Thursday, July 30, 2009

First impressions...

This blog has taken more turns than a pretzel and I haven't even written it yet! I think I have settled on a theme but bear with me if it goes a little sideways...I am trying to blend two stories into one...

I have told you about the last place I worked before going back to school. And I mentioned how lovely most everyone was that worked there (by the end). And by lovely I don't mean just wonderful nice people though they were, but truly lovely women. When prospective clients would come into the office you could almost see them wondering if they were being set up. And for a long stretch it wasn't just that the women were lovely, they all shared a look. Not exact, but enough if everyone was out to lunch together more than one person wondered if it might be a family meal instead of a work gathering.

It probably should have been a harder ride on my ego than it was; being over a decade older and a few sizes bigger than they were could have been very hard, but as I said, they were all really lovely people as well so most days I didn't really notice. Most days...

Today I am going to tell you about Jenn. The first time any of us saw Jenn she was a recent college graduate and was coming in for an informational interview with my boss. We had just moved into a new office space and hadn't finished building out the waiting area. There was a couch and a couple of chairs in the middle of the space, a small conference room table and chairs to the left as you first entered and a low table for placing out going mail and such things to the right. As Jenn waited for her interview time she had a seat. On the table. Now to be fair, Jenn was not the first nor the last person to mistake the table for a bench, but it never failed to make me laugh when someone did it and it stuck in my head.

Fast forward, I want to say maybe a year, and one of our AEs is leaving for greener pastures and Jenn is going to come work with us. Now my boss has already started earning his reputation for his unusual hiring practices (remember I was hired by the old boss, it's how I snuck in!) so we were all a little skeptical as to why exactly he was hiring Jenn. Jenn is that impossible combination of pretty you get when excellent gene pools collide. She is tall and thin, but with a cute figure. She has curly hair, but it's still soft and silky to the touch, she has an almost elfin quality to her face with the sweetest smile. The kind of person that you are either instantly drawn to, or you instantly hate. Really depends on where your mind is as an individual.

Jenn's first day in the office happened to be a party day. It was my 37th birthday and our bookkeeper's 36th. So we started the day with drinks and never stopped. I can remember sitting over by Jenn's desk getting the "Welcome to the Company" talk going and staring at my feet, my toes had been recently polished and were very shiny in the light over by the window. I at least had the good graces to fully admit I was drunk and would be spending the day that way. :-) That evening we went out to a bar after work to continue the festivities and Jenn joined us for a while. She fit right in, I thought, she shared some stories, made some jokes then she had to leave. I was thinking, I really like this girl and the person sitting next to me said, "I think I hate her" and she wasn't kidding. So you see, it depends on who you are as a person on how you respond to others.

Jenn coming to work for us was the turning point for me during my hell years at the Agency. I had had Jenny as my refuge, her Switzerland stance helped out so much, but Jenn was where the shift in tone started. After she had been at work a few weeks as the senior AE in the agency I felt I really needed to take her to lunch and see how she was holding up. Our boss was great with clients, tons of knowledge in his head he could have shared to make someone a great AE, but he was a lousy mentor, so it was always good to keep tabs on the new kids and see how they were holding up.

Jenn and I visited through lunch and I became more and more impressed with her. Her parents owned their own company and she had been working since she was a young kid. She found a scholarship for her college tuition that paid full ride for her for four years for basically hanging out at a golf course for a few summers during high school. This girl had some serious brains in that pretty little noggin of hers! But the most important part of the meal came for me towards the end. I have a freakish memory, so this will surprise everyone that knows me, but I cannot for the life of me remember the words she said. It was that much of an emotional kick for me. But basically she let me know that she knew about the tensions in the office, knew about parts of what had been said about me, knew where it was coming from and just wanted to let me know that she formed her own opinions about people and she thought we were going to be great friends. And we have been. Through Jenn we hired Becky and then Danyel. Sheila and Megan had joined the crew as well and before you knew it, it was a brand new ball game. But for me, that lunch meant I had a life line to a normal work life.

So after all of that glowing review do you want to know what I like best about Jenn? She has a series of scars on her back. Big scars. Those scars mean the world to me. Living in the Pacific Northwest we get greedy about our summers. We want to spend as much time as possible in the sun, on the river, in a lake, at the beach. Just soaking it up as much as possible while it is here. Jenn is no exception and spent many hours outside. Shortly after starting at L/N Jenn went into the dermatologist to get a mole screened. That screening led to numerous removals and tests. When they take a mole they suspect might be cancerous, they send it in for testing, if the tests come back with abnormalities they call you back in and take another sample, widening the borders of the incision until they get a test back that shows only normal tissue. For a stretch Jenn was in the dermatologist's office every few weeks. It was a pretty scary time. She was in a lot of pain from where they had taken samples and a few of the incisions didn't heal as cleanly as they needed to and had to be treated again. You just ached for her.

But the part that makes those scars truly beautiful is that they not only saved her life, but saved others as well. When you see a 23 year old girl going through the extensive tests she was going through it makes you think twice about ignoring your own odd moles. There were at least 3 of us in the office that went in for testing, and then friends of each of ours went as well. Jenn actually went with me to my first screening. She had an incision that needed checked so we went in together. You know when the doctor looks at a mole and says, "Do you have time to get this removed today?" you should pay attention. So I have a scar on my hip, two on my arm and a really good sized one on my rib cage. The one on my rib cage was the repeat tester for me. It took three times getting re-cut before the edges were clean and the precancerous cells were gone.

Jenn, like most of my friends, is also a client of mine and as I worked on her back this week, I looked at those scars, and was once again so grateful for everything she has done for me.

But I still tease her about sitting on the table. ;-)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mothers...

My mother is a force of nature. Sometimes nature is sunshine and rainbows and sometimes it's thunderstorms and tornado warnings. This pretty much sums up my mother.

My parents as a team have faced more than most marriages could weather. They have suffered the loss of three children, two shortly after birth and one when he was a small boy. Financially they struggled to keep a roof over our heads and keep the repo men at bay. All while scraping by to find the tuition to send me to a private middle school because they felt that the public school wasn't advanced enough to keep me out of trouble. This turned out to be a really good call, but that is another blog for another day. One of their children had serious drug issues and two still live with them to this day. They are amazing people and work well as a team.

But I've always felt it was my mother that drove that team. My father supports her, adds steel to her resolve and muscle to her declarations. But my mother calls the shots. My mother is just over 5 feet tall. Bright blue eyes. Easy smile. Lovely laugh. She was the driving force in my family growing up. I can remember sitting at the dining room table as a small girl and announcing that my father might be the head of the family but my mother was the neck that turned the head. My dad said something to the effect of that being the best for my mother to think and the subject was changed. But please believe it was true.

Mom was a working mother for as long as I can remember. When she was pregnant with my sister she was a meter maid in Des Moines, IA and they did a newspaper article about her and the baby after my sister was born. I guess there was a lot of curiosity about the pregnant meter maid! While I was growing up she worked for my dad and then as the office manager for a local car wash. My brother Jeff, my sister and I all worked at the car wash as well. Because Mom decided we would, and so we did. My mother has an incredibly strong will and my father falls in with what my mother decides and they become an immovable force.

Lately things have shifted. My mother started suffering from sudden onset dementia last fall. It took months of tests and a move to a new doctor and hospital before we discovered that the underlying cause was excessive calcium production due to two different types of lymphoma. Now the good news is that she is undergoing treatment for the cancer and that is in turn treating the calcium levels so she is getting better. But a side effect of the chemo therapy is depression. When you add depression to the traces of dementia that are still around and mix that with a healthy dose of my mother's normal steam roller personality you get a really difficult mix to manage.

My mother has always had the habit of hearing what she wants to. Now, this has undoubtedly helped her through her life in raising all of us kids. But as one of those kids it's one of her most frustrating characteristics. We have had more arguments than I could ever recall from her insisting I said I would do something that I never agreed to. She probably has no idea how close I came to cutting all ties to my family in New Mexico when I was newly married. (Again, another blog for another day.) She is the queen of wishful thinking. I say she has the ability to hear a paragraph worth of words and can cut and paste in her head to make the sentence she wants to hear.

Just over the past few weeks she has decided we are coming home for Christmas, my niece and I are having a fight and have stopped speaking to each other and that she hasn't spoken to me in weeks and is going to call me and ask if I am still alive then hang up the phone. Now, we are not coming home for Christmas, my niece and I are fine and I just spoke with my mother last week.
I am going to have to call her and listen to her complain about how I never call her, and hope that she remembers this time that we spoke and try my hardest not to lose my temper. But I am not calling her today. Tomorrow.

Tomorrow I will remind myself that she is an old woman; who is sick and scared and not in her right mind. Tomorrow I will remember that she is a force of nature and that right now she is stuck in a fog bank that she doesn't know how to find her way out of. Tomorrow I will put on my good daughter hat and dial the number. Tomorrow.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

It's just an expression...

"I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference." Robert Frost

“We must be willing to give up the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Joseph Campbell

"My Mom always said men are like linoleum floors: Lay 'em right and you can walk all over them for 30 years." Brett Butler

Don't you love a good quote? Funny, inspirational, motivational. My friend Scott writes down quotes that inspire him, personally and professionally. I was really pleased when something I said made his list because I keep a list of my own. Well, list is probably being generous. Mine are tacked up on the refrigerator, stuck in books as bookmarks, torn out of magazines, stuffed in a drawer or crammed in my head.

I wish I could always remember where I picked up the phrase from, but sometimes that piece is lost. But the words aren't. The expression, the life lesson, the joke, that part I keep. And I have found that a really good turn of phrase can really bring you comfort. I mentioned in another blog the power I found in the phrase "I can't let who he is change who I am." It really did turn into a mini mantra of sorts. Another one I love is "just because someone doesn't love you the way you want them to doesn't mean they don't love you with all they have."

