Life Lately – Dies Lunae

Thoughts on a Monday morning set the tone for the rest of the week.

Happy Monday! Since Monday’s roots are firmly planted in the latin phrase dies lunae (day of the moon), it seems fitting that the moon was still visible as I walked the kids to school this morning, despite being back in the world of Daylight Savings. Serving as the natural satellite of the earth, the moon is often associated with the power of femininity, wisdom, and time. Therefore, I can’t think of a better reason to use this Monday as a glimpse into the happenings of my life and some thoughts swirling around inside my head.

Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good too.

Yogi Berra

With official spring just a few days away, the weather is trying so hard to leave winter behind. We’re in the throws of Little League and preseason practices, which means that our evenings belong to diamonds once again and our basket of ball gloves is back by the front door. The pace of life as a parent in Northern Virginia feels somewhat like being shot out of a cannon into traffic on 495N.

Being stationed here again with school-aged children has us double-guessing whether we want to be back here during their high school years, which is a strong possibility should Clay decide to stay in the Army beyond 20 years. There is an artificial sense of unnecessary competition – many parents pushing their children toward goals that accomplish very little in the long run. A lot of children in these neck of the woods are scheduled from morning to night and are not encouraged to use their imagination nor enjoy the benefits of being bored. As a result – the ability to perform well on a standardized test is replacing the need for creativity and ingenuity. Or at least it seems that way.

We spent yesterday afternoon walking around the various monuments scattered along the National Mall. We enjoyed a picnic snack and discussed various travel options for this summer. Our last little getaway wasn’t the best so we’re hopeful that our planned week-long trip for Spring Break in April yields better results. We’re going to Savannah and Amelia Island – we are looking forward to exploring the Hostess City of the South and relaxing on the beach. We think we’ve narrowed down our big summer trip (hopefully purchasing airfare this week!) and we have little weekend road trips planned throughout the spring and summer – like Hershey Park and Busch Gardens in Williamsburg.

This guys officially started his new position last month. We’re happy to have him home more – he was previously an aide-de-camp, which meant he was away often at various locations throughout the world. Now that he is no longer an aide, I am considering writing about my experience of what it was like having a husband who served as one for 18 months. It was definitely unlike anything else we’ve experienced thus far in his career!

We saw this guys yesterday while at the Lincoln Memorial. He was dressed as Abraham Lincoln but made no effort to interact with the visitors and spent his time scrolling on his smartphone. So I’m not sure if it was a coincidence (unlikely), or if he was on some sort of a break, or if he was a performance artist with a message about how addicted to technology we are as a society. I’d like to think that it is the latter. I recently started tracking my phone usage with the screen time function and I am absolutely horrified by how much I am using my phone. I didn’t think I was addicted to social media but my screen time reports say otherwise. I am definitely going to make some changes on how I incorporate my phone in my everyday life – I’m just not sure how yet!

And finally, I’ve been focusing a lot lately on what I don’t have in my life rather than cultivating the good that already exists in my little world – as evident by my previous post. I don’t regret writing that piece. The conversation that emerged afterwards on social media proved that I wasn’t alone in my sentiments. This life isn’t easy but since I’m not getting out of it alive, I might as well make the best of the cards we’re dealt. So in that spirit – may your Monday be filled with enthusiasm, prosperity, and grit. I know mine will!

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What I’m Loving Friday

My friend Kait has one of my most favorite Instagram accounts to follow. Based out of Hawaii, she travels the world with her husband and documents her adventures both on Instagram and her blog, Communikait. She is an award-winning travel writer and a trip designer and recently started a weekly installment called 5 Things I Love Friday. I’ve been wanting to do something similar for quite some time so I decided to follow her lead and write about what I am loving on this cold and dreary Friday.

The North Face Electra Backpack. I’ve been using this backpack as a purse for about three months now and I can’t say enough good things about it. With each passing year, I despise carrying a traditional handbag/purse even more so than before so I’ve been on board the backpack-as-a-purse train for quite some time. This backpack is small but big enough to hold everything that I need to go about my day and has plenty of pockets. I do have a few nice bags that I break out of my closet for events where a backpack would not be appropriate but The North Face Electra Backpack is my perfect go-to everyday bag.

Revlon One-Step Hair Dryer & Volumizer. I’ve had this hair dryer since December and honestly, my hair has never looked better. This tool is life-changing. I’ve never been able to master using a hair dryer and a round brush at the same time so before bringing the Revlon One-Step Hair Dryer & Volumizer into my life, my hair routine involved blow drying my hair and having to use a straightener on my naturally wavy hair if I wanted to wear it straight. Dead serious – I haven’t used my hair straightener since December. I just use the Revlon One-Step Hair Dryer & Volumizer to dry my hair and it leaves my hair bouncy, shiny, and gorgeous. You can get it for about $50 from a variety to places, which I think is a steal. It is worth much more and I can’t praise it enough!

