Hurricane Michael scoured Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. The base had survived severe weather in the past, but Michael destroyed the livability of the quarters (ca. 600) and many of the dorms. The storm out and out destroyed the flight line and severely damaged the BX, commissary, and the elementary school.

The good news is, the families and many personnel evacuated the base and the base listed no fatalities. The evacuation kept the personnel and families safe, but couldn’t have been a picnic.

Even evacuations that were picnics, were difficult for families. I have the memory of a mid-1950s Cold War practice evacuation at Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota. Enough chatter went on among the adults that even though I was only five years old, the event imprinted in my mind the word “evacuation.”

Our evacuation was supposed to get us away from ground zero in case of an attack by the Russians on the local base, a Strategic Air Command base where the B-52 bombers were stationed. Or, maybe the evacuation practice was just to convince the families that an attack would be survivable (it wouldn’t have been).

In any case, the sirens went off and the moms packed up their cars with kids and picnic baskets and headed into the Black Hills. We stayed there most of the day, us kids running amok in the woods. We returned to the base probably during local rush hour. If it wasn’t Rapid City’s actual rush hour, the return of an entire base worth of families made it that way. The reason I think the evacuation wasn’t the success it was meant to be is because I don’t remember another one and we lived at Ellsworth for another anomalous six years (Air Force reorganization; Dad’s AFSC being downgraded; he was shuffled around for ages until things sort themselves out and we were transferred like normal people).

Other, later evacuations were more drills than actual practices. The residents of the entire community would be picked up by shuttle bus and delivered to a central point for ‘processing.’ The processing consisted of having our evacuation papers checked, showing a bored clerk our computer punch cards that we’d surrender one by one during our journey back to the US so our service member could be informed of our whereabouts, and filling out emergency pay transfers so that, at some point, we’d have some money wherever we wound up.

We were lucky during our evacuations — they were practices. We went out, we came back, all our household goods were where we left them, we slept in our own beds that night. The adults in our evacuation didn’t have to gather all their necessary papers, clothing, food, and portable valuables. For us, pets (if any) were probably left home for the day.

The personnel and family members at Tyndall, as well as the surrounding civilian communities have no such comfort. Their entire lives are disrupted. They can’t even return to see what they can salvage. To make things more difficult for some of them, the pilots of the planes that were able to be relocated aren’t with their families. The ‘other parent’ in those families is now effectively a single parent. This probably also goes for the families of personnel who have returned to the base for emergency operations.

13 Tyndall AFB

Tyndall AFB, Florida — damage by Hurricane Michael. Photo: screenshot from DoD video on Facebook.

Life in a military family is always on an edge even if the moment is presently calm. You know you won’t be staying wherever you presently live. If you don’t move, then your friends do. You rarely, if ever, live near family. You know there’s always a possibility of the service member leaving at the drop of a phone call. Alerts are a way of life. Training accidents happen. Combat fatalities happen. Usually, though, the life has a rhythm. Hurricane Michael destroyed that rhythm for the families and personnel at Tyndall. My heart goes out to them, and to all their civilian neighbors.

One of the nearly universal emotions expressed by military brats is homesickness. Given our nomadic early lives, we have many homes for which we feel a longing. Yes, military brats aren’t the only kids who move and times change for everyone. I know of local Facebook groups whose topic is “remember when” with entries about landmarks and businesses that are long gone. Children of foreign service officers (the staff in embassies and consulates), missionary kids, and corporate kids all move, too, but my tribe are the military kids who were bounced around the country and the world like Bingo balls on a Friday night.

I think much of our longing is for “halcyon days,” those years before we realize that life is complicated and messy. These years can be from whichever decade we spent our childhood, the swinging ’40s, the rocking and rolling ’50s, the psychedelic ’60s, staying alive during the ’70s, doing our hair during the ’80s, kicking it through the ’90s in our Doc Martens, and doing whatever happened after Y2K. We remember sights, sounds, and smells that evoke the relative simplicity of childhood and the adventure of where we lived.

