Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2015: The Year of Work Ups

Happy New Year!

I hope all of you are doing well and setting into the fresh new year. It is a balmy 81 degrees right now (at 10 AM) and I still haven't quite gotten used to the no season thing out here in California. Don't get me wrong though, I love it. Aside from a grumpy October (too hot for my "basic bitch" pumpkin spice lattes) I have just adored the idea of always being outside, having windows open, and enjoying unlimited Vitamin D.

Every blogger I know wrote something about resolutions. I don't have any resolutions, really. As I become older I realize that resolutions never really stick for me and it is just a matter of making changes as they present themselves. I've started a 365 project to help keep me active with my camera, and hopefully, assuming my lovely editor doesn't fire me, will be writing more at "Military Spouse Magazine" this year. So my two favorite hobbies of writing and photography will grow this year.

The biggest change this year will come in the form of work ups. Or should I say Work Ups. It feels heavy on my heart so I feel like I should pronounce that phrase with more emphasis. Maybe in some spooky font.


There, that's better.

Work ups are the typical training rotation that happens before a Navy unit (air wing, carrier strike group, etc) deploys. The general public tends to think that the units are either home or away. Lots of fanfare over departures and homecomings, but not much about the long cycle of in and out that precedes them. It isn't just deployment that turns family life over on it's head and means a lot of time away. It is the preparation for said deployment that is really tumultuous. As of my veteran Navy wife friends said to me a few days ago, "if you can survive the tempo between now and November, deployment will be a piece of cake." Sadly, that's true.

This isn't our first rodeo. John has done three previous deployments and we've done work ups before. But as our kids get older and more aware of the presence of their daddy, the ins and outs of training and exercises tax them more and more. Which, of course, taxes me more and more.It sounds cliche, but the burden has shifted from me (mental and physical task of getting two babies through the last deployment) to my kids.  Connor, our four year old son, will call out for John in his sleep when he's away. Kate, our five year old, just pretty much wants her daddy around 24/7. Even the work day is an inconvenience to her. I've become more seasoned and definitely don't pine away for my husband (sorry, sweety!) the way I did when we were 23 year old newlyweds and facing down our first deployment, but having to carry my kids through this experience is going to be a new emotional experience.

I won't be changing any diapers but I will be wiping many tears.

And so 2015 will pretty much be defined by the ins and outs of work ups. It's condensed and complicated; he'll likely be gone a total of 6 months between now and the end of the year when they are scheduled to deploy. And then we have the, ya know, actual deployment. Right now that is scheduled to be about 8 months. Don't count all those months, it literally makes me nauseous to try and digest that all at once. One month at a time, one thing at a time.

I started writing this blog when John deployed in 2011. This was my safe place, a place to write it all out at the end of a marathon day. I love looking back on those posts. Hopefully, this place can be that haven again. Hopefully you will all bear with me. I'll be looking for silver linings, for growth, gratitude for the great community I have around me, appreciation for the fact that I live in a neighborhood that does my yard work, three cheers for two kids who will be in school daily. Lots of things I know not everyone has. I promise not to be a damsel in distress.

My friend Karen's husband left her a gift when he was going through an equally challenging time in the Army. Just a patch on the kitchen counter with a message that I will be using to help me through.

Our expectations form our experiences in life. I don't expect this year to be full of family stability. That said, I will embrace what I do have: lots of friends who understand what I'm going through, great schools that my kids love, a great neighborhood where my kids can play freely and safely, wine and coffee, and the deep understanding that this won't last forever. I've done it before, I'll do it again. 

New year, new set of challenges. That's life, right? If you have any tips on getting kids through with work ups without setting them up for a lifetime of therapy (or a major separation anxiety issue), please leave a comment!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas Without Him

I've watched my friends this Christmas. Lugging trees into their homes, stringing lights while perched precariously on ladders, and remembering to hide the Elf on a Shelf every night. They are frantically shopping for gifts, planning breakfast with Santa, going on Polar Express train rides, and fighting the viscous shopping crowds. They curl up at night with their hot chocolate or their (much deserved) glass of wine, stare at their tree, and wish they weren't alone. Gracefully they navigate the happiness of the holidays with the sadness of the holidays during deployment. It is a balancing act. One that I've done, one that I'll do again, and one that I deeply respect.

Did you know that elves can get all the way to the Persian Gulf in time to visit with a squadron, get a makeover, check in with Santa, and get home in time for breakfast? I find myself absolutely in awe of my long list of military girlfriends traversing deployment this holiday season. They are so creative, so inspirational, and still making this a magical time for their kids. They take a situation that many would find unbelievably stressful and turn it into something even more magical. It's truly amazing.

