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Pilgrims at Thanksgiving did not go home

That time the Pilgrims didn’t go home for Thanksgiving

Several years ago, I wrote a response to an article on Military Spouse Magazine in regards to going home for the holidays. The article felt judgy and unnecessary for military spouses who want to go home but for reasons cannot. My response was hasty, brash, and resonated with other military spouses. If you google it you can probably still find the original article at https://www.militaryspouse.com/magazine/. I decided to edit and share with you my thoughts about feeling guilty when you cannot go home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other important times of the year. So enjoy this revamped and retitled article, That time the Pilgrims didn’t go home for Thanksgiving. Here is to another guilt-free holiday!

Released from guilt

Two significant times in my life I was released from guilt for living so far away from family. The first was when my mother told me to get out of our small, rural, Indiana town. Then my 93-year-old grandmother told me as we prepared to move to Germany, “If anything should happen to me while you are gone do not haul those babies back here for my funeral.” She released from the guilt I had for not attending her funeral. You see, I am married to a military man but I live with less guilt because of the overwhelming understanding of my family for missing out on holidays back home.

My husband Chris has been in the Air Force for over twenty years. We have spent five years overseas and moved fourteen times in total. Currently, my college kid has never come home for Thanksgiving. I would be a hypocrite to insist he come home for Thanksgiving. In the meantime, I have prepared myself for the future. As the mother of boys, I may spend future holidays without them. Our military lifestyle has always been about creating new traditions. Holidays at our house don’t always look traditional and we are okay with that.

Many times it is just not fathomable to return to your parents’ home for the holidays. Air travel, car rental, hotel stays, boarding of pets, food, and the list compiles and before you know it, you are so in debt you cannot travel the rest of the year. There is also the stress factor, the inability to get enough time off, and a plethora of other responsibilities. Let us not forget those that are deployed and cannot be home for the holidays.

Random thoughts about going home for the holidays.

1. If it is so important for your extended family to be together, invite them to your place. Two years in a row, our families traveled to where we live and we rented a house large enough for all of us. It relieved me of doing all the cooking and cleaning.
2. Delay holiday for cheaper times of the year or plan a destination holiday where you all gather in a central location. I dream of having a vacation in a cabin in the mountains one day surrounded by my boys and their families.
3. Talk to your extended family. Let them know how you feel. My hope is that your family is understanding and if not that is on them, not you.
4. Coordinate with local friends to gather for the holiday or serve in the community in some capacity. In years past, my family and I are served dinner to inmates in a halfway program on a farm.
5. Create your own traditions. My husband and I have created our own family holiday traditions. We look forward to carrying these out every year.
6. Above all, do what is right for you and your family. In the meantime, release your family from that same guilt. And do not judge other military families if their choices for the holidays are different than yours.

The 2020 holiday season is different but still guilt-free

The holidays should not be stressful or filled with guilt. My kid is doing what I taught him to do by making a life of his own. If his adventures lead him far away at the holidays I will survive just like my mother has done. She is a great example of how a mother can release her children and adapt through the holidays. Listen, this military life is hard enough on good days so the last thing you need is to feel guilty for not being able or wanting to return home for the holidays. Instead, embrace your new home, make new traditions, and if someone tries to make you feel guilty remind them that the Pilgrims didn’t go home for the holidays either. I release you of that guilt. I’m not saying to never go home for the holidays but when you can’t that’s okay too.

The 2020 year is bizarre, to say the least. We are being told by health professionals that it is best to not gather in large groups or with those people who have compromised immunity. This year we all are relinquished of any guilt about not going home for the holidays. We can claim that we love our families by staying away and thus keeping them healthy.   

Have a happy, guilt-free holiday season!

Before renovation

Restoration Update #1: From the Inside

We still haven’t named our farm/ranch so for now it’s just Our Place.  What is the difference between a farm and ranch? https://www.land.com/buying/difference-between-farm-and-ranch/  According to this article our 7.5 acres with no current animals or crops is a farm. Don’t tell Delilah, the dog as she considers herself a ranch dog. So, we’ll keep stewing on that name for our farm.

Our house was originally built in 1908 in Logan, Utah but at some point, it was moved to its current location. If I had to guess, it is a kit home. http://www.searsarchives.com/homes/1908-1914.htm

So here is our first Renovation Update: From the Inside.

