Farewell ChapelNext – Ft. Hood

Today (Sunday) was our last day at ChapelNext Fort Hood. We’ve been there since our first Sunday here in June 2013. We sat with the Holsinger Family and that was our “spot” the entire time we were at Fort Hood. It was helpful to have a “spot” so that when our family arrived at different times, everyone knew where to go.

Here are some pictures from today that I treasure as well as a brief description of each:

We are so happy our friend, Nick, is back safely with his family from Kuwait and it was a joy to see him and his son, Alec, lead worship today! They’ve got mad skills!

IMG_3394Then another special family (sweet friends of ours) led us in the advent reading. Hannah did a great job with both the reading and the lighting of the candle.IMG_354124909580_1295402843898404_6927689267763216719_n

After church I made sure to have our family picture taken by the tree. I treasure last year’s pictures taken there… our first with Anna-banana!


Before they could disperse too far I had them take a picture by the statue designed by Steve Carter, our kids’ youth pastor.IMG_8957

We were blessed to have amazing nursery workers who took care of Parker when he was little and then the same nursery team loved on Anna her whole life! Ms. Brooke and her fellow workers made two of every take-home for Anna… one for me and one for Mama Kim. Who does that?!?  Our nursery workers at ChapelNext! That’s who!

After church we met someone Matt deployed with at the HEB parking lot and sold the Jeep. USAA made this a 10 minute transfer! AMAZING!


And finally, and my stomach churns at the memory… the time has come for the bitter-sweet part of PCSing to show its bitter side: we went to the Bloker’s for lunch. I knew they were having schnitzel but I didn’t know it was for our farewell.  They prayed over us and let us go through the line first (and when there are that many people there, that is a BIG deal!). The next few hours were spent chatting with those I love dearly and will miss dreadfully. I am so glad I got to see these people… most are ChapelNext friends that I don’t really get to chat with on Sundays. I typically visit with this people outside of Sundays, which touches on one of the main missions of ChapelNext: Connect.  Connections are actually best done outside of the church walls.

img_7487.jpgI just noticed in the picture above that Carson was keeping an eye on Anna. IMG_9283

(This paragraph added on Monday afternoon while our stuff is being loaded onto creates.) We were given a coffee-table book that features the beauty of Texas and has been signed by many people!  Melody just delivered it after running it a few places to get more signatures, and I am so looking forward to sitting down tonight in our hotel room, POST-HHG-LOAD, and reading all the notes. IMG_1888

What a way to be farewelled. There were over fifty people there… I can’t say more. In part because I don’t want to go there yet but also because Anna has been asleep since 4:00 and it’s now close to 7:00 PM. I need to get her up!  (Saved by the baby…)

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Merry Move – 2017

If you are looking for my annual Christmasupdate you can click here and the interwebs will magically deliver you to that page.

Today, the day I’m writing this, we are halfway done with our packing. Our long-term storage crew came and went last Tuesday (the 5th).  Our unaccompanied baggage crew, the small shipment that, in theory, we receive in advance of our household goods, came and went Wednesday.  And yesterday, Thursday the 7th, our household goods crew arrived. And they’ll arrive today, (this is Friday), possibly Saturday, Monday (the day this is actually posting) and they’ll drive away Tuesday.

Here is our garage prepped for the long-term storage crew:Out of sheer necessity I cancelled our yard sale… Parker was disappointed and set up his own.The heartbreaking moment when we had to paint over Anna’s stripe. My mom and I got so much joy out of turning that room into the nursery for a baby we weren’t even 100% sure would be ours.  It was just under two years ago that we revealed this nursery and Anna’s name.  (See this link.)  And I tasked Hayden and Hannah to take care of this since I just couldn’t stomach it… this was after the first coat. 

As we prepare for this move I’m painfully aware that this is (probably) the last time that this crib will be a crib. It’ll be converted into the “college” version of the crib-to-college bed that we bought while pregnant with Hayden. (We didn’t know what his gender was so we had to go with a gender neutral theme.)

There is something both saddening and comforting comparing our December and January calendars. I’d say there’s a good chance few people outside of the military world know what it’s like to have such a clean slate every few years.  (I love color-coding!)Another sentimental moment: We bought this “things that go” themed shower curtain when we moved into our first Army house. It was our first house with more than one bathroom and the boys had their own. I’ve used it in every house because we’ve had at least one “little boy” ever since. I think it’s about time to retire this and get a more grown-up-ish one. (Especially if the bathroom they share is the “guest” bathroom as well, which we are hoping it will be. The housing we really want on Kelley Barracks is set up that way, anyway.)After spending 3 hours deep cleaning the boys’ bathroom I closed it to further use, threatened the boys, and ensured they didn’t “forget” by taping the toilet and faucets.

It is now the staging area for the things that we don’t want the packers to touch: luggage, school stuff, clothes, etc. My current view:

I threw my packers off a bit: I put stickers on the sides of the boxes to color coordinate per room and I can tell they would have preferred I not do that. I think it looks, to them, like the boxes have been inventoried and they’re not nearly at that point. It may require them to be a little more meticulous to make sure each box is, in fact, inventoried, but from my perspective, that is a good thing.

Recently I was speaking with someone about the feeling that floods over a military wife when the trucks finally leave. What’s done is done. There’s no more that I can do to make things easier, better, more organized.  All that is left is to clean and clear housing and the worst part of the whole thing, say our see-ya-laters. I both long-for and dread that feeling.

PCSing with a toddler underfoot is quite easy when you have a list of people who are asking to take her for the day!  She’s an extrovert and Anna has enjoyed hanging out with several families. Yesterday she spent her first day at the hourly care (Meadows) and, while she was a bit timid at drop-off, she had a great time!  I was comforted that some of her Sunday/Thursday church teachers were there.

Matt has still has school responsibilities this week. Yesterday, when the movers arrived an hour before I expected, I had my first (and hopefully only) true panic moment. I had spent hours prepping the downstairs and let the boys prep their rooms. Do NOT. I repeat.  Do NOT expect teenage boys to prepare their rooms for a move, especially if they share a room with a brother… because everything on the floor belongs to the OTHER BROTHER.

