The Waiting!

For this week’s blog post I think Tom Petty says it best in his song The Waiting.  I actually used this quote as my senior high school year book quote.  It’s amazing how much it still rings true even after the 16 years since I graduated (and yes saying 16 years makes me feel a little old).  “Take it on faith, Take it to the heart.  The waiting is hardest part.”  

December 30th marked my half-way point of deployment.  Now this date is worst case scenario for half-way night.  December 30th is assuming I won’t return home until the end of July.  I suspect I will be home closer to the beginning of July, but I decided to go with the latest possible date.  Better to be early than late!  

I planned a surprise half-way night celebration for the family.  I found it fun to plan and as you know I love surprises, so the surprise for my family was equally as fun for me.  I did let my parents know what was going on, since my dad was going to drive them to the event.  TJ however, hates surprises and was not in on what was going on.  He really did everything in his power to sabotage the entire thing.  It started out by him deciding to work on Saturday the 30th.  He hasn’t worked a Saturday in months, and that’s the one he chooses.  We worked it out so he would be home in time, but he was reluctant to comply.  Then a few days prior to the surprise, he said he was going to a hockey game.  He really was doing everything he could to ruin the surprise.  

half way night show
Picture from the show!

In the end they all loaded up the car, including TJ, and drove to Milwaukee to see A Charlie Brown Christmas.  I sent them all letters they were not allowed opened until December 30th.  In the car ride, they opened and read their letters.  Everyone enjoyed the show, including TJ!  To finish the evening in style they went to Olive Garden to get their carbo load on.  They need their energy to get through the second half of this deployment and as classy and my family is, Taylyn ended up throwing up in the restaurant.  It’s nice to see nothing has really changed!!  Although in the end they all had fun celebrating a big moment, the HALF-WAY MARK!  

half way night dinner
Continuing the celebration with dinner!

In my Christmas post I wrote about Taylyn not talking to me.  She doesn’t want to interact with me at all.  Despite not talking to me, she cries for me most nights.  Often she wakes up and calls for me multiple times throughout the night.  TJ cuddles her and has her cuddle her mommy doll.  I think she is just tired of hearing mommy is at work and then I never come home.  Buddy even told her once I wasn’t ever coming home.  He was angry with her for crying so much and he did admit he was just trying to be mean.  It hurts me to hear she is so upset by my absence.  As much as I’m hurt by her actions, she is equally as hurt and she’s only two years old.

tay sleeping with her mommy doll
Taylyn sleeping on her mommy doll!

I want to share with you a note I received from a friend of mine from Life Fitness.  Julie Daly wrote me this sweet note below, which really brought everything into perspective.   

Hi Darchelle – Happy Almost 2018! More importantly, Happy Half-Way Point!!! I was really sorry to read in your last blog that Taylyn isn’t talking to you, as a fellow mother I instantly felt your pain. But also just remember that Taylyn is in pain too, and in her young life this may be the only way she can think to protect herself from her pain. She can’t truly fathom how far away you are, let alone why you need to be there. Your other kids are hurting too but at least they can begin to grasp the situation and better deal with it. Just remember that Taylyn is behaving this way BECAUSE she loves you so much and doesn’t know how else to handle her pain. So as hard as it is to not talk to her, know that in her young life that is her way of showing how much she misses you! Time has not become flexible for her yet, but you and I know that sometimes a minute can seem like forever and other times we can remember things that happened years ago like they were yesterday. At Taylyn’s age, every day still seems like a lifetime and even little details mean a lot, so big things like missing your Mom throw off your whole world. Please hang in there and know that every refusal to talk is just a show of how much she misses you. I know that may not help you much, but I hope it helps to know that other moms are thinking of you and feeling your pain! On another note, very glad to hear you’re OK after the car bombings, I saw that on the news and was worried about you. Stay safe and hang in there!! 

I did see a little happiness in Taylyn.  Last week she came home from school and told my mom “Mom will love this.”  She made me a painting where she put her fingerprints on the canvas and her teachers drew in the rest.  I know she misses me, and is excited for me to come home.  I have to remember just because I feel better when I talk to her, she hurts more and I need to respect that.  

Tays picture for mommy.jpg
Tay’s picture for me! – she’s right I love it!

Buddy has been doing particularly well.  Every time I call he tells me what a great days he’s having.  He is now taking care of Taylyn at night.  He took the spot next to her on the floor.   Timyra decided she is grown and needs privacy and has moved back to her own room.  This is the first time in three years she’s slept in a room without her brother.   If you look closely behind Timyra in the picture, you see 2000 in a yellow strip on a gray shirt.  Timyra is sleeping with my senior year of high school state cross country shirt.  I’m glad it’s going to good use! 

Timyra in her own room
LuLu in her own room!

Every minute is a minute closer to a little break and time with my family.  My senior high school year book quote tells it all.  “Take it on faith, Take it to the heart.  The waiting is hardest part.”  As always the time will pass and then we’ll be together again, even if for a short time! 

BUT…?

As we enter into 2018 we all begin the New Year with good intentions.  Many are making New Year’s resolutions.  Although, even with all these amazing intentions, I hate to break it to you, BUT the majority of you will break these New Year’s resolutions.  Many of you will break them within the first two weeks of 2018 and probably even more of you won’t even start the resolution you set out to keep.

