• October 24, 2016

Married To It

Gail Dillon
  • Gail Dillon
  • Gail Dillon, an Army spouse, writes about life at Fort Hood from a spouse's perspective. She has been married to her soldier for 14 years and lives on Fort Hood with him, their two zany sons and a Goldendoodle named Murphy.
Tuesday 06/23/2015
Marriage advice from one sister to another

Ah, wedding season. This time it’s my little sister Sally’s turn to walk down the aisle and say those life-altering words, and I couldn’t be happier for her. But I would like to offer a few pieces of advice from nearly 16 years of marriage to my dear Rob (which is a mere drop in the bucket compared with my parents who are celebrating 53 years today — way to go, Mom and Dad!)

First and foremost, you will not always feel the way you feel about each other right at this moment. What I mean is, you will go through challenging times or even just really boring ones when — shockingly enough — you may not even particularly like one another but then suddenly you’re back on track, brimming with renewed love and affection.

To put it another way, marriage is not a static condition and many outside influences can wreak havoc on your union. The trick is protecting your special bond as much as possible during these times, much like a life jacket keeps you safe in a small boat on roiling, stormy seas. The other trick is having faith that the positive feelings for one another — when they dwindle or fade temporarily — are going to return.

I personally believe that many divorces occur because people just don’t hang in there long enough for the good stuff to come back. Mignon McLaughlin said it best: “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” When children enter the picture (assuming they do), a couple’s dynamic will also shift and change. Babies require massive attention and plain old hard work and often, the mother is the key parent for the first few months at least (hello, breast-feeding!) This can cause hurt feelings between the partners as husbands may be a bit neglected during this time. Throw in a roller coaster of hormones for the new mom, a serious sleep deficit and dealing with the myriad overwhelming needs of an infant, and it’s no wonder that the relationship between the new parents can suffer.

But the good news is, babies can also tighten the marital bond in significant ways. Creating a human being together is a pretty amazing feat and the ensuing teamwork between the new mother and father can strengthen an already-strong marriage.

Another tidbit for my sister and others on the verge of becoming a Mrs (or Mr.): Don’t stop “dating” your spouse. I think after you’ve been with someone for a number of years and you’ve both shared most of your stories, there is a tendency to think you know that person completely and there’s nothing new to discover. This is a mistake on several levels— it does both partners a disservice and allows for the two to get lazy and take one another for granted. It also cheats the couple out of developing a deeper relationship based on understanding the other better. Not to mention, learning fresh tidbits of information about your sweetheart is kind of thrilling. (Assuming said information is NOT that he/she is running from the law, has a secret family in Nebraska or believes he descended from another planet.)

Perhaps most important is being able to find the humor in everyday life. If anyone taught that lesson to me, it was my Dad, who often had his wife and daughters rolling at the dinner table with his comments and can still crack me up, even via email. Laughing when things are going smoothly is easy, of course. It’s finding the funny stuff when the job gets tough, the daily grind takes its toll, and stress settles over the entire family like a fine coating of dust.

Those are the times when Rob and I have had to dig deep and force ourselves to lighten each other up, with varying results. When one of you is up and the other is down, that too requires finesse.

Now I’m going to say something that is the antithesis of all the frothy fantasy of one’s wedding day: Marriage is a tough gig. Putting two people together from different backgrounds, diverse parts of the country (or world), each with a unique personality, family and “back story” and expecting complete harmony is an utterly ludicrous notion. Thank you, Hallmark Channel.

But that said, marriage is also immensely satisfying. Having a steady partner through the good times and the crummy ones is an amazing gift that should not be taken lightly. And for the record, I don’t. Well, enough pontificating from me. I am certain that Sally and her fiancé Josh not only dearly love each other but truly like one another, which is the real key to a long-lasting marriage. Fredrich Nietzsche said it rather perfectly:

“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”

Posted in Married to it on Tuesday, June 23, 2015 2:44 pm. Comments (0)

Wednesday 06/03/2015
Ready or Not

I’m pretty sure I’m no longer in the running for “Mother of the Year” because a true contender would never admit to dreading her kids’ summer vacation.  OK, maybe dreading is a bit strong.  Let’s just say I am wallowing in these last few scholastic days.  Many moms I know are positively giddy this week, saying they look forward to having their children around all day, every day, and that they cannot wait until the final bell rings. 

These are also the mothers that cheerfully do elaborate clay and beading crafts with their kiddos and clearly have the patience of Job.  Admittedly, a part of my summer “Scrooge-ness” can be attributed to the fact that I’ve been doing this parental thing solo for the last year and am a tad weary now. 

And to be fair, this is also a moving summer for us so there is are a lot of un-fun chores to tackle.  But at this very moment, the prospect of having my boys around 24/7 makes me want to assume the fetal position.  In case you were wondering, I adore these two boys—I may not always like them but I love these monkeys to the proverbial moon and back.  I guess what I’m dreading is the loss of control.  And doesn’t so much of life really come down to control, or at least the perception of it?  In this case, selfishly, I suppose I like knowing both the house and my time are my own for a few hours each day.  Soon that will be a distant memory.  One example is the lure of technology. 

When the boys no longer have school to define their day, they—like many others--will frequently turn to video games.  Setting limits on these games has been challenging on the weekends, much less throughout an entire week.  Ryan and his buddies will lounge in the TV room clutching the X-Box controllers, guffawing loudly and egging each other on in true teenage boy fashion.  Then they will abruptly leave and the room will resemble a war zone—shoes strewn about, empty chip wrappers and soda cans, and pillows flung everywhere.  Of course I eventually track my son and his cronies down and they do straighten the mess, but this routine quickly gets old.  Despite minor annoyances like these, I like Ryan’s friends and will be sorry when they move this summer.  When they do head off, I suspect it will be tough for my big boy to be left to his own devices. 

Now that he is a 13-year-old with a dizzying array of hormones coursing through his rapidly-changing body, I’m honestly not sure what floats my older son’s boat, other than Yugioh cards and his I-Pad.  He is very different from the 10-year-old kid who loved to draw for hours and obsessed about dogs and tanks and Legos.  Now he has a voice I sometimes don’t recognize and unpredictable mood-swings and I see his shut bedroom door more than I care to.  Then again, there are times when he’s animated and talkative and even affectionate.  Almost nine-year-old Andrew, on the other hand, is a chatty dude who asks a mind-boggling number of questions in any one day.  I try not to answer them for him (not that I could anyway) and steer him toward finding out himself.  He’s mostly curious about scientific topics, so I am signing him up for some children’s courses at Central Texas College, as well as swimming lessons.  I also hope he will play outside a lot and just enjoy being a kid. 

Both boys’ eating habits will keep me running to the commissary, too.  Andrew is a bonafide snacker who tends to graze often during the day.  Ryan never met a bowl of cereal he didn’t like.  Between the two of them, keeping the larder full will be a challenge.  All that said, I do look forward to many aspects of summer—hitting the pool, the gorgeous Texas nights, spending time with the kids doing things we all enjoy (working on that), hanging out with our fabulous neighbors, and sleeping in.  Of course, we are all eagerly awaiting Rob’s redeployment sometime in late July—that will be a happy day.  My younger sister Sally is getting married on the Fourth of July in Yakima, WA., so that is another joyful event to anticipate.

Maybe I spoke too soon—I don’t think I’m dreading summer exactly.  I just wish I had hired-help to do all the pre-moving chores and a nanny to supervise and chauffeur the boys around several times a week while I sit on my porch swing and read.  Is that so wrong?            

Posted in Married to it on Wednesday, June 3, 2015 4:07 pm. Comments (1)

Tuesday 05/19/2015
Learning to teach, teaching to learn

So there I was, standing in mountain Pose on my trusty blue yoga mat, preparing to do the balancing pose known as “tree” with the other students.  But wait — I was alone at the front of the room…I was the instructor! 

How did this happen?   I was nervous but trying to appear calm and centered, as a yoga teacher “should.”  I struggled to remember the routine I had practiced umpteen times in my living room and inwardly cringed at some of the cues I gave.  

At one point, I told my students to lunge back with their left foot…when I meant the right.  My voice sounded too high and too breathy for one who should be inhaling and exhaling deeply and rhythmically.  Some of the imagery I suggested seemed clichéd and false to my own ears. 

“They know I have no idea what I’m doing,” I thought to myself, as I put the students into “child’s” pose so I could recover my composure.  I have been practicing yoga since around 2000, give or take.  At first I did it at home using videotapes.  It was something I’d always been curious about but never dreamed I’d fall in love with so wholeheartedly.  When I was pregnant, yoga was the perfect gentle exercise, and after I had my boys, it helped me get back into some semblance of shape as well as provide much-needed relaxation.  Eventually, I sought out classes and discovered that the energy from the instructor and the other students was addictive.  Not to mention the blissful endorphin rush after a really good session.  I was lucky to have some wonderful teachers, each unique in her own way.  When we were living in Carlisle, PA, I decided to take a weekend certification course for a certain yoga brand.  It was about 20 hours of instruction and I loved it. 

Afterwards, I was offered the opportunity to substitute teach a few yoga classes there at the gym on-post, which was nerve-wracking but ultimately exhilarating.  My classes were full of ladies I knew so that made it easier—they were very encouraging and supportive.  About a year after we moved to Fort Hood, I found a 200-hour yoga instructor certification course in Austin that sounded promising.  Called “Living Yoga Program,” it turned out to be just what I wanted in terms of philosophy and approach.  After talking it over with Rob, I enrolled and attended the 100-hour “Intensive” over a 10-day period during the summer.  I completed additional hours by attending workshops on the weekends.  But all that was nearly two years ago and I am embarrassed to admit I still haven’t graduated from the program.  I have a 20-hour self-study project to accomplish and about 10 more hours of physical practice—easy, right? 

You would think so.  But here I am on the cusp of moving (again) and now utterly determined to finish this up.  Back to me teaching.  A month or two ago, the director of a local yoga student asked if I would like to volunteer-teach their free “Yoga for Warriors” class, which is for military folks and dependents.  Would I?  I put together a routine and though only two soldiers took the class—both female beginners—it seemed to go fine.  The next day I was asked to be the sub for another class at the last minute.  This was the class I felt I botched, though this may be a gross exaggeration.  Feeling like a fraud, like an imposter is not a new sensation for me, nor for many others I suspect.  My friend, who is an avid horsewoman, used to teach riding lessons and she shared that she felt the same way at first. 

I guess the old adage “fake it till you make it” stems from this feeling, which can afflict even the most intelligent and prepared of people.  It’s not a pleasant feeling though.  So as is traditional, I ended my class by putting the students in Savasana or “corpse pose.”  As they were lying there, I suddenly remembered that this was supposed to be a 75-minute class, not an hour.  Uh-oh.  Can they really lie in Savasana for 20 minutes, I wondered, quietly panicking.  As it turned out, I made it a 10-minute relaxation session and confessed that I had accidentally ended the class early, which the students seemed OK with.  Afterwards, I took some deep (yoga) breaths and tried not to be too hard on myself.  Skilled yoga teachers make it look easy but it’s not.  During an hour-long class, there is a dizzying array of things to cover:  Proper breathing, the actual asanas or poses, anatomical suggestions, timely cues, as well as awareness of individual students’ injuries or limitations to keep in mind.  The very best yoga instructors—and instructors of anything, really—know that they must continue to be students themselves, constantly learning.  And ironically, this is the ultimate lesson of yoga—that it is a journey and never a destination and that you can only start from where you are.  I realize I have a long way to go before I’ll feel truly comfortable in front of a class and there is no shame in that. 

My goal is to teach authentically and with enthusiasm, in the same spirit as the best teachers I’ve had.  Because getting your students to love yoga as much as you do is really the reason for teaching in the first place.  And knowing how hard teaching a “simple” yoga class truly is makes me appreciate all the amazing yoga instructors out there.  Namaste, y’all.                                   

Posted in Married to it on Tuesday, May 19, 2015 4:07 pm. Comments (0)

Tuesday 04/28/2015
Giving Our Children a Childhood

Fort Hood Lemonade Day is coming up this Sunday and Andrew decided he wants to participate.