Don’t judge a house by its crappy vinyl siding

In the Cache Valley, it’s hard to find a house with land. This was a unique piece of property but it ain’t pretty. We have grand plans down the road. When we move in permanently in July 2021, we will hire an architect or engineer to tell us if the house is worth remodeling or if we should start over. For now it’s liveable.

People asked for pictures of the inside. Here are some. Excuse my photo gallery, it’s not perfect either.

 

Thanks for following along. I hope you’re in for the long haul.

 

 

 

 

Utah house in winter

When God plans it, you can’t stop it

I’m a praying woman. But I haven’t always prayed expecting my prayers to be answered. I know that makes me an imperfect Christian but it makes me human. Several months ago when Magnum and I started talking about our plan when he retires from the Air Force in July 2021 I began to pray. I began to pray to settle on a certain town, area, or state. Then, I prayed for opportunities and doors to be opened. In addition, I prayed for jobs and housing. I prayed for God’s will but I failed to specify a time. They say timing is everything but God’s timing is not predictable. Opportunity knocks when you are doing something else. But I know this, with His timing comes his provisions. When God plans it, you can’t stop it.

If I could buy this place I would

Spring Break of 2019, Magnum was deployed. I decided to drive with Kid #2 and #3 to see Kid #1 in Logan, Utah. T is a student at Utah State. It’s our favorite place to visit and where his brothers wanted to go for the week. I rented a house, saw lots of friends in the area, got a surprise visit from one of my best friends, and cried when I had to leave to return to Washington. I felt a strong sense of home.

Fast forward, Magnum returned home in October and we decided we would go back to Utah for Thanksgiving. It’s been our tradition. Instead of staying at a hotel, it’s more economical to stay in an Air B&B. I selected a place in the country. It was advertised as a quaint farm. It would allow all of us to have a room so it was perfect and cheaper than a hotel.

While staying at the house, it snowed 8 inches overnight. We were surprised to wake up to no electricity and find out we were snowed in. But it was like being in a winter wonderland. If I didn’t need to get out to go to dinner with family, I could have stayed snuggled up in the house. I posted a picture on Facebook and jokingly said, “If I could buy this place I would.”

If God brings you to it, He’ll get you through it

Fast forward again to July 2020. We had big summer plans but then Covid-19 happened. So, we salvaged what we could and decided to go camping in Utah, the Cache Valley. On the way, we stopped at our friends, the Hughes near Council, Idaho. They have a beautiful place. Sitting on their porch watching the sunset made me ache for a place of my own.

We made our way to the Logan, Utah area and set up our camper in a campground. I then received an email from Kurt, the owner of the farm we stayed at the previous Thanksgiving. In March, I had told him that if he ever considered selling we would be interested. At the time, he had someone interested but their financing fell through. The very day we arrived, he offered it to us.

I immediately said yes and arranged to meet up with his wife. We had to pass her approval process first. In the meantime, we continued to look at other places just in case. After we met her and she approved, the process went rather quickly. We made an offer, they countered and at the end of the day, we agreed on a price.

We returned to Washington and finished the process with the assistance of our realtor, Johnnie. All along the way, things just worked out. We had some hiccups but I kept remembering the phrase, “If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.”

Utah House first day
This is us in front of our house on the day we closed. ©missykuester.com

Immeasurably more

Many people talk about the struggle to decide where they will retire after a long military career. When I prayed that prayer, I forgot how our God can respond; immeasurably more than we can imagine. I love Priscilla Shirer, author, preacher, and speaker. She talks about praying big prayers. We sell God short when we don’t pray bigger.

That’s why I am so content. I was along. For the next several months, we will divide our time between Washington and Utah. It is scary to think we will need to maintain two households. But I am certain that God will provide, He always does. 10 years previous to this, we owned a house in Delaware. Times were tough but we were certain we wanted to sell our house when we relocated to Texas. The house did not sell by the time we left and sat empty for nearly a year. All that time, we lived on less and paid a mortgage and a rental. God provided and He’ll do it again.

