Amelia Island, Florida

When we learned that Clay would actually be home over President’s Day weekend, we made plans to fly down to Florida so we could checked out my parent’s new beach condo on Amelia Island. My dad retired this past summer so my parents decided to really lean into their new phase of life and get a second place on the ocean. However, due to Lucy having some health issues, we scrapped our initial plans and decided to drive down to the sunshine state to avoid having to board her. And that is the story of how ended up spending 24 hours in the 4Runner in order to spend 60 hours at the beach. Yes – we’re slightly bonkers, as evident by the wide-eyed looks we received when people found out about our plans.

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She’s worth it though.

We left Thursday night after Clay battled holiday weekend traffic on the commuter bus. We drove for about four hours and spent the night in rural North Carolina where pet-friendly hotels are not readily available but we managed to find one with good reviews on Trip Advisor (no murders!). After breakfast at McDonalds (it was slim pickins’), we fought our way through I-95 traffic and were driving onto Amelia Island by early afternoon in 70-degree weather.

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We Probably Should’ve

A couple of weeks ago, I changed the news alert settings on my phone because I was growing weary of of the constant bombardment of breaking news. When my phone would buzz, I’d be met with alert about Kylie Jenner instead of an email for which I’d been anxiously waiting. I was over it.

The weather was unseasonably warm yesterday afternoon, which is why a lot of parents gathered at the playground after school and chatted while our kids ran their little hearts out. A group of us moms discussed our concerns over the testing culture in our country and the rigorous coursework at our particular school. It was a casual conversation but also one that had the occasional shimmer of “are we doing the right thing for our children?” We also chatted about life, shared funny tales, and corrected our children when necessary.  After about an hour, we gathered our kids, their backpacks, and their Valentine’s Day boxes and walked home.

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This Is Us

I didn’t participate in the thousands of crock-pot discussions that have peppered social media in recent weeks. Truth be told, I have only seen the pilot episode of This is Us. I liked it but not enough to watch another episode. At least, not right now. Milo Ventimigila wasn’t even enough (Team Jesse).  I’ve never really full-on embraced a weekly network television drama to the point where I have to watch the latest episode. It’s not in my blood. I’m sure I’ll end up watching This is Us the same way as Parenthood – on Netflix at my own pace.

But this post isn’t about the hit television show. Nor is about the Mark Knopler and Emmylou Harris song This Is Us from their 2006 album, All The Roadrunning (sigh – such a great album). Today is Valentine’s Day – the day makers of giant teddy bears and bad chocolate rely on to keep them in the black for the year. In our house, we acknowledge the day and exchange little gifts with the kids and each other but we’d rather chew off our own arms than go out to eat tonight and he knows better than to give me jewelry. Clay will be back after the sun sets so my gift to him this year involves bombarding his phone with questionable love-related GIFs and an inappropriate card I picked up at Target. Love is not dead in this house, folks.

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When Did Reading Become a Luxury?

As I type this post, I’m watching curling on the television and toggling between this screen and Wikipedia in attempt to have 2018 finally be the year I fully comprehend the sport. The kids are asleep upstairs, Lucy is next to me on the couch, and I’m awaiting text confirmation that my betrothed has safely arrived at his intended location. I could be using this alone time to strengthen my mind and actually read but instead, I am writing about books that I want to read. Life can be funny that way. We’re heading out of town for the Presidents’ Day holiday – while winter has been a bust snow-wise in the Washington DC area this year, we’re still escaping the cold for warmer temperatures. And my goal is to actually read a book (or maybe two!) during our little break.

