Saturday, January 22, 2011

Our Army Life ... So Far

I honestly cannot remember when I first met my husband.  We were in the same 1st and 4th grade classes at Edison Elementary School in Gainesville, Texas, but attended the same Sunday School classes even before that.  Since we grew up together as children, it's just not possible to remember a first meeting.

From the 5th grade through high school, I attended school in a different city, following my teacher mom to where her job led us.  This separation allows me that "first meeting" memory when I met Nate again as a teenager. 

I had attended church with my grandmother (at her request; my mom and step-dad took us to a different church at the time).  Little did I know that my grandmother had arranged a meeting between my future husband and me. 

My husband entered the Army in June of 1993. I was there at his Commissioning Ceremony at West Point, just after graduation. We had been dating for five years at this point and were married in a beautiful military ceremony in July of 1994. Since then, we've travelled to Fort Hood, Fort Sill, Yongsan, South Korea, Fort Stewart, Fort Leavenworth, and now back to Fort Hood. We both grew up in Texas so the 8+ years we've spent at Fort Hood have been welcome.

Our two boys -- now ages eleven and almost-eight -- were born at Winn Army Community Hospital at Fort Stewart. Since my husband was also born in Georgia (before moving to Texas when he was just a toddler), I am proud to have a Family of all Georgia boys.

Our first experience with deployment was also at Fort Stewart, a six-month training deploying to Kuwait, just before the start of OIF.  It's funny that I remember the time when "deployment" was not a household word.

Two year-long deployments followed at Fort Hood, once with 4th Brigade, 4th ID and another with 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. We're gearing up for a fourth deployment soon, this time with 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. We've learned a lot through our separations and our time in the Army; much of it about group dynamics and how Families and FRGs can really support or really destroy each other. A few highlights from our education ...
A Family's strengths and weaknesses are both magnified during deployments.
FRGs can be really good or really bad ... but all are made up of humans.
Humans make mistakes but a vast majority of them have good intentions at heart.
We have also learned a lot about how to best reintegrate after a long separation; mostly through trial and error. We've done it really well and we've also done it really poorly.  Some lessons that stand out in my mind are ...
We must take it slowly. Like the stages of grief, the stages of reintegration cannot be rushed or skipped; it just simply takes time.

We understand that it's our responsibility to share with family and friends how they can best support us; they cannot be expected to just know.  We must communicate with our parents, siblings, friends, and everyone else in our support group of life to ensure that they know what we're experiencing and how they can help ... or not.  We must maintain constant communication with our children's teachers and coaches so they can also support the process as well.

We know that our kids will each take their own time to readjust to Dad being home again.  We must be patient and support them every step along the way. Just as we each have our own way of dealing with new situations in our lives, so, too, do our children.  And the really interesting part?  None of us do it the same.  We just have to be sure we take the time to understand each other and encourage each other along the way.
These may sound like simple lessons but each represents a long, hard road of discovery for us. We're still learning and will continue to find out more along the way. In the meantime, we live each day committed to enjoy our Army life, appreciate the love and support of those around us, and encourage each other each step along our Army path.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kids' Craft: The Invisible String

A wonderful story about the invisible string that connects loved ones. Whenever one thinks about another member of the family, the string gives a tug and you feel it.
Our battalion used this book at a recent Family Night event.  We wanted to have some meaningful activities for them to complete during the meeting and came up with a goody bag of things to do.  I'll post about that later, and use this post to talk about this adorable book that I now love. 

At the meeting, we had a large room that we divided in half (half for adults, half for kids).  All the kids were together in one corner of the room with volunteers there to help.  One of these (fabulous!) volunteers read this book aloud to them to start the activities. 

It's a sweet story; from the description:  Specifically written to address children's fear of being apart from the ones they love, The Invisible String delivers a particularly compelling message in today's uncertain times that though we may be separated from the ones we care for, whether through anger, or distance or even death, love is the unending connection that binds us all, and, by extension, ultimately binds every person on the planet to everyone else. Parents and children everywhere who are looking for reassurance and reaffirmation of the transcendent power of love, to bind, connect and comfort us through those inevitable times when life challenges us!

