Monday, April 26, 2021

I have a shrubbery

Today, I tackled trimming the hedge. Which was a much, much bigger project than I realized when I got stuck in, because Snowmageddon managed to patchily kill about half of the hedge, and there was no way to save the rest and have it look good. I tried.

The hedge was overgrown anyway, but I hadn't dealt with chopping it back because that was too much work for too little reward. Well, now it was time and past time, so it got severely pruned down to within the boundaries of the flowerbed and all the dead bits removed.

Calmer Half was somewhat aghast at the radical chopping of the hedge; he was not a fan of removing all the concealment of the front of the house. "Why didn't you just leave the dead bush up until new bush grew to replace it?"

"Because I don't want our house to be an eyesore."

He looked puzzled. "It's not an eyesore. There was a bush there. Now there's not, and that's a privacy matter."

I shook my head. "Honey, that's not how this works. Bushes have to be living or they're an eyesore." The long-winded explanation about needing to remove dead material in order to get proper growth would be wasted here.

He looked resigned, and accepting if unhappy. "You would know. You're the go-to on growing things. I most definitely am not."

I grinned. "Yes, I know. I love you, but your concept of caring for a bush begins and ends with 'Triple tap it left center right, aiming low, in case a terrorist is hiding behind it!'"

Calmer Half perked up."It does! And it works, too!"

Saturday, April 10, 2021

A simple breakfast

 Me, stumbling in the door squinting after an early morning appointment with the eye doc: Self, the world is too bright and filled with hurt. We need to make a simple, quick, comforting breakfast, because food will make the day better. Eggs?

Also Me: Why is the fridge so bright? Ugh. Grabbing things that need using. Don't want eggs.

Me: Self, you have half a red onion and a poblano in hand. What are you doing?

Also Me: Dicing and sauteing in oil, duh. Shrimp. There's shrimp in the deep freezer, and that's quick.

Me: ...Mexican?

Also Me: Don't wanna. Huh. Hey, don't we have an open jar of green curry paste? Yes, yes we do. And ginger. And garlic. 

Me: Self, do you realize how much curry paste you just spooned in?

Also Me: Don't worry, coconut milk will take care of it. Oops, better start the cauliflower rice in the microwave. Why does the microwave have to have bright hurty light?

Me: Self, you're making a shrimp curry for breakfast??

Also Me: Simple! Tasty! Quick! What d'ya want? I'm hurting and uncoffeed here!

Me: ...okay.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Spring Garden Prep

The good news: a rainy Monday is a great time to go to the local garden store, as there are very few people there. Abundant parking, staff easily located and helpful, no lines! No elderly ladies who are eyeing you with the clear intention of running you over, shooting you or stabbing you if you touch those begonias they're eyeing...

The bad news: the serious gardeners have already been there, and stripped the place like very choosy locusts. No basil? No peppermint? Seriously, no eggplant? No dill, parsley, cilantro, or sage?

...but there was bronze fennel left?

Yeah, I don't pretend to understand that, I just grabbed the bronze fennel, thyme, and oregano, and supplies. 

Even better news: the choosy herb locusts forgot about the farm & fleet store, and not only were they well-stocked with everything else I wanted, but they had a sale on terracotta planters.

Now to pick a day I did not do squats and overhead press to plant the rest of the herbs. Tomorrow sounds good. Think I'll water everything generously, and then go get a cuppa for myself.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Can I take a hint? Yes, I can.

 Stopped by to see some friends yesterday, as well as their new baby. When the other small children were off in an adjacent room, the topic shifted to my stupid-long recovery. I grumbled "Everybody wants to wrap me in bubble wrap!"

The wife gave me a mom-look. The husband, former marine, said quite forcefully, "they're not wrong!"

...and the second-smallest child, who's still working on intelligible words, looked up, went tearing off to his older sister's room, and came back proudly trailing a length of bubble wrap bigger than he was. 

Ok, universe, I can take a hint. Really. 

Monday, March 8, 2021

How Are We Doing?

For all of you who keep contacting me privately to ask how we're doing, we're fine. For every male who just winced and every female who just gave me the raised eyebrow of "and where in the vast unhappy spectrum of a woman's 'fine' are you?"...no, really, we're good.
 
Yes, almost a year to the day from the last round, we caught Kung Flu again. This time, Peter was hit harder, and I was not nearly as bad as last time. We're now both officially tested clear (the household had to be, before I could resume work.) Despite everything you'd expect, he's recovering faster than me. He was sicker, so it's taking him longer than before, but he's already less wiped out by the same tasks than I am.

