Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Why Navy is Better than Army (in one picture)

If a picture is worth a thousand words...

This beach is on base at Naval Air Station Point Mugu.  My father, who is a commercial real estate developer, always said that the US Navy owns the best, and most expensive property in the nation.  From Pearl Harbor to Annapolis to Coronado.  Point Mugu is certainly no exception as we have learned first hand the past few weeks.

Malibu is just to the south, but Point Mugu is much less crowded because of the restricted access.

Go Navy! 
Saturday, December 28, 2013

We Aren't in Kansas Anymore, Toto

The real line from the movie, in an effort to avoid the movie nerd correction emails, is "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore".  And I've a feeling that is correct for us, though we were brought to SoCal by way of Honda minivan and not tornado. 

In the two weeks we have lived in California I have been the receiving end of that joke, oh, 20 times.  But that's okay because I'm sure I would probably say the same to an alien life form moving to the Los Angeles area from the heartland.  It is only slightly awkward because we're not "from" Kansas.  And so goes my military spouse identity crisis where I sit in bed at night and ponder how to answer the "where are you from?" question without making people think "dang, lady, I was just being polite.  Didn't need the life story".  

In case you wondered whether we embraced the Kansas life, here is a picture from this past Halloween:

John was understandably hesitant about going as the scarecrow, but quickly agreed when I told him my mother (who was visiting for the weekend) would be the wicked witch.  Every man wants to call his mother-in-law a wicked witch at least once without being knocked out cold.  Our Kansas neighbors have a dog that looks just like Toto and they were happy to let us tote him around for the evening.  It was fate and I am forever the owner of ruby slippers if anyone wants to raid my closet.

On December 13th, John graduated from Army school (Command and General Staff College) and we were so anxious to get out of the icy cold and into the warm sunshine that we drove all the way to Denver that very afternoon.  Kansas is not a very dynamic state to look at.

By Monday the 15th we had arrived at our new home in Camarillo, California and I did a happy dance at the sight of palm trees, and mountains, and Trader Joes!  We went to the beach the next morning and it was like we had never left the coast at all. 

We camped on air mattresses until Thursday the 19th when our stuff arrived.  John cracked the whip, and we were pretty much 100% unpacked in time to host my brother in law and his fianc√© for Christmas.  Thankfully, we didn't even have to tell them to find their own sheets, pillows, and towels amongst the boxes of crap.

There is a lot I could write about our new area, but simply put:  I'm spoiled.  This area might ruin me for future moves.  It is warm.

Obligatory smug weather screen capture

I have palm trees in my yard (that the HOA cares for). The shopping is amazing.  There are more bars and restaurants than I can even fathom.  We are very close to a large city that we get to explore and access to a huge international airport when we want to escape.  The ocean, the fruit trees, the lack of mosquitos and humidity. It's glorious. The jury is still out of my east coast personality can hang with west coast cool, but so far everyone I meet seems very nice and personable. And they love wine.

I think we'll be quite happy here.
Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Breathings of my Heart

The poet William Wordsworth once wrote, "fill the paper with the breathings of your heart".  Writers need to write.  It is stress relief, it is cathartic, it is important.  Some need to run, some need to draw, some need to yell and scream.  Writing has always made me feel better; like getting a thousand pounds off my chest.  It is freeing.

This blog takes on many different functions for me.  I wrestle with it sometimes.  Do I want to be as outspoken as I am sometimes?  Do I want it to be a diary?  If my kids read it in 15 years would I be proud? Do I want to be so public with my emotions and feelings and opinions?

I honestly don't have good answer for what I want it to be.  It just is.  I guess if I were to say something to Kate and Connor who might read this in 15 years - this blog is a good reflection of me.  Imperfect. Changing. Rough around the edges. An example of how in life it is okay to be happy and sad.  It is okay to be an open person.

We are entering our last week at Fort Leavenworth.  Moving again in the deep freeze of December and heading west to Southern California.  I'm excited about California.  I love the warmth and the ocean and I have always had a strange affinity for palm trees.  John even looked all over Pensacola for an apartment with some palm trees when he started flight school over a decade ago.  He knew the palm trees would put a smile on my face as we embarked on this crazy life together.  Our new house has palm trees in the driveway.  I can't tell you how excited that makes me.

But sadly, I'm not all sunshine this week.  It has actually been a remarkably sad few time for me.  Moving is hard.  The holidays are stressful. And as I approach the due date of our most recent loss I find myself in a trifecta of hurt.  When I watched the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center I burst into tears.  When I got pregnant last spring, I imagined us preparing for a new baby around a Christmas tree.  Instead, I see boxes and moving tape and no tree at all.  And no baby.  And it sucks.

