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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Congratulations Capt. Eric Watkiss, USN, (Ret.)

Congratulations Capt. Eric Watkiss, USN, (Ret.)

On July 18, 2011, Ed and I had the honor and pleasure of attending the Retirement Ceremony for our nephew Eric, at the National Reconnaissance Office in Washington, D.C. Eric is retiring as a Captain, which is the Navy equivalent O-6 pay grade to Colonel in the Army, Air Force, and Marines. (Eric's dad was Ed's oldest brother, Lee, who died when Eric was a baby.) We spent two wonderful days with Eric and his wife, Lynne, and their extended family and friends, enjoying the special meals and activities Lynne had prepared.

Meeting and talking with career military officers, and their families, was so impressive! These families are indeed America's Finest. Their priorities are Friends, Family, and Freedom, and their lives of service epitomize the core values of the United States Navy: Honor, Commitment and Courage.

Since the retirement events were held in a secure facility, we submitted our background info a month ahead for security clearances. We went through security screening similar to an airport, and were not allowed to bring in phones, cameras, memory sticks, or any other electronic equipment. (People who work in the building have pagers, and are not allowed to bring cell phones in to work.) After clearing security, we presented our identification, and were given security badges and pin numbers. We were escorted to and from the ceremony and reception venues.

Lynne was escorted to her seat in the auditorium through a doorway that was flanked by sailors. A ship's bell was rung. A Boatswain's pipe, that salutes distinguished visitors, sounded. Eric entered ceremonially, and was welcomed "aboard" for his Retirement Ceremony.

Eric really IS one of those guys who would "have to kill us if he told us" what he did in his job. Much that goes on in the NRO building is "Classified." There was an electronic sign in the auditorium where the ceremony was held that labeled that event "Unclassified."

The Navy's ceremonial traditions are full of history. The retirement ceremony pays honor to shipmates "going ashore for the final time." The ceremony was beyond impressive. Eric's service and accomplishments make him a genuine American hero. Over three hundred people, from several branches of service, with whom Eric served around the world, showed up to honor him.

Eric was attached to the Marines in Iraq. To pay tribute to that assignment, Eric requested that a Marine Color Guard "Parade the Colors." Eric's Master of Ceremonies, Major Chris Michele, with whom Eric serves at the NRO, is USAF.  

Captain Stephen A Burris, U.S. Navy (Ret.), whom Eric met in Monterey at the Naval Postgraduate School, was Guest Speaker. Steve regaled us with personal stories of exploits with Eric both during, and outside of, work. He said that Eric "progressed through the ranks from Ensign to Captain, and was designated as an NFO (Naval Flight Officer.) An NFO is the person who doesn't puke flying in airplanes, is good with maps, is a chart lover, and lives, breathes, and dreams everything aviation."  

Eric spoke humorously of living by the tenets "Stay cool no matter what," and "It's better to die than look bad." He said after a carrier landing, he'd go for "sliders and auto dog" which translates as burgers and ice cream. He jokingly talked about "being safe on deck" while serving in Kabul, Afghanistan.  He then clarified, to chuckles from the audience. "You can't really be safe. It's just an expression."

The Presiding Official, Rear Admiral David A. Dunaway, U.S. Navy, whom Eric also met at the Naval Postgraduate School, summarized how the Navy fits into world events, and thanked Eric for his service. He said, "We definitely live in interesting times. We are blessed to live in a country founded on democracy, individual rights, and the rule of law...The power of the military supports that. We live in the greatest country on the earth--and I've seen a lot of them. Despite our issues, nothing can hold a candle to it. Let's keep our country strong." 

At that point, Eric was presented with numerous commendations, awards, medals, and gifts. As Eric was being presented with a shadowbox containing his sword, medals, and other memorabilia, Captain Chris “Boris” Becker, USN, Commanding Officer of SPAWAR Space Field Activity, who was honoring Eric, observed that the shadowbox doesn't show all the men and women whose lives were saved because of Eric's work in Iraq with IED's (Improvised Explosive Devices.) That thought was both sobering and uplifting. This was just one of the many ways that Eric's service made a tangible difference that saved many lives.

