and why am I in this handbasket? Seriously, I leave the island for a few days and all #$(( breaks loose. I managed to eek away time and, thanks to the generous donations of friends and family members, was able to head to the mainland to visit my mom, my BIL and SIL, and attend the MilBloggers' Conference.
I used to adore flying. Loved it. I used to get so excited that I literally couldn't sleep the night before a trip - even as an adult. That has changed. I'd blame it on 9/11 but that isn't really true. It's a completely irrational fear - I hate flying over water. If a plane has a mechanical malfunction while over land, there is an airport or most likely a flat stretch of ground that the pilot might be able to land upon. Not so much when you're over the Pacific Ocean. See? I told you it was irrational. Aren't most fears? I understand that I am many times more likely to die while driving my children to art class and that, should my plane experience mechanical malfunction while at 35,000 feet, I'm dead no matter what we're over - land or water. Regardless, I was a basket case getting on the plane in Honolulu. I'm pretty sure that, the next time I fly, there will be anti-anxiety meds involved. Hello, Ativan!
But I made it to Atlanta (yes, Hartsfield-Jackson airport IS the 7th circle of hell) and then on to my final destination. The ride itself was relatively uneventful and Advil PM is my best friend. Not to mention the fact that it was a new aircraft with the individual monitors so I was able to watch more movies in my 8 hour flight than I've watched all year long. I need to get out more.
And then, one of the highlights of my trip: I got to DRIVE. I live on an island whose circumference is a whopping 120 miles. So being able to drive more than 40 miles in any one direction without having to make a left turn was FASCINATING; not to mention the joy that comes from actually exceeding 55 mph. It was bliss. Add to that the ability to eat Panera and Dunkin' Donuts and I was a happy camper.
This trip was a tough one though. It's the first time I've been back to my parents' house since my Dad and my Grama passed away. I kept expecting my dad to come up from his workshop downstairs or to find my Grama out on the balcony, reading a book. It was really good to see my Mom who is recovering nicely from dislocating her hip and fracturing her femur. She showed me the xrays of the break and subsequent repair (2 rods plus screws) and it's impressive. Hopefully that's the last of any major medical issues for her for a while.
While I was there, the weather got crazy. We were due to drive down to Ringgold to visit my cousins the morning that all hell broke loose. Thankfully, I chose to err on the side of caution and we decided to stay home. Less than an hour later, my cousin in Ringgold texted me to tell me that her mom and dad's place in Chattanooga had been damaged in an early morning tornado - one of the first to hit the ground. Trees down, power lines down, power out. Minimal damage to the house but plenty of damage all around. I ran out to get batteries and candles - thankfully my father was the uber-prepared type so that's really all mom needed (actually, she probably didn't need the candles - they just weren't all in a central location). After that, we hunkered down and watched The Weather Channel for updates. I literally lived on my phone - between texting with my cousins, checking TWC's app for updates, and checking Facebook for info, I about wore my poor phone out.
It looked like we had made it through the worst of it with just some minor issues - trees down around mom's house, some minimal damage on the other side of the highway, etc. We had heard about the tornado that tore through Tuscaloosa and B'ham but that was far away and I don't have family in those areas so, while I was concerned, I wasn't worried. And then the cable went out. There was one last cell headed toward my cousins' house in Ringgold that looked menacing but they couldn't track it with the power out. So she texted me and asked me to check on my phone. When I did, it was right on top of them. Thankfully they were in the basement. The tornado that touched down in Ringgold passed less than 2 miles from their house. You can see the path it took HERE. Downtown Ringgold, including the high school, middle school, and (I believe) elementary school are gone. The level of devastation is incredible.
My cousins in Chattanooga will be without power for weeks. But that is a small inconvenience compared to the lives lost and property destroyed by this storm. I am just glad they are all alive.
Once the weather settled down, I was able to head out to visit my BIL and SIL who live a few hours away. It was good to see them as I have not had the chance to do so for entirely too long. And then, it was off to the MilBlog Conference.
The MBC is a family reunion, of sorts...complete with all of the crazy cousins, the perverted uncle, the in-fighting, the cousins that can't hold their liquor, etc. So really, it's a lot like going home. (sorry Mom!) It was good to see old friends, familiar faces, and make some new friends.
My flight up there took forever and then I managed to get my silly self on to the wrong Metro train (I was tired...I don't live there...I wasn't paying attention) and didn't manage to notice this until I was 4 stops past where I needed to catch my connection. I was almost late getting to the hotel to catch the bus out to the Naval Memorial to catch Mark Wills in concert. He debuted his new song, "Crazy Being Home" and it brought me to tears (doesn't take much, it seems). It was awesome. Cold, but awesome.
Donald Rumsfeld opened up the MilBlogging Conference and you can read about all of that in the posts below. I can't really add much to what I've already said.
The day wrapped up with dinner down the road a ways with some good friends and then drinks down a different road with some other friends. I can't really put any of that into words that would make any sense to anyone. I find that, after this conference, it literally takes me weeks to process everything. But I'm already counting down the days to the next conference. And I swear, this time, I will go earlier and stay longer. I SWEAR.
There were some friends who were absent and they were missed. Terribly. Hopefully they will be there next year. We missed you.
Flying home was an Olympic event, complete with sprints, ruck marches, obstacle courses, and weight lifting. And we ran into some E-ticket weather coming in to HNL, including one heck of a light show which you can see HERE. I missed the biggest strike, sadly, but it was still impressive. Seems the weather here was insane just like it was on the mainland.
It will be a while before I leave again.
Edited to add: I totally forgot! While I was back at my BIL/SIL's place, we found out that Public Enemy #1 had been killed. Definitely an interesting evening. There are plenty of other people - some who are much more well-qualified than I - commenting on how things played out so I will use this time and this space to express my undying love and adoration for our Special Forces personnel. Seal Team 6 and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment: I love you.