Thursday, December 5, 2013

What to Pack!?

As you can see we like to go and travel is our therapy.  Like many packing and unpacking can be the
most aggravating parts of travel and vacations.  I typically try to pack in ways that will help me out and be efficient for packing and traveling.

Right now, we are packing for a trip to a week long conference in Orlando for wounded veterans and their families.  We are fortunate to have this experience and I'm so excited that I can hardly contain myself!

Here are a few of my tips:
  • Start packing a few days early for some items that you won't need until travel.
    • I pack underwear, pajamas, socks, and bathing suits first (yes, I'm packing swimwear for a December trip to Florida because it is 80 degrees and pools are heated)
  • Next, I pack non perishable food items in a separate bag that is easily accessible in the vehicle.
    • I pack things like peanut butter and bread, gummy snacks, dried fruit, bottled water and drinks, applesauce, and perhaps oatmeal, cereal, and other easy snacks.
  • Then, I pack meds in a container that I can easily get to.  I typically keep meds together in a clear box with lid so they travel well.  
  • I get the kids to pick a couple of toys, books, and coloring activity items to carry along.  This cuts down on the impulsive buys of unnecessary theme park purchases.  
    •  Example: pack princess gear for girls or swords and pirate stuff for boys or take a couple favorite plush items for snuggling
  • Pack items like Disney Pins, Vinylmations, MagicBands, lanyards, cameras, camcorders, and any other items you need to take to the parks.
  • Lastly, I pack the bulk of our bags
    • Add clothes and also pack hygiene bags
  • I usually forget a few things like phone chargers, sunglasses or computer/iPad chargers, a pair of shoes, etc and leave a tote bag handy to toss those items in at the last minute. 
I also pack a different bag if we are overnight at a different location other than our main destination.  For this next week's trip, we are starting off with two days with family and ending with a Disney hotel at the end of our Universal Orlando trip. So I'll back a single clothes bag for everyone in the family for each of these separate overnights so we don't have to lug in everyone's luggage for a 24-48 hour stay.

Happy Packing!

(By the way dear friends and readers....I am now a travel agent complete with Disney College of Knowledge and Universal Specialist certification and would love to help you plan and book your next trip! email me at for info)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Breathe - When All Else Fails

I have started writing this blog several times in my head....but then I don't type it out. 
I started typing and I back up and delete it. Then I get up and walk away. 
I come back.

I've not said much lately as far as our usual transparency of "how are you" and "how are things going."  Sometimes people assume no news is good news and others know silence usually means things are chaoitic and too insane to sit back and type a blog. 

The last month has been filled with more medical appointments than I have even kept a count of.  Most weeks, each day has been consumed with a pre-op, post-op, surgery day, check up day, x-ray day, hospital infusion day, or something to occupy the twenty four hours in our days. 

For some reason, the oldest child dislikes school.  Each morning begins with a fight of finding the right blue jeans and underwear combination that fits to his liking.  Then his anxiety soars at drop off time because he wants you to walk him to the door.  The youngest, age 4, has had to miss about as many days of preschool as he has been able to attend these first few weeks becuase of our many appointments and obligations.  So now he clings at my leg and doesn't want to let go for school most days too. The oldest has begged for weeks for me to homeschool him.

The kids don't want stay in a room in our home if an adult is not with them.  The won't go to the bathroom alone, and I can't go to the bathroom alone either, most of the time.  They don't want to go to sleep in their bed, unless you lay down and go to sleep with them.  They wake up. They run to find you.  Elbows and knees proceed to jab and poke for an uncomfortable night of restless sleep.  One pees on the bed.

Laundry to do.  Another night.  Another wake up.  Same story.  Laundry. Coffee.  Cary on.  Repeat.

John has been in alot of pain.  For some reason the oddness of the last few weeks has prompted him to not take meds regularly.  So, Monday he played game ever.  Then Tuesday through Friday he was unable to get out of bed.  Friday evening he wanted to get out and we rode to town.  He asked two or three times for the kids to be quiet.  They didn't quite down enough to his liking.  He said, "I've had enough" and leaped from the car. 

The kids were upset but took it in stride. I pulled off the road but he refused to get back in the car.  After walking about .4 mile, an officer friend of John's picked him up and took him home.  John threw the contents of his pockets on the floor and went to rest in quiet and calm down. 

Two days prior, as we were getting ready to go to get his stiches out, I reminded him to hurry and put his pants on.  He was already wearing his shoes.  So I reminded him where his bottoms were.  I get the kids out the door and turn back to turn off the lights, like moms do.  When I got outside to unlock the car for them, there John was standing beside the car in his underwear.  He was ready to go, so he said.  Yet, oblivious to the fact he wasn't dressed.  Sigh. Turn around, go back.  Buckle kids. Go to school. Drive 4 hours to doctor.  Come home. Repeat. 

I suppose I should be stressed out beyond belief, but I'm not.  I wish I could get more done.  I wish I had more time for me.  I wish my house stayed cleaner and neater and long for the day when the kids will help pick up more than they throw down.  However, in the meantime, the stress won't make it better.  Worry and anxity won't create a better situation.  I have to be as calm as I can.  I have to carry on.  I have to breathe. I have to pray. 


