Thursday, December 31, 2015

Christmas Letter 2015 (Dec 14-Jun 15)

Every year, there is this pressure to summarize the events of the past 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days...into bullet points, fit it onto just one page, and print this out for all of our closest friends and family to know the important events in our lives.  How does one do that?  Personally, I always feel as if I am leaving HUGE parts of our lives on the cutting-room floor...those pieces are important, but not news-worthy, apparently.

This year, there have been a LOT of changes, and I really hate leaving out parts that are important.  So, I'm going to do things a bit differently.  I'm going to summarize by month, starting with last December, and moving forward, ending with the current December...and it probably will NOT fit on one page.  Ready?  It's been quite a ride!

Packing it up!
Last December saw movers come to our house in Virginia Beach and pack up all of our belongings (well, most of them...we apparently left a few! Hope the new owners enjoy the steam cleaner and yard tools!).  There was also the drama that ensued when Jon refused to leave in the middle of his Senior year, and instead moved in with a family from the school to finish the school year.  Then we packed the rest of everyone (2 adults, 4 children, 1 Shih tzu, a Harley Davidson, and clothes) into our two vehicles (or on the trailer behind my truck, in the case of the Harley), and drove to Massachusetts.  In the middle of a nor'easter.  We arrived on December
Unpacking in MA
10th, and our household goods arrived the next day (11th)...and Frances arrived the day after that (12th).  Two days later, we visited our new church for the first time, and were HOOKED.  The rest of the month included a musical in Boston, sight-seeing along the Minute Man trail, admiring the girth of the squirrels in the neighborhood, and LOTS and LOTS of unpacking...also, getting the kids into school, getting the dog registered on base, getting the cars registered and tagged and insured in MA, Jason reporting to work, decorating for
Paul Revere capture site
Christmas (minimal!), and experiencing the first of what would turn out to be a VERY snowy winter.

We rang in the New Year very quietly, at home, by going to bed early.  We were EXHAUSTED.  It wasn't long before the snow started.  Justin
got snow for his birthday.  Before long, there was a LOT more.  We had *JUST* moved from Virginia Beach...the largest resort city in the world, where we had lived for SEVEN years.  We had TWO pairs of snow for Jason and one for me.  The kids had LONG-since outgrown theirs.  To say we were unprepared for snow was to vastly understate the situation in which we found ourselves.  We shared those boots...mostly mine, since Jason's were lace-up boots, and fit no-one else.  The kids' coats were woefully
inadequate.  We had no snow equipment.  We got into town after most of the winter gear was already sold out.  And then the blizzard warnings started.... Fortunately, Frances had flown back to South Carolina to finish her Junior year at Columbia International University before the weather got bad.  The weekend of January 24-25 saw our first
Leah's art for the Chorus t-shirts
blizzard.  We were able to find ONE snow shovel, and we learned how amazing our new neighbors were...especially the one with the snow blower!!  Over the next while, we entertained ourselves with coloring, and Legos, and lots of snow-watching.

We also celebrated Justin's 15th birthday in January, with dinner and a cake.  Happy 15th birthday, Justin!!


February was marked by a snowstorm EVERY SINGLE weekend, and the kids being off of school EVERY SINGLE Monday, for the WHOLE month.  It was quite an introduction to winter in New England!!

We spent a lot of quiet time as a family, coloring and playing with Legos, and cooking, and baking, and watching the Super Bowl.  It was a challenge to maintain our New Years' resolutions of a healthier diet with all of the extra time and yummy food!

Jason and I got to go out and celebrate my birthday and Valentine's day with dinner, and a trip to a sporting good store to find some BOOTS!!  Warm and dry....and my toes were HAPPY!!  (He also sent me beautiful flowers!  He did good!)

The rest of February ushered in MORE SNOW.  The pictures I have marked, from February 12th, noted that we were about at the 70-inch mark.  After being in Virginia for 7 years, and seeing less than 12 inches of snow each year, this was a *bit* overwhelming to all of us.

