Who cries in soccer?!?

My boys love soccer.  This isn’t news to anyone who has ever met them.

I remember Hayden’s and Carson’s first season:  they were each timid in their own ways.

Matt coached Hayden’s team and he had to hold Hayden’s hand the entire game (actually during the first few games).  Carson really didn’t want anyone to notice him so he wore a coat over his jersey… making him stand out more than anyone else.

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Since he’d stand out in his jersey, he sometimes wore a t-shirt.  Look at those cheeks!

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By the end of the season both boys were having fun and an passion had been born.

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That year, Bailey was too young to play.  In the picture below (left to right) Carson was 3 1/2, Hayden was 5 1/2, and Bailey was 2 1/2.

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Bailey started his career a year later, once we had moved to Fort Carson.

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Sometimes he managed well, other times he struggled.  This was the year we discovered he had SPD and those chin guards and cleats about did us in.  (When we discovered the Wilbarger Technique, and learned a few other tricks, life got better.)

My bigs have grown and are now comfortable and competent on the field. Getting a good picture of all of them PLUS Parker proves to be quite difficult.  Anyway, this past weekend Parker joined his big brothers and became an official soccer player.

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In keeping with his big brothers, Parker’s first game was less than ideal, but it was perfect… it was his first game.

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Ice in Texas

Over the weekend I began hearing rumors of cold weather and precipitation that could occur simultaneously.  I have yet to be so lucky this winter season, so I refused to get my hopes up

Last night at bedtime I knew it was wise to drip the faucets, and when I woke up I realized that it had been a good decision.  The temperature remained below freezing and moisture had begun to freeze on surfaces.  Matt had to go to work, the boys and I did school, though on a slightly delayed schedule (not because the ice caused issues for us as much as because the ice was exciting to us).

We completed our work and during the boys’ rest time I took my camera out of its case, something that hasn’t happened too frequently lately, and I took some pictures of Texas under ice.

For those hating all the snow you’re getting, I’m sorry you’re not enjoying it.  I wish I could get snow… I love to make snow cream!

_JEN5923 _JEN5919 _JEN5926 If I look just the right way I can sort of pretend the rooftops are covered in white stuff. _JEN5918 _JEN5940 _JEN5958 _JEN5952 Even Old Glory hasn’t escaped the ice._JEN5962

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Fresh Start 2015 – Chaplain Spouse Presentation

I’m working on a special presentation for my fellow Chaplain Spouses here at Fort Hood.  I have about three hours of information I want to share and only about fifteen minutes to do so.

Because I can’t bear to withhold all the fantastic information I have discovered I have created this page that I can refer them to if they’re interested in reading more.

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Chaplain Spouses, welcome to my home on the Internet.  Below you will find the notes from the presentation from Tuesday evening.  It’s way more information than you need, but I do hope you can find some of it helpful.

Fresh Start:

First, I want to state that if I’m not careful, this presentation could make it seem like I’ve got it all together. I don’t want to give that impression, so please accept this disclaimer right at the start. I do not have everything running ship-shape all the time, but what I have learned is that life is challenging enough with the things we cannot control, so why not make the other parts of life easier… the parts of life we can control.

And, I’m not one to reinvent the wheel. My mama taught me that! So I am always on the lookout for someone who has gone before me and mastered a skill or a method and is willing to share. Most of the methods I’m going to share with you can be done for free. If there is a fee, you can determine if that advice is something you’re willing to pay for. If not, skip it!

If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.  ~Zig Ziglar

Zig Ziglar was an amazing motivational speaker who greatly influenced the way my parents raised me. He wrote many books including, “Raising Positive Kids in a Negative Word,” “Conversations With my Dog,” and “Born to Win.” He taught that life is broken into seven main compartments. He presented them as if they are the spokes wheel and called it the “Wheel of Life.” His point was that a wheel needs the spokes to maintain its integrity. If any one of the spokes break, the wheel can continue to limp along, but eventually it’ll wear out and the ride will get bumpy. We need to focus our attention on all the spokes of the wheel, not just one. This will help us work toward the balanced life we all desire. Dave Ramsey brings up a good point. Life is not balanced at all times. There are seasons when someone is more focused on one specific area, but over the span of a year, it should balance out. For example, if I’m going to train for a half-marathon, my life will be unevenly skewed toward the physical spoke for a season. But once it’s over, I can resume a focus on another area that might have been lacking during my training.

I will do my best to briefly share a little about each spoke, but I want you to know that what I have to share will fall heavily into the “career” side of things, (which for me, is household management).

In each of these categories there are podcasts that you can listen to. Podcasts are like episodes of a radio show that you can listen to at anytime you want to. There are hundreds out there, and I listen to several regularly. If you want to find some podcasts that match your interests, I suggest searching around the podcast section of your device (iPhone, Andriod, or your computer). Also, ask friends which podcasts they listen to. There are podcasts about quilting, finances, exercise, learning languages, & even fishing. As I go through Zig Ziglar’s spokes, I’ll mention a podcast if I find one specifically helpful or applicable.

I will start with the spiritual spoke, since ultimately I believe that if that spoke is solid, it’s easier to move into the others.

1. Spiritual – Get involved in Bible studies, PWOC, CWOC, Sunday School, in-home studies. One of my very favorite studies ever was “Experiencing God” by Richard Blackaby, Henry Blackaby and Claude King.
As we are all the spouses of Chaplains I will assume you are able to find the spiritual resources you may seek. It matters more that your spiritual walk is healthy than whether your house is spic-and-span.
There are a hundreds of podcasts in this category. If you like a specific preacher who happens to be in a relatively large church, go check to see if he/she has a podcast. There’s a good chance there’s one out there. I happen to listen to a few churches from Colorado Springs and a couple in the Carolinas.

