#ThankfulThursday: Reflections Upon My First and Second “Tours” of Walter Reed

If you remember, I had written for our Memorial Day article mentioning about a family member receiving treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Now that my family member made it “official” on social media that they are being treated for cancer, I think it is safe to say (at least), that the family member I was referring to all this time is my brother. I just returned from a “second tour” of two weeks (last time I stayed a little over three weeks in May), and I am still amazed and inspired. I wanted to take a moment to share a slice of what I had learned during my most recent trip there.

As always, the medical and support staff at Walter Reed are phenomenal. I feel that my words do not reflect how much I admire and respect all that they do at the hospital for active military and veterans. The medical team working with my brother has been diligent (sometimes over-diligent, but that’s okay). He is still not affected by nausea from the chemo (thank goodness for those newer anti-emetics!) However, he was more fatigued this time around (and lost more hair). Seeing him this way was kind of hard for me. What had kept me up was his attitude through it all. He has kept a positive attitude and, whenever he would go in for an appointment (for the infusion, labs or follow-up with the doctor) he would be like, “Let’s do this!” I am very happy and grateful for the way he has been handling this.

Like last time, we were staying at the Fisher House. This time, however, were a different mix of patients from my last visit. I spoke to a few of them and listened to some of their stories. Between their stories and the stories of my brother, I got a glimpse of active military life. There was one man who was there with his mother – I am going to call him “Joe.” When we – my brother and I – first saw him, he looked like anyone else, except that he was visibly missing the right half of his head. I was amazed that he was able to stand, walk and speak pretty well. Later, when I struck up a conversation over breakfast with him and his mother, and I learned a lot more about him.

About 13 years ago, his convoy was hit by an IED (that’s Improvised Explosive Device). The shock and shrapnel hit him in his head. One of the people in his unit refused to leave without him, despite others telling them to “just go.” He wasn’t expected to survive the night. He was flown to a hospital in Germany, where his mother met up with him. He was alive, but still wasn’t expected to survive very long. He was stabilized and brought to Walter Reed. I am not sure what happened next (they skipped that part of the story), but eventually, he did awaken and was in a wheelchair at first. His medical team remade part of his skull with a plastic-like polymer, so his brain could still be protected (of course). They are here now because that polymer “shield” had gotten infected and they had to remove it. Now, they are preparing to put a titanium one in its place.

Joe can still understand what you are saying and he can keep up in a conversation. Sometimes, if you mention something that strikes a memory in him, he will tell you. He said that his neurologist uses him as an example for his lectures at the teaching hospital. They think that his brain made new connections to compensate for what is lost. He learned to walk on a therapy horse, because their hips move similar to ours when they walk. I then learned that he is blind in his left eye and doesn’t see very well in his right. Sometimes, he has to walk with one arm on his Mother for guidance. He still remembers music/songs that he likes and is re-learning to play the bass guitar (again, I was amazed because the right-side of the brain supposedly controls creativity and music appreciation). The one blessing in all of this, is that he has kept a positive attitude, despite all that had happened. Yes, he had been frustrated at times when he couldn’t do or remember something. No signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) either. Otherwise, he has been pretty happy, he said that he would still enlist, even after knowing that this would happen.

Hearing from their experiences has given me more perspective on things. There were times I would feel down and hopeless. Yet, my brother and Joe still maintained a positive attitude, despite what they are going through. I am definitely inspired and I am humbled by their experiences.

So, my dear reader, I hope that my short story gave you some inspiration and perspective. Again, I realize there are times where we feel overwhelmed and stressed with the tasks of daily living. It may help to try and take a deep breath, then think to ourselves, “This is only temporary; this will come to pass.” Also, it would help to remember that keeping a positive attitude while weathering the current storm can help us emotionally and physically in the end (ex: less stress, less strain on the heart, less emotional toll). I am also a big fan of “talking it out,” because sometimes, by saying it out loud, it helps with the problem’s “release.” Plus, you may get some needed advice and guidance from the person you are discussing this with. There are also crisis hotlines available that one can call or even text – some depending on your area, but most are nationwide. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a list of crisis lines available (in Chicago, they are listed here: http://namichicago.org/en/crisis-lines/), which includes the Suicide Prevention Hotline as well (1-800-273-TALK).

