Monday, July 29, 2013

Military Monday: By My Side

Another weekly link up with Ashley at Eights on the Move.

This week's topic: What is the most significant moment/event in your life that you're SO thankful your military spouse/significant other WASN'T deployed for?

I have to preface by saying that hubby and I have not had to experience a deployment at this time. He's gone TDY for different things and our longest separation was about 3 months (I think). Ryan has been slotted twice to head out to the desert but for different reasons beyond his control (for one we were PCSing and for the second he was being sent to AFIT), he was removed from both.

Anyway, on to the topic. I was racking my mind to think of what significant moment I'm thankful Ryan was home for. Thing is, we've been blessed that he's been available for most all of them. I think the only significant thing he missed was our first anniversary. He also missed my college graduation, but I'm actually okay about that and it wasn't the fault of the military, it was our choice.

He was there for the birth of both of our children. He's been around for all birthdays and 7 out of 8 anniversaries. He has yet to miss out on a major holiday. And when it came to PCSing, he's been present for those as well. Those are probably all the big things.

But I did think of something specific to us I'm thankful Ryan was home for. When the pipes froze at our house in New Mexico, then burst. Our house suffered the second worst damage in housing and Ryan was there to step up for his family and make sure we were cared for. He was the one that could be rough and stern with housing, standing his ground to be certain we didn't fall between the cracks. He got us into TLF before housing was able to deal with re-homing everybody who had to vacate their homes because of the same issues. We were stuck there for 2 1/2 weeks before we could move back in. During that time Ryan and I both got severe food poisoning and I received news that a high school friend had committed suicide. It was such an awful month.

Then housing was putting pressure on us to move back in before repairs were done. Only carpet had been replaced. Ryan told them that wasn't happening when we have a 2 year old and a 10 month old in the house, no ceiling in the children's room, no insulation in that room, open holes in the walls, and painting to still be done.

Eventually repairs were made to our house and we were able to move in safely.

I'm so glad Ryan was present. I'm not sure how we would have dealt with all of that without him. I could trust him to protect us and fight the battles with housing that I may not have been as strong with.

I am aware of how thankful I should be because my husband has been around for big life events. This may not always be the case, but for now I will just be thankful.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Military Monday - WORK

Ashely over at Eights on the Move is hosting a new link up on Mondays -- Military Monday. For this week she gave us the topic about WORK. As a spouse in the military how does work/career pan out for us?

Interesting topic, and I do have some experience with this.

After Ryan and I moved to Japan as newlyweds we weren't really sure what life would be like. I was still working on a degree and taking classes online. With all the major life changes I had just gone through I fell into a funk, got depressed, and spent a lot of time eating and watching movies alone at home. Ryan was (lovingly) fed up and basically told me to stop moping around and get a job and DO SOMETHING!

So I did.

For awhile I taught English at home to a few students. Although it was fun, it was also limiting and not everybody was consistent. Getting approximately $20 for an hour of conversation and reading assistance isn't bad though.

Kayoko, my student, with me and Ryan at Hard Rock Café Tokyo in Roppongi.

Then I branched out and started looking at what jobs I could get on base. Some stuff I wasn't interested in or the pay was crap. But I did get spousal preference when applying for positions.

Through NAF I got a job working at the base's Pet Boarding Facility. There were aspects I loved about my job: wearing scrubs to work every day, spending time with animals, chatting with co-workers, helping find homes for pets. But there was also plenty that wasn't so great: a facility that should have condemned, same sad story for quarantine pets not living with their families, sending feral cats to be euthanized, cockroaches, no A/C during the summer, and lack of heat in the winter.

Our facility used to be for the military working dogs, but they moved to a newer facility and that's when it changed to be used for pet boarding and adoption. Over a year after I left here a new facility was built and this one was (thankfully) demolished.
the cat room

This is the quarantine kennels. The other kennels were the same, but the lower ones had doors to the outside that we would open to dog runs so we could clean inside. I can't tell you how many times I banged my head on the corners of those rusted doors!
Happy work day... right?

Also? I was low man on the totem pole and basically had to work every weekend and holiday since living animals still have to be cared for regardless of the day. I wasn't considered Full Time so I didn't get vacations or benefits and things like that. Oh... and it was always split shifts. Though I did use that break to go to the gym all the time.

