SFT 2019

What started out as a joke between me, my sister, and three amazing friends, ended up becoming a reality. Right before Andre deployed, my Facebook feed kept populating with an article about women needing “girls trips” as proven by science. I shared it with my sister, Amy, my best friend Raina (my daughter’s namesake), and two of my very close friends, Bobbi Jo and Marisa, in a group text with a short caption like, “Wouldn’t this be amazing to do! Too bad Andre is deploying.” I think it was Bobbi Jo who contacted me outside of the group text and suggested we absolutely make this happen, and the wheels of fate started spinning.

The first three months of a deployment are very hard. You’re trying to figure out your new normal, no one is sleeping, the deployment curse is in full force, and what you really need is a break from it all. It just so happened that the three-months-down date for our family landed a few days before Columbus Day weekend, and all of these ladies wanted a break from reality just as much as I did. Marisa chimed in to our group text with a better name then “Girls Trip” – she named it “Strong Females Trip” and then SFT2019 was born.

These four women have been so wonderful and such an amazing support system for me. I consider them part of my deployment tribe. I hear from at least one of them every single day. Since Andre left, there have been a handful of times that I have heard from all of them in one single day. Combined, the five of us have 7.5 kids – Raina is due with her 3rd in January – with ages ranging from in utero to 5 years old.

SFT2019 took place in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and it was everything we could have wished for and then some. We stayed in a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom, full kitchen with a dining room and living room condo that had a balcony fit for five which looked over the pools and ocean. The sunrise each morning was stunning!

 Because my children are always up before the sun rises, my body automatically woke up during the trip, too, so I didn’t miss a single ocean sunrise. On the second day, we went for massages. I had a very emotional realization while the massage therapist was working on my hand that it has been far too long since I have had an adult hand in mine. I held it together for the rest of the massage, but when I was telling Andre about it afterwards, I did tear up. Gosh, I miss him! We had lunch at a Jamaican restaurant and it was de-LISH. Iowa is the first place I have lived since meeting Andre that doesn’t have a Jamaican restaurant, so when I can get some good, authentic Jamaican food – I am all in.

We spent a decent amount of time on the beach and we strolled the boardwalk. We had some very whacky moments and some very deep moments. There were many stories about our kids and struggles and strong points of parenting, and the huge take-away was that we are all strong women and strong moms, and we are doing our very best.

The beach is a magical place full of healing and renewal, and I’m really hoping the five of us will be able to do this again after Andre comes home safe. In the meantime, I feel recharged and mostly ready to take on the holidays which are coming fast, and I anticipate many hard moments. There’s no secret as to what I wish I could have this Christmas…

A huge THANK YOU to Amy, Bobbi Jo, Raina, Marisa, and my parents (Gammy and Papa) for helping me make this trip happen! And thank you to my husband for supporting it 100+%.

I’M THE MOM THAT YELLS

Raise your hand if you’re in the same boat… you don’t want to be a yeller. Shortly after you yell, you beat yourself up over the fact that you just yelled at your kid(s). You ask yourself over and over, “Why does it take me yelling for them to finally listen?” Next, you calm the crying kid(s) down and try to justify why you just yelled at them. And then you beat yourself up more for not staying calm just a little bit longer. This is when I start thinking about all the other moms and dads I know and how amazing they are with their kids, and I’m just certain that they never yell. Except I know it’s not true. When I’m with parent friends and I confess I’m the mom that yells, I get zero judgment and almost always a response of solidarity… “So am I and I hate it!”

When I’m super stressed, I tend to start with yelling instead of the patient and calm tones that eventually lead to yelling.

Knowing this about myself and also knowing that I would potentially be in a super stressful state for about a year, AKA Andre’s deployment, I wanted to figure out a way to minimize my yelling. Children mimic our tones, amongst other things, and I was starting to hear some sharp tones coming from Raina, my 4-year-old, when she would talk to her little brother and also sometimes when she would talk to me. I sat Raina down and explained to her how important it is to listen and have a kind tone. I explained that it’s important for her to be this way with Joel, and that it’s just as important and respectful that I listen and have a kind tone with her. Honestly, that talk didn’t magically change things. But, (channeling my inner Daniel Tiger’s Dad) I gave her permission to call me out on my listening skills and voice tone. There is nothing quite like tasking a 4-year-old with something like this. She doesn’t let me off easy AT ALL – and I don’t want her to. Andre and I tell the kids all the time that we are a team. We all bring something to the table that makes this family work. Raina takes a lot of pride in knowing that, and I’m hoping Joel will too once he is old enough to understand what it all means. In the meantime, he will tell you that we are a team because he has heard it so much, and he’s a parrot.

