Do we look like a bunch of pretty little azaleas to you?  Nah, didn’t think so…I still have my dress today, but can’t zip it up past my belly-button.

At first I was just going to post pictures of the all the beautiful azaleas I’ve seen on the Florida Panhandle these past couple weeks.  I’ll stick those at the end of this post.  Not since Norfolk — where I grew up — have I lived somewhere with so many azaleas gracing us.  Norfolk has always had a special affinity for azaleas, and they’re celebrated extensively.  The flowers are huge, and the pink hues are more vivid than I remember than even 20 years ago…

…and speaking of 20 years ago, while I was remembering the pretty azaleas from Norfolk, it triggered a memory.

In 1991, this geeky girl was in the royal court of one of those traditional Southern Festivals.  It was Norfolk’s “International Azalea Festival”.  Unlike other Southern festivals that mainly tap into the local attractive, smart ladies for the royal court, Norfolk’s Azalea Festival is a celebration of NATO and the royal court itself was chosen based on NATO’s member nations.

NATO has a headquarters in Norfolk (no, not THE headquarters), so there were representatives from each of the member nations and they would choose young ladies native to each of the member nations.  In 1991, there were sixteen member nations that would contribute a queen and 15 princesses.

Then each of those ladies would have an “attendant” selected from the community.  Norfolk and Virginia Beach interviewed ladies at the local high schools and would submit one from each high school.  I was my high school’s selection in 1991.  I can’t say how other high schools did it, but I had a rather intensive interview where I remember questions about my plans for the future, knowledge about the local community, and one of those “if you could change the world” kinds of questions.  It seriously reminded me of a Miss America kind of thing and I didn’t think I’d get it.

But I did, and I had to get fitted for dresses, shoes, and was provided the list of events we’d be part of, and what kinds of outfits to wear for each of them.

I wasn’t used to this…I wore jeans and sweatshirts every day, usually.  Now I had to have cocktail dresses, business casual clothing, professional clothing, and evening gowns at the ready.  Luckily, the pink dresses you see above are the evening gowns, provided by the festival itself.  Air shows, receptions, meet-n-greets, a parade where each country was to be featured on its own float, the Azalea Ball and the coronation ceremony.

The pictures I have are only from the coronation and one picture of a some “cocktail dress” event that I’ll save for another time.  I wish I had more…I cleaned up pretty nicely 🙂

The escorts were brought in from the Virginia Military Institute.  Handsome, huh?  Too bad it’s a “free” weekend for the guys, and most of them were drunk the whole time, including my escort.  Ugh…
But…easy on the eyes 🙂

When I sought out the Norfolk International Azalea Festival website so I could share the information with you, I was really surprised at the changes that had taken place over the years.  Starting with the name of the event: it’s now the “Norfolk NATO Festival”.  Other changes include: the Azalea Queen is no longer.  Starting in 2008, the position migrated from daughters of prominent military members to military members themselves.  There are now “Festival Ambassadors” chosen from active duty military.  Starting this year, a MALE will be serving as a Festival Ambassador.

The princesses and attendants program also fell away, being replaced by a Youth Ambassador program set up to learn more about the children of the foreign NATO personnel assigned to southeastern Virginia.

Clearly, the emphasis has come away from the flowers and has become entirely a celebration of Norfolk’s importance as an internationally significant military community.  The Virginia International Tattoo is now a focal point of the celebration, a military splendor-filled night of music and pageantry.

I don’t know what to think of this…I’ve always been a stickler for tradition.  I’m sure there’s been a movement to lessen the “exploitation” of young ladies, and perhaps a concern was raised from the military community — the princesses usually were daughters of high-ranking NATO-nation military members.  I was assigned as attendant to a Canadian girl, her father was an admiral.

As promised, here are some pictures I’ve taken this week of the pretty azaleas in the area.  Most of them were taking with my phone while on a run.

