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Last week, for the first time in 20 years together, Dave & I went away for five whole days without any children.  It was the 70th Anniversary of Operation Market Garden, and Dave jumped as part of the commemoration of the Battle of Arnhem.

On Saturday we woke, way too early before five in the morning, to heavy fog.  The planes were grounded and the planned jumps into Ginkel Heath were delayed.  Eventually only half the jumps were rescheduled and we found ourselves with the luxury of wandering through the events, displays and ceremonies.  The actual DZ (drop zone) was located in the middle of nowhere, Holland.  The jumps that day planned to re-act the same jumps 70 years earlier, in the exact same location. We parked our van as close as we could, then joined the crowd hiking in. Soon we were surrounded by not just walkers, but also hundreds of bike riders.

Halfway to the DZ I heard a low rumbling, steadily getting louder and deeper.  At first I looked up, expecting the planes to be rolling in despite the lingering mist, then I realized it was coming from the ground right as the first half-track (part tank, part truck) came careening around the corner aiming straight for me.

Thankfully Dave pulled me to the side, and after five minutes of watching the British retreat (they were due for different ceremonies over in Nijmegen), I remembered my camera and pulled it out to quickly snap some photo’s.  More half-tracks passed, a troop transport, medical vehicles, motorcycles and scout bikes (comically small motorcycles dropped with the parachutists), and jeeps.  Lots and lots of old, lovingly restored WWII era jeeps.

Walking through the woods of my childhood that day was surreal.  A mix of modern and an era before my time, as bikes rode past and jeeps kicked up dust, while half-tracks and troop transports had me dodging behind trees.  I could almost feel the fear, and the elation, of my forefathers as vehicle after vehicle passed by.

When we finally reached the DZ, looking surprisingly like the practice DZs back at Ft. Bragg, I was overwhelmed to see thousands of people gathered for the commemoration events (news reports put it at 40,000).  It was at least a 6 kilometer hike in, and yet it felt like half my country was there to honor the Americans, Poles, Brits, French, Italian, Belgian soldiers who fought to liberate us 70 years ago. Operation Market Garden

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Last Saturday was the big Army ball for the troops stationed in Stuttgart.  It was my first Army ball in almost 20 years.  I’d forgotten how much effort it takes to go dancing for a couple of hours.

For the last several months we’ve been walking, for our health, for the beautiful scenery in the Black Forest, and to look good in our ball clothes.  About a month ago we ordered all the clothes we’d need.  After 20 years, I needed a new ball gown, Dave had new dress blues but he needed a formal shirt and bow tie.  The last two weeks I had to find shoes and earrings (shhhhh, and undergarments).  Last week, finally, I had hair appointments, dress fittings, and a nail appointment.

Unfortunately my dress fittings were canceled and I spent Saturday morning, with Dave’s help, fitting my dress and shortening it myself.  We almost missed the ball itself! But we didn’t miss it, we were perhaps a little late, walking in right as the toasts were kicking off.  I’d forgotten about the toasts.  It’s a little like Catholic mass were various church members call out their prayers; and we all say:

“Lord, hear our prayer.”  Except, with the toasts, we all raise our glasses and take a drink.  More like frat boys at a party.  And, like frat boys, we all chimed in and sung the Army song. I rather love hearing the deep voices band together. I’d been dreading the speeches, but they were thoughtful, clear and even enjoyable.  And, as always, there was an empty table and chair:

The empty chair – for those who are not here The table in the place of honor – to show our appreciation for their service
The untouched drink – for the pleasures they cannot share
The black tablecloth – for the dark fate that has befallen them
The single rose – for our love the spilled
shaker of salt – for our tears.

And the traditional toast – drunk with water to represent sorrow and remembrance:
“To Absent Comrades.”

That part never gets easy, yet I am so thankful that our fallen soldiers are never forgotten and always a part of their brothers left behind.

I was grateful when it was finally time to sit and enjoy our meal. By then, with all the wine sipped during the toasts, I needed a little food in my stomach to balance the spinning in my head.  After dinner, with the band already playing, we stepped outside for some quick photo’s of us in our finery, before the dancing really washed away the finishing touches.  And that’s when I realized I wouldn’t be dancing.  I had done a great job in the months leading up to the ball.  I’d remembered everything; hair, nails, shoes, shorten the dress… what I hadn’t planned on was take-in the dress.  The last couple of walks had done enough good that my dress was not as snug as it should have been.  My beautiful, strapless, dress was determined to not stay in place.

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We have a now made it a daily ritual in our house to go out for a walk in the Black Forest.  I still (almost) pinch myself in awe that I actually live in the Black Forest.  That I can step outside my door, pass 3-4 houses and I’m amongst the trees.  It is an immediate break from reality, incredibly peaceful, mind-blowingly beautiful and such a joy.

Dave & I are both working on improving our health.  Stronger bodies means we will be able to hold off illness & pain, such as his Tietze Syndrome flare-ups.  But these daily walks are also improving our  marriage bond, and our family bond.  Dane especially loves racing through the outdoors.  The added benefit for us is not just quality time with him, but also a tired Dino, at an earlier hour.  Score!

Thursday was particularly beautiful, and I’d remembered my camera and memory card. It was hard to not stop every 2-feet and hold a photo shoot of the little details in the forest (mushrooms! road markers from 1700! old bridges! ponies & buggies!).  I had to force myself to focus on walking at a good pace, enjoying with my eyes, ears & nose and spending time with my family.  A simple walk is a very complicated, multi-faceted task.

Twenty minutes from home,  Dave and I got very excited as we approached some natural springs.  The smell in the air changed, the forest floor got softer, mossier, and the foliage thicker.  Chatting about how the villages must have depended on this spring for running, fresh water, how life must have been even 100 years ago, we temporarily lost sight of Dane.  I realized it was really quiet, except for our voices, and quickly looked around, slightly panicked, for my youngest.  I spotted him just around a bend in our path, not even 100 yards back, quietly sitting on the forest floor, meditating.  It’s something he picked up from one of his favorite cartoons.  How could I get mad at him for dropping out of sight when our forest is this peaceful?  How can I get mad at him for taking full advantage of his surroundings to just be?


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by Toiny Westberry 20 April 2013
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by Toiny Westberry 6 January 2013
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by Toiny Westberry 31 October 2012
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American Racers

by Toiny Westberry 13 October 2012
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by Toiny Westberry 18 August 2012
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Running theStudio is a full-time job, sometimes it’s more than a full-time job.  This week was one of those weeks.  I’m working at hard to bring some new products your way, add a little more to the store for your scrapping needs.  New always equals head-banging for me.  It also means my kids get left […]

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Our Amazing Race

by Toiny Westberry 2 June 2012
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Every muscle in my body hurts.  Dave put on an “Amazing Race” event for his soldiers.  Since I’m the Amazing Race fan in our house, I volunteered to help.  This week my volunteer hours turned into a full-time job! Coming up with stops wasn’t hard, typing up clues was a little harder, running the race […]

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