Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sugary Sweet Snowman Snacks

Making snowman snacks
The finished masterpiece!
Cute little sugary snowmen!

My oldest son made these adorable powdered donut snowmen for his class Christmas party but they

would be perfect for any wintery snack.  The nutritional value is low but they're oh-so-cute and perfect for an occasional treat!
He used:
  • mini powdered donuts for the body 
  • pretzel sticks for arms
  • Jelly Lifesavers for hat base
  • Kissables candy for top of hat
  • almond slivers for noses
  • gel icing for eyes and buttons
  • Fruit by the Foot for 'scarves'
  • sifted powdered sugar for the 'snow'

Here is a cute video of my oldest son making his Snowman Snacks, complete with narration! Note little brother sneaking snacks as the video progresses.




 



Tuesday, December 1, 2009

This Person I Want to Be

Okay, I know you're out there ... overachieving shoppers who already have a neatly crossed-off holiday gift list and a pile of sparkling gifts, wrapped, tagged, and displayed under your flawless Christmas tree, placed there just as the Thanksgiving turkey was cleared away.

That's the kind of shopper I want to be. Every year, I vow that THIS will be the year that I shop all year, a little at a time, get the best bargains, and have beautifully wrapped presents, color-coded by family and displayed under my tree on Thanksgiving weekend. Well, it's the Monday after Thanksgiving and we just dragged all the decoration boxes from the garage this morning and Black Friday was the first of my shopping for the season (and I am nowhere close to being done!).

Sometimes I wonder about this person I want to be. Where is she? I know all about her, but not how to find her. She is energetic and organized, friendly and fun, savvy and smart, and loving and kind. She's a great mom, making hot breakfasts for her kids each morning before taking them to school ... on time. She's a fitness fanatic, jogging after dropping off the kids and saving Pilates for rainy days. She's a fabulous cook, managing to pack healthy lunches and have well-balanced, homemade and delicious dinners on the table each evening. Her house is immaculate, a sparkling tribute to the family she loves.

She is thrifty and creative, with a closet full of beautifully crafted scrapbooks, hand-made crafts, and personalized stationery for the hand-written letters she sends weekly to friends and family. She follows a schedule each day, making a positive impact at work, volunteering at her kids' schools and on post nearby, teaching Sunday School at church, giving to the needy, and providing hope for the hopeless. She does all this while maintaining a svelte figure and is the fashionista of the neighborhood, always leading in the current trends.

Her husband adores her and she spends her time making sure he knows how appreciated he is. Her children rise and call her blessed ... and are the best-dressed, best-behaved, best-looking kids around (this, at least, is not such a stretch ... they are really cute kids!!). They complete their chores with nary a complaint and ask what they can do to further contribute to the family. They have giving spirits and always think of others first. They make straight As, are musical geniuses and gifted athletes, and plan to cure cancer when they grow older.

Ah, this is just the start of this person I see out there ... there are glimpses of truth in it, but the reality is that this lady is happy to make it through a day with no major catastrophes ... and no phone call reminders regarding late library books, forgotten field trip permission forms, or missed meetings. Such is my life; truly a work in progress.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Christmas Carol -- Bah!

I admit it; I have committed what a good friend terms a "Mommy Foul." I was not diligent enough in checking my creepy-radar before I took my nine-year-old to see "A Christmas Carol" this weekend. I carelessly assumed that a Disney movie with Jim Carrey targeted to kids would be .... well, not so creepy.

I envisioned more of an animated, humorous, Mary Poppins-like, don't-we-all-feel-like-a-Merry Christmas-now kind of movie. What we saw was a very dark, scary, and creepy version of this classic tale.

I know, I know. You're all shaking your fingers at me and thinking, "Hasn't she heard the story of 'A Christmas Carol' before?" Yes, of course I have, and yes, I knew it would have ghosts that visit, but I was fooled into thinking that they would be a happy, Casper-like ghosts, smiling and gently reminding our beloved Scrooge to be more giving and kind. These ghosts were more of the 'your-soul-is-bound-for-Hell' kind of ghosts and the scenes were actually pretty scary. Added to that, we watched it in 3-D so every twisted, dissolving corpse and ghoul-ridden chase seemed to land right in our laps.

To my credit, I did conduct some research before we went, and my kids are well-aware of the fact that "PG" means "Parental Guidance" and that it translates into "Mom and Dad get to decide."

I read the summaries (like this one) ...
Ebenezer Scrooge begins the Christmas holiday with his usual miserly contempt, barking at his faithful clerk and his cheery nephew. But when the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come take him on an eye-opening journey revealing truths Old Scrooge is reluctant to face, he must open his heart to undo years of ill will before it’s too late.
And I was aware that it was rated PG for "scary sequences and images" but watching the previews of Scrooge flying through the air and sliding through an icy tunnel made it seem like the scenes would be more action-oriented that downright horrifying.

Even one of my favorite parent review sites, Common Sense Media, rated it as "ON" for 8+ kids at A Christmas Carol Review.

