Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Chugging along on the Celiac train & mystery solved!

About the third of June, we took our entire family to the St. Joseph laboratory to get our blood drawn to find out which, if any, of us has Celiac Disease. I was so impressed with JJ and Calvin, too. Considering the scene they create when getting a flu shot (Calvin mostly...JJ just follows his brother's reaction), they rocked the blood draw. They both sat in the chair like big boys. JJ was on Jared's lap, but neither of them flailed or cried. They hardly flinched. I made a big deal of how COOL it was to actually see the blood filling the vials. I think they bought it!

A week later on June 30th, the pediatrician's nurse called to inform us that Calvin and JJ both tested negative for Celiac Disease. (A big relief for this momma who won't have to wean JJ off his diet of only PB and bread sandwiches). A week after that, the nurse from our family practice clinic called to inform me that the rest of us (Cooper, Jake, Jared and myself) were all negative for the disease as well. It was a surprise that Jared and I didn't have it. I guess that means one of us must just be a carrier and may never end up with it. When I called and spoke with Dr. Easley's nurse to relay the test results, she reminded me that Celiac disease can pop up at anytime. So while we may have all tested negative for the proteins now, we are to keep an eye on how we're feeling. If there's a sudden, unexplained weight loss, or fatigue or abdominal pains, etc. we should look into getting tested right away. But for now, we're all clear and the mystery continues as to where this originated...with no known history of it in either of our families' medical backgrounds.

On Thursday, September 24th, Karcyn, who had her blood drawn a few days prior, was due to meet with Dr. Easley again to see how her numbers were. Unfortunately, Dr. Easley didn't get the blood work back in time. So he had nothing to look at in that respect.

However, he was thrilled with her growth. On this day, at 9 1/2 years old, she finally broke the 50 pound marker!! She weighed in at 51.8 lbs. She was up 2.5 lbs since May 28th. She measured 4 feet and 1/2 an inch--up 3/4 of an inch since the end of May. All told, since the very first consult appointment at the end of February (7 months prior), she was up 4.5 lbs and 2.5 inches! Dr. Easley was amazed and knew we were following the gluten-free diet for her religiously. He gave her all sorts of high-fives and she even got a hug from him.

The only caution he gave us was to be careful of the GF products we eat. Gluten is the "glue" that holds food together. In the absence of gluten, sugar is used. So you want to make sure you're not taking in gobs o' sugar, which turns into fat. Hmmm, maybe that's why I didn't lose any weight going gluten-free. I don't recall eating a ton of GF products during that time anyway, but it was definitely noted!

We're still riding the train on this new lifestyle journey, but I feel like the runaway train we were on April and May has now slowed down to a doable speed where we're just clicking along. We've found a groove. I'm still having to read lots (and LOTS) of labels and keep my eye out for things that are already gluten free but are starting to be labeled that way or just more GF items that are being added to the shelves.

Thoughts about the past six months:

*I'm SUPER grateful for Primary and Activity Day leaders who are impressively vigilant and kind about purchasing food and treats that Karcyn can eat to make sure she feels included.

*I've forgotten the Chex for her Sacrament bread replacement a few times! And even when I DID remember, there were a couple months during the summer when somehow the young men passing the Sacrament couldn't seem to get it to our row. That took a little several weeks of trial and error before it got worked out. Bless the boys' hearts---passing the Sacrament reverently is hard enough without trying to remember to get a piece of cereal to a young girl sitting on the back, corner pew. Karcyn was so good to not be upset when she was accidentally forgotten, repeatedly.

*In August, I was thrilled to be at Sam's on my designated day and to discover that the Cheerios they were carrying were finally labeled GLUTEN FREE!! And they cost no more than they already did!! Happy, happy day!! We could start buying cereal in bulk again! Hallelujah!

*Karcyn quickly grew out of the clothes she's had for 2 or more years before summer started! But I wasn't going to buy her any "new" clothes until right before school started in case she kept right on growing. In September, while waiting at the bus stop one morning, one of the other moms came out to wait with her daughter. That was the first time I had seen her, ever. She looked at me and pointing to Karcyn said, "Wow! She's really grown these past few months!" I told her she was right and explained why. Even with Karcyn's amazing growth, she's still neck and neck with Calvin in height and weight. I wonder which one of them will be taller?

*I still think plain gluten free pasta is gross. (Actually, pasta in general just doesn't do it for me anymore--something I NEVER.EVER. thought would come from my mouth. I was the girl who could put away seven bowls of pasta during Olive Garden's "Never-ending-pasta bowl" promo. My life revolved around pasta. It was my go-to snack and lunch or dinner or anywhere in between. If we went out to eat, I always ordered the pasta dish--with sauce on the side because it was the pasta I was after, not the sauce. A little sauce was okay--like one tablespoon. But I saw no point in eating pasta drowned in sauce. It ruins the pasta! It's kind of sad and a little weird that pasta has lost it's high-ranking place in my life. But I guess, considering the circumstances, it's just as well.)

I got brave one day, though and decided to try the gluten free pasta in one of our favorite dishes: Pasta Florentine. It was...amazing. If there was anything different, it was practically undetectable. Hooray!!! One more meal we could add to our slowly growing list of dinner ideas. That gave me the courage to try our beloved Spinach Lasagna. But the only GF lasagna noodles I could find were the no-boil kind. That was a double-risk. I'd never used those before. Well--after the first test run I can boldly declare that I am never NOT using them! What a TIME saver!! The spinach lasagna was another hit! Such a sweet, joyful gift to be able to enjoy two of our favorites with Karcyn's needed adaption and without the recipes losing their integrity. Calvin helped me make homemade, creamy mac and cheesies the other day. It, too, was delicious. So the gluten free pasta has made it's way back into our lives. Just not in the form of spaghetti or where it has the potential to be eaten plain.

I'm a little bummed that there are only a few gluten free pasta options available locally, currently. I can find rotini and penne and spaghetti and no-boil noodles at our store. But, until just recently, there were no elbow noodles and I still have yet to find egg noodles anywhere--which would allow us to add yet a few more meals into our rotation. Who knows? They may not even be manufactured.

*I have also given in at family meals and made one batch gluten-free and one regular. Like spinach lasagna (because the noodles are expensive) and waffles (because GF is gross to me!). I figure as long as Karcyn's getting her gluten-free food, the rest of us can eat whatever. Which certainly helps keep the cost of buying gluten-free foods down to a minimum.

Speaking of costs--the Gluten-free Fairy continues to visit our home. I have no idea who it is or how many people are involved, but the foods they leave anonymously for us are a ginormous blessing and relief. I have no doubt that over half of the GF food in our pantry was all given to us by the kindness of others. The food pictured below was donated to us just since the end of August. We had already been hit by the GF Fairy numerous times before that!

A lot of my friends have asked me the same question: What [flour blend] do you use to bake with? I have a very simple, two word response to this. I don't. Meaning: I don't bake. I used to. Used to love to make breads and desserts and other treats. But that's not really my thing anymore. It's hard to make the baked goods anywhere close to being as "good" as they were prior to their gluten-free make-over. Sometimes, I'll make regular treats for a potluck or book group or something special like that. Our family wasn't much of a treats family to begin with and now that we've got the gluten-free thing happening, we really aren't into baked goods. Which isn't a bad thing. Just a bit of a shift. I have to wonder what the boys will do when they leave home and are on their own. I'm curious if they'll start making and eating all the things we've recently eliminated from our family's diet or if this new lifestyle will carry over into their future lives or if it'll be a little bit of both.

Around the beginning of October, I was home alone with JJ and we were fixing lunch. Out of the blue, when I handed him his food, he asked, "it gooten-fee?" I was so surprised! This little boy, who we had never spoken directly to about this, had, through observation and listening, realized that it was important for our food to be gluten free. So he wanted to know if what I was giving him was gluten free. It was so cute and reminded me that he knows and is processing a whole lot more than he can express. For weeks after that, he kept asking if the foods we were eating were "gooten fee." Sometimes they were, sometimes they weren't. I explained that it was Karcyn who had to have only gluten free foods and it was okay for us if we didn't.

Karcyn actually fared okay through her first Halloween since getting her diagnosis. We always sort through all candy afterwards anyway. After she decided what she wanted to keep, we had to then look up each piece/brand of candy to find out which were gluten free and which were not. Ironically enough, more candy is gluten free than you'd think. Kit Kats and Nestle crunch bars are an obvious no, but there weren't too many things she couldn't have.

We're coming up on our first Thanksgiving since her diagnosis. Not sure what that's going to look like. We were invited to a big pot luck at the church like we did last year. It's very tempting on an "I'd- like-to-enjoy-the-spirit-and-spread-of-Thanksgiving-without-having-to-cook-the-entire-meal" level, but we have to consider looking at it from Karcyn's perspective too. I won't know what she can have aside from raw veggies and fruit that we didn't make ourselves. Even turkey cooked with bread stuffing inside it would be contaminated--as would gravy and possibly mashed potatoes that might have been stirred with a spoon that was in the stuffing bowl. Cross contamination can come in a myriad of ways. I'm sure I'm not 100% clean in my prep either. Sometimes I just forget we're supposed to be mindful of those types of things. And I can't question every person who contributed food with the third degree regarding how they prepared their dish, nor would they even know if their ingredients are gluten free or not. So--we have yet to determine where we'll be and what we'll be eating for Thanksgiving this year.

