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Dear Eli,

Holy cow, I can’t believe you’re 5 years old today!  This year has been an amazing adventure full of laughter and fighting and fierceness.  You are, without a doubt, one of the most joyful people I know.

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You feel joy with every fiber of your being, and it’s the type of joy that infects everyone around you. Of course, you’re also one of the most fierce people I know…

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but strangely enough, it has a similar effect. I guess what I’m saying is, Eli, is that you bring joy to people…period. Even in your fiercest, craziest moments…

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even when you’re crazy upset because things aren’t going your way….

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you make me, and everyone around you, smile and laugh.

To be honest, there hasn’t been a lot of changes in year 4 for you – no new people living with us, no major transitions, and that seems to suit you just fine.

I mean, we did dress up pretty epic for Halloween.

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But overall there were a lot of normal, routine days.

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Well, one tiny change.  We did get a new cat, Theodore.

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You picked him out, and I think he’s pretty much your cat as much as anyone’s.

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We went to McDonald’s yesterday with Benjamin, Lily, and David, and hung out in the play place for a while.  You lasted about 10 minutes, then asked if you could come visit with me so you could experience some “peace and quiet, finally!”

You’re a lot like your Daddy in that way.

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I know I didn’t get to mention it in the last letter, but at the end of last year you got to experience snow for the first time!

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You love going on adventures with us. Whether it’s around the block or 12 hours away, you don’t mind the journey and the destination always excites you.

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You guys met me in Frisco, Texas after a work conference and we went to the National Video Game Museum. I’m not sure who had more fun – you and Benjamin, or me and Daddy!!!

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You even got to play old school, in an old school room, with old school decor!

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One of the highlights of the year was our trip to Orange Beach, Alabama. We went to Pensacola to see the Blue Angels and toured the historical museum. We had a LOT of fun!

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Us in front of a real Blue Angel jet!

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Nanny Lynn and her boys!

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Your friendship with Aedan continues to grow – while he’s closer to Benjamin in age, I feel like you and him share more interests than him and Benjamin – so it will be interesting to see how your friendships mature over the next few years.

Aedan, teaching you how to make curly noodles:

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You went to Coffee with a Cop with me, and not only did you love being cute and dotted on, you also got to sit on a real live Police Motorcycle, which you still talk about to this day.

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We’re so lucky to have family nearby – even Nanny Lynn, who lives a few hours away, comes to visit often. You always look forward to these visits. We so often see kids who aren’t interested in hanging out with their relatives, but you ADORE visits from them, or going to visit them. You had a sleepover with Aunt Tina and Uncle Scott earlier this year, and one planned with Nanny Lynn soon.

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We’ve tried to get you interested in Taekwondo or piano, like your brother, but so far you haven’t shown enough maturity and/or interest to really find your “thing” that you do. You’re only (just now) 5 years old, so we’re not in a hurry.

But Benjamin tried to teach you piano:

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And you went to practice with Benjamin and Daddy at Taekwondo, but you were more interested in hitting the punching bag than learning any real martial arts.

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I don’t really think I can articulate how much you are, at your core, a warrior of some kind.

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I don’t know what kind; but I hope whatever kind you are it’s good.

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Because… you are fierce.

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You are mighty.

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You are tough.

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You’re good at utilizing your available resources.

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You’re steadfast.

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And you’re honorable.

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Happy, happy, happy birthday to one who brings me such joy.  I can’t wait to see how this year goes for my warrior prince.

Love always,

Mama

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(Last years, if you’re so inclined)

Initial Summary:

Where were you when 2018 began?
Surrounded my family in my living room watching the ball drop.  I got a kiss from my hubby at midnight and hugged everyone. It was AWESOME.

Who were you with?
Justin, Eli, Benjamin, Cory, Surae, Shawn, Nichole, David, Sherry.. I feel like more people than just that, but I guess not.

Was 2018 a good year for you?
Probably the best year of my life.  I know it sucked for a lot of people – and I’ve had years like that too – but this was just a really good combination of factors that made it amazing.

What countries/states did you visit?
I actually stayed pretty close to home this year – intentionally – because next year is going to be BUSY.

Did you keep your new years’ resolutions? 
My resolutions were to quit smoking completely (I had the occasional cigar but decided to stop) and take January off of drinking.  That actually ended up kicking me in the butt, because since I wasn’t smoking or drinking I ate a lot of unhealthy food in January.  February I started really watching/tracking my food.  By April I decided to try the Keto diet!  I started exercising in August, and quit smoking FOR GOOD in November (womp womp womp).

My other new year’s resolutions were to read the bible in a year, and get my BMI down and my weight to 170.  I DID ALL OF THAT! WOO!

It is a curious thing that the year I read the bible every day was also the year I got healthier and kept more resolutions.  Coincidence?? Hmm…

Did anyone close to you give birth? 
No, but several coworkers did.

Did anyone close to you die? 
No, but a young man in our church did die – I didn’t know him personally, just from a distance…but he was such a sweet kid who impacted many, many lives.  It was pretty gut wrenching.

What date from 2018 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Hmmm.  I had my first CALEA file review December 3-7, but I don’t think I’ll remember those dates.  I will definitely remember the experience!!

Experiences:

What did you do in 2018 that you’d never done before?
Successfully changed the way I diet! I’ve failed SO MANY TIME BEFORE.  Also, successfully scheduled and conducted an on-site assessment of my department.

Did you have fun in 2018?
YES!!! So many concerts!

What do you wish you’d done more of?
I wish we’d been able to spend more time together as a family.  It was a busy, busy year.

What do you wish you’d done less of?
I wish I’d spent less money! And spent less time on my screens!

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I actually had a mock assessment with a friend of mine – she came down from Keller and reviewed my files for me.  We ate Mexican food for lunch, and when I got off work I picked up the kids and we went to Round Rock Police Department for the grand opening of their new training facility.  We got to tour the grounds, see live fires, the boys got “Round Rock SWAT” hats.  I also won a contest at our local Chick Fil A, so we had Chick Fil A for dinner and I got a free stuffed cow and some coupons.  The boys loved the evening, we had a great time.  Benjamin thanked me for spending time doing what they wanted to do on my birthday, which was the icing on the proverbial cake.

