The Meat and Potatoes of Life

Tapping a canoeing memory for strength

Every once in a while, I think back to a day during my teens, when I went canoeing by myself. This wasn’t an extraordinary accomplishment. It didn’t earn me a spot on an Olympic team. I didn’t receive any bravery commendations or citizenship awards. Nonetheless, the somewhat faded memory of this simple personal feat has helped me over the years.

Military life lessons from the last of the litter

The cranberry farmer reached a callused hand into the crate and grabbed the loose scruff of one pup’s neck. Holding the limp six-week-old yellow Labrador retriever, the farmer growled, “You can take this one if you want. The rest are spoken for.”

PopSockets, passwords and a perplexed parent

“You empty a bag of Utz’s Dark Russet potato chips onto a cookie sheet ...” I began, explaining an easy appetizer recipe I’d learned from a friend. “Then you sprinkle crumbled Gorgonzola cheese over ...” “Rusty potato chips?” my mother asked, turning her good ear toward me.

A farewell to the rinse and spit era

Waiting for the receptionist to call, I counted my fingers. It had been 11 months since I’d been to the dentist thanks to COVID-19. I scraped a fingernail across my front tooth and thought, “The hygienist has her work cut out for her today.”

Champagne dreams, Dirty Banana realities

I’ve always wanted to say, teeth clenched with haughty intonation, “We were on the Vineyard yesterday,” as if it were our regular routine now that we live in New England. So, last weekend, the unofficial end of summer, my husband, Francis, and I took a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard, the preppy vacation spot for the rich and famous.

Take time today to tell your 9/11 story

Some tell of being in the Twin Towers, or the Pentagon, 19 years ago. Others tell of loved ones who died. Some took part in rescues and cleanup. Many, who were deployed to foreign lands to fight terrorists, were injured or killed. But most of us were not on the scene. Instead, we watched from afar. Regardless, it is important for us to recollect what we thought and felt.

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  • Sound Off: What military spouses say about COVID-19

    Recently, I decided to change my “lurker” status, and post something in a popular military spouse Facebook group to which I belong. In my first post to the group, I asked how military families had been affected by COVID-19 restrictions.

  • How the TikTok app cured my FOMO

    I’ll admit it — I suffer from FOMO when it comes to my kids. My “fear of missing out” has caused me to engage in behaviors that are desperate, annoying and often unbecoming of a mother and military spouse. Which explains why I downloaded TikTok this week.

  • This Little Piggy needs a hot shower

    I’ve been preparing to be a grandmother since my own children were babies. I didn’t sell their outgrown baby things at garage sales. I squirreled everything away “for our grandchildren, someday.” I just can’t help myself. I envision bouncing a grandbaby on my lap, blowing raspberries on his or her perfect little feet. Adorable!

  • Pandemic party fashion faux pas

    For a few minutes last weekend, I was winning at life. My husband, Francis, and I were getting ready for a small gathering of friends on our neighbors’ wraparound porch overlooking the bay. It was a warm summer evening, my stomach felt flat for once, and I was in the mood for a cocktail.

  • Appreciating the art of baloney

    Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, people have sought information to quell fear. Over the past five months, the advice given by “experts” has fluctuated wildly, despite having been given with seemingly well-informed confidence. By now, I think we realize that it’s all baloney, bunk, BS.

  • The impossible task of parenting young adults

    I used to have a good grasp on parenting. From the time our three children were infants, through toddlerhood, the primary school years and even the dreaded teenage years, I used a fairly successful combination of expert-recommended techniques, mother’s intuition and common sense to raise our children. But now that they are adults, I am dumbfounded.

  • Northern thoughts about Southern exposure

    Because I wholeheartedly believe the old adage that “Tan fat is better than pale fat,” I’ve been spending more time in the sun this summer. My waistline plumped considerably during quarantine, and I’ve found that lounging in a bathing suit in my backyard is infinitely more enjoyable than diet and exercise.

