EOD graduation

EOD graduation
Oct. 20, 2011

Monday, March 25, 2013

Our Senior Airman--First Deployment

Jim has worn camo since I can remember, his military mindset evident in his earliest years. We saw it coming all through his Civil Air Patrol years when he dove into search & rescue missions loaded down with all kinds of mysterious gear and equipment, and moved up the ranks to squadron commander. We loved the glamor of his early days in the Air Force, traveling to Texas to see him graduate from BMT with honors (and spotted armadillos in the wild), Florida for EOD graduation (what a feat! and we picked hermit crabs out of the ocean and bought that wonderful wooden pelican), and Kansas to visit him just because (and bought our first cowboy boots). We missed having Jim at home, but oh what fun it was to follow him to all of those new places! Yes, the expectation of deployment always loomed in the back of our minds, but I always hoped he wouldn't deploy because...well...he was too young!! And the president was working on bringing all our troops home, right? So what would be the point in sending EOD over there when everyone was coming back? Ah, the mindset of a naive and doting mother.

We learned of the impending deployment to Afghanistan in November, sitting with our son on a queen-sized bed in our hotel room in Wichita. I asked him if he was afraid to go, and in true Jim form, his response was, "It's what I signed up to do. It's part of the job." Same thing thousands of other brave young men and women have told their parents over the years, I'm sure. And so we proceeded with that in mind...it's part of the job he has to do. It's an everyday occurrence. No big deal, he'll be gone for six months and come home with lots of cool pictures of a place where, for once, we can't follow.

But it IS a big deal. And it was a big deal when we received this picture of Jim during his pre-deployment training. If you look closely, you can read "A POS" on his chest. "What's 'APOS' mean?' I asked my husband. He stared at me for a moment and then explained that it was our son's blood type. Right there on his chest. As in, "Hello, my name is Jim and I am A Positive." I think that was the moment it hit home for me that this was really happening. My son was going overseas to a place where danger lives right out in the open for all to see, just like his blood type.

He made this armband for me!
We couldn't be at Jim's side when he left, like all of the beautiful family members always are on episodes of Army Wives, gathered together near the plane and handing love notes to those who are deploying. Instead, I was sitting across from my mother at her dining room table, just finishing the wonderful meal she had prepared for me. My phone buzzed in the living room, but I figured whoever it was could wait a bit. Then my mom's phone buzzed. She handed me the phone and told me it sounded like Jim. It WAS Jim, and he said, "Hey, I'm about to head out." Just like that, he was going to leave the safety of American soil. Right then. I'm not sure what I said, something about loving him very much and praying for him continually I think. I managed to hang up before dissolving into tears, and my mom dissolved right along with me. I remembered the moment when Jim left us the first time, and I made it all the way home from dropping him off at the recruiter's office before dissolving. And that time, my mom was there too, holding me in her arms and dissolving right along with me. It seems to be how we roll!
"My son wears camo!" travel mug 
So he's been "over there" for nearly two weeks now. His cell phone is suspended and he hasn't been able to call, but now and then we hear from him via email, or get word from his fiance that he is doing ok. He wrote that he is settling in, that he has adjusted to time changes, and that he hasn't had to eat anything weird yet. He said he has everything he needs. And we have everything we need, too...the knowledge that he is safe and in the center of God's will for his life. That, of course, is the safest place to be, regardless of the location or circumstances.

My prayer is for Jim's safety from head to toe. We would really appreciate it if you would join us in praying for Jim as he comes to mind.

