Wilted Roses

As I reflect on this last week the image of a wilted rose continues to run through my mind. At one point this rose was growing on the branches of a rose-bush. Then someone picked the rose and this rose was given to someone as a gesture of love. Inevitably as that rose sits in a vase on the table it begins to wilt. The rose is still beautiful and represents something special, but it’s losing its luster and is beginning to die.

The world celebrated mother’s day this last Sunday. Prior to being here, in such an international environment, I had no idea that the entire world, or at least the troop contributing nations here in Afghanistan, celebrate mother’s day. I really did have a sad day. It’s funny how most mother’s days you just want to be by yourself and do something for you. Well this one all I wanted was to be with my babies; after all they are the ones who made me a mother. I ended up going for a long run, like every Sunday and then went into work. However, I did spend the afternoon using the money you all so generously donated and purchased the gear the Afghan running girls so desperately need.

As a tribute to the handful of mother’s here, the dining facility served a special dinner and gave us all roses. I proudly displayed my roses in a plastic water bottle at my desk, but by the following morning they were already wilted. These roses represented a special moment of remembrance of mother’s day, but they quickly earned their spot in the trash can. Although even as I threw them away I could see their beauty.

wilted roses
Wilty Mother’s Day Roses

My heart is heavy this week. My family had to say good-bye to a very close family friend. There are those friends who you forget are friends and forever believe them to be family. The entire Nackers family are those kind of friends.  Greg Nackers was fighting ALS, a disease of which there is no cure. He fought bravely and passed away with his family in dignity. My dad and Greg were high school friends, but their friendship reached beyond high school and spanned a lifetime. In their younger years, my dad and his high school friends were known for their long bike rides together. A century ride was just another Saturday morning for them.

As a child, each summer we would go camping with the Nackers. Both families would pack up and drive north. Greg, Judy, and their two boys Steven and Chris, who were close in age to my sister and me, would spend the week enjoying the outdoors and the company of friends we call family. As we kids grew and left home, my dad and Greg continued their annual camping trips. They added another high school friend Gary and my dad’s brother, Uncle Dean. The four of them continued these camping trips even after Greg was diagnosed with ALS. The picture below shows the four of them on their last visit together.

greg
You Are Missed!

I will always remember Greg with love. Unfortunately ALS turned him into the rose that had been picked. He lived a life loving and caring for those around him, but the time came for him to wilt. His beauty always shown through and it showed right up to his very last breath. He never became the ALS, he fought with pride until the last moment and showed his family and friends his true beauty until the very end. I know God lifted you up, removed your pain, and you are now riding your bike through heaven keeping us safe while we wait to join you!

The same day that Greg took his last breath Timyra celebrated her First Communion. I love the contrast of these two moments. Timyra was taking the Body of Christ and strengthening herself in her Catholic Faith while a dear friend was joining Christ in Heaven. Timyra’s rose strengthened its self. This reminds me of the day Timothy was born. The day he was born was the same day we buried my Grandma Rueden. A newborn baby entered the world the day my Grandmother entered the earth for eternity.

baby buddy
Newborn Buddy

 

 

Grandma's grave 2
Grandma’s Grave

My family and close friends helped to make Timyra’s First Communion special and the blessed event it should be. TJ and my mom took her to all her preparation classes and helped her prepare spiritually. My sister was so generous in doing both the girl’s hair. They looked amazing. I have to mention that 26 years ago my mom made my First Communion dress. Timyra, with a few alterations, wore the same dress. I know I wasn’t there, but with all the support she received, my prayers were enough. Timyra’s rose is full.

first communion family
My Handsome Family

 

same dress 1st communion
Picture of Me in the Dress Too!

 

 

 

hair dresser 1st communion
The Expert Hair Stylist

 

As I look around Afghanistan, I can’t help but see it as a wilted rose. There is so much good amongst all the bad. The good people of Afghanistan are losing because of the bad. There is beauty here, but its life is being sucked away and the roses are wilted. I hope someday Afghanistan will find the water it needs to stop wilting and stand on its own.

roses at RS
A Random Rose-Bush on the Base

Renewal

As you read last week, it was a tough week for me. Although through the amazing outpouring of support I received last week, I know I can make it through this last little part of my deployment. All of you renewed my outlook on humanity. You reset me for the rest of this journey.

First of all I sincerely need to thank all those who donated to the Go Fund Me campaign to raise money for the Afghan women of Free to Run. I had high school cross country friends, college friends, fellow service members (past and present), family members, neighbors, co-workers, and people I don’t even know who gave generously. Social media most certainly helped me reach such a broad audience. This money will be used to purchase gear these women desperately need to make their dreams a reality.  If you were considering donating, and have not yet, please do so at: https://www.gofundme.com/manage/afghan-women039s-running

The one of the biggest hurdles Taylor, the US citizen here in Afghanistan who trains the women, faces is her inability to receive mail. I obviously don’t have that problem. So this is why it is so important to raise this money. With the money I can order the gear and have it shipped directly to me. Then I can make sure it gets to the girls. I am honored to be able to help!

The start of last week was awful, but the end of the week renewed me. We were able to host 18 more of the Free to Run Women for an afternoon training run. This time they ranged in age from 14 to mid-thirty. We offered a 5k, 10k, and 21k distance. All the volunteers naturally spread out with all the girls for the various distances and ran with them at their pace. We hosted the 5k and 10k runners for Gatorade and snacks while they waited for the runners who were going for 21k. Some of the volunteers even walked them around and they watched a volleyball game that was underway. The girls loved it. Once again we were able to give them positive interactions with men who also believe in their dreams and want to help them come true. One of the volunteers, Matt Gill, spoke extensively about his family and children and showed them many pictures. These are the moments that go beyond a run and reach to the hearts and minds of the good people of Afghanistan. It also helps the deployed service members here remember why we are here and who we are helping.

our last run
Sunday run group, our volunteers!