One problem for us is that so many of our former homes no longer exist. Yes, the places we lived are still on the map, but our homes, unsere Häuser, onze huizen, nos maisons, nuestros hogares, nossas casas, le nostre case, 私たちの家, ang aming mga tahanan, 우리 집, ko mākou mau hale, منازلنا, heimili okkar or evlerimiz, are gone. Installations are closed, host nations have demolished buildings, the places where we ate, bathed, slept, and woke up on Christmas morning are no more. One thing that we can sometimes carry with us is food.

 

Birthday pzza

Birthday pizza specifically from Freddie’s, near Gibbs Kaserne, Frankfurt, Germany. (he was happy; I just caught him in mid-chew)

 

Some of the most poignant memories are of local dishes, pantry items, and candies. I know that one memory from my early childhood in England is of Peek Freans cookies, either the custard creams or the similar cookie with the jelly dot on top. I think I must have had them frequently.

While I was still a kid, I had forgotten the cookies by the time my pre-teen years arrived. Then, the Air Force stationed my dad in Bermuda and I tasted one of the locally purchased Peek Freans custard creams. A taste revelation! I remembered the forgetting. The times in my elementary school years when I knew there was something I missed from when I was younger, but I couldn’t remember what came back to me. Then we left Bermuda. I lost them again.

Skip forward decades. This time, the exposure to local food wasn’t as a brat. Now I was the mom of brats. Our family spent most of our twenty years of life overseas in Germany. My youngest arrived at the age of four and left at fifteen. She spent her next two years in Belgium, so we weren’t that far from Germany and could return when the longing became too great. She arrived in the US calling both the heating and cooling system “air conditioning.” To her radiator-trained mind, both functions conditioned the air.

When we arrived in the States, I had cookbooks, but not (I thought) ingredients. Ingredients from different countries have their own flavors. It might be a surprise to some that bottled Mexican Coca Cola from the grocery store tastes like the Coca Cola we drank in German restaurants.

With the rise of the Internet and online shopping, I could soon buy German ingredients from my dealer-of-choice, GermanDeli.com. The loss, though, strikes again. The outlet is closing tomorrow and has ceased all online orders. The homesickness continues.

I have pictures of our homes. I have some foods (World Market). I have YouTube videos. Still, I miss my old homes. The sound of tires on rain-wet streets sounds like England. Cool summer nights are from South Dakota. The sound of waves is Bermuda. The smell of wine and beer (I was an adult by then) is Germany. The most delicious cheese and bread I’ve ever eaten is Belgium. I love my life, but I still miss my homes. If it weren’t for grandchildren, I’d be in the wind.

A few weeks ago, a (seemingly) short-lived meme circulated on Facebook: book covers. The instructions were to share seven book covers without explanation, rating, or reviewing the contents — sort of Pinterest meme.

I played along, but then thought about the number of books I have. It seemed that I could get more mileage out of the meme — and dust behind many of the books — by using the book cover idea to jump-start the blogging (again) during this bleak season.

So, without further ado, the first in the blogged book cover series.  <insert happy face>

 

IMG_5243

 

(my goodness, but that came out large!)

Yesterday was the wedding of American Meghan Markle (of the TV show, Suits) and Prince Harry (of the long-running British monarchy). It was pret.ty spectacular. When it comes to pomp, circumstance, and knock your eye out splendor, nobody tops the British royal family.

I know the status of the royal family is sometimes a hot button topic — taxes (both what they pay, and what supports them), sketchy histories (colonialism), and all that subservience (did Meghan forget to curtsy? Horrors!). From a GDP perspective, though, the tourist economy in particular, consider England as a travel destination without the royal family. Would it be as much fun? Yes, the country has all those chocolate box villages, the venues of detective novels, and, of course, tea, but what would, say, London be without visiting the Crown Jewels in the Tower? Without peering through the gates of Buckingham Palace at that balcony? Without strolling along the Long Walk in Windsor Great Park?