24. March 2011 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags:

1. What is your must have gadget? submitted by Flying High With My Flyboy

That goes without saying.  My iPhone.  It’s been a paradigm shift for me, but I’m becoming more and more reliant on it, and feeling great about becoming paperless!  Shopping lists, calendars, little notepads…all electronic!  And it integrates so seamlessly with my Macbook!

2. How does your adulthood compare to what you imagined it would be like when you were a little kid? submitted by L to the Third

I never thought I’d (a) join the military myself or (b) marry a military member…especially after watching what my mother went through as a Navy Wife for 27 years!  Offers by the Air Force for pay for my college was all the carrot-on-a-stick that I needed.  But I soon realized that being in a military community is comforting to me…and I’m now nervous about how my life will be when none of us in the household is military.  And that’s coming up sooner than one would think!

3. What is your favorite chocolate recipe?  submitted by Our First Deployment

Pioneer Woman’s Chocolate Pie!  It’s DIVINE, and I do make it with raw eggs, I have to admit.  Ironic, I was just contemplating making one tonight…

4. How do you deal with military life when it gets to be to much or to hard? submitted by Combat Boots And Pointe Shoes

This is a toughie.  I’ve had my REALLY REALLY REALLY hard days before…and usually it takes a very little reminder somewhere about what we’re here for.  

On 9/11/01, my husband was TDY to downtown Seattle and I was very afraid for him.  I was active duty at the time, and we were all busy with accountability and stuff, but I remember it was the unknown that is truly scary.  “Was Al Quada intending to target other large American cities?”  Precautionary measures were established in large metropolitan areas and my husband and I weren’t even sure when we’d see each other again — our colleagues were getting called to extended duty/deployment standby left and right.  We were both grad students at the time, so we wouldn’t be deploying, but I still have distinctive memories of that fear of the unknown.  

After another 2 days in Seattle, Dave and his colleagues drove nearly 48 hours almost straight through from Seattle back home to Dayton, Ohio.  The longest week of my life…

How did I deal?  I leaned on my friends.  I leaned very heavily on my friends…and they came through for me.  Emotionally, and practically.  Don’t ever shut out the offers for help…ever!

5. What piece of advice would you give a new Military spouse facing their first deployment?  submitted by The Albrecht Squad

See #4 above.  Spouses SHOULD be getting plenty of offers of assistance.  At least that’s always a goal of mine, and when my husband becomes a commander later this year, it will be a priority of mine.

Don’t be afraid to accept the help of others.  It doesn’t make you weak…it doesn’t make you a bad spouse or parent.  Allow someone else to watch your kids, even if it’s 2-4 hours per month, to get out and spend some time to yourself.  I know of spouses who committed suicide because he/she felt overwhelmed with keeping up with the house, the kids, and the emotional stresses of missing his/her deployed spouse.  

There’s no reason to be overwhelmed…if all else fails, pay a visit to your chaplain or the Family Readiness Center.  There are lots of programs out there…you aren’t going through it alone!!!  Not by a LONG SHOT!

24. March 2011 · Comments Off on That Wisteria Book I Was Looking For…."The Floatplane Notebooks" · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags:

On the post I just wrote a few hours ago, I mentioned a book I had read several years ago that involved a very old wisteria, and how the author had personified it in several chapters.

In my crazy search for the book’s title (which mostly yielded references to ABC’s Desperate Housewives), I found this forum that people use to find names of books they’re trying to remember.  Part of the website.  I submitted a request, put in what I remembered about the plot and within 6 hours I had two replies.

Thanks to Anna on the forum, I now can share the information with you!

The book my book club read in 2006 was called The Floatplane Notebooks by Clyde Edgerton.  One of the reviewers compares the literary style to William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and they’re absolutely right!

23. March 2011 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,

It’s a 12.3 mile drive on U.S. 98 between our neighborhood in Navarre, and Dave’s base to our east. That road is a nightmare a lot of the time; it’s the only east-west artery along the Gulf Coast connecting Pensacola with Fort Walton Beach, so the majority of businesses set up on this road, and it’s extremely congested. Dave probably has a dozen traffic lights on that 12.3 mile stretch (perhaps I’ll count it the next time I make the drive and report back to you).

