Grad-gee-ation!

Friday was a big day – Stephen, at long last, graduated WLC!

I know they are a pain, but I love when he wears his dress blues!

I know they are a pain, but I love when he wears his dress blues!

I say at long last because he was originally slated to attend WLC way back 2013. (Remember this post? Yeah, that was WLC round one.) WLC is short for the Warrior Leadership Course. That’s the fancy way of saying that it is school for NCOs or soldiers who have reached the rank of sergeant. It’s composed of three components: training, leadership, and war fighting.

The first time around, Stephen was halfway through the course when Ben‘s health sharply declined. The Army flew us to Texas to say goodbye to Ben and be with family in the days following his death. When we returned to Germany, where we were living at the time, we found out that Stephen would not be able to finish the course (you have to complete the weeks consecutively) nor would he be able to start over again. There just wasn’t enough time between then and our spring PCS. I know Stephen was disappointed, but his promotion went through anyway, and we both figured he’d be put into WLC class when we arrived at Bliss.

Of course, things don’t go the way you expect when it comes to the military! With the train up to deployment, his chance to attend the school got pushed back and pushed back. He was finally assigned to attend toward the end of the year, when fate intervened. One week out from the course, the government briefly shut down, and things at the school ground to a halt. The cycle of students couldn’t start as planned. Instead of having all those students rollover into the next cycle, they were put on the bottom of the list. (The good news was that this freed us up to take a trip. Gotta look on the bright side!)

Just like that, deployment was too close and Stephen couldn’t attend. 9 months spent in Afghanistan meant that he had been in grade for longer and longer without attending. After coming home, WLC was a priority. He started right at the beginning of this year, and I didn’t even mention it for fear of tempting fate! The course meant long days and lots of work, even though most of the information was not new or difficult. Though he might not admit it, I think Stephen had a lot of fun. Stephen finally graduated almost exactly two years after becoming a sergeant! I felt proud and relieved watching him walk across the stage. WLC is complete!

Two Years

Today marks two years since Ben died.

headstone

I always pause when I think of how to describe Ben. He was kind. He was a good friend and funny and had a great laugh. I can’t condense all his qualities into a single sentence or paragraph or even pages and pages. He was my brother-in-law and two years ago, he died.

Ben was born with Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic disease mainly effecting the lungs. In 2011, he was the recipient of a double lung transplant. We watched as instantly his life changed for the better. It was awe-inspiring. (I’m still amazed at the power of modern medicine!) But after what was probably one of the best years of his life, his health started to decline. I heard him whisper it in September, “chronic rejection.” Ben and his body held on as long as they could. In February, he slipped away.

I’ve said a lot about Ben over the years. I’ve talked about transplants and rejection and Great Strides. I wonder if after him being gone for two years there is more to say.

new lungs

Yes.

Yes, there is more to say. I think there will always be more to say. I don’t have any new magical perspective. I haven’t reached some peaceful emotional place. Like everyone else, I still miss him. It still feels unreal at times. It will forever feel unfair.

I’m sad. Sad that Ben was cheated out of more time. Sad that those of us that who loved him have to go on without him.

What is new is my respect for him. I mean, I always respected Ben because he was simply such a good person. But as I think back on all he experienced, I’m struck by how incredibly brave he was. He bravely faced his disease. He bravely and patiently waited for new lungs. He bravely went into the transplant surgery. He was brave every step of the way, right through to the end.

There’s so much that I don’t know about what he was thinking and feeling. So much of it he kept to himself. Maybe not to burden everyone around him. Maybe to make it easier for us to be brave. Nothing I’ve faced has been one iota as scary has what he experienced. Realizing that, I appreciate his bravery that much more.

There is no big takeaway or aha or sweet quote to tie up this post in a neat bow. I just want to say how much Ben was loved, how much he is missed, and how I’m only now realizing just how incredible he was.

Friday Five on a Sunday

I’ve been wanting to write a Friday Five post for forever, but Fridays tend to sneak up on me before I can get my ish together. That means you get 5 random things from my brain on this fine Sunday instead.

