Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas and a New Year

Merry Christmas!  I hope everyone's was wonderful. We had what felt like the quickest Christmas ever, but I enjoyed (almost) every minute of it!

Thursday afternoon, the husband got out of training for the break and I brought him home to have "our" Christmas. We opened our gifts, had a great ham dinner, played with the cats, and went to bed early!  The next morning, we drove the 8.5 hours to Vermont to spend Christmas with my family. Yay, White Christmas!!

Christmas Eve we spent at the United Church of Christ in Rutland. Reverend John Weatherhogg was the officiant of our wedding, and we've wanted to attend one of his services for a while. His wife, Rev. Tracy Weatherhogg was actually leading the service, but we saw him very briefly, which was wonderful! We went to the family service, so they had a nativity with little children from the church.   Christmas morning, we got up and hit Pico Mountain (Killington's little sister) for some skiing!  We had previously bought discount tickets, which seemed like a great decision, until we discovered that Pico had only about two trails open, and the one at the top of the mountain was lined with snow guns. While I enjoy skiing blind (ok, no, I don't), we decided to forgo that trail. But! With no crowds, we got in quite a few runs anyway.  We headed home for a turkey dinner and opened presents in the evening. 

Sadly, we had to get up early yesterday and zoom back so the hubs could return to training. Insane traffic in New Jersey turned it into a 10.5 hour drive, but we made it and are back to the grind.

In good news, I have some awesome New Year's plan (that will be another post). The hubs is getting me a new laptop for Christmas, so the house and job hunts will be in full swing soon, and I registered for a half marathon outside Detroit to ensure I keep up with my training!  (so yes, you'll get 2012 updates about that!)

Now, to slog through the last few days until New Year's!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Rollercoaster...

I've been MIA, I know. I've wrestled with what to write about, how much to let you in, what to do. But, I vowed from my first post to be brutally honest, so I guess I better stick with that.   (Sidebar, my computer is acting up... the display went out randomly, was gone for a week, and has come back in spurts, so hopefully I can get this out).

I've been struggling again lately. Anger. Loneliness. Resentment. Frustration. Despair.

One week after our wedding, my husband left for training. I figured it wouldn't be so hard. It's not deployment, right?  But I was sitting at home, alone, unemployed. Talking to the cats. (They don't talk back.)

People asked, "How's married life?" And with sarcasm, but with honesty, I'd reply, "I don't know."  I still don't. My life the last few months has been such a complicated, flooding, overwhelming, roller coaster of emotions.  I've been proud of my husband. I've been so despairingly desperate as I watched my funds dwindle and nearly disappear. I've been so alone, lucky to share my bed two nights a week, never more, sometimes less. I've carried on in a way all to familiar to me over the last few years, head of a household for 1.5. Cooking, cleaning, Ms. Fix-it, taking out the trash, tending to the car and repairs, doing the holiday decorating, trying to make a house a home welcome and warm enough that it still feels like his those rare times he's home.

I've stressed over money. I've cried when I realized I couldn't buy presents. I've come close to bottom several times, felt guilty, felt worthless, felt so very very alone.

And I've been blessed. I've been bestowed with miracles, with grace, with amazing things only God could bring about.

Through the generosity of strangers, one incredible @TammyLuvsColts and Colts TE Jacob Tamme, the SGT and I will get to go to Jacksonville for New Year's Eve. This, our seventh NYE together will be only the second we spend together. Colts vs. Jags will be his first NFL game ever. Through incredible generosity, with their thanks for him just doing his job. We are eternally grateful.

The day after I shared with you all how I couldn't afford Christmas gifts, my old boss contacted me. I am back part-time helping him with some administrative tasks as we continue the struggle to keep the organization afloat long enough to hopefully return. The bills are paid through our upcoming move. There are gifts under the tree, and gifts waiting to be taken to my family in Vermont. He brought me a miracle when I needed it most.

I'm scared about our move. Detroit? Detroit?! Crime, unemployment, etc. etc. The Chrysler commercials are great and all, but does anyone really want to move there?  I'm hunting and finding lots of good about the area, but it is absolutely scary to me. Out of the unemployment frying pan and into the fire!

I vented today. In our mere 11 hours together, I vented to my husband about how incredibly frustrated I was. About how, through no fault of his own, his deployments and subsequent training essentially train him to be self-absorbed, and expect me to revolve around him.  And how did he react?  He made laugh. He told me he understood, he was sorry because he couldn't imagine how hard it was on me.

So how is married life?  United. Growing. Getting stronger. A challenge. An adventure.

How is life in general? A challenge. An epic, exploding disaster. Scary. Wonderful. Awe-inspiring. Unbelievable.

How? Because people are good. Strangers can amaze you. And God is our glorious Father. And I will continue to trust him, no matter the struggle in front of me, no matter the struggle in my heart. I will trust that he loves me, that his plan is good.

And I'll keep sharing with you. Because I hope it helps. Because none of us are alone.

Monday, November 28, 2011

I Know This Much To Be True...

I love to bake. I don't like eating sweets (though I love sneaking bites of dough), but I love baking them. I love trying new recipes, though I tend to get irrationally upset when the recipe doesn't turn out properly.  I will gladly sit hunched over a table for several hours, until my back hurts and I can't stand up, decorating Christmas cookies into little works of art.

I adore the Christmas season, but adore it because of the true meaning. Christ's birth, a Savior born unto us, God's love. Black Friday and other things sicken me because they clearly demonstrate a loss of the real meaning. Let's be realistic, how many of those people are shopping purely for gifts as opposed to scoring an awesome TV for themselves?

I find it very hard to get in the Christmas spirit when it isn't snowing, or even cold. It's currently about 56* here in the DC area, and our high the last two days has hit 70. It seems strange to see my tree and lights with the windows wide open.

I truly prefer to give gifts than to receive. I haven't made a Christmas list in years because it seems silly and rude to me to make a list of my demands. My mom scolded me for being too eager last year, when in reality, I was jumping to get my gifts that I'd bought for the family. Today I realized that I can't even afford my own fixed expenses, and have no idea how on this earth I will afford gifts for others. This realization sent me as close to a breakdown as I can get these days.

I think "It's a Wonderful Life" is the most dreadfully boring movie ever. And it's not even remotely uplifting. I mean, when the movie ends, he's still f*cked, he's just somehow happy about it because he got a temporary respite from his troubles.

I didn't mean for this post to be so focused on Christmas.

When President Obama announced the swift removal of troops from Iraq, I was incredibly jealous because the only person I know with someone in Iraq suddenly had a year long deployment turn into a 5 month one, and they won't even miss Christmas.

I get random urges to move all my furniture. Occasionally, I feel a pang of disappointment because the current setup in my apartment really can't be improved upon, so I know I can't move my furniture for the sake of moving it any time soon.

I blame myself for everything that goes wrong. Especially right now.

I have no idea what I want to do with my life anymore, but if there is a profession I'm considering and certain other people start that profession, I immediately lose all interest in it.

I don't like ice cream much, but if I'm going to have it, it better include sprinkles or mini gummy bears.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

DIY - Wedding Programs

I keep working in reverse on this wedding...  admittedly, I designed the invitations and Save the Date cards in inDesign. So, while I can show you pictures in a later post, I can't exactly tell you how to make them.    So today, wedding programs!

They're probably the first impression your guests get (after the invitation of course). So they need to be cute! But you still have a decent amount of information to convey. I can't quite take credit for this one... I found it online and made adjustments.  I do not remember where I found it, or who to give credit to, but just want to be clear that I'm not taking full credit.

Also, I lived at Paper Source during wedding prep. If you're not lucky enough to live near one, you can order online.

Here are our wedding programs!

Of course, we were supposed to get married in Killington, VT..  and the Killington Grand had chairs for their outdoor ceremonies that are not rounded. So the initial plan was for the invitations to actually hang on each individual chair.  But don't worry, they looked almost as cute tucked into a basket. 

The backing for each was a note card in the Half-Moon and Enclosure card (4 3/4" x 6 7/8"). Here is the Paper Source page http://www.paper-source.com/cgi-bin/paper/item/Half-Moon-Pocket-Folder-Enclosure-Flat-Cards/2505.040/3432040070.html  I used Chocolate for everything, but you can see they have tons of colors. 

Here are the tools you'll need. The tap runner below was from Target, but there is a Thermoweb brand available at Paper Source or Michael's that I felt worked better.  The hole punch is from Paper Source and is specific to the size brad available from PS. The brad setter (the little silver thing) is also from PS. 

I hate brads. I really do. Buy more than you think you'll need. I completely ruined at least 25 over the course of 110 programs.

Using the hole punch, punch a hole in the upper center of each Enclosure Card.  I punched one as a guide and used that to ensure each hole was in the same spot.

