Thursday, December 30, 2021

What In the World Have We Been Up To?

 There is so much to catch up on.  I guess you could say that while we aren't actually travelling in the RV no one would be interested in reading our blog. But just because the RV has been stationary for the most part of the past year, doesn't mean that the Wandering Whitehursts haven't been wandering.

I'll try to catch you up to the present so we can move forward with our adventures. 

You could say that COVID didn't slow us down, but in reality it did a bit. Our original plans were to hit the road for 6 months this past January. But because we thought it would be challenging to really experience everything with the way the world was, we stayed put and maximized work. Stayed put...haha..

Aug 2020: Trip to Florida, me and the kids.

December 2020: Pennsylvania ski trip with the RV.  A month in the best winter PA had seen for a while joined with my brother for a few days around New Years. 

February 2021: Another trip to FL, this time we included Dad. 

March 2021: This is where things get weird and exciting. A trip to Vermont leading to the purchase of a house in Vermont. I use the term house loosely here. But let's keep moving.

May 2021: Quick trip to see the in-laws in Texas followed by a move to said house in Vermont. 

June-August 2021: Life in Vermont....we thought we would live in the RV in the driveway and get right to work. In a lot of ways, we did. But with the new influx of city folk moving to the country contractors, plumbers, electricians, and any other remodeling tradesman you can think of was booked out months or even a year. So what did we do??  We set about doing it ourselves.  Let me preface this with an explanation of our lack of experience. I may have dabbled a bit in electrical and tile work in our home in Omaha, but that was about it. Jon has built a bookshelf and a spice rack and been our primary mechanic on the RV and trucks over the past 5 years. Enter>>>> YouTube. Hours of videos, research and trial and error led us to successfully demo the house, or what remained of it and begin rebuilding. I optimistically and not at all realistically thought we would be beautifying by July. But we were still demoing in August. Every time we too another sheet of drywall down, we found something else that led to more drywall being removed. 

Here is a list of things we found in our walls (not for the squeemish)

Dog food (approximately 20lbs)

Meal Worms

Birds Nests

Countless wasp nests

Mice Skeletons

Carpenter Ants

Very little intact insulation

So you can imagine what a tremendous discouragement and surprise each of these were when we started taking things down we never intended to take down. After going through an over priced plumber, what we think was a scam artist carpenter, and what seemed to be a politically motivated painter we found a great electrician, plumber (who fixed some of the things the first plumber did wrong at a premium), and some leads on who to use and not to use.  They don't show you that part on HGTV folks. 

Progress on the house: 

New windows and doors (everything glass had been smashed when we bought it)

French drain installed, probably incorrectly but fingers crossed

Basement wall water-proofed, cracks sealed

50amp installed for RV hookup

Removed the deck and front door, moved the front door to the....front

All new electrical to include lighting through the house

All new plumbing roughed in(pipes were frozen and busted at purchase, plus we added a 3rd toilet and sink)

Almost completely reinsulated with spray insulation

Heated floors installed (thank you Jon and my brother Jonathan)

Heat pumps/AC units installed

Boiler installed (no existing hot water to the house at purchase)

Siding replaced, sealed, painted, and trimmed

Reconfigured hallway to create a true master bed/bath

Reconfigured floorplan of kids bathroom from a teeny tiny bathroom with shower to a large bathroom with double vanity (yet to be installed) and bathtub

Drywall is going in to the kids closets that we expanded and carpet coming soon!!

Goodness, when I write it all down it seems like a lot of progress....but when I look at the unfinished floors and walls it feels like "done" is still forever away. 

I promise I will be a bit more consistent in blogging the progress, especially as we continue renovations and hopefully one day move towards homesteading here. 

The entire yard looked like this when we moved in.

Living Room

Kitchen (the door on the left wall is filled in and 4 windows were added.

Our first successful door install

The back door, subfloor, and stairs were rotted

French drain going in!

Just kidding, we had to dig out the entire foundation because of water issues

The kids bathroom before it was reconfigured

Roof repairs, the boiler stack was no longer used but was leaking

Making a bigger closet!

New windows and trim on the entire house
Deck and door on the left is removed, windows added

New front door on the actual front of the house

The kids enjoyed helping out especially when it involved knives

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Where Were You On 9/11?

