Friday, May 31, 2013

Bishop Mule Days

Bishop Mule Days was founded 44 years ago by Bob Tanner, a local rancher and co-owner of the infamous 20-mule team.  Every year during the Memorial Day Weekend, more than 700 mules compete in 181 events at the Bishop Mule Days Celebration. There is no way to actually describe Mule Days. It is part mule show, part test of skills, and part Wild West show. Situated on the Tri-County Fairgrounds in Bishop, California, Mule Days has become an international world class event. Crowds have grown from 200 to more than 30,000 fans!  When I was asked to attend as the Grand Marshal representing all military families I was extremely touched and excited.  I grew up around horses and didn't realize how similar yet different mules can be.

I arrived in Bishop Friday morning and hit the ground running.  As I arrived at the Fairgrounds I was introduced to Chuck, a delightful gentleman with the California High School Rodeo Association.  He introduced me to the Queens from the California High School Rodeo Association and we were treated to a tour of the Mule Days fairgrounds and invited to attend Mule Days Founder Bob Tanner’s dinner party on his ranch with one stipulation… no heels.  As we walked around the fairgrounds meeting many of the competitors and mules I was surprised at how beautiful and majestic mules look.  They are great and sweet animals and very smart, there were many escaped mules over the weekend.  I was also fascinated by the many different types of mules, which are horses bred with donkey’s. 

Getting ready for Mr. Tanners barbecue was a little more challenging as I don’t have cowboy boots but thanks to the Boot Campaign I am the proud owner of a pair of military issued combat boots which I proudly wore to the party with my blue jeans and pink shirt to represent breast cancer awareness, the Mule Day’s theme for Friday.  The dinner hosted many local dignitaries and residents of the local convalescent hospital, including 4 WWII Veterans!  As I walked around speaking to each of them I learned so much.  Some of these men may not be able to remember a year ago but each of them remembered the events of the war and their battles in such vivid manner.  Ralph was part of a unit on the beaches of Normandy while Dennis was a Boatswains Mate with the 4th Marine unit landing at Iwo Jima.  I enjoyed my conversations with both of these men to such a large degree – learning about their families and lives.  Thank you isn’t enough

Saturday morning brought the VIP breakfast where I was able to meet another military family in attendance that I would be riding along with in the parade.  James and Jessica are both Army Veterans and along with their 2 sons are very army strong!  It was wonderful getting to know them and their boys, very respectful young men.  It just so happened that 2 Marines were in the parade just behind us so along the route there was some good natured ribbing between the branches but I do believe HOOAH won.  The parade route was wonderful; Bishop is an extremely military proud and friendly community where I couldn't have felt more welcomed. 
After the parade I was able to fulfill one of my Mule Days requirements… riding a mule!  Miss Oregon Rodeo America lent me a pair of cowboy boots and a mule to ride.  I had a blast sitting atop of Biscuit and touring the fairgrounds.  Such a LARGE yet sweet animal that made me miss riding for sure.  At the end of Saturday I enjoyed watching the Grand Entry, evening competitions and spending some time with a childhood friend and her family. 

On my way out of town I stopped at Cobweb Antiques, a wonderful and quaint antique store with the sweetest owners.  I love antiques and was overjoyed to speak to them about their store (an old jail!) and the memories of many of the items being sold.  There is so much you can learn about an area by their antique stores.  Cobwebs store owner James gave me two beautiful pairs of antique earrings as good luck for Mrs International. 

I can’t say thank you enough to the wonderful town of Bishop and all of their residents, your generosity and hospitality were second to none.  I will be back next year without a doubt.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mothers Day weekend... Smith style!

It takes some one really brave to be a mother, someone strong to raise a child and someone special to love someone more than herself.

I know that I am a little late in my posting but as always Mommy and Wife take center and both roles have kept me very busy recently. After a great trip to Washington DC it was time to switch gears to soccer team mom and mommy. I flew back from DC early because it was our soccer teams LAST game of the season before the select team took over for tournaments and I couldn't possibly miss this game. I was so proud of our girls; Soccer-girls With a ‘Tude! We finished the season as 1st place in our region and 3rd in our division so a celebration was in order… we invited all 9 girls to our community for a swimming party. Yep, 9 girls in full soccer uniforms swimming in the pool for 4 hours. They were laughing and playing and celebrating…it was priceless. Now for the fun of our traveling select team which is 5 of the same girls and 5 new ones… another Team Mom season ahead!

