Last week we hung out with our friends again.  This time Eliot brought his girlfriend, who was out from California for Eliot's ball.  To give our new guest a warm welcome, I made a stout stew and bread bowls, which turned out more like baby bread loaves.  To wish the boys a happy birthday, I made them a cake.  It was chocolate with raspberry filling and chocolate buttercream icing.  

Earlier this week, we got snow.  Clayton woke me up early in the morning, as he was getting ready for work, just to show me.  We woke Merlin up and brought him outside to see the snow, too.  He didn't seem to know what to make of it.  Later I let Merlin out into the backyard, where he frolicked on the hard ground, occasionally pausing to sniff and lick the snow.

In other news, Clayton and I really began digging into our spare room.  Since we moved in, it has served as a storage space.  We don't have so much more junk than most people, we just have hardly any closets and no garage this time around.  I'll post pictures when we get the spare room done, but for now, here are pictures of how that train wreck of a room looked before we got started.
 
Several times in the last few weeks I've sat down to blog about my latest adventures, only to get pulled into the next!  Using a combination of the pictures on my computer and my facebook timeline, I'll attempt to reconstruct my exploits with some measure of coherence.

If you come here for my pictures, you'll notice I took a trip to my local USO.  That place was awesome.  It is the oldest continually running USO in the WORLD.  Not just on the East Coast, or the US, but on the entire planet.  It was mostly a large lounge area, with multiple pool tables and oodles of leather furniture.  Along the walls were shadowboxes of memorabilia from WWII.  There was also a huge auditorium (complete with stage), meeting rooms, a kids play area, a library, a game/movie room, and a cafe.  The coolest part?  You can rent it out for really cheap if you're active duty military or a dependent.  I loved seeing the tiny phone booths along the wall in the original part of the structure.  When I asked Clayton if he could imagine calling me from them, he replied that he didn't have to imagine, because he'd done it before from other USO locations.  The ladies there were really nice, and told me about the programs they offer.  

On October 26, my coworker, Dee, and I went over to the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) for their fall something-or-other festival.  It's basically a Halloween info-fair, but due to the fact that the participating organizations are mostly funded by the Federal government, they can't refer to any actual holidays.  Whatever.  It was a costume party, plus bring your literature and candy to give to the kids and families.  It was super fun seeing all the kids' costumes.  EFMP had a cake walk, a chili contest (there were only 2 types of chili), hot dogs and chips and fruit for lunch, and a pumpkin carving station.  We spent most of the day over there, dressed as Nerds with a Willy Wonka themed booth to represent the library.  Oh, and we totally won the prize for best costumes and booth.
Later on the same night, we had our guys over again.  Clayton picked up some pumpkins, which we carved after dinner.  Merlin first stole a couple pumpkin seeds, when he thought we weren't looking.  Then he started licking the pumpkins.  Then he brazenly stuck his head in the bowl of pumpkin guts and snacked, before we shooed him away.  

Speaking of Merlin, he discovered a new animal in our back yard.  Or at least, it was new to him.  Clayton went outside to take a call one night, and Merlin went out with him.  Then Merlin started barking.  Merlin hardly ever barks.  So I went out into the yard to see what he was on about.  He began pointing at the fence.  I didn't see anything.  Then I looked up.  On top of the fence was a possum, frozen in place, apparently hoping that if he didn't move, Merlin would go away.  Merlin ran around the yard for a while, always coming back to bark at me and point to the possum.  Eventually the possum relaxed a bit and sat back on his haunches, his head moving back and forth as he watched Merlin scamper around.  I grabbed my camera and got one decent picture of the possum before herding Merlin inside for the night.  The next morning Merlin went to where he'd seen the possum, but it was long gone.  Which is good, because I didn't mind seeing the possum at night, when he was just starting his day, but I would have been very worried to see him in full daylight.
Next it was Halloween.  It was just me passing out candy, since Clayton was on duty recovery and asleep in our bedroom all day.  I was super excited to see the Halloween costumes without sweatsuits underneath or winter coats over them.  We bought three bags of candy at Walmart, just so we would have enough, and plenty of range from Tootsie Rolls, to those peanut butter chewy things, to the chocolate bars.  I lit the candles in our pumpkins, which were already getting nasty (that's got to be a record for me; I've never seen pumpkins go bad so fast), but they'd keep for the night.  In short, I was ready for Halloween.  I was not ready for the number of trick-or-treaters I got.  How many times did my doorbell ring?  Once.  How many kids did I get?  Two.  A Little Red Riding Hood, and her little sister, a zombie.  I kept the light on until nine o'clock, when I finally put out the candles and secured the candy.  It was, to say the least, disappointing.  We still have candy.

