Hold On Daddy's Coming!

Stories, rants and reflections by a clueless father of three

Archive for the tag “navy”

Mario-Karting Through Tokyo Is A Thing You Can Do and It’s Glorious

When someone told me you could actually drive a go-kart through Tokyo while dressed as your favorite Mario character I really didn’t believe it. And apparently I’m not the only one….

Indeed, MariCar is a Tokyo-based company that is not affiliated with Nintendo, Mario, or anything having to do with the game that makes this activity so nostalgically amazing. I’m told this was all the subject of contentious copyright litigation. Evidently MariCar has some amazing lawyers.

Anyway. A group of friends from my command organized a 90-minute tour around the streets of Tokyo and it was on…like Donkey Kong. Oh yes.

We started in Yokosuka at the Navy Base and headed over to the train station. It’s about an hour and fifteen minutes to some place called “Akihabara”, which is the launch point for the trip. Meanwhile, “Akihabara” is super fun to say.

Navigating the Tokyo train system as a newcomer is not fun. I got through by repeating “now what am I supposed to do?” to my patient Japan-based friends each step of the way.  This is far more desirable than actually learning the system.  

Eventually we arrive at the MariCar location. They verify that you have an international drivers license and collect $50 – a small price to pay for a night of pure glory.

Now for the important part: picking a costume. I intended to go as a legit Mario character but the group was already saturated with Marios and Luigis. So, Jackie and I went with Toy Story.

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Some members of the group were a bit more courageous and in no way is that a bad thing…

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Having paid and dressed, we head out to the garage.

Now for the safety brief. The company rep asks us questions and gets a kick out of giving those who answer imaginary gold coins. As it turns out, they don’t allow you to throw bananas into the road, and this whole thing isn’t a race per se, its actually just a tour.   Regardless, the entire time I’m fantasizing about living out all my favorite scenes from Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift.  I’m sure it was a great safety brief.

We hop into the cars and they divide us into 5 person groups, each of which gets an assigned lead driver. Ours was sporting an amazing cat outfit and kinda didn’t speak English.  This worked out perfectly.

Ready, set, go!  

And there I was, driving through downtown Tokyo at sunset dressed as Sheriff Woody. It was fantastic. Unfortunately the initial rush didn’t last long, as our leader blew through a light just before it turns red, leaving half the group separated at a busy intersection. The cars straddle a busy intersection and the leader hops out to navigate the rest of the group to weave through a few cars and perhaps a bus or two. And that’s when I grabbed my camera…

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Right about here is where it dawns on me: the fact that this whole thing is legal is a legit miracle. I mean, here I am making a mess out of local traffic without the slightest idea where I’m going and how to drive on the left side of the road…all while cars and busses go whizzing by just feet away.  But, whatever. “Hey guys let’s get a picture!”  

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You’d think locals would hate everything about this operation, but quite the opposite seemed to be true. We found ourselves receiving applause and thumbs up virtually every step of the way. It was incredible. I mean, just imagine a business in the United States that encouraged foreigners to drive on legit city roads.  It’s actually horrifying.

About 45 minutes into the trip we stopped at the Tokyo Skytree for pictures. I’ve already taken hundreds, but when you’re gallivanting around Tokyo dressed as Sheriff Woody this is just what you do. Besides, any given picture could be that magical Facebook pic that says “I’m an adult with responsibilities but I also like to party.” Cheese!

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We hop back in and drive. The course is a mix of highways, cross roads, and narrow alleys, and the route is not self-explanatory. Indeed, during our picture break someone tells me his lead driver got lost and had to use Google maps to get back on track. I don’t recall this being an option in Mario-Kart, but then again this is MariCar, which is totally different.

As for speed, these things go about “60km,” which means nothing to me because I’m from America and don’t use the metric system. It was fast enough.

Eventually we hear the sirens of a cop car. But the sound is ridiculously loud.   In addition to the siren I hear a man barking orders in Japanese from some megaphone. Apparently this is a regular thing here.  Fortunately he wasn’t coming to arrest me (although being dressed as Sheriff Woody would make for a great mug shot…).  This guy means business, so I make sure to get the heck out of the way.

About 90 minutes into the trip and we arrive at the garage where this adventure began. But we’re missing the fifth member of our group. None of us can recall how long she’s been missing. Uhh, whoops…

We notify our lead driver that a member of our group has gone missing. I’m guessing something got lost in translation, because immediatley his eyes light up with joy as he declares “THAT MEANS YOU WIN!” 

Umm…

Minutes later, our entire group was reunited safe and sound.  Everyone provides assurances they will send the pictures they took.  

Frankly, the trip was glorious.  I cannot conjure up a better, more fun way to take a tour around Tokyo.

If you have a pen, put Real World Mario Kart on your bucket list immediately. And if you’re ever in Tokyo, run – don’t walk – to the magical place where they give you a car and a costume and let you tear up the city at night. I mean, the worst that could possibly happen is someone gets lost. And you know what that means?

THAT MEANS YOU WIN!    

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Our ‘Classic Guam’ Dolphin-Watching Experience

This week, I decided we needed some dolphins in our lives.  I mean, why not?  Dolphins are super cool and there are no penguins nearby, so this is a no-brainer.  Bonus: the boat launches from the neighboring town of Agat, which will make this an easy voyage.  Yea Dolphins! 

We packed all the essentials – water bottles, sunscreen and Pokemon cards.  Because you never can be too prepared.  

We also brought friends.  Well, I should say Jackie brought her friend Sabrina and the kids brought some of their friends (Sabrina’s kids…).  None of my friends came.  See, if my wife fails to make arrangements for me to hang out with other dudes, it doesn’t happen.  My reliance on her literally stretches this far.  

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Not pictured: Any of Jim’s Dude Friends

We get to the Agat Marina around 10:15 but we cannot head to the boat because Dwayne Johnson is singing our children’s favorite Moana song.  We’re not going anywhere until it’s over, and frankly I have no problem with this.  You’re welcome, kids! 

