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 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:

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' (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:  If you are interested in The Voice, Jimmy Kimmel, The View, ESPN Sportsnation, and others, go to 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: 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.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Reluctant Mom's Review of Disneyland


Keep calm, have a (strong!) martini, plan Disneyland.

As someone that didn't grow up with Disney nostalgia pumped into my veins, the idea of planning the quintessential "Disney vacation" made me race for my migraine medication. "The Happiest Place on Earth", you say? "The longest lines on earth" is what my cynical mind replied. Especially in July. On a weekend. This was the Hunger Games of vacation planning and all of the blogs and websites I read, with cutesy names like "MouseSavers" and "Allears" (get it?), and lots of pixie dust floating in the background, made me sweat.

I like to think I know pressure and stress. Our family has moved four times in the past three years, I have applied to and completed a graduate degree, I've even walked countless families through the FAFSA process, but planning this vacation made me nervous. I asked a "harmless" question about Disneyland back in February on my Facebook page. It rendered something along the lines of 1,462 responses (not really, but close) with paragraphs in almost every reply. The only question that has ever gotten more responses on my FB page was one asking about "everyday red wines" at Trader Joes. Thankfully my friends know that wine>Disneyland.

Anyway, the message I was receiving was that a Disney "Vacation" is really a Disney "Battle". A battle for positioning (where you stay), strategy (arrival time, fastpasses, shows, characters), and spending ($$$$). It truly is crazy how much you can over plan one of these trips. We only stayed for two nights and went to the parks for two days, but we had maps and folders and pins (happy birthday! first visit!), checklists, and an archived set of FB messages and emails I had received with friends so that we could win experience Disney.

So, now that I sit with a large glass of wine pondering my most recent 72 hours, I am reliving all of the moments and misses in my head. Here was our reality:

The planning? Yep, you have to do it. Especially if you plan on going during high season or when the crowds are going to be particularly heavy. I'm so happy that we learned to get Fastpasses for "World of Color" (California Adventure's evening show) early in the morning, and even happier that we learned that Fastpasses for that don't make it impossible to retain passes for other rides. It is confusing for a Disney newb to traverse the Fastpass gauntlet (they aren't always near the rides they are for, the times you are eligible for them aren't totally clear, and the fact that you can have two at a time only sometimes makes it dizzying). Plus, at least for World of Color, if you don't have a Fastpass you will be sitting in a ditch somewhere with a view of a hedge. It will likely be a well maintained hedge, but not the amazingly beautiful show that is World of Color.

And so here is where my heart grows soft for Disney. Their showmanship? Breathtaking. I truly believe you get your money's worth inside Disney parks. We saw World of Color on the first night and Fantasmic the second and my jaw was practically on the ground both times. Well done, Disney. You could win over even the most frigid Disney skeptic with those performances. The parks are incredibly well maintained and the rides and shows are cutting edge. Even the throwback rides like Dumbo and Peter Pan's Flight have been spruced up over the years without ruining their nostalgia. There is a silent army that is constantly cleaning and crowd managing and fixing minor issues and it truly does appear to be effortless and seamless and "magic". My daughter, who's 5th birthday was the reason we went to Disneyland, felt truly special. She was probably wished a happy birthday 500 times this weekend by various staffers and ride loaders and characters.

At the advice of so many friends we decided to splurge and stay within the Disney Resort. We chose the Grand Californian Hotel which actually has a private entrance to California Adventure and is technically on property.  Both mornings we were right at the gate at 0700 sharp when they opened for the "extra magic hour" (an extra hour in the park for those staying in one of the three resort hotels) and at about 1pm after lunch we would go back to our room for a nap and to rest before heading out for the evening. The flexibility to come and go from our room easily and as we pleased made the vacation much more pleasant for everyone. With the park opening so early and the shows not ending until close to 11 PM, I believe that the "nap factor" was worth the cost of staying at GCA.

The highlights for us:

Kate seeing the princesses for the first time.

The face John caught on camera of Connor "enjoying" the Radiator Springs Racers ride. (I swear he loved it, but oh my, that face!)

subliminal marketing where the speakers look like Mickey Mouse ears?