Another friend, Norma, would size up a bad situation in the office and say either "walk down the same path, fall in the same hole" or "no good can come of this." I actually took that last quote to heart and put a personal spin on it. Often when I am sizing up a situation, and deciding to act or not to act, to speak my mind or to stay silent I will think, "what good can come of this?" and if the answer is none, then I hold my tongue. I wish I had figured that one out earlier in life, it would have spared a lot of hurt feelings and prevented more than one useless argument.

So I thought I would take a page from Scott's book (or future book anyway) and share a few phrases that I love. Some of them I apply to my life, some of them I just like the way they sound. I will give credit to who I first heard the phrase from if I remember! So here are a few more of mine:

"Never raise your voice at each other or your children unless the house is on fire" the only premarital counseling my parents received

"When budgeting never skimp on food or woman's lingerie." Larry Pierson -the only piece of premarital counseling Brent and I received that I remember.

"Never let the facts get in the way of a good story." Marshall Clifton (my dad)

"Don't should on me and I won't should on you." Megan Clark

"You don't know what you don't know." Scott Dickinson

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Eleanor Roosevelt

"If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit next to me."

"When you know better, you do better."

"Everyone is the star of their own movie."

"Inside every skinny person is a fat person who is really cramped."

"If you aren't sleeping with your husband, someone else is."

"First we mock" Christopher Mastenbrook. Okay this is mine, but it's a good life lesson and a good story for another blog

"After the final no there comes a yes, and on that yes the future world depends." Wallace Stevens

"Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live." Goethe

"Trust yourself, Think for yourself. Act for yourself. Speak for yourself. Imitation is suicide." Marva Collins

"All appears to change when we change." Henri Ameil

"Make Voyages! Attempt them! -there's nothing else..." Tennessee Williams

"Follow your bliss." Joseph Campbell

"I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get." Anne Tyler

"If not now, when?" The Talmud


This list is only partial, I am sure there are a ton more that are just escaping me at the moment. Oh and my quote that made Scott's list? I actually have two now.

"Sometimes the best hand up is a kick in the ass!"

and a team effort

"His heart is in the right place (said by Scott trying to be the good guy) too bad his head is up his ass (my retort)"

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The inescapable Michael Jackson blog....

Michael Jackson. What's the image that comes to your mind? The young boy singing with his brothers? The moonwalking Michael of the 80s? The gloved hand? The Michael on trial showing up in court in his pajamas? The Michael whose face became an unrecognizable oddly alien looking plastic surgery warning?

I am a child of the 80s. MTV was on all the time. We planned activities around World Premier Videos. And I cannot tell you how many times I watched the video for Thriller. MJ was a huge talent. No way around it. His voice, his dancing, his music. It was all amazing. My personal favorite album is Off the Wall. You hear his influence through popular music still today.

About a month ago Brent, Christopher and I were talking about MJ and what his legacy would be when he eventually died. If people would forget all of the accusations and oddities and just talk about the music. Would he be bigger in death than he was in life? Would his legacy follow the likes of Elvis? Would the company that bought out Neverland turn it into a tourist attraction like Graceland and would people actually go?

Part of what stirred this discussion was the sold out series of concerts planned for this summer in London. I was amazed at how quickly those tickets sold. We talked about how for some people all that mattered was the music and for others the questions and doubts would always be too pervasive to overcome. That it was very easy for people to say, you weren't there, you don't know what actually happened. He was never found guilty so that means he didn't do it. To that I say, you are right, I will never know for sure what happened, but I didn't need to be there to form my opinion.

When Christopher was 6 or 7 years old he came home from spending the night with friends of ours and he had two adult size Tae Kwon Do uniforms and a few different belt colors. I asked him where they came from and he told me the neighbor of our friends gave it to him. We talked about why and who and as I got all the details my mom radar started pinging like crazy. This was an adult neighbor of our friends who had kids of his own, but chose my son to give his uniforms to. His daughters were still young, 5, 6 and 10 and could very well still choose to go into martial arts at some point so why give up his belts to a stranger? And what did he want in return? Just for Christopher to come show him new forms as he learned them.

I talked to our friends to see what they knew of their neighbor. Was he really interested in their girls as well? Their youngest daughter was already showing the signs of being an incredible athlete, was he some sort of coach? And what I found was that he really never showed much interest in the girls. They had actually been surprised with how enamored he had been with Christopher. Now Christopher always has been an amazing kid, I will let you know, but even through my biased parent eyes this just felt off.

So the adults all had a talk, this guy had done nothing wrong, yet it still didn't sit right with anyone. Why would he ignore the girls and not Christopher? Why would he give his items away to a stranger and not his own kids? Why would he try to arrange more time with Christopher? So it was decided that Christopher was not to be left alone with him, ever. The uniforms were returned with a "thank you but I would rather earn the belts myself" and that was that. Did he have nefarious intentions with my son? Who knows. He might have genuinely been just a nice guy who thought boys did martial arts and girls didn't. But it felt wrong.

A grown man who builds a personal amusement part, has a petting zoo, spends most of his time with prepubescent boys including having sleepovers? It just feels wrong doesn't it? Now strip away the music. The videos. The feeling that we must "know" him because we have heard his music. And well he's famous after all. So imagine you are watching the news one day and you hear about a man that has been accused of child molestation. He has been accused in the past and paid the family over 20 million dollars to make it go away. He is known to have sleep overs with young boys on a pretty regular basis. His friends say that it's all innocent really. When he was asked after the first set of accusations why he didn't stop hanging out with young boys his answer was "because I don't want to." Now, if this wasn't a celebrity if this wasn't someone who could make a good music video, what would you think about him?

I had a friend ask me if I thought the fact that I am the mother of a son influenced my feelings on MJ. I can't say for sure, but I would guess that it does. Christopher was a baby when the first set of accusations hit and you are at your most fiercely protective right then. But I have to think that even if I was the parent of a little girl, or not a parent at all MJ's behavior would ping my "this in not right" radar.

Then MJ died. And Brent, Christopher and I got our answer. Yes, people forgot about the accusations and set about making him even bigger in death than he was in life. And trust me in the 80s especially he was pretty darn big in life. News reports slid right past the child molestation accusations. Calling them, "his later day problems" or "the unpleasantness" and focused on the music. Fans came back out of the woodwork to weep publicly and loudly at losing this great genius.

Now the question comes up. Does it matter anymore? What is left is the music right? We will never know for sure what happened. MJ is dead. We should just enjoy the music he left behind right? So what does it matter that he could very well have been a serial child molester that possibly ruined the lives of dozens of young boys over the years?

Oh...that part. Yeah, it still just doesn't feel right to me. And I don't know that it ever will.

Talented man. Damaged childhood. In my mind probable child molester. Guess which is the most important part to me?

Friday, July 10, 2009

What do I want to be when I grow up part three, or where I finally stopped arguing and started listening.

So this is where I say "and peace reigned through out the land" right? Obviously not. If you have ever watched children on a playground that are forced to apologize you can imagine what things were like now. An uneasy semi-truce was called based on fear. They were afraid of what our boss would do, our boss was afraid of what I would do. I was afraid I couldn't stand to work there anymore and had no back up plan.

Open warfare ceased but I didn't for a second believe things were fixed. I just needed to be able to come in to work and do my job without it being a battle every day. And for the most part it got there. I didn't trust them, they didn't like me, but we were civil and outwardly professional with each other. And that's all you can ask for in a situation like that.

But then things started to shift. People left, new people came in and they quickly figured out where they fit in the scheme of things. And I was really surprised one day to look around a conference room table of people playing Soduko and filling in crosswords and eating their lunch together and realize that these people were not just my co-workers but my friends.

One of the two main instigators from my hell time still worked in the office and she knew the shift had happened to. If you can imagine how pleasant my surprise was, you can imagine how much it pained her. Not only had the people that had come on board not decided to join with her and hate me, they had decided that actually out of the two of us, I was the one they would rather spend time with. Now you would think this is the part of the story where the sun comes out and she realizes her wicked ways and becomes a good person and we all went skipping down the garden path together. And if it were a book or movie I would say you were right. Instead she went completely out of her freaking mind.

The only good thing about this is that we all were in it together this time. She was the company bookkeeper and would do things great and small to make life hard on everyone around her. Billing was done wrong, expense checks were not cut, she would disappear out the back door and not tell anyone where she was going. UPS items weren't set up. It was sabotage for her amusement. In a normal company this would mean she would lose her job. But we worked for a special special man and so she never was going to get fired and she knew it. I think for a stretch she did things just to see how far she could push us all.

Now during all of this as you can imagine the job was just a giant stress ticket. It went from an outright hostile work environment to a completely dysfunctional one. Looking back it almost seems like that unseen force said...well we tried with one tactic and thick head over there didn't get it, so let's try again shall we?

One of the things that my crazy former boss did well was gifts. Birthdays, Anniversaries, End of Shit Storms, he would gift you. And usually for me that gift was a gift certificate to Aveda. So being on the receiving end of a lot of Shit Storms during that period I was the pretty regular recipient of those certificates. And off I would go to Aveda for my massage. And I would talk to the therapists, or treat them to my version of the Spanish Inquisition..."How long have you been doing this? Why did you decide to do this? Do you like doing this? Where did you go to school?" And on and on. And each time I would leave thinking how much better I felt and thinking "Could I?"

Another piece that fell into place during this stretch was Strength Finders. If you have never done the series or seen the books I highly recommend them. The basic gist is that we all have strengths and if we can line up what we are doing with what we are good at doing things will flow much smoother. One of my clients (also one of my closest friends) was planning on using the system in his organization. To help him get set up with a company wide roll out he gave me a copy of the book to see what my strengths were as well. Well surprisingly my strengths did not line up with the job I was doing, but lined up perfectly with what I WANTED to do.

