Friday, September 28, 2012

Sailing Away......

Remember those posts from before when I said some kick ass awesome is coming our way? Well let me tell you about a piece of that. (There's still sooooo much more coming, it's so exciting. Everyone wonders why I smile so much?! When you are this blessed, you can't help but let it show.) This piece of awesome leads us to a brand new adventure that we are all four extremely excited about and it begins today in just a few hours!!!

I am not sure how many of you remember me talking about the lack of family outings we have here. The vast majority of the trips and opportunities at the hospital are for wounded warrior plus one. So those of us with cuties are left out of many things. I always laugh and remind people that IEDs don't discriminate, they just go after everyone. Unfortunately some of our wounded come with families, sorry that doesn't work for everyone's plans. (Oh the joys of this journey.) Some of the non-profits are truly trying to step up and help the families do some really fun things and are working on helping the whole family heal from this traumatic effects of war.

A few months back, the awesome Pauline from Operation Second Chance (OSC) contacted me. She told me that their non-profit wanted to start sending families on all expense paid cruises. She asked if we'd be interested in going. Of course you know it all depended on dates with our crew. Well it all worked out and in a few hours Chaz, our cuties and I are boarding our first cruise ship with Royal Caribbean and we're heading to Bermuda, thanks to OSC!!!!WOOT-WOOT!!!!!

We will be off the grid. We are turning off cell phones and we're going to enjoy every moment of sailing away!! For 6 days, it will simply be the four of us having a ton of family fun and getting our first stamps in our passports together. Eeeekkkk!!!! (Can you tell I am super excited?!)

We are so thankful OSC blessed us with this opportunity. This organization is operated by the super sweet and incredible Cindy McGrew and her amazing helpers, like Pauline, who I mentioned earlier. Pauline, like me, has her hands full. She is also caring for a family with a wounded warrior as her partner. So she and I have a lot in common.

What is the OSC mission? Super simple, bless our wounded warrior families with as many smiles as possible. Cindy and her crew are always running errands to help our families. I have been a big fan of OSC for a long time now. Cindy entered our life when she brought us tickets to the circus for our family back in March 2011. Then she and Chaz planned together and Cindy showed up one day with NKOTB tickets for me and a friend.

Cindy, Pauline and I are on the same brainwave. We see that the wounded warrior families need as many smiles as possible. So we go out and see what we can do to make that happen. I have partnered with these ladies several times for luncheons, baskets and other events. Now that I am with the Yellow Ribbon Fund I want to foster that relationship and work together so we can bless as many families as possible. The journey to the new normal is made better thanks to people like Cindy and Pauline. I am so thankful to have them on this path with us.

We still can't believe we have been blessed with this incredible opportunity. We are so incredibly thankful. Do you want to learn more about OSC? Please follow this link and learn more today.

Cindy and Pauline, thank you so much for blessing us with this opportunity. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. I promise to take a gazillion pictures!!

We'll see you next week!!! I have to go finish packing!!!!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Covered in Awesome

Have you just ever been so blessed that you just don't know what to do?! That is seriously how I feel right now. I had to take a mental health day yesterday because I needed to digest it all so I could sit down and make an attack plan today.

I have wanted to get involved and help the other families and raise awareness for so long now. I just can't believe the path that has been made for me. I am so excited that I could explode. You won't believe the way things are lining up and what they all are. Great things are happening! A storm of kick ass awesome is coming and I am so honored that I get to be a small part of it.

I have been working for the Yellow Ribbon Fund for a few weeks now. But this week all sorts of awesome literally just landed in my lap. Now I just have to get organized so I can handle it all. The staff there is so great and we are all on the same mission. I just love being surrounded by people who understand and feel the exact same way I do about the wounded families.

God is just so great! I just can't get over it sometimes!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Spying Around

Alright friends as promised, here's the spy party blog...

It all started when we took a family trip over to the International Spy Museum in DC. Deryn really enjoyed it and then mentioned having a spy party. Then I went to pinterest and here is what I created.

First I discovered this. I happily paid the lady her $15.95 and waited for the file. She had it to me within hours and that's when my brain really started working. This PDF file contains 30 pages of printables. You just add in your personal touches. Invites were first! I printed them off and got some envelopes from Hobby Lobby that look like they were printed with paper bag material. I had our birthday girl choose all the "Code Name" and "Secret Agent" assignment for her guests. Each invite included the "secret party password" and instructions on the "secret handshake."

