Boy + Girl + Army + e-Harmony = Captain and Mrs. Butters! This is what we're up to. Observations, opinions, events, images, and more.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The past 1.5 weeks in pictures

Yes, I've been a little delinquent in updating this blog with anything approaching my past frequency. My apologies! I did make it to Oklahoma in one piece. Here's the rundown on what's happened in the meantime:

First, we found out that Spike will be staying in the Chemical Corps for the time being, so our best guess is that we'll PCS (Permanent Change of Station) to Fort Riley, Kansas sometime in the first half of November. However, I'm learning that nothing's certain in the Army until the orders are in hand--and in this case, they won't be for awhile. In the meantime, the Captain will ask around his network just in case another position in which he'd be interested opens up. I know he'd love to end up back at Fort Bragg, North Carolina so that he can continue to jump fearlessly out of airplanes as a paratrooper.

As the title of this post suggests, the rest is going to be picture-centric (and probably a little disjointed as well). Mostly because pictures are supposed to be worth 1,000 words, and all that. And I suspect that most people who stumble across this site will be much more interested in seeing pictures than in reading thousands of words. So, here goes!

Spike and I went to Meers Store and Restaurant again. As a reminder, this is the place that serves delicious longhorn burgers. Food Network has rated them the third best burgers in the country, and for good reason. This visit, I polished off a half-pound cheeseburger, which is far and away a burger-eating record for me. Normally I don't even finish a quarter-pounder. That, friends, is the power of the longhorn steer.

Check it out: Meers doesn't serve French Fries. Meers serves Freedom Fries.
The following sign was seen outside a local shop. I really don't think it needs much explanation from me.

So, if you want me to ship you some of Oklahoma's finest culinary achievements, you just let me know. And no, I can't confirm whether or not the salsa actually works as advertised.
This past weekend, Spike and I took another trip to Oklahoma City. Most notably, we went to see the memorial and museum devoted to the 1995 bombing. The museum was somber, to be sure, but very interesting--and extremely affecting. The exhibits are peppered with the personal belongings of those who survived the blast, and those who didn't. It's one thing to see photos of a building with one side sheared off by an's another to see broken coffee mugs, scuffed shoes, and (most heartbreaking) dusty stuffed animals, and to know that their owners woke up that April morning expecting the day to be just like any other. We really cannot take any moment of our lives for granted.

Part of the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial. The adjacent hillside is dotted with chairs--one for each person who died.

On a (much!) lighter note, Spike and I also ate lunch at Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill. Yes, good ole Toby has a restaurant--a fact previously unknown by me! I must say, the establishment was not nearly as hokey as I'd feared. Essentially, it looks like a verrrrrry spacious Western steakhouse, one wall of which is dominated by a screen that plays country music videos. Oh, and there are a few silver saddles hanging from the ceiling--country music's version of a disco ball, I suppose.

Also, I have to hand it to Mr. Keith--he puts his money where his mouth is in terms of patriotism. By showing his military I.D., the Captain got the "American Soldier" meal (a cheeseburger, fries, and a drink) for free. Thanks, Toby Keith! (Sidenote: the "American Soldier" music video played during our meal. Lest anyone think he's slipping, the Captain pointed out the uniform violations therein with alacrity. Meanwhile, I decided that I should probably avoid videos like that in the future since they now make my stomach clench up in knots.)

Yes, this is the women's restroom door at Toby Keith's restaurant. It's also a horrible picture of me, but I couldn't resist. I do love me some whiskey (neat or on the rocks, if you please!).
Here's to you, John Jameson et al.
Now, I'm going to wildly skip topics once again. Turns out that being in Oklahoma has really caused me to notice and appreciate nature more than is my usual habit. A lot of that is probably due to the fact that the environment here is so different from what I grew up with in North Carolina. Also, though, the pace of my life here is a little slower and more relaxed than at the ancestral home. In Geronimo, Oklahoma, I don't have years worth of routines and habits built up--the absence of which is surprisingly freeing. That's not to say I don't miss my family members and various aspects of the place where I grew up--I do--but I can also see that moving on and settling into a place of one's own (darn you, Virginia Woolf, you were right!) is essential. Anyway, the point is, I'm enamored with natural Oklahoma. Who'd a thunk it?

