20 October 2016

Blues on the Beach

Isaac wanted to go to the beach ALL DAY. So we did. Brick steps beneath live oaks give way to a boardwalk over sweet-smelling shrubby yellow flowers down below the Navy Lodge. Butterflies dance across and along the dunes---that's how you know it's fall on the Gulf Coast!

October is the ideal time to visit Pensacola. The weather and water are warm, and it's less rainy than spring or summer. And it's not baking hot, either, so the kids don't get overheated or burn their little toes on the sand. And there are butterflies everywhere.

We dodged jellyfish and caught crabs and laughed as fish nibbled our feet. I scooped out a sand pit to make a bowl-sized pool for Eloise to splash in. The three of us built a sand mountain. Isaac built a wall. Protecting Eloise's pit. Pelicans, sand pipers, plovers and herons flitted up and down the beach. Sailboats drifted in the morning breeze and boats gathered offshore. Then the Blue Angels started their practice show! It was like being in a tunnel surrounded by thunder while I'm the open, clear air of the beach. Gotta love those afterburners.

Anyway, we were sort of watching and playing at the same time, when BLAMO! I shrieked and dove onto the sand. Eloise, not amused, jumped into my arms, buried her head in my shoulder, and went to sleep. It was that part of the show where they tell you to look one way for the formation, then one of the solo pilots comes shrieking up behind the stands. Everyone yelps and laughs.

Or snoozes, apparently, if you are a two-year-old who gives no hoots for noisy jets.

So she took a beach nap and Isaac and I paddled around on his boogie board. "This is so fun!" I thought. "This is like going to the beach when I was a kid!" That was really encouraging. Usually our beach fun maximizes and shifts into whiny tantrum territory after about 20 minutes. Maybe an hour if it's warm (but not too warm). Wednesday we were there for over four hours!

This beach day could not have come at a better time. I was starting to think I have one kid who hates transition (Isaac) and one kid who hates the beach (Eloise). But nope! It's all happy beach babies here! For this week anyway!

16 October 2016

Full Moon, No Balls

We went to zero Navy balls because the uniform store had no pants in the correct size either time Chris looked. No pants = no balls. And that is balls, plural, because the San Diego ball was the night before we left and the Pensacola ball was the Saturday after we arrived. I think I've only been to one Navy Ball since we got married. Le SIGH. 

In lieu of a ball, I wore my fun new palm print dress and we went to Red Fish Blue Fish out at the beach. Chris and I came here for our anniversary when I was pregnant with Eloise. The kids played giant connect four, giant Jenga, and regular sized corn hole. Then we wandered around the boardwalk and Isaac jammed out to club music. It was great. 
Saturday morning we tried to go to the beach and got rained on. Oh RIGHT! THIS is the Pensacola we're familiar with! 

So it was cool and windy and a little wet, and Isaac throws his brand new Star Wars kick board into the air, and it gets blown out past the breakers. SIGH. Being an awesome mom requires such sacrifice sometimes. 

It wasn't actually that cold. And Isaac will go pro boogie board in no time. 
Isaac could live on the beach indefinitely, rain or shine. I'm not sure if Eloise likes the beach or not. She does get extremely snuggley. After playing in the sand 20 minutes or so she's like "done!" and climbs into my lap and starts babbling sweet little baby talk. It's pretty much the best. 

15 October 2016

13 October 2016

241 Years of Navy

"It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."
---George Washington 

Accepting the orders to Hawaii was a renewal of vows, if you will, between us and the Navy. Coronado was sort of our second honeymoon with the Navy. And coming to Pensacola to hear the roar of the jets---some the same first jets Chris flew to earn his wings---and the thunderous jet blast of the Blue Angels...well it's kind of like holding hands and going back to where we first met the Navy. 