This is an official day backed by Google and sponsored locally by HEB, First National Band Texas and Fort Hood National Bank. The idea is to encourage kids to become entrepreneurs and for mentors (i.e. parents) to take them through a step-by-step process to include setting a goal, making a plan, purchasing ingredients, and finally executing the plan.

If it sounds like a lot of work, it kind of is—I looked through all the materials Andrew brought home.

I couldn’t help but think of lemonade stands of yore. First, you were bored on a hot day. Then, you happened to notice a couple of cans of frozen lemonade in your freezer. Maybe you asked for your mom’s help but more often than not, you mixed the lemonade up yourself (very sloppily), grabbed some cups and conned your sister into helping you drag out an old card table from the garage. Then the two of you quickly drew up a sign on some poster board you had lying around. Voila! A lemonade stand.

Was there a lesson in entrepreneurship to be had back then? Oh most definitely. At the end of the three hours or so of manning your stand, you might have made $2.50—enough for a stack of your favorite comic books and candy to boot. If you sold your mom’s chocolate chip cookies too, the profit was even greater. But like so much of childhood these days, activities that were natural once upon a time today seen, well, orchestrated.

I guess that’s the theory behind “Free Range Parenting” (a term that conjures chickens and makes me giggle). That is a movement to un-tether our children a bit from the reins of overprotective moms and dads. To let them walk to school on their own at age 8, say, or to allow them to ride their bike in the neighborhood with their friends. To let them breathe and figure out who they are without us hovering over them constantly.

Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I would say my older sister and I had quite a bit of freedom. My most vivid memories of being a “free range kid” were when we lived in Louisville and spent most of our time with another pair of sisters--our best buddies. We would disappear together for hours and I was at most, 7 or 8 years old. There were long bike rides to the park, intricate games of Red Rover or Ghost in the Graveyard in someone’s yard, and times we just hung out acting silly. I recall falling off my bike and getting pretty scraped up once, but no major catastrophes.

Later, when we were in Middle School, Julie and I would take the activity bus home from gymnastics or track practice and then walk the two miles to our house…alone. And this was a busy road. My Dad used to tell stories of his childhood—one that was much wilder and more mysterious sounding than mine. He would head off into the woods behind his house for an entire day, BB gun in hand doing cool boy stuff.

Now we are living in a world that freaks out if you let your kids walk a mile alone. Activities and sports are carefully scheduled and always supervised. Sometimes I wonder if many children today even know how to play outside anymore, my own included.

I do know that Ryan and Andrew’s childhood memories will be drastically different from my own, and sometimes that makes me sad. I walk Andrew to school each morning and back in the afternoon, though it’s a distance of barely half a mile. Even though he’s been attending this school and walking this route for almost three years and there’s a crossing guard at the one major intersection. I would be considered a “bad parent” if I let him go on his own. Just like the parents who are in the news for being investigated by Child Protective Services because they let their two kids walk home from the park on their own.

All research about the safety of raising offspring today versus in the 70s and 80s points to the indisputable fact that it’s safer now—by far. We simply know too much for our good. Thanks to lurid crime shows, 24-hour cable news and constant Internet access, we have convinced ourselves that being a child in this day is dangerous. (And of course, horrific school shootings don’t help matters).

Like all parents, I fear bad things happening to my two boys but I also know that childhood is a time for exploration, for testing limits and for gaining confidence in one’s abilities.

All our hovering may keep our kids safe but there could be another price to pay: Kids who grow up to become nervous, insecure adults unable to navigate the world without help. Now that sounds pretty scary to me.

Posted in Married to it on Tuesday, April 28, 2015 8:28 pm. Comments (0)

Saturday 04/11/2015
Time Troubles

This week I am thinking about time. Or more accurately, about the lack thereof. OK, here’s the truth: I am a chronically late person. I’m not happy with this state of affairs but it’s a fact.

A few days ago, I had a dermatology appointment in Georgetown, which is about 45 minutes from Killeen with no traffic or delays. I should have allowed an hour, or even an hour and 15 minutes. Instead I did what I always do—I showered and dressed and saw that I had extra time and so pushed the envelope by answering an e-mail and making a cup of coffee for the road.

By the time I got behind the wheel to head out, I had exactly 43 minutes to get to my appointment. Needless to say, I arrived 15 minutes late, which is precisely the amount of time you can be late before your appointment is cancelled.

I almost laughed out loud when the receptionist --who had kind eyes and looked like she truly regretted telling me the bad news-- told me my new appointment would be July 27th.

As I slunk out of the office, I tried to find the positives in the situation. Was there a bigger, deeper reason for my fruitless, hour-long drive? I soon got my answer. Starting the return drive home, I tuned the radio to NPR and began listening to a interview on the “Diane Rehm” show.

The show featured an author—an envyingly clever and talented writer by the name of Heidi Julavits—who recently came out with a book with the fabulous (time-relevant) title of: “The Folded Clock.” It is in diary format with each new entry beginning, “Today I,” the mode many childhood journals follow. What is unique about her book, however, is the fact that her diary is not in chronological order, and she muses about seemingly trivial things in the most fascinating way.

She was witty and utterly charming to listen to. I figure I was meant to hear this interview, if for no other reason than to inspire me to write more mindfully.

Time is on my mind in other ways, too. Lately, I am unaccountably nostalgic for the days when my two boys were babies and toddlers.

This morning, while walking the dog, I passed a playground where a family was recreating—the parents were pushing two young children on the swings. One of the tots pointed his chubby finger at Murphy and said “Daw.” (Notice how time has magically erased all the exhausting aspects of raising small children in my mind.)

It’s been often said that the challenges we parents face do not disappear as our children grow, they merely change and become bigger and more complex. Not particularly comforting to hear but true. I know that in the near future, my kids’ current “problems” will seem quaint and manageable to me. And now that they’re older, my two boys’ personalities are becoming clearly defined, making them far more interesting people to be around. So I honestly don’t want them to be babies anymore…maybe I simply wish I’d appreciated those early years more.

But let’s go back to the precious resource of time. Not having enough time is the defining hallmark of our modern age. I can’t think of a single person I know who has enough of it, or who feels he or she always uses it wisely.

I struggle with time on a daily basis. At night, I’ll set my alarm for an hour before the boys wake up in the hopes that I can embrace some quiet moments and possibly even assume “child’s pose” and meditate. I’ve actually followed through with this plan twice over the last year; most mornings I slap the snooze button so fast it would make my head spin, had I been awake.

Once the day is officially started and in gear, it seems I blink and it’s noon, another blink and I’m figuring out dinner. When I stop and think about it, the whole time concept scares the hell out of me.

How will there ever be enough of it to do all the things I have on my “bucket” list? Australia, for example--when will I get there when I can barely find the time to go to Austin? And what about those hobbies I promised myself I’d try when “there’s more time.” Ceramics, jewelry-making, ballet, jiu jitsu. Stop the madness! Frankly, it can make a gal a little nuts.

The comforting part is that we’re all dealing with the challenge of time and doing the best we can. There is no doubt that time is frustratingly ephemeral and that we only get 24 hours with which to make a living, express ourselves creatively, love our family and friends and enjoy leisure activities, not to mention sleep.

I vow to spend less of this precious resource squandering it on mindless television binges and more of it on the things that matter. And I’m working on that being late thing too.

Just give me some time.

Posted in Married to it on Saturday, April 11, 2015 5:33 pm. Comments (0)

Friday 03/27/2015
For Better or For Worse

I can’t be the only one who is riveted by the reality show “Married at First Sight.” Now on its second season, I shunned it at first, thinking it was another vapid “Bachelor”-type program exploiting peoples’ feelings for ratings. However, after watching out of sheer curiosity one evening a few months back, I am now addicted.

The premise of the show is simple: Six singles agree to marry complete strangers. This after months of extensive screening, interviews and home visits by four “experts:” A clinical psychiatrist, a sociologist, a spiritual advisor and a sexologist (yes, you read that correctly). The applicants all live in New York and the couples literally meet the day of their wedding, then navigate choppy newlywed waters full of challenges, such as where will they live? How will they handle disagreements? Money? In-laws?

The possibilities for conflict are nearly overwhelming in their number however, last season, two out of the three couples truly seemed to fall in love with one another. The third, sadly, chose to get a divorce at the end of the six weeks (which is an option for all of the couples).

The adorable youngest couple from the previous season was ga-ga over each other from the start, while the other couple who stayed married began their life together very shakily. This is because the woman—a perkily pretty nurse named Jamie—did not find her new husband even remotely attractive at first. But over the course of the “experiment,” she slowly peeled the layers of the onion back and recognized his many positive qualities…and in time, fell in love with him. So much so that they recently got married “for real.” How wonderful is that?

This show is obviously based on the ancient premise of arranged marriages, though instead of well-meaning parents putting offspring together, there are four highly educated people analyzing data and making matches based on values and overall compatibility. But of course, love is not a science and couples who look perfect together on paper may not even get past a first date in real life. That is what thrills me, I suppose. Apparently, I am a hopeless romantic who is fascinated by what attracts and, more importantly, keeps people together.

The most recent episode of this show focused on the weddings themselves. Here were the six giddy brides and grooms, about to pledge themselves to utter strangers. I found my own heart pounding while the singles nervously spoke to the camera about their fears, their hopes and why they were doing this. The word “crazy” came up an awful lot. The brides were radiant and svelte in their gowns while the grooms were sweating handsomely, waiting for the doors to open so they could lay eyes on their wives-to-be for the first time.

Like many, I am a sucker for weddings. As a child, I was enraptured by “The Sound of Music,” and especially loved the glorious wedding between Maria Von Trapp and her Captain. (Hearing “How Do you Solve a Problem Like Maria?” still gives me chills). Other notable weddings come to mind: “Luke and Laura” from “General Hospital.” The luminous Lady Diana and Prince Charles (I was 15 at the time and was in love with love). The more recent nuptials between Kate Middleton and Prince William.

But weddings are not a marriage, and as those of us know who have been hitched to someone more than a year or two, marriage can be tough. Even when compatibility is high, the outside world can put immeasurable stresses on a relationship. Falling in love is insanely fun, but it’s the “staying in love” that brings the deeper, more satisfying rewards.

This is why “Married at First Sight” is such a hopeful venture—a big gamble, but one that could end up paying big rewards. My younger sister will be walking down the aisle this July, though her betrothed is by no means a stranger. Still, I suspect they will face their own challenges together. I also know they are crazy-in-love with one another and I’m pretty sure I’ll be bawling when they exchange their vows. Because the bottom line is choosing to marry is a huge, optimistic leap of faith for any couple, and that’s cause for celebration.

Posted in Married to it on Friday, March 27, 2015 7:01 pm. Comments (0)

Tuesday 03/10/2015
Trading 'Mom' jeans for Spring fashion

It’s that time of year when all the women’s magazines tout the new Spring fashions, featuring colorful, elaborate photo spreads of everything you can’t afford, couldn’t possibly fit into, or even find in your local area.

This is also the time when I look into my closet and realize that my "Spring wardrobe" consists of nine pairs of black pants and more than a few pairs of dated denim (at least two of which that look suspiciously like the dreaded “Mom jeans.”)

I see that all my sweaters are stretched out and pilly and that the three pairs of yoga pants I basically live in each have holes in strategic places.  But I can breathe easy because I know that my monthly clothing fix is coming soon.

Yes, I am a “Stitch Fix” addict. For those who don’t know, Stitch Fix is a wonderfully insidious invention that is reminiscent of the once popular CD and record clubs of yore.

First. you create an online profile, detailing your preferences in colors, styles and sizes. Then you sit back and wait for the fun. When I see that little box sitting on my front stoop, I get positively giddy. Inside, wrapped carefully in tissue (almost too pretty to disturb), are five items. Sometimes there are tops and pants, often a sweater, occasionally a skirt or a dress and every now and then, a necklace or a scarf.

What gets me so twitter pated is that someone — an actual personal stylist — hand-picked each piece just for me.  I’ll admit it — I’m not a fabulous shopper and most of the time, I don’t love it the way many people (OK, I’ll say it…women) do. If I’m not in the right mood, I’ve been known to walk out of a store with a bizarre array of items, and heaven help me if I’m hungry or distracted.  That would explain the white pleather jacket still waiting patiently in my closet.

