It should be no surprise to anyone that Mother Nature has been pummeling the northeastern U.S. this year. We have been “fortunate” here in our part of Rhode Island because we’ve just been getting glanced by the blows hitting the rest of the area - but it should say something that this is “glanced”:

Snow on the deck

Snow on the deck

Shoveling feels futile - it seems that if we don’t shovel, it doesn’t snow the next day but if we do shovel, another 3″ is there the next morning. Our wonderfully large driveway isn’t so wonderful right now; not only do the kids look at it with resentment for daring to be so big, but the sides are closing in on it so there’s only a one-car-width strip down the middle that has any chance at getting cleared. I can’t open my door when I pull in because the snow on the side is so high and has done just the right amount of melting and re-freezing that I’m more or less hitting a rock if I try to open it.

It’s funny about this winter. At the end of last winter, my weather-buff friends clucked, “Next winter is going to be even worse than this one. We’re supposed to get tons more snow.” “Ha!” I laughed, because how could they know this almost a whole year out? Ridiculous, I insisted. Nevertheless, I did order some ridiculously expensive, but ridiculously good snow boots when winter was approaching, and when they came I laughed at my foolishness for spending that kind of money on BOOTS! Where did I think I lived, Wisconsin?? I’d walk past them sitting pristinely by the door and shake my head at myself for spending that money, because day after day, week after week, we got zero precipitation. One day in late December or early January, we got a light dusting of snow (as in, there was a one-snowflake-thick layer of snow in the spots where it drifted) and I wore them out to the car and came back in quickly, head hanging in embarrassment.

Shortly after we got settled in, our housewarming gift came. The one from Mother Nature that had a note affixed saying, “Ha ha! Warm this!” and promptly dumped 18″ or so inches of snow on us. And it has not relented since then. So far - knock on wood - the house has held up wonderfully to these record cold temperatures. And I know that when spring comes this year, I will wiggle my toes out of my wonderfully water resistant boots, and I will enjoy the feeling of renewal that only comes after a painful winter like this.

A purpose

I will start this out by saying right up front: I won’t make any promises about how I’m going to post regularly again. I will tell you, though, that I will try. And the good news is, I have a purpose for posting that I have lacked a lot over the last couple of years.

This year, I made a few New Year’s resolutions, one of which was to be more creative. It didn’t matter how; anything will do. I have lost touch with a big part of myself, as I have always been pretty creative; my career has trumped pretty much everything over the last couple of years and I haven’t really had time for much else.

The good part of that is that I have found a lot of success in my career - I got promoted again, which is something I never - truly, NEVER - imagined possible when I started this wild ride in the Navy. I have a job that I have loved immensely, which has given me a great deal of satisfaction. We’re still in Rhode Island, but my time here is starting to wind down and some big decisions needed to be made.

The kids are at ages - Isak is 15, Anja will be 14 soon - where they’re starting to really want some control over their lives. This life we live as a military family has never provided much of that. They have flourished here in Rhode Island and built a strong network of friends and are involved in many extracurricular activities. Isak will be going into his junior year next year; Anja will be a freshman. On top of that, B had the great fortune to have found a job shortly after we moved here working for a state-run fishery, which was near miraculous with RI having the second-highest unemployment rate in the U.S., combined with his extended absence from work to stay home and provide stability for the family for the previous 10 years or so. The combination of the kids and his job made us have to make a very big, and very difficult, decision. And so we decided as a family that my next assignment will have me going there alone. I should know soon where that will be, but what we do know is that 3/4 of us will stay here in RI, and I, the little old 1/4, will be having some really long commutes on the weekends. The Navy’s term for this is “geographical bachelor”, or “geo bach”.

