Thursday, January 1, 2009

Christmas in Charleston

A beautiful Charleston December day in the park next to the Citadel.

Michael Dennis' take on Nobel

So, I told a friend a few months back that I would gladly 'dog sit' for he and his wife and three young children, while they traveled back to Texas for the Christmas Holiday. This is the first time in my life that I have dog sat for anyone. I did not know what to expect. The case was exceptional for me. Nobel is a huge black German Shepard that is so well behaved. Its really hard to imagine a dog being so large and so gentle at the same time. I met Clay & Heather Combs, Noble's owners, earlier this year and we became friends easily. My regard for those who serve our nation in the military is immense. Clay is a Caption in the military and is soon to be promoted to Major (a major congratulations Clay, no pun intended :) Clay was featured in a recent book published in 2008 entitled: Moment of Truth in Iraq by Michael Yon ( The book has some really good reviews from papers as diverse as the Washington Post and New York Times). You may see a picture of Clay, from that book, while so bravely serving our great nation and his beautiful dog, Nobel, attached. Both pictures are of Noble sitting on my front porch.

Nonetheless, this email is really about Noble, serendipity, and the coming year.

Noble and I got along the first time we met. As soon as I realized he was not going to try to eat me. :) When Clay dropped Noble off earlier in December we quickly bonded and went for a walk down by the Ashley River that is so close to my house. Nobel just had a way of making everything fun. I had much work to do over the Holidays and to be honest I was about '50/50' on weather I was really looking forward to having him. In the end, I could not have enjoyed him more and so many of my neighbors too. That's funny! Actually, is serendipitous. Here is a little history on that word. Two gentlemen by the name of Horace were exchanging hand written letters in the year 1754. Horace Walpole wrote longtime friend Horace Mann. Walpole had reached a point in his life where everything looked all-too familiar. Actually, the drab winter weather on the grim England days had caused him depression. Life for Walpole was not something to be enjoyed anymore. It had been a longtime since he "smiled..." he wrote Mann. THEN, he picked up a book (imagine that! I'm jabbing our over entertained, TV saturated culture :) The book was entitled The Three Princes of Serendip . It was a Persian fairly tale that told of three princes that sailed around the world looking for great treasures. The princes never found what they were looking for but continually found greater delight by what they were looking for intentionally. Serendipity happens, likewise, when something 'beautiful breaks into the monotonous and mundane.' Oh yea! Warpole coined the wonderful word we use so often: Serendipity from that book. I tried to find/buy a copy of this book a couple of years ago and the cost was in the thousands of dollars. Copies are very rare. I did not buy a copy. Maybe some day.

Back to Noble.

This is just a partial list of what Noble and I did.

~ We went running in the pre-dawn in Hampton Park. He always would be my rear-gaurd or point man (dog) ever looking for anyone or anything that might not be good for me. He once stopped a bunch of ducks walking towards me. I think he thought they were going to harm me. I laughed so hard I had to quit running for a minute. He did not want to hurt them but there was no way I was going to be harmed while he was on 'point'.

~ He would sleep in my room. When he would slide down to rest for the evening it sounded like small pony was landing on my bedroom floor. Once, he heard something outside in the middle of the night. I think a raccoon or something and he BARKED loud and would not settle down so I just went to the door and let him gallop out into the dark for a half an hour and he returned as proud as a returning Roman general from a victorious battle. Additionally, around 2:00 am Noble would toss a red and white toy on my bed to play. I typically would say to him, " Noble, humans sleep at this hour, go to bed!" Yet, I would make the mistake of throwing his toy back at him and the thought that meant "play time". And, if I did not return his toy he would jump in my bed to retrieve his toy. There was no winning this game. I laughed.

~ My yard became his yard and my house became his 'fort' to protect. I tried to explain to Noble that you can't eat the mailman and expect to get mail. :) SO, I introduces him to "Ray the Mailman". We all love Ray in Wagner Terrace. He's the best!!! Noble and him got along well. I forgot though that Ray told me he was taking some time off. SO, there was a replacement mailman that Noble did not know and I actually had to sit on Noble in the yard one day. Noble thought his yard was under attack. I laughed, Noble growled and the replacement mailman reached for his dog spray and looked scared to death. Actually, Noble would not have bitten him. Noble just stands at the yards edge and barks.

~ A friend came by to drop a gift off for the Holidays and rang the doorbell. MISTAKE! I was in my office in the rear of the house and you would have thought a bomb was dropped. Noble nearly knocked the Christmas tree over. Actually, he did onto the chase lounge to see who would "dare" ring the doorbell. When I came to the front door to greet my friend he said, "what do you have in there?!?" I typically said, " a small pony" and smiled.