I may have threatened to throw some devices in the toilet if I didn’t see a quick turnaround in helpfulness.

My first mild-panic moment was when I had to close-up my Instant Pot. Upon the advice of many friends I decided to keep it with me and mail it to myself just before we move. This is a great compromise and, as long as our HHGs aren’t over weight, I’ll be reimbursed for the cost of shipping.

Parker is having a pretty difficult time with this move.  He’s been sleeping on our floor most nights and, when he couldn’t watch a movie that the teens were watching, he lost it. Actually said, “This is just a really bad time for me because we’re moving, all my stuff is gone, and my brothers are going to go to college soon.”  Baby boy!  Bless!  I never expected him to be the most emotional one of the crew. And it truly breaks my heart that all of this is on his shoulders. The light spot in each day for him is when we get Anna back from wherever she’s been. And he is beyond excited to visit with his cousin, Mason!  They are so precious together.

It’s 6:49 am and I honestly can’t remember if the packers are arriving at 7 or 8… and I have a number of teens asleep on the couches in the living room so I’d better stop writing and start poking bears.

Added Sunday, 10 Dec: Funny-not-funny: Earlier this week I shared on Facebook that they threatened to pack my coffee maker. I’m already keeping my ginormous Instant Pot behind and don’t want to travel with the coffee maker as well. The kitchen packer told me she could leave me a box and paper, and jot down “PPO” on the outside once I packed it up on Tuesday. I was perfectly happy to do that. She arrived yesterday and the first thing she told me was that her boss nixed that idea. That she had to pack it that day or it had to go with me. Urg.  Matt and I were recently given hefty gift cards for Starbucks (stay with me… I’m going somewhere with this). Mine came from my dad, our homeschool co-op, and friends. Matt’s came from his cohort. We hit five different Starbucks locations and ultimately walked away VERY happy. We bought two thermoses, a ceramic mug, and for the love of all coffee, a personal press! (And a pound of their Holiday Blend that they ground for us since our grinder got packed!)  Thank you, all of those who gave toward our Starbucks “appreciation” (not addiction)!!  This morning (Sunday) I have already made four cups of coffee for various family members and it is absolutely delightful!


Another funny: Yesterday our packers weren’t hungry when I had a driver available to go grab lunch for them. I needed to use up some of my freezer items so I decided to throw together chicken and dumplings. All was going well until I realized I had set my extra cans of cream of chicken and celery soups where the packers would pack it. (OOPS!) I frantically sent out texts and FB messages asking my closest neighbors if they had any while the Instant Pot was on sauté mode, thawing 2 cups of frozen chicken broth. No one who was home had cream of chicken or celery but one had cream of mushroom. Turns out, using that as a base for chicken and dumplings is AMAZING!!  I didn’t have a long spoon to stir with so I stirred with my good knife (which I had remembered to set aside). This impromptu meal turned out so good!  I’m so thankful I heeded the advice to keep the IP with me.

One last funny: Last night I wanted a cup of OptaVia* hot chocolate but the only microwavable mug was in the dishwasher being washed. I didn’t have a pot to heat water on the stove, but I did have my Instant Pot!  I poured 10 ounces of water in, set it to sauté, and in a few minutes I had water hot enough to make my hot chocolate! It’s the “jack of all trades” appliance!

Oh! Before I go, a quick shout out to Matt for passing his Marriage and Family Therapy National Exam.  It’s the first step toward licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist. (Similar to the bar exam for lawyers.)  He graduates this Friday and next Friday evening and we drive away Saturday morning.  This week is going to be one to remember. (Yes, he has two graduation ceremonies.  One at the Family Life Training Center here on Fort Hood and the other one at the Bell County Expo Center for Texas A&M University – Central Texas.)



483755a0b09c8d581b24caa737266801* That is for my coach.

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Merry Christmas ~ 2017

In the midst of the chaos of preparing for an overseas move I can happily say I’ve checked off two of my most important to-do items.

  1. Making our “Fort Hood” Shutterfly book and
  2. Making, ordering, labeling, and shipping our Christmas cards.  I typically give myself about a week to do that but I don’t have that kind of time this year!  Once they were delivered I knocked them out in 24 hours.  I literally got an ache in my neck so one might call it a labor of love!

Following this cute picture of Anna with Santa will be our 2017 update that I would like to include with the Christmas card but 250 sheets of paper to stuff into that many envelopes is a bit much.

Anna and Santa 2017

We hadn’t planned on seeing Santa on Saturday or she would have been decked out in Christmasy colors.  She enjoyed seeing Santa and even tried to go back in through the exit when we passed by him later on!  The toy was Santa’s incentive to get her to come to him… they got this shot, and then he put the toy behind him.  All the rest of the pictures they got were of her looking at him!  They were cute, but I wanted to see her sweet face, and that explains why there’s a bright orange giraffe in her hand.

This year was wonderful. While we have missed the friends we made in our earlier years and wish like crazy they could still be here with us, we have deepened and enriched friendships with those who are still here.

The kids’ friendships have deepened and become ever so precious to them and to Matt and me, making it even more difficult to leave. I am so very thankful that my kids have relationships with people they will miss… I’m glad this military life hasn’t caused them to put up walls to avoid getting hurt. I’d appreciate your prayers that they remain open to friendship going forward. I know that this move will be the hardest they’ve experienced just based on their ages and the depths of their friendships, but I also know that God has called our family to this life and He has prepared for them the exact people to get to know at our next duty station.  The great thing is that they have the ability to remain friends with those staying in the States thanks to social media.

Some updates:

Matt – What he began in the summer of 2016 is coming to completion.  Matt graduates in 16 days with his second masters degree… this time in Marriage and Family Therapy.  He is carrying a 4.0 as of this moment… we’ll see if that holds!  Matt isn’t sure he wants to hang up his shingle as a counselor after his Army days, but he is absolutely sure this degree will help him throughout his career, during and after Chaplaincy. This degree and the tools he’s learned are blessings that he is very grateful for.

