joanna irl

In Defense of Christmas decorations on November 1

I can already hear the oh-so-festive sounds of groans and moans, the snide comments and the weeping for our future.

The Christmas decorations are already in stores.

Truth be told, I saw Christmas trees in Macy’s back in September (which was just weird), but now that it’s November, I’m a lot less bothered. I know a lot of people gripe about this, and will make comments about “forgetting Thanksgiving” (come on, no one really forgets Thanksgiving), but I’m about to offer you a reasonable defense for (seemingly too) early Christmas displays.

First, the so-called “forgotten” Thanksgiving. No one forgets Thanksgiving. The “problem” with Thanksgiving is that it doesn’t have much in the way of marketing, and the origin story most of us learned in school is entirely too simplistic. That’s okay, though, Thanksgiving has turned into a national time to give thanks for what we have, for our blessings and abundance, and to spend time with family. And that’s great! But you know what’s missing?

Kids.

For Thanksgiving, kids will mostly be relegated to the “Kids’ Table” while the adults swap family stories or watch football or the like. This is really and truly an adult holiday, and therein lies the marketing gap. There aren’t Thanksgiving “treats” to buy, costumes to wear, and decorations are limited to generic autumn things or cornucopias. Plus Thanksgiving is a strictly North American holiday (even though harvest festivals have ancient roots), and in November the only one in the US. There isn’t the appeal of a wide range of cultural backgrounds the way there is with Christmas or even Halloween (which is increasingly celebrated in other countries). It’s a great holiday and an American tradition, but it isn’t a BIG holiday. It’s more on-par with July 4th in the US: celebrated nationally with traditions of its own (including a specific type of meal, be it a cookout or turkey dinner) but really with little buildup and done by the next day.

So setting aside Thanksgiving, isn’t it entirely too much to have Christmas displays nearly two months before the actual holiday?

Not at all.

While I agree that most of it before about November 1 is pushing it (with the exception of craft stores, which I’ll get back to momentarily), by the time we get to November, we’re careening toward one of the largest holidays in the world. Think I’m exaggerating? As of 2011, an estimated 2 billion people are culturally (if not religiously) Christian. That’s 2 billion people celebrating Christmas. Factor into that the size and scope of the marketing in our own country, and you have a behemoth of a religious holiday.

On a smaller scale, besides an important religious holiday, Christmas has become (in our country, and many other western countries), focused on coming together with people and exchanging gifts. This costs a lot of money, be it in travel expenses, purchasing (or making), and possibly shipping. There are a lot of things we “need” for this holiday, and this huge chunk of expenses is easier to take if spread out over two months instead of one. Plane tickets are easier to find (and more affordable) with more lead-time, gift purchasing can be done in small spurts, etc. It makes sense to get people thinking about it early, and it makes sense to have things ready to go for people who need to shop early.

And speaking of shopping early, crafters are a huge category here. One of the growing trends (which makes me very happy, as it’s moving us away from the wholly commercial aspect of this whole business) is handmade gifts and decor. The thing about this is that, in order to make any kind of quantity, a person needs enough time to gather supplies and actually produce the items in question. Even making cards (which I did until a couple of years ago) took time and patience, and I often started looking for my supplies in August or September so I’d have time to find everything I needed and make them all.

Finally on a personal note, there is a tiny minority of us who have loved ones overseas for the holidays, and we all have to make sure their holiday packages arrive in plenty of time. The US Post Office has already said that for military, standard post service deadline is November 12.* That’s next week.

So when you’re out this week and you see Christmas displays and hear Jingle Bells, just take a minute before you make a snide remark, take a minute and get a little perspective. There might be someone shopping for another Christmas spent apart.

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*Standard post is the equivalent of “parcel post” and means going by ship somewhere. If you do priority (or air) mail, you have almost another month. But check the chart anyway.

joanna irl

Holiday party… in March?

holiday party j and j

Last weekend we had our very belated holiday party with J’s command. It’s a holiday party because, y’know, they missed ALL of the holidays while on deployment. Plus it was a homecoming party.

holiday party girls

It was nice, and a bunch of people who are becoming our friends came, and we had a good time. Mostly it was fun to dress up (and I finally got to wear my dress from the wedding I didn’t make) and J wore a new outfit and we enjoyed talking to people and meeting new people and all of those things you do at command functions, except it was better because the command is SMALL and only about a quarter of the people came (I think… maybe half?) so it didn’t feel too crowded and overwhelming.

