The Housewife Zone


You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension of not only dust and dirt, but of lost minds. A journey into a chaotic, lawless land, bound only by your imagination. Next stop … The Housewife Zone.

Consider if you will, Lisa Molinari. A Navy wife and mother of three, who, like many military spouses, works from her home. She wakes on Monday morning, with a sense of dogged determination . . .

After her husband, Francis, leaves for work and the kids get off to school, she wipes the kitchen counters, empties the dishwasher, and feeds the dog. She fills a bucket with disinfectant and mops the mudroom, kitchen, and bathrooms. She vacuums the bedrooms, family room, living room, and sun porch, sucking the fuzz from corners with the crevice tool. She dusts the living room thoroughly, to include the tedious nooks and crannies of her husband’s military coin display racks.

She eats lunch at her desk, while answering necessary emails with thoughtful details and accurate punctuation. She waters the garden, weeds the beds, and sweeps the porch while throwing the tennis ball for the dog. She listens for the buzz of the dryer, completing three full loads during the course of the day.

By the time Francis arrives home from work, the house is spic and span. She serves her family a delicious dinner of marinated flat iron steak sautéed with shallots and mushrooms in a red wine reduction, and a side of caprese salad using tomatoes and basil fresh from her garden.

“I’m a complete failure,” Lisa says, flipping a morsel of gristle to the dog.

“Hu?” Francis responds, shoveling the last of the mushrooms onto his fork while still enjoying the pleasant scents of Pine Sol and beef drippings.

Lisa slumps in her chair with a heavy sigh. “Ever since I started working from home as a writer, I live in some kind of crazy mixed up dimension. I feel bad if I don’t get my writing done because I spent too much time cleaning and cooking. But if I spend the day writing, I feel like I’m a lousy housewife. I can’t win.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty messed up,” Francis said, muffling a satisfied belch with his napkin.

Lisa watches her husband shuffle off to his lounge chair, picking crumbs off his shirt and eating them like some kind of primate. She was envious. Thanks to the military, Francis lives within the comfortable confines of the world clear expectations. The Navy dictates what he wears, his hairstyle, what time he leaves the house, what he does all day, and even how much body fat he has.

Lisa, on the other hand, lives in the upside down world of the housewife (or househusband, as it were), where she has a million things to do, but no one tells her when, where, or how to do them. In this vast dimension, Lisa’s actions are bound only by her imagination.

If she wants to wear pajama pants and her son’s old football camp T-shirt until three in the afternoon, no one will stop her. If she feels like googling all her old high school boyfriends for two hours while she’s on deadline, that’s her prerogative. If she finds apple fritters on the day-old rack at the Stop & Shop, no one will know if she buys them, takes them home, and attempts to consume all four of them for lunch with a milk chaser while watching DVRed episodes of “Naked and Afraid.”

Not that she’s ever done anything like that, of course.

And in the most bizarre twist of irony, now that Lisa works from home, she also feels guilty if she does too much housework.

This harrowing tale has no moral, no message, no prophetic omen. Just a simple caveat to military spouses everywhere: Self-discipline, time management, and balance are essential weapons for survival in … The Housewife Zone.

In the Shadow of Death: 9/11 Remembered

Fourteen years ago, I gasped audibly, slapped my hands over my mouth, and felt the queasy sting of tears. I had just seen live footage of the south tower of the World Trade Center collapse to the ground in a horrifying explosion.

We all remember where we were when we got the terrifying news that America was under attack. The footage, the images, the stunned correspondents’ reports were not every day news.

We were used to the endless string of statistics and polls, the latest sensational trial, the steady beat of violent crimes, the political scandals, the relapsed Hollywood entertainers, and the tragic multiple car pile-ups. Delivered to us over the radio waves during our morning commutes, in our coffee-stained local newspapers, and on the kitchen television while we were cooking pork chops.

Those stories sparked dinner chitchat, but were soon forgotten.

But the news on September 11th was very different. It was raw, unaltered, and delivered the clear message that our lives would never be the same.

The 9/11 attacks left a collective gaping wound on the American psyche, which would, surely, never be forgotten.

Or would it?