The next day we met Eliot at his new favorite coffee house, Sweet, for open mic night.  And to give him our key.  Mostly to give him our key, since our ball was on November 2nd.  If our ball had been in Jacksonville, we would have just come home when we got bored.  However, it was in a hotel in Wilmington, which is about an hour away.  So, knowing that Merlin was going to be fed and entertained by Eliot for the night, we took off for Wilmington, where I got my hair done and we secured a hotel room.  We got dressed at the hotel upon checking in, and by then it was time to head over to the ball.

This ball was in a pretty nice place, and I was done up nicer than I've ever been before.  The photographer was less professional (was drinking all night, and was smashed by the time we left), but he took better pictures (and they came with matting).  The food was good, and the tables were set well.  They weren't spectacular, but they were nice.  Basically, everything the hotel was in charge of went down pretty well.  Everything the Marines were in charge of went terribly.  The venue wasn't nearly big enough for all of our people.  The junior Marines were in a separate dining room, upstairs from the main ballroom.  It had no DJ, no dancefloor, and they had to watch the ceremonies on a screen projecting CCTV from the ballroom.  There was very little sound, so no one up there minded that their food was served to them while the speeches were going on, which would normally be very out of line.  In fact, I doubt they had much reverence for any of the proceedings, considering that they were painfully aware of the fact that everyone seated upstairs was at a glorified kids table.  There were a few token staff NCOs, and they were painfully aware that they were babysitters for the kids table.  

Speaking of tables, the fuelers left most of their place cards at the shop, so one of Clayton's fellow sergeants was scrambling in the hotel office to print them up again.  We helped him run around both floors, putting place cards on the fuelers' tables, which was very tricky considering we had no less than three seating arrangements to go off of, and the second floor ended up being a free for all anyway (the other companies put their people wherever they wanted, regardless of any of the seating arrangements).  Because of this scrambling, I didn't get to take pictures of the cake or anything.  Which is too bad, because this was the most elaborate cake I've seen at a ball yet.  At least we got to go to the ball at all.  A number of the barracks Marines had their bus canceled on them.  Whether someone forgot to confirm it, no one signed up in the first place (foolishly assuming it would be there, whether they spoke up to say they needed it or not), or it was actively canceled, no one could say.  Some of them managed to get rides with other Marines and showed up barely on time or late.  

My biggest problem with this ball was mostly just the organization of the event itself.  It was spread out over two floors, with a treacherous winding staircase and one or two elevators.  Normally, this would be no problem for me, but I was in a floor length gown and heels, making the layout particularly absurd and, sometimes, dangerous.  The dancefloor and bar were on the main floor, while the photographer was on the second floor.  So there were legitimate reasons to be navigating both floors all night.  We decided not to partake of the alcohol at the ball, since the lines were long, and the drinks were cheap beverages at worse-than-airport prices.  An 8oz cup of ice with some Coke poured on top was $2.  At work, we have a Coke vending machine that serves 20 oz drinks for $1.  So just water for us that night.  When our picture was finally ready, we went back to our hotel and changed into civvies.  Then we walked into town, found a nice bar that served wine and craft beers, and we each had a nice beer.  Then we walked back to our room for the night.  

You're pretty well caught up now, but in order to be fully caught up, you'll have to check out my picture page, where I've attempted to illustrate these past adventures.
 
My plan was to update the blog last weekend, but that fell through for reasons that will shortly be explained.  Anyway, I'm going to start with the good stuff we've done since my last post.  

