Life with Ladybug: The Renaissance experience

By Shannon Magsam, Ladybug’s mama and co-founder of nwaMotherlode

Last weekend, my family traveled back in time to the Middle Ages.

We saw knights and fair maidens, decided against touring the torture chamber (we didn’t want to pay the extra 2 bucks), talked to a fortune-telling dog name Karma (her best prediction: “I see you getting licked very soon”), saw acts of bravery from a traveling circus team and enjoyed the ambiance of walking around the pretty “village”.

This annual Renaissance Festival is held at The Castle of Muskogee (Oklahoma) and runs every weekend in May. (The Castle is also home Halloween events in the fall and the Christmas Kingdom in December. Oh! and they also have fireworks for a few days in July.)

Here are a few pics from our day:

ren fair collageIf you venture down to the Renaissance Festival, have fun stormin’ the castle!

Military Mama: Changing the World One Life at a Time

military mama heart

By Jade Stone

Well, I don’t know about you but this past year is a big blur.

Looking back, there has been so much that has happened in what feels like such a short period of time.It started off pretty rocky.I’m not sure I’ll ever forget talking to Jay at Midnight on New Year’s Eve, who at the time, was in Afghanistan and already celebrating the new year. Though celebrate isn’t exactly the right word.

Everyone was on heightened alert and had taken cover from the Celebratory Bombings that were anticipated. Apparently the locals thought it would be “fun” to bring the year in with a bang…literally.It was an interesting phone call to say the least.

Skype birth

military mama boysA few months later we welcomed our second child into the world with a little help from Skype.

As hard as it was to not have him there, in all honesty, it didn’t seem right to bring Jay home on emergency leave. After all people give birth daily and unless there is a serious complication, for the most part it’s not really an emergency.

Furthermore, his mom had been diagnosed with colon cancer last October and the treatments had not been successful. My fear was that he might truly need that emergency leave to get home to see her. And sure enough, his mom’s cancer took a turn for the worse a few weeks before his actual return, forcing us to bring him home a smidge early.

As sad as the circumstances were, it was one of the happiest days of my life to see him come down that escalator at the airport. I would have sworn it was the slowest escalator in the entire nation that day.  I just couldn’t get to him fast enough.

I also remember the joy I felt watching him as he laid eyes on his new baby boy for the very first time.Though Tucker was about 3 months old, it didn’t matter.

Certainly there were unfortunate circumstances that overshadowed the reunion and it would not get better. Jay’s Mom would pass away within the next 2 months.I can’t imagine how hard it must have been on him.I am so thankful for our friends and family as well as our church. We couldn’t have gotten through the deployment without them.They stood tall and held us up when we couldn’t stand on our own. I will never be able to thank them enough for loving us and meeting our needs when we needed it most. 

Wrapped in Love

I’m reminded of an annual event that my church puts on called called “Wrapped in Love”. Basically, it’s a pay it forward event.Every year several people are nominated to receive blessings at this event.  Sometimes it’s a simple something to say “You are loved and thank you for what you do everyday”, but sometimes it’s also “I see you have a need and we want to meet it”.

Christ like people in dire circumstances are honored every year with blessings to help them face whatever challenges they are up against.These are typically people who do so much for everyone else but themselves. Many times it’s but sometimes it is really big stuff.

Last night there was a young single mom who worked 3 jobs trying to take care of her kids and continued give of herself to others. Someone found out she was struggling and paid for her utilities for the winter as well as bought presents for the kids and gave her a Walmart gift card for a few hundred dollars.

It was the type of thing that she needed and as a church, I believe God guided the women’s ministry to help meet her needs. In addition, everyone in attendance is given a gift but it has to be given away to someone who needs it. It might be simply to lift their spirits or it might fulfill an actual need but in any case, the gifts are to be given away.

This event started 4 years ago with 80 attendees and has grown to more than 300 this year.

Can you imagine, 300 gifts to be given away whenever the spirit arises, whether its tomorrow or Easter? That’s 300 random people to receive a blessing who will not see it coming and who will likely pay it forward in the future.

Receiving Blessings

military mama tuckerLast year, my husband and I were honored to have been recognized for the situation we were in and given a little extra strength and comfort in knowing we weren’t on this journey alone. I was given a movie card for myself and my oldest, as well as a manicure and pedicure.At the time, it was beginning to get difficult to see my feet so it couldn’t have come at a better time!

