Welcome to the Wandering Drays!

Not all who wander are lost...

Welcome to my blog dedicated to my family and our crazy foreign service life. Never content with staying in one place, we are excited to share our journey. We've survived two unaccompanied tour (Baghdad 2010-2011 and Baghdad again in 2015-2016), multiple TDYs, and enjoyed a two-year family assignment in Cairo, Egypt. The fab hubby is currently learning Turkish for our next assignment...Istanbul, Turkey! We leave for Turkey sometime in summer 2017. I write about what I know. Which is mainly kids, tween drama, gross pets, dealing with lots of government info, our moving adventures, being a nurse, yoga, running, living on too-little sleep, and an addiction to coffee lattes. I hope you'll enjoy this glimpse into our lives.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Adios, Squishy Pregnancy Body...

Hello (mostly) normal Heather!  I rocked out a 7-mile run today, thus cementing the fact that I can no longer claim "NEW BABY!" for reasons why:

1) I can't fit in my pants (thankfully, I can)
2) I don't have enough time to work out (obviously, I do)
3) I haven't lost all the baby weight (I weighed myself today, and I HAVE lost all the baby weight!)

I am a wee bit ashamed to say I used the baby excuse for all of the above for about four years after having Abby (who's now 6 years old)...

Anyway, Kellen is now turning 7 months old, is nearly 30 inches tall, and 23 pounds heavy.   I don't need a gym to lift weights, I can just sit in the living room and do crunches with my  little tank of a baby on my stomach.  Or use him to do arm curls.  Or run up and down stairs with him attached to my hip.  Or...run with him in the stroller.  I just can't make excuses as to why I can't exercise, because this kid around (3rd time's a charm, right?), I finally figured it out.  I even have an elliptical in our living room for the emergency workout.  Also known as those days when the baby is cranky (despite his grins, he does have those days).  Or on those days when it's raining (it is Spring in Ohio!).  Or on those days when I feel lazy and just want to zombie through a workout and play Words With Friends or watch TV.

I still can't say I have abs of steel, but at least I have abs.  And I am really pleased with my stride and stamina in running.  I didn't anticipate being able to run so far after having a baby.  Sure, I was still running 6-miles when I was 6-months preggo, but around month 7ish, I had to give up running when I could no longer see my toes or lace my shoes (don't laugh, it happened).  Kellen was our biggest baby afterall!  Well, here I am 7 months AFTER popping that kid out and I am pretty close to back to where I was BEFORE I got pregnant.

You see, if you can run 7 miles, you can actually run 9 miles.  And if you can run 9 miles, you can run a 1/2 Marathon (13 miles).  Think I'm lying?  Nope.  True Story.  You know how I know?  Because I did it in Fall 2009.  Four months before I got pregnant, I ran the Malibu 1/2 Marathon in 2:29:58.  It was my first 1/2 Marathon and the furthest I had run before rocking out that gorgeous coastal run was 9 miles.  Four months later (didn't know I was pregnant), I ran the Surf City 1/2 Marathon in Huntington Beach and totally loved it, finishing at 2:06:35.  Barely pregnant, but pregnant nonetheless.  Obviously, Kellen was destined to be my running buddy.

So here we are, just three months out from moving to Cairo!  I plan on doing some nice races this summer, a couple of 5Ks, a 10K, and a 1/2 Marathon before we leave.  I'm already up to 7 miles.  Now I need to get to 9 miles.  And then I can move on to another 1/2 Marathon.  And then maybe, just maybe...I'll do an actual Marathon in Cairo...

This is Kellen at 7 Months.
He's a tank of a baby.
And my running buddy.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dating Again

Soon.  Jason's unaccompanied assignment is almost over - the date is set, July 20th!  But, the better most-immediate news?  He's home on Leave (his final Leave!) tomorrow.  Right now he's over there, awaiting transport.  I know how grouchy I was this past weekend with my mere 6-hour travel day from Colorado-to-DC-to-Pittsburgh-to-home for the Army.  I can't even imagine how tough his Baghdad-to-Air Force Base-to-Kuwait-to-DC-to-Pittsburgh-to-home two-day ordeal must be.  Yet, he always comes home excited (but exhausted) and relieved to be home for a bit.  Even though he knows that at the end of his Leave, the two-day travel ordeal is the reverse and without us to meet him at the airport.

Preparations for his arrival home must be made!  Yesterday, I spent two hours at the grocery store stocking up on all the snacks and food he loves but can't get in Baghdad.  The kitchen is ridiculous right now - I bought far more than we will need for the 18 days he's home.  And the cleaning.  I know, Jason could care less.  Yet, I'll spend tonight scrubbing and organizing and getting things just right, so that when he walks in the door it will look naturally clean (as opposed to the "look I just scrubbed the house top-to-bottom!" kind of clean). Like it's always clean (riiight).  It's totally unnecessary, and he knows it's not the norm, but I always do it anyway.

