Today is my birthday. I share this day with Zack Morris, Ron Howard, and the anniversary of Sarah Goode, Sarah Osborne, & Tituba being arrested for witchcraft in Salem, Massachussets. I’m currently listening to The Eagles’ Witchy Woman, watching Apollo 13, and reading about how Zack Morris is trash in celebration.


I am now 35 years old. I reminded myself this morning that no matter how old I feel now that I am checking a new demographic box (35-44 representin’), my parents must feel that much older knowing they have a 35-year-old child! Along with the start of the calendar year, birthdays seem to be the time we look back and take stock of our lives thus far. It’s easy to get lost in the minutiae and feel like we’re not measuring up to the expectations of our younger selves at these milestone birthdays. I may not be a powerful political player but I’ve done some pretty amazing things. Therefore, I decided to pass along 35 pearls of wisdom to younger Karen in hopes that she isn’t so hard on herself in her teens and twenties.

35 Things for Younger Karen

  1. Don’t eat unpasteurized cheese. Your body can’t handle it. No matter how good it tastes – it is not worth it.
  2. When walking down a random hall in your freshman dorm, say yes when a really cute boy asks if you want a double shot of Peach Schnapps. You’ll marry him a little over three years later.
  3. It’s okay to cry.
  4. Get that eyebrow ring you want in college. If you don’t, you will always wish you did.
  5. Eat at your wedding. If not, you’ll end up searching for an open McDonalds at 1am – only to be told that they’re out of hamburgers.
  6. Whenever you land in a new city – find a bar and have a local beer.
  7. It will take some time, but you will eventually see the worth of putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. Embrace these moments. You will learn the most from them.
  8. Continue to smile while listening to Desperately Wanting on repeat because when you’re 32, you’ll catch a guitar pick at a Better Than Ezra concert in downtown Kansas City.
  9. Celebrate every reunion with Clay – no matter how small.
  10. Find a group of friends who get you. They will become your tribe and they’re necessary for survival.
  11. If someone doesn’t get you, it’s not your problem. It’s theirs.
  12. You’ll eventually learn that you can eat and drink everything in moderation and still have a bangin’ curvy body. Those extra 10-15 pounds aren’t worth the experience of truly enjoying food and the love used to create it. Don’t diet!
  13. Never turn down the opportunity to hike outside. It’s your happy place – no matter the weather.
  14. Write more. You’re good at it – no matter what your inner-critic says.
  15. Remember that your body is amazing. You will use it to hike mountains, kayak in multiple bodies of water, run races, and birth two children.
  16. You’ll feel so incredibly lost during the first few weeks of motherhood. Ask for help.
  17. Embrace your desire to be spontaneous. It’ll be the source of some of your greatest stories.
  18. You’ll never find better french toast than at Tin Pan Galley in Sackets Harbor. Eat as much of it as you can (see #10).
  19. You look best as a blonde. Every time you dye your hair darker, you eventually wish you didn’t. Don’t.
  20. Misery loves company. Don’t bother yourself with miserable people – they’ll just drag you down.
  21. Respond to that email.
  22. As soon as you can afford to stop buying $5 bottles of wine – do so!
  23. You’ll quickly learn that you aren’t motivated by money. If you don’t feel like you’re changing the world, you won’t want that job – no matter how much it pays.
  24. You’ll be happier when your children begin to walk. It’s okay to just survive and not thrive during the infant stage.
  25. Spend money on that trip. It’s worth it.
  26. Don’t ever match someone shot-for-shot of tequila. It won’t end well for you.
  27. The Army will be the source of some of your most saddest and most joyful moments.
  28. There is great beauty in failure. Don’t fear it.
  29. Don’t bother hanging out with moms who only talk about their children – they’re incredibly boring and life is too short to hear someone go on and on about potty-training struggles.
  30. Invest it good jeans that make your butt look amazing.
  31. Don’t wait so long to try raw oysters. They’re delicious.
  32. Be sure to carve out alone time away from your children. You need it to be the best you.
  33. You won’t be one of those people who look back at high school and college and view those years as the best your life. Thank goodness.
  34. Celebrate other peoples’ successes.
  35. Always remember that you’re awesome and there is no one alive that is more you than you.

