Tuesday, December 24, 2013

2013 Christmas letter

Written by Mark

Is it just me or does a New Year start out at a snail’s pace and continually accelerate to break neck speeds by the end? The second half of the year is always a blur and before I’m aware of it Christmas is here and a New Year comes and goes.

That again seems to have happened to our 2013; although we did have quite a few big changes this year which seems to add to the quickness of the year. We began 2013 by traveling back to the US from Italy to go house hunting. Monica and I left the kiddos with a really good friend (thanks again Brittney) in Italy while we looked for homes to buy near Luke AFB. During that time we lost a very good friend in a tragic aircraft accident; it was a somber beginning to a new year. Not a day goes by that we aren’t praying for him and the family he left behind.

The time we had left in Italy was short, only 2 months. During that time we packed up our house, shipped our belongings, shipped the Volvo, bought a home in Goodyear, AZ, out-processed Aviano AB (no small feat), traveled when we could, and shipped the Passat. It was a busy 2 months, followed by an even busier Spring and Summer.

Once we made it safe and sound to Arizona with our 2 kids, 2 car seats, 2 dogs, 2 dog crates, and 25+ pieces of luggage (yeah no exaggeration) we began the fun filled task of moving into a home while remodeling said home. We still haven’t quite completed the remodeling task…or moving in task to be honest. But we love our home and couldn’t happier to be home owners.

I started my Instructor upgrade training in April and remained busy with that until I completed it in mid-July. Since then I’ve been flying with students and having a great time in my new job. The pace of life here at Luke is certainly more manageable and I love getting the family time I routinely missed out on in Italy.

Monica has been busy since we’ve gotten back. She has been working for our real estate agent doing data entry, emailing clients, and obtaining leads. Our real estate agent recognized Monica’s planning and organizing skill as well as her ability to quickly learn the business; so she hired her as soon as we got back. Monica began taking real estate classes in September so she could sell homes or rentals as well and she successfully passed the exam in November. Hopefully, Monica can earn us some additional income by taking advantage of the rebounding housing market in the Phoenix West Valley area. She has done a great job of balancing motherly duties and the duties of her job.

Like I said, this year has been pretty busy. In early summer, Monica got the idea that she would like to host an exchange student for the coming school year. So one thing led to another and before we knew it we were picking up Emily from the airport. The first few months were difficult as we learned how to handle the new dynamics in the house. Ben took to her quickly but it took Abbie some time. Over 4 months later and Abbie and Emily are real buddies.

We haven’t traveled this year nearly as much as last, but we did make a few trips. We’ve been to Sedona and San Diego twice, and Las Vegas. I think a trip to Disneyland might be on the books for next year.

Overall, this has been a wonderful year for us; we have a lot to be thankful for. I’m sad at how fast time goes by, especially watching how quickly the kids change, but I’m also excited for what a new year will bring.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from us!!

Friday, December 13, 2013

It’s official!!!

This picture has nothing to do with this post, but it’s one of my favorites from our recent trip to Sedona so I thought I’d share. =)IMG_6496

Finally!!!  I am finally a licensed real estate agent!  I can even begin to explain how glad I am that those classes and TESTS are behind me!  It’s been a process to get licensed, but I am excited to start working in real estate!

My journey to getting licensed actually started almost a year ago.  We came to look at houses in Phoenix and our realtor suggested that I started working for her doing data entry and lead management and things like that.  In Italy, it wasn’t technically legal to do work for money while living there, and honestly, the internet was too slow most of the time to do any real work anyway.  However, I did start doing a little bit of data entry for her, she just didn’t pay me until we’d moved back to the States.  I enjoyed learning the systems she used and it was nice to earn a little (very little) extra money.

After we got settled, she started telling me that I should get my real estate license so I could do more for her and earn more money.  I wanted to, but Mark was in training and his schedule was pretty inflexible and I didn’t want to be stressed out trying to coordinate our schedules and having to pay a babysitter a bunch to watch the kids between when I had to leave for class and he got home from work.  He finished his training mid-July and then I started to seriously thing about starting the course I had to take.  We decided I should start the first week in September since Mark was more familiar with his new job and Emily was some what settled here.

I started my 18 classes the first week in September.  They were all from 6pm-10:30pm (although most didn’t go quite that late) and I really enjoyed being in “school” again.  It was a REALLY nice break from being a mom and I actually got to concentrate on me for a few hours a week and interact with adults!  It was fun, although the classes got a bit more tedious as they went one.  In October, they didn’t offer any of the classes I needed for the first 2 weeks, so I took a 2 week break from classes then, and then finished up the 6 classes I needed at the end of October.  I finished with the classes on Wednesday, October 30 and I took the school exam for the first time 3 days later on Nov. 1.