For those with a personal connection to the nearly 3,000 dead (including 72 law enforcement officers, 343 firefighters, and 55 military personnel) the wound of 9/11 remains painfully fresh, and the yearly anniversary continues to be a day of deep sadness.

For others like me, a protective scab has formed. September the 11th is a fairly normal day for us, but it is interspersed with moments of remembrance, when we bow our heads in silence and shudder thinking of the images that shocked us 14 years ago.

But for some, the trauma, the historic death toll, and the graphic images are hazy. Clouded by years of desensitizing war, and the ebb and flow of every day life, September 11th seems like any other day. To complacent adults, and to the younger generation who grew up in a world where Islamic State militants upload videos of gruesome beheadings to YouTube, the 9/11 terror attacks may not seem like that big of a deal.

But they’d be wrong.

September 11th should always stand out as a pivotal day in US history, when Americans were slapped in the face with the frightening truth that terrorists will stop at nothing to accomplish their hateful goals.

Furthermore, the US military responded to the 9/11 attacks by launching Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. As of this writing, 6,855 US servicepersons have died fighting in those missions, approximately 52,000 US warriors have been wounded, and an estimated 400,000 US veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD (

If that isn’t enough to bring the significance of September 11th to the forefront, then one need only consider any one of the innocent men, women and children who died that day.

Think of Todd Beamer for instance. He was one of 37 passengers on United Flight 93 who realized that their hijackers were on a suicide mission. Beamer, while making plans with other passengers and flight attendants to thwart the hijackers’ plot to crash the plane into a building, asked Lisa Jefferson, the GTE Airphone supervisor he was speaking with on the seatback telephone, to recite the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm with him. After praying, Beamer said to his fellow passengers, “Are you ready? Okay. Let’s roll,” before they heroically rushed the cockpit and the plane crashed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

If we are ever to successfully combat terrorism, the intervening 14 years should not bury our outrage under the minutia of every day life. Every September 11th, we must remove the bandage, rip the scab off the wound, and feel the raw pain anew.


From DC Comics 9/11 Tribute Book from 2002 which has work by Tim Sale, Neal Adams, Jim Lee, Neil Gaiman, Rich Corben, Sam Glanzman, Scott McDaniel, and quite a few others.

A Word About The “F” Word

swearTo my mother, a first grade teacher for 30 years, every day was an opportunity to make a difference in the life of some squirmy, rag tag, grubby little six-year-old. And cussing, therefore, was out of the question.

Other than an occasional cathartic “Damn!” (considered quite proper in her home state of Kentucky) my mother rarely uttered a legitimate swear word. When frustrated, she would sometimes begin to form the “sh” sound, but just as we thought she was about to emit a well-known expletive, the word would morph into “SHHugar!” or “SHHoot!” or a long string of biblical characters such as “SHHadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!”

Although she flirted with minor cuss words, there was one word that would never, and I mean never, pass over my mother’s tangerine tinted lips: The “F-word.”

Nowadays the F-word has, like other formerly risqué endeavors such as tattoos and visible bra straps, become rather commonplace. It’s all over the premium channels, movie screens, Internet, radios and workplaces. Modern society has become de-sensitized to swearing over the last couple of decades, but back in the 70s and 80s when I was a kid, the F-word was considered taboo.

As far as my mother was concerned, the F-word was not an appropriate form of verbal communication. Whatever emotional cleansing or free expression might be gleaned from blurting that particular cuss word was outweighed by one’s ethical obligation to civilization.

Having grown up under my mother’s influence, I never really took to cussing either.

“Pardon my French,” a woman in my writer’s group whispered to me last week after she’d told a particularly expressive story punctuated by the F-word. In my writers’ group, everyone but me swears regularly, but there was no need for her to apologize. I get it. To many people in our modern world, cuss words effectively communicate a particular level of anger, annoyance, surprise or frustration. These words flow naturally from their lips and pens as a form of free expression.

However, when I swear, it comes out as immature as a 7th grader on the middle school bus, despite the fact that I’m 49 years old. It’s not that I’ve lived a sheltered life; I am the wife of a Navy man after all (many cuss words have nautical origins, you know) and have worked in offices where the F-word was casually batted about by both men and women like whiffle balls. I’ve often felt pressured to use the F-word to fit in, but I’ve never been able to make it work for me.

