When I was a child...

I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown
The dream is gone

I can remember my first panic attack in first grade. My mom had taken me to school and dropped me off and by the time first recess rolled around, I was a mess. I couldn't breathe. I felt scared and anxious all at once. I felt like I was going to fall through the ground into an undersea ocean with the ground closing up around and above me as I drowned. So I went to the school nurse and told her I felt sick. She called my mom and my mom came and brought me home where I felt safe.

I never explained any of this to my parents - I couldn't. I didn't have the vocabulary to do so. My panic attacks were infrequent and I could never discern a pattern or a trigger. And I assumed that everyone dealt with them in some form or another so I saw no need to say anything. I learned coping mechanisms for when they did hit and pretty much forgot about them in between.

When I was in my early 30s, I remember listening to either my sister-in-law or a friend describe what a panic attack feels like and it was like a light switch was flipped. So THAT was what I had been dealing with off and on all my life! Panic attacks. It was weird to put a name to something that had been nameless for so long.

They are still pretty infrequent. Most of the time, I can anticipate them - they are usually a result of too many stressors in my life. For instance, the one that nailed me in 2013 was as I was buying my house...by myself. MacGyver was in Korea and I was doing the single parent thing, buying a house, scheduling a move across town, and scheduling a move from Kansas to Korea. It made sense. The one that nailed me last week came out of nowhere.

People keep telling me I have a lot on my plate and that's somewhat true, but not really. I stopped working at the end of July. I'm going to school full time but my classes are only a few days per week. The material is somewhat review. Swim season hasn't yet really started back full swing. I'm loving my work with Team Rubicon. I have wonderful people surrounding me. My family is good. It made no sense. And it's those panic attacks - the ones that sneak up on me and make no sense - that really do me in. I can still feel the effects of this one. I'm still shaky. I can feel that if I isolate myself (as is my want) I will slip right back into it. The ones with no discernible cause are the ones that scare me. How do you defend against something like that?



This week kicked my butt

I was trying to explain to a good friend of mine what a panic attack feels like. After I set aside the momentary jealousy that resulted from the fact that she's never (to her knowledge) experienced one, I tried to put words to how it feels. And I failed miserably. How do you describe a panic attack?

You know the scene in Star Wars where Han, Luke, Leia, and Chewy are in the trash compactor? It's like that, but have it start filling rapidly with water. And have the music above playing loudly, to the point that it's suffocating.

That's a reasonable description of how my week went this week. I thought it had been since 2011 the last time I had a big panic attack like this, but in looking back through this blog, I find that I had one when I bought the house back in 2013. That one made sense. This one did not. This one came out of the fracking blue and knocked me on my ass. 

The ones I can see coming tend to be pretty short-lived. They are situational and my rational brain can wrap around them and hang on to the knowledge that they are simply a reaction to a current stressor. I can usually just ride them out, knowing this too shall pass. But this one...oh, this one kicked my ass. I never saw it coming. I had an inkling but, by the time I realized it was more than just momentary stress, it was on top of me and I was drowning. 

I don't take meds (maybe I should?) for any of this, primarily because they are so few and far between. So my coping mechanisms usually involved the following:
- prayer
- exercise
- talking with a few trusted friends
- writing
- distraction (reading, watching movies I know will make me laugh and distract me)
- sleep

NONE of that worked. Well, some of it worked but not enough to completely head things off so I just had to gut it out for the most part. It's mostly past but now I feel like a wrung out wet washcloth. A friend of mine that was kind enough to talk me through some of it said I did a good job of pushing through it. I don't see that - I feel like a big giant mess - but I'll trust his perspective more than mine right now. Thankfully I have a few people in my life that have walked this road themselves and can help me talk through it when it happens. But man, I'm wiped.