But back to Stitch Fix. So then comes the trying-on part. Sometimes I do this with a neighbor — or my husband, if he’s around — to critique the item.  In a pinch I’ll ask my boys what they think and they’re not shy about telling me the truth (“Mom—no offense but that dress make you look like a zebra.”)

I’ve pulled out things from the box that on first glance, I’m positive I hate and intend to return, only to reluctantly try on and adore. By the same token, I’ve been convinced I love something, and then quickly realize the error of my ways once I put my real body into it.

One blouse honestly looked like something my Great Aunt Ethel would wear — if I had a Great Aunt Ethel.

I may not have mentioned there is a monthly charge for all this grandeur. And then, of course, they want you to buy what’s in the box or return it in the thoughtfully enclosed envelope. You have a mere three days to mull this momentous decision over before the badgering e-mails begin.

It’s a lot of pressure, believe me. To entice you to buy it all, they offer a “discount.”  Which makes you feel kind of fiscally idiotic to send something back if it will actually cost less to keep it — so you do — even if it hangs on you like a burlap sack and falls somewhere in the “puce” color range.

One thing I particularly love about Stitch Fix is the little white envelope that includes index cards with pictures showing how you can wear and accessorize each item in the box. No matter that you never have the recommended shoes or purse or jacket in your own tired wardrobe, not to mention that they gear these tragically hip looks to people half your age.

I still love poring over the pictures and imagining myself striding confidently down an urban street wearing the whole ensemble. Then I recall that the most stylish thing I do these days is exchange my yoga pants for Mom jeans to go to the commissary.

But I guess, like most successful companies, that is the genius of Stitch Fix. They are selling an image of who you “could be” if you only dressed younger, cooler and a lot more expensively. And even though I’m on to them, I’m not quite ready to give up on this fantasy.

Just know that if you see me out and about in something that reminds you of your Great Aunt Mabel, it’s probably the latest offering from Stitch Fix.

Posted in Married to it on Tuesday, March 10, 2015 4:16 pm. | Tags: Army Spouse , Stitch Fix , Spring Fashion Comments (0)

Monday 02/23/2015
My Sister Sal

My little sister is getting married! She and her long-term boyfriend Josh recently got engaged while on a romantic Hawaiian getaway.

Fittingly, he popped the question while they were hiking. They are an extremely active couple who routinely back-country ski, kayak, mountain bike and hike — sometimes all in the same weekend.

I am thrilled for her — for them. Sally was once quite literally my baby sister, having been born when I was 15. At the time, I was the youngest of two, so her birth changed everything. I remember thinking my parents were too old to have another baby, though I was ecstatic when they shared the news.

Years later, looking at photos of my mother glowing with child and my dark-haired, debonair Dad, I am stunned by how young they look. (Ironically, I had my second child at the very same age).  Being a self-centered adolescent, I was slightly embarrassed to be seen with my voluptuously pregnant mom.  And I'm ashamed to admit this but I was a tad jealous to be bumped from the coveted "youngest" position in the family, though I soon got over that.

When Sally arrived, she was adorable and good-natured and everything you'd want in a baby. We doted on her, argued over who got to hold her and loved her beyond measure. Julie and I babysat her often, and our girlfriends fussed over her like she was a doll. She soon morphed into a little girl with freckles, blue eyes and blond hair who reminded me of a Holly Hobby doll (they were big in the '80s!).

Sally had many nicknames over the years — some more flattering than others — but "Sal-Bob" is one of the few that's endured. She was sweet and funny and sometimes a bit of a pest who just wanted to play, and since I still lived at home, I was the designated playmate.

As an older teenager who was struggling with issues of identity, trying to separate from my parents (and yet still desperately needing them) and plodding my way through college, sometimes I was not always patient with her when she "bugged me" in the middle of homework, brooding about a guy, or doing my silly aerobics routine down in the basement.

After college and a couple of entry-level jobs in journalism, I enlisted in the Army. Sally was about 9 then and sadly, I was absent during big chunks of her life after that point. I know she was a creative, artistic child, had close friends but went through many lonely times without siblings around.

However, despite this, she grew up basically a happy, well-adjusted kid. I missed her but we were in such different life phases that it was hard to connect at times. We mainly saw one another when I came to Wisconsin for visits. She was in my wedding back in 1999 and I recall noticing that she was not a little girl anymore — she was becoming a lovely young woman (and the tallest of the three Schwartz "girls").

Since then, I have slowly gotten to know Sally as an adult, though the military and her own busy life have kept us separated for many years. She eventually moved to the Minneapolis area to work at a community college, and then took a leap of faith to head west to Washington State, for a job at Evergreen State College. Her skills in higher education are extensive and her resume is growing more impressive by the year. Now a recruiter and adviser for the University of Washington's School of Business, she is living in Tacoma and loving the Pacific Northwestern lifestyle with her fiancé Josh.

She is deliriously in love, working on her Masters in Public Relations, and has become a true outdoors woman and athlete. When I look at her beautiful face, I still see traces of that darling freckled little girl but she is a grown up now and a cherished friend.

In the near future, she'll be a wife and I suspect she'll be a mother as well. As I write this, I'm lifting my coffee mug in a toast to my sister for all she is and all that lies ahead for her. So glad you were born, dear Sal-Bob!

Posted in Married to it on Monday, February 23, 2015 5:02 pm. | Tags: Wedding , Military , Sisters , Siblings Comments (0)

Monday 02/09/2015
The Other Woman

When I married my husband, I suppose I should have known he had another love.  Oh the signs were all there but I pretended not to see them.

Or maybe I just didn’t want to believe he could love someone (I mean something) else so much. And it didn’t help that this gal is beautiful, in a sleek, shiny kind of way.

Yes, Rob has had a lifelong love affair with cars.  His current “girlfriend” is a high-maintenance vehicle he calls “Vickie.” And she is a handful, let me tell you.

My neighbor — who kindly agreed to check on Vickie during Rob’s year-long deployment (and is probably deeply regretting it right about now) has taken to calling her “The Princess,” which seems to suit her well.

Vickie is a 2011 BMW M3, which in laymen’s terms is: “cool sports car.” When he first brought Vickie home — after the initial sticker shock — I was happy for him because driving this powerful machine seemed to bring him such pleasure.

I suppose one could equate it with the satisfaction many women get when shoe-shopping or in my case, reading a can’t-put-it-down novel.

At first, Vickie was his weekend joyride car since he had another more sensible vehicle for his day-to-day driving. But eventually, he sold his other car and Vickie became his regular ride. Before long, Vickie began to show her true colors.

The biggest issue was with her battery, which persisted in dying frequently. Knowing he’d be deploying soon, last summer Rob dutifully took her into the shop where she was thoroughly examined, tuned up, and refitted with a pricey battery that promised to stay charged.

When Rob left, I somehow knew that Vickie and I were going to go round and round. He asked me to drive her occasionally and if I don’t have time for that, to at least start her up on a regular basis.

Grudgingly, I agreed, suspecting. Before long, her battery died again and needed to be towed to a shop in Temple. I enjoyed a week of Vickie-less freedom before she was once again in our carport, looking slightly miffed at being sent away.

It soon became apparent that she was not fixed at all, as her battery continued to die and my husband had to show me via our Facetime chat on my iPad how to hook up the battery charger correctly. (It was actually quite comical, as I tried to adjust the screen to his prompts of, “bring me down lower” and “to the right, to the right.”)

But alas, after I took her for a spin not long ago, I forgot to hook her back up to her battery lifeline and so she sat uselessly in the driveway for a few days. I could almost sense her resentment toward me — as if she were wondering where that handsome guy who used to drive her went and why is this cranky lady in his place?

Yesterday it all came to a head when her car alarm began to go off. It blared on relentlessly as I struggled to make the deafening noise stop already. I tried using the electronic key fob to no avail because the &%$***-in battery was dead.

I couldn't follow any of the recommendations in the manual as they all required — you guessed it — a charged battery. Frantically I tried to locate a spare husband in our neighborhood but all were either out of town or busy.

And still Vickie blared. As I was on the phone with a serviceperson from one of the BMW repair places (who seemed oddly baffled by this problem), a kindly guy who lives just down the street came by. He was concerned about the alarm and offered to help.

In the end, he loaned me his super-turbo model battery charger which, once attached, shut Vickie up nicely. Maybe watching the Stephen King classic “Christine” is to blame but I could swear Vickie wanted attention and thus, did the only thing a pretty car could do to get it — throw a screaming tantrum.

So I have another repair appointment for her this week and this time, I’m not taking her home until she’s fixed — and hopefully she’ll get her attitude adjusted, too.

Posted in Married to it on Monday, February 9, 2015 5:48 pm. Comments (0)

Monday 01/26/2015
Six Months In

As the halfway point of a deployment approaches, it gets both harder and easier. 

Easier because you’ve been doing this solo parent gig for nearly six months and you know you CAN do it.  And you kind of like impromptu breakfast-for-dinner meals and the occasional bowl of cereal instead of the protein/starch/veggie you know you would cook if your man were around.

And your days have a certain rhythm to them that feels pleasantly predictable, though not terribly exciting.  You know it will be you waking the boys up, making coffee, feeding the dog, letting the dog out, cooking the eggs and so on. 

And it’s not like you didn’t do most of those things before, when it was the two of you.  Because he was always so busy and had to get up early and go to work.  But sometimes he did them, and knowing that it is always just you, only you (with help from the boys, too, of course), lends both a sense of surety and an overwhelming weariness to your days.

You feel guilty at times because you realize your life isn’t really that difficult compared to so many others’ and many other women are doing this deployment stuff far better than you ever could and they have way more children and some even work full-time.  You are a stay-at-home mother living in a nice house with good people all around.  It could be so much worse. 

And you are able to FaceTime with your husband often, and when the Internet goes down, you can almost always talk via phone.  Only he has to call you — you can’t call him. 

Which brings us back to hard because there are some lonely, frustrating, "if I don’t talk to him I’ll implode" days when he can’t call for some reason and you understand but not being able to call him on his cell phone just for a second makes you want to howl like a hungry coyote. 

It is also harder because the decisions you constantly have to make are exhausting.  You are always making policy and trying to remember what you said so you can be that consistent parent you know you’re supposed to be. 

You are telling your boys to get off the X-Box so often it feels like you’re an automaton.  You are trying to think up reasonable punishments for their offenses and follow through.  You are telling the neighborhood boys that it’s time to go home now.  You are always, always reminding your kids to pick up their clothes and shoes, to do their homework, to read more and stare at screens less.  To take their dishes to the sink.  You are a nag. 

But you know your boys miss their dad and are doing the best they can.  And you try to strike that balance between policing and cutting them too much slack.   

Your shoulders and back ache and you know you need a massage because you’re all bunched up.  But then, you haven’t been doing nearly as much yoga as you used to.  You haven’t had a pedicure in three months and your toenails are making holes in your socks.  You have frequently fallen asleep in your younger son’s bed (because he still has trouble sleeping alone) and then you’ve woken up at 2 in the morning feeling wide awake and grumpy because your precious "me time" has been blown to bits — again.

You don’t feel very attractive or sexy but you’re trying to "bring sexy back," knowing that your man’s two weeks of R&R is approaching quickly and you’re thrilled but also a teensy bit numb-feeling.  Time has slowed to a glacier-like crawl and the three weeks until he gets home seem endless. 

You are comforted to know that you will be able to relax fully when he arrives because that part of you that is always slightly distracted and on high-alert will understand that it can go off-duty for a couple of weeks. 

You will laugh and smile and soften up and wallow in your marriage and in being a family again.  But you realize that he will have to leave you soon and finish his year-long obligation and you will have to don your solo suit of armor once more and you tell yourself to stop thinking about all of that — enjoy that he’s coming home. 

And you are proud of him.  Really, really proud.  Because he is in a difficult situation, too, and a dangerous one.  And despite this, he is doing his best and excelling as he always does. 

And you vow to continue trying to do your best because he is worth it and what he’s doing is important and you want him to be proud of you.  So you keep on keeping on and tell yourself that you will get a break soon.  And there is comfort knowing how many other military spouses are going through exactly what you are.  They make you proud, too.  And so it goes.                        

