The Meat and Potatoes of Life

The bawl before the Navy Ball

“We’re going to be late,” my husband Francis began saying two hours before the Navy Ball. He would repeat the phrase every 15 minutes. It was October 1994, the night of my first formal military event as a Navy spouse. We had only been married one year, and I was four months pregnant.

Desperately seeking reunion redemption

“C’mon, please go with me,” I begged Patti, “we’ll have fun, I promise.” But my best friend since 9th grade was skeptical. She thought our 35th high school reunion could be a bust. But she agreed to go, as long as we — our husbands, Patti and I — would make a speedy exit when the time was right.

Gold Star Mothers: Shining for decades

When I was a teenager, I spent an inordinate amount of time staring out of windows, over the water, into the distance, up at the sky — pondering my place in the world. I was prone to feeling overwhelmed by minuscule problems, so contemplating the vastness of the universe comforted me by making my worldly worries seem insignificant. My favorite place to ponder was outside at night. I’d lie on a blanket in the grass and gaze intently at the stars, looking for patterns, movement and twinkling lights. On clear nights, there seemed to be billions of stars, each so bright against the black vacuum of space.

Between blind faith and stranger danger

Before our girls went back to college this year, we gave them the usual advice. Don’t walk on campus at night alone, don’t take rides with strangers, etc. I stopped short of arming them with pepper spray. I wondered, do they really need to have their thumbs poised, ready to blind someone with pepper spray? Or, has our culture become paranoid?

When did I become hilarious to my kids?

I was sitting at our kitchen island with a lukewarm cup of coffee, quietly minding my own business. My 19-year-old daughter, Lilly, had just come home from her nearby college classes to grab some lunch, and while she sipped spoonfuls of chicken noodle soup beside me, I reviewed my afternoon to-do list and quietly muttered to myself.

Only the essentials for college survival

“Mom! Where did you put the cups for my smoothie maker?!” my daughter, Anna, yelled from our basement last week while packing for her last year of college. An artsy fashion design major who considers orderliness boring, Anna was infamous in our family for losing things and accusing others of taking them.

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  • The most productive day of the week? Tomorrow

    My column was late again. A spaceship wasn’t hovering over Rhode Island. Our house didn’t burn down. My computer didn’t seize up with “the blue screen of death.” None of our kids came down with double pneumonia. I hadn’t been arrested for tax fraud. Nope, I didn’t have one decent excuse for my column being late. Truth be told, I’m a hopeless procrastinator.

  • One giant leap for military spouses

    While Congress hashes out the details of President Donald Trump’s proposed “U.S. Space Force” — who will oversee it, how many personnel are needed, whether we can afford it, where will it be located — I am selfishly wondering what the future holds for the military spouse community after this sixth branch of the armed forces stands up.

  • Have the rules of Life changed?

    Growing up in the ’70s with only three television channels and one mind-numbingly monotonous Atari Tennis game, my brother and I relied heavily on board games for entertainment. We played Monopoly, Sorry!, Risk, Payday, Stratego, Rock’em Sock’em Robots, Battleship and other games expressly intended to reward the rich, ruthless, lucky and intellectually superior.

  • DOD scolded in military family readiness report

    From July 23-25, three hot shots from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine presented a report titled “Strengthening the Military Family Readiness System for a Changing American Society” at the Military Child Education Coalition’s National Training Seminar in Washington, DC. The 320-page report gave a scholarly scolding to the DOD for “siloing” and fragmenting the many services for military families.

  • Military appreciation night makes problems seem minor league

    I was running late, as usual. A mini-crisis had erupted on email at home, and typing an emergency response had put me behind schedule. My tires squealed turning past the “Lot Full” sign at the parking lot entrance across from the ballpark. I gave the attendant as pathetic a look as I could muster, but before I could beg, he waved his hand toward a space that had just opened up.

  • A tribute to summer sellers of soft serve

    A few months ago, I was cursing my place in the world. I mean literally, the actual spot where we live here in “Rhode Iceland.” After my husband retired from the Navy, I thought I could handle the harsh, bitter, seemingly endless New England winters, but every time it snows in April (and it does every year), I curse the ground it falls upon.

  • Whether humidity or stupidity, it was certainly funny

    Recently, while my husband, Francis, and I were lugging our window air conditioners out of the attic, he relayed a personal story I’d never heard in our 25 years of marriage. I’m not sure if it was the sticky weather we were experiencing or the sweat mustache that had sprouted on my upper lip, but Francis was reminded of an incident that happened 30 years ago in the oppressive heat of Pensacola, Fla. — one that could have ended his military career before it really started.