So here’s to an amazing, wonderful, fearful, intimidating, and magnificent 35th year of living. I’m quite excited and not at all ashamed. When someone asks me my age, I won’t make a self-deprecating joke about celebrating the anniversary of my 29th birthday. I will proudly say that I am 35 years old and I am happy to be alive.



Our Trip to Scotland – Part One

This post is a recap of our trip to Scotland from June 2016. 

Leaving Fort Leavenworth has the reputation of being a bit of a cluster due to the fact that every June 1000+ majors graduate and PCS at the same time. But Clay and I didn’t let that deter us from squeezing in a week-long trip to Scotland while my parents watched the kids. We knew that Clay’s schedule would be crazy once he signed into his new unit so it made sense to vacation en route to Texas. So we made the trek to Georgia after graduation, chilled for a couple of days, kissed and hugged the kids, profusely thanked my parents, and then found ourselves at Atlanta airport drinking beers and waiting for a flight to Edinburgh.


An overnight flight ensured that we arrived in Scotland mid-morning with plenty of time to secure a rental car, drive to our hotel, and then explore before crashing due to lack of sleep. The first thing we noticed (aside from the gorgeous green countryside) was the cool air – the average temperature in June is in the low-sixties, which is one of the many reasons we chose to vacation in Scotland before moving to San Antonio (where it has been 100+ degrees for the past five days). Scotland is home to almost 5.3 million people. And as any guidebook is quick to point out, Scotland has more sheep than people.


The Wharf – A Mix of New and Old

There are times when Clay and I stroll through Washington DC, weaving in and out of the monuments before hopping on the metro to Eastern Market to grab a bit to eat,  wondering what it would have been like if we were stationed here right out of college. The night he had to rank his top stationing choices during his senior year, I remember sitting next to him on my bed with my laptop, plugging in the possibilities into Map Quest (t’was before Google Maps entered the scene) to see how far they were from Clemson University. Because he’s a whopping 11 months older than me, we planned to do the long-distance dance while I finished my senior year. We’d have a summer wedding, honeymoon in Costa Rica, and then I’d join him at Fort Meade, Maryland – the installation at the top of our list, where I would then put my Political Science and Economics degree to good use in our nation’s capital.

In reality – we ended up scrambling to have a December wedding during the winter break of my senior year, we honeymooned in New York City for three-days because that is the only amount time for which his unit would release him, and I joined him at Fort Drum, New York six months later, after I graduated. It would then take me another six months to find a full-time job quasi-related to my career-field. It was our first experience with, as my friend Sheena so lovingly put in my previous post, the Army showing us that ultimately she’s the boss.


I realize now that this is quite the long introduction for a post about the District Wharf. Basically – it’s nice to experience the things that we long ago dreamed of doing as newlyweds stationed in this area. Granted, I have yet to work in the district using my undergraduate degree and having two kids means that we don’t attend nearly as many cocktail parties as we did our original scenario, but we get to do things we enjoy and spend our free time exploring a world class city. We’ve been wanting to check out the District Wharf since the grand re-opening in October 2017. The gray and drizzling sky on a Sunday afternoon provided the perfect backdrop to walk around where DC meets the water.

My Glass Half Full Attitude – A Story

A few months ago, a fellow blogger suggested I write about my glass half-full attitude and how it impacts my outlook toward this crazy, unpredictable, and at times frustrating military life (thanks for the suggestion, Erica!). I’ve never been ashamed about my belief in the power of positive thinking and my desire to see the glass half full. And if I am being honest, there is not much that bums me out more than being subjected to someone else’s negative outlook. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m currently reading You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life and there is one passage in particular that has really resonated with me…

When you hang out with whiners, pessimists, tweeters, bleachers, freaks-outers and life-is-so-unfaireres, it’s an uphill climb to keep yourself in a positive headspace. Stay away from people with tiny minds and tiny thoughts and start hanging out with people who see limitless possibility as the reality. Surround yourself with people who act on their big ideas, who take action on making positive change in the world and who see nothing as out of their reach (p. 99).

