My favorite veteran

Although I lived in the house from the age of 2 until I was almost 10, I have very few vivid memories from our house on Kensington Lane in Celina, Ohio. But one very vivid memory I do have is of when my big brother, Mitch, let us know he was going into the Army.

20141110_175851-1Mitch sat in a chair at the kitchen table, and said he had something to tell us. He even asked my mom to sit on his knee as he told us. He knew her reaction would be one of worry and fear. Mitch then explained that he was entering the service. He had signed up for the U.S. Army.

I don’t remember anything after that, except that my mom and I both cried. I think my mom was probably happy and sad. I was mortified. All I knew of the military was what I had seen in movies, and that usually involved combat in war. Although my big brother was ten years older than me, we were close. I looked up to him, and wanted nothing more than for him to be safe.

Mitch went to bootcamp and was shifted around to various parts of the country, from base to base. It was when he was at Fort Bragg in North Carolina that he officially became a part of the 82nd Airborne. Specialist Mitch Trout, he was called, and he was my hero.

And then the Gulf War started. My brother was going to Iraq.

When Mitch left for Operation Desert Storm, my heart broke. The Gulf War was nothing like what soldiers are facing today, but it was still important, still scary, and still heartbreaking for a 10-year-old girl whose big brother was fighting in a war. I wrote to Mitch a lot, sent him care packages, and prayed for him every night.

That period of my life is probably the most patriotic I’ve ever seen the country. Maybe it’s because I was in a small town, but we all came together to support our troops. Everyone had yellow ribbons up to support the troops, whether they knew someone serving overseas or not.

20141110_175901-1Patriotic songs like, “From a Distance” and “God Bless the USA” were common on local radio stations. I couldn’t hear either without bursting into tears, and even to this day, more than 20 years later, they are both still difficult songs to hear.

Finally, after months of waiting, the Gulf War ended, and Mitch was coming home. It was the only time my parents got me out of school for a trip. We were going to North Carolina to welcome Mitch home from his time in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and my oldest brother, Mike, was coming with us. We piled into the family van and took the road trip of a lifetime.

I can still remember our first drive onto Fort Bragg, not sure exactly when Mitch would be arriving. Would it be that evening? The next day? The day after that? It was 1991, and it wasn’t like we had cell phones or email to communicate with my brother making the long journey home from Desert Storm. Feels like it was just yesterday that we entered the giant building holding hundreds of waiting family members. It was the most red, white, and blue I had ever seen at one time. People had signs, painted faces, and flags that made for one seriously patriotic bunch of people, all people waiting for their loved ones to come home.

We had to check in at a desk to see exactly when Mitch would be arriving. Unfortunately, our spirits were a little low when we found out that his plane wouldn’t be arriving until the next day.

I didn’t sleep well that night. My excitement was uncontainable. In a few short hours, I’d get to see my big brother. My hero. My favorite veteran.

We got up bright and early and headed back to base. I had made Mitch a “Welcome Home!” sign, and wore my “Support our Troops” sweatshirt. My experience that day was one of the most emotional experiences I have ever had. It was so long ago, but the memory is so vivid.

Waiting friends and family members gathered behind ropes and watched as the plane landed. Soldier after soldier filed off the plane from a distance, and they all looked the same. They lined up together, and someone gave a speech that no one really paid attention to. Every person there just wanted to find their soldier. It felt like an eternity before someone gave the signal for the soldiers to disperse, and the ropes in front of the crowd were dropped. Hundreds of people took off for the group of soldiers in front of us, screaming the name of their loved one.

20141110_180640-1“MITCH!” my big brother Mike was yelling as I ran behind him.

“MITCH!” I yelled behind him.

Then we saw him, and it was the greatest reunion of my entire life. My big brother was home. He was back. He was OK.

Mitch was also very… stoic. It would be years before we really heard his tales of war from Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The day he returned was more about just being with him, and doing whatever he wanted, the first choice of which was to have lunch at Pizza Hut.

There are many great veterans out there. Those who have served for a short time, and those who have served for a very long time. But my big brother Mitch will always be my favorite veteran. Being a little girl with your big brother away at war is a horrifying experience, but it certainly ended happily for me.

Happy Veterans Day to all veterans! Thank you so much, and God bless you for your service.