After a final run-in with another employee and being fed up with my schedule with no chance of advancement for a couple years, I began looking for a new position. Hopefully one that would allow me to spend more time with my husband on days he had off.

A supervisor position opened up with the base movie theater through AAFES. The pay was better and I had the ability to move to a full time position... so I took it.

Stress. Yes, I traded a fairly laid back, dirty job with crappy hours for a stressful, in your face responsible position, dealing with druggy teens, rude people, strange demands, and not seeing my husband in the evenings.

It was also the place where, while unloading the snack bar shipment, I was whacked near my eye by an unbalanced dolly, got blood all over, and was sent to ER down the road where they glued me back together. I still have the scar.

Some things were good and I was able to assist in making some great improvements and implement better managing but in the end I got burned and thankfully had already put in my 2 weeks notice before all hell broke loose.

During all this time I was still taking classes. It was slow going, but I was slogging through them with high marks.

I took my last job working at the GNC store. Again, another laid back job. And the pay was miniscule. Not long after being there Ryan and I discovered I was pregnant. Then a really creepy guy was hired and I was getting blamed for his lack of work. At that point I just decided to call it quits and focus on school, taking on extra classes so I could graduate before the baby was born.

And that's what I did. A couple weeks after Will's birth I finished my finals and earned my Bachelor's Degree in Paralegal Studies with an emphasis in Alternative Dispute Resolution. I graduated Summa Cum Laude.

William (5 months old) with me at my graduation in Chicago

I had chosen that degree so I could hopefully access and use it during the transient life Ryan and I would be living with the military. But after having one child and then another I feel that my job is to take care of the home and raise my children.

Occasionally I might make some money by selling a craft and even seriously entertained the idea of opening an Etsy shop. In the end I discovered the time I have to spend actually doing that isn't always the best way to spend my time.

So that's MY work experience as a military spouse. A couple base jobs in my early 20's and now I'm the mommy to 2 great kids. I still volunteer where I can and am active in groups on base but I don't get paid anymore. Maybe I'll find something in the future. Perhaps some freelance work in the legal field? Anybody got any connections?

Friday, July 19, 2013


When Ryan was on his last break from school we took a little family vacation for a couple days.

I found a deal on Groupon for a hotel in Gatlinburg. We'd heard a lot about Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge since we moved here and everybody raves about how family friendly it is. Since it's only about a 5 hour drive and I've wanted to see the Smoky Mountains for quite some time we booked our stay.

We loaded up and headed out by the afternoon. The plan was to stop at a rest area somewhere in Kentucky to let the kids run and have lunch (I pack enough food so that we don't have to eat out at restaurants the whole time). Well, I-70 through Kentucky had like NO rest areas. I guess because you're driving through cities often nobody considers a rest area until you reach the border. We ended up stopping at a McDonald's (we haven't had Mickey-D's in a long time)... and it was pretty crummy.

Eventually we made it to Pigeon Forge - the gateway to Gatlinburg. Talk about sensory overload! There we fun things to do all over the place, and flashy lights, and traffic, and people walking up and down the sidewalks. Ryan saw an IHOP and decided we would return eat there for dinner.

We drove into Gatlinburg through all the beautiful green trees and entrance to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Gatlinburg was very busy also with people wandering all over the side of the street. After finding and checking into our modest hotel we headed over to play in the huge indoor swimming pool.

All of us love to be in the water but since neither of the kids can swim on their own yet we're pretty limited in what we can do. I forgot to bring their arm floaties so they were being held the entire time. This reminds me... I need to enroll them in swim lessons again!

After swimming, we drove off to IHOP, ate a simple meal then returned to our hotel to sleep.

The next morning was our big day. We all dressed, packed a day bag, and began our trek outside.

We were waiting around for the trolley but weren't sure of its arrival time so we began to walk. About 10 minutes into our walk we happen upon another trolley stop as the vehicle is stopping. We hop on and wide-eyed watch our way through the city and get off at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies.

This is a great place to bring the kids and a must-see attraction for families who visit! There are the usual things at this aquarium, but there is also a REALLY LONG underwater shark exhibit. That was pretty cool.

