Monday, May 12, 2014

We had a ball!

Last weekend we had the chance to go to the AAAA Aviation ball.  The last ball I could have gone to was at Fort Bragg.  I had to send my hubby stag to that one because Alta came down with the flu just hours before.
So when Alta and Mila were puking the day before - I pretty much assumed that I must have a wicked step mother somewhere that gave me puking kids instead of locking me in the tower...

Alas, my little mice prevailed - and as my kids had a quick turnaround - I realized I was in fact going to the ball.  This led to a mad scramble to assemble my outfit - because to my disbelief, my dress NEVER CAME.  It still hasn't arrived.  I ordered it at the end of March... from Nordstroms.  It should have been here...

So the night before, Crystal and I descended on Julie's house (think of Julie as your fairy Godmother - and you really won't be too far off)... and we made due with what we had.  I should have taken pictures of my options.... because then at least you'd be laughing with me.  Being a Mormon, trying to fit into other people's gowns, and then covering up what needs to be covered, left me looking more like Lord of the Rings meets Grandma for option 1, or like I could have been on an episode of Sisterwives (going to the ball special edition) for option 2.  Thankfully Julie and Crystal talked me into wearing things I already owned (option 3), and then trying to dress it up to be formal enough for the occasion.  At least it fit, and was comfortable.

Julie worked wonders for Crystal too - she put sleeves on her dress!

This is Crystal and Sara.  Both go to my church, and I was lucky enough to have a fun weekend with these ladies.  Check out the pleating on Crystal's sleeves!  Julie... did some bipity bopity boo on that for sure!

Anyhow, the point is - I could have let that stop me from going.  And I didn't.  I'm so glad I didn't.  Did I feel like I was Cinderella?  Meh.... not so much.  But I had a great time sharing in the joy of celebrating my husband, his career, and our journey together.

One of the things about the ball that I loved, was the realization of how many people I know here.  Jaren kept saying - "How do you know all of these people?" and "You know more people than I do!"  Which is true.  I did!

I owe a huge chunk of that to this girl!  Krystle.  Krystle and I have been friends since Alabama.  And to say that I was comforted by the knowledge that coming to Korea meant I would be reunited with this girl is the understatement of the year!

Krystle is one of those friends where the friendship is easy.  Being in her presence feels like your with your sister.  You can be totally yourself.  You can talk, or not talk.  You can ugly cry.  You can laugh with snorts.  You can forget to call.  Doesn't matter - because she offers her love unconditionally.  She also radiates with her love for God, and reminds me of the power He gives us.  She is truly one of my favorite things about Korea.  She has taught me so much about being an Army wife, and the gift that it can bring.  She has shared with me her love of Korea, and has helped me get the foothold I needed to feel safe in this process.   I only hope to be able to pay that forward someday.  Oh, did I mention she did all of this living an hour and a half away?  She doesn't make excuses for anything - and I love that about her.  Anyhow, back to my point.  Krystle introduced me to her group of friends, and of course most of them were at the ball.. so it was a wonderful evening amongst friends old and new!  

It had been far too long since I'd eaten at a formal occasion, and had to mentally process "which fork first..."  Yeah, you know it's been to long if you have to think about that.  

My favorite part of the evening though, was sharing in the celebration of being a part of the Army.  Love it AND hate it sometimes.  But it is good to be reminded of the mission, the sacrifice, the dedication, the camaraderie, and the importance of what we are doing.  Jaren and I are a team.  While I don't take on my husband's rank or anything, I know that we are doing this together.  So I found myself teary eyed more than once to remember the sacrifices that have been made to get here.  The friends we have lost.  The friends that we have watched lose their loved ones.  The separations and deployments endured.  Those that continue to deploy.  Those that continue to send off their loved ones...

And while some may focus on the craziness that sometimes ensues after the formal portion ends.  I just loved sharing in the spirit of the evening.  I am proud of my husband.  I am proud of his job.  He has an awesome mission with his medevac unit.  I am proud of my children and their resiliency.  And hey, if I'm honest - I'm proud of myself.  This hasn't been an easy journey, but we are doing it with as much optimism and faith as we can muster.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Stumbling upon the extraordinary

Last Saturday, Jaren and I set out to make it to a cherry blossom festival in Seoul.  There happen to be tons of them, and knowing which one to go to?? - well it's a little vague when your trying to pick from thumbnails pictures and reading hangul.  Needless to say, we did our best "pin the tail on the donkey" move, and just picked one.  Jaren researched the directions.  I pinned a location in my iPhone, and we set out with the gingerpuffs.

