Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Media meaningful to me

I have been tempted in the 8 months I've now been home to have a bit of a pity party about the failure to have any substantial kind of homecoming festivities or recognition- but recognized it was just great to be home and reunite with my family and friends. I also enjoyed getting treated to lunch in reuniting with friends both new and old in a few small, quiet one on ones. I even made a little video so if someone was really interested, I could just show the video, with some narrative, then close the book on it and move on to discussion the present and future.

Still, every once in a while I wonder just when I might get my "Welcome Home Warrior Citizen Award", a nice little welcome home gift that was established by military leadership as a program to show appreciation to Reservists coming home from deployments. The award program is a great idea, but if one goes over 8 months without receiving the award, well, it won't quite have the same impact, having built an expectation and then not delivering on it until it is closer to "Congratulations on Successfully Negotiating Your First year Back in the States Award."

But then I remember again, I didn't go for those reasons, and I'm just glad to have my "normal life" back, to be looking at a bright future, reestablish family relationships, and build the next step in my wandering career.

I like watching the news, especially when it goes counter to the "if it bleeds it leads" motto- so I wanted to share the past 3 DVR'd good news stories that meant something to me:

First, a newspiece on a program called the Snowball Express, shown on an NBC nightly news feature late last week. During the Christmas season, I'm so pleased to see these efforts to take care of families dealing with the loss of loved ones who have given their lives in service to their country.

Second, another feature presenting an outpouring of assistance for an older veteran in financial difficulty. Another great story. As with the other, the silver lining of seeing the best in people as they work with others in challenging circumstances.

Lastly, another NBC newspiece, "Afghan girls defy Taliban". Tragic events, a great resilient spirit, and exposes the perpetrators for the cowardly and despicable criminals they are. The U.S. military knows these enemies, and it is understandably hard to bite one's tongue when the military is presented as the oppressor or the bad guy. Yes, military people perpetrate crimes, but in my experience, those are the exceptions. With people like the Taliban respresentatives in this story, it is the rule, not the exception.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

BYU Football post Utah game

Had a friend send me a link to a funny, yet kinda creepy, fan response to the BYU loss to Utah- I was wondering if it was perhaps a Utah fan reveling in the suffering of BYU fans. Just up front, I don't think Hitler is funny, nor do I wish to minimize the atrocities committed under his direction. The clip does highlight the intensity of feeling that some BYU and UofU fans experience in the rivalry, however. I'm not quite at that level- even have some ambivalence to the whole glorification of sport.

In reaction to some of the complaints about BYU football in the vidoe, my personal opinion is that BYU football has had a great year, despite the 2 in-conference losses, and regardless of the outcome of the bowl game. It is a high standard they are now held to, which speaks to the success Bronco Mendenhall has driven. They've had some great finishes to close games, and even with the recent loss to U of U, if I'm not mistaken, BYU had won the last two games between these in-state rivals.

For those who bothered to check the clip, hope you got a laugh out of it, no offense intended to anyone.

First Christmas post

Got a nice link sent to me from one of my old schools, BYU, which I really enjoyed hearing over headphones- made the music stand out much better than the regular computer speakers-

Some music and photos with a positive Christmas vibe.


A friend sent out a broadcast e-mail with the news- I appreciated it, because I would have otherwise missed news that was more relevant to me in my previous life as a psychology professor....

From the NY Times,
H. M., an Unforgettable Amnesiac, Dies at 82

Oh, I forgot- I'm still a psychology professor- adjunct, anyway. Go, UMUC!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

e-mailed cat and dog humor


Day number 180

Day number 181


DAY 752 - My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while I am forced to eat dry cereal. The only thing that keeps me going is the hope of escape, and the mild satisfaction I get from ruining the occasional piece of furniture. Tomorrow I may eat another houseplant.

DAY 761 - Today my attempt to kill my captors by weaving around their feet while they were walking almost succeeded, must try this at the top of the stairs. In an attempt to disgust and repulse these vile oppressors, I once again induced myself to vomit on their favorite chair ... must try this on their bed.

DAY 765 - Decapitated a mouse and brought them the headless body, in attempt to make them aware of what I am capable of, and to try to strike fear into their hearts. They only cooed and condescended about what a good little cat I was...Hmmm. Not working according to plan.

DAY 768 - I am finally aware of how sadistic they are. For no good reason I was chosen for the water torture. This time however it included a burning foamy chemical called "shampoo." What sick minds could invent such a liquid. My only consolation is the piece of thumb still stuck between my teeth.

DAY 771 - There was some sort of gathering of their accomplices. I was placed in solitary throughout the event. However, I could hear the noise and smell the food. More importantly I overheard that my confinement was due to MY power of "allergies." Must learn what this is and how to use it to my advantage.

DAY 774 - I am convinced the other captives are flunkies and maybe snitches. The dog is routinely released and seems more than happy to return. He is obviously a half-wit. The bird on the other hand has got to be an informant, and speaks with them regularly. I am certain he reports my every move. Due to his current placement in the metal room his safety is assured. But I can wait, it is only a matter of time...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Veteran's Day

This past Tuesday was the first one where I was able to think of being a veteran without the immediate concerns of actually being in theatre. It was good. Regular day at work, except that my picture was on the company's intranet front page- so the 10 people who know me there gave me fist bumps. In the evening was a 3 minute speaker at a Scout Eagle court of honor. Wore my ACUs, chatted with a retired Marine who was presenting a service award, and even got a brief bit of applause at the end of my comments- hopefully not just cheering that they were over.

I'm genuinely proud to count myself among these brothers and sisters in arms.

A friend sent me a link to some very well done photos of Korengal valley in Afghanistan. As I mentioned to him- I see such photos with a completely new set of eyes after the past 2 years.

And a good set of slides from a commercial site.

A French kid telling fairy tales is cute

I have another friend (I think I'm up to two or three friends now...) who works with computers and internetty kinds of things. He will occasionally forward me various oddities from his surfing.

Today he blessed me with a video clip of a little French girl telling some fanciful home-made fairy tale. We both served missions in France, but I don't recall this little girl from our time there. She's quite the little entertainer.

Tolerance and protesting

I've addressed the curiosity of violent peace protestors before, and just had someone send me to a link of a press release from a Catholic leader on behalf of the Mormons in California.

