Teen Terms

anna bubbleLast night, my husband and I were in the family room of our base house, droning into another morally bankrupt reality show, when suddenly, there was a rumbling down the staircase.

“Mom! Dad! Mom! Dad! Mom! Dad!” our 16-year-old daughter, Anna, sputtered, while jumping up and down in front of us.

“What is it, Anna!” I shouted, half expecting her hair to be on fire.

“He asked me to hang out! He asked me to hang out! He asked me to hang out!” Anna yelled while fist-pumping into the air.

Who asked you to, to … to hang out, and what do you mean, ‘hang out’ anyway?”

Still surging with pent up excitement, Anna grabbed the arm of the couch, and repeatedly kicked both feet behind her. “Alden! Alden! Alden asked me to hang out!” she answered between donkey kicks.

We already knew all about Alden. In fact, every day for the last few months, we’d been hearing Anna talk about this boy – how cute he was, how he would come to the Art room to talk to her after school, how great the article was that he wrote for the school newspaper, how he was named Athlete of the Week, how he danced with her at the holiday ball, how he kissed her in the theater costume closet, yada, yada, yada.

“Oh,” my husband chimed in, “you mean he finally asked you out on a real date?”

Oh, Geeze. I wish he hadn’t said that. For the next 20 minutes, our daughter rolled her eyes, tsked, and sighed while trying to explain why he was not her boyfriend and they were certainly not going on a date. “We’re just hanging out!” Anna said with one last spasmodic flail of arms and legs, before running off to get dolled up to meet Alden.

Apparently, teen romance as we know it has changed completely. The terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” are now used sparingly, only when two teenagers are very “serious.” Until then, they are referred to as “talking.” When one talking teen asks his corresponding talking teen to go out with him to a restaurant or movie, this is most definitely not a date. Now, this is called “hanging out.”

But be aware that “hanging out” must not be confused with “hooking up” which, thankfully does not mean what it did back in the eighties. Nowadays “hooking up” is a vague term that can be used to describe anything from a mere peck on the cheek, to — God Forbid — all kinds of other acts in which our teenage daughter will not engage unless she wants to be grounded for life. Also, parents should refrain from referring to kissing as “making out,” “mashing,” “frenching,” or “necking,” which teenagers today consider as antiquated as butterfly clips and Beanie Babies.

Anna eventually reappeared in the family room, all glossed up and ready to go on her non-date with her non-boyfriend. My husband drove her to the base gate, and got out of the car to introduce himself to Alden. After shaking hands, Anna’s father looked the boy directly in the eye for a moment, communicating without the need for words that, regardless of what terms teens are using these days, we’ve all been there, and we know exactly what they’re up to.

Back when Anna and I spoke the same language

Back when Anna and I spoke the same language

Give Resolutions a Shot

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutionsWhen the holiday is over, the presents have been put away, and the leftover roast has been made into soup, there’s a part of me that just wants to savor it all. To snuggle up on the couch with the kids in my new pjs, nibbling from the tin of stale Christmas cookies, basking in the glow of the dying Christmas tree, watching movie marathons until my eyeballs bleed.

These days, there’s so much hustle and bustle associated with the holidays, it’s nice to linger a while. Let it all sink in. Take a moment to stop and appreciate the richness of our military life, our families, and our traditions, before another hectic year is in full swing.

However, there’s another part of me that gets antsy. Like the plaque accumulating in my arteries from too much cheese dip, or the needles piling up under the tree, or the mounting credit card bills — the holiday builds. By midnight on New Year’s Eve, I’m ready to purge.

It’s all I can do to make it through the obligatory pork-and-sour-kraut on New Year’s Day, before I want to rid the entire house of holiday décor and begin my new and improved lifestyle. Something takes over in me, and after weeks of excess and sloth, I’m hell bent on eating enough fiber, taking 10,000 steps a day, keeping accurate financial records, compulsively vacuuming, and fundamentally changing my entire personality.

