Saturday, December 22, 2012

Deployed During The Holidays

(picture published on article page of Blog Bridge)

Deployed During The Holidays

My publishing credit: credited as “Guest Blogger” “Christina”

Published by Blog Brigade of Military OneSource on December 22, 2012, in HolidaysMilitary Life by Guest Blog.

Blogger Biography: Christina is a proud war bride, military “dependent,” writer and volunteer. She met her husband while working two jobs to pay her student loans and stay afloat. He stuck with her despite the long and crazy hours away from each other and so began her experience with the military. Scrapping the wedding for a long and dangerous deployment, she fully embraced being a military spouse. Christina reaches out to all available networks to learn and take advantage of what the military has to offer its family. Learning the ropes is tough, but she knows she has help.

He always seems to be gone at the holidays. Even when he was here, travel killed at least two days, and then the recovery and cleaning or laundry took another two. So we ended up staying home more often than not. Let me describe to you what our past holiday seasons have looked like and what I do when he’s gone.

As a joke, my mother bought me a table top silver tree for which I have found tiny ornaments. That goes on an outdoor “bar style” table we keep inside. I cover the base with ancient towels from my grandmother. The holiday scene depicted is a bit more horror than jolly, but it helps us to remember that traditions and meanings change through times and experience. If we do exchange presents, they are piled near the tree on the table, on the bar stools and on the floor beneath. If he is gone, I get the care package together and take a picture of the open box with the tree. Every year we debate getting a life size tree, but now this tiny one and its joke are part of our tradition. Not to mention it’s easier for me to set up and decorate alone.

Presents are usually opened after dinner while we relax, if we are home and together, that is. If he isn’t home, he and I don’t exchange gifts. But I always buy him something little, usually silly, and wrap it. One year he was able to send me a card.

I like holiday music. He can’t stand hearing the same song sung the same way repeated over and over again. Matter of fact, when he is gone, he likes that he can’t hear one song playing every moment of the day. So our compromise is a wide and varied selection of holiday music from traditional to gospel, to chant to punk, to country to selections from all over the world. The music can be on when I am signing my cards that will go overseas to our troops, to the hospitals nursing our wounded, and to our family and friends. When he is not here and we have no family close enough, it’s on 24/7 to drown out the loneliness.

When we met I had never seen the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It just was not my type of humor, but he loves it. He will call and I can tell him where I am in the movie and he can quote the next few lines. When he is gone, watching it is a way for me to connect across the hundreds of miles between us.

He grew up with ham and turkey. I grew up with turkey or steak. So if he is home we decide on the meat. If it’s turkey, the newest tradition is to deep fry it outside, regardless of how cold it is. Sides include pierogies, kapusta, collard greens, sweet potatoes with brown sugar, deviled eggs, squash with butter and salad. Breakfast varies; we usually splurge on cinnamon rolls and get a start on the deviled eggs. When he’s away, I still do the cinnamon rolls.

And we always have matzo ball soup. I picked that up from having Passover Seder with a friend’s family back in high school. It was delicious and fun to make. When we are together for the holidays, I always have a head cold, never fails. So the chicken soup is a help, but far more importantly, my husband is the one stuck making it. Unsurprisingly, it always turns out far more delicious when his practiced hands are in control. Mine just does not stack up anymore. The fact that cooking this has moved from me to him is one of our favorite traditions. He won’t even let me touch it.

One year it was just pasta with tomato sauce. That is all I had that wasn’t frozen. I will always remember it because we were together that year and it wasn’t planned. That was an amazing gift. If he’s gone for the holidays, he will inevitably not make it home for New Year’s Day either. I will go to every holiday event they have on base when he is not here. Actually, it doesn’t have to be around the holiday; I still do it. No point in being alone when you are lonely. When we don’t live near enough to family, I snuggle up on the couch to watch TV and wait for him to finish his shift and sit in line to try to call home.