I must admit, there have been times when I’ve really wanted to blurt out something foul — on the highway, during arguments with my husband, or when trying to get the cap off of a bottle of ibuprofen when I’m particularly hormonal — and wished there was an effective alternative to blurting the F-word.

Even my mother once sought her own alternative to the F-word.

It was 1979, and I was watching my parents argue at our kitchen table. Nothing heated, just a garden-variety marital disagreement. While I sat spreading peanut butter on saltines, my mother gave up arguing, expelled a heavy sigh, and went back to silently scribbling in her sketchbook.

My father got the final word, but my mother didn’t seem bothered. She calmly finished her drawing, got up, and excused herself from the room, leaving her sketchpad propped on the napkin caddy.

Back then, we all knew my mother would never say the F-word, much less make the infamous symbolic hand gesture for it. But, on this particular day, she found a way to express her feelings without compromising her ethical standards. There on her sketchpad, for all the world to see, was a perfect replica of a human hand — skin, knuckles, fingernails and all — flipping my father “The Bird.”

That day, I learned a few things from my mother’s unique example. That there are always alternatives to swearing. That I should weigh my options before letting any expletives fly. And that, if there’s is a way to swear with class, my mother had definitely put her finger on it.

Slippery Summer

Back in June, I thought summer was an all you can eat buffet of leisure splayed out before me like a picnic at the park.

My mind raced with all that could be done in three whole months.

“I’ll spend afternoons lounging at the beach to get that cool surfer look with a peely nose and streaks of blonde in my hair. I’ll strip, sand, stain and refinish that old dresser my husband has been threatening to drop off at Goodwill. I’ll plant hydrangeas, and lovely cascading window boxes, while wearing a sundress and straw hat. I’ll take a trip to see my mother, and we’ll sit on the porch in rocking chairs telling stories and drinking coffee. I’ll host backyard barbecues with tangy grilled meats, snappy local corn, and fresh peach pies for all our friends.” I thought.

Here it is mid-August, and all I have to show for myself is a few new age spots and a couple of scraggly tomato plants. As fast as a wet kid on a Slip ‘N Slide, but not nearly as much fun, summer simply slid right by me.

What the heck happened?

Summer has been a blur. We spent so many hours packed into our minivan touring colleges and visiting family, that our vehicle now has the permanent aroma of dirty socks and submarine sandwiches. When home, my days were spent shuttling my kids to jobs and get-togethers with their friends; picking up after them; and nagging them to help walk the dog, empty the dishwasher, take SAT practice tests, write college essays and fold laundry.

Apparently, summertime has ceased to be the extended break from reality that it was when I was a kid.

Our parents never had to say it, but we were expected to get up each summer day and, basically, beat it. Go somewhere, do something, get out of the house. I don’t care how hot it is, that’s what garden hoses, creeks, and community pools are for. And don’t ask for money, other than maybe a bit of pocket change for a snow cone.

On boring summer days when I was a kid, I’d get on my bike and ride several miles on rural roads to a local airplane hangar so I could buy a grape soda from the vending machine. I’d arrive home three hours later with a purple mustache and no one gave it a second thought. When it got really hot, my friends and I would stick our feet in the “creek” down in the ravine near our houses, and belt songs like Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” into the massive drainage tunnel that ran under the highway. Our parents were happy we were occupying ourselves, and expressed no concern that we might get hepatitis or parasites from the suspicious water. Some lucky days, my mom would drop me off at the town pool, where I was expected to spend the entire day making friends, feeding myself with a buck fifty in change, and avoiding spinal injuries on the high dive. When it rained, my friends and I were banished to basement rumpus rooms, where we would get into arguments while playing hours of Monopoly, Sorry and Clue.

Back then, it was kids’ solemn obligation to entertain themselves with minimal parental assistance. Now that I’m a parent, I must say … those were the good old days.

But I’m not going to let summer slip on by. Before we find ourselves knee deep in school physical forms and summer reading reports, I’m determined to slow down and take a good old-fashioned break.