So imagine my surprise, and dismay, when rotting corpses and demented children (that crawl from under the robe of "Christmas Present") are featured in the film. Ugh. It goes without saying (but yes! I'll say it anyway!) that I recommend that you NOT take your kids to see this without some serious thought first. My almost-ten-year-old hasn't complained of nightmares yet, but it definitely was not the happy-holiday movie I envisioned.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mommy/Daddy Dates with Kids

Our family has (somewhat inadvertently) started a tradition that we've grown to absolutely love ... parent/child dates! These started out as "Daddy Dates" to ensure that both boys got their share of time with Dad before and after deployments but have grown into events for us both to enjoy with our kids. When Dad has a day with one child, I get my time with the other!

Last weekend, Nate took Trey for his day. They chose to hunt (at some ungodly hour in the morning), ate an early lunch at Ghengis Grill, came home for a quick rest, then off again to fish for the afternoon. Youngest and I followed the plan he made of: breakfast at a local doughnut shop, a trip to Barnes & Noble to read and pick up a favorite book, then back to the house for an afternoon of board games. He's quite the homebody, so it was no surprise he wanted to spend the afternoon home alone with Mom. It was a great time for us ... and we ended up tied at four wins each at Flippin' Frogs and played a few other unfinished games of chess and Sorry Sliders.

This weekend, Hubby and I are switching up. Youngest has a day of hunting and fishing planned with Dad while Oldest and I are planning the following: Breakfast at the doughnut shop, a fun birthday party at a bounce house for one of his friends (that he couldn't stand to miss), then to see the new Jim Carrey "Christmas Carol" in 3D. Youngest refuses to watch 3D movies so it's our chance to see a movie in 3D while it's just the two of us. Afterwards, we're debating a trip to The Domain in Austin for kid's events and the tree lighting or possibly an afternoon with books either in Barnes & Noble or the local library (which we love).

It has turned out to be such a fun event for us all with the kids planning their days (within reason -- I've already fielded questions like "Can we get to Hawaii and back in one day?" during our planning session tonight) and spending the time just being together. I'm excited for our day tomorrow. I'll let you know how it goes!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Christmas Ornament Swap!

The more I get into the blogosphere, the more fun I have! Today I wanted to share a cute idea posted by “The Mrs.” at Trying Our Best. See her post: Christmas Ornament Swap Sign-Up to sign up for an ornament swap among bloggers!

I can't wait. I love, love, love Christmas! Besides the fact that we celebrate this as one of the top holidays for our faith, I love the entire season associated with it. I love tinsel and trees, lights and luminaries, wreaths and wrapping, ribbons and reindeer, snowmen and sparkles, bags and bows!

I also enjoy collecting ornaments. Each year, I try to talk Hubby into another tree (yes, not just more ornaments, but an entire new tree!). We have our main family tree with lots of fun ornaments from places we’ve been, kids’ crafts, and other ornament exchanges. A second tree is our patriotic tree … all white with ornaments that are shimmery, sparkly and (of course) red, white, or blue. A third smaller tree holds all of our hand-made ornaments from Korea. I have a fourth (tiny) tree in my kitchen with miniature gingerbread and peppermint ornaments and each of the boys has their own small tree for their room. Each year, they pick a new ornament to add to their trees. It’s fun to see the eclectic collection they’ve each accumulated (with everything from glass baseball and basketball ornaments to dinosaurs to a feathery blue bird!).

I would love to get a tall pencil-thin tree for our breakfast room to be our “snowman” tree. I have a collection of snowmen that are displayed in the breakfast area and need a tree to start a snowman ornament collection. (When Hubby reads this, I might just get the “need vs. want” discussion again!)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Saturday After the Shooting

I've come to the conclusion that everyone deals with stress in their own way ... and that there are many 'right' and 'wrong' ways to do that. I have also discovered about myself that I tend to deal with immediate stress fairly well. Tragedies bring about a calm in me that seems uncharacteristic for my highly emotional normal self. I can make good decisions, help others, and present a reassuring demeanor on command. I think clearly and do not show any signs of panic in the heat of the moment.

But when the heat of the moment has cooled ... it's an entirely different story. After the danger is gone, the stress sets in. When my family and I spent the afternoon on Fort Hood on Thursday, there were wild rumors and inaccurate reports flying about. The news channels continually blared information about a shooter (or shooters) on post, reported shots fired in several additional locations, and detailed information about the entire post being on "lock down."

It was a stressful environment, not knowing what was going on, who might be next, and who had already been affected. Strangely, though, I did not feel the stress during the afternoon. I was able to talk Pokémon with my sons, chat with others in the clinic, and enjoy the fact that I was with my husband. Yes, it was tense, but I didn't feel the panic, fear, and stress that came later.

For me, today was the tough day. We're hearing the names of those killed and wounded, learning more about the shooter, and re-hashing the events of the day with friends around post. I learned today that a friend's battalion was largely affected by the shooting. They lost four Soldiers and have another eleven Soldiers being treated in local hospitals. My friend has spent the past hours volunteering as part of a CARE Team ... comforting Families who lost their Soldier in the attack, delivering food prepared for the Families, and organizing others who want to help. I felt my heart breaking all over again as I associated the actual Families affected with the more generic newscasts of the past days.