Here’s one exercise I’ve been trying – when I catch myself in a yelling moment, I try to immediately stop and start whispering. Let me tell ya, it’s a challenging one, but it’s also a little bit fun because it almost always stops the kids right in their tracks. In fact, one of the first times I did it, Raina asked me if my voice was okay. Pretty cool! I have a long way to go, but I’m certainly working hard at being better in this category of my parenting. Please give me some of your tips and tricks! THANK YOU!! 😊

Dedicating Miles

I haven’t always been a runner.  In fact, there are days when I question if I am a “Runner” at all – my running coach and dear friend Alex (aka Hammy) is cringing as she reads this right now, I’m certain. Hammy always says, “Once you’re a runner, you’re always a runner. It doesn’t just go away.” She’s so right. I AM a Runner! But I am currently in a rut with my running. I’m in the midst of some very tough training for a huge goal I am trying to achieve. It’s really hard and I feel like I’m not progressing, and I’ve spent the last couple of days telling myself, “Who cares about the goal, just forget it.” But that’s not who I am.

My dear friend and running coach Alex aka Hammy.

IIn my late 20s, I started taking Martial Arts classes. After three years of decently intense training, it was time to “cycle” for Black Belt. Part of “cycling” included a TON of running because one of the Black Belt tests was being able to run two miles in 16 minutes or under. I DEFINITELY was not a runner then. But I was super inspired by some of my friends who are runners, particularly my friend Mary. She ran all kinds of races, and she absolutely loved it. Right before I started my Black Belt cycle, Mary participated in what is called The Dopey Challenge. If you’re unfamiliar and you haven’t yet clicked on the link, I will summarize what exactly that is – 48.6 miles of running in 4 consecutive days. She ran a 5K, 10K, Half Marathon and a Full Marathon. I was in complete awe! She wrote about her experience (the good, the bad, the ugly), and I was so amazed by and proud of her. When we had some time to talk about it (because this non-runner that needed to quickly become a runner was desperate for advice), I had no idea I would use one seemingly small piece of advice for all time. She dedicated her miles. Mary wrote a list and for every single mile she had the name of a person she dedicated it to. For that entire mile, she would think of that person and that would pull her through to the next mile. It’s such a beautiful and meaningful way to achieve a goal. So that’s what I also do but it’s not always miles. Sometimes it’s minutes, other times it’s moments.

On 9/20/2019 I ran the 12 minute distance benchmark run at OrangeTheory. I had a pace I was wanting to maintain which ultimately had me just over my mile PR time I’ve been training for. I knew I was going to need to get out of my head so I made my list and dedicated minutes. I’m so giddy to report that I hit my goal.

Back to my big goal. I am trying to Personal Record (PR) my mile time. The mile is my nemesis. It’s short enough that I typically hold back when I should’ve given a bit more, but long enough that it gets in my head. I’m trying to shave off 17 seconds from my last time trial. Yes, I’m nuts!! I’ve been super funky about it lately, and I’m in the “really burnt out, this is no longer fun, I’m not a runner, I just want to quit” part of my training. This is when dedicating miles/minutes/moments comes into play the most. It reminds me of why I love to run and just how lucky I am to be able to run. When running longer races, I always dedicate my last mile to Andre, Raina and Joel, because they pull me through everything. The extra distance at the end  (either the .1 or .2 depending on the race) is all mine – that’s where all the hard work shows, so I need that to be mine. I have a handful of other very meaningful people that keep me going (my mom, dad, sister, mentors, close friends…) AND the Heros, as I call them. There is, sadly, an ever growing list of fallen soldiers. The list I choose to use is through Military Times and is called Honor the Fallen. You click on a face and there is a write-up about that person. These heros have paid the ultimate sacrifice and it deeply affects me, as it should. It’s the sobering, humbling moment that I need to motivate me to tie my laces and get back to work. Because of their sacrifice for our freedom,  I am able to do (and even complain) about the thing(s) I am doing. I challenge you to try it. You don’t have to run a mile or even a minute. If there is an extra hard day at work or you’re getting ready to do something difficult, then dedicate that time to someone special and see who can help pull you through it.   

