My Glass Half Full Attitude – A Story

A few months ago, a fellow blogger suggested I write about my glass half-full attitude and how it impacts my outlook toward this crazy, unpredictable, and at times frustrating military life (thanks for the suggestion, Erica!). I’ve never been ashamed about my belief in the power of positive thinking and my desire to see the glass half full. And if I am being honest, there is not much that bums me out more than being subjected to someone else’s negative outlook. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m currently reading You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life and there is one passage in particular that has really resonated with me…

When you hang out with whiners, pessimists, tweeters, bleachers, freaks-outers and life-is-so-unfaireres, it’s an uphill climb to keep yourself in a positive headspace. Stay away from people with tiny minds and tiny thoughts and start hanging out with people who see limitless possibility as the reality. Surround yourself with people who act on their big ideas, who take action on making positive change in the world and who see nothing as out of their reach (p. 99).

Yes. Insert the ‘person raising both hands in celebration/hallelujah emoji’ here. My glass half full attitude has served me well over the years and while I do give myself time to be upset or cranky, I work very hard to ensure that it doesn’t consume me nor define my existence. And I really try not to whine. And I avoid people who do. Because time is precious and in the words of Kimberly ‘Sweet Brown’ Wilkins – ain’t nobody got time for that.

While there are countless moments in my life where my glass half full attitude has served me well, there is one military life moment in particular that will likely be forever etched into my soul as a testament to my desire to look on the bright side of life.

One brutally cold day in 2007, I was typing away on my computer at my office in the Key Bank building in downtown Watertown when the Hawaii-5-O theme song blared from the Razr laying on top of some intake papers scattered across my desk. Was it Clay? It had been a few days since I had last heard from him via email. But it wasn’t an unknown number, therefore it wasn’t my husband. It was Fran. My stomach sank. She wouldn’t be calling during the work day unless it was bad news.

It had been 12 months since our husbands left for the remote mountains of Afghanistan. The morning Clay deployed, we sat in his Jeep trying to processes the unknown experience that spilled out in front of us like wet asphalt. Hot, sticky, and unpleasant. There were tears. I love yous. And the reminder that “This soon will only be a blade of grass.” But a year later – we were hardened. There had been deaths, injuries, blackouts, memorial services, and months without communication. During that time, I had found my tribe – my Fort Drum girls – a group of fellow spouses with husbands in the same unit. We were sisters. We relied on each other with each devastating phone call received informing us of another injury. Another death. As of that day in my office, our husbands had been okay. They were alive. And they were finally coming home in two weeks.

I remember staring at my ringing phone, trying to convince myself that Fran was just calling to firm up dinner plans for our group that evening. But I answered knowing that it wasn’t something so benign as a bunch of 20-somethings verifying a social outing. That wasn’t our life. We weren’t that carefree.

Fran quietly asked, “Have you heard?

My mind immediately went the member of our group whose husband arguably had the most dangerous job of all our husbands – Jackie. It seemed like he was always on a mission. He’s dead, I thought. He’s gone.

Tears fell as I began to run the first words I would say to Jackie through my mind. In that second or two, I couldn’t do any better than “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry” over and over again.

I answered, “Heard what?” – my voice cracking – bracing myself for the inevitable news of another unit casualty.

They’ve been extended four months,

I exhaled the breath I didn’t know I was holding. Jackie’s husband wasn’t killed in action. Fran wasn’t calling to tell me that uniformed officers were currently at her house. She wasn’t on the phone trying to figure out what our next steps needed to be in order to get to Jackie’s side. She was simply calling to inform me that our husbands weren’t coming home in two weeks as originally planned. Our husbands were okay. They were alive. It was good news.

Once the news that the brigade had been extended for another four months sunk in, I cried at my desk. Hard. Ugly. Messy. My coworkers surrounded me and allowed me to work through my emotions of frustration, anger, sadness, and exhaustion. Later that afternoon, Clay had managed to secure a satellite phone on a mountaintop and we talked for the first time in weeks. Obviously morale was down among the guys. I told him that while I wanted nothing more than to finally have him home in two weeks as originally scheduled – receiving that phone call from Fran and thinking that Jackie’s husband had been killed, really put the news of the extension in perspective. The families of the soldiers who had been killed during that deployment would have given anything to be able to receive a phone call informing them of the extension if it meant their soldier were alive.

