Tag Archives: friendship

How to Throw a (Fairly Kick Ass) Army Retirement Party

When planning to celebrate the end of my husband’s 24 year career in the United States Army I had a tough time figuring out just how the hell to do that. Please understand, I was a terrible Army wife. It’s the first thing I tell anyone when they ask me about Scott’s former career. I never learned the acronyms, the protocols, the politics or the hierarchy. I didn’t go to church, vote Republican, or carry a Coach purse. I avoided Pampered Chef parties, mommy & me play groups, and failed to roll deep with the MWR crowd. And, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing any of those things, I’m just a weirdo. A misfit. And a terrible Army wife. Yet, I love my sweetheart (and my country, I swear) and, by God, I was going to throw him an awesome Army-ish party….somehow.

I didn’t extensively scour the internet looking for military retirement party ideas, but what little Google and Pinterest searches I performed didn’t turn up much in the way of inspiration. Lots of red, white and blue decor, several patriotic appetizers that would also do nicely at a 4th of July bash, and a few clever cakes, but nothing that showcased what the norm might be for “So Long, Army” festivities. Fortunately, with the help of my creative mother, we winged it.

Concepts/highlights below: may they prove helpful to some other terrible military spouse out there.

MENU: Chow Hall Reminiscence

We rented a local hall that provided a chef, servers and bar on site – the one-stop-shop convenience of that was, I felt, well worth the added expense! When planning the menu my husband decided to forgo delicatessens and asked if the chef could whip up a dish he remembered fondly from his basic training days: Yakisoba. The chef obliged and it was…..Americana grub, for certain; meaty, salty, carby, tough guy chow.
There were lots of leftovers.

In keeping with the dining style we’d planned to create a mess hall banner (see photo/link) we found on Pinterest, but sadly ran out of time.

DÉCOR: Red, White & Cheap

Directing the majority of our budget toward venue, food, servers and booze, I allotted only a comparative fraction for decor. The party was in April but, by a stroke of luck, a local dollar store had set out all their Independence Day merchandise early – and I bought it all! The venue manager had told us we could decorate as we pleased, “We had a wedding down here once and the couple hired some gay guy….made this place look like Narnia!”

We didn’t achieve Narnia status, but I tacked up red, white and blue plastic table cloths as wall panels and bedazzled enough items to be as patriotic as all get out. Borrowing from my mister’s skull collection (not real, and not weird…well, maybe a little weird…but purely in the fun, still creepy, but mostly harmless way) and topped them with various military hats. Center piece, meet conversation piece!
Centerpieces
My mother built cupcake trees out of Styrofoam discs and wooden candle holders (another Pinterest grab) and our daughters painted them. Pretty cute and blessedly cheap!
cupcake tree

PHOTO BOOTH: Because Everybody’s Doing It

Using cardstock to print mustaches, mouths, masks, etc, we hot glued these to dowels as photo booth props. We added military hats of all sorts and, as backdrop, hung an American flag that a family member had flown for Scott while he’d served in Iraq.


And photo fun was had by all (the non-stick-in-the-muds).

SLIDE SHOW: Blasts from a Plentiful Past

The only retirement party staple I was familiar with was that of the projector, the screen, and the photo slideshow down memory lane. But what content to display, and how much, was another expedition into uncharted affairs. Eventually I chose to keep the majority of images related to his career, but I wanted to present an overall snapshot of his life as well. A few adorable shots of his boyhood here, a couple awkward teenager candids there, and I tried to add pictures of him posed alongside the many faces that were a part of his journey; to include ex-girlfriends and ex-wives. That last bit can be a touchy subject for some, but I felt those women were relevant chapters of Scott’s story. Besides, my husband has so many female friends, no one knew which girl photographed was just a pal and which one had seen him naked.
And, thankfully, no one asked.

Non-Pro Tip: I recommend a ten second delay, or more, between slides. We went with five and it proved a touch too zippy.

VIDEO GREETINGS: Be There, in More than Just Spirit

When your job requires you to travel all over the world you tend to end up with friends in nearly every corner of it, and those friends often live so far off they can’t always readily attend your retirement party. Except that they CAN! Sort of.

The ultimate triumph of that congratulatory night was surprising my dearest darling with a video of his most beloved peeps wishing him well.

The idea didn’t come to me until the party was less than two weeks out, so I scrambled like mad to gather 15-30 second videos from friends, family and colleagues all across the globe. The morning of the event I was still receiving, and frantically splicing together, last-minute video clips, but Microsoft Movie Maker made quick-editing a breeze and, after dinner, film rolled flawlessly for husband and guests. Husband was awed, guests were entertained.
HOORAY!
Or….Hooah?

