What We Liked Best

There is really no way to know that you’re in the good old days until you’ve actually left them. The art of looking back fondly is a somewhat idiosyncratic effect of human nature. We always seem to have a more idealized take on our experiences when we’re looking at them through the rearview mirror. While we have certainly preferred some locations over others, when I think about all the places that we have lived together over the years I’m able to affectionally recall good times and assemble a highlight reel that features what we liked best about each area.

This is my highlight reel.

Clemson, South Carolina Whenever we roll into a new duty station, neighbors have little trouble determining where we went to college. Go Tigers! It has become a running joke among some of our friends, “Hey – did you guys know that we went to Clemson?” because we never shy from talking about our beloved alma mater. Because we got married during winter break my senior year (thanks Army!), we count Clemson as the first place we lived together, even though we didn’t actually live together our first six months of marriage (again, thanks Army!).

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Tillman Hall is considered the building that is synonymous with Clemson University. The dorm that we lived in when we met, Clemson House (RIP), overlooked Tillman Hall and Bowman Field. We would cut across the open grass as we walked to class and spent many afternoons playing catch or frisbee in front of Military Heritage Plaza, which happens to be where Clay received his first salute as an officer. We also enjoyed hiking at Table Rock, walking around downtown Greenville, and

Fort Huachuca, Arizona Clay proposed shortly after he commissioned. We were engaged about a week before he left for OBC (now referred to as Basic Officer Leaders Course) at Fort Huachuca. I did not accompany him to OBC because I had a great summer job in my hometown and it made better financial sense for Clay to live in the officer barracks since I’d be returning to Clemson for my senior year of college well before he graduated. I visited a few times and thoroughly enjoyed the area surrounded Fort Huachuca. We ate at the Mesquite Tree (sadly now closed), visited Bisbee (best coffee ever), and hiked in the Coronado National Forest. And of course – you can’t visit Fort Huachuca without visiting Tombstone – we took the kids there during our epic southwest road trip a couple of years ago – I’ll be your huckleberry indeed.

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Fort Drum, New York The most obvious place for the Army to send Clay after spending months in the Arizona desert was of course snowy Fort Drum, New York – home of the 10th Mountain Division. We got married and after I graduated, I joined him up at the Canadian border. We spent three and a half years in the north country and ended up loving almost everything the area has to offer. We lived in Sackets Harbor, which remains the favorite place we’ve ever lived to this day.

We would walk to the Sackets Harbor Brewing Company for drinks, eat brunch at Tin Pan Galley, and catch a show at the (now defunct) comedy club. We kayaked on Lake Ontario, walked around the historic battlefield, and skied at Dry Hill. Yes – the winters were cold and white but the summers were some of the best we’ve ever experienced.

Raleigh, North Carolina After Clay ETSed from the Army and joined the National Guard (oh yes – Clay got out of the Army back in 2008…boy is that a story!), we ended up in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina. We bought our first home, Clay ended up going back to being a full-time soldier, and we welcomed our first child into the world. While we have no plans to ever choose to live in that part of the country again, there were things that we really liked – like the Raleigh Flea Market at the state fair grounds and the Raleigh Farmers Market.

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Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Say what you will about Lawton but the Wichita Wildlife Refuge is up there as one of the coolest places we’ve ever lived near. Whenever we wanted, we could get up close and personal with buffalo and long-horned steer which was pretty amazing.

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Fort Leavenworth, Kansas We went to Fort Leavenworth knowing that we’d probably enjoy our year there but we were blown away by how much we loved Kansas City. It really has it all – music, food, sports, museums, and some of the nicest people we’ve ever met.

We loved Union Station, the National WW1 Museum, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. If Kansas City were closer to mountains or water, we’d consider moving there in a heartbeat after this Army ride is over. That being said, we certainly wouldn’t complain if the Army sent us to Fort Leavenworth again due to the proximity to Kansas City and the fact that it really is a lovely and beautiful post.

San Antonio, Texas If I had to sum up the year that my family spent in San Antonio, Texas in one sentence, it’d be: We didn’t love living there but if you haven’t been there, you should totally go visit! Most are surprised by our confession because San Antonio has such a great reputation – it’s a city certainly not lacking in culture and attitude.