  • Finding inspiration in an unexpected place

    Unlike the sorrowful portrayals that dominate Vietnam War history books, movies and documentaries, Heath Hardage Lee’s new book, “The League of Wives: The Untold Story of the Women Who Took On the U.S. Government to Bring Their Husbands Home,” offers an unexpectedly uplifting account from a previously overlooked perspective.

  • The seasonal stress of swimsuit selection

    Summer, this balmiest of seasons, evokes sunny scenes of kids running through sprinklers, smoky whiffs of charcoal grills, soft sensations of waves lapping bared toes and sweet sounds of crickets on steamy starlit nights. But summertime is not all popsicles and dandelions. Actually, this beloved season heralds an event that strikes dread in the hearts of women like me.

  • Dolphin days are here again

    Whether it was pouring cold from the garden hose, stagnating in a blow-up pool or sparkling blue below the high dive at the community park, when I was a kid I tried to be in water all summer long. Especially on our summer beach vacations, where my brother and I spent the vast majority of our waking hours in the Atlantic Ocean. Despite my portly frame, I had a certain natural grace in the water, slicing through waves with effortless fluidity.

  • Bowling for spouses: Spare some compassion

    Every summer, a fresh crop of newly-PCSed military spouses emerges from housing like swarming termites in search of pulp. They follow other spouses to school, approach them in the commissary and ring their doorbells, threatening to infiltrate their established social circles. Some see them as a threat, having forgotten that every spouse was once the new kid on the block.

  • Wailing wall: Grades don’t tell the full story

    I had done it, all by myself this time. I would finally make my parents proud. It was 1991, and I was about to graduate from law school. My parents made the nine-hour drive from Pennsylvania to Michigan for the occasion, the first time since I had left home three years prior. I met them at school, eager to show them the place where I finally transitioned from child to adult.

  • No kidding: Goat yoga for Grammy’s birthday

    It seemed like a terrific idea ... at the time. Grammy was coming to visit for her birthday. Over the years, we’d given her every lousy present from ill-fitting sweaters, to redundant casserole dishes, to hardware store gift cards, to complicated electronics she would never use. It was high time we put real thought into Grammy’s special day.

  • The power of quiet moments

    The stump outside my house was the perfect place for chopping up earthworms. At least two feet in diameter, there was enough room across its ringed surface for me to sit and slice at the same time. Despite what one might think, I was and am a non-violent person. But as a child, I believed that worm pieces regenerated. By cutting worms in half, I thought I was multiplying their population, thereby taking part in important zoological conservation work. I had no idea I was actually committing mass murder.

  • When nothing much feels like everything

    “Hey, Mom, what’s up?” Lilly appeared on my smartphone screen after I clicked the video call icon. Now that she was a freshman in college, we tried to talk at least once a week. “Oh, not much,” I said, hearing a jumble of voices in the background. “Where are you, anyway?” “At the library,” she said. A very good sign, I thought.

  • Military Spouse Appreciation Day: Is it a real thing?

    The calendar is full of obscure national holidays. In the past week alone, we’ve had National Outdoor Intercourse Day, Beer Pong Day, Scurvy Awareness Day and National Lumpy Rug Day. Let’s just hope that no one threw a party to commemorate all four of these events at one time. Last month, we were afforded the opportunity to recognize Ex Spouse Day, National Shrimp Scampi Day, High Five Day, Bat Appreciation Day, and my personal favorite, National Cheeseball Day. And next month, we’ll gear up for World Jugglers’ Day, Hug Your Cat Day, National Bubba Day, Monkey Around Day and Waffle Iron Day. And nestled in there, appropriately on the Friday before Mother’s Day, is Military Spouse Appreciation Day.

  • Educate yourself before you pass the seven-layer dip

    Whoo-hoo! It’s Cinco de Mayo, that time-honored tradition commemorating Mexico’s Independence Day, when we join with our geographic neighbors south of the border for festive celebrations of this pivotal day in Mexican history ... right? Actually, no.

  • Bridging past and future

    I slow down through the toll booth just long enough for my EZ Pass to trigger the bar to lift and the light to blink from red to green. My car picks up speed on the ramp’s incline. The road rises higher and higher, over the mammoth concrete bridge piers and toward the first suspension tower soaring skyward. The land on either side of the roadway falls quickly beneath me. In my peripheral vision, I sense the navy blue of the bay’s deep waters, which sparkle brightly at this time of the day.