For Columbus Day weekend, Clayton and I both had a long weekend.  It also happened to coincide with our second anniversary.  For those of you who have known us all along, it's been ten years since we started dating.  We would have taken a little extra time off to head inland and enjoy the state fair and other exciting things in the rest of the day, but Clayton was supposed to be training in the field.  However, due to the previously mentioned funding snafoos, the field operation was canceled.  Instead of training in the field, he had to make a bunch of Power Points on what they would have been doing.  Since I'm an "Office Wizard" the Power Points were a team effort.

We had our usual crew over on Saturday evening, and I made Chicken Divan, one of Clayton's favorite recipes.  Sunday we did anniversary things.  Our anniversary was Tuesday, but I knew we wouldn't have time on Tuesday or Monday.  Clayton got us a hammock, because the internet told him about traditional anniversary gifts and the second anniversary is "cotton."  It is quite a nice hammock.  We set it up in the living room and watched Game of Thrones with the windows open.  Eventually we went out for dinner at a steak place that had been highly recommended to us, and had a very good time there.  Since the service was so fast and we got out earlier than planned, we decided to do a little shopping.  We walked around a new store, and then we went to get something for Merlin at Petsmart.  Why?  Because our little Merlin turned one year old on (we think) October 5th!  So we found good presents for our little Merlin.  He got a new toy and a backpack for quests. 

On Monday we went on a family quest on the walking trails that run sort of past our house.  Merlin wore his new backpack, and he felt very excited and important, carrying his treats and poop bags, and Clayton's phone and keys.  Twice Merlin stepped in front of me just in time to make me almost step on a snake.  I think it was the same snake each time, poor thing.  There are venomous snakes here, but this snake was a harmless tree snake, and a pretty green color.  When we got back from our quest, we spent the rest of the day picking up the house and preparing for work.

The work week was what it usually is.  On Friday I played a Halloween Jeopardy game with the While We Wait Club, a group for kids whose parents are deployed.  I was very impressed that the children knew about minotaurs and Darth Vader.  The week was looking pretty good.  Saturday morning started pleasantly enough.  I started cleaning the kitchen, and Clayton was folding laundry.  Then Clayton sneezed and dislocated his shoulder, again.  I'll spare you the details of the rest of that day, except to say that we spent the entire day and most of the evening at the Naval Hospital, where Clayton swore at, threatened, and apologized to a couple shifts of Corpsmen.  Sunday was spent grocery shopping and recovering from Saturday.  Hopefully this week will be better than last weekend.  In the meantime, here is a picture of a puppy with a backpack.
 
I just posted an album dedicated to our new house in Jacksonville, NC.  So far, the pictures are only of the exterior, but you get to see front and back pretty well, I think.  As I was taking pictures of Clayton mowing the lawn, Merlin decided to bark at the lawn mower.  This shocked us both, as we hadn't heard Merlin bark in over a month.  Anyway, as we get the rooms decorated, we'll post pictures of the inside of the house.  For now, have fun snooping around the outside of our new home!
 
Yesterday Clayton began checking out of his current squadron, and he put a really big dent in the list of places that have to see him before he can leave.  He still has a few more to go, though.  So tomorrow morning he'll probably finish that process.  Then he'll have to do it all again next week for the squadron to which he was originally sent upon arriving at Cherry Point.  If this doesn't make sense to you, don't worry about it.  It just means a bit of extra running around for Clayton.

Speaking of running around, this morning we went out to Jacksonville again.  We were slated to see five houses, but only ended up seeing three.  The first house was a very new one in a somewhat cramped neighborhood.  The area was a strange place to me, because half the houses were quite old, and the other half were brand new, nestled in among the old ones.  The real estate agent told us that this is a neighborhood that is actively being developed and renewed, by removing or renovating the old nasty houses.  

The second house we went to see had some awesome features in the pictures online, but we never got to see them in person.  The little lock box on the door didn't have a key in it.  We looked around on the porch for places where it might be hidden, but it didn't turn up.  The third house we were to see only had about six pictures, so I was looking forward to seeing the rest of the house, but it didn't work either.  This time, the lock box was giving us an error reading, but the real estate agent didn't know what it was, so we moved on.