Place a brad into each hole, wider side down. Lay this on a hard surface that you don't mind denting. I had a cutting mat on top of a table.  At this point, you should have an Enclosure card, with a small hole in the top center and a brad in the hole with the smaller end facing you. (This is the end sticking up on most of the brads above).

Set the brad setter into the small hole on top of the brad. (You will see a small knob on the end of the brad setter that is clearly meant to fit into the brad). Hold the setter firmly in place and hit it with a hammer. (Trust me, use a hammer. If you don't have one, go buy one!). It will take a couple to get the hang of it, but you should end up with a cute little bracket around the hole.

Cut approximately 10"-12" lengths of 1/4"-wide ribbon. Put ribbon through the bracket and use a candle, match or lighter to melt the ends. (this will keep them from fraying).  Tie into bow or knot.  Ta-da! Enclosure card on ribbon!

Now, the program part....

First, I apologize, so far, I haven't been able to upload the actual template. I will keep trying.

But the Belly Bands are very easy...  In Word, create a new page. Set the margins as small as they will go, then create a table with 3 columns and 5 rows. Ensure that each row is 1.25" tall. The columns should be 2.25", 4.75" and 4".  Make sure to set the border between rows so that it will print (you need a guide for cutting) and the border between columns so it doesn't print.

In the largest box, print the names and date to your liking. We did our names in large, bold font, with "The Wedding Ceremony Of" above our names and the date below. Center this within the cell.

In the 4" box, we printed a message to our guests, welcoming them and thanking them for joining us.  I printed the belly bands on regular 8.5 x 11 paper from Paper Source in the color Sunshine.  You should have 5 bands per page, and I simply cut them with scissors.

Belly Band:

The actual invitation was also done in Word. Set your margins to 0. It is probably again easiest to insert a table. This one can be 2 columns and only 1 row. Use the ruler guide to ensure your sizes are right. The first column I started at .1, and ended at 3.5. The second column ended at 7.4.  (Sounds like it wouldn't work, but it did once everything was folded).

Create text boxes within each column.  I created a text box in each that was half the height of the page, then copied each one into the lower half of the column. Put in your information as needed. You can see ours below.

You will need to print this on cardstock, or you will be able to see through when you look at the program part. You will have two programs per page.

In order to trim this properly, you should only need to trim one inch off the right side of the page, then cut it in half to separate the two.     (Yes, my best friend was a guillotine trimmer).

Fold each program in half so it opens like a small book. Use the tape runner to put tape on the back of the right side of the program, then center it in the lower portion of the Enclosure Card.

Fold the Belly Band around the program so that your main part (names and date) is centered. Fold the other ends over so the note overlaps the other end of the band on the back side of the program. Use a tiny amount of tape from the runner to secure the two ends.

At the ceremony, these will hang on each chair, and your guests can simply slide the belly band off in order to read the program.

I know this post is long. The programs took probably two full days, but otherwise they were remarkably easy.  

Here are the templates for both parts. Please know that the spacing will likely not work immediately upon download. For example, when I download with my Mac, the Program spaces the columns incorrectly. I can quick fix by dragging the center line back to the left. I apologize for this, but hopefully you'll still find the templates helpful.

Once downloaded, you will want to play with the font and spacing until this matches what you want. With careful spacing, I was able to get two programs per 8.5x11. The template does not reflect this.

Download Belly Band Template:

Monday, November 7, 2011

This Week's Lesson...

I believe God is always speaking to us. Constantly. It's just we aren't always listening. Or maybe it's just we can't always understand what He is saying.   I think one of my most common prayers is asking Him to help me understand, to open my heart so I can hear, to help me figure out His plan, what He's teaching me.

Sometimes I can't figure it out, no matter how hard I try. I'm left feeling lost, confused, alone. I never stop doubting that God has a plan for me, and that it is good, because He told me so. But I have no idea what that plan is, or where we're going on this seemingly roundabout way of getting there!!

Other times, it just smacks you in the face. For all the times I've begged, I think I've been spoken to directly only about 3 times. Other times, I just know in my heart that I've figured it out. Well, maybe not "it", but part of it.

So what are you telling me right now God? What are you teaching me? With all this uncertainty, a situation seemingly perfectly made to keep me from moving forward in my career while my former co-workers seem to be finding wonderful jobs where they are clearly moving forward? With this incredibly challenging start to my marriage? With our cancelled honeymoon and Facebook photos from everyone else's honeymoons?  Facebook, you evil, evil thing. Where all these new jobs, honeymoons booked where we were supposed to go, surprises and dates to start everyone else's marriages are jammed in our faces.

Any guess where I'm going?  Jealousy.

I'm convinced I'm being 'tortured' and tempted because I need to learn to be genuinely happy for other people. (I can't say about everything...  other people's stupidity will still get me ranting) But for too long I've taken genuine injustices, and rolled the anger toward everything else. I've allowed things to get under my skin and get angry about situations that I shouldn't. I've certainly dropped into the "why me?" mentality on certain occasions.

So this week's lesson (or this month's, this could take a while)...  which will also be a big step back toward the optimistic person I used to me...  is to be genuinely happy for others. Regardless of what I'm happy about. Some things are very easy to be happy about, and some are far more challenging. But I'm going to fight and strive against that jealousy monster.  So I'm happy for your job, your honeymoon, your date night. I truly hope you enjoy it. And I'm going to keep counting the blessings in my situation Because it's really not that bad. For any of us.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Paleo Sweet and Sour Chicken...

Ok, who else craves Chinese fairly regularly?? Who else went paleo, and doesn't miss bread at all, but misses those breaded dishes??   Me, me, me!  I've googled recipes galore for Sweet and Sour sauce, but couldn't find anything truly Paleo. Everyone wanted sugar or ketchup or something...    Now, bear in mind that I asked if soy sauce is Paleo (probably not, maybe only certain versions), but the quantity is very small and I think it could be left out.

I had a craving, so I decided to experiment. It turned out really well!  The husband will get to sample my experiment tomorrow, I'll try to get him to comment with his thoughts.   Here's what you'll need (feeds 2): 

1 can pineapple chunks (look for organic!)
3/4 Cup vinegar
1 chunk tomato   (I cut about 1/8 off the tomato that sits in my fridge and gets used slowly for salads)
1/8 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp honey
Arrowroot powder as needed  (probably 1/8 Cup)

2 breasts Chicken   (you can substitute the appropriate amount of shrimp or beef)
1/2 large Green Bell Pepper
1/4 Onion

Add juice from pineapple can (should yield 3/4 Cup), vinegar, soy sauce and honey to pot or sauce pan. Simmer until warmed through, add ginger and tomato chunk. Bring to a boil and cook just until sauce begins to thicken. Reduce heat and remove tomato chunk. (I think you could also used tomato paste, but I'd use a very small amount, maybe 1 Tbsp.)   Add arrowroot powder as needed until sauce attains desired consistency.

Cut chicken into very small pieces. I did sliced, bite-size pieces. Cut pepper and onion into similar bite-size chunks. Cook chicken in 1 tsp. coconut oil until cooked through. Once chicken is cooked, add onions, pineapple and green pepper. Cook until green pepper just begin to soften (I prefer firmer veggies in my sweet and sour chicken).

Pour sauce over chicken mixture. Stir together and simmer for a few minutes.   Enjoy!

(as always, if you make this and have suggestions, please feel free to comment. I'm experimenting after all!)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick Or Treat...

It's Halloween, so it's seems appropriate. Has the last 24 hours given me a trick or a treat?  So, as you know, I determined that our pending move doesn't allow me to seek the type of job I'd like. I'm just not enough of a jerk to go out, find a great, involved job, and then quit in 4 months.

I'd interviewed for a position that would have ben wonderful, challenging, and rewarding. But they independently mentioned that they would want someone who could be there at least a year, and even a term of 6 months would make them leery of hiring said person. A few days after the interview, I contacted them and told them the truth. The reward for my integrity?  I got the mass email saying "we found someone else".  Yeah, I had hoped I'd at least earn a personal response, but that's just not the way it goes.

So I contacted several staffing firms. I think it says something about this economy that one didn't even respond and one told me they had nothing. But, NRI Staffing answered. And helped. I say this because if you're in the DC area, hunting for a job, please don't let this experience turn you off. Please go work with them. I've worked with a few firms in this area, and they are by far the best.

They listened, they cared about what I wanted. Didn't balk when I stated what I wanted financially, etc. Great to work with. Except as it turns out, the position I got was terrible. The company has about 4 different systems to track their files (recipe for disaster!), and my job was to call people and ask for money. The other co-workers were nice. I can't fully explain it. But it was awful. I felt nauseous in the morning before I'd go in. As I was leaving, I felt dread about the next day.

