Tag: Russia

Flashback Friday: A Veteran's Gratitude Check

Monday will be only the second Veteran’s Day in thirty-one years that I haven’t either been in uniform or married to a man in uniform. And it’s only over the past two years since dh (dear hubby!) retired from the Navy that I’ve been able to take a step back and appreciate what a gift it was to serve our great nation. From my first day of Plebe Summer on a hot July day in 1982 until our small, intimate retirement ceremony for Steve at The Army War College in Carlisle, PA (yes, my navy guy served his last year at an army post), it’s all been a gift.

It didn’t always feel like a gift, a blessing. As much as I always wanted to serve my country since at least high school if not earlier, following one’s dreams comes at a price. I didn’t have college summers to get a “real” job and play during off-hours. When dh and I married three days after my graduation (did we really do that, that young?) we had a month or so together until we faced months, possibly years of separation. Fortunately the navy was always good to us as far as co-location is concerned. Because of my active-duty training and deployment schedules, it was my experience that a lot of my emotional maturation took a back seat until I was in a more “regular” environment, the Naval Post Graduate School. Besides earning another degree courtesy of the navy, I was able to make life-long friends and take a hard look at my life–what did I want out of it?

For me the answer was clear: I wanted to have a family and write. I was lucky–I was able to keep serving our country as a navy spouse, since dh had found his calling (let’s just say he knew he wanted to Fly Navy since he was three years old) while having our babies and pursuing my writing career.

When the time was right I resigned my commission and became the “stability” factor for our family, most importantly, our children. Scary thought, right? Yet I had as much fun as they did. When Dad was off on deployment, meals became simpler as did our routine. It was the only way to maintain the energy level needed to raise two active kiddos while Dad was away. I was always grateful I was able to be home with the kids, writing in the wee hours of the morning or late at night after they were asleep. I lived one dream–having a family–while going after another–being a published author.

Again, it wasn’t always easy to be thankful. DH was deployed on 9-11, and I’ll never forget our first phone conversation and having to confirm that yes, he’d heard right, we’d lost friends. During the war dh was interviewed on CNN in-flight, and I learned to hold my breath and pray at the same time. Explaining war to young children–can anyone?

The best part of being a navy family was of course the wonderful places we lived, and the incredible people we’ve met. Our last tour in Moscow, Russia, we met many public officials and even celebrities. And yes, we really did meet the President of the United States. I blogged about it, have photos of it, and still people ask me if it really happened. Or maybe that’s my elementary-girl self asking if it really happened. What all of it has done has allowed my children to be informed, globally-oriented kids who will make a much larger impression in their world than I ever have. This was all made possible because dh continued to serve his country.

This Veterans Day I am so grateful for those who serve, who have served, and for the small contribution I’ve been able to make.

Leave a comment by November 11 and be entered to win a copy of Navy Orders or Navy Rules–your choice! I’ll pick one winner at random. (North America only. I’m sorry to my dear international friends but postage costs and different mailing systems make overseas mailings cost prohibitive).


Self-reflection in the Kremlin Palace
Every two to three years our family goes through a major transition. We move, whether it’s cross-country or across the globe. This year marks an even bigger transition–this may be our last big move in a long while. Our eldest graduated high school and is soon off to college. Our youngest will settle into the last years of her secondary education. I finally am face-to-face with the opportunity to write full-time with no distractions of Navy/diplomat-spouse duties.



I’m terrified.

Yet I’m very, very excited. There are all the practical aspects to be happy about. Finding and purchasing a new home (roots!). Getting active in my daughter’s last years at home as much as she’ll welcome (i.e. allow). Setting up my own office with it’s own door that I can close. Caller-ID so that I can only answer calls I need to when working. Starting over with the nutrition–bringing only healthy, clean, delicious food into the house. Leaving the dark M&M’s on the grocery shelf (we’ll see how long this lasts!).  Getting a new car.