Is there someone that you know or met in your life that gave you as much inspiration as Joe and my Brother had given me? Feel free to share in the comment box below!

–Maeven

Memorial Day 2018

I know that we try to keep our blog light-hearted, but I wanted to mention some organizations that assist the military and their families during their time of need.

Disclosure: The person that I am writing about is a close family member that is, in general, a very private person. Though they have social media accounts, they did not announce the news on that platform that I am about to state here. They decided to let the family and friends know individually and through word-of-mouth. Due to this, I am going to omit pieces of information that may disclose their identity. Though I will be discussing their health, I will only be giving snapshots of the complete picture of their experience.

I made sure that I was granted permission by this person with what I can and cannot share before posting this blog as well.

I know that we try to keep our blog light-hearted, but I wanted to take this opportunity to present a few things. I wanted to mention some wonderful organizations that help our military families in order to bring awareness for them. I once worked for a company that matched charitable donations, give perks like wearing jeans for a month if you donate to their featured charity and, if you volunteered 30+ hours in a calendar year, they give you $500 to donate to the charity of your choice. So, I was always looking to donate my time and money somewhere. Whether it is through programs with your job, or if it is the end of the year and you want to get a tax break through charitable donations, I hope that this article can inspire you to help these organizations out also. Plus, with Memorial Day coming up, I thought that the subject would be apropos.
If you already do something similar, such as sending care packages to the deployed troops overseas, or you volunteer your time and skills with veterans transitioning back to civilian life, then that is great! Keep doing your good deeds! (However, if you happen to fit in any of these other organizations in the future, then I will be happy too!) I was aiming to bring these organizations to light to those who were like me – unaware that they exist — and present the good that they do to support the military and their families.

So, as far as my story goes, it begins a little like this…

Continue reading “Memorial Day 2018”

Be Thankful

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Today I am thankful for very many things. In order of appearance in my day (not priorities, I swear!), there is coffee. 20171123_081702

I am thankful for this sustenance that allows me to carry on with my multi-faceted lifestyle. It’s been a crazy way of living, balancing work life, food life, and family life. If you know me personally (or even superficially via Instagram), you know calling me a coffee addict is an understatement. But trust me when I say this: you do NOT want to be with me on a day I haven’t had a cup of strong coffee before 9am. 

Whoops, let’s focus on positive thoughts. I’m thankful, furthermore, for the Chicago foodie community that I have grown closer to over the past year.

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I’ve been taking pictures of my food & writing restaurant reviews for over 10 years now, but it hasn’t been until recently that I started finding “my people”. The people who just get it, who don’t judge when I get excited about the visual appeal of a dish. We get criticized & ridiculed, often while we’re working (YES it IS work!),but with the support of my friends, we’re able to laugh it off.

Now, let’s get to the sensitive mushy stuff.

I’m thankful for my family – both immediate and extended. I’m a mother of two, a sister to one (-in law to 3), cousin to way too many. I try to spread myself out and give attention to everyone, but sometimes often I find that my priorities are mixed and I choose the superficial lifestyle over what’s real. To be honest, it’s because it’s easier. Or it’s because I’m too tired to make the efforts. But regardless of how much I know I’m sucking at this adulting gig, my family is always there for me. And the unconditional love goes way beyond my need for coffee, my need to take pictures, and definitely beyond my need to network (I’m horrible at that sometimes too so -meh-). Guys – I’m sorry to make you compare your life to mine, but my family is pretty darn amazing. Today and every day, I wake up (okay fine, and hunt for coffee first) and realize how lucky I am to have them.

My girls, first and foremost, are my everything.

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We go on adventures with almost all of the free time I have. Sometimes it’s as simple as a late night drive thru trip for some Steak & Shake Side-by-Sides. Other times, we make a day out of Chicago. Or Skokie (Hi Shake Shack.. sponsor me please. Or just build in Schaumburg). But no matter what we do or where we go, we’re making memories. And eating and taking pictures of what we’re eating but hey.. they’re my daughters after all 😉

And then there’s this guy.

