Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rainy, rainy Thursday morning

It doesn't rain a lot here in Southern California - there's even a song title to that effect for heaven's sake - but every once and awhile we do get a wonderfully gloomy, gray day.  Today is one of those days.  55 degrees and rain.  The garden and lawn will be happy for the moisture, and I'm happy for a day to be cozy.

We're going to be taking a road trip to Nebraska soon and Zac decided at the last minute that we needed to get the headliner fixed on the car before we left.  The headliner is that fabric that covers the ceiling(?) of your car.  Ours has been slowly peeling away over the last year and for some inexplicable reason Zac decided that it needed to be fixed within 24 hours of us leaving on a three-day road trip.  Never mind that we still need to do laundry, pack and take the dogs to our friend's house.  (Which is a 1.5 hour round trip in and of itself.)  This is on top of the fact that I was given a work assignment a few days ago that takes a fair amount of time.  I had been working on some short, sweet assignments for the preceding few weeks and I figured, what the heck, I'll ask for one more before I leave for Nebraska, figuring I'd get another day or two of work in before we left.  Of course instead of one of the nice six to eight hour assignments of the last fortnight, I got one of those good 20-25 hours beasts.  My original goal was to have it completed by tonight, so I could upload my work and focus on enjoying the drive and the time in Nebraska.  That isn't going to happen, meaning I will have to find the time to work either on the way to, or in, Nebraska.  Hopefully I'll be able to get it done in the two nights on the way there so I can upload the work while I'm still at a hotel that has internet access.  (Zac's folks have dial-up.  I love my in-laws, but in many ways having dial-up in 2012 is almost not like having internet access at all.)

Having dropped off the car at the auto upholstery shop, I am sitting at a Starbucks looking out at the rain and sipping on a hot chocolate.  I applaud their choice of the Nutcracker for our listening pleasure. It's classical, which is soothing and makes my neurons fire better.  But is also familiar so I find myself happily bobbing my head along with the music as I plunk away on my keyboard.  I've been here for an hour and a half already, and I'm trying to figure out the appropriate frequency of purchasing beverages to justify my sitting here.  I don't think a tall hot chocolate is going to buy me four hours of favor from the baristas.  

I don't know how people can actually work or study in a busy Starbucks.  (Though I claim to be working, obviously I'm blogging, an indication of how hard it is for me to focus in here.)  I had the option of staying at the auto upholsterer, but their shop wasn't exactly designed for waiting customers.  Their reception area was a desk with a phone and shelves stocked with hundreds of rolls of fabric and leather.  There was an old, worn seat from a car on the floor in one corner of the room and a miniature step-ladder in the other, but neither one looked like something I would want to sit on for multiple hours while balancing a laptop.  I needed some place more customer-friendly.

So here I sit, looking at the rain, sort of working.  I think it's time for some tea . . .

Sunday, December 2, 2012

I love this time of year

I am one of those end-of-the-year junkies who loves, Loves, LOVES the time between Nov. 1 and Jan. 2.  This was even true back in the days of working at B&N.  Some folks working retail do not enjoy the chaos that envelopes stores these last two months of the year, but I thrived on it.  I looked forward to it.  It was like a triple shot of espresso every time I clocked in.  I loved the phones ringing off the hook, the lines of customers following me through the store as I fielded questions left and right and deposited them at the location of their answer.  I enjoyed the playlist that the music department played, especially the Christmas album with the Muppets and John Denver.  That one was pretty awesome.  I even enjoyed it when the parking lot got covered with enough snow that people didn't have any clue on how to park, and it turned into a terrifying exercise in navigation.  The Christmas season was the only time of year that I actually bought into Big Corporation's goals, and I eagerly looked forward to finding out how much business our store did on each Saturday in December.  I felt it was a badge of honor - "Yeah, I survived that much business on Saturday. Gold star for me."

I don't get to enjoy the same rush of the season now that I'm out of the retail game, but I do have enough other holiday activities to make up for some of the adrenalin loss.  For example, this year I was able to covertly sneak back to Minneapolis to help my mom with our church's annual Holiday Boutique.  I purposefully didn't tell any of my friends that I was going to be in Minnesota for almost a week.  I knew that almost all of my time on this trip would be devoted to helping my mom, and I didn't want to feel bad for saying no to people who might have wanted to hang out.  The Boutique is a large undertaking and my mom was going to be a little short handed this year in terms of help.  (The number of church members is dwindling and the existing members are aging.)  I was happy to be home for a few days, feeling like I was contributing. Often times I feel like I don't carry my weight in my family.  I'm not home to help out my sister or Grandma, I'm not there to babysit my nephews.  It felt good to help out my Mom, and have her, my sister and I working like a well-oiled machine at the Boutique.  I'm happy to report that this was the church's most profitable Boutique ever.

This time of year also brings holiday music on the radio and Christmas lights through the neighborhood.  This is our second year celebrating Christmas in San Diego, but last year we were still living in a (mostly) empty house in military housing.  There were no decorations, no lights, no tree.  This year I am sublimely happy.  The house is cozy, the tree is up and adorned.  We have stockings hanging by the fireplace.  I've got a list of cookies and candies that I'm going to undertake for the first time this year (I'm looking at you krumkake) and my freezer and fridge are stocked with voluminous amounts of butter.  I believe I have all the flours, sugars and extracts that I will be needing, so on any given day this week you will probably find me elbow deep in pantry staples as I make holiday magic happen in the kitchen while being serenaded by Bing, Perry and Nat. It is the most wonderful time of the year.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

For working less than full-time, my days are filled most of the time

I don't work 40 hours per week with my editing gig.  I've tried, but truthfully it doesn't stimulate me enough to keep my focus for eight hours a day.  I've supplemented my paid employment with volunteering both in Hawaii and now here in San Diego.  My main two volunteering outlets are as a command ombudsman and with the Compass program for Navy spouses.  One of the challenging things about those volunteering opportunities is that they don't consistently require a dedicated amount of time week-to-week or month-to-month. (This is especially true of the ombudsman role.)  I try to keep my evenings free of work, paid or volunteer, because that's my family time, but there have been a fair number of occasions that my volunteering eats up my daytime hours and I find myself editing documents after supper in order to get some hours in.  

On top of the paid work and volunteering, I have hobbies that I enjoy.  I never seem to have enough time for those.  I love to read, but sadly I'm only reading approximately one book every three to four months.  Inexcusable.  I try to take 20-30 minutes to do the daily crossword puzzle.  (Gotta exercise that brain.  Another name for a small sewing kit?  An etui!)  I also craft.  I do cross-stitch, crochet, and, lately, I've been sewing.  One of the reasons I love football season is the excuse to sit around for six hours on a weekend and craft.  This week I've been crafting like mad because I'm trying to get a couple more items done for the church's Holiday Boutique coming up soon, and I've also been commissioned to sew a couple of baby blankets for someone's daughter.  

Sewing is not my strongest area, truthfully.  I know basic fabrics, how to read a pattern and how to use the basic operations of my Singer.  Luckily these baby blankets that were requested didn't require anything too fancy.  I did have to borrow a walking foot from a friend to assist with the sewing, and I was smart enough to buy some identical fabric to the kind I was supplied and practiced making a blanket before I started working with the assigned material.  I was happy to find that I learned from the errors on my trial blanket and the two that I've made for her look pretty sharp.  I've got a little finishing to do on both of them, but I should have them done by the end of the weekend.  But between the trial blanket and the two real blankets, they have eaten up at least 10 hours of life.  (One of the fabrics I'm working with is a knit that is a pain in the butt to work with.  But I have triumphed.  Happy dance!)

