Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Judging the Miss BNP USA 2013 Pageant

Any time you are asked to judge it’s always a good idea to know what you are judging – is it a child’s glitz pageant or a Miss America-style pageant… or something in between.  This way you are both prepared to make great choices in judging and are able to provide something to give back to the contestants as notes. 
When I was asked to judge the Miss BNP Pageant there was not much information online about it.  I knew that it was mainly Philippino contestants and was mildly concerned about the potential language barrier as this is an international competition.  I asked the director who assured me that English was primary and I would be right at home judging.  She could not have been more accurate.
The Miss BNP USA pageant is a fundraiser for the Banal Na Pag-aaral Church. Each contestant was chosen by their chapter The winner of the Miss BNP USA 2013 title is the young lady who received the most votes through donations brought into the church. BNP has the goal of bringing more people into the fold by opening their minds and hearts and making them aware of their basic Catholic duties and doctrines, and encouraging them to lead a truly Christian life thereafter. I was honored to judge.
Upon arriving at the venue I was instantly taken aback by the sheer about of people in attendance.  After the brief judges direction we took our seats in the breathtaking auditorium.  There were thousands of yards of material ‘tenting’ the ceiling and the walls, a professional stage with beautiful beams of light and a wonderful dance crew to keep us entertained.  We judged in the area of Photogenic, Talent and Best Dressed. These ladies were all phenomenal. I appreciated the support that each young woman received from their respective chapter and watching their genuine excitement for each contestant on stage.

I have attended many pageants and this one will always remain in my top 5 for both production and welcoming. I can’t begin to explain how many wonderful people thanked me, even if their contestant didn’t win, and hugged me. Krystina and I were welcomed in with open arms. After the pageant a full dinner was served and I received the chance to meet the winner and many contestants and past winners. I was impressed with their love of Christ and their church.

Thank you to the wonderful people of the BNP for inviting me to judge and be a part of this amazing evening. I look forward to seeing you in November for the Ms./Mrs. BNP Pageant.


Monday, June 24, 2013

Got Your Back hosts 2nd Evening with the Anaheim Angels

Our second Evening with the Angels was awesome!  The kids met a few more players, made a few more memories and had a great time!  This time Megan along with her son Corey and Jennifer with her daughter Kathryn attended.  We had such a great time.  The kids met 9 or 10 players along with Angels manager Mike Sciocia!  Each player happily took photos and signed autographs for the children.  It’s amazing to see the smiles and excitement on their faces when players walk right up to them and ask how THEY are doing. 

Anyone who knows Corey knows that smiling in a photo is a tough one to catch BUT we got quite a few of Corey grinning ear to ear Thursday night!  Kathryn is an awesome young lady and now an Angels convert.  She is a shy girl but was all smiles and sassiness at the game – I LOVE it!

LONG night for Corey... out just after the 7th inning stretch

I look forward to our next game night on July 23 (the night before my 34th birthday!) and the families that will be in attendance… I think this one is already a full house.  YAY!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Aspire to Inspire before you Expire

Motivation is everything. You can do the work of two people, but you can't be two people. Instead, you have to inspire the next guy down the line and get him to inspire his people.
Lee Iacocca

I knew that he had been working very hard to lose weight so as I stood there waiting for him I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect

Throughout your life you are inspired by people, events and sometimes yourself. I am inspired daily by those I meet, their stories and their outcomes push me to be more and do more within my family and community.

My husband has always inspired me through his dedication to the military and our country through his service and his willingness to volunteer to serve. His level of inspiration in my eyes grew exponentially in 2011 when he stepped off the plane at John Wayne International Airport in uniform after 9 months in Iraq - had it not been for the name tape on his ACU's I wouldn't have recognized the man that stole my heart.

In 2006 when he came home from Iraq he was a brooding 6'3, 230lbs and bald - he appeared the quintessential bodyguard and MP. No question about it - he looked almost menacing with his size... luckily I knew the teddy bear that was behind the big blue eyes! The man that spun his daughter around endlessly when they danced, would dress up silly and be silly just to make her smile.
Then he re-ruptured a disk in his lower back (already had surgery in 2004) and his workout lifestyle had to change. Gone were the days of SUPER heavy lifting because his back could no longer handle it. We slept on the floor for months because the bed was just too much for him.

