Saturday, December 20, 2008

So no shit, there I was, having taken my last final of the semester the night before and half-asleep in the Lazy Boy, remote in one hand and beer in the other, watching a 4-hour biography of Saddam Hussein. It was funny to watch them play this thing out speaking English. English out of Saddam Hussein's mouth. And I swear, they found one of Saddam's surgically-altered body doubles for the lead. Dead ringer. Speaking English. It was hugely entertaining and I should have been cleaning the house.

All sound was turned off on my phone from being in the exam the night before. But somehow, I noticed the screen silently light up, and I wasn't even quite sure it was a genuine phone call versus a text or something I could ignore. Then I picked it up and looked at the screen. A 703 number. Which would be the Department of Defense calling me about the internship I applied for at the Pentagon. It was as if someone dumped a cooler full of ice-water on me in the chair.

The lady introduced herself (and I have no idea what her name was), and said she was putting me on speakerphone so she and the other interviewer could hear me.

I don't know about ya'll, but if I'm to interview for the Department of Defense's Office of the General Counsel, I would really prefer to get an email first. I need time to cook up all the huah-sounding shuck and jive, you know, how you do for interviews. Plus research them a little better.

So the male interviewer told me they were "calling me as a member of the applicant pool they were interested in learning more about," and gave me an agenda for the interview--why do you want to work with us, etc. Then the lady chimed in and asked, "Can you confirm your clearance level?"

I explained out Lockheed had been kind enough to leave me on the books so my clearance would stay active, and I'd just been read off in July, and no I was not up for a Periodic Reinvestigation.

"Can you tell me about your experience with JAGs?" I told him about being the Counterintelligence/Human Intelligence Officer-in-Charge in Baghdad, and neither the JAG nor I had any training or experience with this kind of intelligence law. So we sort of had to figure it out on the fly, to put it mildly.

So then he went into the type work most interns would do, research, etc. And then the gentleman lobbed a nuclear bomb over the phone. "Then there's this big project we have going on with habeus corpus." Which would be Gitmo. As in, one of the biggest legal issues of our time with far-reaching and broad implications. As a first-year law student, are you kidding? "I don't know if you'd want to do something different, or if you may be interested in getting back into that?" Oh, that. As in CI/HUMINT. But this time rolled up with law.

I almost stuttered getting the words out about how much I'd be interested in that. And then told them that any position they have available would be an honor, but I would really like to use my intelligence experience.

I know I sounded nervous but holy shit, one moment I'm half-asleep watching Saddam Hussein speak English, and five seconds later I'm on speakerphone with executive-level Department of Defense. It's a wonder I didn't faint full out. I was in my pajamas, for chrissake!!

At the end of the interview, the nice man said I must be wondering when we'd hear back from them, and I'd so far been too polite to ask. "We'll be extending offers in mid-January."

And then I cranked on some music and cleaned the house.

I barely slept last night, thinking about how cool that would be. Holy CRAP if I get that job...I don't even know what to do with that, working detainee habeus corpus??? It made this summer look very, very different.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Why You Should Never Try to Steal a Law Student's Laptop

by Dan Reilly,
posted Nov 14th 2008 at 2:41PM

A thief learned the mistake of trying to steal a law student's laptop last week after after becoming a punching bag for an Arizona State student he tried to rip off. Armed with a baseball bat, the intruder, Gabriel Saucedo, allegedly climbed through an open window into Alex Botsios' apartment, waking the student and threatening to smash his head in. Botsios was willing to let Saucedo take his wallet and guitars.

Then the robber made the mistake that ultimately landed him in the hospital -- he went for the laptop.

According to Botsios, he said "Dude, no -- please, no! I have all my case notes...that's four months of work!" Saucedo, obviously underestimating the fury of an overstressed, overworked first-year, was unsympathetic. That's when Botsios could take no more. Wrestling Saucdeo to the floor, Botsios separated the bat from the thief and repeatedly punched him in the face.

When it was all over, police had to get Saucedo stitched up before charging him with armed robbery and kidnapping, while Botsios only suffered some scrapes and a bruised knuckle. Most importantly, at least to the student, is that his laptop, which he called "his baby," escaped unharmed. Next time, Saucedo might want to try robbing a third-year student, as they're generally more docile.

He's lucky the guy didn't kill him. If someone tried to make off with all my notes one week before finals start, I'd have to choke a bitch.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Yay Election Day!!!

I have a deep and abiding respect for Election Day. In January 2005, I was the U.S. intelligence officer for a beast called IPOC West, or the Iraqi Police Operations Center for all of Baghdad.

Early in the morning of January 30, dawn of the first elections held in Iraq in over 50 years, the Commander put together a convoy to run around Baghdad and observe it. I jumped at the chance to go out and see it all come down.

And here's what we saw: thousands of people walking, some barefoot, all the way from Abu Grayeb (too dangerous for polling centers) to central Baghdad, over 20K both ways. Under the threat of death, and giddy-happy to do it.

We rolled up on a polling center where a suicide bomber had just detonated, and there were chunks of this guy everywhere. Yes, it was disturbing and disgusting. His head lay on the ground close to where the line to vote snaked. I almost cried when I saw the crowd's reaction--they spat on the head, slapped it with their shoes, stepped over it, and stayed in line.

And this one--a mortar landed close to another line, this one outside our jurisdiction in Sadr City. We heard the excited radio transmissions. Several people in the voting line were injured by shrapnel. They stood up, people tore pieces of clothing and helped each other wrap up their wounds, and they got back in line.

So when I hear folks whine about waiting 45 minutes to vote, it's tough for me not to tell those stories.

I didn't wait at all today, since I went at 3:30, not one of the more active times. I was excited all day--this is the first election since my experience in Iraq. And the first time I've been able to vote since before I joined the Army, which enraged me in 2000 and 2004. Both years, I was outside the U.S.--South Korea in 2000, and Iraq in 2004. I requested absentee ballots as early as July, and received them too late, both times.

I called the county commissioner in New York when I was denied my right to vote in 2004, and ripped him a new one. Do you mean to tell me that when I'm over here wearing this uniform, representing you, that ya'll can't get it together to send me a damn ballot in three months?? It felt like this was the first time they'd run an election! Have we NOT been at this for over 200 years?

So today I voted for the first time since 1996. I will never miss an election again, state, local, or national.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why I'm Voting for Obama...

...and I don't even have to hold my nose while I pull that lever. I'm excited to vote for the first time in many years.

I'm not voting for Obama because he's black. I'm not basing it on his position on abortion (I'm pro-choice) or gay marriage (I'm for it). But there's more to it than that.

I'm not voting against McCain, although his voting record on veteran's issues is abysmal, people. When he said, "I'll take care of you" during the first debate, it was all I could do not to throw my beer bottle off the balcony at the big screen on the Square. Look it up, his record sucks big donkey balls. The most recent insult was his opposition to the Webb GI Bill for the dumbest reason I've ever heard, that it'll hurt retention.

Know what hurts retention? Back-to-back, multiple, and/or 15-month deployments, that's what. Having to essentially choose between any semblance of a personal life and your career, because you ain't getting both with two wars raging. The military is a life you either love or hate, and most folks act accordingly. I honestly can't imagine leaving it because the GI Bill finally became worth more than exactly one tinker's damn. There may be a tiny percentage of soldiers out there who'll leave for it, but I would strongly argue that retention in the military is already in the toilet, and only a small percentage of those leaving will go back to school. We've earned those educational benefits with blood, sweat, and tears in abundance, and don't give me that crap about hurting retention with so many other, much better reasons for leaving the military out there.

But back on point--my vote for Obama is not one against McCain, either. As much as I loathe Sarah Palin, it's not even a vote against the specter of McCain dropping dead. Although, that would keep me up at night, Palin at the reins.

Here's my main reason for not only voting for Obama, but feeling rather excited about it. When I was in officer training, a wise First Sergeant told me that the best leaders are not the fastest runners. The best leaders know who their fastest runners are, and they're willing to use them.

In other words, you don't have to be an expert on the economy, diplomacy, health care, etc. Who the hell could be? But the sense I get from Obama is that he's willing to respectfully listen to a wide range of opinions and perspectives on any given issue, then reason through it all and come up with his course of action. What a refreshing change that would be, someone who didn't surround himself with yes-men and egomaniacs!

I want the smartest guy in the room at the helm, especially when he's deliberate and reasoned. Now that I'm in law school, I'm IMMENSELY impressed that Obama was #1 in his Harvard Law class. I'm no idiot, but there's no way in hell I'll finish #1 here at Ole Miss Law. I'd be very happy to be in the top 10% down here at my little state school, where the competition is nothing like what he was up against there.

So bottom line, I'm voting for Obama because I get the sense that he's a man of reason, who is interested enough in issues to educate himself on all the complexities of each one by using the fastest runners. You won't hear him referring to Muqtada al-Sadr as a Sunni (ahem, McCain).

So in other news, I feel much more in control, somehow. I feel pretty good about my chances to do well this semester. I won't make all A's, maybe not even majority A's. But it's okay, the world doesn't end. I'm going to have to reset my standard of performance from undergrad, when a B would've been...well, rare.

