Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Daily Navy Wife, Volume 3

While Jason is out to sea, I frequently e-mail him pictures of home. More specifically, I send him pictures of myself--one every day, without fail. I want him to have a daily reminder that I love him, that I think about him constantly, and that he is my reason to smile.
One month of deployment, one dozen pictures of me in my pajamas. Note to self: get dressed more often.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"So, where is he?"

One of the questions I'm most often asked by friends and family during this deployment is "So, where is he?"

It's a difficult question to answer. Most of the time, I respond honestly that I don't know. Other times, I can give vague answers based on what's been posted on the ship's official Facebook page or reported in the news.

For the most part, Jason doesn't know where he is, either. It's not usually relevant to his work, and the ship's scheduled movements and location are on a need-to-know basis.

I'm a firm believer in OPSEC (operational security), and everything that I post here is public information, often released by the Navy itself. I would never write or say anything that would endanger my husband, his ship, or its mission.

That said, here's what I do know about where they're going.

The U.S.S. Carl Vinson carrier group is patrolling the U.S. 5th Fleet and U.S. 7th Fleet areas of responsibility. Here's a map to give you an idea of where those are:

So, lots of "nice" places like Australia, but also some current "trouble" spots like the Koreas and, well, the entire 5th fleet region. There's a reason that it's so small.

I'll give news and updates about how and where Jason is and what he's doing as I'm able, of course, but please don't ever be offended if military family members seem reticent about sharing the latest on their loved ones. They don't say "loose lips sink ships" for no reason.

Monday, December 27, 2010

making do

Ah, Christmas. It only happens once a year, but it takes months to prepare for it and a good while to recover from it, too. I have today and tomorrow off of work, and I hardly know where to start. At least I don't have a tree to take down.

I had a low-key day on Saturday, spending time at my friend A's house watching movies, decorating gingerbread cookies, and enjoying a huge dinner. I don't know what we were thinking making so much food--I must have a week's worth of leftovers!

There was only one moment that made both of us almost lose it, when her daughter K got upset and started wailing about missing her daddy. It's nearly impossible to keep a lid on our emotions when the little ones let theirs out, but we managed, and the moment passed. I'll tell you, though, I have to steel myself when K's bottom lip starts to wobble because I know what's coming. It's heartbreaking, and she's not even my kid.

Jason seems to have had a decent day, and the care packages I sent to him arrived just in the nick of time (as part of a nearly 60,000-pound cargo drop), according to his daily e-mail:
Merry Christmas! I hope you are enjoying your necklace. I received both of the packages that you sent.


With all of the packages I’ll be receiving, everyone in my shop will be jealous! Ha! It’s nice to feel loved, supported and appreciated.


We did get to have a special Christmas dinner. It was mashed potatoes, corn, string beans, steak and ham. They also had sugar cookies that looked like gingerbread men and cake. On top of that, [an admiral] and all of the chiefs were the ones serving the food. It was awfully nice for an admiral to take time out of his day to serve us. I shared the brownies with the guys on my shift, and they all really liked them.
And here's what he told my mom:
As a ship, we're "making do" with what we have for Christmas. We're still working and training, but there are still little things going on to help lighten the mood. It doesn't work for everyone, though. Some people would rather not be reminded that it's Christmas. It can be depressing for some. The way I look at it is this: you can't help the fact that you're deployed, so you might as well make the best of it. There's no sense in bringing everyone around you down. Our enemies don't care that it's Christmas. They wish it didn't exist. Someone has to make these sacrifices to protect our nation. As luck would have it, I'm one of the 5,000 people chosen to make this sacrifice.
Deep thoughts, man, deep thoughts.

But let's not get too serious. As it turns out, the admiral isn't the only one who put in some face time. They had a visit from an even bigger VIP:

Friday, December 24, 2010

Foodie Friday: S'mores with Sylvia

It's Foodie Friday! Foodie Friday is my weekly feature that gives you a window into my kitchen. I love to cook, I love to eat, I love to read cookbooks, and I love to inspire people to give vegan food a chance. Thus, Foodie Friday was whipped up and baked to perfection.
The Christmas crazy is definitely here, but I managed to set aside some time to recap my cooking adventures from the past couple of weeks.

Let's start off with a culinary triumph that has been years in the making for me: vegan s'mores! You might recall that I obtained some gelatin-free marshmallows all the way back in October. I finally broke those babies out, popped a handful onto a skewer, and toasted them over the flame on my gas stove.

Although I might have almost pulled a Sylvia Plath that night from firing up the burner over and over, it was totally worth it:

It was everything that I had been dreaming about these last few marshmallow-less years. Check that off the bucket list!