The fourth house was super cute, with a huge yard that would have been perfect for us.  It was a bit older, but well maintained and with lots of character.  It was along the quieter part of a busy highway, but set back from the road significantly, plus it had that huge yard in back.  There were a few color schemes in some rooms I wasn't thrilled with, but Clayton agreed if were going to be there long term, we could paint the few things I didn't like.  

The fifth house we visited was in a developed community.  It had an open floor plan in the living room and dining room area, that flowed nicely into the small, but well-equipped kitchen.  The yard was nice, but smaller than the others we'd seen, and it had a very nice deck and huge grill there for our use.  Also, the double doors in the dining area opened out onto the deck, which had me eyeing this large space from the front door to the end of the porch as a great opportunity for parties.  The bedrooms were nice enough, well portioned, but nothing extraordinary.  A couple of them were clearly kids' rooms, as they were painted sorts of colors only someone under 13 would choose.  Once again, if we were going to be here long term, we might paint them.

All of our houses either viewed or eliminated, it was time for us to decide which was our favorite.  Pretty quickly, Clayton and I decided we liked the fourth house, which had a big, gorgeous yard, and on the inside all sorts of character perfect for our personalities.  Our real estate agent, however, reminded us that because that house was so much older than the other two we got to see, it would cost us huge amounts in electric bills, especially in the winter.  Since we haven't had much experience in paying for utilities in this area (they're basically included in the cost of base housing), we took his word for it and ruled out our favorite house.  So then it came down to two perfectly good houses that we were pretty much tied on.  

That's when we broke out the house score cards and tried to quantify just what it was we liked or didn't like about both houses.  We each scored one house, compared scores, and then switched and scored again.  Both times, they came to within one or two points of each other (heck yeah, we used points!), so that didn't help tons.  Basically, we liked the first house best, but its cramped neighborhood wasn't very exciting for us.   The last house was very close to Clayton's work, and it had a garage, but we didn't like the bedrooms or yard as much as the first one.  I think in the end what sold me was the kitchen.  Of course there were lots of other factors involved, but when you see this kitchen, I think you'll agree it's a really nice space.  

Since you're probably still confused, we went with the first house.  We applied to rent it, and hopefully they'll call us tomorrow, asking us to come down with a deposit.  If someone else snags it first, we agreed we'd be all right in its contender, too.  If both get snatched up somehow, then I guess we'll have to look again (eww) until the stars and planets align, or whatever it takes to find us a new home.  Until then, we're getting packed.  So here's another chance for me to say this: if you want our new address, please email me yours.  I'm hoping to send out moving announcements once we get to wherever we're going, and I want to have a nice fat address book by then.  

Oh.  Here's a picture of the nice kitchen I might be using in a week.
 
Hello, everyone!  I hope you had as lovely an Easter as we did.  As you know, I had been planning our Easter feast for some time.  Just as I was hoping, I was able to have all of the food for which I was responsible done, as well as all of the dishes, before my guests arrived.  

This year, Clayton's parents, his brother David, and David's wife Rachel were our guests.  Merlin greeted them at the door, wearing a black bow tie; the rest of us were much more casual.  I decorated the living room with a purple garland.  Easter morning I set up our new table, added the green table cloth and purple runner, and set the places.  Clayton helped me fold our napkins (three were white and three were yellow) in the lily fold, which we then placed in the wine glasses.  All of the glasses were labeled with a person's name on a paper doily.  
Clayton insisted we needed to do Easter baskets for our guests.  I didn't really know who liked which types of candies, so we started with two family baskets and a couple of small, useful, non-candy gifts.  In the end, we did get candy, but we didn't put it straight into the baskets.  Instead, I set up a bunny buffet.  In the kitchen, along my highest counter, I set up some dessert stands and and brightly colored plastic goblets, and we loaded up the display with our candy, and later with the candy David and Rachel brought.  On my kitchen table, I used a vase Clayton bought me a few years ago, and we filled it with some pretty flowers from the store.  When our guests arrived, I put out the raspberry lemonade and deviled eggs.  Out of a dozen eggs, I made a dozen "regular" deviled eggs (egg, mayonnaise, and mustard), and a dozen wasabi deviled eggs (egg, mayonnaise, and wasabi paste).  Rachel later brought a tray of really cute, colored eggs.  She prepared hers with horseradish.  

