changed rooms in the barracks.  I still had two other roommates, but these two didn't seem quite so . . . complicated.  One of them spoke often of this friend of hers named Bear.  Bear this, Bear that.  To listen to her talk, Bear was the greatest guy ever, he ruled over the barracks, and practically walked on water.  I honestly couldn't wait to meet this guy who was apparently the best thing since sliced Wonder Bread.  I didn't get to meet him right away though because he was in the States on leave.

In those first few weeks I didn't talk to Brian much.  Phone calls were expensive and the time difference was a nightmare.  Mail was slow also.  It didn't take long before it was easy to forget that I was legally married to someone.  I know that sounds bad, but it is what it is.  We ran off and got married for the wrong reasons.  I even asked when I was in-processing if it was possible to file for divorce from Germany and was told no, that I would have to wait until I could get back to the States to file.  So I knew I was stuck.  Instead of dwelling on it and making myself miserable, well . . . I chose to ignore it. I didn't immediately set out to act like I was single.  It just sort of happened.  One night I went out to a bar with my roommate and her boyfriend, JD.  There was another guy there named Dave.  We started talking and the next thing I knew, he had taken my hand and was holding it.  I could have pulled it away and told him I was married.  I should have done that.  But I didn't.  That night, when I left the bar, he kissed me goodnight.

The next night I went back to the same bar with my roommate, her boyfriend and Dave.  That was when I finally got to meet Bear, or as I now know him, Mike.  My future husband.  He had been in the States working on getting his U.S. citizenship (he is Canadian), which is why we hadn't met before.  We started talking.  We talked and talked . . . I can't tell you how refreshing it was to have a real conversation with someone!  One of the major disadvantages of being almost 25-years-old and new to the Army is that you end up living in a barracks full of 18-year-olds.  Bear was a few months older than me though, so he was able to actually carry on an intelligent conversation.  Also, as anyone who knows either of us now knows, we're both talkers.  But it wasn't like we were flirting so much as just enjoying each other's company.

In the middle of the evening, we had to take my roommate back to the barracks because she had to work the next day.  That left me with JD, Dave and Bear, who suggested we take his jeep out to "the ridge."  The ridge was some place out in the woods where you could see all the lights of Kaiserslautern.  I have no idea how we got there other than it was off-road, really dark, with lots of trees passing us by at an incredibly disconcerting rate of speed.  It was pitch-black, quiet and peaceful.  JD and Dave, who were pretty drunk, started running around in the dark, acting like fools.  I was standing and looking at all the lights.  It was cold, so Bear went back to the jeep and got a sweater of his for me to put on.  As I stood looking out at the lights, he came up behind me and put his arms around me, pulling me back against his chest.

This is where the whole story becomes corny, like something out of a movie.  As I stood there with Bear, I felt like I had finally found my way home.  I had found the arms that I belonged in.  It was the most amazing feeling ever.

Then reality came crashing down on me.  Not only was I legally married to someone back in the States, but I had kissed Dave the night before.  And Dave was there, on the ridge, with us as I stood in Bear's arms.  What was wrong with me?  I had become, in my own eyes, the most horrible kind of sleazy woman.

When we left the ridge, Bear stopped at Dave's barracks to drop him off.  Dave looked at me, like he was questioning if I was getting out with him or not.  I didn't.  But as Bear started to drive away, I yelled, "Stop!"  I then jumped out of the jeep and ran back to Dave.  Not because Dave was the one I wanted to be with.  He wasn't really.  But he was safe.  He didn't feel like home.  He didn't threaten to turn my world even more upside down than it already was.  I wasn't at risk of falling in love with him.  Bear was the risk, and he terrified me.

That happened in June 1991.  For the next few months I dated Dave.  I dealt with Brian when I had to. Mostly when we talked on the phone, we fought.  I don't think either one of us truly wanted our marriage to last, but neither one had the guts to say so.  There were numerous other little dramas that played out during that time, but it all came to a head around Christmas.  My mom came to Germany to visit.  Dave was getting ready to get out of the Army.  I finally told Brian on the phone that I didn't love him and wanted him to file for divorce.  It was an ugly time.  But in a way, it was also a time where I finally set myself free.  I  had finally come clean and decided to change things.  My mom went home.  Dave left Germany permanently.  As far as I knew, Brian was filing for divorce.  And I started to rebuild myself.  One of the ways I started doing this was that I started writing in a journal.