 We also enjoyed the children's exploration area.

 There was a dinosaur exhibit but we didn't stay very long because it became very crowded and we needed to head out to go to our next stop.

After escaping the aquarium, we waited at the trolley stop to make our way to Pigeon Forge. After making our transfer we stopped at Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede - the other must see attraction in the area.

Ryan and Will on the trolley
Lana wanted to see the lady in the "pretty dress" so we chatted for a little bit

Dixie Stampede was probably my favorite thing we did. It's sort of like Mideval Times Restaurant (though I've never done that so I can't say how accurate it is).  Patrons choose which side to be on, North or South. During the show you are given a 4 course meal. There are trick riders, competitions, pig/chicken/ostrich races, singing, dancing, fire, flashy lights... the whole kit-n-caboodle! It was so much fun! The kids really enjoyed it and even ate some of their food. Both Will and Lana say their favorite part was when the female rider was standing on 2 horses and then jumped through a big hoop of fire. Oh, and we were Northerners and the North won! Whoot!
waiting for the show to start
our host at the beginning of the production
chatting with one of the riders after the show... both kids got to pet his horse
Dollywood was nearby, but sadly we did not make it over there. Maybe next time.

When the fun was over there we caught the trolley back to Gatlinburg, got off at the Aquarium and opted to walk back to our hotel so we could see and experience the main drag of the little town.

It was there we discovered how much there really is to do in that town. Zip-lines, museums, tourist traps, candy shops, restaurants, souvenir stops, just fun little things all over. I really would love to go back, maybe with more people, and experience more of what was there.

Once back at our hotel we went swimming again.
Then before it got too dark we got in the car to venture on one of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Scenic Auto Tours.

It was beautiful. I love nature. It was so green! We stopped off at Ogle House and I took a few snapshots and told Ryan we would have to come back the next day to walk some of the trail.

We continued on our drive and I savored the beauty of the woods. Ryan humored me, because I know that just isn't his thing. The kids were quite content chatting and playing with the iPad. I saw parking pull offs for hiking trails to scenic spots, like waterfalls, but knew we did not have the time to explore with the impeding dark coming on.

As we rounded a corner I mentioned how I hoped there was a scenic stop ahead because I wanted to get photos of the mountains. And, to my happiness, there was one!

I pulled up and stopped and hopped out of the car. As I did so I noticed rustling in the bushes next to me. I do have basic nature knowledge and I knew there was an animal in the bushes so I hung back by my open car door to see where it was going. I could tell it was a larger animal too and it was moving AWAY from me. It couldn't be a bear, could it? It seems to small to be a bear... bears are really big. (I'm used to grizzly bear size bears.) I take a step away from the door and catch a glimpse of something rambling down the hill. This is all happening within seconds in my head.

I step closer to the ledge and sight it -- it's a real bear! A black bear! Oh my goodness! It's much smaller than I'd imagined! It was my first real sighting of a wild bear in nature. I was very happy about that.

can you see it?! The black thing near the center of the photo.

Ryan was less thrilled.

The bear continued down and away. Ryan did get out and I pointed out where the bear had eventually stopped but we couldn't see it anymore.

Our driving continued with me occasionally stopping if something interested me.

It was getting pretty dark so we just kept driving back to town. The hills were beautiful. We passed more old homesteads. We drove by a water fall. We followed the river. Oh, it was so nice! I wish I had more time to spend out there.

Ephraim Bales Place (another of the more than 80 historic buildings preserved in Great Smoky Mountains National Park).

The next morning we loaded up and checked out.

Will & Lana playing on a rock near the large indoor pool
I wanted to do the scenic route again but I knew we couldn't do it all. We did stop at Ogle House and look around a little bit. I wanted to take the trail around the property to see where the garden and other things used to be but Ryan really wanted to head out on the road. So we only looked at the house and the barn then went back to the car.
checking out 1 of 2 identical rooms
in the barn

Our final tourist stop was at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Welcome Center. I had to check out what they had and I was able to actually see maps of how big that park really is. There were just so many beautiful things to see... all God's creations.

