Nov 19, 2011

True Story.

I wish this were fiction or about someone else, but it isn't. It is a true story about me.
I spent most of the morning cleaning up the house and getting extra beds ready for my sister's arrival on Monday. By late afternoon I was done with the house and eager to get a run in before it got dark.
A little secret about my running style. I am not a good runner. I don't run because I love it or I'm particularly good at it. I run because I would rather do a cardio workout outside than in the gym and I'm not quite skilled enough to cycle at more than a leisurely pace. I also run for distance not time. Instead of setting a goal to run for 30 or 45 minutes, I set a goal for a distance of 3 or 4 miles. What is the difference? If I run faster, I get done quicker and I can kick off those running shoes and get on with my day. If I run slow, the longer it takes for me to get home.
Today, I wanted to be done. It was freezing cold outside and curling up in a fuzzy blanket on the couch with a book and a cup of coffee was calling my name. So today wasn't about running intervals or running while taking in the beauty of the fall leaves on the ground, today was about getting done!
I set out at a good clip and stayed really strong for the first 2 miles. I felt good. I felt strong. I had some tunes playing on my ipod but I wasn't really listening to them. Instead, I was locked into a daydream. In my dream I was running a marathon and still feeling strong. I was 20 miles in and had just 6.2 left to go. I was feeling fierce. I was a running fool. Then it happened. My marathon race daydream came to an abrupt end when I suddenly found myself flying through the air. I felt like I was in a cartoon. I was suspended in the air grasping for something to reach out to in order to prevent a face-plant on the pavement but nothing appeared. Instead, my right hand and my left elbow absorbed the full force of the weight of my body crashing down onto the chilly pavement.
The shock, the shame, the blood. Not a lot of blood but I managed to get a few patches of road rash on my hands and wrist and I cut open the tip of my finger. Don't ask, I have no idea how I have a tip of the finger injury. My elbow was instantly sore and throbbing. When I looked at it I realized I shredded the sleeve of my very favorite North Face lightweight down jacket. Then I wanted to cry. Skin, muscles, and bone can heal but the fabric of my coat....done for.
I was on the verge of crying and laughing. Crying because I was in a bit of pain and as I mentioned, I tore my coat. Laughing because it is super funny that I was too engrossed in my little fake marathon daydream to pay attention to the stones under my feet!
I pulled myself up off the ground, put some gloves on my hands to ease the pain of my little open wounds in the chilly air (those would have saved my flesh if I had them on instead of in my pocket when I fell), I adjusted my newly altered jacket, and set out to finish this run. I ran the rest of the way home without incident and managed to log a really good time.
I could wrap this up and talk about how this is a great life lesson: keep your eyes on the path or you will stumble and fall. Or I could say it is a story about pressing on, even when you fall on our face. But really, it is just a story about how I tripped and fell today while running and I think the lady that witnessed the event is probably still laughing and she would have darn near peed her pants if she knew why I tripped.

Nov 11, 2011

Happy Veteran's Day....

At dinner tonight Matt and I were talking about the bank being closed because it was Veteran's day. Gabe heard us and announced that he was a Veteran. I had to do some follow-up:
Me: Why do you think you are a Veteran?
Gabe: because I don't eat meat.
This left me speechless for a moment. I finally composed myself and explained the difference between a veteran and a vegetarian!
Just as I finished clearing that up, Eli chimes in with new information on his Veteran status:
"My teacher said that the kids in my class are kind of like veterans because even though we are not the Army guys, we have to still move around and leave our friends and live in new places and have to deal with our dad's being gone and stuff so she decided that she was going to honor US on Veteran's Day. And when she told us this, she was crying."
How can I argue with that?
Happy Veteran's Day to my husband a member of the US Army for 16 years, a veteran of OIF and the "war on terror", to all soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines who have given their time to serve in the US Armed Forces, and to the children of those soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines whose lives are also effected by their parent's decision to serve.

Nov 5, 2011

Writing on the Wall

My bathrooms are disgusting. I clean them....daily but my scrubbers, bleach wipes, and lysol spray are no match for the male people in my life.
Each bathroom has a toilet with a) a flushing mechanism b) a toilet brush for further poo removal c) clorox bleach wipes to rid the seat, floor and wall of any accidental drippings and d) me readily available to assist in any clean-ups that may be required if one feels the need for back-up.
And yet..... I regularly, I'm talking DAILY walk into a bathroom to be greeted by urine or something worse simmering in the toilet.
So, I decided I needed to place a little reminder in the boys' bathroom. The walls are tile. This makes cleaning the bathroom thoroughly easy. I start with the toxic spray at the top of the wall and wipe down every square of the wall and floor tile.... tile walls also provide a handy place to use a dry-erase marker to leave little notes. Or in this case, big notes.
Flush = flush the toilet.
Clean= make use of the toilet brush if needed and those clorox wipes stored under the sink.
Lid= put the entire lid down.
Wash= wash your hands.
Tonight I walked into the bathroom and below this blaring writing on the wall was a toilet with the lid up and poop in the toilet. I went high-side on the boys. I weeded out the owner of the little treasure left in the toilet and then went crazy on him.
Really. Even if you don't do the cleaning just flush the toilet. FLUSH the TOILET!!!
I managed to lower my blood pressure long enough to utter the words to our new toilet policy:
Effective immediately there will be a $1 fine imposed for all non-flushing incidents.
One way or another I will conquer my stinky bathrooms once and for all!

Oct 26, 2011

Simply Put.

And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

Oct 19, 2011

Aρειος Πάγος

Areopagus or Rock of Ares is a large rock near the base of the Acropolis of Athens.  The Areopagus functioned as a place of appeals for criminal and civil cases in the classical times and before that it was where high ranking public officials would meet, similar to a Senate.  
When we were in Athens last month, we went to the Acropolis of Athens and saw the Areopagus.  We didn't walk around on Areopagus, it was blazing hot and after 1.5 hours at the Acropolis the kids were pretty much done with the historic site and ready to find our cab driver who promised the car would be ready with the a/c full blast when we returned, but we were there, we saw it, and we walked the paths that so many important historical figures would have walked to get up there.
Of all the places that we have travelled I think I am most impressed that my sandals (ok comfortable walking shoes) walked where Paul walked in Athens.  The account is recorded in Acts 17:16-34.
"While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there".  Some philosophers began to debate with him, asking what he was babbling about and they decided to bring him to Areopagus.  There they asked him to explain what he was talking about.  The teaching was something they hadn't heard before.  There at Areopagus Paul stood before the people and proclaimed the Gospel "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being."
Paul was there, in the center of the philosophical world, proclaiming that God is the one true God and that all these temples and idols that have been built to honor pagan gods serve only as obstructions to seeing and knowing God.  Paul was there nearly 2000 years ago while those buildings at the Acropolis were still standing.  The buildings are now just piles of rubble and works of reconstruction by archaeologists but Paul's message still applies today.

Oct 18, 2011

Sneak Peak!

My friend Angela is the mastermind behind our family photos. I met her just over 2 years ago when we become her downstairs neighbors in the apartment in Mannheim. Shortly after we moved in, she told me she was starting a photography business. I needed family pictures, so I signed up for a photo-shoot in Heidelberg. We loved our pictures and I knew as long as we were in Germany Angela would be stuck taking our family pictures. As it turns out we love their family too and so now they are all just flat stuck with us! Angela's business and talent has flourished in the past few years. She has an absolutely amazing eye, great ideas, and is just simply the most fabulous photographer ever!
This year I asked her to do a session for the boys separate from our family. I really wanted to get some great pictures of the boys in their element apart from the whole family gig. She met us at a park on Monday and spent a few hours with my rascally boys.
She just sent me a link to her blog with some sneak peaks of the pictures. Needless to say, I am SO. COMPLETELY. HAPPY! I expected great pictures but these are just so fabulous.
Alrighty then, this is what you came for, check them out!
If you are living in Germany and ready to invest in gorgeous photos.....give her a call!
I thought Rahab was a tough topic to teach my middle school kids....at least I was just trying to explain faith with that one.  The latest lesson I had to teach was Ruth.  Simple enough right?  Ruth goes with her grumpy mother in law Naomi to Bethlehem, works in Boaz' fields, finds favor in his eyes, asks him to become the kinsman redeemer to Naomi's property, he accepts, and then Ruth and Boaz get married and everyone lives happily ever after.  
I have heard this story a few dozen times.  However, it wasn't until I was studying for my lesson that I really read the part where Naomi gives Ruth instructions to head over to Boaz' threshing floor after he has eaten and is feeling restful, lay at his feet, and then ask him to cover her with his robe.  Something was telling me the kids were not going to let me just breeze past this one. I needed to be prepared!  I did some reading and most of what I found points to this little midnight meeting as something very innocent and symbolic for the times.  "Covering" Ruth with his robe was a symbol that Boaz was going to take care of her and her family.  As I read the scripture, the girls' eyes were wide and they started to snicker and then just came right out and said "WHAT?"  I simplified the threshing floor scene by comparing it to a modern day proposal.  Instead of a man getting down on one knee at a fancy restaurant or romantic spot and asking those four sweet words "will you marry me?"  It was Ruth laying at Boaz' feet, in a dirty barn asking "will you cover me?".  Same thing, different time.  At least that is my working explanation and it seemed to pacify the kids.
As quickly as possible I diverted their attention from the threshing floor and started talking about the most important part of the lesson.  Kinsman Redeemer.  Naomi's land was for sale.  She needed someone in her dead husband's family to buy the land and provide for Naomi and Ruth so they would no longer have to live in poverty.  Boaz was a relative, so he qualified, but not the closest living relative.  Legally, the closer relative had to have the opportunity to redeem the land before Boaz could.  So Boaz went to the other relative and asked if he wanted to buy it.  At first he said "yes".  He was thinking "awesome! More fields, more money to be earned".  But when Boaz explained that along with the land came the little matter of taking on the responsibility of caring for Ruth and Naomi, the guy backed out of the deal.  The cost was too great for him.  However, it wasn't too much for Boaz.  He bought the land, married Ruth, and took care of Naomi.  He paid the price for the land and gave Ruth and Naomi a new life.
Christ is our kinsman redeemer.  The price of our sins was too great for anyone else to redeem.  But Jesus paid the price, we became his "bride" and now we are given a new life.  All we have to do is go to the threshing floor and acknowledge that Christ has already "covered" us.  He did it when he shed His blood on Calvary.
It truly amazes me how much I am learning as I prepare each week to teach the Trek kids.  It isn't enough for me to know about the story, I need to really know it, understand it and be able to answer questions about it.  It is through teaching these kids that I too am learning.