10 days left, 10 memorable moments…

Left in July, returning in June. For nearly a year I’ll have lived in a third-world country. Uganda has been everything I hoped it would be, and yet it’s been nothing like I imagined. I am forever changed, and I am returning to the United States a totally different person.

I have ten days until I return to the United States. I’m sure there will be plenty of memorable moments in the coming days, including a safari with the 12th graders, and I had some amazing moments in my two trips to Kenya, but right now I want to reflect on 10 of the most memorable moments from the past year in the Pearl of Africa. These are the silly moments, the moments that are behind the scenes in the lives of expats living in Uganda.

Going Raw1546282_10151849897326573_2063871615_n

My roommate Ashlie and I were psyched. We are going to eat raw for one week. We would lose a good amount of weight and use it as a jumping off point for eating healthier overall.  Our great adventure was kicked off with a trip to Ggaba Market. Our arms literally ached from the many bags of fruits and vegetables we collected and carried back to our apartment.

The night before the big day (our first day eating raw), we chopped and sliced like crazy. We even found lots of great raw recipes online. Eating raw was going to be amazing!

Monday came. I had a delicious smoothie for breakfast. For lunch I munched on carrots. Come 3 p.m., I was starving. I remember walking into our apartment. Ashlie sat on the couch with Analeigh and said, “Do you want to eat at Little Donkey tonight?” My stomach rumbled as I thought of my favorite shredded beef burrito and guacamole. “Yes!” I replied with enthusiasm.

We were officially failures. Eating raw lasted approximately 12 hours, and many of our co-workers loved making fun of us when we failed. But Ashlie and I will never forget the 12 hours we went raw!

IMG_20140518_113900Stoney. Period.

Every Stoney I’ve had is memorable. Stoney is a heavenly drink that Coca-Cola has for some reason decided should not be available in the United States. It’s a refreshing blend of ginger and soda, so strong that sometimes one sip will make you cough.

I have had Stoney’s at dinner, at school, at the beach, by the pool, and just lounging on the front porch. Every moment with a Stoney is memorable.

The Detour

It was December, and a group of ladies had gone Christmas shopping downtown. My car was loaded with me, Ashlie, Abbey, and Tiffany. About halfway home, the road we typically take was closed. This forced us to take a detour.

This wasn’t just any detour. This was a detour that movies are made of, like when the Americans get lost in a third-world country and never again see the light of day. The detour through a super sketchy neighborhood gave us all sorts of interesting sights: cats who looked like they were on meth, boda drivers who smelled like meat and cheese, nuns, and beggars who didn’t even want our G-nuts for a snack.

It had been a long day, and we were downright delirious. I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed and cried as much as we did on our detour. You definitely had to be there, but it was a moment I will never, ever forget from my time in Kampala.

The Acrobatic Cockroach

I screamed my head off. A giant African cockroach was crawling around our kitchen counter.

“Ashlie! Bring the Doom!” I yelled.

She knew what that meant. She grabbed the can of Doom, Uganda’s version of Raid, and ran in the kitchen. Ashlie chased the giant bug as it crawled around the counter. She doused it in Doom, but it was resilient. It wasn’t going to die.

Somehow, the roach made its way into a big pot on the counter. We were afraid to look and see if he was alive or not. As we slowly approached the pot to peer inside, the roach catapulted itself out of the pot and back onto the counter. Our screams echoed throughout all of Kampala, but after a few more minutes of spraying, the roach was finally dead.

Morning Surprise

It was Sunday morning, and we were headed to church. As I rounded the corner of our second-story apartment porch, I looked down the stairs and saw a kitten.10155465_603901271423_936196015706335090_n

I started to say, “Awww!” when my eyes were drawn to something further down the stairs.

“O….M…G….” I screamed, loud enough that the neighbors heard.

Ashlie walked around the corner and saw the kitten.

“It’s just a kitten!” she said.

“No! Look!” I pointed.

There on the steps was a dead baby chicken. How a chicken even got on our compound is a mystery, but he clearly didn’t last long!

Crazy Caterpillars

It started off almost as a pimple, but after a few days, it had grown. And it looked nasty.

The disgusting sore on my arm changed shape and size every day, and it was growing new blisters by the minute. Finally, I went to the doctor to have it checked out. As usual, the doctors didn’t have much of an answer, except that it might be a caterpillar burn.

