Thursday, November 17, 2016

Found my gu

Refreshment can come in unexpected ways.

This friend has been my gu.

Unintentionally, we've had weekly field trips that have brought more refreshment than I could imagine.  She invited us to join them at the Phoenix Children's Museum and it was so nice to have a change of pace and a whole day with friends.

This week, her husband gave us a special tour of the border patrol station.  The kids were on cloud nine!  I was a little intimidated by what goes on just miles from our home...

I'm so thankful for this sweet friend to get me through the last few weeks.  Family comes in just a few first "water station"!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

It's like running a marathon

I like the metaphor that deployment is like running a marathon.  There are so many similarities and in a way, it helps me normalize the emotions that are running through our family.  Ironically, we have about 26 weeks of deployment, probably a little more, but it works for the analogy.

There are nerves before a big race and doubts if you can actually complete it.  Just like before a deployment.

The race begins and you take off.  You think,  "I've got this!".  Sure, you glance down a few times at your watch to check your speed, but your enjoying the feeling of all the nerves finally settling down.  The race you've been training for is finally here and now you can just enjoy each mile.
Just like the first few weeks of deployment.  You take over the bed and watch a few movies you've been dying to see and enjoy a few simple meals.

But then mile 6 hits.  Your legs are starting to feel the run.  You're starting to get thirsty but have another few miles until a water station.  You start to panic that you still have 20 more miles to go and wonder how you will endure the rest of the race.

This is where we are in deployment.  Mile 6.  We are starting to feel the burn.  We miss Ben, Ben misses us and we're all a little down.  And we have 20 more to go. 

In a race, you have to settle into that discomfort.  You have to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.  You take a gu and let your mind go somewhere else.

I told the kids this analogy today and told them that we just need to find our gu and our distraction.

Be warned if you think this is a great idea.  A 9, 6 and 4 year old do not get analogies and real life metaphors.  They were like,  "Okay, let's go get some gu!"  We walked to the park and Eli asked if he could run ahead and asked for his gu.  He literally took me literally.  Face palm.

Seriously though, I've been thinking today about what our gu and mental distraction can be.  How can we become comfortable with the uncomfortable?

Saturday, October 29, 2016

San Diego Zoo

In the midst of my calamity week, I was reminded about the San Diego Zoo special for October.  Kids get in free!  I was under the impression that active duty military also get in free, but they are a little misleading on that advertisement.  The service member gets in free and dependents get a whoppin' 10% discount.  Military friends beware, each park has their own set of rules when it comes to discounts (Sea World was the whole family got in free and you needed a print off+ID to get in).  

The deal was just too good to pass up.  Without this special, it would have cost me $200 just to get into the zoo!  Plus, Eli is learning plant and animal life for science, so with a garden and a zoo visit, we're good...right?  I asked a friend if she wanted to join us (promising her that I am not crazy) and she was sold on the deal as well.  I am so thankful she came because it made the trip so much more fun.

Also worth noting for people interested in going to the zoo, there is also a San Diego Zoo Safari Park that is in Escondido and is not the same as the downtown zoo.  Both of our GPS's took us to the Safari park that was 40 minutes past where we wanted to be careful.  However, we did note the winery and nice shopping center right by the Safari park and put it on our "future trip" list.

I thought it was the best zoo I've ever been to.  I loved the paths that lead you through the animal exhibits.  I felt like I was really in their habitat and the animals were much closer than I've ever experienced.

Coolest animal we saw...not cool that I can't remember the name
 We went on a Friday and were prepared for crazy crowds, especially around the panda's (notorious for a LONG line), but we were surprised to find it not that packed.  We walked right up to the panda's and were able to look at them for as long as we wanted.

Watching the pandas.
 The kids loved the petting zoo part and play ground near the entrance.  The mom's loved a chance to sit and drink a coffee.

