Thursday, December 20, 2012

1st Annual Surviving Families Holiday Party

 Amanda Bradley

I will say that many of my appearances, events or gatherings are as Shana, Got Your Back Board Member not as Shana, Mrs. California International.  This is not because I am not proud of or don’t love my title, its based on the appropriateness for each event.  Many of our surviving family events are about THEM, about their journey and their experiences with our organization and eachother... If I feel that wearing my crown/sash would overshadow that experience I choose not to wear it however I always bring it for the bling and our little girls.  This was the case with Wreaths Across America and our holiday party.  Many of the little girls met me at the Snowball send off so they remembered the Princess, so out came the crown and sash for their rhinestoned enjoyment... then the adults got in on the action. 

I LOVE the holidays and all they represent.  Giving to others, helping others in need and family.... it’s such a magical time of year.  This year was our First Annual Got Your Back Network Holiday party... what a WONDERFUL evening.  We had 18 families of our fallen heroes join us at the Pacific View Events Center on Camp Pendleton for food, fun and a visit from Mrs. Claus and her special Elf... Santa was VERY busy at the North Pole helping get toys ready for Christmas so he sent his wife, the next best thing (she talks to Santa you know).  I was able to meet several new families at this event, getting to know them and their children was very special.  It was also a great time for families to meet each other and start to form new bonds there as well.    
When each child met with Mrs. Claus, they were provided with a perfect gift just for them – I am thankful to our many donors this year for their help in providing this magical evening.  Thank you to the San Juan Capistrano Women’s Auxiliary for providing toys, our special Got Your Back Volunteer Susan Bien and her wonderful husband for obtaining donations, Leif Manson the Elf for providing the answers to life’s many questions such as why not ALL elves have pointy ears (Thank you Avery for your questions), and Mrs. Claus for her story and time with each child.

Until next year! 


Tuesday, December 18, 2012


“From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” ~ Arthur Ashe
On Sunday December 16, Krystina and I were Reindeer delivering toys to families for the Child Abuse Prevention Center.  To make it even better, the company I work for partnered with CAPC this year to donate toys and deliver.  So I got a little work props for doing something I had planned long before I found out about our involvement.  I have volunteered, driven at risk youth and spoken to groups through CAPC in the past 10 years.  They have a wonderful, Teen Voices Teen Choices program for teen moms and at risk young ladies.  A forum for open discussion about the realities of being a teen mom, how to avoid it and to inspire if that situation arises.  As a survivor of domestic violence I have been honored to help break the cycle in their lives.
Reindeer Day was by far a favorite day because I got to do this with my daughter.  We talked at great length about the families and why CAPC was giving them toys and gifts.  The first house we visited had 7 large bags as well as a baby walker to be delivered.  They lived at the FURTHEST point from the underground parking and it took us over an hour to deliver all of the gifts to them.  The Grandmother that greeted us even taught Krystina a little Spanish with each delivery – so much fun!  We completed a total of 3 deliveries over the 4 hours that we were reindeer.  We met with each family, played with their children and wished them a Merry Christmas on our way. 

Spending time with my daughter doing what I love makes each event so much sweeter.  There aren’t many photos from the day to preserve each families anonymity however here are a few of my reindeer and I... partners in crime.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Wreaths Across America

Los Angeles National Cemetery - Wreaths have been placed.  Such a beautiful sight

For it has been said so truthfully that it is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press.  It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag, who gives that protester the freedom to abuse and burn that flag. – Zell Miller
 You know those days, events or moment where there are just no words?  I am never one to be speechless, sadly if I’m nervous I usually make a joke however this day even that didn’t come to me.  On December 15 I volunteered to lay wreaths at the graves of our fallen service members as part of Wreaths Across America at the Los Angeles National Cemetery.  Wreaths Across America’s mission, Remember, Honor, Teach, is carried out in part by coordinating wreath laying ceremonies a specified Saturday in December at Arlington, as well as veterans’ cemeteries and other locations in all 50 states and beyond.

