Flashback Friday: Mood Bags



Martin was a superhero the week I first published today’s Flashback Friday.
My girlfriends swooned.
My guy-friends took notes or cursed him for setting the bar so high.
At the time, I was just over a month into my new job and my new commute into the city. Meanwhile, he was relishing his new life as a stay-at-home dad, and was flexing his creativity muscles in his new role.
So, he came up with Mood Bags.
He saw that I was coming home exhausted every night, that I really didn’t want to get into a conversation about my work day, and that I was stretching myself thin trying to be everything to everyone.
So he devised a way that allowed for me to communicate with him without saying a word.
Suffice to say I’m looking forward to when he’s home for good again,  so we can participate in some more wordless communication.
Via the Mood Bags.
Of course.

Letters from Martin

Photo taken before one of Martin’s Reserve weekends last year.

We’re now receiving letters from Martin on a regular basis, even though it takes about a week for the letter to reach us from the time he sends it, or at least according to the date stamp.

Usually, we get two at a time: one addressed to me, and the other addressed to the girls.

Here are some excerpts from the various correspondence he’s sent us:

The flight embarrassed themselves today when we were marching to the Career Guidance Briefing. Family members were lined up for the graduation and on our last turn, the flight split in two and went in opposite directions. The guidon bearer understood left instead of right, and led the majority of the flight in the wrong direction. Even some little girl asked her parents why we looked like such a mess. It wasn’t pretty at all. Later, the element leaders and guidon got a special drill practice to learn new facing movements.

Now for a more fun story: Trainee G was marching his element on Tuesday to the clothing issue ahead of me. Suddenly, I saw all looking down on the street as we were just crossing a bridge. The wind was going strong, and I thought there was an accident that just happened below. But instead, the Trainee had his hat blown off right onto the middle of the street. I told my element to stop looking and get back to marching. At the end of the bridge, though, I decided to send two trainees of my element on a search-and-rescue mission. It was a successful mission, and we got the hat back. It’s the little things that get us excited here.

My element always passes inspections and evaluations. Today they switched about 10 trainees in the bay. [This means the trainees moved to different beds within the dorm.] I lost my assistant element leader in the switch, Trainee F. He was great. Now I have Trainee M. He volunteers for everything and has five jobs so far. GREAT attitude. It should work well with him. 

We had two TIs in the beginning: SSgt. M and SSt. L. SSgt M has a family, and kids, and a second job. He just learned we will be his last flight as he will be taking charge of the parade organization. SSgt L is gone now. He started with a new zero week flight. Not sure if we get a new one. Our brother flight has two tech sergeants. 

We get 15 minutes to eat, but I’m always last to sit, and finish after 7 minutes.


GBS: Back to Normal

Shawntel and her daughter

 By Shawntel Ensminger of S(intelligent)

At first I didn’t think about how much it would come to define my life and me as a person. 

When I was diagnosed with cancer at 27, I saw it as one more of life’s hurdles to be endured, then overcome. It would be a few months of aggressive chemo, then a couple more months of radiation, and then I planned on being cured.

Plans don’t always work out though. After those initial treatments, the cancer grew back, which meant more chemo, and then a stem cell transplant in 2009.

But then the cancer returned again, which meant more treatments, and a second stem cell transplant in 2012.

But then the cancer grew again.

So like I’ve said, in the beginning, I thought of being sick as an unpleasant blip on my timeline. Not ideal, but not really changing my course much.

My first transplant meant a cross-country move and a great deal of changes, but I still saw my cancer as a thing apart, an inconvenience to be dealt with. At some point, I told a friend I wanted to get back to being me.

I wanted to just be Shawntel, not “the-girl-who-has-cancer.”

I wanted things to get back to normal.

What I finally learned to accept along the way is that this is my normal. The journey I’m on and the experiences I’m having aren’t happening within brackets that I will eventually emerge from, back onto the same track I was on when I was 27.

I can’t get back to that “normal.”

I am Shawntel-who-has-cancer.

And it wasn’t until I stopped trying to separate those two things (myself and a girl with cancer) that I was able to accept the fact that my life trajectory and the person I am are moving forward. I decided that the moments I’m living right now shouldn’t be wasted waiting for things to “get back to normal.”