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I don’t have much to say, because really going to these command dinner parties is a lot like going to a wedding where you only know the bride and groom and none of the guests. There’s even a buffet line and bad dancing, with most of the dance floor occupied by the younger (i.e. the below-ten-years-old) set.

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Still, I thought I’d share some photos. So there you go. ^_^

joanna irl

Mexico Mission Photos

This post will have to be short as it’s already late and I’ve got a long day tomorrow. In case you haven’t seen them yet, there’s a new album over here with photos from the Mexico mission trip.

I haven’t had much to blog about lately, not because I haven’t been doing things, but rather because I’ve been doing too many¬†things to really write about them. Life is just plain busy. And between camp and a mission trip and getting ready to move.. well, I’m out of spare time.

Oh. We’re moving again. In September we’ll be heading to San Diego. So we begin the PCS* Chronicles again. All the drama of house hunting and finding a grocery store and other such thrilling things are happening again. I know you’re as excited as I am.

More to follow, I’m sure.

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*PCS = Permanent Change of Station, i.e. moving because the military is reassigning J.

joanna irl

Silk Scarves and Other Bribes

This weekend I received a box of what I call “bribes” — gifts from various port calls sent back so that I can enjoy them, too. Some might call them souvenirs, but as what I got was mostly from a place I’ve never been, I’m not sure that’s quite the right term.

green silk scarf

Anyway, I got two lovely silk scarves, one light blue and one green, and I’m very excited to be able to wear them this fall when I visit a much cooler climate. I also got a little painted jewelry box and an elephant for my collection. ^_^

Deployment bribes are fun, but maybe my favorite part of the whole box I got was a DVD. There’s a program on the ship called “United Through Reading” and it’s supposed to be for parents to read to their children on camera and then it gets mailed home for the kids to have a bedtime story from mom or dad. Well…. the cats got a book read to them. Really, I got a DVD with J talking to me (and to the cats), but after a few minutes he realized he had a full 30 minutes of time on camera and decided to actually read me the book. And show all the pictures. But the snarky comments he made about each page had me in stitches. (It wasn’t that great of a book to start, so that didn’t help.)

Anyway, it’s good to have connections like that. I’m going to send a box back to him tomorrow with some odds and ends I’ve picked up for him, which I won’t include here in case he reads it and the surprise is ruined, and some lemonade powder since he’s drinking something like 12L of water a day. I figure flavor might make it easier.

joanna irl

Deployment Curse

I have it. Big time.

Other people do, too. It’s an actual military superstition. Well, among military spouses anyway. See this. And this. And this.

It’s like Murphy’s Law, except it only goes into effect when your active duty (or reservist) spouse deploys. And it can start in the week before they leave, but usually happens in the week or so after they leave.

In the last two weeks, I’ve had the following:

  • The a/c flooded the garage. Again.
  • The a/c also needs to be cleaned because we discovered (when checking to fix the flooding thing) that it’s covered in salt and corrosion.
  • The front porch lights went out. And needed whole new fixtures.
  • The tub drain backed up and had to be dismantled.
  • The cats had their vet appointments and have had to go on prescription things.
  • The computer has started being wonky. It’s four years old, which is about the lifespan, but still.
  • My cell phone has started being wonky, too.
  • I’ve been sick.
  • I’ve lost several important items, such as the pet fur attachment for my vacuum… my stairs are sort of awful right now.
  • And probably some other stuff, too, that I’ve already blocked from my memory.

Today it is in the form of a flat tire that I discovered at 5:30pm, so half an hour after repair shops close, and as I’m supposed to leave for my Wednesday night commitment. I haven’t been anywhere today, spending most of the day cleaning the house (which is an ongoing project this week since I finally have the time), and I was in a hurry to leave (so I could arrive on time), but as I pulled out of the driveway, I heard a scraping sound and noticed as I neared the mailbox (end of the block) that my car was pulling hard to the left…. so I got out and sure enough, the front left tire was on-the-ground-flat. I pumped it back up to turn around and pull back into the driveway, but now I’m worried… because I first noticed a slight pull to the left yesterday on the way home from the zoo… but it wasn’t bad so I was going to get an alignment on Friday… but if my tire was low yesterday (and clearly I didn’t notice, so what’s wrong with me that I’m that distracted?) then have I hurt my axle? I sure hope not. And I think this is one of my new tires, but I can’t find the receipt for it so I’m a little concerned… because if it’s new, then I could get it fixed for free.

