From the Ranch

From the Ranch

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sometimes My Heart Thinks Louder Than My Brain

I was sitting in Spring Barbecue in Katy, Texas when my husband told me he was deploying to Afghanistan. He was a colonel, an Army Reservist, and we had been married less than three years. You would have to understand we are older, and to find the man of your dreams at any time in life is really quite miraculous, but to find him at my age... is truly so. I was 56 years old when he left, and owned a closet full of evening wear, that I got to use often.  I wasn't allowed to dance when I was in high school, although my younger sisters were when they reached the same age.  That is one of the disadvantages of being the oldest in a family; your parents mellow as they raise children... after you are gone. When I met Randy, I had never danced with a man before, and my first dance with him was just as magical as I had imagined as a young girl that it would be.  We were at a reunion of the 95th Division WWII veterans, and the band was playing a beautiful old song, The Tennessee Waltz, and we waltzed.  It was always pure delight for me to attend the military balls that Randy was frequently required to attend, and to dance with him.  Life can be a romance novel… even when you are old.  When any woman of any age finds that in a man, all times of separation between them, are unbearable for her.
 My husband had gently broached the news in the Spring Barbeque that I had known from before we married would eventually come.  "Cowgirls Don't Cry" began to play in the background, and as he broke the long dreaded news, tears began silently flowing from my eyes, as they never had before. They didn't stop their continuous stream the entire time we were there. I never made a sound, and I would smile each time the waitress asked with concern if we needed something, and nod "no." I could not, for the life of me, stop those tears. It was the most embarrassing meal I have ever publicly   suffered my exposed and raw emotions through. 

I knew as he tried to console me that day while I choked down my sandwich, it was going to be the hardest thing I had ever done.  The experience has lived up to my worst expectations and then some, but I struggle on, and I yearn for the day he finally comes home, or I get to go to where I can sleep in the same bed with him every night, no matter where he is.  I have always said I would live in a tent in the dessert, in a hole in the ground, or any other place just to be where he is.

We live on a small ranch within an hour of Houston, but when we first moved here, now almost five years  ago; Yahoo Maps could not locate our address. We really live in the country. Internet connection possibilities are limited, and a cell phone is only as good as the room you are standing in and the weather.  My husband and I both love the little ranch of forty two acres, and Austin County where it is located.  There is a pond, thirteen heavily wooded acres, an antique barn, and unbelievable wildlife.  My husband dubbed it Soldier's Heart Ranch, and two people have never been happier as we have endeavored to make it the home of our dreams.  Both of us are unpretentious people, and “expensive things” are not a requirement for “dream” achievement.  

We have also added three little cabins, and a “Barbie Barn,” along with many other furnishings we know to be soothing to the soul, like 1100 square feet of wrap around porch, and rocking chairs by the dozen.  We both count it a great honor to be able to share the tranquility and beauty of this place with others who serve and their families.  It is the people who live here in Austin County as well, that make it the special place it is.  We live between Bellville and Sealy, and there are not better people to be found. They are honest, hardworking, genuine, supportive of each other and the community as a whole, and as a rule, patriotic to the core.

I am a trained FRG leader, mature, self-reliant, and independent by nature.  Having supported many other Soldier families, I had told myself I was going to do this, and do it proud.  I had always felt great empathy as I watched other military families , including my daughter’s, and those observances have somewhat empowered me.  My Christian faith, friends, and family have been invaluable to my survival. I have now learned the struggles and sacrifices America's military families make every day first hand, and come close to complete collapse many times while attaining that knowledge.  There isn't enough training or anything else in the world, which will make the deployment of a loved one without strife, pain, and sacrifice.  However, even though those things are a given when a loved one serves, there has also been the acquisition of what my husband says the Army offers to anyone associated with it, if they will receive it.  He calls it by the acronym he assigned it, “SIP.”  That stands for Skills, Identity, and Purpose, and those things can be the very positive products of enduring the deployment of a loved one to a war zone half way around the world.

Click edit above to add content to this empty capsule.
Mostly because we were in the company of other Soldier families seeing their husbands and fathers off to war, and due to the fact that I was so numb with disbelief that it was actually happening, I held back tears at the airport.  Then I went home and lay in bed and cried for two weeks after I stood watching the plane until its dot finally disappeared on the horizon.  I ate nothing but Girl Scout Cookies.  I remember thinking I would never make it a year.  I remember too agonizing over the thought he would be gone that long, because even though I had known intellectually that it was coming, my heart had never gotten the message clearly.  My heart, as my beautiful oldest grand-daughter, Madie, once told me of her heart, “sometimes thinks louder than my brain."  I think she was seven at the time.
Eventually, the fact that I had seen many women, including my own daughter, do deployment, and do it well, called me from my bed and my cookies.   So I took up a mantra from my husband’s life long thinking, changed the gender to make it my own, and declared to myself "if the woman in front of me can do it, so can I."  Sure enough, I began to acquire SIP.