This year, we were recognized again for Jason’s return and the birth of our new son. I know that I may appear strong and all put together but it’s only because of my support system that I can do that.

So this year, we want to pay it forward. We want to find a random family with a need of some sort that we can help fill.Maybe we can nominate them to receive a blessing next year or maybe it’s something that we can do ourselves.

All I know is that my family wouldn’t be doing so well today without the random acts of kindness that kept us going.We just want to return the favor by passing it on.  Can you imagine what kind of world we would live in if people were more concerned with paying it forward instead of paying it back?

Giving Blessings

If you know someone who you think could really use a hand, please send me their story.We can’t change the world but we can change one life at a time.  Have a wonderful holiday and be sure to hug your loved ones and be thankful for them.

Please keep our service men and women in your prayers as well.  Many may have a very cold and lonely Christmas due to a deployment scenario and it helps so much for them to know they are thought of, prayed for and loved.

Merry Christmas!

k-and-j-heads1.thumbnailIf you’d like to send a note to Jade, contact her at akajadestone{at}yahoo{dot}com

Military Mama: A bittersweet homecoming

Kembra's fam, resized

By Jade Stone

My how time flies!I’d swear I went to sleep last night and it was still summer and all of a sudden we are back in school.Vacation’s over and now we are back to work, some of us holding out for the next holiday.The summer was an absolute whirlwind and I think I may still be reeling from it a bit. 

As many of you know, my husband Jay, was deployed to Afghanistan for 9 months, during which time we found out that there would be a new addition to our family that would be here before he came back.We did have an opportunity to bring him home on emergency leave for a few weeks so he could be here for the birth but I declined for fear that something worse might happen and he would need it more for something else.

You see, Jay’s mom had been diagnosed with colon cancer in October of 2012, and sadly the treatment was not effective.She had been suffering with significant pain since January and we were unsure what the outcome would be. Actually, we knew what the outcome would be, we just had no idea of the time line. 

Well, we got through the birth of our second child and were waiting patiently for June to roll around when we could all be together again as a family.At the time, Jay was set to come home in the middle of June. Unfortunately, we received news that his mother had taken a turn for the worst in May and it was evident that she would not be with us much longer.

That emergency leave we were saving came in pretty handy after all.While I really missed having Jay home to meet the new arrival, I was so thankful we had held off for this very reason.I made the emergency call to the Red Cross and thanks to their efforts, he was home within 4 days.

That may not seem very quick to you but it really is when you consider that the message had to be sent from the Red Cross, received by his unit/Platoon, then forwarded to his immediate commander, who determined whether or not Jay could leave at all and if so had to make arrangements to get him to Kuwait via military transport that was already in route and then onto a commercial flight home.

Did I mention the 9 hour time difference?  There are just so many hoops involved in getting a soldier home on emergency leave. At any rate he arrived home safely almost one month early. 

While we had hoped for a little more excitement and happiness to be apart of Jay’s first time meeting with his son it was an incredibly bittersweet moment.His joy for meeting the new baby was overshadowed by the sorrow he felt over the impending knowledge of soon losing his mother.

Everyone expected soft music and butterflies to usher in that very special moment in time but instead we had to rush through, say hello and then head out of town to see family, all with our firstborn pulling on his coat tail begging daddy for time, a luxury no one had. Don’t get me wrong, he was still very excited to see the boys, we just couldn’t enjoy the moment or make it the glorious reunion we had hoped for.  

 The day Jay arrived I was able to pick him up at the airport with just enough time to pick up our oldest (who had no idea daddy was coming home) from school that afternoon.Now, that was a moment that will hang in my mind for eternity. Imagine a young boy walking out of school and along the way kicking rocks, investigating the weeds, sitting down to tie his shoe, all with no idea that his dad, who has been gone for more than 9 months, is standing only a few feet from him.

Jess never looked up as he crossed the lawn.In fact, he was within 15 feet of Jay when he just decided to sit down and tie his shoe.The handful of parents waiting with us for their children quickly caught on as to what was about to happen.It was obvious, with Jay in uniform, that a soldier was about to reunite with his son after a very long time apart.

Jess hadn’t finished tying his shoe when Jay couldn’t take anymore and ran over to ask him if he needed help.The surprise in Jess’ eyes was priceless.My heart did flips to see the two embrace in such a way that indicated their feeling of loss and joy at the same time.Once Jess realized who this stranger behind him was, he jumped up and into his arms and wouldn’t let go.