Posted in Married to it on Monday, January 26, 2015 3:07 pm. | Tags: Deployment , Army Wife , Army Spouse Comments (0)

Monday 01/12/2015
My Semi-Wild Life

Watching the movie “Wild,” the other day, I found myself musing about my own choices during my younger years.  “Wild” was first a best-selling memoir by author Cheryl Strayed, who, following a divorce, the death of her beloved mother and a few years of grief-stricken, self-destructive behavior, decides to take a three-month solo hike over more than 1,000 miles of the challenging Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mojave Desert all the way to Washington State.  The entire PCT stretches from Mexico to Canada and features gorgeously rough terrain and an often brutal climate.  The book was raw and difficult to read in places but also beautiful.  The movie — starring Reese Witherspoon as the young Cheryl—was also quite good.  (Generally, I’m disappointed with movies that are made from books). 

I think Cheryl’s story touched me — and many others — because of her honesty, her bravery and the similarities I recognized in my own psyche.  Now to be clear, I was not divorced at age 26, my mother is still very much alive and I did not have quite the dramatic adventures she did.  And much as I wished I had had the guts to pack up my life and walk a gazillion miles by myself, I did not.

But like Cheryl did in her 20s, I struggled with my identity, my relationship with my parents and my interactions with men.  She married at the tender age of 19 and though she loved her college boyfriend-turned-husband, she could not seem to do it in a healthy way.  I dated and grew serious with several decent young men in my 20s but ultimately couldn’t reconcile the low opinion I had of myself with the love these guys offered, so ended up sabotaging the relationships and hurting them.  Then the bad karma would come back to me tenfold when I ricocheted toward men who were selfish and immature (or just plain unsuitable).  Not surprisingly, these never ended well.  It’s not an original story but it was mine. 

During this time I battled an eating disorder and other behaviors that perpetuated my low self-esteem.  Lest I’m painting an overly bleak picture, I should point out that I also had a group of close friends during this time, many of whom I still have today.  And we definitely had some fun, memorable times.  Still, I knew I was mostly treading water, inching ever closer to 30 and still far from understanding myself or what I wanted.  As Cheryl did, I reached a point where I could no longer live this way.  Her tipping point came four-plus years after her mother’s death. 

Mine came after a long visit with my sister who lived in Missoula, Mont., at the time.  I knew I couldn’t continue on this trajectory and set a goal for myself — return to Arizona (I had been stationed at Fort Huachuca but wanted to move to Tucson), apply to Officer Training School and become an Air Force officer.  It took months to apply, gather recommendation letters, take the entrance exam and the PT test. 

During this process, I first lived with a generous friend in her tiny, one-bedroom apartment (the couch was mine) and then moved in with another woman who was in need of a roommate.  I worked nights filing court cases at the Clerk of Courts and later, 9-to-5 for a classical radio station at the University of Arizona, as well as took a few classes with my G.I. Bill money.

It was a strange and scary time.  I was not so young anymore and yet I felt like I was starting all over again, with what seemed like few accomplishments and even less money.  In “Wild,” Cheryl encounters kind-hearted people and others who were not so benevolent, develops blisters, scratches, sores and bloody feet, loses her boots, runs out of water, and relives the high and low points of her life.  I metaphorically bled, relied on dear friends and fled from occasional jerks, sometimes bought my groceries at a Chevron station (thanks to having their credit card) and ate a lot of popcorn for dinner. 

Finally, I was granted a slot in the OTS program for a career that interested me.  And although this didn’t magically solve all my problems, it was a darn good start.  Several years later, I met my husband, who did not so much “rescue” me as befriend me, and then show me that I was worthy of his love.  Incidentally, Cheryl married a man she met soon after her long trek and they now have two young children.  

I think we all take long and sometimes treacherous walks in our lives — the length and reasons for doing this vary widely but we are all searching for self-acceptance.  In the movie, Cheryl wonders if all the questionable choices and so-called mistakes led her to this exact place—exactly where she needed to be.  She forgave herself.  And so did I.

Posted in Married to it on Monday, January 12, 2015 8:26 am. Comments (0)

Saturday 12/20/2014
California or Bust!

Five hours before we leave for our Christmas in Southern California, I find myself rinsing off lunch dishes in the bathroom sink.  This strikes me as funny—in fact, it was part of an amusing plot in that hilarious show, “The Middle” a while back.  I’m glad I still have my sense of humor…just hope I’m not laughing the crazy cackle of the borderline sane. 

From the “you can’t make this stuff up” files, I was doing some loads of laundry before packing our suitcases last night when I heard a strange spraying sound.  I meandered over to the washing machine and was horrified to see the hose that connects into the wall spewing dirty-looking water all over the floor.  And apparently, this had been happening for a while because there was a veritable lake of grayish water pooling everywhere.  After shutting off the power to the washer, I quickly grabbed a pile of old towels to attempt to soak up the worst of it, then I called my neighbor whose husband is an engineer.  He kindly came right over and assessed the problem as some sort of blockage in the system.  He didn’t have the proper tools to fix this nuisance so I called for an emergency technician to come out.  I was told that, since this wasn’t considered a “life or death” problem, someone would be out before noon tomorrow (as in, today).  It’s going on 1:30 and still no technician.  And now there is another small glitch.  My garbage disposal is apparently broken.  I know this because nasty-colored water will not drain from either side.  Thus, my rinsing out dishes in the bathroom sink.  Now this is far from a new house and I realize things happen.  But really?  Hours before we leave on a two-week vacation?  Yes really.

Something else happened yesterday.  I noticed Murphy had a blood-crusted sore on his “shoulder” area.  I have no idea when or how this happened but figured he needed medical attention before we put him in a kennel for two weeks.   Because I had nothing else to do to prepare for this trip.  But seriously, I adore this dog and would’ve missed my plane if it meant getting him seen.  One hour and one hundred thirty-five dollars later, we returned with antibiotics, some anti-itch powder and a Goldendoodle with a big shaved patch of hair.  Adding to the medical fun, yesterday morning, I also took our older boy Ryan to the clinic to assess his latest illness.  He has been extremely congested with a cough, wheezing and low-energy.  As I pretty much had assumed, he was diagnosed with acute allergies (most likely to the most obnoxious tree in Central Texas—the cedar.  I didn’t think it was possible to loathe a tree more than I do that one.)  To make a long story short, he was able to return to school after a lengthy appointment and a glacial wait in the pharmacy.  We left with a large brown bag filled with nasal spray, inhalers, allergy pills and steroids.  The good news is that he feels much better.

I, however, am exhausted.  This is not how I intended to go into the busiest part of the holiday season.  I had envisioned a relaxed, packed-in-advance, organized me.  But this entire month has been fraught with illness and other challenges and I think I just need to crawl to the finish line that is Christmas in whatever way I can get there.  Many of us ask each other the following standard holiday question:  “Are you ready for Christmas?”  What we usually mean is, “are you done shopping/decorating/baking/wrapping/card-writing, etc.”  What the question SHOULD mean is, “are you ready for Christmas in your heart?”  And, “how are you, really?”  I recently read a spot-on blog about how dreadfully busy we all are today—so busy that we barely have time to converse deeply with our fellow humans anymore.  The author mentions an Arabic phrase:  Kayf haal-ik? Also a similar one in Persian, “Haal-e shomaa chetoreh?”  

What this means is, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?”  How lovely if we would pose this question to one another, especially during this hectic and not-always-happy time of year.  On that note, I must pack for myself and the boys because we WILL be on that airplane tonight.  Wishing you all a beautiful holiday season, however you choose to celebrate it.  And may the state of your heart be one of peace and joy.  

Posted in Married to it on Saturday, December 20, 2014 3:00 pm. Comments (0)

Wednesday 12/10/2014
Sick of sickness

Nasty germs are being passed around Fort Hood faster than two teenage girls can text each other the latest gossip. I know this because almost every one of my mom-friends has a kid out with something, or did recently. Each day, it seems another boy drops out of our middle school carpool and my nightstand looks like a pharmacy.

Yes, it’s flu season. Also strep throat, the stomach bug and fill-in-your-illness season. I am seriously considering putting up one of those “Abandon All Hope” signs outside our front door instead of more Christmas decorations. First it was Ryan, who, over Thanksgiving break, came down with a mysterious stomach ache and briefly, a fever. It could have been the flu, but seemed mild and passed quickly.

No sooner was I congratulating myself on having healthy kids again when Andrew caught the flu. He missed three and a half days of school due to fever, congestion and general listlessness. He returned to school, seemingly feeling fine but today is home again with a sinus and ear infection. We were lucky enough to get a clinic appointment and he is now on antibiotics and vats of nose spray. In between all of this, I was diagnosed with bronchitis—an illness I am intimately familiar with as I’ve had it many times.

I recognized the chest pressure and tightness, the hacking cough, and the overall malaise like a woman taking a no-good boyfriend back again and again. However, after a five-day round of antibiotics, I feel significantly better. I guess this is nature’s way of ensuring I am able to take care of my boy. My mother certainly took care of me and my two sisters over the years. She saw us through numerous ailments, including the chicken pox, too many colds and flus to remember, and a few broken bones.

The one that really stands out for me happened when I was 15 — I was hit with tonsillitis, strep throat and mono all at the same time. Can you say “abject misery?” For me AND my poor mom. To put it mildly, I was probably not the easiest patient, perhaps even a bit of a drama queen. I clearly remember shuffling around in my PJs while carrying a “spit bowl” and moaning about the unfairness of my life. Being a fairly sickly kid, I am not surprised that one of my boys seems to have inherited my ability to be allergic to nearly everything, as well the childhood asthma I suffered from.

Of course, nobody tells you how much tougher it is to watch your son or daughter experience these ailments than to endure them yourself. When I was in the throes of my bronchitis, all I really wanted was my mommy…well, and my husband back from his deployment, of course. But this kind of wishful thinking doesn’t help matters.

The trick is to learn how to mother yourself and to let yourself be sick, whenever possible. That means resting, no matter how many errands await. And definitely not Christmas shopping or attending any unnecessary social events or cleaning the house. (It’s kind of a nice to have an excuse for that, though the dust and clutter are getting out of control). Saying “no” to volunteer opportunities is a biggie, too. There are so many charitable organizations doing amazing things this time of year and not being able to help right now is disappointing.

As I said earlier, many Fort Hood ladies are in the same boat and there is comfort in that. There is comfort in knowing my parents survived an endless parade of our sicknesses and that this too shall pass.

In the meantime, I will continue to ply Andrew with chicken soup and ginger ale and help him blow his nose and put Vick’s Vapor rub on his chest at night. At the same time, I will watch Ryan out of the corner of my eye to ensure he’s OK. And I will be grateful for feeling my energy come back. Because let’s be honest--one of the only positive things about being sick is that wonderful sensation of returning health, reminding you to not take it for granted this time.

Posted in Married to it on Wednesday, December 10, 2014 1:12 pm. Comments (0)

Wednesday 11/26/2014
Thoughts on Thanksgiving

I think it’s safe to say that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  It’s kind of a no-brainer, really.  Thanksgiving is all about food, friends and family and appreciating what you have.  What could be simpler or more appealing than that?   Shocking confession:  I’m not a big fan of Christmas.  The pressure of buying gifts, decorating, sending cards, baking, and somehow “having fun” throughout all these weeks of chores and errands—is all too much for me.  I inevitably start too late, feel frazzled and exhausted and have trouble remembering the true reason for the season.  Thanksgiving, on the other hand, is manageable and clear-cut.  You can get your arms around Thanksgiving.  Not that there’s not a little work involved, of course.  There’s that pesky turkey to figure out and now, with so many cooking shows, recipes on the Internet and Pinterest, there are almost too many ways to flavor and cook a turkey.  Same goes for choosing a type of stuffing to make and the trusty side dishes.  Many people stick with the same tried-and-true Thanksgiving meal year after year, and there’s a certain comfort to that.  Others like to experiment with new recipes.  I tend to fall in the second camp, though I do like a few old standards:  mashed potatoes and gravy, for example, and cranberry sauce.  There also must be stuffing but I enjoy trying out different versions—stuffing with apples and sausage, stuffing with mushrooms and sage, for example. 

