MilSpouse Musings

Welcome back, dear Reader. The Air Force recently celebrated it’s 70th Anniversary and I’ve been thinking a lot about my MilSpouse status lately (that’s military spouse for all you normies out there). It’s far more likely though that my recent reflections are due to our impending PCS orders. PCS stands for Permanent Change of Station. Meaning? We’re waiting to hear about Billy’s next position – and our new location! – for the next 2-3 years.

A few months ago we filled out our wishlist of locales but, as regular readers know, the impact of these lists is questionable. Middle Georgia was never on our list and alas, here we are, “enjoying” 90-degree days in late September.

This time is both nerve-wracking and exhilarating. Imagine, dear Reader, waiting for a phone call to tell you whether to pack up and move your entire family to Japan in 6 months. Or maybe North Dakota. Or Hawaii. Or, actually, maybe you’ll be told to ride it out in Middle Georgia a few more years. It’s a real roll of the dice but, as with any gamble, I try to remind myself that if you can lose, you can also win.

May the odds be ever in your favor…..

Anyway, we don’t know where we’re headed yet, but it got me thinking about my experience as a MilSpouse these past two years. Let’s flashback to spring of 2016. We’re living in Italy and have just found out about Billy’s command opportunity (yay!). In Georgia (not-so-yay). In three months (WTF?).

A Revelation in Rewind
While leaving spin class on base, my friend Julia comments on my recent blog post about being a military spouse. This post was – and still is – my most popular by far. For someone who had been a military spouse for a hot second, I still managed to strike a chord.

“Maybe you could write a book about it one day,” Julia suggests. “There are tons of books out there and…”

But my mind is already elsewhere, her words hitting me like a smack in the face. Oh my god. BOOKS! My oldest friends. Why hadn’t I thought to consult books?! Here I am, fumbling through this transition to military life when surely some knowledgeable spouse had already outlined the tricks of the trade! To be honest, dear Reader, it never occurred to me anyone would write about spouses. Not unlike furniture, we get shipped from base to base, lending a sense of consistency and comfort to the ever-important Active Duty Member. What’s there to say?

I had to find out. To the digital library!

Julia was right, there are a ton of books out there for and about military spouses. Let’s see, there’s An Idiot’s Guide..., confessional memoirs, Biblical Strategies to Help the Military Spouse Thrive, and even Chicken Soup for my MilSpouse soul. Some offered practical advice on how to read a Leave and Earning Statement (LES) while others had pink covers and barftastic titles like Married to the Military. Still more promised to school me on manners and protocol. I chuckle to myself. No thanks.

But maybe this one…

Following the Flag: Marriage and the Modern Military
Based on personal interviews with military spouses, as well as current articles and statistics and studies from the Department of Defense and Rand National Defense Research Institute. 

Still sweaty from spin class, I hit download and make myself comfortable on the couch for an afternoon of reading.

The parco below is quiet. It must be late afternoon now and I’m still exploring the history of military spouses. The book explores themes like prolonged periods of separation, single parenting, and the chronic under- or unemployment of spouses. It also attempts to explain several outdated social norms that dictate some of today’s lingering expectations. (Ahem, white glove tea parties and bunco nights!). I love seeing the evolving – and expanding! – role of women in the home, the workplace, the military.

Things are going well until I come across this gem:

…the Commanding Officer’s Wife or COW…

I look up from the page with a grimace. Oh no they didn’t.

*Note: This has since been changed to Commanding Officer’s Spouse (COS) since not all Commanders are men (or straight) these days. Booyah!

An Education – Spouse School
Before we even land in Georgia, Billy and I have a week-long stopover at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. It’s now summer of 2016 and Billy needs to attend Squadron Leader Orientation before assuming command in Georgia. I’m taking the corresponding Spouse Course.

“Like Spouse School?” my girlfriend from Boston scoffs into the phone. “What, are they going to teach you how to fetch him a drink? To talk to him in soothing tones when he comes home?”

We both laugh but I suspect that is, in part, the gist of the training.

Certainly, the last thing I want to do in the midst of an international move (the second in 12 months mind you) is sit around with a bunch of COWs all week. According to the agenda, our days begin at oh-six-hundred-fifty-five each morning. All I can think is: oh-you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me. But here we are, bright and early, all 18 of us not including Mentor Spouses. (Yeah, it’a real thing. Just let it go).

Our training begins with a video. It shows emotional couples reuniting in front of airplanes, handsome young men in uniform (with women and minorities sprinkled in for good measure), “community” themed montages, and lots of American flags billowing in the background. The voice-over claims the men and women of our armed forces feel more intensely, love more deeply, and overcome insurmountable odds. The music swells.

“Propaganda,” the woman next to me whispers.

I nod. We both have tears in our eyes anyway. (What? It was well executed propaganda).

In general, I found the training to be well-organized, informative, and, in my humble opinion, equal parts stuff and fluff.

Perhaps most importantly, it gave me a firmer grasp of what this position means for my husband – and it is kind of a big deal, guys. We also learned how to harness various resources – childcare, mental health, medical, social – and how to connect others with those important resources. Plus, I did meet some cool ladies.

Other parts of the training didn’t go over so well…. Being forced to color a mandala in a stress-busting session had the opposite effect – I felt infantilized and sulky. A short segment about protocol left a bad taste in my mouth. I know which fork to use at a formal dinner, thankyouverymuch.

Yet, through it all, I was plagued by one nagging question: why am I here?

After all, I don’t work for the Air Force. I’m not on its payroll. There’s no superior I can call to say, “Dude. This Georgia thing… just no.”

The gentleman who organized our training shared that sometimes they begin these sessions by asking the spouses to arrange themselves according to rank. And so the spouses do… (“Okay, if your husband is a Lieutenant Colonel and mine is a… well then I should stand here….”)

“The big joke being,” the gentleman reveals, “you have no rank! Ha ha! Only your spouse has rank!”

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My worst fears have been confirmed; military spouses are a joke.

However, there’s an important point being made here: Don’t go bossing people around. You ain’t shit. Indeed, we were repeatedly told that nothing we did would influence our Active Duty Member’s career.

Which brings us back to the haunting question: why am I here? As a Commanding Officer’s Spouse, I have no official authority. No power of the pin, as they say. And yet…. I’m being asked to play den mother to an entire squadron of my husband’s employees. Hosting parties, offering counsel. Taking care not to wear pajamas to the commissary in order to maintain a refined – though approachable! – persona.

It’s confusing, no? I didn’t grow up in a military family or even live in proximity to a military community. Back in the corporate world, I’d never heard of any similar CEO Spouse School. So what is this?

Suspicious by nature, I begin to wonder…. is the Air Force attempting to placate us with “opportunities” so we feel less like furniture and more like influencers? Am I being gratified because the Air Force knows it’s the spouses who keep our Active Duty Members afloat (and in clean uniforms)? Are they looking for free labor?

More importantly, does this mean I’m not allowed to write blogs about my Air Force experience anymore? You know, now that I’m a COW? It gave me much to think about, dear Reader.

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Yay Air Force! (A gift from Billy. Obvi).

Current Feels
So, The Great MilSpouse Experiment continues! Mine is an uneasy alliance with the Air Force, recognizing its ability to both giveth and taketh away. Threats of deployments and crap locations loom large. Until Billy retires, I’ll probably wear my Air Force swag with some ambivalence. You likely won’t see me on the cover of Military Spouse Magazine anytime soon but, ultimately, I believe I’ll look back on these years as a period of adventure.

As a outsider to the services, I admit to being impressed by the USAF during my short stint “in the fold.” (USAF: United States Air Force. You at least guessed that one, right?). The Air Force takes tremendous pride in what it does, but it also remains thoughtful about its failings and eagerly offers a new course of action when necessary. I’ve also seen it strive (however imperfectly) to care for its people. Although, if you’ve ever been to a food court on base you might disagree. Someone please write the D.O.D and tell them their military families deserve a Starbucks and a Sweetgreen!

Apparently there is, in fact, much to say about this MilSpouse experience. I look forward to writing more about it and, hopefully, hearing more from other spouses. Oh, and fear not…

This message has been approved by The Commander.

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To The Ends Of The Earth

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You see the appeal, right?

