Saturday, June 25, 2016

Military Wife Week 5 - Graduation Edition (Or, !!!!!!!!!!!!!)

A crazy week of work, but I knew at the end of it there were so many happy things. On Wednesday evening, Mom flew in from Utah. She was going to come for the month of July for the single purpose of helping me out with the girls this summer while Chris is gone and I am approaching whale-size. 

The girls and I drove to the airport to get Mom around 8:45 at night and right when we got out to the car the storm sirens started. It turned out to be literally nothing, I think I maybe saw a sprinkle of rain, but it certainly made me nervous. 

We picked up Nana and had a quick dinner of Arby's for her (it is amazing just how much closes at 9pm) before heading  home and convincing the girls to go to bed, which was challenging given the level of excitement with Nana being here.

Thursday morning at 415 am ish I left with my mother-in-law for the Atlanta airport because we were going to Chris' graduation together. We got to the airport, parked, got inside into the security line, and I had my ID and ticket out and in the hands of the TSA agent when he says to me, "your ID is expired". In a matter of milliseconds my heart rate went through the roof until I remembered, ONLY BY GOD'S AMAZING GRACE, that God had put it into my head to bring my passport along that morning. 

Oh. My. 

I am still in awe of this moment, of God's love for me in something so seemingly small but to me was a world of difference. I was able to get through the airport. 

The flight left at 5:50 and we rushed down to get on board, getting to the gate when they were lining up the first group. Originally Sophia was going to travel with (actually, both girls) but we found out that childcare was not available at one of the dinner events and children were not allowed. So now Sophia has an airplane ticket to use on Southwest in the next year or so! 

I worked on Bethany's stocking the whole flight and made some OK progress. When we got off the plane I was so exhausted. I had barely slept the night before from excitement and had quite the adrenaline rush in the security line so I was very worn out. We made it to the rental car area and headed towards Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, AL for the graduation and surrounding events. It was about a 2.5 hour drive. We thought we wouldn't make the first event (that we could get to), a drill event of some kind, and would barely make the awards ceremony in the afternoon but we forgot that the time changed going from Georgia to Alabama so we actually gained an hour. Nice bonus. 

After a couple of UNSWEET iced tea stops (think we stuck out?) we arrived at the base and parked by Welch field in time to see half of the event. We saw Chris right after, in his dress blues, and I almost broke down crying right then and there.

We had lunch with Chris at the DFAC (Dining Facility) and he told us all about his experience there, from the first couple of days where they couldn't talk or make eye contact and had 10 minutes to eat, to the clean up procedures and other things that they had to do daily. And the food was pretty good (not gruel, crusty bread, water...but they even had slushies!).

After that we went to his dorm and took a small tour of that, meeting some members of his flight, and then went to the "shoppette" (a small base exchange) before heading to the awards ceremony. They gave a nice slideshow of the preceeding weeks and gave out awards (physical fitness, best flight, etc.) and then it was time to go to the hotel to check in and get ready for the Heritage dinner, the formal dinner, at a hotel in downtown Montgomery. 

This was an awesome experience. I have previously detailed my difficulties in finding a maternity formal dress so I will spare the details but it was really quite an exciting experience to get dressed up and spend time at this officers dinner. We had fun experiencing their traditions like "The Grog" (pretty much jungle juice drunk from a toilet bowl), eating a very good dinner and listening to a speaker divulge some wisdom as a doctor in the Air Force. Chris, as the social officer, was in charge of table decor and because his flight was the Oscar flight they went with a Hollywood theme, complete with red carpets, mini Oscars, and sunglasses. After dinner he returned by bus to base and we returned to our hotel for a good night's sleep before graduation in the morning. 

The festivities of the day started off with handing out graduation certificates in their flight room, which is where they pretty much had class every day together as a group. It was an intimate gathering, and exciting to see graduation certificates handed out. One member of Chris' flight detailed some of their daily lives while at training, including their instruction and rules that were in place (primarily, uniformity and calling out specific commands)! 

After this it was time for the parade ceremony, the final marching of their COT experience. It was fun to see the entire graduating class of over 220 doing the marching in unison on the field. Pictures are probably better than words for this, and I have lots below. Congratulations to the Air Force Commissioned Officer Training Valadez Class 16-04! Especially the Cobra squadron ("ssssss"), Oscar (Academy) Flight!

