Friday, August 31, 2018

When Your Kid Grows Up While Daddy is Away

This is Dannika when we first moved here to College Station. She was 5 years old, and had just started Kindergarten.

This is Dannika today. She is 9 years old, and just starting 4th grade.

Today is the first time I looked at Dannika and thought, "Oh my gosh! She is really a 'big' girl!" Since 3rd grade, she is significantly more mature. She has grown so much emotionally, physically, and mentally. It's hard to grasp that she is the same little girl in the first photo. 

During parent orientation for third grade (last year), I remember her teacher saying that "3rd grade is when they seem to grow the most." I nodded in agreement, and went on with my life. But in the blink of an eye, it happened. I looked at Dannika today, and realized that she is a completely different girl than she was a year ago. She is SO much more mature. I can leave her at home alone (with Mattis) for an 1-2 hours during the day while I run errands, go to the gym, etc. If Mattis is misbehaving, she texts me from her iPad. She sets her own alarm in the mornings. She picks out her own clothes. She's like a miniature grown up. 

If you keep up with my life, you know that Nick has even gone since September of last year. He's come home for most holidays, but for the most part, he has been living in a different state than us. This is nothing new for our family. As a military family, I have spent more time alone than with my husband due to his (and my) commitment to the Marine Corps. Nick missed countless holidays and milestones in our family because of the Marine Corps. But, this year...has been the hardest. You would think that him being in combat would be the hardest, but honestly, it wasn't. I think when he was in Afghanistan, I went into "la la land". I refused to believe the conditions he was in, and refused to think that he could possibly not come home. I lived in my safe bubble, to protect my heart from the possible worst news...every military wife's worst nightmare...the "knock at the door". 

Thinking about Dannika today just made me so sad that Nick missed an entire year of her life when she did so much growing. We did our best to make him a part of our life while he was away through phone calls and FaceTime, but it's never enough. He's not home for dinner time shenanigans, bath times, bedtime conversations, family movie nights, family game nights, ice cream dates, etc. etc. etc. I can go on and on. But my heart is most broken of the fact that he missed this entire year that our daughter grew so much.

I know it doesn't get easier. Everyone keeps reminding me that puberty is on the horizon, and that I need to enjoy this time while she likes me. But I can't think about the horrors of puberty as a military wife. Our "right now" sucks because we've been apart from the better half of our family (and trust me...Nick is the better half...I'm a hot mess). 

Anyway, regardless of all of this "blog vomit", I know that our life as a military family is for God's glory. Although, my prayers sometimes consist of a lot of "why me" and "you must hate me", I have comfort in knowing that I am the daughter of a King who allows me to be mad at Him. He allows me to yell at Him. He allows me to use Him as a "punching bag". And yet...He still chooses to love me, pursue me, comfort me, and be my friend. 

"I can never escape from your Sprit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there." (Psalm 139:7-8)

I hope everyone has an awesome Labor Day Weekend! Follow me at on Instagram @SemperAg_blog , and message me!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Celebrating Birthdays as a Military Kid

I thought of a million ways to start this post, but let me just say...

"Today is my sweet baby boy's 5th birthday!!!!"

It sounds so cliché, and I feel like every parent says the same thing every year on their kids' birthdays, but...

"Where does the time go?!"

It literally feels like yesterday when we moved here to Texas, and Mattis was barely 1! He took his very first steps in our home here, and here he is, 4 years later. Mattis is my comedian. He keeps me laughing every single day with his funny antics and hilarious insights about life and his circumstances. His love language is physical touch (physical touch is the lowest on the ladder for me), and he shows me every day that human physical contact is important. He is quite the charmer with his adorable smile, and nobody is a stranger to him. He is sensitive, and wears his heart on his sleeve (just like his mama and his sister). He loves playing with Ninja Turtles and the Hulk at bath time, but also loves playing with his sister and her American Girl dolls. He loves watching YouTube videos of kids opening toys (eye roll). He is a dreamer and a lover of life. He shows me not to take life too seriously. Happy 5th Birthday to my sweet baby boy!

Here is our family when he FIRST moved here to Texas!

Here is my sweet birthday boy, today as a big 5 year old!

