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Archive for May, 2010

Visits from the Sister

I’ve been bad at writing lately. In my defense, I’ve had company for nearly two weeks, and then entirely too much going on this weekend. Time for an update!

My sister came and spent 11 days with me, and we did more things than I can even remember all at once. We made a list to keep track of it all, even. Mostly you can see photos at the photo journal, but I’ll try and give you a little recap anyway. ^_^

The first thing we did was a little driving tour of the island (E got here on Sunday 5/16 very jet-lagged, so this was on Monday), where she discovered that lava rocks are sharp. E also discovered that Hawaiian sweet bread is yummy. I think we went through 3 loaves of it…

The next day I took her downtown and we walked around the zoo and then through Waikiki so we could look at all the tourists. There’s always something crazy going on down there. We had mahi tacos for lunch. Then we had malasadas. ^_^

Wednesday we went to the swap meet at Aloha Stadium and did most of her souvenir shopping (always good to get that done early). I don’t remember what else we did on Wednesday. I think it rained. I don’t have any pictures from that day, so maybe we got abducted by aliens. Who knows. Oh, wait, I think I spent a long time getting my phone fixed. Never mind.

Thursday, we went to the USS Arizona Memorial and I took her on part of the Navy base. We were supposed to have dinner with J, but he had to work late on this project that came up at the last minute… More on that in a bit.

Friday we drove to the North Shore, with a stop at the Dole Plantation along the way. We saw sea turtles and had shave ice, but the traffic was bad so we turned around at Waimea and came back toward home. That night we had J’s birthday dinner with some of our friends who live nearby.

After dinner, J got a phone call… and had to go into work on Saturday morning. He was there all day, until after dinner time. Maybe E and I went to the beach that day, but I don’t remember. I do remember that we got up on Sunday and J got called in to work on that same project, again. By Sunday afternoon we were all tired of J’s ship, but we got invited to dinner at our cousins’ house, and he did make it to that, which was nice.

Monday, E and I went horseback riding at Kualoa Ranch, which really deserves its own post. Maybe it’ll get one later this week. Kualoa is located along the Valley of the Kings, which is a famous filming location. Scenes from Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, Godzilla, Mighty Joe Young, Windtalkers, You Me & Dupree, and Lost have all been filmed there. It especially looks like Jurassic Park because of the wide open fields that seem like they ought to have dinosaurs wandering across them. Seriously. See?

Tuesday we went to the beach, then had dinner with J on his ship (and got a nice tour, too!), then we went downtown for the Magic of Polynesia show. It was pretty good. Oh, and Elvis was there. Surprise Elvis!

Wednesday we went hiking at Waimea Valley and saw ruins, beautiful flowers, and the waterfall. Thursday we went to the beach, and then E had, well let’s call them “adventures” getting home that night.

So that was her visit in a nutshell. We did a lot. I merely summarize.

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I’m going to tell you about the visit I had with my sister. I’m going to tell you about J’s birthday, too. I promise.

But I also want to tell you that I’m a little disturbed at the number of people wishing me (and everyone else) a “Happy Memorial Day.”

Let’s think about this for just a moment. A “memorial” is something to remember a person or thing no longer with us; this means that “Memorial Day” is meant to honor people who are not with us, and specifically the 650,000 Americans who have died in defense of the country since the Revolutionary War.

People also seem to think this is a day to thank service members. Veteran’s Day is to thank those who serve; Memorial Day is a day to remember those who sacrificed. There is a difference, though I’m sure some will say I’m nitpicking.

My point is, that while I feel humbled and appreciative, “happy” is not the way I’d choose to describe Memorial Day. No one says “Happy Funeral Day” to someone who’s lost a loved one, but each and every one of the service members who died for this country was someone’s loved one. In the middle of our barbeques and trips to the beach, I think we should take a minute and remember what a memorial really is, and be thankful for the amazing freedoms we enjoy thanks to those who defend them and us.

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I’m getting on a soapbox. You have been warned.

This has been brewing in the back of my head for a long time, but I wanted to wait until I was calm before writing about it. You see, every so often something happens that makes me really angry at the way military spouses get treated. Some of that is brought on by the way many military spouses act themselves, but I’ll get to that later. What bothers me the most is our government-given classification as “dependent.”

Let me be clear about this: I do not mind, in and of itself, being dependent on my husband. With him as the main income-earner, I have been able to follow a lot of dreams that I would not otherwise be able to afford. I have worked fun jobs where I play outside, where I work with animals, where I have time to write and take photos and entertain any and all company that we have visit. I am not complaining about that freedom at all.

The problem lies in how the government treats me and others like me, simply because our spouses are in the military.

We are not individuals and cannot do anything for ourselves. Does this sound old fashioned? A little, you might be thinking. It’s more than a little; we seem to exist in a system that you’d think would not be tolerated in this day and age.

