Tag Archives: PCSing

She’s a rich girl

Money can't buy happiness, but life experience can make you rich.

Money can’t buy happiness, but life experience can make you rich.

In the darkness of Room 318, my husband’s gravely snore could be heard over the rattle of the air conditioner. Normally unable to sleep with any kind of racket, I was out like the proverbial light, my mouth agape from the utter exhaustion that comes with moving.

Middle-age didn’t help either.

Our son, draped over the makeshift bed we created for him out of hotel chair cushions and extra blankets, tinkered on his laptop, chatting with Facebook friends about the new school he will enter in the fall.

In an identical room one floor above, silently laid my mother — who had come to help us move in to our assigned base house — nestled tightly between our two daughters.

“Grammy?” our youngest whispered in the darkness.

“Hu, wha?” my mother came to, her tired eyes at half-mast.

“I don’t wanna move here.”

“Oh, Sweetie,” my mother tried to regain lucidity, “I know you’re going to miss your sunny house in Florida, but you’ll love all the seasons in Rhode Island. Now, try to get some slee . . .”

“Well, I’m OK with that. It’s just that . . .”

“I totally understand, Lilly — snow gets me down sometimes too, especially during February and March. And when it snows on Easter – I have half a mind to catch the next Greyhound bus to the Bahamas. And another thing . . . “

“No, Grammy, I . . .”

“But think of all the sled riding you’re going to do!” my mother offered, attempting to recover from her self-absorbed rant.

“I’m not talking about that, I . . .”

“Oh, I get it now, you’re worried about your new school being too hard.”

“Well, no, I’m kind of afraid of . . .”

“The dress code?”

“Not . . .”

“Bullies?”

“No . . .”

“Boys?”

“GRAMMY! Listen to me!” Lilly blurted in a hybrid whisper-scream so as to not wake her older sister.

“I’m sorry, Sweetie, what are you afraid of? Grammy’s all ears.”

In the silence, Lilly tried to pinpoint her feelings about going to private school for the first time, living in a New England resort community, and going from flip-flops and hush puppies to Topsiders and lobster.

“I’m scared, because all the people here are rich,” she finally admitted, “and we’re not.”

Surprised by Lilly’s admission and exaggerated perception of reality, my mother scanned the recesses of her half-conscious mind for an appropriate response.

“Don’t be so materialistic, Lilly,” her older sister, Anna, suddenly blurted from the opposite side of the bed.

Grammy chuckled at the irony that Anna, who had been obsessed with making money for shopping since she went door to door selling her old baby dolls in the first grade, would admonish her sister for concerning herself with money.

“It’s not funny, Grammy,” Lilly pouted, feeling embarrassed and ganged-up on.

“Oh, Lilly,” Grammy pulled her closer, stroked the soft butterscotch hair away from her face, and allowed the words to flow without aforethought.

“You’re right. Your Dad doesn’t make tons of money — he chose to serve his country even if it meant taking a lower salary than he could make outside of the military. And your mom put aside her career as an attorney to follow him and raise you kids. No, your family doesn’t have a lot of money like some of the folks in this town.”

“But you know what?” she waited for replies from the pillows flanking her own head.

“What?” the sisters said in hushed unison.

“’Rich’ people might have big bank accounts and vacation homes in the Caymans, but those possessions aren’t really worth much in the whole grand scheme of things. What matters more is the value of your life experiences. Living all over the world, courage, patriotism, sacrifice, honor, camaraderie, respect, service – that’s the stuff that money can’t buy.”

Before Mr. Sandman lulled them all back to Lala Land, Grammy kissed her granddaughters on the head and eked out one final edict: “Lilly, you’re a military kid – hold your head up high, because you’re the richest girl in town.”

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Happy to have Dad back after a year in Djibouti, Africa

Family fun in Spain

Family fun in Spain

Kodak 250

Reaching new peaks in Switzerland

Winter to Spring 2010 364

Boxed up in London

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Bullied by brother in Bavaria

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Snoozing in the heather in the Irish hills

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Risky business in Rome

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Proud of Dad on his promotion.Winter to Spring 2010 865Wet and Wild in the Alps

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.

 

I can’t wait to move!

My column in the March Issue of Military Spouse Magazine!

My column in the March Issue of Military Spouse Magazine!

Well, first, there’s the heat. The year-round, thick, hot, humid, gnat-infested, sweat producing, Florida heat. The lousy palm trees certainly don’t do much to shade us from the relentless sun around here – I swear, it shines about 300 days a year! I don’t know how the locals can take it.      

