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5 posts from March 2013

March 28, 2013

I dreaded today

like I dread one or two days of each R&R for Peter.  Yep, it was doctor day.  It fact it was the day for the annual ladyparts test whose ending rhymes with *dram.*  My, I have quite a long list of words now that I never want to say/hear again...including that one.

Given that this whole business has turned me into a doctor-hating (well, if I know you personally, that's different...and if you are a vet or non-human doctor, you are good to go!), hospital loathing weenie when it comes to medical stuff. If I so much as see a hospital symbol within a week of an appointment, I quite literally break into hives.  Oh, and my blood pressure?  Through the roof!  120/90 at my last appointment (months ago, but I can't forget it) and I thought my heart was going to explode while the nurse was inflating the cuff.

I dreaded today,  NOT because I fear anything would be wrong, just because I hate that I am told they are *necessary* (reality being who really knows).  I knew that they would not find anything and I'm not just being some overly positive person.  As far as I am concerned, this was a one time deal and I simply won't put up with anything else.  So, no expectations of anything wrong.  However....

When I arrived, I had to sign in on the pink ribbon emblazoned sign in sheet.  You know, like we all don't know why we are there.  Gotta love it being shoved in your face again.  Then there is the paperwork review:  Despite the fact that there is a wealth (I'm sure) of information on me (and my stellar attitude, too), they ask about your history.  I'm fine with a "Check the box if you've had weird changes since your last visit, e.g., growing a second head," however, WHY do I have a to re-write a history that, A.  they KNOW and B.  cannot be anything but painful to remember.

Don't worry, the minute I left the reception area, my biggest advocate and anti-pink person laid into them on both of the above topics.  Really, updates are one thing, but a rehash of everything in the records?  Not necessary.

Then there was the good ole exam.  No big deal, not terribly painful or uncomfortable, though I do hate the wait.  I mean, you don't know why you have to wait so long, whether it's an overly thorough comparison, or the doctor just had to finish lunch first.  

Finally, the technician walks in, says "no suspicious findings" (duh) and then adds, "Oh, the radiologist left a suggestion about MRIs.  You might consider having one given your *personal history.*

I just about lost it as my head spun around in several directions.  Did the breast surgeon not specifically tell me that if I wanted one, I would likely have to front the money myself?  Did she not say I was *not high risk enough?* And, if the doctor checked my records to notice that I *hadn't* had one recently, yet HAD seen the doctor, she would know this little tid-bit.

So, like the nice, kind, soft-spoken person I pretend to be, I explained patiently exactly what transpired at my last visit.  The technician then repeated herself, and I reminded her that the very doctor she told me to speak with had repeatedly told me that she could not justify writing the scrip on the basis of my exam.  She seemed to get it, but there was no chance to speak with the doctor and at that point, I was livid, so I hightailed it out of there.  I relayed the entire incident to Peter, who was equally enraged, and tried to let it go.

If you are wondering, I am not a person who is comfortable with more doctor visits. They do not make me feel better or safer.  I know I am healthy and doing just fine.  I spent way too much time in doctors' offices as a kid (which now makes me wonder...) and am not going to torture myself like that as an adult.  Nor do I want even more invasive, unnecessary tests that carry risks of their own. I accept that I may well be in a minority.  However, that does not mean that just going to an annual appointment has to be such a pain in the rear, especially when there is likely absolutely nothing wrong.  

*Personal history* my rear.  Did I mention I can't wait to move to Managua and leave this stress behind?!  Or that we might have a move date?  Maybe...but that's a story for another day....





March 22, 2013

My wee Nugget

is 11 years old today.


Just over two and a half and utterly adorable.
It seems like just yesterday, she was born with a shock of black hair and piercing brown eyes, and we could immediately sense her independent spirit.  Today she still has that commanding presence combined with a sense of style that must be from Grandma Kirk (we all know it's not from Mrs. Yoga Pants 2013). 