Soccer-Girls with a "Tude

Post Game relaxation

This Mother’s Day, just like the last 6, Krystina has asked my breakfast preference and headed to the store with her daddy to purchase the items. Each year, with hope, she plans breakfast in bed for mommy at 9am. Mother’s Day is the one day that mommy gets to sleep in each year EXCEPT this mommy was still up at 7am each year! Grant thought he figured it out, he put black out curtains on the windows and was up at 6:30 to ensure that I didn't wake up when our little munchkin came tiptoeing into our room to wake him up. They thought of EVERYTHING… except the inevitable. At 7:02am I text Grant to tell him that sadly I was up and couldn't get back to sleep and my Kindle battery was dead so I couldn't even just lay there and read for 2 hours.


As I walked into the kitchen Krystina looked up half giggled and half frowned. I told her how hard I tried and how much I appreciated the thought but mommy’s just can’t sleep in. Without missing a beat I got the biggest hug ever and then she began BEGGING Grant to give me my gifts. So after cards and gifts they went to work on breakfast and made the best breakfast ever: bacon, eggs, fruit, and French toast (with powdered sugar). I was GIDDY. The entire day was spent uploading books on my NEW KINDLE and erasing my books off of my old one for Krystina. When she got up from her nap we cuddled into our big chair together and read – She read Anne of Green Gables and I read The American Sniper (I know light reading). Then we got to have a great BBQ with my other mother (aka my mother in law). I am blessed to have such a great family and blessed for the little girl that makes me a mommy.

Blessed mommy... 

My favorite sight to see... my two loves!

It was a perfect day.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

Military Spouse of the Year Summit - Day 2

When you married the military, you joined the largest family in the world.


Early Friday morning I said my 'see ya laters' to Patty; I still hate leaving her house because it has always felt like a second home. As I headed into Washington DC I recapped the day before and was so excited to see what the day had in store. The drive in saw more traffic than I have to deal with in California which honestly says A LOT. When I arrived at our beautiful host hotel the Marriott Wardman Park, I realized how regal this property looks. 

As I checked in I was given my official MSOY cards and my certificate…. Yes I get to put one on the wall now! The Military Spouse of the Year Summit was a first of its kind and MilSpouse Magazine went above and beyond in every aspect. Opening remarks were from Adm. James A. Winnefeld, Jr., Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this man is amazing in every sense of the word and I was honored to hear him speak. Out of the corner of my eye, in the hallway, I noticed Secret Service agents. I knew that they couldn’t possibly be there for the Admiral Winnefeld, mainly because my husband has explained more about the Secret Service than I ever hoped to know, so I was very excited to see who was in the hallway. The next introduction was our next speaker, Dr. Jill Biden, the 2nd Lady of the United States! OH MY GOSH! Speechless and in awe as I listened to her talk about being a Blue Star Mom, about understanding deployments and repeating my FAVORITE quote of hers: "Military Spouses volunteer MORE in 1 year than most civilians do in a lifetime!" After her speech Dr. Biden invited us one by one to take a photo and spoke to us for a few moments. I couldn’t believe that I was taking a photo with the Vice President’s WIFE and that she genuinely listened and cared about what we each had to say.

All Military Installation Winners

GO ARMY!  Army Branch and Installation winners

With Dr. Jill Biden 

The rest of the summit brought a wealth of information. The Panelists were exactly what we each needed. The first panel consisted of past MSOY winners providing their thoughts and advice on how to use this opportunity to its fullest. The second panel consisted of military spouses that are involved in different federal hiring programs for military and their spouses. This was a moment for me to ask about their availability to our Gold Star Families who often feel that the programs no longer pertain to them. I found out that they do – each program for Military Spouses ALSO pertains to our Gold Star spouses as they are STILL military spouses. The final panel consisted of 2 lobbyists for military programs and a woman whose organization is helping change laws for portability in law careers. It was interesting to hear the view from this panel on how they are assisting congressional leaders in making a difference for military families.