What did you want and get?
To get two teaching opportunities!

What did you want and not get?
Justin to be happy.

Others:

Whose behavior merited celebration? 
Honestly, this year, I’m going to say MINE.  I’ve worked HARD this year to meet my goals and stay on track.  I’m so proud of my progress.

Whose behavior made you appalled, depressed, or sad?
Humanity as a whole.

Did somebody treat you badly in 2018?
Nope, I did pretty good.

Who were some new people you met?
I’ve really enjoyed getting to meet people in my Community Group!  Also, Cory’s girlfriend Nicole and her two daughters are pretty awesome.

Favorites/Least Favorites:

What was your favorite month of 2018? 
May was really cool because I got to go to Galveston and hang out with my TALON friends from work, and then went on a family vacation with Justin, the boys, my Aunt Lynn, and cousins.  We had an amazing time staying in Orange Beach, Alabama. We got to do a lot of lounging around, and got to see the Blue Angels.  My cousin Logan also graduated college later that month and we had a great party celebrating him.

What was your favorite moment of the year?
Listening to Five Iron Frenzy in concert was definitely pretty epic.

Receiving my award at the award banquet was pretty cool too (I received the Chief’s Award of Excellence this year) but honestly so many of my favorite moments were spent sitting or lying quietly with my kids and husband.  This was a whirlwind of a year and I really enjoyed the moments of pause.

What was your least favorite moment of the year? 
I hate this question. Oh!! Probably when I got shot up during patrol practicals. I ended up with several scars on my right hand and arms from being shot with sim rounds at close distance.  It really, really, really sucked.

What was your favorite TV program? 
I re-watched Bones and it was awesome.

What was the best book you read? 
I actually read a bunch of books this year! Hard to narrow down my favorite, but here’s my top three:

  1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  2. Inspired by Rachel Held Evans
  3. The Infinite Pieces of Us by Rebekah Crane

What were your favorite films of this year? 
I still have a bunch I want to see, but Ready Player One was definitely one of the best.  The Shape of Water was so, so beautiful in spite of some of the weirdness.  We also watched The Greatest Showman and fell IN LOVE with the soundtrack. Seriously so much fun! And I really liked “The Christmas Chronicles”.

What was your favorite video game you played this year?
Justin bought me Shadows of War and I’ve been enjoying that a lot.

What was your favorite new technology/application?
Nothing really tickled my fancy.

What was your greatest musical discovery?
This is going to sound weird, but probably how much I loved (and missed!) attending concerts.   I went to a bunch as a kid, but this year I went to SEVERAL. I saw Alan Doyle (of Great Big Sea) with Benjamin and Teresa, I saw Ruthie Foster TWICE, also saw Imagine Dragons with the family and I went to see Five Iron Frenzy and MxPx by myself!  We got free tickets to POD, Lit, Alien Ant Farm and Buckcherry so I took Benjamin, Cory and his girlfriend.  I even went to one of the local high school band concerts with the boys.  I’ve already scheduled several concerts for next year!!!

What was the best thing you bought? 
Surgery to have a tooth extracted.  Unbeknownst to me, a reoccurring abscessed tooth has been causing my grief for ALMOST 10 YEARS! Seriously.  So, I have less teeth, but no more bad taste in my mouth whenever it got re-infected.

Self-reflection:

What was your biggest achievement of the year? 
Losing weight and maintaining it.

What was your biggest failure? 
Spending too much money on frivolous stuff.

Did you suffer illness or injury? 
NO!!! I took it super easy this year and besides the tooth issues early on, everything worked out pretty well.

Where did most of your money go?
Concerts, new clothes, and food.

What kept you sane?
Routine.

Who did you miss?
Lilly.

What did you get really, really, really excited about? 
Work related stuff!!! I passed the first part of my initial national assessment and was re-accredited with my state assessment.  Both big deals!!

Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder? Happier
ii. thinner or fatter?  Thinner
iii. richer or poorer?  Richer, sort of.

Did you fall in love in 2018? 
This year, we maintained.

Did you lose anything important this year?
46 pounds? Hah!

What was your proudest moment of 2018?
Getting under 200 pounds, receiving an award at work, emailing everyone at the PD that we passed our file review.

What was your most embarrassing moment of 2018?
Nothing immediately comes to mind.

Gauge your:
(On a scale of: Very Good, Good, Fairly Good, Fairly Bad, Bad, Very Bad)
• Relational Health – Fairly good
• Emotional Health – Very Good
• Physical Health – Good
• Social Health – Fairly bad
• Spiritual Health – Good
• Intellectual Health – Good
• Financial Health – Fairly good

In the future:

How will you be spending Christmas? 
The weekend before (starting tomorrow!) we’ll go to my Aunt Tina’s house and party with them and all my family that’s in Texas. Very excited about that!!  The actual day of, we’ll just be hanging out with the family at the house.  I’d like to say it will be nice and quiet, but I know better.

How will you be spending New Years? 
With family and maybe friends! Not sure yet!

What would you like to have in 2019 that you lacked in 2018? 
I’d like to get another fitbit.

What are your plans for 2019?
Get to my goal weight (155, only about 14 more pounds) and maybe surpass it, be strong enough to do 10 pushups without much issue, I’d like to be able to do a pull up but I just don’t know if it’s possible.  Re-read the bible.  Travel.  Tour Washington DC.  Save money to fix the house up.

Will you make any new year’s resolutions for 2019?
Yes.

In Conclusion:

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2018: 
Two things.  First: I always knew that change was slow.  Culture shift is slow.  But this year I learned how important it is for change to come from the top.  I learned a lot about leadership, how to lead when you’re not in charge, how to talk to people one on one to facilitate change, and how you really have to see things from different perspectives in order to be successful.  I learned that the loudest voice is not always the right one.

