Free Mail. Or Something Like That.

Think for a second on how many different ways you can communicate with your family (or friends) this year. Hell, even your boss? Do you use MicrosoftTeams or Zoom? How’s remote work working for you?

Do you call friends? Is your dad on Facebook? I bet even your aunt has an Instagram account. And does anyone have a MySpace account anymore?

The means with which we communicate to those we care most about are not small matters at all. They seem small but they are more significant than we often think about as we tend to daily responsibilities. I’ve been using the internet since I was roughly 12 years old; if I had kept one of my childhood diaries, I believe I was in the sixth grade when dial up was a thing for us. My daughter will never know the dreadful sound to open AOL and for the internet to fail repeatedly. (Ok, I lied. She encountered that this year with the internet going down due to more people using the internet for remote work and online schooling courtesy of the pandemic.) She also does not have to fight with three other sisters for a 20 minute turn to check out what’s new online. Life has a funny way of evolving that may frustrate us in the immediate moment and then, years later, we kind of laugh about it or get blank stares from younger generations who will never experience what we did.

Last night I had the opportunity to listen to a virtual event that I wish to share with you and how it relates to my messages here about military service and society. Our speaker, Lisa Silvestri, talked about her project “Telling War” and I noticed so much between what she uncovered with veterans and service members that I similarly shared through my own efforts. Many of my own contributions, initially, were more raw and it’s only in the more recent past I’ve felt I could better articulate the learning process that occurred as a part of serving and also leaving the Marine Corps for other career and educational prospects. She wrote Friended at the Front: Social Media in the American War Zone and after last night’s event, trust me, I will be picking up a copy to further enhance my own studies of post-9/11 war experiences.

When I began writing this blog years ago, and this is still true, I felt the space for veteran voices was a difficult ground to tread. Originally, I did not plan to write so much of my own story. I did not want to be that vulnerable although I was ok with seeking a personal education about others’ experiences and overlaying that reporting (i.e. news stories and interviews, viral images, etc.) with peer reviewed sources and books I might pick up at Barnes and Noble.

Last night, hunched over my laptop listening over Zoom, I was introduced to a concept I am not sure I’ve heard before: information ecosystem.

I like looking at how people behave in their environment(s) and to learn about how environments differ and somehow I either never HEARD of information ecosystem before or I did not LISTEN when the idea cropped up in any one of the many in-person and online classrooms I’ve been in over the years. We all participate in information ecosystems though and some of the ways we participate are more our choice than choices forced upon us.

My parents brought a personal computer into our home when I was young but as an adult, I could have decided that choice did not suit my lifestyle. Many of the communities I’ve lived in provide computers for public access. The move from using public computers for my work, school, or personal communication purposes to communicating over a personal computer was a value decision. I was wasting too much of my time waiting for public institutions to open and then waiting in line to use a computer for a very small fraction of time, typically a 30 minute limit.

Many people would value the savings generated by using someone else’s computer, internet, and printer services over bearing those costs, but not me. I want to spend more time in my own space tending to my commitments and interests than being at the mercy of other people. This choice is also a matter of privilege. I have the discretionary money to purchase a laptop and internet. Plenty of Americans are not so lucky and this issue is highly visible as our nation struggles now with providing quality education remotely during the pandemic to families who cannot afford some or all of the tools necessary to learn online.

I cannot solve that problem with my blog but I do think it is important to remind people that this issue is still a problem months into the pandemic.

My information ecosystem and the ones discussed in last night’s event are not closed systems. Lisa was correct last night when she talked about how much individuals struggling with interpersonal communication right now due to the pandemic could learn from how deployed service members get through/got through their deployments. The communication tools we used in the past and the present offer different lenses on historical events and personal experiences and we have more tools at our disposal to get through the upcoming holidays if we need to celebrate them physically distanced.

My family and friends were privy to a lot of my sentiments on my first and second tour in Iraq based on my regular entries on MySpace, but each tour came with the additional privileged experience of free mail. I learned today that this program has been in existence since 1986, two years after my birth. Less expedient than social media, one might wonder why I still wrote letters by hand. I think it has to do with the way it feels to open a mailbox. The way it brings back being a kid when the mailbox is full of unexpected messages, not bills. Paper feels differently than seeing an icon on a screen. Paper is different on the eyes than how computer text looks. Paper allows you to see a person through his or her handwriting when you cannot touch that person. I have no record of the total letters I wrote home during my first deployment but I checked in on those kept from my second. I sent 41 unique pieces of correspondence to my husband and three cards.

So what kind of things could the average American learn from our veterans and deployed military members to share with loved ones today across the globe or the country as the pandemic continues to shape the way we live? Nothing is too small to talk about. If it catches your eye or brings a certain emotion to the forefront, talk about those things. Someone might really appreciate knowing they aren’t alone in their struggles or they may be reminded of a time you shared together and it gives them hope for what lies ahead for the future. Have fun and throw your heart out there and breathe a little.

I’ve missed three Thanksgivings, two Christmases, two New Year’s Eve’s, one Valentine’s Day, one birthday, his birthday and my first wedding anniversary due to my or my husband’s deployed status or our military responsibilities stateside. There are other times I’ve missed seeing family back in Rhode Island due to lack of funds or other time commitments. None of it was ideal, but I missed out on a lot less than all the other years where things went right and I could be with my loved ones.