So we’re in the parking lot and already this adventure has all the makings of a legit Guam experience: no signs, no customer representatives, and no boats preparing to take people out.  There’s also no clarity on what time this thing actually starts – indeed, the brochure says 10:15, but our voucher says 10:30, and some random guy tells us this thing starts at 10:45.  Classic Guam.   

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No information, no problem. 

While we wait, the kids feed fish in the marina with goldfish. I assure you the irony in real-world fish eating Pepperidge Farm Goldfish is not lost on our four year old.  “DADDY!  THE FISH ARE EATING THE FISH!!!”  

Why yes.  Yes they are.  

We set sail as expected, right at 11:00. Before we even get out of the marina, the kids begin identifying all the amazing sea creatures they somehow see.   Brody sees a dolphin and sharks.  Jimmy sees a whale.  Riley sees an octopus…  

I see adorable liars.  

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A few minutes into the trip and the kids see Flying Fish.  But for real this time.  And who knew fish could fly?  Add this to their list of things that apparently exist.  

These fish have a legit superpower, and watching them in action easily occupies our group and about 30 asian tourists for the first 15 minutes of the trip.  Unfortunately, these little suckers are hard to photograph.  

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It’s a fish that flies.  Or is is a bird that swims?   

Right about here is when the boat started serving lunch.  The menu?  Sandwiches and water.  Only, the sandwiches are made of nothing but cake frosting.  Oh yes.  It’s a frosting sandwich.  Inevitably, the kids will ask me if they can have desert because they ate all of their sandwich.   And indeed they should be rewarded with cake.  

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Eat fresh, kids.

So. The boat keeps going out and we get word that there are dolphins in the area.  And sure enough there’s like eight of them swimming together. I’m super excited because we now see dolphins and that was the whole point of this trip.  Mission Accomplished! 

But another part of me is bummed because there’s a money back guarantee if you don’t actually get to see dolphins, and I was kinda hoping this whole thing would be free.  So it’s a mixed range of emotions.  

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Priceless

Anyway, we watched these dolphins for about 15 minutes while they entertained us tourists.  They’re mesmerizing – I could stand and watch them all day.  

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After the dolphin viewing we head out to some other remote area where we would be for the remainder of this excursion.  Upon arrival, the captain tells us we can fish or swim. Our kids don’t get many opportunities to fish cuz I hate touching those slimy suckers.  But there’s a crew here to take care of all that, so naturally we’re taking this opportunity to do some fishing.

Two minutes in, and Brody’s pole is trying to pull him overboard. I seize the rod from him and reel in a sweet-looking blue fish.  A member of the crew informs us that this particular fish has something on its gills that, if touched, will make grown men cry.  A solid reminder of why I despise touching fish… 

The crew member puts the fish into a bucket.  This will become relevant later.  For now, suffice it to say Brody is a proud fisherman. 

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Nearly an hour of fishing would yield zero additional fish. I’ll add that I definitely underestimated how much physical labor goes into assisting a bunch of young children with bait, rogue hooks, and intertwined fishing lines.  Which is conducive to this…

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Got er! 

Before the trip was over I went snorkeling. Despite Guam’s status as a mecca of underwater creature observation, I don’t do this often because (a) it’s too quiet, (b) sharks eat people, and (c), fish can apparently fly so who knows what else they’re capable of doing.  But with dozens of tourists in the water I figure I have math on my side.  

I will say, what’s amazing about these beautiful fish is that you can actually watch them poop.  It’s so cool! But thats about it.  

Eventually the captain tells us it is time to head back. Right about here is when the kids begin begging to keep the fish that Brody caught.  Our neighbor Vivian reminds me that she has a tank at her house the fish can live in.  That would be a beta fish…

We brief the kids on two potential courses of action.  Option One: we let the fish go overboard so it can be with its family.  Option Two: we keep the fish and it dies immediately.  

So which option did they choose?  I’ll let the suspense build for a second…

The kids unanimously vote for Option Two, despite the well-known fatal consequences.  Fortunately, the votes counted for nothing and there never really was an option, per se.  We let the crew keep the fish and I am quite certain he was fried that night.  But the kids don’t need to know all the details…

Before we reach land, I strike a perfectly creepy Titanic pose.  

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Feeling on top of the world!

In all, we went swimming, fishing, and saw some really cool sea creatures. We filled up on some frosting sandwiches, and I watched fish poop.  How could one ask for a better day?  

This is the kind of family time I need more of in my life.  It was a small reminder of why we agreed to come to an island in the middle of nowhere…  

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It was classic Guam.

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Our Drama-Filled Adventure to Tarzan Falls

I confess I’m not the world’s most outdoorsy person. Kayaking? That’s a sunburn waiting to happen. Camping? My bed works better. 

Left to my own devices I’d spend a perfectly good Saturday on the couch setting my fantasy football team, watching HGTV and eating copious amounts of Cinnamon Life. Now that’s living.   

But alas!  My wife is a planner.  She is outdoorsy.  And she is a big fan of mandatory fun.  

She’ll want to spend her entire Saturday doing something intrinsically senseless like picking apples or cutting down a Christmas Tree.  Apparently these activities are far more exciting than the football matchup I wanted to watch between the Central Michigan Chippewas and the Oklahoma State Cowboys.  I digress…

Naturally when my wife proposed we go hiking this weekend I had reservations. See, like doing Hot Yoga and eating hard-to-pronounce pastas, Ive always kinda assumed hiking was an activity exclusively for liberals.  Plus, see paragraphs above. 

Well, on tap this weekend was a trip to a place called Tarzan Falls.  Like, for a hike.  

As always, I tried to bargain. What if instead of going to Tarzan Falls we watch the movie Tarzan instead???  In the end we compromised… and went to Tarzan Falls. 