In February 1992, as I sat in the window of my room writing, I looked out and saw that there was a party starting up behind the barracks.  One of the people sitting at a picnic table there was Bear.  For eight months he and I had passed each other in hallways, making eye contact and then looking away, but never talking.  A couple of times we ended up at the same bar with the same group of people and made small talk, even flirting a little.  But for the most part, it was like the night on the ridge had never happened.  When I saw him that day, sitting at the picnic table, I knew I had to find out if there really had been something there.  I was not friends with most of the people at the party, having burned those bridges over the previous few months, but I was determined to not let that stop me.  So I grabbed a couple beers out of the fridge in my room and headed outside.  There was space next to Bear at the table, so I walked up behind him . . .

Is this seat taken?


He looked surprised when he turned and saw that it was me.  Then he said,

It is now . . . please.  Sit.


So I sat, and we talked.  And talked, and talked.  It was like the first night all over, but this time I was ready for it.  I don't remember how long we talked that day.  It was afternoon when I went outside, and it was very late at night when we finally went back inside.  The party turned crazy all around us - people drinking, getting loud.  Someone had put stereo speakers in a barracks window and started blasting music.  All the while, Bear and I talked.  No one else was a part of the conversation.  I don't even remember who else was at the party.  For me, it was only him.  At one point, he asked me to dance.  No one else was dancing, which I pointed out.

So?


I got up to dance with him and realized that being in his arms felt just as right then, eight months later, as it had on the ridge.  Sometime during that dance he kissed me.  That was the beginning.

It took a lot more for us to end up married.  I still had to get divorced.  We each left Germany headed for different places back in the States.  But that was how it all started.  Next month will be 20 years since we finally got together, and I still get choked up when I think of how precarious our beginning was.  But when times have been hard, I have always thought back to that beginning and known - he's the one for me.  He is my home.


How I Met Your Father, Part 1

How I met my husband is such a complicated story.  You know how there are always three sides to a story - your side, the other person's side, and the truth?  Well, that's pretty much how this story goes.  But I don't think I've ever put my side in words, so what the heck . . . no time like the present, eh?  I can't start from right when we met though.  I have to backtrack a bit.

In 1990 I was living by myself in Stockton, California.  I had been in a somewhat serious relationship - which basically means it was serious on my part, but not his - for a while, and when that ended I seemed to bounce from one relationship to another for a while.  I was working as a secretary and making lousy money.  I couldn't afford to pay for college classes.  In fact, I couldn't afford to pay for much more than my rent, utilities and car payment.  My parents were still paying my car insurance and buying the majority of my groceries.  At 24-years-old I felt like I was going to be forever stuck in Stockton.

One of the brief relationships I had was with a guy named Paul who was in the Army, stationed at Fort Ord in Monterey.  I visited him there a couple of times and thought his life, as well as the lives of some of his married friends, didn't seem too bad.  They had nice houses on base and seemed to be enjoying their lives in the military.  Not long after that relationship ended I saw an article on the front page of the Stockton Record about a local Army recruiter.  On a whim, I used my lunch hour that day to stop by and talk to him.  To make a long story short, he set me up with a physical and testing in Oakland a few days later, I chose a job, and three weeks later was on a plane for South Carolina to start basic training.

I don't waste time.

Eight weeks of basic training at Fort Jackson, SC and then off to Fort Sam Houston, TX for Advanced Individual Training (AIT) where I was going to be trained to work as a psychiatric specialist.  After four weeks at Fort Sam we were given leave to go home for Christmas.  While I was home, I went out for lunch with the guy from Stockton that I had been in the long relationship with.  While I was in basic training I had written to him.  Nothing romantic, just friendly letters telling him what it was like, because even though we had been in a relationship, we had also been friends.  Or at least I thought so.

In the parking lot outside the restaurant after lunch, we talked a little longer.  Suddenly he started acting awkward, like he was very uncomfortable.  He then told me that I couldn't write to him anymore.  I asked why, and he told me that his girlfriend had found the letters and was really angry.  I brought up the fact that the letters had not been anything more than friendly, and that's when he dropped the bombshell.

She and I are getting married.


