The deed is done, but not forgotten

Our house1

“Ach! I’ve got to get rid of this albatross around my neck!” my husband Francis exclaimed recently, with plenty of overly-dramatic Italian gesturing with hairy arms.

“‘Albatross’? Don’t be so dramatic,” I retorted. “I love that house. Hayden will never forget his little blue room, Anna took her first steps in that cul-de-sac, Lilly was born there … and Zuzu is buried in the back yard for criminy’s sake!”

Last week, we put the house we’ve owned since 1998 on the market, and our emotions have been mixed.

After returning from a military tour of duty in England with a toddler and a newborn, we bought our first home in Virginia Beach, intending to stay a while. Even though “homesteading” was frowned upon, we didn’t care – our son had been diagnosed with developmental delays, and in order for his treatment to be effective, he needed stability. Lucky for us, Francis was offered competitive Navy orders to Second Fleet, Fleet Forces Command, and Joint Forces Command, enabling us to stay put without jeopardizing his career.

During the years we lived on our suburban cul-de-sac, the kids knew the shortcut to the local park. I planned the neighborhood Halloween Parade every year. We got our first puppy “Dinghy” after Zuzu the cat died. We went to the ice cream place down the street after Hayden’s flag football games. Lilly would toddle across the circle in nothing but a diaper to flirt with Jimmy, our 16-year-old neighbor. On Friday nights, we drank cold beer with our neighbors while sitting in lawn chairs on the driveway. And mornings, we could hear the Fairfield Elementary School announcements from our front porch.

In that happy little Dutch Colonial, I dabbled in home improvements, installing a new faucet, ceiling fans, lights, and built-in shelving in the playroom. Every spring, while the daffodils, azaleas, ferns and hostas pushed through the mulch, Francis and I argued about whether the lawn needed aerating. We added a screened porch, which became the site of many birthday dinners, afternoon coffee breaks, and Lilly’s first communion brunch. Anna broke her arm falling from our backyard playset, and the following year, Lilly got stitches in her head for the same reason.

Oblivious to the fact that the military would eventually force us to move from our sweet little family home, we meticulously scratched the height of each member of our growing brood, to include Dinghy the dog, into the pantry door.

Like I said, I loved that house.

When we got orders to Germany in 2008, we told ourselves, “We’ll definitely come back here one day.”

But we never did.

Now, before we have to face tricky capital gains taxes, we have decided to sell. Francis isn’t sad to see her go, because he is tired of the responsibilities and stresses of renting and maintaining a house from a distance. Unscrupulous property managers, surprise repairs, expensive maintenance, negligent renters, and those painful months between rentals when we had to pay our mortgage without receiving any rent checks, put Francis in the mood to sell.

I, on the other hand, feel the bittersweet pangs of melancholy as I prepare myself to sign away the deed to a decade of some of the most important years of our family’s life.

But it is time.

Time for another young family to grace her walls with baby photos. Time for another child to hang a swing from the branches of her big oak tree. Time for another husband to gripe about the leaves in her gutters, and for another wife to plant pansies in her front beds. Time for another pair of siblings to draw on her playroom walls with permanent marker. Time for another dog to sleep soundly in front of her fire-warmed hearth.

                                                           ————-

[According to the 2015 Census, about 64% of Americans own homes, but only 38% of military members buy houses. Some military families find home ownership too risky or simply not affordable. But there are special resources for military buyers and sellers. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development website (hud.gov) explains the provisions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) which limits interest on mortgages and provides debt relief for eligible military members. Housing counselors are available at 1-888-995-HOPE. The Military Housing Assistance Fund (usmhaf.org) offers monetary “gifts” to qualified service members who need help paying closing costs. Makinghomeaffordable.gov has information on foreclosure alternatives available to struggling homeowners. And buyers can calculate their VA Loan eligibility at www.veteransunited.com.]

The Naked Truth

via www.weknowmemes.com

What’s the true sign that spring has sprung? No, it’s not the crocuses, the bunnies, or the pussy willows.

You know spring is here, because I shaved my knees this week.

Now, you might be thinking, “Well, that’s an inappropriate way to start a column.” Stick with me – you’ll soon realize that news of my recent knee-shaving is actually the perfect launching point for a deeply philosophical endeavor.

You see, knee-shaving is not exactly a regular occurrence in my life. In fact, from October through March, the prickly hairs on my knees remain completely undisturbed. And as long as we’re being brutally honest, I’ll admit it: During the winter, I really only shave my ankles and armpits.

“Thanks for sharing,” you’re probably saying, “but what’s so philosophical about your personal hygiene habits?”