This week I also had to say good bye to a women who was many things to me during this deployment. Although good bye is not correct, this is truly a see you later and soon moment. I was honored to serve with and work for the first female US Marine Corps pilot. Although I had no idea what her history was until we had already been working together for over five months. She would say this was her favorite deployment, because she could just do her job and she wasn’t known for her history making efforts. She was more than just my colleague.  She was my running partner, confidant, and most importantly she was and is a new life friend.  I will miss her dearly, but her leaving brings me one person closer to my departure.  This was a moment of sadness and renewal.  Sarah and I have already planned to meet up for the Monster Dash Half Marathon in October in Chicago. She lives in Michigan just over the border from Indiana. Chicago makes for a great meeting place! Sarah thank you for being there for me this entire deployment and I can’t wait until we meet again in the civilian world outside of Afghanistan!

recreation picture
Last run selfie…recreating our first selfie after the half marathon last October….MISS YOU!

I’ve been distracted these last few weeks and I missed a few milestones at home. First and probably the saddest for me was Taylyn turning 3. It was sad for two reasons, I wasn’t there and my baby turned 3! She still had a really special day. They took her to Chuck E. Cheeses for dinner and games. My sister brought my niece Quinn. Another part of this deployment that I will treasure forever is how close my children have gotten with their cousin. My mom watches Quinn every Wednesday so Taylyn gets to play with her at least once a week. They have turned into two little peas in a pod. They drive my mother crazy with their screaming, but they have bonded in a way they never would have had I been home.

Tay and Quinn
#troubleforlife

When I was home on leave Taylyn would play with an imaginary baby  she called her Ceesa. When we were at Disney she would push her imaginary Ceesa around in the stroller. I thought  an actual Ceesa doll would be the perfect birthday gift. I found a website that would embroider rag dolls. I wanted Ceesa to be a doll she could take everywhere with her, since the imaginary one went everywhere. I called the morning of her birthday and was able to watch her open the present from me. She was excited and from my understanding Ceesa does go everywhere with her.

ceesa
Tay’s Ceesa

 

Tay with Cesaw
Nap time with Ceesa

Timothy has started spring soccer and is enjoying practice and games.  He maybe small, but he’s fast and is certainly the team’s number one scorer.  Timyra dove right into the swim team.  She’s already had her first meet and it went well.  She took first in 2 events and, well last in the other.  You can’t win them all and if she hadn’t done two flips turns to turn around in the 100 free the outcome may have been different.  Although she loves going to practice and I’m really excited to see where this goes for her.soccer gameswim team meet

Thank you everyone for the support these last couple months.  I believe I have what I need now to finish this.  We are all in the home stretch!

$CSLF*&#$(*Y A

No the title of this blog post is not a typo. It just sums up how I’ve been feeling this week as well as what I may have said more than once throughout the week. This was truly the first week where I really felt like it was time for me to go home. I’ve done my time here in Afghanistan and I’m just REALLY ready. Never in any of my blog posts have I really written about what it’s like here from a kinetic perspective. I certainly did this for two reasons, one I just don’t want to think about it or write about it.  Secondly it’s probably better I just don’t have you read about it. This week I do want to write about the kinetics. If you don’t want to read about it, just stop reading….

To help set the stage for Afghanistan in the last couple days I need to mention that the Taliban officially kicked off the fighting season. This is no different than any other year and if you Google Taliban and fighting season you can read their objectives on open source.fighting seasonIf you are still reading I want to write about April 30th. The day started out like any other Monday. I got up and went to the gym. I enjoyed a moderate eighty minute ride on the bike. Afterwards I went back to my room, showered, and got ready for the day. At 7:58 when I was about to put my pants on to leave for breakfast I heard an extremely loud boom. With the explosions that are close we hear them, but not only did I hear this one I felt it. The windows of our building blew open. I knew it was only a matter of seconds before the base alarm would sound and we would be sheltered in place. Although in those few seconds I was praying I had just heard and felt something falling nearby and it wasn’t an explosion.

I finished getting ready while I waited for the all clear alarm. I spent those forty or so minutes watching Big Bang Theory and cleaning my room. I went to the Facebook page Kabul Security Now where the locals post the latest incidents,.  From there I figured out it was a motorcycle born improvised explosive device (IED) that exploded. I later found out it was 200 pretty close. After about forty minutes the all clear alarm sounded and I proceeded to leave my room and head into work.

bloody camera
There were a large number of reports killed in this attack and this was on Kabul Security Now

 

No sooner did I make it down my steps and a few feet down the sidewalk than I heard and felt another explosion. I was with someone else and we both said some explicit words and proceeded back to our rooms. The shelter in place alarm sounded once again. ISIS-K (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) claimed responsibility for the attacks on April 30th. To put it simply, they are the terrorist of the terrorists. The Taliban may have kicked off a fighting season, but there is an effort underway for reconciliation with the Afghan government. They also state they are trying to mitigate civilian casualties not create more. These ISIS-K f#$ers detonated a motorcycle IED then waited for the first responders to arrive on the scene and detonated a personal born IED (suicide vest). There is no excuse for that type of human carnage and in my mind simply put it is pure EVIL!

after IED
I found this picture in the New York Times article

 

