Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

I realize I am quite in the middle of telling you all about my trip back to the States, but since this has been a month of interruptions, there's another very important one I must make on this particular day.

In my very first "real job" out of college, I worked for a veterans service organization called AMVETS (American Veterans). As far as first jobs go, I landed a pretty great one. I was working as a writer, editor and journalist for their national headquarters' publications. One of my tasks as peon copywriter was to write a message and a speech for each patriotic holiday that would be sent out by our National Commander, along with a press release to our media outlets. I started the job in August, so my first holiday to cover was September 11th, 2004. I took great care in preparing that speech, as it was one of my first big writing assignments on the job. I took similar care with Veterans Day. Then Pearl Harbor Day. By the time Memorial Day rolled around in May, to be honest, it was just another speech... just another press release... just another day off... and in many ways, just another day.

As I read the message and speech that I wrote for Memorial Day 2005, it's apparent to me now that I had absolutely no understanding of what this day really means. I mean, all of the information is correct. The holiday began after the Civil War and was originally called Decoration Day because townspeople would remember their fallen by decorating each grave site with a flag, as is done at military cemeteries across the world (even here in Guam). Memorial Day is, in fact, our nation's oldest holiday. And yes, across our history over a million people have given their lives in service to our country.

But reading this message and this speech now, I can tell that my 22 year-old mind never conceived that one of those million would be someone in our close circle. No question, this past year has been the one in which my understanding of life in the military has changed very much. Sure, there has always been danger, always been risk. But for the first time, I have had to accept that not everyone comes home. And for those who do come home, they may not come home the same... and a sacrifice to our country may still be theirs to make. These are awful truths. So awful that I wish I could go back to Memorial Day 2005 when I only knew these truths on paper but did not feel them in my heart or know them to exist at a friend's dinner table.

There is one thing from the speech I wrote that is worth repeating. And it's the one part I did not write. A quote by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, someone who had to understand the gravity of sending men to war.

"Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them."

They forget. We forget. That people died so this great life of freedom and privilege might be ours. These men and women all had dreams left to fulfill in this life, but they put them aside to protect the freedoms of people they'd never meet. People like you and me.

So this weekend, my heart is with the friends and families who have unfairly yet gracefully borne the greatest burden of war. Our love, gratitude, and prayers are with you as you remember your hero. We will never forget them or the selfless sacrifice they made so that freedom might remain ours a little bit longer. And so it appears we must learn the hardest way that freedom isn't free. I just never before really understood how tremendous the cost...

In memory and honor of Brendan Looney, Adam Smith, & Clay Hunt. We will never forget you.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Remember When

As I was looking through my library of photos for pictures of Nick's grandmother, I found this priceless moment captured on our wedding day. For one of the songs at the start of the reception, we did the classic anniversary dance with a soundtrack of Alan Jackson's song "Remember When." The deejay invited everyone who was married to come to the dance floor, and every few minutes he excused the dancing couples (except the bride and groom) who had been married for one year, five years, ten years, etc., with the goal of finding the couple in the room who had been married the longest. At 59 years, Nick's MomMom and PopPop were the clear winners, and the four of us---the shortest married and the longest married---were the only ones on the dance floor when Alan Jackson came to "swore we'd do it all again, remember when."
This November, MomMom and PopPop would celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. SIXTY-FIVE YEARS!! That needs to be spelled out because it's just so remarkable! I feel I am somewhat of an inadequate party to try to tell you about MomMom in detail because I have only been in the picture for the very last of her more than eight decades here. So I will let some of the stories that emerged during the weekend of her memorial service do the talking as I do my best to replicate them here.

One thing I learned about MomMom this weekend is what a difficult childhood she had. When she was eight years old, her father suffered a series of strokes that left him bedridden for the next nine years. He died when she was 17. Her adolescence had been spent as a caregiver, a skill she gracefully and flawlessly wove into her roles as wife of one and mother of six.

The other thing I learned was how much MomMom loved the water. Apparently during WWII she became the first female lifeguard on the Jersey Shore (that's the actual Jersey Shore, ahem). The night before the service at the family dinner, we did a memory ceremony in honor of MomMom. We gave each adult child and grandchild a lump of modeling clay to mold into a figure that represented a favorite memory of MomMom. Nick's favorite memory of MomMom was represented by a wave (not a blue snake). While other grandparents at the beach club would be sitting under umbrellas in the sand or reading in beach chairs, MomMom and PopPop were the only ones out in the water, not just wading, but actually swimming, completely submerged in the waves playing with their grandkids. MomMom showed us all that you are never too old to stay active and jump right in.
My favorite memory of MomMom was represented by a golf club. MomMom played golf until she was 82---EIGHTY-TWO---years old. I am the proud recipient of her most impressive set of clubs, which I picked up last year when we came to visit ahead of our move to Guam. It was after that that I started playing regularly and began really loving the game. Throughout the past year, we have loved calling to tell MomMom about our golf milestones, especially those made by me with her clubs. Every time I step out to play, I carry her legacy of lifelong activity with me onto the golf course. And in some of the last moments of her consciousness here on earth, MomMom heard (via text to Nick's mom) about my miraculous birdie on a par 5 and my best round of golf ever played (the day before I left Guam for the States). They said her eyes lit up when she heard. And from now on, my eyes will look upward every time a birdie graces my scorecard.