The most annoying thing about Lung Pao Sicken isn't actually being sick; it's the way it completely knocks all your energy reserves flat on the long recovery. Even resting... is like trying to refill a bucket with the bottom blown out. I tried going back to the gym to set a baseline - standard recovery technique. I barely managed 65 pounds on squats, and couldn't do more than half a work set of overhead press with bare bar. And then was knocked flat for the rest of the day.

I tried going back to work the next day, and my boss sent me home hours early with "I don't want you overextending yourself, because I want you here for the rest of the week." Calmer Half's only comment on that was that I'd lasted an hour past what he'd estimated. Which I can't say anything about, because I only really made it through one full shift that week.

*sinal salute*

So this leads to me grumbling, in fact perilously close to whining, at him that I hate being weak and useless.

Small diversion here. So, my love has a vast command of invective in many of the languages that are common around sub-Saharan Africa. He chooses not to use it around ladies, and therefore I rarely hear it, but unlike some hoity-toity officers, behind my love's commission lies a rich enlisted history.

Not that many years ago, a doctor made the mistake of trying a very painful procedure on my love before the local anesthetic had kicked in. I was sitting in the lobby staring at a 12-year-old copy of National Geographic when a very familiar voice proved:
1.) the flimsy partitions that count as walls in a doctor's office are no match for a good parade-ground bellow
2.) Despite not speaking a word of it, I can recognize Zulu from phonetics, intonation, and phrasing.
3.) It was utterly clear that someone was getting their genetic history, future prospects, and relations with barnyard animals discussed in detail.   

The three older ladies waiting their turn were turning pale and clutching their purses. The older gentleman decided he needed to be out the door and elsewhere in the hospital. The pretty young receptionist grabbed the desk with both hands and ducked down like she was afraid the ceiling was going to fall on her. Me? My first reaction was to check 1.) Is this my fault? No. 2.) Am I in line of sight? No. Okay, then time to smirk and try not to snicker aloud at someone Not Me getting read the riot act.

I did ask him later to translate, but he merely turned faintly pink around the cheekbones when he realized I'd heard, and stiffly inform me that it was not suitable for ladies.

So, back to telling my darling that I hate being weak and useless. And he looks up at me, and... let me tell you, when he is motivated, my Calmer Half can flat move. Which how roughly one disconcerted "meep? eep!" later, I found myself on the couch, wrapped in a fuzzy blanket, with a half-awake and rather startled cat plucked from somewhere and pressed on my chest so I could not get up. And Calmer Half standing over me, informing in no uncertain terms, "The correct terms are 'recovering from illness' and 'beloved.' You will use the proper terminology!"

Ladies and gentlemen, without once raising his voice or calling upon his vast command of enlisted epithets, I done been told. Firmly. Time to lie on the couch, scritch the cat, and accept that no, the floor's not going to be mopped today, and maybe not this week.

So how are we? We are Recovering From Illness. And beloved. Very, very beloved.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

On Post Traumatic Stress, marriages, and two truly awesome books

I was sitting in the living room with my Calmer Half*, enjoying a cup of coffee and the mutual exhausted silence, when he opened his eyes, looked around, and focused on Jen Satterly's book lying blamelessly on the coffee table. It's Arsenal of Hope: Tactics for Taking on PTSD, Together, and it's the... well, last year her husband, retired Delta CSM Tom Satterly wrote All Secure: A Special Operations Soldier's Fight to Survive on the Battlefield and the Homefront, in which he details the effect that training and operational tempo, combat and losing friends and the resulting PTSD had not only on him, but on his marriages, on his kid, and on his ability to adapt to civilian life. And how he's fought his way back from the blackest depths to healthy and happy, and is trying to show others the trail he's blazed, and that it's possible and there's hope.

Jen's book is the other half, on what living with someone with PTSD is like, and the toll it takes from the dependent's view. It's also exactly what is says - an arsenal of many different treatments, therapies, approaches, and the cheerful, rueful note that none of them are a silver bullet. Some don't work at any given time but work well later, some work and then lose their effectiveness, some will never work for any particular case. It's an honest, raw look at all the ways that things get messed up between spouses, and that there's been a lot of pain, and depression on her end, as living with rampant PTSD is depressing! About how to treat yourself, and the importance of putting your own oxygen mask on first, and helping yourself so you can be a help to your partner.

If I had to distill them down to quips, Tom's book is "This shit hits even the toughest of us. You're not weak, you're injured, and there's hope to heal." And Jen's? "Here's how, for both of you."