This isn't the first birthday that Nick has missed. I can't count the number of birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions that Nick has missed due to commitments to the Marine Corps. I distinctly remember Dannika's 1st birthday. Our first child's first birthday, and he was in Afghanistan. I remembered how disappointed he sounded on the phone when he called me on her birthday all the way from Afghanistan. I vividly remember him trying to sound excited and up beat as he Skyped us on her birthday, but as his wife, I could see right through his facade of fake emotion. Truth is, he was sad he couldn't be with us to celebrate such a milestone birthday. It never gets easier either. Every time he has been away for a big milestone or holiday, I get the same Nick on the phone. A father trying his best to have a positive attitude, and trying his best to exude some sort of excitement on the phone or FaceTime as he hears his family celebrating miles and miles away. But I know. I've been married to the guy long enough to know when he's trying to hide his disappointment for not being here with us. 

But this is our life. 

Nick texted me today, and specifically asked me to "...make sure Mattis knows that I really want to be there for his b day. I can't tell you how many birthdays {insert name of someone in his life} missed and never cared about calling or doing anything for us." 

Then I my car...after working out at the gym. Sweaty and crying is not a good combination for me. Not good for my skin...

It's tough on me as a mom to try and make things like birthdays super special for my kids. I have a lot of mom guilt, because their dad's not here. So I make up for it by going a little overboard with birthday celebrations. But in my 10 years as a military spouse, I have come to realize it's even harder on the spouse that is gone. Imagine watching your family "do life" from afar, and there's nothing you can do to be there with them. It sucks. I remember being deployed, and while I wasn't married or had kids, I remember watching everyone "back home" living their lives, while I was just "there". Someone once told me, "When you're deployed (or away from family), life stops for you. But life goes on for everyone else."

So, what do we do to make it easier?

FACETIME AND PHONE CALLS! It's all we got! I make it intentional to FaceTime Nick when we sing Happy Birthday (at 6am), and we call him and FaceTime him multiple times throughout the day. We try and make him a part of our celebration as much as possible! I constantly remind the kids of how much he loves them, and wishes he were here. 

As a seasoned military family, we've come up with creative ways to include our Marine when he's gone. I think it makes my kids appreciate him so much more when he is home, and it makes him appreciate us so much more when he's with us. At the end of the day, we are super proud of Nick. All the time he's spent away is worth it to us. He has one of the most noble professions in the world, and I proudly stand by him!

Here are some photos from Mattis' special day!

I went to HEB (our local grocery store) at 9:30 the night before to buy candles, because I realized we had no candles for his Birthday donuts.
I woke up at 5:30 to go to Shipley's Donuts to buy him donuts before he woke up.

I'm also going to add...
This dang "Happy Birthday" banner that I bought at Target was a PAIN IN THE BUTT to put together...
It literally took me 20 minutes....

 We started with sparklers....
This photo, I forced him to smile (by screaming...loudly talking..."SMILE MATTIS!!!"

This was his actual face during the entire time the sparkler was lit until it burned out....

We sang and danced to the Koo Koo Kangaroo birthday song (that is permanently stuck in my head all day)
"Hooray, Hooray! It's Mattis' Birthday!"

We did church...

Mattis and his stuffed dog Jake (that Dannika made at Build-A-Bear) for him as a gift.
One month old...
and Today!

We have a family tradition to let our kids pick wherever they want to eat for their birthday!
Mattis wanted Chick Fil A...
But his birthday is on a Sunday this year...
Talk about one disappointed 5 year old.
He settled for Mad Taco instead (which was a better choice for me!)

Then he request a trip to Walgreens (lol) to get a toy.
He chose this gigantic ball called the "Wubble Bubble".
It comes in this little package, and you blow it up to make it big.
He's a simple kid.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MATTIS! You're the coolest kid I know!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Last First Day in Texas

My kids are finally back in school after a long summer. I feel a little robbed of my summer because we didn't go on vacation like we normally do. Our family was anticipating a move to Okinawa, so we opted not to go on vacation (also, Nick has been gone all summer in North Carolina). Then we found out at the end of the summer, that our orders were switched to Yuma. Bummer.