When I asked Matt what he best remembers about this year his response was: “Turned 40; Tarheels won the National Championship; and graduating with a masters.”

Man of many words.

Jennifer – This year someone on Facebook challenged homeschool moms to add up the years we’ve homeschooled. Each kid added together totals 34 years for me. That is amazing. I’ve managed to get one kid through biology and geometry, just in time to welcome the second one into those oh-so-awesome subjects… with 3 more to go after!  Urg. I have continued to facilitate Financial Peace University alongside Matt, and we are incredibly pleased to announce that this class has taken us over the 2 million mark!  That means that since Matt and I started volunteering here at Fort Hood, the cumulative amount of money put into savings or debt paid off is just slightly over 2 million dollars! We absolutely adore hearing from past class members as they reach their next Baby Step! These people are on fire and are passing on the information to their friends..

I love being a mom to teens. I’m so glad that I read early on not to accept that the teen years have to be riddled with strife and angst. I read that their is a way to have a good relationship with your teens throughout these years and, while we still have a bunch of teen-years to go, I believe we’re off to a good start.

I also love being a mommy to littles. Seven is SUCH a fun and sweet age. I LOVE seven-year-olds! And of course, Anna Banana, the cutest baby girl on the planet – EVER – keeps me feeling young! I love being out and about with just the two littles and completely surprising people when they find out I have teens as well. They say, “No way!  You’re not old enough to have a 16 year old!  I thought you were (insert whatever age they thought I was).”  I thank my parents for good genes to pull that off!

I turned 40 in November and I feel 25.  I really don’t feel any different than I did then! I’m definitely in better health than I was at that age.  I’m determined to make my health over next 40 years better than the past!

I’m still madly in love with my high-school sweetheart, who treats me like a Queen. He’s wonderful… I don’t deserve him and I don’t take our great marriage for granted.  Well, I’m sure that on some levels I do, but I am constantly reminding myself not to. I tell the boys at least weekly the ways they need to emulate their dad: “Did you see what he just did? You need to do that for your wives when you’re married.”  If they don’t treat their wives like Queens it won’t be for lack of a fantastic example. I love that Anna has Matt’s example of what a husband should be to his wife. She will set a very high bar that young men have to contend with.

Hayden – Hayden is in his junior year and has been in the throws of SAT taking, Chemistry, Algebra 2, and lots of reading in Sonlight Core 400: Civics/American Government. All the teens are taking Rosetta Stone, German. Outside of school he’s been working hard at mowing yards so he could go attend many concerts here in Texas as he could. Being in this state* has given him the chance to see a great variety of artists and knowing that we were heading overseas and that his concert-going opportunities were going to be greatly limited, he decided to enjoy as many of these opportunities as he could. Matt is a good sport and attended almost all of these concerts with him. (They even went to Kansas City to see John Mayer for Hayden’s 16th birthday.)
*Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World and Waco has a lot of concerts as well.

A quick list of some the people Hayden saw this year include: John Mayer, John Bellion, Judah and the Lion, LANY, The Maine, and… oh well. I can’t remember their names. Let’s just say he saw a lot of concerts.

Carson – 9th grade is a breeze for Carson.  He’s taking Geometry, Biology (gross), and Sonlight’s Core 200: History of the Christian Church. Still our only introvert child, Carson enjoys riding his bike around post to get some alone time. He has several close friends and loves spending time with them. Carson has become quite the drummer and plays with the youth band on Wednesday nights and also played at Camp Eagle for both our youth group and Lackland Air Force’s.  He loves reading as much as he always has and his retention impresses me… a skill that will be a huge help in his life!

Bailey – This year has been a really good one for Bailey. He’s in the 8th grade and studying the second half of Core 100: American History.  Thanks to his 504 he is able to listen to many of his books on audio, making his dyslexia a non-issue. In fact, his dyslexia leads him to be smarter than the average bear in many ways, and he’s beginning to see the ways he’s different from his peers in a good light. He thinks outside of the box because the box just doesn’t fit him.  He has picked up several instruments in the past year and gotten really good on all of them.  He can play a little piano, but he is really good at the guitar, ukulele, and he just got a mandolin for Christmas. (A joint present from Matt and me and my grandparents, Granny and Grandaddy. And yes, we already gave them these gifts because we wanted to have a mini-Christmas day in this house one last time.)

Parker – I mentioned earlier that seven is a fun age. It really is!  I adore Parker’s humor, his snuggliness, and his wit. Parker is in the 2nd grade and this is the first year we’ve blocked out a 2-hour time for school.  I LOVE the time I get to spend with him each day. He’s going through Core B+C: Intro into World History. Parker had to say goodbye to some of his best friends this year and that made him a little skittish about making new friends. He shocked me one day by outright telling me this. I had encouraged him to go down the street to play with some new kids in the neighborhood and he outright said, “Mommy, I don’t want to make new friends before we move. It’s too sad.” Oh, my heart.

Parker has a tender heart and often says things that may hurt my feelings like this, “I don’t mean to be mean or anything, but, well, I like almost all the food you make for dinners, but this one, I think, maybe, it’s not my favorite.”  He stammers all over himself trying to find a way to say the truth without hurting my feelings!  It makes me happy that he is willing to tell me the truth and happy that he’s willing to TRY to figure out how to say it tactfully. That’s a skill that not everyone has!  (Hasn’t quite mastered it yet, but at least he’s trying.)

Anna – She’s newly 22 months old and I have only 2 more months of sharing her age by months. I can’t believe she’ll be 2 years old in January!

She still lights up the room, brings joy to all who see her, and is the smartest not-yet-two year old I’ve ever met! She’s a climber and I’ve quit trying to tell her to get down. She has some sass and when a brother tells her to get down she turns around, points her finger at him and sternly says, “get down.” It’s all we can do to not laugh, thus turning her into a spoiled brat. (We are nipping her sass in the bud while biting our tongues to keep from laughing at the absolute cuteness she exudes.)

