30 April 2016

Color Study of Seascapes

I think Seascapes by 19th Century painter William Trost Richards is the first exhibit to come and go since I've worked at the museum. 

Amid the garish colors and questionable endurance of some other pieces in the modern and contemporary gallery, the crashing seas and shimmering blue greens seem a calm harbor. 

Today's its last day. And today especially I wonder...how long will I be here before our family again follows the sea?

28 April 2016

Color Study at the Zoo

Today was cool, cloudy, and unbelievably vividly green. Norfolk's famous crepe myrtles are all leafy again. It looks like someone poked the air with a pin a glowing green primordial ooze is seeping out into the world. 

Between cloudbursts we popped over to the zoo to eat our pb&j lunch. A peacock thought Eloise was pretty cute and ran at her, tail feathers unfurled, cawing. She did not like that one bit. I had to chase him off. 

We also saw the boa constrictor eating a rabbit. "Oh no!" said Eloise. This week she's also started saying "wanna get down," "applesauce," and "elephant." And giving kisses. SO CUTE. 

We finally saw the new CHEETAHS. Then we ran home because it was raining. 

Color Study at the Zoo: 

23 April 2016

Norfolk NATO Festival

I used to always go do everything. Then one day I realized, "wrastling both grouchy kids alone in public is LESS fun in a crowd. The only thing I'm missing out on is a pleasant morning playing in the backyard." 

So I almost didn't drag the kids to the NATO Festival Saturday. It seemed like a pain to find garage parking. 

But it was supposed to rain all afternoon, so we finally rolled out of the driveway. Then rolled back in and got the letter to mail and some sweaters. Then rolled out for real. I didn't really know where I was going. We turned this way and that. Then we inadvertently ran into the parade route and found easy parking. The kids loved the parade, pointing and clapping at the floats and international dresses. 

We followed the crowds to the festival afterwards. It was very crowded. Thousands of adults were elbowing and pushing to get to the front of the booth to snatch the proffered trinkets and snacks from each nation. Other than that, the only thing to do was eat crappy festival food or day drink. Day drinking makes me grouchy. 

I was about to regret coming, when Isaac stopped whining and disappeared into the thicket in front of Belgium, reappearing with a huge grin and two Belgian waffles, one for him and Eloise. 

Now he was on the scent! Eloise and I hung back while Isaac scored a tiny Eiffel Tower, all sorts of candy (always with one for his sis), and lots of flags. Germany was giving away alcohol-free roddlers (half beer, half lemonade). That's exactly what I wanted! 

I enjoyed one of those while we watched traditional Estonian dancers and listened to the Norfolk opera performers (separately), then sipped some British tea and got a Turkish balloon. 

It was totally worth going! 

Highlights include: walking by a historical timeline for Norfolk which showed a Renoir painting. "Hey Mom! That's like where you work!" Isaac correctly identified it as hanging in the Chrysler from the one time he's seen it there. 

And during the parade, Isaac pointed to the Spanish flag and said, "that's like the ball daddy sent me from Spain!" 

Back home, Eloise grabbed one of her favorite books and climbed into Isaac's lap. He talked to her about the pictures. 

For her counting books, she points and imitates counting with baby murmurs. But her cutest new thing is saying "I do!" when I ask who wants to do something. That will join her "cheese!" (anytime she sees a phone or camera) as a crowd pleaser, I think. 

Anyway, now both kids keep grabbing the flags and parading around the house. Sometimes I join in. I love a good parade. 

17 April 2016

Meet Me By the Sea

You know what six months of crappy deployment result in? The best anniversary ever! This port call celebrated our 10th anniversary AND the near-end of deployment. 

We rode bikes to the Mediterranean. We had sangria and wrote postcards at Panorama restaurant, right on the water. We climbed Valencia's Micolet bell tower, and we saw the Holy Grail. 

This is the first time we've visited Europe since we lived in Japan. It was amazing how---while feeling foreign and exotic---it felt so easy. For one thing, we had each other! And no sweet troublemakers to keep track of. We could read the menus and understand key words and phrases. After logging our hours in metros across Asia, simple things like getting on the correct train were no-brainers. 

It was the most relaxing vacation I can remember. Thanks for watching the kids, mom and dad! I'll be home soon! 

14 April 2016

Valencia's Silk Exchange

The Silk Exchange was built in the 15th Century to glorify honest trade in a time Valencia's wealth was booming as part of Mediterranean trade routes. The carved gilt ceiling in the Colsulate of the Sea room dates to the original 1400s construction. Amazing! 

"Is this floor supposed to be important?" I asked Chris. 
"Well yeah---without it you'd just fall through to the ground, so I'd say it's very important." 

