Monday, September 30, 2013

Rough Two Weeks For My Entire Family: Life Happens Fast

On Wednesday, Sept. 18, we got news from Haiti that the adoption might finally be moving forward, and some other indications that Xavier's happy disposition is falling victim to his difficult circumstances and so much uncertainty about the adoption.

On the same day, Nigel skipped football practice because he was being teased and threatened by his teammates.  Annalisa wrote to the vice principal, but the situation was not so good.   And I was terribly sad.  I think of middle school as the place where "The Lord of the Flies" is real.  If I could spare my boys middle school,  I would be so happy.

And then the news went from sad to bad.

The same the evening I got a text message from my oldest daughter that her dog, Watson, got hit by a car.  Watson has bruised lungs, a broken leg, and possibly other internal injuries.  Lauren loves her dog.  I went to sleep that night feeling so sad for Lauren and Nigel and had a fleeting thought about what else could go wrong.

The next morning my step-daughter, Iolanthe, wrote to say her Dad, who has terminal cancer, would be going to hospice very soon.  At this point, Watson was alive, but there were indications of internal bleeding and his bladder was swelling.  The adoption agency said we needed to file some papers right away.

That night my daughter Lisa ate egg whites for dinner and spent the next two days with nasty food poisoning.  She is 1000 miles away in Minnesota, so I could only pray and hope for the best.

Saturday morning, Iolanthe's Dad passed away.  He had been in terrible pain so there was some relief along with the sadness.

Then we got some good news.  Watson wagged his tail and  seems to be good, but may have further internal injuries.  The vice principal talked to Nigel and will help him with the team.  The adoption agency said we can move forward with the paperwork and we have preliminary approval. Lisa was feeling better.

In the midst of all this was a low-level but aggravating problem with our other adopted son downloading images and games he should not be downloading. 

Now the news keeps bouncing up and down.  Nigel got to play in a game on Thursday, but then got taken off the team on Friday for missing practice.

Lisa is feeling better, Watson is getting better, and Iolanthe looked great at her Dad's memorial service. 

Annalisa is holding up unbelievably well with many work pressures in addition to the family stuff. 

If there was some way I could withdraw honorably from this school and go home, I would do it.  Five weeks to go and I will be able to go home and help more with the all the kids.

I am hoping to take the boys to Lauren's house to see Watson, once Watson is feeling better.  This coming weekend I plan to take them to Philadelphia on Saturday and give my wife a day off.

Two terrible weeks end tomorrow.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Missed the Toilet Bowl!!

In the military, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines hate few things more than mandatory fun:  events that are supposed to be fun, but attendance is required, not requested.

I missed today's mandatory fun, an all-day sports event called The Toilet Bowl.  Faculty from the Defense Information School play football against the instructors.  The services also have games--Army and Air Force versus Navy and Marines.  There is barbecue for lunch.

The event begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m.  For Army students, attendance is mandatory.  Air Force students could attend, but if not, they had a long weekend.  

Guess who was happier.  

Two Army students were excused from the event (You could say flushed from the bowl!).  I did not have to go because my step-daughter's father's memorial service is tomorrow.  Another sergeant had a suicide in his home unit.  

Everyone else went to the TB.

I asked one of my civilian instructors if he was going to the Bowl.  He said he would, but he is also a Navy veteran and remember mandatory fun with no small amount of pain.  He said,  "I am a civilian.  I can take leave."

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Finished First Feature!!!

Today we wrote a four-page feature article about our foodie instructor Peter Robertson.  He cooks foods from around the world, he knows all the best restaurants in Baltimore, and he and his wife pick their homes by which on has the best kitchen.

Like every feature, it was draining to write, but the topic was fun.  I want to go to his favorite restaurants.  His Korean fave is the Honey Pig in Ellicott City, Md.  With a name like that how could it be bad?  They have iron skillet tables and cook right on the table.  I really like th Chinese restaurants that put the hot pot in the middle of the table so you cook your own food.

Formation soon.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Photography Begins!

Today we got our cameras, learned some basic camera operations and went off to shoot pictures. Unlike the writing, I learned new things from the first minute we were taught how to set and operate the camera.

We have to use manual focus which meant I took some blurry photos, but we were taught the relationship between aperture and shutter speed in a way that should help me take better photos.

Learning to be a better photographer will not change my uneasy philosophical relationship with photography itself.

When I first got into journalism in the late 70s, I was handed a camera and told to shoot pictures to go with my stories.  I shot 400 ASA black and white film and shot from multiple angles so I could get one good shot in ten.