We’ve been able to see Mama Kim twice this year. Our relationship with Mama Kim is one of the things I’m most grateful for in my life. I advocate for open adoption and hope that our story will encourage all potential adoptive families to consider keeping their adoptions open if at all possible.


With that, I think I’m done!  I hope to be able to blog once a week throughout our move because this is our family journal, a way I jot down our memories for our own sake, and for the sakes of the family and friends we don’t live near enough to keep up with each day.  As of today, November 29th, 2017, we have 17 days till we drive away from Texas. We’ll send 11 days in North Carolina visiting grandparents and we fly to Germany on the 27th… a short 28 days from today.

The next month will be a whirlwind of excitement and craziness as we prepare our household goods to store and/or ship, say our goodbyes to those we love, leave a state we didn’t expect love but brought us many blessings, and begin the search for a new home for the duration of our time in Germany.

I’m glad for this outlet to be able to share our hearts and our story, especially so that I can look back later and cherish these memories.



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A Unique Way to use an Instant Pot

I purchased an Instant Pot (note: it’s not InstaPot) last year and have found it to be an incredible tool.  I rarely use my oven anymore though the kids use it daily to make their lunches (tater tots, sandwiches with melted cheese, etc).

I have even transitioned to making freezer meals ahead of time.

Game. Changer!

Let me share the meal I made for my family today (it’s a Sunday afternoon and I forgot to prep anything for our lunch). We got home from church and I put in the prepped meal, a box of bow-tie pasta, and enough water to just-barely cover the noodles.  Set the timer to 5 minutes* and we all sat down to watch an episode of “This Is Us.”  Yes. I cried.

Half-way through the episode the magic pot was done and we paused the movie to eat. I added the last two ingredients to the pot, stirred, and plated.

It doesn’t get easier than that!  A crock pot is great, and I will not get rid of mine, but it takes many hours and has to be put together LONG before church.  This was a meal I was able to, with some prep work on an earlier day, put in the pot and have on the table in 40 minutes. To find out which recipe this is, go to my PlanToEat website (the only affiliate link I have) and search my recipes for Bow Ties with Sausage. This recipe was passed on to me by Kari, a fellow Plan-to-Eat and Instant Pot fan!

There are dozens of features the Instant Pot has that I will not share with you because all you have to do is join a Facebook group designated for IP owners and you’ll hear all about them. Or you can Google it and read through hundreds of reviews.

One thing I’d like to say is that many people are surprised that their meals, while the recipe says, “five minutes” aren’t DONE in five minutes. There is a slight learning curve to the Instant Pot and you have to account for the time it takes the pot to get to pressure.  With a large block of frozen food, it took my Instant Pot 25 minutes to come to pressure. So, 30 minutes, start to finish even though the recipe called for it to “cook” for five.  Keep that in mind lest you think there really is magic inside the machine.

I’m actually here to describe to you a use for this appliance that I came up with all by myself. I hosted an event for which I had Chick-fil-a cater. I ordered two large nugget trays and wanted to order 2 small trays of grilled nuggets. Turns out, they don’t have that on their catering list because those nuggets “don’t travel well.” My guess is that they dry out or something; they didn’t say.

I was determined to have grilled nuggets for those who have allergies and for those who wanted grilled instead. We ordered two 30-piece nuggets and told them that we wouldn’t hold CFA responsible if they didn’t turn out okay. I can respect that the company doesn’t want to send out a platter of food wouldn’t be up to the quality that they maintain in the restaurant. However, I had a plan.

As soon as the grilled nuggets arrived at the location, I put them in my instant pot and set the timer for 0 minutes.  (That is not a typo. You can set it for 0 minutes, which means it will come to pressure and then beep to let you know it’s at pressure. You can then decide to release the pressure quickly (AKA: QR, for quick release) or allow it to release naturally (AKA: NPR, for natural pressure release).  Those are drastically different and each recipe will tell you what to do.  Typically, meat-based dishes will call for NPR, while pasta dishes almost always call for QR.

Those nuggets were AMAZING when we sat down to eat.

I even had several CFA employees in attendance at my event and they tested them out… they were given the unofficial stamp of approval and they tasted them two-and-a-half hours after the nuggets had been picked up!

So, for those of you who want to order Chick-fil-a grilled nuggets to serve a few hours after pick-up, here’s the set-up and the trick:


I put 1.5 cups of water in the IP. Inserted the trivia that came with the IP. Put the 60 nuggets in the white dish and covered with aluminum foil. Put the dish on the trivet, closed the pot and set the steam release valve to sealed. Pressed Hi 0 minutes and it came to pressure. I let it NPR while I visited with my guests.  When it was time to eat I was nervous to see whether or not these nuggets had survived. They were as fresh and warm as if they had been served to me in the dining room of any Chick-fil-a.

After we finished eating, I left the IP on warming mode. I closed the foil back up and, before closing the lid, I placed a bowl of regular nuggets wrapped in foil on top of the grilled nuggets, closed the IP, and left the steam valve on vent. It kept the food warm for the guests who had to arrive later, and those were the CFA employees who were glad to see how fresh the nuggets tasted.

I am happy to say that the regular nuggets, while not super crispy, were warm and fresh tasting, too.

So, there’s something that I learned about my Instant Pot that made me want to share with the world. I searched online for ways to use the IP to keep grilled chicken fresh-tasting and got nothing. Since I needed to know, I figured someone else may also want to know this someday. Now they won’t have to trial-and-error their way.


8 quart Instant Pot
short trivet
small ceramic dish
aluminum foil covering the chicken so water doesn’t get into the dish

*The best noodles are thicker ones: penne, bow-tie, etc. and the rule of thumb is to cook for half the recommended boil time.

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Empowered… ESR4

The Empowered Spouses Retreat, gifted to me by the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation, left me feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and empowered.