  • A small moment when patriotism came easy

    I don’t recall exactly what I was doing that morning 37 years ago — probably at home wrangling my big hair with a curling iron and applying frosted purple eye shadow — but I remember ending up on the courthouse steps at noon, dressed in a red robe. I was in the second row of my high school’s choir, waiting for our cue to sing “America the Beautiful.” Thousands of onlookers waved flags and welcome home banners, honoring the man who prompted all this hubbub. Jimmy Stewart, Hollywood actor and hometown hero, had returned to quaint Indiana, Pa., to celebrate his 75th birthday.

  • Not a loner after all -- just a military spouse

    Prior to writing this column, I had never taken a test like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which has been used for decades in the military and other organizations to assess personality. I had always assumed I was an introvert, because over the course of 23 years as a Navy spouse, I spent so much time by myself. I mistakenly thought my loner personality was the reason why it was difficult to make friends every time we PCSed. Turns out, I was wrong.

  • Regional cuisine: Best of times, wurst of times

    Living overseas during two military tours of duty in Europe provided our family with unique opportunities to learn about various cultures firsthand. We didn’t have to imagine what it would be like to be European, we simply lived it. Although some Americans shy away from sampling local foods, regional cuisine was an integral part of our overseas adventure.

  • When beach socialization was a shoo-in

    “Mom, how did you meet people your age during your family vacation?” my 22-year-old daughter Anna asked a couple of weeks ago, during the 13-hour car ride to our North Carolina beach cottage. We would be picking up Anna’s college roommate on the way. Clearly, the girls were weighing their vacation social options.

  • ‘Leadership matters’: Recruiters apply past lessons learned to current crisis

    Riding in a V-22 Osprey over the jungles of Liberia in search of suitable terrain to build treatment camps during the 2014 Ebola epidemic, young Army engineer Major Anthony Barbina had no idea that he was preparing for a job he would fill years later. All he knew was that his skills as a burgeoning military leader were being tested.

  • Clean freaks now in good company

    At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, people everywhere ran frantically to the stores, clearing the shelves of disinfectant, bleach and cleaning supplies. Other than a smidge of toilet paper panic, I never felt an urgency to stockpile to prepare for the crisis. Why? Because I’ve been a clean freak all my life.

  • Pandemic ramps up PCS move rivalries

    It’s summer PCS season, when 40% of the 400,000 military and DOD civilian moves take place each year. This time brings back memories of our family’s final military move in May 2017. It was our 11th in 23 years of marriage, and it was pretty much like all the rest — a stressful experience involving tedious planning, unexpected crises, broken and lost belongings and physical exhaustion.

  • Bolognese should have been a sure-fire solution

    Judging from the bright sunlight that glowed through my closed eyelids, it was a beautiful morning. But I couldn’t get up and face another day of this unending monotony. I pulled the pillow over my face and yearned for sleep to deliver me.

  • Rooting for a pretty pastime

    I’ve got dirt packed under my fingernails. There’s a blister the size of Delaware on my thumb. My face is sunburned in a distinctive raccoon pattern around my sunglasses. I’m walking with a slight limp, thanks to the pain in my knee from too much squatting.

  • Even garden-variety military spouses inspire

    I’ve always been a bit of a loner. This may seem to contradict my image as class clown, columnist and book author — but it’s true nonetheless, and it has affected me as a military spouse.

  • College talk: Not just where you go, but how you get there

    Traditionally, May 1 is National Decision Day for high school seniors picking colleges. COVID-19 has delayed some universities’ schedules; however, parents will inevitably begin engaging in vaguely competitive “college talk.” Beware: These seemingly innocent conversation starters are an invitation into a quagmire of double entendre.

  • Family discoveries under a quarantine microscope

    Our family members are the people we know best. Living together makes us intimately familiar with each other’s personalities, likes, dislikes, quirks and habits. We know intuitively what the other person is thinking or feeling, without a single spoken word.

  • Tiptoeing around the Class of COVID-19

    “Mom! We’re out of avocados!” my 22-year-old daughter, Anna, bellowed. “And where are the goat cheese crumbles?!” People all over the globe are covering their faces and hands before entering grocery stores to buy life-sustaining food staples for their families sheltering at home, only to find them sparsely stocked. But in Anna’s world, being out of avocados is an emergency.

