"Not all those who wander are lost" J.R.R. Tolkien

Monday, November 11, 2013


Veteran's Day is a day of mixed emotion around here.  I come from a long line of military:  my grandfather was a Marine and a DI and a Korean War POW escapee, my father was a Marine at Camp David, my husband served the Navy for 13 years, my brother served in the Air Force for a decade and did three tours in Iraq, my cousin is practically ready for retirement from the Army.  Not to mention the uncles who served in Vietnam and the many, many friends who are currently deployed in the Med, Saudi, Afghanistan, etc.  I am so fiercely proud of each you.

You have served in peace and in war.  You know what it is to miss birthdays and holidays, first days of schools and graduations.  Perhaps you've even missed the birth of a child.  Many of you have seen Death in the ugliest form it can take.  You carry memories with you about things of which you can never speak unless it is to a Fellow who has Been There.

I know my own grandfather carried horrific stories with him his whole life, speaking of them rarely.  Toward the end of his life, maybe because he wanted his stories to live on, he began to speak to my husband, who carried the trusted title of Chaplain.  My grandpa, Denny, to those who knew him well and Dennis to those who didn't (yes, I am named for him and have always been proud of it) starved as a late teenaged kid in a POW camp.  He and his buddy Ed lied about their ages so they could enlist; Grandpa was only sixteen.  When he saw his chance for escape, he took it, living off whatever morsels he could scavenge from the rifled pockets of dead soldiers, until he spotted a US helicopter taking off toward freedom and made a run through a hail of bullets.

Thank you, Grandpa - I am here today because you barely made that Chopper.  He gave up the Marines after 17 years of decorated service because my grandmother could no longer take the difficult life of a military life.  When Grandma laid down the ultimatum, Grandpa chose Her and his three Sons, one of whom would follow his footsteps and become a decorated Marine in his own right.  That Marine was my father, who passed away earlier this spring of brain cancer and was accorded full military burial with a moving twenty one gun salute.  I have a shell from his service next to a photo of his enlistment.

When my husband announced his intention to become an officer after only four years of marriage and not one previous mention of military dreams, I didn't even blink.  The role of military wife seemed tailor made for me and Donald's years of service are some of the hardest but most rewarding years of my life.  I have written much about his medical retirement and about it being taken away a year ago; I won't dredge it up again.  Despite our seeming mistreatment at the hands of the government, I miss our military life keenly.  Barely a day goes by that I don't recall some aspect of being a Navy wife.

The bottom line is this:  no matter what we think of our government these days (and most of it is one Snafu after another - sorry, couldn't resist a military acronym!), the Men and Women of the Armed Forces wake up every day, put on a uniform, and fight for something bigger than all of us, whether they go to a desk job at the Pentagon or to a tank in Afghanistan.  I believe in them and in a month dedicated to thankfulness, I am incredibly thankful for the job they do.

Last but not least, I am thankful for the Wives, who often go unthanked.  You take family vacations encompassing thousands of miles, just you at the wheel and your kids bickering in the back seat over which movie to watch, because your husband is deployed.  Again.  You are left to explain to the kids that Daddy can't come home yet, even though there are plane tickets to meet him in Hawaii to celebrate the end of his deployment, because a country far away called Syria is committing atrocities of the worst kind.  You celebrate Christmas and Valentine's Day and the 4th of July and Labor Day and Halloween with other families who have a deployed spouse.  You shoulder behavior problems at school alone, teacher conferences alone, meal prep-house cleaning-soccer games-shopping-band camp-Alone.  Skype and Facebook become your Friend.  Five minutes alone becomes a Godsend.  Tears in the shower go unnoticed.

But not really.  We know.  Those of us who have Been There, Know.  We know what those moments feel like.  Those moments of, "Oh My God, the next Six Months.  The Next Twenty-Eight Days.  The next twelve hours CanNOT go by quickly enough."  We know.  And, We HAVE YOUR BACK!

Thank you, Wives.  Thank you Selena, and Karen, and Jen, and Amy, and Emily, and Donna, and Tomo, and Carine, and Michelle, and Gina, and Kjersten, and Kristen, and my grandmother, and my own mom, and to the many others who have gone before me and continue after me.  I can't even begin to name you all but I am and will always be grateful for the job you do.  As they say, it may very well be the Toughest Job in the military.