There were similar stories told by other children and grandchildren about memories of the beach. These sweet memories, though, were somehow all different. The youngest, little Kevin, talked about how special it was when he and MomMom went for walks on the beach. Audra told about a week when she and MomMom went to the beach together every day for an entire week after she graduated college. She and MomMom sat together under a beach umbrella reading books and just existing together as friends by the sea. Kate's clay shape was a pretzel stick, and she laughed with tears in her eyes as she reminded everyone of how MomMom would coax her blue-lipped grandchildren out of the freezing ocean with pretzel chips and port wine cheese, the only thing that would get them to come in after hours of swimming. No question the ocean was a part of MomMom's soul.

Others told stories about what a good cook MomMom was. Whether it was bowtie pasta, grilled cheese sandwiches, liverwurst sandwiches, German stolen cake & lebkuchen at Christmas, or Thanksgiving turkey, MomMom made some incredible and memorable meals. Even better than the flavor of her food was the pleasure of her company as she'd sit and talk with her grandkids one on one, making each of them feel somehow like the most special. MomMom was also an exceptional gardener, and images of roses told the story of how she grew perfect roses on the sunny side of every home they ever lived in. In many ways, she was the rose.

Of all of the stories told, my favorite (because it was the funniest and most unexpected) was by MomMom's sister, Aunt Lorraine. When they were young, they had a chicken. MomMom named him Johnny and started treating him like a pet. Apparently the night their parents killed and cooked him, MomMom wouldn't come to the dinner table because she was so sad that Johnny the chicken was, well, dinner :) (This was also my favorite story because the chicken clay figure looked remarkably like an elephant).

When asked about their favorite memory of MomMom, at least half a dozen people of all ages went with their first instinct and molded their clay into a heart. For some, it represented how big MomMom's heart was. She was a shining example of selfless love and service for all of them, comforting them when they fell off bikes and got hurt, and always putting others before themselves. Susan's story was of a sweet moment when they were out to dinner and she realized MomMom and PopPop were holding hands together under the table. For others, the heart also represented that their own heart is now broken for having lost someone so dear. And one of my favorite heart stories was by John Howard, who said his heart figure was made of two colors. One color represented him and one represented MomMom, and even though she is no longer with us, she will be forever in our hearts.

I join the rest of the family in sharing my sadness that this amazing woman, mother, grandmother, and friend is no longer among us here on earth. For the last year, Nick's parents have printed out the stories from Peyt's Island and mailed them to her so she would be in the loop about what was going on with us here on Guam (since they don't have internet). MomMom put each post into a binder and would take it down to the dining hall at their residence to show their friends what we were up to. I loved knowing she was reading and how much she loved each post and picture (which is one of the reasons I have always been so quick to mention and share photos of our golf escapades). It makes me sad knowing she will no longer be one of our most dedicated readers. It's a small example of the significant hole that now exists. And knowing what I know, I absolutely cannot imagine what a 65-year hole must feel like.

Turns out, it is somehow equally fun and painful to recount all of these wonderful memories. Remembering the past is a worthwhile and necessary instrument to get us through times like these when together we must face permanent eternal change. And yet, I am comforted to know that, according to those with her in her room in those last hours, MomMom's last words were, "I know that God is with me." In her last moments, MomMom was looking into the future, and as it happened to be, into the very eyes of God. And so while I am sad to know she will no longer be present here to look forward to getting Peyt's Island printouts in the mail or prepare grilled cheese sandwiches for her grandkids or swim in the ocean with them this summer, she will, as John Howard put it, always be with us in our hearts. For many in this family, MomMom was one of our best teachers. She taught us how to love. And now it's our turn to take that love into the future and give of it freely and selflessly. And as we carry her legacy of love forward into our lives and the lives of those around us, we will always be sure to remember those sweet times together. Remember when...

Friday, May 27, 2011

Traveling Through the Unexpected

One thing I haven't shared over these past few travel posts is that while I was making my way back to the States to celebrate the life of my grandfather, Nick was simultaneously making arrangements to get to the States to say goodbye to his grandmother. He had planned to spend a week in New Jersey with his family this very week I am posting this (which is strange considering we now know all that has happened since). Unfortunately, the night before I left for Florida, we got the difficult call that his grandmother, MomMom, probably would not make it through the next few days. Nick said goodbye to her on the phone, then changed his flight to leave Guam as soon as possible with the hope of getting to see her. Sadly, he didn't make it there in time, as she had passed away early that morning while he was on the long flight from Tokyo to Newark. Part of me was crushed for him for not making it there in time. But part of me thinks it's better that we keep the memories of our grandparents pure. I think that's probably what MomMom would have wanted too.

