October 22, 2012

Tour of the U.S.S. Enterprise

Ted didn't plan for us to tour the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier for Arden and Charis's birthday, but when the opportunity presented itself for us to see a piece of history, he jumped all over it.  And since our tour date (October 18) happened to coincide with the birthday of two of our favorite people, well, all the better!

Children 5 and under were not allowed on the carrier, so we left Kenna, Lucan, and Zaden in the capable hands of "Miss Hannah."  Ted drove us in his little beater downtown Naples, where we found a parking garage and walked to the dock where we were to check in.  A boat ferried us out to the massive thing that is the U.S.S. Enterprise.  This particular ship, the 8th one to be named Enterprise (or "Big E"), is retiring after over 50 years of service.  How exciting to get to see it just before it heads home following its last deployment!

I don't remember all the stats, but I think the Enterprise carries close to 5,000 crew members (including the ship's company and the air wing).  It has 8 nuclear reactors and can carry almost 80 aircraft.  This thing is seriously huge.  I don't think the pictures we took even really come close to showing how massive it is!  The tour was long, but definitely an amazing experience--it held the kids' attention, and I think they actually can appreciate what a unique opportunity they had.  (I hope so, anyway!  And as a funny aside, we heard one of the sailors comment when he saw the kids, "Those are some lucky #$& kids...I would have killed for a chance to do this when I was their age!")

We walked around the hangar bay area, climbed up to the flight deck, climbed WAY up to the bridge, climbed back down to the flight deck, then took the elevator (which can carry two airplanes!) back down to the hangar.  Then more climbing to get back down to our little boat, where we gratefully rested our weary feet and backs.  It was definitely one of the most memorable birthdays I think Charis and Arden have had!  We fully intend to celebrate with friends and have a "real" party after we're settled in our house, but we did have a good lasagna dinner with Hannah and Tuba followed by cake and ice cream, and our friends the K family showed up with presents for the birthday kids, too, so I think it was a pretty special day for them!

October 15, 2012

In Faith...My Political Two Cents

I made a comment on a funny political cartoon gag a friend posted on Facebook, saying I was going to choose the "lesser of two evils."  I guess I should have expected comments afterward, especially considering the friend who posted the item to begin with likes to "stir the pot" as a Libertarian!  What DOES surprise me (at least somewhat--maybe nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to politics) is how some people actually consider any vote at all a vote for evil, and their conscious "demands" that they vote "none of the above" or else a candidate that isn't likely to win.

Well, OK.  Fine.  A lot of people died on American soil as well as abroad for our citizens to have the right to vote or, I suppose, to squander that vote.  But here is the conclusion I've come to.

I'm voting.  No matter what is on the ballot, Election Day is not about a religious institution.  I can't sit home and pout because no candidate shares my belief system...or even because he or she doesn't agree with my obviously honed political intuition on every single point.  Refusing to vote for anyone is ridiculous--it's making a "point" to a gnat.  No one will get it.

Would I prefer to vote for a born-again Christian, someone who loves and follows Jesus?  You bet I would. But I'll also be the first to admit that I voted for George W. Bush, and as much as I love the guy as a person, I'm not impressed with some of his political decisions.  Still, he was the man God allowed for such a time as that and all.

So in 2012 we have two candidates.  I personally believe the two-party system is ridiculously narrow considering the diversity we have in our country.  But it's what we're stuck with for now, and I for one don't feel called to take up That Cross and follow anyone anywhere.  If the winds of change blow in, hooray!  But I'm working with what I've got in front of me.

Obama or Romney?

Both claim to be Christian.  Both have a definition of "Christian" that is absolutely, completely NOT what I believe Jesus says is Christ-like.  Therefore, guess what?  Both are evil...in the same sense that we ALL are evil, depraved sinners in desperate need of a Savior.