Taya Kyle designed these retreats to help military and first responder spouses feel empowered in a variety of ways. The sessions we participated in gave us tools to take back home to combat stress, irritation, and burn-out.  One of the ladies even got a tattoo after she returned, marking permanently on her outside how she grew on the inside.

Taya wishes she had spent more time with her husband, Chris, before he was killed doing the things he loved, and she remembers that learning from her husband wasn’t necessarily the easiest task. It helps if you can learn from a person who is specifically geared toward training.

Two of these activities include shooting a rifle and a bow and arrow.

After being trained on a digital range we were taken to the “real” range. The first time I shot I hit absolutely nothing.  The kick-back was stronger than I anticipated and my arms were tired from holding the firearm. There was a cold side and a hot side of the range: while we were “on deck” (the cold side) we were practicing our aim and by the time I got to the “hot” side my arms were so tired I could barely hold the firearm steady.


I’d call “pull” and hit blue sky every. single. time.

When my turn was over I went back to the bleachers to sit and wait for the other ladies to have their turns. Some surprised themselves at how many clays they hit. I sat there in a sullen mood, disappointed in myself. I really anticipated doing well; possibly even hitting 50% of my clays.

I desperately wanted another turn so when they asked if anyone else wanted to try again, I was one of the handful of ladies who did.

This time I was determined to pay more attention to my breathing. There were fewer ladies watching (many were freezing and went back to the lodge to sit by the fire). I determined that I would not allow myself to feel rushed and I used the smaller of the two rifles.

I hit nothing.

I did notice a marked improvement in my stance and I learned a bit more how to calm my breathing. The instructors were very kind and patient and said that they could tell I was getting very close to the clay.  (There were “tracers” that came out of the shotgun.)

I left disappointed that I hit nothing but glad that I had tried a second time.

One of our activities in the group session later on that day was to focus on what was going on in all five senses. I jotted all my notes down on the experience using the techniques Corie had taught us and I got to the most amazing nugget of truth…

I am enough even though I hit NOTHING.

My worth as a person is not at all tied to my performance on the shooting range or anywhere else. My worth was determined in the beginning… I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

I was totally amazed that my failure on a shooting range could lead me to an even deeper understanding of the scripture He had led me to that weekend. So. Amazing.

It is empowering to know I am who I am supposed to be.

The next day our challenge task was shooting a bow and arrow.

It turns out that the previous day I had been marked as right-eye dominant and shot that way. On this day I was marked left-eye dominant from the start. I asked them to check again and, sure enough, I am left-eye dominant. I have to wonder if I would have done better on the shotgun range had I been shooting left-eye…

I did much better on this task.  I got over 50% of my hits on the target and many of those in kill zones. We took our newfound skills to a 3D range and I enjoyed that, though I think I preferred the targets.

I learned that I hyperextend my arm when shooting and need to hold the bow in a wonky-feeling grasp to avoid bruising my arm:

This next picture is sort of embarrassing because it’s not a very flattering expression, but it makes me laugh so I’ll share it. I had released and I can only guess that this was a time I didn’t hit where I was aiming. Either that or I had hit my arm again, leading to the bruising you’ll see in a later picture.
My hit was the green arrow in the third circle, not the blue one in the dead center. I had the instructor point it out for me while I took a picture. I was pleased! 

Tackling these activities really did empower me. I really think it would be fun to have a set of bows and a LOT of arrows for our family to shoot. I believe I’d purchase the arm gear to protect my arm, though!



This is the end of this series, but the impact of the weekend will last indefinitely. It is a treasured time, indeed.



Previous posts in this series:
1. Refreshed, Rejuvenated, and Empowered: ESR1
2. Refreshed-ESR2
3. Rejuvenated-ESR3

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Rejuvenated… ESR3

I’ve been going 100 miles per hour this past month and I’ve let my blog writing slide.  (Two trips out of the state to various parts of the country and one to Camp Eagle, which is where I am currently writing. Not to mention our already-full normal schedule.)

I want to finish my series about the Empowered Spouses Retreat even though I know I can’t give it all the attention I need to.  Had I written these just after I returned I’d have much better insights.

I will start by saying that the retreat came at the perfect time in my life. It came just before a season of massive change:  those aforementioned  trips to visit loved ones, my 40th birthday, and preparing for an overseas move.  The retreat gave me the boost I needed to not only survive the craziness of the next few months, but to thoroughly enjoy them.

Here are some of the ways I was rejuvenated by the trip:

Our group hiked to a waterfall and along the way I got to catch up with a friend whom I truly love.  My soul needed needed the time I spent with her.  Corie has a way of filling my soul and encouraging me in ways that only God knows I need encouraging.  Oftentimes she encourages me in ways even I didn’t know I needed encouraging. She did this for me in a conversation during breakfast one morning that, OH, man, I needed. Her words resonate still… I felt like God was bolstering me up to be the woman He created me to be… it felt like the cool water of Granite Falls was flowing through my entire soul after spending that time with my friend.  She’s kinda awesome.

Another day, when the majority of the group went to the hot springs, I decided to go for a run.  My goal was to run a loop but to also take the time to go see the falls again. I had my best run of 2017.  I was pleased with my pace, endurance, and breathing. I did great for where I am at this point in my running-journey, but to be at 7,000 ft elevation, I was SUPER pleased! I should have taken picture of it but I had to carry bear spray. Never before have I run with a can of bear spray!

These are the falls featured in the early 90’s movie “A River Runs Through It” with Brad Pitt. This is the place where the guys rode a canoe over the edge, risking their lives.

The fresh air, my good run, the time spent having my soul filled up, rejuvenated me, giving me a boost which has helped me throughout the craziness of the fall PCS-prep season.

Previous posts in this series:
1. Refreshed, Rejuvenated, and Empowered: ESR1
2. Refreshed-ESR2

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Refreshed… ESR2

My trip to Wyoming was well timed: fall has started in some areas of the US but not where I live.

