It’s Official

Well, the word is out now, so it’s time for me to announce it: you are looking at my command’s newest Strategic Engagements Coordinator. After eight months working in a position created to take advantage of my expertise, I managed to convince my bosses that I really AM a hard worker who knows what she’s doing, and is a pleasure to work with…so they decided to keep me.  

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Speed Racer

 

The school year is almost over for the girls here in Germany. Frankly, the school year was over about a week ago when they all took their final batch of tests, and turned in their final assignments, but you know how it is. There are still days left on the calendar to tick off before they can really be released for the summer. So, it’s been a mash-up of field trips, special projects, and field day fun.

Today was all about the car race. Continue reading

In The Mail

Got this in the mail last week from my cousin Sarah, who ran in Arizona to raise money for breast cancer research in honor of her mom, a breast cancer survivor. She didn’t know that my Aunt Julie and Uncle Mike flew to Arizona from Ohio to greet her at the finish line. Love them, love these pics!

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Martin Graduated

Some final words with one of his tech school instructors.

In the midst of all the excitement with Jaz last week, I didn’t get to share the good news.

Martin graduated.

He officially finished his military training last Wednesday and left technical school as a certified air transportation specialist* for the US Air Force Reserve.

I took off from work that day and drove down to Ft. Lee to attend the ceremony. A few other family members were there as well, and we all got to watch as our Airmen were given their certificates and words of encouragement from class leadership.

And I even got to step up and take the grip-and-grin photos for everyone.

 

After the ceremony, we headed over to the dorm so Martin could collect all his belongings, and within an hour, we were on the road again, heading home.

For good.

Martin is no longer considered a “pipeline” Airman. He’s done with his initial training.

Starting next month, he’ll be putting on the uniform at least one weekend a month, two weeks a year, and doing his work at nearby Andrews Air Force Base. Of course, there may be some travel to other locations here and there, some time apart, some more training down the road.

But now? He’s back to be being a full-time stay-at-home dad.

He’ll be posting soon about his tech school experience, and of course, we’ll be sharing as we follow this new path for all of us, especially as he re-integrates with the household again.

It probably goes without saying that we are so proud of him.

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* Here’s an Air Force video showing you what air transportation specialists — or  “Port Dawgs” — do in the Air Force/Air Force Reserve.

Mellow Cello

Music practice is a lot more enjoyable in our house this year.

Last year, Miss C’s whole class learned how to play the recorder. Each student got one, and each student was encouraged to practice several hours a week. She took this to heart.

While the recorder is a lovely instrument, let’s just say it’s not the most lovely.

Earlier this school year, Miss C brought home a sheet of paper detailing the other instruments she could learn this year, which included the flute, the viola, the violin, the cello, and the bass guitar. She already had one of them circled about a dozen times.

The cello.

She explained that earlier in the day, her music teacher introduced them to the instruments and played some samples along with some video clips of musicians performing them.

Miss C was spellbound by Yo-Yo Ma.

Martin and I were spellbound by her decision.

When Martin was a kid, he learned to play the recorder, but that was because the whole class was required to learn it. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, Martin was not blessed with musical talent.

I, on the other hand, took music lessons for years as a kid and teenager. Beginning at just about Miss C’s age, I took piano lessons from Mr. L, who was an incredibly talented piano maestro in his eighties when I started with him. He had a huge grand piano in his house, and I always felt overwhelmed by it. I also felt a bit like a fraud: all I had at home was a silly little keyboard to practice on that was barely wider than my lap.

Fortunately, my Aunt Eileen had an upright that she let me rehearse on when I was at her house after school, but without my own piano, it just wasn’t the same, although after Mr. L passed away, I continued piano for a few more years with a friend’s mom, who also taught me hand-bells as part of a church group.

Later, I took up guitar lessons. Aunt Eileen’s kids were all musicians who had spare guitars available for younger cousins to use, and my cousin Mike was a local music teacher, so Jill and I both got lessons from him. And I finally got my own new guitar for Christmas my senior year in high school.

