Thursday, December 31, 2015

The More You Know......

2015 will be the year I wish I knew less. I always joke about the NBC "The More You Know" banner that would run after they enlightened our country about an issue of some sort when I was growing up. As I have learned things this year, you could hear me saying "The More You Know" and could imagine my own NBC banner with the rainbow star coming across. But as I get older, I find that sometimes I wish I knew less.

I miss my happy bubble. I miss thinking that our government took true care of the veterans they chose to send straight into harms way. I miss thinking that everyone cared about other people. I miss thinking that everyone could see past the end of their own nose. I miss thinking that a person's word truly meant something. I miss promises made were actually promises filled.

2015 brought us another roller coaster year. We had another 12 months of twists and turns. We held on and we have made it through....again. (We're getting pretty good at this roller coaster thing.)

How did we make it through?! Because we have made the peace with the fact that we are on our own. The white horse is not coming. Promise makers have their own lives and over commit. We acknowledge life just happens. People forget they even made commitments and promises. We fully embrace the fight for the wounded never, ever ends and truly only the wounded and those who fight with them know the battle continues.

What does that mean for us?! It simply means things will get done when we get to them. We can either sit down and count all the things people never followed through with or we can make a list of what needs to be done and sketch them all out in 2016. We chose the later.  

This year we learned that we will focus on the few amazing people who were brought into our lives rather than focusing on the turds that need to be smacked in the face a few times with a hard object. There was so much positive in this year, we will choose to focus on that rather than the negative that attempted to take root and tried to ruin our happy. 

Let's highlight some of that awesomeness.....

  • We now have this amazing home that Chaz can get around in with almost zero difficulties!!! That in itself is huge for us! For years we have waited for him to have freedom like we have now.
  • The girls chose to go back to school. Their school is fabulous and we are all very happy with the choice.
  • I have been granted some greatness with my job at YRF for 2016. Lots and lots and lots of planning, research and work has gone into what we are launching. I am thrilled over it. 
See three awesome things. Boom! There there's the super, duper short list and we close 2015 and welcome 2016 with open arms!!

2015 was not a bad year, it was just another year of hard lessons that had to be learned. We will take our lessons, combine that with our faith and keep moving forward. Bring on a new year!!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Elfin' Fun

It cracks me up to see what polarizes people these days. It's like we have to be on a side of every issue. Sometimes we make an issue out of the issue. Take the Elf on a Shelf for example.....

I have had people tell me they hate that we participate in such foolishness. Then I have friends text me, scolding me for forgetting to post pics of what our elves are up to....whoops that just reminded me....

We invited the elves into our home in 2011. Why?! Because our life kinda sucked then. We were still dealing with Walter Reed and trying to heal and hit set-back after set-back. Our girls missed their friends. We all wanted to just move on and go home. We were stuck in the blahs. We needed to have some true fun. Yes, it is that simple.

Why have we continued? Because it's fun! Our little family of four enjoys having the elves for the short time they are here. 

Our elves do not tattle on our kids to Santa. Our girls know the true meaning of Christmas. For us the elves are just a way to make the holiday season even more joyous and fun. Seriously, it's that simple. There is no underlying theory of destruction of the true meaning of any holiday or religion, nor are we supporting the theory of perpetuating a police state. It's just simple fun!!

I believe we could all use a little more fun in our lives. Sometimes life really sucks and it kicks your ass. And when you are a child trapped in a situation that most adults can't handle, you deserve a little bit of fun every once in a while. Sure there are lots of other ways to have fun, this is just one way we have fun in our home. It's just simple, harmless fun.

Here's the thing with the elves....if you want to do it, do it. Have fun with it and don't let anyone spoil it for you. If you think it is silly and you don't want to do it, don't. But don't be a Grinch and ruin another person's joy because you disagree. It's just that simple. ;)

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Selfish Saturday

My birthday was two weeks ago. Months prior my best friend from college and I decided that we should take a Saturday for ourselves and hit the pause button on adulting for a day. We decided that was a beyond excellent decision that must be repeated.

My friend, Jessica, is my best friend for a long list of reasons. Here are just a few.....
  1. We have the same name. (Seriously, isn't that awesome?)
  2. We attended the same college. (We are approaching the 20 year mark on this relationship.)
  3. She is my little sister in our sorority. (Kappa Delta, by the way)
  4. Perhaps most importantly we LOVE UK basketball. (There have been some great texts over that topic for sure.)
In all seriousness, the reason our friendship works so well is that we both live insanely busy lives, so we understand each other very well. Once we are in the same room it is like absolutely no time has passed and we just pick up where we left off. We do not get to see each other often and our friendship is a fueled on text messages, but it works for us.

We have been there for each other in our darkest days and can easily recall the calls that led to floods of tears. Together we have healed through the frequently truckloads of drama the Lord knows we can handle. It is the healing together through adversity that has made our bond so strong.

Neither of us make time for ourselves beyond the occasional hair appointment or perhaps random kid-free trip to the store. We are great at telling others (including each other) how important that is for self-care, but our self-care comes in the the massive amounts of books we read. We both love to escape into our books and that occupies a chunk of our conversation when we see each other.

But we did it!! We were selfish together for the first time!! We both worked and ran away to Lexington, KY on a Friday. Selfish Saturday 2015 began the next morning. The entire day, we did what we wanted. We did not have hubbies or kids whining, nor chiming in. We finished our day celebrating my first visit to the Rupp Arena and cheered on our UK Wildcats together!

We had a blast and of course we both had to go home super early on Sunday because we have too many responsibilities. But we did it!!! The ladies who preach about self-care, actually took time for themselves! It was amazing! I am overjoyed we did it! And I cannot wait to do it again!

It will be a long time before another Selfish Saturday will come around for us. I can assure you, we will do it again and again and again. I am so thankful for my friend. I am so thankful that we took the time to be together. I look forward to many more selfish days in our future!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Get the Stories Out

We currently reside in a county that is probably 99.7% civilian. Most of what they know about military life comes from the media, Lifetime or the movies. Truth be told, they don't want to hear the actual truth about what our families go through. They only want to hear the "cool stories" about the wars and not about the healing that takes place.

I am learning that civilians truly believe that the government takes cares of our family's every single need. They don't understand the amount of red tape that exists for us, because the amount of red tape we cut through does not exist in the civilian world.

Many think that buying a green light bulb will actually help our families. They don't understand that our level of need and assistance goes way beyond a simple purchase.

Lies about our benefits make civilians envious of our "lavish" lifestyles and cause them to not to friend us.

When our children share their life experiences, apparently our children "think they are better" than others and this makes it harder for them to make friends.

When a veteran serves our country, apparently he must be violent and angry so we need to stay away.

When the caregivers of our wounded choose to have a job and/or independence and/or not make their entire existence about the catastrophic injury, then apparently the caregiver is selfish and should be ashamed.  

When our wounded get prosthetic legs, apparently that makes everything all better. 

We have an abundance of ignorance in the civilian world. We need to get our stories out there so more can understand. Most importantly we have to not be angry at people for not understanding. You cannot comprehend something that you know little to nothing about. It is our job to inform and educate not hold it all in and lash out because someone simply doesn't understand.

With Veterans Day approaching, this is a great time to get those stories out there and help combat the ignorance. I challenge all of our military friends to tell one civilian a day about our military life and how the fight for the families of our wounded, ill, injured, killed and missing never ends. I challenge you to let everyone know we lose 22 veterans a day to suicide. The only way to lessen the ignorance is to increase the education.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

It's Just Different

I come across so many active duty caregivers who always ask, "Does it get better?" when referring to this journey. I don't like being a Debbie Downer or Negative Nancy, but I also cannot lie.....

It doesn't get better. It just gets different.