As I headed home Friday night I was full of excitement and almost felt that I was leaving behind a fairy tale. The information that I was able to come home with was invaluable. I want to thank Victory Media, Military Spouse Magazine and everyone involved in this event for everything. Each of us took information and friendships back to our individual installations; information I know will help. I also want to thank the Got Your Back Network for their support in this endeavor and allowing me the opportunity to represent our organization every day.

For me – For the first time in a long time, as an Army Reserve Wife, I was able to feel included. When you are a Reserve Wife you are surrounded by more civilian than you are military. With each deployment I am explaining every acronym, feeling and thought to individuals who truthfully don’t understand the military life because we are of the 1%. On the MSOY trip I was able to just say something and the other spouses just ‘got it’… such as SFC, SLC, Deployment, R&R and the list goes on. Thank you to each spouse for that. The memories and friendships made will not be forgotten.
As I head into the rest of my year as both Mrs. California International and California’s Military Spouse of the Year I will hold this weekend in my heart and continue to do everything I can for military families in California and our Gold Star Families.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Military Spouse of the Year Luncheon

"You never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have."

It’s rare in life that I am rendered almost completely speechless however during the last three days at the Military Spouse of the Year Luncheon and Summit it happened… more than once.

I arrived in Washington DC late Wednesday evening, due to weather delays, and was dying to see the USMC War Memorial so at midnight we headed over to see this beautiful Memorial erected of the flag raising at Iwo Jima dedicated to all Marines who have served. Breathtaking is the best word to describe it. I’m sure in the daylight it is beautiful as well but at night with all of the lights shining up at it highlighted every piece of this iconic statue. I stood there admiring the words on the Memorial, conflicts and wars we have fought it and thought of the many Marines I know; I am honored to know them as they are part of our fighting force that has stood on battle fields worldwide willing to die for our freedoms. On that I headed to the hotel and headed to bed – big day on Thursday

Thursday morning, admittedly I was so excited that I barely slept, was a frenzy of excitement. I was meeting a Marine spouse, Amber, for a ride to Fort Myer for the Military Spouse of the Year Luncheon. It was at this luncheon they would be announcing the 2013 Military Spouse of the Year and it was also a time for us to get to know the 6 branch winners a little better. Fort Myer is just next to Arlington National Cemetery and the USMC Memorial – driving past Arlington at 11am just stopped my breath as I know so many men buried there and the families that miss them. I had already googled the branch winners, and boy was I impressed. These 6 women were already winners in my book and I was so glad they were representing me for the next year. Karen Guenther, the Marine Spouse of the Year is the founder of the Semper Fi Fund and Tara Crooks, the Army Spouse of the Year is the creator of the Army Wife Network that is a sounding board for MANY Army wives. Then there is Alicia, the first National Guard Spouse of the Year who is ready to make sure the world sees the struggles of our National Guard and Reserve families, Alicia the Navy Spouse of the Year is working on Suicide Awareness and Prevention in the military. Verince, the Air Force Spouse of the Year who is dedicated to spouse resiliency through the Strength for Spouses Program and lastly Shelly is the Coast Guard Spouse of the Year who works with and supports Blue Star Families of America.

See what I mean, these women are AMAZING. Alicia Hinds Ward, National Guard Spouse of the Year was named the 2013 Military Spouse of the Year and I couldn’t be more excited or proud. She is sweet, gracious, funny and a wonderful National Guard Spouse.

After the luncheon I met up with a new friend, Alina a National Guard wife from Colorado and headed to the National Mall. When we stepped off the Metro at the Smithsonian it was POURING rain… it was at this point we decided that the clouds would break soon so off we went to see the sights, without an umbrella. About 20 minutes after we began walking the rain finally quit, although we were already soaking wet we had a wonderful time. Walking along the Vietnam War Memorial seeing the notes that had been left, the flowers at the Korean War Memorial and walking the steps of both the Lincoln Memorial and Thomas Jefferson Memorial were moments that had a different meaning to us than so many others there. We both shed tears at each war memorial honoring those lives that came before our husbands and the lives lost for our country.

