Heroes and Hot Dogs

Image via freerepublic.com

Image via freerepublic.com

“Why did I come in this room again?” I often mutter to myself, while puttering around my house. At the commissary, I spend the first few minutes mumbling, “Now, what was it that I needed?” Without fail, an hour after entering a Target store, I find myself in the checkout line, inquiring, “Wait, what was that one thing I came here to buy before I threw all this other stuff into my cart?”

I’ve been known to search for sunglasses that were perched conspicuously on my head. I’ve forgotten to take my kids to orthodontist appointments, piano lessons, and sports practices. I’ve assembled an entire lasagna, only to realize I forgot the layers of ricotta. I’ve bumped into people I’ve known for months, and drawn a total blank when trying to recall their names. I’ve run a finger over my armpit while getting dressed, wondering, “Did I forget to put deodorant on?”

It hasn’t always been this way. In my 20s, my mind was a steel trap. As I observed the world, all data was efficiently processed and stored for rapid recall. When someone asked if I needed to write down a phone number, list or appointment, I would say with all sincerity, “Nah. I’ve got it all up here,” tapping a finger to my temple with confidence.

But somehow, after 21 years of marriage and military life, my brain cells are shot. Maybe it’s hormones. Maybe my college years finally caught up with me. Maybe I’ve ingested too many artificial sweeteners. Maybe raising three teenagers causes premature dementia.

I’m not quite sure what it is – or maybe I’ve simply forgotten – but I have enough smarts left to know that I must compensate for my intellectual decline.

Nowadays, our refrigerator looks like a Punjabi taxicab, covered in grocery lists, appointment cards, bills, school schedules, recipes, and a calendar the size of Texas, all highlighted in fluorescent marker and affixed with a garish display of souvenir magnets. It isn’t sleek or stylish, but it helps me remember things. And besides, who needs stylish kitchen appliances when you live in a base house that hasn’t been updated since the Carter administration?

Thanks to my gigantic calendar and four kitsch magnets, one of which doubles as a nifty bottle opener, I am reminded that there is an important federal holiday coming up.

Although we never seem to forget the hot dogs, pickle relish and cold beer for our traditional cookouts, we tend to forget why we get the day off to begin with. On May 5, 1868, Major General John Logan declared that flowers should decorate the graves of fallen Union and Confederate soldiers of the Civil War at Arlington Cemetery, stating, “Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

By the end of World War I, “Memorial Day” was being recognized across the country as a holiday to honor those soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who gave their lives fighting for our country’s freedom in all American wars.

This Monday, May 25th, I’ll make a list so I won’t forget the hamburger buns, the Cool Whip, the plastic forks and the charcoal briquettes. Hopefully, I won’t mutter to myself, “Wait, why do we have the day off today?” But if I do, I’ll only need to glance up from the comfort of my lawn chair at the American flag flying over our front door and think,

Of course, its Memorial Day … how could we ever forget?

M&PofL readers! Don’t forget to comment on my last post — “I’ll give you ‘American Sniper” and an ugly cry face” — to enter for a chance to win a brand new Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Combo pack of the hit movie, ‘American Sniper!’ Just leave your comment after that post, and I’ll announce a winner on Memorial Day!

I’ll give you ‘American Sniper’ and an ugly cry face

American Sniper 3D Box Art

Nope. Never. Not on your life. Forget about it. It ain’t happnin’. 

That’s what I’ve been saying when asked to host giveaways on my blog for the past several years. But I must admit:  ‘American Sniper’ left me a weeping, snotty, patriotic mess when I saw it back in February, so I am proud to partner with Grace Hill Media and Warner Brothers to host my first Giveaway!

Yep, you read that right. I, Lisa Smith Molinari, of somewhat sound mind and very round body, have solemnly agreed to give away one ‘American Sniper’ Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Combo Pack to one person who leaves a comment at the end of this post by noon on Monday, May 25th — Memorial Day. Your comment — one comment per household please — should state how you plan to honor our fallen military heroes this Memorial Day. I will select one winner randomly from the commenters and will announce by 5pm on Memorial Day. If you won, send me your address via my contact page, and I’ll send the Combo Pack to you in a flash. Just be sure to stock up on tissues for that ugly cry face — sniff!