A change of address but an unchanged God

It is a season of big changes. We are taking them in stride. There are still a lot of unknowns but we are certain we are where we are supposed to be. We have a change of address but an unchanged God. God’s plans are unmistakable and they work out, you can’t stop them. Man, I’m so glad I rented this place for Thanksgiving. It gave us a chance to try it on for size. I’m also grateful that we live 13 hours away; we never could have done this living across the country. We have a lot of work ahead of us and big plans but God is in it. We’ll pass along our address with due time. Watch for updates on here, Facebook, and Instagram.

We are contemplating names for the ranch/farm, so stay tuned. Please leave a comment with name ideas.

https://www.explorelogan.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cache_Valley

Although our address is Amalga, we are closer to Smithfield. Our address is interchangeable.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amalga,_Utah

https://www.bestplaces.net/city/utah/smithfield

 

 

Second house in Texas

Military housing: Challenge accepted

On October 9, 2009, at 3:00 p.m., a knock on my door surprised me. I assumed it was one of the neighborhood kids asking to play with one of my boys at the park. As it was a Friday, I was ready to sit at the park with the other parents and have an adult beverage in one of those kid’s cups from Chili’s. I was months into a deployment so I had earned it. Much to my surprise, it was one of the military housing managers, Kathy. Beside her stood someone vaguely familiar. Also, with a deployed husband, I automatically feared the worst. Sensing my unease, they jumped straight to the point.

“Mrs. Kuester, we need to renovate your kitchen and you have until the end of the month to vacate your house.”

The first thing into my brain and out of my mouth was, “Over my dead body!”

The man, Jason spoke again, “I don’t think you understand. You don’t have a choice.”

And that’s when the challenge was accepted.

Finding out what I was made of

Anyone that knows me knows that if you back me into a corner, ask me my opinion or challenge me, I will fight back. Poor Jason had no idea that I was not passive. He and I were both about to find out what I was made of. (Find out more about me: https://missykuester.com/have-you-heard-about-missy-kuester/)

Let me back up.

Our family arrived at Randolph AFB near San Antonio, Texas in July 2008. We owned a home in Delaware that had not sold. Therefore, we felt it more economical to live on base. The day before arriving, Randolph military housing called to tell us a house was available. On our check-in, the housing office explained that the kitchen would be renovated in the next year and may require us to move out. We agreed because we were desperate. We moved into the house on August 22. A private contractor, Pinnacle Hunt had taken over months before so things were in a stage of transition.

We pretty much lived in bliss at 5 Northeast Road. With family in the Dallas area, new and old friends, and great neighbors, we were content. We loved the 1920’s character and charm of the on-base housing. Even though it had an outdated kitchen, I was thrilled to have a base house.

A bit of history on Randolph AFB Housing: https://www.433aw.afrc.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1547475/history-comforts-of-home-coexist-at-jbsa-randolph-housing/

Early in 2009, we found out Magnum would be deploying. In preparation for his deployment, we informed Pinnacle he would leave in May. The house across the street (6 Northeast Road) became vacant a few weeks before.  We requested that we be allowed to move into it. “Perfect,” they said. So, with the help of neighbors and my family, we relocated to the house across the street.

May came and went, Magnum left, our lives resumed until that knock on the door.

The fight was on

By this point in my military spouse career, I had endured many deployments, gave birth to a baby in a foreign country with Magnum deployed, and moved…a lot. I felt confident in my abilities to keep things afloat. So, as soon as they told me I needed to vacate to renovate a kitchen that had already been updated but now needed to be updated again (lookup government fraud, waste, and abuse) I was upset. My first call was to Chris’s commander.  He was an imposing man, probably about 6’4″. He also happened to be a really good guy. We agreed to meet at the housing office. Upon our arrival, he did the talking. He asked to speak to Kathy, the manager. We went through the whole song and dance about ‘Did we have an appointment?’ and ‘Was she expecting us?’ No, and No but we were not leaving.

The great thing about the colonel besides his physical stature, his cool demeanor, his smart brain, and the eagles on his lapels was his notebook. Something so simple conveyed that he was serious. The air shifted when he withdrew that notepad from his pocket.

