Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Meaning of Dreams

I don't necessarily think dreams are portentous or overly meaningful, but they are interesting windows into the inner workers of our subconsciousness. I have the typical dreams: climbing stairs and never getting to the top; finding myself back in high school (or is that a nightmare?), wondering what I need to do to graduate even though I've already got a couple college degrees; having to give a presentation and being clueless about the topic. The ones I like the best are about flying or being able to breathe underwater.

But the other night I had a very vivid dream that made me wonder what the heck is going on in the inner workings of my little pea brain. I wasn't sleeping well (which isn't particularly unusual, just particularly annoying because I had a busy day the next day). And, you know how dreams put together disparate parts or people or places and they seem to make sense within the dreamscape? Well, in this dream, I was doing KISKA's mission, but had my OPS and XO from MAUI. I think we were still wearing desert cammies, and somehow there was a fancy D-FAC mixed in.

But the gist of the dream was that we were being tasked to conduct an escort, and I couldn't get any information on the details about when the escort was, where we were supposed to meet the escort vessel, or even who we were supposed to be escorting, who we were working with...you know all the relevant and enabling details. I tried talking to the command center watchstander, and while she was mostly polite, just would NOT answer my questions. I tried being super specific, I tried getting high and mighty and slightly pissy, I threatened to talk to her supervisor, but in the end, I just could not get the information I wanted. She treated me like I was a bitchy annoyance that was just too stupid to get the job done. Apparently the information had already been passed on to OPS.

So off I went to talk to OPS and XO. OPS and I had a somewhat rocky relationship while we worked together (in reality), so I approached him with that baggage. I tried my questioning routine again. When did we need to get underway? When was liberty going to expire? What did the WQSB look like for the evolution? But mostly, when did we need to get underway?

I started out calmly, with a hint of frustration from my conversation with the watchstander, but clearly asking my questions. I thought. Somehow I ended up *screaming* at them both, trying to get through to them. They just looked at me with a complete lack of interest.

I woke up frustrated, annoyed, feeling like a cat who just had its fur petted the wrong way. And wanting to apologize to all of them. So, MAUI OPS and XO and imaginary-dream watchstander, so very, very, very sorry that I yelled at you, spit flying, hair standing on end, in my dream. I *NEVER* want to be that boss or coworker.

Obviously, there's something going on in my head about communications. Writing it out like this, it sounds more like about being invisible and ignored, but in the dream, it was about not being able to get through to someone. I've been working on a couple papers lately that I'm not really sure what I'm saying in them, so maybe that's it. And working on a presentation on the theory of the coming Singularity that both scares and fascinates me, but that I just can't seem to get my head around.

But I think it just reinforces to me how important I think communications are. The first dozen or so times I saw the model of a message having two parts, the sent message and the received message, I just kind of glazed over it, on to the next portion of the LE training, LAMS training, TQC training, whatever. Somehow this dream brought home the sending/receiving model in a way that hours of classroom discussion never did. What do *I* do that prevents my audience from understanding the importance and relevance of the information they have that I need? What can I do differently to make sure my message is comprehensible and accessible to a wide ranging audience? How do I know when I have a message worth communicating at all?

It's an ongoing process, thinking about and honing my communication skills. But one that is so critical and worth putting the effort into.

And again, so sorry Ceebeemcghee and SDubs, for yelling at you. In my dream or in reality. It didn't help things *at all!!*

Monday, April 18, 2011


I wonder sometimes what this blog is really about. Is it about my Coast Guard career? Is it personal? What are the bounds of what I can or should write about? I know it's not totally professional, and there are some things I will never attempt to address.

As part of a conversation about a lot of different things, a friend (FR) and I recently examined our individual personal relationships to the Coast Guard. The relevant portion went like this:

FR: "I’m somewhat amazed that you enjoy thinking and talking about the CG as much as you do. I’m not casting aspersions on you, I just know that I love NOT talking about the CG, except for minor examples during some of the classes I take. My work this summer will be dealing with clean aquatic energy, something that fascinates me and that I truly think I can be passionate about, at least for a time."