Inevitably, about a month or two into it, my bad habits creep back in. Small setbacks send me into tailspin of guilt, and before I know it, I’m on the couch in the middle of the afternoon watching reality show reruns in order to avoid my responsibilities, with my lips wrapped around an entire can of Sour Cream and Onion Pringles.

Sometimes, I make a little progress, and sometimes, I fail completely. So why bother making New Year’s Resolutions at all?

It’s not just me. About 45% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions with some kind of cathartic change in mind. Lose ten pounds. Get organized. Quit smoking. Reduce debt. Get a new job. Stop procrastinating. Spend less time on electronic devices. Whether we hope to rid ourselves of debt, chaos, pounds, or bad habits, New Year’s Resolutions are supposed to make our lives better. But do they?

Some psychologists believe that New Year’s Resolutions make us unhappy because they set us up for certain failure, and nobody wants to feel like a failure these days. According to a 2014 University of Scranton study, only 8 percent of Americans who make resolutions are successful in meeting their goals after one year.

However, 46% reported having kept their goals past six months. Not too shabby. Most encouragingly, the statistics show that people who make New Year’s resolutions are 10 times more likely to change their behavior than people who don’t make resolutions at all.

So, even if science indicates that I’ll still be a disorganized procrastinator chomping a King-sized Snickers Bar come mid-February, I’m still giving my New Year’s resolutions a try.

Sure, I might screw it up again, but who wants to be a sniveling cynic who never sticks his neck out for fear of failure? Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” The mere resolution to change for the better shows that, at the very least, I have the courage to give it a shot.

 

 

Hide-a-beds, shared bathrooms, and other holiday traditions

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With a tiny snort, you awaken from a bad dream about being tied to a railroad track with a locomotive barreling toward you. You grope in the darkness, relieved to find yourself under a blanket, in bed, with no threat of being torn to smithereens by an oncoming freight train.

Relieved yet half-conscious, you exhale with a soft grumble, smack your lips, and turn on your side to nuzzle back into your pillow.

Ouch! What’s that dull pain across the middle of your back? It dawns on you: I’m not in my own bed. Your eyelids open, one after the other, and in the dim early morning light, you take in your surroundings to allow your internal GPS to determine it’s location.

Wood paneling. Burnt sienna sculpted carpeting. Wagon wheel light fixture. Console television. Framed portrait of you in the 4th grade with an enormous split between your two front teeth. And an excruciatingly uncomfortable metal bar pressing against the middle of your back.

Rerouting

“Oh yea,” you finally recall, “It’s the holidays. I’m in Pennsylvania. At my mother’s house. In the basement that my parents converted into a family room in 1977. On a hide-a-bed couch.”

Although you’d rather lay there uncomfortably, reminiscing about growing up in that little brick ranch, nature calls. You slowly roll your aching torso to the edge of the paper-thin mattress, setting off a cacophony of squeaking springs. Standing silently by the brown, orange, and harvest gold plaid couch, you wait until you’re sure your spouse is still asleep, before tip-toeing up the stairs to the bathroom.

Ever since moving out of your childhood home, you have enjoyed the basic human entitlements of the public drinking and waste water system. You’ve become accustomed to the ample gush of clear, cool, potable water from faucets, shower heads, and toilet tanks.

But in the one tiny bathroom shared by every living soul in your mother’s crowded house, there are issues you’ve long since forgotten about. As you open the door, you detect the faintly familiar odor of rotten eggs

You are about to blame your Uncle Eddie, who went overboard on the sausage dip the night before, but then you remember that the sulfurey well water is the source of the offending odor, something you were oblivious to growing up in that house.

On the speckled Formica countertop is a note from your mother, reminding the family of the limitations of the well and septic tank: “If it’s brown, flush it down, but if it’s yellow, let it mellow.” You sit on the mint-green porcelain commode, leafing through an old National Geographic, wondering how on Earth you grew up this way.

After waiting a minute or two for the water supply to recover from your flush, you get in the shower. Your pampered hair follicles will have to survive on the 79 cent bottle of VO5 Strawberries and Cream shampoo your mother bought at the discount store with a coupon. Mid-lather, one of your kids knocks, begging, “Please! I gotta go!”