As I wrote about recently, living on the Gulf Coast opens up a new world of flora and fauna. This being our first springtime here, it’s been a surprise every week seeing what does grow in this area. We’d spent time on the East Coast of Florida in Melbourne years ago, and went from there to central North Carolina. The differences in flora between the two locations was profound.

This area seems to be a blend between the two. Banana trees will grow, but so will bradford pear trees. This week brought out the wisteria.

For those familiar with this invasive species, wisteria typically spreads their vines very aggressively, and many American cultivars don’t flower until 10-15 years after first seeded.

That being said, most of the wisteria I’m seeing in this area are in undeveloped plots of land. In my neighborhood itself, there aren’t a lot of wisteria. Most of what I’m seeing is along that 12.3 mile stretch of U.S. 98. In these photos below, the wisteria vine has been allowed to grow for several years without any pruning, and it’s growing up the telephone pole and draping itself over other large trees.

I also noticed that this particular one wasn’t as purple as others I’ve seen around. I’ve seen one very pretty plant in someone’s front yard in my neighborhood, the only one that appears to have been planted in a particular spot “on purpose”. It’s clearly well-pruned every year, and it looks very attractive. I haven’t gotten a picture of that one, I don’t want to freak out the homeowners.

I wanted to also discuss a book I had read with a book club I was in when we were living in North Carolina.  But I can’t remember the title or author!  One of the “characters” in the book was the centuries-old wisteria on the family’s property.  It told the reader a history of the protagonist family…I thought it was clever and creative.  If anyone knows the name of the book I’m talking about, please remind me!

I found the name of the book!  “The Floatplane Notebooks” by Clyde Edgerton!


This is a huge sprawling wisteria vine!

I wish this blog had smell-o-vision…they smell very very nice.  Not as nice as lilacs or honeysuckle or good roses, but still nice.

I wish I had my good camera with me, but I’m impress with how these iPhone photos came out.

Extreme closeup!

Like kudzu, wisteria is an Asian-originated vine of the pea family that grows VERY fast!
21. March 2011 · 4 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

It’s been Spring Break here. Extremely early, I know, but allegedly my boys’ school district here had some problems with their calendar and now the timing is “off” compared to the other school districts around here. Most kids I know of are having their Spring Breaks later in March, or even in April…with Easter being late this year.

Unlike other Spring Breaks we’ve had, this time around we had nothing significant planned. We visited the Air Force Armament Museum (for another blog post) and as the weather slowly warmed up, by midweek we took our first “real” trip to the beach! We’d been a couple other times since we moved here, but it was not really to play…more to look around.

My boys LOVE the beach.  They always have…they seem to be transformed into angel children.  They play hard, they play well together, they’re polite, they don’t fight.  They even eat the healthy snacks I bring for them — without complaint!  And they are worn out enough that I can even enjoy the good behavior for the rest of the day, and they go right to bed at bedtime.  Now that both boys swim decently, I don’t have to be in the water with them, and I can even blink a few times while watching them from shore.  It won’t be long before I could possibly read a book at the beach!

On Wednesday we were lucky enough to set up near another neighborhood family and our kids had a great time playing together…so much so we got together again on Friday!

Timmy let the girls bury him…unlike other “burials”, the older kids dug a VERTICAL hole!

Timmy did amazingly well with this — even waiting for me to come back from the restroom to take a picture of this!

We could see schools of fish swimming in this clear clear clear water!  The sand really IS like sugar here!

Jacob liked the purple umbrella when I was umbrella shopping at Walmart.  It turned out to be unique enough, it’s easy to see where we’ll be parked on our beach outings!

The kids really enjoyed just lazing around…

Timmy and his new friend would hold hands floating around…I don’t think it’s romantic, I’m not worried!

On Sunday, with Dad not having to work, we spent yet another afternoon enjoying the beach. This time we hung out further east than before, where there are less people, and the waves are less active because of a sandbar about 100′ out that takes the brunt of the wave action. After about 3 hours out, the boys and I took Dad to our new favorite hangout: Tommy’s New Orleans Sno Balls!