May, 1999 My daughters and I in front of Buckingham Palace. My husband and I and the girls took a day trip via the Chunnel from Brussels to London. The girls were acting like loud tourists to embarrass me.

What would London be without all that? Maybe financial-Frankfurt-without-Americans-needing-a-translator?  Frankfurt’s nice enough (I used to live there, as well as near London), but all of Sachsenhausen doesn’t have quite the international cachet of even 221B Baker Street.

But back to yesterday’s wedding.

While I was watching the DVRed PBS coverage of the wedding, I kept feeling this odd sense of déjà vu. My first memories are of living near London, but most of those memories are of rain, of birds singing, and the sound of tires on wet pavement. Why did watching this wedding have a similar effect?

Curious about the feeling, I looked through old photos. Sure enough, there were the images. Windsor Castle. The originals are in a family photo album from 1950 from the time when we lived in North Harrow when my dad was assigned to the American Air Force facility at Bushy Park. Or maybe West Drayton? Or Ruislip? Or maybe each in turn?

 

The Round Tower at Windsor.

 

Windsor Castle, 1950

 

I was far too young to remember that visit, but a few years later our family went on another outing to Windsor, this time with family friends, my “Uncle” Andy and “Auntie” Hazel and their son. The outing must have been a happy one as I remember walking around the grounds of Windsor and posing with the guards.  I don’t recall any crowds, just the buildings, stone benches, and a green vista on an overcast day. My dad’s photo that survives from that day is a slide of us gathered together before we set off, so I have a gorgeous depiction of us in vibrant Kodachrome.

All of us ready for a visit to Windsor. Mom is the blonde. The others are my “Uncle” Andy, my “Auntie” Hazel, and their son. We’re outside their house and Dad took the picture.
I’m the one being held.

 

Thanks to my Air Force childhood, I enjoyed Harry and Meghan’s wedding more than I expected all because of my “I was there” déjà vu.

Army Lt. Col. Tandy Brown, center, commander of the 7th Special Forces Group, serves a soldier and his daughters during a Thanksgiving Day meal on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 24, 2014.

 

Many families celebrate Thanksgiving with their extended families. Airports and highways are so crowded that a video of Thanksgiving traffic on a Los Angeles freeway makes an iconic picture of the trek to go home. The song Over the River and Through the Woods vies for top Thanksgiving honors with We Gather Together.

Where do you go, though, when you’ve only been “home” for a few months, or for a couple of years at most? Whose food reminds you of Thanksgiving when Grandma is across an ocean? Where do you make memories if all your dishes are still in transit, wrapped in packing paper, and (the gods willing) unbroken?

If your family is a military family, you may go to the dining facility (DFAC), formerly known as the chow hall, mess hall, or mess deck. What you call where you eat depends on the service to which you (or more likely, your parent) belong.

 

ARABIAN SEA (Nov. 22, 2012) Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Job David Santiago, from Manila, Philippines, frosts a cake aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) on Thanksgiving. Jason Dunham is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Deven B. King/Released)

 

Usually, dining facilities are reserved for service members on active duty. Their primary purpose is to feed the Army that, in the words of Napoleon Bonaparte (or Frederick the Great, depending on your source), marches on its stomach. On Thanksgiving (and sometimes on Christmas), the dining facility is open to family members. This is a treat that many military Brats look forward to when they are children, and reminisce about when they are grown. My sister and I recently rhapsodized about the shrimp cocktails we remember setting on our trays as we moved through the dining facility line.

In Facebook groups for Brats, the talk in this week leading up to Thanksgiving has been about eating at the dining facility. Among the comments were those about tables full of fruit and candy, how the cooks decorated the dining facility even up to ice sculptures, and food that included roast turkey or ham, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, in addition to fancy food such as that delicious shrimp cocktail, crab legs, and prime rib. My own favorite memory (in addition to the shrimp) was going to the milk dispenser and lifting the heavy weighted handle so that the milk shot into my glass with enough force to produce bubbles. I must say that, as a basic trainee pulling KP in the mess hall, I wasn’t quite as thrilled to heft the five gallon cartons of milk into the dispenser cabinet — those suckers weigh over 40 pounds.