You are stronger than you think, but you are not alone in all this mess.

Stay safe.

A Season of Self-Care

It looks like I know what I’m doing, but honestly, don’t expect to find yoga advice from me.

Yeah, September is (almost) over.

For all you newbies, October is my FAVORITE month of the year. There is always something special about entering this time of year and with the crazy mess that is 2020, I need my beautiful favorite month more than anything.

I love the cooler weather that moves in and the way the best drinks (Not looking at you, pumpkin spice.) become available. October is that treat we all deserve. We get to bundle up in cozy clothes and holiday gift shopping is not yet on our doorstep unless we want it. Mother Nature gives us bursts of warm colors and the prettiest scenery to capture.

I’ve kept going back and forth this year over my disdain for the flurry of content people are sharing saying we should be productive this year and then when I settle down into doing less, I’ve felt incredibly lazy. I am the kind of person who knows how to do more so I do more. Compared to last year when I was finishing up my second (and last) graduate degree, this year feels like I’m wasting away my days.

I know this isn’t true, but it is hard for me to slow down.

With this slowing down life, I have tried to indulge in some self-care.

September was a pretty good month for cleaning our personal space. With our floors being done, we had an excuse to downsize and rearrange our furniture. Living and working together has shown some of the inefficiencies in how we set up our home. I previously showed off a little reveal on Instagram of how our space is shaping up but this closet is a little special, too. Our spare bedroom office was a catchall space and that issue needed addressing. I am much happier now that it is home to seasonal clothing and a number of items from our Marine Corps careers plus it made sense to take my wedding dress out of the master bedroom closet and re-home it here.

My oddest self-care project is probably the pantry. I organize and then it gets disorganized with our next big grocery shopping trip. Not everything needs an OXO container but I am onboard with picking up a few more to make finding snacks a whole lot easier. We also tend to have pasta, dried beans, small bags of rice, and quinoa floating around in here, too, so those items also need better organization.

I am also back to accepting dairy products are not my friend. This reality is probably the best facet of self-care I’ve been working on lately. Lactase tablets only help so much; I must accept the fact my body feels terrible from heavy whipping cream, milk, a variety of cheeses, and butter. Now that I am back on track with reducing dairy in my life, I am back to feeling better again. I probably won’t accept a completely dairy-free life as it makes dining out challenging, but I am being more mindful about my food choices.

Now, I won’t say I am forgoing all treats.

I recently picked up a copy of Thrive magazine from the Natural Grocer’s and came across a recipe for chocolate chunk hazelnut blondies. Given what I had in my pantry, I altered the recipe a little with simple replacements (i.e. almond meal replaced the hazelnut meal). I omitted the toasted hazelnuts. We cut our batch into 9 servings which made each blondie about 453 calories. These are delicious. The recipe is available from Crumb & Caramel.

I do plan on making a few substitutions in order to bring down the overall calorie count for those days where I want a treat but a 453 calorie treat is not what I am looking for. If it works, it works.

Self-care isn’t about doing things perfectly.

Pandemic Life: Crossing The Six Month Mark

To mourn our traditional way of movement might seem silly because I previously experienced limited movement over two tours in Iraq, totaling fourteen months of my life. I have more tools to keep in touch with family members and friends now, but it still often feels like the barriers are a lot more tangible than they truly are. We’ve all become a bit busier in different ways that we are unavailable to each other; I might be juggling a loss of post-work “me” time with my daughter still attending school virtually while a family member or friend is struggling with additional work due to staff shortages and it is not hard to come across people who have lost job opportunities or had them postponed due to the pandemic. To say we are all getting reacquainted with our identities (work, self, partner, etc.) is probably not an understatement.

Life and the way we live has changed. I am acknowledging more this is a season of waiting I wasn’t expected I’d experience or that it would last so long and it isn’t over yet. I guess it is important to state this pandemic is showing me I cannot hop from one goal to another all the time because there will be some roadblocks I cannot move (or move easily). Waiting, for me, is a significant source of frustration. When I see that something should take X unit of time, I wonder why it takes longer for me than my peers. To say I feel gipped would not be too far out of line. Society presents this idea that hard work equates to success, but I know too often that is not the case. This pandemic is just another way this statement/belief reveals itself to be untrue.

There are so many good businesses and people harmed by not only the health crisis but its economic effects. To follow the death toll of this crisis brings up a lot of the same stress I felt on shift on my first tour in Iraq when I was nearly helpless to prevent the injury and death of my fellow service members. Knowing this about myself, I have taken a different approach to ingesting the news since March and what I share with others.

I’ve accepted seasons of waiting suck. I am in a position again where a big vacation dream had to be pushed back. This time it was due less to financial constraints and more based on the fact different states have imposed quarantine restraints as a means to slow and reduce the spread of COVID-19. I am not angry that such strict measures are in place. I am just really tired and a true vacation would hit the spot. In the interest of being transparent, yes, I have some grief over this lost vacation. A trip to Hawaii has been on our radar for years and it is hard to feel like it will come true one day.

