Death is Never Ordinary

Each of us throughout our lives will lose to death a friend or family member. Death is inevitable. The old axiom that no one gets out of life alive is the absolute truth of the situation. From the very moment we are born we are racing towards our death. Not the best visual, I know, but still true. Yet, even knowing that death is an inevitability we are often caught by surprise. Some folks have a long life, and others are taken much too soon.

poem-of-lifeMy family recently lost a member, my cousin. He was much too young (only 55), and his loss was unexpected. He was my cousin, but also one of my best friends. We did not live in the same state, did not get to see each other very often face-to-face but we talked at least once a week for the last 35+ years on the phone, text, instant messenger or Facebook.  I remember reading a long time ago that a cousin was God’s promise that you would have a friend for life. R has always been the embodiment of that promise. He has always been the best friend a person could have. He was funny, cheerful, loving, irreverent, bawdy, loud, and persistent. God, he was so easy to love.

Oddly, we were not “born” into the same family. I met R while I was a teen, when my aunt married his Dad. I am pretty sure that R never met a person he could not get along with. It always amazed me how he could pull the most reticent person into a conversation and get them to laugh. The most outrageous things would come out of his mouth at times. He told me once that since we were “step-cousin-in-laws” that it was ok to flirt and be bawdy around me. I remember laughing until tears streamed down my face. Like he needed a reason to flirt? Be bawdy? Not ever! Not sure he had any filters – but he was never mean. From the day we met we were family.

tucked-safelyI remember when R was getting ready to propose to his wife, he was so excited. He was so proud on his wedding day. Then the kids started coming along, and with each one that excitement and pride grew in him. R was definitely a family man. And he loved to brag about his kids. Every achievement was proudly proclaimed. I loved listening to him spout off about how wonderful his kids were. Family for R was pretty broadly defined, eventually everyone he met became part of his extended family.

Often very early on a weekend morning, I would login to Facebook and R would be online. He would send me a message “Good Morning Beautiful, what are you doing up this early?”… Which is funny when you consider that my time zone was three hours ahead of his. Did he ever sleep? R and I would talk about everything and nothing at all. His family, mine and our extended family. I read one of the posts in Facebook after his death that said R was the family historian. I find that insightful. He always knew everything going on. A one stop fount of information. I think he had this information because he genuinely cared, and would ask the right questions. I know he always asked about my kids/husband questions that showed he listened to previous conversations and that he was genuinely interested. He will be genuinely missed.

Death hittimelimits hard.  I find myself lost in thoughts about this wonderful man who was taken from us much too soon. I reach for my phone early in the morning to see if he is online so I can tell him some silly story or another. I have lost others, my grandparents, a son, and a few friends to war. So, I know that this dark time will slowly fill with light again.  It just takes time. Even more than 10 years later I still occasionally reach for the phone to call my grandfather to ask his advice or share something special in my life.  Life goes on, and we keep living, sometimes one breath at a time. So, R, my cousin, my friend, I love you and will miss you until the time we meet again, Rest in Peace.

Ordinary Holiday Season

The holidays (Halloween through New Year’s Eve) are traditionally a time to spend with family.  They are a time of giving and sharing. It is also a time of huge commercialism and excess, but that is a story for another day.  Families gather together to eat, catch up and celebrate.

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Family is an interesting concept to this ordinary lady.  Most define family very narrowly as those who share a common ancestry, blood relations, or marriage relations.  32 plus years living and working with the military has changed my definition of family, made it much broader. While I still see family as having a relationship to me through blood or marriage, it is also much more.

Family are the women/men who waited with you for news of our deployed soldiers who are currently under a communication black out. (For those of you non-military types, communication blackouts are not good things. They usually happen as a result of a fatality, or increased hostile presence in an area – which can lead to fatalities. Communication is blacked out until either the hostilities decrease or the next of kin is notified.) Family are the men and women who served down range with you or a spouse.  Family are the folks living in the Government quarters on either side of yours who routinely lend you sugar, watch your kids while you run an errand, or mow the lawn for you while your soldier is deployed.  Family is the single soldier so far from home that he just needs a place to “hang” for a bit and eat a home cooked meal or who spends two weeks in your home taking care of your kids while you finally get an adult vacation. Family is the soldier I never met, whose wife died delivering his twins at the same time I lost my son, whose babies received my expressed breast milk (for months) because it would not dry up and it had to go somewhere.family