If you have been following my blog, you know I celebrated each of my holidays here in Afghanistan with a themed group run.  New Year’s Eve was no exception.  We met up on New Year’s Eve day and ran a Resolution 5K.  I wore the pink dreadlocks I wore on my birthday run and some fantastic peacock leggings.  I really wanted to wear the leggings all day, and I would have had I been at home.  Peacock leggings just don’t match my 9MM very well.  This time when we finished our 5K we ate double-stuffed. I figured most people make resolutions to eat better so why not splurge one last time with a double-stuffed Oreo.  

20171231_104243

20171231_104215

20171231_103821.jpgThe remainder of New Year’s Eve was low key.  I went to bed early and enjoyed a relaxing night.  For New Year’s Day we were given an additional low battle rhythm day (we don’t have to come in to work until after noon).  I spent the morning running and then went to a core class.  Before I went for my run I chatted with TJ and rung in the New Year with him via Facebook messenger.  It certainly is not the same as being there, but at least we were together even if it was virtually.  

me nye run

As I was running on New Year’s Day, I started to think about resolutions, and I started to get angry.  How many times do we make a resolution and then say BUT.  I was going to start today, BUTI will start tomorrow, BUTWhy does there always have to be a BUT?  Why can’t we just do what we say?  Better yet, why do these new beginnings and resolutions have to start on New Year’s Day?  Why didn’t you start last week?  What BUT did you tell yourself that kept you from starting at all?  I entered December with the goal to run 200 miles.  I set a goal, and it didn’t start on January 1st.  I know most of you know me as a runner, but I have never come close to running 200 miles in a month, ever!  I’ve coined myself as a low yet quality mileage runner.  I wanted to be able to say I ran 200 miles, even if it was only once.  At first I didn’t want to tell anyone what I was setting out to do.  An average of six and half miles a day is a lot.  BUT, I knew if I started talking about it, then I would feel an obligation to finish.  I created a tracker and logged my miles every day.  The tracker updated my new daily average needed to accomplish my goal.  The tracker and the accountability kept me on track.  Not only did I run 200 miles in December of 2017, I crushed it!  I ended up running 236 miles, which is an average of over seven and a half miles a day.  I know I won’t repeat next month.  My progress on the bike suffered due to the miles, but I will keep my mileage well over 100, probably closer to 150.

200 miles2018 is the year of my Ironman.  I started the year with a solid run and registering for a race.  As part of training I decided I should complete a 70.3 Ironman.  Unfortunately the one closest to home, Racine, was discontinued.  After some research the only one close enough and after I come home is in Ohio.  I registered for the 70.3 Ironman in Delaware, Ohio on July 29th.  After registering I felt a little more confident in my ability to complete my full Ironman this coming October.  I know my training is on point, but it will be great to participate in an actual Ironman sponsored event prior to the big event.  We will make a little family trip of it, and there is a kid’s race the day before, so of course Timyra will be running!

New Year Day

I want to leave you all with one simple message for 2018, stop saying BUT!  Whatever the BUT is you are using as an excuse, stop.  It is ok to start any day.  Do yourself a favor and start right now!

Uncle Sam’s Christmas Vacation

This last week we celebrated Christmas. Of course it was hard and I really looked forward to December 26th. Christmas Eve and Christmas day were still fun and we enjoyed a little time off to celebrate. We did our best to stay busy and pass the time until the 26th. I even started counting the days until I will be home for my mid-deployment leave. It is fast approaching and I am looking forward to being home even if it’s only for 2 weeks.

group CJ3
Merry Christmas from our awesome team!  (I’m one of the ones fully embracing the holiday spirit)

For one of my Christmas gifts from home my mom sent me a sweatshirt. She was being funny and sent me a Chevy Chase National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation shirt. She was playing off the Uncle Sam’s Vacation Blog, only now it’s Christmas Vacation. Uncle Sam’s Christmas Vacation is not nearly as fun as National Lampoon’s!

movie nightChristmas Eve day we started with one of our virtual runs. The theme was Ugly Christmas Sweaters. As usual the group of us got together and ran a 5K dressed in holiday spirit.  I did a 10 mile warm up on the treadmill, changed and joined the group for the 5K. I bought the sweater for the run, but I ended up wearing it for our work Ugly Sweater day. For one day we could wear an ugly sweater over our uniform, a nice change to the Army camo. To finish the run I reminded everyone what Buddy the Elf said, “The best way to spread holiday cheer is to sing loudly for all to hear.”  We sang Jingle Bells as we finished.  After the run we happily eat Hot Chocolate Oreos and chatted. It was a really nice start to Christmas Eve.

In the evening my new boss and I were invited to the Public Affairs Office (PAO) Christmas Party. (Yes I said new boss, which is a story for another time and maybe a beer! A real beer!) The PAO office let us wear civilian clothes to the party. I have not worn anything but workout clothes, pajamas, or my uniform since June. It felt awesome to wear jeans. I wore my jeans and my Christmas Vacation shirt. I wanted to make sure I was fully in the Christmas spirit. We ate various snacks we received in packages from home. Being PAO they made a fake photo booth, which was fun. They even had us bring a wrapped gift we didn’t purchase. I brought a random shirt I found in my drawer. A really big guy ended up with the shirt. Maybe he knows someone else who will enjoy the shirt or even better if he proudly sports it while working out!