Lynne was recognized as Eric's "right arm." Rear Admiral Dunaway called Lynne the "perfect Navy wife," and observed that "the Navy calls Lynne Eric's dependent, but the opposite is true." Steve observed that he'd never seen a couple more dedicated to supporting each other. With obvious emotion, Eric thanked and honored Lynne for her love and dedication with words, flowers, and a beautiful Navy Pin. Lynne had previously seen and admired the pin, which was designed by Washington, D.C. jeweler, Ann Hand, featuring an eagle over an anchor studded with sapphire crystals. Eric honored his mother, Barbara, and Lynne's mother Lee, with tributes and gifts, as well. Eric also recognized the sacrifice and loss of Lynne's brother in Vietnam. Eric presented his Dad, Phil, with the boatswain's pipe used during the Retirement Ceremony in a keepsake wooden box, and thanked his Dad for his service in Vietnam.

The final portion of the ceremony was called "Permission to Go Ashore." It began with the words, "For the past 25 years, this shipmate has stood the watch while we slept." After Eric asked for, and received, permission to go ashore for the final time in his Navy career, the master of ceremonies said, "Shipmate, the watch stands relieved.  The fleet has the watch." Eric departed ceremonially, flanked by sailors, after the sound of the bell and the Boatswain's pipe. Lynne was escorted out through the honor guard as well. I don't believe there was a dry eye among the 300+ attendees, after such a moving ceremony. 

As of August 1, Eric will be officially retired after 25 years of service to our country. Eric is a rocket scientist (really!). He has a degree in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Tech, and a Master of Science in Aeronautical Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School. His tour at NPS included a thesis on flight test of an Unmanned Air Vehicle, and winning the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics national Masters-level team aircraft design competition. (Eric's team named their plane after the Emu, a flightless bird!)

Eric received his wings in 1988 in Pensacola, where he met his future wife, Lynne. He began training as an Electronic Countermeasures Officer in Pensacola, then transferred to Whidbey Island, WA., and from there went on to many other locations. Eric and Lynne have made 11 moves to 11 homes in 23 years.

Eric was selected for test pilot school on his first try. He attended the US Naval Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, MD. He was a test pilot at Strike Test squadron at NAS Patuxent River, MD for a year, then returned to the Navy Test pilot School  as an instructor, where he was selected for Aerospace Engineering Duty Officer. In 1998, Eric joined the Naval Weapons Test Squadron at NAS Point Mugu working on the Tomahawk Cruise Missile Program. He left Point Mugu to join the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)  For more information, you may want to look at the Official Navy Website and SPAWAR (Space And Naval Warfare Systems Command).

Eric served on both the USS Carl Vinson and USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carriers. Eric shared that, ironically, he served more time in the desert than on the seas. Eric learned to "Listen, Learn, and Lead," and the value of utilizing the power of combined forces, while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, there were "few safe roads, it was over 7,000 feet above sea level, hard to breathe, and people shoot at you."

Eric has 167 carrier landings. He has flown over 2000 hours in 50 different aircraft types, including the  EA-6B Prowler, F-4 Phantom, F-14 Tomcat, F-18 Hornet,  and P-3 Orion.

You'll have to trust me that the accomplishments I've mentioned are the tip of the iceberg in Eric's exemplary career. Many of the projects with which he has worked are sensitive or classified. I know very little about any of them. I have not even named the projects, because I don't want to compromise our nation's security, or any of our troops who are in harm's way.   

Beyond all of the things that Eric has done, meeting Eric's friends, hearing about their service and accomplishments, and seeing the displays at the NRO, made us overflow with pride and gratitude and patriotism. I don't think the average American has any idea of the sacrifices made by our servicemen and women, and their families, and the ways in which our government is keeping us safe. I know I didn't have a clue, which is why I want to share our experience.