I think that getting back into the gym 4 times a week has really helped with the control factor. I'm even back to running regularly, tough hill repeats on the treadmill 2-3 days a week. My diet's not great since I stopped cooking (no time), but one could do worse than to live on Lean Cuisine and the occasional BBQ sandwich and piece of southern fried catfish. I've managed to maintain the Iraq weight loss within five pounds and that'll do for now.

And I'm looking forward to pulling the lever on Tuesday, with both hands this time.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What My Brain Felt Like Last Friday...

...and no, I wasn't drinking. I just needed to brush it off.

Some poor landlord went knocking for the rent and found this. Which convinced me to NEVER rent out my house. I'd feel better about walking into a meth lab. The most disturbing part? There were supposed to be two cats in there somewhere. They probably died of cholera.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ok, freakout passing. It happens from time to time. Just my brain's way of keeping me on my toes. I go through several of these a year and always come out on the other side reassured and ready to drive on.

I'll do fine. I may or may not make top 10%--it wouldn't be the end of the world and I can probably still poke my way into DOJ with all the veteran's advantages (and the clearance) if my grades aren't where I want them to be.

I just have to be OKAY with not getting straight-A's. It was fairly easy to get there in undergrad--hard work directly translated to a 4.0, and that's just not the case in law school. Again, I just have to be okay with some B's, not get upset and think it's failure. It's NOT.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

So it's been a rough couple of weeks, during which I've felt a bit unmoored and uncomfortable. I *know* this happens every time I make a big change--I feel really great about it initially, then the doubts start creeping in: Am I really going to be able to pull this off? Was it such a great idea to leave a lucrative career in which I actually knew what I was doing to this amateur status again? In this economy? What will I do if my Plan A (DOJ prosecutor) falls through?

The toughest part really has been moving from an established career where I'd figured things out, for the most part, and entering this completely alien field. At this point in my life, I HAAAATE going back to being an amateur. But we're all in the same boat, we're all total amateurs, no matter how hard we work or how well any of us thinks we understand the concepts. Thing is, I often feel I've got something down, only for that principle to be contradicted in the next lesson or case.

It's a LOT to keep straight, a lot to remember. I'm trying to spend this weekend going back through all my notes, keeping older material fresh in my mind. It's fleeting--I lose a lot when I don't put in the time to review.

Plus, I've had a couple of weeks of total personal chaos, fed even more by all the doubt, of course, just to keep things as stressful as possible.

One thing I really miss about Iraq was the comraderie--I had a wonderful group of friends there and I miss having so much in common with everyone around me. We'd all been through many of the same things, both separately and together, and there seemed to always be a recognition among us that I completely lack in my current environment. And we were all pretty close in age--I feel like quite the grandma here. It's an odd feeling--age in the military was an asset, and here it seems to be a liability. Or maybe I'm just paranoid. Yeah, that's very possible.

The thing I need to keep in mind is that I've been through this before. A few times, actually. And it always works out in the end. Rinse, then repeat.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

How Many More Baby Kittens Have to Die???

What's this crazy shit I hear about PETA sending Ben & Jerry's a letter asking them to start using human breast milk instead of cow juice?!? Eeeeeewww!!! I'm every bit a teary-eyed, animal loving pansy (my animals are spoiled rotten and I get all choked up when I see certain roadkill...seriously), but PETA makes me a little crazy. Pissing folks off and making completely untenable suggestions like Boobie Ice Cream does nothing to further their cause. I wonder how many innocent baby kittens have been stomped on because PETA pissed someone off?

None, I hope, but this is a sick, sick world in some parts.

My mother once noted, somewhat wryly, that I always bawled like a little bitch at any movie or TV show in which an animal died--I moped around for a month after reading Where the Red Fern Grows--but couldn't care less when people died in movies. I remember thinking, the people probably deserved it.

And yet, I somehow didn't end up in prison and/or a sociopath. Go figure.

On another subject, it's just starting to feel like fall around here, and I'm googly-happy about that. See, it's been many years since I've been able to enjoy this season without (a) being in the desert, where fall looks about like any other brown, ugly season, (b) living under threat of impending deployment just as the leaves were starting to change, (c) in the middle of a great deployment--this last one--but only here in Mississippi for a couple of weeks, or (d) in the middle of a horrible deployment, home (in upstate NY) on leave, and walking around with a grapefruit-sized ball of dread in my belly, knowing I'd have to go back to Iraq and stay there for ten more months.

I lugged that tumor all over the Adirondacks in September 2004, which were just painted with glorious color that I couldn't enjoy because that deployment was making me so crazy I couldn't sleep at night. I had to go back and work for that horrible, spiteful man I detested so much my stomach curled in around the ball-o-dread whenever I caught sight, sound, or smell of him.

I hope I never meet another human being for whom I feel something that uncomfortably close to real hatred. I never had before and I have not since. I couldn't just leave that particular situation, but if I ever encounter it again, I'll quit a job, move, whatever I have to do to get away from it. That much disgust brings out the worst in anyone, me especially.

So this fall has special significance for me. I plan to ride Piglet all over the countryside when I can make time from law school work. I will spend Thanksgiving break studying, baking my famous gingerbread, and concocting some sort of fabulous dish to bring to the family Thanksgiving supper. I'm thinking sweet potato casserole with some sort of ginger, pecan-laced streudel on top. Molasses. Nutmeg, cinnamon, and a touch of cardamom. I may have to bake several of them to get it right, which would be just a damn shame.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

...Or Not.

Everyone is livid down here about the possibility of the debate getting delayed or cancelled. Seems a dicey move on McCain's part--I'm not at all convinced either Presidential candidate would be very useful in getting the bailout plan hammered out. Neither one is an economist, we have experts already on the job, and now, more than ever, we need to hear from the candidates.

What exactly does he think he can actually DO? Walk into Congress and start ordering people around? Claim credit when it gets passed? It's just like his otherwise-inexplicable selection of Palin--purely for his own potential political gain, with no real consideration for what's actually best for America.

The focus of the debate may (and perhaps SHOULD) focus on the economy. Foreign policy is critical, but right now, the abiding crisis that touches every single American is the economy. I've personally watched a very large chunk of my law school savings circle the drain through my mutual funds. Thank GOD I had the foresight last January to stop contributing to them and shift all my subsequent contributions to my money market. And as for the mutual funds? I just won't touch them until I absolutely have to. Maybe I'll be able to stretch everything out long enough to sit on them until they recover, however many years down the line that might be.

As far as Oxford is concerned, the citizens in this town and all over the state--the poorest state in the country, I might add--have spent millions of private dollars to host this debate during a time when we could afford it least. It's a slap in the face to even suggest not having this debate.

If anyone thinks these events are government funded, think again. 5.5 million dollars were raised, mostly through University alumni, from private citizens and businesses. That doesn't even address the money spent by Oxford on the big events on the Square, or the extra police presence, the logistical nightmares, or the big bucks local merchants have shelled out plumping their inventories and decorating for this thing. The hotels have been booked since last February in anticipation.

This is about the economy. Just not OUR economy.

I predict that McCain will milk as many empty photo ops and sounds bites out of this as he can, then "suddenly" decide to get down here sometime tomorrow. This move has already backfired here--people are furious, Democrats and Republicans alike.

I love how we've responded, though--we're having a party with or without one of the two guests of honor. I'm going to a big debate party at a law firm on the Square, and I am terribly excited about it. I'm even wearing a pretty dress so I can sit on the balcony over the Square, drink wine, and bitch about it all with my friends and the new ones I'll make.

I even managed to talk my date into going, even though this is a decidedly Democratic crowd and he's waaay Republican. Goes to show you, he is a good man, and for him (and ultimately, for me, too) it's about the event, the process, not so much about one candidate or the other. That's why I'm excited. And besides, this is not a crowd that would say anything untoward to him--these are reasonable people and this is a small town where his dad was an Assistant US Attorney for years. We're just not a fighting bunch, we're more like a "discuss it briefly, then agree to disagree" kind of town.

If our roles were reversed and he'd invited me to a big Republican shindig overlooking the Square at a law firm where I'd meet a huge chunk of the Oxford legal community, damn skippy I'd go. I'd wade right into red territory wearing a blue dress and an Obama button. Don't think I wouldn't!

Monday, September 22, 2008

FOB Ole Miss

It's on!

Ole Miss hosts the first Presidential debate this Friday, and today was the first day that Things Started Happening. My law school is around the corner from the debate itself, and the campus looks like a FOB in Iraq, only with you know, pretty trees and flowers and grass so green it'll knock your eyes out. (FOB=Forward Operating Base, by the way, the heavily-secured camps all over the International Zone and the city of Baghdad and well, the whole country of Iraq. And Afghanistan.)

There are big fences and blocked-off areas, crowds, satellite dishes going up. It's all very festive and I'm so proud of this little town--how could you come here and NOT walk away with a very different view of Mississippi? This town has restaurants that I'd put right up there with gigs in New Orleans. It's gorgeous and quaint and people here are exceedingly warm.

