FORCE PROTECTION, BOO REJECTION

I live on a military installation. Have I mentioned that before? I believe I have.

For years, I have witnessed the delightful Halloween tradition of booing in military housing. My kids love it and harass me from the first day of October on as to when I think we might get booed ourselves. 

Booing consists of placing (under the cloak of darkness) a fun treat on a neighbor’s porch. There is always a note with instructions on how to pay the fun forward. In turn, neighbors post on the neighborhood Facebook page their surprises as well as a thank-you or two. Newly PCS’d families get to know the current residents and a natural neighborhood bond begins to form.

While exciting and fun, booing has its downside. One year it may be my children, frozen with fear, refusing to get out of the car as we approach our targeted house. Because it is late, I’m in pajamas (my Mother says that is pedestrian) and I’m forced to run onto a neighbor’s porch so as not to ruin the moment. The next year, it’s me driving away too quickly thinking I have all the children but in fact I do not. Before you judge, imagine seven children jumping into a car screaming GO! GO! GO! It all gets very confusing. I quickly glance in my rearview mirror and see child #5 frantically running after the car. In an instant she is gone having flipped over a hedge hidden in the October darkness. 

Childhood memories my children.  You are welcome.

Where are the MPs when all this is going on? I ask myself that very same question every single year.

With each boo after-action and a newly presented game plan, I convince myself and the children it will be different, but it never is. I’m a glutton for punishment and the shattered dreams that only a made up Hallmark holiday can bring.  

There was however, one year that still remains our most memorable for the most unlikely of reasons.

The month of September was coming to a close and the boo harassment package, compliments of my children had begun. We chose our families, mapped out our game plan and went shopping. Some years we choose new families whose children might appreciate feeling welcomed after yet another military move; but this particular year, we chose the best friends of two of my children. Because of this, I went a little overboard. I purchased above and beyond what I should have and was happy to do it. Candy, toys, a small piece of clothing…all shoved into the boo buckets.

Proud was an understatement. Dressed in black, I piled six ninja children into my  15 passenger van and began the slow creep through housing. My kids were phenomenal. No crying, no falling, no freezing in fear, no forgetting part of the team. 

Mission accomplished.

The next morning I went over to one of the homes and let the mom know it was our family that had booed them. We were (and still are) good friends and in a prideful moment I wanted to hear how truly awesome her family thought our boo bucket was.

“Oh, it was you?” she asked with eyes downcast.

“Yes! What did you think?”

“Well,” She began sheepishly. “My husband refused to allow the children to have it and he threw it all away.”

“What? Why?”

“Anthrax.”

Wait. What? Wait.

“Anthrax?”

I live on a military installation. Have I mentioned that before? I think I have.

Level intensity. High. All day, every day.

I walked away and while disappointed, understood the mindset of her husband. What I know to be true is that every man and woman that wears the uniform in this great country of ours is a shepherd at heart. They are always watching, always observing, always ready to protect.  In that moment, I realized that our military professionals cannot separate who they are moment to moment. A protection mentality is at the very core of their being.

Having never donned the uniform, I cannot fully appreciate nor understand why anthrax contaminated candy immediately came to my neighbor’s mind. I will say with confidence though, as an American citizen with Marines as neighbors, I will sleep soundly this Halloween night.

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

Irish Soda Bread

You will never find a group of individuals quite as diverse as the United States military. So celebrate it!

Every year, wherever we are stationed, I share my cultural upbringing by hosting a St. Patrick’s Day meal. Whether potluck at the unit spaces or in our home on base, it’s always a joy to bring people together to experience a foreign tradition.

