Buongiorno!

Ciao!

We’ve arrived in Italy and the next chapter of our adventure begins! We haven’t seen much yet, other than the outskirts of Milan, distant Alpine foothills and a few vineyards as we drove the autostrade to the nearest American base yesterday. Our jet lagged preschoolers were in tow as we took a driving test, registered in the system, bought SIM cards for our phones, set up a bank account and so on and etc. To be honest, it seems we accomplished more in a day than we did in our first two weeks in England, and that made the kids’ delirious ravings so much easier to tolerate. Especially given our living arrangement.

Hotel stay

The Milan Expo 2015 has all of the local long stay-style accommodations booked up, so we’re sharing a studio loft. It’s a vastly different experience from when we arrived in England four years ago. We don’t have separate rooms (unless you count the mostly-frosted glass wall to the bathroom), there are no closets, there is no kitchen or microwave, and there certainly is no in-room washer & dryer. We do have a mini-fridge that didn’t work for our first two days. And we have a bidet and a mirrored ceiling in the loft above the master bed!

I read my book club’s last pick, Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, on the plane ride over. It was a perfect choice for giving me perspective and taking away my right to complain.

Hotel collage 2
The hotel itself is a bit quirky. It claims to be part art gallery, and the kids love the cardboard furniture and gigantic plastic molded snails. The restaurant is good, though a pricey alternative to cooking at home (which I normally do at least 6 nights a week), and my youngest child doesn’t actually “sit” and “eat” proper meals these days.

Hotel collage

We do get free access to the “summer club” next door, which is a collection of pools, sunbathing sand pits, grassy lawns and play areas. It seems that 5pm is a great time to catch the DJ and do some group fitness dancing in the front pool. There’s at least one bar, snack stand and restaurant. We do have great pool weather right now. (You know, sunny and hot.) So, really, we’re winning here. Bonus points for free Wi-Fi!

We’re looking forward to overcoming the jet lag, finding a place to live and getting settled. The house hunt begins tomorrow. Here we are and here we go!

 

All I Have to Say About Military Spouses

I wasn’t the kind of girl to be impressed by a guy in uniform. When I married one, I reassured myself and my civilian friends that I had no intent of wrapping myself in the label of “military spouse.” I had two degrees and more than my share of defiance, and I refused to allow the military part of my marriage to define me.

I went to work. I quickly decided that spouse group meetings weren’t for me; not for young, childless professionals but for young stay-at-home moms. I wasn’t the first foolish 20-something to assume that a difference in preference of parenthood was a non-starter for deep friendship. I endured deployment after deployment with the support of a handful of very cool women who were married to my husband’s work buddies. I found my way into the Omaha community, through work, volunteering and participating in my faith. Then my biological clock chimed and the timer at the end of our interminable tour sounded. Then we had a son and moved to England.

This is where my grand plan unraveled.

So much that previously defined me vanished. (My job. My time. My family back home.)

All that was left was being a stay-at-home mom and military spouse. I felt lost. I scrambled to cling to something else but ultimately was consumed by both.

Four and a half years later I understand the privileges that come with these realities. I’ve emerged from the exhausted fog of new parenthood, a milestone which makes everything clearer and easier to balance. The rewards of being a stay-at-home mom to two preschoolers are leagues deeper than the brain-draining days and nights of babyhood. And in the past year, my net of new military spouse friends has changed my life.

M3X-back

Remember how easy it was to make friends in the dorms in college? How the simple fact of converging in the same space for a defined period of time served as a catalyst for life-long friendship? Now remember how that vanished when you tumbled out into the real world. This past year brought that feeling back. Hundreds of us filed into orientation in August, filled in forms with our interests and launched back out to our families with a few new names in our heads. We stalked the Facebook group and seized opportunities to connect before they vaporized. We had 10 months.

For me, those connections have proven that the label “military spouse” holds too much weight. Yes, we all share the experience of being married to someone in the military, but that’s the only universal. Some of us can come together to make an amazing book club. Others can meet up at the playground twice a week, year-round, for an intense workout while driving fully loaded jogging strollers and forging new friendships. Then there are those who graciously understand when you need extra support to do the things you must do for yourself.

Some of us go to work in an office, some of us telecommute to a job we left behind, some of us now do the work of Life as we wait for the right time to find work outside our homes.

We are artists, writers, lawyers, activists, educators, engineers. Nurses, accountants, managers, business owners. Professionals. Dreamers. Organizers.

We are, some of us, also moms.

We are also wives.

And under all that, there is one thread that ties us together. It’s one thread that the “military spouse” label overshadows, diminishes. It’s that we are great friends, to whichever friends we make. We know that good-bye doesn’t always (but may) mean forever. Together we cast a wide net, connecting someone else’s friends with ours, sharing information on the best neighborhoods and the food you can’t miss, offering places to stay when one of us is nowhere. We are willing to help someone we barely know because sometimes we are the new person in town, alone and in need.

We aren’t just military spouses. We are regular and eccentric and kind and well-traveled people who don’t get to stay in one place too long… who just so happen to be married to someone in the military.

Yes, I DO Want Something for Mother’s Day

Mother's Day

Has your Facebook feed filled up with links to articles about what moms actually want for Mother’s Day? Gift guides? Or that moms want nothing except for lots of little not-somethings?

I haven’t asked specifically for anything this year. My husband already encouraged me to pick out a locally crafted necklace at Southern Makers last weekend. I don’t feel desperate for a day away from my kids. I’m not exhausted. I’m not stressed. I have plans to be out of town over the next two weekends, after all. I have a really good life.

