Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve!

Wow.  December 31st already. Just like everyone else on the planet, I am surprised at how quickly this last year has gone by.  On January 1, 2009 I never would have guessed that I would be sitting in Baghdad, Iraq on December 31st, 2009.  Life is full of surprises, isn't it?

Looking back on the last year, I realize that many of my dreams and goals have been fulfilled.  I have a deep and happy, loving relationship with my husband and son, my parents and brothers and sisters are all healthy and happy, my friends continue to be my friends; supporting me with unspeakable acts of kindness on a daily basis.  How lucky am I?

Actually, I'm one of those people who believes (drum roll for a Vince Lombardi quote) that "luck is the residue of design."  I'm not happy because I am lucky, rather I truly believe that I am happy because I choose to be happy.  It's a choice. 

So, despite my whining and bitching about porta-potties, mud and being far from home and family....I am still quite happy.  New friends, new experiences and the calendar moving closer and closer to my redeployment date certainly help.

On to my goals for 2010: in no particular order

1.  Come home safely
2.  Run a trail 50k by Fall
3.  Do 30,000 situps and 15,000 pushups for the year
4.  Play golf at St. Andrews

I'm sure I'll think of others, this is just what I came up with off the top of my head.

Tonight was certainly one of the more interesting nights of my life.  Our little group grabbed a few minutes to eat and decided to go check out a different chow hall than we have been going to for the last several months.  Not too far from where we normally eat, but on a different side of the base.  We really enjoy each others company and had a great conversation about life and love and where we all want to be next year...great conversation until the IDFs (indirect fire/rockets) started rolling in.  Before we new it, we were on lockdown at the chow hall and the sirens were going off.  Apparently, several rounds hit the base, with 2 of them extremely close to the building we were in.  I felt the earth shake, but I never felt as though I was in any danger.

How's that for a way to ring in the New Year?  So, 10 years ago I was at a Jimmy Buffett concert in Los Angeles celebrating the new millennium, this year I celebrate with a rocket attack.  I have a knack for memorable New Year's Eves, don't I?

So...Happy New Year to everyone out there.  Thanks for reading my blog for the last few months, I hope I can continue to entertain you.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve....

Never in my wildest dreams ever think that I would spend a Christmas Eve the way I have today.  

I am 51% Finnish, and as such have always celebrated more on Christmas Eve than on Christmas Day.  As we speak, my brothers and sisters, husband and son are driving up to my parents house to spend the afternoon hanging out, setting the table, eating a GYNORMOUS traditional Finnish meal (ham, salt herring, rhudabegas, etc.) before opening ALL the presents.  Thankfully, now that we are grown, we have moved past the requisite and painful Story of Jesus reenactment.  (I mean really, does ANYONE believe that a dachshund is a camel?)

That's right.  We open all of our gifts on Christmas that I am married, with a child of my own, I appreciate this family tradition even more.  No scurrying from house to house on Christmas day.  

I'm missing this year.  For only the second time ever in my life.  I am oddly okay with it; I feel much better than I ever expected.  Maybe because today was so busy.

We worked all morning, then this afternoon attended the promotion ceremony for Major General Joe Anderson.  He pinned on his second star today on the 3rd floor balcony of Al Faw Palace.  It was beautiful, the temps were in the 70s with a slight breeze.  The morning trash burn had ended and the skies were crystal clear.  I stood there among my fellow service members, Iraqi generals and several Ambassadors and thought:  how did I get here?  

After dinner, three of my friends and I attended the Christmas Eve Candlelight service in the rotunda of the palace.  It was really moving to sit there, among so many different sorts of people realizing that we were all probably thinking the same things.  Family.  Home.  Love.

The acoustics in the rotunda are amazing and singing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing! at the top of my lungs was certainly one of the highlights og my deployment so far.

I am so lucky that I have become friends with the three people in this photo with me.  Each is remarkable in their own way and I couldn't have survived the first 2 months of this experience with out them.  The only downer is that our 5th sidekick, Tom Gordy, wasn't with us...then again, he's home on R&R, so good for him!

I'd like to thank everyone who sent letters, cards and care packages during this holiday season.  I shared most of everything with my shipmates here, and all of it was appreciated.  Thank you for taking time out of your lives to think about me.  The support has been unspeakably kind.  Thank you.