I have to park at the mall and walk about two miles to the law school. I could take the shuttle, but I'm told there were over 200 people lined up for it this morning and it took a long time to get on a bus. I wouldn't know, I was the first in the lot at about 6:30 and I walked right up Fraternity Row and through the oldest, prettiest parts of campus. The sun was just coming up, the birds were singing, a baby squirrel followed me for about a block...and I plan to walk every day this week.

I'm bringing my camera tomorrow--I'll post pics of my lovely morning walk and all the excitement here. The Grove is filled with soapbox speakers and journalists, and you'd have to be pretty jaded not to feel the patriotism, the pride, the festive mood. It feels like this event in this place is about voting and the joy we take in the democratic process, and less about the contentious nature of the campaign. I'd pledged to hole up in my house for all the events this Friday--the big-screen TV's in the Grove and downtown on the Square, the live bands--but now, I'm catching it.

It feels like the best county fair ever--one with international attention and significance, where we get to show our adorable little town to the world.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Spook-Mail

I'm always VERY leery of mass emails of any kind--but especially those concerning either political candidates or medical studies. There's usually a very good reason why the information isn't reported by credible news sources who may be held liable for defamation and subjected to a tortious law suit.

Anti-perspirants cause cancer. Camel spiders eat flesh and can leap higher than a basketball player. Our modern Santa Claus was created by Coca-Cola. George W. Bush , having been tested, has the lowest I.Q. of any recent President and refused to sell his home to a black family. If any of these things were true, we would've heard about them through other sources besides a forwarded email with no sources credited. Such is the power of rumor--perception, even when unfounded and rumor-based, is often considered reality.

I don't fully trust the media, either. But I trust emails with no quoted sources even less. They never contain a link to a real document or the actual name of a person from whom the information originated.

My source for fact-checking these emails is Snopes.com, which is a non-political, non-partisan site that investigates email/internet rumors by scouring the same credible news sources that generally steer well clear of the information these emails contain. McCain's page is much shorter than Obama's--perhaps there's a much more vigorous effort (although I wouldn't call it concerted or organized) nationwide to taint Obama’s character and candidacy.

Patently untrue--Obama's tax plan, rumored to cripple most Americans:

http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/taxes.asp

File under "Can't Prove a Negative." Biden's intention to claim health issues and quit the race in order to allow Hillary to run, which would basically guarantee Obama's defeat this late in the game:

http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/vpchange.asp

Sarah Palin has her own Snopes page, but as with McCain, there just aren't that many inflamatory emails circulating about her. Although, it would be like shooting fish in a barrel to come up with a few rants not based in fact that people would believe, like "Palin intends to use American troops as instruments of God's wrath and declares she'll invade Iran that same day if McCain leaves office." Believable because she called Iraq "a mission from God." It's easy to take one factor of a person's character and twist it into some apocalyptic vision of what their Presidency might look like.

And if I got that email about Palin? Even though I don't trust her, I would have to look it up. Candidates don't get where they are by making statements that would amount to political suicide, like doubling the middle-class income tax or declaring intent to invade every Muslim country on the map.

I'm not lamenting this Presidential race as the end of the Age of Reason--politics have ALWAYS been soaked in spook-propaganda and rumors that play to people's most basic fears in order to sway them to one side or the other. At least now we have the interenet and it's relatively easy to research claims in blog postings and internet emails.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Silly Rabbit

What the hell's wrong with me? I'd just waxed poetic about some "Be who you are" bullshit, then turn around and try to act all Southern-belle for this unfailingly polite man. Who didn't seem to care about the rant last Friday, as we had lunch today.

But even if not? Best to find out now.

Well, I'm not acting all Southern belle, per se, but I am trying to mind my manners a bit. Law school isn't the Army and when in Rome, do as the Romans do, or be cast out. Or kicked out. He's one of those old-school Southern men with those impeccable, genuine manners and wouldn't know how to have it any other way in their own behavior.

OH who the hell knows, maybe he's been on his best behavior as well.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Damn Turret's!!

I love law school. I really do, I'm not just saying that. Although some leisure time would be nice and I'm down to 2-3x a week at the gym. Seriously, this law school thing is like having two full-time jobs. If I lose fitness, I can get it back. If I don't make the grades I want--and it's HUGELY important in law school--I can't take that back.

Besides, the walk from my car to the law building is like the damn Bataan Death March--about fifty pounds of books and Mississippi late-summer heat. I'm still slowly losing weight, maybe because I'm too busy to think much about food, other than to throw everything in my fridge that once lived onto the grill every few days. I bring filet mignon with gorgeous grill marks, marinated in lime, cilantro, and chipotle, and some people in the student lounge look like I've just produced a crack pipe and a lighter.

I did join the nicer gym across town. It's not the drive or the expense that keeps me from going more, it's the mountain of work that I cannot get behind on.

OK, Funniest Moment in Law School So Far:

One of my professors is this wonderful, old school Mississippi lawyer, probably in his mid-to-late seventies. Think seersucker suit, hat, bourbon on the front porch. We're talking Old School in that wonderful way that made me chuckle in admiration when the Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court came to speak to us in a fine suit and cowboy boots. He sounded like a preacher and I was prepared to testify by the time he finished...praise Jesus!!

So we're discussing this 1970 case, Breunig v. American Family Ins. Co., in which the plaintiff was injured when struck head on by one Mrs. Erma Veith. See, Erma followed a "white light," which was Christ incarnate come down to guide her to the light, as God controlled the steering wheel (I swear I'm not making this up), pulled into the lane of highway with oncoming traffic, saw Mr. Breunig's truck approach, and sped up because, "I can fly like Batman."

So the question was, can you be negligent if you're insane? Turns out, yes you can, if there was reason to believe you may be insane and folks let you (or you know, GOD) drive your Batmobile anyway.

So then all the What If's started. Sometimes I quite like the what-if's, sometimes they get on my nerves...usually, I'm wondering the same thing and I'm glad someone else is asking.

So someone behind me started tiptoeing around the what if you're mentally handicapped question, fumbling for the right words to say and not be offensive to anyone who may have a little brother with Down Syndrome or something.

The professor looked a bit befuddled, then said, "Uh, are you talking about a retard?"

People, I know it's wrong. I would never say it myself. But it was so unexpected, I just burst out laughing and couldn't quit. And I'm sitting here at my computer giggling...it's so wrong. But damn it's funny.
I'm sorry, I'm a bad person...but I cannot quit laughing about it.

And another Turret's moment, this one purely mine. I had a very nice date Friday night with someone I have always thought had real potential. Very attractive, smart, never been married, the whole package. And in my usual spirit of self-sabotage, I straight blew it.

We walked around the Square to watch all the Friday night drunks out on the curb, talking about what used to be where (we actually went to the same high school and we're close to the same age), how Forrester's used to be next to the Oxford Eagle before it was farther down Jackson and after it was down the hill where it's all condos now, City Grocery used to be Syd and Harry's and still has the best shrimp and grits in town, etc.

So we're having a perfectly lovely evening and I'm on my best behavior, because I like this guy, I don't want to screw it up by showing him my now-inappropriate, Army soldier side, the gallows humor and the potty mouth and saying outrageous things because people in the DoD just don't offend easily. They just don't. In fact, that rough edge is pretty highly prized among rough people.

But these are not rough people. This is the South. I know that, and I swear I'm working on it.

Then we ran into a friend of his who is, as far as I can tell, much more liberal than I am. I vote Democrat, but I don't really like to argue about it and it's not a central theme in my life, even in an election year. I'm actually pretty moderate--I'm all for increased drilling (both offshore and ANWR) I own two pistols, and I still don't know what I think about immigration except something's got to stem the flow. I wouldn't have spent so long in the Army and DoD if I were some flaming liberal.
I have my opinions, they're based on all the years of experience doing every conceivable thing (chef, waitress, sculptor, soldier, teacher), but I really don't need to shout about it all on the mountaintop. I'll discuss it if the topic comes up, but I'm not usually the one to initiate that conversation with people I don't know well. I got used to that in the Army--that was about like being in Mississippi, as far as politics go.

So his friend mentioned Sarah Palin and started going off. Then I chime in with my Turret's-induced rant about her as Commander-in-Chief. And as a former soldier who spent 3.5 years in combat, I'm well entitled to that opinion.

But I should not have been so...I dunno, unladylike, shrill, nutty, adamant, whatever. I didn't curse, which is fortunate, given how strongly I feel about it (come ON people, "We're close to Russia???") but I may have said, um, disaster, book-banning Jesus freak, McCain's old and could drop dead, what the hell was he thinking, etc.

Doh!!


And then I looked at my date. He was uncomfortable. He may have even been fairly horrified. It was one of those oh-hell-I-really-just-stepped-in-it moments.

Um, can I take all that back?

I am, without a doubt, in one of the reddest of the red states and probability is always high that anyone I'm talking to LOVES Palin. My date does not, but I could tell I'd been pretty undiplomatic about it. Which sucks great big donkey balls (there's that soldier again), because I really am good about discussing things much more delicately, even things that really piss me off. Especially with other reasonable people, which he clearly is.

