Quirky Military Homes and the Reasons I Love Them

Quirky Military Homes and the Reasons I Love Them

My family has moved many times in the last twenty years, in the country and out, from base to base to base. There is an unbeatable camaraderie among military families, for a plethora of reasons, but I find the laughter (and frustration) over our homes to be a special connection. Living transitory lives in different places yields a certain attitude about houses and a funny quirkiness in our spaces that entertains me. Our homes tell an eclectic, sometimes humorous story and represent so many aspects of the military life.

Here are TEN REASONS I LOVE MILITARY HOMES:

1) Lifestyle constraints make us low-maintenance. While normal families might spend months finding the perfect house, military families must be quick to find shelter and beggars can’t be choosers. We are moving in six weeks?? Alrighty… A house on base that looks exactly like every other house on the block? Okay. A rental house across the country that we must reserve, site-unseen, because the market moves so quickly? And it has a granny bathtub and a kitchen the size of a dollhouse? That’s fine. Or moving to a small town and finding only ten houses for sale within the school boundaries, none of which were the kind of house we had in mind? Okay, I guess this one will do. And since we might only be there for two years, we focus on the small things, ignore the big things (like the bright yellow hallway tile we want to jackhammer) and accept our imperfect houses until we fly away to our next nest.

2) Military homes keep us humble. In a world of dream homes, HGTV, and the need to keep up with the Jones’, many military families grab a bag of popcorn and watch from the sidelines. Our houses are often not worth bragging about (see above) but exist for practical purposes. They do the job, they give us shelter, they provide a temporary space for our family and we make them work. If your house has a toilet 12” from the front of the washing machine (a scenario which takes multi-tasking to an ENTIRELY new level) you can’t feel too haughty #truestory. If your downstairs doesn’t have any heating vents or your kitchen has only four cabinets or two microwaves installed next to each other, you aren’t calling “House Beautiful” and asking for a magazine spread. You are calling your friends and saying “My new house has lime green walls. It’s fine, my kid will sleep there.”

3) Furniture is often eclectic and tells a story. Those who have been stationed in Europe usually have large antiques, often filled with Polish Pottery. (I miss you, Trocs.) People who have been stationed in Japan often have Tansu Chests against their wall, showcasing their souvenirs from East Asia.

Sadly, many of these pieces have battle scars from the moving process- broken table legs forced back together with superglue or large scratches across the surface from when Joe the Mover decided to place the lawn mower on top. (Way to go, man.) Normal people might replace their flawed furniture but military families think of future moves and future damage, place a tablecloth over the top and tell their friends “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

4) Furniture often doesn’t fit right. While normal families choose the perfect sofa for the perfect living room, we shoot in the dark, hoping that what we buy will be transferrable in two years. It’s all a gamble! When we downsize from a 4,000 sq ft Texas mansion to a 1600 sq ft home in Washington DC, we will curse our large sectionals that now fill every inch of space in our tiny living room. But…we paid MONEY for that big sofa and we aren’t divorcing it quite yet. It will do.

Sometimes our furniture has to go suddenly, like when my friend moved to England and couldn’t get her King size mattress in the front door! Oops. New mattress please!

5) Furniture is often repurposed. When spaces change, so do the lives of our possessions. My friends’ nightstands, which are too wide for her new bedroom, now reside next to her front door as side tables. My other friend’s kitchen buffet table now sits in her living room. The file cabinet that matches the office desk sometimes doubles as a TV stand. The rug I purchased for my front entry now lives in my master bedroom because our new house doesn’t have space by the front door. (Does it match my bedroom linens? Nope. But someday I might have a foyer again so the rug stays.)

6) Home decor often goes through a lengthy consideration process. Normal families see an item they like and buy it. Done. Shopping is not that simple for us. We see something at a store and think Do I have a place for that? Is it likely that I would have a place for it in another house? What are the chances that it will survive our next move? Is it too fragile? How would movers actually load that onto a truck? If I buy a glass coffee table, will it be destroyed within two years? Wood it is. Sometimes we buy things we love (like the couches mentioned above) and deal with the spaces as they come. Sometimes we win and sometimes… well… we live tightly.