When my husband left for Afghanistan, it was to be a one year deployment, it has now been three years, and he isn't home yet. I have survived, I have grown, I have suffered, I have sacrificed, and I have cried, but most of all, I have loved.  I have become a richer, and even happier person, so proud to have worn the title “Army wife.” My colonel has been officially retired since last June, but the State Department has snagged him and his phenomenal talents up, so I am entering the fourth year of his consecutive deployment to the Middle East.  The Bible is full of promises about making it through hardships, and God is always a promise keeper. I will tell my own deployment story over the next month, because the Army little noted my husband leaving service after thirty years, sending him a Legion of Merit, on which his name is misspelled, in the mail, and later a certificate signed by President Obama in a manila envelope that was so wrinkled I had to iron it to make it presentable.  It arrived in the mail as well.  That just won’t do… and I am planning the celebration of his long and distinguished service at a party I will host on Memorial Day here at the ranch.  We will also be formally dedicating the ranch to the work we have started in support of our military and their families called Soldier’s Heart Ministry.

I will offer bits of the wisdom I have gained for the consideration of others in their own struggle, and I promise you, it is a struggle each and every day.  As always, I will with profound humility and gratitude, offer support to anyone who is currently serving, or who has served. You all have my deepest admiration and appreciation; you are the best among us.  Now since it is getting so late I give my best advice to anyone facing this "refining like gold” experience of deployment: keep your chin up, look around for someone else in need of support and give it to them, and work on your SIP!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

If you recognize this raccoon, please call the Austin County, Texas Crime Stoppers Unit, no reward is posted thus far, but I am sure they would still like to know if you do recognize this raccoon.

Do you recognize this intruder observed on my side porch in the dark of the night two nights ago?

A couple of evenings ago, in the middle of the night, my heart stood still as I awoke to unfamiliar sounds of intrusion on the porch at the side door.  I froze in bed a moment, and then collected both the Glock and the 410, which are always loaded.  I wasn't sure what it would take to bring down whatever it was trespassing on my porch in the night.  When I peeked through the curtains, I observed a determined raccoon.  I had left the cat food in one of those big containers like you buy at Wal-Mart, and it was sealed up tight, so when a sudden shower hit, I just left it there, choosing to instead gather all my tools up and put them up in the barn.  I jerked open the door, he dove off the porch into my best flower bed, and headed out over hill and dale.  I smiled and went back to bed, amused at my little masked intruder's antics.  I hadn't even fallen back asleep when the same, now familiar sounds, came again from the porch.  I was amazed that he was already back, and this time when I peeked around the curtain, he was trying to pry the lid off with his teeth.  I chuckled, and watched a little more.  He had acquired an audience of several barn cats which should have been really ticked off, and trying to defend their own food.  They seemed rather unconcerned at this intrusion and assault; perhaps they were familiar already with this nocturnal visitor, where I wasn't.  This enemy that had come trespassing was to me, clearly up to no good.  At any rate, they were not taking care of the situation, so once again, I opened the door, and he dove off the porch.  

By now I was more sensitive to just how serious his persistent intentions were, and had a strong suspicion that he was committed to his present mission.  It was on now between him and me.  Repeatedly he hid in the dark, and then returned the minute I thought of going back to my peaceful slumber.  He finally, as I watched and photographed, got the lid off, tumbling down the porch and kind of surfing on the container lid all the way down the 13 steps.  Quickly and nimbly, without so much as a check for personal injuries, he scampered back up the steps, crawled over into the container, and our large, white, tom cat that faithfully fights snakes, jumped in with him.  

I thought, “Now you are going to get it raccoon, those cats aren't going to stand for this.”  To my surprise, the cat joined him, and began eating too.  Perhaps he was thinking to himself that I was stingy with that cat food, and not that good a friend anyway, since he is never allowed in the house.  He must have decided, "Well, her pockets are deep; I am going to take what I want too."  Eagerly his buddy cats began joining him in the container until it would hold no more occupants.  That did it.  I had been taking pictures up to that point, trying not to scare him off by opening the door.  I jerked the door open, pulled back the trigger on the 410 and watched the mayhem as they exploded out of the container when the shell contents launched into the sky and the report thundered through the night.  I confidently resealed the container and went to bed. 

To my surprise in the morning the container was at the bottom of the stairs, overturned, and empty.  I couldn't grasp for a second that he had fearlessly waited and returned to carry out his mission.  There wasn't a cat in sight, and they usually greet me at the door when I go out to feed the animals demanding to be fed immediately... obviously, they were already full.
I thought about an old friend who has gone on to her reward as I laughed about the raccoon entertainment, and resolved never again to leave my cat food unprotected on the porch. (My husband is still in service in the Middle East, and I have to amuse myself any way I can.)  