A week ago Monday, my mom underwent some out-patient procedures. She and my dad are trying to get their mission papers sent in again, but she was unable to get her medical papers signed. Her blood count was extremely low. She failed three blood tests. So the procedures were scheduled to do a comprehensive, top to bottom scan to locate where she was losing blood. She had a colonoscopy and an upper endoscopy done. Turns out, the doctor found four "bleeders" in her stomach, which he cauterized. She is ulcer free, however. And her colon was also clear. In fact, the doctor signed her medical papers that very day! In his findings during the scope of her small intestine and stomach, however, the doctor discovered that my mom has Celiac disease! Mystery solved. They called to tell me yesterday. Absolutely fascinating! When I told Karcyn, she wasn't sad or angry. Nope. In true Karcyn-form, she was excited! She was excited she actually had a Celiac disease buddy. She wasn't the only one anymore.

So this autoimmune disease came to Karcyn through me, not Jared as I had predicted! Which makes me a carrier. Whether or not I actually have the disease and it's simply dormant at this point, remains yet to be seen. The doctor told my mom that because she's 70 (who knows how long it's been "awakened") and hasn't experienced any negative symptoms from it, he doesn't expect her to make the huge lifestyle change. He did say it would help her absorb the mega-hundreds of mg of iron she has to take to get her blood count back up to a safe, normal range. But he wouldn't consider her a bad patient if she didn't. If she doesn't feel bad while eating gluten at this point in her life, I can't say I would avoid it either! So the Celiac disease is a Cooper/Lee thing. Jared said it's just one more thing we can blame my mom for ;)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Houdini strikes again--in a BIG way!

On Friday, August 8, 2014, Jared and I went to Sam's Club, without the kids, to get our membership cards before he started work that following Monday. The store is super small. Pretty lame, actually. Although I'm not sure that's a fair comparison since the Hillsboro, Oregon Costco we frequented was, at the time we moved, the largest in the nation. And on a much tighter, limited budget, maybe smaller IS better.

There wasn't a huge line at member services, so it didn't take long for us to get our cards and become official.

On our way home, we swung by the new house so Jared could see it. He hadn't been by in person since the beginning of July. We jumped out of the car and did a quick walk through. It was a little weird to me that the house was always open and unlocked. It was after 6pm, but there were still a few workers there wrapping things up. The doors were all in the garage waiting to be put in place. The drywall was up! It was fun to see the walls without seeing through the wooden planks and trying to "imagine" what it would look like.

On the two mile drive back to the duplex, we got a call from Jake. It was a call every parent dreads and I have no doubt he dreaded making it, because the next words out of his mouth were, "Mom, there's a police officer here. She wants to speak to you."

I heard the words, but they were so unexpected and foreign to my brain. I'm not entirely sure they registered because I calmly said, "Okay, but we're almost home."

"You are?"

"Yes, but I'll speak to her anyway."

The voice on the other end identified herself as Officer Marty and didn't want me to be alarmed, everything was okay. (That was reassuring. But confusing. What was going on then?)

She said our youngest had gotten out of the duplex undetected and a neighbor lady found him and called the police because she couldn't figure out who he belonged to.

At that point we were 30 seconds away. I told her we were coming into the subdivision and would be right there. Jared pulled up alongside the police SUV parked outside our duplex (no Constable for this call!) and we noticed another unit further down the street. I jumped out while Jared went around and parked the car out back.

I found all of the kids safe and standing quietly in a half circle in the front room with Officer Marty and her male partner (whose name I've forgotten) facing them. In the moment that I rushed through the front door and saw them standing there, my first thought was: "I'm so glad the house was clean when we left!"

I shook Officer Marty's hand and said I was SO sorry about all of this! I really was so sorry tax payer dollars had to be wasted on my 3 year-old-escape artist--but also so grateful no harm had been done! The cruel (or comical) irony is that there was JJ, standing there, looking around innocently up at the different faces above him, wondering what all the fuss was about, in his "Little boy, BIG attitude" shirt with only a diaper on and barefoot! While his appearance was mortifying, I was again, grateful my house was actually presentable when they arrived (because the children were all completely safe and unharmed). I mean, let's face it--it's hard enough to be a parent under the best of circumstances without feeling like you're being judged by people who know you, let alone by strangers and officers of the law! I'm hoping the condition of the house helped the officers get a sense that we weren't negligent parents and that there weren't any obvious signs of abuse.

Jared came in through the backdoor at that moment and introduced himself. The officers were very cool about the whole ordeal actually. (They sure are intimidating, though!) They said that this happens a LOT further down in the subdivision especially with kids JJ's age. We explained we had just moved here a month before and were in new surroundings and a new home. JJ is a stealthy, little Houdini. I told the officers he had gotten out of the house in Oregon back in April before we moved while in my care and I had to strategically plan potty breaks.

To conclude their visit, the officers needed to see our IDs (yikes!) and wrote some information down for their police report. This has never happened to us before, so I asked if there would be any follow-up (while crossing my fingers that the case would be closed). Officer Marty said no (phew), but she gave me her card anyway as a matter of formality. We thanked them and off they went. And as soon as the front door closed, the kids quickly dispersed to their respective rooms without a sound, fearing the wrath of their parents, I suppose. Jared was not happy.

As an after thought, I realized I never found out who called the police. I wanted to thank that person myself. But by the time the idea came to me, the cruisers were gone.

While I was really disappointed and slightly embarrassed we had a run-in with the College Station Police Department, just 37 days after moving there, I couldn't be angry at Jake, whom we had left in charge to babysit, when JJ's pulled the same exact stunt with me, his own mother. Even if you think your house is secure, you don't know it's not until your child breeches your precautions for the first time.

Apparently, JJ unlocked the back door (bolt included) and slipped into the backyard. Then, he figured out how to unlatch the gate (which he hadn't done until THAT day!) and wandered out into the parking area. I will remind you that a) he had no socks or shoes on b) it was a hot afternoon in August where he could have severely burned the bottoms of his feet on the asphalt c) he was walking through a parking lot, essentially. He would have been hard to see, if seen at all, where only cars and big pick-up trucks were coming in or backing out in a one-way direction and d) it was the time of day when people started coming home from school and work.

JJ had a guardian angel that day!! She saw him alone and he, of course, could not say one decipherable word, never mind his name or ours or tell her where we lived or anything--so she did the only thing she could think of and that was to call the authorities for help. When the police arrived, they started knocking on doors up and down our street. When an officer came to our duplex, she asked Jake if they were missing a child. Jake's epic answer, "No." But the officer went on to offer more details describing JJ as around 2 or 3 years old, wearing a white shirt and a diaper, no pants or shoes. Jake quickly realized that her description sounded an awful lot like JJ and went to go locate him in the duplex. When he couldn't find his little brother, he sheepishly admitted he couldn't find his little brother and it was probably him. The officer explained there was a lady down the street who had found him in the back alley and she was going to take Jake to get him. (Jake said words cannot explain how awkward and embarrassing that loooong walk down the street was being accompanied by a police officer). When Jake arrived at the apartment, he said hi to the lady and when he saw JJ, he was sitting at a table eating a snack and watching TV without a care in the world. Jake was thinking, "Kid!! You're killing me!" He looked at Jake for a moment then went back to watching TV. Apparently there was no need to prove JJ was Jake's brother. I suppose Jake's complete mortification was evidence enough. Jake said, "C'mon JJ, we gotta go" and scooped him up, while telling the lady thank you. Officer Marty accompanied our engine and caboose back to our duplex where she started the required paperwork. She looked up at Jake shortly after she began and said, "You should probably call your parents and let them know what's going on." Jake slowly responded, "Yeeeeaaahhh, I was really hoping you wouldn't say that." The officers chuckled at that. That's when Jake called us from his phone.

For days, Jared and I were afraid to go to sleep for fear JJ would get up and slip out of the house again. There were no locks up high and as for door-knob covers in JJ's world...those were SO last year!

I actually used Officer Marty's card and called her on Monday to see if I could locate the woman who found JJ. That was the very day of his 3rd birthday. My heart was still skipping beats every time I thought, "What if?" What if that woman hadn't been out there when JJ was? What if someone with terrible, selfish, evil intentions found him instead? What if a truck or car ran him over? Accidental deaths happen all the time over less than this! It could've ended in all sorts of badly.

I was able to get the name of the woman who took JJ in. Now all I needed was her duplex number. I explained to the manager what had happened and asked if she could get permission to tell us the woman's address. When the manager okay'd it with the other tenant the following day, Jared, JJ and I headed to her duplex ten units down the street and took her a plate of birthday cake and a thank you card with our expressed gratitude and appreciation for her quick action and our belief that she was in the right place at the right time so that JJ could live to see and celebrate his 3rd birthday!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

August 2014

The end of July and the first few days of August went by a smidge faster than the three weeks previously. I'm guessing it was because I knew we were in the home stretch of our separation from Jared. And now Jake was gone. He was missed, big time, but the sooner he left to go on High Adventure in Oregon, the sooner he and Jared would be back, so it was a loss I was willing to take.

I was very relieved when Jared sent me this "proof of life" pic to let me know that Jake made it back to Portland without any problems on his first solo flight as a passenger and after our fiasco in getting him to the airport during the wee hours of that morning.

But I missed Jake's help and my built-in "I've-got-to-run-a-quick-errand" babysitting and his ability to see a need around the house and fill it. He's SUCH a good sport about all of it. Cooper could do the babysitting, too. However, living in a new place and not knowing anyone, I felt more comfortable with Jake in charge. Cooper missed him because, among other things he probably wouldn't readily admit to, he stumbled across a scary commercial on a channel that we don't watch as he was flipping through the channels. And two seconds of a scary image in that boy's head=weeks of problems for all of us. He could not and would not go to sleep, nor be in his bedroom alone any longer than he had to. Remember that jack-n-jill bathroom I mentioned earlier that connected our room with the boys' room?

