Friday, December 31, 2010

Ringing in the New Year


Well, it wasn't midnight here in Iowa (I only lasted until 10 PM), and it wasn't REALLY him, but here's to hoping that 2011 brings us peace, joy, love, and togetherness again.
~Emily


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Heard Around the House...

Well, in the midst of the Christmas fun, I accidentally left my camera on the floor. A very curious little man who will remain anonymous decided to force open the lens of the camera, thus breaking it. Thank goodness for the Black Tie Protection and the hottie Geek Squad guy who helped me get this taken care of. The good news, it's "free" to get fixed, and my camera will return. The bad news, I'm without my camera to capture any Flat Daddy moments for the time being.

Asher has taken to Flat Daddy. Flat Daddy is usually propped up in the kitchen or dining room of our house, and I have found myself getting creeped out only a few times by the large man "standing" there in the room (when I catch him out of the corner of my eye). Today Asher mentioned how large Flat Daddy's head is. Ahhhh yes, like father like son, my dear boy!

On the first morning after we received Flat Daddy, on his way out the door to daycare, Asher called, "Bye Flat Daddy!" Didn't take long for Little Man to love his "stand in" Daddy.

Flat Daddy has also made sure to "remind" Asher to keep his feet off the table during dinner time, to not chase Sadie with the plastic bat, and that yes, he does in fact, have "stinky toes."

Flat Daddy cannot, however, join us in the fun that we have swimming at the YMCA or playing in the snow, but he does join us for dinners at the table frequently.

Flat Daddy joined us for Christmas fun, and even my parents' dog Husker noticed his presence. As we were decorating the cookies, from the next room came barking. When we went into the dining room to see what was going on, Husker was barking...at Flat Daddy/Jake, who was propped up at the CELEBRATE! plate!

Sometimes Flat Daddy will hang out in his recliner while Asher plays in the living room or watches a video. It's not uncommon for Asher to look at me and say, "That's a my Daddy. He's a shouljer. He is very strong. He's in Af-ghan-is-tan." *SIGH* I wish our 2 year old didn't know the word Afghanistan.

Tonight, after many "daddy stories," Asher, bucking bedtime, had once again busted through the baby gate attempting to keep him inside of his room and made his way down the stairs. He stood at our side door, trying to jostle the child proof door handle free. He looked at me with his precious little face and said, "I want to get in the car and see my Daddy in Afghanistan." So do I, little one....so do I. Just a few more jellybeans (a month!) and we will both be in his arms again.

~Emily

Part 2 of Highly Recommended Reads: Deployment Books for Kids

In high school I had a group of girlfriends...the Froot Loop Troop, or the Frooties, for short. While life has spread us across the United States (and even into other countries for awhile!) we've tried to maintain our friendships, and pick up where we've left off when we do see each other again.

Just before Christmas I received a special package in the mail from one of the Frooties, Jen. Inside was an adorable picture of her little man Noah, as well as a Christmas card and a special book called Love Spots. It turns out that Jen's mom's cousin, Karen Panier, is the author of Love Spots. This is a great book about any parent (male or female) who is in the military, whether deployed or not. It talks about all the "spots" that you see on a soldier's uniform, and why they are there. Each "spot" helps remind the soldier of their dear child...everything from swiming together to their pouty face. Jen was so thoughtful to send this gift to us, and we've enjoyed it immensely already.

Sadly, a friend of a friend is being deployed on Saturday. She is the mom to a litle boy a bit younger than Asher, and will be leaving her small family for a year-long tour in Iraq. My heart aches for them, as I remember oh so clearly the awkward feelings of trying to just be normal, but wanting to soak up every second of every moment together because you don't know when you'll have it again. In an attempt to pay it forward to this woman's family as we have been helped by so many family and friends, I asked Jen how I could get a hold of another copy of Love Spots for them, as there seems to be quite a small selection to choose from of "mommy soldier" books. Jen instantly said "Another is on the way" and I've already received the second copy in the mail to "pass along." If you're looking for a copy for yourself, check out Amazon.com!

Additionally, Asher received very special mail two days ago from...his Daddy in Afghanistan! Inside was a small little elephant that Daddy must have gotten at one of the bazaars there, and two Hallmark recordable books...Twas the Night Before Christmas and Do you Know How Much I Love You? Can you guess which one has become a part of our nightly routine, along with Night Catch, I Love My Daddy, and Trucks GO!? Even though we often watch Jake's videos of him reading stories that he recorded prior to leaving, it's just different to be turning the pages of a book and listening to his voice so close, as if he were right there. Thanks to our dear friends Danielle & Lucky for sending the Hallmark books to Jake so that he could send this special package to our little man!

Never thought I'd find myself so looking forward to reading a pile of bedtime stories every night!

~Emily

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Christmas to Remember

Since Jake & I were engaged in 2001, it's become a tradition for our families to gather together for Mass and dinner. That year Jake asked me to marry him and I said yes. We could have had no idea what was to come in the next 9 years. Of course, the attacks on September 11th had occurred, so we had a bit of an idea that deployment was a distinct possibility for us, but we never could have imagined how difficult it would be, or conversely, how blessed we would be.

This year, as always, our contemporary music group sang at the 4 PM Mass. It was nice to see our row of family there, but it was a little sad, too, knowing that Jake was not there to share it with all of us. This was his first Christmas away from his family in 30 years. Of course, now that Flat Daddy Jake has arrived, we are not often without him. We knew Mass would be very full, so we decided to leave Flat Daddy in the car...but have no fear, real Jake had attended Midnight Mass in Afghanistan and participated as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.

After Mass we headed to my parents' house where we spent time decorating some special cutout Christmas cookies and the annual Baby Jesus' birthday cake. This is also a tradition, and Jake always has a lot of fun decorating the cookies. One year he made a Gingerbread man in a kilt. In the spirit of his creativity, I tried to recreate the kilt cookie....which of course didn't work out as I had planned...but instead, I went with what I had...

This is "Jake" in some plaid swim trunks with a purple floatie, complete with hairy chest and rosy cheeks! Think I need a vacation with my husband soon to somewhere warm with a beach?!

We enjoyed a delicious ham dinner, complete with jello salad, rolls, and green bean and potato casseroles. We had a place for Flat Daddy Jake, and set his with the "Celebrate Plate."

The next morning, we turned on the computer and Jake as able to join us via Skype to enjoy the usual festivities. He saw us all opening presents, and luckily he received many special Christmas packages from all of us back home. We've decided we'll change the lyrics of the old song to, "I'll be home for Christmas...if only via Skype...." and we're already looking forward to next year and celebrating as a family...together.

~Emily

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Flat Jake Celebrates Miss E

A few years ago (because it'd be bad karma to tell her age), a pretty fabulous gal was born. Here she is. Miss E. The birthday girl, with her wonderful mom, Linda, looking on.


And here's her cheerful looking hubby, Justin, who arranged for a little "surprise" wine party at The Grape Life.
It was a great night. A small group of us gathered to drink and laugh and talk and celebrate. Delicious appetizers and yummy wine made for a fun birthday celebration.

Hoping not to upstage the Birthday Girl, I did bring along Flat Jake. It's been decided that when he is with Asher, he is certainly Flat Daddy...but when he is with me, that might be a little weird...so, with me he is Flat Jake. So Flat Jake had his first trip "out on the town" with me tonight, and we had a smashing good time, if I do say so myself.

And here's the Party Princess snuggled up to my hubby. Looking good in your new scarf, E! Here are the guys...being sure to "act natural" but also sharing the love, and the vino, with their buddy.
What a hip party! The Moscato was divine, and the birthday girl was fabulous, as always! Check out this fancy group... And just for good measure, in case you didn't notice him, here's the "Hey, look who showed up to Miss E's party" pic! After paying for my good time, and speaking with the owners about Asher, my Flat Jake, and my real Jake it was time to head home to put my little man to bed. As I was walking out the door, the owner pressed a bag into my hands and said simply, "To get you through the holidays." I rushed a "Thank you so much," my head spinning at this thoughtful gesture. Once inside my car I peeked inside the bag...Moscato D'Asti. Heavenly. We'll be sure to make an appearance back at The Grape Life when Jake's home on leave! Can't wait to enjoy it together!