More good news:  ‘American Sniper’ is being released onto Blue-ray/DVD/Digital on May 19th — AND — one dollar from every purchase up to 1 MILLION DOLLARS will be donated to Wounded Warrior Project, a national nonpartisan organization whose purpose is “to raise awareness and to enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members, to help injured servicemen and women aid and assist each other, and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet their needs.” To buy the movie on Amazon, use this link:  http://amzn.to/1zKw2VJ

If you haven’t seen the movie, here’s a synopsis from the press release:

Navy SEAL Chris Kyle is sent to Iraq with only one mission: to protect his brothers-in-arms. His pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield, and as stories of his courageous exploits spread, he earns the nickname “Legend.” However, his reputation is also growing behind enemy lines, putting a price on his head and making him a prime target of insurgents. He is also facing a different kind of battle on the home front: striving to be a good husband and father from halfway around the world. Despite the danger, as well as the toll on his family at home, Chris serves through four harrowing tours of duty in Iraq, personifying the spirit of the SEAL creed to “leave no one behind.” But upon returning to his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller), and kids, Chris finds that it is the war he can’t leave behind.


In honor of Military Appreciation Month and upcoming Memorial Day, I am proud to help spread the word about Chris Kyle’s story, and I wish to thank all US Servicepersons and their families for their sacrifices!



The Duke and Duchess of Prom

Scan 2“Oh, Mom,” my daughter Anna crooned dreamily on the way home from Junior Prom last Saturday. “We went outside for a walk, and he gave me his jacket and held my hand… it was so romantic!”

She floated off to her room, her head swimming with fresh memories of Prom Night that will stay with her forever.

In fact, 21 years of attending military balls as a Navy wife have not clouded my own memories of Junior Prom.

It was the spring of 1983. Despite a disappointing first kiss the year before, I couldn’t quell my teenage optimism and believed that I’d soon meet the boy of my dreams.

But three weeks before Junior Prom, I was still dateless. I was so desperate, I threw a note with my name and address on it out the track team bus window at an away meet, in hopes that some athletic stud from another school would find it and write to me. A few days later I got letters from two pitiful geeks who had fished my note out of a mud puddle on their way to the library.

The following week, a boy in my science class followed me to my locker. He was nice enough, but had a seemingly perpetual sinus infection. A mouth-breather, the bottom of his upturned nose was always red and chapped. Speaking in a nasal tone through a full set of metal braces, he asked, “Woodyu wan do go wid me do da prom?”

Caught off guard, I stuttered, “Uh, wow, great, but I might be going with someone else, I’m not sure, I need to check … I’ll let you know….”

I had no idea what I was talking about. I had to come up with another date fast, unless I wanted photos of me and Mr.Crusty-Nose arm in arm under the balloon arch.

I thought of a football player I knew — well, actually, he was the water boy who got promoted to 3rd string lineman. A likable, husky kid with a jolly disposition, he was a mascot of sorts to the team, who had nicknamed him “The Duke.” He seemed the perfect candidate to be my prom date – not popular enough to reject me, and free of excess nasal mucus.

I cornered The Duke after school and proposed that we go to the prom together “as friends.” “Excellent!” he responded with a smile.

The next day, I broke the news to Mr. Crusty-Nose. I felt like schmuck lying to him, but good thing I did, because he asked another girl who ended up becoming his wife. So, I guess you could say, he owes me.

My cousin and I swapped dresses – I gave her a violet taffeta monstrosity with huge puffy sleeves, and she gave me a pink lace number that wasn’t much better.

The Duke showed up in a thoughtfully coordinated rental tux – a mauve poly blend with matching velour around the cuffs and collar, a ruffled shirt, and an enormous mauve bow tie. Although there was no romance in our arrangement, we both felt like a million bucks, and were hopeful for a fun night.

We sat with The Duke’s football player friends at dinner. They had always intimidated me, and I was glad to have the Duke as my buffer. Halfway through the cordon bleu, the boys were exchanging insults and inside jokes, when suddenly one of them pointed at my date and me and shouted, “Hey, it’s The Duke and The Duchess!” I swallowed my humiliation and faked a laugh.