I’m about DONE with Texas heat. Four and a half years here has done me in. I am perfectly fine with the fact that so many people love and adore the warmth that this state has to offer because that leaves me with much more room in the colder locations to experience the peace and quiet that is found in the gorgeous mountains. Let the crowds stay behind in the center of the earth. Take me away to the thin, crisp air, high in the mountains of, well… anywhere!

This particular location was intended to be remote. One of Taya Kyle’s goals with the Empowered Spouses Retreats was to get the wives of military members and first responders away from home, disconnected from electronic responsibilities (temptations?), and to teach them how to shoot a bow and arrow and a shotgun.

You read that right.

And I have the bruises to prove it. But more on that in the post titled “Empowered.”  This one is titled, “Refreshed” because that is one of the three words I can use to describe how I felt returning home. What refreshed me? Well, let me tell you…

First, the scenery.  I adored the view from every spot I stepped my foot. I simply couldn’t find a spot that didn’t take my breath away (and no, that wasn’t because of the altitude 7012 ft.).


Second, the time alone.

We were encouraged to spend any time alone that we needed. On the first full day there I decided to take a walk with my “real camera” as opposed to just taking my phone. I took both lenses, something that has become more of a rarity these days. I took the wrong path at one point but got some gorgeous shots that were worth the detour.


While on my solo walk I saw a herd of horses. I’m not generally afraid of horses and have enjoyed riding them every time I’ve had the chance. But I’ve never been around them alone, without the horses’ master. Without someone to save me if they stampeded. Without the person who could tell me which ones to stay away from. And these horses saw me coming and started right for me. Lazily, thankfully. No stampeding. I said over and over, “I’m brave. Don’t let them smell fear.” One nuzzled my bear spray and I had to snatch it before he walked off with it. (Never have I ever said, “nuzzled my bear spray.”) They were very close, almost close enough to step on my feet but luckily they managed to avoid that. We walked side-by-side for what felt like a mile (but was probably more like 500 feet)  and I managed to escape the herd by the blessed cattle guard at the edge of the property. I may have taken a nanana-booboo picture as I walked away.

When I took this shot I was thinking, “Awe! Horses.”


When I took this one I was thinking, “Huh. Some are looking at me and some are walking my way. At least they’re not stampeding.”


When I took this one I was thinking, “Some look like they’re not really all that interested in me and they look calm enough, that’s good, right?”


When I took this one I was saying, “Breathe slowly. Keep moving forward. They don’t bite unless they smell blood.”


This one had me thinking, “Oh CRAP. If a horse eats a can of bear spray the owner will probably make me pay for him.” And from that point on I carried the spray in my hand, which fortunately, had gloves on it so they couldn’t nick my skin as I was holding the can.


When I took this one I thought, “I’ll take one over my shoulder in case I’m lost forever – then people can get my camera and see what my final moments entailed.”


And when I took this one I had begun to regulate my breathing since they had stepped back (probably when they realized I had no food, wasn’t food, and was not about to let them have the bear spray).


More came from every angle to check out the stranger in their territory._JEN2631

Some weren’t even horses!


I was surrounded 360*.


As I began approaching the cattle guard they started to give up the chase._JEN2661

And as promised, the nanana-booboo picture.


Walking on from there I did some serious self-talk telling myself that I was brave! I knew Joanna from back home would be LAUGHING her head off at me were she sitting on the fence post watching the entire thing go down. In fact, Joanna’s image was the only thing that kept me going forward! I would not have considered this experience “therapeutic” by any stretch of the imagination, but I did walk through it by myself, and I came out on the other side unscathed and quite proud of my accomplishment. (And, with the bear spray intact, thank you very much.)

Once my heart rate resumed a semi-normal rate (which was slightly elevated all week thanks to the altitude) I began to, once again, notice the extreme beauty all around me.

The third way this retreat left me refreshed is in that I got to do something for me. Photography is something that I enjoy, and I wasn’t rushed in a stolen moment alone. I got to take my time and experience this beauty on my own pace, and it was for me.

Crossing the bridge…


You can see the bridge just on the other side of the huge puddle, and my newfound friends, the horses and mules, in the field.


I stopped to change lenses, something that honestly has been too much work for me lately. I haven’t wanted to mess with it. The joy of photography has waned a bit and I wanted to have fun doing something for me again.

The fourth of many reasons I felt refreshed as a result of this trip was the temperature. Fall was there. In the coolness of the air and the warmth of the colors.


In this image you can see  the cabins dotted around the property and the lodge, the red building the spouses stayed in. The smoke was from the fireplace in the dining room and I knew several of my new spouse-friends were sitting by that fire, enjoying a cup of coffee and a good book. _JEN2686

When I got a bit closer to the lodge I took another shot of it.


I kid you not, there was a moose there outside of our lodge several times throughout the week. A pair of moose interrupted one of Corie’s sessions and we herded noisily to to the window to get pictures. #moosePopUp became the slogan for the week and fit in perfectly with what Corie was talking on. (Later in the week a mouse ran up the chimney and we declared that it was a #mousePopUp which gave us little more than a brief pause. Ultimately do we let things interrupt our lives BIG TIME (like the moose did, though we were thrilled by that interruption) or do we let them roll on by (like with the mouse)?  There were many different takes on this and we explored several of them over the time spent in the mountains.)


Like my clever picture?  Clever but not original. Another of the women there took a similar picture and posted it on Facebook. (That’s a Moose Crossing sign.) This was a picture I took of the moose while out on my walk.  The pictures from the lodge dining room were quite blurry. Fortunately, the moose stuck around much of the week and we saw him and a female several times. _JEN2701_JEN2706

The gorgeous scenery, being alone, doing something for me, and the crispness of the air refreshed me to the core. It requires vulnerability from me to write this, but I had actually worried that Texas had taken away my thick skin: that once I was back in a cold climate I’d be miserable and unable to handle it. I can honestly say that this is not the case. I was in heaven. In light of my question: “Who will I find under all of my titles” one part of my identity has remained. It may seem silly to you, but my love of the mountains, cold, snow, and all things fall has been with me my entire life. I was afraid I had lost some of that and this trip revealed to me that “I” am still “me.”

