WHAT A SUMMER! Really, what a year 2016 has been. Does it feel unusually long or is it just me?
I knew I would be busy this summer but I didn’t expect it to disappear in the blink of an eye! There was a great deal of awesome sprinkle with a bit of not so great. Isn’t that how life really is most days?
Our retreat to Boulder Crest was AH-MAZING! We went for the Songwriting with Soldiers retreat mostly because this appealed to our youngest daughter and came away HUGE believers in music therapy. Everyone was so kind and interested in helping in any way they could and I highly recommend retreats with either group that you may be able to do in the future. What’s great about Boulder Crest is that you can also rent a cabin with them for a week! YES, REALLY. It’s beautiful, quiet and peaceful there. To get up to date on all things Boulder Crest, you can check them out HERE. For more information on Songwriting with Soldiers and their events, you can check them out HERE. If you are interested in the songs we wrote that weekend, you can check them out HERE. (YES, I am the lassie from Tallahassee who is all about the fun!)
Our girl on fire competed in the Outdoor Nationals which was held in tiny Decatur, Alabama. The weather was quite disagreeable but it gave us the opportunity to take her to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. She very much is still on the “I am going to be a scientist and go to work for NASA” career path so she was blown away. Sometimes life can really get you down but those are the kinds of moments that are my favorite, when we can watch our kid light up like a Christmas tree. I don’t think she stopped smiling for days. At that point, we made the resolution to no matter why we are traveling, fun or not so fun, that we take a break to have a little side trip. So many amazing places in the country and sometimes we just drive right by them! WELL STOP IT!
My father was moved to hospice home care shortly afterwards so I have made three unscheduled (read = EXPENSIVE) trips out of state to visit. While I love my family, it is not fun to watch the drama that unfolds surrounding this. My dad, a Vietnam Veteran, has had decades of substance abuse without seeking therapy or treatment, so while it is sad, it is certainly not expected. It has been very hard living out of state and juggling the animosity that brings up for some people but the fact is, I am also primary caregiver to a Veteran that lives in my house. I also have minor children to raise. I also can’t do everything. UGH.
Back to school started and it is always weird to see my youngest just a little bit older and closer to going to college. She has set high standards for herself and we are mostly just trying to get out of the way! We are hoping once she is there that there are more scholarship opportunities for children of disabled Veterans. Currently there is a surprising lack of those I have found.
I finally got to head out on a caregivers retreat and I will write more about that in another post but that is something else that is critically important, yet not enough of them! Right after that, I had my first experience with surgery at a VA facility, also another blog post, and that was interesting to say the least!
The holidays are coming up, are you guys doing anything fantastic? We are going to attempt a family reunion of sorts in Orlando. Since the way we handled things last Christmas went well and my Warrior loved it, we thought why not invite everyone? In a way it also helps avoid more of that drama that keeps popping up and I am all about less drama. Why waste time being miserable on any holiday? It is okay to do something different and just order pizza. No one will die and what if you end up having the time of your lives? It’s possible, ya’ll know that right?
This is the time of year I both look forward to and simultaneously dread.
Am I the only one?
It seems like my TO-DO list always has 10,000 things on it and some of it gets done but it never completely goes away. When you pile no more school, nice weather, a teenagers social engagements and archery season it already feels overwhelming.
For us, this is added on top of fighting with the Veterans Administration to complete a claim, trying to find a public servant that feels like taking up our cause, getting an advocate to shuffle us to the top of the every growing mound of cases and trying to navigate the VA healthcare system as a Caregiver, it’s downright maddening.
So how do you program in time for the good stuff?
I am trying to make a habit this month of carrying the magazines and books with them every where I go. I put this stuff off but it’s truly on of my favorite escapes and who needs that more than me? That’s right, ALL OF US. In doing so, when appointments go from “real quick labs” to “waiting room hell for an hour” I have found that I am actually getting through some of them and it makes me happy!
