Until You…

My sweet love took me on a date last Friday night to Austin.  Not just any date, though.  This was a date Matt had been looking forward to for quite some time.

See, my love is a musician.  He is a great guitarist and can lead worship in chapel very well.  The sound of guitars tuning, amps being tested out (to the max… sorry neighbors), and the comical noise the strings make when he replaces the strings are part of my perception of normal noise.  (Do any other guitarists pluck the strings while turning the tuning pegs just to make that fun noise?)

Austin is the live-music capital of the universe and as you may have guessed by now, our date was to a concert.  I prefer to listen to my music in my car or on my iPhone where I have complete control of the volume, the location, and who is around me.  Concerts offer me none of those luxuries.

That day was “Box Day” around our house which means we finally opened our SonLight boxes (98 lbs of school stuff) and I knew I’d be engrossed in that material all day – by choice, not necessity.  I spent most of the day on my feet.  If I could go back and start over I’d wear my tennis shoes all day!

By the time Matt got home from work and we were getting ready for our date, my feet were hurting, and I was thankful he said to wear comfy clothes.  His actual words were: “because we’ll be standing.”  That didn’t sound strange because I’ve been to concerts before and we did stand a lot.  Keep this fact in mind as you read…

Our drive to Austin was awesome.  We were alone and had a chance to talk without teen/tween ears listening in.  Matt got an earful on the new fun stuff I had spent the day swimming through and I got caught up on his work-related news.  At some point he made a comment about there not being seats at the venue we were heading toward.  Insert sound of a record needle scratch.  Say whaaaat?!?  He seemed surprised that I was surprised and multiple times throughout the night reminded me that he had told me that we would be standing.  I remembered that vividly, but I also remembered the absence of the fact that we couldn’t sit even if we wanted to.  I decided to take this opportunity, which was handed to me on a silver platter, to whine.

I teased him off-and-on all night about this and he teased that he should have left me at home.  Our dinner was great (we’ve found a place with good guacamole; Chuy’s) and surprisingly fast.  We made it to the venue with plenty of time to stand spare.  We got there and found that we were the first people over the age of 18 to arrive – standing by the door were four giddy-groupie girls who had been there for hours, perhaps.  We walked to a nearby Starbucks for caffeine, and when we got back, we were still the only people there who can remember even a single day in the 1990s.IMG_1501

I took this 90-minute long wait at the door to remind Matt a few times that my feet hurt.  By this point it was just fun to mess with him.  He told me that after that night I would be paid-up for the coffee mug I stole from him several years ago.  (He won a stainless steel coffee thermos at work once that keeps coffee hot for hours, no joke.  I used it when we held a yard-sale in Germany and I never gave it back.  He often accuses me of stealing it from him, and I don’t deny the charges.  I’m glad that I’ve paid my debt in full, now.)

For you concert-lovers, I bet you’re dying to know who we were seeing… I’ll be nice and tell you that we were there to see Dave Barnes and Matt Wertz, with Jon McLaughlin opening.  Moving along with my story…

Matt had purchased the VIP tickets so that we could get in early, get our seat space, meet the artists, and generally, be very-important-people. I thought one of the groupie-girls was going to pass out as she waited anxiously to enter the gate and I wanted to take her Sonic cup of ice and gently throw it in the trash for her.  (Think rain-maker/shaker/mini-drum… let’s say it was on the verge of being annoying.  And let’s just say that if you detect some sarcasm then your sarcasm-meter is working properly.)   Once the VIPs were allowed in we were directed to the front of the open-air room near the stage where the musicians were to come out for a meet-and-greet session.  Groupie-girl was visibly shaking by the time we were in place to meet the stars.  I felt oddly out of place – knowing I probably couldn’t pick the singers out of a lineup.  Sure enough, one came out to meet a VVIP (very VERY important person) and groupie-girl almost lost it.  Matt kindly let me know that THAT was Dave Barnes which gave me a heads-up to prepare myself for the possibility that I may need to catch groupie-girl were she to faint.

Before we knew it it was time for the official shake-and-howdy: groupie-girl first, Matt second.  I shook hands but stood back to take pictures, rather than get in them.  Dave Barnes had sent Matt something while Matt was in Iraq, so Matt brought him a few patches and cool Army stuff.

We sat on the railing (oh so comfortable) for the next 45 minutes watching the ever-so-awkward gushing of star-struck individuals as they met the musicians.  Once all the VIPs were through, Dave Barnes and Matt Wertz performed two songs right on the spot.  I was immediately impressed.  They were really good, although it didn’t surprise me, as (my) Matt is a pretty good judge about these things.  If he thinks they’re good, they must be.

IMG_1510After the two special songs Dave and (the other) Matt went backstage to do whatever musicians do backstage while the rest of us milled around (staked our ground) and watched all the NON-VIPs enter.  The front of the stage was packed full of people, but when a few wandered away we made our way to the stage, which turned out to be the absolute perfect spot.  We had something to lean against to help take the pressure off our feet (okay, MY FEET) and we had a very convenient place to set our drinks.

When 9:00 finally arrived, Jon McLaughlin began his set and I have to say, I was very impressed.  I videoed several clips for Carson, who is our resident pianist.  At the bottom of this post I have included a video compilation of those clips for anyone interested in them.

After the opening act finished, he went back to join the other musicians backstage.  I found myself hoping the pianist would join the other two singers for a song or two.  Not only did he join them for a few, he was there for almost every song the rest of the night.  Incredible music!

This picture shows the pianist, Jon McLaughlin, off to the right, with Dave Barnes in the distance and Matt Wertz in the foreground.  IMG_1519

While listening to the music so many thoughts crossed my mind.  Some were quite comical, like the odd fact that I couldn’t see groupie-girl anywhere, that the girl behind me has a “Janice” laugh, and that her friend, (or maybe it’s her, bless) can’t sing at all, but enjoyed doing so… and loudly.  The pianist has a great guitar-face, only, I guess it’d be a piano-face, since he doesn’t play guitar.  (Music fans, think John Mayer’s guitar face.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, but are curious and might need to smile, google “John Mayer guitar face.”)  Matt Wertz has a Michael Jackson + Elvis Presley stage presence, while Dave Barnes is calm, cool, and collected.  One thought I had, repeatedly, actually, was that I didn’t deserve to be on the front row.  I knew in total one song: everyone else in the room knew all of them, and probably knew what each of the musician’s favorite foods are.  In fact, the lady beside me had been to their Houston concert the night before, was (obviously) at the concert in Austin, and had tickets to their concert in Dallas the next night.  That’s dedication.  And I felt my inadequacy each time I got the stank eye from the girl to my right and back a row.  I believe she was genuinely jealous that I was in the spray zone and she was a whole three feet behind me.  I was not about to give up my treasured wall that I needed to lean on.

IMG_1521Some of my thoughts were practical, like the fact that the smells in the place varied greatly from hamburgers on the grill (nearby restaurant, perhaps?) to freshly cut wood, to the inside of a guitar case.

And all of a sudden, the song started.  The one song I knew.  It was a song Matt had put on a special playlist for me when I was pregnant with Parker.  I listened to that playlist on repeat while I was in the hospital after Parker was born, and for the next year while I rocked our sweet little one.  Those songs are special to me even though I had no idea who most of the artists are.

And within a few measures of the song I was crying.  And singing.  I deserved my spot after all!  I could sing along and cry with the best of ’em.

Until You:

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On the left is a list of my Playlists: The fourth down is the one Matt made for me. On the right is a screenshot of a few of the songs on the playlist, with Until You being the fourth one down. Dave Barnes made the playlist a second time with “Crazyboutya.” Unfortunately they didn’t play that at the concert.

I didn’t know this until just now as I was going to through my music looking for the title of that song, but he is also the artist who sings “Crazyboutya” which is a song I used in Parker’s birth story video.  That song is also super special to me.IMG_1530IMG_1528I’m pretty crazy about my guy.  Crazy enough to stand on my feet for hours to get into a venue hours before a concert began in order to meet someone I wouldn’t recognize, only to stand for several more hours to hear one song I recognized.  Yes, all of the songs were great, but ultimately, I was not there to see someone famous, or even to hear incredibly talented musicians.  I was there to stand by my guy; to be with my man; to hold hands and to be held by him while I hid the fact that I was crying like a sap, transported back in time to a place and time I hold most dear.  And the one song was a song my love had selected just for me as a reminder of how much he loves me.

I am a very blessed woman.  And today happens to be his birthday, so Happy Birthday Matt!  I love you and KNOW just how blessed I am to be yours!

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Box Day 2015

We’re fairly new SonLighters yet we have already learned the joy of “Box Day.”  (It’s a thing.  Check it out.)

After a lot of research and several conversations with my friend, Kari, who has been beyond helpful in planning our upcoming school year, I finally decided what to order.  Once the order was placed I literally stalked the tracking websites and my front door, just in case the website was delayed and they delivered before the website could catch up.

And when the packages did finally arrive, I had to wait a few days to actually dig in.  I had Aimee and Kayla in from out of state, and while I wanted nothing more than to share the fun of Box Day with her, we were too near the end of her visit for us to even bother.  We were busy talking and soaking in being together.

I had to take her back to the airport on Wednesday, and it was an agonizing 48 hours before I could open those boxes!  Below are some pictures of the fun!  Our bigs are going to be entering the 9th, 7th, 6th grades and Parker will officially start Kindergarten (though we’ve been “doing Kindergarten” for a few months).

We took a “before shot” and then I let them dig in while I took pictures.  After the paper war had run its course, I sent them all to rest time and I took a few pictures of the aftermath, and then a few of the books stacked up.  Box Day is so exciting and I am already having to work hard to keep Carson from reading these.  He’s already read all of the Core W books and that is the core we plan to use for him in two years!  He said he’s cool with reading them again… and I just happen to believe him!


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Ticket to Ride… I just can’t win.

I like to play games.  Matt’s ambivalent about them, so while Matt was out of town last weekend the boys and I played several games.  One of our favorites is Ticket to Ride – Europe edition.

Hayden wins.  Almost always.  One of his tricks is to get the 8-train tunnel that gives him 21 points… he also works to make the longest train, which adds another 10 points.

He beat me the first game we played last weekend.  He’s green, I’m yellow.

IMG_1157 He also beat me the second time we played… same colors: he’s green, I’m yellow. Yes, he beat me even though I managed to snag the 21 point train at the top of the board!! IMG_1158

That’s a good thing, right?!?  It means I’m doing something right in regards to his education, right?!? At 13 he’s smarter than me!

And for a more physical game, ping-pong.  We have had a winter here in Texas.  As in, freezing rain, frost, and pretty chilly temperatures for Texas.  Because the ground is so muddy the boys have mostly been trapped inside, and it turns out that Papa’s Christmas gift to Hayden has saved the day – several times!
Indoor table tennis!  Even Buzz Lightyear enjoys the action.  (Mom, however, hides in her room because this game can get a bit noisy.)IMG_1161 And no, this nothing to do with games, but it was too funny to ignore: That night as I went to bed I could hear the music basting from Parker’s room.  (I’m sad to announce that he has grown out of Mountain Lake white noise and he now prefers to listen to Adventures in Odyssey or some playlist a brother has created for him.)  I knew I’d never get to sleep with music that loud so I went in to turn it down and found him asleep and this playing… loudly…IMG_1163

He cracks me up!

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Two Silver Surfers…

I cried a little more than the last time.

We don’t change cars often, and when we do, I struggle.  Well, at least when it comes to my vans!  The last time we changed vans it was out of necessity.  We sort of killed the Gold Rush III on the autobahn.  One emotional point was that it was a little bit of the US that we were able to take to Germany with us.  In its place we welcomed the Silver Surfer, which hauled us all over Europe.  We had some amazing moments in that van:

Thursday night as I pulled into my garage for the last time I put the car in park, turned it off, and cried.  Harder than a grown woman should over a $5,000 minivan.  I was thankful Matt had the boys at soccer.  I needed the moment.

I cleaned the windows one last time of finger prints and checked all the storage compartments for items we may have left behind.  Yesterday morning we woke early and drove to Temple where we met the buyers of our treasured vehicle.

Okay, about that:  I was pretty sick at this time last week and Matt was leading a Single Soldiers’ Retreat.  Knowing that we were on the verge of buying a new(er) van I decided to put ours on a few sites because I just knew it’d take several weeks to find a buyer.

Twelve hours after it hit CraigsList I had five responses, three with cash offers for the next day.  One caught my attention right away.  She was a mom with four girls and I immediately recalled my saying to one of the bajillion car salesmen I spoke with that, “No, I don’t have a trade-in. I’ll get more for it if I sell to an individual, plus, I’d rather see it go to a family who is just starting in the mini-van market.”  I’m sure that Joe CarSalesman thought I was an emotional nut, but who cares.  The buyer I responded to met me at a nearby restaurant and she and her husband tested it out.  I had Hayden to be my protector.

They liked it and we told them the only stipulation was that we couldn’t officially sell it until we had secured a new one for ourselves.  (We have some pretty awesome guests coming soon and we couldn’t risk being a one-car-family at that point.)  They were okay with that and after a touch of negotiating we agreed on a price.

So, we bought our newer van on Tuesday and sold my van to the other sweet family yesterday.  It was the last little bit of Germany we were able to bring back to the US with us.  It hurt, but the sting was made better by the fact it was going to a really sweet little family.  Their oldest is barely older than Parker.

Here is one of the last pictures I have of the Silver Surfer in our garage.

IMG_1147Parker and I stood by the van at the DMV just before we made the final transaction.IMG_1229In keeping with tradition, I had to take a picture of both vehicles in the same shot.  Because of the rain/snow/freezing precipitation we’ve had, I never got a really good picture of both.  This is as good as I could get.

IMG_1205And that is your first introduction to the newer vehicle!

Yes, it looks very similar.  IT’S SILVER!  We were not looking FOR silver, but it was one of our top two color choices as I was researching.

Meet the Silver Surfer II.

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Neat story about the window sticker below:  While I was driving the older van to sell it I recalled seeing that Matt had removed the stickers from the rear window.  They were OIF/OEF, Army, etc.  Those are very important to me, but they aren’t about me and what I do.  I wondered what I would put on my car if I could find something that described me.  I wondered if there were stickers that represented Financial Peace University.  On the way home Matt asked me which stickers I wanted.  I mentioned the FPU stickers and he said he had purchased a few when we met Dave back in June of 2013.  It was meant to be! IMG_1241I can tell you that it was strange to write a check that big… I had to prove to the dealership that we had that much in our account.  We got a great deal and I will tell you that I spent a great deal of time researching and watching seven or so websites waiting for exactly what I wanted.  My MUST HAVEs were: Stow-and-go, back-up camera, at least a 2011 and under a certain number of miles.  Using the requirements I had, I set up alerts on a few websites so that I’d get texts when vans that matched my criteria were added to their site.  If you’re in the market right now for a 2011 Chrysler Town and Country and you live within 200 miles of me, I can give you a list of about 25 great options at the moment!

Now we have some memories to make in this van.  We have some trips to take and some fun to have… starting today with three soccer games.

One of our first memories in our new van was getting stopped at the gate at 1500 on Thursday afternoon.  (Early release on Thursdays here at the Hood.)  Because the flag was about to go down the gate guards weren’t letting cars in or out.  When the warning bugle rang, soldiers got out of their cars, the gate guards got into position, we turned our radio down, and witnessed one of my favorite parts of being military: respect for our flag and what it stands for.  I’m proud to be Army!

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And because it’s almost time for me to order next year’s curriculum, I’m posting a link to a giveaway from our favorite company. If you click and register, then we are both entered and if we win, we each get a year free!
Mom-to-Mom Curriculum Giveaway – See more at: http://25.sonlight.com/my-account/#sthash.daU0mYOK.dpuf

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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!

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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

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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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