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

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

“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