Monday, March 31, 2014

No Kind of Superhero

"Mommy, Green Lantern used to be a soldier, like Daddy."
"And Green Lantern is a pilot, like Daddy."
"And Green Lantern goes to far away places to help people, like Daddy."
"So, Daddy can't be Superman, Mommy. Because he's Green Lantern!"
So went the conversation with my son on the way to school last Friday. I smiled as I listened to the three-year-old analytics that went into deciding precisely where in the great pantheon of superheroes my husband fit. Sound logic, kiddo, I thought as I mulled his explanation, which was far more detailed than I would have expected. Of course, he then proclaimed himself Superman. Howie alternates between Superman and the Flash.

It's actually one of his favorite games to play, assigning roles from books and movies to his real-life cast of characters, and he especially likes to pretend we are all superheroes. Most often, he tells me I'm Elastigirl, which is actually a pretty fitting description: a mom, stretched in many different directions, trying to figure out how to stretch just a little bit further.

Honestly, I think Elastigirl is one of the better metaphors out there for moms in general.



And more honestly, when we play Howie's game, I'm usually thinking, with a chuckle: I'm no kind of superhero, kiddo.

*********
A few weeks ago, I was named Army Spouse of the Year, which is HUGE and AMAZING and I got so many messages of congratulations and encouragement from all of you. It's really incredible, and I'm so excited. My work for military families has really helped my heart and kept me sane these many months with Jake away, and I'm so excited for the opportunities this coming year will bring me!

But the week after the Big Announcement, by contrast, I wrote a far less chipper post about another major milestone: 200 days of deployment. I have to tell you, the response I got to that post might have been even more overwhelming, and even more encouraging.

I realized, by talking to many of you, that sometimes we need reminding of what's true--no one has it all together all the time. Everyone struggles, even when we don't see it; even when it's not apparent on the surface; even when amazing things are happening; even when it looks like they've got it all figured out.
So it's OK that I'm no kind of superhero? 
Oh good, because honestly I had no idea how I was going to live up to the hype!


Most of the time lately I feel like I'm just getting by. I have had far more "sheer force of will" days than I would like. You know, the kind of days where everything is harder than it should be? And you just want to throw your hands up in frustration? Those days.

Last week I avoided my blog, partly because of the No Dumps Day Rule, and partly because it's just that time in a deployment. I've hit the wall. Again. We are nearing the end, but still have several weeks to go. That makes every day longer. We are almost back together, soon we will be; but frankly, soon seems really really far off. And suddenly Jake coming home is all anyone wants to talk about.

I am starting to (frequently) hear "Oh you must be so grateful he will be home soon!" While that's true, it's the last thing I want to hear.
Really that just reminds me of how long we've been apart!
He's not home yet; don't jinx it! 
Stop saying "soon" because my kid thinks "soon" means "tomorrow!"
These are the things I think to myself. Then I feel guilty for not being grateful and resolve to change my ways...until the next time the conversation pops up and, like a reflex, I'm wistful once again. It's a vicious cycle, the "I should be happy" cycle. Left to my own devices, I might just get stuck in it.


That's why we need each other: strength in numbers, right? Sometimes we need support, and sometimes we just need someone to tell us "snap out of it!" A stiff drink or a swift kick in the pants, eh? Justice League, Avengers, Incredibles--even superheroes have figured out that they're better in teams, just as much to push each other as to work together!

Or, better yet, communities. Because communities don't just pool strengths; they also bond and learn and grow through weaknesses. Communities recognize that strengths make you formidable, but struggles and trials make you relatable.

I've been very grateful for my community lately; it's been an incredible place for me to draw strength from. And I really hope sharing my struggles gives a little something back. I hope what it shows is that you can do some real good, even when you don't have it all together. Maybe especially then.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Thank you, thank you, thank you!



The dust has now settled on all of the "Military Spouse of the Year" voting and aftermath, and now we're all just waiting until May 8 to see who will be the ultimate winner.  