From the Twist Family to Your Family, if you are serving or if you have served, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, on this Veteran's Day and every other day of the year.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Library Update

I thought maybe an update on our Little Free Library might be in order.  The Library generated a tremendous amount of interest in the first few days it was open.  People slowed down their walks to cast a wary glance.  Cars drove slowly by, several even stopping and reversing to get a better look.  Everyone was curious but most seemed confused.  I may have mentioned from time to time that, while not a bad neighborhood, no one is having block parties to get to know each other and the concept of free is a bit suspect.  Folks are getting the idea because books keep disappearing.  No one is leaving books yet but that's okay.  A friend brought over a laundry basket full of kids books and I restocked the Library with the last of them this morning.  It's the second time I've restocked.

Here's how I feel about it:  I am amazed how much pleasure I get from watching little kids sprint past my house to look at the books.  Honestly.  My heart beats wildly to know that neighbors from other blocks and kids I'll probably never meet are experiencing a tiny thrill at finding a library treasure.  Because, no matter how big or small, that's what a library is - a treasure house, and all its gems are yours for the taking.  The gem could be an adventure, a mystery, an autobiography, a romance.  That's why libraries are so unique.  The gem is whatever you want it to be.

Watching people at our Library also makes me happy because this really isn't the greatest end of town.  I'm not sure how many of the people around here own books, which is truly heartbreaking for a family who turned their garage into their own personal library/school room.  In this day of too much television and video game playing, literacy is one of the greatest gifts anyone can receive.  Getting books into the hands of someone who may not be able to afford them is such a thrill.  Even my boys are catching the excitement of watching people take books.  Donald still thinks it may eventually become a drug repository but I just ignore him!

I encourage you all to check out the Little Free Library website and get a library in your own 'hood.  Even towns that are super small (like Lance Creek, Wyoming - hint, hint, Mom!) have set up an LFL in public places like the post office or gas station.  Give it some thought -  it's really an amazing idea and I'm so glad to be part of the organization.

PS:  I wish I had a photo of kids and parents at the Library but I don't want to scare anyone off by whipping out a camera!  Peeking through my curtains is probably bad enough!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wandering through Education

First day of 8th and 6th Grade

Two posts ago I mentioned not feeling ready for school to begin and that such a feeling was totally foreign to me.  Today I am chocks pulled, full speed ahead, ready to go.  

So what's the difference between today and last week?  Thanks for asking.  In the last week the Twist family learned a few valuable lessons, most likely unique to our family but maybe not.

We plunged into virtual public school, anticipating great things.  The boys had laptops, headsets, text books, science equipment, art supplies, new pencils, fresh paper.  They were stoked about being totally immersed in technology.

To start with, the new (cheap) laptops didn't pick up the internet in the schoolroom so my desk and the dining table became the school room.  Sorting out a completely online system came with one heck of a learning curve which the boys intuitively figured out but left me absolutely gobsmacked.  But then again, I can barely work my cell phone.  Which, by the way, has been lost for more than a week.  But I digress.

My log in page for the online school was flooded with about eight million emails from what seemed like dozens of teachers but in reality was probably more like four.  I not only had to figure out the system but also had to wade through and process masses of new information.

Day one took eight hours and we fell into bed, bewildered.  Day two took ten hours and we fell into bed, bewildered and exhausted.  We had to drag our weary selves out of bed for day three which took another ten hours.  Day four took a further ten hours and we nearly wept with joy that it was the weekend.  However, it was not to be.  Nearly all of Saturday was spent re-doing some assignments (errors that were communicated via another landslide of emails) and trying to work ahead in anticipation of missing three days next week to attend Outdoor School.

Don and I limped weakly to a party on Saturday evening.  As it happened, a party was exactly what we needed - a heavy injection of fun.  The boys stayed home in their underwear playing video games and watching movies, which, as it happened, was exactly what they needed.  Sunday arrived and all I wanted to do was lay like a limp rag on the couch.  My responsible thirteen year old said, "No, Mama, today is Mass on the Grass and it's so nice outside.  We don't want to miss it!"  He was right.  We thoroughly needed the service and the meal afterward.  The original plan was to do more school in the afternoon in order to keep working ahead because they only got through two subjects Saturday afternoon.