As with all directions on this island, the directions to Tarzan Falls lacked street signs, an address, and visible markers. We were literally told to take a left out of our neighborhood, then “go till it gets kinda forest-y,” and then look for the shoes hanging from the telephone wire.  Then, of course, you’re there.

In preparation I drank three cups of coffee.  Which is where this whole adventure begins…

Three minutes into the ride over and we need to stop. Like right now! 

And so there I was, on the side of the road.  Going to the bathroom in a sea of painful prickly bushes and bracing for a tree snake attack while the rest of my family laughed from the car.  Guess you could say it was your standard car ride…

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We arrive at Tarzan Falls around 11am and I waste no time taking an insane amount of pictures so my Facebook friends will think we do this kinda stuff every day.  Smiles kids! 

Jackie is sporting the brand new workout shoes she (ahem, we…) just bought in order to replace the older ones that had mud and dirt all over them.  That will become important in a moment…

Okay moments up.  Jackie’s new shoes were drowning in mud and dirt no more than 100 yards into this adventure.   AND THIS IS WHY WE CANT HAVE NICE THINGS. 

In fairness, I suppose we all underestimated how insanely muddy this trek would be.  So much mud.  And sitting water.  And more mud. 

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Coming Soon: There Will Be Mud 

The kids waste no time reminding Jackie and me that we’re legit tyrants.  “It’s so hot,” I’m so hungry,” and “I can’t walk anymore.”  Not even ten minutes in and all the kids are apparently going to die.  

The good news is there are some pretty cool things to point out along the way. 

Like…

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Stunning views of Guam

And even more importantly…

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A “Prince” Frog!!!

It was all fun and games until our 5 year old daughter slipped and fell into the mud.  I don’t have a picture of this particular moment, but what follows should give you a good idea of how this went down: 

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MUD!!!!

Others would soon follow suit.  Slip, fall, mud, tears.  Repeat.  

Eventually we make our way down the steep hills. The blood sweat and tears were all worth it when we got to this: 

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And did this: 

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And this: 

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One more: 

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After lunch it was time to head back.  

The hike back up was tough, no doubt.  The kids noted that the trek was “soooo far,” and that they were “soooo tired” and inquired into exactly when we would “finally get to mommy’s car.”  My personal favorite?  “I’m not hydrated enough to take another single step!” 

Try not to die, kids…

Then we hit a swamp.  The kids walked around it in painfully slow fashion until my quick-thinking wife convinced them there was an alligator in there.  Speed-walking commenced.

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We finish around 1:30.  Two and a half hours of Guam-inspired mandatory fun.  

Honestly? It was a blast! And perhaps somewhere deep down I really am an outdoors-y person. 

But for today, I’ll be watching the Indiana-Ball State Football Game and eating cereal on the couch while my wife does laundry. 

Say, she sure is lucky to have me. 

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A Step by Step Guide on How to Move Your Family to Guam Without Any Drama Whatsoever

We’re baaaaacck! And in case you’ve been out of the loop since my last post (over two years ago), here’s a recap: I spent 8 months living by myself in Norfolk, VA prepping for a deployment, then I deployed for 7 months, then I came back. And then, we PCS’d (military slang for moved) to Guam.  So basically, we’ve followed the standard progression of any normal family of five from Northern Virginia…   

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Perfectly normal family here.

Bottom line: our kids are older, my hair is thinner, and my wife is *loving* the Navy more than ever. Which happens to be where this whole blog picks back up…

So. If you’ve ever wondered how a legit professional takes his family and moves them to Guam without ANY drama/tears/tantrums/ iterations of ”oh-my-gosh-why-are-you-doing-this-to-me”, then listen up. Because I’m about to educate you.

STEP ONE: BE DEPLOYED WHEN YOU GET YOUR ORDERS TO MOVE FROM THE EAST COAST TO GUAM.

This is huge. You see, when faced with orders to move to a small island kinda near Japan (but really not near anything), your spouse may want to talk to you about all these questions she has, like “where are we going to live?” and “when is all of this going to happen?” and most importantly, “where the heck is Guam?” Fortunately for you, you will be on the other side of the world, incapable of answering any questions whatsoever. It makes the news that much easier to digest.

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Me being too busy to discuss moving to Guam…

STEP TWO: GIVE YOUR WIFE A LAUNDRY LIST OF THINGS THAT MUST HAPPEN IMMEDIATELY BUT THAT CANNOT BE ACCOMPLISHED WITHOUT WRITTEN ORDERS, WHICH ARE COMING.  WE THINK. 

Medical screening needs to be completed. Are we sure Brody had his tetanus shot? Movers need to be arranged. Car needs to be shipped. We need to get on the base housing list. We need to enroll the kids in school. We need to do it now!

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Stop wasting time, this medical screening is due ASAP!!!

Problem is, nothing happens until written orders are in hand. And getting written orders from the military can be as enjoyable as a 16 week seminar in “Commercial Paper.”   Or (foreshadow alert!) a 36-hour flight to Guam. Super fun.

STEP THREE: COME HOME FROM DEPLOYMENT AND COMMENT ON ALL THE THINGS YOUR “WOULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY” TO PREPARE FOR THE BIG MOVE.

My wife just *loves* comments like these:

“You scheduled the pack out for a Tuesday, huh? I would have gone with later in the week.”

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Should have done this Friday…

“I see we let the kids color and paint all over the floor and walls in the dining room while I was gone.” Or…

“Did you forget about the lawnmower I left in the garage while I was deployed?”

Stuff like that goes over real well in our house.  

STEP FOUR: RENT OUT THE HOUSE OF YOUR WIFE’S DREAMS TO A FAMILY OF COMPLETE STRANGERS.

You love this neighborhood, huh?  Well this is no time to get all sentimental on me. Paint the walls. Clean the carpets. Replace the carpets. Fix the grout. Stain the deck. AND FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE DON’T LET THE KIDS WALK ALL OVER THE DECK I JUST STAINED!!!