~Emily


Monday, December 20, 2010

Flat Daddy Jake

Recently an article appeared in the Nationwide Parade magazine about a family who had a "Flat Daddy" join their family while the husband/father was in Iraq.

Soon after, I received a note from some friends who asked if they could gift us with a Flat Daddy. I was so touched at their offer, as I figured it may be very helpful for Asher, and also a fun way to "include Jake" in many of our activities. I accepted, and the ball began rolling.

I had to upload a picture that was appropriately sized and with good enough quality to be blown up into a life-sized version of our favorite hero. The problem I ran into was that none of the photos I had of Jake in his uniform fit the specifications...so I tasked him, in Afghanistan, with getting a great picture of himself for Operation Flat Daddy!

Soon he & some cohorts delivered, and off went the photo file. A few confirmations later, and I had a note in my inbox saying "Flat Daddy is on his way to you!"

And today...he arrived.

Here's my Flat Daddy, Mom! Let's open it up!"

Look at those excited faces!
" What do you see inside?" "That's a my Daddy!"
Even Sadie's glad to see Daddy!
Then it was time to make sure daddy was sturdy, so he's tough enough to hang out and play, so Grandma Taxi helped make sure he was pressed & as flat as a Flat Daddy can be!

Here we are...a family of 3 (sort of!) once again! Thank you SO much to our wonderful friends who presented us with this fabulous opportunity. We are so very grateful for your touching gift.

Speical thanks to Aunt Ash...for playing paparazzi for us tonight.

Stay tuned for more adventures with Flat Daddy!

~Emily

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Presence....

So the other day I was asked by another NCO if I would fill in for a mission down to Kabul, Afghanistan. The mission was simple enough - just a straight escort mission...drop off some personnel at one fire base, pick up more at a different one and then return to base....simple.

Well, I was told that only I was needed from my section and would not need to bring my truck along. As is my little tradition, the morning of the mission I get up and after I am ready to go I say a prayer or two. I always say Psalm 91 and part of Psalm 23 (the valley of death part), but that morning something told me to say a couple of others. For one, I wasn't going to be in MY truck with MY normal crew...I was to be in charge of the last vehicle in the convoy, had a new driver and a gunner that I knew, but had not worked with very much. So, I said the prayer to St. Michael and a prayer to St. Joseph.

Shortly after saying the prayers, I got all my gear on, we had our mission brief and then headed out. To say that everything went according to plan would be a lie - things started poorly and got worse after that.

I can't go into operational issues here, but the fact is there are a lot of moving parts involved anytime a mission goes outside the wire...and none of them were very well oiled that morning!

When we finally got out of the gate, we started down the route we were going to take. About 30 minutes into the drive, we noticed there was A LOT more construction going on and the road was even more tore up then it should have been. As I said before I was the tail vehicle in the convoy - this creates a few issues with how much sand and dust there is here. As we approached a section of a traffic diversion to go back up on the main "road", there was an incline we had to climb a bit with a drop on the passenger side of the road. The vehicle two in front of mine was a much bigger and heavier vehicle (the type I normally drive, gun or command). When that vehicle made the left turn to climb up and get back onto the main "road", the shoulder started to collapse and give way under the vehicle's weight. The vehicle directly behind them and directly in front of me, saw this and the driver made necessary corrective action to avoid that area and got onto the "road" quickly. As he did so, he mashed his accelerator, he kicked up even more dust than what was already hanging in the air (with no cross wind the dust is like talcum powder and just "hangs" in the air for long periods of time) and completely obscured the road ahead of me and my driver. Now my gunner, doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing, was covering the rear of the convoy and looking directly to the rear of our vehicle, so he could not see anything that was going on. When my driver and I could finally see, all we saw in front of our vehicle was a drop off of approximately 20 feet or so...no big deal right?!

As soon as we saw the drop off I yelled for him to turn hard left (which he was already doing) to avoid the drop off. As he turned the wheel hard left, the shoulder under the right rear end of our vehicle started to give way...and we started tilting towards the drop. Now, I like to think that I am not shaken very often or very easily, however, when I was faced with the possibility of my truck (weighing well over 33,000 pounds) rolling down the side of a hill, it got me a little nervous!! One of the interesting parts was that training kicked in immediately. As my driver tried to maneuver the vehicle, we only sank further and tilted further, but we ran the rollover perfectly - my gunner got down and secured, anything that could fly around was grabbed and secured and my driver and I took proper precautions. Now, imagine, if you will, sitting in a large metal box with radios, a computer, 70 pounds or so of combat gear on, your weapon and other sundry items....and now having to move your hand off of the dash that is supporting you to work the radio!! I had to call the convoy commander to ensure he knew what was going on and to get help to get us out of there. Many "interesting" events and conversations were had in the short time it took for one of my friends (an NCO that I have served with for about 2 years now) to get his vehicle back to us, get us hooked up on the winch and pull us out.

I knew the situation had been bad and close to catastrophic, however I didn't realize it until we were pulled out and showed pictures that were quickly snapped as we were being extracted. The driver's side tire was at least 2 1/2 feet off of the ground...and looking at the picture, there is absolutely NO logical explanation I can come up with as to why we DIDN'T roll down that embankment. The only reason I can come up with was that my Aunt JoAnne and St Michael were standing on the front end of my truck not allowing it to go over. As I said, it is few and far between instances that can shake me up or make me nervous, but this one had some of that effect. When I spoke to Emily about it that night, I got a little choked up thinking about my aunt and how much she had meant to me on my first deployment and how much I missed her that day...but definitely felt her presence.

I know that no matter what happens here I will be alright, especially with the guardian angels I have watching over me...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What She's Thankful For

Well, as much as I like to think that I'm the only one in love with my husband, the only one who notices the twinkle in his eyes and the way his cheeks are rosy, and believes he's the bravest and strongest and most amazing man in the world, someone else does, too.

There's another girl.

Oh yes. She's had a thing for him for as long as I've been married to him, I'm sure of it.

Probably longer, because who can resist that smile and those hugs?

Meet Maya. This is Jake with Maya on the day that he was deployed in 2004.


And here they are at our wedding, just a few weeks before the send-off. She was one of our flower girls.

Now Maya is 10 years old. She's smart, athletic and creative. Maya wrote a Thanksgiving essay about the things that she is thankful for. Her 3 things were:
  1. Her family
  2. Jake
  3. The Wii

Her mom pointed out that Jake ranked higher than the Wii and shared what exactly she said about him.

"I am also thankful for Jake, because he is fighting in Iraq as you read this. I am also thankful for all the veterans fighting with Jake. Jake has been my friend since I was born. They are risking their lives for us."

It's easy to see why she likes him so much, but can you blame her?

~Emily

Saturday, December 4, 2010

President

Last night I had the unique experience of seeing the President up close and personal.

Many of you know exactly the direction I lean when it comes to politics...the thing is - while in uniform you HAVE to be apolitical. When you sign the line, you sacrafice your right to freedom of speech, freedom to assemble (in some instances), your freedom to express your displeasure and difference of opinion from the President.

Being that close to the leader of the free world was interesting. No matter what is thought of the President, he can deliver a good speech. It was also interesting to see how much the President's face has changed since he first came on the scene as a candidate for the office. He has definitely aged more than just the few years should show. I remember being on the street back home when we were told that we would have to 3 hour shifts at the Radisson hotel when he came to Davenport. The picture of the person I saw that night looked 10 years younger than the man I saw standing in front of me last night.

General Petreus was very interesting as well. As the highest ranking member of the military in theater, you would expect someone like Patton - a large-framed, strong, long-striding four star that demands respect just by being there - but Gen. Petreus is not like that...however, a person that would underestimate him based solely on his size is in for a very rude awaking. Gen Petreus oozes confidence, professionalism and....leadership. He stands maybe 5' 8" and perhaps 150 lbs, but he protrays an aura of someone who is 6'6" 245 linebacker type. When Gen Petreus spoke about the latest loss of life, he called it exactly what it was...murder. Senseless and pointless the murder of those six young men that were trying help the swill sucking piece of crap that committed it develop this country was felt by Gen Petreus and expressed not only in words, but in the way he delivered those words...he is a man I would follow.

