Christmas 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A quote from the church’s website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fort Polk to Montgomery, AL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Fort Hood to Fort Polk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pull-away-day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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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!

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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…)

Posted in family, friends, military, Texas, travel | 2 Comments

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!

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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.)

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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.

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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:

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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.

 

STATS:
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.

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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!

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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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