Another thing he clearly is? Not a rough person. Double damn.

I think her selection touches a nerve with me. I think it's astonishingly disrespectful to claim enough foreign policy experience to make life-and-death decisions based on such silliness. It's disrespectful to the military whose lives get irrevocably altered--or taken--by the decisions made by a Commander-in-Chief.


No recovering from that one, I'm afraid. He is, of course, Republican (which doesn't bother me a bit), and I haven't heard from him since. Triple damn.

I wonder if my professor had that instant oh-hell feeling?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Slogging Along

The first week of my new law school gig, I completely blew off the gym. BAD soldier!!

I'm back in there now, but I may need to look around for a different gym. I love going on the weekends because it's usually damn near empty. But yesterday, all these big guys had taken over, monopolized all the weights and the whole area, and the worst part of all--they all dripped sweat all over the equipment, and I never once saw one of them grab a towel and take care of business. The nerve!!!

And then I looked around--there were none of the usual "Be Considerate, Wipe Equipment Down" admonishments. There is only one spray bottle, it's nowhere near the weights, and there's one ratty-looking washcloth with it. Wiping up your disgusting body waste wasn't listed in the gym rules that were posted. All the equipment is brand-new and I like this gym because it's relatively cheap and on my side of town. But is it worth it when the culture (and management) there does nothing to encourage cleanliness?

I joined for two months to check it out, and my trial membership expires in about a week. I'm seriously thinking of switching to the much more posh gym across town, which has fewer young students, more locals and professionals, and looks like a spa. It's much less convenient, considerably more expensive...but possibly worth it. The gym I use now is a sorority/fraternity meat market mid-day.

I actually skipped two exercises yesterday because I was so grossed out by all that sweat on the equipment. Normally, I would've just sprayed the crap out of it and wiped it down, but the guys were all black and I was somewhat afraid of looking like a total assclown white bitch sterilizing the equipment. I am, after all, in Mississippi, and I'm very cognizant of How Things Look. Silly, I know, but believe me, I can absolutely see how the perception would be negative, especially since I had only half-heartedly wiped down the non-sweat-covered equipment before hopping on.

So, gag reflex at the gym vs. longer drive and more expensive? I can afford the expense and the longer drive. So I'll try it for a couple of weeks and see how much I mind the inconvenience.

I'm still trying to run, by the way, but my damn knees are not cooperating. I feel great while I run--I stick to only 15 minutes a couple of times a week--but later? Getting out of the chair is a little crunchy. I need to get to an orthopedic surgeon and see what can be done--I've spent over three years trying to self-help with weights to strengthen the surrounding muscles, knee braces, etc. It's helped a bit, since they don't hurt when I walk, but I have to wonder if I'm going to end up unable to crouch in the garden at some point. Hell, I can leg press over 220 pounds, I don't think the muscles need any more strengthening.

Wish me luck! This fitness/not-fatness thing is a constant struggle, but worth every modicum of effort. I bought some size 8 Levi's last week and I feel like a minor goddess wearing them on Piglet. Now, if only I could get rid of this damn belly once and for all...

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Before paint and flooring.

















After. Amazing what color will do.










My home has always been the thing I'm willing to spend the most time and money on, after spending copious amounts of both, it's my nest, my pride and joy. I left my parents' house in 1988, and I've been accumulating bits and pieces ever since.

It's nothing special that I've done. Well, except the rugs, they all came from Afghanistan and Iraq and would've been too expensive otherwise. I inherited a couple of nice antiques from my folks, but the rest has been piecemeal--a little extra money at the end of the month meant I could replace the crappy old coffee table with something sleeker.

The point is, I lived very small all through my twenties, worked my ass off in the Army, and after twenty years of gathering and improving on what I had, I ended up with a very comfortable place to nest. I'll never take it for granted.

And really, at 38? If you haven't been able to get it together (and not just home-wise), you're probably doing something wrong. Or not wrong, but you could be doing it better if you were willing to work hard and always keep your eyes on the future when the present becomes a struggle.

I think the same principle applies to school. I wasn't trying to boast or sound cavalier in my last post--I'm just fortunate to have worked long, hard days in the past. I have a different basis for comparison. I can see how it could seem overwhelming--I would've been completely punked out by this stuff if I'd gone to law school at 22.

Law, at least so far, is strikingly similar to intelligence in many ways--there are rules, procedures, databases, writing, etc. While it's like drinking from the firehose, it somehow feels familiar.

I'm not exceptionally smart, I just work hard and always have--so the skills I have now are the cumulative effect of all the problem-solving, years of research, and standing in front of cantankerous senior infantry officers to tell them things they didn't want to hear. You learn to be VERY well prepared, anticipate the issues and questions, so you don't get caught stammering through it in front of a huge audience, most of whom already assume you're incompetent just by virtue of being female. I don't expect that dynamic is the sole domain of the military--I'm sure it'll rear its ugly head from time to time in law...maybe not in school, but I'd bet it's out there.

Although screwing up in law school holds no real consequences to anyone but the screwer-up. Getting something wrong in intel could translate to a casualty. Or several casualties. That threat has a way of forcing one to pay very close attention.

I'm accustomed to paying that kind of close attention to both details and concepts, big picture and small, simultaneously and thoroughly. I didn't come to the table with any inherent advantages, except maybe a lifelong love of reading and writing. I had to work at it, earn it, and at some points, go through absolute hell for it. Iraq in 2004-2005 will forever stand in my mind as the lowest point in my life--I just cannot imagine anything coming close to it.

So right now, I'm beginning to really come into the fruits of hard labor--many difficult years just now paying off. Maybe that's why I enjoy it so much, take so much pride in it. Anything you've had to really work and sacrifice for feels so much more satisfying once you attain it.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Just Be Who You Are

Law school so far—manageable. Distinctly manageable. It’s a lot of work, but I’m still usually finished by 8pm and I have time to do stuff. I’m sure it’ll get more intense at some point, but right now? I’m thinking it’s actually not as overwhelming as I’d imagined.

And I think I’m going to be really good at it. Everything just makes sense. Every question the professors pose in class, I not only know the answer, I pretty much know why he’s asking it and where he’s headed with it. I just plain get it.

My classmates—at first, it seemed no one knew quite how to talk to me, or assumed I was a little bit bitchy, or on my part, being so completely unlike anyone else brings out my inner introvert (pun intended), who knows? I'm more comfortable talking to the professors, which shouldn't be a shocker--I'm probably closer in age to many of them than to my fellow 1L's. But we’re all warming up to each other and I like everyone. I can honestly say I have not met one person I don't like. Maybe that’ll change over the course of three years, but the thing I didn’t expect is how tight-knit the legal community here is. It’s a bit like an Army unit—there’s that instant recognition, you’re here, so you must be one of us. I really like that aspect of it.

On the "Be who you are" theme, I need to keep that in mind. I don't much fit in here, but I'm starting to think I won't really fit in much anywhere these days...and is that really a huge shift? Hasn't that always been the case to a certain degree?

I am enjoying this radical scenery shift...except MAN do I miss that gym fulla hotties!!!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Ode to Piglet

I spent the entire morning replacing the battery on Piglet, my Harley. Motorcycles, I quickly found, are a huge pain in the ass to work on, despite everything being right there where you can see it. You can SEE it all, but it's all just crammed into that little bit of space and you may not be able to get to the stuff you need, even though you can see it. It's right there, why can't I get this screw to go into the right place??

The first battery I bought had the poles reversed, and the cables are just exactly long enough, no room for error. And no, you can't just flip the battery around. So I brought that one back and drove out to a little place on the highway, hoping they had the right one. They did. To the tune of 120 clams. For a battery that's smaller than a brick.

I didn't care. By this time, I just wanted to ride. It was a gorgeous day--low humidity, dazzling sunshine, comfortable temperature.

Installing the new battery seemed like it'd be a breeze--just pop it back in, right? Well, the battery compartment is very tight and tucked under all this other stuff. So attaching the negative cable became an exercise in ingenuity...three screwdrivers to hold stuff in place while I tried to get the screw through the end of the cable, through the hole in the terminal, and into the damn nut positioned inside, a little wad of papertowel stuffed under the nut to hold it there, some chewing gum...just kidding, no chewing gum. Although maybe it would've helped.

It took almost an hour to strongarm that cable into place, but at least I didn't pay anyone to do it for me or shock myself right to the emergency room.

So I finally suited up and got on the little lady. It's been a long time since I was able to ride for more than a quick couple of minutes--well, it's been since I left Arizona in March 2007.

Piglet felt funny. I wondered if I'd lost every bit of my riding skill...it felt like I teetered on the edge of disaster. Then I remembered that she's been sitting idle for more than a year--which means low tires. I went back for my tire gauge...and holy crraap, the front wheel was down to 15 psi. Recommended is 36 front, 38 rear...easy for me to remember, since my hips are 38" and my chest is 36". I rode to the service station at about 15 MPH and pissed off every single driver between my house and the BP. But there was no way in hell I was pulling off onto the gravel shoulder with those tires. I probably would've wiped right out.