MARCH, 2015

In March, Justin was in the school's Spring Musical, Shrek the Musical.  Leah was involved with something through school, called Project Explore.  She was able to make weekly trips to the vocational high school, and do metal working, some dentistry, baking, computer programing, and accounting.

March also ushered in the first band concert for Heather and Justin at their high school, where the two of them make up about 5% of the whole band.  They played well, and Mom and Dad got to experience an atmosphere that was VERY different from other schools our children have attended.

We celebrated Leah's birthday with a party that included some wonderful new friends, some of whom have already moved, which makes all of us sad.  Happy 13th Birthday, Leah!!

APRIL, 2015

April was a month of settling-in.  The weather was getting nicer, the snow was starting to melt, and I (Laura) was getting the house in a more-livable condition.  There were fewer boxes sitting around, and the kids were busy with school and new-found friends and activities.

The middle school had Spirit Week, and one of those days was Throwback Thursday, with an emphasis on the 70s and 80s.  I was able to dig out some leg warmers, and the two youngest had fun!

We also celebrated Jon's 19th birthday long-distance...we sure miss him, A LOT!!  He was (is) still in Virginia Beach, finishing his senior year in high school, buying a car, and working two jobs.

Jason celebrated his birthday at the beginning of the month, and Jon's birthday at the end of the month rounded out our six months of family "birthday season".

MAY, 2015
May was a month of proms. Heather went to two different proms, at two different schools, and Jon went to prom in Virginia.

Heather's boyfriend was a Senior at a neighboring high school, and he invited Heather to go with him.

Heather's Junior Prom also happened in May, and she went with a group of friends, and had a fabulous time!

Jon took a friend who had to drop out of school due to having Lyme disease...we are so proud of his giving nature and loyalty to friends!

JUNE, 2015
In June, Jason and I traveled to Virginia for Jon's high school graduation.  I also did CPR/First Aid training in preparation for working at summer camp.  Everyone else finished up their school years, and Frances went to Georgia to start her summer internship working with refugees outside of Atlanta.

Heather's friend from Virginia visited, and they went to Six Flags, and got Batman capes.    I think Chewy wore it well!!

The next week, we were on the road again, headed to South Carolina for the week of July 4th.

So long, 2015.

2015 has been a hard year.

I have lost 4 friends and my grandmother, and another friend may not last into the New Year.

It has been a year of relational stress with children.

It has been a year of financial stress, without my finding a job, and living in a place with a MUCH higher cost of living.  

It has been a year of tough transitions, from resort-city living to New England; from knowing where things and people were to being lost; from knowing where I fit to not fitting at all; from homeowners to on-base living; from church leaders to unknowns in a huge church.

It has been a year of disappointments, and sadness, and mourning, and loss.

It has also been a year with a graduation, visits with friends and family, and new friends made.

Here's hoping and praying that 2016 will be the year of restoration, of joy, of encouragement, of healing, of growth, overcoming.

So long, 2015.  I am NOT going to miss you.  Not one bit.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Story of a Military Family (Chapter 4)

The trip from Montana to Virginia Beach was taken in late November, before the snow really started, and before Thanksgiving, so we were able to take our time, and enjoy some visits with friends along the way.

Our first stop on the trip was in Fargo, North Dakota, with some long-time friends.  We were able to spend 24 hours with the Wiegrefe family, bowling, and hanging out, and sleeping in real beds!

The next leg of the journey took us through South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa (cue the creepy music...there's some pretty strange places there!), Missouri, and to our next stop, at another friends' house in Tennessee.  Again, we spent 24 hours with these friends, catching up on the five years since we had seen them in Texas, and resting up for the next leg of the journey.

The next day, we arrived in South Carolina, and were able to spend the week with family, both at Jason's parents' house in Winnsboro, and also with my family in Montreat, North Carolina.  It was a very welcome time, as we had been unable to spend vacations with family many times in the past 6 years.

