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.

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 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 do I. Just a few more jellybeans (a month!) and we will both be in his arms again.


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!

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!


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.


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, 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!


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 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!


Tuesday, December 14, 2010


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 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?


Saturday, December 4, 2010


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!


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 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...