I know from now on I'll be more aware of our service men and women. I'll be thanking them for their service when I have an opportunity, and I'll be a more conscientious, involved, and grateful citizen.

Eric will soon be starting a new job, and will continue to serve our country in the private sector. Congratulations, Eric. Thank you for your service to our country. Thank you, too, Lynne. We're proud of you both.

Below are the video slide show that Lynne put together for Eric's Retirement, and photos of some of Eric's awards and commendations.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Peaches are Peaking in the Peach State!

Peaches are Peaking in the Peach State!

Thirty Peachtree City-ites from First Baptist Church boarded a bus early yesterday morning, and headed via beautifully verdant back roads toward William Brown's orchards in Montezuma, Georgia. We bought peaches and produce and enjoyed delicious homemade peach ice cream! The zinnias in Brown's bounteous self-pick fields were beautiful and inviting, but with high humidity, and close to 100 degrees, it was simply TOO hot to contemplate picking anything! !

We also enjoyed a lunch of fresh vegetables, meats, and baked goods and Yoder's Mennonite restaurant, then stopped in Thomaston for Dairy Queen snacks on the drive home. All the good food put many of us to sleep on the bus on the way back! A good time was had by all!

Next month's JOY trip: Blue Willow Inn.

Arriving at the Orchard

A Georgia peach holding Georgia peaches! 

Pinky's purchases!

Farm Store
Peaches were plentiful! 

Pleasantly satiated!!

Sister Chick Book Club P.S.

Sister Chick Book Club P.S.

One of our Sister Chick Book Club members, Maggie, is moving to Virginia next week. Friends from book club, and from Maggie's Bible Study group, got together today at Sheron's house for a Going Away Pool Party honoring Maggie. We enjoyed a Salad Luncheon with desserts, followed by a refreshing dip in the pool, until thunder drove us out!

I'm glad I got to know Maggie and enjoy her friendship for a season. I know Maggie will continue to bloom wherever she is planted. God speed, Maggie. Our prayers go with you, and you'll remain in our hearts!

Maggie's in the middle, in the yellow hat, surrounded by friends!
OK, we're all paying attention for the photo now! 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

V.V.B.C. The Postmistress Review (Online Book Club)

Vicarious Virtual Book Club
The Postmistress Review
(Online Book Club)

UPDATE: I am in the process of launching a new website that will be a resource for finding and sharing family traditions. Please sign up to be notified when it launches!
Thank you!

NOTE: My husband, Ed, and I had the opportunity to attend our nephew, Eric Watkiss' retirement ceremony from the Navy at the National Reconnaissance Office (which is an amazing story for another day!) Long time friend, and fellow Sister Chick Book Club member, Nancy Hooper, agreed to write the review for this month! Thanks, Nancy! You did a great job! Y'all jump in and comment!


The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake

Sisterchicks met as usual, the third Monday of the month (July 19, 2011) at our usual Starbucks.  Carol Edge was our discussion leader.  Though Carol was nervous about this being her first time to ‘lead’ we all agreed she did a fine job keeping us engaged in discussion and theorizing.  She needn’t be nervous again.

Short Synopsis:  In 1940, Iris James the postmistress in coastal Franklin, Massachusetts becomes aware of all sorts of details about the townspeople.  It is unthinkable, but, she conceals a letter given to her ‘with conditions’ and finds herself unable to deliver it once she fears its contents will bring additional pain.  Additionally, a news reporter during World War II is witness to an accident that will break long-held hope to shambles for that same individual.  Understanding that random acts happen without explanation or apologies become a hard pill to swallow.

General consensus of The Postmistress was “liked” by the 13 Sisterchicks present.  However, there were some who stated they felt the writer failed to keep their attention, that the story “dragged at times”, early character development was confusing, and that a specific plot had not been clear.  But, staying with it was rewarded with not only a plot but, interesting stories from all sorts of people in all sorts of situations; un-nerving/unwanted/horrific.  Some events happen by choices we make (i.e. Will leaving his new wife to be a war doctor).  We felt the author’s research was adequate and that our interest in World War II events was heightened.