I have been putting a lot of pressure on this holiday time period. The past two years we have been buried under boxes in the middle of a PCS move. In 2012, we arrived in Kansas on December 14th. We somehow managed to get our entire house unpacked and a tree up by Christmas, but I promise you that there weren't elves making that happen. It was time, and sweat, and stress. I was proud of that damn tree, complete with one of those moving sticker ornaments (since we were still unpacking as we were decorating our tree), but it was a very stressful holiday.

Last year, we arrived in California on December 19th. No tree. No decorations. When my husband came home from Home Depot with a peanuts Christmas tree that played the music, he laughed. I cried. It was funny but it wasn't funny. One of those moments when I loved my husband so much for his humor but wanted to punch him at the same time.

We know that my husband will be deployed at this time next year. So with that knowledge I have found myself placing way too much emphasis on this holiday having everything. You hear me? Everything. Last year and the year before were hard. Next year will be harder. This year? I want it to be perfect. Too perfect. And I need to stop it.

When you get down to it, holidays should be a time to slow down, reflect, and enjoy family. If you are religious, they are a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus or the re dedication of the Holy Temple. I think it is that emphasis on family that makes Christmas during deployment so hard. Last year and the year before, while I wasn't exactly comfortable in my nest, I had my whole family with me to hug on Christmas morning. That is so much more important than stuff, trees, or even cookies and hot chocolate. Next year I know it won't be that way, and it isn't that way for many right now.

Take time to acknowledge any friends who might be struggling this holiday season. They will wake up, dry their eyes, and put a smile on their face so that their children enjoy a nice Christmas morning. They will be resilient and beautiful and strong. But they are also human, and humans need love. 

So to all of my fellow military spouses with deployed loves, cheers to you and your family. May you still find joy in Christmas or Hannukuh. May your tree not dry out, your lights not fade, and your egg nog be strong. Most importantly, I pray that your loved returns to you safe and soon. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Keep Calm and Love a Naval Aviator

I don't typically advertise on my blog, but my OSC is doing a fundraiser and selling adorable shirts. We ship! Please email your order to VAW117OSC@gmail.com. Please share with your own spouse's groups, FB pages, etc. as we designed these to inclusive of the whole naval aviation community!

~ Jill
Sunday, October 19, 2014

So, Are We Screwing The Kids Up?

It is the million dollar question. One we joke about at our book clubs and Bunco groups but then quietly mull over in our minds in a more serious way when it's 2 AM. We all know that our kids will inherit some of our imperfections. We all have them, we all do some quirky thing or project some strange habit that our kids will inevitably annoy their future spouse with. But what about the big picture? Like, will my kids just be okay? And even better, what lessons can I take out of our unique life to help build a stronger, smarter, more well-rounded child?

I can't say that I thought much about how the military lifestyle would impact my kids when I was a youthful 21 year old planning our wedding. I was just excited to marry my high school sweetheart and ready for an adventure. Ready, after 5 years long distance, to not spend an hour each night on AOL IM  from my dorm room and instead actually see his eyes on a daily basis. I was naïve, but I was also open to something new and fun and different. I think I considered the differences between my own upbringing and the life I was about to embark on. But you never know something until you are neck deep in it.

The old adage of "you signed up for this so you can't complain" is probably the single most ignorant and obnoxious thing I've heard thrown at military families. Sorry, you just can't tell someone that they should "suck it up" because they "volunteered". I'll go fist to cuffs with anyone who wants to fight me on that one. This life, or any life, whether it be the surgeon on call when he just wants to sleep or the trucker missing Christmas for the third year in a row, is constant learning experience. We are all winging it. You can tell me to "suck it up, buttercup" when I'm getting my eyebrows waxed. NOT when I am moving my 4 year old to her third preschool. This stuff is hard.

The editor of Military Spouse Magazine contacted me a few months ago to write an article on grit. Grit is a term that has become trendy when discussing resilience and factors other than intelligence that predict success. Grit is the thing that keeps one focused, helps them get up when they have fallen for the 10th time, and keeps them persevering in the face of resistance and fatigue. The million dollar question was: what is grit? And can the imperfections and challenges of the military lifestyle actually help mold more resilient kids?

The answer is complicated. The premier researcher on grit, Angela Duckworth, actually said during her TED Talk that she can't tell you how to grow grit. She just knows that folks who exhibit more of that hard nosed and hard charging attitude toward their goals tend to do better, even when controlled for things like IQ score, socioeconomics, and educational background.