Completely unrelated to crafting, and in case you have been in a coma, there was a presidential election yesterday.  The candidate I support won.  I was relieved and happy and felt like I could exhale for the first time in weeks, when the results were announced.  I happily exchanged messages with like-minded friends and family back home, knowing that in the morning I would have to go back in to the world and interact with people who voted for the losing candidate.  I thought about how I would have felt if my candidate had lost.  I knew that I'd be saying the same things that many of them would say, "I wonder what the housing market is like in Vancouver," (oh wait, they wouldn't move to Canada - socialized medicine and all), "We're screwed," "That guy is going to destroy everything that I hold dear about this country," etc.  I tried to tell myself to have a little grace when I was faced with people who had these feelings directed at the president in the coming weeks.

I was going to face these attitudes at some point because, well, I'm a military spouse.  Newsflash: Most service members, and their spouses, voted for the other guy.  I am distinctly a minority in terms of my political affiliation as a military spouse.  I have a number of military spouse (and service member) friends with whom I totally and utterly disagree with when it comes to politics.  Some of them I can debate with constructively and rationally.  And the others?  Sometimes there are just topics you have to let alone.  I admit that I often feel lonely for my politically aligned friends back in Minnesota.  I wish I could be back home in the next weeks to meet with my friends for coffee to talk about the election results, both at the state and federal level, and debate what it all means.  But instead, I will probably be stuck exchanging occasional Facebook messages instead.

It didn't take long for my grace to be tested.  I had a volunteer meeting this morning.  When I arrived there were already a half dozen military spouses present.  As I walked up to the table I could hear the venom that was being hurled about the president.  I use venom purposefully.  This was anger, raw and pure and being spit out in bursts.  Each spouse took their turn, hurling insults at the president and his family.    As I took my seat, I debated if I wanted to call everyone out right then and there, letting them know that their views weren't universally shared and that for an organization that prides itself on accepting all spouses, enlisted and officer, junior and senior sailors, that this kind of talk did exactly the opposite.  I sat quietly for a moment before the leader called the meeting to order.  Then the political talk stopped, and we were all back to being volunteers with a common goal.

As I sat there I decided that I'm going to speak with our team leader, privately, about the political conversation before the meeting.  I feel like in some ways I should have handled it in front of the whole group, but I was so defensive, so appalled at their comments, that I don't think I would have handled it with the cool, even demeanor I would have needed.  There are some strong personalities in the group, and I think if I address it with the team leader that she'd be able to bring it to the group in a way that I, as one of the newest members, can't.

This morning was a stark reminder that my political views are the minority in my military social circles, but that won't keep me from volunteering to serve military families.  We all need support when our spouse deploys, whomever we voted for.  We all need information and assistance when it comes to the unique challenges of military life, regardless of our political affiliation.  

Besides, there are plenty of other topics that I can talk about with spouses.  For example, crafting.  I'm all about that.  Let's discuss.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Mid-life reflections

A few months ago, one of my friends pointed out to me that I'm middle-aged.  I was approaching my 35th birthday and he suggested that based on the average life expectancy for women, I was officially entering the the half-way point of my life.  I blew him off, figuring that he was trying to get me spun up about my impending birthday.  I never really stopped to consider what "middle-aged" really was.  I had heard of mid-life crises, but I always associated that with people in their late 40s and early 50s, when their kids are moving out of the house and they're possibly re-evaluating their career, spouse, etc.  But as I thought about it today, for most people 50 years old is not the middle of their life - most of us won't hit 100.  I never seriously thought about my mid or late 30s as the middle of my aging process, but I guess statistically speaking, it is.

I've loved being in my 30s.  I was glad to kiss goodbye to my 20s.  Good riddance.  They weren't an wholly awful time, but as I transitioned into my 30s I finally felt comfortable in my own skin.  I was happy.  I felt confident and excited.  I felt like a lot of drama, self-doubt and confusion got left behind when I turned 30.  I still didn't have all the answers to the game of life, but I was feeling settled.  Hopeful.  The idea of aging and moving in to my 40s and beyond still doens't bother me much.  Yes, I notice more wrinkles around my eyes every few weeks.  There are a few more gray hairs that get colored every month.  I have a right knee that causes me discomfort if I sit too long.  But I've been lucky to know people that have lived to an ripe old age and they still had energy, humor, curiosity, and and overall enthusiasm for life.  That's how I aspire to live however many years I have left.  

All this age stuff came up this morning as I was composing an email to a friend back in MN.  She had asked how I was doing.  She asked (without actually asking) how the fertility stuff was going.  [Answer: No success.  Feel confident, dear reader, that I would eventually post something about being pregnant if that were to occur.]  As I wrote her about the schedule for the potential next treatment, I realized that if that treatment were successful, I would be 36 when the baby was born.  36.  I sat and stared at that number for a few minutes and it is the first and only time in this decade of my life that I can honestly say that I felt old.  Not old in a "I do not understand why young women dress like that" way, but in a "My human body is reaching an expiration point" way.  I'm not discussing my mortality - instead I mean facing the fact that my ability to produce an egg every month is rapidly coming to an end.  It's weird to think of your body being too old to do something anymore.  But that's the truth, isn't it?  Our bodies don't last forever - systems start to break down, or in the case of  menstrual cycles, cease to exist entirely.

The idea of being a 36-year-old mommy also made me feel old.  I would be 40 when that Imaginary Kid would be four.  Do I want to be 40 years old chasing around a four year old?  My sister's oldest son is four.  He is bundle of energy and emotions and keeping up with him is exhausting.  Thrilling, but exhausting.  I'd be 50 years old when my kid entered high school.  You think a parent in their late 30s is out-of-touch with their teenagers?  I would be 50.  I would be 33 years removed from high school when Imaginary Kid went to his/her first homecoming game.  I remember when I was in 6th grade one of the girls in my class had a mom who was in her late 40s and a dad who was in his early 60s.  I remember thinking how incredibly weird that was.  They were so much older than everyone else's parents.  What kind of people have kids when they're old like that?  I'm not sure I want to be that weird "old" parent.  Yes, there are many more people waiting until their mid to late 30s to have kids now than there were in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Imaginary Kid probably wouldn't be the only kid in school whose parents were old.  But I still consider old parents as the exception rather than the rule. 

So here I am, sitting at mid-life, trying to figure out when to bail out on this baby-making-pursuit.  It's not exactly a mid-life crisis, but it's still a big question that I don't have a good answer to.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Waiting for fall

There's a rumor going around that it's going to be October in a couple of days.  Family members have been sending me photos of the trees starting to turn colors back in Minneapolis.  I'm incredibly jealous of the natural fireworks that they get to experience this time of year.  I missed fall terribly while we were living in Hawaii, and I was hoping that when we got to San Diego I'd be treated to something more similar to the four seasons I had grown up with in the upper Midwest.  (Obviously I wouldn't be getting the snow part in SD.)  We got to San Diego in November of last year, and after we arrived there were plenty of chilly days filled with jeans, sweaters and light jackets.  Sadly, those days haven't arrived yet.  

There was a two-week stretch earlier in September where our daytime highs were always in the 90s.  There were two days where the thermometer in the car read over 100.  (One day it read 107.  Uff da.)  We cooled off into the mid 80s for a few days, but now we're hitting another couple of days where it should be high 90s or low 100s.  All of our neighbors assure us that while August and the beginning of September are usually the warmest times of the year, 2012's summer has been extraordinarily hot.  I don't want to complain too much about the heat however, because even on the 100 degree days the temperature drops nicely (more than 30 degrees!) at night so sleeping hasn't been a problem.  We run the a/c for the afternoon and early evening and then turn it off as the night turns pleasant.  That allows us to sleep comfortably with the windows open.  Well, comfortably except for the stupid rooster next door.