It’s not the tree or the food, per se, that makes us look forward to the holidays. Whether we are together or apart, for us it’s the “remember when.” Most of our traditions started by accident, cobbled together based on time, distance, budget and circumstance. We came from very different backgrounds and have lived in a wide range of states. The important thing is that we made the holiday our own. So when he is able to call home, after the news that the care package still hasn’t made it there, when we have exhausted everything new that happened since our last communication, one of us will say “remember when,” and we celebrate the holiday together, bridging the distance and the time between us.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Every Light in the House is On

(uncredited picture published on article page of SpouseBUZZ)

Every Light In The House Is On

My publishing credit: credited as “Guest Blogger” “Christina” (see bio below) (I am going to frame my acceptance email!)

Published by SpouseBUZZ of Military. com on November 30, 2012, in Deployment, Military Life by

Everyone has weird quirks, some are weirder than others. One of my biggest quirks, which hurts in the pocketbook, is leaving our holiday lights on all night long. I’m talking 5 p.m to 5 a.m.; our house can probably be seen from space when it’s decked out for the holidays.

My husband sees those lights and he sees dollar signs.  He thinks winter is a time when we can recoup from the languid, unbearable Florida summers of non-stop air conditioning.

I see those lights and see comfort during long deployment months — something that is vital at a time when, traditionally, families are coming together, not being split asunder. While our military operations abroad might be drawing to a close, I will continue to fight this battle at home.

I fight the good fight with Christmas lights. Because I was alone during our first Christmas as a married couple. It was hard to come home and destress about work or traffic to no one. As many spouses know, talking out loud can sometimes make the room seem so much more … empty.

Due to the nature of the mission I could talk to my husband only about once a month.  I was holding my breath in dread, weeks on end with every news report that came out. I never knew how my husband would be described if his time was up. Would it be just a number of casualties, would they mention his country of origin, his branch of service, his rank, his age, his name?

I was most assuredly jealous of my fellow spouses who complained that they couldn’t deal with the multiple calls a day from over there:  doesn’t he/she understand?

Oh, I understood the need to make those calls; I would be the one calling every other hour if I was over there. So much for being the strong, independent one.

To fill the void in the hours after my solitary dinner and before report-time for work the next day, I went out the door of what had become my narrow life and into the greater world to search for the light. Holiday lights.

Sometimes I bundled up and walked around the neighborhoods. Other times I drove around to the more affluent areas and basked in glory and appreciation for the lengths these people went to: single color, multicolored, flashing, strobe, ropes, net lights, minimalist, circus-worthy, wreaths, vehicles, characters, deer, polar bears, menorahs of all sizes, colors, and quantities, lighted fake palm trees, manger scenes of various sizes, cultures, and ethnicities, toy soldiers and purple hippopotami.

I was especially thankful, and made the point to silently thank, each and every time, those who left their lights on all night. Some were surely forgotten, others, it seemed, left them on just for me. Perhaps they actually did.

So last year I was dead-set on leaving my lights on all night long. One night, my husband and I had another round about why the lights needed to be on even after we had gone to bed and why we couldn’t take them down until the end of January. I stepped outside to enjoy my lights. I saw the two candles I had placed in the windows–part of that age old sign of welcome–were not lit.

I wondered if I could replace them without my husband noticing. Because I will leave the lights on for that one person who may be searching for solace and healing the wound of the missing other.

Christina is a proud war bride, military “dependent,” writer,and volunteer. She met her husband while working two jobs and he stuck with the despite the long and crazy hours away from each other. And so began her experience with the military. Scrapping the wedding for a long and dangerous deployment, she fully embraced being a military spouse. Christina reaches out to all available networks to learn and take advantage of what the military has to offer its family.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Novel Review: Lost Voices

Lost Voices (Lost Voices, #1)
Lost Voices by Sarah Porter- I am glad I read it but I thought it would have turned out much different. I was left feeling… empty, as if part of the plot was missing. I actually had to reread multiple sections to see if I missed something. First off, I was not happy to see military (Coasty) ships attacked, being a mil spouse, but they can’t all be cruise liners.

The general idea is that girls, and only girls, who are abused, in number of various ways and degrees, turn into liquid in order to reach the sea ultimately turning into mermaids. These mermaids are sirens luring ships to destruction effectively killing the evil adults who if they had not, would perpetrate horrors the girls lived through. There was a good twist with snobbish, fashion-needy girls changing the culture of the otherwise primitive, easy going group.