I think I'm in the same boat as most parents when I say that I was definitely ready for school to start. My kids were getting restless at home. My pantry was looking pretty bare. The constant echoes of "I'm bored" and "There is NOTHING to do" was starting to drive me a little crazy (a lot crazy). I've definitely had a few moments where I could have shown a little more patience, grace, and mercy to my kids.  Who am I kidding, I have definitely screamed like a lunatic to get my kids to listen to me and behave. This is, of course, followed by an immense amount of guilt for losing my cool.

It was a bittersweet first day of school. It was sweet because my kids were ready to go back. They were ready to go see their friends, wear their new clothes and shoes, and get away from the screaming banshee that they call "mama". It was bitter because this is literally our very last first day of school in Texas. In just a few short weeks, we'll be pulling the kids out of school and moving them to a whole new state. I'm not quite sure what that is going to be like emotionally for Dannika. She has the closest ties to this place, and she has a posse of girls that have become like sisters to her over the last 4 years. It terrifies me as a mother to think that I'm going to have to deal with a heartbroken 9 year old. For some reason, I am not worried at all about Mattis. Because he is so young, I doubt he will even remember this place. We moved here to Texas when Dannika was 5, and she has vague recollections and memories of our time in Massachusetts.

Speaking of Mattis, we started him in Kindergarten here! Because we are only going to be here a short time, we decided to enroll him. He BARELY makes the age cutoff for Kindergarten! In fact, he's still 4 years old, and probably one of the youngest Kindergarteners in the school (he turns 5 on Sunday). Once we move to Yuma, we are planning on holding him back one more year, and putting him back in Pre-K. When I drop him off in the mornings in his classroom, he looks so much smaller than all the others. I know I'm making the right decision to hold him back. But for now, he'll get small dose of that Kinder life, before we move. His teacher is a friend of mine, so I feel comfortable knowing that he's going to be just fine for the few short weeks we are here.

I've been loving everyone's back to school photos! Keep them coming! Enjoy some of mine!

Mattis with his friends Addison and Bailey!
Addison and Bailey are twins (obviously), and they also have older siblings who are twins too!
In fact, their older sister Ally, is one of Dannika's best friends!
It's really neat that both of my kids get to be in the same class with a set of "the twins"!

Both my kids want to be doctors.
I think that's because my brother in law (who is a doctor) just spent the previous 4 days with us.
He should come around more often!

Here are 2nd day photos, because Dannika's outfit looks so dang adorable!

Here is my little man in front of his cubby!

I'm a little sad that we can't continue the school year here, because we love it so much. But I know that God has amazing plans for our family in Yuma. Any military families have any advice on dealing with a 9 year old moving in the middle of the school year? Any and all advice, suggestions, and comments are appreciated!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Being a Marine Wife and Looking for a JOB

A friend posted a statistic on her Facebook page  that "the average military family moves every 2.23 years. This not only means taking bets on what pieces of furniture are going to survive, but also new jobs for spouses, new schools for kids, new friends and new communities. The mental health effects are real too! Increases in anxiety and stress as well."

This resonated so much with me, because of the season of life that our family is going through. Having to leave a life and start a new one every 2-3ish years is tough. It's even tougher on kids. It's tough on marriages. It's tough on finances. It's just tough in general. And yet, thousands of military families have been doing it for decades and thriving. I also feel like a lot (not all!) of military spouses never reach their career potentials. Who wants to hire someone that's going to move in 2.23 years? Is it worth the investment for your company?

There are initiatives in place in Washington D.C. for rights of military spouses to be able to have careers and not be discriminated against because of their spouse's choice to serve our nation. That doesn't mean the problem has been solved.

What does this mean for me? When our family was slated to go to Okinawa, I had no plans of working. I wanted to enjoy our time there. I wanted to drive my kids to school and activities, go to the beach whenever I felt like, and travel. I had this glamorous life envisioned for me. I was going to be a doting Marine wife and mother. Kind of like a trophy wife, without the trophy wife budget (you can laugh). But of course, now that our family's plans have changed, I began looking for work. I wanted a job with flexible hours where I could pick up my kids from school, take them to practice, and be home in time to have dinner on the table. I figured it'd be easy to find a job. I graduated at the top of my class from a top tier college. I have 10 years of work experience in the Marine Corps. I have some work experience straight out of college in the healthcare industry. I have leadership skills from leading Marines (and MAJORING IN IT!). Through my job hunt, I found I was either over qualified, or under qualified. A lot of the jobs I was under qualified for were not because of work experience. I didn't qualify because of education. Unless I had a highly specialized degree (teaching, engineering, nursing, etc.), jobs I am qualified for are few and far between.