So many people have recently reflected on, and shared their experiences of, the attack on 9/11,  now twenty years and a day ago.  In hearing so many perspectives, each unique and yet all unified through this tragedy, I felt compelled to share my perspective as well.  Not because my version is particularly captivating.  Not because I was there at ground zero, or even knew anyone there personally.  Nor did I experience a miraculous survival story, where I missed my cab to the airport, thus missing my flight on the very hijacked jet on which I was booked.  No, nothing so interesting at all.  I simply have my own point of view as an 18-year-old; with a narrow, short-sighted, and self-centered perspective.  This is the lens through which I experienced 9/11.

Despite these limiting factors, my desire to share still weighs on me, particularly to impart some meaning on that day for my children.  We've taught them of the event itself.  They've memorized it as the concluding item in their "History of the World" timeline song.  But they know of 9/11 the same way I know of the War in Vietnam.  I've heard of it, read of it, and met people that lived through it.  But to me it's a period in our country's history, not a personal memory.  My knowledge of the War in Vietnam is primarily academic.  The most impactful way I've connected to this period in our history was in hearing Senator John McCain speak to us at the Naval Academy, describing his experience as a prisoner of war.  And by sharing his personal experience, he has had a more lasting impact on me than reading about the war in a textbook.  So in some small way I hope to do the same here, for my children who will never truly be able to relate to the attack on 9/11 in any way more than academic.  Hopefully by reading this years down the road it will become a little more real for my them, and they'll be able to know me a little better too.

And it always begins with this...

"Where Were You On 9/11?"

Discipline.  Military bearing.  A resolute steadfastness in the face of stress.  We all have an idea of what this means.  That vision of the British Guards outside Buckingham Palace, or the Swiss Guard on Honor Duty at the Vatican.  A face frozen in stone, that not the most intense interaction,  bizarre situation, or most outright hysterical display could disrupt.  

Achieving this cold stone demeanor, at least in my mind, seemed like the purpose of much of the nonsense Plebes are subjected to during their first year at the Naval Academy.  Required to recite countless and unending amounts of military trivia and Academy history and tradition without stumbling, hesitation or confusion was a core part of this training.  Meanwhile, upperclass training cadre loomed a mere 1/2" from your nose, screaming at full volume, seemingly hating your very existence, intent of disrupting your full volume recital of the Man in the Arena, or weapons fore to aft on an Arleigh Burke destroyer.  Harder still, the oft used "peanut butter, peanut butter, peanut butter" whispered ten times fast an inch from your ear as you attempt to scream out the menu for morning meal during a chow call.  A great way to start the day.  Inevitably, the "peanut butter" routine often broke down a plebe to laughter... and subsequent discipline.  Military bearing was paramount.

But back to that question, "Where were you on 9/11?"

Tuesday, September 11th, 2001.  My first class of the day was "Leadership and Human Behavior" in Luce Hall at 0855.  With the good fortune of having 1st period off on Tuesdays, I marched over to class with a lightness in my step.  I was happy to be within the normalcy of the academic portion of the day, when upperclassman, for the most part, were forbidden from tormenting you (that's what lunch was for).  The constant stress found in the Bancroft Hall dormitory was replaced by the stress of mastering Chemistry and Calculus.  But this was "Leadership", and at least in the classroom setting, an easy 'A' (okay, I got a 'B').  But the stress level was about as low as it could get for me that morning.  I stepped into the classroom at 0850, just minutes after the first aircraft smashed into the North Tower.  By this point, the military instructor already had the live news feed streaming on the old box tv set atop a classic A/V cart, pulled to the center of the room.  We stood in silence and in awe, as did the whole nation, watching the devastation with confusion.  As we watched, the second plane impacted, and then things started to advance quickly.  Word was passed throughout the Yard to muster all midshipman within company spaces.  Classes were put on hold.

The gravity of the situation was quickly realized, and the Naval Academy immediately set FPCON DELTA.  Gates were locked, and the grounds were secured.  Rigid inflatable boats with mounted machine guns were quickly patrolling the surrounding waters.  Rifles, carried by security forces dressed in all black, were set up along all land perimeters.  We were considered a high value target, a potential next hit for the terrorists.  

While the Academy immediately transformed the highest level of Force Protection, the plebes were given their own part to play.  Midshipman security rovers were placed at every entry point to Bancroft Hall.  So there I stood, at 1500 on 9/11/2001, to do my duty.  With a large silver buckle and white cotton belt cinched tight around my White Works uniform, bayonet blade secured to my side, I manned the watch.  Right outside the dumpster loading dock of Bancroft Hall's 8th wing.  For the next hour, I was expected to maintain vigilance, impeccable military bearing, and ensure nothing was amiss.  All with my bayonet to protect me.  

