Putting the Wonder in Wonderful: A Screening of Wonder Park with the Bob Hope USO

Ask any service member or military family member what they know about the USO (United Services Organization) and you will probably get some sort of vague response about it being a place to rest and recharge in the airport, but outside of the security checkpoint…which is sort of the problem. Unless your layover spans multiple hours, the likelihood of someone willingly leaving the terminal (with kids and carry-on luggage) to find the USO is slim. I think Neal and I have been in one USO the entire time we’ve been together. There were some snacks, a few games, a small library of books, and the volunteers were incredibly nice. But we’ve never even flown with Blue, much less stepped foot inside another USO. Interestingly enough, since moving here, the Bob Hope USO is challenging everything I thought I knew about what the USO does.

About 2 months after reporting to his new assignment at Los Alamitos, CA, Neal mentioned that the unit’s family day was approaching. It would be held on a Sunday afternoon at a municipal park about 45 minutes south of where we live. Having been to a fair number of family days and even been in charge of a few, I set my expectations pretty low (which is also how I’ve started to live my life now that we have a kid who likes to tell people that his sister is a cat). I was so wrong.

The Chargers showed up, the Anaheim Ducks were there, but more importantly, the Bob Hope USO was serving lunch. And the 2 gentlemen in the front of this picture at the bottom left-hand corner are Tuskegee Airmen. They are native Los Angelenos and I could have talked with them for hours. So many stories about how the city used to be and what they miss about those days! I thought that was the last we would see of the Bob Hope USO.

But then I got a phone call from my neighbor.

“Did you get the email about the Wonder Park screening?”

“No. Who is hosting it?”

“The USO.”

“The Bob Hope USO?”

“Is there another?”

Not in this neck of the woods.

She forwarded me the email, which invited local military families to a Saturday afternoon screening of Wonder Park, complete with free snacks (ideal movie food like Swedish Fish, M&M’s, popcorn, and Twix bars), water, and photo ops throughout the lobby of…and this is the best part, y’all…the Paramount Studios theater. Is there anything better than watching a movie in the theater that is owned by the company that made the movie?

Nope, I think not. Except maybe the free parking that was included. No chance of me getting a $63 parking ticket for busting a meter by 9 minutes? Where do I RSVP?

Shortly after we arrived, our neighbors realized that if you stood in this one spot in front of the fountain, you could get the perfect picture with the Paramount sign and the Hollywood sign in the background. We are probably not the first people to ever take this picture, but that really didn’t slow us down any.

There were coloring sheets and yard games to keep the kids busy until the lobby doors opened promptly at 2 PM. This was a great set-up because after living in L.A. county for the past year, my typical plan when traveling into the city for the day involves checking Waze obsessively until time to leave and still arriving somewhere 30-45 minutes early. They had accounted for that.

Once the doors open, attendees were greeted by enthusiastic and friendly USO volunteers, multiple tables of snacks and drinks, and several spots to snap that perfect photo for your milfam Instagram.

I gave up posting beautifully posed photos to Instagram when Blue discovered he had free will. Now we are just adding to the collection of photos that I’m going to show in a looping slideshow at his wedding.

The lesson here? Mama don’t play. Either look excited or I’m going to do it for you.

FB_IMG_1553205844056 (1)

#WhenYourNeighborhoodDoesEverythingTogetherAllTheTime

As if the fine folks of the Bob Hope USO already knew, the doors to the theater opened about 30 minutes later, just as the kids were starting to get antsy and the parents were running out of ways to entertain them. The theater is huge and we had no problem finding a row plus 3 seats for our party. Yes, we are that on-post neighborhood that does practically everything together. We took up an entire van for the wine tasting in Temecula a few weeks ago, we took over an outdoor patio at the local brewery last year, and we needed one whole row plus some for the screening. Also, this is only 5 families. Heaven help you if we all show up.

On one end of the row, we are all kind of doing our best to ignore Mike’s mustache. Only 10 days left in March, Candace. Hang in there, sister. On the other end, Matt and Rebekah are watching a movie in a theater for the first time together. And they’ve only been married for like 13 years.

Before the film started, someone from the Bob Hope USO came on stage to welcome us and introduce one of the stars of the movie, Ken Hudson Campbell, who plays Boomer in the movie.

20190316_145105

Mr. Campbell explained a bit about the movie, taught us how to say (and then scream) SPLENDIFEROUS!, and teased us with Boomer’s soon-to-be-famous snore. Then the curtains opened and the show began (without any previews, which, I’m just going to be honest, was amazing).

The film itself was a roller coaster ride and without spilling the beans on any of it, bring some Kleenex and your kids. It has a great message, which is delivered with an immense helping of humor.

After the credits rolled, volunteers from the Bob Hope USO called out the winning numbers for the raffle (free tickets were distributed at check-in). The culminating prize was 4 tickets to the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards this Saturday, which Rebekah’s son won. (This isn’t surprising as Rebekah is the luckiest person I know and she seems to have passed that on in utero.)

It was a great afternoon that brought joy to our children and delight to us as we watched them. Truly, I can’t say it enough: THANK YOU to the Bob Hope USO and to Paramount Studios/Nickelodeon for hosting us. What a fabulous morale booster for those who were able to attend. Being stationed near L.A. and being able to participate in something so unique to the area makes it worth it. We all felt appreciated and we appreciate you!

Advertisements

Just Another Day

The first time it happened, we were getting ready to celebrate our first wedding anniversary.

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU HAVE TO GO TO FORT JACKSON ON OUR WEDDING ANNIVERSARY?”

Hell hath no fury like a woman whose husband is going TDY on their first wedding anniversary. After all, he’s a Reservist. Maybe Big Army hadn’t gotten the memo…he wasn’t supposed to be deployed 3 times and he sure as hell was not supposed to miss our first wedding anniversary. What cold-hearted bastard scheduled this?

Cynical as it may sound, after almost 13 years of marriage, dates have become arbitrary. Just another number on the calendar. Because most of the time, whatever we are celebrating will have to wait until some other day…when it isn’t a drill weekend, when we aren’t in the middle of a cross-country move, when someone isn’t sick, when we can be together.

Take, for example, Neal’s 40th birthday. He spent it training up for a deployment at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. If you aren’t familiar, Camp Atterbury is a wind-whipped, popsicle of a place (in March, anyway) along I-65 between Louisville and Indianapolis. It is, for me, most famous for its proximity to the Edinburgh outlet mall. The camp itself is known for training HET drivers and serving grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the cafe. (I’ve tried several times to replicate these at home and every one has been a failure. Edible, but not the crispy, gooey goodness of the Camp Atterbury version.) This is where Neal turned 40 and while we celebrated during his 3-day pass with Thai food and buying patio furniture at Sam’s Club, March 17th is just not the same as March 9th.