This surge of emotion has taught me an important lesson about grieving. If you don't do it when the bad stuff happens it will eventually find it's way to you again.  I moved on from my most recent miscarriage with much more poise and grace than my first two.  But as I approach my due date I find myself sadder than I ever was at this point.  A good lesson in letting myself grieve.  It isn't weak to mourn your losses; it is healthy and necessary.

Moving around the holidays is never ideal.  My kids are at a magical age where I want to admire them looking up at a tree in their Christmas jammies. Instead I am explaining why they are leaving their familiar bedroom, schools, and friends.  It is too fast.  We just did this last year.  348 days ago we moved in and we are already packing up.

Packers come tomorrow, the moving truck comes Wednesday, John graduates on Friday and we are headed west to Denver that afternoon.  I am praying for peace; to be okay with this holiday season surrounded by boxes and without my extended family.  To get through our baby's due date gracefully and without too much pain.  I know I have many blessings and I know everything will be okay.  This is a season and things will look up soon.

This is what is on my heart right now.  Thanks for listening.   

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


As news started spreading yesterday that death benefits were halted due to the government shutdown, one of my friends wrote "yes, the sky really is falling".  Many Americans are using these past two weeks to argue that "nonessential" employees are a waste of money and proclaiming that their towns are no different, their lives have felt no impact, and that they are hunky dory so.  Who cares?  Let them shut it down.


Part of being a good human being is having empathy for others.  Looking outside yourself, outside your town, outside your constituency (ahem, Congress) and feeling the pain of your fellow Americans with you.  If you can't do that, it truly is a sign of inferior intelligence.  Just read a little from psychologist Erik Erikson if you want details on that.

You don't get elected to Congress to go to Washington and blindly vote your constituents wants with tunnel vision.  If that were the case, we could elect machines to go in and just type "yes" or "no" based on pure up or down votes from the masses within the boundary.  Congressional drones, if you will.  No, instead we elect humans because we all know that life isn't cut and dried and that sometimes, especially in times of great hardship and hurt, you need to look at the big picture.  You use your constituency's wants and needs as the lens in which you view the bigger picture, and in this case, the bigger nation. 

Congressmen and women are puffing up their chests and proudly proclaiming that they are fighting for the will of "their" people.  But what about the people who have sacrificed everything they have, their very lives, for a country that is currently betraying them?  How can you walk onto Capitol Hill knowing that you are hanging military widows out to dry?  How can you, with a straight face, argue that you are willing to shut down the government, paralyze the military, halt death benefits, not pay the very police officers protecting you within the Hill's walls, and even play with the brink of default and economic ruin, on behalf of your constituency?  It is ludicrous and sounds like utter insanity to the vast majority of Americans.

One of the small comforts to our soldiers is the "fact" that if something were to happen to them in war that our country would do everything in it's power to soften the blow to the family.  CACO (Casualty Assistance Calls Officers) are trained on how to give the news and then take the widow or parents of the fallen through the unimaginable task of burying their soldier, sailor, or marine.  Part of that includes a death gratuity of $100,000 to get through those first weeks.  Pay stops when a military member is killed.  Life insurance is not an instantaneous benefit.  But the death gratuity helps the family get to Dover to meet the body, pay for funeral expenses, pay their mortgage and bills, and basically give them some padding to grieve before all of the paperwork surrounding death was necessary.

That is suspended right now because a bunch of Congressman have forgotten about the big picture of our country.  Forgotten that one of the most important things we have is our integrity.  That we keep our promises, especially to those men and women who give the ultimate sacrifice.  The trust in our government is slowly but surely getting eaten away by Congressional and Presidential vitriol that makes me cringe and avoid the 24 hour news networks at all costs.  It isn't all about you, tea party. It isn't all about you, Mr. Boehner.  It isn't all about you, Mr. President. 

It is about our country as a whole, our ability to wrap our arms around each other in the hardest times, and our ability to sacrifice our position in order to help those most vulnerable.  We pay our bills because we promised we would.  We pay our war widows because when their husbands got on a plane to Afghanistan we promised we would.  To recant on those promises is un-American and shameful.

Wake up, America.  If 5 men have been able to sacrifice their life during this shutdown, the least you can do is sacrifice a little bit of your pride for the greater good.  It is time to come together and get out of this mess so that we can clean up and move forward. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Dear Congress

Dear Congress,

While the media pundits talk about waiting for one side to "blink", I think it is safe to say that the rest of America is already flinching.  Appalled at the lack of leadership being displayed on Capitol Hill right now.  Saddened by the inability of our nation's elected government to put their own political agendas and aspirations aside in order to do what is right.  Not notice I didn't say "best", I said "right".  The way you are holding your constituents hostage right now is unconscionable. And I think there are going to be dire consequences from this disgusting game of chicken you are waging with one another.

