Sunday, October 27, 2013

Guest Post: Deployment Tips for the Significant Others of Submariners

John and I are currently in the throes of PCS-ing (moving, for you non-military folks), and so I've asked one of my close blogging friends and fellow Navy significant others to guest post. Natasha is dating a submariner, and honestly, I don't know how she does it! She and I were dealing with deployment the same time-- our guys actually came home within days of each other. But hers is already gearing up for another deployment. Natasha is a strong, strong woman. My hat is off to her! 

They don't call it the Silent Service for nothing - keeping in touch with a submariner is hard. I hear other branches have these magical things called 'morale tents' where s/he can go to message or Skype with friends and family members. There's no morale tent on a submarine, no way to FaceBook chat or Skype with someone underway on a boat.

So how do you keep in touch?

It is possible to stay in touch with a submariner, it just takes some planning, effort, and a bit of understanding. It was difficult at times, but we managed to emerge from an eight month long ‘six month deployment’ stronger than when he left, and communication was key.

Snail Mail and Packages

You can actually send mail to someone on a submarine, it just might take a while to arrive. Letters have a better chance of making it than packages - they sometimes don't get packages until after they've returned from deployment! They do receive mail when in port, and sometimes when they meet up with other ships at sea. If you want to send mail to your submariner, make sure you have the 'address' before he leaves because it may not be possible for him to email it through his secure email. (I'm not discriminating by saying 'he,' but there are only a very, very few number of ladies on submarines and typing s/he gets cumbersome!) If you send a card or letter, you can use a regular stamp. If you mail a package, the postage doesn't cost anything extra, but your will have to fill out a customs form. Don't forget it or your package will end up back in your mailbox, not with your sailor!

Because mail delivery is uncertain, I planned ahead and sent cards with him when he left on deployment. I knew he would be gone for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Valentines, Easter, etc., so I bought cards ahead of time. I wrote him notes, dated the envelopes, and then put them all inside a larger envelope with a different, earlier date on it to at least keep him guessing for a couple of extra weeks. I also included a random, encouraging card with 'whatever day you need it most' written on the outside. I know from working in a gift shop that sold cards that many card shops keep out of season cards in store, just not on display. If you talk to store employees and explain the situation, they'll probably help you find the holiday cards you need. When I picked up cards last October, the folks at the store actually just gave them to me after I explained what I was doing!

Email and Censorship

You can email with your sailor while he's underway, but you have to email his secured email address. When they're actually on deployment, someone reads this email and can censor it before passing it along. Sometimes this can take a couple of days, but other times it happens pretty quickly. If your email is edited, you will receive an automated notification with the edited text in an attachment. I never had any real problems with editing, but I didn't discover quickly that automatic signatures added by your email program seem to cause a problem. When I started deleting these email signatures, I stopped getting editing notifications.

Dealing with the Frustrations of Deployment 

Now that we've covered planning and effort, here's where the understanding comes in. Your sailor may not have the time to check his email on a regular basis and, even if he does, he may not be allowed to respond for up to weeks on end. There are times (and they can't even always warn you when they'll be!) when they can receive emails but not send them. It can be frustrating, annoying, and downright lonely, but remember that he is probably incapable of responding if you don't hear back for a while. Also remember that he can read your messages and keep them coming, even if you know he can't write back for a few weeks. I wrote my man every single day of his deployment, even if the email was short and simple, and he told me time and again how much receiving my emails meant to him.

You also need to exercise understanding whenever you’re feeling frustrated. Whether you’re upset because you haven’t heard back from him and need advice or assistance or are on the verge of tears because their homecoming date was changed yet again, remember that your sailor has no control over the situation. If you feel hurt, imagine how he feels knowing he’s causing your unhappiness and has no power over the situation. Whenever I was having a particularly bad day, I always reminded myself that at least I could take a walk outside to see trees and hear birds, a luxury my man didn’t have. I know from talking to him later that every time the boat was delayed, all the guys on board were at least as unhappy as the ladies waiting. By not taking your frustrations out on your sailor, you can help ensure he’s looking forward to seeing you and help keep him in a better mood while they’re away.