Ignoring Grammy’s hand-written sign, she flushes. “Ahhh!” you yelp, as scalding hot water cascades from the shower head. There’s another knock at the bathroom door, as other family members enter to brush their teeth and use the toilet while you brave the water temperature fluctuations behind the frosted glass shower doors.

Eventually, you emerge from the only bathroom, dressed and ready for another day of visiting with family over the holidays. You might get dirty looks from your relatives, who have to wait an hour for the hot water supply to build back up before they can shower. You might have frizzy hair from your mother’s cheap shampoo. And you might suffer a few back spasms from sleeping on that damned hide-a-bed.

But you don’t mind because you realize that having family to visit with over the holidays is a blessing in disguise. These quirky people brought you into this world and are the reason you are never alone. No matter how annoying holiday family visits might seem, when you consider the alternative, you know it’s all relative.

One of THOSE People

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Photo courtesy of colonialsense.com

You may want to grab a pencil and paper, because I’m about to impart a priceless little jewel of wisdom: There are two sides to every street.

I imagine you are most likely stunned by my remarkable mastery of the obvious, but try to focus on this helpful illustration: On the east end of Anystreet in Anytown, USA, there stands a brick colonial. Four bedrooms, faux shutters, window boxes, and neatly trimmed hedges.

Homeowner husband Niles Rutheford, at the behest of homeowner wife Brooke, retrieves a stepladder from the garage to hang the seasonal decorations on the house. It is the weekend after Thanksgiving because, of course it would be gauche to decorate for the holidays any sooner.

While Niles stands on the ladder in his nubuck driving moccasins, Chinos and a loden half-zip lambswool sweater, Brooke hands him an assortment of pomegranates, pears, magnolia leaves and pine boughs to decorate the arched pediment over the front door. Taking care not to scratch her riding boots, Brooke removes the fall bittersweet and decorative cabbage displays from the window boxes, and replaces them with an artful and fragrant arrangement of pineapples, holly berries, and eucalyptus.

Preferring Colonial authenticity to garish 20th Century light displays, the Ruthefords opt to place a single flickering LED cordless candlestick in each of the front windows. With their holiday decorating completed in just two hours, the Ruthefords head to the Starbucks drive through in their Range Rover for chai teas and croissants.

On the west end of Anystreet, there stands a classic vinyl-sided split level. Three bedrooms, a family room, and an apartment in the basement for Aunt Trixie and Uncle Wayne. While homeowner wife Dawn Pachinski goes shopping on Black Friday, homeowner husband Buck and son Cletus take the extension ladder out from under the trampoline, and 17 Rubbermaid tubs filled with outdoor holiday decorations from the shed.

While Cletus inflates the giant rotating snow globe and elf carousel for the front lawn, Buck begins the arduous process of staple-gunning 7,000 lights to the roof, windows, doors, shed, fence, trees and shrubs. At some point, Uncle Wayne joins in to line the driveway with lighted candy canes and set up the 12-piece life-size nativity scene.

After six days of work, four trips to Home Depot, three puncture wounds and one cracked rib, the Pachinski property is a lighted holiday decor masterpiece, complete with computerized musical synchronization to “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” via FM transmitter.

A week later, the Ruthefords receive “Best Holiday Decor” recognition from the Anytown Garden Club, but some residents feel their snooty décor lacks spirit. Conversely, the Pachinskis receive a citation from the Anytown authorities for violating various local ordinances, but every kid in town says the Pachinskis have “the best Christmas lights ever.”

When we were stationed in Florida, our military friends told us about a local neighborhood with “the best Christmas lights ever.” That night, we packed the kids in the minivan and followed the directions our friends gave us, but were surprised to find a shabby collection of small older homes in a swampy wooded area just off the expressway. We were skeptical, but the long line of cars outside the neighborhood had us intrigued, so we waited.