What?  I’m in front of the camera???  Whoo hoo!  I brought some margarita on the rocks with us to enjoy.  Don’t worry, I only had one…

Timmy is face-planting himself here.  Trying to make a face-print…seriously.

He regretted it afterwards….

Timmy lost his first front tooth over the weekend…we found a baby crab, but I think he was dead.

Tommy’s New Orleans Sno Balls — it opened up a couple weeks ago and every time we pass the place there’s a line.  But it’s yummy and cheap!
Tommy’s Sno Ball stand is just north of the Navarre Beach Bridge.  A seasonal stand, it’s been HOPPING this week!

17. March 2011 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags:

I’m putting the number with the title to correlate them to Wife of a Sailor’s original questionnaires.

Here are this week’s questions and my answers (and I’m finally starting to get the hang of the formatting with these):

1. What are some of your ideas for staying connected with family…you know, those people we moved thousands of miles away from? submitted by Live it. Love it (or not). Write About It

Webcams, Skype, cell phones, etc.  This blog, and our social networking sites.  As a military brat myself, I remember my Mom sitting me down and having me write letters to my Dad once a week.  He was in the Navy and spent 6-months at a time deployed when he was on sea duty.  Little did I realize that sometimes those letters would arrive in a clump, depending on his opstempo and port schedule.  And there was nothing more spectacular than getting a letter from my Dad in reply!

I think about how well deployed folks have it these days.  Even the most forward deployed troops can get to an internet connection occasionally these days.  That’s so impressive!

2. What’s the most romantic gift you have GIVEN? submitted by Painting My Canvas

This past Valentine’s Day my husband sent me on a scavenger hunt throughout our house, searching for memories of our early days, taking me right up through our two kids’ births, ending up with a pair of pretty earrings.

3. Would you encourage your child, if they came to you and wanted to join the military?  submitted by Perfectly Imperfect

Abso-freakin-lutely!  There’s very little more honorable for my sons to do.  I might, ahem, massage/inspire what service/career fields they’d want to do but I would never ever ever discourage them!

4. What is your least favorite bill to pay and why? submitted by A Little of This, A Little of That

Our bill to AT&T.  It’s a combined home phone, cell phone, and high-speed Internet bill.  Don’t get me wrong, I love our iPhones, our high-speed internet, and our cheap long distance service so we can talk to our relatives.  But the amount of $$$ spent for those services seem to get more and more expensive, contrary to the typical trend of technology getting cheaper with time.  I just did our mid-month bill-paying this morning and seeing that $250 combined bill to AT&T is frustrating every. single. month.

5. What is the proudest moment you’ve had as a military spouse?  submitted by Our Okinawa Life

When my husband was selected for squadron command.  My opinion is that career military officers should be aspiring to command troops and resources.  It’s what they train for and in my view is the ultimate accomplishment.  (I fully understand that not everyone shares my view, hopefully we can agree to disagree 🙂  I am so proud that my husband was selected to be an Air Force weather squadron commander last fall and will be taking his command this summer.  He’s going to be awesome, even if we have to say goodbye to vacations for a couple years, since he’ll also be extremely busy.

15. March 2011 · Comments Off on Happy Pi Day!* · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

*I meant to post this earlier in the day, but some online training took up my evening, so I realize it’s no longer Pi Day on the east coast now…sorry!

Happy Pi Day everyone!

Dave let me take this great pic of him over the weekend, sporting his favorite t-shirt!

A closeup shows the digits.

Dave asked for the shirt after seeing an episode of the CBS drama Numb3rs.

He received it for Father’s Day in 2006 while he was working on his PhD, and he wore it at least weekly.

Note the close up detail.  Pardon my poor focus, it was hard to zoom in on the detail without the camera flash:

After we moved to Offutt AFB in Nebraska in 2008, the shirt was worn much less: Dave had to go back to wearing his uniforms daily.  He still breaks out the shirt occasionally, and he’ll definitely wear it after work on Pi Day!

