Sunday, December 30, 2007

Update on Rob

They are officially heading home! The ship made the transit through the Suez Canal yesterday and arrived in the Med. They left the Gulf a few days earlier than they had planned so that they could escort a sub through the canal. Rob said that made it a little more interesting than when they go through by themselves.

Today they pulled into Haifa, Israel. I'm not sure how long they will be there, but they will at least be there through New Year's. Much to their disappointment, though, the commodore has made that port visit completely dry on liberty - no alcohol! He is afraid of an incident happening and screwing up later visits by other ships so he has made the visit completely dry. Nothing like pulling into a place for new years and not even being able to have a beer. Needless to say, there are some unhappy campers! And not just on the ship. Apparently the embassy is really annoyed at the commodore for making the port dry because that hurts all the pubs who like the drinking sailors to bring in lots of money. If people are just going for dinner it cuts the pubs' and restaurants' profits by about 2/3 of what it would be with drinks. So the embassy says they will have to deal with it politically with various civic organizations. The Defense attaché reps said they were going to call 6th fleet and see if it won't get changed. If they could get the policy changed they would be heroes to the crew!

Tomorrow they'll be taking a tour to Jerusalem. Rob has been to Israel on a previous deployment, but he doesn't have any pictures or anything except a few postcards from that visit, so he's hoping to take lots of photographs and do a little shopping this time!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Our 7th Wedding Anniversary

Yes, today - Dec. 29 - is our 7th anniversary!! Happy Anniversary to us! :-) It's certainly not fun to spend it apart, but at least we're less than a month from Rob returning home. I can't believe we've been married seven years, and together for eight and half. Sometimes I feel like we just met. I guess time really does fly by when you're having fun.

Rob sent some beautiful flowers to me at work on Friday. Thank you sweetie! :-)

Friday, December 28, 2007

The HORRORS of Christmas!

With Rob gone, I planned on going to Illlinois to visit my mom for Christmas. I didn't decide this until after Thanksgiving, so I was really screwed when it came to flight options and prices. I ended up booking a flight into Peoria, which is a little over two hours from where my mom lives in DeKalb. We thought it was worth the extra distance, however, to avoid the craziness that is O'Hare or Midway at any time of year, let alone at Christmas!

I left on Friday the 21st, and made it to my stopover in Atlanta with no problem. That's when the chaos began. It was incredibly foggy that day all over Illinois, so my flight to Peoria kept getting delayed. Eventually they announced that it was canceled...and that there wasn't another flight to Peoria until 9:00 the NEXT NIGHT. Well, that wasn't going to work for me, so I asked if they could get me into Chicago instead. Luckily they were able to put me on flight to O'Hare at 10:00 the next morning.

In the meantime, my poor mom had driven almost three hours to Peoria in this dense fog just to find out that I wouldn't be flying there after all! So she turned around and spent another three hours of tense driving to get back home.

Since the cancelation was weather-related, the airline wouldn't pay for a hotel for me in Atlanta. They also wouldn't retrieve my luggage for me, so I was stuck without a single thing I needed. I didn't bring a single thing in a carryon because I didn't dream that I would end up stranded halfway to my destination. Apparently the stress of the day had a rather bizarre effect on me...I broke out in the worst hives and rash that you've ever seen! I had huge welts on my face and upper body, plus a nasty red rash all over the rest of my body. And it itched like crazy!

My whole body looked like this! And this was taken after I soaked in a bath and put lots of cream on it; it looked much worse a couple hours earlier!

The airline at least made a reservation for me at a nearby hotel, so after I got checked in I took a cab to the nearest drugstore to stock up on everything I needed for the solution, makeup, a flat-iron (vain, I know...but you gotta do what you gotta do...), etc. And of course lots of stuff to try to get rid of this rash!

Luckily the rash was MOSTLY gone by the next day. I got to the airport at 7:30AM, but of course the flight to Chicago was delayed...more fog! We finally left in the early afternoon (and I was upgraded to first class, which definitely made it more bearable!) I got to Chicago, but that wasn't the end of my problems...

In Atlanta, I had been ASSURED by Delta that my luggage would be transferred to the flight to Chicago. Yeah, right. I knew that wouldn't happen, and it didn't! Neither of my bags made it to Chicago. So on Sunday, when it was incredibly windy, snowing, and cold (wind chill of 10 below zero), I didn't even have a coat or hat or scarf because they were all in my checked luggage! I really didn't think I would see my luggage until I returned to Virginia, but luckily it did show up Monday night...right in time for me to take it back with me when I left the next morning!

Despite all the hassles, we still had a good visit. Since I had no luggage for most of the weekend, I was FORCED to go shopping and buy lots of new clothes! We ate out way too much, drank a lot of wine, and shopped 'til we dropped!

I came home on Tuesday (Christmas Day). Luckily there were no flight delays that day and everything went smoothly! And now the true countdown begins...Rob will be home in less than a month!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas on the Ship

Well, it definitely doesn't sound like Christmas on the ship was very exciting! If they did anything special, Rob didn't mention it in any of his emails. Actually, I take that one point he mentioned that they had just announced over the PA that the "holiday 10k run will start at 1030. It only takes 80 laps around the main deck of the ship to make 10k. If that doesn't sound like a bunch of holiday cheer and fun I don't know what does." I think it's safe to say that Rob did not participate in the special holiday run!

They did get a mail delivery on Christmas Eve and he received many of the cards that people sent. Thank you again for thinking of him! They should get another delivery around New Year's, so hopefully any other cards will get to him then. Below is a picture of the helicopter arriving on the ship with all the holiday mail.

I had a hard time sleeping Christmas Eve night, which ended up being a blessing in disguise. I was awake to hear my phone beep with an email at a little after 2:00AM. It was from Rob, and in it he said that he was really pissed at himself because he didn't think he'd have a chance to call on Christmas day due to his watch schedule, my flight times, etc. He hadn't thought about that sooner, otherwise he would have tried calling on Christmas Eve. So I wrote him back and said, "I'm awake!! You can try calling now if you want!" It took a few tries for him to get through, but we finally connected at about 3:00 and talked for over an hour. It was great to talk to him, despite the hour! When it comes time to finally hang up, it's always so hard because you don't know when you'll have a chance to talk again and of course there's still so much to say! But luckily he will be home in a month and then we can talk all the time!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Poor Rob!

