Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Deployment, a Book Launch, and Trying to Be Supermom

For those of you who don't know, my husband is in the Air Force and deployed to Central America this past Monday. It's his second deployment, and relatively speaking, it's a plush deal compared to when he left for Afghanistan for six months in 2011. But even if he was in Montana, it's still three months away from the comforts of home and from his family. Him being away also places special demands on us--and emotionally for him--since he physically has to help me a LOT due to my MS-induced limitations.

That's not even the hardest part. When he deployed to Afghanistan (that's him to the right), our then-3 ½ year-old son wouldn't even speak to him over Skype for probably the first three months; it was just too painful. He acted out for the first month, and woke up crying sometimes. So now with TWO boys who are VERY attached to their dad, I was prepared for the worst. We talked to our oldest's teacher at school and our youngest's teachers at daycare, as well as our part-time nanny, and explained they should probably expect some acting out and negative behavior. The first weeks are always the worst, so I expected this week to be a miserable one, filled with lots of crying, whining, yelling, and acting out.

Instead, it's been a pretty amazing week so far. My oldest is getting fully dressed all my himself for school before he even leaves his room in the morning. My youngest is playing, laughing, and being weird as usual, and both are eating and going to bed with little fuss. They've been great helpers, holding doors for me and cleaning up after themselves, and even a bit more affectionate than usual. I don't know how long this will last, but God seems to have instilled a sense of peace and calm in them that He knew I wouldn't be able give by myself. I also think it helps that they have each other to play with and stay busy/distracted.

In the dozen or so weeks to come, I will once again attempt to play the role of Supermom. But fortunately, I won't be doing it alone. My mother-in-law will be here in four days, and will stay for a couple of weeks until my mom takes over mid-April. That's when things will get crazy; I do have a new book to launch on April 22nd, after all :). This is actually the second book launch my husband will miss, since he was also deployed when Cartel launched in September 2011. I can't tell you how hard it is to have your life partner not be able to be a part of one of the biggest professional moments in your life. However, it IS great that my mom will be here to share it with me, as well as several good friends who will be at the party.

But the launch is only the beginning; the REAL juggling act starts after the launch. I have several trips out of town to promote the book, attend a conference in San Diego, and give presentations in May. Trying to travel for work when you have two kids and your spouse is deployed is no easy task. My mom is 76 and can't completely take care of both boys by herself, so there's a lot of meticulous planning and scheduling that goes into just an overnight trip. Thank GOD I have the most amazing nanny in the world, along with awesome mom friends, my husband's coworkers, and other local friends who are able to help with just simple things that make a world of difference.

For example, life with a deployed spouse is really hard when you're able-bodied, but things are just different for me because I have MS. Honestly, the hardest thing for me when he's gone is making healthy dinners. I can't cook anymore because I can't be on my feet for more than a couple of minutes at a time, so doing anything other than using a toaster oven or a microwave is just too hard. Thankfully, our nanny is a great cook, and I just buy ingredients that she can use to make dishes that leave a lot of leftovers. I also have great friends who are great cooks, and are waiting on standby for me to ask for food that will extend for a few days. I can't roll our trash bins up our steep driveway to the street for pickup day, so I need help with that. I can't change a lightbulb when it requires more than a step stool to reach.

This is the life of a military wife; generally, your blood relatives aren't close by, so you make a new family in a short period of time. Some of them will be friends for life, and some will fade away over time. It's not something we dwell on; it's just a fact of this way of life, and we're grateful for the time we have with each other and the special ways in which we can help each other.

So my life and work continues, albeit at a pace that can be interrupted on short notice. If one of the kids gets sick, all my work comes to a halt for a while, and my clients have always been understanding of my situation. I have to miss certain meetings or opportunities because someone isn't available to watch the boys or pick them up at school/daycare, but those are the breaks. Some days are awful and I just want to sit in our bathroom and cry for hours. Other days are incredibly empowering, knowing that I'm capable of making our children happy and succeeding in my professional life while I'm partly on my own for several months. Until this deployment wraps up at the end of June, I just ask that you pray for my husband while he's away, and that our little family manages to plod along successfully--and hopefully uneventfully :).

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Parity of Parties: A Book Launch vs. A Kid's Birthday

I'm writing this as our family fun-filled weekend comes to a close. Our older son turned six years old on Saturday, and the party was great (thank God). We chose to host it at the Tucson Children's Museum, and everyone (I think) had a really great time. But as I do after every single birthday party we host for our kids, I breathed a huge sigh of relief after it was over. Why do we as parents do this?