My only complaint would be that the bathrooms were really hard to find.  7 Arizona kids who are used to drinking a lot of water=a lot of bathroom breaks which= 2 moms doing a lot of walking to find hidden bathrooms.

I can see how you can spend a couple of days at the zoo.  We didn't see everything, but I was satisfied with what we did.  They have a lot of great animals and fun exhibits.  We will definitely be going back next October. 

By the time we were done at the zoo, we figured we either needed to hit the road ASAP to avoid traffic and get home for dinner (there's no place to stop along the drive home) or we needed to stay until rush hour was over.  We chose the beach!  When in doubt, choose the beach!

We did not plan on going to the beach, but it was perfect.  The kids played in the sand and climbed the rocks and had a blast getting their clothes soaking wet. 

Laural and I sat on the beach and laughed about all of our calamities of the week and just let the sound of the ocean wash away all the stress of the week.  It was just the refreshment I needed.  It was music to my ears when she said, "I really needed this" and I was so thankful that the trip was not a burden to her, but a blessing. 

I've only been to San Diego 3 times and I don't really know my way around, but I do know my way to Smash Burger.  Go there.  By far my favorite burger place and make sure you get the smash fries!

We drove home that night and didn't hit an ounce of traffic.  As I drove, I realized how I felt so much better.  Isn't that strange?  It should have been a stressful day.  I should have come home feeling more burnt out, but instead I came home with a big smile on my face and refreshment in my heart.  It was so good for both Laurel and I, that we have already begun plans for another (but longer) trip.  I half jokingly said, "Field trip Friday's at the beach!" Oh, I love that about homeschooling. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A calamity of a week

And the week isn't even close to being over.

 Image result for deployment memes

There must be something about hitting the 1 month mark.  Everything fell apart this week.

Let's see...what's all happened in the last 4 days...

*I realized that I was drinking expired coffee.  I thought I was just being a coffee snob and the kcups were not up to my standard.  Nope.  I stopped drinking it immediately but it left me very grumpy for school.  Lot's of coffee is essential to life right now.

Thank you Target for sending me a free Starbuck's coffee coupon (you know you spend too much money there if they send you this).  The second school was over, we made our way to pick up a giant coffee and I pretended I didn't know how many calories were in the drink.

*Made the fatal mistake of going in Old Navy with 3 kids...and that giant coffee.  Alison has zero pants and is in between sizes, which equals very stressful shopping.

*Colin has bitten Alison twice.  This has never happened in my mothering life.  He's 4! 

*Reading, writing, math and history is the only school we're doing right now.  Alison is struggling to get a single thing done and has cried every day.  I couldn't even tell you why she was crying.  And if she wasn't crying, she was arguing.  Eli, on the other hand, got mad that math was too easy today and stopped talking to me.  Then I was super mature and said, "Fine.  I'm not talking to you either!"

*Colin stepped on a nail and it was stuck in his foot.  Why was there a nail in on our schoolroom floor?  That story involves a naughty puppy...

*We got in the van to go to the library and it started shaking.  I immediately had visions of having to buy a car by myself and said, "Ok, everybody out!".  We've been driving Ben's car since because I refuse to deal with car problems.

*Eli has broken two glasses.  He also concocted "soup" in the yard with dirt, rocks, flowers and hose water and tried to serve it to me in bed.

*Colin got a running nose and shortly after I set up the humidifier for him, the dog tripped over the cord and broke the thing to pieces.

*Snow birds are back and they take grocery shopping stress to a whole new level.

*Bought bad chicken.  The date said it should be fine, but when I put in the pot, it smelled horrible.  I thought I was just being crazy and it was for Maya (yes, I'm crazy and make our dog food), so I started to cook it and quickly the kids were saying, "It smells like fish!" and running out of the house.  It was awful.  Then, I was super smart and left the whole pot sitting on our driveway for 2 days.
*The worst=I tried to give myself a day off and purposely stayed in my pajamas and let the kids watch way too much Justin Time and ignored the chores.  FATAL MISTAKE.  The doorbell rang.  I forgot the exterminator appointment.  Y'all, I answered the door in my pajamas!  He comes in the house and is trying to spray around the 4 mounds of laundry, 2 giant piles of toys to be put away and open dishwasher drawer.  The boys are naked on the couch and it's painfully awkward at the state of our house. 

