Monday, July 21, 2014

The Chair Won Again.....

You really cannot see all the lovely red color and the bruising from my foot's fight with the chair last night. One thing is for sure the wheelchair won again.....

One would think that after all this time that I would have scaling the chair down precisely. Well last night I decided to come down for some water and I had my glasses on instead of my contacts (which just messes up everything for me). My foot caught the front wheel and there I went. I hit something hard and scraped the top of my foot in addition to knocking the crap out of it. Lots of pain began instantly and it is still sore today. :(

We have all had these things happen. You know when you are doing something you do every single day, sometimes multiple times a day and then whoops you just did it wrong that time. This was my time to do it wrong.

You are probably sitting there thinking......Why don't you just move the chair? That is simply because when Chaz comes up the stairs, he puts the chair back exactly how he needs it for when he comes down. You might think me moving it isn't a very big deal, but it actually is. He has to jump from the second step to the chair. If I move it, then he could miss his jump and then we will all have a bad day. It is easier on him for us to leave it alone.

So now you are thinking.....What's the solution? That one is a little easier.....Get out of this house!! Construction has started on our new home. (WAHOO!!!!) This means no more stairs for our family. No more scaling the chair for the girls and I. No more second step jumps for Chaz.

I would love to say the new house will elimiate my foot vs. wheelchair battles, but Chaz runs me over all the time. My foot vs. wheelchair battles will never be over, but the new house will lower the count quite a bit. My throbbing foot pain this morning reminded me how badly we need this house for Chaz and that it will be worth every penny!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Yes, He Stays at Home...

I know so many other caregivers have had their role reversed just like I have. I know they too struggle everyday with the sudden changes in our identities. Just a few years ago I was a stay at home mom, with a thriving seasonal small business. I volunteered at the girls' school, with Girl Scouts and helped out at their dance studio. Then that all went boom....

In the early days after Chaz's injury I held on very tightly to anything from my previous life. Before I knew it the only thing that remained were the shreds of my business that I salvaged while going back and forth taking care of everyone. What I realized now was by focusing solely on healing my family the details sorted themselves out.

Fast forward to now and I am full-time work from home mom, with a surviving small business. I am a full-time caregiver and Girl Scout leader. We are still homeschooling our kids. And now my husband is the "stay at home parent."

What?! He stays at home? Yes our roles in our family have reversed. And we are beyond ok with it. I wish others could be.

When we were at Walter Reed they shoved college and internships down Chaz's throat. I loved it when I was blamed for him not accepting things, "I was holding him back" don't you know. Finally one day a meeting was called about Chaz turning things down. He was solely focused on his therapies and our family and a few people were not happy about that. He actually flipped and happily let them know that he was the one blown up and everything he had planned for himself for his career was gone. He told them wasn't ready to change his path to what they felt he should do. Again I was blamed for not pushing him.

Our veterans don't always need a push. Sometimes they need someone to listen, understand and love them through it. I have no problems explaining that my husband wanted to serve 20+ in the Infantry. He loved being a soldier. I did not love him being in harms, but I loved him and wanted to support him in his choices. He was out doing what he loved more than anything when that was all taken away from him.Together we mourned our losses and together we have helped him find his independence level and heal our family. 

What I will never understand is why we feel we must force our opinions on others? I'll happily give you my opinion, but I will not force it. Chaz and I laughed at all the "advice" we have been given on this journey. Our favorite is the "He stays at home?" comments.

Our little family is beyond happy. I am now "Chaz's Sugar Momma" and I am more than ok with it. I do not like that I have to travel and leave my family and make a ton of arrangements just so they are cared for during my short trips, but that comes with my job. My family is very proud of me and the work I do. They are willing to give me up periodically so I can help so many others. We are ok with that and you should be too. I am not a bad Mom because I choose to work and that work involves travel. Chaz is not any less of a man because he wants to be Mr Mom.

In my opinion, our choices have made us better parents and partners. We are now experiencing how the other one's life was over the past 10 years. We truly understand each other better now because we are seeing the other side.

