Need a Vacation from Vacation

The Holidays are over. Thankfully. I'm just plain tired. Between a report that was given to me the Friday before Christmas and wrapping up a database design by the first week of January, I wound up working around 40 hours either at home or the office on these projects over the four day holiday weekend. I stayed up late and pushed hard over the weekend trying to get these two projects done to the point that I knew I could meet my deadlines, but the database proved to be a particular bear. I still had to put in some time Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but I did get it to the point that I didn't have to take anything with me when we left on leave Thursday after Christmas. I would have had it done before now, but I was waiting to see if we got a network drive before putting in all the time to rework the individual stand alone version. I got news the network was up suddenly without much warning and with the new year coming, it was best to get the system up for tracking data for the next calendar year. Lots of work, but now our team will always have an up to date calendar, will know exactly what the status is on each funeral, what all the upcoming assignments are, and our chaplain assistants will no longer have to manually track and compute metrics. I even set it up to do charts for them. It has been fun learning how to put Access to work.

The family and I made it to Christmas Eve candlelight services at a Lutheran church not far from us. This was a special treat. Last year I was deployed and the year before I was conducting the Protestant Christmas Eve service at Andrews. This is the first Lutheran candlelight service I've been too since leaving the parish.

I hope next year to be able to take leave over Christmas itself for a good old fashioned family gather with my family back in Tennessee. But we'll see. I might could have gotten leave this year, but initially I thought I was likely going to be recovering from some surgery so didn't request it. I hoped to have this done in the slow time here at the cemetery to have less impact on the team, but Walter Reed is booked solid right now. Not only do they see all the active duty here in the area, they also treat many of the wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan, and bunches of retirees as well as dependents.

The day after Christmas turned cold and wet on us. I had a fill in from the honor guard. She did a great job and everything went well if we were a bit wet and cold. That evening we visited with friends from my former parish in Illinois whose son lives in the area.

We made it to Tennessee to visit with Mom on the 27th. Traffic down was not bad at all and we made good time.The sunset was incredible on the ride down. It is a beautiful ride all the way once one is out of the DC corridor as you follow the Appalachian Mountains all the way down I-81. For some reason the drastic climate change struck me in a more profound way this time. Not the weather but the conduct of folks in general. People are more courteous and friendly back home and down to earth with good common sense values. I miss that.

I wore a jacket that has Air Force embroidered on it part of the time. Several times I was stopped and asked if I was in the military now, had been to Iraq, what it was really like, and even a couple of times who I thought would be good presidential material. Each time from these good southern mountain folks I sensed a true sense of dedication and support for those who serve and for the mission and job they are doing. It was most heartening to know that my folk back home still believe in what we are doing and still expect that we are going to win. (The picture of PALS is of a restaurant near my Mom's. They started out with two smaller more conventional restaurants and expanded with other like the drive in here. They have become an icon of Kingsport.)

I took the family to Dollywood for the Festival of Lights. My oldest daughter talked me into riding the Tennessee Tornado (a mid-size single rail roller coaster with several upside down loops) - something she regretted doing. (Not that I was the most eager beaver myself). Scared her to death. I'm not talking blood curdling scream kind of scared. I'm talking the white faced, eyes wide, deathly silent, how could you do this to me look after it was over kind of scared. It took me a roll of cinnamon bread from the mill house, hot apple cider, and an hour for her to calm down.

I could have used that cinnamon bread trying to get into Sevierville. 2 hours to go the last six miles. I think everyone and their cousin was aiming for the festival of lights down there. There were a couple of points where I thought about ordering a pizza and having it sent to the car. But the park wasn't too crowded and we got into most everything my family wanted to see. My youngest was very impressed with the train ride. My most refreshing moment was listing to a quartet of bluegrass musicians singing old Christmas carols of the hills. I was encouraged when one gentleman shared that with the blessing of Dollywood they wished us a Merry Christmas with the stress on the Christ in Christmas and then proceeded to give a clear statement of faith in the Gospel of Christ. In Dollywood back in the hills of Tennessee Christ is still the heartbeat of the Christmas season. I spoke with one of the musicians and found that he grew up not far from where I live and that his father pastored a church about five miles south of here. Small worlds.

I spent some time doing odds and ends around Mom's house. Her health is in serious decline. She hasn't been telling me everything. I wish I was in a position to keep a closer eye on her. I did take an afternoon for what is one of my favorite past times in the hills of Tennessee. I picked one of the trails that weaves its way through the hills and countryside and spent the afternoon running. I was sore the next few days, but my spirit was refreshed. My Mom even taught my wife how to make a country pot of soup beans. First time in years that I've enjoyed a bowl of brown beans and homemade cornbread. That was some good eatin!

Our drive back took a bit more time. Traffic was thicker, but I figure everyone was heading home from their holiday trek. The weather had threatened snow, but after a couple of hours the sky cleared and we had a beautiful day. But I'm still just plain tired. Of six days on leave we spent 2 of them on the road and 1/2 of the third one and all of them we were on the go. I feel like I need a vacation from my "vacation". I would like to have taken a bit more time, but that was all that was open and I had to have my oldest back for school.

A lot of military families flex their schedule by homeschooling, but I prefer my kids have the challenge and socialization of a public school, as long as it meets certain standards. Though I will admit if we had stayed where we were, I would probably have home schooled my oldest before sending her to middle school there with the problems the school district had.

Our team has a bit of a slower pace the next few days. Several are taking a day off tomorrow as they have nothing scheduled. I'm going over to Bolling AFB for training for a special duty assignment that will be my primary focus next week. (It's shaping up to look like a lot of fun too!) The chaplain I share an office with doesn't have anything on Friday either and I only have one service at the moment. I plan to use the slower time to get the database installed and work out an outline for marriage seminar that I have a week from Saturday over at Bolling AFB. Look like the next 12 days or so are going to be busy too with this temporary assignment and getting ready for the seminar. I think after next weekend I'm going to try to find a day where I can just kick back and rest a bit.