Our house abuts the lots of five other houses.  One of our neighbors bought chicks sometime in July, not knowing if they were male or female.  They thought it would be fun for their kids and they'd get some eggs out of the arrangement.  Apparently two of the chickens turned out to be roosters.  Very vocal roosters.  At first Zac and I were mildly amused by the roosters, but that quickly wore off as we'd have to get up at 4:30am to close our bedroom windows each day to muffle their greeting to the morning.  Then the roosters starting crowing at random times throughout the night.  Sometimes they'll start going at 2:30am.  Last night it was 12:15am.  It's one thing when it's light (or becoming) light outside, but smack-dab in the middle of a windows-open-glorious-65-degree night ?  Then it's maddening.  More than once Zac asked me if I wanted chicken for dinner.

About little more than a week ago Zac was talking over the fence with one of our other neighbors, who also shares a boundary with the chicken neighbors.  Turns out that they too were at their wits' end with the early morning noise, and the requirement of closing their windows to get any sleep.  This neighbor and his wife looked into the noise ordinances for our area and there is a process whereby neighbors can complain and require the removal of roosters.  Being good neighbors they walked over to the chicken house and talked to the owners, letting them know that the noise was a problem and that there were enough upset people in the neighborhood to pursue a noise violation.  The chicken neighbors apologized, said that they didn't know that they had purchased roosters when they bought their flock and that they were, in fact, already looking for a new home for the roosters.  (Apparently they weren't too happy with the noise either.)  

Well, it's been almost 10 days and like I mentioned above, I was up at 12:15 last night closing windows to muffle the noise.  Our mutually-frustrated neighbor came over this morning to let us know he spoke with the offending neighbors again, and that they repeated that they were trying to re-home the roosters.  If they don't do something about them soon I think that we're going to have to go forward with the noise complaint, which none of us are really excited about.  

I'm not against chickens.  I very pro-chicken.  I find them amusing when alive and delicious when, er, not.  I am an avid fan of eggs.  In another time or place I would consider getting our own mini-flock, and I think people should be able to have them in their yards.  It's just the roosters and their incessant need to announce their presence that I don't enjoy.

So hopefully the roosters will be gone soon, the heat of summer will disappear, and I can get on with enjoying fall in Southern California.  

And get some damn sleep.  Stupid roosters.

Monday, September 3, 2012

I forgot to mention - the kitchen is done

If you'll think back to May, I posted a couple of times that we were remodeling our kitchen.  When I told my Dad that they said that it would take about five weeks to complete, he scoffed, "Take the number, multiply it by two, and then increase the unit of measurement to the next type of unit.  That's when it will actually be done."  Based on his theory instead of five weeks the kitchen should have taken 10 months.  Well, it didn't take 10 months, but it sure took more than five weeks.

The majority of the work was, indeed completed around the five week mark.  But there were a number of little things here and there that kept keeping the project from being officially completed.  For example, one of the cabinets arrived with a big gash in it.  That needed to be reordered, which added a couple weeks.  When the contractor came in for one of the last walk-throughs, he wasn't happy with the texture on the newly extended wall.  "We can do a better job than that," he said, so we had the guys come back our and re-texturize the wall.  We offered to do the accompanying painting, but twice they delivered the wrong type of paint.  Finally they sent one of their guys out (with the correct paint) and they took care of it.  We also had a couple of issues with doors that needed to be aligned a little better so they came out to fix those.  

All in all it was a good experience.  Despite the lingering minor aspects of the project that took the process in to the 2.5 months range, I was happy with our contractor.  The guys that he had come out were very polite, courteous and friendly.  Their workmanship (except the first attempt at texturizing the wall) was great and I can't believe how much I really love this kitchen.

In case you don't want to link back to my prior posts here are some "before" photos:

And without further ado, here's the after:

Not only did we get new lighting in the kitchen, but we also got new lighting in the adjacent dining room.  It's so much brighter now!  We added a pantry to the left of the fridge, had a full-sized dishwasher installed, and had lazy-susans installed in both corners.  The top cabinets came down about seven more inches so we now have much more cabinet space that we can reach without needing a step-stool.  They put in a neat travertine backsplash.  We got new granite counters that really lighten up the room as well.  All in all, it is a much better use of space and we couldn't be happier with it.  I loved our house to begin with, but the new kitchen just makes it even better.  And even though it was stressful having it worked on while we had people living with us, I'm so glad we did it when we did.  This way we will be able to enjoy it for as long as possible before we inevitably have to move again.  Hopefully the upgrade will come back a little bit to us in the selling price.  We'll see.  But what's important is that Zac and I, who love to cook and bake, have a kitchen that lets us enjoy that!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Having it all, but what is "all"?

Back in July I mentioned that I had been to a job interview and had spent a good deal of time thinking about what I wanted from my career.  Since I've had some blissfully uneventful days lately, I'd like to go back and talk a little bit about that experience.

For those that don't know about my employment history, I worked at a publishing company in Minnesota before I married Zac and moved to Hawaii.  I did the kind of work that lends itself very well to telecommuting, i.e. sitting in front of a computer all day, editing.  When it came time for me to leave, I was completely surprised when my supervisor offered to make my position mobile so that I could keep my job once I moved.  This was surprising because this option hadn't been offered to anyone I knew.  I jumped at the chance to keep my source of income and I spent the three years in Hawaii continuing to work as an editor from the comfort of my living room.

I did apply for jobs while I was in Hawaii.  I had no interest in taking the Hawaii Bar exam, so practicing jobs were out.  (Not that I would have been considered for those jobs anyway - I have zero experience practicing in Minnesota, where I do have my license.)  Every now and again I applied for some federal jobs or regular jobs, both law-related and not.  I didn't look too hard, however.  My telecommuting job was perfect for me in terms of flexibility.  As long as I was producing the quantity and quality of work that my employer wanted, I was free to work when I wanted.  This was incredibly helpful for hosting family and friends who visited, and also allowed me to volunteer with different organizations that frequently needed my time during normal M-F working hours.  

The flexible part-time schedule was also invaluable to me as a military spouse, as I was able to take time off on short notice and had (relatively) no limits on how much "leave" I wanted to take.  If I didn't work, I didn't get paid, but I also wasn't drawing against a hard two-week supply of vacation time.  I will be honest, my work isn't exciting.  It's obscenely detail oriented and often repetitive.  I'd say that I'm bored with it about 85% of the time.  But while I was living in Hawaii, I was willing to be bored with it as I had a husband, friends, volunteering and a beautiful island to entertain me when I wasn't on my computer.

When we got to California I told Zac that I was going to spend some time and energy seriously looking for a "real" job.  Whenever I would talk to someone about job-hunting, I was always quick to say how I was looking for a "real" job.  Looking back, I'm not sure why I didn't consider my editing a real job.  It probably has to do with the fact that it is part-time and can be done in pajamas.  "Real" jobs require business casual attire, and are located outside the home.  "Real" jobs have co-workers you can get coffee with, not two dogs who bark incessantly that they want to go outside.

For the first few months I was in California, I was looking for jobs.  I went to an employment symposium for military spouses.  I signed up with a couple of employment programs.  I started looking for legal volunteering opportunities in San Diego.  I started attending a bi-monthly happy hour social gathering for spouses of service members that are attorneys.  (It's really nice having other people who understand the complexities of being an attorney moving about the globe, and who have spouses that leave for months on end.)  I felt good that I was at least starting to make some progress towards getting a "real" job.