And pie is non-negotiable--preferably pumpkin but apple is a favorite too.  Whipped cream is also crucial.  One of the best things about Thanksgiving is the leftovers.  It’s hard to think of anything more satisfying than a turkey sandwich oozing with thick slices of the savory bird, stuffing and yes, cranberry sauce.  Or a heaping pile of mashed potatoes bathed in gravy.  OK—I need to stop with the food fantasies or I’ll need a bib to catch my drool.  Truthfully, what really gets me about Thanksgiving is the fellowship part.  More often than not these years, Thanksgiving is spent either with just immediate family or friends, since we obviously live a rather peripatetic lifestyle.  There have been times when we are at the same table with extended family, but those are fairly rare.  Although I always miss my parents and in-laws, sisters (and their menfolk), and other family members, I think we Army types have learned the art of “dancing with the one that brung ya,” or enjoying Thanksgiving however you are able to spend it.  Over the years, we have occasionally celebrated at the Dining Facility and that has been pleasant in its own way.  We have hosted and we have been invited and everything in between.  This year the boys and I will gather at our neighbors’ home along with several other families, and I look forward to the hub-bub, laughter and camaraderie that will ensue.  The most glaring omission will be Rob, who will have celebrated his Thanksgiving 10-plus hours earlier in a country 8,000 miles away.  He will be very much missed by many this year, and I hope he knows how thankful I am for him this year and always.  Please keep soldiers like Rob and all the other deployed servicemen and women in your thoughts and prayers this Thanksgiving, who will likely be eating their turkey on a plastic tray in a makeshift dining facility somewhere in this world.  Wishing everyone a happy and blessed Thanksgiving. 

Posted in Married to it on Wednesday, November 26, 2014 12:54 pm. Comments (0)

Tuesday 11/11/2014
Mastering the middle ground

I went for a jog the other night and couldn’t help noticing that my knees felt a little ache and my back was talking to me. Not too long ago, these harbingers of “maturity” would have been cause for alarm, because running was my go-to exercise of choice.  Actually, it was pretty much my only exercise.  Ever since middle school (and actually, even before that), I have been a long distance runner.  In high school, I ran the mile and two-mile races and continued running for “pleasure” ever since.  I’ve done six half-marathons, countless 5Ks and 10Ks and one marathon.  I’ve experienced the classic “runner’s high” and have also slogged grumpily through many a run, hoping for the endorphins to kick in.  What I’ve realized is, I’m not so sure running has always been a healthy outlet for me.  It’s taken me quite a few years to admit that I am a bit “all or nothing” in my thinking.  And this has applied to health and fitness in a big way.  As in, I’m either fit or fat, dieting or eating whatever I want, feeling virtuous and good about myself or in self-punishment mode.  This manifested itself in many years of bulimia, which I’ve discussed here before, as well as created unachievable highs and wrenching lows in my life.  In my 20s and even into my 30s, running was often a yardstick of how “worthy” I was on a particular day.  It’s been a gradual process but over the past 15 years or so, I have become much kinder to myself and less prone to the extreme.  In terms of exercise, I no longer see things in stark black and white.  Movement is movement and it all adds up.  Walking the dog counts, so does strolling with Andrew to school in the mornings, doing five or 10 minutes of yoga when there’s time and maybe getting off the couch for some pushups and sit ups during commercial breaks while watching “Dancing with the Stars.”  Of course, there are times when I’ll get to a bona fide yoga class or lift weights in our home gym and that’s all well and good.  But I no longer measure my worth by what I ate or whether I ran five miles that day, and the funny thing is, I don’t feel any less fit.  (Also, there is nothing wrong with choosing a nap over a workout when your body needs it.)   

This “all or nothing” thinking (aka “stinkin’ thinkin’) has spread into other aspects of my life over the years.  Once upon a time, I was either an exceptional mother or a terrible one.  Rob and I were either ecstatic together or miserable.  Life was going 110 per cent my way or conspiring against me.  I exaggerate a wee bit perhaps but not that much.  I am seeing more and more that this thing called life is a patchwork of grey areas, for the most part, marked by days that might seem unremarkable but on closer inspection, offer small moments of delight and joy.  This is one reason why I like to have the dinner table conversation center on “what was the best part of your day?”  Last week, I was driving home from the grocery store and feeling a little bummed because everything on my to-do list wasn’t crossed off.  Instead of focusing on that (for a change), I gently reminded myself of all the good things that had happened.  I’d received an actual “snail mail” card from a dear friend, had gotten some necessary errands done and it was a beautiful fall day.  Lest you think I’ve reached “moderation Nirvana,” I assure you this is not the case.  I still struggle with this issue in various ways, and some days are more successful than others.  This past Sunday morning, for example, we slept a little later and didn’t’ make it to church.  For a while I mentally flogged myself before deciding that was serving no real purpose other than make me feel bad about something I couldn’t change.  Learning to live more moderately has its challenges, such as being kinder and more forgiving toward oneself.  It also lacks the drama element of the extremes and all the adrenaline rushes that ensue.  Kind of like choosing the “bad boy” to date over and over again.  The highs and lows make it exciting, if painful and exhausting.  However, I’m happier when I stay in “the land of moderation.”  It would be wonderful if my boys could learn this life lesson while they’re young, but I’m not holding my breath.  Because if they’re anything like me, they’ll probably have to learn them the hard way.                            

Posted in Married to it on Tuesday, November 11, 2014 12:12 pm. Comments (0)

Monday 10/27/2014

Making lists has always appealed to me so I am dedicating this blog post to random lists of various subjects.  I hope you enjoy it.  

Six things that tell me I now have a teenager in the house:  1) He talks even less, if that’s possible; 2) I am always out of milk; 3) He no longer awakens before 8, given the opportunity;  4) There is occasional but intense drama; 5)  If I could have a dollar for every eye roll and heavy sigh, I’d be a rich woman; 6) He becomes “DJ Ryan” in the car, taking over the radio and blasting his tunes while moaning and groaning if I dare to slip in an 80s hit.

Six ways my dog is getting a bit big for his britches :  1) He has complete access to every bed and couch in the house; 2)  I feed him an egg each morning; 3)  While Face Timing with Rob recently, Murphy sat next to me and methodically licked the lotion off my arm (Rob was horrified, needless to say); 4) God forbid I forget his walk—he will pace and yawn like a loon until I get the leash  5)  We do “downward dog” together every morning; 6)  I talk to him…a lot.  I should probably pay him for the free therapy.

Five differences between Halloween yesterday and today:  1) Decorations “back in the day” were pretty simple:  a jack o’ lantern and maybe a homemade ghost or two.  Now there are elaborate lights and decorations that rival those during the holidays; 2) after about the age of 8, we kids would be on our own for the night, running in gleeful packs and returning late.  Our parents were fine with this.  3)  There were some scary houses and weird people but they were part of the fun and seemed harmless.  4)  We used pillow cases for treat bags; 5) the biggest fear was that there would be a razor blade in a candy bar, which we still worry about.

Five ways I can tell fall is here in Central Texas:  1) It’s still hot in the afternoons but mornings are sometimes chilly;  2) The light is different, mellower somehow; 3) Some trees are showing just a tinge of autumn color, or perhaps that’s just wishful thinking; 4) It gets dark around 7-ish now; 5) I have actually worn long pants and boots a couple of times.

 Six things I cannot do (yet):  1)  drink my coffee black 2)  whistle  3)  watch anything on TV that features the Kardashians  4) juggle  5)  wear knee socks with skirts and shorts, though it’s in style  6) eat organ meats     

Eight  of my favorite movies:  1) "Gone With the Wind;" 2) "The Breakfast Club;" 3) "Crossing Delancey;" 4)  "Bridge Over the River Kwai;" 5)  "Say Anything;"  6)  "Groundhog Day;" 7)  "Fletch;" 8)  "Green Card."

Six things that get on my last nerve:  1) the aggressive squirrels here; 2) litter; 3) my allergies; 4) cleaning out the refrigerator; 5)  deployments;  6) people who can’t laugh at themselves.   

Eleven things I love  1)  doing crossword puzzles and word jumbles;  2)  ordering shoes from Zappos;  3) the times when you look at your kid and think, “you’re a really cool person;” 4) salmon; 5) walking on a beautiful beach in the morning;  6)  fall weather;  7)  that first cup of coffee;  8)  the smell of a clean baby’s head;  9)  libraries;  10)  waking up on a Saturday morning with no particular plans; 11) being with friends who really “get” you.  


Posted in Married to it on Monday, October 27, 2014 9:44 am. Comments (0)

Monday 10/06/2014
Expired license extra hardship for military spouses

My drivers license expired —again.

Unfortunately, I realized this while attempting to rent a car last week after flying into Portland for my sister’s wedding. I’m sure my facial expression was priceless when the guy behind the desk stared at my license and then asked me if I had another one somewhere. I did not.

As it turned out, my license had expired back in July, while we were gallivanting in Montana. I had no idea and had not received any notification from the DMV in Carlisle, PA, where I had obtained my last license back in 2010. The one I had when we arrived there for the Army War College had also expired but this was because we were living in Germany at the time. When we returned to the states, we took several weeks of leave in my husband’s home state of Virginia and tried valiantly to get me a license there, to no avail. Because it is not my “home of record” and I had nothing tangible to prove I was a resident of VA (other than a really handsome husband with Virginia blood flowing in his veins), we were told “no dice.”

Rob got a little peeved at this answer and even went so far as to contact a local congresswoman for some assistance. I appreciated this but the process would have required many more weeks — if not months — of effort and we had to get to Carlisle. Once we arrived there, I thought perhaps the DMV folks would take pity on the fact that I was a military spouse and could not renew my license while in Germany (at the time, I had a Missouri license).

I was rather curtly told I needed to take both the written and the driving tests all over again. Which I did, and which I passed with flying colors after studying for a week or so. I was proud to say that my parallel parking abilities have greatly improved since I was last tested circa 1982. Still I was a nervous wreck and all of this took a lot of time and effort.

Here I am again in the same situation. I can’t help but think it can’t just be me. This has got to be a challenge for many military spouses, right? Oh I get it — it was my responsibility to track when my license was due to expire and apply for Texas one before July.

However, I received no reminder paperwork from the PA folks and quite frankly, this past summer was a hectic one between our vacation, Rob’s change of command, family visiting and finally, his deployment. But all these are excuses and ultimately, I am to blame. Then again, do military folks and their dependents ever get a break?

So I am making phone calls and figuring out my next move. Being a single mom this year, I can’t afford NOT to drive. I’ve learned that if my license had not expired, I could just waltz into the DMV here on post and switch it out for a replacement from the Lone Star State.

One guy said there is a possibility the Carlisle DMV folks might consider giving me an extension on my expired license so I can still do this, but I’m not holding my breath. They weren’t exactly warm and fuzzy the first time around. (Not to mention, I can’t get through to an actual live person there). The point is, I have a squeaky-clean driving record, I have proven I know the rules of the road and can execute a three-point turn. Why on God’s green earth must I go through this all over again?

This is the perfect storm of bureaucracy and the peripatetic life of a military spouse. I have no “home of record” so am constantly at the whim of the state wherever we happen to be living.

In a perfect world (or if I were king), I’d ensure military spouses got extra time to renew their drivers licenses. If they have a set of orders showing that the U.S. Army sent them to their current locale and an expired license (with no black marks), this should suffice for up to six months.

This would be Gail’s solution to this pesky and recurring problem. In the meantime, I am fully expecting to soon be driving under the scrutiny of another humorless DMV tester. If this keeps up, I’ll be the best driver ever — either that or me and my kids will be hitchhiking all over post. Please give us a ride!