But I still stayed with the agency. No matter how many times I would think either "I HAVE to get out of here, it's making me nuts," or "Wouldn't being a massage therapist be cool?" I would talk myself out of it. Money for school, time for school, switching careers for a lower paying job even a strong sense of loyalty to the clients I had and the agency as a whole. So I would talk myself back out of it. And I would set my shoulders and hit the job again.

Then the final stretch hit. The bookkeeper had a run where she was crazier than normal. I had had it. Again. My boss and I went to lunch and I told him he HAD to do something. I knew he would never fire her but he had better learn how to control her. I lined out (again) all of the things she had done to make my job and my fellow AE's jobs impossible to do. How she was abusive to vendors and ignored the creative's needs. And I told him that she made me feel like quitting. Now you are sitting across a table from your longest term employee, who is telling you they want to quit because of the actions of one employee, and you know that this is not your only employee who feels this way. What is your response? His? "If you quit over (her) I will lose all respect for you."

So I went home that night and told Brent I was done. I was in the middle of planning a big event and roll out so I would wait until that was over and then give my two weeks notice. So that meant 2 more months at the agency. Six weeks until the event, two weeks notice. And I started figuring out what I was going to do. STILL not thinking back to school at that point. Brent and I talked about me taking a month off between jobs so I could clear my head and look for something new. And I went on my merry way. The week I was planning on giving my notice the crazy bookkeeper quit.

So I didn't. I felt like I needed to stay and help with the transition, and really wouldn't this fix things anyway? So I stayed. A new bookkeeper started (who was her own brand of crazy, but we didn't know that at the time) and things moved along. And I realized I still wasn't happy. I had made my peace with leaving and yet I was still there. Knowing my boss was what he was and that was never going to change. Knowing that I wasn't fully using my strengths. Knowing that other people would be happier in my job. So I was going to quit again. And then my media director gave notice. Her husband was being transferred and they were really excited.

This was a professional and personal blow to me. During my hell stretch she had remained Switzerland. She was able to maintain good relationships with all involved. But for me she was my calm in the storm of the office. My one friendly face in the crowd. I was going to miss her terribly on a personal level. Professionally it was a huge blow as my account was a media heavy account and I couldn't leave without knowing that there was a good media person in place. So I didn't quit.

And I just got more and more miserable. I described it at the time as bone tired. I was tired of working for a man I didn't respect. I was tired of swimming hard against the stream trying to make the best of a situation that was never going to change. The people I worked with at the time were a great group. Smart, funny, beautiful women. Incredible talent levels. This should have been the highlight of my career. But poor (no?) business sense was starting to catch up to my boss and the agency was beginning its final crumble to the ground. Lots of ways it could have still turned around but it wasn't going to. When you feel like you are Cassandra it's time to leave your job no matter what.

So I took a deep breath. The next time Jenn Valdez from East West College of the Healing Arts sent me a "Hey, you still out there?" email, I answered. Yes, yes I am. Brent and I sat down and talked about what it would mean for me to leave. And I decided that I wanted to go to school during the day, not at night so I would quit the agency and get a job at the local Starbucks as a barista on my off days from school. I met with my main client and told him I was really doing it this time. This is really telling, I felt a stronger sense of loyalty to the clients I had than the man who signed my check. He thought about it for a few seconds and then agreed it was time for me to go. And then offered me a job. Part time working from home helping him in his employee development programs and in house projects. I waited until after the planning session for the following year was done, then met with my boss and gave him my notice. Six weeks notice. He had until the end of the year to find my replacement.

Then I went back to the office and let everyone know I was going. It was hard. Like I said, at this time the people I was working with were all top notch. It was just too late for me to be able to appreciate it. So I was on my way out the door. The next week my boss and I negotiated a new arrangement. He would pay for my school if I would continue to work for him. We decided to take it one term at a time. So I stayed. Again. I know...I know...

I have little mini-blog postings from that year posted here. It was a wild ride. I had a full time job at the agency that I was cramming in around my days off from school. I was back in school for the first time in almost 20 years taking classes that were much harder than I ever imagined they would be. I was working part time as well during my "free time." So it was an incredibly busy and stressful time. And I had many opportunities during that year to abandon my dream again. But this time I decided to put on my blinders and move forward on the path I was on.

And it was worth it.

“We must be willing to give up the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Joseph Campbell

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What do I want to be when I grow up part two, or Don't ask questions if you aren't going to listen to the answers.

There is a joke that I love that fits this situation perfectly.

There is a man watching television and the emergency broadcast system breaks in to announce there is a major storm on its way and there will be widespread flooding of the area. All residents are being told to evacuate immediately. The man says a quick prayer asking God to take care of him. His neighbor knocks on his door and says, "We are packed up and ready to go, do you need a ride?" The man tells his neighbor, "No thanks, God will take care of me." The neighbor leaves.

The storms come and the waters start to rise. The man moves to the second floor of his house and sees out the window another neighbor in a boat. This neighbor comes to the window and says, "Come on, man, we've almost waited too long, let me take you out of here." The man shakes his head and says, "No thanks, God will take care of me." The neighbor shakes his head and rows away.

The storm keeps raging and the man ends up on his roof. A helicopter comes and the ladder is lowered, a loud voice booms out "Grab the rope and climb up! We have a lot of people to save!" and the man shouts back, "You go on and save them then, God will take care of me!"

And the storm keeps raging. And the waters raise and the man drowns. When he stands before God he is really angry. He shouts at him, "I had FAITH, I told every one you would save me and yet here I am DEAD!" And God looks at him and says, "I sent you a television report, a car, a boat and a helicopter what else did you want me to do?"

This story always tickles me. Sometimes when you ask a question you need to listen to the answer.

Going to school for massage therapy was the answer to my question of What next? And I ignored it. And I paid the price.

I went to a small private middle school. So the experiences everyone else had with cliques and "mean girls" and such I didn't have. I had one brush with it during high school but I was comfortable enough in my own skin and a pretty tough cookie by that time so I wasn't impressed with it, and it didn't make the impression on me it might have otherwise. So I was shocked to be living my own middle school experience at 36 years old.

It's hard to describe completely. I was the focus of hatred and dislike that to this day I am not entirely sure why it started. It made my time at work miserable. It started from a few nasty comments here and there to vicious gossip and rumor mongering at work and outside of work. I kept a fairly brave and callous front up at work but I cried a lot more than I would like to admit. I wonder why I stayed. I know I had reasons, commitment to the agency, commitment to the client, belief that it couldn't possibly get worse (and yet, it would) but I think probably the thing that kept me there was pride. I wasn't going to let them win.

I can remember sitting at an agency retreat one year as the client billings were flashed in pie chart form up on the screen. I was the AE in charge of 65% of the agency's revenue at the time. I looked around the room at this group of people that HATED me and I thought, I should quit tomorrow and as I go I should let my clients know why I am leaving. And I felt an anger bloom in me that I had forgotten existed. I had spent the past 20 years getting over being that angry kid and there she was back full force. And let me tell you, no one in that room would have been prepared to deal with the bitch I was in high school if I didn't like you. I wasn't going to take it anymore. Come Monday morning at work things were going to shift. I was the big dog in that place and dammit they had better start taking notice! I didn't care if they liked me or not but they better well fear me and respect me because I was burning the place down!

After we had dinner that night and we were all getting ready to head back to the city our creative director whispered in my ear, "What ever you are planning, you need to take the weekend to think on it." I looked at him and he said, "I've known you a lot longer than they have, that is not a good look in your eye. You are better than that, you need to hold on to that." Creative directors as a whole are a challenge, and ours was especially trying to work with but as I always remind people, he is one of the good guys. It was a quiet ride back down the mountain for me that night while I thought about what he said. Was I better? I sure didn't feel like being better. I felt like tearing them apart. Then our media director reached over and patted my leg and asked if I was okay, she is also one of the good guys. And I realized I needed to take the weekend and think.

As is my normal behavior that weekend I read a book. One of the problems with reading as much as I do is that you forget what book you read something in. There is a story from a book that I read that weekend that profoundly changed the way I viewed my situation. And it has changed the way I deal in the world ever since. And I CANNOT remember who wrote it. Someday I hope to stumble across it again so I can give them full credit. In the story the man's mother is married to a really abusive jerk. I cannot remember if it's his father or his stepfather, but anyway, he is horrible. He cheats on her, he abuses her physically and mentally while they are married. He is an awful human being. Years later he is very sick and no one will take him in. She lets him back into her house and she takes care of him until he dies. Her son asks her, why would you do that? He was horrible! And she says, "I cannot let who he is change who I am."

I must have read that sentence twenty times. I cannot let who he is change who I am. It became my mantra. I cannot let who they are change who I am. I would like say that from there on out it became easy, but that would be a lie. It got much worse. I just changed the way I dealt with it. I stopped wondering what was wrong with me and realized that it was their issue. When things got too hard to deal with at work I picked up my lap top and worked from a friend's office. I worked early, I worked weekends, I worked evenings at home. I basically stayed away from work as much as I could get away with. And when I was there I did my best to not let it get me too down. I tried my best to keep a civil tongue in my head, which most of the time meant I didn't talk at all. During social/work events I tried to play along as much as possible. I kept my mouth shut when I heard or saw things that were no one's business even though I could have used them to wreck a few lives. I held back people's hair while they vomited, I jumped dead batteries in cars, I kept people from talking when they were drunk and wanted to play true confessions. I tried to understand when people I had been friendly with in the past were shitty to me. Basically I did my level best to be who I am.

Months went by and things were miserable at work but I thought I was managing it okay. Then my boss and I went to Vegas. While we were there he made a crack that let me know two things. One he was aware of the worst of the things being said about me, and two he was part of it. The bitch that had gone into hibernation that weekend came roaring back full force. At a food court in Vegas I called my boss back to the table and stone cold told him that I was done. That I was through eating shit. I was finished turning my cheek. I was over being the grown up and either he was going to fix it or he was going to regret it. The look on my face, or the absolute lack of emotion in my voice must have scared him because as soon as we got back I got a lunch invitation from the two ringleaders of the abuse and got an apology. They also wasted no time in throwing another person in the office under the bus and soon she became the target of their abuse.