But this isn't a rant. (Shocking, I know. I like my rants.)  This is about how we move forward. My husband came home for his weekend. And despite the stress he's under, he made a point of taking me out for a date. He rubbed my feet. And we talked seriously about things. And he gave me permission to quit. That he'd rather we keep struggling, but I be happy.    So I did.

I am blessed. I don't know what is going on, what is next, where it is we're moving (we find out in just over a week), what God's plan is for me, why exactly it is that - while the struggles are small - my life seems to be one struggle after another for the last long while. I don't know what lesson God is trying to teach me, but I think it might be about trusting him. About finding that optimism I used to have, because it was in him. About holding out my candle, as faint as I might think it is right now, not hanging my head and hogging its tiny glow.

So, I've got 4 goals for the next week or two. (We're going to go in small chunks).

1. Re-read Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning. Study it, focus on it.  If you haven't read it, you should.

2. Get back to running and working out. Stop making excuses. Clearly, I have all the time in the world again.

3. Search for positions that match me, but fulfill me. I know they exist. A quick search found a part-time (6 hrs/day) support position at a church. Not a ton of money, but more than unemployment.  There must be other positions like this out there. I'm going to keep looking for things like this until I find one.  You are paid in more than money by any job, and there is a way to work, and feel happy, even if it's still a struggle.

4. Be understanding of my husband's stresses, and not let our current situation get me down. It is NOT an easy one as a newlywed (Kim Kardashian can shove it, she has NO idea what real newlywed adversity is), but I am blessed to have someone who loves me, cares about me, supports me, and believes in me. I'm going to focus on that.

So, Trick or Treat, this quitting my temp gig after a week thing?  I'm inclined to think it was a treat. And I'm inclined to believe that I can turn it into a treat, no matter what it looks like.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

5 Months Later...

And now the rant...

I want to preface this by telling you that we are incredibly lucky. My husband spent two years at war in Afghanistan. Despite multiple nasty situations, including IEDs and a kill box, he came home with all his appendages, and nothing blatantly, apparently wrong with him.

If you've read previous posts, you know that he has TBI. Most would categorize it as mild. You know that he was not examined, given the "mandatory" 24-hour rest, nothing. He was kept out late to fix the truck, and sent back on patrol the next morning after only 4 hours sleep.

Maybe this is why I feel an uncontrollable twinge of hurt, anger, and frustration when the Army toots its horn about how they care for soldiers, or tells me about the wonderful ways the ensure that soldiers receive immediate, in-field care. Bullshit.   Or talk about programs they are implementing to take care of soldiers, or talk about new programs to check in with Reserve members after they redeploy. Bullshit.

Here we are 5 months later. The headaches have eased and are not nearly as frequent, but he still has ringing in his ears and problems with his memory. Given his current situation, this is problematic and stressful.   But I think my favorite part of it all is that now, 5 months later, the Reserves finally felt the urge to check in on him. They did a wellness survey over the phone. They seemed shocked that he was diagnosed with TBI (a couple months later once back CONUS), but hadn't been to the VA. And now they harass him. Literally, gave him a referral number on a Friday night, and called on Saturday to see if he'd made the appointment.

Sorry people. Over the summer, he could've maybe wiggled some time off work to go to the VA (not likely. He wasn't allowed ANY time off and we were 'lucky' to get the day before and the day after the wedding.) BUT, when he called the VA, the woman who answered the phone 1. didn't know what TBI was 2. was a rude, condescending bitch when he tried to get an appointment.   Yes, this kind of treatment usually results in a person giving up.

So what Reserves? Now that he's in serious training relating to his civilian job and cannot possibly see a doctor (sorry that he's not allowed even 5 minutes off during business hours), NOW you want to get him help. Where were you when he was in Afghanistan? When he was going through the demobilization process at Camp Shelby? Over the summer?

(This whole subject links me back to the Active wife who told me she had it so much harder because her husband couldn't take time off, and can't see a doctor because it'd go on his record, etc. etc. Sorry honey, you ain't the only one who faces these issues. And going into the civilian world doesn't make life easier, because often times, they could care less about your Army life.  But we've done that rant..)

There is an entire generation of men and women who will come home from war over the next few years. Who, due to the drawdowns, will come home for good, or hopefully home from anything substantial for good. And I believe that the military is woefully unprepared to deal with the multitude of health issues these young men and women will come home with. Especially the unseen issues. The TBI. The PTSD.  I'll give them credit. They're trying.  But don't tell families like mine all the wonderful things you're doing. You didn't do right by this family. I damn sure hope you figure out how to do right by all the others.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Less Than One Percent...

Last night, Operation We Are Here (https://www.facebook.com/OperationWeAreHere) shared something on Facebook I thought was pretty awesome. I don't know if this started with the family below, with someone else, with OWAH, or what. But THIS is a percentage I would like to see numbers of.

The "number collage" they shared last night:

I found it honest and powerful. I know I have a number of military readers who probably know this fact, but I'm not sure if you realize that less than 1 % of our population is currently serving in uniform. Less than 1 % carries the brunt of two wars. In fact, I have seen that the number is as low as .45%, which tells me that even with the families included, the sum total of those who serve is still probably less than 1 %.

We are less than a month away from Veteran's Day. And words like "Afghanistan" and "Iraq" are all too often only used by politicians or protesters. I'm not getting into the politics of budgets, withdrawing, etc. I want only to impress upon you the sacrifices made by all those who serve. The young men and women and their families. Agree with the wars or not, these families have sacrificed because they volunteered to defend us, to fight to us, and they were ordered to leave and go to war. I want you to understand and value their sacrifices. To put aside your politics and show your gratitude.

And if you are also part of the less than one percent, I would love to see you post your own number collage. It is interesting and it is enlightening.  And I thank you for your service and sacrifice.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pop Chips...

*I was not compensated for this post. I did receive some awesome freebies, and am writing this partially as a thank you*

So, back in the day when I was employed (ugh, it feels so long ago already), we had this little shop in the lobby of our building. It was really not bad, and actually a great way to accidentally spend way too much money each week.

I am not a sweet tooth, but I love salty snacks. I was regularly tempted by the bags of "Dirty" Kettle Chips, lost will power, craved the salty snack when work got stressful, you do the math. And at 220 calories a bag, I felt my bum slowly expanding to better fill my desk chair.  I'd noticed these funny looking chips on the other side called PopChips. But they were a good 30 cents more, and the bag looked smaller.  Long story short, I bought it one day... and almost every day after that!

I can't really tell you the details of the product. I know that they are all natural, gluten-free and "popped" instead of baked or fried. I know the little bag has 100 calories, and the big bag have 360. And I know that when I can't resist my cravings, I can cannonball the big bag, and feel WAY less guilty than when I would cannonball a bag of Cheddar and Sour Cream Baked Ruffles at over 1,000 calories per big bag!

I'm quite simply obsessed with the BBQ flavor. Seriously, the combo they made is perfect. Just a little kick, not sweet. The chip itself is light and crunchy at the same time. Amazing.   No lie, I've already convinced multiple people to try these, and got my local grocery store to start carrying them. Just because I love 'em.

So, shortly before the wedding, in the midst of all that drama, I joked that the "Crunch is Calling" truck is nothing, they need a truck that brings me PopChips. Then, I tweeted @popchips and said, I need a PopChips delivery, moving my wedding 3 hours away with 12 days before the event, and stress eating!

I did not actually expect a PopChips delivery.   But!  They responded and said they'd send me some!  It took a little while (have you seen them tweet? Their social media/marketing team must be crazy busy!)  but today, there came a knock on the door, and a nice girl my age was standing there with this:

I can not lie... you know all my stress. This girl just made my week!!!  So... you should go get some PopChips (I know Target or CVS have them!)  and I will do my best to not eat alllll these little bags in one sitting : )

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Paleo Chicken Soup...

My husband got hooked on this diet, or 'lifestyle', called Paleo (often called the caveman diet). I don't completely understand the how or the why of it, but I try my best to join him. In general, people have found numerous health benefits to a grain-free, gluten-free diet, similar to what our hunter/gatherer ancestors ate. I tend to cheat a little...  I don't exactly *like* sweet potatoes, so I eat white, even though sweet are healthier. Paleo people are mixed on dairy, but you can't take away my Cabot cheese or greek yogurts.  Most importantly, stop eating processed foods!  And yes, go organic, grass-fed, free-range whenever you can.

So, I decided I wanted soup, and wanted to experiment. I took stock of what was in my fridge and pantry and went from there.  The result is a somewhat-tortilla(less), somewhat-enchilada, somewhat chili  chicken soup!   (Yes, it's paleo, and there are a few still-paleo variations at the bottom that I have tried, but would taste great!)

