Lessons Not Necessarily Wanted….

Emotional content alert. The recent death of celebrities brought the unsettling discussion of suicide and one of those things learned as part of being an Army Officer. I did not have to deal with a fatal suicide personally, although there were some in other units within my organization which meant I did help provide support to those commanders. The point is, each time there is a suicide, the professionals performed a “psychological autopsy” as part of the report. There are also often incidents that range from attempts, to gestures, to ideation; all of which are what they sound like. In the course of my career, I had several conversations about this range and came to understand, in lay terms, basically six categories. In a term I  use as “intensity”, there is suicide as euthanasia, which has of course been discussed at great length in the “right to die” movement. I’m not going to get into that subject.

There is literally suicide that borders on accidental. If an individual reaches the stage where he or she makes the decision, quite possibly on impulse, the situation may spiral beyond control. Sadly, we did have this with some military members. Certain over-the-counter pain relief medication will not out-and-out kill in a “drug overdose”, but it can do such severe kidney damage that death soon follows. The individual, when initially recovered, can determine things can be worked out, yet nothing can be done medically.

Individuals who find themselves in such a dark place, they can, and do, commit suicide can choose to leave a letter to at least try to help those who will grieve understand why they have done so. It may not seem to be something that helps with the loss, but it can bring some measure. In situations where there is no explanation, it can be even more devastating.

There is then, in my opinion, the cruelest which is the vengeful act. Other than in the situation of mutually agreed euthanasia, these are the cases of murder/suicide. In not doing physical harm, there is also the situation where an individual leaves a note/letter blaming a person or persons for the act. This may be accompanied by ensuring the individual/individuals being blamed find the deceased.

I generally have admiration for people who work with suicide hotlines because they can, and do help. Yes, there are highly emotional people who are “just seeking attention” which is another subject. But for the person who is genuinely reaching out, such a call may be the very thing that enables him or her to find a way back “from the brink”. Depression is not the same thing as “the blues” and if you do know someone who suffers from depression, I would urge you to know what local resources are available and/or go to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org


Entering A New Phase…..

With June rolling around, I checked to discover that yes, indeed, I should be signing up for Medicare as I am within a little over 60 days from my birthday. There is a special provision for military because we no longer qualify to be seen at military facilities except in a very few places; none of which are near here. We don’t qualify for VA because neither of us have enough disability.Quite frankly, that’s not a bad trade-off.

Anyway, we have a special process we go through – well, actually I guess it’s just an additional step we have to take. I found the 44-page brochure I downloaded and will read through it this coming week. Once I’ve got that part figured out, I’ll go onto the government site to register. Several high school friends who post on Facebook have already done so. With an August birthday, I’m later in the year. Like most people “in the range” we have received a huge number of phone calls and mailings about all the different choices. I do hope it isn’t as confusing as it seems at first look. We currently have a supplement we have to pay, but they’re among the people we haven’t heard from. My impression is they don’t operate in that particular area. I suppose I should ask the direct question.

A friend who is approaching a birthday that shall we just say is above the 65 mark doesn’t like to acknowledge the number. She also hates to be reminded of the saying, “You only have two choices”, so we don’t make that comment. In actuality, you can choose to ignore your age and only respond to the question when it is needed for medical purposes. Although it doesn’t take any years away, it is an option.

The Ups and Downs of Volunteering…..

I’ve previously posted about the extra volunteer work I have taken on and how I really should have said “no” to the last board request. I did not, however, and therefore have pretty much only my lack of willingness to say “no” to account for this. The up side to volunteering is when you see the good of it. I was at a luncheon today where someone thanked me for helping give their organization a bit of a boost when it was at a kind of critical time for them. Since it is a group that helps mostly high school and young adults, how can that not make you feel good?

On the other hand, I have also been dealing with the proverbial “tempest in a teapot” in some other situations the past two weeks because quite frankly of egos more concerned with their own agendas than the goals of the organization. This aspect of groups is just as likely to occur among volunteers as in business. When in business, you can sort of understand the drive that might very well result in promotion or career advancement in whatever capacity. In a volunteer organization, it is essentially self-aggrandizement, which can be tolerable if the end results are something good for the organization. On the other hand, if the behavior includes persistent denigration of others, that makes it tough to cope with. How does one handle it? Cautiously if the intent is to maintain the group. In some cases, the departure of selected individuals is the only solution. The individual/individuals who depart though might not be the ones “creating the waves”. It really is a shame, but so it can go. Ah well, these are the times, an adult beverage or soothing cup of tea comes in handy.