The all clear alarm sounds again and I go into work. Ironically I spend the rest of the day teaching a class with my office to the tactical level advisors on Civilian Causality and Mitigation. The course goes well, even though the start was delayed due to the happenings of the morning. After the class I went back to my office to check my email for the first time that day. As I’m going through my emails I realize that along with what happened that morning we also lost a US Special Forces Soldier. Out special forces got into a ground engagement with the enemy and one lost his life and another was critically wounded with a gun shot to the chest. The gun shot victim is in stable condition, but at this point in the day after everything I saw, heard, and felt this was just too much. I looked at my computer and said I just want to go home. This was the first time I cried regarding the situation here. I’m not sure why that day and not any other, but I had just had enough. I’m tired of watching this. I think it’s just that I’ve put in my time and it’s my time to go. I’m ready to turn the watch over and go home to my family!Gen Nick

To add more insult to injury down south that same day a vehicle born IED made its way into a coalition force convoy.  It detonated and caused many injuries to the Romanians in the convoy.  Thankfully they were all in tactical vehicles and walked away from the blast.  The unfortunate part is 21 innocent Afghan children on the road were killed from the blast.

Again it’s time to go home!  While I was waiting for the all clear alarm after the second IED I did pack a sea bag of things I won’t need for the remainder of my time here.  I will mail this sea bag home this week.  A sign I’m getting closer!

I apologize for writing about the dark side of Afghanistan.  I still do hear and see amazing things everyday.  I’m just tired of watching the terror!

But to end with some sunshine.  I am working to raise money to buy gear for the Afghan women who run with Free to Run.  I created a GoFundMe account.  https://www.gofundme.com/afghan-women039s-running  Please visit the link and donate.  I will use the money to buy the gear and have it shipped here to Afghanistan.  One of the issues they are having is getting the gear shipped here.  I can help with that (and so can you)!

True JOY

This last week I wrote most of a blog post I planned on publishing on Friday like I normally do and then something happened on Wednesday that changed my mind. I will still publish the one I already wrote, just another week. I’m just planning ahead for when I have writer’s block.

On Wednesday we were privileged to be able to escort six Afghan women onto the base. These women are part of an organization called Free to Run. The mission of Free to Run is: to use running and outdoor adventure to empower and educate women and girls who have been affected by conflict. We support those living within conflict areas as well as those who have been forced to flee their country and live as refugees. Free to Run operates on the basic principle that sport is a human right and not a luxury. Recently the first ever Afghan Ultra-Marathon Team completed a 250km race across the Gobi Desert. Two of the six girls who came to run with us were part of the team.  It was awesome to be running with them. Please go to www.freetorun.org to read more about what they do and see how you can help.

Gobi run

The Gobi Desert Girls!  They are even wearing shirts from the half marathon we did on the base in October…they came that day and ran with us! (although then I had no idea who they were)

 

There is one young U.S. female, Taylor, who works for Free to Run and lives here in Kabul.  She courageously trains these women. She is living in an apartment on her own in Kabul.  That takes guts and thick skin.  The Afghanistan group consists of approximately 150 women who just want to exercise. Taylor came on Wednesday night with the six Afghan women who  came to run.  She was telling me that when they first started training they only had access to a 100 meter track for running.  Many of these women were training for ultra-marathon distances and they were repeating the same 100 meter track countless times.  I will never again complain about the endless circles I do here.  At least our route is just over one mile and safe. The dedication it takes to do what they do is amazing, but there is more to their running that is even more inspiring. Every time these women set foot outside to run they are taking a risk. Afghanistan is inherently unsafe and especially for women. These women run outside completely covered enduring rude and demeaning comments from their fellow Afghans. Yet they train hard and are competing in some of the hardest races the world has to offer.

before girl run
Before Run Picture

 

Our normal Sunday running group met us and we all ran together with the Afghan female runners. One of the Afghan women had just joined the group and this was her first run ever. Within our group there was a smaller group that stayed with her the entire run. As we ran we naturally broke out into different ability levels, yet  we were all waiting for each other when the 5k ended to high-five and congratulate each other as we finished.   It was so special to be able to give these women a safe place to run. We gave them a place they could run freely without the worry of being heckled. Some of them even removed their head scarves while they ran. I was extremely touched to be part of something so amazing. The joy these women were exuding was something I have never seen before. A moment I will truly never forget and certainly makes being here in Afghanistan worth it!

after dutch
After Run Picture…tummy’s are full of pizza thanks to our Dutch friends

 

When we were done running the Dutch National Support Element (NSE) hosted us for dinner. They purchased pizza for everyone and we shared in each other’s company. The Dutch were so kind to share their space with us. Every single Dutch citizen on the base came and welcomed the girls. They really added to the amazing night. They allowed us to continue to show the Afghan female runners hospitality.

dutch-shoes.jpg
The Dutch also gave us all a little pair of shoes!

 

There is a curfew for everyone in Kabul, so by 8:30 that evening we had to escort them off the base so they would arrive home prior to curfew. As we were walking them to the gate to leave three of the women were giggling like young school girls (which they are probably not much older than school girls).  Another Afghan female runner asked me if I knew why they were giggling, and since I only understand about ten words in Dari of course I said no. She explained they were giggling because in their culture they are not allowed to touch another man in public and especially not their hands. When we finished running we gave everyone high-fives so they were touching men’s hands. Then when we left the Dutch NSE people were once again high-fiving and in some cases hugging. All of these social norms of touch that are normal for all of us are very strange for them, although watching them giggle leads me to believe they enjoyed the touch! Again watching the Afghan girls smile and laugh and be free brought me such joy. My heart was overflowing the entire time we were with them.Dutch after smallAfter we dropped the Afghan female runners off at the gate I went back to my room to shower and go to bed. I was on such a high from having spent time with these special Afghan women. I was about to get in the shower when our base alarm went off locking down the base. This only happens when there is an eminent threat. My heart just sank and I was quickly reminded of the reality of where I am. I was extra sadden because I had just taken six Afghan women back out into those streets where the threat is real. I was acutely aware of the good people who are out there every day facing this threat. For two hours on a Wednesday evening we were able to bring them in and give them a safe place to run, laugh, be free of head gear, and allow them to forget. The unfortunate part is that it was only temporary and afterwards they had to return to their reality. I am so thankful that I was able to be part of an escape for them, even for only a few hours.