When I got married, J took me to various offices around the Navy base to register me as his “dependent.” He is called the “sponsor.” There is no “spouse” or anything as equal-partnership sounding as that. Oh, no. And that was when I discovered that I might as well kiss any individualism goodbye. I understood the idea of him getting me listed on his paperwork, since I needed to be connected to his benefits, his insurance, his pay, and other things. That was fine. What bothered me then were the little things: I couldn’t get an ID card without my “sponsor” present. In fact, the people at the ID office would not speak to me, except to ask me where my sponsor was. It took me three days (we also do the DMV-style thing for IDs where you show up when they open and hope they have time to see you) to get an ID because at the time, J could only get partial days off to help me with this stuff. He had to ferry me around everywhere. The ID finally allowed me to come onto base by myself and go to the Exchange and the Commissary, but that was about it.

When we moved here, the fun increased. We discovered that not only could I not be the one to authorize our belongings to be shipped (the government considers everything “we” own as belonging solely to J), but I couldn’t be the one to get them back on the other end without J filing a special power of attorney. When we got here and I tried to check into the hotel (J was bringing in the bags), the woman at the desk kept asking where my sponsor was. The moving company wouldn’t call me to give me information even though J was on the ship and had no cell phone use during the day. We had to get another power of attorney for me to set up utilities in our house. I could go on and on about this. The point is, every time I deal with anything to do with the government, I cannot even get someone to answer questions without permission from my “sponsor.” I can’t even plant flowers in the front yard without either a power of attorney or J filling out paperwork for me with the housing office.

Does it sound old fashioned now?

Most of that stuff I have learned to take in stride, but I have to admit that sometimes I get, shall we say, short with people who are rude about asking where my sponsor is. Somehow all military spouses are supposed to be able to function as the entire household (with a POA, of course) when their military members are deployed, and yet when they are here, it’s like we’re the tag-a-longs. The hangers-on.

It’s insulting.

Really, that’s all it is, though: insulting. We can work around it, we can manage, and J reminds me constantly that it’s just wording (though he isn’t the one getting ignored at desks and counters when he asks questions).

The latest thing that sent me over the edge happened when we filed our taxes this year. You see, there’s a new law to “help” military spouses. Under the new law, I am not legally allowed to be a resident (i.e. paying taxes and voting) in the state in which J is stationed.

In the past, the military spouse could (and usually did) move her state of residence as the family moved, or if going to another country, the state of residence would usually be the last one in which they lived. In theory, you could maintain a “home” state if you wanted to keep one. When we got married, I switched everything to my new state of residence because I changed my last name and it made the paperwork all nice and neat. I was living and working in the new state, so it made sense that I would vote and pay taxes there.

Not any more.

Our tax preparer told us that under a new law, again meant to “help” us, military spouses are now required to claim their sponsors’ state of residence, even if they have never lived in that state. We discovered this only after I’d cut ties with the state of Virginia and switched everything, from my driver’s license to my voting registration, to Hawaii. I am not legally allowed to be a resident of Hawaii. Under the new law, I am supposed to be a resident of Minnesota.

If you tallied the amount of time I’ve spent in Minnesota, it would be less than four months, I’d guess.

You may not think this is a big deal, except for this: if I work, my taxes get paid to Minnesota, a state in which I do not live. When I vote, I have to vote for politicians in Minnesota, a state in which I do not live. And think about this– if we had kids, I would have no power, no say whatsoever, in how their schools were run because we’d live in a state in which I cannot vote.

So yeah, I think it’s a big deal.

Military spouses give up a lot to follow their soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines around the world. Our careers take a beating, we have to move constantly, we’re not near our extended family, and we’re subject to the military’s schedule. Most of us knew that going in, so it’s not a big surprise (or shouldn’t be*). What is frustrating is to feel like all of that doesn’t matter, like we’re just another piece of furniture that has to get relocated when the military member transfers. They could at least make it easier to vote.

……….

*I would like to insert here that I think the stickers and shirts and such that say “Navy Wife: The Toughest Job in the Navy” (or fill in your branch as need be) are asinine. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but even though it’s tough having to move around a lot and worrying about your spouse, your spouse has a much tougher job than you. They have to be away from their family, too; they move just as much (if not more) than you do; they don’t get to see their kids grow up (while you do); and their jobs, in and of themselves, are hard and dangerous and sometimes downright scary. Case in point: my husband is a welder and yet some of his training involves how to make judgment calls, like “if toxic gas is leaking into the ship, how to you choose the person to go in and seal it up, knowing that person will probably not come back out alive?” I’m not making this up. He had an entire week’s training about gas leaks and such things, and that was a serious part of it. I do not envy him in the least, having to know he might someday weigh that decision. Again, he’s a welder. Not a SEAL, not a SeaBee, not a sniper, not anything remotely worry-inducing, and he still has a tougher job than me.

