Where Will We Settle After Saying Goodbye to the Army?

Yesterday I booked an Airbnb for a little family getaway over Veterans Day weekend. Now that our children are older and active in sports, scouts, and school-related activities, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sneak away for a weekend. Add in Clay’s unpredictable schedule and the art of planning a simple weekend retreat rivals a Renaissance masterpiece. We recognize that we’re simply in the season of our life together where the kids’ schedules reign supreme when it comes to planning. And from what our predecessors have told us – it will feel like both the longest and the shortest season yet. Clay and I have been thinking a lot about our long-term goals and where we see ourselves (both professionally and location-wise) in ten years. And now that we’re likely on the downhill slide of Clay’s Army career, we’re often asked by others and ourselves, “Where do you think you’ll end up when this is all over?

While Clay still has about six years until the earliest he can retire from active duty, the idea of retirement no longer feels like a nebulous concept reserved for those older and higher ranking. You know – those who watched the first season of The Real World in real time or identified more with Pretty in Pink than Can’t Hardly Wait. When talking with our fellow downhill-sliders about what’s next, phrases like ‘forever home‘ and ‘military retirement state tax‘ and ‘lucrative job offer‘ are tossed around with ease. I admit that I am tad jealous of my peers who have a definitive idea of where they want to end up. Some want to go back to their hometown or state, others want to go back to their favorite duty station, and a few want to go to a place they have only visited or dreamed about. Meanwhile – Clay and I are like “Uhhhh….not sure. Maybe somewhere with snow?”

That’s not to say that we’re completely lost when it comes to our next chapter. We have learned over the years that flexibility is a large piece of the success pie so like most other areas in our life, we are determined to keep an open mind and not close ourselves off to opportunities that may not even be on our radar yet. A lot of where we end up next is dependent on how old the kids will be when Clay retires. Will we have to factor high school into our decision? Or will they both be off at college when that time arrives? To be honest, I am not sure how much we will factor jobs into our choice. One of the biggest perks of military retirement is that we’ll have a safety net to pursue careers with lower pay but fill our cups in a way that’ll make us feel beyond rich. I’d like to think that we won’t be motivated by money so much that we choose to live in an area we’re not crazy about because of a higher paycheck. That is not exactly how I envision spending the next season.

Okay – so where do we think we’ll end up? Here are a handful of locations we’ve discussed as possible post-Army places to call home…


Washington DC area. We have been stationed in the Washington DC area twice thus far so it arguably feels the most like home than any other place we’ve lived since embarking on this crazy journey together. Ideally, we’d live closer to the district and not have to worry about school ratings. I’d love a little townhouse in Old Town Alexandria or a condo in Foggy Bottom. I hope wherever we end up, it is in a walkable community. I hate being chained to a car so living in a city or a walkable small town appeals to me so much more than living on multiple acres in the country.


Maine. A little seaside village or a quaint lake town in Maine sounds pretty darn nice right now. Portland would suffice as would Augusta. The winters would be white and the summers absolutely gorgeous. Clay spent his childhood summers vacationing in Maine and would happily sit beside me on the porch of our shake-shingle cottage. We had such a great trip to Maine last time we were stationed here and looking forward to going back again someday…maybe for good – who knows?


Northern Arizona. Growing up in Phoenix, I spent a fair amount of time in northern Arizona. When visiting the Grand Canyon during our Spring Break adventure, we commented on how much we love Flagstaff and the surrounding area. Living in a high desert with four seasons totally appeals to us and the art and food scene sounds right up our alley.


Michigan. The world is divided into two camps. Those who are aware that Lake Michigan has one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world and those who have yet to visit the wonder of pure Michigan. Both of my parents are from Michigan and I was born there so I spent many summers vacationing in Glen Arbor and consider myself well-versed in the landscape of the Leelanau Peninsula. Clay loves it just as much as I do and we could totally see ourselves living there someday.


Colorado. Our time in Colorado has been limited to brief visits but we’ve loved every single second of our time in the Centennial State. We hope to be stationed there someday – if anything to prove that we could totally call Colorado home.


New York City. While I don’t necessarily see us calling New York City home for the long haul, we both would like to live there for a few years. For as much as I love the outdoors and mountains, there is an energy I get from being in a bustling city that is absolutely intoxicating. As a kid, I always pictured myself living in New York City. And because life has a funny way of working out, I may end up doing so – I’ll just be in my late forties instead of my early twenties!


St. John, US Virgin Islands. The other week, Clay and I watched a family search for a home in Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI on Beach Hunters. Clay and I fell hard during our visit to St. John four years ago and we’ve dreamed about living there ever since. St. John is definitely the most ‘pipe-dream’ of locations to live post-Army but we refuse to rule it out. Although – just like the family we watched on Beach Hunters, we may be priced out of St. John and have to settle for St. Thomas. Oh darn. Poor us.

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Only time will tell where we end up. Maybe it will be somewhere on this list or maybe in the next few years we will discover a place that feels more like home than any place has ever before. Or perhaps we may choose not to settle anywhere and travel the world a’la Gone with the Wynns until we feel the urge to put down roots.

Do you currently live in your forever place? If not, where do you see yourself long-term? If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?


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.

That Time I Didn’t Bloom

I didn’t love Texas. At least not compared to the last couple of assignments the Army has thrown our way. As one who has shouted the merits of blooming wherever you happen to be planted, I found it quite frustrating to feel so disconnected from myself and others in a city as vibrant as San Antonio, Texas. Not only did I not feel like the best version of myself, I felt guilty for feeling that way because so many other people love the area. I felt like a fraud. Because no matter how hard I tried, I simply could not bloom.

view from our back deck

Military families are no strangers to being plopped into landscapes that we otherwise would never find ourselves living. “Bloom where you’re planted!” is a mantra said by many, including myself. In Texas, I did everything I was supposed to do in order to bloom – I became involved with both of the kids’ schools, I got to know the other parents on their soccer teams, I joined a gym, we became active members in a church, we explored our new city at every given chance, we ate local cuisine, and we called San Antonio home. But no matter what I did, I always felt like an imposter. A fake. Someone who didn’t belong.

That’s not to say that there weren’t aspects of San Antonio I didn’t enjoy. I always had a blast at the Tejas Rodeo in Bulverde on Saturday nights. We loved Oaks Crossing, a restaurant attached to our neighborhood HEB where we could drink craft beer and listen to live music while the kids danced and ran around the outside turf. I found my favorite steak street tacos, pizza, and pho. We thoroughly enjoyed our church. I loved the non-touristy part of the Riverwalk near The Pearl, and Hill Country really is beautiful. But all of that wasn’t enough for me to bloom.

Now that we’ve been happily settling back into the national capital region for the past couple of months, I’ve been reflecting on why I wasn’t my best self in Texas. All I can come up with is that maybe we’re not meant to be at our best at all times. And it doesn’t matter how great a city, town, community may be – sometimes it just doesn’t work. And perhaps we should be okay with that. I do believe that I made the best of my time in San Antonio. I do have to remind myself that I am failing to bloom doesn’t mean that I didn’t try hard enough nor does it mean that I did anything wrong. It simply means that Texas Karen isn’t the best Karen. And that is okay.