There’s been a slight change in plans, dear Reader. Our original plan to return to Reykjavík and enjoy some additional time in the city has been scrapped. Before bed each night I’ve been mooning over our map of Iceland, contemplating the far away places. The places just beyond our highlighted route.

Specifically, I’m eyeing Jökulsárlón, a glacier lagoon located another two hours (and back) further east along the coast. I casually toss out the idea one night to Billy and, of course, he’s on board despite the additional mileage. But then, my husband is always on board. And sometimes I wonder, dear Reader, is that what I wanted in a man all along? No, not someone to humor me and cater to my latest whim – although that’s nice too! But rather, isn’t that the hallmark of a good partner: the willingness to encourage you to do the things you love? To do them with you? Also, Billy is randomly really into glaciers. So there’s that.

Kids These Days… 
With the car packed and Billy behind the wheel, I make a few phone calls and rearrange our hotels so we can spend a night in the southern town of Vík. Our drive will be long and, according to the map, offer little in the way of civilization aside from the occasional gas station. After an hour or so the lush, soaring cliffs fade to curious oceans of moss. From there the terrain becomes more stark, with grey mountains to our left and long, wide stretches of black beach to our right.

Radiohead’s The Bends plays in the background, lending an eclectic and haunting ambiance to our already otherworldly excursion. I’m shocked when we see two female hitchhikers with large trekking packs along this stretch of deserted road. Hitchhikers are not uncommon along the Ring Road… but this far out? Where did they come from? Where are they going? They are on the opposite side of the road (presumably heading in the opposite direction) and yet they shake their fists angrily at us as we pass.

“Pff! There’s something distasteful about hitchhikers.” I rant. “Oh sure, they’re supposed to be all freewheeling and adventurous… but honestly, expecting others to cart you around? It’s so presumptuous!”

“You really are such an old lady sometimes,” Billy laughs.

And it’s true, dear Reader, I am. But there’s something about the practice that irks me, something that banks on the good nature of others to compensate for the hitchhiker’s own lack of preparedness. I’m not referring to emergencies, of course, but it seems a precarious position to assume willfully. Why put yourself at risk of assault, Iceland’s no-joke elements, or hours of potentially awkward chitchat with a driver of unknown conversational skill?

Or is it simply a fun way to meet locals and other travelers? What do you think? I’m always curious about other people’s experiences with hitchiking.

Speedboating With Jarl
We pull up to Jökulsárlón’s parking lot and, even from here, the unearthly blue of the floating glaciers is mesmerizing. This picturesque lagoon has served as the backdrop for several action films including Tomb Raider, Batman Begins, and Die Another Day.  For you Game of Thrones fans out there, most of Westeros is, in fact, Iceland.

Before long we are suited up and boarding our Zodiac boat while our guide Jarl (that ‘j’ is a ‘y’ sound), offers some general safety instructions.

“How long would you last in water like this?” I inquire.

“Four to five minutes,” replies Jarl. “And then you die.”

I nod appreciatively. The woman next to me glares at me, perhaps less appreciative of this icy immersion tidbit. Jarl goes on to explain the lagoon’s formation as the gradual retreat of the Vatnajökull Glacier, Iceland’s largest icecap (another nod to climate change for you kids keeping track at home). Large chunks of ice calve off the glacier and make their way to the sea via the lagoon. We hold on as Jarl speeds through the lagoon, zipping between the translucent icebergs, bringing us closer and closer to the formidable glacier wall.

I feel cool, you guys. Yeah. Cool. I got my ready-for-anything suit on and I’m speeding through a dramatic landscape on a Zodiac that still has that “new boat” smell.  I turn to Billy and nod my head as if to say, Dude, this is awesome. He nods back like, Yeah, we cool. 

Our boat pulls up to The Wall, or at least as close as we can safely get. Glaciers are unpredictable beauties. We learned about their abysmal crevasses during our snowmobiling excursion but, today, we are more concerned with part of the ice wall calving off. This would create a ripple effect that could topple our tiny vessel. We even maintain a distance from the floating icebergs knowing they flip and roll without warning. I admit, it’s tough to be too concerned about the danger with all of this natural beauty surrounding us. Seals frolic among the ice as we slow down to take photos and enjoy the view.

After our lagoon tour, we cross the street to Diamond Beach to get a closer look at the glacier ice flowing out to sea. The black sand is sprinkled with clear, bright chunks of ice – evidence of how the beach got its name.

Billy and I are so glad we made time for this last-minute exploration. I have no doubt this southeastern excursion topped anything we would have seen in Reykjavík! Content, we leisurely make our way back to Vík, stopping often to take photographs along the road.

Puppy Love & Personal Brands
After a delicious dinner and a good night’s sleep in the village of Vík, I awake refreshed and ready for our final day in Iceland. Like I’ve done every morning of our vacation, I reach for my phone and immediately open my Facebook app to the Endless Love Pet Palace page (Miss Mary’s current accommodations). Sometimes they post pictures of the pups at play. It’s pathetic, I know, but I miss her so much! I miss her little puppy smell and the low woofs she makes when she’s having a puppy dream.

No new photos today. Sigh.

After breakfast we enjoy a stroll along the beach. It’s sunny today (!) and I sip my tea on a small boulder while watching the ebb and flow of the ocean. Billy is somewhere around here amidst the maze of hulking, black boulders… I think maybe he’s decided to climb one. My quiet moment is interrupted by a couple approaching. The man is filming the woman as she walks along the shore. She talks to the camera (iPhone) for a few minutes and I realize she is starring in her own travel vlog.

“Do you have anything to say to your fans?” the man asks from behind the iPhone.

I chuckle to myself quietly. And it’s something I’ve been thinking about, dear Reader – this concept of being on trend, of developing my own “brand.” I should promote my blog more and beg people to share it. I should post videos because people love videos! (It seems I’m the only person on the planet who would rather read an article). Or what about the time my friends told me I had to get the blog on Insta – a social media platform designed for people who don’t read. That, by the way, resulted in a bunch of followers with names like 2Huge4U messaging me and encouraging me to post more “full body shots” – all while never clicking on my blog link! At the very least, I should be blogging in real time.

But then, dear Reader, I wouldn’t be here. Sitting quietly on this rock. Staring at the water. I’d be in our hotel room tapping away at my laptop. Or worse! Posting poorly written entries on the fly <<church faint>>.

“Hellooooo!” a voice calls from a distance. It’s Billy. He’s conquered a boulder after all. I wave back and smile. See? Would have been a shame to miss that.

Things That Can Kill You In Iceland
Our next stop is another black sand beach further up the road called Reynisfjara. Known for its unique basalt columns and for killing tourists, it is one of the country’s most popular beaches. As we make our way from the parking lot to the shore, there are several signs warning us of dangerous sneaker waves – waves that carry unsuspecting visitors out to sea. Iceland’s natural beauty is beyond words, but tourists do have a habit of gettin’ dead here. Allow me to share this handy guide called Things That Can Kill You In Iceland so you don’t perish while “on island” (as they say). Lucky for me, my husband was a swimmer. He gave me an unsolicited ten minute tutorial on the importance of swimming parallel to the shore should I get swept away.

Parallel! he emphasizes once more. Parallel. Got it.

With the safety lecture out of the way, Billy and I explore the cave and take some obligatory pics on the Gardar Cliff’s basalt columns. They remind me of a large assembly of organ pipes – I love organs!

And so our adventure is coming to a close…. Time to head back to the city and prepare for our early morning flight and our reunion with Miss Mary! Thanks for coming along, dear Reader, and for supporting my totally untrendy, woefully old school labor of love. Until next time!

That little face!

 

Snowmobiling A Glacier, Anyone?

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Take me to the glacier!

Buckle up, dear Reader, I’m rehashing four days of adventure along Iceland’s south coast in two whirlwind blogs. Nothing I write will do this region justice – there are visual delights as far as the eye can see – but hopefully this will be just enough to entice you to book a trip. Let’s get started…..

I Get “Meta”
Our first southern excursion is a snowmobile tour of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Our group suits up at Arcanum’s base camp, awkwardly fumbling with balaclavas and huge helmets. There’s something exciting about donning gear… I feel prepared for the adventure ahead! Excitedly, we pile into the van that will take us to our snowmobiles further up on the glacier.