It's weird. I haven't spent this much time here since our first year of marriage, when Chris had short work days, I was jobless and car-less, and I'd tag along to base for something to do. There's a lot more to do now (everything back then had been recently destroyed by back to back hurricanes). 
Hammocks sway beneath thick live oak branches at the Navy hotel. The kids and I pass them every time we descend the brick steps to the boardwalk. The kids race over that sugar white sand down to the bay where it meets the Gulf of Mexico. It's mid-October, but the water and sunshine are warm. 
We are right across the street from the National Museum of Naval Aviation, where my family came on vacation when I was 12. I remember how I felt, walking through the exhibits, and it's almost like I can draw a straight line from that point in my life to now, 21 (!!) years later. Kind of like my elementary obsession with The Little Mermaid. OF COURSE I was destined (brainwashed) to fall in love with a sailor, leave everything behind, and sail off into a different world. 
Anyway, one day in SoCal we watched the Blue Angels fly over Grandfather's house while practicing for the Miramar flight show. The Angels arrived home in Pensacola the day after we did and performed a practice behind the museum, complete with bleachers, concessions, thousands of people, an MC etc. I'd heard we could watch a practice and he kids and I wandered over at the right time with zero expectations. They ran through Fat Albert, then we took our spots on the front row for the show. 

Isaac shouted, "whoa! Did you see that?!" the entire time. Or maybe that was me. We loved it. Eloise ate all the Smarties, crawled into my lap, and slept through all the jet noise. 

In Norfolk my Japanese friends told me they went to a flight show on one of the bases. I asked what they thought. "I feel proud when I hear the loud noise. I think it is strong," he said, his eyes sparkling. 

Honestly, he said it better in two sentences than i did in this long post. Navy helicopters, jets, the ship's blast---I feel proud when I hear the loud noise. I think it is strong. 

I guess that explains why my kids are so loud. Gotta make mom proud. 
Happy birthday, Navy, you complicated life partner and eternal mistress. 

Also happy 6th birthday, Constantine! 

12 October 2016

Let's Fly!

"I HAVE TO PEE!" Isaac announced during landing. I told him he'd have to hold it. "I don't think I can! I'm going to wet my pants!" So I tried to take him back to the lavatory and we got reprimanded and told to sit back down. 

There were some tense moments where I thought, "I'm ok either way---this is why I packed a change of clothes per kid in the diaper bag. So really it's the airline's problem if he wets his pants. But having to change might make us miss our connection." 

"PLEASE PUT YOUR SEATBELT ON." said a regular passenger at this moment, loudly, from several rows up and over, to me specifically, AS I WAS BUCKLING ALL OUR SEATBELTS. She was craned around backwards, looking at my seatbelt with the wide-eyed, focused stare of a fifth grade safety patrol officer. What was that about? 

On our next flight, we had no seat assignments at all, and then were not seated together. 

"Honestly, it doesn't really bother me, I just wanted to mention it in case other people might complain," I said reasonably. 

A kind flight steward asked a couple if the kids and I could be seated together in their seats. "We're together!" the woman said quickly and firmly, sitting down and turning her back to us. Oooooookaaaaaaay. The couple immediately put on headphones and didn't talk throughout the flight. 

The guy who ended up next to us got to hear all about Isaac's monster truck video game, and the rating system, and losing tires when you crash off the jumps. Poor man. 

Here I should note that Chris was on his own flight, reading and getting lunch peacefully with zero screaming or pee-threatening. And Eloise did need her spare pants, as an aside. And since the rental car was on Chris' orders and we got in first, I got hip and took an uber to the hotel. Without the stroller, which unfortunately got left in California. 

But we made it. I even got a very excellent compliment. A man tapped me on the arm to tell me his kids were all grown and I should teach parenting lessons, because clearly I'm a great mom and not smacking my kids around like he often sees (!!!). I offered to let him reserve praise until the end of the flight in case he changed his mind, but he just laughed. He was even on both flights with us. That was a bright spot in our day. 

And it feels weird to say, but it's good to be back in Florida. One way or another, it seems like all roads lead to Pensacola. 

Onesies, Twosies, Weezie Woosies

Eloise was acting TWO the whole week before she turned two. Screaming, hitting, running away. One morning, while I chased The Woo outside after she bolted during breakfast, a Greek woman stopped me with a huge, adoring smile for Eloise: "She will be the blessing of your life! In her, you have a friend forever." Now I remind Eloise of this every so often. 