Fun like that…

STEP FIVE: MOVE IN WITH YOUR MOTHER IN LAW FOR A FEW WEEKS WHILE YOU ARE HOMELESS AND EVERYTHING YOUR FAMILY OWNS IS ON ITS WAY TO GUAM.

Yep. I’m just gonna leave this one right here without further comment. Moving on…

STEP SIX: HAVE THE NAVY BOOK YOU SUPER CONVENIENT FLIGHT TO GUAM.

Sometimes Always the Navy likes to spend as little as humanely possible, without any consideration for your well-being or the well-being of your family. So a direct flight might make a whole lot more sense and cut out five hours of flight time, but if it’s costs an extra $10 in the system, you’re not getting that direct flight.

Nope, instead you wind up with a downright hellacious itinerary that starts in D.C. and goes to Detroit and then to Tokyo and then some random Japanese Island I’ve never heard of before called “Kansai”…and then to Guam. Leave Tuesday morning, arrive Wednesday at midnight. More on this in a bit…

STEP SEVEN: WATCH TIME SLIP AWAY AS YOUR BEST LAID PLANS TO “SEE EVERYONE BEFORE THE BIG MOVE” FALL APART DISASTROUSLY. 

If you end up with text messages like this, then you’re doing it right:

Friend:  Can you get together tonight? 

Me: Actually, I’m boarding a flight and won’t be available for three years.

STEP EIGHT: FLY TO GUAM.

It’s easy! I mean, it’s not like a 14 hour time difference will impact your children in any way.

But here is the REALLY important part: overlook where everyone is sitting until minutes before boarding. Then realize your seat is nowhere near your family’s. Then make your useless attempt at convincing the very nice Japanese couple that can’t speak a word of English to trade seats with you.

Then, sit alone in silence and pretend not to hear the screams from the back of the plane. 

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Me looking fabulous.  And not hearing the drama in the back…

STEP NINE: LIVE IN A HOTEL ROOM WITH YOUR WIFE, KIDS AND 15 BAGS OF LUGGAGE FOR 10 DAYS.

To soften the blow of a move to Guam the Navy sends you and your family to a hotel. It’s downright cruelty. From here, you will discover there is an “unanticipated shortage” of base housing and that we might be living there for a while. Welcome to paradise.

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Loving this hotel…

STEP TEN: GET YOUR CAR BACK.  

Here’s the process: (1) go to office that has your car and fill out forms, (2) go to the DMV to fill out forms, (3) go back to the office that has your car to…you guessed it…fill out forms. But wait! Brand new policy involving…you guessed it again…more forms. (4) Take the forms to customs, and then (5) bring them back for processing. And if you think your work is done? Start back at one.

Even Brian McNight couldn’t make this romantic…

STEP ELEVEN: GO PRETTY MUCH BANKRUPT.

A box of strawberries? $9. On sale. Dinner for five? $75. Kid’s meals aren’t what they used to be. Breakfast muffins? $5 each. The blows keep coming: Phone plans, sun screen, internet, moving costs, therapy. It all adds up SUPER fast, and your ability to make ends meet is ENTIRELY dependent upon the skill and capability of some Personnel Specialist Seaman Apprentice with about five months of experience in the Navy. So good luck with all that.

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DONT DROP THAT $9 BOX OF STRAWBERRIES!!!!

STEP TWELVE: BE AT WORK WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN.  

See:  “The kids didn’t pass the swim test? So sorry. Gotta run!”

See also: “The air conditioner isn’t working at our rental? Bummer. Let’s talk about this later!”

Hate it when that happens…

STEP THIRTEEN: BE READY TO BRIBE YOUR KIDS WHEN THEY START ASKING ALL THE TOUGH QUESTIONS.  

Daughter: Daddy why did we have to move to Guam?

Me: Chocolate, or vanilla?

Oh, and for the older crowd…

Spouse:  Didn’t you say we would be making MORE money out here than back at home? 

Me:  White wine, or red?  

And if that fails…

STEP FOURTEEN: MISLEAD (OR, LIE) TO YOUR MILITARY SPOUSE AND TELL HER EVERYTHING WILL FALL INTO PLACE VERY SOON.

My personal go-tos are “I’m sure a house will open up any day now” and “we’re gonna do some amazing traveling real soon.” If you’re really desperate, you may try offering to acquire a new wardrobe. Or diamonds.  Or plastic surgery. Or something crazy like that. Regardless, you gotta go big here, because the usual flowers or night out on the town just aren’t gonna cut it. And besides, after all this, a night on the town with you is gonna be the last thing she needs.

 

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We’re going to Australia soon?  

STEP FIFTEEN: ENJOY EVERY SECOND.  AFTER ALL, YOU ONLY GET 36 MONTHS OUT HERE…

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DISCLAIMER: In all actuality, we are having a great time, and making lots of new friends. Most of the time. And I’m told by the local Navy divorce attorney that my wife hasn’t made an appointment yet. So that’s always a good sign.

A Toast to My First Real Month as a Father of Three

Within minutes of walking through the door from Rhode Island, I watched in amazement as my two-year-old daughter pulled up her shirt and attempted to breastfeed one of her dolls.  Right then, I knew my life was about to become crazier than ever. 

For those unfamiliar, I was training with the military in Rhode Island from January to late March.  Naval Justice School involved me waking up at 9am on Saturdays, popping leftover pizza in the microwave, and watching college hoops all weekend.  IT WAS BASICALLY SLAVERY!!!  

Meanwhile, Jackie was home caring for our newborn son, as well as herding our toddlers 24/7.  I’m sure you’re probably wondering what she, as a temporarily single stay-at-home mom, was doing all day…

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Must be nice
(courtesy of parentsociety.com)

Transitioning from the bachelor lifestyle in Rhode Island back to a father of three at home was about as brutal for me as, well, an episode of The Bachelor.  For instance, recently I introduced baby Brody to the bottle for the first time.  This experience began with me assuring my wife that “it’s cool, I got this” and ended with me screaming “JACKIE!  THIS ISNT WORKING!!!” ***

*** These days everyone seems to have a shirt that says “Keep Calm.”  Well, I want a shirt for occasions like this that says “MAYBE I DON’T WANT TO KEEP CALM!!!”

