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Monday, December 6, 2010

A poem for my military girlfriends XOXOX

I wrote a little poem for all my military girls who have spent a Christmas without their sweetheart. Mine will be here this year, but I know not everyone's will. I love you all.Stay strong. Have a wonderful holiday.For all my other friends, remember the sacrifices your military families make and thank the Lord that your husband will be right next to you stuffing stockings this year!

Twas the night before Christmas
and all through the base
There were daddies gone missing
with mom in his place
The stockings were hung, the care package sent
to a barracks, a warehouse or a dusty old tent

The kiddies were sleeping, like they always do
The spirit of Christmas is hers to pursue
She bakes for the classroom, she shops all alone
She makes Christmas special, she waits by the phone

or she packs up the car, heads out on her own
with kids and the dog she is headed for home
To share her burden with family so dear
She drives through the snow praying all roads stay clear

And what to her wondering eyes should appear?
Her sweetheart on skype to calm all her fears
A gift under the tree that he sent while she drove
Knowing the love that he took when he chose

So she smiles Christmas morning as the gifts get unwrapped
The ham's in the oven, the wine bottle tapped
But she feels to her core the empty chair in her sight
Merry Christmas my love, may you have a safe night.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

on Christmas

We are getting the house ready for Christmas. This is always a time of reflection for me. I had a good childhood. Christmas was special. My mom didn't work when I was little. My dad was low seniority at FORD. We suffered our strikes and lay offs and had our fat periods when the overtime was plentiful. He usually didn't take a lot on in the way of overtime. He worked hard for his family, but he didn't want to make it all in vain by being one of those men that put in 60 hours a week and never saw his family. Christmas was about family and kids and God. We weren't spoiled, but they made sure they budgeted a nice showing under the tree. One year we all came down to brand new bicycles. Not, however, spoiled to the extent that I spoil my own. Sometimes I think I do that because of the moving and the separation from Grandparents and feeling some pathetic need to make up for it with lots of presents. Especially if daddy is deployed which has happened with three of our 10 Christmases together.

The last three Christmases have been rough. No daddy, daddy sitting in ICU with Grandma who stroked out in our living room on Dec.22, and no daddy again. This Christmas we will be together, crossing our fingers that our eldest boy makes it on that rotator. Did I overspend? Oh yes. Is that what it is all about? no. We teach our children about Christ's birth. We light the advent candles. We read to them and we have the nativity scene and the advent calendar. We take them to church, we pray with them. We do try to teach them the true meaning while also feeding into the commercial mayhem.Being in a Muslim country is just a reminder that we need to remember what it is all about.

A lot of people who are Christians can tell you the moment they "came to Christ". The stories can be moving and inspirational and sometimes peppered with tragedy. Honestly, I can't tell you the moment. I was brought to Christ from the cradle. I always believed. My parents have swayed back and forth with the church attendance like many of us do.They never swayed in their faith, at least not so that I noticed. We always knew, though, about God and his sacrifice. My parents were raised in West Virginia in those kind of churches you read about. Hopping up and down, can I get an AMEN,speaking in tongues? In adulthood my dad went back to his ethnic roots and joined the Roman Catholic church. My mom stayed protestant. I converted to Episcopalian when I married Bob.The truth is that worship styles are different and the cross on the altar may be different. However, the messages have all been about the same.The principles all solid.

Someone heard "the call" at the foot of my grandmother's grave. A person that my grandmother had ministered to by word and deed her whole life. As she stood there at my grandmother's funeral, she knew that her time was up. The little angel that had prodded and encouraged her was gone and she had to act.She approached the minister and told him that she wanted to be baptized. She wanted to show Brizie that she was listening and that she had finally gotten through. So my aunt and mom ran up to the house and got some spare clothes and everyone stayed and lingered. The preacher said that some might feel it was inappropriate to have the baptism right there in the creek near Brizie's grave, but he knows it is what she would have wanted. We all knew it, too. So the funeral goers sang and rejoiced and they brought my grandmother's old friend into the church family. She came to Christ right there in that muddy creek, right where Brizie knew she belonged. It was moving. It is like that for some people, the epiphany.