Paleo Chicken Soup

(keep all spices handy, there are places where you'll add "a shake or two" beyond what's called for in this list)

1 pound chicken breasts                  Coconut Oil
2 1/2 tsp minced garlic                    1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp salt                                       1/4 tsp black pepper
1 (3/4 Cup) large onion                   1/4 Cup green pepper
2 Tbsp jalepeno                               1 tsp cumin
2 Cups chicken broth                       4 oz. tomato paste

Cut chicken breasts  into large pieces. Melt just enough coconut oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add 1 tsp minced garlic to the oil.  On medium low heat, add the chicken breasts, along with 1/2 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper.  Cook pieces through, but do not fry.   (note the color below is due primarily to the chili powder)

While the chicken is cooking, dice the green pepper, onion and jalepeno. (If you like spice, include the jalepeno seeds, otherwise, leave them out for a more mild soup). In a large pot, saute the pepper, onion and jalepeno in 1 Tbsp coconut oil along with 1/2 tsp minced garlic. Saute until the veggies are soft.

After the chicken is cooked, chop or shred it into small, bite-sized pieces or shreds. Add the chicken to the stock pot. At this point, add any additional spices. I used 1 tsp. cumin, a shake of taco seasoning, and an additional shake of chili powder, salt and black pepper. 

Add 2 Cups chicken broth, stir and heat through (do not boil).

At this point, you can take your soup a couple different directions...    this is the tortilla(less)/enchilada version.     Add 4 oz. tomato paste, 3/4 cup water, and 1/8 cup taco seasoning (or make your own using cumin, etc.)   Heat soup just until boiling.  Reduce heat and simmer for an hour.   Enjoy!

A few variations we can't wait to try:
 - instead of tomato paste, water and taco,  simply crumble in your desired amount of freshly cooked bacon. 
 - after adding tomato paste, water and taco seasoning, add diced zucchini and yellow squash.

(if you try this and come up with your own ideas, add them to the comments!)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I have, I am...

What a position I've found myself in.

Really, there are moments I have to stop, take stock of my situation, and just say, "WTF."

I've been married 3 weeks! I have a decent apartment with lots of hand-me-downs and a splatter of nice things. I have two cats that are mostly awesome and occasionally ridiculous. I have my health.

I have no job, thanks to the economy. I can't (and wouldn't) cite corporate greed. I worked for a non-profit. In this economy, we made it longer than we should have, and then, were forced to jettison all but essentially 2.5 employees.   I am running low on money.  I feel no shame in taking unemployment compensation. I've worked hard and paid into that program, and I will use it now while I work hard to find something else.

I have a husband who hasn't been home for 2 weeks of our marriage. I don't blame him at all, and I don't resent him. His 5 months of training results in a job for which I am immensely proud of him. And while the position finds me outside the military community, yet still disgustingly similar to the military life, I don't complain too much. I was frustrated to find the military community I encountered wasn't welcoming.

I have a husband who has TBI and PTSD. We are truly blessed in that neither is overwhelming. Months later, he still gets random headaches, random ringing in his ears, and yes, words seem to occasionally fall out of his head, difficult to recover, and just out of his grasp. But neither has slowed us down, or truly gotten in the way.

I have a husband who was finally, 6 months after his return from Afghanistan, and probably 10 months after the IED that caused his TBI, finally given a referral to the VA, told that someone cared and couldn't believe that he didn't see a doctor until he reached the US, and hasn't seen one since.  Well, thanks US Army Reserves. You didn't give a crap when it was important, you seem shocked by the position we're in now, and you're going to act like things are urgent now that there is quite literally no way for him to get to the VA doctor. Frustrating, yet so typical.

I am a martyr. This week, I will throw myself upon my own sword in the name of integrity. I will bow to a crappy situation, and take more crap, but I will not lie or swindle my way into temporary help at the expense of others. And this makes me indescribably sad. I feel no pride, but I know in my heart I am doing what is right.

I am probably depressed. Each of these things weighs on me. To fight, to alway believe you were meant for something more, and to then lose your job is crushing. I feel the pressure, the blame, the belief that somehow I am not good enough. To have your husband gone, yet again, right at the beginning of the marriage is frustrating. To have him gone for a reason you can't quite explain, that leaves you as an outsider, is isolating. To watch your finances slowly get worse, but know you are in a situation that leaves you unable to fight the way your ordinarily would is terrifying.

I am vindicated and I am hopeful.  I met this week with a new friend of my husband's (several actually) who empathized. Who welcomed me. And one, one held a military position that is truly impressive (and no, it had nothing to do with that bullcrap measurement we call 'rank'). And this one wasn't surprised to hear how the Reserves were treated, the lack of proper care they got. He wasn't surprised to hear our TBI story. And yet was genuinely angered. To a lesser extent than I, of course, but to an honest extent. And for the first time in a long time, no one looked down on me, no one judged me.  This weekend, in the course of 5 minutes, I showed my husband my strength, and curled in his arms crying, showed him my fears. This weekend, I was able to extend happiness to others. This weekend, I was spoiled and loved. This weekend, I was at once terrified, depressed, honest, truthful, hopeful, and strong.

I don't expect that this adventure will get easy or resolve itself any time soon. My life right now is a struggle. It takes a lot of faith and trust in God to get through. That and a lot of bubble baths and wine. But I will keep putting one foot in front of the other. I will cry when I need to. I will curl up on the floor and feel completely overwhelmed by it. I will get up and fight it. I am terrified, depressed, honest, truthful, hopeful, and strong.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Table Numbers...

So if you're like me, you attempt to DIY many parts of your wedding, but with the intent of saving money. I searched sites galore and found tons of projects that you just knew everyone had already done. And, I found tons of projects that didn't really save you any money!  So this project was 100% thought of on my own (I'm sure people have done something similar, but I didn't copy anyone else's idea...)

Here are two of our table numbers:

Grand total, it was probably $5-$6 per number...

The numbers were simple mailbox numbers from Home Depot (shown below in brass, but I actually bought the nickel finish).  I painted these with regular wall paint, which was also used on our escort card boards.

It took about two coats, and I let the brush strokes show to give it a more textured feel.

The background was made of a sheet of craft/scrapbook paper from Michael's. Each sheet cost maybe 20 cents, and I was able to cut 6  4x6" panels out of each one. Basically, I just cut out the panel in the size appropriate for my frame and used that as the background. The numbers were simply laid on top of this.

The frames I purchased were the cheapest I could find at Target, part of their ReStyle line. Thanks to Back to College time, they had packs of 4 frames for $4.99.  Don't tell, but the frames are actually neon pink and neon green!   This was the longest part, simply because of the need to cover everything (I would have to paint all but one side, let it dry, paint that side, let it dry, repeat).  Be sure to remove the glass and the back before you paint!

First, I painted over each one with the same standard wall paint from Home Depot (Glidden in a Walnut color). Once the pink and green was covered, I gave them a little texture.

Yeah, Martha Stewart's annoying, but she makes some great paints!  This little gem was at Home Depot for about $8, and is actually a Terra Cotta textured paint available in several colors. I added a layer of this on each frame to give them something a little extra.

See? Didn't even have to be perfect, but it still looked good!

Once everything's dry, put the glass back in the frame, put the numbers in, put in the art paper backing, and put the back in place (the right direction, I had to do a couple twice, oops!)...  and viola! wedding table numbers!   (Added bonus, the painting was actually very calming during all the planning!)  and now I still have some fun frames to put pictures in!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Times They Are A-Changin'...

If you've read previous posts, you know life is one grand adventure. And the adventures keep coming. The week prior to our wedding, the now-husband officially reached IRR status. After having him gone two of the last three years, I feel no guilt in expressing my joy that he shouldn't have to deploy again!

But no worries, God still has a great sense of humor. Because of course, one week to the day after our wedding, he had to leave for five months of training for his civilian job. The perk here is that I get to see him most weekends, I can place outgoing calls and texts to him rather than staring at my phone, willing it to ring, and best of all, no one is aiming a gun at him, or leaving lovely homemade explosives meant just for him! So, while I'm alone, miss him, and didn't have time for that whole "I'm married" thing to set in, we're blessed.

So here's what you have coming up...  

  • A run-down of the wedding: I did a whole lot of DIY for this wedding and I think it'd be nice to share! I'm going to share projects with the how-tos. I also plan to give my vendors some major love (so if by chance you're planning a wedding in Vermont, you should pay attention!)
  • Stories of woe from the job hunt:  Sorry guys, but these wouldn't be mis-adventures without a few potholes, right? And if I have to vent, I know you're here for me, right? No? Well, I'll pretend.
  • Cooking: I got some great kitchen gadgets from the wedding, and I love cooking/baking to relax. It's a bit more difficult since I don't have co-workers to pawn off my baked goods on, but I'll try.
  • Random stuff:  You never know what I'm going to talk about! So we'll see what happens...
If you want to hear other things, let me know!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Welcome to Married Life...