We loved going to the Tejas Rodeo in Bulverde on a Saturday night. We’d grab a Shiner Bock and Frito pie and watch the traditional rodeo from the stands for the quintessential Texas experience. We also enjoyed Guadalupe River State Park and of course all of the food!

Washington DC There is our second time around being stationed near our nation’s capital. Because we’ve lived here the longest out of any other place (almost three years the last go-around and we’re currently on year two this time around), it feels the most like home by default. Of course we love spending time in the city, the National Mall, and the Smithsonian. But we love the surrounding area as well.

One of our favorite things to do as a family in this area is hike at Great Falls Park, which is where Potomac River “builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge.” There are multiple trails with varying degrees of difficulty (but none are really all that difficult) with various look-out points along the way. So basically it is perfect for younger kids.

We are slated to leave Washington DC next summer so only time will tell what we will like best at the next place the Army sends us.

A Frocking Good Time

The military is filled with acronyms, words, and concepts that sometimes require additional explanation to those who aren’t immersed in the culture – like frocking. Frocking is when a commissioned or non-commissioned officer is selected for promotion wears the insignia of the higher grade before the official promotion date (aka ‘date of rank’). Last summer, we found out that Clay was selected to promote to Lieutenant Colonel and was subsequently offered a position that would keep us in the DC area a little while longer. In order for Clay to transition to this new position in the coming weeks, he had to be ‘frocked’ because his official promotion date is not until this spring.

On Friday afternoon, Clay pinned on Lieutenant Colonel in front of family and friends at the Pentagon. It was a wonderful ceremony filled with personal stories and some good laughs. In attendance were people from almost every duty station – it really felt like a snapshot of Clay’s career thus far. One of the many perks of being stationed in Washington DC – there are so friends from over the years stationed here too! The logistics of planning a ceremony in a building as secure as the Pentagon proved to be headache-inducing at times but it was by far the best promotion experience yet.


Because I’ve been around since his cadet days and the fact that all of his promotion dates have occurred when he was stateside, I’ve been lucky enough to attend all of his ceremonies and have an active role. When Clay commissioned in 2004, I nervously pinned Second Lieutenant rank on his shoulder completely unsure what the coming years would bring. For his First Lieutenant promotion, I had approximately 45 minutes notice that a group ceremony would be taking place on post with the other promotable Second Lieutenants. So all of us wives high-tailed it to Battalion Headquarters so we could pin our husbands. He promoted to Captain with the same group of guys shortly after returning from Afghanistan. And his ceremony for his promotion to Major was thrown together quickly and due to Violet being a stowaway, I was just thankful I made through the ceremony without throwing up.


The kids were able to be involved in the ceremony, which was super important to us. While the Army is their dad’s chosen career, it is still very much a team effort on their part. A lot is asked of military kids and it’s nice when they’re able to participate in such events.

We are so incredibly thankful to our family and friends who joined us on Friday for the ceremony and the festivities that took place later that night. Over the years, I’ve been incredibly proud of my husband and his accomplishments. His ability to do what he does so well and be a fantastic husband and an incredible father is nothing short of amazing. I’d follow that man anywhere!

Dealing with Envy as a Military Spouse

But I want my tooth to fall out too, Mommy. IT’S NOT FAIR!!!“, cried my five-year-old daughter as she burst into tears. Her sweet little friend had lost her first tooth that afternoon when they were playing at her house – the two of them had been comparing their wiggly teeth for the past few weeks during their monkey bar runs after school. As my daughter and I clomped home through the snow in our boots, I explained that her loose tooth would fall out when it is ready and she should be excited for her friend, instead of being envious. And that’s when I realized that I should probably listen to my own advice – because guys, there are times when the struggle is real and my envy knows no bounds.