My only option for Christmas mass was mid-night mass. I am a huge fan of sleeping and really do not enjoy staying up much past 10 pm and really don’t like staying up until midnight. However it was Christmas and we could sleep in Christmas morning, so of course I went. The mass actually started at 11 pm so we were done by midnight. I ended up wearing my jeans to Church since I had already changed for the other party and didn’t feel the need to change again. It was extra nice to be in Church in civilian clothes. Our Priest is Czech and recently returned from his mid-tour leave. His mother was nice enough to make us all gingerbread cookies. When I got back to my room that evening I ate mine. It was my really early Christmas morning treat.

gingerbread cookie
My Holy Christmas Cookie

Unfortunately my Christmas morning sleep-in was interrupted by a personal born IED.  We were kindly reminded there is still a war going on around us.  We were rudely awakened around 7:30 am when two suicide bombers decided to give a very unpleasant Christmas present to local Afghans.  The IEDs were close enough to hear and interrupt our routine, but not so close we were really effected.  I spent the rest of the morning celebrating my Christmas morning the best way I know how, with a workout with friends.  I ran and then joined my friends for a core class.

christmas day
Run and after core class selfie!

I got a good laugh from one of the Christmas packages we received.  Even the inmates on death row are thinking of us.pencilsEven with the time change I was fortunate enough to be able to call home after dinner in Afghanistan just in time to watch everyone open presents on Christmas morning. Santa even left a few presents for me under the tree. It was fun to watch the kids enjoy their presents. They each received a small rug from Afghanistan.tay rugbuddy ruglu-rug.jpgIt was no fun being away for Christmas, but I made it to the 26th in one piece. I don’t want to have to miss another Christmas! Once is enough for me! I know the kids had a great time. Along with TJ and my parents my aunts, uncles, and cousins made sure they had a really special Christmas with lots of extra hugs and kisses.  Taylyn is still rather angry with me for being gone and she won’t talk to me when I call, but I’ll be home soon enough to give her hugs!  Below are a few pictures of Christmas cheer I received over the holidays!

Since many of you are interested I have an update on Spoony.  We are still severely short on spoons.  The advertising champagne is expanding.  See the latest article below posted in the dining facility right above where we dry our hands.

So to summarize this last week, Yeah it sucked!  In particular watching Taylyn be so angry with me.  It will be great to be home soon, even if it’s just for a short time to reset everyone for the last part of this deployment.  As a matter of fact today, December 30th, marks the half-way point.  I truly believe the second half of everything goes faster than the first!  At least that is what I’m going to keep telling myself!

You Can’t Catch Me!

“Run, run, as fast as you can. You can’t catch me! I’m the Gingerbread Man!” I thought since Christmas is fast approaching I would tell the story of Spoony, and the story of Spoony reminds me of The Gingerbread Man. For all our meals we eat in a dining facility like a cafeteria. We enter the dining facility, wash our hands, and then grab a tray, silverware and a plate.   For at least the last 2 months we’ve been noticing a steady decline in the availability of spoons. There are always plenty of knives and forks, but you were lucky if you get a spoon. There have been so many morning where there are no spoons I’ve become so accustomed to eating without a spoon that even the mornings when I’m lucky enough to get a spoon I still eat my yogurt with a fork. I’ve adapted by dipping my melon in the yogurt and scooping it out. We’ve all made adjustments. Morning cereal has to be eaten with a fork. I would like to quote one of my colleges regarding eating cereal with a spoon, “When you eat cereal with a fork it allows the cereal more time to be influenced by the milk.” The breakfast conversation continued by talking about how the milk left after the cereal is gone is also more delicious to drink since the cereal is also”influencing” the milk more. So who needs a spoon anyway? There are small celebrations every time someone gets a spoon for cereal, soup, yogurt, or ice cream. The spoon saga has resulted in poster being put up in search of the spoons. No one knows where the spoons are, but we do know they are not here for us to use! We couldn’t catch them like the Gingerbread Man!

spoony poster
Ad campaign to get spoony back!

 

For the month the since the original poster was created more posters have come out. This spoon search is getting very serious. This morning I saw someone on my floor in the barracks (where we sleep) with a spoon. I actually thought, is there somewhere I can report this spoon thief? This really is getting out of control!

spoon_fork_knife
Second attempt to get spoons back!

This week also marks the week when the colleges who I started this journey with leave to start their journeys home. They are  on seven month orders where I am on fourteen month orders. I met them early in the morning at the helicopter landing zone to say good bye. I had just finished my morning workout. My colleges are running and running as fast as they can and hoping not to be caught by the Afghanistan Man. It is very humbling to be the last one left from your initial group and knowing you have to have the mental fortitude to make it another six months. I have no doubt these next 6 months will go quicker and be more fun than these last ones.  At least that is what I need to tell myself, mind over matter.

group good bye
Safe travels friends!

