As a young boy, my husband often found himself in places he should not have been. This includes (but is not limited to): His older brother’s bedroom, the living room that his mother kept so perfectly and, of course, his step-father’s study.
Occasionally, he will recount for our children the day he snuck into the study and simply started looking around. His step-dad, a Vietnam era fighter pilot and Colonel in the Air Force, was an old school, American fighting man. His office, like so many others, was visual proof of a long and illustrious career of honorable service to his beloved nation. Certificates, trophies, citations and mementos from worldwide travel hung on walls and sat on shelves.
In his search for nothing in particular, my husband came across a pen. But, this was no ordinary pen and my future husband knew it. He quietly slipped the pen into his front pocket and tip-toed out of dear old dad’s office.
Next stop… Show and Tell.
Raise your hand if you remember Show and Tell. What a great opportunity to share the doll you received for your birthday or new baseball bat you received for Christmas. My husband was and has never been that predictable. He was an over-achieving Kindergartner, not to be outdone.
As he was called up front to present, one can envision the class patiently waiting for the next classmate’s turn (perhaps even a little bored, depending on what their fellow students had brought to share). Like a magician playing to a full house, with drama and flair, Joe removed the pen from his front pocket and thrust his arm high in the air. On the front of the pen was a woman dressed in a black one piece bathing suit. When turned upside down, the suit slowly dropped to reveal a nude woman. He turned it right side up and voila, she was dressed again! Point up, naked lady. Point down dressed lady, and so it went. For a five-year-old, it was mesmerizing to say the least.
As an educator myself, I imagine his teacher sitting at her back desk possibly grading papers and probably paying little attention to the items brought from home that day. I also imagine her, upon looking up and seeing the unpalatable pen, pulling together her 1970’s poly-rayon dress and scaling not only her desk but subsequent desks much like an Olympic hurdler going for gold.
A day that will go down in infamy at The Kiddie College of Orlando, Florida.
The military culture also has a form of Show and Tell, though nowhere near as scandalous. As far back as I can remember, there have been ceremonies and socials, recognition and recitations all in an effort to send the message “well done” to an active duty service member and often times their spouse. But what happens when the party dies down and the parade is over? You find yourself with a collection of really amazing, one-of-a-kind awards, photos, trophies and certificates. Fast forward a few decades into a career and you have what the military sarcastically refers to as an “I love me” wall. Some may even think it hearkens, “look at me, look at me, I’m awesome, aren’t I?”
A properly hung wall inspires the next generation to create their own accomplishments. Everything on the wall is a story to be shared. A memory to be pondered and a piece of history for all who observe. It is a celebration of camaraderie and the relationships forged during adversity and challenge. A display of gratitude to all the people who served along with you. It also gives our younger service members a sense of enthusiasm and offers a glimpse of what he or she may experience while serving. The wall acknowledges combat experience, multiple deployments, personal achievements, promotions and displays an overall dedication and love for country.
In the simplest of moments, the awards wall is a fabulous conversation starter and point of interest during a unit gathering in your home. I have actually seen people tear up when recognizing a comrade in arms or recalling a fond memory with a unit. Honestly, how many people do you know who have earned the title of Shell Back for their first crossing of the Equator or own aerial shots of themselves in an F-18? It is always fabulous and always interesting from your first plaque to your certificate of retirement.
Unfortunately, it is not all guts and glory. If you are a cut-up, your farewell gift may reflect that. I recently heard a friend describe a gift her husband received from the unit as a farewell. A toilet seat that when opened revealed a picture of himself. Brilliant. Why didn’t I think of that? Would that go on my wall? Absolutely. I’m sure they hang well but it would have to be the right color of course.
If you are just starting out, I encourage you to hang with pride. My husband’s “I love me” wall is my job (by choice) to create every time we move. I find a place of honor in our home for the branch he serves in, pride in my country and to reminisce about our amazing experiences together.