I got to spend Thursday night with a great friend and Gold Star Wife. There are days that all you need are a few moments with a good friend to make everything ok – Patty is that friend. We giggled and talked for a few hours, headed to bed and I felt fulfilled…. Well that and the great hugs from her kids, whom I love!

Proud to be representing my state as both Mrs California International & California Military Spouse of the Year!
On stage before the luncheon
The steps of the Lincoln Memorial

The WWII Memorial for residents of Washington DC

Arlington National Cemetary from the gate at Fort Myer

Left at the Vietnam War Memorial

Tokens of love and gratitude left at the Vietnam War Memorial

The Reflection Pool from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial

The words on the Korean War Memorial - Never forget the cost of war
Sunset over the Potomac River from the steps of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial
I will post my Friday and photos tomorrow... too much for one post!

Friday, May 10, 2013

California Military Spouse of the Year – Army!

In February I found out that I was an Installation winner for the Army MilitarySpouse of the Year – as a Reservists wife we are not attached to a post so I actually was honored to be named for the state of California. Upon the next round of votes I did not advance to the top 3 but I was honored to be nominated and I can’t not believe I was top 15 in the NATION for Military Spouse of the Year as an Army Wife. When I read some of the nominations that people submitted on my behalf I was touched beyond explanation. I am looking forward to being at the Military Spouse of the Year Luncheon and Summit in Washington DC this week and meeting so many amazing military Spouses.

Military Spouse magazine founded the Military Spouse of the Year® (MSOY) award in 2008 to honor military spouses of all ranks and from all branches of service. More than a million military spouses support and maintain the home front while our service members defend this great nation. The Military Spouse of the Year® award recognizes military spouses' important contributions and unwavering commitment to the military community and our country.

The Military Spouse of the Year® award solicits nominations from the military community as well as all Americans in the late fall. Three distinct phases of voting follow, culminating in the announcement of the Military Spouse of the Year® at an annual awards luncheon in our nation's capital in early May. The event attracts Congressional members, senior military and Department of Defense leadership.


In my life I have always hoped to be a positive impact on people – make a difference in someone’s life no matter how big or small. In reading the nominations provided I have done just that. When I read Grant’s I sat and cried because I feel that my husband is one of the most amazing men on the planet; his pride in me means so much!


Shana is truly dedicated to military widows. She is warm and welcoming. Shana has organized many events for fallen family members. Finding happiness is difficult for me but at Shana's events I always smile. She knows all of us by name and is sincere. I am proud to dedicate my friend Shana Smith!

Nominated by: Mary Beth Ratzlaff, Wife of Captain Gregory Ratzlaff Killed in Iraq August 2004


Military Wife - a group of women whom shoes are the hardest to fill. I was once told, show me the man you honor and I will know what kind of woman you are. Shana Smith exemplifies beautifully, the call of duty only few women can fulfill - the Wife of a Soldier. I met Shana under different circumstances. In 2006, My Husband was killed in Action while serving under Operation Iraq Freedom. As an Army Wife myself, the transition from Active to Survivor was difficult. Over the years, I've come across many great people on this journey but the day I met Shana Smith created a unique friendship but a bound between Military Wives. Shana, while working for the organization Got Your Back, not only protects her personal home front but goes over beyond to support the families of fallen heroes. I have not only seen her in action with our families, coordinating events across the US but I've seen her as a Mother and a Wife and if there were a trophy to be given for each day of the week, each minute of the day, she deserves it. As a Military Widow it’s sometimes difficult to grasp the concept of "SURVIVING" such a tragic event, being stripped of a title that meant so much yet I see Shana and I'm so very proud to have not only served as an Army Wife but I am proud that she leads by example, that remains faithful to the duty of her family and the army all while remaining a beautiful woman inside and out. I nominate Shana Smith for Military Spouse of the Year.

Nominated by: Salina Jimenez, Wife of Sgt. David Almazon Killed in Iraq August - 2006 President of California Gold Star Wives of America Chapter


Not only is she an extraordinary wife and mother, she is just as passionate about my military career as I am. She has continued to dedicate her time supporting me, as well as hundreds of widows of fallen brothers and sisters. She tirelessly extends her hands to help in any way possible. She asks for nothing in return and always puts the needs of others before her own. She carries herself in the most dignified manner ever, and sets a remarkable example for our daughter. She has a can do attitude and takes great pride in her volunteer efforts with the Got Your Back Network. She has received the praise and thanks of many service members and widow's for her undying support, and continues to sprint headlong towards all of her many goals. She keeps a full time job, takes our little one to soccer practices, play dates, and ensures homework is done to the highest of standards. I am honored to call her my wife, my best friend, my confidant, and battle buddy. She is the reason honors such as this exists.