  • Confessions of a television junkie

    [In the basement of a dingy community center, a fluorescent light buzzes over a dozen or so people seated in a circle of metal folding chairs. Some nibble anxiously at store-bought sandwich cookies, while others sit in nervous silence. There is a screeching of chair legs against linoleum, as one bleary-eyed woman stands with a trembling Styrofoam coffee cup to speak.]

  • My car thinks I’m an idiot

    “Your fuel level is low. Would you like to navigate to the nearest gas station?” an unfamiliar male voice called out. I glanced at the other seats in my new car, but I was entirely alone. Then I saw the words displayed across my vehicle’s digital screen. My car was talking to me.

  • Boarding schools can work for military brats

    April, the Month of the Military Child, reminds me of both challenges and opportunities faced by my own military children. “Annabanana, knock ’em dead,” I said when I dropped my daughter off for her first day of 10th grade after we moved to Rhode Island. A typical Navy brat, Anna knew all about being the new kid, but this school was different. Very different.

  • We've come a long way with autism awareness

    In 1998, our son, Hayden, was diagnosed with “atypical autism.” After recovering from the shock, my husband and I inundated ourselves with information, desperate to provide our 3-year-old boy with whatever might help him lead a relatively normal life.

  • Thunderdome awaits college-seeking kids

    Back in 1983, I showed up for my SAT test with two No. 2 pencils and a pack of gum. The night before, I talked to my best friend on the phone for two hours, but never cracked a book. I don’t think there were test prep books back in those days. Besides, we figured SATs were aptitude tests. You were smart, or you weren’t. Not much you could do about it.

  • Confessions of a No. 2 on the doggy-doo scale

    There’s nothing that fights winter melancholy quite like a brisk dog walk on a brilliant, crisp day. A bit of fresh air and sun does wonders for my soul during these long, chilly months. Moby trots happily a leash length ahead of me, with his tongue wagging from his stout English Lab frame. I sip my travel mug of coffee, communing with nature and my trusty canine companion. Life is good.

  • Smug GPS doesn’t always know best

    Last week, I hobbled over our frozen lawn toward my salt-encrusted car, balancing a to-go cup of coffee and two bags slung over each shoulder. It’s a hassle running errands during the doldrums of winter. Opening the gritty driver’s door, I set my coffee in the center console’s cup holder, then decided to hurl my purse and tote bag across the driver’s side into the passenger’s seat. Of course, my purse strap caught the handle of the to-go cup as it flew over the console, splattering coffee on the seats, windows, dashboard, floor mats and my white winter coat.

  • Girls will be girls: The hidden dangers of social aggression

    Lilly was our easy child. As a baby, she sat contentedly on my hip while I did home therapy with her developmentally delayed older brother, or while I argued with her stronger-willed big sister. In school, Lilly made friends easily at every duty station.

  • Deployment creates remote romantics

    Valentine’s Day is coming, and while your civilian friends are picking out new lingerie and making dinner plans with their hubbies, you’re wallowing in self-pity because your soldier or sailor is deployed.

  • Epic battles at the grocery store

    It’s February. As always, panic has set in. Soon, folks everywhere will be mobbing the grocery stores for necessary supplies and stockpiling items in their cabinets, pantries and refrigerators. Is another Herculean Arctic superstorm headed our way? Is a typhoon spinning eastward across the Pacific? Is a deadly combination of high- and low-pressure systems colliding in an apocalyptic whirlwind over our nation? Well, no.

  • DOD medical force cut hurts military families

    “Sorry, but you can’t be seen at the military clinic for that anymore,” a health care provider told me last week when she prescribed physical therapy for my back pain. She explained that the clinic was drawing down staff, especially many of its specialists, who will soon only treat active-duty uniformed personnel.

  • Why we relish reports of airport meltdowns

    Last week, TV networks aired a viral video of an airline customer melting down. These videos surface every few months — a woman’s tirade over a $20 baggage fee in Memphis, an irate doctor’s dramatic arrest in Orlando, a Spirit passenger ranting in the aisle after her plane was diverted, and a mother losing her cool after her family’s flight to catch a Disney cruise was delayed 12 hours. Last week’s viral video featured a woman body-slamming the gate kiosk after her JetBlue flight was canceled, while screaming epithets and calling the attendant a rapist. Lovely.