I'll leave you with a funny Christmas card we received in our office this week.  Funny doesn't even begin to describe it.  This is the GOLD MEDAL World's Best Christmas Card Ever awardee of the year.

Dear SolDier,

It sucks you have to be over there with all of the iraqui People over Christmas.  I'm sorry that Sucks.  But Look at the Bright Side Your helping your Country.  Thank you.




Priceless...and 100% authentic.

Merry Christmas to you all....Much Love and I hope you all have a Joyous New Year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How Many Mondays???

Bizarro moment number 8,367 during lunch today.  As I was sitting outside grabbing a bite to eat, I was momentarily transported back to the Hula Hut in Austin early last summer.  The slight wind and balmy temps, no doubt brought this on.  Susan and Glenn were across from me, a Shiner Bock and a delightful seafood quesadilla, the lake shimmering….
Sometimes while I sit here, I have slivers of intense memories of friends, family and other places that are so at odds with my current reality.  It’s very much like waking up from a dream where you swear you were having a conversation with someone like Audrey Hepburn…only to realize, that you’ve never met Audrey Hepburn.  (I had a dream about Nick Faldo like that several years ago, but that’s clearly a topic for someone else’s blog.)
Again, many apologies for not having written anything on the blog in quite some time.  For the last two weeks I have been suffering from horrible jet-lag.  I’ve been averaging about 4-5 hours of sleep per night, with two full nights where I did not sleep at all.  This unfortunate condition was brought on by a most fortunate and lucky circumstance; I came back to the Washington DC area for about a week of TDY!!!!
I was able to spend 8 days at home with my family while working during the day up at the Pentagon and Cap Hill.  Not only did I get to spend precious and unexpected time with my husband and son, brothers, sisters, parents and friends…it also meant that I was able to take showers for 8 straight days without shower shoes!  I also didn’t see a porta-pottie the entire time I was home.  It’s the little things, people.

There are a great many things I realized while on the trip and during the epic journey back to Baghdad.  First, I have the most amazing family and group of friends.  Of course, I knew this on an emotional and intellectual level already.  But seeing them after three months was visceral.  It frightened me.  It unnerved me to the point that I went out of my way to NOT see most people.  It was overwhelming at times.  My joy at seeing them brought on intense anxiety as I knew I didn’t want to say good bye again.  I overcame some of it, but not all of it.  I am sorry if I offended anyone.  Truly.

There were two occasions on the trip where the ‘large group of people/anxiety rule’ was ignored and muddled through.  First, on the Sunday that I got back my parents had everyone over to their house for lunch and Christmas tree decorating.  It was so much fun seeing all my nieces and nephews scramble to get the ornaments up and the lights on the tree.  I was able to spend several hours with my parents and brothers and sisters; it was divine and very restorative.

The second occasion was the roughly 90 minutes I was able to spend with a group of girlfriends one night after work.  We went to a bar in Chinatown and visited for a little while, reminisced about silly things in the news business and generally reconnected.  These ladies mean a lot to me and I am so grateful I could spend time with them.

There were also a few surprises when I came back.  When you are deployed you have this vague notion that the world sort of pauses or even stops when you are gone.  Your reality is what you can see, touch and feel.  Emails, skyping and Facebook go a long way towards connectivity, but there is still a massive chasm.
My son had a BIG surprise for me; Toby.  A small orange and white kitten.  Ummmm. WHAT?????????  I am soooo not a cat person, but what can you do?  Conor wanted the cat and the neighbor gave it to him.  Our golden retriever/mutt (Cooper) loves him, so there doesn’t seem to be any discord in the house, nor any turning back.

I was shocked and a little irritated that this had happened while I was away.  My husband and son know that I don’t particularly care for cats, yet they still brought one in to the family.  I suppose the cat can be considered the symbol of my absenteeism for the last 16 months.  While I was in my bed, making coffee in my kitchen and generally interacting as though no time had passed; Toby was the physical reminder that I feel like a guest in my own home.  Strange.  Not devastating, but certainly disconcerting.  One of many things I’ll have to work through if I ever come home.

One of the other things that sort of took me by surprise (but I think can be paired up with the “anxiety about seeing people” thing) was my discomfort in the grocery store.  Everything was so bright and shiny, there were so many choices.  It was overwhelming.  I’ve only been in Iraq for a hair over two months, but have grown used to the monochromatic surroundings and lack of choice.  Being at home was like starring in a Technicolor movie in surround sound!