In 2005 and 2011, he was deployed on his birthday. I’m sure we probably talked that day or the next and I always sent him a fun box of Kentucky treats, but I didn’t get to do what I do best – try to squeeze as much of what makes him happy into one 24-hour period. Neal’s birthday has fallen on drill weekends, TDYs, and late nights at work. Sometimes we do get to celebrate the day of his birth on the day of his birth. But usually not and I’m learning that that’s OK, too. After all, we rarely eat out on Mother’s or Father’s Day because every restaurant is packed to the gills, so why should a birthday be any different? But we never skip it. Skipping it is not an option when you are married to me.

PICT0006#39: Last birthday in his state government office

IMG_5692#44: It’s a boy!  (Also, #40-43 were kind of a hot mess of deployments and TDYs)

IMG_1665c#45: Scoring the box set of M.A.S.H. at Fort Lee, VA

2014-03-01 16.09.12#46: Polar bear spotting at the Louisville Zoo while stationed at Fort Knox, KY

2015-03-09 17.30.14#47: One more birthday at Fort Knox

IMG_6471#48: Fun with statues at the Kansas State University Gardens during spring break

IMG_9966#49: Chocolate tasting at Hershey Cafe while stationed at Fort Indiantown Gap, PA

IMG_1376#50: I dragged him to the Philly Flower Show and then we got stuck in the worst traffic trying to get to the Reading Market. Not my best move, but he got a cheesesteak and this AARP photo out of it. So, there’s that.

Today Neal turns 51 and, once again, I will have a blank spot in my March folder for his birthday. This morning, he and his unit will complete drills in the gas chamber and then head to the range for weapons qualification…because nothing says Happy 51st Birthday like Try to get this gas mask on before you pass out. But he won’t complain. He probably won’t even let on that there’s anything special about today. He will keep his head down, do his job, and fall asleep before his head ever hits the pillow. And, just like that, it will be March 10th.

Part of adulting is to keep being responsible, even when you want to celebrate the day of your birth by sleeping late, going out for waffles, catching a matinee, having tacos and tequila for lunch, napping until early evening and then going out for steak and cheesecake. Sometimes life stops just long enough to blow out a candle on a Kroger cupcake after lunch. Sometimes it doesn’t stop at all and you find yourself pushing mushy scrambled eggs around a plate after sleeping in a barracks with 75 other guys. And you wish that just this one time in 7 years that your birthday falls on a Saturday, you could be at home, having a cup of coffee, and a plate of pancakes with the whole day open before you…just waiting to be filled with an adventure. But you shovel in those mushy eggs, drink the tepid coffee, pick up your gas mask and keep on moving. Because there’s work to be done and today the world won’t stop to observe the day you were brought into it. Mission first, cupcakes later.

 

 

Answers From the Fridge

“What are you giving up for Lent?” I asked Mom last weekend. She looked at me from her seat on the couch across the room and said, “Chocolate?” We both laughed because our DNA makes this nearly impossible. My grandparents kept a gallon of Neapolitan ice cream in the freezer, a stash of Hershey kisses in the cut crystal candy dish on the bar, and at least one package of generic brand Oreos in the pantry. No, neither one of us would be giving up chocolate for Lent.

“Wine?” Again…belly laughs as I reached for Mom’s empty glass on the way to the kitchen. We were half-way through a bottle of Fess Parker dry riesling (from our whirlwind tour of Los Olivos in January) with a bottle of Wilson Creek almond champagne speed-chilling in the freezer. No, wine was not an option, either.

At this point, you are probably mumbling to yourself something about sacrifice and pain and how we were completely missing the point. But that idea had already occurred to us, almost at the same time as I was refilling our glasses. We felt some guilt about being lazy, stubborn Christians until I read this article about doing something for Lent that had some lasting consequences for someone other than myself. Sure, if we gave up chocolate and wine for Lent, we would probably lose a few pounds and Neal would welcome the extra savings on the grocery bill, but that really only directly affects me. What about doing something that has an identifiable ripple effect? Whether I observe it actually rippling or not is unimportant. What about giving up plastic for 40 days?

As it turns out, giving up all plastic is hella hard in 2019. I went to the grocery store today. I handed over my reusable grocery bags (with images of iconic L.A. landmarks splashed across the sides because they came in a pack of 4 at Costco) and began to unload my cart. Two bags of broccoli slaw…bagged in plastic (because who actually wants to shred cabbage? Not this girl.). Plastic tub of low-fat strawberry yogurt. (Not my fault – that is part of Neal’s breakfast ritual.) Ground turkey and lean beef, both in plastic packaging. (How the hell does one get around that? Just fill this mason jar with that ground chuck, please, butcher. Thanks.) Powdered peanut butter. (Totally my fault but I’m going to blame it on Weight Watchers.) OH! Asparagus, cucumbers, and lemons in reusable net fruit bags. WIN!!! Next to a plastic bottle of Aunt Jemima and a half-gallon of milk, also in plastic. (Glass bottles of milk here cost roughly the same as both of my foot surgeries. And that’s with the bottle return discount.)

So, giving up plastic completely is not only a sacrifice, it’s basically impossible. Until we move back to Amish country, where we can buy a 1/4 of a cow and pack it home in a Coleman, plastic is just part of life. I can be more aware of how much I buy (a person probably shouldn’t be eating that much powdered peanut butter anyway) and I can recycle or reuse when I can.

I was stumped about my Lenten sacrifice as I hauled my bags into the house. I set them on the kitchen table and began to unpack. I shuffled around tubs of sour cream and leftovers from 2 weeks ago, trying to make space for the milk and Neal’s yogurt. I accidentally tipped over a jar of Trader Joe’s Carrot Cake Spread, which, I suddenly remembered, I bought right after Thanksgiving to have for the holidays.

Ew.

I pulled out leftovers from more than 2 weeks ago, a mostly empty jug of applesauce, a mostly empty jar of salsa, moldy sour cream, and an unopened container of slimy arugula. Looking at it all piled up on the counter, I thought, waste not, want not. But also…starving kids in Africa. They would love to have had those penne noodles that I refused to eat before squeezing into a formal gown last weekend. They would have been thrilled to eat the butternut squash that I cubed, but never got around to roasting or the lemons that I let rot in the darkest corner of the second shelf. There are very few things that bring me shame. One is when my child calls the newest kid in our neighborhood a dumbass. And this is the other.

20190306_183336

So, for the next 40 days, I vow to have no food waste, other than scraps like strawberry tops, seeds from a bell pepper, and apple cores. We will eat what we cook, we will cook what we have. I will not buy 2 more red onions without first checking to see if there are any in the bin. I will use the 6 red onions now in the bin. I will not buy something like unsweetened almond milk, try it, deem it disgusting and unworthy of future consumption, and let it spoil over the next 3 months. I will fry that stupid package of turkey bacon that mocks me every time I open the fridge.

I will accept any suggestions for preparing turkey bacon that doesn’t result in it tasting like wet cardboard.