The intangible side of this transition is overwhelming, yet still, I welcome it. Whether I look at it as fulfilling my artistic destiny or  dealing with can-I-swing-writing-only-or-do-I-supplement-income-with-second-job choices, it’s all good. Because I’m still on the path to discovery, still on the road to my dream of being a very successful full-time writer.

Transition is an opportunity to be kind to myself. To applaud the fact that I have an August 1st deadline (yeah, another contract!) and to NOT berate myself that it took 2 years between the 3rd and 4th contracts. I always lose by comparison–no matter what. It’s about my journey and my motives. My destiny.

Of course the big gratitude box must be checked. Grateful for my health, my family’s health, my husband’s ability to be our family’s rock (anchor, actually, but that’s too cliche when you’re a Navy family).

While I don’t wish the multitude of headaches associated with a move on anyone (e. g. the seller on the house we bid on just walked away from the short-sale 2 wks before closing), I do wish you the chance to take stock of your life and your soul’s desire. What is your heart’s desire? Are you taking little steps to get there? Even if you’re working 2 or 3 jobs to feed your babies, can you do something tiny towards your dream today? Just 2 minutes of prayer or meditation, or 20 minutes spent reading something that lifts you–can you find room for it?

Life’s not easy. Transition sucks. But they both bring untold joy if I keep an open mind and go with it.

Women Power!

Dr. Jill Biden and I, US Embassy, Moscow
Dr. Jill Biden and I, US Embassy, Moscow
We have a great example of what great smarts and a sincere heart can do for a person and in turn, for the rest of the world. Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden, is not only the Second Lady of the United States but also a teacher at Northern Virginia Community College. She holds a doctorate and is a fierce supporter of military families. She’s a military Mom and knows the sacrifices we all make on this unique path. I had the privilege of meeting her (and her husband!) yesterday and gave her a copy of SASHA’s DAD as a small token of my appreciation. It’s always great to be a writer, wonderful to be a published author, but even better when I can hand an extension of myself to someone as a gift. For whatever reason, but this was a great one!

The next time I get bummed about too long between contracts or the difficulty of pursuing a writing career while overseas, I’ll think “what would Dr. Biden do?” She’d get to work!

How Do You Beat the Winter Blahs?

I went to Scotland. Castles, mountains, wool, history galore. A writer’s heaven.

Where JK Rowling Wrote Harry Potter
Where JK Rowling Wrote Harry Potter
As a kid in Western New York I loved winter and faced total confusion as my grandparents complained about the cold and snow. As long as I could make a snow man, ice skate, or even better, go sledding/tobogganing, I was thrilled.

Edinburgh Sun Rise
Edinburgh Sun Rise
The years have blinked by and now I “get” what they meant. It’s tough to drive in ice and snow, and worse to walk in it, especially in Russia where the ice can be inches thick on the sidewalks. If it’s hard for me and I consider myself in okay shape, how hard it must be for the elderly who need to walk to get to the kiosk that sells their favorite (most affordable) fruit or bread.

Swan on Loch Ness
Swan on Loch Ness
My children get a week off at the end of February for Winter Break, and we used the off-season prices to afford a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. Friends and family in the States thought we were crazy–Scotland, in the winter? It’ll be cold, rainy, miserable! Nope. It was chilly the first few days, but a relative heat wave to us. And the last couple of days were downright balmy. In the 30’s at night, but 40’s, maybe even 50 during the day.

Edinburgh Castle--View from The Elephant House
Edinburgh Castle–View from The Elephant House
Enjoy the photos–if you’re still in the grips of Father Frost, wherever you are, I hope they give you hope for the coming Spring. By the way, it’s 9 degrees Fahrenheit as I write, -2 wind chill.

Do You See Any Literary Fairy Dust in the Air?
Do You See Any Literary Fairy Dust in the Air?

Yoga, Russian-Style: A Metaphor for Life?