Sadly, there still is no room for the naughty pen on our wall.
The Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France, was sculpted by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence.
On October 28, 1886 the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York Harbor. Completed in 1884, the 152-foot-high icon was erected almost 20 years prior to the Wright brother’s first flight. Many years later as aircraft hovered overhead the meticulous creation of hair and crown were evident. Bartholdi, in creating his masterpiece, cut no corners.
Most people of that era never imagined that someday humans would fly. It was believed by some that the detail taken on the highest point of the statue was a waste of time and talent as no one would ever see it-so they thought. Attention to detail was in the artist’s very essence. He created a work of art that was perfect from all vantage points-one that would stand the test of time.
For our beloved military, the details are what set them apart. Attention to the details in uniform, speech, personal life and of course in successful execution of their jobs and duties.
I’d like to think that some of that has rubbed off on us as military families. When we are around our active duty, we stand a little taller and walk a little smarter, don’t we?
The longer you are “in” with your spouse, the more opportunities you will have for mentoring, assisting and leading military families. In fact you may be their lifeline of information and comfort at critical points during deployment or life crisis.
We as military spouses understand the vital role entertaining plays in the life and career of military families. Family days, spouse coffees, Hails and Farewells and of course your respective branch’s annual Military Ball. It is our opportunity to love on one another as well as thank the team for a job well done.
Attention to detail should become your mantra if you are in any type of volunteer, leadership, or chairperson position. Take nothing lightly and leave nothing to chance. Our social events are where we get to know one another, where we might meet the leadership and where we have the opportunity to thank the shop, company or unit by serving them with thoughtful food and drink.
From the menu you create to the scent in your home to the way you have parking set up for your guests – it all counts and it all matters in making your event memorable and successful.
Sometimes I take it a little too far. I was in the habit of chevroning my toilet paper in the restroom (I lovingly blame my Mother for that) and got laughed at like you cannot imagine. So unappreciative. I realize it was my tiny 1970s duplex on base but I treated it like the Ritz! Occasionally I will sit in different sections of my home to see if there are dust bunnies under the couch that my guest might notice. Total insanity or entertaining genius? I leave it to you to decide.
Rather than striving for perfection, set a goal to achieve your personal best. The implication as military spouses is that your best will be better than the norm.
After all, it’s that way for our active duty husbands and wives isn’t it?
…..said a million moms on the first day of school.
Look, I adore my children, they are my beautiful gifts I never deserved!
– after a long, hot summer of camps, classes, beach trips and swim lessons, or (don’t say it) a PCS, I am exhausted.
I know, I know, I choose to do all of those things, I can’t help myself.
I miss the kids as they walk out the door that first day, I really do, but I know in my heart of hearts it’s “me time!” So, as our summer winds to an end and those first back to school commercials hit the airwaves, I want to plant a little entertaining seed in your brain.
A few duty stations back, I met a Marine wife who is now one of my best friends. I loved everything she did to include a back-to-school, mommy-only-party.
No kids, no dudes, just the ladies and a whole lotta time.
9am – 3pm to be exact.
Her mother had hosted back to school lady’s brunches since the time she was a child and she continued the tradition. Brilliant! Here we have an opportunity for good food, good drink and if you’re new on base, the opportunity to meet your neighborhood and possibly some other spouses in the command. Let’s not forget though, our friends that might be sending their first or last student off to school. This can be a very emotional experience and it is comforting to be around other parents who have gone through the same thing.
Call it a back to school, base housing, Bellini, Black coffee brunch. You’re welcome.
Call it whatever you want just start planning now. According to my calendar, we have a few paydays left to order, bake and freeze a few items before the first day of school.
Always remember – proper planning is the key to a successful event!
You don’t want to be baking quiche and packing backpacks the night before the first day of school. Preposterous!