Listen folks, this is about more than just hairy knees. It’s about bodily exposure, natural inhibitions, the new meaning of modesty, and the pressure to conform to modern trends.

Ever since the founding of this great nation, America has been about one thing: freedom. More than any other country on Earth, we value certain individual liberties that we feel are our inalienable rights as human beings.

But in today’s modern culture, the need to escape from confining norms, no matter how practical or reasonable, has reached new extremes. The most obvious form of this human drive to break free from expectations and conventions, is our clothing.

Or the lack of it, to be more precise.

Ever since the 1920s flappers shocked their Victorian mothers by showing their ankles, exposure has been trendy. As the decades passed, that itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny yellow polka-dot bikini got smaller and smaller; until today, when a perfectly acceptable bathing suit consists of about six square inches of Spandex and a few strings.

Modesty, which used to be a widely-recognized virtue, is now seen as prudish, frumpy, and frankly, uncool. In fact, it is now so fashionable to expose body parts, even flagrant nudity has become Bohemian.

Pop culture reflects this shift in our culture, with nudity-themed television shows such as “Naked Dating,” “Naked and Afraid,” “Naked Castaways,” “Buying Naked,” and “Skin Wars” popping up in TV broadcast schedules. Furthermore, Nudists are now “Naturalists” who are celebrated and no longer banished to the unaccepted fringe of modern society.

“We’re all born naked,” you might be thinking, “so what’s the big deal?” Certainly, shedding one’s clothing can be liberating and should not be seen as the scourge of humankind. Anyone who has ever seen a toddler rip their own diaper off and run buck naked through the house giggling knows that, on some level, nudity is a natural inclination.

I will never forget the day that my mother and I were painting my daughters’ room. We let my youngest, Lilly, play nearby while we rolled Sherwin Williams “Demur Rose” onto the white walls. While tackling the intricacies of the trim, we failed to notice that Lilly had toddled downstairs and out into the backyard. We panicked for a few moments before we saw her out the bedroom window, completely naked, petting the neighbor’s cat.

After returning from her naked safari, Lilly reported, “Kitty-cat no like my nakee stuff.”

Unlike Lilly, I’ve always been unusually modest, even during my swim team days back in high school and college, when I had to shower with twenty other females on a daily basis. I kept myself covered whenever possible, but my teammates’ attitudes ran the gamut, including Michelle Gordon, who we lovingly nicknamed “Flesh” because she would strip down to her birthday suit as soon as we set foot in the locker room.

So what am I saying?

In all my old-fashioned modesty, I have ironically become the ultimate non-conformist in today’s bare-it-all society. I might shave my knees each spring, but you won’t see me wearing a crop top and Daisy Dukes just because the bees are buzzing. The sun can shine all it wants, but I won’t put on anything with spaghetti straps, a plunging neckline or a mini skirt. And no matter how hot it gets, I won’t squeeze my 49-year-old-mother-of-three frame into a string bikini.

(You’re welcome.)

Hayden, Age 2

Hayden, Age 2

Mind over manners

airsickness bag“Now boarding … Group C … at Gate 19,” the agent announced over the loudspeakers. There were only a handful of poor slobs like me left in the line. The 737 was pretty packed, and since Southwest operates on a first-come-first-served basis, we were in for a real treat.

Only a few of the dreaded middle seats remained. The lucky passengers who snagged the isle and window seats looked up at us clutching our gigantic carry-ons, as if to say, “Don’t even think about squeezing in here between us.”

So I lumbered on, until I got to the back of the plane and had to take the last space left, which was between a heavyset man against the window, and a little old lady on the isle. I gestured with my hand to the middle seat, and their facial expressions replied, “Oh, terrific. Thanks for ruining my trip.”

Somehow, I wedged into my seat without banging the old lady in the head with my carry-on. I kicked it three times to jam it under the seat in front of me, and tried to settle in for the two-hour flight to Dayton. 

The man beside me was politely trying to be small, with his arms clasped unnaturally on top of his tensed round belly, and his thick knees hitched in tight. However, he was a human radiator, emanating a steady stream of sweltering breath, body heat, and general male exhaust. I reached up to the tiny air valve, otherwise known as the spewer of contagion, but it was already all the way open.

Southwest Airlines’ employees are known for their jokes, and I could hear people in the rows ahead laughing at something the flight attendant said during her “just in case we plummet to our death” spiel.

My stomach took a few nauseating dips during the bumpy take off which is to be expected, but the turbulence continued. The soggy airport tuna wrap I’d gobbled back at the gate inched it’s way back up my esophagus, as the Captain quipped, “Whoever that is shaking the plane … stop it!”