The drive home was pretty uneventful. A stop at a rest area to eat lunch and let the kids run, then on home.

Gatlinburg was a great place to go. Oh, I'd love to go back and spend a week or longer. Preferably with more people... maybe grandparents. Much of the time I kept telling Ryan that Tegan would LOVE this place and I told her the same thing later on the phone. Perhaps someday me and my best friend will get to explore and hike in that awesome land.

This was my second time going to Tennessee. I think that state has captured my heart.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Amazing > Apraxia

Most of the time I think I have a normal life.

I have been blessed with a hard-working husband and 2 beautiful kids. We have so much to be thankful for.

Everyone has struggles. That's part of being human.

Being a mom is a hard job though.

Being a mom with a child considered "special needs" is pretty rough.

I realize there are parents who have it much harder than me, but I'm not into the whole 'my kid has more issues than your kid' because that's not really important. We all have our own battles and struggles and, like all parents, we just want the best for our kids and want them to have the world. There are times I can't imagine how hard other parents have it and I don't envy them.

I've been thankful that William does not have a disorder or disability that is very obvious. When we're out and about nobody would ever notice that my son has Apraxia. Until more recently.

William has worked so incredibly hard to get his speech to the level it is today. Additionally he has put in effort and tears to overcome all of the areas where his is affected -- gross and fine motor skills. We still have a long way to go. I'm proud of him and he is becoming more confident in what he can do and how he can interact with people.

Now when we go places Will gets excited and starts to tell me about things that interest him in our surroundings. For the most part I understand him. But when he's excited he becomes a little loud and he starts to talk fast, and stutter, and jumble his words together, and become repetitive. Usually I try to tell him to slow down and will then repeat back to him what he's saying so he can clear up his words. I get a lot of stares. Strangers will look at my beautiful boy with alarm in their faces like, "oh my goodness... what is WRONG with that child." For the most part I ignore them... but other times I want to grab and shake them and tell them that this little boy is amazing - that he is brilliant - that he is building confidence - that he can FINALLY express himself and share what is going on in his mind!

Can you imagine? Knowing exactly what you want to say but can't get it out?! You know when you have that word that you just can't get out of your mouth for some reason? William is dealing with that constantly. How frustrating that world would be.

Will's SLP (who is awesome by the way) has been working on basic conversation skills. The other week at therapy I had tipped her off to ask about our recent trip to the movie theater to see Monsters 2. It was the kids' first time going to a movie theater and was kind of a big deal to them. Jessica asked him about where he went, what he saw, what was it like, what was the best part... trying to get him to talk about something. Will was having a hard time finding the words. He knows that I'm usually his translator for people, but especially at speech therapy I won't translate unless the therapists are really having a hard time.

It nearly broke my heart when Will then walks over to me, grabs my hand, looks up at me and says, "Mommy, you talk uh me."

"You want mommy to talk for you?"


I look at the therapist who has a loving, but sad look on her face. And I look down at William and say, "I'm sorry buddy, but no. You need to talk to Ms. Jessica."

"But I no wanna talk uh Ms. Je-i-ca."

Heart wrenching.

But like I mentioned earlier, he is becoming more confident. On several occasions I've seen him walk up to an adult, tug at their sleeve or hand and say, "Hey! I uh-tok-in tah you!" (Hey, I'm talking to you!). Then he'll ramble on about something (usually light bulbs) with a lot of gestures.

I still don't understand his obsession with light bulbs and lights in general.

Side story here: Funny enough, last night when I was trying to settle the house before bed I hear William walk out the back door as he had just discovered lightening bugs from the windows. He. Was. Thrilled. I've been trying to point them out forever, but tonight he finally saw them. I caught one and showed him how it's just a bug and he was overjoyed to watch them fly around in the yard, flickering their bright little lights.

Anyway, one of the things that makes life with an Apraxic child hard is that William looks like a normal little boy. We go out in public and the cashier, or one of the old retirees shopping at the commissary, or the gate guard, or a little kid will ask Will what his name is, or say hi, or ask a question and I cringe internally because I know one of a couple things will happen:
*he will not say anything
*he will answer very quietly and when they say "what" he will be silent and look away thinking they didn't understand him... not that they couldn't hear him
*he will take awhile to form what he wants to say and they either ask him again, ask a different question, or ignore him which flusters and frustrates him
*he will answer confidently but they not understand him (sometimes even trying to repeat what they think he said but it's wrong and he then gets frustrated, annoyed, and shuts down)
*he will look to me, then look down to the ground hoping I'll answer for him
*he will answer confidently and is understood.