In the days leading up to Saturday I received several emails from the volunteer coordinator with wreath counts asking for additional publicity and donations to bring in as many wreaths as possible this year.  The Los Angeles National Cemetery was dedicated in 1889, with over 114 acres and 85000 graves, from the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other American conflicts the goal is to cover every one with a beautiful wreath.  When I showed up I was told that LANC had received 950 wreaths to be laid which is almost 700 more than last year thanks to donations.  As I walked towards the stage I saw Debra, Salina and Kylynn, both women I have learned so much from.  They told me that I would be riding along with the Patriot Guard Riders to lay 60 wreaths.  I had no idea what was next and I can be honest in saying that my level of respect and pride increased exponentially over the next 4 hours.

While most volunteers, gently laid the wreaths and went onto the next headstone the Patriot Guard Riders read short bios on each veteran we laid a wreath for, gave them each full respect and salute; if family was present they also spoke about their loved one.  I met several Gold Star Moms there to lay wreaths for their sons and heard some great stories about these young men.  I saw pictures, heard stories and hugged more people in one day than in my entire life.  I wish more people saw the faces of our fallen versus just their name – I met the mother of Army Staff Sgt. Curreri a young man that attended USC and qualified for the 2000 Olympic trials before September 11 changed his path.  His photo was on his headstone along with many of the other young men buried there.  I could have talked to the moms for hours about their sons, their grandchildren and their daughters in laws.   

During the opening ceremony we were asked to take note of the names of the veterans who’s name headstone we laid the wreath at.  To go home and look him/her up and learn a little about them... make them more than a passing moment on your Saturday morning.  I laid several wreaths that Saturday, Sergeant Christopher Dwayne Young Company C, 3rd Battalion 160th Infantry a National Guard soldier killed in 2007, an unknown soldier from Vietnam and Sgt Charles I Sprague a WWI Soldier who died in 1949.  Standing at the graves of a true heroes, with my hand upon my heart saying thank you was indescribable.

It took us almost 3 hours to lay our 60 wreaths, 3 hours of learning, thanking and honoring each man and woman laid to rest at LA National Cemetery.  When it seemed that we were the only volunteers left in the cemetery, the feeling of love was all surrounding. That was all I needed to satisfy my holiday’s – I already have the daughter and husband I always wanted this was the icing on the cake.  As we were leaving Debra, a Gold Star Wife that I met at Snowball Express handed me a gift as a thank you for being there.  I teared up instantly as being there was my thank you to her for all she has endured... in the box was a beautiful spun glass Christmas tree with a tiny gold star on the top.  This has become one of my most cherished things – it’s a representative of so much that I can’t explain.  Long after Christmas this will sit on my desk at work as a reminder of this journey. 

The Patriotic Pair wreath on our door honoring our men & women in uniform

The Patriot Guard Riders were lined up and ready

Debra, Salina (President of CA Gold Star Wives org) and Kylynn

Sgt Charles Sprague - World War I


Tis a reason for this season

December is my FAVORITE month of the year!  I love all the goodies, the friends and family, the weather... it’s just a heartwarming month!  It has  also been a great month to share my message and platform with so many people – people that want to help and want to be a part of something.  Tis the season of giving and working for a nonprofit I get to see the faces of those that receive which makes all the hard work worth it.

On December 2 I was asked to attend the La Jolla Holiday Parade with my beautiful daughter.  La Jolla is part of northern San Diego, with such a huge military community it’s always an honor to do anything down there.  Walking around and meeting other titleholders, moms and military families is always a fun and a great learning experience for Krystina.  Going down the parade route my platform was talked about many times by the announcers along with how to get in touch with the Got Your Back Network which is what it’s all about.  At the end of the parade I took photos with many little princesses and their mom’s... it’s cute to play around and talk Santa with these little girls.  I also enjoy talking to their moms about pageants, platforms, how pageants have evolved and hopefully get a few of these accomplished women signed up for next year!