It isn’t the same as giving up all plastic, but it’s infinitely more feasible…at this point in my life, anyway. And I think it will ripple, I just wonder how. At the height of the most recent government shut-down, my freighbor (friendneighbor because not all your neighbors are friends and not all your friends are neighbors), who also happens to be a Coast Guard wife, was scrambling to cook dinner with groceries she had on hand. Except…within the first few days she began to realize that there were a lot of cans pushed to the back of the pantry and frozen meat stashed in the bottom of the freezer. They didn’t dine like kings, but they certainly didn’t go hungry. How much food do we have that was bought for a specific recipe, but never used? Or used, but only a tablespoon? I’m looking at you, capers…impersonating rabbit pellets in a vinegar brine. Ironic that Jesus fasted for 40 days and we are going to eat all the things, but it’s easier than bringing home chicken breast in a mason jar. There’s always next year for that.

10 Important Takeaways from Change of Command

A few weeks ago, Blue Star Families released the results of its 9th annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey (aMFLS) during a day-long event in Washington, D.C., titled, Change of Command: The Evolution of the Military in America and The #BSFSurvey. Those in attendance got the chance to hear from distinguished speakers and accomplished panelists representing military and civilian communities.

042-1

Best of all, BSF live-streamed the event so that anyone could tune in—from wherever in the world they may be. And that’s just what I did all morning, from the drop-off line at school to waiting for my car at Firestone. The results, which were mostly what I expected as a military spouse of 12 years, provide a snapshot of what’s important and what’s concerning to service members, veterans, and their spouses in 2018.

Here are my top 10 takeaways from the event:

  1. Military spouses struggle with not just connecting to a community, but also feeling like they belong in it. Given how often we relocate, it’s not surprising that it’s difficult to establish anything beyond casual connections. One of the nuances I found most interesting is that military spouses reported feeling a greater sense of belonging the longer they lived in civilian communities, but a lessened sense of belonging the longer they lived on military installations.

 

  1. Active Duty service members and their spouses cited time away from family as their top concern. Military families certainly feel the fatigue of frequent separations—whether it’s due to a deployment, training, or just a longer daily commute.

 

  1. There’s a notable disconnect between civilian and military communities. To bridge this gap, military families feel open and honest messaging from the DoD is needed regarding the sacrifices and challenges we face. An improvement in this area can help increase civilians’ support of military families’ wellness, education, and employment opportunities.

 

  1. Although each stage of the military life cycle presents unique challenges, resulting in a variety of concerns illustrated in the survey, one area where active duty and veteran respondents’ answers overlapped was health care. Therefore, it’s clear that changes to the system would significantly improve military life, whether that’s by way of increasing availability of mental health appointments, providing appropriate medical care for family members with special needs, or supplying additional resources for caregivers.

 

  1. Military families feel, now more than ever, that two incomes are necessary for improving the family’s well-being. Spouse employment, however, is dependent on a career that can accommodate the demands of military life, such as frequent relocation and, as a result, securing reliable childcare. Both are constant challenges that lead to financial stress for military families. Not to mention, military moves come with out-of-pocket expenses, which further threaten financial stability when those expenses aren’t fully reimbursed.

 

  1. The top concerns cited by active duty service members vary based on the gender of the respondent. Though, all agreed the best ways the DoD can improve military families’ quality of life include adequate manning levels and reducing OPTEMPO, as well as having more control over their military careers.

 

  1. The lack of adequate childcare kept resurfacing as a concern for everyone: from caregivers to dual military families, veterans, military spouses looking for employment, and even spouses hoping for a date night. It’s evident we need reliable care for our children. Though, moving to a new community and trying to get the contact information of the best babysitter is like breaking into Fort Knox. It shouldn’t be that hard.

 

  1. Veteran respondents voiced concerns in the following areas: PTSD/TBI/combat stress and veteran employment, family’s well-being, and pay and benefits. They shared that improvements are needed when it comes to securing employment during the early phases of transition, increasing a sense of belonging within their communities, and improving the standard of living.

 

  1. Military families worry about the impact their service has on their children. While our little ones are supposed to be our “dandelions,” blooming wherever they are planted, there is concern that service members’ time away from family (especially during deployments) and frequent relocation adversely affect their quality of life.

 

  1. Blue Star Families’ aMFLS is imperative for guiding national leaders and local communities on ways to decrease the civilian-military divide and increase the quality of life for military families. Throughout the Change of Command, panelists and speakers praised the survey for showing them what needs to improve and how they can help.

 

While survey results can seem like just a bunch of numbers, they can also be effective agents of change. Thus, Blue Star Families uses its survey to inform local leaders on how they can better support military families who live in their communities. But as military families, it’s our duty to complete the survey so they can inform the change-makers of our top concerns and desires.

115

Whatever this year brings your military family, and whatever you have to say, speak it in a meaningful way, in a space where it is valued. We don’t have to merely accept our difficulties and challenges as-is, and we don’t have to just get through them. We can make our lives better, and Blue Star Families’ aMFLS is the first step in the right direction.

072

And I’ll leave you with this – the aMFLS is a mathematical depiction of military life in 2018. So, tell me, what do you want 2019 to illustrate?

Join here to become a Blue Star Families member, and let your voice be heard when survey fielding opens in May.

To download the comprehensive report of the 2018 Blue Star Families Military Lifestyle Survey, click here: https://bluestarfam.org/survey.

Sparking & Spreading Joy

What the world needs now is Marie Kondo. I mean, yes, of course…the world needs love, but also Marie Kondo, which can be kind of the same thing. Although she is getting absolutely skewered by critics, who say she really isn’t doing anything life-changing or even that admirable, I have to respectfully disagree.

a305dfed2a8c420c1117242478da31a2

One of my last set of blog posts on Magnolias & Mimosas was about my mission to apply the KonMari method of de-cluttering our home last January…before the Netflix show was a thing, but after her New York Times bestseller was starting to pop on the shelves at Goodwill. And full disclosure: I did not read the book. I read some blog posts by people who had read the book and then took what they learned and used it. My philosophy was that I didn’t need to read the book and who had time for that anyway? I had a 3200 square foot house to tidy. I just needed the bullet points.

At the end of about 3 months, we had a yard sale. We sold (or donated) about 4,000 pounds of stuff and made about $8,000. Now some of that was bulky living room furniture that looked fabulous in our first home with the cathedral ceiling and the open floor plan, but had since made moving every 24 months more challenging. The question loomed with every new house: It’s great, but will the entertainment center fit? So, out with a bunch of furniture, sound systems, molded plastic toys with enormous footprints, and so. many. clothes. Also, a lot of gifts that I had held onto because I valued the relationship with the person who had given it to me. But when I held that particular item in my hands and asked myself if it sparked joy, nothing. Not even a cricket. That was an eye opener for me and a tremendous weight lifted that I didn’t even know I was carrying. Marie Kondo had given me permission to free myself of things in our house that were taking up space and consuming energy.