2. Financial – If you know me at all you know I am a huge proponent of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. In short, our testimony is that we racked up $125K in debt during the first seven years of our marriage, then spent four working it off. It was in large part due to FPU that we were successful. Because of that, Matt and I are dedicated to spreading the word and teaching that class. In 2014 I taught five sessions of the 13 week course, Matt taught two downrange. In total, Fort Hood families paid off $500,000 in debt just for having gone through these seven classes! We have three classes that just started this month: One at our chapel, one at PWOC and one during Community Connections on Thursday nights. The class is aptly titled: Financial Peace. There is truly a peace that settles on one’s home once finances are not an issue.

Dave Ramsey’s Radio Show is broadcast on live radio, online as a tv show and radio, and as a podcast.

3. Social – There are more ways to count social than I can share. I’m part of a few closed groups on Facebook that allow me to connect with people who share similar interests.  Make it a point to spend time with people who have similar interests as you and help make you a better person.  When you hear yourself say to someone, “We should have lunch sometime,” put it on your calendars right then.  Make it happen.

4. Family – Read! (And in the case of podcasts, listen!)


Raising boys:

Raising girls:


5. Intellectual – The average millionaire reads one non-fiction book a month. Motivational speaker Charlie Jones said, “You’re the same today as you will be in five years except for two things: the people you meet and the books you read.” He’s right! Next to relationships, books can be our greatest teachers.  Here are some of Dave Ramsey’s Top Books to read, just for the fun of it:

  • Start With Why, by Simon Sinek
  • Tribal Leadership, by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright
  • Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
  • The Advantage, by Pat Lencioni

Dave believes that reading is crucial to one’s success, so he has a required reading list. His new team members must read these five books within the first 90 days of employment. Matt and I have read a few of these books because they’re quality books.
This list includes :

  • QBQ! The Question Behind the Question by John G. Miller
  • The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant by Terry Felber
  • Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson
  • The Go-Getter by Peter B. Kyne
  • Rhinoceros Success by Scott Alexander
  • The Go-Giver by John David Mann and Bob Burg

In the “intellectual” category, I listen to “This American Life” and “Radio Lab” podcasts, but not all of the episodes. Only some of the topics are of interest to me.

6. Physical – I am not a lover of exercise, however, I love how exercise makes me feel (after I’ve finished). I believe that all forms of exercise are worthwhile, so I love it when trainers tell people to do whatever exercise they enjoy. I prefer doing “Insanity” and running. Before 2008 I would say I’d only run if I were being chased by a boogeyman. I had a neighbor tell me I needed to start running and I laughed out loud. In front of her! A few weeks later I was sitting in church in Colorado Springs and the speaker that night told his wife’s story of her running journey. I could NOT believe it! It was MY story, only she actually started running and just that year had run her first race. At that time ANY distance may as well have been a full marathon to me. I began running on my own and hurt myself terribly. I was running in 4-year-old tennis shoes (that’s how seldom I exercised… the shoes looked brand new, though they were totally worn out). I ended up injured and basically unable to walk for a week. That neighbor (who told me to start running) had to come over to haul my laundry up and downstairs for me! I got smart, then, and started over, with shoes fitted for me by a running shoe-store. I started out walking 5, running 1, and alternating for 30 minutes, and eventually ran a 5K in Colorado.  My best advice is to take it slowly and wear great shoes!  I’ve also read a book on how our cravings for food are tied to our spiritual walk.

  • Made to Crave by Lisa Terkeurst
  • C25K – Couch to 5K.  A great way to start running if you’ve never been a runner before, or if you have taken a long break.

7. Career – I will not be the most appropriate one to speak on careers if one defines career as a job you do outside the home. I am a homemaker, for lack of a better word, and I strive to be the best one I can be. Another of Zig Ziglar’s sayings is: “You are the only person on earth who can use your ability. It’s an awesome responsibility.” I feel completely called to be a stay at home mom, but your calling might be to be a Chaplain, a teacher, a nurse, a counselor, etc. Whatever it is, you are the only one who can use your ability. Use it well.

I separate my job as a homemaker from the “family” spoke because I have other resources to help me with my family. For the “career” spoke I look at the main tenants of running a household, and it is here that I find my most useful information to share with you… and I’m very excited about it!

Here I share with you what really got me excited about this presentation: a way to start fresh in the home; life-changing information; stuff that will make your day-to-day life easier and much more relaxing. That is, after you’ve put in the up-front effort.

Cooking: Seriously, why is it that my kids want to eat EVERY SINGLE DAY? I feed them, and then three hours (or three minutes) later, they’re hungry again!

When I first heard of Once A Month Cooking I loved the idea of cooking one day and feeding my family for a month. I am excited to tell you that I contacted the author and she sent me two books to use as a giveaway tonight. She wrote: “You might want to announce in your presentation that on the website at http://www.once-a-monthcooking.com there is a free, downloadable one-week cycle of recipes that could be used to get someone started, or for a time when prep time is at a premium.”

I’ve removed some of their recipes from my rotation and added in some others. Even during seasons when I’m not using the OAMC strictly, I have adopted some great habits that I’ll likely never lose. For example, when I make spaghetti sauce, chili, or chicken tortilla soup, I always make a 12 qt. batch. We eat that for dinner the day I make it, and then I freeze the rest in 1 qt freezer bags. I can then make spaghetti, chili, or soup on any given night in very short time. And the things that go along with each of those meals are things I have on hand all the time: noodles, cheeses, crackers, etc. If I’m totally at a loss for a meal, I KNOW I can make one of those meals.

There are several different websites that have different meal plans, but the one I’ve mentioned tonight is the resource I have personally used.

Another great tool for cooking is a free, website-based menu plan. It has some flaws, but once I did the plan once and altered it to fit my family, it has been a Godsend. It’s called 40-Meals-in-Four-Hours. The best thing about these meals is that they’re all crockpot meals! I began this over the summer when my kids had soccer six nights a week. I found that we were eating McDonald’s on the way home because I was too hot and sweaty (and tired… my husband was deployed) to cook. I had used all the crockpot meals we normally use, and we were tired of them. I found the 40-Meals website and dug in! It was wonderful! Again, I made a few alterations for my family’s taste, and we’ve now done it a second round. So easy! (After the initial work of prepping the meals.)