Posted in Married to it on Monday, October 6, 2014 5:54 pm. | Tags: Department Of Motor Vehicles , Virginia , Dmv , Germany , Texas , Montana , Drivers License , Expired , Military Spouse , Fort Hood , Driving Test Comments (3)

Sunday 09/21/2014
Sister of the Bride

My sister is getting married in just a few days.  This is my older sister, by all of 13 months.  Completing the Schwartz sister “triangle” is our much-adored little sister Sally, who was born when we were teenagers.  Julie and I were raised kind of like twins, which probably did her more of a disservice than me.  We were often clumped together as if we were the same age.  To be honest, I don’t think I made it easy on my folks to separate us much.  Where she was, I wanted to go and what she did, I tended to follow suit.  She did ballet, I did ballet (horribly, by the way).  She turned out for gymnastics, I did gymnastics (also rather awfully).  She ran track and field, and thus, I did too (I had more success with this one) and so on.  Julie had all the qualities I longed for—wit, grace, blonde hair—just to name a few.  I, on the other hand, was clumsy, ordinary looking and oh-so uncomfortable being me.  We shared an interest in drawing and a serious obsession with fashion magazines, poring over them and then trying to replicate the clothing and even the ads.  We played “restaurant,” creating elaborate menus and serving each other bizarre but creative treats made with whatever we could find in the pantry or fridge.  Of course it wasn’t all sweetness and light between us.  We had wicked fights over clothes…and let’s not forget the time our parents took us jogging at a campus running track and left me there.  When it was time to leave, Julie innocently told mom and dad that I was hiding under a blanket in the back of our station wagon and off they went…only to realize their mistake once they pulled into the driveway.  Good one, Julie!  But these times were fairly rare.  We played “Princess and Prince” (my shorter hair usually relegated me to being the Prince), and Barbies.  We named the two that most resembled us “Carol” and “Cathy” and had them act out the young adult single life we hoped to one day assume.  They lived in a fabulous condo, had cushy jobs that they barely showed up for (I vaguely recall that one of us was a flight attendant) and occasionally had a brief date with Ken, though not surprisingly, our Ken doll was not all that manly.  In my girlish naiveté, I honestly thought that one day, she and I might really live like this.  But alas—reality always has the last say.  Julie ended up spending the majority of her 20s and 30s in Missoula, MT. where she actually did build a “fabulous” career for herself, working various positions before getting into alumni relations for the University of Montana.  I visited there from time to time—once for several months after a particularly traumatic break-up.  Since then, Julie has been promoted several times and now does alumni relations for Oregon State University in Corvallis.  She is by all accounts, a success. 

We never did live in the same city again after high school though we kept in touch and tried to get together as much as possible.  Eventually, our friends began to get married but wedded bliss remained elusive for both of us, until Rob and I tied the knot in 1999.   

Julie met Michael at a bicycle race about seven years ago.  He is an avid cyclist and one of those guys who looks 15 years younger than his age.  Not to mention, he has practically no body fat.  What he DOES have is kindness, a genuine curiosity about others and a laid-back aura that meshes well with Julie’s more intense vibe.  They share a love of travel, hiking and biking, and the outdoors in general.  I couldn’t ask for a better brother-in-law.  They are making it official on Sept 27th on the Oregon Coast.  It’s going to be a beautiful wedding because Julie has planned it down to the last detail, and simply because they are two people in love.  Sally and I are her giddy bridesmaids and are wearing similar cranberry-colored Ann Taylor dresses.  Relatives from Cincinnati, San Francisco, Boston and other locales are flying into Portland to celebrate with Julie and Michael.  It’s going to be a “why did I even bother wearing mascara” wedding and I know I won’t be the only one fairly bursting with happiness for this couple.  My childhood sister-worship has never completely disappeared but has mellowed into admiration and a deep friendship.  Thank you for being my “battle buddy” while we were growing up—I wish you much joy in your marriage, sister.        

Posted in Married to it on Sunday, September 21, 2014 10:24 pm. Comments (0)

Wednesday 09/10/2014
Holding down the Fort, sort of

So we’re a little over a month into this deployment and I figured it’s time for an update. 

1) Rob is doing well and seems to have established a routine.  He managed to talk his way into a single room with a private bath, which is a big deal, and we have been able to FaceTime on our iPads nearly every day.  Hearing his voice is always comforting but getting to see his smile is even better.

2) Perhaps this is TMI, but I’ve noticed my daily shower is being pushed back later and later each day.  What this has to do with Rob being gone, I’m not quite sure. I honestly don’t think he’s the only reason I bathe.  Because mornings tend to be busy, I often just throw on workout clothes in the hopes that I’ll be inspired to exercise before too long.  Why shower if you’re only going to sweat soon, right? 

3) I have recently discovered the show “The Middle” and what a little gem it is.  I’ll watch an episode or two before bed, laugh out loud and feel just a bit better about everything.  Whoever writes for that program clearly knows kids and has experienced the life of a frazzled mom. For pure escape into 1700’s Scotland, I’m also loving the Starz series “Outlander” on Saturday nights.   

4) I am clearly not keeping up with my reading.  Thick Sunday editions of the New York Times are stacking up unread and slowly overtaking my dining room table, making me worry that I’m becoming one of those extreme hoarders.  I subscribe to this newspaper because the writing is excellent, plus reading about beautiful celebrities and socialites in New York City (that would be the “Style” section) is such a guilty pleasure and a nice departure from my oh-so-unglamorous life.  Anyway, I need to either cancel the subscription or get a parakeet.  At least the bird would be well-read!

5) Then there’s the dog.  I’ve always walked him in the mornings, but have gotten into the habit of taking him out the evenings too.  Now it seems I’ve created a squirrel-obsessed monster who MUST take a second stroll.  Without his daddy here to roughhouse and play with him, “man-style,” he has trouble settling down at night.  The obvious solution is to get big boy Ryan in on the action.  He is certainly old enough to walk a dog, even one as large and unwieldy as Murphy.

6) Our family dinners, surprisingly, have not fallen by the wayside as much as I thought they might.  Of course, it’s early yet.  There have been a few cereal nights and a pizza  or two, but overall, I’m continuing to make vaguely nutritious meals with at least one form of protein and even a veggie.  Take that, Rachel Ray!

7) Finally, there is bedtime.  I still sleep on my side of our old but comfy queen-sized mattress.  That is, unless Andrew joins me in the wee hours and lies horizontally, as he so charmingly does, with feet digging into my side or sometimes my face.  Then the dog  jumps up and by morning, I am clinging like a barnacle to the mattress.       

What else can I tell you?  Days seem paradoxically longer and yet shorter.  All the small tasks that you get used to your mate taking care of -- at least when they’re not working late into the night or are TDY -- suddenly seem like endless time-sucks. 

To name just a few, these include taking out the recycling and the garbage, blowing the leaves off the back porch, helping the boys with breakfast in the mornings, feeding the dog, checking the air pressure in the car tires. I could go on but just listing these tasks is making me sleepy.  Our “new normal” is dishes in the sink, unfolded laundry in the dryer, and an unswept driveway covered in a slew of weird green pods that continue to fall from a nearby tree.  

If there is a life lesson here, I think it must be the universe telling me to stop trying to control everything.  On that note, I will leave you with the classic line from the '80s movie "Karate Kid" -- "wax on, wax off."   

Posted in Married to it on Wednesday, September 10, 2014 10:48 am. Comments (0)

Wednesday 08/27/2014
A soccer mom at last

Some kids begin playing soccer…or football…or basketball…around the age of three or four.  By the time they are young elementary school students, they are used to eating dinner in the car while being shuttled to practices, and well-versed in waking early on Saturday mornings for games.  Then there is us.  As I stood on the side of the Harker Heights soccer field this week watching my 8-year-old attempt to maneuver the ball around a series of orange cones, it hit me just how “on the late show” we really are.  Most of the other kids had clearly been playing for a few years and it showed in their coordination, agility, and overall confidence out there.  (One boy in particular—a strapping and very handsome Aryan-looking kid—had all the grace and poise of a young Pele.  And his parents—with their foldable chairs and cooler full of Gatorade—looked like they’d been on a soccer field or two in their time.) 

Then there was us.  We arrived slightly late, of course, having no idea where to go on the huge soccer field complex.  Walking past clumps of colorfully-dressed kids and their coaches, I peered at everyone, trying to determine a familiar face or hear a name I recognized.  Passing one group of kids, the coach barked at us, asking Andrew’s name, then turning away abruptly when he realized we weren’t part of his team. Ouch.

We finally located “our people at the very opposite end of the field where I had parked.  Andrew was wearing borrowed soccer shorts and his brother’s hand-me-down cleats.  We did not bother with shin guards at this point but I quickly saw that all the other players wore them. 

A little sports history on Rob and me might be in order here:  From what I can gather from family lore, Rob was not your typical sports-obsessed boy.  Or at least, he wasn’t crazy about organized sports.  His mother tells a funny story about him turning out for Little League baseball and his stepfather volunteering to coach because of it.  However, when Rob started playing, he realized he didn’t like it and quit.  And yet, poor Al (stepfather) had to continue to coach everyone else’s kid!  Rob later found his niche on  the high school drill team and in ROTC where running became his go-to sport. 

As for me, I shied away from team sports—especially those that involved balls.  I didn’t want the pressure of dropping said ball, not catching it, or otherwise screwing up a play and thus, letting down my teammates.  Instead I gravitated toward the “loner” sports, such as tennis, the cross country team and track and field.  I liked knowing no one was “counting’ on me and that I was solely responsible for the outcome of a race or a tennis match.  (Sounds selfish in retrospect and I suppose a trained counselor could draw some unflattering conclusions here.)

Our eldest son Ryan dabbled in a few classic sports.  He played T-Ball as a four-year-old (and I was the assistant coach—hilarious!)  We tried him in soccer at about age seven but I can honestly say he probably learned more from picking daisies in the grass and staring at the sky than he did from his coach.  His heart was just not in it.  Finally we put him in jiu-jitsu classes and he took to those, showing enthusiasm and eventually, skills.  But then we moved.  He is about to try seventh grade football now—deep cleansing breaths. 

But back to Andrew.   So there he was on the soccer field for the first time.  He has not played any organized sports up to this point because, well, quite honestly, his dad and I have been lazy and we haven’t pushed it.  Not to mention, he hasn’t expressed much interest in a particular sport. Whatever the reason, he’s giving it a shot now and I couldn’t be prouder of him.  I stood there watching and I suddenly got why parents yell things to their kids from the sidelines like “good hustle.”  Andrew performed like a beginning soccer player—no doubt about it—but he was one hundred per cent there.  He sprinted hard when the coach told them to run, and he kicked the ball like he meant it when they practiced making a goal.  No matter that the ball didn’t always go in—or even come close.  It was close to 100 degrees out there and Andrew was sweaty and thirsty and hot but he was smiling and he was playing soccer.  And for the first time, I felt like a soccer mom.       

Posted in Married to it on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 11:23 am. Comments (0)

Tuesday 01/14/2014
Happy birthday Mom!

My mother’s birthday is today ... Jan. 14. In honor of that special day, I thought I’d dedicate a few heartfelt words to her.

Mom grew up in a lively Catholic family of nine children in Cincinnati, Ohio. She fell somewhere in the middle of the pack, and seems to possess many of the qualities of the classic “Middle Child.”  She used to say she didn’t even talk until she was 4 years old—didn’t have to with all the older kids talking for her! I used to love to hear her family stories about her and her sisters and brothers doing ordinary things. It all sounded so foreign to me and terribly fun.

As a young woman, my mom was a beautiful sorority girl with creamy skin, short dark hair and a shapely little figure. She was, in short, a “dish.” I recall poring over photos of her with my sister when we were young, wondering if we would ever look like that. (The answer, in case you were wondering, is a resounding “no!”)  And yes, she is still a very pretty lady.

Mom had many suitors and attended a slew of social events (as evidenced by her college diary, which I was allowed to read from time to time.) Her social schedule was a literal whirlwind of parties, dates and, of course, school and a part-time job. I wondered when she ever slept.  My mother eventually fell in love with “the boy next door,” who would often come over to play basketball with her older brothers. They had known each other since grade school. Mom graduated from University of Cincinnati with a degree in fine arts and she and Dad were married in 1962.

Although my mom was not a military wife, in some ways, she lived like one. My father was a journalist and a young, ambitious man. That combination, mixed with his feisty Irish-German temperament and a yearning to travel, made my Dad a pretty restless guy. He was (and still is) a talented writer, reporter and editor and was eager to prove himself in different venues. Because of that, we moved an awful lot. But unlike our Army moves where packers, loaders, movers and trucks are provided, my mom did almost all of that herself. I remember her painstakingly rolling lamps and clocks in paper and carefully placing them in boxes. She would often do the moving, more or less on her own, while my dad house-hunted at the new location and began his new job. I still wince and cringe at how little my sisters and I helped out. 

