THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME

“The wind began to switch – the house to pitch and suddenly the hinges started to unhitch.

Just then the Witch – to satisfy an itch went flying on her broomstick, thumbing for a hitch.

And oh, what happened then was rich.

The house began to pitch. The kitchen took a slitch.

It landed on the Wicked Witch in the middle of a ditch,

Which was not a healthy situation for the Wicked Witch.”

-The Wizard of Oz

As I sit on my porch sipping coffee and pondering my military life I hear it.

 

You know what it is. That hauntingly familiar sound of gears grinding, sticks shifting and plumes of exhaust pluming. It slowly rounds the corner wanting nothing more than to engulf everything I hold dear in life and once, having satisfied its bloodlust, simply drives away.

It is the dreaded moving van.

 

If only for a moment my skin becomes clammy and a slow dizziness overtakes me.

Then, I suddenly remember we are not due to move this summer.

Well that was an uncomfortable moment. More coffee?

Our turn will be here before we know it so I’m always mentally preparing myself.

Part of my mental preparedness comes in the form of motivational sayings from my active duty husband. Lucky for all of us, many of the quotes come from his highly respected and motivating Marine boot camp Drill Instructor. The man had a way with words. Such a wordsmith was he that were I to post them, women would blush, gentleman would yell, “here, here now!”  and my blog would be removed from the interwebs all-together. I give you a palatable family favorite…

“If you ain’t cheatin,’ then you ain’t tryin’.”

He was right you know. With verbal judo as his weapon of choice, the DI impressed upon my then 18 year-old husband a powerful life lesson. While in no way implying nor suggesting unethical behavior, he was simply teaching think outside of the box and get creative with the task at hand. Though a situation may appear difficult or even unsurpassable, you must make it work for you. You mold the situation into a desirable option often, not always, with a positive outcome.

It was just last year that we moved and the year before and two years before that. So, the tale I tell is still so very fresh in my mind.

A cross-country move for many is a life goal on the very top of one’s bucket list. But, for military families, it can be an annual necessity of life whether by planes, trains or automobiles. When we hear the words cross-country, thoughts of car sick children vomiting, less than savory motel rooms, wrong turns taken (even with a GPS) and radiators exploding in the desert all come to mind.

Not for me. I embrace the words of wisdom delivered so many years ago by that warrior god walking the grounds of Perris Island.

I made a decision then and there to make our 7th cross-country the experience of a lifetime.

The house was packed out, the moving van had pulled away and the kids were ready to go. We hopped in our two vehicles and set a goal of 8 hours without stopping. Oceanside, California to wherever 8 hours with too many kids and animals to count would take us that day. Slow and easy was the mantra for our upcoming adventure.

Around hour 4 we reached Yuma, Arizona and small dark clouds began to swirl in the distance. A few lightening strikes, nothing I hadn’t seen before.  Fascinating and frightening all at the same time.  I love a good desert lightening show, I thought.  This trip is going to be epic.

Suddenly the clouds became dark and ominous. Dust Devils began to form with jack rabbits darting to and fro. Something was afoot! In an instant a wall of sand, rain and cloud came barreling down upon us.  I immediately lost sight of my husband and our 6 other children. (Side note – I am capable of riding with only one child at a time.  Apparently, that is my limit. I chose child #5 thinking I had chosen well only to learn later that I had not). As the storm surrounded us, we lost complete visibility.

Blackout.

Tumbleweed, small rocks and debris were all striking the windshield with bands of rain, then sand then rain again. In this kind of situation, one must make the decision to either maintain speed and risk hitting someone who has stopped ahead of you or slow down and risk being hit from behind. I was tailing my husband closely and watched as my 5-year old’s chubby little hand thrust the dog dish out the window and in a gust of wind he lost his grip. The metal dish bounced on the interstate creating sparks then shot up and hit my windshield. I hit my brakes just in time to see a desert antelope springboard off my car hood, then to my left there was a desert tortoise laying on his back laughing at me. To my right stood a frontier Army ghost brigade at Parade Rest and just as I thought things couldn’t get any worse, my sweet Auntie was directly above my car riding a bicycle waving at me. With the mercy of sudden distraction, I frantically waved back. It was at that moment Auntie slowly morphed into my husband’s former DI. He was riding atop a tank and called out to me, “If you aint  cheaten,’ then you ain’t tryin!”