Food storage/Grocery shopping: I’m not a born-nerd-organized person. My husband is. When he came back from Afghanistan in July he found that I had managed to organize our pantry and stock room in such a way that we never (or at least almost never) run out of anything. Here’s how I managed to do this. I was listening to a podcast that I absolutely LOVE. The author (speaker?) is PJ Jonas and when I found her podcast, I starting at the beginning and worked my way through all of them.  Her family is fun. They have 8 children and raise goats for a living, making goat milk soap and laundry detergents that are safe for people with severe eczema, like my son. Their company is called “Goat Milk Stuff.” On that page you can scroll down a bit and on the left you’ll see a link for the podcast.

Regarding the pantry organization: Let me give you a brief explanation so that you’ll know whether or not you’re interested in looking at that.
A)  I created a grocery shopping list on my computer that matched the order of my commissary. B)  I organized my stock room in the order that I find things in the commissary. C)  Before I go shopping every two weeks I print off a new shopping list and then walk to my stock room. I go through my list looking at the items and checking to see if I have those things. If I see that there’s no mustard on the shelf, I know I need to add that to my list. That way, when the mustard that is currently in the fridge runs out, there’s a replacement in the stock room. (I do this with all the non-perishable items in the stock room.) I then go to my freezer and fridge and do the same. I know I want to have two bags of chicken breasts, two boxes of garlic bread, 4 bags of frozen broccoli, etc. I mark down how many of each item I need to get my pantry restocked and then I’m done. It takes no more than 5 minutes to create my shopping list. PJ Jonas describes her pantry system in detail on her podcast called “Organize Your Pantry and Shopping List” and she even includes a PDF of her shopping list, which I edited to match my commissary and my family’s preferences.

Schedules: We homeschool, and therefore we must have a fairly rigid schedule in order to get all the boys’ work done, our chores done, and my exercising fit in. I found a great book that has helped me tremendously, and I want to share it here. I won’t go into great detail because the topic isn’t one that all of us deal with, like cooking and grocery shopping is! It’s called Managers of Their Homes by Steve and Teri Maxwell, and if you are ever interested in reading more about how I implemented it in our household, I’ve blogged extensively about it.  In my blogs about this process I refer to this book as MOTH.

Chores: Another book by the same authors is called Managers of Their Chores. I believe that anyone with a child can benefit from this book, whether or not you homeschool. I’ve blogged about how we have implemented this book in our home . These books each cost $25 and I believe they’ve been worth much more than that to our family.

Housekeeping: Flylady’s method is by far the easiest way to care for your home. In my early days as a mom, I found that keeping a house and caring for three toddlers ages 4, 3, and 2 was pretty tough. At that time I needed something to help me out and when I discovered Flylady, I found hope! This may sound dramatic, but honestly, her methods changed my life! The basic idea is that you can do anything for 15 minutes. Go to bed with a clean sink, swish-and-swipe your bathroom daily, and use baby steps to accomplish big goals. “Your home did not get dirty in one day, and it will not get clean in a day either.” Apparently I need baby steps in many areas of my life! Both Dave Ramsey and Marla Cilley utilize baby steps in their programs! Marla, since 1999, “has been a mentor to over half a million women teaching them how to organize their homes and how to love themselves.”  I got to meet the Flylady last week and I am still a little starstruck!

I believe it all comes back down to the quote I presented at the start:

If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.  ~Zig Ziglar

These ideas will help you plan where you want to go, and provide methods of getting there. Otherwise, you’ll end up somewhere else.  If you have great tips, please add them in the comment section.

And kudos to you, for making it to the bottom of this 3000+ word blog post!

Posted in family | 1 Comment

I’m FLYing!

I’m finally able to admit this, and I’m doing it to the entire world.  (At least the whole entire world-wide-web, which means about 200 people, but the one who matters WILL read this and therefore it IS the whole wide world.)

I don’t know how my mom did it.  Our house was always immaculate growing up.  NEVER was there a stray speck of dust, much less dust bunnies.  NEVER did I see pee puddles around the toilets, even though there were two males in the house.  NEVER was a dish left in the sink long enough to require scrubbing.  And the thing that confounds me to this day, and admittedly, has confounded me since I had my first child, is that I do not remember my mom ever cleaning house.  It was just clean.  All the time.  And she wasn’t what I could call a neat-freak nor did she ever seem frantic, obsessed, or stressed!  She was (and still is) the calmest and most gentle person I know.

Sure, I did chores as a kid.  I think my least favorite was unloading the dishwasher and my favorite was toilets.  If I recall, the dishwasher had to be done daily while the bathroom chore was done weekly.  It’s been so long the details are a bit fuzzy.

When Matt and I were in our first 5 years of marriage a young mom who was a few years ahead of me in life shared very briefly about someone called “Flylady” and it didn’t really sink in.  Fast forward a few years to the time when Matt and I doubled the size of our house and had three kids who were all walking and independently making messes… and all potty trained.  I ran across the name “Flylady” once again, and I bought into her plan, hook, line, and sinker.

Without telling you too much, because I really do want you to go to her website and learn from her directly, I do want to share my testimonial with you.  One thing she speaks about is that there are two types of people in the world with regards to housekeeping.  Those who are born organized and those who aren’t.  What I’ve learned is that one can be organized in many areas and not be organized in housekeeping.  They way my mom was (and still is) able to keep an immaculate house is that she is a born organized housekeeper.  Either it came naturally to her or she forced herself to be one.  I don’t know which, but maybe she’ll leave a comment below and tell me.

What I’ve also learned is that is that one can be neurotically organized in some areas and wildly disorganized in others.  For example: I have color coded Excel spreadsheets for our budgeting because I LIKE them vs. a house that is not spic-and-span.

{I tried to find a better word for “disorganized” and the only antonym for “organized” on Dictionary.com was “destroy.”  Ouch.}

Moving forward, stinging a little from that one, seven-letter word…

Here at Fort Hood I am part of a group of about 100 Chaplain Spouses.  We get together once a month for something the Army likes to call “coffees.”  There usually is coffee, and for that, I am very grateful.  Our January coffee is going to be about Starting Fresh, and we are going to share methods we have found to make our lives easier so we can “start fresh” in 2015.