 *Again, trying to make things a little better, I told the kids to put pj's on and turn on a movie and I'd make popcorn and hot cocoa (ignoring the fact that it was 93 outside).  Of course, the popcorn popper decided to spontaneously combust.   Popcorn was flying everywhere!

 *Dinner has been a disaster.  Apparently I can't cook while Ben is gone and he keeps telling me to just keep things really simple.  I made bean and cheese burritos with guacamole one night.  It's safe and they love it and then Alison said, "So, we're just having an easy dinner tonight?".  Face palm.  She also almost cried when I bought bread at the store.  Food snob problems.

*The kids have been bugging and bugging and bugging me about getting Maya a bed.  Like talk about every single time we are in the store (and that's a lot) bugging me.  I finally agreed today when we found the cheapest option.  $27 and an hour later and Maya completely destroyed it.

She also dug a new whole in the yard this week.

There's a mental drain of 3 kids constantly talking and asking questions.  Last deployment, I didn't drink once.  4.5 weeks into this one, I picked up a bottle of wine and some oatmeal cream pies in honor of Ben. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Deployment and homeschooling

So, let's be honest.  Homeschooling and deployment are no joke. 

This week, we took some time to get some projects done.

Eli, checked out a cookbook from the library and has asked for weeks to make cupcakes out of it.  As luck would have it, Colin was learning about the letter C, so it worked out perfectly to finally make them.  I'm pretty sure he's getting too old to sit on the counter...

We also worked on planting a garden.  Eli is supposed to learn about plant life this year and deployment brain made me think we could grow a giant garden.  Why?  Why do I always bite off more than I can chew?  Hello.  Just mowing the lawn is a chore.

The kids were really excited to have their own spot and picked what they wanted to grow.  Eli is growing basil and carrots.

Alison is growing cotton (she got seeds from a cotton gin field trip), tomatoes and peppermint.

This project definitely took much longer than I anticipated, but I have learned a lot and the kids are really enjoying the work and I'm praying that something grows!

Can you see Alison in the tree in this picture?

I had to sneak a picture through my kitchen window.  A lot of learning happened in this tree this week.  She started writing a book about Maya up there and she memorized countless math facts.  That was our school focus this week.  It's been a long road of rebuilding her math foundation, but this week was a turning point.  Y'all, I bribed her.  And it worked.  Maybe bribed is a bad word...gave her incentive.  I told her for every stack of math facts and set of skip counting she memorizes, I'll pay her $1.  She spent hours working hard on memorizing and was SO excited to be working on it.  It gave her a boost of confidence and she said, "Thank you for making math fun!".  Best money I ever spent.

Eli wanted to earn money just like Alison and has also worked hard on memorizing.  Why is he jumping?  Alison had to try different ways to memorize to figure out what worked best for her.  I would have her write the facts she struggled with and say it 3 times, but it wasn't clicking.  In college, I learned the best reading while walking to class, so we tried moving and learning.  I found Eli practicing skip counting on the trampoline one evening, way after school was over.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

First day of school

School is in session!

The kids were excited to start, which I found surprising but refreshing.  The week has been going pretty smoothly.  I give thanks to the fact that I've taught some of the material before and familiar with the curriculum.  I also give thanks that the first few lessons are super easy and just easing into things.

Day 2 of math with Eli had me laughing.  He said, "Is that it?" when we finished the lesson, so I pulled out some flashcards.  He's never done flashcards, but a BIG smile came over his face.  He read 9+9=...and said, "Okay, so 20-2 is 18."  I just sat there staring at dad said that's how my grandpa thinks about numbers and he's a brilliant man, but I have no idea how to teach that way!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Our break from school...