The morning after Thanksgiving, we left, caravaning with a friend, and drove into Virginia Beach for the first time.  Our first stop was the housing office, where we were able to pick up keys to our new home, and the next day our household goods were delivered.

We were in housing there for three years.  I started blogging there.  I started doing medical transcription there.  My mother had triple by-pass surgery while we lived there (in December, 2007, while Jason was back in Montana, finishing up there).  One son was beat up while we lived there (by 5 kids who were never punished...or even really identified.  The school said "military families often like to take care of it themselves", but couldn't tell me who the kids were..except that the police officer finally verified that they were all attending the school illegally, and didn't live in the neighborhood.).  We made a ton of friends there.  We lived a lot of life there.

And then we bought a house.  40 minutes across town, but still in Virginia Beach.

But first....there were some other changes....

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Story of a Military Family (Chapter 3)

The trip from Portland, TX to Helena MT was purported to take 33 hours of drive time.  We planned to stop and visit with friends in the panhandle of Texas, and then spend another night in Cheyenne, WY.  We should have been able to make the rest of the trip in one day.  We were in two vehicles, with the 5 children moving back and forth between the vehicles at various stops.  Most of the trip went very smoothly.

The leg of the trip that started in Cheyenne, WY, and ended in Helena, MT, lasted 2 days.  After leaving the hotel in Cheyenne, we got about 3 1/2 hours up the road when a child needed to use the restroom.  Said child was about 5 years old, and wasn't going to last very long.  As we kept driving, the need became desperate, because there were signs that said "no facilities" posted for every exit we passed.  Finally it was determined that we would get off and allow the child to go on the side of the road, which was accomplished without further problems.  After finishing, our two cars both had problems...the Mercury Sable wagon, which I was driving, would not shift out of park, and the Mercury Tracer that Jason was driving wouldn't start.  We determined that the Tracer just had a bad battery connection, and it restarted after we poured an unfinished bottle of Coke over the connections.  The problems with the Sable proved to be terminal, so we spent an unplanned night at a hotel room in Buffalo, WY, and bought a 1988 Chevy conversion van for $1500 the next morning, and left as soon as the papers were signed.

That van got us to Helena, but we had no money for our hotel room, for dinner, or for any more gasoline.  Thankfully, Jason was able to reach someone at the NOSC, who came and helped out, and it was determined that we would drive back to Billings, MT, the next morning, and spend a week there with the family of the guy whose position Jason had come to fill in Helena.  The week of rest in Billings was good, though living out of a suitcase, and sleeping on inflatable mattresses (that refused to stay that way!) was not preferable for a 5-months-pregnant me.  During our stay, Jason took the ancient conversion van to a dealer, and traded it in for a BEAUTIFUL Pontiac Montana, complete with built-in DVD player, wireless headsets, and dual electric sliding doors.  THAT van lasted us for all of our 4 1/2 years in Montana.

We rode back to Helena in style, and settled in at the Inn on Ft. Harrison, while Jason checked into the command, and we did some house hunting.  We were at the Inn for 10 of us crammed into two bedrooms, with a connecting bath.  We finally found a place, and our household goods were delivered on August 24th, 2003.

Katherine was born on December 13, on the same day as Jason's first performance in the Dinner Theater at Hannaford Street Bible Church.  We came home from the hospital on Saturday, but were back at the hospital soon, as Katherine was jaundiced, and the winter sunlight in Montana was not terribly helpful.

In February, we moved again...this time into a smaller place which cost $200/month less in rent, and about $200/month less in electricity, too.

By August, I was working overnights at Walmart, and attempting to continue homeschooling at the same time.  Which did NOT work the kids went into school...Frances in 6th grade, Jon in 3rd, Heather in 2nd, and Justin in Kindergarten.