I looked over at the other parents to see tears flowing down their faces.I didn’t know many of them but it was evident their hearts ached for the two after witnessing this moment.There are some things in life that don’t need words and the solemn look in their eyes said it all-thank you for your service and I’m sorry you had to do this.Now that was a moment for the history books. 

Kembra's baby, resized

Meeting Tucker on the other hand was slightly different.Of course, Jess was excited to introduce daddy to the new baby but was more excited to play with daddy now that he was home. As Jess made the introductions Jay just stood staring at the little wonder who was looking curiously back up at him.He scooped Tucker up and held the baby boy close, trying to absorb everything about him, the sight, the smell, all of it at once.

It became quite obvious Jay didn’t want to let him go but after a minute or two of cradling the tiny infant, Jess decided the reunion was over and it was time to play. I coaxed the baby from Jay’s arms and convinced him that playing with Jess was best for now and that when he went to bed Jay could have all the time with the little one that he wanted (as I would be catching up on some much needed sleep!).

That seemed to appease him just enough though he was reluctant. You could see the heartbreak in his eyes as he relinquished the bundle of joy.I honestly can’t imagine how hard it must have been to be so close to his new son and yet so far away that he still couldn’t spend time with him just yet.The two would have plenty of time in the future to bond but at the time it was pretty tough.  There just weren’t enough hours in the day to make up for so much lost time. 

Jay began dealing both with the demons of war that always haunt a soldier when he returns and the grief of his mother’s impending death.In the weeks that followed, it seemed she would only last a few more weeks and each day we all thought “its going to be tomorrow” and yet she clung to life.

In retrospect it was good that she held on so long because it gave Jay a little extra time we thought he’d been cheated.But it was truly horrible to watch her dwindle into a shell of herself. Within a few touch and go months, she was gone.Now the real healing would have to begin for both the war and his mom. 

To be continued …

k-and-j-heads1.thumbnailJade welcomes your comments here as well as any suggestions you may have for her future posts. You may also e-mail her at akajadestone [AT] yahoo [DOT] com. To read previous Military Mama posts, CLICK HERE.

Have a safe and memorable Memorial Day!

Note from the mamas: This story originally published on Motherlode two years ago, but we thought it would be fitting to have Jade remind us what Memorial Day is all about. Be safe out there today and we’ll see you back here tomorrow.

By Jade Stone

Happy Memorial Day!!I hope everyone had an awesome relaxing day spent with the ones they love.I also hope that everyone took just a few moments to remember the very reason we have this holiday and just how important it is.

Like many of you, I grew up saying the pledge of allegiance daily, and singing the “Star Spangled Banner” before ballgames.Today, our kids will grow up in school never knowing that the pledge is something more than a bit of literature that is recited once a week as part of the “Monday routine”.Yes, there are a few schools, mostly elementary, that continue the tradition.

However, in high schools the pledge has become something that we do “if we want to”.  As a high school teacher, I am asked to respect the rights of those who do not wish to participate in the pledge and while I have no problem respecting those who refrain for religious purposes, or even cultural reasons, the basic, “I don’t care” or “what’s the point” reason simply infuriates me!!

 flagIt’s all I can do to continue my duty as an instructor, respecting the beliefs of those around me when those same individuals don’t respect the very foundation of the country I was raised to love and defend. Yes, I suppose I’m a bit touchy, knowing how much my family has sacrificed for generation after generation over the last century or more. Regardless, I do so without a word.Instead I have vowed to teach my child everything I know about the wonderful things our country has to offer others, and that when he sees an American flag, we are to place our hand over our heart to honor those who have fought so bravely for it.

Since Jess was 2 he has been saluting our flag and saying “Mommy, we do wike dis when we see da fwag, wight?” Bless him! At that age he already respected the red white and blue more than many 16-year-olds today. And now that he is 5, one can actually see how respectfully he looks at our nation’s symbol and how he really does set it above the rest. 

Nonetheless, I find the general lack of patriotism exhibited by our nation’s youth somewhat disturbing.I have often wondered what has happened that they would come to hate this country so much and then it dawned on me.Kids, while they should be held responsible for their own actions, are still a product of their environment.If their parents don’t instill a sense of “love of country” in them then, it’s likely they won’t be able to learn it anywhere else.

Our school systems are so overwrought with the politically correct notion to not offend others that they don’t have much of a leg to stand on when it comes to teaching patriotic principles.We’ve simply lost too much of the “American” in trying to accommodate other nationalities.Again, I absolutely respect the rights of the culturally diverse population but I find myself wondering, what happened to the rights of the “American”?So, the last line of defense in educating our youth about what it really means to be an American is our nation’s parents.

Do you remember how it felt as a kid when someone didn’t say the pledge with the rest of the class, or didn’t stop and pay attention to the flag during the Star Spangled Banner?It’s the same feeling you get when you watch a funeral procession drive by and see another car fly unyielding through an intersection because they either didn’t notice or didn’t care. Either way, the procession went completely unnoticed, much like our patriotic spirit goes unnoticed in general…except on major holidays where we might buy napkins, plates, and cups in red, white and blue but otherwise pay little mind to why we do it other than it’s fashionably correct.

I don’t know about you but I was nearly mortified and embarrassed for that person.Is it possible that I’m the only one that noticed?Surely not.I refuse to believe that I could possibly be the last patriot on earth.Of course I’m not, but in today’s society, I am beginning to feel like that may, in fact, be true.Last Veteran’s day, my dad was invited to attend an a elementary school concert at a local nursing home, along with all other veterans in the area.

As our nation’s colors were presented, an announcement was made to please stand if you like and sing our National Anthem.Of course, Dad stood and looked around the room to see the a sprinkling of patrons in the crowd haphazardly stand as though they were being forced to drink prune juice, and then he noticed the front row which was filled with WWII veterans, all of which were wheelchair bound.

As the music began to play, he noticed a bustling of nursing home attendants running to the aid of several men in the front row. To his amazement, every one of them was struggling with all his might to stand and salute the flag and the nation that they so gallantly fought for, only to see many members of the crowd still sitting.

It just goes to show that our nation has lost its meaning.So many of us didn’t have to earn anything in our lives to be members of this country because of men and women like them, and many of us won’t even make the effort of take the time to acknowledge that very fact.

If you happen to share my thoughts and concerns in anyway, I challenge you to make a change for yourself and your family.Talk to your children about why paying homage to this great nation and the flag is important and that it is a symbol of our freedom and a representation of all things good in this country.

Yes, there are horrible things in our world that need to be dealt with like politics, and the economy. However, our nation was founded on the belief that it’s people should be able to live freely in religion and politics and not have to agree or be on the same side of opinion but rather agree to disagree and still be respected for such ideals.

The United States of America is a pile of multicolored clay on a potter’s wheel, waiting to be molded, yielding only to the water and force applied by the potter.  While it can become something amazing or be destroyed, like clay, it can be rebuilt to reveal its original beauty once more.We have that opportunity right now to begin rebuilding our own patriotic identity but it’s up to us to teach our children what it means to be an American, to understand and respect others for their own individuality, and to learn from our differences.

However, if we fail in this regard to build a better American, our futures will be filled with a truly country-less population, yearning to find hope, independence and unity in another country, much like our forefathers before us…however, the problem for us will be that there is no other place to go.

k-and-j-heads1thumbnail.jpgJade welcomes your comments here as well as any suggestions you may have for her future posts. You may also e-mail her at akajadestone [AT] yahoo [DOT] com. To read previous Military Mama posts, CLICK HERE.

Military Mama: The 60-day window

Military mama and baby

By Jade Stone

Note from the mamas: Read Tucker’s birth story which involves his daddy watching the whole delivery via Skype while serving in Afghanistan. Click here to read “Long Distance Delivery”

Well, we are officially within the 60 day window of Jay’s long awaited return home. I cannot articulate to you just how very happy that makes me.

The mere thought of the fact that he will be home so soon causes my heart to skip a beat!  Certainly for mostly selfish reasons, but also because I can’t wait to see his face when he lays eyes on his new baby boy. As you may know, we had a new arrival 6 weeks ago.

Tucker is a healthy, happy blue-eyed baby boy who is content to be held and loved by anyone that walks through the door.He is definitely sociable and happy go lucky which is so fortunate for me. I start back to school in two weeks and I admit, my heart isn’t in it.

I never thought 6 weeks could go so very fast but it did. I wouldn’t return this school year if we could afford it but that’s just not the hand we were dealt. I am thrilled I managed to save up enough sick days to cover all but 2 days of leave to be able to stay home with pay for 6 weeks. I can’t complain, but I’s going to be hard getting us all out the door by 6:15 am, working a full day, and keeping the house together without an extra set of hands. I know there are single moms who do this everyday and my hat is off to you. It is no easy feat.

I am so thankful that there will only be 4 weeks of school left when I return. That is my saving grace at this point.I can do anything for 4 weeks, right?

Military Mama and boys

In the meantime, I have to come to terms with how very bad I am at taking help.I am so independent and hate for people to pick up my slack.I guess I feel like my predicament, that is having a new baby while my hubbie is deployed, is no one’s responsibility to deal with but mine and it’s my problem to manage.

I know that’s not the right way to view things but that is my reality.That said, when someone says “Hey, do you NEED anything?”I typically say “no, not at all”, because I have food, water, clothes, and oxygen, all of which are needs that have been met, therefore I technically don’t “need” anything at all.

Furthermore, admitting I need something is like saying I am not adequately taking care of things and must rely on others.This is strictly a pride issue.I have a friend or two that are on to me though and have learned to ask “is there anything you want?” to which I have the freedom to respond with whatever is on my mind.Lately that would be chocolate! This also applies to helping with the kids.

I hate to ask anyone to watch them so I can grab groceries or run to Sonic to maintain a little sanity because my kiddos aren’t anyone else’s responsibility.I’ve had to work really hard at swallowing my pride and admitting that I could use the help once in a while.  I know, there is nothing wrong with that. But for someone who is so used to taking care of everything on her own, that’s the most difficult thing I have ever had to do.

After 5 weeks I’m still not very good at it but I am doing better.I am so thankful to those that have just jumped in there and lent a hand when I was too stubborn to ask for one.My family and friends are the best and have been a major source of strength for me through all of this.I know that I couldn’t do this without them.I can only hope I can return the favor someday. 

At this point, my focus is on preparing my oldest for daddy’s return, uncluttering the house to help reduce Jay’s stress when he returns, and preparing myself to start using pronouns like “us” and “we” instead of “ I” and “my”.  That may seem insignificant but mention something to your spouse about something being wrong in the house by referencing it as “my house” and see what kind of look that gets you. The past year has been so full of “my’s” and “I’s” that pluralizing my vocabulary may be quite the task. 

I have to start talking to Jay about how the “homecoming” is going to work in terms of the kids, and what to expect.It’s also important to gauge where he is mentally in terms of dealing with people, crowds, and stress.It will be a whole new world for him when he gets here.He hasn’t driven in a year, nor has he been in crowds, or dealt with decision making of any kind in nearly a year.

I challenge you to count up the number of decision you make on a daily basis, starting with when to get up, what to wear, what perfume or cologne to spray on, how to fix your hair, which shoes look best, what to pack for lunch or make for breakfast and then making those same decisions for your kids, and that’s potentially all before 9am.  Jay’s only decisions outside of his job responsibilities have been limited to what snack to eat if he misses dinner.

His clothes, his meals, his job are all preset.  There are no miscellaneous activities to choose from, or extras of any kind.  His life is to get up, put the uniform on, eat, work, sleep repeat.  It’s no wonder these guys come home to the insanity that is our everyday life and can’t wait to go back.  My job will turn from trying to limit the stress in my own life to drastically reducing the stress in his.I’m used to a high level of stress but even on a good day, when my stress level seems null, he might feel overwhelmed. 

And finally, the actual homecoming plan is in the works. It’s never what people dream it should be. For example, I was recently contacted by a PR firm who wants to do a feature on Jay’s first moments home when he meets Tucker for the first time. I know they are expecting the joyous music in the background, butterflies floating in the air, the family running in slow motion to greet the freshly returned soldier off the plane/train/bus and everyone crying tears of joy.

Sounds like a Norman Rockwell, doesn’t it?

Well maybe next time I will more accurately paint the reality of that picture for you, but for now, I have a crying baby to feed and change, laundry to fold, a house to clean, bills to pay and a 1st grader to pick up from school, but most importantly, lots of hugs to give out to my boys because when its all said and done, the house will still be standing whether it gets cleaned or not, but I don’t get back this time with my boys so the rest will have to wait!  Have a great week.

*All photos courtesy of KarleeNoelle Photography.

Jade welcomes your comments here as well as any suggestions you may have for her future posts. You may also e-mail her at akajadestone@yahoo.com. To read previous Military Mama posts, CLICK HERE.

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