With that, I thought I would share my Irish Soda Bread recipe with you. Enjoy!
Irish Soda Bread
4-41/2 cups all purpose flour
1-4 Tbsp sugar (depending on your desired level of sweetness)
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbsp cold butter
1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk
1 XL egg
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. Combine flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk lightly. Cut in the cold butter with a pastry cutter or fork. You want the butter to be pea-sized. Whisk lightly.
3. In a liquid measuring cup measure out the buttermilk and add the egg. Lightly beat together and set aside.
4. With your hand, make a small well in the center of the dry mixture. Slowly begin pouring the egg/buttermilk into the well while mixing the mixture with your free hand. You may use a wooden spoon if preferred. It will be very sticky.
5. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and begin kneading while shaping into a loaf. Score the top with a sharp knife creating an X. This allows the heat to reach the center of the loaf.
6. Bake on your parchment covered cookie sheet for 40-55 minutes. After 30 minutes test doneness with a sharp knife directly in the center of the loaf. If it comes out clean the bread is done.
7. Serve warm or room temperature with fresh butter.
Notes: I made 3 loaves last night and one this morning. Less sugar creates a more rustic flavor while more sugar creates almost a dessert like bread. Sometimes I add raisins (1 cup), currants (1 cup) or caraway seeds (2 tsp). These must be added during the wet mix process.
When baking for a large unit event, I will cook up to two days prior and wrap tightly with multiple layers of plastic wrap. You can also bake and freeze for up to two months in advance!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

Welcome Home Commitment

The year: 2005

The place: El Centro, California

The temperature: a balmy 115 degrees

If you have never heard of El Centro, think the desert scene in Star Wars, Return of the Jedi (it was filmed there) – and we’re talking surface-of-the-sun hot. We were on the tail end of our 5th cross-country Permanent Change of Station (PCS) from Virginia to California with our (then) 5 children and one dog. A proper Saharan caravan on its last leg.

It was then that our minivan tires began to give. I remember looking behind from the front-seat of our car with concern, and seeing five red-faced children staring nervously back. They were dripping with sweat in our vehicle-turned-sauna. Our panting dog sat atop a stack of suitcases, like some busted-up driveway lion, guarding nothing in particular. We had turned off the air conditioner, as it was serving no purpose other than raising our engine temperature. Outside, it was simply too hot, and the system could not keep up.

But suddenly, on the horizon – an oasis! Wait a minute…is it a mirage? No! A Walmart Super Center!

To us wayward travelers, it was as if we had stumbled upon the Fountain of Youth. We limped into the auto bay, handed over the keys and apologized to the mechanic for the yet-to-be identified smell of the interior. I considered pulling the food off the dash board and then thought hmmm – warm lunch for later. I walked away not caring if I ever got back into the van again.

As I watched my children frolicking in the freezer section, I pondered our current situation. We had prepared for the move and traveled so far only to be caught off guard. Again. We were stuck in the moment, with a most unlikely sanctuary suddenly appearing.

For many Veterans, transition may be like a desert experience. After years of forward progress, professional success and reliable constants, they come to a sudden stop where there appears to be no help in sight.  An abrupt halt they thought they were prepared for but perhaps were not.

Our military and their families acknowledge there are certain constants in this lifestyle of choice. We know a deployment is always in our near future, as well as moves, multiple school changes for our children, and an ‘interesting’ housing choice at each station. Let’s not forget the most important constant of all: separation and retirement. You might be Captain America right now, but at some point, the military is going to break up with you. It is a reality.

While meeting sudden, emergency needs like ours in 2005, Walmart also recognizes the long-lasting constants. They recognize that life can get hard, and they recognize the connection between their company and Veteran hiring needs.

In 2013 the Veterans Welcome Home Commitment was started in an effort to identify and hire Veterans. Leaving the military can be one of the most difficult transitions a Veteran will face, and Walmart guarantees a job for all eligible, honorably discharged U.S. Veterans separated from active duty since Memorial Day of 2013. The company has a goal of hiring 250,000 Veterans by the end of 2020 and have already reached over 75% of that goal.