Anyway, the experience was interesting and probably (hopefully) not to be repeated (not to be repeated in a combat zone anyway) and it is something that I am glad I can share with you all!

~Jake

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Demobilization & Dessert Disaster (again)

It's a little early to be talking about demobilization & debriefing, but just stay with me here.

Part of the "outprocessing" that the guys go through when they come home includes lectures about reintegrating into family/work life, turning in equipment, checking their health & wellbeing, etc.

Since this war has now been going on so long, the military is finally learning that spouses and families need to be involved in many of these events as well, and when Jake returned after his first deployment, the spouses and soldiers had a day where we all came together & had a little bit of the lectures and talking as well.

I am sad to say, but I think a part of MY demobilization from all of this is going to be to relearn how to COOK and BAKE! With all the wonderful meals that have been made and shared with us, I am losing my knack in the kitchen. Remember my (Happy) Birthday Cake Disaster? Well, I've done it again. For the same poor group of women!

I hosted bible study tonight...and I had a boxed brownie mix that I planned to make. But then I found some caramels, so I got all Betty Crocker on myself and decided I'd make "caramel brownies." Easy, right? Epic. Failure. Again.

Ok...I give myself a bit of credit. Both desserts were ugly as sin, yet edible. Well, this was a little less edible...as the caramel was really sticky. You know it's bad when you warn your guests that you have insurance so in case anyone breaks a tooth, it's all good.

There was a point in the chewing (and chewing and chewing) tonight that made me think of the scene from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation where they are all eating the awful turkey dinner and Beverly D'Angelo tosses the piece of turkey over her shoulder. Hilarious. It wasn't *QUITE* that bad, and all of my bible study friends politely ate the brownie mess. But, Lord, will they stick with me for the "third time's a charm" dessert that I joked about? Perhaps when I said I'll buy storebought the next time I was only half joking...

~Emily

Monday, November 29, 2010

I request a recount.

I request a recount, folks.

As much as I hate to say it, the jellybean jar has fallen a little bit by the wayside.

Let's just say Asher got a little bit obsessed for awhile.

The jellybean jar had to go out of sight.

And out of sight turned sometimes into out of mind...and well, somedays we ate no jellybeans, and somedays Asher got to eat 3. Or 5.

So, tonight was recount night. Ironically enough, today is 4 months to the day that Jake started on his official deployment orders. He's been gone for about 5 and a half months, though, with his pre-deployment training, but 4 months ago was the official start date of the jellybean jar. Essentially, we can look at today as 1/3 of this deployment down, 2/3 to go....and that looks pretty awesome, even from someone who hates fractions!

Tonight after I put Asher to bed, I recounted. We actually started with 400 in the jar, because although I prefer to believe Jake will only be gone for 365 days, his orders are for no more than 400. So, 4 months worth of days = 125 days of missing our Jake. And 400-125 days down=275 days to go.

Here's a look at the two jellybean jars side by side, the day before Jake left.


And here's what we're looking at tackling beginning on December 1.
Not too shabby, eh?
Let's do this.

~Emily

Writing on the Wall

Somedays you just have to take the time to stop and smell the roses.


Or read the writing on the wall, as it were.


Today I stopped by my mother in law Chris' office to drop something off...I can't really tell you what it is at this point...because it's a surprise for Jake!

Anyway, as we were catching up, she pulled a frame from next to her desk and said she wanted me to have something.


My father in law Hugh was deployed to Iraq about 3 years ago. While he was away, one of Chris' coworker friends cross-stitched her a very special reminder that she hung on her wall at home. I have often seen it, hanging in their home, but have never taken the time to read it. Chris said it was something she looked at often to gather strength, and so, now that I am in the midst of our second deployment, she wanted to pass it along to me.




It says:

Give me greatness of heart to see,

The difference between duty & his love for me.

Give me understanding so that I may know,

When duty calls him, he must go.

Give me a task to do each day

To fill the time when he's away.

When he's in a foreign land,

Keep him safe in your loving hand.

And Lord, when duty is in the field,

Please protect him and be his shield.

And Lord, when deployment is so long,

Please stay with me and keep me strong.

She's a pretty wise and wonderful woman...and, she has a pretty fantastic and spectacularly handsome son...don't ya think?

I can't wait to put a new nail in my wall. I have the perfect place for it. Right across from my beautiful Christmas tree!

~Emily

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Literally.

Today, Erin & Justin stopped by to borrow Jake's truck.

Erin, of course, wanted to know how introduction to the tree went with Asher.

When his attention was brought to it, he decided he was really interested and wanted to go and touch it.

In an attempt to keep Asher out of trouble, Erin quickly said, "Don't touch Asher....just use your eyes...."

So what does the 2.5 year old do?!

He puts his EYE on the Christmas bulb.
Literally.

Hey. At least he followed directions!

Now, instead of bothering the decorations on the tree, he just continues to walk up to it & stick his eyeballs into the glittery bulbs and bows.

Dear God, thank you for this beautiful, wonderful boy.

~Emily

Update...

I was reminded (and justly so) that I had not updated my contribution to this blog for quite some time and there were a few questions that needed answering.

In light of the recent holiday, Thanksgiving, I felt I should share what my Thanksgiving experience was. Thursday morning started like any other day, here there isn't really much difference in what day it is, but what work has to be done. There are no days off, no weekends, just slow downs in work. The first meal I had was lunch at one of our "fine" dinning establishments. I had roast beef (a little dry but not bad), some corn and some stuffing. The stuffing was actually pretty good and not too soft or soggy. The interesting meal, however, was dinner.

Our brigade S-3 (Operations and Training officer, a Liuetenant Colonel) purchased a meal for almost the entire S-3 section...about 30 or so people in all. We had a very traditional Afghan meal, consisting of 4 different dishes. First was the rice dish. It is a long grain rice, that is cooked to be a little hard at time of service. Mixed in it are raisins, carrots (finely shredded) and several other ingredients that I can't really identify - but makes the dish very tasty! They also cooked lamb parts in with the rice to give it an added flavor.

Second dish was something that my Dad's side of the family would readily identify as my Omi's goulash. My Omi's goulash is is a stew like dish that contains potatoes, beef, onions, dough dumplings, AWESOMENESS and some broth and different flavorings (still don't have the recipe - need to work on that!). The difference in the dish that I had on Thanksgiving was that there were no dumplings or onions...but the taste was almost exactly the same! It definitely brought back some very vivid memories from my childhood, early adulthood...heck every "hood" from the time I was born to now!

The third dish was a kabob... the kabob's here are bits of cooked lamb or goat meat and bits of cooked fat wrapped in na'an (local flat bread) that is cooked over an open flame on a grill-like surface. It is very good, however I need to usually take out the fat bits just because of the pallet difference between our culture and the Afghan's.

The last dish was the bread... which seriously is a meal in and of itself. The bread is unleavened and tastes amazing... especially when it is warm and fresh!

Another experience Emily asked me to share with you all was the experience of Mass. As many of you know, going to church is a very integral part of our family life. The chapel here is called the Enduring Faith Chapel - which accommodates all denominations of faiths, except Islam (Muslim soldiers have their own worship space on Bagram). The chapel is very simple, with a lot of available seating. When you first enter the worship space (there is a very small entry way prior) you walk into a wide, but relatively shallow room. There are maybe 15 rows of seating in the main area, with wooden chairs surrounding that to complete a horseshoe like seating area. They have all he modern audio/video equipment for choirs, cantors, lectors and the presiding officials. There is a small area in the back, right behind the alter, where the priest and the chaplain assistant (a soldier whose sole responsibility is to take care of the chaplain, prepare for services and act as the chaplain's bodyguard because chaplains are not allowed to carry weapons) can prepare for Mass or whatever service is being performed. The Mass is usually kept well under an hour, no need for long pauses for greetings or exchanges of the sign of piece (there are usually somewhere around 30 - 35 people in Mass) so things tend to move along quickly. All in all, it is a very good opportunity to recharge and refocus while I am here.