As a child, I was prone to motion sickness. Any drive of more than 20 minutes had to include a stop on the side of the road so Lisa could “toss her cookies.” One time, when I went with my father to Pittsburgh, I did just that. I’d eaten a fistful of Nutter Butter Cookies before getting into my father’s Buick, and somewhere along Route 286, they came back up. Problem was, the Buick door was so huge, my father had to run around to help me open it, and didn’t make it in time. Those old Buicks had a million nooks and crannies in their naugahyde dashboards. After that, we couldn’t use the car’s heat or air conditioning without being blasted with an odoriferous reminder of that day.

The turbulence was so bad, the pilot ordered the flight attendants to stay in their seats, and as a result, there would be no beverage service and no bathroom breaks. An every-man-for-himself mentality set in, and the guy beside me released his tensed muscles, allowing his full girth to invade my already confined space. The little old lady was so still, I worried that she might’ve died. But I realized that she’d been reading the same Spinal Surgery ad in the airline magazine for the last hour, and knew she must’ve fallen asleep.

Jealous, I prayed for sleep to deliver me from this putrid purgatory. Sometime during the second hour, my motion sickness degraded into a fitful, panting fever. As the plane began it’s rocky descent toward Ohio, I used my last ounce of sanity to grope for the airsickness bag.

Despite my delirium, I wondered, am I being rude? Shouldn’t I warn my seat mates that I’m about to become an erupting tuna salad volcano? Would Emily Post tell me to put a napkin on my lap first? Is there any etiquette to upchucking?

Panicked by the impending crisis of protocol and puke, I lowered my mouth to the little white bag and prayed for guidance …

The plane wheels squealed as they bumped the runway. “Welcome to Dayton,” our pilot joked, “home of … stuff.” Everyone laughed, and I managed a weak smile too, relieved that my mind and my manners were finally on solid ground.

Voting is no joke: Let your voice be heard

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This presidential campaign season has been like no other. The battle between the unusual mix of controversial establishment, infamous outsider, and political fringe candidates has been downright epic. Personal attacks are the new norm, launched daily against candidates and even their spouses.

The constant stream of contentious debates, social media brawls, nasty attack ads and shrieking rallies has garnered endless media coverage. Each candidate has staunch supporters who are not only indifferent to their candidate’s obvious faults – outrageous views, potentially criminal acts, and scandalous statements – they spin them as virtues, proclaiming, “At least her crimes have already been made public,” and “His statements disparaging women show that he is honest.”

With all this fodder, it’s no wonder that a mockery has been made of it all. “Seinfeld” creator Larry David has revived his entertainment career doing an uncanny imitation of Socialist Democrat Bernie Sanders. Establishment Republican Ted Cruz can’t seem to shake the his hilarious comparison to Sesame Street’s “The Count.” Rush Limbaugh has dubbed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton “Screech” and quipped she has “the voice that reminds you of your two ex-wives.” And the Republican front-runner supplies the “Trump joke du jour” every day since he entered the race last June.

It would all be a laugh riot, if the situation weren’t so serious.

Our next Commander in Chief will be faced with a multitude of complex domestic and international issues, not the least of which is the continuing threat of terrorism. Everyone knows about the recent attacks in Paris, San Bernardino and Brussels; but did you know that hundreds of other innocent victims were killed in lesser-known terrorist attacks in Turkey, Nigeria, Mali, Tunis, Indonesia, Burkina Faso, Somalia and the Ivory coast during the same time period?

And in case you hadn’t heard, there is a gaping hole in our US Supreme Court since Justice Antonin Scalia passed away. With the Senate refusing to hold hearings on Obama’s replacement nominee, the next President could very well influence the laws of this country for a generation to come.

This is why I was so shocked to find out that some fellow military voters are considering not voting at all, or casting their vote for another party in protest. “Why would you do that?” I asked one friend with genuine surprise.

“Why not?” he quipped, disgusted with the political campaign circus.

This election cycle is so extreme, Bernie Sanders devotees are vowing to vote for Trump if Hillary is the nominee. Cruz supporters are promising to vote for Hillary if Trump is the nominee. Trump voters will allegedly riot if anyone else wins. And there is talk of last-minute third-party candidates, brokered conventions, and prophesies that we are on the brink of a political revolution.

But despite the mayhem, voting is a serious right that should be especially important to military members who are required to follow the orders of their Commander-in-Chief.  However, military voter participation rates are appallingly low. According to The Council of State Governments Data Center website, there were 221,925,820 eligible stateside voters in the 2012 election, 58.7 percent of whom voted successfully. But of the 4,737,600 eligible registered U.S. military and overseas voters in that election, only 12.7 percent actually returned ballots.

