Texas or bust

Well, we’re back in our home state of Texas! It’s been a good three weeks here, on our way PCSing (Permanent Change of Station) out to Peru. It was a taxing drive here from Monterey. I drove down to San Diego with the kids (8 hours of driving, plus stops) while John finished checking out, and we got to stay with some of our very good friends, which was such a treat!!

Siblings! At the B&B in Pacific Grove

Siblings! At the B&B in Pacific Grove

We had planned to ship out our SUV from the SD port, but when we arrived (after spending 2+ hours trying to cram every nook and cranny of our Jetta with all we would need for 2 months) they told us we would need an extra document to ship the vehicle, which hadn’t been mentioned to us before. So we took an extra day on Coronado, assessed the situation, and pumped ourselves up for a 24 hour drive to Texas – with both vehicles. This meant no breaks for the drivers, little attention for the kids, and very, very long days.

Celebrating our sweet Olivia's third birthday on Coronado Island

Celebrating our sweet Olivia’s third birthday on Coronado Island

Olivia and Cliff took it all in stride, though! The Lord definitely answered our prayers and our trip was fairly uneventful and quick. We drove through Twentynine Palms and stopped by our house out there to check on things and continued across I-40 all the way through to DFW. It took us just three days, which is still amazing to me!

Texas has been nice enough to have a mild summer for us. Besides the humidity, which has many days been at 90%, it hasn’t been too bad, which we’re thankful for! I wasn’t sure how our littles would handle going from 65 degree days to 100+ temps! The kids are doing surprisingly well considering it’s been a full month now of living out of suitcases. It’s hard on them in some ways, but they are resilient. (More so than myself, I think!) They both travel with their special stuffed animal and blanket, which makes bedtime seem at least familiar no matter where we’re staying. They’re having a blast with their cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents!

Texas fun!

Texas fun!

We’ve managed to keep ourselves on a decent diet, which also makes a big difference in how the kids handle things. Pretty much everywhere we’ve stayed we’ve been able to find grain-free options and we have managed to stay away from the majority of the sweets (except some blue bell ice cream, which every Texan knows is a must when visiting the Lone Star State!) Our snacks have consisted of fresh fruits and veggies, guac and hummus, hard boiled eggs, and nuts and seeds. It’s amazing when I think about how hard it used to be to keep grains out of our diet when traveling or even just going to a restaurant. Now it just seems second-nature. There’s always an option that’s at least “better” if not “best”.

I hear rumors of an organic market and farm-fresh eggs in Lima, so I’m getting hopeful that with some adjustments, we’ll be able to continue our real foods/paleo/holistic lifestyle in Peru. We’ve already received all our passports and our visas, so we’re ready and waiting to go…and enjoying time with family in the meantime!

Happy Independence Day from Texas!

Happy Independence Day from Texas!

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Passports and visas and littles, oh my!

So this is it. We’re down to our last few weeks here in California. It’s definitely bittersweet. Our family was really a family for the first time here. Olivia got her first real nursery after we moved here when she was 11 months old. We had truly been nomads for her little lifetime up until that point. Cliff was born here almost 14 months ago. We finally have a great home church. Things that seem normal now were just dreams during our first years of marriage and through two long deployments.

Now our family is in full “overseas preparation mode”. The kids and I received our official passports in the mail and will be applying for visas and traveling passports now.  We are sad to be leaving the Monterey area. We have loved every minute of our time in Pacific Grove. It’s the quaintest, sweetest, kindest and most beautiful town we’ve lived in. One we wish existed elsewhere (maybe in Texas somewhere…?) 20140407-210643.jpg

But it has been a wonderful experience and sometimes things are just that. Experiences. You can’t keep them forever or take them with you, but you hold onto those great memories and know you’ll think back to them often.

John’s language schooling is going great. He just got back from a month of language immersion in Puerto Rico, in which his communication skills vastly improved, and we all had a crude reawakening to military life and separations (thankfully it was a short one to break us back in!)

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He’s on track to graduate in eight weeks and then it’s off to see family in Texas before we head to our final destination of Lima, Peru.