All I know is that faith was a gift given to me as a small child.It was a gift from my dear mother and her mother. It is a gift I will re-gift to my own. It is why we put up the tree and get the gifts and bake the cookies and color the eggs. I listen to my husband telling my kids stories from the bible and it makes me proud of him.I have watched him pray over his sick mother. He came to my child bed with his Eucharistic minister kit and gave me communion and read to me while I recovered. I think Brizie would have approved of my sweetheart.

So here in Bahrain, my children continue to learn about Christmas. Closer to his birthplace then they may ever be again.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Culture Shock... from my home to yours.

Moving is always an adventure. There are always adjustments. You learn to adapt. Unlike traveling, which is a temporary condition, your changes are long term, involving years instead of days.It was OK that in England you couldn't get warm water, only cold and hot, because each has it's own faucet. It was temporary and kind of charming in that scalding your hands kind of way. Driving, shopping,cooking,the toilet scene...you just never really know what you are in store for until you are in it.

Japan was yen,left side driving, crazy toilets that were a little better than a hole in the floor or technical,mechanical wonders for toilet seats with 15 settings (depending on where you are). Oh, and pushing...that's right, pushing. It is okay to gently nudge the back of someone when moving through a crowd. I found it annoying at first, but then realized that everyone around me was doing it to each other. It was just the thing they do, nothing personal and no aggressive intent. They liked to touch my kids too, Japanese, Thais,and Arabs alike. They feel compelled to touch my kids. A little weird, but I try not to be too neurotic. They just love babies.

There are perks too. Japanese have vending machines everywhere. City, tourist site,shopping areas,rice pattys on the side of the road... there stands a vending machine for your convenience. Vending machines full of delightful drinks both hot and cold. The amazing part is that there is no litter. None. They just wouldn't dream of tossing their trash on the ground. And let us not forget the beer vending machines. Can you imagine that little treasure as a teenager? Good Japanese beer cold and waiting right there in public places. Japanese have the right idea.

Bahrain is a whole different ball game. They litter like fiends. They do have one thing down right. Food delivery is everywhere. From nice Thai and Indian places to McDonalds and Dairy Queen. They all deliver. The driving is a different story. Like pushing in Japan, smashing the shit out of someone's car seems to be an acceptable means of getting your way behind the wheel. Signs, pavement markings,traffic signals, seat belts, and child restraints are all suggestions...for the weak. Everything is Insha'Allah, God's will. Therefore, if you do crash, it was all in the master plan and no one's fault.If your kid goes through the windshield? God's Will. That would be great if us Yanks had a separate set of roadways to drive on, but we don't. So, on your toes behind the wheel at all times. Never drink and drive. You need your wits about you.

Separation of Church and state? Not happening in Bahrain. If you are seen eating or drinking in public during in Ramadan before the sun sets, you can be arrested. Even if you are not Muslim this applies.More likely you are probably going to just be publicly bitched out for being an insensitive Western infidel. Unlike our small towns of America that are under attack for Nativity Scenes in public places and the ACLU working to ban church bells, Bahrain is a Muslim nation. If you forget, wait a couple of hours and the Mosques will start ringing out the call to prayer on every other corner. The American kids at our American DODEA school don't get Easter Sunday off, but The Prophet's birthday instead. Mine get Easter Sunday off, because mine will be in church with their parents that day, but it will be an absence from school.

Now...about the toilets. It is great in the homes. There are more toilets than bedrooms most of the time.None of that weak,water saving flushers either. Whabammy! Good, solid, hope-you-didn't-drop-an-earring-all-drains-lead-to-the-ocean-Finding-Nemo flush! All heads are including either a bidet or a sprayer. You know those sprayers that you find on American kitchen sinks? yes...and high powered. You gotta watch yourself in the summer. The water tanks are exposed on the roof and there is only hot water and hotter water in the summer. No such thing as a cold shower or a cold cycle in the laundry, so keep that in mind before you open up with the sprayer on your behind.The showers aren't enclosed most of the time, either. You are just OUT THERE. The bathroom ends up soaked including that fresh roll of toilet paper you just put out. There are no outlets. Too dangerous with 220V. I found it kind of liberating, though, after a while. I can clean the walls and the floor at the same time as I wash my hair. Just make sure you have a good, solid bath mat. Dangerous business once the wash is over.