Want your own Pi Shirt?  Order one from!

13. March 2011 · 1 comment · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

…How does your garden grow?  In this location, with lots of containers!

The wooden frame around the small containers was left here by the homeowner.  He had made a sandbox, but never used it.  He said we could use it as a sandbox…um…that’s okay.  It’ll be more of a bench for our container garden.

Definitely one of the NON-perks of being a mobile military family: I have walked away from great gardens at 5 of my past 6 homes.  Didn’t do any gardening in Korea, I’m afraid.

One day I’ll have to do a summary of my past gardens, at least from Ohio till now.  Each time, it takes 1-2 seasons to get the hang of things, and by the time I have something spectacular, I’m offering the harvest to the movers as they’re loading my sofa onto the big orange truck!  Or in the case of Florida, I had this incredible full-life-cycle butterfly garden…I was incorporated into local homeschooling families’ lesson plans!

In past houses we’ve been able to dig up parts of our yard and make the garden happen.  When we owned our homes (in eastern FL and NC) it was a no brainer.  We could dig to our heart’s content.  In Nebraska, Dave talked to our landlord and got permission to dig up a really good-sized hunk of our backyard.

Here we decided to take advantage of our huge back patio and do some container gardening this time around.  There are many benefits to container gardening, starting with having total control over the soil!  What we’re starting with is MY concoction, free of critters, with plenty of compost and manure!

I took advantage of a free shipping promotion at my favorite garden shop, the Gardener’s Supply Company.  I picked up a couple of “Grow Bags” that fits my 64″ tall tomato cages and a 3′ x 6′ “Grow Bed”, all part of their portable raised bed line of products.  And as I do every year, I stocked up on their “Super Hot Compost Starter” for my compost bin.  (Another non-perk, having to empty and ship my awesome compost bin every 3 years!).

I’m hoping this “Grow Bed” will last me for several years.  It can be disassembled into six 3′ pieces and easily boxed up.  There’s also an inexpensive liner that I’m not sure will last beyond this assignment, but we’ll see how that goes.

Today we headed out to Lowe’s while J was at a birthday party.  We stocked up on 10 HUGE bags of potting mix, 2 bags of manure and 2 bags of mushroom compost.  Plus seedlings for my new herb garden, plus more seedlings for our salsa garden.  The boys actually asked for this.  I promised to try to stick to foods we’d actually eat — usually there’s something we don’t eat, like Chinese eggplant or gourds, and it was Jacob’s idea to make salsa and tomato sauce with what we grew.  Thanks to the 10% military discount, I was able to keep this purchase under $200!

Enjoy some pictures of today’s gardening…I know most of the readers here will be frothing at the mouth, still waiting for that last frost…

First, a commentary.  This product was at Walmart, not Lowe’s.  What made someone think that Lightning McQueen and Mater will help the Burpee Company sell cucumber growing kits?  I’m just sayin’…
Dave and I had to dig deep into our inner Tetris skills to make this all fit into the back of the truck.  One of the bags of dirt popped open and poured into the middle row of seats.  Fun fun fun!  Days like today, we miss our ’03 Odyssey.
We had a lot of work ahead of us here…Dave’s finishing assembling the Grow Bed frame while J’s admiring our seedling choices.  He wasn’t with us at Lowe’s, he was at a birthday party.
My oldest son was in charge of planting the tomato plants into our “grow bags”.
The young man in the middle is one of our neighbors, who’s J’s age.  He’s in J’s Cub Scout pack too, so we let his Mom know to give him Wolf Scout credit for all his help today.
For once, I’m in a picture.  
J’s very proud of his work!
T asks for carrots in the garden every year.  Those have to be planted as seeds, so he’s putting carrot seeds down here.
After we were done filling our existing containers, we ended up with one extra tomato plant.  We searched and searched for a container, and came up with the recycling bin we used in Nebraska.  Here we have “Hurlburt Field Recycles” bins, and that one has been just taking up space in our garage.  I poked a hole in the bottom and “recycled” it!
That tall piece is a Gardener’s Supply cucumber trellis.  I LOVE IT!  And I love more that it fits here!
I’m so excited for fresh herbs again!  
11. March 2011 · 3 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags:

These are kinda fun!