We were so spoiled at Walter Reed. One thing is for sure they get a F- for assimilation and preparation for the next steps of this journey. I feel like they set us all up for failure with their lack of preparation for what's next. I wish we would have had a veteran and his wife come and talk to us about the next steps. They could have warned us about all the dates and timelines we needed to be aware of. I wish someone would have given us real time data on the red tape procedures, who/what you need to look for, and who can truly be your advocate. I wish they would have talked to us about all sorts of things. Instead we just dropped off of the Army assemble line left to walk and figure it all out. I am not saying they should be holding our hands through all of this. What I am saying is Walter Reed sets you up for failure.

While you are there you have a big wide world of assistance at your finger tips. Here on the other side you have to make a gazillion phone calls to find one lead to find assistance. Here are two examples....

Need an adjustment to your prosthetic legs.
Walter Reed: Roll on in to see the guys. They do it right then and there.
VA: Call your NCM to tell your PCM. PCM tells the prosthetic department. When you finally get the prosthetic adviser on the phone, they remind you that they cannot work on your legs (which you already knew, but you have to go through them anyway) because they are too technologically advanced. They then put in a referral for an outside provider. Once that finally goes through, you find someone and begin treatment. Make sure you know the expiration on your permission form to be out in the civilian world. If that expires while you are being treated at the civilian office you then have to wait for another referral to be put in and authorized.

Broken wheelchair.
Walter Reed: Call Pete on his personal cell and he'll meet you asap.
VA: Call NCM to tell them to tell the PCM. They tell another department (I can't remember the name, because it's something other than wheelchair department). Then that department eventually calls you and says that the break sounds almost impossible to have occurred they need proof. You take a picture and send it in. Then they finally acknowledge it and then whoops, they can't fix the chair and it has to be referred out. This time they don't tell you the name of the provider so you just wait in a broken wheelchair for someone to randomly call to help you. They do and then it turns out they have to order parts. So you wait and thank your wife for keeping the previous wheelchair so you have something to use while you wait for the repairs.

These are just two examples, but it gives you an idea of how things go through the VA. With that said, we do love our VA. We are happy with our PCM, NCM and several other personnel there. However Chaz has a banker's box full of things wrong with him and our VA can only see him for audiology, standard colds or allergies and things like that. In regards to every other department, they do not have the experience or expertise to assist him. So he has to be fee based out and that involved referrals and it is freaking exhausting to keep up with all of it and it is on you to keep track. 

At Walter Reed, the professionals there just magically make everything work for you. They do so much work behind the scenes. You realize Walter Reed is simply a magically place, like a medical Disney World, once you are in the suck of civilian life and the VA.

I tell caregivers I don't feel like it gets better on the other side. I feel that your freedom from the Army's painful bureaucracy is short lived when you realize you are faced with a bigger bureaucratic nightmare. I feel that things are as good as they will get for us. I feel that the beginning of this journey at Walter Reed fighting for this or that simply prepares you to keep fighting. The fighting doesn't stop when the war comes home to you. Instead you have different fronts to fight in a never ending war of healing the wounded.

Chaz's health is the best it can be. We acknowledge that and are already preparing for the deterioration that will eventually come. People do not like to hear that word deterioration. They seem to think that we feel depressed about our life, when it is actually the opposite. We are not depressed at all. We have accepted our reality. We are different and we are perfectly fine with that.  The fight for us will never end. We acknowledge and accept it will not get better for us, it will only be different.

Friday, October 23, 2015

A Little Update's been two months since I have written anything. Someone had to point that out to me when asking if we are ok. Yes we are perfectly fine, just busier than ever before.

I just said to a friend the other day that I needed to make time for writing. I really have missed it. However life has gotten in our way again and again and again. Let me give a little breakdown......
  • We are still trying to get our home finished. Our builders abandoned us (wish I was making that up) and we still have all sorts of little things that need to be finished. Slowly but surely we are getting them knocked out. We are at about 95% completion. We'll get there. I just need to "you tube" a few things and get the stuff knocked out. It's finding the time....
  • Chaz was rear-ended by a distracted driver. Getting his van fixed involves a lot of extra planning and effort. The guy did say he hurt his ankle to Chaz and was taken away in an ambulance. So yeah, there's that....
  • The girls returned to public school. So far, so good there. Love their school!!
  • Deryn made the cheerleading team at school. 
  • Ryann joined the local community basketball organization. 
  • Our dear friends home burnt down and we moved them in with us.
  • I still work A LOT!!! 
  • We spent a week at Gulf Shores for the girls' Fall Break.
  • We are still unpacking and organizing our home. 
  • Chaz's wheelchair broke and we are trying to get the VA to fix it. 
  • One of his legs broke. Just got those back yesterday.  
That's the short list. Things are crazy around here, but I have a lot of blogs brewing!! Hopefully I will find the time soon to start churning them out!! ;)


Friday, August 21, 2015

What If She Was Yours?

I have always had quiet a bit of feminism in me. Too many women fought for the rights that we have. I do believe that in many, many, many circumstances I am equal and sometimes even superior to my male counterparts. Throughout my short life, I have fought the "you're just a girl" comments and have even used them as fuel to push harder.

I remember my grandfather telling me that since I was a girl and from the South, I would have to fight twice as hard to prove my worth. I would have to be twice as smart. And most importantly get my tears in check.

I was told by a high school guidance counselor that I was "just an average girl" and I shouldn't apply for any colleges other than the local community college. Then when acceptance letters poured in from every college I applied to, she called me into her office and yelled at me for not getting her permission and she let me know I created a lot of extra work for her.

I had a college professor look at me straight in the face and tell me that "the only thing that women have done throughout history is give birth to significant men." He fought me on almost every step of earning my history degree, but I went to my adviser and we figured out a new path so I could achieve the double degree.

I was fired from my job for giving birth to our first child. Since I missed an audit (because I was seriously in labor) it was deemed that I was not responsible enough to continue my job.

Just a few weeks ago I questioned our builders on things they were doing to our home and invoices we were paying. Rather than having an adult conversation, emotions went flying, I felt attacked and insulted and they next thing I knew I was in someone's face. I was told to "Go hob-nob back in DC and see if that gets your house finished." Rather than us discussing the questions I had, I was attacked and written off because I was a woman and my job was downgraded to "hob-nobbing."

Right after we moved here, the editor to the local paper wrote a note that he was upset that women would be featured on money soon. He wanted to know if they would use a picture of women shopping or vacuuming. I was assured he was only kidding, but I really don't think he was. He sure did spend a lot of time on something that was supposed to be taken as a joke and his joke sure did have a degrading manor to it.

In the news now we have Ronda Rousey, two females who qualified for Ranger tabs, a female NFL ref and the US women's soccer team. They are all achieving such incredible levels of awesomeness that this mother of two girls is beyond excited that our girls have new faces to look to for inspiration.

I had two females who were in the public eye when I was growing up who inspired me, Senator Elizabeth Dole and Sally Ride. That's it. The rest of my inspiration came from men. And having the honor to work with one of the women I always looked up to is inspiring beyond words!!

For some reason our society feels the need to squash female achievement any way we can. The comments that have come out about the women who are hitting these new goals are primeval. Seriously, what year is this?!

I will proudly admit I have no desire to participate in a MMA fight, play soccer, complete Ranger course or referee the NFL, but if that is something you want to do I will cheer you on!! I will also proudly share your accomplishments with our daughters.

I am so blessed that my grandfather encouraged me to light my own path. I am so thankful to have a husband that puts up with my loud mouth and opinions. I am thankful for brothers (related and not) who will not tolerate someone putting me or my work down. I am thankful for a job that values me and my opinion.

I will admit the one thing I love about my job is that I am treated as an equal. I have lost track of how many times I have been in a room and had to pull the "yes I am a woman, but I know what I am talking about" card. But with YRF, our board actually asks my opinion and it is lovely to be valued.