The threat that triggered the alarm was quickly removed and fortunately no one was injured in the process. The bad guys were arrested, and at least for now, removed from the streets so they can’t terrorize the good people of Afghanistan.

Purist

I started running on a consistent basis when I was a freshman in high school, so over twenty-one years ago. For twenty of the last twenty-one years of my running career, I didn’t keep track of anything more than the time I spent running. Even then I only kept track for the duration I was running.  I never officially logged anything. For many years, I simply hit the timer on my watch and ran for a set amount of time. I often found myself arriving home short of my time goal and I would run up and down the block until I was at an even number. Then I would walk inside and clear my watch and start again the next day.

As I became more familiar with my running routes I found it very liberating to sometimes run without my watch. I would wear my watch and check the clock time when I left and then I would just run my predetermined route and only check the clock time when I arrived home. Since I wasn’t directly timing my run I would stop when I arrived back home. There was no need to run up and down the block to get an even time. Sometimes it was just nice to be free of the watch and enjoy a run with no feedback. People would ask me how much I run and I would look at them silly. First of all, I told them I was a purest and had no idea.  I just ran whatever I felt like doing. I usually ran three days a week. I would do a shorter run with friends at work, a track workout on Wednesdays, and a long run on the weekends. If I had to put a number to it I would say I ran twenty to maybe thirty miles a week. But I also had weeks where I didn’t run at all and it never bothered me as long as I got in some kind of workout each day.

When I started my job at Lift Fitness over four years ago, they gave me a Fitbit. My first Fitbit just tracked my steps. I quickly became addicted to step counting. If I wasn’t at my 10k steps for the day you would find me walking circles around the main floor of my house at all hours of the evening to make sure I got there. When I was home on maternity leave with Taylyn I upped my step goal to 12k steps a day and that is where its stayed for the last three years (almost three, Taylyn won’t be three for another week and I keep reminding people she’s still two. I don’t want my baby growing up!).

first-walk-after-tay-was-born.jpg
First walk with all my girls, 2015

In April of 2017 my Fitbit bit the dust for the third time and I knew it was time to upgrade to something that did more than just track movement and steps. Since I was training for an Ironman I felt I had graduated to the next level in activity tracking. Lucky for me, I had saved up three years’ worth of birthday presents from my parents so I asked them for a Garmin watch. I felt it was time I had a watch with internal GPS that could count my laps while I swam, something a little more Ironman training compatible.

 

Mid-April last year I started counting my mileage for the first time in my over twenty years of running. So now not only did I care to reach my step goal every day, but I had convinced myself I needed to run at least 100 miles every month. I stopped being a purist. As 2017 progressed I upped my monthly running mileage goals, connected my watch to the bikes here to keep track of my mileage, and of course I kept track of the meters I was swimming. By December I decided to run my first 200 mile month, I think I can confidently say ever, but I will never know for sure. Then in March of 2018 I was twenty-two miles away from another 200 mile month when my Garmin decided in the middle of a swim it had, had enough. People joked I did three years’ worth of workouts in one and it just couldn’t keep up anymore. The day it died was tough, but my natural instinct to everything is do whatever I can to fix the problem. I contacted Garmin as soon as I returned to my room after the swim. They gave me an address to send my dead Garmin to and once they received it they would send a replacement one to my house in the states. I was content with the solution, but now I’m without a watch, step counter, GPS, bike mileage counter, and lap swim counter. Really I was panicked. How was I going to train.

6 miles
The last 6 miles to 200 for March

 

Then I started to think, ok, you went over twenty years with no knowledge of what you were doing and you still finished 16 marathons, multiple triathlons, and so many road races of various lengths you can’t even count. Firstly, I decided to run out the twenty-two miles to get to my 200 mile month. Initially I was just going to skip it. My results weren’t going to show up on my Garmin app so so why do it if I’d have no record of the miles. The truth is those miles still count and I can count to 22, so why not finish. I almost started to believe if I couldn’t see the workout on my watch, then it didn’t happen.

stregth training
dedicating 2 days a week to strength training

 

What I’ve discovered over the last few weeks without a watch that tells me everything, is nothing has really changed. I’m a little more relaxed when I run on the treadmill because I am not stressing trying to keep the indoor running mode on my watch in sync with the treadmill. It works rather well, usually within three one hundredths of a mile, but I have to ensure I move my arms a certain way to keep them synced. I have to think more than I would like to keep the treadmill and my watch together and I can’t just zone out and run. I’ve been enjoying zoning out. I’m still writing down my mileage, but on a piece of paper. I’ve taken a step back from the technology, but I don’t think I’ll never be able to be a purist and just time my runs every again! This break from the technology has been a little liberating. For biking my phone still connects to the bikes and is tracking my workouts via the app I use to set up my workouts. I’ve even started strength training again twice a week and I really needed to make that commitment. Since I am not obsessing over how many miles I run I’m taking the time to improve other areas of my fitness I’ve been ignoring.