After graduation he spoke with a retiring military chaplain who had attended the event and then it was time to leave. Bags were loaded into the car and off we went to do some final shopping at the shoppette, larger exchange, and commissary before heading to the hotel.

Chris was relieved and ready to be in civilian clothes, and after he changed we we to lunch at Jim and Nick's BBQ before heading back and resting for the afternoon, as well as some bag repacking so I could bring home some things he didn't need for the following 6 weeks. Chris and I took a short nap, as did his Mom, and we met up for dinner at the Mellow Mushroom (pizza place) before going back for the night. 

It was more than I could have hoped for to have that much time with Chris. We were able to just be up together and talk about his experiences, and watch Twister, and just enjoy each other's company. It was hard to believe it had been 5 weeks, and even harder to believe there were another 5-6 to go. 

After loading Chris up in the car in the morning we had breakfast and headed to the base again. He and the other 30 or so chaplain candidates left early on Saturday morning (around 8 am) for their tour of bases in the South, starting with South Carolina. Hopefully he has a chance to meet up with Meghan and Stephen while there. 

It was a very hard goodbye. Perhaps harder than the first one because this time around I know what I am in for with 5 weeks without him. There were multiple times during the graduation and surrounding events where I either welled up with tears or actually cried. Part of it was how surreal it seems. This is a goal he (we) have been working toward for a long time and I was so overwhelmingly proud to see him up there graduating, to see him part of the COT group. Other times somebody would say something like "you are here because someone else isn't; you are standing in the place that someone else wanted" because that statement was true of us for so long. It was just incredible to see him there. Of course, when I said goodbye again I was definitely crying many ugly tears. And today, right now as I'm waiting at the airport, I find myself just crying and trying not to. 

We took our time traveling back to Atlanta, making a stop at Dillard's and at a farmers market where I had genuine southern peaches. We also stopped at Zaxby's for lunch (I still prefer Cane's or Chick-fil-A). It was a nice ride back, though I'm sure I was a terrible travel companion just thinking about Chris. 

Lynn and I got to the airport around 4:15 in the afternoon, in time for her flight at 6:30 to go see my father-in-law in Chicago (today is their anniversary). My flight isn't until 9 and I was actually at the airport TOO EARLY to check in my bag. I can safely say that's never happened before. I waited until I was able to check it and then went through security. I have spent some time working on Bethany's stocking, on the one hand hating the quiet and sorely missing Chris and the girls, and on the other hand glad I can be with my thoughts for a bit. Catch up on reading. All that. I did start up with the tears again when a friendly TSA agent asked what brought me to Atlanta in casual conversation. I had to tell him through tears and words barely choked out. Poor guy probably won't ask that question again for a while.

This amazing trip would not have been possible were it not for God's grace. I was able to get here (passport in hand!), and my wonderful mom offered to watch the girls so I could have sweet time with my husband. My mother-in-law laid the ground work that made it possible to come, from a car rental to the first night hotel stay, to multiple iced tea stops. By God's grace Chris was accepted into this program, has an endorsing agency, is able to do this while finishing seminary, and graduated COT. What an amazing God we serve, that he loves us so much that he didn't just die for our sins to save us from ourselves but he gives us blessings beyond what we could expect (and certainly much more than we deserve). 

I am ready to see my Mom and my girls, and glad to be over the halfway hump. I can't wait to see my husband again in 5 weeks, and to have him back for everyday. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Military Wife Week 3-4

Today is the start of week 4 with Chris being gone at training. It has managed to be a very busy summer so far (actually, late spring? I think today is the official first day of summer) and I have spent a lot of time wandering around like a crazy person barely knowing which direction is up. Or it feels like it.

I will always look back on this time sweetly, however tough it is, because I have had support from family and friends in ways that I didn't expect or imagine. Even small things have made a huge difference in how the girls and I are doing. Chris would be (will be) happy to know how well I have been taken care of since he has been gone. And, in part I think God has been preparing me for this time; this last year was crazy on the two of us with lots of late night commitments and things during the week, so in some ways it is still like the summer has been a bit of a slow down (a very small bit).

First, Chris' family has been a tremendous help. When my in-laws are going to be out of town they make sure that I am not alone in one way or another, and have asked to make sure I have people coming by or at least contacts that I can easily reach. My brother-in-law has also been a huge help, and I have not felt abandoned in the least.

