Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas 2012

I know I did more than my fair share of complaining about the long drive, but I am so glad we made it up here this year.  I think mostly I was complaining about it potentially not even being worthwhile.  Tim had originally told me he wanted to stay three days and I was like, "Are you crazy?"  But we are here for about a week and a half, which is a nice long time.  We would have made the most of it on our own in North Carolina, but this has been a wonderful Christmas in New England.  Tim and I are so blessed to be spending it together, and to be in the place where he was born and raised, surrounded by family.  It is frightfully cold and we have been eating way too much junk food, but we are all enjoying ourselves immensely.  We've made so many great memories.

Lucky for us, our Elf on the Shelf Chippy brought us a nice new camera from Santa before we left, so we could take lots of good pictures.

The drive went well.  We were able to adhere to Tim's timeline, arriving maybe a half hour behind schedule due to traffic.  In order to do this, we only stopped to get gas and go to the bathroom, eating the snacks and sandwiches we had in the cooler.  Sometimes we didn't even stop for the bathroom.  At one point we were in the middle of three lanes in bumper to bumper traffic, maybe in Connecticut, when we heard a little voice say, "I need to use the potty."  We were like, "Oh no.."  I decided to break the law and have the girls use the potty-to-go in the back.  You do what you gotta do!

Tim's parents and sisters were so happy to see us.  I'm glad we didn't give his mom and dad a heart attack when we sneaked into their house the night we arrived.  We've taken over Karen's house again.  She was surprised to hear that we've actually unpacked and put our clothes in the  drawers upstairs.  She said, "Wow, you guys have moved in."  We don't like living out of bags, and Tim is very OCD about his stuff being organized.

Here are some highlights of the last several days:

-- Friday night pizza at Tim's parents', followed by an impromptu Christmas talent show.  Natalie sang a Christmas song from a Disney show called Good Luck, Charlie.  She sang it in such a heartfelt way, with such dramatic expressions and gestures, that all the grown-ups in attendance didn't know whether to giggle or cry.  She also worked the audience, taking one person's hand, pressing her cheek against another's, and one time hugging Delaney while Delaney froze like a deer in headlights.  Natalie's shows are a frequent occurrence at every family gathering.  She definitely has a future in the performing arts.
I was surprised to see Delaney take the stage next.  She sang a song she'd learned at school that had a southern flavor, called "Way Down in Bethlehem."  It made me smile, especially when she got to the last verse when she clapped her hands and stomped her feet completely out of rhythm as she sang, "They named the baby Jesus, Oh my Lord.."  Then she, Natalie, and Annie sang Christmas carols together.  
The older girls who are looking and acting more like adolescents every time we see them, did their best to stay away from the spotlight and the camera.  Timmy just drifted around from person to person, charming everyone with that silly grin of his, and enjoying all the attention.

-- Crafting, eating pizza, and watching Disney movies at Auntie Karen's.  The older girls put together some impressive foam gingerbread houses, and the younger ones had fun decorating Christmas trees with glitter glue and stickers.  Karen had warned Tim and me that it was going to be absolute chaos, but we marveled at  how calm and well-behaved everyone was.  We attributed it to the atmosphere of Karen's house, and the girls' knowledge of her expectations and what they can get away with.
-- B Family Christmas celebration on the 23rd.  There was lots of presents, food, more Christmas shows, a dance party, more food..
This picture, as well as the next four that follow, were taken with Kathy and Brett's fancy new Canon DSLR camera that Tim is jealous of.  It is very nice, but I like our little point-and-shoot.  Maybe one day we'll have both.
B cousins left to right: Annie (3), Juliana (10), Natalie (turns 4 tomorrow, I believe), Delaney (5), Timmy (17 months), Alexa (8), Sofia (8)
-- Christmas Eve.  We went to 4 p.m. Mass with Tim's parents and sister Karen.  Then we came back and took some pictures before heading to Aunt Jayne's house.  It was another late night like last year, but for some reason it didn't feel as long.  Maybe it was because last year Timmy was still an infant and waking up at night.  Being well rested makes a big difference and I am so grateful to have good little sleepers.
Timmy and his second cousin Kaden both sporting the outfits that Grandma, a.k.a. Auntie Carolyn got them
One of many yummy desserts.  My favorite was a Rice Crispie treat wreath.  Imagine my delight when Aunt Jayne gave us one of our very own to take home!
Tim's sister Kathy -- Sofia and Natalie's mom
Everybody participates in Christmas carols, and everyone has the words, thanks to the song books printed in 1992 and dedicated to "Auntie Carolyn."  Do not be caught having a private conversation while the carols are being sung.
There are six siblings on Tim's mom's side.  The family is huge and the last few years have seen a baby boom.
-- Christmas morning.  
-- The day after Christmas was a busy day.  In the morning the kids and I visited with friends down the street.  When we lived here, we lived in the same development as Karen, and these friends live in condo between Karen's and our old one.  The kids did not cooperate for pictures, little boogers.  In the afternoon, the girls went with Tim, their aunties Karen and Sam, cousins Juliana and Alexa, and Grandma, to go ice skating.  After ice skating they went to Clay Time, one of those ceramics painting places.  Timmy and I stayed back so he could have a nap.  
It was the first time ever ice skating for our girls.  They did pretty well, I  was told.
This evening, after we get the kids to bed, Tim and I will go to the house of some dear old friends for a get-together.  Then tomorrow it will be pack, pack, pack for the trip home early Sunday morning.  We are going to miss everybody so much, but right now I am just so happy and thankful for the great time we've had.  I'm just going to bask in that for awhile and try not to think too much about January yet.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