In fact, I'd say the days leading up to his arrival home feel almost like I'm getting ready for a big date. Like we're newly engaged and not married for...nearly 13 years!  Today it was the primping.  Hair highlighted, new cut.  Picked up my new glasses at the optometrist's office.   I've layed out a new outfit and got some new make-up.  Heck, I'll even shave my legs.  Not to mention, I've lived exclusively on TicTacs and lattes the last three days in hopes of dropping those last two stubborn pounds (without success, of course!).

Kids are cleaning their rooms and getting everything in order like I've instructed them.  For them, it's more like Christmas Eve.  Daddy's coming home! They look forward to that as much as opening presents from Santa.  And Daddy always brings home some nice gifties for the kiddies.  They're not going with me to pick him up at the airport this time, because we've planned a vacation to the Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania that takes them out of school (the last day of school - yup, I'm THAT mom!) for a day.  

I'll stop on the way to the airport for a latte for me and a chai for Jason, and then I'll wait [im]patiently for his arrival.  I can't wait for that moment when he strolls in with the rest of the arriving passengers, and I see him from across the way.  I'll try to look cool and not overly crazy seeing him, but I'll inevitably fail, getting a bit misty-eyed as my heart thumps through my chest loudly; it's really that wonderful seeing him each time he comes home.  Our son, Owen, calls it "icky love stuff".  And he's right, because this is the stuff love is made of.  Good stuff.

The final Leave.  With a promise of all this - the crazy, the unaccompanied assignment, the separation - to be over.  Soon.

No one ever said the primping part
was glamorous...

The final outcome - blonder, shorter,
and new specs.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cheeky BFF Starbucks Latte Takes on Colorado Springs

My time in Colorado at Ft. Carson is coming to an end, and my BFF Starbucks Latte has also enjoyed his time here as well.  He has accompanied me to the ER on post, while sightseeing, and has welcomed me back to the car at the end of a run (Note: unless I am running with Kellen and his stroller with a cupholder, BFF Latte doesn't accompany me while I'm running.  He's too lazy to tough it out.  Instead, he waits it out in the car.).  He's an early riser, meeting up with me at my favorite local Starbucks where it took the fabulous Baristas there all of one day to remember me and my high-maintainence high-speed latte order.

In fact, BFF Latte had such a good time here in Colorado Springs, that it was virtually a vacation for him, despite the fact that I was here primarily to work!

On the first day, BFF Latte had his picture taken in front of Cheyenne Mountain - which can be seen outside of Ft. Carson (sorry, due to Army regs, no pics of Post allowed on the internet. So no photos of BFF Latte in the ER, although rest assured he fully supported me for at least 2 hours of every shift).  

On my day off, BFF Latte and I headed out to Garden of the Gods to do some sightseeing.  What a great time!  Garden of the Gods is without a doubt my favorite spot here.  In fact, during my second week in Colorado Springs, I did a gorgeous 5-mile run through the Garden, enjoying the distant view of Pikes Peak and the trails around the rock structures.  Anyway, while sightseeing, BFF Latte posed in front of Garden of the Gods - with Pikes Peak in the background.  Look how relaxed he is...

Later, we traveled to Manitou Springs and then to the nearby Cliff Dwellings.  This is where the BFF Latte got a little cheeky, posing in places he probably shouldn't have been...

So there you it.  A sightseeing extravaganza from the point of view of my Starbucks Latte.  I'm leaving Colorado Springs tomorrow and one of my favorite Starbucks ever.  But no worries, because I know where I can get my BFF Latte at the local Starbucks where I live in Ohio.  My hope and dream is that the Starbucks in Cairo will be equally good with my high-speed order when we arrive there in late August!  I'll be sure to showcase  the BFF latte photos in Cairo as well!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Running Through the Garden

After hiking up.  Way up.  To get a better view!
This was mile 4-ish.
After a very long extended weekend at the ER I'm assigned to while here for Army Reserve Annual Training at Ft. Carson, Colorado, I got to enjoy a much-needed day off.  I had planned to meet-up with some of the other RNs from the ER, but those plans washed out after I spent the entire morning and early afternoon on Post trying to schedule an appointment to get my required official Department of Army photo on Thursday.  Without that photo, I can't sit for Captain's boards.  But after meeting face-to-face with the supervisor for the photo lab and pleading my case, he was able to squeeze me in for an appointment first thing Thursday.