I had several goals for our break from school.
#1.  Soak up family time.  Check.
#2. Set daily math and reading into our routine even on "off" days.  Check.
#3.  Work on a few projects with the kids (sewing, scrapbooking and puzzles).  Check.

I did not expect some redirection in our school.  
First, I was really inspired by Sarah McKenzie's blog and have been doing some reading/listening about a different approaches to teaching.  Biggest thing I learned was to use curriculum as a tool, not the tool to teaching.  Sounds so basic, but I needed this lesson.  I have some kind of OCD when it comes to curriculum and  No matter what.  It's so easy to fall into this pattern though as teachers.  We have curriculum for different subjects for a particular grade; we schedule out lessons and check off the boxes.  When all the boxes are checked, then the subject is complete and the student knows everything they need to.  BUT this was the pitfall that got me in trouble with math. 

Second, we discovered a little gem over our break.  Arizona gives scholarships to homeschool students who have an active duty military parent.  It took us some time to gather all the documents we needed and to submit the papers and to get an approval (we're still waiting to hear on Eli's).  At first, I was more excited than Christmas morning.  It still is amazing news for us, but of course with the government, there are lots of strings attached.  For us, it means that we have money to buy boxed curriculum for 4th grade.  Only problem is, I don't believe in boxed curriculum.  However, we can put up to $2,000 a year in a college fund for her!  So our plan is to buy a box that we can use something out of and not worry about using all of it.  Ironically, this has made me implement this new direction for school.  I don't have the scholarship money yet, so I don't have any new books, so I have to teach my kids what they need to know using ME.  I'll admit, I'm scared, but I know it's the path I need to go down.

Hastings is going out of business and I took advantage of snagging great books for dirt cheap.  When we got home, I realized that I unintentionally added a Charlotte Mason approach to school;  teaching from living books.

This year is going to be full of new approaches; teaching new ways, new grades and during deployment.  I think that means there may be school days in our pj's :)

Monday, September 26, 2016

"One day down. Half a year to go."

Quote from my daughter.

I don't really want to type this post.  I wouldn't wish deployment on anyone.  The day he left was one of the hardest days, and if you know Colin's birth story, that's saying a lot.

The week he left, the kids decorated a pillowcase for him:

 I gave the kids this:

 A calendar...we don't have a day Ben is coming home, so we can just check off the days we're apart (he got one too), a clock that shows what time it is where daddy is and a jar of kisses.  If I could do the gift again, I would throw in a book from daddy.

We put the kids to bed (I have no idea how they fell asleep) and it was time for him to go.  The moment was surreal.  How can you say good-bye?  How do you let them go?

Eli threw up the day before Ben left and in a strange way, it was a huge blessing to me.  It gave me an excuse to have a wallow day.  I needed a wallow day.  Every time I thought about that awful good-bye, I just teared up.  I started another puzzle and stayed in my pj's and let the kids watch whatever they wanted and eventually wondered out to Starbuck's and sadly confess that a pumpkin spice latte did make me feel a little better.

I share this because I think that many people do not want to allow themselves time to grieve.  It is a grieving process.  The morning he left, I said, "This is dumb.  Let's just quit.  We'll just be poor...who needs money?" and Ben started laughing as he pointed out all the stages of grief I was going through in a short amount of time.  I am already feeling much better, but you have to go through the ugly depression stage to get to the acceptance stage.  I'm thankful to have a little community this go around because it makes a HUGE difference to know people who are going through what you are. 