Our family endured over a decade of war and Chaz being gone all the time. The girls never got a chance to know him. Now they get to have both of their parents and we are having a blast homeschooling them and taking them on adventures through their education.

Chaz and I are working together to plant beautiful seeds of hope, love, faith and family in our girls. What we are doing doesn't have a price tag. What we are doing is setting our girls up for success which will be passed on for generations. If you are worried about my hubby going to school or getting a job please know we are fine and we have it all covered.

One day Chaz will figure out what he wants to do. It may be next week or next month or next year. Or you know what, he may just continue doing what he is doing. And that's perfectly fine with me.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Sitting Down for Just a Sec....

I have been so busy that I am horribly behind on work, phone calls, emails, you name it. But this week is my catch up week and I am going to get caught up. I would say even if I am working from sun up to sun down, but I am already doing that so, there goes that theory. Regardless I am going to get caught up. 

So what is going on? Here's the short list. Things are great at YRF. We are doing so many awesome things, but to make that the awesomeness happen we have a lot of work to do. I could write a blog just about that. I am trying to close out my tax office for the year, but I cannot find the time to finish the last few returns I need to do. I am closing out De's Girl Scout troop for good because the girls have all become busy with other things. I have to get both girls ready for their week long camp in a few weeks. I am trying to build my hubby a house that suits his needs and do everything that needs to be done to this one (again I could just write a blog on that). I need to sit down and close out the school year for the girls. And this is recital weekend. Again this is the short list. The actual full list might frighten you away. ;)

Shockingly I have Chaz's appointments, equipment, paperwork and etc all squared away. I have medical appointments for the girls and I squared away, yes including Ginger. Yesterday I realized what I really need to do is just sit down for a sec and breathe. So I did. I made a list of what I wanted to do in addition to what I need to do. To my surprise, I did have enough paper.

I don't know where I would be without my lists. Being a caregiver is exhausting. From the time we get up to the time we go to bed we just go-go-go. I personally get up at least one hour before Chaz so I can have time to think. I have to have just some time for me so I can get my head straight before I start my day. I know that my beginning hour of the day may be the only time in the day that I will have for me. Most of my days are like that. And no I am not complaining. This is just how my life is. The past 2 months we have had so many other things added in that I felt that I could not even turn around.

Do you know what I love about my hubby? I love that he supports me and all my craziness. I love the fact that he tries to help me do everything. I love that he supports me helping others. I love that he takes anything he can off of my plate. We really do make an excellent team. Yes we are as opposite as opposite can be, but boy do we compliment each other well.

On date night the other night my super cute hubby let me know that he is so happy that in less than two weeks I have an almost a 90 day straight break from traveling. We have a few things that involve traveling, but nothing like the past few non-stop weeks that we are almost through. He even asked again for a list that he could knock out so he could help me.

This morning I was going through my normal routine and I sat down for just a sec. I realized that I am truly blessed that my hubby is able to help me accomplish so much. Where would I be without such a great partner? I could accomplish those to-dos alone, but having someone who supports you and wants to help you succeed makes things that much better.

This year will be another big year for us. The new house will be finished before December 31. We will get moved and we will move forward like we have needed to for so long. The most important part is that we will move on together into our happily ever after. One day really soon we all will be able to sit down for more than a sec and actually take it all in and enjoy the blessings that we are working so hard to accomplish. But for now I will take the random pauses I can get while I wait for the big one to come.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Will I Ever Be Happy on This Day Again?

Every year you hear someone say "Happy Memorial Day." And why shouldn't they? Every other national holiday we say Happy (fill in the blank).

People have every reason to be happy about Memorial Day. There are great sales, great BBQs, most of them have the day off from work, so why wouldn't they be happy about it?!

I remember being happy on Memorial Day. We all consider it the first day of summer, right?! I remember being on the lake with friends or at the pool or attending a BBQ. And I love to shop. I remember being very aware of the Memorial Day sales I could participate in around my area. But then came war and Memorial Day changed for me.