We spent the first half of the day today with lots of Army friends. An early-morning soccer game (where all the kids are Army kids and all the parents are friends) was followed by an end-of-season party, both of which allowed us some time to talk with others, get their perspective on the events of Thursday, and gain more personal accounts of the day. Afterwards, our kids had a fun event at church and my husband and I spent the afternoon together, having lunch and preparing for an upcoming camping trip.

Because the events of today were so mild, I was surprised at the physical strain I felt. I nursed a tension headache all day and felt exhausted by lunchtime. When we returned home, I decided to rest for a bit and ended up sleeping for three solid hours. I am now (finally?) showing signs of stress. Luckily, I have a fabulous husband who spent the afternoon entertaining our boys and was working on dinner when I woke from my nap. I have good friends and lots of support. I know I’ll be okay … and I wasn’t even directly impacted by this tragedy.

I sign off tonight with a plea for prayers for those who actually were directly impacted, who are experiencing a stress tonight that I cannot even imagine, and who have lost a large part of their support system. I will keep these Families in my prayers tonight and thank all of you who are doing the same. It’s true that our Army Family and our nation rallies around those in need and I am appreciative of that tonight.

A favorite quote from GEN Casey this week:
"The stories of courage and heroism I heard [about Fort Hood] make me proud to be a leader of this great Army. I am very proud, not only of the men and women here at Fort Hood, but of our whole Army. We take care of our own, we will grieve as a family, and we will maintain our focus on our missions around the world."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tragedy at Fort Hood: Seeking the Silver Lining

PHOTO: The line of cars leaving Fort Hood with us last night after the post was re-opened.

In a strange twist of fate, my husband and I were together with our two boys on Fort Hood on the afternoon of November 5, 2009. Killeen ISD had an early release day so we headed to post about 1:00 p.m. to get our H1N1 flu mists. We ended up being 'locked down' in the clinic for about six hours as we learned about the shootings taking place nearby and waited to hear resolution of the safety lock-down. It was a long afternoon of fear, rumors, and uncertainty.

Yet even within the tragic circumstances that were unfolding as we waited, we found many things for which to be thankful.

We were together. I can count on one hand the number to times that my kids and I have been with our Soldier on Fort Hood in the middle of a school day. I was so thankful that we were in the same place at the same time and had each other throughout the ordeal.

We had friends with us. We didn’t know anyone in the clinic when we got there, but six hours later, we could easily call each other friends. Enduring a stressful event has a way of bypassing the formalities of friendship and getting right to the heart of the matter. My children made at least three new friends (bonded by a common love of the game, Pokémon) and shared their snacks with everyone in the room.

We experienced great camaraderie. As we watched the news unfold, the group in our area became very friendly and helped keep things as calm as possible as we waited to hear what would come next.

We were well cared-for by the clinic staff. The staff at the clinic was simply wonderful. They remained calm, professional, and friendly throughout the day and resorted to creative means to help make us as comfortable as possible. In our time there, we had at least half-a-dozen staff members offer our children everything from carrots and dip to candy to veggie burgers! They were literally pulling their own snacks and meals and offering to share with those of us stuck there with them. Staff members also provided change for the vending machines, allowed us to use microwaves to pop popcorn, and kept us informed throughout the day.

We were surrounded by Soldiers. I cannot adequately describe my pride and love for our US Army Soldiers. I love being on post and being around these wonderful men and women who practice selfless courage, honor, and loyalty on a daily basis. Several young Soldiers were sitting in the area where we listened for the news and were the epitome of calm professionalism. I felt comforted just being surrounded by these uniformed heroes.

We experienced our Army installation taking care of its own. From the moment we were told that the clinic was ‘locked down’ to the time we drove off post, we saw Soldiers taking care of business. In our own location, Soldiers were stationed at each door to ensure that no one moved into or out of the clinic. For six long hours, those inside the clinic worked tirelessly to protect each other. We appreciated hearing our own Corps Commander giving us the latest details and facts as they came in and genuinely felt the concern for the safety of all on the installation.

We got to see our community in action. On our local television station, we heard a plea for volunteers to give blood at blood banks in Killeen and Waco. Blood was needed for those injured in this attack. Within a short period of time, the next report came out that the blood drives had been called off … there were too many responders to process them all! Subsequent interviews with those at the blood banks included Soldiers who could not get back on Fort Hood so decided to give blood, Army Family members (one who was said in essence, “Our military needs blood. Why wouldn’t I be here?”), and local supporters.

We experienced an outpouring of love and concern. Just as soon as the story of the shootings reached the airwaves, my husband and I received an endless stream of voicemail, Facebook posts, texts, and tweets from those concerned for our safety. From friends and family members to colleagues and co-workers to online blogging buddies, we felt the love of those concerned about the situation.