In 2016, The Washington Post explored the long and steady decline of literary reading. The article mentioned how studies have shown that  literary fiction boosts the quality of empathy in the people who read it. So one could theorize that the decline in literary reading has resulted in a decline of empathy. I want to read more for many reasons, including this one. The Harvard Business Review listed 8 ways to read a lot more books this year. One such way is making a public commitment, which guess what? I am totally doing right now. At this phase in my life, reading feels a bit like a luxury. There is always something I could be doing instead of reading – cleaning, cooking, interacting with my kids, working, etc…

I love to read. But I am an all-consuming reader. When I read a book, it takes over my existence. I’m not able to simply put it down and go about my life. I sneak pages when I can and skirt real-life responsibility for printed words. For this reason, I struggle to incorporate reading into my daily life and it is usually saved for moments when I remove myself from everyday existence. I wasn’t always this way but the introduction of children, social media, and multiple streaming options into my life have all seemed to contribute to my issue. I want this to change. So I’d like to read the following books over the next handful of months…

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Getting to Know Me {Year of Intention}

Yesterday morning I had coffee with a dear friend who knows me – really knows me. We can talk about anything and everything and one of my favorite aspects of our relationship is that we’re not afraid to dive into heavy topics and as a result, we’ve formed what I consider to be a deep bond over the years. And as I was driving back to the preschool to pick up my daughter, I was comforted by the fact that I have people beyond my husband who really get me. And they don’t run away when they get beyond my hard candy shell.

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I first started blogging years ago as my husband, Clay, was preparing for his first deployment and I was facing a brutal winter in Fort Drum, New York. I hadn’t landed a job yet beyond substitute teaching and I hadn’t formed the type of friendships that are vital to surviving such an experience. I was alone, I was cold, and I was scared that I’d be a widow at 22-years-old. So I created a blog and I wrote. I didn’t write about anything particularly meaningful – I just wrote. Since then, I’ve blogged on and off over the years at a variety of venues but I never considered myself a writer. I witnessed the blogging landscape change and what was once a fun outlet became a cesspool of sponsored posts and basket of words that lacked the authenticity that made blogging so great in the early years.

Last month, I declared 2018 as the Year of Intention. In full disclosure, one of my intentions this year is to dust off my previous blogs and really try to give this blogging thing a go once and for all. Analytics (yet another thing that wasn’t commonplace in the early days – bah hum bug) tell me that I have quite a few new readers beyond my immediate family and close friends so a good place to start is by answering some questions I’ve received over the past few weeks.

Getting To Know Me

Where do you live? Clay is currently assigned to an obnoxiously large office building in the Washington DC area. Because we’re priced out of most of the chic Washington DC neighborhoods that offer trendy restaurants and hip watering holes within walking distance of well-performing schools, we currently call Northern Virginia home. There’s a Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and two Starbucks within a 2 mile radius of our house so it’s pretty safe to assume that we’re living the suburban dream. Whenever we want to escape the land of infinite Targets and Mattress Firms, we drive five minutes to the nearest metro station and pretend we belong to the city that 535 members of Congress call home for at least part of the year.

If a movie was made of your life what genre would it be and who would play you? Because I think that You’ve Got Mail is pretty much the most perfect movie ever made, I like to think that my life would lend itself to frothy light-hearted romantic comedy in the genre of a Nora Ephron or Nancy Meyers movie. Although – I just watched Baby Driver and would love to see my life choreographed to music with the help of Edgar Wright. As far as who would play me? Claire Danes because we both can rock some pretty stellar ugly-cry faces. And we both have large noses {btw Claire – I say that with love and admiration!}.

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What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten? I’ve had both alligator and rattle snake, which I feel like most people have had at least once so I don’t consider those very  strange. I’ve also had salt & vinegar fried crickets, which were surprisingly tasty. However, the strangest thing I’ve attempted to eat was deep friend chicken feet in Chinatown in Montreal. There was a miscommunication while ordering and I was quite disgusted by the plate that was placed in front of me. I ate what I could (which wasn’t much) and then accidentally swallowed a bunch of tien tsin peppers. Let’s just say it wasn’t my favorite meal.

How do you like your steak cooked? I know I should say medium rare because I consider myself a lover of food but I can’t help it – I’m pretty sure I best like my steak medium (ducks under chair).

Do you really love 80’s/early-90s era Tom Selleck? Short answer? Yes. Long answer? What originally began as a silly conversation starter has grown over the years into quite the appreciation for the guy. You see, growing up one of my favorite movies was Three Men and a Little Lady. My 10-year-old self thought that Peter was the most dashing architect in New York City. I would imagine myself as Nancy Travis in a puffy-sleeved wedding gown, marrying Peter in a remote English village with Waiting for a Star to Fall by Boy Meets Girl piping through the church. Then Tom Selleck showed up on Friends as Richard and by that time I was a teenager and the damage was done – I was 100% all-in on Tom Selleck. Once I got to college, I would share stories about my teenage lust for Tom Selleck over beers and the rest is history – I became known for my fondness for the mustached Romeo.