I really enjoyed my music lessons, and appreciated them very much, but whenever Mr. L performed a classical piece for me, or I watched others much more talented than me play, I knew that my musical skills did not come from the same place as theirs.

Miss C and I performing on Oma’s organ during a visit in Germany in November 2004.

I could read music. I could compose music. I was selected to take advanced music theory as an underclassman in high school. I could name all the greats and explain why certain chord progressions worked better than others. And I sang, even going to state singing competitions a few times. Even today, I can still sit down and pluck out the first part of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring on the piano and maybe some Hole on the guitar. (Hey, it was the ’90s.)

But that was all. I was a good trained musician, but I wasn’t a natural. Words were always more my artistic language. But of course, as I got older, I realized the music lessons were much more than the music itself, and I knew when the time came, my kids would take up lessons, too.

But I sort of assumed we’d start with the gateway instruments.

You know, the recorder. The piano. The guitar.

I never considered the cello.

But alas, Miss C made her choice and Martin and I were motivated to support it, not only because that’s what we want to do as her parents, but because we were genuinely curious about it, too.

And let me be honest: it’s pretty impressive having a cello in the house. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t envision the two of us lounging in our family room, speaking like Martha Stewart, congratulating ourselves and sipping Merlot in front of the fire while Miss C rehearsed complicated concertos next to us.

Those soft-focus daydreams sharpened when we looked into cello rental, though. The salesperson at the local music store explained that usually, their instruments are only rented for three months before the kids get burned out. The price changes after that three-month period, and it becomes a real commitment.

I briefly considered taking out my old keyboard from the basement and handing it over, insisting Miss C reconsider her choice. But after budgeting with Martin, and hashing out an iron-clad chore/allowance agreement with Miss C that would allow her to earn the money needed for her monthly cello rental, we did it.

 

We will soon be hitting that three-month mark. And Miss C doesn’t show any indication of slowing down. I haven’t had to get all Tiger Mom on her to focus and put forth effort.

She’s doing great on her own.

Every day, she brings her cello down to our family room and settles in a seat in front of our fireplace step since it’s the perfect height for her to practice and rest her feet. She’s still learning about each string, plucking along with a track to keep the time. She logs her practice time in a little booklet, and takes great pride explaining each part of the instrument whenever her brother or sister shows interest. She tracks her chores and dollars earned to make sure she earns enough for the rental.

Every now and then, she’ll ask me the name of a note, or to help tighten the strings. But for the most part, I’ve been hands off. Miss C learning to play the cello so far has been a pretty calm and mellow experience. And the plucky notes she’s been playing so far sound so nice.

I don’t know where this will take her. I love the idea that one day, maybe, she’ll play for a huge crowd at Carnegie Hall, her eyes closed and her fingers tense over the strings. Or maybe she’ll play as a moonlighter in a jazz bar in Europe, be-bopping to her own beat. But perhaps, too, the performance that totally changes her life will be right up here at her elementary school, in the cafeteria at the end of the school year, in front of her friends and their parents.

Wherever she goes with this, we will be there, in the back, drinking our Merlot … or juice boxes … listening to every note, every pull of the strings.

And saying with pride, “Oh, wow. That’s our girl.”

He’s Awesome

These are screenshots of his Cincinnati interview, which I was able to watch via the Internet.


Maybe you read about this police officer today.

He was mentioned on FoxNews, Huffington Post, various Associated Press outlets around the country. However, those articles only mentioned him as the Erlanger police officer who stopped a would-be assassin loaded with weapons and ammunition from getting to President Obama’s motorcade during his visit to the Cincinnati area earlier this month.

The local Cincinnati news stations have mentioned him by name.

I’ve mentioned him here on the blog from time to time, so you may already know him as my brother-in-law.

Now, a lot of people know him as a hero.

Anyone who knows Greg knows that he hates this attention.

He doesn’t even like getting his photo taken, which is a challenge when you marry a family of photographers. The man shuns the spotlight.