Family are those that we share our fears, tears, joys, and lives with, blood related or not.  No matter how you define family, take a moment this holiday season and think about those who cannot spend time with their “families” including military, police, medical services, fire services, etc.  Those folks are out there doing a job that is often thankless. They deserve our respect and remembrance that they are working and away from family so we can spend time with our families. fireman-christmasremember

The holidays are a time of celebration. Many cultures during this time of the year celebrate a specific holiday such as Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, and Kwanzaa (just to name a few). These holidays have a variety of similarities (families gathering, food consuming, and gift giving/receiving) and a variety of differences or practices.  This ordinary lady is utterly fascinated by the different celebrations. All so similar and yet so different from how I was raised. Yet, each is spectacular in their own right.

Through the military, I was given the opportunity to learn about different cultures up close and personal.  Variations in holiday celebrations are always so fun. Over the years bits and pieces of different traditions have found their way into our own family celebrations. I believe this has enriched our own traditions.  Never at any time have I ever feel offended by someone else’s beliefs or traditions. Instead, I have always felt flattered that others wanted to share their traditions with me.  I know that I do not have to believe the same as someone else to have RESPECT for their traditions. How did we get to this place where everyone is offended by everything?

This “offended” attitude is very clear especially in the various holiday greetings. I cannot image why someone would be offended by a sincere greeting of “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” even if you are not Christian or Jewish. The greeting “Happy Holidays” is bound to start offending some folks soon, then what do we do? Bah, it is all nonsense. If you are offended, then just be offended, quietly! Last time I checked no one has died of feeling offended.offended

So I say to everyone, try to practice tolerance of the beliefs of others, suspend your need to be offended that others have different beliefs. Say, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah,  Merry Yuletide,  Feliz Navidad, Fröhliche Weihnachten, joyeux Noël, Mele Kalikimaka or any appropriate greeting, not to offend others but as a sincere desire for others to be happy.  I promise that I will not be offended by any holiday greetings given to me.

May you all find JOY in this holiday season!

Ordinary Change

I think it is human nature to develop a routine then work to stick to that routine.  That we later come back and complain about the routine of it all is also human nature. For myself, I love a good routine.  I really am not a huge fan of constant changes in my routine. Change is hard. Change is distracting.  Change adds fear and uncertainty to this ordinary lady’s life. Change means I need to engage my brain when I really just want to keep on keeping on!  So change sucks all the way around.agstickfigures8

All of that being said, my entire adult life has been dominated by change: active duty Army, wife of an active duty soldier, mother, business major, and the list goes on. Considering how much change bothers me, I am amazed at how adept I have become at dealing with change.  I still whine when something changes but I can deal.

What is it about change that strikes fear into our hearts? For me, the fear is rooted in the uncertainty of the future.  Since I do not know what will happen I do not have any control over the outcome.  Let’s just say I am a bit of a control freak, and move on.  Seriously, I need to be the captain of my own fate. If things go wrong in my life it should be my fault, not some elusive change to blame.  It is really hard to maintain my control freak status while standing in a tornado of change all the time but I persevere. I am no quitter!

Actually, because I am not a quitter is probably why I have always managed to deal with change.  Just too stubborn to know when to quit, that is me! Long before Tracy Lawrence sang his “Time Marches On” refrain “The only thing that stays the same is everything changes”, it was evident to me that change is a constant and unavoidable.  I had to learn to deal with change or I was sunk.  Is it wrong that some days I want to be a quitter? Just curl up with a good book, a glass of wine and quit the world and all the messy changes! I guess that is a nice vacation from reality, but not a long-term solution, more’s the pity.

I have discovered there is no shortage of advice on dealing with change, just Google “dealing with change” dealing-with-changeto see. Some of the advice you can find is decent enough, some not so much. Honestly some of the advice is a bit silly like “accept uncertainty”. If it was easy to accept uncertainty we would not be afraid of change! Or “create a mental script to help reassure yourself” really? I am pretty sure I talk to myself enough now and if I start answering myself the men in the little white coats are sure to make an appearance.littlewhitecoats

The best advice I ever got about dealing with change was from my grandmother what seems a lifetime ago (I was about 14). She told me to let myself feel whatever it is the change is making me feel (angry, sad, scared, glad, etc.) but don’t let feeling those emotions stop me from succeeding. Being successful is not emotionless, it is about accomplishing a goal in spite of the emotions or because of them. She also said that change, especially big changes will make us want to hide from our emotions and the changes but that would be counterproductive. Tackle the biggest, hardest tasks first so that the smaller easy tasks are a reward as we move through change. Never give up. Grandpa was a bit less wordy, he said, just get it done girl, get it over with and be done!  I miss grandma and grandpa every day.