At least I get free towing while J is deployed. Sigh.

joanna irl, society of dabblers

Kaneohe Bay Air Show

Oooh, two entries in one day! Amazing! Haha.

Blue Angels

This is mostly to let you know there are photos from Saturday when we went to the Kaneohe Bay Air Show. We had a great time looking at the static displays and seeing the flight demonstrations, including a helicopter that flies upside-down (though I didn’t get photos of it, sorry) and an F22 Raptor, as well as the usual stunt planes and historic aircraft. We got to see the Blue Angels, too. They usually only come to Hawaii every 3 years, so it’s nice we got to see them.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun and we managed to not get sunburned, which is always a good thing!

joanna irl

Arguing with the DoD

The housing manager for our community has just come and gone. He took a couple of photos and really was only here about five minutes, but we accomplished something important: I now have documentation that my house is badly insulated.

Anyone that has come to visit me knows that the upstairs (especially the guest room) is always about ten degrees warmer than the rest of the house, and I have to have two or three floor fans going at once just to make it bearable for sleeping.

I wasn’t going to worry too much about this as I only have guests every couple of months (not to mention, it’s not like they hang out in that room anyway, it’s just for sleeping) and because we living in “military” housing, we pay a flat rate for everything.

That’s about to change.

Late last week, I got a letter in the mail from the Department of Defense (you know, the government agency that takes a nearly 20% chunk of our national budget and does… well, something with all of it, including paying my spouse) saying that they were no longer going to simply pay for our “high” energy consumption. Starting in January, for every time we go over the “average” usage of energy in our neighborhood, we will have to pay the difference. If we’re under the average, then we get “credit” (which I’ll get back to in a minute). They’ve been monitoring everyone’s energy usage for two years and have decided to use us as the “pilot” program (aka the guinea pigs) to see how it goes.

Now, I’m all for cutting down on energy consumption, but here are the problems I see:

  1. We already give our entire housing allowance to be able to live in a place at a flat rate, including all utilities (water, electricity, waste disposal, etc). This should already be accounted for somewhere in the budget.
  2. They claim they are going to only compare our usage against other “like units” in our community. This is supposed to account for things like different building standards in each community (which believe me, there are) and for different size homes (though there are several sizes just in my neighborhood). With these inconsistencies, how can they make a fair comparison?
  3. Our homes are not energy efficient in the first place. If they (the Department of Defense) are truly cutting back because they are tired of paying overages on our energy bills (which I am told are around $19 million a year), then why not fix the houses?

And now we come to my real problem. My house is badly insulated. There are gaps around the doors and windows because we don’t have weather stripping. The outside is covered only in a plastic/composite siding instead of wood or stucco. The appliances are the cheap kind and not the energy efficient kind. We have no ceiling fans in a tropical climate. Just having fans upstairs would make a world of difference. They have them in other communities here on the island… but those communities were not built by the DoD. How then can they penalize us for not being energy efficient when they require us to run the air conditioner (because of mold and mildew problems) but have houses that leak that air conditioning out through the doors and windows. And they want us to use less water, but we have high-use appliances. It makes no sense.

Anyway, I’ve got a group of neighbors going with me to the “Town Hall” meeting that’s being hosted by the DoD and we’re going to tell them exactly what we think of all of this. I’m hoping they’ll at least give us some weather stripping and ceiling fans.

It’s not that I’m worried about getting charged for energy usage. I’m usually far below the average in my use anyway. It’s more the principal of it, to be honest.

And this whole thing about getting “credit” for being under the average? We can either have a $5 check (whoop-ti-do) or “bank” it for a month when we “might” go over. DUMB.

Y’know what else I just realized? You can measure the level of my irritation with the number of times I use quotation marks. Heh.

joanna irl

The Frocking Date

Today they held the frocking ceremony on J’s ship.

What is frocking? It sounds kind of… bad, doesn’t it? Like it might even be painful. Well, back in the old days, the sign of a Petty Officer or commissioned officer was that they wore a frock coat. When they got promoted, it sometimes happened at sea before the Navy could approve it, so they’d put on the frock coat and act as the new rank without getting paid yet. The same basic principle applies today.

