So without further ado, here is my top secret deployment project which I have titled,
The Adventures of Flat Nick.
On August 8, 2012, my husband Lt. Nick Miller finally returned home from a six month deployment. I was so excited to see him...and almost more excited that I could finally show him the project I've been working on since the day he left.
So without further ado, here is my top secret deployment project which I have titled,
The Adventures of Flat Nick.
Special thanks to all my friends and family who put up with the very weird looks from strangers as they helped me complete this project- and also kept it a secret. Couldn't have done it without you and my good friend, wine.
Nick and I celebrated our two year wedding anniversary last month, with me in Hawaii and him somewhere underwater out in the Pacific Ocean.
“I don’t know how you do it. I could never do that.”
As a military wife, I hear this comment about as frequently as a vegan gets asked “But what do you do for protein?” Which is a lot.
It can be difficult to explain what being a military spouse means and I’m sure it means different things to different people because there are so many kinds of jobs and situations. It’s a different type of worry every day. Sometimes it’s the slow steady worry. Sometimes it’s the instant worry and burst of adrenaline when you hear something has happened or is going to happen. Maybe it’s a constant level of crazy-manic worry, especially for some of those jobs that are really secretive. Maybe it’s all of those things combined all the time. (I’m not saying there aren’t jobs or situations out there other than military that are similar in worry. I know there are. But because I can’t speak from experience for those, this one is about being a military spouse.)
I think the simplest way I can explain being a military spouse is this:
Being a military spouse is no different than what a marriage should be anyway. You have to work hard at it, and it should take a lot of thought, support, and love all the time, every day. You don’t choose to be a military spouse any more than you choose to fall in love with someone. You love someone and you then decide to be there for them to support them in any way you can, just like in every other relationship in your life.
(Note: Even though I refer to wife/husband/spouse in this blog, by no means is this an exclusive term. It’s just easier than saying husband/wife/fiancé/fiancée/girlfriend/boyfriend every time. This blog is for all military relationships and loves, straight or gay, married, engaged, or in love, period. And credit should be given where it is due; the non-married relationships, which are not recognized in the military can be the hardest by far. More often than not they go unsupported by other married military spouses and groups and are some of the last to know in case of emergency as they are not legally considered to be “Next of Kin.” They often move hundreds of miles across the country and across the world on their own expense for the one they love, again often with no recognition or support from the military. They often have little to no access to the things in our lives that do make being a military spouse a little bit easier, such as commissaries, health insurance, military bank accounts, military housing, support groups, FRG or military spouse meetings, vital news, and so on.
So if you hear someone is in a relationship with someone else in the military, respect what they must go through, all because they care about someone.)
Marriage & the Military
A marriage should be about trust and honesty.
It takes a lot of trust to know your spouse is travelling overseas, sometimes to places that are known for rampant prostitution and other dangerous or tempting situations. The same goes for us. Amidst stories of military wives participating in scandalous events while their husbands are deployed, our guys have to trust that we are there for them 100% from the time they board their plane/ship/submarine to the moment they step back into your arms. In life as a general rule, you should never put yourself into situations that you wouldn’t feel comfortable telling your spouse or your family about.
A marriage should be about Respect and Support.
Whether they’re here with us some of the time or deployed most of the time our military spouses depend on us for support when they’re stressed or under pressure and for respect when they just need to focus on doing their jobs.
The support stretches to us as the waiting spouses as well. Our spouses need to understand what we go through while they are doing their jobs, the stress we endure moving from place to place, and the responsibility of caring for things that they are unable to.
In addition every person who is in a healthy, loving, non-threatening relationship deserves to have the support of their friends and family for that relationship. Especially during those high-stress moments of deployment when the cable/electric/bank/school/insurance/miscellaneous company refuses to talk to you because they don’t acknowledge your Power of Attorney or understand your husband is NOT here right now. Those are the times we need someone to talk to about it. Even if you don’t entirely understand, we just need someone who is willing to respect us and listen to us when our spouse isn’t always able to do so.
A marriage should be about Communication.
Gearing up for a deployment for my husband, the submariner, I cycle through a lot of emotions. We don’t get to send mail to the guys while they’re deployed. Occasionally a wife who is planning on visiting the guys at a port during deployment will make a letter drop. But that’s exactly what it is - a letter drop. I can’t send a package and I’m limited to a small, very flat letter so as not to take up a lot of room in someone’s suitcase. I don’t get to talk to my husband on Skype unless he is in port (and has reliable Wi-Fi), which is only a few times during deployment.
What I am allowed is an email or two a week with no attachments or pictures, and even that is limited because I know it will be read by at least one if not several other people before his eyes see it. Obviously I can’t put anything in those emails that I wouldn’t want someone else reading, and I am also unable to mention anything that would negatively affect him emotionally, i.e. financial problems, deaths in the family, accidents, etc.. An email with a mention of any of those things can and probably will be flagged. If something happened to me or one of his family members, there’s a good chance my husband would not be allowed to know about it until he pulls into the next port, for fear of endangering his mental ability to do his job.
