Snack in the City

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“Do you want that apple now?” I ask my daughter, for the third time since boarding the train to New York City. I brought Anna’s favorite snack in my backpack, hoping that a Granny Smith might keep my temperamental teen satisfied on our trip to visit colleges.

No, Mom,” Anna huffs, “I told you, I’m not hungry.”

As I turn toward the window, my mind wanders to a decade ago, when Anna, our fiercely independent middle child, disappeared.

She was one of those kids who would go off with a box of figurines, and lose herself in pretend play for hours. My husband or I would find her somewhere in our house, surrounded by her characters, her huge brown eyes flitting from one to the other, her wee lips muttering the voices in her imagined scenario.

But on this particular occasion, she’d been gone so long, we were concerned.

“Anna?!” I bellowed, eager to find her in a corner, lost in a complex drama involving Buzz Lightyear, Polly Pockets, and My Little Pony. Just as my mothering instinct was about to mobilize a grid search of our entire neighborhood, I heard something in the bonus room over our garage.

Sure enough, there she was, sitting in a heap of paper, pencils, yarn, fabric, and my sewing basket, dumped upside-down. “Lookit what I made, Mom,” she coughed out, her voice box sluggish from hours of dormancy.

Anna held up her creation, a full-length garment of white fleece. After making sketches in a Hello Kitty notebook, she settled on a sleek one-shoulder design with an elegant neckline and fitted skirt. Anna modeled her gown for us, and we looked on in amazement at the sophisticated silhouette and even hand-stitching. Apparently, Anna had seen someone do it on TV, and was now determined to be a fashion designer.

Ten years later, we’re on our way to The Big Apple to follow Anna’s dream.

Sitting beside my seventeen-year-old daughter, I still see her big brown eyes flitting, lost in thought. Intuitively, I know that she is envisioning what it would be like to be a fashion design student in NYC, walking city streets in stylish outfits, sketching on sunlight-dappled park benches, and hailing cabs to meet friends for lunch in Soho.

My baggy brown eyes are flitting too, but I am imagining rat-infested alleys, marauding pick-pocketers, subway stairwells reeking of urine, and catcalling ne’re-do-wells. My husband and I would much rather send our daughter to college somewhere in rural Vermont or Wisconsin, where sleepy Campus Police officers busy themselves writing citations for spitting on the sidewalk. But we know, Anna must see for herself.

Emerging from the subterranean chaos of Penn Station, we begin our two-day odyssey. Piles of old snow are melting, revealing a winter’s worth of grit, grime and garbage. Dirty water drips from scaffoldings and fire escapes above us, sometimes landing in our hair. The subway stations are a hideous cornucopia of acrid odors and filthy corners piled with discarded cigarette butts.

The housewife in me wants to spray the whole place with bleach and give it a good scrubbing. Anna, on the other hand, is mortified that I am a quintessential tourist, fiddling clumsily with my maps and subway diagrams, stopping every few blocks to mutter, “Now, which street is this?”

Despite her embarrassment, we manage to visit all the fashion design schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn in two days, using only a Metrocard, one $12 cab ride, and just under 42,000 Fitbit steps. After our last tour at Parson’s School of Design, Anna slumps over a chair in the admissions office, sore, tired, and overwhelmed with the realities of the big city college experience.

I thought I’d be relieved if Anna was disappointed with urban life, but my parental instinct to protect my daughter from danger is tempered by my need to support her dreams. “Hey, you want that apple now?” I offer, groping in my backpack. As I hand over the once flawlessly crisp Granny Smith, I see that it is now a mushy, oozing ball of bruises.

“Whaddya say we take a cab and go get chocolate shakes?” I say, tossing the fruit into the trash, “I know a great place on the upper East Side.” As we walk out into bustling Greenwich Village, I realize that, no matter where my daughter’s aspirations take her, she’ll always be the apple of my eye.

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Coffee Shop Office

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My inspirational view from the mezzanine at Starbucks.

Several days a week, I drop the kids at school, and head downtown to one of my secret haunts. No, it’s not a bingo hall or a betting room, and I haven’t drained our meager savings into a slot machine. It’s not a watering hole, and I don’t sit at a bar with a Jack-n-Coke and a pack of smokes. It’s not a local flea market, and I don’t have a penchant for collecting wagon-wheel lamps.

Truth be told, I go to coffee shops.

I’m a big fan of coffee, but I’m not there for the brew. Simply put, it’s the only place I seem to get any work done.