A few minutes later, we entered the subdivision, and were amazed. Somehow, these ambitious swamp dwellers had hung hundreds of strings of lights vertically from the highest tree branches, so that the lights dangled straight down to the ground like electrified stalactites in every color imaginable. The affect was truly magical, and I had to admit, that neighborhood really did have “the best Christmas lights ever.

Ok, now brace yourself for another tidbit of priceless wisdom: Whatever your holiday décor preference, don’t judge, because the beauty of Christmas is in the eye of the beholder.

Photo courtesy of houseideas.biz

Photo courtesy of houseideas.biz

 

What’s the get in giving?

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Here you go again. You’re running from store to store, buying baking supplies, twinkle lights, a “Frozen” Plush Olaf for your niece and flat screen TV for your husband. You’ve got to get home to bake 12 dozen pecan tarts for the neighborhood cookie exchange, when it dawns on you.

You forgot the butter.

For the second time today, you approach the irresistibly cute Salvation Army bell ringer outside the grocery store. You want to tell the sweet little old man freezing his bippy off in the name of the needy, “I gave earlier today,” but you know darned well he doesn’t remember and will think you’re a cheapskate. So you sort through the gum wrappers and bobby pins to see if you can find a few more quarters in your purse.

But you realize that you put all your coins in the kettle during your last trip to the store, so you look for a single or two, only to find that you’ve only got a five spot. With trembling hands you fork over the five dollar bill you were hoping to use for a Vente Skinny Peppermint Mocha Latte with extra sprinkles on the way home.

You intentionally hesitate with your hand over the red kettle, wanting the bell ringer and everyone else to see the denomination of your bill and think, “Wow, she gave five whole dollars.

“Thank you for your kindness,” the old man says, and you walk into the grocery feeling like Mother Teresa.

In fact you feel so charitable that you decide to buy a few canned goods, in addition to your stick of butter, to put in the food bank collection at the front of the store. And while you’re at it, you grab a whiffle ball set to put in the Toys for Tots box too.

With a sanctimonious flip of your wrist, you zip your debit card through the reader just as the cashier asks, “Would you like to give a dollar to the Orphaned Kittens’ Sweater Knitting Guild?” Seven other impatient customers are in line behind you. The baggers are waiting for your answer. The cashier is staring blankly into your eyes.

Dead silence.

Another dollar? Seriously? Don’t you remember that I just gave a dollar for the stinking kittens when I was in here an hour ago, for criminy’s sake? This is entrapment! Let someone else dress the orphaned kittens! I just want to buy this damned stick of butter and go home!

As you search your brain for a valid excuse to say “No thanks,” you contemplate the essence of giving.

Charitable organizations raise the bulk of their income between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, when people are feeling generous. Salvation Army, for example, needs to collect $1.3 million this holiday season to fund its programs for the homeless and the poor, and they hope about $450,000 of that will be in donations to it’s iconic red kettles.

The US Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program collects toys in the months of October, November and December, to give to less fortunate youngsters as a message of hope to encourage them to become responsible, productive, patriotic citizens. Other national and local charities are collecting anything from money to canned goods to blankets to teddy bears for worthy causes.

Is giving about risking death by trampling to get the best bargain on an Xbox Assassin’s Creed Unity Bundle at Wal-Mart, or is it about providing for those who are truly in need?

“Absolutely,” you tell the cashier, realizing that the beauty of giving is that it is no bargain at all.

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The Dinghy that keeps our family afloat

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQuite often, the thing that wakes me in the morning is not my alarm clock. It’s not the National Anthem blaring over the base loudspeakers. It’s not my husband plodding off to the bathroom. And it’s certainly not our teenagers getting themselves up on time.

Most mornings, our dog Dinghy, a 110-pound labradoodle with an explosion of blond hair and long gangly legs, is the first to wake me up. Whether he has snuck up onto our bed, leaving my husband and I teetering at the edges, or splayed out on the cool hardwood floor of our bedroom, he starts his morning with a stretch, followed by an elongated yawn before beginning his “bath.”

