2017 Back to School!

Back to school comes early in FL!!  August 10th was Grace’s first day but that was ok because she was so excited to start second grade!

We had a really positive homeschool experience with Grace for Kindergarten.  We considered homeschooling her again last year for first grade.  Andy and I went back and forth and prayed a lot about how to educate Grace last year.  We ultimately decided to put her in first grade at the wonderful elementary school down the road from our Maryland house.  It was the right decision!

Grace had a fantastic year.  She loved her teacher and made new friends right away.  She excelled academically and became so brave and confident.  She was a fairly timid toddler and preschooler, but being in school has given her the confidence to plug right in when we go places with children’s activities.  It’s been so great to watch her step into a new Sunday school setting, carnival game, or public play area and feel confident enough to run right up and get involved!

Being a military family and moving once a year (or less!) right now means it’s really important for us to plug in and connect quickly.  Military life means pressing fast forward on friendship and community involvement if you don’t want to be lonely and isolated during your brief stay in an area.  That’s been a new experience for us since we came from a background of living in the same city for a long time and having rich history and deep roots in our relationships.  We’re getting better at it with each move :)

The first day of school meant a front porch photo shoot!! Who is this grown up girl and how did she go from this:

to this???

The old saying, “The days are long but the years are short” could not be more true! The years continue to clip by at a rapid pace.  I’m doing my best to pay attention and savor as much of this as I can.

Grace’s new school isn’t too far from home, but with Avery being in VPK (voluntary pre kindergarten) 5 mornings a week, I knew I’d be in for a TON of driving if I didn’t consider having Grace ride the bus.

I’ll admit I was nervous about the whole bus thing, but I have to say it’s been a huge blessing!! Our bus driver is the NICEST woman! She greets me with a friendly wave every single morning and she’s so sweet to Grace.  One particularly rough morning, Grace boarded the bus having just stopped crying, and her bus driver wiped her tears with a tissue and gave her a hug! I cannot tell you how good it feels to have your child in such good care on the way to and from school each day. Bus drivers are world changers! I’m already thinking about a Christmas gift for this wonderful woman!

Did I mention the bus picks Grace up right in front of our house??? It’s amazing. Seriously the best.

After Labor Day (aka the normal time to start school!) Avery started school.  After much back and forth, we decided to enroll her in a free VPK program at a sub-installation of the main Navy base we live right next to.

I was really hesitant to send her to school 5 mornings a week, but her Maryland preschool was literally the highlight of her entire year last year and I wanted Avery to have something that was “hers” during our short stay here.  So we decided to go for it!

I also remembered Kindergarten will be 5 full days next year, so this is probably a good transition to that.  I do miss our relaxed 3 morning a week preschool schedule last year though.  Probably because of the commute! The base that houses her school is about 20 minutes away which means I’m driving about an hour and twenty minutes each day just commuting to and from preschool.  It’s not my favorite thing! LOL

But just look at this sweet girl and how excited she is about school :)

Again…how did we get from this:

to this?!?

Avery is a pretty solid introvert, but she enjoys school and feels very grown-up when she leads us to her classroom every morning.  She’s learning to write her name and having lots of fun experiences with her teachers and classmates.  They end each day with outdoor recess, and I love seeing her sweet flushed face when we pick her up on the playground.

True to her introverted ways, she’ll usually come home after school and head straight to her room for some alone time before lunch! I love how well she plays on her own…she has a vivid imagination and is such a wonderful girl.

Side by side comparisons may be the death of me because they highlight just how quickly the time passes, but I’m a glutton for punishment so here are a couple recaps of the past few years :)

Avery 3 Year Old Preschool vs 4 Year Old VPK

Grace Kindergarten – First Grade – Second Grade


These pictures make me think our next house needs to have a burgundy front door! Ha!