I picked up my newly purchased and altered-to-perfection dress uniform (and it's gorgeous) and found dry-cleaning services to get it completed by Wednesday evening.  Then I grabbed some lunch at the D-Fac (can you believe the chow hall had humus?  I was uber happy!) and decided to head to one of my favorite places I've found since arriving here:  Garden of the Gods.

I've now been in Colorado Springs (elevation 6500 feet) for a little over a week.  I thought it would be a relatively easy acclimation and gave myself just two days last week before going on my first run.  My first run was three miles and I completed it in about 33 minutes.  I was happy with that; given the altitude, I expected it to take longer than my usual time (30 minutes).  Two days later I embarked on a four-mile run.  LUNGS ON FIRE!  That is all I can say about that run.  I was only about a half-mile in to the run before I realized I was out of my league.  No matter how deep the breaths, I just couldn't seem to catch my breath.  My legs and arms felt like jello.  Even when walking I was huffing and puffing and miserable.  But I still did four miles, even though it took me 51 minutes and enjoyed the view of Cheyenne Mountain, and moved on.

Then two days later (Mother's Day!) I went on a sweet little three mile run.  It was 85 degrees outside, and I had just finished day three of my long work weekend.  Exhausted, I performed poorly as compared to my usual pace (39 minutes!).  But, I still did it, so I moved on again.

Still on mile 1.  Check out how far out I am
from the Garden of the Gods main area!
You can also see Pikes Peak in the background.
Bringing me to today...I drove out to Garden of the Gods with no expectations except to run and hike.  I planned for five miles, and figured I would just see how it went.  It was an amazing afternoon to run/hike.  Perfect weather, sun shining bright.  The first two miles I ran (and at my usual 10-minute-mile pace!) along the paved trail.  The next two miles, I mostly hiked, taking the less-traveled trails, and tromping through the Gardens on the rough terrain.  Magnificent views everywhere. I allowed myself to stop and enjoy the views to Pikes Peak.  Breathtaking.  I can't get enough of it.  I can officially say that this is now my second-most-favorite place I've been to.  The first of course being SoCal (Love my San Diego and L.A. - ocean view to the west, mountain views to the east.  Starbucks on nearly every corner.  Amazing running weather year-round.  Pure perfection to me).  My lungs didn't feel nearly as beat-up today, and my legs didn't jello-out on me.   The last mile I ran.  I finished out my five miles at 1:08:17.  Only about 15 minutes longer than I would have done at sea level at a full-out run.  Before I had baby #3.  I really ought to cut myself some slack.  Kellen is only 6-months old!

Here's what I've learned in one short week of living here and running:
1.  Give yourself more time than you think you'll need.  The altitude really does make a difference.  Don't be so hard on yourself if it takes you WAY longer to do the distance that it usually would.  Tell your brain to shut up! and enjoy the run and the view.

2.  Hydrate.  And then hydrate again. (I forgot to bring my H20 along with me, and the last 20 minutes were spent day-dreaming about a drink.  Thankfully, I had a triple soy latte waiting for me in the car!)

3.  It's terribly dry here.  Hydrate again.

4.  The sun is closer.  I got sunburned AGAIN today when I thought I had done a good job covering up with a shirt.  Nope.  It didn't cover my neck or my forearms.  Guess what got burned.  Must. Buy. Sunblock.

5.  Hydrate.  Again.

Enjoy the photos (sorry about the quality - I only had my iPhone on me!).  This place is truly amazing.

Only about 1/2-mile to the Garden of the Gods!

Mile 2 complete!

Pikes Peak way in the background!

Magnificent Garden of the Gods.

View to Pikes Peak.  I'll be trail-running the base
of that bad boy on Thursday!

The final mile back to my car.  Paved and FLAT!

View from the paved trail back to the car...

Beginning mile 5!

Finishing the last mile.
So thirsty!  Thankfully, the
BFF Starbucks Latte is waiting for me
in the car!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Farewell, Josh

U.S. Army Captain Josh McClimans was killed in Afghanistan on Friday, April 22, 2011.  His funeral service was held today in his hometown of Jamestown, Pennsylvania.  I had the honor of knowing Josh, just briefly, but he still impacted my career as a nurse.

Although he was a fellow soldier, I knew Josh only in my civilian life.  He was an agency nurse working frequent nights at St. Elizabeth's ER (Youngstown, Ohio) when we met in early-2007.  I had just come off orientation as a new nurse and worked afternoons.  Our shifts typically overlapped in the late evening, and often when I would stay to pick-up extra hours into the night.