I've always had a "thing" for dramatic clouds, and the big sky here is conducive to some ominously brooding vistas, indeed. This was taken from the driveway.

The Sunday after I arrived, Spike and I drove out to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge (which I've mentioned before). We ate a picnic lunch on the top of Mount Scott, and then walked off some of the calories.

The Army taught Spike how to blend in with any flora he encounters. Clearly.
Where is he taking me?
Ahhhh, we found a stone tower. You can see its base behind us--but alas, the entrances were all boarded up. Maybe there's treasure up there. Or maybe it's the hidden abode of a hermit. Maybe?
We even saw this little guy on our hike. He's a collared lizard, the state reptile of Oklahoma. Apparently these things can run upright on their hind legs, although this one didn't treat us to such a performance.

Back in the car, we drove past grazing bison...

...and later in the week (after our Meers feast), we saw this big guy standing on the side of the road. We stopped and rolled down the window...he just continued to eat. Guess we aren't that impressive to big hairy beasts.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sights I Can't Wait to See

In 48 hours, I'll be on my way to Oklahoma--and I can't wait! They tell me I'm a responsible adult, but I feel more like a kid waiting for Christmas morning. I remember my early Christmas Eves pretty well: being put to bed waaaay too early (I thought), tossing and turning under the covers, listening for reindeer on the roof and Santa in the living room, feeling as though the minutes were progressing in reverse (yeah, they really were crawling by THAT slowly), and wanting to go to sleep--but powerless to make it happen, because I was so hyped up about the next day.

Now, translate that into adulthood, and switch out Santa for Spike. I keep telling myself to get a grip and to behave like I have some sense, but it's tough. Forcing my mind to concentrate on my work (which I really do enjoy immensely) is like trying to control the Budweiser Clydesdale team, with no prior horse-handling experience, while the enormous equines are hyped up on caffeine.

My mind, currently. It's even kicking up dust in a similar fashion.

Now Bosslady, if you're reading this, don't worry--I am winning the concentration battle, and productivity is still occurring. But I'll be honest--it's tough. The past two weeks here at my North Carolina home haven't been bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm glad they're almost over. I miss my Captain. I know it's silly and irrational, but when I'm here in the midst of what I already think of as my "old" life, Spike and what we have together sometimes seem like a too-good-to-be-true dream from which I'll wake up unexpectedly.

Luckily, though, I have pictures to prove that Spike and his Great Plains habitat are real, and I can pick up the phone whenever I want and hear his voice. I don't take that for granted, either--I know that a lot of military girlfriends, fiancees, and spouses don't have that luxury, because their men (or women, as the case might be!) are currently deployed to a place without reliable Internet access or phones. When you're in that situation, every second of communication is the most valuable thing in the world to you, and you'll drop literally anything to take the call for which you've been holding your breath.

I think back to the first phone conversations I had with Spike, placed from Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan. I hadn't even met him in person yet, but I knew he was incredibly special, and I had a feeling he'd soon come to occupy a large place in my life. Hearing his voice across all those miles and time zones was always a rush and a relief, rolled into one. Talking to him was an anchor I could use to remind myself that the fledgling changes in my life were really happening, but much more than that, to reassure myself that Spike was safe, and that he was thinking of me.

I remember skiing with Bosslady one night (see? told you she was awesome), my coworker Natalie, and Bosslady's sons. We were riding the ski lift up to the top of the mountain when I felt my pocket vibrating. I almost didn't check my phone--but I'm so glad I did. As you've probably guessed, it was Spike. Immediately, what had been a leisurely lift ride turned into a flurry of frantic activity. As quickly as I could, I ripped off my ski glove with my teeth so that I could answer the phone (I have an iPhone and have to "slide" the bar across the screen to answer a call, as opposed to pushing a button). Simultaneously, I was babbling through the ski glove, which was still in my mouth, "It's from Afghanistan! I have to answer it!" Of course, this sparked off incredulous questions from Bosslady, who didn't yet know about Spike.