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What job would you be absolutely terrible at? Anything that required extensive phone use. I’m not a millennial (actually – I think I am) but I recoil at the idea of having the schedule appointments on the phone. When I find a doctor or a dentist that utilize online scheduling software, I hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Handel’s Messiah.

What is the worst ingredient to fill a burrito with? Rice. When did that start becoming a thing? Ugh. Rice?!?

What is an embarrassing moments you’re willing to share? Back in 9th grade, I inadvertently asked my math teacher how long his “thingy” was…   ::dead::

Do you like having a husband in the Army? I met Clay two days before September 11th. He was a 2nd year ROTC cadet and I was an impressionable college freshman living in the same dorm. During our time as college sweethearts, we grew up together knowing that war would be an inevitable piece of our story. I was lucky enough to have pinned him when he commissioned and pin on his new rank during his subsequent promotions. While Clay didn’t originally set out to make the military his career, I’ve been with him since almost the beginning so the majority of decisions regarding his career, we have made together. Over the years, he has done a tremendous job at making feel like a valued partner and that my input matters. While we have gone through some really awful things that accompany war and death, I believe we’re both better versions of ourselves than if he didn’t choose this path for himself. I also like him in uniform – especially his Mess Dress. 😍

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Do you have any reoccurring nightmares? Yes! About one a month, I dream that it is finals week and I discover that I’ve been unknowingly enrolled in a class the entire semester and the final is in 30 minutes. I frantically try to cram the material but I have yet to make it far enough in the dream to actually take the final. Interestingly, the subject matter changes – one night it’s biology and another it’s French. One time, I even dreamed that it was a hydraulics class, which is especially puzzling because I studied political science and economics. Any amateur dream sleuths want to take a stab at that one?

What about you? 

I’d love to know more about you! Please feel free to answer one of the questions (or all!) or ask another question for someone else to answer. Do you have a reoccurring nightmare? How do you like your coffee? Are you more of a pancake or waffle person? What is your all-time favorite television show? Why do you read blogs?

6 Honest Tips for Surviving a PCS

The late spring/summer is traditionally PCS season for the military community. For those unfamiliar, PCS refers to Permanent Change of Station aka moving. There are hidden expenses that always seem to pop up along the way, but for the most part, we’re not financially responsible for the move but we are responsible for coordinating the process.  Seeing as how psychologists routinely state that moving is considered one of life’s most stressful situations, it’s absolutely imperative that military families develop a system to help schlep their worldly processions from Point A to Point B.

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This past summer, our packers told us that our framed Billy Joel concert poster is the whitest thing they’ve packed yet. True story.

This blog post will not be an article about the need to put together an important documents binder, nor will it advocate for developing a color-coded system for boxes to assist in the deployment of said boxes into the new house. This blog post will not talk about the best resources for researching schools, veterinarians, and hair stylists. And this blog post will not discuss the importance of documenting high-value and moderate-value items is because stuff will inevitably break during the moving process.  This blog post is going to talk about the really important stuff when it comes to PCSing.

6 Honest Tips for Surviving a PCS

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1. Keep a Winged Butterfly Corkscrew Near You at All Times

Rumor has it that there are a few unicorns out there who are able to resist alcohol during PCS season. I am not one of them. It doesn’t matter if you’re calling preschools begging for a slot or searching for the cast iron skillet that you’ll eventually find in the box marked ‘Downstairs BATHE towls’, it is imperative that you keep a winged butterfly corkscrew near you at all times. Not only will it open bottles of wine, it can assist with the opening of an assortment of beers and mini-bottles. It can also be used as a box-cutter and while not preferable, the arms can be used to spread peanut butter. And in a fit of desperation, it can also be a toy. It wasn’t my proudest parenting moment but once, I gave my then three-year-old daughter a winged butterfly corkscrew and told her it was a metal doll in order to keep her occupied as I frantically opened boxes searching for her prized pink elephant that had somehow managed to be packed earlier that day. The winged butterfly corkscrew was all I had within reach.

