Ordinary Holiday Season

The holidays (Halloween through New Year’s Eve) are traditionally a time to spend with family.  They are a time of giving and sharing. It is also a time of huge commercialism and excess, but that is a story for another day.  Families gather together to eat, catch up and celebrate.

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Family is an interesting concept to this ordinary lady.  Most define family very narrowly as those who share a common ancestry, blood relations, or marriage relations.  32 plus years living and working with the military has changed my definition of family, made it much broader. While I still see family as having a relationship to me through blood or marriage, it is also much more.

Family are the women/men who waited with you for news of our deployed soldiers who are currently under a communication black out. (For those of you non-military types, communication blackouts are not good things. They usually happen as a result of a fatality, or increased hostile presence in an area – which can lead to fatalities. Communication is blacked out until either the hostilities decrease or the next of kin is notified.) Family are the men and women who served down range with you or a spouse.  Family are the folks living in the Government quarters on either side of yours who routinely lend you sugar, watch your kids while you run an errand, or mow the lawn for you while your soldier is deployed.  Family is the single soldier so far from home that he just needs a place to “hang” for a bit and eat a home cooked meal or who spends two weeks in your home taking care of your kids while you finally get an adult vacation. Family is the soldier I never met, whose wife died delivering his twins at the same time I lost my son, whose babies received my expressed breast milk (for months) because it would not dry up and it had to go somewhere.family

Family are those that we share our fears, tears, joys, and lives with, blood related or not.  No matter how you define family, take a moment this holiday season and think about those who cannot spend time with their “families” including military, police, medical services, fire services, etc.  Those folks are out there doing a job that is often thankless. They deserve our respect and remembrance that they are working and away from family so we can spend time with our families. fireman-christmasremember

The holidays are a time of celebration. Many cultures during this time of the year celebrate a specific holiday such as Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, and Kwanzaa (just to name a few). These holidays have a variety of similarities (families gathering, food consuming, and gift giving/receiving) and a variety of differences or practices.  This ordinary lady is utterly fascinated by the different celebrations. All so similar and yet so different from how I was raised. Yet, each is spectacular in their own right.

Through the military, I was given the opportunity to learn about different cultures up close and personal.  Variations in holiday celebrations are always so fun. Over the years bits and pieces of different traditions have found their way into our own family celebrations. I believe this has enriched our own traditions.  Never at any time have I ever feel offended by someone else’s beliefs or traditions. Instead, I have always felt flattered that others wanted to share their traditions with me.  I know that I do not have to believe the same as someone else to have RESPECT for their traditions. How did we get to this place where everyone is offended by everything?

This “offended” attitude is very clear especially in the various holiday greetings. I cannot image why someone would be offended by a sincere greeting of “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” even if you are not Christian or Jewish. The greeting “Happy Holidays” is bound to start offending some folks soon, then what do we do? Bah, it is all nonsense. If you are offended, then just be offended, quietly! Last time I checked no one has died of feeling offended.offended

So I say to everyone, try to practice tolerance of the beliefs of others, suspend your need to be offended that others have different beliefs. Say, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah,  Merry Yuletide,  Feliz Navidad, Fröhliche Weihnachten, joyeux Noël, Mele Kalikimaka or any appropriate greeting, not to offend others but as a sincere desire for others to be happy.  I promise that I will not be offended by any holiday greetings given to me.

May you all find JOY in this holiday season!

Ordinary Water Curse

Government quarters are not without their challenges. The biggest challenges I faced as a dependent spouse always happened during one of my husband’s deployments.  This ordinary lady faced many cursed quarters moments over the years. This blog is about the water curse deployment.  I spent a great deal of time actually cursing during this curse.  I look back now and laugh. Back then, it was not that funny. Ok, it was somewhat funny then too. It is always better to laugh than cry! Choose laughter my friends!

The deployment started out normal enough. We said good-bye to our soldier and started the fun adjustment time of moving from a two-parent family to a single parent family. Not sure what trespass I committed, only there must have been one.  A couple of weeks in, I was going through the normal nighttime take a bath/shower routine (ok, fight) with my two boys. It was while the second child was in the shower that I went into the downstairs powder room.

drowning-bathroomIt was raining in the powder room. Water was pouring in through the wall, the ceiling, the vent, and the light fixture. I immediately called in a work order. Calling in a work order for government quarters is  like calling the maintenance folks in an apartment only less reliable. I ended up calling in a work order repeatedly. I came to realize that the water raining into the powder room was from a burst pipe inside the walls taking. This broken pipe was moving the wastewater out of the shower and sink upstairs. So a little over four weeks and about 100 showers later, someone finally showed up to look at the “leak”.  He had the nerve to tell me I should have called the issue in sooner! As if! GRRRRRRRRRRangry-face

Understand that our quarters only had two bathrooms, the powder room on the first floor and the full bath on the second. We had no choice but to use the one and only shower. I suppose we could have avoided showering, used the kitchen sink to clean up? No that is just gross. Therefore, for weeks it rained in the powder room.  Every night after shower time, I washed all our towels so we would have dry towels for the next mop up job.  The powder room was a total loss. The wood cabinet was beyond salvaging, the lights were water logged, and the floor warped.  It took two full days to repair it all.  No water at all in our home for those two days.  I took us to a hotel during the repairs.

