Next Stop

Map

With the blossoming of spring comes the influx of orders for Permanent Changes of Station (which we call PCS-ing). This means that now is when many Air Force families who are expecting to move to a new duty station find out their next destination.

Globe

We found out we’re moving to Italy in June!

This is very exciting – and surprising – news. My mind had settled on thoughts of the DC/NOVA area; Italy had never entered my mind as a possibility. It’s an incredible opportunity for us to go back to Europe, to spend more time exploring the continent, to have a chance to really immerse ourselves in another culture.

Our children will attend Italian school. We’ll have many opportunities to travel. At face value, this is a storybook path we’re heading down. The possibilities for adventure that await us are boundless. That we have this assignment is still surreal.

But our experience with our move to England has us a bit grounded, as we understand that the challenges we face in moving and setting up a new home in Italy will likely be far greater. Throw in the language difference, too. The settling in period won’t be easy, but I feel prepared to accept the challenge. The hardest part then will be missing our family. Having them within a day’s drive has been a real treat.

I would love to know if you’ve lived in Italy. What are your favorite spots? Where in Italy have you always dreamed of going? How would you feel about moving to another country?

Blue Stars: A Book Review

blue stars

Earlier this month my book club met to discuss the book Blue Stars by Emily Gray Tedrowe.

Let me first explain that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill book club. All of us are married (or almost) to military officers (simply because the group was organized through the school in which our spouses are currently enrolled). Many of us are American, though some of us who aren’t Indian or English or Australian or Norwegian or German or Canadian have lived in Japan or Germany or Oman or Korea or, well, England. And by some divine brilliance we all really enjoy each other and are willing to get a little whacky for the sake of this book club, in the short school-term blaze of glory that is its existence. I love my book club. More about it later.

We actually do talk about the books we read and were intrigued by an opportunity to discuss a novel about military families.

Tedrowe’s novel features two main characters, easily described as “flawed,” with non-traditional ties to the military. One, Ellen, is a widowed Midwestern, liberal, literary scholar and professor (and mother of two) who took guardianship of an “other side of the tracks” teenager not long before he graduated high school and joined the Marines. The other, Lacey, is a New York-tough and self-conscious-in-the-wrong-ways single mother who married an officer in the Reserves. Their paths cross at Walter Reed military medical center, where they develop an unlikely friendship.

As a group of military spouses we wanted to connect to the experiences of the characters. We sought familiarity in their experience with deployment, and didn’t really find it. The truth is, we mostly agreed that the glimpse of  life with a wounded soldier was eye-opening. Never had we imagined ourselves in the position of either of these characters, sacrificing the lives we built professionally or as parents to care for a wounded soldier. We hadn’t considered the details of the process, or what it must be like to have our service member returned to us in a completely altered state from when he departed. We were certainly shocked to read the state of squalor in which some wounded soldiers and families lived while at Walter Reed. (Hence the scandal. Remember that?)

We wondered if the book would have had the same impact if the characters were “traditional” military spouses, who aren’t strangers to regular deployments or the inefficiencies of the system. (There was strong agreement that a particular scene involving Ellen in the lobby of Walter Reed was the best, most resonant part of the book. Often it takes an outsider looking in to call out some BS in a bureaucracy.) As active duty families, we’re probably better equipped to withstand the challenges of deployment. The support systems are a bit more integral to our lives, versus the lives of Reservists, who live their day-to-day in the civilian world then give it all up to deploy. Again Tedrowe enlightens us to another perspective we rarely consider.

While some of us were bothered by inconsistencies throughout the book, others were stumped by some of the military lingo. We questioned if it’s simply a difference between branches or if it’s Tedrowe’s short removal from the inner circle of life in the military (as a sibling rather than a spouse of a Marine) that makes the narrative seem a bit…researched. Perhaps this distance is why she chose these characters for the story; our world is complicated enough to navigate from the inside. At best this novel bridges the gap between the 99% of the US population whose lives aren’t directly touched by the military. It’s a peek at what it might be like to be unsuspectingly thrust into its tangled bureaucracy, what it might be like for families who are caring for disabled veterans. Overall consensus was that were glad to have been given the opportunity to consider a world we don’t know. Which, isn’t that the point of reading fiction in the first place?

On behalf of my book club, I’d like to thank St. Martin’s Press for providing us with advance reader copies of the book for this review. Blue Stars is now available on Amazon in hardback, Kindle and audible editions.