And this is much longer than I was planning on so I will wrap it up for now. So as our story stands so far, I put the question out to the Universe, what should I do with my life? And at this point in the story I am ignoring the answer I got. Can you see how well it's working for me? :-)

What do I want to be when I grow up?

Man, I pondered that question for years. I think on some level, though I love massage therapy, I still do. How do we find what we are supposed to do? Is there a grand calling out there for all of us? I don't really know. What I do know is that the road to me being what I am right now was a long and twisty one.

So background time...for those of you that don't know Brent and I got married when we were 18. Let me let that sink in for a minute. Yep, 18, graduated in June of 86 got married in December. Brent joined the Navy and away life went. My mother is fond of saying that I was born a grown up. Another day and another blog I will talk more about that, childhood stories are fun, but for their own time. Brent joining the service was a good solid grown up decision for a couple of kids to make. It meant steady income, housing, and medical coverage. Looking back on it we would have switched that up and done the college route instead, but at the time it was a good decision to make.

So his career path was set and signed away. That left me. At 18 and no degree you don't have a lot of options in front of you. Food service and retail. I did both. My parents are older than most parents of my generation and instilled in me that depression era work ethic. If you have a job, I don't care what the job is, you do it well. So I always did well no matter where I worked. But there is only so long you want to do food service or retail work. I decided that really the smart thing would be to do bookkeeping. I am good with numbers and no matter where we were to live I could get a job doing books. And so I switched to back offices in retail stores. Would work the floor as needed and work the office the rest of the time. And we rolled along with this arrangement until we moved to California.

California has a pretty constant flow of people coming into the state. Due to that they have a pretty large pool to draw from for employment. What I soon discovered is that I wasn't going to get a job as a bookkeeper without a degree. The other thing that California has is a spectacular Junior College system. Now with Brent in the Navy we could only guess we were going to be stationed in San Diego for a few years anyway so this worked perfectly. I enrolled in San Diego City College for $5 a credit hour, maximum $25 a term and got my degree in Accounting. My professors wanted me to go on to UCSD and pick up the two additional classes I would need to take my CPA exam but I didn't want to be a CPA, I wanted to be a bookkeeper. That's enough, thanks.

After graduation I got a job at a wholesale pottery company, with my experience and my brand new piece of paper I was able to get on as their full charge bookkeeper. I spent the next few years working for a variety of companies as different versions of bookkeeper/office manager. I also took three years off in the middle to stay home with Christopher. Then the first shift in career happened. Moving back from Colorado Springs to Portland, Oregon we found ourselves in need of a letter from a company saying I had a job waiting for me so we could get the loan on our house. The advertising agency I had been keeping books for before we moved was coming to the realization that the person they had in their AE position for one of their biggest clients was not working out. Jack, my former boss, asked me if I wanted the job. He assured me he would teach me anything I didn't know and that the rest was just tracking numbers, which I had done for them before in my old position. So I took a big leap and said yes.

Now, Jack hadn't told me that he was in the absolute last stages of selling the company to his partner and by teaching me anything I didn't know what he really meant was he would run for the door just as soon as I had my desk unpacked again, and good luck to you! Maybe it wasn't that bad...but it sure felt like it the first few months. There were 4 of us in the agency full time and we had a freelance bookkeeper that would come in a few days a week. Between the 5 of use we did it all. And I learned a lot very quickly. I realized just how sheltered I had been from the day to day dealings when I had worked there before.

So the whole time I am doing the job I am still thinking in the back of my head, is this it? Is this what I am supposed to be doing? New people would start at the agency and they would be so excited to FINALLY be in Advertising! This was their goal. This is what they went to college to do. And there I was handling the agency's biggest client and a small handful of others and I had no clue if this was even what I wanted to do.

Now in every office there is that person that will rub your shoulders when you are stressed and tired. I was that person. And every time I would rub someone's back or shoulders they would say, you are really good at this you should do it for a living. Now the first few times you hear that you think, awww...isn't that sweet. Then you start thinking, hmmm...maybe I should. I like doing it, I am good at it. It makes people feel good. Hmm....

Brent and I talked about it and he bought me books on massage and books on reflexology and I read them and practiced more and thought, yeah, this sounds good to me. So I looked into schools. I had the paperwork in hand to start night school. It was going to be very tricky to manage as my travel schedule for work was picking up more and more, but I really thought this was it. And then I chickened out. Completely backed out of it. Just couldn't see how I could manage full time work, school and family life. It just wasn't for me so why even bother. I called the school, withdrew my initial application and gave up the idea.

Or so I thought.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

And moved...

Okay, all of the old items are here now.

They start oldest at the bottom (right after Moving day!) and work towards current.

I promise no more mass date postings. :-)

I will be back tomorrow or the next day with all new material, but this should keep you busy for awhile!

Feel free to comment!

Potential (6/16/09)

Is there a more loaded word in the English dictionary? Good and bad this is a powerful word.

I have an amazingly talented friend who is a professional photographer and Potential is the one word I use to describe her work. Then I have to explain. It's not that I think she has the potential to be a good photographer, she already is one. It's not that I think she has the potential to do great things, she already is doing them. It's that her pictures for me always seem to be about the Potential. The what happens next. Now part of that is her main bread and butter is kids and weddings as is for most photographers and those two subjects are all about potential, but her work always is about more than just the subject, it's about the subject and the world around them! Her passion is working with animals and she has a series of shots with a dog on the beach where I can hear the ocean and I can feel the ball in my hand as I am about to throw it for that waiting pooch! Potential...

Then there is the flip side, the pressure that Potential brings with it. My mother was pregnant eight times. She had one miscarriage, two of my sisters died shortly after birth, one brother was fatally hit by a truck when he was very young. That left my two older brothers, my sister and I. Due to the amount of pregnancies and the size of her babies after my brother Jeff was born (he was #6) the doctors told my mother no more babies. She said okay. And a year and half later my sister was born. The doctors said, seriously, no more babies. You will die or the child will die. No more. And she said okay. So just over 6 years later when she found she was pregnant with me the doctors were not happy. I believe there was also a letter written to the condom manufacturer letting them know of their defective product and that at the very least a refund should be coming forthwith.

They told her, do you think we were kidding? You will die if you carry this child to term. The baby will most likely not survive and if for some reason it does it will most likely be retarded. Now, the only thing I can figure out here is this is before genetic testing and doctors were just starting to figure out the correlation between Down Syndrome and age of the birth mother, but I still think it was a pretty bold statement for him to make. It has, of course, made my brothers and sister very happy through the years to repeat this little bit of medical fact at any opportunity.

Anyway, my parents are extremely religious people and for them there was no other option than to carry the child to term and hope for the best. I was almost a month late. So at almost 10 months pregnant my mother and father made their way to St. Joseph's in Albuquerque. My parents are not Catholic but still felt at that point the nuns were going to be of more use than the doctors. After a very rough delivery where I tried my hardest to kill my mother on the way out we both survived. Beat up for me. Lots of blood loss for her. But mother and baby recovered just fine.

But this is where the story of my life took hold. For as long as I can remember my mother would tell me, "God has very special plans for you." Or "You wouldn't be here if God didn't have great things you needed to do." Do you know the pressure that puts on a child? GOD wants me to do great things and all I want is to have an ice cream cone. Potential. It was like a weight to carry around. Eventually I got over it. I decided my potential was just that, mine. Just like everyone else's. And I put it mostly away.

Then I became a parent. I see this kid in front of me that is on his way to being an exceptional man and I see POTENTIAL! He told me yesterday after a random talk, "You really have big plans for me don't you?" I realized I was being my parents all over. I had to back away from the ledge and remind him that I see all of the great things he can accomplish, if he so chooses, and that yes, I fully believe he can do anything, but mostly I just want him to be happy. However that manifests itself. And that is the truth. If I accomplish nothing else in life if I can raise a kid that grows up to be a content good man, then my Potential is fully realized and I am happy.

This year my incredibly talented friend will take my incredible son's Senior pictures. Potential...meet Potential. I cannot wait to see the results!

Her website is http://www.greenchairstudio.com/ because I know you all want to see that dog!

Random Thoughts While on a Walk (6/15/09)

Today's walk was split half and half with Christopher. We walked down to the shopping area near the house he stopped for lunch, I grabbed an ice tea and headed back home. I thought I would share a few random walk thoughts with you all.

Why is it that the way to someplace seems longer than the way back?

How long has the path in dog poop park been paved?

If all of the people in Beaverton stopped trimming their blackberry bushes would it take a full season before they took over the world?

Over hearing a conversation at the playground as we walked by..."Well the Mom's in Motion group was formed to really be a support system, I think Cindy joined just to get free babysitting so she could go out partying." Sounds like Cindy to me...I wonder if it's the same Cindy or just a coincidence.

Talking about summer plans, and thinking having no plans are as good as having a lot of plans.

Sunglasses, I have to remember to grab my sunglasses!

I really did have a part in raising a good kid. Amazing.

So...November is six months away...

Watching a kid Christopher went to middle school with out driving on his own, why is it someone else's kids getting older is so much more of a shock than your own?

I wonder if the mother walking with her teenage daughter was thrilled with her choice of the Hooters t-shirt.

Though there aren't sidewalks on all of Springville Road there is a load of crazy driving on it!

Hoke died over 5 years ago and Margaret moved back to Florida within a month after, I still look down the street as I pass Graff and I think I am looking to see if Hoke's truck will be parked there.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich here I come!

If I leave the house at 7:15 I can make it to the airport by 8 without a problem.