All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils; My lips shall not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit. Job 27: 3-4


I feel like I can relate a lot with Job lately.  I have to deal with my reality of life.  When all else fails....take a deep breath and just be.  Just be.  Just be as thankful as you can be.  Be as content and forgiving as possible.  Be seeking how to live more fully and aware of life.  Be hopeful.  Be prayerful. Be fervent.  Be loving.  Be kind. 

And at the time when you feel you need a break from reality...cry and greive.  Then when all else fails....take a deep breath and... Repeat.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Chapter Induction

Very busy week with lots going on but excited that today the date was set for the new MOPH Chapter's Induction.  

Officers elected for Chapter #1000 are John Flener, of Fitzgerald, as Commander; Bill Danforth, of McRae, as Senior Vice Commander; Earl Hendrix, of Adel, as Finance Officer; Warren Scoby, of Valdosta, as Adjutant; and Jim Graham, of Ocilla, as Chaplin. These officers will be sworn in at the Chapter Installation ceremony.

The Chapter meets each month on the first Tuesday at 7:15 PM at the VFW building in Tifton, Georgia. They invite combat wounded veterans to join in their efforts to promote patriotism, history, fraternalism, and assistance to all veterans with VA claims, homelessness, and job placement.

The Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) was chartered by Congress in 1932 to protect and promote the mutual interests of Purple Heart recipients. MOPH is the only veterans' service organization that is comprised exclusively of combat veterans. All combat wounded are invited to come and meet fellow Purple Heart Veterans ranging from World War II to the present – you do not need to be a member to join us. To become a member, the organization needs a copy of the Purple Heart Certificate, DD-214, or a copy of the original orders. All Purple Heart recipients in the vicinity are welcome to join. Associate membership is available to eligible family members of both living and deceased Purple Heart recipients.

Chapter 1000 has big plans for the coming year, including a golf tournament in November at The Golf Club of South Georgia, participation in local Christmas parades, presence at the Vietnam Moving Wall in Adel, care package collection and distribution for deployed soldiers and hospitalized and homeless veterans, and a flag trade in the spring.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My Udi's Prize Pack Came Today!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Discouraged or Thankful? That is the Question.

It's been one of those days.
We all have them.
Sometimes it just seems ours pound us relentlessly. It would be so easy to be discouraged yet we pick up and carry on.  We muster up enough gusto and stamina to get through our situations.  I am very thankful for family who help out in whatever ways they can.  Today, Mom has done laundry and dishes, cleaned around the house, and Papa came to get the kiddos for a last hooray before school. 

How did your day start?

My day began with a quick trip to the doctor to get my soft cast on my broke foot re-wrapped.  I came home to one kid still sleeping and John and the youngest were watching TV.  Soon after I came back, I heard John calling, "Amanda! Where's the bathroom? How do I get to the bathroom?"  I went to the living room and found him screening the walls, moving his head around the room in a panic.  I helped him to the bathroom as he quizzed me.  "Who's house is this? Where are we at?"

After I told him it was our house and we had lived here for over four years, he turned to our 6-year old son and asked him, "Who's house is this?" 

Gabriel told him, "It's our house, Daddy."

In almost disbelief, John chose to lay on our bed, asking "Who's room is this? Who's bed is this. Are you kidding me?"

I called mom and asked her to come over to help get the kids dressed and such.  John asked if she was coming to take us to our house. 

Matthew 6:27 NIV
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

How do you even respond?

You could panic.  Likely, it wouldn't do any good.  We all calmly dealt with the unusual morning we were presented with.  Our kids are terrific.  They really adapt and deal with our unique situations better than most adults would.  What would you do if your 37 year old spouse suddenly woke up disoriented to the point that he or she didn't recognize their surroundings?  Thankfully this doesn't happen often.  But, it happens.

The boys loved John, hugged him, and we tried to assure him that this was indeed our house and reorient him as best we could.

Philippians 4:6 International Standard Version

Never worry about anything. Instead, in every situation let your petitions be made known to God through prayers and requests, with thanksgiving.


Why choose Thankfulness?

Why not? Does it really do any good to be discouraged?  Try to focus on the positives.  These are the precise moments that make us realize that we must cherish the good times,

This week's quick trip to Universal
the good days, the good moments, the fleeting precious moments that we can experience and embrace as a family. 

For John, it is important that we do things with the kids that they can look back on and know that he tried to have good memories with them, even if he is unable to remember them.  He and I took a vacation a year and a half ago that he really doesn't remember.  Yet, I know the effort he made to make sure that we had a getaway just for us.  Our children will have memories and photos to look back on after the images are no longer in John's recollection. 

Our spontaneous trips provide an escape and a vital key to him believing that he is trying his best to show them he loves them, wants them to know that he cares, and put forth the effort when possible.

Thankfully not every day is like today.  Not every day is a cake walk.  Thankfully we have good experiences that we can cherish and we can hold onto the unconditional love that we have.  We are blessed with a great family.