You need at least an 80% on the school exam to pass, and the first time I took it, I got a 69%.  It was a pretty big blow to my self-confidence, even though I had heard from almost everything that I talked to that none of them passed it on their first try.  I still thought I would, but I was wrong.  November was crazy busy for us, and I felt like I barely had time to study at all, but I studied as much as I could between having visitors, taking and editing the squadrons jet photos, trying to keep up this blog, make a quilt for a friend (that I’m ALMOST finished with), etc.  I retook the school exam on Nov 27th and thank GOD I passed it the 2nd time!!

Next I had to take the state exams, so I tried to schedule those immediately after I passed my school exam.  However, the first opening they had available was Dec 11th, so I took it that day instead.  I was TOTALLY not in the mood to study any more before I took the state exams.  I felt like I knew things as well as I could at that point, so I reviewed a few things and took a practice quiz or two the night before that exam, but that was it.  I had to take it in downtown Phoenix at a testing center and I got stuck in morning rush hour, but I still managed to get there on time for the test.

The state exams consisted of an 85 question general licensure exam and then a 100 question state licensure exam.  The first one was pretty easy and I was fairly positive I passed that, even though it had over 10 math questions on it.  (The school kept telling us to not focus on the math questions since there were only a few on the test..  Not true at all, but the math questions have never been my issue so I didn’t have problems with them.)  The state test was a lot harder though.  There seemed to be a LOT of questions that I just wasn’t 100% sure of the answer.  The tests were both all multiple choice and I could always narrow it down between 2 answers, but then I was just making educated guesses.  I counted 20+ questions where I wasn’t sure of the answer, and since you have to get at least 75% or above on both of the tests, I was getting really close to that cut off of missing 25.  I must have been right on more than a few of them though since I passed that test also.

I was SO relieved to have passed both of those tests!  I can’t even begin to tell you how nice it is to not have those tests hanging over my head any more and constantly feeling guilty for not studying if I wanted to do anything else (like blog).  They didn’t tell me what my actual scores were though, they just said pass or fail on the tests.  I wish I had known how much I passed by, but I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter.

So now I just have to accept a job to activate my license!  I am officially licensed but it is considered inactive until I sign on with a brokerage.  I have a few options that I am going to consider in the next few weeks and then I’m going to start working towards building a business in January, and I’m pretty excited about that.  I’ve always been interested in real estate.  I love looking at houses and I love helping people, so I think this is a good way to connect the two of them together and also put my bachelor’s in business management to good work also.

If you know anyone in the Phoenix area, or anywhere actually, looking for a realtor, I’d love it if you’d refer them to me!  I can actually refer anyone to a realtor anywhere and can make a commission on that referral, which I didn’t know until I took all these classes.    You can email me at adventuresofmsquared@gmail.com if you have any questions and then I will email you back from my business account since I try to keep my identification info (aka my last name) off the blog.  I’m really looking forward to starting this new career!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ben at 2 years old!

Our little boy is already 2 years old!  It’s hard to believe that he was born 2 years ago!  Time flies when you’re having fun, I suppose.  Ben is growing and developing by leaps and bounds right now.  His language skills are exploding and we don’t quite know what he’s saying all the time, but he’s definitely putting 4-5 words together sometimes and is getting much better and communicating what he wants.  He’s getting a little less screamy, which is great!!!

Ben’s favorite person in the whole wide world is his daddy.  He is definitely Mark’s little mini-me and he follows Mark around any chance he gets.  He ALWAYS wants Mark to carrying him or get him out of his car seat when we’re out and about and I think Mark loves it just about as much as Ben does when he gets to carry him around.  I love seeing them interact and I know that if Ben grows up to be half the man Mark is, he’ll be doing really well.  I am so thankful that our kids have such a good role model for a daddy.

Ben LOVES cars.  Cars, trucks, boats, airplanes, trains – he’s just like my dad.  It amazes me how he just gravitates towards the boy things naturally.  I would think since Abbie is much more in to dolls and art, that he would like to do that stuff too since he also watches her like a hawk, but nope.  There are about 30 cars strewn all over my house at any given moment in time and he plays with them all day long.  It’s either his cars, or he’s kicking a little ball all over the house.  He’s pretty coordinated for his age too, as far as kicking the ball goes.  We got him a balance bike for his birthday, and it might be a little bit big for him right now, but I’m sure pretty soon he’ll be flying around on that thing, considering he currently gets his tricycle going so fast that he takes corners on 2 wheels sometimes.  =S

Ben has a great appetite and usually eats more than Abbie.  He loves milk and drinks half of a half gallon of milk in a day or two easily.  And he loves his carbs.  Some mornings he’ll eat 3 bowls of Life cereal and if there is any sort of pasta around, he’s all about that too.  He loves grapes and bananas, and he asks for his vitamin about 14 times a day.