One of the tools I planned to share with the group was Flylady’s website.  Her methods of keeping house are so basic and simple that anyone can do it.  I love that she starts out with one simple task and you master that for a whole month.  You aren’t supposed to bite off the elephant’s whole head at once, or you’ll choke.  The first step is to clean your sink every night before you go to bed.  That’s it.  I followed her plan strictly for a few years, doing everything she said.  After a while I quit and have since begun training my kids to do much of the housework, which I describe in great detail in my Managers of Their Homes series.

Here is a picture of my sink as it greeted me this morning:

My sink

As I stood by my sink waiting for the coffee to brew, this blog post was brewing in my head. I just had to share this with the world-wide-web. And I threw in the coffee as a bonus, since it was in my NC mug. :)

In December I sent an email to Flylady’s media department and told them of our upcoming coffee.  I asked if they had any goodies to give away at the coffee but I never heard back from them, which didn’t surprise me.  Flylady has over 400,000 fans on Facebook, and double that follow by email, I’m sure.  (Many of her Flybabies aren’t on Facebook.)

Imagine my excitement when on Monday I saw a note on Facebook about Flylady coming to Fort Hood to speak to Army Wives!  I sent an RSVP immediately!  The event was wonderful and Marla (that’s her real name) was an absolute delight.  She got teary when she talked specifically about helping military wives as we often have to do everything for our households by ourselves.


We laughed at her stories and as she told about some of her steps for FLYing, I realized that I am actually doing almost all of them!  I have one I need to get better at and I’ve committed to working on it… getting dressed to my shoes everyday.  I tend to live in PJs.

Anyway, what I realized is that I lived for a few years strictly sticking to her plan, and then those things became habits!  I took the chance to tell Marla this because I wanted her to know that it worked!  Her plan worked for me.  I go to bed with a shiny sink every night.  I (um, the boys) clean the bathrooms every morning.  We never spend more than 15 minutes cleaning the house.  It would never take more than 15 minutes to get our house “guest ready.”  It is a lived-in house.  It has GRASS everywhere because the boys are in and out all day long.  And the chores the boys do are done at their age level, not at an adult’s.  We’re working them to that stage, but until then, they do the best they can or they re-do them.

I realized that I have been FLYing all these years and didn’t even realize it.  Yesterday’s event was great for me.  It reiterated to me that I MUST share this tool with my fellow Chaplain Spouses.  I was raised by a born organized person but am not one myself, and Flylady’s plan gave me a way to manage my house in a way that I can be proud of my home and happy with the people in it.

Mom, I still don’t know how you did it!  You ROCK!  And with Flylady’s help, I’m FLYING!

PS:  Marla’s fabulous assistant, Michelle, was there with her.  I asked her if she recalled the email and she said, “NO!  And I would have noticed it since I knew at that time we were coming to Fort Hood.”  She asked a few questions about life here at Hood and then proceeded to give me all sorts of goodies to give away at the coffee!  AMAZING!

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Salado at Christmastime

The past two years have been the hardest two of my life.  And the last few months of have been really trying.  I know this is quite vague, and it must be, but I want to assure you that it has nothing to do with us (Matt, me, or the boys.)  What I can say is that I believe I’ve turned a corner and the past two weeks have been the best I’ve had since we moved back to the States.  I have felt more like myself and that a cloud has lifted.

To make matters even more difficult, two of my closest Texas friends have moved away, and a third is packing as I write.  In preparation for the void I have been seeking additional friends, not as a way to replace those who have moved, or are about to, but to add to the ever-growing list of people I love.  I have had one-on-one lunches with two ladies lately during which we each shared our hurts and our struggles.  Both of those ladies stuck with me and for that, I am grateful!  If you haven’t read Stacy Huisman’s article about friendship-dating, you must.  Absolutely spot-on!  I believe the cloud over me has lifted, largely due to the conversations I have had with them and the wise counsel they provided.

After four lunches over the course of several weeks, during which we discussed really deep, painful heart-issues, it was time we had a fun, girly, Christmas-y day so the three of us, and another friend, headed to the cute little town of Salado.  We arrived on a misty weekday morning at 9:30 to find that most of the sleepy little village hadn’t awoken.  However, one shopkeeper let us come in to browse thirty minutes before it was supposed to open.  The Strawberry Patch is absolutely adorable and I will be going back for some apple butter!  We did some window shopping and ooohed and ahhhed over the lavish Christmas displays by the various vendors in many of the stores.  _JEN4930

We drank straight-up balsamic vinegar, tasted ghost pepper salt (H.O.T!), and spoke with an elderly artist, B. Herd, about his paintings of Texas scenery.  We even got to view the piece he’s currently working on: a family commissioned him to do a painting of their homestead.

We decided on an early lunch at Salado Vintage Cakery and Bistro.  Any restaurant with “Cake” before “Bistro” must be heavenly.  _JEN4924 _JEN4923

I ordered a BLT and a lemon cupcake.  We chatted for quite some time and when we left, a group of ladies literally swarmed our table… before we got to the door and long before it was cleared!  It was as if we had been sitting at their table!  Too funny!


_JEN4926 These ornaments decorated the bakery’s Christmas tree! How adorable!

After lunch we shopped a little more before heading back home.  It was nice to enjoy light conversation and window shopping.  I do believe I’m going back with balsamic vinegar, salt, and apple butter on my shopping list next time!

_JEN4937 Salado Scenery _JEN4941

Posted in depression/blues, family, friends, Texas | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Good Boys to Good Men

I find myself in a really fun season of parenting right now. I have a sweet four year old who brings our family more joy than I can express. Over the past four+ years I’ve written many times about his cuteness and antics.

But this blog post is about my bigs, who are now 13, 11 and 10, and we’re quickly approaching birthday season. (The men in my life have birthdays in February, March, March, April, and May.)   I absolutely love some aspects of having tweens/teens including the ability to have real in-depth conversations. Specifically speaking of Hayden, I can see traces of the man he is going to be, and I love it!

And because this territory is challenging in many ways, I have at least four books within my reach at this very moment to help me better understand them so that I can better parent them. Matt is obviously in on this with me, but he has so much reading he has to do for his job that I read the parenting books and then hand him specific chapters to read.

The latest book I devoured was one of the best I’ve ever read. Not only was it extremely helpful and practical, it was easy to read, not clinical or condescending. The author shared personal stories all throughout and her husband piped in for his take on many situations. His insight is incredibly helpful for this mom, a female with no experience at being a guy.   This is a book that I’d recommend any mom of boys to read. It’s geared toward parents who have a boy (or, like me, a bunch of them) ages 8-12. This book is full of encouragement, explanation, and ways to help your boy remain good. Even though Hayden is already past the tween stage, it applied to him, as well.

The title is Six Ways to Keep the “Good” in Your Boy by Dannah Gresh. When she wrote Six Ways to Keep the “Little” in Your Girl, I wished with all my heart that she’d write a complementary book for parents of boys. She did!

If I were to share all the parts I underlined I’d get in BIG TROUBLE for giving away too much of her book! Here are a few of the ways it resonated with me.

Manhood: We celebrate our boys’ entrance into manhood. When Hayden turned 12 we gave him a sword to represent this huge moment. There was symbolism in the fact that the sword was almost as tall as he was. He wasn’t old enough or big enough to easily hold the weapon, but it was time to start practicing. He _JEN8864wasn’t a man yet, but it was time to start thinking like one. He has a few years of practicing before he is sent off on his way into the big wide world. There are lessons to learn and mistakes to make while in the safety and security of our home. By the time he leaves us, he will be more comfortable with that sword in his hands, he will have grown and he will know the strength he has and how to wield it. He will know that his strength can be dangerous if used incorrectly, but that it’s provided to him by God to be a defense for his family and those who are weaker or are being attacked. His strength is something to be thankful for but used wisely. Many men are taught to be ashamed of their strength or they’ve chosen to use it to bully others. It is our job to teach our sons why God designed men with this strength.  And just behind Hayden are two more boys to train with this strength.  A few years behind them, is our Parker.

Screens:  We do not have video games. This book reminded me of the many reasons why. I am not mad at you if you have video games, but I implore you to read this book and see the reasons we have made that decision for our family. My parents made this decision for my brother and me, and I remember really wanting a Nintendo.  When I visited friends, I loved sitting at their TVs playing Mario. My kids enjoy playing video games when they visit with friends who have a system.  I am very specific about what kinds of games they can play (or even watch others play) and we will not own a system. Period. The author and her husband had video games in their home and they share tips for those of you who want to allow them, but with moderation.

More Screens: We are very protective of the boys’ eyes. We do not have cable and do not want it. We have Netflix and Hulu, and even with those we are very particular. Our boys are developing a sense of what is appropriate for our family and are starting to make decisions that impress us. Not long ago, we sat down as a family to watch something that was, in my mind, okay, but not great. I noticed Hayden quietly walking upstairs and when I asked where he was going, he said he was going to go draw. When I asked why his response was that he didn’t think that show was right for him. It didn’t take a full second for Matt and me to deem the show inappropriate for the rest of us, and we opened up one of our Christmas Presents: Duck Dynasty Season 5. Everyone was happy with that! And it’s not just the oldest one who is learning discernment. Just a few days later Bailey deemed another show inappropriate for our family, and it was one I was already starting to question.

The boys’ iPods and iPads don’t have internet access unless we specifically turn it on, and when they’re done with what they need, we turn it off again.  All of our computers are password protected and they can’t use them without asking first. When they do use the internet, the boys sit near one of us. The next few sentence are loose quotes from the book:

Did you know that the porn industry makes more money annually than NASCAR, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, basketball, and baseball combined…. Hollywood brings us about 300 movies a year, while the porn industry releases about 700… per month!

I do not doubt the addictive nature of pornography and many of those addicted to it were first introduced to it in their tween years. Not in my house… not if I can help it!

Dirt: Hamrick boys play outside. They dig in the mud. Literally. As I write this my kids are down the street at the corner of our neighborhood building a bike ramp in the drainage ditch. They have been working for a week or two on this project and they keep taking two of our shovels to the “ramp.” Not surprisingly, they have made some pretty neat ramps and jumps out of the dirt ditch. Hours they’ve spent in the mud, and I love it. (And if I had daughters, I have a feeling they’d be right there with them!)

Food: Family dinners are a must. I’m not the greatest cook but we are determined to eat dinner together almost every night.   The only night we don’t is the night Matt and I teach FPU. The boys enjoy that night because they get “junk” food: frozen pizza, macaroni and cheese, etc. There are plenty of studies that discuss the importance of eating meals together. I found a neat website with a quick Google search of “family meals together studies.”  It reports:

Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents.

Check out The Family Dinner Project.

Examples:  Boys need real men to emulate. We are very cautious about who they spend time with. The men we allow to speak into their lives are chosen carefully. The requirements are: they must love God first, their wives second, and their children third. Easy as that. Men who find their priorities swapped will not be around much. We want our boy to have plenty of good examples to follow and we are thankful that there are people in their lives we hope they emulate.

Talk: Conversations about difficult topics occur on a frequent basis. We believe that if we don’t have these conversations with our boys, someone else will, and we can’t trust that what they say will be true to our value system. I could honestly fill an entire blog post with all the conversations that need to be had, that we are having, but if you are an adult you know exactly which conversations I’m talking about. There are resources listed in “Six Ways” that we plan to utilize in our parenting.

Two more things: Finally we want to instill in our boys a strong work ethic and a desire to NOT be complacent about their work or their spiritual lives. Complacency will ruin lives, and I pray my boys will LOVE life and the Lord.  I do not want to see complacency in their careers and their spiritual lives.

I hope you will take the time to read this book if you are raising a boy or four. Very worthwhile and, as a mom of a few of them, a very much appreciated book!

Dannah Gresh has a full website with a lot of advice and a list of her books.  The link to the page that lists the “Six Ways” books is here.

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My birthday – 2014

This birthday was bittersweet for three reasons.  The first was that friends from past years weren’t here.  That’s no surprise, so I won’t belabor that point.

The second is that two families we’ve enjoyed getting to know here in Texas are moving.  In fact, one of them has already moved… they pulled away two days after my party, and are arriving in their new “home” state as I write this blog post.

The third is that I got virtually no pictures.  I totally forgot to have anyone take pictures so the group shots you will see are the lucky pair that Kari took for me… and I am grateful for them!

So, without any further discussion on why this birthday was bittersweet, I will share the details of my birthday with you now… because I know you’re just DYING to know how I celebrated my 37th, right?!?

I have found it fun to continue the tradition of Frogmore stew as my birthday meal.  I love making it, and so far it’s been a big hit with the friends who have had the opportunity to share it with us.  I have somehow lost my massive stock pot, so I made this year’s batch in 3 pots. In my 12-quart I used the spicy sausage and in the other two smaller pots, I used the mild.  This allowed people to decide for themselves if they wanted a bite to their stew!

For our desserts I had one of the sweet girls from our youth group make pumpkin cream cheese cupcakes and I picked up a medium sized cake from HEB.  (HEB is the local grocery store here, and while it’s huge and sort of overwhelming, their cakes are delicious!  And as a bonus, they sell Duke’s Mayo.  I’m a fan!)  In addition to these sweets I had purchased a package of Pumpkin Spice Oreos.  Yes, I’m a sucker for anything pumpkin and I actually like these!

The families who joined us made me feel special and gave me the opportunity to do one of the things I love most:  open my home and spend time with friends.

The men and children spent some time playing Corn Hole while the ladies oohed and ahhed over the little squishy who came.  We were short one of the the men who deployed last week so we wish him well and are very glad his family was able to come (I haven’t gotten permission to use their names in my blog, so this explains why I’m being a tad vague regarding this.)

At my age (I feel old just saying that) I don’t expect or need gifts to make my day special… truly, just having people over suffices!  But my friends did, indeed bring gifts.  Kari sells Norwex, a product I’m head over heels for, and she used my “wish list” to buy everything I wanted!  I love this stuff, and the color of these clothes makes me happy!  (Orchid, if you’re curious.)_JEN4764Included in the above items are an EnviroCloth, a towel and wash cloth set, SpiriSponge and not shown is a dish cloth.  Loving these!

Heather brought a gift that I didn’t open until after we had eaten dinner and had dessert.  I happened to comment that the kids must have enjoyed the Oreos because I didn’t get any.  Heather’s gift made me very happy:

_JEN4768In addition to the Oreos was a Starbucks card.  Oh, she has won my heart!

The Myers’ gift to me is still gorgeous and keeps getting more beautiful by the day.  I love this fall themed bouquet.

_JEN4794If you look closely you will see Pumpkin Bars in the cake platter behind beside the flowers they brought.  Be. Still. My. Heart.

Matt has an iPad Mini and I started stealing it sometime last month to read some books that we don’t have in our physical library.  He decided that this was a good time for me to receive one of my own.  I think I’ve done well… I’m an Apple fan and I’ve waited all these years to own my own iPad!  I’m really enjoying it and love that if I read a few chapters on my phone, the iPad opens to the right page the next time I open it.  (I thought the phone looked cute next to the iPad.) _JEN4774 And in the mail came a journal and cross that have symbolic references to Wiesbaden, my temporary hometown in Germany.  Aimee knows my heart will always love that place, that time…IMG_0187

As I cleaned the kitchen after the party, Carson and I were chatting about what a fun time we had had.  I mentioned that I was really disappointed that I had forgotten pictures, so he snapped about a dozen or so… of all my gifts, of me washing dishes, etc.  They’re all blurry, but it was absolutely precious!  Here’s a blurry one of me!IMG_0175There were four people who didn’t make it into the pictures, but I’m thankful at the very least for these two pictures.   (Thanks, Kari!)  In the first I’m telling everyone which pot is spicy and reminding them to get two bowls: one for food and one for the shrimp peelings.IMG_0190 IMG_0189The day was very special and I really enjoyed having my friends over to celebrate!  Another year of life.  I am beyond blessed!

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I always knew he was distinguished… (continued)


Class of 1999 and 2005

The next day was Homecoming at Gardner-Webb. We arrived at the Tucker Center (GORGEOUS NEW BUILDING!!) for a brunch given in honor of the Distinguished Alumni of 2014. The presentation of the award was a very sweet gesture and we enjoyed hearing what contributions other alumni have made to society. A photographer took photos of each of the award recipients and with those pictures the Alumni Association is going to create a plaque per Alum. These will be placed in a gallery located just inside the Tucker Center. The Alum of the Year award was given posthumously to Staff Sgt. Gass, a Green Beret of the US Army who died of a heart attack during a dangerous mission during which he helped to rescue other injured soldiers. His family received the honor in his stead. _JEN4366


This building was not there when we were in school. It’s gorgeous!


THIS is the BOOKSTORE!! Oh my GOODness, it’s huge!


This is the bottom floor of the Tucker Center. I’m seriously impressed by how beautiful this building is.

Matt and I got to enjoy this brunch with our parents and with my brother. One of the other alumni being honored at the brunch was a close friend of ours, Corie. She and her husband, Matt, (also a US Army Chaplain) were there and we enjoyed catching up with them almost as much as we enjoyed seeing the campus again. The four of us loved Gardner-Webb while we attended, but our love of the place has grown and our memories are treasures to us.

Both of the guys got to go inside their dorm buildings, and Matt, Matt and Corie found a way to get into the classroom of one of their favorite professors to leave a note on the white board. We ate in the Caf for old-time’s sake and walked around the campus and down several memory lanes.

Matt and I always knew our campus was gorgeous but it wasn’t until we left and lived in a place with few trees and little grass that we realized what a special kind of pretty GWU is. I do not like having a front yard of rocks. At GWU there is green, lush grass all over campus. All over NC, for that matter. The trees were just starting to turn colors the weekend we were there. When our plane took off from Charlotte, I was amazed. Trees as far as I could see. I was so stunned I snapped a picture on my phone. When we landed in TX Isnapped  another picture so I could post the two side-by-side. You’ll be able to see the difference!

Anyway, enough NC love for now.

After the brunch, a quick tour of the campus then lunch in the Caf, we headed to the football stadium. The game got off on the right foot and at one point I asked Matt if he had seen the goal. “Goal?” he asked. “Yes. Did you see the goal?” He then proceeded to tell me that in football it’s not called a goal. It’s a touchdown. Hmph. Same-same.

_JEN4422 _JEN4401At halftime, just after the homecoming court was announced, the panel of seven Distinguished Alumni was lead onto the field. Each one was introduced and then the story of the Alum of the Year was read. Gratefully the crowd was listening and before long, both sides, home and away, were standing and clapping in memory and honor of the soldier who gave his life in defense of the United States of America. It was a great moment. I was a part of so many good communities at that moment: the US Army; Gardner-Webb, North Carolina and of course, the United States of America.

_JEN4432 _JEN4458The weather was outstanding. A perfect fall day on all accounts. My husband’s achievements were being recognized by his Alma Mater, our family was in the stands cheering, and we were literally surrounded by thousands of great people.

After the football festivities we headed back to the hotel so Matt could get out of his uniform. We chatted with family for a couple of hours before they headed back home. It was late enough for dinner at this time, so Matt and I enjoyed a quick dinner at a local place in Boiling Springs. We followed this with a leisurely hour-long stroll throughout the campus we will always love.

This place... I relax just looking at pictures of it.  Being there was even more relaxing.

This place… I relax just looking at pictures of it. Being there was even more relaxing.


This is the building where I had most of my classes.  Craig Hall.

This is the building where I had most of my classes. Craig Hall.

The DCC.  (Dover Campus Center.)  This was the hub of activity when we were there.  It had the mailboxes, the Caf, the walk-up snack bar.  The Tucker Center has replaced some of those functions, but now this building has a Starbucks and a Chick-fil-a.  A CHICK-FIL-A, PEOPLE!

The DCC. (Dover Campus Center.) This was the hub of activity when we were there. It had the mailboxes, the Caf, the walk-up snack bar. The Tucker Center has replaced some of those functions, but now this building has a Starbucks and a Chick-fil-a. A CHICK-FIL-A, PEOPLE!

Inside the bottom level of the DCC.  The wooden wall used to contain our mailboxes.  No longer...

Inside the bottom level of the DCC. The wooden wall used to contain our mailboxes. No longer…

My apartment was middle floor.  Good times.

My apartment was on the middle floor. Good times.

The Bell tower.  They were building this when we arrived.  It's always been a part of our GWU experience.

The Bell tower. They were building this when we arrived. It’s always been a part of our GWU experience.


Breathtaking.  Can you see the Football stadium in the break in the trees?

Breathtaking. Can you see the Football stadium in the break in the trees?

The lake-side of the Tucker Center.

The lake-side of the Tucker Center.

We fell in love before we started our time at Gardner-Webb, but our love grew daily while we were there. We had memories in almost every building on that campus, and loved every second of the time we got to relive those as we walked.

While most of the memories we were reliving were from our college days, every now and then a memory from our early parenting days would pop up. We lived about 10 minutes from Gardner-Webb for six years and we had all three of the bigs during those years. We had memories of the very first time we ever put Hayden in a stroller and memories of taking them to the quad to ride their bikes.

March 29, 2004.  Bailey was 11 days old and we went to visit daddy at GWU.

March 29, 2004. Bailey was 11 days old and we went to visit daddy at GWU.

Boiling Springs will forever be a special place to us. We love our story and we enjoy traveling back to soak in the beauty of Gardner-Webb.

I guarantee my campus is prettier than your campus. That is unless you also went to Gardner-Webb, in which case, your campus is equally as pretty as mine.

And as promised, a comparison between NC and TX as seen from an airplane.

Trees in NC.  Dirt in TX.

Trees in NC. Dirt in TX.

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I always knew he was distinguished…

…now the rest of Gardner-Webb does, too.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 10.20.22 AM

Several weeks ago Matt received communication from Gardner-Webb University that he had been nominated as a Distinguished Alum.  It was an honor to be nominated and I was very proud of him.  Accepting this honor allowed us to have a fantastic whirlwind weekend!

IMG_5113Matt and I left early Friday morning and flew (alone!) to Charlotte, NC.  We landed safely and headed toward baggage claim.  As we rode down the escalators to baggage claim we saw Mason, our nephew!  Josh (my brother) Ashley, and their littles surprised us at the airport! How sweet! Especially considering it’s an international airport and parking is a bear.

After we got our luggage we told Josh and Ashley we’d meet them at Gander Mountain for a little shopping. We had some time to kill before our dinner plans. Matt and I rode a bus a short distance to the airport’s Hertz office where I stood in line for an hour and a half waiting to receive our car. This was insane, and I’ve decided that next time I’ll either select a different company or I’ll splurge for the GOLD member status… those people had no wait at all. (NOTE: I was able to rent a car using my debit card, so even though there was a ridiculous wait, I am grateful that Hertz still accepts real money instead of demanding its customers pay with debt.)   We didn’t make it to Gander Mtn. In fact, we drove through 5:00 traffic and pulled into the restaurant at exactly the time I had hoped to: 6:15!

I had told Matt we were meeting his mom, my parents, and my brother and his family for a birthday dinner for my dad. When we entered the room of the Italian place we had selected, 47 of our friends and family were already seated. I had managed to surprise Matt with a promotion party!


A room full of people celebrating Matt’s promotion, Distinguished Alumni status, Bronze Star award, and his coming home safely from Afghanistan.


My parents (in the back) along with my precious cousins… they traveled a long distance to attend!


And Madison says, “CHEEEEEESE!”


My grandparents. Josh (my brother) and Ashley with Mason between. My Uncle Steve and Aunt Antonia with Brooke in the foreground, hugging Madison.  Brett would have been here but he’s away at Basic Training… HOOAH!


Matt’s cousins. Some of them, anyway!  The Hovis, Wensil, and Robinson Families…


Matt’s aunts and uncles, and more of his cousins!


Small Town Friendly REPRESENTS!


No, that is not Parker on Matt’s cake! That’s Matt! (Thank you, Sybil, for taking care of the cake!)


Youth all grown up!


We all ordered, ate, and then, while we enjoyed cake, I had a slideshow of images from Matt’s most recent deployment to share. Also included in the slideshow were pictures from Matt’s Bronze Star ceremony, promotion, and change of command ceremony. It was so neat for us to be able to share this part of our lives with our NC friends and family; people with no connection to the military whatsoever. Well, no connection other than Matt.

It took some effort to make this night happen:

Matt’s mom brought a cake; my parents brought a large-screen TV to show the slideshow on; my brother saved the evening by running to Radio Shack to purchase an HDMI cable… (I didn’t realize I’d need one).  Families came from a great distance to show Matt how proud they are of him and I honestly couldn’t have asked for the night to be any sweeter! (Well, except for the fact that some loved ones were unable to come. We definitely missed a few friends and family members who had prior commitments.)

Stay tuned… tomorrow I’ll post the rest of the story.

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Sacrifice of separation, but not the kind you are thinking of…

I recently wrote about our most recent reintegration experiences.  That time of relearning what life is like as a family.

The first two weeks that I force Matt to “vacation” at home allow him a chance to unwind.  Deployed soldiers are on guard 24/7.  They live in the battlefield.  It’s not like they retreat from the battle… sure, they’re fairly safe on their FOBs, but the very term, FOB, indicates their location: Forward Operating Base.  “A base at the forward of the fight.”  Right there.  In the middle of it all.  So those two weeks of mental and physical vacation helped Matt settle his mind and spirit; to recognize in the deepest of places that he was home and safe.

I had a conversation last week with some fellow 1-227 wives during which one recalled a documentary she had recently watched.  The documentary stated that one possible reason that PTSD has become so much more prevalent after these wars is that soldiers go from the battlefield to the home in a 48 hour period.  In past wars, soldiers spent 2-3 months with their battle buddies on a ship, debriefing and decompressing; realizing slowly that they were no longer on the battlefield.  I shared this insight with Matt and he said that he had heard a similar insight about soldiers sleeping in the middle of the battle also adding to the increase in PTSD.  Sleeping on a FOB… as our soldiers do in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Matt is so glad to be home.  He loves being home and he is fully engaged here with us.  But he misses the guys he served with.  Some have already moved on to new duty stations; some are still in Afghanistan, wrapping up our unit’s final responsibilities.  Some have changed units already, and Matt will later this month.  Living 24/7 with people in a dangerous situation creates bonds that I will not ever completely understand.  And I recognize that in a 48 hour time period, Matt had to say “see ya” to many of them.  Sure, he sees some of them at work, some around Fort Hood, others via Facebook or text, but that’s totally different from living/sleeping/working/eating together.

Almost all of my non-military friends have wished Matt well, prayed for him, sent him cards or packages, thanking him for his service.  You know well of the separations from family that he has endured.  You know well that he was in a place where bad things happen.  You know well that he was willing to risk his safety “for God and Country.”  I just wanted you to know that the sacrifices didn’t end the moment his boots hit US soil; that there are sacrifices he has made or still makes that he doesn’t share.  Even with me.  Sacrifices that are almost too sensitive to talk about.  If his Army buddies read this, they might fully agree but I doubt they’d too loudly shout AMEN.  They’re tough, battle hardened men who only share their hearts when they really feel safe to.  And speaking of that, I had the incredible honor of being at a small party Friday night during which this happened.  I saw these guys who have served our Army so bravely share from their hearts how they feel about each other.  There was plenty of laughter going around and one ended up in the pool fully clothed (we made sure he didn’t have his phone in his pocket) but what I took away from that night was that this group of soldiers are forever bound together by their experiences.  I simply could not believe I was in their presence as they spoke.  I didn’t want to make too much noise laughing at their stories for fear that they would notice an outsider among them and quiet down.  They were in their own world.  They were back in Afghanistan, but not fully.  They were safe and their guards were down, and they were sharing the funny stories about flying mostly-broken Apaches, how one used a sausage to prop his TV up… the scary stories about firefights that took them by surprise and about landing near IEDs that ended up being nothing more than PVC pipes.  They told about being awake for days on end and having to brief Generals in their exhaustion, and they told about being woken in the middle of the night to fly missions… about how dirty one of the officers kept his room and about how neat-freak another one was (to the point that he ordered a vacuum off Amazon just to keep his office clean).

These guys… they sacrificed time away from their families.  We all know about that sacrifice.  I know about that sacrifice.  And now that they’re home (at least most of 1-227 is home) they are sacrificing in a totally different way, and it’s tough.  They’re glad to be home with their families, definitely, but this is a different sacrifice the US has asked them to make.  And they try to do it with grace and humility, mostly because they are too tough to do it with anything less than grace and humility.

Matt is home, and he is excited about this next amazing step in his career.  But he will forever be a part of 1-227 and 1-227 will forever be a part of Matt.  The bonds he created in Afghanistan mean more to him than he can relate to me, but I feel it.  I’m honored to be married to someone who sacrificed in service to his country by joining the military, and has deployed twice in her defense.  His sacrifice is continual.

Here is an image of Matt and some of his battle buddies during their patch ceremony.  These patches mean a great deal to the soldiers who wear them on their sleeves. Patch ceremony

So there is, of course, the sacrifice of a soldier separated from his or her family, but when that solder returns, he or she faces a new kind of separation, and one that few really ever talk about.  I just thought you should know.

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