Category Archives: Military Life

The Spirit of Arizona – Happy Veteran’s Day!

If you have read Welcome Company for a while, you may have picked up here or there that my husband is in the military; the Air Force to be exact. The Arizona Air National Guard to be exact – exact.

He is privileged and honored to serve with the 161st Air Refueling Wing. He has 28 years of dedicated service under his belt as a KC-135 pilot and now commander. He wouldn’t want me to tell you all of that, which is just one of the many reasons we love him and are so proud of him. He is very proud of the 161st though so if we keep the focus on them, it should be okay. It is Veteran’s Day after all.

But first, I just have to show you this picture from a few years back because I love it so much …

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Daddy & Nathan at the 2011 Veteran’s Day Parade

Did I mention, he is also a really great dad?

Okay, back to the 161st …

This past summer, my boy’s and I were privileged to attend a very special dedication. The dedication of “The Spirit of Arizona”. Sara was spending time with Grandma in Washington over Summer break so she missed it. I mean, it isn’t every day that you get to stand on the flight line so close to the runway!

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There the boys are with Mizz Courtie (as Nathan calls her – it’s really Courtney).

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Nathan luuuuvs his Mizz Courtie!

Mizz Courtie is the wife of Colonel Joe Wilson. Joe is the maintenance group commander who led the team responsible for getting the job done and making the “Spirit of Arizona” happen.

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The “Spirit of Arizona” is the designation of the 161st tanker that now proudly displays the Arizona State Flag on it’s tail. From what I understand, accomplishing this was no easy task and a great deal of effort was put into getting the final go-ahead for painting the tail.

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Countless “man”-hours went into the job. Many of the men and women who worked on the tail, did so on their own “off-duty” time. Not because they had to; they did it because they wanted to and because they have pride in what they do, in their state and in their unit.

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The Copperhead team is pretty special. The maintainers who worked on the Spirit of Arizona did and amazing job. But they didn’t stop with the tail.

They also did this …

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They painted my husband’s name on the bird he loves so much.

I’m sitting here months later writing about it and I am still tearing up. He didn’t know they were going to do it and he was a little overwhelmed and deeply humbled by the gesture.

And on the other side …

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Colonel Wilson’s name. His name up there on that aircraft is a big deal. Why?

Okay, now I’m going to need a tissue.

Colonel Wilson is not a flyer, he is a Maintenance Officer and one of the very best! Behind his name is the name of every single maintainer who keeps these ancient birds in the air. Men and women who’s dedication to their field not only gets the mission done but keeps air crew safe. His name, a maintainer’s name, up there on that plane is a shout out to each and every one of them!

We are always happy when we get a chance to go out and visit with our 161st family. This day in particular was very exciting!

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The only thing I can say about his picture is what my husband says just about every time a plane flies over – “planes are cool”.

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A daddy first. Always.

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Happy Veteran’s Day Copperheads! You are absolutely the best of the best!

And Happy Veteran’s Day to all who have answered the call.

We love you Sonny.

The Spirit of Arizona is but a symbol of the Spirit of the United States Military and all who serve. So, if you find yourself flying into Phoenix and you just happen to look out your window and see her sitting on the ramp, take a moment to reflect on what she represents.

Freedom isn’t free.

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Remembering

At 5:46 a.m., twelve years ago this morning, I was sleeping peacefully. I had the bed all to myself as my husband had already left for the National Guard base and a routine KC-135 refueling mission.

Just before 6 a.m., the phone rang.

It was my husband.

“Turn on the news. Then call Mark. I love you. I’ll call you when I can.”

Click. Nothing more.

I wasn’t bleary eyed, groggy or fuzzy from being abruptly awakened. I knew the tone. I felt the seriousness. Instantly, I was alert and focused. Something big had happened.

Something terrible.

I turned on the news.

I turned on the news and watched the world as I knew it change before my eyes as United Airlines Flight 175 tore into Tower Two of the World Trade Center in a horrific explosion of fire and black smoke. Tower One already burning next to it. 

6:03 a.m. 

Dear Lord, how many people were in those buildings? On those planes? 

Tears in my eyes, lump in my throat, I called Mark. Mark was the best man in our wedding and is one of my husband’s closest buddies. He is also a fellow tanker pilot and at the time, lived only a few miles from us.

He is also not a morning person. “What?!”