Oct 17, 2011

This is perfectly normal right?  Not the part about boots being in a window sill, but the number of boots I own.  Everyone has at least 6 pair of boots....right?  I was cleaning out a closet the other day and realized that I need the entire bottom flooring of one of the closets in order to properly store my boots.  I do have big feet so that definitely contributes to the fact that I no longer have any room in the bottom of that closet - but the lack of room in there made me realize that I don't have anymore room for another pair of boots.  Not that I am actively shopping for boots, I'm just saying that even if a pair of perhaps dressy black boots found their way into my home, I don't have anywhere to put them.

Oct 11, 2011

If you happen to have read this post about where we will be moving next, you will recall that the prospects for an excitingly awesome new duty station were looking grim.
We spent a few weeks thinking about what we wanted to ask for and devising a plan and then this past Friday Matt sent an email to his branch manager with his request.  The plan was simple.  Matt would sell his soul to the devil in order to get a duty station other than the ones the branch manager had previously offered.  We were willing to have Matt do an unaccompanied tour in one of many unpleasant places in order to have a chance to get to one of our stations of choice when he returned.  It was a risky move.  Perhaps life in Texas or North Carolina would be better than volunteering for an unaccompanied tour?  But we made our decision.  We felt good about it.  We were ready to get this ball rolling.
The email was short and sweet.
"Sir, I'll do anything you want me to do short of giving up my right arm if you don't send me to one of those less than wonderful duty stations.  I really pretty please with sugar on top want to go to Fort Lewis, Hawaii or Fort Carson."
Next step.  We wait.
We figured it would be a few days at least before getting a reply but it ended up being a few hours.
Matt got the email on his work Blackberry and raced upstairs to tell me.  
The conversation went like this.
"He responded"
"No way"
"Yes he did"
"What is it?"
"Fort Lewis"
"Not cool.  Don't mess with me"
"I'm serious"
"You're mean"
"I'm not kidding"
"Really?"
It went like this for a few seconds until Matt just let me read the email.
And this is where I start to cry.
There was nothing official about the email so we were cautiously excited.  We told Tom and Mika and then spent the next few days talking about all the things that we were excited for.  We didn't tell the boys or anyone else because we feared that the branch manager would suddenly recall that he told us we had to go to one of those other duty stations.  Fears were squashed when we received a RFO (request for orders) on Tuesday.  
While this is still the Army and things can change, an RFO is the next best thing to actual Orders.
The branch manager didn't originally see a spot for Matt in Fort Lewis, but I think God opened his eyes a little and revealed a great job for him there.
About 16 years ago Matt began his military career as an E2 at Fort Lewis, Washington.  A year later we were married and made our first home there.   In the past 15 years we have made our home in 6 additional duty stations, met wonderful people from all over the world, lived a life we never dreamed of, and in about 10 months we will make our way back to Washington, back to where we started, to finish off our military career and pave the way for life after the Army.  
I simply could not be more grateful for the places God has taken us and for the plans He has for our future.


Oct 5, 2011

By Faith

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see". Hebrews 11:1

This week I am teaching a lesson on Rahab to my AWANA group. It is a huge challenge for me to try to explain the faith of Rahab when I don't quite understand it myself.
I was raised in a Christian home and have been surrounded by stories of faith my entire life. I've read, listened to, and studied Bible stories about people who have acted by faith and I have been taught over and over again the importance of placing my trust in God. And still...my faith is often wavering.
Yet Rahab, a prostitute living in Canaan, didn't have any of these positive influences encouraging her to have faith in the one true God, and when it came down to it - she rocked it. She heard stories of the Israelites release from Egypt, crossing of the Red Sea, and conquering other cities in Canaan - and by these stories alone she knew the God was real and she trusted that He had the power to save her.
She was unworthy, and yet she believed. She was a prostitute, and God used her. She was a sinner, but saved both herself and her family. Her faith is hard to grasp, let alone explain.
Rahab didn't know much about God but she didn't use that as an excuse. She used what she did know to be true to make her decision to hide the Israelite spies and rely on God instead of the gods of the Canaan people.
Oh to have her faith.  I don't know what tomorrow will bring and it is hard to base my faith on what I think God will do in my life, however, if I simply look back on the things that I do know about God, if I look at the many times that he has held me in His hands, the times He provided for us, protected us, and the countless times He has forgiven me, it shouldn't be too difficult to place my faith in Him.
Rahab believed in God and asked the spies to save her.  The thief on the cross next to Jesus recognized that he was the Messiah and asked him to save his life.  My greatest hope for my AWANA kids is that they too will recognize God as the Living God and believe that Jesus is their Messiah and profess their faith so that they too will be saved.

Sep 30, 2011

Oktoberfest 2011

Two songs play over and over again at festhalles at Oktoberfest: "Ein Prosit" and "So ein shoener Tag". Ein Prosit is a simple song "Ein Prosit, ein Prosit Der Gemütlichkeit" is repeated a few times and then everyone raises their glasses and clinks them together. The translation is "a toast, a toast to the coziness of it all". "So ein shoener Tag" is a silly song when you understand the lyrics. It is one of those songs that everyone knows the motions to and somehow forgets that singing and dancing to it is a little like a bunch of adults singing the hokey pokey. The motions are flexing your muscles, jumping, spinning, swimming, and waving your arms in the sky and to top it all off the chorus is "la la lala la" which makes it very singable for all people involved - to include those that don't know any other lyrics. "So ein shoener Tag" translates to "It is a beautiful day".
All that to say, September 25th Matt and I, Mika and Tom, Ken and Cyndi (Tom's parents) and Tim (Tom's brother) all drove down to Munich to go to Oktoberfest. We knew we would have a good time - with this crew how could we not?
We walked around to a few tents and saw seating prospects for all 7 of us were null, so when a lovely waitress asked us if we wanted a seat for two, we snatched it and sent Ken and Cyndi in to experience Oktoberfest. Within a few moments the waitress, Elvira, returned to snatch us all up. She somehow convinced a table of people full of couples to go elsewhere so that our group could have the entire table. Then there we were all 7 of us seated, together, at noon, for lunch in the Augustiner festhalle in Munich. SCORE!
I expected the dancing, singing, drinking, occasional breaking of glasses when the "tap" of glasses was a little overzealous, and drunk people. I expected to laugh and have a great time. What I didn't expect was tears.
After a few hours of sitting in the festhalle eating lunch, chatting, singing, and dancing on tables it hit me: I am in Munich, Germany with my best friends and their family, at Oktoberfest. This is a once in a lifetime experience. And I started to cry.
Turns out we have a weeping bunch. Mika started to cry a smidgen, and Ken got misty eyed too. Matt stayed strong for a while- but eventually got glassy. There were a lot of hugs and a lot of love passed around.
It was a beautiful day. A day where we had a blast, where we laughed and cried, where we made new memories and recounted old, a day where we appreciated each other for being who we are to each other.
You might say it was the beer. And you might be right....but only partially. The words were from the heart and I know this to be true. The beer - just helped the words come out at a festhalle instead of birthday card or funeral!
The Mlacks are my chosen family. You have the family that you are blessed with, the family that you marry, and then some lucky chaps get another family - one that you just choose to become family because you love them all so darn much.
I'll look fondly back on this day for all the fun shenanigans of Oktoberfest but what I will treasure forever is the people and love that was shared there.
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit Der Gemütlichkeit

Sep 29, 2011

September.