I became a freelance writer in 2010, while our Navy family was stationed in Stuttgart, Germany. After 15 years of being a stay-at-home mom to our three kids, I was looking for work that was more stimulating than clearing the lint trap in the dryer. Freelance writing seemed the perfect solution, and I quickly committed to churning out weekly columns for a stateside newspaper.

Each morning, I’d walk the kids to school, then sit at our home computer for a few hours of writing. Sometimes, I’d tap away all day and forget to eat lunch, and if you could only see my paunch, you’d know how rarely this happens. But most days, I found it hard to focus.

Multitasking seemed mandatory, so I’d put a load of laundry in before sitting down to write. And while I was at it, I’d fill the dishwasher, defrost a roast, and vacuum, because I wouldn’t want those tasks nagging at me when I’m trying to concentrate. Inevitably, the dryer would buzz, and folding would occur in front of the television. I’d tell myself it’s time to get serious, but the closer my deadline loomed, the greater the chance that I’d spend the afternoon cleaning out the junk drawer.

I knew I needed an outside office, where I couldn’t convince myself that dusting the ceiling fan was more important than writing my column.

At our next duty station in Florida, I tried Starbucks in downtown San Marco. Other than the bone-chilling air conditioners and questionable bathrooms, I loved my new workspace. By the end of our two-year tour, I was spending entire days in my coffee shop office, taking a break mid-day to power-walk along the water or eat my packed lunch on a sunny park bench.

The only distraction was people watching, which ironically provided endless fodder for my writing. The Starbucks employees, riddled with piercings and tattoos, made me think deep thoughts about youth, and what I would do to my daughter if she ever came home with a bolt through her tongue. And the eclectic patrons, whose willingness to stand in long lines for overpriced coffee never ceased to fascinate me. There were caddy stroller moms, gruff construction workers, corporate types talking to hidden devices in their ears, and loners like me.

After PCSing to Rhode Island, I scoped out the Starbucks on Thames Street in Newport. Considering that there is a Dunkin Donuts drive-thru every half mile in New England, I knew the Starbucks would have an more eccentric crowd. Preppy yachtsmen whose boats are docked at the nearby wharf, throngs of cruise ship tourists wearing fanny packs, busy working stiffs ordering lattes to go, couples who argue in hushed tones, and others like me who eavesdrop.

In this little microcosm of society, I’ve formed relationships. There’s Kip the friendly retiree, who tries to convince me to do transcendental meditation. There’s Lori the working mom, who stops to chat before running to the office. There’s Tom the construction worker, who thinks I know more about football than I really do.

We are a family of sorts, and without knowing it, they support me in my endeavor to write, and I appreciate them for inspiring me with wacky ideas. For moms who work from home, procrastination can be a constant battle. I’ve found that coffee shops keep me on track. After all, a day at the office should always involve a good cup of coffee.

Fast Friends

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My true friend, Tina, who I met in the YMCA locker room while stationed in Norfolk, Virginia.

What makes a true friend?

We could wax philosophic on the issue, carefully tempering real-life accounts with the well-researched results of valid clinical studies of human behavior and sociology.

Or, we could just Google it.

WikiHow.com has an impressive list of tips to help you decide whether your friend is true, and as an added bonus, each tip is accompanied by a delightfully gender-neutral cartoon illustration. According to the WikiHow authors — who I imagine in a dank sweatshop in the basement of some corporate high-rise, tapping away at long banks of dusty computer terminals — true friends give support, listen, don’t badmouth, stick to their word, have no secret agenda, and are super-fun to hang out with.

Just under the Stayfree ad, HuffingtonPost.com author Lindsay Holmes says that there are “11 Signs of Genuine Friendship”, and these include “being present” and “having our backs.” On PsychologyToday.com, Dr. Alex Lickman turns Japanese, submitting that true friendship is marked by a certain chemistry known in Japan as “kenzoku.” And on a chubby little site known as TinyBuddha.com, Lori Deschene offers an exhaustive list of the “25 Ways to Be a True Friend.”

Despite the fact that I spent a whole 27 minutes scanning Google, my scientifically inadequate research did not turn up one expert, author, blogger or internet wacko who mentioned the length of the relationship. As a military spouse, this is a relief, because if we were required to “be present” with a friend for a long period of time, military spouses wouldn’t have many friends at all.

