It’s The Final Countdown (Are We Experts at PCSing Yet?)

Despite Journalism 101 instructing me to always write the headline last, the title of this post was the first thing to fill the blank page this morning. Obviously – I had the chorus of The Final Countdown by Europe on loop in my head and because I’m married to someone who grew up a Detroit Pistons during the Bad Boys era, it’s impossible for me not to think of Isiah Thomas and Dennis Rodman (see player intro) when listing to the Swedish rock song. Growing up in Arizona ensured I was a Phoenix Sun fan (see player intro) so Sirius by The Alan Parsons Project hits me the same way as The Final Countdown does Clay. Yes – I know Sirius was also the Chicago Bulls’ intro song but 10-year-old Karen hated the Bulls so we’re just going to leave that alone. Fun fact – Clay also hated the Bulls growing up so it was just one of the many things we bonded over when we first met that fateful night at Clemson in 2001.

So here we are – our time in Chicagoland is coming to end…it’s the final countdown, if you will. The packers are scheduled to arrive in less than 30 days and before we know it, we will be on our way to Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. The almost two years we’ve spent here has been almost entirely defined by the pandemic and as a result, I’m not quite sure how we’ll reflect back on our seemingly brief stay in the land of polish sausage. But the unseasonably cold and wet spring we just experienced is certainly making it easier to say goodbye. The irony isn’t lost on me though – as a senior in high school, I couldn’t wait to leave Pennsylvania and attend college out-of-state. Twenty years later, here I am looking forward to calling the Keystone State home again. Well – for about a year.

July 2020 – at least we won’t have to wear masks this time around.

Clay and I often get asked if we’re tired of moving and we almost always answer, “Not yet!” Despite moving consistently being labeled as one of life’s major stressors, we find ourselves embracing the chaotic energy that inevitably manifests during the process of leaving fr`om Point A to Point B. Thankfully our kids do as well. We understand this may not always be the case – especially as they approach their teenage years – but they have adventurous souls and nomadic spirits so they’re just as excited as we are about our upcoming move. Admittedly, moving from Fort Sheridan, IL to Carlisle Barracks, PA isn’t really that big of a deal – it is just under 700 miles and only one time zone difference, which is chump change in the world of military moves. And we’ve been at this game long enough to know that there is only so much that we can control – it all works out in the end.

July 2020 in Northern Virginia

While the Army does contract a company (who then in turn subcontracts another company 92% of the time) to pack our household goods and schlep them across the country, there is still a lot of work to be done on our end with each move. Thankfully, we’ve just crossed-off a large item on our ever-growing to-do list – we were assigned quarters (housing) on Carlisle Barracks so we have a floor plan, which will help us determine what we need to bring/sell/donate.

We will only be at Carlisle Barracks for 11 months and then the Army will send us somewhere else that will likely remain unknown until next year, so it becomes a guessing game of “Do you think we may need this later?” coupled with my strong desire to get rid of everything and become true minimalists.

But by far the biggest headache associated with moving every 1-3 years is easily the coordinating and scheduling of the seemingly mundane aspects of life most people take for granted. We have to register the kids for school, schedule physicals, complete mountains of paperwork, find new doctors and dentists, get a new veterinarian, find sports leagues and keep our fingers-crossed that tryouts haven’t already happened, advocate for our kids when transcripts don’t line up with a different state’s requirements, and most mind numbingly annoying – identify a local emergency contact on every single piece of registration paperwork despite not meeting a damn soul yet.

Ice Age Trail – Wisconsin, May 2022

However, we’ve moved enough times to know that no matter how in the weeds we feel, it all works out in the end. So we keep marching. Stuff will inevitably get broken, packers will accidentally pack their trash and tape it up in a box that sits in storage for two months, the driver will forget to lock the back doors of the truck and Clay will have to chase after said truck on foot to let him know the doors flew open, movers won’t arrive until 6pm, previous tenants won’t be moved out of the house when we arrive despite our lease starting, and movers will refuse to lift furniture over 100 pounds (yes – all of these things have happened to us over the years).