Yes, the extension wasn’t ideal. It fact, it pretty much sucked. But whenever I found myself wallowing in self-pity, I’d think back to that phone call and the wave of relief that ran like current through me as I was informed about the extension rather than given news of another casualty. It could have been worse. Much worse. And eventually, 16 months after we sat in his Jeep, unsure of what the next year would bring, we were together again.

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It may not seem like a big moment to anyone but me, but that phone call exemplifies my outlook on life. There will be times that life simply sucks. There is no avoiding those sucky moments. But they can be a lot less sucky when you focus on the positive, no matter how small the positive molecules may be at that moment in time. Whether it be that feeling of relief when the news isn’t the absolute worst you could hear or simply the smell of fresh cut grass or the sound of the waves crashing into shore, those little specks of positivity can be a life line. They certaintly are for me.

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Getting to Know Me {Year of Intention}

Yesterday morning I had coffee with a dear friend who knows me – really knows me. We can talk about anything and everything and one of my favorite aspects of our relationship is that we’re not afraid to dive into heavy topics and as a result, we’ve formed what I consider to be a deep bond over the years. And as I was driving back to the preschool to pick up my daughter, I was comforted by the fact that I have people beyond my husband who really get me. And they don’t run away when they get beyond my hard candy shell.

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I first started blogging years ago as my husband, Clay, was preparing for his first deployment and I was facing a brutal winter in Fort Drum, New York. I hadn’t landed a job yet beyond substitute teaching and I hadn’t formed the type of friendships that are vital to surviving such an experience. I was alone, I was cold, and I was scared that I’d be a widow at 22-years-old. So I created a blog and I wrote. I didn’t write about anything particularly meaningful – I just wrote. Since then, I’ve blogged on and off over the years at a variety of venues but I never considered myself a writer. I witnessed the blogging landscape change and what was once a fun outlet became a cesspool of sponsored posts and basket of words that lacked the authenticity that made blogging so great in the early years.

Last month, I declared 2018 as the Year of Intention. In full disclosure, one of my intentions this year is to dust off my previous blogs and really try to give this blogging thing a go once and for all. Analytics (yet another thing that wasn’t commonplace in the early days – bah hum bug) tell me that I have quite a few new readers beyond my immediate family and close friends so a good place to start is by answering some questions I’ve received over the past few weeks.

Getting To Know Me

Where do you live? Clay is currently assigned to an obnoxiously large office building in the Washington DC area. Because we’re priced out of most of the chic Washington DC neighborhoods that offer trendy restaurants and hip watering holes within walking distance of well-performing schools, we currently call Northern Virginia home. There’s a Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and two Starbucks within a 2 mile radius of our house so it’s pretty safe to assume that we’re living the suburban dream. Whenever we want to escape the land of infinite Targets and Mattress Firms, we drive five minutes to the nearest metro station and pretend we belong to the city that 535 members of Congress call home for at least part of the year.

If a movie was made of your life what genre would it be and who would play you? Because I think that You’ve Got Mail is pretty much the most perfect movie ever made, I like to think that my life would lend itself to frothy light-hearted romantic comedy in the genre of a Nora Ephron or Nancy Meyers movie. Although – I just watched Baby Driver and would love to see my life choreographed to music with the help of Edgar Wright. As far as who would play me? Claire Danes because we both can rock some pretty stellar ugly-cry faces. And we both have large noses {btw Claire – I say that with love and admiration!}.

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What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten? I’ve had both alligator and rattle snake, which I feel like most people have had at least once so I don’t consider those very  strange. I’ve also had salt & vinegar fried crickets, which were surprisingly tasty. However, the strangest thing I’ve attempted to eat was deep friend chicken feet in Chinatown in Montreal. There was a miscommunication while ordering and I was quite disgusted by the plate that was placed in front of me. I ate what I could (which wasn’t much) and then accidentally swallowed a bunch of tien tsin peppers. Let’s just say it wasn’t my favorite meal.