Next week, my family of five is headed to Maine. We’re renting a rustic cabin on Great Pond — a remote military recreation facility about an hour north of Bangor — with no Internet access, no phone service, and no cable television. Just a clear lake, canoes, picnic tables, fire pits, Adirondack chairs, and a lodge with ping pong and stacks of board games.

It may not be a drainage tunnel under the highway and I’m not sure if they’ll have grape sodas, but I’m pretty sure we’ll entertain ourselves just fine.

Trash, Treasure & Timing


Like most hoarders, I’m in complete denial.

I see myself as a “collector” of valuable, interesting, and sentimental things.

It all started during childhood, when I felt compelled to stash away objects in an old antique chifferobe my mother saved from a junk pile and made into a girly bookcase for my room, complete with white paint and happy daisy contact paper.

The upper shelves were stacked with stuffed animals, some of which I still vividly recall: the sawdust filled donkey, the seersucker camel, a Dakin walrus, and an ancient Teddy bear with a tinny wind-up music box. Lower shelves held various books such as the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder series that my mother hoped I’d read but never did, and my collection of comic books — Little Dot, Casper, Richie Rich, Wendy, Archie — which were well worn.

But the bottom drawer of my chifferobe contained the real treasure trove.

Squirreled away, under a layer of groovy acrylic sweaters and bell-bottomed jeans, was a cherished collection of random objects. Having a particular affinity for miniatures, I had an impressive assortment of bubble gum machine and Cracker Jack prizes, special rocks, acorns, a toy compass, junk jewelry, macramé key chains, Mexican jumping beans, abandoned crochet projects, old keys, and bottle caps.

Thirty years ago, those treasures meant a lot to me, but somewhere along the way I threw them all out. Their time had ended.

Today, I’m still collecting – saltboxes, sea glass, vintage furniture. But thanks to the military, we must get rid of stuff every few years when it’s time to move, and rest assured, I’ll never be one of those people you see on TV living in a house packed to the ceiling with garbage and 17 cats.

Frequent purging is part and parcel of military life, and this often happens during the summer when most military families move. Although some cart their excess household goods off to charity thrift stores for the tax deductions, many find it easier to just give their stuff to neighbors and friends, and be done with it.

The most common items given away? Houseplants; candles; light bulbs; televisions; exercise equipment; bicycles; strollers; Little Tykes play kitchens, houses, sandboxes and cars; grills; and, of course, booze.

Food is also a popular give away item, but there are mixed reviews from recipients. While everyone loves getting frozen steaks and unopened boxes of brownie mix, nobody wants that dusty can of hearts of palm that never got used. (Rumor has it, there’s a jar of capers that has been passed among so many military families, it’s origins are now unknown.)

Sometimes there are regrets. We once gave away an expensive leather recliner to a Florida base neighbor, because, at the time, it was too big for our living room. After we moved to our base house in Rhode Island, we realized that the chair would have fit perfectly into our new quarters.

I recently found out that the Navy SWO family who acquired our leather chair later got orders to Nevada, so they gave the chair to a Navy JAG family who took it with them to their new assignment in Washington, DC.

But life has a way of closing circles when the time is right.

Last week, we traveled to Maryland to help my 82-year-old mother-in-law clear out the house that my husband and his four siblings grew up in. Eight truckloads of musty old junk were carted off to the dump, but somewhere in the heap, my husband unearthed a gem: his deceased father’s favorite leather armchair.

We now realize that giving away our trash years ago, enabled us to receive an unexpected treasure.

Hair of the Dog


I’ll admit it, I’ve got a problem.

I wake up each morning, brain sluggish and throat dry. I’m not thinking straight, but I know one thing for certain: I’ll need a drink to get through the day.

Although “the hair of the dog” is precisely my problem, booze has nothing to do with it. I need coffee every morning, and lots of it, to face the fact that the dog is shedding.

I didn’t believe those who warned us.

“You’re getting a lab?” they said in disbelief. “You know labs shed, right?”

Yeah, yeah. Whatever.

Back in March, when I first set eyes on our then eight-week old yellow lab puppy, people could’ve warned me that he would grow up to have poisonous tentacles, razor sharp claws, and skunk-like scent sacs. I simply didn’t care. He looked just like one of those impossibly adorable LL Bean catalog puppies, and nothing, including common sense, was going to stop me from taking him home.