Simple instructions: At this point, everyone should have an area Facebook page specific to your housing neighborhood. Post an event and get started. Make the decision as to whether your event is kid friendly or not. There are toddlers and siblings who are still home as well as our home-schooled friends. Perhaps you only want adults. I have done both. No children is a lady’s brunch, children included is a playgroup brunch. Both are great and it is up to you as the hostess to decide.
Create a signature drink for the day whether alcoholic or not. Will it be potluck or hosted completely by you? Will you do a light buffet of breakfast foods or transition to a brunch? Make a dozen quiche a week before and freeze them. I love this recipe from the Food Network- http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/quiche-lorraine-recipe Order croissants and bagels from a local bakery and grab some of the bakery’s business cards for your new neighbors to take home with them.
I believe the punch behind this event is that it is held on the first day back to school. Everyone is on an emotional high for a myriad of reasons and it creates a real sense of energetic fun!
Get creative with your decorating to include school supplies, red apples, school buses, crayons and fun preschool style name-tags.
Before your event, consider running to your respective schools and grab some bell schedules, bus schedules and year-at-a-glance calendars. Your guests can leave with a little goody bag at no cost to you!
While my post is military specific, anyone anywhere can do this…so get planning!
A good life is a disciplined life!
I write as an undisciplined person attempting to work this concept out.
But thankfully, I was blessed with a husband who has been instrumental in honing my self-discipline. Imagine being married to a drill instructor, wrapped in a life coach, wrapped in a dietitian, wrapped in a founding father, wrapped in a voracious reader, wrapped in a man. Throw in Mr. Miyagi and you’ve basically got him worked out!
While known for many things, he is best known for his comedic, yet truthful, motivational one-liners. Family favorites to include, “you might be hungry, but you don’t look like you have missed any meals” or “if it was a million dollars, you would have found it by now” and of course today’s title “at the point of cookie.” Before you become disturbed on my behalf – don’t. He holds people accountable and it is very refreshing (once we’ve nursed our wounded egos).
The title of this post was a comment he delivered to a fellow service member who was trying to lose a little weight. My spouse, in a moment of encouragement, explained that if you truly are attempting to curb your dietary intake, then “at the point of cookie” (meaning the minute the cookie touches your lips) STOP EATING.
So, what is your personal point of cookie? It can be anything. It may be eating out too often, expensive cars, travel, too much house or perhaps simply spending more than you make. It’s all just the outcome of our favorite concept of “I want what I want, when I want it.”
We all experience this desire to consume because it feels good, even if only for a moment. In the military lifestyle (where life and death situations can be a daily occurrence) the urge to swipe the credit card, or eat the whole box of Oreos, is even more tempting with the hope to have just a moment’s solace.
A few military moves back, I believe I reached one of my own personal “points of cookie” (I have come to understand I have more than one). As I was unpacking the house, I reached my wardrobe boxes and got to what I think was box number 5 of shoes. In college, my roommates nicknamed me Imelda – after Imelda Marcos the infamous klepto-crat and former First Lady of the Philippines. Mrs. Marcos was known for many things, but most famously noted was her collection of over 1000 pair of shoes purchased with the plunder from the citizens she swore to serve. Over thirty years later, I was still struggling.
The old saying “if the shoe fits, wear it” struck a hard blow.
What was I doing? Why all the shoes? Some were out of style and some I had not worn in years. I did a massive purge and set a goal for myself of no new wardrobe purchases for one year. So for 12 months I purchased nothing wardrobe related. No new dresses, socks, jeans, shoes, hair pins- NOTHING. It was liberating and so fulfilling that I extended it for an additional month just to prove to myself I could.
I know now that I could put the cookie down and walk away.
What makes someone disciplined and successful? Successful people are willing to do what unsuccessful people are not. Are you willing to suffer the pain of discipline today to avoid the pain of regret later? Your ‘no’ needs to be bigger than your ‘yes.’
I stole all of those from my husband as that is the lighthearted chit chat at our family dinners. Bonus.