Nominated by: Grant Smith, Husband

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Golden Rule Group

My beautiful friend, and newly crowned Mrs. California United States, asked me to come speak to her women’s group, the Golden Rule Group or GRG, about inspiration and overcoming obstacles in life. I have never found myself to be particularly inspirational as I have simply lived my life… just being me regardless of whats been laid before me. I took Dawn up on her offer and went to Los Angeles to speak at her meeting with excitement.

Honestly, I have not been a fan of talking about my past struggles for quite some time. Domestic violence and homelessness typically elicit negative feelings from most and a look that I am all too familiar with. I took quite a bit of time thinking about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to incorporate the past into all of the amazing blessings in my present life. I was extremely nervous after all I didn't know anyone beyond Dawn. I wanted the women to see how far I have come not where I have been; after all my past doesn't define who I am it simply gave me a spring board to get to where I am.

After writing my ‘speech’ and knowing it word for word I felt prepared. When I stood up to talk, I delivered the first line before I chose to set it aside and speak from my heart to the group of women in attendance. It wasn't as hard as I had anticipated but was able to get my points across without being uncomfortable in my own skin. I was surprised to find out that many in attendance had similar experiences and handled them in different ways.

I was honored to be able to talk to them about overcoming obstacles, no matter the size, and moving forward towards the best life you can. I discussed everything from Got Your Back Heroes to pageant preparations, losing my 34 year old best friend to a heart attack just a year ago and my involvement with the American Heart Association and GoRed for Women. I was able to discuss prioritizing one’s life, because as women we tend to take care of those we love more than taking care of ourselves.

At the end of the meeting I connected with several attendee’s for upcoming events and speaking engagements. I also felt that I was able to educate many of them on the need to take care of their health and overcome adversity in your own positive and healthy way.

Thank you to the Golden Rule Group for their acceptance and openness!


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

When they come back WE GIVE BACK - Boot Campaign

I am so excited to share with you my boot shoot for the Boot Campaign. I am over the moon excited to be part of this movement. I was introduced to the Boot Girls a few months ago and after talking to Christina for 10 minutes I was attached. 5 women started a movement that is now reaching globally with their boot sales and support is no short order and one I am very proud to support. Being able to strap on my boots under such a beautiful gown and supporting our military in this unique way was awesome! I even had to enlist the help of my Soldier husband to properly lace my boots - his best advice was left in a note on the fridge "I know it's uncomfortable but DONT forget to tuck your laces!" As Christina, Gwen and Megan at the Boot Campaign have told me... think about grabbing your boots instead of your heels to support our troops. YES, I will be doing that this year!

When you purchase a pair of boots from the Boot Campaign website the money goes directly to a program to assist wounded military or families of fallen military. They are currently in the process of planning their next great event, Boots on Broadway, to include families of our fallen, at an upcoming Broadway show – I am SO excited to help with this event along with their families of the fallen initiatives.

I’m looking towards a partnership between the Boot Campaign and Got Your Back this year!

About the Boot Campaign
The Boot Campaign is a grassroots initiative started by five women from Texas known as the Boot Girls. The campaign encourages everyone to “get their boots on”providing an easy and tangible way for Americans to show appreciation for troops, cultivate awareness of the challenges they face upon return and raise funds for military programs meeting the physical and emotional needs of our heroes.

What better way to say “Thank You” to our troops than wearing a pair of boots just like theirs? Join in the growing chorus of musicians, entertainers, athletes and other celebrities and get YOUR boots on!

