Monday, November 23, 2009

Soldier Mama's Reflections on Son's Second Tour in Iraq

Welp, there he is. Here I am, and there, in Iraq, he is.

There are some of readers new to this blog. That makes you not-quite-with-me on the my-kid-is-in-a-war-zone front. And there are those of you that have been with me since....

If you've been here since then, you may have noticed a difference in my demeanor, on this, his second tour. I was a mess on his first deployment. A freakin mess! I'd burst into tears in the grocery store, and physically shake at certain news stories. I had to constantly buck up, get a grip.

This second tour has been kind of surreal, as there have been such huge distractions from Brian's deploying. He had to leave just 36 hours after Teri died, to report back to base. I was off my rocker with grief, cried out, and too numb to think about the fact that I wouldn't see him for more than a year. I hugged the stuffing out of him and sent him & Courtney on their way--without a tear.

And I haven't been the nauseous, nervous wreck that I was last time, thus far.

Part of that is that has more access to us this time around. While he spent his last tour in a tent, this time he has a "room" (or a 2-man pod, as he puts it) and his own internet access. I kept in close contact with him during his flight out of the country, and during his holdover time in Kuwait, and was in contact with him the day he pushed North into Iraq. I'm more in the know.

In addition, the mood is calmer there than it was last time. His unit averaged 37 "enemy encounters" every day (I know I'm using the wrong terminology there, but hey, I'm just the mom), and the unit they're replacing dealt with only 4 for their entire tour.

Still, although I am admittedly calmer, I still find myself dealing with a few of the aspects that I did last time he deployed. Odd superstitions sneak back into play. (Remember the penny? ) The last time he deployed, a wacky neighbor waltzed over and gave me a Jesus candle—the kind in the Mexican section in the ethnic grocery aisle. At the time I giggled at the gesture. Sweet, but silly. Uh, huh. I burned that candle every time I thought of Brian, and it comforted me to have it there.


So, I went out and bought myself a new Jesus candle for this tour.

I had to have it.
Had. To.

I blogged, then, about coming to grips with my own irrational fears, and with fear in general. This issue creeps back now, in an odd manner: Since he left, I've been paranoid that I will get into a terrible car wreck, one that will just break my body. I think that the idea of something happening to Brian is just more than I can wrap my head around, but the underlying fear has to manifest it somehow, and in an imaginary manner that would still cause me pain. How's that for self psycho-analysis?

What it really boils down to is just that it's been a hard year. Watching Teri get worse and worse, and then finally pass away. Taking care of my mother in every aspect of her life, cleaning her house and getting her meals and losing time at work to get her to all appropriate appointments, and then throwing her grief into the mix, along with the rest of ours. Since Teri died I've attended wakes and funerals for 4 more people, including my Grandmother, a cousin, and a close friend of ours.

Though we really are doing ok here, I think I'm all out of nerves. I'm out of outward worry, out of outward fear.

All I have left, then, is this:

Nothing can happen to Brian.

That's my update on him, and here are some of his latest pix, showing him doing just fine, thank you very much:

Oh, there was an incident on the first or second mission in which they took a wrong turn. He said that was a little nervewracking...but luckily, they had this to get them back on track:

I'll bet they should go left.

Nice ride.

Brian and another one of my soldier babies, Jon Standish.
Jon has the most recognizable laugh on the face of the earth.

Rodger, Dodger, Over & Out.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Christmas Gifts to Soldiers: December 6

Christmas Gifts to Soldiers


Sunday, December 6, 2009

(corner of Springfield
and Mattis, Champaign)

Thanksgiving boxes are arriving to their final destinations—I just received a note from a Major saying "thank you for taking care of my marines!" We immediately turn our attention, to Christmas gifts for our guys & gals in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last year's event at Village Inn was so successful that we're working with the fine folks there this year also. There's plenty of space for our project, and plenty of good food to wind down to when all of the work is done.

We mean to send everyone on our list a box of great holiday goodies! CDs, DVDs, t-shirts, socks, games, letters, and gourmet foodies.

YOU can help by:
  • Purchasing a gift for a soldier, and bringing it to the event or dropping it off before hand. If you need pickup service, we can arrange that also.
  • Baking some cookies or other treats
  • Showing up on the 6th with Christmas wrap, scotch tape, scissors, and a smile
  • Clicking on the button on the right, and sponsor the cost of shipping 1 box
I have downloadable, printable flyers if you are interested in learning more, or sharing this information with your coworkers, church, scouts, VFW, or any other organization.

As always, if you're not from Central Illinois, you can still participate in the merrymaking: If you'd like to send a box of gifts to a soldier, we'll give you a name, address, some gift ideas, and shipping advice. Many have already started their boxes.

For more information, contact me:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Veteran's Day Wrap Up

Wednesday morning found me, once again, at Lincoln Trail Elementary School.

It is becoming one of the most exciting days of my year. I worry this post may become rote, but these kids blow me away every year. They started working on this months ago, and it shows!

Diane came with me this year, and we got to be big shots and sit next to the Color Guard.

This year, the students honored, among all others, WWII Veterans.

I love this photo.

I wish I could tell it all. There was singing. And dancing.

I spoke in front of all of those people, plus millions you don't see. I never get better at this. The students talk like they've been in show business for 100 years, and I still have to hold the microphone with 2 hands to keep from dropping it.

The students collected and packed so many boxes for the troops that they ran out of wagons:

They packed Di's car until it looked like this, and our lives were threatened if she hit the brakes too hard on the way home:

One for the record books: Me and the student council (or is it"The student council and I"? I am definitely not smarter than a 5th grader, Mr. Foxworthy.)

I normally have the Post-care-package details done ahead of time, but the USPS delivered newfangled customs forms with newfangled instructions and I had to clear up a few issues at the last minute. Read: Wednesday Night: no customs forms.

I put out a Facebook call: Bring pen to the Esquire, and I'm buying. (For all of you sticklers, I respectfully note that beer and pizza was on my dime. Your tax-deductible donations go strictly to postage.)

We knocked out customs forms in 2 hours.

The next business du jour was to take all of those boxes to the post office. We're a polite organization, so we marched in ahead of time and said, "Post Office, we are coming in here on Thursday!"

Sidenote: You know I've taken to bringing brownies to appease the poor stamp-buying natives that get stuck behind us? Well, guess what? We used the self-cleaning feature on our new oven and 100-million degrees of heat shorted out some bamboozled wires in the doodly-housing. I had to commission brownies from Diana. You remember Diana:

Thanks for supporting the troops, girlfriend.
Raise your glasses to Diana!

The Post Office folks were prepared, and armed themselves against us with extra employees! Normally 2 against 1, with ample time to fill out last-minute customs forms, we found ourselves 3-to-2,

Unfortunately, the first cart-load of boxes was so heavy that we couldn't lift it over the divider thingy in the door, and our alphabetized customs forms went flying all over the foyer (Sorry, Chris, the Alphabetizer). We shuffled through gads of forms Atkins through Zoffman, in the interim leaving a post-office employees twiddling their thumbs a few times.

The beautiful thing?

It was, in the midst of this, festive.

One woman asked if we were really sending all of this stuff to the troops. When I replied, she hugged me. Solidly.

Another gentleman stepped up and asked if he could, himself, send 2 boxes.

And, when all was said and done....

Our clerk, Dawn, who has two (2!)(II!) (DOS!) sons in active duty, pulled out her own purse and handed me $20. The gentleman just behind her (oy, I did not get his name!) paid for a box of beanies to be shipped AIRMAIL (That's $27 vs. $14) to a soldier. How often do you see this: I just HAD to get a picture of the post office paying ME:

Really. She's not taking money, she's giving it.

And people, if this Veteran's Day honor should ever come to my kid when he is about the same age as the gentlemen honored on Wednesday,

(Jolley & Standish, 2nd tour Operation Iraqi Freedom)

It will be in the year 2067.

Gnightgirl will be 104 years old.

Bookmark me.

With my hand on my heart, I promise: If I'm capable, I'll be there for this one too.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Veteran's Day Eve

Toys for Troops is gearing up for Veteran's Day! I spent most of Sunday finalizing letters, forms, and various documents for the kids at Lincoln Trail Schools,

and gathering up military flat rate boxes and customs forms:

I met the kids yesterday to hand over their final supplies, and get a sneak peek at all of the items they've collected. OVER 2000 items donated to the soldiers on our list, for their Thanksgiving care packages. And letters from each child, to boot!

A few of the Student Council members got to join together for a photo op, and should be in the News Gazette today or tomorrow. Watch for them.

Tomorrow's the big day, their Veteran's Day Assembly. They are honoring WWII Veterans, and I must remember to take a handkerchief. There will be slide shows and singing, and readings, and I get choked up every year.

They will present me with all of their hard work, and we will finalize the boxes. Customs forms have to be finished out, and I've already forewarned the Champaign Post Office that we'll be coming in with a LOT of boxes.

Of course, I have commissioned some brownies for the folks that get stuck in line behind us there.

Ahhh...and then we will be done.

For one day.

The Christmas event will be December 6 at Village Inn, and we have to start hussling to get this ready!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Remembering a Beautiful Woman, A Grand Lady

My Grandmother, whom you've read about and seen pictured here numerous times, passed away last Sunday afternoon. You may remember that she turned 90 in March.

My God, she was fun and funny.

I'm so glad that Brian got to see her at Christmas, last year; though he couldn't see her much over the last couple of years, he adored her.

And my heart melts at some of my memories. She was always, always, her children's mother:

And Our Grandmother.

Memories flood me.
  • As kids, we'd spend a week at a time in her country home. Fresh air, gardening, canning, and digging potatoes ensued.
  • No TV!
  • My sister and I would spend hours—hours!—in her apple tree. It was a great old tree that you could just lie back in, like a cheetah.
  • We once spent a couple of hours in that tree with our eyes closed and ears plugged as Grandma & uncles killed what seemed like 100 chickens. They really do run around after you cut off their heads! We had no idea. We were mortified! Traumatized! Simply appalled!
  • 1000s of hands of Gin Rummy and Crazy 8s.
  • Rum Cake—my recipe is hers, and a winner every time.
  • The smell of coffee brewing long before the sun came up.
  • Her laugh—she'd take off laughing and I'd stop and listen to it, when I was 12 years old, and when I was 45. I wanted to memorize it— she laughed with her heart and her gut.
  • Her no B.S. stance, no matter what the situation. Grandma didn't pull punches. I still laugh at her running over my uncle's foot with her wheelchair about a year ago, and saying "well, if a person doesn't have sense enough to get out of the way, it's his own fault."
I remember her almost when she was at the age I am now. I remember her strong and young, and bold and energetic.

And I remember her also, softer, aged, sentimental and lovely.

I love all that she was, and I feel fortunate to have had this lady in my life for so many years. She will remain in my heart forever.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Holidays are Coming: Toys for Troops Kicks Into Gear

Thanksgiving Care Packages to Troops

It's November already! Thanksgiving is only 23 days away, and between now and then, we will be shipping care packages to every soldier on our list, which is larger now than it's ever been.

As in years' past, the students at Lincoln Trails Elementary School in Mahomet are grabbing the reigns for the Thanksgiving boxes: They've been gathering care package items for weeks now, as part of their upcoming Veteran's Day Project. This year, they're going one further: We're going to teach them to pack those flat-rate boxes and fill out customs forms on their own.

Toys for Troops will still be responsible for the cost of shipping all of these Thanksgiving boxes next Wednesday, a cost that will total between $900-$1000.

As always, you're welcome to participate!

The cost of shipping 1 box is $11.95.

If you'd like to sponsor the cost of shipping a box to a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan,
  • Click on the PayPal donation button on the right, or at
  • Send a check for $11.95 to Toys for Troops, 1123 Lancaster, Champaign, IL 61821
(Remember, you donation is tax-deductible!)

If you, your family, your office, or your classroom would like to send your own personal box of goodies to a soldier, email me at I have names and addresses, and lots of ideas for you.

You may or may not know that my own son has just pushed North from Kuwait into Iraq. His tour is just beginning, and he will be there for another 12 months. Although I would never forget how much your packages and cards mean to him, having him there once again really brings it home. This project remains near and dear to my heart, and to all of those that are on the receiving end of your contributions and well-wishes.

Stay tuned! We will launch our Holiday/Christmas projects next week!