Whether your family if filled with members who have special needs or just average folks, love them, cherish them, and tell them how much they mean. 

I Thessalonians 5: 15-18 NIV

Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. 16. Rejoice always, 17. pray continually, 18. give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Amazon Subscribe and Save Deals

I've started taking advantage of my Amazon Prime account by ordering things in to my business that are more cost effective than a shopping trip.  I have done a substantial bit of research to make sure I'm getting a good deal and thought I'd pass along what I've found.  With a Prime account and a Subscribe and Save subscription you can choose the items you want and how often you want them delivered.  With 1-4 items delivered on the same order you get a 15% discount.  With 5 or more items you get a 20% discount.  You can cancel or put orders on hold at any time. 

One of the best deals I found was on 48 double rolls of toilet paper.  The cost with the 20% off was $18.10 delivered each month. That's alot of toilet paper but it is easier and more cost effective than loading two buggies each week with paper products. This way they are delivered to our door and I don't have to pay payroll costs for someone to go get them.  Now, don't get me wrong becuase I'm all about keeping money local when I can but with me having to stay at home with my husband, I'm trying to save as much as possible too. 

Items scheduled to arrive in August include (Prices subject to change and Subscription includes 20%off):
  • Purex Ultra Packs Laundry Detergent
    •  $6.97 or $5.58 SUBSCRIPTION
  •  Bob's Red Mill Flour 4- 5 lb bags 
    •  $13.91 SUBSCRIPTION (not currently in stock since I put it on my list)
  •  Mr Clean Magic Eraser
    • $4.97 or $3.98 SUBSCRIPTION
  •  Cascade Dish Detergent Packs, 85 ct
    •  $15.46 or $12.37 SUBSCRIPTION
  •  Angel Soft 48 Double Rolls
    •  $22.63 or $18.10 SUBSCRIPTION
  •  Platex Large Gloves
    •  $2.15 or $1.72 SUBSCRIPTION
  •  Scott Naturals 6 large rolls paper towels
    •  $9.22 or $7.38 SUBSCRIPTION
  •  Lysol Disinfectant Spray, 19 oz
    •  $4.88 or $3.90 SUBSCRIPTION
  • Nestle Carnation Instant Dry Milk
    • $10.61 or $8.49 SUBSCRIPTION
  • Microwave Pork Rinds, case of 18
    • $18.99 or $15.19 SUBSCRIPTION

Some of the items' regular prices are already discounted.  Remember that Amazon prices are subject to change and I suggest checking your subscriptions a few days to a week before they are scheduled to make sure you don't miss out on an out of stock item.  I'd hate to miss my 20% off if something wasn't in stock.  That's why I added smaller "filler"items that we use, just in case.  

Maybe you don't want to buy that much TP but you can always search for a smaller amount.  I just thought I'd  share my hard work with you so you could take advantage of some savings.

(Disclosure: This post may contain contain Affiliate links)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Frustrating Journey - C&P Exams Tomorrow

Many friends know we have to go to Atlanta tomorrow for John's Compensation Exam.  This is nerve wracking for me on several levels. First, last year's exam was incomplete and not at all accurate.  We were told after the fact that the examiner was not "qualified" to conduct TBI/PTSD exams.  She didn't adequately fill out the papers, didn't submit them back to the VA in the allocated time frame, and it was a miserable experience.  The VA only sent about 10 pages of medical records (out of 300+ for the year) for the examiner to review.  They didn't record the actual responses John gave for the complaints and disabilities being evaluated.  It was such a frustrating experience driving all the way to Columbus for three separate days that just before his PTSD evaluation John jumped out of the moving truck on the freeway.  Yes, you just read that right.  I knew he was agitated and had slowed down and pulled over as much as I could before he bounded out of the truck, but it happened.  I eventually coaxed him back into the vehicle and we went for the remainder of the exam.  You better believe I was shaken but guess what....even after that and all the other details of his symptoms and daily life, the examiner reported that John didn't have any significant difficulty on 14 out of the 16 facets listed.  Yet, the VA exam at the VA hospital by two collaborating physicians on the same 16 facets showed EXTREME difficulty in 14 out of the 16 facets measured and some difficulty on the other two. 

So, our financial well being and John's access to more local medical care literally lies in the hands of someone we will see for about 3 hours tomorrow.  Dear Lord, I really pray they accurately record what is real for us.  We're not asking for something he doesn't deserve.  We just want what is needful and appropriate.  Did you know that between the 80% compensation that he presently gets and the 100% that he needs, there is a $1400+ a month difference? Yes. Stark difference. The price of our mortgage and taxes each month, actually.

Even though the VA determined over two years ago that John needed a full time caregiver, and gave me a stipend and health benefits, they have also denied his compensation for Aid and Attendance stating he needs no assistance or care! Yes, they did. Even though his neurologist at the time we applied (Sept. 2011) wrote "Needs Constant Supervision" across the bottom of the application.  So John is frustrated that the VA pays me more when he's the "suffering" one. Right now we can't get close medical care for John.  We have to drive 1.5 hours for emergency care and 3.5 hours for regular care.  Even though the VA allows me ChampVA health care insurance and I can access whatever resources I need close to home because I take care of him.  For me it is great. Yet, it shows how warped the system is because John can't get the same care. 