Bear, our guide, is a tall blonde somewhere in his late 20s (but then, it seems nearly all of the Icelanders are tall, blonde, and young). He drives the van like he stole it, bounding over the rocky, unpaved road and jostling us around so much that my helmet occasionally knocks into Billy’s. A few moments later, we are mounted on our snowmobiles. Billy is driving and I’m seated directly behind him. We listen carefully to Bear’s instructions, paying particular attention to the whiteout safety procedure.

Whiteout? I nervously pat myself down, noting the empty pockets of my snowsuit. But I didn’t bring snacks! Not even a Lara Bar! Yes, this is was my concern, dear Reader. As if a gluten-free energy bar was going to save me from Snowmaggedon. My balaclava slips down over my left eye and I tuck it up into my helmet before we take off.

We speed over the glacier single file. It’s overcast today so what would be a stunning view of the landscape below is instead a haze of white… a haze of white and the black balaclava hanging over my left eye again. Ugh. Thank goodness I didn’t offer to drive! My repeated attempts to tuck it up under my helmet prove unsuccessful. My hand mobility is limited by my bulky glove and, naturally, the need to hold on! That’s the inevitability of gear though isn’t it, dear Reader? What’s designed to keep you safe ultimately limits you, restricting your freedom of movement. In that sense gear is a lot like our attachments, I muse, still fiddling beneath my eye visor with one hand as we whizz through the other-worldly terrain.

Yes… aren’t we often all too willing to sacrifice what is possible for what is comfortable? That would be a great theme for a yoga class. I consider how this concept might translate to asanas as I risk removing my glove to adjust my balaclava once and for all – this time with my bare hand. And then we hit a bump. A big bump. A bump that results in me both knocking a contact out of my eye and scratching my own forehead. Pretty sure I’m bleeding a little. Lovely.

Just to recap: I’m half blind, bleeding slightly, and without snacks. Gah!

Let Me Count The Ways….
Bear has everyone park their snowmobiles and gather at a particularly scenic point. He gets on his knees and begins moving the snow around until I realize he’s making a map… of the glacier itself it seems. Fun! Billy and I drop to our knees as well to huddle around the map and hear what Bear has to say.

“Does anyone know the name of the glacier we’re on?” Bear asks the group.

But the majority of our group is wandering, posing for photos, and probably altogether unaware of where they are. Rude! There are only a handful of us poised over the snow map.

“Mýrdalsjökull” I mutter, breaking the silence. I feel sorry for our tour guide.

“Yes! Very good. Good pronunciation too!” Bear exclaims, seemingly used to being ignored. “And does anyone know when the last notable volcanic eruption was?” he asks, testing our knowledge further still.

I pause, indulging in an old habit, not wanting to reveal that I might know more than the person next to me. The small group around the map is silent.

Billy smiles and declares with confidence, “She knows.”

I love him so much in this moment, dear Reader. And not because I need to answer Bear’s question. This seemingly insignificant gesture, this small nod to me – to what I know – makes Billy different from any of his predecessors. It proves my husband is proud of me and not intimidated by me. It reminds me why he’s a keeper, why I’m in Iceland celebrating a wedding anniversary with him and no one else.

I sit up a little taller. “There was an eruption in 2010 at… I’m going to butcher this… Eye-a-fyalla-yokull.”

I sound like I’m choking but Bear is excited: correct again! We’re all happy – Billy because he has a smart wife, me because I have a confident husband, and Bear… well, Bear is just happy to have people pay attention to him!

We Ask ALL The Questions
We continue to explore the glacier, stopping close to a section of crevasses (at least as close as one dares to get). I watch Billy peer far below him, admiring the crevasses and their dark, gaping holes that plunge 50 meters or more into the earth. He looks like an astronaut exploring another planet.

So, one key factoid I failed to mention is that the Mýrdalsjökull glacier – the one we’re currently standing on – is an icecap covering one of Iceland’s largest volcanoes, Katla. Katla has shown signs of unrest lately and I ask Bear what the evacuation plan entails. (I can be a real killjoy like that, dear Reader). Much to my surprise the plan is simple: they’ll close the roads to the areas where the damage is expected to be the worst and see what happens.

“That’s it?” I ask.

“That’s it,” Bear says. Huh.

Bear proves to be a good sport as Billy and I interrogate him about everything from Iceland’s high cost of living to the rising tide of tourism (I am especially interested in this topic after reading so many articles about tourists behaving badly). But to my surprise, Bear expresses appreciation for the work opportunities created by so many visitors.

After sipping some fresh-as-it-gets glacier water from the stream nearby, we begin to talk about climate change. Bear notes the many ways in which climate change is evident in his country and, perhaps sensing my shame, generously notes that he believes most Americans understand the reality of climate change too. Well, that makes one of us, I think. But then, I have far less faith in my fellow Americans these days.

And Waterfalls, Of Course
After pausing for lunch, Billy and I stop at the three – that’s right, three – headlining waterfalls along the southern stretch of Route 1. And they’re only about 25 minutes from each other! First up is Skógafoss, one of Iceland’s biggest falls. Tucked just off of the main road amidst idyllic green cliffs and turf houses, Skógafoss is a classically-shaped rectangular fall. Tour buses pause a few moments in the parking lot, just long enough for their passengers to take a photo from afar and scramble back onto the bus. Not nearly enough time to enjoy this charming spot!

From there we make our way to Seljalandsfoss, a rare beauty. The cliff face here juts out, making it possible to walk behind the waterfall’s cascade. It’s pretty magical. And wet. Definitely wet.

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Seljalandsfoss

Just a few minutes walk from Seljalandsfoss is Gljúfrabúi, a lesser-known but no less beautiful fall. Gljúfrabúi is often called the “hidden waterfall” because it is enclosed by the walls of the canyon into which it falls. Sneaking a peek at this fall requires getting your feet wet but it’s totally worth it.

Okay. One last installment coming to a newsfeed near you! Then I promise I’ll shut the heck up about Iceland already.

(But omg, you should totally go!)

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#OOTD (Errryday) in Iceland

Dear Reader, how many times have you thought to yourself: Gee, Malia is such a fashion visionary, I wish she would do a style issue!

Exactly zero times? That’s what I thought.

My love for beautiful clothes is no secret but neither is the fact that I have little patience for shopping. A far cry from a Maxxinista, I am all too happy to pay full price for something that is neatly sized, creatively displayed, and will get me outta that store pronto. Despite all of this, I spent a good chunk of time contemplating  my wardrobe for Iceland. Knowing the temps would range from 55-75 degrees throughout the day to totally-freaking-freezing on the glaciers, I was stumped.

Oh sure, the guidebooks suggest you pack layers. But what help is that? Layers for hot spring dipping, layers for rain storms, layers for glacial conditions, layers for the impending volcanic explosion of Katla due any minute now…. It’s all too much! With the weather changing every five seconds, I often found myself peu chic or, at the very least, impractically dressed.

So let’s talk about the ensemble that was crucial to keeping the good times rolling in Iceland….

(drum roll please)

… The all-purpose, one-piece SNOWSUIT! 

Stepping into one of these babies is like sliding into a warm, puffy sleeping bag. Zippers run alongside the leg from the knee down, making wrestling matches with tight ankle holes a thing of the past. The suits are peppered with handy pockets that accommodate everything from survival snacks to iPhones all while bright colors and reflective strips increase your odds of being rescued in an emergency. And can I get a “hell yeah!” for the cinchable hood?!

This smart one-piece, provided to us by several of our tour vendors, kept us comfortable during windy whale watches, snowmobiling excursions, and speed boating through glacial lagoons. (We’ll chat about those last two excursions in my next post). So bring your layers, dear Reader, but do not fret (or jam your suitcase); the Icelanders expect you to be unprepared for the elements and they totally have your back!

Hey, I’m not saying looking stylish in Iceland is impossible. But I am saying that it should be the least of your worries. Get outside already! (Even if it’s raining. Because it’s probably raining. Or about to rain).

Thanks for reading my first – and likely last – style blog. Ever.

P.S. Fearing I might be out of touch, I did some research before posting my first style blog. And by ‘research’ I mean I typed style blog into the Google search bar. Mostly it resulted in a bunch of boring stuff about clothes, but it also revealed – finally! – the meaning of the mysterious #OOTD. After months of not knowing (and not caring enough to find out), at last: Outfit Of The Day. Did you hear that, dear Reader? The Day. People are being stylish on the regular! Whoa!