For the next 3 years, life was doable, but hard.  I was depressed.  We were perpetually short on funds. Our family was a 36-hour drive away from us.  We struggled relationally.  We were very happy to get orders back to the East we were off again, this time to Virginia Beach, VA!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Story of a Military Family (Chapter 2)

The trip to Texas was looooooong.  We joke about taking the scenic route, not realizing how much longer it made our trip.  Fortunately, we were able to check in with the ship on Friday, and with housing on Monday, and left to drive back to South Carolina soon afterward.

We spent the next week packing the truck we rented (we were so new, we didn't know the Navy would pay for our move!!), saying our goodbyes, and attending my brother's wedding in Columbia on Saturday, April 21st.  That night, on the way back to Edgefield, preparing to leave the next morning for Texas again, we hit a deer.  Fortunately, we were driving a nice, sturdy older car which sustained almost no damage, and we were able to leave early the next morning.

We lived in military housing located in Portland, TX, which was the closest military housing to where his ship was at the now-closed base in Ingleside, TX.  We were in Texas for 2 1/2 years, during which Leah was born at home, and we moved to a bigger apartment in the same complex.  During that time, I homeschooled Frances and Jon, as well as training for and acting as the Ombudsman for the ship, and living through the deployment-from-hell.  That deployment was only four months long, but started with a one-week-postpartum me, standing on the pier for 3 hours with 5 children, to end up in bed because of hemorrhaging.  During that very short four months, I also dealt with a broken foot (mine), a broken collar bone (Justin, who was 2 years old), a broken windshield on the car, a broken washing machine, a visit with my brother, dad, and sister, and a tire that shredded on the trip from Texas to South Carolina, where we picked Jason up, and delivered my sister back to my parents....and those were just the things that happened to our family...there were other people attached to the ship with their own crazy stories to tell!!

That deployment was over in August, 2002, and by the following July, Jason was in New Orleans, LA, in training for the next duty station, while I prepared for a move, complete with 5 children, and a very pregnant me.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Story of a Military Family (Chapter 1)

I have been part of the military community for more than 16 years now.  At some times, that seems like a LIFETIME, and at others, hardly any time at all.

In those 16 years, I have been honored to meet and be friends with some pretty amazing people, and experience some pretty wonderful things, in some pretty beautiful places.

Jason swore into the Navy in November, 1999, way back when we were expecting our fourth child, and prior to the US being at war again.  He was a reservist then, but was able to go Active Duty in February, 2001, and our present adventures kicked off then.

Prior to Jason getting into the Navy, we were barely scraping by in Columbia, SC.  At various times, he worked two or three jobs, and I was working and trying to keep up with a house and whichever of the kids were babies at the time.  It was HARD.  Right before he swore in, we had a car repossessed, and our house went into foreclosure.  Thankfully, we were able to sell the house before the foreclosure was completed, and we moved in with my brother in Edgefield.  There were a lot of years of minimal or no health insurance, and very small Christmases, but we were geographically close to both of our families, and they helped out a LOT.

The opportunity of being in the military was one Jason had looked forward to for a LONG time.  He had planned to go straight into the Marine Corps immediately after high school, but injuries to his knees meant that it was not to be.  When his father found a back door to enable him to get into the Navy, he jumped at the opportunity.

"A" SCHOOL - Meridian, MS (aka, The Swamp)
The first step after being accepted to active duty was going to a training school for the Supply Corps, in Meridian, MS.  Graduation was scheduled for April 4, 2001...Jason's 28th birthday.

The kids and I hadn't seen him since early February, and were excited to begin this new adventure. We planned to drive from Edgefield, SC, to Meridian, MS, on March 30th.  Two nights before, all six of us (myself, my brother James, and my 4 children) were up all night with food poisoning.  Still recovering, I piled myself and four kids, and our luggage into our car, and drove the 8 hours to Meridian on the 30th.

During our time on the base in Meridian, a lot of firsts happened...I obtained my first military ID card, had my first experiences at a base commissary, a base car care place, and a base clinic.  I was PETRIFIED that I would make a wrong turn and go somewhere I wasn't allowed to be.