While the green-eyed monster certainly isn’t unique to the military spouse community and social media only seems to intensify the feelings, there are aspects of the military lifestyle that seem to be the ideal breeding ground for jealousy and envy. For every exotic assignment to a tropical island, the mediterranean, or Alaska there is a family receiving orders to Fort Polk in the Louisiana swampland or to Cannon Air Force Base in the New Mexico desert. There are some positions that allow the service members to have a robust life outside of work and other positions that demand so much time that the family members are left begging for slivers of interaction. And for every deployment, there will always be some who come home earlier, some who come home later, and some who don’t come home at all. It’s the nature of the beast, I suppose.

You can only be jealous of someone who has something you think you ought to have yourself.

Margaret Atwood

I’ve been jealous and/or envious for a variety of reasons over the years. I have friends who have lived in some truly fabulous corners of the world while the Army has yet to send us overseas. I have peers who have thriving careers despite their spouses being active duty (totally not discounting their hard work – they’re all badasses who endure a lot of sacrifices to make it happen) while I feel like I got on the wrong train at a different station. I have friends who have planned fabulous events while I am over here on the struggle bus trying to coordinate my husband’s promotion festivities with little notice and changing schedules. I have friends who have parents that visit a lot. I have friends who travel to some jaw dropping places. I have friends who manage to take absolutely gorgeous pictures in their ball gowns while I end up looking like a busted can of biscuits. And I have friends who seemingly have an endless amount of time in the day to accomplish some truly astonishing goals – all while being beautiful inside and out.

I like to think that over the years, I’ve learned to deal with such emotions in a fairly healthy manner. I tend to think of the good in my life and that my life is exactly that – mine. I have gifts. I have talents. And I have many reasons to be grateful. I also remind myself that no one has it all – it simply isn’t possible. And comparing myself to others will always be a losing battle because I do so using the best of others and the worst of myself. Theodore Roosevelt told us that “comparison is the thief of joy” and there are bucket fulls of inspirational platitudes floating around the internet that remind us not to compare our middle to someone else’s ending. On a pragmatic level I know this – but there are still times when envy gets the best of me. So then what?

Honestly? I’m not sure. I suppose recognizing when I let feelings of envy get the best of me is a good start. I’m a complex human who experiences a range of emotions so it’s only natural to be envious from time to time. Such emotions don’t define me but how I react to them certainly impacts my world and how others perceive me. Life isn’t a competition. But it sure can feel like it at times.

A Holiday Pops! Home for the Holidays NSO Concert

Last night was truly a magical holiday-themed evening that culminated with snow falling from the ceiling at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as the National Symphony Orchestra, Ashley Brown, Santa Claus, and the Washington Choir sang We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

A Holiday Pops! Home for the Holidays NSO Concert

Founded in 1931, the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) presents approximately 175 concerts each year. As part of their ongoing Notes of Honor: NSO Salutes the Military initiative, the NSO has offered a free holiday concert in collaboration with the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore for all members of the armed forces, veterans, and military families for the past three years. We were lucky enough to score tickets and so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to attend such a great event.

 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

It was our first time seeing a performance at the iconic DC landmark. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, commonly referred to as The Kennedy Center, opened in 1971 and hosts roughly 3,500 performances each year (check out this NY Times article from 1971 about the structure – “[Washington DC]… is the home of government of, for and by the people, and of taste for the people—the big, the bland and the banal. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, opening officially Wednesday, does not break the rule.”}. Attending a performance at the Kennedy Center has been on my list as a must-do during our time in the nation’s capital so I spent the evening wide-eyed with a big grin on my face.

NSO Holiday Pops! Concert

When we attended the NSO concert on the Capitol lawn on Labor Day, one of our favorite parts was when the orchestra played Armed Forces Salute, which is a melody of all the service songs. Veterans and those currently serving are invited to stand when their branch song is performed. So last night, because the majority of the audience were military-affiliated, the concert hall was booming as soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines sang along. I get chills every time.

 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Notes of Honor

We all agreed that it was a spectacular night. I love that our children enjoy attending such events and it truly is a joy to watch them develop an appreciation for the arts. 

 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

So thank you NSO and the Notes of Honor program for putting together such a spectacular show for military families. We can’t wait to go again next year (assuming we are still stationed here..ha!).