The way things work out on these trips back to the States sometimes astounds me. When I left San Francisco, I had to book a round trip flight in order to use miles. Not knowing at that point what my return would look like, I booked my return trip to San Diego figuring I'd go through there at some point (or would cry the whole trip back to Guam). When MomMom's service was decided for Saturday, I started trying to figure out if I could make it to New Jersey reasonably with such short notice. All flight options were unbelievably expensive. Miles were out because that requires a round trip. The airlines weren't working with me at all on changing my ticket. Through a sheer stroke of luck it turned out that the return flight I'd booked to San Diego connected in Washington DC's Dulles airport. This was only about a 4-hour drive to New Jersey from here. Thinking of the bonus visits I could have with my cousins and several close friends in the area, plus the fact that I wouldn't have to forfeit the ticket or buy a new one, I decided that leg of the trip would be the perfect one to get me there in time and increase the amount of relationship territory I could cover this visit. 

To make matters even better, my mom had the genius idea of asking Nick to rent a car and drive down to get me, so we could have the visits together and see each other even sooner. Jackpot! So Nick picked me up at Dulles and we went to my cousin Tracy's house to hang out. Nick called a buddy of his from the Naval Academy, Tre, also one of the groomsmen in our wedding. He moved there last summer after a year in Afghanistan, so we hadn't seen him in ages. Turns out he was heading home from work and lived right down the street and came right over. So easy! We had a great time catching up and hearing about Tre's plans for the future. So glad it worked out!

We said goodbye to Tre to head to dinner at Sweetwater, our favorite restaurant in the area where we always meet my cousin Tracy and my aunt Pat for dinner. These two favorites of ours were extremely instrumental in helping Nick and I logistically be able to stay together during his time at the Naval Academy. Together they provided anything from a place to stay to transportation to a job so I could stay in the area and be close to Nick during his summer trainings in Annapolis. This was Tracy's busiest week of the year at the company she owns, so it was a miracle she could slip away to spend the evening catching up with us. My astonishment with the DC stopover success continued.

Equally astonishing was the fact that my good friend Nikki, was able to join us from dinner from way across town. Nikki was in my Bible studies in both Maryland and California (I know, right?) and has been a dear friend for the past six years. I was thrilled to get to see her and hear about her exciting new job and life and so grateful that she was willing to drop everything to come see us on our one night in DC. There's nothing like getting to hug a friend you thought you wouldn't see in the next year. These smiles are about as authentic as they get.

After dinner, we realized we were only a few miles from another USNA roommate/groomsmen, so we drove over to our friend Tom's. Tom was living in Guam until last June. We missed overlapping with him there by about six weeks. Tom is loving life off the submarine, but it was fun to share stories about our island. He had some funny things to say about the transition back to the U.S., like being astounded upon realizing that there was a grocery store open past 9p.m. At one point during this DC visit, I saw something flash in the corner of my eye, and I assumed it was a gecko running up the wall and didn't even turn to look. Turns out it was a piece of dust floating in my periphery, but it took that experience to realize how accustomed to Guam I really have become, since apparently Geckos running up walls in your house no longer requires even a second glance?

After staying up until 1:30a catching up wtih my cousin some more, we were up a few hours later to head to Annapolis. Our first stop was breakfast with our friends Laura and Chris. Laura was one of my besties from Coronado. We went to church and volunteered at our youth group together. She and Chris left for Annapolis just a week before Nick and I left for Guam. It was so neat to hear how things had worked out for them. Chris loves his job at USNA and Laura is working part time at the paint your own pottery place downtown, which is so incredible since this was one of her favorite hobbies in San Diego. She has amazing artistic talent and is getting paid to do something she used to pay to do. Neat to compare that to my job, which is also something I used to do in my spare time for free. We both feel so lucky that this next step has been so much fun, with lots of free time to spend with our guys. We are so very blessed. And lucky that this happened to be Laura's day off, so getting together was a breeze. So blessed :)

After breakfast we scurried over to the Naval Academy Golf Course ahead of our tee time. Nick had brought his clubs from Guam since he planned to play with his stepdad and uncle in New Jersey, so I told him to bring them down. The course was so beautiful and the terrain so different from what we were used to. No longer in the jungle, it was refreshing to play in a forest. Although, just like in Guam, it still rained on us for a bit. Right after we finished it poured down rain with lightening galore and then hailed! Plus, it was cold! Guam's weather was looking pretty good right about then.

The other main difference was the birds. It was refreshing to see something other than chickens running across the fairways!