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2. Don’t Forward Your Mail to Relatives with the Same Last Name

Learn from our mistake and you will avoid a lifetime of political mailers and AARP membership requests. Many moves ago, we had a transition period of about 30 days before officially reporting to another installation 2000 miles away. Obviously, we took advantage of this ‘free’ time and traveled our little hearts out. Because of this, we had the not-so-smart idea of forwarding our mail to my husband’s parents. It has been 6 years since that particular move and all parties involved are still suffering from the consequences of our ill-informed decision. When it came time to forward our mail to our new duty station a few states away, all of my in-laws mail somehow ended up at our new place. For months. And months. And we have lived in three different states since that particular move and yet we still receive the occasional piece of junk mail addressed to my in-laws. On the positive side, we always have something to use to start a fire. #glasshalffull

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3.  There Will Always Be Someone Who Hates Where The Military Is Sending You Next

Facebook and other forms of social media are invaluable tools during PCS season. Yes, there is a seedy underbelly in the world of military-related Facebook groups and there are some that certainly #leanin into the military spouse stereotypes. I’ve even personally witnessed a close friend get hit with the ban stick because she accidentally posted something twice that was deemed self-promotional (it wasn’t). And being the great friend that I am, I didn’t take a stand and leave the group in solidarity because it really is a great source for information. The joke is on the all-knowing administrators though because I sometimes post questions on behalf of my shunned friend. Muwhahaha.

When I accepted my husband’s marriage proposal (which involved a plaid fold-out couch and a satirical book – try not to be jealous ladies), it didn’t take me long to learn that in addition to raving about favorite assignments and duty stations, people love to complain about the places they’ve hated with the burning passion of a thousand fiery suns. You may be excited that you have orders to Hawaii but there will always be a Debbie Downer who chimes in with school data, traffic patterns, and the threat of nuclear holocaust. Delighted about going to Germany? Negative Nelly will likely talk about the gray skies, ridiculous recycling standards, and the abundance of wursts. No matter where you are going, there will always be someone who hated that installation/assignment. It’s best to ignore them and not let them get you down. On the flip side, you will also find people who loved assignments that are traditionally looked down upon. So for every person you meet who despised Italy, you’ll someone who really enjoyed their time at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Keep that in mind.

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4. Make Sure The Truck Driver Locks the Back Door of the Truck

The load-out from when we PCSed from Washington DC to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas was quite disastrous but we emerged with an important PCS lesson – always make sure that the truck driver locks the back door of the truck before driving off. On the night of that pack out – around 11:05 pm, my husband and I sat on the front steps of our townhome and watched the truck holding all of our worldly possessions drive away. And at 11:06pm, my husband took off running toward the truck to alert the blissfully unaware driver that the back door flew open (pictured above). The driver’s response? “Oh, it’s been doing that a lot lately.” We’ve moved two times since then and have incorporated checking the lock of the truck as part of our move-out process. You should probably do the same.

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5. Ziploc Everything!

While unpacking kitchen boxes after having the military move us for the first time, I was absolutely aghast at the amount of packing paper that was used to wrap a fondue fork. Four (!) large sheets to wrap one teeny tiny fondue fork. We have 16 fondue forks (I like fondue – don’t judge!). You do the math. From that move on, I learned to dump the contents of every drawer in the house into corresponding ziploc bags. My schedule may not be as demanding as Renata Klein’s (any other Big Little Lies fans out there?) but I am not going to spend the time it takes to unwrap every single wine cork I’ve saved over the years (trophies of my accomplishments) or each magnet from our travels. It’s not good for the Earth and it is not good for my sanity. Ziploc anything and everything that can be bagged. Toys? Sure! They have large ziploc bags available now – they even come in 3-gallon sizes. Office supplies? Bag ’em up! Clothes? Fold ’em and bag ’em. I recommend zip-ties as well. You may look like Dexter checking out with your haul but at least you’ll be prepared for your PCS.