How do you like your steak cooked? I know I should say medium rare because I consider myself a lover of food but I can’t help it – I’m pretty sure I best like my steak medium (ducks under chair).

Do you really love 80’s/early-90s era Tom Selleck? Short answer? Yes. Long answer? What originally began as a silly conversation starter has grown over the years into quite the appreciation for the guy. You see, growing up one of my favorite movies was Three Men and a Little Lady. My 10-year-old self thought that Peter was the most dashing architect in New York City. I would imagine myself as Nancy Travis in a puffy-sleeved wedding gown, marrying Peter in a remote English village with Waiting for a Star to Fall by Boy Meets Girl piping through the church. Then Tom Selleck showed up on Friends as Richard and by that time I was a teenager and the damage was done – I was 100% all-in on Tom Selleck. Once I got to college, I would share stories about my teenage lust for Tom Selleck over beers and the rest is history – I became known for my fondness for the mustached Romeo.

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What job would you be absolutely terrible at? Anything that required extensive phone use. I’m not a millennial (actually – I think I am) but I recoil at the idea of having the schedule appointments on the phone. When I find a doctor or a dentist that utilize online scheduling software, I hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Handel’s Messiah.

What is the worst ingredient to fill a burrito with? Rice. When did that start becoming a thing? Ugh. Rice?!?

What is an embarrassing moments you’re willing to share? Back in 9th grade, I inadvertently asked my math teacher how long his “thingy” was…   ::dead::

Do you like having a husband in the Army? I met Clay two days before September 11th. He was a 2nd year ROTC cadet and I was an impressionable college freshman living in the same dorm. During our time as college sweethearts, we grew up together knowing that war would be an inevitable piece of our story. I was lucky enough to have pinned him when he commissioned and pin on his new rank during his subsequent promotions. While Clay didn’t originally set out to make the military his career, I’ve been with him since almost the beginning so the majority of decisions regarding his career, we have made together. Over the years, he has done a tremendous job at making feel like a valued partner and that my input matters. While we have gone through some really awful things that accompany war and death, I believe we’re both better versions of ourselves than if he didn’t choose this path for himself. I also like him in uniform – especially his Mess Dress. 😍

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Do you have any reoccurring nightmares? Yes! About one a month, I dream that it is finals week and I discover that I’ve been unknowingly enrolled in a class the entire semester and the final is in 30 minutes. I frantically try to cram the material but I have yet to make it far enough in the dream to actually take the final. Interestingly, the subject matter changes – one night it’s biology and another it’s French. One time, I even dreamed that it was a hydraulics class, which is especially puzzling because I studied political science and economics. Any amateur dream sleuths want to take a stab at that one?

What about you? 

I’d love to know more about you! Please feel free to answer one of the questions (or all!) or ask another question for someone else to answer. Do you have a reoccurring nightmare? How do you like your coffee? Are you more of a pancake or waffle person? What is your all-time favorite television show? Why do you read blogs?

6 Honest Tips for Surviving a PCS

The late spring/summer is traditionally PCS season for the military community. For those unfamiliar, PCS refers to Permanent Change of Station aka moving. There are hidden expenses that always seem to pop up along the way, but for the most part, we’re not financially responsible for the move but we are responsible for coordinating the process.  Seeing as how psychologists routinely state that moving is considered one of life’s most stressful situations, it’s absolutely imperative that military families develop a system to help schlep their worldly processions from Point A to Point B.

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This past summer, our packers told us that our framed Billy Joel concert poster is the whitest thing they’ve packed yet. True story.

This blog post will not be an article about the need to put together an important documents binder, nor will it advocate for developing a color-coded system for boxes to assist in the deployment of said boxes into the new house. This blog post will not talk about the best resources for researching schools, veterinarians, and hair stylists. And this blog post will not discuss the importance of documenting high-value and moderate-value items is because stuff will inevitably break during the moving process.  This blog post is going to talk about the really important stuff when it comes to PCSing.