So there you have it. 

13 April 2016

He Found Me in Valencia!

"This was a bad plan!" I chided myself, walking for miles in my chic "haven't seen you in 6 months" outfit. "I'll find you at the port," I said. "I'll just follow the stream of Americans," I said. "As a backup, meet me at the port authority building steps," I said. 

I saw no Americans. I walked miles around the massive port and found no Americans, and no port authority building with steps. 

"Que disastre!" I used my high school Spanish in my head. 

Rafael asked me to take a picture of him and his bike by the Mediterranean. He asked if I was Valencian. After establishing I spoke no English he asked if I wanted to get a drink. Que lastima, no tengo tiempo. Eye roll. 

I could see chris' ship. I walked to the end of the port pier. Only to find the ship was juuuuuuust on the other side of the opening of the port. I don't know any swear words in Spanish. 

I started to feel very desperate. The first plan (I'll find you! It's easy to find thousands of Americans!) was a bust. The second plan (port authority steps) was a bust. I decided to try to keep walking toward Chris's ship. Several miles later I was regretting my lack of a back up back up plan. I knew we'd find each other eventually, but it all seemed uncertain and hopeless right now. 

"Well Lord, this seems pretty hopeless," I prayed. "It would take a miracle to run into each other in this city." 


Chris was across the street, walking in the opposite direction. Someone told him there were multiple port authority buildings, so that verifies that my plan was bad. He was walking from the one he had been at (which I didn't know about) to the one I was at (which didn't have any steps). 

HE FOUND ME ANYWAY. IT WAS A MIRACLE. And considering the fact that I didn't know when he would get off the boat exactly and he didn't know when I would get there exactly, we really hadn't even wasted much time wandering around---I'd been there a couple hours; he'd been off the boat about one hour. 

We had lunch at the marina beach club overlooking golden sand, the Spanish mountains, and the blue-green Mediterranean. A fine start to our 10th anniversary celebration. Finding each other was such a miracle...a decade ago AND today! 

11 April 2016

Houston Chronicle

Kearsarge ARG Departs US 5th Fleet

Kearsarge ARG Departs US 5th Fleet

Story Number: NNS160405-26Release Date: 4/5/2016 3:24:00 PM
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By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Tyler Preston, USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) Public Affairs

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (NNS) -- The Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group departed the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operation, April 5, after successfully completing theater security cooperation and maritime security operations in the region. 

While in the U.S. 5th Fleet, the Kearsarge ARG provided a forward naval presence supporting Operation Inherent Resolve and theater security cooperation efforts. 

Additionally, they participated in bilateral amphibious and ground exercises designed to enhance operational readiness and improve relations between U.S. and regional forces. 

The Kearsarge ARG is comprised of Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 4, amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD 24), amphibious dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, as well as supporting elements from Assault Craft Unit 4, Beach Master Unit 2, Fleet Surgical Team 4, Helicopter Sea Squadron (HSC) 28 and Tactical Air Squadron 21. 

The ARG's aviation team joined the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Nov. 19, when AV-8B Harrier aircraft from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 162 (Reinforced) launched airstrikes from Kearsarge to conduct their first missions over Iraq and Syria in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. They concluded their OIR mission on March 10 with a total of 130 sorties and 60 strikes. 

"During our support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the Navy and Marine Corps team worked together to conduct targeted airstrike operations in Syria and Libya as part of the comprehensive strategy to intensify and accelerate the defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)," said PHIBRON 4 Commander, Capt. Augustus P. Bennett.

During the deployment, Kearsarge held a change-of-command ceremony aboard the ship while moored at Naval Support Activity Bahrain, Nov. 25, when Capt. Larry G. Getz relieved Capt. David L. Bossert as commanding officer.

Kearsarge also found out the crew had earned the Battle Efficiency award for 2015.

"I am extremely proud of the Kearsarge Sailors and Marines who have put so much hard work and effort into our ship and its mission during this deployment," said Kearsarge commanding officer, Capt. Larry G. Getz. "It is because of them that we have been able to overcome the many hurdles and challenges to accomplish great successes over these past six months."

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter visited with Sailors and Marines aboard Kearsarge during the holiday season, Dec. 19, and spoke on the vital role the ship has during deployment. Carter also shared his holiday message and appreciation to the Kearsarge ARG Sailors and Marines, presented medals during an awards ceremony and had lunch with the crew.

The ARG also took part in many other events, including Amphibious Landing Exercise 2016 (PHIBLEX-16) where they exercised their amphibious assault capabilities and enhanced interoperability with the Kuwait Armed Forces. 

