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...