Here are this week’s questions and my answers (pardon all the questions being numbered “1”, I’m in a hurry and I’m having formatting issues):

  1. During military separations (whether short or long) how do you keep yourself positive and motivated? submitted by Married/Single Parent
I stay busy.  REALLY busy!  I did this when deployed myself, and I keep myself and the kids busy when I’m home with the kids while my spouse is away.  This means sports, Cub Scouts, music lessons, birthday parties, trips to the local parks and museums and lots of times hanging out with friends.
  1. What is your favorite concert you have ever been to? submitted by Young but Not (Completely) Dumb
Harry Connick, Jr. in Cary, NC in summer 2008.  He’s amazing!  Handsome, talented, whimsical!  He was out on the stage for a solid 2 hours!  Didn’t go back stage to change clothes or anything — not once!  
  1. What do you miss most about your “hometown”?  submitted by A Florida Girl and Her Soldier
I’m from Norfolk, VA and usually I would say it’s the smell of the salt air.  But I now live in Florida and I have that salt air back in my life.  And it’s wonderful!
  1. If you could run in any race, which charity would you choose to support? submitted by Wookie & Co.
Susan Komen Race for the Cure.  A friend was recently diagnosed — it’s the research and support we have today and continue to need that made her diagnosis nice and early.
  1. You find out Willy Wonka is your father, what 3 course meal do you INSIST he create in that stick of gum?  submitted by A{muse}ing Mommy on a Pink Park Bench
That’s going to have to be a SEAFOOD feast!  Lobster bisque, Alaskan King Crab legs, and Blackened swordfish.  Oh wait, and New York cheesecake for dessert!
11. March 2011 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , , , ,

Part II = The fauna!

Springtime in Florida also means the bugs and animals are all coming out of the woods, the ponds, the ground, etc.  I’ve already seen more than my share of millipedes in the yard and on my porch, plenty of mosquito hawks, and of course the birds are all coming back.  Those that never left are brightening up, the goldfinches are becoming more gold!

I didn’t get pictures of everything I’ve seen, but I figured a blog post was due because I captured pictures of not one, but TWO animals in my yard just today! I was assembling my new 3′ x 6′ raised garden bed and enjoying the lovely afternoon while the kids played outside.

First, here’s a baby Southern ring-necked snake for you to enjoy.  Don’t fret, he was a corpse by the time I discovered him in our driveway. And here’s the Florida Cooperative Extension Service briefing about black-colored snakes in Florida. The Southern ring-necked snake is the 3rd one on the list.

I photographed this one with my hand for scale.

Just before I took off for soccer practice (I’m coaching my youngest son’s team), I dumped some yard waste into my compost bin and discovered this lizard hanging out.

It took some sleuthing on this one, but I’ve got it narrowed down to an “anole” of some sort. The Florida green anole is native to this part of the country and they’re quite nice. Sometimes in late winter, early spring they’re more brown than green. I hope that’s what this is, because if it’s a “brown anole” or “Cuban anole”, they’re invasive and they EAT green anoles!

Finally, earlier this week I was rolling out the garbage can at about 7:30 in the morning and threw away some yard trash. The morning was humid and just under the lid was this cute little frog. I’m pretty sure he’s an American green tree frog, but I’ve been reading about these invasive Cuban tree frogs* and wondering if that’s what I have instead. This frog seemed to big to be “American green” but too small to be “Cuban”.

I worked on coaxing him out from under the lid, but not before he started descending down the trash can…luckily he figured things out and worked his way out of the trash can. Phew!

Lid closed, mission accomplished, congratulations!

*Do you see a trend here? The native species of both of the lizards and frogs mentioned here are cute and green and are called “Florida [frog or lizard]”, while the invasive version is brown, called “Cuban” and eats the Floridian? I’m just sayin’…