To make matters worse, Brody already has to deal with all that comes with being the youngest of three.   Indeed, Riley loves smothering him with open-mouth kisses, and Jimmy just loves smothering him.   Thankfully, he only cries when (a) he’s hungry, (b) he’s gassy, or (c) he sees Jimmy coming. 

And while Brody may not communicate often, his older brother sure does… 

First off, if Jimmy hears anything outside, he points to the sky and assures me it’s an “air-pane” (although half the time it’s actually our neighbor’s lawnmower).  When I get up with Jimmy early in the morning, he will continually ask for “Wiley” until she wakes up.  And finally, he thinks “no” is the proper answer to every question asked.  Watch:

Me: “Can I change your diaper?” Jimmy: “No!”

Me: “You wanna go to bed?”  Jimmy: “No!”

Nothing abnormal so far, but wait…

Me: “You want ice cream?” Jimmy: “No!”

Me: “You want chocolate cake?”  Jimmy: “No!” 

Clearly he has no idea what he’s missing… 

As for “Wiley,” well, she calls her mom “Jackie” (we’re working on this…), and her crib is something you would see on the show Hoarders.  She loves Greek yogurt more than John Stamos, and she eats her Oreos cream first – the way we do it in America!   

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Future Oikos spokeswoman

Furthermore, let me just say I can only read “The Nose Book” to Riley so many times before it DRIVES. ME. CRAZY!  Fortunately, I have a solution called the “Three Reads Rule.”  It goes like this: I will read any book she wants three times, and then I will physically throw that book as far as I can across the room.  If Riley goes and gets it (which she usually does), then I will read it another three times.  Every now and then, though, she finds something else to do… and it’s glorious. 

Don’t judge.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention bath time.  See, you would think that because I am now a Naval Officer, I would have some ability to control my little sailors while they’re in the water.  But you would be dead wrong.   Despite my orders not to do so, those kids genuinely love drinking bath water – especially when it’s flavored with bubbles.  Indeed, they wait until they think I’m not looking, and then they chug.  Come to think of it, they drink like Sailors! 

And now for a few words in remembrance of my last phone.   See, our kids love phones, and there are ample toddler-friendly apps for smartphones that tend to make dinnertime much more enjoyable.  However, this all comes at a steep cost.  Indeed, last week the date on my phone was June 3, 1981, and shortly thereafter it died forever.  So, if you want to know the kind of wear-and-tear two curious toddlers will put on your smartphone, then simply drop it in the nearest toilet bowl for an hour and see how it goes. 

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The cell phone in Jimmy’s hands is doomed…

PS: on a related note, if I haven’t talked to you in years but randomly “like” your Facebook post about how “awful” Verizon’s customer service is, then odds are it was Riley messing with my new phone.  Besides, I have far more insulting things to say about Verizon. 

Anyway.  We recently celebrated Jimmy and Riley’s second birthday – two years old!  When Jackie was pregnant, experienced parents would encourage us to “enjoy every moment” because it’s over “before you know it.”  And although I certainly do not “enjoy every moment” of fatherhood, I try to make myself aware of those special moments that are bigger than they originally seem…

The other night Riley was crying in her crib for a solid hour and a half, refusing to sleep.   So, I reluctantly marched up to her room and sang Mr. Big’s “To Be With You” until she fell asleep in my arms.  For about 30 minutes, I sat on the rocking chair and thought about how much more incredible Jackie and my journey has been since these kids came along for the ride.  This is how parenting apparently works – constant chaos sprinkled with the occasional realization that you would have it no other way. 

I’m thankful God has given me a gassy-but-happy baby, a daughter that loves “The Nose Book,” and a son that thinks your lawnmower is an “air-pane.” 

So grab a glass of bath water and let’s toast to a crazy month with Brody, Jimmy… and “Wiley” too.  Cheers! 

Image

***In Loving Memory of Jim’s Droid (2011-2013)*** 

How I Darn Near Missed the Birth of our Newborn Son

In the military, if you show up on time, then you’re late.  Well, on February 28, 2013, my day began as typical Thursday at Naval Justice School in Newport, Rhode Island.  But one frantic phone call, one delayed flight, two car rides, 420 miles and 10 chewed up fingernails later, I arrived at Fair Oaks Hospital in Fairfax, VA for the birth of our third child with just 10 minutes to spare.  Right on time.

I started getting text messages from my wife at 4:30am letting me know she couldn’t sleep and wanted to talk.  At that ungentlemanly hour, I don’t remember calling her back, but my call history says I did.   Truth is, I was tired that morning because I had labored hard the day before.  Little did I know my wife was in labor…

At 5:20am, I headed out to “Pain Before Breakfast” – Naval Justice School’s “super fun” weekly five mile run around Newport in the freezing cold.  After the run, I got back and immediately headed to class, and still hadn’t really talked to Jackie.  I figured if something was really wrong I would know about it.  Right?    

So.  Back at school, I sneak out during class to check up on Jackie, and the conversation goes like this:

Me: You alright? 

Jackie: Yea, whoa, uhh

(10 second pause…)

Jackie: OH-GOSH-I-GOTTA-CALL-YOU-BACK!

(Click)

Contractions can be such a conversation killer…

I had planned on going home that afternoon anyway, but after a few of these conversations I realized I had to get back immediately.  And shortly thereafter, I left class with perhaps the greatest excuse I have ever had: the birth of my child. 

On the way up to Providence Airport, I started thinking about my odds of making it for the delivery – something that was incredibly important to me.  They weren’t good, and a call from Jackie telling me to “hurry up” made them even worse.  It was at this point that I finally realized she was in labor, nearly seven hours after that whole process had begun. 