It is football season again, but I'm not talking about College Game Day or Monday Night.  I'm talking about using your government workers and military as a pawn in your desire to get what you want.  You have men and women on the front lines right now, young soldiers who live paycheck to paycheck, whose minds aren't 100% focused on their mission because they are worried about their families back home.  "Supporting the troops" means being for them in mind and body and spirit.  Not just slapping a yellow ribbon on your car and waving a flag during a parade or giving a speech on Memorial Day.  It is about thinking about the emotional ramifications of using troops to get what you want during a political temper tantrum. 

As my very eloquent and brilliant friend Vivian said on CNN yesterday, "we have always considered our paychecks sacrosanct".  And shouldn't we?  If the government shuts down tonight at midnight, all military members will be expected to report for duty on Tuesday morning.  Our overseas fighters will still be expected to go on their missions and stand the watch.  Military members will still be in harms way.  What a slap in the face to our military members and families to expect them to lay their lives on the line while Congress escalates the budget agreement into a fight over issues that have been lingering for years. 

On a personal level, the Naval Aviation community suffered a tragedy last week when two of our pilots were killed in the Red Sea.  They were flying missions in the Red Sea because of the ongoing uncertainty in Syria.  They were supposed to be home by now.  But no, they followed orders and served bravely and nobly and paid the ultimate price for their country.  And now, because of this inexcusable lack of leadership and motivation, the widows of these brave men might not get the death benefits they deserve.  Read the words of Landon's widow Theresa and tell me that this woman should be stressed about money right now?  The answer is no.  Thinking of her grief and anxiety makes me physically ill.  If it hasn't made you "blink" yet, you are certifiably crazy.

It took me almost a full week to sit down and write this letter.  I believed that Washington was better than this.  I grew up inside the beltway in McLean, I went to grade school with your children, attended birthday parties at your homes.  Congressman have never been so theoretical in my mind because I have watched you play with your kids and provide for your families.  You are human and have loved ones and understand how important family is.  But now, as part of the 1% that makes up military families, I have become disenchanted and saddened that the people I know have the power to compromise, to put their personal political agendas aside to truly work for the American people, have decided instead to use my husband's livelihood as the ultimate pawn.  Being the political party who "saves the troops" is now a prize.  But I challenge you to remember who you are saving the troops from.  That right now the villain is not Al Queda or an overseas target; right now it is our own government who is taking solid aim at our life.

Government distrust is real and has real consequences.  The more you use the military and government workers as a bargaining chip, the more that your best people will walk away.  This lifestyle is already stressful - between moves and separations and the dangers of the job, we are already more taxed than the average person.  But to add this bi-annual game of wondering whether we will even get our paycheck to pay our mortgage is unconscionable.  And you will send your best and brightest running to the private sector faster than you can "blink".  This battle, whether it is settled tonight at 11:59 PM or a week from now will leave a deep scar on the minds of military members and their families.  It will be something families consider when deciding to re-enlist or not.  And our nation will suffer for it.
Friday, September 13, 2013

Preschool Interviews: Kate

Last year I interviewed Kate on her first day.  I thought it was fun to see what was on her then-3 year old mind.  I decided to repeat the same interview this year with both Kate and Connor.  I'm sure the questions will evolve over the years, but I hope I can keep doing this every fall so that when they are 18 and graduating they will have a special keepsake.

I interviewed Kate first.  I did it after the first week was over so she could answer things about her new class. 

9/6/13 Interview with Kate, Pre-K (4 year olds)

What is your favorite thing about school?

The bin of My Little Ponies.  They have rainbow dash and pinkie pie!

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A doctor.   

Who is your best friend?

Mrs. Shrepel and Sarah and Ransom.

What is your favorite animal?

A horse.

What is your favorite color?

Pink and purple and red.

What is your favorite book?

The airplane book and "If You Give a Dog a Donut"

What is your favorite TV show?

Magic Schoolbus

Name something you really like.

Coloring and stickering, swings, and Connor.

Name something you don't like.

I don't like being in time out.

What is your favorite thing about Connor?

He jumps on the bed with me.  And we build forts!

What is one thing you really want to do this year?

I want to color a lot in class and play with my friends. 

Kate's First Day Self Portrait: 

I love the purple hair, and Kate is very adamant that the red dots are EARS, not earrings.
And here is a real portrait:

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

And They're Off!