Death and I were old friends before war came into my life. He took several people from me in my teenage years. Dare I say it, death and I are on good terms. I understand he has a job to do and that he does not discriminate.

Losing someone is never easy, but attending services and memorials of those killed in action it's another level of pain that is so hard to describe. I always thought a 21 gun salute and TAPS was the hardest thing to get through, try a Roll Call at a memorial. There just are no words for the sucker punch to the gut that hits you when the service member you know does not answer that call. 

Then comes dealing with the cards death leaves you. We are now watching children grow up without parents and parents without their children. We are forever united over tragedy and we have had a small part in helping them heal. We are so happy to still a part of their lives, but cannot stand the fact that they have those Gold Star pins to wear.

Our society is so detached from war, most don't even know our service members are even still deployed, much less do they have someone to remember today. In every other war before, almost every household was affected directly by the war. Today you have to play six degrees of separation in some homes to find a service connection.

Maybe one day I will be truly happy again on Memorial Day, but currently the day itself carries a somber reminder that hurts my heart. Today this house will disconnect for a while to remember those who we lost in service. We ask that you do the same.

Here's a list of some of the service members we will be thinking of today. We welcome you to also remember their sacrifice and their families today as well as those who are not listed. 

Garrison Avery
David Babineau
Ethan Biggers
Benjamin Britt
Marlon Bustamante
Kenith Casica
Jason Fegler
Matthew Hunter
Brian Kubik
William Lopez-Feliciano
Tyler MacKenzie
Johnnie Mason
Kristian Menchaca
Joshua Munger
Travis Nelson
Anthony Owens
Blake Russell
Benjamin Smith
Thomas Tucker
Caesar Viglienzone
Andrew Waits
Clarence McSwain
John Trotter
Karl Campbell
Dave Weigle
Dave Stanley
Frank Walkup
Joe Granville
Erick J. Klusacek
Wesley Spraul
Derek McConnell

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Hornet's Nest

It is really hard for me to watch war movies. It always has been. I think that my family surviving a catastrophic injury from war has made my skin just a little thicker because it only took me two tries to finish The Hornet's Nest.

War movies are just a little bit too much reality for me. Yes, my husband was Infantry. Yes, I have watched his video of his injury multiple times. Yes, I have watched a lot of videos that his guys made on their deployments. However I still haven't seen The Hurt Locker, Lone Survivor and a list of others. Chaz understands and never nags me to watch a movie, unless it is really good.

We have been tracking The Hornet's Nest for a while now. It's a small Army world and when the 101st is involved we hear all about it. When I got the email asking if we would like to be advanced screeners I knew I better say yes. However like always with war movies I let Chaz go first. I'll be honest, I just didn't know if I could watch it. I tried to watch it with him, but that night I just couldn't. It was just too hard for me to watch it that night. So I waited and he nagged me telling me I would really like it. "It's hard to watch, but you'll get through it," he said. That summed it up nicely.

Last night I popped my popcorn and loaded up the movie and dug in.

Mike and Carlos Boettcher are a father-son team of journalists. They deployed with our service members in 2011 to tell their story, not just use up some film for cool shots. No, this pair gets in there and bonds with our heroes like family. You can tell with this pair this is not just a job to them. I felt that they really wanted to tell the story that every American needs to see. I feel they did a superb job.

For the majority of the film the reporters are with the 2/327th No Slack. Guess who deployed to Kosovo with No Slack, you guessed it....Chaz did. I guess that brought this film a little bit closer to home with our No Slack connection. Enter the 187th and 506th and I realized we knew at least one soldier in all of those groups somehow, then film then hit even closer to home.

You know what made it all even harder....we were at Walter Reed when this all this was going down. I remember hearing about the 101st having a "fun time" in Kunar while Chaz was an inpatient. Then they all started joining us on Ward 57. I remember at one point the 101st pretty much took over the Ward. There were so many of us and they just kept coming in.