ME: "What you said about me enjoying thinking about the CG so much really made me pause. Harumph. Guess I just need to face up to the fact that I'm a CG nerd. There's a couple of reasons I came up with for our different perspectives on CG interactions while we're at school. First is the nature of our programs. The only way I know how to relate to Big Policy Issues is through the context of the CG. All my classes on budgeting and contracting and all that, I view through what I know and have experienced during my CG tenure as a way to help me understand what is being taught, similar to how you use your DCA experience in your engineering stuff (not even gonna try getting more technical than that, lest I leave you guffawing my ignorance). Second, I have a forum. I still can't believe this blog thing. Crazy how it's made things different for me. And lastly, we came to the CG from very different places. You literally grew up in the organization since that's how your Dad raised you. You've always known it, and have viewed everything you are and do within that context. I came to the CG much later, and found it to be something that really stabilized me, gave me purpose and direction...never mind a living wage paycheck and health insurance. And a bit of stature in my family. (Scarily) my career is something they brag about now. Hell, I say take advantage of being away from it. I think it's great that you'll be working on clean aquatic energy this summer--sounds super innovative and fulfilling. Explore, grow, flourish."

FR: "I guess my comment on you being a CG nerd was more along the lines that I'm surprised bigger issues beyond the CG don't interest you...it may be that they do, you're just cutting teeth with the CG stuff and applying it later to the larger picture? I just have a hard time personally, with my ever expanding big picture view, of getting inspired or excited by CG affairs."

There is a gauntlet thrown down in that last paragraph that I'm still pondering. Contemplating. Gnawing the edges of (to mix metaphors horribly). And I will get back to it during a later post (maybe much later). But I offer the discussion as an introduction to three things that are tangentially associated with my relationship with the Coast Guard.

First, I watched Disney's movie Oceans this weekend. I like movies, but I don't generally have strong feelings about them one way or another (well, besides the Pirates series...can't wait for May 20!). Oceans is different. I actually bought it (usually I figure, why bother...I've seen a movie once, I know what happens, and if I really want to see it again, I can get it from Netflix). Amazing photography. Like mind-blowingly amazing. I never realized just how large those humpback whales were until I saw the size of the photographer in the water next to the whale. The narrative is moving, but not overly emotional and (thank goodness) doesn't anthropomorphize the aquatic wildlife too much.

My favorite scene: I can't decide between a couple...
--the feasting scene towards the beginning when the cormorants are dive bombing a school of sardines, and the sharks are attacking from underneath, and it's like a fierce World War II battle scene.
--the footage of the humpback whales creating a mass of air bubbles to trap and stun fish in Alaskan waters. Half a dozen to a dozen whales all broaching at the same time, snouts come shooting out of the water almost simultaneously with snow-covered mountains and rocky shorelines in the background.
--watching the two ships get the snot kicked out of them in rough water. One is a Navy ship, and the other is some sort of commercial vessel, probably fishing, maybe 250 feet long. Don't know why that series tickles me so much, but it does.
--the leafy sea dragon...I love the graceful fronds this creature sports, and the fact that it just has these leettle-beetty fins to move it around. You really have to look to see its method of propulsion.

Tangent: I like the fact that my organization helps to protect these amazing and wondrous beings.

Second, my foster dogs. I signed up to foster animals through Operation Noble Foster. I'm still holding to the mindset that I don't want to take on full, lifelong responsibility for any more pets until I'm out of the Coast Guard and not getting underway, but I've really missed having a wagging tail and slobbering doggie kisses greet me when I get home. So back in January, I got a call from a lady in the Air National Guard who had two weeks before she was getting sent off for two months of training in preparation for a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. Two weeks to get all your affairs in order to leave for eight months...guh, what a PITA.

