Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving; My House

One of the other students at school asked me how things were going a couple of weeks ago. It was three days after I had popped myself in the lip with a pry bar, putting a hole through and through (does it count as iron intake if you're swallowing your own blood?), trying to get a piece of molding down in the kitchen. My lip was still swollen and hurt, and I was a little embarrassed by the glaring scab on my face. So I made some mention of being busy with kitchen renovations in my new house. He commented disparagingly about owning a house and settling down not being his "bag" so he really couldn't understand what I was talking about. Even though I know he thinks I'm off my rocker, I felt a little sorry for him. Home is a special place.

I'm settling into my new house. Nick-knacks are up on the shelves, and while I haven't hung any pictures yet, I know where they're going to go (need to get more anchors). The china cabinets are finally out of the dining room. Though now I've got unfinished spots on the floor that need to be sanded down and polyurethaned and gaping holes in the baseboards. But I'm slowly filling in the holes in the wall...slowly because it takes some willingness to get dirty to mix up the plaster of paris for patching said holes.

And the kitchen, whoa the kitchen! The kitchen used to have about eight square feet of poorly designed counter space. But with the exceedingly generous help of my uncle, I have a brand new kitchen with just a few more touch ups needed. This weekend we got all but the last cabinet installed...including a microwave!  Gotta move a gas line for the stove to get the very last cabinet in (yes, I'll be calling a plumber for that job), granite countertops need to be installed, and a tile backsplash and a coat of paint will finish the job. I'll have more than 30 square feet of counter space!! Whooo hooo! For right now, I don't even *care* that I've got contact paper-covered plywood for counters.

I should also have a working fireplace soon. I don't really want to go into the details of the ordeal that it's been to get it working again, but the chimney company has already sent out three crews, on four different occasions, and I've got at least one more visit from the owner of the company to look forward to before I can enjoy a crackling blaze behind the glass doors of the fireplace.

Every room needs to be painted, the drains for the shower and kitchen sink are slow to the point of frustration, the grass needs mowing (and has for the last two months), I've got at least one outlet that blows a circuit breaker if I use it, about half the windows need some sort of work and probably leak heat like they're open, and I still haven't seen into the crawl space because I can't get the access door open.

But I am thankful for my little house. It's comfortable. I won't say it's home yet, but I think it will be in another couple of months.

I've whined before about how much I've moved around in recent years. I know I'll be here for about four or five years, which is long enough to take my time with the needed improvements. So I'm not really stressed about the totality of the project before me, even if I get frustrated and overwhelmed sometimes by the details of any one portion of the overall task.

I can separate my satisfaction with my current situation into two parts, really. The first is just that I get to be in one place long enough to see more than one turn of the seasons here. I'm a big believer in a Wendell Berry-esque outlook that knowledge of a place is a good thing; knowing when the first leaves bud out on the trees in the yard, or when that particular window starts getting sun exposure, is important. It helps ground us, locate us on the planet, guide us when we're lost and give us perspective on things greater and lesser than our own individual outlook.

The second part is that I just really like the house. It's nothing very special, built in the 1930s and still standing. But with hardwood floors that finished up beautifully; a fireplace painted red; roses and peonies and a grape vine in the yard; radiators in each room; and a sun room that reminds me (very vaguely) of my grandparents' house. I don't know much about the last family that lived here, just that it was an elderly woman that must have passed away because her son was the executor that handled the sale. I've found random school pictures of relatives, maybe, tucked away forgotten in the back corners of closet shelves, and they left the coolest box-full of odds and ends, screws, nails, washers, hooks, pins, cords, just stuff, that have come in super-handy in the midst of so many projects. All the things they left for me was like a generous welcome into their home.