My husband will be the first one to tell you I stress out WAY too much over even the smallest of events, and that's to be expected when you have a control freak for a wife. When I look back at all the little things I worried about that I really didn't need to worry about, I started thinking about some of the parallels between planning a simple birthday party for a child and what seems like a more complex party for the release of my new book (which is next month).

I should preface this comparison with an explanation that I'm one of those people who has high social needs. You know those personality tests you can take that have all those weird letter combinations that try to encapsulate who you are? I'm not just a big S; I'm an S painted on the side of the Good Year blimp. I want everyone to like me, I hate it when people are mad at me, and I want lots of people to show up and have not just a good time, but an aMAZing time at any party I host.

Unfortunately for my son, who could have a blast in an empty room with two friends and three balloons, I tend to transfer those needs to my kids. Will the parents talk to each other, or just spend the two hours buried in their phones? Will the kids get along and play, or will they destroy stuff or end up needing a trip to the ER? Will the cake taste good, and will there be enough for the kids AND the adults? Will I have time to be a good hostess and spend a decent amount of time talking to all the parents and thanking them for bringing their kids?

Now let's transfer all of that neurosis to the adult world. I've already gotten a bunch of RSVPs for the book launch party, which is a really good sign, considering the party is a month away. At least a few of those are VIPs I was hoping would attend, and I think there will be plenty more as we get closer and people get a better feel for their schedules. But I still have a LONG list of things I'm worrying about: will I have enough food for everyone? Will they like the food? Will people introduce themselves and talk to each other, or just stand around? Will I sell/sign enough books to make it worth the while of the bookseller at the party, or will they have a ton of books left over? Will they have enough or run out? And bring in the MS equation: will my body run out of steam and prevent me from getting around to everyone?

My husband is always the voice of calm and reason when I get like this, which is made that much harder by the fact he's deploying tomorrow morning for three months and won't be here for the party. It's actually the second book launch he's missed, as he was deployed to Afghanistan when Cartel launched in September 2011. Fortunately, my mom will be here to help me get through everything, and the party is being held in a hotel lounge ==> bar. My husband tries constantly to remind me that, both physically and mentally, I can only do so much. I pay a heavy price when I overdo things physically, and too much stress from overdoing things mentally can also have a very negative impact on my body.

So at this point, I'm working on just doing what I can, and being okay with saying "I've done all that I can." All the invitations have gone out, I'm working with my publicist to get the word out and line up some media interviews right before the party, and I'm keeping the buzz going through mentions at Metro Chamber and Hispanic Chamber social events. It'll be a great party, I'll sell books, I'll have a great time...and I'll be relieved when it's over (insert smiley face here).

Sunday, March 16, 2014

My Dual Life of Books and Crawfish

Yesterday was one of those days that served as a perfect example of the weird dual life that I lead. The morning started out with cleaning up the house to prepare for our annual crawfish boil that evening. The usual stuff for us: doing laundry, picking up toy cars and action figures from random spots around the house, and my husband going for a beer/wine run. Then he took the boys to tae kwon do class while I got ready for my "Conflict on the Border" panel at the Tucson Festival of Books.

I was lucky enough to be a presenting author at the 2012 Festival, but it was physically a miserable time for me. I developed an awful sinus infection, and I was barely able to make it through my panel and the author dinner that followed. The next morning I had to teach part of a class on drug cartels, during which I developed a fever and had to leave early. I spent the rest of the day in bed in my hotel room more or less unable to walk. Needless to say, I didn't have very good memories of Tucson after that--until we moved here, of course, and I fell in love with it!

So when I arrived at the Festival yesterday on the University of Arizona campus on a 72˚ sunny day, my disposition was considerably more positive. I was slated to be part of a panel for the UA Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry and their Voices Across Borders program. I didn't know what to expect as far as turnout because it was the program's first year at the Festival, and the panel was taking place at the FAR east end of the event, away from the hub of the vendors and other panel venues. Fortunately, the turnout was pretty good! The questions and comments made by audience members were interesting and I think there was a good dialogue between them and the panelists.

After the panel was over, I was able to say hello to several friends, old and new, who came out to see the panel: Ricardo Ainslie, who is a professor at the University of Texas and author of The Fight to Save Juárez, my new friend Lindajoy (who I met on my flight from LAX to Tucson on Friday), and two other local friends who were kind enough to take time out of their day to see me.