 

Army Spc. Matt Squairs shears off a corner from a block of ice he is sculpting into a pumpkin on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 21, 2014. Squairs, a culinary specialist assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group Airborne’s Group Support Battalion, and other cooks spent more than two weeks preparing a Thanksgiving meal held in the unit’s dining facility.

 

We Brats doted on being allowed into the dining facilities for holidays, but I don’t know that we fully appreciated the work that went into feeding people their daily three square meals, seven days a week, plus holidays — way more people (and food) on the holidays. As someone who has seen both sides of the serving line, I’d like to give all the cooks a rousing cheer, despite the cadence songs we sang about the food. After a day of KP, I felt as if I’d been pulled backwards through a keyhole and my feet …, oh my poor feet how they ached.  I can’t imagine the endurance it takes to be a cook.

 

Army Spc. Trinh Tran, a cook with the Operation Iraqi Freedom Dining Facility at Fort Hood, Texas, covers prepared salads and dressings for the evening meal service, Nov. 21, 2013. Trinh is on a team to assist in preparation of the upcoming Thanksgiving Day dinner. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kim Browne

 

Hooray for the dining facilities and all the cooks in all the services.

I hope they have a restful day-after-Thanksgiving.

 

All photos are released from the DoD photo archive.

It needs a bird, but none of them cooperated.

 

Yesterday, I stayed home from a Sisters in Crime meeting because my husband, Handy Harry Homeowner, meant to spare me the noise and commotion of fixing the deck. He’d arranged to do the loud work while I was away for the morning. Ever-confident, he planned to surgically remove a ruined plank from the back deck using an electric saw to dismember the plank instead of prying it out. Handy Homeowners of greater-than-spring-chicken-age need to work smarter, not harder.

I meant to attend our Border Crimes chapter first-Saturday-of-the-month meeting. However, while scrambling to eat my eggs, the maniacal whine of the saw taunted me. I tensed when it slowed to a growl as it bit into the plank’s thickness. My mind, fiction-trained through years of reading how-to-write books (conflict! conflict! conflict!) and conditioned to think of fictional disasters with which to plague characters, could imagine Chekhov’s saw. Don’t show the weapon if you’re not going to use it. One slip and blood would be everywhere. With Handy Harry home alone, I couldn’t chance it. So I stayed.

For an hour, the saw screamed at the plank as if taking revenge for insults to its mother. Handy Harry pulled and pounded with the crowbar — no bit of decking would defeat him. Plank body parts accumulated on the top rail of the deck with rusty nails protruding from them like dragon’s teeth. They looked as if they were waiting to sink into the pink flesh of a carelessly-placed hand. A gap between the remaining planks lay in wait for just one misstep, just one. Sipping tea while working on a story draft (conflict!), I remained watchful.

After Harry had the plank pieces out, of course I needed to create a photo-documentary of his work — that’s how we keep track of which home repairs have happened, and when. Carrying my small camera for the snapshots, I opened the porch door as I’ve done thousands of times over the years. I stepped out, my mind on lens and shutter settings. My foot hit the doormat and, quicker than thought, my left leg shot forward. My right leg remained planted inside the doorway but didn’t support me and bent. My right knee slammed into the porch planks. The doormat had slid when I stepped on it.

(Why is it always the knees? Why? Ever since high school basketball, it’s been the _knees_.)