My first real article came out in the Orange County Register on December 3.  I was honored to say the least as they dedicated a spot on the front page as well as the entire ‘Local’ section to my platform and assisting families of our fallen.  The support was overwhelming and I couldn’t be any more proud to be Mrs. California International.  To know that many people read my article and cared enough to email me and voice their support of our families will always be something I am proud of.  I went to Grant’s holiday party for work this past Friday and was congratulated by so many people which gave me another opportunity to talk about and educate people on the need to support the families of our fallen military.  It was funny as I went as his ‘arm candy’ yet everyone was so interested in talking to his wife about all she is doing.  FANTASTIC!

I said at the beginning of my reign that soccer mom came first and that I didn’t schedule things on Monday/Thursday nights or Saturday mornings.  Knowing that soccer was over around Thanksgiving I scheduled a few events on December 8 however unfortunately due to rain and delay Krystina’s last soccer tournaments were rescheduled the same day and daddy was at drill!  I had to balance out 2 events AND 2 soccer games for my little one in true mommy fashion.  Grammy to the rescue for game one!

In the morning I attended the Fullerton Kiwanis’ holiday shop with a child at Kohl’s in La Habra.  The children were bused in from local Boys and Girls Clubs as well as a transitional living center to shop for some wardrobe.  I was paired up with a beautiful little 7 year old girl, Brianna.  What a sweet child and so much fun!  We had one hour and $100 to shop for clothes/shoes for her.  A girl after my own heart, we started in shoes.  She got the cutest little sequined moccasins and purple shiny boots (noted to self to go back and grab a pair for Krystina), then off to clothes.  An hour later she had her 2 pairs of shoes 3 pairs of jeans, 2 full outfits with leggings and a few shirts.  Thank you to the Fullerton Kiwanis for the gracious invitation and Kohl’s for supporting this event and these children – all were overly appreciative as they carried out their multiple bags of clothes!!

Off to Laguna Niguel I went for the holiday parade – I spoke to the parade planner and rode with a group that was about 130 spots closer to the beginning than I so that I could make it for game 2 of the soccer tournament (they understood and actually thanked me for putting mommy first).  A WONDERFUL parade by their committee which was themed Honoring our Heroes.  Thank you to the Porsche Club of America chapter for being so gracious and sweet by letting me ride with them.  BEAUTIFUL cars and I learned that 1/3 of all Porsche’s sold nationwide are sold right here in Orange County.   Then headed to the soccer game in full pageant hair and makeup and a dress which was quickly changed to my team SWAT t-shirt and capris and my hair in a bun while I cheered on our girls.  They ultimately lost both games BUT they handled the losses with grace and good sportsmanship for which I was extremely proud.   

I have had a WONDERFUL first half of my month.  I also participated in Wreaths Across America this past Saturday at Los Angeles National Cemetery, memories that were so easily made with 3 Gold Star Wives and the Patriot Guard Riders.  That will be a separate post all together because I have so many things to say about that day, the organization, the event, the people... the list goes on!

Regardless of your passion or mission in life – remember those less fortunate this holiday season and if you can take a few moments to bring a smile to their face.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Prayers and love

“Deep grief sometimes is almost like a specific location, a coordinate on a map of time. When you are standing in that forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone can assure you that they themselves have stood in that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope”
Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

This week I planned to spend this evening writing about some of the events I have done recently and what was on the horizon... then the tragedy in Newtown, CT happened and nothing I planned to write tonight seemed relevant.

I am a mother, an aunt, a sister, a wife, a daughter... a human being.  I grew up in small towns all over California, went to school in a one room (1st thru 5th grade) school house and never lived in a town over 30,000 people.  My high school, Big Bear High, was in a town of less than 15,000... a small sleepy town (in the off season) where everyone knew you and your story.  Big Bear has seen tragedy and I have seen what it did to our family town yet our tragedies were not of this magitude.  

Yesterday morning I was checking Google news, like every morning and scanned across an elementary school shooting in a small Connecticut town- I instantly assumed it was a child that brought his daddy's gun as show & tell when it accidently went off so I didn't even open the story.  Then a few hours later a male coworker approached me with tears in his eyes quoting the most recent death toll - at that time thought to be 16 and then he said the word that dropped my heart: 16 CHILDREN!  I said a quick prayer that he was wrong and located a streaming news feed, plugged in and proceeded to listen for the next 6 hours horrified.  I listened to interview after interview - then it came to one about a 1st grade teacher who's students told her they didn't want to die because they wanted to see Santa and I started to bawl.  These children were so pure that their concern was missing Santa.