Because of these reasons, a few months before deployment I’m actually cycling through all the emotions of actually being in the midst of deployment as I write out letters and prepare packages and love notes in advance for my husband to take along with him on his journey, to be opened up a little bit at a time to provide him with support along the way. The fun part? I can’t tell other people because I am not allowed to talk about the dates or times of an impending deployment to pretty much anyone other than one of the wives from the boat, and that can only be discussed in person. No emails, texting, phone calls, Skyping, or Tweeting/Facebooking to complain that my husband will soon be leaving me to go on deployment.
During this time it’s the most important to communicate with my husband and for him to communicate to me. It can become really easy to cut off yourself emotionally. I know this sounds weird, but it’s unfortunately a great defense for emotional preparation. Putting up an emotional wall with him so it won’t hurt as much while he is deployed can happen really easily, but it’s then that it becomes most important to love harder and talk to each other more about how each other feels.
A marriage should be about Friendship.
The thing I learned after a few disheveled relationships, none of which ended very well, is that I am a highly emotional person. (I know you’re thinking, “What woman isn’t?”) I can get very passionate about causes, movies, animals….You name it. I don’t know how else to explain that. The most important way I can explain is that I learned that someone else who as erratic and as emotional as I am does not make a good match for me. And what I realized is that, while I want someone in my life who cares about causes and feelings as much as I do, I need someone who will ground me emotionally and will think before acting or speaking.
That is what Nick is to me. He is Ying to my Yang. He balances me in a way that I will never fully understand, and in that way he is truly my other half. Because he is my other half, if I stop to think about it too much it feels like half of me is missing all the time, every day while he is gone.
But in that same way, Nick is always with me. The couch cushion where Nick usually sits while watching TV with me remains unoccupied because I see him there sitting beside me.
It’s blasphemy to sleep on the other side of the bed. I tried it once, just out of a crazy concern that my mattress would become unbalanced. I spent that night restless. It was terrible. It felt wrong, and I kept waking up the whole night confused. Now I remain on my side - because the other side is and always will be Nick’s.
That shirt he took off and threw on the couch one day a few months ago? That’s staying stuffed lost in the couch cushions. Sorry, visiting friends. (Though if it starts to smell, I promise I’ll wash it. Maybe.)
I still purposely put my makeup on his side of the sink picturing him giving me faux dirty looks and making little frustrated sighs as he moves it all back to my side. (I can’t help it- it spreads on its own.) His shaving brush and after shave remain untouched, albeit a bit dusty on his side of the sink as well.
I won’t touch his favorite coffee or especially his coffee mug.
When I watch something I know Nick would love, I imagine his expressions or comments while watching it. And if I remember a funny joke or hear about something he would love, I immediately stick it in an email or on his Facebook wall so he is reminded of the bunch of little things that made me think of him.
And I won’t even get started talking about the little project I began for him while he is gone, in case he’s reading. A few of my friends know about it, and I’ll announce it when he returns. For now, it’s fun keeping it a secret. But it’s a way of keeping him in my thoughts, even when he isn’t actually here. ;)
Nick is my best friend, my go-to person I am so happy to share my life with.
A marriage should be about LOVE.
It can be hard for some people to love someone who isn’t around much but it just makes it that much more important to love harder. My husband needs to know that he is the only one in my life and that I will be there still loving him and caring for him when he returns home. Love shouldn’t fade just because I can’t see his face in person every day.
A marriage is not easy. Love isn’t easy. No relationship is. You have to work at it. You have to surround yourself with pictures and reminders of your love and to do your best to surround your spouse with happy thoughts. It’s important, vital for him to know that I am in love with him, and that an ocean apart and several hundred or thousand miles will not alter that love.
That’s what it really comes down to. Loving, honoring, and respecting that individual with all your heart every day. Isn’t that what marriage vows mean anyway?
No marriage is perfect, including my own. And a military marriage is kind of like a marriage on steroids. But just remember that every single one of those sad, low moments makes all the happy ones, like seeing your love for the first time in months, just that much better. And that first Homecoming kiss makes it all worth while. :)
Don't worry! I'm not leaving the beach for Baltimore. Hah! What were you thinking?
Just going back to my hometown for a little visit. I haven't been in Maryland (or pretty much anywhere but Hawaii) since my move here in February of 2010! I'm a little overdue.
My best friend just got married so I'm excited to attend her Halloween-style reception this weekend. Since Halloween is arguably my favorite holiday and I live for costumes, needless to say, I'm psyched.
I have been planning my Halloween costume for about 3 months now. Pictures will come soon!
I'll also be attending a Baltimore Ravens home game. Dear Lord, I'm so happy. I think I'd be thrilled just to have the game occur later than 8am but to be present at the game, beer and all? Literally, heaven. Purple heaven.
Will also post soon about Hawaii Five-0 activities. I'm alive and well on set as Bikini Girl. I've (lucky and fortunate enough to have) been an extra in several episodes in season 2 and hope to appear in several more.
Geez, I'm blessed.
I'll be tweeting this week. Stay tuned!