1. Mexican food.

Last night, I finally ate at the El Paso Mexican restaurant staple L & J Café. It was good. Two words: guacamole tacos! Plus, the sopapillas got two cinnamony thumbs up from me. This place shot straight up to my second favorite restaurant in EP. (Julio’s still reigns supreme for their superior red salsa.) It’s probably a good thing that L & J isn’t closer to where I live, or I could easily end up there every weekend. The best part of the night, however, was the company. I’m preemptively crying over the thought of all of them moving away later this year.

2. Tussle.

addicted

So my blog and I got in a bit of a fight. I just kept asking myself, “Why do I blog? Is it because I’m needing and see views as some form of validation? Am I a navel-gazing narcissist? Should I just throw in the towel? Would anyone even notice? Am I half-assing it anyway?” I threw my hands up, quit it all, and made the blog private. That lasted 48 hours. I’m still not sure of the answers, but here I am blogging away.

3. Spelling matters.

While watching a PBS documentary about kids and the internet, the host was interviewing a girl named Ceili. Not sure how to pronounce that? It’s the same as Kaylee. Or Kayleigh or Kaylie or many other spellings. No way is Ceili = to Kaylee though. No way. Good job, parents, on giving your a child a name that will be forever mispronounced and misspelled. I hope you’re proud of yourselves!

4. Cute misspellings.

bobwire

I was grading student essays on Friday when I came across one that involved “bobwires.” I call it that, too. Adorable.

5. White precipitation.

Last weekend it was sunny and gorgeous. It’s sunny and gorgeous outside right now. Somehow, in between, we got snow and ice. It was bad enough that some of the local school districts closed up shop early on Thursday. We didn’t do that, but we did have a two-hour delay on Friday. The downside is that teachers are still supposed to report at the usual time when school is delayed. Sigh. No sleeping in for me. It’s okay, though. I used that time to grade essays. It’s better than having homework over the weekend.

Enjoy the last week of January, y’all!

Hiked.

Mondays off are a truly beautiful thing. My old school district always had teacher work days on MLK day. But today, I was free to reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. and enjoy the day however I saw fit with my husband. And enjoy we did: We went hiking!

mckelligon hike

One of the (or possibly THE) best things about living in El Paso is the winter. The days start off nippy but tend to warm up, sometimes all the way to 70 like today. The sun is almost always out, and a cool breeze usually isn’t far away. Heck, it’s sort of like fall except for the fact that the scenery stays the same. This is perfect weather for being out and about. Today we took full advantage. We gathered a few supplies, drove to nearby McKelligon Canyon, and took off along one of the many hiking paths.

I wanted something easy but not too easy. Stephen wanted difficult but not too difficult. (I think he fully anticipated the real possibility of having to carry me down the mountain.) The path we took was just right. It started off as mostly just walking on gravel or stones.

McKelligon 2

Then the path gave way to varying inclines. In no time at all, we’d found ourselves at the little cave we had been heading for. There isn’t anything inside the cave other than a bit of graffiti and shade. Still, it was a triumph to make it to that visual marker that we’d been heading toward. Now we were faced with a choice: we could either turn around, head back to the car, and call it a day OR we could keep going onward for cave number two.

Stephen making his way to the first cave while I took a breather.

Stephen making his way to the first cave while I took a breather.

I wanted to keep going up since we hadn’t been hiking as long as I thought we would, but I was scared by the terrain + incline. I was pretty sure I could make it up to the higher cave, but I greatly doubted my ability to make it back. Stephen encouraged me to do whatever I was comfortable with and reminded me that we could stop at any point. I decided to take it little by little. I’d climb a section, re-asses, and continue on or turn back. Only, instead of ever turning back, I just kept pressing on.

Some portions were seriously steep. I felt a little bit like Tom Cruise a la Mission Impossible minus the cool soundtrack and perfect hair. Multiple times I considered turning back. At one point, I cursed myself for being so goal oriented. I wanted to get to the second cave! We trekked on, and eventually the summit was mine!

mckelligon 3

Not a bad view.

As anticipated, going down was tricky. And scary. There was a lot of sliding on my butt, clinging to the rocks like a spider monkey, and taking it really slowly. Just like going up, though, I was determined. Plus, I had no choice! Going down sort of felt like a puzzle, figuring out where to step and what to hold. I liked the mental challenge and wasn’t expecting that aspect of hiking.