After reading the book, the kids all made an 'invisible string' bracelet.  Here are the items we used (found at our local Hobby Lobby store, but also available at other craft stores, jewelry stores, even Wal-Mart):
To make the bracelet, simply cut a length of cord for each child, add two heart beads -- one to represent the child's heart and the other to represent the Soldier's heart -- and tie the cord in a knot.  Trim any leftover cording afterwards.  One volunteer pre-cut the cord and placed one length of cord and two different-colored beads into a snack-size Ziploc before the meeting which made it very easy to quickly hand out supplies to all the kids.

My boys with their red and yellow 'Red Dragon' hearts.
This was a simple, inexpensive, and fun craft to do for a large group of kids (we had about 40 kids participating).  The kids really seemed to connect with this idea and were very proud of their bracelets.  Some of the kids did swap out the colors they had in their bag and it was cute to hear them talking about things like, "I want CAV colors, black and yellow" or "Red Dragon colors are red and yellow.  That's what I'm using."  Several kids also wanted to be sure they could have their dad's favorite color for 'his' bead.

Our goal is to have a meaningful activity for kids each time we meet ... I'll let you know how it goes!

*One safety tip if you want to try this: be sure parents know you've sent their children home with the bracelet.  The beads are small and could be a choking hazard if the child removes the bracelet and takes off the beads ... not likely, but still worth mentioning to parents.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Lessons from My Nieces

Hannah and Emma at Wazoo's
My twin nieces, five years old, stayed with us for a couple of days so their parents could enjoy a wonderful anniversary trip.  I know, instinctively, that there are many differences between girls and boys, but it is still startling for me to see it in action.  Here are some things I've learned about my nieces over the past couple of days ...

They are snuggly.  Anytime another human is sitting, the girls would snuggle in.  They don't mind climbing up and over each other to get closer and love to be cuddled.

They like to help in the kitchen.  I was pleasantly surprised to have two very capable little helpers in the kitchen at mealtimes.  Hearing sweet voices asking, "Aunt Traci, what can I do?" was music to my ears.

Their voices can reach octaves unattainable by boys.  Squeals are something new to me.  My boys can make plenty of noise, mind you, but these little girl voices can reach heights generally unheard in our home.

They take on new 'best friends' quickly and easily.  Taking the group to Wazoo's, a local bounce house, was so fun.  They immediately made a new friend and were holding hands and playing like life-long friends after just a few minutes.

They are enthusiastically dramatic.  I should really videotape these precious girls telling a story so you can get the full impact.  I absolutely love listening to them and watching their highly expressive faces.

They are very independent.  Maybe I just don't remember my boys at five years old very well, but these girls seem very independent to me.  They are fully capable of bathing, washing their hair, brushing it out, brushing teeth, picking out their own clothes and dressing without even a hint or reminder.  It could be, too, that they actually have an opinion about their clothes whereas my boys will wear whatever I put out for them ... and it also could be that if I stopped putting out clothes for my boys (and started trusting them to choose!), they would be equally independent?

These are just a few of the lessons I learned over the past two days and welcome the opportunity to have these adorable little girls in my house again soon!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Panda Express

Two of my nieces are here with me tonight and have encouraged my boys to broaden their culinary horizons. They love Panda Express and talked us into having dinner there. It was a big hit with everyone. The girls especially liked lo mein noodles ("noodles with sauce and crunchy lettuce"), Joshua stuck with plain steamed rice, and all the kids loved the orange chicken and mandarin chicken. We also had a great time reading our fortunes .... Joshua's informed him that he would take journey to a faraway place and Trey's said he would get a wish granted when he least expects it ... so they concluded that we must travel to Europe over Spring Break!  Too bad the fortune cookies didn't also give us our lucky numbers so we could win the lotto and fund a trip to Europe.  =)


