Unfortunately, I don’t have a “before” photo of myself because I wasn’t expecting to lose 14 pounds in 7 weeks while Martin was gone. The truth is that I only started going to the gym so often for the Kids Club. Seriously — dropping off the kids into a supervised room full of toys that I don’t have to pick up or clean is very appealing.

I swear. THAT was/is my motivation. Continue reading

Flashback Friday: Full Circle

Every Friday, the Department of Defense’s blog — DoDLive — features a military family.

Today, they featured our family.

I was given the opportunity to be a guest blogger, so I wrote about watching Martin’s very first graduation from basic military training for the Bundeswehr.

That happened in October 2000, almost eight months before I began blogging.

So, for this Flashback Friday, I’m sharing that story with you via my guest post on DODLive.

You can check it out HERE.



Earlier this week, I got a letter from Martin.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Today we stood in formation and our MTI walked around to correct our dress and cover. [This means the MTI was aligning them. – Julie]

The MTI told one Trainee to move up and kept saying “More. More. More. MORE!”

Then I heard one Trainee ask, “Yes, sir?”

It was Trainee Moore.

The MTI paused and then said, “No, not Moore. M-O-R-E!!!!”

I couldn’t see what exactly was going on in the back, but I heard that our MTI had to work hard not to smile about it.”

GBS: Something Nice for a Stranger

By Jennie H.

I was sitting in Starbucks one day last week and observed an elderly lady walk in holding a box.

I waited until I thought she was ready to leave and got up to open the door for her. That’s when I noticed the box had two venti drinks tucked in with newspapers and I started asking questions.

No, really, I talked to a total stranger!

While she waited for two more venti drinks, she said she changed the newspaper stuffing frequently because of spills and “wished she could cover the outside of the box so she could wipe the spills off.” I snapped a quick photo and texted it to my friend Twayne and asked if we could improve her coffee transport method.

I told her I thought I could improve her coffee box as I walked her to her car.

Yes, by now, Dotsy and I were chatting away.

After Dotsy left, the barista told me that Dotsy comes in a few times a week and gets four Venti chai tea lattes. Her husband is homebound and can’t come to Starbucks with her anymore. She takes two of her drinks cold and two hot. They “enjoy one today and then she warms the others later in the week so they can have another treat.”

I knew my friend Twayne would help me. I mean, he has a wood shop, and power tools, and he’s creative.

And like-minded, though he’ll scoff if he reads this.

Continue reading

Cookies and Appreciation

The girls and I put together a care package of Girl Scout cookies last night.

A few weeks ago, I purchased a bunch of those treats from a coworker’s daughter. As a former Girl Scout myself, I love supporting the cause, and as a family, we purchase a few boxes every year.

But this year, I bought more than a few — a lot more than a few — because not only did I want some for the kids, but also to send to Martin while he’s away at tech school.

But when he learned of my plans, he wasn’t that thrilled by the idea of all those calories heading his way, so I tempered it by saying I would split it up and send some boxes to our military friends who are also away from their families right now for training or deployment.

So, that’s what the girls and I were doing.

The box we packed last night is heading to Afghanistan.

The girls covered each box with stickers offering words of encouragement. They wrote some of their own, too. They asked about Afghanistan, and who we knew there, who would get the cookies, and if it’s the same place I deployed to all those years ago.

I explained that it was the same country I deployed to, but a different area, and that our family friend was going to receive the cookies and pass them along to other men and women serving over there. I also pointed out that some of the men and women are mothers and fathers, too, away from their families.

The girls seem to take this to heart. Instead of begging for the cookies — as they normally do — they were intent on adequately conveying their gratitude and support with just the right amount of sticker flair.


We also made some more Photo Booth photos for Martin last night.

It started with just Jaz and me, and then the girls wanted in on the fun, so then we played around with some of the effects, and then of course, each girl needed a photo alone with Mom, too.

Of course, I wish Martin was here to be a part of all of this.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love this one-on-one time I’m getting with my kids, both as a group and as individuals when I get a blessed moment.