While doing my research for the article, I dove into a lot of articles and studies on military children and resilience. Both the positive side (it turns out that you can harness a bit of hardship and turn it into success), and the negative side (resilience fatigue is a thing). If you'd like to read more, please check out my article, which is in print in Military Spouse Magazine's October issue and here on their digital site: http://www.militaryspouse.com/articles/harnessing-grit/

I'm happy to say that I will be writing regularly for Military Spouse Magazine going forward. Next month will feature an I wrote article called "Racing Facebook" which will dive into my most read blog post regarding CACO notifications and social media. If you are a military family, I highly recommend subscribing as MSM dutifully tries to cover many issues that are uniquely related to our crazy unpredictable life. The wonderful editor is a military spouse as are all of the writers.
Thursday, October 16, 2014

Adventures in LA: Dancing with the Stars

One of the most fulfilling parts of Navy life for our family is getting to experience new places with depth. It isn't a 2 week vacation or a weekend visit to a new place. It is a few solid years to grow some (shallow) roots, meet people, experience the food and culture, and leave with memories and a new place you will remember calling home.

Last year, we "did" the mid west. We travelled a lot, ate the food (BBQ or bust!), tried new things, and learned many fun facts about the heartland. We got to walk through amazing places like the Oklahoma City National Memorial and the World War I Museum in Kansas City. We got to see silly things like the (former) word's largest ball of twine. The kids experienced what it was like to not have a beach within 15 minutes (and I met grown adults who had never put their toes in the ocean). John attended a Nebraska football game. We scalped last minute tickets to the NCAA tournament to see the Kansas Jayhawks play basketball in their home town. We made an effort to make Kansas memorable and fun; not just a year where we were counting down to return to the coast.

Now we are on the west coast for the first time. My husband is struggling with the idea of "doing LA". He isn't excited about movies, Hollywood, celebrities, or anything glitzy and glamorous. He truly doesn't get starstruck or excited about the idea of people watching in Malibu or attending movie premiers or seeing if some young starlet is hanging out at the local Kitson. He just.doesn't.care. (insert blank no-fun face). To the point where he has a visceral reaction to all-things LA (and will snidely remark about the smog or traffic even though I haven't seen any smog and we don't have much traffic where we are). It is like he has judged the place before we lived it. In my (humble) opinion, if I was supposed to be open minded about driving 75 miles in a straight line (**cough** Western Kansas) or trying Kansas wine (eeew) then he can be open minded about attending something Hollywood-ish.

However, I can have fun without my partner in crime. And just this past Monday, with the help a new local friend, I drove into Hollywood and experienced a flashback into the 80s and 90s courtesy of "Dancing with the Stars".

Until now, I haven't encountered any celebrities here. Maybe I'm not paying attention because I spend a fair amount of time in Malibu eating and shopping. Everyone I know just happens to see Paris Hilton in the Sephora or Harrison Ford in the grocery store. Me? Newp. My sister visited for five days this past spring and ran into Steven Tyler at the airport; actually, he ran into her. And flirted with her. She had been in Los Angeles for 10 minutes and had Steve Tyler pulling on her braid and calling her "cutie". 

I on the other hand have been here for 10 months and nada.

On Monday, I got to see my first batch of LA celebrities.

My first celebrity?

Nicole Eggert of 90s "Baywatch" and "Charles in Charge" fame. She actually pulled her ice cream truck right where my friend and I were waiting to go into the studio to see DWTS. I had no idea she had an ice cream truck but the Inside Edition crew filming my friend buying a rainbow sherbet was a tip off that something was unusual. Of course I texted my husband all smug about seeing a chick from "Baywatch" but he swung back with a sarcastic "an actor with an ice cream truck? stay in school, friends". Party pooper.

Anyway, after a few hours of waiting, we were led into the "Dancing with the Stars" auditorium. We had to surrender our cell phones prior to entering so I wasn't able to take any photos. My first thought was that it looked super small. My next thought was that I needed to start paying attention to people around me. And the array of celebrities I saw truly brought me back to middle school.

Candace Cameron, my 80s hair idol, was right across from us. I haven't thought of her in probably two decades but seeing her in person made my 9 year old heart skip a beat. I mean, what kid didn't want her hair in the late 80s?!

Right behind her was Danica McKeller. Better known as her character on "Wonder Years", Winnie Cooper. One of the dancers is Alfonso Ribiero, also better known for his character's name, Carleton on "Fresh Prince of Bel Air". When one of the other guests was asked who their favorite dancer was they simply yelled "Carleton!" and when the host tried to correct her that his name was actually Alfonso she seriously seemed to roll her eyes and wave his ridiculousness off. He's Carleton. Just like Candace is totally forever and ever DJ Tanner.