Chasing Sunsets and Finding Flags

Andre is eight hours ahead of us until Daylight Savings Time ends in November, and then he’ll be nine hours ahead. You never really appreciate the difference one hour makes until you’re trying to coordinate FaceTime conversations with someone on the other side of the world. Most people would want to be closer in hours to their loved one….we can’t wait to be further apart. It will be SO much easier to FaceTime and talk on the phone when he is nine hours ahead. By the middle of our day, it’s nighttime for him. And as the sun is going down here, it’s getting ready to come up there. While these late summer days linger and the sunlight lasts a little longer, I find myself “chasing sunsets” as I like to call it. It’s kind of corny, but I love looking at the last bit of sunlight here knowing that the same sunlight is about to hit his eyes there. ***Cheeseball Alert: Cue the scene in An American Tail where Fievel and his sister are singing Somewhere Out There*** I always make a wish as I’m chasing the sunset, because after all the Sun is a star. It’s a coping mechanism for me, a way to stay close even though we are so very far away. And those little things are just as important for adults to have as they are for children.

Ever since Raina was a little thing (I can’t say ‘baby’ because she didn’t see him in person much until she was almost 1), she has always been drawn to the American Flag patch on Andre’s uniform. Every soldier has one on their uniform, but as she got older and her speech developed more and more she dubbed it “Daddy’s Flag.” She knows it’s actually called “The American Flag,” but she really likes calling it “Daddy’s Flag” – so that is what it mostly goes by in our family. Even Joel calls it “Daddy’s Flag.” As it turns out, “Daddy’s Flag” is one of her/their coping mechanisms. A couple of days after Andre left, Raina was feeling pretty blue. We were in the car and we happened to drive past an American flag, and of course she saw it and said, “Daddy’s Flag, I miss Daddy.”  I responded, “Did you know that every time you see Daddy’s Flag it’s like Daddy is right here with us?” From that day since, both of the kids hunt for American Flags. It’s seriously the cutest thing!

The picture doesn’t do it justice but this gorgeous flag is made from wood and all 50 stars are carved into it. Jeff does amazing work! ricewoodcraft.com

To all of our neighbors who display American Flags, we see you and this Momma appreciates it so very much. When the kids are in a funk, the best way to cure it is to go on a flag hunt in the neighborhood. Some days we count how many flags we see on the way to school or the grocery store or wherever we are headed. Had I been planning a little better, I would’ve bought out Target’s Dollar Spot of flags to save for a tough “missing Daddy” day and lined them up in our yard. I might have to check out Amazon’s inventory. In the meantime, if you live close to us and are questioning putting away your flag decorations as Summer comes to an end, there are a couple of kiddos and a Momma that wouldn’t mind it at all if you kept them up. You would be amazed at all the places you can find the American Flag. I homeschool the kids part-time (on the days when they’re not at school), and we just recently discovered that there is an American Flag on the bottom of crayon boxes. Go figure! We do projects that require shaving cream, and Raina pointed out the other day that the Barbasol container kind of looks like “Daddy’s Flag.” And then she added (with a giant smile on her face), “Mommy, it’s like Daddy is here doing school with us!” These days, I don’t often feel like I’m killing it in the mom-ing category, more just staying afloat, but that was a big win moment. I’ll take it.

What The Bumbo

If you’re a parent or have spent quality time with very small children, then you likely know the Bumbo Seat. If not, please allow me to explain. This particular seat supports infants so they can sit upright (because their muscles can’t do that yet). Some Bumbo’s are swanky and come with an attachable tray, and you can feed the babe right there in the seat if you so desire. Well let me tell you, this seat raised eyebrows in our household.

Joel hanging out in big sisters room in his Bumbo seat.