Second: I’m still the weird and awkward kid I was in middle school, desperate for validation and not getting it because I’m just… I’m not the popular kid.  Everyone, for the most part, likes me OK… and a few people think I’m pretty awesome… but by and large when people think of me, they don’t necessarily think I’m as amazing as I think I am.  And, here’s the important part: that’s OK.  I don’t have to win the most popular contest award at work, I don’t have to convince everyone of my value, those are things that should come from my core group of people. I have to periodically re-learn this lesson, I’m not that amazing. I’m a solid, kind person, but I’m nothing special to anyone other than the core group of people who love and adore me…and that is enough.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year: 

Another round of bullets hits my skin
Well, fire away ’cause today, I won’t let the shame sink in
We are bursting through the barricades and
Reaching for the sun (we are warriors)
Yeah, that’s what we’ve become (yeah, that’s what we’ve become)

 I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me

Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me

Also, because I’m super stinking proud of myself:

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Dear Benjamin,

This month you turn 8.  Happy, happy birthday son! I can’t tell you how awesome it is to watch you grow up.  To watch you fall in love with everything you do, to watch your personality shine, to watch you grow in your passions.

This year you added Taekwondo to your growing list of hobbies. You’re trucking along, learning and growing, and it’s been encouraging to watch you pour your heart into a physical activity that requires strength and discipline.

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I love watching you and Daddy practice together!  Sometimes you help him, sometimes he helps you… it’s a beautiful sight to see.

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You’re getting more aware of social media. You now provide me input on what I can or can’t post on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and I’m mindful to ask because I believe you should have a certain amount of control over your own image as you grow up.  It makes me consider these letters, which I currently post online for all to see, and I wonder if maybe these are quickly becoming something to keep just between us.  Time will tell. But in the meantime, you’re continuing to use your intelligence and charisma for forces of good, and I’m happy to say that every day you prove to me how much older and more responsible you’re getting.

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Speaking of responsibility… we started letting you walk from Taekwondo practice to piano practice. It’s only 2 blocks, and it’s a pretty easy route. So when I was out of town and Dad was at work, we let you walk. This created lots of problems, because concerned citizens called the cops on you….repeatedly.

We even had a shirt made, but it didn’t help!

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Here are a few token Benjaminisms from this year:

  • You were sitting in the backseat of the car saying how cold it was. I told you to rub your hands on your legs to create some friction. You do this for a minute, then exclaim, “ahhhh, I love physics! Well, I love physics… but hate physics too.” Why do you hate physics, Benjamin? “Gravity! I mean, I like gravity, I just wish it wasn’t so strong, so I could jump higher.” 
  • “Integrity is very important, Eli!” You admonished Eli after realizing Eli changed your Legos while you weren’t looking.
  • You, Eli and I were reading “Santa Duck”, a story about a duck who wears a Santa hat and everyone walks up to him saying what they want for Christmas. A turtle wants a fast racecar, a cow wants an ice cream machine, etc. A squirrel wants a bunch of nuts.  And you’re all, “Why, Mom? Why is that squirrel asking for nuts right then? Shouldn’t he already have collected them all and be eating them at this time of year when Santa is out?”
    Forget the fact that it’s a talking animal. Why is he asking for nuts when they should be stockpiled already?!
  • “Can we go swimming today?” “No kiddo we gotta pack for camping…but I definitely want to go soon…maybe next week.” “For sure next week?” “Nothing is ‘for sure’.” “Except that God loves us!”
  • One day you told me you learned how to make paper fortune tellers. Me: “Oh, cool! Where did you learn that?” You: “At CHRUCH! Can you BELIEVE IT MOMMY? I learned how to make fortune tellers at CHURCH!” You then proceeded to laugh ironically, which made me laugh even more!
  • We were talking about fake names on the internet,  and it blew your mind that I could have a fake name on the Internet. It led to a very good reminder to him that anyone can say they are anyone on the internet, and no, son, it’s not illegal to use a fake name on Instagram. Your response to this was “well then that means somebody could pretend that they were a dinosaur. And that could cause mass panic.” (I’m still not sure you’re wrong)
  • One day you were talking about dinner and said: “I’m not complaining, but…” So I told you that anything you say before you say “but” doesn’t count. At least 3 hours later and you walked back up to me: “Mom. I’ve been paying attention and I say ‘but’ a lot. Is it really true, what you said?” Me: Yeah, pretty much. You (in kind of a desperate wail) : “I don’t think I can survive like this!!!” (you do!)

You love, without abandon, everything you do.  We try to channel it, or shape it some way, but honestly it feels like we’re trying to stop you from being wholly you and we don’t want to do that.

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You went to your first “real” concert, a really awesome musician that Aunt Teresa and I love, named Alan Doyle. You have this uncanny ability to inspire people to do kind things – we have no idea if it’s because we’re exposing you to things too early, or because you’re lucky, or blessed, or whatever. We had several people at the concert insist on giving up their seat for you, and then someone went to the bar and bought you a bottle of water.  Randomly. For no reason other than just to give you something. You loved the concert, but you were falling asleep standing up by the end of it.

Alan was SUPER nice after the concert.  He gave you a pick and signed your shirt and you wear it to bed frequently.

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I know I’ve said this before, son: I hope you use your powers for good.

Ahem. Anyways!

You got to see snow for the first time ever in real life this winter. Woo-hoo!

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Aedan remained your best friend, even though you annoy each other and fight more like brothers. I’m so thankful for your relationship with him!

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So, you’re a lot like your dad in terms of the way your brain works. You are very literal, very reliable, you take the rules seriously and you think through things. So this year you and Eli have spent a lot of time building legos, and here’s one of the examples side by side.

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These spaceships perfectly represented your personalities. Eli’s is all about muscle and force and drama – he’s built an attack ship with guns and dreams of blowing up stuff. Meanwhile, you aren’t interested in guns or attack; you want a sturdy, reliable efficient ship. You built a transport carrier. I pointed this out to you, and you responded with: “Yeah mommy because even if it gets attacked, it’s so sturdy it wouldn’t even break a little!”

I love your brain so very, very much.

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You got out of school early one day so you could watch the solar eclipse. You LOVE space, still, and desperately want to be an astronaut.