Throughout the spring, our new dog “Moby” shed a hair here and there, but we were too busy dealing with other puppy-related issues such as potty training and needle teeth wound care to notice.

But then, summer came. Moby turned six months old a week ago, and to celebrate, his follicles have apparently decided to take a vacation. Accordingly, his stiff little yellow hairs have been granted their freedom to explore every nook and cranny of our household.

It all happened quite suddenly. One day, to praise Moby for returning the pair of underwear he had stolen from my son’s room, I reached down to stroke his back. He gave me several licks to the face before I noticed that I had a veritable catcher’s mitt of dog hair covering my hand.

Since then, dog hair has permeated every aspect of our lives.

First thing in the morning, my scratchy throat is the sure sign that I’ve inhaled several hairs in the middle of the night, triggering sudden coughing fits. When I shake the covers to make our bed, puffs of hair become airborne, creating a cyclone of dog hair that glows visibly in the morning light, before gently drifting back down to settle on our bedspread, ready to be inhaled another night.

I often find a hair floating in my morning coffee and have to fish it out with a finger. If I miss, it ends up on my tongue. Strangely, I can feel it, but somehow can’t seem to find it. Eventually, I swallow and hope that dog hair doesn’t have too many carbs.

The rest of the day, I find mats of hair in the lint trap, tumbleweeds of hair drifting down the hallway, tufts of hair on the upholstery, balls of hair on the bathroom rug, blankets of hair in the vacuum filter, tangles of hair on the fan blades, and a generous sprinkling of hair on carpets, furniture and fixtures.

Also, thanks to my unfortunate mistake of allowing Moby to ride along in the minivan to drop my teenage daughter off at her summer job, anyone who enters our vehicle gets out looking like Chewbacca.

I didn’t think it was canine-ly possible for a dog to shed so much hair, much less for it to end up on top of our refrigerator, baked into the meatloaf, or woven into my toothbrush bristles. In a strange and incredibly annoying sort of way, dog shedding is quite miraculous.

In fact, it will be a miracle if I survive this process without hacking up a hairball myself. But in the meantime, I guess I have no choice but to love every hair on … or off … Moby’s adorable little head.

Life’s a beach when you dig deep


Reclining my beach chair to the third notch, I sink deeply into the brightly striped canvas. Blinded by the sun, I grope for my cold beverage, safely ensconced in its Huggie, and dislodge it from the cup holder at the end of the armrest. I draw a long icy sip, letting the cold carbonation fizzle a moment on my tongue before swallowing. My heels wiggle to create two cool ditches for my feet, the sand sifting softly through my toes.

Eyes closed, I soak up the sun, hear the rhythmic splashing of the surf, and feel the gentle ocean breeze.

Ahhh …

“Hey Lisa! Are you ready to get beat?” I hear twenty minutes into a deliciously sweaty pseudo nap.

It’s Ralph. He and his wife Pam are under their beach umbrella, and he’s goading me to play ladderball. The day before, I paired up with a fellow vacationer named Grace, and somehow, we managed to win the ladderball championship for the day. Not bad for two middle-aged mothers.

While I try to think of an excuse to stay in my beach chair, Ralph makes his way down to the ocean for a dip. Although Ralph spends most of the day under his umbrella, he gets up occasionally to “go for a swim” (we all know to stay upcurrent) or play a quick game of ladderball or cornhole before going back to his Bud Lite.

I can’t remember which summer it was that our family met Ralph and his wife Pam, but we see them every year, along with other folks who vacation at the same beach. There’s Grace and Steve, Pete and Luanne, Eddie and Nancy, Bobbie and Dan, Al and Gwon, Keith and Laura, and others.

We’ve all been renting beach houses on Hickory Trail for many years, and met eventually, chatting from umbrella to umbrella. Playing beach games. Sharing cold beverages. Watching each others’ kids grow up.

We didn’t need to know much about our “Beach Buddies” lives away from Hickory Trail. We already knew that Ralph is hilarious. Grace is happy-go-lucky. Eddie brings fireworks. Pete reads books. Bobbie wears cute hats. Al’s a great volleyball player. Pam makes awesome sandwiches.

