Tag Archives: Military life

Let the needles fall where they may!

Seriously?

Seriously?

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I love my ShopVac.

Typically, my love affair with this handy appliance is most intimate during the post-holiday cleanup, after the decorations have been taken down, and a veritable minefield of dust bunnies, paper scraps, glitter, forgotten red and green M&Ms and, of course, pine needles is revealed.

I normally find my ShopVac coyly hiding in my laundry room, playing hard-to-get. I tease him out into the kitchen and fondle his attachments. He’s a particularly handsome upright model with a tall slim canister and an extra long hose. After I plug him in, he dominantly takes charge of the situation, powerfully wielding his raw horsepower.

My torrid tryst with my ShopVac is normally a very brief encounter. But this year, we had a prolonged tête-à-tête, thanks to a most unfortunate Christmas tree.

After two years of living in Florida, buying our Christmas trees in dingy strip mall parking lots, my Navy family, now stationed in New England, was ready for the full-on, over the river and through the woods, dashing through the snow, holly-jolly experience. I imagined a happy family outing to a local “you-cut” tree farm with rows of lovely scotch pines and Frazier firs. I figured we’d traipse off into the woods, perhaps while singing our favorite Christmas carols, and find a gorgeously fragrant, well-tended tree to perfectly fit our base house’s bay window.

However, somehow, we ended up in a bumpy field dotted with wildly misshapen blue spruces. But it was almost dusk, and we were determined to get our tree that afternoon. As we searched the weedy, tangled grove, our standards dwindled with the remaining sunlight.

Wanting to get the whole ordeal over with, we settled on a particularly painful blue spruce that we found down in a gulch at the edge of the farmer’s property. No sooner did we hand back the farmer’s bowsaw, along with the agreed upon $35, than needles began to fall from our “fresh” cut tree.

There were needles on our clothes, on the top of our minivan, inside our minivan, on our driveway, on our sidewalk, in our kitchen, down our hallway, across our living room, and scattered on the floor under the bay window. Even after the lights, ornaments and angel were in place, our “fresh” cut tree continued to drop needles, which somehow made their way onto our dog, inside our presents, in our boots, on the bookshelf, imbedded into our oriental rug, and remarkably, into a pot of spaghetti sauce.

By the time the holidays were over, and we took the decorations off our tree, there were more needles on our carpet than attached to the brittle, curled branches.

We finally bid riddance to that most unfortunate tree at the curb outside our house a few days ago. Not wanting to appear too needy, I wondered whether I should betray my ShopVac, and tackle the mountain of needles with a snow shovel or a bulldozer.

But I was only kidding myself – I knew he was the only one who could give me satisfaction. Day after day, night after night, I faithfully rendezvoused with my beloved ShopVac until we found every needle in my haystack.

Along with all those fuzz balls, dog hairs, peanuts, tinsel and pine needles, my ShopVac has sucked me in for good.

What I learned about life from watching the soaps

soapoperadigestCue organ music.

Distinguished male voice over:

“In our last episode, publishing mogul Preston Thornton III was still in a coma as a result of the mysterious chandelier accident at his Bay City Mansion. His evil twin sister Iris hatched a deal with Metropolitan Hospital’s Dr. Lucas Moore to keep Preston unconscious until they had time to fraudulently embezzle his fortune.

Meanwhile, Preston’s wife, Felicity, the genuine heir, fell in love with Dr. Moore while spending long hours in the hospital at her father’s bedside. In a dramatic cliffhanger, Dr. Moore, Iris and Felicity found themselves in Preston’s hospital room, just as he opened his eyes and said to Felicity, ‘Who are you?’

Does Preston have amnesia? Will Dr. Moore continue to plot with Iris, or will he follow his heart and pursue Felicity? Will Preston cut his cheating wife out of his will? Who will get the riches? And who will find love?

And now, another episode of . . .”

Yep, I’ll admit it. There was a period in my life when I watched the soaps. Off and on between 1995 and 2000, I spent a lot of time sitting on the couch watching TV in the middle of the day. No, I wasn’t eating bonbons. I was a Navy wife at home nursing our three babies, and what could be a more fitting way to pass the time than watching a bit of “boob tube?”