Now to all of you keyboard commandos, here is the question I would like to pose to you. What if one of these awesome women were a part of your life? What if they were your wife, girlfriend, sister or daughter? Would you still be so brave behind your keyboard and fire off your disgusting comments? I know that when I have been cyber-attacked it has enraged my husband and those who know me so well. But like I always say, "We don't win internet wars with people who obviously cannot pull their heads out of their own ass."

Why can we not just take the time to think that what they are accomplishing it awesome?! Why do we have to belittle and question how they got there? We don't question the male counterparts to the same degree.

Once words are out there, they cannot be taken back. Sure you can delete your comment, but you already threw it out and someone felt that sting. Been there, felt that. My favorite was the person who said they'd "wish I would die so my family would live happily ever after." Yup, not going to forget that one any time soon.

So keyboard commandos, is you are so brave behind the keyboard, why not channel that bravery and go make your own mark rather than lashing out at women who are making their place in history?! If you took all of your jealousy and hate and channeled it into positive productivity then we would all have a much better world. But wait, you'd have to come out from behind your keyboard.....

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Let's Go for a Run....

I randomly decided I would run a 5k with my friend, Demetria, last night. I have not ran even one mile in the last month, so yeah it sounded totally sane to take off and run 3.1.

I needed it. I needed to burn off all my frustrations. My legs are already sore and I will be best friends with Tylenol and Motrin today, but I needed that run. I needed to sweat away all the things that are driving me crazy. Bonus!! I was the last runner in, so I brought four cop cars in with me last night to the finish line. I am super proud that I helped them get back safely to the finish line. And the craziest part was that I had my best 5k time ever.

As caregivers we put our selves last, as moms we are guilty of that too, therefore I am double guilty. I have really been just giving myself away to the world here in the past month. If I am not working, then I am working on this house. I have found very little time for me. I love to read, but most nights I am barely getting a chapter read.

Our house is not finished. We can live in it, but our builders still have lots of cosmetic things to do. To be honest, I have no idea when it will be finished. I honestly feel like this house is going to be like I-24....always under construction some where.

I feel like we truly cannot unpack and live in our home because we do not know from day to day who is coming or not. People show up at 5am one day then don't show up for days. Then one person randomly shows up. FYI apparently you are supposed to be ok with all of this and you are not supposed to question the randomness, because that offends people. And it is ok for people to smoke on your property where ever they want and you shouldn't say anything about that. Oh and it's totally ok that every deadline has been missed and a list of things still need to be finished, but they have other projects to work on so they'll get back to you when they can. Yeah, that's why I needed a run.

I finished our bathrooms July 4th weekend. With help from friends, I finished our closets the following weekend. I guess I am finishing the rest of the house too, because we sure as heck aren't getting any direct answers or plan of execution. We are just supposed to sit and wait for them to show up and finish I guess.

I am choosing to focus on the fact we can live in the house. I am choosing to focus on the fact that Chaz can get around so freely! The house is absolutely lovely and we love it, but we'd really like to make it a home, not a home in the middle of a construction site. I am choosing optimism and hope, when yesterday I seriously wanted to throat punch someone.

And at the end of the day, we do not regret walking away from the non-profit that promised to build our home. We may have our frustrations, but I would rather deal with this any day then what we would have faced with the non-profit.

In other good news, we have sold our home and will close on it this week. We are really excited that it sold so quickly and we fully credit our realtor for the success of the sale. She has done a wonderful job and we are very happy with her services.

We are looking to August to be a month of greatness for our family. I know that for months now I have said, "If we can just make it to (fill it a time frame) things will be better." Well in August we will only own one home and we will be able to give it all of our attention. Our girls will start school and we will adjust to not having them with us all the time. (By the way, I am already super sad that I will miss out of eight hours of their day five days a week soon.) August is going to be great! Now to get to the finish line of July.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

So We Moved.....

Our Clarksville home is empty and will be put on the market soon. Our belongings are in our new home. And our bodies, pets, personal information and technology.....well that is all at my sister's house.

We currently cannot live in our house. Why?! Because people didn't come to work and volunteers didn't show up as promised. That is the reason.

I will not lie, this has been one of the most stressful and exhausting weeks I have had in memory. Our movers were college kids who seriously did not care about anything but getting off from work. They broke several pieces of our furniture and finally we just told them to leave. (We will be discovering their damage for a long time to come I am sure.)

Since we did not have a fridge ready, we chose to leave our groceries in Clarksville and that I would get them when I picked up the youngest cutie from camp. When I arrived, I discovered CDE decided to turn off the power, when I specifically asked for them to just turn off the phone, cable and internet only. We lost $500 in groceries. I sure did get to pack up the groceries...I packed them right up into the garbage.

I stood in our Clarksville kitchen and cried all of my makeup off on Friday. The stress and frustration won. Sometimes it is just best to cry and let it go. I did feel so much better once I just let it all out.

Just like everything else that has happened to us, we are making the best out of it. We have missed our nephews growing up, so we are enjoying all the time we are getting to actually get to know them. I personally am enjoying getting to actually work on our home. I love power tools and home repairs. The builders kept saying that I shouldn't do it. Well I don't take no very well for an answer so I am working on all of the cosmetic things that don't require licenses and training. If I do the little cosmetic stuff, they can stay focused on the real issues and get us in! We are team players and for sure. Chaz and I do not stand on the side lines when we can jump in and help the team. 

I wanted a fully functioning bathroom so I grabbed my little brother, Demetria and my drill and boom we have a bathroom! No more port-a-potty for our family! ;)

Demetria's hubby Ray has been mowing our grass all this time. Thanks to Nine Line Foundation and Ray, Chaz got to fire up his mower yesterday and he mowed our grass for the first time.

It seriously does look like they are racing. (Thanks to Demetria for these pics.)They actually did get the grass mowed and even took time to show the girls how to mow.

Before anyone goes ballistic on our builders, please don't. They cannot force people to come to work. They cannot force people who say they want to "help" to actually help. They cannot force volunteers to actually show up and follow through. Please know they are seriously working seven days a week to help get us in. It is a VERY frustrating situation for all of us. We are a team and we are all working together to reach the finish line.

I am declaring this week is our week! Our home will be inspected and we will be able to live in it. We will get to go through the boxes (and probably toss out more than we want to thanks to our mover friends). We will unpack our lives and start living our new chapter of our new normal!! And the next blog I write will be from our forever home!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Closing the Chapter

The time has come to close our chapter in Clarksville. I know we will be back for visits, but our residency is ending. Our address has been changed. Our mail is being forwarded. The seventeen years of our relationship and family are sitting in boxes all around us just waiting for people to deliver them to another destination.

We will never forget the 101st and how great they were to our family. We will forever and always be a Screaming Eagle family.

It is bittersweet. We have so many memories here. It is truly hard to put this all into words without crying......again.

As I sit here at my desk for the last time in this house, I cannot help but to think of sitting here on January 22, 2011 when the call that changed our lives came. I cannot stop all the thoughts of things that were said and things that happened since that day.

Even though I have have been blessed with over three decades of life, I feel that a bomb truly taught me to live. It taught me what is really important in life.

My goal in life is to leave things better than I found them. I truly believe we have done that here in Clarksville. 

We will always praise the storm that was created by a bomb. We will always praise the event that was meant to destroy lives, because Chaz's one step that changed our lives has also changed and impacted so many others in such a positive way.

We close our Clarksville chapter in approximately 24 hours. We are so thankful for our time here. And we truly hope that the new residents that occupy this home after us will make as many wonderful memories as we have!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Red Tape Diary Entry #4 (Benches and Urinals)

Chaz and I avoid the VA. Why?! Because it is always a headache unless we are dealing with our care team only. Our VA care team knows us. They know if we ask for something we need it. They aren't always able to help, but they are for sure on our side. And best of all our care team doesn't treat us like we are a hassle. Our care team treats us like family, which is why we love working with them.

