Anxiety Self-Care and Vacationing

I took a trip to Wyoming recently with my family to visit Sheridan and Gillette and as rewarding as vacations are, I am always happy to get back home.

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Flying back into Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport

Home means stability for me and it helps me greatly in managing anxiety.  I don’t over schedule myself when I am at home the way I do on vacation.

This vacation, in particular, was a bit more full than I expected.  I had dreams of lounging around a bit more but now that my daughter is 7 years old, she wants to, naturally, do more.  She wants to explore and visit, and being a young child, she is demanding, hates naps, and will squeeze every ounce of daylight when not impeded by her mother.  Unlike when we lived in Wyoming, she is also old enough now to have a fully fledged opinion.  She was “meeting” people for the first time because she didn’t remember them from years ago and she also was insistent on having as much time with her young cousins as possible.  As an only child, she craves time with other children and summertime is the worst time of year for her.  She is not around her school friends and with high temps here, we spend more time indoors.

My daughter does not yet comprehend the stress I carry on a daily basis.  She knows I don’t like fireworks but she hasn’t caught on how a significant change of routine bothers me.  I look forward to vacations but I also struggle with leaving my comfortable environment.  I worry about what could happen when I leave my home, both to my home and the people in it while we are away.  There’s a lot of history recorded in my journals, photo albums, and scrapbooks that I can lose if something happens.  Additionally, I don’t like the idea of someone’s possessions becoming personal effects, to include mine should something terrible happen while we are away.  I considered writing about these feelings when I took my trip to Albuquerque last year but was quite hesitant to do so; while I am beginning to feel more comfortable talking about my personal struggles and coping, I still tread lightly.

I’m not surprised by my sensitivity to people and possessions, but I’ve had 12 years to wrap my mind around the intense situation that was my first deployment.  After spending 12 hours of nearly every day on deployment knowing people died and others were wounded, I became more aware we don’t all get a fair shake at living (and living the way we choose).  Without knowing the true number of people who died on my deployment, it’s still safe to say I have few peers who will ever understand the human toll of a deployment like I do.  (For any newbies, my alternative view of Operation Iraqi Freedom, as incomplete as it is, is available for viewing here. If you check out the video, please also read the blog entry for clarity purposes.  Thanks. )

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Some of my most precious possessions

For me, this vacation was a beautiful experience and one of the true breaks we’ve taken this summer as we had quite an unexpected–but necessary–financial burden demanding our immediate attention.  My husband’s service dog tore her ACL in June but was (and is) recovering from surgery and was unable to walk more than five minutes shortly before we left for vacation.  Her recovery will still take months but she is starting to show tremendous progress and is happy again, instead of her morose state when we couldn’t let her do any activity except use the bathroom.  If she had been able to walk, she would have flown with us for the first time and yes, there was some anxiety about that issue as well.  As you can see, she’s not a petite girl and even with my husband, daughter, and I all in the same row, she would attract attention.  I have no doubt other passengers would have inquired about her and peppered my husband with questions.

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That happy kid look after surgery was too precious.
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She became quite leery we’d take all the fun out of her day with her surgery recovery restrictions.

I’ve made great strides to significantly reduce my chest pains this year through regular self-care, but I had four of them during the course of this trip.  The additional stress of monitoring my husband because he didn’t have his service dog was a contributing factor. While I can recognize times where my husband needs additional support I notice it much later than she can and I didn’t feel quite as prepared to be his “service person”–yes, that’s what we joked I was doing in my caregiver capacity–because she had to stay behind.  Other things, like not being consistent about my sleep routine, contribute to the frequency of my chest pains.  Normally, I like to be in bed no later than 10pm and  I think most nights we were lucky to be back at our hotel room by 10:30 or 11pm.  Different noises also present challenges when it comes to sleep as I have trouble drowning them out; my bedroom at home, by comparison, is kept very quiet.  I do not have a wall clock and after living in my home for a year, I am used to the sound of the house fan when it’s on during hot evenings.  I am also a big fan of blackout curtains; the darker the room, the easier it is for me to stay asleep.  There are other things I can do like moderating my consumption of coffee and alcohol that also help reduce the frequency of my chest pains.  (I know I drank far too much coffee on this vacation, nearly 3-4 cups a day, but I was pretty good about keeping my alcohol consumption in check.)