Just a quick update to let you know I survived! Wedding successful. What an adventure it was...

Two weeks prior to the wedding, we were still hearing the same story from Killington Resort... "We believe we could pull it off, we could make it work, but you have to take the chance that your guests will be able to get here." (Oh, and most of their golf course is destroyed, and Route 100 to get to many of the fun things is obliterated.)  That Monday, just under two weeks to go, we came to the conclusion that we had to make a decision. People were asking, I was going crazy. My Killington coordinator was trapped on the other side of the broken road...      It is far better to move a wedding, and then the roads get opened, than not move the wedding, and oops, day comes around and no roads are open. With the information we had, we decided to move it. 

Luckily, my parents are members of a Country Club in Massachusetts sometimes referred to as a "wedding factory". They know what they're doing, and let me tell you, they do it well! Plus, I could still have my outdoor ceremony. So we made the decision, started planning the menu, contacting vendors, etc. 

There was just the small matter of my wedding dress. It was with the seamstress in West Rutland, VT. We could get to our place in Killington. Then, the only thing between us was, well, a missing road...  So we journeyed the "Woodchip Parkway" (seriously, Google it), borrowed a car on the Rutland side, picked up the dress, and carried it back across to the Killington side.  Dress rescued, we focused on Massachusetts. 

I was incredibly blessed in that all my vendors will willing to make the move with me. They all felt so badly that they made my life beyond easy. If you're in the Vermont area planning a wedding, I HIGHLY recommend Just Weddings florists, Aaron Topfer DJ, and Jay Ericson photography. Our cake baker was coming from Mass anyway, and a younger colleague of my mom's recommended a friend for hair and makeup who did amazing work for half the price!!

I will give you the day in full detail soon, but for now, crisis survived, weddings CAN be moved with two weeks' notice, and well, I'm married!!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Killington On My Mind...

I'm not sure I even know what to say anymore. We've gone through so much, and seem to have been jinxed from the start. The boy had finally moved to the same city as me and then got deployed. Came home to propose on leave, and the ring was stuck in Chicago in a blizzard. I got it the day he left to go back to Afghanistan. He was ready to start training again and got injured. We've had an earthquake and a hurricane in one week. And the day we get his start date for training again, we get a call.

Have you seen the recent Irene coverage? Of course you have. Have you seen Killington? That aerial footage of the washed out road, where 3 lanes just fell away and now there's a 20-foot cliff instead? That's the road that leads into Killington. Into my wedding.

Killington, where I relax, where I worked two years in a ski shop, where I learned the magic of skiing on Tuesdays (the visitors are gone and the Beast of the East is mine, mine, mine), where I have a second home, and more importantly, a second family. Killington is essentially an island. Literally every road has been washed out, wiped away. They've been airlifting supplies in. 3 days later, they've managed to open one lane, in one direction, for one hour each day, so that those who are stranded can leave and those providing emergency care can enter.

We got the call today that due to the condition of roads, and all the destruction, events are the Killington Grand are canceled through September 17, no questions asked. My wedding is supposed to be the 18th. We were told that they could have the facility open. They could *probably* have staff and food. But, well, they have no idea. And they have absolutely no idea when the roads will be restored, in order to deliver the needed food, the staff, the vendors, the guests.

I'm working on plan B. And plan C. But really? Really, I'm tired. I'm tired of plan Bs and Cs and all the little things adding up, over and over, and over. I'm tired of being unemployed, panicking about every dime I spend and oops, they might all be wasted. I'm tired of being supportive, of dealing with everyone else's stress about their family that's coming, or their friends that are coming, or this that and the other thing.  And I'm tired because I don't know what happened to Vermont.  I can't even expend my energy in the only way that still seems desirable. I can't get up there to help. And oh yeah, I lost my job 3 weeks ago, so I don't even have the financial means to help.

So today, I can't lift anyone else up anymore. I can't smile and support you. I will again soon, I know it. But today, I'm gonna just lay where I fell for a little bit. You just let me lay here. Ok?  Go pick up Vermont. Because as much as this sucks, it's not about me. I don't really, truly have it that bad. So go check out the Town of Killington's website, and donate. Because they're resilient, but we could all use a hand to help us up.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I Am Here...

The ladies over at Her War, Her Voice did something wonderful this week. They decided to throw back the curtains, yank the covers off, pull open the door on the issue of military spouse suicide. I've talked about it here, and lamented on twitter just how little we, as a whole, talk about this issue. There are numbers each month on veteran suicides, reports, national media attention. There's not enough, but it's a start, it's an issue. There are no numbers on spouse suicides. No reports. No discussion.

I believe spouse suicide is an issue. Every rare now and then, it registers a blip that tells the spouse community that they are not alone. One such blip happened in April. An Army wife posted her suicide note on her blog. The spouse lived and was taken for treatment. The issue was discussed here in the At War blog, http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/25/war-wives-and-a-near-suicide/ . And after this blog, the issue seemed to vanish again.

After HWHV started their "Just Wait" campaign, I began thinking. Thinking about this issue as a whole. Why military spouses feel so alone so often. And I started thinking about my personal frustrations with the Army. In the simplest term, my conclusion was that we have brought the issue on ourselves by using anything we can to drive ourselves apart, instead of using everything we can to unite.

Part of this realization was born of my internal debate over which division causes my frustrations. Is it the Reserve vs. Active Duty division? The girlfriend/fiance vs. wife? The debate raged, and almost reached a conclusion until it finally dawned on me. NEITHER division should matter. When I find another spouse, it shouldn't matter the branch, the MOS, the number of deployments, the ring that is or isn't on my finger. None of it should matter.   But as a community, we give these things intense weight, whether we think we do or not. We drive each little adjective between us until we're standing across the room, arms crossed over our chests, glaring at each other, firmly thinking in our own mind that "I don't care if her husband and my fiance are both in Afghanistan, HE'S Air Force, at Kandahar, and they're married. MY fiance is Army, in Paktika and we're just engaged, SHE won't listen to ME."

And all of sudden, we are alone. Lost. With no one that we can reach out to in a time of need. Because they have judged our differences. Because I have judged our differences. Because, consciously or not, we have judged.    

I've experienced it, and I'm guilty of it. I want every wife, every fiance, every girlfriend, and every other parent, grandparent, sibling, anyone who loves a member of the military, to stand up with me and refuse to judge. Think only of what unites us, and where we can empathize.  Because, I may be just the fiancee of a Reservist, and you may be the wife of an Active Duty soldier, but in the last three years, my fiance has been deployed twice. And your husband is preparing for his first. And that doesn't make me better than you, or stronger, or anything. But I have experience that I can offer, if you can just set aside your prejudices against me for being just a fiancee, of just a Reservist.  I've felt the fear and the pain and the difficulties. And I can empathize. I can offer advice. Or I can just listen. I won't judge you Don't judge me.

That spouses are suffering shouldn't even be a question. Our lives are chaos, and often we don't know where to turn. We prepare for deployment with them. We worry while they are gone, manage the house, worry about the finances, learn to change a tire or fix a leaky sink. And we try to be the rock when they come home, shaken and changed by what they've seen and done, unsure how to relate to their wife again after a year with their fellow soldiers. We have challenges in finding jobs, moving. As Reservists/Guard members, we worry about our spouses job, because many won't keep them, or hire them to begin with, because of their military side. And often, even the military fails to help. The problems seem endless, and I know the burden of current deployment tempo builds these stresses over and over on spouses until it seems too much to bear.

I don't know if we'll ever get someone to count spouse suicides. I don't know if they'll ever report them, or include them. But I believe we can combat them. We, as significant others, can stand up and tell another significant other, "I am here. We are different, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that we are ultimately the same. And I am here for you."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Honor Them...

By now, you've heard the news out of Afghanistan. Unless you actually live under a rock, you know that a Chinook was brought down by the Taliban. That 30 Americans, 7 Afghan commandos and 1 interpreter lost their lives in the crash. And it is certain that you know 22 of the Americans were Navy SEALs, many members of the elite Team Six.

The day I found out, I didn't really have the words. I was angry, sad, sick. The largest single day loss of American lives in the entire Afghan campaign. In one incident. A very good friend of mine has a friend who could've been involved, so I was also worried and fearful. We've since learned that he is OK, but he and others we know lost very good friends in the crash.

There is nothing good about this situation. Good is simply a word that can never apply to anything about this loss. But what I am grateful for is that the magnitude means this cannot be ignored. Despite the competing news, the downgrade, the stupidity of children who pretend to work on Capitol Hill, despite all that, this is not ignored.  National news and local news alike have shown not just the initial story, but the men behind the story, and the families behind the men. Americans are having it thrust into their bubble of existence that men are giving their lives on our behalf. And that these men leave behind parents, grandparents, wives, siblings, children. That they were young, with hopes and dreams and lives ahead of them.