I’m so grateful my girls have access to education. It’s a privilege I don’t take for granted and I look forward to seeing all they will do with the gifts they’ve been given :)

Summer in Pensacola – Part 2

We rang in my 37th birthday at the Navy Lodge, but my precious family made it a sweet day despite a sour location! Breakfast was donuts (Custard Filled Long John’s for me!), lunch was Panera Bread near the mall, and dinner was Mexican food and margaritas! I didn’t have to cook at all!! :)

Andy and the Kids made a fun birthday banner and decorated the living room with crepe paper.  We bought a fudge bunt cake from Walmart and I had mint chip ice cream on the side.

BUT the very best part of my birthday was a hugely successful clean water campaign!! Earlier this year I heard about Charity Water whose mission is to use 100% of money raised to provide clean and safe water for people in developing countries.  My heart was broken when I listened to stories of how a lack of clean water devastates lives and families, so I knew I had to do something to help out.

I donated my birthday to the cause and my generous family and friends raised $1145!! That money will provide water for 37 people who need it! How awesome that my goal was to provide water for 20 people and it ended up being 37 on my 37th?!!?

Speaking of water, I want each of my children to have the safety of knowing how to swim. We did swim lessons in Michigan but with all the chaos of moving every summer, it’s been a while since the girls have had lessons.  We took advantage of lessons on base for one week this summer and I was proud of the progress Grace and Avery each made.  Grace started the summer unwilling to put her head underwater and now she’s a little fish! Jumping in, swimming under water without goggles, and having a blast.  It’s been so fun to watch! I’m hoping Avery makes even bigger strides next summer :)

Pensacola in the summer is HOTTT. There are lots of fun festivals to attend downtown and we had a ton of fun at Gallery Night with some of Andy’s classmates and their families.  We were all soaked with sweat, but still managed to enjoy tasty tacos and rockin’ tunes!

Upon graduating from the Aviation portion of his program, Andy received his flight suits!  Seeing him in this uniform was crazy.  Made me think of Top Gun!  I’m seriously proud of him.  He works so hard and keeps such a great attitude.

And you should see his buns in these jumpsuits! ;)

Not long after we FINALLY got into our home, my mom and Mike came for a visit! Mom helped me hang pictures and get my decor situated which I LOVE! She has such a great eye for that stuff and I love getting to benefit from it!

One day the guys went golfing on base while mom and I decorated and enjoyed a fun lunch together :)

We got a group picture before heading out for a seafood dinner at a nearby beachfront restaurant.  It was a great visit!

The very next day I saw my first personal airshow by the Blue Angels! They practice on base regularly and my yard feels like a front row seat!  I cannot tell you how excited I get when they roar overhead.  It’s unbelievable! I just wish mom and Mike would have had a chance to see them too!

We spend plenty of time at the nearby kids park.  Here you can see Grace is red-faced and sweaty, but the kids don’t let that hold them back from having fun :)

Our local library has a monthly “Read With Dogs” program.  For about 20 minutes the kids sit down with a calm and cuddly dog and read a story.  It’s a simple activity but provides so much joy for my animal lovers.  Makes me feel happy they can enjoy the pets even though we can’t have one because of my blasted allergies :(

Every year I’m trying to get better about being spontaneous and going on little adventures.

I’ve committed to saying yes to random park play dates, checking out new places, and spending more time outside in the fresh air.

One afternoon we went to the nearby State Park for a short exploration.  We were there less than 2 hours, but it was really fun!  The views were beautiful and the kids really enjoyed the wildlife and the park playground :)

I could have stared at this “postcard perfect” view for hours!  I have plans to go back alone for some quiet time and reflection.

The kids had a blast feeding the baby alligator they named “Allie”. (As a disclaimer, I’m not a fan of feeding human food to wildlife, but a kind old woman gave the kids a dinner roll and I didn’t want to squash anyone’s excitement by saying “no”)

My previously timid and squeamish Grace has become so brave about holding little reptiles and amphibians!  They named this little frog “hoppy” and were rather smitten with him.