But I do still want something. Perhaps you want this, too:

I want one day of whole-family happiness. One peaceful day. A day without whining. No shouting, no crying. No grumpiness allowed. I want to be relaxed and joyful with my family for an entire day, because those kinds of days are the best gift in life.

Perhaps there will be a time when the boys are a bit older that the whining and crying cease. I’m not wishing this time away. I just want us all to enjoy each other just the way we are right now. Surely that’s not too much to ask of my 2 and 4 year old boys, right?

I’m chilling some wine anyway.

Boulogne-Sur-Mer, France (If You Will)

Before we hopped the pond, I convinced a friend to join me on an extended day-long bus trip to the fishing village of Boulogne-sur-Mer in France. This was big; it was her first whole day away from her kids for fun in 10 years. Thankfully our husbands were able to work out a work schedule that freed them up for kid duty in a very hectic, busy time. I knew nothing of this town, and started to entertain ideas of regret as our bus approached Boulogne-sur-Mer along the waterfront. We were greeted by weary sea-blasted, worn buildings – all seemingly closed.

Boulogne Sur Mer Harbor

We stepped off the bus at the fish market. I made a mental note to cook more fish. What an impressive selection! In minutes I understood that the locals weren’t used to English visitors and, particularly, speaking English.

Boulogne Sur Mer Fish Market

Crab Claws

We wandered in the general direction of the bus driver’s pointed finger, on the hunt for breakfast. There was a coffee shop I bookmarked on Trip Advisor. We couldn’t find it in real life.  (Silly us, we thought that the driver, as our tour guide, would have provided maps.) Up the hill we went, dodging dog shit and vomit slicks past nightclubs that exhausted thirty-something moms would hardly have any interest visiting. We snaked side streets back down the hill in hopes of finding a decent croissant and perhaps the brilliant market that was promised. We found a market. It was far from bustling, though in a certain way vibrant. We also found chocolate croissants, which made us feel much better about the day, even if the worker at the bakery was startled by our pronunciation of the word. And then… we wandered our way to the proper market. The lovely town center around a sturdy stone church.

Boulogne Sur Mer Market

Does anyone else instinctively drool around rows and rows of beautiful produce? Fresh eggs and butter? French cheese? Ooooo, I want to go back! Tomatoes

Table of Berries

Tart Vendor

Having oriented ourselves, we found the city’s most noted cathedral and  its moated castle, amidst a proper tourist area that felt much more like the destination we had expected.

Boulogne Sur Mer Notre Dame

The castle held a museum with an eclectic collection of art, from Greek urns and Egyptian artifacts from the Louvre to modern paintings. Admission includes a tour of the catacombs, too.

The Notre-Dame Basilica isn’t a particularly old cathedral, having been built in the mid 1800’s atop of ruins from a previous cathedral that was destroyed in the revolution. Nonetheless the interior is beautiful.

Notre Dame Boulogne

Notre Dame Boulogne

To be honest, I was most excited to eat. If you don’t have small children, you may not appreciate how magnificent it is to sit and eat a meal FOR YOURSELF. Fresh fish for lunch. Crepes. Another stop at the bakery. At your own pace, without interruption, with adult conversation. It’s one of life’s finest pleasure. I enjoyed it so much that I didn’t even bother to take pictures.

We capped off our day with a half-hearted perusal of the shopping district. Then back to the bus for the journey home. Many families with small children took this trip, too, to see the town’s aquarium, so the ride back was less than restful. But the crying kids weren’t ours.

We should all be so lucky to have the opportunity to spend a day in a new place with a friend. Getting to know her, sharing stories and learning from her about things I normally don’t think to wonder were a wonderful bonus to our day away.

My Secret Love Affair With Omaha

Vintage Door Knob

Today I turned on The Flaming Lips’ At War With the Mystics for the kids. (Ya ya ya ya ya ya.) It took a nanosecond for my brain to whip-pan to my 20’s.

The Flaming Lips at Stir Cove. Conor Oberst. Jenny Lewis at Slowdown. Andrew Bird. Feist at Memorial Park. Howl at Film Streams. Belgians and frites at Dario’s. Scotch at Dundee Dell. Dancing at The Max. Midnight curry fries from New Amsterdam. Pitchers of champagne at The Homy.

Deliciously fried breakfast at Radial Cafe. (A moment of silence for the grease-coated Cecil’s.) Creme brulee french toast from Wheatfields. The chime of the starting bell at the farmer’s market. Jazz and dark roasted coffee at Blue Line. Pain au raisin and an Americano from The Bread Oven (may you rest in peace). Birthday dinner at Boiler Room. And lord help me, what I wouldn’t do for a whiskey filet from The Drover right now.

The Taco Ride. The Community Bike Project. Flying down the Keystone Trail on my pretty Lemond. Earth Day in Elmwood Park. (You should definitely go this year; park your bike in the bike parking lot!)

Semi-failing at latkes, crepes, an Indian feast for a crowd.

A giant portion of these memories… I don’t share them with my husband, though we lived there together for nearly six years. He deployed frequently enough that I created a life of my own, outside of (and also within) the Air Force community, outside of my work. It was a full, rich life, and I find myself missing it very much. Some of it is simply the result of now being a parent of two small children, and missing the freedom of the child-free years. Who wouldn’t? Back then, I would explain that my husband and I were single, as a unit of course, because we didn’t have kids and could do as we pleased.

While returning to Omaha in the future (should it happen) will certainly place me there in a different stage of life – with kids – I can’t say I’d be disappointed to go back. It feels in some ways as much my home as, well, home. It also happens that some of my favorite people in the world have lived there at one point in time or another or still.

For anyone heading to Offutt: it’s what you make of it. Omaha can be great; embrace it. And don’t you dare forget to visit Dundee. You won’t want to miss eCreamery.

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.