John's supposedly "expedited" Social Security Disability was denied because the VA hadn't determined him "Unemployable." So now we've waited 12 months on an appeal that hasn't made any progress.  John's Unemployability was denied by the VA based on the fact that they didn't see any barriers to employment.  Yet, he now hasn't worked in 23 months and the Vocational Rehab division has him enrolled in the Independent Living division because they determined him to not be suited for employment or education.  So, they have given him new can openers, jar openers, pens, eating utensils, etc.  so he can be more independent when he looses feeling in his hands.  They gave him a vacuum and a steam mop, a couch cane for assistance getting up, and a pill container that alarms and talks to him.  Still we can't get the home renovations approved.  The housing grant was denied  because John has a brain injury and seizures. Since he hasn't lost a limb or eyesight, they say we are out of luck and have to struggle. (See "We are the VA Backlog" blog)

John fell several times this week again.  He had a multitude of seizures again.  We can't get his oversized wheelchair through the door to our bedroom or our toilet closet or our clothes closet.  This week the most frustrating was when after helping him to the bathroom he had a seizure and fell against the door closing it and blocking my way in.  We were helpless to help him.  With the exception of a few weeks this year, this has been an almost every week struggle.  For a while last year we left several of the doors in our home off.  We took them off the hinges and completely removed them so EMTs could get John out on a couple occasions and John could maneuver easier. 

Now, however after a few bills the VA refuses to pay at our local hospital, John refuses to go there.  A few months ago after a bad fall my grandfather took him to the hospital and because he didn't have insurance they acted like they didn't want to treat him.  They gave him one shot and immediately brought discharge papers, even though it didn't relieve any of his pain.  They refused to call the VA hospital for transfer or treatment, and we wound up driving the 90+ miles to the nearest VA facility as John had to have some relief from the pain after the fall on the tile floor. 

Oh I digress.  If you're still reading my frustrations then "Thanks" or "I'm sorry." I am not sure what is more appropriate.  Today, I needed to vent.  I'm concerned.  I'm scared.  I fear that tomorrow's exams will not be adequate and we'll have to keep fighting for appeals.  The congressman's office requesting expedited case due to hardship didn't work, the Voc Rehab putting in requests for Dental treatment in May and June didn't work, and filing a wounded warrior SSD claim didn't work.  We've been in a backlog of claims since 2008 and I'm tired. I'm tired of fighting it and I can't get a break. 

We took one of the new Disability Benefits Questionnaires to John's Mental Health doctor two weeks ago to his 2 week check up.  My thoughts were that he'd seen her for about 2 years and she could accurately describe his need for total disability.  We go to the appointment to find John had been reassigned to a new doctor.  His doctor wasn't gone but as the VA hired many new MH employees, they redistributed the cases.  Oh my...."Here new Dr. W. Here is this detailed questionnaire for you to fill out" and my heart sunk again because I wanted it done by the doctor that knew John and knew of the severe issues that he was having and knew that they were real. 

Dr. W. did check the box that John has "total social and occupational impairment" and I was happy to see that he did a 97% accurate job, in my opinion.  But it is frightening.  I'm not supposed to be the paranoid one but the whole process is beyond frustrating.  Yes, I have faith....I've had faith....and I am sure I will continue to have faith.  But my faith in the VA system is wavering.  My faith in God to provide for our family is still there but we desperately need this increase in compensation from the VA for my husband's suffering and impairment from his disabilities.

So, if you are still reading....PRAY! Send up a prayer on our behalf that when we get there tomorrow we'd have favor and the records will be in order.  The symptoms and problems will be apparent and recognized and recorded appropriately and justice and mercy and goodness will prevail on behalf of this wounded veteran and his family.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Celebrate Independence and Thank a Vet

Today is a day of national celebration.  Again another holdiday marked by food, family, friends, BBQ, deserts, and maybe a little watermelon.  Yet the true meaning of the holiday is to celbrate America's independence.  We need to take a moment to acknowledge the battles and perserverance of the founding fathers and those who settled in America and then fought to keep her free all these years. 
Remember the Veterans that have sacrificed for our freedoms and remember also that some who come home still suffer from the mental and physical wounds they incurred as a result of their service. 
If you have combat veteran friends, family, or neighbors be aware that the celebrations, fireworks, crowds, and loud noises may trigger panic, PTSD symptoms, dissociation, etc. 
Happy 4th of July.  Happy Independence Day.  Thank a Vet today.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

When PTSD leads to Suicidal Signs

Anyone who has looked into symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder knows that dangers of PTSD include anger, impulsivity, depression, and may also include suicidal ideations or cries for help.  Unfortunatly, the VA system often can't do enough for many vets.  Family members and friends have to take a more proactive stance of awareness and support for the veterans that the love. 