As we were looking for parking, we decided to take the light prior to what the iPhone was recommending.  That landed us in the Seoul Olympic park.  What the random?!!!

Thinking we'd just walk through the park on the way down to the festival, we began our stroll.

(Accupressure walking path - to massage your feet)

Don't you just love it, when the journey actually becomes your destination?  I am so grateful that both Jaren and I have the ability to be flexible and just roll with it.  Turns out there were tons of beautiful trees on the grounds... and so we went with it.  Sure, we got "Korea'd" and never actually made it to the festival... but with all this beauty... I didn't really mind.

Here's an interesting bit of trivia.  So, the Seoul Olympics were held in 1988.  I was 10 years old, and I can still remember watching Janet Evans swim her 400 m free.  She took home the gold that year and set a new world record.  Her record stood until something like 2006.  Crazy!  Anyhow, Janet Evans was a huge inspiration to me, and one of the things that led me to become a swimmer.  So, being here in Seoul, at the Olympic Stadium where she made that happen.  Pure swimmer geek magic.  

Anyhow, back to our stroll through the park... 

Alta was really making me laugh with these statues.  This one was "biting her".  

I love the little lessons children help you see.  My girls frequently remind me to stop, slow down, and actually SEE what is right at my feet.  They help me to take time to stop and smell the flowers.  

To see the wonder and magic in all of God's creations...

For the record... I love this picture.  It makes me giggle.  It also makes me hear my sister-in-law Kara's voice say... "Gosh Maisy, stop being such a baby!"  Which makes me giggle some more.

See.... cherry blossom festival shmestival.  We find our own beauty!  We are learning to just enjoy where life takes us.

So this pic cracks me up too.  Because it's a perfect representation of the mass quantities of hair and love that these two girls share.  Alta, half choking her sister out... to "love on her".  Mila, loving it... for this second.  All with some dark foreshadowing in the background... somehow warning that this won't last for long.  Yeah... life is like that.  You have to just enjoy the moment.  You know that the rain will come.  And when it does... it's best to just try to dance in it.

Hmmm... now I'm hungry.  So we just decided to skip the "actual festival" and go find food. I had heard of some mythical magical new york style pizza place in Seoul called the Brick Oven (somehow the name not being Korean gives you confidence that this pizza might be more like our pizza back home.).  Which is not to say that I haven't been enjoying the Korean pizza places here.  We have this place in Anjeoung-Ri called Pizza school that has a sweet potato pizza.  It has some strange sweet mustard sauce on it.  And beyond bizzare - it actually works.  But I digress... Brick Oven.  Pretty dang tasty!  

Also, and excellent opportunity to introduce the girls to Calamari.  Hey girls, remember the squid from the market???  It's what's for dinner!  Yum!

All was going well with the el-squido until Mila got a bite she couldn't exactly chew enough to break apart.  Well the long stringy bit started choking her, so she urped it right up onto Jaren's plate.  Seconds anyone?  Yeah, it's times like this, I am happy to be the vegetarian in the family.  

 This girl LOVES her pizza.

Wait, hold up.  Let me take a second to tell you about driving in Seoul.  It's nuts!  On the bigger roads, it's just busy... but if you pull off onto a smaller road... it's like driving through a sea of people.  Pedestrians that don't seem to care that it's a road.  They don't really move over.  And if you don't just drive, you will never move.  So you just kinda drive, and somehow no one was hurt.  

Finally, on the way back to our car.  We just found this place.

Soft serve ice cream, with actual honey comb, or amazing chocolate.  Yes Milkcow... I loved you.

And so did the girls.

So, moral of the story.  Did we accomplish the thing we set out to do?  Nope.  And I'm so glad we didn't!  Another fun adventure in the books.  Another memory with my family.  Another lesson learned.  Roll with it folks.  You'll be happy you did.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Why I KNEW that I could never be an Army wife.