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Your Dad and I sometimes struggle with how best to encourage you. Honestly, we don’t care if you become an astronaut. It would be pretty cool – and we could house sit (bonus!) but honestly… want you to be kind. To walk with integrity. To love God and love people the best way you can. To protect the vulnerable.

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Luckily, not surprisingly, you have plenty of backup plans. If you can’t be an astronaut, you’d like to work on spaceships in some capacity.

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If you can’t do that, you can just work SOMEWHERE at NASA working on “space stuff.”

If you can’t do that, you could always teach.

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When I see you with your brother, I can’t help but think you’d make an amazing teacher.

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You’re always trying to teach him the way to do something, or how to make something work a different or better way. The relationship you two have is one of my greatest joys.

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You’ve kept advancing in piano. You love pop music, and this year you’ve learned several songs by your favorite band (Imagine Dragons) and we got you concert tickets for later this year. I love sitting in your music class listening to you practice. You’ve been with Chris for several years now and you love how he keeps you engaged and challenges you.

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You guys have rocked out on several occasions.

We took a family vacation to the beach, and you LOVED swimming and body surfing in the ocean.

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Your favorite part was probably the Blue Angels show, though, and really…who could blame you?

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We’ve had a busy year, Benjamin. I hope you continue to grow, learn, and find ways to be kind. I hope you keep being hilarious, and awesome, even when it exhausts us, because you’re perfect just the way you are.

I hope you continue to teach me how blessed I am to be your Mama.

I love you son. Happy Birthday!
Love,
me

Last years, if you’re so inclined.

Initial Summary:

Where were you when 2015 began?
At home, with family.  We were celebrating Eli’s first birthday the next day!

Who were you with?
The Sullivan family, Scott family and Breese family!

Was 2015 a good year for you?
Yes.  I had a great year! Not being pregnant, not working night shift, and not having a new baby does wonders for the ability to rest.  There was a lot of work, don’t get me wrong, isn’t there always though? But it was a great year!

What countries/states did you visit?
Justin and I took a cruise with some family to Cozumel, Belize and Honduras.  It was an awesome, relaxing, revitalizing experience.

Did you keep your new years’ resolutions? 
Sort of. Yes, mostly. I wanted to go a year without eating candy – which I mostly did! No candy at Easter or Halloween, which are my two big holidays with stuff I love to eat. However, I did take a day off in May so everyone in the family could eat Wonka candy while watching Willy Wonka – Benjamin and I read the book, and followed it up with the movie.

Did anyone close to you give birth? 
Finally, NO. But next year Cory and Erin will be adding a new baby to the mix!

Did anyone close to you die? 
Not particularly, but one of the Lieutenants that retired from Cedar Park passed away, and that was very sad because he was really an amazing guy.  Also, we lost one of the Fire Department administrators at work, her name was Debbie and she was SO incredibly sweet.  They both will be missed!

What date from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
I don’t think I have had any particularly standout dates.

Experiences:

What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?
Taught my first “Train the trainer” in February for SAFVIC, which was an AWESOME experience!! Took both boys to their first baseball game in April. Sent my son to school – although that’s really more of a first for him than me!  We bought a truck!

Did you have fun in 2015?
Yes!

What do you wish you’d done more of?
Found more time to be a Husband and Wife instead of just Mom and Dad.  Being married is a lot of fun, but if you don’t take time to have dates you really miss out on connecting.  I exercised a lot, but I wish I had done more, more consistently.

What do you wish you’d done less of?
I wish I’d been injured/sick less.

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 31! We drove out to Houston to visit family. It was a quick turnaround trip, and I ended up offending one of my family members inadvertently, so I spent most of my birthday feeling like absolute crap over a breakfast plan misunderstanding.  That’s the second year I’ve had a bad birthday experience for at least part of the day, so I think next year I’m going to make my husband take me away for the day!  This year he bought me (besides the truck) a nice flannel shawl.

What did you want and get?
Justin and I have needed a vehicle with one more seat for some time, for the times we need to transport 4 kids and 2 adults (which is more often than you’d think). So we debated what to buy and finally pulled the trigger on a 2013 Chevy Silverado with low mileage and leather interior.  I’m in love with it and we’ve already been camping once in it!

What did you want and not get?
Debt free. But my priorities shifted this year, and it is worth it to remain in debt because now I have the vehicle necessary to go camping.  Also, did not get to spend more time outdoors. Spent a lot of time the end of the year working, and unfortunately all the days off I did get were usually bad weather days!

Others:

Whose behavior merited celebration? 
Amanda. She doesn’t see me watching, but she’s turning into an incredible young lady.

Whose behavior made you appalled, depressed, or sad?
All the folks that left dispatch (Vanna, Charitie, Jared, Jen, etc) made me very sad.

Did somebody treat you badly in 2015?
Not particularly. I think there were a few situations where Justin wasn’t treated like he expected, and that had a significant impact on me since we’re married – so, sort of, but only as a bystander.

Who were some new people you met?
Vanna, Ginger and Jono.

Favorites/Least Favorites:

What was your favorite month of 2015? 
Probably August.  We took the kids to the beach, Benjamin started school and Justin and I started our cruise (and finished it in September).

What was your favorite moment of the year?
Probably Benjamin starting school, when he looked at me and said he was good for us to leave him. So big!  I’d also have to list Eli finally saying “I love you” back to me!  Also, buying the truck with Justin!

What was your least favorite moment of the year? 
Taking Eli to the hospital because he was having difficulty breathing.  That was stressful and terrifying.

What was your favorite TV program? 
STARGATE! Who’d have thought?

What was the best book you read? 
Tough call. I read a BUNCH of books this year – it’s been really awesome having the kindle, I read so much more.  The most EDUCATIONAL book I read this year was “Parenting your powerful child” by Kevin Leman.  The most ENJOYABLE book I read was Ready Player One. And the book that was the most well written was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

What were your favorite films of this year? 
Big Hero Six (I know I technically saw it for the first time the year before, but I watched it a LOT this year) I also really enjoyed Age of Ultron and Inside Out….I really missed a lot of good movies this year though due to schedule, so hopefully  next year we can watch a few more.

