Direct from the Derecho

Mother Nature turned violent last night.

There was mild rain, thunder and lightening as I put the children to bed, a little later than usual since it was Janah’s last evening with us and we hung out together a little longer. Martin was out of the house at the supermarket, and I was too tired to do any evening chores.

Lost in my own head as I ran through my nightly checklists, I set my alarm for early the next morning to see Janah off, and was just about to rest my head on the pillow when Miss C burst into my room.

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Flashback Friday: Team Ann

We’re Team Ann all the way around here.

The Today Show lost a whole household of viewers yesterday when they gave Ann Curry the shaft and unceremoniously dumped her after she’s been on the television morning show for the last 15 years.

There was no montage of her best stories, no messages from celebrities wishing her luck, none of the fanfare awarded to Katie Couric or Meredith Veira when they departed the show. Continue reading

The Letter

Dear Person Without a Name,

You tried to kill my team and me five years ago today.

Every year around this time, I get a little twinge in my heart. It’s not a bad twinge. It’s more a reminder for me to remember just how closely you succeeded, and be grateful that you failed.

I didn’t think of you until about a year after the attack. In the days, weeks, and months that followed the attack, you were an abstract, thrown in with a larger group. The bad guys. The enemies. The men we saw funneling weapons from house to house on the satellite images we saw the day before.

At some point, though, it dawned on me that it was an individual who lit the fuse and took aim. It was a person — a living, breathing person — who took his hands and resources, and used them in an effort to destroy and kill.

And for the longest time, I deemed you the biggest, sorriest piece of **** out there.

As much as I learned and experienced a lot of good while deployed, there were a lot of things I found rather horrible about my experiences over there in Iraq. For a long time, there was such a simmering anger, and it was easy to waffle the blame for that whole mess on targets that ranged from my team’s leadership and their decisions, to then-President Bush and his whole administration for wasting so much time, money, resources, and precious lives over there.

It’s an odd state of being, to be so proud of my part in it, but to be so turned off and haunted by the macabre mess.

However, throughout the past five years, I’ve talked, studied, reflected, prayed, digested, and accepted the facts and circumstances of my experiences there.
Life’s moved on for me.

But for you? The person who tried to take us out? Who were you?

I do wonder.

You were probably a young man. Maybe a fundamentalist foreigner spurred by the fire of your faith and your hate for Western culture? A local Iraqi avenging the death of your family? What life circumstances led you to make the choices you did that day, and every other day during those years of bloodshed and violence?

Maybe you were killed soon after. Maybe you are still alive.

You’ll forever be a person without a name. Violent, ruthless, nameless, but still a person.

I know to you, I wasn’t even a sorry piece of *****: I was an abstract. From your perspective, my team and I were the bad guys. The enemies. The people you tried to kill.

But let me remind you: you failed that day. We — the people you were targeting – lived, and we’ve flourished.

Despite your intentions, we’ve flourished.

And as I sit here safe in my home, surrounded by the people I love, I feel pity for you and for all of those around the world whose hearts are fed by misguided faith and zealotry in which violence and bloodshed is justified. I will never understand it.

I will always be angry that such evilness is part of the human condition. I will mourn for our losses from the war for the rest of my life.

Yet as much as your actions caused such pain, they also brought so much awareness and lessons I could have never learned otherwise. I believe there is a reason for everything. Despite everything that happened, I believe our lives – no matter how different, no matter how strange — were meant to intersect that hot, horrible day in Iraq.

Solidly rooted and supported by love, family, and faith, I am truly at peace.

And from that peace comes my prayer for your own.

*************

Earlier today, the Federal Center SW metro station smelled unusually awful. Saw one woman actually gagging. Gross!
And this is random, but listening this evening to my oldest patiently read a bedtime story to her sister in the other room assures me my kids are going to be all right.

This Is What Writer’s Block Looks Like

This is what a colossal piece of writer’s block looks like.

If you could hear it, you would hear crickets I’ve tried to silence with an inspiring playlist of pop hits, dance beats, rap, classical … pretty much all of my iTunes.

If you could see the coffee table in front of me, you’d find an empty bowl that once held popcorn, several empty cans of diet soda, some paper scraps I cut into hearts and people holding hands, my laptop with the Facebook profiles of friends and family scattered all over the desktop.

What you wouldn’t be witnessing is me writing.

Writing. That thing that comes so naturally for me? Not happening.

At one point last night, I was dancing and singing at the top of my lungs, to Janah’s amusement, who hung out with me in the family room for a little bit before going to bed. Her last words to me?

“Julie, you better start writing now.”

Instead, I took self-portraits and edited them.

I chomped on a few leftover popcorn kernels.

I’ve done everything I can do to avoid actually engaging my brain and writing for a deadline that is a few days away.

Recently, I was asked to make a literary contribution for an upcoming book about pregnancy and humor. Of course, I accepted. Pregnancy is difficult, challenging, and loaded with emotion, but if I learned only one thing during my three pregnancies, it’s that humor is the cure-all for the vast majority of it.

That, and drinking water.