It's my mission to make every vegan macaroni and cheese recipe on the planet, so when I saw one for pumpkin mac and cheese, I added it to my list. When my nonvegan cousin randomly made it and loved it, I sprang into action--I couldn't go another day without trying it. It's insanely delicious. The pumpkin makes the sauce so creamy and the spices add a flavor element that you wouldn't expect from mac and cheese. Trust me, if you try it, you'll be hooked!

My next attempt at a pasta recipe, noodles with spicy peanut sauce from 1,000 Vegan Recipes, did not work out as well as the previous. The problem was mine--I haven't yet perfected my rice noodle cooking technique, so I ended up with delicious peanut sauce and a gooey, gelatinous blob of stuck-together rice noodles. Despite my apparent inability to boil water properly, I still ate this for three meals in a row because I couldn't let the tasty sauce go to waste.

Finally, tonight's dinner was spicy black bean orzo soup from 1,000 Vegan Recipes. It was just what I was craving on a wintery night... Although I have to be honest, I had all of the windows in my house open today. It isn't exactly wintery in central California. So I have to pretend that it's wintery. I'm not doing a very good job of fooling myself, but at least I'm eating well.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas on a carrier

We've all spent Christmases away from home. Most of the time "away" means sleeping on an air mattress in a relative's family room and sharing a bathroom with a few too many people.

For my husband, this year is completely different. As everyone already knows, Jason left three weeks ago for his deployment on the USS Carl Vinson.

The Chattanooga Pulse ran this article last week that gives a surface-level look at deploying during the holiday season:
(PACIFIC OCEAN, DECEMBER 12, 2010) Christmas trees adorn most living and communal spaces on the USS Carl Vinson today. They’re brightly decorated reminders that no one on board will be with loved ones this holiday season. But that doesn’t seem to bother anyone on the aircraft carrier. They all know the drill. Duty calls and they respond.

Most already celebrated the holidays early. The ship left port a week after Thanksgiving. The crew exchanged gifts weeks ago. Now, they have photos of their celebrations and some of their presents as they steam out into the Pacific Ocean.

The first three weeks of their deployment are spent close to home. The carrier group is about 100 miles off the California coast, near San Diego, running through military drills, preparing for their next seven months at sea. The mission of the Carl Vinson is to maintain shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean/Western Pacific and to provide a strong American military presence in the area. But it also is prepared to respond to the needs of any allied nation that needs American help. The carrier George Washington is heading back to port in Japan for the holidays, leaving the Korean peninsula for now. The Vinson and her crew can be deployed anywhere, including Korea, in a matter of days.

The crew consists of between 5,500 and 6,000 sailors and marines, each with a job to do. From flying the FA/18 Super Hornet on combat missions, to incinerating the tons of garbage produced by the crew every day, each job is important to national defense. And as formidable a tool of war the Vinson is, it is equally adept at another, much different mission: humanitarian aid.

The USS Carl Vinson is a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered super carrier. These ships are built to last 50 years and are only refueled once in their lifetime, at the 25-year mark. The Vinson recently attained that age and was in for a refueling and refit in Virginia. She was returned to sea duty in January of this year, and while on her way to San Diego around the horn of South America, tragedy struck in the tiny island nation of Haiti. A 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the land, killed thousands, and wounded even more.

The Vinson was nearby and was diverted by President Obama to provide whatever support the crew could. Within three days, the carrier was anchored offshore and her helicopters were buzzing back and forth delivering medical personnel, medical and food supplies and fresh water to the island. More supplies were brought in from the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and wounded were taken there.

Sixty wounded were not in any condition to be transported to Gitmo, so they were brought directly to the Vinson. There, elevators that normally transport bombs took them down to the sick bay of the ship to be tended to by the surgeon and nurses. Once the hospital ship USNS Comfort arrived, the Vinson once again concentrated solely on logistical aid.

Coming up on the holidays, and the one-year anniversary of that mission in Haiti, the officers and crew of the Carl Vinson look ahead with a sense of pride, knowing that the job they do, whether it be in time of war, or time of peace, is essential—not only to the citizens of the United States, but to others around the world not fortunate enough to have a ship and crew of this caliber.
As someone with a loved one on the inside, trust me: they do mind not being with their families. Yes, they know their duty and they perform it with pride (and you'd better believe that I'm proud, too). But that doesn't mean that they don't long for home and familiarity. Especially when every day is the same thing over and over and over again.

Here's how Jason described his average day--well, night, since he works the second shift:
I usually wake up around 4 pm, take a shower and then go eat dinner (my breakfast) at the galley. I’m in my shop by 6:30 pm. At 7:00 pm I take the maintenance meeting in Production Control and get bitched at and/or questioned about everything going on in my shop. PC on this ship is tiny. Imagine being crammed in a small room with 50 people and having officers, chiefs, senior chiefs and master chiefs all staring at you as you tell them what work was done during the day.