And then there’s the sand. Not just any sand, but that fine, sugary Florida sand that you don’t feel until you’re back from the beach and you find out it’s all over your house. It’s a real hassle, I tell ya.

Of course, we can’t forget the local culture, and all its slow cooked “southern charm.” I swear, if another person opens a door for me or calls me “ma’am,” I’m gonna lose it! I’m sick and tired of sweet tea, cornbread, barbecue, fried chicken, coconut shrimp and tropical drinks!

Thank goodness, we got orders out of this place! Good riddance!

Part and parcel of the military experience is The Military Move. Every few years, we are forced to “pull chocks” – say good-bye to what has become familiar and settle in a new place. It’s tough, and sometimes we develop subconscious strategies to help us cope with the stress.

We settle our families into every duty station – be it Kentucky, California, Alaska, Arizona, Italy, Japan, or Florida. Even if it’s difficult at first, we eventually find our groove. The kids make friends, we get jobs, we find a pizza place and join bunco groups. As time passes, we incorporate local foods into our meals, we adopt local customs, we use local lingo such as “Yes Ma’am,” “You betcha,” “Prego,” and “Aloha.”

And just as we begin to embrace our new lifestyle, we get orders to someplace else. It never fails.

However, military spouses won’t allow themselves to wallow in self pity for long. After shedding a few tears – usually over a little wine and copious amounts of chocolate, or vice versa – we pick ourselves up and simply start seeing things differently. Our new orders may dictate that we must move from Paradise to Poughkeepsi, but somehow, we convince ourselves that we need a fresh start.

As for me, our new orders say that we have to move from the secluded southern beaches of Naval Station Mayport, Florida, and settle in the chilly north, at the Naval War College, Rhode Island. In the coming months before we pull chocks, I’m sure I will shamelessly blubber and hug my Mayport friends at a neighborhood fire pit. I will most likely feel no guilt as I gorge myself one last time on southern fried chicken and biscuits. And I’m pretty sure I will get misty when I take one last shell walk on what has become “my beach.”

However, to ease the pain, my subconscious mind will say, “This duty station is the threshold of hell, and the new one will be WAY better. Seriously.”

So, I can’t wait to move to Newport. The quaint little towns. The ocean-splashed cliffs. The lobster. The quirky New Englanders with their funny accents and old-school mentalities. The Technicolor falls and the frosty white winters.

I’m 100 percent certain. There’s not a doubt in my mind. No question about it: our new duty station will be WAY better than this one . . . [gulp, sniff] . . . Seriously.

Try these tips to ease the pain of constant change

Look for my column about traveling with kids in the April issue!

Look for my column about traveling with kids in the April issue!

Why I love being ordered around

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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.

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.

The Lame Duck in the Chicken Coop

For the last three years, I have been living in conditions that could be described as very similar to that of a chicken coop.

I reside on the 4th floor of a stairwell base housing unit on a US Army barracks in Germany. Our building looks almost identical to about 40 other housing units on this base, each one lined up neatly on patriotically named streets, within walking distance to the schools, commissary, and mail room, and all surrounded by a humongous fence.

However, it is not the appearance of this base that makes living here like living in a coop (truth be told, the fence and sterile buildings make this place more reminiscent of an asylum.) Nobody is throwing feed corn at us. No one has laid an egg as far as I know. But it is the pecking order that renders this place like an enormous cage full of clucking hens, strutting roosters and peeping chicks running wild.

When I moved here three years ago, I quickly became cognizant of this unique social order. As a new arrival, I took some time to nest, but after my rooster flew the coop for work and the chicks went off to school, boredom and loneliness set in.

I wandered the range in search of a flock to huddle with, but none could be found. Sure, there were hens everywhere (and a few stay-at-home roosters, I wouldn’t want to be sexist,) but I soon realized that I was at the bottom of the pecking order and would have to scratch and claw my way to roost with the others.

Careful not to count my chickens before they were hatched, I eventually laid the foundation for my social acceptance into the flock. By my second year, I was already familiar with most of the gaggle and was huddling with them, clucking away as we walked the chicks to school together, hatching plans for shopping trips, complaining about our wattles and chicken fat, and cackling on our shared patios.

I was securely perched at a comfortable elevation in the social pecking order, and life was generally good. As new chickens entered the coop, we chuckled from our high roost, fully aware of the work that they would need to do to find their places in our flock. Frankly, we got downright cocky.

Now, at the end of my third year of this tour, I must fly south and find a new flock in Florida. Thoughts of moving are leaving me a little wistful and reflective. I find myself pondering weighty ideas such as, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” and “Who came first, the chicken or the egg?”