We are also getting a lot of packages from different organizations. I remember getting one when I was deployed on the USS Rodney M. Davis and I still have the homemade scarf I received in that box. One of the Marines here received over 200 boxes and we all got one. In mine was the knitted hat I have in the picture above. I wear that hat everywhere I’m not in uniform, which is not a lot of places. I wear it to and from the gym, pool, and movie night. The Australian’s are also getting packages. I received one from an 8 year old girl in second grade, just like my Timyra.  I didn’t get Tim Tams, but I did get a package of Hundreds and Thousands which are like Circus cookies and reminded me of my childhood!

Throughout the holiday season various VIPs come to visit us and wish us well. For Thanksgiving we had Vice Admiral McCollum. This week the Arch Bishop of the Military Diocese came to say mass with us on Friday. Friday happened to be his birthday so we organized singing and cake cutting as well.  I had to make sure I got my picture with His Holiness!

arch bishop.jpg

It’s also probably about time to give an update on the Genie in a Bottle, my mom and her rug. So after much deliberation and many backs and forth the final decision was to keep the initial rug.  On one of my dad’s visits to my house, he brought pillows and cushions from their furniture. After laying it out altogether my mom decided the original rug was the one for her. The Genie is happy now!

rug in mom's house
Looks perfect!

 

I also wish I could have shared this picture earlier, but Timyra submitted this for Veteran’s Day at her school. These things pull at my heart strings. Why are you honoring this Veteran? “Because I miss my mom.”  I miss you too baby and I’ve even started counting the days until I get to hug you again!  CAN’T WAIT!!!!

mom veteran's day

So for sure this week sucks and we all want to run home and hug everyone.  But since these Gingerbread Sailors, Soldiers, Marine, and Airmen have to be here,  we are sticking together having fun and enjoying each other.  I’ll give you the full Christmas update next week, but like Thanksgiving we’re making our own fun and laughing all the way!  If you can hug my babies for me, give TJ a high five (or hug, I know he likes them), and enjoy your family and friends!  Love and miss all of you!

Thirty Five-bulous

This last week I turned 35. I know some people dread birthdays, but I look forward to mine. I don’t know why it is I look forward to my birthday, but it probably has something to do with my love of surprises.

To tell this story I want to reflect on my last mile stone birthday, the year I turned 30. In 2012 Timothy was just two months old and I was on maternity leave. My birthday fell mid-week and all I wanted was Indian Food for dinner. TJ does not care of Indian Food, so we never seek it out and I had no idea where to go. After calling around to a few places I found on Google, only one restaurant answered and they did not do take-out. We were not about to take a 2 year old and 2 month old out in the snow to an Indian restaurant. Although, now with 3 we bravely go anywhere with our brood. I think it’s funny how the more kids you have the more adventurous you become.   I’m not sure what we decided on for dinner, but it wasn’t Indian. TJ did awesome and got me some amazing gifts. I used all of them. At some point over the years the wine glass broke which I’m sure was due to some over use. The picture frame sat on our kitchen counter with the lovely family it came with for three years. Yes, you read that correctly three years. I finally put a picture in it from Taylyn’s baptism. I was just waiting until the family was complete before I put a picture in the frame. There maybe some truth when TJ says I don’t do well decorating the house.

birthday presents
My 30th birthday presents!  Lulu and Buddy are so tiny and sweet!
birthday cake
The cake from my 30th!

I was going through Facebook looking at pictures from my last couple birthdays. In 2014 I surprised TJ with tickets to see Gabriel Iglesias “Fluffy” and dinner at Fogo de Chao. As I told you I love surprises so I decided to make my own surprises to guarantee there would be one on my birthday. Our awesome neighbors Heather and James came with us. I was 4 months pregnant with Taylyn that evening. We showed up at the show after dinner and found out our tickets were for the night before. I was panicking. Heather and I walked briskly to the ticket booth and we charmed the ticket salesman explaining to him I was pregnant and it was my birthday. He kindly exchanged our tickets and he gave us awesome seats, much better than had we gone the day prior. So luck was on our side and I pulled off the surprise for myself!

Fluffy birthday
Right before we found out our tickets were for the day before! – who’s that handsome guy next to me?
heather-and-james.jpg
Heather and James at our wedding!

For being in Afghanistan I had a really awesome birthday! Since my goal is to run 200 miles in December, while getting all my bike rides in and going to the pool twice a week, I decided to run 20 miles on my 35th birthday. Running thirty-five miles is way too many so I just went with 20. I woke up and did 10 in the morning. I love snow, and there was a little snow on the ground on the morning of my birthday. It was nice to see something I love on my birthday especially because I couldn’t be with my loves.

snow
My view of snow during my morning treadmill run!

For lunch I ran an additional 6 miles, so now I’m at 16. For this run I started to break in a new pair of running shoes. I good friend of mine, Jeff Klein (I wrote about him in For, You, For Me, For Each Other), sent me a new pair of shoes and it was time to start using them. Thank you so much for the thoughtful gift.  Trust me they will get used, probably over used!

new shoes
Breaking in my new shoes.

To top off my birthday and to finish my 20 miles my feral friends assumed me with another virtual run. This time the run was for the opening of Star Wars.  It was called May the Run Be with You! We did a 4 mile run completely many circles in the cold! I wore pink light up dread locks. I bought them for our New Year’s Eve run, but I thought they were perfect for this run as well. Someone asked me while we were running if I got any presents and over the last couple weeks I’ve received many care packages with different gifts. My favorite was the owl tie blanket Timyra made for me. Even though I didn’t have any presents to open on my birthday, just having good friends to run with was present enough. Afterwards we stayed outside (as long as the cold allowed) and ate cupcake Oreos, black forest Tim Tams (they are an Australian cookie and if you’ve never had a Tim Tam you can get them at World Market and I highly recommend them), and amazing dark chocolate from Belgium.

group star wars
The group before the run!