I found it totally ludicrous, but surprisingly entertaining, that every soap opera character had been in a coma, was kidnapped, had amnesia, was switched with another baby at birth, came back from the dead, time traveled, and was cloned. I never took any of it seriously, although I am embarrassed to admit that I might have shed a tear or two when Bo married Fancy Face back in 1996.

I’m still a Navy wife, but now that my kids are teens, I don’t have an excuse to sit on the couch in the middle of the day and watch soaps anymore. But as we enter a new year, I realize that those soap operas actually taught me an important life lesson.

No, not to hatch an evil plot to steal the Quartermaine family fortune, or to create an evil clone of Reva Lewis, or to confront devil-possessed Dr. Marlena Evans-Black at Brady’s Pub, or to fake your death while in a voodoo trance.

Sure, the dramatic twists, turns and changes can be hokey and unrealistic in the context of “General Hospital,” but the concept that just about anything is possible can be motivating in real life, especially when trying to make New Year’s resolutions.

It is possible for me to exercise five days a week. It is possible for me to save more money. It is possible for me to get organized. It is possible for my husband and I to schedule a date night twice a month. It is possible for our family to get to church every week.

Let’s face it, we only have “One Life to Live.” As for me, I will be a “Guiding Light” for “All My Children,” and teach them that, although they may feel “Young and Restless,” they should look for “The Bold and the Beautiful” things in life as they “Search for Tomorrow.” And “As the World Turns,” we should all spend “The Days of Our Lives” striving to be a little better each year.

It is possible, because just about anything is possible.

 

 

The Bottom Drawer

Forgotten, but not lost.

Forgotten, but not lost.

Ironically, there are benefits to moving so often as a military family. Every few years, we’re forced to go through all the used markers, pillowcases, snow boots, kitchen utensils, Barbies, tae kwan do trophies, tax records, and saucepans, and throw a bunch of stuff out.

As a person who attaches sentimental value to everything from seashells and matchbooks to stained bibs and hospital bracelets, this can be stressful. But the sands of time grind away my sentimentality, and eventually, I end up chucking out mementos that I formerly believed to be too precious to part with.

As we prepare for our next military move to Rhode Island, I’m reconsidering items I thought were useful or nostalgic enough to haul around for so many years. For example, Aunt Millie’s (may she rest in peace) old end tables, with the cigarette burns I thought I’d buff out one day, were relegated to the donate pile. Although I kept one file of my kids’ artwork, anything with cracked macaroni or yellowing glue was photographed and discarded. Similarly, clothing that has not been worn in the last five years – except for my college duck boots which I hear are coming back into style — has been delivered to Goodwill.

Some collections, however, get pared down with each tour, but are never completely discarded regardless of their current usefulness. For example, I’ve been adding to several tubs of old t-shirts for years, because someday, I WILL make each of my kids a t-shirt quilt before they go off to college. And, I have at least four boxes of old toys and books that WILL seed the fantastic playroom I envision for my future grandchildren. I WILL use that stuff someday, I swear.

And then there’s the stuff I recently whittled down to one bottom file drawer. It contains documents that not only took years of hard work to assemble, but cost me over $90,000 to acquire. When my husband and I first married in 1993, this collection was huge and took up at least a dozen boxes. But with every tour, the contents aged, became obsolete, and were thrown away.

Other than a few musty books which reside on our shelf just for show, the bottom file drawer now contains the only tangible evidence of my career as a litigation attorney.

The hanging folders in the bottom drawer have tabs inscribed with titles such as “Resumes,” “Transcripts,” “Licensing,” and “Writing Samples.” Even though none of these documents have been referenced since I quit working in the 1990s to raise our kids, I keep them all neatly filed in case I need them to land that six-figure partnership offer in a high-powered litigation firm one day.