During PHIBLEX-16, nearly 1,000 embarked Marines from the Echo, Fox and Gulf companies of the 26th MEU aboard Kearsarge, Arlington and Oak Hill went ashore where they conducted simulated medical evacuations and embassy reinforcement drills. The Marines also trained in basic warrior skills, such as combat lifesaving, small unit leadership courses and marksmanship.

Arlington's commanding officer, Capt. Sean R. Bailey, said he was proud of the leading role his ship played in the exercise.

"Our success in flawlessly conducting both a full offload and backload of all Marines, cargo and equipment speaks volumes for the quality of our training and the professionalism of our Sailors and Marines," said Bailey.

In addition to OIR and PHIBLEX-16, Arlington hosted receptions in both the ports of Aqaba, Jordan, and Shuaiba, Kuwait. In attendance at the Jordanian reception were: U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Alice G. Wells; Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Vice Adm. Kevin M. Donegan; and Commander, Royal Jordanian Navy Brig. Gen. Qasem Fadeel Nahar Tanashat. 

Arlington's Kuwait reception celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Liberation of Kuwait. Distinguished visitors for the occasion included the U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait Douglas Silliman; Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Vice Adm. Kevin M. Donegan; Commander of Naval Forces Kuwait, Maj. Gen. Khaled Al-Kandari; and Commander of Task Force 51, U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Carl E. Mundy.

Oak Hill also participated in PHIBLEX-16, with Sailors and Marines offloading more than one million pounds of Marine amphibious assault vehicles and equipment during ship-to-shore operations.

"I am extremely proud of the hard work performed by Oak Hill's Sailors and Marines during the 'Nation's Protector's' time in U.S. 5th Fleet waters," said Cmdr. Orlando Bowman, commanding officer of Oak Hill, referring to his ship by its nickname. "The crew not only met the standard, they exceeded it and met every challenging situation we encountered head on."

The Kearsarge ARG now enters U.S. 6th Fleet waters to continue supporting theater security operations before completing its deployment. 

The Kearsarge ARG is relieved by the Boxer ARG, composed of PHIBRON 1 and the 13th MEU. The ARG departed San Diego Feb. 12. PHIBRON 1 is composed of amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4), amphibious transport dock USS New Orleans (LPD 18) and amphibious dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49). 

For more news from Expeditionary Strike Group 2, visit http://www.navvy.mil/local/esg2/ 

For more news from USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), visit http://www.navy.mil/local/lhd3/.

High Times in the Tidewater

Spring cleaning for photos! 
Norfolk Botanical Gardens 
Pagoda Restaurant is closed for renovations. 
We walk around the block and my kids pick wildflowers for me and each other. 
Easter was cold, but He is Risen! 
Chris' ship left the fifth fleet! That means they're heading west in the Mediterranean. We can't wait to see you! 

04 April 2016

Chesapeake Bay

Here are some things I love about Norfolk: 
---Celebrating Megan's birthday at the Oceanview Pier with $1 beers 
---The city symbol is a mermaid 
---The historical significance of this bay, and the ships that once sailed where the barges and Coast Guard ships sailed tonight 
---From my house I can hear the neighbor's wind chimes, church bells every three hours during the day, trains constantly, ships blowing their fog horns at night, P-3s flying overhead, kids playing 
---the museums, the breweries, the interesting shops 
---cherry blossoms in the rain and a sunset at the beach two days apart 
---how often you see familiar faces around town 
---Isaac has this goofy history comic book Chris bought him in Williamsburg about Chester the Crab. He loves it...and we've learned a ton about the Chesapeake region, geographically and historically. Ha ha! 
---frequently crossing paths with the trains, Port of Norfolk, and barges shipping stuff across the world 
---changing seasons, except as they pertain to allergies and extra yard work for me...
---living here with my kids, waiting for our sailor to come home! 

03 April 2016

Cherry Blossom Fever

I had this New Year's resolution to take fewer photos this year. I am officially abandoning this goal. 

We got in the car, all ready to go, car running and everything, when: CANCELED---the Cherry Blossom festival at Red Wing Park was officially canceled because of the rain. 

We went anyway. The Japanese garden and yoshino cherry tree promenade were perfect. We had a lovely day! Then we went home and watched Lady and the Tramp. 
Last year we seemed to miss the peak blooms in Norfolk because we were in DC and vice versa. This year we caught them both. It is hard to explain why this feels so important. 

The symbolism of cherry blossoms---the impermanence and mortality of life, appreciating temporary blessings during their brief lifespan, etc---really resonates with me during this phase of life. The fleeting sweetness of the kids being so little, Chris being gone, the short time we have in any duty station...I want to be thankful for the time we have. It's so easy to wish it away for the next season. And by next week, the petals will be gone and the branches will support fresh green leaves. If I am busy wishing for leaves, I miss the blossoms.  
This post is disjointed. Blame it on cherry blossom fever. 
Isaac is so silly. He thought his muddy hand was hilarious. Both kids got a bath before bed of course. 
I don't mean to sound snobby, but cherry trees surpass Bradford pears in every way: bark-petal contrast, blossom color and shape, overall tree shape and fullness...I say no contest. 