Nothing else seemed to matter.

Grace and I with our beach buddies

Grace and me with our beach buddies

But this summer, while lounging under our respective umbrellas, conversations stretched with the shadows into the late afternoon. While telling stories to avoid the hassle of cooking dinner, we learned new things about each other.

Ralph has seven siblings, three of which were in the Army. Pam and Ralph’s son is stationed at Ft. Bragg. Pete served in Army Intelligence for several years before taking over his family’s bakery business. Eddie’s son works as a civilian for the military. Keith is a retired Marine.

Like toes wiggling in the sand, we dug a little deeper, and were pleasantly surprised to find a common reverence for military life.

“C’mon Lisa,” Ralph chides on his way back from the water, “Are you and Grace ready to defend your title?”

I peel myself out of the comfy canvas nest and wave at Grace to join me on the ladderball court. While Ralph and the gang heckle us mercilessly, Grace and I surprise ourselves with our third straight win.

After some awkward middle-aged high fives, we circle our chairs around to share more laughs and stories with this random cluster of eclectic personalities. The press and political pundits say there is “gap of understanding” between military and civilians, and that we need to worry about the increasing “military-civilian divide.” But on this Carolina beach, there is only camaraderie and mutual respect.

As the sun dips low in the sky, I’m hopeful the tides are changing.

This might look like a random bunch of beach bums, but turns out, they're all great people.

This might look like a random bunch of beach bums, but turns out, they’re all great people who respect the military.

Culture or torture? Lessons learned while traveling with kids


What did we do when the kids got cranky at the Colosseum? Bottled water and cheap sunglasses bought us another hour of touring.

Ah, Summertime … that happy time of year when, after months of running the veritable hamster wheel of work, school, bills, and chores, we finally loosen up and have a little fun.

Hike the Appalachian Trail? Take a Caribbean Cruise? Stay at a B&B in the French countryside? Camp in the Grand Canyon? Sightsee at Yosemite? Rent a beach house in the Outer Banks?

Simple, adventurous or extravagant, the point is to relax and have a good time.

But wait. Hold up. Just a sec. [Cue tire-screeching sound effects.] What do we do with the kids?

Unless you have a team of well paid nannies who will keep your offspring entertained at home all week (not likely on our military budget) then I’ve got some bad news: the kids are coming along.

Instead of leisurely lunching on brie and wine at a Parisian street café, you’ll find yourself at nibbling nuggets at the McDonalds on the Champs Elysee. Rather than braving class 4 rapids on Pennsylvania’s Ohio Pyle Gorge, you’ll be splashing the sticky cotton candy off your face on the logjam at Six Flags. Forget about scheduling your couples massage at the spa, because you’ll be wading in a suspiciously cloudy kiddie pool at a motel off the interstate.

Take it from me. I know.

In Paris, we took the kids to climb the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame, just so we could have a sit down dinner in peace.

In Paris, we took the kids to climb the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame, just so we could have a sit down dinner in peace.

While stationed in California, England, Virginia, Germany, and Florida, I planned countless family trips. I wanted to jam-pack our time overseas and in different states with cultural and educational experiences that our kids would appreciate for the rest of their lives.

Problem was, I forgot. Oh, yea, they’re kids. Bummer.

I soon learned that kids don’t want to wait two hours for traditional indigenous foods at an authentic local restaurant. They could care less about mountain scenery or sylvan country settings. And they absolutely hate lingering in art and history museums.

We discovered the hard way that, unless we were planning a trip to the Threshold of Hell, we’d better figure out how to keep the kids happy.

First, we adopted The Cardinal Rule of Traveling with Children:

“Lower your expectations.”

Don’t envision authentic ambiance, cultural experience, thrilling adventure, and romantic interludes. Just tell yourself that your family vacation will be about as relaxing and cultural as chaperoning a fifth grade field trip to Bowl-O-Rama. With that mindset, you’re bound to be pleasantly surprised.

In Spain, the girls had lice, and our son had an attitude... good times!

In Spain, the girls had lice, and our son had an attitude… good times!