 I loved it. I couldn’t get enough of it. I wanted to get one for Raina, but we had some other seat-like contraption, so I couldn’t justify buying one more thing that we basically already owned. Fortunately, when we moved to Georgia we ended up acquiring one for Joel, and this Momma was so excited! We lucked out that a woman a few streets over was giving away a bunch of baby stuff, and I went with Andre to check it out. We basically hit the baby-stuff jackpot that day. I was beside myself and beyond thrilled by the Bumbo Seat we just landed. I was so excited that I called my mom to tell her. Apparently, Andre hadn’t heard me mention the product name before. I will never forget the look on his face while I was on the phone with my mom telling her about my find. I got off the phone and he very seriously asked me to repeat the name of this seat. “Bumbo, babe. It’s called a Bumbo seat,” I replied.  His jaw just about hit the floor and he asked me if I was serious.  For all of you Jamaicans reading this, I am certain you are rolling right now.  For anyone else that isn’t familiar with Patois (a form of English Creole spoken on the island of Jamaica), you are about to have a brief language lesson and learn what I learned that day.  Bumbo, in Patois, holds the equivalence of, if not worse than, the “F word” in the English language.  *GASP* <insert look of shock and many minutes of laughing> There are a multitude of reasons I love being married to this Jamaican man, and this shared moment is still one of the absolute best and funniest ones to me. 

Just to double-check the response to the name of this amazing baby product, I tested it on Andre’s nephew Tresur, who was born in the US but fluently speaks both English and Patois, when he came to visit us.  Yup, same blown away, baffled look on his face.  So there you have it, folks.  That innocent baby product…well it’s still pretty innocent, but you might not want to go to Jamaica and talk about it.  We have since passed along our beloved Bumbo Seat to another family, but we’ll always have the story.  And it’s one that won’t soon be forgotten. Especially since I’ve just preserved it in this blog for all times.

One Month Down

We are officially one month down in the deployment (actually a little over, but who’s counting), and it feels good to be making progress. Things started out strong but inevitably got crazier and crazier a few weeks in. I would say though, overall, we are still hanging in there. Something I couldn’t share earlier but now I’m able to is that this past month Andre was in Texas finishing up training and getting final clearances for going overseas. Because of OPSEC (Operational Security),  I’ll never give full disclosure of what is actually happening as far as movements, dates and times, but I figure if you’ve come this far with me/us, you’re willing to strap in for the ride. Andre is now on the other side of the world and his countdown to home has officially started.

Right after I picked up Andre, heading back to Austin.

Before he left Texas, we received news that he would be able to take a 4-day pass. My parents are amazing – they took the kids, put me on a plane, and told me to enjoy every second of my time with Andre. I felt pretty guilty not taking the kids but, ultimately, we decided it would’ve done more harm than good. Yes, they would’ve loved to have seen him and vice versa, but Raina can finally go to bed without FaceTiming him now (thank goodness because now that he is many hours ahead of us that would be impossible), and Joel is sleeping through the night again. Also we know and value how important it is for the two of us to have time together, alone.    

Breakfast at Snooze

We had a wonderful time! I got some MUCH needed sleep and we were able to do a little exploring. I flew into Austin, rented a car, drove a couple of hours to pick him up and our adventures started. We found an awesome restaurant for breakfast/brunch called Snooze and their mimosas were on point.  We drove to San Antonio and checked out the Alamo – which was not at all what I expected. It’s in the middle of the city!  In my head, it was in the middle of a field somewhere. Nope. From the Alamo, we walked to the River Walk and that was pretty awesome, too (aside from the fact that it was about a thousand degrees outside). We even went to a movie together, one of Andres favorite things to do.   

The Alamo

Taking Andre back to post on the last day was really hard. Arguably harder than leaving him at his post when he originally left Des Moines. But, there was an excitement in the air. That’s a strange word to use to describe it, but you could definitely feel the buzz. See, for the soldiers, their countdown wouldn’t officially start until they touch ground in the Middle East, and you could tell by looking and talking to them that they just wanted to get there and get things rolling. Welp, the countdown for them has officially begun and that also feels like a milestone. 

I have a big activity planned for each month. It’s in an envelope attached to the month number so not only do they get to tear off the month, they also get to open the “activity” envelope.

