Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas in the North Korean Demilitarized Zone

With Christmas just a few days away, we know we are so lucky to have our soldier home this year.  He finished his deployment to the combat zones of Afghanistan just before Thanksgiving.  Many more soldiers are coming home in the next few weeks - their families scurrying to move furniture out of storage, postpone holiday celebrations and begin to reclaim their lives.

Many more soldiers will be eating Christmas dinner in a chow hall far, far from home.  I've never done that.  Until 2002, it would have been the furthest thing from my mind on Christmas Day.  That's the year our daughter met and fell in love with a young soldier whose training and skills are in combat warfare.  Did you know there were many, many young men whose set of skills and value is based on their ability to kill quickly and efficiently?  It makes it difficult for them to transition to a career, lets say, in managing a convenience store back home.  At the same time, I have to be deeply, deeply thankful that there are men like him who can do this job on my behalf.  I can find someone to manage the convenience store.   

So, our daughter married this soldier and he continues to learn skills and gain experience in his profession.  Thanks to our current world situation, he's been fast-tracked.  It's a fact.

They announced a whirlwind wedding in the Spring of 2003, just a few days before the invasion of Iraq.  He was stationed in Korea, sleeping and working just a few yards from the North Korean border.  Pot shots were a daily occurence.  Soldiers knew to never go anywhere without their "battle buddy".  Later, I googled and read about soldiers who had been killed or injured when alone in that area.  A "battle buddy" seems like a fun, get-to-know-each-other, moral building idea.  It is not. 

He asked her to marry him on his leave in July, rather than wait until he could come home nearly a year later.  She said yes.  So, he flew home for two weeks to marry and honeymoon.  Then went back to isolation at Camp Garryowen.  As Christmas neared he asked her to come visit. 

A sixth generation girl from Kansas, who has rarely even been outside of her state's borders, bought a plane ticket for Korea.    She was the first in our family to ever need a passport.  She signed up for vaccinations we knew nothing about.  And we postponed our Christmas, waiting to swoop her back into our safety net.  His base is very remote.  Most wives never visit because there are no accomodations for them. 

At Christmas time, I think about her reflections from her visit.  She was excited as she reached Seoul.  Her new husband met her there.  His "battle buddy" had made arrangements to appropriately leave them in the safety of the city.  She stayed in a beautiful hotel.  They shopped and did touristy things in what might be called the "American GI" area of the city.  An extended honeymoon in an exotic city that was thriving and fun.  Then it was time for him to report back to the base.  They took a taxi.  For miles and miles the scenes outside the window became more desolate and depressing.  The further they traveled outside the city, the more bombed out structures they saw leftover from the war.  It was like a part of the world that was still at war.  At a certain point, they began driving past the many, many guard stations that still line the deserted road. 

At Camp Garryowen she was taken to the Commander's office right away.  He instructed her on what to do "in case."  Primarily, she was to pick up whatever belongings she could gather quickly and report to his office.  Anyone else like her that was currently on the base would also be there.  Since it was the holidays, she would be the only one.  She was to wait.  It might be a long wait.  Someone would come and get her and prepare her to be evacuated. 

When I heard this, as a mother, I was heartsick.  But then she told me what her husband would be doing if this same incident were to happen.  His group was one of the tank platoons that were to drive over THE bridge, bombing it behind them as they crossed.  This would ensure that North Korean troops couldn't use the bridge to gain access.  And of course, my next question was, "And then what is he supposed to do?"  to which there really is no answer.  And I am heartsick.

On Christmas Day, the young lovers ate together in the chow hall.  Camp Garryowen is a very small base so its a small chow hall.  She said the food was wonderful.  The chow hall was decorated.  But the atmosphere was undeniable.  The soldiers came in and ate.  And left.  Each one of them dealing with their own private loneliness on this day of family and friends.  Each looking at her, the only American woman they'd seen in a while, but looking away because it was too painful.  Each knowing they had loved ones waiting for them.  Each counting the months and days.  Each pondering whether or not they had made the right decision so long ago when choosing to volunteer to defend the country they loved.  These are the days our soldiers learn to just push through.  And that is exactly what they did at Camp Garryowen on Christmas Day in 2003. 

I am grateful because I understand the cost of the gift they give to me every day.

Daisy of the Flinthills: No Water!

This is the place where I am developing childrens stories about living in the Flint Hills of Kansas in the 1980's.  Original stories by Kitty Frank.  

My blogging on things like upcycling my wool coat has been copied over to 

No Water!

Daddy loves our house in the country.  He thinks it is fine that our house doesn't have rural water the same as everyone else.

Every week, he drives to town and buys one thousand gallons of water with a roll of quarters.  Sometimes my brother and I ride with him in the big two-ton truck.  The truck is the same age as my daddy.......and that is old!