28 March 2016

Cherry Blossoms 2016!

I can't believe we did it! This is the first time I've done a weekend trip with the kids by myself. And it was so fun! Walking across the National Mall we stopped for one of Isaac's favorite parts of the trip: watching a DIGGER! But this wasn't just any digger. It was a digger digging up National Mall dirt in front of the Capitol. That makes it better (for me).
The storm clouds were amazing. The blossoms were amazing. It was amazing. Can you tell I was delighted?

"I want to go back to Rory's house!" Isaac said again and again. I could have spent hours...or forever...under the cherry blossoms. But that will have to wait for another day. I didn't want to ruin the day by super-over-taxing my kiddos. We drove out past the tidal basin, glowing in the late afternoon sun, now much, MUCH more crowded. Staying any longer with the stroller and grouchy kids probably would have tipped us into the regret category. We left at just the right time. We had a great, relaxed evening with our friends, then left after some playground time in the morning.

Such a wonderful trip! Thanks for having us! It's successes like these that fool me into thinking I can do anything!

We Did It!

If you'd told me a year ago I'd be under the cherry blossoms in DC at the end of March, I wouldn't have believed you. We had the worst trip last year---Chris had a very limited window when he was home between workups, and the days we went were freezing cold. None of the tidal basin trees were blooming. Not one. We were stuck in traffic for six hours with a screaming five-month-old. Eloise got very, very sick on that trip.

But in a moment of insanity, I contacted my college friend Hannah, currently in DC, when my plans to visit Chris in the Middle East over Easter fell through. Could we come stay with her and hopefully see some cherry blossoms this year?

We ended up being there on the peak bloom day!! Everything said not to drive. Everything said not to take a stroller on the metro. I reserved parking through Parking Panda and had hardly any traffic at all. Isaac walked over six miles. The blossoms were amazing.
I felt so happy the whole time. "I am so happy! Isn't this amazing? I'm so glad we did this. Isn't this so fun?" I said to the kids.
"I didn't have a lot of fun," said Isaac. "I only had a little fun, a-cuz I was tired from so much walking. So I only had a little bit of fun."

Oops. We got there early-ish and admired the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial ringed with blossoms. We put out our blanket and ate some special cherry blossom treats we brought. We were well-supplied with food. We would walk a little, sit and eat a little. Walk a little, rest a little. We cozied up on the blanket under an umbrella for a little cloud burst. The kids were so great.

Eloise napped in the stroller. Isaac was a champ about walking. That's really what made it possible---Isaac walked an amazing amount for a four-year-old. I was so proud of him, even if he didn't have a lot of fun because of it!
At Isaac's request, we saw dinosaur bones at the Smithsonian. I bought the kids some T-Rex snappers, which proceeded to make their way into the rest of our photos. Isaac's ate all the cherry blossoms it could reach. That was really a fun purchase. We'd brought a soccer call and kicked it around the National Mall and played with some other kids. We ate Cherry Blossom Festival chocolate.

IT WAS AMAZING. It was as wonderful as last year was awful. We wish you could have been here, Chris! Oh wait...ta-da! It's like you were there!

Further High Times

We continue the photo spring cleaning with this evidence of me doing a glass blowing class at the Chrysler Museum of Art's Glass Studio. Just in case you didn't know all perks of working at the Chrysler. 
The kids and I also had friends from Isaac's preschool class over to celebrate Palm Sunday. 


LanternAsia at te Norfolk Botanical Gardens was really enchanting. It was one of those evenings that I think Isaac might remember after I expect him to forget. We had gorgeous, warm weather, a slight breeze, exotic music floating between the suspended lanterns. It was nights like these that first made me want to travel the world. 
"The WHOLE WORLD is celebrating Sylvia's birthday!" Isaac exclaimed as we drove in under the first lanterns. 
The kids darted in and around the lanterns, chasing each other and cooing over the colors. Eloise's squeaking sandals gathered a following---literally, a group of grandmothers and teen girls followed her and showered her with compliments. 
An airplane took off from the nearby airport as we walked by an imposing, sinuous dragon. 
"It's ROARING!" Isaac shrieked. 
"I think that's an airplane buddy," I said. 
"No, it's a dragon." 
"Oh. Ok." 

As we drove home, well after bedtime, I asked what his favorite part was. 
"The dragon!!"