Remembering the privileges I enjoy has been a huge part of coping well during the pandemic. Grocery shopping has been a bit of a nightmare with the amount of uncertainty that originally surrounded the experience, but we can put almost anything into our cart without worry. That’s not something I could say last year when my husband was finishing law school and I was finishing grad school. Additionally, in spite of not feeling that way with some stark empty shelves at various stores, we are still surrounded by an abundance of food stuffs. It is a privilege to have an array of options, even if not all of those options were what you were originally seeking. For us, this means buying different cuts of meat or meat alternatives.

Education is also a click away for me and for many others just like me. I enjoy learning and it is a good way for me to deal positively with a lot of uncertainty. To indulge in my love of cooking and baking means I am making time in my day to take healthy breaks away from news consumption, too. As well, eating at home often means the tendency to consume healthier meals than when we go out to eat. Speaking about the subject of balancing dining at home versus dining out, the issue of social distancing has really impacted how I see the businesses we frequent. Some are downright awful at practicing social distancing. Those are easy ones to avoid when we spot them. We know we do not owe anyone our business and so we pay more attention to how well an establishment protects the health of its employees and the extension of care shown to customers. This has meant cutting back on dining out. We are starting to enjoy our dining out experiences more because the places with strong social distancing practices do provide a more positive atmosphere.

This past week I’ve felt a little more cooped up than normal, but I am excited to share we have some great things coming in our future. Some things are more of our same routines. I continue to find new items at the grocery store and exciting recipes which livens up our home routine. As I’ve been doing, I will keep sharing those things on Instagram. We are also heading into September and I know once we start to have a drop in temperatures, even if we are still above 100 degrees, I can start focusing on weightlifting in the garage again. With the current 110-115 degrees, I am not as motivated to sweat it out in the garage. Soon enough, we’ll also have the bulk of the upstairs flooring repaired and replaced. Safety is a big priority for me and it has been challenging knowing despite how new the house is, there are so sagging, soft, and creaky spots that need attention. I will share the results of that journey as well.

Oh, and before I forget, I will also add a bit more to my memoir. We haven’t talked about that journey in a bit, but it is still a valuable goal for me. I have three days off while the floors are being done to make some more progress. The team will be here for a total of six days but I wanted to conserve some PTO for later this year. A recent trip to Barnes & Noble inspired me to see this memoir belongs more to the personal growth/self-help/inspiration than the military section which is what I have been feeling is true this past year. With this realization, I think finishing the first draft will be monumentally easier than I was expecting. There are some things I’ve wanted to include and I wasn’t entirely sure if those insights were relevant. This decision means cutting out certain pieces I’ve already added, but I know my friends and family love me. Nothing I’ve shared so far has caused anyone to stop supporting me and with the recent cleanup of my Instagram–I guess a story for another day–I feel I am finding the bulk of persons are the right audience for this next leg of my writing journey, too.

Find beauty in every day, even the challenging ones.

What Blogging Has Taught Me The Past (Almost) Six Years and the Future of “She Wears Dogtags”

An introverted adult who hates being in the spotlight started this blog.

A woman still figuring out what femininity looks like for her started this blog.

A daughter and sister with imperfect family relationships started this blog.

A wife and mother who does not believe households should be bound by gender roles started this blog.

A graduate student who never believed she’d go to grad school (or twice for that matter!) started this blog.

A war veteran who volunteered to serve twice overseas started this blog.

A Marine Corps veteran whose original adult career path plan did not include military service started this blog.

There are so many labels I can wear and that society expects me to wear as part of my life journey and then there are the paths I followed, this blog being one of those paths.

My blog is essentially a late entry Kindergarten student. Born on October 26th, 2014, it was born in my favorite month and I have no shame in stating it has become my second child and just like my actual child, I’ve learned so much about who I am in the process of shaping the development of this writing project.

To my newcomers, I hope you see this blog as a beautiful imperfect creation. I make plenty of mistakes, including being overly emotional in my writing. You’ll find entries sprinkled with four letter swear words. I have, as one professor mentioned during the progression of my graduate applied project, the penchant to take ‘bird walks’ and dear future friend, you’re in for a number of nature walks. I learn just as much by wandering as I do setting my feet down a specific path. With all of us spending more time in our home these days, I also feel the occasional wandering activity breaks up the constraint we feel tucked away in our respective residences.

Writing is a craft I am still perfecting and I hope you see every entry is designed to be a unique creation and reflection of my personal evolution. My first entry, The Project Begins, is probably a little painful to read but I was spilling with energy to unpack my military service experiences. By comparison, this past year I’ve confronted my money goals again and in the past few months expressed the way anxiety manifested itself as we deal with COVID-19 disrupting our way of life.

To my current readers, I owe you all a big apology. I discovered recently there were a significant amount of comments blocked as spam. This is a huge mistake for me and I recognize now I need to tinker with various features of this platform to tend properly to my readers moving forward. I am so sorry to anyone who felt I neglected the way this blog may have impacted your life or I should have expanded discussion on I was too certain matters. The downfall of this being a one woman show is I do not have a team reminding me this is still a business adventure and I must learn how to use the tools. One of my goals now is to make time each month to scout around WordPress more and figure out what all the buttons do and to look at least once weekly to capture any comments that might inadvertently be marked ‘spam’.