Then, lo and behold, I got a call for an interview for one of the jobs I applied for.  I was stunned.  Usually I electronically file my resume with a online job posting, only to never hear from anyone ever again.  Initially I was ecstatic that I was being considered for the job.  I threw myself into prepping for the interview, which I was told would include a five minute presentation on one of four topics.  (I got to pick which topic.)

The job sounded awesome.  It involved working with Navy sailors and their families.  The job had a number of responsibilities, including teaching classes and, on occasion, being flown out to ships that were on the way back from deployment so I could teach some classes to sailors about reintegration and such.  Even now I get jazzed up thinking about the job.  Can you imagine getting to go teach on a Navy ship for a week???  How awesome does that sound?  It sounded perfect for me.  I love speaking in front of people, I love the teaching element of it, I love helping military families -- it all fit.  I really, really wanted this job.

I went in to the interview, trying to calm my nerves while letting my enthusiasm shine.  I rocked the interview.  I really did.  I got up to start my presentation to the interviewing panel and after about 90 seconds the hiring manager stopped me, saying, "It's clear you're excellent at this.  You don't have to do the whole five minutes."  He explained to me that they were interviewing four candidates, I was the third they had seen, and that they would be getting back to me either the next day (Friday) or the following Monday at the latest.  He praised my interview, said that I was exactly what they were looking for.  He mentioned to me that one of the four interviewees was an internal candidate who had been with the company for 18 months.  He told me that if for some reason I was not offered the job this time, that this type of position opens up regularly and he would hope I would apply again as soon as possible.  (This type of position is often filled by military spouses.  We tend to move on a lot, so there is regular turnover.)  I took his words of caution as an indication that the internal candidate had a pretty good shot of getting the job, but I was on cloud nine that I had impressed the panel and that they had indicated that I would be a great fit.

As I drove home from the interview, my glow started to fade.  Quickly.  The job was salary, 40 hours a week or so.  There would be evenings and weekends I would have to work.  I would get two weeks of vacation, one week of sick time, and the federal holidays.  And the salary (which is non-negotiable because it governed by an existing government contract) was about what I make working part-time right now.  So I'd have less flexibility, less time off, work more hours, work weekends and evenings and get paid the same.  Also, this job had nothing to do with my legal education.

By the time I got home, I was utterly confused.  This was a "real" job.  This is what I claimed I wanted to anyone who would listen.  Why was I suddenly feeling like I was suffocating?  I had been the one to tell Zac many times that "Once I get a 'real' job, it's not going to be like this - I'm not going to be available as much as I am now."  Zac could tell that something was amiss when he asked me how the interview went.  I had been so excited that morning when he had left, and now I was quietly stewing over things.  I listened carefully when I told him that I wasn't sure if I'd accept the job if they offered it to me.  When I explained my thinking to him, he told me that he'd support whatever decision I made.

I was a bundle of nerves on Friday, waiting to hear from the company.  I didn't know what to do.  If they called me and offered me the job and I accepted it, my life would radically change.  I would have a job that invigorated and excited me, but I'd see less of my husband, my friends, and I wouldn't be able to volunteer with COMPASS anymore.  If they called me, offered me the job and I declined it, I'm sure they would not look favorably on me as a candidate down the road, in case I did decide to apply for the job again, say maybe when Zac deploys and I don't care about being home.  I waited all day Friday, wondering what to do.

They didn't call on Friday.  They didn't call on Monday.  I took that to mean that I wasn't selected.  But I continued to think about what I wanted, what I really wanted, in a job or a career.  I had a lot of emotions.  I was embarrassed that I didn't want a "real" job after all.  I felt like I was letting myself down, that I was throwing away all that time and energy I had poured into my legal education and license.  If I didn't want to have a "real" job now, when it is just me and Zac, what if we have kids?  Then I will probably want the rigidity of a real job even less.  And what did it mean that the first job posting that I had been excited about in YEARS had nothing to do with my legal training?

Around this time I stumbled across an article in the Atlantic, titled Why Women Still Can't Have it All.  I read through it, fairly despondent, realizing that I knew where the author was coming from.  I wanted to have it all. I wanted to have a thriving career, a family, but especially as a military spouse, I saw the thriving career part slipping further and further from my grasp.  I shared the article with people on Facebook, and my Dad sent it back to me with comments that he had made.  He disagreed with a couple of the author's points, but one thing that my Dad said that struck me the most is, "How do you define 'all'?"  Dad's premise is that there is not one, definitive, correct definition of 'all', and that maybe there is harm in thinking that there is only one all.  Maybe, instead, we should all want "enough".  It hadn't occurred to me that maybe there are different kinds of "all" or that maybe there's something that's fulfilling that's simply "enough".  I just assumed that "all" meant a full-time job in the career of your choice, where you move laterally because of merit and achievement.  "All" meant having a spouse, kids, a home and being able to spend time as you wanted.  It was interesting to consider that I could determine what "all" meant.

As much as I love my father, I still have reservations about what he was saying.  After all, he's a man.  He worked 40 hours a week for large employers for most of my life.  (Well, at least the first 25 years.)  Though he worked a full-time job, he was home for dinner, played softball Tuesday nights in the summer, worked on the house, attended our softball games, coached my sister's volleyball team, helped with homework, helped us with our pitching in the backyard, went on motorcycle rides, watched baseball, built a cabin, re-built a cabin, volunteered at church and made alone time for him and mom.  And all this while he was respected professionally by his peers and coworkers.  He had it all.  He certainly seemed to have enough.

I had told my mom about the job interview and I knew she was anxious to hear how it went.  I dreaded calling her.  I didn't know how to tell her, "Hey, Mom.  Guess what?  Turns out I have no career ambition after all and I don't want to have a real job!"  (That's how I felt like it was going to come across anyway.)  Not only is my mom my, er, mom, but she's also a career counselor.  You can see why this phone call was causing me stress.

When I spoke to mom, I gave her a play of play of everything that had been going through my head.  I used my best lawyering skills to justify why I didn't want the job, why I felt that I wanted, no, needed to have the flexibility of my current job.  I rattled off reason after reason, fearing that instead it was sounding like excuse after excuse, in that stream-of-concious-non-stop-talking way that I have.  I was worried that if I stopped to let her interject that I'd hear disappointment in her voice.  Finally, as I ran out of breath, I expressed that even though I don't have kids I wanted to be available to my family, like she had been for us growing up.

"Kate," she said, "why do you think I've had the same job for the last 25 years?  It's so I could be available too."  She went on to explain why, despite her master's degree, she had been self-employed and working part-time for 25 years.  (Though self-employed, she has been working for the same company for those 25 years.)  She said how she wanted to be able to get us off to school in the mornings and be there when we got home.  She said how she felt it was important to eat dinner together as a family.  She wanted to be able to volunteer in our classrooms and go to our softball games.  She enjoyed volunteering at church and having time with her friends.  She said that yes, she had made sacrifices in her career by not accepting other jobs.  She could have made more money elsewhere, but that wasn't what she wanted.  She wanted what she had: a fulfilling career, time for my dad, for her daughters, for her family, her friends and her hobbies.  

As strange as it sounds, I never really thought about it like that until she laid it out there in black and white for me.  I never would have said that my mom works part-time, though she does.  In my mind, she just worked.  She was respected by her coworkers and peers.  I always thought of her as a professional woman.  Putting on her business clothes, grabbing her briefcase and heading in to the office.  I remember the first day of Worker's Compensation class in law school.  When the professor was going through the roll, he came across my last name and asked if my mother was so-and-so.  I said that, yes, she was.  He nodded, and told me that she was an excellent expert witness at trial.  She was a tough witness to throw off her game, and her work was always thorough and accurate. (He had worked on a couple of cases where mom was retained for the other side.)  He commented that he wished that his expert witnesses were that good.  I burst with pride that day.  My mom was known in the legal community for being great at her job.  How cool is that?  And she had accomplished all that working part time, mostly on her terms.

