Sunday, September 25, 2011

Vietnam Vets: 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Division - "The Walking Dead"

It's not often that you get a chance to meet a part of living history face to face.  This weekend I had both the privilege and the honor to do just that with this amazing group of people.

Through a serendipitous set of circumstances, my husband was invited this weekend to bring us to dinner with the 1/9 Walking Dead Veterans at Traditions while they were here visiting Parris Island.

I told Amelia we were going to dinner with some very special people and we would have to be on our best behavior and use our best manners.  I explained a little bit about them to Amelia, at least in small terms a 5 year old could understand easily.  I had been promising her for some time that one weekend when we had enough time, I would blow dry her hair straight (never been done and we wanted to try it).  After I told her where we were going, she asked me, "Mama!! Could you please blow my hair dry straight?!?"  Very excited and wanting to do something special for this dinner.  We laid out really cute dresses for Olivia (navy blue polka dot) and Amelia (pink sweater dress)- I wish I had the foresight to take pictures.  I pinned a piece of my jewelry to her neckline and Amelia just looked so grownup all of a sudden.

The power went out after a lightening strike while I was drying Mia's hair, and we finished getting ready and went on to dinner by emergency light.  As we were getting out of the car, I told Rafe I wasn't sure I could get through the night without crying.  Olivia and Amelia were amazingly good, but still restless so I wasn't able to hear or be involved in very many conversations.  I listened to bits and pieces float around me, words out of history, battles with place names.  We ended up sitting at the back and I encouraged Rafe to sit up front without us, as there wasn't room for all four of us at any one table.  I can not tell you how glad I am that he did that.  I was able to be there to see him applauded for his role in their weekend; and to listen to many, MANY compliments about my husband and children.  Lights finally came on and the girls and I left shortly after that.  Living on base is great... we only live a few blocks away from Traditions, so Rafe walked home a few hours later.  We were invited back again today for a picnic after Mia's soccer game.  Amelia kept saying, "What a special night, Mama!!".

This time I had the foresight to get a sitter for the girls and went on out there with Rafe.  The conversations with the wives were profoundly moving in many ways, and both enlightening and comforting in others.  These men and their wives paved the way for most of what we know now about the effects of PTSD on the veterans and their families.  They went to work every day knowing that someone they knew was going to die that day or they would be asked to do something they would hate. 

 We have programs in place today to help us because of the injustice and abuse they and their families suffered at that time.  They came back from war at a time when they were hated and spit on.  The spouses didn't understand what the men were going through and had no tools to help them heal.  The men didn't know what was happening to them and refused to believe it.

I listened as some spouses talked about how certain times of the year are harder than others and they matter of factly went down a list of battles trying to remember which one had occurred in that month.  Even better was hearing parts of our own current story as a family be told by these women as they recounted their own stories.  It felt familiar and strangely comforting.

One of the men told me that 20-30 years ago a woman who had written a book about PTSD was booed and treated terribly at a reunion in DC by the vets because she had told them they all had PTSD and they thought she was crazy.  He told me that he wished they had listened to her at the time and it took him over 20 years to get help.  His goal was to speak to as many young Marines as he could and tell them to get help as soon as possible, because "it never gets any better, it never goes away" if you don't.  He is, and they all are, still dealing with it all these years later, trying to change emotional and mental processes set in place a lifetime ago.

We have programs in place today because of the incredible hurt suffered by the veterans of this era.  I heard a story that I knew but had forgotten of how spouses and children had to move OFF base housing every time their husband deployed.  Can you imagine that?  Their trauma is why we stay on base now, with services to support us, counselors and therapists to talk to and activities for our children to help them understand the story of deployment.  We have our own briefs and communities and programs that enrich our lives.  They had none of that, but were simply kicked out.

Most of the time, Rafe and I weren't anywhere close to each other.  I was actually glad for this... we each were having conversations that we needed to have and to hear about deployments and reunions.  Continually throughout the day, someone would come up to me and tell me what a wonderful, honorable, moral, outstanding, etc. man/Marine my husband was.  It was actually quite thrilling to hear him be complimented so many times by these incredible people.

Later in the afternoon, I went and picked up the girls and brought them back to play at Elliot's Beach where they were all gathered.  Livi made a beeline for the Gullah memorial gospel dance line and inserted herself right in.  That group could eat!  They had a huge spread of food and finished it up after the dancing with a huge boil of crabs freshly caught by one of the attendees.  Amelia found friends to play with and they threw rocks off the point into the ocean as the sun started going down.  Again, I was thrilled to receive tons of compliments on my beautiful and well behaved girls; and yes, I am bragging.  Amelia even belted out a few OOOOORAH's to the delight of the retired Marines.

