30 August 2008

Random Thoughts

First the frivolous: I love peanut butter!! Lately, I just can't get enough of the stuff. No, I'm not pregnant - it's not some weird craving like that (my husband is overseas, remember?) I don't know really why, but tastes are strange sometimes, you know? I used to be a huge peanut butter addict. I suppose that there's a reason that my kids like to spread it on thick. I used to go through a jar a week! Then, when I was pregnant with Becky, I suddenly couldn't stand the stuff. It made me so sick whenever I ate peanut butter, and for years, even the smell of it has been enough to turn my stomach. My kids still loved it, and I am determined not to pass on my food prejudices whenever I can avoid it, but it has been so hard to serve PB&J with a smile when I was sickened by the thought of it!! So, a couple of weeks ago, I got a craving for chocolate peanut-butter ice cream. It just sounded so good to me, but unfortunately, most brands of ice cream lately have palm kernel oil, which does not do well in my system. So I tried to ignore the craving. Then, I was at Target with Katie, and we picked up a few groceries (which I never do, but I really didn't want to make a separate trip to the grocery store). As we passed through the frozen foods aisle, Katie pointed out the ice cream that was on sale. It was the Target generic brand - chocolate peanut butter, with no palm kernel oil!! I bought it, even though it wasn't on my list, and proceeded to eat the entire 1 1/2 quart container of ice cream in only a week!!! (Usually, a container of ice cream will last me for about 1 1/2 months, because I'm not usuallly an ice cream fan...) Then, the kids asked for peanut butter sandwiches for dinner, and it smelled so good that I made one for myself as well. It was the yummiest dinner!!! I guess that whatever happened when I was pregnant with Becky has finally worn off. It just goes to show that tastes change. Just because you don't like something right now doesn't necessarily mean you won't like it tomorrow. You just have to keep trying new (and sometimes even old) things!!

Speaking of the old and the new, McCain has picked his running mate, so now it's official: no matter who we elect this year, we will have a historic "first" in the Presidential elections. Either we will have the first woman or the first black in office. So now, the question remains: Who will be the "first" to set aside petty partisan politics and work for what is actually best for this country, instead of what will make the best sound bite to make him (or her) the most popular with shallow, self-centered American voters? Who will be the "first" to risk the chance of not getting re-elected in order to truly accomplish something in his first term? Who will be the "first" to say: "I don't care about being popular, I only care about doing what is right for the American people" - and mean it? Who will be the "first" to draw together the warring political parties and work for the country as a whole, and not just for the special interests of the few who donated the most to the campaign? Who will be the "first" to put aside what he wants in favor of what we, as a nation, need?? That person would be my pick - no matter what other qualifications he did or did not have!

On another note, sometimes, I wonder at the level of incompetence in military circles. In the civilian world, I guarantee that people would lose their jobs for the haphazard way things are sometimes handled! Case in point: with our attempt to get medical clearance to go to Korea with Phil, it took 7 months for our paperwork to be processed!! Was this because my medical issues are so severe or confusing that it took them ages to wade through all of the paperwork and red tape? No. It's because they decided that they needed more documentation, but they neglected to tell me about this extra documentation... So, as I called and emailed repeatedly, wondering about the status of our application (calls that went straight to voice mail and emails that weren't acknowledged, by the way), our paperwork was sitting at the bottom of a pile of paperwork on someone's desk!! And when I finally got frustrated and physically went into the office to find out the status, I was able to get the extra medical records to them fairly quickly. I was assured: "I am going to send this off right now, and I'll tag it so that they know to rush the process. You should hear a decision within 2 weeks." So that took care of the problem, right? Wrong! The paperwork was not processed. Instead, it was pushed to the bottom of a pile of papers, and the Ssgt in charge went on leave for a few weeks - without giving her alternate any updates on anything!! It took me weeks to again get in contact with anyone (phone calls and emails unacknowledged), at which time, I found that I had been waiting in vain! My application hadn't even been submitted yet! (The alternate finally submitted my application while the gal who was in charge was on leave - I guess I'm glad she had to take leave, or I'd still be waiting to hear on that one!!)

All of that work, and what was the result? Denied, of course. In fact, they looked at our files and announced, "With these codes, you (Phil) shouldn't even be here (in Korea)!" Funny how they ignore regulations when it's convenient, isn't it? This is the 2nd time that Phil has served a remote tour to Korea in spite of the codes that say he shouldn't be sent overseas because of my brain tumor! And are they going to send him home early because it turns out that he shouldn't be there in the first place? Of course not!