But it’s not all doom and gloom here. Absolutely not! When we made the big decision about me being a geo bach, another decision had to be made - whether or not we would buy a house. We couldn’t stay in the housing we were in if I wasn’t living with the family, and so we decided to look for a house. I will share that story another time, but the very, very short story is that we just closed on a house a week ago today. We had to move ourselves, and unfortunately the timing was not good as I recently had surgery and am on convalescent leave (another story for another time!) so my contribution was very limited. I can’t lift anything over 10 pounds, but my doctor cleared me to be able to walk as much as I want, and said I could paint as long as I wasn’t lifting anything heavy to do so. B and the kids, and some generous help from neighbors, got us moved over to the new house and we turned in the keys to the old place on Wednesday. So we’re officially homeowners, again! Paint covered, slightly overwhelmed, but happy and excited about this new chapter in the Saga of the Sigs.

Painty hands and peeling walls

Painty hands and peeling walls

Poor Mary ‘Mater

I have been enjoying gardening since I’ve been here, something I’ve never been good at. I have been very attentive to my plants and they have all been flourishing.  I watered more or less every day, sometimes taking a day off but none of my plants ever wilted or looked bad.

Actually…save for that one time I tried making a natural pesticide with water, vinegar, garlic and cayenne…that wasn’t taken so well by the leaves that all got crispy around the edges, but still looked very healthy otherwise.

I had not changed my watering habits the whole time I’ve had these plants, and all of them looked great. My tomato had flourished - even growing about 8 baby tomatoes - up til the evening a couple of days ago when it suddenly began wilting BAD. I checked the soil thinking maybe it had dried out, but it was very damp, which I thought odd since I hadn’t watered it at all that day.  The next morning it had perked up a bit, but was still looking rather sad. By the evening it was wilting bad again. The following morning, perky again; by evening, more wilting. I didn’t water it as this was going on because the soil seemed damp enough, plus it had rained one night do it got watered naturally.

Yesterday I went to a local nursery to buy some lavender and while I was there, I asked the woman if she had any ideas why my otherwise healthy plant would suddenly start wilting so bad - but none of my other plants did. She said the wilting sounded like I’d overwatered it, and that once they’re overwatered they don’t usually come back. Cue sad face here:

Sad face

Sad face

I came home feeling glum about my tomatoes but happy that I got some new plants - 4 small lavender plants and a French tarragon plant. I picked up my tomato plant to move it so I could pot the new plants, and when I picked it up, a flood of water gushed out from the pot! And it kept pouring out. Mind you, I hadn’t watered it at this point in about 4 days! I’m guessing something blocked the drainage hole in the bottom so the water just kept building up.

I let it drain all night, and I’m hoping that she pulls through.

What’s Up

I thought I’d post a little update on what’s been going on…

I finished my tour on board the LINCOLN and I’ve moved to Rhode Island.  I’m here by myself for a couple of months while I go to school.  The rest of the family is still in WA and will join me in August when I finish this school.

Speaking of this school, it’s tough.  I’ll just say this, I get mega awful cold sores when I’m stressed, and I’m getting one the size of Rhode Island on my lip.  Rhode Island, this state isn’t big enough for the both of us.

Because of our situation of being separated, I’m temporarily living in Single Sailor housing while my family finishes their time in WA.  B will pack out the house (soon!) all by himself, and I will unpack and settle everything in before they get here.  My plan has been that everything will be done before they get here so when they do show up, it really feels like they’re home as soon as they step foot in the house. 

This has been a hard move so far for Isak.  He has really enjoyed his school in WA.  He made friends right off the bat and has a very nice circle of friends that he doesn’t want to leave - and who can blame him?  Coming from the school he went to in Spain where the kids were horrible and he had to deal not only with bullying but also a school who talked the talk but would never walk the walk when it came to disciplining bullies.  Here we’ve enjoyed a school where there is a feeling of respect from the other students.  I understand his not wanting to move, but hopefully he’ll enjoy his school here next year. 

This is a beautiful time of year in Newport.  America’s Cup is this coming up weekend so there are a lot of tourists here. I’ve been enjoying hiking here, although I’m trying to play catch up in school so there won’t be any hiking for me this weekend. 