Ben still loves to watch Sesame Street, although he also loves to watch Thomas the Train, Olivia and Curious George too.  Luckily he and Abbie seem to enjoy the same shows, and I only really let them watch those ones, or a few others on PBS or Disney.  Ben is our little alarm when a show is over though.  (I record most of them so I can turn them on for them later in the day during their TV time.)  If the show gets over and comes to an end, Ben is the first one to notice every single time and starts pointing and yelling “show over”.

We discovered recently that Ben can count to 11 by himself and we were kind of surprised by that.  I’m not sure he understands the concept of counting things yet, but he can count.  We’ve been working on colors with him and he loves to scribble on things (walls included) when Abbie has all her crayons and markers out to color.  He still loves his paci and lovey, and only uses them in his crib and his new thing is to ask for a “different paci” 14 times before he’ll actually lays down to go to sleep.  After about the third time of trying to walk out the door and having him start yelling “different paci” and throwing his current one across the room, you’re about ready to pull your hair out.  He acts like they’re different flavors or something.  Not sure how to get him out of this habit easily.  Luckily he’s cute, which makes it easier to forgive him.

Ben is such a fun little guy to have around.  He’ll come up and give you a hug if you act like you’re sad, and he’ll say he’s sorry if he hurts Abbie in some way (like pulling her hair…).  He’s hard to believe how far he’s come in just two short years!  I wish he’d stay this age forever.  Happy Birthday, little man!  We sure do love you!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Ben’s 2nd birthday letter


My little Benji boy,

I can’t believe that I was ever worried about having a boy and not knowing what to do with you.  I love having you as my little side kick during the day when Abbie is in school and it’s just you and me.  You love to follow me around and “help” me do things.  You are typically a very happy little guy, and you are so, so sweet.  You get very concerned if you think someone is upset or if you hear someone crying and you give hugs right away.  There has been more than one occasion where Abbie will take a toy from you, which makes you SCREAM.  We tell her to give it back to you and she will but then she cries and throws a fit.  Most of the time you will stand there for a few seconds and watch her and then you’ll go up and give her the toy that she had originally taken from you and say “Here you go, Abbie.”.  You have a very kind and loving nature and I hope that that never changes.

I have to admit, it’s so hard for me to envision you getting as big as your daddy is.  I can’t even imagine my little boy, who I still call my baby, being taller than me.  I don’t ever want the days where you want hugs and kisses before bed to end and I’ll be heartbroken the day you don’t wrap all your fingers around my pinky to cross the street.  I love seeing you accomplish some small task (buckling yourself into your high chair or picking up your toys) and then seeing your face light up with pride and you clap for yourself and say “YAY!  Did it!”  I love your toddler talk where you know enough words to communicate well enough, but you’re not even close to speaking fluently yet.  Seeing you haul around your lovey and your paci really makes my day.

I have so many hopes and dreams for your future, little man, but at the same time, I can’t imagine you being any bigger than you are now.  Love you, little man!  Try to stay little forever, okay?

Love, your mommy


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Ben’s Birthday Letter from daddy

Happy Birthday My Little Benjamin                                              8 Dec 2013

You turn 2 years old today.  I can’t believe it…seems like just yesterday we were bringing you home from the hospital.  Of course in this last year you’ve changed quite a bit.  You went from being partially mobile to completely mobile.  Now all you want to do is run everywhere; “Daddy run…daddy run” every time we are walking to the car.  I fear you and Abbie might wear a rut in the tile as much as you both run back and forth through the kitchen and dining room.  Of course with your new found mobility came your discovery of gravity and its effects.  Kid, I don’t think your legs or head are ever without a bruise or bump on them anymore. 

Boy do you love things with motors.  It amazes me how fascinated you are with planes, trains, cars, motorcycles, and even golf carts.  Your interest in them started early.  I think your first word was “pane” (for plane).  Now you have hundreds of cars to play with and you play with them all the time.  I love watching you plop down next to your car with the side of your head on the floor watching the car as you push it back and forth.  I can tell you’re studying every aspect of it.  I love how you run and get me a car to play with too.  And then we sit on the couch pushing cars back and forth together and crashing them into one another.  I wish I could bottle those times up.  I think you’re going to be my little helper when you get older.  You already are but I know for certain you’ll be out in the shop with me working on projects.  I’m excited for that…but let’s not get there too quickly; I don’t want you to grow up too fast. 

You’re an amazing little guy!  You have such a kind heart.  I watch how empathetic you are toward people, even Abbie.  Abbie gets upset about something and usually you are quick to say you’re sorry and give her a hug.  I know that probably won’t last too long but it certainly shows where your heart is already.  The foundation is there and we didn’t even have to teach it; God just gave it to you.  You’re a sweat little man, the world needs more of you.