As a male dog, he starts with the unmentionable area that males find most important. After spending an inordinate amount of time licking that general location, he comically attempts to scratch inside his ears with his long awkward hind feet. Inevitably, he misses the first few times, haphazardly wapping his neck and the back of his head, until he finally finds that sweet spot. Without looking, I know he’s found it when I hear him grumble deeply as if to say, “Oh yea, that’s the ticket.”

Once done scratching, he cleans his paws in preparation for what is arguably one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen. Alternating each enormous front foot, Dinghy wipes his own face over and over, then with paws daintily crossed, he licks them one last time.

When finished, he looks like the canine reincarnation of Phyllis Diller, but is ready to face the day. And after kissing the fuzzy top of his head, so am I.

There are so few constants in military life. We hold on to those things that bind us together and make us feel that, despite frequent moves, deployments, separations, and an uncertain future, we are a family. No matter where we are in the world, we belong to each other.

Ten months before my husband left for a yearlong deployment to Africa, we picked Dinghy out of a litter of fat pups on a farm in North Carolina. During that deployment, Dinghy chewed countless socks, dug trenches in our lawn, and stole an entire baked chicken off the kitchen counter, but he captured our hearts. Every morning, I’d open my eyes to his fuzzy face and hot breath, urging me, “Look! It’s another day! I want to spend it with you because you’re my best friend and I love you!”

Sure, some days became stressful and chaotic. I had my share of meltdowns and drank my share of wine. But I found it nearly impossible to be sad for long, because I started every morning staring into the face of pure, unconditional love and utter acceptance.

Dinghy moved with us from Virginia to Germany to Florida to Rhode Island. No matter whether we lived in a stairwell apartment, temporary quarters, base housing or on the economy, Dinghy, like us, felt at home as long as we were together.

Eight days ago, our family rented a cabin with no internet or phone service at a remote Navy Morale Welfare and Recreation center on Great Pond in the North Woods of Maine. We had a wonderful week of hiking, doing crafts, watching favorite movies, cooking Thanksgiving dinner, and cutting down our own Christmas tree. Dinghy was there with us, tramping through the woods, swimming after sticks in the cold lake, stealing socks, demanding attention, and sneaking into bed to snuggle with us at night.

As always, he was a constant reminder that we belong to each other and are loved.

Late on our last night in the cabin, Dinghy suddenly seemed sick. In the morning, my husband went to the park office to use the phone to call a veterinarian. But it was too late. Unbeknownst to us, Dinghy’s stomach had twisted – a sudden and deadly condition known as “bloat” – and he died that morning in our cabin, with us all around him. With permission from the park manager, we buried Dinghy in the woods near the lake under a huge elm tree.

This morning, for the first time since March of 2006, we woke up feeling sad. But Dinghy would not like that. In his unbridled enthusiasm and perpetual loyalty, he taught us that, as long as we have a family who loves and accepts us, every new day has promise.

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Appreciating Sacrifice

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Image via freehdimageswallpapers.com

I’m just a housewife, what the heck do I know?

Some days it seems my only expertise is how to wipe smudges off the refrigerator door, but it turns out, I’ve actually learned a thing or two in my 21 years as a military spouse.

I’ve learned that being in the United States military is not just a job – it is a lifestyle that requires the commitment of the entire family. Since the 1970s, our military has consisted entirely of volunteers who sign up to serve their country, knowing that their families will face sacrifices and hardships.

My husband has been on active duty in the Navy for 26 years, and our family has lived in nine different homes in five states and two foreign countries. He has spent many days away from home; the longest separation was a yearlong deployment to Djibouti. But we’ve been pretty lucky; other military families have had it much worse, with multiple deployments, back-to-back hardship tours and hazardous duty.

Even though military folks could have nice lives “on the outside” with, in most cases, better pay and stability for equivalent work, many have stayed well past their service obligation despite 13 long years of war.

Why on earth do they do it?