The vision of what you desire needs to be bigger than the cookie in your hand. Challenge yourself today to identify your personal point of cookie and get started on the more disciplined you. You won’t regret it.
P.S. if you’re feeling down about constantly bypassing your ‘point of cookie,’ take a look at this video and remember, everyone struggles with it! You can do it!
Here we were in the midst of yet another military move and I could not believe what I was hearing.
For those of you who don’t know – all active duty are held to a weight limit according to rank. Surpass that weight limit and you pay a fee per pound with fees varying depending on the carrier and state.
I had failed to properly unload what my husband likes to call stuff.
How could we possibly have too much?
I had purged and donated and purged and thrown away so many things – and then purged again! I heeded the advice of the moving counselor, but to no avail.
Too much stuff? I don’t think so! And guess what? I don’t want to get rid of my stuff!
Why don’t you get rid of your stuff U.S. Government? Aren’t you the one with excess cheese to give away? What do you want me to leave behind Uncle Sam? One of our eight beds? One of our nine bicycles? My grandmother’s quilt? Or maybe a child would satisfy your blood lust?
No sooner had my thoughts of anger and dismay begun to dissipate; a smaller moving truck rounded the corner. The team filled the truck up and I thought to myself, “what’s done is done and I will deal with it on the other end”.
Standing on my lawn with a child on each hip I watched with great interest as the smaller truck circled around, backed up and made contact with the back of the 18 wheeler. “Wait!,” I screamed throwing both children to the side as I ran towards the truck”. “What are you doing?” “Well Ma’am, we can’t seem to get the door closed on the big truck so we are going to back up the little truck until they make contact and then throw the latch down.” While distracted by our conversation I heard what can only be described as a hideous melding of metal, steel, china and furniture. I suspect it may be similar to what the sad souls heard that night on the ill fated Titanic as the iceberg made contact with the ship’s hull.
Again, what’s done is done. The trucks pulled away and I prepared for what would be one of our 7 cross country trips.
On that particular trip, we planned a stop in Truckee, California to visit the location of the Donner Party at Donner Memorial State Park located in the beautiful yet unforgiving Sierra Nevada. Between 1846 and 1847 a group of pioneers set off on a journey from Illinois to California and unwittingly became players in a tragic tale of American Pioneer history.
The plaque on the rear of the Pioneer Statue reads:
NEAR THIS SPOT STOOD THE BREEN CABIN OF THE PARTY OF EMIGRANTS WHO STARTED FOR CALIFORNIA FROM SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS, IN APRIL 1846, UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF CAPTAIN GEORGE DONNER. DELAYS OCCURRED AND WHEN THE PARTY REACHED THIS LOCALITY, ON OCTOBER 29, THE TRUCKEE PASS EMIGRANT ROAD WAS CONCEALED BY SNOW. THE HEIGHT OF THE SHAFT OF THE MONUMENT INDICATES THE DEPTH OF THE SNOW, WHICH WAS TWENTY-TWO FEET. AFTER FUTILE EFFORTS TO CROSS THE SUMMIT THE PARTY WAS COMPELLED TO ENCAMP FOR THE WINTER. THE GRAVES CABIN WAS SITUATED ABOUT THREE-QUARTERS OF A MILE TO THE EASTWARD, THE MURPHY CABIN ABOUT TWO HUNDRED YARDS SOUTHWEST OF THE MONUMENT, AND THE DONNER TENTS WERE AT THE HEAD OF ALDER CREEK. NINETY PEOPLE WERE IN THE PARTY AND FORTY-TWO PERISHED, MOST OF THEM FROM STARVATION AND EXPOSURE.
IN COMMEMORATION OF THE PIONEERS WHO CROSSED THE PLAINS TO SETTLE IN CALIFORNIA. MONUMENT ERECTED UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE NATIVE SONS AND THE NATIVE DAUGHTERS OF THE GOLDEN WEST. MONUMENT DEDICATED JUNE 6, 1918.
