What it is Like to Return to a Duty Station

This isn’t our first rodeo living in the national capital region. During Clay’s almost 14 years in the Army, we’ve moved 7 times. And when we moved back to the area last summer, we checked off another square in the game of military bingo – we returned to a duty station.


We were stationed at Fort Belvoir from 2012 – 2015 (a few months shy of three years) and throughly enjoyed our time in northern Virginia. Violet was born here, we spent our free time traveling up and down the east coast, and took advantage of all the sightseeing the area has to offer. That being said – we very much like moving to new places and we have no desire to spend a significant amount of time of Clay’s career stationed at one place. It’s not always easy leaving an established existence for a foreign one but with each goodbye, we’ve felt like we’re better for the experience. So while we’re back in the DC area, it’s not the same as last time. But as the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, so eloquently put “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

You have mentioned quite a bit that you hope to maximize your time with the military and live in as many different places as possible – so why did you go back to DC? We were San Antonio, Texas prior to this assignment. And Fort Leavenworth, Kansas before that. I’ve written about how I didn’t exactly bloom in Texas and neither one of us loved  our time in Texas. We made the best of it but it certainly wasn’t our favorite duty station. So when Clay applied and was selected for a position that involved a last-minute move to Washington DC this past summer, we were thrilled to call the area home again – at least for a little while.


Do you live in the same neighborhood as last time? Same city? No to the first question, yes to the second. We absolutely loved our townhome community in northern Virginia last time we were here – so much so that we tried to live in the same community again. The rental gods weren’t in our favor but we ended up finding a great single family home down the road that is zoned for the same elementary school. We’re in the same township and have the same zip code as last time so in many respects, it feels like we came back home. We did look into living in Arlington, Crystal City, and Pentagon City for something different, but we loved living in West Springfield last time and couldn’t resist doing the same this time around.

Does Violet attend the same preschool Weston did when we lived here last time? Yes! Due to the last minute nature of the assignment, I knew securing a Pre-K spot for Violet would be an issue. The hour after receiving word that we would indeed be moving, I contacted the preschool Weston attended during our previous stint here and pleaded my case. And that is how Violet ended up enrolled in the same preschool as Weston attended despite not having official orders yet or having any idea of where we would actually live.

Are most of your friends from last time still around? No. Even though there is a lot of familiarity living in the same area again, driving the same roads, and also shopping at the same stores – it is also quite different. A lot of my previous friends have moved away and the ones who haven’t, I don’t see as often as I’d like because we’re not longer true neighbors and our busy lives get in the way. But on the other hand, I’ve made new friends to chat with as our children play on the playground after school. And one of my dearest friends in the whole wide world from our Fort Drum days 12+ years ago is stationed here and only lives two miles away! Our children have become fast friends and we get together all the time.


Are you trying to stay there as long as possible? Despite loving it here, we will not try and get a follow-on assignment in DC once Clay is finished with this job. Our kids are young and in elementary school – now is the time to move around and explore as many different places as possible. We will likely try and stabilize when they reach high school but of course, only time will tell!


Why do you like living there so much? On top of the incredible history, there is just SO much to do. There is always something going on in the city and when we want to escape for a bit – we’re just a short drive away from one of our favorite hiking spots, Great Falls Park, and the rural farmlands in Loudon County and Prince William County. There is no shortage of breweries, wineries, fantastic restaurants, and everything else that accompanies a big city.

What don’t you like about the area? To be honest, we’re not huge fans of the pressures placed on students in our area. Yes – it is one of the ‘best’ school districts in the country but schools that boast high test scores and college acceptance rates aren’t necessarily producing adults that have a grasp on what is essential for true success in life (hint – it isn’t getting into a Top 10 university). In this area, I encounter so many people with outward signs of success. Happy people are harder to find.

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I admit that is a little surreal to be stationed at the same place twice. As much as things are the same, they’re different too. We will be bidding the national capital region adieu next summer. Due to the nature of Clay’s career, it is likely we will return yet again in the future. Of all the places we’ve lived, this area has felt the most like home. But that may just be because we’ve lived here more than once. After all, as the famous Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho, wrote, “Everyday is a journey, and the journey itself is home.



Sometimes You Get What You Want. But Only Sometimes.