My mom stressed to me that it was okay to not work full time.  That it was okay to have multiple priorities instead of just singularly career success.  That is was okay to be picky for now, to keep looking for a different job than the one I interviewed for.  And coming from her, that meant everything because I want to be like my mom when I grow up.  I want to have that balance that she seemed to figure out.  Because as I was growing up, I looked at her and thought, "She has it all."  And she does.  She has enough of everything she wants.  So I'm going to try to make life decisions going forward based on what makes sense for me, based on my values and priorities.  And for now, as a military spouse, my priority is flexibility.  

So I've decided to continue to work from home for the foreseeable future, keeping an eye out for jobs and volunteer opportunities to bolster the legal part of my resume but only as they fit into my life.  And all the while I'll be grateful that I'm in a position to make these kinds of choices.  

Friday, August 17, 2012

How do you blog about something without saying anything important?

A U.S. Blackhawk helicopter went down yesterday in Afghanistan.  11 people died, including two Navy SEALs and an explosives expert. So what do I say here, on a public blog?  I want to talk about it, but I don't want to talk too much about what Zac does, or where he works and, hence, why this is important to me.  

I went to an ombudsman conference a couple of weeks ago, specifically for ombudsmen from commands that are Navy Special Warfare commands.  Special Warfare includes groups likes the SEALs.  The conference was a three-day affair, and two of the modules that we covered came to mind last night as I was watching the news: 1. Operational Security (OPSEC) and, 2. the events from last August 11th, when a Chinook helicopter went down, killing a large number of Navy Special Warfare members.

As a military spouse, you hear a lot about OPSEC.  You've probably heard about it in this form:  "Loose lips, sink ships."  The idea is that there are bad guys out there, and the easiest way for them to gather information about our military is to simply monitor their families and what they are saying and posting on the internet.  It's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle for the bad guys.  If they take little pieces of information from a number of sources, they can get a pretty clear picture what's happening in the fleet.  It also puts families at risk.  If some bad guys really wanted to crush the morale of sailors and their families, it wouldn't be hard.  All they have to do is find that invitation you posted on Facebook to a picnic for the ship's families.  A large concentration of families in one place at one time?  Sounds like a target to me.  

Does this make me sound paranoid?  Yes, some.  But it's the truth.  And it's not just the truth for military members.  Did you just post on Facebook, "Woo hoo!  Heading to Las Vegas for the weekend!"?  Well, you just told people that your house is empty. Social media is a wonderful thing, and I love using Facebook, but we all need to be aware that if we choose to share certain bits of information with the world, those bits of information can be used for good or bad.  You don't get to control that information once it is released.

OPSEC is even a bigger issue in the Special Warfare community.  With ships, it's pretty easy to have a bad guy posted at different ports around the world watching ships come in and out.  There are certain things that you just can't hide about ships.  But in Special Warfare, the very nature of their missions is clandestine and covert.  In order for them to be successful, there can be no information released about where they are going and what they are doing.  We, as family members, shouldn't be making the bad guys' jobs easier.

I am thinking a lot about OPSEC as I type this.  So if I sound vague, there's a reason.  

I originally saw the note about a helicopter going down in Afghanistan yesterday, before any details about who was on board was announced.  My first reaction?  "Please don't let it be our guys."  Maybe that's a horrible thing to think, after all, it's somebody's guy on that helicopter.  Someone just lost a husband, dad, brother, son.  But for selfish reasons, my first reaction was hoping that it wasn't anyone we knew.  As the afternoon went on, I received an email from another one of the Special Warfare ombudsmen out here in SoCal.  I felt my stomach drop when I read that, indeed, some of them were "ours".  And by ours, I'm going to purposefully be vague and say West Coast Special Warfare.  (At some point the news will release all of their names and where they worked.  That's not my job.)

Rewinding a couple of days, I went to an ombudsman training Wednesday night.  I ran in to one of my fellow Special Warfare ombudsmen there.  We made small talk for a few minutes, I'm not even sure about what.  Fast forward to Thursday afternoon.  It was her command that lost the two SEALs.  We all got an email from the commandant, letting us know what happened.  He mentioned that the appropriate people have been notified and that the command and ombudsman were taking care of the families.  Jesus.  24 hours prior to this, we were chatting about nothing and now she's helping two families deal with the death of their sailor.  It's hard to wrap my head around.  

This caused me to think of that other training module I mentioned above, the one about the Chinook crash last August.  Some of the ombudsmen that had to deal with that tragedy were also at that conference.  They talked about what happened and what role they played in helping the families.  But what struck me about their presentation was that moment when one of them said how hard it was.  Because as an ombudsman, you're a spouse of someone in that command.  That means that if it wasn't your husband that died, that it was probably your husband's friend.  Maybe his best friend.  And the wife that lost her husband?  That might be your best friend.  You might go get Starbucks together to pass the time while your husbands are deployed.  Maybe your kids play together.  What I'm getting at, is that ombudsmen aren't some disinterested third-party that provides information and referral services.  We're a part of the individual command family. And, on a larger scale, we're all part of the Special Warfare family.  

Yesterday we lost some of ours.  The grief won't be contained to just their individual commands.  It will be shared by all of us.  Hopefully that makes it an easier load to bear.  

Monday, August 6, 2012

Hopefully entering a period of calm

I woke up this morning and checked my work e-mail.  I was happy to see that they hadn't assigned me a new project just yet.  I'm sure I'll get the email at any time now, but it was nice to have a couple of hours this morning to (finally) unpack from the trip to Minnesota and do some cleaning around the house that didn't get done this weekend.

This is the first morning in many, many morning that I've felt relaxed and on top of things.  I am glad to say goodbye to July.  The last couple of months have involved getting the ombudsman program set up at Zac's command (yes, I'm volunteering in that role again) and July seemed to have a lot of ombudsman responsibilities that took up a lot of time.  I attended 20 hours of ombudsman basic training with my co-ombudsman.  Those were long days.  Since I was going on vacation at the end of July, I was trying to work as many hours as possible during the day.  So I'd put in six or seven hours of work, eat supper, and then go attend training from 5:30-9:30pm each night.  They were long, tiring days and I came out of training stressed out that we still had a fair amount of work to do to get our ombudsman program up and running.  (I've got a co-ombudsman at this command who is a rockstar.  I really enjoy working with her.)

I had one day between the end of training and leaving for Minnesota, so that day was filled with packing and cleaning the house.  That evening we went out with friends to celebrate Zac's birthday.  The next morning we up nice and early to fly to Minnesota.  We spend nine days there, came back late on Tuesday night and then Wednesday morning at 8:00am I started a three-day ombudsman conference.  Let's just say that I skipped the decaf and drank the real stuff that first day of the conference.  I also made the error of telling my employer that I was back on Wednesday, thinking that they would assign me a project that would be due in a week or so.  Turns out they had an assignment that they needed by Friday.  I knew there was no way that I could attend the conference all day and work enough in the evening to complete the project by their deadline.  I let them know, and offered to have it done by Monday.  Luckily(?) they agreed, so I spent almost 16 hours over Saturday and Sunday working on that project.  Like I said, I was happy to have a couple of hours off this morning.

In a perfect world I wouldn't have sandwiched our vacation in the middle of those two events, and I would have held off on reporting back to work, but Zac's schedule is limited as to when he can go on leave.  We've often taken 10-14 days of vacation in Nebraska, but never in Minnesota.  I've been home for a week or so here and there, but since I wanted Zac to be there for a long stay for a change, our choice of travel dates depended on his work.  It all worked out, and looking at August I think I might have a relatively quiet month with normal work days and relatively few other events.  I think it's safe to switch back to decaf.