I was the only one with published books that were available (sort of), so I slowly electric-scooted my way to the signing area and sat by myself without really knowing what to expect. My new book isn't out yet, so I wasn't going to be signing that, and I had no idea if they were carrying copies of Cartel or the Spanish translation, El Cartel. It turns out they did! I signed several copies of Cartel, and was told that the copies they had on hand sold out, which is awesome. I'm a member of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and I was very pleasantly surprised to have President Lea Márquez Peterson stop by the signing to tent to say hello and tell me she really enjoyed the presentation. I was also able to hand out several gorgeous book info and discount cards that Palgrave Macmillan made for me, as well as several invitations to locals for my book release party on April 22nd.

But the day did NOT end there. As soon as I got home, our annual crawfish boil final preparations were well under way, and our guests started to arrive shortly afterwards. We had a great turnout and a fun mix of friends, including my husband's coworkers and some of our neighbors. We ordered 40 pounds of crawfish and a king cake, both of which we had shipped overnight from Louisiana. Friends brought several yummy desserts and some hamburgers and hot dogs for all the kids, and honestly there weren't too many leftovers--we definitely went through all the mudbugs (as crawfish are also known). All the kids behaved well, nobody fell into the pool, nobody broke anything, and nobody needed to take a trip to the ER; that's a success in my book.

We don't entertain as much as we'd like, but it was truly a great party. We managed to clean up a large part of what was left out, and even though everything ended by 9pm, my husband and I were both wiped out! I think at one point, I just leaned over to rest my head on the arm of our couch and the next thing I knew, my husband was patting me on the shoulder and telling me to go to bed. I had a great night's sleep, and now today I start the process all over again--this time, prepping to head to Phoenix tomorrow for two days at the Border Security Expo 2014. More blog posts to come about that event!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Class on Mexico's Drug War...or Dr. Phil?

I'm typing this from my hotel room in Commerce (sort of Los Angeles), California after wrapping up teaching a full-day class on Mexico's drug war. This is the second time I've done this class for the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (better known as LA HIDTA), and it's the first work trip I've taken since I started writing this blog. So, I wanted to share a little about what the traveling experience is like for a consultant (like me) with MS.

First off, making these trips is always so much easier when it's a return trip. The people I work with already know my MS "issues," and are ready to happily accommodate my special needs. They hooked me up with disabled assistance through my Southwest Airlines reservation and an accessible room at the hotel. The training coordinator who picked me up at the airport already knew to keep the back seat of his truck empty so he could fit my walker. Little things like that really make me feel awesome :).

While I have taught this class before, this session was different because it was being recorded for future streaming (for sale) to law enforcement agencies across the country. HellOOOOO, passive income! But, I digress. Even though I'm just sitting there for eight hours, teaching a full-day class really sucks the life out of me by hour seven, so I made sure to have a healthy dinner and go to bed early for a full night's sleep. I rarely sleep well on the road and it didn't help that I had a 5:30am wake up, but I felt more decent than usual this morning.

When I arrived at the classroom, the set-up was slightly different than last time. Instead of having me in a normal office chair next to a desk, they had an eNORmous plush leather chair next to a small side table on a daïs, with a stack of my books and some random trophy on the table. Someone there asked jokingly if this was the drug war class or Dr. Phil, and I about lost it! It was very much a talk show set-up, but it definitely was THE most comfortable I have ever been as a trainer.

And I'm very happy to say the class went extremely well! It was almost a full house of 44 students, plus twenty more who logged in for a live video stream. Given that this class will be archived for use for at least six months, I'm thrilled that it was a great audience, I felt good, and only had a few speech lapses that I noticed.  This is when I stop in the middle of a sentence because I have to search very hard for the word I'm trying to use. Sometimes it's a very simple word and sometimes it's more complicated, but it can be embarrassing (for me, anyway) when my pause is too long. I have a feeling that to observers, it lasts a split second, and I'm just hyperaware of it. Maybe all people do it and it's not an MS thing at all, but I just notice it. I quickly forgot all about it after I sold all ten copies of my first book, Cartel, that I brought with me!