Looking back at these pictures, I still think it's so amazing how many favorite amazing people we got to see in such a short time. Of course I wish we had more time to see more friends in the area, but with the Thursday morning timing of our visit, we had to see who we could see and hit the road. It was also nice to have some time to catch up with Nick after my family's visit and before his.

From here we started the journey to yet another familiar place, New Jersey, but this time for unfamiliar circumstances. The good news was Nick's entire family would be there to greet us and to make the visit so special. Turns out dealing with the unexpected is always better when you're surrounded by people you love. I am so lucky to have been surrounded every step of the way.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Celebrating in Pensacola

As I'm sitting on yet another plane, part of me can't believe my time in Pensacola has already come and gone. Just a week ago, it was Wednesday in Guam, and I had no idea at that point if I would be healthy enough to travel or what flights would work out to get me to my final destination in time for the celebration. Looking back a week later, I am grateful to say the travel was easy (as easy as 19 hours of flying can be), I am feeling almost 100% like myself again (which means I can finally start working out soon!), and most of all, I am 1000% grateful that I was able to be there this weekend with my family, not just to relive old memories, but also because we made so many new ones.

Our angel
Courtney, Ben and I arrived in Pensacola after flying all night from California. After hugging my mom and dad, we headed off to breakfast at Panera Bread, which amazingly was my second visit to this fine establishment in the 12 hours since I arrived in the U.S. From there we ran extremely important errands at Target (!) and Michael's (crafts!) before heading to our friends' beachhouse to collapse into siesta. As in January, we stayed at our dear friends, the Winns' house. But unlike January, our gracious hosts were there to greet us. It was great to see Gail and Frank. We are so fortunate they were willing to open their home so we could all stay together as a family in this peaceful retreat.

Welcoming us on the fridge of their house was a collage of pictures of our family from over the years. Both my grandmother and grandfather, four years apart, each had one of their last trips outside their house to this very spot. This home and these friends have been such an interwoven part of our journey to say goodbye, so it was fitting that we found ourselves all convening here once again to remember and celebrate over boiled fresh shrimp and a sensational sunset.

We spent Sunday sleeping in then sipping coffee and sharing stories about Shoopa with one another on the upstairs porch overlooking breathtaking Pensacola Beach. Part of it was getting ready for the service, since both Mom and I had decided to speak. But mostly, it was spontaneous reflections about the memories that stood out to us most in our respective lifetimes of knowing Bea and Shoopa. There were so many good ones.

Half mast at the dock at Shoopa's house
That afternoon I found myself, for the third time in 48 hours, at Panera Bread (seriously, folks). This time it was to meet my dear friend Parmita, who I've known since Freshman year of high school. She's one of those people I've managed to rendezvous with all over the world, literally. We went to Spain together after junior year of high school, met up in London one spring break during college, and visited each other in our respective homes, New York City and San Diego. She just finished her first year of law school and was just barely back in town. I think we had figured out it was probably 10 years ago when last visited in Pensacola.

The next morning, I jet-lag woke up early, got ready, and went to my grandparents' house with my parents to pick up pictures, art, and mementos for the reception. We headed to the church to set up and get ready. Before long, my cousins arrived from their various homes in southern Florida. It was a nice feeling knowing that our entire Pensacola family was back together again. I already told you about the service a bit. People trickled in for a while and once the Prelude started, we took our all-too familiar seats in the front pew. This is our third family funeral in this church in four years, so we knew the drill. This is also the church I grew up in, was baptized and confirmed in, so it was neat to see my old choir director as the organist for the service, and our former pastors and my confirmation teacher came up to greet and console our family. It was a strange setting to think about the fact I will be the one teaching confirmation this fall.

Ten minutes into the service, after some beautiful songs and music Shoopa would have loved, I stood up to speak, surrounded by my sister and cousins. I was shocked to see so many people were standing in the back and even filling the upstairs balcony of the church. It was great encouragement as I was speaking, looking out into the crowd at so many familiar faces who had shaped my childhood in this town and even seemed like a part of my family. And for those eyes I met who I hadn't seen before, this sea of people represented the legacy of impact that was beginning that very hour, left by a man who was a lifelong learner and lifelong teacher.

I already told you about the dozens of people I met after the service who approached me to tell me, often with tears in their eyes, how much he meant to them. I just want to add to this my observation about how important it was for me to be here on this day, in person, from no matter how far away. No Skype, no Facebook page, no blog post, no video recording, no phone call recap could ever have replicated the value of my being present in that room with that conglomeration of people who all shared such a deep admiration and respect for someone I love so much.

After the service, our entire family headed to lunch at our favorite spot, the Fish House. My dad's sister Leslie drove from up Gainesville to see us, another bonus visit. We spent part of the afternoon diving through boxes of old family photos. I have to say, this was my favorite part of our week together aside from the service. My grandmother had documented, in photos, our entire lives. She had saved cards we'd written her. She had put together a whole photo album of Nick and my wedding that I found. It was amazing to look back over photos from the last 28 years of my life, including my birth announcement and baby pictures. So grateful to have these souvenirs, not just from the trip, but from a lifetime (so far) of memories.

