I Have a Present. For You.

I’ve never endorsed products for money or engaged in other marketing opportunities of that ilk on Witty Little Secret for one simple reason: this blog isn’t about the money. It’s about sharing stories, telling it like it is, and finding some peace. And I’m not going to change that now, just because The Home Depot hired me to report about some of their Celebration of Service Projects, a campaign I would not have even considered if I didn’t sincerely believe in their mission to dedicate $50 million to Veterans projects across the country.

But they gave me something. Something kinda cool. And I’m giving it to you. Wait, no, this isn’t Oprah’s Favorite Things. You’re not all getting something cool. Just ONE of you.

What it is:

The Home Depot is all about energy efficiency and weatherization this time of year, when power grids blaze with cold-weather consumption. The package they gave me is a weatherization pack, amped up by some really cool new technology:

Estimated retail value of all this stuff is $195.00.

What you do:

You don’t have to like me. You don’t have to tweet me. You don’t have to share me or become a fan of this page. You just need to identify yourself in some meaningful way that lets me contact you if you win. That’s it. No strings attached. I don’t keep, sell, or make fun of your email names (That’s totally a lie; I consistently make fun of some of your email names and it provides such valuable dinner-time conversation that I don’t intend to stop).

Just leave a comment of any kind and I’ll have your info.

How and when we’ll chose you:

We’re going to pull your name out of a hat. Really. An actual hat. We’re going to hand-write your ridiculous email names on pieces of paper, mix them up, and draw a name. And we’re going to do it on Tuesday, November 6th, and we’re going to video tape it. And then we’re going to announce it. And then we’re going to mail it to you. And because this is a military spouse blog, no international restrictions apply. If you’re in Germany, Italy, Japan, or even the Middle East, I’m still mailing it to you. I’m not sure you want caulk shipped to the Middle East, but still, theoretically, I’m sending it where you want me to send it, and it doesn’t matter to me where you are.

Ready …… go comment!  [comments are now closed]

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Disclosure: This is a personal blog written and edited by me. Home Depot paid me to report on events related to their annual “Celebration of Service” campaign. However, I did not accept any form of cash advertising, sponsorship, or paid topic insertions, and Home Depot has not instructed me what to write or required me to endorse any products or services. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own. I only endorse products or services that I believe worthy. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.

Home Depot helps Stiggy’s Dogs Serve Veterans

Stiggys Dogs

Home Depot volunteers gather in the early morning as the new Stiggy’s Dogs sign is hung at the entrance

I arrived in Howell, Michigan to a flurry of smiling workers in day-glow orange, rushing like bees swarming around a hive. Golden leaves barely clung to branches, flitting as the orange shirts rushed underneath them. Cool morning light filtered down, making a strobe-like effect that mimicked the frenetic pace below. It reminded me of relatives setting up for a family reunion.

I was at the house where Stiggy’s Dogs, a Detroit-area nonprofit running out of the kindness of hearts and the generosity of strangers, was getting a facelift. As a part of the Home Depot Foundation’s “Celebration of Service” campaign, I was invited to see the improvements being made by volunteers, and talk about what can be done for the military community.

Home Depot

Home Depot CEO Frank Blake at Celebration of Service

First I had the privilege of sharing a meal with Home Depot CEO Frank Blake. I was initially intimidated by his resume: Harvard undergrad and then Columbia Law, clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stevens, deputy counsel to then Vice President George H.W. Bush, general counsel for the EPA, and general counsel at General Electric. It seemed like the work of five men, not one. But that all dissipated as he approached. Blake was unassuming and downright regular; he wore a ball cap and the same bright orange shirt the workers had on, with a dark windbreaker and a small styrofoam cup full of black coffee. He was engaging and inquisitive, genuinely interested in the concept of blogging and how we tell our stories. His eyes laughed before he did, and I found him to be humble and easy.

We talked about what the conversation sounded like in the board room when Home Depot decided to focus on Veterans. He said it was a natural “no-brainer” because of the product Home Depot supplied and the fact that over 35,000 employees were Veterans. He said, “I know that when these folks return from duty the last thing they want to do is sit behind a desk.” But it made even more sense to me when he started to tell the story of the year his son, a U.S. Army soldier, was in Middle East. He talked about how he watched the news and waited for some communication, focusing his attention on what was happening over there. He said he soon noticed it was a state of mind the general population didn’t experience, and he wanted to support an ongoing effort to recognize servicemembers after they came home.

