Trapped in Paradise – the DC Edition

Part travel blog, part philosophical musings. All tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness.


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Happy Olympics Day!

I’ve written before about how much I love the Olympics, though I have to admit it’s a little harder to get excited this time around thanks to the doping scandals, deadly viruses, and well, everything else going on in Brazil. That being said, the long-awaited event is finally here, the Opening Ceremony is tonight, and the athletes who have been training their whole lives for the Olympics (well, the ones who decided to risk infection) are going to show the world what they’re made of. Come on, who can’t get excited about that?

aussie speed skating

Gold medals won by feats of strength, or by pure chance… eh, who cares. Get it, Australia!

Thanks to a brief interlude between the end of my summer internship and the first day of school, this is the first time in many years that I’ll actually have time to watch the Olympics for more than a passing moment, so I’m extra excited. The only thing is, my roommate and I don’t have cable so I was anticipating spending a lot of time at the sports bar down the street to get Olympics my fix. Not like that’s a bad thing, but sometimes I just want to watch the morning’s volleyball match in my pajamas with a cup of coffee, you know?

olympics water polo

Or water polo. Everyone loves water polo in HD.

However, something I just discovered yesterday is that NBC is offering free streaming of the games to U.S. military members and their families. Great news for people like me who are too cheap for cable!
too cheap for cable

If you’re affiliated with the military, all you have to do is go to the military exchange’s website and create an account, then go to the NBC Olympics site and choose “Exchange” as your provider. Voila! Now you can watch the games from the comfort of your home, and shop for ugly clothes and Motrin the cure-all drug (which, according to your corpsman, can treat everything from back pain to amputations.)

motrin military

You might be a veteran if…

I also heard that the Olympics will be streamed on YouTube via a bunch of internet stars, including a guy who got famous by playing frisbee. (Clearly I’ve been doing this whole “being an adult” thing all wrong.) Either way, there should be plenty of ways to watch all the events, so let the games begin!

File_000

And let’s hope that they turn out better than everyone is expecting them to.

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Honoring the Fallen

On this Memorial Day, I wanted to share some thoughts I’d written last year during my solo Eurotrip when I had visited the D-Day sites in Normandy.

I’ve been seeing quite a few posts on social media by my fellow military veterans of the “no one appreciates Memorial Day!” variety, complaining bitterly that everyone only cares about the three-day weekend and grilling hot dogs while completely forgetting why this holiday weekend exists in the first place. I have to respectfully disagree on a couple of points: one, I sincerely doubt that most civilians have “forgotten” our lost loved ones. And two, I don’t think anyone is being disrespectful by enjoying the weekend.

I could go on a tangent about some of the things that I’ve seen veterans post, but I’ll save the rant for another day. This weekend isn’t about me, or about any of us really. Memorial Day is for remembering and honoring those who gave their lives so that we could live free. The “honoring” part is where I think many have a misunderstanding – are we not honoring our comrades in arms by enjoying the weekend? Would they really prefer that we wallow in bitterness and sorrow the whole time, or would they want us to enjoy the freedom that they fought and died for? Yes, I understand that it can be hard to see the forest through the trees. I’ve lost friends in the Iraq War, too. However, I still believe that I would fall in the second category, and I’d like to think that I’m not alone.

When I visited Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery last year, I remember having the same sentiment, in particular after visiting the museum and listening to one of the commentaries by a father of one of the D-Day soldiers:

***

From The Skeptical Sailor: Eurotrip, part seven: A real champagne room, a pilgrimage, and more cathedrals

I had wondered why the D-Day sights in Normandy were not among many of the “day trips from Paris” lists I’ve seen. After making the trip myself, I now know why – it’s not easy, nor is it for the casual tourist. Of course I’m glad I went, but I’d been determined to go to the cemetery and was not leaving France until I did…

Anyway, the memorial is beautiful and really well done, and the cemetery speaks for itself.

