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

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

FREE VITA TAX PREP ON BASE

Yep, you heard that right!

At this very moment there are uniformed warrior-gods not only ready to engage the enemy, but prepare your taxes (which can be quite the battle too).

Many U.S. military installations across our great nation and around the world are collaborating with the IRS to offer free, in-person tax preparation services for active duty members, retirees and dependents. Through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or VITA, our active duty and their families have one less thing to worry about in a lifestyle that can often times be filled with uncertainty.

According to Army Lt. Col. David Dulaney, the Executive Director of the Armed Forces Tax Council, “Taxes for military members are complicated, noting frequent moves, deployments and the fact that tax laws change every year. The VITA preparers receive extensive training through the Defense Department and the IRS on the situations faced in the military community, such as combat zone tax benefits, extensions to file and pay, and special rules for the earned income tax credit.”

Have I had my taxes prepared by VITA? You bet your sweet return I have! (Full disclosure: a few years back I went to the dark side and had my taxes prepared by a national chain. In fact, I paid the fees to have 4 years of VITA returns checked. Not a single mistake was found. Very impressive to say the least.)

Gather your tax information for the past year (and an up-to-date power of attorney if your spouse is deployed) and head on over to your local VITA offices. Make sure to bring along your bank information that include routing numbers, as well as original social security cards of all dependent family members.

You will find professional, uniformed personnel under the guidance of an expert overseer that are able to file both federal and state returns. The entire process is free, all you have to do is make that appointment!

The deadline to file this year is April 17 with military members serving outside the United States receiving an automatic two-month extension.

VITA is a wonderful way our country gives back to our service members and their families who sacrifice so much.

So get going!

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

The Help

For a military spouse, the luxury of hiring chefs, gardeners, florists and house-cleaners is just that- a luxury. As we progress alongside our active duty member, the opportunities to entertain become more plentiful. We all know the effort it takes to prepare for a BBQ, let alone a unit holiday party for six hundred (you know who you are…). Help is essential – without it the event cannot happen!

I don’t mean the volunteers within the unit either (that’s called servitude – google it, just don’t engage in it). I’m talking about your own personal events. The events we host in an effort to continue our valued traditions of fellowship and camaraderie. Once in a while one of my civilian friends will ask, “Is it really like what we see on TV?” No, not really, but it’s fun to dream…
Some of us love to entertain, while others cringe at the very thought, and that’s okay. If you fall in the latter, you simply must be more creative on how you approach the situation. The people in your unit expect socializing. They look forward to it and it is a letdown when gatherings don’t happen. While entertaining is never mandatory, if you are not up to the challenge then pass the torch to someone else in the unit. It’s how the younger generations learn as well!

While stationed in North Carolina, I saw an amazing thing – within our neighborhood on base, if a wife hosted an event, she would put out an ‘all call’ for side dishes or desserts according to her theme. The spouses that were available provided a dish and the hostess would hopefully return the favor at a later date. The same logic applies with cooking, prep and housecleaning. I had a friend not affiliated with our unit come over and bake off all my appetizers while I welcomed guests at my front door. I returned the kindness later by vacuuming and dusting for her event while she was in the shower. You know what I am talking about – you have probably done it many times over. Most entertaining in the military world is on-the-job training.

I have seen spouses host events and singularly preform all the duties that a full staff would normally be hired to do. This calls for self-sufficiency.  Seek out the local or base garden clubs for lessons, a nursery that offers wreath making classes; or better yet, sign up with some friends and take the Williams-Sonoma culinary demonstrations offered in the actual storefronts! Swap your skill of baking for another’s mad skills at setting up a small scale bar. I am constantly amazed at how many self-starters we have right in base housing! Fabulous bakers, designers and decorators are right at one’s finger-tips. Most of us had a profession before we married and would love to swap (or make a few extra dollars) while keeping our skills sharp.

Now for the transparency part of my post: I use my children whenever possible. They live the life, understand the needs, and get the mission. Draw googly eyes on a sock, place it on your three year old’s hand, and tell them the puppet wants to slide on the floor moldings. Dusting is done. I pay them well in Starbucks, shoes and In-N-Out burgers. It’s a great opportunity for bonding over a shared goal and really a lot of fun. Remember though, you get what you pay for and if a better offer comes along (day trip to the beach), I get ditched and I need to be prepared for that!