Most military families move every two or three years. When we leave one duty station for another, we say good-bye to the friends we made there, keeping in touch through Holiday cards and social media. At our new duty stations, we slowly form new relationships. Our “friends” become those people in our immediate location — whether we live on base or on the economy — even though we have other long-term friends far away.

So, when we have a party, we need someone to pick us up from the auto mechanic, we need a name for the “emergency contact” on our kids’ school forms, or we’re just looking for someone to sit in the driveway and drink wine with, we call our “friends” in the local area.

When significant events (birth, illness, loss) happen in the lives of military families, the length of their relationships has no bearing on their friends’ desire to help out. For example, when I had an early miscarriage while stationed at JAC Molesworth in England, we were touched by the flowers, cards, condolences and phone calls from other military families we hardly knew. Similarly, while stationed at Naval Station Mayport, Florida, I signed up to make a meal for a new family who moved into base housing and just had a baby. I rang their doorbell on my assigned night and said, “Hi, you don’t know me. I’m Lisa, and I live down the street. I made you a Shepherd’s Pie … can I see the baby?”

Military life is unique, and our friendships differ from civilian culture in that camaraderie forms the basis of many of our relationships. We value unspoken trust and support among people working for a common cause, without regard to the length of the relationship.

So when your new civilian friend has a significant event in her life, she may think it’s a little odd when you show up with a lasagna, offer to drive her kids to school, and mop her kitchen floor. But do it anyway. You may have only met her two months ago in the preschool pick up line, but she is your friend and she needs help.

She’ll eventually understand that, even though military friends don’t always fit those internet checklists, they more than make up for any shortcomings in shared history with loyalty, sincerity and dedication.

And that, my friends, is a major “check in the box.”

Wary of War-weariness

 

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All I did was go to a movie, eat a jumbo tub of popcorn, and fall asleep watching TV. But I’m totally exhausted.

Not in the fatigued sense of the word, but exhausted as in spent, drained, tapped out from the endless barrage of negative news related to the military.

My Navy husband and I have been lazing around most evenings, staring like zombies into our television until peeling ourselves off the couch and wandering off to bed. During these marathons of nightly sloth, our metabolisms slow to a crawl, allowing maximum fat storage, and our breathing decreases to a rate symptomatic of clinical coma.

“Hey Hon, you wanna go to the movies tonight?” my husband called from work to suggest. Although the outing still involved sloth — and thanks to the theater snack bar, gluttony — we thought leaving the house earned us major points for effort.

We’d wanted to see “American Sniper” ever since its December release, and were even more intrigued by Navy Seal Chris Kyle since the media coverage of the murder trial surrounding his death at the hands of ex-Marine Eddie Ray Routh.

The movie did not disappoint, but it certainly devastated. Watching the horrific portrayals of what our veterans have endured tapped into our deepest human sense of fear, morality and justice. I was too riveted to cry until the end, when real-life footage of hundreds of people and waving American flags lining Interstate 35 in Central Texas to watch Chris Kyle’s funeral procession had me blubbering like a baby.

Back at home, we resisted the urge to spend the remains of our evening on the couch, opting instead to channel surf in bed, which ironically lent itself to even more inertia. Pressing the clicker, I came upon the HBO documentary “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1.”

“Hey, that just won an Oscar,” my husband piped up from his pillow. According to the documentary that portrays the stresses on the staff at the VA’s only Crisis Hotline Center, over 22 veterans kill themselves every day, and in 2012 the number of active duty suicides surpassed US combat deaths. The responders are shown deftly fielding tense calls from veterans who want to hurt themselves or others. Many callers report flashbacks and insomnia. Some have weapons or have ingested pills. Some hold on until police arrive. Others hang up.

Photo courtesy of va.gov.

Photo courtesy of va.gov.

Drained from digesting so much popcorn and gut-wrenching reality, my husband snored that night like a hacksaw.

In the morning, we heard the news: “The jury rejected Eddie Ray Routh’s insanity defense, finding him guilty of two counts of murder.” Two years ago, Routh’s mother, knowing that Chris Kyle worked with struggling veterans, asked if he could help her son who had recently been diagnosed with PTSD. One week later, Routh shot and killed Kyle and friend Chad Littlefield at the rifle range where Kyle often took fellow vets.

It took the jury less than two hours to decide that, despite evidence that Routh suffered from mental illness, he did not meet the burden of proof for legal insanity. In the hours that followed the verdict, commentators, reporters, and the public debated whether justice was served.