As soon as the tires were properly inflated, I headed back towards my house. I live just off one of the many adorable country roads that lead to Sardis Lake, a rather large body of water you'll see if you look at any terrain map of Mississippi. It's the big finger in the north-center of the state.

It felt amazing. I focused on every sensation--the wind wrapping my t-shirt around my torso, the wind on my face, the deep hum of the bike, the dazzling green kudzu fields, small farms. I just meandered down any road that looked shaded and inviting, and I ended up riding all afternoon. I put over 200 country-road miles on the bike. This is a gorgeous area and I'd forgotten how pretty the country is when you get outside Oxford and down those little winding roads.

Then I came home and made 40...yes, that's FORTY..baby cupcakes. As in, one bite each. My birthday is Saturday and I figured I'd get my cake fix now. I'm already sick of them and I'm wondering if I can bring them to orientation and unload them on a hundred and fifty strangers. Oh, wait...I ate three, so only 37 strangers. Maybe they'd fight over them. We could end up with a Geraldo vs. Skinheads projectile-chair situation. Which would fucking rock.

So orientation starts Wednesday and I was completely irresponsible in all respects today. I didn't even go to the gym. I have tons of reading to do tomorrow, and even more over the weekend. And I didn't quite finish the den...there's still a largish area that needs paint. Tomorrow will be busy.

But irresponsible is exactly what a motorcycle is, top to bottom. And it feels SO good.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

On It Like a NY Governor...The Month in Pictures

The Problem:
Yeah, the assclown who installed the tub and sink in my bathroom smeared some goddamn latex caulk shit all over the place, obviously using his finger to smear it on. But with this pretty light sage? Oh, it had to GO. And as I discovered, you can't paint over it.


So I got to scraping and peeling it off with a straight razor. It took over two days and the blue putty knife is for the spackling I had to use to patch up the little spots where I had to go under a couple of layers of wallpaper to get all the bullshit latex sloppiness off. I H*A*T*E shoddy workmanship. I don't think I've cursed this much since I left the Army. This is actually after scraping and spackling and repainting...see the nice, clean line? The previous color was the same as the tub, so it wasn't so noticeable. I'm thinking that's why the former homeowner found Assclown Plumber's work acceptable. I would've had his ass right back in there scraping and recaulking the whole thing.
Here's how I dealt with it. I drank. At this point, I had two open bottles, one of each flavor. Maybe drinking several Mike's Lemonades while angry with a straight razor in hand is not the prudent way to go about it. But hell, it worked.
The result: just ignore the lingerie hanging on the right side. Nothing to see here.
And here's the guest apartment. There's a full kitchen adjacent to the little cafe table room.


The bedroom of the guest apartment. That's my desk, where I'll do most of my studying for law school. What a luxury, to have a separate, pretty space for studying.

And here's the den color, one color up/lighter on the paint chip card. And that's Moonpie. As of next week, that white carpet (White? Why? It just gets dirty!) will be replaced with hardwood, the same color as the trim and windowsill. And then I'm done for awhile. Well, after I find a good grill on sale.

Yes, I've been busy. I'll take some shots of the bedroom next.

I've already lost 1.5 of the 5 pounds. I'm not starving myself, just watching the carbs, working out, and expending tons of calories painting the den.

I heard through the grapevine that both my Civil Procedure and Torts classes have already posted reading assignments, due the first day of class. Are you kidding me? And given that I don't presently hang out in the law school, I'll have to make a special trip over there to copy down the assignments...seems they could go out on email like everything else, but there you have it. I have the advantage of access to all the knowledge and expertise of several friends who are either currently in law school here, or finished recently...so I have all their class notes, and one of them kindly alerted me to the reading assignments. I'll take any advantage I can get. And if I'm one of about four people who've prepared for Day One? Even better. Muuuuwaaaahhh hhaa haaa.

Orientation begins this Wednesday. I'm actually excited--I've read the cases and they are actually pretty fun to read. I'm sure it won't always be like this, but they're like great little short stories that are true and folks' dirty laundry got aired in the public courtroom. People do some crazy shit. One of the cases was argued in 1875 and that's even more fun to read--the language is so stilted and formal, when they're telling a story of drunken debauchery and social disapproval, 19-century small town-Mississippi style. Big fun.

I also heard last week that there's a guy named Jason entering the 1L class who is also an OIF vet. I'll have to seek this guy out and swap war stories.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Not SO Bad...

I got on the scale this morning, and the disaster wasn't quite so catastrophic...I gained 5 pounds on vacation. Seems to me that if you go on vacation and gain no weight, maybe you didn't do it right!

So I stepped off the scale, donned my gym clothes, and hit the weights. I will be rid of the 5 pounds within two weeks.

So I saw another questionnaire on another blog, and I liked it much better than mine. And I kept one of her answers, so there.

1. My uncle once: commanded a company in the Solomon Islands in WWII. Well, he was my great uncle, but he was also an intelligence officer (like me). Wouldn't talk about the Solomon experience...I'm of the impression that it was very, very bad.

2. Never in my life: have I cheated on a man. And since I don't date women, I haven't cheated on any of them, either.

3. When I was five: my favorite pair of shoes were red Keds, and they had to be worn with blue jeans and a white shirt, so I'd be all red, white, and blue.

4. High school was: hell, for the most part, especially after #8.

5. I will never forget: how much shittier things can be when they seem bad. When my ceilings collapsed in Arizona, all I could think was, well, at least I'm not in Iraq. Some experiences have a way of giving you a whole new yardstick by which to measure everything that follows, ever.

6. Once I met: Willem Dafoe. It was in NYC in 1991 as I stood outside a bus counting kids. It was raining and he handed me his umbrella. His son, Jack, was at the camp where I was a counselor/instructor in Maine. Jack was a really sweet kid, very fastidious about washing his hands, who said he wanted to be a screen writer when he grew up.

7. There’s this boy I know: got shot in the leg in Iraq and doesn't even limp. And I bet he's even sexier since it happened--I never knew him before.

8. Once, at a bar: I was told my younger brother was dead and I needed to go wake up my parents, who were asleep and couldn't hear the phone. I was woefully under aged and had no idea what I was supposed to do with that information, since there was no way in hell I was going to be the one to tell them their youngest kid was dead.

9. By noon, I’m usually: done with my workout and working on the house. Which is what I should be doing right now, not drinking a Mike's Hard Lemonade and playing online poker.

10. Last night: I returned from Florida, made an even bigger mess in my bedroom, and watched World Series of Poker.

11. If only I had: a little more money for law school. If I run out, I am HOSED.

12. Next time I go to church: it'll be for either a wedding or another funeral. I don't generally go to church. Nothing against it, but there are things I like to do on Sunday morning...drink coffee, make breakfast, go to the gym, then screw off. In about a week, studying and prepping case briefs will replace the screwing off part.

13. What worries me most: running out of money. It happened to me in New Orleans in 1997 before I joined the Army, and I never want to root through the sofa cushions for enough money to get to work.

14. When I turn my head left I see: a Persian rug, a big lilly, two bookcases, black and white photographs, all on the dark sage walls with red-brown suede curtains. My bedroom also has four large windows. It's easily the nicest bedroom I've ever had.

15. When I turn my head right I see: honeysuckle that grew over one window, completely covering it but giving the room a soft, green glow. Also, one very portly sleeping gray cat. She appears to grin. I know the feeling.

16. You know I’m lying when: I trip myself up with a contradictory lie exactly two sentences later.

17. What I miss most about the Eighties is: nothing, really. Be a teenager again and/or work for minimum wage ($3.35 at the time)? Oh HELL no.

18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be: none of them. I don't think they had women like me (or anyone else I know, for that matter) back then, and NO I wouldn't be Lady Macbeth.

19. By this time next year: I'll be 1/3 of the way through law school and clerking at a good law firm here.

20. A better name for me would be: ...I'm thinking...

21. I have a hard time understanding: why anyone really thought the Chinese would change in any meaningful way. Or why anyone's surprised they had a "cuter" little girl lip synch at the opening ceremonies...it's one of the most sexist societies on Earth and if a girl ain't cute enough, there's no way they're parading her around.

22. If I ever go back to school, I’ll: umm, I did just go back to school. It's already surreal.

23. You know I like you if: I call you Mamacita. If you're male and I call you Sweetpea or Sugarbritches, that means I probably LIKE you.

24. If I ever won an award, the first person I would thank would be: my coworkers and/or subordinates. They're usually about 85% responsible for whatever you did anyway. Unless it was something non-work related...in which case, what the hell would I get an award for?

25. Take my advice, never: get a tattoo while you're drunk. I did it in 1991 and recently reached the point where it faded enough to look icky. I needed to either get it removed, or get it fixed. I got it fixed. I now sport a dark green ginkgo leaf with white veins and a vibrant purple design behind it on my upper right arm. Looks loads better. I'll probably add a couple more ginkgo leaves, gold ones, like the color they turn in the fall. Why would I remove it, just because I'm going to be an attorney?