We touched base with Fort Hood friends. From phone calls to Facebook posts, we were able to get in touch with friends on Fort Hood to verify their safety. There was a flood of messages resulting in assurances that friends and neighbors were okay. This only strengthened an already amazing bond that Army Families share. When we begin to learn who was affected by this attack, the expression of help and love will only increase. Already we are asking, “What can we do? How can we help?”

We knew we were among helpmates. At one point, it was believed that we would be able to leave the clinic, but would not be able to leave post. Since we live off-post, we immediately started brainstorming what we might do. Our two children joined in with announcements of which of their friends lived on-post. We quickly came up with a long list of options … people we could call or show up at their doorstep and who would gladly let us in and provide whatever we might need.

Today I am heartbroken for those who lost loved ones yesterday. I am concerned and hopeful for those injured. I am shocked and stunned that this could occur on any Army installation and especially here, in my home. I am angry at an individual who would commit this most heinous of betrayals against those whose very lives protect him daily. But, ironically, mostly I am thankful. I am thankful for my own Family, for my Soldier, for my home, for Fort Hood and its leaders, and for the Army Family. The true spirit of the Army Family is one of perseverance, loyalty, and strength … and I am forever grateful to be a part of it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

1st Grade Writing: The Elifnt


1st grade stories
My first grader was excited when he came home from school today.  His teacher had asked the students to vote on their favorite creative writing stories and his story won first place ... "for the first time ever!"  The topic of the day was elephants and Joshua chose to write his story from the elephant's perspective.  His elephant has a little attitude but told a fun story of his life in the wild. 

I love this teacher's writing lessons.  She encourages creativity and works with each child individually to proofread, correct, and 'publish' a variety of stories.  Joshua is learning so much about the writing process and enjoys getting stories from his head onto paper.  Plus, I'm gathering lots of great stories to keep for myself in his 1st Grade classwork folder.  I love going back and seeing the progress my kids are making in school ... and it's fun for them to see their 'old' work, too.  Thanks, Mrs. Norman, for a wonderful set of 1st grade memories!

The introduction to Joshua's story
Translation:

Hello!  I am an elephant.  First, allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Steelix because whenever I hit myself on the head, it does not hurt.  However, my body is also the color grey.  Second, let me get something straight.  I am in the wild, not in the zoo.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween 2009

We had a great time on Halloween!

We started by hosting a potluck dinner before trick-or-treating began. We provided a big pot of chili, cornbread muffins, and beverages. Friends brought some really fun side dishes to share.  Check out our menu and a few photos below.  The dishes turned out really cute!

I managed to talk Hubby into a vampire costume this year, I was a spidery witch and the boys chose alien and ninja warrior as their costumes.  It was a lot of fun.

The Menu

Count Chili
Crazy Cornbread
Monster Toes
Curdled Crab dip
Monster Mash guacamole
Hallow-bean dip
Monster Muffin Cups (cupcakes baked in ice cream cones)

Bloodshot Eggs:
Monster Bites:
Creepy Carrots:
Mummy Dogs:
Marshmallow Ghosts:

After everyone ate and we took a few photos, it was time to trick-or-treat together. We all had a really fun time and look forward to days (and weeks and months ...) of candy! =)

Our cute neighborhood kids before trick-or-treating:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Farewell to a Great Coffee Group!

My hubby has changed jobs which, in the Army, means a round of "farewell" events. We were farewelled from the brigade a few weeks ago at a brigade staff "Hail and Farewell" and I was farewelled last night from the brigade Coffee group.

For my civilian friends, a "Hail and Farewell" is a regularly scheduled social event for the Soldiers and spouses of a unit to welcome new members to the unit and to say goodbye to those who are scheduled to leave. Welcomes include a quick summary of the Soldier's previous assignments and jobs plus information about his/her Family and interests. Farewells generally include a nice speech about the value the Soldier and Family has added to the unit and may include a farewell gift (framed prints and unit colors are popular). A nice touch is that incoming spouses usually receive a yellow rose and outgoing spouses receive a red rose.

A "Coffee," by contrast, is a social event exclusively for the spouses of Soldiers in a unit. It is not an FRG (Family Readiness Group) function, but is more focused on socializing and less on official information sharing. A different spouse (or a group of spouses) hosts each Coffee, which can be scheduled monthly or as desired. They can be hosted at a home or planned at a local restaurant, but usually include food and fun.

The Coffee I attended last night was hosted by a friend and was a happy evening of chatting with old friends. In our Coffee group, we have a choice of a couple of different farewell gifts ... a way to remember our time with the unit. My gift is really a great one -- personalized and unique! It's hard to explain in words, but is basically a framed print of our unit crest. The crest itself was made by repeating my last name in ink! The letters are closer together to make the outline and darker parts of the crest and spaced out further to create the lighter background.

Here is another (not-so-great) pics from my iPhone:

Can you see "COOK" in the close-up? It's so cool!

Can't Wait for Halloween!

PHOTO: Neighborhood kids at the 2008 pre-Halloween Dinner!