Catholic Bishop Decries Religious Bigotry Against Mormons

There's something odd about protesting intolerance in an intolerant way. People can be fascinating self-contradictions sometimes.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Buying appliances

Apparently Lowe's has been doing a good job selling appliances.

Reminds me of one of the Bryan Regan jokes I've seen where he talks about selling appliances.

He mimics a guy standing next to a refrigerator. "This one keeps your food cold for $400." Then he mimics walking over and leaning on another. "Come on over here. This one will keep your food cold for $600." And then he walks over to another, "And this baby right here? Keeps your food cold for $800." Bryan's such the master of upselling.

And it has been a while since I saluted All of the stuff just makes me laugh. It is the perfect complement to The Office in terms of spoofing some of the mistakes we make in business environments. Painfully funny.


As Veteran's Day approached, I was contacted by an old friend who initially had gotten to know me while he worked as a reporter and I served my tour in Iraq.

We chatted online a bit about the elections for part of a blog story he did. I'm pretty happy the elections are over primarily because I found all the negative campaigning fatiguing. When I write about the negative campaigning, I'm not talking about one candidate ripping the other, but rather the habit all the candidates have of trying to make the case that they have solutions- to all the incredibly awful problems that we face. Not to belittle any of the many large and important problems we have, but frankly, our lives in America are pretty good.

Free elections, peacefully held, with leadership that at least to a degree yields to the rule of law and steps down when the vote dictates a different direction. That is outstanding.

I would be intrigued by a candidate that had a primarily positive campaign, something like "yeah, we've got some problems, but for the most part, life is great in America- I want to keep all of that greatness, and I've got a few ideas that will help our great country be even greater."

Other ways my life has been particularly blessed recently- some great church meetings yesterday. A fabulous (but cold) bike trip with Nathan's scout group on Friday and Saturday up in Damascus, Virginia- 50 miles of fun riding down the mountains alongside a stream/river. The fall foliage was maybe a month or so past prime viewing time, but it was still quite spectacular. And we even saw gas prices below $2 up there. That was a spectacular view as well.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


When I decided on the career shift into corporate America, one of the options I had given my background was marketing. One of the early 1900's extremely successful marketers is well-known to psychologists for his work in behaviorism. J.B. Watson is perhaps most well-known outside of psychology for something that isn't really linked to his name, but was his concept: the coffee break.

Anyway, I decided against marketing for a variety of reasons, but one of them was the feeling that sometimes the messages put out by marketing have very little fact behind them or are at best misleading. And let there be no doubt, it is about influence. Three words: buy our product(s). Sometimes it is a hard sell, sometimes not. But that is the intent.

One of the companies we were exposed to during the MBA program was a master at marketing, Nike. They had one of their marketing leaders spend some time with us sharing some of their more successful efforts, and he reveled in the moment in a golf tournament where their golf ball, putted by Tiger Woods at a critical moment in a high profile match, paused just at the lip of the cup, with the "swoosh" Nike symbol centered almost perfectly for the camera shot, then dropped into the cup, with the usual Tiger flair and celebration following. It was an awesome golf shot, and Nike got to put their swoosh all over it.

Many sports junkies might think it would be a blast to work for a sports gear company (I heard that one of our peers from an earlier class refused all job offers except from one specific golf gear company- which didn't offer, so as far as I know he remains jobless to the day). I believe ESPN has no problem staffing their Bristol offices with eager interns. My wife has always thought I should be a sportscaster, because I say all the inane and clearly evident things just seconds ahead of the sportscasters whenever I watch a sporting event.

I digress, point being, I checked out Nike just a bit, just as I did a bit of homework on almost any company coming through the MBA program for show and tell, and learned more about how they market the brand and work to protect it.

One of the things I learned was that they do think Wal-Mart is bad for their brand image, so the work-around at the time was they sold the same products under a different, acquired brand, Starter, which they divested themselves of, I believe, earlier this year. A "moisture-wicking" shirt is essentially the same whether it sports a swoosh or a starter logo. They didn't want to miss out on the revenue stream, even if it is one at a lower margin- simply wanting to keep as much market share across the price continuum, if you will.

So it was amusing to me to see this headline a bit ago:
Nike hits Wal-Mart with copycat suit.

Marketing: perception and reality. Or at least perception.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Lowe's supports the troops

That was the subject line of an e-mail I got today from a friend on the left coast. Part of my MBA cohort at BYU, Amazon snatched our fearless class president off of the job market, but he still keeps in touch. That is nice of him to keep the little people in mind even after we leave the confines of our sanctuary in Utah Valley.

Anyway, what apparently prompted the e-mail was a recent shopping experience he had at my one of my company's brick and mortar stores- and thankfully, he wasn't complaining- he'd simply noticed they had an interesting way of showing their support for the troops....

In case you can't read the small print, Allan realized he was shopping at the "Home Improvement War House"

To celebrate the event, I'm going to spend this weekend wearing my Army Combat Uniform as I go to look for a new unit in the Charlotte area. I go, beret in hand, looking for jobs, interviewing with local units with my 3 last Army job evaluations in hand. OK, I was going to do that anyway, but what a happy confluence of events. I feel more confident carrying that beret around, knowing that I speak French. That's got to be worth something to somebody. Probably not in Charlotte, NC, though.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

And on the 7th day, He rested. On the 7th day, they created panic.

On the Seventh Day, They Worked, Amid Finance Crisis (Update1)
By Oshrat Carmiel and Demian McLean

Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Sunday is the new Monday.

Beyond the obvious 'keeping the Sabbath day holy' issue, I wonder if all the weekend wheeling and dealing hasn't to a degree heightened the sense of crisis in this current economic spectacle. What would have been different if 'all the king's men' worked on this just on weekdays, and stopped for a day or two over the weekend?

Given that we're told all of the "fixes" will take time, what is the rush to blow up the weekends? (I have to say I'm with the French and most Europeans on this 'work less' philosophy. Take some time to smell the wine and cut the cheese....wait a second...)

How would things play out if the government and big players in all this limited their big policy moves and decisions to Tues thru Thurs, leaving Fri and Mon to plan and react, and Sat and Sun to let people live their lives outside of work- and for some, worship properly? I can't help but think it might have signaled that there were serious problems, but that the sky wasn't falling. With how things have been going, could one argue that delaying all the Sunday dealing to Monday would have caused things to be much worse?