After saying goodbye to Ben, my sister, and cousins, my dad and I played golf together Tuesday afternoon at the Pensacola navy base course. It was neat to play this course I had driven by so many times growing up, and neat to play in Florida for the first time. And always, always great to spend time with my dad, even if it wasn't exactly my best round :) We had dinner with family friends at the beach Tuesday night and I had a bonus visit from a friend I've known since third grade who was in town for work in the Air Force. It was great, throughout the whole visit, to get caught up, in person, with so many lifelong friends and family.

Looking back on the visit, I realize, it couldn't have been more wonderful. Everyone was so calm and focused. After going through this a few times, we had a greater understanding of the miracle of death and, therefore, no reason to be afraid. In my grandfather's last words, he told my mom that he felt Bea, my grandmother, was present. And it was "beautiful." What an amazing lesson from this man who spent his life teaching, even up until his last breaths.

After being picked up in San Francisco by my sister, picked up in Pensacola by my parents, I headed off to Washington, D.C., to be picked up by my husband. And so, this crazy but peaceful journey of unexpected, meaningful visits continues…

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Crossing the Bar

Today I had the honor and privilege of speaking at my grandfather's memorial service in Pensacola, Florida. He passed away peacefully last Tuesday at 81 years old after living an unbelievably rich and meaningful life. There were some 200+ people who showed up for the service today. The audience encompassed everyone from students who were in the band he directed at Pensacola High School 50 years ago, to students of the school he started in the early 70s, to teachers that taught with him, to students who graduated from his school in the last decade and even the last week. I share with you the remarks I made about him, but it doesn't come close to encompassing all of the touching stories everyone shared with us after the service about how my grandfather, William J. Holston, who we call Shoopa, greatly impacted their lives. I am humbled after learning what an amazing legacy he leaves, and I realize even more how blessed I am to be his granddaughter.

Remarks at the Memorial Service of William Joseph Holston, May 16, 2011:

Thank you all for coming this morning to celebrate the life of our grandfather. It's hard to know where to begin in telling you about this amazing man who had so many layers, personas, and philosophies. So I will start with the words I wrote about him when I was 17. These words are from my high school journal, written in July 2000, nearly eleven years ago.

"Undoubtedly prominent in my fond memories of what I call my childhood home lies my grandfather - the single wisest man I've ever known in these 17 years. I chose tonight to sit with him and converse until 11:30p over escaping upstairs to the "Teenage Den." I love my grandfather. I love his wit and satire of the absurd things that bother him like Jim Carrey, Howard Stern, and federal taxes. I love his dedication to his wife, his family, his students, and his projects. But mostly, I love his wisdom. Tonight he gave me timeless advice about how to get things done. "There are only two things you need to do in life to be successful," he told me. "Number one: Learn the rules (and follow them). Number two: Work hard."

Great advice. Shoopa was always giving us great advice and no question he worked hard his entire life. But the ironic thing, of course, is that Shoopa was never really one for following the rules. As grandkids, I remember joking about how he wouldn't wear his seatbelt because he felt it was one more way the government was trying to control him. And when the public school system no longer met his standards, he did what many people would only talk about doing. He started a school from the ground up and ran it the way he thought a school should be run, and the number of lives impacted through the Pensacola School of Liberal Arts only continues to grow decades later. His role as an educator often overlapped with his role as a grandfather, and us grandkids would often get quizzed at the dinner table. Whether it was math problems, English questions, or even philosophy, we always had to be on our toes. And to those who got an A, there were handsome prizes of dollar bills and sometimes even fives that he rewarded to those who knew the answers.

Long before Shoopa was ever involved in teaching, he was a member of the U.S. Navy. One story I remember him telling me about his time on the USS Midway, was how he remembered waving goodbye to Bea who stood on the pier as the aircraft carrier pulled out to sea in the late 1940s. Loaded with nuclear weapons, he said he was certain they were going off to start World War III. He still had a sadness in his eyes as he told me he thought he would never see our grandmother Bea or America's shores again. Luckily after 18 months, his ship returned. As a Navy wife myself, I can't imagine being apart for that long. But through writing letters, he and Bea withstood the obstacles of time, distance, and war and started a family together shortly after that.

Personally, one of Shoopa's greatest gifts to me was a love of sailing. Our family grew up taking day trips accompanied by the sun and the wind on the majestic Valkyrie and we spent summers working with him on the endless battle to keep the boats up and running. I thought I had the coolest grandparents in the world because they had a working replica of a Viking Ship, presumed to be the only one of its kind in all of North America. My grandparents put us through sailing school and we learned to sail on our own. In recent years, I followed in my grandfather's footsteps and became a sailboat owner myself, and I loved calling and sharing stories of sailing and broken boats and tales of the sea with the man I often heard called Captain.