Every family has that one month out of the year that is always, and I do mean always, jam packed full of fun and all things great. For us, this month is September.
Both of the boys have birthdays in September, school starts, and we vacation.
This year for Eli's birthday he requested Chef Boyardee ravioli, which we nixed and turned into Sloppy Joe, and to open his presents by a bonfire. It was a hectic day with school and a AWANA meeting, but we managed to make it special for him. Gabriel invited a few of his friends to a local indoor playground for slides, rock walls, trampolines and bounce house. We had cake at home and his requested dinner was spaghetti with spicy sausage. The boys were blessed with lots of great gifts from friends and family and both seemed genuinely happy with their special days.
School is interesting this year. Mannheim is closing and 75% of the population of the community have left. There are no more than two classes of each grade in school and the class sizes are still very small. The small classes are great for the teacher - student ratio but not so great for the friend pool. The boys have limited acceptable friend options and for that I am a little sad. There used to be 30 -40 kids running wild through our neighborhood at any given time. Now there are about 10 and they seem to always find their way to my house!
Rick Steves calls September and October and April and May "shoulder" months. They are the months that are still great times to travel but are slightly less hot than summer, considerably less full of tourists, and often just slightly cheaper than peak summer travel rates. Rick is right. And we love to travel in September.
Last September we spent Labor Day weekend in the French Alps with friends and then spent 10 days in Milan and Florence, Italy, followed by Oktoberfest in Munich. This year, we spent Labor Day weekend camping with friends in the German/Austrian area of Garmisch, then we spent 10 days going to Venice, a cruise through Greece and Croatia, and brief stop in Innsbruck, followed by a fabulous stop in Munich for Oktoberfest.
It is a full month, so busy that it is truly hard to believe that it is over tomorrow!

Aug 29, 2011

Seasons

Ecclesiastes 3:1 proclaims "there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven". You know the 1960's Byrds song "to everything turn turn turn, there is a season turn turn turn"? Or if you prefer verses 2-8 in Ecclesiastes:
"a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace."

Well right now I've got a season of grumpy. That isn't in the song or the scriptures but it is alive and well in my house. Matt and I have both struggled quite a bit lately with this spirit of the grump.
I'm grumpy today because my Keurig machine brewed its last cup of coffee 5 days after I received the $100 worth of coffee K-cups I ordered 6 weeks ago from Keurig. I'm grumpy because Matt's car (that we love) had a little hiccup this morning and opted to stay in the carport instead of starting up and driving to work. I'm grumpy because I feel really lost about our upcoming cruise. I'm not used to being on a tight time constraint and can't decide if I want to follow a guide around with an umbrella and megaphone on tours through Greece - for an excessive amount of money - or just do what we normally do and follow the shiny things to see what we see. I'm grumpy because my jeans are tight, I don't have anything planned for dinner, and I don't know what to do for Eli's birthday festivities due to an insanely busy schedule this week.
I should, however, be in season of gratitude. How cool is it that that Keurig was an awesome Christmas gift that gave us hundreds of cups of coffee at the touch of a button? How nice is it that it is still under warranty? We have an awesome diesel BWM that drives a million miles without needing to refuel and for 2 years it has given us barely any trouble at all, especially taking into consideration that it is an old fart in car years. We have two cars. Again a blessing that some people don't have. OK, so I don't know right now exactly how things are going to go for our cruise.....seriously taking our family of four on a cruise to Greece. Enough said. Jeans are tight because I have a ton of fun eating fabulous food with great friends in an amazing location. I can be skinny in someplace boring and lonely. And finally, we have so many things going on this week because we have some really fun opportunities. Eli is still playing German/American baseball, the boys are in swim lessons, I'm an AWANA leader and we leave on Friday to go camping with friends. Now, as for dinner.... I just need to switch my season of grumpy to a season of recipe searching and that too will be solved.
There are some legitimate reasons for us to be struggling with discontent and a whole bunch of really lame reasons too. I am realizing that the solution to this overall crankiness is not to solve each of the individual problems/challenges/circumstances that are in our lives right now but to solve the problem of my attitude toward them.

Aug 26, 2011

Volvo vs. Cart

Usually when I spend a small fortune on goodies from the commissary, the bagger loads up the cart and takes my purchases out to the car. They do this, not because they are sweet and efficient but because they work for tips. If they just bag your groceries and leave you to take the cart out, it is an automatic reduction of pay, so unless you ask them not to or they are super busy they load up the car for you and return the cart. If for some reason a bagger doesn't take your groceries out for you, you've got a cart issue on your hands. The commissary parking lot does not have a place to leave your cart once you are done with it. The baggers usually bring in a few extra from the lot when they are done delivering groceries, but there are always still a bunch of carts all over the parking lot waiting for someone to retrieve them or the wind to blow them into a car. When most people are done with their cart they just push it up to the front of their parking spot and roll out. How expensive can a cart corral be?
Since there is no cart corral, I usually return my cart to the front of the store. Again this is a little problematic because there isn't a place to park the carts out in front of the store. So, unless you are super helpful and decide to bring the cart in and then go around and come out the exit - you still leave a wild cart just parked willy nilly in front of the store.
What is with all this cart talk?
Today, I had a ton of groceries and the baggers were too busy to help me to the car. I somehow managed to lift the over stuffed grocery bags into my own car and then commissioned my nearly 9 year old to take the cart back to the store rather than leaving it in the lot. Before he took off I reminded him "be careful, watch for cars".
I started chatting with a friend in the parking lot and 30 seconds later I noticed some commotion down the aisle. A sweet Volvo XC90 (which I totally would love to add to my driveway) backed into a cart. Not just any cart, the cart that my baby boy was returning to the store.
Holy cow.
When I mentally arrived on scene the lady was apologizing profusely saying she didn't see him and asking if he was OK. He was OK, hardly fazed. He didn't scream or anything when the car started backing into him, he just backed the cart up to try to get out of the way. When he recounted what happened he said "mom I was watching and I didn't see her white lights".
I'm still confused about how someone driving a suped up European luxury car equipped with backup sensors can run into my son's cart, but whatever. I'm just so thankful that Eli wasn't hurt or even shaken up by the incident. In the hours following the incident I found myself thinking over and over again how easily this story could have had a different ending.
Thank you God for giving me that rascally little guy almost 9 years ago, and keeping him safe and healthy right up to today.

Aug 22, 2011

Love the Ones You're With

So the lyrics to this 70's song are not exactly words of wisdom, but the title is! This past Saturday some girlfriends and I drove up to Brussels to spend the afternoon and evening and then drove down to Tongeren the next morning to stroll through a flea market, sample some local food and have a general good time.
Since we didn't decide to make this trip until Thursday night, and didn't get a solid count on who all was going until Friday night, we found ourselves searching for hours, literally hours, for hotel accommodations for 5 ladies. Finding an affordable hotel in Europe for 4 people is often a challenge, for 5 is an uber challenge, and for 5 at the last minute it is down right ridiculous. We could have booked multiple rooms to make things easier, but we were really hoping to find something where everyone could be together. Just shy of midnight we found a fabulous, beautiful, super clean, well located, huge apartment that could accommodate us all, for just €10 more per person than we hoped to pay. Not bad for last minute! Mission accomplished.
After we arrived in our room on Saturday, we looked around and dropped our bags and then did what seems to be the next natural thing to do after arriving at a hotel in a different country - logged in to the hotel's free wifi network. Everyone took a few minutes to check mail, update facebook statuses and see what happened in the FB world during the 4 hour drive to Brussels. After about 5-10 minutes on the devices someone pointed out that we should probably get out the door and experience this place we came for. We had a lazy enjoyable afternoon and evening. We walked into town, ate a lot of food, had some fun shopping and people watching. It was quite a lovely day.
Upon our return to the hotel the personal internet devices came out and conversations laughter that we experienced for the past 12 hours were mostly over. As it turns out, it wasn't really all that important for us to be in the same room. Everyone could have surfed on their own.
We spent Sunday shopping at a flea market in a nearby city and then headed home. As soon as we crossed into the German border everyone with internet service plans on their phones started surfing. The car went silent. Those without internet passed the time sleeping, driving or just thinking. Those with, checked email, read facebook posts and shopped.
The same scenario played out when we went to Vienna a few months back. We purposefully found an apartment where our family and the Mlack family could all be together, but I hate to admit that we didn't do a single thing together each night when we returned from sightseeing. Everyone grabbed their devices and conversations ended and the cards and dice sat on the counter collecting dust.
Instead of spending time with the people who made it a point to be together, everyone was spending time alone connecting with people, news stories, and other websites on line. This happens over and over again in my life. I cannot count the number of times that someone has picked up their phone at a restaurant to check on what is going on elsewhere.
When this happened at our hotel this last weekend one of my friends repeated something that her brother always says to her "love the one you're with!" Instead of focusing on what is happening in the world, focus on being in the moment and really enjoying and loving the people you are with.
It is highly unlikely that the same 5 ladies will find ourselves together again without our spouses and children. One is moving in a few weeks, school is starting soon, another one is working full time and life gets busy. This was a brief moment in time that can't be paused or recaptured. But Facebook, the news, emails - those can all be read later.
I don't know why people think it is OK to ignore the people you are with to be entertained by things on line, but I'm sick of it. I'm going to take a friends' advise and love the ones I'm with and if the ones I'm with are too busy loving those on-line, I need some new ones to be with!