While the site is both moving and emotionally charged, as a military wife I was touched by the story of Mrs. Donner a military spouse in her own right being married to Captain Donner. She started her journey in Illinois with a full wagon of china, fine clothing a piano and many other household items she felt dear to her. By the time they became stranded, all that was left were the clothes on their backs and their very lives. Patty Reed, one of the young daughters of the Reed family, in an act of youthful defiance, hid a very tiny porcelain doll in the folds of her dress and hand carried it all the way to California. It is on display at Sutter’s Fort in California.
I had a true moment of clarity that day. The stuff doesn’t matter. A wise man once said, “for we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” Family matters. Your Sailor, Soldier, Airman and Marine coming home matters.
As we throw ourselves into yet another PCS season, stay calm, do your best to prepare and remember that you really don’t need all that stuff.
But with that, let’s end on a high note! Tell me your moves over years ( I have 16 moves in 28 years – 16/28) and let’s see who wins the title of worst moving experience!
Punctuality is a sign of respect.
When we are late to a ceremony, celebration or meeting, we are telling the host or hostess, “What I was doing was more important than what you had planned.”
As military spouses, we are constantly creating teams. We have teams of volunteers, teams for family readiness, teams for social events, teams for training and teams to train future leaders. If you choose to volunteer or are chosen to be on a team, punctuality will be crucial to the overall mission success and your opportunity for future advancement.
For years I was chronically late. It was my modus operandi. I actually had friends and family provide alternate arrival times for me (a polite way of saying they lied) but who could blame them? I deserved what I earned. I lament my former lack of professionalism and through many years of self-analysis and soul searching, I was able to pinpoint the source of my problem:
Babies – the usurpers of time, body, soul and all that is sane. Little individuals that are so cute we actually strap them to our bodies.
We parents as, wannabe professionals, are blindsided by that sweet smile and the smell of cotton candy and diapers. They are mesmerizing indeed – but the killer of all that is professional (at least for me).
The turning point for my perpetual tardiness was one of the first times I volunteered for the unit family readiness team. I had three children, the youngest being around 9 months and still nursing. As nursing mommies often do, I planned on feeding my son at the very last minute before departure. I was in my best suit with my briefcase in the car and the babysitter in the house. I finished feeding the baby and arrived to the meeting right at 11:00 am as planned. I barreled into the conference room and in the immortal words of Britney Spears “all eyes on me.” The room was set up so that the entire group was facing the entry door and they actually started right at 11:00 am. How dare they! Where was the coffee, socializing and introductions? As I entered I heard ladies gasp and witnessed uniformed warriors casting their eyes downward. A fellow volunteer gave me that kind of acknowledgment one might receive when lipstick is on the teeth. I wish it had just been lipstick. While still standing at the entry to the conference room, I looked down and saw that my suit top was completely unbuttoned and revealing my awesome, filthy, nursing bra. The one my husband says looks like a chimney sweep wore it while cleaning out the flue. In my rush to feed the baby and leave, I had forgotten to button up my blouse.
I suppose if this had been the first time something like this had happened I would be mortified. But it was not and I was not. I quickly exited, buttoned up my blouse and returned with an indignant look of what on my face.
If you are reading this screaming YES – then allow me to offer a few tips.
Create a mindset within yourself that you will always be on time. Being late is not an option. There will always be traffic, babies, accidents, breakdowns and vomit. Adjust accordingly and make it happen. The day before an event, prepare your clothes and place all bags, files, papers and supplies in your vehicle. Arrive to events 45 minutes early and while sitting in your car, catch up on email, phone calls and your instagram. Sit in the host’s driveway and ring the bell exactly at the stroke of arrival time quoted on the invite. Your host will love it and be so very impressed.
Within the realm of military life, punctuality is not to be taken lightly. Rise to the occasion, don’t make excuses. Be professional and enjoy yourself!
I love you ripped jeans, you make me happy.