Back at work now, I've come to realize how much I enjoy the folks I work for and with.  As much as I don't want to be here, I do enjoy my job and I am learning a tremendous amount.  I also deeply believe in what we are doing to help Iraq move towards democracy.  Is that alone worth the trade-off of being away from home?  We'll see.

Finally, I'm sure traveling for 48 hours had something to do with it, but I could NOT wait to get back to my little room.  My own slice of privacy and space in this crazy environment.  But some things never dreading the porta-pottie at 3am.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Monday Number 7

Sorry, dear readers, about missing Monday Number 6, I was out on another trip with a group of Senators who were here learning more about our military and how we can finish the job here in Iraq correctly.  More importantly, they were able to spend a fair amount of time with their constituents who are here serving.  I never get tired of seeing a Congressman or Senator interact with the young servicemen and women here.  They are truly awed by the amount of responsibility bestowed on our youth.

One of the great things about my job is never knowing exactly who you are going to bump in to at the airport!  Y'all know I am a huge golf nut, so I was giddy when these two gents sauntered off the same plane as the Senators.  Good thing I always have my camera with me!

Tom Watson has been one of my heroes for as long as I can remember.  Such grace and dignity on the course, a great gentleman and a wonderful example of how to behave as an athlete and a celebrity.  We chatted for a few moments and he looked me straight in the eye and said:  "You play golf?"  "Yes, Sir, I do..." "What do you shoot?  100s, 90s, 80s?"  "Well, Sir, I've played in the 90s for quite a while now..."  "What do you think you need to do to improve your game, Karen?"  "Well, Sir...I need to improve my putting."  He looked at me ruefully and said "So do I, do I."  At that point, I thought is best not to bring up the British Open....
I still can NOT believe I had a face to face with Tom Watson...Corey Pavin was great, too!  Very quiet and sort of in awe of everything around him.  He graciously agreed to have his picture taken and we chatted briefly about Shinnecock Hills.  These guys have more than 10 Majors between them.  Amazing!!!

I also celebrated Thanksgiving with my new friends.  I am very lucky to work with several other O-3s who are sort of my age.  Actually, they are all about 10 years younger than me...but that's part of what makes it fun.  They are so young!!!  We ran a 5k Turkey Trot, played a little football...ate our faces off at the Chow Hall (SHOUT OUT to the Indian and Ugandan contractors who decorated everything and make absolutely DELICIOUS food for was really special)...then capped off the holiday with the mandatory kick off to every Christmas season:  watching The Christmas Story.

The next few weeks will be interesting.  A lot of the staff has tried to schedule R&R during the holidays so there are a lot of people coming and going.  The Elections may or may not happen in a couple of months, and the Iraqi's (as well as the rest of the Muslim world) are finishing up with the Eid holiday.

More as it comes....

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's not allll bad....

Seriously, it's not all bad here.  I have a unique job which allows me to travel quite a bit and see parts of this country that few Americans will ever see.  I surely never thought I would see some of these things...

Last week, I took a group of folks out to the Ziggurat of Ur.  It's over 4,000 years old and was built next to Abraham's house.  Yes, all you bible readers...that Abraham.  After we left, I thought:  "George Washington Slept Here" really doesn't have the same ring to it anymore. 

I picked up some of the bricks, all of which have words carved/stamped in to them and realized that they were probably the oldest man made thing I would ever come in contact with.  Amazing.  The stuff in the near distance is Abraham's house, or what's left of it.

This is me at the base of the Ziggurat...not the most flattering uniform, as if I needed any help with big hips.  Just in case though, my M9 is always handy on my belt to make those birthing hips look that much bigger!!

Switching gears to another bizarre encounter.  A couple of days ago, we got a nice "surprise" visit by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I am pleased to tell you that the man could not have been nicer.  I had the opportunity to meet him, I stuck out my hand and said:  "Governor, thank you so much for coming to visit us."  He looked me straight in the eye and said "Vhat....I don't get a hug???"  He then promptly embraced me in a great big bear hug and we chatted for a minute or so.  He repeatedly thanked US for being here.  He gave a heartfelt speech in the Chow Hall and spent a lot of time with the troops.  He even went to the gym the next morning to work out with some of our guys.

Thankfully, an AP photographer was nearby during my time with him, so there is evidence!!

So, while I am apart from my family and friends...honestly, not every day is a bad day.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday Number Five!!!