Some recognized the complexity and irony of the case, and wondered whether Chris Kyle, who served his country with distinction as a Navy Seal sniper through four combat tours, would still be helping fellow veterans if Routh hadn’t slipped through cracks in the VA’s system. Whereas others went to simplified extremes: “Only in back-assward Texas would they convict the killer of a child-killer” and “I’d give Routh the chair two times over.”

Just as I was hoping to take a rest from all this disheartening news about our military veterans, my husband brought home a Stars and Stripes article by Travis Tritten. On February 25th, top enlisted leaders told Congress that our military is woefully unprepared for conflict because servicepersons are anxious about their uncertain future. The 24-hour cycle of war-weary news regarding further drastic defense cuts and constant threats to jobs, pay and benefits has taken its toll on morale and readiness.

As I contemplate what tragedies could befall the next generation of veterans, I realize that we can’t rest on war-weariness. We should get off our lazy duffs and do something to help those who served tirelessly. Volunteer. Make a call. Write a letter. Spread the word. Let our elected officials know that the United States military cannot defend this country without adequate support for servicepersons, their families, and our veterans.

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Please share the VA’s Crisis Hotline contact information: call 1-800-273-8255 Press1; text 838255; or confidential chat online at www.veteranscrisisline.net.

Snow Day Slumber Party

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Yes, that would be my child wearing the snorkeling goggles….

At the time, I thought it was a good idea. At the time, I thought it would be fun. At the time, I thought it would make me look like Mother of the Year.

Yes, at the time.

My brain must’ve been frozen when I had the bright idea to allow our teenage daughters, Anna and Lilly, to invite friends to a “snow day slumber party,” because it didn’t exactly turn out as I had envisioned.

My husband picked up our excited daughters and their friends from school after early dismissal, while I was at home frantically vacuuming our base house in hopes that no one would notice that I haven’t dusted since Truman signed the Marshall Plan.

Upstairs, while sucking a dust bunny and a paper clip from a corner, I heard them.

The back door burst open with an uproar of giggles. Backpacks thunked on our government-issue-linoleum floor, and I heard the suction-breaking sound of our refrigerator door opening. Our daughters and their friends swarmed the house like marauding bees, buzzing with excitement from room to room, until finally settling in Lilly’s bedroom to post the first of many slumber party selfies and Snap Chats.

Instinct told me to hide in my room for the next two days, communicating with my husband via cell phone to bring me wine, Pringles and People magazines. But if I wanted these teenagers to think I was a cool mom, I knew I couldn’t cower in fear. I checked myself in the mirror (Okay, trendy sweater and some decent boots, at least I’m looking the part…), took deep breath (They’re teenagers, not blood-sucking zombies, right?), and entered the fray (Here goes nothing.)

Leaning nonchalantly on the door jam, I interrupted the group draped over Lilly’s bed. “Hey girls, how’s it going?” Sensing my pathetic need for recognition, Anna shot me an “Oh Brother”look, but her friends flashed genuine smiles. So far so good.

Later in the kitchen, I knew that a cool mom would create a Pinterest-worthy slumber party dinner like Euro-Asian fusion organic kebabs or something. However, the best I could muster was turkey noodle soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Mercifully, the girls hailed the low-brow buffet as the “perfect blizzard meal” and my reputation was spared.

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Despite the fact that my mental stability depends heavily on my nightly couch time, my husband and I relinquished the entire first floor of the house to the giggling gaggle, so they could splatter brownie mix all over the kitchen, light popcorn bags on fire in the microwave, charge expensive movies on our Netflix account, and make more noise than a herd of stampeding Wildebeests.

The next morning, while silently suffering anxiety over making the perfect chocolate chip pancakes — Oh Lord, please don’t let me burn them this time – I noticed that our house had turned into a combat zone, strewn with dishes, socks, bendy straws, blankets, popcorn, sweatshirts, soda cans, cell phones, and lip gloss.

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Thankfully, the group went sledding after breakfast, giving me time to wash the dishes, tidy the house, and take a shower. Towel drying my hair in my bedroom, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I think Im a cool mom after all, I thought. Sipping my coffee, I reached out to separate the blinds, hoping to catch a heartwarming glimpse of the girls sledding in our snowy Currier and Ives base neighborhood.

“Oh, good God,” I sputtered, coffee shooting from my nose. Apparently, sledding is not thrilling enough. Apparently, it is more fun to jump off our garage into a snow bank. Apparently, this experience is even better if you film the stunts and upload clips to social media for all your friends — and, unfortunately, their parents — to see.