Later at the dance, The Duke requested his favorite song, “You dropped the bomb on me” by The Gap Band, and we danced a mauve streak. All in all, my Junior prom was a pretty good time. I might have sacrificed the romance that all teenage girls dream about, but not everyone gets to be The Prom King and Queen.

Some of us have to settle for being The Duke and Duchess.

Military Spouse Appreciation Day: Is it real?


The calendar is full of obscure national holidays.

Why, in the last week alone, we’ve been encouraged to celebrate National Chocolate Parfait Day, Beer Pong Day, Scurvy Awareness Day, and National Lumpy Rug Day.

Last month, we were afforded the opportunity to recognize Ex Spouse Day, National High Five Day, Bat Appreciation Day, and National Cheeseball Day. And next month, we’ll gear up for World Jugglers’ Day, Hug Your Cat Day, and Waffle Iron Day.

And nestled in there — among all those weird holidays praising Paul Bunyan, Peach Blossoms, and Ear Muffs — on the Friday before Mother’s Day, is Military Spouse Appreciation Day.

Is Military Spouse Appreciation Day a real holiday? Or is it just another unsung observance like Extraterrestrial Abductions Day and Tell a Fairy Tale Day?

According to Jacob Stein of the Congressional Research Service, there are only “11 permanent federal holidays established by law … New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, Inauguration Day (every four years following a presidential election), George Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.”

The vast majority of “National Holidays” such as Grandparents’ Day, Squirrel Appreciation Day and even Halloween are not established by an act of congress, but rather, are the result of widely recognized tradition, brilliant corporate marketing campaigns, or a bunch of goofy college kids who are good at social media.

However, there are a some special days of the year that, although they are not deemed to be federal holidays, they have so much national significance that the President of the United States issues an annual proclamation calling upon the public to honor the cause, event or individual.

Military Spouse Appreciation Day is one of those significant public observances.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan established Military Spouse Appreciation Day by Proclamation 5184, recognizing the countless sacrifices and unselfish contributions made by Military Spouses since the days of the Continental Army:

“[Military Spouses] subordinated their personal and professional aspirations to the greater benefit of the service family. Responding to the call of duty, they frequently endured long periods of separation or left familiar surroundings and friends to reestablish their homes in distant places. And there they became American ambassadors abroad. As volunteers, military spouses have provided exemplary service and leadership in educational, community, recreational, religious, social and cultural endeavors. And as parents and homemakers, they preserve the cornerstone of our Nation’s strength—the American family.”

Thirty years later, Military Spouses continue to support their husbands, wives, families and country, despite facing serious career obstacles and family hardships because of their unpredictable, mobile military lifestyle. Why don’t we recognize “Accountant Spouses,” “Engineer Spouses,” or “Chef Spouses” in the same way as Military Spouses? Because being a Military Spouse is not just a description based upon a husband or wife’s job – it’s a lifestyle commitment that requires a sense of duty, honor and patriotism.

Especially now, it’s crucial that the public shows its appreciation for our all-volunteer military force, along with the family members at home. Like their husbands and wives, Military Spouses need to know that their sacrifices are worth it.

This year, Military Spouse Appreciation Day falls on May 8th.

During the week you may feel compelled to celebrate Star Wars Day (May 4), Ferret Day (May 5), and Lost Sock Memorial Day (May 9), but carve a little time out of your busy calendar to recognize a truly important national holiday.

On May 8th, commemorate Military Spouse Appreciation Day by acknowledging that, not only is it a real holiday, it’s really important.

Confessions of a TV Junkie

meetingsIn the basement of a dingy community center, a florescent light buzzes over a dozen or so people seated in a circle of metal folding chairs. Some nibble anxiously at store-bought sandwich cookies, while others sit in nervous silence. There is a screeching of chair legs against linoleum, as one bleary-eyed woman stands with a trembling Styrofoam coffee cup to speak.

Hello, [clears throat] my name is Lisa … and I, … I am a Binge Watcher.

It’s been one week since my last television fix, and I’m here to share my story.