In spite of my continuing battle with anxiety induced chest pains, the vacation was successful.  I think one of the things we need to keep at the forefront of conversation about anxiety and coping is resiliency.  I’ve had these annoying things for 12 years–and it’s really only in the last few that good medical professionals have worked with me to control this condition so it doesn’t destroy my quality of life.  Occasionally, they have to remind me not to pass up opportunities because I know they may or will exacerbate the stress I already have in my life. They also remind me I’ve been through the worst so the things that bother me are triggers (fireworks, sudden loud noises, people walking behind me surpising me suddently, etc.) and not actually life threatening events.   The fact that I had four chest pains on this trip is a sign I do need to plan better for my vacations.  I am still learning to say ‘no’ and I think because I’m in my 30’s I still feel silly to say I go to bed so early and in many cases, need the additional sleep.  Not everyone understands this issue and unlike my peer group, I find it harder to forgo time with family and do not wish to come across as being rude.  Next time, I’ll also work on cutting back on coffee.  I’m sure it’s not bad to have a day or two with that much coffee but the others I should probably stick to two or less cups.

I’m only taking you on a partial journey of the trip but below are some of the wonderful things I photographed during my weeklong visit.  If you want to see more things from the trip, feel free to check out my Instagram, she_wears_dogtags.

Like always, thanks for stopping in to visit.

~Cheryl

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The view behind our hotel room
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One of the flowers in my husband’s grandmother’s garden
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My grandmother-in-law has this sign from her late husband’s job working for telephone companies.
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My readers know suicide prevention is important to me and I love how this sign is integrated into community spaces.   
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I got to see inside a home built in 1905 and it had all this gorgeous mahogany on the walls and stairs. 
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I enjoyed sharing a flight of beers at Black Tooth Brewing Company. (I also learned IPA’s are not my thing.)
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My beer of choice at Black Tooth Brewing Company is the seasonal blonde ale.
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I’m a sucker for architecture and I’m glad my husband took me to the old post office in Sheridan to check out the marble staircase.
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I didn’t get donuts from this little place only because it wasn’t open when we walked by.
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This JC Penney’s is where I got clothes after returning stateside from deployment #2 as the only civilian clothes I had were the ones I was wearing.  It was surprising to see the store is closing.
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Clearmont, Wyoming
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The potato oles were one of my favorite foods when we lived in Cody, WY and they are still as good.  I just eat less of them now.

 

 

 

 

 

Starting New Chapters: Personal Expression and Confidence

Good morning, everyone.

I was quite eager to do a “2007 versus 2017” series post and I had the fun surprise of looking back into my old journal entries only to discover I didn’t write a single post in June 2007!

I will give you a comparable 2007 versus 2017 substitute.

I have a good entry from May 2007 about my feelings regarding leaving the Marine Corps.  The timing works well because I started my new position in higher education.  I still work serving a military affiliated student population but I made the dramatic shift from being student facing to a non student facing opportunity.  Last week was my first week in my new role and I am just floored by the welcoming company culture.  As a veteran, I do find I get somewhat skittish that I’ll be judged for my visible tattoo (although I frequently wear long sleeves since office environments tend to be colder than I like), my preference for ponytails versus fully done up hair, and my sporadic use of makeup.

Society judges women heavily and it hasn’t seemed to matter at what age or in what industry.  The rules are written and unwritten.  The looks for stepping outside those “norms” feel the same.  Any time I’ve changed my working environment I question what will my peer treatment look like, what will my supervisor’s rules look like, and what infringement will the company place on my personal expression.  My desire to be more myself was a key part of leaving the Marine Corps.  Over the years, I’ve come to see pushing and prodding to adhere to desired female beauty standards and thankfully last week I was rewarded by the visual confirmation my new company permits a lot of personal expression.  Some female peers have full sleeve tattoos, others enjoy wearing shorts and jeans (as permitted by their departments), and makeup is worn from the slight touch of lip color and mascara to a fully done face with false lashes.

I feel more at home than I expected I would as a new employee.  I am quite happy and I feel once I get the hang of my work responsibilities this happiness will only magnify.  I don’t feel like the lost person I felt I was in May 2007.

Below is one of two entries I wrote for May 23, 2007.  I am not sharing the earlier one as I  included some personally identifying information for family friends and I don’t want to worry about anyone having that person’s address.  (By the way, anyone who knows how I feel about fireworks might laugh that back then I still thought I’d enjoy them!)

Take care and have a great weekend.

2007 Entry

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America In Times of Conflict: Creating Peace From Conflict

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Yesterday, I volunteered with a handful of other veterans to be part of a local community collaboration sharing our stories interwoven with pieces of The Odyssey for Odyssey Home: A Veteran Performance.  The Chandler Public Library held this event called Creating Peace From Conflict at the Chandler Center For the Arts in partnership with Arizona State University and Veterans For Peace.  We also had Veteran Vision Project photos on site for attendance goers to see along with the individual narratives associated with each photograph.  Once the footage is available, I’ll provide the link.