On a much deeper level, the angst between the “queen” and our heroine was excellently built: the truth hidden, needing to be exposed, to suffer due to survivor’s guilt from doing “the right thing” which ultimately turned out horrible, and therefore be liberated from the guilt when fully usurped. Ultimately, it is the story of humanity, holding on to it despite continual, sometimes horrible odds and how each girl interprets the opportunities and peer pressure. So, perhaps, being an adult, the peer pressure and need to strike out on one’s own, by her own rules, went right over my head.  What I did not miss was how the girls who survived the human monsters and abuse had become so embittered that they became monsters themselves, murdering similarly innocent people but they made sure there was no salvation, no second chance for sailors in order to keep the mermaids existence hidden.

Except for one, a boy. I did catch all the questions, the undercurrents of why boys, even abused, could not become mermaids. I however missed the explanation. Perhaps it is pre-pubescence innocence. Much easier to study humanity when it is not mucked up by relationships.  I would have liked to have this during those awkward, questioning years to help debate which peer groups I should stay with, which path I should take, and that it is ok to go off on my own, all alone.

Novel Review: Thornspell

Thornspell By Helen Lowe- Loved it. It’s a twist on the Sleeping Beauty/Aurora story but from the boy’s point of view. He happened to be born at a time to make him come of age first as the spell grows to full term. It’s as simple as that. He is sent away to a remote “castle” after his mother mysteriously dies. There is a curse on the father’s side, numerous generations have been weeded out. The fairies we know of who cast the wicked spell and try to change it from death to sleep are far more dangerous, conniving, loyal and dedicated. Not to mention, apparently these fairy folk, which are not from this realm, are in the bloodline of two of the strongest families who rule two of the strongest kingdoms, which make them the perfect victims. And the ultimate reason the spell involves Aurora and Sigismund.

I couldn’t help thinking back to the Disney version of this story and seeing in this novel the explanations and twists and turns the led to what we see in Disney’s movie. But this book and its strong characters are so much more. There are no weak characters, no needy characters. All have faults and weaknesses, but strength is drawn or shared from allies. Even Aurora is strong enough of mind to break out within her enchanted sleep to help (Prince) Sigismund on his enlightening journey through truth, reality, magic, and power. The difference is she must do it without speaking, without being seen, or the gig is up and the evil one will know that she is more alive than dead. The puzzle to save her is so involved and yet any one of us could solve it if it took place in our own lives. Special abilities, tools, and powerful friends help, but it is the intellect, the ability to remember a story, a quote, and the importance in the drive to say “thank you” and “I’m sorry,” even far after the fact of the matter, that bring the enlightenment needed in trying times.

Excellent book. Excellent for boys, especially, and girls alike. This is not a novel where adults refuse to listen to “kids,” where experiences cannot be shared and discussed. The turmoil is not built on misinformation or lack of communication but in the how the politics of the land play out, in attempts at various methods to solve a jigsaw and understanding how the pieces fit. There are no victims in this book, except for the initial spell. I was very much impressed with the weaving of the tale and how seamlessly the plot points fit together across generations and around the world. I kept thinking, “ah, that make’s sense” just as the character did. I would read this again, it was that good. And, I did not foresee every twist and turn!

Novel Review: A Tale of Two Castles

A Tale of Two Castles
 A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine- A girl must strike out on her own, leaving her farming family behind, voyaging to find apprenticeship in the far away city of Two Castles. One castle houses a horrible king, who trips up servants forcing them to apologize for what (he!) they had done, and he of course pardons them to seem a kindly king, and an ogre, who is far more kind and friendly than his ghastly parents, but no one cares or believes and so keep cats who can control the mind of ogres. Along the way she meets a shady goodwife, befriends a princess,  is stolen from by a cat, learns the ogre isn’t half bad, and eats toasted cheese and skewered meat ala dragon fire.  Elodie wants to be an actress, and is excellent at her parts. However, she is refused by the best house and ends up taking up shop with the resident dragon, who happens to be a clean freak but is kind and feeds her well. Someone is after the ogre and the dragon and Elodie must find out who and how before it is too late using indicative and deductive logic, natural to dragons.

