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.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Fight or Flight

I'm sitting in a Starbucks waiting for another call from the dermatologist.  Waiting to find out if I have skin cancer.  And the aching pit in my stomach, the bile rising in my throat, the tears pricking at the back of my eyes is the most horrific feeling I've experienced.

Waiting.  Waiting.  Last night I received the first call from them.  Why they called me with a preliminary report is beyond me.  The initials finds are "severely atypical vs. melanoma."  What does that even mean.  Cancer or almost cancer?  Waiting.  No answers.

Try not to worry about it, they said.  We'll give you a call tomorrow when the final reading comes through.


My initial reaction was to sob.  I was sitting in the car in a grocery store parking lot, worried about the unknown.  Helpless and alone.  Unable to drive, I called the fab hubby.  Thousands of miles away, and he's the only one I wanted to speak with.  He was comforting and calmed me down, soothing me with words I so needed to hear at that moment.  He knows me better than anyone.  The rational Heather, the nurse Heather, knew that this could be bad.  But what wife Heather, what mom Heather really just needed was to be told that everything would be ok.

I managed to get back to my apartment, intent on taking myself to a yoga class.

But at that moment, I had a strong fight or flight instinct, and I needed to just get out of there.  I get that "I need to get outta here" feeling when confronted with this level of stress.  Of course, I eventually bring myself back to 'fight' --- but right then, it was all flight.

I laced up my sneakers and headed to the beach run trail, headphones on.  It was melancholy, beautiful outside and the sun was setting over the Palos Verdes Peninsula in the distance.  View clear to Catalina Island.  Mountains to the south.  My "mellow" iPod playlist drifting though my mind, calming me as I deftly ran along the trail, urging me to sort my feelings.

Melanoma can be deadly, and I was scared.  As a nurse, I'm confronted with 'unfair' sickness and death in the ER frequently.  The cough that turns out to be lung cancer.  The young parent dying of cancer.  The car accident that claims an entire family.  I hold hands, I give hugs, I provide words of calm and understanding.

But now that person could be me.  The Universe is so unfair.  I've spent the last six months away from my family and now I *might* die?  What if I fought this and lost?  What if this has already spread?  I wasn't trying to be melodramatic - but I've seen it.  And I'm not ready for it.  And dammit, the Universe owes me nothing - I know that.  I stifled a sob and kept running.

The trail ends at at the bay, and I was forced to turn around.  Had I really run so far already?  I took a deep breath and returned the direction toward my apartment.  The sun was nearly gone, and I passed other runners and cyclists.  They looked so happy, so content.  I know I appeared a mess.  I felt a mess.  Disjointed, frightened.

I felt my rhythmic breathing and calmed my mind.  It was still unknown, the diagnosis, and even if it is the worst, there are options.  But that exposed moment when you realize you're not invincible, when you really understand you won't live forever is frightening.

When I made it back to my apartment, I felt a little better, or at least exhausted.  Turns out I had run 9 miles.  Huh.  I guess I still have it in me.

I thought today would bring me an early morning call from the dermatologist, but of course it's now afternoon and I've had no such call.

I don't now what's going to happen and I'm scared.  But it helps to write, and that's why I put this out there.

The 'flight' feeling is gone.  At least for now.  I'm waiting for that call because I know I'm ready to fight.  I just need to know what I'm up against.  Maybe it's nothing.  Maybe it's something.

But I just need to know.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

I'm Still Here! I Swear!

Keeping busy with my Starbucks.
In my mind, I've written dozens of blog posts in the past month since I last published.  Funny, witty, and thought-provoking posts, of course.

But what I've written in reality is...nada.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nothing.

Part of it is because I'm actually really busy, even without kids to be chasing after.  Since I arrived in Los Angeles in February, I've worked no fewer than 60 hours per week. Every.Single.Week.  [Which translates into $$$$.  Which translates into easier living for our family in uber-expensive DC when we move in August!] Even the week I ran a 1/2 Marathon!  Oh, except for the week I had the dental work.  I *only* worked 48 hours that week.

Anyway, I work 12-hour shifts and I'm on my feet pretty much the entire time -- it's exhausting.  No complaints though; I really do love what I do.  The ER is my home away from home and my work is fulfilling.  I mean, heck, I save lives for a living!  It's an intimate job, being able to touch lives the way we do in the ER - people come in at their worst and most scared moments in life.  I've never regretted changing careers to become a nurse.  But it can be physically and mentally taxing, and I've put writing on the back burner for a bit.