In the end, we did 1.3 miles (although it felt like a lot more!) in an hour and a half. My legs were shaking and sore by the end. Hiking ain’t no joke! Next up, lunch! We hit up Rudy’s BBQ, which Stephen had been craving for weeks. The afternoon was capped off with some reading and some napping. Pretty effing awesome Monday.

Running is still my first love, but there is room in my heart for hiking, too. I’d love to hit up a few more of the big local locations (like Mount Cristo Rey) before spring (and higher temperatures) roll around. And with that, it’s time for bed for this little lady and back to work tomorrow.

This Is A War Like That

I try to make it a point not to get too worked up over things I read on the internet, especially things on social media, especially things said by strangers. I read something the other day, and it got the better of me. It made me sad and hurt and angry and confused. And I feel compelled to say something. {Deep breath, here it goes}

I was lazily flipping through Instragram yesterday, when I saw that a blogger I follow said she was reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. The book tells the too-crazy-to-be-true-but-it-is-totally-true life story of Louis Zamperini. He was an Olympic runner turned bombardier in the pacific theater of World War II. He goes from surviving a plane crash, to being lost at sea, to being in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. If that wasn’t enough, he’s tormented by the things he experienced when he returns home. Ultimately, it’s an uplifting story, and Zamperini lived an inspiring life. Many people commented on the picture about how wonderful the book was, and I agree. Then I saw this comment:

instagram whack

I don’t know this person, nor do I know what she really meant as it is not entirely clear. However, the words stung like a little paper cut. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and tried to put it out of my mind. But like a paper cut, I couldn’t ignore it. The sentence rolled around in my mind, “…a war like that.” It echoed inside me. And it made me angry.

Is this not a war like that because our country did not declare war? No, the United States did not declare war in this instance. Nor was war declared in Korea, Vietnam, or The Gulf. This is an issue of semantics and the power of the government. I assure you, all those conflicts, just like the Global War on Terror, are war.

Is this not a war like that because there is no draft? Today there are enough men and women who voluntarily stand up to take the oath of enlistment, so those who do not want to fight do not have to. Our military members come from different places and their reasons are different, but most military members feel some sense of duty. A sense so strong that they live it in deed and not words. Their willingness to do so means nights sleeping outside, cradling a gun instead of their family members. My husband enlisted on January 4th, 2011, almost exactly 4 years ago. Since then, we’ve spent more than 24 months apart. I don’t say that to brag or because I expect something in return. In fact, the joke is on the Army because Stephen would do his job for so much less, and he might as well has a bumper sticker that says, ‘I’d rather be deployed’ for how much he enjoys it. I say this because if your family is untouched by this war, you’re lucky this war isn’t a war like that.

Is this not a war like that because there are no war bonds or victory gardens or rationing? How fortunate we are that our lives go on as normal with nary a thought to the places our service members are being sent. Or are we? There’s no sense that we are in this together, that we should ‘do it for our boys.’ There’s so little sense, that people don’t even know if the war is over or not. (Although, I’d argue that the government doesn’t know either.) The more isolated the average family is, perhaps protected from the war in their minds, the more isolated and stranded service members are, the more at risk.

Is this not a war like that because the number of prisoners of war  and total casualties are substantially lower? More than 400,000 people from the United States were killed in World War II, and 73,000 are still unaccounted for. I can think of nothing sadder, to not know the fate of the person you loved. WWII had a tragically high number of MIA and POWs and casualties that Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation New Dawn, and Operation Inherent Resolve do not have. “Only” 6,820 American military members have died in the Global War on Terror. The fact that the number is small is of no consolation to the family members who lost a loved one, nor is it a comfort to those sending their soldier abroad.

You could fill a library with all the ways that war and this one are different, but they are both war.

I know it is a war by the feel of a goodbye kiss, a kiss that thankfully meant “goodbye for now” and not, as I feared, “goodbye forever.” I stood on the dusty green turf of Bulldog field and watched him march away. I drove myself home alone in a car that we had arrived in together.