There were plenty of jobs that I felt I was qualified for based on my experience as a Marine coupled with a bachelor's degree. However, a lot of those jobs required a Master's degree. Someone told me that a Bachelor's degree is the new high school diploma. Everyone's got one. I've never felt like this statement was true until now. Through my frustration, I pulled the trigger, and applied for grad school. Yup! Homegirl is going to get a Masters. If that's what I need for better job opportunities as a military spouse, then, that's what I'm doing. I am applying for a program that is in line with what I majored in at Texas A&M. They offer an online Masters program in Ag Development, and since I absolutely LOVED my major, I know it'll be a good fit for me.

Some things I'm worried about. Actually, I'm only worried about one thing...the GRE. The math portion. I'm 34. I haven't taken a true math class since high school. So that's the only thing I have as a prayer request right now! I'm hoping that furthering my education will make me more "attractive" to potential employers, and that they will be able to look past my status as a "military spouse". Although, legally, they can't ask what my husband does for work in the hiring process, it is still an issue that military spouses deal with when looking for jobs.

So there you have it! It is the last week before school starts for my kids, and we have nothing ready. I haven't bought school supplies or school clothes. I am totally behind the power curve this year! I've been so consumed with this move to Yuma, that I've totally forgotten about back to school! This week will be crazy busy, for sure, but this mama is ready for the kids to be back in school!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Summer 2018 Recap

It's been good to get back to blogging. Several months ago, I changed the name of my blog (well just the domain) with plans to redo everything. Obviously, that has not happened yet. My header still has my old blog name on it, and a lot of the links on my blog no longer work. I'll get around to it.

I looked at transferring my blog to wordpress, but there is a possibility of me losing some content in that process. I have had this little blog of mine since 2009! That's nearly a decade of me rambling on about everything from my life as an active duty Marine, wife of a deployed Marine, giving birth (both times), and all the ups and downs of military life. I can't possibility bear to think of losing ANY of my content on my little piece of the web.

So, I'm thinking of keeping my blogger blog up, and just starting new posts on wordpress. I'll keep the link to this one up on the new site, so if you want to look back at the last 10 years of my life, you can (if you really care). Again, I don't see this happening anytime soon. Maybe after we move to Yuma and get settled in.

I figured since I have not blogged in several months, I'll just give y'all some quick updates on my life through photos. If you follow me on Instagram (@semperag_blog), you can pretty much skip this post. I post a lot of life on there!

Nick graduated from the Marine Corps' "The Basic School" in May, and we got to have him home for a solid month!

For those who don't know, our family has been separated since September of last year, so an entire month with Nick home was so needed!

He is currently in Jacksonville, NC in ground supply Officer's school learning how to be...well...a ground supply Officer! He'll be there until September 13 when he graduates, and will return to Texas to help prepare our family's move to Yuma.

Dannika attended "Kanakuk Kamp Out" in June!
Kanakuk is a Christian summer camp based in Missouri!
They have a "traveling" camp where they bring a little taste of camp to local communities across the country.
She had an absolute blast!

D headed to VBS at Christ United Methodist the week after Kanakuk

We have had lots of pool dates at our neighborhood pool!

Dannika made the Bronze team at gymnastics, and Mattis moved up the the advanced preschool class!

We put our house on the market, and went into escrow in just 2 weeks 

Our friend Emilee who is currently in flight school in Corpus Christi flew herself to College Station to see us!
The kids got to see inside the plane she flew in!

Nick came home to see us for 4th of July!

Dannika turned 9!
I can't believe it. We moved to CS when she was only 5 and had barely started Kindergarten. 
Just a reminder to cherish the moments, because time is finite!