Yes. Insert the ‘person raising both hands in celebration/hallelujah emoji’ here. My glass half full attitude has served me well over the years and while I do give myself time to be upset or cranky, I work very hard to ensure that it doesn’t consume me nor define my existence. And I really try not to whine. And I avoid people who do. Because time is precious and in the words of Kimberly ‘Sweet Brown’ Wilkins – ain’t nobody got time for that.

While there are countless moments in my life where my glass half full attitude has served me well, there is one military life moment in particular that will likely be forever etched into my soul as a testament to my desire to look on the bright side of life.

One brutally cold day in 2007, I was typing away on my computer at my office in the Key Bank building in downtown Watertown when the Hawaii-5-O theme song blared from the Razr laying on top of some intake papers scattered across my desk. Was it Clay? It had been a few days since I had last heard from him via email. But it wasn’t an unknown number, therefore it wasn’t my husband. It was Fran. My stomach sank. She wouldn’t be calling during the work day unless it was bad news.

It had been 12 months since our husbands left for the remote mountains of Afghanistan. The morning Clay deployed, we sat in his Jeep trying to processes the unknown experience that spilled out in front of us like wet asphalt. Hot, sticky, and unpleasant. There were tears. I love yous. And the reminder that “This soon will only be a blade of grass.” But a year later – we were hardened. There had been deaths, injuries, blackouts, memorial services, and months without communication. During that time, I had found my tribe – my Fort Drum girls – a group of fellow spouses with husbands in the same unit. We were sisters. We relied on each other with each devastating phone call received informing us of another injury. Another death. As of that day in my office, our husbands had been okay. They were alive. And they were finally coming home in two weeks.

I remember staring at my ringing phone, trying to convince myself that Fran was just calling to firm up dinner plans for our group that evening. But I answered knowing that it wasn’t something so benign as a bunch of 20-somethings verifying a social outing. That wasn’t our life. We weren’t that carefree.

Fran quietly asked, “Have you heard?

My mind immediately went the member of our group whose husband arguably had the most dangerous job of all our husbands – Jackie. It seemed like he was always on a mission. He’s dead, I thought. He’s gone.

Tears fell as I began to run the first words I would say to Jackie through my mind. In that second or two, I couldn’t do any better than “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry” over and over again.

I answered, “Heard what?” – my voice cracking – bracing myself for the inevitable news of another unit casualty.

They’ve been extended four months,

I exhaled the breath I didn’t know I was holding. Jackie’s husband wasn’t killed in action. Fran wasn’t calling to tell me that uniformed officers were currently at her house. She wasn’t on the phone trying to figure out what our next steps needed to be in order to get to Jackie’s side. She was simply calling to inform me that our husbands weren’t coming home in two weeks as originally planned. Our husbands were okay. They were alive. It was good news.

Once the news that the brigade had been extended for another four months sunk in, I cried at my desk. Hard. Ugly. Messy. My coworkers surrounded me and allowed me to work through my emotions of frustration, anger, sadness, and exhaustion. Later that afternoon, Clay had managed to secure a satellite phone on a mountaintop and we talked for the first time in weeks. Obviously morale was down among the guys. I told him that while I wanted nothing more than to finally have him home in two weeks as originally scheduled – receiving that phone call from Fran and thinking that Jackie’s husband had been killed, really put the news of the extension in perspective. The families of the soldiers who had been killed during that deployment would have given anything to be able to receive a phone call informing them of the extension if it meant their soldier were alive.

Yes, the extension wasn’t ideal. It fact, it pretty much sucked. But whenever I found myself wallowing in self-pity, I’d think back to that phone call and the wave of relief that ran like current through me as I was informed about the extension rather than given news of another casualty. It could have been worse. Much worse. And eventually, 16 months after we sat in his Jeep, unsure of what the next year would bring, we were together again.


It may not seem like a big moment to anyone but me, but that phone call exemplifies my outlook on life. There will be times that life simply sucks. There is no avoiding those sucky moments. But they can be a lot less sucky when you focus on the positive, no matter how small the positive molecules may be at that moment in time. Whether it be that feeling of relief when the news isn’t the absolute worst you could hear or simply the smell of fresh cut grass or the sound of the waves crashing into shore, those little specks of positivity can be a life line. They certaintly are for me.