kids picture day
I just had to…too cute (pre-picture day snap shot)

My replacement Garmin arrived at my house this week and my mom already put it in the mail. I am excited for its arrival and I will be ready to start counting again, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy a little break from all the information!

dennys-with-kids.jpg
Last year we took the BIG kids with us to Denny’s

Also this last week marked nine years since TJ and I went on our first date. We went out for breakfast at Denny’s in San Diego. I know on April 16th of 2009 we never would have believed that nine years later we would have three amazing kids and he would be home with them while I’m in Afghanistan.  But here we are!  The thing is with TJ I’m never counting. I’m not keeping track. Every time our wedding or dating anniversary comes around I have to do the math to figure out how many years we have been together. It just feels like we’ve always been together, in a really good way. I just simply don’t remember life without him and I really don’t want to. He’s doing an awesome job keeping the house together while I’m gone and getting everyone everywhere while I’m away. He is my partner in life. I will remain a purist when it comes to our time together. If I start counting I will realize there is never enough time for us and our life together. Instead I’m going to enjoy every minute and continue to be thankful for our life! Don’t let me go!

Anniversary Final
Some of Our Shenanigans
TJ mohawk
7 years ago, sushi dinner date, post Navy, Mohawk

 

 

 

Girls!

I am going to dedicate this blog post to the girls in my life, the ones here with me and the ones at home waiting for me. I believe you are all strong and amazing and are doing great things for yourself and everyone around you! KEEP BEING AWESOME!

sarah and I profile
YEAH…we rock!

On Sunday prior to our weekly group run there was an organized Fun Run for Kids that started at 8 in the morning. The run was comprised of teams of 4. We made a team of all women. I was with a female U.S. Marine, an Australian Naval Officer, and an Australian Army Officer. There was a staggered start and each team started five minutes after each other. We were the first team to start.  We started by running to the first station.

girls running away
Running to Our Next Station

 

At each station we were required to perform a certain task and then given a slip of paper with directions to the next station. Our all-female team, the only all-female team participating didn’t win, but we did come in third (I might need to mention there were only six teams). We did however win the award for most ingenious team. At one of the stations we were expected to conduct fifty pull ups. I think if I had to do fifty pull ups I would still be at the station. I am not capable of doing one proper pull up, much less fifty. I truly believe I am much more capable of completing a full Ironman than I am of completing fifty pull ups. This is where our ingenious came in. The instructions stated we had to complete fifty pull ups with our chin coming over the bar and then fully extending our arms. The pull-up bar was on a set of racks. I stood on the pegs on the rack and did squats which allowed my chin to go over the bar and then I extended my arms fully. I didn’t break any rules and knocked out fifty pull-ups within the rules of the race in less than a minute. Then we were off to our next station. We had a really great morning running around and having fun.  Plus we proved how smart women really are.

pull up
Ingenious Squat Pull Ups

Recently I took a day trip over to Bagram Air Base to touch base with some of my colleges. I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone, but the military is a male dominated career, although while over there, and just by chance we ended up having an all-female lunch. The lunch was joint and multinational. We represented the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, the Australian Army and Navy, and the British Army. It was nice to share some comradery with my fellow female service members from around the world. The food, well that was just ok!

girl lunch
Ladies Lunch

Last week my lovely mother turned 60. Her birthday fell during a week when the kids were really busy with activities. We were able to find a sitter to help out and I think we were still able to make her birthday special. Thank you mom for understanding! My sister took her out for dinner, while TJ ran the kids around to their various activities. Our neighbor Rosie, an amazing make-up artist, did my mother’s make-up. If you are looking for of a make-up artist, please check her out on Facebook at Rosie Dow Makeup Artist. Timothy did think Grandma looked scary, but only kind of scary. The next day Taylyn asked her where her mask went. Sometimes kids!   I am proud to say I have these genes, I hope I can look this young at 60!

mom's birthday makeup
Mom on Her Birthday…thanks Rosie!

In the middle of all that was going on last week, Timyra had swim team tryouts every evening. She had been looking forward to trying out for the swim team for a while and this was her chance. Between everything else that was going on, with the help of a babysitter, everyone made it where they needed to all week and Timyra was able to go to tryouts every day. By the end of the week she was exhausted. The tryouts went until 8 and then she’d have to come home, shower, eat a snack, and wind down before going to bed. I call TJ most mornings when I get up and he’s usually on his way to bed. Last week Timyra was still up after tryouts.  In the end, it was all worth it. We found out Saturday she made the team. Thankfully practice doesn’t go as late as tryouts did and she’s only swimming two or three days a week instead of every day. I am very proud of my little mermaid, but now is when the work really begins. I’m excited to get home and watch her compete! (If you haven’t noticed, I love this stuff and I find it really rewarding watching my babies do what I love…watch out world if any of my children run cross country!)

swim team tryouts
She’s in the far lane

The LAST

On Sunday we celebrated Easter. Not only was it Easter, but it was the first day of April…one month closer to home! It’s starting to feel like it really is time to leave. I am here for a year and most people are only here for six to nine months. I am now at the point where everyone I came here with is gone and everyone that was here when I got here is also gone. I’m the LAST woman standing. I continue to make friends and there are still really great people here, but the people who have been here from the beginning are all now officially gone. All this just makes me want to go home even more. I feel like I’ve put in my time and it’s coming to an end.  My time to go has come and I’m feeling VERY ready. I do have about another ten weeks in Afghanistan, but I can feel my time coming.