With the invites out to the spy recruits, I went to create our spy mission. We created the clues and disguised some boxes for the girls to find their next clue in. Here are our clues. I then put them in the same envelopes we sent the invites in. Then we put 6 of them in each of the clue boxes.

Our friends in the neighborhood were happy to help. So it made creating our clues very easily. Here are our clues.
  1. Go to 1945 Spy Street. Ask Secret Agent Cinderella for a glass of water to go. Be careful and try not to spill any and bring it back to HQ. Enemy spies have been seen in this area. BE ALERT! (At this one Cinderella had helpers who attacked the girls with silly string.)
  2. Find the clue box under the ramp at HQ. What did you find inside?! Write it on the back. How many do you think are inside. BE CAREFUL!! Other spies might be lurking around and can break your cover!!
  3. Visit 51 Spy Blvd. Find Secret Agent Pikachu. She has something for you to bring back to HQ when you are done. Don't let anyone see what she gives you. 
  4. Slide down the slide 3 times at 57 Spy Blvd. What color is the slide? What color is the ball in the backyard? Write down the answers on the back of this card and bring it back to HQ. STAY ALERT: Spies could be trying to take your picture!! (Here I had 2 toddlers taking "pictures" with bubble cameras. They were happy to help.)
  5. Find the secret message at 61 Spy Blvd. What color is the chalk and what did the message say? Write your answers down and bring them back to HQ. 
  6. Find the adult at HQ whose middle name is Jane. Write the answer down and bring it back. 
    Plans were in place and we just needed for the day to arrive. There was a lot of excitement leading up to the big day. The birthday girl had a very hard time waiting. She did not like being left out of the planning. I explained to her that it would be unfair to the other girls if she knew the clues and what was going on.

    Here are all the spies ready to accept the mission.
    Here's how the event went. The girls arrived and I gave them a chance to make sure they knew the "secret handshake and password" (that was found on birthday invite) before they came up for "processing". I had arranged the girls into teams of 2 earlier that day. So when I asked, "Who's ready?" I chose that girl then looked to see who her partner was. Once I confirmed their handshake and password then they were given their badge and then fingerprinted. Then the team was given their choice of fedora and given their "spy kit." Here are the girls practicing their handshake and password.
    They each had to come up and tell me the password and show me the handshake. The they were processed and fingerprinted.

    Their "spy kits" included whistles, magnifying glasses, ink pens disguised as lipstick containers, binoculars, sunglasses, colored hair pieces, flashlights, and chem lights (aka glow sticks). You know, the things all great spies need. Most of this was ordered from Oriental Trading.
    Here are the girls getting ready.

    After they checked out their kits and got to know each other a bit, two teams at a time came up to my laptop to get their initial briefing. A great friend of our family was very happy to make a spy briefing video for the girls. Deryn was very happy to have her a part of her day. Our friend simply recorded a message that got the girls super excited to get going. Deryn was so excited to see our friend pop up on the laptop. She lives in Maryland and Deryn just loves her. It was great to have her incorporated into our adventure. I wanted to keep the girls out of our home so I could keep the other surprises secret, so I had to improvise and bring my laptop outside and I put it in the back of our car so the girls could watch it.
    Then they were off on their adventure. Demetria followed Deryn and her spy partner around so we would have pictures of as much of the adventure as possible. Here are a few of the pics.

    I love this one too!! As you can see, Chaz got involved in the adventure too!
    Deryn and her partner were first to finish. I checked to make sure they completed their adventure. They each had to bring back six clues and two items and answer some questions. Then they could go and complete the final task. They had to get through the "lasers" to get to their dinner. Chaz pepped it up a little by playing the theme music to Mission Impossible for them. This was a big hit.
    Once the mission was completed, the girls were treated to a belly filling secret agent refueling. We had "Secret Agent Subs," "Chicken Bombs," "Cluey Chips," fruits, veggies and my favorite "Truth Serum."
    After dinner settled, it was cake time! Check out this incredible cake that my girlfriend created!!! There was only a very small square left. It was fabulous!!!
    Of course we had present time and then the girls went to play outside after. Before they all left they each received the "mission reward."
    Of course, a great spy doesn't tell you all of her secrets. These are the ones HQ in DC approved. ;)

    Saturday, September 15, 2012

    Lost at Home?!