Although I won’t readily admit it, I know down deep inside that these old documents, now yellowed and stained with spots of rust from ancient paper clips and staples, will never realistically serve to supplement any future application for my employment. But I can’t bring myself to throw them away, just in case.

Besides, the file drawers above contain my children’s birth certificates, report cards, physical forms, the deed to our first house, mortgage documents, college savings statements, the dog’s shot records, orthodontist’s bills, car insurance policies, passports, tax forms, orders and other essential documents memorializing 20 years of life as a military family.

Like my college duck boots, the tub of t-shirts, and those old toys, my legal career will stay packed away a while longer. I WILL get to them eventually. In the meantime, I’ve got other, more important things to do.

 

Why I love being ordered around

an-officer-and-a-gentleman-screenshot

Mayo-nnaise to Foley: “I got nowhere else to go! I got nowhere else to g… I got nothin’ else!”

To everyday civilians, “the pursuit of happiness” typically involves career, home, love, and family. It’s no different for military families, with one important exception: ORDERS.

Unlike their civilian counterparts, active duty servicepersons must pursue their happiness within the strict confines of written military orders, which are lengthy documents that appear to be written in alien code.

Military orders seem riddled with gibberish, and might be easily replicated as follows: Sit on a computer keyboard for about ten minutes, periodically shifting positions. Once enough “XXXXXXXXs” and “UUUUUUs” have been typed, print out about 15 pages; staple. Trust me, even the most seasoned soldier or sailor wouldn’t immediately notice the difference.

However, buried amongst the seemingly nonsensical verbiage are key phrases such as “Report no later than August 2013” and “Newport, Rhode Island,” which, although embedded in gobbledygook, are important mandatory instructions regarding the next couple of years in a serviceperson’s life.

We are a Navy family who’s seen our share of military orders. Our most recent written orders arrived a month ago. Besides “RTTUZYUW” and “UUUU–RHMCSUU” my husband’s orders indicate that this summer, he must report to a new job at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

The hidden message contained in the gobbledygook.

The hidden message contained in the gobbledygook.

Our last orders instructed my husband to report to Naval Station Mayport, Florida in March 2011, and before that to Africa Command, Stuttgart, Germany in July 2008. Before that Djibouti, East Africa. Before that Norfolk, Virginia. Before that Molesworth, England. Before that, Monterey California. And so on, and so on.

I can’t prove it without the assistance of an experienced cryptographer, but I think that our orders might also contain mandates such as “///GET OVER IT///” or “///NO WHINING–YOU’RE IN THE MILITARY///.” We must follow military orders regardless of inconvenience or hardship, like moving your son before his senior year, or leaving the church that you like so much, or separating your youngest after she finally made a new best friend. None of that matters. We are at the mercy of the U.S. Navy.

So why do we continue to let ourselves get ordered around?

In today’s unstable economic climate, one might think that mere job security is what motivates military families to keep following orders, and with all the news of “fiscal cliffs” and “sequestration” there is some truth to this.

However, regardless of job security, a deep attachment to a military culture develops. With each successive move, military families not only become more resilient, but also cultivate a strong identity and pride in their unique lifestyle. Believe it or not, we become so accustomed to being ordered to go somewhere new, we often look forward to it after being in one place for a couple of years.

I must admit, I’ve wondered if our affection for military life might be a twinge of Stockholm syndrome. Or maybe it’s rooted in fear of what’s on the outside, like long-term prisoners who are afraid to be released from prison life. Or maybe it’s a compulsion, like Pacino’s Michael Corleone in Godfather III (“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”)

Sargent

Truly, I know our affinity for this lifestyle is rooted in honor, duty, courage, loyalty, patriotism, respect for authority, and sacrifice for others. These concepts have become muddled in today’s society, so we feel fortunate to be given the opportunity to raise our kids in a military environment where those virtues are emphasized. We live and work with other military families who have a common understanding of good and evil, right and wrong.  We don’t need a permanent hometown — it’s the similar sense of values and camaraderie with our fellow military families that makes us feel at home.