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6. Flatten Packing Paper as you Unwrap and Unpack

Life is so much easier if you flatten packing paper as you unwrap and unpack the Target and IKEA showroom that is your house. Of course you can always request the movers to unpack for you but HAHAHAHAHAHA. We have moved 10 times in the last 13 years and it didn’t take me long to realize that shoving crumbled up pieces of packing paper into garbage bags was the least efficient method of packing paper removal. Perhaps you will be assigned the fabled moving company that will return at a later date to pick up your boxes and packing paper but if you’re like most of us plebeians, you’ll be at the mercy of your town’s recycling program and people ISO of packing supplies on Facebook. Make your life easier and flatten paper as you go so it can be smacked, whacked, and stacked to the max (oh dear – I’m now quoting Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown – this is what my life has become).

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So there you have it – my six tips for surviving a PCS and doing so with grace and aplomb (ha!). I’ve been a part of this rodeo for over 13 years now and I’ve learned that no matter how stressful the uncertainty, the planning, the execution, and the settling into a new life feels – it all works out in the end. Life has a funny way of doing that. A sense of humor is a crucial ingredient of the military lifestyle. Without it, life just isn’t much fun.

So what are you some of your tips for surviving PCS season? How do you handle PCS envy? How do you tell the kids – do you keep them informed of the process from the beginning or do you not break the news until orders are in hand? How do you say ‘see you later!’? And most important – what drink of choice is in your hand while tackling everything like a boss? Bottoms up!

Victory Brewing Company

In 1996, childhood friends Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski founded Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown, Pennsylvania in an old Pepperidge Farm factory. Over the years, Victory has grown into an award-winning brewery with distribution in 34 states and 9 countries. With three locations – Downingtown (the flagship brewery), Parkesburg (capacity of ten 200-barrel brews per day), and Kennett Square (produces unique beers that are available only in the on-site brewpub) – Victory Brewing Company is showing no signs of slowing down.

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When I was up in Pennsylvania with the kids last weekend, my sister and I decided that a trip to Parkesburg was in order because it was en route to Old Windmill Farm. Clay and I have been to the original Downingtown location many times during out visits to the area over the years but this was my first visit to the Parkesburg location (opened late 2015). I have yet to go to the Kennett Square location, which is a tad ironic because that is where I went to high school. Next visit – I’ll be sure to hit it up, hopefully with Clay in tow.

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While some may grumble at the changing culture of craft-breweries, I am #allin at bring children along to the increasingly family-friendly environments. Germans don’t bat an eye at families in biergartens and a lot even have playgrounds (I must live in Germany at some point in my life) so it is nice to see a shift over on this side of the pond as well. We ate lunch and then took the self-guided tour upstairs.

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We were very impressed with the self-guided tour. While not very long, it held the interest of the kids and adults alike. While we obviously don’t allow our children to drink beer, we don’t hide the fact that we enjoy it. We appreciate the history and craft – how water sources can affect flavor, how different grains impact balance, and the science of brewing. Our hope is that as our children age they don’t view alcohol as simply a vehicle to get drunk, but rather develop respect for beer, wine, and spirits and enjoy the nuances that consuming such beverages provide.

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All of the kids enjoyed the hopsniff.

It was like getting pelted in the face with the essence of an IPA.

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We were there on a Saturday so we weren’t able to see the production in action but it was still very interesting so have somewhat of a bird’s eye view on how the beer is made.

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According to the Victory Brewing Company website, the Parkesburg location “features a German-built ROLEC brewhouse with a production capacity of ten 200-barrel brews per day or a total daily capacity of 2,000 barrels (6,200 gallons). In one year we can brew 500,000+ barrels. Best-in-class brewing systems and installations allow for efficient use of energy and maximal hygiene throughout the process.

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Oh how I wish the bottling area was up and running. I started to sing the Laverne and Shirley theme song and my children, nephew, and niece proved that their side-eye game was strong that day.

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The Victory Brewing Company’s Parkesburg Taproom is located at 3127 Lower Valley Road, Parkesburg, PA 19365. If you ever find yourself in southeastern Pennsylvania, check it out. Bring the kids! Eat, drink, and take a self-guided tour. And don’t forget – Go Eagles!