Now that I am in my mid-thirties I find myself obsessively checking the Facebook feeds of Jay’s Wintery Mix, Doug Kammerer, and Capital Weather Gang when there is the threat of severe weather. I may not watch The Weather Channel but I’ve become my mother – at least in regards to storm tracking and my preference of drinking wine out of a coffee mug. The models yesterday were tracking for the national capital region to get at least 8 -12 inches of snow. The infamous DC snow-hole made her presence known this winter so despite the record-low temperatures, it’s been a mild winter snow-wise. Therefore, this forecasted early spring snowstorm had snow-lovers like me keeping their fingers-crossed for a boom scenario.

Clay is home in-between trips so his buzzing phones woke us in the early morning hours. As he listened to an automated message about the federal operating status, I bolted out of bed and excitedly peeked out the window. And saw absolutely no accumulation – womp womp. As I dejectedly climbed back into bed, I thought to myself how this year’s winter was an analogy for a lot of military-related experiences.

You see – no matter how much I try and remain nonchalant about the potential for snow, or an early return from a deployment or TDY, or a choice assignment, I inevitably and eagerly get my hopes up. Without fail. I know I shouldn’t. But I do because that is just who I am. And then I more than likely end up disappointed because hardly anything in life goes according to plan, which is why I believe detailed plans are for the birds (boy is that a whole other post). Eventually I come to terms with the letdown and even find little silver threads that ultimately transform themselves into linings. If I’m lucky – I get a lesson or two out of the experience. And the cycle repeats itself.


Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have been telling us for years that we can’t always get what we want. Which is probably why when we do get what we want, it tastes that much sweeter. And wouldn’t you know – soon after my disappointing glance out the window the skies opened and it began to snow. And it snowed all day.


It was a good day.

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My Top Priorities {Year of Intention}

Back in January, I declared 2018 as the Year of Intention. Seeing as how the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl this year (Fly, Eagles, Fly!) and Clemson basketball is a force in the NCAA tournament, there is no reason for me not to believe that 2018 will be my best year yet. Since my public declaration, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what is actually meant by intentional living. And after much thought, I’ve reached the conclusion that to me, the core of intentional living is actually understanding why we do what we do. And the first step for such exploration is determining what my top priorities are in life.

90 Seconds

Seems easy enough, right? Without thinking about it too much, I answered the following way and just wrote what came to my mind when I asked myself “What are your top priorities in life?” I didn’t think – I just typed (which is apparently how the POTUS runs his Twitter account). I gave myself 90 seconds and this is what I came up with…

  • relationship with Clay
  • relationship the kids
  • be happy
  • live simply
  • travel
  • be tough
  • make a difference
  • be happy
  • be kind
  • meaningful friendships
  • be present
  • experience different cultures
  • be happy
  • stay curious
  • experience much as I can
  • be healthy
  • experience food and drink from around the world
  • give back
  • be happy

Not a bad start. In fact – when you’re thumbing through that self-help book in Barnes and Noble, you’d be hard-pressed not see any of these phrases. You check the Amazon app on your phone and then have an internal debate about which multi-million dollar company to give your business while reassuring yourself that you will check out that independent book store in the hipster part of town sooner rather than later. You ultimately decide on immediate gratification and purchase the book – only to read the first three chapters before banishing it to the back of the middle drawer in your nightstand. You find it two days before the packers are due to arrive and stare at it in your hands – thinking about whether to donate it or put it in the keep pile. You choose to keep it and place it next to that one book you did end up purchasing at that independent bookstore for $2 over the suggested retail price. This isn’t just me, is it?

What about Happiness?

There are a lot of be happy’s on that list, aren’t there? Be happy – such a simple declaration that can seem like such an impossible task when it feels like the odds are stacked against you. But many people out there believe that happiness is a choice to be made each day, each hour, each minute, each second. Both Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan describe happiness as the joy of moving towards potential and happiness is fueled by that journey. I choose to look at happiness this way – it’s the joy of living and doing so to the best of my ability.


Narrowing the List

The contents of my 90 second list can be narrowed down by grouping them together based on similarities.

  • relationship with Clay, relationship with kids, meaningful friendships – all of these proprieties have to do with relationships
  • be happy, be healthy, be tough – all of these priorities have to do with health – both physical and emotional
  • live simply, be kind, make a difference, be present, give back – all of these priorities have to do with purpose and the impact I wish to have in the world
  • travel, experience different cultures, experience as much as I can, stay curious, experience food and drink from around the world – all of these priorities deal with exploration and the desire to learn

My Top Four Priorities

So based on the breakdown above, I’ve determined my top four priorities in life to be the following (in no particular order)…

  • Relationships
  • Health
  • Purpose
  • Explore

So what does this mean? Well – I’m not quite sure yet. Good thing I have a year to figure it out.