Back to the movie.....It is hard to watch the bullets fly and bombs explode. Every time I immediately thought of one of the service members I have helped through my job at YRF or met since Chaz was injured. Then comes an IED detonation. I knew when it went off it was 40-50 lbs of explosives. Then EOD confirmed my gut. How did I know? It looked just like Chaz's IED detonation and I'll never forget that image. All I could think was thank The Lord EOD got it instead of one of our guys. And at this point I wanted to vomit, our service members are still there fighting. This is still going on was all I could think to myself.

Then the next thought that entered my head, America is only seeing 1 1/2 hours of this. Our service members see it for days, weeks and months. And they are still there. Then Mike nailed it on the head when he said our guys are not there to fight a war, they are there to protect each other.

One of my favorite parts of the film was seeing some of our leaders in human form. We have a tendency to not realize that they may be high ranking, but I can assure you they really still care a lot. These men have directly impacted our lives and I just loved that Americans can get a small glimpse into them. General Petraeus came to pin medals on and you can see that meant so much to him. He visited us and you can tell that he cares so much about our families.General Townsend, I have never met, but I remember the phone call I received about him. He really liked Chaz a lot and when he found out he was injured he rushed to his side and was the one who presented him his Purple Heart at Bagram. CSM Schroeder has crossed our paths a few times. Chaz served under him at the 502nd and then when he served as the Division CSM. We have a great story on the CSM and how he stood up for Chaz when many others wouldn't. He and his wife care a lot about our families. General Campbell, oh dear where do I start and how would I stop. He and his wife Ann keep tabs on our family to this day. To say they truly care about our families is an understatement.

Then there's Roll Call. I have attended a Roll Call. Many civilians cannot handle a 21 gun salute. Let me tell you, Roll Call will make you a blubbering fool. I knew it was coming and started crying. Once I saw the soldiers standing at attention with tears streaming down the floods gates opened in my eyes. But then one of their leaders, who just is amazingly stoic and reminded me of Chaz waits for everyone to pass through then he breaks down. My brain flashed to my own hubby's break down and I went into the ugly-ain't-got-enough-tissues-in-the-world-cry.

I don't want to give too much away because I promise you, you want to see this movie. If I can spend day in and out with these heroes before and after the deployments, bury more than I can count now, and take care of literally thousands of wounded, ill and injured families and get through this film then you have no excuse to not watch it. It is your duty to watch it. 

You need to see what our heroes go through while on deployment. And most importantly remember, you are only watching for just over 90 minutes, this is our service members' life for months and in too many cases years!

And guess what? I have free tickets to give away to my readers!!! Visit Team Allen or The Chase for Chaz and share my blog link with your Facebook friends. Winners will be chosen at Random. So please share my review because every American needs to see this film!!

***Sharing contest ends May 23 at 12pm CST. Winners will notified via Facebook message and will be posted on the blog posting.***


Erica Barber
Brandy Karpf

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Tale of Two Congressmen

Last week was a crazy busy week for me. Not only was I working in DC/MD for YRF but I was also there for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. Being a part of both organizations and being able to pay our blessings forward is just indescribable. I had one of the busiest, yet amazing weeks last week and I just have to tell the tale of the two Congressmen I met.

Tuesday night I was invited to a dinner. Floating around me were some huge names that have a big effect on the Department of Defense. Also in attendance was a Congressman. I did not go out of my way to introduce myself, but once he heard my husband was wounded I had his undivided attention. He wanted to know all about our family. Then he asked me if I knew a few Marine and Army families that he had met. He knew them all by name as well as their family members. Then I learned he knew one of my favorite families, the McConnell family. His Chief of Staff joined in our conversation and we all shared some of our favorite moments we had had with that family. What a gift it was that we could all be brought together because we had a great family in common. That moment made my heart smile.

Then he told me a story about how Walter Reed wouldn't let him on post to see the wounded one time. His staff had been trying for days and finally he called himself. He told me how important it was to him to meet as many of our families as possible. Then when chatted about the VA and he felt our frustration and then assured me questions would be answered. You could tell how much he cared for our veterans and their families.