Asshats & Epitaphs

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Are you sick of our stupid faces yet?

After a couple of days in the West, we’ve got our bags packed (again) and are heading South by way of the The Golden Circle, a collection of must-see attractions for first-timers in Iceland. This popular route is located within an hour of Reykjavík making it especially convenient for those visitors short on time.

“So… it looks like we can just get on Route 1 and go back the way we came for the most part.” I advise Billy from the passenger seat.

“The way we came?” his distaste for the idea immediately apparent. He leans over the map. “What about this other route?” he suggests, clearly feeling the call of the unknown.

“That works too, although it’s Iceland… not sure what the road conditions will be like.”

“It’ll be fine,” he says.

The Road Less Traveled
Rain falls and chunks of rock ping the underside of our rental as we bounce along the gravel stretch of the road less traveled. There’s nothing but hills as far as the eye can see and no sign of life. Even the sheep are elsewhere. The radio cut out about 20 minutes ago so Billy and I sit in silence. I could fill the void with “I told you so” but this is a marriage, dear Reader, and that shit don’t fly in a marriage.

“The map has us turning up ahead shortly. Hopefully the road will even out a bit there,” Billy offers. Yes, hopefully it will, I think. Luckily for us both (and the underside of our car!), paved road was in our future after all. The rain stops and the sun begins to creep out from behind the clouds. The tunes – and sheep! – are back.

“So serene…. feels like we’re the only people in Iceland,” I remark. “I’m glad you suggested this route, it’s really gorgeous.” Check me out, totally crushing this wife gig! And it’s true, I am glad.

Lush green hills, glaciers, crisp air… it all reminds me of our trips to Bavaria or Switzerland. And yet, there is something distinctly different about Iceland – something altogether more wild and unpredictable. If the tidy, wooden clusters of Europe’s alpine villages suggest strength in numbers, the modest homes of Icelanders – often located miles and miles apart – lend credence to the Icelanders’ reputation for isolation. Clearly these are people who aren’t afraid to go it alone.

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Haukadalur Valley, The Golden Circle’s geothermal area.

The Golden Circle
A flood of tour buses signal our arrival to The Golden Circle. Our first stop is Þingvellir National Park (don’t stress, that weird symbol just makes a th- sound: Thingvellir). Home to Icelandic parliament circa 930 AD, the park is also the site of the continental rift splitting Iceland between the North American and Eurasian Continents. It’s a hot spot for sure – and there’s a gazillion people here to prove it. William and I spend an hour or so enjoying the views but it’s drizzling again and any real exploration is becoming less and less appealing.

We drive on to Haukadalur Valley, home to several hot springs including Geysir – the geyser after which all geysers are named (yet another fun fact for your next cocktail party, dear Reader).  We score a primo parking spot and make our way over to the crowd of tourists. Though Geysir is dormant, the Strokkur geyser erupts every 10-15 minutes and is the major attraction in these parts. Judging by the horde of tourists with their cameras at the ready, the eruption should be any minute now. And sure enough… The waters of Strokkur spring forth, leaping high into the air just as a tall, overbearing man knocks me over in pursuit of the perfect photo.

It begs the eternal question: does anyone care where you’ve been if you were a total asshat while you were there? Food for thought.

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We hop back into the car and I begin snacking on a lunch wrap I had squirreled away. Billy puts the car in reverse and I comment on my tasty lunch when a horrific metallic screech stops us both in our tracks.

“What the hell was that?!” I demand.

“The car,” my husband responds, puzzled. Fahk.

We both scramble out of the vehicle in search of answers. Somehow a metal plate behind the front bumper has been knocked out of place. It’s hanging low and dragging on the ground. Lovely. Billy wastes no time getting under the problem and, rather unceremoniously, bangs the plate back into place (or at least closer to ‘into place’). We get back in the car.

“Is it fixed?” I ask. He shrugs, putting the car into reverse once more and no doubt praying silently. We both hold our breath. No sound.

“You did it!” I cheer, immediately clicking my seatbelt secure and returning to my lunch.

But I can tell Billy is still anxious.

“Don’t worry about the car,” I say with a wave of my hand between bites. “Did we learn nothing from the Neapolitans? If it drives, it’s fine. I mean… until it blows up on the side of the tangenziale anyway… but whatever – va bene! We’re on vacation and we need to focus. Make this left…”

Rule #1: Have Fun

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Good Looks & Even Better Intentions
With that brief interlude behind us, we come to our final stop along the Golden Circle: Gullfoss, a thunderous two-tiered waterfall. Water crashes down into a narrow canyon nearly 70 meters deep as spray kicks up, dousing throngs of admirers along the footpath. On our way out I pause to read some information about Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the woman who dedicated her life to preserving Gullfoss. When foreign investors sought to dam the waterfall for hydroelectrical production in the 18th century, Sigríður was having none of it – she even threatened to toss herself into the falls if they didn’t reconsider!

The information board goes on to make some interesting notes about Sigríður. Apparently she “was of average height and strongly built. She was also considered good looking in her younger years and had thick and beautiful blonde hair.” Poor Sigríður. She was one of Iceland’s first environmental activists and here we are, talking about her hair! Can you imagine? Here lies Malia Rosado. She cured cancer, brokered world peace, and was a solid 7 when she put some effort in.  

I shake my head. Sad!

Not Featured, But Still Pretty Awesome!
Yet again, it was impossible to include all of the day’s activities in one post, dear Reader. I know I’m already pushing my luck by sharing 1,200-word blog posts in an image-obsessed society, so here’s what you missed today real fast:

  • Our horseback ride at Hestheimer. The farm’s adorable dust mop of a dog, Scündi, accompanied us the entire two hours. A band of wild horses ran alongside us for a while. It was so beautiful, I think my heart stopped for a moment. Also, Billy’s horse was super flatulent (his horses always are).
  • Our lunch in a greenhouse on Friðheimar Farm. The tomato-themed menu is limited and also incredibly delicious. And yes, we paid $30 for a bowl of tomato soup. Because, also yes, Iceland is kick-you-in-the-pants-pricey. The sooner you accept it the better!

Rainy Days & Road Kill

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Djúpalónssandur

The sunshine is gone, dear Reader. Outside our hotel window the azure waves of yesterday have lost their playfulness. This morning the Atlantic Ocean is uninviting, opaque – a still blanket of sulky grey concealing untold mysteries. Drops of rain fall fat and fast with no signs of letting up.

There are few things I love more than a rainy day, but there’s no denying they are less welcome on vacation. Today William and I plan to drive West and explore the Snæfellsnes Peninsula – home to a National Park, several tiny fishing villages, lava caves, and about a million other natural wonders. This rain simply would not do!

“It’s raining. What if we can’t do any of the stuff!” I whine to my husband who is quietly packing up our things.

“We’re going to do the stuff. All of the stuff,” he reassures me, referencing our most important, and really only, travel rule – Rule #1: Have Fun.

“We Have A Deal!”
Billy drives through the downpour as we make our way along Route 1 to Borgarnes. As navigator, I occasionally reference the map and entertain my husband with interesting facts I’ve picked up about Iceland. Presently, we are discussing the local language which remains unchanged from its Ancient Norse (although, thankfully, Icelanders speak English just as well). Once you grasp some basic root words, the road signs become easier to understand. For instance:

Anything ending in -ssandur refers to a beach. Names ending in -jökull, a glacier. -Vík, a bay, as in Reykjavík which means “smokey bay.” Aren’t we clever, dear Reader? Day two and we’re already picking up some Ancient Norse! Billy and I fall silent, indulging in our own thoughts for a moment. On the radio Miley Cyrus sings somewhat ironically:

But here I am… Next to you… The sky is so blue….

Up ahead on the road a small grey bird with a long beak stands and stares at us. An internal alarm sounds as the bird remains resolute, unmoving. We’re approaching it quickly and – THUNK!

I gasp loudly, turning to face the back window, “Did he make it?!”

“I don’t think he made it,” Billy says quietly.

“You ran him over! That poor little bird!”

“He didn’t fly away! That what birds do – they fly away from cars!”

“You killed it!” I cry.