The morning after drop-off, I headed home.  Let me tell you, it was a day. At 4:15am I received notice via text that my flight was being delayed 1.5 hours meaning I would never make my connecting flight. I hauled it to the airport to try to get on to an earlier flight and managed to pull it off with 5 minutes to spare before they closed the cabin door. PHEW!!! That meant I had a three-hour layover in the connecting airport, which I was sort of dreading but then I ended up meeting up with another military wife on my same flight home.  Funny how things work out. We ended up going to the USO which is a private area in most airports designated for military personnel and their families. They. Are. Amazing!!! That long layover flew – no pun intended. We said our goodbyes and boarded our flight (we were in different rows on the plane).

I was deep into texting with Andre about an important matter when my very kind seatmate sat down and said “Hello.” I gave a quick “hi” and went right back to texting before I had to turn my phone to airplane mode. I felt bad for being so rude and wanted to explain my not-super-friendly greeting, but by the time I could he seemed to be sleeping and I wasn’t going to wake him up. As we took off, I started feeling very anxious about the next many months of my husband being gone and what life was going to be like both during and after deployment, but mostly during it. I was feeling anxious about Andre being half-way across the world and his safety and everything else that goes along with the non-pleasantries of your person being so far away for so long. I decided to have a glass of wine just to help relax me a little bit. The one issue is that it was only 10:30 in the morning, and I really didn’t want to drink alone.  So what did I do?  I turned to this young man who was now awake and asked him, “Are you 21?” Looking back on it now, I’m pretty sure he was thinking, “Why is this old woman hitting on me?”  He said “Yes.” Then, I asked him if he drinks. He also said, “Yes.” I handed him the drink menu and said, “choose a drink, I’m buying.” It’s wasn’t until I handed him that menu that I was fully aware of how anxious I was – I was shaking. And I wasn’t shaking because I was talking to a stranger – I have no problem with that. But here’s the best part….when I told him I was buying, his response was, “Okay but I’m buying the second round.” I immediately followed with, “I’m not hitting on you, but this is my situation…” response, and we had probably one of the best flights ever sitting next to a stranger. This young man’s name is Ilich and he’s originally from the Dominican Republic. His family came to the United States when he was 14, and he has lived here since. I had the best time comparing and contrasting his experiences with what Andre has told me about coming here from Jamaica. I was even able to give Ilich some restaurant advice for when we landed. I hope he loved the dumpling place. It’s one of Andre’s favorites. What I did that day was definitely a first for me. I have never really been one to get to know my seatmate when traveling alone.  I’m so glad I did. Not only were my nerves calmed, it tested my comfort zone much like this deployment already has and will continue to do. Ilich, if you are reading this, THANK YOU for not thinking I was some crazy lady and not judging me for wanting to drink at 10:30 in the morning. I hope it’s been as good of a story for you as it has been for me. Human connection is the best!

Ilich and myself before we got off the plane.

It’s back-to-school time here and as much as we are having a blast this Summer, I am actually looking forward to getting back into a routine. I’m pretty sure that will make the time go by a little faster for us. Afterall, once it’s back to school, all of a sudden it’s Halloween, then Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, right?!?! 

We recently sent our first care package which was themed “Iowa State Fair” since Andre had to miss it.

Some of the Happiest People I’ve Met Were Dying from Cancer

Before I became a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), I worked in healthcare. I have my Master’s in Healthcare Administration, my Bachelor’s in Healthcare Management, and my wheelhouse is patient care in Radiology. I am certified in Radiography, Computed Tomography (CT), and Nuclear Medicine. I am categorized as a Dual Certified Technologist and spent the last 6 years of my pre-kid career working for a research school/hospital in Rochester, NY in the Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Center. Seventy to eighty percent of our patient load was Oncology patients. I was the person who injected radioactive sugar (Fluorodeoxyglucose – FDG) into patients and scanned them to see how their cancer was responding to treatments – if there was more/less spread of the disease, or maintenance scans for those in remission. We conducted a few other studies with different radioactive injections, but we mostly saw cancer patients.  Not to toot my own horn (TOOT TOOT), but I was pretty skilled at starting IVs. It’s always a huge compliment when 1) a patient tells you they didn’t even feel the needle go in and 2) when a nurse comes to find YOU, a technologist, to start the IV. Cancer patients are generally very hard sticks because their bodies have been through so much and their veins take a beating. Pediatric patients are even harder. And feet….those are almost always a last resort but actually my favorite because I love a good challenge. 