~Clay had typed out two pages of 'helpful hints' and commands for Noble. As stated, he minded so well. I once said, "Noble, sit and stay" on the front porch. I went to do some things around the house and realized two hours later he was just sitting on the front porch looking on the Ashley River and watching people walk past the house. There was only one time he did not obey. Clay had typed in his directions " He LOVES pizza!" One day were were playing in the front yard and all of a sudden Noble walked through the hedges to a neighbors house and came back with a HUGE piece of some food on his mouth. As he got closer I realized someone had dropped a whole piece of pizza and Noble smelt it and picked it up and brought it back to eat. I did not think it best for Noble to eat, but Noble disagreed. I said, " Noble, DROP THAT PIZZA!" He just starred at me as he continued to chew that pizza till it was all gone. Oh, well. I was laughing so hard he probably did not even think I was serious anyways.

Ok, enough of Noble, even though I missed him on my run this morning.

Its combining Noble and the serendipity and the New Year, that is pregnant with so much penitential, that I write my last email this year, to so many of my friends. I think life can be like that. We limit ourselves. Initially I was "50/50" on Noble spending two weeks with me during the Holidays. I had cancelled some travel plans because I have such a heart for our men and women in uniform. It turned out to be just a great time! All my neighbors fell in love with Noble and would stop by to see him. We see situations and circumstances, in life, and it evokes fear or other emotions and we stop expanding and growing. We don't want to do or try them because they might require more than we want to give, initially, I love children's stories. In the The Wind in the Willows there is a beautiful exchange between Rat and Mole as they approached a scary situation. It reads,

"Rat," he found breath to whisper, shaking, "Are you afraid?" "Afraid?" murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. "Afraid? of Him? O, never, never. And yet - and yet - O Mole, I am afraid.'"

That's where most of life's greatest treasures lie, just beyond the safe and sure. That's serendipity. That's life. That's risk. I hope you try some things this year and in the words of one of my treasured authors who states, " its not the world, it the lens through which you see the world...clean it continually..." I hope we all clean it and we will see more Truth, Beauty and Goodness ( ideas we judge by) and work for more Liberty, Equality and Justice ( Ideas we act on) than we can possibly imagine. Its there!

Happy New Years, to you, one, and all!

Very Fond Thoughts,

Michael D. Dennis

A lesson I almost thought I would never forget

I can't believe that I almost forgot to remember.

As we settle back into our house in Charleston after the incredibly fast passing, but long trip to Texas to indulge in family, friends and food in the homeland I was eager to write about our exhaustingly comical escapades with distance travel with a 4 year old and 6 month old twins. Between airlines, rental cars and 6 separate household hotels the adventures to tell are endless.

But, I sat down and opened the Christmas cards and messages that arrived for our military friends scattered by the whims of the Army and then I remembered. I remembered that this year we were abundantly blessed with an entire year with Clay out of harms way, at home with an assignment you can't even call a job, family time oozing from our doors. I was reminded - and after 2 deployments shame on me for having to be reminded - that we are of the too-few that had a year like this one. That all over the world this Christmas we have friends galore who suffered another Christmas without a soldier at home. Those men and women who make it easy for us to forget the work they do, because when they are successful we are free to gorge in the safety of this country. Each and every amazing person who volunteers to protect my kids comes with a story with sacrifices so large and so unreal to the rest of us that they mostly go untold. Who can forget my friend Kate having her 3rd baby the same day her husband flew out of the country only to name her Sarah after the friend who took her to the hospital, or Adrienne who delivered Parker with Larry on the satellite phone from Baghdad surrounded by his soldier buddies encouraging her delivery? Well with this birth announcement below Pam joins the ranks of moms that make me proud of Army wives and because I almost forgot to remember, I am reminding each of us to say a little prayer of thanks tonight for these women who stand behind the men that stand on that wall.

Congratulations Pam and family, may we all remember that your strength (and the thousands like you) buys our peace tonight. The pictures speak a thousand words. Thank you.
----- Forwarded Message ----From: Pam Brooke Sunday, December 28, 2008 8:22:11 PMSubject: Joshua Paul Brooke is here!
Hello everyone, and Merry Christmas!

Our family received an amazing Christmas gift this year...Joshua Paul Brooke was born on Christmas Eve at 7:06 p.m. He weighed 7 lbs 10 oz and measured 20 3/4 inches long. Both he and I are doing fine and have been home for a couple of days now.

I am including a few pictures of Joshua's big day, to include one of Chris when he received some pictures in Afghansitan. Chris and I were able to speak very shortly after Joshua's birth...we fell so blessed!

It has been a surreal past few days...from barely making it to hospital in time, to having a baby on the same evening Christ was born, followed by the rush of enjoying Christmas with your family...I am still catching my breath!!!

Thanks for letting me share. I hope your Christmas was a blessed as ours!