 

girls star wars
The ladies! (My shirt says Don’t mess with the Princess!)

 

My family celebrated without me. I mean everyone should take advantage of any excuse to eat cake. As you notice there are a lot of sprinkles on my cake, just the way I like it!

my home birthday cake
My sweet babies celebrating my birthday.  They each had their own candle to blow out!

So I’ve decided to coin Thirty Five as Thirty Five-bulous! Thirty-five is going to be a fabulous year. Half way through the year I will finally be home. I am looking forward to the day I am home for good with my loves. I will be thirty five-bulous when I become an Ironman. I know there are many things to come in my year of thirty five-bulous that will make it even more fabulous.  What I know for sure is this year is going to fabulous, and I’m going to enjoy every minute. There is something about a year in Afghanistan that makes you appreciate EVERYTHING more!

This week I also want to give a shout out to TJ and his awesome daddy skills with his girls.  A few days ago Timyra decided to ask my dad, she must really trust her Grandpa, about bras.  Of course my dad sent her to Grandma who explained you’ll need to wear one when you get older.  I was instantly curious why she was even asking.  I thought this was a perfect opportunity to see if anything is going on at school and find out what the other kids are talking about.  Facebook messenger is not the ideal place to have this conversation.  So after Timyra’s swimming lesson on Thursday, TJ took her to Culvers to chat.  He is a dad of girls, but he didn’t have to do this.  Thank you for stepping in when I couldn’t be there!  Love and miss all of you!

Lulu out to dinner with dad
Lulu enjoying her dinner chat with her dad!

Feral Friends

I’ve written many times about all the great friends I have over here in Afghanistan. I mean these people amuse me by dressing up in costumes and run laps around a super small base. If it wasn’t for these people I would never survive this deployment. So I consider myself like a feral cat. I have different groups of people throughout the base that have adopted me, which is awesome and fun.

I have a hard time comparing myself to a cat, since I’m not a fan of cats in general. I don’t want to offend any cat lovers. I am allergic to them and when I’m around them my face and eyes swell and my eyes become extremely itchy. I believe that is a good enough reason not to like cats.  The base here has “adopted” a clowder (yes I looked up what to call a group of cats) of feral cats. For many people these cats bring them a lot of joy and is a small thing that keeps them happy and motivated. Now as I said cats are not my thing and I often cringe when I see them , but I am thankful for the joy they bring others.

cat feeding
One of the many authorized cat feeding stations.

 

Since I’ve been here I’ve been adopted by various groups around the base, like a feral cat. It’s these groups of people who keep my moral up and ensure I stay happy and safe while I’m here. They saved me when things were low. I need social interaction to stay mentally healthy and I require a strong social network. My friends and family back home are more than supportive, but I need the face to face interaction too.  I can’t thank these people enough for adopting me and making this deployment enjoyable!

A few months ago I started going to Waffle Night at the Nordic Palace. The Nordic Palace is a building on base for the Nordic countries to use as a lounge. Most of the countries here have a building they call their own where they can escape and socialize. The Nordic countries are kind enough to invite the rest of us each Friday evening for waffles. The various countries rotate who will be hosting each week. The waffles never change, but the toppings vary based on the host country. It was at one of these waffle nights where I realized I’m like one of the feral cats.  I’ve been lovingly adopted by others!

Waffle night fun!
waffle night girls
The ladies at Waffle Night!

 

Another awesome group who adopted me are the engineers.  They often invite me to different group dinners and other fun outings.  A few weeks ago a group of us were stuck at another base because we couldn’t travel due to weather.  We travel everywhere by air and the weather was not conducive to air travel.  On the evening we were stranded there, the Turkish engineers invited us to a Turkish BBQ.  The Turks picked us up at are rooms and drove us to what seemed like a secret location for dinner.  They grilled us goat liver over wood.  I grew up eating cow liver, but goat liver is delicious.  The flavor is much more mild and the texture is not gritty.  All the food was super simple yet amazing.  We had grilled vegetables, naan, and fresh cucumbers.  Of course in Turkish style we finished dinner with tea.  I really enjoy getting to know new people, experience new things, and simply feel welcome in all these new groups.

Turkish BBQ
Delicious Turkish BBQ!
CJENG
My engineering friends!
CJENG Steph
Steph, another awesome engineer from Australia (this was her going away picture!)

I’ve also been adopted by a group of officers who are affectionately called “Bro-Row.” They are the officers who liaison back to all the different commands scattered throughout Afghanistan. They are our pulse to everything else that is going on in the country. They all sit on the watch floor in a group and tend to be males. You don’t have to be of the male gender to work there and as of today there is a female liason officer. But let’s be honest the Army is still a very male dominated field of work and the women are still severely out numbered. But I digress. I eat breakfast with Bro-Row every morning. I enjoy my peanut butter english muffin and watermelon in their company. I also often go down to Bro-Row to chat. We have happy hour in the mornings, which consists of fresh group coffee and chatting.  Best of all I’ve started going to Bro-Row Movie Night. On Friday nights they vote on a movie and we watch it in the British Lounge (similar to the Nordic Palace, but for the Brits). We were watching it in the U.S. Lounge, but the movie viewing area is outside and it is just too cold to sit outside in the evenings.

movie night
Movie night fun!  Thanks to my mom my shirt matched the movie!