Whether I like my present circumstances or not, they are infinitely better than a past I can’t retrieve and a future I cannot force. Reveling in what might have been if I didn’t get sick is a waste; I did get sick. Sulking around until I get better is a waste; I have right now and who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Not long ago, a friend told me she couldn’t wait to finish physical therapy from a traumatic accident she had been in so she could get back to living her life.

I think it’s exactly this mindset that *keeps* us from fully living our lives *all* the time!

When we have a setback with our health, our job, our finances, you name it, we want to wait for things to return to the way they were before that issue. We try to bracket off bad times, hoping that we’ll get back to normal soon and can forget about that period when things weren’t normal.

But it turns out if we embrace the changes in our lives, we can see that an unwelcomed veering off from an expected trajectory can lead to somewhere even better than where we thought we were going in the first place. But even if it doesn’t, even if it ends up somewhere we don’t want to be, the only time we can live our lives is in the present.

If we’re always waiting for something to be different, or if we’re hanging onto an idea of who we were rather than embracing who we are now, then we’ll never be able to experience the right here and the right now.

We can only live forward if we start from where we are, not wait to end up back where we wanted to be.


 Shawntel Ensminger is a single mom, a graduate student, a cancer patient/survivor, and an all-around awesome gal. She enjoys making crafts to list on Etsy, reading books of all sorts, and napping in the early afternoon. Given the chance, she likes playing games like Scrabble and Scattergories or working puzzles. When she’s not fighting off her Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, she teaches classes on American religious history and world religions. Her tween daughter is her greatest achievement, but also reminds Shawntel why some animals eat their young. She writes on her blog S(intelligent). And best of all, just last week, Shawntel was declared cancer-free!!!

Spring Forward


I hate changing to Daylight Saving Time.

While I appreciate the extra sunlight and all, I’m a mom who lives every day trying to find an extra two hours in the 24 we’re given. I fail at this all the time, but the effort is there. That’s why I love it when we all fall back an hour later in the year. It’s like Christmas to me.

But springing forward? Yeah. Not a fan.

Despite the change this weekend, we were all pretty productive.


Saturday blessed us with gorgeous weather just days after we got snow. I got the kids out the door to run errands, which included stopping by the book store. The girls got their faces painted, and I picked up two educational activity books for Lola.

After that, we went to Chick-Fil-A for lunch, and the kids played on the playground for a bit before we headed to the car wash, which is always a hit.

Then, while I cleaned the entire first floor of our house, the kids hung out outside cleaning their playhouse: sweeping out the leaves, rearranging their play furniture, and scrubbing away the salt and dirt from the various winter storms and rain.

If only they showed that kind of dedication to their rooms.


My most favorite accomplishment from this weekend, though, was teaching Lola how to properly hold a pencil in her fingers, and how to write with it.

Once she mastered that, we completed page after page of tracing activities in her new books.

She loves them.

Unfortunately, Lola has a late birthday, so she won’t be able to attend kindergarten later this year, although she’ll turn five just a few weeks after the cut-off. She wants to go to school so badly, and asks all the time about it.

I hate to admit it, but it was only last week when it dawned on me that I could already get her started on some lessons now. I feel like I should have done this earlier, but at the same time, it seems incredible to me that Lola is even old enough to do any of this.

I still think of her as my baby girl.

Yet, she had filled a page with words and names she sounded out — her letter to Martin — and while her letters were big and shaky since she was gripping the pencil wrong, they were distinguishable.

She taught herself that by watching her sister.

The girl wants to learn.

And she wants to write.

So, the two of us sat at the dining room table and worked all the way up to dinner time. I was so proud of her!

She and Miss Mary set aside time now to complete several pages every day, which I then “grade” as soon as I come home from work.

Lola calls it homework. I call it a success.


PS – The man credited with Daylight Saving Time looks like Brad Pitt, doesn’t he?

Week Four

Martin’s flight is now beginning Week Four of Air Force basic military training, and at some point during this week, he’ll pass the halfway mark of his BMT experience.

Probably right around the time he’s hovering over a pool of murky green water while clinging to a rope.