No first day jitters, no tears, no fears.  Just happy to be with friends, teachers who love them, and (finally!) each other at school.

Okay, maybe there were tears.  But they were mine. 

Happy first day!
Sunday, September 1, 2013

Welcome, September

Hi everyone,

I feel like I need a formal introduction because I know I have been really terrible about blogging for the past few months.  It seems as though when I get emotional I have two reactions: words flow right out of me like a fire hose (and sometimes lack a filter), or I just freeze up and can't find the words to say anything.  The past few months have been the latter, I have felt quiet and introspective.  Like my thoughts were mine only, not really ready to share anything.

But as summer turns into fall I feel like it is time to emerge from my cocoon.  I always consider fall a season of renewal.  A new school year for children with freshly sharpened pencils, new folders and bright new clothing.  A renewed sense of energy as the heat and humidity cool into the warm glow of autumn.  And of course, the most important thing of all, pumpkin spice is back!  I'm excited about the next few months; we have plans to see family, celebrate holidays, and then come December we are moving out to California.  Back to the coastline where I know both my husband and I feel most at home.  Even if it is the wild wild west as opposed to the east coast we are accustomed to.

The past two weekends we have experienced the clash of the seasons very vividly.  Last weekend we drove out to Lawrence, Kansas to experience one of the quintessential heartland crops: the sunflower.  It was a late peak this year due to the (mercifully) mild summer.  When we found out we were coming to Kansas in the fall of 2012 a few stereotypes immediately popped into my head: tornadoes, The Wizard of Oz, and sunflower fields.  We (thankfully) haven't seen any tornadoes this year, we did see "Oz" when the new movie came to the theatre here and enjoyed Union Station glowing green as Emerald City, and I am so happy that we actually were able to see and enjoy the sunflowers.

Connor enjoying the view from above the sunflowers
The sunflower crop is a rarity these days because it doesn't yield the profit of soy or corn.  So this particular field at Grinter Farm really only exists because this particular family farm feels like it is important to the community.  They get joy out of watching people admire the flowers and take pictures.  I know our family very much appreciated the sunflowers and despite the super bright sun, took tons of pictures.
This weekend, as we shift away from the summer sunflowers, we went to Cider Hill Family Orchard to pick apples.  It was strange to do sunflowers one weekend and apple picking the next, but we aren't complaining and have been enjoying the activities. 

This week Kate starts Pre-K and Connor starts preschool.  It will be the first time they will be at the same school and it's safe to say they are both excited.  Kate has assured Connor that she will hold his hand and walk him to his classroom each day and I'm sure she will.  In some ways I'm ready for the "me" time, and in others I just want to keep them home with me and not let them go.  But they are both ready, they are both beyond excited to play and learn and love their new teachers, and I'm excited for all of us.
I hope you are all having a wonderful, family-filled Labor Day weekend.  Best wishes to everyone who is starting a new school year next week.  I'm hoping that this post will break the ice for me and that I will start writing more again.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Walk on Fort Leavenworth

I've been hard on Kansas.  We arrived in the dead of winter, missed the holidays with family, got snow (lots and lots of snow!).  We are smack dab in the middle of the country and all of our family and friends are on the coasts.  It is hard for me to find the silver lining of Fort Leavenworth and lately I've been feeling guilty.  Like I haven't given a new friend a chance.

One thing I do love about it here is the history.  The Fort is teeming with amazing history around every corner.  When I go on walks I always discover something new to look at, read, and think about.  Last night was a beautiful summer night and John had a lot of work to do in the office.  So instead of curling up on the couch alone, I grabbed my camera and went for a walk.  I decided to take pictures of the things that caught my eye.  In doing so I really learned what an amazing place this really is; that I am lucky to spend a year here. 

Where else in one short 3 mile walk can you see the remnants of the Oregon Trail, one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas, a section of the Berlin Wall, the Missouri River, the oldest residence in Kansas, a wall erected to protect Leavenworth from the Indians during westward expansion, lakes, parks, cool old homes, and of course the old United States Disciplinary Barracks prison (the US military's only maximum security prison).  3 miles!  All from my front door.  Pretty cool, right? 

Brief History:

The elevation of this area is 896 feet above sea level.  It is 150 feet higher than the Missouri River which attracted the attention of Colonel Henry Leavenworth who in the spring of 1827, selected the site and built the first permanent United States military establishment west of the Missouri River - Now Fort Leavenworth
Fort Leavenworth's location was actually was selected when Kansas was not in US territory.  It was a very brazen move to take the high elevation on the west side of the Missouri.
My 3 mile(ish) walk started right outside my front door.  I live in Infantry Barracks, a cluster of old barracks that were converted into housing for families at the Command and General Staff College.  They barracks were constructed in 1902 and 1903, I'm not sure when they were converted to homes.  