Of course, each of the six branch winners has really already won. We represent our branch and its families, which is a tremendous honor. For me, representing the Army, that means about three quarters of a million families! It's a huge honor and a huge responsibility. I know that my fellow branch winners feel the same way, and we are all hard at work in our respective spheres while we wait to hear which of us will win even more.

If you are reading this it means you didn't unfriend me amid the mayhem of voting, interviews, memes, and the like. So thank you for that! 

But there were many, many who went above and beyond for me during this whole process, and I want to take a moment to give those folks a shout-out. As I was putting this post together, I realized that every aspect of my life is represented in the people that were pulling for me: my branch, my profession, my city, my faith, my hometown, my friends and family. It was really, really amazing. And I tear up just a little thinking about it. 

Whew! Ok, so here goes:

Houston Gets Behind its Own: Houston really had me covered on the social media. Thank you so much to 002 Magazine and Miya Shay and Sonia Azad from Houston's ABC 13 for promoting my vote on Twitter! Thank you to my friends at the 20K Group and the League of Women Voters--Houston for supporting me over Twitter and Facebook. You guys are amazing!

So Does My Hometown: I'm from Odessa, Texas, which is a city that does pretty well at keeping up with its natives. The local ABC affiliate, KMID, did an interview about my Army Spouse of the Year award, and promoted the MSOY vote as part of the content. Thank you KMID! 

Also, a ton of friends and family from back home tapped their own networks to support me. Maybe it's true that "you can't go home," but I'm sure glad that home follows me on Facebook! :)

Leadership Houston Rocks the Vote: I love Leadership Houston, and I love how alumni come together to lift each other up! I actually lost count of how many friends from LH shared/tweeted/retweeted/otherwise pestered friends and family to vote for me. 

And trust me, the votes were amazing, but what has been even more amazing is the opportunity I've had to talk about military families issues with some of the most incredible leaders in this city! I'm hoping that dialogue is only the beginning.

So Does my Faith Family: I mentioned in a previous post that my church has really been behind me throughout my work for military families. This journey has been no exception. It has been truly touching to see how my faith family cares for my family, and for military families. But I have to tell you, I think we may all need a lesson in patience, because some of these folks are even more anxious for the final results than I am! 

And my Military Family:  Military Spouse JD Network has been a long-time source of support for me, and my MSJDN friends certainly came through on this one. Beginning with a beautiful blog post, followed by shares, tweets, more shares, and more tweets.  Jake's unit, Fort Riley, and the Army generally has been very supportive, not to mention the many friends that we have made across so many other duty stations. 

I can't tell you how much I would love to win this for all of them, the men and women working hard to blaze a trail and make the path easier for the spouses and families that are following behind us! Thank you all!

My People Are AWESOME: I think I need a better thesaurus because I am running out of synonyms for awesome. There were several people who have really gone above and beyond for me, and not just with the votes. Whether it's helping me spread my advocacy message, offering me support and encouragement as I work to make it through this deployment, or just blubbering with me so I won't be embarrassed that I'm blubbering alone, you've been there. 

For fear that I might miss someone, I'm not going to list you, but you know who you are. You lift me up, and you keep me sane. THANK YOU!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Army Spouse of the Year--Why Political Activism is my Platform

On February 20, I was driving from Houston to Austin for a series of Military Spouse JD Network events when my phone exploded in a cacophony of sounds like I'd never heard before. I have my phone set to make different sounds for texts, tweets, and emails, and all three noises were going off in rapid succession. 

I had to pull over to see what was going on. Then it hit me: it's noon. All the noise is probably about Army Spouse of the Year. The messages (nearly two hundred, at the end of the day) would either be lots of congratulations, or lots of messages to make me feel better about not being selected.

Turns out, it was the former. I was officially Army Spouse of the Year, and I was floored! I still am, really. It's a huge honor. To be selected from among my peers--themselves leaders--to represent my community in this way is truly incredible.

