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.