This melancholy state has brought about a need for the comfort and companionship of the other hens in my coop, but alas, I have discovered that, as an outbound hen, I have been dumped back to the bottom of the pecking order! With only two weeks left in the coop, I find myself scratching for social scraps! How did this happen? Did I do something fowl?

After some thought in my pea-sized brain, I realized that I have become a lame duck in this chicken coop. I am no longer a contender in the social order simply because I am about to leave. As such, there is no reason for the other hens to invest valuable time in further incubating our friendship in this particular coop.

It’s not personal, there’s no reason to get my feathers ruffled, the sky isn’t falling. It’s just the way things work around here.

So as I prepare to take wing, I will thank my fine friends for their companionship, offer each a peck on the cheek, bid them a final cock-a-doodle-doo, and fly, fly away.

 
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Confectionary Comforts

Running my fingertip along the wrinkled peak of thin, gold foil, I find an edge. I insert a nail under the delicate lip and lift the sheet, hearing it crinkle as it expands like an accordion. I pause a moment, just long enough to pinch the end of the tiny paper strip, and tug it free from its host.

Satisfied that the sheath has been removed intact, I crumple the shiny square of foil and paper strip into a ball, and discard it. Popping the freed morsel into my mouth, I let it sit on my tongue for a few seconds, and feel my body’s heat react with the sugary drop. As it melts, a fragment of almond is revealed. In a sudden movement of tongue and teeth, I swipe the nut between my molars and feel it crack under pressure.

As I swallow the delicious mixture, my fingers search the bag for my next Hershey Kiss with Almonds. . . .

More than I should, I find myself reaching for chocolate. One might think the rich texture and undeniably delicious flavor of this popular confection tempts me, but I have a different motivation for eating chocolate.

Like a baby, I crave something soothing and repetitive when I’m stressed, tired or bored. Since Gerber doesn’t make pacifiers for 44-year-olds, and my husband isn’t inclined to rock me in a rocking chair, I opt for sweet treats.

I’m not talking about gorging on devil’s food cake, or slurping up Hot Fudge Brownie Delights. While I have been known to indulge in those delicacies from time to time, I find more comfort in chocolate treats that lend themselves to a prolonged ritualistic enjoyment of the process of eating chocolate.

We’re about to uproot our lives here on this US Army base in Stuttgart, Germany, and move back across the Atlantic to Mayport Naval Station in Florida.

Stressing over the logistics of this particularly complicated move has caused a flare up in my need for comfort, and as such, I’ve been hitting the chocolate pretty hard. Hershey Kisses with Almonds have been my recent remedy of choice, mostly because eating each tiny morsel involves several repetitive steps that I find quite soothing.

When I can’t get my hands on those, I turn to other chocolaty treats for my therapy. Most recently, I have eased my stress with Girl Scout’s Thin Mints Cookies. Regardless of the nutrition label, an entire sleeve of these delectable disks is really needed to calm the nerves.

Extracting a cookie from the top of the stack, I place it on my tongue and allow it to steep. The chocolate coating slowly melts, and then my saliva soaks into the crisp center, dissolving it into a mouthful of minty mush. I chew any remaining crunchy bits and swallow, as I lift another disk from the sleeve. 

Usually, one sleeve will do the trick, but on particularly stressful nights, I’ve been tempted to take the second sleeve from the box. I resist this urge, knowing that the guilt of eating so many Girl Scout Cookies will only add to my stress and thereby increase my need for confectionary comforts.

Even as a child, I remember ritualizing my consumption of treats. I never understood a kid who could take a bag of M&Ms, tear open the top, and pour the whole thing into his upturned mouth. What a waste!

I, on the other hand, would maximize my enjoyment, spreading the contents of each bag out, and separating the candies out into their colors (which were, back then, orange, green, yellow, dark brown and light brown.) I would then analyze each pile, eating only the most flawed morsels. Those that were misshapen or had an imperfect “M” were goners. I continued this process until I had whittled the lot down to one of each color. Those five, the Chosen Ones, would be scooped up together and ceremoniously sacrificed in one final chomp.

This may all sound nuts, but in times of stress, everyone turns to something for relief, and I figure that three-quarters of a bag of Hershey Kisses with Almonds is measurably better for one’s mental and physical health than three packs of Camels and a pint of Jose Quervo.

So why not dissect a dozen peanut butter cups, nibble the chocolate off the nougat center of a Three Musketeers Bar, or methodically pick apart a pair of Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls? It tastes good, it feels good, and stress melts away as fast as a chocolate Kiss on your tongue.

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