She may seem quiet, but it is more that she is deeply introspective.  She doesn't mince words and doesn't miss a beat.  She's my little outside-the-box thinker, writer, artist, and baker.  She has been dreaming about her birthday for months, yet Wednesday, when Peter arrived home and surprised her before school, she said his arrival was so exciting she almost forgot her birthday was imminent.


Good thing I found this photo, since that's a birthday gift *hint.*

Today will be lunch with dad, cupcakes, and special treats all around.  Tomorrow? Tomorrow will be one day closer to 12...and I can't wait to see what that brings.


March 19, 2013

You give another year of your life

...a year of being away from your husband.  A year of your kids being away from their father.  Your husband works a minimum of 12 hours a day (more likely 16-18) EVERY DAY in a war zone.  (His last official "day off" was January 4.) He comes home three times during that year (and you are constantly told how lucky you are) and in the end, when you are slated to move overseas, you are told, "Oops, sorry, you have no place to stay while you move."

Why?  Well, according to the State Department my husband is already overseas and thus does not need to worry about packing out a house or moving his family.  Never mind that he never really packed out (really, 132 lbs of UAB, unaccompanied air freight, including packing materials, is a packout?).  

You see, normally, with the State Department, when one moves overseas from a domestic assignment, there is what is known as a predeparture subsisitence allowance.  You are given a set amount of per diem (per person), so that your family can establish a command center of sorts at a local hotel. This is not pampering or extravagant, this is so you can have a room that allows for all of your luggage (which may have to get you through 6 months at your new post), your pets (which will cost you more on your bill), your kids, passports & other documents that can't be lost (or packed) and anything else you need for travel that absolutely cannot be touched by a mover.

You are also given an allotment for food, because even if you do get a room with a small kitchen, you can't do that much cooking since you will be departing soon.  More importantly, you are in the middle of a move and are likely spending 12 plus hour days at your house ensuring they don't pack out the full Diaper Genie (it's been attempted) or any items staying with the house. If it sounds easy, then I'm betting you've never tried it.  

This allowance is one of the few things that carries a person through a move.  It is one of the few benefits we get when we move.  A few moments of sanity during a crazed time.  And if you've read this blog in the past, you know we are moving soon.  To Nicaragua. After ONE YEAR without Peter.  Guess what our reward for that is?  Yep:  our predeparture allowance has been axed..or rather, never even existed. Mind you Peter did NOT receive this allowance when he went to Kabul.

We are expected to cough up about $4000 to find a place to stay, to eat out (since our time to cook will be limited at best), and for taxes on the hotel room.  We get no help from the State Department because Peter PCSed to Afghanistan (Permanent Change of Station).  Basically, in their eyes, he moved from here, to there and once his tour is over, he will go directly to his next post.  

Let's never mind that he could NOT pack out his house and take it to Kabul.  Impossible!  He lives in a tiny remodeled shipping container that barely holds a desk, a bed, and a dorm-like armoire.  He would have no room (or desire) to take anything other than clothes and the most basic necessities. 

I learned of some of this by accident when a friend mentioned something similar happening to her.  A bit of a different scenario (she was voluntarily separated from her husband), but I kept worrying that they seemed too similar.  I called Peter, researched on my own and kept finding this nasty bit of news.


Note that nowhere does it explain how one is supposed to satisfy home leave requirements nor how one is expected to find lodging on $77/day in the DC metro area.

Not only are we not entitled to the predeparture allowance, IF we wanted any help with staying in "commercial quarters," we would have to move PRIOR to Peter finishing up his tour.  Never mind that he would not actually be here to help (after a YEAR over there), we are supposed to pack out the house before he comes back.  The better part?  He needs to complete roughly six weeks of home leave to reacclimate to the U.S. before we depart for Nicaragua.  How is he supposed to do that with no place to stay? Even more frustrating, one document we received states we receive TSMA "upon departure from Iraq."  That statement, however, directly conflicts when one clarifies with the online regulations above.

So, the ONLY way to get a TINY amount of assistance (the lodging portion is $77/day PER FAMILY, not per person), which would not even get half a room at the nearest motel, is for me to pack out in mid-May, without Peter's help and without having a place to stay until we leave for post in July.  Yes, that is exactly what the regs state.  