I urge you to be there for veterans. Advocate for them, be with them, call 911 or other crisis lines if needed, point them in the right directions, and do whatever possible to make them feel accepted, needed, hopeful, and safe.
The American Veterans With Brain Injuries group posted this info on FB:  
It should also be understood that the VA crisis line is for ALL Veterans who may be in crisis. Very often events can bring difficulties to the surface that have been hidden or "stuffed" for years, sometimes decades! If you know a veteran showing the following warning signs or symptoms, reach out and DO SOMETHING! 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1), or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
These signs may mean someone is at risk for suicide. Risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss or change.

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself.
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawn or feeling isolated.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

Additional Warning Signs of Suicide Include:
  • Preoccupation with death.
  • Suddenly happier, calmer.
  • Loss of interest in things one cares about.
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye.
  • Making arrangements; setting one's affairs in order.
  • Giving things away, such as prized possessions.
There have been occasions when John wanted to throw away all his Army related gear.  He put his photos, medals, awards, and anything related into a box in the trash and threw out all his Army fatigues and accessories.   He cleaned out his closet, stacking all his clothes in a pile towering about five feet tall.  He told me to get rid of them that he didn't need them any longer.  He's went through times when he hid his Facebook account, posted that there were free Army items in the driveway, busted the glass out of the gun cabinet, loaded bags into the truck, and then hugged our children and told them good-bye. All this a gut wrenching experience for sure. 

How did we respond to these horrific times?  We did the best we could.  I called 9-11, called for someone to come get the kids, and I hid the truck keys. I knew if he left he would never return alive.  In December 2011, John wanted to go to the VA and kill them or at least make them suffer so they would understand what he was experiencing.  John didn't want to personally end his own life, but he wanted to be such a threat that someone else would have to kill him. 

Law enforcement came, cleared the house that was turned upside down and then found John about 8 blocks away.  Unfortunately, because John had worked as a deputy sheriff for a couple years before his health became so bad they didn't take action on his claims to kill everyone at the VA.  They recorded that they didn't hear him make any threats.  A deputy friend took him out for the afternoon and brought him back after all the guns were out of the house.  My parents came and stayed for a few days and afterwards John didn't recall too many details about the events that happened while he was in this rage.

Here is how I ended my letter to the VA Comensation board this week:

John is plagued constantly by the daily horrors he suffers from his service connected conditions.  Just last night he was screaming in his sleep, frightened by the visions and nightmares or demons trying to kill him.  We had to reorient him, leave the lights on, and he wanted to "never go back to sleep." While I am asking him now how to convey this to you, he states, "It's real fucking bad. I'm miserable." Between his confusion, disorientation, and severe anger and impulsivity, we had to buy a gun safe last January to lock his collection away from him after he tried to load all his guns to go "kill everyone at the VA" because he wasn't getting the help he needs.  It is awful that our children have to witness him like this.  I don't want to endure another day that he hugs and kisses them goodbye saying he will never come back home, watch the sheriff office suit up in body armor and storm our house searching it between the things he turned upside down as he fled the back yard.  He should feel that the VA has more of his best interest at heart and demonstrate that through better access to medical and mental health care, and the 100% compensation that he deserves so he doesn't have to stress about where money for bills or food is going to come from.  When he feels he is "worth more" dead so we won't have to be in a financial bind, it is already way too late.

Please be assured that at the time I am writing this blog, John is safe and is neither suicidal nor homicidal but I wanted to share these signs, symptoms, and stories with you in an effort to know that if you are plagued by PTSD and experience these symptoms that you are not alone in your struggles.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Chocolate Mug Cake...Faith of a Child

Our two boys had spent the week mostly away visiting aunts and uncles and the grandparents on the farm.  Yesterday afternoon, we went to pick them up and there were thunderstorms with heavy rain passing through.  The drive is about 90 miles for us, so it isn't just a quick pick up and head home. 

On the way home, the rain picked up and visibility was slim.  My wipers were going full force and I had to slow down substantially.  From the back seat, I hear Gabriel (age 6) exclaim, "I'm talking to God.  I prayed: 'Dear God, please let this rain slack up a little bit.'" Then in a few moments the driving was much easier as the rain let up a little bit. Gabriel was astonished and immediately thanked God for listening to his prayer and quickly answering.  

Then Aston (age 4) with the mustard seed sized faith to move mountains says, "Dear God, I want a piece of chocolate cake."  He was so serious and genuine and then he paused. He just sat there.  He held our his little hands as if waiting for a plate of cake to miraculously appear as fast as the rain subdued. 

Aston wasn't as happy with his prayer result as Gabriel was. Gabriel saw instant results from his prayer and Aston expected no less.  So this morning, I decided to search for that Chocolate Mug Cake recipe.  I found it and made Aston his very own Chocolate Cake.  It is waiting for him when he wakes up.  I guess we'll have an object lesson breakfast of the fact that have to wait longer for answered prayers!