In the midst of all the upheaval, they are such a joy.

Week Six

I’m the super sexy one in the BCGs. Those would be “birth control glasses” … for obvious reasons.
Downtown San Antonio, February 2000.

This week will be BEAST week for Martin.

That’s the Basic Expeditionary Airmen Skills Training, which replaced the Warrior Week I experienced when I went through Air Force Basic Military Training thirteen years ago.

Martin and his flight will be living out in the field as if in a deployed location: putting up tents, protecting their location from attack, using all the lessons they’ve been learning. He’ll continue to get mail for the most part, but we don’t intend on hearing from him at all this week as he won’t be near a mailbox or given cell phone privileges.

But it’s cool. I’ve been talking with the girls about BEAST week, and showed them photos and video of what Martin will be doing, and they understand. It helps, too, that BEAST week means Martin will be done with BMT in just another two weeks.

As for me, my Week Six was graduation week — the last week of BMT.

My flight earned Honor Flight status, which meant out of all the flights graduating that week, my flight earned the best scores all around in all the areas we were evaluated. It meant my flight carried the state flags during the graduation ceremony. Because I am so short, though, and always walked in the back of the flight, I didn’t have to actually carry a flag in the wind.

Trust me: I wasn’t mad about it. It was pretty great not having to worry about keeping a flag straight and balanced in the wind while also marching in unison with everyone around me. All I had to do was march forward, and that was pretty simple.

Air Force photo of a recent Air Force honor flight by SSgt Parina

Nobody in my family flew down to attend my BMT graduation. So, I spent most of my base liberty/town pass time with some of the other Airmen and their families. We went down to the Riverwalk, did some shopping at the base exchange, and prepared to leave for tech school just a few days later.

I also purchased a throw-away camera and took some photos of my BMT dorm.

The six weeks of basic training went by pretty fast for me.  Even though it was a complete change for me and the lifestyle I knew before, I actually enjoyed most of it, and felt like I was exactly where I was meant to be.

And that I was on my way to go where I was meant to go.

Capturing the whole look and my itty-bitty waist in one of the bathroom mirrors.


My inspection-ready wall locker.

Look at the shine in that place. Fortunately, bathroom clean-up was NOT my detail.

Being a little more laid back during patio time.

My element leader reviewing my super shine skills.
I was responsible for shining all the metal in our hallway.

Flashback Friday: Surround Yourself

A few weeks ago, my friend Kara wrote and asked if she could crash for the night at my place as a pit-stop during her roadtrip south. We live on opposite ends of the DC Beltway, and she wanted to avoid all the rush-hour traffic in the beginning of her journey the next day.

Of course I said yes.

As it turned out, Kara showed up at our house, as previously scheduled, just hours after Jaz and I got home from the doctor’s office following his asthma attack.


I think not.

I don’t think it’s ever a coincidence when specific people come into our lives like that, with impeccable timing and particular qualities or skills at precisely the time you need them.

Seeing Kara on my doorstep after one of the scariest nights of my life was such a boost. All five us — she, the kids, and I — went to IHOP for a pancake dinner, then returned home to watch movies and bake cookies. She hovered over Jaz while I administered his first nightly treatment, soothing him with all the praise and attention she lavished on him when he was just a newborn. And she let the girls crash on the pull-out couch with her until they fell asleep and I could take them up to their bedrooms.

She was exactly what we needed.

For my Flashback Friday, I’m sharing the post I wrote in 2012, when I was leaving my old job to begin my current position.

As I was then, I’m forever grateful to be surrounded by really good people.

Keeping Things Alles Klar

I’ve started calling him The Tank. Clearly, this kid can handle anything.

Jaz and I experienced his first asthma attack the other night.

It was shortly after midnight when I heard him start to cough in a way that grabbed my attention. It wasn’t a hacking cough, nor would I call it wheezing. It was raspy and desperate, and something about it made me jump out of bed and rush to his room. He was on his side, gasping and moving in a way one does when trying to cough.

