Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Nursery Reveal (finally)

Well it only took us until she was almost halfway to her first birthday to finally get her nursery finished (and we still have one more picture to hang), but that is the way it goes when your life is on the move constantly.

Aubrey's gender was kept a surprise until she was born. We loved the idea of not having any expectations of preconceived notions of the little one that was going to change our world. We also are really not fans of anything very gender specific, pink or blue. So we knew we wanted the nursery to be completely gender neutral, but I hated the idea of sticking totally to gray and yellow. I also wanted it to feel serene and relaxing. A sort of oasis. 

I spotted this adorable sailboat mobile on another blog one day, and the concept for the nursery came into picture. 


What could be more fitting for a baby conceived in South Dakota, born in Germany, living in Turkey, and one day returning to her parent's hometown in North Carolina, than a room inspired by traveling the world far and near? 


Bits and pieces along the way were created by family members. The Baby J pillow below was made by Will's mom, and the blanket was knit by my Aunt Becky.



Will's mom also made this bunting. 



My Dad built the book shelves.


The "A" and "J" book letters came from a store in Asheville. The small angel was a gift Aubrey received from a store owner in Heidelberg, Germany. It says Schutzengel, which means "guardian angel." The small picture is a hand painted landscape of Cappadocia. And the owl and bookends were gifts from my Mom. 

Not seen in these pictures are a few other gifts Aubrey received both before and after she was born, including an "evil eye" trinket, and a hand painted whale from a pottery shop in Cappadocia. 


Dad also made this blanket ladder. 

The blankets themselves were handmade gifts from various friends and family (the bottom one from my Mom). 



I feel that the pictures don't really do it justice, but I really love the way it turned out! 


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Aubrey 6 Months (almost)

I've meant to take pictures every month as Aubrey grows, but like anything else in life, time gets away from you before you realize it. 


So, even though she was still a little over a week shy of being officially 6 months, I jumped at the chance to snap some pictures of my sweet girl.


She was not in the mood to model that day, but thankfully I was able to get a few smiles here and there. 


I know many veteran moms remember the early newborn days and tiny babies so fondly, and as much as I cherished those times, I feel like I have been looking forward to getting to this age almost since she was born. 


I love seeing her little personality come to life. I love watching her finally start learning how to use her hands and fingers to explore her teeny world. 


I love how each day brings a new achievement for her, and watching her fuss and fight and then smile so big when she finally accomplishes a new milestone. 


We've started getting into some solids these days. Mostly just playing with various foods and seeing how they taste, versus actually eating very much. So far sweet potatoes and carrots seem to be her favorites.


She has started to notice the dogs more, and frequently reaches up to touch and explore my face. It melts my heart every time. 


She loves music and when people sing to her. And also dancing. Nothing makes her laugh and smile faster than Dad holding her up high and dancing a jig. I hope she takes up some kind of musical instrument one day.


She still loves to sleep in Mom and Dad's bed the most, but really does a great job napping and sleeping through the night in her crib which makes life much easier for us. 


She is such a ham, and is slowly becoming my greatest pal. We've spent so much time together lately, just her and I. While I'm convinced she is pretty tired of seeing my face all day every day, I know I never get tired of spending my days admiring hers. Happy (almost) 6 months my sweet Aubrey Eleanor! I would wish for time to stop so I could hold you in my arms forever, but I can't help but love watching to you grow and looking forward to seeing the amazing person you will become. We love you so much! 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

We Didn't Get Lost in Turkey

Hey guys! As a result of preparing for a dinner guest yesterday, and doing a good job of cleaning as the night went on, I walked in to a clean kitchen, and just happened to have a sleeping baby, and I thought..."I think I would like to blog a little!"

 Life has been hectic, as is always the likely excuse when a blogger seemingly falls off the face of the planet. I love my little blog space because it gives me a chance to clear my head, focus my creativity at times, and document all the crazy places our lives take us. But unfortunately when life is too busy there isn't only the lack of time to write, for me there is often a lack of inspiration. Who has time to be inspired when you barely have tim to take a shower? 



When Will took the job of Area Defense Council here in Turkey, we knew we could expect him to have to travel often. The guy before him traveled 27 weeks out of the year, the year before we arrived. However, he was also single, here unaccompanied, and often volunteered to handle cases away from Turkey. And somewhere in my delusional mind I thought Will obviously wouldn't be doing that, and therefor probably wouldn't be traveling as much. And to take the delusion further, I thought even if he did have to travel that much, it would be every other week or so, which seemed totally doable.