And Jesus said to them, Because of your unbelief: for truly I say to you, If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you. -Matthew 17:20 American KJV


I'm acutally thinking that this mix would be very adorable as a teacher/friend gift packaged in a little mug.  I think I'm going to experiment to see what I can come up with.  I'm thinking substitute Whole Egg Powder for the eggs and Fortified Instant Milk for the milk.  I guess I might need some Butter Powder too. I've never had these staples in my pantry but I've looked at purchasing them in the past.  This way, all the recipient has to do is add water.  I think I may order those things as they would work great in the pantry stockpile and then I'll have them next time the need for a small gift arises.  Of course, Aston loves to cook and help in the kitchen and he will probably want to make a bunch of these to give away.  

Maybe we'll have to design our own special gift tag.  I'll work on that and post it to share when we finish it!

Hope you have a faithfilled-prayers answered kind of day.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

MOPH Chapter Organizing

John (along with a little help from myself) has embarked on a new endeavor.  I think it will be wonderful for the communties around us and wonderful for him as well! We are trying to get a new chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart started.  The nearest chapter is over 100 miles away and I know there are more vets within that vicinity that would love and benefit from being part of such a great group. 
All you guys know I like to save money where I can so we used a Groupon (Purchased through the Ebates website to earn cash back!) for Vistaprint. We bought the groupon for $17 to use towards $70 worth of product! We ordered lots of neat things like the post cards above, photo journals, buisness cards (get 250 FREE), invitations (get 10 FREE), and more.

Bottom line is.....If you know a wounded veteran anywhere in the South Georgia area, please let them know about this new MOPH Chapter forming! Certain family members can join as Associate members too.  To find out more about the MOPH you may visit their webpage or contact us.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Shutterfly Father's Day

We really love Shutterfly! Here are the last 2 years Father's Day cards that we designed and sent straight to Dad!

Striped Collage Father's Day Card
Cheerful Christmas invitations for your friends and family.
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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Doing Disney Pirate Style

We seem to average about three Walt Disney World trips each year for the last three years. We try to do something unique each time we go. With two boys, we have not experienced the Bippidy Boppity Boutique or princess character meals. (Even though I still would love to dine at Cinderella's Castle!) Since the princess craze doesn't work for us, we search out other fun things to do with boys.  The Pirate Adventure Cruises are for kids only and are one of these great choices.  These cruises sail from one of several Disney resorts and are available for potty trained children ages 4-12.  Each of the four locations that offer the Pirate Adventure Cruises have a slightly different theme.  These adventures set sail from 8:30-11:30 each day from one of the locations and include a hunt for treasure and a story told by the crew.  They even give the kids a snack while away.  You can find the details on Disney's website here.
When we stayed at Port Orleans in 2011, our youngest was too small to join brother on the Bayou Pirate Adventure that sailed from the Fishin' Hole on Ol' Man Island down the Sassagoula River.  But the oldest wasn't keen on leaving mom and dad's side either so we waited until October 2012 and booked the Pirate Adventure Cruise.  This cruise leaves from the Grand Floridian. On this adventure, our kids sailed around Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon and were treated to a reading of "The Legend of Gasparilla"—a real Florida pirate. These excursions can fill up in advance so call Disney or your travel agent to book in advance. 

This really turned out to be a great adventure for all of us. While the kids were off for a couple hours, John and I went to the Grand Floridian Cafe (where we had advance dining reservations).  We enjoyed some grown up food: Citrus Pancakes with roasted pecans and dried cranberries served with orange butter and Smoked Salmon with tomatoes, onions, capers (I had these left off), cream cheese, and toasted bagel.

After our delightful breakfast we headed back off to the marina with about 45 minutes to spare.  We spontaneously decided to rent a Sea Raycer for the last 30 minutes before the kids came back into the dock.  I have to say it was pretty cool to cruise around Bay Lake for a bit. 

The kids came back in as we were pulling into the dock and showed us all their pirate treasure (a small chest and bag filled with pirate loot like rings, bracelets, eye patches, pencil toppers, etc.) and we headed back to our Pirate Room at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort.  Our little one fell asleep on the way back and rested well in his pirate ship bed. Our boys really loved the pirate themed room but know that we found the beds a bit more uncomfortable than most Disney Resort bedding.  The room was smaller too but Disney still paid close attention to every detail as always with keg-like bedside tables, plank flooring, and pirate curtains.
When we were planning our Spring 2013 trip we decided to try for the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Cruise that sails from the Contemporary.  We lucked out and got reservations about 3 weeks in advance.  We arrived quite a bit early and there were crayons, color sheets, and puzzles for the kids to work on in the hallway until it was time for refreshments.  The snack buffet included white cheddar popcorn, cake, chocolate pirate coins, fruit, a freezer of Mickey and Disney's Ice Cream Novelties), small bagged portions of Disney's cotton candy, and a beverage selection of coffee, teas, cocoa, and more. 

While we filled up on snacks, Captain Hook and Smee posed for photos and signed the boys 9" Vinylmations.  We were led to the boat by Hook and our cast member on board entertained us with trivia games (for the kids) and prizes while we got our own view of the water pageant before moving along to get into position to watch Wishes.  Of course we had to sing "Yo Ho" and discovered we didn't really know the words! I think The Pirates and Pals Cruise is now our favorite way to experience the fireworks.  It was spectacular with the music piped in over the boats speakers.