The bottom line is, we all have certain things we are willing to pay hard cash for. If catering or housecleaning is on your list, then go for it. Get references from friends and work it out.

I will warn you, sometimes wires get crossed and “the help” shows up late or not at all. If you don’t like them, don’t hire them a second time. If you do like them but they were late, provide them their own personal arrival time (two hours before your guest’s arrival time) and give them many courtesy reminder calls.

You know what you are capable of and what you need assistance with. Go for it!

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

 

 

 

So, Were You Overweight When You Got Here?

After a few weeks of unpacking and figuring out our new duty station, my wonderful neighbor invited me over for coffee. I was ecstatic at the chance to actually get dressed, put on makeup, and enjoy some much needed conversation with a fellow Marine wife.

The coffee was delicious, the food delectable, and the conversation great. We talked about our children, the schools, the new job and as the conversation flowed the topic of the move came up. I took a sip of coffee, looked at my new friend and politely asked, “So, were you overweight when you got here?”

Now some of you know where I am going with this and some of you must think my question is off the charts hideous. In military life (I’m talking to you newbies here), we are bound by what I like to call the ‘rules of engagement;’ to include a language all our own that only a military spouse understands. As many of you know, the PCS (Permanent Change of Station) experience is a series of endless rules and regulations that, if not adhered to, can cause you much unneeded stress. As my husband often says, “life is hard and it’s harder if you’re stupid.” Harsh – maybe. True – absolutely.

Back to my friend…

I wish there was a way to blog facial expressions. I sat there waiting for her answer – nothing. “You know,” I emphatically exclaimed, “Were your household goods overweight?” “Oooh,” she replied, “I thought you were talking about me being overweight.” Nice. I was horrified and glad this sweet lady was as nice as she was. Back to the rules of engagement…..

It seemed from the time I walked down the aisle with my man in uniform, we were on an endless quest to accumulate what I simply call stuff. Furniture, dishes, electronics, clothes, books, professional manuals, baby furniture, workout gear and the list goes on. It never occurred to me to be considerate of our weight as a family and a household.

Each active duty member is allotted a certain amount of weight according to his or her personal rank. Exceed the allotted weight amount and you pay the government back. It gets better. An automatic withdrawal from your active duty spouse’s paycheck must be set up and the payments begin until the debt is reconciled. It goes without saying that exceeding your authorized weight can create a financial burden with potential disastrous effects on your livelihood, finances, ability to save and quality of life in general. I have included the move.mil link for weight guidelines.

It is a difficult task to maintain a level of discipline when it comes to accumulating stuff. Especially for you lucky ones that receive orders to Europe or Asia. Who can pass up that fabulous German wardrobe or the beautiful Japanese Tansu? I feel your pain… However, it is the financial kiss of death to convince yourself that you deserve something because, “he/she dragged me here and I deserve it.” As a dear aviator’s wife once asked me, “was he not in uniform when you married him?” Meaning, you probably had an idea of what you were in for.

Older wife lecture over- I digress.

The bottom line is, be in agreement with your spouse as to what you are willing and not willing to take a financial hit on. If you accumulate two households, that is on you just be ready to pay for it because the bill will be paid one way or another.

As PCS season approaches, I start going through the house. Room by room, closet by closet, drawer by drawer. Not. Lying. It is time consuming but well worth it. We have needlessly moved sparkly flip flops from San Diego to sub-zero Omaha. Snow boots from Rhode Island to Pensacola. Be mindful of what is easily replaced and what you can live without. Create three piles: keep, throw away and donate. Your local donation point on base is ready and waiting to accept your donations that will in turn directly benefit our active duty families in need. I am partial and most familiar with the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society.

Possibly one of the best ideas I have ever seen was at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. A group of wives got together and scheduled a neighborhood swap in the park located inside housing. Families came with everything one might imagine. People left behind unwanted items, left with needed items and whatever was left at the end of the day was donated to the relief society on base. Utilize your neighborhood Facebook page to organize a “PCS Season Swap.”

What does this have to do with entertaining you might ask? I have found that dishes, stemware, serving dishes and the like are some of my heaviest items in the pack out. They require more packing, more space and are terribly heavy. Be careful as it adds up! Whatever you decide, have fun with your military experience and don’t overthink it. Just be smart about what you do and keep things simple!
Entertainingly Yours,
Cassie