And about a thousand more thoughts not to mention all of the random things Christopher and I talked about including but not limited to haircuts, Halloween costumes, football shaped heads, making shit up because it amuses me, Senior year capstone presentations.

*whispers* (5/22/09)

Have you ever heard the phrase "Don't call the devil by his name?" It basically means if you say something bad out loud you will bring it to you. My parents are of the generation that took this to heart and would *whisper* any words they felt were scary. Words around death or divorce were always *whispered*. Led to one of the funniest misunderstandings of my life. Now, for those of you reading this that know me, you know I laugh at inappropriate things, for those of you that don't know me as well this is your warning.

There was a prominent business family in the town I grew up in. They owned restaurants and car dealerships and a few other businesses. Well the patriarch of this family was also a bit of a dog. And he was fairly public about it. When I was maybe 11 years old he died. He was at his girlfriend's apartment and there was a gas leak. My parents and other adults were all a buzz about this and would discuss it when they thought the kids weren't in hearing distance. Well, let me tell you, there is nothing that will bring about kids like discussing something you don't want them to hear! But the conversation we all heard went like this:

"Did you hear about JG?"
"I did! Did you hear he was at his *girlfriend's* apartment when it happened?"
"Yes, I did. I can't believe he was *asphyxiated* SG must be so angry!"

Fast forward to my teen years sitting in class one day studying biology. Mrs. Parks asks the class if we know the word for what happens when the body is denied oxygen. A lot of people guess suffocation, but the word she is looking for is asphyxiation. I laughed out loud.

"Ms. Clifton, do you want to share with the class why asphyxiation would be humorous to you?"
and I debated for a moment and then thought, well she asked...
"Well, do you remember JG? He was asphyxiated at his girlfriend's apartment. All this time I thought it was a sexual position and he died trying it!"

Really funny thing is I ended up working for his sons years later and every once in awhile would still get inappropriate giggles thinking that for years I thought asphyxiation had something to do with sex!

Disneyland (3/28/09)

I love Disneyland. No secret there right? I tried to figure out just what it was about the place that I love so much this week.

I am frugal by nature. My father was the oldest son of an alcoholic father and barely capable mother. He was born in 1930 and to say they were poor would be putting a positive spin on things. He is tight. Saves everything because you never know what parts you could salvage to fix something else. He went to work when he was 12 and hasn't stopped yet. When we were kids if we went shopping and would say "I saved $5 by buying this on sale!" he would say "You would have saved $20 had you not bought it at all." I find myself thinking this now when I go to buy something. So you know it's not the prices that make me love Disneyland.

Crowds make me tense. Being the youngest in my family I never had space to myself. I shared a room with my sister. A cramped 14x70 foot trailer with way too many people at any one time. I like to have my own space. I don't want a stranger bumping into me, breathing down my neck, taking up my air. :-) So it's not the mass of humanity that makes me love it.

So I paid really close attention while we were there. Was it the rides? Was it the experience? Was it nostalgia for my misspent youth? What is it?

It's the Happiest Place on Earth. That's it. I know it's their marketing slogan, but it really does seem that way. Yes, crying babies and over tired toddlers are there, but so are kids beaming with excitement over seeing Mickey LIVE and IN PERSON! Looking at the people in line with us, EVERYONE comes to Disney. There were Japanese tourists, middle America tourists, native Californians, hipster parents, mini van driving soccer mom parents, goth kids, jock kids, little kids, teens, adults, big families and singles. EVERYONE comes to Disney. And I think that's why I love it so much.

It's a little microcosm of the world in one place where everyone is there for one purpose, to have a good time. You aren't going to pay the price you do to go to have a bad time so people are working at having fun. And I like that. We all work at so much in our day to day lives. Why not work a little at the fun stuff as well?

Or it could be that I had two compliments about my hair while we were there... ;-)

I will post more about the trip later. Lots in my head that needs to get out.

Final Roll Call (Part Three 2/12/09)

When Brent left for New Mexico Ann was certain that she did not want a service at all. Jack wanted to be cremated so she would do that, but then no service. Maybe we would scatter some ashes on the mountain. Maybe just raise a glass in his honour. But no service. Neither Jack nor Ann are religious people. Jack, much like me, was raised in a religious house but did not continue as an adult. Ann is as committed to being nonreligious as my parents are committed to their religion. So there would be no church funeral.

When Jack's chain of command found out that Ann didn't want a service they asked her to reconsider. That it would mean a lot to them to be able to honour Jack. And they asked to be able to handle the details. So it came to pass that by the time Christopher and I made it to Albuquerque it was decided that Jack would have not only a service but a full blown military funeral.

We had a small gathering at Ann's condo before the service with just friends of the family and us. We toasted Jack and called him a son of a bitch and did the things he would have wanted done. Steph Jr. did the catering. She did the catering when Jack and Ann remarried. She did the catering when Ann graduated with her counseling degree. If Christopher has his way she will do the catering when he graduates as well. She is also the daughter of one of Ann's very best friends. So it was family, friends, food and alcohol. A lot of people trying very hard to find the right words to say when there are none. And knowing that soon we would all have to leave to say goodbye one last time.

When that time came Brent, Christopher, Ann and I arrived at the facility and were escorted down front and center of the seating area. Fall in Albuquerque is still very warm and very sunny. The service was held at the New Mexico Veterans Memorial. It's a beautiful setting. ( http://www.nmvetsmemorial.org ) There is an outdoor amphitheater that faces the Sandia's. It's a stunning view. The facility is new since we lived there and I could not get over how well done it was. Amazing the things you can focus on when your mind is racing a million miles a minute.

In front of us were Jack's boots, his helmet, his dog tags and his picture. To the left of us was a giant photo collage from his time in Afghanistan. Jack didn't like getting his picture taken and they had a devil of a time finding shots he was actually in front of the camera instead of behind it, but they found them. As we were sitting waiting for everything to begin people Jack was stationed with kept coming to us to show us pictures they had of him. And of the things he had done in Afghanistan. The things he had built. The people he had trained. The thing that was the most amazing to me was how well all of these people knew us.

Jack's military life was somewhat of a separate thing. He had just gotten to the point where he could talk about Vietnam. Most of what he worked on was classified and he couldn't talk about specifics. His time in Afghanistan was so recent that we hadn't really heard much about it, except from his emails. He was writing a book while he was over there and I was looking forward to reading it to find out what it had been like for him. But what I found out that day was though he kept his military life apart from us, he never kept us apart from his military life.

As people would come to talk to us, they would ask if Christopher was the boy genius they had heard so much about. The boy genius is how we refer to him when we are joking around. Because it's true, so that makes it funny. The would say how proud Jack was of Brent. About his MBA, about his work. They even knew I was in school at the time and how glad Jack was that I was leaving my old place of work.

As it got closer to time for the service my family arrived. It is only the third time in the history of my marriage to Brent that both sides were together at one time. Our wedding, Christopher's baby shower and Jack's funeral. Significant events all. I was glad they were there. When I turned to great them I was struck by how many people were coming. My mother let me know there were many more in the parking lot and still coming in off the street. By the time the service started most of the amphitheater was full. When I was first thinking to write this I would have put the number at 200 people, but when I went to the website to find the link to the memorial, I saw that they hold 400. I am again very moved by the number of people that came. It amazes me. It touches me. It makes me very proud.

Jack was a working class grunt. In the civilian world he was a lawyer and could have pushed the point and gone JAG when he went back in to the service. But he stayed enlisted. And he was proud of that. So everyone at the funeral was in their desert camos, not their dress uniforms. Looking out over the crowd that was gathered there was a sea of beige looking back. The chaplain let us know before the funeral that so many of his colleagues has volunteered to be in the honour guard that they had to draw names. The honour guard stands duty over the remains through the entire service. Early September in Albuquerque can easily reach 90. And they volunteered to stand, in uniform, during the entire service.

Then the rumble of motorcycles could be heard. The Patriot Guard had arrived. They were escorting Jack's ashes from the funeral home to the memorial. The Patriot Guard, for those of you that don't know are a group of mostly Vietnam Vets who formed in reaction to a vile nasty little bit of business in Kansas City that dares to call themselves a church. If you ever doubt that there is evil in the world and that some choose to practice it, you should pay attention to this group. They protest military funerals. In vile ways. The Patriot Guard makes sure the family is not affected by them. Jack's funeral was a big enough deal that they were worried the protesters would show up.

During the service itself I can't tell you all of what was said, but some of it resonated. A lot of different people came and spoke. They talked about his dedication. They talked about how good wasn't good enough. That the people he was training soon learned that even if they thought they had done well, Jack knew they could do better. I reached over and held Brent's hand as they were describing his relationship with his father and didn't even know it. They talked about his walk and how the Afghan soldiers would imitate it. This made me smile. My father-in-law had a very distinctive walk. Almost a waddle/lope combination. Christopher walks like this as well. The funniest part of that for me is that Brent had never noticed. It was just part of who his dad was. They talked about his wit, dry as the desert they were serving in. They talked about his love for his family back home. People he worked with in the District Attorney's office spoke. They talked about his sense of justice. They talked about his intelligence. They all said how they had felt working with him or serving with him had been an honour,a privilege and that they were better at what they did by being around him.

At one point in time the photo collage blew over. The person speaking made a joke that it must have been Jack sick of seeing those photos. They never could get it to stay on the stand after that, I guess he was right. The end of the service eventually came. The honour guard folded the flag and presented it to Ann. It's a ceremony into itself and very moving. Taps was played. The volley of three was shot. Gun fire in the silence will make you flinch every time. Even when you know it's coming. I am not sure if birds were released or just scared out of the eves by the gunshots, but there were birds.