But every time I’ve sat down to put together something worth binding, I’ve drawn a blank. And it’s become a bigger and badder blank the more the clock ticks toward deadline.

I know it’ll come together.

I just need to stop, breathe, and clear my head. Not an easy thing to do, especially since I can’t remember the last time I actually had a clear head.

But I must keep the faith, and focus.

Focus.

Not on Facebook, or Photoshop, or fun cat videos on YouTube.< Focus.

And write.

It’ll be great. You’ll see.

**********

 

Cute kid alert. Photoboothin’ with Mr. Jaz.

No other man – big or little – has stolen my heart like this guy right here.He’s starting to dance. I filmed him getting the Led out earlier this evening as we played some “Immigrant Song.”

Picnic at the Park

The weather was gorgeous over the weekend, and while the temps were higher than normal, they were tolerable Sunday afternoon. 
So, Janah, the kids and I made a lunch date out of it outdoors. The menu was light: peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, strawberries, applesauce, and granola bars. Water, juice, and soda.
The company was awesome.

Afterwards, the kids played on the nearby swingset. The girls literally spun themselves until they were almost sick. Almost.

A simple summer day.

Room to Grow

Trying on some new wings, circa 2006.

 

Ever since I started working full-time again, I haven’t had the time to enforce some of my household standards.

Of all the rooms in our house, my standards for Miss C’s bedroom have slipped the most. If we could see the floor — or patches of the floor — and her safety never compromised, I was okay if things evolved in there as a sort of organized chaos.

Until Sunday afternoon.

The room couldn’t be ignored anymore. When school ended two weeks ago, Miss C brought home bags of papers, books, and art supplies, all which scattered like confetti in her bedroom, which was already decorated with piles of clothes, books, more papers, more art supplies, dolls, stuffed animals, and hair bows.

Miss C seemed relieved when I declared we were going to tackle the mess together. She was initially enthusiastic, especially as I made suggestions to move around furniture. She also seemed motivated when I said we would be picking out items to donate to our cellar dweller, Janah, who will be going on an overseas mission in a few weeks to work with impoverished children.

So, armed with a trash bag, a paper bag (for recycling) and donation box, the both of us set out with the best of intentions for a united goal to get Miss C’s room in order. For the first half hour, things went well as we sorted and put things away.

But as timed passed, the process got slower and drawn-out.

Actually, it was pretty painful.

Miss C is exactly like her mother: sentimental to a fault. The both of us attach memories to objects, and we like to hold onto those memories. Fortunately, I’ve had three decades to temper this quality with practicality and my desire for neatness and order, so we’re not overwhelmed with junk.

My daughter’s still figuring it out.

And getting some help and guidance from mom isn’t a lot of fun, especially when Mom clearly doesn’t understand the importance of a memory.

Like the very first handmade kite she fashioned out of paper, glitter, string, and discarded family photo prints. (Pulled from underneath a stack of books on her desk.)

Or her most favorite barrette that’s been hiding underneath her bed, which is actually part of a complete set given by her grandmother last Easter.

Or the plastic bag wedged in her closet, full of all the Valentine’s Day cards her class gave her, along with some still-wrapped candy suckers and some ribbon she pulled off a package she got from family in Ohio.

Nearly everything became a subject for debate and a power struggle. I was caught between wanting to discuss things with her — knowing the stress she was feeling — and respecting her ownership of things, but also needing to move things along and be done with it.

This was not easy for me.

It was not easy for her.

There was a time not too long ago when cleaning up my daughter’s room wasn’t such a battle.

There was the clean-up song. I could intercept the boxes of goodies sent by well-meaning friends and family ahead of time, and de-clutter the toy bins on occasion without her really knowing. The amount of artwork and papers she brought home then was manageable. And though I couldn’t get away with everything — she could always tell if something was changed or removed — there was no feeling of injustice, like I was impeding on her space.

Now?

I feel like we’re shifting into a whole new, uncharted territory.

By the time we were done, we were both tired and stressed out. And despite the fact that Miss C’s room was now shiny and spotless, and organized right down to the pencil case in her desk and the top corners of her closet to the space underneath her bed, she was in tears.

“Can’t you be happy you have a clean room now?” I begged.

“I want my kite!” she said between sobs and hiccups.

“You are tired.”

“You threw it away, and you didn’t even care if that memory was important to me!”

“I do care,” I said.

I considered reminding her (again) that her kite was one of 1,000 art projects she’s created, that she had a whole hat-box full of meaningful art projects under her desk, that she could always make another kite (and maybe even one that can really fly.)

But instead, I looked at her red face, and decided not to argue. Instead, I took her hand and led her to the bathroom, where I washed her face with cold water.

Then, back in her room, I brushed her hair and pulled back the fresh, clean blankets on her bed. She immediately climbed in, and and turned her back to me.

“Do you want me to read Good Night, Moon?” I asked, thinking maybe the storybook of her earlier years would be soothing for her to hear.

Instead, she buried her face in her pillow. “Why do you want to read me a baby book? I’m not a baby!” she shouted, muffled by her pillowcase.