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Driving the girls home in our salt-splattered minivan that afternoon, I chuckled at myself for trying so hard to be a cool mom, and realized that I should just be thankful I was returning the girls home with no apparent injuries other than a few minor hot chocolate burns and a bit of sleep deprivation.

Despite it all, motherhood is truly rewarding, I thought while looking out at the winter wonderlandand then, I made a mental note to update our liability insurance.

Give up cholesterol for Lent? Fat Chance.

No more warning to use fat "sparingly."

No more warning to use fat “sparingly.”

Last week, news broke that the US government’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee found that cholesterol in the diet is no longer considered to be a “nutrient of concern.”So, after 40 years of being told that we should avoid eggs, bacon and cheese, we can now belly up to nice big omelet without worrying that it’ll clog our arteries.

This recent flip in the government’s nutrition recommendations follows the USDA scrapping its long-standing Food Pyramid in 2011, and replacing it with the simplified “My Plate” graphic (choosemyplate.gov). This change was made in the face of overwhelming research indicating that the low-fat trend that started in the 1970s contributed significantly to the diabetes and obesity epidemics in the US. The My Plate guidelines still advocate a diet low in cholesterol; however, it is expected that the USDA will soon remove this admonition based on the Advisory Committee’s report.

Although the My Plate daily allowances of 50% vegetables and fruit, 30% grains, and 20% protein are still being criticized as skewed to appease agricultural industry lobbyists, they are considered a vast improvement over the outdated Food Pyramid advice to use fat “sparingly” and eat “6 to 11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta” daily.

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Personally, I feel vindicated.

As a frequent low-carb dieter, I have always felt a twinge of embarrassment in the commissary check out line, while heaping eggs, bacon, cheese, pork rinds, and mayonnaise onto the belt. Over the years, many of my military spouse friends looked at me with a judgmental grimace and said, “You’re not doing that Adkins diet again, are you?”

Sometimes I’d lie and tell them, “Oh, heck no, I’m doing a much healthier diet that’s low in fat.”Little did they know, I was shoveling nuts, spearing olives, slicing steaks, and slathering cream cheese to my heart’s content (pun intended).

The first time I discovered low-carb diets was in 1999 while stationed in Norfolk, and although it seemed counter-intuitive to count carbs rather than fat, I decided to give it a shot.

A couple of weeks into the diet, I had eaten more eggs than Cool Hand Luke and was five pounds of toxin-flushing water weight down. Other than nagging constipation and debilitating fatigue, I felt fabulous, and continued fibbing to my military spouse friends until I’d lost 20 pounds and some change.

However, I am a chronic yo-yo dieter with a deeply-ingrained feast-or-famine mentality. So, as soon as a holiday or special occasion rolls around, I fall off the low-carb cliff into an abyss of gluttony. When I finally emerge from the splurge, I use the lull between special occasions to diet again.

Now that the plastic-beaded debauchery of Fat Tuesday is behind me, Lent is an opportune time for me to sacrifice some carbs again. I just hope that when Easter rolls around, I won’t fall off the wagon and find myself gobbling a pound each of ham, scalloped potatoes and chocolate in one sitting.

I always feel guilty about cheating on my low-carb diet, but now, thanks to the new nutrition guidelines, at least I no longer have to feel guilty about my low-carb diet itself.

Omelets anyone?

5 Simple Steps to Romantic Spontaneity!

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This Valentine’s Day, I’ll be up at o-dark-thirty to drive my husband to the airport for another overseas military work trip. As long as the minivan doors aren’t frozen shut, I’ll load my shivering body into the driver’s seat, clutching my coffee in one hand and the frigid steering wheel in the other. I’ll back over the sooty snow chunks in our driveway, and we’ll drive, silently listening to news radio along the way.

How’s that for romance?

Not to worry. We’ll make plans to celebrate when he gets back, just like we have for all the other holidays, birthdays and special events my husband wasn’t home for during his 26 years in the Navy. It’s something we “senior military spouses” are accustomed to by now.

Truth be told, life is so hectic — we have three teenagers, enough said — I’m kind of glad to have a little extra time to prepare for a make up Valentine’s date when my husband returns.

