Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My Hampton Roads Bucket List

It is almost September and I feel like I am going to blink and open my eyes surrounded by boxes and maps pointing us toward the Midwest.  Johnny and I have lived in the Hampton Roads area for total of seven years now.  From 2003 until 2008 we experienced the area as newlyweds.  From early 2011 until now we experienced it as parents.  I like to think that we are active and always on the lookout for new things to do, interesting places to eat, and local gems.

I am a huge (HUGE) Norfolk cheerleader.  Don't even begin the typical "ohmygosh, Norfolk is so ghetto and the only place any self respecting yuppy can live is in Virginia Beach or Chesapeake" around me.  I'll cut you.  Shoot, does that make me sound like I'm from Norfolk?  I kid.  But really, I absolutely adore Norfolk and all of the charm and character this small city has to offer. 

But this isn't a post about where to live or who has the best community pool or local elementary school.  This post is my wish list for the activities I want to do before I leave.  Some are new to me, others are things that I love and want to experience at least once before we go.

My HR Bucket List:

1.  Visit Jockey's Ridge State Park in the Outer Banks.  We are less than two hours from OBX and this park is supposed to be beautiful.  It is also supposed to be an amazing way for toddlers to burn energy.  Win win.

2.  Go on a hay ride at Hunt Club this October.  Cute little Hunt Club has come a long way in the past 10 years.  We have visited a few times since moving back, but I really want to go on the hay ride with Kate and Connor.  I also want to see Connor in their gigantic hay pile.  I might lose him. 

3.  Go for a long run at First Landing State ParkThis will likely be a solo activity but as the weather cools I really want to drive here and enjoy their miles of trails and bridges one last time.  Cool fall air and crunchy leaves under my feet sounds divine.

4.  Take Kate and Connor to a Norfolk Tides game.  Norfolk has great minor league sports and I think that the smaller atmosphere makes for great family evenings. 

5.  Go on a date night and experience an evening of cheesy Virginia Beach Boardwalk fun.  Did you know that Virginia Beach is technically the "world's largest resort city"?  And the "boardwalk" (said in quotes because it is concrete - not wood) is over three miles long? It is a mecca of spoon-fed-fun and traditional beach kitsch.  Snow cones, huge beach-wear stores, street side magicians, seafood restaurants, over the top mini golf, and great people watching are all easily found in VA Beach.

6.  Rent a surrey and cruise down the beach.  These are hugely popular and hugely annoying.  But if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

7.  Eat at my favorite restaurants one more time.  These include Norfolk classics like Fellini's, Baker's Crust, and No Frill Bar and Grill.  I'd also like to hit up Luna Maya, Chick's Oyster Bar, Zia Marie's, and One Fish Two Fish one more time before we head to the land of red meat and BBQ.  

8.  Explore the last few nooks and crannies of Norfolk.  I consider myself a connoisseur of Norfolk in general.  I love the old neighborhoods, classic homes, big trees, and charming shops.  Everyone is familiar with Ghent, West Ghent, and Larchmont.  But there are areas like The Freemason District, with its cobblestone streets and sweet corner shops, that I have yet to experience.  Hopefully I can go for a walk on the cobblestone streets and grab a cup of coffee at Cure before we move.

9.  Go to a football game at Old Dominion UniversityWe live less than a mile from this University and the football team is only a few years old.  One day this fall I would like to strap the kids in the stroller and walk to a game.   I would prefer to go to the game where they play Villanova (10/13), but I won't be picky.

10.  Watch the sun rise over the Atlantic.  If all goes as we hope, we won't be back on the east coast for several years.  I am going to miss this view. 


Whew! Those are my top 10 and I am exhausted just thinking about it.  Hopefully we can make the most of the next three and a half months. 

If you have any recommendations for "must sees" in the Hampton Roads area, sound off in the comments section!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Half Life

We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness'.
-"Shall We Dance" (2004)

John turns 32 today.  The age of 32 doesn't usually get any fanfare like 21 or 30 or 60.  But to me, 32 means something pretty special. 

Johnny and I met when I was 15 and he was 16.  We did the typical high school dating thing - curfew was 11:30, his parents didn't exactly approve of the blond stranger distracting their son from important things like homework and sports, and everyone totally expected us to break up the second we set foot on our respective college campuses.

But we didn't.  And now, on his 32nd birthday, I can officially say that I have known and loved him half his life.  I have seen him graduate from high school, college, earn his "wings of gold", deploy, graduate from Test Pilot School, hold his daughter and son for the first time, and finish his master's degree.  We have also had friends come and go, we have attended funerals together and weathered some down times.  From now on, we can say that we have had one another for the majority of our lives.  I think that it is pretty special to be able to say that in our early thirties.  I consider myself very lucky in love.