“Mark, turn on the news. Something is happening.”

I can’t share with you the first words out of his mouth when he turned on the TV but I promise you, I will never forget them. He knew what was happening. He knew it wasn’t an accident.

And then he simply said “Okay, I’m going in”. Calm. All Business.

Click. Nothing more.

And then, the wave of phone calls.

My husband had been an active duty KC-135 pilot for ten years when he left active duty in 2000  to finish out his service flying part time for the National Guard and work full time flying for American Airlines.

My phone was inundated by friends and family desperate for me to tell them that he was not on American Flight 11.

“Please tell me Gary was not on that plane.”

“I know you’re probably getting a lot of calls but please just tell me he’s okay.”

“Where is Gary? He’s not flying is he?”

Phone calls all morning and sporadically throughout the day. Those phone calls are what have stayed with me the most all these years. I am so thankful for that outpouring of love and concern but I have to be honest, that is not what still resonates. It is how I was able to answer that never leaves me.

“No, he wasn’t on that plane” – “Yes, he is okay” – “No, he wasn’t flying”.

The other wives, the husbands, the mothers, the fathers, the sisters, the brothers who were getting the same phone calls but could not give the same answers, they have stayed with me. I carry them with me because I can’t imagine having to answer as they did. For me, it was all okay. For them it was not and I will never forget. For them and for the loved ones they lost.

After 9-11-2001, I did not see my husband again for a week, other than that night when I met him at the guard shack to drop off an overnight bag and several dozen pizzas.

But I did see him again.

He spent the next week on high alert and when his unit got the call to launch and refuel fighters flying homeland defense, he and Mark piloted one of the first planes back in the air after everything had been grounded. He shared with me how surreal it was to be practically “alone” in the skies.

He flew with American again for only a short time before he was called back to full time National Guard duty where he has remained ever since, taking a military leave of absence from the airline. In the short amount of time he flew commercially after 9-11, his route was Dallas to Newark where for weeks he could see the smoldering remains of the twin towers on approach.

A constant and terrible reminder of all that was lost and how life had changed. How our country had been changed.

This morning, twelve years later, at my children’s school there was a Patriot’s Day ceremony around the flagpole in the inner courtyard. 

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The 6th grade students sang Lee Greenwoods “Proud to be an American” and several of their classmates shared beautiful sentiments they had written. One of the girls who read is a friend of Sara’s and as she spoke the words “I was born just after the events of 9-11”,  the realization struck me that every child at that ceremony today was born after 9-11. They have never lived in an America untouched by terror.  Those sixth graders are the first generation of a profoundly changed America. And they are a beautiful reminder of our resilience and strength; of what we have overcome. That life does go on.

The little girl who shared those words, her name is Hope.

There are so many things I reflect on and remember on this day each year.

I remember the pain and disbelief and being glued to the news.

I remember the sacrifice and the heroes. “Okay, I’m going in”. Firefighters. Police officers. Military. Ordinary citizens. Airline passengers. They stepped up, they went in.

And many didn’t come out. But others did because of them.

We came out of 9-11 because of them.

And we must never forget them.

The reminders are around us everyday. See them. Remember them.

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Heavenly Father, today we remember what was lost in our country. Thank you for this day. Thank you for the freedom we are so blessed to know. May we never take it for granted. Thank you for the men and women who continue to sacrifice that we might gather in remembrance around a flagpole in an elementary school courtyard; safe and without fear. Be with them. Protect them. Let us not forget that there are those who live in fear and terror and horror everyday. We pray for them and for peace. We lift up to you the families of all who did not come home twelve years ago as their pain becomes new again on this day. Comfort them as only you can. 

Let us never forget.

Amen.

 

Family Dinner Favorites: Barefoot Contessa’s Lemon Chicken

Family dinner favorite #4 comes from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. I love her. She’s my favorite! I also love this recipe so much that I made it for Christmas dinner two years ago when my husband deployed on Christmas Day and it was just the kids and I for dinner.

I was tired and not up for the big production that Christmas dinner usually is. I had baked dozens and dozens of cookies and multiple loaves of pumpkin bread for my husband to take with him on his trip. I wanted to send a little bit of Christmas from home to the injured troops he and his crew would be flying out of harms way and the medical staff that would accompany them. With all of that baking and preparation to get him ready to leave, I just needed something simple but delicious and a little bit special for dinner for the kids and I; it was still Christmas after all. This lemon chicken dish was perfect.