But can’t.

Jaz was trying to breathe, but it wasn’t happening easily.

I lifted him up out of bed, and realized he wasn’t really awake. It didn’t seem like he was choking on anything, but I whacked him on the back a few times thinking maybe whatever was causing him to cough needed to be knocked from his throat or lungs. He had a runny nose the past few days, occasionally coughing up whatever was draining down his throat. But it was nothing out of the ordinary.

It certainly wasn’t anything like this.

Whacking him woke him up more, and he started to protest, but without the ability to make sounds other than gasps for breath, the noise he was making was not a cry. That’s when the bells in my brain started going off, and I could feel the adrenaline begin to pump into my own chest.

Why was my son struggling to breathe?

My mind raced as I looked at his lips and fingertips. They were still pink, but he was looking pale. The fact that he was fussing, and gasping, and fighting me was good, but I could feel his stomach sucking in hard.

I never had asthma. While I know people with asthma, I never witnessed an attack. At the most, I’ve seen asthmatics get winded, whip out their inhaler, and move on. I had a faint memory of being told breathing in a paper bag would help during an attack, but was that an asthma attack or a panic attack? Do I even own paper bags? Or an inhaler?

That’s when I remembered that we had a nebulizer from last year when he had some chest congestion. At the time, we were given a bunch of vials of medication to clear his airways. We didn’t use them all, and still had some in our medicine cabinet. I immediately got it set up for him, strapped the mask over his face, and propped him up in his rocking chair while I got on my knees in front of him.

He stared at me over the mask, his mouth open as he tried to breathe, his whole body heaving with each attempt. After a few minutes of this with no change, I decided I was going to take him to Urgent Care.

I put a pillow next to him and then ran out into the hall towards the girls’ room, instinctively calling for Martin before realizing I really meant to call for Miss C.

I shook her awake and asked her to sit with her brother while I changed clothes and pulled on my shoes. Like a zombie, she did as asked without complaint. I rushed downstairs and knocked on Miss Mary’s door, waking her up to tell her my plans to leave with Jaz and that I would have my cell phone with me if she needed anything.

Then I raced back upstairs to find Jaz sitting completely straight up, still gasping, before falling forward in the seat to vomit.

The exertion from trying to breathe forced the contents of his stomach up and out. Then he sort of limply fell over onto the side of the rocking chair, the mask hanging loose from his face as he continued making that pathetic sound.

That’s when I knew there was no way I was going to drive him alone to the Urgent Care.

So I called 9-1-1.

The docs always have the good stuff.

I told the dispatcher that I thought my son was having an asthma attack. She could hear him crying and gasping over the phone, and made some recommendations, such as keeping him upright and having all the medication I’d given him ready so the EMTs would know what he already had in his system.

It took about 10 minutes for the emergency responders to show up. They sent both a medic and a fire truck, and soon there were about six folks in navy blue standing in my kitchen and checking over Jaz, who by that time was quietly wheezing from his perch on our kitchen island, waving as each new face appeared.

The nebulizer had kicked in by then, and the urgency and desperation in his breathing was gone.

The EMTs checked his heart rate and checked for fever, and confirmed he sounded congested, but Jaz was breathing in-and-out again. They said they could take him to the ER for me if I wanted, but they didn’t see a need to give him anything from their bags of goodies since the nebulizer seemed to work. I immediately started second-guessing my decision to call them, but felt better that they were so patient and reassuring, especially when I pointed out that I’d never experienced an asthma attack.

They suggested I make an appointment for him to be seen first thing in the morning, and reminded me to call if his breathing changed.

So, after they left, I made the appointment.

And then I sat up with him in the rocking chair the entire rest of the morning, counting his breaths and listening to the wheezing.

Dude. Mom. I don’t care about your documentation purposes. Your iPhone is blocking my NickJr.

Later that morning, I took Jaz to his peditrician to be checked out, and we were immediately ushered to the back by the nurse, where his vitals were taken.