I started my seeds directly in the garden this year. It is a bit more risky but it seemed like to me if it worked, it would be a lot easier in the long run. While I still have mulch to put down and soaker hoses to run, I am on my way and oh yeah, I am getting some sun and fresh air along the way. As difficult as it is to take time for anything, I finally figured out that I could do some of the work, a little at a time, when I take the dog out. She has to go out any way so why not multi task?
This summer we have archery trips, a teenager getting a learner’s permit, SAT classes, camp and maybe a fun trip. There will be house projects to finish and new things to learn. I am already tired.
What will you guys be doing this summer? How do you program in stuff just for you? What is your favorite escape?
On my personal blog, I have been writing about New Year “resolutions” for years. Actually, it’s more my lack of resolutions. I don’t really think I have ever met someone who made a resolution that they kept. I am sure that someone does or maybe its one of the biggest urban myths in existence. Either way, I began to do list of “intentions” at the beginning of each year. Doesn’t intending to do something sound radically different from resolving to try to do something? As Yoda says:
While I haven’t completed my list of intentions for 2015, one of them is to live more in the present. I think it is easy to get bogged down in appointments, drama, sleep deprivation and obligation and there is a general lack of any spontaneity or FUN. As I mentioned in my last theme park post, sometimes doing something out of the ordinary works out far better than expected. Want an example? We had a couple of mandatory road trips this week that would take us through Louisiana on I-10 this month. We take the I-12 portion through Baton Rouge because it is supposed to be faster but for us it ends up being congested, angry and short on facilities. It is by far the most stressful and miserable part of the trip, every time! Because all of us have wanted to visit New Orleans for many years but some how never found the way to do so, I asked everyone, why not pit stop in New Orleans? I mean we are going to get food and coffee some where, why not do it there?
There was really no reason not to.
Cafe Du Monde has been on everyone’s bucket list for several years, mostly because of its frequent appearance in movies/TV shows, but also because the incredible history it has with the city. Out of the four times we went through this past week, we went to the Cafe three times. (The fourth one was completely derailed buy the Rock & Roll Marathon street blockages but we DID try.)
It was delicious food and a completely charming city. Each time, we walked a little bit further, found a few more things we wanted to do next time and ended up deciding we MUST plan a family trip to NOLA. Had we stayed on a rigid idea of what can and cannot be done, we would have never known how much we would love it. Each time we were at the Cafe, we were eating and back out of the city within 45 minutes…not much longer than a regular pit stop but this was one with so much more character!
It was pretty eye-opening…
We set the intention for this year that we will try to plan a city pit stop in each area we go through. There is so much out there that we are missing when we don’t slow down. Instead of existing in a blur, we now have a new memory and a desire to explore a city not too far from us. What’s better than that?
If you are interested in the kind of lists I do for the beginning of year intentions, you can check some of them out HERE.
What are your intentions this year?
What are you looking forward to most?
Going to a theme park at Christmas seems like a crazy idea, right?
But think about it…
Many of you have told me stories about how difficult the holidays can be in your households. When you combine family of origin drama, wartime trauma and the stress that comes with the preparation and presentation, MOST holidays can just be too overwhelming for anyone. The fact that Warriors have issue during the holidays is something a caregiver accepts and understands it may always be that way.
This year around September, we received an unexpected message through Operation Homefront. There was an owner of a condo in Orlando that wanted to donate a week there to a Veteran’s family, were we interested? It took about 30 seconds of conversation to say YES. We had not yet been able to explore any part of Orlando since moving to Florida a year and a half prior to that and our youngest had one mission, and one mission only: The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter. Knowing that the price of three meals a day and a week at a hotel was completely impossible for a disabled Warrior family, this became the first time that we thought we could do something like this for the last monkey still at home.
Then the planning begins!