“Jesus take the wheel!,” I screamed as I slammed on the brakes throwing my right arm across Rebecca  to brace her for impact.  It was at that point I noticed she was laughing hysterically while filming me with her Iphone.

I repeat, I chose the wrong driving companion.

“Stop filming me and call Daddy right now,” I yelled.   She quickly dialed his number and my combat hardened husband dryly answered, “Hello, this is Dad, how may I help you?” In my unglued state I screamed, “I cannot drive in this!” He calmly replied, “Just follow the white line on the right until we get through the storm.” So that’s what I did. I followed that white line all the way off an exit down a service road into a zero-visibility gully not knowing if I had level ground or a 30-foot drop on either side of me. I looked up the embankment just in time to see the red tail lights of the family roadster slowly fade into the storm.

So, this is how it ends? Very disappointing I thought to myself.

I turned to my daughter (who was posting her film) and inquired, “any ideas? I’m tapped out.”

She calmly replied, “get back on the road Mom.”

And so, I did.

As if being shaken from a deep sleep, in an instant we pulled out of the bands of dust, rain and wind into a clear, starlit night.

We pulled over at a rest stop and engaged in lively discussion with another motorist only to find out we had driven through a Desert Monsoon. Raise your hand if you have ever heard of that.

Exactly, me neither.

I became a different person that evening. I am now a white-knuckled driver who pulls over at the slightest change in cloud formation. I cannot watch The Mummy and I’m still mad at my daughter. I have yet to watch the Scorsese-esque film she created that night but maybe someday.

We never did find out why sweet baby CJ threw the metal dog dish out the window, perhaps he was aiming for the desert antelope.

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

Semper Fido

A guide to traveling with pets during your PCS

Every summer, all across this great nation, thousands of military families receive Permanent Change of Station orders or what we refer to as PCS-ing. While many  hop a jet plane to locations far and wide, some of us engage in the great American past time of the cross-country road trip.

Orders have been cut, it’s time to move and thoughts of what to do slowly flood the mind.

Will we live on base, rent out in town or perhaps buy a new home? Are the schools desirable and will they offer the classes my child needs? What about clothes? Are we moving from flip flop central to a place that requires sub-z gear? To say there is a lot to think about is truly an understatement.

As you’re on the computer conducting searches of every kind, you feel a furry friend slowly glide by your leg. The cat! What am I going to do with the cat? Or perhaps you have a dog, or two dogs or a cat and a dog and 3 goldfish.

Your move just went next level.

Our pets are family members and for some, our fur babies. As you begin your plans for the upcoming move, do not leave pet accommodations to chance.

So, the mini van is packed, everyone has claimed their seat and the dog is perched on suitcases in the very back, ears touching the car roof. You take one last pic of your old house and jump into the running car when that familiar smell of dog-kid-sweat-feet hits you. My husband calls it stank soup. I call it my life.

It’s going to be a long ride.

Of our 15 moves thus far, 8 of them involved a pet in tow. While planning a few of those many moves, I just did not have time to think about our pet. I have always considered them part of the kid count and it was simply a matter of coercing Fido into the car. One of our dogs personally completed 5 cross country moves. The very definition of a salty dog!

In the beginning for us, most motels would allow pets in “pet only” rooms which often were pretty disgusting. There was a time where many base lodging facilities had pet accommodating rooms but I haven’t seen them lately. I sure hope that some still exist.

During one of our cross-country moves, we were chugging along and were quite fortunate to find motels and hotels that allowed our dog. On night 4 of our journey, we were in Texas and reserved a room at the base lodge. As we received our keys around midnight, the desk clerk asked, “Oh, you don’t have an animal, do you? We have a no pet policy.”

Everyone…back in the car.

Something I never stopped to consider was where do the animals go when we stop to eat? Everyone looks forward to that hour where we get out of the car, stretch our legs and catch a

breath of fresh air. What do you do with a pet?