  • Honk if you’ll miss your old minivan

    “She served us well for 13 years,” I thought wistfully, as my husband and I drove our 2005 Sienna minivan to the local CarMax to trade her in last week. Although her trusty engine still spun like a top, our family vehicle had too many problems to ignore. Passing another state vehicle inspection would have required a couple thousand dollars or a crooked mechanic, so we had decided to upgrade. But I’d been with her so long, I had mixed emotions.

  • Alcatraz Gang POW leaves legacy of hope in US Congress

    In May 1966, 21 days after his F-4 Phantom II was shot down over North Vietnam, Sam Johnson arrived at the Hoa Lo Prison. Within hours, was beaten unconscious by his brutal captors. The unspeakable pain Johnson endured when his broken arm and dislocated shoulders were wrenched backwards was only the beginning. Johnson would spend the next seven years being tortured and starved as a prisoner of war, never succumbing to North Vietnamese authorities’ demands.

  • That’s the way the cookies crumbled

    There is a certain kind of limbo that takes place between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s a confusing time when it feels like something that has been celebrated for weeks has finally come to an end. But you are expected to carry on like it didn’t. According to the unwritten rule book, your duty is to drag out the festivities for six more long days.

  • Seduced by twinkly ceramic tree decor

    “You didn’t buy another ceramic Christmas tree, did you?” said my husband, Francis, holding the box the mailman had left. “Never you mind!” I said, grabbing the package with excitement. “How many do you have now ... fifteen? Twenty?” he accused, while I sliced through the packaging tape with scissors, energized by the prospect of the box’s contents.

  • Pining for a less painful Christmas tree ritual

    This year, my husband, Francis, and I went to a local farm to pick out our Christmas tree. In 25 years of marriage, there was one year — and only one, so help me God — in which Francis bought a tree without me.

  • Trying to keep the shame on the shelf

    When it comes to trends, I operate on a standard five-to-10-year delay. Hence, I refer to ink cartridges as “printer ribbons,” I’ve always wanted that hairstyle Jennifer Aniston had on “Friends,” and I still own a pair of dark-washed jeans. So, it’s no surprise that I never picked up on The Elf on the Shelf craze.

  • Take a chance on a military spouse

    My ringtone sounded, right on time. A burning ache gnawed at my stomach. I took a deep breath and swiped to answer.

  • Keep Thanksgiving a holiday unto itself

    And so it begins. No sooner did I use my thumbnail to scrape a dribble of turkey gravy off my sweater, than — WHOMP! — the Christmas hoopla hit me like a freight train.

  • The less appealing aspects of late autumn

    November always finds me waxing poetic about the flavor of just-harvested fruits, the earthy aroma of fallen leaves, the nip of imminent winter and the brilliant hues of flora and sky. But like everything else in life, this lovely season has a flip side.

  • Help homeless veterans with smart giving, not spare change

    In 2010, when President Barack Obama pledged to end veteran homelessness in ten years, I cynically thought it was an empty political promise during a time when it was popular to support military issues. But don’t you know, he nearly did it.

  • Philanthropy, sorority could become casualties of frat misconduct

    I was about to hit delete when the words “Greek life,” “hazing” and “criminal charges” caught my eye. It was another email blast from an administrative muckety-muck at our daughter Anna’s university, but this one didn’t look like the usual update about tuition increases. Considering that we were about to travel to Syracuse to attend Anna’s sorority charity event, I figured I’d better give this one a gander.

  • Trick or treatment: Our motives revealed

    I’m not sure what it says about me, but I’ve always gone for a Halloween costume that was funny. While I’d like to believe that it means that I’m mentally secure and don’t mind being the butt of a joke, I’m sure a clinical psychologist would diagnose me with some kind of personality disorder and recommend long-term therapy.

  • The obituary I’ll never forget

    A few years ago, a friend sent me the link to an obituary she’d read in the Boston Globe that morning. I didn’t know the woman who had died. Mrs. Louise Bickford was a complete stranger to me. However, my friend shared the article because Louise had been a military spouse, like me.

  • Past horrors that no longer scare kids

    Having grown up when kids roamed freely while parents smoked Salems, wore belted vests, ate pimento cheese and adjusted console televisions, my upbringing was undoubtedly different than my children’s. Without a 24/7 supply of internet information, my hopes, dreams and fears were based on my imagination, influenced by what others told me and what I saw in movies, television and comic books.