I've got grand plans for a garden and other yard projects, including lining the front walk with blueberry bushes, using the stump out back for growing culinary mushrooms, and pruning the grape vine to increase its productivity. I've already got pansies in the planter under the old Japanese maple in the front yard, rain barrels under each gutter, and a small herb garden outside the back door. Maybe, just maybe, I'll get an outdoor shower put in next summer. And my uncle just brought back my granddad's old push mower (thanks, Jan, for being willing to give it up). So when I do get around to mowing the yard, it'll be with a piece of equipment that's been around for a while and doesn't use anything but my own energy to make it work. I like that. And I'm thankful for it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thanksgiving: My Job

I  figured this was an appropriate time to be particularly thankful for my job since this past Thursday was Veterans' Day. I put my uniform on for the first time since 23 Jul, and went to the Brentwood Veterans' Day Celebration that my local little community put on. There's a Veterans' Memorial about three blocks away from my house that the City of Brentwood built a few years ago. About forty people showed up at the ceremony, some coming back in from where they currently live to honor their fathers and brothers who had grown up in Brentwood, and whose names are on the memorial. I talked to a former DC2 who served on the TAMAROA back in the Viet Nam War era. He was proudly wearing a Coast Guard cap, so he was easy to recognize. He was also very proud of his son who is currently a Marine. The ceremony lasted about an hour, and was nicely put on for a community of about 2000 households in a major metropolitan area.

The guest of honor, besides all the politicians that showed up, was a Councilwoman's father. Unfortunately I don't remember his name, but he served in World War II in the 92nd Infantry Division of the US Army. He was a Buffalo Soldier. He talked briefly about growing up in Goldsboro, NC and being in Washington, DC visiting his sister on December 7, 1941. He went home and enlisted in the Army, rather than waiting for his draft number to be called. He was very candid about the racial tensions that dictated the division of the 92nd among three locations for training, and he joked a little about their unit's destination being super-secret, except for the fact that they were all learning Italian. He said, maybe they were going to Ethiopia, since they spoke a little Italian there. But they were in fact deployed to Italy, I think he said in 1942. During his time in the Army, he earned the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, and made it "safely" through the war. He wrapped up his remarks with a powerful message of trust and belief in his country. He said we made it through all those troubled times, reflecting back to the discriminations he faced, and we can see it through these tough economic times as well. Because the United States is such a great nation, made up of great people.

As  he was speaking, I was doing some quick math in my head, and realized he was at least 85, and probably closer to 90 years old. The only medal of the four that he proudly wore above his left breast pocket that I recognized was the Purple Heart. I was glad I went to the celebration in my community, but his remarks made it a truly memorable experience.

The next day, I put my uniform on again and set off to CG Headquarters to get weighed-in. I admit, I completely spaced on the fact that I was supposed to do it in October, and ended up getting the nasty-gram from my Program Manager that I needed to come in "as soon as possible" to get it done. Whoops.

It was the first time I've ridden the Metro in uniform. And maybe it's just me, but I felt like people stared a little bit, or at least didn't brush their eyes over me like just another body in the crowd. And maybe it's different for other, bigger people in uniform, but for a 5'2" pip-squeak, that uniform can make me feel more like I'm ten feet tall and bullet proof (to use a favorite Company Commander quote from boot camp). It's hard not to swagger a little when I wear it (I think it might be the steel-toed boots...they require a touch more leg movement so I don't drag my feet 'cause they're kinda heavy). Maybe I'm not only Just a Girl when I'm in uniform. Maybe it reminds me that I'm Just a Girl with sea stories, Just a Girl with shipmates, Just a Girl who's part of something bigger than herself. Just a Girl who can drive a ship. Just a Girl who has battled gremlins. Just a Girl who got pepper-sprayed, can shoot a gun, and knocked a guy on his ass practicing defensive techniques (sorry Cookie, it's just too good a visual image not to use).

I think it was a well-timed reminder that what I'm doing in school is important and will give me more tools to bring back to my service hopefully for the benefit of the Coast Guard. It's hard to remember that sometimes, stuck in statistics or microeconomics.

And, on top of those two experiences, I recently finished reading The Caine Mutiny, by Herman Wouk (Back Bay Books, 2003). My Aunt Linda gave it to me at my Change of Command this summer, and I really enjoyed it. I'm pretty sure the first time I was introduced to The Caine Mutiny was at OCS; but I quickly became more familiar with it since instructors show it at every single CG leadership training I've attended ever since. I always thought that Captain Queegs was the main part of the story, since I've never seen the movie all the way through. The leadership classes always just show the typhoon part, or the strawberry scene. Turns out the story is really about Willie Keith and his growing up.