Part of my writing slump is because I'm enjoying the sunshine.  Really.  It's 70-80 degrees and sunny here.  Every.Single.Day.  And since I'm working nightshifts right now, I get lots of daylight hours when I'm not at work.  Before I head into the ER every night, I like to walk the fav pooch all over Long Beach.  She's renowned throughout the neighborhood - at Starbucks and at the local pet store.  I go to yoga.  I run at the beach.  I ride my new bike.

That's right.  I bought a bike!  And I loooove it.  Running had been difficult the past few months; I injured my right foot and my knees and hips were heinously angry at me.  ARE angry at me.  The arthritis screams at me every time I pound the pavement.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love running.  It's how I like to see the world.  But running doesn't come easy for me, and I needed to change things up a bit.  A quick trip to the local bikeshop around the corner and I was mobile!  And *begrudgingly* I admit that I love it.

True story.  I bought a bike.  And I looove it.

But!! Please don't jump to incorrect conclusions - I am NOT giving up running.  I've just realized (well, accepted) that I need to do more to keep my joints and my body healthy.  Yoga helps.  Biking helps.  I'm keeping my arthritits in check.  (And I hate saying "my" arthritis - but I guess it's better that I own it than it owns me.)

Missing my family?  Yup.  And that also contributes to the lag in blogging.  It's emotional, writing. Honestly, sometimes, it's just too heartbreaking to write.  And I tire of languishing over the sadness of missing my family.  Worrying about the kiddos and how well they're handling my absence.  Riding the roller coaster of emotions.  Yuck.  So I keep busy and avoid those thoughts.  Which translates back into my focus on working, running, biking, and yoga.

I'm busy getting that list of 'to do' done before we transition to our new home. WHICH IS ONLY TWO MONTHS AWAY!!

I've successfully renewed all of my required RN certifications.  *Pat on back.*

My Army Reserves annual training is this close to being officially scheduled.

One more appointment with my rheumatologist.  A scheduled appointment with my dermatologist.  And my annual military physical.  Check. Check. Check.

So, yeah.  I'm still here along with my blog; I swear!  I've just been a little bit quiet.  And for good reasons.

Here's a photo update on what's been going on with the Drays this past month...

The fab hubby took Owen to Istanbul for a weekend.  These dudes are so lucky!
Owen in Istanbul.
Ice cream is fabulous no matter where in the world you are eating it!  Istanbul.

Abby didn't go to Istanbul; she partied with some friends that weekend instead!

Kellen can still fall asleep absolutely anywhere.  Oh to be a toddler!

Sweet sleeping toddler.  I love getting pictures like these.
I ran a 1/2 Marathon with the coolest running bib ever.

Just before the race began.

Yum.  Post-race celebration!
Nice reminder.
I biked 22 coastal miles today.  The view in Sunset Beach.
Just a fab moment with my bike and my BFF Espresso Frap.

New iPad Minis for the big kids. Because The Toddler broke the other ones.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Finding Home

Angels Gate Park, San Pedro.  Panoramic view of the Los Angeles Harbor.
I had the overwhelming urge to go home today.  Of course, we nomadic lifestylers struggle constantly with the identity of “where is home?” 

My apartment in Long Beach is great – I love the local neighborhood and being able to walk everywhere and get to the beach easily.  But since I haven’t been here that long and I really haven’t shared it with anyone, it’s not really “home” either.  And today, the lack of giggling children and shared memories with the fab hubby just made it feel starkly lonesome.

Looking back, one of my happiest memories was when we were assigned at the Los Angeles field office, the fab hubby's first domestic Foreign Service assignment.  Owen was five, Abby was three and Kellen wasn’t quite a thought in our mind yet.  The fab hubby had just finished training and was a new field agent.  I worked afternoons in a busy ER (which is actually the same ER I work in now!).  We had a wonderful au pair from Australia living with us to help with the munchkins.  We lived near the L.A. Harbor in San Pedro and I used to run every day along the bluffs with the ocean view and Catalina Island off in the distance.

San Pedro.  That had once been home.  I found myself late this evening driving my car from Long Beach toward San Pedro.  Over the Vincent Thomas Bridge, the sun starting to set over the Palos Verdes Peninsula.  I relaxed as I drove along Gaffey Street, intuitively headed toward the ocean.  I stopped at Angels Gate Park high on a hill, overlooking the magnificent port and watched as ships headed in and out of harbor.  I turned my gaze to the mountains – Los Angeles far in the distance to the East.  The view from Angels Gate is just breathtaking.
View of Catalina lsland from Angels Gate Park entrance.