Johnny and I, 1998

Johnny and I, 2012

Happy 32nd Birthday, Johnny!  You are stuck with me!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I Click My Heels Three Times and...

We are headed to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas this December!

A Navy family in Kansas?  On an Army base?  What the...

I totally channeled Dorothy's "WTF" face when John first told me about this!
And yes, get ready for an obnoxious amount of "Wizard of Oz" references...

Our family will be spending an exciting 12 months getting to know the "Land of Ahhs".  John will be attending the Army Command and General Staff School (CGSS) for their Intermediate Level Education (ILE) course.  For my Navy readers, it is basically the same thing that they have in Newport, Rhode Island at Navy's War College.

We are actually very excited to explore the Midwest for a year.  We are also very excited to see how much Navy spirit gear we can sport on Army base housing without getting egged or TPed. 

Go Navy!  Beat Army!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Getting Muddy

Dear Jill,

Next time you get the bright idea to sign up for the Mud Sand Run, just read this post and remember why you are crazy-cakes and just because you have one of those "I just drank 4 cups of coffee and can conquer the world" buzzes doesn't mean you should spend $40 to be tortured.

This past Saturday you could have grabbed your popcorn and been entertained watching me do this:

Yes, my back is that white.  Yes, I live at the beach.  Don't judge

Thankfully, John and his camera were missing when I was stumbling over sand dunes like this one:

Sand.  Miles and miles of DEEP sand.

I ran my first Mud Run back in 2006ish with a team.  My friend April called me at the last minute because one of her teammates was sick and had to drop out.  "It's only an 8k", she said.  I agreed and thought "easy peasy".


I arrived and realized three very important details that she had conveniently withheld:

1.  Her teammates (classmates from Eastern Virginia Medical School - I mean, how in shape can Med students be?) were all former college runners.  Like the NCAA Division 1 variety. And in between their rounds and classes they were somehow able to stay in amazing shape.  Bitches.

2.  This 8k that she had so breezily described was in sand.  Deep sand.  Miles and miles of it.  No reefs here, folks.  Every stride goes about 6 inches into deep, loose, miserable sand.  I am convinced they only call it the "Mud Run" so that people will actually sign up.  I'm sure getting thousands of people to agree to pay to run sand dunes all morning would be pretty challenging.

3.  We have to start AND finish together.  No averaging times.  So not only am I having to run this torturous 8k of sand, but I have to feel like a total jackass doing it because I was, without a shadow of a doubt, the anchor.  And when I say anchor I mean it literally.  I was holding them back, in place pretty much.  They would run a mile and then stop and wait for my slow non-NCAA-runner butt.

I mean, don't most of us run these mid distance runs as an excuse to drink at 9 in the morning?  Or so that we can eat our Thanksgiving dinner without guilt?  An 8k isn't for glory most of the time, and if I am going to drag myself out of bed for a 7AM start then I absolutely want to drink afterward.  Not feel like I just ran a full marathon without the glory.  All I wanted to do was get in the shower and then go to bed.

Anyway, the point of my diatribe is that I told my husband after my first Mud Run that I would never ever ever  do that run again.  Ever.  That I would rather do a full 26 miles than 5 miles in unforgiving sand again.  But as runners well know, that race amnesia is strong.  You forget about the pain a day later and start surfing the Internet for your next conquest, your next medal, your next opportunity to have a beer at 9 AM.

This year I didn't run with a team which was actually much  easier because I didn't feel like I had to kill myself to keep up with anyone (I should have probably realized I was crazy when I asked my Facebook friends if anyone wanted to run with me and it was all **crickets**).  It was for a good cause, the Armed Services YMCA, and they raise a really good amount of money each year.  This race is truly for charity - I read that 83 cents of each dollar charged actually goes back to the ASYMCA.  Because of this there are no medals, meager offerings at the finish line (bananas, water, Japanese Beer Yeungling), and the t-shirts pretty much stink.  But honestly, it is refreshing to run a race where it isn't about the cool t-shirts and medals that can double as a beer opener. 

But still, Jill, you don't want to run this race again.  Really.  Well, maybe...  Who knows...  We'll see.
Friday, August 10, 2012

Back to the Culture

I sat in the car, arms across my chest, pouting.  Sulking.  We had just left the first get together with friends and colleagues since being back in Hampton Roads.  It was a typical affair - waterfront, jet jocks, food and beer.  But it was different.  And I was not happy.

"I am never going to one of those parties again," I said.

Ever the wise husband, John simply replied, "whatever you want, dear" and stared blankly at the road ahead.  I know that he was thinking "where the hell is my wife?!", but he didn't show it.  And for that I am grateful.