Other highlights were the shows mentioned above, the healthy food options around the park (try the kid's "Power Pack" for an inexpensive yet healthy and filling meal), the quick loading of rides that kept lines down to reasonable levels during the busy season, and the friendly and accommodating staff. It was glaringly apparent than customer satisfaction is an "at all costs" effort. I learned this the hard way when I accidently "lost" (it slid off the jeep) my backpack on the Indiana Jones ride. It was my fault, but the manager of the ride was ready to give me meal comps to cover the money I didn't have access to for the 60 minutes it would take them to retrieve it. I got my backpack back pretty quickly; the biggest price I paid was my pride due to my husband's heckling.

Bottom line: It was pricey, but it was a blast!

Would I want to get married there or honeymoon there or spend every.single.vacation there? Hell no. Nope nope nope. Give me Hawaii of the Greek Islands or Rome. But I do see the value in planning a trip to Disneyland and am happy that I made the effort for my daughter's 5th birthday. John and I joked the whole time that "they better be making memories, dammit!" Seriously, it isn't a simple day trip unless you are nearby and going on a Wednesday in February (but not President's Day!). It was magical for my kids, and honestly I don't think any parent would begrudge another for wanting their children to have a wonderful trip once in awhile.

Other items we did and how we liked it:

Character Dining: We had lunch at Ariel's Grotto on Saturday and breakfast at Goofy's Kitchen on Sunday. The food at Ariel's grotto reminded me of wedding food (you know, fancy on the menu, but nothing spectacular in reality). HOWEVER (and this is a BIG however), getting to see most of the Princesses in an hour without standing in a single line was ahhh-mazing. Kate got photos and autographs from Ariel, Cinderella, Princess Aurora, Snow White, and Belle while we ate lunch. She did miss Ana and Elsa (we didn't even tell her about the Frozen reception and it's 3 hour wait), but was happy with the classics. We probably saved three hours of time by doing this so I'll forgive the "meh" mahi mahi and the "dry" tri-tip that John had.

As for Goofy's kitchen, it was a pretty amazing buffet breakfast. At 9:30 AM they had breakfast and lunch set up. Tons of options and their coffee was mercifully good. The food was much better than Ariel's Grotto and we got to spend some time with Goofy, Donald Duck, Pluto, Dale (of Chip 'n Dale), and (randomly, in my opinion) Princess Jasmine.

Grand Californian: Beautiful hotel, great service, comfortable beds (thank God!). The "turndown" service was extra fun because they would arrange the kids' toys while we were away. It made us all smile when returning to our room late at night.

We didn't try the restaurants or the pool (no time!) but everything looked beautiful.

I bought the book The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2014 by Bob Sehlinger and I appreciated the maps and lists and checklists. He is a bit too gung ho for me (note, I am a reluctant and cynical Disney goer), but I appreciated his ability to critique rides and restaurants with some non sugary sweet standards.

Special thanks also to my BOB Duallie stroller. John wanted to sell you earlier this year because our kids were "too big". HA! Have you heard of the "Disney sleep"? I hadn't, but my friend clued me in and it is absolutely true. We have had this stroller for almost 4 years now and it was absolutely worth it's price tag in this weekend alone. If you have kids under 7, bring a stroller!

An extra special thanks to my "Magic Maker" Tara Radulski ( at Off to Neverland Travel for helping me war-plan this crazy whirlwind weekend. She made all of my reservations (with military discounts in mind!), gave me advice, and ultimately saved my Fastpass soul because without her advice sheets I would have been toast. She even sent us autograph books which my daughter has filled to the brim and I would have never known to purchase those. Her services are free-to-you and I highly recommend her for your planning needs!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Around the Sun with Katherine

Dear Kate,

I cannot believe you are five. Something about five years old makes you seem like such a big girl to me. The baby is gone, the chubby cheeks and fat little feet that come with toddlerhood have vanished. You are growing up, and while I look at pictures from when you were a baby and wish I could smell that baby hair and kiss those baby cheeks one more time, I am so thankful I get to watch you grow up.

You are a very focused, smart, and curious little girl. You absolutely love gardens and the critters that live there. When we go on walks, we have to stop every 10 feet to pick up the latest snail or ladybug or beetle. You worry that I might step on something and you will cradle the smallest creature with the care of a surgeon and absorb the details before carefully placing it back into a safe space. You are artistic and love anything to do with markers, crayons, paint, chalk, yarn, and stickers. My back patio is decorated in your bright creativities, and since it hasn't rained in California in about six months, I am happy to say that your chalk creations are probably here to stay.