I just got back from emergency leave for a funeral for my uncle/Godfather.  It was sad, of course, but it was nice to honor him and to see our family that I hadn’t seen in about 25 years?  He was buried at Great Lakes National Cemetery with military honors and it was a very short but poignant ceremony.  I was very grateful that I was able to be there with my family for it. 

It’s nice to be on terra firma for the next couple of years (possibly for the rest of my career).  I miss my family but it is kind of nice to be able to scope out the place a bit before the family gets here so when they do come, I’ll be able to show them a lot of the fun stuff there is to do here.  I’m also doing a little gardening; I usually have a black thumb but so far I’ve been able to grow a few things pretty successfully. The first challenge was to weed - there was a very neglected garden in front of the house that was thick with weeds.   You can see the two back corners where I haven’t gotten the weeds up - imagine the entire dirt area looking just like that.  I have a big pile of the weeds that I pulled up:

I planted some coriander seeds to grow cilantro, in two different areas.  One of them is actually in the above picture on the right in the foreground, you can just barely see a couple of leaves coming up.  That area isn’t doing as well as the other patch I planted - those are doing much better:

When the cilantro gets a little hardier, I’m going to transplant it to a shallow bowl-type planter I have so I can move it to my new place when I move in in August.

I also bought some starters for basil and rosemary that are thriving in my kitchen window:

I’m quite surprised, because I’m really usually quite terrible at growing anything and leave that up to B.  Both of these plants have grown a LOT and are doing just great.  The basil started out as just a couple of leaves and has shot up.  I’ve been diligent about watering it, turning to it, encouraging it, and pinching off the buds before they flower.  It is doing really great.  The rosemary is a lot smaller but it’s also a lot hardier.  I’ll plant the rosemary outside when we move but I think I’ll keep the basil in the kitchen and see how it does through the winter.  It is really pretty in the window, too.

Last, I have a tomato plant that I bought when it was just a wee little thing and was looking frankly pretty sad.  It was the best looking one and it was really wilty and pale.  I transplanted it and within about a week it looked like this:

Now, 11 days later, it’s already looking like this:

There are a few buds on it already where the tomatoes are going to start.  They should be ripe before the family gets here which is good.  Back many years ago, we had a tomato plant and couldn’t figure out why we never got tomatoes on it.  It turned out Anja would sneak out the front door (she was about 2) and pluck all the unripe, green tomatoes off the vine and eat them and then sneak back in.  She had an awful rash on her chin that we finally figured out came from all the acid in the tomatoes.  Ah, my girl - always up to mischief! 

The kids finished the school year pretty strong.  Anja got pretty great grades overall (they’re not getting letter grades yet, but she got mostly “+” grades which is great!)  Isak finished his last semester with a 3.83 GPA…this year was quite a rollercoaster with him, but he managed to finish it with pretty good grades.  I’m disappointed because he could have easily gotten a 4.0 if he had just done and turned in his homework.  Hopefully next year will be better for him; I’d be happy with a 3.0 if it meant he completed and turned everything in and just had more challenges with his work. 

Well, that’s pretty much the gist of what’s been going on with us.  I don’t have a card reader or Photoshop to be able to post nicer pictures so I’m just making do with my ipad/cell phone for now until August.  But come then I’ll have better pictures to post. :)

Mail Call, Mail Call

 [disclaimer: these are all public U.S. Navy official photos]

Just like last deployment, on this deployment we have been waiting for what feels like forever for our mail to catch up with us.  The problem is, the mail hops around trying to catch up with us and it generally isn’t until we get to our deployment location for us to get mail regularly.  So all those packages that our friends and family sent before we went on deployment back at the beginning of December have been sitting around somewhere waiting to catch up with us.  That makes for one very, very big mail call.

Getting the mail is only one part of the larger evolution.  Our replenishments at sea are a huge production involving many, many hands.  It starts before dawn with the mustering of a 175-person working party on top of all the regular workers in the air, deck and supply departments, as well as the squadrons flying the helos. 