For our Easter Mass we had an Easter Vigil Service. I have not been to Easter Vigil in many years. Our Priest made it a really special Mass. The Mass began at nine p.m. and we started with a fire outside the chapel lighting the Easter Candle and our own individual candles. The Mass was beautiful and the perfect way to celebrate Easter, especially since we couldn’t be with our families during this special time.

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Lighting the Easter Candle
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The Easter Vigil Fire

There is a group of Sailors here who go to Church together. For Easter we decided to take the Priest out for dinner. He is leaving in two weeks and we wanted to thank him for his service to us. I really enjoy Father Tomas, our Czech Republic Priest. I am making a bold statement, but I believe he is my favorite Priest EVER. His humor mixed with authentic Catholic guilt makes each Mass very enjoyable. There are many moments from Mass that are quotable, but two of my favorite are, “I will never be a Bishop, I will be a martyr first;” and “Lent is now over so you can eat whatever you want, but remember you do need to maintain your beach body for the summer.” Also, US chaplains are not allowed to carry weapons of any kind, but the Czech chaplains do. During dinner we asked him about his heat and he said since the Czech Republic Army is so small he does not travel with a security force so he needs to be able to defend himself. As a matter of fact the first thing he will need to do when he gets home from deployment is go to the range and re-qualify on his weapon.

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Easter dinner with our Priest and Friend

 

Our Sunday morning fun run was of course Easter themed. My mom sent me an Easter themed care package meant for our run. She sent Peep Oreos, which we all enjoyed post run. She also sent bunny socks and a night shirt. She was looking for an Easter t-shirt, but in her rush to get the package in the mail, she could only find a bunny night shirt. This is Afghanistan, so I was quick to compromise and make the night shirt work for running. I tied it up 80’s style and it worked great! Thanks mom for the Easter themed running items, they were perfect for our Sunday run!

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Before The Run
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After the Happy Easter Run

eating peep oreoThis was also the last run for a good friend of mine. Like I was saying before, I’m becoming the LAST woman standing. Brandon has been here almost as long as I have been. He was a trusted friend and was there to get me through the fall when I was struggling with my boss.  He reliably showed up to each group run. Our first 10k, back in January, was his longest run since college. He was also the one who came with me to visit my rug guy and helped advise on all the colors, styles and was critical in picking out the rug for my mom. He’s going back to an awesome family and a job that was hard earned.  I know he will do great things for the Army. Yes, I said Army, he’s one Army Officer I enjoyed spending time with!

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Brandon and Me

My family celebrated Easter at home and enjoyed dinner with my sister and her family. The week prior Taylyn was sick and stayed home with my mom the entire week. Timyra was on spring break, and she said her sister ruined her spring break because she didn’t get any special time with Grandma. I guess my mom will have to take her out shopping another day.   The kids enjoyed their treats from the Easter Bunny. My mom forgot to put Taylyn’s present in her Easter basket so she only got a book, PJs, and suckers. Taylyn didn’t seem to mind, she was just happy to have the suckers.

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Passed Out..too many blue suckers

 

 

The Best Advice (It May Be Your Own)

On Monday this week a friend asked if I would pace him while doing a half marathon.  This was not an organized event.  Back in October he ran a half marathon by himself and ran just under two hours and he asked if I could pace him for under one hour and fifty minutes.  Of course I’m always up for a little challenge and a half marathon under one hour and fifty minutes is a rather manageable time for me.    So of course I said yes.  I shifted around some of my other workouts for the week to accommodate, and I was ready. 

half marathon map
The Half Marathon

We met at nine a.m. to complete the challenge.  The weather is getting warmer and if we had waited until the afternoon the heat probably would have gotten the best of us.  We started out well paced and on our way to finish under his goal.  At mile eight we stopped briefly to get some water and eat a Gu / Cliff Shot (I prefer Cliff, he had Gu).  Then we were off again.  I was feeling great.  We were within five miles of the finish; I had just fueled so I was ready to crush the goal.  What I failed to recognize is I have a lot of mental and physical endurance when it comes to running and although five miles is short and goes by quickly for me, this is not the case for most people.  I spent the majority of the last five miles and all of the last five kilometers pushing him along.  He knew he would finish well under the two hour mark, beating his last time, so he gave up on getting under one hour and fifty minutes.  I however, did not.  I continued to encourage him to fight through, to find the mental endurance to get through the three miles, then two, then one, and finally the last 400 meters to the finish.  I told him he’s ran this long this fast, find it in your mind to get this done.  In the end he finished just under one hour and fifty-nine minutes and ran his fastest half marathon.  Now there was no great finish line, with a cool finisher’s medal.  All he got was a high-five from me, but he did get the satisfaction of finishing and pushing through to the end to accomplish his goal at altitude running many, many circles over and over again.   