I still can't point to any one thing as to why this panic attack happened. The one back in 2013 made sense - I was days away from closing on the house, my husband was overseas and we were planning to join him, we had big life transitions taking place. But this one? Not so much. I know I have a lot on my plate but life has actually slowed down a bit now that I'm not working. I have more free time (maybe that's what contributed? I didn't have a bunch of stuff to keep me busy so I wound up inside my head?) and I'm doing things I love.

Whatever. It's done and I'm almost back on my feet. Hopefully it will be another 3+ years before another one hits me. Wouldn't that be nice?


I do have a life...

...outside of Team Rubicon, I swear.

Life is moving along. The kids are doing great in public school. I'm not sure if I talked about that in previous posts. The Boy decided last year that he wanted to try public school. We've always said they are welcome to discuss a change with us in terms of schooling/education. So he started last year. This year, The Girl waited until *THE* last minute (seriously, 17 hours before the start of the school year) and then decided she wanted to give public school a go. So I jumped through various orifices of my body to make that happen. Thankfully, the school's administration was incredibly accommodating and she's off and running. Well, maybe not running. Swimming. She's swimming.

EMT class is going well. We had our 2nd test the other day and I should get my score back today. I'm not as confident about this one as I was about the last one - I wound up at the Kansas Emergency Management Association (KEMA) conference last week and didn't have as much time to study as I had planned. That will teach me to procrastinate. The practical stuff is coming along well. I'm loving trauma assessments and looking forward to getting more into that side of things. We're starting to schedule our ride alongs as well.
UPDATE: score a 74/60 with the extra credit. Without it, I would have still scored a 'B' - decent but not up to my standards. 

MacGyver is doing well at school as well and should be approaching his 2,000 hour mark soon. At that point, job possibilities (medevac, primarily) open up and we should see some movement on that front. He's busy flying and studying for trig and working his butt off.

The KEMA conference was enlightening. I went as a way to learn what our county emergency managers actually do, the challenges they face, and what they might need from us (Team Rubicon). In addition to all of that, I learned that this might be something I am interested in pursuing and a natural progression of my work in EMS. There is a local community college that offers an associate's degree, but I have a BS already so I'm thinking I may explore a Master's instead. We'll see. Whatever path that takes will have to come after paramedic school.

The trees are starting to change colors, even if the temps don't reflect that it's mid to late September. Today we're supposed to be in the 90s with a heat index of upward of 100. But the trees sense fall coming and are starting to show it. I'm not ready. I love fall but I hate wearing shoes and I don't like being cold. I'm already longing for spring. I'll get over my pity party in a bit.

That's about all I have. October is going to be crazy busy - between swim meets starting again, CERT class, school, ride-alongs, TR stuff, and family life, the month is nuts.

But I wouldn't have it any other way.


Veterans Community Project

One of the things that Team Rubicon does in its down-time (yes, there is such a thing) is get involved with community service projects, particularly (though not limited to) projects that positively impact the veteran community. Doing so helps us maintain the skills necessary to be effective in a true disaster response operation as well as allowing us to engage our membership and keep them connected to our community.

This past weekend, I had the privilege of heading east to Kansas City with TR to help clear some land for the Veterans Community Project. The VCP is an organization whose mission it is to house homeless veterans in transitional housing in the KC metro area. They acquired a large piece of land that was overgrown and this weekend's task was to begin clearing the land in order to build 'tiny homes' on the site. In addition to the homes, the site will have counseling, mentoring, case management, and other social support to help homeless veterans transition back in to society. It's an amazing concept and the people behind the project are just as amazing.

Early in the AM, before the saw crews arrived.
Look at all of the overgrowth up along that northern property line.

This weekend's work involved not only Team Rubicon but also The Mission Continues, Team Red White and Blue, 2x4s For Hope, Wounded Warrior Project, two different VFW posts, and several other veteran support organizations. The goal was to fell trees (great work for our kick-ass sawyer teams!) and clear underbrush (got to learn how to use a Brush Hog) to get the land ready for the tiny homes to be built. Along with that work, the VCP took delivery - escorted by KCPD! - of a semi-truck load of 2x4s from 2x4s for Hope. They had all been signed (after people paid $3 donation to do so) by people across the midwest in support of our veterans.