Although retirement benefits, compensation, and job stability are factors, there has always been a common sense of patriotic duty motivating military servicepersons to keep at it. It might sound clichéd to civilians, but the honor, pride and respect that has traditionally come with serving one’s country has been a key reason why military families continue to volunteer for duty year after year.

Well, at least until recently.

With all the talk of fiscal cliffs, sequestration, budget cuts, downsizing, draw down, veteran unemployment, force reduction, retention boards, and the public’s increasing war fatigue, military members are not exactly “feeling the love.” In fact, the armed forces could be facing the worst military retention rates since the post-Vietnam War era.

The 2014 Navy Retention Study released on September 1st examined which factors were impacting Sailors’ “stay/go” decisions, concluding that “Sailors are most likely to leave uniformed service because of increasingly high operational tempo, poor work/life balance, low service-wide morale, declining pay and compensation, waning desire to hold senior leadership positions, and a widespread distrust of senior leadership, all of which erodes loyalty to the institution.”

The Navy study revealed plummeting morale – only 17.7% of sailors ranked morale to be good or excellent — finding “a fundamental belief that attainment of senior positions … are not worth the sacrifice.”

Other branches of the service are also facing the negative impact of budget cuts and war fatigue on morale and retention of their servicepersons. The Blue Star Families 2014 Military Family Lifestyle Survey indicated that “[c]hanges in the national security priorities have ripple effects on military families that were evident in the responses of this year’s survey participants.”

The Survey participants perceived that “civilians do not understand the service or sacrifices made by military families.” Blue Star Families recommended that policy makers take note of “the contributions of the military service culture to American life.”

“One of the biggest challenges we face as a country is supporting our military community both so that our all-volunteer force remains a sustainable alternative, and so that a generation of service members, veterans and military family members are both empowered and encouraged to share their sense of service, adaptability, and civic mindedness with the nation and within local communities,” the Survey concluded.

I might just be a housewife whose biggest mental challenge today was remembering to defrost the rump roast, but I do know this:

On Veterans’ Day, we all need to snap out of the political buzz of election day long enough to appreciate the military men, women, and families who spend years committed to securing our country’s freedom.

At the very least, we can all grab the hand of a Veteran and say, “Thank you for your service to our country.” Now, more than ever, military members and veterans need to be told that their sacrifices are indeed “worth it.”

The Rack or The Rocking Chair

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“Now, pull your right knee up to your left ear,” the therapist told me in all seriousness. I looked out the window to see if any pigs were flying by.

It was the first day of my physical therapy at the Newport Naval Base clinic. Upon turning 48 years of age last June, my knees decided they’d had enough. I ignored the aches and pains for a while, chalking it up to the weather as if I was one of those cows you see lying down when rain is coming. But after my right knee started buckling like an old Barbie Doll, I finally decided to see a doctor at the base clinic.

“You’re welcome to keep them when we’re done here,” the clinic’s x-ray technician offered with a smile, handing me a pair of ridiculous paper shorts. He took images of my knees from all sides, and told me the doctor would call me with the results.

“Mild to moderate degenerative arthritis, patellofemoral pain syndrome, and a possible sprain,” she told me, but all I heard was, “Go find a rocking chair and some tapioca pudding, because you’re officially ancient. ” I was prescribed anti-inflammatories and ordered to attend twice-weekly physical therapy sessions for a month.

I envisioned myself being gently guided through therapeutic motions intended to heal my stiffened joints, but no one bothered to tell me that I would have to break a sweat, not to mention turn myself into a human pretzel.

Every PT session followed the same general routine: Before I had the chance to get into a good People Magazine article in the waiting area, I was greeted by one of the clinic’s half dozen physical therapists and brought into the cheerful PT suite with its colorful work out equipment, entertaining background music, happy houseplants, padded tables and million-dollar view of the Narragansett Bay.

Although I would have preferred to nod off on a padded table while enjoying the view, I was always asked to warm up on a treadmill, followed by rolling my under-stretched thighs repeatedly over a foam cylinder on the floor. Piece of cake, or so I thought. Who knew that the harmless limbering exercise would elicit visions of being strapped to The Rack by Medieval King Longshanks?