Next, follow the strategies I finally learned while on the brink of family vacation insanity:

  • My kids are so cultured, they have thrown up in six states and seven foreign countries. Nothing kills ambiance like the lingering scent of upchuck on your shoes, so keep gallon zip-lock bags and wet wipes in your purse at all times.
  • Take appropriate steps, literally. Bell towers, monuments, castles, sand dunes, forts and tall buildings are great places to run the “squirrelly” out of kids. Beware that you may need a portable defibrillator for yourself, but a coronary event may be worth it if it means your kids will sit through dinner.
  • Pommes fritz, furai, chips, papas fritas – whatever you call ‘em, don’t even think about sitting down at a restaurant that doesn’t have French fries on the menu.
  • Space out. No, I’m not suggesting that you take sedatives while traveling with the kids, but find wide open spaces where you and hubby can soak up local ambiance while the rugrats spread their grubby little wings and fly. You can nibble local cheese and bread while they scare pigeons in the piazza, chase bumblebees in an alpine meadow, or roll in the grass at a city park.
  • Wet them down while you wet your whistle. When deciding where to stop for a glass of wine, look for a nearby fountain, stream, lake, pond, beach or tropical fish tank. If they can splash, throw rocks, feed ducks or tap on the glass, you have a decent chance of sipping your wine in peace.

Oh – and be sure to take lots of photos, because no matter how torturous family vacations may seem, take it from me, someday you’ll look back and wish you could do it all over again.

Francis Cam - Fall 09 231

A happy family moment on the windy beaches of Holland.

Sound Off: Are military discounts fair?

Image via

Image via

“Do you have a military discount?” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard my husband say this – at the movie theater, pizza place, tire center, hardware store – I guess we wouldn’t need to ask for discounts.

Every little bit helps, right? But military folks aren’t the only ones having to budget these days – the entire country is feeling the pinch. So why should we get special treatment?

Although the phrase “military-civilian divide” has been around since the Vietnam War, it is seeing a lot more press lately. Journalists, scholars, and commentators are analyzing the widening gap of understanding between the public and our shrinking military population. While the negative effects of such a gap are largely agreed-upon, the causes of this divide are the subject of hot debate.

Who is to blame? What roll do military members play in widening the gap? Do we expect benefits such as military discounts? What message does this send to our civilian neighbors? Do they resent us when we claim a discount while they pay full price?

Recently, I launched these questions into the cyberspace via social media, and the viewpoints that came back were mainly in support of offering military discounts. Although, there were hints that the issue is complex:

“As a military family we are very much into making our dollars stretch as far as possible, so it would be silly for us to leave these discounts unused. We have saved hundreds of dollars (if not thousands) over the years.” – Nichole, 33, AF spouse.

“I do not feel any guilt enjoying this small benefit at a very limited number of businesses. I pay for my health insurance, I pay my taxes, I have lived in countries that lack the conveniences Americans enjoy on a daily basis, I have moved 12 times in 18 years and paid thousands of dollars out of pocket over the years to re-stock my pantry without being able to shop ‘sales’ or use coupons.” – Katie, 46, Marine Spouse.

“But when does the notion change from appreciation to expectation? That is where I have concerns.” – Jackie, 35, civilian.

“I ask. It’s a way that business has decided to express it’s appreciation, and I appreciate that business right back! I don’t feel entitled, I feel appreciated.” – Jill, 48, retired AF spouse.

“I don’t ask. To me it feels greedy.” Marisa, 29, AF spouse.

“I view that discount as an act of patriotism, a quality, I for one, still value. Funny thing is, I have no idea which companies offer these discounts. I guess these companies have all opted for quiet patriotism. Maybe not so surprising these days.” – Chris, 50, real estate agent.

“While I don’t wear the uniform, the same oath of office I take as a government civilian is exactly the same oath every officer takes. So why is it that we are perceived as not always a part of the team? … A great deal of civilians are deploying to austere places. Why discriminate?” – Jacqueline, 35, AF government civilian.

“I was shocked to discover some of the civilians in my community where using their similarly looking military ID for store discounts. Such abuse of an unearned discount in that form made me really upset.” — Ann Marie, 35, Army spouse.

“If students, teachers, AAA, AARP… are all encouraged to ask for discounts then there is no difference in a military family asking.” — Amanda, military spouse.