Balancing Love of Art and Practicality…..

I have previously posted about the “journey” of Hubby and I in the decision of son to become a professional dancer rather than pursue one of the careers we anticipated for him. Those who are fans of my books are also aware the “great commercial breakthrough” has yet to occur. Those two elements came together in a recent discussion when I was having coffee with a young man who is both an artist and a performer. He is in a position to be able to work part time in administration at a small performing arts center, and be in the associated community theater group as he works on an associate degree in business. Whether or not he continues with a bachelor degree remains to be seen and he is realistic about balancing his passion with the need to be marketable.

There is often the question as to why someone in the arts must generally put their art (in whatever form that takes) second to an income-producing career. This is especially painful when the individual is inclined to art to the degree it is difficult to do well in the skills considered more suitable to most paying jobs. The core reason is “supply and demand”. , Setting aside whether an individual is talented enough to be paid for whatever the art form is, there are simply far more artists, musicians, writers, etc., than people who can (and will) pay for those products and services.

Since that aspect of the world is not likely to change, being supportive of someone’s artistic desire is important while understanding for most, it will be something “done on the side” or as a hobby. The love of such can found in some of the oldest records of mankind and it is something to embrace even if it must be far less than full time.

A Tough Business…..

There are few small businesses that are easy and those with a lot of competition add an extra dimension of difficulty. Restaurants are among the most difficult for several reasons. The facility and health requirements are constant demands, and by that I mean a place can be all set to go for the day and the/a stove goes out. That can create all sorts of turmoil.  Health inspectors can show up unexpectedly and maybe the temperature for the hot water in the sinks isn’t correct. It may seem like a small thing, but can cause problems.

The simple fact is restaurants have to price within a narrow band of similar restaurants and managing inventory is difficult, especially if you want to promote “fresh”. That aspect means potential for spoilage which equals higher operational costs. Labor is of course a huge headache because again that is one of the major costs and turnover is common. Hiring good staff can pose problems, and keeping them even more so. Anyone who has ever spent time as a waitress/waiter knows this and anyone who experiences poor service does, too.

We have a local restaurant/lounge which is attempting to “transform” and it will be interesting to see what happens. The new manager is quite pleasant and means well, but there are a number of obstacles to overcome. One of the aspects is potentially mutually exclusive target markets. There may not be as much disparity as initially appears, so I will hold off judgment until I see how things progress. The menu at the moment is quite limited which is generally a good idea going back to inventory and quality management. Of the four items our group sampled, three were good and one was questionable. Again, the actual “transformation” will include new menu items, but having something that works well in the meantime is a basic step. I always hope the best when someone has a vision, is willing to take a risk, and works hard. We shall see.

A Little Self-Pity Doesn’t Hurt……

Serious content alert. Two friends, one older, and one considerably younger, just suffered injuries that turned out to be related to previously undetected medical conditions. For the older individual, it is in large part a reality of aging that things will happen. For the younger one, tests are still underway.

In each case, there is an inclination for the response to be, “Well, it could be worse.” A correct statement, especially if you spend any time in a medical facility where bodies are shattered or struggling with terminal diagnosis. On the other hand, the younger one’s current career is impacted, and may very well require a change of career. For the older one, there is the high probability of no longer being able to live independently and perhaps not even remaining at home with assistance. In both cases, the events occurred with no warning, no time to emotionally prepare. These are life-impacting situations and a certain amount of “Why me?” is a natural reaction. It is a loss; the degree of which is still unknown. All serious loss, no matter the focus, can be tied to the Five Stages of Grief described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler in their famous book.

I’m not going into the complexity of these stages which are too often over-simplified, however, the need to cope with grief is sound. It is part of life few can avoid and anger in lashing out or wanting to scream closely followed by the desire to curl up and whimper are to be expected. (Yes, in some cultures, stoicism is greatly valued. That’s not the subject here.) There is nothing intrinsically wrong with spending an amount of time in self-pity.  As with much else in life, moderation is important, but even more so is the notion you should, “Just get over it already”, as can be carelessly tossed out. There are losses one does “get over”, and may well ironically fall into the category of clouds with silver linings and other applicable cliches. In other cases, though, it is adjusting to  (okay, acceptance of) the change, but a factor in this process is the “progress” is usually not linear. It can easily be steps forward, back, maybe a bit sideways. When dealing with whatever loss, you can be going along and then, “Zap!” it sneaks back in. When that happens, another round of self-pity isn’t going to hurt. You may want to cope with it on your own or reach out for support.  I hope anyone reading this has friends/relatives who can provide that support. And yes, the “friend” can be furry or perhaps something less conventional such as a special place in which to re-center.