Happy One Year Anniversary, Hawaii! I moved to Hawaii with Nick on February 4, 2010. Which means next week I will have now lived in Hawaii for a whole year.
So crazy to think about. Not that the time during deployment flew by at all, but definitely the time since Nick has been home has.
The only time I have left Hawaii since moving here has been for a few days to go to California for training for work. I haven't been back to Maryland and have not seen my family and friends for one whole year now.
That must be the reason I have been thinking about them all and missing them so much. I did get to see my sister and niece back in July when they came to visit me, which was amazing. And I have gotten to Skype with my parents, my sister, my niece, and even my grandma over the holidays.
But my heart is aching for my friends back home. Don't get me wrong, I have friends here. But they're not the kind yet that I feel comfortable calling up after a rough day to talk to. Nick is here for that...some of the time. And none of the girls I hang out with live anywhere nearby me. With the island’s traffic, that is a big deal. A girl needs her best friends.
To my two best friends back home, Erin and Rachel. I miss you two SO much.
Erin has been my best friend and partner in crime and sarcasm since junior year of college when I went from commuting to class to moving onto campus and got "stuck" rooming with her. It was a randomized assignment and the first thing I see when I walk into the dorm room is a huge poster of David Duchovny from X-Files and a little David Duchovny action figure perched tauntingly by her computer.
Erin and I hit it off right away, much to her surprise (and a little bit of mine!). She told me story after story of her nightmarish roommates, ones that stalked her, ones that walked in on her without asking, and ones that would just stare at her like they wanted to kill her. Erin and I had the same major, were the same age, and were in very similar dating situations at the time. While I had never seen X-Files before (although Erin got me to watch a few episodes while living with her and they weren’t bad, I must say), we did stay up WAY too late when we had early classes and tell scary stories until we fell asleep.
Erin and I continued to room together until graduation. Afterwards we had our own stuff going on and didn’t see each other much. A few months after graduation we got together for a reunion and decided to go do karaoke at a little bar nearby our college where a friend of mine (Rob!) was DJing. And then we went faithfully every week for 5 months straight.
Erin has and always will be my best friend. I regret that we don’t talk much. She is a busy girl with a full-time job with a hefty commute, a fiancé, and a punk band called Dead End Lane in which she is the amazingly talented lead singer. The time diff doesn’t help either. But despite not getting to talk much I know that if I need her she is always there and vice versa.
I also found Rachel, my other best friend, in a very serendipitous type way. I used to date her brother! While the relationship with her brother clearly did not work out, I was fortunate enough to meet Rachel who is like a kindred soul to me. We got along SO well that her brother started getting jealous of our talking the whole time we were all out! Not too long after meeting Rachel, she invited me to move into her spare bedroom at her place.
Rachel was such an awesome roommate too! We watched the same shows, worked nearby, loved a lot of the same things. It was only a little awkward having pictures of her brother hanging around everywhere…but this is also the same brother that led me to find my husband so it looks like two AWESOME things came out of that!
I guess Nick has to come out as the winner of being my favorite roommate ever. I mean, we do have a blast together. But….my two favorite girl roommates and best friends will always be Erin and Rachel.
So this blog is dedicated to Erin and Rachel. Of course I miss everyone else back home SO much, my mom and my sister especially.
I also really miss my other close friends: Rob, John, EP, James, Cory, Beki, Bernadette, and all my other friends I didn't name on here….you all are the best. I miss you guys a ton. Karaoke again soon please? Guys?
Side Note: I know Erin wouldn’t want you to believe she is still obsessed with David Duchovny. I mean I wouldn’t want to embarrass her. It’s not like I would ever do something crazy like put up a poster of her with a really bad picture in the elevator of our dormitory or anything like that. So for the record, despite owning a cast of David Duchovny’s head, Erin really isn’t obsessed with X-Files anymore. For the record. ;)
Palm Christmas trees, beach days,Hawaiian shirts, sunblock, and Mai Tais...ahhh, Hawaii for the holidays. What an experience.
As nice as it would have been to visit my family and/or Nick's for the holiday's, our schedules (and wallets) disagreed with us. Thus we were forced to spend our first holiday season as a married couple, stuck (GASP!) here on a tropical island with our two lovable pups.
My awesome non-profit job gave me paid vacation Christmas Eve through through New Year's Eve and Nick's leave began a few days after mine. The only holiday day he was scheduled to work was Christmas Eve, and he was released early in the day since they weren't busy.
On Christmas Eve, we were fortunate enough to have dinner with two of Nick's Naval Academy friends on the Kaneohe Marine Base (one of which is stationed here and the other was visiting- neither of whom we have seen in quite some time) and their wives with whom I am also friends. It was such a nice thought to invite us over! (Thank you, Melissa, Jared, and Gunnar!)
Christmas day we slept in (as late as possible with a yapping beagle puppy), had banana bread and yummy leftovers from dinner with friends the night before. Then for dinner, since I don't eat meat and Nick's not a huge turkey person anyway, we had favorite foods: bacon wrapped bratwursts for him and whole grain spaghetti with roasted garlic spaghetti sauce for the both of us. With mixed drinks! We even decorated our first Christmas tree (Yes! a Christmas palm tree!) that morning.