Keeping in touch with a submariner who’s on deployment is difficult, but it is possible. I’m thankful I live in a world with emails and even the possibility of hearing from him while he’s gone - a privilege so many with loved ones in the Navy have not enjoyed over the years. When a submariner you love is preparing to go on deployment, just remember to plan ahead, put in some effort, and show understanding and you’ll both have a far better experience.

Hi, I'm Natasha! I love creating things! This fall I'm busy student teaching, trying to get ready for the holiday craft fair season, and counting down the days until I'm back with my sailor. Check out my Etsy shop and blog, The Artisan Life
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Friday, October 18, 2013

Review: The Tender Soldier by Vanessa M. Gezari

Disclaimer: I was contacted by Simon and Schuster  to review The Tender SoldierI was compensated with a product for this review.All opinions and observations are mine. 

Operation Enduring Freedom began when I was a sophomore in high school. We debated it in Model U.N., talked about it in history, and knew of people who deployed with the National Guard and Reserves; however, as the war dragged on, I became less and less engaged with it, as did many other Americans. To be quite honest, even when John deployed to Afghanistan last year, I kept my distance from the news. When I was contacted by Simon and Schuster to reviewThe Tender Soldier: A True Story of War and Sacrifice , I was not sure that I wanted to. Unlike Three Cups of Tea or Kite Runner,  this book seemed like it would hit just a little closer to home.

The Tender Soldier is both the objective and heart-wrenching chronicle of the key players of the Human Terrain System, a project meant to probe and help American military personnel grasp a deeper understanding of Afghan culture. Their goal is to study and analyze Afghan culture so that military personnel can competently, knowledgeably, and strategically communicate and interact with Afghan leaders and citizens. It is obvious that Gezari's purpose is to give us a holistic portrait of this daring undertaking. She is neither nostalgic or harsh, but fair in her assessment and descriptions of the events and people involved.

I'm a sucker for great writing, and Gezari did not disappoint. The author walks a fine line of being meticulous and journalistic in her research and prose and crafting an engaging story. At times stark, at other times descriptive, the prose is always perfect for the moment. While nonfiction-- especially that about the military-- can be tedious and laden with acronyms and jargon for the sake of sounding official, The Tender Soldier does not cross the line of hubris. Instead, I found myself as deeply interested in the intricacies of the Human Terrain System and the political jostling to create it as I was in the lively and engaging profiles of the team members and detailed descriptions of the country and culture of Afghanistan.

While a sobering look at the failures of our presence in Afghanistan, it is also uplifting. Throughout the duration of the book, the members of the Human Terrain System are deeply committed both to sociology and their work in the field. They are optimists and hold tightly to the belief that,cultural understanding and study is an important pillar of military strategy.  This alone makes The Tender Soldier a very worthwhile read.

Got the bug to read The Tender Soldier? Simon and Schuster is giving away a copy to one of my lucky bookworms! Enter below!

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Knock-off Starbucks Lemon Loaf

John is addicted to everything Starbucks and I've been on a copy-cat recipe kick... which has turned into the perfect combination in our house! (If you take a peek at my Pinterest, you'll see an accumulation of tons of knock-off recipes that I'm just itching to try.  So there will most definitely be more knock-off recipe posts!)

I found this absolutely delicious recipe on On Sutton Place (which is a delightful cooking blog) and had to try it. I've added a few tweaks (but mostly because Ann's recipe was for mini-loafs, and I made a gigantic one).  When I made it, I doubled it and sent one loaf in with John to his command. We had just moved into our temporary apartment (because yes, we are moving so very shortly) and needed a microwave. One of John's coworkers offered to trade a basically new microwave for another loaf of lemon bread.

No, I'm not joking, and yes, it really tastes that good!