So here we are.  The deployment journey has begun.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Love him like he deploys tomorrow

I saw this phrase on a decorative sign.  It was supposed to be cute, but all I could think was, "No."  Love him like we're both stressed out?  Love him like I'm tired because no body in this house is sleeping well?  Love him like I tear up every time some one prays for him?  Love him like I'm freaking out that we can't communicate over simple things and how in the world are we going to communicate with oceans between us and a 10 hour time difference?!  No.  I want to love him like he just came home.  Like we've counted down the minutes to being together.  I want to love him with that overwhelming feeling you get when you finally get to hold each other after months apart.

People keep asking me how I'm doing and all I can say is "I don't know".  I really don't know.  My brain is saying, "No, no.  We just did this.  And then we moved across the country.  Settling into life in the dessert and planning a new school year is what we're doing, not deployment."  SO, that means that the processing of deployment won't happen until Ben is actually gone.  I'm not sure that's healthy, but it's where I am.

I'm trying to keep perspective.  I'm choosing to write it out so when the really stinky days come, I can look back and remind myself of the good.

We have to keep an eternal perspective or we will crumble.  If our perspective is Ben is working for the government and they are sending him away, then it's devastating, especially if you think of it long term..."what if he doesn't promote and his career is over and all of this is for nothing?".  But if we keep in the forefront of our brains that Ben is a missionary, going to spread God's word to the nations, then it's worth it.  For our kids, Daddy isn't just gone for work, Daddy is spreading Jesus' love and serving His people.

I also have to remind myself that just because Ben is home, doesn't make life perfect.  Deployment will pass, he will come home and there will still be some thing uncomfortable that will happen.  Some times this thought makes me fear the future, but then it reminds me to just take life a day at a time and be thankful for what I can.

A friend once said, "Life is like a constant flow of transitions".  She's not even a military wife, yet feels that in her own "ordinary" life.  Some times I envy my friends with "ordinary" lives, but this was a great reminder to me.  I feel like we've had way too many transitions in our life, but everyone's life is full of transitions and even when this transition is done, there will be another one.  I need to embrace today for what it is and accept that something is changing with every day in life.

One change I welcome this deployment is that my kids are a little older and able to help a little more around the house.  The last few weeks, every time I get out our steam cleaner, the kids have asked to take turns using it.  Um, YES!  It may not be as uniform as I like, but it gets the puppy paw prints off the floor, which is a big win in my books.

Also reminding myself this go around to take care of myself better.  Anyone reading this can remind me of this at any time.  You may have to make me.  Just this morning I was telling Ben that I need to get a haircut in the next few days before he leaves and he said, "No.  This time you are going to hire a babysitter and are taking an afternoon for yourself to go to the salon.  It doesn't matter how much it costs, you have to take time for yourself."  I need people to tell me these things.  I will use paper plates and order pizza and hire babysitters and go for runs and find things I enjoy doing and do them! 

This week, Eli and I worked on a puzzle.  We both really enjoy puzzles and I found it really soothing.  I feel weird even admitting that, but it's true.  So, for the next 7 months, a puzzle will probably be on our dining room table, because it makes me happy and I'll sit and sip some tea and get absorbed in it for a little bit and ignore the kids for just long enough that they know life is not all about them :)

The chaplain in Ben says it's good to have goals for deployment.  He has 4!  I have zero.  His goals are to save money, run some races on base, memorize scripture and eat a gyros.  My list is blank and I'm okay with that.   I'm okay with zero expectations on myself.  If nothing happens and the kids and I just hang out at home eating pizza, that's great.  I feel like last time I had lots of plans and when I wasn't able to keep any plans or meet any goals, I felt like a failure.  Really, it wasn't a failure, I just had unrealistic expectations.  So this time, I'll rock deployment, because if I do nothing, I win.

That was a really random post, but I think that's how my brain is going to be for awhile.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Our first Marine Ball

Ben deploys in a few weeks and I am more stressed about this ball than him leaving.