Voting in the military can be more difficult, especially for the roughly two-thirds who must use absentee ballots because they are not stationed in their home of record. But thanks to The MOVE Act of 2009 (Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act) and helpful websites such as www.overseasvotefoundation.org, www.usvotefoundation.org, and www.fvap.gov, it is easier to register to vote, request absentee ballots, and return ballots than it used to be.

Active duty military and their spouses can get absentee ballots quickly by going to the Military Voter Protection Project website (www.mvpproject.org) and clicking “Request Your Absentee Ballot.” There, you will complete a Federal Post Card Application that will enable you to register and request a ballot at the same time.

The chaos of this election cycle is not an excuse – it’s exactly why military servicepersons and their spouses should take part in selecting the next Commander-in-Chief. Our military members fight silently for our right to vote, and now it’s time for their voices to be heard.

Coffee Shop Confessions

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“So Lilly, what did you tell Father Kris?” I asked our 15-year-old daughter recently at a local coffee shop. We had just picked her up from a confirmation class retreat, which included confessions with our parish priest. This sacrament is shrouded with an impenetrable veil of secrecy, but we knew Lilly would tell us.

“Well,” she revealed between slurps of hot cocoa, “I told him, ‘Bless me father for I have sinned, it has been eight years since my last confession …’”

“Yes, yes, we know that part … we want to know what you confessed to?”

I felt twinge of fear when I realized that our youngest daughter may shock me with her answer, but Lilly responded, “I told him that I’ve been disrespectful to you guys a lot over the years.”

Relieved, I plopped another puddle of ketchup alongside my fries, and let my mind wander back to Lilly’s first confession to Father Jim when we were stationed in Virginia eight years ago.

Second grade was a dicey year for Lilly. Emerging from the shadow of her dominant older siblings, Lilly was making her mark in Mrs. Ryan’s class at Fairfield Elementary School. However, it still wasn’t clear whether Lilly’s “mark” would be top grades, or graffiti on the girl’s bathroom wall.

My Navy husband, Francis, was deployed for a year, and I was doing my best to hold it all together. Between the exterminator bills, scout meetings, dog walks, soccer games, dryer lint, piano lessons, sinus infections, and football practices, there wasn’t much time left for mother-daughter chats about right and wrong.

As the third child, Lilly often got the short end of the stick, but she never once stopped to ask, “What about me?” With a smile full of awkward teeth, a fistful of her favorite Polly Pockets, and a carefree attitude, Lilly was easy to love. But as a happy-go-lucky kid, Lilly was also easy to overlook.

Until one day when I got a call from the school.

“Mrs. Molinari,” Principal Stubblefield told me one afternoon, “we think Lilly has forged your signature. Can you come in?” Apparently, Lilly had bossed a boy on the playground, and was told to have a parent sign the Incident Report. Rather than draw any unnecessary attention to herself, Lilly decided to sign it for me.

Problem was, she couldn’t write in cursive. So she conned her older brother into showing her “how Mommy signs her name,” then cut out his best attempt (white paper), and taped it onto the Incident Report (green paper).

Not exactly foolproof, but pretty sneaky for a six-year old.

As parents tend to do, I panicked. Thanks to my parental neglect, Lilly was now destined to rotate through dangerous county jails, maximum security facilities, and sketchy halfway houses on her way to a life of hard crime. My dreams for her future were suddenly reduced to hoping she’d get her GED while serving out a sentence for Grand Theft Auto.

In an attempt to set things right, I asked Principal Stubblefield to rough Lilly up a little bit. Well, not exactly, but we planned that she would call Lilly to the Office (every kid’s worst nightmare), sit her down across from the big desk, and open the gigantic rulebook to the page that says dishonest kids get expelled from school.

In case that didn’t scare her straight, I took Lilly to her first confession. I stood in the back of the church, as she walked down the center isle to sit in a pew with Father Jim. I couldn’t hear what was said, but I saw Lilly’s little head bobbing as she told Father Jim a long story. He listened intently and murmured back to her in solemn tones. Seeing Lilly confess, I bowed my own head and admitted that I should’ve paid more attention to my little girl.

At the coffee shop, Francis finished the last of his tuna melt and asked Lilly what she was given as a penance. Rolling her eyes, Lilly reported, “Between now and Easter, I’m supposed to perform acts of respect toward my parents.”

Despite our own parenting missteps, Lilly has turned out to be a pretty honest kid, and we realize that these moments of contrition have helped all of us to be better people.

