A Hotel Adventure for Anna

Because the hotel can get a bit old for Anna we try to let her get out of the room and lead us on an adventure at least once a day. This is the time where SHE gets to pick which “alligator” we ride on, which floor we ride to, or which set of stairs we take. This is a great way to get her wiggles out just before bedtime!

One of her favorite games is to turn on the motion-sensing light on the walls in the hallways. As she runs down the hallway they magically come on. Another game she enjoys is to climb up the stairs while making loud echoing noises! But her favorite game is to press the buttons and ride the ‘alligator.’ If she runs into a puppy sometime along the way then her day is made.

The following video may make some people motion sick and will likely only be interesting to the grandparents, so consider yourself warned.

(I love the arm swing and the tentative way she steps across the threshold of the elevator! And please excuse the hair. Brothers had done her hair in a man-bun and it was in need of some TLC.)

Hotel Adventure from jennifer Hamrick on Vimeo.

Posted in family, germany, military, moving, Probably only interesting to the boys' grandparents., travel | 1 Comment

Life in the Panzer Hotel

In my last post I shared about the house we are going to be moving into. We really are excited to move into it and start our new life there. In fact, we were out at Kelley for a little while last week setting up our new CMR and checking out the commissary and just being there gave me butterflies of excitement! As I mentioned in that post, Matt and I met our upstairs neighbor when we toured the house. Monday we were thrilled to run into their whole family at the Food Court. We really look forward to being their neighbors! In the meantime we are actually pretty comfortable and making life as normal as possible while living in the hotel.

Life will become more complicated once we move, in some ways. In other ways, it’ll become more simple. In order to explain, let me tell you a little about Stuttgart as a duty station which will be especially helpful for those who haven’t had an overseas assignment. You can take a map and draw a big circle around the area that Fort Hood consists of. Same with Jackson, Carson, etc. However, in Germany our “post” is actually made up of several very small “posts,” so if you look at a map of Stuttgart and you want to craw a circle around the area that is “USAG Stuttgart” you’ll actually have to draw four (five?) different circles.

Patch and Panzer are very close to one another; Kelley is a bit farther away, and Robinson is way out in the boonies.  The BEAUTIFUL boonies, but still, it’s a good distance, especially with the traffic.

Here are the official names of the  mini posts: Panzer Kaserne, Kelley Barracks, Patch Barracks, and Robinson Barracks. “Kaserne” is a German word that means “barracks” so my question is why aren’t they all called kasernes? Or all called barracks? (There’s also an airfield here but I don’t think anyone lives there. I’m focusing on the four that have housing.) Here is a fun article about the location with a bit of history and what goes on on each of the mini posts.

Matt will be working on Panzer, which is where we are currently living in the hotel. His office is two buildings over and takes just a couple of minutes to walk over there. This is quite convenient for us with regards to Matt being able to spend a lot of time with us during these in-processing weeks. It’s convenient in that when we’re bored we can walk over to the PX and we can take advantage of the daily offerings of the USO.

In another post I mentioned that the hotel staff picked out rooms for us that are near the bridge. That has proven to be absolutely wonderful. The hotel’s parking lot is great for parking cars but it is not at all convenient if you need to go anywhere on foot therefor they built a bridge leaving from the third floor that takes you straight to the sidewalk giving you much easier access to everything.

Oh, and we are very close to the “alligators” and the coffee machine that produces Jacobs coffee 24/7. For those who have lived here before you know just how delectable that coffee is. (“Alligators” is Anna’s word for elevators.)

From the bridge:

This is from the bridge toward the parking lot. If you look closely, on the far right of the picture you can see the driveway from the PX parking lot down to the hotel’s parking lot. It is kind of steep. Because of that most people to ride the elevator to the third floor and use the bridge when going anywhere on foot.

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If you walk the bridge to the sidewalk and cross the street, the building you’d enter houses the bank, USO, ACS, VAT office, and more. We are in that building 5-6 times a week for various reasons… mostly popcorn and drinks from the USO. They have a movie library and a gaming system that we enjoy as well. The staff are very helpful and welcoming. The picture below was taken from our living room window.

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If you turn left at the end of the bridge you head directly toward the PX.  (The PX is the one-level building in the center of the picture which was taken from the bridge.)

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Between the USO building and the PX are other buildings that have other important offices: the housing office, for example.

If you turn right at the end of the bridge you are heading toward the Chapel. The first building you pass is for maintenance use only… the next is the Chapel. Beyond that are other things like schools, the commissary, shoppette, etc.

The following picture was taken from inside the hotel at the end of one of the hallways. You can see the angled roofline of the bowling alley. Just in front of that is a half-circle building. That’s the back of the chapel – the part that houses the offices and nursery. The sanctuary is the darker front half, though you can see two vertical stained glass windows.

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The following picture was taken from the chapel looking back at the hotel.img_0206

And here are pictures OF the bridge as seen coming from the PX.

img_0236img_0239Poor guy didn’t know I was taking a picture of him. Our windows are the first three to the left of the bridge. img_0241

A few days ago I included the following video in another post, but since this one is about the hotel I’m including it in this post as well. It’s a quick tour of the Family room and regular room we have.

Today we ate lunch at the USO as they serve hotdogs every Wednesday. Tonight the bigs go to their second night of youth.

In about 20 minutes we’re going to ride out to Kelley to check our mail. We checked on the status of our house today and the lady said it could be ready as early as Friday. I’m not counting on it. In fact, I see us being here another week or so, but that’s just my gut talking. I have nothing to base it on other than I know that maintenance and housing offices aren’t known for moving that quickly.