Public toilets are a whole other thing. That spraying can get out of hand. Most big places have toilet paper. However, the old school method is the sprayer. So you can walk into a stall and have it soaked down from some over zealous washer. Mix the water on the floor with whatever horrid matter is on the floor of a public toilet and you get the willies even walking in there. One of these days, I am just going to take that sprayer and open fire on the person washing their hands. "That's for wrecking the head jackass!psshhhhhhh." If you are really unlucky, no TP or merely a box of 59 Cent tissues. So you learn to take wipes and TP in your purse.

Grocery shopping is always a little scary at first. Going from English to Metric, Dollars to Dinar, dealing with labels that you can't read. I bought generic pledge the other day. Wait, no I didn't, I bought air freshener! It was next to the pledge, same can shape, I just grabbed it. The sneaky buggers tricked me. So, now I have another air freshener and no furniture polish. That's OK though, It actually humored me a little when I started spraying it on the table and it immediately evaporated. Took me a second to figure it out and I had to chuckle at myself. It plainly said air freshener on the can amidst all the Arabic writing.

Negotiating. Nothing is negotiable in Japan. Fixed prices with none of the "screw the gringo" type behavior. Bahrain, everything is negotiable. Negotiating is not my forte. I stink at it, they smell my weakness. You have to do it, though. They really are charging you more than a local to see if you will pay it. They expect a little haggling. One of the great lines from the movie A Christmas Story is "my old man loved to bargain like an Arab trader". I never fully understood that line until now.

It may sound like I am complaining. I am and I am not. I know from experience that some of these funny little cultural differences will be looked back on with laughter and fondness. It is the craziness that makes it an adventure. You learn to roll with it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It's the Great, Ugly, Warty,Speckled Pumpkin Charlie Brown!

Autumn has come to Bahrain. The temperature is in the mid-90's instead of over 100, so life is a little easier. Nothing makes you more homesick than when the season changes...and nothing changes. I am having fun meeting new friends and getting to know the island. It is fun to swap ideas about what to do for the kids to make life a little more "normal" for them. Since we are not in a culture that celebrates All Saints Day, it makes sense that they also have no All Hallows Eve. You can go into the grocery stores that service a lot of ex-pats, but supplies are limited. A real honest to goodness pumpkin will run you about $32.00. So, we improvise with some ugly step-sisters to the pumpkin.Warty gourd-like pumpkins that needs some micro-derm abrasion. We don't have trick or treating, but the kids will have a big hootnanny at the school that will make up for it. We also decorated the house and are planning a family party for daddy when he returns. Costumes, bobbing for apples, scary movies (not that scary), fake vampire teeth,spider rings, the whole thing!

If you are from the farming mid-west or anywhere that has the dramatic season changes, you understand the attraction of Autumn. Sticky summer days replaced with turtlenecks and hot cider. Gorgeous deciduous trees in orange, yellow,green,brown, burgundy. The irresistible need to jump into the leaf pile you just made and wallow around like a pig in mud. Bond fires, hay rides, corn mazes, and trips to the pumpkin patch. Not unlike the hunt for the perfect tree, hunting down that perfect pumpkin takes both speed and a sharp eye. One pumpkin farm did a lump sum all you can carry. you had to be able to walk three steps. These are the moments that you are glad that your husband's nickname in Officer's Candidate School was "pack mule". He was a wonder to behold and they lost money on the Reynolds family that day...I assure you!