26. My ideal breakfast is: coffee, waffles or pancakes, eggs, all of it. Since I'm trying hard to reduce the carbs, I stick with the eggs and coffee.

27. A song I love but do not have is: that one with the line "I don't feel like dancin' no sir no dancin' today." I love it, but have no idea who sings it. Anyone?

OK, nevermind, I just found it. Scissor Sisters. Love it, love it, love it. It's downloading now. Another really good one for the workout playlist: Flight of the Conchords, Ladies of the World. Outstanding.

28. If you visit my hometown, I suggest you: come over to my house and have a drink on the porch.

29. Why won’t people: vote??

30. If you spend a night at my house: you'll have your own private apartment, very pretty.

31. I’d stop my wedding for: the part where I wake up with heaving bosom and sweating brow and say "thank god, thank god. It was just a dream." If I ever do get married, it'll be an Elvis impersonator in Vegas, via drive-thru, in a rented 1969 Mustang convertible. I'm not kidding.

32. The world could do without: politicians over 65, especially if they haven't done anything else for more than twenty years. Out with the old, in with the new, and I'd rather have folks in there who haven't completely lost touch with the lives of regular Americans. More Iraq-Afghanistan vets, please. The one politician who's done anything that directly affected me in any positive way was Jim Webb, OIF vet, freshman Senator, who sponsored and pushed the new GI Bill through.

33. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: live in a tent again.

34. My favorite blonds are: Daniel Craig. Hubba hubba. Can't really think of anyone else...I keep picturing Cindy McCain, and I don't really feel one way or the other about her, even though she did have that terribly bourgeois pain-pill addiction.

35. Paper clips are more useful than: most of the crap on TV.

36. If I do anything well it’s: because I worked at it. Very little comes naturally.

37. I can’t help but: say really inappropriate things to/around people who don't know me well enough to understand how to take it. Not that I really care, but there it is.

38. I usually cry: I do not. Where did you hear that?

39. My advice to my nephew/niece: do well enough in school for big scholarships. You DO NOT want to graduate with more than about $20K in student loans.

40. And by the way: I've squandered my afternoon on the internet. *Sigh* Guess all that work on the house will still be there tomorrow. Which is kind of the point. Damn.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Aftermath

So two weeks ago, I was all cocky and smug, having lost 25 pounds and brought my BMI back down to the normal range. I started running again! I can do pullups!

And then I went on vacation.

*Sigh*

We're still in Palm Beach. I went to the gym this morning and got on the scale. Oh. Mah. Holy. Hell. Ya'll. I regained ten fucking pounds in one fucking week!!!

All my good habits go out the window on vacation. I eat until food coma, I don't work out, I'm apt to sit at a poker table all day (like today...but it was so fun!) or loll around the room after ordering several of the sugariest, shittiest frozen alocholic beverages the room key can buy.

Saving grace--I rarely eat out at home, and that's where the problem here has lain. I won't have access to Cuban, Brazilian, or seafood once we leave here, so I must've adopted that famine mentality...eat it now, you won't see it again!

And no it's not all waterweight. I can look at myself in the mirror and SEE the belly growth. No shit. And I tried running on the treadmill here? Everything jiggled.

OK, these things happen. Losing weight and maintaining the loss will always be a journey marked with successes and failures. It will never not be hard. The pass-or-fail part is how you react to the setbacks, not that you never have them in the first place. Recenter and refocus, take a deep breath, don't keep anything tempting in the house, stay busy enough to not think about eating all the time.

Sounds simple, right?

RIGHT??!!??

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Here's a survey making the rounds on the net:

What time did you get up this morning? 6:30...I tend to get up pretty early, even on vacation
Diamonds or pearl ? Why would anyone ever have to chose? I have and wear both.
What was the last film you saw at the cinema? The Dark Knight, like everyone else in America.
What is your favorite TV show? Curb Your Enthusiasm
What do you usually have for breakfast? 2 soft-boiled eggs, bacon, toast
What is your middle name? Elizabeth
What food do you dislike? I just tried Pringles Minis, the 100-calorie pouch, and it tastes like nuclear waste. I had to brush my teeth to get rid of it, and the taste STILL won't go away. It's disgusting.
What is your favorite CD at the moment? Lucinda Williams--The Ocean
What kind of car do you drive? Nissan Altima SE-R, and it's paid for!
Favorite sandwich? The Boudreaux at Old Venice Pizza here in Oxford--crawfish tails, spicy creole sauce....it is just divine.
What characteristic do you despise? Flightiness ranks up there. Passive aggressiveness. And they often go hand-in-hand.
Favorite item of clothing? My slinky, silky little red, black, and cream print top...nice and cool, makes me look skinny!
If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go? This is a tough one...Australia, dive the Great Barrier Reef
Where would you retire to? Key West, but only if I were rich enough for a cool house and a helicopter on call for hurricane evacuations.
What was your most recent memorable birthday? My last one, the 37th, in Baghdad...partied like a rock star, surrounded by gorgeous men at "Mantasy Island"
When is your birthday? August 23, so in a couple of weeks. I plan to bake myself a great big layer cake with fluffy vanilla icing. I'm cutting back on sugar, but birthday cake is always an exception.
Morning person or a night person? Definitely morning.
What is your shoe size? 8
Pets? Moonpie, my 10-year-old Greyhound; Esther, 5-year-old cat; Claire, 4-year-old cat. All came from adoption agencies or animal shelters.
Any exciting news you’d like to share with us? Going to Tampa and Palm Beach this week. Woohoo!
What did you want to be when you were little? Teacher or astronaut
How are you today? Good--worked out this morning (always sets the tone), worked on my house. A good day.
What is your favorite flower? Daylillies of many colors and shapes.
What is a day on the calendar you are looking forward to seeing? Week of Thanksgiving--that'll be my first break from law school and I'll have settled into it by then. Plus, I love the festive season, now that I'm home with family and not in some crappy military town.
What are you listening to right now? All Things Considered
What was the last thing you ate? Those horrid Pringles. Dinner was WW baked ziti and a big plate of steamed green beans with garlic butter. Yum!
Do you wish on stars? Sure, why not?
If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Purple.
How is the weather right now? My favorite--thunderstorm brewing.
Last person you spoke to on the phone? Some dame asking about my recent identity theft incident--I caught it the day it happened. Spirit Airlines, which I've never ever heard of, charged my debit card for about $400 of airline tickets and some scam "Spirit Promotions" bullshit. USAA, being the awesome bank they are, immediately cancelled my card, FedExed me a new one, and refunded all the charges. I have no idea who those idiots got my card number--I'm very careful.
Favorite soft drink? Draft cherry Coke, and it has to be from the fountain.
Favorite restaurant? Hmm...there are so many good ones here. Probably Ajax, southern food--"Steaks for the ladies and gravy for the babies." Or Corky's BBQ in Memphis. Heaven.
Favorite color? Shouldn't the crayon question cover this? Purple, but I don't paint my walls with it or anything.
What was your favorite toy as a child? Books, believe it or not. But those aren't really toys. Stuffed Snoopy with all kinds of little outfits to dress him in.
Summer or winter? Love 'em both. When I was fat, I liked winter better because I hated seeing all that refrigerated biscuit dough in shorts and t-shirt. I'm back to loving them both since reaching size 8.
Chocolate or Vanilla? Again, why choose? Ice cream=vanilla, cake=chocolate.
Coffee or tea? I can take a position on this one...coffee. But I still love tea.
When was the last time you cried? Not sure, it's been awhile since I had anything to cry about. It was probably last spring in Baghdad after things got really weird with a man I REALLY liked. But now it's one of those good periods in life, and I know to relish it while it lasts.
What is under your bed? A beautiful Persian carpet that's just too big and thick to put down on top of the berber carpet. It's folded up and vacuum-sealed.
What did you do last night? Watched the big-ass thunderstorm and played online poker.
What are you afraid of? Rejection, running out of money, looking older, gaining weight
Salty or sweet? *Sigh* Trying hard to cut back on sugar, because I know it goes straight to my belly. So as much as I love sweet, I'm having to recalibrate to salty.
How many keys on your key ring? Three--house, car, guest apartment.
How many years at your current job? I am currently *yikes* an unemployed, full-time law school student.
Favorite day of the week? Saturday=Farmer's Market and best NPR shows.
Do you make friends easily? When I like the person I've just met, yes.

Chicken-Ham Lasagna


I thought I'd share some of the recipes I'm using in my quest not to regain my 6.5 BMI points. I've made this one about five times and it's just fabulous. There are all kinds of little tweaks you can make, too--the last time I made it, I left out the ham and added morels and olives. It was gorgeous. It's a white sauce--basically an alfredo, not the traditional tomato, and the serving size is definitely satisfying. It's from Cooking Light, my favorite source of recipes:

Chicken-Ham Lasagna


To shorten prep time, skin, bone, and shred rotisserie chicken; add to sauce.