“We’re going fast on a narrow country road in the rain, what was I supposed to do?! Oh God, I hope it wasn’t endangered. Those flightless birds are always endangered! Like the dodo!” Billy frets, feeling simultaneously guilty and defensive.

“Well, we can be sure you didn’t hit a dod-” THWACK!

I jump as another bird flies smack into the passenger side window. The impacts sends it reeling, flipping a few times mid-air before (I think) flying off into the fog.

“Oh shit,” says Billy in disbelief, his eyes leaving the road ahead of him for only a momentary glance my way.

“Why don’t you just take out one of these baby sheep on the side of the road for another 10 points?!” I shriek. It’s unfair, I know. As any Seinfeld fan can tell you, when it comes to birds in the road: “we have a deal!”

“Don’t make me feel bad. I already feel bad!” Billy insists.

We sit in stunned silence for a moment. The whole scene is unfortunate for sure but…. is it funny too? We begin to laugh. I reach over and put my hand on Billy’s leg.

“My Dad would probably just call it natural selection,” I offer reassuringly.

*Let the record show, dear Reader, that there proved to be tons of these small, grey birds in Iceland. Not only was it not endangered, it was the only one who failed to flee an approaching car. Also note: we stopped more than a few times for animals in the road over the remainder of our visit (see photo of the gaggle below for proof).

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Raidin’ & Tradin’ 
Having arrived in Borgarnes and eager to get out of the rain, Billy and I visit The Settlement Center museum. While this is undoubtedly the least Instagrammable portion of our Icelandic adventure, it was also one of our favorites. We don our headsets and navigate the first exhibit which, as you may have guessed, schools us on the settlement of Iceland.

Iceland was discovered by Norwegian Vikings in desperate search of farmable land. I say “desperate” because you’d have to be desperate to sleep on an open boat with 100 other men and livestock while aimlessly trolling the North Atlantic in hopes of fertile land, wouldn’t you? But hey, what gumption! No doubt, dear Reader, you’ve heard the (not entirely undeserved) bad press about the Viking raids of monasteries and unprotected villages. I’m not here to defend that – “Bad Vikings, Bad!” – but a nod to their trade network is totally in order. We were surprised to learn Viking trade routes extended through Novgorod, Istanbul, Jerusalem, and as even as far as Baghdad.

The second exhibit focuses on one of Iceland’s famous Sagas, a collection of prose narratives that depict (with editorial flair, no doubt) the historical events of the settlement years. Today we learn about the rebellious Egil Skallagrímsson who is described as “a farmer, poet, and all-around feisty Viking.” If only there were online dating profiles back then…. Billy and I exchange shocked glances as our audio guides describe Egil’s first revenge killing – at age 7! – in which he takes an axe to the skull of a classmate after being cheated in a game they were playing.

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Our Western Whirlwind
After a delicious meal at the museum’s restaurant, William and I make a happy discovery – the rain has subsided! Downgraded to a light sprinkle, we are able to explore the Snæfellsnes Peninsula a bit. We stop in Hellnar (population of 10) and Djúpalónssandur, a black sand beach with interesting rock formations. On our way down to the beach we admire two serene lagoons and stop to test our strength at the Lifting Stones (by “our” strength I really mean Billy’s). The Lifting Stones are four stones of varying weight that were used to determine a fisherman’s strength and seaworthiness back in the day.

The unpredictable nature of the ocean is also on display at Djúpalónssandur, its shore littered with the rusted wreckage of a British trawler that capsized in 1948. The iron debris of Epine GY7 remains untouched in remembrance of the fishermen who lost their lives that day. I call my husband back several times from the water’s edge just to be safe.

It’s midnight before the sun finally makes an appearance. But it’s too late, we’re already cuddled up in bed with our reading material. We do make good use of the summer sun in our next two days out West, dear Reader. We drive the remainder of the peninsula admiring the countless waterfalls, sheep, and horses along the road. We even see two orcas (named Phantom and Bandit) on our whale watch from Ólafsvík.

But we can’t stop, won’t stop… the Golden Circle awaits!

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Gah! Baby animals everywhere!

Fire & Ice (& Anniversaries)

Our Xtreme Anniversary Begins!

Pack your bags, dear Reader, because we’re about to beat this Middle Georgia heat!

(And there was much rejoicing.)

In celebration of our two year anniversary, William and I – and you! – are heading to Iceland to rejoice in dramatic landscapes, midnight sun, and long-sleeve shirts.

Iceland: “So Hot Right Now”
Iceland is totally having a moment. It seems nearly every week another one of my Facebook friends is kicking back an Icelandic beer at some hip bar in Reykjavík. Dear Reader, if you’re starting to get the everyone’s-been-to-Iceland-but-meeeee feels too, well… they have.

If I’m being honest, this made me hesitant to visit Iceland at all. And not just because I’m late to the party or because the most clever hashtags have already been claimed. Rather, the tourism boom of the past decade has resulted in the Disneyfication of some of my favorite sites and cities. (Hi Barcelona! I still love you!). With the ratio of tourists to Icelanders hovering around 6:1, I feared we were destined for lines, overpriced entry fees, and crowds.

Still… the case for Iceland was compelling. A small island roughly the size of Ohio, Iceland is home to a mere 350,000 people (like, total). The country is truly a study in contrasts: its fiery volcanoes juxtaposed with frosty glaciers, its sustained summer sunshine offset by the endless night of winter. And yet, Iceland received little to no love from the travel community until 2008 when the value of the Icelandic Kroner plummeted, making vacations there extremely affordable. Then, in 2010, ash from the massive volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull (not a typo) halted air travel throughout Northern and Western Europe for almost a week! Okay, Iceland. Now you have our attention.

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Daydreams & Recycled Air
Let’s fast forward through our trudge to the airport, shall we? Regular readers know I’m one of those rare finds who truly enjoys air travel. Flying offers a brief reprieve from my earthly woes as I literally float above the trappings and frustrations of my life below. I love having hours to read and to ponder the digital world map illuminated on the seat-back TV – oh, the places we’ll go! For me, vacation begins right here in Seat 5A: my airborne library complete with teeny, tiny snacks.

My “Ode to the Majesty of Flight” aside, I arrive in Reykjavík with a cramp in my neck, anxious to get our adventure underway. Billy crams our luggage into the tiny trunk of our white Peugeot rental car and we head straight for the famed Blue Lagoon. Our reservation – and you must make a reservation for this trendy geothermal spa – is for opening time, 8AM.

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In Hot Water (And It Feels So Good)
Surely you recognize the milky blue/green waters of The Blue Lagoon, dear Reader? You likely already know its warm waters are renowned for their healing properties – the silica contained therein brightens complexions, soothes irritated skin, and eases weary bones. Old news, right? Most people don’t realize, however, that the Lagoon is man-made (though the full swim-up bar complete with skyr smoothies should have tipped you off). Instead, the Lagoon waters are renewed every two days by the adjacent geothermal power plant. So while Iceland is brimming with natural hot springs, this pricey tourist spot is not one of them. Not that I’m complaining mind you, it’s the perfect way to recover from a cramped overnight flight.

Steam rises thick from the surface of the water. It creates a cozy veil separating me from everything outside of myself, everything outside of this experience, this moment. Even my mind is quiet. Ripples of warmth, soft as silk, glide over my shoulders as I wade through the mist in search of my husband. A few moments pass before Billy’s silhouette finally comes into view.

“Masks?” I suggest, referring to the available silica and algae mud mask treatments. He nods and soon we are lounging in the shallows, waiting patiently for the silica to do its magic. The crowds are beginning to roll in now and we people-watch together in silence.

“This crew, over here,” Billy gestures to a rowdy group of older Asian men.

The men have drinks in their hands and they speak boisterously in a language I don’t understand. They call over to a group of Asian ladies at the edge of the Lagoon, their wives maybe. I don’t understand them, and yet I do. Some things are universal, like the bravado of men entreating women to come celebrate. And the feigned reluctance of women to release their inhibitions and partake in the festivities.

Billy smiles and shakes his head. I giggle. It’s fun.

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Blowin’ Through Town
After a few restorative hours, it’s time to leave the Lagoon behind. Our drive to Reykjavík, the world’s northernmost capital city, is uneventful and we pass only the occasional car. With a thriving arts and music scene, the city is the beating heart of Iceland’s economy and government – not to mention host to some of the summer’s hottest festivals (if you’re into that kinda thing). Remember those 350,000 Icelanders? Well, 60% of them live in Reykjavík!

