When your little brother deploys for the first time

My little brother enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 2014, and he recently left on his first deployment.

While we are ten years apart and did not hang out a lot together during our younger years, I still feel a special connection to him. Perhaps it’s the orneriness. Perhaps it’s being close astrologically. (My birthday is February 27th, and his is March 12th.) Perhaps it’s being the bookends to our middle sister whom you would love to hate if she wasn’t so cute and nice all of the time.

I am often a stereotypical Pisces and show my emotions on my sleeve — until I see that others are falling apart. Then I miraculously keep it together to the point where others have often questioned whether or not I feel anything. When he left for boot camp, I saw him at graduation, we hung out for a brief hour and a half in the airport during his first leave (I was on my way to India!), and even when he came home during his second leave, I mostly held it together. And when I did break down a little bit, only my bestie, the puggle, or the tabby cat witnessed it.

Fast forward to last week when my brother deployed overseas. I was a wreck for two days straight. I broke down to two co-workers and once again, my bestie. I found it a double edged sword to see his carrier on TV and on Facebook. It was nice to have the images, and then it also made things more real and disturbing. I know he is safe, and I for one would not want to mess with that crew of amazing sailors. But he is far away during the holidays. And the deployment coincidentally came a few days after the terrorist attacks in Paris.

My brother has always been one to do things 100%, so why would deploying be any different? He is defending freedom during a time of heightened awareness, and he is doing that during such an important time during the calendar year.

During the midst of all of this, I have come to realize that I had no clue what military families go through prior to my brother enlisting. Sure, I said thanks to our vets, told families they should be proud of their loved ones, and thought I knew what I was saying.

Service to one’s country is a noble endeavor, but the reality of it all is not very glamorous. While I am enjoying the snow, eggnog, and loved ones, my brother is on a metal ship making his own Christmas tree out of cardboard and other clever things.

I am incredibly proud of my little brother Mitch. And I am proud of every service member and their friends and families who support them and stay strong through the ups and downs of military service.


India: Simple Things

India: Simple Things

Before I visited India, mention of the country would bring up images of meditating, Buddha, zen stuff. My brief time in the cities seemed nothing like that.

However, in the rural area where I visited and spent the majority of my time, I saw this every day.

When waking at dawn every day, serene music played from the speakers in the open air court yard at Bijolai Palace. It was surreal to look out on the country side while hearing this foreign music and taking in the amazing sights. I really felt like I was in a faraway land.

The simple “Namaste” greeting became routine. I found myself placing my hands together and nodding my head downward while saying this without even thinking about it after only a couple of days in India. This word / phrase carries a lot of regard with very little fanfare.

The stone structures that house families and businesses in the villages are incredibly simple. A few have bright colors in the city, but on the country side, you see a lot of bland color. Since I visited during the dry month of December, the ground was dry and vegetation was scarce.


Dirt is everywhere. It blows around and is a part of the dry air. The simplicity of dirt everywhere struck me. Most homes had dirt floors. The schools where we stationed our vision clinics had dirt yards. Often the people who live there were mostly covered in dirt and did not seem to care.

In the midst of all of this blandness, one would see bright flashes of orange, pink, blue, and every color of the rainbow. The women wear bright, yet simple, attire that stands out in a land of brown and grey.

The villagers have very few possessions. A few pots could provide cooking and table wear purposes for everyone. When giving a child a sticker or a pencil, her eyes would look at you like you just gave her something much more than that. Some villagers had to be reminded to wear their new glasses rather than tucking them safely away. These interactions and more made me pause about how casually I regard all of my material possessions in comparison. (I will discuss my post trip feelings in future blog posts.)

I did my best to embrace simplicity while I was in India. When my mind wandered, I really tried to keep the wandering scope within India. I tried not to worry whether I had remember to pay all of my bills before I left the U.S. or think about how Percy and Jag were faring without me. I found it fairly easy to keep my head in India though, because random sightings would churn back around in my head all of the time.


I found myself to be an early morning person in India, largely due to the 11.5 hour time change. I embraced that quiet time each day to walk around the court yard, take in the music and scenery, and process the awesomeness that is found in the simple things.