Eventually the call was answered, and I breathlessly explained to my suitor-to-be that I was on a ski lift. Ever the jokester, Bosslady took the phone as we slid off the lift bench and told him that I was lying, and that I was really playing one of those virtual-reality games at the mall. Sidenote: I wish my own brain worked that fast.

The conversation ended up being a short one. As I stood at the top of the ski run looking out over the starry sky and the snowy Appalachian mountains, Spike explained that he'd called to tell me that his unit was starting the long journey home, and not to worry about him if I didn't hear from him for a few days. I can still sharply recall how grateful I was for those few seconds of communication, and how touched I was that he'd thought to tell me--a woman he'd yet to meet in person--that he was okay, and that he was coming home. I think I'll always treasure the memory of that brief call on the top of the mountain.

So, that's the Spike I can't wait to see in a few days. Here are a few other sights I'm excited to see:
The view from the plane of the plains. See how flat it is??!?

Our little town of Geronimo! The strange copper domes are the high school, and that row of houses to the far right is our street. We're the third one from the left.

Our street and our "front yard," which is really a field. I love it in the evenings because the duplex faces west, which is convenient for sunset-watching.

And of course, the sight I'm looking most forward to seeing is the Captain! (Yes, I know he was still a First Lieutenant when this photo was taken.)
He won't be wearing his ACUs (Army Combat Uniform--the acronyms strike again!) on Saturday as he is in this picture; however, I think his expression will be similar. This is my favorite picture of him, and I have it framed on my desk. I love it because of Spike's genuine, bursting-with-happiness expression--as opposed to an "I'm posing for a picture" smile. Spike's mom took this shot at his coming-home-from-deployment ceremony. And shortly thereafter, I got my first call from him on American soil. I'm so happy that it turned out to be the first of many.

One other note: still waiting to hear back from the Field Artillery regarding the Captain's branch transfer application. Sure hope we get word soon, and that it's positive! At this point November (when we'd move to wherever the Army sends us) seems pretty far away, but it'll be here! Four and a half months. Zounds. Which I'm sure will pass before we know it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Spike, Friend of the Turtles

Well, he might hang me out to dry for sharing this in a public forum, but I'm completely enraptured by the fact that Spike saved a turtle yesterday on his morning commute to Fort Sill. Apparently the little guy was lumbering determinedly across the road, unaware of potential death and/or dismemberment whizzing by him. So the Captain--a self-described cold-blooded, steely-eyed, gun-toting soldier--stopped his truck, got out, and carried our little turtle friend to the side of the road.

Makes me melty inside. Spike is a good egg.
Not the kind of turtle our hero rescued. But wow! I used to love this show as a kid.
Side note: can you imagine the creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pitching their idea to a producer? "Hey, we have a great idea for a show! Four teenagers are going to turn into giant turtles, and a giant rat is going to teach them ninja skills! And then they'll battle evil, live together in the sewer, eat lots of pizza, and hang out with a red-haired reporter in a yellow jumpsuit. It's going to be radical!!"

For the record, my favorite Hero in a Half Shell was Donatello, the cerebral purple one.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Fun in the Fellowship Hall

I am thrilled to announce that I survived Saturday's yardsale only a few oddly-shaped patches of sunburn worse for the wear. It wasn't my family's best year as purveyors of sundry cast-offs, but ultimately we now have dollars in our grubby paws that we didn't have before. Traditionally, said dollars are used to fund a meal or two on our annual beach trip.

I suppose the "economic downturn" is partly to blame for the less-than-stellar sale. In addition, my dad is of the opinion that the majority of our wares--clothes--didn't appeal to the yard sale-ing crew.