I was cursing it that week. Every night, around 10pm, Cooper would come wandering through it, saying he was scared and couldn't sleep. Each and every time, I tried to comfort him. We said prayers together, we talked about happy things before I sent him back to his room. But he never stayed. He'd come through that blasted bathroom door three or four times before I was too tired to argue anymore. He won. He wore me down. I used this experience, however, to illustrate to Cooper how powerful images can be in your brain. They are not easily, if ever, disposed of and warned him to always run from pornography as if it were the plague because as bad as scary images are in your head, the sexual nature of pornography is truly a curse that will rack your mind and soul for a very long time.

*The missionaries serving in our College Station ward swung by at the beginning of the week. They came to check on us. They had helped us move in and remembering that Jared was a medical professional, they had actually called Jared on his cell and asked him for medical advice. In return, Jared asked them to make sure we were doing okay. One of the elders asked me right off the bat if Jared had served in a Bishopric. Since Jared was just a month or so removed from that calling, I was a little surprised by his question. I eyed the missionary with mock suspicion and said, "As a matter of fact, he has." The elder said he thought so and explained, "He seems like a Bishopric kind of a guy."

*Jared's laaaaast day at Dr. Hicken's private family practice office was Thursday, July 31st. It was a sad, sad day for him and "his girls"--the wonderful office women he's grown to love as his second family for the past eight years. Elizabeth, Lisa and Dawn took him out to dinner--Shirley is the only one missing.

Jared shared with me later that there were LOTS o' TEARS (more than he expected) shed that day from the girls when it was time for them to say the REAL good-bye. They said good-bye to me and the kids a month prior but it was totally manageable because Jared was coming back. But this time, he wasn't. Jared doesn't cry. In our almost two decades of marriage, I've seen him cry about four times--you do the math. That's about once every five years or so. But I know he was deeply touched and affected by the sorrow his girls were feeling as well as the heartbreak he was experiencing. It would never be the same for him once he left that office. Aside from being our doctor's office for the little versions of Jake (4) and Cooper (18 months) when we first arrived in Forest Grove, Oregon, that office served as a three month family practice rotation as part of Jared's schooling before he was hired (prior to graduating!) as a physician assistant and it was the place Jared devoted the first eight years of his career as a matchless, loyal employee. Jared was, dare I say, the heart of that office. So technically--we've known these wonderful women for ten years! My heart ached for the girls whom I grew to love as I worked along side them for seven of those ten years. I know how great Jared is to work with and be around and how much fun and joy he brings to the office, so I understood the hole he'd be leaving in his absence. It just wouldn't be the same without him. The office would have to try and find a new normal. It would be empty and blah for awhile. No one to cheer them up or make them laugh or do funny impressions or quote movies and ask for the reference. And Jared knew he wouldn't ever find girls who would have his back quite like these "core four."

Obviously, you can't sneak out of a ward or stake without people knowing and there is a plethora of patients who lived within our stake boundaries so many, many people knew of his departure. There were patients who cried when they heard Jared was moving or when he told them at their final office visit. We get texts and Facebook comments and emails to this day from patient friends expressing how much they still miss Jared. In fact, there were some patients Jared just didn't tell about his leaving. He figured in the long run, it would be better for them and him if they just found out the next time they came in. I wouldn't want to say goodbye 20-25 times a day over the course of several months, either. The Hicken Medical Clinic chapter was a very special one in Jared's life, in my life and for our children. It's one we'll revisit and cherish for a long time to come.

*Jake had a chance to say good-bye to his friend Josh one more time before taking off for good. They both shared a love for basketball, though Jake didn't make the 8th grade team and Josh did. Jake is about 5 feet, 5 inches in this picture. CRAY-ZEE!!!! I like to fondly refer to this duo as "Stockton and Malone" :)

*Jared and Jake went to Sacrament meeting in the Farmington Ward on Sunday, August 3rd and decided to leave after that to get on the road. I'm sad Jake couldn't see his friends one more time in Sunday school and priesthood, but he DID just spend several days trying to "survive" on a "deserted island" with the young men and limited supplies for High Adventure. :) As the story goes, Jake ate a mostly raw crawdad and a little minnow for food, of which he proceeded to throw up later on. His stomach really hurt and it got him to his knees though, physically and spiritually. He prayed hard that he might make it through the test of surviving for a day and a half with little to no food or supplies. It was a long, cold night with boys staking claim on a tarp covering hard, packed dirt and no blankets. But they survived!! And the survival meal was heavenly!

*My guys spent the night in Lehi, Utah with Jared's parents and said, what they figured would most likely be, their final good-byes to Jared's grandma (Jake's great-grandma) Nina.

*I received THIS picture from Jared while on their drive back to Texas (Jared's second time by car in four weeks racking up a total of 5,000 miles...) with the caption that read "He's doing a great job keeping me awake, don't you think?!"

*At LOOOOONG last, Jared and Jake pulled into our duplex, finally utilizing the second parking spot on Wednesday, August 6th at around 3:30pm. I ran out back and threw myself in Jared's arms and hung on for dear life and cried. I was surprised by how difficult the last month had been for me, considering Jared had been away from home for two months straight when Jake was 5, Cooper was 2 and I was 3 months pregnant with Karcyn. And that wasn't the end of it. He came home for a day and left for another month to then come home for a couple weeks and travel overseas for another month. We were apart for FOUR months in 2005/6, not just four weeks and yet it was an amazing learning experience for me. I learned how strong I could be and that I truly could do hard things. Really hard things. And this was long before texting and smart phones that allowed you to Facetime or take and send pictures to each other. I've concluded that having good friends and some familiarity and structure makes ALL the difference! I'm so grateful I chose to stay in Forest Grove while Jared traveled to do his rotations. We had only lived in Forest Grove a year before Jared left, but it was enough to give us friends and love and a network.

Re-u-ni-ted and it feels so good...

*On Saturday, Aug. 9th, Jake had a youth baptism trip to go to. Our summer weekends were diminishing rapidly with school starting on Mon, Aug. 25th. So even though Jake wouldn't be with us, we took a trip to Lake Somerville while he was at the temple. We packed our suits, towels, sunscreen and lunches and off we went. Lake Somerville is a reservoir in the Brazos river basin about 10 miles northwest of Brenham, TX (which is southwest of College Station). The only thing we knew about Brenham is that it's the home of Blue Bell ice cream--which we've learned is pretty dang important to Texans. Not sure it can hold a candle to Tillamook ice cream, however. I don't even like ice cream that much, but could live off of Wild Mountain Blackberry. Mmmm.

We found a spot to park with (thankfully!) a covered picnic table and had a bit of a short hike down to the water. The end of the lake we were at didn't have an easy way into the water. It was mostly overgrown with grass and weeds and you had to step down into it. We eventually found a spot that kind of eased into the water and was cleared out a bit. We didn't think to bring a big float tube we used at Lost Lake with my parents a few years ago. That would have been perfect. But the little kids had their life jackets and that was good enough.

The water!!! Holy warm. I cannot believe how warm it was. It would put you to sleep if you weren't careful! We played around with each other, tossed some balls around, shot at each other with water blasters and swam for a bit before heading up to the picnic table for lunch. It sure didn't take long for us to dry off either. After lunch, we packed up and drove around some more in the park. We found a quaint little general store and noticed they had a small freezer with what else?? Blue Bell ice cream! Everyone selected their own ice cream treat. I expected the cost to be about $2-3 a piece. You know how those small stores can be. Imagine my surprise when the total cost was only $5!! They were less than $1 each! Things like that just make my frugal little heart go pitter-patter!!

We found a bench in the shade outside the store and sat down to eat our cool treats. And in the August Texas sun, that's something we need to learn to do quickly! Seconds after sitting down, Karcyn erupted with screaming and wailing. She was grabbing her ankle but couldn't speak. Poor thing had been stung a couple times by a yellow jacket. Dumb wasp. We grabbed some ice from our water jug and did what we could to comfort and help her while simultaneously trying to get her to eat her ice cream before it became a liquid mess. We needed a picture of our trip, so here it is. With poor Karcyn still feeling the pain of her stings :(

*On Sunday, Aug. 10th, Cooper spoke in Primary. He actually prepared a talk this time (I think it was the first time he has ever prepared a talk before Sunday since turning 8) and did outstanding! The picture below was as far as JJ got (less than 2 feet) from the back door after coming home from church at 4pm that afternoon. Nursery is exhausting!

Later that evening (at 6pm) Jared and I attended the annual Stake High Priest Meeting. The Houston Mission recently got a new president and we were fortunate enough to have President and Sister Mortensen come and speak to us. I ran into Sister Mortensen in the bathroom before the meeting started and in our chit chat, I told her we had just moved here. Turns out, our families moved here about the same time--only they came from California! I'm not sure how I feel about the mission president being just eight years older than me and I suspect his wife is probably closer to me in age than that!! We enjoyed the meeting and learned of the new changes (mainly with iPads) that would be taking place within the mission.

