Monday, October 22, 2012

Pageants are a Family Affair

Having a place to go - is a home.  Having someone to love - is a family.  Having both - is a blessing.  ~Donna Hedges

Pageants are a wonderful hobby that I enjoy – they do not define me nor are they my entire life.  Just as my husband is a cyclist, an avid runner and a gym-aholic... I am a community volunteer, soccer mom and occasional runner that competes in pageants.  I have watched the Miss Universe, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss America pageants each year since I can remember- always with my pen and paper in hand, back in the day I was taping them on the Beta then VCR to watch and re-watch the questions and winning moments.  Pageants are not about one person... there is an ARMY of people behind each contestant; whether that is directors and coaches or family and friendsI am blessed to have all of the above.  I have had GREAT coaches, directors, great friends and a WONDERFUL family.  From the beginning my mom was always right by me through competitions, pushing me along and offering her constructive criticism... it became our thing.  We would carve out pageant time, I would earn my entry fees by having yard sales, babysitting or selling mistletoe and off we would go.  So many memories of driving to a pageant, picking out wardrobe and being with her.  Now Grant and Krystina are my base and it goes from there.

Over the past 5 years I have competed and done appearances at various times each being a complete family decision with only a unanimous vote being acceptable.  I never have felt that our daughter shouldn’t be involved in decisions like this because she is part of the family and her opinion matters to me; if she says ‘No’ then that’s the end of it.  My family is my biggest fan club; supporting me, helping whenever possible and acting as a sound block without judgment.  I couldn’t and wouldn’t compete without them in my corner.  Family is so important to me whether it’s my parents/siblings or my in-laws, I couldn’t imagine life without either.  I believe when you get married, you don’t just marry the person but you marry the entire family... and that is very true when Grant and I got married.  I inherited another set of parents and a brother (and then a year later a sister) so I felt even more complete.  Krystina has 2 Great Grandma’s, a Great Grandpa, 3 Grandma’s and 2 Grandpa’s on top of Uncles, Aunts and cousins... we are a BIG group.  We may not see each other often since we are scattered in different states however thanks in large part to texting and Facebook we never feel too far apart and are all very blessed.

When my husband was deployed in 2010-2011 I won a regional title that came with a 30 appearance contract; the initial stress of how to balance work and childcare melted away when my 6 year old daughter looked up at me and said we were in it together.  For the next year she attended every volunteer event alongside me; she cleaned the beach, fed sheltered dogs, volunteered at several homeless shelters and every other appearance I had.  That year became one of my favorites because we grew so much together, she learned about the joys of giving back while I learned to see things through the eyes of my daughter.  It was also a time that I got to show her what I meant when I said that you wear your true crown in your heart and NOT on your head.

My family will always come first – I will not miss a Saturday morning soccer game nor will I miss events with my husband.  I will continue to leave time open that is just for my family because long after this amazing journey as Mrs. California ends I will still be Mrs. Grant Smith and Mommy... two titles that I cherish.  I will continue to watch all major pageants on TV sitting beside my daughter taking our own notes and comparing our scores (she picked Miss USA based on introductions this year!) just like I did growing up.  Competing is a family affair because if it wasn’t for my family, I wouldn’t be the woman that I am nor would this win have been as sweet.

Always take time for those you love because life is precious and you never know when the last kiss will truly be the last.

Mrs. C

My mother in law, Medal of Honor Recipient Salvatore Giunta, Grant and I

He's my biggest fan and I am his

My mother in law and I finishing our 4th Avon Walk for Breast Cancer

Seeing Groban in Santa Barbara

My Father in law, My Brother in law (Capt Jack Sparrow for Krystina's birthday) and my mother in law

Krystina and my nieces Hailey and Kylie being silly!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Gold Coast Veteran's Foundation & Military Connections

Sunday afternoon I drove to Camarillo to participate in the Gold Coast Veterans Foundation's Reception honoring Judge Toy White.  As soon as I arrived I was embraced by Debbie Gregory of Military Connection, after a few moments felt like we were old friends as we have many acquaintances in common.  Through the course of the evening, I learned a lot about the Veteran's Court in Ventura County and how imperative it is to the long term welfare of our Veteran's.

The Veterans Court is a coordinated effort of the Ventura Superior Court, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the County of Ventura Offices of the District Attorney, Public Defender, and Probation Agency. Under California Penal Code section 1170.9, defendants eligible for this court are United States military veterans who would otherwise be sentenced to county jail or state prison and who committed a criminal offense as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse, or psychological problem stemming from U.S. military service. Eligibility is determined by a careful screening process designed to protect the community, verify veteran status and determine amenability to treatment. Admission to the program requires the unanimous approval of the judge, District Attorney and VA representative.

Judge White was the sweetest most humble award recipient choosing to thank all of those involved in bringing the Veteran's Court to fruition, her current staff and her very important guest, her family.  Her husband, retired Navy, her son a Marine and her Nephew a Marine who returned from Afghanistan just a few weeks ago.  Judge White is a true inspiration having started in the DA's office as a budding Defense Attorney just looking to gain information on how to beat the prosecution before she realized where her passion was. 

I look forward to participating in additional events with both the Gold Coast Veteran's Foundation and Military Connection. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Irvine Rotary

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Mahatma Gandhi

Last week I was asked to speak at the Irvine Rotary, I happily accepted because I love the Rotary!  They asked me to speak on my platform and my year as Mrs California at their weekly meeting.  I was so excited because I love sharing the Got Your Back Network, my love of community service and my love of the International system with others. 
When I showed up the meeting, I introduced myself and was greeting by a sweet woman that knew exactly who I was.  Meeting all of the members is always fun, they are such a sweet and inviting group of people that have the same goal of serving others.  I met a visiting member, Weybo from the Netherlands who brought a gift of wooden shoes to the President as well as many other business individuals that were very interested in knowing more about families of our fallen.  As I spoke about how wonderful each family is, the challenges that they face and how each person there could help I was overwhelmed by the questions and eagerness to help.  By the end of the meeting I had an event all but planned, a college financial adviser ready to assist our families in addition to a few other wonderful partnership we will be looking into this year.  What a wonderful day, a wonderful organization and a wonderful way to kick off my speaking tour.