He was still breathing hard with his stomach. His heart rate was racing. And his blood-oxygen level was low.

I felt like a moron.

Especially when both the nurse and the pediatrician gently pointed out that I should have driven him to the Urgent Care after the EMTs left our house instead of waiting for office hours.

But I didn’t know.

I mean, of course I know, but I was just grateful that he was breathing again. After the nebulizer, his wheezing sounded like what the girls do when they have a chest cold, something that wasn’t as scary as how he sounded before. I thought waiting at home a few hours where I could hold him and watch him and respond to him was a lot better than driving 45 minutes to their Urgent Care, alone in the minivan where he would be strapped behind me, wheezing and out of reach.

Dear lord, did I make the wrong decision?

Suddenly, I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

But before I could let the Mommy Guilt twist me into a fetal position, we were moved to another room, where he was hooked up to another nebulizer. After a round of that, he was also given steroids, and I made a Lance Armstrong joke that really wasn’t that funny, but at least I’m being honest about it.

After all that, we were moved to another room with a television on the wall, where we hung out for about 45 minutes for observation. They wanted to make sure his blood-oxygen levels were back up after the treatment.

So, Jaz and I sat and watched cartoons. After that got boring, he got up to explore the room and all the buttons while I took photos and looked up some asthma information from my phone. The nurse kept popping in to check on us, complimenting Jaz’s behavior and pointing out his cheerfulness as a good sign.

Our pediatrician finally came by, checked him out, and announced that she officially diagnosed Jaz with childhood asthma. She thinks that when his head cold reached his chest, it triggered the attack. So, we were prescribed some things to treat the cold, as well as some things for maintenance to prevent another attack.

I left the doctor’s with a smiling, breathing Jaz and two bags full of goods, and a schedule for his treatments.

For the rest of the day, I worked from home, answering email and calling into meetings between treatments, writing everything down and creating a chart for Mary to use during the day. Jaz was pretty upbeat, and took an extra long nap when we got home.

After his bedtime round of treatments, he started doing this little crazy dance in the family room.

Sure, it was probably him working out the hyperactivity side-effect, but for me, I just took it as a good sign.

And I could finally breathe a sigh of relief.

And as if the day couldn’t get any more exciting, Martin called for the first time in two weeks.

He asked if anything new was happening.

I took a look at our son spinning circles and said, “Oh, you know. Jaz went and got new meds for a silly chest cold. Alles klar!”


GBS: Parenthood and Military Leadership Lessons

Hanging out with some of the other cadets in my flight, waiting for the next block of torture.  The guy on the right was a prior-enlisted Coastie and popularly-regarded “flight dad.” – Olivia

By Olivia Nelson of Just Sew Olivia

It’s been a couple of weeks since Martin’s infamous first call home from Air Force basic military training.

I loved what Julie had to say about his call home. It didn’t sound sappy or weepy, but organized and accomplished. Just my style. You might credit German efficiency or Martin’s previous military experience for his presence-of-mind in covering topics from the storage unit to the dry cleaners in a precious couple of minutes, but I’m betting the stay-at-home dad experience was kicking in more than the Bundeswehr.

There’s just something about multitasking and referring for a bunch of chitlins that teaches a guy (or gal) that he can’t control everything.

“Manage the things you can and move on,” a mentor once said. “If something’s important, it will come up again.”

I listened, but I didn’t really internalize his words until I left active duty to raise my babies.
I’m not sure who grew more, me or them.

All I’m sayin’ is the best medicine for this Type-A control freak was staying home with two children under two. Now I understand that my own emotional response drives 90 percent of the stress in my life.

So I’m working more on managing myself and less on controlling the universe.

Lighting a smoke flare during survival training.  I look tough, but I’m laughably uncoordinated.  I still have the scars on my hand and the holey t-shirt where I almost set myself on fire. – Olivia

Martin’s blessed to have learned those lessons before heading off to basic and making that first phone call.

Me? Not so much.