More on fiscal management- what's a trillion here or there?

I've been having lots of conversations with family, friends and coworkers about debt. No surprise, given the current economic situation.

Leverage is a term that I've found ridiculously overused at work- I'm in talent management, not finance. It reminds me of the good old days in the MBA program when we'd play buzzword bingo, and sometimes, even the professor would play along. Good times had by all. Good times. My fervent hope is that someday people will decide that the term leverage should only be used in financial-speak to take the edge off the term "debt", or in physics and engineering to talk about physical levers, like in explaining the principles of balance scales, wheelbarrows, and teeter-totters. But alas, I fear my hope will be in vain.

Anyway..... here's another great "leverage" article. I still can't wrap my head around $53,000,000,000,000. I know it is a lot of money, I just can't really figure out how much that is.

Commentary: America's $53 trillion debt problem

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Less effective talent management techniques

Way back, waaaaaay back, when I was training to be a missionary for the church, we would go through examples of "effective" and "less effective" behaviors or discussion techniques.

Some of the 'less effective' examples were painfully funny- written examples, audio clips, etc. You would think sometimes, 'no one would actually say or do this', and then during my mission I came to realize that, well, they wouldn't put those examples in their training if they weren't happening. Sometimes I had to make sure I didn't laugh out loud in the middle of discussions when I saw these things play out.

In any case, I came across an example this week- not in person, but in the media, of 'less effective' talent management, that I thought was also painfully funny, excepting the fact that when it happens in government situations, our taxes are paying for the follies.

From the Washington Post, some great work from the NIH.

Various media links- economics and the bail-out- sales pitches and pork

I liked this article because it provided a rational explanation for the public's initial (and for some, enduring) dislike for the bail-out package:

These next two are a couple of reactions to the pork issues (or as some liked to call them, "sweeteners") related to the bill the Senate passed and pushed back to the House. I'm thinking I should have invested earlier in wooden arrows for children.

And I'd like to have the names of the senators who are responsible for inserting those clearly pork projects into the bill. These types of actions are why military folks bristle when they perceive that political figures are even close to questioning the honor, integrity, or political motivations of military leaders. We complained when we saw this type of behavior in Iraq, but sometimes I feel we are not so different as we think.

Against political correctness

During my year in Iraq, I spent a great deal of time with people from a variety of english-speaking countries who were contracted to provide security training to the National Police we were training.

I came to more fully understand some of the cultural differences in the various countries of origination for these various expatriates.

Very quickly along the way I realized that Australians as a whole (not just the tough guys at our Training Center) tend to have a bit of disdain for political correctness. Here's a humorous example linked to Usain Bolt's crushing victories at the recent summer Olympics events in China.

Thanks, Justin M., for sending that my way a bit ago. I came across it again as I sifted through my collection of silly media, and enjoyed it just as much this second time.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sports Junkie Notes

Past couple of weeks had some good sports moments-

childhood favorite college football team, Alabama, clobbered Georgia

BYU continues to impress, now up to #8 in the football polls

Jimmie Johnson, Lowe's #48, wins 3rd race in the Sprint "race to the chase", and is now in first place- 7 races to go.

That's about it, but those are some pretty good ones for me, anyway.

Odds n Ends

It has been an interesting month in my new job and with things happening around us- two big things happening locally being One: Wachovia getting essentially wiped out- technically not a failure, but practically, well, lots of folks in Charlotte are going to be looking for jobs. Two: gas shortage- hard to tell how much of it is just not much gas, and how much of it is the hysteria and people overdoing it on making sure they have gas. Another advantage to being so close to work- I shouldn't need any more fuel until this thing gets sorted out.

Anyway, in the sports columnist world, Bill Simmons continues to entertain me. I especially liked the "pickup game rules" for the NBA All-Star game.

And a couple of postings related to the bailout (in case the other billions of bloggers' postings on this haven't slaked your thirst)....

From Time magazine online:

How We Became the United States of France

And another Time online piece:

Let Risk-Taking Financial Institutions Fail

I don't necessarily agree with all the opinions, but I think there are some parts of this whole thing that are a bit odd, for example, the "economists against the bailout" get no play or airtime, rather the opposition is framed as "a populist uprising". Could it be that the American public isn't deluded, and in fact is accurately perceiving this bailout effort as benefitting the financiers to the detriment of the public at large? Is it not also significant that the opposition in the House is "bipartisan"? Sure, one can argue those who are afraid of not getting reelected opposed it and those that are confident of reelection voted for it, but how often do we get "bipartisan" anymore in anything of importance?

Friday, September 26, 2008

I'm a bit callous.

So today I saw the following headline on a news website:

"$2 ping-pong ball saves tot during surgery"

And my initial reaction?

"Wow- I had no idea ping pong balls were so expensive!!!"

I'm barely human.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Noise complaints and the military

Someone forwarded me a note recently that reminded me of the uneasy tension that sometimes oddly exists between the military and the population we believe we protect and defend.

I saw something similar in Utah. the National Guard's primary training area, Camp Williams, is near the "point of the mountain" a spot roughly halfway between Salt Lake City and Provo. It is a large expanse of training area, but also is fairly conveniently located given the population bases around it. That being said, for quite a long time, it was relatively isolated from people and other stuff. Which meant no problems for artillery practice, helicopters and other fairly noisy activities that we sometimes engage in. I know I have some fond memories of training with explosives as a combat engineer- when you're just training, blowing things up can be immensely entertaining.
A representative of the "noisemakers"

Well, as the population of the state kept rising, developers starting building closer and closer to Camp Williams, and inevitably I guess, the residents of a development just adjacent to the training area started complaining about the noise, and since then Camp Williams has started setting rules as to when and how much various types of activities can be done, explicitly due to these noise complaints. The obvious sarcastic response- did you not notice the military base next to you when you were looking at purchasing a home just next door? The military vehicles, barbed wire, and artillery not tip you off?

Anyway, here's the e-mail:

Luke AFB is west of Phoenix and is rapidly being surrounded by civilization that complains about the noise from the base and its planes, forgetting that it was there long before they were.

An individual who lives somewhere near Luke AFB wrote the local paper complaining about a group of F-16s that disturbed his/her day at the mall. When that individual read the response from a Luke AFB officer, it must have stung quite a bit.