Aug 17, 2011

Where?

Every three years Matt and I have a discussion about where we want to move next. The conversation lasts a long time - like 6-12 months.

The other day we made our wish lists:

Clarissa's List of Dreamy Places to Move
1. Fort Carson, Colorado
 2. Alaska
 3. Hawaii
 4. Fort Lewis, WA
Matt's List of Places that Clarissa is willing to move with him.
1. Fort Carson, Colorado
 2. Hawaii
 3. Fort Lewis, Washington
Matt also wants to go to Fort Rucker, Alabama but I nixed it. He nixed my Fort Belvoir, VA vote.

So, the other day Matt had 7.5 minutes to talk to his Branch Manager about what would be available to him next summer when we move from here. Here is the branch manager's list:
Fort Carson
Hawaii
Fort Lewis
Alaska
Fort Bliss, TX - also known as Juarez, MEXICO Fort Riley, KS - as in Toto, middle of nowhere
Fort Drum, NY - not in any of the cool places in NY but very close to Canada.
Fort Hood, TX - smack in the middle of Texas.
Fort Bragg, NC - South of the Mason Dixon, heart of NASCAR, camo as a fashion statement, and hunting.
And this is the part where I cry.
We have been so blessed to be stationed in really fabulous places: Lewis, Hawaii, Virginia and Germany were all our first choice we when were assigned there. The only place that we didn't dream about living was Campbell, but as it turns out we met our BFFs there, it was a great place to have the babies, and it ended up being a good duty station. I guess I just didn't imagine that NONE of the places on our list would be an option. So the processes of choosing the best of the worse begins. Bliss is an immediate "hell no". It is literally on the border of Mexico and while the city of El Paso boasts great quality of life....the other half of the city is Juarez and people get abducted by drug cartels and beheaded. No silver lining there! We don't even get to ask for our next assignment until Spring of 2012, so we have time to decide where we want to go. But I did find myself getting a little excited about the possibility of moving to Fort Bragg, NC. There are trees, four seasons, and most importantly the beach is about 2.5 hours away! Other bonus features are that it is a mere 5+ hours from my pals in Northern VA and a long road trip to many other places that we have yet to explore in the southeastern part of the country. A lot of my friends also really like Fort Hood, Tx. I haven't fully embraced Texas yet, but I'm telling you this, if we move to Texas I am buying cowboy boots and I'm wearing them with a sundress and a denim jacket!
Wherever we end up, I'm confident it will be another adventure that we'll look back on fondly.

Aug 15, 2011

2011 Pictures

Here are a bunch of pictures from this year. If you need a password to view the pictures it is ourphotos.

Click here to view these pictures larger

Aug 11, 2011

2012

Today Gabe and I were on our way home from a meeting at Matt's work when Gabe posed the following question:
"What is 2012 going to be like?"
Great question! I wish I knew the answer.
I'm not sure what was going through Gabe's mind when he thought of what 2012 would bring, but my mind started racing about where we will live, what Matt's job will be, will I get to Istanbul?, and "oh my goodness Eli will be 10 years old in 2012.
Gabe then alerted me that 2012 is right around the corner "just a few months away". Just as I began to panic and try to sort through a hundred different scenarios for 2012, Gabe brought me back to reality through a simple math problem.
"What is 30 + 31+30+31 + the rest of the days in August?"
I had an answer for this one: 142.
To which Gabe replied "oh man that isn't very soon at all".
So glad that this conversation ended on a good note. Now I can sleep well tonight knowing I still have 142 days left before 2012!

Aug 9, 2011

Butter, Sugar, Flour, Eggs

... ingredients I am missing from my life.
The ingredients used to collectively make a sweet treat once a week during our ladies' bible study. However, butter moved to NY, Sugar moved to Sembach, and Flour moved to Vogelweh, all that is left here in Mannheim is eggs. When you are used to all that other stuff mixed together, eggs are boring. Eggs are fine, but it is simply amazing that when you add sugar, butter, and flour to them, you get a whole new creation, much better than just eggs alone.
My ladies are gone. Though two are still in the general area, everyone has been super busy this summer and we haven't got together since the end of June. I miss those Wednesdays. I miss those mornings when everything else took second place to our time together. I miss learning, laughing and just being together. I also miss the breakfast treats, literally. We used to eat some type of homemade muffin, cake, or pastry goodness every Wednesday morning and that sweetness satisfied me for a week. Now, I find myself drooling over breakfast and brunch recipes wishing I had my ladies back to cook for and to cook for me. Every time I have considered making baked french toast, muffins, cinnamon rolls, monkey bread or pulling out a new recipe, I stop - roll my eyes at the thought of how unimpressed my kids would be and decide against it. My kids like cereal and box mix muffins, they have no appreciation for over-night french toast with blueberries and creme cheese, or cinnamon chip scones. They also don't have sweet words of wisdom and encouragement, prayerful hearts, and friendship like my ladies.
I think a brunch is long overdue!

Aug 5, 2011

Code of Conduct

Eli leaves today for his CEF camp in Switzerland. I'm so excited for him to have this opportunity to be "on his own" but a little nervous for him as well. The big things are no big deal, like being away from us for a week. It is the little things I nervous about like him deciding if he should wear pants or shorts that day, bringing all the things he needs with him to the shower, and knowing that he should eat whatever they give him or he'll starve. I'm praying that he has an absolutely wonderful time and that it is an opportunity for him to grow in maturity, in his understanding of Christ, and in his relationship with his buddies. One whole week seems like a long time now.
Along with his packing list and all those release forms, he was given a "Code of Conduct" page to read and sign. It was so well done! There were six scripture references followed by a statement pertaining to the scripture. For example:
Hebrews 13:17 "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you."
"I will obey the directions of the camp counselors and chaperones and submit to their authority with regard to my conduct on the bus, at camp, and on field trips" and a place for their signature.
Others included Philippians 2:14 "Do all things without grumbling or complaining...", Hebrews 10:24 "Consider how to stir up one another to love and good works" and Ephesians 4:29 "Let no corrupting talk come out of my mouth but only such as is good for building up...". Eli and I sat down and looked up each reference, talked about how this applied to him, and then he signed each line with conviction.
I think a code of conduct for our family is in order. I"m challenged to pick out the standards that are required in our home, find the verse that offers instruction on it, and write it up for the kids to sign. It is a great way to tie behavior to the commands that God has given us and a great way to show that the Bible is truly applicable to our daily lives.
Eli has his passport, snacks, reading materials, toiletries, clothes, and everything else he'll need tucked away in his suitcase all that is left now is for us to send him out.