Chaz uses a few medical supplies every single day. Due to the frequency of use, they wear out and need to be replaced. We do not ask for items to be replaced unless they actually need to be replaced. It truly bothers me that we have to go through OT to get these items and when we do we have to have to endure the Spanish Inquisition.

Why so many questions?! Well it turns out some of our veterans are abusing the system. They are obtaining medical supplies and selling them on them online. So apparently the answer to this problem is treat every veteran and caregiver as if they are going to do the same.

We needed a new shower bench. I am not sure if this is the first or second one we have asked for since January 2013, but I really don't care at this point. I threw away Chaz's old shower bench. Why? Because it was covered in rust and mold. He uses it every single day, sometimes more than once a day and it was time for it to be replaced. I know we have used it for quite sometime so I was more than happy to toss it for him.

Since beginning of this journey, we have always had two shower benches. One stays in the bathroom for daily use and one stays packed up for travel. When the one in the bathroom wears out, I toss it and replace it with the travel bench and then we ask for a new one. We get a new one about once a year, it's really not that often and we couldn't remember when we asked for the last one.

I take very good care of his shower benches. They are broken down and cleaned when I clean the bathroom and we wipe them off with disinfectant wipes everyday since that padding directly touches his skin. I was informed this week that his shower benches are supposed to last for 5 years and next time I shouldn't throw it away I should bring it in with me and they will decide if he needs a new one.

Um no, OT does not make the call on infectious diseases. Chaz is prone to collect all sorts of fun stuff. We are still rebuilding his immune system after three flesh eating bacterias, shingles and I can't even remember what else in the span of less than 4 years. This would be why we clean and dispose like we do. That bench needs to be cleaned daily and since we do it breaks down the padding cover. And seriously he and I will determine when he needs a new bench not people who see him for the first time and don't take the time to read the chart. FYI there is no way in Hell those benches will last 5 years with daily use and cleaning. That is just so not happening.

They let us know that the bench Chaz needed had to be ordered, we said ok, then they tried to give him a different bench because they had it. That bench would not work because Chaz needs the padding for his back injury. We tried the cheaper bench while at Walter Reed and it is not as supportive nor is it comfortable for him. We had to once again justify and argue for his needs.

Again new people, not reading the chart trying to decide what needs to happen versus people who deal with his needs everyday. Now take a second and think about our veterans who don't have caregivers advocating for them and insisting on the medical staff acknowledging their needs. 

Then I asked for more urinals. Chaz cannot reach any of the toilets here without transferring so he has to use urinals multiple times per day. Those things get disgusting quick. We bleach them and yuck they just have to go. I asked for three and I was returned with "Why so many?" I said because we have three bathrooms and I think he shouldn't have to wait for us to get him one, they should be right there. (Crazy, I know.)

It was at this point I was enlightened about veterans getting equipment and selling it. I informed them that I will sign something agreeing to not selling his equipment online or period. Which would not be a bad idea, just saying. Or actually keep up with the veteran's equipment requests and when you see repetitive requests, then make them bring in the equipment that the replacement request is for. (Yes I'll save the urinals for them and bring them in.) Everything is in the system, you can pull it up and look at it. I've seen Chaz's and I bet they can as well.

If I had it my way we would have three new urinals delivered at least once a month and the bench once a year, but no I have to go through the yards of red tape to get them from the VA. So I just buy them when we need them and request them from the VA when I think about it. Then when I think about it, I regret it.

Here's what I will never understand. If you are so bitter and complacent about your job, then quit. I understand working with people is hard. Working with our veterans can be very hard. Some of them are so angry and it is hard to deal with that anger. However 99.9% of them are amazing Americans. We should all focus on that. Don't let the rotten apples ruin the bunch to where you treat everyone as scammer. We are all so tired that we want to make our VA experience as delightful as possible. We really don't want to be there, so please don't make it any worse than it has to be. Most importantly remember that if it wasn't for our nation's heroes you would be unemployed. Be thankful for them, because they not only served and sacrificed for you, they are your entire reason for employment. And most importantly listen to the caregiver who is with them every single day and knows their needs way better than you do.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mr. Derek's Tater Tot Casserole

Many people have their own version of this dish. I agreed to start sharing recipes so here's another one, but I have to tell the story of how it was renamed in our home. It is no secret that Derek McConnell left a big hole in our hearts. Our family was so blessed to have him and his family in our lives and we think of him often. We always think about him when we have Tater Tot Casserole.

I remember the first time I met Siobhan and Krystina in the hallway of Walter Reed-Bethesda. Our family had just returned from Tennessee and I had been trying to meet them before we left, but things were just so crazy for both of our families. Finally we made it happen and offered to bring dinner to make up for my just now getting there.

Derek was not able to eat yet, but Siobhan and Krystina told him all about the casserole. When I finally met Derek he informed me that he would need for me to make the dish again and just for him. Of course I agreed. I cannot remember how many times I made it for him, but I know it was more than once. And he cracked me up with his comments every time I did.

My favorite time came when our friends, Jessie and Emily, joined us for dinner. And no kidding they decided wars could be ended if I would just make that casserole and pass it out. I was even able to snap a pic of the guys while they were chatting. This picture is definitely one of my favorites.

The last time I saw Derek I promised him the next time I visited I would cook him his own pan and I promised to not make him share. I still remember that promise as clearly as I remember his smile.

After Derek passed, I made the casserole one night and the girls dubbed it "Mr. Derek's Tater Tot Casserole" and so it shall always remain. All great recipes deserve to be shared. This one is loved by so many and I hope your family enjoys it as well. I do ask that if you do make it, you share Derek's courageous story and pray for his family and all those his life touched just as we do when we have it here in our home.

Mr. Derek's Tater Tot Casserole
1lb ground turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can cream of celery
1 can cream of mushroom
1 bag of tater tots (we use Ore-Ida's mini-tots)
1 bag of shredded cheese (I use a mixed blend that includes cheddar)

Preheat the over to 400 degrees. Spray a 13x9 pan with cooking spray, pour the tater tots in and place in the oven. Brown turkey and onion together. Add salt and pepper to your liking. Once it is thoroughly cooked, add soups. Let this simmer on low until your tots are slightly browned.

Once the tots are slightly browned, turn the oven to 375. Remove the tots and pour meat/soup mixture on top. Return to oven for 20 minutes. When either the 20 minutes is up or you can see it bubbling, remove it, sprinkle cheese all over the top and return it to the oven to melt the cheese. Once the cheese is melted, remove it from the oven, let it cool and enjoy.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Boot

Sometimes you can make all the plans you want and then other things happen.....

Yesterday was April 15, Tax Day, the day I celebrate because I get to cut my work load back the next day. I should have been celebrating, right?! Well instead I am mad at the world...

This past weekend we traveled to Owensboro, KY for cutie #2's dance competition. She scored a Gold and here are my two favorites pics from her performance.

We are so proud of her for practicing so hard and rocking a solo on stage. We are constantly amazed at her 9 year old skills!! We truly hope she continues to dance. She is simply amazing to watch.

The night before the competition I was walking around the hotel room and the sofa bed attacked my left foot out of nowhere. I just don't understand why it would do that.....Ok truth, I am ridiculously clumsy and I was tired and I kicked that sofa bed with full force. I sucked it up and limped through it until I could see the doctor (I do not do ERs unless it is actually urgent).

The outcome....not broken, but severely inflamed and sprained. This guy and I will be really good friends for the next few weeks.We are already having issues in our relationship, but I am hoping to work things out in a positive way.
I am not one to complain, but damnit this sucks. I planned to start working on the house after tax season. I have so many little things that have to get done, but they all involve standing and/or walking and I cannot do that right now. There's just no way, my foot swells too quickly. And of course our delightful rainy weather isn't helping my attitude.