Someone once said that Marie Kondo said that if you do it right, you should only have to KonMari your home once. I don’t know if she actually said that. She mentions in the very first episode that her daughters, who are very young, make organizing and cleaning difficult sometimes, but I’m here to tell you that I nailed it the first time and that there will definitely be a second time and probably a 22nd time. Not everything will have to be measured for joy, but when you stop to think about how much…stuff…is coming into our houses constantly, well there’s no way you will only have to do this once. If for no other reason, at some point we forget how good it feels to throw out and pare down. And right now, I want to keep every single school paper Blue brings home. Like all of them. The math worksheets, the daily writing assignments, the spelling tests, and this adorable picture he drew of Martin Luther King Jr. last week. They are all precious to me…right now. But as time goes on, I will be able to view them with a more objective eye and decide which ones are truly worth the space I give them. I think as Marie Kondo’s daughters grow, she may address this part of parenting. Or perhaps it will get lumped in with de-cluttering sentimental items. But even now, she is always demonstrating to her young children how to embrace what brings joy and release what does not.

I do believe the Netflix show, Tidying Up, is perfectly timed for the world we are in today. Marie Kondo has gotten a lot of undeserved flack for saying she likes to keep her book collection limited to 30 books, for being too chipper while she’s tidying, for being too…I don’t know…Japanese? She does “weird” things like greeting the house and thanking items for their usefulness before getting rid of them. But if I had read the book before diving in, I would have learned why she does this and, most likely, deemed it a worthy part of the process, too.

Kami, to way oversimplify things, is the spiritual force in animate and inanimate things, according to the Japanese religion, Shinto. There’s much more to it (and some who practice Shinto believe it is reserved for inanimate objects specifically in nature), but for the purpose of de-cluttering your home with a Japanese professional organizer, the reason we thank items before sending them out of the home, is because they have kami. This life force is also the reason we clean and organize our possessions that we have chosen to keep. By folding our clothes, by dusting our shelves, by cleaning the toilet, and washing the sheets, we are honoring the kami in each item. We can also respect how many people, how much work it took to create the things we own. Who made the ottoman? How many hands touched my arc lamp before it found its way onto the Target shelf? Just by thinking of what I own in this way, I have inadvertently started taking better care of it. I put things back where they belong and make sure they are clean before doing so. It takes a lot of work to maintain a home and everything in it. It certainly makes me think twice before bringing anything else in and helps me have gratitude for what we do have.

What the world, and especially America, needs now is a tiny Japanese woman in a wool skirt and cardigan showing us how to rediscover what is most important by peeling away the layers of junk, both physically and emotionally. Our possessions are either adding or subtracting from our enjoyment in life. Keep what sends a zing down your spine when you hold it, thank and get rid of the things that don’t and your home will always bring you joy. And you will enjoy it more with the people you share it with, which will spill over into how you interact with others outside of your home. Clutter and possessions that don’t bring us joy take up space in our houses and in our minds, making us less creative and less able to problem solve creatively. It is a weight that is unnecessary and completely self-imposed. A woman outside of our culture, who speaks mainly through an interpreter, is teaching us how to live more fully with less. She is sparking joy in Americans who take the time to embrace her method and complete the process, which is partially rooted in a Japanese religious ideology. Tidying Up with Marie Kondo is not about competing, but it is about winning; it isn’t about being judged, it’s about being grateful. We haven’t even made it through the entire series yet and she has already changed our lives so I call BS on all those couch critics.

Tidying Up is streaming on Netflix (or you can add it to your DVD mail if you’re resisting the streaming trend like my mom). Also, check out this article from The Atlantic for a fabulous description of the rest of the series and this article from HuffPost that describes the Shinto roots of the KonMari method.

 

In Praise of Courage: A Review of Netflix’s Medal of Honor

I have received free merchandise in exchange for my review of Netflix’s series, Medal of Honor. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by this company.

We haven’t had cable in 6 years and, most days, I’m OK with that. With the exception of missing a UK game here and there, I am fine with not having to flip through 150 channels of reality shows, which really bear very little resemblance to reality. Remember when the History channel showed documentaries about…history? Now they hunt ghosts, examine conspiracy theories, and pick through people’s storage sheds. And the Travel Channel transported us to festivals in Rome or holidays in China. They also hunt ghosts now. And the Food Network focused on cooking shows instead of cooking contests. My competition cup runneth over.

Our answer was a Roku, which allows us to stream Netflix, PBS, PBSkids, and, yes, even most UK basketball games. We’ve been able to keep up when party conversation turns to Downton Abbey, Sherlock Holmes, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and The Crown. Blue has discovered a world within Netflix that includes Storybots, King Julien and a slew of Magic School Bus shows. So, when Blue Star Families approached me about a partnership they had formed with Netflix to screen their Docu-series, Medal of Honor, I was all in. Fortunately for me, so were my neighbors. They may or may not have been in it for the Trader Joe’s appetizers (pancake bread, anyone?) and Shiner Bock.

20190128_112201

None of us had ever heard of the show so we had no idea what to expect. We all assumed it was a fictional series akin to Army Wives or SEAL Team. Historically accurate, but crafted in someone’s mind, nonetheless. There is one season with 8 episodes and they are independent of each other. So, the wives let the husbands decide which one we should watch. They chose the Medal of Honor recipient from the war in Afghanistan. For the record, the wives would have chosen someone from World War II or the Korean War. Or…pretty much anyone from any time period except the one we are in right now. The husbands wanted to relate, the wives wanted to distance themselves. Such is life with service members and spouses, I suppose. We poured another glass and settled in.

Episode 2 tells the story of Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha, an Army veteran who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan on October 3rd, 2009. At the mention of COP Keating, several of our neighbors nodded in recognition of the name, but the room soon fell silent as the Battle of Kamdesh unfolded. One of the wives leaned over and whispered, “This is so hard to watch. I hate thinking of what they go through over there.” But that’s true for every military-inspired film or show that prides itself on authenticity. Hollywood can recreate, with alarming accuracy, what it’s like in the thick of war. That’s all made possible by producers willing to hire veterans and those veterans volunteering to share their stories or offer their perspectives. And on the Medal of Honor set, every role that could be filled by a veteran, was, starting at the top with a Marine.

Medal of Honor‘s executive producer, Brandon Birtell, came up with the idea for the show during Marine Corps boot camp in 1996. The Marines’ final challenge, called The Crucible, is a series of obstacles named for Medal of Honor recipients. When I read about that in this Stars and Stripes article, my first thought was, “I can only name one Medal of Honor recipient – Sergeant Dakota Meyer.” And that’s because he grew up 2 hours south of me. But most Americans only recognize his name because he was married to Bristol Palin. What about the other 3,400 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen who have received the honor since its inception in 1861? Shouldn’t we know their names? Shouldn’t we share their stories? Unimaginable bravery should be lauded and passed down to future generations. The award demands respect, but the story behind it deserves to be told. It should be just as familiar as that little medallion that dangles from a sky-blue ribbon.

Our neighbors agreed. The box of Kleenex had made its rounds.

I sent out a little survey after the screening, asking those who attended to share their thoughts on how the show differed from what they were expecting and whether they would recommend it to friends. Overwhelmingly, the response was, “YES!” Everyone appreciated that the story was told well, accurate and engaging. And our friends concurred: we all, Civilians and Military, need to hear these stories. Maybe we won’t sit down and read a 700-page book by Jake Tapper, but we can certainly watch a 55-minute show. I love The Great British Baking Show as much as the next girl, but this is important. This helps us understand what happens on our behalf, what we are asking of our service members when we send them into battle, and what they accomplish against all odds.