After dinner, we cleared everything in the living room away.  We got comfy on the floor and the couches and played Hedbanz for hours.  It's your basic "Who Am I?" game, but with a timer and a simple way to keep score.  We all had a lot of fun, and played several rounds.  Eventually we put the game away and had our desserts.  Then David and Rachel went home for the night, and Clayton's parents spent the night with us.  If you want to see more pictures from Easter, head over to the Pictures page.
 
Here it is!  This is the menu I'll be putting on the table for Easter.  I designed these as quarter-page fliers in Microsoft Publisher, on two pages, and printed double sided.  The bunny and lamb graphics are from The Graphics Fairy, and I simply tinted them a soft gray and layered them behind the font.  If you like this menu and would like to use the template yourself, you can download it from the link underneath the pictures.  Bear in mind, you'll need MS Publisher to open or edit the file.
easter2013menutemplate.pub
File Size: 708 kb
File Type: pub
Download File

 
Hello, everyone!  Sorry I haven't been here in almost a month.  Eek!  I really thought I'd have more news for you at the end of January, though.  Well, hopefully today I'll be able to make up for that.  

First of all, Clayton has been flagged for recruiting duty.  He was screened at the end of January, and we have yet to hear anything more.  IF they do pick him to be a recruiter (which would plunk us into a civilian community for three years), the soonest we would be moving is December 2013.  So the big news that has come out of his B billet screening is that we'll be staying here for at least another year.

As many of you may know, my birthday was this week.  After slacking off last year, Clayton did a great job helping me celebrate this year.  We took our Merlin for his morning quest.  After we dropped him off at the house, we ran some errands on base, got some donuts and coffee for breakfast, and then ran errands in New Bern.  We came home, had a light lunch, and then I opened my presents.  Clayton got me something I've been wanting for a while- matching plates!  They're really quite lovely!  He had told his mother about his plans, and she agreed it was such a good idea, that she sent me another box of the same set.  Yay!  Now I have plenty of matching bowls, mugs, dinner plates, and salad plates.  We rearranged all of the cupboards to accommodate my new dinnerware.  I've come to the conclusion that if this were my forever house, I'd be making some changes to the layout of the kitchen.  As it is, though, I think I've got everything pretty well set up now.  Oh, I suppose you'd like some pictures.  Well, if you insist!
After all of our running around and rearranging the kitchen, we were pretty well wiped out.  Especially Clayton, who did all of this right after coming off his shift at 0730.  So we took a nap.  Well, I took a nap, Clayton got his sleep for the day.  We were going to go out for dinner, but it wasn't in the cards just then.  All the same, Birthday Part I was really great.  Birthday Part II will happen this weekend.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, so when I got back from church with my friend and her family, we had potato pancakes and apple sauce for dinner.  This morning is St. Valentine's Day, and once again, my husband learned his lesson from last year.  He made us a delicious breakfast of pink waffles, bacon, and cheesy scrambled eggs.  He is just the best!  Then we took Merlin for a quest, where our little dog found the matching antler to the one he found about a week ago.  Merlin is getting to be such a good little tracker.  Later today I plan on making a special Valentines treat for Clayton.  If it comes out well, I might just post it in the food blog.  
Just a little more before I publish this today.  A big "Great Job" to my youngest sister, Shannon, who scored a 100% on her permit exam on her sixteenth birthday.  OMG, my little baby sister is 16!  Speaking of little babies, our good friends Dan and Brittni welcomed their first baby into the world today.  He's a healthy baby boy, weighing in at 8lbs 7oz, and measuring 20.5 inches.  Congratulations to them and their newest family member.
 