Among his other personas, Shoopa had a tendency to be mistaken as Santa Clause by small children. I remember one time all of us grandkids were out to breakfast with him and a little boy came up to our table and asked Shoopa for a computer set for Christmas. Not missing a beat, Shoopa played right along, "You be a good boy and I'll bring you that computer set at Christmas," he said, winking at the child's poor mother. We all had to laugh after that one. Our very own Santa Clause.

Shoopa's affinity for music also permeates my memories of him and time spent at his home. Family dinners would often end with music blasting, people --- especially Shoopa --- singing from the tops of their lungs. Whether it was Don McLean or big band music or Abba didn't matter.  There would be various instruments spontaneously picked up and played. And above all the raucous, you could often hear Shoopa's most impressive belly laugh rolling over all of it. There was so much joy in the music in their home. Sometimes he'd be talking to one of us grandkids and would just break out into song. Beryl Ives Little White Duck or Would you like to swing on a star? Carry moonbeams home in a jar. My favorite song he made a point of teaching me was from the WWII era.

You've got to accentuate the positive, 
eliminate the negative 
and have faith in the affirmative, 
don't mess with Mr. In Between 

Between the music and the poetry, I think all of us could claim to be impressed by his library of memory for lyrics and sonnets and melodies.

All this and yet, more than anything, Shoopa loved his family. One of my favorite all-time memories of Shoopa is from just a few years ago. I was back in Pensacola for Christmas break during college. One crisp, sunny December afternoon I came out onto the dock behind their house about 4:30p.m. as the sun was setting and saw Shoopa rowing Bea back toward land in a brand new dinghy. As they came to shore, I realized they were halfway through a bottle of Champagne, and Bea was holding a beautiful long-stem red rose. Before they had embarked on their journey, my hopelessly romantic grandfather had gone to the end of the dock and thrown the rose into the bayou. As he rowed Bea out into the bayou, he scooped the floating rose up out of the water and surprised her with the flower to hold for the trip. Once back on land, as he helped her out of the boat, he gave her a big kiss with a proud smile that I was so lucky to catch a glimpse of. Christmas on the Bayou, that's what he called it. I never saw my grandmother, who was well into her 70s, beam with such joy as on that day.

The last few years have certainly introduced their trials as Shoopa had to say goodbye to his lifelong love several years sooner than any of us were ready. The day of Bea's memorial service, I wrote in my journal Shoopa's words that he said after it was all over: "We have to move all of this into the world of memories now." Of course, Shoopa knew, as we do now, that that's an easy thing to say and a difficult thing to do. For many of us, it will be difficult--- even painful--- to walk this earth knowing this great visionary William J. Holston no longer does. His Crossing the Bar, in some ways, signifies the end of an era, not just for our family, but for our whole community, really, where he was such a passionate advocate of education, always encouraging young people to follow their dreams, always ready to ask questions and learn more, or impart his timeless wisdom with a smile.

But focusing on this monumental loss, I know, is not what Shoopa would want. No. Today he would want us to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. To dream of hanging from a star and bringing moonbeams home in a jar. And so today, that's where my heart will be. And no matter what you called him, be it Mr. Holston, Bill, Shoopa, Captain, or Dad, know that his spirit lives on and is calling you to never stop learning; to follow your dreams; to listen to the sea when it speaks to you; to always have a song in your heart; to strive, to seek to find, and not to yield. We are forever grateful, forever blessed, and will forever miss you, Shoopa.

A favorite poem of Shoopa's that he taught his students:

Crossing the Bar

Sunset and evening star
   And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
   When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
   Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
   Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
   And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
   When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
   The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
   When I have crossed the bar.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

In the Air Again

Returning from Australia, I was anticipating my next flight off Guam would take me to Manila in June for our service trip. The week after my horrible illness as I was recovering, I got the sad news that my grandfather passed away in Florida. He had been in hospice for several weeks with a steady decline, so the news was not completely unexpected. It was, however, difficult timing to think of rallying my weak body to make the grueling trip back for the service. I found out Wednesday morning, when I was finally able to leave the house for a staff meeting, but still had trouble standing for long periods of time and got winded easily from even short conversations with people. At that point, I was mentally and emotionally preparing myself to not be able to go. I just didn't know if I could physically get there.

The human body is an amazing thing. With the goal of leaving on a military flight out on Friday, I forced myself to consume large protein shakes, big meals, and lots of Gatorade. My physical state returned well from this routine, but mentally I was still in a fog. I was dreading the 2-hour mission trip meeting I had to lead at church Wednesday night. I just didn't have the energy for it. Somehow, though, about halfway through the meeting as we were brainstorming ideas and singing songs (not your typical boring work meeting!), I snapped out of it. Suddenly I could think clearly again, my mind finally awake after two solid weeks of being sick and out of it.