Once the show started my nostalgic reminiscing was given a swift kick into 2014 when Jessie J performed her hit "Bang Bang". Is it bad that I thought Ariana Grande sang that song? Or are you proud that I even know who Ariana Grande is? Either way, it was quite the dichotomy seeing my childhood girl crush dance to this...

And can I just say? Those leather bra and underwear things those dancers were wearing were incredible. Like, their bodies are even better in person than on TV. I was literally kelly green with jealousy and knew that while John might be playing it cool in the Hollywood department that he would have LOVED to see that performance live. Oh well, you snooze you loose.

Overall, while I am not a habitual DWTS watcher, seeing it live was a blast. The production is incredible. Watching the dozens of stage managers and producers make sure the sets are switched in a timely manner (the show is live) was very impressive. The live band and professional dancers were very talented. And the vibe was just positive and fun. It was a long day (about 7 hours from the time we got to the studio to when we left) but it was absolutely worth the effort. It was some of the best people watching in my life.

Since I wasn't familiar with how to get the tickets to these things, I'll share here. If you are interested in DWTS, American Idol, The Price is Right, Tosh.0, and a smattering of other shows filmed in LA, NY, and Chicago, go here: http://on-camera-audiences.com/  If you are interested in The Voice, Jimmy Kimmel, The View, ESPN Sportsnation, and others, go to http://1iota.com/ Other popular shows like Ellen require going on that specific website and registering.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Beauty in Farewell

There is beauty in the farewell.

It comes in the strength of those left behind. In the kindness that we share with one another. In generosity. In the village that forms and the relationships that are bred when we lower our walls and let friends become our family.

When one woman comes to another, drill in one hand and baby in another, to fix something that didn't quite get fixed before deployment loomed.

In treats and notes left anonymously on porches, wine bought and shared to ease the transition, in babysitting and breakfasts and pity parties. Late night text messages and phone calls.

There is beauty in missing our loved ones. In the reminder of their presence in our lives despite their absence. Even after decades of marriage, it is possible and wonderful to long for their warmth and the comfort of their just being home. I have said before and still believe it; I am grateful I get the opportunity to miss my husband sometimes.

In our little Navy world, we have built the village that other mothers crave. We do care for each other's kids, make each other meals, and spend holidays as "framily". It is because of these goodbyes that we get to form such amazing bonds.

Saying goodbye is excruciating. But it is also beautiful.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Adventures in (Rugged) Space-A Military Travel


John has been active duty for a little over 12 years now and we have been married just over 11. In that time we had always heard about Space A travel for military, we had friends who were adventurous and just showed up at an AMC terminal and "went wherever an open flight was going". Japan, Germany, Iceland, Hawaii... whatever! Pack flip flops and a parka because you never know! We never did that as a young married couple with few responsibilities. Before we knew it we had busy jobs and a few kids and the idea of just showing up at an airport ready for anything was... yea, not gonna happen.

Until now.

So there we were, flying over the Pacific Ocean in a plane full of orange netting and ominous "DANGER" signs everywhere. Several layers of hearing protection, winter coats at the ready, closed toed shoes, and a countdown clock on my husband's iPhone. Hawaii or bust!

We started thinking about Hawaii this summer because it is a fairly common route out of California. Military planes transport parts and people across the ocean and often have seats available for military members and their families. It is a neat perk, but it isn't guaranteed and requires quite a bit of patience and willingness for things to not go quite as planned. Or not go. Type A persons need to pack their Xanax. If you have kids, include a bottle of Tequila.

We started researching flights out of Travis Air Force Base and North Island Naval Air Station about two months ago. We watched the flight tendencies (it seemed that most flights went out Thursday through Saturday) and the roll call reports (how many people "competed" for a flight vs. how many got on), and the types of planes that were flying. We decided to try out of Travis because they seemed busier and to have bigger planes going in and out.

However, I started to get cold feet after our trip to Disney last week. It was a fun long weekend but Disney drains the life out of you quickly and I was longing for a few quiet days.The idea of driving 6 hours to Oakland, California and hang around an AMC terminal for several days just sounded like sheer torture.

Occasionally when doing research over the months I would notice flights out of Hickam AFB (in Hawaii) to Point Mugu (where my husband is stationed, we live about 15 minutes from there). Point Mugu Naval Air Station is a very small air base, so to expect much coming and going from Hawaii is silly. But because of how exhausted I was feeling, yet how guilty I felt to say no to my husband's "I want to go to Hawaii" puppy dog face, I asked him to call the terminal at the National Guard squadron to see if they might have a flight going to Hawaii in the next week or two. If I'm honest I truly believed it was fruitless and didn't really worry about it working out.