Remember what I said about how Rob was going to buckle down and do some shopping on their last day in Dubai? Well, he didn't even get to the leave the ship! At about 2:45 yesterday afternoon he was told by a couple of the other officers to hurry up and change because they were getting ready to leave. Rob still had about 30 minutes of work to do, and they wouldn't wait for him! Since they have to have a 'buddy' when they leave the ship, he was totally screwed because there were no other officers left on the ship who weren't on duty. So he couldn't leave the ship; he could just sit there and stew. Now he has nothing to show for their time in Dubai. No pictures, no Christmas gifts for me! Horrors! (I jest!) But I feel horrible for him. They have so little to look forward to when they're on deployment, and getting to go explore Dubai is a great reward for all the long hours at sea. His only consolation (and mine) is that we'll definitely go there sometime TOGETHER...which is better than him going there with a bunch of Navy guys anyway!

They left Dubai today and started some big inspection. I only got one short email from him today, but he said that it's going surprisingly well. It's nice to have something going right for him!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Rob in Dubai

Today was a great day for me...Rob called AND his email started working again! It was great talking to him, but unfortunately the line went dead in the middle of the conversation and he wasn't able to call me back. :-( But I can't complain!

As I mentioned previously, they're in Dubai. He had duty today and wasn't able to leave the ship, but he did get to go out the first two nights they were there. He says Dubai is like Bahrain on steriods! It sounds like a fascinating mix of cultures and ridiculous wealth.

The first night out they went to the Seafarer's Club, which is right outside the port. Apparently Bo (aka CHENG, the Chief Engineering Officer) treated the Engineering Department to a little party at the club, including an open bar for them. the time they left at 9:00 (still early!), his tab was $1546!! I told Rob not to get any ideas about doing something similar for his guys!

Yesterday he and Bo went to the Mall of the Emirates (the one with the indoor ski slope...although they decided not to disappointing). As a sign of how international Dubai is, the mall was decorated for Christmas and even had a group of carolers dressed in Victorian clothing singing Christmas songs...definitely not something you would expect in a Muslim country! We both moaned about how much we wished we were there together, and decided we must take a vacation there sometime.

They're still there for a few more days, so he says he's going to buckle down and actually do some shopping tomorrow! I told him to take some pictures, too, so I can share them here.

Hope everyone is surviving the holiday rush...I know I barely am! :-)

Friday, December 14, 2007

No News from Rob

You may have noticed I haven't posted anything lately about Rob! The ship email is down so I haven't had an email from him in about a week. He was able to call on Wednesday and we talked for about half an hour. He said that whatever the problem is with the email, it's not likely to be fixed for at least a week. They pulled into Dubai yesterday, but I haven't heard from him yet. I do know that they made it there, though, as there was an ATM withdrawal when I checked the banking account this morning!

They have a big inspection starting next week right after they leave Dubai, so Rob said that they'd be working a lot while they're in port. Then they'll start heading home! I can honestly say that I can't believe how quickly this deployment has gone. I guess it's because I've been so busy, and it helps that we've usually been able to communicate via email a couple times a day.

I sent an email to many friends and family members this week asking them to send Christmas cards to Rob on the ship. I got a really good response and several people said they would. If you need his mailing address, please send me an email and I'll give it to you (I'm not supposed to post in on the blog). I'm sure he would love to hear from everyone during the holidays!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

My Granny's 90th Birthday

I just got home from an exhausting was my Granny's 90th birthday celebration! My mother organized an open house in Granny's hometown of Martinsville, Illinois, and I flew in late Friday night to attend the festivities.

My mom, her brother Larry, Granny, and me at the reception (I'm definitely the giant of the family!). Larry flew in from Orlando to attend.

Martinsville is a small town (less than 1000 people), so I truly thought that the whole town might show up. After all, they all know Granny! Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. It was right around 32 degrees and raining, with weather warnings for sleet and freezing rain. I think that kept many people away, but we still had at least 70 people attend. The reception was held at the American Legion, into which my mother put tons of work into decorating. She set up a table with many pictures of Granny over the years, along with other family members. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed looking at the pictures and reminiscing about the "good old days."

Part of the picture display.

We had THREE cakes, which was probably way too much...but you can never have too much cake!! Granny and Don ended up taking much of it home and freezing it. Knowing Granny's sweet tooth, it will all get eaten eventually! :-)

Granny enjoying some of her birthday cake!

We had been worried that she might get worn out from all the excitement, but she outlasted just about everyone! We had to keep sitting down to take a breather, but Granny was on her feet for practically the entire three hour timeframe, graciously greeting everyone who came. If you didn't know better, you would never guess that she was turning 90...she looked fabulous and had so much energy! What's even more amazing is that she fell a week ago, cracking a rib and hurting her wrist and arm. But she didn't let it slow her down. She's incredible.

Friends and family enjoying the reception.

After the open house, we went to dinner with our immediate family and Don's three sons and their wives. I think Granny enjoyed every minute of her birthday. I'm so glad that I was able to go to Illinois for the weekend to help her celebrate!

Dinner at Richard's Farm after the reception.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just to give you an update on ROB finally... (after all, that was the original intention of this blog until it got hijacked by my trip with Operation Smile!)

The ship was scheduled to leave Bahrain the same day I left (November 6), but a maintenance problem kept them there for almost two weeks longer. It was probably a nice break for them, truthfully. I got several emails from Rob describing nice dinners they had at local restaurants! And of course I'm sure everyone enjoyed the opportunity to go out a have a beer or two (or more!) in the evenings!

They're back underway now and unfortunately were at sea for Thanksgiving. As far as I know, they don't have any more interesting port visits planned until they start to head home. Right now they're scheduled to be at sea for Christmas, but maybe they'll be able to pull together a quick port visit somewhere!

He did call me today for Thanksgiving, but we were only able to talk for about half an hour. It was great to hear his voice, though.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! After going on the mission so recently, I definitely realize how much I have to be thankful for on this day.

OpSmile Mission - Final Thoughts

I've been back home for a few days now and I'm suffering withdrawals from Morocco! I cannot put into words how much I absolutely loved everything about my mission experience in Tetouan. The people that we met were amazing...both the volunteers and the patients and their families. I've never in my life been kissed and hugged so much. It makes you realize how privileged we are in our lives when you see these families that have sacrificed so much in order to give their children the opportunity to have this life-changing surgery. During this mission, we were able to operate on 189 children and adults. That's a huge number; most missions average between 100 and 150 surgeries. But I think our entire team wanted to make sure that everyone who was eligible for a surgery did in fact receive a surgery, even if it meant later-than-usual nights at the hospital. It's completely worth it, though, when you see the utter happiness of the families when their kids come out of surgery.

I'm sure I'll get to go on another mission in the future, but I don't know if anything will ever compare to this first one. Hopefully Rob will get to join me on the next mission. What an awesome experience it would be to go through something like this together.

I hope you've enjoyed reading about the mission and Operation Smile in general! I encourage you to check out our website at if you're interested in learning more about our organization!