You love books, you love pink, you are absolutely giddy with excitement if I agree to paint your fingernails or spend extra time carefully braiding your long blonde hair into a new masterpiece. You love your family and I know that being away from those who you love is the hardest part of the military lifestyle for you. That said, you make friends with ease. Last night on the playground you happily invited a bunch of new girls over to the table for cake. And before that, I watched as you approached a new friend and gave her a flower you had picked on the walk over.

Your sixth year is going to be full of new adventures and people. In about 6 weeks you will start Kindergarten, and with that a whole new world will open up for you. You're so ready, and I'm so excited to walk that journey with you (and will likely need a few strong mimosas to let you go that first day).

I hope you always keep your loving and curious nature. I hope you always know how much that dad and Connor and I love you. Happy birthday, Katie-bug. May the next journey around the sun be as fun as the last.

Love, Mommy

Photo bombed! :)

 Sorry to squish your face, we simply can't help it!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Military Spouses and Sacrifice

There is an anonymous article on Facebook (that was written for Military Spouse Magazine's online community) that discusses a woman's journey as a military spouse. She claims she is "that" military spouse. "That" military spouse means that she doesn't take an ounce of credit for her husband's career, and after 25 years she has never made a single sacrifice. She "doesn't understand" why spouses feel like they have served or sacrificed over the duration of a military career. After 25 years, in her opinion, she has done nothing more than if she had been married to anyone else with any other career.

When reading the article, it is important to see where this woman is coming from. She makes it clear very early in the article that she has always wanted a "traditional" family role. A role where she is the mother and homemaker and her husband is the breadwinner and provider. There is nothing wrong with that and she is absolutely entitled to be satisfied and fulfilled as a person. I'm happy she's happy.

Where she loses me is the tirade about her husband's career is his. She does not take credit for his accomplishments. Read: she doesn't wear rank, she doesn't feel like spouses make an ounce of difference in promotions, she just supports from the perimeter. The trouble? With that statement she essentially made the sweeping generalization that spouses who do feel like they have made sacrifices for their spouse's careers are essentially taking credit away from their military member.

Making a sacrifice and taking credit are not, by any stretch of the imagination, the same thing.

Military spouses make sacrifices. I have sacrificed two wonderful jobs in order to follow my husband's career path. I have done it gracefully, and it has never created drama, but I have definitely been extremely sad both days where I had to turn in my resignation paperwork. Most military spouses sacrifice over 50% of their lifetime career income in order to make the transient life work. She might not feel that sacrifice because her goals are much different than mine, but make not doubt about it, the research shows that the majority of military spouses either want or need to work.

My career sacrifice in no way, shape, or form means that I am taking credit when my husband is promoted. It doesn't mean I am bitter. And it absolutely doesn't mean that I don't appreciate the wonderful things, friends, places, and opportunities that this life provides.

The reason I feel like the distinction between sacrifice and credit is so important is that military family life is unique. It requires unique support systems that must be advocated for in order to receive. Blue Star Families does a survey every year to take the pulse of the military community, to see how families are doing and what needs to be done to sustain the system as a whole. Those results are used to lobby Congress and other organization for programming, funds, mental health care, and more. If I were "that" spouse, one that feels that because *I* am peachy keen and never felt an ounce of sacrifice that I couldn't possibly "understand" why another spouse would, how on earth would we be able to advocate for one another?

It is possible to feel one way while being empathic and understanding of a differing viewpoint. If she is happy as an at-home mother, and happy with moving and being "along for the ride", she should at least be able to extend an olive branch to a woman who sacrificed a important promotion or a special home or a close family unit in order to participate in this lifestyle. And have the open mindedness to realize that sacrifices and credit are completely different beasts.

I am proud to say that I have made sacrifices for my husband. I do so because I love him. I do so because I know how important serving his country is. It is a choice I make with purpose and without anger. Does it mean that I don't feel the pang of jealousy when I see a friend who I went to graduate school with get promoted or see a friend buy their dream "forever home"? Absolutely not. I am human and have absolutely felt jealousy before. But that sacrifice is worth it.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Trading Nostalgia for Adventure

April is the month of the military child. There have been a few very well written and insightful pieces about what it's like to grow up as a military kid. Some have been uplifting, casting away some doubts about raising our kids in a crazy, unique lifestyle. Some have been more serious and reminded us of the hardships they face; a pause button so that we can hug them and have patience when they struggle to adapt.