-Terrible Former Army Wife, Signing Off.

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Perils, Parties and Propositions

Hi. My name is Niki and I am an inconsistent blogger.
(Hello, Niki.)
But I suppose there are worse things to be.

I’ve had stories to tell, and happenings to disclose, and opinions to share, and ideas to bounce off the universe, but 2013 has been something of a challenge in nearly all areas of my personal life – and the time or energy for sharing has been minimal. And since there’s a ton on my plate at present, yet I’d really like to get back into the writing swing, pardon me while I babble about my week.

I’m throwing three parties in the next nine days. Two of them for children. Correction, one of them for children, one for preteens – an entirely different species. I’m doing this because I’m a crazy person. Oh, and I’m drawing invitations and 6 ft. banners by hand, and painting, and possibly building a Space Needle out of foam board, because (it’s so much fun, and I’m rockin’ it) I need professional help with my crazy.

tumblr_mus2w2wvjE1qafr64o1_500Party one is a farewell affair for my best guy pal in town (I already lost a best gal pal last month to Chicago – this year can seriously suck it). He’s moving to Seattle to pursue love and happiness with his boyfriend. Since Seatown is my hometown, I volunteered to host a party in his honor and I’ve been having a blast with the decorations. I’ve suspended umbrellas from my ceiling and shaped shiny blue, fringed wire garland to hang from them like streams of rain. I practiced drawing an orca whale, Mt. Rainer, the Space Needle and spent four hours incorporating them into a sketch for my giant banner. And, though my aging, aching, withering right hand currently detests me, I’m tossing around the idea of launching construction on a 2 ft. tall Space Needle centerpiece. Foam board or perhaps paper mache; not sure. I’ve never worked with either, because I don’t usually do shit like this.

Sketch of Banner. Unfinished.  Hand on Strike.

Sketch of Banner. Unfinished.
Hand on Strike.

Why the sudden burst of creativity? There are lots of answers to that, the simplest being: my little one is in preschool and (in a forever furloughed/sequestered/government-shuttin’-down military/border patrol dependent town) I have not been able to find a decent job. This leaves me with free time, for the first time in five years. And you know what that means, don’t you? Aww yeah. It’s bout to get crafty up in this bitch!

Party two and three are Halloween-related. My eldest had asked for a costume party, I’d agreed, and then the little one said, “Will I have to stay in my room for her party?” *GASP* Heart cracked in two! See, my girls are seven years apart, and more and more the activities one will partake in is neither age appropriate nor age appealing to the other. A spooky, creepy, scary (possible haunted house in my garage) event designed for 11 year olds would not necessarily go over well with 4 year olds, or their parents. Or Child Protective Services. So I told my littlest one, “No, baby. You’re going to have your own party!”

YAAAAAAAY! Everybody wins! And gets a party! And mommy didn’t need to sleep or eat, anyway.

I also have some sewing to do this week. I don’t own a sewing machine – and, in fact, never learned to operate one – so it takes a while. I know it’s a simple skill to pick up, I just haven’t gotten around to it…in 36 years. My mom tried to teach me when I was a girl, but much like her attempt to teach me to cook, and craft, and fold a fitted sheet properly, her efforts met with my surly teenage obstinance. “OMG! I’m NOT going to be housewife! Ever. Ugh.” Just kidding. We didn’t say “OMG” back then. We said “Oh my God.” It was a dark, barbaric, internet-less time.images

By refusing to learn “women’s work” (I really must have thought Future Niki was going to have servants) everything is hard now. Thanks, Younger Impractical Feminist Niki.

Funny side bit about the sewing project, though; the other night I was asked out on a date in a fabric store. I had to walk through the mall to get to this store, and I remember briefly making and breaking eye contact with a fellow (standing? walking? don’t recall) just outside the entrance. He followed me into the store and called to me with a “Hey!” I turned as he approached me, holding out tickets in his hand, and he said, “Uh, do you want to go on a date? I have these movie tickets and…..” he trails off, looking at me…hopefully.

He couldn’t have been a day over 25, clean-cut, average looks, on the short side, not my type (but considering no one I’ve dated looks like anyone else I’ve ever dated, I’m not sure I have a type – rather, my type is funny and smart), and, naturally, it wouldn’t have mattered if he was my type, being that I’m a happily married lady who has no interest in any gross cougary business. So I said, “Oh! If I weren’t married, I would. I’m sorry. Good luck!”