I hope I have given you an idea of what my holiday (I forgot to mention that I did get to watch some pretty good football!) was like and answered some of your questions. If anyone has any questions throughout this journey, please feel free to ask - it gives me something to write about!!!

Love you all and again, to Erin and Jodi you guys are awesome and thank you for ambushing Emily and getting her back into the holiday spirit!! See you all very soon!

~Jake

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Christmas Intervention: Ambushed

It's been a little difficult to get into the Christmas spirit this year. I know we just passed Thanksgiving, but I always enjoy listening to Christmas music and decorating with Advent and Christmas decorations, and baking yummy treats. With less hours in the day to do that, it seemed an impossible task. Additionally, Asher and a tree were just not a mix I could see working. 3 minutes at my parents' house while decorating their tree proved disastrous....Asher had a bulb broken! I had resolved to not put up a tree.

My dear friend Jodi had been asking me to make plans with her for Saturday, and I kept pouting and brushing her off. With no plans for my Saturday, this morning I sent her a text saying I'd be willing to do something. She said we could go shopping around 10:30. I, ever the planner, wanted to "know the plan." She brushed me off & said we'd figure it out when she got here. I told her I didn't want her coming in my "messy house" & she said "we won't come in too far."

At a few minutes after 10 AM, just out of the shower, towel wrapped around my head and in my bathrobe, I came downstairs to check on Asher...and there is a knock at my door....

My dear friend Erin was standing on my front porch...and as I opened the door, it was too late.

I had been ambushed.

Erin & Jodi were standing on my porch. With cleaning buckets and supplies. And boxes of decorations and ornaments. And wine. And Velveeta Magic dip. SERIOUSLY. Ambushed.

The dog was barking, the kid was running around screaming, and I was not wearing any underwear. WHAT were my friends thinking?

I was certain we were still shopping. "I'm not ready to go shopping! You said 10:30!" I protested.
"We're not shopping. YOU can go shopping. We're putting up your Christmas tree & cleaning your house," they said.

What?!

My sister was in on the secret. My mom was in on the secret. Even JAKE was in on the secret. Jake can't keep secrets...and he didn't let this one out of the bag! What?!

So...they set to work. They dragged the Christmas tree out of it's dark, dirty hiding place. And began scrubbing, on their hands & knees, my dirty hardwood floors. And vacuuming. And Swiffering. And a little wine was drunk. Perhaps before Noon. I helped by sorting through toys, and cleaning, too.

But then they decided to move upstairs. If it's not embarassing enough to have your friends take over and clean your house, it's completely mortifying to have them clean your bathroom. Seriously. Look. Proof.


And they're SMILING. CRAZY.
I was SO mad at them. Check it out. My mad face.
It's also my "I didn't have time to do my hair because you showed up at my house & I almost flashed you accidentally because I'm wearing a bathrobe" face.
This was next. The tree.
See, Hawks & Cyclones (respectively) CAN get along.
Look at that teamwork.
This is the part of tree-decorating that Jake & I are usually fighting about.
Erin & Jodi yelled at each other a little just to make it realistic.
It really felt like Christmas.
Aren't they amazing?
Here you can see the bows & photo frame ornaments they made special for our special tree.
Part of my hesitation with putting up a tree this year was
A) Asher will pull it over on himself
B) All the ornaments will get broken
C) I can't handle it if A and/or B happen!

"Taken care of!" they said. "If he pulls the tree over on himself, he won't do it again."
LORD.
"Asher's in the remedial stage of things right now," I protest.
"Well," they said, "If he pulls it over on himself, the ornaments won't break. We got you non-breakable balls."
SERIOUSLY.

How could I say no to this?! Isn't it the most beautiful tree you've ever seen?!


Our tree is covered in special moments, special people, and lots of love.


It's purple & pink & sparkly.

It's perfect. What do you think?
Again, thank you seems hardly even utterable. I just kept laughing today, otherwise I would have been crying.
I've been blessed with SUCH good friends.

I think it'll be a very Merry Christmas.

~Emily

Snapping out of it...

And....deeeeeeep breath.

"The boat will not sink, and the storm will not last forever."

Yes.

Today is a new day.

We will get through this.

~Emily

Friday, November 26, 2010

Breaking Point

Hit the wall.

Massive meltown.

The "Ugly cry."

Whatever phrase you'd like to use for it, I am pretty much working my way through these awful stages of deployment at this time.

Life seemed to be going along fine. Not ideal, but we were doing OK. We've got many family and friends helping and willing to pitch in when and as needed. Jake and I get to communicate on a fairly frequent basis. And most days I feel blessed to have the job and house and life that I have.

Not sure what little straw broke this camel's back, but about a week ago, I received, essentially, the ever-dreaded "call to the principal's office" by Asher's daycare provider. Our adorable 2.5 year old has NOT been acting so adorable lately. Whether it was the "falling back" of daylight savings time, the turn in the weather, the "when the hell are they ever going to actually come in" 2 year molars, or just general irritability because his daddy is half a world away....Asher's got something under his skin, and he's acting out. The daycare provider wanted to be sure we were "on the same page."

Sure, I've been a mom for 2.5 years, but I've never done this before. I've never done toddler, and I've never done single parent due to deployment with toddler. Add super high energy, high maintenance, dramatic, fearless, never stops 'til he drops, all-boy all the time, and we're getting pretty close to Asher in a nutshell. There's a reason I call his daycare provider a saint. So when she called and said she was running out of ideas...and patience, I knew it was very, very bad.

I, too, have been experiencing his bad behaviors at home....and it's ever-gnawing at the back of my mind whether this is typical for a two year old or if this is due, in part, to Asher missing his daddy. The other mothers and trusted, caring friends that I've talked through this issue with, have all agreed that it's probably a little bit of everything culminating into one big 2.5 year old mess.

Add to this the fact that for at least the first year of Asher's life, I had practically zero self esteem in my parental abilities. The icky feeling of "You can't do this...you're not good enough...you're not even a real parent, you're only playing at it" is all seeping back in again, especially at this time. I thought I had worked through all my non-mommy guilt. I thought I had reached the point where I was OK with not being Asher's biological mother; had come to peace with the fact that I was out buying a big screen TV and dishwasher when he was taking his first breaths of life. I'm not sure I have ever been actually confident in my abilities to parent him, and I never believed I could parent him on my own. But now I am...more or less, being his 100% parent, 100% of the time. Sure the grandparents, aunt & uncle love taking turns at caring for him to give me a break...but I'm still never without that responsibility that it's me and only me at this time who is "in charge." Certainly Jake offers his guidance and support via cell phone, Skype, and email conversations. But it's never quite "enough" for me to get my empty tank back up to full.

So badly behaving 2.5 year old, doubting of parental abilities, and the holidays without your best friend all culminating at once into a nasty, messy meltdown. Complete with puffy face, stuffed up nose, and can't catch your breath sobs.

Trying to get to that place in my mind where I can say "I'm going to be OK" without my partner here. Trying to believe him when he says it. But I know that if I could just have his arms to hug and reassure me, I wouldn't even need his words. It's like I've told him...."There are just some things a casserole cannot fix."

~Emily

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Partner to Stand By Me

I can't honestly say I remember the actual conversation when Jake first talked to me about joining the National Guard...but that's probably because it consisted of multiple conversations.

It was also 13 years ago!

I do, however, recall bits and pieces of it. He was telling me things like, "It's just 1 weekend a month, plus 2 weeks a year....nothing much." And i'm pretty sure it included a statement like, "And worst case scenario would be going to war, but that will like, pretty much, never happen."

We were so naive.

When we had this conversation, we had been dating less than a year, and were just 16 and 17 years old. How could we have ever known the turns that our world would have taken just a few short years later and where we would be now?

We weighed the pros and cons as teenagers in love....and ultimately Jake signed. For many years his obligation was just one weekend a month and two weeks for annual training. We attended Christmas parties and "balls." We thought we had "made it" when we lasted through basic training and AIT. Of course, in those early years, he sacrificed things like not being at my Proms and in later years my college graduation. But I know he would have been there if he could have been there.

