Saturday, February 19, 2011

Family Visits

This weekend we are treated to a visit from my sister-in-law and her 2 kids. Sophia and Danny LOVE when their cousins get to visit! Sophia has been counting down for 2 weeks now, and telling me all the fun things she will do with them. But the cousins are a little older, ages 6 and 10, they they can handle more activities than my little ones. Mine still need naps, so in the morning we played here and went for a short walk while Danny was napping. Then for the few hours everyone was awake we went to the park and out to lunch. It was warm and a little breezy, and everyone was exhausted after running around on the playground for a while! Now we are back home and everyone is enjoying some quiet down time. I think this evening we will have a backyard BBQ, since the weather is amazingly nice for February!

Luckily, the kids are pretty easy to entertain at this age. We just take them to a playground and everyone is happy for an hour. If they visit during the summer we usually go to the beach. We haven't done any trips down to Wilmington because that is a little too far. But I am always looking for interesting short trips to take around the Jacksonville area, whether in summer or winter. Anyone have any kid-friendly ideas besides Chuck E. Cheese and Jump N Jax?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My Mom Groups

Moving to a new area is hard, whether you do it with or without kids. When we moved from Quantico to Camp Lejeune, it was the first time since college I was in a place where I didn't know anyone. Now, 2 years later, I have two different groups of friends who have helped me feel moved in and settled, like this is actually home.

First, I have the friends I have made through our local play group. I went to a site called, which has a list of Meetup groups throughout the country. There were several Mom's groups listed in my area, for parents of 1-4 year olds. So I contacted one group, became a member, and started attending events shortly after we moved here. The group is called Mamas and Munchkins of Camp Lejeune and Jacksonville. My daughter was only 9 months old, so she wasn't even walking, and certainly couldn't do the arts and crafts projects, but I still benefited from talking to moms with kids of other ages. The group had tons of ideas for field trips and cheap things to do in the area, and going to play dates at members' houses helped me learn my way around the new city. Now I can truly call some of them friends, and they are the ones I can call on if I ever need anything.

Recently, I have made friends with a new group of friends. I am Catholic and have always been very involved with my church. It was hard for me to move here and not know anyone at church. And I couldn't volunteer like I used to because of my kids. I realized that the church doesn't provide any childcare, which leaves out all the young parents and wives of deployed service-members. I contacted the priest asking if it was possible to start a young parents' group. He explained that because of all the scandals and lawsuits in recent years, the Church is now so sensitive to volunteers who work with children that all volunteers must have background checks and fingerprints. This means that a daycare is just too much of a liability for the church, even during Sunday Mass. But apparently, I wasn't the only mom who had contacted him about this issue. He sent an e-mail to about 6 moms who were all involved in the church, but hadn't met each other yet. He basically told us to meet and form our own group. So we started meeting weekly, and have since advertised and added several new members. We meet at each others' houses, so we can bring the babies with us to play. When the weather is nice, we put the kids in strollers and walk and pray together. Once a month we meet at church. We spend some time in a classroom together, and then go to Mass together too. These ladies are wonderful. It is encouraging to spend time with friends who share all the same religious beliefs. We talk about raising our children in faith-filled homes, the struggle of going to Mass with little ones, and anything else that is on our minds. I am so glad to have these friends who will encourage me through the next deployment!

While I have a few friends I have met through the Battalion and who I grew closer to during the deployment, the majority of my local friends are in these 2 groups. So for anyone else who is settling into a new place, I encourage you first to see what is available, and don't be afraid to start your own group!

Philosophy lessons from a 2-year-old

Yesterday I was playing with Sophia while Daddy was playing a hockey game on Playstation. I heard the announcer say, "One team is driving uphill, and the other is driving downhill." I playfully turned to Sophia and asked, "Would you rather drive uphill or downhill?" Her response was, "the right way!"