Believe it or not, there was a time when I didn’t even know what Binge Watching was. In fact, while our Navy family was stationed in Germany, we felt lucky that Armed Forces Network aired day-old episodes of Survivor and American Idol. The rest of the time, we entertained ourselves with middle-of-the-night live football broadcasts, quirky BBC cooking shows, and strange AFN public service announcements.

But when we moved back to the States, my husband and I discovered the joys of Digital Video Recording. Despite this, our television use was purely recreational. We were mere “social watchers,” catching a recorded program here and there, and streaming a movie over the weekend. Little did we know, we were perched on the slippery slope of instant gratification.

Eventually, we needed more episodes to be entertained. Our digitally savvy kids introduced my husband and I to the allure of services such as “On Demand” and “Hulu.” How intoxicating it was to take a double hit of “The Bachelor” and chase it with “Deadliest Catch” all in one evening!

Soon, we were hooked, and there was no going back.

Before we knew it, we were spending perfectly sunny weekends holed up in the family room of our base house watching episode after episode of random television series. We told everyone that we were “just catching up on ‘Modern Family'” or that we were “simply wondering what all the hubbub was about ‘Downton Abbey.'”

Ironically, it was the show “Breaking Bad” that nudged us into the deep dark abyss. We’d been jonesing to see the AMC series for a while, and when we found out that the first 54 episodes were On Demand for a limited time leading up to the final season, we knew we had just scored.

During our epic three-week “Breaking Bad” bender, we finally hit rock bottom. Our family room looked like the scene of a rave party, strewn with soda cans, popcorn and Chinese take-out boxes. Our pupils were permanently dilated as we stared, transfixed, into the psychedelic LCD screen, our cold, clammy fingers gripping the smudged remotes.

We were so strung out after that binge, we quit cold turkey for a while, satisfying our cravings with short doses of “House Hunters” and “Seinfeld” reruns in hopes that we’d avoid the painful withdrawal symptoms of rapid detox.

However, lately, ads keep popping up for April premiers of “Game of Thrones,” “The Real Housewives of New York,” and “Wolf Hall.” The final season of “Mad Men” premiered on April 5th, and we still haven’t finished watching “House of Cards” and “Downton Abbey” … What’s a TV junkie to do? Binge watch, of course!

I must confess that Spring Premiere Season has triggered my recent relapse. Although I’m not sure there’s a 12 step recovery program for Binge Watching, I’m absolutely certain I’ll gain 12 pounds if I don’t get up off the couch and stop watching so much TV.

So, mark my words: I’m quitting Binge Watching for good this time. I’m 100% serious. No more lounging in sweatpants on Sunday afternoons pressing “play” hour after hour. Spring has sprung, and I’ll be spending all my time in the great outdoors. I swear, I’m going to do it, and there’s no time like the present.

And I’ll start just as soon as the “Mad Men” final season is over.

No day like tomorrow


My column was late this week.

A spaceship wasn’t hovering ominously over Rhode Island. Our base house didn’t burn down. My computer didn’t seize up with “the blue screen of death,” although that did happen back in ’07 just after my husband deployed to Djibouti. None of our kids came down with double pneumonia. And miraculously, I wasn’t arrested for fraud after filing our tax returns.

Nope, I don’t have one decent excuse for my column being late. Truth be told, I procrastinated.

Normally, I submit my column to newspaper editors on Fridays for publication the following week, so that I can spend the weekend watching the kids’ sports, barbecuing with the neighbors, and walking the dog along the water.

Come Monday, I know it would be smart to write 200 words on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; leaving Thursday for rewrites and editing, and Friday for polishing and submission.

But that makes way too much sense.

Friday is eons away, I think to myself. Today, I’ll get laundry done, mop the floors, wash the minivan. Getting housework done will free me up to write more tomorrow.

But between the puppy being afraid of the vacuum cleaner, the hour-long call from my mother, the search for missing socks under the kids’ beds, and that riveting episode of “Cops” I had to watch until the end, I barely manage to defrost the pork chops.

On Tuesday, I wake with a purpose. I’m going to make some headway on that column … as soon as I think of an idea. What will I write about this week?

My notebook in hand, I sit in a sunny spot in the backyard to let the dog sniff around while I search for inspiration.