Upon arrival I parked, raced inside, and started working my magic to get on an earlier flight.  You could tell I was in a hurry cuz I parked in the garage instead of saving $3/day by parking in another county.  I told the airline reps that my wife was in labor and I needed to get back ASAP (and I may or may not have fumbled with my military ID for bonus sympathy points…).  I got the following responses:

– Southwest: “We don’t have a better flight.  If I were you, I’d go talk to the other airlines.” 

– United:  “We have an earlier flight, but it’s full.  Try US Air.” 

– US Air: “We have a flight, but it’s only 20 minutes earlier and it will cost you $450 to get on it.”  

Uhh, what’s behind door number four? 

Bottom line was: I was stuck on my flight.  And when I got to the gate, I discovered my flight was delayed by 30 minutes.  And two hours later when I finally land in Baltimore, the stewardess tells us there’s a plane in our gate, which means more delays.  My unborn child, in the meantime, is not delaying.

As soon as they opened the doors to the plane, I raced to the front.  One lady, with a tone of disappointment and speaking on behalf of everyone around her, shouts “hey you’re not the only one with places to go!”  Opportunistically, I paused, calmly looked her straight in the eye, and said: “my wife is in labor right now and I’m trying to get to the delivery room… now where are you going?” 

Got em!        

So anyway, I’m at BWI airport, which is a solid hour and change from the hospital without traffic (and there’s always traffic).  I get a call from Jackie’s phone.  It’s her friend Kristen, calling to tell me that the doctor needed to perform a C-section in 30 minutes.   There was no hope: I wasn’t gonna make it on time.  At this point I just prayed that Jackie and our baby would be ok. 

Jackie’s dad picked me up and we headed down a route that those in the Washington, D.C. area avoid with everything they can: 95 to 495 to Route 66.  At rush hour, it’s like being sentenced to three separate deaths.  Kill me. 

I started letting my family know that the baby was about to be born and that I wasn’t gonna make it.  But after a while, I noticed traffic was surprisingly not that bad.  I braced for the inevitable sea of red brake lights that epitomize the DC beltway, but it didn’t come.  Weird, I thought. 

Then, a glimmer of hope: a text message from Jackie’s phone.  “How far away?”  She had been trying to stall this delivery with all her might.  I was easily 35 minutes away, but I told her I would be there “20 minutes max.”  So yea, I lied about how far away I was.  BUT MY WIFE DOES IT TO ME ALL THE TIME!   

At some point I got word that the doctor was “no kidding” gonna deliver this child in 20 minutes, and that Jackie had already headed back to the OR (yea, thats right, I say “OR” instead of “Operating Room” cuz I’ve seen a few episodes of Greys Anatomy…).  My driver pulled some James Bond stuff (while obeying ALL local traffic laws, of course…) and got me to the hospital 10 minutes later.  When we pulled up, I sprinted through the lobby without applying hand sanitizer.  There was no time to disinfect! 

I got to room 313 on the 3rd Floor, where Jackie’s friend Kristen briefed me on what was going on.  With just under 10 minutes til go-time, I changed into what can best be described as an albino clown costume, and headed over to the OR myself.  

Lets do this thing!

Lets do this thing!

As I waited to go in, an air of panic suddenly began to fill the hallway.  Jackie’s doctor needed to come IMMEDIATELY.  Apparently the baby’s heart rate had dropped way below normal levels.  “Heart rate 56” some nurse declared.  When I was at one of the appointments, this baby’s heart rate was in the 180s, so at that point I knew that things weren’t going well. 

I was escorted into the OR and grabbed the hand of a tearful mother in fear of the worst.  At that moment I realized why God had parted the Red Sea for me that day – so I could be there with Jackie at that very moment.  I told her it would be ok and that she was doing great.  I then prayed that things would actually be ok.

It took a while, but eventually they pulled our baby out.  I didn’t even know if it was a boy or girl, and at this point, all I noticed was that it wasn’t making any noise, and it looked kinda blue.  Time stopped while I begged this baby to cry.  “Please just cry!”  I tell ya, 5 seconds never went by so slowly. 

And then it happened: a big wail.  And boy, what a relief it was that the baby was ok.  And speaking of boy, a quick glance “down there” and I realized I was the father of another son.  Nice!  His temporary name was “Boy.” 

It's a dude, trust me.

It’s a dude, trust me.

For about nine months, Jackie and I had been calling this baby “Pat” because I wanted to be surprised by the sex.  Jackie, who hates surprises, was shocked that I never wanted to know.    It was killing her that she had a secret and couldn’t tell it to me – which naturally I loved.    

So I’m standing there filming everything at this delivery and out of nowhere some nurse hands me this creepy set of scissors.  She then gives me the green light to cut the slimy, odd-looking “umbilical cord” poking out of my son’s belly.  A few reiterations of “no, it’s ok” later, and I had earned myself the look of death from the nurse in Operating Room 2.  It got a little awkward in there, I’m not gonna lie… 

From here, they took the baby and me (but not Jackie) to another room in Labor and Delivery, where, in theory, parents get to enjoy the first precious moments of a child’s life.  But that’s not actually what happens… 

See, almost any father will tell you that their primary concern while the baby takes its first breaths of fresh air is maximizing the potential of social media, email, text message, and other forms of electronic communication.  In other words, this is not a Kodak moment – it’s a Smartphone moment.  

So I’m firing away pics and posts and at some point Jackie gets wheeled in.  We immediately begin negotiating names.  This too was awkward because nurses were hovering over us and pretending not to listen in on our conversation.   I wanted the boy’s name to be “Brody.”  I mean sure, that’s the name of a terrorist on the show Homeland, but he’s actually a really nice and sensitive terrorist…      

Here’s the simple truth: Jackie wanted “Brady,” but I can’t stand the New England Patriots.  So we agreed on Brody.   And I think it’s the perfect name for him.   Thus far, nicknames include: Bro, Bro-ham, Brode Master, Sergeant Brody, and Brodo Baggins.  Please help me add to this list – it will only make our “Bromance” that much stronger.    