Then the final roll call. Names of active duty service men and women were called. I am not sure but they might have picked one from each of his commands and then each service that was represented at the funeral. The name was called and they responded. Ayuh. Here. Present. Then... First Sergeant Jack Mastenbrook........First Sergeant Jack Mastenbrook......First Sergeant Jack Mastenbrook. They called his name three times. Silence covering the area. If you could see a heart break, you would have seen four all shatter in that silence. After the last period of silence...First Sergeant Jack Mastenbrook, mission accomplished, job well done, stand down, rest in peace.

After the service we shook hands with almost everyone there it seemed. And discovered another tradition. Command coins. Military men and women have command coins. They represent their rank, the operation they were serving in, any number of things. In Afghanistan they carried their coin with them everywhere they went. If you were caught without it and challenged you could be made to do the person's laundry, or sit ups or whatever task they felt they could get you to do. I am not sure if this is standard, it probably is, Brent's time in the Navy was with the Nuclear field and they had their own traditions and customs.

So after the funeral as people would shake Brent's hand, or Ann's or Christopher's they would press into their palm a coin. We ended up with stacks and stacks of these coins. The chaplain said it was another way of showing respect. They were giving us a part of them to show how much Jack had been a part of them. It was very touching.

When we left the Patriot Guard was to escort us back to the house. Brent out drove them. They didn't notice us walking out at first and could never catch up. Jack had been a gear head in High School and still loved old cars and fast cars. We thought nothing could be a better tribute to him than his son out driving a group of bikers leaving his service.

Mission accomplished, job well done, stand down now, rest in peace.

http://www.riverafuneralhome.com/sitemaker/sites/rivera0/obit.cgi?user=jack-mastenbrook#

September 2, 2007 (Part Two, 2/11/09)

There are moments in your life where you know that everything from this point forward changes. September 2, 2007 had one of those moments.

It was a Sunday morning. Friends of ours had gotten married the night before and Brent and I were talking about the wedding. She looked so beautiful, he looked so happy, it was a gorgeous ceremony. Another favorite friend of mine had come in to town for the wedding and I got to spend time with her which always makes me happy. I was in the last 3 weeks of my third term in school and a classmate was on her way over to do an exchange for homework. Brent was in the shower and then the phone rang.

I would like to say it was an ominous ring, or I knew something was wrong, or anything that makes the moment seem more than it was, but honestly, it was a ringing cell phone. At first I thought it was my classmate asking for directions to the house, I glanced quickly at the caller ID and saw Ann. Since I looked so quickly I didn't notice the M and thought it was my sister-in-law calling and not my mother-in-law. So there was a moment when I answered the phone that my brain had a hard time processing who was talking. You know how it is when you are expecting one thing and you get another? Ever take a big drink of Dr. Pepper when you had been expecting Coke? Even if you like Dr. Pepper your body and brain reject what you are tasting at first. Part of the experience has already been formulated by your mind before it ever happens.

Anyway...I pick up the phone chipper and happy and content. Ann says hello, I say how are you? And she says, "Jack's dead." My brain is still processing that I should be talking to my sister-in-law so I am trying madly to figure out what she has just said, because that doesn't make sense at all. I came up with the brilliant response of "What?" So she said it again. And this time it sunk in. Who I was speaking to. What she was saying. I got the main details. Massive heart attack. Nothing that could be done. They were in Taos for the long weekend. She was still there. It was all coming out of her like bullet points. Very blunt. Just the facts. I knew she must be in complete shock and just functioning right then to get through it. I told her I would have Brent call her back as soon as he was out of the shower.

I picked back up the phone and called my classmate, who was already on the bus on her way and told her that there had been a family emergency and I would have to cancel. I couldn't even say the words death in the family. It just couldn't be right. So we were going with family emergency. Then I sat on the bed in our room and listened to the shower run. I knew that soon he was going to turn off the water and come out and I would have to tell him that his father was dead. I knew that the words that I had in my head were going to change his life. Were going to make him sad. And there was a part of me that didn't want to tell him. It didn't seem fair. I had to tell him a few years earlier when one of his best friends died. Couldn't someone else tell him this one?

When he came back in to the bedroom he knew something was wrong. I was in shock. No tears yet. But something was obviously wrong with me. He sat down on the bed and I told him. He looked at me and said MY father? Meaning are you sure it's not your father? My dad was 77 at the time. He had quadruple bypass surgery and a whole host of other medical issues. We say he's held together with duct tape and chewing gum. Brent's father was 58, in peak physical shape (except for the smoking), had been completely checked out before his tour of duty in Afghanistan and then again when he returned. So this was not an usual or heartless question. It would be logical that we would lose my father first. But as we all know life isn't fair and death isn't logical.

Brent being Brent went right into action. He called his mother and called the hospital in Taos where his father's body was. Yes, we were already referring to The Body. It's an odd transition that happens when someone first dies. You have so many details that have to be taken care of, so many things that come up, that at first you have to detach from the actual loss of the person you love. If you break down right away you would never get it all done. It's amazing actually how well we are able to cope in an emergency. Brent also started the process with the military. Getting Ann in touch with the right people to handle everything that needed done. Starting with Jack's chain of command.

Then Christopher woke up. Christopher, being the only child of an only child was the center of Jack and Ann's universe. From the point in time that he could interact they were building things, playing games, listening to him play the trumpet. Everything Christopher all the time. They would call just to talk to him on the phone. He was extremely close to both of them. So I sat on the edge of his bed while he sat in his rocking chair and I told him his grandfather had had a massive heart attack and was dead. No sugar candy coating for him. Just the truth. And then he sat in that chair for the next 2 hours and didn't say a word. Just cried to himself. Two hours silent. For those of you that know Christopher I am sure you can't even imagine. Grief is a powerful thing.

We decided that Brent would go straight to New Mexico to be with his mother and help with arrangements. It was the first week of a new school year for Christopher and so he and I would stay in Oregon for the week and fly to NM on Friday for the weekend. All of this was decided on Sunday. Monday morning early Brent was on his way home. He spent the week with his mother figuring out who/what/where and when for everything. Clearing out his father's files, talking with the military about death benefits and widow's medical coverage. He was a God send to his mother. And it was probably the hardest week of his life. Especially with Christopher and I still in Oregon. He didn't have his shelter with him and yet he weathered the storm everyday. I am married to a very courageous man. Someone you want by your side when things are hard.

Christopher decided not to say anything to anyone at school about his grandfather. I don't blame him. It gave him a small place everyday that wasn't sad. I was in school as well as finishing up my last month at the ad agency. I went in to work on Tuesday and sent an email out to everyone. I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want to spend any time dwelling on it, but they all needed to know that I might not be up to my game that week and that I would not be into work on Friday. School was much the same way. I let people know who needed to know and other than that I didn't talk about it. And people respected that and let me deal with what needed done.

I was firmly entrenched in the unfairness of it all. Life isn't fair. I know that. But there should be some ground rules right? Jack has just gotten back from Afghanistan. He was one day short of the year anniversary of being home. He spent a year there. A year where we worried ourselves sick wondering if he was going to make it home. When he was called up to go we were all in shock. This was a 56 year old man. Who had served 2 tours in Vietnam! Didn't that give him some sort of pass? But no, off to Afghanistan he went. And so we worried.

The funny thing is, he loved it. Jack was a teacher at heart. And there were so many people to teach there. Young military men in our Army as well as the Afghans. He sent email updates that we kept for Christopher to read when he is older. We didn't start out keeping them for later but sometimes Jack forgot that Christopher was only 13 and maybe some things he didn't need to know about just yet. Like Man Love Thursday. He decided to stay in the Army even after this tour was over and go regular full time instead of heading back to the Guard. He started writing his book. He was revitalized.

He made it home safe and sound and we were all so relieved. It almost felt like we let our guard down too soon. Jack had an off beat sense of humor and I think that this actually would appeal to him. Guy does two tours in Vietnam, a tour in Afghanistan, spends 8 months patrolling the border between New Mexico and Mexico tracking down drug runners and coyotes (the people smugglers, not the animals, though that can be debated) and dies while on a weekend get-a-way to Taos.

Ann first decided that she did not want a funeral service. She was having him cremated and then just the family would gather and say a few things. Then his military unit contacted her and asked that she change her mind. I will always be grateful that she did. It was an amazing way for us to see Jack in an entirely new light. And I hope that the images and service stuck with Christopher.

That's another note as I have about reached the maximum here.

Background (Part One 2/11/09)

My relationship with my in-laws is complicated. Brent is an only child and his parents have been very involved in everything we have done especially since we had Christopher. I am the youngest of a fairly good sized brood and my parents are not so interested in what I do. When Brent's parents would come to visit I would warn the people around me that I was going to be on edge for awhile. And I would begin my mantra of "they mean well, they mean well". They love Brent with a complete devotion. They feel the same way about Christopher.

That being said the family dynamic is also an interesting one. They are all perfectionists. All very driven. And all not afraid to share their opinions, whether you want them to or not. Brent's mother in particular has a way about her. She doesn't so much ask you how you are doing as tell you how you should be doing. They also pick at each other. Being from a large boisterous family I am used to a certain amount of picking, but it's blood sport with them. It was a bit much for me when Brent and I were first married. Twenty-two years later it's still a challenge at times.

But Jack and I got along very early. When Brent and I were first married Brent left for boot camp and I moved into the back half of Jack and Ann's house. On Sundays I opened at work after closing Saturday nights. I would drag my tired butt home around 2 in the afternoon pick up Black Jack (one of the two cats) and retreat into my half of the house. I would sit in Brent's big butcher block chair read and pet the cat. Around 4 Jack would knock on the door and ask if I was ready. Then he would put the brownies in the oven and call for pizza. How could you not fall in love with your father-in-law when he offered up the food of the Gods every Sunday?