Captured in all my social awkwardness recently by my daughter

Becoming more competent with WordPress tools is not the only thing on my radar. I have two other things to mention about how I want to improvement engagement moving forward.

When I first started this project, I was pretty deadset against using ads. I will be using ads on the site moving forward. It does take up a good amount of my time to produce this content and after much reflection, I realize there are different ways I want to improve as a content creator and contribute to different organizations that are doing great things for veterans and persons in need. Relying solely on my 9-to-5 job finances as the only income stream to reach that objective will make this a much slower process than I care for, but I want to be upfront with everyone. At this point, I only feel comfortable permitting the ads on the website and not going the route of affiliate marketing. If ads work out as a supplementary source of income so I can serve you all better, I am willing to give it a try. If the ads don’t help much on the site, then I’ll trudge along at my current pace.

The other, perhaps more exciting news, is I am establishing a YouTube channel for She Wears Dogtags. My goal is to post my first video on or before August 1st. I hope the video messaging resonates with people who might not naturally seek a blog to read and/or those who would love to interpret various issues utilizing more of their senses. This past week, I had our daughter video me for the first time and now, I am in the process of editing that video. Will it be perfect? No. Am I scared to share this leg of my journey? Yes.

I believe we should embrace an attitude of lifelong learning. For this reason, I am willing to toss my story out there and my perspective on the world in order to continue serving others who are considering military service, who are currently serving, and those who now wear the title ‘veteran.’ Ideally, I also want to reach people who did not serve, perhaps never thought of serving but are curious about military service and life after one hangs up the uniform. I am an older veteran, having been out since 2007, and I recognize I will encounter people who likely will tell me I should get off my soapbox and let a newer veteran pick up this kind of mission. The thing is I want to be a resource because there are plenty of things that are generally consistent regardless of the era of service and with service being voluntary (at least in the United States) people who serve do not necessarily have family members who have faced a similar experience.

This is where I hope to come in. My journey is full of highs and lows. I am stepping up to this new mission with the same level of transparency I’ve developed over the years blogging. Things might be a little (or a lot) rough in the beginning, but you have my heart in this next phase as you do with my blog.

To better prepare for this journey, I am starting to listen to podcasts and YouTube videos for tips and tricks. I’ve already devoured a few episodes of “YouTube Creators Hub” on Spotify and some of Cathrin Manning’s YouTube videos. I feel eventually a weekly video is within my capabilities and I am accumulating a few sticky notes with ideas on how I want to organize the eventual content I will create. (Let’s just say a graduate degree in Social and Cultural Pedagogy and one in Public Administration did not prepare me to use WordPress, Instagram, Facebook, and now YouTube to speak the way I want to military service and society. I am seeking out educators now–and that’s not a bad thing!).

Before we end for the day, here’s how I hope to keep my social media diverse:

Instagram: Daily or most days of the week

YouTube: Weekly (eventually)

WordPress: Monthly

Facebook: Sporadically as I find what I’ve dubbed markers of service (usually vanity veteran or military branch license plates)

With these good things out on the table now, I want to close with a big thank you to everyone for dropping by. Your interest in my writing adventures–and future YouTube conversations–keeps me motivated when this path is anything but easy.

The Pandemic “Diet”: The Privilege of Food Storage and Life Outside Food Deserts

Grocery shopping is not what it used to be. I go in looking like a bank robber and come out with paid for merchandise. I avoid talking to strangers whereas I used to recommend things to people ALL THE TIME. I zip through the store, making as few unnecessary trips back down an aisle if I can help it, a far cry from my pre-pandemic meandering on the hunt for something new. Now, I’ll even toy with the idea, Do I really need it? Whatever ‘it’ is. Other times, I realize (mid aisle) that I was clearly walking down the wrong way when I notice taped arrows running the opposite direction from where my shopping cart was headed. As a foodie, I despise grocery shopping right now. Every time I go now I feel caught off guard by a new trend: an excess of emptied shelves, lines to receive a disinfected cart, sneeze shields, lost access to freely pack up bulk goods.

On June 19th it was mandated we wear face coverings in various establishments, with some exceptions like when out dining. Still, I see people of various ages strolling through grocery stores and places like Target without any sort of mask. It was reported Monday we have 2,196 new cases in Arizona with 3 additional deaths, and the grim totals aren’t great as KTAR News reports an overall total of 54,586 COVID-19 cases and 1,342 deaths. Our community has been incredibly slow to adopt more stringent matters to keep down the number COVID-19 cases with this recent change coming into effect on June 20th, compared to my family–as low risk persons–having our own commuter masks to wear regularly since May 9th. I know we were still slow in adopting the practice of wearing a mask in public, but we have made consistent efforts to practice social distancing. Some of this has been easier on us due to our work allowing for remote shifts, but just as important has been our ability to properly store and prep food.