“You’re Already There”
by Casting Crowns

From where I'm standing
Lord, it's so hard for me to see
Where this is going
And where You're leading me
I wish I knew how
All my fears and all my questions
Are gonna play out
In a world I can't control

From where You're standing
Lord, You see a grand design
That You imagined
When You breathed me into life
And all the chaos
Comes together in Your hands
Like a masterpiece
Of Your picture perfect plan

One day I'll stand before You
And look back on the life I've lived
I can't wait to enjoy the view
And see how all the pieces fit

You're already there
You're already there
When I'm lost in the mystery
To You my future is a memory
Cause You're already there
You're already there
Standing at the end of my life
Waiting on the other side
And You're already there
You're already there

Monday, April 30, 2012

A B C's of handling hurtful people

Wow, I didn't realize how long it's been since I posted on my blog. Susan must be very disappointed in me. Well, if she says anything about it, I'll remind her that it's been quite awhile since I've read anything about life in her cubicle...and her cubicle life has become a lot more exciting, interesting, fun, and fulfilling lately!

Yesterday was a Sunday of beauty from start to finish. It was one of those cloudless blue-sky days--you just want to take pictures, just to take pictures! It was the perfect backdrop to Nanny's first outing away from the nursing home. (She suffered a stroke on March 17, but has recovered to the point of walking with a walker and has her speech back...just spending a few more weeks in an assistance facility for a little more PT, OT, and ST. ) 

Before we even left home yesterday morning, Nanny texted Steve that she was ready to go and was waiting for us in the reception area. We chuckled at that...clearly, she couldn't wait for some time on the outside! We picked her up and set off for the lengthy drive to her church. She surprised her church family, and they were very welcoming of her and of Steve and me since it was our first time there. It's a really small church, but well organized and they clearly love the Lord, their work, and each other. It was refreshing to be there and sweet to see everyone greeting Nanny with love and smiles!

After church we went next door to Gordon's (Nanny's choice) for lunch. HUGE salads! I guess Steve's waffles earlier in the day and an appetizer of  lobster bisque filled us up too much because I had to box most of my chef salad, and Steve couldn't finish his wonderful Pittsburgh salad either. (Who knew that a Pittsburgh salad has french fries and steak strips on top? YUM!)

Nanny wanted to go back to our house after that, so she spent the remainder of the day there...successfully navigated the bathroom on her own (twice!), reunited with her computer, held a chinchilla, patted the dogs, napped on the couch, and enjoyed soup and sandwiches with us before heading back to the facility. It was a great day out for her, and encouraging for us because we realized that yes, assisting her when she comes home will be quite doable even in our postage-stamp-sized house.

A crowning touch to the day was a phone call from my mother. Recently our family suffered some cruel words--again--from someone that claims friendship and a shared faith. Not the first time this happened with these people, either. My mom knew we have been struggling with this...it's not fair, they're hypocrites, why don't they leave us alone...that kind of thing. I mean, we're talking about US! We are like the most easy-going people EVER. Who could possibly treat us with such venomous words and spirit, and what right do they have, anyway? Yes, a little pride definitely entered into the picture, I think. So Mom called and shared an amazingly timely message that she had heard from a guest speaker on that beautiful Sunday morning in the Sunday School hour at her church. The A B C's of handling hurtful people! I just have to share them with you in case you, too, have been in a situation like we recently were. I am going to copy these down, carry them in my Bible, maybe write them on my forehead, and hopefully never forget them...especially when I need them...for I surely will need them again, I'm certain. The italics below are my thoughts...and as you can see, the struggle isn't over yet, but I know the truth, and I'm working on it...I'm getting there!

Accept the way they are. You don't have the power to change them. (If only!)
Believe they are valuable to the Lord. *sigh*
Care that their daily needs are met.(Pray for them)
Desire God's best for them (continue to pray for them...ugh! That's hard to do! )
Erase all of their offenses. (But it would be so much more fun to tell my friends what they said!)