The next couple of months will be filled with end-of-school-year prep, baseball, softball, soccer, travel (I can’t wait to write about how we chose our big summer adventure this year), and moving yet again. The final countdown is on – may the odds be ever in our favor.

Traveling In Our Own Backyard – A Weekend In Chicago

I’m the oldest of four and my husband is the youngest of three so our children have a robust collection of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. As the only members of our extended family who move every 1-3 years courtesy of the US Government, we tend to host at least a few visitors at each duty station. Over the years, we’ve taken family members through 30-foot high snowdrifts in northern New York, we’ve hiked with them among American buffalo and Longhorn steer in Oklahoma, and we’ve toured the Smithsonian countless times together in Washington DC. We’ve eaten pounds of Kansas City BBQ, attended multiple rodeos in Texas, and enjoyed the views at Bull Run Winery in Virginia.

As our time in Chicagoland is rapidly approaching to an end (T-minus 60 days), we recently hosted our last visitors – my sister and her family. They hold a very unique title among our family – they’re our only family members who have visited us at every single duty station, which is quite the feat!

We’re currently stationed at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, which is about 30 miles north from the heart of downtown Chicago. Our little family of four loves to spend time exploring cities – we’ve wandered around the streets of New York City, London, Paris, Washington DC, Munich, and much more over the years and will never turn down the opportunity to visit a major world city. We’ve spent countless hours in downtown Chicago in our almost two-years of being stationed at Fort Sheridan and love to immerse ourselves in the architecture, sports, and food of Second City.

Self-timer fail, November 2021

My parents visited us last summer but had no desire to go to downtown Chicago (womp womp). Clay’s sister and her family visited us this past November and we had a blast spending a couple of nights in downtown Chicago with them so when we suggested doing the same to my sister, Megan, and her family, we were thrilled that they enthusiastically wanted to do the same.

We stayed at the JW Marriott Chicago, which is located in The Loop (Chicago has 77 neighborhoods/community areas). The Loop is the heart of the Chicago business district and surrounded by elevated ‘L’ tracks. It is adjacent to River North, which is a former industrial neighborhood that’s been transformed with spectacular dining and nightlife. It is within walking distance of the famed Magnificent Mile (Michigan Ave.) and The Gold Coast, which has 19th and early 20th century mansions lining the streets. Each family had their own room on different floors – our room had a great view of Willis Tower, much to our son’s and nephew’s delight.

The number one item on our guests Chicago bucket list was a Chicago River Architecture Tour. Our personal favorite is the 90-minute tour offered by Wendella and we were delighted when discovered Jack was our guide. We had him once before – Jack is a Vietnam Veteran who had a robust architecture career and now works for Wendella as a retirement gig. His love for Chicago, design, and history is abundant and he peppers his presentation with humor, wit, and heartwarming stories.

I’m not going to lie – it was cold for mid-April. The forecast was clear when we boarded the boat but 30 minutes into the tour, it started to rain. And then it snowed for bit – I think it was at that point that my sister wished she took her Spring Break vacation in the Caribbean, rather than visit us in Chicago.

After the tour, we had a couple of hours before our dinner reservation so we walked up down Michigan Ave. and popped into Eately for some pre-dinner drinks and snacks. We ate dinner at Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse, which is one of our favorite restaurants to eat at in River North with kids.

I adore their shrimp scampi and have yet to order anything else.

In addition to having great food, the restaurant is located in a landmark building the was the home of Al Capone’s enforcer, Frank Nitti. As a result, you can go into the basement of the restaurant and visit Frank Nitti’s vault. In 1998, an electrician drilled a hole in the wall of the basement and uncovered a hidden room that was used as a hideout during the Prohibition era, as well as a passageway to Chicago’s underground tunnel system. Also discovered was a large safe that you can open and close when you visit the vault in the basement.

One reason why I like to stay in The Loop is because the walk from River North to The Loop is one of my favorite views of Chicago at night. I’m a sucker for bright lights and urban landscapes and the Carbide and Carbon building is absolutely gorgeous at night. Located on the far right, it is a shining example of Art Deco brilliance – rumor has it that the architects designed it to look like a green champagne bottle with a foil top.