Another past time is the haunted house. I can tell you that as I have aged, and the lawyers have gotten a foothold in our country, the haunted houses are not nearly as cool or scary. However, those rules get checked at the gate when you let the Single Marine Program run the haunted house. It is was a fundraiser for them in Japan. They made sure that they earned their pay by giving you the haunted house that they would want themselves. My preteen kids were traumatized and screaming to go again the next night! The ones on Marine bases have "kid hours" and adult hours. The adult hours they scare the crap out of you. No one can sneak up on you and put the fear of God into you better than a painted infantry man. So, I will miss Halloween at home this year. I will miss the Fall in it's entirety. It will be challenging and fun,however, to form memories for my kids of how their Yankee mother saved Halloween and Christmas in Saladin's Court. Ooh-rah.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A stranger in a familiar land

I have been thinking a lot lately. That is dangerous business. It happens when you move on. The OWC has a motto of sorts at Lejeune and other places too, probably. "Bloom where you are planted". I like it. It comes with a strange perspective. Some people never move. They stay put in their home towns. They marry and have kids and see their parents every weekend. As much as I love my life, I envy them that. Not everyone would agree, depending on the parents they got landed with, I suppose.

I do get a different view of things. It is strange to go home and see nieces and nephews that were in diapers when you left running around talking and having opinions. You are that weird aunt that sends stuff from different countries come to kick them out of their beds for a few days. You have to warm back up to them from months or even years of absence.

You come into town and are hit with the extent your parents are aging. Not seeing them every week, but twice a year, you see it. You feel a pang of guilt. When sister is having sleepovers with mom and the grandkids, you don't get to go. You also don't get to help her catch up the cleaning and the mowing of 16 acres.You try to squeeze in visiting and helping into too short of a time frame. You don't get to be there for the "little surgeries" only the big ones. You get the big stories relayed, the big illnesses, big scandals, big memories. But there are small ones, small moments and little good times and bad that you miss and you never knew you missed them. You are stuck between belonging and being a stranger in your own family.

I have grown so independent and so self-sufficient that it is strange to go back into my parents house and just be able to relax. To not be in charge all the time, like I must be in my own home, is foreign. Having a traveling husband back and forth to war, you just learn to control everything yourself. It is how you mentally survive being in charge of the cubs when papa bear is away. It is hard to shelve that instinct and just sit back and let go. I do know that going home is like a balm, even if the balm stings a little at first. All the stressors and minor crisis and tears and responsibility that weighed on my shoulders since the last 6 months gets sloughed away, even with my resistance. I think that I am blessed to have such a home to go to( fully knowing that not everyone does). I have great in-laws and a family that would put the Ingalls to shame. Now that my oldest are in the military, I think about retirement. Making a homestead for the future with extra beds for visitors. I hope I can do it as well as my mother and my sister and my in-laws have done.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Military Wife

I had a lovely play date for moms and kids today at my friend's pool. It got my mind working so I thought I would blog. I got married when I was thirty. My previous encounters with other women took a standard course. Junior High and High School girls were as torturous as you remember. College roommates were head cases, funny beyond measure, drunk fests and peeing behind bushes that looked WAY bigger the night before (which explains the horns honking). Then came the co-workers. Teachers, female cops, social workers, dispatchers...all quite capable of being good friends (very few),mentors, backstabbers, worst enemies, mother figures, and so on. All things considered I felt my mother, my favorite aunt and my sister to be my only true allies in life. I had a rare few others that I let in regularly. It was just too hard dealing with most women.They made me tired.

This changed dramatically when Bob moved back into active duty status. Newlyweds and a new step mom, off we went to Japan. Since then I have witnessed time and again the true bonds that exist between military wives. They pick up and move, often with less than 2 months to prepare. They gently uproot the kids and pets. Before that they have gone over every school district with a fine tooth comb and repetitively check the housing market and base accommodations. Once they arrive she hunts down a new set of doctors,vet, a new church, a new hair dresser, a new playground, and the exchange or Wal-mart for new curtains, new toilet brushes, a new corkscrew, and new trash cans. She meets the priest, the CO's wife, the principle, the teacher, and the staff at the local Starbucks.