What was your favorite video game you played this year?
Diablo III!

What was your favorite new technology/application?
My fitbit! I got it at Christmas – so not much time to use it – but it’s already been well appreciated!

What was your greatest musical discovery?
I really enjoy the following songs this year:
Maps – Maroon 5
Let her go – Passenger
Honey I’m Good – Andy Grammar
Counting Stars – OneRepublic
Shut up and Dance with me – Walk the Moon
Thinking out Loud – Ed Sheeran

What was the best thing you bought? 
THE TRUCK!

Self-reflection:

What was your biggest achievement of the year? 
I made some good strides in priority evaluation and I lost quite a bit of weight.  I also received an award at work for “Distinguished Leadership” which is an amazing honor that made me feel recognized in my efforts at improving relations between employee and employer.  I’m so blessed to work where I am, and this award means quite a bit to me.

What was your biggest failure? 
I just can’t eat healthy for nothin’! At least, not consistently.  I keep trying!

Did you suffer illness or injury? 
I got most of my PF under control but broke my ankle (well, hairline fracture, but it still hurt a lot!).  I also got sick ALL of November and half of December with Bronchitis and sinus infections that would NOT end.  Then I had tinitis (ringing in ears) until Christmas morning.  However, it did make me more greatly appreciate my health and I’m going to try really hard next year to spend more time appreciating my good health when it’s around.

Where did most of your money go?
Medical bills. We were crazy sick this year, especially the boys.  School starting and allergies did a number on our wallet!

What kept you sane?
The boys.

Who did you miss?
Friends. All of them.

What did you get really, really, really excited about? 
CAMPING!

Compared to this time last year, are you:
I. happier or sadder? Happier
ii. thinner or fatter? Thinner!
iii. richer or poorer? POORER! But – happier. I’m willing to make the trade off.

Did you fall in love in 2015? 
I usually say “over and over again” but I would have to say no – this year was one of the years where we worked hard to maintain – not in a bad way, just in a “we’re in this for the long haul and not every year is all roses” kind of year.

Did you lose anything important this year?
My church.  I’m still feeling the effects. I’m heartbroken and I believe this is the right decision for my family, but it’s not an easy one and I’m so very, very sad.

What was your proudest moment of 2015?
Benjamin’s first piano recital!!!

What was your most embarrassing moment of 2015?
Calling someone “Fellatio” over the radio

Gauge your:
(On a scale of: Very Good, Good, Fairly Good, Fairly Bad, Bad, Very Bad)
• Relational Health – Good
• Emotional Health – Good
• Physical Health – Fairly Good
• Social Health – Very Bad (My status did not change AT ALL in 2015, so I’m downgrading this and planning on working to address this next year!)
• Spiritual Health – Fairly bad
• Intellectual Health – Good
• Financial Health –  Fairly good

In the future:

How will you be spending Christmas? 
Already had it! We spent it at home, with the family, and it was awesome.  Aunt Lynn, James, Teresa and Amanda joined us and there was lots of presents and lots of fun.  We spent the day playing with the boys playing with all their new toys/games.  I got a new Fitbit Charge HR, which I’m looking forward to having!

How will you be spending New Years? 
Not sure – I work at 6am New Year’s day, so we will probably stay in with the family, maybe play some games, and enjoy time with them.

What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015? 
Hmmmm.  I would like some more friendships.  I would like to have a church home – which I did have for most of 2015, but lost at the end.

What are your plans for 2016?
To spend more time outdoors, to get Eli introduced to the potty (not trained, persay, but at least on his way), to get Benjamin riding a bicycle with no training wheels, to log more time on my bicycle, to get my BMI to 27.4 (170 lbs, right in the middle of “overweight” instead of obese. I previously set a goal at the start of 2015 to be at 185 by the end of 2016, but since I made it to 208 by the end of this year I decided to go ahead and aim for lower for the end of next year…we will see!

Will you make any new years resolutions for 2016?
Maybe. I don’t know yet – I am seriously considering taking a year long social media break.

In Conclusion:

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015: 

You only have one life to live. This is it, folks, a few trips around the sun and then you’re dead. I believe this life is just a jumping off point for eternity, and I know not everyone believes that, but either way I believe and really learned this year that you have to make the most of it. Live hard, love harder, work hard, and push yourself. This is the only chance. You’re worth it to make the most of it.

So worry less about the bank account, but save as much as you can.

Try to be as healthy as you can, but enjoy a piece of cake now and again.

Set goals, push yourself, and strive for greatness.

I know that’s all really cliché advice but this year I really realized how true it is.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
Lately, I’ve been, I’ve been losing sleep
Dreaming about the things that we could be
But baby, I’ve been, I’ve been praying hard,
Said, no more counting dollars
We’ll be counting stars, yeah we’ll be counting stars

Dear self,
Yesterday you turned the big 3-0. Thirty.  Take a deep breath. That’s right. You are officially out of your 20’s.

Your 20’s were good to you. They brought you your husband. Your kids. Your career. Your passion.

But they were rough, too. The loss of your brother, your parents. Chronic sinus problems. Back trouble. Bad feet.

You’ve had some good times – times you’ve laughed until you’ve cried, times you’ve cried until you laughed.  Sometimes those events were the same day!  There’s been lots of lessons learned.  Lots of friends made, and more than a few you’ve lost touch with over the years.  You’ve learned relationships are tough.  Sometimes really tough.  Tough just to keep going – tough to put the extra work in to keep the flame alive.  But oh, so very, very worth it.

I guess I wanted to write you this to give you some advice. Advice you probably won’t listen to, but you’ll nod and smile and say you’ll listen, and I wanted to write it out here so there were witnesses, so to speak.  So here it is. The big advice for you going into your 30s:  Do hard stuff.

Life is hard.  Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Friendships are hard. Work is hard. Faith is hard. Cleaning is hard. Downtime is hard.

Cooking is hard to find time for in light of all that other stuff.