As for those “acts of respect”, I confess, we’re still waiting.

Savoring the Sweetness of Military Life

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“Holy cow, we’re old,” I thought, as we found our seats at a recent Joint Service Military Ball in Albany, New York.

The ballroom was filled with over 220 sharp-dressed ROTC cadets and midshipmen from six colleges in the New York Capital Region – Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Siena College, Union College, State University of New York at Albany, the College of Saint Rose, and Hudson Valley Community College. By some stroke of good luck or coincidence, my husband, Francis, had been asked to be the guest of honor at the ball, and had enthusiastically accepted.

Back in the 80s when he was fresh out of Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, destined for Intelligence School and his first tour of duty in an EA-6B squadron in Whidby Island, Washington, Francis never envisioned being a guest of honor at anything, much less making a career out of Navy service.

Twenty-eight years later, Francis and I were feeling proud and sentimental.

We’ve attended many military ceremonies over the years – promotions, retirements, commissionings, and balls. There is a particular script that is followed at each event with minimal variation, so it’s easy to overlook the significance of the rituals or let one’s mind wander during the speeches.

I’ll admit it, I’ve been guilty of taking it all for granted, focusing more on who wore what dress or who won the centerpiece or who botched the Electric Slide (it was usually Francis, by the way). But now, as my husband and I enter the twilight of our family’s time in the military, I’ve become a sentimental old fool. 

“Please rise for the Presentation of the Colors and the singing of the National Anthem,” a Cadet at the podium announced. I’d seen it a million times, but I was worried about tearing up. In recent years, even the crackly recording of the morning National Anthem blaring over the loudspeakers in our base housing neighborhood makes me patriotically pause between sips of coffee to get a little misty, and Colors in the evening instills a certain melancholy pride in our unique lifestyle.

“Deep breaths,” I told myself, knowing that it wouldn’t be good to start the ball off with an ugly cry face.

The diverse Color Guard marched in precise lock step, placing the flags behind the podium. Four uniformed singers kept perfect harmony, as the entire crowd crooned, “For the land of the free! … And the home of the brave!”

We raised glasses high, in a litany of customary toasts to the flag, the President, the Joint Chiefs, the Cadets, and the Midshipmen. The final toast to the Prisoners of War and Missing in Action did me in, and I swept an escaped tear off my cheek as the MC drew our attention to each traditional item – a rose, lemon slice, salt, candle – on the tiny symbolic empty table near the podium.

“Salmon or chicken, ma’am?” the bow-tied waiter asked before plopping a steaming plate on the table in front of me. I ate enough to test the bounds of my Spanx, before settling in with a cup of coffee to watch Francis’ speech.

Adjusting his cumber bun, Francis spoke to the roomful of bright young men and women about viewing themselves as part of a Joint Military profession that is both ethical and competent. However, he explained, as military servicepersons, they do not just hold a job, “we live a lifestyle and carry on military traditions reaching back for centuries.”

Before leaving the podium, Francis looked up and softened his voice. “As I approach the sunset of my military career, at times I wonder if I’ve made the right decisions in life, and have provided for my family as best I could, recognizing the hardships and sacrifices they’ve had to endure from time to time. But … when I remap my career back to May 22, 1988, when I raised my right hand in the recruiter’s office, I realize I wouldn’t change a single day of it. I am truly envious of you all who are just starting your journey …You have so much to look forward to.”

After his first standing ovation, Francis took his seat, stunned, humbled and grateful.

The MC took the podium one last time to announce the final time-honored military traditions: “We ask that you do not take the center pieces. The dance floor is now open.”

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My old husband, Francis, with young Midshipmen Demiery.

Not so lucky: St. Patrick’s Day cuisine

St. Pat's Day

Sure, there will be parades, funny hats, green decorations, and parties during the week of March 17th. But what really makes or breaks holidays and special occasions?

Let’s face it — it’s all about the food.

Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Easter are lucky enough to have chocolate as their traditional treat. Thanksgiving hit the luck jackpot with succulent roasted turkeys, mouth-watering dressings, tartly sweet cranberry sauce, and pies loaded with whipped cream. And who doesn’t love Christmas and Hanukah foods like cookies, doughnuts, prime rib, latkes, hot cocoa, brisket, and gingerbread? With the luck of the Irish on it’s side, you’d think that St. Patty’s Day would be associated with delectable culinary delights.

But corned beef and cabbage?