Honest, I’m not going to bore you with my transcendental journey while sitting in lotus or laying in corpse pose yesterday at yoga. Probably because my journey was more of a muscular nature, as in my lower back cramped up so badly I thought for sure I’d be laid flat and told to “take it easy, rest, eat whatever you want for the Holidays and no more hard work outs.”IMG_0328 [1600x1200]

Yet the class continued. Somehow I got through each pose, at times sweating out the discomfort. My lower back has been my nemesis  ever since college, and of course being a runner for so many years didn’t help it. I’ve learned to balance my exercise–heavier on walking, lifting (resistance), stationery bike, etc, and I only run for fun occasions like a road race I want to do.

I know that to keep the back pain away I have to work out–hard, especially on my core. It’s just part of the I-want-to-be-healthy-and-strong gig. Still my lower back and I have our moments when I’ve been doing all the right things, and it still fusses and gives me grief. My inclination is to take an anti-inflammatory and rest. Yet if I work through it (carefully, not abusively) the spasms ease and I enjoy another long period with negligible pain.

Hmm…sounds like the same prescription for writing relevant, real, touching prose. If I ignore my craft and blow off my regular morning pages and daily writing, I start to feel like crap. And then when I do get back to the page, I’m writing, well, crap. It takes a lot longer to produce a great dialogue or to insert a much-needed metaphor.

Writing regularly, practicing anything that’s our vocation on a regular, consistent basis, is tough. At all the writer’s conferences and workshops I’ve attended or given, no one has ever stood up and said “this is so easy! I write whenever I want and I’m a successful New York Times bestselling author!” The most successful among us are either quiet and listening carefully to glean new insight into their craft, or they’re not there because they’re at work—writing.

The yoga instructor is Russian and when I first started her class I thought “great, Soviet gymnastics-turned-torture.” But while her style is different from what I’m used to, it’s not bad. Just different. She has us hang indefinitely in painful poses so that we get past the pain. So that my muscles finally trust. Relax. Take in more oxygen.

Hang in there. Don’t beat yourself up. Enjoy the peace and joy this season is meant to bring. Soak in the beauty of a brightly lit Christmas tree, sigh in delight as another Menorah candle is lit. Breathe. Relax. Let your true vocation come through.

Swimming in Jam

Do you ever feel like you’re swimming against the tide? Okay, maybe not against the tide but instead of flying in the current of life it’s tossing you around a bit, maybe leaving a few marks?
I’ve felt like this for a while now and I can’t put my finger on when it started. When we were evacuated from Moscow this summer, due to the smoke from the peat fires? When our stay in the States turned from 4 to 6 weeks and I was out of my routine for too long? When it hit me that life is constantly moving by whether or not I “hop on?”
It really doesn’t matter what caused this type of funk. And I feel guilty even saying it’s a funk. I enjoy life. I took myself and my laptop out into the city today to write this blog–I don’t know many people who can say they took their office out for a trip. Of course, they probably make a lot more money than I do, but that’s another blog (the I’m-not-defined-by-my-royalty-statement essay). It’s 55 degrees Fahrenheit in Moscow Russia on the 15th of November and I’m out here to enjoy it, for heaven’s sake.
Maybe when I was younger I wasn’t as aware of the fragility of life, the reality that we all get older if we’re blessed to live long enough. And getting older means saying good-bye to some youthful pursuits. Self-pity and self-centeredness top my favorite things to say “so long” to.
I must say I love the confidence and sense of knowing myself that maturation brings. It’s liberating and thrilling. The younger me would be horrified to know that indeed, my body can weigh the number of pounds it does–that my figure hasn’t stayed reed-thin and my clothes choices too often fall into the “comfortable writer” category. But the younger me had no clue as to the joys of raising children, dogs, novels, marriages (just one so far, Thank God).
The younger me didn’t notice she was swimming through jam. I was spinning my wheels too quickly to even note if I hit a speed bump.
Today I feel the speed bumps and heart palpitations. But I’m not afraid of any of it–it’s okay, it’s life, and I’m happy to be here.
And that means accepting when I’m treading in thick, syrupy jam. This too shall pass.