7) Sometimes we look like hoarders. That 4,000 sq ft mansion reduced to 1600 sq ft might mean a mountain of possessions inside our walls. When we move to a house that suddenly has zero closets and no garage, the bikes might live in the dining room. Or we may live in the desert but fill our closets with bins of snowgear in case our next duty station has cold winters (because that stuff is an INVESTMENT). We might have one room with three mismatched couches or European antiques shoved in the corner of our children’s bedrooms #truestoryagain. With unclear futures and unknown spaces ahead of us, hoarding can easily happen.

8) Unexpected souvenirs abound everywhere. We hail from all corners of America and have lived in a variety of places so our decorating style can be random but special. My Georgian friend lives in Virginia but has a Washington State highway sign on her wall. My Louisiana-born friend has a collection of Japanese souvenirs on her shelf. Another friend of mine has a couch full of British pillows. My living room displays a random black elephant from Hong Kong sitting next to a photo of the Pacific Northwest. That’s how we roll- converging our home states with our places of residence and our worldly souvenirs.

9) Military houses help design future dreams. Every house teaches us a lesson and adds mental bricks to our “forever homes”, those castles in the sky which military families so often reference. We dream of a future home of our choosing, in which we finally have control over our space and the location. Our forever houses will have this… we always say in conversation. One house taught us that white tile always looks dirty. Other houses have taught us that front porches prevent soggy packages, black countertops show crumbs, fewer bathrooms mean fewer spaces to clean, and again, let’s not put a toilet next to the washing machine. Essentially, military families have the opportunity to test-drive different shapes and sizes of houses and fine-tune our future abodes. It is an unexpected gift of this nomadic life!

And what I love MOST about military homes is…

10) They represent the essence of our military journey. We are a collection of memories and battle scars. We load ourselves into trucks and transport ourselves across the country (or the ocean) to serve where we are needed. We smash ourselves into corners, cover our wounds and look out the window at the new scenery. We reinvent ourselves every time, putting forth new energy into our new purpose. We might not look pretty, we might not fit exactly into our new space but we awkwardly try. With every move we look a little more worn (and maybe a little more quirky) but don’t let the outside fool you. We are STRONG, STURDY and ABLE to get the job done. 🙂

To all the military families who are moving this year: may the force be with you, may the movers be gentle with your furniture and may your new nest have neutral paint colors and normal toilets. Godspeed.

Has your military family lived in a quirky home? I would love to hear your stories! ❤️

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A Letter To My Younger Self: A Navy Wife’s Reflection

A Letter To My Younger Self: A Navy Wife’s Reflection

Twenty years ago I sat in a stadium watching my future husband receive his commissioning in the US Navy. With a stack of blissful hopes and dreams we jumped into the military life and flew into the unknown. For that hometown 20-something girl, every single thing was an unknown. Dropped into a completely new world, she fumbled through those first few years, trying her best to understand the new military community and her place within it. I wish I could write her a letter to calm her fears and let her know that she was on the precipice of something rich and amazing.

Dear Younger Self,

Congratulations on your beautiful wedding! That epic day filled with sword arches and a Top Gun serenade seemed like the perfect launching pad for your new life.

Now here you are, two weeks later, unpacking boxes in your new apartment and thinking “What on Earth just happened?” All your family and friends now live thousands of miles away and South Texas surrounds you like a foreign country. (And why is this foreign country so freakishly hot????)

I see the way you are looking around now, disoriented, skeptical and lonely…But let me tell you something: you are going to be okay. Actually, you are going to be more than okay. You are going to have the adventure of a lifetime. LISTEN TO ME:

I know you are lonely now, but you are going to have deep and meaningful friendships. You will have friends from all fifty states, some for a period, but some for a lifetime. You will have close neighbors who invest in you and care for your children. You will meet other military spouses who will become your new family, your new world and your new tribe of military code-breakers. They will meet you in the parking lot when your car battery dies. They will laugh and cry with you during seemingly endless deployment cycles. Find these friends.