Getting to the frocking ceremony turned out to be a bit of an adventure. We were told early in the week that it would be at 10:30 on Friday morning. Two days ago, it changed to 2:30 on Friday afternoon. Last night it became 8:30 Friday morning. They also changed the location a couple of times and finally settled on the pier, or so I was told. J confirmed that families were invited to come and let them know I would be there, so at 8:00 this morning, I left for the pier.

Background information: All this week, J has been getting home at 9:30 or later because of a clogged drain on the ship. I won’t go into too much detail (for your sake, dear reader, and you should thank me), but suffice to say I learned that the Navy owns a giant version of a plumbing snake, uses the fire main (i.e. big hose) for lots of things other than fires, and that stupid people tried to flush chicken pieces down the drains. This means J and I have both been exhausted since I wait up for him and we haven’t been having dinner until 10pm or so and then get up at 5am because they’ve insisted he be back by 6am every day. You’ve got all that? I’m tired. I’m frustrated with them keeping him all the time. They change the frocking ceremony repeatedly (and I canceled a possible interview, which I’ll get into later).

I got down to the area where the ship is, in the shipyard section, and started trying to find parking. Because it was at 8:30 in the morning, all of the lots were full. I had to drive about a quarter mile away to park and walk to the pier. I finally got there, already frustrated that I spent almost 30 minutes finding a place to park, and J met me at the gate to escort me back to the ship. It turned out that they moved the whole thing onto the flight deck of the ship. That’s right, the entire crew was packed onto the flight deck.

The other fun thing? I was the only spouse that came. I’m guessing that had something to do with the constantly changing schedule, but it’s just a guess. A hunch, even.

Anyway, J fell into place and I stood to one side, very frustrated by that point. The captain hadn’t arrived yet, but this other man I didn’t know came over and shook my hand. He told me his first name (though it’s escaping me at the moment) and I told him who I was.

“How are you today?” he asked.
“Oh, I could be better,” I said.
“Why is that?” he asked.
“Well, it was a really big pain to get here today. There’s no parking in this part of base and they kept changing the ceremony times.” At this point, I did what any smart, supportive military spouse would do: I started crying. I wanted to fall through the floor at that point, but I was hot and tired and fed up with the whole ship. Oh, and the only spouse there. There was that bit, too.
The guy looked at me and said, “I’m so sorry, that’s my fault. It’s a proud day for your husband, though. What would make it better?”
“Well, it would be nice to have him home for lunch,” I said. “And I’m so sorry, I’m not usually like this.”
“Oh, it’s all right, and I think I can have him home for lunch today. And thanks for the feedback, we need to hear things like that.”

That wasn’t so bad, right? Right?

Right. Well, the guy changed caps just then for the ceremony, which was about to start. The new cap was labeled. It said “XO.”

That’s right. I just bawled in front of the Commander of the ship and told him what a bad job he’d done coordinating the frocking. Like I said, I wanted to hide.

The outcome? Well, J got the rest of the morning off and I took him back after lunch, so that was good. I apologized to the XO for being rude, but he told me I had no reason to apologize. J told me later he probably doesn’t get much honest feedback so it might have done some good in the long run. I sure hope so. The XO was nothing but nice to me, and seems to be a decent guy overall according to what J’s said about him.

So that was my adventure. J is now a First Class Petty Officer.

joanna irl

Adventures on the AFB Part Two!

In which our Brave Heroine ventures once again onto Hickam Air Force Base in search of a Craft Store.

Today I experienced the very best (I mean this both sarcastically and seriously) of military efficiency and helpfulness.

Our story begins after lunch with J. We had to go by the ITT office to get aquarium tickets for this weekend (more on that later) and if he’s there we get half off because his ship has an ITT budget. Good stuff. Anyway, we got the tickets, I dropped him back off at the ship, and told him I was going to head over to the AFB to look for the craft store.

Background Information That Will Help You Understand the Story: On February 1 Pearl Harbor and Hickam AFB became a “joint base.” According to the press release this will make everything SO much more efficient for everyone involved. Really, I think it’s just a matter of paperwork, as we could already use all of each others’ stuff (as in the NEX and BX, the gyms, the stores, the gas stations, the beaches, etc… everything) and could come and go on both bases whenever we wanted. Silly, really. Anyway, one of my friends told me this weekend about a small craft store on Hickam and roughly how to find it, so I decided to go look. I’ve been looking for a craft store since we got here, as there is no such thing as Michael’s on the island. Or Chickfila. Okay, back to the main story.