He sure has done a phenomenal job accomplishing just that. The Home Depot Foundation has dedicated $80 million to Veterans’ projects.

We walked toward the project site, where over 200 Home Depot volunteers had already gathered and were hard at work on their day off. Guess who jumped in to help, and got down on his hands and knees right next to them?

Home Depot Celebration of Service

Frank Blake, that’s who.

They were winterizing the house by updating insulation, replacing seals, installing new air filters, adding weatherproof doors, filling cracks with expanding foam sealant, and installing programmable thermostats. They told me it’s a focus for most of the facilities they overhaul, because it reduces a nonprofit’s monthly bills; heating and cooling costs account for nearly half of the average total energy bill, as much as $400 a year.

They were replacing older appliances like the refrigerator, washer, and dryer, with energy star models, and replacing lighting throughout the house with Energy-efficient light bulbs (CFL). They were building decks and widening doorways and leveling off surfaces throughout the house, so that the entire main floor was wheelchair accessible for the wounded Veterans served by the facility. There were plenty of aesthetic improvements too, from weeding and mulching in the serenity garden to planting winter-over annuals in the beds near the entrance. There was even a beautiful cedar fence and a brand new sign for the front drive, bearing the nonprofit’s new logo.

It was then that I finally had a chance to talk to the organization’s founder, Jennifer Petre, who was constantly racing around in jeans and a sweatshirt right alongside the workers on site. When her nephew, a corpsman known as “Doc Stiggy,” died in an IED explosion while serving his country in Helmund Province, Afghanistan in September 2009, she wanted to do something in his memory. Ben was dedicated to the health of those in his care.  Through her professional experience with animal control facilities, Jennifer knew there were unwanted rescue dogs that could be great companion and service animals for returning wounded warriors.

Like CEO Frank Blake, she realized the pairing of the dogs and Vets was a “no-brainer.” She has since thrown everything in her life into the project, and through Stiggy’s she’s been able to train, house, and provide these dogs completely free of charge to Veterans. As we talked, I could sense a lump forming in her throat (and mine) when she described how completely overwhelmed she was by the hard work of the  volunteers and what it would have meant to her nephew. I learned the facility was her husband’s long time family home. When I looked at him, he beamed with pride over his wife’s accomplishments and dedication, and I sensed he was truly honored to have the chance to participate in her dream.

The day continued that way, and I interviewed volunteers and corporate executives and nonprofiteers seamlessly. There didn’t seem to be rank or privilege amongst anyone there, and it was the kind of day where you couldn’t help but smile and strike up a conversation.

That’s exactly what I did when I saw a young man standing by himself, stoking a fire of crackling branches collected by some volunteers. He poked at them and leaned against his rake. It turned out that this was Jamie, one of the Veterans that Stiggy’s Dogs had helped after he discovered difficulties that stemmed from a previously undiagnosed case of PTSD. I met other Vets and their families, too: Eric and Mike and Mollie. Their stories deserve more room than I can possibly fit into this post, but all of them took time to share some of their very personal struggles with me, and I intend to honor their efforts with a separate story worthy of their message.

I left Howell, Michigan with a better understanding of the sacrifices our servicemembers make when they return home with invisible injuries, some of which take considerable time to manifest.  I got back on the plane to head home and thought about the hundreds of other events Home Depot will sponsor, and the hundreds of volunteers that will appear at each one. Despite my heavy heart I felt encouraged that through events like these thousands of Veterans will be personally helped. I thought about how the gap between the military understanding and civilian experience might just be filled in by a private corporation whose leaders and employees have chosen to make it their priority.

celebration of service

Photos by Home Depot employee volunteer and U.S. Military Veteran Gene Fleszar: teamdepotmichigan.org

The folks at Home Depot are sending me a box of energy-saving goodies to give away, and they’re working on an event here in my hometown of Vancouver, Washington where I can pitch in to help a local Veteran. I also got a response directly from the company spokesperson on what’s happening with the 10% military discount, and you’re going to like it! I’ll update you on that information next week.In the meantime, take a look at the Milspouse Announcements Page where you can meet the entire list of Do-It-Yourself, Home Decor, and Design bloggers that are covering this year’s Celebration of Service. I had a chance to meet these writers in person, and I can guarantee you they share my love for this cause – and they want to meet you, too.