Many of us felt that we learned much about news reporting and that there exist many reasons why today, as opposed to the 1940s, the ‘news’ we hear is already dissected, nothing is left to the imagination and the listeners are not given chance to develop a personal opinion/response. Reporters today seem eager to have exclusive rights to a story and want to create a specific ‘reaction’ from readers.  It is believed that much of the news today is politically motivated and we lose confidence that we are hearing the whole truth.  Many broadcasters seize the power to influence public opinion.  News today is too much reporters’ perception vs. reality.  Most people do not want to be naive – hearing only what we can handle, or what we want to believe - but they do want to be given the choice to draw their own conclusions and then have personal investment in making things different/better.

We all loved the main character, Frankie. She was said to be brave, gutsy, independent, “loose” (just once), and a trail-blazer.  Reporting the news caused her to become aware of (and often involved in) the personal hardship, grief, destruction, and intimate heartache of those who experienced a terrifying war all around, and repugnant attitudes of those far removed from it.

Much of our conversation included members’ recollections of war-time events either personal or that of relatives; in particular, letters of engaged or married relatives exchanging life, love, and horrors of war in letters sent during WWII.  Also noted was that some of these letters, though personal, had been governmentally ‘blacked out’ (censored) of what might be considered sensitive material; secrets could be leaked through such correspondence.  (Again, we felt much is ‘handed to the enemy on a silver platter’ by all the instant news reporting we have today.)

Many felt the story ended too soon.  We wanted to write (imagine) our own endings: giving Will & Emma’s baby a name, that Otto’s hope would be realized in seeing his wife alive, to see Frankie years later using her recordings to educate everyone on the realities of war.

Themes that presented themselves: general public complacency to persecution; the injustice and inhumane treatment toward individuals regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, conduct; denial ( i.e. ‘holocaust never happened’ or ‘wasn’t as bad as people said’) exhibited by Europeans and Americans alike; racism/prejudice/bigotry; bravery (particularly of Frankie traveling during WWII Europe alone with responsibility to find “the news” happening, record it, to stay safe, then bring the story ‘home’.  What a perilous assignment.)

Our group, as diverse as we are, enjoys the camaraderie. We are careful to consider all comments as valid.  I, for one, am glad to be a part.  We had a new member join us both last month and this.  Others are welcome anytime. We’ve not outgrown the room yet.

Submitted by Nancy Hooper

Monday, July 11, 2011

V.V.B.C. The Noticer Review (Online Book Club)

Vicarious Virtual Book Club
The Noticer Review for the Online Book Club

A business trip, and the 4th of July Holiday, delayed my posting of this  Review of The Noticer by Andy Andrews. With The Postmistress discussion coming up week after next, I figured I'd better get on the stick!

I took copious notes, but now, two weeks later, my mind is not remembering all the details! Sister Chicks: feel free to jump in and clarify or correct me! Everyone else, feel free to comment!


Our leader, Alice, facilitated the discussion on The Noticer. There were 12 Sister Chick Book Club members present. 3 and a half (one person was sort of undecided) didn't really like the book. "Trite," "self-help," and "pop psychology" summarize their reasons for not liking the book. Some of the other nine "really loved" the book. They said things like, "I learned a lot," "I'm reading it again," and "Good life lessons."

I was one of those who did not care for the book. I was very disturbed, and disappointed, that this book, published by Christian publisher Thomas Nelson was "lukewarm," at best. I saw the main character, alternately known as Jones, Chen, and Garcia, as a possible angelic being, capable of pointing people toward God, but falling short. Another book club member saw him as a Jesus figure. There were some Biblical-type references, but nothing concrete about God/Jesus. Because of those things, I was disappointed.