Stacy K’s is an amazing florist is Rochester, NY and Andre would send or hand deliver the best arrangements to me at work.

I need to back-track a little and give some credit to a few stellar folks who taught me my mad sticking (starting IVs) skills. When I was a nuclear medicine student, I was in clinicals with many technologists but specifically with a husband and wife team, Matt and Nikki. They were both very good at starting IVs, but Matt was THE MAN. If no one could get a stick, Matt could. Those two believed in me. I’ll never forget one time when Nikki needed an IV for a scan that was being performed on her, she asked for ME – not her husband, but ME!! – to start her IV. And this wasn’t your basic 22-gauge IV, it was an 18-gauge needle bore. That’s kind of a HUGE needle. You basically get one shot with those. It’s so easy to blow the vein if you don’t hit it right. Matt and Nikki took me aside and gave me a pep talk. Most importantly, they both told me how much they believed in me and knew I could do it. Well, I did it. At the time, I didn’t realize how much their belief in me would carry on in my career. The major takeaway for me: You never know how much your words can affect someone, so when given the opportunity always be a cheerleader. Never hesitate. 

Matt and Nikki

As for my patients, I could write pages and pages about the things I learned from them. We saw many of them so frequently that they became like extensions of family. The one humbling constant with nearly all of them was how happy they were. They loved life and were filled with optimism. Yes, they grieved, as did we, when their scans came back with not great news, but gosh they were so resilient. It was something I needed to know more about. So, I asked. Because you can do that when you’re about as close to being family as you can be without actually being family. I’ll never forget what one of my patients said. He told me, “Being sad is such a waste of time.” I think being sad is important because feeling all emotions is important but staying stuck in that sad place robs you of the life you have left to live. Other patients would remind me that life, no matter how old you are or what disease you are facing, is very short. You could receive a cancer diagnosis and still outlive a totally healthy person who walks across the street and is struck by a car. My patients found joy in their lives when many people would be crippled. Another patient made me promise her that I would always look for the happy even in the hardest of situations. I hope I am making them all proud. I’ve been away from that job now for almost as long as I was there, and I have no idea who is still fighting the good fight or who is now resting in peace. For the ones who have come to pass, I hope they are looking down on me and smiling, because their words are with me always. Even more so now as we are going through this deployment. Every single day I remind myself and my kids to find the happy.

Please Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

It is so important to have a community, and I know how hard it can be to start all over again. In my experience, the best place to start is with your neighbors. One of the very first things we do when we move into our new town is count how many neighboring houses there are around our home. Typically, we count the houses on our left and right and the two houses directly across the street from us, and then we head to the wine store. We make sure to grab a couple of extra bottles (because, um, MOVING) and wine gift bags with message tags already on them. We put our names and phone numbers as well as the kids’ names on those tags and set out to make some introductions. Almost always, when we knock on the door and introduce ourselves, the person greeting us says, “We should be the ones bringing the wine to you!” It’s such a great way to show our neighbors that it’s a priority for us to get to know them. Only once has a neighbor beat us to it. Our current neighbor, Emily, showed up with fresh-out-of-the-oven brownies and a note with her family’s names and phone numbers. Those brownies didn’t last long! 

People have asked me if I feel weird giving strangers my phone number. I really don’t. But I’ll tell you what does bother me – telemarketer robots that I never gave my phone number to having mine and calling it regularly. (Always block those numbers!) What I can tell you is that this gesture has opened the door much faster to developing friendships and a community. Neighbors are amazing. They can provide you with great insights about the neighborhood and their recommendations on restaurants, schools, childcare/babysitters, events, etc. Many neighborhoods have some sort of private social media group where you can connect with neighbors and get up-to-date intel about the on-goings in and around the neighborhood, but that simply can’t replace the face-to-face connection of knowing your neighbors.    

Now that we have established this ritual, I’d like to think we won’t ever lose it. One day we will make our way to civilian (nonmilitary) life that won’t involve so much moving. And I’m pretty sure we will do our best to deliver our gift bag of wine with our numbers on it (and possibly warm brownies, because that was such a treat) immediately after the new neighbors move in. Until then, all I ask is, for the who-knows-how-many-more-moves we have ahead, “Won’t you be, please won’t you be my neighbor?” – in a sing-song voice, of course. 