Calmer Half has shown less than zero interest in reading the books. On the other hand, he's willing to talk to me when I want to chew over things they've brought up aloud. Sometimes his responses were practically cryptic, like when I mentioned Tom's description of Mogadishu (which Calmer Half said with a dryness that could mummify at ten paces "Yes, that is a very understated description of urban combat all over Africa." He was quiet for a moment, then added, "You never forget that smell.") 

... yeah, not asking him to clarify that.

Sometimes the responses were quite eloquent. And sometimes they were a revelation to both of us, because he thought I already understood.

Let me explain here that Calmer Half is not an American combat vet. He's British South African, so his military was different, his wars were ones our media didn't talk about, and even more importantly, his country did not have a military dependent culture, not like the USA does. When he got back from his first combat against the Angolans, Cubans, East Germans, and Soviets, his dad finally started to tell him some of what he'd seen in WWII. He finished it with "don't say anything to your mum or your sisters. They wouldn't understand, and it would only upset the ladies."

And he kept that stiff upper lip for years, through round after round of combat, on through the struggle to end apartheid, through the fights with communist tsostis and jihadis fresh back from fighting Russians in Afghanistan and each trying to take over the townships and destabilize the country so they could be in control... all the way through 18 years of undeclared civil war. Any tentative attempt to explain to the ladies there was met with incomprehension to outright hostility, so he just bottled it up.

I, meanwhile, grew up with a dad in the military, in a family that is full of expats, engineers, and career military. My family's been army so long we use the working saber with the nicks from vertebrae still in the edge to cut our wedding cakes, because we lost the dress saber generations ago. My brother went career military. Me, when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I folded my arms and spat defiantly at the teacher, "a civilian!" (Apparently I was the only one who didn't see marriage to a combat vet coming from years off. Dad was highly amused, and their first phone call promptly veered into words like "Vela Incident" and "mustang" and "The second lieutenant had A Bright Idea" and "sweating cordite." They get along great, even if their acronyms and uniforms don't match.)

This also means I've grown up with a great many coping mechanisms for 'battle fatigue' built in, and an understanding that "Oh, that's just my soldier. You don't have to understand why or what set that off, you just have to know it will and love 'em anyway." Some of which I didn't even understand were coping mechanisms, because they're just the way you do things. Military and their dependents are a culture, and like any culture, it adapts to the stresses and needs of its particular people.

We didn't call it PTSD when I was growing up. That was a foreign term, that it seemed civilian shrinks who proudly dodged the draft and a press that hated the military tried to slap on any and all soldiers in order to mark them as unfit, dangerous, and untrustworthy scum. Nobody I knew would ever apply it to themselves. I certainly never, not in all the things that ever happened to me, thought once to apply that term to myself.

I once asked dad what PTSD was, because of all the people tossing around that loaded term, I trusted him. He paused for a long moment, and finally said, "It's the right set of responses to the wrong environment."

That was a perfectly workable definition for going on with, and it meant in my world, it was perfectly normal and fine when the prof broke out his ultra-new techie toy, and waved his "laser pointer" at the overhead projector, and the ceiling, and the lecture hall... and my study buddy on the GI Bill was suddenly underneath the tiny, cramped desk, while papers were still fluttering down to the ground. When he came out from under the desk fighting mad, and walked out with fists curled into white knuckles, I just kept taking notes.

After class, I tracked him down where he and a couple other vets from class were standing at their favorite smoking redoubt, chain smoking one cigarette after another, and dumped their assorted backpacks and stacks of books and notes on the nearby bench. "Right responses, wrong environment. But next time, can you come back for your backpacks? These are heavy, guys!" (Look, I was 98 pounds at the time. They added up to a significant fraction of my body weight.)

The response was a long, silent crushing hug, followed by a quick sorting of everyone's stuff, checks that certain items were still stowed in their backpacks (and few snugged back into their belts), and "C'mon kid. Let's go get lunch. No, I'm paying." And off we went, so they could copy my notes, and horse around, blowing off steam. Of course, I knew exactly which seat I'd get: it'd be the one with the back to the door - because that's just how soldiers are, right? They never sit where they can't see the exits, and there's no need to think about it, because it's as natural as breathing...

Right responses, wrong environment was great definition... right up until I married a combat vet. Right up until I found that there were things we had to work through, and work around, that seemed utterly inexplicable. And Peter was keeping a stiff upper lip, completely silent as to why he would get so upset about something, and we both had to learn an entire set of routines and responses just to avoid having yet another pointless fight.