You might be married to a Marine if..

.. your holiday and travel plans look like this:

 Orientation.  We are currently located in New Bern, NC.  We have the Neuse River and Atlantic Ocean to our east, and the Croatan National Forest to our west and south.  Massachusetts is approximately 800 miles to our north, northeast.  Interstate 95 is the major line of communication.

Situation. Each year, families gather to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Since Tim and Rachael have been together, Christmas has been celebrated by the B. Family in different locations.  Last year, Rachael and the kids celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas in Massachusetts while Tim was on a ship.  This year our intent all along was to travel to see Tim's side of the family for Christmas, but then we got news that Tim was deploying in January.  We decided we'd stay here so that we could have a peaceful, travel-free holiday before his departure.  Tim's parents and sister discussed plans to come visit us, but didn't book flights.  Then after further discussion we decided that we had plenty of time to fit the trip in after all.  A few weeks after that Tim found out he'd be leaving early instead of mid - January, and again we broke the news that we would not be going anywhere for Christmas.  Then Tim learned he'd be leaving in middle January once again, but by that time it was too late for his family to make plans to visit us.  At this time they (with the exception of Tim's sister Karen) believe we are going to spend Christmas in an as-yet-undetermined vacation spot within a few hours of home.

Mission.  At 0430 on 19 December 2012, The B clan will pack into their Chevrolet Traverse in order to travel the 800 miles to celebrate the Christmas holidays in Massachusetts.
                Commander's Intent.
                                Purpose—To surprise Tim’s mother, reaffirm family cohesion during the holiday season, and give the kids a great childhood memory.
        Method—Traveling by vehicle and leveraging family for berthing.           
                                Endstate-- To enjoy the Christmas holiday with family and friends.
Concept of Operations.
                                a.  To leave bright and early on 19 December 2012 in a fully loaded Chevrolet Traverse, begin heading north and hope for the best.
                                b.  Tasks.
                                     1. Tim:  Ensure that vehicle is loaded with family's gear and gas tank is full no later than (NLT) 1800 on 18 December 2012.
                                     2. Rachael:
                                 a.  Ensure that each child has enough gear and clothes packed for 1 week NLT 18 December 2012.
                                 b.  Ensure that each child has at least (1) fancy outfit for midnight Mass (midnight Mass, I hope he's kidding) on 24 December.
                                 c.  Ensure that all Christmas presents are staged in the garage by 1800 on 18 December.
                                     3. Delaney:
                                             a. Ensure that your backpack has a few of your favorite toys and stuffed animals.
                                             b. Ensure that you are in bed at 1900 on 18 December 2012.
                                     4. Annalise:
                                             a. Ensure that your backpack has a few of your favorite toys and stuffed animals NLT 1800, 18 December 2012.
                                             b. Ensure that you are in bed at 1900 on 18 December 2012.
                                     5. Timothy:  Ensure that you are in bed at 1900 on 18 December 2012.

 Enemy.  Other drivers, especially in and around New Jersey, possible construction and heavy traffic as we drive through heavily populated areas along the east coast.  Empty stomachs and full bladders.  Liberal loonies that live in Massachusetts.