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Army Sisters: The Fabulous Jenn

My super-fabulous friend, Jenn
Not only do I feel blessed to be an Army wife and get to meet so many amazing people, but I am doubly grateful for the friends that I have met along this Army path.  One such fabulous friend is Jenn.  Jenn and I met at a brigade Coffee at my house sometime in 2007.  I had just joined this group, had missed my first Coffee with them and was now hosting one.  I was a little nervous to invite all of these ladies to my house, not having met anyone.  Our Soldiers were deployed so I didn't even have my husband's review to find out a little about them.  I felt anxious and on my own.

We had a great turnout that night and I met a lot of super gals.  Jenn, though, stood out from the very beginning.  This Jersey girl is sassy and fun and has never met a stranger.  She had been inside my home for all of 30 seconds when I began to feel more at ease and started to enjoy myself, completely forgetting any sense of nervousness I felt before.  And after 5 minutes, we were akin to lifelong friends.  She single-handedly made me a part of the group and included me in her circle of friends on the spot.  She's that kind of gal.

I treasure the friendship that started that night and count Jenn as one of my true confidantes, someone who will listen to any craziness I need to share, tell me the honest truth about what she thinks, and hold nothing back.  She's also fiercely loyal and, in her own words, will 'smack you down' if you hurt one of her friends.  She refuses to allow gossip and has an wonderful sense of justice about her.  Don't plan to bad-mouth anybody if Jenn is there.  She just won't stand for it.

She's endlessly entertaining and this southern gal loves her Yankee ways.  Our respective accents clash like Titans, but our conversations are truly hilarious.  If you ever get the privilege of meeting Jenn, ask her about her wonderful Sicilian family and beware of the 'evil eye' curse ... it's no joke.  Her husband is equally wonderful and I'm happy that our husbands are friends as well.  It's a relationship I will always cherish and I'm happy to have her around for whatever challenges might lie ahead in the coming months.

For you, my Jenn ... wonderful friend, forever Army sister ... thank you.  You mean the world to me.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's Day 2011

Nate and Joshua playing Monopoly

Joshua and his good luck meal

Trey with his good luck lunch
Our first day of 2011 was quite, simple, and absolutely perfect.  We enjoyed an all-time favorite, PJ Day, and spent much of the day exploring Christmas treasures and playing games.  Joshua proved to be the next Donald Trump-like real estate mogul, smoking us all in several games of Monopoly.  We also enjoyed the traditional parades and football games of the day.

Our traditional lunchtime meal consisted of spiral glazed ham, mashed potatoes (mac & cheese for the boys), black-eyed peas, collard greens, and cornbread.  The boys decided that a single black-eyed pea for each day of 2011 seemed excessive and both hoped a good spoonful brings them all the luck they need in the new year.

We are thankful for so much, especially having Nate home for the holiday season.  We're constantly aware of the servicemembers who serve abroad today ... and the Families at home praying for their continued safety.  Happy 2011 to all!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Eve 2010

Ready for the New Year!
Nate enjoys a game of Piranha Panic with the kids.
Trey imitates Shrek with his green shirt and New Year's horns.
We enjoyed a fun family New Year's Eve at home this year.  Our fabulous neighbors joined us for playing games, creating new 2011 calendars, and celebratory fun at midnight (yes, we celebrated at 11:00 PM when the east coast hit midnight).

A new tradition we learned about this year comes from Spain.  It includes eating twelve grapes starting exactly at midnight and eating one grape for each stroke of twelve.  Um, in case you're wondering, that's easier said than done.  We were worried that somebody might choke on a grape, which we decided would not be a sign of good luck.  We did get the grapes consumed though, then enjoyed a toast and lots of noise-making to bring in the new year.

Poor Leo wasn't sure what to make of our odd behavior but happily joined in the noise-making with us by howling along with the party horns at midnight!