But you know what?  Neither one is candidating to be the next pastor at any of the churches I've attended.  Neither is trying to oust the Pope and take over.  Neither is gearing up to make the presidency a religious instead of executive branch.  So really, their personal statements of faith should not be a huge factor when I weigh which one is best suited to the office of President of the United States of America.*

With that said...it is my OWN faith that dictates whom I deem to be the better candidate.

Some say the economy is the biggest issue in Election 2012.  I say my financial status is not going to matter when I am living in eternity with  my Savior.  (Believe me, though, I have some pretty strong opinions as to what is and is not working with the economy!)

As a follower of Jesus, my own faith and commitment lead me to the realization that I must vote for the things that weigh heaviest on Jesus' heart.  And when that becomes my voting perspective, things shift.  A lot.

(Before proceeding, remember:  both candidates are evil!  Don't forget that!  :-D)

  • One candidate describes himself as pro-choice.  One candidate describes himself as pro-life.
  • One candidate believes abortion is a perfectly valid option in all circumstances.  One candidate does not...though he does allow for some exceptions.  
  • One candidate believes government funding of abortion is a good thing.  One candidate does not.
  • One candidate opposes legislation banning partial-birth abortions.  One candidate does not.
  • One candidate touts his support for gay marriage.  One candidate does not.
  • One candidate wants to skirt the Defense of Marriage Act.  One candidate pledges to defend it.
I've read the Bible cover-to-cover at least 15 times and have studied it since I was small.  This much I know:  Jesus is unashamedly pro-life.  Jesus is also unashamedly pro-marriage, as in ONE man and ONE woman.  

You know what else?  Jesus loves everyone.  Every doctor who performs abortions.  Every gay man who has a different lover every month.  Every lesbian who is true to her partner for life.  Every married person shaken to the core by an affair.  Every child abandoned on the street.

Every candidate seeking office.

For me, the choice is clear.  Vote your heart, vote your morals, vote your conscience, vote whatever.

But please?  Just vote.

*I should note here that I am aware of the argument that if a person is deceived so greatly in the things in which he places his faith, shouldn't we be concerned about his judgment and discernment in other arenas?  Personally, I'm not entirely convinced of the validity of this argument as a basis for rejecting the candidate outright.  If a candidate were encouraging people to drink Kool-aid in a foreign country, I might be worried...seriously, though, I am trying to keep my argument fairly simple: we are not voting for a religious office.  Therefore I will exercise God-given discernment and choose accordingly.

October 13, 2012

Spotlight on...LUCAN

It's time to remember those precious things about our children that change all too quickly as they grow!  Today I want to record a few of the fun quirks and sayings from our little Lucan.  We have to focus on the positive aspects of being 3 years old...

He is still a Veggie Tale fiend.  
Evidence is as follows:
1. His lunchtime prayer a couple of days ago was this:  "Dear God, thank you for my cottage cheese and for my apples and for my crackers and for my yellow peppers and for my Larry the Cucumbers."

2. His playtime set-up today involved a replica of the wall of Jericho, complete with a row of "Percy Pea" soldiers on top, just like the French Peas in the Veggie Tale episode "Josh and the Big Wall."
After I took this picture he completed the line of "veggies" marching around the city so it was completely surrounded and then spent the next hour or so (no exaggeration!) singing his own version of the Veggie Tale song "Keep Walking," which changed the words slightly to "Keep walking...you'll knock down our wall," while knocking off various parts of the wall.  Of course!

He is loyal to his buddies.
Evidence is as follows:
Doof Dog has been slept on, cried on, sat on, snotted on, dragged around, kicked, squished, and literally has had his stuffing beaten out of him.  Lucan's little security habit involves reaching into this hole and fondling "Doof Guts" (as Ted dubbed the stuffing) to the extent that we find balls of fluff all. over. the. place.  It's not uncommon to hear during evening clean-up time, "Lucan, please come get Doof-Dog's guts and put them back inside him."  And Lucan will go trotting to the area of destruction and piece his friend back together.
This is one well-loved pooch who spills his guts for Lucan!
He falls asleep in weird positions/places during rare but needed naps.
Pictorial evidence as follows:
Oh yes, this child is sacked out.  Feet propped on a laundry basket.   Comfy, eh?!

