Xs and Os For Gabby Ann {book review + giveaway}

I recently discovered that going through a deployment, TDY, or any type of separation from your husband/partner, is vastly different when you have children. This should’ve been a no-brainer for me, but I figure that since I’ve survived it every other time he’s been away (and with one kid already), that this time, with two kids, it’d be the same and I’d fly right on by. Only I didn’t. We recently finished a measly three weeks apart and it was hard. Like, harder than hard. The days never ended and they all merged into another; three weeks seriously crawled by and felt like three months, and even though my girls are both relatively good and “easy,” it took a toll on me.

Something I’m thankful for is that Julia actually didn’t miss her papa too much. She asked for him, of course, but it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. When he leaves again in a few months—and for longer next time—I don’t think I’ll have it as easy; she’s growing up and very aware of what’s happening around her.

This new book, Xs and Os for Gabby Ann, is absolutely perfect for little ones dealing with someone they love being far, far away. It’s right up our alley and I know Julia is going to devour it during story time before bed. I love that Gabby is a character she can grow up with and someone she’ll be able to relate to. And as a parent, it’s actually a book I’ll enjoy reading to her at night while he’s gone. Having a parent go away can be a confusing time, especially for a child, but this book helps ease that confusion in a fun way.

The illustrations are beautiful, and the story is adorable—it’s about a little girl, Gabby Ann, who is longing for her dad even though he’s miles away. She misses his kisses and hugs (Xs and Os), and wishes for them to get to her before she falls asleep. Her dad’s hugs and kisses have their own adventure along the way—one I know my daughter will be drawn to because it involves lots of animals! The Xs and Os travel around the rainforest and the dessert, in the sky and under water, and they even find themselves making friends with Gabby’s dog! 

Will the hugs and kisses make it there in time before she falls asleep? Well, I can’t give it all away; you have to read the book to find out!

I’m really excited to have the author of the book here today sharing a little behind-the-scenes info about Xs and Os for Gabby Ann, along with a special interview with her sister-in-law and fellow military wife, and she’s generously giving away a book to one of you!


Much thanks to Jessica for sharing her wonderful blog with me. With it being National Military Appreciation Month, I’m pleased my book’s publication date serendipitously landed in May since 10% of the net profit from every sale will benefit the Operation Purple Camp Programs of the National Military Family Association. As you may know, the OPC Programs offer a free, fun week of camp to military kids and camp experiences for military families dealing with an injury or coming together after a deployment.

While we are not a military family, I generally operate like a solo parent given my husband’s job. Interestingly, I grew up in a similar situation. As a result, I can relate to the stress and anxiety placed on a family when a parent goes away. I have a deep respect for families in this situation – especially military families – and for the parent at home making it all work (even if some days it’s just smoke and mirrors). So, I thought I’d focus this on someone I admire, Laura, wife to my cousin Lieutenant Commander Steve Asseff, and mom to four boys ages 10 – 18. Laura is not only one of the best moms I know, but she’s an active volunteer, devoted to her faith and friends, a successful businesswoman and now finds her passion helping others achieve their goals through life coaching. She amazes me, and so I thought I’d ask her a few questions so she could share some tidbits of wisdom with all of us. You can find this amazing gal at www.lifecoachingbylaura.com

When Steve was deployed to Iraq for nine months your boys were 3, 6, 9 and 12. How did you prepare them? Did you do anything special around the house to keep him top of mind? Or, did you try to run your household “business as usual?”
We were very direct and told them their dad would be going to Iraq where another country needed his help…that this was his job and that we were proud of him for working hard to protect our country and help others. We got out a map to show them where he’d be and would talk about the time difference on a clock. We explained that we could only Skype about twice a month. But, we were lucky because we could speak with him on a fairly regular basis. He was in Intelligence, and the big perk was him having regular access to a phone. I give all the credit to military families who don’t always have the luxury of regularly speaking to their loved one during deployment.

Were there issues you experienced with the boys when he was away?
Not seeing him was particularly wearing because there was no relief, and he missed sharing the difficult parts as well as the good parts. But, I made sure to keep the routine the same. Routine is important for any child, but it becomes even more critical when other areas of their life might feel in flux. Of course some days were tougher than others – it was hard when Steve wasn’t at their baseball or football games, scout meetings, etc. In fact, he was the scout leader for our third son. When he left, I took that over as well. Our oldest tried to test me…he’d argue more than usual and try to push the envelope – not all of the time – just a few times – but I remember thinking how much I missed having my husband’s backbone and reinforcement. Christmas was also especially hard…it was tough to explain why he had to be gone for Christmas.

Part of our routine became talking about their dad at bedtime and before and during prayers. When Petrell showed me her book, Xs and Os for Gabby Ann, I thought it was perfect. I would have loved to have had that book during that time in my life. I love how it helps young children visualize their dad is thinking about and loving them, even though he’s not physically present. Our youngest was glued to the book when it recently arrived, in fact. He really liked it.

Your husband has recently been deployed here in the states, and is now gone during the week for a 7-18 month period of time. What has that been like?
With the kids being older, the daily demands have gotten greater. It’s teenage issues for the older three – college selection process, navigating a back injury for our football player/track runner and juggling two baseball teams for our third son. Our youngest is on a daily injection medication that my husband administered for him. There were tears nightly for WEEKS as he had to adjust to mom doing it. Sometimes, I really don’t have the answer except to just give the boys time to get used to the new normal.

I’m in awe of how you have raised four well-adjusted and successful boys – often without your spouse present – AND been extremely successful as a technical marketing consultant, a Professional Photo Management Business owner and now a Mary Kay consultant. I know you are now a certified life coach – I couldn’t think of a better person to help people realize their potential and find joy and peace in all facets of their life.
Thank you, Petrell. I am in the ‘business’ of problem solving and love it no matter what the topic. Whether its marketing, preserving and archiving photos, helping a woman feel better about herself with skin care or just helping someone to reach their all-around goals, helping people with these things makes me happy because I can see the positive difference I can make. And, when you enjoy something, you are able to fit it in. It’s the old adage, do what you love to do, and you will thrive at it.

I think I need you to come and spend a week with me to get us organized. But, since that is unlikely at the moment, do you have a few tips to share?
More than happy to share!

1. Set expectations and consequences. I hate repeating myself and nagging. And, I honestly don’t have time. Who does? A perfect example: this week I purchased a MacBook Pro. It’s an investment, and was like a MAGNET to the boys. They were told they weren’t to touch it (imagine – four boys – handling/fondling a light-weight laptop). One of them not only touched it but attempted to synch is iPhone to it! Bam. A loving note went up that said ‘No one will touch the MacBook unless they have permission from mom….if they DO touch it, they will lose the: car, iPhone or iPod touch (depending on age of the kid). They got the message.

2. Minimize clutter. If things are lying around, it means things need to be put away RIGHT away. Not set down for ‘later’. This includes laundry. If it’s washed and dried, it’s folded immediately (Yes, while it’s still warm. I only run laundry when I am home with the 5-10 min. it takes to fold it!) It goes into the baskets for each child to put away. (The oldest does his own – good for college prep!).

3. Communicate. Explain why you do the things you do and why things are important (we will skip a sporting event to attend a family reunion because families are more important than sports, for example). I also like to quiz the kids on topics that come up. For instance, just tonight we were having ice cream and we were discussing Karma. Our third son voluntarily helped the fourth son with homework, getting mud off his soccer cleats and getting waters into the car. Then, later, the third son hit a triple and then a home run. So, I asked them if they knew what “karma” meant – and I always start with the youngest….and he knew. I will ask them how to spell words, or define words, or what you do in a certain situation. Or, I ask them if they understand things in the bible. They love the challenge and helps you know what they do or do not know. Also, if you want your teenage boy to talk – FEED HIM. Works like a charm.

4. Plan fun and plan down time. I make sure I have 15 or more minutes of bible reading in the mornings, and that I can work out or get a walk in ‘most’ days. It helps to literally schedule this. I also try to get alone time with each kid EVERY CHANCE I GET. I LOVE one-on-one time with them.

5. Pray, pray, and pray some more. I cannot do it alone – it is comforting to remember I am not doing it alone, and that God is my strength.

Xs and Os for Gabby Ann hit the market yesterday! You can buy one now from Amazon (don’t forget that 10% of the profits this month go to Operation Purple Camp Programs of the National Military Family Association), or you can enter to win a copy here!

The fine print: Open to US residents or those with an APO/FPO address. Giveaway ends on May 12, at midnight. All entries will be verified.

I just love this book and bought my copy yesterday—I’m excited for it to arrive. I’d love to hear what you think of this book, and if you have a tip with how you help your little one(s) deal with their mom or dad being away for long periods of time, leave it in the comments below.


  1. My husband is a Reservist, but this book would be very helpful for our older daughter who doesn't quite remember the last time Daddy left. I have a hunch this year is going to be immensely harder than the last one when he leaves.

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