Over 3,400 Medal of Honor recipients and Netflix has created an episode about 8 of them. I don’t know how they ever narrowed it down or whether a second season is in the works, but I’m certainly glad they at least started the conversation.

20190118_200256

20190128_112428

Silencing the Noise

20190106_124029.jpg

It’s funny how a brain dump at 10 PM after a long week can, unexpectedly, result in a slew of responses from friends who are having the same thoughts and feelings. I fully expected to piss off a lot of people with that last post. It was just a cathartic ripping open of my heart, with little regard for who would be reading it or what their reactions would be. It wasn’t journalism. But it made me feel a helluva lot better. And I slept great that night.

One of the comments I got on my last post was from a friend in my neighborhood. Also a writer, she said something about how interesting it is to watch someone sift through their emotions through writing. And that’s exactly what this blog is for me. It’s a place to sift and sort, to proclaim and then sit with it for awhile. And to absorb your reactions, let them sit with me for awhile, too. Maybe I did piss off some people. They just kept scrolling. After all, who wants to be told their hometown sucks? I can still see the faces of people back in Pennsylvania when I would tell them (usually after they had apprehensively asked me how we liked it there) that we love it so much we want to retire in the area. They absolutely glowed. Pride leaked out of every pore and they stopped dismissing its beauty, if only for a little while. The Lebanon Valley in Pennsylvania is not New York City or Chicago or Los Angeles. It’s not even Atlanta or Nashville. But it is picturesque and quiet. People take pride in their homes and cars, even if the homes are small and the cars are old. We also loved Kansas, Virginia, and Georgia and every resident that I talked to was always braced to hear the worst, but practically giddy when I told them how much we were enjoying the area. I was unprepared to have the opposite conversation here.

And, really, when we get to the heart of the matter, isn’t that the problem? Expectations. I have always placed a high value on knowing what to expect and, intentional or not, I have passed that on to Blue. I mentally prepare myself for whatever I am getting ready to face; from going to the dentist, to moving across the country, to driving on the 405 at 5 PM. It’s why, even before we have orders in hand, I’m on area Facebook pages asking spouses where to live, what the schools are like, where to find great pizza and what we can do as a family. Six times I’ve done this and six times I’ve realized, after about 6 months of living in the new area, that my expectations were wrong. Five of the six times, I had actually underestimated an area. Man, it blows when you overestimate it.

But how do you not overestimate a place like southern California? Palm-tree lined streets everywhere, not just on Rodeo Drive or Sunset Boulevard. Movie stars that could show up at your famer’s market at any time. Old VW buses parked down at the beach with a surf board strapped to the top and 2 guys in the front who may have just started a band in their parents’ garage. Seafood on the pier and taco trucks down the street. And realizing that you know exactly what they are talking about when Jimmie Allen sings, “I see the sun sink down on a coast in California” or when Kenny Chesney sings, “Baby, here I am again/kicking dust in the canyon wind/waiting for that sun to go down./Made it up Mulholland Drive/hell bent on getting high/high above the lights of town.” When Maverick pulls up to Charlie’s house on PCH and when you find out that all of the campus scenes of Larry Crowne were filmed at the college in the next town over, it does make you feel like you are in the middle of something bigger than yourself. Tiny fish in a fast-moving ocean. This is where it is all happening and I think a lot of people crave that atmosphere. It’s just that I don’t. I should have known better. My favorite film maker is Ken Burns and the only series I’ve seen every episode of is M.A.S.H. Sometimes I flip through People at the check-out line and realize I only recognize the actors who are older than me. I’m doing good to remember the names and faces of people we were stationed with 10 years ago, there’s just no space left for famous people. Except Gary Sinise.

Today is one of those days that is saving me, though. It’s January 24th and if we lived almost anywhere else, we would be bundled under at least 3 layers. Our faces would be chapped from winter winds, practically frozen in place, and I would only leave the house if I absolutely had to. But here, today, it is 75 degrees and full sun. Low humidity and warm enough to have all the windows open in the car and still drive with a breeze. It is, dare I say it, perfect. It is that first really warm spring day in Kentucky – when the girls are out on the quad with blankets and bikinis and the convertible top drops for the first time since September. When music of every genre can be heard at a stoplight because everyone has their windows down. It’s the first day of spring break when summer is actually a possibility and not just a promise. And I turn up the country music because that’s what spring break is to me – Shania Twain, Kenny Chesney, George Strait and Dierks Bentley. Take off your socks, pour a margarita, soak up the sun before it turns chilly again.

Days like this aren’t enough to keep me here, but they are enough to get me through. I’m going to get off this bucket list hamster wheel for a little while. It will never be completed anyway. I’m going to stop trying to do everything that’s uniquely California…or even uniquely L.A. I don’t need to go to a cat-themed pop-up that’s sponsored by Fresh Step or to a movie premiere every month. I need to find the nature that is out here and remember that that is why people flocked here. For the unpredictable Pacific and the whales that fluke as they pass through on their way to Mexico. They came because you can hike a mountain in the morning and build a sand castle after lunch. And because the fruit trees grow like crazy and the grapes make the best wine. All of this stuff that’s man-made? The museums and the shopping centers, the tourist destinations and the boutique cafes? Those are distractions from what is truly beautiful about California. That is not where my time is best spent and that will not refill my cup. I need to go to the places where I can see God and I need to show the light of Jesus to those who have been kicked down while living here. The rest of it is just noise.

Thank you for always supporting me, even as I publicly sift through this rollercoaster of emotions. While I was at the dentist’s office getting my teeth cleaned this morning, I was chatting with my hygienist, who is 30 weeks pregnant with her second child. We had a good laugh about how completely lost we were with the first child. Those first few weeks of motherhood with a newborn are frightening, exhausting, and overwhelming.  If I learned anything from giving birth, it’s that I want to get this right the first time. I don’t want to look back only to be disappointed by the fact that I didn’t put more effort into finding the good. And just like childbirth, I won’t get a second chance to do it again. This is it and I need to make it count. I have adjusted my expectations and I’m ready to start over.

A Cloud Over SoCal

img_0001

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. One of my truths when playing 2 truths and a lie is that I changed my major 5 times and have been engaged 4 times. The four engagements is a story for another time, but 1 of my 5 majors was journalism. When I left the University of Louisville (and my theater major aspirations) in the rear view mirror, I set my sights on the University of Kentucky and a journalism degree with a minor in telecommunications. I lasted exactly one semester. And I can’t even remember why.

My frantic desire to excavate the truth of a matter has often, interestingly enough, made me gullible and naive. Even when the logical and analytical traits of my Virgo nature kick in, I haven’t fared much better. Did the explanation seem rational? Possible? Ok then. End of story. No questions left to ask. I have fallen for so many schemes and untruths over the years, that I’m quickly overtaking my husband in the race for Most Cynical Person Living in This House. And every day there seems to be a new reason to hold my tongue, wait for more evidence, ask more questions, withhold judgment.