Weirdly enough, what really helped? The movie Act of Valor. I wanted to go see it, because I'd heard it was seals playing actors playing seals, which seemed so hilariously meta and awful that I figured it would be as campy as Rocky Horror. And since I didn't want to go alone, I talked my Calmer Half into going with me. This violated one of my mother's primary rules on movies, by the way. "Never watch a war movie with soldiers, and never watch a flying movie with pilots!" I figured it would make him wince and groan and shout at the screen about everything they were getting technically wrong, and be hilarious.

I was utterly wrong. Oh, the seals were awkward, especially in that way of: "We are now showing the cameramen a conversation written by scriptwriters like we say this normally, when you and I both know we said this ten years ago and now have it down to a lift of an eyebrow and a faint nod." The effects were disturbing where they didn't mean to be, because they did too many things too right, or too close to real instead of to the stylized Hollywood tropes. And at the end, when one seal throws himself on a grenade to save the others, and you see the blood pooling and the dust drifting down in front of his open, lifeless eyes... the credits rolled on that image, and I looked over at the big guy who'd been squeezing the blood out of my hand, even when I wasn't wincing or jumping. And in the flickering light, I saw him staring at the dead man staring back from the movie screen, tears rolling down his face.

Look, I don't think men can't cry. I just think women cry at the drop of a hat, and men don't cry unless it's extremely important. Calmer Half comes from an even more reserved culture than me, so how it hit him... I just hugged him and sat there as the theater emptied, until he was ready to move. When he finally shuddered, and came back to the here and now, and started half-clumsily reaching for his handkerchief and trying to apologize with extreme embarrassment, I just hugged him harder. "It's okay to cry. It really is. Soldiers do that, sometimes, at war movies. It's normal."

He looked at me like I'd grown a second head, but wiped his face, blew his nose, and we headed out into the drizzling rain to walk back to the car. Having taken so long to get out of the movie, the parking lot was fairly well deserted, and we went at a gentle amble, holding hands. He finally said, a little brokenly, "I hope that maybe... that seeing that, you might start to understand... That some of that was what it was like, downrange."

I squeezed his hand, and said, "Honey, I'm a military brat. I was raised to understand that I don't have to understand what you saw and what you did out there, I just have to love you. You're perfectly normal, for a soldier."

The look this time was less like I was spouting something totally alien... no, this time, it was something so profoundly grateful and amazed, like a starving man who wished for a crust of bread and was handed a banquet, that I was the one starting to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed now.  And then he opened his mouth, and years of pain started to pour out.

It didn't immediately make everything fine, but at least now, when something upsets him, we can talk about it, and work it out. And that's made all the difference in the world, as we rub along together over the years. Sometimes bits of shrapnel come out of his skin, sometimes painful memories come out of the whatever depths of his mind they were shoved into.

(Sometimes these are completely random. You know, when you're married to a guy for 10 years, and then in the course of mentioning I'd just learned from a podcast that when a guy took an IED to the face and was blinded, he actually was "seeing" vividly intense interpretations by his brain, as though he was still in the 'stans. He'd hear a nurse talk, and look over and "see" a village elder talking, standing there among the mud brick huts, even as he could smell and hear that he was in the hospital. This continued until they gave him a drug that made everything go black.

I had never heard of that before, so I mentioned it to Calmer Half. I did not expect him to get very quiet, and then start feeling up in his hair, and say "Yeah. This dent, here. Can you feel that? God, I wish they'd had that drug back then."

Ah, yes, combat vets. Sometimes a surprising amount of WTFery is in store, when you marry one, and never from the direction you expect!)

This is where we come back to his responses to Jen Satterly's book.

So, coming up on 11 years of marriage, and he's cooking dinner, the roomba is running along underfoot, and I'm putting dishes away and talking about Jen's book, and I say, "...So she says it's not just right responses, wrong environment, it's also that the limbic system which is primed for combat gets switched on in the middle of everyday, and so you're viewing everything as threatening chaos that needs to be controlled or eliminated on the fight or flight level, whether you want to or not."

Calmer Half put the spatula down with a precision that said he's distinctly annoyed, and turned and gave me a look that left no doubt. "Well, of course!" He snapped, and then stopped, and visibly calmed himself down, and added, "Didn't you know that?"

"No?" I stopped what I was doing, turned to him, and held out my hands.

He took a deep breath, let it out, and said, "I'm trying to focus on a task. You're walking behind me repeatedly. That," and he glared at the roomba which was now bumping his right foot like it wanted to mate with him, "is underfoot and annoying, and there are too many things moving I can't see and control while focused on this."