IMG_4723A what? Yup. Many of the caterpillars here in Uganda are poisonous. Just brushing up against the wrong kind of caterpillar can literally burn your skin.

To fix me, they popped all the blisters, drained out some nasty stuff, and then packed it with honey and gauze. Yes, honey, the apparent fix-all for any skin problem in Uganda. Sure enough, after a few days they took off the gauze, cleaned off the honey, and I was good to go!

I do, however, have a scar from my caterpillar burn. I’m quite proud of it. How many people can say they have a scar from an encounter with an evil caterpillar?

Solar Eclipse

Living on the equator means getting burnt after only a few minutes in the sun. It’s a pain, but living on the equator also means experiencing awesome, once-in-a-lifetime things like a solar eclipse.eclipse2

In November we observed a solar eclipse here in Kampala. It happened in the evening, and while it did get darker than usual, it was not a full eclipse that darkened everything. Still, I’ll never forget viewing it through the solar shades the school provided everyone. It was an event I’ll always remember.

IMG_20131217_185925KFC Crazy

I thought there was a McDonald’s in every country. Or maybe even a Taco Bell. There had to be SOME sort of Western fast food restaurant in Uganda that would cure our cravings when we missed home.

There were none.

Until December. Kentucky Fried Chicken opened its doors to the people of Uganda, and we were some of the first in line to experience the awesomeness.

Did I eat a lot of KFC when I lived in America? Not at all. Hardly ever, actually. But just to have a taste of home was something we were dying for by our fifth month here. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in Uganda, simply because it was a small reminder of home.

Power Outage Party

It happens here. A lot. The power goes out and you never know if it will come back on within a few minutes or a few days. We quickly learned, however, that you just have to make the best of it.

There was one night we were particularly excited because we had purchased bread, pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese at the store. (Cheese can be next-to-impossible to find around here.) We were going to make one of our favorite dinners- pizza bites.IMG_0485

But the power went out.

Being the awesome gals we are, we didn’t let the lack of electricity cramp our style. Me, Ashlie, Stephanie, Elise and Nyenhial and her two boys packed ourselves into the kitchen, made our dinner by candlelight, and sang the hits of the 90’s. It was most definitely one of my favorite Africa memories!

Frozen with Florence

Florence, our dayguard’s daughter, is quite possibly one of the cutest four year olds on the planet. It’s such a blessing to be greeted by her each day, and sometimes we like to hang out. Florence knows very little English, but that doesn’t stop us from having fun. Sometimes we just play on the porch, sometimes I paint her fingernails and toenails, and the other day we watched Frozen.

IMG_20140517_071757Her reaction to everything was priceless. Throughout most of the movie she just pointed at my laptop screen and smiled. And the icing on the cake was after the movie when she looked at me and began to sing, “Let it Go.” The only words she knew were, “Let it go,” and that was fine. OK, it was amazing.

Every moment with Florence this year has been special, but one of my favorites was definitely watching Frozen together.

So many memories here in Uganda! I’ll never forget the faces and places from my year in the Pearl of Africa.

 

Social media: not getting in my way

I’ve been journaling since the third grade. Yes, I literally record pretty much every moment of my entire life via written word and/or photographs. That’s just how I am. It’s really no wonder I became a journalist and started documenting other people’s lives.

Snapping a pic of my meal this evening didn't ruin any memories in the making.
Snapping a pic of my meal this evening didn’t ruin any memories in the making.

I love life. I love my life. I love seeing other people’s lives because I love people. I love people because I love God, and God tells us to love people. I enjoy seeing people’s lives on social media, and I equally enjoy sharing my own. I don’t believe it has in any way, shape, or form, had a negative impact on how I experience life.

There’s no question that many people spend too much time on social media. However, I’m tired of feeling attacked and seeing all these blog posts and videos and status updates about “missing life” because  you’re putting something on Instagram, writing a status update or Tweeting.

Excuse me… what?

If Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, whatever, are a problem for you, than that’s exactly what it is: a problem for you.

I’ve been in Uganda for almost 10 months now. One of my favorite things to do when I get homesick is look back through photos on my Instagram from when I was home. It reminds me of home, and it makes my heart so incredibly happy! Do I regret the 25 seconds I took out of my day to post a picture of me and my niece a year ago- a photo that would bring me happiness in the present as well as in the future? Of course not! I didn’t “miss” anything. If anything, I captured a moment so I could cherish it forever.