That hurt, but it was nothing compared to what he said next.

When I get letters from you, even though they're written as a friend, it makes me not want us to be just friends.


He was marrying her, but when he heard from me he didn't want us to be just friends.  What?  So I went home and cried.  For hours.  I was good enough for this guy to want to be more than friends with, but not good enough for him to want to marry.  Suddenly every relationship I had been in felt that way - like I wasn't good enough.

I went back to Fort Sam to finish my last 12 weeks of training with a broken heart and, for the first time since high school, a serious case of insecurity.  Thus started a period of my life that I am really not proud of.

About a week after I got back to Texas, a friend and I were headed out to the Enlisted Club on a Friday night to get our drink on.  We arrived at the club early and didn't want to be the first ones inside, so we were sitting in the parking lot talking.  I had my hand on the steering wheel but wasn't paying attention to what I was doing - I was clicking the bar that flashes the lights.  A group of three guys that I had never met saw me flashing my lights and though I was flashing my lights at them (Army guys can be a bit cocky like that - it's all about them).  They came over to the car window and, trying to play it off all cool, my friend and I started talking to them.  We ended up hanging out with them that night and, by the end of the night, I had hooked up with one of them named Brian.  He was 18-years-old.  I was 24.

For the next few weeks we were quite the item, spending every chance we had together.  About six weeks after we met, however, he graduated from AIT and was headed to his permanent assignment at - of all places - Fort Ord, CA.  We planned to stay together and wait to see where I got stationed after I finished training and then we would figure the relationship out from there.  He had even said he wanted to marry me.  Just when I thought I would never find someone, here was this kid saying he wanted to marry me.  I knew it was crazy, but I was so happy that someone finally thought I was worth marrying, I didn't want to question it.

A few weeks later, on the day that I was to graduate from AIT, I finally found out where my permanent assignment would be.  Germany.

Germany?!


I had been told when I enlisted that there was no way I would get stationed overseas because my enlistment - at just 2 years and 34 weeks - was too short.  Never believe a recruiter, that's all I have to say.

I was devastated.  I called Brian, sobbing, and told him.  It took a few days after graduation before I could leave Texas.  Because of getting an overseas assignment, I had shots that I had to get as well as waiting for a port call from the transportation folks.  By the time I was finally cleared to leave, Brian had talked to his commander about the situation.  His commander, a young captain, said that he could get my orders changed to Fort Ord if Brian and I got married.  We had been dating for 2.5 months at the time, and only six of those weeks had actually been spent together in the same place.  But we thought we were going to last forever, so we decided to do it - we were going to get married so that the good captain could get my orders changed.

I drove from Texas to California, picked Brian up in Monterey, hooked up with my parents and brother in Tracy, my hometown, and drove to Lake Tahoe and got married.  Just like that.  It was craziness, and I knew it.  In fact, the day after we got married, as we were driving back to Monterey, I felt sick.  I knew that what we had just done was insane, but I was still determined to make it work.

When we got to Monterey, I had to leave Brian at Ford Ord and head back to my parents' house because he lived in the barracks and we couldn't afford a hotel until his commander got my orders changed.  I had ten days until I was due to leave for Germany.

I don't remember how long it took the commander to give Brian this information, but he told him that he had contacted the assignment folks in the Army and had been told that they could have got my orders changed if we had gotten married before my orders for Germany were cut.  But since I already had those orders, I would still have to go to Germany and, in two years, they could get Brian and I orders to the same place.

Two.  Years.

Long distance relationships are hard enough when the relationship has a good foundation.  With six weeks of actual "together" time and six weeks of talking on the phone every day, they're impossible.  So, ten days after saying "I Do" with a guy I barely knew, I was on a plane for Germany with nothing more than a $99 ring on my finger and a few pictures to remind me what he looked like.

So much for joining the Army and fixing my life, right?

To be continued . . .



Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Procrastination

Does your life have a theme?  A better question is, should a life have a theme?  One theme for the whole thing, or maybe a theme for certain periods?  A good friend of mine introduced me to a saying that seems to be stuck in my mind right now.  It goes something like this (I'm sure she'll correct me if I get it wrong):

People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.

She and I have discussed this at length because there truly are people who, while they might seem like friends who will be around for a lifetime, you reach a point where you think maybe they really were just "for a season" friends.  I can look back on my life and see where certain people were only good for a season!