Proud to be a Veteran

When I resigned my commission fifteen years ago, I couldn’t wait to bid my active duty days adieu and head into the full-time Mom and writer sunset. I was proud of the nine years I’d served after graduating from the Naval Academy. My jobs in the Navy had been challenging and enjoyable, and at times felt so natural to me that I couldn’t imagine ever doing anything else.


The call to motherhood came and for me the personal choice was clear–in order to keep my marriage thriving and provide the stability level for our family that I was comfortable with, it would require me to leave the service. Maybe if my husband had been a civilian I would have chosen a different path, but he was and is still, active duty. Active duty Navy, which means months away on ships or in squadrons, all over the world.

So with heartfelt good-byes I left the US Navy to become…a Navy wife. The first year was an adjustment. No longer the active duty woman in uniform, I was relegated to the back of the line at medical, the pharmacy, and even in the commissary or exchange where doing rush hours active duty in uniform have front-of-line privileges. As they should, of course. I relished time with my toddler son and before long we were blessed with his sister. The kids gave me a sense of purpose I’d never had before.

The people who meet me now have remarked that they can’t imagine me as an active-duty officer. The people who knew me as Lieutenant Commander Krotow have a hard time believing I went from the service to stay-at-home wife and mom, and now romance novelist.

I don’t see the issue. Because to me I’ve continued to serve my country. As a vet I can say that I know my contributions mattered while in uniform, and they matter now. Even if I wasn’t married to the military, raising and guiding healthy children to contribute to the greatest nation on earth is not only just as viable but essential.  From a global perspective, I’m raising two kids to whom I hope I’ve imparted a sense of self-sacrifice and healthy esteem. I hope they understand and live the fact that the world doesn’t revolve around any one individual or country–we’re all connected.

Where I learned the “we’re all connected” the most was firstly in my own home with a mother who always invited strangers to our Thanksgiving table or sent a meal to the hermit who lived across the street. Secondly, I learned it during my Plebe year at the Naval Academy.

I’m part of a special, privileged, blessed team of people who’ve served their country and indeed the world for the sake of freedom and peace. What I did to deserve this I’ll never comprehend, but I’m so grateful today. Thank all of you who’ve served and support those who serve. To the countless souls who’ve lost their lives for all of our sakes, thank you.

Dog is God Spelled Backwards

Pets can be the anchor in a Navy family that moves not only from coast to coast in America but around the globe. My husband and I brought home our baby parrot when we’d been married two years, and for the next five years he was our practice infant. We spoiled him and moved him from Florida to California to Alabama to Washington State to Tennessee and back to Washington. He came to Italy and Belgium with us. When we found out we were moving to Russia for two years we were saddened to have to leave him behind, but grateful for the dear friends who are fostering him until our return. The twelve-week-old baby parrot is now 22 years old and loves to torture his foster family.

We adopted our first dog, Shadow, while in Memphis. I rescued her from the unkempt backyard of a lawyer in a very nice part of town. Animal abuse and neglect knows no socio-economic borders.

Shadow with Cookie Flour on her Nose
Shadow with Cookie Flour on her Nose
Shadow quickly became part of the family and joined us on our moving adventures. She came to Moscow with us at age 10, and I had some fears about her making the full two years here but she’d been so strong and healthy to date (save for the usual lab-mix issues of skin, allergies, and eating whatever she could find wherever she found it).

She stood guard at our apartment window when the President came to town and watched the First Lady’s motorcade go by.

Shadow gave the kids comfort when Daddy had to go far away for months on end, defending our freedom. The Christmas Eve that it was just the kids and I on Whidbey Island, WA, Shadow provided the comic relief needed by taking off with wrapping paper as I tried to valiantly to play Mom, Dad and Santa while the kids slept and my husband prepared his squadron for wartime a world away.

Shadow was the Gandhi of dogs. Little kids flocked to her as did adults who’d say “I’m not a dog person but Shadow’s different.”