  • Anti-military obstacles a challenge for recruiters

    Back in 2011, my husband, Francis, reported to Naval Station Mayport, Fla., to be the staff intelligence officer (N2) of the US Fourth Fleet. We were excited, because N2 positions at numbered fleets were traditionally “command equivalent” and highly competitive. However, the military was being drawn down between 2010 and 2016, and the rules were no longer certain.

  • An accidental regular at the commissary

    The day after my honeymoon 25 years ago, I moved into my Navy husband’s apartment in Alexandria, Va. He carted me around to get a military ID, submit Tricare forms and obtain base pass stickers for my car, so I’d be an official, card-carrying military spouse. Then he went to work, leaving me home ... alone.

  • The lame duck in the chicken coop

    In my 23 years as a military spouse, we lived in base housing four times, for a total of 11 years. Although living among sterile government buildings enclosed by fences sometimes made me feel like an inmate in an asylum, the social culture in military housing more closely parallels the behavior of chickens in a coop.

  • Saved by technology's bells and whistles

    It was an ordinary morning. Or so we thought. The dog was napping in the kitchen corner, my son was making a sandwich, and I was folding laundry. But this day would live in infamy. My son’s plate clunked onto the glass turntable of our microwave. He slammed the door, and began punching the buttons necessary to melt cheese on his roast beef sandwich. A series of beeps sounded, and then he pressed “Start.” BOOM!

  • New study aims to help military families grieve

    It’s so easy to be indifferent. I tend to become absorbed in my own daily minutia. Flossing my teeth, walking the dog, checking emails, paying bills, planning vacations, watching my latest shows — I often forget that there are thousands of families in our military community who are grieving.

  • Start of college marks a series of final moments for mom

    A few days ago, while dropping our youngest child, Lilly, off to start her freshman year of college, I realized that a certain phase of my life as a mother was coming to an end. Over the past 23 years, I have become accustomed to putting the needs of our three children before all else. I nurtured them as babies, guided them through their school years and multiple military moves, and saw each one of them off to college.

  • Forensic clues point to husband in the bathroom with a razor

    Recently, while scraping the toothpaste blobs out of our bathroom sink, I had an epiphany. I have become a legitimate expert in forensic science.

  • Our priceless gifts from deployments

    I have a drawer at home filled with loving gifts from my husband, Francis. They are things he picked up while on military travel or deployments during his 28 years in the Navy. He would arrive home, and no matter how travel-weary he was, he’d gather up our family and give each of us a memento of his trip.

  • Potlucks reveal how neighbors really feel

    Last year, after my husband, Francis, transitioned out of the military and and we moved off base, I had to find new friends. Again. This isn’t easy at age 52, when most of my peers have well-established social circles with little room for newbies. But luckily, we moved to a small community where neighborhood “porch parties” are customary.

  • Even soap operas can be inspirational

    I’ll admit it. There was a period in my life when I watched the soaps. Off and on between 1995 and 2000, I spent a lot of time sitting on the couch watching TV in the middle of the day. No, I wasn’t eating bonbons. I was a young Navy wife at home nursing our babies, and what could be a more fitting way to pass the time than watching the boob tube? I found the soaps to be totally ludicrous, but surprisingly entertaining.

  • Totally tubular summer memories

    You can call me Parent of the Year. I just gave my 17-year-old daughter permission to go cliff diving with her friends at a rocky outcrop overlooking the bay. As counterintuitive as this might seem for a parent, I smile when my children seek out the kind of old-fashioned, risky fun I had when I was a kid.

  • Getting tacky about the cost of military spouse unemployment

    My mother hates it when I tell people how much I spend on things. For example: Friend says, “That’s a great outfit, Lisa.” I say, “Well, get this — I bought the shirt on clearance at TJ Maxx for $11.99, and I found these pants along with an electric carving knife, hardly used at all, at the base thrift store on ‘fill-a-bag-for-five-bucks’ day. Pretty cool.” I see this as sharing good news. According to Mom, it’s tacky. But nearly 24 years as a military spouse has ingrained in me respect for a good bargain.

  • Recklessly hurtling toward indigestion

    The vacation was over. After a week of roasting in the Carolina sun and indulging shamelessly in happy hour beverages and nightly feasts, we packed our sand-sprinkled suitcases, a gluttonous stockpile of leftover food, and our elephant-skinned bodies into our minivan for the brutal 12-hour drive back to Rhode Island. As I zoned out, munching cleansing carrots from a baggie and half-listening to the humorous prattle of my college-aged kids, I had no idea that I would soon become a common criminal.