Apparently, this is due to the fact that Peter PCS-ed.  Why did he PCS?  Well, he never wanted to stress that anyone would come back and say, "Well, you *only* TDY-ed (Temporary Duty) to Kabul."  Yes, many people choose that option, but he had that niggling fear and decided PCS was the safest option.  

Now, I know if you have any knowledge of State and UTs (Unaccompanied Tours) you are sitting there smugly thinking, "Oh, but you have been raking it in with ISMA (Involuntary Separate Maintenance Allowance)! You can use that to stay in a hotel!"  As if.

ISMA is the per pay period allowance we are given to maintain two separate households.  It is NOT for the purpose of moving. In fact, if Peter had to take certain training courses for his next post, it would be a non-issue.  He would come back here, take his courses (which would be considered a new tour) and would be given the moving allowance, no questions asked.  He would not be required to be separated from us during packout or home leave and we would have no worries (about this matter) right now.

Even more importantly, we would need several months of ISMA in order to cover hotel expenses during packout.  ISMA is meant to augment, not completely cover the expenses of two different households and I assure you, it barely does that. For a year that was meant to help us get back on our feet after the blip in 2010, it has done nothing of the sort.  Remaining here instead of going overseas as a family has been far more expensive and now, despite yet another year of sacrifice, we are facing even more expenses just to get our next post.

Clearly, we are working on this issue to figure out what we can do.  However, am I expected to believe that after an entire YEAR of Peter being gone, we are supposed to also be separated for home leave (his mandatory U.S. based leave) AND foot the hotel bill for the move?  Never mind that he did not take the allowance last year when he moved to Kabul.  He couldn't, as he already had a house here.

Our house.  Our house that will need three days (at best) to be properly packed out.  We then need to clean and prep for our renters.  Peter needs time to deal with paperwork issues and it would be nice to be rested for our travels.  

Oh, you are wondering why we didn't know this ahead of time?  Easy.  There are no required classes that explain this scenario.  You are simply given a chart basically detailing PCS vs. TDY and told to choose, and rather quickly.  The chart itself is good in detailing benefits regarding money, but is the same chart that gives conflicting information regarding TSMA.  In fact, I am learning now that we are far from the only ones who did not get predeparture or TSMA  when they left the States.  I have heard from three other families who have been affected and more that will be.  If nothing else, this is a forewarning to others who have not chosen yet, that TDY may be the only reasonable option (even though it carries negatives, such as no differential payment for the first 42 days of the tour!).

I suppose we could have done even more research than we did.  We could have crunched more numbers and spent even more time debating this issue, because we really did not think that we would not get *any* assistance with predeparture (even TSMA, as the chart states we should the way I read it, but the regs then negate).  In the end, I can only say that if we had really, REALLY prepared for this, we would not have considered doing a UT in the States as  a PCS.  We simply would have waited until we could go overseas and then tacked the UT onto the end of another tour.  Between the additional expenses of running a household, the lack of predeparture, having young children (and needing to pay for extra care), it simply has not been what we thought it would be.

So, in the end, take from this what you will...and learn from our mistakes.  And, maybe, just maybe the regs at some point will be changed so that the choice between PCS and TDY does not have to hinge on whether or not you will be stressed out over an unnecessary hotel bill at the end of your tour.  Instead it will be determined by what is right for your (or your spouse's) career at the time...the way it should be.







March 07, 2013

In all the excitement

of our recent sicknesses, finishing up classes, shipping out bazillions of boxes of Girl Scout cookies, and Nick's birthday, I almost forgot something very important:  I get to have surgery again soon!

I know, I know, it just wouldn't be my life if we couldn't throw the monkey wrench of a surgery into the mess of Pete's return, home leave, packing out, and moving, would it?  It's a good thing I remembered about it, as we meet with the surgeon April 3, and I have to remember to remind him to tell Pete that I will need no fewer than 6 weeks of utter relaxation post-surgery...which might just get me back to my normal self after this nutty year.