Mrs California 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Biggest fan

"Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success." -Henry Ford

Salina and I met Memorial Day 2010 at the Northwood Gratitude & Honor Memorial; We had just gotten finished reading names of Service Members killed in action recently added to the memorial.  My daughter and I we were lighting candles for our fallen heroes when Salina and I began talking.  She told me that her husband had been killed in Iraq, he was a combat medic.  She had heard of my organization and wanted to get in touch and learn more about how we helped military widows.  Since that day I have learned a lot about Salina, David and her goal of honoring her husband through miles (running).  Salina has run many races including 35 miles to honor Davids 35th birthday and The Great Wall of China.  My daughter adores her, my husband is inspired by her and me... well I am humbled by her words, inspired by her choices and honored to be her friend.
A few weeks ago Salina asked if Grant would train with her for a 26.2 mile ride because, due to an injury, she couldn’t run the Long Beach Marathon this year.  When I asked my husband he didn’t hesitate – of course he would because David was his brother, another Soldier, that deserved every amount of honor possible.  It isn’t unordinary to find my husband cycling with Team RWB or trying to best himself in a race because that was his passion.  This one was special though because my husband rode with Salina Jimenez, a Gold Star Wife, whose husband SGT David ‘Doc’ Almazan was killed in Iraq in 2006. 
I was so proud to see my husband rise to the occasion, support my passion, honor the memories of Doc and all of our fallen in addition to being part of ‘Team Doc’ for this ride. 
So on the morning of September 8, while I was visiting a friend in VA, my husband rode Volkswagen Think Blue 26.2-mile Bike Tour as part of the Long Beach Marathon.   They had a great ride, met up with Salina’s sister after the half marathon and celebrated this victory.   This morning, when I logged onto Google News what do I see... my husband’s handsome face in the Military Times.  “Members of Team “Doc” Almazan, including Salina Jimenez (middle), completed The Long Beach 1/2 Marathon and 26.2 Bike Tour on Sunday.”  Yes, that’s my husband – as a proud Army Wife, a proud friend and a proud supporter of our fallen heroes I emailed that link to everyone knowing full well my husband would prefer to keep that article quiet but it’s my turn to be his fan!

Mrs. California

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Supporting Gold Star Families

One is not born into the world to do everything but to do something. Henry David Thoreau, poet, writer, philosopher

I have gotten so many interesting questions about my platform; why, who and "Are there REALLY that many Gold Star wives?" The answers are simply: Why not? I am an Army Wife with a deployable husband, I am an American and I am proud of our military... supporting their families when they no longer can is a given. Gold Star families are everywhere, come from everywhere and are comprised of husbands and wives with and without children. There are approximately 3500 Widow(er)s and even more children as a result of a parent being killed in combat or through suicide.

I am the product of 2 grandparents in WWII, a Grandfather in Korea and Unlces in Vietnam... Great Grandparents and before served as well. This was all history to me because I have not lived through those wars, I have heard the horror stories about the treatment of our military and military families post Vietnam. I remember 9/11 and thinking that this would be our generations World War people I knew started deploying. For years there was always someone I knew deployed, then in 2007 a classmate from High School, 1LT Jared Landaker was killed in Iraq – it was the closest reminder to me that dying for freedom was real and possible. The whole town turned out for his memorial, they held it in the High School gym and there still wasn’t room for everyone. I knew then that I wanted to help our military in a greater way. I knew people were killed in war but I felt like those closest to me were invincible. I searched Google trying to find an organization where I felt I could make a serious difference. When I found Got Your Back I knew I had found my new home because it spoke to me and I instantly contacted them and began volunteering behind the scenes. I was happy handling the family directory, emailing new families and asking for donations. Then the reality of it all hit; My husband got orders to Iraq. I spent the next year planning for GYBN, sending emails and more planning for upcoming events for families of our fallen.

I remember the first time I met any of our Gold Star families. I wasn’t sure how I was going to act, was I going to feel awkward or were they going to resent the fact that my husband wasn’t killed in Iraq/Afghanistan. By that time, Grant had been in Iraq for 6 months with another 6 to go. I showed up in Las Vegas for Project Gratitude, an initiative that takes Gold Star families to Miss America each year for a 4 day trip, and I was terrified. My apprehension was overwhelming as I walked into a room with 11 Gold Star families totaling 22 people, all staring at me. “Oh no!” was all I could think... then the introductions and the smiles. Within 2 minutes everyone was like old friends and we had a great time. One of my closest friendships was made on that trip with another Army Wife.

The last night in Las Vegas, after Miss America was crowned we went back to a suite for dinner. Sitting on the floor in a hotel room closet wearing an evening gown talking to a child about the loss of his father and how lonely he felt made me realize that I was exactly where I belong. I had found my home and the outlet for my passion. It’s amazing when you have that aha moment, that moment that everything becomes clear. Sitting there talking baseball, family and parents was my moment. Every time I see that little boy my heart soars because he is the reminder of it all.

Each year I spend more than 500 hours planning events , reaching out to Gold Star families and networking on behalf of these families and the Got Your Back Network. In addition to working a full time job and being a soccer mom this is occasionally overwhelming but, as with anything else, you figure it out. I mean we are SuperWoman, right?

My platform is part of my life, once a military spouse always a military spouse.