According to the Department of Defense, more than 1,300 new Veterans and their family members return to civilian life every day. 1,300! The transition from active duty to civilian life can be difficult at times, and for some, debilitating. Walmart is attempting to bridge the gap understanding the elite nature and capabilities of our Veterans and their spouses. They recognize the honorably discharged Veteran is a highly-trained, expertly skilled leader with a desire to achieve, long after separation from the military.  The company has recognized the need and recently announced that it has hired more than 194,000 Veterans and promoted more than 28,000 to positions of greater responsibility nationwide since 2013.

But wait…there’s more…Walmart is not done yet.

In a first-of-its-kind event, Walmart co-sponsored Veteran EDGE, a three-day conference and training summit dedicated to Veteran-owned businesses.  The corporation is passionate in their desire to assist Veterans and their spouses in search of meaningful careers not just through their hiring programs but also through entrepreneurial efforts. An all-in for Veterans not simply to find them a job but to assist them throughout their entire career journey.

Through a partnership with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University, Veteran EDGE was held February 16-18 in Austin, Texas.  The conference targeted Veteran and military spouse small business owners from across the country by providing opportunities for networking and the sharing of business ideas.

More than 5 million Americans are employed by the more than 2.5 million Veteran owned businesses in the U.S. generating more than 1.1 trillion in sales annually. Needless to say, Veteran owned businesses play a vital role in our nation’s economy.

And I should point out that fewer than 1% of our country’s citizens currently serve in the armed forces.

For Veterans and their families, transition can be a very unstable and constantly shifting environment. But, Walmart recognizes the value in supporting and hiring this superior group as employees and potential leaders of their corporation. And just as they worked to get us back on the road to our new duty station, so Walmart works to get our Veterans on their way to a bright future.

Consider the Veterans Welcome Home Commitment an anchor and a new constant in your time of transition.

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

To learn more about Walmart’s Veterans Welcome Home Commitment and overall support to veterans, service members and their families, visit www.walmartcareerwithamission.com

To learn more about the first-of-its-kind Veteran EDGE event, visit https://ivmf.syracuse.edu/veteranedge/

PACK IT UP, PACK IT IN – LET ME BEGIN

Thank you, House of Pain, for those sweet lyrics – so inappropriately appropriate.

Your spouse just walked in the door and announced orders have been cut and you are moving yet again. No problem… You’ve done this so many times that it is now second nature, right?

Maybe.

There are lots of different ways to approach the pack-out looming overhead and they all depend on the season of life you are currently in. With so many scenarios, let’s discuss a few.

  • Your spouse is deployed and will arrive home  the same week as the pack out. You both hope it won’t be the same day.
  • Your baby is due a month before the truck arrives and you just don’t have time to sort your belongings.
  • Maybe your oldest is graduating from high school.  College, not moving, is on your mind. Better yet, you are graduating from college, a milestone that far outweighs the burden that can often times be a household move.
  • Or, maybe you just don’t want to prep at all.  The packers will pack, the loaders will load, the movers will move and you will figure it out on the other end.

(I have done them all and the last example is a family favorite with interesting consequences on the tail end.)

Ask any military spouse and they will gladly regale you with sick tales of moves gone by. It is with disturbing pride and bold saltiness that we retell the times where the packers packed up the trash from the McDonald’s lunch we so graciously bought them, leftover fries and all. Or during one move, a neighbor, upon answering the door, came face to face with a disturbing situation. There before her stood a man, probably in his 60’s, proudly sporting a Naval Academy Lacrosse Team t-shirt with her husband’s name on the back. Not knowing what else to do, she dropped a few classmate’s names in the hopes that perhaps they had played with the same people.

It was worth a try.

There are so many things to think about during the pack out and it goes to PCS 5.0 when small children are part of the mix. Seriously, consider setting up your move during school hours, or swap with a neighbor for childcare needs. You must remain focused on the way your belongings are packed up, how they are numbered and inventoried, and what makes it to the truck and what does not.

Did you catch that?