Yay!  We finally have our computers back from the repair shop.  This morning, I finished uploading the pictures from Erin's wedding.  The rest of the day has been spent making Christmas goodies.  Earlier, we wrangled up our puppy and attempted to take some family pictures in front of our tree.  Later, I'll add more albums of our Christmas decorations and Merlin's baby pictures.  Come back soon!
ErinWeddingPic
Click here to see Erin & Shaun's wedding pictures.
 
This past week sure has been eventful!  From the 21st to the 28th, I've been very busy!  We started with a new family member, served a full Thanksgiving meal to about a dozen Marines, and I witnessed a very special event.  There will, of course, be pictures (but they might take a while to catch up with this post).

On Wednesday, while I was at work, Clayton adopted our puppy, Merlin.  He is definitely a yellow Labrador Retriever, with possibly another breed, but being a shelter dog, we'll never really know.  Merlin's papers say he's about eight weeks old, but the veterinary tech on base estimates him at about ten weeks.  Either way, he is a happy, healthy little dog, who wants nothing more than to be adored by Clayton and me.
Merlin's baby picture
Our baby dog, Merlin
The next day, Merlin helped me in the kitchen, while I prepared a Thanksgiving meal for the guys at Clayton's shop.  I made them two turkey breasts, carrots, real mashed potatoes, cranberry jell-o salad, succotash, and pumpkin chiffon pies.  A few of the guys brought their families, and some of them brought food, as well.  I was very proud to have my turkey proclaimed to be "cooked to perfection" by the grandmother of one of the Marines.  The carrots, which I'd cooked beneath the turkey breasts, were well cooked, but not soft and mushy.  Generally, all of my food was said to be very good.  

On Friday, I grabbed my bags, and my boys dropped me off at the airport in Jacksonville.  From there, I flew (as indirectly as possible) back to Rochester.  Clayton's mom was good enough to pick me up at ROC, and to deposit me at my sister Erin's rehearsal dinner in Albion.  The food was delicious, and I got to meet her fiance's immediate family.  Saturday, we got up bright and early, so everyone could get through the shower.  Then we went to the hall where Erin and Shaun's reception was to be held, and set everything up.  That task accomplished, we went to the rectory of the church, had pizza (chicken tenders for me, to avoid tomatoes), and got dressed.  When everyone was dressed and coiffed, we walked to the church.  Erin and Shaun had a small, elegant ceremony.  Then we grabbed our stuff from the rectory and went back to the hall.  There, we enjoyed a fabulous dinner, put on by my mother and grandmother.  After we ate and laughed a good long while, we picked up everything and went home. 

Sunday, I spent a lazy day at home with my mother and youngest sister.  We ate leftover wedding food (except cake, there wasn't any of that left) and watched movies from the 1980s on Netflix.  Monday, Erin and I went Christmas shopping at a real mall, which was exciting for me, since we don't have any of those around here.  Tuesday, I helped my mother pick up her house some more, called tech support for her printer, ordered Christmas gifts online, and made memory cards of Erin's wedding pictures for her and Mom.  That evening, I went on a great date with Clayton's mother.  We did some light shopping in Brockport's many boutique shops, had a nice dinner, and then saw the last installment of "Twilight."  Judge us all you want, that movie was actually fantastic and kept us on the edge of our seats, even though we've both read the books.

Wednesday, the 28th, I flew back down to Jacksonville, where my husband and quickly growing puppy picked me up.  We came home and played for a while, and then I went to bed early, and Clayton went off to work.  Today, we took Merlin to his first vet appointment, where he had a great time meeting other dogs and being generally adored by the techs (because he is so VERY cute).  

So, we've had a lot for which to be thankful this past week.  Our new puppy is an adorable and energetic addition to our little family, we have a great family of Marines to celebrate with when going home isn't possible, and my first little sister is happily married to a very nice guy who loves her as much as her family does.  Besides dealing with airport security, this has been the type of week that makes me feel like life just can't get much better.

That's all for now, but tomorrow I plan on posting albums of many of the events I've recounted here, so check back soon!