One ship comes alongside us and we move things both by lines passed between the ships as well as by helicopters that go constantly picking up from one ship and delivering it to the other.  The two great things we get from these replenishments is 1. mail, and 2. “fresh” (that’s sometimes questionable) fruits and vegetables. And of course there’s all the other things like parts and supplies, but who needs that?  We need mail.

This past replenishment, we an incredible amount of mail to deliver, much more than usual since we’re finally operating in one place for an extended period of time.  We ended up receiving somewhere in the ballpark of 150 pallets of mail.  If you would like to know how much 150 pallets of mail is, I’d say one room in my house would fit anywhere from 9-16 pallets of mail.  150 pallets is A LOT OF FREAKIN MAIL. They moved it all down from the flight deck to the hangar bays and then it was sort, sort, sort.  Sort, sort, sort.  Sort, sort, sort, sort, sort, sort, sort.

 The Chief’s Mess all pitched in to help because there was so much mail.  We had a very efficient system set up; boxes would be opened, then bags would be opened, then secondary bags would be opened, then it would be dumped, it would be scanned twice, then written on, then passed down through about 10 people to the sorting location where it was given to the right department’s pile.  There were probably about 150 people involved, what with there being about 40 departmental piles and 2 lines of people moving mail. 

We had a lot of fun. 

I got all the big, bulky, heavy packages.

Our fearless leader, the Command Master Chief of the ship, she got all the little packages.

Oh wait. 

Really, there were so many packages of every shape, size, and SMELL.  There were ones losing rice, powdered koolaid, shampoo, mold, wet, rattling with broken packaging, busting at the seams, wrapped in Christmas paper, with stickers and love notes written on the outside, battered and bruised but they all made to their very appreciative Sailors.  It was nice walking around the ship seeing all the Sailors with armsful of packages and huge smiles on their faces.

Sweaty McGrumpypants

I am generally a pretty happy person (really!) but there is one thing that makes me exceedingly grumpy, and that is hot and humid weather. Particularly the type found at the equator.

For several weeks the temperature climbed and climbed and climbed until it was unbearably hot. And the humidity just made it that much worse. Everything was slimy and slippery, and I was SWEATY. I don’t do sweaty. My t-shirt would be sweaty, my butt would be sweaty, my feet would be sweaty-er. WIth all that sweat comes much grumpiness, much ugly, nasty grumpiness that I have a hard time dealing with. Not only my own grumpiness but the grumpiness of thousands of other hot and sweaty grumpy people.

And then we turned north. You might have seen us? We sailed right up through the Strait of Hormuz and all of a sudden the temperature dropped from grumpy-hot to a cool and refreshing 65°!

It’s amazing what a difference the temperature makes. Everyone seems so much less crappy now, or maybe that’s just my optimism returning. Or maybe the sweat just stopped dripping into my eyes.

Thailand, Part I, or How Glitter Makes the World a Better Place One Sparkle at a Time

We went to Thailand last week for a port call, our first of only a couple of this deployment. I am glad we got to go to Thailand since I had never been and it is a lot cheaper than the other ports we pull into.

One thing that we do in almost every port is community service (COMSERV) projects. Usually it’s very hard to get a spot for them because with as many people as we have - and as many good citizens as we have in the military - they usually fill up before you can even get through the line.

This time, however, there was a COMSERV for the Chief’s Mess. We usually don’t get one for just us but in this case, no one was signing up for one of them so we took it as a group. We went to the Camillian Social Center in Rayong for children and adults living with HIV/AIDS. Most of the children were born HIV positive, many of them abandoned there because the center is known for taking very good care of the children. It was a very nice facility, very open and clean, and the kids were obviously well taken care of and well mannered. Nice to us, nice to the adults that worked at the facility, and nice to each other.