After the claustrophobia inducing event, I return to my shop and disclose everything that was discussed at the meeting to everyone. Afterwards, we all go into work on whatever gear there is to be worked on. At around midnight, we go back to the galley to eat MIDRATS. After that, we return to the shop and continue to work on gear. At 5 am, breakfast is served. It is the same thing every day: bacon, sausage, fake eggs, and either overcooked pancakes or undercooked waffles. At 6:30 am, we change shifts and go to our racks. Wash, rinse and repeat for 7 months. That’s my life, currently. Somewhere in between we might sneak some video game time or movie time in. It depends on how hectic things are and how much gear there is to work on.
I am hopeful that there will be a special Christmas meal served on Saturday, and that if there is, Jason is able to enjoy some of it (good food disappears quickly and latecomers often miss out). He already got a special letter that I sent to him in advance, and he has at least four packages (including the one with the candy cane brownies) on their way from me and my family members. I don't know if his shop was decorated (and the ship's e-mail has been down for a couple of days so I can't ask), but there's a photo album that shows other areas of the ship on the official Vinson Facebook page here.

P.S. I've been posting over at List of the Day a bit more frequently lately because it's more fun there than it is here. You can see my posts here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas cheer, party of one

This weekend I decided that it was time to get into the holiday spirit. I'm not bothering with a Christmas tree this year (and here are some reasons why), so I went out and bought a giant wreath for the front door. I set it on the floor for a moment while I secured the hook over the door, and that's all the time it took for the kitty committee to come out of the woodwork.

The wreath passed inspection, so up it went. The only problem is that it sticks out so far that the screen door won't latch.

Oh well. It is pretty, and now my tacky decoration-loving neighbors can't say that I don't have any decorations. I have a tasteful decoration, and I don't need a sparkly blow-up Jesus in my yard to be festive.

So there.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Foodie Friday: Popcorn isn't just for eating anymore

It's Foodie Friday! Foodie Friday is my weekly feature that gives you a window into my kitchen. I love to cook, I love to eat, I love to read cookbooks, and I love to inspire people to give vegan food a chance. Thus, Foodie Friday was whipped up and baked to perfection.
Before Jason left for his deployment, I asked him what food items he wanted to have one last time. Having just gorged himself on our Thanksgiving feast, his only request was one of our longtime favorites, artichoke puffs.

I didn't cook anything else of consequence until last night, when I tried out the 1,000 Vegan Recipes version of corn and potato chowder. It didn't photograph terribly well, but it tasted delicious. I know it's the kind of thing Jason would love--potatoes, corn, and creaminess? sign him up!--so I'll definitely be making it again once he's home. Ok, I'll probably make it again just for myself, too.

My other culinary creation last night was a batch of very special brownies for Jason. I used the double chocolate brownie recipe from 1,000 Vegan Recipes as a base, and modified it slightly to include my secret ingredient: candy canes! They turned out to be the perfect combination of mint and chocolate, and the insides are studded with melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chips and crunchy candy cane bits.

Candy Cane Brownies

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegan margarine (I used Smart Balance organic whipped buttery spread)
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. mint extract
2/3 cup vegan semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 mint-flavored candy canes, 2 crushed and 1 broken or cut into sections

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly oil an 8-inch square baking pan (I used vegetable shortening for this step). Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, cream sugar and margarine. Stir in water and extracts. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until thoroughly mixed. Stir in chocolate chips and crushed candy canes. Transfer batter to baking pan and spread evenly. Arrange candy cane sections on top of batter. Bake for 40 minutes and allow to cool for 30 minutes.

I covered the brownie pan with foil overnight, and this morning I divided the brownies into four big pieces and sealed them in plastic wrap, then put them in plastic containers filled with fresh, unbuttered popcorn for cushion and to prevent the brownies from going stale. I slipped a love note and a small plastic fork into each container and then secured the lids with packing tape--a good idea considering that cargo delivered to an aircraft carrier is often dropped from helicopters, and boxes can easily burst open upon impact. I padded the inside of the shipping box with packing paper and wrapped it up like a tape mummy--my sailorhusband will get his treat in one piece!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: I know he's in there somewhere


"PACIFIC OCEAN (Dec. 04, 2010) -- USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), cuts through the Pacific Ocean during a sunset at sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Aaron Shelley/Released)"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It looks like I won't be hibernating after all.