How I Learned About Internal Combustion Engines…..

The saying of, “You don’t always get what you want, but you might get what you need”, is probably true for most people. As has been happening of late, certain conversations trigger memories of my Army days. In the short version, I joined the Army in order to afford law school. The fact that didn’t happen is a very different post that I’ll do at some point in the future.

Anyway, I actually came into the Army through a special program because contrary to popular belief, women could not enter as officers through either ROTC or the military academies until 1976. I was commissioned into the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in the waning years before they officially disbanded that. Part of the disbanding was to no longer have all women assigned to WAC units, but rather have them go into the various branches of the Army, most of which were open to women. Through a series of misunderstanding on my part (also another future post), I found myself in a situation where I didn’t know which branch to ask for and the Ordnance Corps decided they wanted to increase the number of women being brought in. They sent a couple of majors to Fort McClellan to explain to all of us why we ought to request being in Ordnance. Now, there are essentially two major areas within Ordnance. The original, as the name implies, is Ordnance as in ammunition. The other is maintenance which gained far greater prominence once there were things like vehicles. To say I was not mechanically minded is an understatement and so when I was assured by the two majors that Ordnance really was the branch we ladies ought to join I agreed and thought, “Okay, how hard can it be to learn about munitions?”

A not particularly important event occurred and I was later strongly advised to swap from my idea to instead go into the maintenance side. I very carefully explained my genuine concern about my ability to learn about maintenance. I was again assured the fact I didn’t know anything didn’t mean I couldn’t learn what I needed to. As an officer, I would not be actually working on vehicles (to include things such as tanks). The mechanical training we would receive was to enable us to understand the basics so we could understand what it was the fully qualified mechanics (enlisted and warrant officers) were doing. In other words, we had to know just enough to be able to say, “Bull___” if someone wasn’t doing their job. I reluctantly agreed and in the initial stages of my training, my concerns seemed justified. Several of us struggled and failed tests because we really weren’t grasping what pistons, wiring harnesses, hydraulic systems, etc., did. Our instructors were equally struggling because they couldn’t figure out how to get the ideas across any differently.

Our male counterparts stepped in to help. This was when most guys worked on vehicles to some degree or the other. They essentially took those of us who were having difficulty and said, “You’re making this too hard.” Of the two that took me under wing, one was a mechanical engineer and the other highly mechanically inclined as what was referred to as a “shade tree mechanic”. Admittedly, this was back before vehicles became much more complex with electronics and computers. As it turned out, the guys were right. We just needed someone who could take their time with us and phrase things in a way we could grasp. One of the practical exercises we had to complete toward the end of the three-month course was to disassemble and reassemble a jeep engine. Despite the extra tutelage, I certainly wouldn’t have tried to tackle this alone, but we were in teams and I was in fact fully capable of helping and understanding what my guys were doing. Aside from the direct application to my Army career, the same knowledge has been quite useful when dealing with auto repair shops.

One of the Lesser Known Military Units…..

First, I thought I had posted this the other day. Then again, I thought I had previously written about this topic, but apparently it hadn’t made it beyond the idea stage. When we were stationed in Hawaii we knew of a number of smaller, specialized units, one of which is officially named the Joint Task Force–Full Accounting (JTF-FA) and Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CILHI). It is commonly referred to by the acronym of CILHI (pronounced like Sill Hi). Although there are some military personnel assigned and a friend was the commander for a couple of years, the staff is predominantly civilian experts. You can read more details at http://www.vietvet.org/jtffainf.htm but I’ll explain.

A Joint Task Force means all military services are involved and it is especially fitting for JTF Full Accounting. The remains of thousands of American service members are still missing and over the years, sites have been discovered in some pretty remote paces. The term “leave no man behind” has existed for a long time and it extends to the idea of bringing home the bodies of those who have served their country. With advanced forensics and the amazing capabilities of the Laboratory those can be used to either positively identify someone or at least greatly narrow the possibility. For example, if a plane from WW II was last heard from over a certain area in a mountainous region, and the Task Force is notified of wreckage being found in that same region, a team can go in to look. Since airplanes can disintegrate and/or burn upon impact, there may be little left after decades of growth taking hold. The staff intensely studies equipment and uniforms from every era of our military which is why the smallest item or fragment can be used to help with identification. In a case like this, if no human remains are found, they still might be able to identify the aircraft. All sites are handled in a similar manner to an archeological dig and the teams often work in extreme environments such as jungles or mountainous areas.