Which was a lie. I wouldn’t. Not if I were single, and not even if I were single and his age, because my sense of stranger danger is (possibly overactive) very acute. “Hey! Uh…do you want to go on a date? I have these movie tickets…and…oh yeah? You do! Great! My name’s Ted, but all my friends call me Bundy. Real quick, do you mind if we stop by my nondescript, windowless van first? I left my wallet in there.”

He was probably just a lonely kid working on a new dating tactic, or maybe the pre-bought-tickets/scout-the-mall-for-chicks thing had worked for him in the past. Or maybe he indeed lures 30-something women toward a grisly death in his van of terror. Beats me. But I do wish I’d found out which movie he’d preselected. Was it “Machete Kills”? Or maybe “Cloudy with a Chance of Freakballs”? Alas, we shall never know.

Dear Amanda

4/10/09

“Niki,

I wanted to let you know I did make it back from Texas. Was planning on heading back to the old rehab place but Michael is filing for an emergency hearing for full custody of Aidan. With all that has happened and my mom testifying against me chances are he will be granted custody of him. My mom was the one who emailed him to let him know all the problems we’ve been having.

I can’t even come up with enough energy to cry about it anymore. Maybe he is the better parent for Aidan right now. I don’t have a leg to stand on or a really good excuse.

I’ve been fighting my ex for almost 6 years now. Three years for the divorce and three and a half of Aidan’s life for custody. I can’t remember not fighting him for something, like my life back. Now it seems like he finally found the weak link in my chain and is going to take everything.

I’ll try to call but I’m not up to much except sitting with Aidan for the next week or so before some judge decides my life. I’m not ready for this or even sure how I will even get through this if it does go wrong. Starting over alone at 30 isn’t sounding too damn appealing right this minute. I’ll let you know what happens and hopefully it won’t be as bad as it seems right now.

Amanda”

5/24/13

Dear Amanda,

That was the last email you ever wrote me. And this reply comes very late. Four years late. Much too late, as you know, because I found out yesterday that you are dead.

Scott recognized your picture in a Facebook group attached to a profile with a different name. He clicked on that and discovered it was your mother, and the picture of you was in memoriam. It didn’t take him long afterward to find your obituary in the local paper, dated November 2012. It said you had succumbed to a “lifelong illness” and I knew immediately that meant you had drank yourself to death.

I wrote your mother and she confirmed my suspicion. Told me you’d passed away on Thanksgiving. My first thought was: “Oh God, her poor little boy.” My second: “Could I have made a difference? Could I have helped her?”

Because I didn’t help you. I didn’t think I could. And as you began to take more and more prescription drugs, lose more and more of your grip on reality and spin more and more out of control, I chose to distance myself. It’s not the first time I’ve quietly bowed out of the life of a drug addict and/or alcoholic; my best friend, my first husband….the list is long. But what I loved about those people is also what usually causes me grief, and a touch of guilt, like I failed them. Like I failed you.

And I know better. But my head knows lots of things my heart never will.

What I wish to tell you is that I love you. That I will never forget you helping me pick out my wedding dress, gifting me the best housewares, giving me a crib, changing table, playpen, stroller, alongside so many other items I hardly needed to shop for my baby (and you had the very BEST taste), our small adventure crossing into Mexico, those months we spent becoming close, before you started slipping away, I remember all of it. That your son and your dog Kujo were the kings of your world. That you were whip-smart, beautiful and so funny.

And I feel guilty as hell for having avoided you in the last years of your molten lava mess of a life.

But not only do I know there’s little I could have done for you (I’m out of the “saving people” business, leavin’ that one to Jesus, I guess), I also know that I was at high risk of enabling you – or, much worse, being sucked down with you. My propensity for self-destruction is a forever threat. My distant past is riddled with it, and ever since I became a mother I have worked terribly hard to remain as healthy a human being as my demons will allow. That means being cautious about those I get close to, and distancing myself from those that invite the “cray-cray.”

Still, I am so damn sorry your own demons ate you alive. Sorry for you, sorry for your family and my heart absolutely breaks for your son. And the news of your demise rattles me most deeply because I know if it weren’t for a small tweak of genetic wiring, and a few twists and turns of fate, your story and your end could very well have been my own.

I feel like I should be learning something from this, but as yet I’ve no idea what. I still think it’s a good idea for me to keep destructive peeps at arm’s length. But whatever the point is (assuming there’s a stinking point to all the pain in all the universe), I wish you peace. I hope you know peace now and that you’re properly prepared for your next adventure. For I believe in reincarnation, and I believe the name of that cyclical game is called “Don’t fuck it up next time.”

And you would have laughed at that.

Love Eternal,
Niki

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