Lima is a bustling urban city of nearly 10 million people (yes, you read that right). It will be worlds different than Pacific Grove! We already have an apartment lined up (Praise God!) in the Mira Flores district, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. There are so many little details between now and then, though, we are praying that God will work everything out as smoothly as possible! The thought of having our littles living in hotels and at grandparents houses and more hotels… for two months is a little daunting! But we trust it will work out for the best. I am hoping to keep up with the blog so that anyone who wants to can follow our adventures while we travel around South America. It should be a fun year! We are all continuing to work on our Spanish and Olivia even gives Cliff Spanish directives, ha! “Sientate, Cliff!” “¿Mas aguacate, Cliff?” She’s definitely fulfilling her roll as big sister… Cliff is running around like a little man on a mission and continues to amaze us with new words every day.

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We’re just taking each day in – enjoying our littles where they are…and enjoying our last weeks in California. It’s hard to believe time goes by so fast!

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Hiking at The Pinnacles

MLK weekend was a beautiful one. Not only was it a 3-day weekend, but the weather was absolutely perfect every day! Yes, it was January. And yes, it was 75 degrees all weekend. Here’s a tip for those of you who come to The Monterey Bay Area: January is one of the best months out here! The locals all know it. They come out of hiding (because the Christmas tourists are finally gone) and get to soak up the sunshine and watch the waves roll up the shore. Although, from what I hear from the locals, this year was even more warm and sunny than normal – score!

It felt a little silly to leave beautiful Monterey on Monday, but we had just heard about a new national park (made official in January of 2013) and we had to check it out! It was only an hour drive, so it was definitely worth it.  Pinnacles National Park did not disappoint!

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We stopped in at the visitors center to get a map and then headed into the park for our first hike. It was a warm, sunny trail, which looped around some huge boulders where the temperature dropped quite dramatically.

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Olivia hiked the whole 3 mile trail herself! I was so impressed with her.

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Cliff just hung out in the ergo.

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When we got to the cave at the end of the trail, I summoned all the courage I could. It had been a while since I’d done any spelunking! Doing it with littles was a little intimidating! But we were ready – we had our headlamps on and Cliff was strapped securely to my back. We made it through the first part of the cave just fine – we only had one scare as some people who were above us must have loosed some rocks. It was a bit scary jumping to get both the kids under what little ledge there was on the cave wall as the falling rocks echoed down the side. But we were fine – thank you Jesus! At one point, I was literally crawling on my hands and knees through the dirt and sharp, dusty rocks.  Quite the adventure!

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When we got to the pitch dark, direct descent into the main part of the cave, we thought about it for a few minutes, and then thought better of it. There are some adventures we’ll have to wait for until our littles are bigger! It was still a fun adventure, even though we weren’t able to finish it through to the end.

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The hike back to the day camp area was warm and nice. Quite a relief after being in the cold, dark cave. We had a picnic lunch in the shade when we got back. Both kids ended up falling asleep in our laps for little naps. John walked around the area and I took up my sketch book to try to capture some of the beautiful spires around us.

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 It was a great, relaxing afternoon. Olivia played with some little girls who were speaking Spanish and got some good exposure to the language we’ve been trying to teach her. John and I played a round of Dutch Blitz, in which I finally beat him (he’s not here to defend himself! Ok, maybe I didn’t quite, but it was close!)

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After we were all rested up we took a last hike along a steep trail.  This time we each had a kid on our back. There were some gorgeous views on this hike.

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We even saw what may have been bear claw marks on a tree! Or maybe just kids goofing off.

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Cliff liked this tree.

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 It was such a wonderful way to spend John’s day off! We got some sun, some fresh air, and wore ourselves out quite well.

On the way home we stopped for dinner and this sweet lady bought our meal and left me a note that nearly made me cry in the middle of the restaurant.

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It was a blessing! It gave me encouragement to keep on keeping on. God is so good about sending those things when you need them most!  This was so very sweet – I won’t forget it for a long time!  A perfect end to a wonderful day.