And this is where the "training" at the Academy can get a little... confusing.  Because as I stood, imitating the Swiss Guard as best I could, (I mean my face was unbreakable), I noticed a 3rd class midshipman out of the corner of my eye.  He was sneaking about behind me on the loading dock.  

"Here we go," I thought.  "I know this game.  He'll try to distract me, but I won't bite.  I'm rock solid stoic."

    And right on cue a tennis shoe flew through the air and landed with a loud metallic pang against he metal sided door.  "Don't turn!" I thought to myself.  "Keep your bearing - be vigilant!"  And so I did.  This fool didn't know who he was messing with.  I wasn't going to crack.  I kept my eyes firmly down range, ensuring no terrorist threat.  

    He persisted.  A "Ca-caw, ca-caw!" crowed out from the loading dock.  

    "Now this is just getting ridiculous," I thought.  "No way I'm following for that!"  Please with my demonstrably impeccable military bearing, I kept my eyes open, my ears alert, for the terrorist threat potentially on the horizon.  And then the silence returned.  My distractor, clearly satisfied with my discipline, had departed.  

    The hour came to an end, and the same 3rd class midshipman acting as my distractor, approached me in full watch attire, silver belt buckle shining.  He was there to relieve me from my post.

"Whitehurst, what the hell have you been doing out here?!"

"Sir?", I responded, not understanding what he was getting at.  

"I could have been a terrorist sneaking into the building to blow the place to bits and you wouldn't have noticed!  I even threw a shoe!  You didn't even flinch, mind in the clouds!  How can someone not hear that?  Next time you're out here you'd better be paying more attention.  Dismissed."

"Aye, aye, sir!"  One of my five basic responses.  Attempting to explain myself would only brought upon more trouble.  Now frustrated that my seeming success in military bearing resulted in a collossal failure, I retreated to my room.  "This place is ridiculous," I thought to myself.  "I'm told to guard a dumpster from terrorists with a bayonet, and then I get yelled at for doing it wrong.  Only 44 more months to go."

That evening, as was the case every evening for a plebe, we formed up shoulder to shoulder in the main P-way.  In thong shower sandals and blue-rim t-shirt tucked into mesh USNA gym shorts, we 39 plebes looked near identical as we stood at attention waiting for the evening barrage from the Training Officer.  But instead of the 2nd Class Training Officer laying into us for our failures (rooms aren't to standards, failure of the weekly military professional knowledge quiz, etc.), the Company Commander and XO stepped forward.  "Eyes!" he shouted.  "SNAP, SIR!" we all screamed in unison, while simultaneously snapping our heads around to point in his direction, following him with our heads as he paced back and forth like a dog would follow a piece of jerky with its head.  

Now what was said was no speech from Patton, but for the next 15 minutes we were reminded that we were now at war.  "Several months ago, when you first arrived to the Academy, the country was basically at peace.  But now everything has changed."  He went on.  "The First Class midshipmen," he shouted, "will be leaving this place in less than a year and leading troops into battle.  Three year later YOU will follow them.   Look to your left.  Now to your right.  Some of you will die for your country.  A few months ago you took an oath, volunteering to be here, to serving your country.  But now, without a doubt, you will no only serve, but sacrifice, for your country.  Some of you may die for your country.  If you want out, now is your chance!  Are you scared? QUIT!  I want you to quit!  Do it right now.  Because I don't want to fight alongside somebody that isn't willing to sacrifice their life for me the way I am prepared to do for them.  Every day you are here, you are preparing for war.  Don't ever forget that."

And with those comforting words we were dismissed to our racks for lights out.  

Looking back, I remember feeling like his words seemed true at the time, but were maybe "exaggerated for effect."  At this point, we were all pretty used to being yelled at.  Though Attention to Detail is paramount, the fact that my gigline is off by half an inch isn't actually killing a Marine right now.  So this sort of dramatic display was often taken with a grain of salt. 