In the midst of unpacking she makes cookies for the new neighbors since they moved into the neighborhood a whole week after her. She offers to watch the new neighbors kids when the moving truck comes. Her husband asks, "what were you thinking? Don't take on so much." She swears to him that this time she is going to take it easy, not volunteer so much. Then comes the PTA, the OWC, and the church and she finds herself on committees that will strategically allow her to poke her head in her child's classroom 3 times a week. She begs donations, makes raffle baskets, makes fliers for chili cook-offs, and types newsletters. People outside of the military ask her why she doesn't work. She just chuckles to herself. They don't get it. They don't need to. She gets it, her husband gets it. Within a year she has settled in with some great ladies, swapped stories, shared wine and coffee and dip recipes. This is what she does, what we do.

I am a new mom. I just can't get the hang of nursing. I am traumatized head to toe from a 3 day labor and staples in my gut. My new friend checks on me. She is a nurse. I have known her about a month. She comes over, takes the baby, and says "go to bed". She sits with me in my percocet haze, one hand on my breast one on the baby's head. Relax, don't give up. You will both get the hang of it.We did, she was right.

Bob and I wake up to the phone in the early dawn of prom night. State trooper- Ali life flighted- fell asleep- hit a tree-she was awake and talking when they took her. I call our best friends from our Japan tour. The ones who drove from California to Virginia to see my Brigid baptized and make a promise on her behalf. The friends you meet once in a lifetime. They answer to my sobs and are out the door in 2 minutes... in my kitchen in 15. "Go be with Ali, we're praying for you. Don't worry about the kids".

I was gutting out my 4th deployment with three little ones and no husband at home. I get up. I begin to violently wretch in the kitchen sink. "mommy why are you sick?" I can't get sick, it isn't in the itinerary! So, I call my friend. She is there in 2 minutes. She takes them and says, "go to bed". She returns them in her sons clothes because they were playing in the snow. I feel better, they had a blast.

Truth be told, you would be hard-pressed to find such an ally in the civilian world. We cry together, laugh together, make fun of each other, fight each other's battles, kiss each other's kids, scold each other's kids, scold each other's husbands. We deliver bad news, we deliver each other's babies, we celebrate together, and sometimes we mourn together. Then we say goodbye, promise to keep in touch. We don't have our mothers or sisters or even our husbands at times. We have each other and that is a lot.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

09-11-2010 in Bahrain

Today we took a family field trip to the Grand Mosque for an open house that welcomed tourists and ex-pats living in Bahrain. The girls and I were sent into a dressing area where the girls and women helped us choose Hijabs and, for me, an Abiya to wear. We were given a tour, refreshments, lessons about the Mosque and Islam. We got henna paintings on our hands. The kids got balloons and juice and played games with some of the Muslim teenage girls. It was a nice day. No hate or strangeness or accusations. If the rest of the world could behave this way, we would have no wars. They opened their doors to us to let us know that the extremists do not speak for them. We entered for the same reason.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ramadan 2010

The news is disappointing. We were holding out hope that Ramadan ended last night. If so then we would sleep in and there would be no school. As it is, they have a half day before Eid Al Fitr starts on the island and the end of Ramadan is to be announced.This is a very Arabic concept. We will see, God willing, maybe maybe not, call tomorrow. Confused yet? Welcome to the fun. Ramadan starts at the order of a cleric in Mecca. He is in his little tower waiting to see the first sliver of the new moon. It is the same at the end. Then it is a three day hootnanny that will keep my kids out of school for three days passed the weekend. Our American Dept. of Defense school takes international kids and also has an agreement with the Bahraini govt. to halt school during Muslim holy days. Our holidays, however, seem to be getting pushed aside even though the school is an American DODEA school. We will put that issue aside before I really get going. You know me.