When this whole thing happened a few weeks ago, my sister Jill briefly mentioned it to my father. As police officers, Jill and Greg deal with interesting cases all the time.

I didn’t find out about it until this morning. Apparently, the report about everything was made public recently, and the media got wind of it. I woke up this morning to see an email from Jill, letting me know that “the situation with Greg and the Presidential motorcade is making national news now.”

What? 

Greg and the Presidential motorcade?

She sent me a link to the Associated Press article.

I read the description of Greg’s actions, and I was awed.

But not surprised at all.

I am totally a gushy sister-in-law, but Greg really is an amazing man. I could write a novel just filled with single-word accolades to describe him.

Dedicated.

Humble.

Hard-working.

Solid.

Ethical.

He’s everything you would want and expect from an excellent police officer.

Greg had to run the suspect off the road with his police vehicle because the suspect wouldn’t stop.

Can you imagine purposely driving your speeding vehicle into another speeding vehicle, knowing that the other driver probably isn’t going to be a sweet old lady?

The suspect also refused to listen to Greg when he was ordered out of the vehicle. Greg had to go up and open the door to confront the suspect. Would you be able to do that?

And, as the various articles and interviews explained, Greg had to yank the man out of the car and apprehend him, only to  discover the suspect had huge, powerful weapons and about 500 rounds of ammunition … all that may have been used to take out the President and countless others if that was this guy’s intent. (Of course, the suspect’s just been charged and is presumed innocent until proven guilty.)

One of the weapons the suspect had in his car.

 

Greg will tell you he was simply doing his job.

Did I mention that he retired from the police force, but only managed to stay away for a few months? That he returned to the force because he just couldn’t stay away?

I first met Greg shortly after I returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. He and my sister Jill were getting serious, and she wanted to introduce him to the family.  My dad, my stepmother Linda, and I met the couple at a local steakhouse. The three of us were squeezed into one side of the booth while Jill and Greg sat across from us. A single lamp hung just inches over our heads, casting shadows over the table.

It was perfect, like an interrogation.

And between Dad and I, we totally lived it up.

So, tell us about yourself, Greg. Who are you? What’s your background? What are your intentions with my sister? 

Now, Greg makes a living of stepping into high-stress situations. After all, he’s a highly-trained SWAT team member. He’s dealt with the bottom dregs of our society. He’s known for his cool, even manner. It’s true: nothing rattles him. It’s probably why he works so well with my sister. (Oh, snap.)

But that meeting?

Jill later said she’s never seen him like that. I totally made him nervous.

When I heard that, I loved him immediately.

Here are the most important things you should know about Greg: he is a great husband to my sister, and he’s an amazing father and uncle. He is so loyal to his friends and family. We’ve very lucky to have him in ours. And even if this situation never happened, even if he never made the headlines for stopping a wanna-be Presidential assassin, I will tell you that we could not be more proud of Uncle Greg.

He’s our hero because he’s awesome.

And now the world knows it.

Lola and her Uncle Greg during their visit to Washington DC in 2011.

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You can see the local Fox affiliates interview with Greg HERE.

 

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PS – Today happens to be Jill’s birthday, too. Just to prove that Greg didn’t steal ALL the attention, here are cute photos of the first time Jill and I ever met a few days after she was born.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JILL!

A Surprise For the Old Man

As I wrote a few weeks ago, my dad told us he didn’t want a lot of hoopla over his retirement.
But of course, my sisters and I didn’t listen to him.

This weekend, we surprised him with a retirement party in Ohio, which took several months and some white lies to plan. It started when our family friend Michelle offered up her church’s party room.

Once we settled on a date, we told my Dad and my stepmother Linda that my sister Jill was going to host a baptism party for my niece.

We told everyone else the truth.
And thankfully, they all kept their lips sealed.
So on Saturday, people from throughout my father’s life were in attendance: people from his childhood, people from his early days in the Air Force, people from his recent government job, and of course, friends and family.
A lot of folks came from hours away just to be there for him.