When we get home, Daddy backs the truck up to the cistern and opens the valve to let the water spash out.  It goes down into our cistern.  A cistern is a hole in the ground made of concrete.  Ours is right next to our basement.  It will hold four thousand gallons of water but the truck can only carry one thousand gallons on each trip.  Water is very heavy.

Sometimes the roads are slick with ice and snow.  The big truck is too dangerous to drive with such a heavy load.  We are careful not to waste water during the winter!

Water is important at our house.  When we brush our teeth, we turn off the water until we are ready to rinse. 

I can run my own bath water and I know exactly how much to put in the tub so I don't waste any.

Everyone in my family listens for running water.  We check if we hear water running too long to make sure someone is using it.  When Grandma comes to visit, sometimes she leaves the water running in the sink while she cooks.  My brother and I climb up on a chair and help her turn it off and on when she needs it.

Daddy sings, "If its yellow, let it mellow.  It it's brown, flush is down."  But Momma says that is not our rule.  Our rule is to flush every time!

Sometimes Daddy works overtime at his job.  It is dark when he gets home.  He can't drive the two-ton truck to get more water in the dark because the headlights are not very good.  Momma tries to make our water last longer by taking our dirty clothes to town to wash them at the laundry mat.  We help!

One day we were getting ready to go to a party.  My brother and I wrapped a gift for the new baby we were going to meet.  Then we went outside to play while Momma got ready.

Momma was in the shower when the water pipes made loud, growling noises.  At our house, that means "Quick, the water tank is almost empty!".  Momma hurried to rinse the shampoo out of her hair with the last drops of water from the pipes.

She got dressed and came outside to tell us it was time to go.

Uh oh!  We were sort of dirty.  We were playing with Daisy and the kittens and forgot about the party.

Momma was upset.  Now we would just have to stay home.  There was no more water until Daddy could take the big truck to town to buy more.

Then I said, "What about the swimming pool?"

"Great idea!", Momma said.  "Hurry, both of you get ready to jump in.  I will bring some towels and soap."

The water in the swimming pool was nice and warm from the sun.  There was just enought water in our little pool for us to scrub and rinse off with our beach buckets.  Momma wrapped us in clean towels.  We ran inside to get dressed.  It was time to leave!

Daddy came home.  He laughed when he saw us running into the house in our towels.  He said, "Those are my kids!  I am so proud of you!  Who needs a bathtub anyway?"

"I'll go get more water now.  You will have water when you get back from the party.  Have fun!"

And we did!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Beginning Sewing - A Simple Knit Skirt

My granddaughter has been asking to sew since she could talk.  She wants to use those machines.  She draws her "designs" with crayons and plans for the day when she can make her own clothing.

Over Thanksgiving we did our first real project.  She was extremely pleased!  I was nervous about setting her up on my industrial machine, but she got the rhythm of it right away and handled it well.  She used this machine to serge the side seams and go around the top and bottom to make a nice edge.  Then she switched to my regular straight stitch machine to make the casing for the elastic.  I finished up the elastic and hemmed it. 

She's come a long way from the days where she would spend close to an hour taking EACH straight pin out of my pincushion and inserting it into my sewing chair!  

Monday, December 12, 2011

When Do People Begin To Say, "I Can't Roller Skate?"

So, when does a person begin to say, "I can't roller skate?"  Is that the day they consider themselves an adult?  And what other parts of life are we missing when we accept that we can't?

My granddaughter turned six years old this Spring.  She asked to have her party at the roller rink.  I used to skate every Saturday as a child.  I wondered if I would still be able to skate at 52 years old.  It had been years since I'd tried.

We had such a fantastic time that I took my granddaughter skating several more times over the summer.  It's during the week day schedule so it's a small crowd each time - sometimes only ten skaters.  That works for me - as I am not so good at avoiding crashes when people starting darting in and out amongst each other.  

I found myself fascinated with the grade school age children who spend the entire afternoon trying to skate.  Why aren't they sitting on the side?  They definitely can't skate! 

The kids I watched each week were part of some sort of Summer program.  The two adults in charge would bring them in and then line them up for the count before loading them up to leave.  In the three hours of time in between, they would inch around the rink alone, or with a friend, and then go sit alongside the edge a few minutes before trying again.  They did this week after week.   

I guess no one told them they couldn't skate!  None of them, as far as I could tell, ever decided to just take off the skates and give it up.  None of them pointed out who could skate and who couldn't.  Many of them didn't seem to get any better at it over the Summer.   

At the same rink, there are maybe six adults who sit at tables around the edge and watch.  They "don't skate".   They never put on a pair of skates, never proclaimed that they did or didn't skate, but it was obvious to the children with them that they didn't come to skate.  They came to watch while the children skated.  So, is skating for children?  Is that why fewer and fewer adolescents are skating - its been downgraded to an activity only suitable for young children?