When I went to field training, (the ROTC version of basic), we cadets didn’t get to call home. Instead, we filled in the blanks of a pre-formatted postcard that told our families we had arrived and where to send any correspondence. For my flight “job,” I filled the role of mail orderly. It was a pretty cool gig — picking up letters and packages and bringing things to your teammates to make them smile — right up until I found those little pre-formatted postcards in the outbox eleven days into training.

Back then, I was not the pillar of calm, organization and emotional stability that my children eventually molded. I nearly came unglued at the thought that my family had never received word of my safe arrival or how to reach me in an emergency.

I felt lied to, betrayed and angry, and lost respect for the officers leading our training. All the B.S. of basic aside, who wanted to emulate someone you saw as lazy and incompassionate? (Okay, so yeah, my response was a bit melodramatic.)

In retrospect, it should’ve been so empowering to know they were disorganized and human too.

That’s how Momma Olivia would view their actions now.

But Cadet Olivia didn’t have children…or perspective. I almost quit. 

We had an option called Self-Initiated Elimination or SIE in the military’s acronym-driven parlance. If a cadet chose SIE, she could end all the yelling, pushups and head games, and be on an airplane home that afternoon. The catch? She would never be considered for an officer program again. Two other cadets had already SIE’d, and I began to think it wasn’t such a bad idea.

One of the few perks to going through field training back in my day:  jet orientation or “Jet-O.”  Officer trainees got an incentive ride towards the end of training in the T-37 “Tweet,” the undergraduate pilot training aircraft at the time. – Olivia

A fellow cadet and confidant ratted me out to the lieutenant colonel who led our small voluntary Sunday Bible studies. Lt. Col. W. also happened to be our encampment’s vice commander, and for reasons I’ll never fully understand, he took a personal interest in my success. (Thank heaven for those people in our lives who, inexplicably, look out for us, even when we’re not being very likable.)

During the next morning’s oh-dark-thirty reveille, he approached our flight and started yelling. (Yelling’s a big thing for us in the military — an all-occasion activity.)

He yelled. “Hotel Flight, are you motivated?”

We yelled. “Yes, SIR!”

He yelled. “Is anybody ready to QUIT?”

We yelled. “No, SIR!”

He stalked down the side of our formation and in-between ranks to stand directly in front of me, so close that the brims of our hats (sure, sure, “covers” for the military crowd) were almost touching. 

“Cadet!” he yelled at me.

“Yes, SIR!” I yelled.

“Are you going to QUIT?” he yelled.

I was too proud to say yes in front of my flight, and too self-righteous to go back on my word once I had given it.

Brilliant. The man was brilliant.

“No, SIR!” …and that was that.

I bet that guy had kids.

Really, learning to motivate a 20-year-old hard-case isn’t all that different from learning to motivate a 3-year-old on Jamaican time. (Appointments are meaningless to my son Bitty. It’s all irie.) He knew my weaknesses were pride and self-righteousness, just as I know Bitty’s weaknesses are attention, trains and cars.

And Lt. Col. W used them against me … to save me.

Martin already has that perspective. Time will tell, but I’m betting he already knows what I hadn’t figured out. Basic training is all a big game. Superman drills and 8-minute meals don’t translate literally into any practical skill-set, but they do belie the trainee’s inner nature.

Not only will Martin do all stay-at-home moms and dads proud by responding beautifully under pressure, but I suspect he’ll be the one finding the sweet spot to motivate his teammates.

And if that doesn’t work?

Well, Martin’s kids might see a different side altogether when he tells them — with all the force and efficiency of a German tank commander and father of three — that they have two minutes to potty and brush their teeth before the bus arrives.


During her senior year in ROTC, Olivia took her mother to the military ball instead of a date.  Her example as a first responser inspired Olivia to serve and shaped many of the values she carries with her to this day.
If Olivia had tags, they would be: free spirit, believer, mother, wife, daughter, Airman, artist, advocate, communicator, vocalist, photographer, and writer. Based in Florida with her husband and boys, Olivia writes on her blog, Just Sew Olivia, about various easy-to-do sewing projects while also stitching in humorous and inspiring tales of parenthood, family, friendship, and life in general. Her greatest mentors are her parents, especially her mother Jessie.