I believe there were two reasons for this offering. One was it made me happy. Jack and Ann both knew from personal experience how easy it is for the bond between a parent and child to break over differences big and small and I think Jack figured out early on that I was the tie to his son. The other is that it drove Ann crazy. You think I am kidding? Jack called me Little Feet for the first year or so Brent and I were married. Now, I did have little feet, before Christopher I had size 6 1/2 feet, all the way up to 7 now. But it drove Ann nuts every time he did it. She thought it was derogatory and sexist. I didn't care. He could call me that white trash trailer park girl that was ruining Brent's future (Brent's grandmother's cute nickname for me) as long as he kept making turtle brownies and calling for pizza. But it drove Ann nuts. We would be watching a movie and he would say something like Little Feet, how do you like this movie? And Ann would snap, Jackson. If she trotted out the make believe full name he was in trouble. And he never called me Little Feet unless Ann was around.

Jack was the mute to Ann's personality. He softened her edges. Mastenbrook men seem to be drawn to challenging women. Brent is my anchor when I get too flighty. He is my safe place to land when the world is too much. Jack was the fluff to Ann's stone. But he had his bite as well. And God forbid if you got into the laser beams of both Jack and Ann at the same time, you would be laid to waste.

He was also full of shit. Told stories to amuse himself and we still don't know what was true and what wasn't. I pick and choose. If it amuses me enough then I have decided it's true. If it just seems like something he made up to mess with us then I go with that. He was also extremely hard on Brent growing up. Both Jack and Ann demanded so much out of him that I think sometimes they forgot he was a kid. It became something of a joke in High School. We would be talking about a party and ask Brent if he remembered something about it...but he wasn't there because he was grounded. Huge long groundings for little infractions. It was a little crazy.

So that gives you a little about the background. It gives you a little taste of the family before I start the next part.

You can run but you can't hide (Prelude 2/11/09)

You know how it is when you think you should do something, but you don't do it. Things start popping up reminding you that you really should take care of it.

Last week I was talking to a girlfriend of mine and she was telling me about a military funeral a friend of hers went to. I told her that they were horrible, painful, beautiful, moving things. And asked if she remembered what I told her about my father-in-law's service. She said that I hadn't talked about it all. I had told everyone I would tell them someday but when I got home I couldn't do it. Hunh...not like me at all to not come back and talk about something I said I would. But then I started thinking about it and thought, I didn't. It was so raw right afterwards and then it got tucked away.

So yesterday morning I woke up and Jack was on my mind. That's one thought of him for the day. I sometimes have dreams where he is in them, but standing off to the side watching things. I think it's my subconscious making him a part of our lives still. Then in an online communitay (inside joke, I know it's supposed to be community) I am a part of a woman posted how excited she was her son was coming home from Afghanistan. Okay, so there is number two for the day. Then I was going through old blogs on myspace trying to decide what to do with them so I can delete that account and I ran across the note I wrote when we got the news he had died. Three. Then I was talking with my niece and she is naming her son Liam Jackson. Jack wasn't short for anything, but Ann called him Jackson. Four. Then Brent came home and asked if I had heard Trace Adkins country music in your eye song about being called up the bigs Arlington...and Five. Okay, I get it. I will write about it.

Just warning you all though. When I do post it, don't read it unless you are someplace with a tissue, if you are prone to crying. Because I will cry as I write and I firmly believe things written with emotion will transfer emotion to the reader.

That's not Fair!! (2/09/09)

Random note time.

I think the greatest disservice parents can do for their children is teach them that life is fair. It's not. You know it. I know it. But why do we insist on teaching our children that things should be fair? Is it that we are trying to make a better world through them? If so that's just silly as well. No matter what life will not be fair. If your definition of fair is all things are equal that is.

I see parents playing games with their kids and they let them win. Drives me nuts. If you ask those parents why they let their kids win they will tell you, It's just not fair for us to win all the time, we are adults and smarter. Okay, so what you have taught your child instead is that they are UNBEATABLE, they are the best and brightest and smartest. And now when little Johnny plays against another child who has also never lost a game in their life you have a problem. Someone is going to lose. And don't you wish you had taught Johnny how to lose graciously now.

Christopher never won a game he didn't deserve to win. Chutes and Ladders, Candy Land, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Monopoly, Risk, none of them. If he could play the game he could play to win. Granted, I grew up in a family where UNO is a blood sport. I think the family motto is "it's not really a game until somebody cries" but still, Christopher knew when he was little and knows now if he won the game it was because he won the game, not because someone let him win.

We have taken the sense of competition out of kids. Everyone gets a trophy, every one gets a prize and everyone plays. Which I think is great, until about 4th or 5th grade. Then they need to work at it. If they want to be on the team, make the team. Work harder than the other kids, be better. Then you get to make the team, you get to start. If you want to be in the band, you better practice and if you want to sit in first chair you better practice more. I didn't make the team/band/whatever and it's just not fair! You think so? You think it would be more fair if you did make the team and little Suzie who has been working at being the best volleyball player she can be didn't get the playing time she deserves because your Cheetos eating, TV watching self has to get her minutes in as well? That's not fair.

Christopher goes to a performing arts high school. To get in he had to submit an application, write an essay about why he wanted to attend and audition for the band director. If he hadn't done these things he would not have gotten in. If he hadn't been good enough at playing the trumpet he would not have gotten in. Now kids have to submit an application and they do enrollment by lottery. Why? Because the Beaverton Superintendent decided the old way wasn't fair. He's right. It wasn't fair. It was discriminatory towards kids with an aptitude in the arts. Dancers, musicians, graphic artists, writers. You had to have a talent, a gift and a drive to be better at it to get in. Now you have to have a pen. Think it's a good idea? How about a school divided between those that had to work to get in and those that were randomly chosen? How do you think that is working out? Funny thing is the first blush of kids to get in by lottery most of them only went for a year then transferred back out. They thought it would be an easier school than others and that's why they wanted in. It's not. You have to take all of your regular classes PLUS your art classes. It's harder. Especially if you don't have an aptitude and drive for art.

Come on parents, teach your children that fair is for people who are afraid to work. I always say that God doesn't give with both hands. It's short hand for if someone is excellent at one thing, odds are they are lousy at something else. So work on what you are excellent at! Push yourself to be the best! It's okay to stink at dancing if you are a math whiz! It's okay to be the prettiest person in the room, just admit that you couldn't kick a ball to save your life! Fair? There is no fair. Teach your kids that and they will be happier and better adjusted. I promise. And if they aren't? Well life's not fair...

Mmmmbye (1/22/09)

So I left home when I was 18. Got married moved across the country and finished growing up. Those of you that know me now and knew me then sometimes have a hard time putting the two people together. That's the growing up part. But that is a note for another day. :-) This is about the more things change the more they stay the same...or something like that.

My family and I couldn't be more different if we tried. There is a family photo hanging in my hallway and when people stop and look at me with my parents and my brothers and sisters I like to challenge them to figure out who is related to who by blood. I don't look like my siblings. I look a little like my mother. Mostly in the way we smile. But other than than, nothing. I have brown eyes, they all have blue or green. I am pale with dark stick straight hair. I have two blond siblings (or they were before age darkened their hair) and one with brown hair but wavy verging on full on curls if it gets long enough. They can all tan, or could when we were younger. I cannot even look at a picture of the sun without getting a little pink. And it goes on from there. We just don't look alike. If people don't know the family connections they will put Brent and Ann and possibly Jeff as siblings. John and Susan are obviously brother and sister and so they get them pretty quickly. Then they puzzle for awhile as to where I fit. For the record it's John, Jeff, Susan and I that are related by blood. Brent and Ann chose this mess.

My family and I differ on religion and politics as well. When my nephew and niece were little my brother and sister-in-law came to me and asked that I not talk to them about my beliefs when I visited as it might confuse them. I did make it a point to tell my oldest nephew a mixed bag variation on "you are fine and wonderful just how you are, always remember that". Trying to stress the words just exactly right so when the time came that he would need a family member to stand by his side he would know I would be there. I think it worked. But mostly my family has ignored (at least to my face) the fact that I choose to live my life differently than they do. The only one (other than the afore mentioned conversation) to even question me was my sister's second husband. Sitting at my brother's table for some family gathering he asked why I don't go to church when everyone else in the family does. It was one of those moments where you could hear the silence louder than any words. My sister tried to get him to take back asking. I told him I didn't believe in a God that was limited to one building and one book and asked if he wanted to talk more about it, but I think that he was really just looking for an excuse not to go to church when the alarm went off on Sunday.

Politics are another fun topic. Brent tells me to leave it alone, and mostly I do. But every once in awhile it's fun to poke the tiger. To make them explain to me why they believe what they do. If everyone around you thinks the way that you do, you never have to explain, to reason, to stretch. I don't think I will ever change their minds and I don't think they will ever change mine, but it's important to understand why I think the way I do, and why they think the way they do. Or I like a good fight. It's one of those reasons.

So anyway, that's the basics. I am not like them, they are not like me. Except we are. There are things that we do that are the same. Things that snuck up on me recently. During the month of December my mother was very sick. It was sudden, it was scary and it was serious. I spent more time on the phone with my siblings over those few weeks than I have probably spent talking to them in the past 5 years combined. And when all was said and done I had to realize we are more alike than I ever would have thought.

It started with a series of phone conversations, first my sister, then my oldest brother then my middle brother, when we were through and ready to hang up, you know when most people say good bye, talk to you later, bye, ta or whatever...we say...mmmmbye. Yep, mmmbye. My mother does it and we all have picked it up from her.

We also all share a really inappropriate sense of humor. And we have passed it along to our kids. When my sister-in-law's mother died we were at the funeral and my sister asked our niece where the potty was, Ashley heard body and hilarity ensued. In the funeral home. During our beloved Grandma Beulah's funeral. And we laughed about it for years afterwards...hey, Ash, where's the body?