After two days in the hospital, we came home and introduced Jimmy and Riley to their new younger brother.  They were excited, and Riley wasted no time initiating her brother in the family hierarchy. 

"I'll take this"

“I’ll take this”

Now I’m back at Naval Justice School, where I am constantly thinking about my still-recovering wife and always-crazy children.  Thankfully, she’s surrounded by awesome people who have been preparing meals, cleaning our house, and chasing our toddlers everywhere.  Heck, perhaps Jimmy and Riley had me trained to chase down our newest child from Naval Justice School to Fair Oaks Hospital in just a few hours. 

To think:  ten minutes later, and I would have missed it. 

Would have missed this too...

Would have missed this too…

You Can’t Handle the Truth: Life at Naval Justice School

Lieutenant Junior Grade Jim Howland, reporting for duty. Kind of.

Well folks, the Navy has sent me back to Newport, RI to get my knowledge on at Naval Justice School – ten weeks of learning all the fun stuff that comes with being a military lawyer. More on that in a bit…

I left January 22, and I assure you I was in a glass cage of emotion. Leaving Jackie and the kids was incredibly hard for me – in fact, there may or may not have been tears as I hugged Jimmy and Riley goodbye. What?

Anyway, my sadness quickly turned into anger as I paid toll after toll after painful freaking toll heading north on Interstate 95. $6 to get out of Maryland. $13 to get through Delaware. The farther north I went, the more I shelled out. At one point, I actually considered this a violation of my Constitutional right to travel.

And this, my friends, is why people hate lawyers.

Eventually, in a moment of golden irony, I hit the New York City skyline right as Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ rendition of “Empire State of Mind” came on the radio. In retrospect, this was probably not a coincidence. Either way, the volume went up and so did my whiteness factor. What can I say? Big lights will inspire me.

Fortunately, I arrived at Naval Station Newport safe and sound. And pretty much broke.

So. First day of class, and there I am. Hopelessly lost in a room of about 25 Naval Officers and 35 Marines. I knew two of them. It took very little time for me to notice a stark contrast between the Marines and the Sailors. Allow me to expand a bit…

First, Marines just talk differently. They say “rah” all the time, regardless of the appropriateness. They all have crazy stories from Officer Candidate School and The Basic School, and they are not afraid to share them. During the first few months of college I would meet people who went to the same high school and always wanted to talk about how awesome their experience was. Well, that’s kind of how it feels when I’m around these guys. Fortunately, their stories are hilarious.

A few other things: they dip, they curse, and they are not your normal lawyers. In fact, they all hate it here, and would much rather be in the forest somewhere with their faces painted and a rifle in their hands. Oorah?

Anyway. Class begins at Zero Seven Thirty and goes until Seventeen Hundred. To clarify: we do absolutely nothing at Zero Dark Thirty, and the only thing being fired at us is PowerPoint Slides. But I assure you what we do is dangerous.

Here’s what we’ve learned how to do thus far:

-write wills (well, technically a computer program actually writes it);
-write letters (with fancy letterhead!); and
-write…more letters.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a theme.

We’ve also had a riveting debate over whether the Navy Correspondence Manual should require two spaces after a period, or just one. I for one am a fan of two spaces, but I tread carefully because this debate gets personal.

You may be thinking: when are we gonna learn how to bust “Code Reds” out of Guantanamo Bay? Well, we haven’t had that class yet. But I did spot a Code Red Mountain Dew at the Commissary. So that’s exciting.

On Thursday mornings, we partake in a fun little activity called “Pain Before Breakfast.” This is a five mile run at five thirty in the morning. Five. Freaking. Thirty. Of course, attending Pain Before Breakfast is entirely voluntary – kind of the same way you “voluntarily” get in the car when a mob boss pulls up and asks you to join him. And in case my Executive Officer happens to read this, I would like to go on record as saying I absolutely love Pain Before Breakfast and look forward to it every week. Smile.

Fortunately, Pain Before Breakfast is not the only way I strive to exercise – I’m also on the basketball team. For a good laugh, watch me play basketball. Seriously it’s hilarious.

As for Newport, it’s beautiful, but it’s cold. If the low temps don’t make you miserable, the wind will. Sometimes I drive literally across the street because, trust me, it’s worth it. I brought my golf clubs with me thinking I might be able to get out and play. Those poor clubs have been sentenced to solitary confinement in my trunk for the next seven weeks.

And speaking of confinement, I call Jackie (now 36 weeks pregnant) at night to check in on her and see how she’s hanging in there. Here’s how our nice little conversations go…

Me: so how was your day?
Jackie: it was fine. JIMMY, PUT THAT DOWN RIGHT NOW!
Me: Nice. What are you getting into tonight?
Jackie: I don’t know. RILEY, YOU DO NOT KICK YOUR BROTHER!
Jackie: HEY JIM, I GOTTA CALL YOU BACK. (click)

Good talk.

And as much as I miss the kids, I do not miss getting up with them at night. No chance. Eight hours of sleep is a glorious perk of my time here, and I know that when I come home we will have a newborn. Here’s another perk: I have a maid. And she’s awesome: she is a mother of two who works 5 days a week, and then goes to school at night because she wants to become a teacher. God bless ‘Murrica!

So that’s Naval Justice School. I’m just doing my part to kill the terrorists one legal ethics opinion at a time. More to come.

Code Red. Oorah. Over.

My First Five Weeks In The Military…

GET ON YOUR FACE RIGHT NOW!

Apparently this means get ready to do pushups.  It’s “zero four thirty” and I have lots to learn today in sunny Newport, RI.  Indeed, we’re just getting started…

UP! DOWN! UP! DOWN…

A few questions go through my mind: am I getting yelled at by a woman or a man?  How the heck did I get here?  And most importantly: am I wearing underwear? 