As their holiday approaches, I feel my mind wandering to another day that is burned in my memory. It just so happens that their celebrations will fall on 9-11. The Bahrain people are our allies. I know in my heart that all Muslims are not represented by those savages that slayed innocents in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. I also know that my two years here will be enriching and help me to understand the Muslim culture in it's many forms. I do feel a sense of loss that I will not be there in the states during 9-11. This stems, I am sure, from the memories of the day in 2001 when it happened. I was in Japan, freshly moved. I was in the Temporary Lodging Facility on base. Bob was settling in as bossman. We get the call in the middle of the night. TV on, stunned. It was like a bad dream. As helpless as everyone felt, there was a small part of me that kept thinking. "I should be home". As irrational as that sounds...What could I have done? nothing.

I know that the important thing is this. Even after 8 years of war and 4 deployments, I still have my Bob with me alive and whole, albeit a little more war weary. I have kept him home long enough to sire 3 gorgeous kids. He is back in the Middle East but we are with him. That seems a miracle in itself.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Settling in...

Well, we can see how this goes! I decided to start a blog for my friends and family to keep track of our adventures.

As displaced as moving can make you feel, this has been baptism by fire more so than usual. Shortly after moving the family to Bahrain and getting settled in a villa, Ramadan started. You may ask how this affects the day to day life of a non-Muslim housewife and her brood. August is oppressively hot, hotter then many can fathom with the exception of our boys in uniform. It is not, thank the Lord, as hot as Iraq. Keeping that in mind, it is illegal to drink or eat anything in public after sunrise or before sunset. Not even water. The are exemptions- the elderly, children, and pregnant or nursing women. However, that will not be stamped on your forehead. It will not stop someone from scolding you or worse, getting pulled over. So we must take intermittent sips between stop lights or in parking lots while hiding and slouching in the seat. Bob says it reminds him of High School, only the can of beer is replaced with our Camelbak water bottles.

The other issue is restaurants. NOTHING is open until sundown. Then the feasting begins. Before that, there is nary a cup of coffee or snack to be found unless you are in your own kitchen.
The Iftar buffets are plentiful and offered in varying cuisines and prices. They range from grand feasts under beachfront, air-conditioned tents or penthouse restaurants for 14 BD (about $38) to a small Indian/ Chinese buffet in a little local place for 2.5 BD(about $6.50). Regardless, the food is plentiful and the traffic is frantic at sundown. Even McDonald's offers an Iftar meal, not a buffet of course.

Because of these restrictions, we have been limited during the weekend for family adventures. There are camel farms, water parks, a wildlife preserve, pottery villages, and some decent beaches. But the fact that Bob would not be allowed to drink any water (or myself with any comfort) we must bide our time.

We are happy with our new home. It is big to the silly degree and we have a good rapport with our landlord.Our part-time housemaid Najma is a blessing with all of these floors and toilets!
We had our first social gathering this passed weekend. We had a rug flop hosted by Abdul and Abdul from Oasis Carpets. It was great fun and we had a lot of people in our home! Abdul caters the event from a local restaurant. Then while the guest are eating drinking and mingling, he unloads 200 rugs into my living room. We get a lesson on the different types of rugs. There are rug regions,styles, and qualities throughout the Middle East and Asia. He sold a lot of rugs and gave out even more business cards. I think it was a fun evening for all of us.

The girls have started school at the Bahrain School in Juffair. This is a Dept. of Defense School that also takes international students. It seems to be a good school. The grounds are stunning. Lush and green unlike the rest of the island. There is also a huge swimming pool.The girls take the bus which is guarded by two armed Ghurkas (Nepalese troops). They have quickly made friends and are adjusting nicely as I knew they would.

So, considering that it took us three days to arrive, a month to find a house, and almost 2 months to get our car, I think I am doing OK. I have the book club up and running, our first meeting next week. I have met a lot of great ladies and know that this will be a very interesting 2 years. Camel sausages are a no, date syrup is a yes. Shwarma yes, Vitmo no. Rugs, sheesha, rose water,the mixed grill...yes,yes,yes,yes. The McTasty no, the chicken Big Mac yes. Any questions?