“There is a movie theater chain that gives a military discount for the active duty member and not dependents … not nice! If you’re going to give a discount, give it to the entire family. We serve too!” — Suzanne, 43, Navy spouse.

“I think we’ve gotten spoiled by discounts in general. I have noticed that most military discounts are only given to the active duty member now and not the dependents, which makes sense to me.” Angie, 47, retired Army spouse.

“With what our military personnel go through, that discount is well deserved. It is embarrassing what our troops make.” — Danny, 49, civilian.

“As a civilian, I feel the ‘pinch’ too, but I’m happy to be free thanks to the military. A discount is well worth our freedom.” — Joseph, 44, civilian butcher.

If variety is the spice of life, the topic of military benefits is the five-alarm chili of opinions these days. One way to cool this hot debate is for those of us who benefit from generous discounts to douse any feelings of entitlement with an ample dollop of genuine appreciation.

Five tips for better college visits

My daughter, Anna, wincing with embarrassment during a recent tour of Syracuse University.

My daughter, Anna, wincing with embarrassment during a recent tour of Syracuse University.

Listen up, hallowed halls. Take note, institutions of higher learning. Lend me your ears, foundations of educational excellence.

You may think you know it all, but even the snootiest universities could use a few words of sage advice from the parents of prospective applicants. I’ll admit, we search for glasses that are perched on our heads, forget to defrost the pork chops, and wander around trying to remember why we came upstairs, but take heed: parents are experts when it comes to what makes a good college visit.

With one kid already in college, one graduating from high school next year, and one graduating in three years, my Navy husband and I are in that frazzled state of parenthood marked by financial panic, misplaced dreams and rapid debt accumulation. But our strong parental instinct drives us to blindly ignore our Chapter 11 premonitions and encourage our children to pursue their educational goals.

Last week, I spent three days going to information sessions and campus tours with our middle child. We learned a lot on our college visit odyssey, and feel it is our duty to pass these Five Tips on to college admissions officials across the nation.

#1. Free stuff. That’s right, we’re not too proud to admit that we like getting stuff for free. Pens, key chains, lanyards, whatever. We’ve driven a gazillion miles, stayed overnight in questionable motels, and were fed like cattle through breakfast buffet lines where we ate pasteurized egg product omelets that could have doubled for brake pads, and cups of coffee that tasted like they were filtered through my son’s gym socks. So yeah, a couple of free pens might be nice. And if you really want to make an impression, why not print us up some cool t-shirts and shoot them at us through air cannons like they do at football games?

#2. Walk backwards. It’s gimmicky, but we like it when student tour guides walk backwards for the entire campus tour. It keeps us entertained like the daredevil routine at the circus. Will he trip over that curb? Will that branch snag her hair? Why not work in few uneven sidewalk pavers or an open manhole cover to add a touch of suspense? Oh, what fun!

#3. Potty breaks. Parents have a plethora of bladder control quirks, so provide plenty of breaks to use the facilities. These are especially important if you generously offered refreshments (we do like free stuff) and don’t want parents exposing themselves on the quad to “water the shrubs.”

#4. Point out the elephant in the room. By “charming college town” did you mean that strip mall across the street with the pawnshop and the e-cig emporium? Was that the Hell’s Angels that just drove by the Student Union? Even if your bubbly tour guide acted like we were walking the streets of Mayberry, we noticed every sketchy-looking corner, and now can’t stop envisioning our daughter being mugged by some unsavory character on his way back from the methadone clinic. So yeah, let’s talk about it.

#5. Get to the point. We may spend the entire day wandering your dappled walkways and ogling your columned architecture, but make no mistake about it — we really just want a school that will make our kid happy and won’t break the bank. So don’t bother going on and on about collaborative research, evolving identities, and transformative enlightenment. Let’s go over financial aid, and I’m not talking loans.

A special note to the Ivy Leagues: Don’t be so stuck up. We have every right to tour your campus, even if we know you’ll never let our kid in. It’s kind of like going to the zoo, except that all the animals are way smarter than we are. Besides, we’re only here because your school was on our way home, and we thought it would be cool to add another pen to our collection.

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