Some people are hard to love. Don't retaliate with words and tone such as theirs. Don't lower yourself to their level. * Don't be bitter, be better! *

We didn't get to our own church at all that beautiful Sunday, but the little message above was exactly what we needed that day...and in the week to come...and for the rest of our lives! And before I close...if I have ever offended any of you with my words or attitude, please accept my sincere apology. In the situation we recently suffered through, the words were intentional and they were meant to jab and sting. In my case, I don't mean to offend...it just happens through foot-in-mouth disease! I am sure I have mistakenly hurt some of my dearest friends at some time or another, but none of you have ever retaliated by spewing forth venom, and I thank you for that. I will continue to strive to make my everyday words more like "apples of gold in pictures of silver".  :-)

Friday, November 19, 2010

1st day with Jim

This morning was the airmen's run. It was really cold and my teeth were chattering, but we were lined up to watch. It was irritating because there was a woman who kept getting in front of us, and she was tall! Military personnel would make her move back, and as soon as possible she'd be right back over the line again. :( When the guys ran past, I couldn't pick Jim out--everyone looked the same to me! Gram found him and so did Steve, but both Bri and I missed him even though he apparently was right in front of us. Then they turned around and ran back past AGAIN, and Bri and I still missed him! Good grief! At least his father saw him. I didn't get any photos though. Greg and Ben missed the run completely because of oversleeping!

After the run we collected Greg and Ben, then returned to the parade area to stake a seat in the bleachers. We waited in the cold, on the bleachers, for over 2 hours for the coin ceremony to begin, but it was necessary because a lot of other people did that too in order to be seated where they could see their airman. When Jim's squadron came, they stood directly in front of us. The coin ceremony is where each airman receives a special commemorative coin that signifies he is no longer a trainee, but an official Air Force airman. This was the first time I saw him, but while I was in the gift shop during the waiting period, the rest of the family saw him walk right by our bleachers. He told us later he was walking to the auditorium to practice for the honors ceremony.

After the coin ceremony we were able to down to where Jim was standing, and that was the first time we were able to touch him and speak to him! It was wonderful! From there we went to the honors ceremony, then off to our day together--but we had to stay on base. We went to lunch together at mini mall food court. It was crowded, and we had to split up, but I was able to watch Jim throughout lunch from my vantage point! Next we went to the PX and the Commissary, first time most of us had ever been in those military installations. From there we went to pick up Jim's military photos, but they were closed, so that will be a tomorrow task. We sat and talked with Jim for quite awhile at a picnic table--he wasn't allowed to come to our rooms, but he said he thinks he will be able to do that tomorrow. He isn't allowed to drive, so he asked us to take him to a store where he checked out suitcases, and then it was back to the barracks for him. Bri walked him to his dorm, and then called us to come pick her up where Jim dropped her off. I'm glad she had that opportunity with him.

In the evening we were all pretty exhausted from the emotions of the day, but we enjoyed some pizza (not the best!) together in our room and then played several rounds of Uno before calling it a day. Looking forward to graduation tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jim's Graduation from BMT - Day 1

The day we have been awaiting since Jim left on Sept. 20 has finally arrived! Arrangements all made, the first contingent of Allens is ready to set forth for Texas! I worked until 1:00, then scrambled to do last-minute tasks such as...you know...packing the van, and inconsequential things like that. First contingent is my mom (henceforth known as Grammy here), Greg, and me. We are the wimps who don't want to fly. I mean, really, now that they are doing full body searches before you can board a plane, who needs that?? (Steve has told me what he plans to say when they start searching him, but we'll leave that for another blog far, far away from here)

Greg was a big help packing. He found the bottle of oil Steve made us take along for our poor old 2001 van, in case it gets thirsty along the way. He also remembered a few things that I would have forgotten, being the rather ditzy person that I tend to be in excitable situations. Mom has been indispensable all along the way as well. I'm glad to have them as my travel partners.

We left home around 1:50 PM on Monday, Nov. 15. The GPS, which Gram has named Maggie, guided us expertly. I drove most of the way, but Greg took over when I had a meeting to attend online at 3:00. Around that time we ran into some heavy traffic in MD including major truck traffic, so Greg was happy to give back the steering wheel.