OpSmile Mission - Day 9 - FINAL DAY

I couldn't believe that we were up to our final day so quickly! Friday was meant to be a shorter day, with only 20-some surgeries scheduled. The surgeries were finished by about 2:00 and a small group of decided to visit the 'souk' in the old Medina to do some last-minute shopping. This was a much grittier shopping venue than the one we had visited in Chefchaouen. A local gentleman kind of latched on to us to be our "guide," which annoyed me a little at first, but later I was glad he was there to lead us through the maze of the Medina. He also showed us all the different sections of the souk...different crafts or types of shops were definitely all grouped together. For instance, there was a woodworking area of the souk, or a leather goods section. He made sure that we didn't miss anything.
Not quite picturesque scene as in Chefchaouen!

He of course also led us into some particular shops which I'm sure pay him to bring tourists through. That was OK, though, as they were interesting shops. One was a rug shop, in which I bought two rugs and a blanket. I think I bargained for a fairly good price, but who knows!
Paul and Nuria in the rug shop.

The other shop he took us to was a spice and oils shop. That turned out to be quite the experience! The owner of the shop showed us many different spices and aromatherapy minerals, then brought out a bottle of massage oil. He said it was great for backaches, to which I laughed and said I needed that. So he tells me to come with him to a corner of the store where they had a makeshift massage bench. I was a bit leery, but I followed him. Next thing I know, some guy pops out of the back of the store, tells me to take off my jacket and lay on the bench. Again, I was a little unsure of what was going on, but I complied. Once I'm laying down on my stomach, this guy lifts up the back of my shirt, unhooks my bra (a little shocking!), and starts giving me a full massage! It might have been very relaxing if it weren't in the middle of the store with my shopping comrades watching and laughing! I thought it would only be a couple minutes, but I think it lasted for a full quarter of an hour. And I have to admit it did feel good, once I got over the shock of what was happening! I felt compelled after that to buy the massage oil. We'll have to see if Rob can match the massage skills of the mystery man in the souk!
Me and my masseuse!

Friday evening was the final team party, hosted at the house of one of the hospital administrators. That turned out to be very fascinating, as it was a traditional Muslim party in that the men and women were segregated in two different rooms. Of course, we didn't realize this at first, so when we got there Paul and I grabbed a beer and sat down to watch a soccer game with some of the men. After a few minutes we started to realize I was the only woman in the room. I looked across the hall and saw that all the women were in the other room! So I meekly slid out of the men's room and into the women's room. Just to add to my faux pas, apparently Muslim women don't drink alcohol. There I sit with my beer, feeling rather conspicuous. Nobody seemed to mind, however, and in fact they brought in a few more beers later for the other American women (I was the only one to actually partake, however!).

The "men's room"

The "women's room"

Paul and I occasionally met in the hall and whispered, "Seriously, is it going to be like this all night?" Occasionally men would wander into the women's room, but they were told in no uncertain terms to get out! Eventually they even shut the doors and posted one of the servers at the door to keep the men out. The women's room was definitely the 'party' room! There was much singing and dancing. One thing I learned on this trip is that Moroccans love to sing and dance! And they all seem to have such lovely voices...I'm jealous!
The last supper!

Anyway, eventually they let the men in when it was time for dinner. We had quite a feast of traditional Moroccan food, then it was time for the speeches. Most everyone spoke in French or Arabic, so it kind of dragged on for those of us who didn't understand, but it was great to have that final chance to say goodbye. We didn't get back to the hotel until 1:30 AM, which meant no time to sleep whatsoever...we still needed to pack and be ready for the bus that was coming to pick us up at 3:00AM to take us to the airport!

OpSmile Mission - Day 8

Thursday turned out to be an interesting day for at least one of our team members! When we left the hotel at 6:30AM, we realized that Paul (one of the Patient Imaging Technicians) wasn't on the bus. We were a bit concerned, but figured he must have caught a ride with one of the Moroccan volunteers that had their car with them. However, when we got to the hospital and couldn't find him, we realized that he must have been left behind back at the hotel. Not only was he left behind, but he was also locked in the room! As I mentioned previously, these weren't exactly state-of-the-art timeshares. They had an old-fashioned key that you had to use to lock the door from both the outside and the inside. There was one key per unit, and of course Paul's roommates had the key and had locked the door behind them when they left! So he was locked in the room, which had no phone. Not that he could have called anyone anyway; since it was a timeshare, there was no lobby or any staff working. He could have yelled for help, I suppose, but there would be no one to hear him.

We debated what to do, but finally I asked the bus driver to take me back to the hotel so I could rescue him from his confinement! However, when we got there he was no where to be found. At this point I was really concerned. We went back to the hospital, and found that he had just arrived. It turns out that he had climbed onto the roof and jumped to the ground, then walked two miles to the Sofitel where they called a cab for him! I tried to convince him to recreate his great escape later, but apparently once was enough!

By Thursday everyone was starting to hit the wall. Most days started at 6:30AM and we didn't leave the hospital until 8:00. Add a late dinner into the plan most days, and we were exhausted by this point. Imagine our excitement when it was announced that we wouldn't start until 7:30 the next morning!

OpSmile Mission - Day 7

Wednesday was another day of surgeries. As the week wore on, we started doing more of the adult surgeries and the more complicated children's surgeries. As usual, I spent some time in Medical Records and the rest of the day in either the pre-op or post-op rooms with the kids.

I took this picture of me with one of the kids in the pre-op playroom. He was quite intrigued when I showed him the image on the camera, so I decided to show him some of the other pictures I had. He LOVED all the pictures I had of cats! He would start giggling when we came across those!

One of the things that I liked about the mission in Tetouan was that it was a "local mission" as opposed to an "international mission." What is the difference, you ask? An international mission, such as the one in Casablanca, is comprised of a team of credentialed medical professionals from around the world who travel to a mission site in one of our 25 partner countries to treat children, usually for a two-week time frame. An international mission is organized through our Norfolk headquarters with the help and support of the Operation Smile Foundation in the host country. A local mission, on the other hand, is organized by the OpSmile Foundation in the country and teams of in-country medical volunteers conduct local programs to take care of more of their children. This means that the team in Tetouan was almost entirely comprised of Moroccan volunteers. I think the team roster showed 45 Moroccans, 5 or 6 Americans, and a couple Europeans. By comparison, the team in Casablanca had about 30 Americans, and the rest of the team was made up of volunteers from around the world, including Britain, South Africa, Australia, France, Jordan, and Ireland.
Me with Ismail and Aicha, both from Morocco.

I'm sure both models provide an unbelievable opportunity to meet a variety of fascinating people, but I personally really enjoyed being immersed in a situation with so many local volunteers. They were able to provide so much insight to local culture and customs and language. It was obvious that they were proud of their country and wanted to share it with us in every way that they could. They were also very helpful in advising what a taxi ride SHOULD cost (as opposed to what the driver would try to charge us!), and in bargaining for goods when shopping in the medina! But most of all it was great to make new friends from a completely different culture than our own. I think that if everyone had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in a Muslim culture, it would go a long way toward creating a better understanding in the world.