And she really is. One day I was feeling sad. Eloise immediately noticed. "Aw!" She cooed, climbing into my lap for a sweet, snuggly hug. She wouldn't let go. She asks me to hold her ("got me? Got me?") then does this funny sniffling thing to tell me she wants me to tickle her. She has the sweetest curls and prettiest green eyes in the history of the world. She follows Isaac relentlessly. He adores her. One day we dropped Chris off and as we pulled away she was very distressed, thinking we'd left Chris behind: "no! No Daddy! Nooooo!" She completely completes our family.  
She especially loves to snuggle at the beach. She likes to hold hands. She pats people on the head if they seem down. She likes to play with squinkies, cars, crayons. She is left handed. She likes apples, oranges, apple sauce, milk, butter, and sometimes toast and chicken nuggets. 

Last year, Isaac told me after Chris deployed that he wanted a birthday party this year. I asked what that looked like, and he said carving pumpkins and bobbing for apples. So the night before we left for Florida, we celebrated our kids' birthdays again with just that. Eloise and I went to Trader Joe's for caramel corn and pumpkin pie, and between packing and grilling, Chris carved a glowing jack o'lantern. 

It looks like birthday season is over and fall is upon us. But that won't keep us out of the water! Our last day in CA was spent with my parents on the beach (ok, and breaking down in the truck on the side of the road, and being double super grouchy. Sorry about that). See you later, California! Bring on the white sands of Florida! 

09 October 2016

Eloise at the Navy Lodge Hotel

I am Eloise. 
I am two. 
I live at the Navy Lodge on the tippy-top floor. 

I am a military child. There's my Daddy the Navy pilot, my Isaac who's five, and Mama, my mostly companion. And the seagulls, who always try to steal dinner on the beach and the terrace, so I have to shout shout shout to keep them out of our things, especially at the beach. 

Every morning I say, "Mama! Are you awaaaaaaaake?" And she says, "Good morning, Eloise! Did you have a good sleep?" And Isaac says, "Good morning, Eloise! Did you have a good sleep?" And I say nothing, because I'm two, and everyone's awake, and that's enough for me in this life for heaven's sake. 

Then I skidder and slomp down the hall for breakfast. Sometimes I shriek as if someone has stolen my milk bottle if I want to make a really loud and terrible racket. Then we stomp stomp stomp down the stairs and have toast with butter for breakfast in the lobby or maybe just butter, and I touch all the eggs and apples I can reach but don't eat them and I always put them back. Mama says, "Eloise, you can't can't can't touch the eggs!" And I say nothing, because I'm two for heaven's sake and I'm already halfway to the playground with Isaac. 

Sand buckets make a very good hat. 

One day Mama and Isaac and I got in the elevator and rode it all the way up to the tippy-top floor. Then Mama and Isaac got out, but I stayed in and those doors sklimp shut and down I go. The doors open and this floor looks as good as any. There's a surprised-looking couple staring at me as I skidder out of the elevator. Maybe they've heard of ME, ELOISE. Then I turn that corner and run down that hall, but before I get too far I hear the staircase door slam open and Mama's voice all frantic, talking to that couple, who never did get on that elevator I brought them. So without even asking whether I want to, Mama chases after me and scoops me up and takes me upstairs for a nap, like I don't have a million things in this hotel to keep track of. Oh I am so busy it absolutely makes me tired tired tired. 

Sometimes I have to pick up that phone and call room service. I want two birthday cupcakes, and charge it please. But I never get my chance, because Mama unplugged the room phone. 

There's always something needing my attention at the Navy Lodge. Maybe tomorrow I'll ride a luggage cart down the wheelchair ramp. 

04 October 2016


San Diego harbor is mesmerizing for all its activity. Boats! The trolley! A tugboat! Dole pineapple barge! Sailboats! Cruise liners! Commercial planes! Navy warships! Naval helicopters! The bridge! Jets! Bikers! Scuba divers! Waterfront restaurants! Boardwalks! Ferry landings! All the people! Doing all the things! It's like those Richard Scary Busytown books that are interesting and almost claustrophobic with activity, but with gorgeous water and a general peaceful quiet. And I know it's not technically an Island, but the sign says "Coronado Island" and people talk about living on Island Time, and everyone is so relaxed and happy (ESPECIALLY compared to Norfolk. There. I said it). I think the Island Time zone is the right time zone for me! 
Chris and I took the kids in the ferry to downtown San Diego for Restaurant Week at the Fish Market. 