It’s all about the obstacle course [formerly known as the confidence course] this week, which is really a souped-up, super fun day at a military-style playground for grown-ups.

I mean, yeah, there’s a serious team-building, confidence-boosting element to it and lessons to be learned and applied throughout one’s Air Force career, yada, yada, yada.

But seriously.

The obstacle course is a blast.

At least, it was for me.

I didn’t fall in the water. I stayed up to speed with the others. And it was really awesome how the whole flight came together. It finally felt like we were really going to graduate after all.

When I went through, my fourth week meant basic military training was almost over for me, as BMT was only six weeks then. It meant preparing for “Warrior Week” which was — at the time — a relatively new field exercise experience. If I remember correctly, Week Four was also the week we got our first official portraits taken right around the time we got the blue uniforms issued to us.

I remember being thrilled that we (the ladies) could temporarily put on make-up again for that portrait.

My BMT portrait

Speaking of my basic training experience, I went to our basement over the weekend and found the packet containing all the letters I wrote to Martin during basic and tech school. (All the letters I received from him are also saved.)

Before I left for basic, I purchased several aerogrammes at the post office. They were these light-blue stationery papers that folded and sealed as an envelope. The paper itself was already stamped and ready for international delivery, so all I had to do was write on it, fold it, seal it, and drop it in the mailbox.

Martin got his first letter within my first full week at BMT.

These are all the letters I sent to Martin when I was at basic training. Even then, I was a prolific writer.

The girls and I are accumulating our own stacks of mail from Martin now, and I love it. I think it’s the first time in their lives they are experiencing the thrill of waiting for the postwoman to drive by and make a delivery, of getting an envelope and tearing it open and reading words from a piece of paper.

Other than their annual holiday cards — birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s — when else would they ever experience that anticipation?

With four more weeks to go, our stacks will just keep growing.



We have a Google community now!

I created it now with the hopes of eventually doing some live hang-outs on there, but we’ll see how it grows! If you have a Google Plus account, go check it out!

More Letters

Got more letters from Martin the other day.

This time, he mentioned a trainee who Martin now babysits (must have by his side at all times) because the kid argues with everyone, even the TI, and purposely moves in slow-motion to piss everyone off, and also snuck food into the dorm and got the whole flight punished.

Ah, there’s one in every flight.

Continue reading

Flashback Friday: Snowbound Training

Me in training at Fort Dix

All that snow (ha!) earlier this week brought back some training memories.

I spent a few weeks at Fort Dix in New Jersey in 2007, preparing for my deployment to Iraq. At least, I was under the impression I was going to Iraq then. I was going to be working in the public affairs office at Balad Air Base for the summer. When I wrote today’s Flashback Friday post, I was still under the impression that I was going to Balad.

But midway through my training, I was reassigned to the three-man combat news team.

That was a rough time for me. I was away from Martin and Miss C. Just a few weeks earlier, I discovered my neighbor moments after she committed suicide, and then I got the news my job was going to be different. And suddenly, training for two weeks in a blizzard for a summer in the Middle East that would routinely involve convoys, mortar attacks, almost daily interaction with the locals in two extremely different cultures and countries … I remember feeling anxious that two weeks of combat skills training wasn’t going to be enough for a job like that.

While I still think the combat news teams back then should have received more training, the truth is that the training we did receive was pretty awesome, and our instructors were incredibly passionate and dedicated to ensuring we knew enough to get home safely.

They crammed as much as they could in the time they had us because they knew our lives depended on it.

And my team did get home safely using the lessons learned at Fort Dix.

So here’s my entry from March 2007 that I wrote during my combat skills training course.


Confident in his masculinity, Jaz wore his sister’s pink jacket yesterday evening to show solidarity for International Women’s Day. So adorable was this that it took less than 10 seconds for someone to point it out.

The Snow Day That Sort of Was

The view outside my window.

They were all like, “It’s gonna snow big time!”

And my kids were like, “Yeah, it’s gonna snow big time!”

And my nanny was like, “Yeah, it’s gonna be a snow day!”