Answer: You take turns walking him while the rest of the family stares at you through the restaurant window.

The struggle is real.

The few times we decided to leave the dog in the car, she did not react well. We made sure she was safe and comfy but like many animals, she would let us know when she was irritated. Occasionally, she has engaged in some very unsavory behavior while in the minivan alone. Occurrences that could never be discussed in polite company. She was definitely angry and she let us know it from both ends.  It was quite impressive for the short amount of time we left her. (I always try to pull the positive from a negative situation).

It is imperative that you do your homework before the moving van pulls away! While many military moves revolve around a family reunion or a famous American landmark, a pet owner’s route is often dictated by how many four-legged friends they keep company with.

Sigh. My life is not my own.

I was so excited when a friend in the unit told me that Holiday Inn Express hotels are pet friendly. (This is not an ad- just advice).  They charge a small fee per animal and it is simply added on to your total bill. Sure enough we made reservations from Southern California to Washington, D.C. and had no trouble. It really was quite remarkable to be able to simply walk the dog into the room with us.  We were shocked to see however, that our dog has mad attitude. While visiting New Mexico we worked our pet friendly hotel in with a sightseeing expedition to the Carlsbad Caverns (For many years I actually thought they were in Carlsbad, California…). We toured the caverns for several hours only to return with concerned staff politely letting us know that man’s best friend had continuously barked the entire day. I was mortified. BUT, thank goodness we were at a hotel with likeminded people!

A few tips prior to embark:

1.  Complete all of your vet visits to include vaccinations PRIOR to leaving your current base.

2. Purchase a 6 month supply of flea/tick and heartworm meds from the base vet PRIOR to leaving your current duty station. Pet meds are lost in the sauce during a pack out so it’s best to keep them close at hand.

3. Get your pet micro-chipped as soon as possible (it is a base regulation if you plan on taking military quarters) and always hand carry your pet’s records. It makes pet registration so much easier when you are attempting to move into military housing or register at pet lodging. Pet registration is one of many required steps when moving onto base. Also check into breed restrictions for the base you are relocating to. Military housing may not even be a consideration for you.

3. Pack your pet their own suitcase. To include food, extra leashes, collars, toys, food and water dishes. Don’t forget the snacks and perhaps a fancy outfit. You never know.

4. If you plan on living in temporary lodging while waiting for a rental or base house, consider kenneling your dog in a “pack” kennel. The dogs run in a pack on parcels of land. We have used them on both coasts. Very cool! There are amazing pet hotels, for cats, dogs and other species with AC, outdoor play time and swimming pools as well! They ALL require documentation of up-to-date vaccinations and medications. No exceptions!

5.  Keep in mind your pet is NOT a dependent. You cannot submit receipts for any pet costs that I am aware of to include travel, lodging and kenneling.

6. Never sneak your animal into a hotel or base lodge knowing it is against the rules. Some people have severe allergies and will possibly react to your pet long after you have checked out. The staff often recognize military families and you embarrass us all when your behavior is less than stellar! (I’m older than you, I can say that!)

If you simply cannot move both family and pet together consider looking into a pet relocation service. They will gladly guide you on how to meet up with your pet on the other side of your PCS. You can also find installation guidelines both at the base veterinary office and online.

While moving with pets can be difficult, I encourage you to work it into your PCS plans and enjoy the ensuing adventure.

Semper Fido!

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

Galentine’s Day

You’ve heard about it, you’ve read about it and now you are personally experiencing it.

Another holiday alone.

I guess it would be ok if it were Groundhog Day (did he see his shadow?) or Bastille Day (bonjour and ooh la la!) but it’s Valentine’s Day. A day representing love, romance and companionship. The problem is, your spouse is deployed and you’re not feeling loved or romantic – just irritation and a bit of remorse for shoving down one too many chocolate hearts.

If I stop and think about it I (like many milspouses), have spent half of my adult Valentine’s Days with my husband, and half with my military sisters. But while it was not ideal, you can be sure we women made the most of it – and so should you!

Military spouses are sharp cookies, a lot of fun to be around and very creative – especially when our hands are forced.