Wednesday evening we had a pizza party and bonfire right on the beach at our timeshare! It was a wonderful evening and a great way to blow off some steam. The pizza was ordered from Pizza're never far from America, no matter where you go! Mohammed, Ismail, me, Jemma, and Paul.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

OpSmile Mission - Day 6

Tuesday - another day of many surgeries! There were 7 surgery tables set up in the operating room, and on average about 40 surgeries a day took place during the surgery week. In addition to cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries, we were able to help many children and adults with other conditions such as burn scars or facial tumors. The burn victims really got to me. We saw so many children that had been severely burned, and you just wonder how that happens. One 9-year-old boy had severe burn scars on his right arm from when he fell into a vat of boiling oil when he was a toddler. Not only did he have the burns, but his wrist was bent at a horrible 90-degree angle from breaking it during the incident. I had to leave the room because I was nearly in tears at the thought of the agony he must have endured (and the pain that he seemed to still suffer).

She was so good-natured!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was originally scheduled to leave Tetouan on Wednesday and travel to the mission site in Casablanca for the last few days of the mission. However, I had grown so close to the team members in Tetouan that I decided to stay there for the remainder of the week. Not only would I have missed my new friends, but I also wanted to see the patients through their surgeries and post-op care as well. I had been staying in a different hotel from most of the team (I was with the film crew in a hotel near the hospital), but on Tuesday I moved to the team hotel. Well, it wasn't really a hotel...they were actually timeshares about 30 minutes away right on the Mediterranean. Sounds lovely, right? Not quite! They were older and certainly not very comfortable. Each unit had two bedrooms and one bathroom, but it was hit-or-miss on whether the shower would work each morning. If it did actually work, it would flood the entire bathroom floor. But we weren't spending much time in the rooms anyway, so it was survivable.

The view from our unit's balcony. The view on the inside? Not quite so nice!

Tuesday evening we had quite a treat - McDonalds! Yes, I know that's lame, but I was so sick of Moroccan food at that point that I savored my quarter-pounder as if it was a 5-star gourmet meal! Don't get me wrong - Moroccan food is delicious. But they seem to use the same spices on everything, so each meal tastes the same no matter what you order. A cheeseburger and french fries was just what I needed!

The sign behind us and to the left says "McDonald's" in Arabic.

OpSmile Mission - Days 5

Monday morning began a hectic week of surgeries. I continued to help out wherever I could, but spent most of my time in medical records. Although the screening process technically was over, new potential patients continued to wander in throughout the week as word spread that Operation Smile was doing surgeries at the hospital. When we weren't screening new patients, we were filling out charts, doing statistics, making identification bracelets for patients...there was never a lack of projects to be done!

This was also the day that the first 10 surgery patients were released from the hospital, including Mourad and Abkader (another young boy whom the film crew followed). Both boys are from the same town (Chefchaouen, the mountain village we had visited the day before), and although they did not know each other before this journey, they've now formed a friendship that will continue once they return back home.

Mourad (in green) and Abkader receive their discharge instructions from a nurse.

On Monday I also wandered into the surgery rooms for the first time. At first I was a little reluctant, as it just didn't feel right to walk up to a surgery table and watch someone be cut and stitched! I also wasn't sure how my stomach would handle it! But I found the whole process to be fascinating. It was incredible to see the very mission of Operation Smile occuring right in front of my eyes. Most cleft lip surgeries are not overly difficult or time-consuming; a simple one can be done in 45 minutes or so. But that simple surgery can be the most important thing that ever happens for the child and his or her family.

Dr. Handouf Abdellah performing a life-changing surgery

Monday, November 12, 2007

OpSmile Mission - Day 4

Sunday was a day off, but we still went to the hospital in the morning to visit the kids who had surgery on Saturday. Sunday was also the day that the list was posted that told who would get surgery. Many families showed up in person to read the lists, but other families called in to get the results. There were only a couple people who we had to turn down, but we connected them with a specialist in Casablanca who was willing to help them. It made for a very happy day at the hospital

Families read the list of scheduled surgeries.

After the list was posted, the team took off for Chefchouan, a beautiful city in the Rif Mountains. We hiked through the winding alleys around the city, and eventually came to the Medina and all its fabulous arts and crafts stalls! I bought a couple necklaces for myself, a cashmere scarf, and a handwoven cactus silk rug. You have to bargain the prices, of course, which I actually enjoy. I probably would have bought more if we’d had more time, and if I had more room in my suitcase!

Local handicrafts and rugs for sale in the Medina.

Myself and Karen in a beautiful blue alleyway.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

OpSmile Mission - Day 3

Another day of screening on Saturday, PLUS the first surgeries happened as well! Only 10 kids were scheduled for surgery on Saturday; the bulk of the surgeries will be next week. I spent a little bit of time in pre-op with the kids scheduled for surgery, but I didn’t want to stick around too long because of my cold (which is moving out of my head into my chest now). Mourad has developed quite an interest in photography…he loves to take my digital camera and take pictures! He was one of the kids in the pre-op room, but he must not have been too nervous…he took pictures of everyone in there! He’s become quite adept at positioning people, then switching it to the “view” mode so that he can show them their pictures when he’s done.

Mourad taking pictures in pre-op

After leaving pre-op, I went back down to Medical Records and spent the rest of the day doing more screening. Sometimes we were totally swamped with new patients, then at other times it would get slow and we would work on prepping new packets and organizing the records we had already done.

Myself and Mourad

Saturday evening we ventured to the Sofitel in M’Diq, which is a fancy resort area about 30 minutes from Tetouan. We had a delicious meal there with the whole team…I swear, I don’t EVER want to eat again! I can barely zip my pants at this point. The days are long, but the experience has been priceless!

My favorite picture so far from the mission!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

OpSmile Mission - Day 2

I’m still not feeling well, but at least I made it through a full day this time! Friday was another full day of screening (where the potential patients show up to be interviewed, photographed, and examined by medical staff to see if they’re healthy enough for surgery). Some patients have made incredible journeys to get here. For instance, Mourad (whom I mentioned in the previous entry) was making his third attempt to get surgery. His family heard about an OpSmile mission last year and traveled to Tetouan, only to find out that they were too late…the mission was already over. Then they heard about this mission, but came LAST month instead. Luckily, though, the third time seems to be the proverbial charm!

As a staff member, I don’t have a real ‘job’ during the mission, so I kind of wander around and look for ways to be helpful! For part of the morning I helped a student volunteer hand out stickers and toys to the children as they waited for their turn in screening. The children often start out being rather shy, but it doesn’t take long for them to start loosening up. The parents have been very appreciative of the attention and small gifts.

Later in the day I wandered into Medical Records and started helping out there. I was in the “in-take” area, which is the very first of the screening stations. We saw the patients when they first came in and took their pictures, filled out a little bit of info on their forms, then sent them over to the translators for them to ‘interview’ the patients and fill out medical history. It was actually quite fun. We usually don’t speak the same language, so it’s kind of fun to try to communicate things like, “Move a little bit to the left,” “Look up a little higher,” “Hold the medical folder upright so we can read the numbers in the pic,” “Take the folder and have a seat in the hallway.” At first I was a little uptight about trying to communicate these things, but after a while it just becomes funny! It’s amazing how much a smile can communicate. I just keep smiling and pointing until they figure out what I’m getting at!

A potential surgery patient and her parents are interviewed during the screening process

I really enjoyed working in medical records. I kind of wish I could have gotten the proper training in it before the mission, but learning as I go along is OK, too!

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Start of the Operation Smile Mission in Tetouan!

Greetings from Morocco! I’m in the midst of the Operation Smile medical mission in Tetouan, Morocco, and I can honestly say it’s been an amazing experience. Unfortunately, I’m also sick as a dog, so that’s limiting what I can do at this point, but hopefully I’ll feel better soon. I started feeling sick on the flight to Casablanca…severe congestion, sore throat, headache, etc. It’s kept getting worse during the first few days here, but I’m finally starting to improve. I’ve still got a horrible hacking cough, but I’m able to breathe again…a big step forward!

Anyway, I arrived in Casablanca very late Tuesday night; actually, more like 1:00AM Wednesday. I spent Wednesday in Casablanca, touring with a couple of my mission colleagues, and then having a fabulous lunch at a very authentic Moroccan restaurant. Before I left for Morocco, Rob was concerned that I wouldn’t find anything to eat. Well, he was very wrong! I bet I’ve gained five pounds on this trip! At least.

Wednesday evening a small group of us took a van to Tetouan, where the mission is occurring. It was about a 6 hour drive. The scenery was probably great, but I couldn’t tell you…it was dark! Plus, I was asleep as soon as we got out of the city.

Thursday morning was the first morning of the mission. I spent the morning with the film crew that is documenting the journey of three children who are seeking operations. We ‘followed’ one boy, a 12-year-old named Mourad, as he went through the initial screening process. It was fascinating to me to see the filming process and what goes on ‘behind-the-scenes’…like occasionally having to re-create a shot! Mourad and his father were very patient with the process, and were excellent at acting ‘normal’…not looking at the camera, etc.

Mourad and his father

Unfortunately, I got sent home before lunch because I was so sick! I really didn’t want to go back to the hotel on the first day, but I have to admit it was the best thing for me. Not just for me, but obviously I shouldn’t be around the kids when I’m so sick either. I went back to my room and slept until dinner time. Hopefully I can get over this quickly!!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Visiting Rob in Bahrain

Last Wednesday (Oct. 31) I left the States for Bahrain to visit Rob. After the Dubai visit was cancelled, they decided to pull into Bahrain instead. Definitely not the hotspot that Dubai is, but Bahrain is definitely neat in its own right.

Since I didn’t get my ticket until two days before I left, the routing was not easy. I left Norfolk and flew into Detroit, where I had a seven hour layover before flying to Amsterdam. In Amsterdam I laid over for three hours before boarding a flight to Bahrain, but we made a stop in Abu Dhabi (U.A.E.) before reaching our final destination. All told, it was about a 30 hour trip. The only thing that made it remotely bearable was that I got upgraded to Business Class on the Detroit-Amsterdam flight (through much flirting and joking on my part, but it finally paid off!)

The travel truly wasn’t too bad. The flight from Amsterdam to Bahrain was interesting as we flew over Iraq for much of it. The flight path took us over Baghdad, and I’m pretty sure we witnessed an explosion of some sort in the city. We also flew over the oilfields of southern Iraq (at least, that’s what I’m assuming the orange lights were!)

Upon landing in Abu Dhabi we had quite the interesting experience. We were wheels-down and just about to hit the runway when the pilot suddenly aborted the landing and ascended again. It was a little nerve-wracking as the whole plane figured we were having a problem with the landing gear, but it turns out that we were ‘too close’ to another plane on the runway. We made the second landing attempt with no problems…whew!

But enough about my adventure in getting there! I got to the hotel at about 2:00AM Friday morning. Rob wasn’t scheduled to get off the ship until Friday afternoon, so I was able to sleep in for a while. Thank goodness! The hotel was literally right outside the gate of the US Navy Base in Bahrain, so he was able to walk there as soon as he got off the ship. There was a “Hail” that evening at the Officers Club for the new CO of the ship and a couple other new officers. That was fun, as I was able to meet everyone from the wardroom, not to mention some Australian Naval officers who were visiting as well. :-)

I had been warned about how crazy people get during the first night in port, and I got to witness it in full effect! Some serious drinking went down at the Officers Club, which carried over to the nightclub at our hotel. Let’s just say that not too many people could remember all the events of the night before (myself included!). But I’m sure it felt good for the guys to blow off some steam after a month or more at sea.

The rest of the visit wasn’t nearly as crazy. There aren’t a whole lot of tourist sites in Bahrain, but nonetheless it’s a fascinating place. You could almost describe it as a mini-Dubai. The architecture of the new buildings is cutting-edge, and it’s been very westernized. We didn’t run into a single person who didn’t speak English. Literally. It was easier to communicate and get around in Bahrain than in some parts of Europe. All signs were in both English and Arabic. There were more English channels on the TV than Arabic ones.

We twice went to the Seef Mall, which is as modern of a shopping mall as you’ll find anywhere. All the upper-end stores that you might find in London or New York were represented there. The food court featured MANY American fast food joints, such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Dairy Queen, and even Papa John’s. The Cineplex in the mall featured both Arabic and American movies. One movie that I was surprised to see playing was “Knocked Up.” I’ve not seen it yet, but I’ve heard it was so raunchy that some Americans walked out of it, so it was surprising to see it playing in a Muslim country. It’s obviously pretty liberal, though, as far as Muslim countries go. Apparently many Saudis treat it as a playground, almost like Vegas…an escape from the very rigid lifestyle they live at home.

On Sunday we visited the “Gold Souk,” which is supposed to be the place to go to buy jewelry and other goods. It wasn’t busy at all, so we were hustled by every merchant in the place. It got a little uncomfortable after a while, so we decided to leave. About 10-15 minutes after we left, I started feeling really, really itchy. Apparently I had an allergic reaction to SOMETHING at the souk (the fake Coach bags maybe? Or perhaps some of the cleaning supplies in the toilets?) Whatever it was, I broke out in hives in a HUGE way…all over my face, neck, chest and back. We immediately went back to the hotel so I could jump in a bath and lather myself in Benadryl cream, but that pretty much ruined the rest of the day. Some of the hives were nickel-sized and didn’t subside until the next morning. I’ve had that problem at the gym on the base at home, but this is the first time I’ve broken out in hives somewhere else. I don’t know what causes it, but it’s VERY annoying.

The whole point of the trip, of course, was to see Rob, and we had a great time together. It’s so nice to be with the one person that you feel most comfortable with and with whom you can talk about anything. We both enjoyed Bahrain immensely, and talked about the possibility of him transferring there once spouses are allowed there again. (Right now it’s an unaccompanied tour, but that’s expected to change in the next couple years.)

The visit was painfully short (only 3 full days together), and now I’m off to Morocco for the OpSmile mission. Another adventure awaits!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Locations in Morocco

Just wanted to post a map of Morocco and point out where I'll be going when I go on the Operation Smile mission. I'll fly into Casablanca, but travel immediately to Tetouan (on the northern coast, along the Mediterranean sea). We'll be spending about 4 days there, then return to Casablanca. Operation Smile will be doing operations in both cities. I'm very fortunate to be able to observe two mission sites. It's going to be an amazing experience...I can't wait to share it with you!

The Roller Coaster Continues! looks like I'll be able to visit Rob after all! Well...maybe...I'll never count on the Navy to follow through with their plans, but it's looking good. I can't say where, but of course it's over in that general region. I'll be leaving on Wednesday. Just booked the ticket today, so of course I had to take what I could get! The routing is horrible, but at least it gets me to Rob! He'll arrive on Friday, and then we'll only be together until Tuesday. That day I'll leave for Morocco and he'll head back out to sea. It will be a short but SWEET visit. If it happens, that is!

In other news, they anchored briefly in Bahrain yesterday and got a mail delivery...always a happy day on the ship! He FINALLY got the box that I sent well over a month ago. I had sent a couple other things since then that he had already received, so I was convinced that this particular box was permanently lost. I was very relieved to find out he finally got it!

Well, I will keep this short as I have a million things to do to get ready to leave on Wednesday. I'll have email access most of the time I'm gone, so send me a note if you have a chance. I'll update the blog if I get a chance. If not, I'll update with lots of stories and pics when I get back! (which is late on the 17th of November!)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Gotta Love the Navy

Well, the title of the last post ("Things Work Out in the End") is rather ironic...because things have most certainly NOT worked out! I was supposed to leave today for Dubai to visit Rob; his ship was scheduled to pull in on Monday and stay until Nov. 3. I was packed, had all kinds of goodies for him, and had even worked things out with my job so that I didn't have to fly home from Dubai on the third, then turn around and fly to Morocco two days later...I was going to go straight to Casablanca from Dubai. I was so READY to see Rob...and then I get his email at about 10:45 yesterday morning. They cancelled their port visit in Dubai due to a "security concern." I cannot tell you how crushed I was. I spent the entire day in tears. They tried to send me home from work, but I couldn't justify going home... why would I want to go home and be alone after news like that?

I cancelled the hotel in Dubai, and convinced the airline to give me a credit for my airfare. I cannot believe that this happened. Apparently they had known about this threat for a week, but waited until yesterday to actually cancel the visit. As I expressed to Rob in an email, it seems somewhat counter-intuitive for the MILITARY to run scared from a terrorist threat. If the very people who are supposed to protect us are going to run and hide, then I wonder if I should ever leave my house.

They are possibly going to do an alternate port visit somewhere else, but I don't know if I'll be able to pull everything together that quickly to visit him. We'll see what happens.

As for things on the ship, it's the usual: very busy. They have a new CO who just joined the ship in the last week, and they had the official change of command ceremony today. That's making things quite hectic as you might imagine. Haven't heard too much yet about the new CO; I was looking forward to meeting him this coming week, but I guess that will have to wait.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Things Work Out in the End

Well, it appears that everything has worked out for the best. I will be visiting Rob later this month (can't say where on here, but email me if you're just dying to know!), and then I will be going on the mission to Morocco in November. It's especially good news that I'll be able to see him this month, as the port visit next month that I was originally planning on going to seems to have been cancelled. So this is probably my last chance to see him before he comes home! I'm leaving on Oct. 27 and returning on Nov. 3 from the trip to see Rob, then I'll leave again on November 7 for the mission to Morocco, returning on either the 17th or 18th.

As for Rob, it's more of the same: busy and sleep-deprived! The ship is back in the Persian Gulf after spending some time down off the coast of Africa. They had crossed the equator into the southern hemisphere about a week or two ago. That's always a big deal, as they have a tradition surrounding the's probably best to just let Rob describe it in his own words! "It is a big nasty little tradition where all of us shellbacks (those that have crossed the equator on a navy ship) punish all the dirty pollywogs (those that have not crossed). It should be fun since this time I will be on the shellback side as opposed to the pollywog. " I never heard any details about their ceremony, but it usually involves a great deal of humiliation and embarrassment for the pollywogs!

Tomorrow will probably be rather interesting for Rob, as he has an off-ship meeting...on an Iraqi oil rig. That should break up the monotony of the last few weeks! I don't know what the meeting is about, but I know he's looking forward to it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Forget About Jordan

You know that post from several weeks ago about me getting to go to Jordan? Well, scratch that. It's not going to happen. Yesterday, just before I left for Charleston, they drop the bomb on me that there are too many people going to Jordan, so I got bumped off the mission. I don't know why I was surprised. I had said from the beginning that I wouldn't actually believe I was going until I actually got on the plane.

But the "good news" was that instead of Jordan, I'd be going to Morocco. Normally that would be great...that's another place I've always wanted to go...but in this particular situation it just wasn't that great of news. The mission to Jordan seemed like all the stars were aligning. Rob's ship was scheduled to be in the region, and I was pretty sure that when the mission was over I would be able to meet up with him somewhere (we thought we knew where, but I can't say on here). It was perfect because it would be a short flight and relatively inexpensive. It would have been for just about three days, but it seemed like the perfect situation.

Well, Morocco is nowhere near the Middle East. It costs as much to get to the Middle East from there as it does from the US. And it's not easy routing...9-15 hours. Again, it's almost like leaving from Norfolk! So, now I'm faced with a difficult and expensive trip to see him after the mission, and the sad thing is...he's not even 100% sure that he'll be there! Truthfully, he's barely 50% sure. I was willing to take that chance before because it seemed like the best situation for BOTH OpSmile and me. For me, it was affordable and easy to get to Rob (or where he should be!), and OpSmile benefitted by me only taking 3 vacation days. This wasn't the IDEAL situation for seeing Rob, as it is scheduled to be a short port visit and in a rather boring location, but I thought it was the most logical situation for everyone involved.

But now I don't think I want to spend $1100 to go to this particular location when there is a very good chance he won't even be there. So I proposed taking 5 vacation days near the end of this month to visit him somewhere else, but apparently that would be too much time away from work. I can't do both. As much as it breaks my heart, I'm passing on the opportunity to go to Morocco so I can instead visit Rob. It's hard to imagine that taking 2 extra vacation days would be that big of a deal, but I guess it is. In the end, though, this will work out better. Rob is about 90% certain that the port visit this month will go as planned (again, I can't say where), and he'll be there longer, so we'll get to spend more time together. This is probably the only time I'll get to visit him before he comes home, so of course that's going to be my priority. He and I are not only husband and wife, we're best friends...and this separation is killing both of us.

They say they will work toward getting me on a mission in the spring sometime, but I won't hold my breath. I knew better than to get excited about my supposed trip to Jordan, but I had actually started to believe it would happen. I had even gone and gotten my stupid vaccinations for the trip (six painful shots!!). I had my Jordan book all ready to go and had done research on the country and its customs...I'm so stupid. And I had REALLY looked forward to the opportunity to finally see WHAT it is that I'm working for everyday. I'm stuck in front of a computer in Norfolk, VA day in and day out. Sometimes it's hard to remember what that ultimate goal make a difference in a child's life somewhere on the other side of the globe. I couldn't wait to see the end result right in front of me...a living and breathing reminder of why I go to work everyday. But I guess that will have to wait and I'll have to keep relying on blind faith that I'm making a difference in some small way.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I'm back!

Wow...where did the time go?? Sorry, I've been a little bit swamped over the last several weeks! Work has been nuts, then my mom visited for about five days at the end of last month, just has a way of happening...

I'm in Charleston, SC as I write this. I'm here for some training in the software that we use for our donor database at work. I drove down today and will be returning Friday evening. Definitely a short visit.

I've been able to talk to Rob on the phone a couple times this week. It was fabulous to hear his voice again. He also sent a picture of his current 'look.' He hasn't shaved in a couple weeks and...well...let's just say it's not pretty! The things they do to keep themselves entertained while underway!

I haven't posted anything since they stopped in Bahrain a couple weeks ago. It was good for him to have a chance to get off the ship, but since the visit was during Ramadan they were somewhat limited in what they could do and where they could go. During Ramadan, you can be fined if you're seen eating, drinking, smoking, or even chewing gum during the day. The fine is about $130. Rob said they were warned that the majority of the populace is pretty cranky by about 4:00 each day during Ramadan because they haven't had anything to eat or drink all day! Also, many of the stores are closed during Ramadan, so it made for a somewhat disappointing port visit.

In other news, we also learned recently where Rob will be going for his next tour. He'll be on the newest of the nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). It's still in the shipyard, as a matter of fact. It should be commissioned in late 2008/early 2009. Rob will transfer to it in the spring of next year...probably April. It's in Virginia, so we won't have to move this time. I don't know if we can handle staying in one spot for so long! :-)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Help Support Operation Smile

I don't have much to report about Rob (just the's hot, he stands a lot of watch, and he's completely sleep-deprived!), but I did want to mention a couple interesting things about Operation Smile.

One of our very generous sponsors is Hasbro, the maker of the classic game "Operation." (Who didn't love that game as a kid?!) Anyway, they have developed a new version of the game, now called "Operation Rescue Kit." Hasbro is touring the US promoting this game at different festivals and fairs. To celebrate Operation Smile's 25th Anniversary, each person who visits the Operation Rescue Kit game booth at a local Mobile Rescue Unit event will be invited to press a giant oxygen pump. Every time the giant oxygen pump is used to save Cavity Sam, Operation Rescue Kit game will donate 25 cents to Operation Smile to help spread smiles (up to $75,000).

Of course, not everyone can visit an Operation Rescue Kit game booth, but you can go to and press an electronic version of the Oxygen Pump! And remember, you can press the oxygen pump once every 24 hours until December 31, 2007...if everyone does this, it can add up to a significant donation to Operation Smile!

Also, Operation Smile Co-founders Dr. Bill and Kathy Magee will appear live on CNN International’s “World News” to discuss Operation Smile’s work around the world and its 25th Anniversary activities. Tune in on Saturday, September 15 at 9am EDT. “World News” airs several times on Saturday, so the segment may repeat at 10am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm, 4pm and 5pm. Broadcast schedules are subject to change. Please use the following link for complete schedule Please note: This is on CNN International, not CNN US. However, many cable providers do carry CNN International in the US, so check your listings.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

To The Gulf

I got a few emails from Rob in the last couple days, but they've been pretty short as he's been even busier than usual. They have officially made it to the Gulf. Yesterday they transited through the Strait of Hormuz. That took them through what would be Iran's territorial waters, so they were queried and looked at by several Iranian ships. He said that makes standing watch rather stressful! And to make it worse, he was on watch for about 13 hours between 5:00 AM and midnight.

He said that that it's terribly hot there, and that the AC on the ship doesn't work as well now because the water temperature is so warm. When he went on watch in the afternoon the sea water temp was 97 degrees! In comparison, the water temp here off the coast of Virginia Beach is currently 76 degrees.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Kodak Site Updated...Finally!

I have (finally!) updated the Kodak site with pics of the trip to Italy! It has pics of both my time in Rome and the time in Sicily that Rob and I spent together. I hope you enjoy them!

New Pictures

Nothing too exciting to report from Rob today. He did mention that since leaving Djibouti they are doing a "no-shave" program. He's participating because of peer pressure, but it's truly driving him nuts. He doesn't think he'll last much longer. The things they do to keep themselves entertained while they're underway...!

He also sent a couple more pics. This one is from their Cyprus port visit. It's the beginning of the evening that ended up with him signing karaoke! The big guy is Bo, aka CHENG (Chief Engineer). I think he's 6'7" and originally from Sweden. The other guy is Rob's roommate Will (a helicopter pilot). Apparently Bo has a video of the karaoke incident, which Rob tried to email me, but it didn't work. Hopefully he tries again...I really want to see it!

The other pic is of the Navy base in Jordan that they pulled into. He had an interesting story to tell about Jordan.

"Found out when I got back from my tour that the King was yachting in the area and stopped briefly by the naval base. No one got to see him but the Jordanians were flipping out about it. We have had some of our guys working around the clock to try and fix one of their ship's AC. They finally got it working today and the general of the base told the king about it when he stopped by and the King sent a gift basket over to the engineers."

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Another Connection to Jordan

I didn't hear much from Rob today; I think it's probably been a boring but busy for them as they get underway again.

I have interesting news relating to my job, however. It looks like I will be going to Jordan in November as part of Operation Smile's "World Journey of Smiles." This is Operation Smile's 25th Anniversary, and in November, around the world, on the same day, at the same local time, we will conduct 40 missions in 25 countries, with the hope of treating an estimated 5,000 children with facial deformities. This is an incredibly ambitious goal, as this is equivalent to what we normally do throughout an entire year. I'm especially excited about going to Jordan as I've had a fascination with the country for several years now. I desperately hope that there will be time for a visit to Petra (although Rob's roommate Will, who is still sick from his tour to Petra, would probably advise against it!).

If you're interested in learning more about the World Journey of Smiles, there is information on our website:

Also, if you'd just like to learn more about Operation Smile and see what an impact we can make in a child's life, there is a great 4-minute video highlighting one of the thousands of children we've helped. Go to , then click on the "Thanh's New Day" video. Be sure to have a tissue handy! :-)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A Quick Stop for Fuel

Today the ship pulled into Djibouti for a brief fuel stop. (If you're wondering, Djibouti is in Eastern Africa, bordered by Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia.) According to Rob's email, this quick visit is going to cause everyone to have to take malaria pills for the next 30 days, as Djibouti is home to the deadliest strain of malaria. They didn't stay long; they were gone by mid-afternoon. Rob says that since he didn't actually set foot on land, he can't mark it up as a place he's visited! Maybe we'll bend the rules this time...not too many people can say they've been to Djibouti!

Rob sent a few more pics from his day trip in Jordan. One is of camels roaming the desert (he said they were everywhere), and the others are from the special lunch that was prepared for them that day (chicken cooked in clay pots set in the ground).

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Rob's Recent Port Visits

After leaving Sicily, Rob's ship pulled into Cyprus for a few days. He was able to go out and about a couple times. It sounds like he had quite a bit of fun just getting off the ship for a while and eating something other than ship food! Apparently he was even coerced into performing some karaoke at a local pub one night! I would pay money to see that!

Then last week they pulled into Jordan. It was more of a working port, as they were doing training with the Jordanian Navy, but they did get to partake in some fun. He missed the tour to Petra since he had duty that day, but it sounds like he might be glad that he didn't get to go. About a quarter of the people who went on the tour got miserably ill afterward, including Rob's roommate. He did get to take a tour to Wadi Rum, however, which is a valley cut into the sandstone and granite rock in southwest Jordan. This is one of the pics from his tour.

They also attended a reception hosted by a Jordanian General at a yacht club. Sounds like they enjoyed excellent food, many drinks, and a performance by a bellydancer! I'm glad that he's getting to have SOME fun while he's underway.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Visiting Rob in Italy

OK, I'm going to seriously try to keep this up to date now. August was a crazy, hectic month for me, too, so I didn't post things to the blog like I wanted to! But I'm going to try to do better!

It's funny, the day Rob left (Aug. 1), I was also leaving. I was going to Hagerstown, Maryland with my boss for 3 days to implement a new program with the company that processes Operation Smile's donations. So I literally dropped Rob off at the pier and left immediately for Maryland. I guess that was good because it kept me occupied during those first few rough days, but I also didn't have time to see the ship off and wave goodbye and all those corny things.

It wasn't long before I left for Italy, though, to visit Rob on his first port visit. He was scheduled to pull into Sicily in the middle of August, so I planned on leaving on August 10 and going to Rome for a few days before joining Rob in Sicily.

On the morning of the 10th (a few hours before heading to the airport), I got an email from Rob saying that they might NOT be pulling into Sicily after all due to a national holiday. Big problem! I headed to the airport anyway, figuring that at worst I would just spend a week in Rome if all else fails. Upon getting to the airport I find that my flight out of Norfolk is cancelled and I couldn't get out until the next afternoon! At this point I was feeling like this trip was just not meant to be. So I came home in tears, but determined to still try to make it work.

I was able to leave the next day and arrived in Rome on Sunday afternoon (the 12th). I only had two full days there due to the flight problem, which is disappointing because Rome was fabulous! The weather was fantastic and I was completely enthralled by all the ancient ruins. I walked everywhere, to the point of having huge blisters on my feet and shin splits like I've never experienced. With my limited time I concentrated on the ancient Roman sites, like the Colosseum and the Forum. I didn't make it to the Vatican, but I'm sure Rob and I will go back some time.

In the meantime, I heard from Rob and found out that they would be pulling into Sicily, but the OTHER side of the island. flight was into Palermo (their original destination), and they were pulling into Augusta Bay. I still went to Palermo and managed to get to my hotel, and Rob rented a car (yes, he is crazy) and drove the 2+ hours to get to me. The drive wasn't TOO bad until he got to Palermo. It's actually the 4th biggest city in Italy, and driving there is absolutely ridiculous. He didn't have good directions and it took an hour for him to find the hotel. He was completely spent by the time he got there!

The next day we left and drove along the northern coast of the island for a while, then headed toward the city of Catania, which was the major city near where the ship pulled in. We spent two days there. We did a lot of shopping (window shopping, actually; not too many purchases unfortunately!) and a lot of eating! Our hotel had a fantastic rooftop restaurant that overlooked the city and Mt. Etna. (The picture below of Rob is at the restaurant with Mt. Etna in the background). The first day we were there was a holiday of some sort, so they also had fireworks that we were able to watch from the rooftop during dinner. It was amazing. As was the food and wine!

On our last full day in Sicily we drove up to Mt. Etna and then headed back to Palermo where we'd spend the night before my flight early the next morning. We only had 3 full days together, but it was great to see him. We were so stressed before he left that we really weren't able to enjoy each others company for the last week or so. This was a nice, stress-free time together!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Rob's Deployment Begins

Rob left on Wednesday, August 1, for a 6-month deployment with the Navy. Even though we've known this was coming for over a year, it still managed to sneak up on us. Perhaps we were in denial; if we ignored this eminent fate and did nothing to prepare for it, maybe it would never come to fruition. Alas, the Navy is annoyingly precise about these things. In the last month we had to scramble to do all the things that we wanted to get done before he left. We finished re-doing the downstairs bathroom and other little projects around the house. We bought a new car. We took a trip to Vegas. But there was so much more to do and just not enough time.

Due to the time difference, I get maybe one email a day from him; two emails on a lucky day. He's so busy and sleep-deprived that I know he hasn't had time to write to many other people. So I thought that perhaps a blog would be the best way to keep the rest of the family up to date on what's going on with him (and me, too...I know I'm not the greatest at keeping in touch!)

Be sure to send him emails, even if he doesn't write back much! I know he enjoys any communication he gets!