I know it is a war by the years we’ve lost.

I know it is a war by the lines on my face, the gray hairs I can’t make disappear, the callouses of my husband’s hands, the stories he tells of things I’ll never understand.

I know it is a war by the news stories of those who came home with invisible scars and took their pain out on others. Or feeling forgotten, suffered alone. Or don’t even realize they are suffering at all.

I know it is a war by the hushed tone of voice the counselors at school use to tell us that another student is struggling because their mother or father is away.

I know it is a war by the shaky handwriting of the boy in my class who wrote of the day the officers told him his father died in Afghanistan.

I know it is a war by the blue that I wear every Saturday for the fallen, for the fighting, and for the families. Each week, I clench tightly the white paper bearing names of services members who died that week over the years of the Global War on Terror. I say their names, tuck that paper into a pocket, and I run.

I know it is a war by the pictures honoring Sergeant Major Martin Barreras at the military ball we attended. We raised a glass to him, something he’ll never do again.

I know it is a war.

Yes, a war like that.

Fort Bliss Half Marathon Race Recap

I love the idea of starting off the new year with a big race. I’m less a fan, however, of training for a big race during the holidays. When my alarm went off early on Saturday morning, I knew that I was heading out to a race I was under trained for. I also knew that my fueling situation was kinda whack. -> We were all out of gu and I opted to be lazy instead of buying more. Teehee. (I have a theory that my laziness is cute and not obnoxious if I follow it up by saying ‘teehee.’) I grabbed the only thing in the pantry that made sense at 6:20am, graham crackers. My thought was that I could break them up and put them in my mouth like a squirrel. (Yes, I realize now that this sounds insane!) Even with my lackluster training and my, um, unique race fuel, I still had it in my head that I could run this race fast. The course is flat, the weather was on my side, I should totally go for it right?

ready set go

When the gun went off, I told my legs to go fast.

  • Mile 1: 9:23
  • Mile 2: 9:46
  • Mile 3: 9:45
  • Mile 4: 9:59

After a few too-fast miles, I settled into a somewhat reasonable pace. I didn’t really watch my watch. It spent most of the race under my sleeves. Instead, I tried to run by feel (not always my strong suit.) I wanted to go fast but not too fast, knowing that the race would be a long one. My two long runs in preparation (See, I told you I was under trained!) were an 8 miler and 10 miler. Both of those were run with friend from Wear Blue and tons of fun. Being out there on my own, however, was decidedly less fun. The race course was pretty sparse, there were no spectators, and the volunteers spent their energy trying to stay warm instead of cheering. It was just me and my thoughts and the desert. Those thoughts mostly centered around the fact that I wanted to blow a snot rocket but didn’t know how. Yes, I’m a great running partner.

  • Mile 5: 10:02
  • Mile 6: 10:05
  • Mile 7: 10:04

I spent the majority of the race leapfrogging with other runners. I’d get ahead of them, but then I would walk in order to eat some graham crackers, take off my jacket, or take care of the previously mentioned boogers. My walking mean that all those people I spent miles gaining on and passing, passed me right back. Hate that! There were two women in particular that I had my eye on, but around the halfway point they really took off. I was left mostly surrounded by dudes. I know that I’m only competing against myself, but I still like passing women potentially in my age group.

fort bliss half

  • Mile 8: 10:25
  • Mile 9: 10:10
  • Mile 10: 9:51

The course was double lollipop looking thing. I liked where we ran. (In fact, I mentally “wrote an entire post about why I love running on post during the second half of the race.) The structure meant that even though I had Wear Blue friends running the race, I didn’t get to see them like you would on an out and back.

fort bliss half course

The one exception was during mile 9 where the too loops connect and briefly zig-zagged. I spotted a Wear Blue member, Tony, less than a mile ahead of me. We both waved. I felt a burst of energy to plow on and try to catch him. When I made it to where he had been, I could see another friend behind me! See, that’s what I like in my races – friendly faces all around! I had been dragging, but I finally felt motivated again. Time to dig in.