  • Accidents do happen, especially in college

    This summer, my husband and I must decide whether our daughter should take a car to college in the fall. We are wary about insurance payments, fender-benders, speeding tickets and expensive mechanical troubles. Worse yet, college kids who have cars are tempted to engage in risky activity such as road trips, tailgating and transporting kegs, stolen mascots, and/or sorority sisters in their trunks.

  • The realization that it’s not all about me

    “Honey, my job is a priority,” my husband reminded me, after saying that he would not be home to help pack for our family vacation. Every summer, Francis’ work seems to get in the way of our annual beach trip. It’s become tradition for me to do all the planning, packing, dog-kenneling, kid-nagging and driving to North Carolina, while Francis shows up late “because he has to work.”

  • Rewriting the rules reveals the bottom line

    Years ago, I wanted to be Supermom, and for the most part, I was. I cooked, I cleaned, I nurtured, I maintained complete control. Nothing could faze me. That worked for a while, and then, strangely, my children started to think for themselves. No amount of time outs, gold stars, or “wait-until-your-father-gets-home”s would convince my kids to obey me every time.

  • Evolution revolution: Let’s all be friends

    February was not the best time to PCS to England. It was 1996, and due to a housing shortage, we spent four gray, drizzly months living in RAF Alconbury Air Force Inn. Every day, I paced that dreary base hotel and sat with our 1-year-old at the nearby pizza joint, waiting for our new life to take shape.

  • Under a Tuscan cloud on family vacation

    “Mom, the bucket!” Lilly cried from the middle seat of our minivan. It was June of 2010, and we were taking a summer trip to Tuscany from our base house in Germany. We were only 15 minutes into the nine-hour drive. “Last night’s chicken noodle soup,” Lilly weakly observed after emptying the contents of her stomach into the trash pail. I carefully retrieved the sloshing container and held it over the floormat. “Pull over so I can dump this,” I told my husband, Francis. But on he went, mile after stinking mile.

  • Stop, see, feel this Memorial holiday

    This Monday, will you sleep a little later? Will you check the weather over your morning coffee, and curse the rainclouds? Will you stop at the store to grab packages of hot dog buns, bottles of ketchup and charcoal briquettes? Will you ice down beverages and season hamburger patties? Will you plug in strings of lights, relax in lawn chairs and enjoy your day off work? As you should.

  • Accepting, embracing the truth about our son

    “It’s a boy,” Doc Walker said as plainly as, “Please pass the salt.” It was April 4, 1995, at the hospital in Monterey, Calif. After 12 hours of labor, I eagerly grasped the waxy, bluish, 9-pound baby boy we named Hayden.

  • Surviving spouses need military post-vention help

    Every time I hear the gut-wrenching statistic that 20 military veterans commit suicide every day, my throat catches. The shocking reality that more lives have been lost to veteran suicide in the past 15 years than in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan is an obvious tragedy that finally has the attention of the Pentagon, lawmakers, health professionals and the public at large. Prevention of veteran suicide is a hot-button issue. But sadly, it’s the surviving spouses who are ignored now.

  • Saying no to the dress, and to prom traditions

    Last weekend, our youngest daughter, Lilly, went to senior prom. Three weeks before that, we had an epic mother-daughter argument in a TJ Maxx dressing room. Having having swapped gowns for proms and military balls my entire life, I understood Lilly’s insistence on borrowing formal dresses from friends. But this was Lilly’s senior prom. Whether she wanted it or not, I was determined to buy her a new gown all her own.

  • Kids and technology: Hard facts, or hysteria?

    At about eight p.m. each evening, a little voice calls me. “C’mon,” it says, “it will relax you. You know you want it.” I tell myself I don’t need it. I’m fine, sitting here watching “House Hunters” reruns with my husband. But it’s no use. I can’t resist the temptation.

  • Season of change for military children

    “When we were leaving Guam, Devon isolated himself from his friends as they were isolating him. We dealt with it by spending more time with one friend and her family that didn’t isolate him and we all became fast friends. Unfortunately she is PCSing in a few months and her mother is telling us that she is now being isolated by her friends,” says Navy spouse Jay of his son, age 10.

  • Marshmallows and military adventure

    You know those people who open bags of M&Ms and dump the entire contents into their upturned mouths? They’re the same ones who eat icing roses off of birthday cakes, open big presents before little ones, and ask for the good news first. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people.

  • Yellow Ribbon Program can make college possible

    Reality has set in. There’s no turning back. The kids are going off to college. And someone has to pay for it.