The majority of teachers in my son’s school district are on strike right now. Maybe you’ve seen something about it on the news. Los Angeles Unified School District is the second largest school district in the country with about 650,000 students. Only New York City outranks us with almost a million students in the district. On day one of the strike, UTLA (United Teachers of Los Angeles), the union that represents many of the educators in LAUSD, set forth their reasons for striking: smaller class sizes (many high school classrooms in L.A. exceed 40 students but the overpopulated schools seem to be an issue throughout the district), more counselors, deans, librarians, and full-time nurses, (some schools share the staff that fill these roles so a librarian or nurse may only be on hand 1-2 days per week), smaller special education case loads and, of course, an increase in pay (6.5% that would not be contingent on district finances).

But it has only been in the last 2 or 3 days that everyone has started to discuss the elephant in the room: charter schools. And to my husband’s credit, he made this argument over a week ago. When you release the reigns on charter schools, public schools will hemorrhage students who come from households where the parents are educated, value education, and can afford to pay for that education (or whatever booster clubs are created by the charter school). Parents will flock to charter schools out of fear for what a public education will fail to provide or to cash in on the promises made by these privately run institutions. Either way, the result is the same: the money that the state has set aside for his/her child is taken away from the public school and given to the charter school. And while most economists would argue that the free market system is king, it certainly isn’t doing any favors for anyone who is left behind in the public education system. The unrestrained growth of charter schools is one of the reasons that LAUSD is searching for a spare billion in the couch cushions and Californians are just now, one week into the strike, willing to discuss what they have done to themselves.

But, per usual, I spent at least a week convinced that the arguments presented from both sides were complete and transparent. There couldn’t be anything else to the story because everything sounded logical. I would have gotten eaten alive in journalism school.

But honestly, while we are temporarily inconvenienced by the strike, homeschooling our kids in a show of solidarity with the teachers walking the picket lines, we don’t really have any skin in this game. For better or worse, military families are in and out so fast it makes an administrator’s head spin. Since October, 2 of our neighbors in Blue’s class have moved and just as quickly, 2 more moved in. We are not here for the long game so while I support teachers in general, it is my opinion that whatever mess the district has created financially, this is the bed they have made after years of bad (and, perhaps, politically corrupt and greedy) decisions. The schools are obviously over-crowded, the teachers are clearly at a breaking point, and the funds are being funneled elsewhere. Easy for me to say, but I don’t know that the 70 degree weather makes up for all the other shit shows that debut daily around here. And what passes for public education in this country (which has already been whittled down to what’s on the test, thanks to funding based on school performance), is further reduced to a sliver of leftovers after the charter schools in L.A. have carved out their slice. It’s hard to watch, even harder to live and certainly not what we want for our child’s education, even if it is only for a couple of years. I may have become complacent about dressing fashionably, eating a plant-based diet, and watching less TV, but I think this where I draw the line.

I didn’t mean to take several weeks off from blogging. I have found it unusually difficult to organize my thoughts lately. Mostly, I’m just incredibly frustrated…with the fact that my neighbors and friends are starting to feel the harsh effects of a government shutdown while their husbands go on to work for the FBI or the Coast Guard…with local businesses who have come out of the woodwork to support L.A. teachers but have actually turned away Coast Guard families seeking the same support…with local parents who are begging for gift cards to give teachers because they aren’t paid as long as they are striking, but, practically in the same breath, are admonishing military families for sending their kids “across picket lines” when they really have no other choice. If your Coast Guard husband must still report to work but isn’t getting paid, there’s a chance you will have to go get a job. Paying for child care when the schools are still open is just not an option. But mostly I’m frustrated that I don’t feel like we have been able to live our best lives, be the best version of ourselves out here. I am depressed that the homeless community is so massive. It feels hopeless. Seeing garbage piled up on streets and in green spaces everywhere is a bleak reminder of how many people don’t care about our environment or take pride in the place where we live. And depleting our savings just to do a few fun things here and there steals the joy from those memories.

Part of me was terrified of living in Los Angeles and part me was electrified by the idea that, for the first time ever, we were going to be in the middle of it all. But after almost 8 months, I feel like I’ve opened the portal, had a solid peek in, and observed the wizard of L.A., furiously pulling this string and pushing that button to make everything appear far more glamorous. These streets of gold are paved with $63 parking tickets and washed clean by the tears of an army who just can’t get back on their feet. Coastal winds whip hypodermic needles under the fence of a public park while someone barely making rent dresses up as Cookie Monster and posts up outside the zoo, making rude comments to children when their parents don’t stop for a picture and offer a tip. Maybe you pass Angelina Jolie on the Runyon Canyon trail. And maybe you see Bruce Willis buying his daughter an empanada at The Grove…but so what? They are probably sending their kids to charter schools and your kid, in the same district as them, is taking the hit. And the house cleaner’s daughter? The gardener’s son? Are they in charter schools? No, they are in LAUSD, waiting for things to get better. This strike is their saving grace because they are finally being heard. Over the drug-related shootings, the car chases through Long Beach, and the sirens racing to someone who was just robbed, they are being heard.

Whatever Los Angeles used to be, this city of angels, this wild west, it is not for me. I will walk her beaches and hike her trails, maybe spot a celebrity and buy an overpriced cupcake in Beverly Hills, but when the time comes, I will close this chapter and shed tears only for the people we leave behind. The next place will have greener pastures if only because it won’t be plastered with the incessant evidence of overpopulation.

Know Better, Do Better: The Christmas Edition

The question came up last week, as was inevitable: “What does Blue want for Christmas?” My mind went absolutely and completely blank. Because what I heard was not, “What does he want for Christmas,” I heard, “What does he need for Christmas?” And honestly…nothing. Our child wants for nothing. Sure he will tell you that he needs another Star Wars Lego set or some more Jungle in My Pocket toys. He will beg for a laser tag set and a whole semi-truck full of stuffies. But all he truly needs is an attitude of gratitude. Santa baby, can you slip that under the tree?

IMG_2119

I understand that this problem is almost 100% of our own doing. From the time we found out I was pregnant, we have been buying for him. First it was all the toys that, according to numerous mommy bloggers and the Today Show, he had to have. I rolled my eyes at the wipe warmer, but he had a giraffe teething toy (but no teeth), the cutest little shoes (before he could even crawl), and a crib full of stuffed animals (many were bigger than him). Over the years, we’ve tried to supplement the growing footprint of toys with “educational” gifts. An entire library full of all of the “recommended” books, “brainy” toys – some requiring batteries and some made of wood, marble runs, and bins upon bins of Lego. There were plastic animals of every size and species, Army men and all of their accessories, Hot Wheels cars with the accompanying track and even a suitcase to carry them all. Ironically, nothing has made all of that seem excessive like living in and exploring around Los Angeles.