View post comments and make your voice heard. I know you wanna! CLICK HERE

Grave Contemplation

Memorial DayThis weekend I was annoyed.

I listened to so many people – very educated people – thanking active duty servicemembers, the deployed, and our Veterans, all without mentioning the dead. And while it’s just peachy to honor everyone who serves, and to thank them for their continuing sacrifice, it always confounds me when it happens on Memorial Day without mention of the dead. Memorial Day is set aside to remember the dead. It’s like a nation afraid to say the word. Dead.

It bothers me that more people don’t observe that fact. It bothers me when people say “Happy Memorial Day.” It bothers me that it’s symptomatic of an American population that doesn’t understand the military. And so, I find myself annoyed on Memorial Day again.

I live in a rural area nowhere near a military base. Here the military is a distant ideal borne mostly by VFW and American Legion volunteers who stand near the coffee shop trying to pass out red tissue paper flowers. There are no active duty servicemembers walking about. The word “ma’am” is uttered mostly by polite older men to older women. There are no military uniforms. There are farmers in coveralls and a hardware store where you can still buy things “on account” and a high school team named after potatoes. It’s Americana and it’s quaint and it’s patriotic. Yet it’s getting harder and harder to find the military memory here, and in other American towns just like it across the country.

As the kids and I walked up the gravelly road into the cemetery for the Memorial Day ceremony, I noted the inscriptions on the moss-infected graves as we passed each one: WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. I was thankful there were no fresh graves, no visible connections to Iraq or Afghanistan. But I also understood that it was the reason for the widening gap between our military and civilian populations. Because for most of our nation the dead are not friends and brothers as much as they are cold headstones or sanitized news stories or touching Facebook photos. Even in a cemetery full of flags on a misty Memorial Day, the military sacrifice was conceptual. Theoretical. Second-hand.

We came to a stop in front of a tipsy podium rigged with extension cords, standing alone amidst the headstones. Men in blue covers gathered behind it, their pristine white gloves matching their hair. The moist flags hung heavily and as people gathered, we all stood motionless and stale. The ceremony began and my children clung to me for warmth, or maybe more. Their father was in the Middle East last Memorial Day. This year he was only on a business trip. But the lump in our throats was still very fresh.

I looked around. At 41 years of age, I was the youngest adult by many years. It was pathetic and embarrassing. I felt angry.

The speaker told the familiar story of a young man who didn’t come home after throwing himself onto a grenade. I was thinking of the young man’s mother when my seven year-old looked up at me and tugged on my shirt. I could see tears welling up in his eyes as he whispered, “what does ‘absorb the blast’ mean?”

My eyes glazed over as I realized that once again I was the only thing standing between him and a truth he already suspected. I replied quietly, “It means that he laid his body down on a grenade.” He looked at me, blinked, and waited for the confirmation. I felt like a surgeon who had just excised a tumor, trying carefully not to use the word “cancer.” I decided to be clear, because it was important. I leaned down so I could look him in the eyes and I whispered the truth. “It killed him. He did it knowing he would die. And it saved other people from dying. Do you understand?” My son nodded and turned away, but was soon squeezing my leg even tighter than before.

After the ceremony he stood staring quietly at the grave of a World War I veteran for a very long time. As I watched him it struck me how a story, some hushed words of truth, and something he could touch and see impacted him. In that moment, that dead man was a real person. And in that moment, that dead man in the ground stood in the gap between my son and the mere concept of sacrifice.

memorial day

Grave Contemplation

So on Memorial Day I will probably always be annoyed by the sales and the drunken barbeques and the well-wishers. But I will lessen the blow by always honoring the dead, and by teaching my children that it’s not just a theoretical, patriotic practice. It’s real. The dead are real. Like a mother answering an unwanted but inevitable question, the dead stand between us and a truth we already suspect - speaking plain and clear, even in their whispers.

Milbloggie Voting 2012 is Now Open!

Voting is open for Military Blogger of the Year. Witty Little Secret is a finalist and I would be honored by your vote. Voting does not require a sign-up or login. Just clickiness. Just two little clicks!

Step One. Go to the VOTING PAGE and click on SEE NOMINEES for BEST U.S. MILITARY SPOUSE BLOG. There it is. In blue. But wait. There’s more …

Step Two. Find WITTY LITTLE SECRET and click! Right inside the pretty round circle. Now find another computer and do it again. Heh.