    Well we've been in our home for almost 3 weeks now. After a few days here, we realized that yes this is our home, but it doesn't feel the same. Perhaps it's because we know we will move out of this home within a year or so. Perhaps we have become accustomed to life in MD. Perhaps it's because many of our friends PCS'd while we've been gone. Perhaps we have just moved on with our new normal. One thing is for sure, we are not sure if Clarksville is home any more.

    On this trip home, we arrived to all of our neighbors and many close friends being deployed, again. My friends had already or were saying good-bye to their hubbies, again. It feels so weird to not be in their group. If Chaz had not been injured, we too would be saying good-bye to him, again. But no we're all together for good. No more deployments for us and it just feels so weird. I feel like I quit the team. I can't help but feel like I am letting my friends down by not being in this round of suck with them. I am just out of my old loop because God put me in a different one. I am in a whole new round of suck.

    Our neighbor deploying just after we arrived about broke my heart. This soldier leaves a young, but super strong and awesome wife and three small kids behind. We watched their kids so they could play while she saw him off for another deployment. Chaz and I realized that it has to be incredibly hard to live next door to what could happen. When she came in and gave me the "it's time" look, I teared up and gave her a big hug. I remember all to well how hard those days really are. I remember how much you just want to rip that band-aid off so you can start the stupid deployment so you can finish it. I remember thinking let's get this over with many times. I am the "ok, let's do this" person. So one look at her and many, many feelings came back.

    Many of our friends have come by to give us all the Ft Campbell news, but since we're not here, it feels like they are talking about a foreign place. That feeling really stinks because we love the 101st and the 101st has been so awesome to us. But since we've been gone for so long, we now feel like strangers in our home.

    For the first time, I have not been to Ft Campbell during this trip. I have no reason to go this time. To be honest, I don't want to go. A part of me misses it so much. I miss our old normal life. When I go to Campbell it makes me miss our life before January 22, 2011 and I know there is no way to go back and start over. I have accepted that this is our road and I have moved forward, but I will always have a huge place in my heart for the 101st and the Army. The Army has been very good to us, but it is time to move on. But the question is where do we go?! Unfortunately we still do not have the answer.

    Sunday, September 9, 2012


    These days I constantly find myself wondering where is our home going to be in this next chapter of our Happily Ever After?! Being a Daughtry fan, his song "Home" has played again and again in my mind. I keep hearing, "I'm going home, to a place where I belong." Well, I have to wonder, where is that?!

    This journey has taught me that Chaz and I can make any place for our girls into a home. We made a Fisher House our home for over eight months. Now we take them back and forth between what has been our home for over five years and a little apartment (that is literally half the size of our house) in the big city. The girls have handled all of this so amazingly well. Chaz and I have taught them that your family is what makes a place a home. I am very proud that we have blessed them with that very important lesson so early in their lives.

    Within this next year we will have to decide where will we live for our next chapter, which will be the longest chapter of our healing. We plan to be in that home for at least 10 years. We want the girls to go back to school, dance, Girl Scouts, whatever they want to do. We want them to have a normal childhood again. But where do we want to build that home?! The answer is we don't know.

    Maryland, DC and Virginia are out of the question. We want a simpler life. I have lived in Tennessee since 1982. Chaz was born and raised in Oklahoma. We want some of that simplicity for our girls. Since we will have many more opportunities in Tennessee and the VA system is way better in TN, we chose TN for the next ten years. So the good news is we've picked a state. I have many, many ties to Kentucky, but my heart is in Tennessee.

    We have settled on Middle Tennessee because there are two VA hospitals in the heart of the middle. Chaz can be seen by a regular doctor, but we will need the VA for the rest of his life. We wanted to be within an hour drive of a VA because of his medical needs. Well that didn't help the decision because there are several great towns within an hour drive. Now we are scouting out locations but haven't really narrowed it down.

    Chaz has served our country for over 14 years. He plans to medically retire, work on computers and be a stay at home Dad. I fully support him. He has been through so much and has finally had the chance to be the Dad he has always wanted to be. He has assured me he can achieve his goals anywhere. I know he is totally right. I am really excited for him. In the beginning of all of this, he asked me what I wanted him to do when this was all over. I told him be happy. I think he will be very happy wherever we go.

    Me, well I think I have only gotten started serving our country. My college advisor called me a lobbyist all throughout my college career. That is what he wanted me to become. I am not sure if that is what I will do, but I can assure you I will continue to fight for our military families, all of our families. I will fight for all ranks, branches, injuries, all of them. I may not be a lobbyist, but I will always be an advocate.