I felt plenty of sympathy for Willie when he showed up at his ship, not knowing really what was going on, stumbling through figuring out where he belonged and what he was supposed to be doing. And as the realization that dawns on him that Queegs is not the same as his predecessor, Captain De Vriess. One of the truest quotes comes after the verdict has come through on the Court Martial; the current Captain of the CAINE is talking to Willie about the burden of command, "You can't understand command till you've had it. It's the loneliest, most oppressive job in the whole world...You're forever tettering along a tiny path of correct decisions and good luck that meanders through an infinite gloom of possible mistakes." (pg 499) Oh my goodness, how true is that!?

But my favorite parts of the book are at the end, where the last captain of the CAINE is philosophizing about his time aboard:
"[He] experienced the strange sensations of the first days of a new captain: a shrinking of his personal identity, and a stretching of his nerve ends to all the spaces and machinery of his ship. He was less free than before. He developed the apprehensive listening ears of a young mother; the ears listened on in his sleep; he never quite slept, not the way he had before. He had the sense of being reduced from an individual to a sort of brain of a composite animal, the crew and ship combined. The reward for these disturbing sensations came when he walked the decks. Power seemed to flow out of the plates into his body. The respectful demeanor of the officers and crew thrust him into a loneliness he had never known, but it wasn't a frigid loneliness. Through the transparent barrier of manners came the warming unspoken word that his men liked him and believed in him." (pg 520)
And: 
"He spent long night hours on the bridge when there was no need of it. The stars and the sea and the ship were slipping from his life...All the patterns fixed in his muscles, like the ability to find the speed indicator buttons in utter blackness, would fade. This very wheelhouse itself, familiar to him as his own body, would soon cease to exist. It was a little death toward which he was steaming." (pg 522)
 Exactly!

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I miss being underway. I had a (non-Coast Guard) friend ask me today when I'd be getting back underway. We were talking about my getting a dog. I really want a dog, but I won't get any more pets until I'm out of the Coast Guard, and not deploying anymore. It's not fair to the pets to be shuffled all about when I get underway. I'll foster pets in the meantime, while I'm ashore. But I guess in the course of our conversation, I made it sound like I'd be going back out on a ship sometime in the near future. Imagine my chagrin at having to admit that it was actually going to be about four or five years before I get underway again.

And just so you guys don't think I'm just all about the underway thing...I am thankful for my job for a number of other reasons, many of them financial. The Coast Guard is sending me to school to learn something I probably should have majored in in the first place, back in the day. And I still get my salary. My job allows my mother to take advantage of the numerous and generous benefits of being a military dependent. And eventually I'll put on O4, and have something else to be thankful for. I've been hearing some stories from current CDRs that it took them 22 months to make LCDR from LT. I'm not there yet, but it's looking like it'll be pretty close for me.

And my job has introduced me to a lot of amazing people. One last recent episode: the day I was walking through the Metro in uniform, I happened to separately see two fellow Coasties I had served with previously. Now, it was at L'Enfant Station where the shuttle picks people up from the Metro FFT (for further transport) to the Headquarters Building, so it wasn't totally unusual to have plenny of Coasties wandering around. But, two? In one day? That's kinda cool. One was LT Beau Powers who I haven't seen since I left the D14 Command Center in 2006. We chatted for a few minutes as we walked to our respective trains. He's doing great things in the Command Center world. One more reason to be thankful for my job in the Coast Guard: it's such a small service, you can't help but run into the good people you served with again somewhere.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Thanksgiving: Friends

I run the risk of being ridiculously cheesy with this next series of posts, but it's my blog...I'll be cheesy if I want to.

As we all know, it's coming up on Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving. I mean, it's All About Food - what's not to love? Turkey, yum; stuffing, used to hate it when I was a kid, but think it's one of the best things about roasted turkey now; mashed potatoes, must have garlic in them; and pies, lots of pies. And cranberries. With walnuts.