I'm not sure who is more excited about Halloween ... the kids or me! First of all, this will be the first Halloween in three years where dear Hubby is here with us; that alone is worthy of celebration.

Secondly, we're all set! Kids have costumes they love, the house has been decorated (and scented with yummy pumpkin candles all month!), and candy is ready to be distributed. Also, we're continuing one of my favorite seasonal traditions since we moved back to Fort Hood. We're hosting a pre-Trick-or-Treat dinner and moving through the neighborhood with a group of friends.

We love having people over and this is a super-fun event. We cook up a big pot of chili and everyone brings spooky sides to go with it. Most recipe ideas are from http://www.familyfun.com/ and include things like "Monster Toes," "Apple Bites," and "Pizza Mummies." I will put out a few easy crafts to occupy the kids when they're finished eating, including a photo magnet project where I take a Polaroid instant photo (I may have the single remaining Polaroid instant camera on the planet) and the kids decorate with stickers and a sticky magnet on the back.

Then it's out the door we go! The adults are able to stay on the street, chatting while monitoring the kids as they move from one house to another. We'll end up back at the house where we can hand out candy to the older kids who come by a little later in the night, and let the kids play together to wrap up the evening. It's a great night of fun for kids and parents. Can't wait!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My Family's Annual Halloween Hayride


I'm excited to visit family this weekend for the 4th Annual Halloween Hayride hosted by my my mom's side of the family. It's a great time and my boys are always thrilled to attend. In the crazy way of the Army, my husband has never been able to attend. Two of the past three years, he was in Iraq, and the other was spent at NTC. So I'm really excited to share this fun event with him this year, too!

It seems that Halloween is a little taboo in some circles, but we enjoy the holiday for its fun ... costumes and candy; what's not to love? Because my parents live in Texas, I am able to attend and participate in many family events that would not otherwise be possible. One of these is my mom's annual Halloween Hayride and Cookout.

My mother and stepfather live in a wooded area in north Texas. They have created a trail through the woods in the backyard, just big enough for their John Deere "Gator" to get through. For this event, my family gathers to decorate the trail ... with each section of the trail having a different theme: Bat Brigade, Skeleton Scream Zone, Witches' Coven, Psychadelic Pumpkin Patch, Grey Ghost Sunken Pirate Ship, Dead-End Graveyard, Ghost Gathering, Spider Sanctuary, Tarantula Turn, and Scarecrow Crossing. We spend the day together preparing for the party and don simple costumes for our guests' arrival.

Guests have their photo taken with a Polaroid instant camera as they arrive; then are guided to the campfire for dinner. After roasting hot dogs over the campfire, the kids take a walk through the trail, where parent volunteers wait with "Trick or Treat" candy and toys. Then the hayrides begin! A little hay in the Gator and attached trailor make a great ride.

While small groups go through the trail in the Gator (with flashlights to see all the spooky sights), those waiting play in a borrowed bounce house and enjoy several craft stations including temporary tattoos, photo magnets (using Polaroid photos taken at the Photo Station), and scary stickers. They can also hunt for a pumpkin in our haystack pumpkin patch and make a fun snack to take home (this varies but, in the past, has included a "Witches' Gorp" trail mix and a spooky 'hand' made from disposable gloves and popcorn).

After all the kids have been on a hayride, it's time for the pinatas. We have two pinatas and divide the kids by age so younger kids aren't overpowered by their older siblings and friends. At this point, we usually head back to the campfire to visit and relax!

To see the trail (from 2008) narrated by my eight-year-old, watch here:



And Part II:



Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Price of Peace is Paid by the Families

If you haven't seen The Price of Peace video sung by two daughters of an Army National Guard Soldier, get a box of tissues, settle in, and click to watch. Make sure all Soldiers with daughters see this, too. It's a sweet tribute to Dads in the military.



Monday, October 19, 2009

Fall Fun at the Pre Command Course

I absolutely love Autumn. It's my favorite season ... even in Texas where there is no dazzling display of leaves changing color. I love the cooler air after months of oppressive heat and humidity, the crisp smell of outdoor barbeques, the enthusiastic sounds of football teams and cheering crowds, and the many delicious flavors of Fall … pumpkin spice lattes topping the list. We decorate for Halloween, carve (or paint!) pumpkins, adore Trick-or-Treating, and enjoy a season a thanksgiving with family and friends. What’s not to love?

This Fall, I was happy to participate in a brand-new event for me. Because my husband will be taking a battalion command in the Spring, he is currently going through a series of courses to prepare him for this adventure. One part of the training includes spouses and I was able to spend an entire week with my husband at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, attending classes and getting to know others preparing for command. I was excited for a million reasons … a week with my husband, no kids, meeting new friends, and revisiting a favorite installation were but a few.

After lots of preparation (planning for two school-age boys and two sets of grandparents traveling to help out is no easy feat!), my husband and I flew to Kansas, back to place we loved being just a few short years ago. We enjoyed dinner at a favorite restaurant and reminisced on the drive to post. It felt a little like summer camp as we checked into Hoge Barracks and prepared for our week.