Soon after arrival, I developed a sore throat, and general malaise, which Jason attributed to the new environs, where "everyone gets sick" upon first arrival.  Graduation was Wednesday morning, after which we planned to drive to his next duty station in Texas, to check in, and do some house-hunting before driving back to South Carolina to finish packing and attend my brother's wedding on the 21st. Prior to leaving Meridian, however, we made one last stop at the clinic, where the doctor diagnosed strep, gave me a shot of penicillin and some throat lozenges, and said he wanted to see me back on Friday.  Ha!! When I told him that we were leaving to drive to TX, he said to check in with the clinic in Texas when we arrived.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Things I Wish I had Known Before I Had Children

I love my kids.  Never doubt that.

Photo credits to Jimmy Sadler

There ARE times when I fantasize about what life would be like in a smaller, less-hectic household.  Those are the times when I think of the things I *SHOULD HAVE* thought through prior to having children.

  • Not getting enough sleep.  EVER. AGAIN.  Because those babies want to eat...all.the.time.  And those toddlers will be up at ungodly hours in the morning, after keeping you up all night long barfing.  And the middle schoolers and high schoolers have activities in the evening, and then have to be up again in the morning.  Early.  To get on the bus, or be driven to school (and God-forbid I drive them in my PJs!).  And jobs.  And middle-of-the-night phone calls from college.  And by that point, my body is just in the habit of *not* sleeping, so of course now that I *might* be able to sleep in...I can't.  
  • Cooking.  All.The.Time.  For some reason they insist on eating three meals per day every day...multiply that times approximately 30 years, and I will have cooked WAY more than I ever thought possible by the time they all graduate to doing all of their own cooking.  
  • Laundry.  Multiply 13 loads per week, at least, times 52 weeks per year, times at least 20 years. 
  • Heartache.  Everyone gets sucked in by the mesmerizing baby-scent.  And you love that baby...and then it grows up.  Or doesn't.  And there is the heartache of childhood illness, and mistreatment in school by bullies, or teachers who don't understand, or lack of financial resources, and the child's broken heart over that first or second or third romantic interest...and for some reason no one ever explained that the heartaches just got bigger as the child grew more independent, or that the young adult years would be harder than all of the baby and toddler years combined.
The joy of having a large family, and the love that is multiplied is amazing, and I wouldn't trade it for anything...But is there someone I can complain to about that whole "informed consent" thing?  I REALLY didn't know what I was getting into here!! 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

An Open Letter to my children

I am sorry that I cannot be the mother you deserve.  

You had no choice the family into which you were born, and the cards were already stacked against our relationship long before you were even a twinkle.  

Though each and every one of you was wanted, and loved, and cared-for, there is so much more I wish I had been able to give you over the intervening years.  

I wish I had the knowledge of HOW to have a good, close relationship with you.  
I wish I could give you the gift of unconditional love.
I wish I knew how to give you the words and knowledge to stand up to a world that doesn't appreciate strong women, and sensitive men.  

I am sorry that my brokenness has had a detrimental effect on our relationships.  
I am sorry that I taught you things I didn't want to pass on, because I didn't know how to do it better. 
I am sorry if how I responded told you things about yourself that just were not true....really, in this case, it is definitely about me, and is in no way your fault.  
I am sorry that my brokenness interfered with my ability to protect you and guide you and love you.  

I told myself many years ago that with God's help I was determined to break the bondage of generations of abuse.  I pray that you are able to go out into life without the brokenness I live with daily.  I pray that God has used the broken pieces that He is putting back together to help you be the men and women He wants you to be.  I pray that you love HIM with all of your hearts, because no matter how much I was unable to do, He is the Perfect Parent...He knows much better than I do what each of you needs, and can provide that much better that I can.  

Please forgive me for not being the mother that you so deserve.  

Friday, December 4, 2015


Grief is overwhelming some days.

Frankly, I didn't think that I would grieve the loss of my grandmother.