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After the Half

This week I started a twelve week Full-Ironman base program, which I should finish around when I leave Afghanistan.  I’m almost using it as my count down, although I’m trying not to count days.  Each time you start a new program using my training app (TrainerRoad), the first workout is always a functional threshold power (FTP) test.  The last time I did one was in early December and I actually went down a few watts.  This was the first time this happened since I started doing power training and I was discouraged.  I didn’t accept the lower FTP, I kept my old one (the higher one) and continued to train the next twelve week block.  I’ve really been focusing on my biking and training hard, yet relative to many, my power output (watts) is low.   A couple weeks ago at a Navy night a fellow Sailor remarked many times that my FTP, which was 160, was really low and he was so shocked that I would spend so much time biking and be so low.  I already lack a lot of confidence on the bike and this just added to it.   

me after FTP ride
After the FTP Test

On Tuesday morning after the Monday half marathon I needed to do my FTP test to start my next bike program.  I went into it discouraged.  The last time I tested I went down and I wasn’t getting a lot of encouragement from the folks around me.  The program has you warm up for thirty minutes prior to the twenty minute test.  As I was warming up I started to think about what I told my friend during the half marathon the day before.  I’ve worked hard, and I’ve earned the right to be confident on the bike.  I have come a long way since September and I should be proud.  I’m not world class, but I’m better and stronger than I was.  As I entered the twenty minute test, I dug deep, I pushed hard, and I didn’t let my mind get the best of me.  In the end my FTP did go up, it might have been by only ONE watt, but it went up.  I am PROUD of that ONE watt.  When it comes to biking I have to EARN every WATT and I have to work harder than most, but I’m willing to do the work.  I needed to take my own advice and push through to see a small change, but progress none the less.   

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I earned that Watt…I proudly hit UPDATE!

 

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FTP Ride Summary

We also saw progress in our Sunday run.  This week we offered an optional 10K in addition to the 5K.  About half of the group pushed through to 10K and the other half cheered on the group as we ran the additional kilometers.  For many this was their longest run here in Afghanistan and even for some the longest run they’ve run in years or even ever.  This week’s run was for epilepsy and we wore purple to raise awareness.  When we were done some asked if we could offer the optional 10K more often, so we decided to have an optional 10K every other week.  Small mental changes amounting to increased distance and progress.      

before the 10k
The before group on the Sunday run
during the 10k
While Running…you can’t beat the scenery!
The 10k group
The Mighty 10Kers

What I learned this week I learned from myself.  I’m often giving advice on how to run faster and longer.  I preach about mental endurance and how it’s just as important as physical.  When people ask me how I can run so long, or sit on the bike all day I say, it’s all in my mind and I play games to get there.  Your mind needs to tell you that you can before your body will do anything.  As I am measuring progress on the bike, however small it maybe, I need to dig deep in my mind to keep my legs pushing out power to see improvements.       

The Luck of the Irish

I know I have a little Irish in me, I mean my dad does have red hair! Everyone else celebrates Saint Patrick’s Day so why would it be any different in Afghanistan. Saint Patrick’s Day fell on a Saturday, which I’m sure made for a very interesting night out in the States, however it was much more subdued here in Afghanistan. Saturday night is normal Navy night. Each Saturday, the small contingent of Navy personnel on the base get together to share in Navy comradery. We use each other to stay sane and combat the craziness of the Army. Since it was Saint Patrick’s Day, we did a special dinner. We had Arian, my rug guy, order us Afghan food from off the base and he brought it in for our Saint Patrick’s Day party.

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Enjoying Our Afghan Corned Beef (or lamb)

 

The food was amazing. I really enjoy the spices the Afghans use, especially on their rice. We had rice, lamb and chicken kebabs, bread, and bean cakes (I also love these), and a very delicious mint sauce I put on everything. Since the air quality has improved over the last month we were able to enjoy the meal on the rooftop of the USO. It has gotten a lot warmer, so the locals are burning a lot less trash to stay warm. When we finished eating we enjoyed a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity. Prior to coming to Afghanistan, I had never played Cards Against Humanity. We have a great time playing. I’m excited to play when I get home with my friends and some adult beverages. I imagine the game gets even funnier with adult beverages. I do enjoy the laughs and the downtime with my fellow Sailors.

Saint pat dinner
Ready for some laughs?

 

Our Sunday morning fun run this last week was Saint Patrick’s Day themed. The weather is much nicer which means we don’t have to fight the smog when it’s time to run outside. We dressed up in our themed attire and did a 5K. This time we just ate mint Oreos post-run rather than eating the entire time we were running. The mint fit the theme of green for Saint Patrick’s Day. I really do enjoy the late mornings running outside with friends I’ve made over the last ten months. I may not miss a lot about Afghanistan, but I will miss these runs. Maybe I can start something when I get home?

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Before the run!

 

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After the run

 

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My office ran too!

 

me eating after st patty run
Yummy, Oreo!

 

One day last week Timyra found leprechaun coins on the playground at school. In her mind this was proof that leprechauns do exist. When she got home she told her dad she wanted to make a leprechaun trap. So I ordered a stuffed leprechaun off of Amazon and had it delivered to be the victim for the trap. On Saint Patrick’s Day she decorated an Amazon box (probably the one he came in) and set the trap. Upon completion she set it up and waiting till the morning of March 18th. To her surprise, we think, she found the leprechaun in the trap. Timyra may be getting too old for things like this, but Buddy and Taylyn were certainly surprised. Buddy wanted to put the bait coins out a second night to see what they would catch. Although through it all Timyra said nothing and let the magic continue for the little ones!

timyra lep trap
The trap, created by my future engineer!

 

This last week I did come across some Irish luck of my own. Since I left home last June I have not had the best of luck with roommates. It started when we arrived in South Carolina for three weeks for our Army training prior to coming over to Afghanistan. The berthing (what the Navy calls your place to sleep) was open bay bunkbeds and there were no rack (what the Navy calls the bed you sleep on) assignments, it was first come first rack. On the list of personnel I was listed as a male so I had to ask which building I needed to go to prior to entering the open bay berthing. By the time I arrived, I was the last one and was blessed with the top rack by the door. The part about this that irritated me the most was that there were only three female officers and about eighty enlisted females. Since there were only three of us we were lumped in with the enlisted. Not only that, but I was the most senior female by two ranks and at least four years. I probably would not have been so upset about the arrangement had the men been treated the same. Of course the male enlisted and the male officers were separated and each had their own berthings. We were told it was because there were only three of us and they didn’t feel the need to open another berthing just for three. In the end I sucked it up, and slept the worst three weeks of sleep probably ever and I’m a surface warfare officer, and we’re known for not sleeping for years. I also found out that the classes after us were separated even when the female officer population was low. At least we paved the way for the classes after us.