Last week I was preparing to hibernate until spring when suddenly the doorbell rang. It was A, my neighbor from two doors down, and her adorable daughters. She had come to say hello and introduce herself because her husband is also deployed on the U.S.S. Carl Vinson. Although they've lived on our street for more than two months, we had only said hello in passing a few times--they, like us, keep to themselves in order to avoid the drama llamas.

Since then, we've spent time together twice, including dinner out and little girl Christmas dress shopping over the weekend. It was fabulous, and I am pretty darn excited to have a friend within arm's reach who is in the same boat as I am. Plus, she has the same phone as me. We were obviously meant to be friends.

Not only do I like A, but her little girls (K, 3, and H, 10 months) are seriously making me want to dust off the old uterus. Especially if it means that I'd get to buy what A did the other night.

Seriously, the cuteness!

It looks like I won't be hibernating after all.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Introducing the donut of misery, or: I am Excel-lently OCD

The fabled donut of misery is used by military members and spouses alike to track a deployment's progress down to the second. It also calculates the various extra pay you're getting if you enter the correct numbers into the formula.

I open my handy Excel spreadsheet every day to watch the pink sliver grow (I customized my donut with calming colors, rather than the abrasive red, black, and neon green that were on the version of the spreadsheet that I found online). Of course, since we don't have a firm return date--this cruise is projected to last anywhere from seven to nine months--the pink part could actually shrink if I have to make a change. I currently have the return date set for exactly seven months. Wishful thinking, yes.

I'm also designing a spreadsheet to tally up the various things that I do or consume while Jason is gone. I make Excel charts like it's my job. I have one for my (currently stalled) weight loss efforts, one for the money we spend on our cats, and one to keep track of our Christmas spending. Before our wedding, I had one to track our budget, one to track our invites and RSVPs, and a section for gifts received and thank you notes sent.

It's completely obsessive-compulsive, I know. The truth is, I'm a control freak, and knowing exactly what's what in certain aspects of life helps me to deal with the parts that I can't control. Like that little thing called having an active-duty spouse.

And, in case you didn't see Glee last night:

My deployment song!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Vis Per Mare

Jason jetted off this afternoon to join his carrier strike group in San Diego before they hoist anchor tomorrow and head out to patrol the seas for at least seven months. It was an emotional morning for both of us, but we parted with smiles on our faces and love in our hearts.

The U.S.S. Carl Vinson's motto is Vis Per Mare--strength from the sea. I'll need a bit of that as I while away the months on the home front, but my dear man will need even more of it to deal with the unique challenges of living on an aircraft carrier.

This song came on my iPod as I drove away from the air terminal, and I swallowed my tears just enough to sing along:

Bon voyage, my love.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Foodie Friday: Thanksgiving Recap

It's Foodie Friday! Foodie Friday is my weekly feature that gives you a window into my kitchen. I love to cook, I love to eat, I love to read cookbooks, and I love to inspire people to give vegan food a chance. Thus, Foodie Friday was whipped up and baked to perfection.
So it's Saturday. So what? We vegans have post-Thanksgiving food comas, too!

We started our Thanksgiving off with a steaming cup of the most decadent hot chocolate I have ever tasted. Thanks to Angela for passing on the recipe to me. The secret: coconut milk. It's so rich that a small mug goes a long way. Jason couldn't even finish his, and he loves chocolate even more than I do.

Jason prefers to have traditional Thanksgiving food, so I always make our tried-and-true favorites, like mashed potatoes and stuffing, and, of course, a Tofurky. For a vegetable side Jason wanted corn.

Even though I was making classics, I still wanted to try some new recipes. I picked corn fritters and fennel and garlic mashed potatoes from 1,000 Vegan Recipes. Everything tasted great, and I was especially pleasantly surprised by how my fritters turned out--perfect on the first try!

After stuffing ourselves with all of that, we didn't have room for dessert, so I made it yesterday instead. Since Jason had pumpkin pie for his birthday treat, he requested brownies for Thanksgiving. I was determined to make a seasonally-appropriate version, so I fired up the Googles and found this recipe for pumpkin brownies. I ditched the frosting, veganized the batter, and dumped in a whole bunch of chocolate chips. Verdict: delicious! The pumpkin keeps the brownies moist, and the chocolate chips give you a delicious little prize in every bite.

Vegan Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Brownies

1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar
egg replacer equivalent to 2 eggs (I used Ener-G)
2/3 cup pumpkin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/3 cup cocoa
1 cup flour
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 F. In a large bowl, cream shortening and sugar using a hand mixer. Add egg replacer and mix well. Mix in pumpkin. Stir in remaining ingredients. Grease an 8x8 inch pan with a dab of your shortening and spread in batter in an even layer. Bake for 40 minutes.

Tonight I made us a delicious mac and cheese to go with some of the Thanksgiving leftovers.