It is impossible to go anywhere, besides within the gates of our own neighborhood, and not see a member of the homeless population. Whether you drive or walk, you will see at least one person who is homeless every single day. Across the street, across town, in the parking lot of the vet’s office, outside of Starbucks, in the park next to the aquarium, sleeping on the beach. They live all along the L.A. river, under wind-shredded tarps that are strewn across sun-faded tents. They usually aren’t asking for money or help, they are simply moving about their day, just as we are. Some are passing the time by watching traffic, some are sleeping, and some -judging by their awkward propped positions – look like they may have passed on. I don’t know any of their stories, but I hear the locals talk about their “favorites”. Most are known, many are liked, some are helped. It has taken me months to be even a little bit OK with this. I want Oprah and Ellen to give every single homeless person a house, but the reality is that isn’t the root of the problem or even a viable solution. And the most difficult part for me to accept? There are so many homeless children.

When the school year started, I had to log into an L.A. school district website and confirm that we have a home. The default was not that everyone lived in a house, it was that everyone lives in something other than a house or apartment. The school district wanted to know if we were living with friends or family, in an RV, in a tent or in a shelter. I almost felt guilty by the end. No, no, no, no…no to all of that. We have a house. I’m so sorry, I wish they all did. And the truth is, there are children in Blue’s school, children he sees and plays with everyday, that are homeless. And I don’t think he had ever noticed. I wasn’t about to bring it to his attention, but a few weeks ago he began saying variations of, “This is the worst Christmas ever.” I let it go (for probably longer than I should have), but by the second week, I had had enough. We had a chat.

“Do you remember the people we see living in tents on the side of the road? Did you know that some of those people are kids? Did you know that those kids don’t have toys or stuffies or even a bed to sleep in? Did you know that those kids sometimes only eat when they are at school?” Once I got started, I couldn’t stop. Tears welled up in my eyes and a look of remorse washed over Blue. Homeless had become part of his lexicon, just as Amish had in Pennsylvania. The difference, he was beginning to understand, was that one chose the life and one did not. Sometimes I have serious doubts about moving every two years. Like when I remember fondly the Christmas traditions we shared with my grandparents and cousins when I was growing up. I become nostalgic for a time when my grandmother would stick the Bing Crosby 8-track tape in the player (which was installed in the wall) before decorating the tree. And I think, “Blue will never have this to reflect on each Christmas season. We are ruining his childhood.” But then we have a Come-to-Jesus about how he is not having the worst Christmas ever, although there are kids in his class who certainly are. Like Billy from The Polar Express….Christmas just doesn’t work out for them. And because he can look out of the car window every single day and see someone having the worst Christmas ever, he has stopped saying that. Next week it will be something else, but at least he has come around on this topic.

All of this was spurred by a Facebook post shared by a friend this morning. It urged people to stop giving Santa credit for the expensive gifts their children received. The iPads and gaming systems, the 52424-piece Lego kits and the new iPhones. Because when kids talk (as they inevitably do), it will appear that Santa is more generous to the families with more money. How old were you when you realized this? I was today years old. Why? Because our child has never wanted for anything, just as I never wanted for anything when I was a child. I never wanted a pony, but I wanted a My Little Pony. When I was Blue’s age, I got an entire stable full. One Christmas, the hot item was a Cabbage Patch doll. I received three. And now I’m doing the same thing. We wait for Blue to tell Santa what he wants for Christmas and then we order it from Amazon, with Prime shipping of course. The greatest irony is that for Blue’s third Christmas, we began the rule of 4: something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read. Then Santa gave him everything else. We seriously restricted what he got from us and let Santa have a field day. Up until this morning, I thought we were doing what was best for him.

We are all doing the best we can as parents, which is sometimes a train wreck, often a fly-by-night operation, and occasionally flashes of brilliance. I’m certain we are going to look back in 20 years and regret many of the decisions we’ve made along the way. But if we’re lucky (and willing to accept that we are learning as he learns), hopefully the result will be an empathetic, kind, generous, well-rounded, and productive member of society. Blue may remember the countless renditions of A Christmas Carol that we dragged him to, the hours we spent sipping hot chocolate while strolling through the most decorated neighborhoods, Jingles the Elf fishing for marshmallows in the toilet, eating candy thrown from floats in Christmas parades, meeting reindeer at the zoo, sitting on Santa’s lap at the Macy’s in New York City, and any number of other unique experiences that we treat him to every Christmas season, but hopefully he will also remember dropping a $5 in the Salvation Army bucket, collecting food for a family in the church, buying toys to donate, making a meal for a friend, and sending care packages to our troops overseas. He will remember that at the center of Christmas is Christ and the light that He brought to a dark world (we can certainly argue until the cows come home about when Christ’s actual birth was – but that’s for another post). And when Blue has a family, he will share the traditions that we got right, change the ones that we got wrong, and do something for those who are having the worst Christmas ever. (And if there is karma in parenting, he will get to have a similar conversation with his own child.)

I love this post by Karen, whose blog, And Then We Laughed, is full of insights about life’s little moments. She and her husband have made the commitment to make more purposeful decisions and this post reflects that change. The Christmas season is full of things we do on auto-pilot, much we do because that’s how our parents did it. But there is no shame in stopping to take stock of our family’s needs and changing our traditions so that they represent what Christmas…Christ’s birth…means to us.

What Blue Star Families Means to Us #Giving Tuesday

On the second morning of our honeymoon, as Neal and I sipped coffee in our bathrobes on the veranda of our B&B in Charleston, SC, I confessed to him that I hated my job. It had become indisputably clear that I was terrible at selling gym memberships, which was the first bullet point in my job description. Neal mulled this over for a second and then asked, “What do you want to do?” It wasn’t said in a judgemental or demeaning tone. He truly wanted to know what would make me happy. “I think I want to be a massage therapist. I want to go to massage school,” I answered. He flashed his trademark Neal smile and said, “Well, there you go, then.” One month later, I was enrolled in massage school.

When Neal was offered the opportunity to move from a Reservist position to active duty with the Active Guard/Reserve program, there were 2 stipulations: we had to move to Macon, Georgia by the middle of May, and he would be deployed for one year to Iraq within 6 months of the move. We readily agreed knowing that this door, which had been opened so unexpectedly, would shut without any guarantee of it opening again. We arrived home from a vacation in Hawaii at 4 AM and at 7 AM, the moving truck arrived to take all of our worldly possessions south.

Prior to that first move, as the wife of a Reservist, most of our challenges were centered around being apart, from deployments, to annual training and the drill weekends each month. I became the FRG (Family Readiness Group) Leader, simply because no one had expressed any interest in the position. I ran fundraisers for unit events and I called to check on spouses when the Servicemember was deployed with a different unit. I was involved, but I wasn’t immersed in the military culture. My knowledge was limited to what I had experienced since meeting and marrying Neal.

Our first PCS changed everything.

