27 January 2014

Two down . . .

I started this post over the weekend and didn't get a chance to finish it, or something like that. So now I'm finishing it:

As expected, this week (last week) was not nearly as awesome as last week (the week before - you see how I wanted to write that little prequel to this post). Mike and I had communication issues, Little Man is still having major "miss Daddy" issues (the waking up several times a night is starting to get a big old) and it was a busy week.

We had a referral issue with Butterfly's speech therapy, but we're finally back on track with that after missing a few weeks, not including when we were on vacation. Unfortunately, Butterfly's speech therapist's schedule got changed because some of the other speech therapists quit, so now we're going to speech at 0800. Oi. Getting three kids up, dressed and out the door by 0730 is a challenge. So glad for cheerios and raisins in a sandwich baggie!

We did skype with Mike again and it went much, much better, but we are sticking to phone conversations for the majority of communication with the kiddos. It's just working much better to do phone calls than Skype conversations.

Mike and I have a hard time communicating in general and we have learned that we have to be very intentional and work very hard on our relationship just about every day. So, being away from each other, is a big communication barrier for us. And last week was no exception. But we worked out our big kink and forgave each other and we're trying again. I think we're going to have some kind of communication contingency plan for the deployment, complete with expectations and instructions on methods of communication, and then once he's in Afghanistan, we can tweak the plan for reality. I should write that down somewhere . . . .

The weekend was really nice. I felt like I did so much running around doing errands and going to therapy and stuff that it felt so good to just stay in PJ's all day. It turned into a two day PJ affair after Little Man vomited his breakfast up back onto his plate at the table before Chapel on Sunday morning. So we stayed home. Thankfully he just threw up the one time, but still, we missed Chapel which I was sad about.

The highlight of the week was learning that Mike didn't have to attend the fourth week of the training course he is taking, so he gets to come home a week early! Yay! It felt really nice to tear seven whole links off the chain that I made as a visual for the kids, although frankly I think they could care less about my little visual reminder I did for them. I'm not sure I'll do it for the training and definitely not for the deployment. At least not a construction paper chain.

The big thing that we did last week was attend the Hearts Apart Dinner that was put on the Airman & Family Readiness Center. They had pizza and put on Despicable Me 2 and they had all kinds of Valentines Crafts out for the kids so they could make something for Daddy. It was also nice to meet some of the deployed spouses. I know that Mike isn't deployed yet, but he has been gone for over two weeks and he a lot more training to do before he goes, so I really appreciated being allowed to be included in this. (Meeting with the MSgt in charge of these things earlier in the week was definitely a good call on my part, I think. As opposed to waiting until Mike got back after his second training and then going, or even worse, waiting until after he was gone to Afghanistan.)

I do have say that the A&FRC has some amazing support programs in place for deployed spouses and families. Because Mike doesn't orders yet and we haven't attended the Deployment Briefing, I can't participate in the some of the programs yet, which I completely understand. I am looking forward to some of them though! (Is that allowed?)

Anyway, I think enough has been said. Well, one more thing. I started our 2014 Year in Review Photobook through Shutterfly. If you are familiar with Shutterfly photobooks, then you know they have dozens and dozens of "themes" to choose from for your photobook. If you didn't know, you do now. Anyway, they have a military "home of the brave" theme to honor families who are apart because of deployments, in any branch of service. So I chose that one for our 2014 theme. Not going to lie, I'm probably going to cry a lot working on that book . . . . my title is: "A Year of Hearts Apart: A Family Split between New Mexico and Afghanistan" - yeah, kind of makes me teary eyed . . .

Well, have to sign off now. I hope your week was better than mine . . .

19 January 2014

Science Camp has started!

Last fall, I enrolled Little Man in the local children's science museum, Explora, in their Grow A Scientist program, which met every other week. Little Man loved it!

I decided to enroll Little Man again for the spring and since Flower was old enough, I enrolled her as well. And we had our first class this past week and the kids loved it! (Butterfly is at the CDC during "science camp", as we affectionately call the class, so she isn't able to participate.)

This week was Crazy Concoctions!