Admin and Logistics.
                1.  Admin.
         a.  All B. Family personnel will be in attendance and seated according to the seating chart.
         b.  Schedule of Events:
                          0400       Reveille
              0430       Depart New Bern
              1100       Washington D.C.
              1500       George Washington Bridge
              1900       Grafton, MA

                2.  Logistics—All equipment will be staged and ready to go by 1800 on 18 December 2012. 

Command and Signal.
                Tim is the Officer in Charge for this evolution, and will be located in the driver's seat of the vehicle.  The one truly in charge, Rachael, will be located in the front passenger seat and will take over driving when OIC wants to catch flies.
                We will use voice commands.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A tough week

There is this exercise going on that has required Tim to work from about 11 to 2 or 2:30 in the morning so that he can be there to present one slide of a PowerPoint brief at 1 in the morning.  This is in addition to a full workday.  Starting last Sunday night he's been leaving for work about an hour after I go to bed, and getting back home and going to bed around 3.  I get up at 6, try not to let the kids make too much noise as I get them ready for the day, so he might be able to sleep until 7:30 or 8.  Then he heads to work around 9 or 9:30 and comes home at some point in the afternoon.  Then he might lay on the floor and let the kids jump all over him until he passes out.  Then he is awake again for a few hours in late evening, he brews some coffee, and we watch a few shows until it's time for me to go to bed and we start this whole process again.  This is the way it's going to be until December 14, I believe.

I feel so guilty going to bed at 10, with my eyelids so heavy, barely able to brush and floss before I fall into our comfy bed.  I wish I could stay up and keep him company until the minute he leaves the house, but even though I'm getting a full night's rest, I'm still so tired from my days.  My body is programmed to sleep from 10 to 6.  I can't even imagine having to be working late at night until the wee hours of the morning, when my brain is shutting down.  I don't know if there's enough caffeine in the world to jumpstart me when it's time for bed.

It's been a challenge to be doing without the little things that Tim does that I've grown used to.  I've been spoiled.  The sight of the full dishwasher in the morning catches me off guard now, as does the empty coffeepot.  But I'll get used to that when he deploys.  What's really hard is keeping the kids' noise down to even a low roar when he's either on the couch or on our bed sawing logs in the middle of the day.  At least I won't have to do this for long.  I feel for people who live like this all the time.

Now I'm going to tell you about how week one of this new routine went.

Throughout most of the week I managed to stay upbeat.  I got our Christmas shopping done, most of it online, and now there's nothing to do but wait and fret and hope everything gets here on time so I can wrap and mail it all.  I did my classes at the Y.  I made this coming week's dinner menu on Thursday night and took Annie and Timmy to the commissary on Friday.  Tim usually takes the kids on Saturday.  I kept up with the laundry for the most part and kept the house in some semblance of order.  I checked a lot of items off my to-do list.  I did not nap.  I looked forward to the weekend when Tim would at least get partial time off.  He would still be doing his middle of the night shifts but wouldn't have to go in during the day.

Then on Saturday morning I woke up alone and saw that I had an email from Tim with the subject line, "not getting home any time soon."  I was like, 'You've got to be kidding me.'  He had another brief to do at 8 in the morning, and had to put together slides for that.  He said he'd have to do it all again on Sunday too.  My heart sank.  We'd already spent that whole week only getting to spend time with him (awake time) two hours  a day.  Now we were being robbed of the weekend.  And I felt so bad for Tim who would end up being up nearly 24 hours.

I decided I would take the kids to the Aquarium.  The weather was beautiful and I'd been looking forward to going again anyway.  The Aquarium is about 50 minutes away from us, so I hoped to be gone about four hours when all was said and done.  We left soon after he got home that morning.  The kids were on their best behavior.  I had given them a pep-talk in the car and promised them a movie night if they were good.  They are pretty good anyway on these kinds of outings.  We had a nice time.  But even after exploring the outdoor part of it for awhile (I think it was too cold to do that last time we went), sitting down for a snack, and going into the gift shop so the girls could admire all the cute stuffed fishies and turtles, we were still only gone three hours total.  We had as quiet of a lunch as possible (not really quiet at all!) when we got home, and I put them down for naps.

After naptime, my plan was to hurry the kids out to Harris Teeter to get some fresh fruit and something to make for dinner, but Tim emerged from our bedroom and said he'd come with us too.  It was so nice having that small part of Saturday still feel like normal.  I missed his company and I know the kids did too.  We brought home sushi and turned on Barbie in the Nutracker.  Since it was getting late, the promised movie night had to be concurrent with dinner.  Delaney tried a California roll and a tuna roll, and liked both.  Tim teased me, saying, "She holds her chopsticks the same way you used to."