While we are out adventuring, Dr. Gould spends lots of time diligently studying.  His classwork ebbs and flows, so we do get a fair amount of free time with him, but there are times he’s swamped and we plan time away from the house for him to study in quiet.  I was so impressed with all of his navigation tools and maps.  I had to snap a couple pics of him working hard :)

School was back in session on August 10th, but that still felt like summer to us!  Avery, Drew, and I ventured over to the zoo with friends one day in August while Grace was at school.  I felt bad because Grace loves animals more than anyone I know, BUT we got the lay of the land and will do our best to get back there before we move.  It was a small, but beautiful zoo!

Gotta love a zoo train! This one took us on a ride through a bunch of animal exhibits.

My train loving little man was so happy!

Beautiful tigers!

Pal-ing around with her Florida BFF.  I joke that these pictures are being added to the wedding slideshow ;)

Well hello big guy!

This bird “house” was much like an enclosed butterfly house.  We purchased popsicle sticks coated in bird seed and the colorful little birds were drawn to them in swarms!

These videos show a little of the chaos that ensued in the bird house! LOL

These sweet little friends melt my heart!

One of my favorite things about living in Pensacola is the beach time!! White sands and clear blue-green water give the Panhandle its reputation of being the Emerald Coast.  It’s gorgeous.

My happy place :)

Perfect weather!

Drew has been known to fall asleep at the beach because it’s hard for us to tear ourselves away in time for him to go home to take a nap!

In line with being more spontaneous, I signed us up for a Princess Anna story and sing-a-long event at a local bakery.  It was a small shop and a bit crowded, but the kids had fun listening to a story and singing along with Anna :)

You’d never know it by the look on Avery’s face! LOL

Group picture!

Delicious Frozen-themed cupcakes at the end!

More beach time!

His missing tooth has become such a part of his little personality!

Smiles all around…well, except Avery! LOL

Our time in Florida may not be long, but we’re determined to enjoy it and the summer got us off to a good start!

Especially once we were out of the hotel and into our rental home! ;)

Summer in Pensacola – Part 1

Despite the dark clouds over my early days in Pensacola, there were a few silver linings I want to remember.

Grace’s 7th birthday was the day after we arrived, and she didn’t let our less-than-ideal circumstances keep her from enjoying her special day.  I was particularly impressed with her optimism, because she’s the kind of girl who, immediately after one birthday, starts planning the gifts and theme for the next one! LOL

We talked about the things that would make her feel special on her birthday and came up with hotel continental breakfast, swimming at the beach, Subway for lunch, opening presents, pizza for dinner and frosted angel food cake and ice cream for dessert :)

Nothing like dry bagels and sugar cereal to start the day! LOL

The beach behind the Navy Hotel is on a bay.  The water isn’t very pretty but the kids still had fun swimming and playing in the sand.

She received a bunch of fun gifts and really appreciated all of them.  I thought it was adorable that she wanted a binder and a full-sized spiral notebook.  She really enjoys writing about her life and I’m hoping we can keep track of these early notebooks for her to read later :)

Andy found a fun pizza place called Ozone and it was super funky and delicious! It’s in an old school building and the dining rooms are tucked in various rooms along big marble school hallways.  They display a bunch of local art, have micro brews on tap, and serve up a delicious pizza!  It’s fun to explore new restaurants when you move around like we do, and this one was a real winner!

After dinner we made our way back “home” to the hotel where we sang to Grace and enjoyed her frosted angel food cake and ice cream.  It may have been different than our usual birthday celebrations, but it was a fun and special day nonetheless :)

The next day was the 4th of July, and Dr. Gould scouted out a free local festival for us to attend and it really helped me see the wonderful side of Pensacola.  We had so much fun that day!

Free pony rides!

Free face painting! Cold slushies!

Sweaty smiling selfies!

Super dad :)

Avery met a “real” live mermaid!

A Spiderman sighting!