Not even 48 hours later I was on Capitol Hill. I went with another Dole Fellow and had two great meetings with the staff members of our two Tennessee Senators. Then I went and had two meetings Tennessee Representatives. The first one went really well, but the second meeting was not how I wanted to end my day.

Monday I noticed a Tennessee Representative boarding the same plane. He recognized me and we had that "how do I know you" moment. I informed him that he met Chaz and I back in 2011 and that Chaz had been wounded. He then asked what was I heading to DC for and I told him. He then told me to call his office and set up a meeting with him. I relayed that information to the Dole Foundation and they set it up.

When I got to his office for our meeting, he was not there. I was perfectly fine meeting with his staff. So I did. A few minutes into our conversation the Congressman appeared. He looked at me with a less than thrilled look and said "Are we going to do this?" His staffer jumped up and I sat for a second. The staffer asked me to join him. We went to the Congressman's office. I could tell the Congressman was in a foul mood, but I was not prepared for the hostile conversation that was going to take place.

I gave him the folder with information about the Dole Foundation and the bill Senator Murray was introducing. He picked up the folder and put it down and then asked me, "Do you actually understand how things get funded around here?" It was in such a hateful tone that I sat back in my chair and said, "No, please enlighten me." (He didn't like that.) I was given a cliff notes version on how a bill becomes a law, which School House Rock does a much better job of doing. He was so flippant and rude that I am still in shock that any person would speak to another like that.

Then he asked me why was all of this so important and I told him about caregivers like myself and what all we do. Then he says, "But how is your husband's care at the VA?" I told him fine because we go to the Murfreesboro VA, but the system of processing was a nightmare. He quickly told me that, "If you are fine with your VA care in Tennessee that is all I care about. I have 540,000 Tennesseans without health care because of medicare cuts that I need to focus on."

Then he asked where our kids go to school. I told him we home school. He had an appalled look on his face. He then informed me we have some of the best schools in the state of Tennessee. I asked him when was the last time he sent a child through our school system. He didn't answer that but told me that Nashville had two of the country's best high schools. I told him I am very aware of MLK and Hume Fogg and I am also aware of the lottery that you chooses if your kids attend that school. He didn't like that.

Then he said "If there's nothing else, I should move on with my day." I told him that was a great idea.

And I voted for him......It will NEVER happen again. I am pretty upset that I wasted my previous votes on that jerk. I understand that as a Congressman you have a lot of irons in the fire. I understand you are representing the people. I understand that picking issues is important and also difficult. But how in the Hell can you look at a constituent and tell her that you only care about the treatment her husband gets.

Our veterans are our national treasures and their caregivers are the hidden heroes that help them heal everyday from the wounds of war. It doesn't matter what state they reside in, you should care about them all. I know I do!

One thing I have learned from my week in DC is I now know where to invest my time. It's sad to say that I will not spend anymore time on the man I voted for and he lost my future votes. And I find it interesting that people I cannot vote for value my opinion and are still in touch with me. I have always loved politics, heck my degree is in it. (So yes, I do actually know how bills become laws and so on.) I am more invested now than I ever thought I would be. I just pray that as my life moves on, I will never become as flippant as the man I voted for.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Behind the Picture....

I had to laugh when I saw that ABC News used this picture. There is such a great story behind it. This picture was actually one of the best days of our healing after our OIF PTS (Post-Traumatic Stress). To me it is a snapshot of a victory for us.

Chaz was in Iraq September 2005-06. That deployment was Hell, I mean Hell for us. That was the deployment that tried to take my husband, in more than one way. Chaz lost over 30 guys in that year. His friend Mac was killed and the "Green Incident" occurred. It really was a true breaking deployment for us. Chaz was battling everything there and I had a baby with every baby thing a baby could get and a 3 year old with almost uncontrollable asthma that at one point required breathing treatments every other hour for over 24 hours.