So it was with great sorrow that the kids and I returned from our vacation/smoke evacuation this summer to find an emaciated dog that’d barely made it through the record-breaking heat and debilitating smoke. Our housekeeper took wonderful care of her, so I knew it was something more than just the rough summer. Within days we knew our beloved dog had cancer and there was no going back.

Making the decision to put a pet down is heart-wrenching. Shadow went to heaven in my arms, in our apartment (they come to the home for such events in Russia). I knew I’d never love a dog as I’d loved Shadow. The kids and my husband where equally distraught but each of us showed it in different ways. Our vet gently suggested there are so many dogs that need homes in Moscow, but I didn’t want to hear about that. Not yet.

As we grieved Shadow the house seemed so empty. The grieving brought us all together and we were able to laugh over the silly things she’d done. What I’ll remember most of all is Shadow’s strength. She could have let go while we were gone but she didn’t. She waited until we came back and could say good-bye to her properly.

Within a month I had that “feeling” that there was another dog waiting for us. Nothing tangible, but those of us who have adopted pets know the deal.

I wanted another lab-mix female. But when I showed up at a local shelter the puppy fitting this description all but ignored me. A male German Shepherd mix puppy kept leaping up on my lap and kissing my face. The mastermind behind Moscow Animals rescue, Barb Spiers, snapped a few photos. I held the boy puppy’s sisters, but they weren’t interested in me either.

I left the rescue apartment and as I walked the streets of Moscow I had an incredible feeling of peace settle over me. I figured it was just my husband’s telepathic relief that I wasn’t bringing a new puppy home on impulse.

Over the next few days the puppy wouldn’t let go of my thoughts.

“He’s going to be a regal dog, like Shadow. He’s the one for us.” I told my husband this and he quietly acquiesced to my need for a new pet in our home.

I’m a woman of a certain age with children preparing to leave the nest. It’s a sad, exhilarating, scary time.

IMG_1157 [1600x1200]Yet instead of getting a new sports car or plastic surgery, I got a puppy. And for today, it’s just what not only I need but our family needs. Instead of allowing a lump to grow in my throat each time I watch my eldest walk into the room, knowing he’ll be at college less than a year from now (if we both survive the application process), we toss the ball back and forth and play with Misha.

My daughter and I giggle over how the men of the family lavish oodles of praise and “touchy-feely” cuddles on the new dog.

I’m still grieving Shadow’s loss. I feel her, see her face around the corners of the apartment. But I can’t help feeling that somehow she brought us Misha.

For this last year that we have both of our chicks in the nest, an unlikely new family member is helping us to continue to bond and love each other through the inevitable changes. Misha, our native Russian dog.

A Birthday, A Book and a Mammogram

This month is a banner one for me. I hit a significant milestone albeit sad in many respects in that I have lived longer than my mother did. We lost her too soon, too young, to breast cancer. Because it’s my birthday month, I have my yearly mammogram scheduled. Have you scheduled yours yet? If you’re age 40 or over, go do it now! If your insurance won’t pay, or you don’t have health insurance, find a community outreach program in your area that provides free or reduced-cost mammograms. Because as women we are the rocks of our families and communities. And we need to manage our health–no one else can do this for us.

The third and great thing about this month, this year, is today! My third book, Sasha’s Dad is released by Harlequin Superromance. I have an excerpt and behind-the-scenes information for Sasha’s Dad on my website, and if you join me on my Facebook Author Page you’ll get more frequent updates on how the launch is going, where people have taken pictures of Sasha’s Dad, and what I’m doing in my local area to promote my third novel.

Brown Bag Lunch Presentation for SASHA's DAD
Brown Bag Lunch Presentation for SASHA’s DAD
Today I gave a workshop or in local parlance, a “brown bag lunch” presentation to interested American Embassy staff and personnel in Moscow, Russia. I came away so motivated to continue to pursue my art and get my characters and stories on the page. While copies of Sasha’s Dad haven’t arrived in my mailbox yet, I was able to hand out bookmarks and Russian chocolates to keep the group happy and alert. I promised signed copies of Sasha’s Dad and champagne/sparkling apple juice once the books arrive. My publisher graciously offered several complimentary copies for me to hand out here at the embassy.