Change is hard. Change is inevitable. But change is not always bad. I do tend to get stuck more on the bad parts of change instead of the good. However, some of the biggest changes in my life were also the most wonderful things that could have happened to me. My family (husband and kids), all three are never-ending sources of change and disruptions to my life. Yet all three have brought me the most joy in my life.  My career is a source of near constant change and yet is immensely satisfying.

I never planned the path I am on, change brought me to this path.  While I will never be completely comfortable with change, I am willing to keep embracing the changes. That really is the key for this ordinary lady, be willing to embrace the changes. Sure, I will whine, get frustrated, angry, annoyed or pissy when a new change comes around but once that five minutes is over I will move forward and get it done! You do not have to like change to live with it.

Ordinary Veterans Day

fb_img_1464382185932A short message from an ordinary lady who is a veteran and is married to a veteran. Today is Veterans Day. A day established to commemorate all US veterans and victims of all wars. Originally called Armistice Day which marked the end of hostilities of WW1 that occurred at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month. This day is celebrated on the anniversary of that end on November 11th.

I would like to thank all those who are serving or have served in the military, past and present. Your sacrifice has not gone unnoticed though at times it seems that way. Know in your hearts that many people support and appreciate all you have done or will do.  Thank you for your service.fb_img_1464392643289

I would also like to thank the families of all our services members. The mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, sons, and daughters of all who have served or are serving, I thank you all for your sacrifices as well.  For all the “important” dates you have spent without your soldier, sailor, airman or marine, I thank you. Being left behind can be even more thankless than those that are wearing a uniform.  Your sacrifice has allowed our veterans to do their jobs and invaluable task. fb_img_1464640977105Thank you for your service.

To all those who are not personally touched by military service, spend a few minutes today and reflect on what your lives would be like if not for our service members, past and present.  If you see a veteran today let them know that you appreciate them even if it is only with a smile.

Happy Veterans Day!

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Ordinary Boredom

I believe that at times we all get annoyed with the sameness of our days.  We get bored. Then we treat boredom as if is a flaw in our lives. At which point, we immediately set out to fix the flaw by filling our time with work, hobbies, etc.   Why is boredom a flaw?bored-smiley

Ordinary people live ordinary lives that are sometimes boring or at least not exciting.  I am not sure when the culture developed that we need to be entertained 24/7.  Why does an ordinary life need shaking up? This ordinary lady’s life is routine, now. I get up in the morning, get dressed, go to work, come home, eat dinner, go to bed, and start over the next day.  I entertainmeknow it sounds boring, right?  However, I am seldom truly bored.

It has only been in the last few years (since I became an empty nester) that I have been able to embrace a routine. I have embraced my routine as the gift it truly is in my life. I was a stay at home mom until both boys were in school full-time. Then until they were in high school I only worked the hours they were in school.  Young kids make creating and sticking to a solid routine difficult. Back then, I never had time to be bored! Kids always have something that needs doing inside and outside of the house.  I used to pray for boredom.

Now, I love the quiet moments that I did not have in the past. My down time is truly mine for the first time in a very long time. I have learned to live inside my own head and to appreciate down time. Therefore, I am not bored.

I read an article about boredom recently that made me smile. The author’s message really resonated for me. The article is entitled: “Boredom is not a problem to be solved. It’s the last privilege of a free mind” by Gayatri Devi.  Devi says to embrace your boredom, let it teach you about yourself and the world:

       So lean in to boredom, into that intense experience of time untouched by beauty, pleasure, comfort and all other temporal salubrious sensations. Observe it, how your mind responds to boredom, what you feel and think when you get bored. This form of metathinking can help you overcome your boredom, and learn about yourself and the world in the process.

Devi’s advice seems so simple – embrace the boredom and figure out what effect feeling bored has on you. How do you feel or think when you believe you are bored. An adult might find this challenging but not necessarily impossible. The tough part is getting out of our own way to embrace the bored. For myself, I love embracing that down time and just living inside my own head, letting thought just flow away. As a parent, I could only wish my kids had this freedom.