Three weeks later, our dishwasher filled the kitchen, powder room, and some of the living room with water. After mopping up, I again called in a work order and proceeded to wait for a response.  At least I could avoid using a dishwasher. I did dishes by hand for about two weeks while waiting for a new dishwasher.

hotwater-heaterA few more weeks later, the bottom fell out of the hot water heater. I kid you not! The whole bottom just rusted all the way around dropping the bottom to the ground. Thankfully, the hot water heater was not in the house, but in a small shed just outside the kitchen door.  It was nearly six weeks before we were the proud recipients of a new water heater.  Six weeks of cold showers, cold-water cold-showerlaundry, and dishes.  The shed thankfully survived, mostly because of the two-inch gap between the walls and the concrete floor. The plants on that side of the house really thrived. I guess they liked a constant supply of water. I had no way to shut off the water trying to go to the water heater without shutting off the whole supply to the house! Who comes up with these freaking designs?

The final straw was the garden hose. Yes, I still had to water the plants on the other side of the house. I was using the hose watering plants and trees when it failed spectacularly. I was drenched. I think I stood there a few seconds sort of stunned speechless. Then I burst into tears and the cursing commenced. I gathered up the hose and tossed it into the dumpster. I was done with water. The plants could survive or not on their own.

For months, I managed to hold on to my sanity (if not my temper or sense of humor) through one water-based crisis after another. Not exactly positive about what finally appeased the curse, but for these small things, I am grateful! An ordinary year made extraordinary by a water curse. Building memories that still can make me laugh aloud at a sequence of very water full events.

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Ordinary Military Base Housing

Living on a military base meant creative solutions to many ordinary home comfort decisions. Ordinary families personalize their homes, both inside and out. This personalization may include painting walls, unique lighting fixtures, fancy faucets/fixtures, furniture, appliances, and landscaping projects or gardening. The changes we make to our homes can be dramatic or barely noticeable yet each change adds a particular style or flair. More importantly, each change helps create that sense of home.  Military families are usually living away from their extended families. So building that sense of home on a military base is vital.

Most home comfort choices are severely limited while living in government quarters. Housing offices on military bases have more rules than even the most stringent Home Owners Associations (HOA).  While changes are possible to the interior of government quarters, all must be undone when moving out. Everything painted or changed most go back to the original. Have you ever tried to cover a bright “impact” wall paint with cheap flat white paint? Have you tried to remove wall decals or wall boarder without tearing the dry wall? Exhausting!  Since military families rarely live in the same area more than three years, changing then undoing changes is time-consuming and pricy.

I have painted walls, put up boarders, changed small fixtures in government quarters. Then, I have fought the inspector when out-processing from those quarters. It can be absurd to argue over the exact shade of flat white put back on the walls. Nevertheless, I have had that argument. I have filled holes in walls with everything from newspaper and spackle to toothpaste to cover damage from a door handle banging into the walls (kids are great!). Holes I am positive where there and poorly repaired from the previous occupant. Hey, pay it forward. If the doors came with a stop to prevent wall damage before we arrived this whole process might have been avoided.  Nope, nothing is that easy.

After a time I learned a few tricks to personalizing the interior of our home without wallblanketruining the walls or creating tons of work to move out.  I would add color to walls by using large hanging blankets. This was a twofold benefit, changing out bright colors are as easy as putting up a new blanket, and a muffling of sound between the walls where the blanket hangs is a huge plus.   Put up wall boarders or wall decals using adhesive putty. Removal is easy and clean! A twin/full size flat sheet is a wonderful canvas for hanging posters, pictures, etc. Simply tack the sheet up high on the wall then use straight pins or safety pins to add items to the sheet. The sheet allows much more room than the average corkboard for displaying a variety of keepsakes, a perfect solution for a teen’s room.

flowerbarrelPersonalizing exteriors spaces on a military base has its own set of challenges. No digging allowed was a familiar refrain on most military bases. The solution is container gardens. We used a variety of containers including five-gallon buckets, whiskey barrels halves, and kiddie swimming pools. I am always amazed at the variety of herbs, vegetables, and flowers that thrive in a container garden. My husband has the proverbial green thumb. He would plant tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, corn, carrots, peas, green beans, squash, pumpkins, watermelons, and a variety of herbs. All in some type of container, a favorite was the small plastic kiddie pools.kiddiepoolgarden

One of my favorite memories of our military time revolves around our container gardens. When our boys were very young they used to snitch vegetables out of the garden. No shame at all, both boys when asked if they had been eating out of the garden would immediately respond NO! Never mind that both wore the evidence.  They pulled up any root vegetables, wiped the dirt on their leg, or arm, or chest and commenced eating. Stripes of dirt and flecks of plant matter decorating little bodies.  I am positive that we never had a carrot that grew longer than a thumb. Tomatoes rarely had time to turn red. Bell peppers, jalapeño’s, snacked on long before picking size. Even the herbs were graze worthy. Honestly, the only crop not pulled up and eaten before it was mature was the pumpkins.  The pumpkins only made it because they were for pie. No Jack-o-lanterns for us, pumpkins equaled pie, conversation over.pie

We fashioned our home in a variety of government quarters during our 26 years with the Army. Inside and out we made small changes to each set of quarters that provided comfort and personalization. Our ordinary lives grew and thrived.  Memories to cherish built with each change. Most important this ordinary lady learned that home really IS where the heart is, and that my heart is with my family. Building a comfortable living space in temporary quarters is easier knowing that.