We left Norfolk back in 2008 and went to Patuxent River, Maryland.  We were DINKs, our biggest responsibility was our dog and cat (and maybe our mortgage).  But we were free spirits.  We did whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted.  Only held back by the constraints of our jobs.  I wouldn't say we were huge partiers, but we definitely embraced the carrier aviation community and it's constant "festivities".  The culture of Naval Aviation (probably all military aviation) is one full of traditions.  Men and women who are smart and serious, but daring with a dash of crazy.  I mean, you have to be a little crazy to do this.

Call the ball?  How about hand me the puke bag?

Aviators tend to be laid back, fun, and pretty much the opposite of the stereotype I held about military members before becoming a Navy wife.  My exposure to the military prior to marriage was basically "Top Gun" and "Full Metal Jacket".  An interesting dichotomy of misinformation.  (Um, hello? where is the fighter pilot beach volleyball league I was promised?)  I was expecting the military balls I attended to be full of pomp and circumstance.  I expected my husband's superiors to be very serious, want to be called sir/ma'am, and to need white gloves and pearls to meet with other wives.  Maybe I would also need my hair cut into a bob and to always cover my shoulders with a cardigan.  My calling cards would be on linen paper with navy blue engraving. 

Not so much. Not by a mile.

My first few years as a Navy wife were a huge surprise in a fantastic way.  The gals in my husband's first squadron were awesome.  We faced down deployments together and took good care of each other.  There was always something to do, always someone who knew what you were going through.  Someone to have dinner with, go dancing with, or just commiserate with.  At that point I was the biggest cheerleader on the planet for this lifestyle. 

Surviving holidays together on deployment, half melted ice luges, 80s parties, HOMECOMINGS!

I was sold on this life hook, line, and sinker. When I would hear military spouses start ripping each other apart I would get defensive.  Those were my friends, no, my family they were talking about. 

But then we moved.  And I experienced a wives club that wasn't as friendly, cohesive, and "kumbaya".  As my husband battled through Test Pilot School and I experienced my first taste of leaving one good job for another job, and we struggled with infertility I started to fade a bit.  The sparkle was gone and I started to feel sorry for myself.  Moving?  Long days?  New careers?  No friends?  Okay, maybe I was a little too enthusiastic those first five years in Norfolk.  Had I been the Elle Woods of Navy life?  Cheerful and clueless?

When we moved back to Norfolk in the early months of 2011 my life was entirely different.  We were no longer 27 year old DINKS.  We were 30 and had a 2 month old and an 18 month old.  Priorities had shifted and we were facing down a deployment essentially the moment we returned.  The "real Navy" was about to swallow us back up - but not in the form of ice luges and my VAW 126 wives group of old.  I was scared, I was a little bitter about leaving another great job in Pax to return right back where we started, and it was bittersweet to return to a familiar place without all of the familiar people.

Which brings me back to the pity party in the car a few months ago.  This party, this harmless and normal spring shindig where people just mindlessly socialize and catch up made me feel about an inch tall.  I felt old.  I felt unattractive and frumpy and tired.  There I was, spit up on my shoulder and in my "fat jeans" chasing my toddler around the back yard while holding my baby.  In my midst were fresh, lovely 25 year old women in their cute sun dresses and 4 inch stilettos.  I was "that old wife", the one with bags under my eyes and the inability to have a conversation because my child is about to climb the fence and dive into the water.  But it was my problem - not theirs - that I felt out of place and unwelcome.  They were doing exactly what I had done for several years.  I was just sulking.

Thankfully, things are shifting again. 

John has been back from deployment for over 8 months now. The past few weeks have been a busy flurry of parties and the annual Hawkeye ball.  I'll be honest, when I first saw our calendar for July and August I flinched.  It just looked like a lot of "mandatory fun" where I would have to chit chat and have to get dressed up in fancy attire, make sure my nails look presentable, and maybe even get my hair done.  Would I be the belle of the ball?  Or would I just be the frumpy mess of hormones I had been  just recently?

It has been a blast. 

Last Saturday we attended our first Hawkeye Ball since 2007.  It is a formal dinner crossed with a crazy after party with costumes and bands.  Once you take the uniforms off, all of the things that make military balls a little stuffy completely fades away.

Party themes included "The Dictator", Tour de France, and some old school Olympic nods

I am thankful for this second wind.  Chances are, we will be in the Navy for at least 10 more years.  And chances are, I will sometimes feel like the frumpy, tired, uncool wife who just sucks at life.  But the chances are also good that the pendulum will shift and some nights I will be incredibly thankful that I can hang out with such a solid group of people.  And that I can be in a room full of guys in 80s short-shorts playing flip cup against Sasha Baron Cohen look-alikes.  I mean, that is a unique life experience, right?

I'm still waiting on the beach volleyball league... 

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 are fish out of water, landlocked at 7,000 feet. For now.

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