Dannika did College Station High School's "Strutter Kick Start Camp".
The Strutters are one of our local high school's drill team.
They hold a fun camp every summer where they teach young girls a few dances, do fun arts and crafts, and play games.

It's hard to believe that Summer is already over, and school will be starting in just a few short weeks. I know our move to Arizona is going to creep up on us. I'm anxious to move and have our family back together again. By the time Nick graduates from supply Officers' school, we will have officially been living apart for an entire year. I can't say that it's been the easiest year, but I am happy with our decision to stay in Texas while Nick completes training. But like I've mentioned before, this is "normal" for military life, and just one of the many small sacrifices families make for the well being of their families. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Year 3 of Carolina Creek Christian Camp!

We dropped off our sweet Dannika Jane at Carolina Creek Christian Camp Sunday afternoon! She is a veteran camper there of 3 years (as of this year)! The first time she went was 2 years ago! This is something she looks forward to every summer, and we are grateful for the experiences that she gets to have there.

Carolina Creek is a faith based camp in Huntsville, TX (just over an hour away from where we live). The camp was originally started to serve the inner city population of Houston. According to their website, "in 2002...Houston was one of the most underserved metropolitan areas in the United States for Christian camping." Because of this, 20% of all campers must come from urban and inner city communities through their scholarship program.

To me, summer camps have always been sort of a "pretentious" thing that only the "rich kids" got to go to every summer. They are not cheap by any means, and even after paying for the fees, the cost of buying the "stuff" they need throughout the week can add up quickly.  I love that Carolina Creek gives children who would otherwise not be able to afford camp an opportunity to attend. It is so important to me that my children grow up amongst and immersed with children from all backgrounds. My hope is that they grow up with an expansive worldview outside of our comfortable middle class life.

Dannika is at the age where she is beginning to notice "social classes" within her circles. She knows which kids have parents that make a lot more money than we do, and she knows which kids are struggling to buy lunch at school. We have had really great and in depth conversations about what "privilege" means. Everything from her privilege being from a family with two parents, a middle class family, owning our own home, being able to afford to go to camp every summer, the clothes she wears...even her "white privilege". Basically it came down to..."Hey kid, your dad is a Marine. It's a very honorable job that requires you to sacrifice too. He will always be able to provide for you, and will give you a life better than his. But, we'll never be rich." And she is ok with that.

This is why we love to send her to Carolina Creek every summer. She's not there with a group of campers who are all from middle to high class families (like you would find at most overnight summer camps). She is there with kids from all backgrounds and walks of life. That is such a core principle of what the bible teaches...that we are ALL His children, and he loves ALL of us equally. She comes home every year with such a fresh renewal of her faith. I love that her counselors nurture and pour into her for the whole week as they show her and teach her what it means to "live like Jesus" and "love like Jesus".  We love it so much, that we have plans to continue to send her back every summer to Texas just for camp!

This is the first year that I've had to take Dannika to camp alone. 
Usually Nick is around to do all the heavy lifting for me.
Not gonna lie, getting this heavy trunk out of my house into my car was quite the feat!

It's always a good day when you're assigned the top bunk!

The last two years she has been in the giraffe cabin.
This year, she moved up to the tiger cabin!
Aren't these cabins so cool?!
This entire camp was actually designed by a former Disney architect!

The Camp updates their website daily with pictures of our campers.
I literally go through hundreds of photos to get a glimpse of my sweet camper!
And of course, out of a gazillion photos, this was the only one I got of her!

Sweet brother is pretty bored without his big sister around.
We've been trying to make the most of our special time together.
We spent hours at the neighborhood pool today playing "sharks and minnows"....or "shark and minnow" lol.
 We had the pool ALL to ourselves for the majority of our time there!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

That Time the Marine Corps Got the Last Laugh

First of all, its been forever since I have blogged. For a while, blogging took a back seat because of school. But then I graduated, and got my first real civilian job. On top of that, Nick left back in September for 6 months to attend the Marine Corps' "The Basic School" (AKA TBS). He's gone again until September of this year attending Ground Supply Officers' School. Oh yeah, I have these two little humans that I've had to keep alive! But this is a familiar life to most military families! A lot of my civilian friends look shocked when I tell them Nick's been gone since September, and even more shocked at my lackadaisical attitude about it. I mean, really though, what can I do about it? I could have gone to Virginia with him for 6 months. That would have meant I would have had to pull my kids out of school, stick them in a new school in a new state, then pull them back out of school, to move to North Carolina for 13 weeks and put them in another new school in another new state. I'm confused just reading that last (possibly run-on) sentence. Anyway, I got a lot of catching up to do on this old blog.