I was lucky enough to chat with my whole family via Skype on Christmas Eve while I awkwardly was making cheesecake squares and happened to have my computer on the counter- I felt like they were watching me to see if I'd add an ingredient incorrectly! On Christmas morning I opened my presents from my sister over Skype while she watched then she and my niece and brother in law opened the ones I sent/ordered. It was a very technologically inspired holiday.
New Years Eve is a more important holiday to me and Nick than Christmas. We only spent our first Christmas together last year. Three years prior we had met early in December. On New Years Eve I had started to fall for Nick pretty hard and couldn't picture myself kissing anyone else at midnight. To me, it felt important to start the year off with Nick. Nick had been visiting his family in St. Louis, MO at the time on leave from the Naval Academy.
Brave (crazy?) as I was, I wanted to see him so badly I drove 14 hours overnight from Maryland to Missouri to arrive in time for New Years Eve. We had such an amazing time that Nick canceled his plane ticket back to MD and drove back with me. We officially became a couple just a few days afterward and I really believe things wouldn't have progressed the same way had I not made the decision to go (so thank you to my best friend Erin for not thinking I was crazy for wanting to go when I asked her for advice).
Since there's a chance Nick won't be off next year for NYE and for all we know we may not still live in Hawaii two years from now, I thought we should experience Waikiki on New Years Eve at least once.
We booked a hotel for New Years Eve night and the following night so we wouldn't have to rush home. We went to Tiki's Grill for New Years Eve dinner. Tiki's is one of my favorite restaurants on the island. It's fun, light-hearted, and we had our wedding reception there after we got married in March. Well, a dinner of 5 people but still. :)
Although we must be getting old...After an amazing dinner we walked around Waikiki with every intention of returning to Tiki's for a crazy night of drinking and dancing and watching fireworks at midnight. Instead we returned to our waterfront room and chugged lots of water while sitting out on the lanai watching the fireworks in sweatpants and no makeup. I even forgot to open the champagne at midnight! (My 23 year old self would be ashamed.)
We had an amazing mini-vacation/mini-moon. The following night we went on a very enjoyable sunset catamaran cruise in Waikiki with complimentary beverages included (booze cruise). Nick even bought me a beautiful pearl necklace after the cruise to celebrate our 3 year dating anniversary.
It was so much fun to kick off the new year on this gorgeous island pretending to be tourists. We moved here one year ago in February- I can't believe we have been island bound for nearly a whole year! I'd say it flew by- and it kind of did- other than that whole deployment time. :)
While it was a bit of a bummer not to see my family for the holidays, the 80-something degree weather is very consoling. I hope everyone had an amazing holiday season and a happy new year! Here's to a healthy, happy new year! :)
When I lived in Charleston, we lived a good 30 minutes from any form of military community. In addition, I was a girlfriend when I was there. If you know anything about military life, yes, spouses have it hard but girlfriends have it much harder by far. They are constantly having to prove themselves to be a permanent part of military life without having any of the benefits- we have to pay to move ourselves- moving trucks, flights, etc; we can’t get onto base to access resources; we don’t have power of attorney usually or any kind of military benefits; and often our family and friends think we’re crazy for moving to be with someone without even having the all-powerful ring on our finger.
Sadly enough, the military wives, who have probably gone through exactly this entire “girlfriend experience” before are often the reason that the girlfriends aren’t taken seriously. They are then excluded from that much-needed military community that helps you deal with all the questions running through your head: “Am I crazy for moving to be with this person?” “How the heck am I supposed to feel during a deployment?” “How can I relate to people who have no idea what I’m going through?”
Moving to Hawaii and only being engaged at the time (often still not taken as seriously as a “wife”), I was fortunate to be accepted into a group of wives from the boat who didn’t look down on me for being engaged and who also didn’t look down on the girlfriends.
Still, military life- real military life with wives, FRG meetings (Family Readiness Group), deployments, etc- was completely new to me.
Being a non-mom (other than to my wonderful only-dog-child at the time, Maggie), I still wasn’t sure how to relate to all the wives with kids.
I don’t have a problem with kids at all. Don’t get me wrong. But I’m definitely one of those awkward girls who doesn’t really know what to do or say to kids because I feel like I’m just going to sound stupid.
I always felt beyond awkward waitressing because whenever I had a table with little babies, the other waitresses were always drooling over them and asking “Oooh! How old!?” while making cooing sounds and turning to mush. I would smile awkwardly in the background and ask quietly if they were ready to order yet.
(Also, don’t think I don’t want kids someday. I definitely do. We definitely do. But we just got married, and I’ve barely spent a month with him as a married couple. Especially with military, since we lose so much of that much-needed couple time, I think it’s completely acceptable to wait a while to have kids and enjoy that time together as a couple before things completely change forever.)
When I first came to Hawaii I hit it off with one of the boat wives in particular who was also not a mom, like me. Molly and I became really close over the course of the 2 months before deployment.