Missing: Decorum

RyanAir is a venue for social experimentation. Things happen in conjunction with RyanAir flights that just really shouldn't happen. I think it is quite interesting to see what lengths people with go to.
Luggage: in order to avoid paying ridiculous luggage fees you can have one carry-on for free that is 10kg or less and contained in a bag measuring 55cmx40cmx20 or less. This is not one carry on and one personal item such as a purse or laptop, this is ONE bag. They were so serious about this requirement when we were leaving Crete that the agent actually told me that my book (small paperback book which I was reading while standing in line) had to be put in my bag. Containing all these items in my bag isn't usually a problem, it is staying under the weight requirement. So what do I do? I carefully think through every single item in my bag. I usually wear jeans twice and, I know this one is unthinkable, I only wear one pair of shoes for the whole trip. Take a minute if you need it......
Those are just smart packing things, but here is where I get weird. I always bring a jacket - regardless of the temperature - and I wear pants with pockets for the flights. Why? To utilize my pockets to help disperse the weight! It is truly amazing how much junk you can fit in pockets! I put my cell, ipod, small wallet, and camera in the pockets of my pants and jacket, and carry my jacket or wear it if the agents get cranky. In order to have a purse on the other end, I use my purse as my cosmetic bag in the suitcase and then dump it out at the hotel, take all the junk from my pockets, and load it back up. I upload a phrasebook on my iphone, instead of carrying a book, and have been known to tear out the pages from a guidebook that apply to my trip or photocopy them at home and just bring the ones I need. When we left Scotland last year, we bought some souvenirs that kicked up the weight on our luggage. In order to bring it back down Matt actually boarded the plane wearing a hoodie, jacket, scarf and sweater - it was May. And on our trip to Croatia we were pretty close on weight so Matt claimed he was going to wear his beach towel as a scarf if things got tight. The things you do to avoid paying for luggage.
Lines: There are no assigned seats on RyanAir, but it isn't like Southwest where you get a boarding number, and it isn't America where people generally stay in a line -Europeans could care less about the queue. On RyanAir the first to push their way onto the plane are the first to get seats. It is truly amazing how much junk you can fit in pockets! A few years ago my sister and I were waiting for a flight out of Rome and noticed three or four guys were circling the boarding area, like sharks waiting to attack a surfer. You could tell they wanted to be mobile but didn't want to get in line yet. We watched for about 30 minutes joking about how everyone wanted to get in line but nobody was going to make the first move and then decided to freak everyone out by putting on our backpacks on and standing up. Sure enough all the shark circling people jumped in line and about 100 other people followed. They all stood in a semblance of a line for over an hour just to be in the line.
The kicker abut the line, is that when it actually comes to boarding, nobody cares about the line and they just filter through the gate pushing and shoving like people at Walmart on Black Friday. On this trip back from Crete I actually saw numerous older people, to include grandmas, businessmen and mothers with babies's on their hips hurl themselves over the chairs in the airport waiting area in order to cut in line. Shameful. It wasn't sly pushing or "merging" it was blatant jumping over chairs and jumping in front of people.
Boarding: Once you break free from the big push to get through the doors there is a moment of freedom. You walk out to the airplane by way of a marked path, or shall I say fully sprint to the plane. People run with their luggage bouncing behind them, kids are dragged by their arms, people are shouting, and seriously bolting in order to get to the line at either entrance to the plane.
I refuse to take part in this crazy business. As long as we can find seats for each of the kids to be with an adult, I don't really care where we sit. Matt and I were one of the last people to get on the plane in Crete and I found it downright funny that even though all the crazy people were jumping over seats and pushing, Matt and I ended up sitting together with an empty seat between us, right near the rear exit of the plane.
Disembarking: nobody cares if your bag is two compartments ahead of your seat, they have no desire to let you get your bag in order to get off the plane. So, if your bag is not conveniently located right above you, people sometimes get out of their seats while still taxiing with hopes to align themselves up with their bag so they can get off the plane. My bag was one compartment behind me, which means swimming upstream between unsympathetic passengers in order to snatch it. I didn't have it in me, so I grabbed Matt's bag and sent him on the mission to get mine. As it turns out, he may or may not have elbow checked a lady in order to get it. But that is hearsay, not admissible in a court of law.
People's behavior absolutely shocks me every time we fly RyanAir. We all have tickets, we are all getting on the plane. You may have to sit next to a kicking child or a lady that refused to get up so that we can use the bathroom, but we were on the plane, we went to Crete all was right in the world. The fools people make of themselves to accomplish this simple task of flying is quite embarrassing.

Aug 4, 2011

Letting Go

I'm not a very focused reader, so when it comes to choosing reading material for the airport, airplane or other public places I tend to grab a magazine that doesn't require all of my attention to get the point. For this trip I chose PEOPLE and Women's Day. I couldn't tell you anything about PEOPLE, I read it on the way down to Crete and it did its job at helping me pass the time. On the way home I read Women's Day. It contained hundreds of words that I can't recall and pictures of products I'll never buy - it was a thoughtless page turner, until I reached the article entitled "The end of the road". Hoping it was a short story, I dove right in. I was wrong, the entire article was a self-help piece devoted to helping women end relationships.
In the first few paragraphs of the article the author explains that letting go of relationships that have soured means you must "put your needs before someone else's" and if you can accomplish this feat, then "you'll be free of the burden and stress" of "giving more than you receive".
My heart broke. I'm saddened that the author of this article, and the many Ph.D's quoted in it, believe this philosophy and that they are advising women to subscribe to it as well.
What if everyone put their own needs first and refused to give without getting something equal or greater in return?
I'm so thankful that I'm married to a man who loves me even though sometimes he gives far more than he gets in return, and I'm so blessed that, while he doesn't completely ignore his own desires, he considers me and the kids before he acts. I'm also glad that most of my family and friends don't comply with the author's advise either! How sad and lonely and pathetic my life would be if I only got what I deserved.
My Savior was willing to give far more than I could ever give in return, his grace is extended to me more times than can be counted, and my need for salvation was worth giving up his own life. I pray that the author of this article will open her eyes and see that really living isn't about getting but about giving. I pray that she finds joy in the beauty of someone loving you - including all your faults. I pray that she will see that God's grace is extended to her so that she can in turn extend it to others.
So much for mindless reading.

Jul 29, 2011

"Uh............"

Yesterday during my victorious visit to the Legal office I was asked a list of fairly easy questions:
Name: no problem I nailed this one.
Social: check
Children's Names: on it
Children's Date of Birth: easy peasy
Guardian: Blam
Address of yourself and guardian: kachow
State of legal residency: uh.............

I was speechless. Matt is still a resident of California. However, I have always become a resident of the state we were living in with the exception of Alabama and Tennessee - I have standards.
I haven't lived in California in forever, and since I'm not the one in the military the military clause doesn't exactly apply to me. I'm not a resident of Virginia anymore either because, although the great Commonwealth of Virginia holds a piece of my heart, they don't seem to want to claim me as a resident.
I'm an alien.
Since Virginia was so kind to grant me a waiver authorizing me to carry a Virginia license although I don't reside there, I decided I would go with Virginia.
After a long pause and quizzical look on my face, I replied "Virginia".
But, my answer sounded more like a question and the clerk looked at me suspiciously.
"Yep final answer, Virginia" based on the license thing and the fact that I'm deathly afraid of claiming California residency for the California State Tax Franchise Board will start knocking on my door requesting a whole bunch of money.
I need to get a clearer understanding of this residency thing before elections!

Jul 27, 2011

Being of sound mind and pressed for time....

I, Clarissa, currently of Mannheim but realistically from all over the US except Alabama - that was just a pit stop and I'm not claiming it - do hereby whilst still being of sound mind submit the following as a last Will and Testament:
The kids, bills, dirty house, piles of boxes, cars, any back taxes or future lottery winnings and anything else that may be attached to our name will go to Katina and Tom unless they find some way to prove they can't possibly take on my rascals in which case Tom and Mika get it all.
Whew. I hope this holds up in court.
Neither Matt nor I have an actual Will. I can't believe we have had kids for almost 9 years and didn't bother to do a Will. I know, I know, we need to do that. It isn't that we think we are invincible, its just that we are lazy and don't want to take the time to sit in the legal office for who knows how long waiting to get some paperwork printed off and notarized.
It is now officially on my to-do list....just after registering the van and filling out that 40 page application (which I have had for 1 year) to be a substitute teacher.
While I haven't made any real steps toward a legit will, I did obtain a temporary guardianship power of attorney for Mika today. I was entirely too excited about this accomplishment. Basically, the sheet of paper gives Mika the authority to care for the kids in my absence. I needed this little gem because Matt and I are off to Crete on Sunday and if the boys get a tummy ache or need to sign up for the next session of swim lessons, Mika needs some form of paperwork to do so. What is super cool about my guardianship POA is that is also authorizes Mika to travel with my kids "from Germany to California". I told her she was welcome to take them on a trip any time. Just swing by and get the passports, don't forget the POA and they can be on their way!
It is a little step, but I feel great about remembering to do it, doing it, and giving it to her. It is the small things that can really turn your day around.

mi-phone

My iphone is old. It is a first generation original and it is on its very last morsel of life. I'm the third owner of this phone and it is in remarkably great condition considering I have used it for two years. I destroy cameras every other year and typically have a bad track record with phones as well.
I don't know what happened to it. I didn't drop it (recently) and it has never been submerged in coffee. I didn't leave it in the window of my car on a 100 degree day and Matt most definitely did not run it over with the van. I would like to say that those are entirely made up ways that a phone of mine has died, but in fact I did have a phone die by each of those methods. So, this phone is actually on its way to the electronic junk yard due to natural causes, aka being old.
My phone doesn't recognize my fingers about half the time, which makes the possibility of me answering my phone about slim to none. It also has this super irritating pop up that says "this accessory is not made to work with the iphone" however there is no accessorily plugged into it. The message itself isn't so irritating. It is thoughtful actually, in that it offers me the option of turning my phone on to "airplane mode to reduce audio interference". What is irritating is that it pops up all the time. I can't text, check messages, check my calendar or even get to my contacts without the popup. Everything takes me at least four times longer than it should because I have to continue to disregard the accessory bubble every 5 seconds. And lastly, the phone randomly decides to think it isn't charged even though it is. I charged it for 2 hours and pulled it off the charger and it reported that I had 2% battery life left. Huh? The phone freezes, then I have to shut the little guy down, wait for the white Apple screen to disappear, restart and like magic the battery is back at 99%.
Why do I still have this phone you ask? Because it is unlocked. This means I can slip a sim card from any country into it and just like that I am operating on the local telephone network. Awesome. When I go back to the States I stop by the first t-mobile kiosk I see, buy a new phone number with $10 worth of talk time and off I go. When I am home in Germany, I have a German sim card and number and I can just keep adding minutes as needed. Perfect. It doesn't have internet capabilities unless I can grab someone's wifi, which I usually can when we travel.
So, I deal with the popups, moody touch screen, and temperamental battery life until I decide to take the plunge and pay a million dollars a month for an iphone with a service plan.
Maybe when it rings its last ring and plays its last song I can donate it to Apple for their museum of dinosauric electronic devices. I'm just sure this is one of the last first generation iphones in use!