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This weekend I went to a Spongebob themed birthday party for a girl turning nine. It took me longer than I thought it would for me to pick out a gift for her, because nine is a difficult age. At nine, kids are too told for “little kid” toys, but too young for “pre-teen” things (well, mostly) and I don’t want to encourage the bratty behavior of Hannah Montana, etc. They understand sarcasm enough to use it, but not to use it appropriately, so that most of what they say is really smart-alecky sounding, even when they don’t mean to be smart.

Anyway, I spent a long time before going to the store trying to remember what I would’ve liked when I was nine. That’s third grade, in case you can’t remember. At age nine, I was re-reading (for the fourth time, I think) the Chronicles of Narniaand had just started tearing through Nancy Drew.

Side note: I’ve read every one of the “original” Nancy Drew stories, by the way, and a few of the “modern” ones that really aren’t as good. I was really upset when they made her into a pre-teen for the movie a few years back, because Nancy in the books is in high school and can drive and has a boyfriend and is cool. I had no trouble looking up to her when I was nine, so why do you have to make her younger and dorky for the movie?

I think by then I was also into collecting plastic horses (there are over 100 of them in the guest room closet at my folks’ house, or used to be anyway) and loved going to football games, assuming the Gators were playing. So anything having to do with that would’ve worked for me as a birthday gift. I’d like to think that most of the kids in my third grade class would’ve liked at least one of those things (books, horses, sports) so that would make me mostly typical, right? (Here I am, though I think this might have been my 8th birthday and not my 9th…)

Well, it’s harder than you think to shop for a nine year old. They watch cartoons that scream at them and flash bright colors, or they watch (on TV) bratty kids who have dumb parents get into trouble and somehow never get punished. They only play outside where either mom can see them every second or as part of organized sports. They have hours of homework at night (even in kindergarten). They have video games that reward them immediately with points or “gold” or whatever it is for their “actions.” The education budget is limited so there’s not much in the way of art or music or even playground time.

This all makes it hard to shop. I don’t want to give movies that encourage sitting indoors, but you can’t easily give “going outdoors” as a gift (though I did take her to see sea turtles on Friday, which she loved). I settled on art supplies, of the slightly crazy (drive mom slightly crazy, that is) variety: “3D” sidewalk chalk with glasses, scratch and sniff colored pencils (with Spongebob coloring sheets), glass markers (as in markers that draw on windows, mirrors, etc and can be washed away), and a paint-it-yourself pet’s bowl kit (she’s got a dog). I must have picked well because another kid at the party said, “Oh, I almost bought her that, too!” to about three of the items.

Really, I tried to remember being in third grade, but the memories are hazy. Third grade was the first major move of my life (since I don’t remember the move that happened when I was two). Six weeks before the end of the school year, my family moved from Georgia to Florida and I started a new school. Too late in the year to really catch up, but enough into the year that I wasn’t the “new girl” in fourth grade and was therefore uninteresting. Oh, and I had a “funny accent” (remember, from Georgia) so that didn’t help. Memories of third grade beyond moving? Well, I remember painting paper fish to make a mural. I remember getting my desk dumped because it was messy (which is a fate I don’t think should happen to any child, but I’ll get into that another time). I remember trying to quit school on the third day because my teacher didn’t want me to have “doo-dads” (i.e. fun erasers and colored pencils and the like) in my desk. The thing is, to this day, if I’m doodling or playing with something while I’m talking to you, it’s because I’m concentrating on what you’re saying. It sounds weird, but to keep my brain on one informational topic, I have to be doing something creative with my hands, or my brain will get distracted. Really. But I think leaving behind the only place I’d ever known and moving to a new state and starting a new school sort of blurred any memories of what was popular at age nine.

I remember New Kids on the Block, vaguely, and remember my NKOTB slapbracelet vividly. And MC Hammer, because we all tried to do the dance. I remember watching the Ghost Busters cartoon, though I think I had to sneak that one because I’m pretty sure I wasn’t really allowed to watch it. I liked the Disney afternoon cartoons, like Rescue Rangers and TailSpin and DuckTails. I played kick ball on the playground and we made forts in the woods behind the playground (which our teacher supervised). We read The Boxcar Children on days it rained so our room sounded like the boxcar with the rain beating down, and when we read Sarah, Plain and Tall we got boxes and slid down the hill behind the school. I don’t think a teacher could get away with that now. My best friend and I made friendship bracelets and we wrote letters (pen pals were cool!) and we rode our bikes every afternoon.

Do kids do that stuff any more?

Anyway, that’s what I remember from age nine. I had seen the Berlin Wall fall down and I was worried about the rain forest getting cut down and I already had two siblings and I wonder how much those things have affected the way I think now.

The kids turning nine this year? They were born in 2001. That means they’ve never known a time when we weren’t at war against “terror,” which is a hard enough thing to grasp as an adult. Imagine a kid whose whole life is lived knowing about terrorists, and hearing about global warming, and not being in schools that fund the arts so they have no outlet to express themselves.

To all of my friends who have kids: I will be giving them art. They need it.

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