In one of my last graduate classes, I had the opportunity to look at food assistance programs. Back in 2012, my family needed the support of SNAP after I sustained a long period of unemployment that drained our savings and as a recent collegiate graduate, I was ineligible for unemployment assistance. For my assignment, I focused on Arizona’s Restaurant Meals Program and (at the time) the piloting of EBT online purchases with companies like Amazon. I was curious at how the system can ease difficulties for those with a lack of transportation or mobility concerns, difficulty with food prep and storage, and those impacted by the presence of food deserts. Currently, 19 states now participate in the EBT online purchasing pilot (as of May 20, 2020) which I imagine has helped tremendously during the pandemic to reduce the risk for certain vulnerable populations.

The other side of the situation that I wanted to also reinforce was what it means to have proper food storage and prep resources. This issue, in some of the academic materials I reviewed, makes such a consequential difference in a person’s ability to consume a healthy diet. While these factors are not the only contributors, their significance should not be treated lightly. Perishable foods are costly and even when someone relies on a food pantry or food assistance programs, engages in food rescue, or utilizes a food co-op addressing proper food handling includes access to clean water, cold storage appliance(s) for some ingredients and leftovers, and typically some sort of cooking appliance (oven, microwave, or stove top). Food prep requires utensils, cutting boards, dinnerware, etc.

All of these things take up space and for many, space is yet another source of inequality in our societies.  I delayed this conversation about pandemic food purchasing because I felt it was more important to initially adapt to the situation at hand in March and April. As I waited, it was not hard to come across other conversations about pandemic spending both in the news and on people’s social media accounts. My original plan was to share my thoughts after Memorial Day, presenting a timely capture of spending. With the loss of George Floyd on the heels of other Black Americans lost to police brutality, I knew I had to sit back on this topic. The timing wasn’t right and while it make not be perfect, I do feel it is a better time to write.

My pandemic life started mid March. As a homeowner, I started the wave of changes differently than I would have in our starter home and quite differently than if we had faced this reality as apartment dwellers. Our current kitchen is approximately 135 square feet. Our starter home kitchen technically was larger due to being an eat-in kitchen, but our home upgrade came with numerous opportunities to live better. Our traditional garage arrangement now over the old tandem two car garage meant we had space–again that magic word–to purchase a second fridge and it is parked next to a chest freezer. (The fridge was initially purchased to house packages of chicken for Gregor; he was eating 3 and a half or so pounds of chicken a day.) And if we look even further back into our family history, our apartment kitchen was the least suited to allowing us to purchase an additional week or two of groceries to get by during the pandemic. The kitchen was probably between 50 and 75 square feet.

My May purchases (included below) do not encompass our entire eating or drinking habits for the month. Like months previous, we still purchased some restaurant meals  during busy weekday nights and/or as weekend indulgences. Starting in March, we started to adopt different grocery shopping habits, mostly out of necessity. Our meat consumption dramatically changed as meat was harder to come by and has less frequently been on sale. Since chicken for Gregor then became more expensive, we pulled back on our meat consumption to keep the budget more in check. Before and after the month, we had extra pantry and frozen food on hand and had bought some specialty items like the iberico sausages and the margarita ingredients for Memorial Day weekend. I also made a separate trip to Total Wine and More but since I did not keep the receipt, I did not feel it would be appropriate to just toss a number out there without providing context on the type of alcoholic purchases made.

To also reinforce my point about the privilege of middle class America, we are nowhere near hurting when it comes to cooking appliances, cookware, serve ware, or food storage containers. Our kitchen has an 1100 watt microwave, an oven, a gas cooktop, an InstaPot, a Belgian waffle iron, a four slot toaster, and a sous vide. Our collection of cookware reflects the fact we enjoy cooking. We have a beautiful enameled cast iron Dutch oven, a cast iron skillet, multiple pans and pots, and two sets of measuring cups and spoons. Cooling racks, muffin tins, roasting pans, a donut pan, baking sheets, and a jelly roll pan we use as a baking sheet can also be found tucked behind cabinet doors, plus we have various sizes of cake pans and cutting boards. Our silverware collection could accommodate approximately 16-20 dinner guests but we have half that in our array of cereal bowls, dinner bowls, dinner and side plates. The collection of drink ware is a bit of an embarrassing excess. Tall mason jars, short mason jars, coffee mugs, wine glasses, beer glasses, and plastic cups for life on-the-go. You would think more than three people live in this house.

But that’s why we need to have these conversations. Life during a pandemic varies dramatically. I do not feel guilt for my privilege but it is something I should acknowledge and remember when I complain about rising grocery costs, increased dishwashing, and the lack of items on store shelves. A big concern has been how much it will cost to keep my family fed, but that’s nothing when we consider the fact food insecurity is a rising concern for many.

Lastly, I want to reiterate how wildly different this shared month of grocery shopping is from what we purchased in March and April. The list, with the exclusion of items bought in anticipation of June only put us about $48 more than what I normally want the grocery store budget to be for any given month. I cannot say the same for March when we spent twice our normal budget.

May’s Purchases

Fresh/ Shelf Stable Produce

  • (1) bag organic gala apples (3lbs.)
  • (1) bag organic baby carrots (1lb.)
  • (1) large veggie platter with dip
  • (2) heads organic cauliflower
  • (2) containers organic strawberries (1 lb.)
  • (1) bag lemons (1.2 lbs.)
  • (2) organic leeks
  • (4) fruit cup packs, Del Monte 100% juice (4 cups per pack)
  • (2) green onions
  • (1) Sea Tangle Kelp Noodles (12 oz.)

