Merry Christmas from the Parker Pack!

What a year we have had! 

We started the year off enjoying one of our favorite holiday traditions: the smashing of the gingerbread houses. We take hammers and demolish our delicious creations to symbolize leaving the previous year behind us, yet we all nibble a tiny piece of the gingerbread, because although we leave the past behind, the experiences we gained will continue to nourish us and help us grow in our lives. 

web version-9703.jpg

After the holiday fun, it was back to work and school. The kids and I rushed to complete our homeschool year before the impending PCS. Science fair projects, botany experiments, lots of great books, and even a few field trips were crammed into the spring months. We concluded our study of the Eastern Hemisphere and World Cultures by visiting Shangri La, the former home of Patty Duke and one of the largest collections of Middle Eastern art in the U.S. We stepped back in time by visiting the Hawaii Plantation Village, to learn about the many cultures that immigrated to Hawaii to work on the sugar plantations. And to cap off our marine biology unit, we went on an excursion to swim with a pod of wild dolphins in the Pacific waters. Our final homeschooling months were quite memorable!

Between January and Easter, I also spent every spare moment working on Forget the Frock. Forget the Frock is a non-profit campaign that asks people to purchase t-shirts from charities (that will use the funds to feed the hungry, care for orphans, or rescue the enslaved) and wear them on Easter Sunday instead of buying new Easter clothes. This our 5th campaign to participate and my 3rd year as Creative Director: I design all of the graphics and imagery for the campaign and manage the social media campaign to get the word out. It was crazy hectic and bigger than ever, but I'm so happy that our partner charities were able to raise over $285,000 from the campaign. Made all of those late nights and marathon Illustrator sessions designing graphics worth it! 

In April, it was time to pack our belongings and head east, back to the mainland. Our household goods were loaded into crates and shipping containers the first week of April, and we then spent a week in Waikiki hotels, savoring our last days on the island.

Our last day before flying, we enjoyed a final, farewell tour of our favorite haunts: we drove to Haleiwa to stock up on our favorite Hawaiian coffee, then ate lunch at our favorite sushi restaurant, Banzai Sushi.

Afterwards, we drove the northern coastline of Oahu, enjoying the sights, before landing in Bellows beach for a last afternoon at our favorite beach.

Then it was on to Diamond Head beach park, where we watched the sun set in front of the iconic volcanic mountain and a historic lighthouse. After the sun had slipped below the horizon, we drove into town for ahi tuna tacos and a dessert of Leonard's malasadas. It was the perfect way to close out our time on the island.

The next day was filled with travel adventures: a long, overnight flight to LAX, then Houston, where grandparents snagged the kids from the airport for a couple of weeks of spoiling. Brad and I (with dog in tow) flew on to Tampa, where we would spend the two kid-free weeks buying a car, securing housing, and trying to enjoy some grown-up fun. We spent a good portion of that time dealing with used car salesmen and realtors (and having our nostrils assaulted by a lot of disgusting smells), but we finally found a car we liked for Brad to commute, and a home in Lithia that had everything we were hoping we could find. The only drawback: a week until we could take possession of the house, and then at least another month of 'glamping' in the house while waiting for our household goods to arrive.

The kids arrived just after we signed the lease, and since we had to live another week in a hotel, we figured we might as well turn the week into a vacation. We found a two-bedroom condo on AirBnB that accepted pets located just outside the gates of Disney World, and off we went to Orlando. We purchased Disney annual passes and proceeded to spend a week exploring parks, riding roller coasters, acting like children, eating junk food and staying up late. It was wonderful!

After a week at the Disney parks, we headed back to Tampa to grab keys and move our few boxes of camping supplies into the house. Brad headed back to work with our ONE car (the van had yet to arrive by boat) so the kids and I spent our days playing in the neighborhood pool and exploring the woods behind our new house.  We ate off of a card table, sat in bean bag chairs and lawn chairs to watch the tiny tv we had shipped in advance, and slept on air mattresses.

We also spent every weekend out of the house, exploring our new neighborhood and the surrounding Tampa Bay area. We picked blueberries. We went to Disney. We explored downtown and went to Anna Maria island. Our van finally arrived, giving us a bit more freedom to explore. 

What we hadn't counted on exploring was the St. Joseph's Children's Hospital, but some abdominal pain landed Aubrey there over Memorial Day weekend. After tests and observation, a complete bowel flush and lots of poking and prodding, they ruled out appendicitis and other scary stuff and sent us home with antibiotics for a UTI and an otherwise clean bill of health. 

Finally, after 68 days without our things, our household goods arrived! It was great to have all of our creature comforts again, but it also kicked off a month of unpacking, sorting and organizing. Yuck!  The kids kept busy in summer camps to give me time to work: ice skating camp, ice hockey camp, church camp and musical theater camp, where Aubrey played the title role of Alice in Alice in Wonderland, Jr. 

We welcomed our first visitors in August. My mom, Marilyn, and my grandmother, Charlotte, came in for a quick 3 day visit. We took in the zoo, enjoyed the flamenco show at the historic Columbia restaurant in Ybor City, went exploring the local antique stores and snuck in a quick beach visit, despite the kids also being in ice skating camp during the days. 

Just after the grandmothers departed, the kids started school, Aiden joining the 7th grade and Aubrey joining the 3rd. Both kids were nervous to go back to public school, but also excited to meet new friends.

They have both adjusted beautifully and are thriving. Aiden is part of the orchestra at his school and is taking a STEM elective that has him building rockets and contraptions and experimenting with computer-aided design. Aubrey is making straight A's and is beloved among the students in her grade--her teachers have told me that she is engaged and encourages participation among her peers, and can always be counted on for a little comic relief. Aiden had his first orchestra concert earlier this month and performed beautifully--he has earned second chair in the advanced orchestra in his grade. And Aubrey took her first field trip to United Skates of America for some physics lessons and skating fun. 

Password is cowboys

In October, Brad was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, an honor he has worked hard to earn. His parents, Scott and Livy, were able to join us for the ceremony and the party we hosted the following day. 

October also brought Halloween, one of the kids' favorite holidays. We decorated the house with lots of spooky elements, and we enjoyed a weekend of Halloween activities: a fall festival in our neighborhood park square Saturday morning, a trunk-or-treat event at our church on Saturday afternoon, a neighborhood Halloween party Saturday night, a Halloween party on Sunday morning at church, and of course, trick-or-treating on Halloween night itself. The kids basically lived in their costumes for three days in a row. Unfortunately, Brad had to miss all of the festivities: he was stuck in Washington D.C. for a course for work. 

And now, here we are in the throes of fall. The weather is gorgeous here in Florida, with cool breezes that have chased away the humidity. So many fun events loom on the horizon: Thanksgiving and our first Christmas in our new home, Hanukkah lights and New Years fun. As we head into the crazy chaos of December, we want to take this moment to remind all of our friends and loved ones of how important they are to us. We have been incredibly blessed by wonderful friends that we left behind in Hawaii, a huge collection of friends scattered across the country that we've known over the years of military life, and new neighbors and Floridians that have welcomed us with open arms. We have a wonderful and supportive family that has cheered us on and loved us, despite the miles and the crazy realities of Army service. We are so grateful for the many people that have touched our lives this year, and we wish all of you great happiness and success in the coming year. 

Merry Christmas!