Jul 24, 2011

Numbers

The number of soldiers/sailors/airmen/marines killed in action in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn: 6,103
The number of soldiers/sailors/airmen/marines wounded in action in both operations combined: 44,596.
Number of military men and women currently deployed to one of these conflicts: over 140,000.
Service members deployed to one of these regions since 2001: Over 1 million.

One Wish

God came to Solomon in a dream and told him to ask for the one thing he desired from God. Solomon's response was pleasing to God. He said "Now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil." Of all the things Solomon could have asked for, wealth, power, glory, long life or love, he asked for wisdom. Perhaps the fact that he asked for wisdom proves that he was indeed already wise.
In so many ways, like Solomon, we are just children in this world and what we need more than financial blessings, power, glory or earthly love is an understanding heart and discernment.
I pray this gift of wisdom for myself and for my family. I pray that I will have wisdom as I continue to raise my boys, instilling in them a set of moral values and Biblical beliefs, in the choices I make daily, and in the big decisions that Matt and I make for our family.

Jul 19, 2011

Catching Up

Wait, have I already used that title?
School got out on June 16th and we were on the road to Austria. We teamed up with the Mlacks for this journey and drove 4 hours to Salzburg for our first stop on the 1600km adventure. We spent the night and the next day in Salzburg and then continued on to Vienna. Both of the cities were just places to roam about with not too many "must-see's". We did spend some time in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna and caught a hour of the opera "The Magic Flute" at the Vienna opera house. Vienna is quite possibly the prettiest, cleanest city I have visited. I didn't love it, and don't feel the need to go back, but it was really quite nice.
Upon our return from Austria we had a busy week with local activities, the RitterSport Chocolate Factory visit, a trip to the pool with friends, and Matt and I and our friends Marty and Angela enjoyed a lovely evening with Sir Elton John. He was in concert right here in Mannheim and we couldn't resist. I must say, it was a great show. He is old but he can still jam!
The following week the boys started summer school. Every time I say "summer school" I get corrected with "summer enrichment". I'm not sure what the difference is, but basically the boys went to class for 3 hours each day to learn a little and mainly just keep busy.
The first days of July were filled with mixed emotions. I had to say goodbye my good friend Darlene and my "up and coming" friend Rebecca. Darlene was the first friend I had here in Germany and is definitely a dear one. She is one of the ladies whom I met with each week for bible study. She lived right around the corner from me and we saw each other and chatted almost every single day of the last 2 years. Rebecca and I just recently became friends but she is a special lady and I wish we had more time together. To make the sad goodbye even worse, these two ladies each had a son Eli's age. Eli had to say goodbye to his two very best friends in the history of all time and say farewell to a special circumstance. We live in a compound of 100 houses. It is gated, and the only way in is past two sets of guards. The boys were safe. And because of this compound lifestyle, they were free to play for hours between all three of the houses. During the last few months the other boys' toys were packed and shipped so our house became very popular. I must say, even though it got crazy in here with all the boys running around, they are the most respectful, wonderful boys and I am also going to miss them.
Hours after saying goodbye to our friends, our family jumped on a flight to Croatia. Yeah a country not using the Euro! We stayed in Pula and took a day trip to Rovinj. We spent half of our days in the city roaming around and the rest of the day enjoying the cool waters of the Adriatic. I loved Rovinj and have placed it way up there on my favorite places list!
July has flown by. We got back on the 5th, had a pool day a day later, and had a fancy schmancy ball on the 9th. It was fun to get all fancy and go dancing. I finally realized that I just don't really have fancy in me. You can put me in a fancy dress and shoes and even do my nails but the up-do and glam make-up just looks odd on me so I just look like plain old me in a fancy dress. That being said, we had a good time.
The boys started playing summer baseball this month as well. It is German baseball. If that sounds weird, it should. Germans don't really play baseball so this is a fun opportunity for Eli and Gabe to play. The coach is the American coach that has worked with Eli the last two seasons of little league. He speaks impeccable German, so he decided to teach German kids how to play and use the American kids to help show them how it is done. Not a lot of games going on but good practice and a good opportunity.
Matt left of Italy last week doing some thing official, however, he did go to Venice on a completely unofficial trip. I guess it is the perk of being forced to hang out in Italy for a week. You work a lot and get to sight-see a little. Not to bad if you ask me.
Since this installation is closing down, our resources here are diminishing and the "friend" population is as well. Mika and I decided to sign the kids up for swim lessons...in Ramstein which is an hour away. The lessons are two days a week for just 4 weeks, so we make a day of it and head up the hill. Their first lessons were today, and I was pleased with the organization and teaching. Only 7 more trips to go.
The kids finish summer enrichment this week and then comes that long stretch of summer where we don't have much planned. Matt and I are going to Crete the first few days of August, without the kids! We are excited for a kid-free venture. Eli also has a great opportunity coming up in August. He will be attending a Christian Evangelism Fellowship camp in Switzerland. I can't believe we are sending him off, alone, to the Swiss Alps for a week. OK, so he isn't alone, but it will be his first time ever going somewhere without a member of at least his extended family. I'm praying that it is a great time for him.
That's it. Nothing fancy, nothing funny, not even anything thought provoking. Do I dare say that I'll try and blog again soon? I don't know. We'll see.

Jun 12, 2011

Afternoon Snacks

Eli regularly rolls with his two buddies John and Jere. Everyday after school and after homework the boys mount up on their bikes and take to the streets...First, Second and Third...to engage in games of cops and robbers, tag, hide-n-seek and a variety of other made-up games. They play on the trampoline, at the park, in the sprinkler, with water guns and occasionally in one of their homes. They are generally respectful, fun, sweaty and stinky boys...who are always hungry and thirsty.
The moms of these kiddos typically feed all the boys when they come calling. Sometimes I make them drink water and eat cheese sticks, other times they get Root Beer and candy....it depends on my mood.
So today the door bell rang and John and his dad were standing on my front step. John's dad explained that John was here to return some money. At first I was horrified at the idea that this sweet child could steal money from us, but the shock was relieved whe he explained that it was money Eli willingly gave to John in exchange for an afternoon snack!
It took everything I had in me not to laugh out loud. I guess when Eli was playing over at John's house this afternoon he had a hankering for a snack. John, a gracious host, offered Eli an ice cream sandwich... for a dollar. After dinner this evening John confessed to the family that he was selling snacks out of their freezer and the long walk of shame to our house followed.
Eli and his buddies crack me up. They fight and make up, they can't wait to play with each other then can't decide what to play, they sell books and snacks to each other, and they have no idea how much they are going to miss each other when they all go their separate ways in a few weeks.

Jun 7, 2011

From the Panda's Mouth

I took the boys to see Kung Fu Panda 2 the other day. Boys, Kung Fu, popcorn....a big hit.
I'm not a big fan of kids movies, so I usually walk away from the latest Disney flic with sticky feet from the grossly dirty floor, a stomach ache from consuming too much popcorn and the desire for a nap. However, not too far into this movie I got a little life lesson.
Panda is chatting with two Kung Fu masters who are in prison. Panda breaks down the prison bars in an attempt to rescue the guys, but they guys keep going back into their cell. As it turns out they had the skills to break out of prison and fight off the evil peacock but they decided not to use them. They were too afraid of what would happen if they stirred the pot a little. It seamed easier to let the peacock continue to wage war on the people than to try and stop him.
So, Panda says to the guys "Fine, you stay in your prison of fear with these bars of hopelessness; and enjoy your three square meals a day of shame and have despair for dessert."
Prison of fear and bars of hopelessness. Ooooh that's a good one.
Panda makes a good point. Sometimes it is easier to stay in our own fear than to step out, take a risk, and do something big. We allow circumstances to create doubt and cloud our vision of hope. And in doing this, we should be filled with shame. That while we have been set free, we choose to stay where things are safe. Living in fear of what would happen if you step out is easier than risking a little something.
Isaiah 61 professes that God sent His son to "bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair."
God has broken the chains, opened the prison gates now all we have to do is step out.

Questions for God

1. Equipping little boys with their own personal 'water' gun. Where is the logic in that? If you turn on a hose and don't hang on to it water sprays everywhere. Is this the kind of power a child should have?
2. Poop. Is this really the best way?
3. Salt water. Why can't all water be "fresh" then the world would have plenty of drinking water? What benefit does salt water have for us?
4. Do you ever wish you could reach down an give me a hug? Not like a spiritual warm wind kind of hug but an actual embrace? Because sometimes I really wish you could give me a hug.
5. How is it that you never give up on me?