Second, the support from friends at church is overwhelming and really amazing. It is rare that I walk the girls out to the car by myself, which is really probably a bigger deal than most people might realize. It makes an amazing difference to have someone walk the kids out to the car with me and get one of them secured. I have had people calling me, texting me, asking how I am doing, and providing support in so many ways. It has really helped me (try to) stay positive. I'm far from being an amazing mother, but the support that I am getting has helped me be so much better than I could be by myself.

Third, and I can hardly wait for it, my Mom is flying in on Wednesday to watch the girls while Chris' Mom and I go to his graduation, and then staying for the month of July to help with the girls. This is another one of those things that makes an incredible difference - it makes mornings a lot easier to get one person ready (well, two, but the other one is stuck in me making me feel like a moose) instead of three.

One of the challenges this summer has actually been finding a maternity dress that is formal and doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Chris told me after we registered for the dinner the night before his graduation that it is a formal event. I am *SO* glad he told me because otherwise I would have been the person in the schlub attire, an even bigger no-no than normal when you are pregnant I think. At first I was like "How fun!! Formal!!" and then I was like "Oh dear, I'm going to be very pregnant".  So I thought I found one on eBay, and ordered it, one of those lovely ones from China that comes in an envelope the size of a small bubble mailer, and though it was listed as "maternity" it was not in maternity sizes. So, fail. The next glimmer of hope I had was that my friend Katie, who is also pregnant and is due this Saturday, was originally supposed to be in a wedding last weekend which was called off, and said I could use her formal. But, suffice it to say I grew in different areas and it was not going to fit quite right.  My third effort paid off. I ordered a maternity formal from David's Bridal (IN MULTIPLE SIZES JUST IN CASE) and I was terrified because I hear stories all the time about their dresses taking a month or two to arrive for bridesmaids. But, they came in time and fit properly and now I have a dress! Amazing how much effort that took. And in time for the event Thursday evening. My mother-in-law asked if I was planning to check my bag on Thursday and I was like "No Way!!" I mean, I can't lose my luggage this time around. Any other time, sure, I can replace things, but when it took weeks to find this silly dress? Nope.

The girls are growing leaps and bounds. Sophia started soccer lessons last week. Thursday was her first day. She was really excited about going and it looked like she had an absolute blast. Pictures are (of course) this Thursday when Mom is here, but I am looking forward to them. She has a little red t-shirt that looks like a dress on her (even though I ordered the smallest size possible) and these adorable mesh athletic shorts, with frozen-themed soccer shoes. Love it. She is on the same team as her friend, Taylor, and this is perhaps what really makes it fun for her. She is more of a people person than an activity person. They had a good time with their coaches running around the field and practicing "drills". They spend an hour every Tuesday and Thursday morning doing "drills" and will have a game at the end of it. The goal is to teach them the game. Of course, it is still going to be bunch ball, but the idea behind it is a good one.

Sophie's soccer lessons were really hard on Heidi, who HATED to not be involved in the activity. There were a couple of times I had to chase her down and bring her back to me because she just wanted to jump in too, and she kept pointing and saying "Soofee!!" (how she says Sophie) and broke down crying a couple of times as well. But her language skills are absolutely exploding. It feels like within a matter of a month or two she has gone from few words to two + word phrases that are (for the most part) intelligible. She is also "counting" and will go "one, two, free, six, sebey, eight, nine, tan, eleby, twelb..." and that's about it. For whatever reason four and five get skipped but she makes it to twelve. I love it. She's also changing a lot as far as hair is concerned and now even has enough hair to put in pig tails *easily* without making it too stretched.

They both LOVE the summer weather and have had fun playing in their sprinklers and swimming pool.  They can't get enough of it. They have one that's a good-sized inflatable pool with an arch made up of two inflated pieces; the arch recently separated, and it was almost like two pool floats fell into the pool. Well, this led to scary games of "king of the hill" with mommy having lots of panic attacks as the girls fell into the water. Heidi is terrifyingly not afraid of the water. She fell into the pool trying to get into it and while she did look startled for a minute, she spent the next several minutes just getting in and out of the pool over and over again to practice it. After feeling tired of panicking, I removed the archway pieces and deflated them, thus ending the fun and games with it, but the girls still had a blast with the pool.