The reality was a bit different. He didn't travel too much for the first six months (<--I can't believe we have already been here 6 months!!), then all of a sudden he had cases back to back in locations every from Germany to Afghanistan. There was one stretch when he was going to be gone for almost a week and a half, then home for less than 24 hours before leaving for another week. Because I had been back in the states during his previous trips, this was the first time I had been left alone here with Aubrey and the dogs. The first few days were ok, but then it started raining which took away our daily walks (which I relied on to get us out of the house and keep us sane), the dogs were (and myself) absolutely miserable with cabin fever, and Aubrey rebelled against all the crazy feedings I was putting her through, and eventually one night I found myself rocking my screaming baby in the middle of the night...sobbing because I just didn't know what else to do and I had no one there to even offer a little support or throw me a tissue.


Will surprised me two nights later by walking into the nursery while I was nursing Aubrey before bed. He came home a whole day early and if felt like the best gift in the world. I realized I was shaking and a few tears escaped when I finally got Aubrey down and was able to give him a hug.

It's hard to explain because even on a normal basis when Will is home, he still often doesn't get to the house until Aubrey has already gone to bed. So it's not exactly like I was having to take on anymore responsibility, but for some reason the knowing that back up support was not coming played bad tricks on my mind.

I'm happy to say that we recovered, and have since made it through many other weeks with Dad defending the world, one airman at a time.

One of the questions we get asked most often is "So how's Turkey?" I've still not come up with a very good answer (it's really hard to adequately explain this place), but this experience of Will being gone has helped me to find a little better way to describe life here. The city just outside of the base gates is huge. Like 1.89 million people huge. There are more restaurants and stores than you can count, and it would probably take you years to navigate through all the things there are to see. BUT, it's really just not safe for a woman and a baby to venture out and just waste away hours downtown. Designated trips to a specific store where you are in and out and on your way home are perfectly fine, but it's not like in the states where you can go to Target and spend hours and the requisite $50-100 on things that you absolutely need, while you slurp down a Starbucks coffee. Man how I miss those days sometimes.


So that basically means, if your husband is away, you have the option of going to the BX for the Nth time that week, taking a walk (if it doesn't rain), and if you're lucky working in a play date with another mom or even better, a quick outing into town. The isolation kicks in fast. One of the things I was most excited about when we found out we were coming to Turkey, was the vast amount of things that we could see and do being in such an unfamiliar place, and so close to the expanse of Europe. And when Will is here that is exactly what we do.

 It's just the other 95% of the time that he's gone that I feel like I might turn into Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Aubrey and I's days are relatively the same whether it's a Tuesday or a Saturday when Will isn't here, and the monotony can be killer.

So that's what we've been doing. A lot of the same. A lot of trying to survive while Daddy is gone. A lot of looking forward to the Turkish Riviera vacation we have planned in May, and galavanting through Europe with family in June. A lot of hoping that July and August don't get too crazy busy so we can go to beach near here a few times and let the dogs run. A lot of daydreaming about living back in NC, in a little farmhouse, with our kids, dogs, chickens and goats running around...and maybe a husband that gets to hang out for a while :)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Baby and Jim's First Beach Trip

Between traveling and Winter, our time in the great outdoors has been virtually non-existent in the past few months, so a couple of weekends ago we decided that needed to change. 

Not to mention Jim was about to go nuts with cabin fever. Poor guy went from the freedom to run in a huge field behind our house and weekly multiple-mile long hikes in South Dakota, to running circles in our tiny fenced in yard and jumping at the chance for the occasional morning run with Dad here in Turkey. 

We all really needed some sunshine and fresh air. 

Will pulled up good ol' Google maps and zoomed in on a local beach, then spanned the area to find a stretch of beach near there that look vacant (read: sufficient for letting the dogs run loose and claiming a spot by the water to ourselves for a few hours). 

He found a spot that had no name really, but ended up being easy enough to find (once we accepted that Google was not going to find the small cafe that was supposed to be located there - turns out the cafe is actually a little shanty with a spray painted sign...I mean come on Google! Step up your game!).

Anyway, we arrived and parked the car, and I made a pit stop at the "facilities."

This my friends is an example of a Turkish port-a-john. I'll spare you the photo I took of the inside, but it was a squatty potty (a.k.a. you squat and pee into a hole in the floor), fully equipped with a hose attached to a faucet to rinse anything down after you finished your business. Some of the joys of Turkey my friends. I was just thankful there was a bathroom :) 

Also can we take a moment to admire this picture. Granted the subject matter isn't all that great, but doesn't it look like a painting?? It was taken with Will's iPhone and hasn't been edited at all. I'm kind of amazed by it. 