Throughout the process I quietly observed. The manager, Kathy answered the colonel’s questions and filled in blanks. He scribbled their answers in his notebook. Then he turned to me and asked one simple question, “Missy, is that how it happened?” I said a simple ‘no’. And the fight was on! The colonel gave the manager homework and we dispersed with a plan.

The military spouses’ guide to a fight, 10 things that may help you

There are a lot of details I am leaving out but I need to get to the point of this post. Sadly, this type of behavior is still ongoing. I want to share things that worked and what I learned throughout this process so it may help other military spouses.

  1. You should always start with the chain of command, even if you don’t have faith in them. Give them an opportunity to do what is right. Proceed from there.
  2. You find out who your friends are.  I heard from many people that my name was often mentioned during morning meetings on base. Well-meaning people offered their sympathy but no real help. The wing commander called near the end of this ordeal with no real help but empty words. One person stood out. We were friends before this event and he and his wife supplied me with pitchers of sangria during the deployment. In another world, before housing privatization, he had more say in the matter. He did try to speak up and he was told it was no longer his lane. One day, I received word that a Congressional complaint was filed on my behalf. I could only guess it was him.
  3. It’s important to get the word off base.  This was a valuable lesson taught to me by my friend Angie. She guided me through the ordeal. She sent messages to all the contacts she had in town; reporters, news outlets, bloggers, politicians, etc. When the wing commander said to me, “I’m getting phone calls from outside of base about your situation and we don’t like that to happen,” I knew I had peoples’ attention. Get the word out! I equate it to an abuser threatening you to not tell anyone. Tell someone!
  4. Document EVERYTHING!  I learned this early on with the colonel’s notebook. Write down everything. Record conversations, keep emails, and remember, that tablet may be your best weapon. People will lie, say they don’t recall or change their story. You need a record to protect yourself.
  5. Find your Allies.  Yes, you will find out who your friends but you need allies. I found people within the military housing office that did not agree with what was going on. Our maintenance guys were with housing before privatization. They were familiar with these older homes. Even before this saga, I appreciated them. During our future renovation phase when I was living in another house temporarily, they met me at the house to let me get personal items. Don’t look down on the people who have the actual keys to your home.
  6. Don’t ask, tell people what you need and want.  This was another valuable piece of advice from Angie. I stopped being sheepish and instead stated what I needed and wanted. At some point, they realized I wasn’t going to back down and therefore started meeting my demands. I wasn’t mean spirited but stood firm in what I needed. My kids were already without their dad, now they were being forced from their home.
  7. Find resources and help outside of the military spectrum.  Tap into resources outside the gate. I reached out to the VFW and The American Legion. Both of those organizations reached out to Public Affairs and put pressure on them. I sent emails and made phone calls almost daily to obtain advice and find out my rights. Educate yourself. One of the best ways to bring about change or bring awareness to a situation is to contact your Congressman’s office.
  8. It’s not always about you.  This has two meanings. Sometimes, the military housing office, management, and contractors are just doing what they are told. While it’s hard to not take it personally, it isn’t a direct attack on you even though that’s how it feels. Also, remember when you are fighting, keep in mind all those families that will come after you. As I told management many times, “What are you doing to the first term Airman (Solider, Marine), who is 19, new to the military, has a wife and a baby?” Always work so that you relieve some of the hardship for others.
  9. Shoot for the moon and hope to land on the stars.  After I learned to tell people what I needed, I shot for the moon. Initially, they wanted me to move entirely to a new house and never return. I asked the housing manager if she ever moved 3 times in one year. She then understood what they were asking of us. When they said I needed to move for 4 months, I told them to find me a place on base. They suggested a TLF room, but it was not comparable to our house and wouldn’t allow my dog. I also requested a furnished house on base and I got it.
  10. Use the power wisely.  After a while, I realized my power in this situation. The goal was to use it in a way that got us to our desired endpoint, a house with a new kitchen. It had to be done and the housing office wasn’t going away. The contractor slated our house to be the last one to be remodeled to allow time for Chris to return from his deployment. When workers failed to show up one day to work on my house, I called Hunt Headquarters. I informed them it was costing them more money every day I was displaced. From that day on, workers never failed to show up to work and eventually finished ahead of schedule. I think they were just tired of me. What I never did was become mean, resorted to name-calling, or became overly demanding. Keeping a level head and ultimately working together made the process go faster.