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So easy! And delicious. Thanks Ina!

I’ve made this dish many times since then and it still brings back memories of a simple Christmas nestled on the couch with the kids watching a movie. I love how food can do that. A reminder of the surprising contentment and peace I felt, even while knowing we were sending daddy off and would miss him terribly. Truly, we had nothing to feel sad or complain about as he was going to help the men and women who were injured fighting for us and were so far away from their own families. That was a special Christmas as it was such a great lesson for our kids to see that we are often called to willingly and graciously make sacrifices in order to do what is right; to help however and wherever we can, and to put the needs of others before our own. It is an honor to serve and military families serve too. I am thankful still for that Christmas Day.

The good news for you is that you don’t have to wait until Christmas to enjoy this wonderful dish. With a little bit of preparation, it is a great weeknight meal or a perfect Sunday dinner; just click the link below to find the recipe and get ready to chop some garlic.

Barefoot Contessa’s Lemon Chicken Breasts

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Lemon, thyme and garlic. What’s not to love?

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Nine, yes nine, cloves of garlic …

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which become part of an incredibly flavorful sauce when heated with olive oil, thyme and lemon.

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The recipe calls for bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts but I use boneless, skinless if I don’t have them. Just decrease the cooking time a bit.

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Be sure to finish the chicken under the broiler for a few minutes to give it nice color and crisp up the skin if you are using skin-on breasts.

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I serve it with Ina’s Easy Parmesan “Risotto” which is a must have side dish that I use all the time and will share with you tomorrow – so be sure and stop back by.

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I am usually a Cabernet kind of girl but I really love this with a nice buttery Chardonnay.

But then maybe that’s just because it’s part of the memory.

Enjoy! And as you do, maybe say a little prayer for the men and women who remain in harms way, answering the call so far from their own dinner tables and the ones they love.

The Traditions of Thanksgiving Day

It is 5 a.m., Thanksgiving morning (actually, it is currently Friday afternoon – you didn’t really think I had time to write on Thanksgiving morning did you? – but I am sharing a memory so please bear with me) the house is peaceful and the joyful madness in the kitchen is about to begin. But first, a cup of coffee and a little breakfast and a moment to enjoy the quiet and the still of the early morning.

A perfect pear and the stuffing will never miss that little crust of bread. Sighhh, I wish I could have truffle butter every morning.

My quiet moment is just that, a moment. There is a lot to be done. This year I will be feeding six adults and eight kids. Not the 25 I fed last year but I love the smaller more intimate gatherings just as much. The people who are coming to spend Thanksgiving with us are special. People I love being with and am looking forward to making a meal for. Friends who have become family. Friends that we have created tradition with. As so many military families do. We started having Thanksgiving together more than 10 years ago, before any of us had children. Now, as I plan the table settings, I realize, we are officially outnumbered. My how we have grown together and how thankful I am for them.

I’ve finished my breakfast and licked any remnants of truffle butter off of the butter knife so, I guess it is time to get started. First on the agenda, stuffing. My favorite. I prep and put together many of my side dishes the day before but I always save the stuffing for Thanksgiving morning. Just one more tradition on a day of many.

I love the smells that fill the kitchen as I make the stuffing, smells from my childhood. Sausage sputtering away in a hot pan and onions and celery sauteing in a sinful amount of butter. I remember waking up to those smells in the morning as a kid and I want my kids to remember it too.

It isn’t even baked yet and it is irresistible. Just a little nibble for quality control. Ahhh, be still my heart. If you’d like to try it, you can find the recipe here, Sausage and Herb Stuffing.

Next, prepping the turkey and starting the stock.

A simmer pot of stock is a must for making gravy and warming up the turkey after it has been sliced and arranged on a serving platter. I throw the turkey neck and giblets into a pot with water, the celery ends, a few small onions and a few sprigs of fresh herbs (sage, thyme and rosemary). When I am ready to use it, I strain it and keep the broth warm on the stove top.

The turkey, the star of the show. I am a briner. Not everyone is. I say whatever works for you but I love how moist and flavorful my turkey comes out after 24 hours of bathing in a salty brine. There are a lot of brining recipes out there. I just buy a package of brining mix from World Market or Williams Sonoma and brine my turkey in a large stock pot in my extra fridge. You can put your turkey in a bringing bag and then brine in an iced cooler if you don’t have the fridge space. Works like a charm.