But the camera also changed my relationship with my subjects.  Some people say the camera takes the soul of the person getting her picture taken.  I think it takes the soul of the person taking the picture.  When I interview a subject for an article I don't care what the person looks like.  When I am looking for a photo subject, symmetry and beauty lead my criteria for a photo. 

The world looks so different to a photographer than to a writer. 

I want to keep the Biblical view:  In the beginning was the Word.  Let the words determine the photo.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Photography Tomorrow!!!

Because I am in the Army, I get to take pictures of things most people never see.
Now I will learn HOW to take pictures properly when I get these oppotunities.

Tomorrow the class I was waiting for begins!!!!


For four years I have been taking photos, nearly 20,000 of them.  And I don't really know what I am doing.  For the next three days I will get professional help with this problem--three full days of photo class.

Today was the final day of newswriting.  I am pretty sure I did well.  My average is in the high 80s or low 90s so far.  I am sooooooooooo much better at writing than proofreading.  The Army, not surprisingly, stresses accuracy over everything else in the writing process.  Be dull if you must but don't screw up.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Family Weekend Gets Complicated

Jacari, Nigel (first two, front row) and I drove to Richmond Saturday to see Lauren.
Kiersten joined the boys and I Saturday morning at Waffle House.
Annalisa went to see Iolanthe Sunday.
Lisa is in Minnesota--I talked to her on the phone.

This weekend was as a lot of fun, and I even got to catch up on sleep on Sunday, but it was definitely not a weekend to relax.

I had been planning for a few weeks to visit Lauren this weekend in Richmond.  The original plan was for my wife to drive the boys to Fort Meade Friday evening, then I would drive with them to Richmond Saturday morning and return after Lauren's season-opening football game on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Then I was put on the duty roster on Friday evening from 8:30 p.m. till 30 past midnight (Zero dark 30).  And my wife had a math meeting at 7:30 a.m. Saturday!  I thought I might try to drive home at Zero Dark 30, but that morning we got up at 3:45 a.m. for a ruck march.  By the time I got off duty I had trouble driving the one-mile trip back to my bunk.

In the morning I drove north to PA.  While the boys cleaned the house, I did the laundry.  Around 3:30pm we drove back to Fort Meade where the boys ate in the DFAC (Chow Hall).  They ate burgers, fries, cake, Coke--they were very happy.  Then we drove to Richmond.

Lauren had couches and beds for us.  The boys played video games.  I went to sleep.

The next day the boys and Lauren and Pete got up at 6:15 and played with the dog.  I slept till 9. 
We had brunch at Lauren's, walked to the River, then went to Lauren's football game.  The start was delayed by an hour so we only saw the first half, but Lauren, Pete and Pete's brother John all played well.

At 230pm we drove back Silver Spring MD where my wife picked up the boys.  She had been visting Iolanthe in Frederick VA. 

So we got to see all of the family in VA and PA.  Lisa is in Minnesota, so seeing her is a little more difficult.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Marine Knows Twitter

Got a great lesson about twitter today from a Marine sergeant who does social media here at the Defense Information School (DINFOS).

He told us to use facebook to interact and use twitter to follow breaking news.  He gave us sites to follow and told us not to worry about hashtags, they are not necessary for searches.  We can just search twitter for subjects we care about.

He also showed us good things we can learn from Yelp and other social media sites. 

The class was two afternoons and covered all of social media.  There were no tests, no lesson plan and no homework.  The oddly informal character of the course shows just how new the whole subject of social media is to the military.

The contrast was especially strong today because our morning class was about rewriting national news into local news stories.  This was the staple of weekly newspapers, but has all but vanished now that most everyone gets their news from electronic media.

We had a very formal lesson in how to do something that is very rare, and an ungraded lesson in how to do something that will be the center of all communication with young people--90% of the military.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Bathroom Stalls Get Busier at School

No, we did not have an outbreak of food poisining.

As of today, Army students are not allowed to have cell phones during the duty day at DINFOS.  We were told about the new rule at final formation yesterday. 

We are learning to be news people.  At the beginning of today's public affairs class the instructor told us we should all be news junkies and asked how we get our news.  Everyone said, "On my phone."

The Air Force is laughing at the Army again.  "You guys can't have cell phones?"

We are allowed to write a request to the battalion commander if we want or need and exception to policy.  But very few soldiers will do that.  The jokes at class breaks say cell phones will ride in back packs and magically appear in the bathroom stalls.

61 days to graduation.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dissing the French

One predictable form of stupidity I have to hear when I am on active duty is jokes about the French and France.  One of our instructors can't get through a class presentation without a French joke.  At least he is a veteran.