This is a novel where intellect and observation is key. No lazy minds need apply, but there are no tricks for the reader. We know as soon as Elodie knows. She goes undercover as a lowly maid in the kitchen to gain access to Ogre Jonty Um castle. The castle servants are surprisingly supportive despite the surrounding citizenry’s disgust for the ogre. A number of people end up poisoned, including Elodie-almost. Suffice it to say the apple does not fall far from the tree. Some of the random, shady characters from the beginning are finally explained. All loose ends are tied up with no questions. This was very good, not surprised she is a Newbery Honor Author. I can’t wait to jump into her other novels, like Elle Enchanted and The Wish!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

PCSing, when it doesn't fit at the new place: books

While this title could include so many things I decided to add books to the end. I collect books. The free ones that the library is throwing away. The cheapos in the bargain bin. Hand me downs from friends. You leave it out for recycling and I may just take the whole box.

I had always intended to read every single one. I have smut, someone college books, various poetry anthologies, ancient aeronautics textbooks, 1960s sci-fi that has actually come to pass, minus the earthling-alien interaction, which some may debate.

Every book had a place especially at our last station. It fit perfectly in the first spot I chose. When I would have time I knew exactly where I would pick from and then hand it to someone else or recycle it. The problem was with a full time and part time job, countless volunteering positions, a family, friends, and being a military spouse, which truly does deserve its own category, I ran out of time. The books piled up without leaving. Even more came in. My husband joked that the house would go up in flames with no hope if it hit my library first. Especially with the finger paint artwork on the wall.

When the movers came, I was more concerned with the furniture, the dinnerware from my grandmother that was no longer made and considered antique, and maybe my encyclopedias from the 1890s that had passed through generations of my family than the shelves of random books. I  eventually came to regret it. While most advice is to go through your stuff and get rid of what you don't use, when you have 30 days notice to PCS, toss-happy can be addicting and too much to handle with everything else. I suggested that since we didn't have the usual six months notice, and since we wouldn't bust the limit, we could just get rid of everything there. I did not realize what a pain that would be or how my priorities would change.

At the new location, I won't mention that there is no housing where my husband was to work or that the architecture closest was for people who apparently didn't own furniture or TVs. Aside from the heartbreak when my furniture came ruined but not destroyed, what ended up being a thorn in my side was where to put those stupid books. With the furniture set up in less than ideal patterns, none of the books, either those I was dead set on keeping or the tossers, seemed to fit. Even the keepers in the books shelves weren't going in right!

For how ridiculous this worry probably sounds, when you are stuck in a house all day long because the one mostly working vehicle is being used by the only one with a job and therefore not left with you, and the unpacking might as well get done, its the little things that will get to you. Like why don't any of these drawers fit our flatware separator? Why does the slow cooker not fit on any of the shelves in this whole kitchen? What do you mean the bed and only one dresser fit in this master? Where are all of the pens?  Why are none of these appliances magnetic and how are we going to put the grocery list on the fridge? What did you do with all the batteries? How did we not notice the only closet in this house is long and narrow and our decoration bins are too wide to fit through the door? This bedroom is too small, the book shelves will have to go in the other one. Move all those boxes back again. Why don't these books fit perfectly? I just want one room to be done!

So take a breath, I thought. Moving is hard. The books shelves went in a less than ideal spot but I did not want to pull the books down, again, dismantle the shelves, again, and move it all, again. So I separated the tossers into teetering columns and left them to be dealt with while the bedrooms were finalized, priorities first.

When job hunting proved harder than I had anticipated and the rejections came rolling in, I decided it was time to attack the towers of books I had separated out. After I read a tosser the privilege of putting it in the recycle bin fell to the hubby, who was more than happy after having packed and moved all those books DITY a few times.

I was determined that no matter what jobs or volunteering cropped up, those books were not coming with us unless I was absolutely going to reread them. Maybe someday my college books will go, too. But hubby is a lifer, and I paid for those babies. Don't touch those recipe books, those are off limits!