    This journey has taught me many very important lessons. I have learned when you come to the table with solutions to a problem people can't figure out, they will listen. Some times you have to slam their heads into a wall or climb to the top of the chain of command and make it rain down, but one person can make a difference. I have learned we have too many people who sit at desks too long and have no real idea what is going on in our world. I have learned the people that you think are so far out of touch, who sit at the top care so very much and they too have to navigate through the egos to get things done. But most importantly I have learned if you work with together to navigate the egos and check yours at the door things will get done.

    I know I have to live in a community where I can make a difference. But where is that?! I have to decide if I want to be a big fish in a little pond or a very loud little fish in a very big pond. Regardless I have to just keep swimming until I lead my family home.

    Saturday, September 1, 2012

    Interpreting Silence

    I am so thankful for so many friends and family who care about us. The past few days we have received several texts, emails, messages and etc asking where we were and if we are ok. Let me assure you we are just fine. Chaz's health is exactly where it was at the last update. We're all great. We've just been very busy. You guys all rock and thank you for caring so very much about our well being. We really appreciate it. I thought I'd take a few minutes and clarify what's going on.

    Tuesday we took off for our home in TN for a break from the hospital. So my WR peeps, we're in TN, not in MD, so that's why you haven't seen us all week. Chaz has a lot of leave built up (that's what happens when you spend 14 years in the Infantry and get tasked out left and right) and if we don't use some of it by October 1, the Army will take it. So we thought oh heck no, let's go home! Let's let the kids hang out with their friends and have some fun in TN. We needed a true break from the Army and the WW routine.

    TN peeps we did not announce our arrival because we have had a jammed packed few weeks in MD. We all four needed some chill time. We needed to come home and not have cars in the driveway waiting on us to arrive. I know you can all understand. I promise I'll make it up to you!

    We weren't supposed to be here until yesterday, but my very dear friend, Tanya, told me when she was going to be in TN. I haven't seen her since the day before Chaz was injured. Her hubby got orders and they moved to Germany the same time as Chaz's injury. She has always kept in touch and I was overdue for a Tanya talk and big hug. We moved our arrival back to Tuesday so I could spend Wednesday with her. She left to return to Germany on Thursday. Coming home earlier was a very smart decision. I didn't realize how much I truly missed her. I am so grateful we were able to make that happen.

    This will be a very laid back and relaxed trip home. The only thing planned on this visit is Allen girls' checkups (that includes me). We will be visiting doctors and dentists all this next week. Nothing is wrong with any of us, the girls and I are all overdue for dental cleanings and wellness checkups. Daddy Bear is 100% squared away in MD, but his girls are not. So Momma Bear has to get that done when we're home.

    The Friday before we left, I accepted a job with the Yellow Ribbon Fund as the Director of Family and Caregiver Services. Our little family is super excited about it. But I have a lot of tax work to do before we leave. So I needed to be able to immediately start on it so I could finish it and leave it here with its owners. I need to go back to MD and start my new job without anything left out there. But for those who are wondering, yes, I do plan to continue my tax business. If I get these few things squared away before we head back, I should be done with taxes until the Federal tax law update rolls out.

    Also we are in TN to make a very grown-up decision. Over the next few weeks, we will be determining where we are going to build our new house. We are looking at schools, communities, resources and etc. This is a huge decision and to be honest we are having a very hard time making it. The only decision we all four agree on is that we want to remain in TN. But TN is a very big state!! So that's where most of the silence is coming from. Chaz and I are really talking about what we want for our girls and their future. We have had long talks about how and where we were raised and what we wish for our girls.

    I had to laugh when my friend informed me that the chatter from the WTB was Chaz and I were having marital problems. Since I know the WTB reads this blog, let me help you out. First, Chaz and I are as great as we have ever been. Second, if you have questions about our marriage you have all of our contact info, please direct the questions to us. Third, don't ask the other families about us and put them in that awkward position. It's immature and unprofessional. Fourth, Chaz's Nurse Case Manager, Social Worker and AW2 rep are on the same floor as you. They know us way better than any person in an Army uniform on your floor. If you are that concerned about us, then perhaps you should go to them with questions. So please quit interpreting our silence into what you want it to be. Instead pick up the phone or ask the professionals around you. This is not high school, don't plant seeds and spread rumors. Instead be professionals and grown-ups and ask questions to the people involved.