The next day the boys had the opportunity to meet Jack Sparrow! After a ride on the Pirates of the Caribbean we made it just in time for him to invite the boys on stage.  They loved the fact that they were sworn in as honorary pirates! Each of them were delighted to have a special certificate to show for this experience.

The only thing that my boys weren't keen on experiencing was the Pirates League at the Magic Kingdom, where children and adults can be transformed into a pirate complete with makeup and accessories.  Maybe we'll try that on another trip.

If pirates and adventure sound fun, try doing Disney pirate style on your next trip. There's no danger of having to walk the plank and you may just have an amazing time.

-Let me know if I can plan your next magical vacation or a pirate adventure for you.  I now work with a full service travel agency that provides FREE quotes, and lots of help to make magic for you! You can email me at for your quote

Sunday, May 19, 2013

We are the VA Backlog

I started using Twitter this past week and much to my suprise it is a great way to connect and find information based on subject matter and interests.  I admit that I sterotypically thought of it as friends and celebs tweeting their every move and trip to the toilet.  Alas, I am pleasantly surprised. 

One of the things I have been concerned with for quite some time is the VA Backlog or as I now know it #VABacklog.  It is appaling and horiffic to think that there is such a mound of claims that the VA can't process them fast enough.  I've seen the frustration from my own combat wounded spouse becuase of his inability to work, our financial strain, his deteriorating health, inability to be left alone independently, and the VA's unrelenting process of hurring up to wait a bit longer.

I first wrote about my thoughts on the VA backlog in relation to the rise in veteran suicides in January.  You can find my post here.  Today, I feel like we are one of that 600,000+ in the backlog.  Sure, everyone has their stories and it is horrible that vets get the back burner when it comes to much
deserved compensation. 

While we've waited the better parts of the last 6 years waiting on claims, I do not understand why we've had to wait 7 months on a few papers (sent in by our congressman on our behalf) to be mailed somewhere to an office to be scanned into the Veteran's Benefits Managment System (VBMS) so that the VA can say they have now have a "web-based, electronic claims processing solution complemented by improved business processes.  Once the claim is scanned we will proceed with the claim processing."  By the time they mailed the five or six pages, took seven months to get them scanned, send correspondence appologizing back to us and the congressman, I have a hard time understanding why they can't just look at the papers and see that we need action.  Seven months to put a hardship request and caregiver documentation into his file to be reviewed later. Pitiful.

For almost two years I have been paid from the VA as a full time, Tier 3, caregiver for my husband.  Back in early Fall of 2011 his neurologist filled out paperwork for Aid and Attendence noting that John needed "Constant Supervision."  In December of 2013, we finally got notice that they denied this claim becuase they felt John needed no assistance.  In my opinion, this claim was one of many we've had denied when I believe the VA just wants to move some numbers and reduce that backlog.  Documents upon documents show that John needs and deserves Aid and Attendence, yet the VA denied it without really looking at the evidence so they could reduce that backlog of claims.  John's claim was processed. "Denied." For me, it is unacceptable.  For John, he doesn't have the patience, memory, or stamina to fight this battle. 

I feel so bad for the vets who don't have someone to fight this battle for them.  I guess this week I will once again step up my efforts to reach out to other organizations that John is a member of and those groups that have told me they would try to help us.  It is tiring.  Even when the Congressman's office has petitioned the VA to expedite our claim due to hardship and "clear and unmistakable error for the rating of individual unemployability, aid and attendence, and traumatic brian injury."

Veterans are ending their lives daily with suicide and others are dying from their illneses and injuries.  Today, John's life didn't end but he suffered with living.  He cried becuase he couldn't move his legs or walk to the bathroom.  He couldn't put on his own socks or move his own covers.  Today was a day worse than some others.  He couldn't get to the bathroom without his wheelchair and assistance.  His chair doesn't even fit through our doorways but the VA denied that housing adaptation grant too becuase John has a brain injury and seizures.  Since he hasn't lost a limb or eyesight, they say we are out of luck and have to struggle.

The VA is not responding effectively and timely enough.  We, the backlog, are at war with a mound of paper and a system that is not effective enough. It has almost squashed us to death.  We've got to win this war.  My husband and the rest of the backloged vets deserve better.  Fight for them.

On the Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran's Facebook Page they posted this informaional photo to give you an suggestion of how to petition your congressman:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Low Carb Dill Pickle Dip

For those of you who are keeping your carb count minimal, you know that it seems variety in your diet can seem nonexistent.  Meats, cheeses, salads and veggies...Right?

Yesterday, I was perusing Pinterest and saw a lot of people pinning a Dill Pickle Dip but I didn't like the ingredient combinations of most of them.  No thanks to the jalapenos for this family.

So I decided to try to kick it up a notch with some parmesan with parsley and garlic salt (Og carbohydrates) that I got at Publix on BOGO a couple weeks ago.

This is great to dip veggies in.  Maybe you could even stuff the sweet mini peppers.  You could also use this as a spread for sandwiches or burgers.  Of course, you could always go for the typical crackers to accompany the dip. 