Josh was an amazing RN.  He seemed to have a way of dealing with the common ER stressors that few seemed to master:  low supplies, heavy patient loads, mega traumas, and disastrous codes.  He was liked by all who met him, was great at teaching, and would always lend a hand when asked.  His humor was dry and he made jokes all through shift about just nearly everything.  He never seemed to take anything too seriously; yet, he was extremely precise and methodical in his work.  He had been in the Army previously and had served in Iraq.  I told him I had been enlisted in my younger years, and we swapped Army stories.  His stories were always way better than mine.  I would later take my officer commission in September 2007, after asking him numerous questions about being an RN for the Army.  I can't say that he either encouraged or discouraged me from joining, but he answered the questions I had truthfully.

On a personal level, Josh had a sweet little boy, Max, and he was always quick to show pictures of his little guy.  My son, Owen, was just a bit older and we used to swap stories about the insanity of parenthood.  He obviously loved his son very much, and was so proud of his little guy.  He was single dad, and he worked hard to make life good for his son.

Many of my fellow nurses, especially those on night shift at St. Elizabeth's, worked with Josh for a considerably longer time and knew him much better than I.  Still, I hope that I have done well in portraying a glimpse of the great man that was Josh.  I wish that our paths would have crossed again.

Josh was killed by indirect fire at FOB Salerno in Afghanistan.  He had volunteered for the active duty assignment with his Reseve Unit out of Cleveland.  He was dedicated soldier, nurse, and father who will be greatly missed.

Thank you for your service and dedication, Captain McClimans.  May you rest in peace.

Captain Josh McClimans, 1980 - 2011.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Values to Live By

When I was 20 (yes, a long time ago), I enlisted in the Ohio Army National Guard on a whim (yes, a whim) one weekend during winter break when I was in college.  I went through basic training at Ft. McClellan, Alabama during an obnoxiously hot summer, running my 2-miles in 15:13 (my shining moment) while just barely passing my M16 Qualifications (and the phrase "Born to Miss" was forever etched onto my reflective strap on my kevlar).  I developed a healthy fear of First Sergeants, was terrified of my female Drill Sergeant, and I would [im]practically hyperventilate every time I saw anyone wearing shiny metal.  A Full Bird (Colonel) would nearly make me wet my pants.

Here I am years later wearing the shiny metal.  Sure, it's not a bird (nor is it likely to ever become one, although I am working toward my Captain's promotion), but I earned it.  However, I also have a great realization that First Sarg or nearly any of the NCOs (non-commissioned officers) are a great resource --- their extensive service time provides a wealth of knowledge and they truly know how the Army works and how to get tasks completed.  They are fiercely protective of their soldiers and always seem to be tireless, no matter how long the misson.

But no matter what, I still have that healthy fear of the metal bird.  Each time I report for duty at post, I have to meet with the Hospital Nurse Administrator - who is almost always a Colonel.  As I prepare to meet her, and it almost always is a 'her' - nursing is a female-dominated profession! - I get a bit queasy at the thought.  I don't think that will ever change.

As I travel daily to post on this annual training at Ft. Carson, Colorado, whether in uniform or civilian clothing, I have to pass through the MP-guarded gate and provide my photo ID.  Here I am 15 years later, looking at the faces of young enlisted at the gate.  And being saluted TO.  And oh, does it bring back memories.  I was once that fresh-faced barely-an-adult soldier.  I remember the feeling of pride and the snap of the salute when I saw an officer, eager to prove myself (even if I did feel queasy each time I saw metal).  The feeling of being a part of something bigger, something better than myself.  It's moments like this that I remember the Army Values.  No matter how young or old; no matter if enlisted, officer or civilian...these are values that speak to all of us.

Selfless Service
Personal Courage

These are the values I would teach my children even if I had never served as a part of the armed forces.

Tonight I am missing my family very much.  I've been gone less than a week and I really miss the kiddos.  I didn't expect that it would be so hard leaving the baby - but he's just six months old, and I've never spent a night away from him.  I didn't anticipate that I'd feel this way, being a seasoned-veteran mom of eight years!  And I miss my husband.  This separation seems never-ending sometimes (even though he is going to be home for Leave in just 2 weeks!) and while the distance from Baghadad to Colorado isn't significantly further than the distance from Baghdad to Ohio, it's harder to get to talk with him because of the time difference and my work schedule at the base hospital.  And, oh, I just miss him.

I hope that as they get older, my kids will understand why I serve in the military, even if it is just part-time. It is important to give of yourself and your time to something that is truly bigger and worthwhile.  I hope they grow to appreciate the job my husband does, even though it does take him away from us often.  I hope they appreciate the world and all it has to offer.  And I hope they follow those seven seemingly simple Army Values, whether or not they choose to serve in military.