Texas Houston Mission

Mark A. and Kristina B. Mortensen
Mark Alan Mortensen, 45, and Kristina Marie Borgquist Mortensen, six children, Northwood Ward, Irvine California Stake: Texas Houston Mission, succeeding President John C. Pingree and Sister Anne P. Pingree. Brother Mortensen serves as a counselor in a stake presidency and is a former counselor in a bishopric, elders quorum president, ward mission leader, seminary teacher and missionary in the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission. CEO, Salus Homecare. Born in Bountiful, Utah, to H. Boyd Mortensen and Lucille Farthing Mortensen.
Sister Mortensen serves as a gospel doctrine teacher and is a former counselor in a ward Primary presidency, ward Young Women adviser and ward Primary teacher. Born in Huntington Beach, California, to D. Thomas Borgquist and Leslie Bleak Borgquist.

*With orientation and "onboarding" complete, Jared officially started his new job on Monday, Aug. 11th, the same day JJ turned 3! We had a lot to celebrate that day. And JJ's mean mom put trick candles on his cake :)

*Jake had his freshman orientation (sans parents) on Thursday the 14th and got his schedule: Honors Eng 1, Honors World Geography, Dance (fine arts), basketball (PE), Spanish 1, pre-AP biology, and pre-AP geometry--with geometry as the last class of the day. (Really?? Any math class scheduled after lunch should be illegal!) Jake's class load gives me little bit of mommy anxiety. And in fact, he could have taken pre-AP English and pre-AP world geography, but since he doesn't *love* those subjects, he decided to opt out of pre-AP and just do the honors track so hopefully those courses will at least be his speed but not overwhelming and boring with a never-ending stream of books to read and papers or projects to complete. I thought that was a wise decision.

*Jared and I went on our monthly trip to the temple on Sat. the 16th, leaving at 5:15am to make the 7am session. Later Jared had to take a much dreaded Department of Transportation (DOT) examination as he'd be dealing with DOT physicals galore as an Occupational Medicine PA in his new job. All the docs he had talked to about it told him it was super hard and to not freak out too much if he got a low score. Turns out, my stud-muffin passed it with flying colors--even got a higher score than the doctors :)

*Sunday, the 17th, Jake was the youth speaker (we notice they don't have the youth speak every week--because there's not enough youth to go around, maybe?) and gave his fourth talk in Sacrament meeting in the past two and a half years. He spoke on his favorite General Conference talk, "Bear Up Their Burdens with Ease" given by Elder Bednar. He did a wonderful job. Before he spoke, Bishop Sharp, by way of introduction, shared that Jake was new in the ward, but that he fits right in with his quorum and it seems as if he's been here for years.

Before we went to church Calvin wanted to try some Texas salsa. He did and then proceeded to gulp down an entire glass of milk because it was so hot. Later that night, he wanted some chips and salsa. I told him no, mainly because I couldn't spare any more milk to put out fires in his mouth. He went into his persuasive mode and kept insisting it would be fine. "Mom! I promise. It'll be okay. It won't spice me!" Nice try, buddy.

*On Tuesday, Aug. 19th, we had "Meet the Teacher" at Green's Prairie Elementary school for Karcyn and Calvin. This was where we could also bring our supplies and the school would have free ice cream for the kids. It went from 4:30-6. We left the duplex around 4:10 and got there about 4:18. And my jaw dropped when I saw the fleet of cars spilling over onto both sides of the road, in both directions. There wasn't a place in sight to park. This picture was before I even got TO the school.

This was after coming out of the parking lot. I drove in there "just in case" a spot had been vacated. I cannot express how frustrating the lack of parking at schools is. Apparently it's not just in Oregon!

We finally found a spot further down the street and grabbed all the bags with school supplies and slowly made the hike to the school. The ice cream was in the cafeteria but I opted first to dump off the supplies with the teachers. We headed to Calvin's first grade classroom and met a wonderfully outgoing Ms. Latone--the cutest thing that ever was. I loved her southern accent and how she interacted with the kids. She has a love of dachshunds that you could spot a mile away. Everything in her room was dachshund. When I introduced her to Calvin, she exclaimed, "Oh!! You just moved here from Oregon!" We thought it was cool she remembered that. Her room was as colorful as she was. I was super excited for Calvin's first grade experience! He found his desk and we counted 16 or 17 students TOTAL!

On the smart board, Ms. Latone had each child's name cycle through individually so that they could spot their name as it flashed by. They were all written in different ways with different fonts. This was Calvin's.

What I wasn't expecting was to fill out 3 or 4 sheets of information and what we hoped to learn this year and other things I couldn't pull off the top of my head. It took a good 15 minutes and I didn't even complete them all--just did what I could.

Then we were off to Karcyn's third grade class. Her teacher was Mrs. Hughes--ironically, how people try to pronounce our name sometimes. We dumped Karcyn's supplies off, found her desk and did more of the same with paperwork. Mrs. Hughes appeared to be a no-nonsense kind of teacher. She has a southern accent too, but it's a little more intimidating. Not my preferred personality, but there was nothing wrong with it either. We didn't hang around to take pictures of Karcyn's room. Karcyn has what they call a "switch" teacher. His name is Mr. Rhine and his room was right across from her classroom. Her entire class would switch to him for Language Arts and Social Studies. Mrs. Hughes would teach math and science to both classes.

As we walked to the cafeteria to get ice cream, I made purposeful observations. This would be the school's fourth year since opening. It still looked brand new. The floors were gleaming, the walls were pristine. It even smelled new. I really liked how each grade level has its own pod and the classrooms branch off of that pod. In the pod are computers and desks for each child. They also have tables, as needed. At the entrance of each pod is a large bathroom area for the boys and the girls. Additionally, I have since noticed that each grade level has their own supply room (papers of all colors/sizes/types; books/readers; other supplies left over that teachers don't want to store in their room; a printer connected to the teachers' computers in that pod; a paper slicer; a microwave; coffer maker; and mini fridge). There is a main work room with a large commercial copier, etc. but how nice for the teachers to have a workroom that does the job 90% of the time right at their finger tips!

As we entered the cafeteria, I was dismayed to find about seven different lines of people, for what--I didn't know. By the time we figured out where the ice cream line would have been, we learned that they ran out!! It wasn't even 5:30 yet! You know, I've never been in charge of anything of this magnitude, so it probably isn't fair for me to say anything, buuuut...if you're going to advertise that you're giving out ice cream or any treat, you'd better make darn sure there's enough for ALL the kids. Restrict it to only the kids who are attending the school and not the siblings if you have to (our school in Oregon did that one year) or overbuy. My poor kids were trying to hold back tears of disappointment because their efficient momma had chosen poooor-ly by saving that until the end. Their new school had already let them down and the year hadn't even started yet. As we got in line for the free t-shirts (yes, every student gets a school t-shirt and it's FREE!) skipping the line to pay for the yearbooks when I realized they were TWEN-TY bucks each!, I told Karcyn and Calvin I'd take them to HEB so they could pick out some ice cream there. This smoothed over their disappointment and after we got our shirts we headed back out towards our car. In one of the hallways between the cafeteria and the front door, I noticed a display table with the yearbooks. I picked one up and asked, just to make sure I heard correctly, if they were indeed $20 each. They were. In their defense, they were 8 1/2 x 11 in size and full color pages and lots of extra pictures from each grade level were included. So, to be fair, I couldn't compare the 4x8 little flip book with pictures of just the staff and student body from our old school for only $7 with this Texas-sized, soft cover yearbook. But it was definitely an expense I was NOT prepared for. I'd have to pay for those in increments. Not paying for school shirts, kind of evens it out, I suppose.

*On Wednesday, August 20th, Karcyn began her ballet 1 class. We LOVED having her in Ms. Heidi's Creative Dance back in Oregon. She and her mom worked miracles and though we paid tuition, it wasn't nearly enough for what they did. I was SO dang bummed we'd have to leave this gem of a place behind. But imagine my great excitement when, just up the road from our new home, I spotted Suzanne's School of Dance. On the front of the building were the words, "A Ministry in Motion." Wow! Trying to find a dance studio with Christian values and standards similar to ours was a huge relief and blessing! They even have verses from the Bible on vinyl cut-outs on the walls and they end their lessons with prayers that the girls take turns offering. The lessons were the same length of time and once a week, like Oregon and tuition was only about $10 more a month. So we felt it was a no-brainer to get Karcyn involved in this again. I couldn't wait to see her dance! Interestingly though, there is no winter program. The spend the whole year practicing for their spring recital.

*With Jared back in town, we would swing by the house under construction to check on its progress. One evening, we noticed our neighbors on the corner were in their driveway. We walked over and introduced ourselves. Their names are Mike and Mary. Easy to remember :) Hopefully Jenn and Jared are too! We found out they have three boys. Their two oldest are the EXACT same ages as Jake and Cooper, entering the same grades as our boys--6th and 9th We couldn't believe our fortune. We weren't holding our breath for any kids on our cul-de-sac or street, let alone kids of the same age and gender right next door!

Here are some pictures of the interior progress:
Cabinets are in! Once the counters go in, it won't be much longer.

Jared peeked in the pantry and let out an audible gasp. I was worried and exclaimed, "What?? What is it??" He said, "They've got your pantry shelves in!" And not just on the long wall...(there is a nook around that right corner!)

but the short wall on the right side, too!

A nook next to the stairs.

On the top landing upstairs looking to the left at the door to the little boys' room (closest) and in the background is the door to the big boys room with the bathroom in between the two.

Jared's pointing and smiling at our most anticipated room yet--the GAME ROOM--on the opposite end of the hall from the boys' rooms. That door was the only custom thing we did (and were allowed). The original plan calls for a walkway, no door.

And finally the kitchen :) Sink and dishwasher on the left, stove and hood microwave straight ahead. Island in the middle (to the right in the picture), eating area to the far right, and I'm standing where the fridge will be.