Harry was engrossed. He noticed nothing. I’d have thought that me cannonballing into the wooden porch would generate a significant boom, but Harry has laser-focus. I wanted tea and sympathy and cries of oh-my-poor-dear, if not a call to 911, but if I sat there in the open door I knew a cat, or two or three, was bound to amble out to the screened-porch. Seeing me-on-the-floor, and being clever, they’d know I couldn’t run interference. The open door would beckon and he, she, or they, would make a break. Waiting for the unlikely event of spousal concern, probably couched as, “What the hell are you doing down there?”, or the likely event of a cat escape that would have me limping after a frisky feline in an OJ Simpson/Bronco highway chase around the backyard, left me with no choice. I had to get up — but not before I took a picture.

 

Beware the treachery of doormats.
I’d have dressed better if I’d known I’d be blog-worthy.

As a result of the porch-capades, I’m the bearer of a silver-dollar-sized scrape & bruise on my previously-not-injured knee. (the story about the other knee — injured a few months ago — is less interesting than the story of this knee; even doctors yawn and ask if that’s all for now) The camera sustained nothing more than a slight bout of ‘we hit an air-pocket!’ as I descended.

My good deed of missing my meeting just in case a home maintenance project turned into a horror novel wound up with me sporting an ice pack on my knee and acting as the complaint desk for various muscle groups up and down the body. The ribs were annoyed at that twist in the story. The lower back objected to me having followed the clue that the project was wrapping up and needed documenting. The injured knee felt frail and needed hearty applications of the aforementioned tea and sympathy. The other knee whined that life isn’t fair and it wanted a happy ending.

Handy Harry was fine and proceeded to pound nails into the new plank (from the sounds, he and the weighted mallet were working out issues!). The deck looks much better. I, though, was left looking forward to an Epsom salts bath. The cats never showed any interest.

 

Harry Homeowner’s handiwork

In case you haven’t read, a good portion of the United States will be under part of the path of the moon’s shadow for a total eclipse of the sun on August 21st. I’m very lucky in that I’ll be close enough to the path of totality to probably have a 99% experience.

Many years ago, I was near the path of a solar eclipse, but well away from the path of totality — near this map’s N in Maryland — and I still remember the dimming of the afternoon light.

That eclipse was way pre-Internet, so we didn’t have the daily buzz of Facebook updates, all the websites, and the sale of eclipse-viewing glasses to keep us jazzed in the weeks before the event. (last week, I bought enough ISO-rated specs for the entire family at a local science museum) I must have known about the 1970 eclipse, but I was indoors when it happened. Despite me being in the house, and despite the lack of eclipse-capable photo equipment, that partial eclipse was impressive.

Skipping to the present, in a recent Facebook discussion, an online friend was saddened because she wasn’t able to buy a filter for her camera in time. She’d like photos of the eclipse, but thinks that ruining her camera’s sensor by aiming it at the sun without filters is rather a high price to pay for (maybe) a snapshot. I tend to agree. (!!!)  I suggested that she could make an old-old-fashioned pinhole camera and take photos of the images made with it.

Luckily, I can provide instructions.

Years ago, but not as many years ago as the eclipse I experienced, I made a camera obscura ‘just because.’ I had recently concluded homeschooling three of my four kids and was apparently suffering withdrawal from science projects. As the withdrawal and the project both happened during the Age of the Internet, I have online pictures of my fun at another of my blogs, Happy as Kings (the instructions I mentioned).

 

The oldest and the newest

A pinhole camera I made from a couple of pasteboard boxes, a sheet of typing paper, and some electrical tape (because it’s lightproof).
The large hole isn’t the pinhole, but is the opening for my digital camera so I could take pictures of the pinhole images.

 

If you don’t have filters for your cameras or for your camera phones and you want to take pictures of the eclipse, give the pinhole camera a try.

To increase your chances of taking a recognizable picture, be sure to test the cameras before the eclipse:
— so that you have a functioning pinhole apparatus
— so that your digital camera settings will capture an image
— so that you’ll have figured out how to hold everything in place (a tripod is best, but a pillow arrangement on a table might work)
— and so you’ve had a few dry runs for experience.

Good luck, and happy eclipse viewing.