For additional reading to understand life in the military, consider Closing the Gap by Yvonne Jones. I also recommend For Love of Country by Howard Schultz for inspiring, real-life stories of veterans and military families who have used their experience to make a difference in the world.

Quitting Facebook

This morning I declared that I would log out of Facebook. In my mind, I meant from my phone and for the day. As the day has progressed, though, I wonder if I should commit to avoiding the website as well. Maybe for longer than the day. After all, this idea stemmed from an ugly feeling of inadequacy for not making the time to write for my blog, and oh how! do I fritter away time on Facebook in the evenings after the kids are in bed. This is all reminding me of other times that I’ve felt a need for a break from social media.

It’s just after 2:00 PM now; this is hard. I can best describe the compulsion as a twitch. In a moment of brief boredom, or a wandering mind, my body poises to track down an internet enabled device to click onto Facebook and see what my friends are up to today. It’s like knowing there are Hershey’s Kisses in the freezer. They’re “hidden” but they’re there, and grabbing one at a time doesn’t feel like a big deal because it’s totally mindless. You just do it because you keep doing it. (Hence, I don’t keep Hershey’s Kisses around.)

Though I long ago deleted the app and bookmark from my phone, I’ve visited Facebook in my web browser enough times that typing “f” brings up the site immediately. I wonder if there are any new messages, interesting articles or conversations in my moms group that really resonate. I wonder if anything funny has happened to my friends, or if there’s a new baby in the world or on the way. I wonder who has received orders for an exciting new assignment. I wonder if my sister is having a good or bad day. In short, Facebook is the easiest way to pretend like I’ve been at a cocktail party without the exhaustion of finding a sitter, getting dressed and actually going to a cocktail party.

The thing is, I visit the site so frequently that I find myself viewing the same content repeatedly. Often I view notifications within learning that one additional person has commented on a thread that is bound to receive twenty more similar comments. I do enjoy being involved in conversations in real time, but the essential truth is this: it will all be there at the end of the day. Or next week.

Let’s not forget to mention the inane frenzy over THE DRESS. I wasted far too much time reading related articles in an effort to understand the problem. I’d have all that time back if there were no Facebook in my life.

In this moment I’m practicing a time-tested parenting trick: redirection. The toddler is down for a nap. The preschooler is with my husband. The house is quiet. And writing this is how I repress the urge to click on that little fox, type “F” in the browser bar and hit “return.” Who knows? Maybe next I’ll get to mark something off my To Do list.

US Space & Rocket Center

At the very top of our Alabama bucket list: visit the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. We have a space-obsessed four year old boy, after all.

Winter break was a perfect time to make the three-hour drive. Said four year old doesn’t do well cooped up at home. (Or, we parents don’t do well with a four year old on winter break. My heart goes out to you snowed-in Bostonians.) Thankfully the little people fell asleep on the way there and woke up to gawk at the Saturn V on display in the museum’s Rocket Park.

Space and Rocket Center

You can’t miss it. It’s taller than a football field is long!

We had a reservation at the Marriott next door, so we drove past the museum to spy the Blackbird and space shuttle replica, too. The little taster had us all quite excited for the next day.

Shuttle Discovery

Despite noisy neighbors keeping the kids up waaaaay past bed time, we launched into the museum in good spirits. We didn’t even know that active duty military and children under 4 receive free admission. Yay!

A temporary multimedia exhibit of the 101 greatest inventions was captivating, and we would have spent more time exploring the accompanying material if we weren’t racing the clock to avoid an overtired meltdown before we could see everything else.

100 Inventions

Most of the material inside the museum is engaging for school-age children, with a variety of hands-on activities and artifacts. Our biggest guy was too small for the climbing wall, though he enjoyed watching his daddy land a space shuttle in a simulator.

Shuttle Simulator

A note for your planning: a rainy day can put a damper on your visit! We weren’t able to enjoy the Space Shuttle or Rocket Parks, or the small children’s play area because of it. That said…

SaturnV

There is a separate building displaying a Saturn V rocket horizontally! With a small play area, and a thundering video display of a test of the rocket (so thrilling!), and a moon rock, and a lunar module, and a lunar rover… we even spoke with Craig Sumner, a developer of the rover who trained the astronauts who used it. It was all SO COOL!

Space and Rocket Center

Other attractions weren’t really appropriate for our tiny, exhausted entourage. IMAX, thrill rides. However. Space Camp in Huntsville already has a place on a little someone’s ninth birthday wish list.

When the Baby Turns Two

Everything we did yesterday was accompanied by the thought, “This is the last time we’ll do this when he’s one!” The last nap, the last story, the last kiss good night. Done.