I REALLY love outdoor festivals and cold beer, so I sent this funny video clip to my mom and my sister :)

Fun was had by all as evidenced by the ride home!

Getting out of the hotel was my saving grace. Andy was fantastic about getting us into the car and out on the road to explore. One particularly grumpy afternoon, we decided to follow Gulf Beach Highway along the coast and into Alabama.

We explored a shopping area called The Warf, but for whatever reason, most of the shops were closed.  I did manage to snap a few adorable pics of the kids though :)

Orange Beach, AL is a tourist hot spot so we figured it would be a good place to have dinner. We googled and yelped and after a LONG time decided on a place called Cosmo’s. We wanted a restaurant we could all enjoy and the kids sometimes make that challenging.

Cosmo’s was a winner though! They had cool art all over and it was all dog themed which Grace LOVED. The kids menu had something for everyone and I thoroughly enjoyed my cold pinot grigio and scrumptious ahi tuna salad.

We passed an adorable ice cream shop on our way home and pulled over for a sweet night cap!

By that point we were all STUFFED so we pulled over to take a walk along the beach before heading home.  It was a special ending to a really lovely outing :)

Our Favorite Black Bean Soup

If I had to pick one healthy dinner that my whole family loves, it would be this black bean soup!

Rich, hearty, and delicious, this bean soup is chock full of healthy ingredients too!

  • Beans are a good source of vegetarian protein
  • Bell peppers are rich in Vitamins C, A, and B6 as well as antioxidants
  • Garlic is high in a sulfur compound called Allicin which provides a range of health benefits
  • Onions are rich in biotin, manganese, and copper

But beside all that….this soup is just plain delicious.  I love to top my bowl with chunks of creamy avocado, crisp green onion, fresh cilantro, and crunchy tortilla chips.  The kids like theirs with cheese and sour cream :)

Since this recipe includes veggies and protein, I don’t even make a side dish!  Putting a bowl of chips and salsa on the table would be a nice addition, or you could serve it with cheese quesadilla wedges.

No matter how you choose to dish it up, just make sure you do! :)

Our Favorite Black Bean Soup
Recipe type: Main Dish/Soup
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 dinner servings
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 whole bell peppers (any color), seeded and diced
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 4 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cups chicken broth or stock (plus a splash of water depending on how thick you like your soup)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1½ teaspoon Chili Powder
  • 1½ teaspoon Cumin
  • TOPPINGS (optional)
  • Tortilla chips
  • Sour cream
  • Shredded cheese
  • Diced avocado
  • Cilantro leaves
  • Sliced green onion
  • Pickled jalapeño peppers
  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, then add diced onion and saute till tender (about 5-6 min). Add bell peppers and saute another 5-7 min. Next, add minced fresh garlic and stir consistently for 1 min to prevent burning. Add salt, chili powder, and cumin and stir well to combine. Add chicken broth (plus optional water) and black beans and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 min.
  2. Serve soup in a bowl with desired fixin's and enjoy!



Coming To Grips

As I mentioned in my last post, I took a while to warm up to Pensacola.  In hindsight, I think my early weeks here were spent moving through the stages of grief.

Research suggests there are 5 stages of grief:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

I think I experienced stages 2-5 during our lengthy stay at the Navy Lodge when we first arrived in Pensacola. LOL

But seriously.

Our move from Michigan to Maryland was emotionally exhausting.  Leaving our friends, family, neighborhood, and church was really hard for me.  I shed tears, but I also dug into my reserve strength and pushed through.  I survived the packing, moving, and unpacking, while Andy was away at officer training.  I did my best to acclimate to life in Maryland and, while often lonely, I did come to appreciate living there.  Just about a year into our time there, it really began to feel like home.

Then we moved.

One interesting thing about living in Maryland was even though it was a military move, and Andy was working at a military hospital, and the bulk of my friends were military spouses, it didn’t really feel like the military.