You look so good it ought to be illegal, but that still does not get you an invite to the home of the Sergeant Major.
You’re not welcome at the Exchange either and we will both get kicked out of the ID office.
We will always have the beach.
By now, you should have realized that all of my posts have a few pieces of helpful information – and a really scary backstory in support of said information (compliments of me). I have engaged in the buffoonery so you don’t have to!
Now this is not about being judgey. It’s about digging just a little deeper into the military culture you married into. If you are reading my post then you have some sort of affiliation with the United States military and therefore need to understand what is expected of you. Yes – I said what is expected of you. Spouse, guest, aunt or uncle – it doesn’t matter. Once we step foot on a military installation, we are all bound by the base rules and walk at the behest of the Commanding General.
It is part of our culture that we have strict dress codes and longstanding traditions. To try and rebuff said traditions is a slap in the face to those who came before us both active duty and spouse. Are you proud of your spouse in uniform? Of course you are! So familiarize yourself with your branch’s traditions and have fun!
But back to ripped jeans… I am a lady from the 80’s and we perfected the strategically ripped clothing so when I see people wearing them today, it’s no big deal. It is a big deal however, when we as spouses try to buck the dress codes implemented on all military installations both foreign and domestic. The military has high standards and we as spouses should embrace those standards. Iron sharpens iron people.
The next time you go shopping at the exchange, take a look at the dress code posters near the entrance doors. They are hysterical. Think a cross between The Jersey Shore and a thug weightlifting contest attended by super-hot NASCAR girls. The posters exist out of necessity.
As new military spouses, we receive so much information all at once it’s as if we are drinking water from a firehouse.
Here is the problem – you don’t know what you don’t know.
Case in point:
It’s 1989 and a young Marine wife who has obtained vertical lift with her bangs and ripped her acid washed jeans to perfection is entering the Navy Exchange in Pensacola, Florida. She is met by the ID checker (yes that was a thing) checking…you guessed it… identification cards. She is also inspecting clothing. She took one look at the young wife (ok it was me) and pulled a stapler from behind her podium. She handed me the stapler and said, “you have two choices. Staple every hole in your jeans shut or go home and change.” I immediately took the stapler and stapled every single rip shut, tears stinging my eyes and obscenity laden thoughts running through my brain. How could this be? I thought I looked fine!
Well I did not and the dress code is the dress code like it or not. I considered myself schooled that day.
(On a side note, what did I need so badly that I would subject myself to such humiliation? It had to be a Coach sale).
I encourage newer spouses to remove emotion from some of the rules and regulations you encounter on your military-life journey. Take them for what they are: part of the greater equation that makes the American fighting forces the undisputed power house they are – dress codes and all.
On that note, will someone please pass the stapler?
I am not sure who this post is for, the host or the guest. I will leave it for you the reader to decide.
Whether you are attending an upscale dinner party or your child’s soccer game, a proper introduction is always important, if not necessary, especially in the military lifestyle. For many of us, the need to give or receive an introduction may be an everyday occurrence.
While researching proper introductions, I came across a brief explanation from a wonderful blog entitled The Art of Manliness.
The Big Rule:
“The overarching principle when making introductions is deference and respect. You show chivalrous deference to women by introducing the man to the woman. You show respect for your elders by introducing the younger to the older. And in a business setting, you show respect to higher-ups by introducing the person of lower rank to the person of higher position.”
Simple and I could not have written it better myself, hence the backdoor plagiarism. That was so very manly as well.
And so dear readers, journey back with me if you will to a time and place of long ago. Picture a young Marine wife full of life but most importantly full of herself. She receives a phone call and is politely voluntold to sit on a committee. All right – it was me and I may have trouble articulating tenses so I will henceforth and here unto speak in everyday English.