I hopped back into my car and drove as far west as you can in San Pedro to Point Fermin Park.  Where the lighthouse still stands and the Sunken City is visible. Part of San Pedro’s Point Fermin community had once collapsed into the ocean many, many years ago and some remnants still remain, but is off limits to exploring.  It’s still a fun view, and I took the time to imagine what the houses and streets might have looked like before the ocean had claimed them. 

When we lived here in 2009-2010, I ran countless miles along Vista Del Mar, the road that passes by this park.  I trained for many local races and two half marathons that year, all along this road. I smiled as I remembered that my last few runs just before we moved had been especially wonderful, as we had found out two weeks before we left San Pedro that I was pregnant with Kellen.  I would continue to run while pregnant with him until I was seven months along.

LAPD helicopter flies in from over the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
We spent many family afternoons at Point Fermin Park.  The kids loved playing on the playground, making friends and sandcastles.  I remember the fab hubby starting an impromptu game of baseball with Owen and some of the boys Owen had just become friends with.  I remember the smell of the BBQs firing up and the sounds of picnic tables being set.

Sunset is magnificent along the ocean.  I made it to the park tonight just in time to watch the sun melt into the horizon over the Penninsula.  The smell of the ocean overtook my memory and I breathed deep into the salty air.   A low rumbled horn blasted from far across the water, signaling an outgoing barge.  Catalina Island peaked out from a long distance, and as always, I told myself “gosh, I really need to go visit there before I leave.”

Two people were doing their solo tai chi practice, deftly moving from pose to pose as the sun continued it’s descent.  I remember seeing them a few years ago doing the same, and I quietly continued along the park path admiring their dedication to their practices.

The cafĂ© across the street was open, and the smell of food and the sound of laughter pulled through the door.  I envied the locals walking in and out of the doors as their hearty words to the owner made it obvious they were known there. 

I would never be a local here, and while it was once home, it’s unlikely to ever be so again.  But the familiarity brought comfort and the memories flooding my mind were exactly what I needed tonight.

The far cliff is part of the Sunken City.
After the sun fully set and darkness engulfed the park, I drove through downtown San Pedro, past the 99Cent store the kids used to love to go to in search of treasured items as only little kids can; the grocery store we frequented; the Jamba Juice I used to treat the kids at.  I saw the Community Center where Abby had participated in preschool and had picked up a bit of Spanish in the process; Owen had learned basketball there, and I happily remembered the coach who put so much effort into helping Owen learn and understand the game.

Dinner tonight was at the In&Out Burger just a block from our old condo.  This brought my mind back to all those late evenings I would arrive home from work with burgers in tow for me and the fab hubby.  He was always waiting up for me outside, sitting on the steps to greet me as I arrived home.  Despite the fact that he would have to be up early the next morning for his job, he would always wait until I got home at midnight from my long afternoon ER shift so we could talk to each other about our day.  Those are some of my fondest memories.

The fab hubby, the kids. the day-to-day minutia of activities and patterns we get into with each other without realizing it.  I suppose that’s what “home” really is, as I try to wrap my head around the ‘where is home’ question we’re constantly plagued with.  Sure it’s hard to explain in words, but the feelings and the emotions we carry from house to house and post to post are what we use to establish our ‘homes’. 

Soon we’ll be moving on to our next post, establishing patterns, exploring neighborhoods, making friends, and creating new memories.  Three months left before we start our next journey ‘home’.   And while I am definitely making the best of my current journey, I am excited about the next prospect of creating a new home together.

Harbor view from Angels Gate.
Sunset over the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Another view of Point Fermin Park --- Catalina Island in distance to the left.

And some of my happiest moments from when this was our home...

Preschool Abby in San Pedro, 2009.

Owen's last basketball game (and 6th Birthday Party!) in San Pedro, 2010.

After a daytrip to Malibu, 2009.  Sleeping kids are so sweet.  And quiet.

First day of school, San Pedro, 2009.
Point Fermin Park.  Was he really ever this little?

Impromtu baseball game.
This is actually at Friendship Park (another ocean-view park!), San Pedro.  Love.

You can't go to SoCal without going to Disneyland!  2009.
Found I was pregnant with this guy just before we moved.