Of those options, not many of them turn out very well.

On May 14 of this year it was the first Apraxia Awareness Day. There were a lot of things posted on the Apraxia support pages that I check on. One of them was the image below (from the CASANA site - which has a lot of great resources by the way) and I felt I wanted to share it. So much of it is true for William.
When I first read this I admit, I was pretty misty eyed. It was so perfect in describing William. The son of a friend who (after Will had been trying to play with them) came up to me and said, "I don't know what he's saying. He talks funny." Feeling a little hurt at the playground as I watch William being energetic from the outskirts of a group of kids playing because he doesn't have the language to say that he wants to play with them. The examples I wrote about earlier...

I always go back to the: It's not fair my son has to work so much harder at something most kids pick up naturally. But these are the cards we've been dealt and I'm trying to do all I can for William.

I may THINK I have a normal life, but I KNOW I have an exceptional little boy and I cannot wait for him to fully find his voice!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A First Bike

You may have noticed in my last post about Alanna working on her pedaling so we could go ride on a bike trail.

I totally forgot to update that Alanna received her first bike!

Of course it is a purple princess bike. She was very excited -- don't judge by the expression on her face. Her pedaling and steering skills are improving but she still needs to be reminded to watch where she's going.

What a fun time! I can't wait to go on family bike rides. Which reminds me... I need a bike that is my size! I've been using Ryan's but it is too tall and we need new tubes for the tires because they're always going flat. And Will has outgrown his bike too. *sigh* Makes me wish I still lived near home where my dad always had a plethora of bicycles available.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Eastwood Metro Park

Dayton has some amazing Metro Parks. My goal is that in the next year I get to see all of them before we PCS.

Towards the end of May, before school got out, the kids and I headed to Eastwood Metro Park to explore and let them run off their energy.
What a lovely place! There was a park with some covered picnic areas nearby, boat docks, trails to bike and hike and walk, stone bridges across the river, and park benches spaced along the pathways to sit and enjoy the views and watch nature.
Oh poor Maya. She sure does put up with a lot.
We had brought Maya along with us and we had a lot of fun wandering around. I showed the kids all the ducks and we talked about how they swim and how the "boy ducks" have green heads. The kids pointed out the Canadian geese and were very stern in telling me that we don't touch those ones because they can bite you.
As we following the river down a small 'waterfall' I noticed we startled a heron. After walking a little more we came upon a pretty good sized dead fish. Will and Lana were interested in it so I explained it was a fish and the bird we saw flying away must have caught it. But it was now dead and we leave it alone.
not the actual heron
the 'waterfall'
Will was a little confused when I told him it was dead. He told me it just needed new batteries, then the fish would work again. Oh that boy... he's such a city kid. I got a good laugh out of that one. I tried to explain life doesn't work like that but he doesn't understand yet.

At the time I was wearing my Fitbit One and after walking all over that darn park and beginning to head back to the car I wanted to sync up with my phone to see how far we went. To my horror I realized it had fallen off somewhere! I was so upset! I went re-tracing my steps (as best as I could with the kids and dog) and trying to sync with my phone in hopes that I'd walk near it and find it. It worked... sort of. As I was trekking near the park it did sync so I knew of a general area it must be located.

Then by a miracle I did find that tiny thing! Woot! I was actually in the process of calling my brother (who got the Fitbit for me) to tell him I lost it when I see it! Somebody must have found it and put it on a nearby picnic table. I was so relieved. Of course it had fallen off at the beginning of our exploring so I had no idea how much walking we did. Oh well.

This was shortly before Maya received her summer haircut.
Overall it was a nice time just being outside and spending time together. Once Lana gets better at pedaling her bike I think we might have to make a return trip and ride some trails. Of course I'm not opposed to wandering around again... it was pretty peaceful out there.