I mixed all of the following in my Kitchenaid Mixer until blended:
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese with parsley and garlic (you could always use plain parm plus some garlic salt with parsley) 
  • 1/4 cup dill cubes/relish
That's it! Simple enough and now we've got some variety to the low carb diet this week.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Doing Disney With Disabilities - Part 2

What do you do when your disability is not so obvious?  If you or your disabled loved one are anything like my husband, often he just wants to blend in.  He would rather endure a little (or extreme) pain and suffer rather than have to face the scrutiny (or just plain paranoia) that others are looking, staring, or judging.  Worrisome thoughts like, "Look at him, he doesn't need that ECV" or "They are just doing this to skip lines" or maybe you even overhear another person say, "Pfffft, guess I should have paid for a scooter!"

What if you are that vacationer that has severe PTSD, a panic disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or seizures?  What if you are afraid of people being too close to you and maybe you even get weak and feel like you are going to pass out when crowds are too large and people are all around?  Maybe you even collapse under stresses like these.  Unfortunately, all these are things that my husband has to endure plus a few more.  Yet, until our most recent April 2013 visit, I never thought about how Disney could accommodate these invisible disabilities.  Because John was usually in a wheelchair or used his walker, those injuries/disabilities were more apparent.   When he used a mobility device, we used the Wheelchair/Handicapped entrances to rides, thus typically bypassing those overcrowded and often long lines. 

Just before our April trip, I read somewhere about the Guest Assistance Card.  I knew John wanted to try to tackle this trip without his walker or wheelchair.  Matter of fact, we left the wheelchair at home and only packed the walker.  We decided we would just rent an ECV on the day(s) that he needed it while we were in the parks.  My breathing difficulties are so severe that I knew I couldn't be able to push him much during this trip even if he were to need the wheelchair.  I knew we would need this Guest Assistance Card more than ever. 

As usual on our first day, Magic Kingdom was our first stop. We headed straight to City Hall/Guest Services and I explained our situation to the cast member there.  I told him how John was a combat wounded vet who had severe PTSD, seizures, and anxiety and also told them that we didn't bring his wheelchair along like usual but he still had mobility issues with standing or walking for long periods of time.  

The cast member was gracious and put our information into the computer.  He stamped our pass with "May use an alternate entrance when possible" and also explained that he couldn't guarantee that it would work everywhere but encouraged us to "just ask" and to have a great vacation.  He also told us that sometimes the wait times may be longer using the card than the traditional ride entrance, etc. 

I have heard how this Guest Assistance Card can be a life saver for families traveling with children with disabilities also.  Children with Aspergers, Autism, sensory disorders, etc. can possibly benefit from the Card.  If you have thought about taking a disabled aging family member along on a vacation, this may be a good thing to keep in mind so your vacation is less of a hassle. You can always ask your travel agent or Guest Services on suggestions to make your trip more accommodating and magical.

Ok, here is my disclaimer!  I can't guarantee that Disney will accommodate any or all of your issues/disabilities.  I can say that during the last 3 years on at least 9 trips, we've only had one bad encounter with a cast member regarding disability accommodation.  Yes, it made me furious and practically ruined my entire day at the Animal Kingdom.  However, while we were at the Animal Kingdom Guest Services location, I overheard a cast member and a guest discussing her request for a Guest Assistance Card.  The guest apparently had diabetes and had gotten the Card in the past and the cast member did not want to giver her one for her current trip.  The cast member even asked her if she had her prior card or a letter from her doctor!  If you are considering asking for a Guest Assistance Card on your next trip, you may want to take along some type of documentation just in case you need it.  I would hate for your first Disney experience to be unnecessarily anxiety provoking.  While John has a VA ID card that states he is Combat Wounded and Service Connected, I thought about taking a copy of his Compensation Award letter on our next trip.  This way we would have documentation showing what his disabilities he is diagnosed with and you better believe that we're saving this current Card!

Invisible helper dog at Once Upon A Toy
During our April trip, I also noticed several service dog relief areas.  These areas grabbed my attention as we have been on a service dog waiting list for almost a year.  Hopefully, on our next trip we will have a service dog with us.  During our Halloween Party trip in October 2012, John jokingly grabbed this invisible dog/leash at Once Upon A Toy at Downtown Disney and said, "Look at me and my invisible helper dog!"

Whatever need or disability you have, chances are that Disney has a way to make your vacation a little more comfortable.  Even though we started off with 4 years of no family vacations, we now do Walt Disney because it caters to disabilities (both the visible and invisible), it is in John's comfort zone, and it helps turn an ordinary day into a magical escape. Read more about why we do Disney in this post.

If you have a question about Disney accommodating disabilities you can Click Here to go to their Q&A Page.

See our Doing Disney With Disabilities - Part 1 post

(Friends and readers: I am now a Travel Agent complete with graduating from the Disney College of Knowledge and I'd love to help you plan a magical vacation.  Email me at and Find the agency on Facebook - Our services are FREE from quotes to park plans and dining with qualifying vacation packages)