And now, I'm in the running for Military Spouse of the Year! Absolutely amazing!

My sweet friends at MSJDN, always optimistic, were planning for an Army Spouse of the Year win for me. Very soon after the announcement was made, a beautiful blog post and graphic (above) were up to congratulate me. Wow. Holy cow!  Of course, after the shock subsided, I had to get back on the road to Austin and focus my attention back on the events ahead of me. 

And I barely had time to finish those events before budget cuts were back in the news again. More work to do. It seems lately there is no shortage of work to do to educate our leaders in Washington about what military life is like, and what military families need.

One example of what this community can do when the Homefront Rises.
Graphic by Adrianna Domingos-Lupher
THAT is why I think political activism is so important, and why I want to focus on it during my time as Army Spouse of the Year. 

We in the military families community are facing new and growing difficulties, as our government tries to figure out how best to wind down what has been the longest period of wartime in U.S. history. The rhetoric is shifting away from servicemembers and their families, toward deficits and budgets. "We've spent too much! What can we cut?" they say.  And military personnel and their families are an easy target, made easier by the astonishingly low percentage of people in Washington with any connection to the military.

The problem, of course, is that you cannot divorce the statistics from the people underneath them, nor should you. But when the people making the decisions do not know anything about the people from whom they are taking, that makes the taking all the easier.

The unwinding of this country's longest war is being done by a leadership in Washington that is the least connected to the military it has ever been. That disconnect is a huge problem for military families.

Fortunately, military spouses are in the business of identifying problems, and offering solutions. For my part, I think that military spouses ARE the solution.

We serve right alongside our men and women in uniform. We live our lives "mission first," and we understand what it is to sacrifice to make our country stronger. America needs us among its leaders because we understand what service and sacrifice for this great nation really looks like.

And military families need us because we understand the unique challenges that military families face:
  • Issues Created by Frequent Relocation
  • Deployment Issues
  • Education Issues
  • Financial Difficulties
  • Career Challenges
  • Benefits Issues
  • Family Law Issues
  • Mental Health and Wellness Issues
  • Tricare Issues
Just to name a few. Of many. We understand these issues because we've lived them. But most of our leaders do not, because they have not. They do not know or understand unless WE tell them and explain.

Washington needs us, military spouses! And the more the Homefront Rises, the more military voices there are among our leadership the better off our community will be!  

But political activism doesn't have to mean running for office, or even working for an elected official. What it does mean is being a well-equipped advocate. What does that look like?

  • It means learning the basic tools to engage our leaders--whether it's the school board, city council, state government, or national government--on issues that we care about.  We are the best source of education available to our leaders.
  • It means being involved in our communities at the local, state, or national level, so that when problems arises, we already know who we can call on for help. We move a lot, so this one might be the hardest; it's worth the effort.
  • It means knowing how to find others working on the issues we care about; our voice grows through collaboration. And it means supporting one another through this work.
  • It means educating ourselves and voting for (maybe even working for) candidates with a record of supporting military families (on both sides of the aisle). Especially if they are military spouses or veterans.

We military families, more than perhaps any other group, have our entire lives dictated to us by our government. Being the best resource we can be for our families means having a baseline understanding of how government makes decisions, and how we can be involved in the process. 

The wars are ending, so we're told. And we are staring down the barrel of austerity like many of our families have never experienced before. We, military spouses, are the greatest resource that our community has for navigating the choppy waters ahead of us. 

And we need to be prepared. So who's with me?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Hitting the Wall

How Howie is counting down the days...
Today marks Day 200 of our deployment. Two. Hundred. 

That's 200 days since the last time we were all together in one place. 200 days since I held my husband's hand, 200 days since he hugged our sweet baby. 200 days.

The truth is, it has gone by quicker than I imagined that it would. But I guess that should come as no surprise to anyone who knows how busy the past few months have been for me.  Busy With Purpose has certainly been helping me stay sane.

But on the other hand, there have been heartbreaking moments along the way, and they seem to be increasing in frequency the further we get away from the last time we were together.