My friend Betsy wrote a wonderful piece, a letter to her children, that explains the importance of military families. "Military family" does not mean just a mom, dad, and kids. It is the amazing network of people we meet over the years, and the incredibly strong bonds that connect us. Our military family teaches us that the world is smaller and warmer than we could ever imagine. I love how she reminds her children about how it is people that matter, not stuff. When the military comes and packs up all of our things and puts it onto a truck (or a huge ship to go around the world), we are okay! We have one another and we don't need that stuff to survive. That alone is a lesson many kids will never receive.

When we moved to California last December, I called a friend and panicked because I hadn't packed any towels and all of our household goods were still somewhere in Nevada. I hadn't seen my friend in about 8 years, but 10 minutes later she was at my door with a pile of towels and a smile. I cannot explain how those easy friendships, ones that are always there, ready and waiting to help, weave a strong basket of support in which we all operate our lives. It is unique and something I am so happy my kids get to witness. The act of being completely willing to drop everything for a friend; to cook a meal, to do a walk through of a house, to bring over a stack of bath towels at 9PM. Friends who you haven't seen in almost a decade due to the military's web of moves, but who are there. In almost every state, in dozens of countries, we have our military family.

I often daydream about the childhood my kids are experiencing. Is it happy? Do they feel secure? What damage or improvements have been made by all of the change they have experienced in their short lives? Connor, my three year old, has lived in four states (MD, VA, KS, and CA). Kate, my 4 and a half year old, has attended three different preschools. John and I grew up in one town, attended the same set of schools with the same set of friends, and didn't branch out geographically until college. We both had happy childhoods. When I go home and look at where I spent summers at the pool or where I went horseback riding or played with my friends at the park, my stomach tightens. Those are my spaces. My husband's parents live in the same house that they raised their kids in. John gets to experience those smells and creaky floors and old wallpaper that surrounded him in comfort his entire youth. My kids won't get that one pool, or that one set of creaky stairs, or that one childhood friend to shape them. Is that okay?

When I was in graduate school for counseling, one thing that always amazed me was how resilient kids are. And since becoming a military spouse and mother, I have read countless articles that calm our nerves because, kids are resilient. They bounce back. They are malleable and forgiving and loving and will not be weathered by some of the things that give adults a lot of heartache and anxiety.

That's great.

But I don't want to raise my kids in an environment where I am depending on their resilience to not screw them up. My wish for them, more than anything else, is to become good people. To learn to be loving, service-oriented, smart, and loyal. To know that John and I love them and will be there for them no matter what; not as friends, but as their stalwart supporters in life. So at the end of the day, can the military lifestyle (and all that it entails) create an environment for that to happen?

After almost 11 years of this, I can honestly say, yes.

We don't frame our moves as leaving an old, familiar place. We frame them as new adventures. When our kids talk about Kansas, they actually say "mom, do you remember the preschool from our Kansas adventure?" And when we moved to California, we told them we were going on a new journey to a new place to have new adventures. We expose them to new food, new parks, and new cities. They have played on beaches in California, Virginia, Florida, and Michigan; they know intimately that Kansas has no beaches (the horror!). They make friends with ease and are quick to pull a shy kid under their wing. We lead by example in teaching them that our hearts should be open to friendship and to seeing the good in people. Kate and Connor actively compare their preschools; not in a wistful way, but in a smart and critical way. We talk about their likes and dislikes, and as preschoolers they have a very refined palate. 

They are learning about service. They know to stop playing and stand with their hand on their heart during Taps. They are good travelers and love to go on airplane rides and car rides to see new parks and places. They have driven through the flatlands of Kansas, the mountains of Colorado, through downtown Manhattan, and tornado ridden Oklahoma. While they don't have grandparents or aunts and uncles in the neighborhood, they understand that distance does not damper love. They know that they are very much loved and missed by their family, and enthusiastically wait for visits.

They are challenged. Challenged by missing their dad for months on end. Challenged by new bedrooms and houses. By saying "see you later" to so many people. But as parents we appreciate those hardships and do or best to frame them in ways that are teaching them good lessons for their lives. They might not get to experience the nostalgia of a one-town childhood, but they won't ever be lacking in adventure.