Now it seems funny to look back, but I have been doing that a lot lately. Not in a bad way, but in a reflective, look how far we've come and grown and learned way.

I've recently shared with you two "Looking Back" blogs, but today I share a short piece I wrote in high school as part of my AP English Senior Anthology project (which, by the way, I got an A on!)

Stand By Me
written in 2000

As I was driving along one night, thinking of what on earth I could write about someone who means more than words to me, the perfect song came on the radio: "Stand By Me." All I could think about was Jake, our relationship, and how true those words were to us.

Throughout the past two and a half years together, we've been through so much. We've endured the switch to college, a long distance relationship, adn basic training. Anything that gets thrown our way, we seem to be able to handle. Childbirth and skydiving seem like cake to this relationship!

We've been through the good times and the bad times, the sick times and the healthy times. We have fun no matter what we do, whether it's sitting down at the river at our spot or just talking to each other online to cut the phone costs down. We try making the most of our time together because we realize how short life is and how important it is to not take each other for granted.

We've learned so much from each other. We've learned the art of communication, the importance of trust and respect, and what true love means. We've learned that lasting relationships are hard work and that supporting each other's activities and choices is important to us. We've learned to make sacrifices and to appreciate each other as individuals. Our relationship has taught us so much about each other, ourselves, and the world that no matter where we end up someday, we've already got a lot figured out.

Looking back at what I've written, I laugh but I also applaud. I'm proud that we had a fantastic friendship from the start, and that we realized what was important in keeping a strong bond. I laugh at how cliche I seemed and that this was before cell phones were so common, so we had to use calling cards or our parents' long distance to connect....and that I thought I knew what "tough" was when talking about all the things we had endured together. Little did I know we'd face deployments and infertility and so many other challenges that are inevitable as you progess through life in your 20's.

Now I look back at the 13 years we've been together and I think how far we've come and how blessed I am to have Jake to face this life with. While he's not always literally by my side, he is at my side in spirit. As I face the challenges of life with a VERY independent 2.5 year old, he admits that there is nothing he can do from where he is thousands of miles away to help get our son to listen or behave better, but he does have just the right words to say to help me know he supports me and loves me and that I am doing a great job (even when I feel far from it). He can't be there to put his arms around me and melt my anxieties, but he has pledged to juggle his busy life to be available to me when and if I need him. How amazing is he?!


So, today I say to my beautiful, wonderful husband "Thank you, for standing by me...It's such an honor and a blessing to stand by you."
~Emily

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Very Special Mail

Today, we received our first "free mail" from Afghanistan!

Asher got a postcard from Daddy! It has a helicopter and a map of Afghanistan, so we can see right where Daddy is. It has some soldiers on it, and says Operation Enduring Freedom.

One awesome thing is that Jake can mail postcards and letters for FREE! It took 11 days for the postcard to get to us.

Jake's special message to Asher included:

"I love you buddy, I can't wait to get home and play in the backyard (gotta pick up the dog poop first!), go swimming, and go to the park! I will take you and Momma where ever you want to go, so be thinking Little Man!
Love you buddy,
Daddy"
*SIGH*
Love.That.Man.
~Emily

Friday, November 12, 2010

A typical day...

First - it is kind of weird to think that any day is typical when you are deployed. I say that because during the entire train up process you are taught to not make any day typical and to always vary your "routine" so the enemy can not develop or establish any of your routines.

However, now that I am stationed at BAF and not a forward outpost, I am afforded the luxury of "almost normal". Let me say though - despite the fact that I am stationed here I do go on mission occasionally, but not nearly as many times as my last deployment.

My "typical" day starts relatively early at about 630 or so. I get up, shower and shave and get dressed. Luckly, I don't have to try to decide what to wear by how it looks...just sometimes by how it smells!! :) When I'm dressed, I grab my weapons and walk about 200 meters to the building in which my office is. I have three different computers that I track different information on everyday. Briefings on one, regular email on another, etc...and within a short period of time I am done with most of what needs to be done for the day. I then spend the rest of my day emailing and trying to track down information. I usually go to lunch mid-morning, walk back to my office and see if anything has changed in the short time that I was eating. I watch the clock like a hawk until 4 pm when its time for me to go workout. I workout with one other guy on very regular basis and another one not so regularly...but need to improve the regularity of that one because he is the one that pushes me on cardio!

After I lift its time for dinner then back to my office to see if there is anything that I need to be aware of for the next day. Some more emails are sent and then its time that I can just kind of surf the net a little and relax before I head back to my little room to get ready to talk to Emily.

Now, some might wonder what the food is like, what the weather is like...just what's it like? Well, the food is alright most of the time (besides - one plus to living on BAF is that there is almost always ice cream available)...think of cafeteria food in a high school...before they had food courts and selections! You get what they got, but they usually have a good amount to choose from.

The weather has started to turn chilly in the mornings...BAF sits at about the same elevation as Denver, but a lot dryer and a lot more dusty...A LOT MORE DUSTY!! The dust here gets into everything...even if it is covered, put aside, inside buildings - it doesn't matter!

Usually I will go to the PX (post exchange - little store to buy stuff) every couple of days, but (now that I have bought some small items) there isn't anything in stock that I would really want/need - except the same old junk...movies no one has heard of, womens' shampoo and body wash (cuz there's 25000 male soldiers here) and such. If I do go to the PX I sometimes stop at the GreenBean coffee shop that is pretty close and grab a cup of coffee or a mocha espresso smoothie (progressive I know!).

Life here is pretty routine even though we try to do it differently everyday. There are times when I go on mission and those days a little different...mission prep, departure, completion of mission and return to base...on this forum I don't want to get to deepinto the details, but you probably get the idea!

One good thing I have seen here is the progress that the ANA has made since the last time we were here. In that time, they were very untested and a little shaky when things went wrong...now they are able to just do what needs to be done, but in a manner that respects all aspects of the issue. The corruption is why less than what I remember having to deal with and it seems to be a little easier to get along with the ANA...which is huge if we are going to try to turn EVERYTHING over to them. The police are a little further behind the military - we started with the military so the police are where they need to be for the amount of time that we have been mentoring them. I think they will make it to where they need to be, but that does not necessarily mean its where we WANT them to be...different people, different culture and different standards...as long as the PEOPLE are taken care of and they understand that - this country will be ok...and so will we.

So - that is a little glimpse into the "world according to Jake." I love you all and can't wait to see all of you when I get home and I can tell you everything!!

~Jake

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Looking Back: My Husband's Best Veteran's Day

This post, My Husband's Best Veteran's Day, was originally written November 13, 2007. Just this year, the I-280 bridge, which connects Iowa & Illinois, was renamed after this hometown hero.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Some family friends of ours who are involved in a local Vietnam Veterans chapter organized a "Welcome Home" party to celebrate veterans and thank them. This was the 2nd annual, and there is a great band that plays 50's & 60's songs, the Mexican American Vets Association makes amazing tacos, and it's a very fun event.

This past weekend, we had a wedding to go to first, and Jake wasn't sure we'd have time to go to the Welcome Home party because it was his early night in to work. I told him we should still go - he should change his clothes into his work clothes & we'd just take two cars. So we headed off.

This year they honored a local man who is a medal of honor recipient, Sgt. John Baker (then Pfc.). What he did was nothing short of amazing. He is a TRUE American hero. There are only a few more than 100 of these men living. Many of the recipients of the Medal of Honor are awarded posthumously.

My heart leaped out of my chest when I got to watch my husband shake hands with this man. I know how proud he was to have even met & shaken hands with him. Jake was smiling ear to ear and when we stepped away he was shaking with excitement and said he had goosebumps. A few minutes later, one of our family friends took us back over to Sgt. Baker. I watched as Jake interacted with him....and then....Sgt. Baker reached into his pocket & shook Jake's hand, and as he did so, he passed Jake one of his Medal of Honor "coins."