This morning was intense.  We have three Mass times to choose from:  Saturday at 5 p.m. (that's the one we usually go to), Sunday at 8 a.m., and Sunday at 11 a.m.  They are all every bit of an hour and 15 minutes long.  Delaney has to attend Faith Formation from 9:30 to 10:45 on Sunday as well.  I thought I'd give 8 a.m. a try so that Delaney wouldn't have to go to Mass right after being at Faith Formation.  I thought this would be good practice for doing this by myself once Tim leaves.  I've been racking my brain trying to think of how I'm going to keep this family in regular Mass attendance for those seven months.  Saturday night is hard even with Tim and I working as a team.  We've got to feed the kids dinner at 4 so we can get them bathed and in bed by 7, and Timmy is just impossible that late in the day.  I always end up in the lobby with him, and Tim sits with the girls in the pew.  Neither of them has earned a star for good behavior at church on their four-week-old chore charts, but they are manageable.

This morning I was ready to go.  I was up at 6, I had my coffee, I had the kids' outfits picked out the night before, and I was like, 'I can do this.'  We left the house on time and we were already off to a good start.  I gave the girls another pep talk, saying, "I need you guys to be good for me, and help me with Timmy.  You want to earn that star, right?"

It was such a goat rope.  I left the pew in defeat several minutes before the opening hymn.  In the lobby I wrangled Timmy, who was determined to escape to the far reaches of the spacious lobby and press every handicap button (gaining him entrance to the bathrooms, the outdoors, or the middle of church, to his everlasting wonder and amusement).  The girls rolled over and under the bench I told them to stay on, sprawled this way and that, and kept telling me they were thirsty or had to go to the bathroom.  They always behave worse in the lobby than they do in a pew.  They feel almost like they have a license to because they're in the 'anything goes' room.  My whispered threats did nothing to curb the arguing and outbursts of two energetic little girls.  Praying was out of the question.  All I did was scold the girls and corral Timmy the entire time.  By the time I dropped Delaney off at Faith Formation, I had a headache.

In the car on the way to retail therapy Target I thought, I can't do this every Sunday.  I can NOT do this every Sunday.  I kept going over my options.  Saturday night:  bad.  Timmy is impossible that time of day and the girls aren't much better.  Early Sunday morning:  worse.  Because when Mass is over and I'm mad and ready to just take them home, I have to kill time with the two younger kids while Delaney's at Faith Formation.  The morning lasts forever.  Late Sunday morning:  unthinkable.  There is a nursery during the 11:00 that I could leave Timmy at, and that would help.  But the idea of being there from 11 to 12:15, and then having tired kids who are ready for a nap but still have to eat lunch?  (Not to mention "Hungry Rachael", who rears her ugly head every day at around noon if she hasn't already been fed, and I've been told she is quite scary to be around.)  Not going to happen.

After picking Delaney up at 10:45 and heading home, I was ready to cry just thinking about it.  I want so badly for this to remain a part of our life even when Tim's away.  The last time he deployed the only time I attended Mass was when a relative visited.  And it was during one of those times that a two-year-old Annie made her infamous lap around the church right after the homily, too quick for Delaney, or a hugely-pregnant me, or my father-in-law to catch.  That definitely didn't make me want to start attending alone with them.  But I really thought it could be different this time because the girls are older and much better listeners than they were, so it would just be the toddler I have to worry about.

I came in the door around 11, and Tim got home shortly after.  The house was in shambles, and I felt so discouraged and overwhelmed about everything.  Like, how in the world am I going to get through another deployment?  Everything is falling apart already.   He asked me how I was doing, and all I could manage was, "Alright, I guess."  I'd survived.  That was about it.

After I described how the morning had gone, Tim gave me another option to consider:  "What if you just left Timmy at Play Date and went on Saturday night?"  After I thought about it a moment, I immediately brightened.  I finally had another Mass option besides bad, worse and unthinkable.  This is the best solution. It will still involve a lot of effort, but with Timmy out of the equation I think Saturday night Mass will be very doable.  Then on Sunday morning, we just have to bring Delaney to Faith Formation and kill an hour and 15 minutes.  We divide up church events so that we don't have one long, harrowing morning in which I acquire five new gray hairs.  That is one thing that I can feel better about as I prepare to send Tim off again.

I believe I've rambled on long enough, so I will have to abruptly end here.  Here goes another week like the one before.  Hurry up, Friday!