After throwing our bags down at our hotel, there is no time to waste. The weather lends itself to my favorite fall ensemble – ripped jeans, fun sneaks, and my green military jacket over a baggy v-neck. Inwardly I rejoice and tilt my face to the sun. The air is crisp, the breeze light through my hair. It’s the first time in months I’ve enjoyed being outside. Back in Georgia I’ve come to dread my walks with Miss Mary – the scorching heat, oppressive humidity, and persistent gnats make for an unbearable combination. I firmly believe that if Emerson had settled in Middle Georgia, there never would have been a transcendentalist movement. But I digress….

We begin by strolling over to the Harpa Concert Hall, its distinctive glass facade visible from our hotel window. Once inside we inquire about a few of the upcoming shows and enjoy the atrium’s architecture for a few minutes. Our journey continues along the waterfront where we admire the surrounding snow-capped hills and the deep blue of the Atlantic.

From there William and I cut over to Laugavegur, the city’s main drag. We pop into a few stores and peer eagerly into several bakeries (well, maybe that was just me peering eagerly). Perched on a hill overlooking the city is Hallgrímskirkja, one of Iceland’s most recognizable landmarks. This Lutheran church is the largest in the country and its facade is inspired by the mysteriously shaped basalt columns found along Iceland’s south shore. I mean, it’s cool alright but I’m a little churched out to be honest. Between living in Italy and our current tour of the Deep South, the past two years have felt like one big Churchapalooza. Besides, everyone already knows my fave places to get my prayer on are La Sagrada Família and The Blue Mosque. 

Does it seem like we’re blowing through Reykjavík, dear Reader? We totally are! The city’s funky charm is palpable but there is so much more waiting for us out on the open road. Won’t you join us?

Slow Livin’

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Morning stroll on Robins AFB

Here we are again, dear Reader – back from another hiatus! When we last spoke I was collapsed on the couch feeling overwhelmed, out of place, and stinking of barbecue. I’m happy to report things have improved markedly these past few months as I’ve found ways to make the most of our time in Middle Georgia.

The “Winter” of My Content
As the dog days of summer dissipated, a crispness crept into the air bringing with it a sense of home (New England). Frustrating days at my job on base gave way to far more satisfying days in my home office. Even with it’s impossible deadlines and tedious conference calls, my return to marketing was a salve for my Middle Georgia sore spot. The work was familiar and, more importantly, it was mine. Not that William minded me having my own thing: “You doubled our income and you don’t even have to wear pants!”

Work trips to Boston and DC confirmed that indeed the rest of the world was busy being fabulous without me. But these trips also confirmed that civilization as I knew it wasn’t going anywhere. I indulged in gourmet donuts, bought overpriced booties, and (sort of) happily returned to my suburban situation.

By focusing on little things, I set about cultivating my own pleasant reality. I experimented with new plant-based recipes. I found a spin class that was… acceptable. In an effort to identify with my Southern counterparts, I threw myself headlong into a study of the Civil War and gave country music another shot (this time on my own terms, easing into it with classics like Johnny Cash and Mary Chapin Carpenter circa 1990).

Life moved along with a soothing hum.

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“Let’s just look”… 
It’s Sunday morning and we are indulging in our post-yoga ritual: Starbucks. Billy reads an article on his phone (probably from Foreign Policy or The Atlantic) while I sip my coffee and gaze out of the window. Across the busy four-lane thoroughfare, a sign for a Pet Adoption Event ripples in the breeze.

Billy and I had talked about rescuing a dog several times before. In Italy, we were hardly ever home and two of our adoption attempts here in Georgia were met with (somewhat insulting) inquiries about our status as a military family: “What will you do with the dog when it’s time to move?”  Apparently being military put us just above ‘Roving Band of Gypsies’ in the grand scheme of dependability.

We stroll through rows of crated pups promising ourselves we’ll “just look.” My husband wanders off and I gingerly peek into a few crates. No one really catches my eye until…

“Who’s this?” I ask a volunteer standing nearby. My voice is almost a whisper, my eyes never breaking contact with the pup’s. The man doesn’t hear me and I think maybe it’s for the best. After all, we’re just looking.

“Excuse me. Who is this?” I repeat, louder this time and surprised by my own persistence.

“This is Mary,” he says with a smile. “She’s four months old and a little sad today because her friend was adopted yesterday. Would you like to walk her?”

No. A four month old puppy? Absolutely not.

“Sure,” I reply. Where is this voice coming from?

But I already knew… Mary was ours.

Fam Status
And just like that, William and I upgraded from “couple” to “family.” Miss Mary and I became fast friends. We both love mornings, constantly furrow our brows, and look forward to a spoonful of natural peanut butter after dinner each evening. According to the rescue organization’s records, we even share the same birthday!!

On our morning strolls she often stops to sit quietly for a moment, contemplating a horse, a new sound, or a smell wafting through the breeze. Now I, too, take pause – noting the dew hanging gingerly from a spider’s web or a cardinal flitting from branch to branch.

While I am undeniably the Pack Leader, Miss Mary adores Billy. She loves chewing his sweaty socks and passing out draped over his chest.  Tuesday nights are spent at puppy training class and every other evening is spent watching my two favorites wrestle in our living room. I find myself surprisingly content here in the bellybutton of Georgia.

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Cleanin’ Out My (Metaphorical) Closet
Also headlining in my world is my new 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training. (Actually, Billy is doing it too.)

In my ten years on the mat, yoga has proven to be a safe space for me, providing zen after hectic work days and opportunities to meet with friends (before our brunch reservation, obviously). For a time, it even provided a place to grieve. After losing a loved one, I’d pull my mat to the furthest, darkest corner of the studio and cry silently as I flowed through my vinyasa – and so much more.

It should come as no surprise that “warner robins yoga” was one of my first Google searches upon hearing of our relocation. In response to my online query – and my prayers! – was Homegrown Yoga. This small, tidy studio and its unpretentious instructors offered a sense of home when I needed it most. When a flyer for a year-long teacher training popped up on my newsfeed, it was like a note passed directly to me from the Universe itself.

You see, I’ve always liked the idea of being a yoga teacher. I fantasized about living some alternative, barefoot-and-fancy-free lifestyle in the remote tropics. I could sling beers at the beachfront bar between yoga sessions. I could date more than one person at a time because I was like, so open-minded and not into possession. Heck, I probably even had a sleeve tattoo and a nose ring!

Of course, all of this was at odds with my actual Self. The Self who tires of the beach after a few days, who doesn’t care to hang out in bars, and who often struggled to find one person to swoon over at any given time. And forget about donning the carefully cultivated “effortless” boho chic trends – those harem pants in wacky prints add unwanted bulk, and the gauzy headbands printed with sacred elephants never stay put on my freakishly small head. The odds seemed insurmountable.

Sure, yoga is not a Free People spread brought to life. But there were other truths too. Truths more difficult to overcome… After all, I don’t look like a fitness model. I can’t invert with anything remotely resembling grace. And aren’t teachers supposed to inspire people? I’m not sure I’ve ever inspired anyone. In fact, I think striving to be an inspiration is a bit… arrogant.

I had nearly talked myself out of the training when a respect for yoga’s guiding principles and a willingness to get over myself won out. And how timely for this reflection to happen during Spring – the ideal season to eliminate what no longer serves us, while making room for the things that do.

Besides, why wouldn’t I make a decent yoga teacher? Don’t I actually believe in yoga’s founding philosophies? Aren’t I passionate about making it accessible to everyone and every body? Don’t I like goji berries and green juice too?! Fuck yeah! I’m totally qualified. Heck, I even climbed the mountains of Nepal with a sherpa for a few days.

With two weekends of yoga teacher training under my belt, there’s no turning back now. I’m not sure how to balance boundless compassion with my trademark snarkiness so… we’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out. Maybe I’ll blog about it occasionally. Is anyone interested in that? It isn’t travel exactly, but it is certainly a journey.

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I Say What We’re All Thinking
So right now, dear Reader, I imagine you’re thinking: “Wow, Malia. That’s great you found a groove and all, but you sorta went a lil’ Robert Frost on my ass. This is a travel blog and – while I’m super happy for you! – your life (and blog) has become kinda…. well… lame.”