2x4s For Hope

I have to brag on TR a bit. A lot of this project came together rather quickly and our leadership (not me - I just showed up to work) handled it beautifully. Everyone was so well taken care of and they were able to get SO much done. When I first arrived on site, there was only one other TR member there - our guy running the show. The people from the other organizations were a little skeptical of our capabilities, but once all of our people showed up and our teams got rolling, they were a force to be reckoned with! I lost count of how many trees and limbs they dropped but it was easily in excess of 25 over a 5 hour period. The goal they set for us was to get done with the north side of the property as well as work our way down the west side to where some conex containers were set up. We not only did that, we were able to get an egress path on the south side of the property cleared per city requirements. Our teams knocked their socks off. It was amazing to watch.

Over the course of the day, we had several media organizations show up - both print and news media. Here is a sampling of what it looked like:

Kansas City Star (story forthcoming)
and there are several videos on the VCP Facebook page

We also had several new people show up which is always wonderful. Included in that was the guy that called me last week, worried that he did not have enough time to give to TR. He was amazing and, because of a Facebook message he sent to KCMB, the VCP was able to garner additional press about this amazing project.

Here are some more pictures of it all:

Lunch break safety brief.

2x4s For Hope

Model home plus 2x4s For Hope

Brandon had WAY too much fun in this thing. But he also got a LOT done with it while doing so!

Look at how clear that northern property line is now!
Bryan, Kevin, Brandon, Chris - Veterans Community Project

This weekend was good for my soul on so many levels. To watch these different veteran service organizations come together to help out their brothers and sisters and have such a positive impact on the local veteran community (and possibly the national veteran community, given that several other states are watching this project closely) is inspiring and humbling. Every time I think I can't love TR and the veteran community more, they prove me wrong.

On a personal level, it was partly frustrating because I am not yet Sawyer certified so I feel like I did a lot of standing around, holding down dirt. I was clearing brush early on (and found out I am *not* allergic to poison ivy. Yay!) but wound up holding safety for our sawyer teams. There were a lot of people doing a lot of things and having someone inadvertently wander into the drop zone or cutting area while the saws are working is a very bad thing so I understand the need for adequate safety. It was just frustrating to stand there and watch everyone work their tails off and not really be *doing* anything.

I'll rectify that soon. Can't wait to work with these people (TR and everyone on the VCP project) again soon!


Do what you can, when you can

I received a phone call from a TR member today regarding an upcoming event. They were interested in helping out but apologetic over the fact that they hadn’t had time to commit. Basically, they didn’t want to give TR the "short end of the stick". 

Here’s the thing…I have one of the lowest TR numbers of anyone I’ve met. My TR# is 0001244. But I don’t put that out there to brag. 

I put that out there with this perspective: I signed up with TR back in May of 2010, after William McNulty came and spoke at the MilBlogger’s Conference in DC. The milblogging community had been supporting TR from the moment Jake posted about going to Haiti on his blog. I believed in the mission, and hearing Will speak about TR sold me so I signed up immediately. 

And then it took me SIX years to get my shit together enough to do anything other than be a TR cheerleader (seriously, National…can we get some TR pom poms in the TR store? Please?). I didn’t do a single TR-related event for six years. With an active duty husband whose op-tempo was insane combined with living on a medium-sized turd in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I was essentially a single parent of two small children very far away from any kind of support system or extended family. There was no way I could swing anything other than cheerleading. 

But then, one day, I could. I managed to eek out time to get up to Omaha and participate in MOBEX Trigger. And it was great. I was hooked. Then we had an op in Eureka, about 2 hours from me, and I managed to eek out a day (0800 - 2000) for that. And they welcomed me with open arms. I was able to go back for a 24-hour period to the same op a few days later as well, and I’ve been able to hit 2 socials here locally. Other than our regional conference, that is all I’ve been able to do. 