Hmmm … the beds could really use a bit of weeding. Three hours later, there are piles of garden debris out by the curb, my fingernails are packed with dirt, and I’m on my way to Home Depot for grass seed, tomato cages, and annuals.

On Wednesday, I determine that, if I spend the day in front of my computer, I can turn out 600 words and still have Thursday for editing. All I need is a subject. I troll the Internet, looking for topics, current events, some nugget of news that might feed an idea.

Let’s check Facebook to see what’s trending.

Big mistake. An hour later, I have scrolled all the way down to 2012, got sucked into a comment debate over whether mustard or ketchup is better on hot dogs, and watched a string of YouTube videos of dogs with human voiceovers.

I figure I’ll switch out the laundry and try again after lunch, but the afternoon brings a case of the sleepys. I convince myself that a 20-minute catnap on the couch will do wonders, but you can probably guess how the day goes from there.

Thursday I wake up stressed, which should provide adequate motivation to meet my 24-hour deadline. But by dinnertime, I have done everything BUT my column. I organized the junk drawer, swept out the basement, clipped my toenails, put our National Geographic magazines in chronological order, and dug the fuzz out of the keyboard with a toothpick.

I plan to let my editors know on Monday, I just can’t do this anymore.

Friday and Saturday pass in hopeless defeat. But on Sunday, I notice that the sky did not fall. The Earth did not implode. I am still breathing. My editors probably haven’t even noticed that my column is late. I realize that my fear of failure has caused me to create conditions where success is impossible. With the dangerous awareness that I could play this cat and mouse game with myself every week if I so dared, I finally sat down and tapped out this column about procrastination.

I hit send and promise myself: I will put an end to this self-destructive habit, and I’ll do it first thing — tomorrow.

My kids are total BRATS!

Month-Of-The-Military-Child[In honor of April, The Month of the Military Child, I rewrote the following article, which originally appeared in Military Spouse Magazine a couple of years ago.]

From the time I toddled around in droopy diapers, to the day I drove off to college in my VW Bug, I lived in one small Pennsylvania town. The kids who picked their noses next to me in Mrs. Rowley’s kindergarten class were the same ones who walked across the stage with me at our high school graduation. I had one hometown, one high school, one brick house, one yellow bedroom, and one best friend who I gabbed with each night on my one candlestick rotary phone while draped across my one mock brass twin bed.

By contrast, as a military child, our oldest went to three different high schools. He grew up in eight different homes, in three different states and two foreign countries. He has said goodbye to six different best friends, six different piano teachers, and four different Boy Scout troops. He played on three different varsity football teams, and his academic transcripts are almost as complicated as the US Tax Code.

Essentially, my son and his two younger sisters are total BRATS.

No, not that kind of brat. Although our kids have definitely displayed their fair share of unruly behavior, infuriating teen arrogance and near juvenile delinquency; I’m calling my kids “military BRATS,” which has an entirely different connotation.

Back in 1986, former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger established April as The Month of the Military Child. Military Commands and communities will be holding special events honoring the 1.7 million children of military families. Operation Military Kids, an organization dedicated to military children, asks that everyone “Purple Up!” as a show of support – wear purple in April to recognize the unique challenges military children face, such as deployments, family separations and frequent moves.

So why am I calling my kids BRATS during the month of April? Although it is fairly common knowledge that “military brats” are children of US servicepersons, few know the true origin of this term. According to WilliamsburghMilitaryInsider.com, “B.R.A.T.” may be an old acronym for “British Regiment Attached Traveler,” used to describe dependents accompanying British Army members being stationed abroad.

Over the years, the term expanded and evolved to become a universal descriptor for kids who move with their military parents. Regardless of the technical definitions and historical origins, the term “military B.R.A.T.” means so many different things — both good and bad — to each military family.

The acronym B.R.A.T. might as well stand for all military parents’ fears that their kids will be Bewildered, Reluctant, Afraid and Timid after each move. We put them in new schools, worried that they will be Bullied, Ridiculed, Abused and Taunted. Wracked with guilt, we feel Blameworthy, Remorseful, Apologetic and downright Terrible.

However, we military parents fail to remember that our BRATs are Brave, Resourceful, Amicable and Tolerant. After every move, they make new Buddies, form new Routines, find Acceptance, and feel Triumphant.