No doubt about it: non-military families are fortunate to put down roots in one place where they can make close friendships and foster stable school, family and community ties. They might not understand how a family like mine could be happy about moving to Rhode Island after less than two years in Florida.

But we are happy about our ninth move in 20 years, because it’s part and parcel of our military lifestyle. To quote a common saying which adorns many a sailor’s front door, “Home is where the Navy sends us.”

Purchase signs like these at www.signsofpatriotism.com.

Purchase signs like these at http://www.signsofpatriotism.com.

The Moody Foodie

"It just needs a bit of hot sauce."

“It just needs a bit of hot sauce.”

I’ll try anything once. Well, maybe not cliff diving, or running with the bulls, or a Mohawk hairdo, or snorting angel dust, or silicone lip injections.

But when it comes to food, I’m totally adventurous.

When our military family moves to a new place, I’m always excited to try the local cuisine. Sometimes, our experimentation with native dishes produces an instant fondness, and we adopt local recipes into our regular meal routine.

Early in our marriage, my husband was assigned to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. At first we were bummed that we couldn’t find a “Mom & Pop” pizzeria, which we took for granted back east. Much to our dismay, pizzas in California had foo-foo toppings such as sprouts, gorgonzola, shallots, walnuts, fennel, pears, and chicken. And the waitresses wore trendy glasses, thumb rings and Greenpeace t-shirts. What ever happened to good old fashioned pepperoni and mozzarella, served by someone named “Ang” with bad highlights and a moustache, for goodness sakes?

However, once we tasted the local foods — fresh caught squid, Gilroy garlic, Castroville artichokes, and San Francisco sourdough bread – we were hooked.

Similarly, our next tour in England (granted, not exactly known for its cuisine) added crumpets and Shepherd’s pie to our repertoire. Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs and plump Virginia peanuts became staples after back-to-back tours in Virginia Beach. Germany brought us countless European delights including schnitzel, beer, goulash, beer, spaetzle, beer, chocolate and beer. Oh, and did I say beer?

Now we find ourselves in the Deep South, where we are becoming connoisseurs of fried chicken, hush puppies, shrimp and grits, barbecue, cornbread and biscuits. Dee-licious!

But, hold up. For every delectable indigenous morsel that has passed favorably over my taste buds, there have been countless other native foods that triggered my gag reflex.

I said I was adventurous, but I’m not stupid. Our experiences living in different areas has taught us that every region has its share of really bad foods, and I’m not such a foodie that I will pretend to like them.

There are certain “red flags” — a clear sign that the food you are about to eat is not that tasty. For example, if someone tells you that you have to “develop a taste for it,” that means you will need to consume copious amounts of the substance to desensitize your taste buds to its wretched flavor. When I first ordered southern boiled peanuts at a football game, I found a slippery, mushy nut that tasted like a mutated potato. But after giving them several tries, I find that I can now eat a few without shuddering.

If someone tells you, “It taste’s like [chicken or some other familiar meat],” beware that you are about to eat mysterious animal parts. Whilst in England, I was served black pudding with breakfast, and told it was a variety of sausage. A tiny nibble filled my mouth with the taste of bloody vital organs, no thank you. At a B&B in Scotland, I was offered a sliver of haggis and told that it tasted just like pork and oats. One swallow and I felt as if I’d just licked the salty underbellies of a herd of sweaty sheep.

If someone says, “It’s great with butter,” that generally means that the food is dry as the Sahara.  Does anyone really like Irish Soda Bread? No one really knows, because we all slather it with butter so we can swallow it.

If someone tells you, “it just needs a little hot sauce,” they are saying that you will need to distract yourself with pain in order to ingest this foul tasting dish. At the risk of igniting another Civil War, let me say that greens are not as good as southern folk proclaim. Collards, kale, mustards, Swiss chard – isn’t it suspicious that they are all slow cooked in bacon fat and disguised with Texas Pete?

On the other hand, there are, in fact, certain truisms that hold eternal in the world of local cuisine: beware of anyone who tells you to “suck the juice out of the head, because that’s the best part,” and you can always trust someone who says in earnest “it’s great deep fried,” because let’s face it, what isn’t good deep fried?