Dad said he didn’t suspect a thing until the last five minutes. He was thinking the whole time we were supposed to be at my sister’s party an hour later, and he just could NOT be convinced that showing up early to a family event was socially acceptable. 


I had to use my “Mommy Voice” to order his stubborn butt into the car. 


Our guests would have sat there in the party room for a few hours waiting for him. So my forceful insistence that he get in the vehicle, OR ELSE, set off some alarms in his head that something was up. 


But he certainly didn’t expect to see the faces he saw in attendance. 

We decorated the party room with photos from throughout his Air Force career. All the guests filled out surveys about my dad, which we then turned into a guest book. Our Grandma MJ brought a bucket-list game and a photo with a mat for everyone to sign.
My dad is a true native to the Cincinnati area, and his favorite food is Cincinnati chili. So of course, we had a Gold Star Chili buffet. Our guests created their own cheese coneys or three-ways. Folks also brought snacks and treats. Needless to say, there was a ton of food.
We also ordered a cake from SugarMamas Custom Cake Creations. Co-owner Alison and my sister Jill are good friends from high school, so when my sister requested a cake to represent our Dad, Alison knew exactly what to do.
And she got it exactly right.
The whole cake was edible, although Dad absolutely refused to let any of us actually eat the topper, which was made out of a Rice Krispie treat.
To my knowledge, it’s still in my Dad’s fridge so he can admire it.
Planning a surprise party is crazy. It was way more stressful than I anticipated, but it was also a lot of fun. My sister Jill and I were texting back and forth for weeks, making sure we were telling Dad and Linda the same things, and laughing at how our cover-ups evolved or back-fired, like learning our stepmom was out shopping for all kinds of baptism stuff for my niece.

But seeing my Dad’s face, listening to his shocked exclamations when he realized what was happening, and watching him get choked up as he addressed everyone in the room made it all worth it. 


He may try and act like a grumpy, crusty retiree … but he is totally a sentimental softie.

Happy Retirement

My dad and me, from early 2001 B.B. (Before Blog)
 

 

My dad’s now officially retired from the Air Force.

He served his last Air Force Reserve weekend this past Saturday and Sunday. I think he’s officially retired from the civilian government work force this week, too. Or maybe it’s just his last work day, and he’s burning off some leave until the end of the month.

I’m not sure. He’s been pretty vague about it.

Per his request, he didn’t have an official retirement ceremony. One of the reasons he called me the other night was to notify me that his office is having a small lunch today at a local Mexican restaurant there in Ohio, where he’ll present flowers to my stepmother and sisters, but that’s about it. He said I was invited, of course, but he didn’t expect me to be able to fly out there for it given the short notice (which I think was intentional), and he stressed again that he doesn’t want a lot of hoopla surrounding his departure from government work.

My dad’s never been one to give into hype or hoopla.

So, I won’t write a lengthy summary of his years of government work, which began when he joined the active duty Air Force in 1975 as a bomb-loader.

I won’t go into detail about the four years he spent serving in Germany and Arizona before leaving active duty in 1979, only to rejoin through the Air Reserve Technician program sometime in the early ’80s. He became an Air Force ground safety guy then, making sure Airmen and Air Force employees remained safe while on the job, whether they were in the office or on the flight line.

Even if I wanted to write a novel, I will never be able to fully express just how much influence his safety career carried over into our personal family life. Suffice it to say that when I got my driver’s license, I got a PowerPoint presentation full of accident photos and video clips of spectacular vehicle mishaps, all with him in the background saying, “All it takes is one second to f**** up your entire life. Don’t be stupid.”

He was always pretty direct like that.

When I joined the Air Force in 2000, I couldn’t go anywhere without someone recognizing my maiden name because of my dad. Usually, it was because they knew his name from his Annual Website List, which went viral over email every year.

Beginning in 1994, my father released a lengthy Word document (about 20 pages) with website addresses and summaries, describing what he felt were some of the best, most interesting websites online at the time. The sites ranged from weather and safety sites (of course) to practical Air Force history sites to movie review sites to whimsical online galleries dedicated to the retro childhood toys of the 1950s.