Week Five

My BMT flight portrait. Don’t we look like a fine bunch of warriors?

It’s been more than a month since Martin left for Air Force basic military training. His flight begins Week Five, which is much different than what my fifth week of basic training was back in 2000.

Back then, my Week Five was all about the Warrior Week field exercise experience.

During the day, we attended briefings in tents or out in the field, talking about chemical warfare and terrorism. There were references to Osama Bin Laden, and how it was believed he was somehow responsible for the Khobar Tower bombings in 1996 that killed 19 Airmen, as well as other Middle East attacks.

Yet, that was all before the USS Cole attack. Before Sept. 11, 2001. Therefore, a lot of the things I learned and experienced during Warrior Week were tinged with some Cold War/Desert Storm-era type lessons, and the harrowing stories relayed to us were from those who were on scene during the Oklahoma City bombing (which happened not far from Tinker Air Force Base) or who were deployed to Saudia Arabia when Khobar Tower was hit.

The rest of Warrior Week was spent sleeping in a tent city, pulling late night guard duty, fighting off an attack on the last day using defensive/offensive tactics learned earlier that week, and eating MREs (meals-ready-to-eat) for every meal.

Needless to say, it was a bit different when seven years later, I was actually, you know, out in the field over there.

Sleeping out in the wild with my team and members of the 3rd Infantry in Iraq in 2007

But there at Warrior Week during my fifth week, all the lessons learned in the weeks earlier came together and at the end of it, my whole flight was presented with our Airman’s Coin, which was also a new thing at that time. We were lined up at attention along the side of a warehouse while the commander came down and gave it to us one-by-one, calling us “Airman” for the first time, and wishing us luck as we were graduating the next week.

Martin’s Week Five experience, though, is a lot more low-key.

He still has a few more weeks to complete before he graduates and gets his own Airman Coin. This week, his flight will be gearing up for next week’s BEAST (Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training).

So it’s going to be more classes. More warrior skills instruction. More inspections. 

More Air Force awesomeness.

All that “white space” in the center of the drawer KILLED me every time I pulled out my drawer.
My BMT drawer, ready for inspection. February 2000.



In the online group made up of other family members from Martin’s flight, I shared one of my BMT memories that ended up being posted again on the AF WingMom’s public Facebook page.

Here it is for you to enjoy, too:

The folded bras remind me of a time when I was going through BMT. During our first inspection, our TI — SSgt. Martinez — was going through the drawers one by one. He stopped at one of the beds, looked at the drawer pulled out ready for inspection, and said, “Where are your bras?”

The trainee — a very tall, slim girl — stood at attention and said, “Sir, Trainee J reports, I don’t have any, sir!” Without missing a beat, SSgt. Martinez asked, “Did they get lost in the laundry? Why don’t you have any?”

And the trainee goes, “Sir, I don’t have boobs, sir!”

Let me tell you … it took EVERYTHING for the rest of us not to start laughing. But he just rolled with it, and said something about she needed to get at least one next trip to the BX so she could pass inspection or something. So he moves on to the next few drawers, no problem. THEN, he comes to Trainee K.

Now, Trainee K was a trip. She was so goofy and clumsy, and bless her heart, talked with a lisp. She was standing at attention, ready for inspection. SSgt. Martinez got to her drawer, started looking at everything, and then paused and asked, “What the hell are these spots?”

Trainee K: “Sir, Trainee K reports as ordered, what spots sir?”

SSgt. Martinez: “These yellow spots here on your underwear. What the hell are these?”

Trainee K paused, and then lisped, “Sir, those are glow-in-the-dark spots on my underwear, sir!”

OMG — that sent us over the edge. We LOST it. SSgt Martinez just dropped his clipboard, held his hands up as if saying, “I can’t … I can’t …” and walked into his office and slammed the door. Inspections resumed about 15 minutes later.