There’s no need to knock people who make the choice to not utilize social media to document their lives, but I also don’t see the reason to criticize those of us who do.

Life is beautiful. I love to share that life with my friends and family who want to see it. And honestly, I know a few people who have lost family photos and journals to house fires, hurricanes, tornados, etc., who would give anything to have those memories back. I love the fact that my memories are somewhere reasonably safe- on social media.

Getting a picture with my friends only helps me remember the fun we had this evening!
Getting a picture with my friends only helps me remember the fun we had this evening!

Isn’t it slightly ironic that the same people telling others to get off social media have invested a great deal of their time writing blogs and making videos about staying off social media? Not to mention the fact that social media will be what propels their very argument?

Tonight we went out to eat at a Mexican restaurant to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. We took lots of pictures, and I will post them on Instagram, Facebook, etc. I’ve even posted them with this blog post. For me it didn’t interrupt my moment or my memory. In fact, it will do just the opposite. I believe it will enhance my memories.

Don’t tell people they are “missing life” because they happen to live their life differently from you. If social media is getting in your own way of living life, then of course, you need to back off. But some of us love life, and we love sharing it. I am overjoyed with the blessings God has given me, and I’m not going to stop sharing that with the world.

A Penguin Riding a Peppermint…

Some people like big, perfectly decorated and color-coordinated Christmas trees. I don’t disagree, those trees are beautiful, but what I love is the type of Christmas tree that I grew up with. No rhyme or reason, no color coordination, and no “theme” other than “a bunch of random ornaments from throughout the years.”

I used to love decorating the tree with my mom and dad. We’d pull out our favorite ornaments from over the years and almost always add a new one or two to the collection. Since I left college, I’ve taken over the decorating of the tree, and I still get excited when I pull out my favorite ornaments. Most of them wouldn’t do well in the stores. Most are old, some are falling apart, and I think one is even molding. But for me, Christmas ornaments aren’t about the glitz and the glam- they are about that happy feeling I get just seeing them on the tree.

IMG_20121130_200915My Favorite
I didn’t even remember where this one came from, but my mom says it was from my babysitter who lived next door. For as long as I can remember decorating the tree, this has been my favorite ornament. I love penguins, and the fact that he’s riding a peppermint is super cute to me. This is always the first ornament I put on the tree, and it always goes towards the top.

 

IMG_20121130_200955Handmade Ornaments
They look pretty rugged, but I love the ornaments I made in preschool and IMG_20121130_201038elementary school. I don’t know what the moon is made of- it is almost like a cookie. The candy cane I painted when I was two is another favorite, and I adore the dove I painted. What makes it especially unique is the bright yellow piece of yarn it hangs from. Sure it would look classier hanging from a hook or a silver ribbon of some kind, but it’s the yellow yarn I remember most. I’ll never change that.

Grandma’s OrnamentsIMG_20121130_201007
What’s super cool about my little pre-lit tree is the fact that it was my grandma’s tree when she lived in assisted living. I also got a few of her ornaments after she passed away. My favorite is this clear bulb filled with snow and a piece of paper that says her name, “Rita.” I’m brought to tears when I put it on the tree, as I miss her so much that it hurts.

IMG_20121130_200430This year my other grandma was put into the nursing home. Just today my dad brought me a box of ornaments from my grandma’s attic. I’m so excited to add them to my collection, and I know they will always make me think of my grandma.

 

IMG_20121130_200903Ornaments Around the Globe
Within the past five years, I’ve started buying ornaments as mementos of my trips. When I was ina Niger, Africa in 2009, there were no ornaments to purchase. Not only is it a Muslim country, but it’s not a tourist destination. However, I did find a few keychains to buy, and I use one as an ornament.

On that same trip, I purchased an ornament on our long layover in Paris. Another one of my favorite ornaments from my travels is the one from Cozumel. I can’t wait to get an ornament in Zambia this summer!

New Ornaments
My parents know that I love me a cute moose. So when they went on an Alaskan IMG_20121130_201217cruise this past fall, they had lots of opportunities to get me something with a moose on it. Sure enough, I ended up with a moose ornament, and this handmade clay ornament is one of my new favorites!

My tree and ornaments may not be worth a lot of money, but I don’t care. You really couldn’t put a price on the memories and the sentimental value they have in my heart.