But not more of your snot!  Seriously, you snot more than 3 people combined, where does it all come from?  I know where most of it is going to end up; smeared on the side of your face or plastered on the couch, usually both.  I feel bad for you always dealing with the snots, but you don’t seem to care too much.  You’re too busy studying the motion of your cars.  There is no time for that thick string of snot dangling dangerously near you upper lip.  **Swipe swipe** There, that’s better.  Just put it out of the way on your cheeks so it can dry.

I’m proud to be your dad, little buddy!  I’m excited to watch you grow, learn, and experience this life.  We’ll have fun together out in the garage, in the yard, on the basketball court, or maybe even in a little airplane (if mom allows).  Keep doing what you’re doing little man.  I love you Benjamin!

Your Dad

Friday, December 6, 2013

Sedona in the fall


After Montezuma’s Castle we headed up to Sedona for a few days.  My parents were kind enough to let us use their travel club time share in Sedona and it was really nice.  I love Sedona anyway, but going there in the fall made it that much better.  The fall colors were beautiful against the red rocks!


We went on the Devil’s Bridge hike first.  I remember trying to do part of this hike a few years ago with the weinas, and we didn’t get very far.  (The weinas aren’t built for hiking, exactly..)  Driving to the trail head made me a bit nervous more than once as these “roads” are meant for off-roading vehicles only.  This time I got out to make sure we’d clear the rocks we were going over, which we did just fine, but I also saw one of the wheels of the Volvo come off the ground about a foot…


The hike to Devil’s Bridge was mostly uphill on the way there, usually a gradual incline, until the end where it got pretty darn steep, and made me pretty darn nervous.  Ben walked for part of the way, but he tends to like to take his time and stop and look at just about everything on the way, so we eventually put him on Mark’s back so it didn’t take us 3 weeks to get to the bridge.


I, as usual, had fun playing with my camera.  Plus, it’s a good excuse to stop occasionally to take pictures of things.  And in Sedona, there is LOTS to take pictures of.


Sedona is known for it’s vortex’s and it is said that the twisted juniper trees are a sign of the presence of a vortex.  I’m not sure I believe that’s true but they are pretty cool to look at.


Towards the end of the Devil’s Bridge trail, it got REALLY steep.  The parts below actually had stairs on them, which was nice, but further up the trail, it was essentially rock climbing, which is scary with a 4 year old and someone carrying a 2 year old.  However, Abbie did REALLY well climbing by herself and keeping up with the rest of us.  Mark and I were really careful with the kids and the really steep inclines/declines, but it still made me nervous.



We finally made it up to Devil’s Bridge and the view was beautiful.  A few people from other groups walked out onto the bridge and we took their pictures for them, and I talked to an older guy who was using a nice camera about his camera.  He had recently gotten the 6D and was using the same lens I was.  Someday I’ll upgrade to a full frame.


I had fun taking pictures of all the trees along the trails.  The bark of some of them were really neat and I thought they made interesting pictures.


I thought that these plants (trees?) were really neat because of the red bark on them, but I have no clue what they are.  Does anyone else know?


We found a cool view to take a few pictures on.  Below is a perfect example of why I like to remain behind the lens instead of in front of it…  =S


The girls were seeing if they could feel the energy from a vortex by the tree… Crazies!


I LOVE the picture of Mark jumping off the rocks with Ben on his back.  Ben’s face is one of pure joy, as it usually is when Mark is around.  I wish you could all have heard his laugh.  And Abbie found a snake skin and was showing it to Ben.


After this hike we made our way to Faye Canyon Trail for another hike to another natural stone bridge.  The views on the way were beautiful!


Abbie did another fantastic job of holding her own on the hike.  The last part of this trail up to the bridge was really steep and she walked it all by herself!  We were sure we were going to end up carrying her, but she was a little trooper!


The views from the top were really pretty, but it was really hard to get a decent picture of the bridge since it was so close.  There were old Indian dwellings almost right under the bridge and I thought it was neat that they used the huge rock overhang to shelter them a little more.  



This is where I got a bit nervous on this hike.  Mark carried Abbie down the steepest part of the trail, and I was envisioning him slipping and all three of them rolling down the rather steep hill…  Yikes!  But luckily he’s about as sure footed as a mule, so he was fine.  And then we let Benji down to burn off some energy on the flat terrain on the way back to the car.


After that hike, we drove the long way back to Sedona so we could see more of the area.  I’m not sure I’d ever get tired of taking pictures in Sedona.  It’s just a beautiful area.  I’ll let these photos speak for themselves.