I don't really know what has brought it on... but I have been thinking about Jaren's deployment in 2011.  I have been contemplating that experience, and all the lessons I learned during it.

Maybe, it's because if we were still in North Carolina - Jaren would be prepping to leave again shortly.  Maybe it's that I know some of our dear friends will be facing this journey again soon.  Maybe it's that some of my dear friends are currently trudging through it as I type.

At any rate, I felt like I should do something with all of these feelings.  And like some good thoughts do, they manifest into action. So I have decided to share with you a few things that I learned during that never-ending year.  Keep in mind, this was just my experience.  

Prior to getting married, I told Jaren that I would only get married if he was getting out of the Army.  I knew I wasn't an Army wife.  I KNEW that I could never do a deployment.  I KNEW that I never wanted to be seperated from my spouse for that much time, let alone, have them in a war zone.

Funny, how life works isn't it?

This is Alta the night before Jaren was leaving.  Nothing can prepare anyone for this experience.  Let alone your dear, sweet, innocent children.  

1.  The 2-3 weeks prior to deployment, were, in fact, some of the hardest of the whole thing.  At one point, I found myself running out of my house, and down the street crying.  (Like a legitmate crazy person).  I was running away.  I didn't even have on shoes.  I just had so much rage, and anger, and FEAR.  I couldn't take it, and I couldn't stand that all I seemed to be doing was getting mad at Jaren.  I was at the end of my street when I realized that I couldn't really go anywhere, and walked back home.   

2.  Watching your husband say goodbye to your children is harder than saying goodbye yourself.  As Jaren tucked in Alta (18 months at the time) and Mila (3 months)... I couldn't believe that I was watching what I was watching.  He really isn't gonna do this for another year?  When I said goodbye... it was dreamlike.  Surreal.  ***And I had a BRILLIANT friend tell me that she didn't go to the hanger to say goodbye!  I want to kiss this friend!  Why drag out that painful experience before the break of dawn?  We just went and picked up his car later on that day.  We said goodbye in our home.  I didn't have to watch all the other kids cry and wives hold back screaming babes, as they ripped fathers and mothers from children's arms.  Nope.  We said goodbye in our home.  Our children were peaceful.  He rocked them to sleep.  And I got to say goodbye to him on my own, while the children slept. 

3.  The first day was actually a relief for me.  Finally, it had started!  We went running with some dear friends in the morning (like we did every day of deployment), and then my friends made us breakfast.  But, I was just relieved to not have to dread it coming anymore.  We were in it.  This was our life. Here we go.

4.  Weekends were hard.  During the week didn't feel all that much different once I got used to it.  But the weekends always were a challange.  It was because that was when he WAS SUPPOSED to be home.  I found that in order to stay sane, I had to do some planning for the weekends.  Maybe it was a girls night.  Maybe just a fun saturday somewhere.  I needed SOMETHING to make it feel different from every other day.  I needed something that changed up the routine just enough to lighten the load.  And I found that I had to make plans with people that I could trust not to bail on me.  In the regular world, changing plans from one weekend to another is totally normal and acceptable.  But when you are living one week to the next and your whole week was spent thinking about getting out of your house for 2 hours by yourself... a friend that bails feels like they are crushing your will to go on.  I can't explain how truly difficult that was.  Midweek bail - fine, no problem.  Weekend bail - consider yourself chopped liver.  

Sunday, was hard because church makes me emotional on a good day.  Mix in all the stuff that I was holding in that week - and it always seemed to find its way out on Sunday.  Sunday was also an incredible day for me.  Because each week, I was reminded to surrender my will.... let go... and remember that the Lord was in control.  I could release my grasp again, and breathe.  Also, I had the best church in the world as far as people that get where I was at.  There were so many other wives doing the same thing, that people understood how to serve better.  People knew what the needs were, and just acted.  Crying baby?  As I walked out with one, a member would go and sit with other child.