We thought we were going there to play with the kids for the day but when we got there we were sat down to watch a 83-slide PowerPoint presentation (that is not an exaggeration!) about their mission there that took for-e–v—-e——r, and then they ushered us to an area where they gave us lunch. Before the presentation started though, they gave us a couple of minutes with the kids.

One thing that everyone who knows me well knows, I love glitter. Glitter = happiness. You can have glitter on a bad day and your bad day all of a sudden isn’t so bad anymore. And on a place like a ship which is very grey and, well, blah, I of course had to BMOG (bring my own glitter). Last deployment I had a box of about 15 different containers of glitter that I got from my mom for Christmas a couple of years ago. It came in handy a couple of times last time, and this time I knew I needed some more so the day before deployment, I went to the craft store and bought a big collection of glitter. I got probably 20 more containers, which brought it to 1 metric shit ton of glitter. Because you never really know when you’ll need a metric shit ton of glitter. Well, actually, I do know when. You need it when you’re going to be hanging out with sick kids in an orphanage.

So I showed up to the bus with a box of glitter, which of course with a group of Chiefs you know is going to mean endless teasing. But that’s OK, I’m secure in my glitterinity. Yeah, that just happened.

When we were walking back from the slideshow, I had my box with me and this little girl saw me and her eyes lit up. “Glitter?” she said in Thai. I nodded excitedly and led her over to the side where I pulled out a stack of paper and a bottle of Elmer’s glue. After that, kid after kid came up and wanted to play with the glitter. Unfortunately, with only 10 minutes, by the time the glitter was out it was time to start cleaning up and head to lunch.

Lunch was fantastic - the food in Thailand is amazingly good. We had rice with vegetables and some sort of hot wing, with cucumbers and two sauces, one sweet and one spicy.

When lunch was winding down and I was sitting talking to my friend, I felt a tiny hand whack me in the back. I turned around and there was this sweet little boy with his eyes hopeful, asking me without needing words if I would let him have some more glitter.

So I pulled out my paper and glue and opened up the box, and it was like a magnet - before I knew it there were 15 more kids, all patting me, wanting to play with it. It was absolutely delightful to watch them draw and sprinkle glitter on their glue. The kids loved writing “Love” in English and in Thai. The kids were so well behaved, the older ones helping the younger ones, they were all very quiet but very obviously happy.

One of the Chiefs on the trip pulled out a guitar and sang for the kids, giving a nice soundtrack to an already wonderful day. This was the best thing I’ve done in the time I’ve been on here; I only wish we would have had more time to interact with the children, as well as the adults that were there.

My favorite picture of the ones I saw. 10 for creativity. :)

The glue started running out so I diverted a few kids with my iPad. I have an app called Soundrop, which is a really, really neat little app where a ball drops and you draw lines for it to bounce off; each line makes a different sound so you can make really neat music with it. The kids loved that almost as much as the glitter. There was gum and glitter and slimy little fingerprints all over it by the time they were done - it was so much fun.

It was hard to leave at the end of the visit, I really would have loved to stay and play with the kids and meet some of the adults that were there.

I usually don’t solicit for anything on here, but if you are looking to make a charitable donation to a worthwhile foundation, please consider helping out the Camillian Social Center. There is such a high rate of HIV/AIDS in Thailand and these little ones are born with it and then abandoned by their families to be cared for by the kindness of this foundation. They have a hard time with non-monetary donations because the government intercepts those packages and by the time they make it to the kids, most everything worthwhile is already taken out of it at the hands of customs. It’s really frustrating for them there and they ask that if donations are sent that it’s in a non-descript package. I’m planning on sending some more craft supplies when I get home that ship flat and can look like documents being mailed.

I know I’ve already said it, but I can’t say it enough - that place is doing a really great job providing a safe, healthy, loving environment to those kids and I really hope to be able to help them again someday.

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Jiving to on my iPod...

    Alicia Keys:
    As I Am

    Roisin Murphy:
    Ruby Blue

    Some Cities

"These things are fun, and fun is good."

    Guess the Google!