Jun 5, 2011

Tambourine to Tears

Matt and I have really relaxed standards when it comes to finding a church to settle into. We have been to Four Square, Assembly of God, Baptist, Church of God, Non-denominational, Calvary Chapel, Vineyard, Gospel, and German evangelical. We've been to churches where people dance and shout with streamers, we've been to churches that have a full band, those that have taped background music, organs, choirs, choirs that do the back up "amens" during the sermon, and German translated. As long as they are preaching and teaching the Bible, we can look beyond a lot of the things that are different about each church but there is one thing we just cannot get past and that is tambourines.
Today at the chapel someone smuggled in a tambourine and used it during at least one worship song. I was contemplating leaving, really. I feel that strongly about the tambourine. As far as I am concerned the tambourine and the triangle only have a place in a Kindergarten music room.
I resisted the urge to leave due to the chaos caused by the clanging cymbals and was rewarded greatly by the message from a guest speaker. It was not a biblical teaching per se, but a woman's testimony of God's providence and words of encouragement for American service members.
Hansi Hirschmann was a 12 year old girl living in poverty in Czechoslovakia when Nazi Germans brought food, hope and work to her community in 1938. Hansi was sent to a German leadership camp where she bought into Nazi ideals and became fully committed to Hitler and his ideology. When the war was over, Germany lost, and Hitler died, Hansi was angry and frustrated that her god, Hitler, had failed. For her roles as a Nazi in the war, Hansi was sentenced to a communist labor camp under Russian leadership. One day, she had enough and decided to make a run for it. She escaped the camp and then made her way into the American sector of German. She and a friend who escaped with her travelled through fields until they came upon what they thought was a German farmhouse. Desperate for help, she banged on the door and none other than American soldiers were on the other side. Her enemy. She was taught to hate the allies and here she found herself at their mercy. She was helped by those soldiers and her path changed trajectory. In that moment, she realized that if the things Hitler said about Americans was not true there was a possibility that he lied about other things too. Today, as a Christian and American citizen she believes that God allowed her to live through her escape and live to be 84 years old so that she can be an "eye witness to a time that you only read about in history".
As I sat listening to Hansi's story, I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. Her gratitude for her freedom and American military members who are defenders of freedom was overwhelming. She served as a reminder to me, and I'm sure many others, that the fighting is not in vain. Lives are changed by the sacrifices that soldiers are making in order to bring at least some freedoms to others around the world.
When Hansi came to America and for the first time was living a life of freedom, she struggled to understand what freedom meant. She would ask neighbors about this thing called freedom and "they got it, used it, and took it for granted, but they could not explain it". When you don't really know tyranny, it is harder to appreciate freedom but Hansi knew tyranny and now, by God's grace she knows freedom.
Hansi's story is an amazing account of how God can turn a devout Nazi into a passionate follower of Christ, an angry, confused young woman into an compassionate minister of the Gospel, and how He paid the ransom for all sinners so that each of us can be truly free.

Jun 1, 2011

Running to First.

Eli is in coach-pitch baseball this year.
It is so fun to watch him and his team as they learn the mechanics of the game. They are starting to actually make plays that get someone out instead of just playing in the dirt while the other team is at bat. At 8 and 9 years old, the kids are trying harder to play the whole game instead of just focusing on hitting the ball or who brought the post-game snack. When the kids were in t-ball and first years of coach-pitch nobody really had to worry about getting out. If you were lucky enough to hit the ball, nobody was skilled enough to actually catch it or do anything with it once they got it in their glove. Now, the game has changed. Catching, throwing, and running are just as important as hitting. Watching Eli's baseball games is getting more and more exciting!
I sat near first base yesterday at Eli's game the other day which provided the perfect opportunity to hear the first base coach. He repeated the same few phrases over and over:
"run as fast as you can"
"run run run"
"run it out, don't stop"
He often took a minute to chat with the kids once they safely made it to the bag. He praised them for running and explained some tidbits about first base. He talked about how you can over-run first base - so stopping never needs to enter their mind. He also told them to run their hardest and never to give up, even if it looks like they are going to be out.

In baseball, once you hit the ball, your only job is to run to first. Everyone is yelling at you to run. You don't have to think about anything else but running as if your life depended on it. You don't need to worry about how you will get from third base to home or if the next person at bat will hit it far enough for you to make it to second. You just have to run to first base. Once you get there, you can plot your path to second, but you have to get on the bag at first.

First base lessons are so applicable to life.
Run even when it looks like you won't make it.
Run like a rabid dog is chasing you.
Run with no plans of stopping.
Just run.
So often we are faced with challenges in life that are too overwhelming to view in its entirety. But if we focus on just running to first base, with everything we have inside of us, then we can wait there for a moment, collect ourselves and one by one eventually make it safely home.

Missing Blogger Found in Western Germany

If my waitress takes more than 20 minutes to bring my menu or take my drink order, I leave.
If my doctor keeps me waiting 45 minutes past my appointment time, I leave.
If I have been on hold with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles for more than 40 songs, I hang up.
If a blogger has not updated their blog in more than a few weeks, I stop checking back.
If you have been waiting ever so patiently for me to fill your mind with my useless chatter, please accept my apologies and a free drink and appetizer next time you visit!

May:
Free weekend in Garmisch, Germany for a company sponsored marriage retreat. Free food, free lodging, free childcare and an entertaining 4 hours of workshops (split in two sessions) using the "Active Military Life and Resiliency Skills" curriculum. I'm surprised the Army doesn't use an acronym for that - AMLRS. Matt and I dropped the kids off at the childcare room on Friday night, went to our workshop for a few hours, picked the kids up and then had all day Saturday to jaunt around Garmisch. We walked around a gorge, ate, I napped while the boys swam, and then the kids went to childcare that night while Matt and I enjoyed a quiet dinner without them and attempted a romantic walk around the Eibsee lake. It was raining, thunder, lightening. We got wet. We laughed and made the best of it, and a duck tried to bite my foot. We also hung out a little with some people from Matt's battalion that we don't usually see, and had a great time.
Beach Weekend in Alicante, Spain. Oh Alicante. The city itself was nothing too special and not really worth spending a ton of time there, however, Gran Alacant was a little suburb that we stayed in and it had the most beautiful beach. Our apartment was on a hill over looking the beach which was great for the view but returning up the hill from the beach was a little taxing. We didn't do anything other than sleep in, eat, and enjoy the beach. That was enough. It was a really great family beach trip. The last time my family was at the beach? Nearly TWO years ago before we moved to Germany. Too long.

And now it is June. Time is flying by so fast I can barely catch my breath. The boys have two more weeks of school, followed by one week off and then four weeks of summer school. Summer school is from 9-12 each day, mainly just something for the kids to do. This coming weekend Matt will embark on his first big cycling venture. He is taking part in the Liberty Trail Ride, a course set to commemorate the Battle of Bastogne. He will spend three days riding around the Bastogne area with about 300 other riders. I'm really excited for him to do this ride and pray that he does well and is encouraged to keep on peddling! Later this month we'll head to Salzburg and Vienna, Austria with the Mlacks for a 4 day getaway and get our groove on with Elton John at his concert here in Mannheim.

That's what's up. Hopefully, I can keep up!

May 4, 2011

Wednesday is the day three of my friends gather at one of our homes to drink coffee, eat some delicious (usually homemade) breakfasty yumminess, and participate in a bible study. We have done a few different bible studies using a DVD and study guide, we freelanced through the minor prophets, dabbled a little in Revelation, and recently started reading a book by Timothy Keller called King's Cross. Keller also wrote Reason for God and some other best sellers that I have heard are wonderful.
We decided on King's Cross because it is a look at Jesus' life based on the book of Mark. In the book, Keller leads the reader through detailed explanation of the gospel of Mark. We are on chapter 4 and while that is too early to throw out a review, it is so great so far that I must share. Keller is a great writer and his insight coupled with his literary skills make for a very enjoyable and enlightening read. If you are looking for a new book, check this one out.
Today Gabriel got in trouble at school. Tuesday Gabriel got in trouble at school but that isn't the point. Yesterday Gabriel apparently climbed across a table, touched a friend's snack, and refused to do his schoolwork. You could blame his parents, but at this point I would like to blame it on the fact that he hasn't been in school for over a week and seemed to forget how to act there. Or maybe just blame his parents. So, today when I picked him up I gave him the look that asks "how was today?" and he gave me the look that said "not good mom". When I asked him what happened he said "I was messing around in line." I sighed a great huff of disappointment and then he continued "but mom, I didn't climb on the table".
Small victories? The teacher told me he keeps making a scrunched up mad face at her sometimes accompanied by a grunt. Unfortunately, after she told me all the things he did wrong today the only thing that came to my mind was "well, at least he didn't climb on the table". Thankfully, I had a little self-edit going on and I didn't actually say those words.
Today is also the day that I don't go to the gym. And that makes today wonderful.

May 3, 2011

GABRIEL HERNANDEZ!