The SkyDeck on top of the Willis Tower was one of the last things to re-open due to the pandemic so this was our first opportunity to see Chicago from 1,353 feet.

We enjoyed the interactive Chicago-themed queue leading up to the high-speed elevator and felt that the entire Willis Tower experience was worth the cost of admission. We managed to avoid the majority of the crowds by getting there shortly after it opened so by 11am, we had checked off going to the top of the 12th tallest building in the world.

We’re admittedly not huge fans of Chicago-style deep dish pizza. Our family prefers Giordano’s over Lou Malnati’s but we will choose to eat New York style over deep dish all day everyday. However, we couldn’t let our guests visit Chicago without going deep at least once at Giordano’s.

After lunch, we Uber-ed down to the Museum of Science and Industry, which is a personal favorite of ours. The kids had a blast exploring the interactive exhibits together and excitedly showed their cousins they’re favorite parts of the museum (the U-boat…duh).

We opted to go to the famed original Billy Goat Tavern for dinner that night for our least-expensive meal of the trip. Located on Lower Michigan Avenue, the bar is actually underneath the street and maintains much of the original ‘dive’ mentality, despite being a popular tourist destination.

We had cheezborgers and chips (of course). The kids had Cokes and the adults had draft beer. Billy Goat Tavern has two beers specifically brewed for the restaurant by Miskatonic Brewing Company – an IPA and a Pilsner, both of which are quite good.

Again – how can you not love Chicago at night? This vertical sign on The Chicago Theater is nearly six stories high and one of the few such signs left today. It is one of the unofficial emblems of the city and considered a historical landmark.

We had brunch reservations the following morning at The Smith before making our way back up to Fort Sheridan so we explored Millennium Park and enjoyed the slightly warmer temperatures. If you find yourself at The Smith for brunch, order the jalapeño cheddar shrimp and grits – you won’t be disappointed!

Moving to different places every couple of years has afforded us the opportunity to really get to know various areas beyond what a few-day visit can offer. That being said, I think everyone should travel in their own backyard every so often. Get a hotel room, if you can swing it, and experience your city/town/area the way an out-of-towner would. You know never know – you may not only learn something about your home, you may also learn something about yourself.

How I Found My Bliss Again in Southern California

This winter was tough on our family. The Chicago area is known for heavy clouds and bitterly cold temperatures – combined with lower-than-average snowfall, this winter felt particularly difficult to endure. When we found out where the Army is sending us next before Christmas (the earliest we’ve ever found out!), it was hard not to focus on our impending move this summer and everything that awaits us upon our arrival. It’s not that we don’t like Chicago – we adore the Second City! But the northern suburbs of Chicago isn’t where we’re meant to be long-term.

We chose Southern California for our Spring Break location because it checked multiple boxes – it’s warm, it has great hiking opportunities, and of course, Disneyland. We flew into John Wayne International Airport and drove down to San Diego for the first leg of our trip. Clay and I had traveled to San Diego when I was 5 months pregnant with our oldest but we hadn’t been there since so it was cool to explore the city as a family.

We stayed at the Manchester Grand Hyatt (that’s where we stayed almost 13 years ago too!), which is on the water near Seaport Village. The hotel has a fantastic pool, multiple bars and restaurants, and is in a fantastic location. We were tired from our day of flying and driving (in Friday afternoon traffic – poor planning on our part!) so we decided to eat dinner at one of the restaurants adjacent to the hotel – Sally’s Fish House and Bar.

Oh my goodness – it did not disappoint! Not only was the outdoor seating area divine, the food was absolutely delicious. I had swordfish with a charred cauliflower steak, crispy Brussels sprouts, pickled red onions, and guajillo butter sauce and Clay had the Chilean sea bass with linguini, rock shrimp, baby spinach, herb-garlic cream, and a tomato-olive caper relish.

And the kids menu had steak, so the kids were happy too!

After dinner, we spend the next few hours walking around San Diego Bay and visiting the various military memorials that comprise the ‘Greatest Generation Collection’. San Diego is home to our country’s largest concentration of military personnel and the Navy is very much part of the city’s landscape.