I know it is only temporary. I know this too will pass. I just hate being slowed down to slug pace, a limping slug pace at that. I operate at 100 miles per hour all the time and I have been placed in a school zone. It is hard for me to slow down especially when we have so much going on.

Yesterday I told Chaz (and myself) that everything else has worked out, this will too. I told a friend that apparently the good Lord decided I really needed to slow down. I am trying to acknowledge his plans are always better than mine and time always flies and this will be behind me soon. I am trying to focus on all the things I can accomplish while sitting. Looks like I'll finally get to read some more books. 

I think when you are a caregiver your anger triples when you are hurt or sick. I know mine has. I have already apologized to my family a few times for being snappy. You really do forget how much pain can control your attitude when you cannot control the pain. Luckily my hubby knows a lot about pain and totally understands where I am right now. He also knows I don't like to ask for help (one of the many things we have in common). It is extremely comforting to have a hubby that totally gets it. And yes my injury is extremely minor compared to his, but I appreciate him so much for letting me whine and complain.

I think this boot is here to teach me a lesson in humility and to just slow me down for a bit. We all know I, like my hubby, cannot be slowed down for too long.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Allen Family Taco Soup

I have too many friends out there asking me for my recipes. I just keep forgetting to share and send them. 

I decided that going forward when I am cooking one of my family's favorites I am going to try my best to post the recipe on here. I hope that our family favorites can also be your family favorites.

I love simple easy, at least somewhat healthy meals. And I LOVE my crock pot.

Here's one of the big hits in our home. 

Taco Soup
1lb ground turkey
1 chopped medium sized onion
1 package of taco seasoning (I like the low sodium Old El Paso.)
1 can of mild rotel
1 can of no salt added whole kernel yellow corn
1 can of no salt added black beans
1 can of no salt added kidney beans

Turn your crock-pot on high. Toss in ground turkey and chopped onion. (My ground turkey is usually frozen and I still toss it straight in.) Allow the turkey to brown. Add the taco seasoning and cans of rotel, beans and corn to your browned meat and onions. Stir and add water. I usually add two cans of water by using one of the bean cans. Turn crock-pot down to low and allow everything to cook for at least two hours.

We serve ours with shredded cheese and tortilla chips. We like to crush the chips up and add them to the soup and top it off with cheese. You could also add salsa, sour cream or even some guacamole.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Glass Ceiling and the Pat on the Head.....

I remember being very young when my Granddaddy told me that if I wanted to succeed in the South I had to be able to argue with a brick wall and make it want to fall down. Of course I had no idea what that meant. We all know we Southerners have some crazy sayings. Now as an adult I see exactly what he was saying. He was preparing me for my future.

We are all so judgmental by nature (and yes I am including myself in that statement). No matter how hard we try not to, we still judge people as the walk into our lives.

I find myself in rooms all the time now where I am the only woman. Sometimes I am the actual authority on the subject matter, but because I am a woman I have to prove myself 2-3 times more than the men would in that same room.

Nothing makes me more angry then when I have all sorts of facts and statistics and then I am given a pat on the head and disregarded. I can instantly tell my words are being discredited just because I am woman. I have had it happen again and again and again in my life.

I'll never forget the history professor who told me, "The only significant role women have had in history was giving birth to significant men." I kid you not, the guy actually said that and he has a Ph. D in history. Scary huh?!

Fast forward to today. I still have a glass ceiling to break through and constantly get those "good girl" pats on the head. Seriously my temper has ran out of patience.

Why does this frustrate me so much?
  • I am not a pet, you shouldn't pat me on the head. I didn't just play fetch.
  • I am very well educated both through formal education and life itself. 
  • I don't just talk to hear myself speak. I usually know what I am talking about and if I don't I'll be the first to admit it.
  • I may be young, but I have been through more Hell than most of America will ever see.
  • I married an Infantry soldier, that pretty much speaks for itself.
One would hope that in 2015 women could be valued as equals. I have found that I am the most valued through the military system. My opinion is not only heard but is sometimes even requested. I never enlisted into the service. However because I stayed by my husband's side and because I have helped so many other families, the military recognizes some value in my opinion. I wish I could translated this equality to the civilian sector. 

I feel like I am in an uphill battle on a slippery slope with civilians. I even feel that some think that because my husband was in the Army and because he was injured, then I am less intelligent and it even generates pity from them. I have found that I keep his injuries quiet at first because once civilians hear about the injuries and then can't hear anything else. I am looked at with total pity.

Let me be clear, I do not want your pity. I want you to listen to our families and join the team to help me help us. I can assure you that the TV shows and movies you have watched are no comparison to what is actually going on. You need to hear the actual stories from the people living it everyday.

I realize people don't want to hear the truth. They want to continue to believe that the government takes care of our veterans and their families. They would rather just pat us on the head and move on. That is the easier thing to do.

No one wants to believe that we have to jump through forty rounds of red tape and almost smash someone's head into a wall for a $10 piece of medical equipment that would make our veteran's life better. No, civilians want to remain blissfully ignorant to the needs of our veterans and their families. If they stay ignorant, then they won't get upset. If they don't get upset, then they don't have to do anything to help. After all, ignorance is bliss.

There are days I wish I could return to ignorance. I wish I didn't know a lot of the things I know. But if I returned to ignorance that would also mean I would not have learned about the true needs of our families and I wouldn't have ideas for solutions. I, like so many other women in my situation, have real solutions to the very real problems going on. We all deserve to be heard and I hope that together we can stop the pats on the head and break the damn glass ceiling.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Checking Off the Bucket List - Disney Style

Looking back now, I have realized more than once 2014 drown me in drama and chaos too many times. I found myself over scheduled and over committed way too many times. Throughout the year I kept making vows to myself that things would get better if I just got past this day or this week or this month. You know what?! That's gets old....

Late 2014, I decided 2015 was going to be different and I was going to find the time for my goals again. I realized that the only way to make it better was for me to put my foot down and say no to some things and say yes to me and my needs and to the needs of my family.

Like any dreamer, I have always had a bucket list. It's never been long, but it was mine. Chaz and I even shared a few of the items. After he was injured, the most amazing opportunities found us. Some of them also were on our list. It was pretty stinking cool to be able to check those off together. My favorite was the trip to Colorado to ski together. Thanks to his Physical Therapist and the Vail Veterans Program he achieved a goal and checked off an item on the shared bucket list.

On my list was "complete a half marathon before age 40." Well peer pressure sometimes makes you upgrade a bucket list item to a challenge. Demetria convinced me I could complete the Glass Slipper Challenge at Walt Disney World. This meant I had to complete a 10k (6.2 miles) on Saturday morning, then complete a half marathon (13.1 miles) on Sunday morning.

I began training late Summer of 2014 and I am pleased to report I not only accepted her challenge, but I completed it with her by my side!

I have learned races are about the bling so here's mine from those two days.

After I registered for the race in July, I received an email from Disney Cruise Line about a special race deal. Also on my bucket list was "Take the girls on a Disney Cruise."

I had yet to take a true vacation from my job, even though I have worked there for years. I decided we should go for it. Chaz agreed and the girls were ecstatic. When booking this cruise following the Princess racing series, you also earn the option to participate in the Castaway Cay Challenge. This was a 5k (3.1 miles) on Disney's Private Island, Castaway Cay. I accepted that challenge as well. Here's me with a two new friends I met on the course.
After hearing about all the races I was completing on our vacation, Cutie #1 informed me that she wanted to participate in a 5k. The cruise offered a separate 5k almost immediately following my Challenge 5k. Yes, I signed us up. Wednesday morning I completed my 5k, went back on the boat, found my family and then I went with her for another 5k. Here we are just past the finish line.
Yes I received two Castaway Cay 5k medals and the Challenge one. ;)

Cutie #2 wanted to join us as well, but she was not old enough.She has informed us that there will be a next time.