Wow.  I've been here just shy of a month now.  Strange.

Lots of exciting stuff this past week, hard to know where to start.  I finally came back among the living and seem to have kicked the chest/throat cold right in the ass.  It's sort of settled in to my right eye, but I can live with that.  It's a little swollen and sore in the mornings, but by mid-afternoon it's all back to normal.  I can't imagine it will last much longer.

Earlier this week I received a package from home.  I love mail.  We all live for mail call.  My Mom baked me 6 mini-loaves of Finnish Pulla bread.  Heaven.  For those of you who aren't familiar, it's a little dense and quite sweet.  I love it.  When I opened the package I almost started to cry. A little bit of tasty home in a card board box.  My Mom's handwriting, the jelly, was exactly what I needed at that moment.  For a split second, I thought about sharing some of the bread with the folks in my office....then I shook my self and said "what they hell are you thinking, you crazy woman!?"  So, I shoved in back in the box and hid it under my desk.  I have now (gleefully) had it for dinner and breakfast several times.  I am evil.  I know.

I am starting to settle in to a pattern at work and am starting to get to know some of my co-workers a little better.  I don't really hang out with anyone, but we do go to the chow hall a few times a week together.  They are an interesting group of people....some of them have been here for 2 years.  One Army O-5 left this afternoon....she has been here for a total of 54 months since the start of the War.  Ummm.  I've been here for like 28 days and I can't believe it.  She's been here for YEARS!....I am such a pansy.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for some of these service men and women.  I don't know how they do it.

Most of the people I meet are very nice, but in this environment it's often hard to keep it in check. I am tired a lot, I'm in a strange place, and I'm a Navy Officer being forced to wear an Army uniform for the next year.  In short,  my Face Punch List is growing.  (I promised you all in a previous posting that I would explain the FPL, so here goes.)

The FPL is full of people I think should be, well.... punched in the face.  They are usually lazy, selfish, and ignorant....and too obtuse to realize that my amused expression is not really all that friendly.  It's a mask over my condescension because sometimes I just can't really believe these morons can function.  How do they get to the grocery store?  How do they even remember how to brush their teeth?  It's defies logic!

I'm not suggesting that I actually punch them in the face, I'm just saying they DESERVE to be punched in the face.  I know at least one of us would feel better afterwards.

Okay, on a happier and less acerbic note:

The weather has changed here, and we are definitely experiencing fall.  The temps during the days are in the lower 80s, and it's quite cool in the morning.  It's pouring rain out right now, if you can believe it.  It's supposed to rain for the next 36 hours...which means lots and lots of mud.  At least the air quality will be better, right?

I've also started running again, there isn't much else to do here.  My friend Holly pushed me towards it, gently nudging me back to the emotional place where I actually wanted to do it again. Inspired by my friends Caren, Steph, the aforementioned Holly, but most importantly my husband Jack I decided to take the plunge again.  So far, so good. Camp Victory is great for's wide open and safe.  I've signed up for a 5k on Thanksgiving morning, so I'll be doing a Turkey Trot just like lot's of my peeps back home.

Here's a picture of the Palace where I work.  Can you believe that I walk in to this building everyday???

On that note...time for sleep!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday Number Four

Another week down.  I hosted another visit from folks coming from the US.  Lots of helo rides, plane rides and convoys to get to all of our meetings.

I won't say the week flew by, but I am starting to understand the phrase "the days take forever, but the weeks fly by."  As I told a friend today, I can't wait to hit my stride so I can wake up one day to realize that 4 months are gone in the blink of an eye.

This is me at the infamous Crossed Sabres parade ground in the International Zone.  The day was dusty and hazy, which makes it difficult to see the matching pair of sabres in the distance.

This is also parade ground where Saddam Hussein would work the crowds in to a dither and fire off his rifles in to the air. I imagine at some point it was quite impressive, but years of neglect and non-use make it a shell of what it must have been. 

It's in the heart of the IZ and the Iraqi equivalent of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is near by.  I'll try to grab a picture of that the next time I am in the area.

Here are some other pictures of my adventures this week....

Helo it.  I love helicopter rides!

I have taken dozens of photographs, but the bandwidth here is so bad that it took almost an hour just to upload these photos.  I'll have to figure out how to post them some other way.

More adventures await me this week...can't wait to fill you all in on them down the road....