I was surprised by what a clever and meaningful answer this was. Not only was it automatically correct, but it also made me think a little about attitudes in life. I think we often get caught up in whether we are struggling uphill, or coasting downhill. We are frequently complaining about one and yearning for the other. But what's important is not the direction of the incline. It's only important that we constantly try to go the right way. God doesn't always reward us with downhill coasting. Sometimes He intentionally pushes us to struggle uphill. Whether it's a deployment, a move, or a new baby, challenges can be good for us. And they are much easier to accept when we know that it is the right way, His way.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Today we went to story time at the USO. You may think the USO exists only to provide care packages and concert entertainment to deployed military, but their centers are actually designed to provide outreach to military families too. There is a USO center near most major military bases, and they provide a variety of services. Ours hosts a lot of events for young children and families, since Jacksonville is over-run by little ones! Some are holiday events, like Thanksgiving and Christmas meals/parties. I think these are held in the large ballroom, which is where Sophia says Beauty and the Beast live. :-) Others are occasional events, like the free tickets to Sesame Street Live's deployment show. But story time is a weekly event. Every Tuesday at 10:30 AM they have a volunteer read from a new Little Golden Book in the cozy library room. Every child who attends gets their own book to take home! Afterward, they serve lunch. For $1, kids can get a hot dog or chicken nugget meal, with a juice box and a jello cup. The adult meals are discounted too. All 3 of us ate for $5.75 today! They also have a nice little playroom where the kids can hang out before and after lunch. There are plenty of books there, along with blocks and various donated toys. Adults can browse the table full of free donated novels and movies, too. We have gone a couple times now, and my kids always enjoy it. The only drawback is that parking is really limited. The USO in on the waterfront right behind the courthouse, and with all the construction downtown the courthouse patrons seems to overflow the local parking lots. But I encourage you to check out the USO as a good resource. The discounted lunch is available to anyone around 11 AM each day. Their lounge area with computers and internet is always available, and I think they will fax things for you, too. They also have ping pong tournaments if anyone else husband becomes addicted during a deployment, like mine did. :-) To find out all they offer, and to locate your local USO center, go to
Let me know if anyone else has used the USO services!

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Valentine Story

Happy Valentine's Day! This seems to be a fitting time to share my own love story, so here goes:
We met Memorial Day weekend of 2000, when we were both 18. I was the lifeguard at the small community pool where his family had just moved. His mom had already met me and encouraged him to go meet the lifeguard because "I think she's a Christian!" Dan walked toward the pool without any expectations, and apparently just then I walked out of the poolhouse, wearing a bathing suit of course, and he was suddenly more interested. His idea to get my attention was to set up a skateboard ramp right outside the pool gate. He spent the entire afternoon doing jumps and tricks on his roller blades, until I finally worked up the courage to talk to him! He came to see me at the pool almost every day that summer, and we officially started dating on August 1. He asked me out with a note that was tucked into his Bible! Then a few weeks later I left for college in D.C. We continued to date "long-distance" with nightly phone calls, and visits every other weekend, when he would make the 1-hour drive to see me. The next summer, he announced that he would join the Marine Corps. (That's another story for another post). So our long-distance relationship continued, with even greater distances that included the communication black-out of bootcamp, flights to and from his California duty station, and numerous letters and e-mails during deployments. The worst was when he was first sent to Iraq, and I spent the semester studying in Paris, France. The free deployment mail and sat phone calls don't apply to other countries, so it was a challenge just to send letters to each other! Of course during these years we had our ups and downs, including being broken up for more than a year after his first deployment because I thought he came back a changed, violent, unloving man. After 2 more deployments, we had worked things out and both adjusted better to military life. I told him that once he got stationed on the East Coast I could finally marry him! In 2006 he finally left California behind, and moved to Quantico, VA, only a few hours away from me and our families. He proposed on the Marine Corps birthday, November 10, and we were married on August 18, 2007. Life has been pretty dreamy ever since! These first few years of marriage have certainly been a whirlwind that included the birth of our 2 children, the move from Virginia to North Carolina, 1 deployment to Afghanistan, and me earning my Master's degree! But we have gone through it all together, and with my best friend by my side I am always happy, confident, and surrounded by love. I am so thankful that God brought us together, and we continue to pray every day that we can grow in friendship and love. Happy Valentine's Day to my wonderful man! :-)