My motto: Understand - appreciate - comfort - then teach. Military families have so many unique opportunities to raise great kids, but we need to purposefully do so. It doesn't just happen, just like a flower won't grow without attention and pruning. So in the month of the military child, give your kid a big hug. They have overcome great things and lead very big and multifaceted lives. You are their biggest teacher, and the example you set over the course of their lives will mold them into who they will be for life.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Racing Facebook: A New Challenge for the Military Community

The morning of September 22, 2013 was a typical one for Theresa Jones. She was 8 and a half months into a deployment that had been extended due to the Syrian crisis. Her husband Landon, a helicopter pilot, was attached to a squadron stationed on the USS Nimitz.  Her newborn son Hunter, born while her husband was deployed, was hungry and needed to be fed.

As usual, I started nursing Hunter and then grabbed my phone from my bedside table to check my email and Facebook while he ate. I always checked my emails to see if I had received any from Landon. I was always excited to see a notification of an email from him throughout deployment and this morning was no different.

Landon had written Theresa, but it was a short "one liner". Something us military spouses both love and loathe equally. A signal that they are well, but that they are busy. After reading her email and writing him back, she switched over to peruse Facebook while she finished feeding Hunter. That is when the day went from typical to a nightmare.


My heart stopped. I couldn't click that link fast enough. Panic immediately set in. The link took me to the 5th Fleet's webpage. It said that a helicopter had crashed in the central Red Sea. I looked at those words and my brain went into overload. HSC-6? My heart was racing and I could not catch my breath. I immediately fired off an email to Landon pleading for him to respond and let me know he was okay.

Often when there is an incident, the protocol is to shut down all outbound communications so to avoid any information getting to the families before they are notified by official means. Theresa knew this, but we all hope that our husbands can somehow get word to us that they are alive and well. Ironically, it didn't seem as though the persons in charge of the Nimitz's Facebook page were following such protocol. And so began a day for the HSC-6 squadron where nervous phone calls, texts, and chatter would flutter about between the spouses and families.

I texted everyone from my best friend to the CO's wife to the Ombudsman wondering what was going on. Many of them had no clue that anything had happened at that point. They were still just waking up for the day. I immediately started googling what time it was in the Red Sea, and comparing that time to the time of the Facebook post and the time of my husband's last email to me.  If you've ever thought you've lost your child in a store, or came close to having an accident on a highway - that is how I felt. Times a thousand.
Theresa panicked. Just like we all would under the circumstances. Her in-laws happened to be in town when this happened and she shared the information she had (at this point, still only the Facebook link from Nimitz). Her mother-in-law wondered if they would have called if it had been Landon but Theresa and her father-in-law knew that someone would come to the door.

Four hours went by.

I had started to breath normally again. I had begun to successfully convince myself it wasn't him. He was a great pilot. . . he was stationed on a different ship*, there was no way this could happen to us.  At that point I wasn't sure how the Casualty Assistance Calls process worked, but if the news was already online, surely the spouse had already been notified. Then my doorbell rang. I looked through the peephole and saw three men in their Service Dress Blues. I immediately collapsed to the floor, sobbing and screaming.

The CACO (Casualty Assistance Calls Officer) team came into Theresa's house and explained that Landon had been involved in a mishap. This was approximately 6 hours after Nimitz had posted about the accident on their Facebook account.

I told them I already knew [that there had been a mishap with HSC-6] and that I saw the news on Facebook. I had known for hours. They looked at me in disbelief. As my husband was still considered missing, they assured me that whether the search for my husband was successful or unsuccessful, that I would hear it from them first. As day turned into night I prayed for good news. The following morning, as I sat in my house full of people still praying, I scrolled through Facebook again. My eyes immediately stopped at one post. A friend had posted a link. . .

I couldn't believe it. I looked at my friend and said, "he's dead". I showed her the post and she couldn't believe it either. I responded "I didn't know that yet" [to the Facebook post]. I picked up my iPad and went upstairs to the guest room where my in laws were praying for their son. I looked at them and told them I was sorry, but that the search had been called off. They looked at me and asked, "how do you know? They said they would come back and tell us!". I showed them the article and we all immediately started sobbing. It was my mother in law's birthday.