When my mom was not particularly fond of my actions or when she really wanted to get my attention she would holler at me "Clarissa Dawn!". It's a mother's way of saying "I really mean business." Both of my boys, and my husband, have been on the receiving end of me using their first and middle names. First and middle name usage is serious, first, middle and last name....serious trouble. Avoid that at all costs.
As it turns out we live right next door to a Gabriel. This is slightly problematic when I'm trying to call my Gabriel in. Both Gabriels stop and look and sometimes say "me?" So as to prevent confusion, and not lose power of the first name, middle name mother-call, my neighbor and I both call our kids by their first and last name".
It sounds funny. I just heard my neighbor call her son and chuckled. It isn't laugh out loud on the floor funny, but it is just a little funny that I call my son by his first and last name. Like I'm the nurse at the Doctor's office calling the next patient, or handing out an award at school. It sounds very official.
"Gabriel Hernandez can you please pick up the hose and bring it in?"
It is odd. Admit it. If you don't believe me try this: next time you call your child in from playing outside or ask her/him if he/she wants mustard with his/her hotdog use the first and last name.
"Gabriel Hernandez would you like fries with your burger?"

Apr 30, 2011

Consequences

This word has a negative connotation in our house. I never catch the boys doing something really great and say "you made such a great choice. Praise and adoration is your consequence." Sure I reward them with praise or hugs and kisses or perhaps a treat but I never call it a "consequence". I save that word for the bad things. Bad things like the choices my boys made recently. Choices that are quite frankly dumb-dumb choices and require harsh consequences.
A few weeks ago Gabe was a little irresponsible and is paying the price for it. He loaded his wallet full of his hard earned money ($20 and change) and decided to bring it to Garmisch. Despite my repetitive warnings about not bringing it to places like the pool, the gas station bathroom, or to dinner, somewhere along the line he lost his wallet. $20 is a big deal for him. He doesn't get an allowance yet and this money was earned from watering plants for Mika and taking care of a neighbor's cat while they were gone. After contacting the hotel and thoroughly looking through all the bags we brought on the trip, I broke the news to him that he was out of luck. My poor baby lost his 20 bucks. I really wanted to just give it to him, but refrained.

Monday. Day 1 of pox quarantine. Gabe goes crazy and does this:
He cut a hole in my couch cover. These are my cheap IKEA couches that have covers that are purchased separately. The concept is great for changing the look of your living room by simply purchasing a new €100 cover. Today brown, next year black, gray, striped, red...so many choices. This concept is also good for messy people. The entire cover can be taken off and put in the washing machine like when my brother-in-law ate a chocolate covered schneeball on it or when Mika's cat peed on it while flying through the air to attack me. And when it gets really grimy or when people accidentally paint it because they were too lazy to cover it when painting their wall brown, you buy a new one. Which I just did a few weeks ago.
Tuesday night I discovered that my youngest and most devious spawn decided to cut a color swatch out of the back of it.
So, he needs a consequence. A negative one. We decided that he had to pay for a new one, but since he lost his money (see above) and he doesn't currently get an allowance it is going to be tricky. So, I'm keeping track of all the things that I would normally buy him (things that Eli does get) such as gelato from our neighborhood truck and other culinary treats when we are out and about or small toys from the store. He has to deal with the disappointment of not getting the item in order to accumulate $100 (I'm offering a one to one exchange which is ridiculously good) worth of things he can't get because he owes me. $100, is so many Gelatos. I'm tempted to fudge on the tally or just clear the debt especially since he just lost his $20 which would have been a great installment toward his debt....but I won't, I'll carry this one out.

The other one. The elder, wiser, and yet still immature in his ways, Eli, had his own moment of willful disobedience. Somewhere along the line he became interested in selling his stuff to make some cash. The problem is that a lot of his stuff is either currently shared with Gabe or will be passed on to Gabe in the future. If Eli didn't buy it with his own money to begin with then I'm not really keen on him selling it. Recently a friend came over and asked to buy Eli's set of Diary of a Whimpy Kid books. These books were so generously given to him by my sister. He loves these books. He has read them each at least two or three times and they tend to be the book of choice when we go on a vacation and his personal entertainment items are limited. However, even though he loves them he was really interested in the cash and asked me if he could sell them to his buddy. I said "no". Not only do I think it is a bad idea because he still really likes them but it is a bad idea because Gabe is starting to read and will eventually want to read them as well. The deal was off.
Until today, I came home from perusing the neighborhood garage sale to find that Eli has sold FOUR of his five Whimpy Kid books. I was furious. Not only was I upset that he sold them, I was so mad that he sold them each for $1. ONE DOLLAR! Hardback books that are in great condition and a current fad with 8 year old boys and he sold them for $1. He sold things that he still uses and had the horrible business sense to sell hours of entertainment for a mere $4.
The consequence: replace the books. I found a four book set from Amazon for $32. During a conversation about the book deal, he admitted to knowing that he was not supposed to sell the books and that he tried to hide the fact that he sold them. Silly boy didn't take into account that his BFF's mom is one of my BFFs. So, the most logical consequence I could come up with was for him to replace the books. He walked toward me slowly, cautiously, with tears in his big brown eyes and handed me $32 exactly. That leaves him with only $8 toward some $50 lego thing he was saving for. I didn't want to take his money, I really didn't, but I need to teach him that hawking the family goods is simply not acceptable especially when he has been specifically instructed not to.

My consequence of handing out these consequences to the boys: a little heart break. I don't want them to have these consequences. I would rather just carry the burden. It was €100, $20, and free books that can be replaced for $32. I want to just erase these bad choices, and chalk it up to kids being kids. But I also want them to learn how to do what they know is right when the consequence is rather minor so that they won't do something really crazy like burn the couch or sell dad's guitar.

Apr 29, 2011

Follow Up

This past Monday I was at the doctor's office with Gabe. I came prepared. I had my coffee in hand and phone charged for a little gaming entertainment while I waited for the doctor.
Two days ago I was attempting to get a to-go cup of Joe for Matt when alas I couldn't find a to-go cup. Naturally, I blamed Matt for losing it. Fast forward to Thursday, I was at the clinic (for a visit completely unrelated to Gabe and his potential pox) when I noticed something familiar in the vitals room. My to-go mug! I was never actually in this room with Gabe, but this room is just next door to the room he was in and that is the exact same style of stainless steel to-go mug that I was sipping from on Monday. What to do? Snatch it and if questioned tell them "its mine and I want it back". Ask "perchance is this the mug I left here on Monday?" What if they say it is theirs? Do I arm wrestle for it? What is the protocol for retrieving something that may or may not be yours? I left it there on the sink in the vitals room. I returned home an apologized to Matt for accusing him of losing the mug and have since stewed over why I didn't just ask about it.
At Gabe's visit Monday, when I - not Matt - lost the mug, he was tested for chicken pox. That was Monday. He was put on quarantine until the results of the test could confirm or deny chicken pox. Today is Friday....still no results.
What is the point of doing lab work on something that will run its cycle and be gone long before the lab results come back? Like getting a pregnancy test that doesn't come back with results for 9 months. It seems to me that lab work on something like Chicken Pox should be returned within 24 hours. If it is chicken pox - alert the media - if not, then the poor quarantined child can be set free. But that is just what seems logical to me so obviously that isn't how things are done.

Apr 26, 2011

The Pox


I have social conscious. I vaccinated my kids to prevent them from contracting and spreading harmful childhood diseases and illnesses and yet one apparently has Chicken Pox. I want my money back!!
Gabe breaks out in a horrible rash which we thought was hives at first, then figured it must be horrible flea or chigger bites, and finally decided it was whoa-something-is-really-wrong-here-we-better-take-him-to-the-doctor rash.
The doctor came in to the room cool, calm and collected and left in a little panic. He returned with another doctor for a second opinion, and then with a few masks and gloves, then with a medic to take samples of the little dot ooze, and finally a community health nurse tasked with logging our every move for the past 5 days to determine who may be at risk of contracting the virus.
Apparently, Chicken Pox is mostly eradicated due to the varicella vaccine so this shiny new case on the books sent a quiet doctor's office into a scene from that Dustin Hoffman movie where the monkey gave everyone some crazy new virus and they were trying to determine if they should blow up the town or look for a vaccine.
Once the swabs of Gabe's ooze were collected they were quickly inserted into a tube and then into a cooler marked "biohazard" and rushed off to the lab for further review. I actually heard the medic say "this is a time sensitive matter- I need to move quickly". As my little masked Gabe covered in oozy sores made his way out of the clinic people were so kind to move away from us, quickly, almost running, while covering their mouths and dousing themselves in Purell.
Poor Gabe just may be the subject of a post-wide alert of a varicella breakout.
The shame.
The itching.
The boredom of being in lock down.
We received our official quarantine orders, about 20 replacement masks, and some drugs to help the itch. I'm not making him wear the masks at home, but based on the reaction of everyone at the clinic who saw him wearing the mask, these might come in handy when I'm trying to get to the front of the line at the commissary.