And yet, in these stories, I am also angry. Of course, we all know Team Six was responsible for the death of bin Laden. SEALs, and Team Six especially, have gained this almost mythical popularity and reverence. Which they deserve. But over and over the story reiterates how Team Six killed bin Laden. Though they believe none of the dead were on the mission, that accomplishment is almost always included. And I wonder. If this were simply 30 guys. 30 Marines. 30 soldiers. 30 members of the National Guard. Would it get this same attention? I hope.

Because every man and woman who willingly puts on a uniform and goes to a foreign land so you and I can live free is heroic. They will tell me not to call them heroes. Not to revere them. They are just doing their job. But in doing their job, they have done so much more than you and I. So much more than the average American. And we owe them. We owe them for leaving their families for months and months at a time. We owe them for all the risks they willingly take. We owe them for the injuries, seen and unseen. For TBI and PTSD. For the nights spent sleeping in the field, on the floor of a vehicle in the middle of the Afghan desert. We owe them because they are willing to, and all too frequently do, give their lives for us.

I want us to honor the 30 who lost their lives in the crash. To learn their names. Learn about the families they've left behind. Step up to take care of those families. But I want us to honor everyone else just like them. Like Marine Sgt Daniel Gurr, 21 years old, who gave his life on August 6 in Helmand province Afghanistan, killed by enemy fire while clearing a village. Daniel loved soccer, and his mother said he always wanted to give back (http://www.stripes.com/news/marine-corps/okinawa-based-marine-killed-in-afghanistan-1.151444). Like Army SSG James Christen, 29, and SGT Jacob Molina, 27, who were killed in Kunar province July 19 when their vehicle was hit by an IED. Both men were married (http://www.hawaiireporter.com/two-schofield-based-soldiers-die-in-afghanistan/123).    I want us to honor them as well. I want us to know about each and every hero. All the men and women who gave their lives in a foreign land. In a war. For us. We must honor them.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Keep Calm and Indulge in Mexican Food...

At the end of this week, I will be unemployed. Having done my best to keep my place of employment anonymous, and of course, knowing that anything I blog about is my opinion alone and in no way is the opinion of my employer, I'll just give it to you simply. It's a tough economy, and layoffs were needed.

I've left a job on my own, endured 7 months of unemployment, endured endless months of worrying about losing my job (at multiple companies), and all the other things that seem to simply be 'normal' when you come of age professionally in this type of economy. It seems like no position is safe, and the worries will always chase you. They never quite caught me though.  Until now.

I wish I was a newlywed, and not a soon-to-be-married. It's scary to think about bridesmaid gifts, makeup artists, and other expenses when my income is about to vanish before my eyes. It's hard to think about journeying back into the land of job hunting. That barren, harsh desert that I only found my way out of a year and a half ago. It's strange to carry a box of my stuff home from the office, and know that it is not at all by my choosing. To stare at my desk at home and think about how I need to organize it so it can become 'hunt central'. To think about the two-bedroom apartment that we were left with, didn't really need, and now can't afford.

But it's not all bad. It never is. I will have only a two-week gap in insurance before I am married and can be added to my husband's. I am only 47 days away from what should be the happiest day of my life (assuming I don't kick either mother first). I get to spend time at home with the cats. Right? We may not be married yet, but at least, this time, I have someone at home to support me, to help me financially, to maybe even give me the occasional footrub...    And hey, losing weight for the wedding will be NO problem now!

But I have the guilt. The guilt that he has to support me. The guilt and self-loathing that comes with unexpected unemployment, even if it's irrational because it's not your fault. That feeling of failure.

So, I embrace the guilt! Diet be damned! I'm enjoying the $10 birthday reward from Don Pablo's! Chips and salsa, tacos and margaritas can cure almost anything! And I remind myself that God has a plan, a bigger picture, and I have a good and prosperous place in that picture. After all, He told me I do! And these times of trial teach us to trust Him more.

So, come September, when they talk about August's unemployment rate and new unemployment claims, think of me. I'll be a statistic. But don't worry too much, I'll be a statistic who also has time for wedding planning, time to exercise and lost weight, has made a very clean house, and yes, is indulging in the occasional Mexican food.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Not Me Enough For You....

(guess I couldn't stay away. Still not certain that this serves any purpose, but here we go one more time...)

I've regularly harped on how frustrating it is to be the fiance of a Reserve soldier. How you face unique challenges, lack support in many areas where Active military receive it, and yet often feel shunned by Active families for whatever crazy reasons. Out in the random blog-o-sphere I heard someone describe it wonderfully. "When my soldier is activated, we're still not "Active Duty" enough for the Active Duty families."

It was like reading my own thoughts! But, extend them.  See, I'm not married, so I'm loyal enough for wives. I don't run the household yet, so I'm not worried about bills, etc. enough for wives. Of course, despite two year-long tours in three years, his deployment wasn't deployed enough for many. I'm not spouse enough for spouses, and we're not active enough for active duty. And yet, I also live in the civilian world, where I'm definitely not civilian enough for civilians. And yet in those discussions, with the non-wife, non-Active Duty thing, I'm not really military enough for civilians either.

And THAT pointed me to my real issue. I don't fit in a box. I don't want to fit in a box! I don't define myself by my spouseness. Or his soldierness. Or my civilianness. Or any of those little things that people do. I know a lot of people want to define themselves that way. "Proud Army Wife" or "Proud Wife of COL so-and-so" or "I'm a doctor" or whatever. It's like we say our name, and THEN we define ourselves. I realized, I'm not happy defining myself as "Proud Army Fiance" or as "Programs Coordinator" or even as "Queen of Everything". Those are parts of me. Yes, I'm incredibly proud of my soldier, and that is a big part of life, and even a part of me, but it doesn't MAKE me. It doesn't define me.

Maybe some people will get angry, because maybe they like to define themselves that way. Or maybe they'll tell me that I don't define myself this way because he's a Reservist, so he's a "part-time soldier" as I've heard. Or maybe they'll say I don't define myself this way because I'm not married yet, so somehow I don't understand the pain, or the household management, or the whatever. But I think I do it because definitions are ugly. They draw these little lines around and between us. They put chains around us and around others. Because if I am "Proud Army Fiance", and that's how I define myself, then how do you ever talk to me about all the other things I do? How do you relate to me on any other level? And if I am "Programs Coordinator", how do you understand that other layer, that constant change and shift in my personal life, depending on whether he's deployed, reintegrating, or has been home for two years?

These boxes make some people comfortable. Content. Safe.  But they make some of us afraid. Under attack even. And when you think about it, it's not that I'm not Active Duty enough. I'm just not Active Duty enough for you. And it's not that I'm not civilian enough. It's that I'm not civilian enough for you.

We've got to rip these boxes open. Maybe just one side at a time. You can have your three walls, sure. But leave one open! Take down just one side of that Active Duty wall, so a Reservist can waltz in. And look for the commonalities. The stresses you both face, that you both understand. The stresses that you don't understand. But empathize with them. Don't fight with them. The only thing our boxes have taught us is to fight over whose box is heavier, whose is more constricting, whose walls are harder. Status. Rank. Branch. Deployment status.    ...who cares?

Get out of your box! Don't define yourself. The less you define yourself on these mundane, arbitrary things, the less someone else can use them to define you. The less someone else can use them to intentionally or not, hurt you.  So no, I won't define myself as 'Proud Army Fiance', or 'Programs Coordinator', or 'Reserve', or whatever. I'll define myself as me. And if me isn't me enough for you, well, I don't care. It's me enough for me.

Friday, July 8, 2011


This might be goodbye guys. I just don't know what to write lately, and I don't know that anyone likes what they're reading. And if this is just for me, maybe I should just be journaling anyway.  So I'm not certain you'll hear from me again...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Finding The Words....

I wish I had the words for you. I wish I could write some amazing, life-changing post that you would just have to read, just have to share. But I can't. I'm not amazing or life-changing. I mean, let's face it, I am pretty awesome. Or at least I tell myself that on my better days. But, like I've said. I'm just a twenty-something, going through my misadventures. I'm pretty normal, pretty every day. And maybe that's why you read. Because you see a little bit of yourself in whatever it is you see of me.

I've seen so many other things today that got the wheels turning. The mental wheels. DC traffic is redic the last few days... the car wheels, well, they aren't turning much at all.

How deployments don't get easier as you go through each one. If anything, they get harder. And why, well, there are so many reasons. How being the bigger person isn't satisfying. No, it's not. Sometimes, it isn't even satisfying in the long run.