The week flew by but was a wonderful time of meeting great people, talking about supporting our amazing Soldiers and Families, and listening to some of the Army’s top leaders give us the latest in Army progress and guidance for the time in command. I loved hearing about initiatives designed to help our Soldiers like the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program, Strong Bonds retreats, and Army Safety. I also heard a lot about the importance of Families, including promises like the Army Family Covenant, programs like the Family Readiness Support Assistants (FRSAs), and tools like the virtual Family Readiness Group (vFRG). I took a ton of notes and came home with a binder full of information to review and digest before our day comes.

I had never thought about how battalion commanders prepared for their jobs before. I’m still learning about this process, but I’m happy to report that there is a great deal of importance placed on preparation and your commanders were selected and trained to be leaders of Soldiers and Families. I really felt like I learned a lot and left feeling better prepared (though no less nervous!) for this incredible experience that awaits us. Stay tuned and I’ll let you know how it goes!

Things I Love About Autumn

Growing up in Texas, Autumn has always been a long-awaited joyful break from the oppressive heat and humidity of Summer. Yes, I love my time at the lake, wearing flip-flops, and a season with my kids at home ... but I always welcome Fall with much enthusiasm and fanfare ... a time for new decor, new foods, new clothing.



Here are just some of the things I love about this season:
  • Fall wardrobe!!
    • Sweaters and jeans
    • great boots
    • fun trench coats, jackets, and blazers
  • Friday night football games complete with ...
    • crowds-a-cheering
    • bands-a-playing
    • lights-a-blazing
  • The Weather!
    • lower temperatures and cool breezes
    • colored leaves that fall from the trees
  • All things pumpkin!
    • Pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks,
    • Vanilla-pumpkin candles from Candle Queen,
    • Pumpkin foods -- pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie, and pumpkin-walnut bread!
  • Halloween!
    • Costumes and decorations
    • Carving (or painting!) pumpkins
    • Parties and crafts
    • Trick-or-Treating and candy!
  • Fall Fun for Kids
    • hayrides and cookouts
    • camping and fishing
    • trips to the pumpkin patch and the hay maze
  • Fall foods and drinks
    • chili, soup, and stew
    • apple cider
My boys with their painted pumpkins --
a black bat with baby bat and a silver space ship with aliens

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Skeletons Are Not Boys or Girls

So I had this hilarious conversation with my six-year-old recently as we were decorating for Halloween and putting together a PVC pipe skeleton ...

Him: Mommy, did you know that you can't really tell if skeletons are boys or girls?

Me: That's a good point. I hadn't thought of that.

Him: Yeah, because you can't tell if it's a boy because it doesn't have a weenie.

Me (suppressing a smile): That's true.

Him: You know, there is no bone in your weenie if you're a boy so it's not on a skeleton.

Me (trying harder not to smile): Yes, I think I knew that.

Him: But, Mommy, sometimes your weenie feels like it's a bone, even if there is no bone there.

Me (choking down laughter): Is that right?

Him: Yep, that's right! But then it goes away and it doesn't feel like a bone anymore.

Me (turning my head to "cough"): Good to know!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Writer's Workshop: Halloween Decorations

I come from a long line of educators ... the kind who decorate their classrooms and change themes every month. In fact, I was one of those teachers for 8 years before I became a mom. Ever wonder what happens to all that stuff when a teacher stops teaching? Well, I have all of my stuff plus all of my mom's stuff (who recently retired after 25 years of teaching!) and it's all got to go somewhere ...

So ... much of it helps decorate our home during every conceivable holiday! Back before Halloween became taboo in schools, my mom could decorate with seasonal icons, so I have lots of the traditional stuff -- witches, ghosts, mummies and the like. While I was teaching, most Halloween themes were not allowed, so we focused more on the acceptable items ... human anatomy (skeletons), mammals (bats), a literary study of Charlotte's Web by E.B. White (spiders), and harvest (pumpkins).

All of that to say ... not only did I inherit much of my mom's fun decor, I also inherited her love of fun decorations at Halloween! ** You can read about her crazy fun Halloween party under the blog Annual Halloween Hayride.

At my house, we decorate most of the house for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Lesser decorations are reserved for Valentine's Day and 4th of July (much of my house is already "Americana" anyway!).

Enjoy these photos of our 2009 Halloween decorations! We had a lot of fun putting them together and can't wait for Trick-or-Treat!




Saturday, October 3, 2009

Army Wife New to Blogger!

I am an Army wife of 15+ years with an amazing husband and two wonderful little boys. Hubby and I grew up in Texas so we're happy to be stationed at Fort Hood, near both of our families!

I was a teacher before I became a Mom and now work parttime for a fabulous company that focuses on DoD websites. I enjoy working on the Army websites and love the opportunity to provide news and resources for Army Soldiers and Families.

I also spend my time volunteering, reading, digital scrapbooking, blogging, and doing lots of things my sons enjoy ... fishing, camping, baseball, soccer, basketball, and Wii!