First of all, what is “corned” beef anyway? Does the corning process make an otherwise inedible piece of meat safe for human consumption? Is it one of those cuts of meat that grandfathers like to hang from rafters in basement corners, smelling like sweaty feet for 9 months at a time? Is the term “beef” just a genteelism for “pickled squirrel meat my Paw-Paw shot in the backyard”?

Corned beef is undeniably delicious in a grilled reuben sandwich, but when boiled with cabbage, it can become a smelly, stringy affair. I have enjoyed corned beef and cabbage on a few occasions; however, those were the times that, by sheer happenstance, the cooking time was precisely correct for that particular size cabbage, acidity, elevation, boiling point, and tilt of the Earth’s axis.

What average cooks don’t realize is that, within mere seconds, the otherwise crispy, sweet vegetable can become an overcooked ball of sulphur-gas-emitting mush that will stink up the house for at least a week. Corned beef and cabbage cannot just be tossed into a Crockpot. Cooking this finicky dish properly requires knowledge of chemistry, catlike senses, and a precision timing device. But who wants to stand around on St. Patrick’s Day watching cabbage steam for precisely six minutes and 39 seconds? There’s green beer to drink!

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Speaking of which, green beer is festive and all, but let’s not kid ourselves. Order a green beer in any pub on St. Patrick’s Day and it’s likely to be the most tasteless brew on tap. Why? The rich gold, amber and brown tones of the better beers turn an unappetizing hue of olive drab when mixed with green food coloring. It’s the watery, faintly yellow beers that make the prettiest kelly-green tones, but beware that the appetizing color is masking a gut-rot swill that will stain your tongue and leave your head throbbing in the morning.

To make matters worse, my Irish mother-in-law, Alice Murphy, bakes a loaf of Irish Soda Bread every year around this time, and the whole family raves. But the dry, bland loaf has always confused me. It’s not sweet enough to eat like coffee cake or dessert, but it’s too sweet to use as a pusher for the corned beef and cabbage.

Irish soda bread

“It’s good with butter,” my mother-in-law would say. But doesn’t everything taste good with a thick slab of butter?

There is one saving grace of St. Patrick’s Day cuisine. That sweet frozen delight with a creamy hint of something reminiscently herbal like mint (or is it parsley?) that tingles the senses and cools the cabbage-scalded tongue. Whether eaten at 2:00 am with a Supersize Fry and Filet-o-fish after guzzling green beer, or sipped solitarily from the Drive-thru window on the way home from work, The Shamrock Shake mercifully delivers us from culinary evil.

When it all boils down to it, eating lousy food on St. Patrick’s Day isn’t so bad, as long as you’re lucky enough to share it with friends and family.

shamrockshake

Best flicks found in basement boxes and bargain bins

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Somewhere in our basement, there is a box of VHS tapes. Relics from the days when our kids loved  “The Aristocats”, “Toy Story”, “Spot” and “Barney”. Their sticky little hands could pop those clunky tapes into the TV/VCR combo without needing Mom’s help.

Well, as long as there wasn’t a waffle or a Barbie shoe in the VCR already.

If we let them, they’d watch one after the other — “Pocahontas”, “The Great Mouse Detective”, “Sesame Street Sing-a-long”, and “Babe” — leaving the tapes lying about unwound and out of their crunched jackets. But we limited the kids’ TV time, only allowing movie marathons when they were sick.

Even so, it was alarming how much the kids memorized. Anna could perform a perfectly accurate but off-key version of  “A Whole New World,” and Lilly spoke flawless Swahili when belting out “Hakuna Matata.” And our oldest, Hayden, who was diagnosed with autism, could repeat entire 30 minute Arthur scripts even though he had a severe language delay.

These movies had even seeped into our adult psyches, at times rendering us babbling fools instead of responsible parents. We would catch ourselves singing “… Barney can be your friend too if you just make believe him!” in the shower, or mumbling “Dora, Dora, Dora the explorer …” while waiting in the car pool line.

By the time Hayden reached fifth grade, the VHS tapes had been watched dozens and dozens of times. The words and tunes were forever burned into our brains, and our VCR was nearly burned out.

It was time for us to move on.

We decided to introduce our kids to REAL movies. Movies with real people and real stories that would teach them real life lessons.

One rainy afternoon, we found all the 80s classics from our childhood in a discount DVD bin at the mall. “Karate Kid”, “Pretty in Pink”, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, “Footloose”, “Sixteen Candles”, and “The Breakfast Club.”

At home, we lined the kids up on the couch: Hayden, 12, who was frankly still happy watching Jimmy Neutron; Anna, who was ten going on 25; and Lilly who at eight, was still too distracted by her Polly Pockets to care.