I skated all summer with my granddaughter.  Occasionally, there would be another adult who would skate too.  But, mostly the kids just watched me suspiciously - trying to figure out why I didn't know the unwritten rule, "adults don't skate."  I watched them, wondering how many times I could fall down in one loop around the rink before I would give up.  I have to admit that one time around would have been it for me.  I can't endure failure that many times especially when people are watching.  I don't participate in things where I don't see a good chance of success.

Am I really that afraid of failure?  It seems so.  So what other things am I missing in life because I chose to sit on the sidelines?   I need to rethink some things because even the things I do everyday really don't offer me much chance of success no matter how many loops I make around!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Slippery Slope Fallacy #10 - Stores That Cater to the Slippery Slope Crowd

This is the last installment in a series I wrote defining how I had slipped into frumpiness.  I started the series here:  My Slippery Slope to Frumpiness

10) Find solutions and camaraderie in the stores that cater to the slippery slope crowd. At a certain point in life (which remarkably coincides with my increased earning power), I surrendered to the marketing gurus of the American fashion culture for mature women. I was overwhelmed and confused and swiped my credit card month after month at stores such as Kohls, Gordmans and J C Penney. 70% off sale was my cue. At least I would retain some control over my wardrobe by not purchasing at full price. The rest was WAY out of control.

You know every problem has its tipping point.  My closet problem hit its all time low when I had access to the most disposable income I had ever had in my life.  I was working a job that paid well.  I was expected to travel and meet people in professional circles constantly.  So I bought and bought.  I understand that for many people $200 purchases are nothing.  But to someone who rarely was able to spend $50 on clothing to slide into the habit of dropping $200 or more at the departments stores several times a was a big change.  Kohls, J.C. Penney's, T.J. Maxx, Gordmans - these were my regular stops.  And whatever they had on sale, I bought more of.  I began to find things in my closet with the tags still attached.  Or worse, bags in my car that had never even been carried into the house.  But I was sure that I just needed to keep buying because there would be a point in the future when my closet would be full and I would be happy.

The interesting thing was that I VERY quickly became VERY unhappy with myself and my closet.  It was like turning up the volume on a bad song.     

Looking back, I feel like many of the big box stores specifically market to women just like me.  Confused, exhausted, and focused on our jobs - we know we don't have a good relationship with our clothes so we look outside of ourselves for help.  And these stores stand ready with late evening hours, relaxing atmospheres and plenty of low-priced alternatives arranged neatly on coordinating racks. 

Most of the women around me were reflecting this slippery slope too.  It became a contest - not in how confident we felt in ourselves and our clothing choices - but rather in who had the newest stuff and how they mixed it.   

In the Dallas meetings, I saw several leather laptop bags sitting neatly beside womens chairs in the conference rooms.  The next week I scoured each store looking until I found a similar one.  Another woman was wearing the new blouse I just bought at Cato but I had neglected to pack in my suitcase.  I made a mental note to include that in my suitcase next time.  Black capris with strappy sandals were everywhere in the plush conference rooms.  I carried two pair (short length and longer length) in my suitcase all summer with me.  I received many compliments.  I bought a brown pair....... and added brown sandals..... then realized I would need to search for some new coordinating polyester print blouses. 

I remember no one standing out as being dressed uniquely, but rather, I remember everyone mentally lining ourselves up into the obvious pecking order.  It becomes easy to judge those who do and those who don't have the latest laptop/shoes/phone/capris/bags when we are all buying the same mass produced stuff from the same handful of big box retailers.  And how I fell into feeling I needed to compete in this environment still puzzles me.

When my grant was complete, I was quickly to become unemployed, I worried myself into panic attacks.  But a couple of months went by and I realized how grateful I was to have closed out the project and not received the wished for funding. 

With time, I began tackling my closet.  The first things to go were the black capris in two lengths and all of the coordinating jackets, skirts, pants, shoes, bags.......   Luckily, there is still a demographic that feels the need for this stuff so I was able to sell it on ebay.  At least I was able to get a few dollars back!  And sometimes when I am out and about, I see "her", another women just like I was, struggling with her choices all the while completely attired in the full gear of the stores that are catering to her struggle.   The black polyester pants with just the right black shoes, accented by just a touch of  leopard print in her bag or blouse.   And I know how hard she's trying and I know how much effort she put into it.  I also now know that it was misguided effort.  And I feel happy in my mix and match, funky, vintage look that is uniquely me!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sorting My Stuff......

I  know I should be more excited about the holidays coming up.  But, I never have been a Christmassy type person.  I think it has to do with some "bad" Christmasses in my past.  Not every family in the 1960's was living like the Brady Bunch or the Partridge Family.  So let's not go there.