"Sure, why not, I'll try anything once."

“Sure, why not, I’ll try anything once.”

If you liked this post, remember to vote for Meat & Potatoes of Life as a Top 25 Funny Moms blog on Circle of Moms! 

Winter Wondering

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January 2013. My back yard in Florida.

I love snowy white winters, but ever since the Navy moved us to Florida, the only flakes we see are floating in milk-filled cereal bowls. So, I sit on my sunny screened porch in January, surrounded by green grass, ocean breezes, and palm trees, and I dream of snow.

I know, I know, that’s nuts. Crazy. Certifiable. But I can’t help it. Something was imprinted in my psyche many years ago, something that makes me associate winter with snow, and snow with pleasure.

As a child growing up in Pennsylvania, my heart filled with anticipation at the first snow. To us, snow, especially in copious amounts, meant FUN. Snowballs, sled riding, hot chocolate, and one of the most joyous occasions in a child’s life – SNOW DAYS.

I can recall falling off my flying red plastic sled in a puff of white on the hill behind our house, and laying a minute or two, to make sure I was still in one piece and to listen to the silence – how the snow absorbs noise and brings a soft quietness to the air. Packed and padded in protective layers, I felt swaddled like a baby, watching my breath ascend over me into the air. It was pure joy.

Ironically, a serious sledding accident in the winter of 1977 only strengthened my positive association with snow.

I was in the fifth grade, and it was the last night of our winter break from school, and also my father’s poker night. While the men played cards in our basement rec room, my brother and I listened to radio reports of a blizzard, and hoped for school closures.

Fueled by bravado (and a few beers), my father and his buddies decided it would be a good idea to take our 12-man wooden toboggan out for a run down the hill behind our house. My brother and I couldn’t believe our luck, and eagerly followed.

With my legs crisscrossed under the toboggan’s wooden curl, I sat in the front, four men and my brother behind me. Visibility was nil due to the blizzard and dark night, but there was a wide path between the houses for our ride. With the weight of the men, we took off like a bullet, and I pulled the ties of my parka hood tight to keep the snow from hitting my face.

About halfway down the hill – WHAM! The rest came in flashes: my father’s friend looking down wearing one of my hats, someone saying “I think it’s broken”, riding in the back of a truck, being carried on the toboggan into the hospital, three layers of pants being cut off, wanting my mom and dad.

I had broken my femur. Apparently, our toboggan had drifted off course, running into a white flagpole in our neighbor’s yard. I spent the next two and a half months in a hospital bed, with a weight hanging off the end of my foot.

To add insult to injury, during my lengthy hospital stay, the historic 1977 blizzard blew into town. Schools were cancelled for over two weeks, and I was stuck in a hospital bed watching Don Ho and eating    Jell-O.

One might think that the experience would have caused me to associate snow with pain; however, the pain of my broken leg paled in comparison to the envy I had for my peers who spent two glorious weeks out of school, sucking on icicles, throwing snowballs, and drinking hot chocolate.

So now, like Pavlov’s dog, when winter rolls around, I begin to drool.

Sometimes the Navy sends us somewhere that fulfills my nostalgic longings, like our last tour in snowy Stuttgart, Germany.

I must admit, there was a downside. Bundled up like the Michelin Man, I would trudge four flights down our military stairwell housing to our minivan, hazy with salt residue and laden with blackened hunks of snow behind each wheel. Despite spraying de-icing compound into the locks, the doors would often be frozen solid, requiring me to climb in from the trunk.

But now, even with the memories of crusted, frozen, gritty car doors still freshly juxtaposed against this balmy pastel Florida winter, I can’t help but long for snow. Big fluffy, white hunks dropping from tree branches. Delicate crystalline flakes drifting slowly from the sky.

Cold to the touch. Warm to my heart.

My girls, Anna and Lilly, in 2010 while stationed in Germany.

My girls, Anna and Lilly, in 2010 while stationed in Germany.