We found a Shoney's at dinner time in VA. Greg had never heard of Shoney's, but Gram and I were familiar with it from our experiences in the South. It was an ok meal. Greg and I were at the buffet at one point and when we came back, our seat was damp. Gram said the waitress had been filling our waters and had made a major spill. I was disappointed that I wasn't seated at the time; I might have ended up with a free dinner (although I guess my clothes would have been uncomfortably damp for the remainder of the trip!)

I wanted to snap pictures of the state signs as we approached them, but Greg was usually driving and refused me this pleasure since he was afraid we'd get annihilated by an 18-wheeler while out of the vehicle. I did get some photos of the traffic and a few water towers along the way.

Around 7:00 in the evening my cell phone rang while I was driving and Greg excitedly announced that it was Jimmy! I practically screamed into the phone at the poor boy because we hadn't heard from him in 4 weeks (other than a few letters during that time). I believe my exact first words to him were, "Hi Jimmy! We're in Virginia! We're in Virginia!" It was great to hear from him, especially on an unprecedented Monday evening. He has always called on Saturdays before that. He told us that it's getting colder and wanted to make sure we were dressed warmly. He also said he needed us to bring $65 because he owes people money. When he left, they told him not to bring more than $20, so I'm not sure who he got the money from or what he needed it for, but his mommy and daddy will supply his needs!

Steve had determined that we would stay in Kingston, TN the first night, and we made it there before 11 PM. It was a welcome sight--and a wonderful place to stay! High ceilings, two rooms in our suite with French doors--very nice. Really comfy beds. We didn't want to get up in the morning! Hence, our 9:30 departure time on Morning 2. The best part of all was that it was a free stay due to Steve's massive number of Holiday Inn Express points gained over the years.

All in all, a four-star first day on the road.

Monday, August 16, 2010

"It was hot today. If I was a chinchilla, my ears would be red!"

I've decided I just have to blog about some of the Allen QOD's (quote of the day). These people who are my family say some pretty funny--odd--interesting things, and I think it's a good idea to preserve their words WITH WITNESSES. That way, down the road, they can never deny what they said! Besides, I could never make up this stuff!

So about the chinchilla thing. We've been hearing a lot about chinchillas lately from Ben. Keep in mind, he's an animal lover. That's why at the tender young age of 14 he is happily working at Lake Tobias Wildlife Park. Since he's only 14 and this is his first year, his working options are limited to the souvenir shop and the petting zoo, but that's ok with him. He is on a first-name basis with the guinea pigs and is a self-proclaimed baby goat protector when the little kids get too aggressive with their attempts to pet the animals gently!

Since a guinea pig can be obtained at Lake Tobias for the low low price of $5, we figured Ben would start asking for one his first week of work. Amazingly, it has taken 4 months before he's asked--but last week he did mention that he has his eye on a guinea pig with black feet. However, this request was short-lived because he started thinking about chinchillas again. He said this week it's either a chinchilla or a monkey. Since I don't like the price tags attached to monkeys OR the care they require, I'm opting for the chinchilla. So let's review what Ben has learned about chinchillas.

  • can live to their 20's
  • multi colors
  • need a fellow chinchilla so they don't get lonely
  • hypoallergenic
  • dust baths rather than water baths
  • can't have the environment overly hot
  • need a place in the cage to hide
  • eat chinchilla chow
  • like to gnaw and have to do it to keep teeth short

We have also viewed Youtube clips of chinchillas getting massages. Then Ben explored Craig's List and found a pair that have to find a new home together--can't be separated. They are five years old. One's a male and one's a female. Makes me wonder how many little chinchillas they've created over the years.