I am still working on the "stuff" sorting - and its been over two years now of constantly sorting, thinking, selling, giving away.  Each time I peel off another layer and think I might be finished.  Instead, I find that the light and in-control feeling I get with each layer encourages me to start the next. I think with my daughter being married to a military man, its very clear that "stuff" is expensive to keep, move and store.  It would be extremely unfair of me to saddle her family and my son' family with my lack of decision making if someday it becomes their job to go through all this crap.  If I didn't know whether it was valuable or not, how are they supposed to decide? 

This week I found out that half my favorite set of dishes is missing (7 bowls, and 8 coffee cups and saucers).  They were in a box that had been carried out to either the garage or the shop years ago.  I've seen the box twice in about 10 years.  How it got separated is now a "he said, she said" debate in my household and possibly it was taken to the dump.  What is most discouraging about this is that four sets of dishes (not my favorites) are been carefully stored in prime kitchen storage space for those same ten years.  Exasperating!!!!!  Looks like a classic case of not getting my priorities straight, yet again!

I loved the link to George Carlin's routine on stuff that was shared today by  I must not be the only person who thinks about excess stuff during the holiday season. 

It reminds of a poem that was found in my friend, Esther's, stuff when she passed away in her 90's.  No one knew if Esther authored it herself or collected it from somewhere else.    

Every Fall I start stirring my stuff.  There is closet stuff, drawer stuff, attic stuff and basement stuff.  I separate the good stuff from the bad stuff, then I stuff the bad stuff anywhere the stuff is not too crowded until I decide if I will need the stuff.

When the Lord calls me home my children will want the good stuff, but the bad stuff, stuffed wherever there is room among all the other stuff, will be stuffed in bags and taken to the dump where all the other people's stuff has been taken.

This Fall I had an extra closet built so I would have a place for all the stuff too good to throw away and too bad to keep with my good stuff.

You may not have this problem but I seem to spend a lot of time with stuff, food stuff, cleaning stuff, medicine stuff, clothes stuff and outside stuff.  Whatever would life be like if we didn't have all this stuff?

Dear Santa,

Please do not bring me very much stuff this year.  I am 53 years old.  I am a big girl now.  I won't be hurt or offended if you focus on others this year as I have plenty. 

Love, Kitty Sue

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Clicking Our Heels to Bring Him Back to Kansas

Finally.......our soldier is home!  Any of you who have been reading my blog might have noticed that I fell into a huge slump these past months.  It wasn't a slump - it was a repurpose for my life - to be there everyday for my daughter and granddaughter as Travis fought for us in Afghanistan. 

America is still at war.  A Fort Riley soldier was killed the day before Veteran's Day.  Please move the closing out of these wars to the top of your agenda, no matter where you are or what kind of work you do!  Our combat soldiers are living with a bottle of water and 100 lbs of body armor while we are at the mall.  Read KaBoom by Matt Gallagher.  Do something to understand more about what America is doing TODAY that is changing the lives of our next generation of leaders.    If you aren't part of the 1% that is fighting this war, you are part of the 99% that are sitting on their shoulders. 

I do have happy photos to share of our soldier finishing up this deployment.  

......  "lots of kids have daddies who are soldiers"  (her observation to me a few days later)

Her sign......she's looking at her "dots and lines", but Granny (Greatgrandma) is asking to see it.

Delayed only one hour - which is fantastic in military time!  "I can find my daddy.  He's wearing his uniform."  Two little ones following soldiers in uniform who are working the ceremony while we wait. 

Taking off his hat so she will recognize him.  He held his leave time until the very latest he could take it - so when he had to leave them again it would only be for a very short time to finish the deployment.  So she had just seen him about six weeks prior. 

He's talking to her about her flag.  She carries it with her most all of the time - "to wave for Daddy."

Finally, he is getting close to being able to hug her.  I don't know how he keeps from just scooping her up, except he knows it scares her so he waits until she's ready. 

The awkward "must" kiss in front of family and friends.  My daughter has pointed out that even though we all love to see this, its awkward.  She hasn't seen him in (this time six weeks, usually its been six months).  He smells like the desert, or the plane, or weapons and duffle bags and different soaps.  Everyone is expecting something fantastic for their photo album.  And she would rather have a private first kiss.  I'd like to add that I am always amazed that he smells so good after spending two weeks living in a tent with 200 guys and then traveling 4 days on a plane.  How does he do that? 

And this last photo of our day....... 

"Not this time......soon."  J's Daddy won't be home for another month or more.  His platoon just lost a soldier.  He only gets to call/email home once every few weeks because he is a very remote location.  He's on his 4th deployment, home a year - gone a year - over and over throughout their marriage.  He works in the worst of places because he's trained in combat.  They wait.  Americans can change this, we can do better.