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March 2007. Anna savoring a late spring snow while visiting Grammy back home in PA.

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Hayden trying to break the land speed record.

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Lilly reaching maximum happiness level.

Riding the Gravy Train

They don’t want to clean your toilets. They don’t want to watch your kids. They don’t want to do your laundry. And they certainly don’t want to give you a sponge bath.

After major medical events such as childbirth or surgery, most neighbors want to help out in one way – by cooking food.

They cook banana bread and baked ziti. They cook chili and chicken casserole. They cook potatoes au gratin and pork chops. They cook and they cook and they cook.

The idea is simple — the neighbors take on the responsibility for feeding the family so the mother can recuperate – but hidden below such seemingly uncomplicated philanthropic events are surprisingly complex group dynamics.

As soon as my neighbors found out about my recent surgery, they quickly mobilized. Like Ralph in Lord of the Flies, one energetic neighbor assumed the roll of leader, and blew her proverbial conch. By the time I emerged from the hospital and my Percocet-induced haze, there were people assigned to bring us ten days of meals. Thanks to the unbridled generosity of my neighbors, I’ve been lazing around like a slug for days, just like the doctor ordered.

This is not the first time neighbors have cooked for us after a hospitalization.  After the birth of my second child, the wives of my husband’s command insisted on providing two full weeks of dinners. I tried to tell them it was completely unnecessary because my mother had flown in and my husband had taken two weeks of leave, but I was told by these military wives, “This is what we do. You have no choice in the matter.”

So they cooked, and they cooked and they cooked, and we got used to it real quick.

There were chicken enchiladas with all the fixins. There were baked potatoes with chili, cheese, and corn bread. There was beef bourguignon with cream puffs and chocolate sauce for dessert.

As the days passed, we started growing accustomed to having home cooked meals delivered to our door. We started checking our watches and saying things like, “Where the heck are they? I’m getting hungry.”  We started scrutinizing and comparing each meal. By the middle of the second week, we were secretly ranking the meals with an intricate rating system based on quantity, taste and creativity.

It may have been thirteen years ago, but I will never forget the meal that received our worst rating. It came in three 8 x 8 foil pans, which we knew right away could not hold enough food for our gluttonous appetites.

Upon peeling back the foil from the first pan, we noticed that it contained a meager casserole consisting of an unseasoned layer of white rice, topped sparingly with crumbled ground beef and green pepper strips, adhered together with what appeared to be cream of mushroom soup. From its weight, we thought the next pan was empty but found that it held a salad of sorts made of the thick colorless center leaves of iceberg lettuce, some carrot disks, and more of those sad green pepper strips.

But the worst was yet to come. The last foil pan contained “dessert.” While it is true that a great dessert can compensate for a bad meal, this poor excuse for a dessert was merely the nail in the coffin. Inside the pan were a dozen pre-fab shortening-laden canned cinnamon rolls. How that qualifies for dessert, I’ll never know, but to make matters considerably worse, they were burnt on the bottom

Without so much as a nibble, we threw the whole meal out onto our compost heap and dug happily into the remaining chicken enchiladas.

Thankfully, our newfound smugness dissipated as quickly as the leftovers, and we realized how fortunate we were to have been treated so indulgently by our fellow military families.

About a year later, another military wife had a baby, and I offered to cook. Apparently, this particular wife was quite popular, and had been inundated with calls. I was referred to her “meal coordinator,” who told me that the schedule was full. I did not make the cut. “Are you kidding me?” I thought, “I can’t even cook a flipping pan of brownies?”  I felt lost and rejected, and secretly dropped off a bundt cake, just to ease my own suffering.

These experiences taught me that there is a basic human need to cook for women who have been in the hospital. The cooking is both healing for the recipient of the meals, and cathartic to the concerned cookers.

So if you have been in the hospital and your neighbors offer to cook, accept their generosity and be grateful. The gravy train doesn’t come around often, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

Potatoes au gratin by sa

Image via Wikipedia

My Styrofoam Cup Runneth Over

A week ago, I was sitting in my room in the base hotel, the night before my family’s final departure back to the States, sipping wine out of a Styrofoam cup and reflecting on the last three years living on a US Army base in Germany.