She isn’t much to look at yet, but she will be … or he, I’m not really sure, I didn’t check.

You can make yourself crazy reading all of the different ways to cook a turkey. Here’s what works for me; brining for 24 hours followed by a good rinse and pat dry, then a rub down with 2 sticks of butter combined with chopped fresh rosemary, thyme and sage (I gently lift the skin and rub it directly on the breast meat as well) and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. I tuck the wings under and fill the cavity with a quartered lemon, a quartered onion, and a few sprigs of thyme, rosemary and sage. I put a cup of stock, a cup of white wine and two chopped onions in the bottom of the roasting pan, insert a probe thermometer into the meaty part of the thigh and roast at 325 degrees until the thermometer reads 165 degrees (approximately 3 hours for a 14-16 pound turkey). I do cover the breast with foil if it is getting too brown and I baste 3 or 4 times, or once an hour-ish, during the cooking process. When the turkey comes out of the oven, I tent it with foil and let it rest while my side dishes bake and I make gravy from the pan drippings.

Now for setting the table(s). I hate to iron. I love to iron my table linens. My only explanation is that ironing table linens is easy, even relaxing, and I find it enjoyable because it has to do with food and eating. And I love anything that has to do with food and eating.

Last year, we had so many people for dinner that we had to bring our giant picnic table in from the back yard; which actually worked out great. Benches hold a lot of bottoms!

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This year, with fewer people, I could get a little more creative and decided to go tan and white with my dishes and linens. I love white dishes but enjoy using a different color salad plate to add some interest. An added bonus is that you can have variety without taking up the storage space that having multiple sets of dishes would. I am always on the lookout for beautiful and interesting salad plates.

A tradition I started a long time ago is to put an ornament at everyone’s place. For me, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the Christmas season and I want my guests to leave with something for their tree and a remembrance of the day.

This year I found these adorable wooden woven hearts (at Target – where I find so, so many things) which came in white and a beachy whitewashed wood. Lovely.

Someday, my dream of having a 20 foot (or so) long dining room table will come true but for now, I serve all of the food buffet style, because there is just too much of it to put on the table. I do, however, put the salad and a bread basket and butter plate, cranberry sauce, cheese for the salad (this year it was a delicious applewood smoked bleu cheese) and a gravy boat at each end of the table (the gravy doesn’t go on until just before we eat – but I’m sure you already knew that).

For the kid’s table, I found an adorable paper table-cloth (at Target – are you sensing a theme here) with coloring activities, word searches, tic-tac-toe, etc. so the kids had something fun to do while getting settled for dinner.

My daughter is a leftie.

Each of the kids got an ornament too. This year, sweet fabric animals for the girls and colorful dinosaurs for the boys (Target).

The tables are ready.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is on – gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “parade rest”, doesn’t it?

David has donned the coat from his pirate costume and a straw hat and proclaimed himself a pilgrim.

Our guests have arrived and the kid’s table is a hit.

The turkey is done (I told you she’d be pretty) …

and carved.

The sides are out of the oven. You can find my recipes for Sausage and Herb Stuffing, Sweet Potatoes and Zesty Carrots here. And the recipe for Aunt Peggy’s Corn Casserole here. Enjoy!

It looks like the only thing left is to sit down together, say grace and enjoy the good food and great company the Lord has blessed us with.

I am thankful for …

My Lord and Savior who continues to work in me, pushing me further than I could ever go without Him. A kind and gentle husband who loves me. My children who are such a gift. Family. Friends who have become family. Health and healing. Treasured and beautiful traditions. The home that God has given us, which is so perfectly suited for welcoming company. The sweet faces that are gathered around our table; happy and healthy and loved.

Does anyone have room for dessert?

I’ll give you one guess where I found these adorable cupcakes. You got it, Target – you are paying attention! The beautifully frosted sugar cookies came from A.J.’s – a lovely specialty grocery store that we have here in Arizona.