"Take a picture of my hands, Mama!" - Little Man, covered in gelatin
 We learned about chemical reactions and that mixing some substances with some liquids causes a reaction in the form of fizzing or bubbling. The kids also made slime (to take home), played with soapy liquid, got into gelatin and mixed various powder substances with liquid substances to see if they made a reaction or not. Little Man and Flower really enjoyed it! Little Man is a pro with the pipette now and Flower got the hang of it a bit; she was much more interested in spooning detergent into vinegar!
Flower enjoying spooning detergent into vinegar for a fizzy chemical reaction!
Afterwards we hung around Explora for a little while and the kids found the bubble table! The whole morning was pretty fun. Until they had a meltdown because we were leaving to go home and eat lunch. Oh well, such is life with small children! :)

18 January 2014

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

Samantha loves books; she loves them so much that she uses them to hide when she's around other people. The problem with that defense mechanism is that she doesn't allow others to see who she really is, in turn pushing people, and their friendships, away. Then an opportunity arises to attend Medill School of Journalism by the general gift of an anonymous benefactor. The sole requirement is that Sam write letters detailing her progress to the mysterious Mr. Knightley. Through her time in Medill's program, she writes about her life, including learning to be herself in relationships, especially with a certain eligible Alex Powell, a novelist who draws her into a world filled with warmth and love.

I loved this book. From the very first page I was drawn into Sam's world - from her life situation, to her love of books, to her using beloved characters to hide behind in the world. She often quotes characters from other novels when she doesn't know what to say, and sometimes she does it so subtly that you wouldn't know unless she divulges it in the dialogue in her letters. The book is written through the pen of her letters to the mysterious Mr. Knightley, so you only know what she tells him. I love the way she describes her day to day life, her struggles with friendships, the way she talks about her favorite literary characters and how she can pull them out from her memory to use at her disposal. There were twists and turns that I think can be described in any person's life - after all, what turns out exactly as we plan?

I recommend this book for any serious book lover. If you love to read a book that talks about books, then read this book. Sam's story is also a story of hope, redemption and forgiveness, and the way that these themes are woven into the tapestry of her story is very life like. Sometimes themes like those sneak up on us, and I found it very relatable. Overall, I just loved this book and I can't wait to share it with friends.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

One Down . . .

It has been just about a week since Mike left for pre-deployment training and I have to say that overall, it hasn't been too bad.

Honestly, I thought it would be a lot harder to be away from Mike that it has been, at least for me, mentally and emotionally. Maybe it's because I have decided to lower my expectations of myself. Or maybe it's because I decided that I needed to step up, rise to the challenge and all that. I am, after all, a military spouse. Either way, so far this first week has been fairly good. Great even. Not to say we haven't had hiccups. We have. For right now though, I am feeling pretty good about things. I sincerely hope that it stays this way in the coming months.

When we took Mike to the airport, the kids were actually pretty excited about Daddy getting to fly on an airplane and I don't think that they realized until bedtime that flying on an airplane meant that Daddy was leaving for a little while. Bedtime was a sad affair, but they went to bed without a fight, as usual. Little Man did have a nightmare that night (he has then often) and he was crying for Daddy, so it took about twice as long to console him, but he went back to sleep eventually.

When I was pulling away from the airport, the tears started to come, but I swallowed them back to cry later because I want to be strong, especially for the kids. So I put on my big-girl panties and drove home and we got into our routine.

Little Man, who is 3, is having the hardest time missing Daddy. He has woken up anywhere from once to several times during each night asking for a kiss from Daddy, and he when he gets an owie, instead of his usual 30 seconds of crying and then off he goes to play, he's actually had a pretty good cry, all the while asking for Daddy. It's pretty sad. The worst though was when we Skyped with Mike towards the beginning of the week and Little Man just sat in front of the computer crying "I want Daddy! I want Daddy!" over and over until I just turned the Skype off. Poor Mike; he looked like he felt awful about it, but what could he do?

After that paragraph, you're probably thinking, "How can you call that great?". Well, there were a lot of other things that I consider positives. I kept up with the housework, and even scrubbed down a bathroom (and I mean deep-cleaning, scrub down floor to almost ceiling (I can't reach the ceiling, even standing on the toilet)), we weren't late anywhere, I didn't lose my temper with the kids (that would be the big victory for me), we didn't watch TV every night, Little Man started pre-school at the base CDC this week (2 days a week), Little Man and Flower started Spring semester Science Camp at Explora, I read a really great book (more on that later), AND I started an online class with UCO - that's right - I'm going back to school! And so far, I'm not behind. I have a few more pages of the chapter left to read and a quiz to take and I have 2 days left to do it. And we had 4 appointments this week and I made it to all of them. And PWOC spring studies started back up and so far I am caught up on the homework. And I finished season 4 of Downton Abbey this week too.

Really, I have no idea where I found the time for all of that, but I did. And I'm feeling pretty good. Lord willing every week will be like this one. I even had a friend over for dinner this week, whose husband was also TDY, and we had a great time. Over all, I'd say it was a really good balance of work, study, rest and play. And I was even in bed by 2230 every night!

So, we're one week into this whole deployment year. Mike won't be gone for a year, but the year of 2014 is basically going to consist of pre-deployment training, the actual deployment and then re-integration when he gets back. So when 2015 gets here, I think (hope hope hope hope) that we'll back to our normal lives. However, it's the military, so who knows?