In the early days of our marriage, romance required no special planning. Everything seemed inherently romantic back then: sharing a mediocre egg roll at the mall food court, canoodling while in line at the DMV, taking turns gargling at our shared bathroom sink. We were in that goofy-in-love-stage, when the world was seen through rose-colored glasses and ordinary occurrences such as misshapen pancakes were interpreted as serendipity: “Oh, Honey, look! It’s shaped like a heart! Don’t eat it, let’s save it…[smooch, smooch]”

However, when you’ve been married for more than 20 years like we have, romance might need a little coaxing. Like a couple of old gas grills, our easy-start buttons broke some time ago, so if we want to get cooking, we need a plan to ignite the flame.

#1 Make reservations. Gone are the days when we could show up for a romantic dinner without reservations, and stare into each other’s eyes while waiting for 45 minutes at the crowded bar. Nowadays, the hostess better seat us quick, and put in a rush order of chowder while she’s at it, before my husband gets “hangry” or I start to yawn.

#2 Don’t just talk about the kids. When we were young, Valentine’s Day dinner conversation was dominated by quixotic plans for a perfect life of adventure, a white-picket fence, and an ever-deepening love. But two decades into marriage, we find ourselves chatting about mundane details such as the status of the leaky dishwasher, the latest college bill, and how far we have to drive for the next away game. Steering the conversation in a more amorous direction requires considerable effort, but it’s worth it… even if our dreams for our future now involve post-retirement walks on the beach wearing wrap-around sunglasses and pants pulled up to our armpits, while carrying metal detectors.

#3 Don’t fall asleep on the couch. In the old days, we wandered around after Valentine’s dinners, arm in arm, stopping to admire urban landscapes or bucolic scenery. But as middle-aged parents, we head home as soon as the waitress boxes up the leftover chicken piccata, and resist all urges to “wind down in front of the TV for just a bit,” because the odds for intimacy decrease considerably after you fall asleep on the couch with your mouth open.

#4 Brush, floss and gargle. When we were young, passion was a given. But now, if we are able to muster a bit of affection in the midst of stretch marks and male-pattern balding, we wouldn’t want to let something like personal hygiene kill the mood: “Honey, I love you and all, but you’ve got a fleck of pepper between your teeth, and I’m getting the aroma of clams casino.”

#5 Keep it real. Don’t obsess over recreating the passion of your youth. Instead, think of what you and your spouse have shared over the years — the dreams, the milestones, the joys, the hardships, the moves, the deployments, and the real life experiences. What could be more romantic than knowing you’re with someone dedicated to lifetime companionship, right?

Plan your Valentine’s Day strategy, and the romance will happen… spontaneously.

When the power goes out

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“Do you think you bought enough?” I asked sarcastically, as my husband dropped multiple Stop & Shop bags on the kitchen floor.

Winter Storm Juno was on its way, and Francis was determined to be prepared. I had casually mentioned that we might need a gallon of milk and maybe a loaf of bread. Two hours later, he returned to the house with enough supplies for our entire base neighborhood: bags of food, packages of batteries, five cases of water, two lighters, and twenty-seven candles.

But of course, like a true Navy man, my husband’s first stop was the base Package Store where he bought beer, wine, red Solo cups, and enough rum, limes, and ginger beer to make “Dark & Stormy” drinks from now until summer vacation.

I wasn’t sure whether he was preparing for the storm or opening a tavern.

After unloading the bags, Francis marched out to our garage to retrieve our shovels, road salt, and sleds for “when the power goes out and the garage door opener is disabled.” Then, he drove each car to the gas station to fill up for “when the power goes out and the stations are closed.” Then he drove to the ATM machine on base and withdrew half our life savings in cash, for “when the power goes out and ATMs shut down.” And even though we don’t have a usable fireplace, he brought home seven starter logs for “when the power goes out and we don’t have heat.”

“Don’t you think you’re going a bit overboard, Hon? I mean, we don’t even know if we’re going to lose power at all.”

His head, topped by a Navy watch cap sprinkled with fresh flurries, snapped toward me. “It’s not a matter of IF we lose power, it’s a matter of WHEN we lose power, and I, for one, will be prepared. He stomped off to crank the thermostat up to an uncomfortable 74 degrees for “when the power goes out.”

There was no reasoning with him. Much like our teenage girls who were excited about two snow days of sledding and lounging around in pajama pants, Francis was looking forward to playing hero, and he wasn’t going to let common sense get in the way.

Still ensconced in his watch cap and an ill-fitting sweater, he removed his wet boots, poured himself a cold beer, and nestled in to await the impending doom from the comfort of his Barcalounger while binge-watching DVR episodes of “House Hunters”.

