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 Veterans Day

fb_img_1464382185932A short message from an ordinary lady who is a veteran and is married to a veteran. Today is Veterans Day. A day established to commemorate all US veterans and victims of all wars. Originally called Armistice Day which marked the end of hostilities of WW1 that occurred at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month. This day is celebrated on the anniversary of that end on November 11th.

I would like to thank all those who are serving or have served in the military, past and present. Your sacrifice has not gone unnoticed though at times it seems that way. Know in your hearts that many people support and appreciate all you have done or will do.  Thank you for your service.fb_img_1464392643289

I would also like to thank the families of all our services members. The mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, sons, and daughters of all who have served or are serving, I thank you all for your sacrifices as well.  For all the “important” dates you have spent without your soldier, sailor, airman or marine, I thank you. Being left behind can be even more thankless than those that are wearing a uniform.  Your sacrifice has allowed our veterans to do their jobs and invaluable task. fb_img_1464640977105Thank you for your service.

To all those who are not personally touched by military service, spend a few minutes today and reflect on what your lives would be like if not for our service members, past and present.  If you see a veteran today let them know that you appreciate them even if it is only with a smile.

Happy Veterans Day!

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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.

Ordinary Courtship

A couple of months after my 18th birthday I ran away from home and joined the Army. Seriously, I did not tell a soul that I was leaving until the day the recruiter came to the house to pick me up and put me on a plane to basic training. Now, I am sure this confuses some, but most of you will get that the home life was not exactly stellar. Joining the Army may seem a bit extreme but to me at that time it was the only way out. Not telling anyone  that running away to join the army is the right path, just that it  saved that ordinary young woman extraordinary arguments. To face facts the younger me was not up the weight class of my mom in arguing, so I jumped ship, ran for the hills, got out of dodge! I guess at 18 I was an adult and  did not need to actually run away, but it seemed the best at the time. When we are young extremes seem much less extreme. Really, how is joining the Army to go off and get shot at better than dealing with family drama? Boggles the mind and really not recommending this as a solution to others. Heh, I learned that we drag all our issues with us wherever we go – just saying. So might as well learn to deal.

So two months in South Carolina for basic training, then nine months in Georgia for Military Occupational Specialty training led me to my permanent duty station at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Before going to Maryland, I flew home to California to pick up my clothes and car and made the drive to Maryland for my first duty station. My grandfather, Popo, made the drive with me, five of the very best days of my life. When we made it to Maryland, one more night in a hotel then I put Popo on a plane home and headed to my first unit. Since it was Labor Day weekend, I was assigned a temporary room and given directions where to show up on Tuesday after Labor Day.

No sense of unpacking the car of more than necessities when I would be moving rooms in a couple of days, so bored I headed to the day room. A day room for you non-military folks is basically a common area in the billets for soldiers to relax and socialize. The room often contains a television with a variety of seating areas.  This particular day room had one other feature, the extra duty soldier responsible for manning the desk and answering the phone. A very cute guy with who I commenced flirting. We chatted, laughing and both of us flirting like mad for the better part of an hour before anyone else showed up in the day room.

The new guy who entered the room was a mess. Seriously, a complete mess. He had on very old and threadbare cut off jean shorts, a t-shirt that I was pretty sure was also threadbare in the places that still had fabric. Definitely his Sunday best, holy for sure! Do not get me started on the ball cap on his head, really let’s not go there. I will just say that I have seen better caps on the side of the road that have been run over by dozens of 18-wheelers. Enough said. Add in a pair of shower shoes, a fashion maverick in the making. On top of this fashion wonder was the road rash on one whole side of his body, cheek, elbow, knee all scraped to hell and gone. The icing on the cake here was the BCG’s he was wearing too! (BCGs is military talk for Birth Control Glasses, in other words the most butt ugly glasses the Army will provide for you free of cost!)bcgs

New guy inserted himself into the conversation (read flirtation) I was enjoying with the desk duty guy. Ok, so new guy was sweet, and funny, geeky and just would not go away. Sort of annoying really, but really sweet. An hour or so later, new guy asks if I had seen anything of the town yet, and what I was planning for dinner. I had not, and had no plans. Not sure how it happened but just a few minutes later I was in a car with new guy on my way to a tour of the local town and to grab a quick dinner. During the driving tour I found out that the road rash was from a motorcycle accident the previous week. The BCGs were because he could not bend his elbow enough to get in his contacts. The clothes, well let’s just say there is no real explanation that I have figured out, and I have lived with the guy for 30 years now, so yea, no taste at all in his personal clothes.

The whole evening was wonderful, we had dinner at a Roy Rogers since as a California girl I had never heard of the place. We drove around for hours and ultimately ended up in Gambrill a state park not far from the base. The lookout points were amazingly beautiful in early fall, still so green with just a few hints of the fall colors starting to show. The park had a swing set that we sat on for hours more, talking, always talking. We had so little in common, yet so much in common. It was strange and wonderful. Over those hours new guy went from sort a sort of goofy looking geeky guy, to a handsome young man who I was starting to really like.

The whirl wind began. From a goofy guy inserting himself into a flirtation to a guy I could not get rid of. Seriously, he was everywhere I was, every turn he was there. Persistent devil, I will give him that. I tried ditching him. I tried flirting with others, the lets just be friends route. All of it was sort of flattering really in an annoying sort of fashion of why the hell can I not get this guy to leave me alone you stalker you! I think we had been dating for a month before I realized that we were dating, and that he was serious. Capital letter SERIOUS. How did I know he was serious? Well because he told me he was planning to marry me, raise a family and grow old. All with me. After only ONE month!

To say that I was taken aback by that conversation it to understate it excessively. A couple of months later, in a hotel room in Georgia (after we had just spent a day as six flags in Atlanta). My soon to be husband pops the question, sort of. What he actually said was “so when are you going to make an honest man of me?” He was giving me those sad puppy dog eyes, looking so put out as if I was purposely compromising his virtue. I laughed, a lot then I took pity on him and we were married nine months after we first met. Yep we met and married in nine short months. My husband likes to tell people that he went away for training and came back to a wedding. And he did not want to disappoint me, so he married me. Huge favor he was doing me, the ass.

We were both on active duty and could not get any leave time to go meet each other’s families before the wedding. I got to talk to his parents frequently on the phone. Since he came from a military family they completely understood our not visiting before the wedding. My family, sigh, let’s just say the drama never goes away. Running away did not change it, or fix it. I think the thing that hurt the most was when my baby brother called in tears. Evidently, my mom told him that the reason I was not going to be coming home to get married (grew up in California – married in Maryland) was because I did not love him (my brother) enough. At least that is how an 8-year-old interpreted his mother’s rants. I was seriously annoyed, enough was enough. Called dad and told him I was flying my brother out for the wedding.  Dad took care of everything, which means that mom came out with my dad and brother. Yea!

My soon to be husband spent the two days before our wedding, and the day after our wedding annoying my mom. I think he was having way too much fun. She hated him, and he just kept up the hick routine to annoy the hell out of her. That and he would hum random tunes, or whistle through his teeth random notes. At the time I could not figure out what was up with that nonsensical noise. Honestly, I think he did it to keep me sane. Pretty sure he did not like my mom, and every time I would be close to tears he would start again. The whole long weekend I was not sure if I wanted to smack the crap out of him, or laugh hysterically. I chose laughter, a theme in our marriage. We celebrated our 29th anniversary this year. Years of love, laughter, tears, and fears. An anything but ordinary beginning for an enduring relationship that started with flirting, with someone else!