The email list was sent everywhere. People who weren’t even in the military or who even knew us got hold of that list and published it on their websites.

Keep in mind: this was long before YouTube and Google. My father was way ahead of his time. But I dare not make a fuss about it.

Of course, I could go on and on about how it wasn’t totally random that I set my sights on the Air Force or Germany. There are echoes of him everywhere in my life and choices.

But he’s just not into all that hoopla and sentimental energy.

So, I’ll just post here that I’m really proud of my old man.

And I wish him a long and happy retirement.

And just for fun ….

 

The Presentation

 

From his iPhone to mine, Martin just sent me a video clip of Miss C’s presentation on Harriet Tubman. He, Lola and Jaz went up to her school to watch her.

I’m so grateful technology allows us to capture and share moments like that.

And I’m so insanely proud of my girl, who researched, scripted and created that project herself: I just opened up my closet to her. She’s definitely showing up those who thought she should repeat the second grade last year.

 

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One scarf, one shawl and one black dress later, we came up with a Harriet Tubman costume that won’t make the headline news.

She was so cute this morning: she said she had a dream about her presentation, she’s so nervous. She recited the whole thing for me as I got dressed. And then when she left for school, I yelled to her, “Hey, break a leg!”

And she yelled back, “Mom, I totally don’t need that right now!” Her dad had to explain it’s a theater thing for good luck. I couldn’t wait to hear how she did. I’m so proud of her!

Julie and Martin Blog

 

Over the past few days, we’ve seen an increase in new visitors coming from Parents magazine.

Welcome to our blog.

That goes to those of you who’ve been long-time readers, too, who check up on us every day, or at least every so often.

Maybe you started reading us in the very beginning, in the summer of 2001 when I was a bright-eyed 20-year-old American engaged to marry my tall and strapping German soldier. Or maybe you found us while I was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007, when Martin wrote about staying behind with our daughter.

Maybe you went to high school with me or served in the Air Force with me or know us through our Washington DC circles. Perhaps you just recently started following our story.

To all of you, welcome, and thank you for your votes and support during the whole Parents Magazine voting thing.

If there was ever a time to re-introduce ourselves, though, I think it’s now.

 

We are Julie and Martin.

We are in charge of a family of five living in the suburbs of Washington D.C.

Though this Julie and Martin blog earned an award for being a mommy blog, it’s really much more than that. It’s roots go all the way back to when most people were still using dial-up and Mark Zuckerberg was still in high school
It’s really an ever-changing, ever-evolving story of us.
How in the world did a blog like this earn an award like that? Especially since we don’t do giveaways or contests or use this blog as income. Especially since he’s not a cowboy and I don’t buy mechanical chickens*, but I did once put a skeleton in his shower stall.
Well, let me start in the very beginning.I was born in Texas, but grew up in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio.Martin was born and raised around Nuremberg, Germany.
We met in the summer of 1999 when I was an 18-year-old high school foreign exchange student. I had actually graduated from high school the week before I flew over to Nuremberg, but as the German school system goes on a little longer than the American school system, I was still able to participate in the exchange.
Martin was the friend and classmate of my exchange partner. We met the second night I was there, when a group of us went out on mopeds to the Nuremberg castle. I told him that night I was going to return to the United States and enlist in the Air Force to become a military journalist (public affairs) stationed in Europe. I also told him I was pretty sure we were supposed to meet each other.And I was right about all of it.
Exactly one year later to the day, in June 2000, I landed at Ramstein Air Base as my first duty assignment for the US Air Force. For the next two years, we were this little NATO power couple, as he was then out of school and on his way to becoming a tank commander in the Bunderwehr (the German Army.)Nearly every weekend, we traveled to visit each other and often took short trips to places like Paris, Munich, Salzburg, Brussels, Cologne.