The complaint: 'Question of the day for Luke Air Force Base:

Whom do we thank for the morning air show? Last Wednesday, at precisely 9:11 a.m, a tight formation of four F-16 jets made a low pass over Arrowhead Mall, continuing west over Bell Road at approximately 500 feet.

Imagine our good fortune! Do the Tom Cruise-wannabes feel we need this wake-up call, or were they trying to impress the cashiers at Mervyns ' early bird special? Any response would be appreciated. '

The response:

Regarding a wake-up call from Luke's jets' (Letters, Thursday): On June 15, at precisely 9:12 a.m., a perfectly timed four-ship fly by of F-16s from the 63rd Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base flew over the grave of Capt. Jeremy Fresques. Capt. Fresques was an Air Force officer who was previously stationed at Luke Air Force Base and was killed in Iraq on May 30, Memorial Day.

At 9 a.m.on June 15, his family and friends gathered at Sunland Memorial Park in Sun City to mourn the loss of a husband, son and friend. Based on the letter writer's recount of the fly by, and because of the jet noise, I'm sure you didn't hear the 21-gun salute, the playing of taps, or my words to the widow and parents of Capt. Fresques as I gave them their son's flag on behalf of the President of the United States and all those veterans and servicemen and women who understand the sacrifices they have endured.

A four-ship fly by is a display of respect the Air Force gives to those who give their lives in defense of freedom. We are professional aviators and take our jobs seriously, and on June 15 what the letter writer witnessed was four officers lining up to pay their ultimate respects. The letter writer asks, 'Whom do we thank for the morning air show? ' The 56th Fighter Wing will make the call for you, and forward your thanks to the widow and parents of Capt. Fresques, and thank them for you, for it was in their honor that my pilots flew the most honorable formation of their lives.


Lt. Col. Grant L. Rosensteel, Jr. USAF

As far as the four ship formation, it probably looked something like this:

The missing man formation

An addendum to that post... my sister sent me a link that linked again to a youtube video:

I don't know Kim Komando, but I appreciated the Lizzie Palmer video showing appreciation for the sacrifices folks in the military make. I am truly proud of the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of my brothers and sisters in the military who have been serving repeated deployments around the world. Some might criticize this video as overly dramatic, but I'd suggest they haven't "been there" and should tread lightly.

Thanks, Beth.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Not a bad sports weekend

While the Yankees have flamed out, I wanted to take a moment to share my happiness over last weekend's BYU football victory and #48's dominant NASCAR victory in California.

It may fairly be said that BYU was piling on. Here's photographic evidence.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Road trip summer 08- Third time's a charm, or at least, the last time

Got back this past week from a couple of days in Williamsburg and then a few more in Kitty Hawk, NC with the family. Not great distances, but long drives given various speed limits and the added challenges of children in cars for hours on end. Nobody peed their pants or threw up in the car, so we'll call it good. The children did ok, too!

Elise and Lucas with appropriate charges in the stockade.

Our Williamsburg trip was primarily for Busch Gardens- we got free tickets to go there a few years ago because of our military background (they call it the "Salute to Heros") which was a great experience. Our children have pined to return frequently since then, and so we took advantage of another window of opportunity and more Salute to Heros free tickets. Woo-hoo!

Escape from Pompeii, with my group in the front row....

It was warm there, not too hot, not too crowded and the children did pretty well, which made the free admission that much more enjoyable. I have to say I'm impressed with the children's amusement park visits this summer.

The big-bellied bird man of Busch Gardens....

We stayed at a time share place for a discount so they could talk about selling us a place- or rather time at a place. I'm still not quite understanding how a time share isn't more like a fancy rental than it is "ownership", but that's another blog. In any case, when my parents own a number of these time shares that are "deedable", we don't need to buy any more.

Which leads us out to Kitty Hawk, for an extended family reunion with the Tucker clan at, u guessed it, a time share! My parents collected and used a number of their time share allocations and got a number of units, which was a good thing as we had up to 30 people together there at our peak time on Saturday.

That's all 30 of us- some of the grandchildren we're not quite team players- the result of taking pictures in the late afternoon when they needed naps.

My youngest brother indicated it was some crazy amount of time since we'd had the "whole" family together (parents, all 6 Tucker children, spouses and grandchildren)- something like 8 or 11 years. So that was nice. We enjoyed a number of activities- days at the beach, some at the pool, just hanging out at Grandma and Grandpa's unit, one evening we did a family talent show, another we looked at old photos on somebody's laptop. I think I need to invest in a laptop projector....

The original gang of six, yukking it up at our little beach photo session.

Some of the grandchildren doing the photo op at the beach.

We also hit the Currituck Lighthouse, with views of the sound on the west and the Atlantic on the east...

From the top of the lighthouse.

And the Wright Brothers monument, museum, etc.

My big-headed space children, celebrating the progression of flight since the Wright bro.'s day...

Andrea has done a great job of blogging all this already- she had easier internet access at Kitty Hawk due to their unit's proximity to the admin office of the resort, which provided wireless access. That, and she's just dang good at blogging about family activities in general.

In any case, a nice break with family, and now we're back home- I think my family has spent more time vacationing since we got here than we've spent in our house. But we're home again, my accomplishment yesterday being clearing boxes out of the garage enough that we have both cars inside the garage. Woo-hoo!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

NC DMV- Driving's a privilege- one worth waiting for!

If ever anyone accuses the state of North Carolina of a lack of productivity, I have one potential solution- fully staff the DMV centers where driver's permits are issued, renewed, etc. I saw about 100 man hours of labor wasted as folks sat and stood for hours waiting for a process that takes minutes per person. The license plate issue and vehicle registration is contracted out, and is quick and easy. Yesterday, after acquiring the necessary documentation, I made both trips, for an interesting contrast.

You know you're in for it when you have to wait 5 minutes just to get the numbered ticket to wait.

And then I waited for almost 2 hours. During that time, I read through the driver's test booklet (had to take the test, and passed... woo-hoo!).