Yes, sadly sometimes our precious belongings do not make it all the way to the truck. You may end up on the other side of your move minus a few items. Be smart about what you choose to pack up and what you choose to hand carry in your vehicles. Human temptation is great and sometimes people rationalize their theft with the notion that as military-on-the-move, we won’t catch the hit and we will be reimbursed for the loss. This is partially true. We do get reimbursed, but it requires an arduous claim process where we rarely see the full replacement value.

As a military family, you also want to be aware of your household weight limit. You are held to a weight limit according to rank NOT family size. I speak from experience. The U.S. government does not care how many kids, cars, toys or books you have. The higher the rank you are, the harder they may laugh at your claim for exemptions because “you should know better.”  It’s all on you and you are expected to know the rules. You do have the option to notate professional gear and the packing team should be familiar with the process. Professional gear notation allows both you and your active duty spouse to receive extra weight allowances that are on top of your current household weight allowances. The active duty allowance is far higher than the spouses. I will not post any numbers here because they change often and I do not want to mislead you. Don’t cause undue burden for yourself or your family by going over your weight limits. If you do, you will be charged per pound and bound to the weight regulations of the state you are entering.

Check with TMO (Transportation Management Office) and your move counselor. Do your homework!

As the Military Wife that Entertains, I occasionally find myself in a belongings pickle with my great entertaining finds. While I am able to claim some items as “pro gear,” most often my entertaining cache is my problem. I encourage you to be very selective as to what you accumulate over your years “in” as a military family. Leave grandma’s china and rocking chair in your home state with a relative. This will create room for that amazing German wardrobe find and also alleviate undue stress on your family heirlooms.

 If you are moving this summer, now is the time to start a slow inventory of needs, wants and giveaways. The base thrift shop will gladly accept your offerings and in return give you a tax receipt.

Proper planning will allow you to execute a near flawless move.  

If you prepare well enough ahead, perhaps you will avoid opening a box labeled ‘baby’s room’ and find a used diaper changed during the last pack-out. Accurate and horrifying all at once.

Feel free to top that….

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

WHERE’S MY JAM AT?

Upon arriving to work one cold, December morning, a young Marine took stock of her workplace associates’ cubicles and noticed something terribly awry…

On every desktop, as far as the eye could see, there was a small jar of Christmas Jam neatly placed, as if to say, “good morning, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!” What was this sweet concoction? Was it left the night before by some magical military elf with a CAC card? Perhaps Santa flew down on his F-18 and left an early holiday treat?

As a veteran Marine, the Sergeant had seen this before, but upon looking down was perplexed and possibly  hurt to see that her desk had been passed by. What happened? Was there a run on Christmas Jam this year? Had she been mistakenly placed on the unit naughty list? Absolutely not! This servicewoman had made sure she was always on the nice list!

So, with holiday boldness, and a jam mission in mind – the Marine stood, straightened her uniform and walked down the hallway towards my husband’s office. The hallways in all units are lined with photos of the current leadership (my children swear that as they walk by Dad’s photo his eyes follow you. I believe it but I also digress).

In a very Dickensian way she appeared, much like Bob Cratchit with his query for an early departure on Christmas Eve. Taking a breath and with slight hesitation, she knocked on Ebenezer’s –  I mean my husband’s – door and inquired,

 “Sir, where’s my jam at?”

Before you cast judgement on what may appear to be a very Millennial moment, allow me to explain the situation a bit further. It is tradition for anyone in a position of leadership no matter the rank – whether from shop, group, company or battalion – to hand out a holiday gift of some sort. Nothing extravagant, and certainly not a mandatory thing, but quite rewarding for all involved. Cookies, candy or cake – a token of appreciation for a job well done. The worst thing when doing this however, is to mistakenly forget someone, anyone! We consider each and every person in the unit both civilian and active duty as family. To forget even one person hurts! And that Christmas, we forgot someone.

In short time, I was out grabbing a few more jars of Christmas Jam. I delivered them to the office beribboned and labeled in an attempt to make things right.