2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces, divided
3 cups 1% low-fat milk
1/3 cup all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 ounces)
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Cooking spray
12 no-cook lasagna noodles (8 ounces), divided
8 ounces thinly sliced 96% fat-free deli ham, chopped, divided
Chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°.

Place broth and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. Add chicken; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until chicken is done. Remove chicken from pan with a slotted spoon; set aside.

Combine milk, flour, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl; stir well with a whisk until smooth. Add milk mixture to broth in pan. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Cook 1 minute or until mixture thickens, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add 1 cup cheese and parsley, stirring until cheese melts.

Spread 1 cup sauce over bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles over sauce. Spoon 3/4 cup sauce evenly over noodles. Top evenly with one-third ham and one-third chicken. Repeat layers twice, ending with noodles. Top with remaining sauce. Sprinkle evenly with remaining 1/2 cup cheese.

Cover with foil very lightly coated with cooking spray; bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Remove and discard foil; bake 10 minutes or until the cheese lightly browns. Sprinkle with parsley, if desired.

Wine note: With a cue from the dish's overall unfussy character, the ideal wine needs to be inexpensive and uncomplicated. One of my favorite "comfort wines" to go with a comfort food like this is Australian shiraz. Annie's Lane Shiraz 2002 from Australia's Clare Valley ($15) is a simple blast of berriness with a soft texture. -Karen MacNeil


Yield: 8 servings


CALORIES 260 (24% from fat); FAT 7g (sat 3.7g,mono 2g,poly 0.8g); IRON 1.9mg; CHOLESTEROL 57mg; CALCIUM 295mg; CARBOHYDRATE 18g; SODIUM 740mg; PROTEIN 28.9g; FIBER 0.8g Cooking Light, JANUARY 2006

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

It's Confirmed, I'm Back to Normal

I looked up my BMI today...and for the first time since early 2003, I'm no longer overweight. My BMI is down to 24.1, squarely in the "healthy/normal" range. A year ago? It was 28.5, approaching outright obese. I'm down a full 25 pounds, and my BMI is probably not entirely accurate, given the muscle I've built.

So after seeing my BMI, I decided to try running again for the first time since 2005, when I left the Army and was told my right knee was beyond repair. I figure, 25 pounds lighter means about a hundred fewer pounds of pressure on the knees when running. So I ran for 15 minutes at the end of my workout today.

And it felt GREAT. Nothing hurt. And even better? Nothing jiggled. I used to HATE running when I could feel my belly doing a full figure-8. I could even feel my ASS moving when I had all that extra weight. Not very motivating...it literally felt like dragging ass.

But today, it felt like it did when I loved to run, before I put on the weight in New York. Well, I can't run for an hour like I used to--don't want to aggravate the arthritic knee--but it made me think that if I keep it down to 10-15 minutes a day, I can probably knock out one weekly run of about 30 minutes--which means running outside this fall. The occasional 5K for fun.

It puts another tool back in my box and I couldn't be happier. I could stand to knock off another 20 pounds, and this could be the jump start I needed to reach the next level.

Other than working out religiously and ensuring I keep losing weight and not putting it back on, I've been working on the house. Painting, unpacking, cleaning up all the little clutter and messes that accumulated both in my absence and in the scant couple of weeks I spent in the house before deploying. I just never fully settled in, and that's what I'm doing now. Nesting. I've painted the guest apartment and my bedroom, and all the boxes have either been unpacked or moved into the storage shed.

And it looks fabulous. There's still plenty to do before school starts next month and I may not get it all done--I'll probably have to choose the den or kitchen to paint the lovely light copper I picked out. But it feels like a neat, clean, functional home. It feels finished. I have a gorgeous desk out in the garage apartment where I'll do all my studying, and I really went all out--painted the walls a gorgeous terra cotta, bought very nice tan suede furniture and bedding, hung all the pictures. And it looks like a place where I'll enjoy spending a great deal of time...which is a big part of staying motivated to study, just having a cozy environment for it.

So I'm ready for school, which will start the week after I return from my Florida vacation with my sister. Life is good. I read an article once about how mood is directly influenced by environment--a messy room exacerbates depression, etc. I believe it. Since the house really started coming together, my doubts about coming back here and making this career change have largely dried up. I know I'm doing the right thing.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Window Seat Acrobatics

The flight to Amsterdam was uneventful and after waiting several hours for the next leg to Atlanta, I was asked if I traveled alone. Then I was pulled from the line, taken to a little room, and grilled for about fifteen minutes on my travel. I suppose that traveling alone from Kuwait is cause for suspicion. They started to get too specific about what I was doing in Iraq--I showed them my orders, which explain all they need to know, and they finally let me go.

I had the window seat next to another American woman traveling alone. Her name was Joanne and she'd been called off her Florida vacation to business in Amsterdam. She looked like one of the Indigo Girls, I don't remember which, and was in a foul mood before we even took off.

I ordered a margarita and she glanced sidelong at me, as if I might soon become a belligerent drunk. I explained that I was coming off a fifteen-month tour in Iraq and the margarita tasted splendid. It did. She didn't seem overly impressed with my explanation and the sidelong glance became a direct stink eye when I ordered a second. I wondered if she expected me to start in on some PTSD-fueled rant, like everyone who's ever been to Iraq is likely to do after a few drinks. She sighed as she crossed her arms over her chest, and went to sleep.

Even after two strong cocktails, I was able to climb over her to the aisle and on to the bathroom without rousing her. I knew that asking to get out would earn me another hairy eyeball and I wasn't in the mood for some pissy broad. I'd had no sleep and my broken tailbone barked at me from all the sitting around.

I returned to the seat and began the delicate climb back over her lap to my window seat. And naturally, she awoke just as I was spread out over her...and I almost made it. From her perspective, that first moment when you wake and figure out where you are must be even more disorienting when there's some half-drunk lady climbing all over you.

I'm horribly jetlagged, and speaking of that disorienting moment on waking, it took several seconds for me to figure out I'm in a rather nice hotel in Columbus, Georgia. It's 2am and I have to be on post in a certain location that I have yet to find at 5 am. So I'm about to check out and go to Walmart, make a CD to listen to on the way back up to Atlanta, find this place, and maybe nap in the car.

But I'm back in the land of the big Walmart and I'll be home-home tonight. *Whew*

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Departed

Leaving the big building and all the people I've come to know and love was very emotional. The day I left was filled with Nerf gun shoot-outs and froggy comments about how much I curse and NOW who will call Kevin an asshole?

I managed not to cry as everyone lined up for good-bye hugs. It felt utterly surreal, even moreso as I climbed into the truck and drove through the International Zone for the last time. It still feels surreal--I imagine it will have this movie-feeling until I get fully settled back in my house. Fifteen months is a long time and I have to be patient with things at home, all the little things that will inevitably be different than I would have them.

When Jessie came back from leave, I found that I was no longer angry about the whole incident I blogged about earlier. I'd missed my friend and forgave her. It felt like it used to between us, when we were really close, and I already miss her. She plans to come visit me in Mississippi, as do several people, and having that furnished guest apartment will prove to be a huge plus for having visitors.

I hope there are many, but I have to work around law school--I understand that first year is a bitch.

So I fly out tonight, following the final insult of the trip--piling all my bags, which must weigh a couple hundred pounds total, on my back for the long trek to the bus station. There are no carts, it's gravel (so the wheeled carry-on is useless), and it'll still be over 115º this evening when it's time to duffel-bag drag.

I absolutely got my luggage down to the bare minimum by mailing stuff home. It's the goddamn equipment I was issued that has to be returned at Fort Benning, Georgia. It's a full duffel bag and weighs a TON. Without it, I only have the carry-on and a medium-sized suitcase. I shudder to think what the airline will charge me for the two checked bags. My company will reimburse it, but damn I hate dealing with it.

There's a four-hour layover in Amsterdam. The flight arrives there at 6 am and I'm hoping there's an open bar in the airport--a beer would taste lovely and I need to knock myself out for the 10-hour flight to Atlanta.

One more hurdle, then it's smooth sailing. Benning will likely prove an additional pain in the ass, but at least I'll be stateside and can find a Denny's, eat some fluffy pancakes and eggs. And the hotel will have a bathtub. Oh yes.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Egg Soup

The first time I met Kuwait was June 2004 when my Infantry brigade landed here. We spent over three miserable weeks in full armor and gear training in the relentless desert in 130º heat. At the time, I compared it to Tatooine of Star Wars fame. And was promptly called a dork for knowing the name of the planet where Luke spent his early years with his uncle and auntie. I got called a dork just yesterday for rolling down my window at a checkpoint in the International Zone, waving my hand around, and telling the bewildered Peruvian guard, "These are not the droids you seek."

I digress.

I just disembarked from the miserable C-130 flight out of Baghdad International, during which I puked my guts into one of the little twistie-tie bags the Air Force supplies so the crew doesn't have to clean up the inevitable leavings of That One Person, there's one on EVERY flight, Who Pukes. And yes, ladies and gents, it's always me.