When it came time to deploy in 2010 he had a goal to lose some weight and become more fit. He wanted to run around with our children and be around for years to come. He knew that with a little less weight on his frame his back would not be in pain as much. So off to Iraq he went.... as the deployment wore on he sent no photos as to surprise me with his outcome. I knew he was working hard but I also knew that he was running missions and very busy being a soldier so I had no idea what to expect.
When he stepped off that plane... OMG! I threw my arms around him and just wanted to stare at him. He had hair, and cheekbones... and holy moly he looked different. It was in that moment I knew that ANYTHING was possible. This man inspired me to a level of epic proportions. I could accomplish ANY goal if my husband could lose 100lbs in 9 months - hard work and determination could get me ANYWHERE I wanted to go!  When we got home Krystina stared at him for almost a minute before she recognized him, “You’re my daddy?!” was all she got out before he had her wrapped up in his arms.  It had been almost a year since we had hugged him or spoke without delayed satellite phones. 

For the next 2 weeks I watched him in awe as he had changed his lifestyle – this wasn’t a diet or a phase it was a real life change.  He has always been a great father, a dedicated husband and an amazing soldier which has always inspired me to be a better mother and wife but now I was inspired to look at life in a way that screamed ‘I CAN’ instead of simply ‘I want to’.  I am grateful to be married to a man that can and always will illicit such responses in our lives and in the lives of our child(ren). 

Thank you my love for being my one of my biggest inspirations and motivators in following my dreams. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Father's Day

Holidays are days spent with those you love… the date is often not as important.  In our military family we have celebrated Christmas in June, Thanksgiving in May and Father’s/Mother’s Day either early or late based on training and deployments.  In 2010 Grant and I shared our anniversary on Skype, over cups of coffee and memories after Krystina and I went out to dinner.

This year we celebrated Father’s Day just a day early – as opposed to months early due to upcoming training.  Krystina planned a wonderful day for him:  A 7AM wake up to head to Huntington Beach (blindfolded) for his favorite restaurant, then we walked along the pier and took in the street faire, then off to the mall to finish his Father’s Day shopping (a new watch), then home for nap time and Grammy coming to visit. 
Daddy got his coffee and is settled in for his surprises to start

Breakfast at Sugar Shack - fully tummy's!

My loves on the Pier in Huntington Beach

The man that I waited my life for

LOVED surprising her daddy this morning!

When we told Krystina that we had to celebrate Father’s Day early she smiled as always.  She understands that the physical date of any holiday is less important than sharing the memories together.  Less than 1% of our country serves in our military; she realizes how special that makes our family and how special every day together is.  Through Got Your Back and TAPS she has realized how precious life is and always reminds people that you only live once so make every memory you can. 

I am sure that there will be more times in her life that we will be celebrating holidays early or via Skype, that she will be mailing cards and gifts via flat rate boxes to an FPO address and that we will make memories in ways that few understand but that is what makes our family, along with the 1.1 military families with children special.  We wouldn’t change a moment of it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Jonathan Jaques Champions for Life Torch Run

"If you run, you are a runner. It doesn't matter how fast or how far. It doesn't matter if today is your first day or if you've been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run."
--John Bingham
Running is a way to clear your mind, feel a few moments of freedom from the stresses of the world.  Running is an escape yet a way to rule the world for that moment in time.
On Saturday I participated in the 28th Annual (my 4th) Champions forLife TorchRun; this time as a Celebrity.  The Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center (JJCCC) at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach provides quality compassionate care to children of all ages – infants, children and adolescents – with cancer, sickle cell disease, hemophilia and other serious blood disorders.  Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach provides tertiary level hematology/oncology care, while using age- appro0priate preparation, advanced equipment and treatment to more than 800 children each year.  I have always loved this event as it is a time where children currently living with or have beaten cancer get to run, carrying and passing their torch to the next in a show of solidarity and faith.  There are also families that are running in the memory of a child taken too soon; these are the families that I want to hold, hug and run with because their pride and sadness show through their eyes all too knowingly.

Each leg of the torch run is 1/8 of a mile, this can seem like 10 miles to a child fighting from cancer. I ran this leg of the event multiple times with multiple families providing encouragement and cheerleading along the way. Cheering on 4 year olds like Logan battling ITP, running with his siblings Jackson (6) and Grace (2) (Gracerella) supporting Logan’s mission to beat cancer.  I met Jackson, Grace and their father in the parking structure – Jackson telling me all about his little brother and how much he wants him to beat cancer.  Then there was the mom, struggling with her jogging stroller and 2 small children, her son bald from chemo but smiling as she finally got the stroller up and going WITH both kids in tow. 

His mom ended the race in tears watching him fight to finish ahead of his sister.  Such a great family!
I loved the moments of running with little guys who would rather fight and beat their sister than let her carry THEIR torch AND beat you.  A mother who told me about her sons 85 blood transfusions and finally a bone marrow transplant for her 9 year old son with sickle cell anemia.  I want to hug, love on and laugh with each child and family that I meet along the route.  I enjoy watching the family interactions, the pride and the fight that each child and family puts forth.
The fight and the will

I was asked to run the torch for a family unable to make the event

With Trish from Austin and Ali and her brother from Modern Family

The boys from Disney's So Random

I will be visiting Miller Children’s Hospital and the cancer center in the coming weeks to read and enjoy these wonderful children and their families.

Friday, June 7, 2013

You grew in my heart not under it

“Because now I know what I have been waiting for. I know exactly why the other processes didn't work. I know I was supposed to wait for this little girl.” 
Nia Vardalos
, Instant Mom

Adoption was something that I had always wanted to do - I always wanted a HUGE family with both biological and adopted children.  I could see it now, huge Christmas' and holiday dinners around the table telling stories about growing up in this amazingly mixed family.  There are many people in my family added through adoption so it is a natural part of my life.  Then I married into a family with adoption... perfection in my heart.  Krystina was the most natural decision ever made. 

As a parent you hate to see your children hurt in any way, yet my darling daughter has been struggling lately and we haven’t been entirely sure why until last night.  She came to me before bed and asked to talk about something ‘serious’.  I had thought it would be a boy question or what to wear on the last day of school however I couldn't have been more incorrect.  Her big brown eyes looking at me, searching for something and asking how many children we interviewed before her.  I couldn't hide my expression or my desire to cry when I realized she thought, most likely based on something she saw, that we interview children prior to ‘choosing’ her for adoption.  Aww my sweet angel; there has only been you.  We sat on our stairs discussing her adoption, how we became her mommy and daddy and how much we loved her from the very first moment we saw her.  I’m not sure if she thought we picked her up from an orphanage or where her little mind was at but I’m glad that she was confident enough to talk to us about it.
We have always been very open with her about her adoption, each year celebrating both her ‘gotcha day’ and her adoption date.  We have, however, left the information and discussions up to her, when she was ready we knew she would ask.  This always seemed better than giving her a bunch of information that she may not be able to process leaving her with even more questions or worse, uncertainty or confusion.  Each adoptive family handles this different and it's important to respect individual family decisions, this simply works better for us.  The two years of home-study preparation, foster care, court hearings, and visitation (both with her and for her biological family) leading up to her adoption was the most stressful, emotional yet rewarding time in our life and we know that God blessed us the child perfect for us. 
“Are you her Aunt or the Nanny?”  The most common question I get from people that don’t know our family.  In the beginning this bothered me immensely as I couldn't believe that people could be so bold and nosy.  It hurt that people would question my daughter, not realizing that they weren't questioning my love for my daughter simply our features.  When she was 3 she came up to me, matter of fact and said, “Mommy, my skin is brown, yours is white and daddy is Japanese so I look like him.”  I smiled and agreed with her however she is half El Salvadorian not Asian.

No my daughter doesn't look a bit like me; she has beautiful brown hair with brown eyes and olive skin while I’m Irish with fair skin, blonde hair and green eyes.  My daughter is naturally gifted at sports while I have always had 2 left feet for much outside of marching.  I have no stretch marks or birthing stories but none of this changes one simple fact – my daughter is MY daughter.  She does have my stubborn tendencies, my drive and my heart as I have hers; she grew in my heart not under it. 
Just like any mommy, I remember the day I became a mother like it was yesterday – Tuesday December 5, 2006 at 11:30am after almost two years of waiting and praying.  This was last time I slept a full night with no worries, or hearing every single noise in the house.  This was the day that I picked up my darling daughter from a foster home in Los Angeles County, the day that our life took a turn towards amazing.  She was this sweet little 2 ½ year old that couldn't wait to go ‘home’ with her toys and start playing with the ‘new family’.  This was the day that Grant, Krystina and I became a family and started a whole new journey.   

Our wedding Day 2007

Our oldest and youngest adoptee's!  My Grandmother and Krystina on her adoption day 3/14/2008; Krystina was 3 and my grandmother was 78

Every day since then we have tried to make every effort to make sure that her life is exactly how it should be; happy, healthy, full of love and appreciation.  I love that I get to volunteer in her class, be her Girl Scout troop leader and her team parent for soccer because it means I share in more memories of my little girl growing up.  I love that I can do all of this with a full time job which is important for me to show her that you can be a great mom and work because life is about love and priorities.  It’s important to teach her to give back; she loves volunteering at the beach clean ups and at dog shelters is so she can take care of the earth.  It’s important for her to learn about patriotism and supporting our country and our military; she proudly stands and sings our National Anthem, wears her Army ACU shirts whenever she can and will tell anyone that will listen that her daddy is a Soldier.    

Daddy's first hug at his homecoming from 15 months in Iraq

Telling the news about her daddy

Yep - another lost tooth

Lately she ask is asking about goals and her future in soccer, because she wants to be an Olympic soccer star; She smiled at me and said that she knows how to work hard for what she wants because we are great parents that haven’t given up on our dreams.  It made me look at our past and how giving up has never been an option in our lives.  We never gave up on becoming parents, we haven't given up on college as we are both working towards our degrees, we haven’t given up on being the best family we can, we have supported each other through deployments, we are supportive in each other’s dreams… being a family and a mommy has been the greatest blessing that I could ever ask for.  
Our favorite past time - Anaheim Ducks Hockey!

Helping Mommy at a Got Your Back Heroes event

Got Your Back - An outing with the Angels

Outing with the Angels

Friday night was our first Got Your Back night with the Anaheim Angels this season.  The Angels have been a huge supporter of our military and our mission to provide smiles to the children of our fallen.  Last year I was able to take 40 surviving parents and children to baseball games including the Memorial Day game against the Yankees where the family of 1st LT Oscar Jimenez family threw out the first pitch to honor the memory of this beloved Marine. 
This year I will be taking 50 surviving family members throughout the season to various games.  We never tell the children ahead of time what’s in store for them, there is fun in secrecy.  After a quick tour of the indoor batting cages, out to the field we go to attend batting practice!  This once in a lifetime experience is so much fun – the look of the children’s faces when their favorite players come talk to them and autograph their baseballs or hats and take photos is priceless.  Friday night the children met Mike Trout, Hank Conger, Ernesto Frieri and Howie Kendrick.  Each player thanking the children for their service and explaining their love and respect for our military.  After a great game, even though the Angels lost, the kids were treated to Big Bang Friday Fireworks.  Exhausted and overwhelmed we each headed home… there is no shortage of hugs when Miss Shana is around. 
Drew excited about getting a t-shirt
The Families meeting Tim Salmon on the field during batting practice
Our families enjoying some time on the field during batting practice

In the Angels dugout

Howie Kendrick let the kids know he was a military 'brat' himself

Mike Trout!

A VERY long night with the Angels loss BUT a great time together... memories with Got Your Back!

My buddy Drew and I rocking our Angels hats just before Big Bang Fireworks!

I love hanging out with these children and their surviving parents.  Allowing these children to simply be kids for a bit is amazing!