So, if you are finding yourself a-lone, a-gain, gather your unit spouses and plan something! Host a “Whine and Cheese” at your home and encourage everyone to bring their wedding albums. They are beautiful to look at, make people feel good and when old enough are hysterical to flip through. Or, if it’s not just married but fiancés and girlfriends, have everyone bring their favorite couple’s picture. Request that they be brought framed and make them the focal point of your table.

I do recall once where Valentine’s Day fell right in the middle of the deployment cycle. We had one exceptionally bold wife who brought not one, not two, but all three of her wedding albums from her three marriages to include both Officer and Enlisted. Totally next level. (Now see- that is a twist in entertaining that NO ONE sees coming. If you’re the hostess in a situation like that, you just push through and be polite – but you already knew that.)

If you are stationed in a city that has a vibrant nightlife, then make reservations at the hottest restaurant, have everyone pay their own way and host a classy ladies’ “Pin Up” night out.

Trust me your group will make quite the impression.

Host a flight suit formal or a diamonds and denim night. A few weeks beforehand have the Commanding Officers Spouse schedule a live FaceTime feed where the forward deployed are able to give a quick shout out to their spouses. You will need to coordinate the attendees and their active duty spouses. We don’t want anyone to be left out.  Never a dry eye in the room when this is done!

The possibilities for your alternative Galentine’s Day are endless. The worst thing you can do is sit at home alone lamenting your current situation so get up and do something about it! Rally your gal pals and host an epic event.

Remember when the spouses and families are content at home, our active duty can focus on the mission at hand. Even if it means throwing a party.

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

YOU DON’T RATE MULCH

Truer words never spoken. The problem was, I had no idea what those words meant.

My Marine and I were stationed on the West Coast and loving life. We were settling into our base housing bungalow and getting started at our new duty station. One day I was out gardening my little spot of heaven with birds chirping, barefoot children running and jets flying overhead. Glorious. Pausing for a moment I noticed a landscaper throwing mulch into garden beds. He was up the street at one of the senior leader’s quarters not more than a half block away. Oh, I thought- free mulch! I scooped up what children were within arm’s reach and confidently approached the hard-working man.

“Excuse me, sir,” I politely interrupted, “Can you explain to me how I go about having mulch delivered to my quarters?”

He paused briefly and shifted not unlike a sports car flying down the freeway, suddenly coming upon a traffic jam.

He turned, looked at me and asked, “Where do you live?”

“Right there,” I pointed.

He squinted as the morning sun glared in his eyes, paused for a moment and said,

“You don’t rate mulch.”

Seeing the look of confusion on my face, the kind man went on to explain. You see, just a few doors up were higher ranking active duty who were afforded more perks and benefits within the realm of military housing than those of a lesser rank. Fascinating I thought.

“Well,” I asked. “What do I rate?”

He looked at my yard and replied, “Fertilizer.”

Score.

That day I came to understand yet another piece of the military lifestyle puzzle. Everything is worked for and earned even down to the minutia of base housing. There are so many “understoods” that go along with being a military spouse. For example, I personally understand that I cannot and should not park in the E-9 parking spot at the Exchange. I did not earn that spot and would be in a state of total disrespect to those who did. I cannot and should not park in any of the designated spots at any base activities to include clubs, office buildings, Commissary and the like. I conducted exactly one minute of research on your behalf (a phone call) and confirmed that these “cannots” are not actual base orders but courtesies and part of our military culture. Don’t embarrass yourself or your active duty spouse by participating in the slow chipping away of our customs and courtesies. Embrace them and have within yourself the desire to carry them on long after you are gone.

This “understood” also applies in base housing.
Ask any military spouse and the majority will tell you that yes, indeed they have driven through the housing neighborhoods of higher ranks in a motivating moment of aspiration. Someday honey…
It’s a wonderful thing to have collective goals and dreams with your husband or wife. It is a bond that ties when there is so much pulling you apart. Deployments, training, work ups and every day duty.