This is my normal

I bet you thought I was going to give you a look into what my day is like with two little ones.  I know you were thinking that, because I think all the time – I wonder what her life is like?  I wonder if I’m the only one who struggles with patience?  I wonder if my life is normal?  I wonder if my kids are normal?  I am here to tell you that I’ve discovered the answer.  Yes.  My life is normal.  It is my normal.

The thought hit me standing in the kitchen washing dishes this afternoon.  I was thinking about my 2 1/2 year old and how difficult she can be sometimes.  Yes, I was blaming my lack of patience on a 2-year old.  I know, how low can you go, right??  I’d also been humming a praise song (trying to adjust my attitude) while I was thinking and cleaning and the thought hit me like God came down out of the clouds, sat on the stool in my kitchen and spoke it to me:  Your life is normal because it’s your life.  It’s normal to you.  It’s what I’ve given you.  You can choose whether this life is a blessing or a curse by choosing to either complain about it and compare it to others’ lives, or to give thanks for it and see the immeasurable blessings wrapped up in it’s unique package.  I spoke those words out loud and they shocked me.  Wow.  Thank you, God.

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This has given me a huge paradigm shift.  In the age of Google, we can so easily search for what is normal.  Should my 2-year-old be doing this or that; is she talking as much as she should be; is she talking too much; are all big sisters big pains to their little siblings sometimes?  Is my daughter hyperactive?  And the list goes on.  As I’m sure you know.  You moms from the Internet age get this.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who it plagues.  After today though, my new goal is to embrace my life.  Embrace my children.  They are unique and they are not perfect – but who on earth am I kidding – neither am I!!

I’m not going to ask people if something my children are doing is normal anymore.  “Normal” is a four-letter-word for me, as far as I’m concerned.  I want to flee from that word and instead ask God questions like, Will you please give me the grace to handle this situation, Father?  Lord will you please, please, please give me patience to love and train my children?  Please help me to trust You!  I know He is faithful.  His Word tells us that He will answer our prayers.  Much better than Google, I have a feeling…

I just felt like I should share this thought.  I hope it speaks to someone else as it did to me.  I urge you to take the time to thank God for your blessings, even when they are cleverly disguised!  I’ll leave you with this verse from Proverbs 29: “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.”  (v. 25)

Why we choose less: part 2

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Yesterday I published a post on choosing less activities to make our family happier. If you haven’t read it yet you can do that here. As I’ve been pondering this “do less to get more” idea over the past year, I’ve also thought about how it applies to our family materially.

We hope to teach our children, by example, to live below their means. We live in a house we can afford and that doesn’t stretch the budget. We don’t go out to eat very often. We cloth diaper 100% of the time. I give John his weekly “high and tight” at home, saving $10 every week. Things like this may not seem like much but they add up to a lot over time. And more importantly, they will make an impression on our children. Yes, we could technically “afford” for John to get his haircuts out in town, but this is one way we’ve chosen to teach our children to think about the money that they spend.

This whole idea really comes to life in the light of the Christmas season, too. I was saddened every time I saw commercials advertising the newest big (or little) gadget this Christmas. I guess I’d never paid attention to them this time of year before, but it seems that the expected gifts have gotten much larger and more expensive from when I was a child. When I was a kid it was a lot to ask for a bike or a set of Legos for Christmas. Now kids ask for iPads and tablets and iPhones and xboxes. Those things aren’t necessarily bad (though I personally don’t like the way electronics have taken over our communication and entertainment – but that’s for another post!). The question I keep asking myself is ‘what are we teaching our kids?’ By maxing out our credit cards, (or maybe you don’t even use credit cards, but you go over budget and spend the next three months paying out for those expensive gifts) it can’t be teaching responsibility to our children. It may also be giving them the idea that you work for them and that you will go to whatever lengths to make them “happy”.