It was 45 minutes later that CACO rang Theresa's doorbell a second time. She had them wait while she finished nursing Hunter. She already knew the bad news, so she wanted those last peaceful moments with her newborn. They again apologized for the fact that social media had again outpaced the official notification process.

It has now been five months since Landon died and Theresa is trying to make a difference for other widows in the military. The culture of "instant gratification" has implications that reach far beyond what our culture tends to think about. Theresa's friend posted the article about the search because she was hoping to garner support for the Jones family. It was not malicious, but she inadvertently became the person who informed Theresa she was a widow.

In the naval aviation community, we often share posts about plane crashes or other mishaps because we want everyone wrapping their arms around the people involved. Never do we think that we actually might be the people who cause a woman to pace her house for an entire day, nervously glancing at the front door. Social media has become so fast and so instant that it is outpacing the real human interaction that has been a mainstay of humane military death and accident notification. I am totally guilty of it, Theresa admits that she was also guilty of it in the past, but she is motivated to make a change within the military and within the families, spouses' groups, and FRGs.

If there is any sort of advice I could offer now, I would say please wait and think before hitting the "share" button. Say a silent prayer. Give the family and friends time to find out through official channels. Let's allow these families time to find out first, and privately, instead of with the masses.

When dealing with military accidents and deaths, be gentle in your quest to get information out. If names haven't been produced by the military, it is likely because the notification process is still ongoing. Wait until those names are released. At that point, you can be sure that sharing links to articles, family fundraisers, and other outreaches is safe.

We so often talk about OPSEC (Operational Security) and PERSEC (Personal Security) when discussing the internet and it's relation to our lives. All Navy wives know the mantra "loose lips sink ships" and not to post your personal address on the open internet. Theresa's quest is more of a nuanced one, a gray area where people are sharing articles that are already "out there" in the media, so not a violation of the traditional rules. She is trying to get her message out to spouses and families. On a personal level, I think "big Navy" (and "big military", for that matter) should also take note.

There are families reading Facebook and Twitter. When the person in charge of Nimitz's Facebook page posted that a helicopter was down, were they thinking of the new mother nursing her baby in the wee hours of the morning? Probably not. And we need to keep those people in mind when trying to be the first to break or share a news story.

If you are part of an OSC or FRG, please consider this story. In Theresa's honor, have a discussion with the men and women in your group about the proper channels for sharing information related to mishaps within the community. We aren't all going to agree, and civil discussion is always a wonderful thing, but in the world of Facebook and Twitter we cannot forget about the real people behind the screen. We've got to protect and take care of one another.

* Landon was attached to HSC-6, which is located on the Nimitz. He was also the OIC of a small detachment on the USNS Ranier, a small supply ship in the battle group.
Saturday, February 1, 2014

9 Tips for New Military Spouses

Last year my girlfriend Sarah asked her military friends to write a letter to her beloved babysitter who was marrying an Air Force officer.  Because I love to write and am naturally long winded, I wrote a list of things I believe make me a happier wife to someone in the Navy.  It turned into a bit of a love letter to all of the wonderful people and places we have been. Mostly people.

I debated posting it here.  I obviously didn't want to post it before the wedding because Amy needed the opportunity to be surprised by the sweet gift from Sarah.  But then I wondered if my words sounded to sappy or silly or just too "gung ho" and quite honestly worried people would think I am some bubble gum wife in an apron with the "Navy Wife" license plate.  I'm not.  I'm a slightly grumpy, average cook who is currently trying really hard to be a decent wife (because I can be pretty prickly these days) during my husband's current TDY.

However, as I have adjusted to this new coast solo, I am being re-introduced to my love of "the people".  It is surreal that in an area where I can barely find the grocery store, still don't have a dry cleaner, and would literally drive off a cliff without my GPS, that I see people I know almost everywhere I go.  People I have lived in Virginia with, people I have lived in Maryland with, people who I know because we have 46 mutual friends on Facebook and are finally getting to meet face to face.  It is a huge comfort.  And surreal.  In what other kind of life do you move to a completely new area and run into several familiar faces every time you leave your house?