If you are wondering, yes, it's related to that of which we don't speak.  And we don't speak those words, because there's no reason to do so, right? I'm just fine, minus a little abdominal wall collapse which sounds, I assure you much worse than it is.  Unless it's mid-winter swimsuit try-on day and then it's just awful.  If you've ever wanted to see what half-pregnant (and by half, I mean 'on one side') looks like, I'm your person.

I noticed the issue late last summer, long after my last visit with the amazing plastic surgeon.  It seemed like I had a pooch on my right side that just wouldn't go down.  No amount of planking or running was helping (nor did 4 months of a personal trainer) and I realized I needed to do get on Dr. Google again.  I did, and found out that this is a fairly normal occurrence with a DIEP.  Not always likely to happen, but when it does, it needs to be fixed unless you really didn't want that tummy tuck you said you did.

Unfortunately, no amount of looking at the darn thing reminded me to call the surgeon. It wasn't until the whole thing with the cellulitis happened.  He was examing the scar, looked at my other side and jumped back several feet.

"When did THAT happen?!"

Er...somewhere between someone going to Kabul and me showing up in your office today?  Yeah, I had no response to that.  However, at least I had definitive confirmation that it was not supposed to be like that.  Even better, he then offered that it could be (sort of) easily fixed, possibly even with laparscopic surgery, to make healing faster.

I had already seen before and after photos online, so I knew exactly what he was talking about.  And, no way I am not getting full benefit of the ole 'tuck.  So, Peter called up, made an appointment and off we will go to learn more about how they will manage to reduce the circumference of my waist by 5 inches or so (well, that's my hope).  I'm also hoping this will end the painful sneezes, coughs and the like and make it look like all of the planking and yoga is doing something!  

Given that we are *hoping* for a mid-July move, I really want this out of the way in late May/early June.  Sadly, that might mean Pete has to do most of the pre-move work.  Oh, but I can direct him from the recliner...so that works, right?

So, that's it.  That's my big ole news.  Get another punch on the surgery card, which best be the last for a very, very long time....


March 03, 2013

Today is Nick's

birthday party and we are a bit like headless chickens in the household right now.  I just finished up the second last-minute trip to Harris-Teeter (forgot ice cream and lemonade on my first trip...seriously, who forgets that?!).  I've also apparently not been to a grocery store on a Sunday morning in a long time.  Nearly had more trouble finding parking there than I would at church.  


From Nick's birthday celebration at his Montessori.

We (and, yes, of course the Salty Dogs are involved) have not done a party with so many kids in ages (for Nick).  In fact, it's his first party with classmates and he has been so excited for days.   We sent off the evites, ordered the cake, scoped out the party room at the nature center, have our contingent coming in from Maryland today with their awesomely green party supplies (the nature center sent us instructions on how to have a green party.  I don't think they've met the Salty Dog Party Planner before....they might be updating after today!).


We have a kid friendly menu of veggies with sauce, hummus, and pitas, fruit kabobs, pulled chicken w/slider buns (and sauce from Red, Hot & Blue, of course), cake, ice cream, and the crème de la crème of treats:  *from scratch* sugar cookies á la Kelsey D.

The only item missing?  Daddy.

In fact, last week Nick forgot that Peter would not be here and asked if he would be back in time.  I replied no, that he would not be back until it was closer to Kelsey's birthday.  Nick then asked, 

"Well, if we invite him, can he come?"

Oh, if only that's all it took!

Even without Dad-Guy, I think it's safe to say the LG will have an awesome 5th birthday party.  A nature center, 16 of his nearest and dearest (plus The Sissas), and food treats galore.  What more could an LG need?

Note:  If you are wondering, we did think about Skyping Peter into the party.  Even with the time difference, he would do it in a heartbeat...if he had a computer.  Sadly, his laptop died a painful death last month, so we have not been able to Skype for the past five weeks.  We will look into them once he gets back for R&R, but may just suck it up for the rest of the tour, as we really don't want to sink that money into a laptop for such a short time.  Especially considering the expenses we know we will incur in the move...gulp.