Again, I left with the girls to feed them dinner and put them to bed while Rafe went and met them for dinner and talked with them for another four hours.  He spent about ten hours today talking and listening; mostly listening.
In some ways, the information today I heard was nothing new; nothing that any of us in this day and age haven't heard about the Vietnam era.  But it is vastly different reading it on paper vs hearing it come out of someone's mouth, watching their face as they tell their stories, or as they tell any story but that one.  It was visceral, immediate, emotional to me, and hugely important to listen and be a part of.  I was honored, so incredibly honored to even be in the same room as these guys who have lived this battle for over 40-50 years.

I hope someday I can meet them again.


Tried to publish some posts that were accidentally left in draft stage and it didn't post them on the original writing date (which I thought it would) but today.  If anyone knows how or if it can be changed, I'd love to hear the solution!

Mediterranean Fish Stew with Shrimp and Cod

1 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, peeled and medium diced
1 bulb garlic, peeled and rough sliced
1 cup celery, medium diced
1/8 tsp fennel or anise seed

4 tbsp tomato paste
2 cans diced tomato plus juice

dry sherry
shrimp stock (see recipe)  OR other seafood stock, including clam juice
1 very large pinch saffron threads
2 oranges, juiced
kosher salt

cod, diced
shrimp, peeled and deveined
parsley, chopped (opt)

chile garlic paste (optional)

Rafe is on his way home!

I just found out yesterday that he will be home sometime tomorrow or the next day.  SHOCKING!  I thought he wasn't coming home for a few weeks.  It's exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time.

Part of the fun of homecoming (for me at least) are the activities leading up to the big day; and the anticipation building and building.  Amelia and I usually make chains for each day we have left to wait; the yard gets raked and weeded; the house starts getting the annual deep cleaning; the wife starts getting spruced up (after months of benign neglect on appearance) and the little projects get finished up and new projects put on hold in anticipation of time spent together as a family. 

This time we are going to miss all that.  Right now it's a mad scramble to get ready!!!!

Like most times in your life when you really need life to go smoothly so you can get stuff done, it hasn't.

 Livi has been sick for 3 weeks and it got much worse yesterday and today.  She went to the doctor today and turns out her ear is infected (thought it was a tooth coming in per the dentist telling us that she would pull her ears when the next teeth came up in a few weeks) and her lungs are full of gunk.  She had a breathing treatment in the office and will need breathing treatments every 3 hours for the next few days at least and possibly longer.   Not easy to do as she fights the mask so hard.

The girls wet my bed; Livi is pulling everything she can down off of tables and cabinets and toy chests; I had to finish delivering some things donated to a local family in need; spring break and Amelia is home; it's been raining constantly; and I'm in the middle of pulling things out to sell for two garage sales, children's consignment fair, and regular consignment.

He'll be lucky if I shave my legs this time.  Welcome home, honey!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Tomato, Feta and Chickpea Salad

I made a modified version of this salad for dinner tonight.  I don't know about Martha's version, but mine came out fabulous and Rafe and I loved it.  Amelia not so much and Livi chewed all the flavor out of it and spit it back out.  Hard to describe how she does that, but imagine chewing meat until all the flavor is gone and then not swallowing it.  Yuck.

Here's my version:
  • No green beans.
  • Use sea salt
  • Zest 1 whole lemon instead of cutting 3 wide strips into matchsticks (can you say GIANT waste of time to do it the original way?!?!)
  • I got 3 tbsp of lemon juice from .5 of a lemon
  • 4 tbsp red onion (I hate it when a recipe says use a small onion - I'm never sure so I measured this one)
  • 3 oz feta just because
  • no parsley
  • fresh basil (approximately 1 tbsp chopped fine)
I made it about 4 hours ahead of time and it tasted MUCH better after it sat.  We served it with some roasted chicken breast seasoned with onion, garlic, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper.  Delish!

Here is the actual recipe, with my changes:
1 lemon, zested
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 pt cherry tomatoes, halved
4 tbsp minced red onion
1 can (15.5 oz) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 oz feta cheese, crumbled 
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil (don't even bother using dried.  If you don't have fresh, skip this recipe and make another time)

Mix.  Let sit a few hours.  Eat.