6 Honest Tips for Surviving a PCS

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1. Keep a Winged Butterfly Corkscrew Near You at All Times

Rumor has it that there are a few unicorns out there who are able to resist alcohol during PCS season. I am not one of them. It doesn’t matter if you’re calling preschools begging for a slot or searching for the cast iron skillet that you’ll eventually find in the box marked ‘Downstairs BATHE towls’, it is imperative that you keep a winged butterfly corkscrew near you at all times. Not only will it open bottles of wine, it can assist with the opening of an assortment of beers and mini-bottles. It can also be used as a box-cutter and while not preferable, the arms can be used to spread peanut butter. And in a fit of desperation, it can also be a toy. It wasn’t my proudest parenting moment but once, I gave my then three-year-old daughter a winged butterfly corkscrew and told her it was a metal doll in order to keep her occupied as I frantically opened boxes searching for her prized pink elephant that had somehow managed to be packed earlier that day. The winged butterfly corkscrew was all I had within reach.

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2. Don’t Forward Your Mail to Relatives with the Same Last Name

Learn from our mistake and you will avoid a lifetime of political mailers and AARP membership requests. Many moves ago, we had a transition period of about 30 days before officially reporting to another installation 2000 miles away. Obviously, we took advantage of this ‘free’ time and traveled our little hearts out. Because of this, we had the not-so-smart idea of forwarding our mail to my husband’s parents. It has been 6 years since that particular move and all parties involved are still suffering from the consequences of our ill-informed decision. When it came time to forward our mail to our new duty station a few states away, all of my in-laws mail somehow ended up at our new place. For months. And months. And we have lived in three different states since that particular move and yet we still receive the occasional piece of junk mail addressed to my in-laws. On the positive side, we always have something to use to start a fire. #glasshalffull

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3.  There Will Always Be Someone Who Hates Where The Military Is Sending You Next

Facebook and other forms of social media are invaluable tools during PCS season. Yes, there is a seedy underbelly in the world of military-related Facebook groups and there are some that certainly #leanin into the military spouse stereotypes. I’ve even personally witnessed a close friend get hit with the ban stick because she accidentally posted something twice that was deemed self-promotional (it wasn’t). And being the great friend that I am, I didn’t take a stand and leave the group in solidarity because it really is a great source for information. The joke is on the all-knowing administrators though because I sometimes post questions on behalf of my shunned friend. Muwhahaha.

When I accepted my husband’s marriage proposal (which involved a plaid fold-out couch and a satirical book – try not to be jealous ladies), it didn’t take me long to learn that in addition to raving about favorite assignments and duty stations, people love to complain about the places they’ve hated with the burning passion of a thousand fiery suns. You may be excited that you have orders to Hawaii but there will always be a Debbie Downer who chimes in with school data, traffic patterns, and the threat of nuclear holocaust. Delighted about going to Germany? Negative Nelly will likely talk about the gray skies, ridiculous recycling standards, and the abundance of wursts. No matter where you are going, there will always be someone who hated that installation/assignment. It’s best to ignore them and not let them get you down. On the flip side, you will also find people who loved assignments that are traditionally looked down upon. So for every person you meet who despised Italy, you’ll someone who really enjoyed their time at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Keep that in mind.

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4. Make Sure The Truck Driver Locks the Back Door of the Truck

The load-out from when we PCSed from Washington DC to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas was quite disastrous but we emerged with an important PCS lesson – always make sure that the truck driver locks the back door of the truck before driving off. On the night of that pack out – around 11:05 pm, my husband and I sat on the front steps of our townhome and watched the truck holding all of our worldly possessions drive away. And at 11:06pm, my husband took off running toward the truck to alert the blissfully unaware driver that the back door flew open (pictured above). The driver’s response? “Oh, it’s been doing that a lot lately.” We’ve moved two times since then and have incorporated checking the lock of the truck as part of our move-out process. You should probably do the same.