 

movie night 2
More movie night!

 

The community I have around me here is awesome. Who do you have surrounding you? What are you doing to collect your feral friends and take them in? If it wasn’t for my feral friends here there would be no way I would make it to the other end of this deployment in one piece. Because of them not only will I make it, but I get to have fun in the process.

The Little Things

I struggled as I wrote this week’s post.  (I started writing this post back in September and I think it is finally ready to be published).  This post has gone in many different directions and the timing just didn’t seem right, but now I think this post is ready for publication.

After going back and forth for a few months, I decided to focus on the little things. I wanted to piggy back off of the good days I have here.  The days where I am re-energized and little things happen that keep me smiling.  I need to find a way to keep that feeling going. I got the idea for this week’s post when I was in the DFAC (Stands for dining facility. In the Navy we call it a Chow Hall. Both are just military terms for the cafeteria). I was trying to be careful and putting a lid on my coffee to keep it from spilling, well when I pushed the cover on it tipped my tray and my watermelon spilled all over the floor. As I was cleaning my mess during the morning rush in a main thorough fair next to the critical coffee machine, someone I never met came up to me and started helping. Not only did he help, but he said I’m afraid everyday this will happen to me. In my moment of embarrassment he just made it a little better. Those few words turned the situation around. I still don’t know who he is and he’ll probably never know what his words meant, but I’m so glad he said them.

I started thinking about all the little things I could be focusing on that would make each day here better. I’ve had the tendency lately to think about all the small things that annoy me or get me down (this I wrote in September and I’ve adapted much better over the last 3 months). For every one of those moments I discovered there are at least two good ones. This is what I should be focusing on to turn these situations around. I want to take the opportunity to thank everyone for thinking about me and being part of these small things. I wanted to list all the awesome things everyone is doing for me, but there was no way I could make a list that is all inclusive, so please know I appreciate everything you do for me and my family.  Here is a small list:

  • The numerous cards, letters, Facebook messages, and emails of encouragement.
  • All the amazing and very thoughtful care packages.
  • The prayers and kind words for myself, my family, and my fellow service members here with me.
  • Just the fact that people read this blog, that in and of its self is amazing!

Interestingly enough another positive moment for me happened in the DFAC at Thanksgiving dinner.  The Navy was honored to have dinner with VADM McCullom and we were all seated at the same table.  I was sitting next to another Navy Officer and we were chatting.  At the end of our conversation she simply stated, “I’ll pray for you.”  Prior to Thanksgiving dinner we had never said more than hi to each other.  I was so touched, tears came to my eyes.  I could feel the power in what she said and it was very touching.  I need to make a point of saying those words to more people and making sure I add them to my prayers.  What a simple thing we can do for someone, and it takes such little effort.

Also this last week my friend and I were invited to the fire station on base for what we thought was some fresh bread.  Our firefighters here are from Bosnia and just like the fire fighters in the United States they have a reputation for being good cooks.  I told them they need to come back to the States and compete on one of the fire fighting cooking competitions on the Food Network.  Not only did they feed us fresh bread, but I had the best breakfast I’ve had since I got here.  They made fresh bread, fried eggs over easy (the DFAC here will only cook hard fried eggs, no runny yokes), homemade cheese, roasted veggies, chicken pate, and to top it all off fresh squeezed lemonade.  I am so thankful for moments like these.

firehouse
A picture in the fire house after an awesome brunch!

Also this week my mom read my blog post about the pennies to Timyra and Timothy.  When she took them to go shopping the other day Timothy found a penny from heaven in the parking lot and he wanted to make sure I saw the picture.  It’s the little things that can really bring joy.

penny from heaven
Buddy’s first penny from heaven!

So the little things can make you feel better, or they can make you feel like shit. I have DECIDED to focus on the small positive moments and let the rest float away.  It just makes everyday a whole lot better even when situations are less than ideal!

Pennies For Thanksgiving

Smores with the VADM
Smores with VADM McCollum at the Thanksgiving Navy Night!

This week is the first of two major family holidays I will miss over the next couple months. I am not new to missing holidays due to the Navy. I was underway in 2006 and 2008 for Thanksgiving. Where ever we are the military makes us a nice meal. Don’t worry I made sure I got my full share of turkey, stuffing, mash potatoes, and pie on Thursday.    Our dining facility was fully decorated and stocked with Thanksgiving food.  Also the Admiral of the Navy Reserves, Vice Admiral McCollum, can to serve us turkey and eat with us.  He even attended our monthly Navy night and roasted marshmallows with us.  When I asked him if he would take a selfie with me, he said he would be honored.  Since I couldn’t be home, the second best thing was spending it with the Navy here in Afghanistan.