Will set up our Sportbrella. We bought it knowing he and our little one would need a good source of shade and protection from the hot Turkish sun when we went to the beach. We didn't learn until we got here that most beaches in Turkey are covered with beach chairs and umbrellas, and it's the norm to pay to use those instead of setting up your own. In fact, I don't recall having seen a single personal umbrella or beach chair anywhere at the beaches we visited last summer. 


It was a beautiful day, although a little cloudy at times and very windy. 


We let the dogs run (Jim jumped sky high the first time a wave came at him), picked up a few seashells to commemorate Aubrey's first beach trip, shared one of Will's homebrews while Aubrey napped, then, when the clouds rolled in and it started to really cool off, we headed home. 




This is what happens when mom has to take her face away from the camera in order to get a smile. You get out of focus, half cutoff faces :)




It wasn't anything particularly special, but it was pretty awesome to be at the beach in February, and to be able to drive our car right up to it and have the place to ourselves.  

I would say Jim gave it a good 4 claws up simply for the ability for him to stretch his legs and experience the beach for the first time. 

Now we're just hoping this same spot won't be too crowded during the summer.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Should We Stay Or Should We Go

I know I will revisit this subject in half a year's time, but for some reason it's what's been a key topic of conversation lately, as well as something on my mind. Will's initial four year commitment is quickly coming to an end. As in around about December this year we will have to make the very hard decision whether to stay in the military, or seek opportunities elsewhere...i.e. back home in North Carolina.

So many people have asked me what military life is like, do we like being in the JAG, and always...do you want to stay in for the full twenty?

I've found it to be one of the most difficult things to explain to family and friends back home, this military life. Even if I could explain all the intricacies, the daily differences that set it apart from civilian life, and the drawbacks AND perks, I still don't think I could ever properly convey the feeling of being a military family. It's just different.

But because we have this year to take a long hard look at all the pros and cons, I thought it might help to share them as we go.