5. Scripture study and prayer TRULY became my life line.  Perhaps I was so good at it during this period of my life, because my need was so intensely great.  I didn't skip a single prayer... and found myself praying most of the day for good measure.  I learned that this is how the Lord wants me to pray all the time.  I felt more connected to the Spirit than ever before.  I truly believe that I was surrounded by angels and that they ministered to me and my little family all the time.  
Also, I got called to a very busy position with my church in serving our Young Women.  At first, the task seemed like it would be very hard to accomplish... but soon I found that it was the Lord's way of planting my feet in the right direction.  It became more of a gift than a task.   It gave me purpose, it connected me with some of the most amazing women I have ever known, and it made it repeat every single week.  If not for any other reason, it was a reason to stop thinking about my own needs, and to focus on people outside of my family.  Not only that, but the women I worked with were spiritual giants.  We became connected and rooted together, like a group Sequioa trees.  Finding strength in our interconnected roots... withstanding anything that comes our way - and growing stronger as we move towards light and life.  

6.  Jaren did way more helping & cleaning that I ever knew.  It's funny, you never realize how much a person is helping you until you don't have them around for an extended period of time.  

7.  Skype is a gift from God.  I can't imagine what people have gone through in years past.  I was actually able to see his blurry face, and hear his voice (sporatically).  I think back to the days of snail mail, and weep for generations past.  

8.  Daily pictures of the girls became his connection to home.  With children so young, there were so many milestones that he was going to miss.  My heart ached for Jaren leaving his children behind.  So in an effort to keep him connected, I took pictures of everything.  I would send pictures and 53 second videos (this is the optimal length for sending a video without having to cut the video in half and do multiple emails).  Still to this day, I can't seem to keep videos going past 53 seconds.

9.  News is to be wactched intentionally.  If your gonna watch the news, you have to know what your walking into.  You have to mentally prepare yourself and brace yourself for impact.  Haven't heard from your husband in a few days?  I think I'll pass.  Honestly, I can count on my fingers the numbers of times I actually watched the news while he was gone.  Who wants to hear about an "unidentified helicopter crash in afghanistan" at a time like that?  Not me.

I just went by the mantra, that no news was good news.  If something happened, I knew who would be coming to my door.  To sit up late at night thinking about it would just take out my sleep for the night... and with two redheads that never slept in all year... that's just a good way to create a hazardous workstation.

10.  People that say things like, "Oh, but he's safe right?  Because he isn't on the front lines?" don't understand what his job is, let alone yours.  It's best not to take such statements personally.  Equally disheartening comments like, "I thought the war was over!" or "Has anyone died?", are also just reflections of their education (or lack thereof) on the subject.  

On the flipside, I found that there were people that were absolute angels of empathy.  People that looked for opportunities to offer service, or support.  My aunt Cindy and Uncle Paul were two of those people for me.  I met Paul and Cindy once briefly living in Utah, and then again for the second time when we moved to North Carolina.  By the time the deployment was over, I was calling Cindy, Momma Cindy.

Towards the middle of the deployment Cindy saw that it was taking it's toll on my abilities to cope.  She saw that what I really needed was a break.  And she gave me the single greatest gift I recieved during his absence.  A break!  A scheduled break!  She and Paul took the girls for a weekend once a month.  Now, not only did I have that weekend off, but I got to look forward to it for the rest of the month prior!  (As I typed those words, the tears began to flow again... out of gratitude for exactly how much this helped.)  Momma Cindy, I love you.  The girls miss their Grandma Cindy and Unka Paul

11.  I had no idea I would actually be able to make it.  Really.  I honestly doubted that at the beginning.  But now I know I can.  There is strength in that.  There is peace knowing you can fix things on your own, and do things like sell cars by yourself.  I had always been pretty independent prior to marriage, but I realized that in my marriage I had settled into depending on Jaren.  Mostly for emotional support.  But, gaining that independence again has helped me so much (current Korean adventure included), and it has helped our marriage. 

12.  Children follow your lead.  They are remarkably resilient!  If you choose to make each day an adventure, they follow your example.  In our home, we adopted the idea that Daddy was our hero, and that he went to work so that Mommy could stay home and play with them.  This is not to say that it wasn't hard on them having Daddy gone for so long.  It was.  But they were incredible.  They had so much joy!  

13.  Deployments do, in fact, end.  And reunions are the absolute best part of the whole ordeal.  My soldier was one of the lucky ones that returned unharmed.  I thank God for this every day.  My life has forever been changed by this experience... and I find myself thinking again of those dear souls who's soldier did not return.  Or did, but only to be so ravaged by PTSD, that they left this world and those that loved them.  