Serendipity. We got home from Disney on Monday evening, John called the guard squadron on Tuesday morning, and lo and behold, they had a flight leaving from Mugu and going to Barber's Point in Hawaii on Thursday. One of the National Guard squadrons had just returned from deployment and they were flying a few C-130s over to Hawaii full of families as a homecoming perk. So, we crashed that party.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm pretty darn type-A. The idea of going on a vacation to Hawaii in the summer without a single reservation or plan was terrifying. However, life is an adventure and you only live once. I packed like a mad woman on Wednesday, emailed my best friend's parents (who thank goodness are a retired Navy family and totally on board with Space A spontaneity) to see if we could stay at their home in Honolulu, and showed up at the terminal dressed for Alaska yet headed to Hawaii.

When I suggested to my husband that call the guard station, I was fully expecting we would be flying to Hawaii in a typical jet engine aircraft. Never in a million years did I think John would come home and tell me that yes, we could likely get to Hawaii from Point Mugu, but it would be in a C-130. A prop. A loud, slow, work horse of an airplane that is not designed for comfort, but rather, for combat. I would need to prepare to be very cold. I would need to have lots of hearing protection; we couldn't talk at all on the seven hours flight. **record scratch** Seven hours. I moved to California and thought I got closer to Hawaii, yet we would be chugging across the Atlantic at a snail's pace. Essentially eating the dust of flights leaving LAX two hours after us.

But it's free! No TSA! Yes, I know, I fear you will think I am complaining and I'm not. I'm just trying to put you in my state of mind. Vacation weary, mom of 3 and 5 year old, one day notice for a very adventurous flight over lots of ocean. I was just a tad worried. Totally "first world problems", but still on my mind.

Here are some pictures of our Hercules Hawaii Adventure:
Many thanks to the 146th California Airlift National Guard unit for letting us join their post-deployment fiesta!
Kate and Connor ready to go!

Approaching the two C-130s from the Channel Islands terminal. Santa Monica mountains in the background.
Getting on the plane. Jump seats with cargo netting and seatbelts that reminded me of puzzles you get in vending machines.

Connor got to hang with the flight crew during the flight.

Typical commercial jets now are so cramped that the C-130 was actually more comfortable than coach. People had hammocks that they hung in various locations (I was totally jealous of those smart people), a young family had their baby sleeping in a pack 'n play in one of the more open areas, and there was room to spread out and sleep. I could even have my Kindle on during takeoff and landing! Glorious! It was truly a very laid back atmosphere despite the "Anti Hijacking" brief we got and the realization that if we the plane lost pressure we wouldn't get one of those civilized air masks that are released on commercial jets, we would get this:
A turkey bag, aka EPOS. **shudder**

Overall, when considering the cost to get there this way ($0), it was absolutely worth the sound discomfort. Plus, the few times Kate and Connor got whiney it wasn't a big deal because nobody could hear them. Including me! In the end, it wasn't cold at all, and the feather down jacket I dug out of a box in our garage was completely unnecessary. If you were at the Pearl Harbor NEX last Thursday and saw a glazed over person in sweat pants, long sleeves, and sneakers looking like I had time traveled from another climate completely? That was me.
All completely worth it for this:
If you are interested in Space A travel from your location, the best place to start is here: http://www.spacea.net/. It lists all of the terminals worldwide, and if applicable their own websites, Facebook pages, phone numbers, instructions on how to sign up, and basics about the base (basically, are you landing in Siberia or Manhattan?). Typically, it is easier for retirees and non priority travelers to get seats during the less busy months (October-April). We learned quickly that some Space A terminals are better than others at being transparent about their operations and the realities of getting a seat. We really appreciated the ones that gave roll call reports of the daily flights like this one from Travis AFB: 
A typical daily roll call for flights out of Travis AFB

A typical active duty family traveling on leave (without orders) is a category 3. The rest of the categories can be read about in the spacea link above.
In the end, my only wish is that John and I had taken advantage of this long ago and long before we had children. It really is a unique opportunity to see the world without spending gobs of money. Plus, even though we experienced the rugged version of space A travel, I know that my children will remember this flight to Hawaii more than any other flight they have taken. Unique experiences should be grasped and appreciated. I don't think any of us will forget our time on the mighty Hercules any time soon.


Hi, I'm Jill!

Hi, I'm Jill!
Extrovert. Mom of two. Wife of a cute Naval Aviator. Lover of wine. When I'm not chasing my two kids around town you will find me writing, taking too many photos, and researching the ten future areas the Navy could potentially (but probably won't) PCS us. We live in the land of palm trees and Pinot Noir. For now.

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