 

selfie-with-the-vadm.jpg
Had to get a picture with VADM McCollum

 

What I want to write about this week are pennies from heaven. This is fitting since I first heard about this after my Grandfather Rueden passed away and his birthday is on November 28th.  We spent many Thanksgivings celebrating his birthday with everyone at the Scout House in Seymour, WI.  When my dad finds a penny lying in a parking lot or in another random place he says, “oh your Grandpa is looking down at us now.” My dad taught his Grandchild to look for pennies from heaven too, and Timyra is the best at finding them.  Trust me Grandpa, you are not forgotten and we make sure my babies know your story. Timothy loves trackers and I know one my dad’s most special days was when he took Timothy, TJ, and his brother my Uncle Dean, on a tracker ride on my Grandfather’s John Deere B Tractor. Your memory lives on forever.

Tracker Ride
Beautiful day for a tractor ride!

 

Grandpa Rueden
A throw-back picture to my dad’s family. Grandpa is on the far right!

 

When my cousin passed away,  I told that story in my blog post called Be Great!, my parent’s sent flowers to the Church with a John Deer Tractor in the bouquet. They did so because one of my mom’s fondest memories of Grant was him riding with my Grandpa VandenLangenberg on his John Deere riding lawn mower. Both of them are now sharing a Thanksgiving table in heaven and we all find comfort knowing they are there together. Over the last 4 years the tractor from the boutique found its way to my house and Timothy takes very good care of that very special John Deere!

Buddy with Grant's Tracker
Buddy holding his most special tractor!

 

Last week when I got to the gym to start my workout I noticed a bright and shiny penny in the arm band I use to store my phone and room key. I immediately smiled and knew this penny was from heaven. I know of at least four amazing people (Grandpa and Grandma Rueden, Grandpa VandenLangenbery, and Grant), up there looking down and making sure I’m safe. This penny was surprising because although we use cash for everything, there are no coins. Instead of coins we are given paper coins that can only be used at military installations. My only explanation for the penny was a small piece of heaven here in Afghanistan.

paper-coins.jpg
The Paper Coins

It certainly sucks being away for the holidays, but as usual we are good at making our own fun and finding joy in each other’s company when we can’t be with our loved ones. Thanksgiving is only celebrated in the United States, for obvious reasons, and our British partners find it funny! To make our own fun we did another virtual race, Run Now / Gobble Later and we ran on Black Friday, which confused our coalition partners even more. So I guess we should have called it Gobble Now / Run Later, since we eat then ran. Besides just being together I loved that one of  the U.S. Officers dressed up in an ostrich costume (closest thing he could find to a turkey) and another wore a shirt that said huffin’ for the stuffin’! This time we had pumpkin Oreos to reward our hard efforts of a chit chat 5K. We have a way of keeping each other smiling, which makes every day better even the holidays!

Black Friday Run
Black Friday Gobble Now, Run Later 5k (yes we made this up)!

To my loved ones in heaven, keep sending those pennies. There is certainly something comforting knowing someone is looking out for us and these small reminders are always comforting.

A Day with Many Meanings

On November 11th we celebrated Veteran’s Day. This year was the first time I wore my uniform on Veteran’s since 2008. In 2008 I was in the first month of a six month deployment aboard the USS Rodney M. Davis conducting counter narcotic interdictions off the coast of South America in the Pacific Ocean. Now in 2017, I’m five months into a fourteen month deployment in Afghanistan (I’m spending 12 months in Afghanistan, but I am serving an additional month initially for training and one more afterwards to process off active duty). I am honored to be wearing my uniform again on Veteran’s Day.

Me on ship.jpg
Me on the ship!

 

There is another Veteran’s Day I will never forget, Veteran’s Day 2009. That single day changed the life of many especially TJ and me. TJ was stationed on the USS Momsen and I was on shore duty working for the Pentagon. It was a Wednesday, and neither of us had duty so we were both home. I decided it was a good morning to take the pregnancy test I had been delaying to take. I had heard from somewhere you should take the test in the morning when your pee is most concentrated. There was no doubt the test was positive. On Veterans’ Day 2009 I became a mom and TJ became a dad.

Lulu and mom
I can’t imagine life without my little partner in crime!

 

There is one more day in November I want mention. On November 16th 2016 Naval Operational Support Center Chicago called me at approximately 0950 to tell me I had orders for Afghanistan and I was scheduled to leave early June 2017. I remember the time because I was scheduled to run a meeting to discuss generators for new bikes which were under development. I sent a few text messages and walked into the meeting. If you know me I need to make a plan to fix every problem and I immediately walked into the room, late which is unlike me, and told everyone in there what just happened. They all told me to leave, but I stayed. At one point I did leave to take a phone call from my Unit Commanding Officer, but I stayed for the remainder of the meeting. I was distracted and towards the end I sent a message to an engineer in the room asking what were next steps.

The meeting ended and Brittney Kieres, a good friend of mine, took me into another conference room to chat. This room was ironically called The War Room. I was upset and she was there for me at moment I really needed it. I will never forget what she told me. She said I needed to pull it together, this was not the Darchelle she knew. I didn’t get upset, I fixed things and she said I would make a plan for this too. She said she’d never seen me upset like this. At that moment I knew I needed to get a plan and everything would workout. I don’t get upset, I take action and fix things. That is exactly what I did. I taught my infamous Wednesday lunch time evil workout, and then I started using my support group to get a plan to get us through. The following week was Thanksgiving and I took the week to get my life together so I could come back to work the following week and be there 100% until I left. I believe I delivered on my promise.

treadmill
My Life Fitness Selfie from Kabul!