We've never been to a ball and I have no idea what I'm getting myself into.  I've asked around and everyone just answers "it's formal".  Like get your hair done formal or try to remember how to curl it yourself, formal?  AND P.S. we live in Yuma and there's not a lot of options for buying/getting formalled up.  So a few weeks ago, Ben and I were talking about what I should wear (it's SO not fair guys have the easy way out and get to wear a designated suit) and contemplating what store's we could go shop.  Ben suggested I look through my closet to see what I had before we went shopping, which is kind of hilarious because I have very few clothes.  I have a knee length black dress I wore for a Christmas fundraiser party a few years ago, but I get the vibe this is floor length gown attire.  I dug to the back of my closet and pulled out my "keepsake dresses".  I really kept these dresses for Alison but they're still in good shape.  I tried to squeeze into my matron of honor dress from my sister's wedding and Ben rolled on the floor in laughter...apparently my rib cage wasn't full grown when my sister got married, reminding us of how little we were when we got married.  Sigh.  It was all fun and games until I slipped into my prom dress and Ben's face lit up.

"You have to wear that.  It's perfect."

He fully admits that maybe he was just being sentimental, but he still really wanted me to wear the dress.

When I was in Michigan, I went to Charmin Charlies with my friends.  There was a whole patriotic section that we thought would be hilarious if I actually decked myself out in.  Prom dress + patriotic jewelry=success.

Or maybe if I wore a mask, no one would notice the dress...

My friends did help me find some winning accessories that might class up the 16 year old dress.

Fast forward to a few days before the ball and I started to panic when I realized that my brain was on full mom-mode and before I knew it was going to be time to get dressed for the ball... 
Do I even have shoes?  What about a clutch?  Lipstick?  Shoot, I probably need a backless dress bra.

My Target run looked like this:

Epideme of stay-at-home mom trying to dress up.

Best part of the trip was when Alison grabbed a box of hair color and told me that I really needed to use it before the ball so my hair was "all one color".

Oh yea, and Ben casually mentioned one day that we're at the command table because he has to give the opening prayer.  Awesome sauce.  Me and my prom dress are going to be at the command table.  Just call me the queen of awkward.

It was finally game time.
I spent the afternoon trying to get ready while doing all things mom.  The kids were in a tiff over a fort they built and who destroyed it and who should have to pick it up and there was pouting and crying and I was just thinking, "I DON'T HAVE TIME TO PARENT YOU RIGHT NOW!"  Things came down to the wire, which resulted in me painting my nails while giving instructions to the babysitter and then Eli told me my eyes looked weird and Alison tried to convince me to wear a tiara.  Ben scooted me out the door and we were off!  I was just hoping and praying that I actually had everything on that needed to be on.

I found a few tips on Pinterest for your first ball experience and they were right!  As long as your chest and your booty are covered and you don't get drunk, you'll be great.  As soon as we walked in, I knew exactly what Pinterest was talking about.

The ball was one of the coolest experiences of my life.  I fully own that I'm not the normal military wife and this gave me a close up look at Ben's everyday life.  I was overly proud.  In a sea of enlisted marines, Ben stuck out.  He was one of maybe 8 officers there and every single one of the head commanders came and shook his hand.  They knew his name, they called him sir; he was distinguished and poised and I was a puddle of mush.

At the command table

And guess what?  No one knew that I was rockin' my prom dress!

Senior year prom...I was SO excited to be going on a date with this super cute boy.  I knew he was different and I could definitely see spending my life with him.  Military life I never saw in our picture together and I can't say it's been the easiest journey, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


Ever since beginning our homeschool journey, I've felt like I'm constantly running against the flow.  I've ruffled many a feathers and we've been "kicked out" of places and let's just be honest, there have been countless awkward situations.

We walk into a room full of moms with toddlers...

"You homeschool all of them?"
"But isn't that hard?"

Then you get a blank stare when you tell them you plan on staying at the event full of moms with toddlers and yes, your older kids will be staying too...awkward.