Base, Push and All-Out

In my early adult years, I was not much into fitness. Shortly after moving to New York, a friend of mine introduced me to Martial Arts. It took a few invites for me to actually go and try a free class. About 10 minutes into the class I fell in love with it. I was hooked! It will always be my first adult fitness love, and there is a deeper tie to it as that is where I met Andre. In fact, I took a punch to the face because I was ogling over him when he walked in the door while I was on the mat sparring – but that’s a story for another time. That same friend also introduced me to CrossFit and for a while I was doing both CrossFit and Martial Arts. Then, I got my black belt, married Andre, moved to a suburb in Indianapolis and decided to hang up my Martial Arts hat for a while (when the kids are older I plan for all of us to participate together), and I strictly practiced CrossFit. I excelled to somewhere between the “Ok” and “Decent” categories of CrossFit. I did CrossFit through both of my pregnancies, and it was the best thing I could have done for myself. I had morning sickness for 32 of the 40 weeks I was pregnant with Raina, and going to CrossFit for that hour every day saved me. If you’re pregnant or planning to start a family anytime soon, stay active during pregnancy. I promise your body will thank you! I’m pretty competitive with myself, and I really struggled coming back to CrossFit especially after having Joel. I tried and tried and, to be honest, I just fell out of love with it. Andre was so great though. He reminded me how important it is to enjoy working out. You get more from it when you like what you’re doing. So I set out to find something that would meet my fitness needs and spark joy all at the same time…

A few CrossFit coaches were also coaching for this place called OrangeTheory Fitness (OTF) and it was definitely piquing my interest. I love running. (Let me add some important disclaimers here: 1. I am not a natural born runner at all. I have to work really hard at it. 2. I didn’t always love running. In Martial Arts we were required to run two miles in under sixteen minutes and we did a TON of running in the last six months leading up to black belt testing. I hated it. 3. There are days that my love for running is more of a love-hate relationship.) I also love rowing. So, I took an OTF class and it was another scenario where 10 minutes into it I knew I had found my new fitness love. It takes several weeks to figure out what is what when it comes to the terminology, but when you’re on the treadmills (and it’s also part of rowing but more focused on the treadmill work) you have three paces you’re trying to achieve: Base, Push and All-out. Another important disclaimer: You DO NOT have to be a runner to do OTF. I know so many people who power walk and my hat goes off to them. Holy crow, power walking destroys me! The workouts are never the same except that you’re pretty much guaranteed to see treadmill, rower and floor work every day. OTF has been so great for me especially leading into this deployment season of life. Every few months part of the workout is a benchmark challenge – we recently time trialed our All-out 1 mile – and they even challenge you every few months to increase your Base pace by .1 to .3 miles per hour. Nothing changes when your body gets into too much of a routine, it just settles in. These last few months I have really been seeing life itself as these three paces.  Interestingly enough, the week before Andre deployed we were challenged to increase our Base pace.  When Coach Molly announced it before class started, I couldn’t help but chuckle because the Base pace of my life was about to increase….why shouldn’t my Base pace at the gym increase, too?!?!

My best friend, Raina (my daughters namesake), and I met up in Rochester, New York and finally got to take a class together.

I haven’t seen much of a change on the scale, but that’s because I haven’t locked in on my nutrition. My body has a weight that it’s very comfortable being, and I have to focus really really hard on my macros (fat, protein, carbs – I have worked with a macros coach to figure out the numbers that work best for me) and hit my numbers every day, especially protein, in order to see significant changes.  But I have gotten significantly faster and stronger and I attribute that to OTF. So while I would like to shave away a few pounds, I can’t even begin to be upset with myself because of what the scale says. Also, we are not defined by what the scale says!