So anyway, I'm putting myself out there.  My letter to Amy:

Dear Amy,

We don’t know one another but in the small world of military spouse-dom you might as well be my new sister.  Or at least a fun sister-in-law.  And the fact that Sarah speaks so highly of you means that you are probably a pretty cool chick.  When she asked fellow military spouses to write to you about the life you are about to partake in, I was honored.
I’ve thought about what I would tell myself 10 years ago if I had the chance.  Like you, I married my husband fresh out of the Naval Academy.  We were 22, giddy in love, and totally and completely clueless about the adventure ahead of us.  Like you, I had grown up in one area.  My preschool friends were my high school friends.  I had never been exposed to the military lifestyle.  The acronyms like PCS, CONUS, BDU, CVW, XO, etc were completely foreign and I had no idea how they would become part of my fluent vocabulary so quickly.

As much as I promised myself that “the Navy is just my husband’s job, it is not who I am”, it is not exactly how things have turned out.  Yes, I have my own identity (own degree and Master’s degree, own career, own interests and hobbies, own friends) but I also have come to embrace the fact that the military is a lifestyle and it will become your family if you let it.  The people I know who have had the best experiences in this life have been the ones who don’t fight it too much, who let it wash over them and live in the moment with their experiences being their guide.  So without further ado, a few tips for you – the new military spouse:
1.  Go out of your way to meet people.  You will hear rumors of spouse's groups being "snobby" or you will meet people who "don't hang out with military wives".  Find out for yourself.  I can't tell you how priceless the relationships I have formed over the years have been.  Military wives make friends with ease and are always looking for more.  Your "friends list" should never be full.  There will be bad apples - that's life - but don't let those bad examples define your experience. 
2.  Continue to pursue your goals. The military will see to it that you have lots of red tape and challenges thrown in your path. PCS moves, deployments, and other random obstacles will come your way. Do not despair; growing is always a little painful and the military just adds about 50 pounds to your pack.
3.  Enjoy where you are.  There is no base out there that is "horrible". None. There are always new parks, new restaurants, a beautiful road or park, or a new person. Don't feel sorry for yourself and spend several years holed up in your house wishing you were somewhere other than Alaska or Idaho. Life is short, you have a very unique opportunity to explore the world - do it! The beauty of the military is that if you don't enjoy it, your time there is temporary.  In other words - YOLO.  (I wrote this when we were stationed in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas...  not exactly prime Navy territory!  I embraced the BBQ and sunflowers!!!)
4.  Don't take yourself too seriously. Being an officer's wife does not make you special. Be kind to everyone, help who you can, advocate for others.  Some of your best friends might be enlisted spouses, or they might be the spouse of the highest ranking officer in the area.  Just be open to friendship and be kind.  Never expect special treatment because your husband wears strips and someone else's wears chevrons.

5.  Work hard, party hard. There is a unique atmosphere to the military community that will keep you young.  Have fun!  Don't skip a ball or party because someone rolled their eyes about the latest function.  Always go and see for yourself. (that link isn't the best example because my husband was deployed, HOWEVER, I think my going to a function solo illustrates how fun some of those parties can be!)

6.  Volunteer! Get involved with your community. Working can sometimes be a tough thing to do on short tours, but you can always put your talents toward good deeds.  It is good for the soul and a great way to meet fun, sweet, generous people in new areas.

7.  It's okay to have bad days.  There will come a day where you will hate the Air Force with every fiber of your being.  It will be soul-crushing frustration and you will take it out on your husband (or your child, friend, dog, voodoo doll).  This is completely NORMAL and you have every right to feel sorry for yourself sometimes.  If possible, do not take it out on your husband. He doesn't have control over most things and projecting your feelings of hostility toward him can damage your marriage.  Communicate, of course.  But don't steamroll him with profanity when you find out the AF is sending you to Montana (and see #3).

8.  Don't blink! Everything goes by incredibly fast - even deployments! I feel like I just walked under the sword arch and was welcomed into the Navy family.  But here I sit, 10 and a half years later, two kids, 3 deployments, and 6 duty stations later and I can't believe how fast it has gone.  I have become a cliché!

Homecoming almost makes deployment worth it.  Almost.  You have a choice with separations - to make the worst of them or to embrace some of the upsides.  You will have the unique opportunity to miss your husband. After several years of marriage, this can actually be refreshing. Of course, after about two or three weeks you'll be like, "okay, I miss you, come home now".  But alas, deployment isn't two or three weeks, but you will make it those 6 or 9 or 12 months.  When he returns, and you are standing on the tarmac or at the airport waiting for your husband it will be absolutely magical.


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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