Beyond the Point by Claire Gibson. I am currently reading this book to review for the blog. It tells the story about a trio of female West Point cadets and their lives after the events of September 11th. When the publisher asked me to review the book, I looked up the synopsis (in full disclosure – I very rarely accept such offers because I haven’t been terribly impressed with the quality of books that I am offered to review). As soon as I read that Beyond the Point is a “a heartfelt look at how our closest friends can become our fiercest battle buddies”, I knew that the book would likely resonate with me so I agreed to review an advanced copy. And I’m happy to report that I wasn’t wrong!

Hot & Sweet Jalapeños from Trader Joe’s. Man are these peppers addicting. I love most things spicy and I’ve recently started getting to snacking on the Hot & Sweet Jalapeños from Trader Joe’s. I love eat them on their own and I also like to put them on tacos, eggs, and anything else that can use a little more kick.

Always Remember Us This Way by Lady Gaga. While I like Shallow just fine, Aways Remember Us This Way is my favorite song from the A Star is Born soundtrack.

You look at me and, babe, I wanna catch on fire
It’s buried in my soul like California gold
You found the light in me that I couldn’t find.

What are you loving today?

A Look at the Military Housing Crisis

Last August, Reuters issued a special report about how the military continuously ignored military housing hazards, resulting in the lead poising of military dependents, including children. The article circulated on social media within the military community in the following weeks – more and more military families stepped forward to share their stories about substandard military housing and posted pictures on social media. The pictures seemed to horrify everyone except the privatized housing companies tasked with providing safe and habitable living conditions – all while lining their pockets at the expense of the seemingly bottomless Department of Defense budget.

Since then, Reuters has continued their investigation – calling it Ambushed at Home: The hazardous, squalid housing of American military families. Other news outlets began to report on the appalling conditions Congress decided to reopen its investigation into substandard military housing and this Thursday (March 7th), Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps leaders are scheduled to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee. While a lot of military families are hopeful that these hearings will bring about much-needed change to policy, it’s hard not to take the cynical view that little will transpire beyond the action-oriented words said into the small microphones. After all, when a group of concerned military spouses approached the Department of Defense Military Family Readiness Council back in 2017 about concerns over dangerous and subpar housing, they were told that the ‘family readiness’ council didn’t deal with such issues (although in all fairness, it isn’t exactly clear what purpose the organization does serve).

Crystal Cornwall was one of those spouses who presented detailed findings to the Military Family Readiness Council. Over the past few years, she’s been a tenacious advocate for safer military housing. She appeared before the Senate last month and testified to the conditions of military housing and is in the process of launching a new nonprofit – Safe Military Housing Initiative. In addition to personal testimonies, data from a military housing survey conducted earlier this year by the Military Family Advisory Network (click here to read that preliminary research report) was presented to the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services Joint Subcommittee on Personnel, Readiness, and Management Support.

It’s important to note that not all military housing is bad or unsafe. There are plenty of military families who have had positive experiences with privatized military housing (my family being one of them). But there are also a lot of families who are subjected to mold, rats, moisture, lead-paint, and other hazardous conditions that are not being addressed by privatized military housing companies. Such companies that are mentioned multiple times throughout the Military Family Advisory Network housing survey are Balfour Beatty, Corvias, Hunt, Lincoln, and Michael’s Military Housing.

Some Questions and Answers about Military Housing

When looking at some comments on social media regarding this issue, there are questions from those who are not super familiar with privatized housing, Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), and the potential impact that these hearings will have on military families. Here are some questions that I’ve seen circulating about military housing and my best attempt to answer them.

Do you currently live in privatized military housing? No. We currently rent a house in the local community. We chose to live off post for this assignment because of schools and my husband’s commute to the Pentagon. In the almost fifteen years that my husband has been in the Army, we’ve actually only lived on-post once – when we were stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. We had a great experience living in a historic quarters and while there were a few issues, they were dealt with swiftly by maintenance. We are open to the possibility of living on-post again and will likely try to do so at our next assignment (some installations have a year-long waiting list for housing).

Is military housing free? No. If a military family lives on post, they are paying for the privilege to do so. In addition to base pay, service members received a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) as part of of their benefits package; cost-of-living, whether or not a service member has dependents, and rank all determine the BAH amount. BAH can be used to live in military housing, in which the privatized military housing companies typically take the entire BAH amount. While there are a few instances where a military family could be required to live on post in military housing, the majority of families have the option to live off-post. In this case, their BAH can be put toward rent or a mortgage. However, whether or not BAH covers rent varies on market conditions and a host of other variables.