India: Go Big or Go Home

India: Go Big or Go Home

Prior to my trip to India, I had never set foot outside of the United States. I was becoming a world traveler overnight. To my surprise, I was not very tightly wound about this whole concept of going from 0 to 100 out of the gate.

I told myself when I found out I was going on the trip on December 10, 2013 – nearly a year before I was scheduled to leave for India – that I was going to embrace everything uncomfortable about it. That was easier to do than I had anticipated. The trip seemed so far off, and so I just continued on with life. Even one month out from the adventure, while I was sitting on conference calls about security and travel requirements, it still seemed forever away.

I crave change, almost too much at times. I was going to be traveling with a group, many of whom had traveled a lot internationally. I listened in on all of the pre-trip conference calls and read everything that OneSight emailed to me to prepare for the trip.

When you do something big, you have to break it down into manageable pieces.

For me, the first manageable piece was taking in all of the information thrown my way. In addition to reading the OneSight email updates, I googled Jodhpur, the city where I would be staying. I watched multiple YouTube videos. I began to buy a new Indian food each week when I went to the grocery store.

Then came the paperwork for my U.S. Passport and my India work visa. I have to admit, I waited until nearly the last minute to get all of these things processed. I think part of this was due to my suddenly laid back approach to this process, and the fact that I have passed multiple secret service background checks during my years in politics when I worked presidential events and had a Vice President come to my office.

The U.S. Passport proved to be an easier process than the India work visa. I take for granted that I live in a country that is not physically surrounded by so much turmoil.

The next thing was packing. I actually packed light. I did not pack every little thing that was recommended, such as a flashlight. Yes, I am such a risk taker! 😉 I am pretty proud of how well I packed, since I did not take a lot and I had never traveled out of the U.S. before this. The planner in me was somewhat on autopilot, as I did not even take my suitcase out until a few days before I left. And I bought my final item – an outlet adapter – the day before I left home.

While I did a pretty good job of packing for my first time traveling overseas, I could have used a lot more paper products. Instead, I confiscated as much toilet paper and as many napkins as I possibly could from our hotel room and dining area to tie me over and to prevent me from blowing my nose like a farmer. The dry northwest India winter air did a number on my sinuses. I was miraculously back to normal within 48 hours of arriving back in the U.S.

And then all of a sudden, the time had arrived. Once I was at the airport, the rest was out of my hands. I was anxious and relieved all at the same time when I checked in at the Moline airport. With each leg of my trip to India, I became less anxious. I was getting closer to the destination. It was really happening! I was going to India! I had such a laid back approach because the idea of going to India was so big that my mind just shoved it to the side. Then the anxiety of not forgetting anything nagged at me for a few days leading up to the trip (when I finally decided to start packing). The entire journey to India still seems surreal to me in some ways. I knew no one going on the trip with me. I had not even met any of these people in person prior to meeting them in Newark, New Jersey. Thanks to a crazy broken exit sign on our plane scheduled to take us from Newark to Delhi, we had an extra night in the states to “bond” while we waited for the next flight on the following night.

Everything was already new once I reached Newark: the people, the airport, the whole international flying experience, you name it. I did take comfort in the familiarity of Starbucks. 😉 I was so excited that I could barely sleep during our short night/day at the hotel in Newark. And when the plane FINALLY took off from Newark, I took a deep breath and pinched myself for about the 20th time since leaving home.

The truth is, you can’t really prepare yourself for the really big stuff. That’s because going big requires a big leap of faith that everything will be just fine.

My journey across the globe to help people see

My journey across the globe to help people see

Three months ago today, I returned from the trip of a lifetime. I was part of a OneSight global clinic in India.

While I journaled regularly while in India, once I started my long journey home, it was difficult to put pen to paper. Thus, it was even more challenging to think about how I would even begin to blog about my trip to India.

I fully intended to blog while I was in India, but alas, the internet and wi-fi there is spotty. So I stuck to my once or twice daily 140 words or less posts on Twitter and Facebook. And thankfully I had a paper journal that my dear friend Beth had given to me specifically for the trip.