But twenty years later, after the War in Afghanistan has seemingly come to an end, I recognize the wisdom in what was said.  Perhaps before our nation even realized it, our upperclass understood we must train for the War against Terrorism.   And to war we went.  Nearly all of us found ourselves either in Iraq or Afghanistan in the years that followed.  Sadly, some of my Academy brethren suffered the greatest sacrifice for their country, their names forever engraved in the hallowed walls of Memorial Hall.  Other were severely and permanently wounded.  And others still, though to a much lesser extent, often missed the birth of their child or other life events while deployed overseas.  Many sacrifices were made.  I'm grateful for these men and women I've had the honor to train, commission, and serve with.  I, personally, don't dare consider myself among the heroes who have sacrificed so much for this nation, as so little has been asked of me.  But as a plebe, standing at attention in pajamas in the P-way that fateful evening, we were told we were going to war, that we would sacrifice.  But none of us knew which of us would be forced to pay the ultimate price.  All who continued beyond graduation (and not all did), did so with a sacrificial mindset.  "Service Before Self."  "Duty. Honor. Country." "Honor, Courage and Commitment."  Regardless of the Service (Air Force, Army, Navy respectively), these core values were on display for the last 20 years as our military responded to the attacks on 9/11.  And like most of America, my gratitude for those that sacrificed so much for our freedom and our safety cannot fully be expressed.  

That's how I remember 9/11.  

Friday, August 30, 2019

Buffet Syndrome

     For whatever reason, buffets have long appealed to me.  Be it one of the classics: a pizza lunch buffet, or something a little more elegant like Randolph Air Force Base's Officers' Club champagne brunch held on Sunday mornings, complete with a four-piece band; I've created many memories while satisfying many appetites in the process.

     Childhood memories of Pizza Hut buffets, my once favorite Sizzler (after having returned as an adult, I'm not sure why I loved that place so much.  And it may surprise you know know it still clings to life here on the West Coast), my Catholic confirmation dinner at Olive Garden complete with all you can eat salad and breadsticks, and on this lucky occasion, pasta as well; I even chose Golden Corral to celebrate high school graduation with the family.

     And it didn't stop there.  Branson, Missouri lobster buffet with more than a dozen delectable decapods I enjoyed; a multi-generational family visit to see me wrap up my Plebe Summer training in Annapolis treated me to Buddy's Seafood Buffet, and of course numerous casino buffets along the way.  And I'd be remiss to forget the ultimate buffet, the Brazilian Rodizio.  Whether it be Texas de Brazil, or the one epic night of 3 and 1/2 hours of continuous carnivorous activity in competition for who would be the last to turn that "feed me" token over to red at El Porcao in Miami, I've never left such an establishment hungry - or even comfortably walking.  

     A buffet (at least for me) always seems to be done in excess.  Why would someone eat 14 lobsters or enough steak to satisfy a grizzly bear in one sitting?  Aside from the fact that it is delicious, there seems to be the persistent idea that "I have to get my money's worth."  That statement epitomizes the idea of Buffet Syndrome.

     But the syndrome isn't limited to food, as I've found out.  Anything with a "season pass" is subject to the same approach, with the potential to suffer a similar "I've gone overboard" regret.  For example, we recently had the (possibly once in a lifetime) experience of living for nearly two months in Lake Tahoe, CA with season passes to two of the areas largest ski resorts.  Courtesy of Vail's Epic pass and its incredibly generous price of $100 for military and family members, we intended to take full advantage of the opportunity.  After $300 for our lift tickets for the season (the youngest two kiddos were still free!), and another $400 or so for used ski gear and rentals for Baby A, we were $700 in before we even set skied foot on the slopes.  "We'd better get our money's worth by skiing as often as possible!"  Considering lift tickets with rentals at Heavenly would have cost us nearly $700 for a single day, it shouldn't be too hard to "break even."  But with three young kiddos with no ski experience, and an unknown desire to even learn at this point, I wasn't sure how far we could push it.  

     In the end, we skied a total of approximately 25 days out of the 40 or so available to us.  Not too shabby.  We took Sundays off for church and sometimes a grocery run, had a week off for a quick jaunt out to Florida to celebrate with the wiser still, but not yet elderly Pop, and every 2 weeks we had to move our RV to a new campground in accordance with our membership policy (2 week max stay, then 1 week out, but for a price of $0 per night it's worth it for Lake Tahoe accommodations). 

     More days than not, there was at least one complaining child, either before, during, or after the actual skiing.  Despite that, I didn't quite get that same "we've overdone it" feeling like I did leaving the sushi buffet on our last afternoon in Tahoe.  So I'd say it was a success!

     Our next challenge?  Trying not to overdo it at Six Flags Magic Mountain this summer (meal plans included!)  You can guess I've already crunched the numbers on how many visits we'll need for it to be "worth it."  Let's just hope the kids don't tire of the rides, water park, french fries, churros and bottomless sodas (we usually fill it with sparkling water 😉) before we reach that point.  I'll have to remember that dragging whining children through an amusement park in 100 degree heat searching for the nearest bathroom or shortest line is far from amusing and never worth it, even if we've already paid for it.