What I didn't realize is that my grief would be centered around the loss of potential relationships with her, and with my parents.

I also did not know that my grief would touch everything I do and am.

It is almost as if having permission to grieve my grandmother has given me permission (finally) to grieve the many other losses in my life.

So, today I grieve the losses of my other three grandparents, who passed away in February, 1999, December, 1999, and June, 2006.  I grieve the loss of my brother, who passed away in 1975, at the age of 5 months.  I grieve the loss of my friends from high school who died far too young.  I grieve the death of my wonderful neighbor who lived a long and full life.  I grieve with my friends who have lost children and grandchildren.

In addition to lives lost, I am also finding myself grieving other losses...potentials, dreams, friendships.  I grieve the losses associated with all of the moves...loss of home, security, friendships, comfort zones, jobs, fun times, church families.

I also mourn the loss of innocence, the death of my naivete.  I grieve the losses I have experienced at the hands of the result of others' sins, poor decisions, or ignorance.

I mourn the death of my dreams for myself, my husband, and my children.  I grieve lost time, which resulted in lost opportunity, lost relationships, and lost potential.

I grieve the losses caused by trauma, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.  I mourn a loss of identity, loss of mental health, and the loss of healthy relational bonds.

I also find myself grieving for national and international losses...lives lost in war, to famine, and disease, and through bondage inflicted by others.

Grief is overwhelming some days.  Today is one of those days.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Holiday Depression

A week or so ago I posted an article about the holidays and how this season affects people.  Called "PTSD Spirituality: Holidays and the 18% PTSD Danger Zone", it discussed the downside of the holiday season for a large number of people.  The 18% figure refers to the percentage of the year that is counted within the holiday season.  Please take the time to read the article, and understand that this is not something people can just decide to get over, but is rather complex.  

I've been thinking a lot more about this phenomenon.  I have been diagnosed with Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), so seeing how the article intersected with my life has been interesting to me.  (A good explanation of C-PTSD can be found HERE)

As with PTSD, persons with C-PTSD often are seen for depression and anxiety, and it may take a while before a diagnosis of either form of PTSD is made.  Meanwhile, the recurrent nature of depression and anxiety that happen in a person with PTSD is frustrating for both the clinician and for the client.  

It is important to note that the holidays are difficult for anyone currently dealing with depression. Weather can play a big factor in the significance of the depression, given the mediating effect exercise and sunshine have for those who deal with depression.  Additionally, if a person has experienced trauma around the holidays, the chances of having another wave of depression hit are very high.  

Another difficulty with the holiday season is the idea that these are usually "family holidays", and the expectation is that we spend time with family.  This can be difficult for someone with PTSD that has it's source within their family, which in turn creates grief over the loss of family, a deep longing (still!) to be with family, and potentially anger that the family member/members themselves caused this separation from the family, thus creating more isolation for someone who is already depressed.  

Some of the other extenuating circumstances outlined in the above article affect persons with PTSD/C-PTSD in unexpected ways.  The onset of winter and the time change can negatively impact the amount and quality of sleep, which can have a spiraling effect on mental health, especially on depression and anxiety.  In addition, expected gaiety at holiday parties, higher-than-normal levels of drinking, and social interactions can all have negative impact on the person dealing with the depression/anxiety/PTSD/C-PTSD cocktail.  

From Johns Hopkins Medicine
If you are dealing with any of these things, remember to take time for self-care during the holidays.  Pay particular attention to the amount of sleep you are getting.  Excuse yourself from parties and get-togethers, if you have had enough.  If you drink, make sure you do not drink in excess...alcohol is a depressant, so it will exacerbate already present depression.  If you are taking any antidepressants or anti anxiety medications, you should NOT mix alcohol with them.  Pay attention to what you are eating, how much, and when...high fat and high sugar foods (oh-so-popular at this time of year!) can have a negative impact on depression and anxiety.  Get some exercise...15 minutes per day has a very positive effect on alleviating depression.