I was looking forward to getting this huge dog kennel out of our front hall now that Lexi has stopped chewing our shoes when we're away, but it looks like it's inevitable--I will have to replace the kennel with a chinchilla habitat. I just hope the chinchillas, being a little bigger, fare better than the hamster we had that got stepped on by accident and was renamed PopEye. Or the hamster that was accidentally left outside in its glass cage and got baked in the sun (that was very sad!) Or the white hamster that disappeared in the drain pipe in the backyard and never came back out (I hope his fate was less traumatic than the sun thing!) Of course, those mishaps occurred ages ago when everyone was a little less responsible. I think the chinchillas will be happy here as long as they can handle the German shepherd drooling at them through their cage bars. That could be a little intimidating day in and day out if you're a fuzzy little fella.

At least Ben hasn't developed a love for reptiles. They do have alligators at Lake Tobias...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Myrtle Beach 2010

Choosing a vacation spot for our family is always a challenge. Four of us like the beach but Steve, who claims to have double, triple, or even quadruple the amount of voting stock as the rest of us, doesn't enjoy being in the sun that much. You will NEVER see him tanning on the beach. Of course, since he had a bout with melanoma last year, one can't blame him too much for being a wet blanket on the beach. At any rate, somehow the rest of us won out this year, and we left for Myrtle Beach on Saturday, July 17 after Ben finished his shift at Lake Tobias.

We arrived on Sunday around 4:00 AM and had some difficulty
finding our unit. We were SO glad to be there at last. We dumped
our stuff and headed for the beach which was just across the street--clearly visible from our windows and balcony. It was still dark when we said hello to the ocean, but no matter! It was great to stay so close to the beach. Ben, of course, made the most of this by hanging out on the balcony at times and calling to passersby on the street, "Hey, which way is the beach?" They had some interesting responses such as "Huh?" "I have no idea." "I think it's over there." (pointing in the complete opposite direction!)

One thing I liked best about our vaca was that we ate out every day and I never had to cook anything more complicated than boxed macaroni and cheese! On Sunday we ate at Phillips Seafood which was a posh dining experience. We ordered a lobster tail for the fellas to try. They did enjoy it, but they decided that $10 sure was a lot to spend on such a small amount of food!

We also enjoyed Ella's and the interesting hush puppies they gave us as appetizers. Great seafood there! One dinner spot we would just as soon forget is the Last Resort. We had heard that the waiters there treated you poorly as part of the experience, and being a sarcastic lot ourselves, that seemed like a fun prospect. There was always a looooong line of folks waiting to get in, and lots of kids in the mix, so we figured we'd try it. It was ok at first--that's our waiter there on the left. He saw that I had a coupon for a free dessert and told me to put it away. When we ordered water all around, he called us cheap! He threw our placemats and napkins at us. That was all well and good. Then we saw that people were wearing these weird paper hats on which their waiters were writing messages. Greg's and Ben's messages weren't too bad. The food was great, but the atmosphere--not so much. We were made painfully aware that not everyone has the same taste when it comes to joking around! Definitely not one of our better choices of a fun way to spend an evening. :(

Of all the great seafood and specialty restaurants, the kids all liked the Wing Express best, of all places! It was a take-out place that supposedly specialized in American, Chinese, and Thai food. I wondered how a place like that could have anything good--but everyone loved what they ordered, especially the wings. They liked the food there so much that we had to order from there again another night! It was nice to be able to eat in the comfort of the condo unit and watch TV over dinner. :)
Perhaps the extreme heat wave had something to do with it, but the water was always a lovely shade of warm! We were in the waves every day but one. Thankfully, no one got crispy this time around, although both Jimmy and I got a bit pink early in the week. Nothing a little aloe gel couldn't control!
We enjoyed a couple of games of mini-golf throughout the week, and of course we had a lovely scorekeeper! I just liked the ambience of the golf courses. You could play at the pirate cove and golf through caves and blue waterfalls, or you could play among large zoo animals. You know how it is...there's a golf establishment on every corner! Playing at night is nice, not only because there is no scorching sun, but you also have
lovely lighting and of course, the palms and other southern flora that I love so much! It matters little who wins the game--although you'd have
a hard time convincing Ben of that!