This collaboration starting off with group drumming and continued with our storytelling mixed with selections from The Odyssey.  A few musical pieces were played by Guitars for Vets and another veteran, Ahmad Daniels was there as a representative for Veterans For Peace, also sharing his story.  I know the event was scheduled to conclude with audience engagement, sort of a Q&A opportunity.  I only stayed for the Odyssey performance as I had another engagement in the afternoon and with today being my daughter’s birthday, I wanted to make headway Saturday on some other issues I’ve currently slacked on.

The theme of the performance was homecoming and I am quite thankful the event started with the group drumming.  While I did not choose to drum (I am embarrassed by my lack of rhythm) the sounds that filled the room reminded me of the wonderful performance given by citizens of Sao Vicente when I visited Cape Verde in high school.  My peers, teachers, and I landed to a beautiful musical performance at the airport that reminds me still music is a thread shared globally; we may not always understand each other’s words and actions but music binds us in such a spiritual way.

I loved being reminded of a place that was my home for a short period of my life.  Three weeks may not be an eternity but it’s sufficient time to be welcomed as a stranger, treated like a daughter, and remembered as a friend.  I am forever grateful for that experience and everyone who welcomed us into their country, their homes, and let us savor their culture that we might never have experienced in our lives had our paths not crossed.

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The airport in Sao Vicente

I think I was better able to embrace my role as a participant yesterday feeling like I was welcomed to this group much like how I was welcomed into Cape Verdean life.

My cohort of veterans included an ASU professor, my close friend and fellow ASU student, and a future student.  For our individual tales, we provided the audience a better glimpse of ‘homecoming’ as experiences shaped by individual perception and built a bridge that homecoming is not exactly a single finite moment in time, but a process.  I focused on the more immediate aspects of coming home to family tragedies and feeling like I did not fit into my life stateside.

I think a vital part of the construction of this storytelling was how well Robin Rio and her students shaped the music performance.  I met Robin back in the fall of 2014 when I started my graduate degree at ASU.  She is an Associate Professor with the School of Music and the Director of ASU’s Music Therapy Clinic.  I interviewed her to gain a better understanding of ASU’s chapter of Guitars for Vets.

Looking back, I did not ask great interview questions, but I think we all have moments like that in our lives where our place as students does not necessarily provide us a sufficient lenses to see and understand the larger context of our community because we are also shortsighted about more immediate concerns like passing a class, juggling work, and testing our fit with fellow students.  Seeing Guitars for Vets on campus though did inspire me to get out of my comfort zone about trying a musical instrument.  I purchased a Taylor guitar awhile back and now, with my reduced commute, can commit more to my goal of learning the acoustic guitar.  (Maybe I’ll be able to play a song before the year ends!)

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This talented bunch just wow me; there’s so much musical talent in this group. I cannot wait to share the performance so you can understand how beautifully they play.

 

America in Times of Conflict: She Went to War

Good afternoon, everyone.  The video for the Chandler Public Library’s America in Times of Conflict: She Went to War panel I served on March 11th is now posted.  I consider myself still somewhat of a beginner when it comes to public speaking and as such, have not watched the video yet.  I think if I do and see how nervous I was, I might not be willing to share it with you all today.  (I love written storytelling but I am dipping my toe into the territory of oral histories.)

I agreed to be a panelist to show support for my dear friend, Nancy Dallett.  She is the Assistant Director of the Office of Veteran and Military Academic Engagement at Arizona State University and she is quite passionate about oral histories.  She knew a past misstep with another oral history project left me somewhat reluctant to take on another but the way this project was shaped is what changed my opinion on the matter.  What I do like about a panel is the interpretative distance the moderator plays with the panelists.  She directs the conversation and keeps it in check, but her influence on what is stated via certain questions is tempered by the panelists.

I am quite proud of the types of questions asked of my fellow panelists and I.  Often times, I feel it is hard for us as women to be asked truly valuable questions outside the context of victimization.  I get stuck with questions that tiptoe around or center on the issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault within the military service branches and while I think it is important not to minimize those social problems, I think it is quite valuable our society continues to also see the professional opportunities for women in military service and the opportunities they can have post-servicing to enhance their lives and their family legacies.  Situations like the recent nude photo sharing being discussed in the news   can impact the willingness of women to join and/or to have their families’ support when considering service in one of our military branches.  (The ‘Marines United’ nude photo sharing scandal came up as one of the questions asked by our audience.)  As a female veteran, I want people who hear and participate in these conversations to understand any person (man, woman, or child) can be victimized at any point in his or her lifetime; it is more imperative we look for ways to make our society safer through education and awareness for everyone, not just groups of people or individual persons, and to instill appropriate punishments on the perpetrators so as to give the best measure of justice to the victim(s) of heinous deviant acts like this photo scandal.

Again, I want to reiterate the questions asked were quite considerate so as to not give you the wrong impression the panel was skewed far to the victimization spectrum of women’s issues.  General themes included our motivations for service, expectations of what Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam were prior to serving overseas, the reality of our living/working situations abroad, and concern over whether we thought our service had a positive impact in our lives.

Fair warning, the video is lengthy.  At almost two hours, you might want to set aside time to listen to it in its entirety or skip around for shorter conversations.  My daughter asked a question of me near the tail end of the audience Q& A section (proud Momma moment here!) so I hope you her piece of the presentation.  I didn’t expect she would actually have something to ask although she did ask before the panel began if it was necessary.

Take care and enjoy.

(If you have any tips on how to improve my presence as a panelist, I’d love to hear back from you.)

 

 

 

 

Turning 33

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My Mini Me and I Out at Dinner Tonight

Good evening, everyone.

My entry will be quite short.  I am currently in the middle of crafting a post about recently going back through the disability claims process with the Department of Veterans Affairs but it is appropriate to take a break to share that today is my 33rd birthday.

I am very blessed to make it to 33 years of age.  I came home from Iraq the first time on my 21st birthday and my birthday has taken on a different meaning since that important transition.

Like my 2005 birthday, I did indulge in some alcohol.  Back then it was beer and cranberry vodka shots (Not a good idea…I repeat a horrible freaking idea…don’t repeat my mistake…seriously, do not make this mistake…you’ll puke a lot) and tonight I enjoyed a new Chardonnay at one of my favorite places, Bar Vinedo.  I made the adult decision to stop at reasonable point, made easier by the fact I’m completing the Fighter Diet and have a horrible ability to tolerate alcohol right now.

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I like to keep my birthday festivities to quiet small gatherings.  My daughter changed my plans further today when she asked (last night to her dad) about hanging out with me for the day in lieu of attending school.  How do I say no to such a cute request?! I threw out plans I had today to enjoy being a hermit while she and my husband were in school, completing my lower body workout and cardio routine, reading from Mind Over Money: The Psychology of Money and How to Use It Better, and taking a nap.  Yes, I had great ambitions as an adult for birthday indulgences!!!

I still kept to my Fighter Diet workout routine, mostly because I wanted to not feel guilty about indulging for dinner (dessert was not planned at all!).  I like working out.  Do I always want to work out? No.  However, it is great seeing the progress I’ve made and I know I’ll continue to make progress with mostly healthy eating habits and sticking to a solid workout routine.

Instead of hanging out with my fellow Marines in the barracks drinking horrible drink concoctions, my husband, daughter and I went out to dinner after I spent the day in my daughter’s company doing kid friendly things (splitting lunch and a cookies and cream monsoon, hanging out at the playground, and completing homemade craft projects).

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Cookies and cream monsoon with coffee from the Agritopia Coffee Shop.

I am very grateful I took today off from work.  My birthday is one of those days I quite enjoy a quiet respite from my typical hectic pace.  This year, I enjoyed it even more since I stayed up late watching an few episodes of Gilmore Girls with my family and additionally, my daughter camped out on the couch with me depriving me of a full night’s sleep.

My day ended with a fabulous grilled cheese and prosciutto sandwich, some of my favorite french fries, and this delicious dessert which I’ve been hesitant to order before because it has banana ice cream. Chocolate Mousse+pecan crust+chocolate ganache+ brûlée banana ice cream covered in salted caramel + chocolate drizzle on the side=How did I not order this item earlier? (Yes, my fear that it would be too banana flavored.)

Good night, everyone.  I hope your day turned out as well as mine and when your birthday rolls around, it’s just as wonderful.  I owe many thanks to everyone who loves me and wished me a happy birthday in text message, Facebook posts, voice mails, emails,and so on.

I have a great support system.

~Cheryl

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Pecan Chocolate Torte ($7)….It’s better than birthday cake.

 

 

 

2007 Versus 2017: Goals, Goals, Goals

Hello, everyone.  I know New Year’s treated you well.  I spent my three-day weekend at home and enjoyed a slight decrease (much to my appreciation) in fireworks exposure.  My new neighbors don’t seem to go quite as crazy as the ones I had in the Willows neighborhood in Gilbert.  If you like fireworks, you might enjoy a stroll through this neighborhood on the 4th of July or New Year’s Eve; I anticipate in a neighborhood of 586 houses so long as the Town of Gilbert permits fireworks, people will set up small fireworks shows just outside their front doors.  For today though, I’ll like to start my first 2007 versus 2017 post.

2007 was important for me because I completed my active duty service with the Marine Corps and started to explore what life beyond the Corps would look and feel like, my taste of adult freedom if you will.  I won’t say I made smart money moves back then so as we begin this new journey looking back and discussing my future in 2017, please know I will likely discuss money a lot.  My financial needs were met very well on active duty; Thomas and I did not have any kids while I was serving and we both collected a housing allowance.  Since we both served, we received one full housing allowance and the other received a partial housing allowance.  I do apologize that I do not recall the actual monetary amounts because I understand this knowledge aids our conversation greatly.  All too often, a young service member will complain about not having sufficient pay for food, housing, etc.  but for our household size and relative expenses, we always came out ahead even after I separated until we moved to Wyoming in 2009.  Stories for another day I know, but the short version is that many of our expenses, fixed and variable, remained the same and our housing allowance decreased significantly.

In 2007, I had some lofty wedding reception ambitions, as you can see from my journal entry below.  While we never ended up having our wedding reception the reality is I spent a significant amount of time planning for a costly one-day event.  On the skinny spending side, I think we were looking at $8,000 to $10,000 for the venue, a photographer, hotel rooms, travel, food, etc.  The dream was dropped before anything was booked but not until after I purchased my wedding gown (we got married through the Justice of the Peace in 2006) and picked up some small wedding related items.

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My desire to control my personal finances did not truly begin until we moved to Wyoming. Our crash course in the broke life lead us to Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.  Being introduced to Dave Ramsey’s program through friends and their church, we made headway towards undoing the financial damage.  It’s not fun, but without the substantial housing allowance we received in California, we had to take a serious look at our finances. Throughout the years, we’ve still struggled to stay on the Dave Ramsey path so I still refer back to the books and resources.  My in-laws also added more Dave Ramsey resources to our collection.  Additionally, I kept my Financial Planning notebook from my undergraduate studies because I want to ensure I update our financial goals (i.e. retirement planning, life insurance planning, etc.) as our family needs change over time.

With my husband still in school, 2017 does not wear the carefree face our lives did in 2007.  We just don’t have that same amount of money to play with on a daily basis.  Thankfully, he has one semester of Post-9/11 GI Bill® benefits to help cover expenses this semester but law school is one of those endeavors where we are bringing student loan debt into our lives.  This decision obviously strays from Dave Ramsey’s teachings.  We take steps towards self-improvement and I would prefer to not be shamed for student loan debt; I do not make enough money to fully fund law school.  We considered ASU’s Employee Reduced Tuition but the reality is 100% of that tuition reduction is taxed for graduate programs and I am already working on a tight single income, the last thing I need is more money taken out of my paycheck at this time.  Now that we have a more transparent conversation (thanks for not judging me or keeping your opinion to yourself) I would like to share personal goals for the year.

My goals are broadly categorized under personal achievements, family activities, and home improvement.  Financial planning is important to each one of these endeavors.  I am in a place to either spend money for the results or I am saving money to complete the goal.    Although I am not outlining these as SMART (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-based) for your respective purposes as the reader, these qualities are important whenever you desire to see a goal through completion and I’m keeping these factors in mind for each goal.

In lieu of resolutions, here are my planning goals for 2017:

  1. Finish Pauline Nordine’s Butt Bible Challenge to restore fitness discipline into my life (Challenge runs January to March).
  2. Attend an adoption education event, free other than cost to get there.
  3. Add $1,000 to my daughter’s savings before the close of 2017.
  4. Pay for a one recipient’s scholarship for the Rising Stars, Desert Nights Writing Conference.
  5. Close a credit card account.
  6. Finish painting my master’s bathroom (February).
  7. Complete a family vacation (no visiting extending family).
  8. Attend a family member’s wedding.
  9. Add additional money to our emergency fund (i.e. amount will vary depending on overtime worked and additional income received this year).
  10. Finish first draft of memoir by October.
  11. Set up college fund accounts for nieces and my nephew to be born this year in lieu of gifts and clothes for Christmas.
  12. Visit family who have not seen my daughter since 2011.
  13. Set aside money for an adoption home study (approximately $1,200 to $1,800) before the end of the year. (Goal is to adopt in 2019)
  14. Replace our large bookcase with wall shelves (May/June).
  15. Purchase (1) PAX wardrobe for master bedroom (September/October).
  16. Put in Astroturf and extend patio slab (March/April).

Writing About Your Life: Intimate Details

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I know it’s not normal for you to get an updated post from me this time of time but I am at home with my sick daughter and now that I’ve sent her off for an afternoon nap, it’s time for me to enjoy some “me time” which translates to writing.  It may not be what I do best [yet in my life] but it’s one of the best things I enjoy.

When I started this blog back in 2014, I mentioned something that probably did not come off as an intimate detail in my life.  I mentioned how, back in 2004, one of the Corporals at my unit told me not to write a book about Iraq.  Now, as a thirty-two year old, I cringe more when I think of that asinine statement.  There is not a single soul in this world that deserves to tell me what to do with my life.

I think war narratives are important, even if I haven’t liked all the ones I’ve read.  The point is not to get rich.  The point is not to be famous.  The point is to convey a slice of history that can be lost otherwise.  The point is to capture sights, sounds, people, and places that are changed in the moment and hopefully influence people to take a more nuanced approach to understanding war.

As impossible as it is to whittle down what I learned in graduate school, one of the best lessons I came away with is uncovering the extent of how society ignores, belittles, and underreports the achievements and lived experiences of women.  We are not shadows of living beings; we are living, too.  I say society in this reference in speaking specifically to American society however there are many teachings that shows us women compared to men are often given less notice.

I write to you all today to tell you I will write my book.  I will write it regardless of whether it gets published.  I will write it because there will never be another moment in time that mirrors this experience.  I will write it because there are numerous others who could gain something from this type of storytelling.  I will write because a song I heard recently made me think of this experience and the amount of emotional connection I have to that point in my life.

I will not forgo a personal achievement because another human being has such set opinions against writing war memoirs.

If you’re wondering about that song, below are the lyrics:

“Every Little Thing” (Sung by Carly Pearce)

The scent that you left on my pillow
The sound of your heart beating with mine
The look in your eyes like a window
The taste of your kiss soaked in wine

Every little thing
I remember every little thing
The high, the hurt, the shine, the sting
Of every little thing

Guess you forgot what you told me
Because you left my heart on the floor
Baby, your ghost still haunts me
But I don’t want to sleep with him no more

Every little thing
I remember every little thing
The high, the hurt, the shine, the sting
Of every little thing
I remember every little thing
The high, the hurt, the shine, the sting
Of every little thing

They say time is the only healer
God, I hope that isn’t right
Cause right now I’d die to not remember

Every little thing
I remember every little thing
The high, the hurt, the shine, the sting
Every little thing
I remember every little thing
I’m haunted by the memories of
Every little thing
The high, the hurt, the shine, the sting
Every little thing

Tattoo Reveal

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One of the photographs that served as an original inspiration for my tattoo

The day has come…I am very proud to reveal to you all my tattoo.  This personal journey was worth the wait and more importantly, the money.  Tattooing is not a cheap gift to one’s self.  I am very thankful Justin Nordine from The Raw Canvas in Grand Junction, Colorado is only a short flight away because I absolutely love his style and know already that I will be commissioning another piece with him down the road.

When I initially provided a deposit, I had in mind a negative space tattoo which in some way incorporated ‘freedom’ written in Arabic.  I knew with my year timeframe to fruition I could hone the desired result and certainly events over the past year changed my opinion about how I saw this piece and how I saw my body.  There’s a lot to say about my experiences during OIF 2-2 and because I am no longer in the Marine Corps, I am not limited to placement or size of a tattoo to stay within regulations.  I did not know when this journey started what the finished product would look like although I did know I was finally ready to commemorate my military service.

The images I provided Justin as we got closer to my appointment included:

  • A photograph of the Euphrates River (to emphasis an important blue to include in the color work);
  • A photograph of the 1st Marine Division logo (again to emphasis an important blue);
  • A door located on Camp Blue Diamond (for the scrollwork);
  • A photograph of Peruvian lilies (the meaning of these flowers are friendship and devotion); and
  • I discussed the dual names attributed to the second assault into Fallujah (in lieu of an additional photograph).

I didn’t realize how much I was asking of Justin when I provided these images but during our phone consultation we touched base on making a new memory.  He reminded me I am commissioning a piece of art.  I had been putting so much pressure on finding the right way to speak to the complicated nature of the deployment and he reminded me quite gently that I knew what the tattoo meant and if a concrete representation was important that he might not be the artist for me.  I think his willingness to have this conversation so I was happy with the final product is very important and because his talent truly speaks for itself I made the decision the tattoo did not need to convey all these things.  This opportunity was the first time I allowed someone so much control over something I would carry with me for the rest of my life and I am happy with this adventure.

After providing additional images to Justin for review, I waited until our meeting to see his creation.  Originally, we discussed doing an upper arm piece and he crafted a sprig of black sketched lilies capped by a geometric pointillism design which pays tribute to my appreciation for Islamic architecture.  Behind the flowers, a beautiful wash of colors included green, blue, rose pink, and orange.  The orange, by far, is the color that fascinated me the most.  It was so unexpected.  Since he had layered images of the sketched flowers and the pointillism separately I was able to see how the design could be easily altered to fit my forearm which didn’t need a cap like the shoulder.