We Cultivate Awareness:
We believe the first step in making a difference is to understand the need and to make people aware of that need. The Boot Campaign was developed to bridge the gap between American society and the warriors that protect her. The contrast of wearing combat boots with everyday clothes starts a conversation. When you put your boots on, people want to know what you’re up to! More often than not they also decide to join you. Before you know it, your act of wearing boots influences those around you to do the same. Our goal is to see 1.4 million Americans with their boots on thanking 1.4 million active duty military serving in 150 countries globally and stateside.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Operation Homefront

On April 24th I attended OperationHomefront’s open house event to dedicate and show their new warehouse. Their warehouse houses basic needs for families such as food and diapers. I absolutely love Operation Homefront and all they do for our active duty military families; everything from emergency food assistance to vehicle repairs to families in need. They also hold an Operation Military Child competition each year to recognize the hard work and community service by our military children.


Operation Homefront:

MISSION: Operation Homefront (OH) provides emergency financial and other assistance to the families of our service members and wounded warriors.

VISION: Through generous, widespread public support and a collaborative team of exceptional staff and volunteers, we aspire to become the provider of choice for emergency financial and other assistance to the families of our service members and wounded warriors. Where there is a need we do not provide, we will partner with others for the benefit of our military families.

I was able to spend the evening talking to various military members and their spouses about life and needs. Most of the conversations were about lack of time - always feels like a deployment is looming. Although being able to sit and talk to many military families about the stresses and obstacles that we face in addition to facilities that are there to help us through these challenges, made it a great event. It's often the case that families just don't know about all of the services offered to assist in times of need - organizations like Operation Homefront that are there every step of the way to help. I also had the opportunity to discuss PTSD from a spouse’s point of view, in addition to the point of view of providing aid to spouses after suicide through Got Your Back. It's always a tough subject and occasionally can be very polarizing because many just don't understand however in that environment everyone was safe to be honest.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Life is 2/3 Planning

To quote my husband, “Everything is 2/3 planning with 1/3 execution” which is a concept that I have chuckled at more often than not simply thinking it was his military brain rational but not reality.  The more involved I have become with various non-profit organizations and events I realize that non-profit work is just that – far more planning than execution.  Currently I am in the midst of being on planning committees for two major events for Got Your Back, our annual Project Gratitude event with Miss America as well as Martini’s & Makeovers which is our only fundraising event.  This is in addition to coordinating 4 separate nights with the Anaheim Angels for Got Your Back Heroes and being on the committee for an upcoming Portrait of the Fallen art show. 

Being part of these wonderful organizations that give so much back to honor our fallen service members and their families is a joy that is indescribable.  The upcoming events are ones that I have enjoyed immensely in the past; whether it has been the planning, the execution or seeing the visible aftermath in smiles, each moment is worth it.  I wanted to better describe some of our events as they are so important to each family that attends.

These smiles make every moment of planning worth it!

Project Gratitudeis an annual VIP event to honor and celebrate surviving spouses and daughters of our fallen heroes in collaboration with the Department of Defense, Miss America Organization as well as celebrities and corporations. This event starts 3 days before Miss America with daily excursions and fun for both mom and daughter. This trip provides a great opportunity to further increase the bond between parent/child, the children and their moms.

Martini’s& Makeoversis the only fundraiser for Got Your Back Network each year. In 2012 I Co-Produced this event as our first on the West Coast. 10 Surviving Spouses of our fallen were treated to makeovers by 3 salons; they were the VIP honored guests for the evening. This event raised $10,000 for programs and services provided by the Got Your Back Network

Portraits of the Fallenis an organization that commemorates the sacrifice if those America military service members from California who have died while serving our country during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The organization pairs a grieving family with an artist to render an image as a creative means for remembrance and healing.

Nights with the Angelsis such a fun night! For the past 2 years Got Your Back Heroes has coordinated these nights with the Anaheim Angels major league baseball team for a night of simple giggles. This is one of our smaller events because the intimacy of it keeps ‘once in a lifetime moment’ therefore each of 4 nights per season includes 5 families of the fallen. The families are able to attend batting practice on the field, meet some of the players as well as attend the game. We have had a great time with this event each year. Last season one of our families was also invited to throw out the first pitch on Memorial Day – which was something I was so humbled to be a part of as I couldn't have picked a better family to honor their father in this way.

I never imagined that I would admit that my husband was right, but the man and his military brain make sense more commonly than I will admit to him. I’m lucky that I get to learn from the best!