Stay tuned… the next blog post will have an enthralling video of Anna’s Adventures in Hotel Living.

 

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Our second Germany house…

I call it a “Germany” house rather than a “German” house because these quarters in no way resemble German houses. They are quite sterile and prison-like on the exterior but they are as homey as you want them to be on the inside.

We have found ourselves in the blessed situation once again to be assigned to a unit that has five bedrooms – more than we had in Texas! Several years ago the Army renovated a few 24-unit buildings and created 12 larger apartments in each building. This allows for big families to fit more comfortably in military housing.

This is exactly what we had in Wiesbaden. The floor plan in that house was super simple.   Facing the house, on the left were the living room, kitchen, dining room, and office.  Basically, a square with rooms in the four corners, very open. Starting midway through the building and going all the way to the right were the bedrooms, a bathroom, and laundry room.

The Stuttgart floor plan is slightly more elaborate. On the left are two bedrooms (Anna’s and one we’ll use it as an office), a bathroom, living room, dining room, and kitchen. The hallway, rather than being a long, straight bowling alley,  turns halfway through, leading to the right half of the building which houses the rest of the bedrooms and the laundry room. I’m thinking I’ll like this floor plan more than the other, but I’m not 100% sure yet. Only time will tell.

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NOTE: If you are a detail nut like I was about this floor-plan and the video on YouTube I link to, they numbered the rooms differently. I’ve labeled this to match the video.

I believe the square footage here is a little less than in Wiesbaden, but I’ll know more once we get the furniture in. I’m pretty sure the overall length of the unit is shorter by several feet.

The process of getting housing here in Stuttgart is incredibly vague. In a Facebook group designed for people who expect to move here, the number one question is “what can I expect regarding housing?” As badly as anyone wants to answer and to give the newbie hope, no one can. The answer is literally, “You’ll just have to wait and see once you get here.”

They have a rule in place that if they can provide you with a house within 60 days you are required to live on post. They need to keep their units occupied, which makes financial sense. However, the rigidity of the rule has caused some families to have to live on post who want off, and some to live off who want on. It seems to me that if the unit is filled, it should be up to the housing employees to make the decision but they are required to go by the letter of the law.

Here’s an example: because of our family size we are automatically granted a CNA: Certified Non-Availablity.  This gives us the opportunity to completely skip the on-post list and start looking off. However, we want to be on post. I’d love to be able to hand that letter to another family who wants it. Say a family of four wants to be off post to experience the German culture more fully. If housing has a unit for them to move into within 60 days of arriving, that family must live in that apartment. I feel that the rule is just too strict.

That is getting into the weeds and won’t matter to the vast majority of people who read this, but there will be one or two people who appreciate the details. Possibly someone PCSing to Stuttgart who wants to know what the housing situation really is like. Or Kari. She really likes details.

And so the hotel is filled with people waiting to find out if there will be a unit available for their family.  Some with fingers crossed that there will be, others with fingers crossed that there won’t be. And their wishes aren’t able to be considered by the housing employees.

Here are a few more details that are going to be a bit loose… Matt may need to reword some if for me.  Before we got here we were instructed by our friend, Heidi, to make our hotel reservations ASAP.  I believe I did so in July, and for 60 days (the longest they allow).  We selected Panzer because it has the majority of in-processing, the Chapel with Matt’s office, the PX, the USO, and a small commissary. It was a no-brainer.

  • We submitted a letter at in early fall to housing stating that we were going to be here 28 December
  • Once we cleared Fort Hood we were put on some magical list.
  • A month or so before we arrived we found out Matt would have to go to a housing briefing before he could ever go talk to anyone at housing. Fortunately, while we were still in Texas, he was able to sign up for the first briefing they held after our arrival.
  • Matt began the in-processing briefings on 3 January. We were told that once he had done the housing briefing he request an appointment with the housing office. At 10:30 that morning he texted letting me know that he had gotten an appointment with housing for NOON! My heart started beating out of my chest! That was not at all what we expected! Deep breaths. I knew that our friends and family, and my parents’ entire church, have been praying that we’d get a house immediately, and I was hoping for such news, but I was mostly excited to KNOW something. I was unwilling to get my hopes up.
  • At noon we arrived and signed in. We were immediately taken to our assigned housing coordinator and over the next thirty minutes found out that there were a few options.  We really liked the sound of that!
  • At this point I’m leaving the bulleted list because I’m transitioning from the normal experiences one would have to our own.
Before I continue on our experiences of the day, here are more details about the 5-Bedroom units on Kelley Barracks. B units are in the center sandwiched between the end units, A & C.  They are slightly smaller than the end units, by approximately 5 feet in length.  That is quite noticeable in a few of the rooms, so the coordinator wanted us to look at both kinds of units.
There are two “pros” of the C unit:  obviously the extra five feet of space which made the living room, a bathroom, and what would have been Anna’s bedroom noticeably larger. The other pro is that it was on the bottom floor. Quite convenient!
The B unit has cons that are the inverse of C’s pros: it’s smaller and it’s on the third floor. Lots. Of. Stairs.
I spent months looking at and envisioning our stuff in the unit in the YouTube video online. Thanks to the video and the floor plan housing emailed to me, I had virtually placed my furniture and selected which rooms would house everyone. I could walk through the house and see my home.
The video was of a B unit… C was in reverse and both Matt and I felt totally discombobulated in it. Because of that were leaning heavily toward the B unit in spite of the stairs and size difference. As we were leaving the B unit we were fortunate enough to meet our upstairs neighbor and two of her kids. It was a God-ordained encounter if ever their was one. That “chance” meeting sealed the deal. Not that the people in the other stairwell wouldn’t have been great, but there was something so friendly and genuine about our upstairs neighbor that there was no question. She gave me the scoop about the stairwell: “Everyone’s friendly but nobody’s nosy! No drama.”
SPEAKING MY LANGUAGE!
Matt and I took the tour of the two houses without the kids. Matt had more in-processing meetings to attend so he wasn’t able to go back out to the house later that afternoon to show it to the kids. They loved it and don’t even mind the stairs…. yet. In fact, for some reason Carson didn’t want to be on the bottom floor so we told him this may be the one special treat God had in mind for him.
The first thirty seconds of the video I took holding the phone vertically. I noticed and decided that, rather than let it go, I wanted to fix it. This is why there’s a break in the filming. Please disregard the craziness of the family going through the house. It was honestly the calmest first-walk-through we’ve ever had!
I plan to do another walk through with the phone at a later date, before our stuff comes, so maybe I’ll update this post with a better (shorter) version later.
 Here are images of the walk through with drawings on them to help orientate you and captions above each when necessary. These are stills from the video so please forgive the blurry images and my comments with each are assuming you watched the video.
Below: This picture is from our balcony. I am including it because it gives you an idea of what the stairwells look like on the outside.
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Below: I was standing almost exactly where Parker is when I videoed them coming in the front door. The door you see behind him leads to the balcony.
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Almost the same picture as above but you can get a better idea of where the entrance hallway is and where the kitchen is. My back is to the hallway to the rest of the bedrooms.frame-13-01-2018-02-42-50