How to do a Marine haircut yourself

Since Marines have to get a haircut every week, learning how to do it yourself is a great money-saving and time-saving tip, that can make Sundays go a little smoother for everyone. Like many Marine couples, we started considering this option shortly after we were married. The only problem? I had never used a pair of clippers, or cut anyone's hair. So of course my husband was hesitant to let me experiment on him! The first few tries did not go well. He described to me what the barber did. I followed his directions, but did NOT get the same results! He ended up with a line on the back of his head that earned him ridicule from his buddies for the next week. So I wasn't allowed to try again for a while. I tried to watch the barbers, and read about military haircuts online, but there were very few step-by-step directions. So, after a lot of reading and a few more experiments I finally figured it out, and have been cutting his hair for years now. Here's a guide for anyone who was in my shoes:
1. Start with a good pair of electric clippers. You don't need to get the most expensive ones, especially if you aren't sure how often you will use them. But you can't get good results with the cheapest models, and they won't last long enough to save you much money.
2. Start with the bare clipper, which is called 0. You are going to make a line around his head, from one ear to the other. Some guys like it just above their ear, others an inch or even 2 higher. It depends on whether they want a low-reg or high-reg cut. But there should be some kind of line visible from their last haircut. Follow this around and make sure it is even on both sides of the face. Everything below the line will be shaved bare with the 0. You now have a half-bald man. Congrats!
3. Put the #1 comb attachment on the clippers. Holding the clippers upright, you are going to start at the bald line, and go straight up. Don't follow the curve of his head, just go straight up into the air. This will not change the line, but will trim the hair on the upper sides of his head. Don't mess with the hair on top yet.
4. Fading is the hardest, but most important, part. Switch back to the 0. Again, start at the bald line, and move straight up into the air. Do NOT follow the curve of his head. Keep the clippers straight up and down. What you are doing is "erasing" the line by trimming the hairs closest to it the most, and then only slightly as you go higher up on his head. The area of the fade is about 2 inches wide. It's a little bit of an art form and will take some practice, but anyone can do it.
5. Finish the top. Each guy has his own preference for the top hairstyle, so I can tell you how to do this. If he has shorter hair, he may want you to buzz the whole top with a #3 or #4. If he has longer hair that he actually combs, you will need to use scissors to trim. You probably don't have to do this every week. My husband lets his grow out for a month or 2, with me just trimming the sides, and then goes occasionally to the barber to get the top trimmed and shaped.
I really hope this is helpful to someone! Let me know if you try it!

Traditions with Daddy

Today was Sunday, which means that as soon as Sophia (our 2-year-old) woke up, she said, "I want yellow eggs!" When Daddy is here, he cooks her scrambled eggs in the morning. On weekdays, when it is just Mommy preparing breakfast for the little ones, we stick with bananas, cold cereal, and sometimes a hard-boiled egg. But yellow eggs have become one of the treasured weekend Daddy traditions. She also knows that if Daddy is at work all day, he will play with her when he gets home-- possibly horsey (when she rides around on his back) or some other rowdy game where she gets thrown up in the air and does a lot of wiggling, giggling, and screeching. Another treat they share on occasion is push-pops. Anytime she hears him open the freezer, she yells, "Daddy's getting a push pop!" and then both kids come running to share a few licks.

I'm glad they have their own little treats and rituals. Of course, these are the things she will miss the most during deployments, but Mommy will just have to do her best to fill in as both parents. These special memories with Daddy are something I hope they will treasure as they get older. I'm sure the treats and traditions will change as the kids get older, but I hope they never lose that special bond with their father. Do you have special rituals and traditions to treasure your kids' time with Daddy? What are they?