UNDERNEATH the roll-away bed in the laundry room.

He hums instead of sings at bedtime.
The current song regimen includes 4 songs when I put him to bed and 5 songs when Dad puts him to bed.  The parent sings, and Lucan hums.  Woe be to the parent who skips a song.  The order is as follows:

  1. "Jesus Loves Me"
  2. "Jesus Loves the Little Children"
  3. "1-2-3 Jesus Loves Me"
  4. "You Are My Sunshine"

(Those are the 4 songs I sing to him.  The 5th came about, I believe, because when Ted returned from deployment and attempted to figure out this routine, Lucan kept asking him to sing the "Shine" song.  Which is OBVIOUSLY song number 4, but if you have spent the last year in Kandahar, this could be a bit difficult to figure out, since communicating with 3-year-olds can be about like trying to have a conversation with a cat.)

     5.  "Shine" by The Newsboys, chorus only, sung by Ted, because THAT makes sense, and Lucan approves this message.

He hugs with an "mmmmmm" sound effect.  
All the time.  Every single hug.  *Melt*
(This can be a bit amusing when he's coming off a tantrum, sobbing away, and being told to go give Mommy a hug good night.)

Other favorites include "Buzz Lightning Year," tunnels (going through them on drives and building them with toys), his buddy Josiah, our friends Ms. Hannah and Mr. Tuba, building robots, and Superman.  He has Superman pajamas and tells us often that he wants to fly like Superman.  When he told me that this morning, I agreed that it would be very fun to fly like Superman, and he got this brilliant idea:

"Mommy, YOU wear Superman jammies!"

I'm sure Ted would be thrilled. ;-)

Update on the House Saga

A lot has happened this week!  This update is particularly for my non-Facebook friends, although my FB friends may very well need a tutorial on what's been going on around here because it got pretty complex, ha!

Let's start from the very beginning...a very good place to start.

So, we are allotted 60 days to stay in temporary facilities on base.  We are encouraged--and expected--to be as proactive as possible in finding a place to live so that we can be settled before those 60 days are up.

We decided on "our" house on Day 16 (September 1), although Ted first saw it on Day 11.  This is about the only part of the process that we really have any control over.  From here on out, all the dates/events are scheduled by the housing office.

The PRE-contract meeting was Day 47 (October 2).

The inspection was Day 54 (October 9).  Praise the Lord, the house passed the first time!  This is significant, because a contract signing date cannot be scheduled until everything is up to snuff.

The contract signing date has been scheduled for Day 64 (October 19).

We obviously cannot move in until after we sign a contract and get keys to the house--so this puts us over our 60 days of TLA.

The rules stipulate that at 60 days (which for us is next Monday the 15th), unless you have special authorization to extend TLA, you must find temporary living arrangements.

Knowing that we were pushing the limits (because the housing office apparently can't schedule anything in a timely manner), Ted has been working hard to contact the appropriate people, fill out paperwork, get signatures, etc., so that when push comes to shove, we would not have to pack up 8 people and a significant amount of belongings and move into...somewhere??...for a week or so.

Given our situation, you would think it would be intuitive to simply sign a waiver to let our family stay put, particularly since the building in which we have been assigned temporary quarters is due for renovations and no one will be put in here when we leave!

But no...that's not how the agents at the housing office roll!  Ted was given a list of HOTELS that were recommended.  For a moment, put aside the thought of 8 people in a hotel room for a week...what is so appalling to me is that their RECOMMENDATIONS included hotels on a strip known for prostitution activity; basically, that is why those hotels were built. :-(  (I could go off on another soap box here about the horrific truths of the human trafficking industry, but I'll save that for another day.)

Why was our request for a TLA extension being denied?  We decided an in-person visit to the housing office was in order.  Thank goodness Ted went in!  A face-to-face meeting revealed that even though Ted CLEARLY marked on his paperwork that he has 6 children, the man dealing with our case was somehow "overlooking" that, insisting that we get a hotel because Ted "just" had a wife.  When Ted pointed out what was right in front of his face, the man looked guilty and quickly began to backtrack.  But of course, there was "nothing" he could do about it...