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5. Ziploc Everything!

While unpacking kitchen boxes after having the military move us for the first time, I was absolutely aghast at the amount of packing paper that was used to wrap a fondue fork. Four (!) large sheets to wrap one teeny tiny fondue fork. We have 16 fondue forks (I like fondue – don’t judge!). You do the math. From that move on, I learned to dump the contents of every drawer in the house into corresponding ziploc bags. My schedule may not be as demanding as Renata Klein’s (any other Big Little Lies fans out there?) but I am not going to spend the time it takes to unwrap every single wine cork I’ve saved over the years (trophies of my accomplishments) or each magnet from our travels. It’s not good for the Earth and it is not good for my sanity. Ziploc anything and everything that can be bagged. Toys? Sure! They have large ziploc bags available now – they even come in 3-gallon sizes. Office supplies? Bag ’em up! Clothes? Fold ’em and bag ’em. I recommend zip-ties as well. You may look like Dexter checking out with your haul but at least you’ll be prepared for your PCS.

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6. Flatten Packing Paper as you Unwrap and Unpack

Life is so much easier if you flatten packing paper as you unwrap and unpack the Target and IKEA showroom that is your house. Of course you can always request the movers to unpack for you but HAHAHAHAHAHA. We have moved 10 times in the last 13 years and it didn’t take me long to realize that shoving crumbled up pieces of packing paper into garbage bags was the least efficient method of packing paper removal. Perhaps you will be assigned the fabled moving company that will return at a later date to pick up your boxes and packing paper but if you’re like most of us plebeians, you’ll be at the mercy of your town’s recycling program and people ISO of packing supplies on Facebook. Make your life easier and flatten paper as you go so it can be smacked, whacked, and stacked to the max (oh dear – I’m now quoting Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown – this is what my life has become).

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So there you have it – my six tips for surviving a PCS and doing so with grace and aplomb (ha!). I’ve been a part of this rodeo for over 13 years now and I’ve learned that no matter how stressful the uncertainty, the planning, the execution, and the settling into a new life feels – it all works out in the end. Life has a funny way of doing that. A sense of humor is a crucial ingredient of the military lifestyle. Without it, life just isn’t much fun.

So what are you some of your tips for surviving PCS season? How do you handle PCS envy? How do you tell the kids – do you keep them informed of the process from the beginning or do you not break the news until orders are in hand? How do you say ‘see you later!’? And most important – what drink of choice is in your hand while tackling everything like a boss? Bottoms up!

“That’s just the way it is. That’s the way the game is played.”

In the hours leading up to the government shutdown, the majority of the 24-hour news outlets had some variation of a ‘Shutdown Countdown’. It was impossible not to draw references from the countdown we experienced just a few weeks prior. Except this time, non-New Yorkers didn’t fill the streets of Times Square, Anderson Cooper reported from the comfort of a studio, and King Julien’s didn’t have a kid-friendly version of the countdown on Netflix. This countdown was different. This countdown was personal.

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Government shutdowns are nothing new. It seems like every fall, the threat of a shutdown looms. Our congressional leaders’ inability to pass a budget is up there with pumpkin-spiced lattes, crunchy leaves, and North Face fleece jackets as a sign that harvest season is upon our nation. The legislative branch of government might as well lean in and wear leggings, flannels, and Uggs as they cater to their special interests while publicly declaring their tireless crusade for justice and liberty for all.

My husband arrived home from TDY overseas last Thursday and received word that his TDY the following morning was postponed due to the impending shutdown. The kids (and myself) were thrilled to have him home for the weekend but we knew it came with a price. Non-essential government workers are furloughed and essential personnel will continue to serve this country without pay. As of this morning, Congress has yet to reapprove the 2013 bill that allows military members to receive paychecks during the shutdown – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell objected the motion brought forth by Senator Claire McCaskill in the early morning hours on Friday by stating “My hope is that we can restore funding for the entire government before this becomes necessary. I’m going to object for tonight but we’ll discuss again tomorrow.” According to news outlets, it was not discussed the following day (it is noted that as I write this post, this topic is being discussed on the Senate floor).