Molly was a fun-loving, surfing, high school teacher. She was a light-hearted, funny person who often took a lightly sarcastic approach to situations (such as I do). I think it helps to have that approach sometimes to situations like deployment- it can help you to stay grounded and less emotional during an experience that could just envelop you emotionally otherwise.
About a month or so before the boys left for deployment, Molly found out she was pregnant. While neither of us are really “kids” people per say, Molly knew she wanted kids and knew the timing was right to have them since she and her husband were going to be leaving Hawaii a few months later to go to California for two years. Her husband was to attend school there for the Navy, which would mean no deployments or 24 hour duty shifts for 2 years. Just nice, easy hours and perfect timing to have a child and be around to spend time with a little one.
It was really interesting for me to be friends with someone who was going through a pregnancy. I’ve never had a pregnant friend before. (I know that sounds funny…sorry!) I’ve never learned firsthand all the things one goes through while she is pregnant. I’m really happy that I got to know Molly before she was pregnant and during- it was such an educational experience!
Even though we had less in common when Molly became pregnant, she didn’t change. She still remained funny and sarcastic and most importantly, my friend. Not that I’d thought she would suddenly drop me as a friend, but part of me did really worry. Like I said, I’d never had a pregnant friend before. I know priorities and conversational topics tend to change. I didn’t know if Molly would still want to talk about going to the beach, surfing, and pain-in-the-butt students. Fortunately she did. J
Molly and her husband left the boat and Hawaii behind about two weeks ago. She was due to have her baby on Christmas day, but someone had other plans. Last week she delivered a tiny little creature. I saw the pictures on Facebook and my first thought was, “Whose baby is that?”
It was still hard to picture that little thing as the thing that Molly had been carrying all this time! It was just the oddest feeling. I knew she was pregnant the whole time she was here but to actually see the whole thing “develop” in a manner of speaking and to actually see the end result…it’s crazy.
I feel so sad in so many ways that I’m not there to actually see the little one in person. But I feel even sadder now that it’s hitting me that Molly is really gone.
See, I’m learning this is just part of military life. Meeting new awesome friends, seeing their lives change for better and for worse, growing close with someone- only to let them go as you or they move a few months later to the next location.
Thank God for social networking. It’s such a great way to keep in touch with people that sometimes it helps you stay in denial about those people really being gone from your life. Not that they’re really ever gone.
And the nice thing I hear with military life is that often you run into people at different locations and stages in their life later down the road. That gives me something to look forward to at least.
But maybe everyone is really just brought into your life for a certain period of time for a reason. I’m so thankful for having Molly as a friend here because I think she was the perfect narrator and friend to guide me through to military life- and even through knowing what it was like to be pregnant!
She helped me come out of my shell to the other ladies. She showed me it was okay to still stay me throughout becoming a military wife- I didn’t have to change who I was to make my husband look good. I could still keep a slightly sarcastic approach to military life and make jokes at it sometimes. Molly helped me grow as a person since I’ve started life here. And for that I will be eternally thankful.
But I still need to keep in mind that everyone we meet we meet for a reason. I do think I was meant to become friends with Molly. God knew that was what I needed in my life when I came here.
People like Molly have to move on though because other people need them in their lives too. Maybe someone in California is in need of a friend who understands them, and Molly will become her friend and help her along her way too.
I also hope that I can continue to grow and make friends in and out of the military community and to hopefully touch someone else’s life the way that Molly touched mine.
Whooops, things just got a little emotional.
My writing teacher in college introduced me to an amazing quote. Just like my writing teacher was there to push me to find myself through writing (and to find this amazing quote with which to relate), Molly was there to push me to be who I am at this very moment, living life right here in Hawaii.
“I am a part of all who I have met.”
-Lord Alfred Tennyson
Our lives change as we go, but I think we’re all one big mosaic of other people. Our families and friends along the way have changed us and molded us into who we are now. It’s all because of our experiences- the big ones and little ones, the good and the bad- with those people that we have the little quirks and thoughts that pop into our heads daily and even the music we listen to and the opinions we have on religion and on life. I’ve written some variation of this blog using this quote time and time again throughout the years, but it still remains timeless and ever-transforming and applicable to me.
I’m thankful to everyone who has come into my life, the good and the bad who has an impact on me and who I am today. And I’m especially thankful to Molly in this case for helping me grow as a person and as a military wife when I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I hope that someday we can meet again, maybe when I have kids of my own and she can teach me how to do that too!
But until then, thanks. :)
If you follow my Tweets, you’ll notice that I like to bake. Not just anything- but cupcakes in particular.
Cupcakes. Oh, cupcakes. Who doesn’t love cupcakes? Has anyone ever looked at a plate of cupcakes and groaned, “Oh no. Someone brought cupcakes.” I mean after eating a whole plate of cupcakes I think I could understand that comment, but otherwise I think cupcakes are one of those universally loved objects- like puppies.
I never grew up baking. In fact, some of you may or may not know but I had a pretty strange childhood. I will have to blog about that at some point, but essentially I grew up in a traveling closet. It practically had an Easy Bake Oven as an entire kitchen.