In some ways we are lucky. It's an odd thing to say about being a geobach family, but having a little person already used to technology as a primary communication tool with his father has been a huge blessing. I got by quite a bit longer than many of my friends before Howie really started missing his Daddy. 

But we are definitely there now. My sweet boy is counting down the days to his birthday, not because he's excited about his birthday, but because he knows his birthday means Daddy is coming home soon. More than once, we've asked him what he wants for his birthday, and all he ever says is "Daddy at my party." It's gut-wrenching to have to explain impossibility to a three-year-old.

One especially bad day last week, a friend reminded me that this is around the time when people usually hit the wall in deployments. That may be. But honestly, I feel like I've hit that wall over and over again. It feels like maybe I'm the ball in a racquetball game--sometimes flying, sometimes slamming into a hard surface at break-neck speeds.

Howie calling Daddy on the Arboretum Tree Phone
It's not that these 200 days have been all bad. In fact, some of them have been downright amazing! It's just that there's a piece missing; so the highs aren't as high as they could be, and the lows are way lower than they otherwise would be. It's been a lot to adjust to for me, and for Howie.

200 days. That means now we are on the downward slope, with more days behind us than in front. Some days that's a consolation, and some days it just makes me profoundly sad about how much has happened in those 200 days without Jake. 

Mostly, I'm just trying hard to focus on the now. Thinking too far ahead, getting really excited, just makes the days feel slower. I have a feeling, though, that being rational with myself is going to get a lot harder as the day gets closer when Jake will be home.  I can see school girl giddiness on the horizon already. So it's a really good thing I have so much to keep me busy, or I'd probably obsess over that horizon constantly.

At night before bed, Howie snuggles up with me and tells me that  when Jake comes home "I'm going to give Daddy all the kisses, Mommy!"  I squeeze him tight, kiss him on the head, and think to myself "Not if I get there first!"

Monday, February 10, 2014

When A Lawyer Fell for an Enlisted Guy

Jake and his unit rescued this puppy in Iraq.
So, on the one hand, can you blame me? I mean, look at the guy! And he saves puppies! But in all seriousness, since Valentine's Day is just around the corner, I wanted to take a moment and tell the unlikely tale of when a lawyer fell in love with an enlisted guy.

If you can believe it, this one actually does start out "Once upon a time in a far away land..."

I was traveling in the Philippines, working on a case for my longest-running client, the island Province of Marinduque. Yes, a Province in the Philippines is my oldest client. I've been working with the Province for eight years (since I was a baby lawyer!) on a case involving environmental damage done by mining practices on the island.

By 2007, I'd been traveling to the Philippines for a while, and I had built quite a few friendships there. Manila's is a transient culture, like so many international cities are now. New people join your group of friends for the week/month/whatever amount of time they are in country, then part ways, sometimes keeping in touch on Facebook, sometimes not. And that's where the story really starts.

It was a warm spring evening, and I was with four girlfriends having dinner at an outdoor tapas bar. We were in the center of the Greenbelt area of Makati City, which is almost always packed with people, especially in the evenings. Like the rest of Greenbelt, Cafe Havana was also packed. So no one was surprised when two strangers came and sat at our table. They were two guys, just looking for a place to grab dinner, recently in country. They were both nice. They were vague on the details of their work, although I had them pegged for some kind of military. One was a big flirt trying to grab every girl's attention, the other was quieter and content to take in the spectacle. 

I didn't really talk to either of them that night. I was happy spending time with friends I didn't see often. But they joined our little group for the week they were in Manila, and a few nights later the quiet guy started talking to me (the other one continued to flirt with everyone, eventually causing all manner of drama in that circle of girlfriends; but that's another story). The quiet guy and I quickly learned that we shared southern roots, Christian faith, similar upbringings, and a love of travel. 