Frozen Produce

  • (2) bags Ore-Ida Tator Tots (28 oz each)
  • (2) bags broccoli (likely 12 oz. bags)
  • (2) bags peas (likely 12 oz. bags)

Coffee

(1) bag, Stumpton whole bean (12 oz.)

Eggs/Dairy/Butter

  • (2) dozen eggs
  • (1) butterkase cheese (1/2 lb.)
  • (1) package Meyenberg goat milk butter (8 oz.)
  • (1) Chobani Flip yogurt, Peach
  • (7) Chobani yogurts
  • (1) Sargento colby jack sliced cheese
  • (1) 1/2 gallon oat milk
  • (1) Organic Valley low fat milk (1 quart)
  • (1) 4 oz. Organic Valley shredded Parmesan (4 oz.)
  • (1) wedge Parmesan (8 oz.)
  • (2) Montchevre goat cheese (4 oz.)
    • plain
    • honey

Prepared Meals/Meat/Meat Alternatives

  • (2) Against the Grain nut free pesto pizza (24 oz.)
  • (2) Against the Grain uncured pepperoni pizza (24 oz.)
  • (1) Teton Waters Ranch grass fed beef sausage (4 links)
  • (1) Fermin Iberico chourizo (7 oz.)
  • (1) Fermin Iberico salami (7 oz.)
  • (1) Columbus dry coppa
  • (1) Columbus prosciutto
  • (2) packages sliced bacon
  • (1) Organic Prairie ground chicken (12 oz.)
  • (2) 14 oz. Wildwood organic extra firm tofu
  • (2) packs Beyond Meat Beyond Burger patties (2 patties per container)

Bread/Pasta Products

  • (1) loaf Dave’s Killer bread, oats n’ blues
  • (1) Rudi’s sourdough bread loaf
  • (2) packages brioche slider rolls

Pantry/Spice Cabinet

  • (1) jar pickled garlic (12 oz.)
  • (1) jar minced ginger
  • (1) Saffron Road Lemongrass Basil simmer sauce packet (7 oz.)
  • (1) Frontera skiller sauce packet (8 oz.)
  • (1) Arrowhead Mills unbleached all-purpose flour (5 lb. bag)
  • (1) Natural Grocer’s Almond Flour (1 lb. bag)
  • (1) Ian’s Gluten Free breadcrumbs (7 oz.)
  • (1) Aleia’s Gluten Free Italian breadcrumbs (13 oz.)
  • (1) bottle organic dijon mustard
  • (1) St. Dalfour’s black raspberry fruit spread (10 oz.)

Desserts/Snacks

  • (1) Bluebell vanilla ice cream (1/2 gallon)
  • (2) Kroger Deluxe lime sherbert (1.5 quart)
  • (1) pint Dolcezza gelato, Mascarpone & Berries
  • (1) pint Dolcezza gelato, Stracciatella
  • (3) York Peppermint Patties
  • (1) package Oreos, original flavor
  • (1) package Oreos, tiramisu
  • (3) Alt Eco chocolate truffles
  • (1) large bag Lay’s Potato Chips
  • (2) large bags Mission tortilla chips

Beverages

  • (2) Pop & Bottle almond lattes (11 fl. oz)
  • (3) Ginger/Regular Sprite (2 Liters)
  • (2) Monster energy drink
  • (2) Califa Farms Ginger Limeade (48 fl. bottle)
  • (2) Rise Brewing Co. Nitro Cold Brew Coffee Oat Milk Mocha (7 fl. oz.)
  • (6) C2O flavored coconut waters (17.5 fl. oz)
  • (1) Smart Water, 1 Liter each (6 pack)
  • (1) single bottle Voss water
  • (1) 20 oz. Diet Pepsi
  • (3) 8 pack, 12 fl. oz. AHA Sparkling Water (apple + ginger)
  • (4) 8 pack, 12 fl. oz. AHA Sparkling Water (black cherry + coffee)
  • (4) 8 pack, 12 fl. oz. AHA Sparkling Water (citrus + green tea)
  • (3) 12 packs, Diet Sodas (root beer, Dr. Pepper, regular)
  • (4) 2 liters, Kroger seltzer waters
  • (4pk.) Izze Sparkling Juice

Alcoholic/Drink Ingredient

  • (2) Santa Cruz lime juice (16 oz.)
  • (1) container margarita salt
  • (1) organic tequila (750 ml.) ($17.99)
  • (1) Sam Adams Sam ’76 (6 pack)
  • (1) Blue Moon Light Sky (6 pack)
  • (1) Four Peaks green tea lager (6 pack)
  • (1) Absolut vodka soda raspberry and lemongrass (4 pack)  (NOT EVER BUYING AGAIN…so gross!)