Be kind to yourself – but also, be good at doing hard stuff, because at the end of the day that’s really what life is about.  Dig in to the moment, be present and real with people.  Acknowledge that you’re doing something hard, and then do it.  Give yourself a break when you fail, because you’re going to. Just be ready for it.  Every day you’re going to wake up with 57 things to do and you are going to fail to do most of them.

Try to do them anyways.  Don’t half-ass it, either, because who wants half-ass attention? No one. So do one thing really good. And then do another, and another, and another.  You may end up with 14 good things by the end of the day. Awesome. You did good.  You failed at 43 things, but they don’t matter because you rocked at 14 things.

When you turn 30 (if you’re me) you start to think about your legacy.  At the end of my life I want to be known as someone who was real.  Someone who had to dig her way through life with broken nails and tear stains and dirty tennis shoes who was a real person to the people she interacted with.  I don’t want people to think I’m something I’m not. I’m a mess – just like every other human being on this messy broken earth.

By the grace of God I’d like to fight against that brokenness – the brokenness that destroyed my parents, the brokenness that threatens to take others every day… I’d like to BE KIND and DO HARD STUFF because it helps fix some of that brokenness. And if on any given day I can only do 14 good things, or even just 1 good thing, it means the world is that many more things better than it was yesterday.

One of my friends posted about this poem on facebook, and I thought it was worth posting here.  Happy Father’s Day to my amazing husband who is one of the best Father’s I’ve ever known!!

A careful man I ought to be,
A little fellow follows me.
I do not dare to go astray,
For fear he’ll go the self-same way.

I cannot once escape his eyes,
Whatever he see me do, he tries.
Like me, he says, he’s going to be,
The little chap who follows me.

He thinks that I am good and fine,
Believes in every word of mine.
The base in me he must not see,
That little fellow who follows me.

I must remember as I go,
Thru summers’ sun and winters’ snow.
I am building for the years to be,
In the little chap who follows me.

by Rev. Claude Wisdom White, Sr

The players:
Benjamin – on a natural christmas high from getting presents and being surrounded by family and love all day long.
Various friends and family – scattered throughout the house.

The background:
Papa and Nanny bought Benjamin a fake black and decker tool set for Christmas so Benjamin could “help” Papa work on stuff.  He had cycled through all of his toys at least twice already that day.

The scene:
Christmas night, 9pm, at home.  Benjamin is playing in his playroom, there’s several people in the kitchen baking cookies and Benjamin’s parents and Aunt Charla are in the living room standing around talking about the days events.  The weather outside is, appropriately, frightful.  Low 30’s with a severe wind chill.

Aaaaannnd, ACTION:
Dim lights. Three adults speaking to each other in murmured conversation as they hear loud footsteps.  All heads turn to see the two year old running towards them, still in Christmas best, wild sugar-fuled eyes, small pupils, a large smile, and his left arm raised into a 90 degree angle with his hand holding a small plastic hammer.  The child runs through the kitchen, deftly dodging the cookie-bakers, straight at the small group of adults.  At the last minute he swerves to the right, still at full speed, towards the closed back door.  Without a word he flings the door open with his empty right hand and starts to push against the cold breeze.  The adults watch as the cold temperature registers in his brain and he steps back, slamming the door, and turns to look at the small group of adults who up until this point have been silently watching.

JUSTIN: Benjamin, what in the world are you doing?!

The child looks at his father with the wild, excited eyes of a two year old on Christmas night.

BENJAMIN: I WANT TO BANG THINGS!

ADULTS: [Laughter]

JUSTIN: Son, that feeling will never go away.

The child, unaware of why his comments are funny, turns from the adults and starts to hammer away on the closed door.  The outside chill, for now, forgotten.

Dear Benjamin,

Last week you turned the big TWO!!  I was reading the letter I wrote you at 21 months and it’s amazing how much you have changed.  Even over just a few months you change and grow. 

You still talk and talk and talk.  You love to run through the house, play with swords, and tickle Mommy and Daddy.  The dogs drive you crazy (especially Frankie), and when you and Frankie are energetic and chasing each other you both drive US crazy.  We’ve been swimming half a dozen times this summer and if I put you in your swim donut you can swim around the pool yelling “Kick! Kick! Kick!” as your legs frantically propel you forward.  It’s a joy to watch.

We had your birthday party the day after your actual birthday.  Lots of friends and family came over.  I made you chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with chocolate and vanilla ice cream.  You started crying when I lit the candle on your cupcake and everyone started singing.  I’m not sure why – maybe the attention? Maybe the singing? However, as soon as we were done and you got to eat the cupcake, you were much better!

You got some neat toys for your birthday and love to play with them.  Lots of animals and blocks and cars and trucks.  Puzzles and dinosaurs and oh, my, the vehicles.  Our house has become a speedway and you are the driver of racing machines darting in, out, and over the couch.

We took a trip to California almost two months ago.  We were worried about how you would do in the plane, but we shouldn’t have worried.  You love any kind of vehicle, planes included.  Daddy sat next to you on the plane and talked about how you were going to go really, really fast, and go up, up, up!  You loved it.  We rode in the car for ages and ages, and you rarely fussed about it.  We drove through random subdivisions in Elk Grove, and you asked if we were going to Mae Mae’s house! It was the cutest thing, and you made Mae Mae’s mom giggle about it when I told her.  We went to a wedding for my best friend Amy.  You love Amy, and you loved dancing at Amy and Keith’s wedding.   We went to Monterey Bay Aquarium, and you had such a blast hanging out with your 3 cousins.  We went camping (which you LOVED) at my old camping site in California.  It was heart-wrenchingly beautiful to see you scale the same rocks I had scaled as a child.  To see you in the “rock club” and down at the water’s edge was an incredible experience for me.  Even though the water was freezing cold you stood in it until your feet turned to chubby little icicles, and you loved it.  Watching you eat s’mores with your cousins is a memory I will treasure forever.