Nobody likes being told no, or coming to the realization that your neighbor on base rates something that you cannot have. Even something as simple as mulch. 
As I work in my garden here in base housing prepping for the oncoming winter, I get a chuckle from my mulch experience.
I thought you might appreciate an update. I recently called housing to see if my husband rates mulch yet.
Yes, I was told, but only once a year, in the spring, and I don’t get to pick the color.
Score again.
Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

Sweet and Savory, Bad Behaviory

“Is there anything on this buffet that is gluten free, anything at all!?”

I paused for a moment as a chill ran down my spine.

I had forgotten to provide a gluten free alternative and now my militant guest was calling me out with shrill, Verruca Salt-like attitude. I scrambled for a box of gluten free crackers, uncontaminated fruit, rock candy (maybe a little past the expiration date, but rock candy doesn’t go bad right?!). I looked for anything, ANYTHING, that would suffice in this entertaining emergency. How did I miss this? I finally found something and quickly prepared a small plate for my guest.

But I’ll be honest, after catching my breath I became slightly irritated.

Allergies can be deadly, so as a host or hostess we want to be made aware of all dietary restrictions and my guest seemed to have forgotten to inform me of her condition. The goal of any good host or hostess is to provide and cater to their guest’s every need. However, sometimes people take their guest status a little too far. Instead of taking offense, take note – and learn from it!

I make sure I always take into stock comments I hear during the event. Then after all the guests leave, I do what the military calls a “hot wash,” or an ”after-action report.” I mentally go over the good and the bad, the successful and unsuccessful. You understand! It’s a great way to make sure at your next event you don’t find yourself in a hard place between a gluten-free guest and a gluten-full table.

“I hate meatloaf but this is actually good.”

“How long do we have to stay?”

“Does she actually drink wine out of this?”

Think I’m kidding? Even the most refined officer and polished lady of state can accidentally leave their mental filter at home.

“I hate this champagne, it is ca-ca.”

“Oh nothing for me, we leave for Hawaii in a week and I am dieting.”

“I don’t eat vegetables in my dessert.”

That last one? Foreign military – bet you never thought of that!

“Doesn’t she have any wine glasses that are bigger?”

“I know I said I couldn’t make it but surprise, I’m here!”

“I used the cream in your fridge.”

It was breast milk for the baby.

I brought the baby because I knew you would want to hold her.”

“You wouldn’t be able to mix up a few martinis would you?”

“Those directions were terrible, who wrote them?”

“I hate the colors red and green.”

At a Christmas party!

“I don’t eat off of buffets, I am afraid people have touched all the food.”

“I drank the last of the Jack…”

“I hate Mexican food.”

Guess what was being served?

“I think my boyfriend is drunk…”

“Can I turn the game on?”

“Oh, when are you due?”

Well the only thing due that night was the electrical bill, so unless you’re at her baby shower, do not ask a lady when she is due…

Too, too funny but all true.

I listen to the polite complaints, I watch for food left on plates. It all holds value as a visual after-action.

The truth is my wine glasses were too small and the champagne may very well have been cheap. Lesson learned.

I also take into consideration how people were raised.

My first generation, immigrant mother has often used the word “obbondanza” which is Italian for abundant. Everything must be abundant, mounded butter, mounded salad, mounded pasta, eat, eat, and eat! I once attended a dinner where the hostess prepared an absolutely delicious meal. She served each guest one portion then removed all of the food back to the kitchen. Waaaaiiittt I thought… I am a third-helping type of girl.

Rude perhaps, but as I got to know her it became evident she had been raised in a home where they were on a very tight budget and was now running her home the same way.

Another example is when (in an effort to be fancy) I started using cloth napkins. They are chic and classic, yet I failed to consider the fact that if my guest didn’t care for whatever they were eating it was going in the cloth napkin! Needless to say, I have thrown away a few good cloth napkins.

Don’t overestimate (notice I did not say underestimate) your guest’s desire to try new things. I once served liver pâté and ended up placing a small trash can next to the buffet because so many people spit it out (into my good cloth napkins)! Hysterical.

Whatever happens at your event, just remember your guests came because they like you and want to get to know you better.

Be patient and gracious and like they say in the movies, “smile and wave boys, smile and wave.”

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie