Saturday, July 26, 2008


I tracked down my mail, finally! Usually when I go out of town, one of my neighbors will water my plants or gather my mail. Since I go out of town so often and since so many people here at the base volunteered to help, I've rotated through about 3 or 4 families.

This last time when I left, I hadn't planned on being gone for more than a week. Since I am on a no-junk mail list and most of my bills are in email, I figured it would be a month before my mailbox was full and didn't ask anyone to help out. But someone kindly gathered it this time and watered my lawn. I asked everyone on this street but no one knew who did it. I was finally able to figure it out and voila! I had mail. It was a very gracious woman a few streets over, the same one who has a son that Amelia plays with sometimes.

Amelia received a gorgeous handmade quilt from her Granny J. It's a flower garden and as soon as I get a picture of it, I will add it to this post. She promptly rolled around on it, laid her baby doll on it and patted the spot next to her for me to lay down and take a nap with her on it. I was pretty impressed that she was pointing out clouds and the sun in the images on the quilt, which are kind of abstract, but you can still tell what they are. Right now she is sleeping with 3 handmade quilts on her bed. She loves it. She's part mouse, I think. She really likes to nest. I was going to pull one of them off, her big baby gift quilt (also from Granny J), and she wanted me to hang it over the side of the railing. It's funny how you can communicate with a child who has limited vocabulary. When you finally figure out what they want, they laugh and sigh in relief and you feel like a million dollars.

Good Attitude

Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you.
I Chronicles 28:20 NIV

Reporting in from Iraq

I heard from Rafe today. He said he shaved his head bald; has been doing Olympic weightlifting to strengthen his neck muscles (apparently for a better advantage in a fistfight), sit ups while being punched in the stomach (same reason). All in all, he sounds pretty upbeat. It's hard to believe this is the same guy who loves to sleep till noon; read about technology, science and engineering; debate spiritual matters and who dances around the kitchen with funny hats on his head and waggles his booty at me when I'm trying to make dinner and be serious. He also sent me an email.

It has been so hot here and there is hardly any privacy. It is amazing how cool 80 degrees indoors feels after being outside in 117 degree weather. 75 degrees is actually rather chilly.

Analysis: US now winning Iraq war that seemed lost By ROBERT BURNS and ROBERT H. REID, APposted: 1 HOUR 24 MINUTES AGOcomments: 12PrintShareText SizeAAABAGHDAD -The United States is now winning the war that two years ago seemed lost. Limited, sometimes sharp fighting and periodic terrorist bombings in Iraq are likely to continue, possibly for years. But the Iraqi government and the U.S. now are able to shift focus from mainly combat to mainly building the fragile beginnings of peace _ a transition that many found almost unthinkable as recently as one year ago.
Despite the occasional bursts of violence, Iraq has reached the point where the insurgents, who once controlled whole cities, no longer have the clout to threaten the viability of the central government.
That does not mean the war has ended or that U.S. troops have no role in Iraq. It means the combat phase finally is ending, years past the time when President Bush optimistically declared it had. The new phase focuses on training the Iraqi army and police, restraining the flow of illicit weaponry from Iran, supporting closer links between Baghdad and local governments, pushing the integration of former insurgents into legitimate government jobs and assisting in rebuilding the economy.
Scattered battles go on, especially against al-Qaida holdouts north of Baghdad. But organized resistance, with the steady drumbeat of bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and ambushes that once rocked the capital daily, has all but ceased.
This amounts to more than a lull in the violence. It reflects a fundamental shift in the outlook for the Sunni minority, which held power under Saddam Hussein. They launched the insurgency five years ago. They now are either sidelined or have switched sides to cooperate with the Americans in return for money and political support.
Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told The Associated Press this past week there are early indications that senior leaders of al-Qaida may be considering shifting their main focus from Iraq to the war in Afghanistan.
Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told the AP on Thursday that the insurgency as a whole has withered to the point where it is no longer a threat to Iraq's future.
"Very clearly, the insurgency is in no position to overthrow the government or, really, even to challenge it," Crocker said. "It's actually almost in no position to try to confront it. By and large, what's left of the insurgency is just trying to hang on."
Shiite militias, notably the Mahdi Army of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, have lost their power bases in Baghdad, Basra and other major cities. An important step was the routing of Shiite extremists in the Sadr City slums of eastern Baghdad this spring _ now a quiet though not fully secure district.
Al-Sadr and top lieutenants are now in Iran. Still talking of a comeback, they are facing major obstacles, including a loss of support among a Shiite population weary of war and no longer as terrified of Sunni extremists as they were two years ago.
Despite the favorable signs, U.S. commanders are leery of proclaiming victory or promising that the calm will last.
The premature declaration by the Bush administration of "Mission Accomplished" in May 2003 convinced commanders that the best public relations strategy is to promise little, and couple all good news with the warning that "security is fragile" and that the improvements, while encouraging, are "not irreversible."
Iraq still faces a mountain of problems: sectarian rivalries, power struggles within the Sunni and Shiite communities, Kurdish-Arab tensions, corruption. Any one of those could rekindle widespread fighting.
But the underlying dynamics in Iraqi society that blew up the U.S. military's hopes for an early exit, shortly after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, have changed in important ways in recent months.
Systematic sectarian killings have all but ended in the capital, in large part because of tight security and a strategy of walling off neighborhoods purged of minorities in 2006.
That has helped establish a sense of normalcy in the streets of the capital. People are expressing a new confidence in their own security forces, which in turn are exhibiting a newfound assertiveness with the insurgency largely in retreat.
Statistics show violence at a four-year low. The monthly American death toll appears to be at its lowest of the war _ four killed in action so far this month as of Friday, compared with 66 in July a year ago. From a daily average of 160 insurgent attacks in July 2007, the average has plummeted to about two dozen a day this month. On Wednesday the nationwide total was 13.
Beyond that, there is something in the air in Iraq this summer.
In Baghdad, parks are filled every weekend with families playing and picnicking with their children. That was unthinkable only a year ago, when the first, barely visible signs of a turnaround emerged.
Now a moment has arrived for the Iraqis to try to take those positive threads and weave them into a lasting stability.
The questions facing both Americans and Iraqis are: What kinds of help will the country need from the U.S. military, and for how long? The questions will take on greater importance as the U.S. presidential election nears, with one candidate pledging a troop withdrawal and the other insisting on staying.
Iraqi authorities have grown dependent on the U.S. military after more than five years of war. While they are aiming for full sovereignty with no foreign troops on their soil, they do not want to rush. In a similar sense, the Americans fear that after losing more than 4,100 troops, the sacrifice could be squandered.
U.S. commanders say a substantial American military presence will be needed beyond 2009. But judging from the security gains that have been sustained over the first half of this year _ as the Pentagon withdrew five Army brigades sent as reinforcements in 2007 _ the remaining troops could be used as peacekeepers more than combatants.
As a measure of the transitioning U.S. role, Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond says that when he took command of American forces in the Baghdad area about seven months ago he was spending 80 percent of his time working on combat-related matters and about 20 percent on what the military calls "nonkinetic" issues, such as supporting the development of Iraqi government institutions and humanitarian aid.
Now Hammond estimates those percentage have been almost reversed. For several hours one recent day, for example, Hammond consulted on water projects with a Sunni sheik in the Radwaniyah area of southwest Baghdad, then spent time with an Iraqi physician/entrepreneur in the Dora district of southern Baghdad _ an area, now calm, that in early 2007 was one of the capital's most violent zones.
"We're getting close to something that looks like an end to mass violence in Iraq," says Stephen Biddle, an analyst at the Council of Foreign Relations who has advised Petraeus on war strategy. Biddle is not ready to say it's over, but he sees the U.S. mission shifting from fighting the insurgents to keeping the peace.
Although Sunni and Shiite extremists are still around, they have surrendered the initiative and have lost the support of many ordinary Iraqis. That can be traced to an altered U.S. approach to countering the insurgency _ a Petraeus-driven move to take more U.S. troops off their big bases and put them in Baghdad neighborhoods where they mixed with ordinary Iraqis and built a new level of trust.
Army Col. Tom James, a brigade commander who is on his third combat tour in Iraq, explains the new calm this way:
"We've put out the forest fire. Now we're dealing with pop-up fires."
It's not the end of fighting. It looks like the beginning of a perilous peace.
Maj. Gen. Ali Hadi Hussein al-Yaseri, the chief of patrol police in the capital, sees the changes.
"Even eight months ago, Baghdad was not today's Baghdad," he says.
EDITOR'S NOTE _ Robert Burns is AP's chief military reporter, and Robert Reid is AP's chief of bureau in Baghdad. Reid has covered the war from his post in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in March 2003. Burns, based in Washington, has made 21 reporting trips to Iraq; on his latest during July, Burns spent nearly three weeks in central and northern Iraq, observing military operations and interviewing both U.S. and Iraqi

Friday, July 25, 2008

Obama cancels trip because he can't make it a media event

by Mark Impomeni
Jul 25th 2008 11:00AM

Filed Under:eBarack Obama, 2008 President, Gaffes, Media

One casualty of Sen. Barack Obama's busy schedule on his foreign trip was a planned visit to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a U.S. military hospital located at the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany. The cancellation left Obama with a gap in his official schedule this morning in Berlin before he boarded a plane to fly to Paris for a five-hour stop over en route to London. Obama was to visit with troops receiving treatment for wounds inflicted in Iraq and Afghanistan at Landstuhl. Now, the cancellation, and the Obama campaign's shifting explanations for it, are raising questions.

Obama adviser Robert Gibbs initially said that the visit was canceled because the campaign thought, "it would be inappropriate to make a stop to visit troops at a U.S. military facility as part of a trip funded by the campaign." That remark drew sharp criticism from Sen. John McCain, who said, "Barack Obama is wrong. It is never inappropriate to visit our men and women in the military." The McCain campaign also pointed out the Sen. McCain paid a visit to wounded troops on his last trip to Iraq. In response to increased questioning on the cancellation from the press, and perhaps to Sen. McCain's criticism, the Obama campaign later said that it was the military that requested that Obama not make the trip to the base. "We learned from the Pentagon last night that the visit would be viewed instead as a campaign event," a campaign adviser said.

But the military is disputing that explanation. A spokesman for the base told NBC News that the base was prepared to host Sen. Obama, as long as some conditions were met.

"[H]e could only bring two or three of his Senate staff member, no campaign officials or workers. Obama could not bring any media. Only military photographers would be permitted to record Obama's visit.

We didn't know why [the trip was canceled]. He was more than welcome. We were all ready for him."

Obama's campaign has steadfastly refuted the characterization of his trip as political. But the campaign's original explanation for removing the military hospital stop was based on the perception that the visit would be viewed as political. This is a pretty serious mistake by the campaign. The controversy will have no impact on the leaders and crowds Obama will encounter on the remainder of his trip. But it will resonate in the United States, and especially among those whom the trip was intended to convince that Sen. Obama had the experience to be the leader of the free world. Furthermore, the shifting explanations for the cancellation will cause the press to be more skeptical of the campaign's statements. That is something no candidate can afford, much less one who has enjoyed a largely uncritical relationship with the mainstream press.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How can you help?

Soon I will be sending out Rafe's mailing address and his email address to those who want it. Rafe has asked that in general, he receive email because they will be moving so much that they might have to get rid of the mail they receive for practical purposes.

That doesn't mean you can't still send a letter of encouragement or with enclosures if you want to. It just means to be prepared that those items might be considered temporary and left behind or destroyed for security reasons. His email account does not delete his emails no matter how much time has passed, so he can check them as he has time, although he may not always have time to write back. He's said that the connection is like dial up.

I personally am still going to send him occasional mail; I think it's nice to receive something in the mail. I am going to send it with two things in mind - either it's something consumable (cookies, baby wipes, etc) or something I don't mind he throws away. It makes me crazy to think that he actually is so darn practical he won't miss getting real mail. I think he will miss it. But I'm not him, so I could be wrong.

I like sending letters of encouragement and good news. I generally don't complain about anything he can't really fix from Iraq, which would be ALL OF IT. It does no good to give him something to worry about without any way to resolve it. I always thought it was crazy when I heard about spouses who emailed their Marines with tales of woe and grief about how bad it was for them and how stressed out and worried they were.... and expected the Marine to somehow feel good about that and/or fix it in some way. Extreme lack of judgement in my opinion.

Little Q

Rafe has taken to calling our new baby "Little Q" for "little question mark" because we don't yet know the sex of our baby. When we were waiting to figure out who Amelia would be, he called her "Little Ears". Apparently I dropped something very heavy on my foot one day and quickly uttered a pleasantry, to which Rafe replied, "Be careful!! You have little ears listening to you!"

We move out really soon. I have some of the biggest responsibilities on the team. What I do or fail to do could have permanent consequenses. I know we will do well though.

It is sooooo hot and sandy here. I went running in the 110 degree heat yesterday and thought I was going to die after running for over 20 minutes. People may think it is crazy to run in these temperatures, but I would rather get used to it now and have the extra umphhh when my life depends on it. Be uncomfortable now or possibly be dead later.....hmmmmmm....decisions, decisions. In this life, the choices we make now have an effect on how things turn out later; this concept is loud and in your face out here. You cannot avoid it.

Please tell everyone I love them; but I especially love you, Amelia and little question mark. I will try to send some pictures soon.


Taking care of business

Being deployed is an odd mixture of extreme and practical reality. I thought this was a good example in an email from Rafe... talking about his mission in one breath and financial housekeeping details in the next. Normally, Rafe has a seperate account for his own stuff, but he usually doesn't need it when he deploys and we use that money to pay bills. The guys often live in two worlds at once, which is why it's so important that the family they leave behind is trustworthy and proactive in taking care of business.

I should have email access for the next couple of weeks although I will be moving to two new locations in the mean time, but then we are moving somewhere I never thought we would go.

Please do not take all the money out of my account yet. I might need it to get a SPAWAR phone card. I can use that card to use their phones when other phones are broken (like the AT&T phones are right now).

"I love you all the way from Iraq"

What a sight for sore eyes to see that email title greet me!! We had agreed before he left that occasional excerpts from his emails (minus the family stuff) could be posted on the blog because he would have such limited time to email or call anyone; and if I called everyone I'd be on the phone forever, and we all know how much I am not a fan of phones. Even though I actually talk too much when I get on them, go figure.

So, in his own words, straight from Iraq...
"I cannot tell you where I am going, but what I can say is that it seems to be really dangerous. Keep your fingers crossed. It was sooooo hot in Kuwait. It was so hot that I could feel the tips of my fingers burning. I have never been that hot in my life. It was the same feeling as when you open the oven to pull out a baked entree and you feel the heat on yor fingertips. To add to the hot temperature, the wind blew sand like crazy. It was like being baked alive in an oven and sand blasted at the same time. I do not know why anyone would ever want to live here voluntarily.

I started working out with Capt X today. He was teaching me Olympic lifting. Talk about uncomfortable. I could totally see doing Yoga as a way to get into some of those positions more easily.

I am living in a tent. It gets really hot in there during the day even with the A/C on. I try to imagine that it is freezing cold outside and that we turned up the heaters to stay warm

Basil Pesto that's the Besto!!

Yeah, I know, I should never be a poet. :)

I love this recipe! And my original source is, so I am just going to put the link on here. I promise you will love that website if you love food - the recipes are consistently delicious.

The only thing I did differently was just put everything into the food processor at once to puree. I like the earthiness of not having it processed so fine.

The Best EVER Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

1.5 cup fresh basil leaves (2.25oz)
.5 cup sun-dried tomatoes (3 oz)
1 cup pine nuts
2 large or 4 small garlic cloves
1/8 tsp pepper, ground
1 cup olive oil
1 cup parmesan cheese

1) Reconstitute the tomatoes by pouring boiling water barely over the top of them. Leave them there until they are soft and pliable.

2) Toss everything in the food processor and whirl away until you reach the desired consistency.

Truthfully, the original directions were more complicated than that, but this method gives you the same results with less headache. :) This was so good it was making us swoon! You could eat this spread on bread, with goat cheese, as part of a pasta dish... yummy. We (I) ate it in big spoonfuls until Connie took it away from me and froze it. hahaha :)


After Rafe left, we stayed at my friend Barb's for a week. We've known each other since our husbands were both in flight school in Pensacola. That's the neat thing about the military - even though you move a lot, often your friends move with you. She was at the same apartment complex in San Diego that we were and Rafe and I were at her first child's birth. Now she has 3 kids!! It really helped to have a house full of kids and lots of things to do in order to ease the transition between Rafe being with us 24/7 and him being gone.

Barb is an excellent housewife and mother! She is so darn organized. You'd think with 4 kids, aged 3 and under, and 2 adults it would be chaos. But things ran so smoothly. Her kids are really well behaved and very capable of following direction. I really picked up some wonderful tips while staying there. I always love hanging out with my friends, I always learn something new from them.

We spent a lot of time trying new recipes from a book called "Petit Appetit", recipes for babies, toddlers and young kids. They were mostly delicious, but they all needed tweaking of some sort - either an easier method to get the same result or jazzing up some flavors. Still, I really love the book because it was a great stepping stone to trying new things. Her kids loved almost everything but the shrimp dish because it was too bland. And her youngest one, 9 months old, started eating solid food while I was there and ate more than Amelia!! It was awesome.

Here are some of the dishes we tried:
Ricotta Dill Dip (with fresh lemon and mint)
Roasted Pork Loin with Blackberry Glaze
Lemon Dutch Baby Pancakes
White Cheddar Mac n Cheese with Broccoli
Shrimp Fusilli with fresh spinach
Peach Smoothies
Banana Chocolate Cookies

I hope I haven't left anything out. I also went to Connie's and we made Sun-dried Tomato Pesto and Basil Pesto with all her fresh basil growing in her garden. Those recipes turned out so absolutely perfect I am going to post them.

One day we visited a Mennonite grocery store and picked up some fresh cheese and bread and some pickled beets. I also took Amelia to the Farmer's Market where we listened to some live music (this time it was a Frank Sinatra impersonator who sang to her and it was perfect!) and picked up some fresh goat cheese spreads - one with fig and honey; one with cucumber; one with blueberries and one with lots of garlic and herbs. One evening I had a friend over and all together we had 6 kids playing peacefully at once! They were all so obedient and mannerly. We had a picnic at a local park; stopped by and saw an old friend from church and generally had a nice relaxing time at Barb's.

In case you're wondering....

why I am posting so much in the middle of the day - it's because I'm on light bed rest. And it's really boring. B O R I N G. I'm getting pretty tired of laying down. The Dr. has a concern and asked me to take it easy until I can come in tomorrow for an ultrasound.

I had no idea I would get so darn tired of doing nothing so quickly. :)

Please pray for the baby! thanks

"Bye Bye, Daddy"

They finally started loading the big buses with the Marines around noon of the day they left. Amelia and Rafe had been playing together a bit. I think she somehow sensed that this was different. He stepped up onto the bus and after a minute, she ran over to the open door and waited for him to come back out. When he didn't, she held out her hand to a Marine that was getting on the bus, as if to ask him to help her get on the bus also. When that didn't happen, she just stood there and waited until I went to go get her.

We watched the buses drive away, and Rafe could see us out his window. We kept waving and saying, "bye bye, Daddy". I didn't cry until the exact moment that the buses pulled away. I just wanted a moment to have closure and to grieve for literally a minute or two, and then move on. Unfortunately, IMMEDIATELY, a stranger who meant very well came over to me to begin speaking to me about being pregnant while the buses were still in sight. I wasn't able to concentrate on the buses leaving as I had wanted, in order to keep from being rude to this person whose husband had also just left. Perhaps speaking is what she needed to do to move on and pull herself together; but I do regret not having that last private moment. I'm not much of a crier, so that will probably be it for a long while, if not the whole year.

For days later, out of the blue, Amelia would suddenly start saying "Bye bye, Daddy... bye bye, Daddy... bus... bus... bye bye, Daddy". She would say it in a little girl small voice, somewhat sad. I could tell she was processing this event. Each time I would tell her that Daddy did go bye bye on the bus, but that he would be back home soon and he loved her very much. After a few days at Barb's, she bounced right back. She still says it occasionally, but in a different tone. She also calls our house, "Daddy's house" and plays with "Daddy's hats". She definitely misses her daddy, but at this age she's very resilient.

Deployment Day

I'll have to add pics to this post later. The morning of Rafe's deployment was not too sad, to be honest. It was kind of a surreal feeling. We had a leisurely breakfast, gathered the luggage and headed to the loading area.

This was the first time Rafe has left with a ground unit instead of a squadron, so it was all very different and new to me. In the past, we just kissed goodbye in the parking lot, and they went through the secured fences and gates to the squadrons where we were not allowed to go. It was sort of anti-climatic because they still had a few hours of work to do before they actually left. So we would get into our cars and drive away, knowing they were behind the walls somewhere. The first time Rafe deployed, I went to the beach with some friends of mine to watch him fly past in his Cobra with the rest of the guys as they headed out to the ship we could see on the distant horizon. I was VERY PREGNANT and the heat got to me quickly.

This time, I was just a tiny bit pregnant, and the heat still got to me very quickly. I felt sick to my stomach all morning and really just wanted a nice big taco. The guys had to drop their gear in a big clearing and they were able to stand around with their families while the gear was gathered and loaded onto the big semi trucks that were waiting next to the open grass. It was very odd to see clumps of Marines and their families. The younger kids were playing; some of the parents, wives and girlfriends were crying; it was hot and humid.

The Marines had an air of anticipation and excitement about them, along with sadness. They train for so hard and for so long for this... it's an interesting mental switch that they make when it comes time for them to do the work they were trained to do. It's fascinating to watch. Rafe speaks differently, walks differently, seems tougher and somehow foreign to me. It's like watching a person transform into a superhero right before your very eyes. He even looks taller!!

They had a few tables and tents set up with drinks and some snacks for the families, which I thought was nice. I saw little kids with their daddy dolls (; some slightly older trying to "help" daddy move his gear; and I even overheard one child ask his daddy if he could come with him. It's hard for everyone to say goodbye, especially knowing how dangerous this particular mission is, and how long it will last.

The important thing to remember on a deployment is this: How the Mom goes is how the whole family will go. By this I mean - if the remaining parent is freaked out, stressed out, anxious, crying, upset, and worried constantly... her children will be also. And because the family is freaking out, then the Marine will become stressed out. If the Marine is stressed out, it effects the unit. It is imperative to the physical safety and the mental health of everyone that the Mom pulls herself together and puts on her big girl panties and goes on with her life as if this was normal and exciting. If she can't feel it, then she needs to fake it.

Yes, there will be times when you are sad or down or your children miss daddy and life is hard; and you need to validate those feelings. But if you let those feelings rule your life, your choices and your actions then you are not doing what I feel you are OBLIGATED as a wife and mother to do - which is to support your family by creating an emotionally safe environment and give peace of mind to your husband so that he does not worry while he is gone about his family. I don't think anyone has an excuse not to do that. There are too many resources out there to help you accomplish this goal - both civilian and military. This same principle applies to civilian families. Once you become a parent, you lose any excuse you had to not pull yourself together and become the rock they need. It isn't easy, but it's doable and children need their parent to be the adult, not the child that needs to be taken care of.

I'm sure this will sound harsh, but sometimes reality is harsh.

Does anyone have Photoshop??

I have some pictures that I would like to post of the day that Rafe left for deployment. However, for OPSEC reasons, I can't post them until I can blur the names, ranks and other unit identifying marks on the bags or people. If I could send them to someone who could do it for me, I would be very grateful.

So, the deployment day pics might get posted out of order as I figure out how to solve that issue.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Amelia is......

going to be a big sister!

We found out the night before Rafe deployed. What a great going away present!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Guess what's in the bag!!

Amelia wanted to go with Daddy and had a surprize for him in his bags!

The night before deployment...

The last 3 years have been filled with all types of leave-taking and goodbyes. With so much practice, we definately have refined it. Rafe used to pack right before he left, which could take 2-3 days for a deployment or 1 day for anything else. It was nerve wracking for everyone. We knew he was going but could only watch while he concentrated on packing. As he packed the night or day before, the calls would start coming in from loved ones saying goodbye. He wanted us there, yet it was a very helpless feeling to see him and not for us to be able to have any type of real interaction or conversation during some of the last moments we would have with him for a while. And we often left home to visit family elsewhere, which was also hard and didn't feel much like a predeployment leave with allthe travel.

This time, we tried something new. Rafe packed when he first came home from deployment leave; so that all he had left was about an hour or so the day he actually deployed. We didn't take phone calls from anyone the two days before we drove to Jacksonville to drop him off. We just spent it as a family. I have to say it was a much better option for all of us. Less stress, less misery, less pressure to do as much as possible with as many people as possible. He started calling friends and family to say goodbye on the 6 hour trip to Lejeune. It worked out perfectly and I highly recommend it for anyone else who is dealing with an upcoming deployment. At the BOQ, we were able to relax and play and place a few more phone calls and play some more. It didn't feel as ominous as it had in the past.

Mia loves daddy!

Amelia likes to play "nap"... so here she is playing nap with daddy and kissing him goodnight. She picked out her outfit - dress AND rain boots. :)

Family in Charleston

Amelia kept pretending to give Aunt Trisha raisins, then would take them and put them in her own mouth at the last minute. She had a blast visiting Brittany and wanted to go back. It was really nice to see them and made me wish everyone lived closer. (OR that we lived closer to everyone!)

Hunting Island

While Gary was visiting, Rafe took him to Hunting Island one day. Afterwards, Rafe told me that the time he spent with his dad was magical and he wished it would never end. We all had a wonderful time with Gary here - he's so easygoing and it was so nice to have the house filled with noise and laughter. We will definately miss him.

More Fourth of July

Fourth of July - Marine Corps Style

I think celebrating the Fourth on a military base is the coolest thing in the world. It's also one of the safest. You have to pass armed guards to get onto the base. We were lucky that the fireworks and other celebration was only a few blocks away from our house. It reminded me of the old-fashioned celebrations in my hometown of Kearney when I was younger. I remember cake walks, everyone having to take a turn churning home-made ice cream; the bleachers behind the school and the atmosphere of excitement and fun. At Parris Island they had dunk tanks, bouncy houses, clowns with balloons, face painting and FREE ice-cream, hotdogs, hamburgers, chips, drinks, and who knows what else. Everything was free. Everything. You could see and hear recruits marching on the outside of the field; the Parris Island Marine Corps band played dance tunes and patriotic songs; families set up on big blankets and had picnics; teenagers played frisbee and football on the fields. The breeze off the water was incredible and the temperatures were perfect. We watched fireworks and later saw Port Royals fireworks across the bay also. Gary said it was the best fourth of July ever for him. Me too. :)

Graduation Ceremony

As long as I have known him, Rafe has talked about his graduation ceremony at boot camp and how much he wished his parents could have been able to come see him. We live on a recruit depot (the other one is in San Diego), so all day long we hear Marines in boot camp and see them in training. It's quite thrilling, actually. Especially when you hear the drill instructors!!! :)

Rafe was especially excited that his dad was able to see a graduation with him while he was out here. I took some pictures, but they are not that great. I had a squirming 2 year old and plus I was getting pretty teary-eyed thinking of Rafe graduating and going through all that. Those guys were sharp! If you ever have a chance to see a graduation ceremony, you shouldn't miss it. It's pretty neat.

The Marine Corps band plays, and then the door opens and the new Marines walk in. You should hear the crowd go wild with cheering. I dare you not to cry if you hear it; if you know what the Marines have been through the previous 3 months and know how hard they have worked for this moment.

The last 2 pictures are no one we know - I just saw the first Marine outside the ceremony afterwards, looking for his family, and the smile on his face when he finally saw his mom made me cry. And I love the look on the face of the younger brother as he looks up to his new hero.

Pah-Paw's visit

Not really sure how to spell it, other than phonetically... but Gary came to visit us during the pre-deployment leave and Amelia totally fell in love. Weeks later, even now out of the blue she will say "poppa? Poppa?" and look around for him. Every time he went anywhere, she wanted to hang out with him. The first thing she did every morning was ask for him and ask for daddy - then run to find whoever was closest. She was in hog heaven with both of them around at the same time.