I do have a tendency to carry extra weight in my upper arms (which I never noticed until I was pregnant with my daughter!) and was a bit worried if I don’t always maintain my upper body physical fitness consistently, my tattoo might not look the way I want it to look over time.  However, my forearms always look pretty nice even if I don’t hit up the gym regularly and I was very happy to see how the flowers complimented my body structure.  He was right that by having the piece of my upper arm I could control who saw it but by having it on my forearm it is available for public display; this decision is not a light one to make depending on who you are and the industry you work in or may choose to consider for professional opportunities.  For me, I am past that stage in my life.  I wanted my tattoo to be a highly visible work of art I see and share daily with others.

My journey is unique and I am grateful for Justin’s ability to give me a beautiful way to honor that experience.

watercolor-tattoo

 

 

 

Looking Back: Progress on the Applied Project

We are nearing the midterms part of the semester and I am already falling a bit behind on those objectives I set out with you all in January.  I do not make time for the gym as much as I should and looking at my last post, which was 18 days ago, I am not keeping up on this site as much either.  Today, I’m tackling both.  I knocked out 40 minutes on our indoor bike and as I close out my day, I write to speak with you all about my applied project.

Writing about my history has not been an easy task.  This focus opens up a number of issues which I have not fully shared previously with my family, for one, and second, I am always burdened with how to share the experiences of others.  For my situation, this matter is complicated because those individuals died many years ago.  Like many other veterans, I do acknowledge survivors’ guilt for what it is in my life.  I simply lived through numerous occasions where our base was mortared (on the first deployment).  I also safely traveled through our area of operations without being ambushed; hit by an improvised explosive device (IED), a vehicle born IED, or rocket propelled grenade; nor did I encounter snipers along the way.  There is no way to describe the moments of safety in my deployment as anything other than sheer luck.  For my readers of faith, please understand why I do not say that it is by God’s grace because I feel, in small part, to say so also implies that God does not love his other children who perished.

The other reason this task presents some difficulty on my part is I have not revisited this information fully in years. For the duration of my first deployment, I spent twelve hours a day receiving word that people died or were injured.  In some cases, we received updated information that our wounded later died as a result of their injuries.  The best news I ever received came from our Lieutenant Colonel who informed my team our work prevented a unit from being ambushed.  This incident represents one of my greatest achievements and I greatly appreciate everyone’s efforts to do their jobs that day.  I am fairly certain I never recorded in my journal about the matter out of concern for operational security, as I consciously chose to do for many such occasions, with some exceptions such as Captain Brock’s death.  I was very honored though as a Lance Corporal to have a Lieutenant Colonel come over to let us know our work was so valuable.

As I open up the pages of my past hopefully my audience understands what it takes to share those experiences.  My research is heavily reliant on data available to me through MilitaryTimes, Iraqbodycount.org, and other resources such as BBC.com.  It will likely not encompass all the lives lost, on all sides, but is the closest possibility of this needed transparency.  I make this statement not as a fault of my research, but to remind everyone the limitations I work through.  Being reliant on the system keeping of others has given me some insights into the values of different organizations and additionally, witness through reporting sources the grief of families.  I am also seeing names, faces, ages, and backstories through the associated press articles on Military Times.  These new details are painful reminders of the past and also inspirations for the future.

Social media sites are a great way to express new meanings attributed to veterans, our storytelling, and in today’s time, our lived experiences in war.  I am also very hopeful that perhaps such honesty will invoke others to adopt a more liberal attitude towards many disadvantaged groups, especially war refugees.  I made the choice to serve in a war and I also knew I had the freedom to leave that region at the end of my tour, both times. More importantly, I was fortunate to make it home alive.  Again, both times.

Around the world, in so many places, individuals of all ages struggle because they live in war torn regions.  I cannot attest to their experiences but I can use my lens as a war veteran to share my story.  Perhaps in doing so, I can encourage others in my community, locally and globally, to understand why we should be listening to more of the narratives that come out of war than how organizations present those matters.  Organizations are not affected by war the same way people are. Organizations “see” and “shape” the crisis, but people live (or do not live) through those experiences.  Their stories matter.

At Work, At Home, At Play: What’s Revealed in Service Member Photography

Good morning, everyone!!!  Ahhh…quick breather.  January is almost over. In the brief span of time that’s transpired since the term began, I have made substantial progress focusing on my applied project.  This progress is due, with great thanks, to Dr. Beth Swadener, who has facilitated a writing seminar; my peers in Dr. Swadener’s course; Dr. Rose Weitz for her continued support and acceptance on my applied project committee; Nancy Dallett for being a wonderful sounding board and constant companion in my work life; my peers in my SST course this semester; and most certainly, my friends and family who stand by me during this crazy adventure, both academically and through this blog.