When planning our visit to San Diego, we were most excited to visit the USS Midway Museum. The following day, we spent almost 6 hours exploring the decommissioned aircraft carrier and we consider it to be one of the best military museums we’ve every visited. Visitors are encouraged to explore on their own and touch the various pieces of equipment. Volunteers are posted throughout the museum to answer any questions you may have and you can even order beer at the restaurant on board – what’s not to love?

Later that afternoon and evening we spent time at the pool and then walked around San Diego Bay again at night. The next morning, we packed up and drove back north – we opted not to visit the famed San Diego Zoo this visit, instead choosing to go for a long hike en route to our next location.

We decided to hike a 5 mile loop at Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach. We purchased a $15 day pass and chose the ‘Difficult‘ Moro Ridge trail which has an elevation gain of 1053 feet.

It was exactly what we needed. Our last hike with that much elevation gain was during our visit to Colorado last summer. Illinois is the second most flat state in the US so a lot of the hiking we’ve done around Fort Sheridan has left us quite underwhelmed.

I haven’t been my best self in a couple of years. Pandemic life combined with the Army sending us to an area that doesn’t mesh with me 100% during that said pandemic has resulted in a period of my life where I struggle to find the extraordinary in everyday life. I’m not unhappy but my motivation and focus are not as vibrant as they once were and as a result, I aimlessly go about most days with a general feeling of blah.

But during our time in southern California, my windshield wasn’t foggy. Our extremely well-timed trip was a much-needed break from our routine – with sunshine! The four of us were able to eat, unplug, and enjoy each other. We returned to Illinois recharged and ready to make the most of our remaining four months in the Land of Lincoln. But not without visiting Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland Resort first…stay tuned.

Get Action.

March admittedly feels like an odd month to launch a new blog, which itself admittedly feels like a vintage social media platform that caters to aging thirty-and-forty-somethings with an appreciation for The Killers, IPAs, and eating meals in bowls. The heartbreaking, terrifying, and tense situation in Ukraine has darkened an already dim two years. And while having a husband in the military lends itself to a certain amount of uncertainty, the air is even more thick as the news in Eastern Europe worsens each day.

I’ve been trying to limit my doom scrolling so that it hovers somewhere in the responsibly informed zone but I’m not really understanding that assignment (did I do that right…please forgive me and my skinny jeans). This time next week the four of us will be 2000+ miles away on our Spring Break adventure. While it does feel a bit grimy to be traveling as if headlines like ‘RUSSIA STRIKES NEAR POLAND’ aren’t a daily occurrence, I suppose there is an element of needing to go about our lives because we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow.

So why Avoiding Oysters?

Get action. Seize the moment. Man was never intended to become an oyster.

Teddy Roosevelt

The above quote is pulled from The Strenuous Life – a collection of speeches and essays from the 26th President of the United States. We’re big fans of Theodore Roosevelt – our son has devoured many biographies about the The Colonel, our dog’s full name is Teddy Girl ‘Ruff Rider’ Roosevelt, and there isn’t a museum with a curated T.R. exhibit that we’ll pass by (for those wondering, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City is our favorite so far). That’s not to say that he isn’t infallible, but his life as a conservationist, naturalist, historian, and statesman inspires us to be courageous and not fritter away our time.

I’m not quite sure how I feel when reflecting on the past two years. We endured pandemic life – moved from the Nation’s Capital to Second City (courtesy of Uncle Sam), languished in the monotony of staying home, and tried hard to make the best of – well – everything. The four of binged-watched Modern Family and we’re currently working our way through Brooklyn Nine-Nine. We worked hard, we attempted to create as much normalcy for our children as we could muster, we got outside, and we searched for adventure – both big and small (and boy – did we have some clunkers!).

We’re emerging from pandemic life and the harsh Chicago winter excited for what is in store for our family. The Army is sending us to Pennsylvania this summer for one-year and we’re all looking forward a change of scenery. We have some exciting trips scheduled for this summer – but understand that the situation in Eastern Europe may necessitate that our plans change. Perhaps that is why The Bull Moose’s words resonate so much with me right now. We’re not meant to become an oyster. We need to seize the moment. And I might as well blog about it in the process.

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