The more virulent anti-French feeling goes back to the beginning of the Iraq War.  The French joined the Afghan war from the beginning.  They are still fighting and dying there today.  The French decided that Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the others who cobbled together the lies that got us in that war were full of merde.

The French were right and since they did not fall for lies in 2003 they are willing to join us now. The British decided evidence from us still smells like Iraq.  They voted NO.

The same instructor who makes French jokes says the job of the military is to "break shit and kill people."  He knows we are not well suited to peacekeeping.  The French know that better than we do.  When they went into Mali, they fought the terrorists and killed them.  They were not winning hearts and minds.

The French lost 1 million killed and 5 million wounded in World War I out of a population of 66 million--double the casualties on BOTH sides of the American Civil War.  France does not go to war since then without a clear objective.  I think we should do likewise.

Without Marquis de Lafayette there would be no America.  To me, dissing the French is stupid and ungrateful.

But then, then main group of public people dissing the French dodged the draft during Viet Nam and became patriots later when they could no longer be drafted.

C'est la vie.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Double Punishment Day

We are back from a three-and-a-half day weekend.  It was a four-day weekend for the Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines in our class, but a three-day weekend for the Army.

We had Army Values training on Friday.

Now we are back and I have two punishment sessions today.

On Wednesday last week, I got a 63 on a news release.  Anything below a 70 means remedial training.  I made an error in fact which is an automatic 20 points off, plus enough other copy errors to drop my score below the passing line. 

All we had to do is come in one hour before class officially starts and write another news release.  I passed this one with no errors.  It was not difficult, but it was another hour that I could not be doing my other work--which would allow me to get more sleep. 

And that's the difficulty with our schedule.  Because the Army (and no other service) has Physical Training at 5 a.m., which means formation at 4:45 a.m., which means getting up at 4 a.m., we are chronically tired.  At least the older guys (me and the 30 year olds) are tired. 

And at 4:30 p.m. today we will have remedial PT or drill and ceremonies because that's what we do on Tuesdays after classes from last week until we graduate. 

So the morning was an individual punishment for a mistake I made.  The afternoon is a mass punishment because some of us do not use proper form on some of the warm-up and cool-down exercises we do.  We are collectively good at the actual exercises, but because a few of us did the bend and reach or windmill with imperfect form at 5 a.m., we will practice it every other week from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Catching Up on Sleep--Then back to the trenches

The Labor Day holiday weekend  began earlier than I had hoped.  I expected to spend most of Friday in Army values classes, but we were released from the class at noon Chow and I got a text before 1 PM that said we could sign out.

So I rode to company headquarters and signed out just after 1 PM. Wow!   I was on pass until Monday. So I went back to my room and put the laundry basket in the car and put all my papers in my backpack and thought I would just rest for a few minutes I was so tired.

At 5:15 PM I woke up. At that point the traffic in Baltimore was beyond terrible. This weekend the Indy cars were racing on the streets of Baltimore. Many downtown streets were closed and fenced so traffic on this holiday weekend was even worse than usual. So I went to chow and went for a ride and waited for some of the red lines in Google maps to turn to yellow before I drove home.

By the time I left the traffic it subsided and I made it home in a couple of hours. And I was still tired.

On Saturday I rode 22 miles so I did change my recent habit of the Saturday exercise Sabbath.   In the afternoon the boys and I went to Philadelphia to my office. I worked for a couple of hours while they played on computers.   Then we went to dinner with one of the visiting scholars from where I work and her daughter who is at Cornell University this year getting a Masters degree in chemical engineering.  We went out for Chinese food and as usually happens when the boys are at dinner people who do not know them are surprised at how much they eat. Jacari ordered two entrées  and did not have a lot of leftovers. Nigel ordered a large appetizer and entrée again not a lot left over. We did bring all the leftovers home and the boys ate Chinese food for breakfast on Sunday.

On the Thursday before this weekend my wife had an event on campus with pizza. She brought home for leftover pizzas. She and Kiersten each had two slices. The boys ate the other 28 slices. They had 10 each for dinner and three each for breakfast and to others just in between.

On Sunday I tried to catch up on exercise. I rode 36 miles:  29 with my wife in the morning and seven in the afternoon Nigel. I swam a mile at the F&M Pool  while Nigel ran and hid a tennis ball into Jacari was off at church event.   I tried to run after that and did an extremely slow 2 miles quit.

Now I'm going to go  back to Fort Meade and get ready for tomorrow's public affairs test. Long day tomorrow!!!!

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