While my mother was sick and we were all terrified and helpless we did the same thing. We told jokes, we laughed at things that shouldn't have been funny. Inappropriate laughter. My friends will tell you I do it all the time. I know it's not funny...but it is if you just look at it a little differently. To me a laugh is the first reaction to any news, laughter of disbelief, laughter at things that are so bad if you don't laugh you will scream. Who laughs at a funeral? My family and I do.

Everyone I talked to asked if I was going home when my mother was ill. My answer was NO. Going home means giving up. The one person I didn't have to explain that to was my sister. You couldn't pick two people who are more unalike on the surface, but during this whole stretch with my mother she got it. She understood that for me, getting on a plane and rushing home meant my mother was dying and I was giving up. Unless a moment came that I got a call saying you must come home I was keeping my feet firmly planted in Oregon thank you very much.

There are a host of other ways that we are alike, stubborn, nosy, bossy but since we are usually being stubborn and bossy in opposite directions it's easy to forget that those are really the same traits and not differences.

The good news in all of this is that my mother is fine now. I spoke with her on the phone after her last doctor's appointment and she told me that she passed all of the tests with flying colors. She also told me how high the doctor's bills were...and she laughed...then we told each other I love you and I hung up as she said Mmmmbye....

Nostalgia (1/5/09)

I don't know if it's the new year, the new age (40...how did that happen?), the reconnecting with people from High School on Facebook or what it is but I have noticed I am feeling a bit nostalgic this week.

One of the things I have thought about is the lack of pictures. My younger girlfriends always seem to have a camera with them. I am pretty sure my niece has never done anything that wasn't documented by a photo op. Every gathering, every party, lunch, drinks anything there is a camera, or at least a camera phone. So then I started thinking what would I like to have pictures of?

When to start? What do you wish you had pictures of? What sums up elementary school? Lemonade stands...walking to the 7-11 and buying candy then coming back and selling it at a healthy mark-up to the kids in the apartment complex who weren't allowed to walk to the 7-11 by themselves...pictures of Marsha and her dogs Angel and Fluffy...my next door neighbor who was a little wiser to the world than I was. Shaun Cassidy records on her own record player in her own room...she was an only child and that was a luxury I couldn't imagine! We were allowed to call her parents by their first names Mel and Sharon..very 70s couple. Devon...my best friend in first grade. She was the best. Hippy chick mom who would let us wear her bandannas tying our hair back (or Devon's at least, mine was too short to hold back!) and made us sandwiches with mayo on them...what an exotic treat to a Miracle Whip kid... then moving to a new elementary school...new adventures...Lily and I camping out in her back yard. Can you even imagine parents letting kids do that now? Getting in a fight with a girl who's name I don't remember over a boy I can't picture anymore...my mother hauling us to the Principal's office...I would love a shot of that one. Gilbert filled me in the next day on how it all went...I was blindsided and never saw her coming...but was firmly gaining the upper hand when this crazy woman came charging across the playground and picked us both up by our collars and hauled us in...yep..dear mom...

Fifth grade...first day at Parkview...so mad I could spit at having to be there when ALL of my friends were going to RULE at Whittier...I can just imagine how that picture would look. My poor brother Jeff was the one who had to escort me to my first day, at Parkview the first day of school was chapel and then meeting the teachers and I wanted NOTHING to do with any of it. But do it I did. I was sure I would never have any friends...but Evie, Tanya, Kerry, Donnie, Debbie, Shelly, Shawna, Theresa, Paul, Larry and so many others soon came. Somewhere there are a few pictures of this group...wish I knew where they were...Roller Skating during Christmas break and feeling like we were getting away with something being away from school and hanging out. Mr. Rex's PE class or reading in eighth grade...we were supposed to be discussing Red Badge of Courage but Donnie's dad had let him see Porkey's so we were talking about that instead...I would love to have a picture of our faces as Donnie described the movie to a bunch of highly sheltered 12-13 year olds!

Summer camp...now I know there are pictures of that somewhere...there was always at least one kid with a camera, and they were going to send you copies of the pictures...but then time passes and you don't keep in touch... The pond, Bear Cave, we really did sit around the campfire and sing kum by ya...and let me tell you when people use it as an insult I have to smile because there is nothing like the smell of a campfire and the bright stars in dark woods with pure high voices singing together... Susan and Matt as cooks...years later Amy and I doing the same thing. The year that Amy and I doctored the coffee with chocolate powder and cinnamon...who knew we were inventing coffee people would pay $5 a cup for years later? :-) Ricky in the red El Porvenier shirt that photographed pink...see? I KNOW there is a shot of that somewhere!

Youth group...I had pictures of that time but I gave them all to Reagan to remember us by...little did I know a few years later he would marry Amy and have his own permanent reminder of the group of kids he had to salvage from the edge of a breakdown...

High School...wow...first day of school I was TERRIFIED...that would have been a great shot. Chrystal and I probably dressed alike, we did that sort of thing back then. Freshman year...what would I love a shot of? Falling upstairs at Jane's house...sneaking out the window...walking all over Four Hills...fighting with George in front of Senor Tafoya's class...the first time I met Brent (having no idea in 5 years I would be married to him)..walking to Dions for lunch and feeling like a real bad-ass for being off campus. Alex and Jaden in full cheer gear and realizing that I was friends with cheerleaders..who would have ever thought that would happen?...oh wait...even better...Jaden dressed in red and black because she LOVED Loverboy! What else would I like a shot of from HHS? Gosh...everyone covered in Pretty Women Pink because someone forgot to put the filter on the paint sprayer...a shot of Chip walking across the stage in Cami's black pumps and realizing he had better legs than any of us girls! Ralph running over one of the Cooley's with the golf cart during Grease...Stephanie (I don't even know her last name) and I sitting outside talking for hours about when she knew she was a lesbian, best response to that question was her asking me when I knew I was straight, my answer being I just always have been...a ha! I get it...thank you Stephanie where ever you are...sitting in Carrow's with the group from the Entertainers (Jim, Pete, Tim, Nikki, Andy, Eric and of course Brent) thanks to all of you for letting a theater kid infiltrate your ranks...how long can you nurse and iced tea and order of fried zuchinni? Or a chicken ranch sandwich? And Devon from elementary school? She was Nikki's best friend in elementary school after I moved away. Small world... Sitting on the stage or behind stage or in the parking lot of the theater discussing the meaning of life with Cinnamon and Ralph. I think we solved every world problem at one time or another. Learning how to play chess at lunch time with the chess team in the science buidling and realizing that smart people challeneged the way you look at the world. Pictures of some of the parties...hmmm maybe not... Dressing up to go Club Rio...then The Big Apple...or was it other way around? Big Apple first then Club Rio?

Wedding pictures, now I have those! But I wish I had a shot of Brent and I sitting on the bed in the Marriot eating room service pizza cause we were starving!

The crew I worked with at Schlotzsky's. The time we pranked Jim and Pete before Brent went into the Navy. Ah the Navy...there are a few pictures from that time as well...my 19th birthday there was a camera, though we didn't get a picture of the guy that thought I was turning 30! And who was that guy that always showed up at our apartment at dinner time? Names and faces lost...Sam from New York...Marla deeply in lust with him making the mistake of introducing him to her cousin Samantha and a month later Sam and Sam RAN to city hall to tie the knot...I wonder if they are still together...Phil Tracy and his wives...not all at once, but one after the other...drinking White Russians at his and Miriam's place. It was like a shake...with a kick...much like the first time Jane introduced me to the joys of Kalua and cream...it's like chocolate milk with a kick! I am fond of the kick...Amie, Tamara, Marla, Sam, Skip, McFall...ummm the other guy and the other guy...where are they all now?

Idaho Falls and Rhett and Amber...the New Year's Eve party at their big drafty house. Amber and I cleaned for days to get it ready. I wore a black tube dress and long white jacket and crimped my hair with the wave not the hard edge crimper...if you can't dress like that at 21 when can you? That was the night the only wiccan in Idaho Falls cornered me in the kitchen to ask me to join her coven...maybe the hair was a bit too wild. :-) The Fourth of July parade, walking Redd (our ferret) there on a leash. Or trying to, giving up and just carrying her. I would even like a shot of all of us at the Chinese restaurant (before the waitress dumped the pitcher of beer on me...)

San Diego...so much stuff...Trips to TJ...afternoons sprawled out on couches in Clairmont too tired and hot to even finish the boggle game we had all started...trips to Gator Gardens, drinking on base was legal if you were enlisted, or a pretty girl which we all covered one way or another. Dancing at Moose's, boogie boarding at any and every beach we could. Sam towing me out farther that I could swim on my own to ask me what it was really like being married to a Navy man. Debbie (was that her name?) really wanted to get married and he wasn't sure if it was fair...we talked out there bobbing up and down in the waves for 20 minutes before a swell brought us back in. I don't know if they ever got married or not. Again, solving the world's problems talking deep into the night but this time with Chad, Erika, Susan and a cast of characters from Chad's squadron. Waiting for Brent to come back from being out to sea. There are pictures of the bedlam in his cruise books, but none that captured that first sighting...the smile that would break your face as YOUR person came back to you after 6 months away. I still can't watch homecomings on TV without crying...it was that emotional. That big of a deal. He was so freaking handsome in his dress blues, or whites depending on the cruise...me dressed to the nines...my feet killing me from too high of heels on too hard of cement...but not caring because he was HOME. Jeff and Melissa and their kids Bailey and Mikey...we could have taken a whole album of shots of Jeff sitting alone at a dinner table because we had all finished dinner while he ate soooo sloooowly.... little Bailey and Mikey...now they are all grown up and Bailey has a baby of her own and Mikey dropped the y and is in college...

Then came Christopher. And the pictures started. Mostly of just him. Sometimes me, sometimes Brent but mostly Christopher. First steps, first words, first trumpet concert, first play...all of it that we remembered the camera for we captured. But we missed a lot as well. And I wonder when he turns 40 if he will look back and wonder where the shots are that he really wishes he had...