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Today marks 10 years since the last first kiss I ever had. 10 years since my last “first date”. 10 years since I thought “Alright, maybe it’s okay to settle down and let one guy make me his priority for once” 10 years since I thought “This will be the only guy I crush on that has a fauxhawk.” (also the last time I ever thought that). We’ve been through a lot together, and I can’t imagine going through any of it with anyone else. He’s got my back and I’m lucky to have him too. As much as I roll my eyes at almost everything he says & does, I also love him more than I’ve ever loved anyone. But let’s be real here – he’s way lucky to have me too. Do you know how much random free food he’s gotten in the past year? The way to a man’s heart is bringing home a Chuy-changa “just because”. AND IT WASN’T EVEN LEFTOVERS – that’s real love there people.

Anyways, that’s enough for today. I made Mia a fortune teller/cootie catcher, and she’s growing very impatient that I’ve told her to “hold on” before playing for the 17th time (I’ve counted).

Hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving! I can’t wait to see what everyone’s dinner table spreads look like! I’ll be sharing ours on my Instagram story, so if you haven’t already, make sure you’re following along!

Family Fun at Frato’s!

Summer is officially over for my kids and their friends. And with the end of summer comes the end of planning play dates at water parks & outdoor playgrounds. Some days when trying to make plans, I give up because indoor activities can get either played out (indoor bounce “zones” only last so long before someone gets sick or hurt) or expensive. And then I still have to find places for them to EAT – and let’s face it. Kids can get picky. And picky eaters get cranky way too quickly for the parents to truly relax and enjoy their meal.

Enter our saving grace: Frato’s Pizza & Catering in Schaumburg.

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I used to think of Frato’s as just take-out/delivery pizza. Then one day I decided to take my family with me to just eat there (I’ll be honest: it’s so that I wouldn’t have to clean up after everyone. Which is A HUGE deal for a tired, over-worked mom). I realized this is a place I could make a regular outing.

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And what a PERFECT opportunity this past weekend. My 1st grader & her friends all went separate ways for school this year, so the parents and I wanted to meet up for an “end of the year” lunch. So we decided to take the risk of bringing not 1-2 kids, but 6 KIDS AND A BABY with us, 4 poor old souls (3 moms & 1 dad) and eat at Frato’s.

[Drool-worthy pictures after the jump!]

Continue reading “Family Fun at Frato’s!”

Wanderlust Wednesday: Washington, D.C. (Part 3)

We started off at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  I felt that it is one of the many places to visit while in D.C.  The Holocaust was just an unspeakable and horrible period in the World’s history, yet it is also something that should be reflected and learned about so it is not repeated.

You may think that you know all there is about the Holocaust, but I learned some new things while at the museum – either that or I learned about it, forgot about it then re-learned it again.   For example, other than incarcerating Jews, the Germans also sent Jehovah’s Witnesses, political prisoners (aka anyone who spoke up against Hitler and the Nazis), scientists and homosexuals.  At one point, the amount of countries that were controlled by the Nazis were so far and vast, those trying to escape them, really had no where to go.  Then, once the war was over, because there was so much destruction, especially in the Allied countries, those that were able to return, couldn’t.

They did have stories that I did remember and/or read about.  They had a section on Anne Frank, about her life, when she was captured and when she died.  They also had a section on Auschwitz, how the prisoners were transported by freight cars in extreme conditions.  Then how they were divided up, first by gender, then whether they will continue at the camp undergoing hard labor, or if they will go to the gas chamber.

They also had a room that had written excerpts as well as recordings of those who had survived the Holocaust.  They described how they were brought to the camps, how their life was while living in the barracks, or how it was when they were rescued at the end of the war.  After seeing how everyone was taken, imprisoned and/or put to death, you can’t help but to feel awe for those who had lived through such horror, anger for those who had imprisoned them, and sadness for those who did not survive.

Now, I wish I could have taken more photos around the museum.  However, I also felt that this was such a somber and heavy topic, that I did not want to be snapping photos at every turn.   You can’t help but to feel affected in some way after that.

Next was the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.   Just like the name suggests, this museum chronicles how man got into the air and space by craft.

We saw the plane flown by the Wright Brothers!

The museum gave a nod to women pilots in America, too!

Some military planes and drones…

As well as space craft and satellites…

We even got on one of the simulator rides!

From there we headed towards the White House.  We were only able to take a picture from outside the gates.

Shortly after we returned home, they announced that they were no longer allowing people in that area anymore (good thing we went, then!)