On one hand, the tour was a grand adventure. We climbed the steps of the ancient Coliseum, laid on the heather covered hills of Ireland’s county Kerry, ate our Thanksgiving turkey in a remote French farmhouse in Loire Valley, snuggled under a bearskin while riding a carriage through the streets of Vienna, and hiked among wildflowers and cowbells in the Swiss Alps.

On the other hand, with every tour, we leave family and friends behind, put spouse career plans on hold, store treasured belongings, cram into government quarters, tolerate extremely long work hours at mediocre pay without overtime, endure frequent separations, and for some, report for potentially hazardous duty downrange.

So why do we do it?

My husband, an intelligence officer, has enough years in to retire, so why not hang up the khaki uniform, grow a nice moustache and a gut, double his salary working for the private sector, and start living it up?

Good question.

Just before we moved out of our base housing in Stuttgart, my government-issue oven broke one night in the midst of making chocolate chip cookies. Despite the fact that I had packed up most of our kitchen supplies and was surviving on paper plates and take out, my daughter promised her social studies teacher that she would bring chocolate chip cookies in for the entire class the next day.

The dough was taking forever to cook, when finally we realized that the lower element was not heating properly. By this time it was nearly 11:00 pm, so we took a culinary risk and turned on the broiling element to heat the oven to the proper temperature, watching the cookies closely. It seemed to work, and we only had one batch left to bake.

My daughter put the last batch in, and came back to my room to ask me if I would watch them while she got ready for bed. I agreed. Seconds later, the fire alarm went off. I ran to the kitchen to find smoke billowing from the oven. Hurling the oven door open, I saw that my daughter had put the cookies on the uppermost rack of the oven, just under the red-hot broiler element.

 I threw the blackened pan of cookies onto the open window ledge and ran frantically around the base apartment, hoping to avoid setting the building alarm off, which would require all 11 families in the building to vacate and the fire department to come.

But then I heard it. Ear-piercing sirens from the stairwell, and confused voices shuffling in the halls. I knew there was no fire, but the alarms made it intolerable to stay inside the building so everyone was headed for the parking lot.

There they all were – the groggy residents of Building 2500 Patch Barracks. Men, women, children, cats, and dogs. All with crazy hair, wearing embarrassing bedtime clothing, staring up at our humble abode, looking for signs of fire.

“Uh, Howdy neighbors!” I waved nervously. “There’s nothing to worry about, it’s just a burnt batch of cookies!”

With sleep in their eyes, they all stared at me. At first, I was worried about bitter backlash due to our stupidity. I mean, who bakes cookies under the broiler? And at 11-o-clock at night?

But instead, they all yawned and laughed. Teenagers took the late night opportunity to steal away to their own corner of the lot and shoot the breeze. Little children warmed themselves in cars, and the rest of us chatted as if it was one of our weekend building barbecues.

Not only was no one mad at me, we all seemed to enjoy ourselves and light laughter could be heard bouncing off the walls of the nearby buildings.

After about 20 minutes or so, the serious German firemen arrived on their serious fire truck, suited up for a Towering Inferno. They marched seriously up four flights to my apartment, entered, and came out a few seconds later with smirks on their serious faces. We giggled at how mad they must’ve been to see that they had to come all this way for some “silly Americans” and their beloved chocolate chip cookies.

I offered my last apologies to my neighbors and friends and we all bid each other good night. It was actually a good time, and I was happy that my boneheadedness ironically resulted in one last fun Building 2500 get-together.

Reflecting on the past three years, I see what keeps us coming back to this way of life. Despite its hardships, life in the military offers job security and opportunity for adventure, but the most unique aspect of this lifestyle is the almost instant camaraderie among military families.

Sitting in the hotel awaiting our next tour of duty, I raised my Styrofoam cup in gratitude for the memories, experiences and friends we have acquired over the years, and I look forward to the good times to come.

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