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

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