Thursday morning I awoke after a good night sleep feeling amazing. I spent the morning tying up loose ends and then Nick called to see if I was up for a round of golf. At this point, we were anticipating not seeing each other for two and a half weeks or more, and given I was a slightly warmed skeleton the previous two weeks, it felt like we hadn't actually hung out in forever. So I rallied, chugged a protein shake and decided I'd take it easy this round and just enjoy being out there. After five minutes of warm up, I was winded like you would be in your cardio warm up at the gym. It was kind of ridiculous, but I was still able to play. Nice easy swings. No pressure to do well. I can't believe it, but I had my best round of golf EVER that day, even after not playing for three weeks! I shot a 95, and FINALLY broke 100. I even had a chip-in birdie on a par 5 (for those non golf enthusiasts, this is really hard to do and at my playing level requires an enormous amount of luck!). Just like at the meeting, about halfway through the round of golf, I felt myself physically snap out of it. I felt much stronger and almost completely like myself. It was a joyous feeling, especially anticipating the morning flight out.

As Space-A goes, the morning flight out turned into the afternoon flight out. (Of course, part of the fun of Space-A is the war stories you get to tell afterwards... I am lucky to not have any this time!). I was so grateful to get on the first flight I tried. In fact, because there was a death in the family, I was eligible to get bumped up to the priority travel category. Ironically, I had to call the Red Cross in San Diego and speak to a Red Cross caseworker who was one of my former coworkers in order to make this happen. After all those years of plugging the Red Cross's services to the military, I found myself needing the very program I had written so many press releases about. I actually feel like making a donation.

After a non-eventful 7-hour flight from Guam to Hawaii, I arrived there at 4 a.m. local time. An hour later, my friend Melissa who lives in Honolulu was online, up early feeding her baby, and offered to bring me breakfast. At this point, I was starving and so grateful not to have to choke down another granola bar! Melissa is my friend from a Bible study in Annapolis and she helped me with Space-A in January when I was there. She showed up at the terminal with the best Egg McMuffin I have ever eaten, and she and her now 10 month-old hung out with me for the two long sleepy hours before I boarded the flight. She was definitely my Space-A angel!

Five hours later, I found myself landing at Travis AFB in San Francisco. I collected my bags and hopped on a shuttle to get off base, where my sister was waiting to pick me up! We immediately headed to Panera Bread (!) for dinner and wifi, where I booked a flight out to Florida for that night. After a quick turnaround at their flat in San Francisco, Courtney, Ben and I headed to the airport. Another red eye flight and here I find myself in Washington, D.C., about to board another flight to head to my final destination, Pensacola.

It has been about 48 hours since I last laid my head down in a bed. But luckily I am a Space-A champ and brought a ground pad and sleeping bag with me and was able to lay out and sleep on the floor of the military flights. After so many long hauls, this next hour and a half flight to Florida is going to feel like a breeze. And on the other side await my parents, cousins, aunt, friends, and the celebration of the life of a most amazing man. A long journey, indeed, but worth the effort to have this time together.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Australia By Land

Since I am no longer on my death bed, I am thrilled to finally share the stories and pictures from the rest of our trip to Australia. After three days there, we had only seen what the place had to offer under water (pretty amazing stuff). But we were also excited to get to see things on land. I kept thinking of Australia as another island trip, but Nick reminded me we crossed off a whole new continent with our visit here. After getting off the boat, we checked into our hotel, which was right on this lovely ocean walk, and strolled around until we caught the sunset.

Right away, Cairns reminded me of being back in California. The people seemed very active, with large groups of people jogging down the Esplinade around us. The temperature was quite mild with a lovely breeze (definitely not in Guam anymore), and there were outdoor workout stations and public square swimming pools for anyone to use. One of the things that immediately caught our attention were the large numbers of brightly colored birds chirping everywhere. There were thousands of these things. Actually, throughout my time in Australia I found the birds so interesting, partly because there were so many I had never seen before, and partly because we just are not used to hearing them chirp on Guam. 

One of the primary rules of diving is that you can't fly for 24 hours after a dive. So before flying out, we had time to fit in one land endeavor in Cairns. Nick definitely called the shots on this one because we ended up going off-roading. After an hour's drive up the mountain, we arrived at Blazing Saddles ranch where they had horseback riding and ATV's. After watching a few Japanese tourists tip over their four-wheelers at shockingly low speeds, we were thrilled when a guide pulled Nick and I to the side for our own ride. I may give the Japanese tourists a hard time, but some of these girls showed up wearing platform sandals and shorts. Seriously?