We met in the tropics, so we married in the tropics.
So a couple of days later when we parted ways, it wasn't goodbye as it usually is with transient friends. It was the beginning of our lives as pen pals, a tradition we keep to this day. We started writing each other right away, and with every passing message we learned we had more and more in common. When I met him I knew he was special, but he won my heart with his words. Not with elegant, well-constructed phrases; Jake will be the first to tell you that writing is not his strong suit. But I could see his spirit on the page--strong but humble, confident and loving, a sense of humor but with a keen sense of the feelings of the people around him.

It wasn't until later that Jake confirmed he was military, and I learned he was enlisted. And Special Forces. I confess, I was only familiar with Green Berets because of the John Wayne movie before I met Jake. And I'd never imagined myself falling for any kind of soldier, let alone a guy who was "boots on the ground," constantly in harm's way! Ironically, Jake often says if he'd known I was a lawyer from the start things might have turned out a lot differently. Guess we both had our notions about who we were/weren't meant for. 

In a lot of ways, we couldn't be more opposite: I'm polished and he's rough around the edges (to say the least); he loves to rough it in the great outdoors, and I'd rather be catching the sights in a big city; the idea of a desk job makes him cringe, and I don't mind hours in front of the computer.

Pre-deployment family photos.
It's a lot of difference. But it's a lot of surface-level difference. I think the most important thing I learned from falling in love with an enlisted guy is to look past all the "what if," and "that's not really," and "but I had something else in mind" to the essential. At the very center, he is the best person I know. And there's no passing that up; you grab onto it, and you figure out the rest.

The reason is simple: you marry a person; the rest is just details. 

Fast-forward seven years and we are happily married with a beautiful three-year-old boy. Jake is now a Warrant Officer, having traded jumping out of helicopters for flying them. Right now, he's flying them in Afghanistan and we are counting the days until he gets home. Although "home" is a relative term for us, being a geobatch family. Maybe I should say instead he will be "safe and able to see us on the weekends." Either way, we can't wait!

Years later Jake and I still write each other letters. Honest-to-goodness, handwritten, add-a-postage-stamp letters. Sometimes when I'm really missing him, I will read back through old letters and smile at where life has taken us. 

I can imagine our kids doing the same years from now, and that makes me smile even more. I hope that reading our messages helps them remember when they're looking for their own "someone" to spend their lives with, that the most important thing is to find a heart that matches theirs.

Monday, February 3, 2014

We accomplish Great Things with the Help of Great Supporters

TOMORROW, the vote for Army Spouse of the Year will take place, and I am one of the three lucky finalists that gets to compete for the honor. That's really tremendous. I hope I win, because I know the incredible platform that the honor would provide me!

But the thing that's even more tremendous to me is looking at how I got started down this path. Four amazing women wrote in to nominate me for this honor, and each of them represents a different aspect of my life. Their words made me smile (and cry), and feel so incredibly blessed in the people around me in this world. So I wanted to take a minute and tell you a little bit about each of these women.

Catrina Fobian has been my best friend for over a decade. We went through law school together (when it was actually she who was living as one half of a geobachelor military family), and we've seen each other through many an up and down. We live almost 2,000 miles apart, but it usually doesn't feel that way because we're always in touch. Even our sons are best friends! They're babies (four and almost four) who only see each other maybe three times a year, and yet they are as close as brothers. Catrina is a walking example of what the word "bootstrap" means in the best sense--coming from nothing and making something of it. This is what Catrina wrote:

I would like to nominate my best friend and the most amazing military spouse on the face of the planet for military spouse of the year, Reda Hicks. Reda and her family have endured being a remote family the entire length of her marriage to CWO Hicks. Since meeting Jake, she has thrown herself into championing military spouse rights. Not only is she a busy attorney in a successful law practice in Houston, she is a mother of an active three year old boy, civic leader in her community and one of the steering oars for the Military Spouse JD Network. As a member of MSJDN she has done so much to better the position of military spouses with JDs including helping to ensure that a DC Circuit judge's nomination to the court was in fact confirmed. She is a tireless, tenacious, and proud military spouse. Anyone who knows Reda knows that none more than her deserve such an honor. I hope that you will take the time to get to know her and find out why I believe she is the best candidate for Military Spouse of the Year.
Josie Beets is the Yin to my Yang on MSJDN's Communications Team, and an all-around amazing human being. The story she told about our being stationed together and not knowing it is no joke, and it's one of my biggest regrets as well. Josie is exactly what "heart" looks like. She's incredibly strong--managing two kids, a job, and tons of volunteer work while her husband is deployed--but has tremendous compassion for the people around her. Josie is the reason that MSJDN will have an incredible new Justice for Military Families program later this year--she's willing it into existence. Josie is also my Deployment Buddy. We're helping each other stay sane while our husband's are in Afghanistan. This is what Josie wrote (HINT: Josie made me cry):

By any independent measure, there is no better candidate for 2014 Military Spouse of the Year than Reda Hicks. Reda is an Army wife, a partner at a law firm, active in her community, and a woman of faith. But more than that, she is my friend and my deployment buddy, as our husband's deployed at the same time last summer. 
Reda and I are both Army wives and attorneys. It's a strange experience, trying to be a military family while being a working professional; it's especially difficult for attorneys, who have to be licensed to work in each state they live in. Reda and I first met through an organization founded with the purpose of making that tension easier, the Military Spouse JD Network. When we met a short year and a half ago, we realized we'd both been at Fort Polk at the same time, and both with new babies. It is one of my most sincere regrets that we had not connected at this time, because I really could have used a friend! 
Since then Reda and I have made up for lost time, and I have have watched her become a fierce and passionate advocate for military families. Reda feels military stressors differently than most of us. She and her husband made the decision to live apart so that Reda could maintain her legal career. This difficult choice motivates her to help other military families so that they do not have to make the same difficult decisions and can be a military family and pursue the legal profession.  
More than the national-level advocacy she's done for military families, supporting other milspouse attorneys, publishing op-eds in her local paper, or organizing professional development events for her military spouse peers, what Reda has been for me is an always-on shoulder to cry on and partner in crime to laugh with. Day or night, Reda is the first person I reach out to when I am having trouble remembering why exactly we subject ourselves to this crazy military life. I don't know if it's her legal training or her experience as a mom of a precocious three (almost four!) year old, but she has the ability to calm me down when I'm angry and rile me up when I should be.  
And whether it's serving as a Board Member and Publications Editor of MSJDN or as a leader in her local church, volunteering at the food pantry or chairing a high-stakes legal meeting at her law firm, sitting down with political dignitaries or sharing Tex-Mex at her favorite family restaurant, Reda approaches all of her interactions with grace and grounded personality many of us strive for.  
The Military Spouse of the Year should be someone that shows us that through the most difficult of our circumstances, military spouses can succeed and support each other in the process. Reda Hicks exemplifies these qualities, and so many more, and should be our next Military Spouse of the Year.

Natalie Wilson: Natalie is another example of a strong woman making this military life work. She is a full-time associate at a firm in San Antonio with two small kids, and her military commitments.  And in her "spare" time, she writes for me and works on MSJDN's Texas initiatives with me. Natalie and I have never met in person; like many MSJDNers, we know each other through the internet. We'll finally meet for the first time at an event later this month, which is really exciting! She's such a collaborative, hard-working spirit and it's really a joy to have her on my teams. This is what Natalie wrote:
Reda Hicks worked tirelessly this year to support military and military spouses. She was instrumental in gathering support among military spouses and Senators for Patricia Millett's nomination to the DC Circuit Court of appeals, a historic appointment that was confirmed in December 2013. She has also been at the forefront of the #KeepYourPromise campaign to educate military, the public, and elected officials about the COLA pension cuts in the Balanced Budget Act and pushing for the cuts to be reversed. She has done this all while working full-time as a litigation partner in a Houston-based law firm, solo parenting a 3 year old child, with a husband who is deployed to Afghanistan. Reda represents the absolute best of what military spouses can accomplish when they put their minds to it. Reda inspires me every day to do better and be better.
Lindsay Taylor Munoz: Lindsay is my newest friend of the bunch, but we go together like PB&J. We are both feelers and advocates, which makes for a lot of passion and a lot of tears. And we both share a heart-felt belief in political activism as a way to make our communities better. Lindsay is not connected to military life in any way that I'm aware of (except through me; she's in the Leadership Houston class I'm mentoring), but when she learned about the work that I do she quickly became one of my biggest cheerleaders and co-conspirators. Lindsey gives me a lot of hope about how the civilian community can embrace military families, if only they know what we need and how to help. Here is what Lindsay wrote:

The strength & passion Reda shows when advocating on behalf of military families is infectious. You see it in HER eyes, you hear it in HER voice, and you feel it in YOUR heart. Reda spends more hours during the week tirelessly supporting military families than most people spend at their day jobs in the same time span. She sets herself apart from others by speaking beyond social media and online forums to take her message of military families and the inequities they face to the policy makers in Washington. And when partisan theater puts a barrier in front of her, in true military spouse fashion, she finds a way to break through it. Reda deserves this. She has earned it. 
Reading these words from such amazing ladies makes me feel like I've already won. But it also inspires me to want to do more, to really live up to these words. To me, that's what a platform like Army Spouse of the Year is all about--pushing the limits to improve our community. 

But title or no, the truth is that you only accomplish great things with the support of the people around you. 

So thanks very much to all of you who have lifted me up. I hope I make you proud!!

My Introduction to the Vonage Box

**Update: I have been told that you don't actually need a corded phone to use Vonage if you have a cordless phone with a base with a cord. 

Recently, Vonage offered me the opportunity to "test drive" and provide reviews for the Vonage Box as a way to keep in touch as a military family. Vonage is a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), meaning that it provides phone service over the internet.  This experience with the Vonage Box is really the first time that I've used VOIP, so the project sounded really interesting. Jake and I are always looking for new ways to keep in touch, so I figured, "Let's give it a try." 

I had a few little avoidable bumps getting started.  My Vonage Box arrived a few weeks ago, but it took a little while for me to set up because I did not have one of the key components: I haven't owned any kind of corded phone in...wow, I can't even remember. We kept a corded phone at the Kansas house in case of blizzards, and of course now it's occurring to me that we should also keep one in the house that is in prime hurricane territory too.  Well, now we've got a corded phone and it's attached to our Vonage Box.

Vonage also assigned a phone number to my account to go with my Vonage Box, and set the phone number to send voicemail messages to my email address. I quickly learned that someone had the number before I did. Within days my Inbox was filled with messages about debt collections and how my delinquent son Kendrick is skipping school. Again. 

Although I don't have a son named Kendrick, I have an adult friend by that name. We got a kick out of talking about what a trouble-maker he is, but the volume of spam call messages in my Inbox got old fast. My suggestion: register your new Vonage Box number on the National Do No Call registry as soon as you receive it. That won't catch all the spam calls, but it definitely cut them down. 

Setting up the Vonage Box was easy! It connected right to my existing wireless router, and I had a dial tone within minutes. Being able to connect to my existing router was actually a big deal. I'd been hesitant in years past to try VOIP because some of the reviews of VOIP-inclusive routers are not particular good. With the Vonage Box, it's the same router I really like, an the Vonage Box is simply another output device.

I have not had a chance to call Jake in Afghanistan, but I have made a couple of calls across the U.S. The call quality has been good so far, and using the phone/internet at the same time doesn't seem to slow down the internet at all.  In the coming weeks I'll try some more nationwide calls, and some international calls, and I'll be providing feedback on how the product works. Check back often! There might even be some surprises for me readers along the way!

For more information about the Vonage Box click here: http://www.vonage.com/world-calling-plans/vonage-world?cmp=DIS-2013-MILBLOG-INTLSHIP-13