For those of you not in the military, here is some history. It's part of a "game" where there is always a challenge to "trump" each other's coins...coins are awarded for different reasons, but as I understand, a Medal of Honor coin "trumps" ALL. It's a huge honor to receive one of these coins, and I am not sure of this, but I believe that people like Sgt. Baker has a limited number of these coins to hand out over his lifetime. After Jake was given this coin, he was even MORE thrilled. He had to turn away because he had tears in his eyes!

What a memorable Veterans Day experience for Jake! I think I got to experience him having one of the best moments of his life!

~Emily

Monday, November 8, 2010

Looking Back: What I've Got

This post, What I've Got, was originally written October 31, 2007.

I share it with you as we approach Veteran's Day this week, and also as we've just passed the date when Jake would have been released from his military duties, had he not re-enlisted. I just want to reiterate how blessed I am to have Jake in my life...and now Asher's life, too. Little did he/we know that our son would be born just 3 short months later...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I am terrified. Terrified of losing what I’ve got.

I have many nice “things” in my life. A beautiful, brick home. A job that makes me happy. A fabulous, red vehicle that gets me where I need to go on a daily basis. Money in my bank accounts. A church where I feel at home. Food in my cupboards and in my belly.

But these things are all just THINGS. I could live with or without them. In all essence, they mean nothing to me.

Let me tell what I’ve TRULY got.

I have an amazingly loving, loyal, dedicated husband. He’s funny, faithful, and kind. He is seriously the most handsome man I’ve ever met. He loves motorcycles, martial arts, and “kill ‘em up, shoot ‘em up” movies. He’s a “boob man.” He’ll go to a movie by himself on the first day it comes out in the theater just because he loves films so much. He can’t keep surprises. He drools over gun and ammunition catalogs. He loves to watch the Bears & screams at the TV as if they can hear him critiquing their messy plays and horrible passes. He’s easily side-tracked. He loves ice cream and peanut butter, separately and together. He always stands at attention when the National Anthem plays, and he reminds people around them to take off their hats to show respect. He loves a good German beer, but a cold Bud Light will do him just fine, too. He enjoys “angry” music, but he’ll listen to country, Christian, Rock…anything he can sing along to. And he has a wonderful voice, even though he’ll deny that to his dying day. He gets super excited when I cook good food. When he especially likes the way something tastes, he’ll want you to have some, too. He doesn’t understand why people clapped for him when he walked through an airport with his uniform on because he feels he did “nothing special.” He adores dogs and babies. He can be so gentle and nurturing. His cheeks are always rosy & his long eyelashes can melt you. He’ll admittedly tell you that he can’t put an outfit together to save his life, so it’s a good thing he wears a uniform most of the time. He wants to make a difference in the world, by making himself a better person, and by helping others make better decisions. He’s passionate about what he loves. And he’d die for what he loves…his family & his country.

On top of all of that, he loves me. HE. LOVES. Me. He LOVES me just for being my rotten self. He doesn’t care that I have gained weight, or that I am neurotic about silly things, or change my hair color too much. He puts up with my messiness and my bossiness. He endures my side-seat driving and my innumerable questions. Why? Some days I still think to myself, “What have I done to deserve such an amazing man who loves me so much?”

One can only speculate. :)

I never want to lose the feeling of someone loving me unconditionally for me and all of me. I always want his hugs, his laugh, his smile, his kisses. I want his arms to hold me forever, his fingers to run through my hair, and even just his company to walk the dog or watch a movie together. I miss him when he’s not with me…even if it’s just when I go to work, or he’s out of town for a week. I feel like even when I am old & gray that I will STILL feel like I haven’t got enough time in this life to be with this man. My heart truly ached while he was overseas. My chest literally hurt with love and pain. I would not wish that hurt upon anyone…and the ache is seeping back again.

Jake will sign papers again on Friday to re-enlist.

~Emily

Monday, November 1, 2010

At a loss.

I'm practically at a loss for words. Well...practically...not actually. :)

This weekend was a rough one. I don't know why it was particularly difficult, but it was like all the feelings of missing Jake were overwhelming me...sadness, anger, exhaustion all wrapped into one ugly mess.

Asher and I had a good time swimming, running errands, and celebrating Halloween, intermingled with a few "good" 2.5 year old moments. I am SO grateful to those who understand 2.5 and assist in ways that go beyond helpful in my current state of mind.

For instance, first stop Saturday morning was the bank. I had a jar full of change plus some cash that I wanted to deposit into Asher's college savings account, so we had to go inside. Asher waited somewhat patiently, but when it got to be our turn he was done for, and so the lady behind the counter offered a sucker. Thank you Lady Behind the Counter for knowing just what works!

Next stop was the post office to drop off a care package for Daddy. I had everything on the declarations ready to go, package in hand, etc. I just should have known the line would have been out the door at 10 AM on a Saturday. While trying to juggle the package, and stand in line behind 8 people, and keep a hold of Mr. 2.5, he was also finishing his sucker. It is then that I realize that he's got the sucker AND half the stick in his mouth. As I am trying to wrangle these pieces out of his mouth so as not to choke, and maintain my place in the line, I believe the glimmer of sweat forming on my brow must have caught the eye of the man who was first in line. This man I would like to call Saintly Post Office Line Jump Allower. Saintly Post Office Line Jump Allower kindly offers for me to take the next open window. I, however, realize, that this means that I will also be "cutting" in front of the four other people who remain in line waiting, too. I kindly ask if they'd be OK with me going ahead of them, and no one grumbles loud enough audibly so I say thank you thank you thank you and try not to tear up and carry the kid in one arm with the purse slung over the shoulder and the 12 pound box in the other hand. When I lay it on the counter, Juanita, Post Office worker says "How did you just carry that one handed?! That was amazing!" I just smiled and said, "I'm doing a lot of jobs one handed these days...I guess I'm just getting used to it." She graciously stamped my declarations and got that package sent on it's way to our favorite soldier. And I humbly thanked Saintly Post Office Line Jump Allower once more as he held the door for me on the way out. There ARE still good strangers out there in the world.

And those examples are just the beginning. Remember how I told you about the friend who offered to help by getting some meals made up for us? Little did I know what a task Mandy took on....She found a website called TakeThemAMeal.com where she has arranged a schedule for meals to be brought to us every Monday and Thursday night. The response has been absolutely phenomenal. I have been overwhelmed to the point of tears at the generosity displayed by Jake's coworkers & their families, and also by book club and bible study friends who have jumped onto the "schedule," too. Warm lasagnas, tasty enchiladas, meatloaves, casseroles, soups and even delicious baked goods...better dinners than I would ever make for myself! These meals have been so invaluable to Asher & I. We get to enjoy a hot, homecooked dinner together without the stress that making it up brings. I can spend time with him - playing, reading, or giving him the attention he seeks at the end of his day. I've been so touched by these "gifts."

My dad and brother visited the other day to climb up on our treacherous roof and clean out the gutters to avoid any water problems. I hate that high roof, and they both don't get "paid enough" to take such good care of me, and yet every week they've dilligently mowed, raked, or done whatever yardwork (or take care of any other emergency issue that comes up) is necessary.

The other night I flipped on our furnace for the first time, and it wouldn't kick out the heat. I made a few phone calls and asked to make an appointment for service the next day. Instead, they came out at 10 PM and didn't charge us, just so that Asher & I wouldn't go through the night without heat.

Then today I was given a check. Some very special friends offered to pay for Jake's online services while he is overseas, so that we can be in constant communication via Skype, and most of all, so that he can see Asher and so that Asher can see his Daddy. When I opened the envelope containing the check, I was floored to see not one month, but FIVE months worth of the cost of the internet connection. What did we ever do to deserve such amazing friends and family who are so willing to take care of us and comfort us and look after us?

Like I said...I'm practically at a loss for words. But...I just had to get that all out first.

~Emily

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mailing: The How To's

It's time to talk about proper mailing procedures for care packages & letters to our favorite soldier!

Please feel free to connect with me for Jake's address. As this is a public space, we prefer not to share his exact address here.


To mail a letter to Jake: simply stamp your letter as you would within the United States. Same postage rates apply.