  • Doomed to Zoom from our rooms

    Recently, a television jingle got stuck in my head. It’s from a PBS kid’s show I used to watch in the 1970s. My brain’s recesses are imprinted with hazy flashes of the program’s ethnically diverse cast of pre-teens dressed in matching striped shirts and bell bottoms, singing the opening sequence’s jazzy theme song.


    How the Pentagon's stop movement order is affecting military families

    “The military trained us to thrive in the chaos of change,” said Amanda Trimillos, a U.S. Air Force spouse. “It’s going to be okay. Everything will fall into place. We just don’t know when, where or how.”

  • Gratitude in a time of uncertainty, fear

    By the time you read this, what I’ve written will be a mere time capsule — a frozen moment in our ever-changing sociological and physiological status. Columns are supposed to be timely, but with a new chronicle being made in hourly increments since the coronavirus outbreak, this week’s musing is bound to be old news. So, consider this a history lesson. A look back at “the olden days” of last week, when life was entirely different than it is today.

  • The naked truth about springtime

    What’s the true sign that spring has sprung? No, it’s not the crocuses, the bunnies or the pussy willows. I know spring is here, because I just shaved my knees.

  • Spring breaking when you're broke

    We recently asked our college senior daughter, Anna, if she was coming home for spring break. She reluctantly admitted to us that, no, she would not be home at all, because she is going on a trip with her sorority sisters to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Since Anna’s bank statements are still mailed to the house, I knew that Anna was flat broke. She didn’t have enough money to buy a bus ticket to Schenectady, much less an all-inclusive trip to a resort in Mexico. However, I had once been a broke college student, too — I had an inkling of how Anna was financing her spring break trip.

  • If trend continues, is draft inevitable?

    The place where our family lived the longest was Virginia Beach, Va. Our first house, a vinyl-sided Dutch Colonial on a cul-de-sac, was close enough to the elementary school to hear the morning announcements from our porch. Despite deployments that took my husband away, we spent nine wholesome, grounding, family-oriented years there, growing roots, making friends and providing stability for our kids.

  • Military spouses able to beat the odds

    Two months into 2020, statistics dictate that most people have already given up on their New Year’s resolutions. Sadly, only about 6 or 7 percent who make resolutions attain their goals. I’ve always been a resolution-maker and a yo-yo dieter, so I am forever making plans to lose 10 pounds, then breaking them. But one year, I made a resolution that would take me a decade to achieve.

  • Why community is key to warfighting

    We lived on this base four years ago. Now we fall into the category “retiree and family,” but I still drive across the bridge and through the gates every week. Why? After 28 years of active-duty military life, I have learned that spending time on base boosts my morale.

  • A day set aside for torture, tenderness

    As much as I’d like to blame Hallmark, FTD, Whitman’s Sampler, Russell Stover, Brachs and The Melting Pot for inventing Valentine’s Day to benefit the blood-sucking consumer industry, unfortunately I can’t.

  • I ain’t no Florence Nightingale

    When I took my husband to the hospital for hip-replacement surgery recently, I envisioned myself playing the part of Florence Nightingale during his post-operative convalescence at home: propping his pillows, retrieving fresh ice packs, delivering steaming bowls of soup and neatly quartered sandwiches, topping off his water with candy-striped bendy straws.

  • Attention-seeking, #MeToo and ‘The Bachelor’

    On Monday nights, my 19-year-old daughter, Lilly, and I commandeer the television to watch a show that admittedly has no cultural value. Though billed as a reality show, it’s not based on reality at all. It’s a carefully contrived dating competition in which 30 women compete for the affections of one man in the midst of sprawling hilltop villas, sequined gowns, helicopter dates, tropical resorts, champagne-fueled cocktail parties, rose ceremonies and ginormous diamond engagement rings. That show is, of course, “The Bachelor.”

  • Dust in the wind, on my coffee table

    Dust bunnies are the bane of my existence. That might sound dramatic, but let’s just say that I pretty much hate dusting. Then again, Mom told me to never use the word “hate,” so let me rephrase: Dusting is an activity of which I am not particularly fond. (And I get bonus points for not ending with a preposition.)

  • Has technology made deployment any better for military spouses?