Most interesting driving rule in North Carolina, one I've never observed in action despite plenty of time in the state: when passing on a two-lane road, after checking that the path is clear from oncoming traffic and signaling with your blinkers, you apparently also notify the slower vehicle to your front of your intentions by "blowing your horn"! As my wife noted with a giggle, you do that around her neighborhood, they pull a gun on you. And in most places we've lived, you use the horn mostly to say "hi" to folks. Now, we'll have to remember it means "hi, we're passing you!" Of course, given how I've never seen this happen, I don't think anyone will have any clue why we're honking.

Anyway, here are a few other observations about my extended visit to the DMV. The wait was pretty much standard- my wife had to do the same thing later in the day while I watched the kids. Some poor folks at the DMV had to wait with their children in tow. Not a great place to entertain infants. The workers had to deal a number of times with the waiting clients- "stand behind the rope, please, this is a testing area"- I think I heard that about once every five minutes- because the waiting area was pretty much full, and so people were spilling out to the outside as well as into the testing area.

One guy was borderline "postal"- he made the mistake of leaving and coming back because one of the employees had estimated a 2 hour wait and he missed his turn (his ticket was called and he was not there- go to the end of the line!!!!). That was fun to watch- that is one of the benefits of my lack of empathy- things like this can be immensely entertaining.

I thought a few times about a phrase that I'll butcher from my organizational behavior training- something to the effect that "an organization is perfectly designed to achieve the results it gets." Here are a few of the design elements that result in this DMV experience:

1. Not enough workers, especially to allow specialization- the same people were having to check people in, answer phones, do the documenting, and testing. When I finally got to the back area I observed employees working very hard- so it is not a question of them sitting on their hands....

2. There's something unsettling about waiting for almost two hours to be seen for something that takes less than 15 minutes total, and getting interrupted while your traffic officer answers the phone over 5 times giving directions to the DMV and answering other related questions. It screams "you are the least important person in the room!" (as well as "this is why it took almost 2 hours to get to you")- always a customer service winner! They need to get one of those incredibly annoying answering systems with the menu...for directions press 1, for required documents for initial permits press 2... etc. They could then get a head start on disturbing clients who make the mistake of calling, and not have to interrupt their work.

3. Physical layouts matter. The waiting room area is adjacent to the area where the officers have their desks, you do your testing, etc. But there's a large wall which obscures the view from one area to the other.

3a. Effects to employees: So on one side, the understaffed group works continuously, but can't see the waiting hopeful drivers to be. But they know we're out there, and to a degree they know we've all been waiting a long time (someone asked one of the officers if they should come back at a better time, to which the officer responded, "Lady, it is always like this...."). This waiting has an understandable effect on our moods, and their eager anticipation to meet us.

3b. Effects to "clients": we can't see them working, we see little progress as only from time to time is someone released from our Dante's ring of waiting in DMV purgatory, while the huddled masses curse our fate. We just sit and stew. This is the perfect storm and if anyone ever goes postal in Mooresville, I expect it to be here (or at one of the NASCAR garages- racing fanaticism knows no bounds here). On the bright side, the long wait gives plenty of time to study that DMV testing book, and the wall leaves privacy- you can study in seclusion with the other 30 people in a waiting area designed for 15!

My wife, much more social than I, took the opportunity to visit her fellows in waiting. She discovered that this is actually one of the better DMV locations- they actually have chairs in the waiting area, and given their pristine reputation, folks travel from afar to come get the customer service that we have the privilege of enjoying here in Mooresville. How 'bout that!? We're so blessed in Mooresville!

HONK! HONK! I'm passing!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

First week, first house.

New experiences, some pleasant, some not so pleasant.

Good neighbors on both sides, with children for ours to play with.

A third of an acre doesn't seem like much- until you try to mow it, in N.C. in early August. I did a lot of sweating. My first mowing of my own lawn. With my first lawnmower. Woo-hoo!

The movers did a pretty good job with our stuff, just a few problems- but we couldn't have them unpack everything because we don't have the drawers, shelves, etc on which to place all the stuff. We've got lots of stuff, but very little furniture beyond beds. But beds are good to have, we'll work on the rest bit by bit.

Given all that stuff, glad we got the bigger house, even though our neighbors are very close.

Fire ants. Ants in pants. Ouch. Thankfully, I'm the only one that has gotten to experience them in a personal way. We seem to have cleared up the issue with a visit by an exterminator. I was frustrated that I paid for a pest inspection, only to hear after we discover the fire ants that the only pests they care about are termites and other wood-destroying types. So the investments in the home continue.....

Everyone addresses us as sir and ma'am. Being a Virginia boy, and a military officer for about 14 years now, I'm accustomed to it. It is a southern thing. But it kinda wigs Christine out. Apparently Californians saying "ma'am" are being sarcastic, so she'll have to adjust to the southern hospitality.

Speaking of southern, as I was at Lowe's buying my mower, the associate helping me was wearing a Lowe's 48 car baseball cap, so we talked about JJ getting the pole this weekend at Pocono. After the Brickyard win last week, he seems to have figured things out. We'll see. NASCAR. It's fan-tastic! (or something like that).

After that discussion and a lot of time working on the yard- no shade, I'm now declaring myself a redneck. Because my neck is red.

Lowe's corporate is huge and getting "huge-er". They've built massively during the two years I was gone- they'll bring in corporate employees that are currently up in Wilkesboro and other locations nearby in Mooresville once the building is complete- but there will still be room for more folks in those massive buildings.

Adjusting to high humidity- any time outside and I get soaking wet with sweat. And we have frequent afternoon thunderstorms. I kinda like the t-storms. Hopefully it will keep our grass happy- the parts of the lawn that aren't just clay, anyway.

Proud accomplishments this week- figuring out how to program the door code and remotes for the garage, fixing the beeping fire alarms, and keeping the family from getting bitten by fire ants. I'm a simple man.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Road Trip Take 2

Left on Pioneer Day in Utah, 24 July, to get the van out to North Carolina- the move is in process.

This time it was just me and the road. 2,000 miles, 2 days. My ego gets involved and I just have to push as hard as I can. So I go 300 miles at a pop, then stop briefly for fuel, toilet, food at drive-thru and press on. Got to western edge of Missouri on Day One, about 950 miles that day. Learned that the locals call it Missoura. Then did the remainder on Friday.