I am a brand-new blogger on blogspot and love it already! I've always enjoyed writing and hope my posts will encourage Army Families everywhere ... or at least connect me with them.  I look forward to meeting lots of military Families online.

Thanks for stopping by ... please follow and let me know where your fabulous Army blog is located!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Memories of 9/11

It seems every generation has at least one major event where they can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when the event occurred. From the “date which will live in infamy” to the assassinations of world figures like John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., those who remember these events can tell you exact details about that moment in time.

For me, I have very clear memories of the space shuttle Challenger launching, then exploding in air. I was a freshman in high school, watching the launch on a television in the school cafeteria when the tragedy occurred. I can remember the shock and confusion of that moment … immediate questions about what happened? Is this real? Will they be okay? Could they possibly be okay? How could this happen?

The second event that will forever live in my memory is the attack on our nation on September 11, 2001. I was teaching middle schoolers, a part-time job, in Georgia at the time. My first class didn't start until 9:30 so I was just arriving at the school when a teacher stopped me in the hall and said, "Did you hear? Someone crashed into the World Trade Tower!" I remember visualizing a car crashing into the first floor and wondering what more there was to the story.

When I got to my classroom, I turned on the television. Special reports indicated that an aircraft had crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center. They were not sure if it was a commercial or private aircraft. It was said that reporters were just starting to get information and “obviously something devastating” was happening. We had no idea.

At 9:03, a second plane was visible on the live coverage as it also crashed directly into the World Trade Center. Immediately, we knew that this was more than an accident.

Our principal announced that all TVs should be turned off; students were not to watch. At the time, there was so much confusion; we didn't yet know for sure what was happening.

I remember calling my husband (a Soldier on Fort Stewart) and having a hard time getting through; the phone lines were overwhelmed. When I finally got through, we started listing the friends we had in NYC, at the Pentagon, and trying to make sense of this horrifying situation. What was happening? Two, then three, then FOUR flights! It can’t be just a coincidence, right? Are we under attack? Will Army installations be next? Who is doing this? It was overwhelming and frightening and is a moment in time I will always remember.

Truly, we will never forget that day; we will always remember and honor those who perished so unexpectedly, their loved ones who continue to miss them, all the heroes who responded that day ... and all the heroes who continue to respond in defense of our freedom. Thank you.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Fun Coffee Group Idea

Our first Coffee with the new leadership in our brigade was a fun "Bunco Queen" theme, complete with pink boas, tiaras, cutesy paper goods, and a gorgeous pink cake.  Fun idea!


Monday, September 7, 2009

Suicide Prevention: My Story

PHOTO: One of many suicide prevention posters from the Department of Defense. I like the "Have the Courage to Help a Buddy" theme.

I have been reading a lot about suicide prevention this week. DoD is hosting "Suicide Prevention Month" alongside many other organizations to assist in identifying and preventing suicidal behavior and, especially, actions. This is a hot topic in the Army right now, with concerns about suicide rates, PTSD and other behavioral health issues, and the ongoing deployment cycle being discussed continuously.

As it stands, it seems to me that suicide is one of the last standing "hush" subjects that no one really wants to talk about. With what I see as an "expose all" society (think Jerry Springer and similar shows where folks tell every minute detail about some really humiliating life event), it seems odd to me that this is still such a taboo topic. And I hope this is changing.

I have known one person in my life who committed suicide. He was a close family member who died when I was about ten years old. My most vivid memories of this time are mostly about my families' reaction. It was a very emotional, very dark time. I saw first-hand the guilt and blame and questioning that is sure to take place after anyone takes their own life. Why would he do this? How could this happen? What was so bad that it couldn’t be resolved? What should I have done? How could I possibly have missed this? How could I not know how bad things had gotten?

My grandmother, especially, spent years wondering what she could have done, should have done. We had several conversations, years later, about the "warning signs" and "risk factors," many of which were present, but not noticed until after the fact. The risk factors were more apparent ... alcohol and drug use, depression, troubled relationships, anger, financial issues. But the "warning signs" were more subtle ... like giving away a prized possession, coming by to see family members after a long absence.

In retrospect and after much discussion, it was easy to see that he was preparing for his death and saying goodbye to those he loved. Even with all of these signs that clearly pointed to a very troubled person, none of us ever thought of suicide. In fact, I think you can justify a lot with only a little effort ... The alcohol use was common for those his age, the depression was being treated, the troubled relationship caused anger, but was just an unfortunate chapter in his life story, the financial issues would eventually be resolved ...

Even the worst of the situation, the drug use, which was a constant source of contention -- with many family members counseling him to stop -- didn't seem to point to suicide. There's always another answer. Boys will be boys … He’ll snap out of it … This is just a rough patch …

My main point is … you just don’t think of SUICIDE. Everyone has difficult times and most recover over time. But if you having a difficult time right now, go ahead and get some help for it. Talk to your doctor, call a hotline, phone a friend … take some kind of action to make things better … and do it now, before you change your mind. Just take a deep breath and pick up the phone.