"I agree with Jon Reep," he told me. (If you weren't aware, Mr. Reep is the winner of Last Comic Standing, and he's one of my high school's most noted alums--therefore, a local celebrity.) "Most yard sale shoppers fall into what Jon would call the Red, White, and Blue category," Dad continued. "Redneck, white trash, and blue collar."

I laughed in spite of myself. And lest you think me (or my dad) insensitive, it was said with affection. Where we're from, folks (including members of our family) wear all of those labels with pride. They're proud to be the backbone of America. Or, as it's pronounced in these parts, "Murricuh." (Incidentally, the Captain also favors this pronunciation when he encounters something particularly patriotic. The word carries the weight of a benediction, and is usually accompanied by a decisive nod.)

Anyway, back to the point--according to Dad, our red, white, and blue friends prefer trinkets to clothes. I'd have to agree with him. So to Goodwill the leftovers went.

Also noteworthy is the fact that I sang my very first karaoke song on Saturday evening at the church fellowship potluck. The event was held in honor of the church's 220th anniversary--how cool is that? Here in "Murricuh," that's pretty old (although still in the infant stages by European standards). I had a lot of fun with my karaoke debut, probably because my confidence was buoyed by the presence of three friends! We sang "Goodbye Earl" by the Dixie Chicks--very appropriate for church, I must say--and belted out the chorus, "Cause Earl had to DIIIIEEEEE!!!" with special gusto.

On our way to the big time. I'm on the far right. Clearly, the kids to the side of the stage are awestruck by our talent. Or...not.
The bridal shower I mentioned in my last post was, to my relief, lovely. I hope my friend Liz is ready to cook...a lot. Because her cabinets are bound to be fully stocked after this! I told her to expect me at Thanksgiving (she got a giant turkey baking pan) with my "plus one." For those who are interested, here's a picture of my contribution to the event: the refreshment table. I didn't make the food, but I did arrange everything. My favorite touch was floating candles in teacups.

Flowers and frills are kind of incongruous in a gym! If you listened closely, you could still hear the faint echoes of "Goodbye Earl" lingering from the night before.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Hail to Spike and a Sale for Meg

A second artillery test. First off, we have a curve-buster in our midst! Spike sat for his second test yesterday (on some sort of computer system to which he refers by an acronym sounding vaguely like Afee-tads) and scored 94 percent! I'm quite proud of him, and I know he's pleased, too. What really makes this funny is that when he went to find out his score, the Captain saw the instructor grading a test he assumed was his. At the end of the grading process, a big "80 Percent" was printed on the top.

"Eighty percent. Woo-hoo!" the Captain exclaimed. This, to his bemusement, elicited a dirty look from the instructor.

"Well, sir," our hero hastened to explain, "I'm actually a chemical officer, and I haven't been trained as thoroughly in artillery as most of these other guys. So for me, an 80 percent is something to be happy about."

"That wasn't your test," the instructor responded flatly.


...awkward. But all's well that ends with a 94!

A yard sale and a wedding shower. Meanwhile, I've been tucked away in my North Carolina office, writing away. I did have dinner with several friends this week on two separate evenings, since social interaction is generally considered a good thing, and since my friends are highly entertaining individuals. Topics of conversation ranged from Lutheran seminaries (from which my friend Liz just graduated) to the quality of seasons 7 and 8 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I'm cool with them, for the record, though my friend Amber is less so), and a bee costume ordered from Japan. Don't ask. It wasn't for me.

I am beyond excited to spend tomorrow morning and part of the afternoon in Purgatory, also known as my family's yard sale. I know from experience that this will include me:
  • drinking lots of coffee. (duh.)
  • reading my book as much as the flow of traffic allows.
  • haggling with potential customers on items that are already priced dirt-cheap, and eventually giving in because we'd rather just get rid of the stuff.
  • keeping my eyes peeled for mullets--you can spot some good ones in this part of the country.
  • pondering whether the folks parked on the side of the road will get hit by passing vehicles, since some inevitably don't pull over far enough.
  • trying to stay out of the sun, since I come from (as my Puerto Rican friend Esther jokingly calls it) the Island of Caucasia. Mine are not a tanning people.
  • Wondering what decade some of the clothes in the yard sale date back to.
On Sunday, though, I'm excited for my good friend Liz's (she of the recent seminary graduation) wedding shower. I'm in charge of decorations, which, I'm told, will consist of vases, flower pots, framed pictures, and maybe some candles. It will be a fun exercise in creativity! That is, if I survive the yard sale.