Getting home to Minnesota was awesome.  It was so good to recharge my batteries.  I got to spend time with family and friends but not nearly enough with either.  I'm hoping that now that we're back on the mainland that at least I will be able to pop back to MN a little more frequently.  It's a lot easier to travel when visiting for three or four days is reasonable, unlike when we were in Hawaii and you had to come home for at least a week to make the expense and duration of traveling worth it.  

I was happy that I finally got to show Zac some things in Minnesota that I had wanted to share with him.  We were able to drive up to the cabin for a day.  It was too blasted hot to want to stay any longer than that.  We spent a night in the Nicollet Island Inn and hung out in NE.  We walked around Minnehaha Falls.  We visited some restaurants that I love.  We did some fun new things together too - we visited a brewery just outside of Stillwater.  We went to an archery range with Paul and Megan.  Zac has shot a bow many times before, but that was the first time for the three of us.  That was a lot of fun.  Mostly the trip was hanging out with my family and friends, and we tried very hard this trip to not schedule every waking moment.  I think it made the trip a little less stressful.  It also helped, I think, that we stayed over at the hotel on the Air Reserve station.  This gave all of us (Mom, Dad, Megan, Paul) a little bit of time alone during the evenings and mornings.

It was a great trip.  It was nice to be able to sit around and talk with people.  Really talk with them.  Not small talk for five or ten minutes, but actually have conversations.  I know that there are people that I missed, and I hope to catch them next time.  Hopefully that will be sooner rather than later.

Monday, July 2, 2012

It's July

Every time I sat down to blog in June, I didn't have the time to write out what I wanted to say.  I'm going to just list a bunch of stuff that happened last month, with the hopes that maybe at some point I'll be able to say more about things.

  • Toivo had surgery (the only thing I addressed last month)
  • Had a job interview
  • My in-laws came into town (with about a week advanced notice)
  • Got bit by a dog
  • We had Zac's command picnic
  • Had a meeting with one of the family support staff members I will be working with as an ombudsman
  • Went to my first ombudsman advanced training in San Diego
  • We went to Zac's other command picnic
  • Found myself getting snippy with Zac, and he with me
  • Bought a new camera to replace the one that got run over
  • Zac left for a week to work at the gun range
  • Had an eye appointment to figure out whether I wanted/needed to get my Lasik updated
  • Went down to "my" command with my co-ombudsman so we could start putting names with faces and get stuff done
  • Did a lot of introspection, trying to figure out what my goals and priorities are
  • Finally got a sorely-needed new laptop
  • After three weeks, I got a response that I didn't get the job
  • Spent a day on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson
  • Returned the aforementioned camera because the battery-life was terrible and took poor quality shots in low lighting
  • Kitchen was finally completed
  • Took the truck in to get the transmission fixes
  • Purchased plane tickets to Minnesota
  • Housemates moved out
  • Had our couch taken away to get repaired
So here I sit, on the floor of our living room in the bean bag, trying to figure out what to even blog about.  There are a few topics up there that could do with some fleshing out.  I'd kind of like to address all of them, but I know that I'm really bad at following through when I say I'll blog about something later on.  Here are some quick thoughts about some of the events listed above:

My in-laws came into town (with about a week advanced notice)

It was great having Zac's parent come and visit us, but it was a little stressful, honestly.  We were so happy that we didn't have any guests on the horizon and we had our housemates still staying with us.  When they announced that they would be arriving in about eight or nine days, it took a few seconds to be really excited.  I didn't know if our housemates would be able to find a place to stay while Zac's parents occupied the guest room.  They were coming in on the same day that I had a job interview.  I felt guilty prepping for the interview instead of cleaning the house for their arrival.  Then when I worked on getting the house in order, I would stress out about not being prepared for the interview.  I felt rushed.  Of course it worked out - our friends were able to spend a few days in a hotel while Zac's parents were in town.  (The Navy gives you a few days to stay in a hotel when you transfer duty stations.  They hadn't used theirs yet.)

We had a great time hosting Zac's parents.  They weren't able to make it out to visit while we lived in Hawaii, so this was the first time since Zac and I have been a couple that his parents have seen "our" home.  There was a certain amount of self-imposed pressure I felt.  I wanted them to see that Zac was happy and that we had made a good home together.  Of course they really like our house, and Zac's garden.  We had a good time showing them some of the sites in San Diego and sitting around playing cards.  

Got bit by a dog

The only low-point of Zac's parent's visit was the dog bite.  Our housemates were able to stay at the hotel, but their two dogs were not allowed so they stayed back at the house with us.  As the weeks have gone by, Zoe and one of their dogs started getting after each other when one (or both) of them thought that there was food available.  There were a handful of snapping contests but usually hollering at them to knock it off took care of the situation.  

So one of these aggressive altercations took place while Zac's parents were here.  (Maybe their dog was stressed that they had left.  I don't know.)  I hollered at them and instinctively put my hand on their dog's back to get his attention.  Their dog whipped around and bit the ball of my left hand and I jerked it back in pain as I yelped.  I looked up at Zac and I knew instantly that I needed to get the dog away from him.  I scooped up their dog, hand dripping with blood, and locked him up in his traveling crate.  I let everyone know that I was fine, that I just needed to go clean it up and went into the bathroom.  That's when the adrenaline started to wear off and the pain started.  I rinsed it off in the sink and tried not get nauseous.  I was a little surprised at myself.  I didn't think I was the type of person to get queasy at the sight of blood and shredded skin, but I guess I was that day.  

I opened the bathroom window and got some air while I found some hydrogen peroxide.  I cleaned the wound up and covered it with some gauze and tape.  I walked back out to the dining room, because we had just put dinner on the table when the dogs went at it.  I sat down, my hand throbbing, knowing that Zac, his mom, and his dad were staring at me.  I put on my best smile and said I was fine.  I looked at the steak on my plate and tried picking up the fork in my left hand so I could hold the knife in my right and cut up my meat.  I couldn't grip the fork, it hurt too much.  Zac's dad offered to cut up my dinner, but Zac said he'd do it.  So for the first time since I was five years old I had someone cut up my meat for me.

The next morning my hand was bruised and swollen.  It took a couple of weeks for it to heal, but I can feel the scar tissue where the dog's two canine teeth cut into my hand.  I'm not sure if you have any experience with wounds on the fleshy part of your hand, but it's a tough location to bandage.  Luckily I did a decent job keeping it clean and covered and it didn't require any outside medical attention.  Of course our friends were absolutely mortified when they got home and learned about the bite.  They tried their best to keep their dog away from Zoe for the rest of their stay with us and we didn't have any other issues, well, except when their dog nipped at Toivo and got Toivo's ear.  Which bled.  *sigh*  Poor Toivo.  He's having a rough 2012.

* * * * *
I will come back to some of the other topics listed above.  I promise.  I've got a few things to say about the job interview and subsequent introspection that came from it.  And I'll post some pictures of the completed kitchen.  Hopefully nothing interesting happens in the next few days to derail those plans.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Toivo, my expensive dog

I love Toivo, but I swear he's going to put me in the poor house.  I guess I should have been setting aside money for the last 10 years we've been together when his vet bills were minimal.  I've been very lucky with Toivo and Zoe - apparently Finnish Spitzes are a good, healthy breed.  Up until the last 18 months, all I ever needed to do for Toivo was take him to the vet every six months for a check up.  Oh, how I yearn for those inexpensive days.