Today’s blog is built on one of the materials that will find its way into my applied project. Recently, I found Liam Kennedy’s 2009 article, Soldier Photography: Visualising the War in Iraq.  The article is available through the following stable URL:

http://www.jstor.org/stable/40588076

If you do not have access to this resource via an academic library, like I do with ASU, the download costs $34 or you can read it online by registering for a JSTOR account.

Getting back to today’s discussion, I think Mr. Kennedy brings up some excellent points about why service member (my preferred term versus his term, ‘soldier’) photography is aiding a better global discourse on the understanding of war.  Below is a great insight he adds to how the communication process regarding ‘war’ has changed over the decades:

“The Vietnam War was the first televised war, the first Gulf War was the first satellite war (CNN’s war’) and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are the first digitised wars” (Kennedy, 2009, p. 819).

So, why is the change in communication important?

In a nutshell, the answer to this question is this correspondence teaches us the reinforcement of cultural perspective and operational burden in war, both operational security and trauma sustained by service members (Kennedy, 2009).

For many reasons, I have taken for granted the ‘freedom’ I enjoyed to share my deployment experiences with friends and family members with almost instantaneous feedback.  On many occasions, it took me several saved drafts on MySpace to craft a post for my loved ones but the next time I logged in, I would have some responses to my situation.  These messages sustained me when snail mail was lacking.  I knew my family cared for me, despite their beliefs about war–in general–and about my war, specifically.  One of the best benefits to this freedom was corresponding with loved ones who also operated in different areas of Iraq, at the same time.  I cannot discount how important it was to know friends were safe despite being located in close proximity to indirect and direct forms of combat engagement.

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Kennedy, 2009, p. 827

With respect to both deployments, I didn’t take a significant amount of photos.  I used several disposable 35mm cameras for Operation Iraqi Freedom 2-2 (1st Marine Division deployment) and had both disposable cameras and a digital camera my husband sent over for the second deployment, Operation Iraqi Freedom 5-7 (3rd Marine Aircraft Wing where I deployed with Marine Aircraft Group-16, known as MAG-16).  I would aptly agree with Kennedy that ‘tourist’ photography describes the majority of photos I took for both deployments, like many of my peers’ photographs.  The landscape is different, the ‘feel’ of the base, while it retains aspects of American culture, is a smaller version of American consumerism.  Camp Blue Diamond had a small internet cafe crafted out of a trailer with plywood dividers to give individuals some sense of private conversations.  A PX (Post-Exchange) also crafted out of a trailer provided a small array of necessary items, like service chevrons, and coveted items, like snack foods.

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After all these years, I still have my M & M’s bag. Look at the production and best by dates.
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My view heading over to Camp Ramadi (2004).

When it comes to photographs of my self, I have very few.  Because it is significantly still a taboo subject to date in a combat zone, I only had one photograph using my cameras of my boyfriend and I together on my first deployment the day I left Blue Diamond, February 25, 2005.  The others I have of us relaxing with Marines from his work were taken by him or members of his unit.  For my second deployment, the best photos of me at work and at play were compiled into a unit video.  Unfortunately, my computer does not take good snapshots from the video.  I will try to find another way to acquire those photos to share.  There was a great one of me in one of the chairs in the palace in Baghdad and I look incredibly tiny.  See…again…that tourist tendency.

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Bringing new meaning to paper money.
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I tried not to infringe on the privacy of my peers, so these are the few photos inside our barracks (Camp Blue Diamond).
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Rules of engagement…in case you were interested.

I do regret not taking more photos because there is so much to learn from those experiences.  Camp Al Asad was essentially a small city unto itself (and likely, retains some of those features).  We had a Subway, coffee shop, Pizza Hut, and Burger King, a barber shop, and many trinket shops, just on our side of the base alone.  I was too nervous to travel the rest of the base by myself.  Instead, I spent much of my second deployment walking to the internet cafe set up in the operations center.  My (mostly) solitary walks provided me the opportunity to appreciate the natural beauty that is Iraq, with its limited infrastructure.  Sunrises and sunsets are incredible.

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However, as important as it is to discuss our visual representations at war, we must equally discuss coming home.  Below are some brief snapshots to show how transition is discussed (as of 2005).

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Additionally, please enjoy a small peek at what my barracks life looked like in early 2005.  It was a pretty spartan existence compared to the 1,400 sq. foot home I occupy with nearly 10 years’ worth of furniture, artwork, scrapbooks, etc. that make up my current life. I lived in one of the barracks on the Camp Margarita area of Camp Pendleton near the Subway.

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The Marine Corps blanket covers my bed.  It was given to me by a former substitute teacher, who served previously as a Marine officer.
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With some of my first deployment earnings, I purchased my first desktop computer.
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Ah, the spartan life.