I looked to her bookshelf again. “Then how about Little House in the Big Woods?” I asked. She lifted her head to look at me holding the book before returning her head to her pillow.

“Fine.”

So for the next 30 minutes, I sat and read the first chapter of the book, which had been a favorite of mine when I was Miss C’s age. Within the first few pages, as I read about Pa preparing smoked venison for the harsh cold winter, she rolled over to face me.

Every now and then, I paused to show her the illustrations inside the novel, but for most of it, she lay still with her eyes closed, “imagining everything,” she explained. When I finished, she smiled, and asked for another chapter. I promised her I’d read more each night until we’re done with the book.

My buddy, my girl is morphing into a tween.

Still a child, but not a little one. Not yet a teenager, but wanting to be one. Wanting to be responsible, but not yet knowing how. Creating her own memories, but not wanting to let go.

Growing up so fast, but still needing her Mom, who needs her just as much to help navigate all this, too.

Let’s Be Julie for the Day

The girls are playing a game called “Let’s Be Julie for the Day.”

Not Mom, but Julie.

And my oldest is trying to mimic my voice. For some reason, she’s dropping her voice as she speaks.

Not sure whether to laugh or be very concerned.

Flashback Friday: My German Soldier

Martin’s photo from one of his training exercises in 2002

I was writing about life as a newlywed ten years ago.

I was also writing about life as the spouse of a German soldier while also handling the crazy bureaucracy of my American military system as I prepared for an accompanied international move to Italy.

I was so stressed out then. Martin was in the midst of training in northern Germany and communication was sporadic. I was buried in paperwork and dealing with work. I didn’t know what was ahead for us, and to think I often look back and reflect on how life was so simple then.
For today’s Flashback Friday, I’m going back to June 2002. I’ve been thinking about those days lately, when we were that little NATO couple, separately serving and wearing those uniforms. Martin was such a good German soldier then, but best of all, he was such a sweet husband.

And he’s still to this day.

*************************

The Punch

We got a call from our lawyer today regarding the status of my claim against the drunk driver’s insurance company.

As you may know, a very drunk 20-year-old young woman slammed into the back of my rental car while I was sitting at a red light in May 2011. I was in Ohio at the time for my Air Force Reserve duty.

In addition to whiplash that night, I also suffered from lower neck and lower back injuries, requiring physical therapy twice a week leading up to the birth, and then resuming after the delivery.

Initially, we were told that the driver didn’t have car insurance, then we were told she did, but no information was provided to us. As we’re not insurance or legal experts, we retained a lawyer.

After a year of treatment, documentation and such, our lawyer recently submitted the paperwork to the drunk driver’s insurance company. We didn’t even hold our breath, having heard the horror stories about insurance companies. Countless friends and family shared their experiences and advice.

We knew the first offer was going to be a joke.

But I akin it more like a punch you know is coming: you can brace and prepare for it, but it still hurts when it lands.

As expected, the insurance company low-balled us.

After my lawyer explained that this is typical of insurance companies, he told me some of their reasons for such a low offer.

The insurance company claims they can’t determine that the pregnancy itself didn’t cause the severity of my back injury and they don’t want to pay for a preexisting condition. They also said the injuries I received were merely “soft tissue damage.”

When my lawyer said that, a memory flashed in my mind: me sitting hunched over on a padded examination table as my two physical therapists — two grown women — leaned and pushed against my lower back and shoulders, trying to avoid undue pressure on my swollen, pregnant belly, while trying to align my sacrum in place. There was also the day the other physical therapist had to move my ass around as I was propped up on my hands and knees while my daughter watched, all in order to shove my hips back in place.

Google “sacrum” and “C4 spine” and see what kinds of images appear. Trust me: it’s not soft tissue.

The insurance company also took issue with my break in treatment. Of course, my break was giving birth to my son. We stopped physical therapy when I was able to function with a brace and without much pain. The belly was getting bigger, and it didn’t make sense to keep going when the activity just got harder and harder. The second I got the blessing from my doctor, I returned to physical therapy.

Apparently, the insurance company doesn’t want to pay for that part of it. They can’t decipher what part of my weakness and recovery was from the accident and what part was just plain, ol’ pregnancy weakness and recovery.

But guess what: I didn’t have the luxury to decipher between the two, either.

All those nights laid up on my couch with a heating pad, in tears because I couldn’t take anything for the pain … the activity I missed with my children because I just couldn’t move and function like I could before … the times I just gritted my teeth and bared it … the crazy, fiery fear and worry about the possible effects the accident, exposure, and treatment had on my unborn baby … the stress it caused on my husband and me … the time spent at those appointments (as much as I love what those gals did for me) … the tedious work of collecting all my documentation and being accountable to the doctors, physical therapists, insurance companies, lawyers, the Air Force, and my employer at the time …

I didn’t get to decide which I could tolerate as an expectant mother and which I could tolerate as the victim of another person’s idiot decision.

We are not expecting to get rich from this. We want what is fair. That young woman drove drunk and hit a pregnant woman. I was that pregnant woman. I suffered the consequences as a pregnant woman.

She, through her insurance company, can cough up the money and pay for it.