If housing conditions are so bad, why would military families chose to live on post? Living on-post can provide an experience that is unique to the military – one filled with tradition and camaraderie. But sometimes reasons for living on post are financially-driven, like not being able to afford rent off-post because BAH doesn’t cover rent. For example, an 05 (a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army) has a higher BAH than an E4 (a Specialist in the Army). If the rental market off-post is geared toward 05 BAH, then an E4 may not be able to afford to rent in the local community because they are priced out of safe neighborhoods.

Additionally, moving is expensive – even when the ‘military moves you’. Some rental properties require a security deposit and the first month of rent upon signing the lease. For example, if a military member is stationed in a higher cost-of-living area, this could mean that a military family needs to have $7000 in liquid assets to hand over to a property manager to even be able to secure reliable housing before the higher cost-of-living BAH hits the paycheck. That can be a tall order for some military families.

My friends who are in the military bought a home. If rent is so high and privatized military housing hazardous, why don’t more military families just buy a home where they are stationed? For some families, it makes financial sense to purchase a home at a duty station – especially if there is a strong possibility that they will be there for three-four years. We currently own two homes, neither of which we currently live in (read about how we became accidental landlords) and we’re not entertaining the idea of buying another house anytime soon. A lot military families are only stationed somewhere for 1-2 years…in these situations, purchasing a home most likely isn’t in the best financial interest in the family. And no – the military does not buy back your home if you are unable to sell it when you receive orders halfway across the world.

So how does this even happen? Doesn’t the military oversee housing? Actually no – the military does not oversee the majority of the housing on military installations. In 1996, Congress established the Military Housing Privatization Initiative in effort to help the military improve quality of life improving housing conditions. A lot of these communities are filled with homes that were built extremely fast with subpar materials that are inappropriate for harsh environmental conditions (e.g. humidity, wind, below-zero temperatures, etc…). As a result, the homes are not aging well and allowing hazards, like mold, to thrive. And because military families have no recourse, the privatized military housing executives continue to live lavishly at the expense of military families.

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Tomorrow both the uniformed leaders and civilian leaders of our military will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:30am about the chain of command’s accountability to provide safe military housing (click here for details). I look forward to seeing what changes are on the horizon and remain hopeful that the military families with long-term effects from hazardous living conditions are given their proper due. As Bob Dylan reminds us – the times, they are a-changin’.

Half of My Life on a Champagne High

I turned 36 a few days ago. I’m not one to make a spectacle when it comes anniversaries of my birth so I was perfectly happy to pepper in low-key festivities throughout the seemingly regular day. My kids and husband presented me with a delicious cake from Whole Foods and we dined on take-out sushi as we talked about vacation plans and worked on our spring and summer bucket list. I opened my gifts and was pleased to see that Clay and I’s tradition of presenting each other with inappropriate cards has survived another year.

After dinner we asked Alexa to play 90s music and I showed my kids the sweet choreography to You Got It (The Right Stuff) and wowed Clay with my rendition of Bitch (I’m pretty sure he fell even more in love with me that night). It may have just been the wine but singing and dancing in the kitchen that night was the most alive I’ve felt in weeks.

The following night, we went to a Sister Hazel concert about an hour away in Leesburg, Virginia, which is considered one of the most picturesque towns in America. We saw them perform at Tally Ho Theater with a bunch of other 30-40 year-olds who had babysitters watching their kids at home. The drink special was champagne, which I drank as we sang along to Change Your Mind, All for You, Your Winter, Champagne High and more. It seemed fitting to celebrate my 36th birthday seeing a band whose lyrics I had taped to my dorm room walls.

I met Clay when I was 18 – turning 36 means that we’ve now been together for half of my life. Half of my life! We’ve been through a lot since the days when I artistically wrote the lyrics of Champagne High after one of our break-ups (yes – we parted ways briefly a few times in college). I once had a friend tell me that she always feels sorry for girls/women who marry their first great love. She isn’t alone in her sentiment – there is certainly no shortage of articles about why doing so is a terrible idea. But it hasn’t been terrible for us – it’s been wonderful, crazy, sometimes maddening, beautiful, and exhilarating after all these years.

In some ways, I wonder if Clay and I just happened to get lucky. As we navigated our 20s, we grew up together rather than apart. Back then, I would’ve said that it was because we were so in love that nothing could take us down but now that I have the maturity that being in my 30s affords, I can see that there is probably at least some luck involved. Neither one of us is the person we were when we exchanged our vows in front of family and friends. Since then we experienced war, Army-induced separations, children, death, and all of the not-so-great aspects of life that try their hardest to balance out the most gorgeous and breathtaking moments. And we not only survived – we thrived and did so together.

“They say when you meet the love of your life, time stops, and that’s true. What they don’t tell you is that when it starts again, it moves extra fast to catch up.” Big Fish

Time moves a lot faster than it did 18 years ago and I can only imagine that it will only continue to pick up speed with each passing year. I just hope that I am as lucky during the next 36 years.