 

uniform 2
The Army Darchelle From Kabul!

 

Now a year later for Veteran’s Day 2017 Life Fitness asked if I would write a blog post for them.  I was honored to write it and you can read it at the link below!

https://lifefitness.com/blog/posts/afghanistan-where-life-fitness-employee-works-out#

I’m not sure what Veteran’s Day 2018 has in store for me, but most likely I will not be wearing my uniform.  I know for sure I will not be wearing an Army uniform.  What I do know is Veteran’s Day 2017 always hold a very special place in my heart forever!

A Whole New World

Today I want to take you on a magic carpet ride. I could have gone Christina Aguilera and titled this blog post, I’m a Genie in a Bottle You Gotta Rub me the Right Way, but I decided to be a more PC. Seriously I am going to take you on a magic carpet ride. Afghanistan, as many Middle Eastern countries, are known for their hand made carpets.

When I first got here the person I was relieving introduced me to the local on base carpet Czar, Aryan. Everything in the Afghan culture is based on relationship building as well as who you know (and sometimes who you paid, but I will not get into that today or maybe ever!). Throughout July and August I would go over to his shop almost weekly. We would look at various carpets and chat about family. It is very important to build that relationship with the locals. If you don’t you are insulting their culture. Nothing is done quickly and EVERYTHING is negotiable.

Charlie and Aryan
Aryan and Charlie

 

In early September I bought my first carpets to ship home for Christmas presents. I bought each of my babies a small carpet and a few others for special people in my children’s lives. The carpets are all hand made. Aryan has an assistant named Charlie, and his family makes many of the rugs they sell. His English is poor, but he always has a huge smile on his face and proudly shows us pictures of him hand dying the fabric used to weave the rugs.

I started bringing others with me to visit Aryan and Charlie. You have to visit many times and build a relationship before you buy anything. We were invited us for a traditional Afghan lunch. The food was delicious and I think I even digested most of it.

This is where the wind starts to pick up and the ride gets bumpy. These rugs are beautiful and of the highest quality at a price you would never dream of paying at home. My mom decides she want a large rug for her living for when they re-do the hardwood floors, paint, and buy new furniture. Aryan kindly emails me pictures of various carpets. I send them all to my mom and she picks out two, which when I go back to Aryan he has already sold. He brings the closest carpet he has to the one my mom wants, we negotiate a price, and I send it home. This rug is 10 feet by 7 feet and I ship it to my house. Upon arrival mom says that is not the rug I wanted, it’s too blue. I want something lighter.

rug that came
This is the first magic carpet in my house – too blue!

 

So now the ride continues in pursuit of an even more perfect rug. I go back to Aryan and I show him the pictures my mom likes and he promptly says, so she wants a rug that is darker. I tell him I thought the same thing, but she keeps saying lighter. After going back and forth via email and pictures we determine the problem is the blue. So she wants the same pattern, which is Angel Fish, but no blue.

Possible 2nd rug
This is possible magic carpet number 2, but only the Genie in the Bottle knows for sure!

 

She thinks the rug above is the right one, but I am waiting to send until we have determined for sure this is the perfect magic carpet. We would not want this ride to end too soon. I will not send another rug until she is absolutely sure this is the one she wants. I am sending many pictures of various parts of the rug. The carpet ride is ongoing. We are waiting for my dad to look at both rugs and help make the final decision. My dad stated me wants to make sure mom is happy with the rug so when she’s sitting in her living room in her old age she will enjoy the carpet under her wrinkly feet. So if you want to look at rugs, I have a few at my house right now!

Outside of the magic carpet ride I’m on with my mom, I am learning a lot about the Afghan culture through my interactions with Aryan and Charlie. On various visits he has given me scarves for different women in my family. Last time he told me an interesting story. I bought a gorgeous rug for our piano room. When I told Aryan I was going to put it in my piano room he asked who played and I told him I play, Timothy is taking lessons, and even though Timyra takes guitar lessons she is teaching herself to play piano as well. He looked sad and said we are not allowed to learn to play instruments and listen to music because of the Taliban. He then gave me a purse to give to Timyra for her lessons. As my readers know, I could never live in a world without music. If I can’t get my booty shakin’ my mood is ruined, and my workouts are garbage.

purse
The beautiful purse for Timyra and her guitar lessons!

I sent the purse to Timyra and she sent a thank you to Aryan. She needs to know she needs to be thankful for her freedom. She needs to know she is afforded these opportunities because of the freedoms we fight for every day. She needs to know why her mommy is in Afghanistan and what we are trying to give to great people like Aryan and Charlie.

 

Buddy playing Piano
Buddy enjoying the freedom to play piano!

 

Timyra guitar
Timyra enjoying the freedom to play guitar!

 

So my magic carpet ride continues and I will be sure to let you know what the Genie in the Bottle (a.k.a Mom) decides! Either way I have an excuse to go over and talk to Aryan and Charlie and continue to foster friendships and remember not all Afghans are Insurgents. There really are great citizens of Afghanistan who want to be free!  They are looking for a Whole New World!