Over 9,000 soldiers are buried in the American Cemetery at Normandy

Over 9,000 soldiers are buried in the American Cemetery at Normandy

I shouldn’t have even hesitated to pay the money. It’s really indescribable to stand in a place where so many young men gave their lives in the name of freedom.

On the hills overlooking the beaches, where the Allied soldiers landed so long ago.

On the hills overlooking the beaches, where the Allied soldiers landed so long ago.

Something else that stuck out for me was a father of one of the soldiers from the video they showed in the museum – he mentioned something I had often wondered, how the families of the dead felt about their loved ones being laid to rest so far from home. He’d said that it actually gave him pride to know that his son was buried in the very land he help to save. I love that sentiment, and thought of it again when we were walking on the beach. One of the other Americans with us mentioned that people go sunbathing on Normandy beach during the summer, and how he felt it was a little strange and borderline offensive. I see his point, but after watching the father in the video I also see the flip side: that all these brave men died so that people can enjoy the peace and beauty of Normandy today. By enjoying the beautiful beaches, we are honoring their memory.

Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach

***

Anyway, thank you for reading. This is something that’s been weighing on me for the past few days, for it bothers me to see other veterans trying to shame people for enjoying the weekend. No one is being disrespectful; we all know what this holiday is for, and the sacrifices that our loved ones made so that we can live in the freedom they fought for. We honor the fallen by shedding tears as well as by living in joy.

For anyone who wants to read the full post (which also includes descriptions of my day trips to Reims, Bayeux, Rouen and the Veuve Clicquot Champagne winery) it’s here on my old blog.


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Thank you for serving!

I’d like to take this opportunity to say Happy Veterans Day to those of you out there who have served in the military, or are currently serving. A special shout-out to those stationed in the many bases in Hawaii! Having spent a total of five years in the islands thanks to the Navy, I know it can be a lonely experience sometimes. But there are people who appreciate you, as evidenced by the many companies that offer V-day specials to vets, active duty, and their families. Then again, as luck would have it, a lot of these chains aren’t even located on Hawaii. My coworkers and I used to look at the “Veterans Day Specials!” fliers handed out by MWR with a mixture of irritation and sadness.

It's the thought that counts.

It’s the thought that counts.

But in all seriousness, although it may seem like a lot Hawaii residents see the military as a nuisance, there are some who are proud of our servicemembers. One of my favorite moments from my time there was when an elderly lady approached me, a young Naval Flight Officer at the time, and asked if she could shake my hand. It made her happy to see young people find success, she’d told me, because it gave her hope that her own grandkids could similarly find a way to make something of their lives. I’ve seen from my family members who spent their whole lives in Hawaii that it can be easy to fall into the rut of “grow up – go to school – move back home and sit around.” Lather, rinse, repeat for generations. I’ve met people who have never left the island, not even to go to Kauai or Maui! The military can give people a chance to break that rut. I know I’ve been able accomplish life goals and visit places I never thought I’d see, and despite my unhappiness at being forced back to Hawaii for the last two years of my career, I will always be grateful to the Navy for the opportunities it’s given me.

That said, those opportunities don’t come without a price. If it were easy, everyone would be signing up! It’s hard being in the military and you have to sacrifice a lot in the name of being a part of something greater than yourself. So for those of you who have served, and those who continue to serve our country, I cannot thank you enough. Happy Veterans Day, and stay safe out there.

Past and present: the USS Arizona with the USS Ronald Reagan in the background

Past and present: the USS Arizona with the USS Ronald Reagan in the background. Taken this summer during RIMPAC 2014.

From the Veterans Day parade in NYC. (Photo credit: Gianna Piccolo)

Cute picture from the Veterans Day parade in NYC. (Photo credit: Gianna Piccolo)


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Escape from Honolulu!

So I’ve been dreading logging into wordpress after such a long absence, to talk to what few readers (if any) might still be around. I have no excuse other than that life got crazy for a couple of months… okay, it got completely uprooted, and in fact I’m going to have to change the scope of my blog since I am no longer in Hawaii!