So, I am fostering her two Italian greyhounds, Bella and Pepe. She was a little hesitant to pass them off to someone else, I think because they're a little high-maintenance (I say as they're passed out on the couch next to me, snuggled into their blanket). Pepe has a Napoleanic complex...you know, small man's syndrome. He gets a little lippy/growly when he thinks he's being disrespected. But he's eight pounds, so I only take him so seriously.

I don't help the situation with him when I take funny pictures of him like this, so zonked that he's sleeping with his tongue sticking out.

And Bella looks particularly regal in this photo. She's a sweetheart, but is more impish than you'd expect. I'm very glad that I finally got the backyard fence repaired so there is no more sneaking through holes to go exploring the neighborhood. Mostly 'cause she's FAST!! It's fun watching her sprint from one end of the yard to the other at full speed. I just wish she'd stay out of the damn garden beds :0 I think once the plants get a little bigger she'll be less inclined to try to sail over the width of the bed in one leap.

So I get to have my cake and eat it too with fostering. I get temporary pets that I enjoy for a defined period of time, and help out someone who needs to focus on something besides whether their pets are being well taken care of while they're away. I wish I had known about Operation Noble Foster that first tour on BOUTWELL. Would have made things a lot easier for me and my cats. And neighbors.

Tangent: the whole helping out a fellow military-deployable member, while also satisfying my own preference for having pets in the house.

Third: I discovered mud runs, which are basically trail races with a bunch of man-made obstacles mixed in. A while back, my uncle Steve told me me about the Tough Mudder race, and suggested we should roust up a team and train for it. Looked like fun from the pictures, but I thought 10 miles might be a little much to start with. So I found a 5K mud run close by his house that we signed up for. 

Uncle Steve, Aunt Jan, Judy and me at the finish line
Weekend before last, four of us ran the Rugged Maniac in Asheboro, NC. I have to give my fellow teammates total props...Jan is the youngest of the three of them, and she's older than me by a couple decades. I thought I was a bad-ass, but they put me to shame! We all finished, tired, dirty and thrilled to have gotten through the barbed-wire mud pits, over the fire jumps, across the plank and down the slide into the mud pool. I felt like a heel for leaving my teammates as they slowed down and started to walk (some of them). They told me to go ahead and run my own race, and I did, but it doesn't mean I felt good about that part of it.

It was SO MUCH FUN!! I wanna do another one, maybe a 10k later this fall before tackling the 10 mile Tough Mudder next year, and maybe a half marathon one after that. I was telling a friend who is also a runner about it, and he said that his running group was getting bored with just running. Ex-ACT-ly! I like to run, but the obstacles provide more of a challenge, and the mud...well, that's just fun.

I did have to laugh at the poor girl in my heat who cut me off, nearly tripping me, to get from the middle of the course where it was really muddy (like suck-your-shoes-off muddy) over to the side where it was drier and a little cleaner. Seriously?!? My philosophy...gonna get dirty, might as well enjoy it, even revel in it!

Tangent: fitness is important in the Coast Guard, and I found something to help me stay fit. Oh, and the team-work aspect of the race was pretty cool, too. Almost had to be Spiderman to get over the seven-foot walls without a leg up from one of the other participants. A lot of people ran in teams.

Maybe I just wrote this post to prove to myself that I am more than just my Coast Guard persona.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Garden

I start a lot of projects that I don't always necessarily finish. I never did get my loom set up to weave on almost two years ago when I settled into Hilo. I've still got the bag of Grandpa's ties, but it's been moved out the the backyard shed...I'll get to 'em one day. The shed is a project in and of itself. I've got grand plans for it to be an organized, useful space, with tools in their proper places and maybe even a handy ramp so I can store the Old Man out there during the winter. Right now it's a disaster of about a dozen bags of random stuff that need to go to the thrift store, piles of cardboard and packing paper from the move, garden tools strewn about, and my bicycle right in the middle of it all.

But the shed will hang on for a little bit longer until I can get to organizing it. The garden, however, just *could NOT* wait. Spring is springing, for heaven's sake, and I didn't want to miss my planting window!