    For military spouses enduring deployments in this complicated world of internet-based communications and 24/7 news, is ignorance bliss, or is knowledge power?

  • A 5-step prelude to starting my diet

    I’m a little upset that my husband didn’t give me a Peloton for Christmas, but then again, he might be in the doghouse if he did. Without a shiny new exercise machine in my living room, I’m left to muster the motivation to begin a 2020 fitness regimen all by myself.

  • The power of being positive to yourself

    I had taken the part-time library job out of desperation. After interviewing and being rejected for three other positions because I “didn’t have enough experience” (a common problem for military spouses), I accepted the offer to work weekend night shifts at the boarding school library. Although I was grateful to be employed, the job branded me with a permanent feeling of defeat.

  • Glowing up in 2020

    I find that the optimal time for one to muster motivation for self-improvement is right after one has polished off an entire pint of ice cream.

  • How gift-giving rituals evolved

    Sometime after the Earth cooled — let’s just say it was between a gazillion and a bajillion years ago — slimy little amoebas sprouted fins and then legs. Soon, critters of all shapes and sizes roamed the planet. Not too long after that (again, I’m foggy on the dates, but feel free to Google it), hairy Homo sapiens began squirreling away special rocks and animal pelts to present to each other as gifts.

  • The truth about men and dogs

    From a plastic chair beside a burbling aquarium tank occupied by one lonely suckerfish, I relayed our dog’s recent behavior to the veterinarian. “Moby’s been acting ... well, funny. He’s walking stiffly, favoring his left side, whining a lot, and he won’t get up for anything — except meals, of course. He is a lab, after all.”

  • The upside to a shorter holiday season

    Ever since I realized that we have one less week between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, I’ve been moping around feeling ripped off. We can’t be expected to cram every holiday celebration and tradition into three lousy weeks! There is far too much to do, see, eat, sing, drink and buy before December 25!

  • Nostalgia-inducing holiday decor of yore

    I can’t remember that my reading glasses are perched on my head, where I parked my car at the commissary or where I left my cup of coffee, but I have many vivid recollections of my childhood. Especially of the holidays, when I stored detailed memories of the sights, sounds and aromas of the season deep in the recesses of my brain.

  • A military spouse's Thanksgiving Day prayer

    Now I lay me down to pray, that I’ll survive Thanksgiving Day. That the special dinner I agreed to host, won’t make me a laughingstock on post.

  • Welcome home! You're in the basement now

    Many of us can pinpoint the time in our lives when we returned to our childhood home seeking the comfort of preserved memories, only to find that our bedrooms had been converted into something else. The TV room, the sewing room, the storage room, the den. This happened to me after I went away to college, and I never saw it coming.

  • Suicide rate complicated, but solutions shouldn’t be

    Last month, another U.S. military veteran took his own life on a Veteran’s Administration campus. This is the sixth veteran suicide in the public areas of Florida’s Bay Pines VA facility in the last six years. This latest incident is also part of the ever-growing rate of veteran suicides each year, and part of a nationwide increase in suicides among all adults.

  • Monster misgivings on family movie night

    In 26 years of marriage, long-standing feuds have formed between my husband and me, never to be resolved. Which direction the toilet roll should be mounted. Where bowls go in the dishwasher. Whether it is insensitive to one’s passengers to insist on driving with the car windows down when the outside temperature is under 50 degrees.

  • Halloween for the Peanuts generation

    Military families have been hitting civilian department stores and base exchanges in search of the perfect Halloween costumes for next week’s trick-or-treating. I am always amazed at the unbelievable selection of reasonably priced costumes for kids and adults nowadays. Options range from Attila the Hun to Sexy Mr. Rogers, and everything in between. Today, there is no excuse for not having a decent costume on October 31st. However, it wasn’t always so easy.

  • Safety is sanity to football moms

    “Oh no!” I gasped Oct. 6, in a crowded Rhode Island bar, as I watched 6-foot-5-inch Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph drop like a rag doll after a helmet-to-helmet hit by Ravens safety Earl Thomas.

  • 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.

  • Some names are nicer than others

    Why do we name our babies before they are born? Before we know their character traits, individual personalities, propensities and proficiencies?

  • 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.

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