*We loved watching the gas prices continue to drop! When we left Oregon we were paying $3.81 for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline. By the time we got to Oklahoma, we were paying $3.45 per gallon. I didn't pay much attention to it in July and we weren't really going anywhere anyway. Two days after Jared rolled into town (8/8) we went to join the Sam's Club membership. Oh, how we miss Costco! However, their gas prices made my heart soar. AND...we are IN and OUT of the gas pump in NO time!  We certainly DO NOT miss the long lines at the gas stations in Oregon--even if it is to create more jobs. If I recall, the gas prices were dropping nation-wide though. I was thrilled for our Oregonian friends to be enjoying relief at the pump as well.

Gas price on August 18, 2014.

Gas price on August 29, 2014

*JJ exerting his independence and slicing his own banana. Soon it would just be me and him home all day together when the kids start school. Kindergarten was only half day (every day) in Oregon so Calvin was around half of the time. But now...Calvin will be gone all day. Hope JJ doesn't go crazy!!

*On Saturday, August 23rd, we spent the ENTIRE day (after driving the 3 hours to get there) in Fort Worth. We met my Cooper relatives (my mom's only brother/sibling)--my Uncle Richard and his wife, Aunt Jan and their two kids, Rusty and Lisa in addition to Lisa's husband, Steve and their two boys, Aiden and Mason. That trip is chronicled here. It was a BLAST!!

After we had lunch with them, we headed east about an hour and a half to see our friends the McGraths in a suburb of Dallas. We lived in the Farmington Ward together, our kids are the same ages and we both moved to Texas just a few weeks apart! CRAZY!!

Jake and Brody--Deacon's quorum buddies--whose birth dates are just a couple days apart.

Me and Melinda--my hair's wet because I had just done the ALS "ice bucket challenge." 

We had a yummy dinner and then, sadly had to run. It was 3 1/2 hours back to College Station. We got home around 10:30pm. We had considered crashing with them for the night, but Jared was speaking in Sacrament meeting the next day, so we had to get back. 

*The first day of school (in TEXAS!)--Monday, August 25, 2014. I had called transportation a couple weeks prior to find out where the bus stop was and when the pick up and drop off times were. I was told it would be at the intersection of Creek Meadow Drive and Greens Prairie Trail (not too far from our duplex) at 7:20am for the elementary kids.

Then Cooper's bus would be along about 15 minutes later at the same stop. Interestingly enough, the 5th and 6th graders at the Intermediate school are transported on the SAME bus as the kids in middle AND high school! :o Not sure how I feel about that. Jake was already at early morning seminary so Cooper would be alone, with no one else he knows. He doesn't look too concerned but we told him to let us know if there were any problems.

We waited and waited and waited for the elementary school bus to come. A couple buses passed us, but none of them stopped.When older kids started to join us at the bus stop, I had a sinking feeling something was amiss. I told Cooper good-bye, scooped up JJ who was still in his PJs and started half-walking, half-running back to the duplex with the two little kids in tow. I told Karcyn and Calvin I was really sorry, but something went wrong and I had to drop them off at school. School started around 7:45 with a morning assembly. The tardy bell rings at 8:05. We rolled in, hot, sweaty and out of breath as we tried navigating a crazy first-day-of-school crowd at 8:10. I was devastated for the kids. No one likes to be rushed and walking in late. I told the teachers the bus never came and apologized profusely. Fortunately, my kids recovered quickly. I, on the other hand, did not and let Transportation know as much. Turns out the bus stop for the kids didn't exist! They had to create one since we're the only kids that are in the duplex area that use the bus. And it would pick them up at 7:10am and drop off around 3:30. I just hope the kids remember where to get off!

*On Tuesday, August 26th, Jared has his first pack meeting. Once he was in Texas permanently, the Bishopric extended a call for him to serve as the Cubmaster...not just for our ward, but for all three wards, since they combine to increase their numbers. He joked that his buddy, Darrin Hancock, the other counselor in the Bishopric in Oregon (over Primary) would double over in laughter to find out that was his calling. It's so hard to keep any primary calling staffed and consistent. I know! I used to be a Primary president. It's so hard!! But Jared's doing some really good things with the pack.

*On Wednesday, August 27th, JJ was evaluated (finally!) by Special Services at the school district for his lack of speech. The team was very kind and understanding. They loved JJ. I prayed I would be able to give them accurate answers when they asked about him at home and the number of times he does certain things or this or that. I have a terrible memory when it comes to relaying this kind of information. And prayed that if I didn't give the right info or forgot something that it wouldn't be to his detriment. He really, really needs to get speech help. After the 2 hour evaluation by speech pathologists and occupational and physical therapists, I was told it would be 45 days before we would know the result of their findings. (Grrrreeeat. More waiting...)

*We rounded out August by attending a "New Family Social" hosted by the Bishopric and the presidents of each auxiliary to welcome the families that were new to the ward in recent months. It was fun to get to know the new people because when you're new, everyone is new but now we knew who else was new! :) Calvin was outside swinging, talking to our new friend Bonnie. She said our kids crack her up. Calvin told her in his outgoing, laid back fashion, "Sooo--we're living in Meadowcreek and no--wait. We're living in Creek Meadows and we're building a house in Meadowcreek." Then he just shook his head and said, "It's sooo confusing." He's right on both accounts...we were renting in Creek Meadows and would be living in Meadowcreek eventually and it IS confusing. They couldn't come up with more creative, less similar subdivision names??

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Truth be told

Earlier this week, Cooper's scoutmaster notified us by email that Cooper (the Deacon's quorum president) assigned himself to teach the lesson this Sunday, Oct. 11th. Brother Bigelow asked that we help remind Cooper of this because the last time he assigned himself to teach, he forgot and winged it. Brother Bigelow said it was actually a good lesson (on pornography no less) but knew it could have been great with a little preparation. So Jared and I each dutifully and individually reminded Cooper of his lesson throughout the week.

Yesterday, after school, the scouts met at the church for an overnight camp out. When I picked him up this afternoon and before we loaded Coop's stuff in the car, Brother Bigelow asked, "Hey Cooper! Are you ready for your lesson tomorrow?" Cooper stood straight up in front of him and said, "Yes.I.Am." On the drive home, a few minutes from the church, I was curious what he was going to be teaching about.

Me: So what's the topic of your lesson?

Cooper: I forgot.

(We were at a long stop and while I rested my left arm on the door, I had leaned my head into my left hand. At Cooper's reply, I lowered my head and ran my fingers back and forth across my forehead a couple times before I carefully and calmly responded.)

Me: You forgot? You're teaching this lesson in less than 24 hours and you can't recall the topic?

Cooper: Weeell, I still need to do the lesson.

Me (not so calmly): COOPER!!!! You just told Brother Bigelow you were ready! You lied to him!

Cooper (smiling): No I didn't. I am start on it. you hear that sound?? That's me banging my head up against a wall, repeatedly.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore!"

In no particular order, here are things we learned about College Station and Texas shortly after arriving:

**Everybody waves! The state motto is: FRIENDSHIP so that makes sense. But seriously, every time I'm driving through a neighborhood, the people, who are outside and clearly don't know us because we're new, all wave. It's so nice of them, but I'm not in the habit of waving to anyone outside of neighbors I've introduced myself to and people in cars who give me a wide berth when I'm jogging. The locals probably think I'm stuck-up and rude. I gotta start waving more!

**If you're under the age of 50, you're going to be called by anyone over the age of 50 some form or variation of: "Sugah" "Sweetheart" "Honey" or "Darlin" with a southern drawl.

**This northwestern Hough crew painfully sticks out like a sore thumb when it comes to southern manners and respect. My kids aren't necessarily disrespectful by worldly standards. But by southern standards, we're cutting it close! We have got to train our offspring (and ourselves) to say "Yes ma'am and sir" when responding to matter how old or young we or those we are speaking to are. We've already been pegged as "not from around here" when we failed to do so!

**We bank at Aggieland Credit Union, the closing on our new home is at Aggieland Title Company and our ward blog is Aggieland Mormons. Any questions? :)

**We live in Brazos County. It took us a few times and I still have to say it in my head once to be sure, but we finally learned, it's not Bray-zohs or Brah-zos. It's Brah-zuhz. Likewise, we live where Wellborn, TX was adopted in by College Station. The local water tank and post office are still labeled Wellborn. It isn't Well-bORn. It's Well-bURn. Makes a difference to the locals and if you wish to assimilate into the area :)

**The main road to our duplex (and new home) is Wellborn Road, but it's official name is FM 2154. FM means "Farm to Market Road" which, as the name suggests, is a state or country road that connects the rural or agricultural areas to market towns. So even though the locals call it Wellborn Road, the signage, while driving around town, designates it as FM 2154. We also have FM 2818 (Harvey Mitchell Parkway) and FM 60 (University Drive) and FM 158 (Boonville Rd.). I pretty much just memorized where those roads were, ignoring the numbers. I learned that in 1995 an effort was made to change the FM roads to "Urban" roads. They are all paved and speed limits can be as high as 75 mph. But residents opposed the effort arguing that removing the FM distinction would be "un-Texan" and the cost of changing the signs was not justified.