Let’s face it: happy means something totally different than it used to mean. In our culture, happy is getting what you want, but that doesn’t bring true happiness. In reality, happiness is truly being content with what you have and approaching every situation with joy. I don’t want to teach my littles that happiness equals the latest new gadget. If they are raised this way they will spend their lives disappointed, dissatisfied and very unhappy. Disclaimer: I want to be clear here that I am not judging anyone for choices they make, or saying we should all spend the same amount of money on our kids, or anything ridiculous like that. I’m just sharing our personal journey of conviction to spend less.

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Our kids got very little for Christmas this year. Olivia is getting an art desk. I had wanted to get her an easel, but found a used art desk someone was selling for $10 so we compromised with something that won’t last a lifetime and be handed down to the next generation, but it’s totally worth 10 bucks to get a few years of use. They’re also getting a children’s devotional Bible to share – one I can feel good about reading to them and that will encourage scripture memorization. They didn’t get electronics and gadgets (again, not judging if your kids did!) I don’t feel like they missed out on anything. They were super happy with their couple of small gifts from us. Of course the grandparents all spoiled them with great creative things, so they weren’t lacking in toys.

My point in sharing this is just to encourage you to think about what expectations and what character qualities you are setting your children up for. Last year we got Olivia way too many things. I’m not saying we’re perfect – we are learning! We have learned that we don’t want to create a big deal out of Christmas gifts. After all, how can we tell them Christmas is all about Jesus if we spend too much money on them and are irresponsible with the money He has given us? Yes, kids are fun to shop for and to watch the excitement in their eyes when they open each gift, but we really want to teach our littles that it’s not all about them.  Otherwise, they’ll be crudely disappointed as adults when they realize the rest of the world doesn’t revolve around them. We spoil them sometimes, don’t get me wrong, but I think it’s good for kids to grow up seeing their parents work hard to save money, not spend it. What are your thoughts? What ways does your family practice fiscal responsibility? I’d love to hear other ideas and thoughts on the subject of choosing less!

“Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith.” -Proverbs 15:16

*Photo credit: Elizabeth Intrater

Why we choose less: part 1

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As the Christmas season comes to a close, I feel now is a perfect time to share what God has been teaching me this past year. It has been profound for me and yet the idea is very simple: choosing less.

We live in an awesome town. There are so many things to do here. From the aquarium, to museums, to beaches and parks – there is always something to do. That’s not even counting the numerous groups that you can sign your kids up for (play groups, mommy & me, preschool, swim classes, gymnastics, soccer, and the list goes on and on! And that’s just for a 2 year old!)

We came here from Twentynine Palms. For those of you who have been stationed there, I don’t have to explain how little there is to do in that small desert town. So when we first moved here, I felt almost obligated to do things. If I didn’t get out of the house with Olivia I felt guilty. All that changed when Cliff was born. Having two kids under two years old was all that I could handle. I could feed them and dress them (most days) and keep the house from falling down around my shoulders – but that was about it.

Then we moved across town (yes, our entire house – we were insane) when Cliff was 3 1/2 months old, and just two days after he had double hernia surgery. The next few weeks we spent unpacking and organizing our things into a much smaller space. I was just too busy setting up our home to get them out every day. However, we were totally enjoying our new house and the wonderful little plot of grass we had (hard to find in this crowded area of tiny lots).

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Something surprising came out of this time at home. I realized it was okay to stay home and enjoy my littles in the confines of our own place. I didn’t have to go out and sign Olivia up for a bunch of activities. I could say no. If we did them all or maybe even just a few of them, I knew I would go crazy. I didn’t like running crazy – so I kept asking myself if it was necessary.

Through this time I was being reminded through scripture and books I was reading, to “be still and know” that He is God. I don’t want to teach my littles that we must always be running busy to be purposeful and productive and to have meaning. We needed to make time for quiet. Time for God and time just together as a family – not while running from activity to activity.

So it started out of necessity (for my sanity) but it turned into a wonderful learning experience for me. I’m thankful that God made me take the time to learn it now because I feel like having this mindset will bring so much more peace to our family as it grows. How about you? What ways do you choose less in your family? What benefits have you seen to saying ‘no’?

*photo credit: Elizabeth Intrater