Another day, kids and I went to the zoo and they were hot and whiny and grouchy. Then someone took the diaper and wipes that I used to reserve our lunch table. So maybe we're not yet relaxed and happy all the time, but whatever. 

One day I had some edits to do on an article that's coming out next month. The kids were begging to watch cartoons and we had nothing else to do, so they were happy and I was happy and I got to work out on the balcony overlooking the Pacific. That's when I had a flashback to when i was 19 and having my first parent-less adventure in Egypt. Walking along the Red Sea in Dahab, I realized that if I had a laptop and Internet access, I could potentially sit by the ocean and write for a magazine anywhere in the world. And maybe it's 14 years later and just a freelance assignment, but I was actually doing it, without even manufacturing it. 

Every move, there's always an element of "where's my place here? What the heck am I supposed to do here?" Several circumstances had exacerbated that feeling lately. So that realization was a nice reminder that, when I was second-guessing this whole year of transience, on some level it resonates with a long ago dream. Living the dream in Busytown, baby! 

Thrive at Five!

"This baby looks like me!" I thought five years ago when I held my little buddy for the first time. Now he looks a whole lot more like Dad. 

Isaac is the most happy-go-lucky kid I know. He loves being around other kids. He likes to look at books. He is so kind to his sister. He lives Star Wars. He is starting to get into Legos. Isaac has a surprisingly good memory, and he carries a tune well. 

He wants someone to snuggle him to sleep every night, which is not actual snuggling but more chilling on the bottom bunk while he wiggles and thrashes around on the top bunk. Most days Isaac does not nap. He LOVES the monster truck game on "his" iPhone. 

Isaac is probably the best gift recipient on the planet---each present gets a genuinely delighted reception, often complete with a celebratory dance. 

He can almost read, and almost swim. He is 100 percent loved!! 

We celebrated his fifth birthday with cupcakes and friends on the playground, and with pizza and a movie (Cars) later with Dad. Your favorite present was Seaworld last weekend and a Star Wars Legos X-Wing Fighter, which is about halfway done now. 

Isaac, you make our lives better every day. I love you so so so much. Let's go have some more adventures!

San Diego Seaworld!

"This is the most funnest birthday EVER!" Isaac cheered the entire way to the car after a whole day at Seaworld. 

Start to finish, it was a great day. Chris was being kind of militant about going, which annoyed me until I realized he was working out Dad Guilt for deploying this week last year. That made more sense. 
We got in FREE since military families get in free once per year. The kids touched sharks. The Skytower lifted us all up for gorgeous views of the park and Mission Bay. Eloise hated the sea star whirly ride. Everyone loved the killer whale show and kid section and aquariums. The kids were totally blown away by the underwater killer whale viewing tank. That was really neat. AND there were trick or treat stations set up all around the park for the kids to get big handfuls of legitimately tasty candy. We bought a family photo on the gondola ride, and at sunset, when we walked by the Hawaiian pearl diving booth, Chris and Isaac picked out oysters for Eloise and me, then had our pearls mounted into Hawaiian settings. 

My mom told me a long time ago about finding doubles, and her dad making them into a pair of earrings for her. When I told her we were at Seaworld she reminded me that's where they'd done that, when she was pregnant with my oldest brother, Luke. So when we walked by the same place a few hours later, we couldn't help but stop. 

For dinner we had beer and tacos in the castaway cafe nearby. Isaac was showing me the waterfall that had soaked him and Chris on a ride, and when I came back, the shrimp and fish were all gone from my taco. "You just ate my shrimp?!" I accused Chris in confusion, because he'd turned down the taco when I offered it previously. Chris started laughing. "I didn't eat it! It must have been that seagull!" Sure enough, both the seagull and another huge lurking bird were suspiciously gone...and I'd still been eating the beans and stuff out of the taco! Gross! Scavenger germs! 

By this point Isaac was cold and it was almost bedtime. He started crying for no reason, even with a Shamu cookie ("I'm at Seaworld, in Castaway Cafe with my family, eating a cookie! Nothing could be worse!") Clearly, it was time to go. But on our way out we passed the killer whale lights and music show. Soon Isaac and Eloise were jumping and dancing, arms raised to the night, completely enthralled. 