To mail a care package to Jake:

There are now flat rate boxes that are specific for APO or FPO addresses. I ordered 25 boxes for free, so if you are in our area and would like a box to mail a special package in, please let me know and I'll be happy to provide you with one. The boxes are 12 x 12 x 5 1/2 and they ship for $12.50, no matter what or how much you can stuff inside!


Along with your package, you will need to have a Customs Declaration and Dispatch Note, PS Form 2976-A, available at any post office location. There are instructions to fill out the 6 copy form included, but to make it simple here's the lowdown:


From: This is you! Need your name & address in the first section.

To: This is Jake! The APO addresses are kind of funky, so the best way is to just write it in as I provide it to you.


Detailed Description of Contents:
The woman at the PO told me food doesn't need to be claimed, but other items (say books, DVDs, etc.) are supposed to be claimed, including the quantity and approximate weight & value. Most care packages will not be valued at more than $20-25.


Then, you must sign your declarations form and date it. There are other sections on the form (insured amount, sender's custom reference, importers reference, HS Tariff Number, etc.), but it is my understanding you do not need to fill those out. There is a section that says, "If non-deliverable & then you can choose from
  • Treat as abandoned
  • Return to sender
  • Redirect to Address below.

I always checked Redirect to the address below. I believe it is still OK to write Commander & then Jake's address following that (without his name) & the box will become a free-for-all for the other soldiers there. This would only happen (I believe) in the case that Jake was no longer at the base.

The US Postal Service has created a link with a lot of information regarding mailing to our troops at their website. You may view that information here. Information found by following this link includes:

  • Addressing Tips
  • Mailing Restrictions
  • Packaging Tips
  • & more!

Some items that Jake has said would be helpful for him to receive in care packages:

  • "Good" toilet paper
  • Baby Wipes
  • Shaving Cream
  • Phone Cards
  • Keurig Coffee K-Cups
  • Deoderant (Axe Phoenix is his preferred brand)
  • Gold Bond Powder
  • Paperback books (just stuff you pick up at garage sales/Friends of the Library sales are great - these get passed around!)
  • Greeting cards that he can send home
  • Ibuprofen
  • Dayquil/Nyquil Capsules
  • Febreeze
  • Refresh Optive lubricant eye drops
  • Snacks - Some of his favorite things are anything with peanut butter, Swedish Fish, Twizzlers, Skittles, Popcorn, & Gummy Bears. Hard candy, nuts, chips like Pringles, and mini tuna packs or beef jerky usually travel well. He loves Reeses Peanut Butter Cups.

Please feel free to leave comments here if you have other ideas of things to send!

Make sure to pack your boxes tightly. Squeeze as much as you can into a package before sealing it. Maybe give it a little test shake to see if you hear any rattling. It's helpful to seal anything that may leak inside of a Ziploc bag. Additionally, the gallon sized bags may be useful for jake on his end to reuse. Another tip that we heard last deployment was to include on the inside of the box lid a list of the "contents" of the box, so that your soldier will know if anyting is missing. Also, no need for delivery confirmation or insurance...as far as I know the "insurance" is only good while it is in the USA.

I know Jake is so appreciative of all the mail, love, and support that we have received from our family and friends. Let's blow him away with lots of "love" through the mail!

Ready, set, GO!

~Emily

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Facade

And just like that, the wall came tumbling down.

After reading Jake's last post, the reality of what's going on here hit me like a ton of bricks.

It's not that I haven't noticed him gone...but he has been gone since about mid-May, so sometimes it feels like just another day of him not around. It's not that I've gotten used to it, but somehow I've managed to "cope" and just keep going in his absence.

But today, after reading his last blog post, the awful reality of what's really happening, why we're in this position, and where he is now just weighed down heavily on me.

I know that I've been in denial about this portion of the journey. It's been a long time coming, so it felt like maybe the day would never come. Maybe my life is so much more full of things to do this deployment than last deployment, perhaps I have less time and less mental capacity to worry as much as I did before. Maybe I have a better support network or more usable coping mechanisms this time. I don't know what it is...but so far this deployment, for me, has been a lot easier to manage.

Today, though, I read his words. I know my husband...and I know his heart. I know what he's feeling...and what he said there for all to read, that is truly him.

It makes me hurt that he saw that. It makes me sad that he was a part of it. It makes me long for his arms to hug me...or maybe for my arms to be hugging him, too.

He has been a part of so many of these funerals and processions and memorials for heroes on our soil. Too many. And he has always been selfless and brave and proud to do that. But he has also felt those losses deeply. I cannot imagine what it felt like to stand there on ramp duty at Bagram and watch someone just like you, draped in the flag. But I can. I can see it through is eyes and his words. I know why he shared that, but why why does it have to be this way?

When the Twin Towers fell, I was SO naive. I didn't even know what the Twin Towers were, and I had no idea what a terrorist was. I was 20 years old. Now children hear that word on a regular basis...they know what a terrorist is, they hear about them on the news daily. It makes me sad that my son will have to know that.

So many of my hours of Jake's last deployment were consumed with worry. I couldn't just "be" in my apartment without fretting that "they" were coming to tell me he was dead. I developed an almost OCD-like response to a car door slamming: Car door slam. Check the window for the men in uniform. It was exhausting. I didn't realize until he came home how much rest I was not getting while he was gone.

And now, here we are again. He's been so reachable, so available in the States that I almost took it for granted. But now, when something happens, or I want to talk to him, I cannot just pick up my cell phone and text him. With the development of technology like Skype, we are able to connect and communicate, which has been wonderful, but again, perhaps just another way for it to feel like he is so close, when really he is a world away and in a very dangerous place, after all.

I cannot let this consume me. I cannot let this dominate my emotions and my thoughts. I have to stay focused, much like he has to remain focused on his task at hand. Still, it was difficult to watch that facade break away...Jake revealing himself to us, and for me to realize that we truly are still at war and that until I see his smiling face next to mine and hold him in my arms that I will have an empty place in my heart.

~Emily
Last night I had a particularly odd (probably not the right word, but I don't know what word really is appropriate) experience that I was proud and saddened to be a part of. Last night we said goodbye to a hero and sent him home for the final time.

There are a lot of opportunities that are available to me being stationed at Bagram...education, good food (or at least not as bad food), MWR (morale, wellness, recreation) opportunities and some interesting work opportunities...there is another detail that I hadn't thought of when I first knew I was going to be stationed here...ramp ceremony.

What the ramp ceremony is, is its a final goodbye and payment of respect for a fallen soldier, or fallen hero. Its not something that is fun, exciting or thrilling, but unfortunate and necessary. I have been a part of a lot of ceremonies, funerals, honor guards, etc for soldiers and police officers back home, but here - in this place - it is a bit different. There is a sense of...I don't know, something that is in the air and is felt by all who are there. Some take it better than others, some act different than others, but when I realized the MOS (military occupational specialty - job in the military) of the soldier, it hit home hard...he was a combat engineer like me doing a job that I have trained to do in the past and am quite confident he was every bit as capable as I am.

Seeing the flag draped coffin carried off the humvee by the pallbearers and watching the soldier being loaded into the cargo area of a C-130 for transport back to the States reminded me of the people that I knew and have lost...and of the family members of others I have been a part of burying. It serves as a solemn reminder that the fickle finger of fate can tap you on the shoulder at any time and call your number.

God speed Sapper, and peace be with your family....

~Jake

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Parenting Across the Miles...

An excerpt from a recent card that Jake sent to Asher for Halloween:

I'm sorry I have to miss trick or treating this year, but I will be home soon
and next year, we'll have a lot of fun!
I love you, little man, be good for Mommy, take a nap, and eat your dinner!
Love, Daddy
I love that this man was hours away from heading to a warzone & he's writing his son things like "Be good for Mommy, take a nap, and eat your dinner!" ...three things that totally stress me out & cause Asher & I to butt heads pretty routinely.
I love that man. Thank you for being my best friend, Asher's daddy, and my partner...even thousands of miles away.
~Emily

Arrival...

Well, we have finally arrived in Afghanistan - actually we got here a few days ago, however my opportunities have been limited to get online - I'll explain.