So here I am, three months later, finally starting to share everything I saw and felt while experiencing life on the other side of the world. It will take multiple posts to cover everything I want to share. I somehow managed to condense my thoughts and photos down into a twenty minute presentation for the Durant Lioness Club on St. Patrick’s Day just a few days ago, so I will kick off my series of India posts with a small section from that presentation titled “My journey across the globe to help people see.”

By the numbers:

360 days of counting down

40 people from 8 countries on our clinic team

20 of those people flying from the United States

2 – 15 hour flights, in addition to the domestic connecting flights

11.5 hour time difference

1 broken exit sign on the departing plane

1 – 24 hour delay due to cancelled flight after broken sign

10 clinic days

432 near accidents while riding to and from anywhere (animals, other vehicles, you name it)

23 photos taken with random Indians because they asked me to pose with them

7 compliments on my nose ring from Indian women

1 almost glorious meal at McDonalds in Jodhpur (no beef and no ice!)

956 times I told myself how thankful I am to live in the United States

5,000 patients seen, with most receiving Rx eyewear

5,000+ pairs of sunglasses donated and distributed

7 offers to refill my plate each time the villagers fed us lunch

321 “namaste” greetings

3: the number of people we were required to have in groups when exploring the city of Jodhpur solo – and my native New Yorker friend Helen actually counted as 2 people 😉

36 hours spent traveling to get home

5 days to fully recover from jet lag

1 redhead whose life has been changed forever

indian girl

I look forward to sharing more of my journey with you!

Percy the Puggle

Six months ago today, my life was forever changed. This single gal adopted a dog.
I realized I really was ready for a dog in my life when my heart ached because my brother Mitch found a home (not mine) for his little daschund Toby the Tank. I had been his back up plan, and I had no idea how excited the idea of being a dog mama made me until my first potential pup went to another *great* home.
Getting a dog is a huge step for someone like me. While I have been Jagger Q’s mama for twelve years, Jag the cat is very self sufficient. This was a huge step.
I started searching various shelters online when I began to get the feeling that I would not become Toby’s mom. I had fallen in love with pugs a while back and thought a black pug named Ozzy would go well with my rock star cat Jagger. As I perused the websites, I really tried to keep an open mind. I knew that if I kept an open heart, the right dog and I would find each other.
And then, there he was: a puggle by the name of Percy at the Muscatine Humane Society.

While cute, this little one did not look too happy in his mug shot. On May 17, 2014, my mom and I went to meet Percy. He trotted out of the back room and was pulling me to the front door as soon as I had a hold of his leash. We went out to the fenced in yard and played for a bit. Percy let me play with him for a little bit and had a sweet disposition. Yet he also frolicked on his own, telling me, “It’s all good. You are awesome and I am not going to push you into this. I am a cool pup and can go with the flow.”
I was immediately in love and decided to take him home the next day. This way I could make a PetSmart run, sleep on it, and see how cool he could be two days in a row.
I officially adopted Percy on Sunday afternoon, May 18, 2014. As we rode to my sister’s house, I nearly started crying out of pure joy and love for this little guy.




Percy immediately won over my family and behaved so well. We stayed overnight in Durant and then went to our home in West Des Moines the next day. He and Jag were unsure of one another, which I totally expected after seeking out lots of advice about integrating a dog and a cat.
I was a nervous and tired wreck during my first few weeks of being a new dog mom. I wondered if Percy and Jag would ever tolerate one another as I partitioned off my apartment and had to plan movements from one section of my place to another. This way-out-of-shape chick had sore, blistered feet after walking the puggle a few times. I stuck with the twice daily long walks though, and now they are no big deal. In fact, I love our walks.
Percy was my new travel companion and was the perfect passenger during a road trip to Northeast Iowa just a week after I adopted him. He still loves car rides and snores in my lap once we hit the interstate. I love treating Percy to drive through goodies: puppy lattes at Starbucks, frozen custard at Culver’s, and apple slices at McDonalds. Percy’s other favorite foods include carrots, peanut butter, red peppers, and cheese, amongst various dog treats.
Percy is great around kids, and he is distrustful of many adult men, especially if they are taller and/or have facial hair. This makes me wonder what happened to this sweet puggle prior to the Muscatine Humane Society finding him trotting down the road in December 2013. The vet located a hole on his floppy ear and explained that someone had pierced his ear at some point. It is probably best that I do not know about Percy’s past life. This way we can simply have fun and be thankful that we found one another.
I was unsure about Percy’s name for a few brief moments, when I thought about other possibilities. The shelter ladies named him so well though. Percy just seems to fit him, and he responds well to it. And….hearing Lucy and Gabriel say his name is the cutest thing ever.
That leads me to just how awesome my dog is. Percy is so good with Gabriel, Lucy, and Amelia. I tell them that Percy is their dog too, as they do not have a dog and they just adore one another.



