Wordless Wednesday: School Starts Tomorrow!

... and there was much rejoicing.

- Leanne from MilitaryAvenue.com

Your Opinions Matter!

Did you know that as a military-spouse your opinions really do matter! I know sometimes I feel like the Army feels they own my husband and 'our family mission' is definitely not the Army's mission... particularly after they have had him for 8 days in the field and then he is working phone calls at the dinner table within 2 hours of being home. Can we JUST have a meal together as a family. Let the boys tell him about their week, enjoy a sip of wine with his wife, coo over his newborn baby who would like some attention, too?! (Ok, so there really is nothing much relaxing about our dinner table. But in the chaos I find peace.) But I digress...

Back to the fact that our opinion matters... I got my Don't Ask Don't Tell Survey in the mail yesterday. I try to be non-partisan so I won't tell you HOW I'm going to fill it out. But I will tell you I will fill it out. How about you? If you get it take the time to share your opinion. I really think if they didn't want our opinion they wouldn't ask:

There are other places to share your opinions too. If you are a part of the Navy, Fleet & Family Services wants your opinion (Navy: Take Our Survey - Have a Voice). If you are a Facebook Fan of MilitaryAvenue we want your opinion (More Posts or Less?). There are all sorts of places to express yourself in a positive light, in a productive fashion!

Don't gripe about 'not mattering'! It is your responsibility to share your opinion with those that can make the change, especially when they seek out your opinion!

- Leanne from MilitaryAvenue.com

Taking Care of Yourself!

I have noticed a stream of articles out from the Military community about how important it was for the caregiver, the military spouse, the one holding down the home-front to take care of herself! (or himself!) It's not a new story. We've all known how important it is ... but as military-spouses we know how HARD it can be to do. It is so easy to put the needs of others before our own.

I can't stress it enough! If YOU are not taking care of yourself the whole family will suffer. Yes, you are that important. I have found this to be true in so many cycles of my life. Right now the cycle I'm in includes a newborn. A beautiful boy who relies completely on me for his nutritional needs, who finds great comfort in my arms, who can go from a drunken-sleep slumber to alert and upset in 10 seconds flat if I dare put him down. At 2 weeks old he doesn't understand that sometimes Mom needs to help older brothers or (aghast!) take care of herself!

So yesterday when I decided I NEEDED a shower (for my sake and the sake of those within a two-mile radius of me...) Baby *L* just didn't get the memo. Each time I put him down he screamed bloody murder. I'd pick him back up. Nurse him. He'd fall asleep in less then a minute and I'd put him back down. We did this little 'cycle' for 30 minutes when I decided I needed just 10 minutes; 10 minutes at the most and then I'd feel so much better and able to handle his cuddling-needs. (Yes I was starting to stress over this little 'game' he was playing. And getting frustrated at an infant does nothing to help the situation!)

So I laid him down in a safe place in the bathroom (Yay for 2 week olders that can't roll around) on a soft blanket. He really enjoyed the first 3 minutes. I think the sound of the shower was soothing. But when the crying and wailing started back up I KNEW he was ok. I knew he was safe. I knew he would survive. So I continued my shower knowing sometimes I need me time!

Don't feel guilty about your me-time! Whether you are torn because of your children's needs, the stress of a deployment, or taking care of a wounded-warrior, an ailing parent, or any number of other reasons. Take at *least* 10 to 15 minutes a day to better prepare yourself for the needs of others. I also walk daily - stroller in hand and young ones on bikes in front of me. We go for that walk because *I* need it.

What do you do for stress relief? Does it clear your mind and better prepare you for what is ahead? Here are some great resources to get you on the right track!
- Leanne from MilitaryAvenue.com

Moments made and not forgotten

Sweet Baby Boy Love
2 weeks old and already has stolen my heart!

Sleepy 10am naps in a baby swing

Smiley gas bubbles

Nursing moments, minutes turn to hours, that I hold so very dearly

Arms and legs moving on their own accord

Tiny Toes for 'This Little Piggy'

Little hands grasping my fingers with all their might

My husband interacting with his youngest son, the product of an unfailing love

Sweet little pajamas on, swaddled up in a blanket

Bedtime snuggling on my chest

I may be sleep deprived, bleary-eyed, and a bit out of sorts ... but there is nothing that can describe this kind of love!

- Leanne from MilitaryAvenue.com

Tasty Tuesday Dress Me Up Salsa Pico De Gallo

Salsa is a staple at our house, and has been for years. Tell me... WHO can live without tortilla chips and salsa? Or quesadillas with salsa? The occasional late night nachos with salsa? You get the picture. I used to have a truck load pumped into the house... back 'er up and fill the tank. Well, not really, but if felt like that. I would wipe out a whole shelf in the commissary each time I went.
So, naturally after canning a gazillion tomatoes the light bulb went off as to how to use these red beauties and the first thought: Salsa.
There are several recipes for this mainstay, here is my first thought, true blue, lip smacking good salsa experience. I call it "Dress Up" as I do not like to add the onions to a large amount as the flavor can take over, the same holds true with the garlic. So, I get to play in the kitchen before serving this to company, or to Dale and I as we head downstairs to watch a movie and 'mange mange mange'.
Dress Me Up Salsa Pico De Gallo
Makes 4 cups
1 quart jar of canned tomatoes, drained
2 jalapeno peppers,seeds removed, minced
1/4 c cucumber, peeled, seeds removed, chopped
1 banana pepper, seeds removed, chopped
1/4 c lime juice
1/4 loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1/4 t chili powder
1/2 t salt
1/8 t black pepper

Drain the tomatoes and save the liquid for a soup, or to add to other vegetables later. Combine all ingredients in a pint jar and refrigerate for later! Just before using, if desired, add 1 T finely chopped red or white onion, and 1/8 t garlic powder, or 1 clove of minced garlic.
I think you will find this a repeatable recipe!

“Cooperation, friendship, partnership…” Extraordinary Effort in Pakistan to Save Lives – DoD Roundtable

“Far reaching, devastating, … biggest challenge is scale of disaster” is how U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Michael Nagata, deputy commander, Office of the Defense Representative, Pakistan described the flooding in Pakistan during this mornings Roundatable! I was privileged to speak with him and hear how the US is again helping out during a disaster. Since the initial flooding two weeks ago US Army aircraft (2 UH-60 Blackhawks and 4 CH-47 Chinooks) from units in Afghanistan have responded with life saving efforts in the Swat Valley of Pakistan! More than 3,000 lives saved through their efforts, 500,000+ rations delivered and 160 metric tons of relief supplies provided with “a steady stream” of Air Force of C-17s and C-130s as well! With about 100 Army aircrew and support personnel preparing to transfer aid responsibility to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) from the USS Peleliu and their CH-53, Sea Stallion helicopters this is truly a multi service operation.

The US portion is but a small piece of the Pakistan efforts but we have committed $40 Million to aid with a fluctuating number of personnel on the ground of approximately 350 personnel (250 were already in place before the flood) Airlift and at sea forces provide additional manpower that is not "in country". But more important is the appreciation of the Pakistan people involved in this disaster! Take a look at the faces of survivors in Army photographs while being transported on aircraft or unloading supplies and you see smiles, concern for their future but above all they seem grateful! In fact General Nagata described their response as “impressed, grateful, enthusiastic” about the aid from the US and Pakistan military personnel working in close cooperation and at the request of the Pakistan government.

The Swat Valley is the scene of terrible fighting between the Taliban and Pakistani forces and this flood has just made the average family’s lives just more difficult! The general said that the US humanitarian efforts have not been impeded by any action of the Taliban due to the presence of Pakistan forces. He outlined the US efforts as requested by the Pakistan government and purely humanitarian despite concerns in the Pakistan press about US Marines arriving in country. No incidents have occurred at this point between US forces and Taliban in the area. He highlighted the “extraordinary” level of “cooperation, friendship and partnership with the Pakistani forces and citizens! As a post note he did mention that the Afghan Air Force has also provided helicopter support in a different region to alleviate the suffering of the people. Multi-national, multi-US services and Non Governmental Organizations saving lives!

If you would like to listen or read a transcript of this very interesting Roundtable please go to DoDLive. To see additional pictures of our service personnel providing relief please go to DoD’s Website! To see more information on MilitaryAvenue please go to our Reading Room for up to date articles! For articles on other humanitarian responses please go to MilitaryAvenue/Disaster Response.

Photo Credit: U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Michael Nagata, deputy commander, Office of the Defense Representative, Pakistan DoDLive

Photo Credit: A U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter flies over the flood affected area in Pakistan on a return flight from delivering humanitarin assistance and evacuating personnel to the town of Khwazakhela, as part of the flood recovery effort in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan, Aug 11, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Horace Murray

Photo Credit: Pakistani flood victims sit on the floor of a U.S. Army helicopter as part of U.S. and Pakistani efforts to evacuate them from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, Aug. 5, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Horace Murray

Photo Credit: U.S. and Pakistani service members help civilians exit a U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter in Khwazahkela, Afghanistan, on Aug. 5, 2010. Humanitarian relief and evacuation missions are being conducted as part of the disaster relief efforts to assist Pakistanis in flood-stricken regions of the nation. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Horace Murray, U.S. Army. (Released)

Welcome, Baby *L*!

In a bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived, so-very-much-in-love fashion, this blog has taken at least a week to write. 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there. It may not be eloquent, or the best writing of my life, but it is the story of a new-life in our lives.

Baby *L* is here!

All 6 lbs 9 ounces, and 18 inches of pure baby-boy joy. I forgot how small they can come! *L* was born the smallest of all my boys which makes me chuckle. I was induced since they were afraid he would get too big because of my gestational-diabetes. Life is full of surprises!

I was feeling pretty good about the decision to induce after an appointment on Tuesday showed I was dilated and effaced. The doctor had said Baby *L* and I were /more/ than ready. I then spent that evening chest down (watching one of my favorite TV shows, NCIS!) on a rocking foot rest just trying to get him a little lower, our only real hurdle at that point.

The 6am alarm on Wednesday (the 4th) was a welcomed sound after nights (upon nights) of restless sleep. We grabbed my bags and headed to the hospital. (Hubs did laugh at me because I actually took the time to look human; hair brushed, some makeup on.) At about 7:30am I was checked in and in our room, hooked up to some monitors and by 8am I had an IV drip of pitocin.

The epidural was administered at about 10am. I'm all about 'natural' child-birth ... and this is as natural as I get! :) I do have to say that I have to wonder what labor would be like /without/ an epidural as there were some negative side effects, too. (Like the dead right leg I had for 36 hours after all was said and done, and the fact that when contractions *really* started getting strong at about 12:30pm I was in the worst pain of my life.) But if all it did was provide relief from 10 till 12:30... I'd do it again.

So, at about 12:30pm / 1:00pm (I wasn't really watching the clock at this point) contractions kicked in - BIG TIME; like "grab the side of the bed and want to scream" pain. Baby *L* started coming down quickly and my doctor was called. By about 1:30 the doctor called to say she was stuck in traffic, but really working on getting there. So the nurse put the hospital-doc on-call. I heard him pop his head in at one point to see if he should go ahead and deliver and the nurse said we would be ok for a few more minutes. (Notice the nurse said we would be ok ... I don't think that is what I was thinking...) At 2:00pm Dr S walked in. She asked Hubs if it was ok if she just threw a cover over her clothes (as opposed to donning scrubs) and Hubs said /absolutely/. The moment she sat down she told me to push.

At 2:08pm one of the most beautiful boys in the world was born!

The laundry isn't getting done as quickly, work has had to take a back-seat for just a bit, the older boys seem to understand that sometimes they have to wait. [I'm having a harder time convincing Baby *L* that sometimes he has to wait too ;)]

My heart is overwhelmed with love. Beautiful boys of my own. A family of six... four brothers to take this world by storm. We are all in absolute amazement at this journey we are on.

- Leanne from MilitaryAvenue.com

Cold Summer Grape Salad

Seedless green and purple grapes cold from the refrigerator have a way of bursting a summer gush of refreshment right there in your mouth! This simple, delicious healthy salad is perfect for a dinner side dish. I make a lot, as this dish seems to call for just one more spoonful.. just one more and more and so on.
Cold Summer Grape Salad
1 bunch of seedless green grapes
1 bunch of seedless purple or black grapes
1 8 ounce brick of cream cheese, room temperature
1 c. sour cream
2/3 c sugar
1 c chopped walnuts or pecans

Wash grapes and remove pieces of stems, drain so they are not dripping water.
In a mixing bowl combine cream cheese and sour cream. Add sugar and mix.
Place grapes in a large serving bowl and scoop the cream mixture over grapes. Add nuts, and if desired other berries. Refrigerate to bring back the chill of the grape. Serve immediately and watch it go!

The National Guard's Involvement in the Southwest Border Controversy - DoD Roundtable

Very interesting and timely DoD Roundtable this morning! The border issues were at the forefront with the National Guard Bureau’s Director of Communications clearing up some issues about supporting the Department of Homeland Security in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Mr. Jack Harrison explained the current status of the Guard resources involved with the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These agencies are attempting to slow the flow of illegal immigrants on the southwestern border and the 1,200 (total) National Guard “augmentees” will assist both federal agencies in this mission. They will not be conducting direct law enforcement activities according to Mr. Harrison.

The specific mission is to provide criminal analysis and identification teams for ICE and CBP. The Guard will remain in state status (not federalized) and will support their home state governors in that capacity. There will be no cross state guard units and each soldier or airman is receiving training as they incrementally build up the force that has been approved for service up to one year in length. So far 370 of the 1200 are in place and the training continues for follow on forces.

I asked him why this issue had become somewhat controversial and Mr. Harrison explained that he thought the press release on July 19th was not understood by the media or misinterpreted when it said the mission would begin August 1st. Some in the media thought that all the 1,200 folks would arrive on August 1st and did not understand the training involved (which is the reason for the incremental response). He vigorously explained that the Guard has not missed any deadlines during this mission. With the national and political focus on the illegal immigration and security issues in the Southwest and specifically the Arizona law controversy the Guard had become a hot topic for many who perceived that they were delaying the mission.

Currently, the National Guard, airmen and soldiers, are deployed around the globe in Iraq, Bosnia, the Sinai Desert, the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan and numerous other locations with about 55,000 folks. They also have 6,700 involved in domestic missions including the efforts in the Southwest border area. Quite an effort for our citizen soldiers and airmen! Thank you Mr. Harrison for taking the time to talk to the Roundtable this morning!

To listen to an audio or read a transcript of this interesting and front line news story please go to DoDLive! For more interesting information on the Guard and other military services around the globe please go to the MilitaryAvenue Reading Room!

Photo Credit: Jack Harrison, National Guard Bureau director of communications. Photo courtesy of National Guard Bureau. DoDLive

National Guard Families - DoD Roundtable (and Social Media Resources)

The DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable met with Mr. Alex Baird, Chief of Family Programs, at the National Guard Bureau to discuss military family issues. In particular, what we can do to help military families during multiple deployments. Mr. Baird was attending the National Volunteer Workshop in New Orleans where the National Guard was providing training and hearing from their military community volunteers.

The deployment impact on the children of military members has been studied by the RAND corporation. There is a great effect on military kids and the results of the study showed that kids that we engaged were better off! The National Guard is seeking to help keep families and kids engaged in the process and working with tools such as social media and volunteers to reach out!

One of the challenges Guard and Reserve families face is that their children do not have a support structure like the active duty on or near a post, base, station, etc. One of the biggest challenges is at school where the staff and teachers do not realize the child is facing a year without a parent and the resulting implications for emotions, study habits, workload, changes in behavior, etc. The National Guard as reached out to the Department of Education with information and a video to share with teachers during their training about military deployments. In addition, the Adjutant Generals at the state level are reaching the state superintendents of schools to highlight their concerns and involvement.

I asked about a recent concern that Our Military Kids, a non profit agency had their funding reduced from the National Guard for grants to families with deployed members. Since a member of MilitaryAvenue.com had used these grants for her family we were concerned that a helpful program was being discarded. Mr. Baird agreed that it was a great program and that Our Military Kids in fact were at the conference and National Guard funding was not a problem. The issue he saw was reduction in gift giving from individuals during these difficult economic times.

Mr. Baird saw the successes and best practices being shared among the military services and components as the best success story of their efforts. He said commanders were being trained, volunteers were involved and communications including social media were being better utilized to help the military families! A very interesting Roundtable. If you would like to read more on MilitaryAvenue about deployed military families please go to these Our Letters to You blogs:

Deployment Troubles of a 5 Year Old

Wordless Wednesday Deployment Family

Also two great articles today from Admiral Mullen concerning family issues:

Mullen Addresses Military Family Challenges

Mullen Family Support Vital to War Effort

If you would like to see more about Our Military Kids please go to:
http://www.ourmilitarykids.org/ or http://www.facebook.com/OurMilitaryKids

Finally the National Guard is involved with Social Media. For contact with them go to their website http://www.ng.mil/

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/TheNationalGuard

Twitter http://twitter.com/TheNatlGuard On twitter use the hashmark #GuardFamily or #NationalGuard to search for information.

Thank you Mr Baird for your time with the Roundtable this afternoon! If you would like to listen to an audio or read a transcript please go to DoDLive!

Photo Credit: Mr. Alex Baird is the Chief of Family Programs, National Guard Bureau DoDLive

Corruption in Afghanistan - DoD Roundtable

The DoD Bloggers’ Roundtable met again to discuss corruption in Afghanistan and to hear from U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Steven Andersen, Staff Judge Advocate, Anti-Corruption Office, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan. Captain Andersen who has been in Afghanistan for 2 and a half months stated that he was there as a legal officer since Afghanistan does not have a coast or coast guard. We had a great discussion and the captain came filled with information for us and a great story of integrity which I will share at the end of the blog!

In a previous Roundtable blog we discussed the anti corruption measures and how using Electronic Transfer of Funds for payroll had prevented the skimming of payroll within Afghan security forces. The Afghan National Police are now at 80% for direct deposit. With their scattered offices throughout Afghanistan they face bigger challenges than the Army. He explained that the culture is changing for the police with a new Minister of the Interior. A positive leader with great leadership he has been doing unannounced visits to local police stations to encourage his officers. The Ministry of the Interior (MOI) has an anti corruption plan with concrete, actionable items with whistle blower protection as well. A soon to be published Code of Conduct and with core values will provide further support to the anti corruption programs of MOI! These programs will not end police corruption over night nor completely erase it but they will make a difference. According to Captain Andersen a recent survey by Integrity Watch Afghanistan said that Afghans tolerate corruption but do not accept it. They do not find a lie or stealing acceptable among government officials or in their culture.

I asked if the wikileaks release of classified information has had any impact on cooperation with Afghan officials and he said he had not observed any yet! Note that he said yet! He said the Afghans had some “very courageous, inspiring” folks serving their country.

To support the continued development of the anti corruption efforts in Afghanistan, NATO’s Building Integrity program which has been used worldwide including locations such as Kiev, Ukraine has visited Afghanistan 4 times in the last two years and will continue after 2011 when forces begin to drawdown as currently planned. General Petraeus is absolutely focused on anti corruption efforts and there are plenty of challenges but Captain Andersen ended with a great story of integrity.

An Afghan colonel who was a legal officer was approached by a two star Afghan General commander and told to get the dining hall food up to standard. The colonel told the general that he could not do that as the general was part of the problem. It seems that the general and staff and the vice commander were taking 50% of the dining hall meat for their own consumption and were not eating in the dining hall! The colonel challenged him and the general responded by stopping the practice of diverting the meat and he began eating in the dining hall with his folks! I can imagine that the dining hall food significantly improved.

If you would like to read more on Afghanistan please go to MilitaryAvenue’s Our Letters to You/Afghanistan. To read a transcript or listen to an audio of this continuing story please go to DoDLive. Thank you Captain Andersen and Lt Cragg (the moderator) for this exchange of information!

Photo Credits U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Steven J. Andersen, Staff Judge Advocate, Anti-Corruption Office, NTM-A/CSTC-A DoDLive

Tasty Tuesday: Basil, Basil Everywhere!

Now that the rows of plants are up, thick and fighting for room, I am thinning them. Basil is such a hardy plant and will grow well neatly stretching next to branching plants left and right. But since I want to use some now, it is a good idea to pull some plants, use them and in the mean time credit my farmer's sense with thinning the crops! (Born and bred right by the George Washington Bridge did not lead to gardening! But a Hoosier hubs taught me this love!)
A large dehydrator has 5 shelves. One plant per shelf fills the dehydrator which takes 24 to 36 hours to dry to flakiness.
Therefore every two or three days I have been pulling plants. And the room smells wonderful where the dehydrator sits on a tray. Patience brings in some great spices that will last all year long. Although last year I ran out in March. So you can believe more will be put away this year!
Make certain that your leaves are clean. You do not want to store dirt or bugs for the winter, life seems to have enough fresh grit like that around. Rinse and rinse under cool water. Let the leaves sit on a towel for an hour before placing on the shelves. This allows some of the residual water to evaporate or dry off.

These five trays dried down to about 1 cup of dried basil! Amazing. Plans for the year are happening as you do this job. Fun to prepare for the family this way!


Distractions are a good thing.

Distractions kept me sane during hub's deployment in Iraq. My boys had swim lessons, soccer camp; we had time with family and friends during deployment. All things that kept my mind from focusing on the one person I was missing the most, my soldier! We were busy, we were distracted, life was only as good as we made it.

Distracting ourselves at the local park's Butterfly Habitat
Distractions are keeping me sane during these last few days of pregnancy. I had contractions ALL weekend but they weren't getting any stronger or any closer. If I sat down all I noticed was the contractions. All I could think about was, "Is this it?!" I'd get myself in a tither just thinking about it. So a Saturday with family on the lake / beach, a Sunday evening with friends, and a Monday morning with my boys at our local metro-park were just what I needed!  Yes, I was busy.  But in this case it was a very good thing! (And very fun thing!)

What healthy things do you do to distract yourself? Exercise, Friendships, Hobbies? All great ideas to keep your mind from focusing on that one thing that isn't going to come any faster by continuously thinking about it!

As the new school year comes knocking on our door ... recognize your own children's anxieties. How can you distract them? A trip to the zoo; a knock on the neighbor's door to meet new friends?; perhaps, a family movie night at home or the theatre? It's not good to wax-coat real problems. But distractions can most certainly help us get past initial anxieties, and keep our minds focused on the positives in life!

- Leanne from MilitaryAvenue.com

August First

It is August today. The first of the month!
We are smack dab in the middle of summer. The heat attests to this, the air conditioner's hum certainly reminds us of this fact.
I am still harvesting lettuce, fragile herbs and broccoli. Plants that popped up early in spring. Can someone explain how this wafted down in front of me as I walked to the garden this morning?
Beautiful shades... but I am not ready for this season! I think my favorite season is the one in which I am thoroughly immersed.
I'm going for another swim. Leaves... cool it! Your colorful time will be here soon enough!
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