I am well into the third trimester here. Bethany is extremely active, and I feel like I notice more of a correlation with her than I did with the others between eating and activity. Shortly after eating anything she is realllly moving. She also does a long dance at night when I lay down to sleep. Overall the pregnancy has gone smoothly. Lots of heartburn. Nothing too new there, especially with the end of my pregnancies.  However, for the past 9-10 days I was having these massive headaches that felt kind of like pre-migraines. Tylenol and other things weren't helping. The doc even gave a (baby safe) prescription migraine medicine to help, and nothing. Ultimately, I think what caused them is sleeping on my left side, which I am told I am supposed to do when I am pregnant. I am not normally a left side sleeper, so I prop myself up and force it, and sometimes wake up with my arm asleep in the middle of the night. I think this eventually led to tension; for the last couple of nights I have been heating and cooling, and massaging my neck, and find that it's helped quite a bit actually.  Otherwise, it is going well, and I am loving our early bonding. Love my baby girl, and I can't wait to meet her.

Speaking of things I can't wait for, I started writing this post on Monday and it is now Wednesday. Mom flew into town tonight and I am SO EXCITED she is here! It is 11:30 at night and I have a 5:50 a.m. flight tomorrow morning, which means I *should* be sleeping but I'm too excited because tomorrow (!) I am going to see Chris!!! I. Can't. Wait. His graduation is on Friday and there are some other events going on tomorrow as well, like the formal, and then he has another 5 or so weeks of training. But how exciting in the middle of this all that I am going to see him! Seriously. I miss that man!

Well, I suppose I should try and get some rest. Budget is balanced, suitcase is packed, I just need the sleeping part to happen so I'm not zombie-ish tomorrow.  Praising God for family, for opportunities, for a few more hours of hopeful rest.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Military Wife - Week 2 (Nana and Papa edition)

Monday, May 30th began the second week of life with Chris away at COT. I had the day off for Memorial day, and it was quite lovely just to have that extra time with the girls. Mostly we just hung around the house and did laundry (it is an exciting life that I lead, after all) but we did spend a good amount of time playing outside, running in sprinklers, and other shenanigans.

May 31st, on my birthday, my parents arrived from their travels! They started out on their journey I think on May 21st, and they headed out to Aunt Meghan and Uncle Stephen's in South Carolina to see Baby Claire. Of course, Baby Claire isn't much of a baby anymore and come October will be big sister Claire, but for the time being that is her name. After a visit there, including a first birthday party, they drove up through Ohio and spent some time with Dad's sister, Susan, and her husband Dave and his (Dad's) niece Tracy before they went up to Michigan to see Colleen. They also stopped for a quick lunch in Clare with some of mom's relatives. After Michigan, they drove across to Minnesota and stayed with us for 5 nights before leaving once again for Utah. It will be a welcome sight to pull into the driveway, I'm sure!

We had a great time with them here. I requested Cheesecake Factory for my birthday, and my birthday slice of cheesecake lasted more than one day (forgot how rich that was). The girls got to spend the day with them on Wednesday while I was at work and then Thursday we did some birthday shopping for me which took us on a nice tour of Minnesota, before we ended up at the Mall of America. Sophia picked out her birthday presents too, from the American Girl store. Baby Anna got a new tutu outfit and a car seat, which we have rarely been able to leave the house without. Because the car seat is intended to go... *wait for it...* the car. So why wouldn't it come with us everywhere? Heidi also fell in love with a giant Minnie Mouse that was about her size when we were in the Disney Store, and scoped out her own future Bitty Baby (I can't believe my baby is almost 2)! 

Friday the girls got another day with Nana and Papa. Kind of a yucky weather day. Actually, kind of a yucky weather week, compared with the previous week and what it is supposed to be next week, so the girls were never able to wear their new swimming suits from Nana and Papa while they were here. But, Nana will be here again soon!