Afterwards I was pretty tired mentally, but my body was faring better than I expected. I don't exactly go crazy on these trips; I didn't have a rental car, but when I stay in a hotel with a restaurant, I rarely leave anyway. It was a luxury for me to just be able to go to my room, take a shower, get room service, and watch TV (or write a blog post) until bedtime. Then it's an early flight home tomorrow to get back to my family and help my husband prepare for our annual crawfish boil on Saturday evening. First, however, is my panel called "Conflict on the Border" at the Tucson Festival of Books early Saturday afternoon, so keep an eye out for that post later in the weekend!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Utterly and Thoroughly Worn Out by "El Chapo" Guzmán

I am utterly exhausted. Physically only a little bit from exertion, but my brain is like tapioca pudding right now. When you have MS, a full day of mental exercise can be just as debilitating as hours of hiking or a reaaaaallllly long run. Don't get me wrong; it has been a thoroughly successful day on both the home front and the work front. But my gas tank emptied out a few hours ago, and I had to keep on going.

Very early this morning, some time between 3:30am and 6:30am (depending on which news report you read), the Mexican military apprehended the most notorious drug lord in the entire Western Hemisphere--Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán, the head of the Sinaloa cartel. This probably doesn't mean much to most of you, although the name might sound familiar. Suffice it to say that his capture was a REALLY BIG DEAL for those of us who follow events in Mexico's drug war. When stuff like this happens in Mexico, I'm one of the few people who have expertise in this sort of thing for journalists to call to get a comment. On top of that, I'm one of the few experts who has the freedom to give an interview on most occasions when people call. I always know my email and phone are going to start blowing up, so I sent my husband a heads-up text about how my day was probably going to go.

Take this morning. I was at my laptop eating breakfast when I saw the breaking news on Twitter about El Chapo's arrest. Thirty minutes later, I got the first phone call, which was from a friend of mine at KVOA, one of the local TV news stations. He wanted to get me on camera that morning, and he agreed he could work me in between my kids' tae kwon do class from 10:00-10:30am and a baby shower I planned to attend at 1:00pm. True to his word, he and the reporter arrived at 11:30am at our house and we had a great interview on our back patio.

At 12:30pm, I headed to the baby shower with my bluetooth earpiece in. Good thing, because as I was arriving I gave my second interview to the Boston Herald. During the baby shower, I went to use the restroom. While I was in the bathroom (not doing my business, fortunately), the phone rang, and I gave my third interview to CBS News. As I was pulling into our garage after the shower, I gave my fourth interview to Reuters. I had dinner with my family, we went out for ice cream, I gave our boys a bath, and my husband put them to bed. At 9:20pm, I did my fifth interview with BBC World Radio. I'm done. Soooooo done.

My husband sometimes gets upset with me for wearing myself out like this because then it takes me a while to recover--and prevents me from doing some things at home that I should be doing. On the other hand, he also knows what happened today was a historic event, and the support he gave me by just letting me "do my thing" was amazing. But now it's 9:51pm, and as utterly exhausted as I am by this whole El Chapo arrest, I have to decompress. After I finish this post, I'll plop down on the couch and watch a bit of TV before I shuffle my stiff and sore body down to our room to go to bed. And I may get to do this all over again tomorrow. And Monday :).

Monday, February 17, 2014

What do Breitbart Texas and an IV Line Have in Common?

That would be me. After months of negotiating and waiting, I have officially been named a Contributing Editor for Breitbart's new brand expansion, Breitbart Texas! The "vertical" will publish news stories and analysis on topics important to Texans, like education, corruption, and immigration. I will be responsible for providing analysis on border security issues and Mexican drug cartel activity in Texas and beyond, and I've already hit the ground running with my introductory post.

To say yesterday evening after the 7pm ET launch was a bit nutty is an understatement. Breitbart News Network has a very broad reach--and following--so my Twitter followers jumped by more than 130 overnight. I had several wonderful welcome messages from new followers and Breitbart readers, and I spent plenty of time just following the progress of the rollout. On top of that, many people becoming newly familiar with my name and my work also looked up and pre-ordered copies of Border Insecurity! I knew my new position with Breitbart would help my book sales, but the fact that people are interested in my work this early on is an absolute thrill and blessing.

So I find myself this morning in the middle of my crazy dual life--at my infusion center getting my monthly dose of Tysabri, an intravenous medication that helps slow down the progression of my MS. It's a very nice and comfortable place with recliners, TV and wi-fi, and the latter is such a great bonus for me. The entire infusion process, between getting prepped, the infusion itself, and the mandatory observation time afterwards takes about three hours. That's three hours without kids yelling or the phone ringing, so I try to get work done on my laptop while I'm waiting for the meds to do their thing.