Today we celebrated the second birthday of my youngest child. My baby. Except he’s not a baby; he walks and jumps and sings and talks. At this moment I feel as if I’m perched on the edge of a rich and incomprehensible future: a future as a mom of two little boys. Two boys who screech and shout and run and crash and laugh. Two boys amongst mountains of Legos and in the warm blankets of hugs, until the mountains move out of our play room and my hugs become more like slimy octopus tentacles (but not in a fascinating-but-gross way).

Then they’ll leave.

Everyone promises when your baby is tiny and wailing in your arms at the grocery store that “they grow so fast” and “cherish it.” You smile while you secretly burn those strangers with laser beams from your eyeballs. So many days and nights feel like an eternity, HOW? I started to grasp the thought just a little with my first. Then I had my second. Now I see exactly what they mean. The past two years, they’re just…gone. Already. The soft squishy snuggles are a thing of the past. The burbles, squeaks and babbles are history. That sweet, sweet baby smell (you know the one, specially nestled in the fuzzy top of a baby’s head) has been replaced with an essence of peanut butter.

My baby is growing, as babies do. I’m torn between wanting to keep him this sweet and cute forever and wanting to see what kind of man he grows into. The time until then is a bit scary, as the parenting challenges evolve from simply nurturing to also guiding and preparing for adulthood. But this is the path we’re on, so we’ll live it well.

And what a lovely path it is. Happy birthday, baby Berts! This world is a better place with you in it.

The Things I Do

I’ve been mostly quiet about the things I struggle with internally. Because BOR-ing, right? So the short of it is that I’ve been working very hard this winter to head off depression and find/fix the source of its triggers. (You’ll recognize them as stress, self-esteem, unfair expectations, so on and so on.) A huge chunk of this process has been to shake out all the old “shoulds” that were cluttering my head space to make room for “what is.” The majority of the rest is simply doing. Taking action to do the things that make me feel my best. Latching onto a clue that I need something and fulfilling that need. Banning excuses for not doing those things. Once all of the “shoulds” were (mostly) out of the way, the “I’m going tos” came much more effortlessly and naturally. Then, suddenly, the “what is” became so much more fulfilling. It’s great.

Now I make bread. I exercise outdoors with my youngest son. I run. I wake up early every morning to write. I meet up with new friends. I connect with old friends. I have a rhythm to my days.

I feel like a proper person again. And it’s lovely.

I Run.

So, I run now.

Running Shoes

For years (YEARS) I’ve called some of my favorite people crazy for running for fun. My husband has tried many, many times to encourage me to run, which I’d attempt twice before retreating to the smooth familiarity of the elliptical. I’d say that my local peer group is comprised of more people who run than don’t. At least, the people who are training for 10k’s and half-marathons are being heard. “Everyone else is a runner,” I’d say. “I’ll never be a runner.”

Not that I’m calling myself a runner.

I played team sports growing up. A little volleyball, a taste of basketball, lots of softball. Other sports involving balls, too. Tennis. Golf. The thing about every single one of those sports is that long distance running has nothing to do with them. Sprints, agility, strength, hand-eye coordination, yes. But being able to run for an hour? Yeahno.

My book club made a team for an upcoming 5k. Somewhere along the way I got it in my head that if I were to ever run a 5k, I would actually run it. Like, the whole three miles, without walking. There were enough weeks to start a training program, so I agreed to join the team. “It’s just three miles.” I haven’t ever really run much more than one.

So here’s the thing: getting started with running is hard. Running on real ground is hard. Teaching your muscles how to move that way and building them to carry you step after step (and so many more) is hard. I’m on my third week of training and the idea of running for three miles straight sounds like The Worst. Right now I’m doing intervals of running and walking, increasing the running by 30 seconds every couple of runs. Usually I cover 2.5 to 3 miles. Muscles ache in ways I’ve never known (hello, hip flexors!). I often feel clumsy and awkward when I’m running. And the other morning I ran when it was 48 and overcast and super windy and really hated it.

But then there’s that feeling when I’m done with a run (er, “run”), that feeling of accomplishment, that has me excited for the next one. I feel stronger each day. I’ve decided to trust the training plan, which will have me running three miles in another month and a half. And how cool will it be to say that I did it?

Do you run? Are you thinking about running? I’d love to hear your stories of inspiration!