That is refreshing.

Posted in personal development, travel | 2 Comments

1st Cavalry Division – Change of Command with Cavalry Charge

I had no intention of writing a blog post today but I got a bit sentimental earlier at the Change of Command so here I am.

I took four my kids and my neighbor’s two boys (with the help of a friend… my van doesn’t have enough seats!) to this event today, knowing it will be our last opportunity to attend one of these here at Fort Hood. The ceremony was held at Cooper Field, where Matt’s welcome home (from Afghanistan) was held.

As a Chaplain Family we get the unique opportunity to move around to different kinds of units.  Matt has been the Chaplain for a Basic Training battalion, a Cavalry Squadron that had Bradleys, a Military Intelligence battalion (Arial Exploitation), an Attack Recoinisance Battalion, and Division Artillery.  Cavalry blood runs thick and with three of his assignments Cav (including both of his deployments), we will always have a very special place in our hearts for the Cavalry.

Yesterday I was thrilled to watch flyovers of apaches and today, while I was getting ready for the Change of Command ceremony, it hit me that the apaches were probably practicing for the event.  Sure enough, one of my friends responded to my video on Facebook saying that her husband was on the radio directing them yesterday!  I ran into him at the ceremony and told him what a treat it was to watch the flyovers yesterday. (Video at the bottom of the page.)

The kids and I arrived at the field and found our spots. (Carson, Bailey, and Parker in the stands, me and the three littles off to the right-hand side near the horse detachment.)

I’m sure the ceremony was great, though I couldn’t hear all of it. I’m sure the people who were being hailed and farewelled would have much more to say about the ceremony itself, but to be honest, the kids and I were mostly there for the charge.

Near the end of the song the band led the audience in the Cavalry Song and then the Army Song. Last year we those songs every morning for a semester before we started our school day. Their knowledge of these two very important songs came in handy today and they mentioned this to me when we got home. (I felt that was a Army-mom win!)

When it was time for the Cavalry charge I videoed but did my best to watch with my own eyes so that I could enjoy it directly AND have video for later.

I literally teared up as the apaches flew over. My heart will be sad to leave here for many reasons, and seeing these apaches fly over all the time is one of them.

To make the whole event more emotional a friend whom I thought had already deployed walked up behind us and we got to chat a little. It was nice to be know we hadn’t lost our opportunity to say goodbye before he deploys and we PCS.

This picture is incredible and I share with permission from the 1st Cavalry Division PAO.22215367_10155910955699674_1863132688_n

So without further delay, here is the video of the charge.

This is the field where Matt’s welcome home (from Afghanistan) was held.

Apache Flyover 10-2-2017 from jennifer Hamrick on Vimeo.

Here is another video shot by a friend and it shows a different angle and in this one, you can hear the music.

And another video by another friend:

Carr Version of Cavalry Charge from jennifer Hamrick on Vimeo.


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Refreshed, Rejuvenated, and Empowered: ESR1

You may recall that Matt and I were gifted a Revitalization Retreat in April from the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation.  It was wonderful and its purpose was to allow my soldier and me to reconnect – away from life, the kids, responsibility, and the job.  It definitely allowed us time to enjoy each other and to make sure we are putting each other first.

I strongly encourage any of you reading who are military or first responder families to go to their website and nominate yourselves for a retreat.  You are also welcome to nominate another couple whom you feel is in need of just such a weekend.  I am so excited that a couple I nominated was awarded a retreat which is coming at a very pivotal time in their lives!  The joy I receive at watching them prepare for a time away is almost as great as the joy I felt at being alone with my beloved for the weekend.  Almost.

The “Foundation” as those of us in the family call it, also offers spouses of military members and first responders a weekend to get away and spend time focusing on SELF. Not in a selfish way, but in a way that allows us to put aside the duties and responsibilities placed on us as wives, moms, spouses of people who serve in stressful jobs.  When told to prepare for the weekend by thinking of what I wanted to get out of the time spent in Wyoming, I came up blank.  I had no clue.  I had no idea what it meant to prepare for five days focusing on ME; my needs, who I am.

I know what it means to work on “me” as a homeschool-teacher.  I know what it is to work on “me” as a mom (“boy mom;” “adoptive mom;” “mom of many;”).  I know what it is to work on me as a wife.  I know what it is to work on me as a Christian woman.

But to work on me… just me?  I was totally stumped.  I wasn’t sure there was a “me” under all these titles.

In fact I was so stumped that as we went around the circle telling everyone just what it was that we were there to work on, I tried to think of something clever to say. When it was my turn I admitted my problem and in the admission, I determined my need: “I need to know who I am without all these titles.”


Over the next few hours a slight panic set in as I was afraid that underneath my titles would be… nothing.

I sat in the sessions soaking in the camaraderie of other wives who know this hard life.  Who know the fear that comes sneaking in when our husbands walk out the door (though thankfully, Matt and I are not in a season where fear is prevalent). I got to share what was on my heart: how much I respect the LEOW community. For those of you, like me before this retreat, who don’t know what LEOW means, it stands for Law Enforcement Officer Wives. My heart goes out to the women whose husband find themselves in a war zone on our own soil. Their husbands go to work every day in their battle gear. Sure, mine goes for 6-15 months at a time, and it has its own set of fears and worries. But Americans recognize that and support him and what he does. Our first responders are often seen as the bad guys even though they signed on the dotted line to be the protectors of their towns and cities. How unfair and utterly disturbing this is.* I am able to proclaim that I’m proud of my soldier while some of my friends who are married to law enforcement have to hide what their husband does because otherwise, they and their children become literal targets.

So, now that that soapbox has been covered, I’ll move on.

My issue was that I didn’t know who I was under my titles. I spent time processing this and the first morning I woke up in the mountains I sent some time journaling using the technique Corie taught us. I forgot to pack my Bible (gasp… Chaplain Wife fail) and really wanted to hear from God about my own struggle. I didn’t want to just jot down my own ideas… I wanted to hear from HIM about my issues. I asked him to bring to my mind a scripture that I could meditate on during that time of quiet before the day started.