When we arrived the first thing I thought to myself was, "Self, this place stinks!!" All the familiar smells that I thought I would never have to smell again came rushing back to me as the rear ramp of the C-17 lowered and we taxied towards our stop. The mixture of diesel fuel fumes, burning trash (mostly plastic), dust and all the waste we produce as humans was overpowering for many of the people I was with that had never been deployed. For me, it was a reminder of how dangerous this place really was the first time and could easily be again if proper precautions are not taken.

The living conditions the first few days were pretty interesting and pretty tight. We had over 80 people crammed into a "circus tent" that was probably big enough to comfortably fit 50 and had no way of keeping any of the fine, moon-dust like sand out...so needless to say everything was covered in dust!! After we figured out where we could squeeze all of our people in, we were finally given some free time to either wander around Bagram or just chill-ax...I chose to walk around.

Having been here before has afforded me a small luxury of knowing almost exactly where I am going and where I am at most times. However, since the last time I was here, things have grown and expanded immensly...like the fact that the troop levels here went from 10,000 (at most) to over 35,000 just on Bagram! I quickly found the PX (post exchange) and the coffee shop and tried to take in my surroundings. The level of activity was pretty amazing - seeing as it was not even 6 in the morning here yet!

The last few days have been busy at times (going to the range and getting some theater specific threat training) and extremely boring at others. This is going to be a deployment where I am going to have to initiate a lot of work, because I just don't think I'm gonna be that busy. Today there is a meeting and then I am going to try to find whoever it is that I am replacing and start getting my head around what it is I need to do here...

Will write again soon!!

~Jake

Monday, October 18, 2010

Relief.

He called.

After leaving the US on Friday and our last phone conversation at about midnight that night, he has finally called. I was actually in the shower, but I've had the phone pinned to my hip for the last 48 hours. Of COURSE he'd call when I'm in the shower!

Sweet relief. It was HIM. His voice...his laughter...his smile. I could hear his smile. It was him.

I will rest easy tonight. I will sleep in peace.

No, he is not home. No, he's not in my arms. No, I wish he was was not there.

But he called. And it was him. And he's OK. And I'll be OK. And we'll be OK.

~Emily

Friday, October 15, 2010

Leaving...on a Jet Plane

Well, my love has been traveling all day...and he's not even gotten very far, yet.

He started out in California, 2 hours behind us time zone-wise. Originally I thought he'd be leaving early this morning. Well...I should recall that everything in the military a) never happens when you think/expect it to, b) takes a million times longer, and c) is much more involved and/or disorganized that any normal activity.

First Jake & friends took a two hour bus ride to an airfield. He didn't even know where he was headed at that point...just got on the bus when they told him to. I could NEVER be so NOT in control!

Then they sat around awhile, loaded the plane, etc. These activities pretty much took the entire day while I was at work. Sometime around 6 PM our time he was preparing to fly away in the airplane....onto New Hampshire, a 5 hour plane ride.

Just now I received a phone call from my love. He has arrived safely...still in the USA....and made his last call to me from our country. Soon he'll be boarding again and will be flying into the night sky to be in the air probably for the next 12 hours until he arrives in a European country. He still has a very long journey ahead of him. I *hope and pray* that he has reached his destination by Monday morning. Remember, once in Afghanistan, he will be 9.5 hours ahead of us. I'm exhausted (and wishing for a shower) just thinking about his journey.

I've had lots of love and support from friends and family today, and it feels good to know we are so surrounded by those who care and wish good things for us. Thank you for your prayers - both Jake and I can feel them!

~Emily

Game face...

Tonight I had my last Skype session with Emily before heading to Afghanistan. It was a bittersweet set of moments (connection problems) to be able to see her, hear her, but not hold her and be able to kiss the tears from her face.

These last 2.5 months have been difficult, but there has always been the opportunity for either one of us to send the other a text at anytime and know that other person is going to receive it in short order...that is all about to change very dramatically very shortly. I have no idea what my work cycle will be, I have no idea of what availability I might have once I get to Afghanistan or what my availability should be...and it kills me, physically hurts to have to say that.

This is harder this time because there is probably a better chance for me to be able to communicate home, but everytime I do, it will take my mind from the mission at hand. I am responsible for keeping soldiers alive by doing what it is that I am supposed to be doing. So far I have been able to easily put my mind in two different places at the same time...that is no longer going to be possible. I will have to be completely focused on my job, my mission and my men down range and outside the wire. If I fail, if I falter in any way, people die...very simple. I am not going to be able to simply pick up my cell phone and either send my wife a text or call her just to see how her day is going. The adjustment is going to be difficult for sure...just don't know who it is going to be harder for.

I apologize for this post kind of bouncing between topics, but my mind is racing at a couple hundred miles an hour in several directions. I am not anxious, scared, worried, etc about this mission yet...and it's not because I am some kind of super soldier - I just don't think the gravity of it has really hit yet...and when it does, I know it will hit hard.

I leave for a warzone in less than 10 hours...time to put the game face on............

~Jake

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sadie Ate the Jellybean Today

Oops.

God Speaks.

I'm convinced God speaks.

I've learned we just have to quiet ourselves long enough to listen and receive his messages. And be open to however and through whomever they arrive.

For instance, the other day I got a birthday card in the mail from my dear friend Maggie, and enclosed was a special magnet that now resides on my fridge. It says:

"Faith is believing that one of two things will happen," she said. "That there will be something solid for you to stand on or that you will be taught to fly."

And I get that. I know I was meant to hear that.

We've now learned that Jake will be heading to Afghanistan within the week. So yesterday, I decided to drive Jake's truck. I figured it needed to be driven, and I wanted, in some way, to feel close to him, so I gave it a whirl. Hanging from his rearview mirror is a wooden cross, and a dog tag with Joshua 1:9 on it, which says:
I command you: be firm and steadfast! Do not fear or be dismayed, for the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go."
Hear ya, God...loud & clear.
Tonight I was really missing Jake. I haven't been able to recall the name of our favorite Chinese restaurant...silly, really, but I just couldn't call it to mind. When I asked him the name, he immediately said it. At least both of us haven't forgotten....
So, I stopped and got some Chinese for dinner tonight...and ate it while Asher munched on some chicken nuggets...and of course, I was hoping the fortune would have something great to say.
This is where I'm convinced that God has a great sense of humor....you know what my fortune said?!
"A need is a really strong want."
Uh...yeah. TELL.ME.ABOUT.IT. I now understand that the song Unchained Melody and the Righteous Brothers were oh, *SO* right... "I hunger for your love..." "I hunger for your touch." A need may be a really strong want, but hunger....food...that's a necessity....
~Emily

Saturday, October 9, 2010

One more step....

Well, we have just completed our "field exercise" where for the last two weeks our brigade has been evaluated on every task we may or may not be called upon to perform overseas. Everything is dirty, stinky and dusty...everything except the prayer shawl and laminated Asher hands I received just a few nights ago!

The gift was not necessarily expected by any means but did make sense when those items arrived. I probably should have chosen a different location for opening the box and seeing everything in it than I did (I was right in the middle of my work tent!) due to the fact that the big, burly grizzly bear had to get up and leave the tent for a moment to compose myself when I received those gifts! It was very powerful to have those tangible items to remind me of Emily, Asher and home.

Things in the field went ok, though no matter what the final evaluation will be (we - my group - finds out tomorrow), I always feel like there is more that I could have done or should have done. From the sounds of things right now, my section did a good job and may be a little ahead of most active component units that have not delpoyed in the last 1 1/2 years with the mission I have. That part makes me feel ok about going forward with the people I have around me and will be working with.

Things here in California are slowly winding down with our groups leaving and sleeping tents having fewer and fewer people in them all the time. I can't say I am sad to have this chapter pass, however it does invoke some emotion...just not sure what exactly that emotion is just yet. I can't say for certainty that I am excited or anxious or nervous or anticipatory. I am just kind of in a holding pattern waiting for the next mission or task. I know when I finally get on the bird to fly over, my mind will start to truly "click" into full military mode and some of who I am will need to be shut down and some of who I am will have to be amp'd up. It is truly a weird thing, this experience that is "going to war." Anyway, one more step closer to the end....
~Jake