I went to a biblestudy on base today.  I thought it would be a great way to meet some friends and potentially have some buddies to hang out with while Ben is gone.  I was told that there was childcare and *ahem* assumed my older kids could just hang out in there.

First lesson in homeschooling, ALWAYS have a backpack with you full of things for your kids to do.  ALWAYS.

But today, my kids were too old for the childcare and I had to awkwardly ask the director where my outcast children could sit while I attempted to attend the study.  I kinda wanted to shout "BY THE WAY, I'M THE CHAPLAIN'S WIFE"  like it would give me some leeway.

Eventually, after much "hmmm's" and weird looks, they allowed my kids to sit in a room alone, down the hall, with no, they brought the snack I left them back to me because how dare they think about eating in the 2 hours they were supposed to sit there alone...more awkward.

Then I get more questions.

"But don't you do a co-op?"

No we don't.  Year round schooling does not jive with a co-op AND a co-op does not equal free babysitting.  Plus it really boils my blood that somehow society has decided that homeschooling is acceptable IF you are in a co-op.   Don't even get me started on the raised eyebrows I get when I tell them I don't even follow a boxed curriculum.

At the end of the morning, Alison said to me, "This is what I don't like about homeschooling."  I couldn't really blame her because who wants to feel like the outcast?  Not me.  We often go to things like this hoping and praying there will be other homeschool families there, and our miracle hasn't happened yet.  But I encouraged Alison yesterday that if we don't ever make the attempt, we might miss out on some great opportunities.  Maybe we encourage other homeschool families when we put ourselves in awkward situations...perhaps they would be encouraged to come too if they see us paving the way.

If there was one thing I could pioneer, it would be to create a place for homeschool families.  In a way, we are discriminated against; we are unwelcome at most places, given weird looks and asked inappropriate questions.  Heaven forbid a homeschool mom would want to workout at a gym or attend a biblestudy or participate in a service project.  Can I just put a big sign on me that says "There's more to life than homeschool...p.s. we're done in 3 hours and have our whole day to do other fun things"?

Sunday, September 4, 2016

10 years in the making

I went away for the first time ever this week.  Oh, how many times I longed for a getaway and I can't believe it finally happened.  One of my good friends in Michigan had her 4th baby and Ben flew me there to meet this precious baby!

As I drove to Phoenix to catch my flight, all I could think was, "Oh my goodness, I AM NEVER ALONE."  It just kept running over and over in my head and the realization freaked me out.  

I thought I would use the time alone to listen to podcasts and catch up on reading, but only a tiny bit of that happened.  Instead, I just let my brain take a break.  It felt so good to not think about anything for a few days.  I didn't worry about ordering curriculum or scheduling activities or grocery lists and meal plans.  I just enjoyed spending time with sweet friends and holding this beautiful baby. 

I wish I had more eloquent words to describe how nice it was to laugh and talk with these friends.  Maybe it was exponentially refreshing being in a season of trying to make new friends.  It was nice to be with people who just knew me and loved me for me and nothing was forced.

That being said, we were talking one night and I realized how easy it is for us to talk about others.  "Oh Lucy.  She's so uptight and just needs to..." (I really don't know a Lucy, it's just an example).
So I asked these friends, who I know love me but would be brutally honest with me, what it is that others would say about me, that I don't know about myself.  Lucy probably has no idea that she's uptight and needs to...,but perhaps her life would blessed if someone graciously told her.  Andrea said that she would say that I need to take more time for myself.  Yes, it's true that I am terrible at this.  It is extremely rare for me to hire a babysitter and my kids go everywhere with me.  But the kicker for me is, I don't necessarily enjoy doing things alone and even if I am alone, I'm still doing something for our family like grocery shopping or my brain is filled with things I should get done while I have free time.  Feeling so mentally free on this trip showed me that I need to find a way to have that same kind of mental break more frequently in my life.  Andrea challenged me to find a way, and I know she's praying with me about an answer, to get that mental break.  Maybe it's a cooking class or running with a friend or...I don't know, but I'm taking on the challenge.