  • No fooling – somehow we turned out all right

    If I had a dollar for every time I’ve slapped my hand to my forehead and thought, “I’m such a fool,” I’d be rich. They say — whoever “they” are — that one should live without regrets, but for me, regret has always been a part of my schtick.

  • A lousy start to spring break

    After months of relentless snow in Germany, we were headed to Spain for spring break. We’d splurged on a rental house along Costa Brava with breathtaking views up the wazoo. What could possibly go wrong? We showed up at the Stuttgart Airport right on time. When called to board, we cattle-prodded our three kids through the tight lineup. Excited to escape the frigid confines of Patch Barracks, I envisioned pitchers of sangria, casual tapas dinners and lounging seaside without a care in the world. Then, I saw something moving on Anna’s forehead.

  • Van trouble shows that respect is a 2-way street

    I never imagined that our family’s old minivan — the budget-friendly 2005 Toyota with embarrassing filth ground into her carpets, a spider infestation and a pizza box once taped over a broken window — would one day teach me a profound lesson about the innate goodness of the human race. But it happened last week.

  • Like it or not, dear, I only have eyes for you

    One ordinary weeknight several years ago, my husband, Francis, and I were lingering at the dinner table after the kids had been excused. Francis sat in his unbuttoned blueberries, lazily chewing the last bites of beef roast, while I stared out the window of our base house, drumming my fingers on the table. Suddenly, I perked up when I remembered a story to liven up our dull dialogue.

  • For a real education, binge-watch the Olympics

    Two weeks ago, I obliviously plopped onto my well-worn spot on the sofa to watch the Opening Ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Although I knew the general idea behind most of the sports featured, I had no idea what “a double Michael Chuck,” “a hog line” or “a Bellman spin” were. But after meticulously recording every broadcast; obsessively watching while ignoring my family responsibilities, my marriage, and my personal hygiene; and ingesting three cans of Pringles and an entire bag of Dove squares — I have learned to speak Olympics and I can teach you, too!

  • When kids are quiet, something's not right

    “Kids… ,” I’d yelled into our playroom on a regular basis when our children were small, “what’s going on in there?!” Usually, I’d heard roughhousing. You’d think the innocent sounds of our children playing would warm our hearts, but as experienced parents, Francis and I knew that wholesome noises often lead to bonked heads, chipped teeth and poked eyes. However, there were other times when we hadn’t heard squeals, bumps or creaking floorboards. No singing, hammering, smacking or crying. No Barbies being thrown, sippy cups hitting the floor or lamps getting knocked over. What we heard was something far more terrifying: total silence.

  • Putting a positive spin on military sacrifices

    My mother, a retired first-grade teacher, has always put a positive spin on things that appeared to be sad, unjust, terrifying or disgusting. I’ve always admired her capacity to see the good in all things, but there are times when this ability seems out of reach.

  • Forget the past and pass the pork

    It was another gloomy winter afternoon in our working-class English village. Ever since we’d been stationed at JAC Molesworth in the flat Cambridgeshire countryside known as “The Fens,” I’d found myself counting the minutes until my husband, Francis, got home from work. At that latitude, the sun set around four o’clock, leaving me with nothing to do but pop in a Barney video for our toddler — it was the ’90s, after all — and contemplate dinner.

  • Even in winter, ladies must lunch

    My boots were there, sitting next to the front door, a gritty residue of evaporated slush encircling the soles. I would have loved to climb back into bed that morning with Moby, our dog, rather than face my salt-encrusted minivan and a painfully boring to-do list. But I had to get out into the world. I pulled on the unflattering Michelin Man down coat I swore I’d never buy until we moved to “Rhode-Iceland,” slipped into my water-stained boots, and opened the door to the cold January morning.

  • Turning the other cheek: Tale of a colonoscopy

    It seems that every humor writer on Earth has penned an amusing account of his or her root canal, mammogram or other cringe-worthy medical procedure. Arguably, the intimate details of one’s doctor’s appointments should not be published for the masses to read. However, many unscrupulous writers before me have plucked this low-hanging fruit in shameless pursuit of an easy laugh.

  • Perhaps promises will finally become policy

    There is a seldom-opened drawer in our file cabinet that contains the only tangible evidence of my legal career. The musty hanging folders have labels such as “Résumés,” “Licensing” and “Writing Samples.” Even though none of these documents have been used since I had to stop working as a litigation attorney in the late ’90s to move overseas with my Navy husband, I refuse to throw them away. I tell myself that I need the files in case a career opportunity presents itself. But I know I’m really just keeping the yellowed pages as proof that I once did more than make sandwiches and clean toilets.