Back to reality: now we’re doing something called 6-90s.  It’s where you lie on your back with your feet 6 inches above the ground, and raise them to a 90 degree angle.  And repeat.  Wait, is this a p90x move?!?! 

It was Day Three.  I think.  Allow me to walk you through the remainder of our average day:

After the abrupt wake-ups, we would go outside to “PT” (which means physical training) for an hour.  This involved running or calisthenics, or some combination of the two.  We also did an insane amount of stretching.  Like, for every minute we worked out, we probably spent two minutes stretching.  This was weird.  I mean, who actually stretches these days? 

Then we ate: 15 minutes, no talking.  And no “skylarking” (looking around) either!  Ahh, you gotta love military words.   Here’s a few more: bulkhead (wall), ladder well (stairs), and Roger that (which according to Urban Dictionary means “I understand”).  Roger that?

Then came an hour of marching.  This was pure comedy. 

At a philosophical level, marching in the Navy makes absolutely no sense.  I mean, sailors work on ships – a place with very little marching room.  Add to that the fact that I am in a class of “staff corps” officers (doctors, lawyers, nurses, nuclear reactors, etc).  What you get is some sloppy marching. 

“Right face!”  “About face!”  “Center face!”  All this means something to those who have marched before.  I was new to all of it.  And I sucked at it…

Then came a period of time known as “hygiene.” As in, “you have three-five minutes for hygiene.”  Here was where we would make our beds (a brutal chore for someone who hates making the bed), shower, get the uniform on, and be ready to go.  The men’s bathroom was like a scene out of Top Gun… only with far fewer 6 pack abs, and no time to air dry. 

Then we sat through PowerPoint presentations.  All. Day. Long. No caffeine, and very few breaks.  I wasn’t ready for this.  Sleeping was not allowed (and strictly enforced), and we would be tested on all of this.  I missed law school!

We also had a drill instructor.  He was then one who whipped us into shape and taught us what we needed to know.  Importantly, he was the one who determined how long we would have to stand at attention.  In case you’ve never done it, standing at attention is really uncomfortable after a while. 

Note: If you are a Marine or Navy Seal or something like that, please don’t judge me.

In the evenings we would eat again.  Same rules: no skylarking, no talking, and 15 minutes to eat – I was usually done in 5.  I would spend the next 10 minutes trying to avoid eye contact with my friends – something that would always cause me to start laughing.  Oh, and another mealtime rule I forgot to mention: no laughing. 

Then we would march for another hour.  I’ve said my peace about Navy marching.  So anyway…

Then we would head into our “House” (think dorms) and clean, do laundry, study, or workout.  Don’t tell my wife this, but I actually got good at handling my own laundry.  Now shh!!!

Then, our company (54 officers) sang songs together before bed.  We recited the classics: Sailor’s Creed, Anchors Aweigh, and the Marine’s Hymn.  We sounded terrible, but we would improve as time went on. 

And that about wraps up the average day for five weeks.  Not boot camp, not summer camp, but somewhere right in between.  Before I move on, allow me once more to emphasize how BRUTAL the PowerPoints were – and I work for a consulting firm!  Ok, now I’m done… 

Some of the highlights included:

–          Going aboard the USS Michael Murphy – the newest destroyer in the Navy.  That ship alone could take out most countries.  One word comes to mind: ‘Merica!

–          Learning how to make a flotation device out of navy trousers.  Look out Bear Grylls!

–          Going out on the town in my summer white uniform and being thanked for my service – of three weeks!

–          Pushup contests.

–          Letters from home.

–          Helping save a fake ship (the USS Buttercup – a very manly vessel) from sinking

–          Singing “Tearin Up My Heart” to a crowd of locals on Karaoke night

–          Raising the flag in uniform

–          Spending close to $2,000 on my uniform (no discount double-check!)

–          Getting the shortest haircut of probably my entire life

–          Being required to say things like “Kill!” all the time. **

**  To demonstrate how much fun I had saying “kill,” I will be using the word as often as possible throughout the remainder of this post.   Get ready…

Of course, I had it easy compared to Jackie, who was at home with the babies – two born, one unborn.  Closing out the first trimester of her pregnancy with two stubborn 16-month olds was undoubtedly exhausting.  Bottom line: my wife is amazing (cheap brownie points I know, but I will take them).  Kill!

Fortunately, Jackie, her mom, and the kids came up for my graduation.  I went to see the babies at the hotel room and my worst fear came true: they didn’t recognize me.  In fact, they were scared of me.  Perhaps this was because my hair was short, my boots made me stand about 2 inches taller, and I was wearing my Navy fatigues.  Still, it was a punch in the gut. 

It took them a few minutes to recognize me, and then all became right with the world…

I needed this

 It was so awesome to see them.  It was also an ice cold glass of water to the face: welcome back to being dad!  Indeed, at the graduation reception while most of my friends were drinking and socializing, Jackie and I chased the babies around the ballroom.  The entire time.  “Nice to meet you – oh, Riley, no, no, no, come back!” I must have had this conversation six times. 

Kill!

Even better: Jimmy ran up to the Commanding Officer of Naval Training Command, Captain Kemper, and hit him in the back of the leg.  Yep, that’s my son scarfing down meatballs and hitting the Commanding Officer. 

Note: one day, he’ll wonder why he didn’t get into the Naval Academy…

The night before graduation we were allowed to sleep off base so long as we were back at 0430.  I slept with Jackie, my mother in law, and the babies in the hotel room and got a full 45 minutes of sleep.  But it was worth it to see them again.  At least that’s what I kept telling myself…

The next night I was home, sleeping in my very own “rack” (where hospital corners aren’t required).  From here, I wait to get my bar exam results, at which time I will begin fulfilling my four year commitment to the Navy JAG Corps.  I’m thankful to God for getting me where I am today; excited about the adventures in store; and honored to begin my military career.  As they say: Anchors Aweigh!  

And oh yea… KILL!!!

 

Jimmy’s doing a little “PT” of his own!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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