So, now that our clearance has been denied for Korea, we find that my brain tumor means we have to go through the entire clearance process again for our orders to Maryland. Phil can't get his orders (which means he can't come home from Korea) until I'm cleared for that base. No problem, we turned in all of that paperwork, so they can just submit all of our information to the new base, right? Of course not! We have to go through the entire process again!

Wednesday, when Phil told me about this, I went in to the clinic here to find out why they couldn't just process it with the paperwork they have on file. Apparently, it has to be done within 6 months of his return date. So they informed me that they can't actually start the clearance process until next month because it has to be within 6 months! I'm not quite sure which calendar they go by here at the Beale AFB clinic, but my calendar at home says that there are only 4 months left before January... It's no wonder that orders sometimes take so long to get to people, if the different agencies involved in the inprocessing and outprocessing of personnel all have different, top-secret calendars with extra months! It makes sense that things would get a little bit screwy if you don't know to take those extra months into consideration when planning a move! (Too bad the rest of us don't know how to add extra time to our lives at will....)

Still, even with the extra months that they've appropriated for themselves, it seems that the staff at the clinic here can't manage time for training in privacy laws. The Ssgt in charge of this clearance process, in explaining to me why I was wrong in worrying about the time it would take to process all of this paperwork again (in addition to telling me that my past experience with her had absolutely no bearing on how well she would do her job this time: "You have to quit worrying about what happened in the past, ma'am.") - actually referenced the case of a friend of mine!! Now, I admit that I'm not a lawyer, but I was sure that it is against the law to discuss, in any detail, a case with anyone not authorized to share in that information! Now, she didn't go into much detail, but she did make some pretty discriminating comments, announcing that my friend was having trouble with her clearance because "you have to expect that when you have as many children as (they) have." Of course, I let my friend know about the exchange, and she is now in the process of filing a complaint for privacy violations. - Because it doesn't matter that this happened to be a friend of mine, and it doesn't even matter that I already knew everything about that particular case, because this friend and I talk regularly. What matters is that this Ssgt. had no way of knowing whether or not I even really knew this family - and even if I did, I am not an authorized person for her to be discussing any matter with!

And that's really a minor violation in comparison to what happened next! This same Ssgt handed me a new packet of forms to fill out and bring back to get our case started again. I took them home, and I was fairly upset, so I didn't actually get to them until the next morning. Thursday morning (a full 24 hours after I was given the paperwork), I opened up the file so that I could start filling out forms. Imagine my surprise at finding that one of the forms was not blank!! It was the education clearance form for another aquaintance of mine (not even a good friend this time, although our kids have attended school together)!! This form contained social security numbers, birthdates, addresses, signatures... all kinds of confidential information that, had I been an unscrupulous person, I could very easily put to use in not-very-nice ways!! The kicker is that I had this information in my possession for a full 24 hours before I noticed and brought it back to the clinic. For all they know, I could have gotten into all kinds of mischief with it - and they didn't even notice it was gone!! In fact, when I brought it back, this Ssgt. informed me that it wasn't a big deal, because this family's application had already been processed, so it didn't matter what happened to the paperwork at this point!! (Of course, I let this family know about the violation to their privacy, and they too have filed a complaint.)

I realize that I'm not making myself very popular with the woman in control of submitting my paperwork for the clearance process. And perhaps I'm committing "clearance suicide" by opening my mouth (especially since I gave both families permission to use my name in reporting their complaints about this Ssgt). Still, 2 privacy violations in the course of less than an hour - it doesn't make me very confident in this woman's abilities to perform her job properly! I will say that I fully intend to take my paperwork with me when we leave - I refuse to leave it in her hands, if she thinks that it's okay to distribute it to other people once the file has been processed!!

Meanwhile, the kids started school on the 20th. Well, the older 3 did. Katie started school on the 26th. Ben and Emily are in the same class this year, because the charter school they attend combines 4th and 5th grade. They do separate work, but with the same teacher. (She's really good at combining lesson plans so that they're working on the same theme and each grade level gets the appropriate skills out of the assignments.) It sure makes for interesting days, as they fight over who gets to tell me about what they learned and what they did at school. (I finally had to say that they aren't allowed to talk to me about school if they're both in the room at the time!)

I'm really going to miss the schools here when we move. It's highly unlikely that I will ever again find such a collection of such highly-qualified teachers who care so much about each student individually, who will work with each student on individual study plans, whenever necessary. I'm really going to miss walking onto campus and knowing each and every teacher and every member of the administrative staff by name, and knowing that I can call with concerns or questions at any time - knowing that they know me, they know my children, they know our strengths and weaknesses, our needs and concerns, and they know when they can call me for help as well! It's really been like a big, extended family. I really wish I could pack them all up and take them with me!

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