Whatever Mom’s personal opinions about a move, I don’t remember her ever feeling sorry for herself or complaining. This probably sounds uber- corny, but her love and commitment to my dad simply overrode anything else. She would quickly set about making each new house a home and that was that. (Hmmmm….a good, early lesson for her daughter who is not always so cheerful about her own moves.)

Besides being a gifted artist—she could draw, sketch and paint beautifully—Mom was also an excellent seamstress, like her own mother. She sewed Halloween costumes for us, (I fondly recall being a nurse one year when I was about 4 while my sister was “Little Red Riding Hood.” We also had adorable “Holly Hobby” doll dresses,) regular clothes and prom dresses. There was many a time she would be whirring into the night on her sewing machine, finishing up a “Gunne Sax”-style gown for someone’s dance the next night. And she always finished it.

As for food, Mom makes a lot of tasty things to eat but one of my favorites is her granola. This honey-and-oil drenched delicacy can rival anything in the grocery stores and is so, so satisfying. 

My parents live in Wisconsin now—they’ve been there since 1986 and though the topic of moving comes up from time to time, it remains to be seen whether they will re-locate again. The harsh Midwestern winters they continually endure are worrisome for me and my two sisters and I wish we were closer. I just went home for a few days after Christmas and got to be a kid again, eating my mom’s home-cooked meals and sleeping in a double bed with my sister like we were teenagers. We all shared some laughs, got cabin-fever, and talked about how cold it was.

Mom’s latest “kid” is a frisky, black standard poodle named “Pete” who stares at her with adoring eyes and follows her around. Dogs definitely know a good thing when they see it.

Happy birthday Mom—I love you!        

Posted in Married to it on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 1:34 pm. | Tags: Mother , Father , Cincinnati , Gunne Sax , Holly Hobby , University Of Cincinnati , Ohio , Family , Home , Journalist , Parent , Army , Wisconsin Comments (0)

Thursday 01/09/2014
My last New Year's resolution

The New Year has been officially rung in and resolutions have been made…or not.  Let me tell you a story explaining why I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore. 

I used to have an eating disorder—bulimia, to be precise.  I make this still-painful confession because for many years, my New Year’s resolution was to stop binging and purging.  As a card-carrying member of the “Late Bloomer’s” club, I didn’t become bulimic until my early 20s.  Why I succumbed to this dangerous and addictive behavior isn’t all that interesting or unusual:  I thought I was fat (I wasn’t), I didn’t feel I had control over many aspects of my life, and of course, like many young women, I had your garden-variety case of low self-esteem.

Initially, I just experimented with bulimia to see if it would help me lose a few pounds.  And like anyone with an addictive personality, I assumed I could stop any time I wanted. Unfortunately for me, this didn’t happen. It sounds bizarre to people with normal eating habits but the excitement of stuffing oneself with “forbidden” foods (donuts, ice-cream and cookies were favorites,) then getting rid of all the evidence - and the potential weight gain - can become too titillating to stop. In a way, it’s much like the high of drugs or alcohol. Thus began my 15-year “experiment” with bulimia.

One of the hallmarks of an eating disorder is secrecy. I told no one—certainly not my parents, nor my sisters and friends, and not even my fiancé-then-husband (until later). I was embarrassed and ashamed, not to mention guilt-ridden. Before long, the secret had a life of its own. With the hindsight of years and perspective, I now see how bulimia took control of my entire life.

I was a young adult just entering the working world but my time and energies were not focused where they should have been. If I wasn’t currently binging, I was often planning my next one. I was frequently exhausted from throwing up, my mood swinging from one extreme to another (thanks to the abrupt changes in bodily chemicals and electrolytes). I frequently worried about what all this vomiting was doing to my heart…and my teeth. Would my dentist notice a change in my tooth enamel? That’s often a glaring sign. It’s no wonder I was often irritable, couldn’t concentrate, focus effectively on my career or maintain a healthy romantic relationship (although that did finally happen, thankfully). 

Ironically, though I became bulimic to keep my weight in check, this backfired after a while because my metabolism no longer knew whether I was eating or not and I actually began to get heavier. Other tell-tale physical signs of my secret behavior included puffy cheeks and red eyes.

As time went on, there would be weeks and even several months when I would eat completely normally and I would tentatively start believing I was “cured.” But inevitably, a bad day, unpleasant emotions or simple stress would trigger a relapse. Afterward, came the waves of guilt and shame which were getting worse the longer this went on. I was a reasonably intelligent, self-sufficient woman, right?  But I couldn’t seem to stop this on my own.

Each New Year’s Eve I would vow that the next year would be different. Finally I’d had enough. It was very early in 2001 and I had just binged and purged for reasons I have forgotten. I was suddenly sick to death of myself and very bored with the whole bulimia thing. Without thinking about it too much, I randomly called a therapist in the San Antonio area where we were living at the time. She turned out to be wonderful and our client-counselor relationship clicked almost immediately. (I was lucky—this isn’t always the case). I learned that “being bulimic” did not have to define me, nor was it even the crux of my problem. It was a symbol of much deeper, underlying “stuff” that I didn’t want to face.

It was not an easy process but just talking about my huge secret to a “safe” person was a tremendous relief. We talked about a lot of things. and though it took time and effort, I gradually lost the desire to binge and purge. I saw the therapist for about six months before we had to move again. I was also pregnant with our first child at this point. My bulimic days were over at last. 

Back to New Year’s resolutions. I don’t really make them anymore. The one I made back in 2001 was the biggest success I’ve ever had, so why would I try to compete with that? 

Posted in Married to it on Thursday, January 9, 2014 3:41 pm. | Tags: Bulimia Nervosa , Binge Eating , Eating Disorder , New Year , Mental Health , Disorders Comments (0)

Monday 01/06/2014
Hello again, deployment

So the mystery has been revealed. We are not moving this summer as I had assumed we would. Instead my husband is deploying to Qatar for a year. This was not a complete surprise. He had mentioned this as a possibility given he needs to be joint-qualified (meaning he has worked with and supervised people in all of the branches of military service.) The other option for us was Washington D.C., which seemed more likely…and more desirable.

Why I had convinced myself we were moving to D.C. is fodder for another column on psychology and wishful thinking. Suffice it to say that we are “due” a deployment. His last—to Afghanistan—ended in 2010.  Some might say we are overdue. We are well-aware and humbled by the families whose soldiers make far more sacrifices and endure many more frequent separations on a regular basis. 

If I were to make a list, the negatives certainly seem to outweigh the positives. To name just a few:  Being a single mother (and the boys—at their current ages—need Dad around more than ever), missing my best friend and worrying about him, and handling all the household chores solo, all fall into that “minus” category. However, just for fun, I thought I’d try to come up with some bright spots. Cereal for dinner? Why not! No arguing over the remote, an entire bed to myself and fewer groceries to buy, all spring to mind. For Rob, the positive aspects may be more numerous. Qatar is a beautiful country with a rich, diverse culture and history. I was actually there on a brief deployment with the Air Force back in 1996 and recall marveling at the opulent buildings and picture-perfect beaches. Also, the job he will do sounds interesting and involves plenty of travel and interactions with a wide variety of people.  Plus, he will likely have the opportunity to return to the states for conferences and meetings during the year he is deployed. There is a chance I could meet up with him somewhere and possibly the boys, too.

Military deployments and long separations are strange birds. The build-up and dread of the soldier’s departure looms heavily over families for months before he or she actually leaves. That creates a palpable tension that can be stressful for both the adults and children. Once he or she finally departs, there is sadness, but also a smidgen of relief that the clock is finally ticking. This cycle is repeated endlessly by families here at Fort Hood. Home of the 1st Cavalry Division, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment and many other units, Fort Hood is a virtual revolving door of deployments. 

There’s another reasons I’m dreading my husband’s absence. Every military spouse knows that medical, mechanical and other crises tend to happen during deployments. It never fails—one of the kids breaks a limb, the car goes belly-up, a water pipe in the house bursts or everyone comes down with food poisoning. It is simply “Murphy’s Law” of separation. While Rob was deployed during the Iraq War in 2003, my older (and then only) son Ryan, who was 2 at the time, fell off a high playground platform in Hanau, Germany. Fearful he may have landed on his head, we were urged to spend the night in the local clinic where Ryan was awakened every hour by a not-so-gentle nurse wielding a flashlight that she shined directly into his eyes to ensure he was OK. Thankfully, he was. On the mechanical front, a ferret-like animal called a “martin” chewed through critical wires in our car’s engine. Most devastating of all, however, was the sudden death of Rob’s beloved stepfather. Life—and death—do not wait patiently for loved ones to come home.

I hope that when summer comes and Rob’s departure is nigh, I am able to say goodbye with a sense of optimism as opposed to doom and gloom. For now, six months likely remain until he gets on a plane bound for the Middle East. As we get closer to June, I will call upon my inner “tough broad” who has served me well in the past.  And thinking of all the women (and men) who are also bracing themselves for another year on their own, I know I am in the best of company.           

Posted in Married to it on Monday, January 6, 2014 4:26 pm. | Tags: Fort Hood , Afghanistan , Iraq War , Qatar , 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment , Hanau , Washington D.c. , Deployment , Family , Military Family , Military Spouse Comments (0)

Monday 12/30/2013
Dear Pentagon: Keep commissary open!

The Army Times recently featured a disturbing story about our commissaries. The Pentagon is considering a plan to close all U.S. commissaries in 2015, as a budget-cutting move that many are unhappy about.

I am one of those people. It’s hard to fathom that we could lose our commissaries—an Army tradition for more than 140 years. The Army has approximately 178 commissaries in the U.S. and 70 located overseas.  Here at Fort Hood, we have two large commissaries, a necessity because of the 50,000 soldiers plus their family members, as well as retirees. 

Commissary shopping is often more convenient than going off-post to a local grocery chain and is always tax-free. Despite the 5 percent surcharge we all pay (which goes back into the commissary for repairs, building new stores, replacing equipment and so on), I find I usually spend considerably less money on commissary trips than when I shop at H-E-B or other stores. 

The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) claims using the commissary saves about 30 percent of grocery costs for the average family. This can add up to more than $4,000 in savings for a family of four over a year. 

Commissaries have been a vital part of military life since 1825, though originally, they were only for officers to use. It was not until 1867 that enlisted soldiers were allowed the same privilege.

Currently, commissaries sell roughly 11,000 items—a huge contrast to the 82 standard “dry goods” products commonly sold in 1868.

Many people have personal commissary stories that linger in their memories because of the strong or poignant memories they evoke.  One woman told me about living in Wiesbaden, Germany, when her children were small and “bursting into tears” at the sight of boxes of North Carolina corn on the cob in the produce department. Another friend recalled an actual fight that broke out over precious jars of peanut butter in the Camp Casey, Korea, commissary several years ago. 

On a personal “memory lane trip,” while we were on our first Germany tour, living in Hanau in 2002, the commissary was a link to the familiar and the dear.  As much as I loved living in Europe, homesickness would occasionally strike and somehow being in a store with American brands and recognizable packaging just made me feel a little better. 

Commissaries are one of the dwindling perks available to military members and their families. It would be a shame if these stores were closed down. Please let your elected officials know that your commissary is important to you. And feel free to share any personal commissary stories—I’d love to hear them!        

Posted in Married to it on Monday, December 30, 2013 4:14 pm. Comments (1)

Thursday 12/26/2013
A military spouse's best friend

I didn’t know we needed a dog so desperately until we got Murphy. Oh, I knew something was missing—we weren’t quite “complete” and another kid was out of the question. Neither Rob nor I are cat people (we’re both allergic) and other types of animals just didn’t appeal to us. So a dog it was.

I had been working on Rob for a dog for several years but he stubbornly resisted, claiming we had enough on our plates and, later, asking me to wait until we moved into an actual house with a fenced-in yard. Reluctantly I agreed.

As it turned out, our house and yard here are ideal for a dog and my husband was all out of reasons. So several months after moving in (when the roof-high stack of boxes on our patio had finally dwindled.  Not exaggerating in the slightest,) we started searching. I chose the Golden Doodle breed because when I was a child, my family had a series of standard poodles which are simply wonderful animals. But I wanted to try something a little different.