Here’s To Us Xennials

I was born in 1983, which means my childhood was analog and my adolescence was shaped by the emerging digital culture that would define our world as I entered adulthood. Me and my peers spent hours carefully cultivating our online profiles in middle school and high school. Personal computers were commonplace my freshman year of college but very few of us had personal cellphones that were used for anything beyond emergencies. The AOL away message eliminated the need for answering machines during those years and my senior year of college, I joined about 5,000 other people on an intimate social media network known as The Facebook.


College Clay and Karen taking a selfie (usie?) the old-fashioned way –

with a disposable film camera. #xennials

I am too young to be issued a membership card for Generation X and too old to be granted access to club Millennium. Thankfully a new term has been coined for those of us who had an analog childhood and a digital adulthood – we’re considered Xennials. We’re supposed to have both the optimism of millennials and the cynicism of Gen Xers and we are fast approaching middle-age. A lot of us have married, had children, earned promotions, and contributed to healthy investment portfolios that will lend themselves nicely to retirement. We don’t necessarily miss the good ol’ days but we miss the freedom from responsibility. We find ourselves singing along with Mr. Brightside as we drive the kids to school and wondering where Teck from Real World Hawaii ended up in life. We watch Cruel Intentions whenever we come across it on a streaming service and we remember where we were on 9/11 and when the OJ Simpson trial verdict was announced.

I wrote on Facebook the other day that I did not take a gap year in between high school and college and wondered if it were too late to take one now. Not surprisingly – many of my fellow Xennials chimed in and agreed that such a year is wasted on youth. Not that I am disenchanted with my life – it is pretty grand. And I don’t really believe in regrets – especially since I’ve never been arrested or interacted with shadowy figures in trench coats. But there are things I’d do a little differently on the march toward middle age now that I have the benefit of hindsight.


So here’s to us Xennials – most of us don’t have it all figured out like we thought we would by this age (seriously…17 years ago the age of 35 seemed soooo old), but we’re beginning to realize what is really important in life. It’s not about our possessions, the size of our house, or how much money is in the bank. Life is meant to be experienced – a journey through peaks and valleys is more preferable than a steady race because we now recognize the value of hard lessons. We crave simplicity and understanding. We are Xennials – and damn proud of it.

St. John – The Crown Jewel of the Caribbean

The infamous DC snow hole struck again yesterday – place south of us got snow and places north of us got snow, but we just experienced dark skies and the threat of snow. Many local meteorologists were declaring this storm to be the last for the area before the promised spring-like weather.

Because yesterday was cold, gray, and damp – despite nothing falling from the sky – it made me think of some of our favorite trips to tropical destinations. St. John is definitely on the highlight reel – Clay and I went there, sans kids, in August 2014. The highlight of our vacation to the USVI was easily our time spent on St. John. When planning the trip, we ultimately decided to stay on St. Thomas because we managed to score a great rate at the Marriott. And we really did have a fantastic time on Rock City. But St. John is in a different league all together – we knew we would love the island but we didn’t expect to fall as hard as we did. St. John is known as the crown jewel of the Caribbean and I can’t think of a more deserving title for what just may be the most beautiful place we’ve been to yet (for inquiring minds – Alaska, Scotland, and St. John are the frontrunners but we still have so many more places to go).


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Sad Boob Pocket – Stitch Fix Review

I am not really into clothes. I mean – I like to wear them due to social decorum and have them flatter my body but I’m not constantly seeking out the newest trends. I’d rather vacuum out my car (how can kids destroy the backseat that bad in such little time?) than spend all day shopping for clothes. If I spend more than an hour dedicated to clothes shopping, I begin to get frustrated and end up buying things that I don’t love just to get the experience over with – which results in a closet full of clothes that I don’t wear. Since 2018 is the Year of Intention, I’m committed to being more intentional about my clothing purchases and embracing what my body looks like as a 35-year-old woman.


A couple of years ago, I hopped onto the Stitch Fix train. Since then, I’ve ordered a handful of boxes with varying degrees of success. Stitch Fix is a personal styling service that sends five items of clothing (or accessories) for you to try on in the comfort of your own home. The cost of the service is $20, but if you purchase anything in the box the $20 styling fee goes toward the cost of the item(s) – if you purchase all five items, you receive a 25% discount. While I’ve never chosen to keep all five items, I’ve always loved at least one item enough to purchase it. But not this time – I kept nada.