Stress Breaking Teeth

As a child of the 80’s who grew up on Kool-Aid, Cocoa Pebbles, Ding Dongs and well water (in addition to the regular meat and veg, to be fair), I grew my share of cavities. What isn’t taught and absorbed in the cavity fear mongering of our youth is that sometimes fillings don’t hold up and the cavities plague you far after that initial drilling.

I’ve become quite meticulous with my oral hygiene as I’ve matured, so I was surprised when a recent dentist’s visit revealed that one of my old fillings was “leaking” and needed to be replaced.

As drilling commenced, my DDS reported that the filling had “debonded,” or pulled away from the tooth.

“Do you grind your teeth or clench your jaw?” he asked. I laughed.

I absolutely do clench my jaw. Fiercely, and for hours, as I try to burn up (or maybe bottle up) my frustrations daily. My teeth clench together so hard that my face is tired at the end of most days. I internalize my stress and don’t know how to handle it, so it winds tightly there.

He recommended a night guard, which seemed silly to me because that’s the only time of day I’m actually relaxed. So I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to recognize feelings of stress and let them go. From time to time I’ll check to see if my jaw is relaxed, just like the yoga instructors ask of you (so I can’t be the only one who is shocked every single time at the tightness one can find in a jaw). I’ll turn my focus to the muscles between my neck and shoulders and ask them to relax. It’s amazing what a tiny bit of attention can do to ease tension.

Lately I’ve begun to consider myself as a stress addict. Relaxation isn’t my natural state, but achieving it is a dream of mine. It’s just that somehow over the years I’ve learned that stress is somehow important. It became a barometer for how hard I was working, how much I cared about my family, how much I wanted to improve myself.

Then I started breaking my teeth.

I’m going to unlearn that habit before I break something else.

When It’s Time to Get a Haircut

If you know me in real life, you know that I have pretty great hair. It’s healthy, it’s fine but thick and straight, and it’s a color that every stylist I’ve had screeches protests against changing. It is also attached to my head, which is attached to my style-deprived body. As such, I let it air dry, or not exactly, then let it grow and grow until it becomes too unwieldy for the messy knot of my Mom Uniform.

Hair cut

Every two years or so I chop off about 10 inches to donate. Usually I wait for some kind of inspiration to strike. That feeling of a need for a change, or perhaps an act of taking control at the beginning of a deployment. Through the winter I had gotten used to my long (looooong) hair and wasn’t feeling particularly inclined to take it to the scissors, despite my last trip to the salon having been a half-year ago (eek!).

Then, at the turn of the year, I learned that a friend of mine is battling cancer (again, dammit). Minutes after receiving the news I knew that the time had come: it was time to donate my hair to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths, which will use my hair in a wig for a woman who is fighting cancer.

So I did it. Victoria at Amplify snipped off my ponytail, which went promptly into a Ziploc bag. I instantly felt lighter and prettier. I felt as if I was taking ownership of my life by lopping off this slightly cumbersome though mostly ignored excess.  Best of all, I felt satisfaction that what is ultimately such a small act can make a big difference to someone else. And isn’t the fact that I’m able to do this at all the greatest gift to myself?

If you’re teetering on the chop it-or-not fence, I encourage you to just do it. Go here to see exactly what you need to do to donate your hair, too. I’d love to hear your story about making the big cut!

A Year to Make My Heart Sing

2014 Collage

Things have been quiet since we moved to Alabama from England. Perhaps because life has been rather quiet? We’ve settled into a solid routine that makes our days fairly predictable and calm, if a little busy and noisy. Once I convinced myself that I don’t require as much “me” time as I used to hope for (you know, to write blog posts and all that), it has all felt pretty good.

Now that I have a little window of time I am at a loss of what to write. There has been so much! Lessons in parenting (what to do when you catch your four-year-old sneaking a chocolate from a bin at World Market), observations of American life and frugality (do you really have any idea how much stuff you buy that you really, truly don’t need?!), little adventures (a family walk in the woods), outings (McWane Science Center in Birmingham), little mishaps (getting locked into a bathroom at a restaurant with a toddler), big achievements (committing to an outdoor exercise routine), milestones (our first preschool concert), amazing meals (Thanksgiving with a Kenyan family or dinner at Central with my mom), good books (thanks for Princess, book club!), and finding peace (feeling so fortunate to be able to spend this time at home with my children). We just returned from a fun week with family in Minneapolis, too.

Life is good. And sometimes complicated and messy and hard. Holding that in my heart as we launch into 2015 makes me feel prepared for the adventure to come. This is probably a good thing; we have six months left in Alabama and no hints as to what’s next.

I wish you and yours the happiest and healthiest of years in 2015! xx