Several readers have emailed to let me know they’ve already downloaded Sasha’s Dad onto their Kindle or other e-reader, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. My children thank you, too, especially the oldest who will be going to college next year.

Each book, each story is so special to me. It takes many people to bring the story to publication, from me the writer to my agent and then my editor; copy editors, the art department, marketing, distribution…I am grateful to each pair of hands that worked on Sasha’s Dad.

A last note–once again the “small world” theory is proved. A high school track alumnus of mine now works at the Harlequin Distribution Center in Western New York. He sent me some great photos of my book on the warehouse shelves. If you’re curious, find them here on my Facebook personal wall.

Enjoy your day and please enjoy Sasha’s Dad!!

A Yankee in Red Square

Last night a girl from Buffalo New York stood in Red Square, Moscow, Russia and watched the practice for the 2010 Victory Day Celebration. This year is a HUGE year for Russian World War II veterans (and indeed all WWII vets) as it’s the 65th Anniversary of the defeat of the Axis powers and the end of the war.

In Front of Victory Day Banner
In Front of Victory Day Banner
My husband came home and said we had a lucky opportunity to go view a practice of the Red Square ceremony last night, if we were willing to find our way around the shut-down streets and through the crowds lining the roads to see the practice. I couldn’t believe it and still am amazed that we got there and witnessed something that until now has only been a small blip on the news for me, with the famous shot of the Kremlin on Victory Day.

March-On in front of St Basil's
March-On in front of St Basil’s
I’ll save you the devastating history lesson on WWII in Russia–it’s one I study almost daily as I research story ideas. You can find summaries of dates, battles, lives lost and other historical facts readily enough. But you won’t find what I’ve had the privilege of witnessing on the faces of the many Russian WWII vets I’ve had the honor to meet during our posting in Moscow. Whenever one of the veterans holds my hand and tells me a bit of their particular story, I feel as though I’m talking to someone from my family. Any boundaries of country or nationality drop when the discussion of WWII comes up, for we are all human and utterly vulnerable when it comes to war.  In the Russian veteran faces I see strength, love of homeland, sorrow, and resilience. Just as with our own generation of WWII vets in the States, these vets saw and did deeds that the vast majority of us will only know snippets of from film and television. Thanks to their sacrifices you and I have lived to see this generation enjoy the greatest life has to offer.

In Front of Gym ("goom")
In Front of Gym (“goom”)
As I sat and watched the thousands of troops marching, I marveled when I saw the US contingent stride by, along with other Russian WWII allies. When I was doing air raid drills in 2nd grade against the outside hallways of my school I never could have imagined I’d not only see Red Square in person, I’d live in Russia as a military spouse. So many emotions flooded through me as I listened to the incredible orchestra play the most complicated pieces, yet all in unison across the expanse of the square.  The years I served during the Cold War. Our grandparents and parents who fought and/or lived through the war. The suffering of so many on all sides during WWII. The tireless diplomats who’ve worked to make sure this Yankee can indeed sit in Red Square in 2010. Then the recognition of Russia’s rich, at times incomprehensible history. All of the Tsars and Tsarinas. The peasants who provided merchants with food and cloth. The many centuries of people who’ve walked across Red Square, day or night, in all seasons, all states of being that a country endures–war, peace, uncertainty, victory.

Lights On Full View!
Lights On Full View!
I’m here because of my husband’s job but I am a writer and I see Moscow and Russia with my writer’s eyes and writer’s soul.  I am so grateful to be able to absorb what I’m learning about Russia and her people not just through the television or a book. I’m living it, with each trip on the Metro, each walk through a wonderful museum, each taste of a pemeni or borscht.  Last night I realized what a blessed Yankee I am.

View on the Walk Home
View on the Walk Home