I was then allowed to lounge on one of the padded tables, which would have been lovely, if it were not for the dog leash I had use to pull my extremities into positions that made me look like a middle-aged Cirque du Soleil reject. These awkward maneuvers were always followed by seemingly endless leg lifts that left me covered in an unladylike sheen of sweat.

While the therapist cleaned the table, I had to endure a final mélange of strengthening exercises. Isometric lunges, calf raises, step ups, wall squats and something affectionately referred to as “monster walks” — pacing back and forth across the room in front of everyone, legs splayed out in a semi-squat with a giant rubber band around my thighs.

Thank God I’m already married.

When my ordeal was over, I would grab my belongings from the patient cubbies, and bid my assigned therapist adieu, promising to do my homework. Despite the fact that I never committed the therapists’ names to memory and often wondered if they were all descendants of Emperor Caligula, I must admit, they knew what they were doing.

Thanks to their vast knowledge and firm encouragement, my knees are getting better and there’s no need to go out and buy that rocking chair just yet.

I never would have guessed it, but apparently, pigs can fly after all.

Timeless Tradition

Navyballtable“This ol’ thing? Only cost me $39.99 at Ross,” I bragged to other military wives in the ladies room of the Naval Station Newport Officer’s Club last weekend. Despite my seeming candor, I wouldn’t admit that I’d actually spent a lot more on the torso-girdle-contraption I was wearing under my ball gown.

The Navy Ball is held each year to celebrate the birthday of the seagoing branch of the armed forces, and it is pretty much the same every year: cocktails, photographs, dinner, speakers, cake cutting, and dancing one’s face off to a band of Navy musicians wearing “crackerjack” dress blues.

This year’s 239th Navy Birthday Ball is not really unique; all five branches of our military celebrate their respective birth dates with similar events. The Army held their 239th birthday ball in June, the Coast Guard’s 224th birthday ball was in August, the Air Force’s 67th birthday ball was in September, and the Marine Corps will hold their 239th birthday ball next month.

My yearly tradition always begins with the hunt for a decent dress to wear. Mine was cheap, fit like a glove, and covered all the things that, at 48 years of age, I didn’t want to worry about — my lunch lady arms, my armpit chicken fat, and all the other wiggly bits, which I tucked neatly into that girdle contraption. I felt like a million bucks.

Well, considerably more than $39.99, at least.

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We walked to the Club from our base housing neighborhood, me in sensible flats, carrying my heels, which I knew would make my feet feel like they’d been fed through a sausage grinder if worn too long.

Entering the lobby, swarming with Navy folks dressed to the nines, I slipped into my heels and hid my flats under my husband’s cover on the coat rack. Sipping wine and chatting with friends while waiting in line for the professional photographer, I suddenly felt self-conscious about my bargain basement dress and the fact that, arriving home late that afternoon from our daughter’s JV soccer game, I’d gotten ready for the ball in exactly 27 minutes.

My insecurities were eased when another “senior” spouse told me that she’d thrown on one of her “sock drawer gowns” — dresses that she whips out at a moment’s notice, gives them a good shake, and slips into without any need for ironing or alterations.

Seated at Table 13, I got a little misty during the parading of the colors and the national anthem, because, after 21 years as a military spouse, I’m not sure how much longer I’ll get to be a part of all this.

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We settled into our seats, under the warm ballroom light, to listen to the keynote speaker. The soft sounds of glasses clinking and hushed conversations could be heard as the President of the U.S. Naval War College, Rear Admiral P. Gardner Howe, approached the podium. Normally at these functions, I would feign interest, half-listening while secretly people-watching. But this time, motivated by the sense that unique military experiences like this are precious and fleeting, I was all ears.

With all the honor and authority expected of a decorated Navy Seal, and a bit of unexpected charm and familiarity, Admiral Howe spoke to us.