Edited to add - I ate this for breakfast today and the leftovers were so tasty 2 days later.  The flavors really bloomed.  The tomatoes looked a bit sad but they tasted fine.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Livi's Speech

Olivia has been diagnosed with Speech Apraxia, and while I still don't completely understand all the nuances of it yet or how it will affect her long term, the short of it is that she can understand language better than she can speak it.  She will often look at you quite intently and seriously while you are speaking, watching your mouth move and sometimes silently moving her lips.

It's interesting watching the process of language develop in such slow motion.  Everything about Olivia develops in slow motion and it's quite fascinating in some ways to see how intricately we are made and how each step of our development prepares us for the next task along the way.  She's recently begun saying sentences that have meaning only to her at this point.  They are short and to the point and often sound very specific but we can't decipher them.  She loves to sing and will sing anytime she hears anyone else doing it.  She can actually sing more easily than she can speak, and her ST says that is typical of apraxia (similar to stutterers).  Still no words to the songs, but she can mimic rhythms pretty well (for her, that is).

Recently her ST handed me a piece of paper with all the words Olivia has said up to this point.  There are quite a few more than I thought would be on there; I think 37 words or gestures is what Janet (her ST) told me.  It was both refreshing and sad to see the paper... more words than I thought, but so many of them said only once or twice.  I haven't heard a clear "mama" since last November.

Our next goal is for her to say 2 and 3 words together.  Since I've been given the piece of paper to tape up and write on, I've found myself listening closer to her babble, as has Rafe and Amelia.   It's only been 1 day, literally, and we've written down 3 things.  This morning she went to wake up Amelia right after Rafe did, and she made a kissing sound and said "a(k)e uh"  (wake up) as she touched Mia.  At the store today she grabbed a plantain and said, "Ooo! Uh(k) aa aaa(d)"  (look at that).  Those are things we count as speech, surprisingly enough.  Janet keeps reminding us that speech is communication and although we can't recognize it, she is speaking and forming sentences.  Her favorite thing to say is "If you think you heard it in context, you did!"


I think Amelia is a bit ambivalent about Kindergarten.  She was so excited this summer to FINALLY be a kindergartner and begin teaching the younger children and doing the kindergarten work.  But now that she's finally arrived, she's having mixed feelings.

The first week she told me Ms. Avril, her beloved teacher since she was 3, made her cry.  This is curious, since Ms. Avril is one of the most peaceful and loving human beings you will ever meet.  As it turns out, Ms. Avril did make her cry --- she told Amelia she had to do some K work and could no longer choose just the "little kid" work as Mia calls it.  It was too much for her to take, leaving the comfort of the familiar.  It was good that she got that little push and she soon began enjoying giving lessons and doing new work with the math.

Today I happened to check the work of a little friend of hers in another class and there were tons of math papers in it.  I asked Amelia if she chose a lot of math work this week.  She immediately said, "Oh sure.  I did.".

Then a pause.  "Well, just a little."

Another pause.  "Perhaps I didn't choose any math work this week"

I love the way she uses Perhaps.  It comes out a lot when she's talking to us and never fails to make us smile.  I'm pretty sure she got it from Ms Avril, who is South African and speaks in a clipped, warm British (to my ears, but actually South African) accent.

Then she showed us the globe she had made instead - push pinning all the continents into shapes, gluing them in the right  place, labeling them (is that really her handwriting so neat already?), stuffing the globe and then finally sewing it after it was laminated so it could be hung.

Perhaps no math, but lots of Kindergarten :)

For My Brother(s)!!

Hi Paul!  Hi Todd!

I'm not sure Todd actually reads this but wanted to give him a shout out too :)

I love you guys!  I especially love listening to the two of you talk and tell stories at the same time, half laughing, half being serious.  It reminds me of growing up, going to Uncle Mike's and listening to all the relatives sit around talking and telling stories about their lives.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Amelia says a million amazing things every day and I always forget them come night time.  I've rarely written them down, much to my dismay. 

Tonight she said something really funny.  She was playing with a bouncy ball Asa had won for her out of a toy machine years ago in the bathtub and then after a while, lay on her back and floated in the water.  Out of the blue a few minutes later, she said "This ball loves me!".  I thought for sure I didn't hear her correctly, so I asked her how she could tell the ball loved her.  Her answer?

"Because it keeps trying to get next to me".... it was floating in the water next to her and bumping into her.   How funny the way her brain works.