With a house full of boxes and the realization that my parents weren’t just down the road, I sat down and cried. Neal went to work, met people, made friends, and had conversations throughout the day. I tried to figure out how my Kentucky massage therapy license would transfer to Georgia and wondered where I would work if my clients didn’t have a military ID to get into base housing where we lived, all while emptying box after box in our carport. I was suffocating under the sheer weight of chaos and loneliness. I put on the brave face for Neal as he relayed the ups and downs of his day, but I wanted to scream, “Take me home! I can’t do this, I’m not cut out for this life. I want to go back to my friends and family and our little house on the cul-de-sac with the pergola and the clematis!” Six months later, he deployed to Iraq and I did go home. But it didn’t feel like home. Now I was a visitor who had missed out on birthdays, births, weddings, and funerals. Everyone was glad to see me, but they also knew I couldn’t stay. For the first time in my life, I felt like a flower, ripped from the stem and stuck in a vase. No longer rooted to anything, eventually I would wither.

It feels a little melodramatic to even write that from where I sit now, but it is exactly how I felt back then. I was 32 years old and had never been away from home for more than a few months. I went to college next door to my hometown, along with most of my closest high school friends. As it was in 1989, so it was in 2009. Sitting on the back porch of our house on Robins AFB, huddled around a fire pit with new friends, we rang in 2011. Neal would be leaving in a few weeks for Iraq. I had no job and no job prospects. We had made friends – some from the base and some from Neal’s work – but it was the first time I had ever felt depressed. Nothing was as I had imagined it would be.

Over the years, we’ve gotten better at this military family thing. I can make a new friend in 4 minutes flat (Blue can do it in 3) and I’ve finally come to accept that most businesses don’t want to hire someone just to lose them again in 24 months. I don’t blame them – that’s a lot of time and energy to invest in someone just to have to start all over again with someone new. I know because we do it all the time. It’s emotionally exhausting. I conceded that my life would revolve around making sure that Neal didn’t have to worry about anything at home. Whether he wanted to help with the chores or not, everything would get done – from packing and unpacking when we move, to daily tasks like cleaning the litterbox and cooking meals. He only had to focus on work and spending time together as a family. And on most days, that has been enough for me. But there have certainly been times in the past 8 years when I shake my fist and shout, “This doesn’t have to be so damn hard!”

Like when we moved to Fort Lee, VA, when Blue was 3 months old because Neal was picked up for Captain’s Career Course. On-post housing had a wait list so we leased a 3-bedroom apartment behind a strip mall. An hour after the movers had emptied the truck into every room of that apartment, the housing office called to say they had a house for us.

Like when I couldn’t get a spot in the Child Development Center at Ft. Knox because all of the slots were full, which meant I couldn’t go to the gym for an hour each day because the gym had no childcare.

Like when we were stationed on a National Guard post and not only was there no housing, but there was no way to meet other military families outside of the unit.

Like when the contract for our dental care was switched to a provider who reimbursed pennies on the dollar and all of the good dentists stopped accepting Tricare because they have to make a living, too.

Like when we were stationed in Southern California and the first time we went out as a family, we paid $12 in parking and $75 for a barely palatable lunch.

This is not a list of complaints, these are the challenges that we encounter constantly. But we have grown resilient and resourceful. We take a deep breath, pour a glass of wine, and figure out how to solve the problem.

We loved that little apartment because in the strip mall was a grocery store and an Italian restaurant, which made pizza that we still talk about to this day.

At Fort Knox, I joined a group of moms who worked out on a playground while the kids played. Sometimes wrangling kids back onto the playground was part of the workout. I took that idea with me to Fort Leavenworth and implemented it there, because we weren’t going to let a lack of childcare keep us from exercising.

I met my neighbors in Pennsylvania and then took a job writing for the local magazine so I could meet even more. And sometimes they turned out to be fellow military families.

I wrote letters to our Congressmen and women about the dental insurance situation and rejoiced when I found a phenomenal dentist with military ties and an office just 40 minutes from our house. Some of my friends were driving an hour each way.

And in the last few months before we were due to leave Pennsylvania, I met Joanna. A spouse in our unit suggested we meet at Joanna’s coffee shop for breakfast and some adult conversation. During a lull, Joanna sat with us and we chatted about living in Pennsylvania, military life, and her new position with Blue Star Families. “OH! They do the Blue Star Museums every summer! We love those people,” I exclaimed. Joanna laughed, “Yes! And we are doing a new thing this summer called Blue Star Parks!”

And that is how I came to join the Blue Star Families network (which is to say I went on the website and entered my information – which is free and open to all military families) and continue to be indebted for the ways they are improving our quality of life everyday. Sometimes I wonder what it’s like to sit in one of their staff meetings. What ideas get written on the board? Which ones get tossed out? It feels like every week they have devised a new way to make life a little easier, make it a little more enjoyable.

Yep, making new friends every 24 months is draining, but what if you could do it around a table with a Starbucks latte in your hand? The Starbucks Neighborhood stores commit to holding Coffee and Talk events for military families.

Yes, sometimes we get stationed in exotic (read: expensive) places and after each little expense is raised, there’s very little left for exploring the area where we live. Blue Star Museums, Parks, Theatres and their partnership with Disney ensure we can enjoy the same opportunities as residents whose pay more accurately reflects the cost of living for that area.

Absolutely, it would be amazing if every spouse who wanted to work outside of the home was given that chance. Blue Star Families Careers Center not only actively partners with businesses who have voiced an interest in hiring military spouses, but also provides career coaching, training, and mentorship.

And if you want to work outside of the home, what a blessing it would be to have access to reliable and affordable child care close to base housing. Blue Star Families is working on that, too.

They also see the need for an improvement in access to mental healthcare – for the entire family – and providing more tools for caregivers. There are a lot of moving pieces when you are talking about a military family, regardless of the branch of service, regardless of the rank or where they live. Blue Star Families wants to address it all.

But they aren’t going it alone.

One of the reasons, I think, they are so successful is because Blue Star Families is always on the lookout for new partnerships. Starbucks, Disney, National Endowment for the Arts, National Parks Service, Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Academy of US Veterans, Ebates, CSX, USAA, The Boeing Company and so. many. more. Those are just the ones I saw in a quick scroll through their Facebook page. They are consistently reaching out, daily, to close the gap between military families and the civilian communities where they live and work. When I had thrown my hands in the air and decided the divide was too wide, they decided to build a bridge, initiative by initiative. They must do at least 3 impossible things before breakfast each day.

We all have a story…a difficulty that has lessened because an organization exists to address it. Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, the American Heart Association, The Ronald McDonald House, St. Jude’s, United Way, American Red Cross, Make-a-Wish Foundation, Girls on the Run, World Wildlife Foundation, Doctors Without Borders…and on…and on…and on. We must support the organizations that touch our lives directly and, if we can, choose one or two that touch the ones we love.

Blue Star Families is the one I choose and that is why I support them today, on Giving Tuesday. I want to do everything I can to further their work, their mission of helping military families all over the world. When I look into the eyes of a newly married military spouse or a Servicemember who is leaving his/her family for another deployment, I want to be able to say that we are doing everything we can to support them. And that takes money. Blue Star Families has an excellent track record of putting it to good use.

20180831_120429

Hanging out at the Skirball Cultural Center, a Blue Star Museum, over the summer.