And, I wanted to pick a subject, put my spin on it, and make something amazing. Or at least have a good post for you, because they aren't great lately (if you ask me). But here's the thing: my life isn't great lately. Not in a "Oh, I'm so sad, life's terrible" type way. Just in a crazy, hectic, a million balls in the air, and a million places for me to exert my energy way.

Ok, a wedding. I'm getting married September 18. When I decided that, we had just under 4 months until the wedding date. We're currently 79 days away. Decisions involving the future mother-in-law are a straight battle. The entire way. I mean knock-down, drag-out fight type battles where I actually was informed that my opinion (as the bride, about my wedding) didn't matter.  (Here, I'm proud to tell you taht I gave up on being the bigger person, and while still stressful, it was WAY more satisfying. Don't worry, I did it with a modicum of tact.)   With my own mother, well, let's just say making decisions is not a strong area for the women in my family. Even a basic decision, easy for me, has to be questioned and debated from my mom. So after 3 hours, we're finally OK with a decision it took me five minutes to make. And in general, my fiance lacks an opinion, which I suppose is normal.  Yup, it's exhausting.

And oh, right, we're still going through reintegration. The stupid stuff that sets off his temper is somewhat unbelievable and definitely frustrating. And I've reached a point where it's harder to just smile and be the bigger person and deal with it. I mean, we are, but I've become more likely to just argue back, which is actually just as exhausting as dealing with it in a calm manner. It's irritating, but letting them come home isn't much easier than letting them leave.

There's other frustrations, but I'm not here to completely air my dirty laundry. Some days I don't know why I'm here, what I want to tell you, why I decided to blog, or why I keep blogging. I guess I'm just trying to find the right words. To find my words again. And to hopefully find one word out of ten that you can relate to. That will give you a reason to come back.  Because I know I'm not alone. Everyone has 8 million little things that pile up and make you scream.

So, I'm going to relax this weekend (or at least tell myself I will). I'm going to enjoy having my mom in town, work on wedding invitations, enjoy some wine, or maybe a homemade mojito, and I'm going to just enjoy my favorite holiday. And I'm going to think about you. Whether you're deployed, a fellow spouse, a fellow twenty-something, a mom with three youngsters, a brand-new mom, a fellow wedding-planning fiancee, I've got a list of you, I've got you in mind. And I'm hoping those 8 million things shove into the far, deep back of your mind for you and you enjoy your weekend too.

Monday, June 27, 2011

All You Need Is...

I think weddings should come with a warning. A small disclaimer at the bottom of the program that says "For your health, wedding planning is not reccommended." It is an exercise in highs and lows, tears and happiness, arguments with mothers, and well, we probably shouldn't even discuss the other arguments.

"Can we just elope?" has become my mantra. If only. Grand scheme of things, I know I will enjoy the day. Day of, I probably will stop worrying. Either that, or a few glasses of wine will ensure I stop worrying...  but right now, I just want to scream. Nothing has come easily, and honestly the very thought of having to work the room at my wedding exhausts me.

This weekend, we headed up to Vermont to have our tasting and get several other items accomplished. I'm not certain my coordinator knows what she's doing, though she really likes to tell me to not stress, with this adorable little tone as if she's my mother. She recently came from a different resort. And it's very frustrating after getting to work with the best wedding sales girl ever.  I mean really, when I ask you which beers are available for the keg, don't tell me I can have any beer I want.  So you're saying I could do a keg of Guinness? Or Sierra Nevada? Or....   I know you have a list somewhere!

Worst of the weekend was getting my dress. I was so, so excited! There it was, all white and pretty. I fluffed it out and stepped in. I'm thinking "This is it! This is the dress I'm getting married in, it's mine!"  And then, the zipper wouldn't go up. Apparantly, my rib cage is too big. I can't lie, I cried. I was so upset. As a female, I'd rather have my dress be two sizes too big and require extensive alterations than have it be too small!

The good news is, we went back the next day when the shop owner was there. By using two sets of hands, she was able to get me into the dress. As long as I don't need to take deep breaths, I could walk out the door with no alterations and it would work. As it turns out, I will only need a tiny bit let out to make it fit. But seriously, couldn't it have been too big??

The good news is, we're getting there. The minister we found is wonderful, the location is ideal. And we have a DJ. So if nothing else, there will be a bride, a groom, a minister, food, and music. And hey, all you need is love, right?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tell The World, I'm Coming Home...

I've chewed on this post for some time. Thought about writing it, put fingers to keyboard, wrote something else. Today, I saw a tweet from and Army wife that kicked me into action. Such a simple, basic tweet. "But I do miss the big homecoming celebrations."   That's it. A wife whose husband's brigade will come home in bits and pieces instead of all at once. So this time, I guess that means no giant homecoming celebration.

I've never gotten to welcome my soldier home with a big Army celebration.

Tour #1, he was brought home early due to a torn meniscus. If you can't walk, you can't patrol, you gotta go home. I know on that one, we were lucky. It got him home to safety about two months early, and was a fairly minor injury, with no lasting impact. But there wasn't any advance notice. I had actually planned a weekend to myself, traveling from Boston to DC for fun, and got a call that he was now at Brook Army Medical Center.

So tour #2, I can't lie, I was very excited for the big welcome home. I wanted to have my sign, wave my flag, run, jump in his arms. It would be great, awesome, and mentally helpful for both of us. To this day, I am furious over what happened instead.

The extent of FRG we received this time was an "unofficial" FRG lead by a sergeants's wife. (at least we had an FRG this time, right? eh, may as well have not had one...) My understanding is the sergeant was an idiot anyway, relieved of prior duties because he couldn't keep his guys in line. The wife clearly speaks English as a second language. They used to be Active Duty.Yes my dear friends, this would be the makings of a Cluster.    

Now, soldiers can list who they would like the FRG to contact. If you are not on this list, you cannot be contacted by them with any form of sensitive information (including dates, locations, etc.).  My fiance, his best friend in his unit, and from my understanding a good majority of the unit chose to NOT list their family members. Their reason was simple: FRGs are rumor mills, and command tells the soldiers important information, which they can then share with their family.           ....or not.

This unit was a fabulously amazing Cluster. The FRG had a facebook page, where they would leave cryptic messages, I suppose in the interest of adhering to their delusional definition of OPSEC. Our lovely 'leader' would post resources all the time. Most of which had to do with PCSing and other Active Duty-only topics. Nothing relevant or timely was ever posted (i.e. mental health resources, care package ideas, military family support groups, etc.)  But, we did randomly get to see pictures of the stupid crap they'd send to our soldiers, like pinatas. Oh, and I could see a picture of my soldier sitting in the corner at the deployment ceremony... surrounded by other lonely soldiers, texting me on his phone.  Yeah...  because up until the last second, they weren't even going to have a ceremony. By the time they did, I had no way to get to Arkansas on last-minute's notice.

But the coming home, oh, the coming home. Command never communicated a thing to the soldiers. Nothing. As is typical, the return date was changed about a million times. I slowly started getting notices from the fiance "We're in Kandahar, should leave tomorrow."  "We're still in Kandahar." "We're in Germany, we weren't supposed to be here, but the plane got stuck, should leave tomorrow."  "The plane's still stuck, we're still sitting here." I knew he was getting close, but as far as date, time, anything happening when they landed, none of us knew. He didn't know, I didn't know, and it was too late to add any of us to the FRG's list.

All of a sudden one day, the Facebook page tells us that families are gathering at Camp Shelby, because the soldiers will be there that night. I stayed up all night looking at their pictures, which of course were only of soldiers important to our 'leader'. I learned later that the wife of my fiance's best friend saw this post, jumped in the car and drove the 8 hours to get there. Being 17 hours away, I didn't have this option. I have heard just how painful it was for him to watch his buddy see his wife, while my fiance stood there alone.

But don't worry, it got worse. My fiance had not brought his phone. There was no point. His brand-new iPhone had arrived after leave, and he opted against having it shipped to Afghanistan. Not to mention, the FRG declared a mailing deadline two months before they actually came home...  So he borrowed his buddy's phone every now and then. I heard how they didn't know when they'd actually be done with de-mob. He thought Thursday, but some other unit was leaving Thursday, which took up time, so it would probably be Saturday.  Either way, he hadn't heard anything about a ceremony or homecoming. Just told that they'd all be done and the non-organic guys (about a third of the unit) would fly home from Arkansas. I had a Board meeting to plan that weekend, and told him I could get out of it. But since he hadn't heard a thing about a ceremony, he told me no worries.