In the spring of 2001, I got orders to my next assignment in Italy and we had a decision to make — do we continue a long-distance relationship or should one of us get out of the military so we can be together? After much discussion, Martin decided he would leave his military career once his time was up, so we got engaged in the spring of 2001 with plans to marry the next year.

I wanted my family to stay connected during my wedding planning, so I started a website called “Julie and Martin.” About 30 of my relatives were flying over for the event, so I also shared travel plans in one location without sending lots of emails, as was the digital communication tool of choice at the turn of the century.

On July 28, 2001, this site went live.

For those first few months, it was all about the bridal party, dresses, location scouting, music, cake … all those fun details brides and grooms (but mostly brides) tend to stress over for the big day. Occasionally, I added an entry that talked about the things Martin and I did outside of wedding planning. Back then, the word “blogging” wasn’t really a part of the vocabulary, but that online journal was the start.

Then 9/11 happened and changed everything. That’s when our wedding site became a way for my family to connect with me as both the American and German military responded to the terrorist attack. I started writing frequently about my job and how life was changing for us so quickly. Despite all the chaos of the previous fall and winter, Martin and I kept our wedding plans and in April 2002, we married in a centuries-old stone church just outside Nuremberg.

After the wedding, our family and friends asked us about the site. They had come to depend on it for updates and photos. Plus, Martin’s family in Germany now wanted a way to keep in touch since we moved to Italy a few months later.

So, I kept writing.

I wrote about life in Italy and our travels around Europe. I wrote about the life as a new parent when our first daughter arrived. Eventually, Martin started contributing to the blog, too, and shared about his life as a stay-at-home parent and semi-pro football player.

Then I ended up getting a great assignment to the Pentagon, which is how we ended up living in the nation’s capital. I got to witness and experience many historical moments there while Martin embraced his financial roots (he had studied finances in Germany) and became a banker. We added another daughter to the mix. We were an active-duty military family until 2009, when I decided to join the Air Force Reserve and be a work-from-home mom while Martin continued working as a banker.

And I kept on writing.

I wrote about going from a dual-working family in a big city to living on one income. About the joy of watching our daughters grow, and the excitement at our son’s arrival. I wrote about my photography, pregnancy, bike-riding and all those simple family moments that mean a lot. We’ve had some really hard times, too: like the time I deployed, or the time I got hit by a drunk driver while pregnant, and all the times we lost loved ones. But we’ve had far more — far, far more — positive things happen in our lives.

And I kept on writing.

A few months ago, we decided to change roles again. I accepted a federal social media job in downtown DC, as well as an Air Force Reserve position back at the Pentagon, and Martin’s now the full-time stay-at-home parent.

We’ve grown and changed throughout the years. This site’s grown and changed, too. We joined up with the BlogHer Publishing Network a few years ago, have been featured in various publications and news outlets, and I’ve given many presentations based on my years as a blogger and social media professional. Our archive over in the sidebar is thick with 10 years of memories and changes. Sometimes, when I have a moment to spare, I pick a random year and go back, reading about days or events that seem as close as yesterday.

Needless to say, over the years, we’ve established a loyal following of readers.

These are friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, and fellow bloggers, who come from all walks of life from all corners of the globe. Around the 10-year anniversary of this blog, we posted a survey to find out why our readers liked the blog.

Aside from the curiosity and interest in our lives, people said they enjoy our writing, videos and photography. They think our lives are interesting. They think Martin is hot. (Okay, one person that wasn’t me said that, but I’m sure everyone thinks it.)

A man who adores his babies? Hawt.
 

The most common response, however, was that people said they can relate to our daily attempts at surviving the trenches of parenthood while working to sustain a marriage built on love as we navigate life’s twists and turns with as much humor and grace as possible.

And I think that’s the appeal. We’re not experts. We’re not celebrities. We’re not particularly well-connected or well-funded or anything that may give us an edge.

We’re just Julie and Martin.

And as long as we’re Julie and Martin, I’ll keep writing.

Welcome.

And thank you for joining us.

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*10 points each if you can identify and appreciate these references, my fellow blog readers.