I knew where we wanted to go and after figuring out the ends and out of how that would work, we settled on two park annual passes through Universal Studios Orlando. Visiting just twice in a year pays for them and they have an extended pay plan where you pay a down payment then small monthly payments to have an annual pass. (We chose Premiere Passes.) This pass is also good across the park for a discount on literally anything you purchase so there was an additional cost saving in doing so. After that, I scoured the internet for insider blogs on how and when to attach the various areas. An indispensable resource for us was the Orlando Informer. Time and time again, the information I needed always seemed return me to links on their site. They have GREAT background information on the two separate areas for the Harry Potter experience and their crowd calendar was fantastic. We planned over the course of the week what we wanted to do most, assigned them days and ranked them. As it happened, you can see displayed in multiple areas of the park wait times for a variety of popular rides so it was easy to adjust the schedule when a window of opportunity popped up.
Despite all my recon, there was no way to anticipate what days were going to be full on bumping into each other days versus plenty of room to roam. I thought Christmas Day would be the light day, WRONG. It was actually Christmas Eve that afforded us the lightest crowd. I wasn’t sure how my Warrior would take the situation, you can never really predict, but especially because our last theme park visit was a radically different situation. We ended up spending four days at Universal, can you believe that? There were also a great deal of lessons we learned that I would like to pass on!
WHAT I LEARNED ON MY WAY TO THE ROLLER COASTER
- Plan, plan, plan. Know what park you are going to, look at maps, rides, reviews and know what is your optimum day/time to visit for the easiest visit on the Warrior that has difficulty with crowds.
- Keep an eye on the Warrior. They may not be the best judge in stressful situations of when they need a break or need to step to the side/alley/bench and get out of the thick of it for a bit. At Universal, this was generally Butterbeer time.
- Stay occupied. Notice the details, talk about them with the Warrior, and carry on conversation. Often what they need is less of an “ARE YOU OKAY?” and more of a “hey check that cool thing out over there.”
- An AWESOME idea that we saw of some families waiting in long lines for rides doing was playing games. Most popular was the Heads Up app from Ellen. This borders on brilliant in terms of being able to keep everyone’s mind off of things.
- Know your limits. If you are crabby after a couple of hours of walking, make sure you eat something. Chances are that if your blood sugar is dropping, so is the kiddos and the Warriors. This can spell disaster.
- Don’t be afraid to be spontaneous. While a plan is great, you can sometimes miss great opportunities by trying to be too rigid. If something looks fun, tasty, interesting, stop and have the experience. It’s about the experience and you should really immerse yourself in it, no matter how long you will be there.
- Be flexible. I didn’t buy tickets to anything else because I wasn’t sure what everyone would want to do. One day we were there super early, another we went late in the day and yet another midday. It turned out to us, early was best so we know that for next time. Even though crowds were kind of crazy, we stayed a whopping 6 ½ hours one day!
- Look for deals. This is likely the biggest way to reduce the stress for your Warrior. Make a daily budget, stick to it and use coupons, discounts and thrifty shopping. A great idea we had for the kiddo was to put her in charge of her spending money. She had a budget for the trip and we gave it all to her. When it was in cash form, suddenly the idea of giving it up was harder. (Sometimes when parents swipe with plastic all day, they have a hard time visualizing how much things cost.) Instead of coming home with things that would be discarded in a couple of months, she made very thoughtful purchases of items that would recall her favorite memories of the week. It was a fantastic thing to watch.
- Consider where you stay. We were lucky to have a week donated to us but without the kitchen option, we would not have been able to afford to do this trip. Look for kitchenettes where you can take your precooked items to your room for dinners in the room. Some chains have free breakfast and great rewards programs that let you accumulate points for free rooms. Think about that when choosing a place and sign up in advance if you haven’t already. Don’t forget there are great resorts that offer certain packages to Veterans like this and this.
- Remember to have FUN! It won’t always be perfect but you have the opportunity to do things out of your comfort zone. Multiple times during the trip my Warrior took the time to utilize techniques from his 12-week workshop that allowed him to talk himself down on his own. It was fantastic progress to witness.
You CAN do this! Don’t stick to old traditions that make everyone unhappy in the end. Sometimes mixing it up a little is exactly what every one needed! Caregivers get stuck in not changing things at all for fear of what will happen. Sometimes seeing the look on the face of a kiddo who is beside themselves with joy is exactly what a Warrior needs!