Only kidding.

...kind of.

One week till I go back to Oklahoma!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

We'll be in...Kansas...for Christmas? Possibly?

So, you know how yesterday I (partially) blogged about how Spike and I were waiting to see what his next duty station would be? Well, the process of figuring that out (and by figuring that out, I basically mean being told with little choice in the matter) has begun. As I suspected, Europe and Hawaii are not in the offing at this point. But hey, a girl can dream, right?

I suppose that this is the part where I try to explain clearly and succinctly what the Captain's somewhat unusual situation is. Bear with me; I'm new to the world of the Army, and "succinctly" has always been somewhat of a challenge for me.

Here goes.

When the Captain commissioned as an officer, he was assigned to the Chemical Corps (another one of those situations in which he didn't really have much choice--the Army just put him where they needed him). The Chemos deal with nuclear, biological, chemical, and radiological weapons.

The Captain can tell you all about mustard gas. Essentially, if you find yourself transported through time to a muddy WWI trench and you smell garlic, don your gas mask posthaste. If you do not have a gas mask, steal one from someone else or run.
Anyway, while he was assigned to the 18th Fires Brigade in the 82nd Airborne Division, our intrepid hero started to learn about artillery. In fact, he was eventually put in charge of two guns in Afghanistan.
The big guns say "boom boom!" Whereas the little guns say "pow pow!"
Thus, the Captain's desire to become an official bona fide artilleryman was born. The bottom line is, he enjoyed commanding an artillery platoon, and he was good at it. So he decided to take something of a gamble: attend the Field Artillery Captain's Career Course instead of the Chemical Corps Captain's Career Course.

Currently, Spike has put in for a branch transfer to the FA, which he estimates has about a 40 percent chance of going through. He's hoping that attending the FA Career Course will stack the deck in his favor. The problem, as he's explained it to me, is that both the Chemos and the FA are short on officers. So, it's anyone's guess as to whether the Army will rob Peter to pay Paul. Whatever happens, I'm glad that Spike is doing everything he can shape his own destiny, as it were.

Now, back to our story. Yesterday, Spike spoke with his supervisor in the Chemical Corps, who told him that if his branch transfer did not go through he would be assigned to the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas. The Captain was hoping that he'd have a few duty stations to pick from, but alas, it was not to be.

This isn't definite yet, though. The proverbial fat lady will not have sung until Spike hears the results of his branch transfer application. If the Field Artillery wants him, the Fort Riley assignment will be null and void, and he'll go somewhere with the FA--and hopefully have a few posts to pick from. If the Army decides that he will remain a Chemo, then Kansas it is.

Our potential first home sweet home as Mr. and Mrs. Butters

That's the situation. We'll still be on pins and needles until we find out for sure if the Captain is to be a Chemo or an artilleryman, but in the meantime, we've started to do a little Internet research on our potential future home. All I can say is, we will NOT be getting a dog named Toto--and you all will make Wizard of Oz jokes at your peril. Mostly because I've never liked the movie...although Wicked is a different story. But my point stands.

Oh, and if you're the praying sort, please keep us in your prayers as we navigate the next few months. There will be a lot of changes coming up!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A fortnight on the East Coast begins.