I was a picky child when it came to eating and after years of trying to get me to try various foods, my mother, God bless her, simply gave up. Don’t get me wrong- she made me eat things that were good for me (which most of the time I now ironically prefer eating). But I think she figured it would be silly to teach me cooking or baking since I didn’t like to eat anything anyway.
My first memory of baking came from my middle school home ec’ class with a six foot tall teacher with frizzy hair the color of merlot whom everyone referred to as Big Bird. It was hard to take her seriously. Especially because she also taught the eternally awkward sex education class. In fact, I can’t remember cooking or baking any one thing in particular- just general cooking. Pasta, I guess? Maybe a cake? Hmm.
But then, after moving out on my own (one of the many times) I started experimenting with cooking simple things like chicken and making box cake (Funfetti!).
I discovered eBay at age 18 which led me to the discovery of cute little homemade aprons- which truly made any form of cooking or baking automatically a masterpiece because at least I looked the part.
I think I used to watch too much Girls Next Door circa the Holly Madison era. That girl dressed up in costume to do everything- including all those house-wifely activities like baking. I think she made it look cute.
Enter Charleston, South Carolina a few years later.
Charleston was like a city of dreams to me. There were so many things to try and discover. I had already begun liking different types of food before coming to Charleston, but Charleston is known for its food. And for good reason.
But one of the things I remember most about Charleston was this amazing little shop simply called Cupcake.
Cupcake is the simplest idea for a store ever. It’s not a restaurant. It’s not an elaborate, pretentious bakery. There are no orders of fries on the side. There are no fancy wedding cakes (but they do make giant cupcakes!). Nothing but wonderful, yummy cupcakes.
Cupcake has a variety of flavors of cupcakes, and they bake 9 flavors daily. The cupcakes themselves are just beautiful, with huge mounds of pretty-colored frosting smothering the tops, enough to make a poor lactose intolerant person like me suck it up and pop lactase pills like a maniac just to gobble down. Cupcake also had cute merchandise- aprons (of course), mugs (I bought one! Love it!), and adorable little tees.
One of the things I loved about Cupcake is that they had a few little tables inside so you could meet up with a girlfriend and have a cupcake. I think they even rent the shop out for Cupcake parties.
They even had little wooden Cupcake voucher coins you could purchase and give to a friend- their version of a giftcard but for exactly the cost of one cupcake each.
I loved the whole concept behind Cupcake. That darling store still appears in my dreams and makes me think about owning my own little cupcake store one day. A cute little shop where girlfriends would meet and have cupcakes and some light drinks. I just love the idea.
(If you live near or visit Charleston, SC you MUST check out one of the Cupcake shoppes! Their website is www.freshcupcakes.com. If you can't make it there- check out the Cupcake blog at http://charlestoncupcakes.blogspot.com/.)
But until we live somewhere long enough so that I can settle down and realize my latest dream of owning my own cupcake bakery, I will continue my obsession with cupcake baking and apron purchasing in my own home.
I just bought my third cupcake cookbook and my 7th apron- my first actual apron with cupcakes all over it (with matching headband). It will be dedicated solely to baking cupcakes. (From an awesome apron shop on Etsy: http://www.etsy.com/shop/sassyapron) I'm already planning my next adorable Etsy cupcake purchase. I've become obsessed with an adorable pair of hand-stamped cupcake stud earrings (from http://www.etsy.com/shop/CatherineMarissa).
I spent some time experimenting with various cupcake recipes this summer. Which was unfortunate since Nick wasn’t here, so it was just me in the house, baking for nobody in particular.
I would bake batches of 12-24 cupcakes then give away most of them to our neighbors. I thought, at least it will hopefully change their minds from calling me “the crazy neighbor who talks to her dog” to “the nice neighbor who bakes things and gives them to us.” (Ah, the joys of being a military wife when your husband is on deployment.)
I’ve baked peanut butter cupcakes and chocolate cupcakes, yellow cupcakes and white cupcakes. The latter had homemade vanilla buttercream icing which I received some compliments for. I made macadamia nut maple cupcakes with maple cream cheese icing. Last week for Thanksgiving I really wanted to bake pumpkin cupcakes since I wasn’t really doing any traditional Thanksgiving food otherwise. Unfortunately everyone at the store the weekend before Thanksgiving wanted to make pumpkin pie, go figure, so of course there was no pumpkin puree or pumpkin spice.
Instead I stuck with the non-traditional “Holidays in Hawaii” theme and made pineapple cupcakes with citrus buttercream frosting. Yum!
I also recently discovered Cup-A-Cake individual cupcake holders. I only recently learned that cupcakes could be frozen and eaten at a later date. If only I had known about that this summer, also known as “The Summer of Cupcakes.”
Anyway, now that I have my nifty cupcake holders, next time I bake I plan to freeze a few cupcakes and stick them in the freezer for emergencies.
Sometimes, you have a cupcake emergency. It happens.
Basically this blog was a tiny rant on how much I love cupcakes and why you should too. (And puppies!)