We’re currently teaching our eight-year-old-son the game of chess. For whatever reason, he has trouble remembering that while pawns can move in a forward direction, they can only capture diagonally. He is constantly questioning why the pawns aren’t offered the same advantages as the knights or the rooks. And we’re forced to answer, “That’s just the way it is. That’s the way the game is played.” And the fact that we have to respond the same way when he asks “Why do you still have to wear your uniform and go to work, Daddy?” is absolutely infuritating. He hasn’t made the connection that military members are being used as pawns but I’m sure he will in due time – he’s a smart kid.

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There are about 1,292,000 million active duty members of the military (about 800,000 serve in the seven different reserve components) who reported to work this morning despite the shutdown. The roughly 0.4 percent of our population who swore to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, will continue to do so even though without the assurance that they’ll be able to support themselves and their families. Right now, there are Americans on dangerous missions – some known, some unknown – risking their lives and upholding their oath. It shouldn’t be too much to ask the government to uphold their end of the bargain. The families of the two soldiers killed in the Apache helicopter crash on Saturday morning will not receive the death benefit entitlement until Congress passes a bill to appropriate such funds. Why is this acceptable?

Military members are no strangers to being used as pawns in the legislative process. In fact, last time we were stationed here in the nation’s capital, there was a shutdown. But that doesn’t mean we need to accept it. The majority of Americans voice support for the military – they’ll applause when uniformed members unveil the flag during a sporting event and they’ll shake the hand of a returning vet and thank them for their service – but does that really count? But I can’t help wonder how many of the fans who cheered the loudest during the pre-game ceremonies at Gillette Stadium and Lincoln Financial Field yesterday are contacting their legislative representatives today and demanding action on behalf of the military and behalf of our broken nation.

This morning, my husband laced up his boots, kissed me goodbye, and left for work before sunrise. He is going to continue to do his job, despite Congress not being able to do theirs.

 

That Time I Didn’t Bloom

I didn’t love Texas. At least not compared to the last couple of assignments the Army has thrown our way. As one who has shouted the merits of blooming wherever you happen to be planted, I found it quite frustrating to feel so disconnected from myself and others in a city as vibrant as San Antonio, Texas. Not only did I not feel like the best version of myself, I felt guilty for feeling that way because so many other people love the area. I felt like a fraud. Because no matter how hard I tried, I simply could not bloom.

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Military families are no strangers to being plopped into landscapes that we otherwise would never find ourselves living. “Bloom where you’re planted!” is a mantra said by many, including myself. In Texas, I did everything I was supposed to do in order to bloom – I became involved with both of the kids’ schools, I got to know the other parents on their soccer teams, I joined a gym, we became active members in a church, we explored our new city at every given chance, we ate local cuisine, and we called San Antonio home. But no matter what I did, I always felt like an imposter. A fake. Someone who didn’t belong.

That’s not to say that there weren’t aspects of San Antonio I didn’t enjoy. I always had a blast at the Tejas Rodeo in Bulverde on Saturday nights. We loved Oaks Crossing, a restaurant attached to our neighborhood HEB where we could drink craft beer and listen to live music while the kids danced and ran around the outside turf. I found my favorite steak street tacos, pizza, and pho. We thoroughly enjoyed our church. I loved the non-touristy part of the Riverwalk near The Pearl, and Hill Country really is beautiful. But all of that wasn’t enough for me to bloom.

Now that we’ve been happily settling back into the national capital region for the past couple of months, I’ve been reflecting on why I wasn’t my best self in Texas. All I can come up with is that maybe we’re not meant to be at our best at all times. And it doesn’t matter how great a city, town, community may be – sometimes it just doesn’t work. And perhaps we should be okay with that. I do believe that I made the best of my time in San Antonio. I do have to remind myself that I am failing to bloom doesn’t mean that I didn’t try hard enough nor does it mean that I did anything wrong. It simply means that Texas Karen isn’t the best Karen. And that is okay.