I didn’t feel like a Navy wife.  I felt like the wife of a new doctor who just happened to move away from home for residency.

I was in denial. (stage one of grief)

Denial that our life was not our own.  Denial that the Navy would be calling all the shots for the next decade (or more). Denial that I wasn’t going to be moving “home” to family and friends after a little while. Denial that I was a Navy wife probably more than I was even a doctor’s wife.

Well, I’ll tell you what will drag your sorry behind back to reality after being in denial…


For me that came in the form of another PCS move (Permanent Change of Station). A move to an actual military town (Pensacola is a military hot spot SO much more than Bethesda, MD) and a month of living on an actual military base.  Going to Walmart and counting on two hands the number of people I saw in uniform.  Flashing my military ID to get on base, to get into the pool, to get a discount at the local restaurant.

When you first move to a new city, you don’t know where anything is.  Your GPS might as well be an oxygen tank.  Almost all of your mental energy is spent figuring out where you live.  Taking in all the sites and creating a framework that defines your new (temporary) home.  You find the familiar stores, you try new restaurants, you learn where the nice neighborhoods are and conversely where the sketchy parts of town begin and end.  You look at all of the people around you to try to figure out the culture of this new place.  Are they like me?  Can I relate to them?  Could we be friends?  What do I learn about this place by watching them?

We had to stay in the Navy Lodge hotel for three and a half weeks while we waited for our rental house to become available.  As I mentioned before, that was really difficult for me.  On top of extended hotel living, it was about 100* with crazy humidity every single day.  The day after arriving here and NOT liking what I initially experienced, we drove through our neighborhood and past our new home and everything was underwhelming.  Unlike Maryland and Michigan with their lush landscapes and mature trees, our new digs were dry, sandy, craggily, and just generally foreign to me.

I decided right then that I hated it here.  I didn’t want the movers to unload my stuff.  I wanted to rewind time and never join the Navy so I could be right back in my cozy Michigan bungalow surrounded by my family and friends.  And beautiful old trees.

Too bad they haven’t figured out time travel yet LOL

FORTUNATELY they haven’t figured out time travel yet, because it turns out you need to spend some time in a place to really understand it.  To explore the beautiful parts and the fun parts and to allow it to become familiar, and to meet new friends.  It turns out that was just around the corner for me.

After weeks of anger that we signed up for this crazy life, bargaining in my mind with God about all the things that could have been and how wonderful life would have been if not for this unpleasant situation, and depression that I was stuck in this always-changing, constantly unpredictable life, I came to stage five: acceptance.

I can’t tell you exactly how I arrived at acceptance…well, other than by the grace of God.

Anger had eaten me up and made me yell at my kids and stonewall my husband.  Bargaining had exhausted me and ushered me right into the hands of depression.  Depression threatened to pull me under and suffocate every last bit of meaning and purpose from my life.

But God in his abundant mercy wasn’t going to let that happen to his girl.  He drew near to me when I was brokenhearted.  He comforted me.  He brought fun and friendship right to my doorstep when I needed it most.  He was the light at the end of my tunnel.

I’m sitting here trying to remember what I “did” to get to the place where God turned things around and I’m realizing how foolish and arrogant that line of thinking is.

I didn’t do anything.  I was a pouty, negative, crybaby the whole time.

We don’t do the right things (pray, bible study, meditate, etc) to get God to move!  He moves because He loves us.  He moves because He’s good and sovereign and sees so much more than we do.

He also moves in His own time which is almost 100% of the time much slower than we would prefer.  The waiting is always excruciatingly long!

But, you know what?  I think the excruciating wait is God’s mercy.  That “space between” where we are desperate and humble is such a catalyst to surrender.  It’s a spot we independent humans don’t like to be, but it’s magical when we get there because it turns out that spot is the cozy crook of our loving father’s arms.

What better place to be than there?

Pensacola may have started sad, but it’s become really great.

Stay tuned for more of our summer adventures :)

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