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.

Monday, May 7, 2012

It's hard to keep up!

There's been a flurry of activity around here lately, and it's hard to find time to sit down and blog about it.  I'll try to catch everyone up in an abbreviated fashion.  But before I get to that, you'll notice I changed the name of my blog again.  I forgot to update the area code when we bought our new house.  I kind of like the flow of area codes that I've been able to maintain: 612, 808, 858 now 619.  Since I've been in San Diego I've had some issues with people getting my cell phone number wrong, which is a (612) number.  I'll tell people my number and they hear 6 . . . 1 . . . and then they tune out, thinking I'm about to say "9".  I've learned to preface my recitation with, "It's a Minnesota number," to put people on notice that a "2" is about to rock their 61-world.

Let's see what else is going on at the Kotschwar Gasthaus.  Zac's sister was in town for a handful of days.  Zac had to leave to attend some schooling off on the East coast so he wasn't around for most of her visit.  She and I had a good time despite Zac's absence.  We were able to throw in a few new items in to the entertaining-the-guest repertoire I'm developing.  We took a tour of an U.S. Olympic training facility, hiked the highest point in San Diego, ate at a few new restaurants and took a tour of the Hotel del Coronado.  Throw in a yoga class and some massages and it was a fun visit.

Also currently residing in our Gasthaus are our friends, Claudia and her husband, who I have yet to assign an alias.  I guess I'll go with Claude?  It just seems easier to keep married friends paired up with fake names that match.  Anyhow, like I mentioned last time Claudia and Claude moved to San Diego and have been staying with us for a couple of weeks now.  So far it's been going really well.  Sometimes our dogs get after each other, but for the most part everyone is co-existing peacefully.  C&C (oh! look how easy that is) have been house-hunting like crazy since they've been here.  They've put some bids in on houses, but nothing has happened yet.  They've also signed up for housing but have been put on a wait-list.  They might be able to get into housing sometime in June.  I guess the long and the short of it is that they may be here for a while.  

Adding to their urgency is that their teenage daughter will be moving out here to join them in a few weeks.  They'd like to figure out where they're going to live so at the very least they can figure out which high school she's going to be attending.  PCSing (i.e. moving) is stressful enough when it's just two married adults.  It's even tougher when you've got school-aged children that are in the mix.  I wouldn't even begin to know where to look for information on school districts.  (At least anywhere outside of Minneapolis.)  It's a good thing that if we do have kids I will at least have four or five years to figure that issue out.  And then if we did have kids Zac would be out of the Navy for most of their schooling, so we'd be able to find a place and stay put for the last 8-10 years of their K-12 education.  I guess that's one of the few benefits of having kids later on your Navy career.

The other big news around here is the kitchen remodeling that began last Thursday.  You say you want some pictures?  Well okay, then.  Here you go.
Here's the kitchen.  Not an awful kitchen, granted, but by no means great.  What were our issues?  Let's start listing them, shall we?  1.)  The lighting in the kitchen was bad.  There was no light above the sink and the main lighting fixture was centered such that you always cast a shadow on to the counter top no matter where you stood in the kitchen.  That is, the light was always at your back, instead of where it would be useful for helping you see what you're chopping up.  2.)  The (only) light-switch for the kitchen was located in an inconvenient spot.  You'll see it there, on the right of the photo.  You'll notice that the hinges for the door are right there too.  That means that when the door is open, you have either close the door or go around the counter to reach the switch to turn the light on/off.  It is also the only light switch for the dining room light and outside door light.

  3.) There was an 18" apartment-sized dishwasher.  Not really practical for a family-sized house. Now, while it's true I made it through my formative years without a dishwasher, I feel like if you're going to have one it should be full-sized.  4.) The cabinets were much too high above the counter tops, meaning that only the bottom shelf of the cabinets could be used for storing things that you need to get to regularly.  (The space between most counter tops and cabinets is something like 18".  Ours was 27".)  5.)  The bottom cabinets had no lazy-susans in the corners, meaning that those corners (and there are three of them) were hard to reach.

As you can see, the issues with the kitchen weren't huge by any means, but they were annoying in total.  The kitchen was minimally functional, but not efficient.  And when you have a small kitchen (with little other storage in the house) you need to use your space as efficiently as possible.  We could have waited to do this project, true, but we wanted to be able to enjoy our new kitchen for as long as possible.  What is the point of dropping money on a new kitchen if you're about to move and won't have the opportunity to enjoy your investment?

But you know what's not as fun?  Not having an oven or stove for four weeks or so with four (soon to be five) people living in your house.  It's been manageable so far, but I'm not sure if I'll be so chipper three weeks from now.  I'll just chalk it up as another adventure in homeownership.