So maybe a "life theme" is the same.  Maybe each "season" of life has a theme all its own.  This would explain my feeling of being stuck in a season of procrastination right now.

I made a New Year's resolution to choose a daily theme song for myself in 2012.  There was really no reason for this other than it gives me an excuse to waste an hour (or three) every day listening to music and trawling through iTunes looking for a song to be that day's theme.  Essentially, I made a New Year's resolution to spend a little time every day procrastinating. 

Who does that?  Don't most people make resolutions to be better people?  Not me I guess.  I make resolutions that allow me to continue being bad.  I just wordsmith it to sound like I'm doing something positive.

I know what you're thinking.  Brilliant! 

So why am I in this procrastination rut?  I have so many things that I want to do.  Make more jewelry.  Find a niche here in Okinawa to be able to sell some of it.  Keep a cleaner house.  Cook more (instead of sticking my husband with that job all the time).  Those are all minor "wants" really.  The one major accomplishment I hope to someday add to my Life Resume is that I want to write a book.  More specifically, I want to write a book about Keeghan.  I've been saying it for years, but I haven't done it.  Instead, I find 101 different ways to busy myself so that I don't have to sit down and face this blank screen and face the fact that I am terrified to write his story.

Part of my fear is that I don't know why anyone would want to read it.  It's the story of a boy who fought cancer and lost.  Of a family broken.  Of three people left behind with scars that are invisible to most, but huge and raw and painful and unending to us.  Who wants to read that?

But I know his story - our story - is so much more than that.  Keeghan was more than his cancer.  He was wickedly smart and sarcastic and just . . . wise.  For someone who only lived 12 years, he seemed so much older.  Even before cancer reared its ugly head, we all knew that Keeghan was the wisest of this Fantastic Four we had built together.  When Mike, Mackenzie and I were acting like total dorks, it was Keeghan who looked down on us from his High Pedestal of Maturity and rolled his eyes like we were errant children that he would never understand.  Of course, then he would jump off the pedestal and join in the dorkiness.  But we always knew he was superior to us.  He was always meant to be the Leader of this clan.

Maybe that is where my story lies.  Keeghan may have died, but in so many ways he still is the leader of us.  We have joked often about getting bracelets that say "WWKD" on them, playing on the whole What Would Jesus Do spiel.  For us, some things just come down to, "What would Keeghan do?"  He's still leading us.  We are still learning from him.  

People have told me how strong I am, and I always laugh and tell them they have no clue.  The truth is that I live in a world of avoidance and procrastination.  The truth is that the minute I sit down and start writing about my son, I am a river of tears.  Kind of like right now.  So many of the things I do in my life are because of him, and he is always right there, in my mind, in my heart, but the minute I let his life start coming out through my words, I buckle.  Maybe telling his story, sharing it so that it isn't just mine anymore, is a little like letting him go.  But he deserves to be shared.  His strength and his courage in the face of something so horrible was awe-inspiring.

This Season of Procrastination needs to end.  Like the friends who come into your life for only a season but then have to go, this season for me needs to go away also.  I need to be willing to cry, willing to re-experience pain that I would far rather keep locked inside.  But I know I can't do that.  The writer in me wants to write the story.  The mother in me wants to share my baby with the world.  It's time to take out stock in Kleenex and start writing. 

Wish me luck.

Today's theme song is one that I have always thought of as Keeghan's song to us, but today it is my song to him.  It will be me Bubby.  I love you.



Monday, January 2, 2012

Gingy's Visit to Okinawa

I am going to cheat a bit on today's writing assignment.  I know what you're saying . . . it's only the third day of the year and I'm already cheating.  But I'm not totally cheating.

Today has been a mad, crazy day.  It started with Maxx getting up and still having an earache.  We took her to the ER on Sunday evening where she was diagnosed with an outer ear infection and given antibiotic and pain-relieving drops.  But she was still experiencing quite a bit of pain, so I took her in to see her primary care physician this morning.  That took up the majority of the morning, but we at least got new drops that will hopefully work better.  After that, lunch with Mike, trip to the post office, then to the commissary, and then home to finish up documenting a certain Gingerbread Man's visit to Okinawa.