I requested spring and summer tops because I’ve been living in sweatshirts and leggings all winter and I should probably let the ol’ arms breathe a bit. I’m currently in an awkward in-between pant/short size so I’m holding off an purchasing anything for the bottom half of my body because having your body change in your mid-thirties is super fun – said no one ever.


Z Supply Coopie Knit Pocket Tee – $34.00

This shirt was comfortable – unfortunately, that is all the positivity I can muster for this $34 shirt that I can easily find at Old Navy for $9. Not only was it too baggy for my taste, it had a boob pocket so sad that Sarah Mclachlan popped out of my closet and started to play her guitar. Why is it there? Why sad boob pocket?


41 Hawthorn Dawney Scallop Trim Blouse – $54

This shirt is magical. As soon as I put it on, I transformed into a middle-aged woman demanding to speak to a manager. Since I’m clinging to my youth with a death grip and it totally made my waist disappear, I passed on this floral sleeveless number.


Papermoon Caputo Kimono – $49.00

I’m not quite sure what the purpose of a short-sleeve kimono is and I’m not about to find out because I sent it back. It’s like it doesn’t want to commit to being a vest. Or perhaps it realizes that vests ceased being trendy once the Beverly Hills 90210 gang graduated from fictional California University. I did love the color and if it were long-sleeve, I probably would have kept it.


Market & Spruce Britta T-shirt Dress – $64.00

When I first put this on, the dress was backwards. When I turned it around, it didn’t get much better. I’m curvy – I’ve got a chest, a waist, and hips that don’t lie. I am not thin so shapeless dresses tend to make me look – well, shapeless. It would make a comfortable nightshirt though – if I were 60!


Le Lis Juri 2fer Maxi Dress – $74.00

I almost kept this maxi-dress. But the longer I looked at myself in the mirror, the more I really did not like how the skirt looked like I just wrapped a floral towel around my waist. I really liked the bodice and the criss-cross peekaboo in the back but the ruched fabric of the skirt just didn’t sit well with me. Or my waist. If it laid flat, I would have purchased this dress it a heartbeat. Why are cute and flattering maxi dresses so hard to find?


Even though this Stitch Fix was a bust, I’ll try it again in a few months. It’s fun to try on clothes that you normally wouldn’t choose for yourself and I have scored some pieces I love and still wear today in previous boxes. It’s not in our budget for it to be a monthly gig – clothes are at a higher price point than I typically pay, even though I always request the cheapest option. The majority of our discretionary income goes toward travel and I prefer to keep it that way so I’ll continue to shop at Target and the sale racks at White House/Black Market and LOFT with a Stitch Fix box thrown in every so often.

If you’re so inclined, check out Stitch Fix – I recommend everyone try it at least once (if you end up signing up via that link, I’ll get credit for a referral. So if that bothers you, just type it out in the address bar). Once you sign up, you fill out a style profile and then schedule your first fix. It’s worth a shot – who knows, you may just find a piece that you love. Or you may end up with a sad boob pocket like me. I suppose that is part of the thrill – you never know what you may get to try on.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Growing up, Brussel sprouts weren’t a staple in our house. In fact, they were only served once. Us four kids weren’t impressed by the bowl of boiled Brussel spouts on the table (nor the accompanying smell) so we entered into negotiations with my parents. My dad – apparently not a fan of mom’s boiled Brussel spouts – agreed to our terms. If our dog (who ate everything) refused to eat one, then we didn’t have to finish the serving on our plate. We whooped with delight when our dog promptly spit out the boiled mini-cabbage and walked away into the other room. It would be 15 years before I ate another Brussel sprout.


I can’t remember the exactly place I had roasted Brussel sprouts as an adult but I remember being blown away and thinking “THIS is what they’re supposed to taste like?!? Brussel sprouts and lima beans seem to be the punching bag of the vegetable world. Thankfully, the former appear to be sprouting (hi oh!) in popularity and popping up on menus near and far. Rumor has it that Brussels sprouts hail from the land of Belgium – not surprising given it’s namesake. Food historians believe that the Brussel sprout as we know it were likely cultivated in Ancient Rome and considered to be part of the same species as cabbage. French settlers brought them over to Louisiana in the 18th century and they’ve been the chagrin of many United States children ever since.


Occasionally, our Trader Joe’s will sell Brussel sprouts on the stalk, which is my favorite way to purchase them. However, I picked up this microwavable bag of whole sprouts at Aldi’s the other day. Do NOT microwave them – your kitchen will smell worse than a middle school hallway in June and then you’ll be subjected to eating steamed Brussel sprouts, which is about as much fun as eating boiled cabbage.

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