And it’s enough because it’s all I’ve been able to do. That’s the beauty of Team Rubicon - they’ll take what they can get and be thrilled that you’re there to help. Nothing more. No expectations of anything beyond that. We are an organization of 35K+ who have full time jobs, full time families, full time lives, and yet a desire to continue to serve. It’s often a struggle to maintain the balance of family/work/school, let alone time to take off and muck out houses or haul debris or cut up trees or go to foreign countries and care for refugees and displaced persons. 

We get it. 

We’re right there with you. My regional leadership team faces the exact same struggles. We have people that work 60+ hour weeks. We have people that have little people at home, counting on them. We have full time students. We have people that physically aren’t in a position right now to take off to Louisiana and lend a hand, no matter how badly they want to. Very few people are in a position to truly serve in the capacity they wish to serve. 

We get it. 

No apologies necessary. Do what you can, when you can.

- hfs

P.S. On my TR bucket list: Meet Harry and give him a big hug. (see video at top of post)


Fifteen years...

September 2016: I repost this each year, checking to make sure that the links still (mostly) work. I can't bring myself to change any of it; not a single word. I still feel the loss of this man and the losses of this day so profoundly that it's as though they are a part of my DNA. I keep waiting for the ache to dull and it has yet to do so.

I suspect it never will.

Never forget. 

My life has two parts to it. The part up through September 10, 2001 and the part from September 11, 2001 to the present. A defining moment. My life as an Army wife also has two parts. The first part was where the biggest drawback or downside of military life was a hardship tour to Korea. The second part is life as I know it right now.

The morning of September 11, 2001 I was 10 months pregnant and 5 days from my due date. I had 4 days left to go as a teacher before going on maternity leave and was only working half days so I didn't need to be in until 11am that day. MacGyver had a 7am work call and was in the shower when my alarm went off. I remember smacking the snooze button on the radio and through the haze of sleep, I heard the DJ say "a plane has hit the Pentagon.".

I woke up. Quickly.

I turned the radio back on and sat bolt upright in bed as I listened. It took me a minute to wrap my brain around what I was hearing. In that time, MacGyver finished his shower and turned off the water. I got up and out of bed as fast as my pregnant belly would let me and knocked on the door. He answered and I told him he needed to go downstairs and turn on the TV.

How many people uttered those words that day?

Everyone I talk to, every story I hear involves those words. "You need to go and turn on the TV."

We went downstairs and stood, gaping, at the television. We couldn't even cry. We were too shocked. I think the first tower fell while we were watching and that must have sparked MacGvyer to move. He bolted upstairs, threw on his BDUs, grabbed his overnight bag and some food, kissed me goodbye, and left. Still, there were no tears. I didn't know if I would see him again. In my mind, he would deploy. I don't know where I thought he was going or what I expected him to be doing but I did not expect him to come home. Mentally I was trying to steel myself to have this baby alone. And I was ok with that. Hell, after thinking about what the people in New York, DC, and Pennsylvania were going through, having a baby on my own was nothing compared to that.

Still, there were no tears.

I went to school. It was chaos and sadness all at the same time. We didn't get anything done that day (or for a few days after). We all sat and watched TV. And talked. And worried. And prayed. Yes, we prayed in a public school. Seemed like the thing to do at the time.

But still, no tears.

And then I came home. And I sat down and watched TV. And I saw this...

And, for some reason, that image stuck with me. Moreso than any other image I saw that day or any other day. I had read about Father Mychal Judge a while back. I knew who he was. I remember reading about how he tended to the families of the victims of TWA flight 800 when it crashed off Long Island and thinking what an incredible man he was.

When I realized who it was that they were carrying out of the rubble, my heart broke.

And I cried.


Father Mike was so many things to so many people. A Catholic priest. A recovering alcoholic. A gay man. A friend to the firefighting community and a pillar of the community. Larger than life.