So I did write today.  I wrote quite a bit actually.  It was just all for Gingy, and that's a good thing.  He was sent to visit us by a little boy in North Dakota named Macen, who is the son of one of my 46 Mommas teammates.  Unfortunately Gingy arrived right in the middle of the busy holiday season, so it took me a while to get out and show him around Okinawa.  But we finally did, and today I got him, his story, and a few postcards mailed back to Macen.  Now I need to go check on the sick daughter, pick up the house a bit, and get ready for starting dinner.  So here is my writing for the day - Gingy's Visit to Okinawa.

Oh, and my theme song for the day is a no-brainer.  I may not be a maniac on the dance floor, but today I have definitely felt like a maniac.

Maniac - Michael Sembello




January 3, 2012
Konnichiwa (koh-nee-chee-wah, hello in Japanese)!
My name is Gingy and I have been on a great adventure!  I left my friend Macen in Rugby, North Dakota and traveled all the way to Okinawa, Japan to visit the Barry family.  Mr. Barry - well, technically, Lt Colonel Barry - is in the United States Air Force and is stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa.  He works for the 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron.  The 18 AES’s job is to help Americans all around the Pacific Rim - specifically, Guam, Korea, Okinawa and Mainland Japan - to get back to hospitals in the United States when they get sick or are injured.
Mr. Barry’s family includes Mrs. Barry and Miss Maxx, who is 17-years-old.  Here is a picture of Maxx and I when I first arrived in Okinawa.  How do you like the kimono they made for me?





During my stay in Okinawa I experienced many new and interesting things.  We went out for an authentic sushi dinner at a place called Yoshihachi Sushi House.  The food was brought to us on big, wooden boats!




We also visited a place called American Village which is a shopping center with lots of different types of shops.  There was a big movie theater that shows movies in English and in Japanese, clothing stores, souvenir shops, arcades, and lots of restaurants.  At American Village you can eat Japanese food, Thai food, Chinese food, Mexican food and American food.  They even have an A&W and a Nathan’s Hot Dogs there!  One of my favorite things was the huge ferris wheel though - check it out!


We went inside a place called Dragon Palace so that Maxx could buy a new backpack for school.  Can you see the cars in the picture?  In Japan, they drive on the left side of the road instead of the right!
Before we left American Village, Maxx took me to a place called Mister Donut.  Here they had donuts in many different flavors, some that I have heard of before, and then some that were totally new to me.  Mrs. Barry says her favorite are the green tea - called matcha (maht-cha) - and the beni imo (beh-nee  ee-moh) donuts.  Beni imo means “purple sweet potato” in Japanese, and there are lots of foods made with it in Okinawa, even ice cream!  Mister Donut even has donuts that look like teddy bear heads!
For our last outing the Barrys thought I might like to see some traditional Okinawan dancing and drumming, so on New Year’s Eve we attended a dinner theater performance at the Yotsutake (yoh-tsu-tah-keh) Restaurant in the city of Naha.  As a dinner of steak and lobster was served, we watched dancing and drumming on stage.  There was a big Shisa Dog also!  The people of Okinawa believe that shisa dogs ward off evil spirits, so they place them outside the entrances to buildings.  The dog in the performance was huge, and it came out into the crowd.  It was a little scary, but very cool!



After the performance was over, Maxx and I got our picture taken with all of the performers.  We were all making scary shisa faces, although I don’t think we look very scary at all!
The dinner theater was a really great experience and everyone there seemed happy to welcome me to Okinawa.  The people of this small island are so nice, and they love it when foreigners try to learn about their culture.  I wish you all could have been here with me!
The Yotsutake Restaurant was on Kokusai (koh-koo-sah-ee) Street, also known as International Street, in Naha.  We walked around for a little while before heading home just to look at all the bright lights and souvenir shops.  We even took a few silly pictures, just for fun.



Maxx thought it would be funny to stick me in this shisa dog’s mouth!

See how bright the lights on Kokusai Street are?
Overall, my trip to Okinawa was incredible!  I really enjoyed my time with the Barrys, but I can’t wait to get back to my buddy Macen.  It is a ten-hour flight just to get from Japan to the United States, so it will take me a while to get there, but I’m really looking forward to getting home.  So, as they say here in Okinawa - sayonara!
Gingy