I drove to the main gate into Hickam and encountered a ridiculously long line of traffic. It took me over ten minutes to creep up to the officer checking IDs, but I finally got there and handed over my card. He looked at it, and at my car’s decals (which are good until 2012, I might add) and then told me I had to pull over and get a temporary pass at the visitor center. “Excuse me?” I said. He explained to me that they picked today to start enforcing the “joint base” thing and that the Navy was making them get everyone new base decals. SO I pulled into the visitor center parking lot, got my car’s info, and stood in line for a while to get a temporary tag, which is a piece of paper taped to my windshield.

Once I finally managed to get onto base, my gas light came on, so I drove to the mini-mart and gas station to fill my tank. The pay at the pump feature wasn’t working, so I had to go inside to pay for the gas. I asked the cashier where I could find the craft shop (since I hadn’t seen it yet) and she told me to go to the “little building across the street.” I thanked her and got back in my car. Upon driving across the street, I found a little building with no sign on it, but a parking lot with some cars and a main-door-looking entrance. I parked and walked inside….

…to find the veterinary clinic. I’m not kidding.

More Background Story: I have been trying since we got here to get ahold of the on-base vet clinic but they never ever answer their phones. Ever. They have no info online, just a phone number that you “have” to call to get an appointment. So I asked them how to get an appointment. Turns out you have to go to the office to make an appointment, then come back in three weeks. Just great.

So there I am at the vet clinic, which I needed anyway, so I asked about getting an appointment. I got the kitties in their system and then talked to the woman at the desk about what all they needed when I bring them back in March. She then lectured me about being late bringing them in. I pointed out to her that if they’d answer the phone, I would have found them months ago, but that I had no way to know where they were or when they were open if they didn’t answer the phone. She shrugged that off and acted mad that we’d been able to bring the cats into the state with their vaccines expired (though I’d explained to her that the vaccines have expired since we’ve been here and were valid when we traveled). Anyway, finally got the cats a vet appointment, and got back to the car… and realized that all of the paperwork she’d given me had both first AND last name misspelled. Now, neither J nor I have an “L” in our first name. Just so we’re clear. And there is no “R” in our last name, either. Isn’t that fantastic?

I finally got back in the car and drove around and around and around the area “across the street” from the mini-mart, looking for the craft store. No luck. In frustration, I pulled into the ITT office (the Hickam office, not the one I’d been to earlier) to ask them for help. The people in ITT where very helpful. They not only told me how to get to the craft store (which was a half a mile further down the road and not at all “across the street,” except that it was, in fact, on the other side of the road. Half a mile away.), but told me the best place to park when I got there and which door to use. Yay for helpfulness!

So. An hour and a half after venturing onto the base to find the store, I FOUND IT! I was very excited. I parked, walked across the street and to the door… to find the lights off and the door locked. They’re open six days a week and closed Monday. Of course. I leaned on the windows anyway trying to look inside and just see what all they had, and it looks like they’ve got a good collection of crafting materials, including scrapbooking stuff. As I moved down the windows, I found myself peering into an office with a woman peering back at me. I think we startled each other, because we both jumped, and then I laughed and called to her through the door to explain what I was I doing. She came to the door and was very friendly; she gave me several brochures and told me about their hours and their stock and the classes they hold during the month. I told her about my adventures looking for the place and about the vet clinic. Her response? “Well, if they’d answer the stupid phones once in a while, it would help!”

I rest my case.

She gave me directions to the gym on base and to the Hickam Pass & ID office and suggested I try there to get my base decals updated. I thanked her and drove to the opposite side of the base and (eventually) found the Pass & ID office. I went inside and was relieved to find a very short wait. At the Pearl Harbor Pass & ID office there’s usually a 2 hour wait; I think this one took five minutes. Anyway, I talked to the airmen there, and they looked at my current decals and told me they’d help me out, so I filled out a piece of paper and they handed me new decals, which will get me onto any base in the state. But the funny part of it all?

My car is now registered with the Air Force.

My only concern at this point is that the decals only say “Hickam AFB” and I might have to re-do them at some point so they say “Joint Base” or something. I dunno. But it works for now and that’s what matters.

[update]
In case you missed the tweet, I added photos from this weekend to the photo journal. Mostly Chinese New Year celebrations. I might blog about that later, but I think the photos are self-explanatory. ^_^