Friday. Fucking Friday. I'm sitting at my desk, printing documents, all the things you do to coordinate a Board meeting. And of course, checking that Facebook page pretty regularly.  I see a post. "The busses are on there way. They're coming home!"  (yes, I distinctly remember the incorrect 'there'). Deep sigh of relief, along with some disappointment of course, but off to work. Approximately 4 hours later, I come back and notice there are about 20 comments.  I remember thinking, OK, it's all happy messages, but I should look.

"My son was stuck in the rain, locked out of the barracks!" "You mean only SOME of them are coming home!!!" "Have your happy reunion, my son is stuck without a flight home!!!"   WHAT?!?!?  I can tell you my heart dropped and my hands shook with anger. As I continued reading, I learned what happened.   The organic soldiers boarded buses and headed back to North Conway, Arkansas where all their families and a wonderful welcome home were waiting for them. At the time that they boarded the busses, approximately 11:00 a.m., the barracks were emptied of all soldiers. The non-organic soldiers, my fiance included, sat outside in the rain, and waited for the peons at Camp Shelby to book their flights. They sat, locked outside in the rain, and watched their fellow soldiers pull away on buses toward their families, all while they sat, not even knowing when they would get home.

It took hours to get in touch with anyone. I texted my fiance's friend, who had also been left behind. At this point they were separated. Again, I believe he was able to call his wife, have her drop everything, and drive 8 hours to get him. He was able to tell me which airport the soldiers had been taken to. We frantically searched flight schedules trying to find his flight home. Mind you, tornados were tearing through the Camp Shelby area on this particular day and working their way north. Finally, we were able to reach him! He was using his Kindle to get email, and then was able to borrow a stranger's cell phone. We found that he was NOT in fact booked on this direct flight, but instead routed through Atlanta (right where the storms were headed..). His brother worked for another airline, did a quick search and informed us that my fiance's second flight was already canceled due to the weather. So he'd be stranded in Atlanta instead of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Oh yeah, all while the organic soldiers were having dinner with their families post-welcome-home-ceremony.

In the end, my fiance paid out of pocket for the flight direct to his home. Of course, this took him home to his parents, so I still couldn't hug him, but at least he was home. He told me after that he had bought dinner for Privates from his unit, who of course couldn't afford their own. Before the FRG pulled down their entire Facebook page (as they now had 44 comments, 42 of which were full of anger), I learned that one family had resorted to a 12 hour drive, another soldier wouldn't be flying home until the next day and would be sleeping on the floor of the airport.

Now, you want to know why I roll my eyes when I hear about how much we care about our soldiers? Why it elicits a sarcastic "Ha!" when you tell me that we are focused on the mental health and resiliency of our military families? Why I am insanely proud of my soldier, yet insanely angry at the Reserves?  Because I was denied my celebration. Because he was treated like a second-class citizen by his own unit. Because in an organization that insists no man will be left behind, his General was sitting at home with his family while he was still stranded at an airport.

I was denied that celebration. That wonderful chance to see him and hug him and jump on him in tears of joy. I didn't get to wave my flag. To cheer. To run toward him as soon as I heard the "Di-" of "Dismissed". I cried. But out of frustration. I seethed with anger that this unit, who needed him, who pulled him with barely a whisper of dwell time, this unit essentially gave him a swift kick in the ass and a giant middle finger when they were done with him.

Before she pulled down the page, our wonderful FRG 'leader' attempted to blame our soldiers. She informed us that it is our soldier's responsibility to tell us about events like this. Maybe they wanted to surprise us. The anger that spewed forth included mine. My soldier never knew about the ceremony. My soldier had no phone or other means of telling me this wonderful information that HE DIDN'T KNOW. And regardless, how is it my soldier's responsibility to tell me about a ceremony he wasn't invited to? To tell me about sitting in the rain, locked out of his barracks? To tell me that he watched his unit abandon him and several of his fellow soldiers? To tell me about sitting in a tiny airport, waiting for a convoluted flight that wasn't booked until lunchtime that same day? To tell me about the pathetic, horrible, disgusting he received?

I want my welcome home. I want my closure. I want the anger and hurt we both suffered taken away. Army Strong indeed...

Update: I've been told I got a few facts wrong. In order to emphasize the rediculousness and confusion of the day, rather than fix it above, I will tell you the changes. My fiance's friend was not picked up by his wife. Rather, he rented a car and drove home. My fiance did not buy dinner for another soldier, but instead a drink. Additionally, there was free wi-fi in the airport, so he was actually able to check e-mail on his laptop instead of his Kindle, and we were finally able to reach him via Skype (which is not free when used computer-to-phone).

Update #2: While I have left the discrepancies in here to highlight the confusion of the day and week, I am aware that some could attempt to discredit the story based on this.   To those, I would offer this:  throw out every other fact, and focus on this single one. Did the unit or did the unit not leave behind the non-organic soldiers, and take only the organic soldiers to a homecoming ceremony?   Anything else aside, this unit deliberately chose, created a (terrible) plan, in a way that willfully denied certain soldiers the homecoming celebration they and their families desperately desired. Anything else aside, this unit gave these soldiers and their families a giant middle finger at the end of the deployment.

Monday, June 20, 2011

When You're With a Veteran...

When you're driving with a veteran, don't be offended that he points out every other vehicle, dumb driver, possible obstacle. When you're walking with a veteran, walk with purpose. When you're talking with a veteran, make a decision and move on. When you're with a veteran, take deep breaths, give yourself a pat on the back, have patience, go easy on yourself.

My fiance is a soldier. He serves with the Reserves. For this post, that makes the distinction that he came home from war to the complete civilian world. Not the military cocoon. I don't think either one is easy, and both present problems. But to understand my perspective, he returned home from war, had about 5 days in the states and was dumped off into the civilian world. Approximately two weeks later, he was forced to report to training for his civilian job, injured his ankle a day later, and is now living in civilian desk jockey limbo while he heals.

Take a guy who thrives on adrenaline anyway. Who just came back from the adrenaline of war. Yeah, as families, we worry, we think of the threats and we are scared. Many of these guys thrive off of it in a way that he's tried to understand, and I don't fully understand. I guess being shot at, hearing rockets overhead, being face to face with the IED that was supposed to kill you, it all makes you feel more alive than anything else. I've heard guys describe combat like a drug. Like the highest high you've ever experienced. And even when you're active duty, where are you supposed to find that high again?    Now, chain that guy to a desk. Give him a new uniform...   a suit and a tie. Plop him into a nice little routine where nothing will change, except for someone flipping out over the wrong email, the choice of dinner, or some other mundane, bullshit decision that they've decided to treat as life-or-death.       Welcome to just a chunk of reintegration.

Oh yeah, we've butted heads. We've had moments where I just want to walk away, storm off, maybe sit and cry. Times where he's wished he could just leave. No idea where he'd go. By nature, I am indecisive and a people-pleaser. I bend over backward to make the people around me happy, and often get treated like a doormat. What that means is that I will decide we're going to do something fun for the day. But then people don't seem excited, so I question my decision. Add to this a guy who wants and needs a plan. A decisive, firm plan. Yeah. He snaps at me. I take it personally. I shut down because I can't walk away and cry. He is angry that he can't fix it. He snaps again. Before you know it, we're both wandering on separate floors of the Newsuem instead of together, dropping $60 to ignore each other, and our "fun" day got ruined.  Luckily, we're both willing to talk it out. Usually at the end of the day. Usually we have to take a mulligan on the day. He apologizes, I sit silently. We talk. We figure out what caused both of our behaviors. And we promise to work on it.  Will tomorrow be perfect? No. Will it be better? Yes.

Driving with him is great. He's trained to observe his surroundings, to scan for threats and dangers. It's taken a while to realize he's trying to keep us both safe, not criticize my driving. But it's hard to not snap back "I see it. I know". I'm trying.

When you're with a veteran, patience is hard.  Even when you're past the first tour. When you understand that he won't just come home and be exactly the same and fit right into your routine like a peg in a hole. You're still not sure how it will go. Which things will be triggers this time. What he will need. And what you will need.   Sometimes I need him to be engaged when he can't. When he just needs to unwind from his day. From the stresses of putting up with civilian stupidity. 

When you're with a veteran, remember all the little things people did today that annoyed and angered you. Multiply that by at least 20. Give him time to decompress. When you're with a veteran, remember that difficulties with reintegration are normal. Watch him for things that are beyond the norm, but have patience with all of it.  When you're with a veteran, make decisions. Quickly. And stick to them. When you're with a veteran, be aware of his mood. If the triggers are getting to him. If he's getting overwhelmed with the things around him.

Mostly, when you're with a veteran, give yourself a break. He doesn't mean to snap at you. He doesn't mean to be a jerk. You're not doing everything wrong. You're strong, and you're shouldering a huge weight. When you're with a veteran, be patient and be strong. You're pretty amazing. When you're with a veteran, stand behind him, stand next to him, and move forward.