Other

  • (2) bagged ice (20lbs. each)
  • (1) bag Solo cups ($6.49)

Gregor’s Dinners

  • (21) whole chickens, mostly free range as they were the easiest to find on a regular basis

Items Bought In Preparation for June (With Some Items Still Frozen and Available for Consumption in July)

  • (1) Lean Beef Brisket ($57.19, still frozen)
  • (1) Pork Shoulder, Picnic ($16.49, still frozen)
  • (1) Pork Shoulder, Picnic ($15.11, still frozen)
  • (2) Foster’s Fryer chickens ($18.20 total, still frozen)
  • (4) packages Foster’s Chicken Thighs (still frozen)
  • (2) packages Foster’s Drumsticks (still frozen)

 

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Pantry (1st Week of June 2020)

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Pantry (1st Week of June 2020)

 

NOTE:

The inconsistent ability to regularly obtain chicken has led to a significant change in our purchasing habits. Gregor started a raw chicken diet back in December and at roughly $8 per whole chicken, it is no longer sustainable to keep him on this healthier alternative to his past kibble diet.

We did find a pretty good quality kibble that is $3 cheaper per day over his raw diet. We dealt with a few days of a hunger strike, but he finally relented and is back to eating every day.

 

Storytelling Through Music

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Happy Sunday, everyone.

In nearly the month that has past since I last wrote, I’ve thought a lot about what it means to deal with some restrictions in my life and why I must also reflect on how the restrictions themselves are a temporary experience while the overall situation–the risk of COVID-19 infection–brings with it the possibility of permanent losses. Given my past experience serving in two different phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom and my job in the Marine Corps, I’ve felt more equipped than others for our present reality. When I look at the scope of death involved, I know I must moderate how much information I consume just like anyone should moderately consume high fat, high calorie foods. I know it’s bad for me to know too much. I am an empathetic person and it’s difficult knowing I cannot do much for others to keep them safe other than to stay home.

I also underestimated how much our home “confinement” would cause me to think about my way of life. I felt weird not shaking hands with people I met, like the day I met one of my neighbors for the first time. The Marine that I am, I felt like I was doing a disservice to the foundation of our newfound relationship to not have a proper handshake as part of our meeting. I also feel weird watching how much I cut back on interacting with people at the grocery store. Instead, I watch them with odd curiosity and sometimes, frustration. While I might normally chat with a mom as she apologizes for her small child cutting me off in front of some merchandise, I work on keeping a respectable distance for my safety and theirs. Or this past grocery shopping endeavor, I felt like criticizing two women–clearly friends–who were blocking the aisle with their carts and bodies as they chatted within a more intimate personal distance than the 6 feet we are requested to keep at this time. It would have been one thing if they accidentally broached the distance guidelines as I’ve watched it happen over and over again as shoppers do a little tango to get out of each other’s way, but I was pretty agitated they were blatantly disregarding the current social practice to visit with each other and more so, cutting off everyone else’s access to the grocery items with their lingering presence.

When these little frustrations start to creep in–or I feel I need to be more productive–I notice I seek out listening to music. Normally, I try to make good use of my work from home time and listen to several podcasts during the week. There are several that have helped me think more critically about my money habits and how to design our home so it serves us better without it also potentially being a regret later when it comes time to sell. Right now though, I don’t feel like I can listen to some of these podcasts with as much attentiveness as I’d like so instead, I focus on music.

In fact, I found it amusing today that the movie we watched, Trolls World Tour, brought up some of the same things I’ve been thinking about how music is often about expressing ourselves and where we come from. The idea is nothing new to me, but I did enjoy seeing it discussed in the movie. With our daughter close to turning ten years old, I do feel it is important for her to understand music is as faceted as other aspects of our society and differs greatly across societies.

Much of what I grew up listening to would not resonate with her, but that type of music brings me back to specific points of my childhood and my relationship with my siblings, parents, and friends. I also don’t feel l have anything that speaks to me about my first college experience, but so much that brings me back to certain parts of my Marine Corps career and my life the last few years. I’ve grown up more than I expected because I failed at numerous things and been rejected in a variety of personal connections. These things have taught me to find the people who make up my tribe and to accept what has felt as flaws at times are not flaws at all.

I am at a better place now with the uncertainty surrounding us because I think more about what I listen to during my day to feel empowered and educated. The music I am sharing today I intentionally split into female artists and male artists vocals. This decision was centered around attempting to view how women are accepted both in their work and their viewpoints. The sound was equally as important. There are times when I feel like listening to women who have gone through some of the same things as me gives me the courage to share my own voice on those matters.

I know you can upload audio to WordPress, but I don’t know the legal implications of sharing others’ music. Please don’t be disappointed that for this reason, I’ve taken the simple approach to provide an image of my playlists instead. I figure anyone who is interested can replicate it on whatever site they use to listen to music. 

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The male vocals, specific lyrics, and song titles are no less important. They are just important different reasons. Some of the songs have been favorites for a bit due to the energy being perfect for my workout routines or I want something to get me through what feels like a long workday. As well, like their female counterparts, men are in a position now in society to talk differently about their respective experiences and reflection on social issues. The latter issue I feel is best represented by the tone of their voices.

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As we continue to fight the fight from our homes or in our workspaces, I hope you find some music that resonates with you and if you’d like, feel free to share what you’re listening to during these days. I enjoy listening to the messages and voices of the storytellers.

~Cheryl

We Are All In This Crisis Together

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This snapshot shows a touch of the news last night.

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For the first time in my life, my fellow Americans and I are being asked to serve others by avoiding close contact. As “easy” as it sounds, many are ignoring this message.