One evening we went to Planet Hollywood, but didn't want to wait an hour to eat. So we took a look inside, saw the Terminator's outfit and other cool movie props, and then skipped out and spent the evening at Broadway at the Beach which is kind of like a boardwalk away from the beach. Lots of interesting and unique shops there. I think all the kids picked up some $5 sunglasses, with Bri's being the cutest since they were colored like watermelons! We fed the fish, enjoyed $6 milkshakes (they were yummy, but $6??), and viewed Toy Story 3 in 3-D on an Imax screen. Ben especially liked the candy store which had a little bit of everything sugary.

On the way home we navigated through temperatures of 110 degrees at 5:30 PM. Before that we toured the USS North Carolina which was docked in...North Carolina. :) Steve especially enjoyed that side trip. I think it was his favorite part of the week. He's been talking about teak decks, torpedoes, and gun turrets ever since!
Yes, all in all it was a great week. We slept late every day, walked the beach at night, drank sodas like there was no tomorrow, and just generally loved a life of ease! We are thankful to have had the opportunity for a little getaway. It was the highlight of our summer. :)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I really appreciate this rain that we've been getting over the past 48 hours, but of course, being me and with my luck and knack for not paying attention when I should be, the rain has posed a bit of a problem for me. Early Monday morning I had a mountain of laundry to do, and I was very proud of myself for finally getting all the loads done and hung on the lines outside. Then I collected Greg and my mom and we headed off for Harrisburg to run some errands and do a little shopping. Note that it was totally sunny at that time. So we were down there for hours...visited Harrisburg Christian School to drop off used uniform items for the upcoming uniform sale, picked up the big monstrous build-it-yourself dollhouse that is about 1/4 finished and which we donated to HCS last year so the students could use the kit to finish it, but they never did...and then we went swimsuit shopping which is never something to look forward to. Greg found his in 5 minutes. An hour later I was still looking and repeatedly stomping out of the fitting room with another rejected suit! (I did finally find one that was acceptable.)

So anyway, after all of that, we finally head home which is a half-hour away, and Steve texts me and says it's raining at home. I ask him how he knows this. He says he looked out his office window and noticed it was dark up our way, so he went online and checked the Clarks Ferry Bridge traffic cam, and the roads were wet. (How many people do you know who would know to do this?) So with Greg at the wheel we headed for home to try to rescue those clothes, but by then we could see how dark it was getting "up north" ourselves, and I figured we wouldn't make it in time, so I tried calling Ben to tell him to run out and get the clothes off the lines. Couldn't reach him. I knew he was downstairs playing xBox, and since Jim sleeps down there sometimes, the ringer is turned off on that phone extension so it doesn't disturb Jim's beauty sleep. I also couldn't reach Ben on his cell phone because it is malfunctioning, and the new one is on order. But then the light bulb went off, and I thought to call Mike, Ben's xBox buddy. Sure enough, he confirmed that they were playing a game online, so he was able to notify Ben for me. But when we finally got home through the driving rain (with an inexperienced driver at the wheel, no less), we saw that most of the clothes were still on the lines. Ben was only able to get a few items in before the rain hit full force.

That really was quite the rain storm. We had thunder and lightning too, and a barn near our home was struck and went up in flames. We saw this on our way home and it about made my hair stand on end.

So the next day was really humid and soupy and the clothes still didn't dry by evening, so you'd think I would have checked last night's weather expectations to see if more rain was expected. I did not do this. I am not always a fast learner. So all last night and so far this morning, the clothes have enjoyed a second soaking. :( And I guess later today I will enjoy bringing in dripping clothes to re-wash them. Lots of dripping clothes. I can hardly wait for that chore.

In the meantime, I am taking Ben to work and going to breakfast at the local coffee house with my mom before she heads for home today. Dripping clothes can wait. Cappuccino and muffins cannot. :)