A few weeks ago we travelled to Senatobia, Mississippi to visit Papa’s parents.  Mimi and PaPaw loved you, and we loved visiting them, and you had a good time running around their house and showing off.  A mere week after that we went down to Houston for your cousin Austin’s graduation.  Each road trip you demonstrated your willingness to sit still when needed, your love of movement, and your love of music.  I love how you love music.

Son, I’ll be honest, because it’s my letter and I’m allowed to be: I don’t know what the future holds for you.  What I do know is that you capture the attention of people – your joy, your mannerisms, and your movement.  Watching you is like watching life take place – it’s like observing the best the world has to offer.  Maybe you’re just like every other two-year old on the planet, I’m not sure.  I hope that I can teach you to harness that attention-grabbing skill and use it to better the world around you.  I know that living with you teaches me every day the meaning of slow down. Observe. Breathe. Love. Be patient.

Your Daddy and I talk about you, often, after you’ve finally given up and gone to sleep.  We lay in bed, snuggled, and talk about whether or not we’re doing a good job (most days we think we’re doing OK).  Recently we were talking about your exposure to television and video games.  We don’t want to shelter you from the world and its issues, but we don’t want to desensitize you either.  It’s tough to say “No, we won’t play this video game while Benjamin is awake, because it depicts violence too accurately,” but that’s exactly where we are at. 

This world is dangerous and violent and broken, son, and you’ll have your whole life to learn that.  I hope that we can teach you about the beauty of the world first, and it’s dark side later. 

Eventually, Lucky will die, and you will learn grief.  Eventually, you will ask where Mommy’s parents are, and you will see me cry.  Eventually, you will ask why Jesus hangs on the cross, broken and beaten, and you will learn about sacrifice. 

Our hope, though all of that, is to teach you about love.  Love that shines through grief and brokenness, love that taught Mommy how to heal, love that makes Daddy get up even on the days when his depression beats his heart and soul, love that put Christ on the cross and love that triumphs all of the dark things in this world.

However, before you have to learn all of those things, I want you to know joy.  I want to continue to see my baby boy, beautiful and full of grace and energy, running around squealing with laughter.  I want to continue to love you so much it hurts.  I want to see animals for the first time all over again, though your eyes.  I want to continue to chase the dogs in the backyard until we collapse into fits of giggles.  I want to dance with you in the living room until I’m sweaty and exhausted.  I want these good and wonderful things for you so that when darkness seems to sneak in, you can remember the things from the light.

I hope you understand, one day, how hard it is trying to figure all this stuff out.  I hope you have enough grace to forgive us when we mess up.  I hope I have enough grace to forgive myself!  But either way, we’ll muddle through this crazy adventure together.  Being a Mommy is quite an amazing experience in general, but being Mommy to you – well – I think that’s my favorite job yet.

I love you son, happy 2nd birthday.

Love,
Mama

Dear Benjamin,
 
You are 21 months old! Holy cow!  I am not sure I realized how much you would change between 18 months and 2 years – but here you are, growing and changing so fast I can barely keep up.
 
You talk.  A lot.  I know every parent thinks their kid is special, but when I read an article on temper tantrums that says kids under 2 1/2 “usually have a vocabulary of only about 50 words and can’t link more than two together at a time” I have to wonder about you telling me to “wait a second please” or to “come play pool please” at 21 months.  Obviously you are not a “usually” kind of kid when it comes to talking.  So while I don’t think you’re necessarily a genius, in some ways you are just like me.  Sorry in advance for all the grief this will cause you.
 
Your dad came up to me about two weeks ago and said “Baby! I just had one of those moments that make being a parent worth all the hassle” and told me about how you and him were staring up at the sky watching an airplane and he was telling you all about planes and the sky.  A few minutes the plane flew by you looked up at your daddy. “Go?” Your Daddy asked you where you wanted to go.  You pointed to the sky, “Up der.”  “Benjamin, how are we going to get all the way up there?”  You stopped, like you were thinking hard, concentrating, then you threw your arms in the air and told your Daddy, “Jump!!” 
 
You love watching TV and playing pool.  If you had your way, that’s all you would do.  You also love playing with blocks and puzzles, but those toys require fighting with the dog and Frankie likes to chew up anything he can get his hands on.  When you wake up in the morning you ask for “TeeVee, mommy, go dawnsteers, UmiZoomiez?” (Team Umi Zoomi!) or “Bubblebuppies” (Bubble Guppies).  If you never learn how to correctly say “Bubblebuppies” I’ll be OK with that, you say it better than they do anyways.  I try to limit your TV, but of course we’ve been sick so it’s been a good way to keep you entertained while Mommy and Daddy lay on the couch moaning about how much they hurt.
 
Pool.  It drives me absolutely crazy that you’re fervently and passionately attacking the pool table with your dirty fingers, rubbing a broken stick across the felt, pushing the balls across the table and occasionally across the room… but it makes you SO happy.  It’s one of the few things that I just have to learn to get over as a parent.  It’s really because I’m jealous, though.  My Dad wouldn’t let us play pool until we could demonstrate a respect for the pool table – and here you are, not even 2 years old, holding one of my Dad’s broken cue sticks (so it’s only half a stick) asking me to shoot the black ball at you so you can put it into the triangle.  You’ve very proud that you know it’s a triangle, you tell me every time you pick it up and set it on the table. “Tri-gale” you tell me with a smile.  I at least console myself with the fact that we can work on our colors, and shapes, and words while you play.  You know most basic billiards terminology (stick, table, pool, balls, cue, rack, triangle) and can pronounce most of the colors (even if you don’t tell me which is which).  You know some balls are striped, but you won’t correctly identify any of them by color.  You just repeat them back to me as I say them – orange, black, blue striped, black, and on and on. 
 
When you want someone to take you with them, whether it be to pick you up or just take you with them upstairs or downstairs, you hold your arms out and say “Take-um.”  It’s so cute!  We think it originated from us telling one another “Here, take him for me for a second?”  We never correct you.  “Take-um, Mommy!”
 