Step Three. Share Witty Little Secret on your Facebook page by going to your status update, typing “vote for Witty Little Secret!” and entering my website address (wittylittlesecret.com). Facebook will automatically direct people to this page.

NOW GO DO IT!

Thanks so much, everyone! Voting is open through Friday April 20th and the winners will be announced in Washington DC on May 11th. You can vote once from every computer you have access to!

Cheers!

Lonely Things Come in Small Packages

Late Saturday night I lay in bed under the only light in the house that was still on, staring at my thighs. On the night before Jesus’ resurrection from the dead I was thinking about my own burgeoning thighs.

“They were smaller once too,” I thought. I’d been previously staring at my sleeping boy. This night he managed to convince me to let him crawl into my bed, and successfully cajoled me into letting him stay a little longer, a little longer … a little longer … until he was now asleep, his lanky legs tenderly infringing on my personal space, threatening to keep growing until they could no longer fit in my lap.

And my thoughts drifted away from my thighs. Because staring at my long-legged children always makes me wonder what it must feel like to be Husband. To have missed things I cannot imagine missing, and to miss them without any way to reclaim them. I looked down at my phone, and my fingers typed out the first thing that came to my mind: “I can’t remember the last time you were home for Easter. That can’t be good.” Send.

It was dispatched across the Pacific Ocean. I couldn’t take it back.

I flopped my head back on the pillow trying hard to recall our Easters past, rubbing the little ankles sprawled over my thighs without looking at them. I sometimes stare upwards for mental support in my moments of greatest need, like there’s an answer up there, in my ceiling fan.

There was that first kid Easter. He was home then. Sweet Pea was in her little red poppy dress and white gloves, trying to eat purple hard-boiled eggs with the shells on as she wobbled to sit upright in the cool wet grass. That was seven years ago. There were a few minutes of silence as I struggled to think of another Easter, when my phone buzz-interrupted. I slowly shifted my gaze from the hypnotizing ceiling fan to a solitary word on my phone’s screen: “Sorry.”

He couldn’t remember, either.

I put the phone down. There was no follow-up I could muster just then.

He’ll be on a training exercise while I sit through the Easter service, admonishing my kids not to snicker at the lady with the big purple hat. He’ll be in a windowless room for twelve hours while I smile at children scrambling mercilessly over each other in search of neon plastic eggs. He’ll come back at the end of a day to musty quarters eating a commissary snack plate out of a plastic dish while I prepare for a houseful of friends, smelling the rosemary as the sun floods my kitchen with yellow light. He’s the one missing all this. I’m here. Staring at my thighs.

It’s just. I’m just. You know. I’m alone. Again. Still. Or not alone, but. Lonely. A lot. Still.

It’s my ridiculous first world “complaint.” I feel lonely. WAH WAH WAH. But it’s still real. And I still feel it. I still look around Starbucks and hate the couple that sits on the same side of the table. I still drive with the radio on too loud  after I’ve dropped the kids off at school, hurtling down the freeway screaming lyrics of unrequited Adele love, tears streaming down my face, until I realize I have a meeting in ten minutes with an unrepresented man who wants to discuss the Magna Carta. “Do you even read French?” I like to say to distract him from my running mascara. I wish I could actually say that in French. That would be cool.

But then, there’s this moment. There’s always this instant where the momentum from the lonely is too much and it all turns. I rarely see it coming, but it comes …

On this night Sweet Pea came in to scope out whether her brother had managed to secure a spot in the coveted Bed of Mom. Because there must be complete and absolute fairness at all times between siblings when a father is away and there is a potentially empty portion of mom’s bed to be occupied.  She’s  learning to be subtle, though. She smiled and slipped under the covers next to me, wiggling in under my free arm. “Mom, guess what? We’re doing reports at school. And I got Louisa May Alcott!”

A hushed frenetic conversation about Little Women ensued between us in quiet whispers so as not to wake Captain Exacto Ninja Star Master of the Transformers’ Deathstar of Doom. I was enthralled to have a connection. And it was a book! It was like there was this panoramic camera hovering over our heads, rising straight up into the atmosphere. We were there, huddled together in our frenzy of favorite characters. In one moment, I could see every blemish and flaw with amazing high-definition clarity. In the next I was looking into the concave lens with myopic dysfunction. And in the next, I couldn’t focus at all. The camera kept rising: there was the street, and then the other houses, and then our sleepy little town. And the higher it went, the more generic things got. Blurrier. Prettier.