"Oh!" I picked up the roomba and turned it off. "Okay, then I can put the rest of the dishes away later, and this can cease annoying both of us right now."

He blinked. "You really didn't know that?"

"Well, I do now, and we can work on that."

Yeah, I wish I'd had both books years ago. Tom's book is great for giving you the view from inside your soldier, and Jen's book is great for the view from inside the spouse, and together... together, they are more than the sum of their parts, because you get to see the same incidents described from two different viewpoints, and it completes the picture of their relationship, and how they've struggled with and worked together to achieve the health and happiness and great marriage they have.

But if you're only going to read one, Jen's has more strategies for making life better, and even with all Peter and I have achieved, it's still had a new piece or two that's been helpful.

And this brings us back to this morning, when we were sitting there enjoying the silence together, my Calmer Half opened his eyes, looked at Jen's book, and said, "You should write a blog article reviewing that book. Both books on PTSD. Together."

"Um.." I looked at him. Because I really started my blog only so he could see what I was doing when I was 4,000 miles away, and so people who worried could keep track when I was flying my plane down. It's fairly defunct, and mostly a way to store recipes. "What?"

He locked eyes with me, and said in that utterly calm, and utterly sincere way, "You should write about it."

"But..." I had already lost, I knew. I don't write reviews (well, the occasional review on Amazon, but rarely books even then), but I was going to write this. And now I have.




*for those of you who wonder, the term Calmer Half is something of an old joke between us, going back to the day that two old vets, friends, fellow pilots, and mentors of mine looked at me over their coffee and informed me that they approved of Peter, and he was good enough to marry "Our Dot." As one put it, "We always knew you'd marry a combat vet! You're too high strung!" The fact that he tends to respond to my having domestic disasters with "Calm down, love! It's a good day! No one's shooting at you!"**... or, when looking at his dead truck with a shrug, "Well, at least you didn't hit a landmine"... yeah, he got grumpily tagged Calmer Half instead of Better Half.

**No, it doesn't work. Never in the history of ever has telling a highly upset woman with a fresh adrenal dump in her bloodstream to calm down worked. He keeps trying anyway, the eternal optimist.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

But I don't want to work harder!

 I'm still working on the same book I was working on back in October - and slowly, slowly, it comes together. This one has been more research heavy, including but not limited to Rhodesian Fire Force tactics and how ships bunker (refuel at sea.) But I'm closing in: the recon team in is overwatch on the terrorist camp, and the exploration team is almost, almost to the coastline of the country they need to infiltrate and explore. 

(It's very strange to compile everything and realize that all this research is still going to be a rather slim novel, almost a novella by the time I'm done. I feel like it ought to be a goat gagger for all the work, but the length of the final product is not indicative of the work put in. No doubt it'll expand after the beta read, when feedback from the distaff side tells me I need to slow down and put more explanation in.)

Anyway, last night I was sitting by my husband's feet as he sat by the fireplace, and talking about what I had planned upcoming in the book, to get them from the smuggler's ship they'd bought passage on into the actual country. (I'd just built the fire. I could claim I was monitoring it, but all y'all over a certain age or mileage know I was really just waiting until the pain from getting up was less than the pain from sitting on the floor.)

And my dearest Calmer Half said, "No, it wouldn't work like that. You could do this, or you could do that. In fact, it'd be best if you went back and had them procure these things, and arrange for them to be loaded on the ship before leaving harbor, and then you have this third option, with these operational concerns. And you need to keep this in mind..."

I did not want to go back and change three chapters, one of them so badly I'd have to rewrite from scratch. I did not want to have to do the more complicated way he was saying. I am already slow enough on the writing; I don't want to lose the momentum I have to rewriting. So I grumbled, "I don' wanna rewrite. And I really don't want to change my blocking for the next chapter!"

My darling Calmer Half, whom I love very, very much, gave me this look. You know the one. And replied mildly, "Well, you can write it how you want. It's your book." Softer, mulishly, he added, "But when I had occasion to do similar things, we used the scenarios I outlined."

Fooey. Darnit. Botheration!

I don't want to rewrite. But I'm going to, because he's right. You know, it'd be so much easier to be cheerfully wrong (until my betas caught it) if I didn't live with a subject matter expert!

After going off to my office and doing some grumbling, then fixing a nice hot cup of coffee loaded with Godiva's dark hot chocolate powder, and possibly a more than a little Bailey's as well, I sat down in front of the fire, and sighed. "You are right and I am wrong. All right. Now that I've got my temper tantrum out of the way, what am I doing?"