I will say that my goal for this whole thing is to not just survive, but to thrive. For me, thriving means not being in constant survival mode. Doing more than survival mode, pretty much what this week looked like. That might be a typical week for you, but it usually isn't for me. And it's my attitude about it that has really made the week good. I really need to put on my big-girl-I-can-do-this panties more often! I like it! :)

Until next time, which will probably be a post about a total wreck of week, because after this week, I'll probably have jinxed myself, but anyway, until next time! :)

P.S. If you've gone though a deployment of any length of time with small children, I'd love to hear what you have to say about staying sane and thriving! :D Thanks!

07 January 2014

Manatees at Apollo Beach

One of the things that I love to do whenever I go back to Florida is to go to the Manatee Viewing Station at Apollo Beach and see the manatees at the TECO Power Plant. It's a free, educational place to visit and every winter dozens, if not hundreds, of manatees come to visit this little cove where the water is much warmer than the surrounding Gulf of Mexico waters. There's also a really cool mangrove forest that you can walk through via an above ground pier, and there are other birds and water wildlife that you can see. There's also an indoor educational center with some really neat information about the manatees.

This is my first year with a camera that has a really powerful zoom, which may or may not be a good thing in this case, but I got some really great shots of the manatees as they float and swim in the cove. We even saw a mama cow and her calf (no picture though).

Butterfly, Little Man and Flower really liked seeing the manatees, and Mike and I had a good time too. My Dad also came with us, and any event with GrandDad is awesome for the kids.

The weather was really great (there was one year when Mike and I went and it was freezing! Well, freezing for Florida - it was about 50*.) We even saw pelicans perched on the pier. It was definitely a great family outing on our vacation!

If you are ever in the Tampa area, I highly recommend visiting the Manatee Viewing Station at Apollo Beach. :)

Sea World

Since we were visiting family in Florida for Christmas, Mike and I decided to take the kids to Sea World Orlando and participate in their Waves of Honor program that they offer for active duty military as a thank you for military members' service.

We were very thankful to go to Sea World, especially since our admission was free (thank you Sea World for honoring those in the military - we really appreciate that so much!!). That being said though, the Christmas season is not necessarily the best time to go to Sea World if you have small children and don't want to wait in very long lines (we waited for 45 minutes in line to get our tickets and then another 15 minutes to get into the park itself).

The dolphins was by far the best part of the whole day. We spent a pretty good amount of time watching them swim around, frolic and jump in the waves and play. We also just happened to be at the observation area above the dolphin pool when they had a little mini-show, which was really neat.

 Then we went to the dolphin viewing area under the water (top pic) and watched the dolphins swim around under water. To say the kids were enthralled could possibly be an understatement.

We ate at the BBQ place that is apparently so well loved that they changed it from a "road-side" pit-stop with picnic tables to a huge eating hall - and the food still tastes great. Luckily, we ate lunch at a really weird, late time since we were pretty much running on NM time the entire time we were in FL, so it wasn't very crowded and the line was fairly short for food.

We didn't actually ride any rides (because either the kids were too little or the line was way too long) and we didn't see any shows. Our timing just wasn't very good with the shows and since we didn't get into the park until the afternoon after waiting in line for tickets for so long and being caught in traffic on I-4 on the way, and we left right as it was getting, we were okay with that. Well, Mike and the kids were okay with it, but I was a little sad.

Butterfly and Little Man got to ride on the kids train while Flower and I climbed the rope latter up to the pirate ship three times (I was sore the next day) while we waited for them to finish. That was pretty fun. We also saw the Wisconsin State University Marching Band (twice!). Mike really loved that, as did Butterfly and Flower (the musical ones in the family).

There's a rope ladder thing on the other side, and Flower insisted on climbing it THREE times!

All in all, it was a pretty good time. The kids did really well and didn't complain or cry the whole time we were there. Not even when we were waiting in line for our tickets. (Having snacks helped with that.)

I was very disappointed that the penguin exhibit is no longer a "walk through" exhibit like you would find at a zoo, but is a ride. The kids were so excited to see the penguins, but the wait for the ride was over two hours. That just wasn't going to happen with a 4 year old, a 3 year old and a 2 year old. That was pretty hard to explain to the kids, and they were a little upset, but they recovered quickly, which Mike and I were glad about. I was also disappointed that the orca viewing area was closed for remodeling, but hopefully when they're finished with the remodel, it will be better than ever. 

Next time we go, we'll go in the off season, and we'll stay in a hotel next to the park so we can get in right when they open.  And next time we go, hopefully we'll be able to go with my brother and his wife and their son. My SIL used to work for the parent company and knows all the ins and outs of the park. Plus spending time with them would be awesome. :)