If you are keeping track that's 25.5 miles for me within 5 days and 6 medals total. And yes I am totally fine. No injuries, just tired feet to report, which have since recovered just fine. I actually feel pretty freaking awesome considering what I accomplished in 5 days. I love that I also sparked the cuties curiosity. I hope that this is the beginning of many 5k run/walks together.

For all of you non-athletes, like me, out there....I probably had the worst times in the races possible. I walk way more than I run. The important thing is I show up, I do my best and I complete them!! If I can do this with a busted knee and all sorts of crazy little medical problems, you can too! You just have to train like I did.

Always remember it's not about the time, it's about crossing the finish line! If I can do it, you can too!! Find a 5k in your area and get moving. I promise you'll love yourself for it.

Here's another idea, put "complete a 5k" on your bucket list so you can check it off and feel even more accomplished. ;)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Your Voicemail is Full!

My voicemail has been full for a quite a while now. Do you know why? Because as fast as I empty it, it fills back up. I am chasing my tail at this point. So I give up.

I kid you not, I sat down one day and got a chance to delete four voicemails while I was eating lunch. Within the course of that day I was right back to "voicemail full" flashing on my screen. 

My friends and co-workers are totally aware of the problem. We have all decided that since people send me an email or text right after they leave the voicemail that it is easier to just eliminate the voicemail option and let them go straight to email and text.

Apparently taking this option away upsets some people. It appears that I am supposed to have all communication options available to strangers I do not know and who do not pay our cell phone bill at all times.

People who know and/or work with me know I will get to them as soon as I can. But strangers, well they like to lay on the guilt. I find that quite comical. I have become immune to superficial guilt these days. I love the emails with the guilt trip of "Since you did not take my call...." and "I tried to leave you a voicemail but your voicemail was full. You should empty it." I am not sure what people think these statements will accomplish.

There is usually a very good reason I didn't take your call. Let me take you through my top ten reasons I didn't take your call. These are in no particular order.
  1. Shockingly my cell phone is not always glued to my hand. I do choose to set it down and walk away from it a few times a day.
  2. My family needed my attention at that time your call came in.
  3. Sometimes my phone is dead and needs to be charged. I try to avoid this, but it does happen.
  4. If I am out run/walking, chances are I am not answering because it will sound like an obscene phone call from my end.
  5. I am homeschooling our girls and they need my undivided attention. 
  6. I am on a conference call on the other line and cannot click over.
  7. If you call before 8am or after 6pm, chances are I am no where near my phone. Before 8am, I am not ready to deal with the world yet and after 6pm I am done dealing with the world for the day.
  8. I might be with a family, a tax client or in a meeting.
  9. I could be at the VA or a military base that kills my signal. 
  10. I am just worn out and cannot answer the phone at that moment. 
These are all pretty good reasons, right?! To me these are all reasons that we should be patient with each other and understand that those of us with full voicemails, might also have full lives. We might have days where we are so busy the sun rises and sets without us even noticing.

Leaving nasty emails about how we are not thinking about you and dropping everything to tend to your needs is just not what we need. And to be honest, the last thing the mean emails do is compel me to help you. Some of us are trying our absolute best to help everyone we can. Some of us are really tired because day in and day out we are taking care of everyone else before ourselves.

The only we can ask of each other is that we do our absolute best. I can tell you that I work really hard on the behalf of others everyday. I am doing my absolute best to help everyone I can, but I have to help them at my pace. I will not let the statements to the contrary take root in my mind, nor should anyone else.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Most Powerful Verb

The other day I realized the most powerful verb in our language is choose.

Think about it, this one verb dictates our entire life. We choose to get up each morning. We choose our friends. We choose our paths. We choose our future. Our life is made up of a series of choices that mold us into who we are.

Everything good or bad has come from a choice you made at some time. So when will we wake up and choose to stop being a victim? When will we choose to shed the victim mentality and choose to be a victor?

We live in a world full of people making excuses and choosing to sit and whine and talk about how the world has done them wrong. If you sit and think about it for a minute, you will find the world doesn't owe you anything and that the things that have gone wrong are usually because you made bad choices. Reality really does suck sometimes, but a good dose now and then is beneficial.

Here's why this all frustrates me so much. I am surrounded by men and women who chose to serve our country. They knew the consequences and they chose to stay with it. They are now dealing with the consequences of their choices. Yet they are choosing to be so positive about it. These men and women inspire me daily. They are viewed as being medically broken, but I can tell you their attitude certainly is not.

In my own home, my soldier would choose the exact same path if you gave him the chance to do it all over. And if you give me a chance to do it over, I would say "I do," again in a heart beat. Our journey has been tough, but it's ours and we are proud of it.

Then enter a person who whines about everything. "My job was cruel to me." "I have (fill in the blank minor medical) problem." "You don't understand." These are the things I hear from people and they expect me to have sympathy. I have become numb to this. I am numb to the random excuses people create to justify their victim mentality.

I am now seeing a new generation of financial counseling clients. I call them the "easy button crew." They are looking for the easy button to push so they don't have to work hard. They really think that the world is going to hand them their dream job and all the money in the world with little to no effort. They think they shouldn't have to pay any taxes. They really think they are owed things. It is horribly unfortunate that somewhere we, as a society, have gone wrong with this group. And of course they are not all this way, I am just sad to say that I see more than I would like to. They come to me for financial counseling, but none of them want to give up living beyond their income. They just keep piling on the debt and they really do not think they are doing anything wrong at all. They are all having to hit absolute bottom in order to wake up and realize the tough choices that have to be made.

I have learned in my short life that nothing great comes easy. The easy path sure does look tempting, but it does not offer the blessings that comes with the harder path. I found this on pinterest the other day and it truly did inspire this blog.

Building our home is a great example of choices. We initially chose the easy path. Someone was supposed to build our home and they totally failed us. We weren't going to have to lift a finger. It all sounded so amazing and it was what our family needed. We gave the promise makers more than enough time to do anything at all to get our home started and finally said screw it we will figure this out.

No, we are not victims. We made a bad choice. We have zero problems owning up to the fact that we were wooed and we fell for it. Again I reiterate, we are not victims. We chose to trust this person and all of their hot-aired promises. Then reality smacked us and we made the choice to move on.

Yes we are paying for our home to be built. Yes writing those checks is quite painful, even nauseating at times. However, we have already realized the absolute best part of all of this is that person who was supposed to help us and bailed, well they are permanently out of our lives and have no strings over us anymore. As we look back now, we can already see we made a great choice in choosing to move on by ourselves.

Chaz and I could have chosen to have played the victim card. We could have gone to the media and smashed the person who failed us. We have had several offers to do so, but we will continue to choose the high road. The high road has been hard and painful and full of tears, but I know that this year when we move into that new home we will know without any doubt that it was all worth it.

Chaz and I have made all sorts of bad choices in our lives. I am sure we will make more as we move on. That's what we humans do, we mess up and we make mistakes. However if we set down the victim card, then we cannot triumph over our bad choices. We have to choose the victor card in order to win.

I truly pray that we will always remember the spoils of the harder path. And I pray that we will always choose the victor card. I really pray that the "easy button crew" finds reality sooner, than later.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

4 Years after the Bomb

Wow another year has past by. It's so hard for me to believe it's been four years when I can recall so much so quickly. Time sure does fly when you are having fun!

It seems like yesterday I sat at this desk where I am writing now and got the calls that started it all.

We have definitely have embraced our new life and the four of us have grown together in the wonders this new life has given us. We have healed together through the ups and downs and we have really had an amazing journey so far. I have learned my favorite compliment is when someone says they can see how much I love my family when I talk about them. If that is the one impression I leave with someone, then I am beyond thrilled.