Back in March, you may remember, Toivo escaped from the backyard.  (The tale involves a skunk and a stint in the county detainment center.  It's worth a read if you missed it.)  At the end of April, Toivo got loose again.  A friend accidentally left the gate open and Toivo, apparently having an serious case of twilight-of-life wanderlust, took off again.  I didn't write about it.  At some point it started to feel like crying wolf - Toivo's gone!  But he's back!  But he's gone again!  And now he's back!  If people want to hear about it, I'd be glad to write about it, but for the purposes of this blog entry, just know that at the end of April Toivo took off for Mexico.  When we brought him home he had NOT been sprayed by a skunk again (thank you Universe, for small favors) but he was pretty dirty and covered with stickers from his trek.

About a week and a half ago, Zac alerted me to a lump on Toivo's right side kind of near his rib cage.  It was about the diameter of a quarter and it was soft.  It almost looked like a blood blister. It didn't bother Toivo when we poked and prodded it and he wasn't scratching at it or anything.  I just shrugged it off as the lumps that dogs sometimes get when they get old.  I know our family cocker spaniel, Dusty, had all sorts of lumpy fatty deposits by the time he left us.  

I had almost forgotten about the lump on Toivo until last Friday when I noticed that Toivo was licking the spot.  I got down to take a look at it and it appeared different than the previous week.  Now it had a greyish center to it, a little smaller than the size of a pencil eraser, and it was oozing something gross.  Terrific.  Just terrific.  I figured it was some sort of infection so I called the vet and asked if they had any appointments that afternoon, since I had to go head over there anyway to pick up a refill of Toivo's epilepsy medication.  They said they could squeeze us in so Toivo and I headed over to the vet's office to see what they could tell us. 

Foxtail. What a pain.
The vet looked at Toivo's wound and said it looked like something had gotten under his skin and was irritating it.  Her guess?  Foxtail.  I had never heard of it so she sketched out a quick drawing on a piece of paper for me.  She explained that they are barbed pieces of grass that cause all sorts of problems for dogs.  They can get stuck in their paws, under their claws, in their eyes, ears, just about any orifice.  They can even get under their skin if not taken care of.  Once they're under the skin, their barbs drive them further and further into the dog.  The only way to get rid of them is to cut the dog open and fish the grass out.  (There were other details and stories involved with the diagnosis, but they made me a little squeamish so I'm glossing over that stuff.)

The vet wrote me up a quote for what exploratory surgery would cost for Toivo.  I sat there in the exam room, steeling myself for the sticker shock that I knew was coming.  What was I supposed to do?  I wasn't going to let it keep oozing and get more infected.  I'm not going to put down an otherwise happy and healthy dog because he got a sticker under his skin.  It's the cost of pet-ownership.  When the vet came back with the quote I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't as high as I had dreaded it might be.  Trust me, it wasn't cheap, but it wasn't going to cause me to eat ramen noodles for a month either.  

The next morning, Saturday, I brought an un-fed Toivo in to the vet so he could have his surgery.  Toivo always goes limp when it's his turn to go into the exam room at the vet.  Apparently he has watched too much tv and knows that that's what protesters do to make arresting them more difficult.  I was a little anxious dropping him off.  After all, there are no guarantees when you deal with anesthesia.  He could have a bad reaction, he could not survive.  I just hoped for the best, knowing that the vets and techs were good people that would take care of him.  

Six hours later I drove back to the Vet (with Zac in tow) to go get Toivo.  He came through the procedure just fine.  He is always good at the vet.  He hates being there, but he's always really obedient.  When he's being poked and prodded, he never gets aggressive.  He's always calm and just accepts what's happening.  The vet even noted on her post-surgery care instructions that "Toivo was a very good boy."  I got pretty teary when I read that one.  Because he is a good boy.  When we went into the back to get him, he was still really doped up.  I laughed and cuddled him.  My poor boy couldn't even walk to the car so Zac carried him out.  We got him home and he zonked out on the floor.

How doped up is he?  He has a pile of carrot peels in front of him and he wasn't even remotely interested in them.  (Carrots are his favorites.)  Note the pretty teal bandanna and bandage he got from the vet.  (The leg bandage is from the IV.) You can kind of see the patch that they had to shave.

His shaved, naked spot.  You can kind of see the small, red area where it had been oozing.  It's not a great photo.

Our friend's dog checks on Toivo.  Still not interested in those carrots.

He just needs to sleep it off. 

I'm glad he was okay.  And honestly, that teal is his color.  I might leave that bandanna on for awhile.  
Toivo was back to his old self this morning, acting normal.  I hope that we can go at least a few months before I have to dish out another large chunk of change at the vet.  Either that, or Toivo needs to get a part-time job to cover some of this.  Maybe he could be a tour guide to Mexico.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Something a little lighter

My last post was a little heavy.  So today I thought I'd share a quick e-mail that I typed out to a co-worker of mine back in MN today.  I don't know if you'll think it's funny.  I did.  But I'm a terrible judge of humor and tend to be full of myself.

From: Kotschwar, Kate
Sent: Thursday, May 17, 2012 12:50 PM
To: Doe, Jane (Professional)
Subject: Just saying hi


This is a totally un-related to work e-mail.  I just wanted to say hi, and let you know that the pictures that you posted of your daughter (last week?) on Facebook are adorable.  Really.  You and your husband do good work.

I've decided to rename my house Gasthaus Kotschwar because of all the people that are living here at any given moment.  (And because Kotschwar is Germanic - otherwise is would have been Chateau or Chez.)  I'm considering installing a large electronic board in the living room showing arrivals and departures.  This week alone looks like this:

Claude (living here) leaves on Wednesday.
Senora X (my friend's mom) comes to stay on Thursday. [My friend's husband comes back after a deployment.  She wants a few days with just her, her husband and their 11 month old, so her live-in-mother is coming to stay for a few days.]
Senora X leaves on Sunday.
Claude returns on Wednesday.
Zac returns on Saturday.
Clarice (Claude daughter) arrives on Saturday.

Somewhere in there our friends from Hawaii are visiting but, by the grace of God, they are staying with other friends for their visit.  But they will be here for socializing and we'd like to have a big party some time Memorial Day weekend.  Am I bound by etiquette to try and remove the fine film of remodeling dust that has covered every surface in my home before I have company over, even when the work is ongoing?  Where does Emily Post come down on stuff like this?  All I know is people are getting paper plates and the napkins don't match.  I'm a terrible hostess.

And I still don't have a functioning kitchen.  I do the dishes in my bathtub.  I fill my coffee pot, which is now housed in the garage, in the bathroom sink.  My stove sits in the dining room, mocking my desire to boil water.

I laugh, because I have no other healthy options.

[It's really not all that bad.  I'm just incredibly melodramatic.]

I hope you're doing well and that you're enjoying the late-spring there in MN.  I'm still planning on coming to MN at some point.  Maybe mid July?  I'll let you know ahead of time so I can try to squeeze in some time at the Mother Ship.

Talk to you soon,

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Taking the reigns from someone amazing

I met with the out-going ombudsman and my two future co-ombudsmen last night for dinner.  It was a chance to learn a little but more about the command (as it works from her viewpoint) and what was going to be expected from us.  I know that for the first six or eight weeks of our tenure the other two ombudsmen will probably be leaning on me a little more because they won't be able to go through our Basic Training course until July.  That's okay with me, as we will all have a learning curve.  I need to learn about the Special Warfare community and they need to learn about the responsibilities of becoming an ombudsman.