I wanted to take and share this photo so you could see how the glamorous and not-so-glamorous halves of my life mix in this one little infusion center. You can see the IV bag and line going into my left hand, my custom-painted walker to my right, and me working furiously on my laptop on my monthly column for Homeland Security Today and scouring Twitter for news stories to write analysis on for Breitbart Texas. Take a look at my large head shot and compare it to real life this morning--yoga pants, fleece, no makeup, and my naturally curly (and often frizzy) hair. Fun, right? In all honesty, there's something about the dichotomy of my life that I absolutely love. If one half of it gets to be too much, I can roll over to the other side and indulge for a bit to stay sane, whether that means finger painting with my 3 ½ year-old for a little while or having an adult phone conversation about weapons trafficking for fifteen minutes. My monthly infusions are just one of the MS-related things that pepper my days, and keep me going so I can take care of my kids and do some cool work stuff :).

Friday, February 7, 2014

Tucson Rodeo Days and the Miracle of Cowboy Boots

For those of you who have never lived in southern Arizona, the Tucson Rodeo and the whole Rodeo Days series of events is a big deal. Actually, it's enough of a big deal that my older son--and most school-age kids, I believe--get two days off of school so they can attend with their families. The rodeo has been a regional event since 1925, and apparently it draws a crowd of tens of thousands of people from all over the world.

Last night I attended the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce monthly mixer, aptly titled "Noche de Vaqueros," which is Spanish for "cowboy night." Attendees were encouraged to wear cowboy attire, which is standard for many Tucson residents even when they don't have a themed event to attend. Most people there were in business attire because they came straight from work, but some folks--myself included--got into the spirit with some great-looking boots.

Just the fact that I have cowboy boots and can actually wear them is a HUGE deal. That may seem odd to "normal" people, but once again, please bear with me. Many years ago when I was healthy, I wore stiletto heels all the time and pretty much everywhere. I spent a LOT of money on heels by designers like Manolo Blahnik and Guiseppe Zanotti. Yep, I was "that girl," thrilled with the style espoused by shows like Sex in the City. But then MS came to visit my body, and by roughly 2006, wearing high heels was a thing of the past. To this day, it's still one of the losses caused by my MS that I mourn the most. It sounds like a superficial and vain thing; why don't I miss as much my ability to play volleyball, or snow ski, or swim? (As a side note, I will NEVER miss the ability to run because I always sucked at it and thoroughly hate it.)

For you men out there, few things scream femininity like wearing high heels. Long hair and makeup are two other examples, but you know how sexy a great pair of heels can make a woman look, and for us women (pain and discomfort aside), they generally make us feel pretty darn sexy. These days, I'm relegated to the arduous task of endlessly trying to find pairs of ballet slippers and other flats that (a) will stay on my feet when I walk, (b) allow me to walk safely, and (c) don't make me look like a 39 year-old grandmother. For me anyway, I can manage to feel professional in some of my nicer shoes, and maybe even cute. But sexy? Far from it.

Enter the cowboy boot. When my husband and I drove from the St Louis area to Tucson for our military move in June 2013, we stopped one night in Amarillo, Texas. Right next to our hotel was an enormous boot store that had a good reputation for quality and selection. We figured, where better to buy a good pair of cowboy boots than in Amarillo? I was skeptical that I'd be able to find something that worked for me, given my issues with shoes, but my husband was excited, so I tried to be optimistic.

To say the selection was overwhelming is putting it mildly. Fortunately, it was a slow night, and my husband and I had the full attention of two very nice sales assistants who made it their mission to fit us with the perfect pair of boots. I told my assistant exactly what I needed: a low heel, a snug fit, and a toe that was short enough that it wouldn't catch on the ground when I walked. Weird requirements for sure, but he swore up and down he had heard much weirder requests. I chose to believe him.

After about an hour, we were at the checkout counter with the perfect boots. My assistant found me a pair that had these amazing insoles that made the inside of the boots feel like running shoes. The heels were about an inch high, which is by far the highest heel of any shoe I own, but they were wide and didn't make me teeter or lose my balance. And here's the little unexpected miracle of these cowboy boots: because boots are stiff, they naturally kept my feet and lower legs in a perfect L-shape, which prevented my right foot from dropping and dragging on the ground! My WalkAide electrical stimulator helps with this anyway, but I was just floored at how easy it was to walk in boots I thought would forever be off-limits.

So last night, I donned my favorite pair of Lucky Brand boot-cut jeans, my favorite white dress shirt, and my Ariat leather cowboy boots for Noche de Vaqueros. And you know what? I did feel sexy (my husband confirmed I looked that way after I got home)...and normal.