The raccoon raid made me think of an old friend and another raccoon encounter.  Her name is Linda Messer, she was such a fun and beautiful person in this world, and I am sure she keeps them all laughing in heaven every day.  We shared a period of our lives when our youngest children were in grade school together, and our older children were in junior high school.  She was the wife of the local Church of Christ minister, and a strong Warrior for the Lord.  Her son later married my daughter's best friend, and I always thought I had a small part in that.  I am going to claim that regardless, because it makes me smile to think of that couple, who have always both been such good people.  Also, I remember the very night that those sparks first flamed, and I was there to watch it all.  Linda and I were both so delighted, and I know what a wonderful daughter-in-law sweet, gentle, and beautiful Patti made for Linda.  I love match making!   

The memory of this delightful friend, who later died of breast cancer, was triggered by a new friend's daughter going camping with the Girl Scouts, as well as the raccoon burglary.   Linda helped with my Girl Scout troop when our girls, Beth, Merrie, and Alanna, were Brownie Scouts and we took our troop camping to Camp Booth Oaks.  Our little troop had arrived at the Girl Scout Camp in Nolan County, Texas, made our cots out in the wooden platform "tents," unloaded our groceries, arranged our crafting supplies, and explored.  We had made hand decorated walking sticks and painted them with Indian symbols, made a "sit upon" out of newspapers and duct tape, and we were confidently and without a care, roasting marshmallows on our own campfire we had successfully built. There were signs everywhere "do not feed the raccoons," and " please secure the clasp lock on the garbage containers when you dispose of all trash, especially food items." I had a large bag of still unopened marshmallows on a small wooden table when he first waddled through the camp, and I began to grasp the meaning of those signs.

I don't know if you know how loud fifteen little second grade girls can scream at the sight of what had to be a 40 pound raccoon, calmly walking right though a camp fire circle and straight for the marshmallows on the table, but it is the highest pitched tone that can be heard before the decibels disappear into those that only a dog can hear.

He was so large that when he stood on his hind legs, he could easily reach the bag of marshmallows on the table, and he began pulling them toward its edge. I was right there trying to calm the girls, who were trying to wake the dead, and I just took my new walking stick and poked him gently two or three times.

He ignored me, so I poked a little more urgently... he didn't ignore me then. He dropped the marshmallows, took both hands... paws... hand paws.... and jerked the stick out of my surprised hand.  With my mouth hanging open, my friend Linda Messer, and all the little girls laughing hysterically, he picked up his bag of marshmallows, dropped to the ground, picked them up with his teeth and waddled back into the woods where all his raccoon friends were rolling around on the ground and also laughing hysterically. Well, that's the way the girls still tell it anyway.  I didn't see any other raccoons at all.

Sometimes foes surprise us because of our lack of consideration of their determination.  They appear outgunned, outsmarted, and random in their attempts to "seize the day."  I would have never believed a relatively slow, and fat, raccoon could confront two grown women with new walking sticks, and fifteen screaming second graders, and take what it wanted.  We were bigger, smarter, better equipped, and certainly louder, but he did.  We had failed to evaluate the dedication with which he would conduct his assault.  We had not anticipated the lack of fear he would exhibit in a confrontation with a clearly superior enemy.  I just stood there, failing to understand exactly what was happening, and in my confusion and lack of a predetermined plan of action against marauding fat and fearless raccoons, stood doing nothing.  I was not really anywhere near as determined as he was, so I just cut my losses, gave up the fight, and the raccoon prevailed.

Luckily for our Brownie Troop, Number 243, we didn't highly prize that bag of marshmallows.  We all had a great laugh, acquired a story that has been retold many times, especially to the grand-children, and so it was no great loss. 

Sometimes in life, the stakes are higher, and sometimes, they are imperative.  It is a fight to the death with some enemies, with much more than marshmallows at stake.  We are primarily a nation of peaceful, generous, and industrious people, who abhor war, and whose hearts are torn at the sacrifices that have been required of our beloved military and their families thus far.   In the light that even one more Soldier should be required a sacrifice too great, from  our  inferior enemy who is possessed of lethal determination and commitment, our hearts grow faint, and our hand lifts from the plow...  We should remain mindful of raccoons and marshmallows, and decide just how important our marshmallows are to us, because the raccoons are in the camp, and they are determined.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Our Little Cabins Are a Great Place to Enjoy a Quiet Rest

We Call This Little Cabin "The Cowboy Cabin."

This Is the Antique Dresser and the Stairs 
to the Two Twin Beds in the Loft.

 As You Can See They Are Air-Conditioned, 
and This One Also Has a King Size Bed!

There Is Also an Electric Fireplace, 
Microwave, and Refrigerator.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

It Took Me a Long Time to Learn to Grow Roses

It took me years to learn to grow roses, but I have
learned how to do it well, and it gives me great pleasure .

I was able to pick five vases of flowers today and add honeysuckle 
from the yard to add with the roses.  The house smells so good!

The whole house is filled with the smell of roses and honeysuckle.  I distributed them through out the house, and then I picked more for the cabins.

I love taking photos too!

 I love where I live!  Come see us at the ranch and don't just take time to smell the roses, 
but to pick them too!