I know this, that I will always hurl on every military aircraft I ever board, but never once a commercial flight. So I don't eat before I fly military. Keeps things tidy and the little bag may or may not even contain anything for all anyone can tell when you sheepishly deposit it in the garbage bag held out by the raised-eyebrowed flight crew. Except that they know what's in there because they were talking about the puking redhead on their little headsets. Think I don't know what goes on? How could they NOT laugh about it? I had sweat pouring off my face onto the floor, I'm sure I went even whiter than usual, and I had to look miserable during the dry heaves that are the ugly little downside to not eating before an inevitable vomit session.

So here I am in Kuwait again. In July. It's over 130º and there's that wind, the feeling someone's following you with a blow dryer filled with sand. Or a heat gun. This is a miserable place.

As has always been my tradition, the first thing I did after recovering from the sickies and dragging my 200 pounds of baggage through the rocks to the crammed tent I'll sleep in tonight, was walk to the little McDonald's. I had not, after all, eaten all day. I ordered my favorite, the meal I found difficult to resist and so ate it three times a week while I lived in Arizona and gained a metric assload of weight--the two cheeseburger meal.

Those little cheeseburgers are like heroin. The pickles, the little dollop of ketchup, the minced onions, the soft little bun. I sat at a picnic table in the shade (there's no air-conditioned spot to eat), where it was maybe 120º. And you know what? It just didn't taste very good. Maybe it was the heat, but I've eaten in hotter--hell, I've gone running in hotter. I ate one of the two burgers, about a third of the fries, and pitched the rest. Well, except for the vanilla milkshake, that was ggoooooddd. I had the same experience when I came through here on my way home for vacation last November--it just wasn't all that.

Has fast food lost it's death-grip on me since I've been over here and haven't had access to it? I cannot imagine I'll ever NOT want a Chik-fil-a chicken biscuit...that's pure heaven. But the rest of it? I don't crave it, particularly. The foods I've missed the most have been pretty basic--real eggs cooked well (i.e., not rubberized), and a cold glass of 2% milk. Homegrown maters.

My favorite egg preparation and the first thing I'll eat when I get home, is what an old boyfriend called "Egg Soup." I boil them very soft, the yokes with a layer of cooked stuff and the rest still runny, scooped out into a bowl, mushed up with a crunchy piece of bacon, salted and peppered, eaten with a spoon. It tastes like pure spring sunshine. I might go crazy and spoon it onto a piece of buttered wheat toast, which I'll use then end of to sop up the last runny bits. Oh, and the butter goes on the bread before it's toasted--that way, you get these little spots of soft buttery yumminess. Old boyfriend called this "Egg Soup on Backwards Toast" and ridiculed me greatly until I talked him into a bite.

Then it was Egg Soup for two, baby.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

It's Finally Here...Almost

I leave the day after tomorrow. And despite my having spent the last week packing up and mailing boxes home, it still doesn't seem real.

My chore list at home is as long as my arm: rearrange my whole bedroom, paint the entire interior of my house and the guest apartment, buy and arrange furniture for guest apartment and back porch, plant daylillies, unpack the dozens of boxes I never dealt with while on leave AND the ten boxes I've sent from here...it's like a move, coming home after 15 months. I have a little over six weeks to knock it out.

And it's work I love--and what a great way to spend six weeks. Get up, make breakfast, work out (oh yes I will, it's a habit now), paint or otherwise work on the house/yard, cook dinner, chill with a glass of wine, go to bed. It just sounds amazing. And foreign. It's been so long.

I have a plan for maintaining and even improving on my 20-pound weight loss. No break from the gym. I get home Friday night, I'll give myself Saturday to be manic and knock out initial stuff, and I will be in the gym on Sunday. I know why I suddenly started losing--it's all the muscle I built. My metabolism must be on fire.

You should see my arms and shoulders--people, I have guns. My friend here, Doc, told me I'm cut. I can't say I've ever been described that way, but after six months of focusing on strength training, I found what works. I lift heavy, I lift often, and I'm at a point where I can maintain the muscle mass with only an hour a day in the gym, including the cardio. Granted, that's 5-6 days a week, but it's doable. And that's the point.

People, I can do pullups. Admittedly only two, but pullups!! I turn 38 next month, and I can do pullups!!

At some point, I quit worrying about dropping the weight quickly, and just made some small changes (along with the weights) that I can live with. I stopped snacking, and just eat meals that are big enough to keep me happy. Somewhere along the line, I quit thinking about food all the time. That sense of urgency (Must! Eat! Now!) went away. I came to not mind being a little hungry by the time a meal rolls around.

Don't get me wrong, I still have a little pad of what I call "refrigerated biscuit dough" around my middle, but I'm still dropping about a pound a week. And patience, I now understand, is the way to approach this thing.

Another secret? Success is wildly motivating--I look sooo much better. I've lost that bloated look I had with the 20 pounds. I bet I added at least five pounds of muscle...I'm smaller than I was when I joined the Army. Still not down to my Athens (Georgia) weight, but getting there. For the first time in years, I feel as though I look great--and it seriously keeps me from overeating. I feel HOT, and it's amazing. I don't ever want to lose that feeling again. It makes all the difference in the world--in how I interact with people, how I feel in the morning when I get dressed and ready for work, how I feel in the gym, everything. It's like a drug.

My next goal is the six more pounds I need to reach my Basic Training weight. At that point, I will start running again. And I know that will jumpstart the next ten pounds. Once that next six pounds is gone, I feel I can run without pounding my bum knee with all that extra weight. I took off the rucksack, and I just want to get back to running local 5K's, having the extra tool in my kit, be able to run outside in the fall. My favorite fitness activity ever.

In celebration of buying and looking good in a cute little Victoria's Secret tankini, I'm taking a vacation in August: Palm Beach, Florida, with my sis and possibly another buddy. And the other item on my to-do list: dive certification. I'm determined to do it before we go to Florida. Although if I don't get certified, snorkeling in my little tankini sounds like more fun than a barrel of monkeys!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hiccups

I have twenty days left and time seems to have stopped. There are definitely things I will miss. Among them:

Whenever the power goes out, we are all armed to the teeth with all manner of Nerf guns and ammo, from the simplest pistol to The Ivan, which fires three Nerf RPG's at once, effectively pummeling your opponent. As soon as the lights dim and the computer power supplies start chirping, you can hear the pump-action getting primed in every office. My personal weapon's muzzle flashes and it shoots glow-in-the-dark darts. We'll usually have anywhere from five to twenty combatants at any given time. Yesterday, we assaulted the SCIF, and when the Director walked in and caught me screaming Allah ho'Akhbar and decimating the Reports Officer, I told him we were just practicing our emergency procedures.

I'll miss the Nerf gun wars. We've had melees that spread throughout the entire floor, urban warfare from room to room. I suspect I'll never work someplace with Nerf guns again. Although, I can see it in my first job as an attorney, pulling my Nerf pistol out of the drawer and shooting someone right between the eyes with it while they sit there all agog. It may be trouble, though, if I walk from office to office shooting folks whenever the power goes out. Look out, you nancies, put your warface on!!!

We play dodgeball. No kidding, grown-ass men and women, running around a basketball court playing dodgeball. It's also big fun. Seems we all like to pummel each other in several different ways.

We play great jokes on each other. I left a positive pregnancy test (not mine, of course) in the coed bathroom and sat back while the rumors ran rampant throughout the organization. I meant to send out an email claiming responsibility, but somehow just never did. I had great fun complaining of nausea and rubbing my belly.

A stuffed baby dinosaur was kidnapped from Rob's office, because he had Scott's Transformers DVD. Why anyone would WANT a Transformers DVD is beyond me (I watched about five minutes of it and left the room), but he does have kids. At any rate, a photograph of Baby Dino with an Atomic Fireball stuffed in his mouth as a Gimp-like ball gag circulated. Then, a grainy video of a Nerf gun shooting him in the head, complete with very realistic rifle-shot sound effect, and bad guys chanting Allah ho'Akbar. It was fucking GREAT. Problem is, Rob got pissy and complained about it. What a nancy. So Baby Dino was returned sans Atomic Fireball gag.

Today, I was in a briefing with a 2-star General, and the briefer, one of our guys, accidentally refered to Lebanese Hizballah as "Lesbanese." Everyone started laughing, and for some reason, I turned beet red. I don't know why this happens to me--any unexpected emotion, no matter what it is (usually NOT shame, interestingly enough), and I'm purple. I had to really work at not turning red when I have a good poker hand when I first started playing. Fortunately, I've learned to control it at the poker table because I expect it, I've already prepared myself. So then the General looked right at me and said, clearly puzzled, "Good Lord, you're as red as your hair!" Which of course, made it worse and longer-lasting. So everyone's been teasing me about it all day, shouting LESBIAN at me to see if I'll do it again. What the HELL??? Why would "Lesbanese" make a straight girl blush??

Is there some surgical procedure that minimizes the blush response? Because whatever it costs, I will pay it! I read that the whole phenomenon's purpose is to ellicit a sympathy-response from all present. So if I can't learn to control it as a prosecutor, will the jury feel sorry for me if I blush?? Oh crraaapp I hope I never have to find out.