Secretly, I rolled my eyes at Francis’ predictions of “Snowpocolypse”, but the wind howled so loud that night, I wondered if my husband had been right all along.

Surely, the unrelenting gusts will snap a power line, I thought. By the time the chill wakes us, it’ll be too late — in the darkness, we’ll fumble for candles, wrap ourselves in blankets, and huddle together until the house succumbs to the bitter cold. Then, shivering, we’ll hunch over a smoldering starter log in our patio fire pit, our shallow breaths of survival barely visible in the dim light….

But instead, our radiators pumped out heat nonstop while we ate like kings, took long hot showers, watched way too much TV, drank cocktails in the afternoon, put together a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle, and slept with our mouths open.

On the third morning, the skies cleared. “I guess we won’t be needing these,” Francis moped around the house before heading to work, lighting one of the seven cinnamon-scented jar candles he had purchased for “when the power goes out.” Sensing his disappointment, I mustered my best damsel in distress. “You know, Hon, thank goodness you were so prepared, because the power definitely… um, really did… uh, almost go out. I shudder to think of what almost happened to our family. I mean, you pretty much saved our lives.”

Francis threw me a suspicious glance, then made the split decision to accept the compliment shamelessly. With his watch cap to protect him from the bitter winds, he paused on his way out the door to announce, “Another storm’s coming in a couple days, but don’t worry, I’ll stop by the store on the way home.”

My hero.

Deflated egos pump up controversy

Photo courtesy of abcnews.go.com

Photo courtesy of abcnews.go.com

After our beloved Steelers’ humiliating defeat in the wild card round a few weeks ago, my husband and I realized that we needed to pick another NFL team to support if we wanted a valid excuse to laze around on weekends watching football and eating processed cheese products.

We decided on the Packers because they’re “old school,” but when they lost to the Seahawks in the Conference Championships, we found ourselves scrambling. Do we admit defeat and go shovel the sidewalks? No! As long as there’s queso dip left in the house and we haven’t developed bed sores, we’re staying right here on this couch!

Seeing as our family is stationed on a Navy base in New England, I hastily offered my loyalties to the Patriots. And besides, Tom Brady’s pretty easy on the eyes. My husband feared I was suffering from some form of Stockholm Syndrome, and snapped, “C’mon, we don’t want the Patriots to go to the Super Bowl again! They need to give someone else a chance!”

Despite the tiny bead of drool that had formed in the corner of my mouth as I thought about that adorable dimple in Tom Brady’s chin, I appreciated his point. The Patriots are just so damned good, and good looking, aren’t they? With all their championship titles and the longest winning streak NFL history, they’re getting way too big for their shimmering spandexed britches.

Suddenly, that ruggedly stubbled dimple stopped being the object of my obsession and became the symbol of life’s inherent unfairness. “Yeah!” I spouted, “Give someone else a chance!”

For the next four hours, we sat transfixed, hoping the Patriots — the Popular Crowd, the Most Likely to Succeed, the Golden Boys, the Kids with the Pumped Up Kicks — would get creamed by the underdog Colts. But every completed Patriot pass seemed to dredge up more deep-seated adolescent insecurities from our youths.

By halftime, I felt like I was in 8th grade all over again, standing against the cafeteria wall during the school dance, wearing my brother’s hand-me-down Wranglers with cheap knock-off boat shoes and a polyester sweater, watching the sparkly popular girls sway to Rupert Holmes’ “Piña Colada Song” with all the cute boys.

When the Patriots made their sixth touchdown during the fourth quarter, I lost all faith that there was ever any justice in the world. Defeated, my husband and I peeled our bodies out of the deep depressions that had formed under us on the sofa, and sulked off to bed.

The next day, nightly news reports of “Deflate-Gate” only served to further fuel our bitterness. “I knew it, they’re cheaters!” My husband’s teeth gnashed with fury reconstituted from his husky childhood.

The litany of the day’s news reports continued: “Some say that Mitt Romney needs to give someone else a chance to run for President.” “Days after ‘American Sniper’ receives six Oscar nominations, Navy SEAL’s heroism is questioned.” “As Taylor Swift’s latest album sales exceed four million, rumors swirl that Justin Bieber will diss her in upcoming song.” “US days as a global superpower are numbered.”

Absorbing the news of that day, I found myself wondering: Is our tendency to root for underdogs a manifestation of human inferiority complex? Do foreign nations target America because they covet our obvious prosperity? Does the instant-gratification-selfie-generation seek to discredit our military heroes in order to overcompensate for their own lack of sacrifice?