As if we were passing down the ancient wisdom of their elders, we explained why the 80s movies they were about to see weren’t just entertainment, they were a visual manifesto for teen angst and adolescent rebellion. Without computers and internet access, we were trapped in the bubble of our high schools and hometowns. Music, television and movies were our only escape. Seeing our frustrations and dreams played out by actors like Andrew McCarthy, Molly Ringwald, and Ralph Macchio was liberating and connected us to teenagers across our nation, and the world …

“I’m hungry!” Hayden whined.

“I wanna watch the one with the cute boy on the front,” Anna demanded.

“‘Scuse me,” Lilly giggled, apparently having expelled some form of gas.

We were losing them, so we quickly loaded “The Breakfast Club” into the DVD player.

Having not seen the film in a while, we forgot some minor details. We certainly remembered the inspiring story of five stereotypical high school students who entered detention with nothing in common, and left eight hours later with a new understanding of themselves and each other.

But we completely forgot about those same kids smoking pot together, cussing, making out in the janitor’s closet, and admitting to drinking alcohol, compulsive lying, and nymphomania. Oh, and the “R” rating.

Whoopsie.

Thankfully, Hayden had fallen asleep and Lilly was on the floor with her dolls. Only Anna had watched the whole movie, and she had her head buried deep in the couch cushions.

After prying Anna from the couch and drying her tears, we learned that, despite her insistence that she was “not a little girl anymore,” her innocent brain was not ready for teenage reality.

We went back to our tattered VHS tapes for the next few years, repeating the same lines and humming the tunes we knew so well. Anna eventually gave “The Breakfast Club” another try. And now as a senior in high school, it is, ironically, her all-time favorite flick.

Whether a movie wins an Oscar or ends up in the bargain bin at the mall, it’s our life experiences that connect us to the characters and allow us to appreciate their stories. There’s no need to go to the box office, because the Best Picture may just be in a box in the basement.

The Fix Is In

"Seriously?"

“Seriously?”

I told the folks at the local dog park that they wouldn’t be seeing Moby, our one-year-old yellow Lab, for a couple of weeks. When I explained why, the men in the group collectively cringed and hitched their knees together.

The appointment was first thing Monday morning.

Moby loped out of our front door into the crisp morning air just like he always does, his stout wagging tail on one end and a big sloppy smile on the other. I opened the minivan’s rear door, and Moby jumped right in. He probably thought we were driving to the beach to chase balls and eat dead fish, or to the commissary so he could sneak into the front seat and stare at the entrance waiting for me to come back out so we could go chase balls again. 

But instead, we took a longer trip, 25 minutes northward. I pulled into the closest available parking space at the veterinary clinic, hopped out and opened the back door.

“Hey Lil’  Buddy! C’mon, this is going to be fun!”

Moby has never been the sharpest tool in the shed. In fact, he’s a bit of a block head, but even he knew something was up. He was hesitant to jump out, wondering why I had left the balls in the car. When I tugged at his collar, he pulled back, causing all his neck flub to bunch up around his face.

Finally, Moby noticed that the air outside the minivan was a veritable a cornucopia of odors, so he jumped out to investigate. There were years worth of animal pheromones, territorial markings, and nervous involuntary spillage in that parking lot. On my way to the clinic door, the leash stopped with a jolt while Moby sniffed, then licked, then marked a tuft of dead grass peeking through a crack in the asphalt.

Let him have his fun, poor guy.

In the waiting room, Moby wasn’t sure if he should hide or jump for joy. On one hand, there were lots of fun-looking dogs and people in in there, and even one small hissy thing that made a peculiar yowling sound. (Moby had never seen a cat before.) But on the other hand, there were unfamiliar smells in that waiting room, like medicine … and disinfectant … and fear.

Before Moby’s block head could figure it all out, the veterinarian’s assistant was leading him away. I watched his tail wag as he looked up at her, and knew that he thought he was going somewhere to chase balls.

Oh, the irony.

Several hours later, Moby was back in the minivan, stunned at having been robbed of his virility, and wondering why there was a ridiculous cone around his head.

The physical pain in his nether regions was a mere annoyance compared to the humiliation of the cone. It soon became the bane of his existence. He knocked lamps over, he spilled his water, and the neighbors laughed at his pitiful state.

Worst of all, it got in the way of chasing balls.

At the end of the week, when Moby had accepted the fact that he would be wearing that blasted cone the rest of his life, it suddenly cracked and fell off while he was rolling in the snow. Moby stared at the cone a moment, not sure if he should be sad at losing another appendage, or happy to be rid of it. Instinct took over, and Moby pounced onto the cone, grabbing and shaking it with all his might.