Pam, Chris, Rachael, Allison, & Joshua Brooke

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The end of a h-era!

If you don't know the story of how Clay and I might be comical to know a side detail. When Clay and I were first introduced, and he asked me out for the first time I had the hair you have all come to know me with. Between that first phone call from him and the night he picked me up for the first time to go out I cut it all off after a miserably hot trip to Fish Camp. Since that moment even referencing haircuts in Clay's world can cause major anxiety...and for 12 years (yes all 12 years since our first date in August of 1996 - does that win some kind of wife award?) I have kept my hair past the shoulder blades to satisfy some ridiculous notion he has that girls should have long hair...that is until today. Today I donated 12 inches to Locks of Love hoping that a child with cancer would be blessed with the option to wash and dry all that hair from now on. I include picture proof because I know that you would never believe me otherwise.

It is not a great hair style yet, but hey - one step at a time.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Relaxed enough to be thankful

There are days that more often than not, I am actually too busy to be overwhelmed and thus really, really too busy to kick back and remember to be thankful. This Thanksgiving has been wonderful. To begin, its the one year mark since Clay made it home from his second tour in Iraq which makes me thankful for a ton of reasons:
  • Clay has been home - really home - for a year (this is the first time in our 7 years of marriage).
  • In this year of togetherness we did not kill each other as some predicted.
  • Being home, Clay has been able to watche the pregnancy and birth of his second and third daughters and has spent countless hours with his oldest daughter.
In this year since he came home, we were moved to Charleston. If you know the military then you understand why military families use the phrase that way - "we were moved" and not we moved. That is because this move, like every other in Clay's 10 years in the Army, was not my choice. In fact, as always, they didn't ask my opinion about it before sending a set of 'orders' to his 'dependent' to schedule movers to come get our stuff and punt us half way across the country to a place I had to look up on the map. But, alas after 9 months here in Charleston let me also say I am thankful for this move because:
  • We won the neighbor jackpot. Everyone in SC has been amazing and welcoming.
  • They have seasons in South Carolina.
  • Clay's job is easy. I mean really easy compared to his normal life. We both needed that.
  • See notes above on how Clay has been home for a year and we haven't killed each other.
  • Our girls were born with the aide of fantastic (non-military) healthcare!
  • Kayla has done beautifully in her school.

In addition to all the really good things that have happened, this year in particular marks the culmination of a heartbreakingly difficult journey to build our family. With Kennedy and Karsen soon to be 6 months old, I am almost to the point where I can actually be thankful for the painful lessons God taught me along the way. I can definitely be thankful - beyond gloriously thankful - for the the abundant blessings that resulted. (And the fact that they finally sleep!)

So, with 4 desperately necessary days off (of one of the many jobs I regularly find myself barely getting by in) I can kick back, relax and enjoy it all enough to be truly thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween at our House

There were 25 hours in this day, which gave me just enough to sneak in pictures. I promise to write soon.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My first night away

I am not a sappy person, or so I would tell you. But as I sit here in Washington, DC fighting the same tears I have been choking back since pumping at 10 minutes to 6 this morning and so ut seems leaving my babies is harder than I want to admit.

Now its not that I don't like to work. I do, and I have discovered that I am not good at not working so rather than volunteer my time into chaos, it makes good sense to get paid for a schedule. Its also not that I don't like what I do. I am for the most part indifferent to my exchange of corporate work for money at this point. And it is certainly not that I don't like DC or travel. In fact if I have to admit it, that's probably first on my list of why I do keep this particular job. But, I can not get over Karsen's little cry yesterday when she got her 4 month shots, or Kennedy laughing out loud at Kayla who insisted on dancing in her white (yes as opposed to black) cat costume.

I guess it just means that somewhere along the way I really did become a mom. A real mom. The kind that will cry as she gets into the car the first time she leaves her babies in the uber capable hands of their dad and nanny and boards a plan where for 36 hours she is a 1 hour and 5 minute plane flight away from every little noise they might make.

Its not like I left little weak premies. Karsen weighed in at the 75th percentile at 14 lbs and 5 oz. With Kennedy at 50th at 13 lbs and 3 oz. Certainly I don't need to prove Kayla's health or independent capability as she moves into 5t-6t clothes and stands a head taller than most of her same age friends. *Not that she always loves on those friends: Evan got bit the other day for hitting her on the playground at school -- which her dad declared good self defense and evan used as solid debate material to prep for his white house run by arguing that he was in the lesser of the wrongs -- but alas, rather than spend my fleeting moments here in DC obsessing about the new boss I have or the mounting inbox or what I am going to wear to the very awesome opportunity for a girls dinner out tonight that I get to sneak in, I am just passing time until I can call home again and not look like a stalker.