At the end of the day

At the end of the day, it all worked out for our family. I can’t say the above will work in every case for every person. Each situation is different. Our situation was a matter of inconvenience, not safety. If my experience can help even one person or give them the courage to speak up, then we win. Military families are resilient. But we also endure things that many people don’t. Our homes are our refuge. It’s the one place where we have a little bit of control in a lifestyle that requires us to be flexible, resilient, and brave. In the end, no matter the outcome, all that matters is that you are safe, healthy, and together.

And the next time someone tells you that you don’t have a choice, remember you do have power in the situation. I wonder what Jason is up to these days.

I wrote this post sharing my experience after becoming involved with MHAN, a great resource for military families living in military housing with private, managing contractors. http://militaryhousingadvocacynetwork.org/

 

Cohen standing on barrel

The one time my kid fell out of a window

Facebook is a time capsule that reminds us of life’s biggest moments. It also reminds us of the not so great moments. All of these, both good and bad define us. I had one of those defining moments on May 21st, 2008. I swear death-defining moments should not happen before coffee but that’s what happened. It was a normal weekday morning until it wasn’t. To this day, it makes me cringe to think about. I recently found when I posted about it on Facebook that several of my mom friends are in the club with me. It is a club for those of us that have had a kid fall out of a window.

Morning silence followed by chaos

I was barely through my first cup of coffee and was reading the newspaper (that’s how long ago this happened). My middle son yelled downstairs, somewhat panicked, but in a casual demeanor. “Mom, Cohen fell out of the window!” I knew my 5-year-old son was playing a computer game in his brother’s room. It didn’t make sense that my youngest (18-months at the time) would fall out the window. Why would he? How would he? Nothing made sense so I didn’t react. A minute or so later, my son walked down the first couple steps so he could see me in the living room. He repeated, “Mom, Cohen fell out the window.” And then he was gone. He might as well have said, “I want pancakes for breakfast.” It was so nonchalant. That’s when I heard the faint cry of someone crying outside the window.

Not winning any Mother-of-the-year awards

Any mother’s reaction in a crisis situation when looked back on could be classified as bizarre. My reactions that followed were not textbook. You learn in First Aid class to not move a victim. So, that’s exactly what I did. Upon opening the door, Cohen sat in a bush that was directly below the bedroom window he had fallen out of minutes before. My motherly instincts picked him up to comfort him. Step two of my not-so-perfect response was to call my husband at work. Not 9-1-1. Magnum had a bad habit of answering his office phone in speaker mode. When he answered he and his office mates received an earful, mainly an expletive-laden barrage of words. I wanted to know who had opened the @#$&?! upstairs window and I was pretty sure I already knew the answer.

A blur of activity, followed by fog

My husband calmly redirected my misguided anger toward calling for help. In my mind, I was saying, “I don’t feel like going to the Emergency Room today.” I did call for help. But I also realized that I nor my kid were in any condition to greet visitors. I could hear the volunteer department fire alarm go off in town so I figured I had only a couple moments to spruce myself up (a.k.a. put on a bra). Still holding my screaming child, I ran upstairs got dressed, and changed his diaper. I know! I told you, I’m not good at this kind of thing. EMT’s and paramedics soon arrived. I ushered them in. And as if out of a movie, they cleared off my dining room table, slapped down a backboard, and began assessing my kid. Like I would many times that day, I explained to them what happened. I desperately wanted to tell them, “I’m not a bad mom!” Unfortunately, this was not my first time in an ambulance with one of my kids. I have a full bag of stories to share eventually.

I need a hero!

EMT’s took us to the closest hospital. Much of that part is foggy. However, there were two things that stand out.  One moment was when our minister, Jim walked in the door. The look on his face told me just how serious this situation was and that he would try to make it okay. The second was when someone announced, “The bird is 20 minutes out.” Bird? My husband is in the Air Force and I have worked in a trauma center, I knew then that they weren’t talking about crows or a pretty red cardinal. The CT had shown narrowing of the spinal cord. Another surreal moment was when they took us to the helipad on the roof. There is a dedicated elevator to the roof. As Cohen was still strapped to the backboard, they wheeled him through the halls. People backed up against the walls as we passed. I could hear their whispers. “Oh, that poor baby!”