It had been a pretty trying week of hotel living---a massive room change, very hot weather, no AC, lots of room maintenance and conflicting info from the annoyed hotel staff, grouchy kids, extremely late study nights for Chris. And while we had great opportunities to see Chris' family, unfortunately that came with over two hours of driving several nights in a row. 

But all that was soothed by the absolute enchantment our kids experienced celebrating their birthdays at Seaworld! 

30 September 2016

Lynne Hinton's "Sister Eve and the Blue Nun"

Who doesn't like a little noir? This most recent of my FREE review books, "Sister Eve and the Blue Nun" by Lynne Hinton, is a murder mystery with a sense of urgency but no fear. 

Sister Evangeline runs into a distraught monk right after his sister is murdered at the monastery. Between her inside knowledge of both the monastery grounds and the investigating force---her dad is buddies with the detective on the case---Eve has to find the killer before it's too late to save her friend. 

This book was a fun read. It's set in New Mexico and pulls in pueblo geography, history and culture. I also learned more about monastic life and Southwest Catholic heritage and the Blue Nun. 

But I really like the refreshing Sister Eve. I like her reflections on why she doesn't wear makeup, why she loves being a nun, and how she serves God by showing others selfless hospitality, all while acknowledging her human propensities for fudging the truth when it's a matter of life and death. She's realistic and humble with ZERO EYE-ROLLING. I hate characters that invoke eye rolling. They are the worst. Sister Eve is not one of them. I'd like to know more about her and her adventures. 

Slightly on the mystical side of things, I still give this four out of five stars! I would put this on the shelf between Floridian Edna Buchanan's hilarious nonfiction crime reporting, and the Australian Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. 

26 September 2016

Dia de los Muertos

I didn't bring home any colorful skull souvenirs because I'm pretty sure my kids would be creeped out by them. I love the fun colors though. 

"Are we finished?" I asked the border patrol officers after a line-free, lightning fast border crossing. 
"I don't know, we just met!" The three guards laughed uproariously, and I was home free. 

This concludes my Tijuana posts! 

I am so glad I went, very glad I didn't try to do it solo with the kids, and I don't feel a particular need to go back at this time! 

Flirting with Montezuma

My hard hat clunked against the bus window as I watched Chris, his eyes closed, lounging under a tree, drinking Mango Boing. My coveralls and borrowed work boots were way too big, and wondered if Chris' food poisoning was a fair trade for not having to visit another industrial factory in beautiful central Mexico. This was 2005. 

Chris has gotten severe food poisoning in Mexico and Thailand. 
I've gotten severe food poisoning in Egypt and Cambodia. That stuff is no joke. 

So I knew I was tempting fate yesterday by eating all the food. I had pan dulce, Mexican horchata, a tiny gorditas de nata, a carnita with salsa and guacamole, guava juice, and a coffee (the regional favorite is a slow boiled roast with cinnamon). 

Chris and I LOVED Valencian horchata in April in Spain. Spanish style is tiger nuts blended into a frappe-like consistency with sugar and cinnamon. The Mexican style is a rice base with the same additions. So it was fun to sip that over ice while wandering around the noisy, blazing, busy hilltop market. 

And, safely from the next day, it seems like things are fine on the Montezuma end of things! 

Market Saturation

For my birthday, Chris said he wanted me to take a day off. 

"I think I'm gonna go to Mexico," I said after thinking about it for a few days. 
Chris paused. "...you're coming back, right?" 
I went on a Turista Libre tour of Tijuana's artisan and farmers' markets. Lots of colors, lots of smells. By the end of the day, I had reached even my own market saturation point. The perfect day off! 

25 September 2016


I bought this new Michael Kors perfume called Wonderlust. I guess wonderlust is the new wanderlust, but more seeking out the adventure and romance of the journey itself, rather than the destination. Which pretty much defines this year. And, now, the way I smell. La ti da. Today we switched hotel rooms again, making 22 sleeping arrangements in the past seven weeks. Tomorrow I'm wandering over to Mexico to wonder what I'm doing there.