 Julie jokingly said one day, "I bet you never thought Michigan would be refreshing, did you?"  She was right.  Normally if you would ask me about our life in Michigan, I would say it was rough.  Ben and I moved there the day after we finished college for his first "real" job.  He had a career and I couldn't find a job and it felt like my hard earned degree was wasted.  I was away from everything I had ever known and felt very, very lost.  On top of that, I didn't handle the overabundant cold, overcast days very well.  I met Andrea and Julie at church and they were with me through this rough time of life.  We all went from working (someone from church eventually got me a job no where near my degree, but it was a job) to stay at home mommies and ventured through first pregnancies together.

me and Andrea at my baby shower, both pregnant with #1

Andrea holding Alison and Jesse at one of our first-of-many playdates
Alison and Luke hanging out...apparently it was nap time for both

We have all asked, "How is it that we're friends?" because we are all so very different, yet there is a unique bond between us.  Andrea would even say that she didn't want to be friends at first because I was a skinny blonde and she didn't want to put the work into building a friendship.  Then we went shopping together and she laughed her head off watching me try on pants and realized that I'm no where near perfect and finally let me be her friend.  Julie was the one who invited me to meet her at the trail with my baby and taught me to run.  She encouraged me with each step as I mourned the loss of that previous skinny girl.  She was even there when I peed my pants after running my first 5K post Alison.

Then we moved.

 And throughout the last 7 years of being away from Michigan, these 2 girls have called me every week.  We've even had occasional meetings; we met for a few hours when our flight got stuck in Detroit going from Kansas to Virginia and we were all pregnant with #2:


We planned a trip to meet up when we were all pregnant with #3, but then I had early contractions and the wasn't able to make the trip.  After those babies,  Julie drove all the way to Virginia to run our first half marathon together.

And all of our kids were able to meet!

Then last summer, the kids and I drove up for a week when Ben was deployed and I got to meet Andrea's #4.

Then we moved again and Julie and her family came all the way to Arizona with #4 in her belly.

Being alone this year, made me realize how different I am now.  The Jen they met 10 years ago was just a baby, but somehow they've stayed my friend through all these years of growing and changing.  They're even still my friend when I stopped at 3 kids and they both had 4...thank goodness for that one!

As I talked all this through with Ben, telling him how thankful I am for Andrea and Julie's friendship, he reminded me that we're friends because we put work into it.  This fantastic, refreshing, trip was 10 years in the making; 10 years of making the effort to pick up the phone and to get in the car and drive and to send a quick text of encouragement and even to send little gifts in the mail.  He's right.  For how much I often don't want to put the effort into making new friends, he's reminded me that it does take work, years of work, and it's worth it. 

Also 10 years in the making was a little momma break.  I never doubted Ben could handle the kids and running the house.  I didn't even leave him with a meal plan or reminders for the kids...okay, maybe just one, but Colin just started a program at the library that he really couldn't miss.  My motivation wasn't even so he could see how hard my life is, because I know he knows what my day entails.  I was just excited for the 4 of them to have time for just them, especially before they have a long time apart.  When I got home, Ben said he had a few revelations while I was gone.  He said that he realized that a mother isn't just someone who does the household chores, because really anyone can pick up that job, but a mother fills this capacity in the house that no one else can.  They bring a warmth and energy that can't be replaced.  More than that, he realized how much one parent can't be both mom and dad and that kids need both.  He saw on a very small scale what I go through when he's deployed.  Sure, I can handle the house and the kids by myself and I could even play sports and music with them, but I can't be their dad.

my little boys, ready to go to work like daddy

I wonder if in 10 years I'll be looking back at this thinking, "I was just a baby."  Yikes!  In 10 years I'll have a 19 year old!!!  I wish that 44 year old could tell this 34 year old what hobby to pick up for a break...any suggestions???