Hell yeah!

Hell yeah!

The tl;dr version: I got out of the military after ten years, and promptly relocated to Virginia so I could move in with my fiance on his sailboat. The ridiculousness of getting out of the Navy just so I could live on a boat has not escaped me. 🙂

And now I can live out my dream of being a pirate! (I kid. Sort of.)

And now I can live out my dream of being a pirate! (I kid. Sort of.)

The longer version: As one might guess from reading my posts, I hated being stuck in Hawaii but had been trying to make the best of it. My orders had me stationed there until the summer of 2015, after which I had been planning on getting out of the military and heading to the east coast where my fiance is stationed. That felt way too far in the future, so last summer I submitted a request to get out a year early, even though I knew that the odds of Big Navy approving it were slim to none. You see, it costs the government an absurd amount of money to station someone in Hawaii – they’re not just relocating the servicemember, but also their families if they have them, all their household goods, their car, and then paying around an extra $1000/month as a cost of living allowance to compensate for $6 gallons of milk and what-have-you. Because of this, there’s actually a rule that states that the minimum time one must spend stationed in Hawaii is three years, no matter what. (Contrast to only one or two years for almost every other duty station.) I’d been informed that this “three year minimum” rule was infallible and impossible to waiver… but extensive research pointed me to a little-known DOD instruction with a loophole I might be able to use (DODINST 1315.18, paragraph E3.7.2.2, in case there are any military members reading this who might also be looking for an early escape.) I figured I had nothing to lose, said “what the hell” and rolled the dice anyway.

Meanwhile, I continued on my not-so-merry way working at PACOM, doing my best to enjoy the island life while trying to stay sane at my inane job. I’d found I’d been basically blacklisted since it was now common knowledge that I was planning on leaving the military, and as a result had to deal with being given all the crap jobs and menial collateral duties so that the “career” junior officers could do the “important” work. Eh, whatever. I started this blog in January as an outlet to vent my frustrations with being stuck here, which I enjoyed immensely. Meanwhile, life at work got even more ridiculous, so much so that I had to put blogging on hold while I dealt with things. (It’s another long story I’ll save for another time – for now, I’ll only say that if anyone is contemplating a career in naval intelligence, please do your research so you know what you’re getting into! The work can be rewarding, but the management and the people… oh dear.)

And then, a miracle happened! In May, right when things were especially bleak, I got a call from my boss – my request for early separation had been approved! I would be free  a year early! It had been so long that I’d figured the request had gotten thrown out long before. Yet once it was done it was crazy how quickly it all happened – I had less than two months to take all the required “how to be a civilian” classes, get my stuff packed up and shipped back to the mainland, and do all the necessary outprocessing before my terminal leave started. Painful? Hellacious! But worth it in the end, because I’m now sitting in a coffee shop in Virginia typing this, enjoying being free at last to live wherever I want, with the ability to color my hair something ridiculous, while getting to go home to my wonderful fiance after two years of doing the long-distance thing.

May this now be a thing of the past *fingers crossed*

May sights like this be a thing of the past

So what’s next? There’s a lot on the distant horizon, like the wedding and graduate school. But for now, for the first time in ten years I actually have time to pursue some things that I had been wanting to do – specifically writing, which I plan to do much more of. I hope to continue blogging, although as I mentioned I’ll have to change the title now that I’ve escaped from paradise after all. I left the relative security of military life to live on a sailboat, for crying out loud! There are many more adventures to come, I believe, and I hope I can continue to entertain readers who manage to find their way here during an afternoon of bored internet surfing. 🙂 Please come visit again soon, as I hope to have the revamped blog up and running shortly!

Coming soon - Trapped in Paradise II: I'm on a Motherf'in Boat!

Coming soon – Trapped in Paradise II: Jobless with Pink Hair on a Motherf”in Boat!