A committee spot had opened up for a spouse’s organization in Washington, D.C. and a senior leader’s wife called and asked me if I would fill the void. For you civilians out there, that is what is referred to as being voluntold. A healthy fear of saying no… Of course I said yes and off I went to a place I had never heard of before… Fort Myer in Virginia.
Picture if you will, a beautiful historic home sitting atop a grassy ridge overlooking the Potomac River. “Nice,” I thought to myself as I pulled up in the minivan. “I wonder who lives here…” I have never been accused of over preparing for anything in my life and this day was no different. I walked into the home and as with all good spouses’ meetings; we opened with food and drink.
A lovely, older woman (we will call her Susie to protect the innocent and my husband’s career) approached me and we started to chat. I took her for a civilian guest and in my most authoritative of tones began to explain the finer points of military life to include a deep and meaningful explanation of Marine Aviation. Gosh she was so nice and easy going, whose lovely aunt, is this anyway? I wonder where she is visiting from. Our lopsided conversation was coming to a close with Susie being the obvious loser. We politely parted ways and as is the lovely dance of a women’s coffee, I came to speak with another spouse who looked to be around my age. “Wow,” she said. “What on Earth did you talk about with her?” “Who,” I asked. “The wife of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, that’s who!”
Now, everyone deserves politeness, kindness and the gift of your time but let us be crystal clear, when dealing with the leaders of any organization, and in my opinion, the military, as stated above, it is always about deference and respect. Do you respect your spouse, their job, their field of work? Then why would you not want to put your best foot forward and maintain the customs and courtesies of our culture regarding our leadership? Goodness, I still remember being petrified of my husband’s Staff Platoon Commander!
I was caught totally flatfooted and remained uncomfortable for the rest of the meeting. Why had she not introduced herself? Why had I not introduced myself? Why did I talk so much? Did I actually explain to her what the commissary was? Aren’t there supposed to be nametags at these events?
The drive home was a swirling of “what did I say” thoughts and “what if I had said” ruminations. It was exhausting.
Let’s put a bow on this. From a host/hostess perspective; someone at the door greeting, nametags and group introductions are always appropriate. From a guest perspective, do your research. When in doubt, google people, places and events. It helps in conversation prompting as well as history of the location and what to wear. If attending with friends, devise a plan to gather names. Make a game out of it. If you stay in long enough, this will be an ongoing situation for you and your spouse.
Throughout my time on the committee the spouses were all very gracious and I have come to understand that events such as these are where we turn the corner of understanding just a bit more of this military lifestyle.
This is about mistakes – entertaining mistakes.
We all experience them; some small, some epic.
But, we recover and we learn from the experience. However, there was a time when I neither recovered, nor learned.
When planning I would create in my mind the party to end all parties, but when the inevitable happened (burnt food, forgotten ingredients or children vomiting on me moments before a guest’s arrival) I became unglued.
I would often think, “Maybe I’m not cut out for this military lifestyle. Maybe I should focus my efforts on other ways to support the command.”
But that competitive, over-achieving military spouse inside of me would raise her fist like Scarlett O’Hara and shout back, “No! I will not be defeated!”
I have not yet lost the war, but there have been a few battles where I threw up the white flag.
Example #1: My Less-Than-Thankful Thanksgiving
After a few years of marriage and countless military functions, I agreed to host my first large Thanksgiving meal.
My husband Joe was attached to a Marine squadron that had a few squadron mates of the Royal Air Force on exchange from England. It was all very intriguing – the accent, their wives, the culture they offered.
One evening Joe came home and announced that we were hosting Thanksgiving dinner for three exchange pilots, their wives, and their children. They had expressed interest in a true American Thanksgiving feast and that’s what they were going to get. Who cares that I had never hosted one before? Or that I had three children under four and my appliance of choice was the equivalent of an Easy Bake oven (compliments of the U.S. government)?
“Yes,” I thought. “I’ve got this!”
I had cooked a turkey before (I think?), I had cooked rolls before (maybe?), and I had even prepared gravy, but for some reason I went into panic mode.