  • Battling millennials and military brats

    “You guys are SO loud,” our 19-year-old daughter whined, loping downstairs into the kitchen where my husband and I were chatting. Her hair was a rat’s nest. One sock was half off, the excess flapping with each step. She was wearing the sweater she’d had on the day before and had slept in. The clock read 12:35 in the afternoon.

  • The truth about New Year's Eve

    During my youth, my best offer on many New Year’s Eves was baby-sitting. My night included sampling the family’s leftover holiday treats and counting down with Dick Clark after the kids went to bed. Despite my pathetic circumstances, I held out hope that, as soon as my social standing improved, I’d have many fabulous, sparkling, whirlwind New Year’s Eve parties in my future. Little did I know then, nibbling stale cookies and watching the ball drop on TV is about as good as it gets.

  • The holiday battle for a comfy bunk

    ’Twas the night before Christmas, and somewhere in the house, someone won’t be sleeping. But not on account of dancing sugar plums. It will be because of that cursed cross bar under the pull-out sofa mattress, the acrid smell of a nephew’s pillows, the slow hiss of the flattening air mattress or the frigid temperature in the basement rumpus room. During the holidays, when we converge into one festive house to make merry, a game of musical beds is often played, and someone always turns up the loser.

  • Hope, cheer and ruthless behavior

    During this season of giving, people everywhere are transformed. Generosity and compassion well up in us all. However, in the midst of all this merriment, otherwise charitable people can become so caught up in materialistic desires that they have thoughts of theft, revenge and even murder. What, pray tell, could arouse criminal tendencies during the holidays? Simple: group gift exchanges.

  • Holiday cheer not always found where you’d expect

    I’m grateful that our last tour in the Navy landed us in New England, where the scenery looks like a Currier and Ives dinner plate come to life. I love the frosty chill in the December air, the smell of cut timber and pine boughs, the feel of warm woolen mittens. Here, the holiday spirit finds me, draws me in and captures me. And I gladly surrender.

  • Five dollars’ worth of holiday happiness

    Every year, there it was. Pop’s gift for me, propped among the branches of our Christmas tree. Always the same rectangular envelope crafted from heavy paper with dainty red curlicues printed on the corners. It reflected the brilliant glow of our incandescent Christmas bulbs in red, green, orange, blue and gold.

  • Black Friday flunky? You’re not the only one

    As much as I’d like to think that Black Friday is a greedy retail industry conspiracy to fleece gullible consumers out of their hard-earned cash, I can’t deny the fact that it offers shoppers really good deals.

  • Desperate fans want their football

    Unlike other football fans, I had no choice in the matter. I was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania. Ergo, I am a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. In that part of the country, team loyalty is passed down like eye color, pigeon toes and Grandma’s Golumpki recipe. As involuntary as breathing air.

  • Programs for veterans also help families

    In my 24 years as a Navy wife, I never lost sleep worrying that my husband had been injured in combat. Due to the nature of his job, he was mostly shielded from danger, and thus, his service to his country did not come with a huge price tag. We were lucky. Many of the 2.7 million post-9/11 veterans are not so fortunate. More than 540,000 have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and another 260,000 have Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). However, these “invisible wounds of war” are often hidden from the veterans themselves, so it is believed that the figures on PTSD are actually much higher.

  • The tortoise, the hare and the hairy retiree

    Let’s face it — nothing packs on the pounds like getting out of the military. After years of being weighed, measured, poked and prodded by Uncle Sam in the name of combat readiness, newly separated service men and women are abruptly set free from fitness standards. They swap uniforms for stretchy civilian clothes, embrace hair growth, and eat without fear that a side of fries will jeopardize their careers.

  • Hey Mom: Tricks (and treats) are for kids

    It was October 1997, and our first child was 2. When he was an infant, I didn’t want to be like those parents who dress their babies up as pea pods or puppy dogs and parade them from house to house. Everyone would know I was just showing off … and collecting candy for myself. But now that Hayden was walking and talking, there was a plausible excuse to go trick-or-treating.

  • The moody foodie tries all, likes most

    I’ll try anything once. Well, maybe not cliff diving … or running with the bulls … or a Mohawk hairdo … or silicone lip injections. But when it comes to food, I’m totally adventurous. Every time our military family moved to a new place, I couldn’t wait to try the local cuisine. Most of the time, we loved the native dishes, incorporating local recipes into our regular meal routine.

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