Everyone agreed there was good advice and interesting food for thought in the book. Perspective was Jones' favorite word, and we enjoyed some discussion about how important perspective is. Several people admitted to being prone to having negative perspectives, based on past experiences. (Optimistically calling a meal of sardines and vienna sausages "surf and turf" epitomizes Jones' examples of looking on the bright side of things, and focusing on what you want to achieve.)

Jones said very little about himself. We don't know much about his character, except for how he was able to point people toward changes of perspective. A good "noticer" listens. We miss so much when we don't really pay attention. When we're looking at something else, instead of looking at whomever is talking, we're not really listening. How much we must miss, because, as a society, we're so distracted. So many people slip through the cracks because we don't notice, or don't go to the effort, to make a difference in someone's life.

One Sister Chick said she felt guilty because she has realized she's missed opportunities to touch people because she's been so worried about her own issues. She said she's spent a lot of time worrying about things--especially as a mother. She said she could understand Walker (suicidal), because for a while, every year was worse for her than the year before. She was programmed by her circumstances to think that things would always be that way. She thought she would never be happy again. She's found joy in painting a room. She is gradually getting used to being happy, and to the changes in her perspective. She's extremely grateful.

One of the Sister Chicks mentioned their best friend's losing her son who was the same age as the Sister Chick's daughter. We often take our blessings for granted, as did many people in The Noticer, until something or someone helps change our perspective.

We discussed how important gratitude is. It colors the was we look at life. (Perspective, again!) We often tend to focus on the things we don't have. We need to remember to count our blessings. We have food, beds, clean sheets and comfortable rooms when so many around the world have none of those things. We can lose water or power for half a day, and feel so inconvenienced. A different perspective reminds us that many people could live on what we waste....

We discussed the difference between intent and actions, and how we need to follow through and DO, not just say and think about what we intend to do. The question was raised, "if there are 5 birds on a power line, and one decides to leave, how many are left on the line?" The correct answer is 5. Deciding to do something doesn't necessarily mean you follow through.

We talked about how we judge some people by their actions, and others by their intentions. We need to consider that some things we dismiss as "mistakes" are actually conscious "choices." We all make choices what to do and not do every day.

We discussed the question posed by Jones, "What would other people change about you if they could." Things they would want changed might not necessarily be bad, but could lead to improvements. This led to a discussion about how good friends are honest, even when it may not feel kind or helpful, and even if it may not initially be well-received.

We discussed the importance of friends, and our gratitude for good friends, and fun opportunities, like book club, to spend time with our friends! We talked about gratitude for freedom to worship God, and how we are seeing our freedoms eroding.

There was much discussion about how much impact someone's efforts in caring for someone, and/or showing kindness, can make. We discussed examples of time when we reached out to others, and also missed opportunities we later regretted.

We discussed what we thought about what Jones left in his suitcase. The seeds were a disappointing choice for the majority. Suggested alternatives, that people wished were in the suitcase, included: empty, the books Jones loaned out, "sky swirling when you looked into the suitcase," a wand--a la Harry Potter(--but they were just kidding about that one!)

Just as perspective was the main thing Jones espoused, perspective was the big takeaway for our group.  We never know what might happen. We need to be mindful about counting our blessings. Everything is a matter of perspective!


V.V.B.C. Online Book Club Upcoming Books July-December 2011

Vicarious Virtual Book Club
Online Book Club
Upcoming Books July-December 2011

For Newcomers:
These are the books from my "real life" book club, the Sister Chicks Book Club, that meets in Peachtree City, GA. Books are nominated by members, and chosen twice a year.

After we have our "real" book club meetings the third Monday of each month, I summarize our discussions, post a review, and welcome input. Anyone is invited to join us in reading any, or all, of our selections! You may participate in a book club, wherever you are! Welcome, and enjoy!

Selections for July-December 2011

The Postmistress
by Sarah Blake

Have a Little Faith: A True Story
by Mitch Albom

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Laura Hillenbrand

The Confession: A Novel
John Grisham

The Lacuna: A Novel (P.S.)
Barbara Kingsolver