When we got home, I couldn't do it.  I literally said, "I forbid anyone to open a computer or think about school."  We were beyond exhaustion and wondering why, outside of attending Harvard, our boys should be working so hard.  Monday came with wailing and gnashing of teeth and that was just by me.  By the time #1 had to leave for his first ever Cross Country practice he had already put in six hours of school and still had about four hours to look forward to when he returned home.  #2 was just plain miserable, hunched over his computer and nearly in tears.

An emergency family meeting that evening confirmed what ALL of us were thinking:  this is absurd, ridiculous, asinine, fill-in-the-blank-with-more-adjectives/expletives.  We decided to call it quits.

Quitting is another thing I'm totally unfamiliar with.  I have two generations of the Marine Corps barking in my blood - I don't quit.  One of our cardinal family rules is that we see things through.  Some of you may be thinking, well, you hardly gave it a reasonable shake.  Fair enough.

Here's what we learned in the last week:

1.  Another of our cardinal rules is that kids need time to be kids.  They grow up too fast anyway and one of the perks of homeschooling is lots of extra time for Legos and carpentry.  Reading and dreaming in a hammock.  Hanging out in the kitchen with me.  None of those things happened last week.  For #1 to have a day without Legos is practically like a day without air.  For #2 to have a day where he has to sit still for ten hours is practically like a prison sentence.

2.  We have two very different sons.  We already knew this, of course, but our foray into virtual school confirmed this yet again.  #1 is going to study every screen, do every single problem, read every single page in his text book, do every single assigned piece and then move to the assessment that is required at the end of every single lesson.  Thus, three hours per subject.  #2 is going to skim his screens, check his webmail, skip the suggested practices, take a few photos with his webcam and then try to do an assessment that he will fail because it is over the material he skipped.  Then I will have him repeat the entire lesson while I stand over him, making sure he dots every "i" and crosses every "t."  Thus, three hours per subject.

3.  Another perk of homeschooling is that kids can tailor their education to their interests.  Yes, there are standardized tests looming.  I can teach for that.  But if my 8th grader wants to study physics and British Literature, then dang it, let's do it!  If my 6th grader cares about American Literature and Algebra (smh over that one), rock on, dude!

4.  I don't believe in busy work for the sake of being busy.  If something is assigned, then let it be assessed as well.  Telling kids to do something simply to fill a curriculum requirement doesn't work.  For me.  For my kids.  For nearly all kids.  For anyone.  Time is precious - we are only given so much and it's easy to fill it with unimportant stuff.  Life gets too busy as it is without heaping more busy on at such a young age.

5.  I want my boys to enjoy learning.  There was no enjoyment sitting behind a computer for ten hours a day.  There was no joy, peace, or contentment and very little patience in our house last week.  We are a low-key, one sport at a time, an empty weekend is great kind of family.  When we woke up yesterday morning, peace reigned.

6.  The reason I wasn't ready for school to start last week was that for thirty one years I have been either a student or teacher.  Last week I wasn't either one and the knowledge was disquieting.  Now, I am a teacher again.  I happily spent yesterday morning planning our year, researching curriculum and shopping on Amazon.  Tomorrow I will smile when I receive those brown boxes with the smileys on them.

Autumn is here and school is back in session!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Shout Out for Amy!

In the last year, thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I have become reacquainted with a dear friend from college.  We were freshman together and lived just a few doors from each other, thus our friendship was forged in late night ramen noodle parties, "studying,"watching Anne of Green Gables and Monty Python illegally after hours in the library because she was a student worker and had a key (Shhhhh - don't tell), talking, walking, wishing and dreaming.  I introduced her to country music and she introduced me to southern beauty and hospitality.  She latched on to the country music so well that she even travelled to Wyoming with me over spring break the year my parents were divorcing and I had to clean out my bedroom.

We lost touch completely after college (truthfully, after I got married and ditched most of my single friends - bad mistake) but it turns out our lives have shared a few parallels over the last nearly twenty years.  She is a military wife and we are both raising boys.  Turns out we also share some similar heartbreaks.  Getting to know Amy again is a treasure.

She has just published her first article and I want to link it here because I believe in her and what she has to say.  Check it out and see what you think!


Freshman Year:  We've Come A Long Way, Baby!