A few meaningless observations:

a) Nebraska had about 100 miles of interstate at one lane for road work. But no road work was being done. Maybe they were also celebrating Utah's pioneer day. Similarly, everywhere that the interstates went down to one lane for road work, there was no work being done- until I hit North Carolina. That's got to be some kind of record for miles of fake road work.

b) Missouri in my estimation for Friday morning should have been renamed Miserable- just for that day, though. My birth state was being rained on my entire drive. And bless you, Mr. Tractor Trailer Trucker That Stayed in the Passing Lane for 25 Miles in Mid-Missouri Trailing Rain Spray So No One Can See or Pass.

c) On a related note, people still send me crazy political e-mails bashing Obama with all manner of falsehoods. I thought about starting a chain mail reflecting my driving experience:

"Left lane is the passing lane. If you are going slower in the passing lane than people in the right lane, you should pull over. Likewise, if there is someone approaching behind you in the left lane, or has been following you for miles flashing his lights, you should move to the right lane." I'll have it translated into every possible language, then add the disclaimer at the end where you have to forward the e-mail to 20 other people or you'll catch the plague, or at least be stricken by scurvy.

I know this sounds drastic or extreme, but the signs by the side of the road which state "slower traffic stay right" are clearly NOT getting it done. This is exactly what grassroots movements are for, no?

d) Caffeine works.

e) Countryside during the drive was beautiful- everywhere, even though the terrain, flora and fauna varied widely. We live in a great land.

f) Bring large quantities 9 volt batteries for all the fire alarms buzzing "low battery" in your new home, or it will be hard to sleep when you get there, exhausted after your crazy driving.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

To Dell and Back Again

Day One, shiny happy people at the flag pole. Guy on left, troop friend Jordan, is wearing a Yoda backpack. We thrive on eccentricity in scouts, apparently.

2 weeks ago now, I spent the week at Maple Dell Scout Camp in the mountains near Payson Utah with my son and his scout troop. As I told all the scouts of our troop (and one honorary member from a fellow troop), it was the best scout camp I'd been to in 24 years or so.

The astute scouters among them quickly realized it was the only one I'd been to in that period of time, but it was still a true statement.

Of note during the trip:

The weather was outstanding- did get warm during the days, but the evenings were pleasantly cool, and no rain, so it could not have been any better.

I had some proud "Dad" moments watching my boy overcome some challenges, the biggest being the swim test on the first day. He had to come back later in the day and try it again, and it wore him out, but he did it. I had to take the same test later that day, and was proud of myself- I stink at swimming, and I'm in lousy shape, but I got through it, too. There were a few other moments where I got to see Nathan work his way through difficulties and I was glad that I had that opportunity.

Not really a difficulty here- stringing a bow on his way to the Archery Merit Badge.

We laughed, their expense.

Boys unintentionally and repeatedly swamping their own canoes when they're trying to win a race is funny- even when it is your own son that is part of the unfortunate tandem.

Scout boys, while better than your average bears, aren't quite the disciplined "bivouac" types that I've grown accustomed to with some of my military experiences.
But they aren't bad cooks... just messy.

Among the more negative parts of that lack of discipline, watching them throw trash on the ground, leave trash around, and then have the adults have to browbeat them to clean it up- sheesh- just don't throw stuff on the ground in the first place, and save all the trouble.

Among the more amusing parts of that was related to the bovine camp population. Apparently Maple Dell has an agreement with some cattle ranchers in the area permitting their cows to roam and graze freely through the grounds every 3 years or so. This was one of those years. So along with the frequent deer running through camp, we also had cows. It was a funny sight from time to time to see a cow running down a path with wild-eyed scouts chasing behind it hooting and hollering. The adults also were halfway hoping to see a Pamplona-style reversal of fortune, with the cows in pursuit of scouts, but alas, it was not to be.

A skit! A skit! Its time to watch a skit, hey!

I still think I'm too cool for the silly skits, yells, and other nonsense that goes on at these camps. But I did them all at full voice and energy for a few reasons to include: 1. to work to keep the enthusiasm up of the scouts- they didn't need to see apathetic parents at their camp (even if we were)..2. I had nothing else to do, really... and last but not least, 3. I would have been in serious hot water with my sweetie if she heard I went up there and refused to "play the game". ;-)

I have a newfound appreciation for the work that others have done in scouting to include my old scoutmasters and my MBA buddy Cameron. Service. Not a lot of reward.
Nathan learns to shoot a bow and arrow. So he can improve his "bow hunting skillz". Gosh!

What goes around comes around. Our crew of boys had their share of the types of kids just as we were in my group of friends as we went through scouts oh so many years ago. Our gang of six was notoriously difficult given our beliefs that we knew it all. Here was some of the payback, I guess.
Who are you calling surly? We're tough, not surly!

Lastly, it is hard to get much done back home- like closing on a house purchase in North Carolina- when you don't have access to phone, internet technology, etc. But that's ok- I enjoyed lots of quiet time when the boys were off working on merit badges and the like. Great to read without the interruptions of technology.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sports commentary

Another shout out to an old mission friend, who keeps up an interesting take on sports from an academician's point of view- he shares some of my ambivalence about the roles sports play for us. Good work, Corry!

Also, a couple of other writers/satirists/sports junkies that amuse me no end: Bill Simmons on ESPN's web site (I put his widget on my I-google!), and Pete McEntegart on CNN/Sports Illustrated's.

My favorite sports posting of today was an article about Gilbert Arenas accepting a less than max contract from the Washington Wizards. He may be crazy, but he understands he's an entertainer, and he understands that there's no practical difference between $110 million and $125 million or so in terms of personal income- it is all ego at that point. Kudos to him. Or as he'd say, "HIBACHI!!!!!"

9 days, 1500 miles- Family Road Trip

20 miles to the gallon- 5 bucks a gallon- $1 per 4 miles- $.25 a mile! Woo-hoo!

Research supports the maxim that "Money doesn't buy happiness." (at least once one gets over a minimum poverty threshold- one that I've been blessed never to approach). To the contrary, knowing that in our particularly blessed situation that money is a commodity easily made, won, lost, etc- and a willingness to give it up for the (family) team made things a lot easier during these past 10 days.

First stop, Oceanside, California- a few days at the beach with temperatures in the 70s, fairly pleasant. A movie (our then 2 year old called the movie "Poo Panda"- those of you with kids can figure out which Jack Black animation this is), a few trips to chow at The Souplantation.... and the announcement that will be made frequently in this post... military discounts rock! Feed a family of 6 all you can eat for less than $35 at a good restaurant!