Our girls show each day us how much life has moved on since that day. They have grown so much that it's hard to believe four years ago I had to sit our little 8 and 5 year old cuties down and give them the bad news. At any moment, I can close my eyes and see their beautiful faces at the beginning of all this sitting on the couch as I sat in the recliner and gave them all the information I had. I can see their faces as they talked to their dad on the phone just a little over 24 hours after his injury. And perhaps my favorite, I can remember the day they saw him for the first time. Now they're 12 and 9 and are growing into these beautiful young ladies. We are so proud of their resiliency and strength and we learn so much from them everyday.

What a doozy of a year this has been?! I think I have cried more this year than I did four years ago. This year has been full of big ups and big downs. We had huge promises broken and then we were blessed by new angels who came in our lives to help us fix what damage was done by others. I am so thankful for the happy tears and seriously still want to punch someone in the face for the sad/hurt/mad ones. Yes, I have a bit of unresolved anger with a few people. And yes, it is still wise of them to stay in their respective states and not come near me.

Just a few days ago, Chaz and I realized that year 4 was upon us. We know we still have more to learn, but wow have we learned a lot in the past four years. We have learned a lot about people. We have learned a lot about healing. We have learned a lot about medicine. And oh have we learned about the government. Our journey has definitely been a learning experience.

Perhaps the most important thing we have learned is that marriage can be better than you ever believed. I am here to tell you fairy tales do come true and happy ever afters do exist. My Prince Charming just comes with pieces and requires assembly and his white horse is actually a #badassvan. I had no idea that love could heal so much. I had no idea that one person could love you through anything. It is truly beautiful when you think about it and I am so thankful I have lived it. Everyday I give thanks for the marriage Chaz and I have developed over the years and I look forward to so many more years by his side.

We also learned that patience through faith is golden. This journey has taught us a lot about patience and faith. We know you have to have the patience to let things happen as they are supposed to and the faith to know it will all work out in the end just like it is meant to be. God has already blessed us so much and I know He has more great things in store for our family.

We are declaring 2015 to be an amazing year for our family!! We have some really big changes ahead for us! We have some really exciting things coming our way! You'll definitely want to see what God has in store for us this year. I only know a little bit of it and let me tell you it is AWESOME! I cannot wait to see the rest! And yes, I promise to share the great news as it happens! ;)

Cheers to Year Four for Team Allen!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Mighty Moms of Walter Reed

I took me a while, but I was finally able to finish the Might Moms of Walter Reed book. I am sad that I am just now getting around to write about it. If you don't have a copy you should get one today!! I'll make it easy on you, click here. Your purchase supports the families you will be reading about, so make sure you pick one up.

I ordered mine as soon as it came out, but I found myself finding reasons to not read it. Why?! Because I have met all 10 Moms. I have cried with a few of the Moms. I know some of the stories the book did not tell. I know details that go way beyond the pages of this book. At times I had a hard time reading it, because their stories are not just pages in a book to me. These stories are stories about a few of my friends.

Chaz nailed it when he told me that I was just way to close to subject. This book was like Black Hearts for me, except this time I knew the battle from both sides. With Black Hearts, I only knew Chaz's side and what it was like for us back home. With the Mighty Moms, I just knew way too much.

The parents at Walter Reed have always amazed me. The ones I have gotten to know have demonstrated what unconditional love truly is. I feel they have served as some great examples for how I can be a better parent to our girls. During our time there, I was able to develop some amazing bonds. We have been outraged together, laughed together and cried together. We all might be on a different journey but we were all brought to the starting line for the same reason....catastrophic injury.

I can tell you the stories of how these Moms came into our lives. I can tell you stories about some of their sons walking for the first time again. I can tell you stories about visiting their sons in their hospital rooms. I can tell you stories of the pretty darn good laughs we had over some of the ignorance we saw there at Walter Reed. I can tell you about some pretty delicious meals we shared together. I can tell you stories of when we held hands and cried. I can tell you this book only gave you a very, very small glimpse into how mighty these Moms really are.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone wanting to get a little glimpse inside the stories of Walter Reed. The side of the non-spousal caregiver is very rarely seen. The book provides you with ten stories of the rare and unseen. Most of America thinks every soldier is happily married and the spouse is right next to them helping them fight the fight. Sadly this is just not true.

My only problem with the book was at times I felt a divide was being portrayed between the Moms and the wives at Walter Reed. Of course the Moms are going to bond together and of course the wives are going to bond together, but I did not feel excluded from the friendship with the Moms at any time. I actually feel like we were all one family. At one point in the book, it seemed like the Moms were on this side and the wives like myself were on the other, yeah no, that's not how it was for me. I know several other wives that have the same feeling that I have. These Moms are so loving and welcoming. I have had other readers asked me if I picked up on it. Yes I did and no, I did not feel excluded at all from friendship with these ladies.

I am blessed that I still have several of the Moms mentioned in the book still in my life. And yes, a few of them treat me like I am their daughter at times. And yes they even get onto me for things, mainly overdoing it and lack of sleep. I even call some of them Momma (then their name). These Moms are so very mighty. They are beautiful on the inside and out. I feel so blessed that I can call them "friend." You definitely need to add this book to your collection and learn more about them.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Growing Up Through Trauma

It is a bittersweet day for this Momma. Cutie #2 has decided to sleep in her own bed. (Enter criticism of others).
Now some are thinking, they slept with you....yes, yes they did. Why? Because Chaz was gone ALL THE TIME! I was in a house by myself and I hated the idea of our children not being right next to me.

Your next thought? Chaz allowed this? Yup sure did. He and I agreed that time would fly and they would decide on their own to leave. His traumatic incident forced it a little sooner, but it has all worked out.

Your next thought? You must have clingy children? Actually they are just the opposite.They are independent, brilliant young ladies who has zero problems making friends wherever they go.

Yes both girls slept with us (mostly me because Chaz was always gone) for the beginning of their lives. It wasn't until we were forced to move to Maryland that they slept separate. They slept separate simply because they did not have room with us. When we moved home to Tennessee they chose to sleep together in Cutie #1's room. But this week Cutie #2 decided it was time to go to her own room.

All three of us are a little sad, but also happy for her. It's a big step for her little self. The most important part was that she made the decision all on her own. What this tells me is that Chaz and I have been able to give and build her confidence throughout all this crazy.

I will not lie, the three of us have rallied unknowingly together to protect her from everything. Somehow, and not by force, Cutie #1 protected her sister from everything that we have all been through. Somehow together we have protected the innocence of Cutie #2. It's kind of nice when you think of it, but yes I agree it's unfair to Cutie #1. I can assure you and witnesses can testify that she has never been forced to be the protector. I think it has something to do with her being the oldest.

For sure Cutie #2 has had the least amount of trauma from our journey. We haven't had to remind her to "just be a kid" like we have with #1. #1 hardly ever listens to that and I doubt she ever will. #1 has the urge to help others and has a tendency to jump in to help, except when we are talking about chores around the house.

Raising children through a traumatic incident is very interesting. Our girls were 8 and 5 when this all began almost 4 years ago. We have tried our best to give them a great life despite our limitations. We have taken advantage of opportunities that created some amazing memories for us all. We are definitely not wealthy, but we do try to make up for it in love. We have loved them through their tears and anger over everything that has happened to us. I think that love has truly helped them heal.

I will admit dealing with the house has been the most difficult part for us parenting wise. #2 is now with the program and understands everything a little bit better. Both of our girls have had the hardest time dealing with the fact that people came to our home (both current and to the land) and made promises to help our family and then broke those promises. It is a topic of conversation that just fizzed out when we went to write the names on the wood a few months ago. Now our girls understand that we are building with the help and support of others. I think they have more pride in our home because we are building it ourselves. I know Chaz and I do.

I am pleased to say they are finally excited about the house again. They have watched their Dad get hurt again and again in this home and they want the house for him as much as I do.