Information about potential sites come from many sources.  Local stories are frequently passed down about military men who were quickly buried or a crash site that has been overgrown. At other times, an area is being cleared for building or a family member has done research and passes along what they know so the team can consult their database. Several months ago, my husband taught classes to some of the JTF members because they want to have internal capability of accessing underwater sites. He was of course thrilled with the opportunity and the team appreciated the fact he was familiar with their work.

Losing a loved one is never easy. Not knowing where the loved one is adds yet another dimension to the grief. And even though the service member/service members are not returned until sometimes decades later, in almost all cases it is appreciated by the family.

About Valentine’s Day…..

Poignancy Alert! Okay, I will upfront apologize if this brings a pang of hurt to anyone, but there are moments when I do engage in bittersweet emotional content and this is such a moment.

Valentine’s Day can carry a lot of significance whether you agree with that position or not. Back in my single days, I spent about as many Valentine’s Days without anyone special as with someone. And yes, when there was someone, we joined the throngs at the crowded restaurants to pay extra for the special dinner.

So, when Valentine’s Day came around after I was married to my first husband, it happened to be on a Friday. I waited all day for flowers to be delivered to my office. Friday was traditionally big Happy Hour at the Officer’s Club. Since my husband and I were in different units and therefore met at the Club, I thought – ah, he’s bringing the bouquet there. Nope, and not a word to me as we all enjoyed the evening. At some point, I allowed my temper to peek through enough to ask if he’d forgotten what day it was. Of course not, was his reply and drew me a valentine on a bar napkin. As the saying goes, “I was not amused”. The next day I was still pretty P.O.’d and when I returned from errands, there was the lovely bouquet on the dining room table. “How could you think I would actually forget?”, was his question as he did admit he waited too late to call for the florist to be able to deliver on Friday.  I did accept the apology and fast-forward one year.

Most of you who follow the blog know my first husband was killed in an accident when our son was only four months old. It was not long before Valentine’s Day and we were physically separated due to attending different Army schools. I was in Maryland and he was in Virginia. My parents came up from Louisiana and Daddy drove me to Fort Eustis in Newport News for the memorial service and to take some of my husband’s personal stuff before the rest was placed into temporary storage. As I was going through the desk, I found this big beautiful Valentine’s Day card he had bought in plenty of time. You can imagine my intense reaction. That’s been a very long time ago, but it’s one of those memories I suspect will stay with me forever.

Our Dependence on Repairs…..

In my former life of military logistics, with a concentration in maintenance (I’ll explain that in a post someday), I became keenly aware of the vulnerability of mechanical/electrical things. Matched to that was the variance in the ability of individuals trained to repair such items. Pretty well equal was the fact that impatience does not assist in the repair process. However, if the individual/individuals responsible for hiring/retaining repair individuals is not aware of shortcomings, that is something that can be rectified. That statement also comes with a caveat – there must be places that can adequately train individuals and one must also allow for experience as a factor. So, without getting into politics, which I do try to avoid in this blog, we really should do more in this country to recognize and promote repair trades at all levels. I’m not about to say a computer repair technician is exactly the same as a plumber, but when you have that toilet overflowing/stop working, it definitely affects your well-being.

Reliability of items is the other component and those who are old enough have seen the movement toward a “disposable” marketplace. That, too, is really another post and for the sake of this discussion, we’ll stick with the issue of training repair individuals rather than engineers, etc., that design and manufacture things. Anyone who has worked with students knows there are different ways of learning and there is a wonderful quotation from Albert Einstein about labeling genius. It goes something like, “…If you measure the intelligence of a fish by the way it climbs a tree, it will always be seen as stupid.” I don’t dispute the value of a college education, but in watching the absurd, quite frankly inexcusable escalation of college costs, the need for technical training in many areas for those who have the aptitude should get greater focus than it often does. There is a growing awareness in this country and if you have influence on young students in whatever capacity, do be attuned to the possibility that rather than a college path, technical training may be the right option, at least for that first career.

In closing, my posting has been delayed because we experienced network outages for almost six days. Is it a design issue, equipment, or maintenance? I don’t know. What I do know is we, like so many people today, greatly depend on network connectivity and are severely impacted when we don’t have it.