Finally, our last stop was at the State Capitol.  We were able to get a tour after contacting our state representative, Tammy Duckworth.

For a big building, we weren’t allowed into a lot of it.  Even though there were some rooms there for the representatives, they really spend most of their time across the street in either the Rayburn House Office Building or in the Hart Senate Office Building.

By the time we were done with our tour, we were plenty tired!  We would be leaving early the next morning.   I did feel like we covered a lot of ground and we would love to come back!

How about you?  Have you been here as well?  What did you think?  Feel free to share in the comments below!

Until next time,

–Maeven

References:

https://www.ushmm.org/

https://airandspace.si.edu/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/

https://www.visitthecapitol.gov/

Wanderlust Wednesday: Washington D.C. (Part 1)

Though I have lived here all my life and traveled to a number of places, I still haven’t been to D.C. (what?!!)  So my family and I decided to remedy that and take a road trip to America’s Capital this past April.  It would be for an extended weekend (four to five days), and I knew that I wouldn’t even begin to scratch the surface on visiting everything DC had to offer.  However, we will make an effort to make a dent!

Pro Tip:  The White House, the Capital Building, the Pentagon, and the Supreme Court offer tours by staff or volunteers.  Some of them are arranged through your local Congress Representative or through the website.  When I looked into getting tours four months before our trip, there were none available (already booked?).  We did manage to get a tour of the Capital Building weeks before our trip after placing our names on standby with Tammy Duckworth’s office.  That being said, if you know for certain that you will be wanting to tour any of these places, look into them ASAP!

The Family on Our Fantastic Journey

We decided to drive there, which is about 12 hours one way.  Our first day, we drove halfway and stopped in Toledo, OH.  BTW, I really like the rest stops on the Ohio Turnpike over Indiana and Pennsylvania (at least on the route we took).

The next day, we completed the journey.  We did this because we had an AirBnB reservation – our FIRST AirBnB reservation ever – and we had to get the key from them OR the lockbox.  I didn’t want to chance having to get the key from them at a late hour.

Usually I am able to get a decent price on hotel rooms, but in the DC area, the hotel rooms were running at least $200/night.  I decided to try AirBnB for our trip.  For five days, for a 1BR apartment with parking, with taxes and cleaning charges, it was $550.

Anyway, we arrived in the area through Virginia.  We were still early for check-in, so we decided to stop at Arlington Cemetery first.   Some of the oldest resting places there date back to before the Civil War.

 

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View of the Washington Memorial from Arlington
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United States Air Force Memorial

 

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The Grave of Robert Peary, who was a US Navy Officer that made several expeditions to the North Pole.

 

View of the Pentagon from Arlington Cemetary

 

McClellan Gate – for Major General George B. McClellan

We then headed to our AirBnB to rest for the night.  We were in an area called Columbia Heights.  I noticed a couple of Greek (ie Fraternity/Sorority) houses on our drive up 11th Street.  I then found out we were near Howard University.  I did a quick Wiki search on them and found out this:  Howard University originally opened shortly after the Civil War, originally to be a theological seminary for African-American Clergymen.  Now, it offers a diverse array of undergraduate programs and graduate programs (ie Business,  Education, Law, Medicine, Nursing, etc).  Also, they had produced Fulbright Scholars, Rhodes Scholars, Truman Scholars, Pickering Fellows and a Marshall Scholar.  In 2015 it ranked in the top 75 in the Bloomberg Businessweek college rankings.  It also produces the most black doctorate recipients of any university.

In other words, there are a lot of smart people at Howard University!  Kudos!

We have only been in the area for a few hours and I’m already learning a lot!

For dinner, we ate at a nearby restaurant called “The Coupe” and it was recommended to us by our AirBnB hosts.

 

Grilled Hangar Steak

 

 

Mac and Cheese
Cuban Sandwich with House Made Chips

 

Getting back to our AirBnB, our apartment was spotless (thanks to the professional cleaning service they hire) and the hosts were very thorough and accessible.  If you are ever in the D.C. area, and don’t mind a short commute, look up Host Alper under “Cozy 1BD apt steps away from metro with parking.”

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Peary

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_University

http://www.thecoupedc.com/

https://www.airbnb.com