Squirrel-festa-palooza at park by beach at Oceanside- easily 100 squirrels burrowed in the hillside. One or more posts sentry, the others will come down and eat from your hands if there are no dogs around to spook them.

Was interesting to see all the Marines everywhere with the nearby Camp Pendleton. Wondered how many of them have been to Iraq or other combat areas, and what missions they completed. Wondered how they are doing inside themselves- they, much more than the Army guys, remind me of the Spartans of "300". Warriors, what is your profession? Grunt, grunt, grunt. Not to say that I haven't met some tremendous warriors among my comrades in army green, but the Marines seem much more stoic about it all to me.

Our 4 yahoos at the aquarium.

A day at the UCSD/Scripps-La Jolla aquarium with an old friend of Christine's and her children (friendship is old, not the friend!) was also decent despite the inevitable moments of our losing children. Before one judges our lousy parenting, I want to point out that our 2 youngest, being comfortable being ignored by distracted parents, have no fear and wander at will- and there's a lot of will at such an interesting place. And we left the place with as many children as we brought, and as a bonus, they were all the same children. Another place with what I thought were reasonable admission fees, by the way, with or without military discount.

Christine and Michelle at aquarium.

Then up for a few days in La Mirada/Los Angeles area- church at Christine's old ward, they all still love her. A day at Knott's Berry Farm- theme/amusement park near her parents' home there in La Mirada, a day relaxing/recovering from theme park day and celebrating Malia's 3rd birthday in laid back style- frosted cupcakes and a song, woo-hoo!, and then back to Provo.

Knott's Berry Farm gave us a military discount of almost 40% off! So instead of $210 admission for the family, it got down to $130. We ended up spending about 200 with parking, $5 snow cones and whatnot, but that is better than spending $300 or more any day. So again, the military discounts rock!

Camp Snoopy entrance at Knott's Berry Farm

Some other great things about the Knott's visit- weather was not too bad- a bit warm, but not oppressive- and there were not large crowds, so lines at rides were for the most part very short. In fact, late in the evening, you could just stay on rides repeatedly, because there were only 5 of you getting on a ride that could seat 30 or so! Lucas was tall enough to get on most of the crazy rides, which delighted him- I think he was trying to kill me on the Ghost Rider- a wooden roller coaster that rattles and rattles until I felt my bones starting to crack. A 5 year old with a sadistic streak. Probably wasn't great for his little brain either. Bad! Bad parenting!

A little insider knowledge here- Christine grew up going to this place, so she knows the "old school" stuff- like this grave on which, if you stand, you can feel the guy's heart still beating- I'm guessing most visitors to the Knott's park here never find or visit this little cemetery area with a couple of tricks like this.

Excepting Malia's usual "I need a nap" tantrums, the children were pretty well-behaved on the Knott's visit- which is good for someone like me. Let me explain. I'm not a big fan of theme parks- spend lots of money to stand in lines, sweat a lot, have kids complain about what they don't get/like out of it, etc. OK, "not a big fan" is an understatement. I don't like crowds and I hate lines in general, and paying for it, well, that doesn't make much sense to me. In my fantasy world, I should get paid for those things, not give money to others for such privileges. I'm still figuring out how to bill my children. Anyway, getting back to being positive, this ranked up there as one of our top 2 amusement park visits.

The other great visit was the free visit to Busch Gardens (BG) a few years back- as part of their "military heros salute" or something like that label. They've scaled it back- we'll hit BG again next month- but only 4 of our six family members will be free with a military promotion- but still- that's great, and I appreciate it. What made our visit there great beyond the price was that again, the children weren't as challenging as they could have been, and lines were reasonable. We did get hit with an evening ending downpour at BG, but everyone kept their spirits up given how well things had gone, so the downpour was, in a way, part of the fun- a water ride without the lines, if you will, and cooled us down as it was pretty hot during that trip.

Now, I'm not complaining, mind you, but wouldn't it be something if gas stations offered military discounts? That would have been pretty awesome.

A slight tangent on the road trip post, somewhere between Mesquite and Jean, our rear left taillight cover decided it wanted out of the whole road trip experience, and just fell off somewhere. It didn't do us the courtesy of letting us know, so we were surprised to discover its absence at a gas stop in Jean. If you can picture a Grand Caravan taillight, this is not a small cover. We didn't even get to say goodbye, after all we'd been through over 64k miles or so. I hereby declare my resolution to never buy another Dodge vehicle. Our 5 year old Grand Caravan gets less grand with every day we move beyond the "bumper to bumper" warranty period- random things fall off or break with seemingly programmed regularity, even without the help of an active and young family of 6.

This one apparently stuck around long enough for its owner to get a photo....

For comparison, my Subaru Legacy, now 18 years old and exposed to much trauma, has put the Caravan to shame in terms of needing maintenance. In fact, I'm guessing we'll be replacing the soccer mom van before I realize my dream of replacing the Legacy with that sweet WRX that I've been coveting for years. My Legacy just won't die!

So how's that for a post from a military veteran? Have I gotten out of the uniform and back into the everyday life of a civilian yet? Let me know how I'm doing, or if you're picking up PTSD symptoms that I need to talk with the VA about.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Some thoughts from my easy and comfortable life

Read an op-ed piece this morning that reminded me of the guys back in Iraq. I've also been reminded as I watch the news that Afghanistan is not exactly in a perfect state.

The Man in the Room
by Bob Herbert
New York Times
June 17, 2008

I'd give the chest full of medals back in a heartbeat for anyone like Luis to be able to experience a "normal" life such as mine right now. Likewise, I'd love to get JJ, Hurstie and Umran back to their families, but that won't happen.

I hope that we don't let Luis and his family down in his healthcare and benefits, that he can fight through the inevitable challenges strengthened by his knowledge that he was acting honorably in upholding the oath he made when he enlisted. I hope families like JJ's, Hurstie's and Umran's remember them fondly and have the strength to carry on in their absence.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Various activities since I've been home

Father-son campout.