I document these times because in them I find heroes. I can’t remember names or faces but I remember how they made me feel. On this particular LifeFlight, there was a pilot, a flight nurse, and a tech. I was buckled into the front seat of the helicopter while Cohen was loaded underneath and behind me. The pilot gave me a headset and some basic passenger instructions. You could tell he knew the gravity of the situation but his voice was soothing. We took off soon after. I could see Pastor Jim standing down below by his car, ready to drive to the trauma center about 45 minutes north. The pilot talked to the air traffic controllers and then we started our journey. My husband was at that time a flight commander of the local Air Force base air traffic controllers. They were the ones that talked to the pilot that day. A friend of mine was actually in the tower when the flight took off. At some point, the flight nurse, called to me to tell me that Cohen had fallen asleep. Heroes were all around us that day.

Lessons I learned that day my kid fell out of the window

To wrap up this story, he ended up being fully evaluated and released after being observed all day. As Pastor Jim likes to say, “A miracle happened on the flight that day”. Certainly seems that way. I know thousands of kids fall out of windows every year and many are not as fortunate as Cohen. My friend Angie wrote an article that included Cohen’s story. Read more: https://www.militaryspouse.com/military-life/are-your-kids-safe-playing-upstairs/.

I did a lot of things wrong. Afterward, it took forgiving myself for not being attentive to my kids. Every time I had to explain to a medical professional what happened, I felt they were judging me. They probably weren’t. Sitting in a medivac flight with your kid is one of the worst experiences for a parent. I had to let go of anger aimed at my husband for leaving the window open. In hindsight, I realized I was suffering from PTSD. Above all, I looked for heroes in our situation and thank God for watching over us and planting that bush underneath the window. We had a lot of prayer warriors that day. It could have ended much worse. I share Cohen’s story because there are other parents out there who have had a kid fall from a window. I’m not alone. I also share so that another mother doesn’t have to go through that experience.

But it wouldn’t be the last time I was in an ambulance with one of my kids. To be continued.

Missy in boat with Delilah

Have you heard about Missy Kuester?

Hi, I’m Missy Kuester. I never quite fit in. In high school I was never popular, however I was funny and outgoing. Fast forward to many years later, my husband and I were at our first Air Force duty station. Suddenly, I felt like I was back in high school, I didn’t quite fit in. I tried to be someone other who I already was and got caught up in comparing myself to others. I longed to belong to a group. Then a friend with 15 years more experience than me asked why I was hanging out with her and a bunch of old ladies. As I told her, I wanted to be more like them, confident and experienced. I wanted to absorb all the information I could. Above all, I wanted to fit in. She assured me that who people needed was exactly who I was. From that point on, I have tried to be authentic and true to myself, something that is not easy in the military world full of its rituals and customs.

More than just a military wife…

While 23 years as a military wife has given me a variety of experiences and lessons, I am so much more. I am a good friend who just wants everyone in a room to feel like they belong and that their uniqueness is what we need. I have moved a lot so I know what it’s like to be the new person and I have a knack for finding the new person in the room. In addition, I am a wife and mother who has messed up. My personal stories and experiences may make you feel better as a wife and mother. What I want you to know is that you are not alone. While I may have advice it’s not because I have always done things right but rather because sometimes, I wish I would have done it differently.

Why you should listen to me?

It took nearly all my life to realize that way back in high school, I was a social chameleon. I didn’t fit in because I didn’t belong to any one group. Today, it’s a trait that makes me able to relate to a variety of people. I want to break the stereotypes of being a military officer’s spouse, a Christian, or a stay-at-home mom who desperately wants to see her dog become famous. My collection of friends is diverse and I wouldn’t wish for it to be any other way. In a way, I believe people appreciate my authenticity and suddenly I find that I am not such an outcast.

This blog is just a place for me to share my stories, advice, and flubs. My goal is to be funny, authentic and non-judgmental. I want you to come to this blog and leave knowing that you are not alone and are appreciated for being you. You can expect my own personal stories as well as quotes, scriptures and stories I have found. So, come sit by me and let’s build a community that is safe and full of different people. I hope you will even share your thoughts, stories, quotes and blogs.