His funeral was reported to have the makings of one hell of a good joke. A priest, a lawyer, and an Irishman walk into a bar . . . Who else could have brought together a room full of people from every spectrum of life?

But his LIFE was so much more than how he died. His work as a priest and as a friend touched thousands of lives. He firmly believed in the concept of Alcoholics Anonymous, calling it "America's greatest contribution to spirituality." The day he died marked his 23rd year of sobriety. He believed that the creators of AA did more for humanity than even Mother Teresa.

He ministered to AIDS patients back in the 80s when society was terrified of the disease and those afflicted. He treated AIDS patients with the dignity that each of us deserves from our fellow humans. He was a shining example to us in that.

He ministered to the families of the victims of TWA flight 800 in 1996 when it exploded and crashed off the coast of Long Island.

Father Mychal Judge would become a familiar presence among family members mourning lost passengers. He made the drive daily, for weeks, spending 12 hours a day consoling friends and families who had lost loved ones. He also celebrated Mass every other day, participated in counseling sessions for people of all denominations and organized ecumenical memorial prayer services for the victims' families and TWA personnel.

"When that call came through it was the Lord calling me somehow," he told a reporter during a visit to his third-floor room at the friary. "I went out there that night and I stayed there for all hours of the morning, talking to people from all over the country and all over the world."

Father Mychal helped to organize services on the beach for the Flight 800 families. A news photograph of him at one such service, wearing his brown robe and gazing out to sea, was distributed around the country.

"The water becomes sacred to them," he said of the families.

Those family members became part of his ever-expanding parish.

He remained involved in some of their lives until his death at the World Trade Center.

A Los Angeles Times reporter researching an article on support services for families of air crash victims interviewed Father Mychal in 2000, and he spoke of his efforts to be a healing presence for people whose lives had been torn apart.

"In seminary, you can get all the theology and Scripture in the world, and you land in your first parish, and you find out it's you-- the personality and the gifts that God gave you," said Mychal Judge.

"He was absolutely hands-on. Religion didn't make any difference for him-- he was the same toward everyone, regardless of their beliefs," said Hans Ephraimson-Abt, a New Jersey businessman and longtime advocate for families of air crash victims.

"The TWA families considered him a saint."

- from The Life of Father Mychal Judge

I sure would have loved to have had the privilege of meeting him in person. Guess I'm going to have to wait a bit.

At the memorial, McCourt told the mourners about his own fantasy. Judge, he says, dies and is momentarily disoriented, because after leading such a simple life, he suddenly finds himself in a place with large marble hallways. A figure approaches.

"Can I help you?"

"Well, I don't know where I am."

"What's your name?"

"Judge. First name Mychal."

"Really? Some people call me Judge, too."

"Oh? And what's your first name?"

"Almighty. What kind of work would you like here, Mychal?"

"I'd like to be someplace where there are fires."

"We don't have any fires here. The only one we know about is very far away, and that burns eternally, because all the firefighters are here, and we don't tell them about it, because otherwise they'd be down there fighting it."

"Well, could I go there and give some people a hand?"

"No, Mychal. Because if you go there, you have to be a sinner, you see? And you're a saint."

"Could I have a temporary pass to go there, then? Could I be an honorary sinner?"

"Yes. But please don't bring back any conservatives."

At that point, the crowd, already laughing, started to howl. McCourt paused to let everyone collect himself. "And away he goes," he finally said. "That's my fantasy about Mychal. He keeps working. He never stops. He's trying to get all of us out of hell."

- from The Fireman's Friar

Father Mychal Judge was so much more than the priest whose death certificate bears the number 00001 - the first official casualty of the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He was a man - flawed yet repentant - who did his best to serve God and his fellow man.

Learning more about him in the days and weeks that followed September 11 gave me hope in a time where hope was hard to find. Those of us who had babies right around that time I am sure had doubts as to what kind of world we were bringing our babies into. But knowing that a man such as Father Mike sits up in Heaven reassures me that there is hope and that we will be ok.