Cheers! ❤

Brit “Crazy B”


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While I was sleeping

I’m back! The crazy old commander’s retirement ceremony was on Friday, his going away party was yesterday, and now that it’s over I can finally have my life back and return to writing about Hawaii and all the things that disappoint me.

Sing it, baby kitties!

Sing it, baby kitties!

The ceremony went off as well as any of these big events usually do: you spend months laying out a grand plan for the event, which of course gets scrapped because everything goes to hell on the big day, but in the end it somehow all works out and everyone is happy. And seeing the commander and his family so happy and proud made the time and effort all worth it, since this is a guy we all loved working with. I was glad I got to help orchestrate his big day. But man, that doesn’t mean I didn’t pout and complain every step of the way.

GO. AWAY.

GO. AWAY.

My biggest victory (well, besides making sure no one fainted on stage and that the Very Important Senior Officers got their personal escorts, special seating, and handiwipes or whatever) was that infamous shadowbox. Holy hell, I am never, ever, ever creating one of these again. It was, oddly enough, the best summary of this whole party planning process – looks so simple at the end, but belies the pain involved in creating it: finding a fancy-shaped box, begging for donations to cover the cost of shipping from the mainland, hounding the commander for weeks to have him give me the stuff that goes in it, the painstaking process of measuring, aligning, and gluing everything down, and dealing with last-minute crazy requests like “I want this set of ribbons in there, not that one,” “How many medals do I have again? How come you don’t know how many medals I have?!” “I want this coin by my name. No wait, this coin.” I half-expected him to ask for a unicorn mounted by the flag. The end result was great, if I do say so myself, but I still can’t get over how ridiculous it all was. I’ll be more than happy to give pointers to anyone cursed tasked with building one in the future, but I told my fiance that if he stays in the Navy long enough to retire, he’s going to have to find his own minion to do his shadowbox because NEVER AGAIN.

Looks so simple, so innocent...

Looks so simple, so innocent…

But enough about that. I have a handful of half-finished posts that I’d written over the last couple of months, and look forward to posting them now that I’m not spending all my time tracking down cakes and flag-bearers and what-not. I’m really eager to write about the trip I took to London last week for a friend’s wedding! It was only my second trip ever to Europe, and now I’m all sorts of excited to go back and see more. (But maybe when I’m no longer living in Hawaii, because the 20 hour flight + 11 hour time difference was not so fun.)

This is from yesterday's party at the commander's house, specifically his enormous bar. Will keep this in mind for when I decide to build my own house!

This is from yesterday’s party at the commander’s house, specifically his enormous bar room. I’ll keep this in mind for when I decide to build my own house!

One more photo of the house, because it's ridiculous - this is the BATHROOM, bigger than most hotel rooms I've stayed in. It has a garden, for crying out loud!

One more photo of the house, because it’s crazy – this is the BATHROOM, bigger than most hotel rooms I’ve stayed in. What bathroom has a garden?!

 


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The 55-year-old “bridezilla”

I have to apologize for not writing as regularly as I normally do. I’d usually be able to post once or twice a week during my down time at work, since my job is pretty mundane and even a caveman could do it. However, work had gone from zero to insanity over the last month, mainly because I was voluntold to help coordinate a commander’s retirement ceremony. I didn’t mind the extra duties at first, since this commander is pretty cheerful and I enjoy working with him. (He’s been in the service forever, so in my mind he’s like that crazy old grandpa who says and does whatever he wants just because he can.) However, as the weeks went on and I started meeting with him to set up the specifics, I’ve come to the conclusion that planning a military retirement ceremony is like planning a wedding, and the retiree is basically the bridezilla who wants the most ridiculous and difficult-to-obtain things.

Why yes, I want clowns and ninjas and a giant chocolate fountain and of course I want Putin to officiate. I want it all and I want it NOW!

Why yes, I want clowns and ninjas and a giant chocolate fountain and of course I want Putin to officiate. I want it all and I want it NOW!