Nathan and I are bonding wearing our BYU-Hawaii sweatshirt and T-shirt

Family trip to the dinosaur museum- little dinosaur fabricated by an old mission friend and some of his family.
Those are all at a hands-on part of the museum- you create your own water erosion projects, catastrophically destroying the toy dinosaurs, vegetation, etc.

And 3 of our wee beasties on the Cosman creation

The Thanksgiving point farm area- pony rides- woo-hoo!

Climb up to the Y on the mountain behind the Brunner home.

Grandpa wanted a picture of his house- do you see it?

Ok, do you see it now? Its the single family home at the top of the hill-
pretty much centered in the foreground in front of the larger townhomes

Some digging for dinosaurs at the dinosaur museum.

Riding the ponies at the farm

View of Provo from up on the Y

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Fiscal conservatism- dead in the water

While serving in a military that pays obeisance to a civilian leadership and dependent on funding from our legislative branch, I have been in my estimation well-compensated and have no complaints about that. Health care is another issue, however.

Anyway, one thing that I've written about a few times before over the past year is my unhappiness that we've been funding the war with a credit card. Someone has done a better job than I have of articulating this phenomenon:

Billing The Grandkids
By Ruth Marcus
Washington Post
June 11, 2008 Pg. 19

Monday, June 09, 2008

VA Benefits revisited

Someone else was a bit more critical than myself about how the updated GI Bill is getting treated by our executive branch and the department of defense:,15202,169105,00.html?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Househunting and a couple of military-related articles/commentary

First full day of earnest househunting in Mooresville, NC is done. Identified 5 properties we'd be satisfied with, but not overjoyed. Looking forward to another day tomorrow, hopeful that we'll be closer to a "dream home" with viewings then. We'll see. The really good stuff around here is all out of our price range right now. But that's ok. We'll be fine with whatever we decide on. So far, while the process is a lot of work, it hasn't been too painful.

A couple of articles caught my fancy in today's "Early Bird News" digests from the military:

Bipartisan GI Bill Excludes GOP Leadership
(Washington Times)...Sean Lengell
Democratic Sen. Jim Webb outflanked top Republicans by courting veterans groups to create a "21st Century GI Bill," a legislative gambit that has again put GOP lawmakers at odds with President Bush and the party's presumptive presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain.

I have to say I'm not too pleased with McCain on this one. Here's a chance to really provide a great benefit to veterans, and in my opinion, he doesn't take advantage of the opportunity, and I'm not impressed with his professed reasons for sponsoring an alternative to the Webb/Hagel bill.

Why We Went To Iraq
(Wall Street Journal)...
Fouad Ajami
Of all that has been written about the play of things in Iraq, nothing that I have seen approximates the truth of what our ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, recently said of this war: "In the end, how we leave and what we leave behind will be more important than how we came."

I'm still impressed by how little people want to think and talk about Iraq in it's current context- so many want to talk about it as if it is 2003 or even earlier. Let's talk about what's happening now (much good news here), and what is best for the U.S. and for Iraq in the future (much potential for good- let us weigh costs and benefits from this point on- what is in the past is in the past). I thought this article did a nice job.

My two cents, anyway.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Some people don't know what they're talking about.

Michelle Malkin is one of them.

According to Michelle, Rachel's kaffiyeh "for the clueless, is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad.'' And she then criticizes Rachel Ray for the offense of wearing this murderous symbol around her neck.

Of course, there might be another explanation, which is thankfully provided in the story I linked to above:

Amahl Bishara, an anthropology lecturer at the University of Chicago who specializes in media matters relating to the Middle East, said "Kaffiyehs are worn every day on the street by Palestinians and other people in the Middle East - by people going to work, going to school, taking care of their families, and just trying to keep warm."

I'll have to be careful not to wear any of my three kaffiyehs around Michelle.

I like the "for the clueless" part- cheap insults are always great ways to strengthen such well-reasoned and researched opinions.

Here's my try at a parallel article written by a similarly well-reasoned person in the Arab world:

That ad for "The Hookah Shop" should be pulled! The man in the picture is wearing pants. Pants! For the clueless, pants are a type of clothing worn by murderous Americans for years and have come to symbolize all that is wrong with infidels, but have been adopted by local Arabs due to the influence of corrupt fashion designers and Western-loving liberals after being popularized by such people as Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer and the Unabomber.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

First day off of active duty.

Even though I've spent about a month growing a hideous beard, technically, I've been on active duty, using up my accrued leave. Yesterday was my last day of accrued leave.

Which leaves me a civilian, or at least a "warrior-citizen." I'm back in the ranks of regular Army Reservists- known by many as "weekend warriors" even though lately we've seemed to have picked up the pace a bit. That happens when there's plenty of war and not enough active duty types to cover it all. We're cheap labor, and most of us are uncommonly committed for a variety of reasons.

As noted in a post earlier today, I've spent my first day as a civilian ruminating a bit about three friends that I lost in the past year, with tomorrow being Memorial Day.

It is in some ways hard to conceptualize myself as a veteran, but here I am, joining the ranks of many others who have served honorably, many in more difficult and dangerous circumstances than mine were. I feel kind of sheepish in saying it, but I'm proud to number myself among them.

Books I've read

A habit I got into during the deployment was listing books I've read and providing some comments on them.

In my month home, I've gotten to work through a couple more, and so to keep the process going, here goes.

One of the canonical works of the LDS church, I read it as part of a grassroots movement to honor the passing of President Gordon B. Hinckley. My goal was to finish it before I redeployed, and I finished it somewhere during the redeployment process, I forget when.

It reads very differently once one has served in the military in a combat environment. So I gained yet more appreciation for the concept of reading the scriptures frequently and repeatedly. I'm different each time I read, so what I get out of the process is different each time as well.

Pretty self-explanatory, this dummy is boning up on the whole home-buying process, as this summer our family joins the ranks of homeowners. It is about time, no? We put off the process so long (I'm a shiftless migrant worker, what can I say?), that our "starter home" needs 5 bedrooms to accommodate 7 people!

Pretty exciting anyway, though. It will be nice to have our own place.

The MBA program I just graduated from may have had some good home-buying stuff in it- but I missed the whole second year with military stuff, so I missed it. So I'm learning just how much I have to pay to have someone give me money so I can buy a house. Not exciting stuff, but it goes with the home-buying territory. At least the VA benefits are great for home-buying.