In the above picture I was standing about where the top arrow is pointing to the hallway to the back bedrooms. Below, I’m standing in the middle of the living room with my back to the balcony doors.  Bailey is about to walk into the kitchen. frame-13-01-2018-02-39-12frame-13-01-2018-02-39-37

Below: I’m standing in the kitchen, just barely. You can see the arrow to the balcony. From here you can see the little hallway that has the front entrance, the bathroom to the left of Anna’s room, Anna’s room, and the office.frame-13-01-2018-02-44-13

Above: If you see where I’ve written the word, “bathroom,” that is exactly where Bailey is standing in the image below. He is facing the front door. So when we walk in the door we are literally standing in the hallway with the main bathroom on our left facing the door to the office.  To me it’s a strange floor plan but I can’t wait to make it our home.

frame-13-01-2018-02-41-11With that, the initial tour of our new home is complete. I’ll try to do another walk-through and post it without the kids in the video.

I’ve since gone back to the unit just to say hello to the upstairs neighbor again and to give her my information. We had a good chat and I really look forward to being her neighbor and her friend!

Posted in family, germany, military, moving | 3 Comments

Our first week back in Germany…

 The last post, Up, up, and AWAY!, shared the journey from Nana’s house to boots-on-the-ground in Germany. I pick up just 15 minutes after the wheels hit German soil:
We left the plane and began the process of collecting all 19 bags.  (We had a total of 23 items plus our seven people, but we only checked 19 bags.) A very kind American woman noticed our situation (also Army) and put I don’t know how many Euros into the cart-machine to help us get several carts.
Once we moved all the bags that we recognized off to the side, I had the kids call out the numbers I had written on luggage tags while I checked them off. It was at that point we realized one was missing. The next part was tedious but necessary: when we checked all the bags in Charlotte they had given me all 19 stickers for the bags. We had to find out which of the stickers belonged to the missing bag. Once completed we filed a missing bag report and they assured us that our bag, which was at that moment in Paris, would be delivered to our hotel within 24 hours.
We had more carts than cart-pushers so it was quite an interesting sight, us moving through the small airport.
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Somehow we managed and once through the glass doors we saw CH Lands, a friend from our C4 days. He had brought two other people to help and they loaded the vehicles quite efficiently and strategically, and were finally on our way to the hotel. Oh, I forgot to mention, it was snowing when we landed! We were all so excited to see snow!
I don’t really remember our first few moments in the hotel, as hard as I try to recall them. I do remember the staff telling us they were giving us a room “near the bridge” which would be a big help to us.  (It has been wonderful! I’ll explain later.) I think we spent most of the afternoon going through our luggage to see what we needed right away.
While I worked and unpacked Parker built a Lego set. It was a set he bought with Christmas-gift money while out shopping with Nana and Mason, but we decided to not let him open until we arrived in our hotel. He was upset in NC that we wouldn’t let him open it but, as we expected, he was really glad he had a brand new set to build while we were all preoccupied. (I only remember this because I have a video of him thinking Nana!)  In this video is a tour of our “Family Room” and the “normal room” connected to it. Our set-up is quite feasible for our family.
We had dinner at the PX: big mistake. The service was (and has been every time) horrible at the Burger King. (Pretty close to “ICE Comment” horrible.)
We went to bed around 7 or 8 and slept all night. I, for one, never had a bit of jet lag. I think we planned our flights perfectly. Matt had about a week of feeling groggy and tired, and about the 7th night he went to bed very early. That seems to have knocked the jet lag off.
On our first full day we took the kids bowling and had dinner at the bowling alley.  I have been eating very healthfully (thanks to Optavia) and when out and about I’ve had salads with grilled chicken. That is what I ordered from the bowling alley… it was so-so, at best. I was very much OVER having less-than-tasty salads in restaurants so I decided that the next night on I would use my Instant Pot to make my own chicken and would put it over my own salads!