I hope that people realize that there are still brave men and women making terrific sacrifices for our country.  There are wives comforting crying children, that then have to comfort themselves.  There are husbands explaining to children why Mommy is gone for so long... trying to just keep it all together.  

And Afghanistan - it's still there.  It is still a war.  And although March 2014 was the first month on record since the war began that there were no American casualties, it is still a dangerous place to be.

Troops are still being deployed.  To my NC Dustoff family.  I'm thinking of you.  I'm praying for you already.  When your soldiers leave, I will continue to pray for your entire families.  To my friend's already in their second, third, fourth (etc) deployment... I'm thinking about you.  I love you.  I appreciate your sacrifice, and I admire your ability to cope.

We made it through one.  It was the hardest thing I've ever done.  But there are people that have done it so many more times.  You are my heros.  You are my strength.

In the end, I am glad that the Lord saw fit to have my path include the title of Army wife.  I have the most amazing husband in the world, and the most incredible family.  This is one adventure that makes being together so much sweeter.  It gives you confidence in the face of truly difficult challenges.  And still to this day, when Jaren and I are sitting in the still and quiet moments... I find myself leaning over, touching his face... saying "Your here."

Saturday, March 22, 2014

I LOVE Saturdays!

Oh, the joy that a Saturday can bring!  Today was AMAZING!  I began my day by sleeping in!  (Honestly, this might have been the best part of the day)... and thanks to my loving husband, I got to sleep all the way to 9 am.  When sleep deprivation is this consistent, a good night's rest is priceless.

Up next - Pedicures with some friends.  Jaren stayed home with the kids (really, aren't I the luckiest girl?), and I went out with my friends Crystal and Julie.  We were just going to go to the salon at the PX, but I couldn't be happier that they didn't have any available slots for us.  Because, this meant we got adventurous and went out into the vill.  Again, plans were foiled, and the place we knew of didn't have any openings, but we pressed on, and found this gem of a place called Honey Nails.

I knew it would be fun when I saw Dr Fish on the outside.  What is a Dr. Fish you ask?  Well... let me show you:

Basically, they eat all the dead skin off of your foot.  It tickles something fierce.

It was a fun moment of bonding over something totally foreign and different.  And I loved it.  And it was nice to have some adult conversation while pampering ourselves.  Julie and Crystal are my neighbors, and I feel so lucky and grateful to have been lead to such quality friends.  Blessed indeed.

After that, we headed over to the Katusa Snack bar for some Dolsot Bibimbap.  Basically, it's my go-to food here in Korea.  Bonus points for the best cucumber Kimchi that I have tasted thus far!
When I got home, Jaren and I packed up the girls and headed over to Sapgyoho Hamsang Park.  Ok, now this is an amazing find!  A fantastic park / playground for the kids!  They had everything!  Slides, skate ramps that the kids had taken over and were using for more slides, tire tube swings, rope swing crossings, pirate ships, and more.  Just an amazing place to play - and without all the bubble wrap you see in the States.  You could really play on it, and you could get hurt. I loved watching my girls test their limits, and see what they really could and could not do.  This is my kind of park.  I love watching Mila really be as fearless as she is.  

Alta plays in such an imaginative way.  She has all of these friends inside her head, and she makes up amazing stories to go along with her adventures.  It was just fun to watch.

And then we found the ships:  

All Aboard!!

Then we found Tanks!

 (Equipped with a toy gun for all the good little boys and girls to practice shooting their parents)... Yes, Alta immediately shot Dad.  What else was she supposed to do?  Oh, go put your head in this appropriate for kids cut-out?  Totally.

Yup, we are in South Korea folks!  

After that, we wandered past some street vendors.  Selling... oh the usual.  

Yeah, that octopus totally fell out on the street.  Like ya do, when your an octopus livin on the street.  
After that, we found ourselves in a mini carnaval... only it's permanent.  Jaren and I found ourselves smiling beyond what we thought was possible for not riding a single ride.  To watch your kids squeek with delight as they brave a ride - WAAAAY better than any ride I have ever been on.  The joy of watching your kids find joy is just the best thing I have experienced on this earth.  I love it.

Yup, it was an amazing day.  I feel blessed to live here.  Blessed to have the family I do.  I hope you had a good Saturday too!  XOXO