The one that came to mind was, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made.” I looked it up just now to find that it is from Psalm 139:14 and is actually said from the first person, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” but on that morning I heard it from God’s perspective… the perspective I needed.

By the end of my journaling session, I had reached the bottom of my issue… I am not my titles, and I was created by God Himself, and I was made wonderfully. If my titles fall away – if I lose my job as a homeschooling mom (and I will, one day), I am still wonderfully made. If I lose everything that makes me who I am today, I am still wonderfully made. At my core, I am enough. Who that is without my titles, I don’t know. But God made it clear to me that I don’t need to know. Often, when people ask me how to know God’s will for their lives I encourage them to be still and listen. He’s not a hide-and-seek God. He wants us to know His will. He’s not running ahead of us turning corners before we can catch Him, telling us that it’s our fault that we can’t find Him.

If He’s quiet on an issue, it’s likely because it’s not time to know the next thing. My encouragement is to sit still, keep searching scripture, spend time in prayer, and do the last thing He said to do.

The last thing God told me to do is grow in my faith, be a loving wife to Matt, raise these five amazing kids, and homeschool my children. (Those last two are totally separate tasks, by the way.) I can’t know who I am without these titles because He hasn’t told me who I am without those titles. I’m to continue on in these roles because these are the roles He last told me to take on. There are a few titles He’s asked me (allowed me) to put aside for now. Some I hated to put aside (participating in PWOC) and some I’m okay to be done with (teaching in the public school system).

What He will ask me to do in the future is for me to find out in my future.  Trying to find out what I’m going to do next, when I’m done with my current job (specifically homeschooling) is like trying to open a birthday present that I’m going to receive on a birthday that is many years away.  I can’t open it because it hasn’t been given to me yet.  

Do you know what a relief that is? To not have to know what I’m going to do next? To be able to sit in my current roles, roles I adore, by the way? I don’t have to worry that I’m not doing enough (writing a book, working on a master’s degree, contributing to society outside of our four walls).am enough because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am enough as is. Where I am. How I am.  

The weight that lifted off my shoulders was palpable and I didn’t even know I was carrying it around. I left that concern in the mountains of Wyoming.

God knows my favorite way to have confirmation in what I’m learning from Him is in the form of words: spoken, written, and shared between friends. When I shared this story with Corie, she told me that she too had gotten that scripture from God that very morning. It was as if God were telling me, “Yep. The message you got this morning was from me, not just you writing down what you wanted to hear.”

That was enough to make the retreat complete and worthwhile.

But there was so much more.  However, I’ve been told that blog posts shouldn’t be this long… in fact, they should be about half this long.  I’ll stop here and share a picture or two. Future posts will include more pictures than words and maybe a fun story or two.


As I stepped off the plane I saw snow. Just a tiny bit, but it was snow!


When I entered the building, oddly enough, I was totally surprised to see Corie waiting on me! Of course I knew she was going to be there that weekend, but I had read the email wrong and thought she was arriving an hour after me. (I blame jet lag – even though there was only a one-hour time difference.) We’ve known each other since college (Go Runnin’ Bulldogs) and were stationed together at Fort Carson for short season. We got to catch up briefly in 2014 when (my) Matt and Corie were honored as Distinguished Alumni at GWU’s Homecoming. There is never enough in-real-person time but there is something special about friendships that pick up where they left off and can survive, and even thrive, in spite of time and space between.




(And for the record, getting to spend time with Corie was enough to send me home refreshed. That alone was such a treat! I took home so much, left so much behind, and got to see a dear friend… Thank you Chris Kyle Frog Foundation!)

*Please note that this is not a political statement about anything specific.  My blog is not the place for that discussion… I will say that I expect law enforcement personnel to be upstanding, law-abiding people who will judge a situation as accurately as humanly possible, and I will say that respect goes both ways.  If you wonder at all about my deeper thoughts on this issue, it’ll have to be done via private message.


Posted in personal development, travel | Tagged | 4 Comments

School’s in Session: Toddler version

Anna – Almost-20-months:
This little girl is incredibly smart.  Her pediatrician recently told me that she is WAY advanced of her peers.  She’s a blast!  Her vocabulary impresses me every day and her problem-solving skills cause me problems.  In fact, she learned to climb out of her crib this week. The camera we have set up only records short segments of  time and it missed the actual dismount, but captured one of her earlier attempts.

This semester has been incredibly smooth thanks to Anna being a good napper.  We wake her at 7:30 and by 9:15-9:30 she’s back down for her first nap.  She usually plays in her crib for about 40 minutes before falling asleep and then sleeps about an hour and a half.  This puts us right at lunch time, the perfect time for her to get up, hang out with brothers, eat some lunch, and play downstairs while no one is busy doing school work.

After playing for a while she goes back down and sleeps for about 3 hours.  The past seven weeks really have been awesome thanks to her working into the schedule so well. I know that’s a blessing and I don’t take it for granted.  Especially now that we see her schedule slightly changing (what with her being able to get out of her crib, and all).

I haven’t talked about this much but I do foresee a time when Anna will go to preschool for a few days a week.  Once she drops that morning nap for good we may need to let her go play with her friends for a few hours a few days a week. All of my boys have enjoyed this fun time and I can tell you now that Anna will love it. In fact, this week we pulled up to the PX (a big white building which, to a toddler, looks enough like our chapel) and she started kicking and saying excitedly, “My class!  My Class!” She thought we were at church and about to take her to her class! Her little legs were so kicking so hard and she was so excited! It about broke my heart to tell her that we weren’t going to class, but shopping for an iron since ours died last week. Not nearly as fun as seeing her teachers and friends.

Anna has been a HOOT lately. Some of the videos and pictures below have nothing to do with school being in session but they’re cute so they’re going to be posted.





The backyard is infested with fire ants.  They love Anna and the feeling is not mutual.






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