Saturday was the Walk for Life! It was really fun to have Nana and Papa be able to join us for it this year, though we missed having Daddy there. Our family goal was met literally at midnight the night before, thanks to amazing family and friends willing to give their support. We also had a large group from church come, and Sophia had friends Ellie and Dylan there, as well as Dylan's siblings Lindsey and Liam. We took a nice group photo and then went on the walk. Of course, the second the walk is about to start Sophia turns to me and says "I have to go potty really bad!!"  Yes, naturally. So we booked it in the church, she went potty, and we RAN to catch up to the rest of the crowd and were at the back of the line, just before the end banner. They catered Dickey's for lunch this year, which was just wonderful and really made it more of an event. They also had face painting. If I remember correctly, they have had face painting there every year that I have done it, but Sophia was really old enough to see it and have interest this time. Dylan got a giant rainbow on his cheek, Ellie was turned into a lion (and completed the look with growling!) and Sophia was painted into Minnie Mouse. The best part for the kids was probably the balloons. I think throughout the walk we probably lost 5 or 6 balloons and only one out of all of the ones we had had throughout the day actually made it home. It was a special walk to because this year was the director's last year before retiring in a few weeks - and she is the one that founded Amnion, I believe in 1990 or 1991.  God was good, and the rainstorm and thunderstorm that had been threatening that morning all week didn't actually occur. It was even WARM for the walk. We started to feel some minor sprinkles as we were eating lunch but it never really turned into anything.  We relaxed the rest of Saturday, and really I was needing a nap after the walk just as much as the girls did. I was glad Papa was there to do all of the heavy lifting with pushing the double stroller.

Sunday was a sad day. It is always such an incredibly hard goodbye when Mom and Dad leave. Sunday involved a 10 hour drive for them, with a stop in Montana (no buffalo, but they did see antelope...though the antelope were not playing).  They arrived home Monday evening to two very happy shelties. I'm sure it was relieving to get home and not be on the road, but we really miss seeing them.  After church Sunday we spent some time preparing for Oma and Papa to come home from their trip (just barely missing my parents) but found out that their flight had been canceled and they had to spend an extra day in Europe. Which probably would have been awesome, except Bob was supposed to start work the day after they got back down in Chicago, and they couldn't get their bags back off of the plane... the rest of their trip prior to that sounds like it was incredible though.

And as for Daddy :) Well, the weekends so far have been the hardest for the girls. I think this is because this is when they got a lot of Daddy time. I think there has been a difference in what is harder for me. Sometimes it just hits me.

Have you ever seen the movie Broadcast News? I can't say that I'm recommending you go watch it. I watched it a long time ago and really remember literally nothing from the movie except for the anecdote which I am about to relate to you. The character that Holly Hunter plays in that movie is very stressed out, and every once in a while will sit at her desk and just cry a couple of deep sobs, and then move on with her life. That's kind of how I feel. I'll be going along just fine, and then suddenly it'll hit me that it's been only two weeks, and how much I miss Chris, and I'll just sit and sob for like 5 minutes...and then I'm okay to go again. Well, more okay.  And then I find myself pulling up songs like "Fishin' in the Dark" (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) or "I Will Be Here" (Steven Curtis Chapman) because they remind me of Chris and listening to them doesn't actually make me cry less (can you believe that?).

Anyway. Here we are, two weeks down. Every night we've at least sent a quick back and forth text message; we've had a couple of phone calls and have been able to FaceTime 3 times. Last night was one of those times that he called and we could FaceTime. And literally it was just God's amazing timing. The girls were having a bit of a rough night because we were going to bed kind of late. One of those times where it's cry-over-everything kind of nights.  And then we FaceTimed with Chris, and it was like refrigerated aloe vera on sunburn to see him, for all of us. The girls really calmed down after that, and we went to bed with little further trauma.

Tonight, though, led to one of those Holly-Hunter-in-Broadcast-News breakdowns because I tucked the girls in, turned out the lights, finished singing and hugs and kisses goodnight and was leaving the room when Heidi said "Mama!!" and I said, "Yes, Heidi?" She asked, "Mama, where's Daddy?" (Only the "where's" sounded kind of like "aihrs" in toddler speak, but the meaning was clear). It was very sweet to hear her asking for her Daddy.  We can't wait to see him again.  I did have a cool bracelet made for myself (my birthday gift to me! I'm so happy!) from Origami Owl that I've been wearing daily (pictured below).

God is my rock! 

Candy from the Biggest Candy Store in Minnesota!

Heidi trying a "sour" salt and vinegar chip. She was disappointed.

Mommy and Nana resting while girlies play with dollies

"Look at the camera, Heidi!"

Trying out my new wrap with Heidi in it...

...she doe snot like to be confined.


Nana snuggling with Pooh Bear, Heidi is too busy with Mickey Mouse