I went against my better judgement and started to take shortcuts. Between caring for my babies, preparing the house and trying to create an unforgettable feast, I panicked and started to change things up in my mind.
“I know!,” I thought, “I’ll use one of those cooking bags to insure done-ness. Oh! And I’ll use rolls in a tin so I have enough bread. And how about packaged gravy to supplement my own…” As you can see, I mentally spiraled out of control. To this day, I still do not know why I did the things I did that holiday weekend.
The big day arrived and no kidding, the kitchen sink backed up and there was no one from housing maintenance available to come out. My dear husband tried to clear it, but it just would not give. The water backed up to the top and the entire sink was unusable. I actually rinsed and peeled potatoes in my bathtub! Throughout the day of prepping and preparing, all of the dirty dishes went into the bathtub as well. The best part though (ssshhhh don’t tell the British) I had to rinse the turkey under the spigot in the tub. It never touched anything, I promise. There is nothing like a Marine holding out a fresh white towel as if to say, “come to Daddy.” I handed him the bird as a doctor might present a newborn son. It was complete insanity.
I felt a bit of relief when the turkey was actually in the oven cooking. Remember I told you I used a cooking bag for the first time? Well, I did not mentally process that the cooking time is literally cut in half when using an oven bag but friends – I cooked it for the full five hours according to the turkey instructions. – I can still taste it now, it was like tree bark.
On to prepping the stuffing. Dear old Mom’s sausage and nut stuffing. I had made it the week before and… oh my goodness had forgotten to thaw it! “No problem,” I confidently thought. I’ll just pop it in a pan and slowly heat it up. No sooner had I done so then I smelled the acrid scent of scorching food. Sausage stuffing, please report to the trashcan. What would my guests know? They are not even American so how would they know what is in a traditional American Thanksgiving?
Growing up, my mother taught my sisters and I the most amazing yeast roll recipe…why I did not make them, I have no idea. I used the Pillsbury brand in the tin and while tasty – they have directions that MUST be followed.
As dinner was underway, I noticed no one was taking a second helping of rolls. In a moment of true insanity, I grabbed one and ran across the street to my friend’s house (a lovely Navy wife who was unflappable).
I shoved a roll in her hand and said, “Taste this and tell me what’s wrong with it.” As she took a bite and pulled the roll away from her mouth, there appeared to be mozzarella cheese oozing out. She asked me, “did you make cheese stuffed croissants?”
“Uncooked dough!,” I screamed and ran across the street back into my home. I immediately removed the rolls and watched in horror as no one tried a second helping of the turkey. Riddle me this: what is the actually cooking time of a twenty pound bird if you cook according to the directions PLUS toss it in an oven bag? Ten hours? I don’t know, but imagine my guests chewing with only their front teeth and downing copious amounts of water.
Course three – dessert. What could go wrong? I was a pro at pumpkin pie and had taken no shortcuts. I even prepared homemade whipped cream. I triumphantly paraded my pie to the table. No takers. “Oh we’re sorry love; we don’t eat veg in our dessert.” I could not believe my ears but then thought, “yeah, I guess that is pretty gross.”
Suddenly, out came the lovely English trifle that was brought as a hostess gift. Have you ever seen rabid dogs fight over a bone? You get where I am going with this. The trifle dish was licked clean and I mean clean.
I guess I cannot blame them. It was a pretty terrible meal.
While so much went wrong that evening, I did do a few things right. I absolutely hid from my guests even the hint of a problem and kept the evening moving with good drink and good conversation. Never allow your guests to see or hear of a problem if you can at all help it. It makes everyone uncomfortable, which is the exact opposite of what a host or hostess desires.
My biggest failure that evening was trying new things. Never, ever try anything for the first time the night of your event. You are inviting disaster. My husband and I still get a good laugh out of this experience, but I sure wish I could have a redo! And I promise, I have never rinsed meat in the bathtub since.