I pondered… Are we refusing to pump up the Patriots because of our own deflated egos?

Searching my soul, I realized that, deflated balls aside, the Patriots are an outstanding football team worthy to compete in their eighth Super Bowl Championship. So next Sunday, while seated on a comfy couch, I’ll give credit where credit is due.

Well, at least as long as the queso holds out.

Queso

 

Cornerstones and Cannoli

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Paul Revere statue on the Freedom Trail

George Washington once said, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent may we be lead, like sheep to slaughter.” It was with this same logic that our kids mouthed off at us recently.

“History?! What do you mean we’re going to experience ‘history’?!” Lilly whined from the back of the minivan. Anna’s groggy eyes peered incredulously from under a mop of bed head. Hayden, still half asleep, grimaced in solidarity with his sisters.

It was 9 am, which on weekends, is essentially the middle of the night to our three teenagers, and we were driving from our base house on Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island to Boston to spend the day walking “The Freedom Trail.”

“This is our last chance to do something as a family before Hayden goes back to college, so zip it,” my husband Francis dictated like King George. Too sleepy to battle, the kids surrendered and went immediately back to sleep.

With the uprising squelched, I settled into my seat to study the tour book while Francis drove us north on Route 24. As long as we didn’t freeze to death, we would walk the 2.5 mile trail through downtown Boston, past 16 sites that played a pivotal roll in the dramatic struggle for the ideals of freedom of speech, religion, government, and self-determination.

Although our kids would have rather gone to school wearing headgear, we wanted them to experience the events that sparked the American Revolution over two centuries ago. Glancing in the visor mirror at our teenagers sprawled open-mouthed in the back seats, I repeated the thought that had passed through my mind countless times: “Hopefully they’ll appreciate this one day.”

Somehow, it was my fault when Francis missed the hairpin turn the GPS ordered him to take in Boston’s Financial District — my husband is Irish-Italian after all — but we eventually arrived at the parking garage recommended by our tour book.

Our hike began at the Old State House, dwarfed by surrounding skyscrapers, where in 1761 patriot James Otis rendered a five-hour speech that ignited the colonists’ original rebellion. Only 15 years later, the newly-signed Declaration of Independence was read aloud to the people of Boston from the building’s balcony.

If only we were holding muskets, our family of five would have passed for bedraggled revolutionary militia, as we fought the bitter winds to march over the site of the Boston Massacre north toward the Charles River. We thought we saw the “two if by sea” lanterns hanging on the Old North Church steeple, Paul Revere’s signals that British “regulars” were coming to invade. But thankfully, it was only the neon lights of the restaurants and bakeries on the North End, Boston’s version of Little Italy.

“C’mon, let’s go there, puhleeeese!?” the troops protested, pointing wearily to red-awninged Pizzeria Regina. In order to quell their cries of Starvation Without Representation, we allowed the majority to rule and stopped for lunch.

The meal was of historic proportions, and our patriots were properly refueled to survive the rest of the march, even while lugging plastic doggie bags of leftover slices. We passed three more sites — Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, The Old North Church, and Paul Revere’s house — before the kids asserted their inalienable right to dessert.

Sucking pistachio-laced ricotta from a cannoli the size of my boot, I tasted the benefits of freedom as we trudged on toward the Old South Meeting House, the Massachusetts State House, and Boston Common; stopping at the graves of John Hancock, Sam Adams, and Paul Revere along the way.

In the end, we completed the 2.5 mile Freedom Trail before dusk, and were safely splayed out on our family room couch, channel surfing by 8 pm.

“Hey Dad,” Hayden interrupted Francis’ game of smartphone solitaire, “check this out.” Ironically, CNN was covering breaking news of the discovery of a time capsule buried by Paul Revere and Sam Adams 225 years ago in a cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House. The latex-gloved scientists displayed the copper box of artifacts for the cameras, as our son gazed at the television, his face expressing newfound respect for the brave determination of our founding fathers.

As debate over freedom of speech rages on in Paris, in the media, and in our family of five, America stands as a shining beacon to the rest of the world of what can be accomplished when, at all costs, people demand to be heard.

The sweet taste of freedom -- pistachio cannoli from Mike's Pastry in Boston's North End

The sweet taste of freedom — pistachio cannoli from Mike’s Pastry in Boston’s North End

copper time capsule

The copper time capsule buried by Paul Revere and Sam Adams that was recently found in a cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House

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