I do need to update my blog since the name of it changed. I'll get around to it...eventually. That means, "it's not on my list of priorities right now."

So let's get to this blog post, shall we?

The last time I blogged, it was to announce our family's next duty station! Okinawa, Japan! What a dream come true! We were absolutely thrilled and ecstatic that the Marine Corps actually gave us our FIRST choice of duty station! We had plans to travel, expose our children to new cultures, and just bond as a family. Our family started making plans to move overseas right away. There is an overseas "checklist" of things that we have to complete before the government would allow us to move. Everything from medical, dental, and special passports (more on that later). In fact, Nick went ahead and sold his (already paid off) truck because we would not be taking any vehicles to Okinawa with us. I was busy at home making plans to sell furniture we couldn't take, and downsizing.

Then, on a random weekday in July, I got a phone call from Nick at around lunchtime. He never calls me during the day, so I thought it was strange.
"Hey, so I have some bad news."

A million thoughts ran through my head. We are under contract to sell our home, so my first thought was, "oh no, the buyer backed out!" I leaned against my kitchen counter, and took a big breath, "what is it..."

"I just got done talking to the monitor for the last hour..."

If you're unfamiliar with Marine Corps lingo, each job field in the Marine Corps has a person assigned to it called the "monitor". The monitor's job is to place Marines in billets around the Marine Corps based on "the needs of the Corps". Basically, he/she decides where and when a Marine will be moving. So when I heard "monitor", I knew immediately that our orders had changed.

"We're not going to Okinawa anymore. We're going to Yuma."
"Are you serious? Seriously? Don't joke around about that, Nick! Oh my gosh, you just sold your truck!"

I seriously had to look at my phone to see what the date was. An April Fool's prank was the first thing that crossed my mind. After the initial shock wore off, he explained why his orders had changed. In vague terms, the Marine that was supposed to go to Yuma had some serious personal stuff happen to him which meant he could no longer go. Nick was literally the only Marine in his class that had not checked into his unit, because he was the only Marine slated to go overseas. The billet in Yuma took precedence over the one in Okinawa.

What could I do? So many people asked me if I was mad. Mad? No. Shocked? Sort of. I mean, this IS the Marine Corps. Nothing surprises me. Our family got orders to Boston while Nick was in Afghanistan. In fact, I was the one who found out, and had to call the poor guy while he was in the midst of a combat deployment in Afghanistan to tell him that he was going to Boston. Being mad about Yuma isn't going to do anything for me. It isn't going to change the circumstance. I drank some wine that night, went to bed, and the sun rose the next day as it always does. I had to start planning a move to the desert instead of the tropical paradise I had been imagining since March.

So since we got the news that fateful day, our family is officially in escrow on a beautiful home in Yuma. We have done research on schools and activities for the kids in the area. We have really tried to embrace the change. Some days, I'm excited. Other days, I want to cry.

Here is what is keeping me positive...

God. So cliché, right? In 10 years of marriage, Nick and I will have lived in 4 states (counting Arizona) and 6 addresses. And in every single place that we have lived, we have always made the greatest friends (yes y'all, even in Boston where I hated my life). In the places I was the most "down", God has always given me friends who pour into our family.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." -Proverbs 3:5-6

This verse really spoke to me. I tried so hard to make sense of why this sudden change of plans was happening. Reading this verse was such a great reminder to "forget about my own reasons", and just trust in God. I know He has such a great purpose for our family in Arizona, and I am excited for the adventure that awaits.

I hope to blog a little more, and get back into it. If you follow my instagram (@semperag_blog), you can pretty much keep up with our life! 

Here is 3/4 of our fam..
You know..."Living our best life..." without Nick for the past year (ish).