So, how do we teach kids to deal with boredom? I know with my boys that it was muchkeeping-busy easier to fill those “bored” moments with tasks such as cleaning, coloring, cooking, or reading. Busy was just much easier than bored as a parent.  Whom am I kidding? Busy is safer! The amazing thing to me is that kids today have so much more than I had when I was a kid. They have masses of technology driven, mind numbing, time-wasting bits of drivel to fill their lives. I had the outdoors and a garden hose! Yet, I hear constantly the “I am bored” refrain from a “kids” young and old everywhere I go.

One of my friends had a fantastic response to his son’s “I’m bored” comment. He said, “How can you be bored when you essentially have the knowledge of the whole world in your hand in the form of a cell phone?” While his son did not appreciate the response, I certainly did. With a phone in your hands, you have games, books, magazines, newspapers, etc. Truly enough technology to keep anyone busy, yet it never seems like enough.

technologyoverloadSo why are kids, young and old, more “bored” now than in the past? I am not sure there is a clear way to answer this question. This ordinary lady thinks it is because everything is too easy now. We “have the world” in our hands and do not need to work as hard to accomplish or know things. Therefore, we do not appreciate our down time the way we used to.  This generation is about instant gratification, which we will not find by embracing boredom.  I say embrace the boredom. Our busy technology driven lives are not making us happier or healthier.  So slowdown from occasionally and let your brain shut down.  It certainly could not hurt!

Ordinary Water Curse

Government quarters are not without their challenges. The biggest challenges I faced as a dependent spouse always happened during one of my husband’s deployments.  This ordinary lady faced many cursed quarters moments over the years. This blog is about the water curse deployment.  I spent a great deal of time actually cursing during this curse.  I look back now and laugh. Back then, it was not that funny. Ok, it was somewhat funny then too. It is always better to laugh than cry! Choose laughter my friends!

The deployment started out normal enough. We said good-bye to our soldier and started the fun adjustment time of moving from a two-parent family to a single parent family. Not sure what trespass I committed, only there must have been one.  A couple of weeks in, I was going through the normal nighttime take a bath/shower routine (ok, fight) with my two boys. It was while the second child was in the shower that I went into the downstairs powder room.

drowning-bathroomIt was raining in the powder room. Water was pouring in through the wall, the ceiling, the vent, and the light fixture. I immediately called in a work order. Calling in a work order for government quarters is  like calling the maintenance folks in an apartment only less reliable. I ended up calling in a work order repeatedly. I came to realize that the water raining into the powder room was from a burst pipe inside the walls taking. This broken pipe was moving the wastewater out of the shower and sink upstairs. So a little over four weeks and about 100 showers later, someone finally showed up to look at the “leak”.  He had the nerve to tell me I should have called the issue in sooner! As if! GRRRRRRRRRRangry-face

Understand that our quarters only had two bathrooms, the powder room on the first floor and the full bath on the second. We had no choice but to use the one and only shower. I suppose we could have avoided showering, used the kitchen sink to clean up? No that is just gross. Therefore, for weeks it rained in the powder room.  Every night after shower time, I washed all our towels so we would have dry towels for the next mop up job.  The powder room was a total loss. The wood cabinet was beyond salvaging, the lights were water logged, and the floor warped.  It took two full days to repair it all.  No water at all in our home for those two days.  I took us to a hotel during the repairs.

Three weeks later, our dishwasher filled the kitchen, powder room, and some of the living room with water. After mopping up, I again called in a work order and proceeded to wait for a response.  At least I could avoid using a dishwasher. I did dishes by hand for about two weeks while waiting for a new dishwasher.

hotwater-heaterA few more weeks later, the bottom fell out of the hot water heater. I kid you not! The whole bottom just rusted all the way around dropping the bottom to the ground. Thankfully, the hot water heater was not in the house, but in a small shed just outside the kitchen door.  It was nearly six weeks before we were the proud recipients of a new water heater.  Six weeks of cold showers, cold-water cold-showerlaundry, and dishes.  The shed thankfully survived, mostly because of the two-inch gap between the walls and the concrete floor. The plants on that side of the house really thrived. I guess they liked a constant supply of water. I had no way to shut off the water trying to go to the water heater without shutting off the whole supply to the house! Who comes up with these freaking designs?

The final straw was the garden hose. Yes, I still had to water the plants on the other side of the house. I was using the hose watering plants and trees when it failed spectacularly. I was drenched. I think I stood there a few seconds sort of stunned speechless. Then I burst into tears and the cursing commenced. I gathered up the hose and tossed it into the dumpster. I was done with water. The plants could survive or not on their own.