I remember noticing on his R&R he was different, but those 2 weeks flew by so it wasn't enough time to really see the difference. No the difference came home in September 2006.

My fun, silly husband was this angry, jumpy man I didn't recognize. He barked orders at us and got mad when the simplest things didn't go his way. I couldn't stand to be around him a lot of times. Cutie #1 screamed in his face all the time. Life was rough then. Worst of all, if you asked for help from the Army then, you were cast out like damaged goods. We knew we were on our own to figure it all out.

I fought for our marriage. I remember one day I told Chaz I wasn't leaving and that we were going to figure this all out and we needed time to do so. It was a day when he barked orders at me like I was his soldier. I just lost it.

Well the answer to us was moving, we needed a fresh start. But the Army locked us into Campbell so we were stuck. A Senior NCO got Chaz an interview with the NCO Academy. It was a long shot because his rating NCOs has crushed him with a Bronze Star denial and horrible NCOERs (performance reviews) all thanks to the "Green Incident" that he and so many others in the platoon had nothing to do with but they were sure getting messed up for it.

To make matters worse, we couldn't escape the Green Incident. Every time we turned around someone was talking about Green or Chaz was being called to testify. One day I lost it on the lawyer who showed up on our door step to ask us questions about everything. I slammed the door in her face and told her, to give Green back to Iraq and let them figure it out. No she never came back to our home. Yes I was rude and she was only doing her job. but I was just at my end with the Green case. I just wanted to put it all behind us.

We needed a fresh start, but the Army wouldn't let us leave Campbell. So we bought a new house in Clarksville in 2007. Then Chaz worked his ass off to get into the NCO Academy. That work paid off and he was invited to be an instructor. His schedule was 15 days on 4 days off, but he finally was able to spend time with us. And thanks to the Academy we finally had Federal holidays together and 2 weeks of leave every 6 months. I finally had my husband more than a few hours at night thanks to the Academy. Don't get me wrong those 15 days straight were rough, but time flew by and before we knew it another 15 day cycle was behind us.

During this time Chaz started dating me again. We had to find the times where it was just us. We had to find those places where we could find those kids who fell in love before 9-11 changed everything.

Chaz started "dating" Cutie #1. Their relationship was so strained we thought Daddy-Daughter dates would help a lot and they did. But Cutie #1 had a lot of resentment towards the Army. She was so smart even back then. She knew where Daddy's anger came from. She would talk to someone in civilian clothes, but not in uniform. She related Daddy's anger to the uniform. It was something else we knew we had to work on.We would have friends come over and get to know her without uniforms, then when they were in uniform she seemed to accept them. We had to ease her into knowing the uniform was just clothes. We even had to have Chaz change immediately when he got home to ease her stress.

Cutie #2 was only 2 when we moved and started over. Chaz had a blank slate with her. This might explain why they are so close even today. #2 showed Chaz a lot of love just for being present and he really needed that.

Two years later in August 2009, Chaz's term at the Academy ended. He worked so hard at healing our family and being a great instructor, he won NCO of the Cycle 4 times and then won the MG Aubrey "Red" Newman Award (the one around his neck in the picture). But this picture of Cutie #1 hiding is so funny. We tried to get a family picture again and again. But every soldier in the room was standing and applauding Chaz that made the girls panic. You see Cutie #1 is hiding in our legs and #2 is holding blankey and Doug as tight as possible with that thumb in her mouth. Chaz and I were laughing. They just did not understand what was going on. It was so stinking cute.

It was a very great day for us. We committed those two years to our family. Chaz went from bad NCOERs to winning awards. We learn that for us surviving PTS meant investing in our family's love. Are we healed? No, I really don't think you ever are fully healed from PTS. I think you learn how to cope.

Chaz and I think we have handled healing from his physical injuries so well because we already fought with PTS and won. We know how to respond to PTS when it rears its ugly head and know how to minimize the damage it can cause. Our battle with PTS is so very far from over, but we the love and support of each other we are ready to battle and win every time!