And I was like, “Yeah, it’s gonna snow big time, and it’s gonna be a snow day (or two), and my house is a wreck, and I’ve got three kids and two cats and a dog, and no husband around, and a mountain of laundry!”

So, I really wasn’t looking forward to it.

As it turned out though, it didn’t snow big time on Wednesday.

However, the schools closed.

Local businesses closed.

The federal government closed.

We live west enough from the city that our snow stuck to the ground, and got higher and higher, and wet and heavy.

But it was not a breathtaking blizzard. Miss C and the nanny went out to build some sad-looking snowmen. It was all slush by bedtime.

I got trapped inside a house with three kids and a nanny on a snow day without any real snow day perks, two cats and a dog, and no husband around, and a mountain of laundry … and all the stir-crazy and chaos you could ever imagine.

We’re disappointed in you, DC weathermen.



Today’s result of guiltymomsitis: an emotion one feels when you have to leave for work early again, motivating one to bake two batches of cookies to greet the kids when they wake up without you.

And because cookie dough makes for excellent emotional eating.

GBS: Reflections on The Drop

By Sara Celi

I’m not Felix Baumgartner, but I know a little how he feels. 

Just a little.

On January 28th, 2012, after a full year and countless hours of work, I sent my first novel out into the world—the digital world. THE UNDESIRABLE is now available on Amazon. All platforms. And that means I’m now in a whole new world.

When I first started writing the story that became THE UNDESIRABLE, I wasn’t sure I’d publish it as an e-book. I wasn’t sure I’d even finish it, let alone put it out there for readers to digest and critique. When I finished the first draft on May 15th, 2012, I just felt happy to have written a 57,000 word story.

And then the work—the real hard work—began. What came next was a long look a revisions, edits, character workshops and examination of message in the story.
Somewhere along the way, in the middle of an editing haze, I realized the digital option might be the best one for a young adult fiction novel about conflicted teenagers in a dystopian Ohio. The book’s target audience is increasingly mobile and savvy on digital platforms. It just made sense. So I decided to commit. I’d put in the work and find the right people, I told myself. I’d do my research, and network the way best I could. I’d find a good cover designer and work with beta readers, a technical editor and a copywriter to polish up my story.

Once it came time to format for Kindle, I told myself I’d get a professional to do it.

And I decided I’d do it all while working a full time job as a TV news anchor.

It was, in some ways, a daunting task. Many days I got up at 6AM and didn’t go to bed until well after midnight. Some days I looked at my manuscript and wondered if I’d ever get it right. Other days, I doubted I could do what so many writers already have. More than one time, I wondered if I had gone insane. Know what, though? This last year has been the most memorable of my life. I pushed myself in ways I never thought I would. I dared to be different, and work outside what’s easy. I juggled deadlines and demands at work with a passion project that became more than just a bucket list item. And then, a few weeks ago, I became a published author.

Just like Felix, I stood on the edge of something and I jumped—even though I have no idea where THE UNDESIRABLE will land.

Once I hit publish, the characters were no longer just my own. The story will forever be out there to be judged. Everyone knows the Internet is its own universe. Anything can happen, and usually does. Not everyone will like Charlotte and Fostino’s story. The Internet is a big playground, and there are not always friendly kids on it. Someone is bound beat them up, and I know that.

So far, though, the response has been good. THE UNDESIRABLE has sold copies, and more than just a few. Readers have told me they like it, and a good number of those folks never met me before in my life. Many of them say they’re telling others about it.

That, my friends, is hugely satisfying.

That encouragement also enough of a positive response for me set a timeline for the sequel, which will be called THE RESISTANCE.

So would I do again? Absolutely. I would, and I will. Life is about experiences—and this was a big one for me.


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New Orleans-born S. Celi has lived all over the United States. She calls the Greater Cincinnati area and the Queen City home. She’s currently a TV reporter and anchor in Oklahoma City, and has spent more than a decade working in journalism. She graduated cum laude from Western Kentucky University in 2004. Celi is also a contributing author to “Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive.” In her spare time, she likes to read, shop, write, travel, run long distances, volunteer with the Junior League, and fund raise for Cooperative for Education, a non-profit providing educational opportunities for Guatemalan kids.