But kids will be kids, even the military ones, so they milk our guilt for all it’s worth, and lead us to believe that they are miserable.

They Bellyache, Refute, Accuse and shed Tears. They claim that all the students in their new school are Buffoons, Rednecks, Airheads, and Tramps. They tell us they might be able to cope if they were given Bonuses, Riches, Allowance and Toys.

And every time, we get suckered. As the Bills, Receipts, Arrears and Taxes pile up; the stress causes Balding, Reflux, Anxiety, and Tension headaches. Before you know it, we’re stocking up on Botox, Rogaine, Antacids and Tequila.

But regardless of the challenges of our military life, our children don’t succeed despite their military upbringing, they succeed because of it. And when they grow up and lead their own lives, they bring with them Beautiful Recollections of American Traditions.

As we celebrate the sacrifices and triumphs of military children this month, I’m beaming with pride when I say that our kids are most certainly, undeniably, complete and total BRATs.

Puppy Personality Disorder



A week ago, my life was normal. I showered regularly. I ran errands. I cooked and cleaned. I watched TV. I slept in a bed.

And then, my husband and I drove from our base house at Naval Station Newport to a cranberry farm in Massachusetts, and picked up a wriggling ball of fur that has changed everything.

We felt a twinge of guilt taking an eight-week-old Labrador retriever away from his littermates, with whom he had spent his days snuggling and tussling. But ever since the death of our beloved dog Dinghy, who saw us through deployments, PCS moves, and an overseas tour, we knew another dog would enhance our family. So we wrapped the puppy in a blanket and nuzzled him all the way home, happily ignorant of the chaos that was about to ensue.

We named him “Moby”, a tribute to our tour of duty in nautical New England. However, other apt labels have occurred to us this past week, as we have learned the multiple facets of our new puppy’s complex personality.

Puddle Maker has christened every rug in our house, and we’re now considering buying stock in puppy training pads. Kibble Gobbler inhales scoops of puppy food as if he is a starving prisoner, usually with one paw plopping in his water dish. Spawn of Cujo has an active period after meals, involving relentless ankle biting, broom chasing, and upholstery shredding. During this time, we can’t approach Staple Gun for fear that, what might seem like a sweet lick on the nose will turn out to be a needle-teeth lancing of that sensitive area just inside the nostrils.

Sweater Snagger sinks his fishhook nails into us when we carry him down the porch steps for potty time. Although he seems to know what is expected of him, Little Con Artist enjoys delaying the potty process long enough that we are forced to stand out in the cold while he innocently plays in the mud.

After following me around the house biting my shoes, Limp Noodle insists on taking a nap while laying over my feet. I sit motionless so as to not incite further mayhem, while the housework doesn’t get done, food doesn’t get cooked, and I don’t shower. This is generally the time that our base neighbors come by to see the newest member of our family. They all remark at how calm Little Faker is, and ask me why I’m looking so bedraggled these days.


After the fourth night sleeping on the floor beside the dog crate, I needed a break from Puppet Master. Just like the dog training book instructed, I gave him a special treat and put him in the playpen we’d assembled in the kitchen. I praised him, closed the gate, and left to drive the girls to school.

Fifteen minutes later, my base neighbor called. “What are you doing to that poor dog?!” he blurted, explaining that he could hear incessant yelping through the thick walls of our shared duplex.

I rushed home to find that Mr. Passive Aggressive “made a deposit” in his playpen in protest over being left alone. But that’s not the half of it. Canine Picasso also smeared it all over the floor, rug, bed, gate, toys and himself. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the morning scrubbing and disinfecting, and although everything looks clean, we may need to deworm the children just in case.

At first, I thought Moby was the one with the personality disorder, but I realize that it’s me who’s lost a grip on reality. I’ve transformed from Navy Mom to Pin Cushion, Pooper Scooper, Feed Bag and Personal Slave. I’m so delusional that, despite multiple contusions, baggy eyes, and a complete loss of hygiene standards, I’m utterly blinded by love.

Call me crazy, because in my mind, Moby is The Cutest Thing On The Face of This Earth.



Snack in the City


“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.


Coffee Shop Office


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.

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