“… The Navy is, at times, about spit and polish, about formal uniforms and ceremonies. But we must never forget that we are also about steel, and fire, and precious blood … expended in righteous combat against intractable enemies. It is this warrior spirit, this Navy ethos, that sets our profession apart from the citizens we serve. …”

Not again, I thought, my eyes pooling up. You sentimental fool, get ahold of yourself! I blinked rapidly to disperse an oncoming tear, and applauded the Admiral for his poetic and patriotic words.

An hour later, I was barefoot, sweaty, and doing my own middle-aged housewife rendition of “The Cupid Shuffle.”

With our Navy friends both new and old, we danced the night away, happy in the knowledge that, no matter how long we’ll be in the military, our traditions, our experiences, our pride and our honor will stay with us forever.

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Dust in the wind, and on my furniture

dustbunny

Dust bunnies are the bane of my existence.

Well, that might be a tad dramatic, but let’s just say that I pretty much hate dusting. Then again, my mother taught me to never use the word “hate” so let’s go with this: Dusting is an activity of which I am not particularly fond. (And I get bonus points for not ending with a preposition.)

You see, I just spent all last week cleaning my 100-year-old base house for a neighborhood party. Even though every military family on my street has the exact same old house with it’s government budget linoleum floors and gazillion layers of paint, we still try to spruce things up when we host each other.

So I cleaned the house for my guests. Sure, housework is pretty lousy all the way around, but dusting is, by far, the most frustrating and futile of household chores.

Take, for example, vacuuming. On the cleaning satisfaction scale (this doesn’t exist, but just go with it) vacuuming is a ten. There’s something about the whirring, the amps, and the way you can hear debris being slurped up the suction tube. Popcorn kernel on the rug? THWUMP! Gone. Crumbs on the cushion? SHLUSH! Gone. Sand on the hardwood? FFFWPT! Gone.

Other tasks such as folding laundry and ironing are not as exhilarating as vacuuming, but the monotony can be minimized by simply turning on the television. Putting a crease in my husband’s cammies is actually quite riveting if done while watching a catfight on “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.” And I must admit, there are days when I’d rather chew my own arm off than empty the dishwasher for the umpteenth time, but it’s really not so bad if I can catch a rerun of “House Hunters” on the kitchen TV in the process.

I think it’s safe to say that there’s not a soul on this planet who truly enjoys cleaning bathrooms. However, the revolting nature of this foul chore is so universally recognized, that there are a plethora of products on the market to make the job palatable. Flushable toilet scrubbing wands, automatic shower sprayers, disinfecting wipes, bleaching toilet tank tablets, and just in case you can’t even stomach harmless soap scum, there are Scrubbing Bubbles who will gladly do it for you.

But dusting? Dust is one of those sad facts of life, like stretch marks and male pattern balding. It’s always going to be there, so you’ve just got to deal with it.

And unfortunately, no one has invented anything to make dusting any easier. Here we are in the 21st Century, and in order to dust your house, you’ve still got to grab a rag – your son’s old football t-shirt is as good as anything else – and a can of furniture polish and get to work.

You may be able to catch a few minutes of a favorite show while tackling the family room, but that brief distraction is short-lived. You’ve still got to plod, slowly and methodically, room to room, spraying, rubbing, and wiping. Starting with the cob-webby ceiling fan blades and hitting every last desk, lampshade, molding, photo frame, table, piano key and baseboard, all the way down to the tumbleweeds of dusty dog hair on the floor.

Then, to make matters worse, the instant your ionic-ally charged ShamWow glides over the coffee table, there are millions more minute particles depositing themselves right back on the surface. We can’t see the little buggers, but every minute of every day, they’re there, coursing through our ductwork, wafting from room to room, floating from the ceiling to the floor, landing silently on every horizontal surface in our homes.

Where do these particles come from and why are they hell-bent on banishing us to a lifetime of dusting drudgery? Unless you want to read about dead skin cells, I don’t recommend Googling this question. Just accept dust as a fact of life, and be thankful that you have a house that needs dusting, because it means you have a home.

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