In addition to strength and speed, OTF has given me another amazing community full of all walks of life. There is a couple that works out with me, Scott and Candy, and they are just the best. I call Scott my Workout Dad, which kind of isn’t fair because he’s not even old enough to be my Dad.  But he coaches me like he’s my Dad, and he has really helped me hit some goals I’ve been setting for myself. Candy had a back injury earlier in the year, and when she came back from it I really admired how she listened to her body and pushed herself only when she could. Grace is a Rockstar and I have been having so much fun cheering her on and watching her come into her own. She started as a power walker and then crossed over to running. One of my favorite things is to watch people do something they never thought was possible. We were made to do hard things! I’ve become buddies with Stacey who almost always smokes me on the rower and then there’s Karen who I absolutely love socializing with before class. I could go on and on and on with names and how much I love these folks who OTF with me. They are my people. They let me be silly, but they also root for me and have shown me so much love since Andre left. They let me sing and dance in the middle of a workout. Some would say that if you have enough in you to sing and dance in the middle of a workout then you aren’t working out hard enough. You know what I say to that? If you don’t sing and dance when you feel moved to, you aren’t living hard enough. It’s always a good time to sing and dance. Always! 

On Memorial Day I dedicated my miles ran at OTF to two soldiers who had recently fallen.

This deployment is going to change me. OTF is going to change me. I don’t want to wish away time, but I am really looking forward to seeing the person I’ve become by the end of this deployment. I have a few lofty fitness goals and I know OTF and my people will keep me on track. And I’m going to keep plugging away at the Base, Push and All-outs this crazy military life throws at me. 

“Come home safe. I love you.”

Those were the last words I said to Andre before we left him. He said he will, and I’m holding him to it! 

Our goodbye started last Sunday with a Farewell Ceremony held in the gymnasium of my old high school. Now, I’m going to age myself really quickly when I tell you that I haven’t stepped foot in that school in 19 years! There was a heaviness in the air walking up those stairs and into the building. No one said much. There wasn’t much to say. The ceremony was beautiful. The speeches made me feel so proud to be married to this man, this soldier who I love and adore. I’m so thankful for the one percent who swear the oath to protect this country. There with me were Joel and Raina, my parents, and a few other family members. And there were hundreds of other family members and friends supporting their soldiers, too. While I was listening to the speeches, I was also doing the “mom thing” where you pay attention but you’re also playing “mom buffet” with snacks and drinks while shushing the kids. One General started to speak and emotions were getting really high when Raina tapped me on the shoulder and requested a tissue. I turned to look at her and there was blood pouring out of her nose and all over her hand. I quietly whisked her away to the nearest restroom and we got it taken care of. Girlfriend didn’t even get a drop of blood on her white shirt – so amazing! I found myself chuckling in the middle of this super intense and emotional moment because no matter what is going on, no matter how much you are hurting or dealing with hardship, life just keeps on happening. When the ceremony finished, we took a really nice family photo and spent the afternoon just being together.

Monday was brutal.  We dropped Joel off at my parents’ house so he could have lunch and take a nap (he loves his naps!). Then, Raina and I took Andre to his work where we would say our last predeployment goodbye since they were being bussed from there to the airport.  It was the hardest goodbye yet in our history of saying goodbyes.  I did everything in my power to keep it together during the Andre-less drive back to my parents’ house.  I’ve pretty much mastered the ability to hold back tears.  What works best for me is holding my breath… however, with that technique, if you can’t fight them back with the breath hold, then the first breath you take they just come pouring out.  My sweet Raina was absolutely devastated in the back seat.  She sobbed her little eyes out.  We have been talking about this deployment for quite a while and that Daddy would be gone for a very long time, but the concept of time in her world is a three-day range: yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  If something isn’t happening within that window, it doesn’t really make much sense.  As we left Andre’s work, I think length of time started setting in for her… that one year is a lot more than today and tomorrow. 

There’s a saying in the military world that goes, “The days are long, but the weeks are short,” because lets face it once you know how long they are going to be gone you start calculating every single way you can to make the deployment seem shorter. I can tell you how many months, weeks, days, how many times our biweekly recycling will be picked up and how many swimming lessons Raina has before Andre will be home. But the saying is true, tomorrow marks one week since we said goodbye. We are one week closer to this deployment being over! We have jumped right in and started crossing things off of our Deployment Bucket List, and we are going to keep chiseling away at it. Thank goodness for FaceTime as we have been able to visit with Andre almost every single day this week. Thank you to everyone who has reached out this past week and especially the day Andre left. We appreciate your messages, prayers and love so much. It means the world to us. Please keep them coming, because we need all of you to help us through this next year!

Andre gave the kids special “stuffies” before he left.
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