We are all ready to move on to our next chapter. It's a very exciting time in our home. We are spending time on pinterest getting ideas for what colors we want on the walls and fixtures and things like that. It is so wonderful to have some excitement in our home again. And as a Mom, it is just great to see your kids get excited about something.

We will be moving from a city to the country. We are giving up convenience for peace and quiet. The girls are very much aware of where we are going and the changes that will be made. Of course it hasn't really hit them yet. We do talk about it all the time. What's funny is when we get to our property for a visit, they get to run around in the back yard without a care in the world. They then tell us how ready they are to leave the city. I think our city girls are ready for a change of pace.

Growing up through trauma is definitely interesting. The one thing I have learned as a parent is to go with your gut. So far our decisions have been pretty darn good ones. We can only hope that our decisions help our cuties become courageous adults and great citizens.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My Dark Days

It's time to have a serious conversation about mental health in our country. It seems like we are ashamed to talk about it. Well I am not ashamed of the issues I have had, I just have always chosen to keep them private. I am going to share my two darkest days in the hopes that others will share and get help like I did.

In March 1999, I lost my boyfriend to a car accident and my grandfather just one week later. I was devastated. This was the first time in my life where I knew how to it felt to be numb.

My heart was shattered. I remember feeling as if I could not feel anything. 

I got through those days as a zombie. I had no fight in me. I just went from place to place when really all I wanted to do was hide.

I had no tears left when the thoughts of just letting go entered my head. I even began to sketch it all out. How? When? Where?

At that time, I felt like I really had no one. I felt utterly and completely alone. I thought no one will miss me if I go. So why not just go?

I could see my Mom and Step Dad wanted to help me so badly, but just didn't know how. They didn't know what to say or what to do. I took some time off from college to just deal with everything.

The night I thought of letting go, I decided I had to do something. I had to get off the fence. Either I was going to let go or I was going to go on. It was the pain in my mother's face that made me get off the fence. She loved me so much and wanted to help, but just didn't know how. There was this look on her face. I'll never forget it, the thought of it makes me cry today. Her look reached my heart like an arrow. She needed me to move on. She needed me to be ok again.

So I did move on.  I struggled for a long time with depression. I hid my depression with a smile and by focusing on finishing my degree. I buried myself in my studies. I built many of the walls I still have today because I just didn't want to be hurt anymore.

A few months later, Chaz got through one of those walls. For some reason, he just kept coming around and slowly broke through that wall. And before I knew it, everyone called him my boyfriend and then he became my happily ever after.

Fast forward to 2005-06-the darkest year of our life. Chaz was in Iraq and I had two very sick babies on my hands. I never got to talk with him. I was in the doctor's office every week. Cutie #1 developed asthma and Cutie #2 developed every baby disease on the planet it seemed. Chaz's company was getting hammered. Every time I turned around there was a call, KIA, WIA, it was insane.

Then came the sleep deprivation. At one point I had to give Cutie #1 a breathing treatment every other hour. Cutie #2 was just an infant and she was an infant who seemed to catch everything so she was always on meds. There were a few days that I ran on just minutes of sleep. I later learned that Cutie #2 also brought me postpartum depression. Something I knew nothing about until I was buried inside of it.

I was at my edge again. I was so tired. I was being criticized by family and friends for this and that, all petty BS of course. I was called a hypochondriac for the medical concerns of our girls. I was called a bad mom. And in all this criticism and health issues, I had to find time to attend memorials for my husband's fellow soldiers.

I remember the day I walked out to the back deck of the first home we lived in. I remember thinking it's only a matter of time before I am a widow. I remember thinking I'll just end it all. Then came the How? When? Where?

I was snapped out of those thoughts from 3 year old Cutie #1 needing something. Luckily our days were so busy with meds and treatments that I was just exhausted and would pass out at the end of each day. The days passed quickly for the three Allen girls that year.

I did see my doctor and talk with them about everything. It was my hormones mixed with exhaustion for sure. I was put on a hormone treatment and it did make things better for me. When Chaz came home, I confessed everything to him. He did not understand at all, but he did try. We both had to try to understand each other after that deployment. Neither of us were ever the same.

When my girlfriend's husband committed suicide, I remember a man telling me in anger that I have no idea what it's like. I may not know another person's demons, but I have shaken my own demons' hands. I know what it's like to stare at the end. I know what it's like to be in the dark tunnel and be desperate for a light. I have been there twice. Both of my bouts were brought on by the death of others and exhaustion that carried into hopelessness. The hopelessness and exhaustion spiraled me into the pit of despair.

I do not know what combat feels like. I only know what my husband has shared with me about his tours. I have looked at my husband more than once after he has shared a story with me and asked, "How the hell are you sane?"

When the guys came home from Iraq, you did not talk about the war if you wanted to stay in the Army. Chaz had nowhere to turn. He had to give his guilt to me. His stories are buried in my brain and yes even sometimes wake me up at night. I know he has not shared them all and I doubt he ever will. But the stories he has shared are ours now.

People ask me how does Chaz handle everything so well? I truly believe it's because he given me so much of his guilt and I do not judge him for what he has been through. I know he has killed people. I know some of the things he has seen. I have held him when he has cried and we cried together. I have let him fall apart and together we put the pieces back together. I truly believe he is doing so well because he has no doubts that I love him unconditionally. For him, that is enough. Unfortunately many others need so much more. Everyone's needs are different and it's time we realize mental health treatment is not one size fits all.

We lose 22 veterans per day to suicide, but suicide is not exclusive to the veteran population. Suicide hurts us all. For some odd reason, we as a society do not want to talk about dark feelings and dark places. It's hard and it makes us feel awkward. You know what, it is hard and awkward. I have walked away from typing this several times so I can clear my eyes. This is an extremely hard monster to face, but we have to. We are losing too many people to this monster.

We need to start the dialog. There's nothing wrong with talking about our feelings. What is wrong is that we choose to avoid the elephant in the room. What we need to do is take that elephant down one bite at a time. I do not know how to accomplish that, but we have a lot of medical professionals who do. It is time to listen to them.

It has almost been a decade since I have been on my fence. I truly hope I never see it again. I still battle depression from time to time, but mine is hormonal based. Exhaustion always makes it worse.

How do I cope? I have a few ways. I make sure and get some type of exercise in at least a few times a week. Right now I am training for a half marathon, so I am doing a lot of walking. I also love yoga and I love to turn the music up and dance around the house with our girls. Sometimes I just need a lovely cup of tea and a good book to escape into. But every single day I begin my day by giving thanks for waking up, then that I can see, that I can hear, that I can breathe, that I can walk, that I have another day with my family and my thankful list is very long. Beginning my day in thankfulness is what kicks off my positivity. And yes I have been called Pollyanna, but this Pollyanna is far from perfect and it took me a long time to like looking at her in the mirror. Some days I still don't like her. I am still a work under construction, but I truly believe we all are.

Looking back, I realize that God put me through those tests so I would be able to handle Chaz's injuries and the plan that he had in store for our family. My faith was tested to extreme levels more than once. God and I had lots of bad words back then. I was so angry with the things that had happened to me. I had been faithful to him, yet he allowed this hurt to continue. I did blame him for pretty much everything I had gone through. 

Now I know you have to have tests to have a testimony; you have to have trials to be triumphant. My scars are not out there for everyone to see. They are buried inside and really only a few know about them. There is a lot more hurt to my two stories, but I am just not comfortable enough to share every single detail with the world. And you know what, that is ok.

I am ok with be a part of the dialog in our world and getting the statistics of suicide lower. There is something that can be done, I just don't know what that is. All I know is what worked for Chaz and I and all I can do is share that in the hopes that it helps someone else.

Today is the start of a new year. Let's work together to learn about how we can help others and get those statistics lower. And my media friends....if you can saturate our news with the threat of ebola, you damn sure can start this dialog and help save lives.