Ted came home rather steamed, as was I when I heard the story.  We decided an Interactive Customer Evaluation (ICE form) was in order, and Ted spent a considerable amount of time carefully wording constructive criticism and giving what I think are very good suggestions to improve the process of placing people into housing in the time period they have set out for us.

Lo and behold, the next day Ted's paperwork was being pushed through to the base commander for a signature, and I got a call from the front desk saying we had been approved to stay through October 22, which is when we expect to take delivery of our household goods IN OUR NEW HOME!!

October 07, 2012


On October 6 Alex Trebek and the "Clue Crew" from the Jeopardy! game show held a day of tryouts here at the Naples Support Site.  When I first read about the event, I immediately thought of how great of a contestant Ted would be, since he is a self-proclaimed "fountain of useless trivia," LOL.  He just has a passion for all things historical and remembers everything he reads (which is what makes him so great at his job!).  So we planned to attend the 9-11 a.m. event.

Ted was through with the pre-test before we even got started with the fun "Brain Bust" competition, which was a mock set-up of the game show complete with microphones, buzzers, and a computerized screen shot with various categories.  It was all for fun, so parents were allowed to help their children.  Kenna, Tobin, and Arden competed in the first round.  After playing for awhile, they had the "contestants" pick prizes from a table (caps, t-shirts, pens, etc.).  Since we had skipped the photo-op line to get a head start on the other activities, we went back to wait to get our picture taken with Alex Trebek.  The line was still fairly long, so Ted encouraged me to go back and take the preliminary test as well.  He had received the "pink slip" which meant he had passed the first round.

So I went ahead and took the 10-question test and passed as well.  They don't tell you anything--not how many you got correct, nor what their threshold is.  But I know I got at least 2 wrong!  I'm pretty confident about the others, so who knows.  Anyway, we got our picture taken with Alex (yes, there's an extra kid in the photo--we were babysitting Lucan's friend Josiah since his parents were with the filming crew for House Hunters International!).  Then the kids wanted to do the Brain Bust again, so we went back for some more rounds.  It was way fun!

Friends of ours were willing and able to watch the kiddos for us so we could return at 4 p.m. to take the longer written test.  We had some fun with various categories before beginning the exam, which is 50 questions.  The questions are set up on the computer, read aloud, with 8 seconds pause in between each one.  We wrote the answers down on our answer page.  Well, I was breezing along, only missing 2 of the first 30 questions, when something happened at question #30 and the whole thing shut down.  They had to collect our answer sheets and have us start over with a second test--boo!

As you might guess, the second test was way harder than the first, and I wasn't the only one to think so, LOL!  But it was God-ordained, because Ted struggled with a few of the questions on the first test and did great on the second one!  He was one of only 5 who passed that portion.  (There were 40 of us who made it to the written test round.)  While we were waiting for the tests to be graded, Alex Trebek appeared and chatted with us awhile, answering questions and looking generally tired and jet-lagged, but still with a dry sense of humor!

We flunkies had to leave after they announced the names, so I squeezed Ted and wished him the best and headed out to find the kids and share the good news.  Ted and the others stayed behind to do some mock rounds and be interviewed--of course they look for people who aren't going to freeze on camera, etc.

So here's the scoop:  The crew is going to 4 European bases searching for military members for a special week in March.  Spouses were allowed to take the test as well--if by chance I had passed, I would have been put into their regular pool of contenders.  The crew will choose 12 military members to compete during the military week competition; those who aren't chosen for that week will still be eligible for regular shows.  They keep the names in the file for 18 months--so literally anytime in the next year and a half any of these guys could be called up!  (And I do say "guys" because all 5 who made it here were male!  There were only a handful of women at the written testing.)