Now despite having an advanced degree in horticulture, I haven't ever really had my own garden. Well, I take that back. I had one over ten years ago when I lived in Southwest Virginia, but I was very busy with overworking myself at my poorly paid job, and wasn't able to give it the attention and resources it needed. And I'm kinda intimidated by a garden...I suspect I might have a black thumb, or at least a brown thumb. I highly doubt it's green, or even pond scum brown (that disgusting mix of green and brown that my homemade smoothies so often resemble).

This year, I'm gonna put it to the test, though. I've got a wonderful flat and sunny yard (with too much grass to mow anyway). And the resources (i.e., disposable income) to buy stuff for the garden. So this weekend, I went to work.

I got nine 2x10x8's for three beds (cut one in half for the ends of each bed), a load of (free!!) mulch from the City of Brentwood (just had to load it up myself = good exercise), three cubic yards of topsoil and compost from Denchfield Nursery (delivered for free!!), six types of greens and four herb starts from the Takoma Park Farmer's Market, and *too* many seed packets from Seed Savers Exchange (I can save what I don't plant for next year, right? And I'm gonna split 'em with my sister.).

Friday night saw me outside cutting boards and arranging the beds, cussing a little over stripped out screw heads when I tried to go through knots in the wood. I got two beds built and situated that night before it got too dark to see what I was doing. Underneath the frames is cardboard to keep the grass from coming up through, while still allowing water to drain...that's the theory anyway.

I finished the last frame on Saturday morning. Also on Saturday, the topsoil/compost was delivered. I was super happy that the delivery driver was able to get into the alley out back, maneuver through the tight gate and patient enough to accommodate the dumping truck bed around the dead tree branches that got in his way. He was able to dump the soil about 30 feet away from the beds...just a short jaunt with a handy wheelbarrow. Then started the fun...wheelbarrow load by wheelbarrow load, transferring the soil from the pile into the frames. I got about halfway done with that on Saturday before I just couldn't sling dirt anymore. Oh, and I had a couple of papers to work on too--minor details. You can see the frames about half-full, each with four wheelbarrow loads in them, and the dirt pile top center. Off to the right is the pile of (free!!) mulch.

Sunday morning dawned partly cloudy, with a good chance of rain throughout the day. But I knew if I didn't get the beds done that day, they wouldn't get done for a while due to classes, papers, projects, weekend trips and races. Another four wheelbarrow loads per frame, and I was done with the dirt pile.

Planting was fun. I sectioned each bed into eight squares with some string. And then divided all the greens starts into individual plants. I hope they survive. The roots were so very fragile. But I quickly got them into the bed, and watered everything. I planted collards, arugula (arooooo-gala, Hobbes-style), two kinds of green leaf lettuce, speckled lettuce, red lettuce and cilantro from starts, and swiss chard, sugar snap peas (absolute favorite!!), radishes, spinach and kale from seed.

I've still got nasturtiums, okra, cucumbers, two types of melons, eggplants, green beans, three kinds of peppers, tomatillos and garden huckleberries (couldn't pass up the chance to grow huckleberries) to plant. And blueberries, red and black raspberries and a pawpaw tree to go in the ground also. I think I may be a little ambitious for my first garden. 

Oh, and the herb bed. This is right behind the back door, fairly convenient to the kitchen. My rosemary, chives, oregano and mint all survived the winter. And I added some sage, cilantro (can never have too much cilantro), thyme and chamomile.
Everything has survived so far. I mean it's been a day, so that's a good start, right? I watered this morning before class, and when I came home for lunch, things were looking a little droopy, so I watered again. I haven't figured out a good watering system yet. My rain barrels are fantastic storage for runoff from the roof, but the water is gravity-fed coming out. My interim solution (while I wait for creative inspiration) is to take an empty juice bottle (Trader Joe's Orange-Carrot) and punch holes in the top and one air vent in the bottom and refill it by hand from the rain barrel. Working so far.

I guess one of these days I should mow the grass too. Maybe next weekend.