**Speaking of driving--for one who is severely directionally challenged, College Station is SUPER easy to navigate. I haven't gotten lost once! I may have missed an exit because I wasn't paying attention, but it's virtually impossible to get lost here. There are frontage roads (which I first experienced while living in Anchorage) in between every exit from the Texas 6 (highway). So if you get off too just keep going straight through the light at the exit and take the frontage road to get back on the highway or just keep going until you get to the next exit. And you can go as fast as 55 mph on the frontage roads! If you get off too late, you can turn around. That was my the problem in Portland. There was no "turning around" off the highways. If you got off too soon or too late, you were pretty much skunked! And you could never go back the way you came. It required a completely different set of directions. Many exits here in College Station have a "turn around only" lane on the far left when you get off the highway designated just for those instances so you don't have to go to the light and take the time to "go around the block." You can just whip around, with nothing to stop you. They also believe in U-Turns here! The speed limit on the highway is 75 mph. Admittedly, I am not used to going that fast in Hillsboro and Beaverton, so I have to consciously tell myself to speed up--the many vehicles whizzing past me are a good clue also! Wellborn Road, on the west side, runs, for the most part, parallel to Highway 6 on the east side of College Station. Texas Avenue (Business 6) runs parallel, in between these two roads with several roads running perpendicular to them. If you happen to turn down a road you didn't want or you're not familiar with it, you can go around the block, back to where you started! I've yet to hit a dead end! Easy peasy, lemon squeezy! It's been a huge blessing for me!

**Believe me when I say about 1 in every 3 vehicles that I see when driving, have at least ONE of the following, if not more...a "Texas Edition" distinction on their trucks/SUVs or a "Texas A & M" decal or a Dallas Cowboy decal or something Texas related (license plates not included).

**With cable at the duplex, we got hooked on the local news--the only College Station news channel we could find. There might be one more but we liked the look and feel of KAGS. It's not K-A-G-S. It's K-AGS (of course! They love their Aggies!) The news anchors and meteorologist are really young, too. It finally dawned on us that they are probably Texas A & M students in broadcasting. They're fun to watch.

**We never thought having the air conditioning set at 77 or 79 degrees could feel SO amazing! We felt like we were dying of heat stroke if it was at 72 in Oregon.

**Having a remote starter for our suburban that sat outside the duplex was a mom-saver. It got to a point where Calvin refused to get in the car unless or until the A/C was on and going. He can't stand the smell of a hot car. It didn't stink though. He just didn't like the way it felt--stuffy and suffocating. This is where leather seats aren't so great either.

**Sitting in the pews at our church building is like sitting in the exit row of an airplane. There is SO much leg room!! It was one of the first things we noticed.

**College Station has a HUGE post office. Massive. The one I went to in Beaverton was a cracker jack box. I think the longest I ever had to wait here in Texas was less than five minutes compared to the average 15 minutes as the fastest encounter I had in Oregon. It was usually a much longer wait. I dreaded it and avoided the post office at all costs. Granted, I have since learned that if you want to mail something to your neighbor, just take it to them. All the mail in CS gets rerouted through Houston first! It took three days from my house to my friend's house about 1/4 of a mile away!

**The CS library offers you a library card AND a small key chain with your bar code on it. I can't even begin to describe how awesome that is! Whether I'm alone or with kids, I can just jump out with my keys and pick up my books that are on hold or we can get what we need and they can scan my library bar code off the key chain without having to mess with a bag, purse, wallet and digging out a card while keeping track of kids and books. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!!

**What I don't love is how small the library is. About 1/6 the size of the Hillsboro Main Library--just where the books are. Forget about the space for classes and studying and meeting rooms, etc. The lack of books and movies available here is pretty disappointing. I'm grateful we have one in town, but it really is sad that of half the books I look up, they have "no record" of that title on file. :(

**The storm drains are humongous!! I know there's no frame of reference here, but all three of my younger children: Karcyn, Calvin and JJ could slip through that opening--that's how big the gap is. We always walk in the middle of the street when passing a storm drain because my kids are just crazy enough that I could see them getting too close and with the side of the road slanting towards it...yeah. No thanks. It can eat someone else's kids.

Even with these storm drains, we live in an area that can have some really bad flooding. Almost every time we get any remarkable rainfall, we are always under a flood warning. It's nice that those alerts come through our cell phones. Unfortunately, I have yet to learn which roads are prone to that flooding...

**The sky is ENDLESS here in Texas. On days with white, fluffy clouds, the sky looks like the "Toy Story" wallpaper in Andy's room. The sunrises and sunsets are breathtaking! It's like each morning and evening is a new, blank canvas for God to share his artwork with us and we live in "painted sky" country. I will never get tired of seeing such beauty.

**It is easy to get disoriented out here in the rural part of town without a mountain as a fixed point. The one time I got lost, a week after Jared left, I ended up 15 miles south of our duplex one afternoon, driving down the road that runs directly past our duplex, just trying to get to the grocery store a couple miles away! True story.

**Speaking of store...H-E-B is what's hot here in College Station. I thought the acronym stood for "Here Everything's Better" the motto you find on the outside of the brown paper bags, but apparently it's the initials of the owner, Howard E. Butt. I think I'd call the company H-E-B, instead of Butt Grocery, also!! Here's the backstory on it according to Wikipedia. It's a family owned and operated, privately held supermarket that started in San Antonio, Texas back in 1905 in the downstairs level of a woman's home for $60. Pretty cool!

**I wasn't sure I'd like H-E-B after my first trip there. It's a far cry from the Winco I grew to love. It's like a Fred Meyer or Kroger grocery store on cultural steroids. My budget prefers Winco, not those higher end grocery stores. And it's overwhelmingly huge! They give out samples in several different parts of the store, they have cooking demonstrations, they have an Asian team who makes fresh sushi/California Rolls every day and gives out samples, they have cooking classes for kids, they have a large screen TV near the appetizers that will always show the current Aggie game or another team from the SEC. They've got so many different kinds of foods and specialty items that either I've never even heard of before or that you could only get at an ethnic store in Oregon. Maybe this is just Texas, but there is one whole side of an aisle devoted to BBQ sauces and marinades. And the other side of that same aisle is strictly hot sauces. Yes. Hot sauces only. The $1.08 bottle of Tapatio is all I need, thanks. And sadly, no bulk food bins like Winco has. When it comes to nuts and spices and things that you only need a little bit of at a time or pasta and rice that you want a lot of, this aspect was so appreciated!

**My shopping time has escalated exponentially because I can't find anything! After a few trips to the store I realized that I'm coming off of a whole decade's worth of shopping at the SAME store, week in and week out. I had it down to a science. It'll take me some time to get my new "path" down at H-E-B. I'm just not very patient!

**What I DO love about H-E-B are these super cool things that I've never experienced before:

Parking spaces close to the store entrance for those of us with little kids!

And some parking spaces up front for those who have already paid their dues in life!

This rocks. They have fresh fruit in baskets for kids to munch on while you shop. Only 25 cents. JJ always enjoyed a banana.

The grocery carts are like Costco--two seats up front! Finally, a grocery store that gets it! They also have the fun car carts (that are impossible to steer) for little ones.

They have "Meal Deals" every once in a while, where if you buy one main thing like fajita meat for example, you got the sides/extras like tortillas, chips and salsa, sour cream and soda for FREE! Once, with the purchase of a frozen lasagna, you got frozen steamed veggies, frozen garlic bread and a pint of ice cream for FREE! I bought 2 or 3 of those to keep on hand for meals to give to people that could use a lift. On a regular rotation, they have buy 1, get 1 (or 2) and "buy this, get that." Such as, buy a bag of Oreos and get a half-gallon of milk for free. It's pretty awesome. 

The employees are very friendly! They have youth and college students to bag your groceries for you (and take them out to your car as well, if you want the help!) I also love that there are "big wigs" (you can just tell they are more executive) out in different parts of the store, helping those who are stocking or cleaning or they mingle with the store patrons. They always say hi and ask how I'm doing when they pass me. They know their employees by names and interact with genuine kindness. 

You can use your credit card for grocery purchases! It was a real drag to not be able to use my credit card at Winco to help build up our bank of airline miles or the money we could get back.

H-E-B also has a drive-thru pharmacy and gas station.

**I actually tracked the price of our groceries for a month or so before leaving Oregon because I was curious to see what things cost more or less between the two states in different parts of the country. Interestingly enough, the prices were pretty similar. I didn't see any glaring discrepancies. Some things cost a little more in Oregon, whereas some things cost a little more here. It seemed like, more or less, it was a wash. 

**When registering Jake for his freshman year at High School, he was able to get right on the basketball team because it was a class period. How much playing time he got was a different story, however, but everyone was on a team. Which I thought was pretty dang cool so even though he's not been playing basketball for very long, he can continue his love for the game and to learn skills. The same opportunity would not have been available in Oregon. They also have the students focus on a "track" for their high school career--Jake chose the STEM route--science, technology, engineering and math field. It seemed a little early for them to have to hone in on specific interests now, but I won't question it. The schools seem to be doing just fine without my input. 

**Keyboarding/typing was not offered until high school in Oregon (I'm assuming) so Jake planned to take it there as an elective (like Jared and I did). But it's not offered at the high school level here in CS. It's actually a requirement at the middle school level. Fortunately for Jake, it's not a graduation requirement and he can do it on his own. And it frees up an elective.

**The school district follows the same calendar as Texas A & M to accommodate parents who are professors. We start the end of August, Labor Day is not observed (I've been told it's because it's a union holiday and Texas doesn't recognize unions), and we go until Christmas break. Spring Break is the 3rd week in March and the kids are out of school the end of May. Works for me!

**We've been told the boy scouts don't camp during the summer here due to the heat. They camp the other nine months out of the year. That's so weird to us because the Oregon summers were the prime time to camp, though our boys did go on camp outs in November and February. And scout camp is held the first part of June to make it as tolerable as possible. 