If Ted is one of the 12 chosen for Military Week, he will be flown to the States for the filming in March.  Likely his mom and possibly brother or other family members from the States would travel out to encourage and support him, but it wouldn't be easy or practical for me to go...depending on how long of a winning streak someone gets on, you just don't know how long you'd be committed!

So, the bottom line is, Ted has done all he can do, and it's out of our hands now and in God's...which is the perfect place to leave things. :-)  Whatever happens, it was a very fun experience, and we were grateful for the opportunity to have some fun together as a family and forget for awhile the stress of living in TLA and waiting for our house to be ready!

Sorry for the blur. :-(  Trying to get one last photo in and the camera wasn't cooperating!

October 04, 2012

Stomping Through the Vineyard

We wasted no time getting out as a family after our Suburban arrived last week!  Saturday morning we piled into the truck and headed south to meet up with Nello, an Italian who works for Navy housing and owns a vineyard nearby.  Our friends Hannah and Tuba (her husband plays tuba in the Navy band--and yes, that's his nickname!) told us about a grape picking and stomping event, and it sounded like fun!

There were maybe 30 people altogether, including children.  We arrived at the property around 9:45 or so and hiked into the vineyard itself, where we had a snack of some sweet bread and juice before being handed the clippers and given instructions as to how and where to pick.  Then they turned us loose to fill up crates!  We picked for almost 2 hours, and everyone had something to do: the older ones clipped, the younger ones threw the bunches into the crates, and Zaden kept Daddy company in the baby backpack. :-)

Just at the point we were deciding that the fun was wearing off, it was time to clean up for lunch.  They had set up tables in the vineyard under a beautiful walkway, with bunches of grapes woven through the trellis.  Musicians serenaded us as we ate some delicious Italian food (well, the grown-ups got Italian food--the kids had hot dogs and British-style "chips") and sampled wine.  The kids weren't impressed with the wine, LOL.  I'm not a fan either, I have to admit.  It sounds so romantic to drink wine, but I just have never found any that I can stomach!  Still, Ted and I shared a glass, so I can say I've had Italian wine in an Italian vineyard where I've picked Italian grapes!

After we were stuffed, it was time to stomp!  They had two big wooden buckets set up for the stomping.  Mostly the kids were the ones who wanted to try it, but a few adults did as well.  Ted and I did not--more because it looked like a pain to get our feet washed before and after and then squeeze back into our dirty, dusty socks and shoes!

All in all, it was a very fun way to spend a Saturday morning and afternoon!  We came home and crashed for the afternoon, and then Hannah and Tuba came over for pizza and a game of Settlers of Catan.  Woohoo for new Catan friends!

October 03, 2012


Last Friday at JFC (Joint Force Command), where Ted works, the Germans threw a big Oktoberfest event.  I think the last Oktoberfest we attended as a family was in 2009, shortly after we moved back to Dayton.  I remember it vividly...the yummy catered food, the loud music, the I'm-getting-the-swine-flu aches...oh, yes, it was a great time.  (Our whole family was floored by that flu.  Ugh.)

So we were excited to attend a "real" event put on by real Germans, ha!  Seriously, they flew in the food, beer, AND musicians from Germany.  The only bad thing about being there during the day was the heat.  Even though we were in a huge tent (shade makes a big difference here), there was very little breeze.  Still, the food was great, and the kids were pretty game to try the various options: big soft pretzels, sausages and sauerkraut, schnitzel, and potato salad.  OK, actually I'm the only one who ate the potato salad.

Ted got a stein!  

Zaden loved the sauerkraut!  (I actually did, too!)

The girls made masks in the kids' craft area.

Kenna and the older boys enjoyed the bounce house--Lucan was a little overwhelmed.

Zaden was curious about that smell in the mug!

The admiral had a bit of difficulty pounding in the ceremonial tap but finally got it!

The band!  Oom-pah-pah!

More crafts!

Current NATO headquarters
And, especially for my dad, some video of the music from the day.  Sorry for the shaky video--we're still learning how to effectively use our new camera!