I will NEVER FORGET Father Mike. Never.

For a list of participants in the 2,996 project and their honorees, GO HERE.

Read. Remember.


- hfs


Drinking from a fire hose

The title pretty much sums up the past month(s) of my life. However, that is not a complaint in any way.


I spend most of my days simply trying to contain my energy. I was trying to explain the physical feeling and the best I could do was relate it to licking a 9v battery - that buzz you get on your tongue. There are times in my day where I feel that EVERYWHERE in my body and it takes all of my self-control to keep from bouncing off the wall.

It's such a welcome change from where I was even 6 months ago. I look back, even just in my writing, and I see the change. I don't know what caused it, but I don't care to figure that out either. I'm just grateful for it. And I'm grateful beyond words for the people He has put in my life (or left in my life, as the case may be) that have not only encouraged me on this path but continue to kick my ass down it. Having that kind of support is something I will try never to take for granted.

My friend, DC, wrote a book titled, "Choose Your Super Power" and she asked me to read it prior to its release. The timing couldn't have been better. Her insight into the choices we face and the effects those choices have on our lives was profoundly moving and reassuring to me. If I ever doubted the path I'm currently on, I no longer do. I would encourage you to go grab this book and give it a read (no, I'm not earning anything for plugging her book. She's just awesome and so is the book.)

EMT class is going well. My instructor shushed me last night in class because I was answering all of the questions and not giving anyone else a chance. Whoops. I aced the first test and now we're finally getting past all of the dry/boring material and into more of the hands-on stuff. Trauma assessments come naturally to me (yay for lifeguarding!) and the familiarity is comforting. I'm looking forward to my ride-alongs, but my hope is that they are a little less exciting than the one I did the first time I took the class.

And then it seems I'll be working on my application to paramedic school.

On the Team Rubicon front, things have changed a bit there. National is working to get leadership within each state set up so that the states have more local control over events, operations, etc. Our state does not currently have a Training Coordinator, a Planning Coordinator, and a few other key personnel. Nor did we have a State Administrator (who gets to fill all of those roles personally until they can identify someone to take the lead in that position). So I offered to step into the State Admin role and they were crazy enough to let me! What I lack in experience, I make up in both enthusiasm and support (my Regional leadership team is freaking AMAZING). So I'm trying to be a sponge at the moment and learn as much as I can as quickly as I can. My two basic premises are:

1. There are no stupid questions
2. What are they going to do? Fire me? (probably not the best approach, but hey...what are they going to do? Fire me?)

Kansas is a bit of a blank slate so that helps. We've not had any kind of state leadership before so we can kind of make this up as we go. The blessing in all of this is that I have amazing people to work with...beside me here in this state, at the Regional level, and at the National level. I was in the middle of dispatching some people (my first real op to work behind the scenes on spooling up!) and fired off a question via email to National at 0115 in the morning.

I had an answer in 15 minutes.

Apparently, National doesn't sleep any more than I do. That kind of support is the norm.

While I didn't get the chance to go down to Mulvane, KS and help with the muck out down there, I did get to be a part of an operation from start to finish. It was fascinating to do so. I learned more in those 2 weeks than I could have learned in a month of reading about it all.

And next month, I get to go to the National Conference! I'm fan-girling so badly right now! I remember my first MilBlogging Conference and just wandering around, mouth hanging open, gaping at all of these people I had admired for so long. And they were all there, in one room. And I was there WITH them! It was surreal. That's how I feel about going to NatCon. And that's topped by the chance to spend quality time with my personal TR friends. I've been missing them something fierce since our Regional Conference in Branson so this will be food for my soul.

For now, it's time to study. Airway management, vital sign assessment, and trauma assessment review. Whee!

- hfs


Wrote this six years ago. Nothing's changed.  One of my favorite movies is 'Bull Durham'. And one of my favorite scenes in ...