Finding your tribe takes effort but you will learn to do it well. Don’t wait around, don’t sit inside, leave the house and pursue people. At first it feels uncomfortable to join a new group or be known as “The Mrs” but I promise you the reward is there for the taking. Eventually you will become so efficient and bold in your quest for tribal membership that you will compose emails like “I like you and I think you are fun, wanna meet me for coffee?” And they do. (Actually, you will do this more than once). I guarantee you that every time you relocate to a new city you will find fantastic friends who will warrant tears when you depart. They sit around the world now, just waiting to meet you for coffee.

You will not be in control of your family’s schedule and there is nothing you can do but laugh. I’m serious here. I see you feeling annoyed, angry and beyond frustrated with the Navy but fighting is futile- you will always lose. You can stubbornly plan a vacation ten months away but sometimes your husband won’t know his schedule until a couple months before. Years of your life will be dictated by the schedule of a ship or the affairs of the world, none of which you can control. The sooner you can accept that, the happier you will be. (Don’t choose anger, choose donuts. Just kidding. Maybe not. Apple Fritters are forever.)

Remember- It’s not his fault that the ship is leaving. Don’t blame him for the schedule when it is inconvenient. When he is walking out the door with his pack and you are laying on the floor with the stomach flu, hoping your unsupervised toddler doesn’t grab any kitchen knives, he isn’t trying to purposefully run out on you. He’s trying to stay employed and not go to a sleepover at the base brig. Pull up your big girl pants and stop taking his schedule as a personal affront! If you want your marriage to succeed, you must learn to separate the two.

Deployments will seem like the end of the world but they are often forgettable. Your first deployment will be nine months long but years later you will barely recall the details. And all those times he deploys when your kids are young and you feel like their hearts will be crushed, the truth is that they won’t remember those separations either. I don’t mean to downplay the effort it will take to persevere through a deployment (because those times will push you beyond your limits), but those separations won’t define you or your kids. Your husband will miss some milestones but he will be there for a million more moments later and those relationships will thrive.

Your kids will have a different childhood than your own, but that is okay. You will wonder if moving them is traumatic, if not living on the same street will damage them. But then you will watch them learn about farming in California, walk the streets of Paris and tour the Capitol Building in DC. You will see their world views broadened through their personal experiences & friendships and you will know that their horizons are wider than you ever dreamed. Contrary to what you worry about, your children will have strong, beautiful roots that grow in many directions.

Your professional career is going to struggle but that’s okay, too. You will love some of your future jobs, but there will come a time when balancing work, family & the military life will be very difficult. “The flexible one” will need to be you and that’s the blunt truth. When your kid has a fever and can’t go to school, your husband won’t be coming home from the ship to handle it. When your kid is crying in the school bathroom after Daddy deploys, you will be the one to show up. And that’s when you will realize your most important job- to show up every time. You will be your family’s grounding force in an ever-shifting world and that stability will be worth more than any paycheck.

The military life will make your world bigger and smaller at the same time. Years from now, you will drive across the United States, from coast to coast, and know someone in almost every place. You will watch the news and think of your foreign friendships and the lessons they taught you about their home countries. Daily, you will pass souvenirs in your home- reminders from squadrons, port visits, tours abroad and all the moments when your world expanded a little further. You will realize one day that you are no longer the same person who was unpacking boxes in that first apartment.

Like every phase of adulthood…

This journey will pass in a blink. When these friends from South Texas begin to retire, your mind will replay all the emotions of the twenty years- the heartache of goodbyes, the stress of moving, the struggle of solo-parenting, the joy of Homecomings, the feelings of patriotism, the love of friends and everything in-between. You will grab your husband’s hand and think of all you have seen and experienced together and realize that the “sacrifice” of this life looks more like a beautiful gift.

SO GO. Don’t be afraid. A wonderful journey stands before you.

With love from your Older and Wiser Self,

p.s. Consider using eye cream a little earlier, then maybe you won’t have big bags under your eyes at age Forty. I’m just sayin.’

p.p.s. Never iron your husband’s white uniform without first confirming that the iron is clean. Especially not the night before a big event. TRUST ME.