Also, I wanted to tell you about this awesome new cupcake book I ordered, which isn’t so much about cupcake recipes as are my other two cupcake books, but more about fun, creative ways to decorate cupcakes. And it has fun pictures. And it’s cheap on Amazon. Check it out and look at the pretty pictures! It’s called What’s New, Cupcake?
(By the way, if you haven't noticed by now, I am an Amazon.com addict. Just a side note, but they are one of the very few companies that actually have a free shipping deal- $25 or more of qualifying items- that is still applicable to Hawaii. Most companies, even with a "free shipping" option, often still add a surcharge to ship here. Cough-cough-Victoria's Secret-Cough. Also, Amazon tends to be cheaper than a lot of companies- I only go through them for mp3's too. In other words, I link to the items I talk about almost exclusively to Amazon because, frankly, Amazon rocks.)
And because I’ve possibly made you hungry and craving small round cakes inside pretty paper wrappers, here’s my Hawaii for the Holidays cupcake recipe from my first cupcake cookbook, Easy Cupcakes.
Tropical Pineapple Cupcakes with Citrus Cream Frosting
(Sarah’s note: Unless I used the wrong kind of flour, I found this barely filled 9 cups and didn’t rise much. Came out delicious but you may want to double the recipe!
2 slices of canned pineapple in natural juice
6 tbsp butter, softened
Generous 3/8 cup superfine sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Scant 5/8 cup self rising flour
1 tbsp juice from the canned pineapple
For the frosting
2 tbsp butter, softened
Generous 3/8 cup soft cream cheese
Grated rind of 1 lemon or lime (I loved the lime!)
Scant 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp lemon juice or lime juice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put 12 paper cases in a muffin pan or put 12 double-layer paper cases on a baking sheet.
Finely chop the pineapple slices. Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat together until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the egg. Add the flour and, using a large metal spoon, fold into the mixture. Fold in the chopped pineapple and the pineapple juice. Spoon the batter into the paper cases.
Bake the cupcakes in the preheated over for 20 minutes, or until well risen and golden brown. Transfer to wire rack and let cool.
To make frosting, put the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl and, using an electric handheld mixer, beat together until smooth. Add the rind from the lemon or lime. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into the mixture, then beat together until well mixed. Gradually beat in the juice from the lemon or lime, adding enough to form a spreading consistency. (Sarah’s note: I actually found I needed to add a little more confectioners’ sugar to thicken the mix.)
When the cupcakes are cold, spread the frosting on top of each cake, or fill a pastry bag fitted with a little star tip and pipe the frosting on top. Store the cupcakes in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Then serve, and pretend you are in Hawaii enjoying the 80-something degree weather out on the beach with a Mai Tai in your hand. Enjoy! ;)
Meet our new puppy, Lilikoi Cupcake. Lilikoi is Hawaiian passionfruit. It was actually the filling that Nick and I had in our wedding cake when we got married here in Hawaii back in March. Since Lilikoi, who we just call Lili for short, is a purebred beagle, we thought a daintier name would be appropriate.
My absolute favorite name was Charlotte, but we were really hoping for something that would have a Hawaiian influence, but that wouldn’t be hard to pronounce or be weird when we leave Hawaii. I think Lili was a good choice. Oh, and I’m obsessed with cupcakes.
I've loved beagles for a long time now. I think their eyeliner-ed eyes are adorable. I know they are loud, nose-driven dogs, but they have a reputation for being sweet and lovable and getting along well with children and other dogs. We wanted something smaller than Maggie (who is at about 45 lbs) and were looking at cocker spaniels, Cavalier King Charles and beagles. The first two tend to have long hair, and we thought it would be easier to stick with a shorter haired dog. Also, Maggie met a Cavalier King Charles one day at a dog walk and Maggie barely sniffed it before it went yipping off frightened. I couldn't have a prissy little dog like that. :)
Lili was born on September 2, 2010. We picked her up on Sunday, November 7, when we got back from our honeymoon. She was just under 10 weeks then.
(We also got a new digital SLR camera just days before getting Lili- our slightly used Nikon D40, with which most of these pictures were taken.)
When we got our first dog, our black lab-border collie mix Maggie, she was already about 6 or 7 months old. We missed out on all the really young puppy phases- including crate training, house training, teething…all the fun stuff.
Puppy karma is catching up. We got off WAY too easily the first time.
Lili is an adorable puppy. She has learned a lot in the last 3 weeks of having her but she is definitely a challenge. House training especially.
But she has already picked up “Sit” and is working really well with “Stay.” When we would walk out of the room or go to bed the first week she would cry and whine and bark and howl. She is doing much better with her vocalization now. We also discovered that turning on a sound machine of waves and soft music keeps her relaxed and quiet the whole night. Thank God.
We do have fun when Lili falls asleep after a lot of playing. It's the equivalent of a drunk person passing out and people writing on his face with Sharpie. One night we took some fun pictures of a passed out Lili. Three pairs of sunglasses, a pair of shoes, a beer bottle, a hat, and even a rose in her mouth. Ahh, fun.