If you notice any warning signs or risk factors of suicide in your friends or colleagues, take action. Have the courage to help them. Ask them how they are doing and listen to the answer. If you suspect things are worse than what they tell you, tell someone. Get them the help they need.

Worst case scenario is getting some additional help for something that wasn’t as serious as you thought. This is a happy ending. The worst case scenario for not getting help could be much, much worse.

Not sure where to get help? These resources are here for you:

Toll-Free Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is staffed by trained professionals 24 hours a day to help in an immediate crisis.

Veteran’s Suicide Prevention Lifeline Online Chat
You may use Veterans Chat without identifying yourself or revealing any personal information unless you choose to do so. Mental health clinicians on the Veterans Chat do not provide treatment or care. The clinicians will only provide information on services, guidance and assistance, and helpful online resources via Veterans Chat.

DCoE Outreach Center
The DCoE Outreach Center is a 24/7 call center staffed by health resource consultants to provide confidential answers, tools, tips and resources about psychological health and traumatic brain injury. The Outreach Center can be reached toll-free at 866-966-1020 or via e-mail at resources@dcoeoutreach.org.

Army Well-Being Suicide Resource Page

Monday, August 31, 2009

Make New Friends, but Keep the Old!

PHOTO: Our children with their good friends who moved away last summer. We were so happy to be together and catch up on each other's lives.

I think that the old saying, "Make new friends, but keep the old ... One is silver and the other gold ..." has a profound significance in Army Families. First of all, you generally have no choice but to make new friends. You're either constantly moving to a new place where meeting new people is essential or you're the one left behind while good friends move away, making the task of making new friends equally important.

For my children, making friends has become somewhat of a life skill, polished by years of practice. I am amazed by their resilience and ability to strike up conversations with just about anyone, just about anywhere. In fact, the traditional safety lessons about "Stranger Danger" just don't work with our kids. To them, there is no such thing as a stranger ... what we would call "strangers" are, in their eyes, simply new friends just waiting to be made.

This past weekend, we had the joyful opportunity to spend time with some "old" Army friends. The husband is a college classmate of my husband's; the wife and I met at their wedding and became fast friends years ago when we prepared for and supported each other through our first year-long deployment. Our children are close in age and consider each other pseudo-siblings. We were all-but heartbroken when they had to move away over a year ago, but knew that, in the way the Army works, that we'd be sure to see each other again.

Our friends were able to make us a stop on their summer vacation last week and we were thrilled. One night while they were here, we gathered with some other Army friends, all anxious to see our visitors again. We all brought our children and sat outside at a lakefront restaurant, visiting, reminiscing, and solving all the world’s problems together. It occurred to me as we enjoyed the evening, laughing and remembering fun times, that this was a true joy of the Army, fast friendships with those who understand and love and live the same life you do.

So thank you, Army friends, old and new, for making this life such an enjoyable one!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Autumn in the Army

I absolutely love Autumn. It's my favorite season ... even in Texas where there is no dazzling display of leaves changing color. I love the cooler air after months of oppressive heat and humidity, the crisp smell of outdoor barbeques, the enthusiastic sounds of football teams and cheering crowds, and the many delicious flavors of Fall … pumpkin spice lattes topping the list. We decorate for Halloween, carve (or paint!) pumpkins, adore Trick-or-Treating, and enjoy a season of thanksgiving with family and friends. What’s not to love?

This Fall, I was happy to participate in a brand-new event for me. Because my husband will be taking a battalion command in the Spring, he is currently going through a series of courses to prepare him for this adventure. One part of the training includes spouses and I was able to spend an entire week with my husband at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, attending classes and getting to know others preparing for command. I was excited for a million reasons … a week with my husband, no kids, meeting new friends, and revisiting a favorite installation were but a few.

After lots of preparation (planning for two school-age boys and two sets of grandparents traveling to help out is no easy feat!), my husband and I flew to Kansas, back to place we loved being just a few short years ago. We enjoyed dinner at a favorite restaurant and reminisced on the drive to post. It felt a little like summer camp as we checked into Hoge Barracks and prepared for our week.

The week flew by but was a wonderful time of meeting great people, talking about supporting our amazing Soldiers and Families, and listening to some of the Army’s top leaders give us the latest in Army progress and guidance for the time in command. I loved hearing about initiatives designed to help our Soldiers like the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program, Strong Bonds retreats, and Army Safety. I also heard a lot about the importance of Families, including promises like the Army Family Covenant, programs like the Family Readiness Support Assistants (FRSAs), and tools like the virtual Family Readiness Group (vFRG). I took a ton of notes and came home with a binder full of information to review and digest before our day comes.

I had never thought about how battalion commanders prepared for their jobs before. I’m still learning about this process, but I’m happy to report that there is a great deal of importance placed on preparation and your commanders were selected and trained to be leaders of Soldiers and Families. I really felt like I learned a lot and left feeling better prepared (though no less nervous!) for this incredible experience that awaits us. Stay tuned and I’ll let you know how it goes!