Just a few days ago, I was wondering where I was the last couple of Thanksgivings. It's a little thing I do around holidays - think about what's changed since last year and where I was. It's usually kinda a tough little exercise since I move around so much. Last year, KISKA's ombudsman invited everyone over for dinner. Delish! And fun. Year before that...Bahrain, don't remember if we were underway or not.

Holidays are odd underway. Somebody has to stand the watch. Every day. All day. And night. But it's a little sad when it's you standing the watch, hanging out with people you wouldn't necessarily choose to be with on those special days, missing family and the football games and parades and all the little traditions that make holidays something to look forward to. I find this lingering sadness tinged with pride, though. Pride for doing a job that not everyone is willing or able to do, pride for serving in an amazing service for a great nation with a fascinating history, pride for being willing to make sacrifices in order to contribute to a "greater good." I was never so great a patriot before I joined the service and went overseas somehow, but there's more reflection on that than I want to do here. Holidays can suck underway, but I think it's something that helps bond shipmates...you're all suffering together. Though the cooks (and the command) usually try to make sure that "suffering" is tempered with some morale.

Anyway, this post wasn't really supposed to be about holidays underway. It's supposed to be about Thanksgiving. And the cheesy part is that I'm going to write the next few posts on things that I'm thankful for. I've got so much that is going, has gone, and will very likely continue to go well for me that I feel it's somehow necessary to acknowledge that I've got it *really* good.

So, friends...I am thankful for my friends. I don't have a ton of friends, mostly because I'm a pretty introverted person, and I move a lot. I volunteered a few weeks ago at the phone bank for the local public radio station's fund drive, and after the four of us at our table introduced ourselves and talked a little about what we did with our days, one of the women asked me how I dealt with moving around so much? How did I make friends at each new place? Did I already know people here? I hemmed and hawed a little bit because I didn't know how to answer her. Usually I'm so busy with learning my new job that making friends and having a social life is pushed to the side. And I like the people I work with, so it's easy to hang out with them. But one thing about not being able to make friends easily makes me really, really grateful for the ones I *do*have.

Another friend-related anecdote: in Friday's yoga class, the instructor had us do a forearm balance with a partner. It's like a handstand, but with your forearms flat on the deck. I had tried and tried to do these in class on the Big Island and never quite gotten it right. I'd always overpower through kicking up my feet and end up going over the other side, or banging my feet off the wall, if I was using the wall as a support. But this time, with fellow-yogi Jennie supporting one leg while I lifted the other, I was able to find some stability and hang out for a couple minutes. She had a couple of fingers on one of my little toes to remind me that she was there, but wasn't doing anything else to help me.

Naomi, the instructor, gave us the explanation: friends provide that bit of assistance to see us through our weaknesses...just that little bit of extra support and encouragement that we usually need to succeed in a challenge. And they accentuate our strengths.

I immediately thought of my friend Anne. We've got a few things in common, but she's way, way, way smarter than I am and has a lot, A LOT more professional motivation and chance for success (like big picture success) than I do. I truly value her opinion, and have been known to email or text or call her to whine, complain and bitch about whatever triviality has recently vexed me. She always commiserates with just the right amount of sympathy and understanding, and then provides some spot-on insightful recommendation for how to make the most of a bad or frustrating situation.

And she has never complained about my food-nerdiness :) Though she did think I was a little out of my mind to go to all seven grocery stores in the local area looking for different ingredients for a wardroom dinner. Or was it ten stores?

And a shout out to a couple other friends:
Craig, thanks for your patience with listening to my tales of woe when we were all so far away from home. I can't help but remember those card games and smile.

Frank can always, always make me laugh. I usually give him good material to work with ("more work to be done in the kitchen"), but he has a true gift for poking fun at the absurdities that surround us all.

I'm so glad I met Auntie Jane. She's a wonderful woman, so full of love and aloha. I wish so very, very much that her neighborhood was peaceful, and hopes she and husband Terry are able to find the peace and happiness they deserve from being great people and having helped and befriended so many others.

Rickey taught me a lot about myself. He showed me how to slow down and look at things differently. 

And Lili is always there for me, even when we don't talk for months and months. We can pick right back up like no time passed at all.

Amy, Vicki, and Steve...I'll deal with you guys in a separate post.