Nick and I have been studying Cesar’s ways. Snagging moments to read his bookHow to Raise the Perfect Dog (perfect puppy training book if you are looking for one!) and watching Dog Whisperer every chance we get, we are definitely making progress. Having a puppy really does make you feel like you have a baby! I had no idea we got off so easily with raising Maggie, who is already a wonderful dog, but in comparison to the new pup is just the most well-behaved dog ever.
Maggie is being a great big sister. She was confused for a while as to what this little critter that kept trying to eat her ears is. We also learned quickly that we can’t give them treats that take a while to eat, like rawhides. Maggie is able to finish hers in minutes and Lili continues to chew them or loses interest, then Maggie goes after her food.
Maggie is getting much more used to Lili’s antics now. She lets Lili chew on her for a little while now. When playing fetch (Lili is learning to bring us the ball back too!) if Maggie gets to it first, often she will drop it in front of Lili so that Lili can have it or bring it back to us.
It’s definitely been a challenging experience so far. But they do seem to care about each other already. I almost wish we could fast-forward to the already trained days but Lili is so adorable as a puppy and is already growing so quickly. I think she has already gained about 4 pounds since we got her! Wow.
Another great thing about having Lili? If there were any cute fuzzy feelings about having children asap, they have dissipated rapidly. We want to enjoy our time with just our canine family hopefully for at least another 2 years. ;)
PS. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! Nick and I did. We stayed low-key, for fear of abadoning the dogs for too long. We spent the morning at the beach with Pineapple Juice/Ice Tea/Rum concoction, the spent the evening watching the puppies wrestle and eating some of our favorite foods: bacon wrapped bratwursts for Nick (his fave thing I make- bratwursts wrapped in bacon and coated with brown sugar and cayenne pepper), spaghetti and 5-cheese Texas Toast (which I never buy!), and pineapple cupcakes with citrus frosting- Yum!
We also got our Christmas tree. I can't wait to show you all pictures after I decorate it. We're not going to be able to go home for the holidays this year, so it should be interesting to spend Christmas on a tropical island. Challenge accepted! Another blog update soon!
October is the beginnings of fall, which usually means the changing of the color of leaves and the air starting to get a little bit chillier. Not so much in Hawaii.
I think I was our Oktoberfest ambassador
We did have a little bit of rain the last few days. Which, considering it actually rained on my side of the island (which gets less than 20 inches per year) is a pretty big deal. Of course, by rain I mean drizzle. But to Hawaii it really is a big deal. The reporters were out on roofs with their umbrellas describing the weather as "wet" and pointing out all the clouds to the camera. Too funny. They acted as though a hurricane was touching down.
October brings us closer and closer to the end of deployment too, thank goodness. I'm counting the days down. I have been counting since he left, but the number is starting to seem less depressing at this point.
I feel really lucky to have made friends with the other wives from Nick's boat- who are just SUCH a blast to hang out with. One of the girls had an idea to go to an Oktoberfest event at the Hale Koa hotel in Waikiki last night.
Oktoberfest was always a big deal to me and my mother's side of the family when I lived in Maryland. It was a yearly tradition to go to the Maryland State Oktoberfest in downtown Baltimore. Since I'm about half German, my family really got into it. I wore leather lederhosen as a little girl, and as I got older I graduated to wearing traditional German dresses each year. You know, the ones that look like the St Pauli girl but not as short. :) My grandma bought me one of the dresses of my very own the second to last Oktoberfest I went to in Maryland. I wore it there once, but shortly afterward they stopped having Oktoberfest in Maryland. My grandmother also passed away not too long after.I asked my friends if I should wear my German dress to Oktoberfest last night- I wasn't exactly sure how crazy that would look at an Oktoberfest in Hawaii, or how into it people get here.
Barefoot Bar after Oktoberfest with the wives
I had to really squeeze to fit into it (hey, I first got it 5 years ago!) but I'm glad I wore it.
The night was a blast. I don't know a lot of German other than one through ten (which isn't very conversational), but quickly learned "hello" was "Gutentag." I also remembered my Grandpop always calling people "Dummkopf" (dumb head), so I spent a lot of time yelling "Gutentag, dummkopf!" and of course goodbye, which is "auf wiedersehen." (I think I was singing that "So long, Farewell" song from The Sound of Music a LOT by the end of the night.)
Then upon arriving it didn't take long for me to remember "Zicke Zacke Zicke Zacke, Hoi Hoi Hoi!" which is an awesome drinking chant I never appreciated when I was little. Mainly my early Oktoberfest memories were of weird old guys in lederhosen with really bad beer breath doing the polka.
I even ended up partaking in a beer drinking contest with four other ladies (three of whom were other wives from the boat) with a big mug of beer with multiple straws coming out of it. We somehow didn't win (I think it was fixed). There's no way those wimpy guys beat us. I got a lot of compliments on my dress, and it was even fun walking to another bar afterward still wearing it.
Hands down, Grandma would have been proud I wore the dress. And my Grandpop would have been proud I was in a beer drinking contest. Good times.