Bedtime has been a challenge lately.  You want to do so many things and you don’t want to stop and slow down.  When we would put you in your crib you would jump up and down, holding the railing, until you launched yourself onto the edge and flipped over… which would have landed you on your head had I not been there to catch you.  I found you a toddler bed for $35.00 on craigslist and immediately reserved it.  As I was researching how to transition you (you’ll learn about how I obsessively research everything) it said not to jump to conclusions as soon as you tried to get out of the crib, most kids aren’t ready till they’re closer to 3 years old, blah blah blah.  You were trying to pole vault! What was I supposed to do?  So transition you did.  It only took one failed attempt, then we both got the hang of it.  You seem to like your “big boy bed.” 
 
At bedtime we usually read a book – the bible storybook, or the farm animals book, or Green Eggs and Ham, or Mr. Brown.  You love things that rhyme and/or involve animals.  Sometimes, instead of reading (or after reading), you’ll ask me to sing.  “Sing, Mommy?” and oh, son, I love it when you ask.  I don’t have an angels voice, but I love that you still want me to sing to you.  Those are sweet, precious moments with you.
 
But it’s tempered with reality.  A few short minutes later when I get up to leave, you start screaming bloody murder.  I have to rush out of your room and quickly shut the door so when you run to follow me all you get is the cold reality of a door you can’t open.  You sob, then retreat back to bed for a quick cry before settling down.  I hate leaving, but staying is even worse because you’d never sleep then!  It’s cruel, but you need your nap and I need time to fold laundry and watch reruns of Bones.  Trust me, it’s for the best.
 
You have temper tantrums – usually because we won’t give you soda, or let you watch 2 hours of TV, or you didn’t take a nap, or you’re tired, or you don’t want to go to bed, or get dressed.  But they don’t last long, and I can usually distract you. 
 
This is getting long, but here are a few more things I don’t want to forget:
“Go disway” while pointing in different directions, the way you call a slice of cheese “maccheese” and wail if you don’t get “peekles” from the fridge, “No Frankie No!” while swatting at both dogs, the way you say shout “kick!” when kicking the soccer ball, how much I enjoyed dancing with you and Daddy at Teresa and James’ wedding, jumping on the trampoline at cousin Noah’s birthday (and then again at Ms. Leslie’s house), how when I ask you to use your manners you look at me and say “manners? (pause) peas mommy peas” while making both hands into fists and rubbing them both across your tummy (which is only a little bit correct), the way you have been giving hugs back, the way you love to climb on my back and “run run” with me through the house, the way you help me knead dough,
 
the way that I love you even when you’re driving me crazy.
 
Thanks for being cute,
Love,
Mama

Dear Supertones,

You were my first love outside of my family (and the cute boy that went to church in the town next to mine, but that’s a different story). I’ll never forget the first time I heard your music.

It was 1997 and life for this then-13-year-old girl was pretty good. I had a good family. Lots of siblings. But music…music was not really my “thing.” I would much rather be reading, sticking my nose into a book and escaping to worlds far away. Worlds where dwarves and hobbits lived among ents, and rings were things whispered about in secret.

My sisters were much more passionate about music. They had their Silverchair and Metallica albums that they listened to in secret. My parents allowed only certain types of music in the house…. anything modern and “rock” was strictly prohibited. It was the devil’s music, you see.

I wasn’t rebellious so I stuck with what was approved and allowed. I listened to some Willie Nelson, George Strait, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash. I listened to Spirit and Bride, which was an amazing Christian band from the early 90’s on an old half-worn cassette tape. I listened to the Statler Brothers.

But see, Supertones, the day my life changed because of you was really a day like any other. We had our chores to do. We had a few fights (and only a little blood was drawn). We probably watched The Adams Family (which was the ONLY movie that 5 Threet children would ever agree on). There was no magical excitement in the air, it was a day like any other. I received your CD as a present – this was when CDs were still kind of a big deal, back when I was nervous about putting a CD in the stereo because heaven forbid I do it wrong and break the expensive machine.

I stared at the cover. Seven men in sunglasses stared back at me. You guys looked great! I had no idea what ska was, by the way. I figured, hey, how bad could these guys be? I used the remote to open the CD tray. Czzh-jjjggg. I wrestled with the cellophane on the CD case. My sisters tried to distract me. I gingerly placed the CD into the tray. Jake ran some GI Joe’s into my foot. I closed the CD tray. I pressed play. The CD player rotated my CD to the back of the stereo. It cycled around a few times to get it’s bearings on the shiny new CD.

I can’t describe the first 7 notes of your first song on that CD in words that are fitting. You know what they are anyways. I can tell you that there are drums and horns and that it’s a smashing way to start an album. You know that. But that doesn’t tell you how my musical world was shattered.

I told you, right, that I listened to country and hokey Christian music for the first 13 years of my life. I didn’t listen to rock, alternative, rap, or anything even remotely close to ska. Your 7 notes absolutely shattered the idea of what music was in my brain. It was this radical new way of looking at music.

I danced around to that CD all day long that day. And the day after that. And the day after that. Your music became a constant theme in my life; something I whistled while at the bus stop and sang in the shower.

Through your first CD I found Five Iron Frenzy and Insyderz and through them I found DC Talk and Jars of Clay and Third Day. But it started with you, Supertones. So I can’t give any other band credit for getting me through a rough spot without first going back to that first day in 1997 when 7 notes rocked my world. I can’t tell Robby Seay Band how much their “Song of Hope” means to me without a nod in your direction because you got me to this point. I can’t tell Jars of Clay how their song “Worlds Apart” is my all time favorite song EVER without a nod to the last song on Supertones Strike Back, “So Great a Salvation.”

You got me here, Supertones. Maybe not by yourself, but those 7 notes that introduce your second album definitely helped pave the way. So thank you. I know you don’t make music anymore – it was 13 years ago, I guess you’ve all moved on to bigger and brighter things. I guess I have too.

But you know what, Supertones? When I was pregnant with my son (who is now 5 months old and super cute) we didn’t bother playing Bach or Beethoven for him. I plugged my ipod into my car and scrolled down to OC Supertones, The. I rolled down to the album “Supertones Strike Back.”

I turned up the volume.

Love,

Jennet