For months, I managed to hold on to my sanity (if not my temper or sense of humor) through one water-based crisis after another. Not exactly positive about what finally appeased the curse, but for these small things, I am grateful! An ordinary year made extraordinary by a water curse. Building memories that still can make me laugh aloud at a sequence of very water full events.

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Ordinary Military Base Housing

Living on a military base meant creative solutions to many ordinary home comfort decisions. Ordinary families personalize their homes, both inside and out. This personalization may include painting walls, unique lighting fixtures, fancy faucets/fixtures, furniture, appliances, and landscaping projects or gardening. The changes we make to our homes can be dramatic or barely noticeable yet each change adds a particular style or flair. More importantly, each change helps create that sense of home.  Military families are usually living away from their extended families. So building that sense of home on a military base is vital.

Most home comfort choices are severely limited while living in government quarters. Housing offices on military bases have more rules than even the most stringent Home Owners Associations (HOA).  While changes are possible to the interior of government quarters, all must be undone when moving out. Everything painted or changed most go back to the original. Have you ever tried to cover a bright “impact” wall paint with cheap flat white paint? Have you tried to remove wall decals or wall boarder without tearing the dry wall? Exhausting!  Since military families rarely live in the same area more than three years, changing then undoing changes is time-consuming and pricy.

I have painted walls, put up boarders, changed small fixtures in government quarters. Then, I have fought the inspector when out-processing from those quarters. It can be absurd to argue over the exact shade of flat white put back on the walls. Nevertheless, I have had that argument. I have filled holes in walls with everything from newspaper and spackle to toothpaste to cover damage from a door handle banging into the walls (kids are great!). Holes I am positive where there and poorly repaired from the previous occupant. Hey, pay it forward. If the doors came with a stop to prevent wall damage before we arrived this whole process might have been avoided.  Nope, nothing is that easy.

After a time I learned a few tricks to personalizing the interior of our home without wallblanketruining the walls or creating tons of work to move out.  I would add color to walls by using large hanging blankets. This was a twofold benefit, changing out bright colors are as easy as putting up a new blanket, and a muffling of sound between the walls where the blanket hangs is a huge plus.   Put up wall boarders or wall decals using adhesive putty. Removal is easy and clean! A twin/full size flat sheet is a wonderful canvas for hanging posters, pictures, etc. Simply tack the sheet up high on the wall then use straight pins or safety pins to add items to the sheet. The sheet allows much more room than the average corkboard for displaying a variety of keepsakes, a perfect solution for a teen’s room.

flowerbarrelPersonalizing exteriors spaces on a military base has its own set of challenges. No digging allowed was a familiar refrain on most military bases. The solution is container gardens. We used a variety of containers including five-gallon buckets, whiskey barrels halves, and kiddie swimming pools. I am always amazed at the variety of herbs, vegetables, and flowers that thrive in a container garden. My husband has the proverbial green thumb. He would plant tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, corn, carrots, peas, green beans, squash, pumpkins, watermelons, and a variety of herbs. All in some type of container, a favorite was the small plastic kiddie pools.kiddiepoolgarden

One of my favorite memories of our military time revolves around our container gardens. When our boys were very young they used to snitch vegetables out of the garden. No shame at all, both boys when asked if they had been eating out of the garden would immediately respond NO! Never mind that both wore the evidence.  They pulled up any root vegetables, wiped the dirt on their leg, or arm, or chest and commenced eating. Stripes of dirt and flecks of plant matter decorating little bodies.  I am positive that we never had a carrot that grew longer than a thumb. Tomatoes rarely had time to turn red. Bell peppers, jalapeño’s, snacked on long before picking size. Even the herbs were graze worthy. Honestly, the only crop not pulled up and eaten before it was mature was the pumpkins.  The pumpkins only made it because they were for pie. No Jack-o-lanterns for us, pumpkins equaled pie, conversation over.pie

We fashioned our home in a variety of government quarters during our 26 years with the Army. Inside and out we made small changes to each set of quarters that provided comfort and personalization. Our ordinary lives grew and thrived.  Memories to cherish built with each change. Most important this ordinary lady learned that home really IS where the heart is, and that my heart is with my family. Building a comfortable living space in temporary quarters is easier knowing that.