  • Mile 11: 10:07
  • Mile 12: 9:45
  • Mile 13: 8:29

During mile 11, I caught up to Tony. He was doing awesome on his first half, but was fighting some gnarly calf cramps. We smiled at each other and ran side by side for a minute. He mustered up the breath to ask me to tell his wife that he was on his way. Awww! How sweet is that? (They’ve been married for a long time, have three kids, and are utterly adorable. Their marriage is worth aspiring to!) I let him know that catching him had been great motivation for me before I surged on.

My focus was to take the rest of that mile easy and push hard for the final two. The ladies I had been leapfrogging with for the entire race were finally within my grasp. This was also the point where I was feeling so sore and so tired. I wanted rest! I shifted my focus to passing people. I would lock my eyes on the person I wanted to pass, tell myself that they were the ones who were tired, and try to increase my turnover. It got the job done – I passed 4 women an a handful of dudes! There was one more lady I wanted to pass at the end, but my fastest wasn’t fast enough to catch her. Still, I finished strong!

  • 13.02 mile finish time: 2:09:05
  • Average pace: 9:54 per mile

I saw lots of familiar faces as I ran the last half mile. Many of my Wear Blue friends ran the 5k, which ended a half hour before, and hung around to cheer. I even saw Tony’s wife and shouted out his message to her. :) Julie and I went to Taco Cabana afterwards, and I talked her ear off for two hours. (That’s really my favorite way to end a race.) The rest of the day was spent laying on the couch because I’m an old lady. (And that’s my other favorite way to end a race.)

finish line

So what’s next? I’m not entirely sure. This was my 13th half, so I’d love to run 2 more this year and make it an even 15 for 2015. I’m also craving more middle distances, like 8k’s and 10k’s or other random k’s. Bataan (walking, not running!) is still a possibility. As of right now, I have no upcoming races picked out. I guess I need to get on that!

By The Books

One of my big focuses for 2014 was reading as many good books as possible. Here’s how my reading shook out for 2014:

58 books read total

  • 3 were audiobooks
  • 3 were graphic novels
  • 22 were nonfiction
    • 3 of those were biographies
  • 36 were fiction
    • 17 of those were juvenile or young adult fiction
  • 27 of the books were written by women, 31 by men.
  • 14 of the books were more than a decade old, and the oldest book was Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.”
  • I read 16,216 pages. The longest book was “Night Film” by Marish Pessl at 608 pages.

My goal was 60, and in the end, I read 58. As I’ve said before, I’m not bummed that I missed my goal. I wanted to read good books, and that mission was accomplished. Interestingly, I read 59 in 2013. The total number of pages I read both years is also about the same. I guess with my reading pace, that’s about all I have time for each year. (You can see my 2013 reading recap here to compare.)

At the beginning of the year, I decided that I didn’t want to waste my time reading stinky books. (I read 10 terrible books in 2013.) While I sometimes got bogged down and needed to be reminded that it was okay to ditch a book, I was a lot better about it this year. I only read 3 books this year that I didn’t really like. That means that I rated 95% of the books I read as a 3, 4 or 5 out of 5, as in they were good, very good, or excellent.

I gave 10 books this year a rating of 5 out of 5.

best books 2014

These are the cream of the crop! There were quite a few other books that I liked, but these are all books that stayed with me and touched me deeply. I like that they are all different. There’s fiction, nonfiction, a graphic novel, and a touch of sci-fi. One book is told from the point-of-view of a dog, another eliminates the use of certain letters throughout. You’ve got unreliable narrators, short stories, converging stories, and epic tales. These ten books pretty much have everything a girl could ever want in a book! I would happily re-read any of these any day of the week, and if you are wanting a really good read, add these to your list. I wanted to pick one favorite to hold up as the shining star of the year, but it’s too hard. I can’t narrow it down any more than this.

For 2015, my reading goal is a different. I’m taking a page from Christine over at Bookishly Boisterous and aiming for a certain number of pages instead of a certain number of books. The goal is 15,000. That’s a little bit less than this year, but right on track for what I’m capable of achieving. The idea is to just make sure that I continue to read (preferably good books!) all year long. I’m keeping it simple! You can follow along with me on Good Reads or on Instagram (#AmyReads).

What are some of the best books you read in 2014?