When I got home from work I was EXHAUSTED, mentally and emotionally but it was my husbands holiday party for work so I put on my best cheery face and went on our way.  The shooting was the talk of every circle I came across and today at the mall while Christmas shopping every where I turned I heard statistics and comments about it.  People talking about gun control, the heroic teachers, the loved students and Principal.  I kept hearing people say, over and over, that they couldn't understand it and how senseless it was.  A town burying 27 people because of the acts of one young man.  A small town, much like the one I grew up in, devastated just 2 weeks before Christmas.  

I know that there is no way to make sense of this- how a man could look into the eyes of an innocent child and kill them in their school which is one of the few places that children have ALWAYS felt secure- but as a parent I have to try.  This morning my daughter asked me why Grammy was sad last night.  I used that as my opportunity to open up a dialog about it - I didn't know how to just bring it up so I was glad she asked.  I explained that bad people do things every day, that her teachers will always do everything in their power to keep her safe and that, as always, we love her to the moon.  Most of what I said went over her head but I wanted her to hear it from me.  I didn't want her to see it on TV or hear it from her friends, I wanted her parents to explain it in our terms because sadly our daughter understands death and bad people.  As a military family we have had this conversation about bad people responsible for the Sept 11 attacks, for the death of servicemembers in foreign countries and we've discussed 'Stranger Danger' but never did we discuss possibilities of bad people in her school. 

I know that she still doesn't understand the magnitude of everything, nor do I really want her to.  I hugged her for so long this morning she started pulling away because she was headed to Disneyland with her best friend for a girls day and didn't want to be late.  Our conversation ended there but at least I know that she knows we can talk about it - I opened the door.  I know over the next few days and weeks it will come up again.  I am sure the school will do their best to reassure the children of their safety on Monday, I appreciate that confidence instilled in our children.

My thoughts, prayers and heart is with those parents that went to that firehouse last night to pick up their babies only to be told that their baby was no longer on earth.  20 new angels entered heaven last night, 20 babies with their life ahead of them are now watching over their mommy's and daddy's. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

November photos

“What i like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.”
Karl Lagerfeld

November was such a great month.  It was full of work, fun and kids... each event was wonderful in it's own right and each one providing something different.  Please enjoy a few photos from my third month as Mrs. California International

Congratulations SWAT (Soccer With A 'Tude) on your accomplishment!  Such a proud mommy.

The Murrieta Field of Honor

A high school friend - The Murrieta Field of Honor

USS Iowa for the Veteran's Appreciation Festival

Our booth to raise community awareness at the Veteran's Appreciation Festival

Gold Star Wives Kylynn and Salina

Former Miss CA Intl Dedria Brunette and I back stage

Studio Channel Islands Fashion Show with Miss CA Global Nations, former Miss CA Intl and Jr Teen Ventura County Intl

crowning Bri - her father Aaron White was killed in action in Iraq

She is going to be a star... no kidding! Snowball Express send off

Medal of Honor recipient John Baca

Kylynn, Salina and I standing in the rain at the Snowball Express Send off

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

November just flew right by... Christmas is right around the corner!

“Children see magic because they look for it.”
Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal

I know that it’s been awhile since I updated my blog but it’s for good reason... I’ve been SUPER busy with cheering my soccer star and her awesome team to an undefeated season , the Got Your Back Network, speaking at the Kiwanis, and sending children of the fallen off to Dallas for Snowball Express. 

After the San Diego Color Run Grant, Krystina and I decided to sign up for a few more runs to honor our fallen and their families.  We will be running the Race at the Base and the Irvine Color Run during the next few months.  Krystina absolutely loved being a part of honoring the children, I loved doing this with her and supporting my passion at the same time. 