I’d volunteered to put together the commander’s shadowbox. Again, initially I was glad to do it… until the guy chose a rather unconventional design, which wouldn’t have been bad except we started with only six weeks to put this together. That would be plenty of time in anywhere but Hawaii, but in the land of poor work ethic and no sense of urgency, I couldn’t find a place that would build an octagon-shaped shadowbox with the flag displayed smack in the middle in less than two months. As it turns out, that particular design is only available off the shelf from an engraving shop in Virginia Beach, which means we get to pay an arm and a leg to have it shipped to Hawaii. The other two coordinators aren’t happy that so much of our budget is going towards this, but despite my best efforts to talk the good commander out of a silly-looking shadowbox shaped like a stop sign, in the end he’s the retiree and like that crazy bride, he gets whatever he wants. At least he didn’t ask for it to be made out of pricey koa wood.

As it turns out, this was only the beginning. For instance, I spent a good part of the day last week sending a fax to the office of the Texas governor requesting a personal retirement letter from Rick Perry, never mind that the commander is actually a California resident. Details, details. And who even uses fax machines nowadays?!

I always thought this was how you use a fax machine

I always thought this was how you use a fax machine

On the upside, I’m finally getting a bit of a break – I’m heading to San Diego for the weekend for a friend’s wedding. Oh, I do miss the mainland. Happy Friday indeed!


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Surf’s Way Up

Well, this is embarrassing – last night I’d invited some friends out, including an old classmate who had just moved here, thinking that the Chinese New Year block party would be the happening place to be.  Well, we arrived at a fairly empty Chinatown in Honolulu, discovering that most of the New Year celebrating had happened the night before and now everyone was down in Waikiki at that other block party.

Happy Year of the Horse, here's some team mascots.

Happy Year of the Horse, here’s some NFL mascots.

The Pro Bowl is pretty much the only big sporting event that happens here, if you can call a fake football game an event.  Hawaii has no professional sports teams of its own, nor are most of the college teams any good at the moment, so unless you’re a die hard fan of the University of Hawaii women’s volleyball team or are really into high school sports, you’ll just have to settle for this.  (This isn’t a diss on UH volleyball, by the way.  I’ve heard that they have a following akin to a religious cult; my friends who have attended the games have reported fights breaking out in the stands and everything.  I guess that’s what happens when your football team is 1-11.)  At least it’s usually pretty easy to score tickets, especially if you or someone you know is affiliated with the military since ITT has pretty good deals every year, and it can be a good opportunity to get autographs.

In other news, we got hit with the largest swell in decades last week, which had brought 50 foot waves to the North Shore.  I’d wanted to drive up there after work to check it out, especially since I have yet to see any of the big surf that comes in the winter (I’m always reluctant to fight the traffic to get to the surf competitions, since there’s only one two-lane road and parking is difficult even on a slow day.)  However, since I’d gotten roped into a mandatory fun work function that afternoon, I had to skip the road trip.  In retrospect it had been a good thing: apparently everyone else on the island had made the pilgrimage to the North Shore, and people had gotten stuck in gridlock for over two hours on Kamehameha highway.  Additionally, parking had been nonexistent, and the giant waves had washed sand up onto the road.

Boom.  (Photos from Hawaii News Now)

Boom. (Photos from Hawaii News Now)

That can't be good for the car.

That can’t be good for the car.

Hope you didn't have any plans for the rest of the week.

Hope you didn’t have any plans for the rest of the week.

Of course, that didn’t stop everyone.  All together now:

You IDIOT!!!

You IDIOT!!!

The experienced big wave surfers had been smart enough to stay away that day, since the weather had been pretty bad with lots of strong wind gusts and choppy waves.  But of course some amateur still wanted to get his surfing street cred or whatever – you know, the same guy who thinks it’s a gnarly idea to go paddle out in a hurricane.  Ah, Darwinism.