Through friends, I heard the mixed breed of Poodle and Golden Retriever made for an intelligent and loving animal. After pinpointing a breeder online, we trekked to Georgetown one Sunday to meet our future beloved pet. There were about eight puppies in this litter, each unbearably cute in its own way. Our younger son Andrew—age 6 at the time—immediately bonded with a brownish fluff ball temporarily named “Yellow Boy.”  (The breeder and her family had gotten too attached to previous litters so this time decided to only refer to them by color and gender). However Ryan, the eldest, was drawn to “Purple Girl.” We had a serious dilemma on our hands. Luckily, the puppies weren’t old enough to leave their mother quite yet so we had some time.

When at last it was decision time, I flipped a coin and “Purple Girl” won.  Inexplicably, I yelled “best two out of three” and continued flipping until “Yellow Boy” was the clear victor.  Son #1 huffed and puffed but he soon recovered. 

In retrospect, I believe that happened because “Yellow Boy,” now “Murphy” was “our” dog from the very beginning. He belongs with us like fire ants belong here in Central Texas.

His quirks seem tailor-made for the Dillons. Quite simply, he is as weird as we are and as contradictory. One the one hand, he can lounge like nobody’s business and is the softest, most comfortable nap buddy a gal could ask for. He’s also vaguely neurotic and obsessive-compulsive when it comes to food and his sacred daily walk. Rob calls him “Rain Man” when he starts his restless pacing first thing in the morning, which is thinly-disguised code for “walk me now!” 

We each find ourselves turning to Murphy for stress relief. The boys hug on him or throw his toys for him to fetch. After a long day of soldiering, Rob wrestles with him and then pets his silky fur until Murphy’s eyes are mere slits, while I love to chase him in the yard. All this and the dog can crack us up with his silly antics—a welcome quality when we start stressing about things we can’t control. For example, being half Retriever, he will bring “offerings” to us in the middle of the night. These can range from one of the boys’ dirty socks to my older son’s wristwatch. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that he sleeps on our bed more often than not and has long had dibs on one of the couches in the TV room. (A new couch purchased less than a year ago. Yes, this dog is spoiled.)   

Whatever type of pet one chooses, he or she can ease the uncertainty and anxiety of military life for the entire family. Yes, we will move again but so will Murphy. And he will make our next house or apartment or duplex a home just by being in it. And most likely, he will “own” the couch at the new location, too.     

Posted in Married to it on Thursday, December 26, 2013 4:16 pm. | Tags: Golden Retriever , Human Interest , Goldendoodle , Poodle , Central Texas , Pets Comments (0)

Thursday 12/19/2013
Struggling with the gift-buying dilemma

It is Dec 19 and I am by no means ready for Christmas. The decorating has been attempted, but temporarily abandoned. The baking is nonexistent. The cards have not been mailed and let’s not even talk about the shopping. Or let’s. Though I am female, shopping is not my favorite activity. And especially not at Christmas time. I wish I were the type of organized person who had everyone crossed out on her list by Halloween but sadly, that is not, nor will it ever be me.

But what is behind this strange procrastination? Let me make something perfectly clear before I go any further: I love gift-giving. I just don’t like to feel pressured or obligated to purchase, and as we all know, the holidays have become a retailer’s dream where the message is simple: Show how much you love your family and friends by buying them stuff ... even though this goes against the grain of what we’re celebrating in the first place, even though we know material things don’t equal love or happiness or satisfaction (after the initial “high” wears off. I’ve made enough impulse purchases in my lifetime to finally get that.), even though we’re all tightening our proverbial belts in this uncertain economy. And most importantly, even though “the reason for the season” is Jesus’ birth. So the big question is, why do we fall victim to this gift-giving frenzy that makes many of us feel frazzled, guilt-ridden and, ultimately, just plain bad? 

Lest you call me the ultimate Scrooge, I realize kids need toys and gifts at Christmas time — this is not about them. I’m talking about adults - grown-ups who know what they need and can pretty much get these things on their own. That would include me, by the way. 

What baffles me (and my husband) is why we keep ourselves in this somewhat crazy do-loop of commercial spending when, most likely, the people we are frantically shopping for are probably feeling the same way about shopping for us. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Not everyone is on this bandwagon, however. I spoke with a perfectly sane woman the other day who told me she announced to her extended family members that no longer would she be mailing them gifts during the holidays, but she would be happy to donate money to a worthy charity in his/her name. I thought that was brilliant. Some families throw names in the hat and choose one person to buy for. Also a reasonable and smart idea. Making handmade gifts is another way to give to loved-ones while maintaining the spirit of the season.      

This dilemma reminds me of a quirky film called “The Abilene Paradox” (aka “The Road to Abilene”), which is frequently shown in leadership and communication workshops. It’s dated but the message is timeless.  The video centers on a family of four somewhere in Texas who are laconically going about a hot afternoon, trying to figure out what to do next. Someone suggests taking a road trip to Abilene and somehow the foursome agrees to go, with little enthusiasm. So off they go to have dinner in Abilene. On the way back, each person realizes that no one truly wanted to go but thought the others did and were afraid to offer a differing opinion. It is the classic example of group-think.

For military families like ours, buying gifts is a way to “touch” people when we know we can’t be together. I get that. It’s difficult to be geographically separated from relatives throughout the year but even more so during this poignant holiday season. Gifts are a tangible reminder that we love and miss a person. Gifts are a way to say, “See?  I battled the mall for you!” 

So each year I gnash my teeth, pull tufts out of my hair and join the throngs searching for the “perfect” gift, often barely remembering that person’s clothing sizes or current preferences. It’s a gamble and I know I don’t hit the mark all the time. But I keep doing it all the while wondering if there’s a better way and how do we jump off the merry-go-round together to get to it? If you’ve solved this dilemma in a graceful manner, I’d love to hear from you. If you’re still struggling, please drop me a line and share your struggle. Or perhaps you sincerely enjoy shopping and buying gifts for all your family members and friends? Whatever the case, if we all put our heads together, we can strive to capture more of the true essence of this beautiful season.

Happy Holidays!

Posted in Married to it on Thursday, December 19, 2013 5:00 am. | Tags: Christmas , Shopping , Gift , Christmas And Holiday Season , Holiday Greetings Comments (0)

Monday 12/16/2013
Santa's Workshop: These ladies rock

If it’s true that the Army relies heavily on volunteers, then all is well here at Fort Hood. For the past eight months or so, I have been privileged to volunteer with a group of ladies who amaze me with their energy, enthusiasm, initiative and smarts. The organization we’re all a part of is called “Santa’s Workshop” and though I’d love to expound on how wonderful it is, my blog-space today is dedicated to the volunteers themselves. But to briefly describe it, Santa’s Workshop is a non-profit group devoted to helping financially-qualifying Fort Hood families provide toys and gifts for their children during Christmas. What sets us apart from similar charities is the soldier or his/her spouse comes to the workshop to hand-pick the toys for each child in the family.

And now, a little history:  Wives of soldiers have been volunteering since the Revolutionary War, and most likely since medieval times when feudal “wars” were a constant.  Their role was often a gritty one—nursing grievously wounded men alongside the battlefield, cooking and providing moral support.  They would mend torn uniforms and socks, launder filthy clothing and bandages, and generally keep the “home fires” burning as best as they could. Actually, that doesn’t sound so different from today’s wife, with the exception of the creature comforts we now enjoy.

In today’s Army and military, volunteers perform myriad tasks that mirror “paying” jobs. Just a few examples include running meetings, organizing complex fundraisers and other large events, leading and advising Family Readiness Groups and approaching local businesses for support or donations. It is difficult to quantify, but volunteers Army-wide contribute roughly 500,000 hours each year. Last year, Fort Hood volunteer hours totaled approximately 184,000 hours with a calculated value of service equaling $2.5 million.

The 25 women on Santa’s Workshop Board have many of the skills required of corporate employees or even upper-level managers. For example, two of the volunteers are known as “toy buyers” and they are responsible for ensuring we have the same variety and quantity of desirable toys at the beginning of the shopping season as at the end. This is not as simple as it may seem. Toys are divided into categories based on age and gender and must be monitored and replaced when inventory reaches a certain level. These gals have been shopping since June, often sacrificing their precious family time (and garage space) for toys for needy families. Other board members have been organizing local fundraising events on and off-post since last July when we kicked off our “Christmas in July” shin-dig at Plucker’s Restaurant. There have been countless other fundraisers since then that require hours of planning and coordination. Still more ladies handle complicated accounting and computer issues, provide food for each event, or keep track of the volunteers themselves. (In addition to board members, Santa’s Workshop relies heavily on “Elves” during the shopping season. These men and women generously give up large blocks of their day to assist the families in choosing gifts for their children.)

Much has been written about how volunteering can hone possibly once-dormant skills and prepare a spouse to re-enter the work force when the time is right. If that is the case, these Santa’s Workshop ladies are all destined for success should they choose to work paying, full-time jobs in the future. (And by the way, I should mention that several of these gals have home businesses and other part-time jobs in addition to their children and family responsibilities.)

I am proud to be associated with this group of impressive women and know there are similarly amazing military spouses all over the world.  Thanks for your unselfish contributions, ladies (and gentlemen) and Happy Holidays!

Posted in Married to it on Monday, December 16, 2013 9:31 pm. | Tags: Christmas , Army , Fort Hood , Santa , Volunteering , Santa S Workshop , Salvation Army , Christmas In July Comments (0)

Friday 12/13/2013
Turns out The Great Place is pretty great

 I am excited (and a little nervous) to introduce myself and kick off my very first blog focusing on “life as a military spouse” at Fort Hood. Obviously, I cannot speak for everyone, nor will my experiences necessarily resonate with other women married to soldiers. My hope is that more often than not, I do strike a chord. If nothing else, maybe I can clear up some misconceptions and stereotypes or simply shed light on what being an Army family is about.      

A few things my blog will not be …

It will not be a forum to glorify or glamorize military life, nor will it aim to denigrate it or attempt to inspire pity. There are many positive aspects to signing up for this roller coaster of separations and joyous reunions, constant adjustments to new people and situations, and countless other highs and lows.   

One part of this lifestyle that we all share is the frequent moving. OK, full disclosure:  I did not want to come to Fort Hood. The harsh Texas summers and general lack of defined fall and winter seasons (and spring, to some extent) have never appealed to me. My roots are Midwestern, so in some twisted way, I crave vibrant fall leaves, snow and yes, even miserably cold temperatures at certain times of the year. But my husband—after 23 years of steady progress in his career—was given the well-deserved opportunity to lead a brigade here. So I sucked it up, as they say. And what I’ve discovered is that Killeen (and surrounding Central Texas area) is the most supportive, appreciative and involved military community we have ever lived among. I will also say that we have grown to appreciate the mild climate--coats? What coats?!--and have discovered some beautiful natural areas through hiking and exploring.

We moved into our on-post home in July 2012. This is our eighth move together, my 13th counting my own active duty service moves, and my 20th (roughly) since babyhood.  My dad—a peripatetic journalist—kept the family hopping when I was growing up.  In retrospect, I see this was good training for the future!

 A few facts …

I have been married to Rob since 1999. When we met, we were both captains in our respective services—me in the Air Force, he in the Army. (Prior to my stint in the Air Force, I was enlisted in the Army for several years.) Strangely, being in the military myself did not prepare me for my current role.

Rob and I have two boys, ages 12 and 7. We were considerably older when we started our family compared to many other couples our age. I joke that I’ve always been a “late bloomer” and will be asking my kids to change my diapers in the not-too-distant future.

Please let me hear from you—your input and stories are always welcomed and encouraged. If you’re military, did you want to come to “The Great Place?” Why or why not? If you’re not part of the military, what kinds of interactions do you have with soldiers and their families?  How do you view them?

As we fully enter this holiday season, I plan to focus on all that I’m grateful for. And one of those things is being given the honor of representing my fellow Army spouses through this blog. Whether you are a military wife, a mother, a veteran or all three (or none of the above), I invite you to join the discussion. 

Posted in Married to it on Friday, December 13, 2013 9:57 am. | Tags: Fort Hood , Army , Central Texas , Texas , Family , Peripatetic Journalist , Military Spouse , Army Wife , Killeen , Children , Parenting , Soldiers Comments (1)