 The trails were a lot of fun. I didn't exactly knew what I was doing, but I faked it and eventually figured it out. We rode over some pretty bumpy trails, through muddy streams and around some tight turns (trees!). And at the end of it all we were absolutely caked with dust. I had a great time and was extra thankful for that little magic called late check-out, so we could get a shower before our flight. We grabbed a last meal in Cairns and headed to our next destination, Sydney!
We got in late and my friend Joann picked us up, so we didn't get to really see anything until the next morning. My friend Joann, who I met working at my cousin's catering company in Washington, D.C., nine summers ago, lives in an amazing part of town called Manly. It's north of Sydney Harbor and is its own little peninsula, with a bay on one side and an impressive beach on the other. There was a huge surfing atmosphere and we couldn't help but feel like we were back in La Jolla or Coronado again. We took the Manly Ferry across Sydney Harbor and enjoyed the breathtaking scenery along the way
Reminds me so much of Pt. Loma!

We turned the corner into the Harbor and it was apparent we were definitely in Sydney!

In front of Sydney Bridge
And the oh so famous opera house

We then took a stroll through the Botanical Gardens, again marveling at the interesting birds that kept crossing our path. Nick identified every bird we saw as a kookaburra. I'm still not sure we ever actually saw one, but they were all very pretty.

Sculpture at the Botanic Gardens
Chai Tea lattes after lunch when it started to rain
(seasoned travelers that we are, we brought no umbrella... or rain coats. whoops.)
We'll have to stay here next time we come!

And no visit to a major international metropolitan area would be complete without a stop into, you guessed it, Zara! The one in Sydney actually opened a week before we were there and we'd heard rumors that the first few days there was a LINE to get into it. I was hoping the mob had died down a bit so I could do some shopping. Nick smartly waited outside as I walked in the store, did a two-minute loop, and was awestruck at the line to check out. You'd of thought it was the Saturday before Christmas at the Apple store! That combined with the fact that the clothing seasons are off (Australia is approaching winter), plus the unfavorable exchange rate, and I decided three strikes, I'm out. That is hands down my fastest Zara visit, but I'm still glad to have added a new city---continent!---on my lifetime World Tour of Zaras. Moving on...
We took a stroll through the Chinese Gardens

We found the gardens to be, um, very boring peaceful. We were both dragging at this point, both a little under the weather (glad I didn't know what was to come). There was nowhere to lay down, but we figured out if Nick leaned forward and I leaned back, we could comfortably rest and hold each other up. It was a perfect ying and yang nap for our very zen surroundings. Nick had no idea I was taking this picture. He looks so peaceful :) After this low point, we called it a day and took the ferry back to Manly to meet up with our friends for the start of their weekend!

 When I last saw Joann about four years ago, she was living in Washington DC still working at the catering company. Since then she packed up and moved back to Sydney, her hometown, and she also has a few good men in her life I was excited to meet. One is her husband Tim and the other is their adorable baby Noah. He has the cutest smile and is super cuddly and fun. And he looks just like his momma. We had a blast getting to know this little guy. Joann and Tim spent their weekend hanging out with us. It was SO awesome to have locals showing us around. Our first meal out together was a first for me... Vietnamese food. Quite delish!

Noodle soup is just good everywhere

 Next they drove us over to Bondi Beach, one of the most famous surfing and touristing beaches in the area. It was a beautiful afternoon and the five of us went for a stroll. Very picturesque! And lots of surfers.

The walking path went up and around this cliff to more breathtaking views

 Introducing Joann! I can't believe I finally got to visit you in Australia!
 Joann, Tim & Noah. Tim grew up in the UK and longed to live near the sea :)
Ocean water lap pool filled by surf

Love these guys!
Love this guy :)

 On our way back through town we made what must have seemed like the most random stop to our friends and even to Nick. One of the reasons I have wanted to go to Australia my entire life is that way back when I lived in Houston in Kindergarten, our family became very close with an Aussie family in the neighborhood, the Hawkshaws. My sister Courtney and their daughter Kate went to school together, but we spent lots of time together as a family and I even remember staying with them when my parents left for the week to go house hunting in Ohio. They were also so good at staying in touch. Every year we would get Christmas presents from them, always something Australia-related, books about emus or kangaroo stickers. So when I found out I was coming to Sydney, I got in touch with Kate to see about meeting up. Turns out the weekend we were there was the weekend of her engagement party, which her whole family was flying in for. So I stopped in for hugs, a little bit of catch up, and some pictures. I felt like seeing the Hawkshaws in Australia made my trip complete :)

 Nick's trip to Australia would not be complete without a little surfing, and luckily Tim was a surfer too. So our last morning there, Nick borrowed a board and a wetsuit and the guys headed out to Freshwater Beach. I did the proper surfer wife thing and laid on a towel in the sun while the boys paddled out through the big waves to catch a few. Nick was thrilled to not have to worry about getting crushed on a reef break.
Australia is really good at beaches

After a bit I spotted Nick and Tim heading my way

Big smiles from Nick

Glad we were able to fit in one last adventure before the trip home! Thanks so much to our awesome hosts for making our visit to Sydney so enjoyable. Hope to see you in Guam some time soon!