We started this year by accidentally missing our flight back to Sicily, celebrating New Years with my family, and running into Anthony Bourdain on the flight home. We hosted Kelsey Kindall and Christina Martin and our week was filled with snuggles, painting, and endless pasta and vino.
Brandon left Sicily in February, and Trenton James Andrew and I darted off to Rome where we had a personalized tour of the Vatican led by our chaplain from the Naples Det130 Unit.
We met Erin Choromanski and her husband, broke bread with some of the coolest Navy folks around, and saw The Pietà. It was so moving to see Mary’s strength as Jesus’ body lay limp in her arms.
The true highlight of the trip was turning the corner and seeing the Pantheon, thanks to Frank Vargas’ good advice. We celebrated with a few Aperol spritzes and carciofi alla giudea or artichokes “Jewish style.”
When we arrived home that Monday, I got a call from the hospital saying I tested positive for cervical cancer. I was to schedule a hysterectomy right away. I refused, sought a second opinion, had an evasive LEEP procedure instead, and John Ballou fed me and drove me home to rest for the weekend. In mid-March another biopsy showed that the sample had clean cells on both sides—the surgery removed all of the cancer and I was cleared for deployment.
In March dad’s health took a turn for the worst. He was in sepsis with a ruptured gallbladder as our flight left for France. Trenton and I held hands and wept quietly. When we landed, we marched to the Sacré-Cœur and lit a candle for him in the sanctuary overlooking Paris. He pulled through in an uphill battle and I vowed never to forget that time with the ones you love is far more important than any adventure.
In April we went to Amsterdam where we met with the Anne Frank House outreach director who took the time to show us the interworkings of 263 Prinsengracht Street.
That day I wore the dress that I had worn for four years as Miep Gies onstage at Open Stage Harrisburg. That night, Trenton and I laid in our dark AirBnB and listened to the Westortoren chime ten times as Anne, her family, the Van Daans, and Mr. Dussel did so many years before.
In May, my coworker friends essentially staged an intervention and forced me to go to Tropea. No laptops. No work. No nothing. I could bring a book if I wanted. “What will we do all day?” I asked. “We’ll sit on the beach, we’ll eat and drink and boat and laugh. You’ll like it.” And I did. My spirit broke in a whole new way. I ate breakfast, sipped prosecco, collected sea glass, and laughed until my sides hurt. This trip, this weekend, was life changing.
It was also in May that we had the bestest gift: Momma McMillen came to visit! I was only allowed to plan one activity every other day. So we went to the fish market in Catania where the clams spit water at my delighted mother; we dined in Trecastagni, walked the steps of Caltagirone, and attended a cooking class in a small town hiding along the mountains of Mount Etna. We hosted a baby shower for our beloved Rachael and collected seaglass along the beaches of Ortigia. It was a trip for the ages!
Most weekends in June and July I found myself with Heather Hataway, Sofia, Christy Rivers, Rachael Vargas, Denise Almazan, Dianna Lynn, Nicole Ballou and the crew along the beaches of Cassibile. Cassibile quickly became my most favorite place in Sicily—from my first time there to my last—for the cave exploration, cliff jumping, heart pounding moments to the inappropriate jokes, laughter, and camaraderie that united us. This is how I’ll always remember my time on the island.
July was also filled with goodbyes. To people who became my friends. To people who became my family. July was filled with dancing under the stars, singing Sinatra at the top of our lungs, showers of prosecco, so much sand and seaglass—July is the salty tears of goodbye gently washed away with the saltwater lapping Cassibile’s cliffs. July I won’t forget.
In August we flew to South Carolina, checked Trenton into his new school, settled him in with my parents for the upcoming school year, moved into an apartment in Portsmouth, Virginia, and started work at Navy Medicine East—all in 12 days.
My family threw me a surprise birthday party and I showed up nearly topless due to the ruse behind my attendance!
The same month I joined so many of my favorite public affairs officers in Leesburg for our big symposium. There’s nothing quite like being encouraged by many of my favorite mentors face-to-face!
In September and October I focused primarily on learning the ins and outs of my new job, attending family dinners with Lacey Bauer, Skike, and Mel, and visiting Trenton and watching his golf game improve.
I miraculously convinced my family to wear earth tones and to cooperate long enough to take a family photo. Brandon and I attended Farmer’s Fair and celebrated eight years of “whatever life brings” in our little hometown.
In November I helped out at a Navy week in Shreveport, Louisiana.
On my last day there, I signed up to attend a “Black Farmers Cooking Class” hosted by an acclaimed local chef. The description noted that we would have lunch at her restaurant, then sample five local businesses’ fare.
“How cool!” I thought. “A tour that honors black farmers of Louisiana!” Oh Tia. Oooooh Tia. I arrived early, knocked on the door of her restaurant, and was greeted by a very confused chef.
“Can I help you?”
“I’m here for the tour!” I answered chipperly.
“Oh. It’s. Oh goodness I think we opened it to the public. It’s okay. Come in.”
I walked in to a very confused tour group of…black farmers.
“Well don’t just stand there!” An elderly gentleman called. He grabbed me a plate from a teetering stack and began filling it with food. And that’s how I spent my last day in Louisiana, surrounded by hardworking farmers stuffing me full of hot water cornbread and to-go margaritas.
In November I also attended All Calls Made and Returned—kind of like our Supple Corps family reunion. I saw so many friends and colleagues and my heart ached to be part of the Supply Community again.
That weekend I joined another Supply Corps bestie, Erika Monique Schoenthal, and her husband for their wedding weekend in DC!
What a pleasure it was to meet their families and take part in an all-female sword arch.
What a weekend of love! The following week I closed on our new house in Virginia.
This December I took two weeks off of work to say goodbye to our Pennsylvania and South Carolina friends and family. As we get ready for the uncertainty and excitement that 2019 brings, I am thankful for the lessons and memories of 2018, and look forward to what the future holds.