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My room in South Carolina

 

So back to my luck, my first seven months here I had a roommate. She occupied the rear part of the room, which is the more desirable location. She was here before me and earned the spot. The problem with her was that she really didn’t have a job. She was sleeping when I left in the morning. She was sleeping when I got back in the evenings. She ate every meal in the room and was just generally dirty and inconsiderate. Although I rarely saw her awake and out of bed I was honored with hearing her alarm go off for at least three hours most days, yet that didn’t get her out of bed. When she left in January, I moved to the rear of the room. I quickly learned how nasty she really was. She left old towels, sheets, and didn’t take out the trash when she left. Since she ate in the room her trash was no gross it spread mold at least a half of an inch think on the floor. Now I had found the source of the lingering smell in the room. After serious disinfecting, I moved to the rear of the room and made my own little sanctuary. The best part is, for now at least I have my own space. I may have a roommate tomorrow, but for now I’m going to enjoy of luck.

my room
My Own Little Space

 

I don’t necessarily believe in luck. I’d like to believe everything happens for a reason even if you’re not sure of the purpose initially. Although I have to say I have lucked out lately, especially in the roommate department.

Motivation

This week’s blog post came to me while I was running, as do many of my brilliant and not so brilliant ideas.  There was a group of us who frequently got together to run wearing various themed outfits before I took my mid-deployment leave.  While I was gone the group continued to run together every Sunday at 10:00 in the morning.  My first Sunday back was the Oreo 5K.  We ate an Oreo every kilometer.  I can guarantee that at the end of the run we consumed more calories than we burned running, but we did have fun.  

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Before the Oreo Run…our 5 Oreos in our snack bags

While we were running I was chatting with a few of our fellow runners.  One of the runners is a submariner.  We were talking about women on subs.  When I was commissioned women were not allowed on subs.  I was not upset in any way that I was not allowed to serve on a sub, I had no desire.  As a matter of fact, when I spent my first college summer with the Navy we spend one week with each of the communities we could commission into.  For my sub week we spent one week underway on a sub and as I entered the hatch to board the boat I wanted to turn around and leave.  There was nothing in the community that appealed to me.

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After a High Calorie Run

While we were running we were talking about National Women’s Day and women doing jobs traditionally held by men.  I have a strong opinion on this.  I do believe women should be able to do whatever job they want to and have a passion for.  What irritates me about women’s rights and things like National Women’s Day is the motivation behind what you are doing.  What are we really celebrating on these days?  If you are becoming a submariner (or insert any career) because all your life all you wanted to do was become a submariner, I am very happy for you and I wish you the best of luck on your pursuit to break down barriers.  If you are becoming a submariner because you want to prove to someone else that you are capable of doing something, then don’t.  Your heart is not in it and you are doing it, of course in my mind, for all the wrong reasons.  Just because I didn’t want to be a submarine officer doesn’t mean I can’t; I just didn’t want to.  I wanted to apply my skills and passion somewhere else.  I didn’t have the drive or desire to make that my career.  I have nothing to prove, I know if I wanted to I could have, there was just something I wanted to do more.

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Amelia Earhart

Speaking of a woman who paved the way for future women, I have a story to tell you about one very famous woman who made a difference for women aviators around the world.  A few days ago Timyra came home from school and said, “Grandma, did you hear the news.”  My mom said, “Well I’ve heard lots of news, which story are you speaking of?”  Timyra told her they found Amelia Earhart.  That week in school Timyra did a group project about Amelia Earhart.  The interesting part of this story is that when I was in second grade I also did a project about Amelia Earhart.  Now I really was a “cool” kid so for my report I wrote a rap about Amelia.  When I performed the rap for my second grade class I wore an airplane I made out of a cardboard box and suspenders.  I received a very good grade, but I’m sure everyone in Mrs. Deckers’ second grade class was laughing at me while I performed.

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Timyra with her Homework

When I work hard and push myself I am not doing it to prove anything to anyone else.  I want to finish an Ironman because ever since my teenage years I wanted to take on the challenge of completing an Ironman distance triathlon.  There is no way I would train enough if I was doing it for anyone but me.  Even if I found the ability to put the training in, I wouldn’t enjoy it.  No one says you have  to be miserable just to prove something.  I know it is probably hard to believe, but I truly enjoy the time I spend training.  Of course I enjoy running the most, but I don’t hate my biking and I’ve seen significant improvements in my ability in the last seven months and plan to continue the training technique I’m using up to and through the Ironman.  While I was home on leave I purchased a new bike along with Garmin Power Pedals.  I’m making the commitment to continue to improve my biking, because I want to do better for myself.

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My New Bike and Pedals

I just want to challenge you to look inside and really think about what it is that is motivating you.  Are you too motivated by outside influences that you have lost your true motivation?  Is it time to stop pursuing something because you are only on that path to prove something to someone else?  Have you lost your own motivation and is it time to find that internal spark again?  Lastly remember, just because you don’t have the desire to change the world doesn’t mean you don’t have the internal passion to do something great.  You just need to find it and that can be anything.  Be great at what you love and not what you should love or what someone else thinks you should love.  BE YOU, AND BE MOTIVATED,  BY YOU!!