Monday, September 2, 2013

This might be the first Labor Day of my life that I am not ready for school to begin.  I can't even begin to explain how weird that is for me:  I'm one of those people who love the smell of the library, freshly sharpened pencils and clean notebooks full of possibilities.  I was barely five when I started school and since then, I've had roughly five years when I was neither student nor teacher.  Shoot, I used to spend my summers playing school.  Don't even analyze that one!

  Two junior high boys in the house this year!  I can barely keep up with their food intake, not to mention the outgrowth of blue jeans and shoes!  

Swimming in the Willamette - great way to beat an unconditioned house during the dog days of July!

We are still homeschooling but with a different spin - technically it is public school online.  We're giving it a try just for the heck of it but because I'm still me, I am supplementing with some of my own curriculum.  Little basics like Typing, Latin and Logic.  Piano.  LOTS of reading.

It's not that we've had such a fabulous summer.  It's been merely OK.  Nothing great.  Mostly one house project after another.

Like, building a Movie Screen for Outdoor Movies!

And finally getting my Dream Door!

 We found this solid wood, unused door at the Salem ReStore for $50.  I sanded it down and painted it.  Our brilliant friend, Doug, and his Dad, turn it into a gorgeous Dutch Door.  Most beautiful door in town!

But the best project of the whole summer is my Little Free Library (http://www.littlefreelibrary.org/index.html).  I've seen these in England in the iconic but sadly unused red phone booths.  My friend Melissa introduced me to the link and I was hooked.  Once again, friend Doug came through with the carpentry based on my badly drawn sketch.  But it turned out brilliantly and now our neighborhood has its own reading material.  Take a Book, Leave a Book!  I'm especially excited because loads of children walk by our house every day on their way to school; hopefully I can get books into the hands of families that may not be able to afford them otherwise!

At Sunriver
At the mall

I finished my third novel and have begun a fourth, typing wherever and whenever!  One of these days I'm going to focus on publishing.

I can see the finish line
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I ran a few races and am proud to say that I am faster now than I was twenty years ago.  Faster than five years ago.  I even won a 10K in my age group!

And, oh, yes.  I celebrated my 40th birthday.  Which wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.  We had a great party in the back yard with friends and an outdoor movie - Brave.  Nothing like a Fiery Redhead and cartoon kilted Scots to cap off a perfect party!

The party invite.
It was an English theme!

Flea Market furniture, spruced up.
I made some Union Jack tuffets.

Yep, recovered and quilted the footstool!

One of my favorite photos of the summer:  everyone watching Brave!

 This is my exhausted teenager in the middle of the afternoon after staying up with his buddy Adam until 4 am!
This is Adam's mom, my gorgeous friend Kellianna!  We spent five days doing exactly what you see here.  Hanging out, relaxing, talking, writing, drinking, laughing like fools and even crying a tad.  It was a great week!

Thomas and Ryan
Adam, new Student Body President!!  Woot Woot!

William had the unique opportunity to spend a couple of days under the tutelage of a Lego Master Builder (there are only 16 in the whole world) at a local mall.  Over three days about a gazillion kids and Lego workers built an 8 foot tall Incredible Hulk.

The best part was how great the Master Builder was.  He took time out to talk to William and me and gave some good advice on what William needs to do to become a Master Builder.  The first thing he said was, "You need to shoot me and then get in a really long line!"

The final day of the building extravaganza.  It was so cool to see William "in the Zone," as he calls it.  The rest of us were a little bored with watching hours of Lego building.  Thomas raced around the mall and took all the photos.

Not quite finished but you get the idea!

Deep in the Lava Tube

We had dear Navy friends come visit for a week and other friends from church offered the use of a house at the Sunriver Resort near Bend, Oregon.  The four boys have known each other ten years - since diapers and pacifiers and first days of kindergarten, camping trips and multiple holidays.
"I solemnly swear to eat whatever Miss Denise is about to hand us!"  Who's the kid with his fingers crossed???  And Nick looks a little doubtful while I sort out the Cricket Lickets!  This is outside the High Desert Museum.

  I offered $1 to the first boy to get to the cricket in their Cricket Lickets.  Thomas tore into it so fast I was afraid for his teeth!  

  Four men in a private hot tub!

Meet Jennifer, Navy wife and mother of two, husband currently deployed.  She's taking advantage of no boys in the hot tub!

 And that's the Twist family summer, done and dusted!  I'm off to enjoy my final hours of summer break with some barbecued chicken!