I always look prettier in low resolution.

And then, as the camera was rising up high into the sky, she spoke. “And I was thinking” she said, “that for my presentation,” she said, “I could use the guinea pigs as the Little Women and reenact a scene from the book and we could buy them little mini outfits on eBay and Buddy could be Beth!”

Guineas. In clothes. And she was deadly serious.

This was going to be what saved me. This was going to be that moment where I toggled over from thinking I wanted to die of loneliness to wanting to die of embarrassment from the snot slinging right out of my left nostril. Wait. This was going to be what saved me? The guinea pigs? The guinea pigs that tortured me the day Husband left? The brilliant (stupid) idea that Husband had to provide an endless array of distraction for our children upon his departure was now the thing distracting me?

Husband was brilliant. Latent, but brilliant. Again.

The camera hovered very high up there in the sky that night as we relished those last few moments before bed, laughing and snuggling and discussing the merits and design flaws of miniature turn-of-the-century guinea pig bonnets. I reiterated that any “sewing” on my part would be accomplished solely via glue gun. And then, as always, I said something out loud that made me stop.

“It’s all going to be very, very small, isn’t it?”

And in that moment I realized the gravity of my statement. Because someday it will all seem so very small. Very small indeed. Ahem. Just like my thighs. Were.

The Sound and the Fury

humerus
Photo by AJ Gazmen/Flickr

I have a penchant for humor. People around me slap me on the back and say “Oh, you’re sooooo funny.” And that’s usually when I’m just being wry or sarcastic.

But it’s partly true only because I observe and remember things around me. Sometimes I sit and watch events unfold and they seem hysterical to me, though nobody else is laughing. I can find humor in the mundane, the trite, and the ridiculously predictable habits of humans. We are fickle and flawed and yet so determined to be clear and bright. But the key is not only in observing these things; it is in remembering them. And I’m good at it. Or at least, I used to be.

Over the course of the last four months I’ve been so focused on the transition of my husband and my family and my marriage and myself (in that order it seems) back into this non-deployment life that I seem to have lost my funny bone. I’ve either not seen the funny, or I’ve forgotten it. And that’s a crying shame because a good funny bone is an awful thing to waste. I once wrote that my motto was “quit taking yourself so seriously.” Huh. I guess I forgot about that.

Figures that I forgot to take my own good advice.

But today, I remembered. Today, I found humor in the mundane. Because today my six year old protested against his normally yummy after school snack so vehemently that it required cross examination which, after tears were shed, revealed that the true reason for his disgust was the slimy load of boogers he stealthily and invisibly smeared all over the granola bar when he thought said snack was designated for his sister’s snacking pleasure. I momentarily and silently considered making him eat it anyway, until his sister (drunk with power upon observing the scowl on my face) suggested exactly that notion which I was contemplating. Once I saw the resulting look of horror on my second born’s face, it was like a free test drive and I was relieved that I had not suggested it. So of course I did what all good mothers do: I admonished the first-born for uttering such a terrible thing.

At this point, one child was crying and the other was pouting. And suddenly, I laughed.

Oh sure, the gesture drew ire from the crying, booger-infested peanut gallery. But I laughed anyway. I laughed at myself. I laughed at the seriousness with which I approached a courtroom-like exchange regarding boogers. I laughed at the pure maniacal genius of my son and the ironic twist of fate which befalls all evil geniuses: being ensnared in their own booger trap. And I laughed at the thought that he had been unwittingly undone by his nemesis, who, after becoming momentarily power-hungry, had turned to the dark side.

Ah humor, I’ve missed you so. You are so lovely.

What is it about this ridiculous reintegration process that so completely occupies the entire space of my mind and prohibits these exchanges from making it into my memory synapses? Because these are the things worth remembering and talking about, aren’t they? These are the events that will become dinner table fare, homecoming date fodder, and legendary family fable. These are the things I want to think about. Tell you about.

So I’m resolving to focus on the mundane. Not so much because it’s entertaining, but because it’s not reintegration. If I find the funny along the way, we’ll all benefit. But as I told you last year, the shortest distance between two inevitable points is an impossibly long line of distractions. Back then it was in reference to Husband’s departure. This time, it’s in reference to his full return.

To my full return.

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