Killing the cone restored Moby’s faith in his lingering masculinity, and as he trotted back to the house with his head held high, I could almost hear him say, “Nothing will ever get between me and my balls again.”

[Every year, millions of homeless dogs and cats are needlessly euthanized due to the overpopulation crisis in the US. Spaying and neutering is the best way to control overpopulation. Although Army Public Health Command suspended routine surgeries at all military base vet clinics in 2014, affordable spaying/neutering programs are available on the economy for anyone who needs them. At www.humanesociety.org, you can use a spay/neuter widget to find low cost services within 50 miles of your zip code. Furthermore, the site has a list of hundreds of organizations across the US that offer financial aid for pet care and surgeries. And if you need pet fostering while on deployment, reputable organizations such as dogsondeployment.org, guardianangelsforsoldierspet.org, and pactforanimals.org offer long-term fostering. Give your milpets the good care they deserve.]

Sound Off: Should military spouses speak out about politics?

We_Can_Do_It!On bases around the US, military officials have released guidance on what military folks can and cannot do during this primary election season, citing the laws restricting partisan activity and giving special instructions on social media.

Embarrassed at my ignorance after 22 years as a military spouse, I wondered, “What are the applicable laws anyway? Do any of them apply to me? Did I break any rules when I sheepishly placed that bumper sticker in my minivan window back in 2012?”

I knew some research was in order.

Thomas Jefferson led the first effort to prohibit federal employees from influencing the votes of others, but it wasn’t until The Hatch Act was passed in 1939 that such restrictions were made law. Although the act doesn’t specifically apply to military personnel, Department of Defense Directive 1344.10 governs “Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces,” and states that active duty military members may not run for office, participate in partisan political campaigns or speeches, serve as officers in political groups or clubs, march in partisan parades, promote political fundraising events, attend partisan events as representatives of the Armed Forces, or post large political signs or banners in yards or on cars.

Although, small bumper stickers are permitted … whew!

Furthermore, the directive also prohibits posting, liking, or sharing of partisan information on social media without an appropriate disclaimer in the post stating that “the views expressed are not those of the DoD.” And no matter the venue, if commissioned officers use “contemptuous words” against the President, Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of State or other political leaders, they are subject to court martial under 10 USC Section 888.

While none of these legal restrictions apply to military spouses, I still wondered, “Do military spouses have an unwritten moral or ethical duty to limit political expression?”

I posted the question on social media and got mixed responses. Several military spouses stated that they chose to keep their political opinions to themselves, but attributed their privacy to good taste rather than any obligation to their active duty spouse.

“We are each entitled to our opinions,” one spouse commented, “but, we are not entitled to act like jerks.”

“Decorum and free thought are not mutually exclusive,” another spouse responded.

While another commented that “rarely does respectful dialogue marry with social media,” she also acknowledged that military spouses are impacted by legislation regarding pay, benefits, and troop movements; and “… having the spouse stand up to speak in their husband’s or wife’s stead is only a natural inclination.”

One military spouse thickened the plot by asking whether ethics gets “a little tricky” when a military spouse publicly opposes an operation his or her spouse is currently engaged in such as the US missions in Vietnam and Iraq.

Jeremy Hilton, a military spouse, veteran, and military families advocate added his two cents, referring us to a 2013 piece he wrote for Spousebuzz.com titled “How to be a Great Military Spouse Advocate”: “While it’s always important to pick your battles, I for one have no intention of taking a bite out of a crap sandwich just because DoD tells me it tastes good.”

With the discussion’s ante upped, Navy spouse Lori Volkman blew us away with an inspiring story.

Practicing attorney, founder of Military Spouse JD Network, and co-organizer of the military spouse political advocacy training group Homefront Rising, Volkman told us of 12 military spouses (including Hilton, above) who took action in December 2013 against deep military benefits cuts in the Bipartisan Budget Act. The grass-roots movement known as #KeepYourPromise, went viral, garnering 16 million Twitter views, 100,000 Facebook fans, main stream media coverage, and celebrity support.

As a result of those 12 military spouses speaking up when their service members couldn’t, legislators repealed the military pension cuts in the Bipartisan Budget Act and #KeepYourPromise has become a legislative watchdog for military families.

“The moral of the story is this: If we had not spoken, who would have?” Volkman commented, and, ironically, we all took a collective moment of social media silence.

But don’t expect military spouses to be quiet for long. 

Whether written in polite letters to congressional leaders, blasted in all caps over social media, or communicated in the powerful silence of the voting booths, the voices of military spouses will ring through, loud and clear.

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