Infantry Barracks, circa 1902
I walked south on Grant Avenue, the main drag at Leavenworth.  

The first thing that caught my eye was the Trolley Line.  On the west side of grant there are two rows of trees.  Between those trees is an area that you can tell is still somewhat worn from when there was a trolley system on the Fort.  

The old trolley line.  To the left is Grant Ave.
I personally never noticed the old trolley line until John pointed it out to me one day.  To the right of the Trolley Line is Merritt Lake and the golf course.  There were tons of families out enjoying the evening, eating a picnic dinner, and fishing.  There were also lots of families just out jogging or walking. 

Merritt Lake
After looking at Merritt Lake I crossed to the east side of Grant and walked by one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas - the Buffalo Soldier Monument.  

Buffalo Soldier Monument
After checking out the monument, I walked around Smith Lake (the lake to the east of Grant) and up toward the staff college where they have a piece of the Berlin Wall.  

 "Tear down this wall"

The Berlin Wall is located behind the staff college and on Smith Lake.

Smith Lake 

To cut back up to a road that had sidewalks, I went through the covered walkway between the Command General Staff College building and the newly remodeled library.  Then went up Wint Ave and took a left on Sherman Ave.

Sherman Avenue is right on the Missouri River.  From Sherman Avenue I took in the view.

And learned a little bit about Lewis & Clark and the "Highway to the West".

Sherman Avenue has many of the old "Main Post" homes.  These homes were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s and it makes me incredibly happy to see how well preserved they have been despite their age and the beating they get by being moved into and out of every 2-4 years.

A typical duplex style home on Sherman Ave.  These homes have views of the Missouri River.
Where Sherman Avenue turns into Scott Avenue is Grant Hall and the Grant Hall Bell Tower.  Grant Hall is the headquarters of the US Army Combined Arms Center but it used to house the staff college. The bell tower is one of my favorite things on Fort Leavenworth.  We can see it from our house and I just find it very charming.   Grant Hall is also a very beautiful building and I absolutely LOVE the lanterns. 

Right across from Grant Hall is one of the flag (General) officer homes.  This home belongs to the highest ranking officer on the Post and his commute is across the street to Grant Hall.  It makes me giggle that he still has a reserved parking space.  

I tried to be incognito taking this picture because the family was on the screen porch.  Stalker-central, right?
The home is the former site of the Soldiers Burying Ground.  Now you know why so many people think the homes on Leavenworth are haunted...

Across the street from the General's house, canons pointing into Missouri.  Sorry, MO.

As I continued north on Scott, I admire the many international flags.  There are hundreds of international students and staff on Fort Leavenworth.  It is one of the things we like most about living here.  In John's section alone (16 officers) there are three international student officers. 

 Yay, UK! (pretending to be paparazzi in the trees)
 One of my favorite homes
On Scott is Zais Park, or what we call "The Christmas Park" in my family.  When we arrived in Leavenworth last December this park was lit up like you wouldn't believe.  If you are in the area, I highly recommend checking it out during the holidays.

At Riverside Drive there is one of the original fort walls that was constructed to keep the Native Americans out. 

I went west on Riverside, and then a right onto Sumner Place.  Sumner is notorious for being the most haunted block on Fort Leavenworth
The Rookery, aside from being haunted, is the oldest residential dwelling in Kansas.  It was built in 1834.  The rumor is that the housing office here makes you sign a waiver if you move in.  The waiver excuses them from liability if you choose to move out due to the ghosts.  Apparently people were moving in, getting scared, and then moving out costing the housing office a lot of money.  Now, move in if you dare...

Just north of the Rookery is the old United States Disciplinary Barracks.  The prison has since moved to a more modern facility on the fort, but the old bones of the former prison are still here.  It now houses offices and a restaurant.

On the way home this duplex caught my eye.  I like to think that the neighbor on the right is subtly countering the West Point flag with an "Annapolis" flag.  What is a better symbol of Annapolis than a crab?!

Walking west on McPherson Ave heading home I took a picture of one of MANY different historical markers.  You don't even have to read, you just push a button and listen.

I took a left and went back down toward our house by the old hospital that now houses youth services and other offices.  One thing I love about the old hospital are the cool dormer windows.

And then I was back on Pope Ave, the opposite side of our housing area.  A 3 mile walk, lots of history, and it is only a small fraction of the post. 

I know that one day I will remember the beautiful walks on Fort Leavenworth and miss it. 

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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