Meanwhile, Percy and Jag have a love/hate relationship. Here is the recently discovered loving side:

Note: This is still the exception. It’s amazing to hear a cat growl. Only one plant tipped over and one set of blinds ruined thus far…..
Jag, Percy, and I recently moved to Brooklyn. We are adjusting well so far. I have learned that Percy is a great mouse catcher and while he made a great city dog, he is an even better small town dog. Percy loves to go into the office with me, especially when he gets to play with his girlfriend Waffles.


Most recently, Percy dressed up as Batman for Halloween. He was such a good sport, and now this puggle mama is tempted to buy some sweaters for this cold winter weather.

I could go on and on about Percy Power Gesing, and I guess I will just have to post some more puggle stories. Yes, I am using my puggle as an excuse for not blogging for so long. Six months in, and this rescue mama is finally getting back into her “me time” routine.

Six months ago I had no idea how much this little 15 pound package of floppy ears, a curly tail, and lots of puggle snores could steal my heart.


No TV-DVDs-Netflix Conclusion

I made it until May 16, 2014 with no TV. I had an appointment at Bob Brown Chevrolet on Friday, May 16th and the TV was on in the waiting room. I decided to watch it.

Then I visited my family in Durant that weekend. I could have resisted the TV, but I instead decided, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” My family does not watch much TV at all, but it still counts.

I arrived home that following Monday with a puggle in tow. Introducing a dog and a cat require great patience, along with the help of some wine and TV.

Sure, I could have been stronger. I will likely try this social experiment again when I do not decide to bring home a new dog to my eleven year old cat who has always been an only child. (Stay tuned for more insights on dogs and cats living together in a future post.)

I went without Netflix until May 24th and pretty much made it the entire month with no DVDs. My DVD exception was putting in “Monsters, Inc.” for my friend’s daughter to watch when they visited me on May 28th.

I briefly dreaded having to post this conclusion, and then I remembered that I did this for myself and no one else. I went 15 days without TV, 23 days without Netflix, and 27 days without DVDs. Not too shabby. I had nothing to prove, and I will always be a work in progress. My sister and brother-in-law asked why I had not posted in a while, and the delay had nothing to do with shame. I have been busy parenting Jag and Percy through this crazy adjustment period. And I may have been procrastinating while watching TV. 😉

No TV Day 12

I have made it over one third of the way through this no TV month! Some days are still easier than others. And I am totally planning to binge on Netflix after this is all over.

A few more awesome things that have come about since I last posted:

Balcony Bliss
I am loving the warmer weather and spent most of last Wednesday out on my balcony. Since I cannot make up my mind about which patio furniture to purchase, I just hauled my living room chair out onto my balcony. This is the first time I have had a balcony in several years! Thus, the multiple mundane balcony photos.

Jag was so excited to be outdoors too. He prefers to show his excitement through lounging and napping. He loved the spot right under the makeshift patio chair.






Reading Like Crazy
I have been reading The Wall Street Journal, Time, Vogue, and my book of the month nearly every single day – all of them! No distractions, except for…

Free Fall
This Frozen Free Fall game is addictive. My goodness. The saving grace is with the limit of lives during a given time span. Of course one can purchase more lives, but I am not that hooked. Whew!

Quiet Time
Instead of waking up to the Today Show, I am waking up to the sunlight and letting my mind wind up for the day that way. Of course, I have my limits and eventually brew a pot of coffee to really start my day. Mornings can be so peaceful though!


Only 19 more days to go!