The holidays, for both civilian and military, offer a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge your staff or coworkers. A brief moment to build stronger relationship bonds with your brothers and sisters in arms. So please, don’t forget the jam.

                     “No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused.”

                     -Charles Dickens

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

SEPARATION APPRECIATION: THE ART OF CELEBRATING WHILE APART

     Someone once told me that USMC stands for U Suckers Miss Christmas.

     I believe our spouses’ squadron was on its third back-to-back UDP and we were used to being apart – separation was nothing new. However, the powers that be had spun the magic wheel of deployment and on that particular cycle our loved ones would be missing the trifecta of holidays to include Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

     As much as we girls may have wanted to curl up in a corner and cry, we knew doing so would be the deployment kiss of death.  Remain positive and stay the course, we thought, before you know it, they will be on their way home.

     The wife of both the CO and XO rallied, quickly procuring a suite at the Navy Lodge on-board NAS North Island and a call went out for an old school potluck on the beach. Kids welcomed, attire of your choice, and no complaining allowed. As an East Coast girl, I longed for the crisp November air and the smell of my mother’s cooking. Instead, that Thanksgiving Day I found myself swimming in the surf with my babies on one of the loveliest beaches in America, and for a moment sharing a difficult situation with women who understood.  No one could have convinced me that I would ever enjoy a holiday alone away from family. I was wrong. So wrong. And had I stood my ground and fought the situation, I would have missed out on a truly memorable squadron life experience.

     As we approach another holiday season, there are countless military families apart from one another, and all of them wondering what they will do to make it through. Well, it’s time to create new memories and new traditions incorporating what we know into the reality we now live.

     There are so many productive ways for spouses of deployed military to stay engaged, remain positive, and make the most of what can sometimes be an unpalatable situation.  Seek out other spouses in your unit. Create groups for whatever interests you and pursue other like-minded spouses to join in. If deployment occurs over a holiday then YOU take the initiative to plan an event. It does not have to be expensive or extravagant. Grab the best cook in the group and have them host a cooking lesson specifically geared to the holiday at hand then feast together on your creation. Check with the spouses in leadership positions and ask how you may be of assistance in organizing a deployed spouses’ ball. Rally the forward deployed to create a group video message for the event. Perhaps your unit family members can volunteer as a team at a local shelter or food bank. Make suggestions and take the lead. Your military base has so many options for venues, meeting spaces, and entertainment! Are you aware that many installations allow family and civilian DOD employees to attend holiday meals at the chow hall? What fun! Check with the base community services office as to what they have planned. The options are endless.

     Keep in mind that when families on the home front are doing well, our spouses are better able to successfully complete the mission at hand. If there is trouble at home, our active duty become distracted and that can be dangerous.

     Someday you will fondly recall these life moments and know that you overcame, you succeeded and you won the deployment challenge. Once you have a few deployment holidays under your belt, you too will find yourself making statements that go a little something like this:

“ For our 10th Christmas my husband was on his 9th deployment and  I went into labor with our 5th child driving myself to the Naval hospital while timing contractions, confirming en-route via Facetime the base fun-run for our sister squadron wives, then posting my status on Facebook, and cancelling base soccer carpool, while going through the drive-thru to grab my kids dinner (mistakenly ordering from the trash can, which I had to post that on Instagram of course), yet pushing through and buying an extra meal to feed the corpsman who would possibly deliver my baby, and voice texting the entire spouse’s group to let them know I was in labor and would follow up with them upon baby’s arrival. Then after that we had newborn portraits done at the Exchange, and right after I requested a Red Cross call to my husband while setting a date for the banner making party and ordering farewell gifts online, while simultaneously coordinating next year’s ball date with the Sgt Maj.”

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

“I’m calling for another truck, they have too much stuff!”

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!

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

Under-Cooked Dough and Other Things You Should Know

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.

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie