Birthday Season ~ 2018

  • January – Anna
  • February – Carson
  • March – Parker and Bailey
  • April – Matt
  • May – Hayden

We celebrate non-stop for five months, seven, really because mine is in November and Christmas is in December!

I generally like to highlight each of the kids on their birthday but with moving and getting settled in, I’m doing good to get this out there! While it’s mostly about the boys’ birthdays, there are a few other things I’m putting in because they’re just worthy of being mentioned.

Carson’s birthday was in February, the day after we received our HHGS.

We celebrated by going to Ramstein to see a movie with our dear friends, the Wests. We received our HHGS Thursday and Friday and left an hour after our movers drove away. While the rest of the family was in the theater, Anna and I shopped at the Ramstein mall and then we walked over to the USO in the airport and played in the family room. Because it was Valentine’s weekend, Dunkin’ Donuts had heart shaped treats which I couldn’t resist!  Anna had to have one.

img_0824We stayed at the hotel on Baumholder so Parker could spend some time with his buddy.


We forgot Anna’s pack-n-play so she slept with us. She literally covered her face with her blanket and went to sleep while we were getting ready for bed.


When we got home we Carson’s favorite meal, spaghetti, which I did take pictures of us enjoying but promised not to share… teens.  

Our family loves a good meal of schnitzel and fries so to celebrate Parker’s and Bailey’s birthday we went on our first real meal out to a traditional German restaurant. I can’t say it was the most relaxing experience as there was no high chair for the toddler, and ordering wasn’t as easy as it could have been (confusing translation issues) but the food was delicious and the restaurant was adorable.

After dinner we came home and had cake and ice cream. Our commissary is tiny and the only cake they had was a plain white sheet cake. I let the boys decorate the cake and we enjoyed the sugar rush… Anna loved the chocolate ice cream! We didn’t have matches so they laughed when I made them pretend so I could take pictures.

Because we haven’t been here long enough to do birthday parties the way we generally do, we took Parker’s new friend with us to Sensapolis. It was pretty cool! Parker was very disappointed that he was too short to ride the go-carts but other than that, it was a very good way to celebrate their birthdays.

Because we now have a princess, we got to enjoy watching her experience the massive castle.

img_1252img_1205img_1204img_1235img_1236img_1217img_1210img_1230Hayden is a little sore from soccer tryouts/practices!img_1231After the boys tired of the castle, the girls stayed behind and danced in the ballroom. Anna is a dream come true for our family. img_1251Anna saw the “deer” and wanted a picture with it. img_1247Before we toured the rest of the park Anna and I spent an hour in the toddler area exploring. I rarely get to do these things with her so I savored every expression…img_1188Touching a tornado.img_1198

Parker’s actual birthday was yesterday. The night before, he came out of his room for a second hug and said, “Tomorrow after school do you wanna go see my fort in the forest?” The first thing that ran through my mind was, “He’s forgotten that tomorrow is Tuesday and I have PWOC.” The first thing I said was, “YES!” I then messaged my PWOC facilitator and told her that I had a date in the forest and wouldn’t be at PWOC.

Parker and I did minimal school yesterday and we loaded up Anna (in the Ergo), water bottles in his backpack, and off we went. I have to say, I was shocked at just how cool the fort is. He “inherited” it from other kids who built it.


A bridge…img_1296The Fort.  Scale is hard to see but that’s a hole where a tree root system used to be. Those branches are taller than I am.img_1285img_1294img_1297img_1303

After we got Anna down for a nap, I took the birthday boys to the PX where I let them get their traditional Starbucks coffee. They received money from Nana and Papa and from the Eastes Family. Here they are opening their gift cards from the Easteses… I think it’s funny that Matt snuck up on Parker!

img_1307img_1309img_1311img_1318While the boys were off shopping I took what was supposed to be a quick stop in the bathroom. When I finished my business and tried to leave, I found I was stuck. At first I was sure that I was doing something wrong. I tried to text Matt but there is NO service in the PX… at least there wasn’t in the bathroom! I waited until a lady came in who could try the door from the outside. She couldn’t get it either so she went for help.
The Food Court maintenance guy came and he couldn’t rescue me. He climbed up into the stall next to me and had me try the door while he watched.  He agreed that I was trying to open the door the right way and said he couldn’t fix it.
They called in reinforcements who disassembled the door and freed me. Apparently this happened to a woman on Saturday and she ended up having to climb over in order to get out. I could have done that but I was willing to give the staff the chance to rescue me, which they did. I was awarded no prize for getting stuck in the bathroom.img_1319img_1320

The boys didn’t find what they wanted to buy for their birthdays so we went to a nearby mall. At Game Stop they hit the jackpot! They found Pop Bobbleheads and all Marvel was on sale 20% off.  Instead of being able to get two, they were each able to get three! On the way home Bailey said that if the package he ordered was at the post office, it’d be the perfect day. (It had a gift for Parker in it as well as something for himself.)

I went to the Post Office at 5:50 and sure enough, the package had arrived. Just this morning Bailey said, “Yesterday was the best day I’ve had since we got here. It was perfect.”

Parker had requested Shrek Noodles for dinner which I prepared from scratch… pesto and all.

Good times. I’m in heaven over here with the easy pace of life and the cool temperatures. I miss my friends and have found myself dreaming that we are hanging out.  Good dreams, but I’m a little sad when I wake up. Parker and Anna are settled in and good to go. Hayden, OH! I forgot to mention this! He tried out for the high school soccer team and made it, so he’s getting connected and practices five to six days a week. The people on the team are high quality individuals and I love that he’s playing soccer again. The rest of the boys start CYS soccer very soon. Bailey goes on a retreat this weekend with Club Beyond and will return on his actual birthday.  Matt is now the senior chaplain at the contemporary service and we really love the people there. School is going well, though we will be working past May. We usually like to be done by early May… we’re looking at the end of June at this point! Some of the teens feel more settled and content than others, but I know that is to be expected.
Friends will be made in time, not overnight.
Friends left behind will be missed forever… that won’t go away.



Posted in brothers/boys, family, friends, germany, homeschooling, moving, parker | 2 Comments

Camping in our Apartment

So, using the word “camping” is a bit of a stretch. We have everything we could possibly need to make life comfortable. But, we aren’t using our things and therefore, we are feeling the discomfort of being without.  It’s good, though. Every few years military families move and gain an appreciation for the word “home.” We know what it’s like to be in major transition: jobs, friends, homes, cars. I believe it makes us so much more grateful for our things that were we never without. We may live for years not even thinking about how amazing it is to have a vehicle that seats everyone facing forward, heads not touching the ceiling and then we PCS overseas…

So, I call it camping because life as we are currently living it isn’t normal. We only have about 5% of our personal belongings; just enough to consider it comfortable camping.

Something is going on with my computer and I can’t “mark up” my photos at this time, but I’ll come back later to edit. For now, these two pictures show the front and back of our house. We’re the center apartment, third floor. From the front our windows are those between the two gray drainpipes. The stairwell entry is in the middle of our house.


From the back, same thing. Third floor, all windows between the two gray drainpipes.


I wanted to give a shout-out to some pretty amazing people who have helped to make our transition better. I won’t give names because I don’t have their permission but here are a few of the sweet ways we’ve been welcomed.

  • We were able to borrow the Volvo even before we bought it.
  • Flowers!!
  • IMG_0494
  • Pail with treats
  • IMG_0543
  • Basket with the makings for spaghetti as well as fruits, teas, and chocolates
  • Banana muffins
  • Pillows, sheets, and quilts to make sleep possible
  • Fridge
  • Microwave
  • Loaner furniture
  • ACS lending closet
  • duty bus
  • USO – home away from home
  • nail polish remover and a shovel (It’d take too long to explain)


Our van arrived this week and I am THRILLED because it’s so big compared to the Volvo. I no longer have to ride the duty bus, though I’m thankful that it’s available for the kids to run around town. I don’t have to take them all the places anymore!  Sure, Hayden ins’t able to get his license here, but the flip side is that ALL THREE TEENS can come-and-go as they please, not just Hayden. Last week I took the duty bus a few times and twice it never came. It runs on an hour-loop and twice it just didn’t show up. The first time I only had Anna with me and I was heading home from PWOC. (Please let me pause here to say that Matt offered the car but that would have meant I would have had to come back to get him that evening after worship practice and I’d rather take the bus!) We waited for thirty minutes, and, rather than wait another thirty minutes, Anna walked from the chapel to the PX where we took a potty break, I bought some gloves, and then we caught the bus from their. The second time the bus was a no-show I was with Hayden and Carson. We were heading to Panzer (where Matt works) to pick up our van. Matt was jumping through all the hoops to get our van registered and through inspection (Esso card, plates, etc) so he couldn’t come get us. Plus, that’s a waste of gas. So, the bus failed to show so we walked back home to kill the thirty minutes before the next bus. While we sat in the cold waiting, though, I told the boys, “This is what people are thanking you for when they say, ‘Thank you for your sacrifice.’ People can imagine the loss you experience with leaving family and friends behind, but they don’t see these little inconveniences like having to use a duty bus that sometimes doesn’t show. They don’t know that they’re thanking you for the sacrifice of being without your own bed or car for months, but they are. They don’t see these little ways that you sacrifice for the decision your dad to serve the Army. But please know that when they say thank you, they really do appreciate it all, even if they don’t know all the little ways you sacrifice.”


Matt and I knew we’d need some kind of cabinet in the bathroom so we went to IKEA to scout the place. We made a list and then, once the first shut-down ended, we made our purchases. The piece we selected for our bathroom is perfect! Another way we’re making this apartment our home.

Carson and Bailey have a huge wall of closets but Hayden’s and Parker’s room has only one. We bought a shelf for Hayden to display his record player and other things.

The very day we picked up our van we found out our HHGs are here. I was able to call within the three-hour window they allow once the email is sent and got our delivery scheduled for this Thursday! I can’t wait!!  I’ve made our school schedule to reflect this and plan to spend Wednesday preparing; preparing meals so that I don’t have to put much thought into food while I will be organizing the house, and preparing the house by sticking post-it notes where I want the movers to place furniture and taping signs I made before we moved by the bedrooms so the movers can tell where boxes go by the color of tape I placed on the boxes back in Texas.

Because the living room is one huge open space and echoes like crazy, we moved all the furniture into the room we’ll use as an office to make it cozy. Works beautifully!



I struggled in the kitchen when preparing meals because the lighting was so bad. I even asked the inspector why there wasn’t an under-cabinet light under the center cabinets and she didn’t know. None of them have lighting there. Standing and preparing meals my body blocked the light from the ceiling lights and this was just completely unacceptable. So I did my research and found that IKEA had what I needed. I had to use some broken (butchered) German and the grace of an employee and got all the pieces I needed plus a bonus wireless light switch. I can turn them off and on from the same spot I turn on all the rest of the lights. I am even more pleased with this than I expected I would be! (And again, thanks to all of you who suggested I fly with my Instant Pot. That was such a great suggestion! It’s a little dented but the dents were worth it!)

Before images on the left, after images on the right.


Camping in our apartment has been so much easier than living in the hotel, even though our experience at the Panzer Hotel was great. I am so thankful for this house and for our amazing neighbors. We love our location even though we do have a 20-ish minute ride to church/work. We really do feel at home and we know that that’s in part due to the generosity of those who have loaned us things and brought us treats. Soon it will be my turn to bring treats to new people! Until then, I’ll be doing school, cooking meals, and receiving the other 95% of our household goods!




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Celebrating Anna’s 2nd birthday, take two…

When we brought Anna home all of our friends fell in love with her. One of those families cared for her when Matt and I went on our first date without her… that’s always a big step for me: leaving the baby for the first time. This also happens to be the family with one of Parker’s all-time-BFFs, Matías.

We loved watching others love our girl.

Our hearts ached when this precious family moved to Germany just a month before Anna’s first birthday. When we found out we were moving to Germany just before Anna’s second birthday I devised a plan. Since Anna was going to have to celebrate without the dozens of families at Fort Hood and our family in NC, we’d make it a point to celebrate with the Wests once we got settled a bit.

In fact, I mailed a box to them with pink party supplies and a few presents from us to Anna, and Loren took care of the rest. She even went out of her way to find the perfect cake and gift! I would have been perfectly fine with a set of homemake cupcakes but the love and care the entire family (even Jason!) took to put on a perfect birthday party touched my heart!! Not to mention, we got to eat Loren’s homemade food!  She’s an incredible cook!

Singing Happy Birthday – I love Anna’s clap at the end!




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Moving Day (Panzer to Kelley)

Today is a big day… it’s moving day! (We will sleep in the hotel one more night and officially live there starting Friday, but today we take all of our stuff over to our house and receive more loaner furniture.)
We trade one blessing (the comfort and convenience of hotel life) for another (our own space and amazing neighbors).
This is very exciting! We are blessed in that we only stayed in the hotel just shy of one month (29 days). Many people had much longer stays. We will have our own laundry room again and spaces to spread out and have some alone-time! The maintenance crew here noticed that I missed my alone-time yesterday and commented on it! I usually sneak out of the room very early and go to the sitting area on the 4th floor but yesterday I didn’t… they noticed! Our new neighbors are amazing and I found out I’m friends with the SIL of one already! SMALL WORLD! The Commissary where we’re living is a full one rather than the glorified shoppette, for which I’m very thankful, we have here on Panzer.
This move is nerve-wracking in ways: I now have to start buying breakfast foods again; no more housekeeping service; the loaner mattresses are paper thin; Matt will have to start commuting more than 600 feet; the house is basically empty and echoes. (Non-stop noise of five kids with nothing to absorb it.) We don’t have our baby gates yet. We don’t have pillows yet (though a neighbor is loaning us sheets and pillows). I know what to do to keep Anna entertained in the hotel… not sure about what it will look like there. Fortunately I have big kids to help but I do hope that we are able to get our HHGs soon. Shouldn’t be more than 3 weeks… (In the meantime I think I’m going to convert one of the bedrooms to be the living room so that the noise is contained to one carpeted room.)
Matt’s current commute: 633 feet. Screenshot 2018-01-25 05.48.01
In spite of the challenges that come along with camping in a house for an unspecified amount of time with five kids while homeschooling four of them, I am so excited I woke up ready to go at 4:30 am!
(You know what happens when someone is walking when you take a Pano? They look pretty creepy… so, Carson, you’re welcome!  I edited you out! Think anyone will notice?)
With all this extra time on my hands I decided I’d catch up on a bit of email/FB notes etc., write this Facebook-update-that-turned-into-a-blog-post, and then start my new PWOC Bible Study, which is going to be amazing. (Seamless, by Angie Smith.)
I think this watch face is fitting for this morning as I face a new set of challenges.
(Though your prayers are welcomed… pray that I can be a patient mom today!)
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Around town (dates, gelato, school…)

Before I get into today’s post, let me give you a quick update: WE HAVE A HOUSE! I know I’ve said a bit about that already but now we have an officiate move-in date! And by “move-in” I don’t mean with our stuff. Just the stuff we brought with us. Our Unaccompanied Baggage is here and we should be able to schedule its delivery for next week, but until then we begin “camping” in our new house on FRIDAY!!  We are absolutely thrilled with our new place and our new neighbors and I’ll tell you more on that later. For now, enjoy a mish-mash of pictures from around town…

Today’s post is fast and just a few pictures that don’t really fit in a separate or full post.

The first day we took the car out for a test drive was the day we took the boys to a skate park. This gorgeous cemetery was just across the path beside the skate park.


We had dinner with friends from our last time in Germany and I didn’t take enough pictures. I also haven’t asked their permission to include pictures of them on the blog, which is why I’m selecting photos of the massive chocolate-infused Italian cake they served for dessert! Dinner was amazing and my kids ate seconds of everything. That was a delightful evening. It was really nice to spend time in a home again, especially one as grace-filled and peaceful as that one.


We’ve always tried to take each kid on individual dates on a regular basis. Sometimes life gets in the way and we have to take a break from that. Now that we’ve found somewhat of a routine Matt and I are happy we can begin this again.

Last week we took Hayden out one evening and then another night, Carson.  We took Hayden to a nearby mall and, after shopping for a while, we got treats at a cafe. We made a rookie mistake and forgot cash, which sent us to an ATM for Euro. We knew better! URG. Whatever. We had a great time chatting with just Hayden.

img_0275img_0272img_0273And I simply can’t pass by succulents and not think of Hannah! img_0271

Later in the week we took Carson out.  Matt and I had gone on a date to Vapiano (just the two of us) on Friday evening and while strolling through downtown Stuttgart we saw two stores that we knew Carson would love. We took him there on his date and sure enough, he found plenty of things he wanted to buy (and we were able to get ideas for his upcoming birthday). We were very happy to see that Old Bridge Gelato was open. When we were in Rome, Italy years ago, we found the best gelato on the planet at a shop with the same name. When Matt and I saw it on the night we went on a date we were thrilled to see that Stuttgart had a location, but it was closed for the holidays. As the employee was scooping our treats he told us that the owners of the two shops are very close friends so these two shops are sister stores. The gelato was worth every. single. calorie.


Math in the hotel breakfast area.


Sometimes I’m desperate and need to contain the climber. 5-point harness high chair in the breakfast room and Boss Baby to the rescue. This gave me the 30 minutes I needed to compose an email that I needed to send. Check out those boots!


I also do a lot of my lesson planning and grading at these tables. I can spread out all my stuff on the counters behind Anna. It’s usually pretty quiet in the breakfast area on weekend-evenings.

I ran into my friend, Heidi, at the Commissary one day last week and she introduced me to a new friend (and one who will be a neighbor of mine!!). During our introductions she told me about this place to get fresh milk. It’s open 24/7 and is fully automated. The cows live in the barn that is attached to this little area.

You walk in this door…img_0289…and buy a glass jar if you didn’t bring your own.img_0291Then you open the meal metal door, set your glass down, insert a Euro, and press the start button… FRESH MILK!  img_0292

Matt and I have never been the kind of parents who enjoy co-sleeping with our children. We are, out of necessity, sharing a room with our princess. Sometimes this works out just fine. Other nights she stands there and talks to us the entire time we are watching a show!img_0278

Matt was on the hunt for a good doner shop and while driving through a nearby town we passed this building. It was just a normal Friday. You don’t see this in Killeen.img_0317

While half of the United States was shut down for snow, schools in Germany were in session and having recess in the blowing snow. It’s hard to see, I think in my hurry to take the picture I ended up only getting the teachers and one or two kids, but there were two classes outside. img_0302

Saturday we took a walking tour of the city we now call home. There were dozens of interesting places we can’t wait to go back to but the teacher in me couldn’t resist snapping a picture of this fountain. It’s called, “Hans in Luck” and represents a Grimm Brother’s tale by the same name.img_0324Our tour guide was a bit of a foodie. She said that this doner shop is one of the best in all of Stuttgart. I took the photo not for aesthetic’s sake but so that I could remember where the shop is so we can go back! (The sign for the shop is just to the left of the “Subway” sign.)img_0328

And last but definitely not least, LOOK WHO WE GOT TO SEE?!?!?

They were on their way from Garmisch back to Wiesbaden and they were willing to take a brief detour to spend an hour with us! The last time we saw each other, neither of us had daughters… now BOTH families do! There are some friends for which time does no damage. These are those friends. img_0320


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Our girl is two!

Oh Anna! I still can’t believe we are blessed with your presence in our family! We were immeasurably blessed with the four incredible sons we already had and to add you to the family was almost more than we ever dared to think could come true.  We wanted you. We dreamed of you. We prayed for you. We bought baby girl clothes on occasion in preparation for you. But we really wondered if we would ever actually get to hold you in our arms.

Two years and ten weeks. That’s how long we’ve know about you. You were placed in my arms two years ago today when you were just two hours old. At least once a week I look at Daddy and say, “I can’t believe we get to keep her!” All the baby girls I’ve held in all my life I’ve had to hand back to another mommy but you… I get the privilege of being your mommy. When you call my name (even on repeat) I find myself amazed that you are calling for me. I am so, SO, honored to have that title. I find myself beyond grateful that your other mommy trusts me with such a treasure. What a gift… and what a wonderful woman to have the courage she had. It is on today’s agenda to Skype with Mama Kim and I will pray through the entire conversation that you two will have a lifelong bond that will strengthen each of you. I know there will be a bond you have with Mama Kim that is different from the bond that I have with you, and I’m okay with that. I am thankful for your sweet Mama Kim and for her active role in your life.

Here are some things I want to remember about two-year-old Anna:

  • You tell one joke and it cracks us up every time you tell it. It goes like this:
    • Someone in the family says, ‘Anna, tell me a joke!’ and you say, “Joke,” and of course, we all laugh hysterically.
  • You can climb on almost anything and you don’t lose your balance.
  • You are fearless.
  • You are fast.
  • Your vocabulary is closer to that of a three year old (at least).
  • You can speak in complete sentences when you want to.
  • You KNOW what you want and aren’t afraid to tell us.
  • You love the corners of the blankets Ms. Patrice made for you.
  • You still have a paci because I refused to fly on an overseas flight and live in a  hotel for who-knows-how-long without that mute button.
  • You are smart.
  • You can count to twelve.
  • The first thing you say in the morning is, “I awake!”
  • You swing one arm while running just like big brother Carson did when he was your age.
  • You weigh about 25 lbs.
  • You like to sing Itsy Bitsy Spider and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, but if we start singing your bedtime songs (You are my sunshine and Jesus Loves Me) when you’re not tired you shake your head, frown, say, “no! no!” and put out your arm.
  • You love Doc McStuffins, Moana and Little Einsteins.
  • All your teachers love you in nursery, even the new ones here in Germany.
  • You love your boots.
  • You love your outfit. (You call the Minnie Mouse outfit your outfit. The rest of your clothes are NOT outfits. Just the Minnie Mouse.)
  • You love your cousins… a lot.
  • You love to FaceTime with the Easteses.
  • You are the most beautiful girl in the world.
  • Your second canine tooth just popped through… finally!
  • Your brothers fight over who gets to pick you up from nursery.
  • You aren’t especially quiet while we are trying to do school.
  • Hotel rooms are not fun for you because there are so many things you are not allowed to touch.
  • You don’t mind eating a Floorio.
  • Someone let you have a taste of Dr. Pepper and now you want all the spicy drinks in the world and you will spot an open can of whatever and sneak over to it faster than we can get to you. (By the way, Dr. Pepper is the favorite soft drink of BOTH of your mommies!  Mama Kim craved that when you were in her tummy!)
  • We are planning the arrangement of our new house around making it as Anna-friendly as possible.  I mentioned you are a climber, right?!?
  • You love fruit pouches.
  • You also love spaghetti.
  • You say, “I hold you,” when you want to be picked up.
  • You say, “You doing?” when you want to know what someone is doing.
  • Your family loves to sing the Moana songs with you.
  • You like to say, “I pitty” when you look in the mirror.
  • Your Daddy is determined to let you know that you are more than just a pretty face. He says the following and you repeat each phrase one at a time: “I’m pretty. I’m strong. I’m brave.”
  • You wrote a song and Carson sings it with you. It goes something like this: “I yuv ponies, I yuv ponies.”
  • You love bath time (and we love it because you’re contained for 30 minutes or so).
  • You say, “Sit down!” when you want someone to come sit beside you and hang out.
  • You are a great sleeper.  (Thank you for that, by the way! We say that you run at 100% therefor you have to sleep at 100%! We also say, “You have two speeds: run and sleep.”)
  • You have gorgeous hair.
  • Dad sings this to you: “Pretty girl, Pretty girl, you are a pretty girl.” to the tune of Moana’s, “You’re welcome.”
  • When someone says, “What does Maui say?” you respond, “AND THANK YOU!”


Baby girl, it’s time for us to get ready for our day so I have to stop here. Daddy and Brothers have helped make this list and we are all so happy you are in our family. Here are few pictures that can, in no way, encompass your beauty and energy.




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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 | 4 Comments

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.


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.


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.)


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.


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.

Screenshot 2018-01-15 06.57.48

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.”
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.
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.

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!

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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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!
Posted in family, germany, military, moving, travel | 2 Comments