It’s okay. Really. Don’t feel badly dear Reader, I’m glad you brought it up. I, too, am concerned about my increasing lameness. Rest assured while I’m thriving (as best I can) here in Georgia, I often awake reluctantly from dreams of Italy’s coast or the crisp mountain air of Grindelwald. My wanderlust is very much in tact and, actually, William and I plan to celebrate our anniversary in Iceland this June. No doubt, we will have much to report.

(P.S. Don’t you hate it when travel junkies use the term “wanderlust”? Ew.)

(P.P.S. Did you notice I just snarked on my own blog? Damn!)

In the meantime, our family continues its quest for self improvement, taking advantage of our newfound stillness here in Warner Robins. Hope all is well in your pocket of the world!

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Oh. Hello.

Bring Your Reader To Work Day: Part I

Gettin’ after my .3 mile morning commute.

Hello, dear Reader. It has been far too long and the fault is entirely mine! I’ve been avoiding you again. Between the drudgery of moving and feeling overwhelmed by my remarkably underwhelming surroundings, I had little energy for writing. Thankfully, life is on an upswing. But what about all of the ick in the middle you missed? Let’s take a look:

The Daily Commute
Reveille trumpets the dawn of a new day as William and I begin getting ready for work. Since the moment we touched down on US soil, he’s been utterly consumed with command. I, on the other hand, have been sedately biding my time working for the base’s “marketing” department. I wave as Billy pulls out of the garage in our Toyota Corolla, Thelma Faye (she’s southern), and steel myself for another day of small town living.

I put in my headphones, grab my ceramic to-go coffee cup, and queue up a good song (because it only takes the length of a song to walk the one block to my office). I decide on some Kid Cudi and close the front door behind me. A wall of humidity smacks me in the face. Gross.

I pull an earbud out as our neighbor Lisa approaches on her bike. She points to my coffee cup and iPod ensemble.

“Pretending I’m back in Boston!” I yell over to her side of the road. Lisa lived in Boston once and understands my struggle.

“Is it working?” she shouts back.

“Not really!” I call after her cheerfully.

Coffee Talk
Three minutes later I enter the office – a small, squat brick building consisting of a half-dozen offices. Ms. Mandy, a  woman in her mid-fifties, wanders into the hall to greet me.

“Good mornin’, Malia! How yooouuu? ” she drawls, her Running On Coffee & Jesus cup in hand. “Did you see the light show He put on for us last night?”

He? It takes a moment before my mind recognizes the implied, deferential,  capital ‘H’. Ah. Of course. Ms. Mandy  is referring to the almighty. Or maybe Jesus. We talk about Jesus a lot down south – it’s as if He’s about to stroll in the door at any moment. Yes, the lightning was spectacular last night, I confirm.

We then begin our daily conversation about my outfit because, as Ms. Mandy says, I wear “all the fashions.”

I like Ms. Mandy a lot. We have almost nothing in common – an invaluable trait to have in an acquaintance! An American by birth, “Southerner by the grace of God,” and mother to a menagerie of cats (sixteen to be exact), Ms. Mandy is my unofficial guide to the Deep South. She offers insight into the appeal of the Confederate Flag (heritage, not hate!), Donald Trump (no experience is better than bad experience!), and where to get a concealed carry purse (a lady never knows!).

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Professional Hot Dog Hunter
What is my job anyway, you may be wondering, dear Reader. I’ve been hired as a Commercial Sponsorship Coordinator, the person responsible for securing donations and sponsorships for programming on base. The job entails cold-calling people, asking them for money, and convincing them of the importance of community programming – you know, the same community programming I habitually avoid like the plague. I hate everything about this.

But! Even an entry-level gig is better than sitting at home. At least, in theory.

I’m redesigning our packet of sponsorship offerings when Mr. Locke pops his head in. Mr. Locke sits across the hall. I’m not sure what he does but, from what I’ve sussed out, his hobbies include being right and telling people off on the phone. He’s a prickly pear but I have the good fortune of being his preferred office confidante. (Of course). I inquire about his weekend.

“Good! Ran into this guy I knew in high school. He was a real egghead back in the day.  Thought he was special because he knew stuff and read books, ya know?”

I smile uneasily, my thoughts skipping to my diploma with its Summa Cum Laude distinction shoved in a closet somewhere.

“…Well, he’s divorced now! Loser! Just goes to show you don’t need to read books to be smart and get ahead,” Mr. Locke continues while tapping his temple.

Charming. While I appreciate Mr. Locke’s nonconformist spirit, I’ve never actually met an intelligent person who didn’t read. Alas, it’s a fight for another day – my desk phone is ringing.

“Hi, this is Malia,” I wave good bye to Mr. Locke.

On the other end of the line, my boss tells me the base needs help securing food donations for an upcoming event. I need to find 1,000 hot dogs. And sides. Huh?

“So… just to confirm…. You want me to call around and ask for… hot dogs? A thousand of them? ….For free?”

Confirmed.

Choking On Humble Pie
I spend two hours calling local restaurants with not so much as a ketchup packet to show for it. Not only do I have the world’s shittiest job, I’m failing at the world’s shittiest job.

…I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m freeee….

Meanwhile, it’s not enough that I live on the corner of Armed Forces Boulevard and Strike Eagle Drive, one of my coworkers is blaring tunes from – what I can only assume – is a station called ‘Murica Fuck Yeah! Radio.

I close my eyes, willing myself to relax.

“Malia?”

My eyes fly open and I get to my feet. Mr. Hurley, my boss, is at the door. I greet him and eagerly present him with my revised sponsorship package, knowing it’s light years ahead of any marketing materials the department has used before. He flips the pages and I walk him through the streamlined messaging, enhanced images, and an infographic I’m particularly proud of (I’m no graphic designer but it looks awesome).

He nods and says finally, “You’re all dressed up today.”

An odd and potentially inappropriate comment, I think.

“Um… Not really. These are just my clothes. My clothes I wear to work.” Why is everyone obsessed with my clothes?

“What did you do before this again?” he inquires. I explain (again) and he declares, “You don’t seem old enough for that kind of position.”

I tilt my head slightly. I have no response to that.

We chat about a few other action items (mostly my headlining Hot Dog Initiative) and Mr. Hurley makes his way to the door.

“One more thing… would you make an effort to wear your nametag?”

The nametag. Given to me on my first day, it served as tangible evidence of my professional humiliation – the demise of my career writ large in outdated font. The nametag was one indignity I would not suffer.

“I… can’t. I won’t. I’m not at a networking event and I don’t serve fast food. I cannot and will not wear a nametag.” My tone is level, though definitive.

Mr. Hurley sizes me up for a moment. “Alright,” he says and walks out.

…bye, bye Miss American Pie. Drove my Chevy to the levee…

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Jesus Is My Friend (But I Need Some Space)
Hot dogs. Hot dogs. One thousand hotdogs. I drum my fingers on the desk and stare blankly into the hallway. I watch as Ms. Mandy files paperwork in her red, white, and blue file cabinet. The cabinet was not manufactured this way, someone purposefully spray-painted it in the colors of Old Glory. But who? And why?

Ms. Mandy talks to Mr. Dwayne, a heavy-set black gentleman who shares her office. Mr. Dwayne has a framed photo of the Obama family on his desk, a gesture I find both odd and endearing. The two converse easily despite their opposing political views. Or is that simply how it appears? I strain to hear what they’re saying but it’s no use…

…BORN in the U.S.A! I was, BORN in the U.S.A!….

Sigh. Reluctantly, I dial the next phone number on my list. I introduce myself and am immediately placed on hold. A contemporary Christian rock song plays – at least it’s a reprieve from the non-stop Americana.

I wait…

…And wait….

I wait so long the contemporary Christian rock devolves into vintage Christian pop. Inauspicious.

…Jesus is a friend of mine (Jesus is my friend!), Jesus is a friend of mine (I have a friend in Jesus!)….

I start nodding my head. Wow, this stuff is peppy!

Oh no. I’m succumbing! I slam the phone down and grab my purse.

I need to get out of here.