And the pumpkin pies came from a wonderful little Pie Shop just down the street called Piefection. I can bake. I love to bake. I am not super woman. And, as Ina Garten (who I am also very thankful for) says, “no one has more fun if you make dessert yourself.”  Yes, I know that you can buy gargantuan pumpkin pies at Costco for about $5.00 and I have done that. These pies cost a little more than that and are worth it for two reasons. First, they are handmade with the best ingredients and are delicious and second, I will always support a gal who is brave enough to do what she loves and start her own pie shop. If you are in the area and want a fabulous piece of pie, here is where you can find one:

Piefection, 6731 E. Brown Rd., Suite #104, Mesa AZ, 480-218-PIES(7437), http://www.piefectionaz.com

Did someone say dessert? What timing. We’re just glad Uncle Mark made it and that Thanksgiving dinner re-heats well. The life of an airline pilot, you work a lot of holidays.

Another wonderful Thanksgiving and so much to be thankful for.

This year, I am also thankful for the people who inspired me to write and to start my own blog. I absolutely love writing it and am so thankful to those who have taken the time to read it, like and comment on my posts and support me. I appreciate you so much. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving in the company of those who mean the most to you.

Oh, I almost forgot, I am also thankful for truffle butter; very, very thankful.

Land of the Free Because of the Brave

Veteran’s Day is always a time of reflection in our home. We are a military family and the sacrifice for freedom is something we understand on a personal level.

My husband is an Air Force officer, commander and pilot. He has been “Air Force” since he first walked through the doors of the Air Force Academy 27 years ago in 1985. He has deployed countless times, flying the KC-135 Strato-Tanker in refueling missions all over the globe. He has always come home to me and that blessing is not lost on me. It is why every year, my heart is with those who have suffered such loss in sacrifice for our freedom and the freedom of those who can not fight for themselves.

My father-in-law, Gary Sr. is a decorated war hero who served three tours in Vietnam. He was gravely wounded and has spent his life overcoming the physical and emotional scars that his sacrifice left. But he is still with us. My kids have the privilege of knowing and loving their grandpa. That blessing is not lost on me either. It is why every year, my heart is with those who have come home broken in body, mind and spirit and why it is also with those who love them and are helping them fight their way “back”.

Today, though, my heart is also with Sonny, as it has been the last three years.

Sonny was my husband’s best friend in high school. He wasn’t a very big guy but he had huge personality and an even bigger heart. Larger than life. Sonny was a person so full of life that you couldn’t help but laugh whenever he was around. His real name was William but everyone called him “Sonny”, it was truly a fitting nickname. That is what I remember about Sonny – that and the Hawaiian Mess Dress shirt he wore under his uniform jacket at my wedding. That was so Sonny.

I also remember the day my husband told me he was gone.

We lost Sonny, CW5 Ret. William F. “Sonny” Hinchman, on July 17, 2009, in a helicopter crash just outside of Baghdad, Iraq. It was a Friday morning. He was 42.

Sonny had just retired the previous April after 25 years of service as a helicopter pilot flying Black Hawks, Cobras and Kiowas in the US Army. After retirement he returned to the Middle East to fly Kiowas for a private security company. It was a Kiowa he was flying that Friday morning.

Sonny by the “Little Bird” he loved so much.

Here is something else I want you to know about Sonny. All of the hours of flying gun ships, all of the dangerous missions, all of the years of service and I know without a doubt, one of the things he was most proud of was making a difference for the kids in war-torn Iraq. Sonny was part of a group of Kiowa helicopter pilots who started “Operation Soccer Ball”. These pilots took notice of the kids that would pick up rocks and hurl them at the helicopters whenever they flew over. Kids who were living through war, afraid, traumatized and angry. Kids very much in need of a little hope.

So, Sonny and a number of other pilots decided to start dropping soccer balls from their helicopters. Sonny told the story of one boy who was poised and ready to throw a rock at his chopper, a boy filled with hatred at all he thought that chopper stood for. When a soccer ball fell from the chopper, the boy dropped the rock, stood confused as he processed the moment and then grabbed the soccer ball and gave them the thumbs up and waved. It seems like such a small thing, a soccer ball, but that boy’s life was made better, perhaps even changed, for the brief moment Sonny was in it.

Thanks Sonny. Thanks for being someone my husband loved. Thanks for being someone I am proud to tell my kids about. Thanks for your heart and for your sacrifice.

We miss you.

Every day.

May God Bless America and the men and women who have fought and died in her defense. May He be with those who continue to answer her call and with their families who sacrifice so much.