**We actually live in Bryan/College Station (BCS). But we live in the College Station part. University Drive, up north where Texas A & M sits, is like the border. The second you cross University headed north into Bryan, it's like the town aged 30 or 40 years. There is a definite distinction. It's more, "ghetto" if you will, as my kids would say. College Station is the newer part of the area that continues to grow...especially south near the CS "border" where we live where there are wide open spaces. Construction companies can't keep up with the demand. When we signed our lease for the duplex, the manager told us that they have planned that subdivision (Creek Meadows) to hold eight hundred homes! They have only built about 200-ish.

**There are not monthly stake dances. They have three a year. Likewise, there are only two youth baptism trips to the temple each year. August and February. They meet at 9am and are back by 3 or 4. But the ward treats them to lunch at Chick-fil-A and ice cream on the way home, so that makes it a fun, well-rounded experience. I hope the youth back in Oregon never take their monthly temple baptism trips for granted--even if they have to be up before 5am.

**It takes about 10-12 minutes to drive to church. It's not the 60 seconds it used to be, but it's not too bad. There are actually three wards in College Station and one in Bryan. On our way to the chapel, we pass two streets. One is "Hannover," but for some reason, the first time I saw it, I read it as "Hangover." Then the next street is "Fraternity Row" (makes sense) and the one right after is "Deacon"...the street our church building is on. When I drive to church, I always have this silly thought run through my mind: The peeps on Fraternity Row with Hangovers finally saw the error of their ways and found a Deacon :) Our little kids believe the church was built first and the city of College Station named the street after the chapel. The physical address is actually on Welsh, the cross-road to Deacon. 

**Armadillo is the choice of road kill around here. While on our move, after entering Texas, that's all we saw on the side of the road. And it's the only thing we have seen since then around town...dead armadillos. I have yet to see one alive. Oh, I did see a dead opossum once. And there are LOTS of geckos that like to crawl up the siding on our duplex. I opened the door one evening and one fell on my head and landed on the inside of our door! I had the heebie jeebies for a minute. I could think of worse things (spiders, snakes, scorpions...) falling on my head!

**Even inside an air conditioned duplex, when shredded cheese hits the melts within a couple minutes. It doesn't turn to liquid, obviously, but it gets soft and translucent and adheres itself to the floor making it a bit of an "un-sweepable" mess to clean up.

**Instead of seeing law enforcement vehicles driving around town labeled "Police," they have "Constable" on them. I wasn't sure what the difference was and had to look it up. This is what I found online: A Texas constable is a law enforcement officer who is elected by the county residents they serve. The first constable was appointed in 1823 and was the first law enforcement officer in the history of Texas. A Constable and the Constables deputies are the enforcement officers for the local Justice of the Peace. They and their deputies are peace officers and they have a lot of authority. Though they do act as bailiff for the Justice of the Peace, they also serve civil suit notices, and subpoenas and can execute arrest warrants. The Constable and Deputy Constables can make arrests, issue citations and are authorized to investigate any crime or traffic offense that happens in their presence or that a citizen reports to them. Like other law enforcement officers, Constables have state-wide authority to make arrests for any criminal offense they may witness. So a [Brazos] County Constable who sees a theft occurring in Dallas County can arrest the criminal despite not being in their home county. Very interesting. I'm half expecting to see a Texas Ranger now! :)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

2014 middle-of-the-year month is renamed

I have officially dubbed July 2014 forevermore as JU-LONG. It was excruciating.

After Jared flew back to Oregon, it only took a couple days to have all the unpacking and organizing done at the duplex. And then what? We were a family of six in a new state and town, with no summer activities planned, no schedule, no friends, no money and for some of us, no energy. That latter "some" being only me, apparently. I was done. I had spent the previous four months in manic-mode trying to get everything and everyone ready for our departure from Oregon while simultaneously getting everything in order for our arrival in Texas. I quit. I had no motivation (mentally, physically, emotionally) to do a thing. While still in the northwest, I had visions of exploring and finding places with the kids that we could return to with Jared at a later time, but those ideas were snuffed...1) because of the lack of aforementioned motivation and 2) because in one way or another, that too, would require money...whether that translated to entrance fees or gas for the suburban thanks to the monstrosity that Texas is. So that was out of the question. Let's face it. If I were still in Oregon with Jared away from home for a whole month, it would be lame, no doubt. But so much more tolerable and easier in familiar surroundings with friends and activities. Was I having a pity party? Absolutely! This month was hard!

Here's the long and short of how it all went down:

The day after Jared left, I swung by the home construction site to see how things were going and to see if anyone from the crew was around. That's when all of a sudden my heart sank with an incredible out-of-the-blue thought. "Houston, we have a problem!" Before we had returned home from the trip to Texas in April where we secured the house plans and made our design selections, I had decided to change the exterior color that we had originally picked out. I wanted to make the siding "well bred brown" (instead of the door) and swap the door color to "portabello" leaving the trim as "macadamia." But...when I drove by on July 8th to check on the progress, it was as if I had been hit with a ton of bricks! (No pun intended). I had changed the exterior color but FAILED to change the brick selection to match it. I have no sense of color or style, whatsoever, but even with my lack of a knack for such things, I KNEW the clash between the new siding color and original brick choice would be nothing short of hideous. THIS picture below is what the brick was when we left Texas (which, honestly, looks gross here...I don't know what we were thinking...oh right, we weren't, because we only had a few minutes to make our choices!...) coupled with a beige-ish/tan siding color.

But the siding was now BROWN!! Ewwwwww. Can we all say "Nasty"??

I found the superintendent, Dennis, and introduced myself to him--explaining that the future owners of this property were not phantoms, but did indeed exist as real people and that we had just arrived last week from Oregon. Before I approached him, I noticed a large order of bricks in my neighbor's driveway but none in mine, so I thought I might still have a chance. The only problem was...the day for making changes was long past and there would be a fee to the tune of a couple hundred dollars to make a change, assuming there was time to do so. At that point...I didn't really care. My concern was...could it still be changed? We never got an email or phone call or any communication that told us when the house building process began. So, in my defense, until we saw the framed house the week before, we were running under the assumption they hadn't even started on it yet. That was the  argument I had formulating in my head just in case I got some resistance from them.

When I explained the color change without the brick to match it, Dennis said he didn't think it would be a problem because he didn't believe it had been ordered yet. I think I just BARELY made it though. (Thank heaven for HUGE miracles!) I found the brick I wanted, right away. I saw it on another home with brown siding. I put in my request. The design gal called me and said they've got that brick and they can change my order for the $225 fee. The only problem--my next door neighbors have the EXACT same brick and it's against "design rules" to have two houses right next to each other with the same color and/or brick.


Dang it!! So then I had to drive around the neighborhood trying to find brick I thought would work with our color and trim and make a choice...that day. And I was trying to get Jared's input and my friend's input and my mom's input all through blasted email and texting over the phone. It was majorly frustrating with a side of ridiculous.

I had it narrowed down to two. "Brushy Creek" is the lighter brick pictured here next to our already chosen exterior paint colors.

"Green Hollow" was the second choice.

There was a home with the same brown siding as ours with the first choice (lighter) brick up the street. Every time I looked at it though, the brick, next to the brown, looked pink. Maybe it was just the way the sun was hitting it, but the combination of colors didn't sit well with me. There was a home with the second (darker) brick choice, but the color of the siding was different so I kind of had to squint my eyes and imagine what it would look like. Because the Green Hollow brick had brown in it (even with the red clay undertones that I wasn't thrilled about), I decided to go with that one. It felt like this whole exercise was a chore in choosing the lesser of two evils while I tried not to hold a completely unwarranted design grudge against my new neighbors--whom I had yet to meet. I consoled myself with the fact that a) I won't have to look at my brick every day as I will be inside my home. AND b) I was indeed grateful it wasn't orange and that we could make the change. Oh and if you think I made a poor brick choice, please don't tell me!!! The exterior selection back in April was bad enough. I was not feeling good about anything on the exterior at this point. The cream (macadamia) color I picked out for the trim looked like butter cream yellow next to the brown. I tried not to dwell on the rising disappointment that swelled inside my chest whenever I considered the exterior of the house. We were now at the point of no return.

That first week without Jared was especially trying because we still did not have wifi or Internet access at the duplex. (First world problems? Maybe...) There just happened to be one small prong that was broken off inside the connector and we had to wait over a week, until Friday, 7/11 to get it repaired by the cable company. It was SUCH a DRAG for me because we seriously had no outside link with the world in which we live or with old friends, or family. I couldn't email anyone or search for things or find things to do in the future or check on accounts, etc. The lack of Internet access really exacerbated my feelings of loneliness (and productivity) during this transitional period--because every day that slogged by felt like a week--at the very minimum. Time stood still and refused to move forward.

But the Lord was aware of me and I received a tender mercy. One of the counselors in the Bishopric contacted me the middle of the week asking if Jake could serve as first counselor in the Teacher's quorum. I was, of course, completely fine with that and I took him to church early that second Sunday (the first without Jared) for his interview. As we were walking into the church building, the other counselor asked if he could meet with me for a minute. Brother Courtright (who I predict will be our next Bishop :) extended a call for me to serve as a primary instructor. I accepted and was grateful to have something to do. Something worthwhile to focus on. A purpose. I've never felt SO relieved to have a calling. I would only be teaching every other week because I am the second teacher for that class. Since I had been sustained that day during Sacrament meeting, I offered (okay, maybe begged...) to teach the following week. I was assigned to the group of 9-year-olds--all girls and one boy in that class...the age just a year older than Karcyn. I was super excited!