**The day is far from over, but let’s leave off here, dear Reader. And please, while you wait for our story to be continued, check out the YouTube video for Jesus Is My Friend. I’m not sure what I like more: the bass player who looks like Kip from Napoleon Dynamite, or the part at 1:50 where they sing about getting ZAPPED! by Jesus. Amazing.**

Coming to (Middle) America

Georgia-Home-Sweet-Home-White

…or something.

I’ve been staring down the barrel of rural Georgia for months now, dear Reader, and the day has finally come. The miles accumulate behind us as Billy and I drive further from Atlanta, our Thrifty rental car smelling vaguely of stale fast food. Billy mans the tunes while I babble about potential weekend trips (“…I’m thinking Savannah in September and maybe…”). Surprisingly, I feel optimistic about our new home, the traveler in me delighting in a new location. What will I find there? What will I learn?

Almost two hours and a hundred miles later, the plot twists. Blown tires litter I-75 and the road is lined with dilapidated buildings and abandoned gas stations. Billy and I fall quiet as we near Warner Robins Air Force Base.

“Maybe we’re coming in the back way? Like, if you approach the base from the south it’s probably way nicer,” I offer cheerily.

Billy nods almost imperceptibly, his eyes fixed on the road ahead.

Clouds hang dark and heavy over the base as we offer our IDs and enter the gate. Thunder rolls faintly in the distance. Outside my car window is one squat, sterile military building after another. The woman at the Air Force Inn reservation desk inquires about our time overseas and kindly welcomes us “home.” But this doesn’t feel like home. Not even a little bit.

Our hotel room offers a bleak view of the oncoming storm and a looming water tower. I sigh quietly. We live in an industrial park.

Good Morning, Warner Robins!
I am jerked from sleep by the raucous trumpeting of horns. Not the car horns of Napoli, but actual horns. With my heart racing, I nudge Billy, “What is that?!”

Reveille,” he mutters, turning away from me and back to his dreams.

“Reveille?” The frenzied tune continues to play… doot doot doo-doo-doot doot-DOO-DOO!…

“They’re raising the flag. The work day started,” my husband explains sleepily.

Well. It certainly was rousing. Leaving Billy to his slumber, I head into our suite’s living room. I turn on the news, eager to see what’s headlining in the Home of the Brave. People run panicked across the screen. Another shooting. On the next channel a red-faced Trump defends the journalistic integrity of The National Enquirer (“…we should be giving these guys a Pulitzer…”). Click. That’s enough America for now. Hungry, I drive to the commissary to do some shopping.

Land of Plenty
The American supermarket is a modern marvel! I wander the aisles slowly, pausing not always to buy a beloved product so much as to simply be near it. I rejoice in out-of-season produce and do weird things like exclaim, “There you are!” to my preferred brand of flaxseed. I’m standing in awe of the natural peanut butter options when I notice an older gentleman nearby looking distressed.

“Good morning,” I venture, catching his attention.

“Mornin’ ma’am. Well now, they gon’ went an’ moved everything around in here. Can’t find a thing I need!” he says, throwing his arms up in exasperation.

“Hmm. That is frustrating. Wish I could help. Today is my first day at Warner Robins so I don’t know where anything is either.”

“Yer first day. Is that right? Isn’t that somethin’…” and then, perhaps sensing my ambivalence, the man says, “Y’all will be fine. Just fiiiiiine!” He pauses thoughtfully for a moment before adding, “Unless yer one of them high falutin’ cityfolks!!”

He erupts into laughter. I laugh along uneasily, knowing full well I’ve been known to be “high falutin’” on occasion. We bid each other good luck and farewell. I turn my cart down the next aisle and think: I’m fucked.

I load an armful of grocery bags into the trunk and begin to feel hopeful again, my spirits lifted by the acquisition of my favorite foods. I turn on the radio and let a country song play. It’s not my usual fare but the storytelling aspect of it appeals to me. Not knowing the words, I nod my head to the beat, happily immersing myself in this new culture.

…You uppity women I don’t understand, Why you gotta go and try to act like a man, But before you make your weekly visit to the shrink, You’d better occupy the kitchen, liberate the sink….

Whaaaaaat?

“… Annnnd that was Kinky Friedman with Get Your Biscuits In The Oven And Your Buns In The Bed!…”

Oh no. Hell no, I think while changing the station. That was too much, too soon.

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Platitudes and Pity Parties
William and I are heading to “downtown” Warner Robins (the actual town) to run the terrifically dull errands plaguing suburbanites everywhere. You know, things like buying a car and purchasing a washer/dryer. As we cruise along the busy four-lane thoroughfare, I am visually assaulted by the fluorescent signage of fast food joints, car dealerships, and big-box retailers. An issue of Garden & Gun (yes, a real magazine) describes the area as “the seventh circle of franchise hell.” Basically, it’s everything I hate about America.

Determined not to give voice to my negativity, I remain silent. A decent enough plan, no? But my husband is an insightful and empathetic man, so when nearly six hours pass without me so much as making a peep, I suspect he knows something is amiss.

It’s raining again as we approach the base and there, soaring over the metal hangars and industrial sprawl, is the full, uninterrupted arch of a rainbow. Quite frankly, dear Reader, it irritates me. I interpret it as a direct message from the Universe telling me to buck up right in the middle of my pity party. I contemplate taking a photo of it. I could turn it into a military spouse meme by adding one of the many platitudes bestowed upon us at every challenging turn: Think Positive, Make The Best Of It, or (worst of all) Bloom Where You’re Planted. Within moments the sky darkens and I take comfort in the thunder and lightning once more.

A Lil’ Southern Comfort
But! Here’s some good news… After nearly two months of sleeping in hotels or on government-issued loaner furniture, William and I are finally in our new home! Sure, it’s on base and it was assigned to us, but it’s ours. In the past few days I’ve come to realize just how large Warner Robins AFB is; yes, parts of it lack ambiance (for lack of a better phrase), but so much of it is green! There’s a fitness trail, a golf course, a small lake, and a quiet, tidy cluster of modern homes.

We enter our single-story, ranch-style house and I make a mental note that we’ll need rocking chairs for the porch. After sweltering in Italy, I’m ecstatic about the central air conditioning. Billy runs from room to room testing each outlet and, eventually, triumphantly proclaims, “They all work!” We marvel at the miracle. (Excuse us, our Naples is showing)! There are closets and cabinets. A dining room and a patio. The house would be formidably priced in New England and utterly impossible in Napoli. It’s one block from my office, two blocks from the Fitness Center, and down the road are stables where people board their horses. Yes, yes, yes!

I place a magnet on the fridge, a small purchase made recently in nearby Perry. It reads: Together is my favorite place to be. Cliché? Maybe. But a necessary reminder in my new, transient military life.

We’re backing out of the driveway when – there it is again!

“The horns!” I shout. Billy brings the car to a complete stop.

“Retreat,” he laughs. “It signals the end of the work day. Vehicles are supposed to stop and if you’re walking home from work when it sounds, you should stop too.”

The horns quiet and the national anthem begins to play. I lower the window and stick my head out.

“Where’s it coming from?” I demand. I glance up into the trees, the sky. “I feel like I’m trapped on The Truman Show set or in The Hunger Games’ Arena.”

Billy points to a small speaker box attached to a telephone pole. I scowl at it distrustfully. The anthem is fine but I don’t like when speakers tell me what to do.

“Well, it’s a good thing you told me about it. Especially after the disaster at the movies,” I quip, bringing up an unpleasant gaffe during my first month as a military spouse. Billy shakes his head and smiles.

Unbeknownst to me, dear Reader, people stand for the national anthem before every movie shown on any military base. So it was that I sat shoving my face, oblivious to the national anthem, as everyone rose to honor our country. An unwitting defector with a mouthful of movie nachos, I finally stood and faced the dilemma of whether to chew quietly or not at all. There were no good options; I was a national embarrassment!

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Anyway… Georgia is growing on us (slowly, but surely). After all, we are in the South, home of hospitality and mindin’ manners. There’s something endearing about the way people politely address me as “Ms. Malia” – not to mention those tasty biscuits on the menu everywhere! Or how about the guards at the gate who wish me “a blessed day” as I come and go? (Some people take issue with this, dear Reader, but not me! I never turn down a blessing). Sometimes I rack up as many as three drive-by-blessings a day! Woop! You don’t get that in New England.