You'll Need
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons lemon extract
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice (I used freshly squeezed)
  • 1/2 cup of oil
  • zest of one lemon

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • juice of 1/4 lemon


  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a mixing bowl combine eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla and lemon extracts, and lemon juice with the whisk attachment.
  4. Pour dry ingredients. into the wet. Blend smooth.
  5. Add oil and lemon zest. Mix well.
  6. Pour into 9x5 pan and bake for 45 min. or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  7. Remove from oven and let cool.
  8. Combine glaze ingredients an
  9. Use a butter knife to gently loosen the edges of the loaf. Remove the bread and place on a wire rack (I had to bypass this because my wire racks are currently packed and ready for our PCS move.) Place a cookie sheet under the rack and pour glaze over loaf. 
Cutting tip: The loaf cuts much better and cleaner when refrigerated. 

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Crispy French Bread Recipe

A few posts ago, I shared a quick recipe for really delicious Bruschetta Pizza Slices. In case you forgot about that post, go ahead and drool a little over this picture. Even writing about it makes me want to make that for dinner!

Today, I'm sharing the French Bread recipe I used for those bruschetta slices. I've been on a bread kick recently-- quick breads, sandwich breads, artisan breads-- and I've had a blast doing it.

You'll Need:

  • 2 Fleishman's packets of yeast
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • at least 5 cups of flour


  1.  In a mixing bowl, combine and let foam:  2 packets of yeast, 2 cups of warm water, 1 teaspoon sugar, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 tablespoon of flour. The mixture, when foaming properly will look off-white and thick. 
  2. Add to the yeast mixture, 4 1/2 cups of flour and mix. (I used the bread hook on my Kitchen Aid.) Add 1/2 cups of flour at a time until the dough comes together.
  3. Knead by hand and place dough back into mixing bowl. Cover with a damp cloth and let the dough rise until it doubles.
  4. After the bread has doubled, punch down and shape into loaves. Place on a cookie sheet. If you like, dust the sheets with cornmeal. Let rise again (about 30 minutes). 
  5. Preheat the oven to 400 F. 
  6. Brush the tops of the loaves with water and salt and bake for 20 minutes or until the loaves begin browning. 

Et voila! Mange avec la beurre!  (And that's as far as my three semesters of French can get me.)

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

DIY Chalkboard Cookie Tins

It's been a while since I've posted a craft that has nothing to do with wedding planning! This one is one of my favorites. It's sure to be one of yours too. I have not been one to jump on the Chalkboard Paint Everything bandwagon. I think chalkboards are cute, but as a former high school teacher who had a chalkboard (and consequently, chalk dust) everywhere every day, it's not something that I want to welcome into my home.

Once you make your own, take it to church, a potluck, or a friend's house. Write down your name, the contents,  a recipe, or allergy information. Doodle a cute holiday message or picture! The possibilities are endless-- just wipe it clean and start again!

You'll need:

  • a paintbrush
  • a bottle of chalkboard paint (I used DecoArt)
  • masking tape or painter's tape
  • a cookie tin
  • washable marker 
  • ruler
  • white chalk


1. Remove the cookie tin lid from its base and wipe with wet cloth. Let dry. 
2. Using a ruler, measure the top of the lid and mark the halfway point with a pencil or washable marker. 
3. Lay a strip of masking tape across the middle of the tin. Make sure to firmly press the edges of the tape down so that paint can’t get underneath. 
4. Using only vertical brushstrokes, paint one half of the top of the cookie tin. Let dry for an hour. Then, paint a second layer, this time using only horizontal brushstrokes. Let dry and cure for 24 hours. 
5. Remove masking tape. If paint has seeped under masking tape, gently rub away with a finger.
6. Lightly rub chalk over the top of the chalkboard and wipe off with a wet cloth.
7. Add your name, recipe, allergy information, or other note and take to a picnic or potluck!

Cute and useful, don't you think?

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