While I was grateful for the distraction and blessing of a calling to teach in Primary, it was only every other Sunday and I was not able to fill ALL my time down time with each lesson. I do not remember much about the month of July as a whole. I think that's by design. I did, however, enjoy reading several books. A luxury (because I'm such a slow reader) I hadn't been able to indulge in for a while. And we swam. A Lot. Like every afternoon except Wednesday, because I still held Wednesday as our laundry day and we threw a trip to the library in there, as well.

Swimming is awesome for kids and teenagers, especially when they have nothing else to do. Having unlimited access to a pool that's basically around the corner is awesome-er. But I ain't gonna lie. It's a lot of work with several kids of varying sizes. Thankfully, at this point in the game, my kids can dress themselves--assuming they can locate their bathing suit from the day prior and their towel and their goggles and their flip-flops. But there's this thing called the sun. And it can be dangerous. Before leaving Oregon, I vowed to myself that if my children got any sort of sunburn while living in Texas, it would not be on MY watch. So after we spent a good twenty to thirty minutes making sure everyone had what they needed, we began the sunscreen shower. I had purchased a couple bottles of spray sunscreen for the bodies and kept some lotion on-hand for the face. It didn't take long to learn that we would go through a bottle of spray sunscreen every three days for this family of six. We would definitely need to buy it in bulk. I am well aware that lotion sunscreen would be more cost effective financially, but the alternative--helping kids rub it into their backs and hard to reach places and making sure we covered every spot--every.time.we.swam--would break me mentally and send me right over the edge. It was totally worth the few extra bucks for efficiency and sanity at this point. We would spend a couple hours at the pool each day. JJ figured out how to keep himself upright in his life jacket and I had finally "arrived!" I don't always have to get in the water now! Oh, and we discovered the pavement around the pool can, in fact, burn our feet!!

Speaking of the water. I am still amazed that the sun is what heats the pool water here. And under a blazing July sun, contrary to popular belief, that water, though wet, is not always refreshing. Most times it feels like you're swimming in a big bathtub. But--I will say how wonderful it is to get OUT, especially if there's a small breeze. Then you start to cool off a bit. It's the perfect combo of warm and comfortably refreshing. Totally opposite of Oregon. Unless it was near 100 degrees, you took one step into the artificially heated pool and had to clamp your mouth shut so as not to yelp or gasp at the shock of the water temperature. You had to just rip the band aid off and get in all at once. After that, you had to keep moving to stay warm. Getting out was the worst. There was almost always a breeze if not wind and my kids' lips would turn blue. It was a common ritual to come home from swimming in our subdivision pool in the Oregon summers and then have a mug of hot chocolate to warm up! Most days we had the small pool by our duplex all to ourselves. There is a downside, however. The subdivisions here don't provide lifeguards, like our Oregon subdivision did. I suspect it might be because it's warm enough to swim all day long (6am to 10pm) and staffing it with a lifeguard would be too difficult. But that also meant my older boys were not old enough to go without me--which was a lame rule we had to get used to. But because I didn't work during the day, we could go to the pool whenever we wanted and seldom did we have to share it.

I was grateful for the scouting and young men programs at church to instantly connect Cooper and Jake to young men their age. Cooper's group wasn't meeting weekly during the summer, like Jake's was, but they had a couple things planned in July that helped give him something to look forward to, like a fishing trip at the end of that first week by ourselves.

I discovered long ago that when I cook dinner, I cook for Jared. Not my children. I suppose that sounds a little harsh coming from a mother, but I cook for my husband and if they happen to like it, fantastic. If they don't like what I made for Jared, then they can go hungry. Our family food motto: This isn't Burger King. You can't have it your way. In case you are worried about the well being of my children during Ju-Long, don't you fret. I did feed them while Jared was absent, but we may or may not have had cold cereal a few times a week. And pasta the other nights. All joking aside, I did actually cook a couple times a week for them :) Our meals were very laid back to say the least. I also brought Teen Tuesday and Tween Thursday back into the rotation where Jake cooked one night and Cooper cooked the other so they could continue to hone in on their cooking skills...and it was a nice break for me!

Here are a few other things we did/that happened in Ju-Long:

JJ put his climbing skills to use right away. He got to the syrup bottle in the pantry and did this little number in their room. This carpet was all but brand new. No stains on it when we arrived! But not anymore...actually, no stains, more like...crunchiness.
He even managed to leave his HAND PRINT in a puddle of syrup. So gross! I cannot stand the smell of syrup when we're not eating anything that requires it or when we're doing the dishes after eating it. I also learned it's not so easy to get out of carpet either!

Karcyn had a play date with her new friend Karlie from the ward. She came and swam with us a couple times.

We got wild and crazy one night and walked the half mile down to the subdivision park, played for a bit...AND walked back. Holy hot. And we started out at 7pm!!

We enjoyed the HUGE, ELECTRIFYING thunder storms and downpours!!

Okay--not everyone liked the thunder! Karcyn comforted JJ when he used her to hide after a clap of thunder shook the duplex. Jake had the joy of TENT camping in the middle of that storm cell with the scouts. YOWZAS!!!

One Monday night, we took advantage of the "Buy One, Get One" at Yogurtland. Helps that the owner is LDS :)

We checked on the progress of the house once a week. By July 16th, we had a newly poured driveway!

Jake did a LOT of Lego building. Something he didn't have a ton of time for as an 8th grader in the high school marching band and I know he missed it. "Fortunately" for him, he had nothing but TIME on his hands. I'm grateful he chose to use it in a constructive way. I'm not anti-gun or anything, but I still have a healthy respect for them and want my kids to as well. So I wasn't super thrilled he chose to build handguns out of his limited Lego collection. But I gotta give props to him! They were impressive! This one came complete with a scope.

This one looked awfully real from a distance! A little TOO real!!

He did, however, use his mad Lego skills to construct a homemade Backgammon board that he and Cooper actually played on. Pretty cool!

Karcyn also enjoyed playing with Legos. (They were a life saver!!)

JJ enjoyed "hiding" from us and made his disappearances a little unnerving when we called out to him and he wouldn't respond. In fact, on this particular day, July 18th, we thought he was truly missing. I looked in their room and this was what I saw from the doorway. When I didn't see him, I left and continued my search through the rest of the duplex--which wasn't that big with came with very few hiding spots. Not finding him anywhere else, I came back to his room and that's when I started digging around. He was still in his spot. Hadn't moved. Hadn't made a sound. Can you see him? (You're killing me, Smalls!!)

The kids made forts.

We tried out Bahama Bucks. Note to self: shaved ice melts a whole lot faster in Texas than it does in Oregon! Miss Karcyn didn't care, however.

The kids also made fun creations and animals with their play dough. 

This was Calvin's creation.

Almost every night, I would wake up in the wee hours of the morning to find a child or two who somehow wound up in MY bed. And they stayed there until morning. I know it continued because I was too tired and too lazy to carry them back to their own beds. Considering their lives were a bit sideways at the moment, I let it slide. But just you wait until Dad comes back...

I longed for Sundays. They were the day I looked forward to the most--filling my spiritual well, adult interaction, trying to meet new people, and two hours without my children. They were also the day I dreaded the most. Getting the kids ready to go, attempting to have a reverent, spiritual morning and trying to keep them from getting on each other's nerves (mine included) until Sacrament meeting started at 1pm, to say nothing of sitting alone on the bench in the chapel for 70 minutes wrestling with kids who didn't want to be there and capitalized on the fact that I was clearly outnumbered. Calvin and JJ were the worst behaved. Cooper was no better. Jake couldn't help out during the first part of the meeting, because he was, as he should be, administering the Sacrament. I spent most my time in the halls or outside the church building. The first Sunday I was teaching my primary class, Calvin had a massive meltdown, while I was already floundering with JJ in the hall. (How are kids SO much STRONGER than us adults??) Calvin wouldn't stop wailing and refused to cooperate, so I escorted him outside. I was trying not to become distressed myself. I know I was worried about how people were perceiving this new family from Oregon and that made me feel worse. But people didn't know us yet and I didn't want child tantrums and meltdowns to be their first impression. I had just a few minutes before I needed to get to my primary class. I don't remember how it resolved, but Calvin finally trudged to his class, which was taught by the two most amazing brethren, Brother White and Brother Andrus. Despite my efforts to not feel this way, I had a very passionate love/hate relationship with Sundays while Jared was gone.

This is what JJ did after walking in the door when we returned from church each Sunday. He could barely make the walk inside and as soon as he got near the mattress, he toppled forward. And slept.

This is a BEFORE picture of JJ--while he's conscious and not testing his mother's patience in the church pew.

I finally got smart. There was another family who moved in the same Sunday we did--with a bunch of teenage girls. I asked the oldest, Dara, if she would be so kind as to sit with us so when I had to leave with JJ (or in case I never made it in to begin with--which has happened!) I could at least know that the Houghs weren't being completely inappropriate in my absence. She was there for the second to last Sunday without Jared and when they went out of town, I turned to another young woman, our future neighbor, Ashley, for help. I'm grateful to the Mangisi and Downs families who loaned their daughters to help serve our family and only wish I had thought of it sooner. At the same time, we didn't really know each other until then anyway.

Jake flew out of Houston on the 28th of July to return to Oregon for his first high adventure--thanks to the incredible generosity of the McCulloughs. Getting him to the airport was an unexpected adventure described here. But we survived!! And that meant we were on the official count down until Jake and Jared left Oregon for good. Nine more days and we'd be a full-strength family of Houghs. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...