Then came Veterans Day weekend... one of my favorite weekends of the year because I get to celebrate so many in my life that have served our country. 
On November 10 I set up a booth for the Got Your Back Network at the Los Angeles Veteran’s Appreciation Festival.  Community Awareness is so important for a nonprofit- being able to wrap a community around a group of people such as the families of the fallen provides additional resources to help them in their journey.  Then on the 11th, Veteran’s Day, I was honored to be in the Murrieta Veteran’s Day Parade.  I show up early to parades and events because I LOVE meeting people.  That parade served to be no different, I met 2 World War II Veteran’s as well as many other Korea and Vietnam Veterans.  Talking to these men and women about their service and their life is always touching.  Speaking to wives who supported their service members through Vietnam, no technology just letters on occasion, then stood by them when they returned was inspiring.  I told one of them that we were spoiled now with email, Skype and the ease of communication... her response “No, sweetheart you are simply blessed.”  Thank you ma’am.  At the end of the parade I went over to visit the Field of Honor.  Words cannot express the feelings and emotions I felt standing there looking over thousands of flags honoring our men and women in uniform.  I walked through the flags for awhile, reading the names of the men and women with humbled appreciation.  Just as I was about to leave I saw a group of flags off the to the left, I wanted to see what made these ones different.  One step onto the grass and you could feel the difference, these flags were to honor the San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino County’s fallen service members.  I walked each of the 6 rows, read the names and said a silent prayer and thank you... I knew many of their wives and children.  Then I happened across a name that brought me to tears, 1st LT Jared Landaker from Big Bear City.  Jared, a classmate of mine was killed in Iraq February of 2007 but seeing his name gave me one more reminder of why I was there.  Simple thank you’s never feel like enough in the presence of true superhero’s. 

On November 22, Thanksgiving, I was able to take a few moments in the morning to give thanks with the Kiwanis Club of Greater Anaheim.  Speaking about what I am thankful and my passion to help families of our fallen was a great way to start the morning.   I also got the opportunity to meet a veteran who has been married to “His beautiful and lovely bride” for 71 years!  I loved listen to his introduction as you could still feel the love between them.  Then home to make my Grandmother’s ham and spend a day with some of the people that I am most thankful for, My Grandmother, daughter and husband and mother in law.

On the 29th I was asked to model in a fashion show for Studio Channel Islands.  All of the outfits were made my local artists.  I  had a great time with former Miss California 2012 Dedria Brunett and Miss California Global Nations, Katherine Cooksey (who also planned the event).  Getting to meet the artists after the show was very fun, all of the outfits had their own story as did the artist.  I must admit one of my favorites was an outfit made entirely out of recycled plastic bags!!

I wrapped up the month of November with admittedly one of my favorite events, also one that I have been wanting to be part of for the past 4 years!  Snowball Express is an organization that takes almost 2000 children of the fallen from all over the world to one location for 4 days of fun!  The past several years this event has been in Dallas and provided more memories that I can even imagine.  I was able to be part of the LAX send off this year with my friends Kylynn and Salina.  We got to LAX at 5am to help decorate and get ready to greet the Snowball families from Southern California.  I don’t think I was prepared for the overwhelming excitement and love that this event produces.  Seeing many families that I know and getting to know some new ones was worth every moment of anticipation the past year.  I had the honor of crowning every young lady in attendance, talking to Santa, connecting with more moms and creating new relationships!  Then it came time for the families to board the VERY SPECIAL American Airlines flight – it’s a very amazing secret what is on this plane that is chartered ONLY for the families of Snowball Express.  When the families were all aboard, the volunteers and ground crew went out to the flight line with flags and smiles... it was POURING rain.  We waved and gave the plane a very proper sendoff to their next destination and off to work I went.

I am thankful for those in my life that help me along the way between watching Krystina, helping me keep my life organized and supporting me.  Up next... December 8 Soccer playoffs,  the Laguna Niguel Holiday Parade and Kiwanis’ Christmas shopping with an underprivileged child; December 15th will be Wreaths Across America laying wreaths at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery; December 16th delivering toys for the Child Abuse Prevention Center and December 19th is the Got Your Back Network’s Family holiday party.

Pictures to follow....