Being an ombudsman is really about becoming a source of information and referral.  As an ombudsman, I am not a babysitter, but I can give you a list of places to find childcare.  I am not a taxi driver, but I can tell you about transportation that's available.  I'm not a marriage counselor, but I can refer you to someone that is.  We are bound by confidentiality, except in a few cases where the safety of the service member or their family is in question.  Then we become mandatory reports.  We maintain websites and produce newsletters.  We attend functions and act as representatives of both our spouses and the command we serve.  It's not a role that I take lightly.  It is an opportunity to take care of our fellow families.  I enjoy the work, but I take it seriously.  I am hoping that my co-ombudsmen feel the same way.

I feel like this new OMB position carries greater weight than the last command for a variety of reasons, including the fact that while I'm going to be an OMB here in lovely Southern California, at the same time our  out-going OMB is going to be wearing 60lbs of body armor and carrying a rifle and pistol in Afghanistan for almost a year.  I really don't want to mess this up, knowing whose shoes I'm filling.

It was a little bittersweet, being able to get to know the out-going OMB.  She's a Navy Reservist and has been called up to active duty.  She's got two boys, ages three and six.  She'll be training for four months and then she'll be in Afghanistan until next summer.  In the few hours I've been able to spend with her she's impressed the hell out of me.  She's kind and funny.  She loves being a mom, a wife, and a sailor.  She's equally determined to do her duty and sad to be leaving her family.  We stood in the parking lot and talked for a good 20-30 minutes after dinner.  Just shooting the breeze.  About normal stuff, like taking photos with your kids before you leave because you can't be sure that you'll come back.  Or being a 4'11" female in an armed conflict where being female poses additional issues if you're captured.  You know.  Totally normal stuff.  If you spend even five minutes talking to someone like her you realize, quickly, how incredibly brave and self-less service members are.  They voluntarily serve.  For us.  She's leaving her two little boys and her husband, for us.  We should all be in awe of that.

As she only has a few days left with her family before she leaves, she's stressed out about many things, including this ombudsman change-over. I've been to retirement ceremonies where they've told the out-going sailor that it was okay to leave, because the continuing sailors would continue the watch in their absence.  I've heard this poem read at those ceremonies:

The Watch 
Aye mates, for many years
this shipmate stood the watch… 
While some of us lay about at night,
this shipmate stood the watch… 
While others of us were attending schools and,
yes, even before some of us were born,
this shipmate stood the watch… 
As our families watched the storm clouds of war
brewing on the horizons of history,
he stood the watch… 
Often he would look ashore and see his family
needed his guidance, but he knew he must stay because,
he had the watch… 
For many years he stood the watch so that we
and our fellow countrymen could sleep soundly
in safety knowing that this sailor would
stand the watch. 
Today we are here to say…
“The watch stands relieved…” 
Relieved by those you have led, guided, and trained…
“You stand relieved…
We have the watch.”

I would never be so arrogant as to compare being a ombudsman with being a service member.  But as we parted ways that evening, the poem popped into my head.  I didn't want her to stress out about this anymore.  "Don't worry," I told her.  "We've got this."  And I mean it.  My job now is to take care of her family and every other family in this command.  I will do my best, because it's the least I can do.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ombudsman again, and the remodeling continues

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you'll remember that I was an ombudsman at Zac's last command.  I had been warned by other ombudsmen that once you're an ombudsman, that tidbit of information will precede your spouse to every one of his/her subsequent commands.  It must be a small pool of people who are willing to volunteer for this position because, sure enough, as soon as we arrived at the command they had caught wind somehow that I had been an ombudsman in Hawaii.  Within a couple of weeks of our arrival Zac's command was already letting him know that a vacancy was going to be opening up soon.  (This command has more than one ombudsman.  More on that later.)

When Zac and I were wrapping up our time in Hawaii, we had talked about whether I'd be interested in being an ombudsman again when we got to San Diego.  I finally decided that I'd like to be an ombudsman again, but that I wanted to wait at least a year before throwing my hat back into that ring.  San Diego (and the Big Navy associated with it) was a little intimidating.  I didn't know the city, the different commands, the way it all worked, so I wanted to give myself some time to learn about the area before I looked into serving in that capacity again.  Truthfully, I was also hoping that when we got to San Diego that, 1.) I'd get an awesome new job (ok, any new job), and /or 2.) Maybe we would have had a baby in the first year.  Alas, I think we all know how those two goals have been working out for me . . .

So here we were, six months into our stay in San Diego (six months?  SIX MONTHS???  When did this happen?) and Zac and I attended a meeting that his command put on for the families.  We learned about the command, it's structure and what types of deployments we could expect to see during our time here.  They also mentioned that they needed some new ombudsmen.  Zac and I looked at each other and I gave him a shrug.  He nodded in agreement and after the meeting we went up to meet with the out-going ombudsman to offer my candidacy.  She was thrilled that I was interested and she said she'd be in touch to set up an interview with her and the command support team.

Today I had lunch today with Zac's Executive Officer (XO) and Command Master Chief (CMC), plus two other wives who are interested in the position.  Luckily they are looking for three ombudsmen.  The Navy would like there to be an ombudsman for every 150 sailors at a command.  Our command is around 375 right now and we'll be up to 600 in 24 months, meaning that down the road we may even want to consider having a fourth.  The other two wives haven't been an ombudsman before, but they seem eager and enthusiastic, which is promising.  I did take a moment at lunch to tell them both that I really want this arrangement to be an equal (at least as equal as possible) division of labor.  I told them that I was volunteering for this position with the expectation that we would all be contributing and that most of the time we would all be carrying our own weight.  Clearly the benefit of having multiple ombudsmen is that when you do need help, your kid has a fever, you want to go on vacation for a few days, you've got finals, etc., you can lean on one another to keep things moving along.  I just know of many situations where there are multiple ombudsmen and one does most of the work while the others (who do little) still get equal credit.  It isn't fair, it isn't right, and I wanted to be clear about that from the get-go.  I know I take this role and the accompanying responsibilities seriously and I want them to take them seriously as well.

So probably by next week I'll have a letter in hand saying that I'm part of an ombudsman triad at Zac's command.  I won't lie - I'm a little nervous.  This is a totally different type of command than before.  That was shore duty where most of the sailors were home, this is sea duty where 60-70% of the sailors are deployed at any given time and, unlike a ship, our sailors are deployed in multiple locations coming and going at different times.  This command is much larger than Zac's last command, and this command has many more junior sailors.  It's a whole different kettle of fish.  I'm expecting this command to require more time and attention than Zac's last command, but I'm excited about the learning curve and the new challenges.

If you're here for the latest installment of Extreme Makeover: Kotschwar Gasthaus Edition, here are the first few days of work:

The beginning of the demolition.  

The guy had a heckuva time taking out the cabinets.  They were really sturdy.  There was much  noise.

The debris pile. 

A little more than half-way done with Day One.

It's pretty empty in there.
The demo guy framed an extension of the wall.  This will allow us to have a pantry.  Oh, to have a dedicated food space! On Day 2 the electrician wired the new wall so we can have a light switch there.  Now we don't have to walk across the kitchen to turn on the light for the kitchen or dining room.

Canned lighting going in, the old fixtures about to come out.

Day 4, the sheet-rock guy sanded the dried mud and then sprayed the appropriate areas with orange peel (or whatever you call it) to make it match the existing walls.  Toivo was just happy to be able to lay on the tile again after being shut out of there for most of two days.

It's ready for some paint, I'm told.  Are we already at the painting stage?   Cool.

I'm excited about the little things.  Like this new light-switch that is easy to reach when you walk in the kitchen door.  No more having to close the door to get to it over by the hinges.  Hooray! 
So that's where we are.  I have to admit, it's pretty neat watching how much things change day-by-day.  They delivered the cabinets this afternoon so those will start being installed in the next couple of days.  I'm happy with how things are going and so far the guys that have been here working have been very nice.  Here's hoping for continued smooth sailing.