Well, loyal readers, I am back in North Carolina for the next two weeks. I flew in from Oklahoma on Sunday morning, and this time (thankfully) my flights were all on time. Saying goodbye to Spike was, I must say, a melancholy occasion. I think we both wish that I could permanently relocate to Oklahoma, but we agree that it's best to wait until we get married for me to make a permanent move. In any case, two weeks there and two weeks here is not such a bad deal. And I'm sure I'll appreciate spending this last bit of time with my family, since I won't see them nearly as often once Spike and I PCS to heaven knows where. Speaking of, I hope we'll find out fairly soon (maybe in the next few weeks?) where the Captain's new duty station will be after he finishes the career course. I am rooting for Europe or Hawaii, unlikely though both of those possibilities are.

For now, here's a little recap of some of the past week's events:

I'm thrilled to say that the Captain did indeed pass his gunnery test, coming out a full 12.5 percent better than he needed to. This is especially significant (and gloat-worthy) because he isn't technically an artilleryman...yet. Currently, in the eyes of the Army, he's a chemical officer. I'll explain more about that somewhat unusual situation in a later post, but essentially, it's kind of like a chemistry major knocking a pretty advanced economics exam out of the park. Kudos, Captain Butters! In recognition of Spike's success, I stationed one of his pink plastic flamingos (there are two) in front of our duplex, along with a hastily-made sign.

"Even though I am an awesome pink flamingo, I will never be as awesome as Spike. How sad for me."

Indeed. How sad for that flamingo. Happily, I had already tortured myself for about 9 hours by cooking a delicious-smelling beef stroganoff in the crock pot all day, so we celebrated with a hearty meal and some Menage a Trois wine.
Hail the conquering hero. Don't make him mad, or he will defeat you with firing tables and cunningly calculated charges. That fresh-faced grin is deceptive.

Spike had Friday off from class, so he was around all day while I worked. After fixing pancakes for breakfast, hanging a curtain rod for me, and washing his car (seriously--is he a Disney prince come to life?), he set to work baking bread. Orange and banana bread, to be exact. It was a long, oft-messy, but ultimately rewarding process.
Here, the Captain is starting to knead the dough. All of those push-ups and pull-ups paid off, as they made tireless dough-pummeling possible.
At first, the dough was pretty messy, due--we think--to the bananas. My contribution was dumping heaps of flour onto the mixture, which eventually succeeded in making it less gloppy. I'm not sure if "gloppy" is a real word or not, but that accurately describes this dough.
And...success! The bread looked, smelled, and tasted like it was supposed to. I think Spike has gotten himself a permanent baking gig.

On Saturday, fortified by some delicious homemade bread, Spike and I ventured south of the (Oklahoma) border and headed to Wichita Falls, Texas. It was only about a 45-minute drive. Turns out, northern Texas looks exactly like southern Oklahoma, and Wichita Falls isn't very different from Lawton. We were hoping that the downtown area would offer some diverting entertainment options. And it did, if you consider being deserted diverting. In the end, our fearless leader took me to a Bed, Bath, & Beyond where he terrified me with threats of buying zebra-print shower curtains, and to a furniture store where most of the couches looked more comfortable than they actually were. Oh well--you can't win 'em all.

We also took a stroll through the Wichita Falls mall, which was slightly better than the one in Lawton. It was crawling with Air Force cadets, because there's an Air Force base nearby. Ever the responsible officer (despite being in a different branch of the military), the Captain pointed out every improperly worn uniform he saw. It was quite an education. I must say, it's strange to think that had I made one decision differently seven years ago, I might now be in charge of some of those sloppily-dressed cadets. (In which case, I like to think, they wouldn't be dressed so sloppily.)

I thought very seriously about attending the Air Force Academy, but ended up falling in love with my eventual alma mater, Wake Forest University, before I could apply. Deciding where to go to college is definitely one of those easy-to-point-to life-changing decisions, and sometimes I do wonder how different my life would have been had I gone down another fork in the road. I wouldn't have met the Captain, for one thing. It's interesting to ponder where (and who) I'd be now if I'd become a cadet in Colorado Springs, or even if I'd gone to Duke, for that matter. I know I made a great decision in attending Wake Forest, though. I like who I am, what I do, and where I'm going. And that, I think, makes me pretty darn lucky.