PROS

  • Security - I list this one first because from the first second that we even started considering growing our family, this became the most important aspect of Will's job, at least to me. Everyone suffered in one way or another from the economic recession, and we were no different. We lost a ton of money on the sale of our house, Will struggled like crazy to find a job even though he was top of his class in law school, and even years later we watched from the comfort of our military paid for life as others of his peers found themselves still job searching, or losing jobs they had finally landed. And even though the market is much improved from those days,  I can't help but harbor a bit of fear that if Will does get a job in the private sector, and we get out, in a year, two years, or ten, another economic downfall could happen and he could lose his job and we couldn't get back into the JAG, and there we would be wishing we had stayed in and enjoyed the security we had.
  • Benefits - Second on the list of important perks are the benefits. Namely the medical benefits. I don't think I have to state the obvious here, it's super cheap (as in free) to have children, see a doctor, or seek any medical help for that matter. Our healthcare needs are completely taken care of and that is awesome. Benefits also extend to other basic needs, like our housing and living. Sure we aren't in some custom built home with luxury fixings, but we have a nice house, and we live in a nice area, and most importantly, we are comfortable and live a very comfortable life...and it's all mostly paid for by the military. 
  • Life Experiences - Everyone's experiences are different in the military. Some people find themselves in small towns in the midwest, others spend the bulk of their careers bouncing from one overseas base to another. But the truth is that being in the military and relinquishing control of your life, lands in you places that you may not have ever had the chance to see or experience, whether that is good or bad. And if you have the right attitude, there are so many lessons to be learned in each location. I can't say we would have ever gone to South Dakota or spent anytime exploring the areas around there, but now that we have, we look back on that time and those memories very fondly. Alternatively, I can assure you we would never have looked to southeast Turkey for a place to call home, but even in our short time here we have accrued so many stories and experiences that will provide us with warm memories and great stories for the rest of our lives. 
  • Camaraderie and Community - There are not many communities like the military community. Especially at overseas bases. In the military you face unique challenges, and in many ways, only others going through the same challenges can truly understand. And even outside of military related things, you would be hard pressed to find yourself in a place where you are literally surrounded by other families willing to help you with anything and everything at a moments notice. I was thinking the other day how I take for granted how easy it is to buy and sell on the yard sale page for the base, or to find a babysitter on short notice so I can go to the gym, to take a walk with a fellow spouse up to the commissary, or to have a friend sew the tape on your curtains so you can finally hang them on the weird tracks we have in these Turkish homes. It's an awesome community that promotes family and friendship, and sometimes it feels like a great big hug surrounding you all the time. 
  • Financial Stability - I'm not going to sit here and say that we are rolling in the dough, but if you manage your money decently, you can enjoy a comfortable life. And for us, that includes me being able to stay home with our daughter and not having to worry about having a job to make ends meet. Granted being in Turkey I don't really have the option to work (there are very limited jobs available for spouses here), and sometimes I miss working and contributing to our family, but at the same time it's a great comfort to know that I don't have to work.
  • Retirement - As in you still get retirement pay, which is more than almost all jobs out there can say. If Will stays in for the full twenty he will actually get a pension, and we will keep our healthcare benefits. Not to mention, at only 20 years of required service for retirement, he would still be young enough when he retires to essentially have a secondary career if he chose to. 
  • Random Things That Are Often Overlooked - Free baggage with many airlines, discounts at various retailers and restaurants, a bank that solely caters to military personnel and families, access to government guaranteed loans, student loan repayment and the G.I. Bill, a family oriented "company" that regularly gives days off for morale and family building, 30 days of vacation a year plus extra days around the holidays AND 10 days paid paternity leave, a tax office that does your taxes for free and very quickly, living allowances, fitness/grocery/post office/shopping/gas station/legal/medical facilities in a compact, often walkable, location.
CONS
  • Sacrifice - You sacrifice a lot to live the military life. You are almost never near your family and friends. Any new friends you make, you only get to enjoy for a year or so before you move again. You don't get to put down roots anywhere, including making your house a true home all the way down to paint colors and picking out appliances you love, instead of the ones that came with your rental. As a spouse you pretty much give up the thought of a career. Your kids grow up knowing babysitters/nannies/neighbors better than they know their grandparents or aunts and uncles. 
  • Lack of Control and Choice - This one doesn't need much explaining. You don't have a choice in where you live, in many cases nor do you have a choice in your career path or next position, and in Will's case no choice in the location or timing of the trials he is assigned to. As a JAG you can express your wishes for a career path, or the type of law you would like to practice and develop an expertise in, but ultimately it's kind of luck of the draw for where you end up. In Will's current position, and in the one he would most likely move into after this one, cases are assigned to him at random meaning he could be in Italy next week, Afghanistan next month, or trying cases here in Turkey for the next six months. In other words, we have no idea when or where he is going to go next. It's exciting in some ways, and challenging in others. 
  • Fear - I sometimes think fear is the purple elephant in the military community. Deployments come with the territory, and in our case random trials in places like Afghanistan. And while you accept them as part of the job, it doesn't mean the underlying fact that they do involve a certain degree of danger (sometimes a high degree) doesn't stay in the back of your mind at all times. The hard truth is sometimes soldiers and airmen ARE hurt or killed. It happens on the battlefield and in training. In expected situations and in unexpected ones. It's true that death can find you anywhere, whether it's at your desk at a plush law firm or in the seat of a humvee, but it is hard know you are willingly putting yourself (or seeing your spouse putting themselves) at risk on a regular basis, as part of your/their job. 
  • Set Promotions - For the most part it doesn't matter if you are great, mediocre, or poor at your job, once you put in the required number of years of service you are promoted (unless of course you majorly screw up somewhere along the way). This is great news for some, but it sucks for anyone who goes above and beyond, or excels in their position, or deserves to be promoted well before their time comes. Unlike in a private firm, winning a huge case isn't grounds for a bonus or a raise, or even a little praise, it's just part of the job you're expected to do. You make a comfortable salary, but you don't have the opportunity to really grow your personal wealth outside the set schedule of salary increases over years of service. 
There is also the factor of the extended service bonus. As an officer, Will doesn't have to "reenlist," he can just continue to serve, however if we were to commit to an additional two years (or 4 or 6) we will receive a bonus based on the number of years we've committed to. It's a pretty good bonus. The bad news is, due to force shaping, the time frame for hearing about new assignments changed, meaning we now have to make our decision before we will know what our next assignment will be. My argument until this point has been that if we get anywhere on the east coast, or at a base we've been wanting, it would be worth it to stay in at least two more years and get the bonus, but now we have no way of knowing where we will be stationed to influence our decision.


What it boils down to, is that this will be no easy decision. So, lots of prayers this year, and lots of trying to make the absolute most of the time we have left. I find myself daydreaming and talking to Will about our future life back in NC, spending time with family, the things we want in a house, looking forward to finally having the goats and chickens I've been wanting for years. But then I think about leaving the military and my heart feels very heavy. I can't help but be transported back to the time when Will was in training at Maxwell and I joined him for a week here and there. Watching the airmen running together in the morning during PT, hearing the planes soar overhead, singing the Air Force song for the millionth time, and seeing my handsome husband decked out in his blues. I remember how exciting it was to join this community. The newness, and awesomeness of just how well the military takes care of its families. I remember all the places it has taken us, the incredible people we have met, and I reflect on how much Will and I's relationship has grown from all of it. Leaving would be a very bittersweet thing, that is one thing that is certain in this crazy life.