 

When we left the bowling alley that night it had started snowing in earnest. Anna squealed and said it tickled. We got back to our room around 8:00 pm and began our second night in Germany.
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Above: That night I asked around on a Stuttgart Facebook group to see if anyone had a bunting we could borrow.  Sure enough, someone had one we can use until ours arrives in our unaccompanied baggage so little Anna is MUCH more cozy in her stroller now!
Below: This photo was taken from the bridge toward the parking lot.
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The next day we walked and explored Panzer (where we are staying) and rode the shuttle to explore Patch. I got a few groceries from the Patch commissary and a transformer from the front desk and proceeded to make my own dinner.
The 31st was a Sunday and we went to Chapel. I really felt drawn to a certain verse in one of the worship songs and I smiled when a church leader got up and asked the worship team to put that very verse back on the screen.  He talked about it and read a scripture to go along with it. Just showed me that the Holy Spirit was there and working.
Because we were afraid to try the PX again we bought chicken from a food truck (DELICIOUS!!!) and boarded the shuttle to explore Kelley, the kaserne we hoped to get a house on.  (Spoiler alert: we have since learned we will be living there!) We didn’t explore much because the next bus came around pretty quickly and, as it was not only a weekend but a holiday weekend, we didn’t want to get stuck!
Fireworks began sounding around 10:00 and continued until 1:00 am! They were just out of sight but we could hear them.  From the bridge I took the following video. If you look really closely you can see fireworks through the trees.
Several nights we played family games and watched movies.  I cooked four pounds of ground beef in the Instant Pot and split it in half: I made spaghetti sauce out of half and taco meat out of the other.
On January 1st we decided to buy a 7-seater Volvo wagon from CH Lands and that gave us the ability to scoot around town at our own pace. Our first trip was to a skate park.  We enjoyed getting out and seeing a bit of the city we now call home.  Anna wore piggy tails for the first time!  SO ADORABLE!!  While at these skatepark Anna and daddy played on a nearby playground.
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Tuesday I made hamburgers in the Instant Pot!  Whoever came up with this idea is brilliant!
They were in individual packets so they were juicy and cooked to perfection. (The “H” is for Hayden – he wanted cheese.)
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The family had devoured the first batches of spaghetti and tacos so I made another two pounds of each and they ate the spaghetti one day for lunch and we had tacos for dinner another night.
My second big (at least for hotel-living) grocery trip was yesterday and we have three different meals on the menu. I am SO GLAD people suggested I bring my Instant Pot with me as part of my luggage!
That shares about our first week back.  I’ll write more soon!
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Up, up, and AWAY!

There are only two things that could have made our flights from the US to Germany better. The first would have been a straight flight from Charlotte to Stuttgart. Since that’s not a route offered, there were three legs:  Charlotte > JFK > Amsterdam > Stuttgart. Before Matt went to Travel to select our flights we researched the best times for the actual overseas flight and found that there was one that left the east coast at 9:35 PM. He was able to secure that flight which meant we had a higher chance of sleeping on that long flight. (Let’s be honest… it meant we had a higher chance of ANNA sleeping on that long flight.)

The second thing that could have made our flights better is if our seats had been first class, but that’s not how the Army rolls.

As I described in my previous post, planning for this set of flights started at least a week beforehand. We were allotted three bags per person since the Army is well aware that we may have to live in a hotel for two to four months using just what we brought with us. The housing situation we were stepping into was this: “Wait until you get here, in-process, go to a briefing, and finally get an appointment with housing.” This means we needed to bring with us clothes, hangers, different sizes of coats, different kinds of shoes, games: anything to make living in the hotel for an extended period of time comfortable.  One of my suitcases was dedicated to my Instant Pot, a decision I grow more and more thankful for with each passing day.

While we travel from Texas to NC the bags we knew we wouldn’t need until Germany were loaded in the U-Haul toward in the back. They stayed there until we got to re-stage in the conference center lobby at Great Wolf Lodge. At that time I weighed the bags, sorted them based on when we’d need them again, and then loaded them into my dad’s truck.  Nine of the bags were able to stay there until we were dropped off at the airport.

The amount of luggage we had grew by two suitcases so we had to buy more (plus we left things at my parents’ house for them to ship later). The day before flying I numbered each bag (there were 19 including the pack-n-play). On a sheet of paper I loosely described what was in each bag, listing the things I thought I may need to find quickly at some point. This turned out to be immensely helpful on several occasions, keeping me from digging through 19 bags to find something specific. It was absolutely critical in that one of our bags didn’t make it to Stuttgart at the same time we did but took a side-trip to Paris. I was able to pull out my list and have everyone call out the numbers on the tags. The tag that wasn’t checked off was Hayden’s suitcase.  Poor kid!  It arrived only 24 hours later.

Anyway, back to our actual travel experiences:

We wanted to arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare since we were checking seven people into an overseas flight with 19 bags. My parents and my brother and his family met us for one last Bojangles meal. I was in ARMY WIFE mode (numb, focused, ready to get each task ahead of me checked off, slightly nervous about getting all of our stuff checked in, getting all of us through security… basically, I had a lot on my mind). I mention that to say I wasn’t in “picture taking mode” and so this is the only good shot I got!

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Our caravan then left for the airport: My brother driving my dad’s big truck with the trailer; Ashley driving her Explorer; and my dad driving his Lexus. Somewhere in these three cars I trusted all of my kids were situated. (The Home Alone headcount was definitely running through my head.)

I knew logically that our last hugs and loves would be in Bojangles… I knew drop off would be crazy, but I couldn’t have predicted that I would be totally tied up getting Anna switched from her car seat to her stroller and would miss the entire thing! I missed getting good, solid hugs from my family, but I know they understand! They know ANNA! There’s no way I could let go of her for a second to hug someone or she would have been on a flight to Paris with Hayden’s suitcase!

When we first pulled up to the airport I jumped out to start getting luggage carts. Before I could put money in a man came up with a HUGE rolling cart (bigger than a hotel cart) and asked if I needed help. BLESS HIM! All of our luggage fit on his cart and he took us straight to the “Special Customers” desk designed for crazy people like us! Even though we were first in line it took at least thirty minutes to get all of our luggage checked. We arrived at the airport around 1:30 PM and were through security at 2:37 PM… so not too bad if I do say so. For me, that was the most stressful part of the journey! From there I knew we were good to go.

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Once through security we made a beeline for the USO. We wanted a place to settle in for a few hours while we waited for our boarding time. Incredibly helpful and kind volunteers made our time waiting wonderful. I enjoyed a Starbucks coffee while we waited and Anna got a little nap on me while we snuggled in the recliner. The boys raided the buckets of candy set out and ate other treats the USO provides.

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It was a time to let our nerves settle a bit and regroup. By the time we headed toward our gate we were rested and ready.
We boarded and before we knew it were wheels-up – on our way to JFK in New York. Anna and I sat together and I had her bucked into her seat using our super cool airplane seatbelt. She wanted the red seat belt buckled, too!
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We had just under two hours between our first and second flights and we made it to our gate with very little time to spare.  We passed some pretty good options for dinner thinking that there’d be a good selection near our gate. Nope. What we found were convenience store type meals.  I grabbed a salad and I honestly don’t remember what everyone else got. I believe we got yogurt and a banana for Anna.
On this flight we didn’t bother bucking Anna in. We were on the lower level of a KLM 747, seated in a straight row.  Matt, Anna, and I took the set of three seats and put the boys in the middle of the plane in the set of four.
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Here you will see that, while she slept fitfully, she slept pretty much the entire flight. 
 
I dozed off and on, switching between watching stupid TV shows and documentaries on how airplanes fly. I learned some pretty cool stuff! Did you know that airline pilots fly on autopilot almost the whole flight, including landing?!? I always thought it was more like cruise control on a car but it’s way more than that.
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We landed and had approximately two hours before our final leg:  Amsterdam to Stuttgart.
Because we had eaten a time or two on the flight none of us were particularly hungry but we did enjoy a coffee or hot chocolate near our gate. We took turns watching Anna as she stretched those tiny but oh-so-powerful legs. Parker fell back asleep while we waited for the flight to board. So far, each flight we had taken had allowed those with small children and strollers to board first. This was fantastic and allowed us time to get settled in without bothering other passengers. When the start time for boarding came and went and the attendants hadn’t called for anyone much less families with small children, I walked over and asked them if they intended to do that. The ladies oohed- and ahhhed  over Anna and proceeded to welcome our entire family onto the plane before they even started boarding. This was perfect because between the moment I asked if they were going to call for families and the time we were on the plane, Anna had done some business and I needed time in the bathroom to take care of it! Let’s just say that changing an almost-two-year-old’s diaper in an airplane bathroom (the bathroom of a TINY airplane bathroom, at that) is an exercise in patience, coordination, and it requires a bit of skill.
Once done Anna and I sat together with her bucked in once again and we made the short flight to our new home. Parker slept… again.
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I’ll continue in the next post with our experiences once we landed. We were so thankful that we had made all the flights and that the day had gone as well as it did.
We started our journey at 11:30 am when we left Nana’s house.  We landed at 2:00 pm Germany time – which was 8:00 am east coast time.  That means we had traveled for 20.5  hours. By the time we got to the hotel it was a total of about 23 hours!  Matt and I really do have some amazing travelers and we believe the prayers of many helped our day go so well.  Thank you!!

 

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Christmas 2017

From the moment we hit the North Carolina border we were in Christmas mode.  We spent our time in that beautiful state visiting family on both sides.

So much has gone on in the past two weeks (and one day) that there is no way I can give a full description of our Christmas experiences, so I’ll just add blurbs followed by a few pictures.

Grammy gives us ornaments each year with money inside and we all enjoyed opening those. I’m going to have to set up a separate tree from now on just to hold these ornaments!  Anna liked the scarf she gave me and wore it for two days.

From Grammy’s it was on to Great Wolf Lodge where I spent the first two hours sorting the load of luggage the U-Haul had carried. Because there wasn’t a conference in session, GWL graciously let me use their conference hall lobby for staging.  I was working feverishly so that I could join my kids in the pool so I didn’t get a really good picture of all the luggage. My dad brought his trailer so we transferred everything from the U-Haul to that, and I strategically packed the trailer with bags that we didn’t need to see again until Germany in the back, and bags that we’d need at Nana’s in the front.

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And I got no pictures in the water area because we were PLAYING!  Anna loved the water and was super brave. She was even brave when there were no vests and she had to try to battle water that was chest-deep. I had to be right with her because when she lost her footing it was hard for her to regain it. Thankfully more puddle-jumpers appeared before too long or I would have gotten bored of that game!
GWL has no guest washing machines and we were quite desperate, so a neighboring hotel allowed me to come wash laundry there. I left there after 9:30 one night to get one absolutely-necessary load done. Nothing like being in-between homes and living out of suitcases to remind me just how much I love having a washing machine and dryer handy.
We left GWL and headed back to Grammy’s for two days. We had planned to visit more with Brad, Erin, and Lincoln but with sickness in both families, we had to stay apart. It was a restful time and and we recovered from the hectic two weeks we had just lived through and prepared for the adventure that awaited us.
On the 23rd we loaded up two vehicles and went to my parents’s house. There we rode four-wheelers, visited with family, and celebrated Christmas again. We were thankful Grammy came along for a couple of nights and that all were well enough for Brad and family to join us  on Christmas day.

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A.  I Love Erin’s Black Santa shirt.
B.  Who would have thought that these brothers would have babies at the same time!?! I took this picture because both of them were on their phones and just in front of each of them were their kids’ Leap Frog dolls!  There was just something funny about that to me!

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Papa brought out the Massey Ferguson. I took this picture because I remember him riding ME on that tractor and he took Anna on a little ride.  That piece of equipment is one of my fondest childhood memories!  I remember one time I cleaned it for him.  A good hand-washing.  Grease and all.  If you know anything about tractors, they NEED grease to run.  He doesn’t remember the gesture which means I didn’t do too much damage!

IMG_0006This moment was sweet.  Anna was “chasing” Madi through the living room one scoot at a time. I kept waiting for Madi to get mad because this would have irritated anyone, but she just kept scooting forward and reading her Church E Cheese calendar.IMG_0023My mom’s Christmas decorations are beautiful so I took some time to photograph them. _JEN3197_JEN3191_JEN3188

Matt and I left Charlotte around 3:30 on Christmas Day (which was sort of depressing, to be honest) to take the van to Charleston. We got there, had Chinese take-out for dinner, rested for the night, and dropped the van off with no surprises the next morning. When we got back it was ON. Time to finalize the suitcases and determine what was going to be “carry on” vs what would be checked baggage.
There were nine suitcases that we had prepared while at GWL to be left in the trailer until drop-off at the airport.
The rest came into the garage for further sorting.
We found that after all the gifts we had received we needed two more suitcases so Matt and I made an early morning run on the day we were to fly to Germany for suitcases. And THAT is after leaving a box of stuff for my mom to mail to us later! (So much for “small gifts, please!”)
Our day of flight went as smoothly as possible. I just didn’t get to say good-enough good-byes.  I was transferring Anna from her car seat to the stroller when the hugs were going around and had I stopped to give real hugs, Anna would have made her way to the tarmac and found a flight to Hawaii, Alaska, or Italy!  She’s fast!  So I focused on bucking her in while my family gave me side hugs and then they were gone.
To say things went smoothly is an understatement but I will explain more about that on a different blog post.
To sum up our Christmas, I would say we got good, quality time with family, even if we were constantly aware that time was ticking by and we’d soon have to say, “See ya later.”
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Montgomery, Alabama to Belmont, NC

On the morning of the 19th we woke up in Montgomery, Alabama. Because of our studies the past two years on the deep, rich history of black Americans, we haven’t spent an inordinate amount of time on either Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks.  Sure, we’ve talked about them and all the kids know their names, but there are so many more heroes of the Civil Rights movement (from both before that “official” time period and after). Because of our freedom to homeschool, we get to take more than the month of February to study America’s history of race relations. We even branched out and read literature featuring amazing stories about black individuals from other countries. Growing up a white girl in the south, I was always incredibly cautious to not say things that I thought would be offensive because I didn’t want anyone to think I was racist. Writing this blog post even gives me a bit of fear that I’ll say something the wrong way and be inadvertently offensive. I even did extensive research to find out if calling a person of color “black” was okay. I have found, and I know that anyone reading this is entitled to their own opinion and preference, that the majority of the people I’ve heard from are happy to be known as black and some prefer that over African American. From what I gather, and I am happy to be corrected (I want to be corrected so I can correctly instruct my children), using “black” or “African American” when it’s needed to distinguish that part of a person’s characteristic are both considered acceptable.

With all of that said, I have learned so much more in the past year or two than I ever learned in school about the struggles our country has had and how those struggles still play a role in our American personality. We have come so far… we have so far to go.

Because we were trying to get to NC as quickly as possible we weren’t able to spend as much time in Montgomery as I wanted to. We drove downtown, parked in front of two meters and put money in both. We walked to the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church.

A quote from the church’s website:

Much of Montgomery’s early civil rights activity – most famously the 1956 Bus Boycott – was directed by Dr. King from his office in the lower unit of the church.

In 1978, the name was changed to Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, in memory of its twentieth pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who led the congregation from 1954 to 1960.

My research the day before had shown that it was not open for tours on Mondays so we took pictures on the front porch.

After I got the main picture I climbed the stairs and we all touched the brick. I talked a little bit about why this building is important to us and what had taken place in its offices.

From the same spot we turned 90 degrees and I took a picture of the family with the Alabama State Capital in the background. Dr. King gave his “How long? Not long!” speech on the stairs you can see behind us. I had the speech queued and ready for after our rushed-tour was complete.  We listened to the complete speech as we left the city.

While we descended the steps of that important church-building the rain started in earnest. We sprinted back up the hill to the Civil Rights Memorial where we stood around the circular granite table with the names of martyrs engraved.  We touched the names and thought of their sacrifice much like we do the names etched on the memorials placed around Fort Hood.

We had planned to tour the inside of the memorial but by that point in the day we were already 90 minutes behind schedule so we stood by the curved wall behind the table and got more pictures.

Matt, who had Anna on his shoulders, didn’t know this but Anna was infatuated by the wall. She had her hand touching it and was grinning from ear to ear.

My heart throbbed at the knowledge that she is so innocent and pure, and that, not too long ago, she wouldn’t have been considered a valuable member of our society. She is a princess because she is a creation of God Himself and every ounce of her DNA was precisely orchestrated.  Not one part of her is anything less than priceless and we wouldn’t change a thing about her – not even if we could make her biologically ours – NO!  She is who she is because she has the first-parents who created her in addition to the second-parents who were given the honor of raising her!  I love who she is and who God used to create her! Her little brown hand touching that stone, oh thank God for the tiny hand that He used to open my eyes to a side of our nation’s story that I had never seen. I thank God she won’t have to endure the trials that Melba Patillo Beals had to in order to go to school. I thank God she won’t have to break the law peacefully to gain access to a seat on a bus. I thank God she won’t have to endure the challenges that the heroes of the Civil Rights era had to endure, and I pray that our family is able to prepare her well for the challenges she will have to face. I thank God He has put strong Black Women in our lives (and in our own family!) who will help us raise her and teach her the things we can’t know as white parents.  I trust them to speak to us in love as they watch her grow, to help us spot things we need to be aware of, situations to prepare Anna for… This parenting thing is never done alone, but especially when parenting transracially.

After our fast stop at the memorial we loaded the van and drove about a mile to the spot where Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. On the spot is a museum with an incredible 3D interactive tour but they were closed until the New Year. I can assure you, we will go back one day when we are able to take in all of these tours! I took pictures of the building, the plaque, and the intersection that marks that incredible moment in our nation’s history.

Our drive that day was the best yet. We have the best travelers in the entire world! At 5:22 PM Anna cried for the first time, which was only remarkable in that she hadn’t napped by that point!  She had been awake and happy, entertaining her brothers, and watching the country fly by her window. She was amazing!

The brothers were polite and friendly, an improvement from the previous two days. Partly because I think the initial sting of pulling away from “home” was dissipating and partly because we had a family meeting that morning, which put us a little behind schedule.

People! I have missed my kids! I’ll write a separate blog post about that because this one is already too long, but I’m telling you what! I need time with my kids and this PCS season has deprived me of that!

That evening we arrived at Matt’s mom’s house around 9:00 PM, I think. (It’s kind of a blur.) We visited with Grammy and let Anna run wild for a while and then we put her down and settled to watch our first Christmas movie of the season! It. Was. Glorious.

We went to bed tired, happy, and thankful to be spending time with one of our favorite people.

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Fort Polk to Montgomery, AL

Yesterday we woke up on soggy Fort Polk and drove over to the Adamses to pick up our U-haul.  (It’s too complicated to get on post with a trailer so they were kind enough to let us park it there overnight.) We got fun pictures of the kids together before heading out.

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We put in a movie and when it was over, listened to four or five of Mike Rowe’s “The Way I Heard It” podcast episodes.  Each person gets to pick a restaurant along the drive and one of them picked McDonald’s.  Of course. Once back on the road we put in another movie, then listened to a few episodes of Mike Rowe’s podcast again.

I had set aside several DVDs that I wanted our family to watch.  Movies for educational or spiritual development. When I went to pull them out they weren’t where I thought they were. I had had high hopes of getting in a few very valuable lessons along the drive and I’m going to scour podcasts in a few minutes to find a few other mind/heart-enriching topics to pour into the family.

We crossed from Louisiana into Mississippi, and then into Alabama.

When we were about 100 miles away from Montgomery we decided that we were pretty sure we could make it that far, and, while Matt drove, I contacted IHG hotel customer service and had them help me select a location. I wanted to be near-ish to the Civil Rights Memorial so that today we could drive by there and see a few important sites before we hit the road. Their closest hotel had availability but none of the 2-Bedroom suites. We backed out five miles and found one.  Our family fits very well in this kind of suite and it costs about the same as renting two different rooms.

As of now we are all healthy and feeling okay.  Tempers are slightly on edge and it doesn’t take much for one of the brothers to set another one off, and while I’m trying to keep things as pleasant as can be, I have to keep in mind what they were just asked to do. I was never asked to leave my home, church, and best friend. When speaking to a friend, my high-school best friend’s mom, I told her that I can’t fully understand what my kids are going through. I didn’t have to leave my best friend behind, and when I did leave home for college, my best friend went with me. (Her daughter and I were college room mates our freshman year.) Add to that, I went to college to be near Matt!  I was leaving by choice and getting to start a new chapter with my best friend and boyfriend. My parents were an hour away and were staying in the area where I had been raised. While I don’t like to hear the boys snip at one another, I also never had to ride in a vehicle quite this packed with people.  I grew up in a family of four. In the back row of our van, the three people literally touch. There’s no space between them.

I keep wondering when God is going to bless us with a 12 passenger van… You know those moms who say, “I’ll never drive a minivan!!” and then, after a kid or two, they start to long for that minivan?  I was that mom and I got one as soon as I had my second kid.  I was also that mom who looked at church busses like they were uncool. Now I look at them and dream of the comfort one of those could provide to my family as we travel.  And the fun it could provide, being able to tote around friends AND family… I can dream. (And I find it funny that my dream has become a church van!!)  If I get one, my rear window will have a “Socialization Shuttle” vinyl!

Our schedule is non-stop starting this evening. We are going to be soaking up all the family we can get, going back and forth between both grandparents’ houses. Because this is an overseas move and we won’t be back for a while, we aren’t branching out beyond family, which really stinks, but there just aren’t enough days between now and the day we fly.  (9 days from now, by the way.)

I must get back to the room and prepare for the day. So far, I’m waking up before my alarm clock ready for the day. (There’s a reason for that that I’ll share on the blog one day, but I’m not quite ready. That’s a tease for a future series, but I am just not quite ready to share.)  Being up before my alarm, awake and alert and ready for the day has been incredibly helpful this PCS-season!

(Not much time to proof-read. If you see a typo, let me know!! I can fix it during Matt’s turn behind the wheel!)

 

 

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Fort Hood to Fort Polk

Good morning!  I am up and ready for the day while the family gets five more minutes of sleep. I wanted to briefly journal our day in case I don’t end up finding time to write a full blog post about it.  First a picture of my husband loading our U-Haul. There is no way 7 people, a stroller, pack-n-play, and luggage-to-clothe-us-for-months could all fit in our vehicle.  We had a hitch installed on the van and rented a 4×8 covered trailer. It has been a dream! We have never traveled with so much room inside our van! I wish we had learned this trick earlier! Thanks to Matt for hauling HUNDREDS of pounds of our stuff to the car!

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Here’s a quick Army-wife trick that is applicable to all travel. Never go anywhere without a variety of Ziplock bags. To save space, pull them from their boxes and place them in labeled Gallon-sized bags. These these things hold everything from liquids that may spill to random legos I find just before check-out, to keeping socks easy to find in each person’s luggage.  While cleaning the house, I used a gallon-sized baggie to put dirty rags in so that they wouldn’t touch anything while being transported to the hotel.

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Our Pull-away-day was really hard. It was the first time doing so with teens and we all know that the friendships you make in your teen years are truly special. Some last forever, others don’t. But the friendships military kids make are different and deep and filled, from the moment they meet, with the knowledge that, before long, one or the other will be moving. It’s inevitable. And yet the bravery these kids display at making deep friendships in spite of the fact that they know how the story goes is a lesson we adults could learn.  I think Garth Brooks said it well:  “I could have missed the pain – But I’d have to miss the dance…”

Flipping through Instagram while Matt drove gave me insight into how much our kids will be missed by their friends. I’m painfully aware of how much my kids will miss their friends, and how much I will miss mine. The “see-ya-laters” their friends posted as farewells on Instagram were incredibly touching.

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Our hearts are all jumbled up.  Mine, in fact, is quite numb. I know the pain will hit at some point, probably once we’ve gotten the travel part of this adventure behind us, but part of me knows that if I felt the pain of leaving all of these people at once, I wouldn’t be able to function. I’m sort of the conductor of this adventure so I must be able to function. I was very smart, though, in planning this first leg. Because we were traveling east I included a very important stop for our first evening. Being able to see the Adamses was a salve on some pretty painful wounds. We had that to look forward to on the very day we had to leave other amazing friends. We laughed, talked, ate, watched the kids run around with Nerf guns, chased Anna and tried to keep her out of all the things: everyone picked up right where we left off. It was such a joy. I wonder if they know just what seeing them did for our  hearts? I honestly don’t think they can know!

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Your prayers for continued safety as we travel are coveted and appreciated.

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Pull-away-day.

This is not going to be an exhaustive farewell-to-Fort-Hood Post simply because I don’t have time.  In fact, we originally planned to be pulling away from here at this precise moment (6:45 am) but yesterday went nothing as planned and we got absolutely NO luggage-preparations done for our trip.  That combined with a late night and we were exhausted.  I woke up energetic and before my alarm and have put the laundry in the dryer, gotten coffee, and decided which photos to include in this post while the other members of the Hamrick family are still snoozing.

I couldn’t leave here without giving God the glory one more time for taking something I truly didn’t want and turning it into something beautiful and something I’ll always treasure.  I wrote something about putting on my big girl panties and dealing with it just after we found out that we were moving to Fort Hood, and a couple of weeks later I wrote that I was, indeed, warming up to the idea.

God has truly made this place special and precious to me and while I never did adjust to the heat, the lack of color or trees, the lack of a fall season, or the fairly-boring location (Killeen), my heart has learned a valuable lesson in trusting that God knows what’s best for us.

If I had more time I’d begin to list the ways God has blessed us by His decision to send us here but I am EAGER to get on the road, but not because I’m ready to see Texas in my rearview mirror, but because tonight we do get to see some friends we made while here in Texas… another one of those treasures God granted to us as a result of being here.

I am not so eager to say our last farewells to the Easteses… Not. Happy. About. That.  Very glad we have all the other last-farewells behind us because those are simply not fun.

Here are just a few pictures, some from last night of Matt’s graduation.

Good-bye, 8055 Starz Loop!  You were the exact home with the exact neighbors God knew we’d need over the years.

img_4878img_4877Good bye, Anna’s very first home!img_4880Want to know the mark of true friendship?  When a family will attend your graduation at 7:00 PM – those things aren’t really that fun!  I was able to get almost all of both families in the picture.  Almost.

He did it!  Masters Degree #2 in the books: 4.0 GPA and Distinguished Graduate!

img_4967This was the best of four pictures a random person took for us and it was the only one with her finger in the shot!  img_4973

Your prayers are coveted today as we face the reality that we’re leaving a place that has become home. Friends who have become family. A house that is the only one Parker remembers and that Anna’s ever known.

Posted in family, military, moving, Texas, travel | 1 Comment