Waking up and going to bed with the news right now is anything but pleasant. As a war veteran, I am not offended that many are comparing the current pandemic to a war. There are a lot of areas where the comparison is warranted and I wanted to discuss these today. We can only prepare so much for either situation as resources are always finite quantities and attitudes and preparation capabilities for either event vary greatly, resulting in disparities for different sides in their abilities to weather the situation.

For example, if we were faced with this crisis when we moved in our current home in January, the situation would have been monumentally more stressful. For those who interact with me both locally and via Instagram@she_wears_dogtags, I’ve previously shared how we were without a fridge the first week after our move. The new GE Cafe line fridge we purchased never worked. It was installed and never cooled down as a fridge should for proper food storage. During our week without a fridge, we were reliant on a chest freezer and pantry storage. We could not cook a large quantity of food because we were limited in our freezer storage and knew we would have to allow additional thaw time when pulling items from the chest freezer. The reality is though there are many people across the globe that do not have access to longterm food storage. Some are in this situation due to lack of housing and in other parts of the world smaller residences means one cannot accommodate full size appliances and pantry storage that are a frequent part of Western style living.

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Holiday Celebration 2004 at Camp Blue Diamond, Iraq (Photo Credit: Sgt. Nathan Estes)

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My Current Fridge Situation because a lot of the food we picked up recently is stored in the freezers, canned, or dry goods. The amount of alcohol in stock is a bit more than normal.

I think it is important to do a little compare/contrast between my first deployment and now to bring home the idea of the strain people are feeling currently.

I never feared going hungry on deployment and many people are worried now that there will not be enough food to cover their own needs. The purchasing power of the military equated to sufficient food for our service members and civilian contractors plus the Iraqis and third country nationals employed on base. We had breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight rations available to us. I may not have always had what I wanted available to me, but our chow hall had a diversity of protein sources, starches, fruits, and vegetables to hold us over. I could also shop at the PX trailer, picking up M&M’s, cookies, trail mix, and personal hygiene products.

People in the United States will be struggling, not only due to job loss or reduced hours, but also because this is what a number of stores look like right now.

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I have never seen the aisles empty like this, even preceding Thanksgiving or Christmas family gatherings.

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Oddly enough, even the feminine hygiene aisle was pretty ransacked. People are freaking out, leaving the most vulnerable in a worse off position.

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This was Target shortly before 4 p.m. today. The few shoppers who passed us in the aisles were respectful of each other, both in regard to selecting items from the shelves and maintaining personal distance.

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I wish practices like this started sooner in the crisis, but I feel with the lessons learned, better business practices will prevail in future situations.

I wanted to stick up for my generation for the moment though. I think it will take time–and we might never know–the true breakdown by ages of who decided to purchase in excess of their needs due to panic. Some might not want to reveal they hoarded all the toilet paper they could, while there are those coming to light who (horrifically) over purchased with the goal of profiteering off of others’ panic and/or true needs.

What I am hearing those are there are plenty of voices screaming that millennials are taking all the stuff on the shelves. Seriously?! There is not just one generation alone contributing to the mess we are seeing right now. It still blows my mind that in people’s frustrations, they are pointed fingers as this one age group without considering how each generation has a broad range of income diversity that leaves some with greater or less privilege to tend to their own needs in a crisis.

I also want to say my grocery shopping last Friday was pretty much a nightmare situation. I cannot remember when exactly we moved Gregor, our dog, from a kibble diet to a raw food diet, but there are times we grocery shop separately for his food and sometimes it is part of our regular grocery shopping trip. Knowing that raw food for him costs more, I have taken small steps here and there to reign in our weekly grocery shopping trips. From what we’ve learned from the news, I knew I had the responsibility to shop for roughly two weeks’ worth of groceries but the day before, my husband had a hard time finding meat on the shelves for Gregor. We had some things in our chest freezer, but my grocery shopping trip at Sprouts meant also keeping an eye out for chickens for Gregor. He eats approximately 3 and 1/2 lbs. of raw chicken and organs on a daily basis; his diet is balanced out with pork, fish, and sometimes eggs.

In sharing my grocery receipt–since Sprouts does not permit photography in its stores–please do not judge me. I want to highlight this is only approximately 2 weeks of groceries for us (and as I’m realizing a little bit more for snack bars!) and not even a full week of chicken for Gregor in case we can’t find anymore before our last grocery haul for him runs out. It cost us $345.04 for our area, so we’ll be more expensive than some parts of the country and significantly less expensive than other high cost areas. The bulk bins we normally shop for rice were nearly empty, but I still grabbed a few packages of less expensive pasta and I made sure to ask another customer if he needed a bag of rice before I grabbed the last two bags of jasmine rice I could find. Most of the bigger packages of cheaper chicken and beef were gone. It’s been roughly 5 years since I’ve purchased Cornish hens because they are $5.99 each, but I wanted to ensure we had a variety of protein and grabbed 3. I did not pick up any fresh fruit or vegetables, opting instead for frozen and canned items. Regarding cleaning products, I did not need much. I picked up some new sponges, a bag of laundry pods, and dish soap. I discovered that choice was a good decision when I saw the the decimated cleaning aisle at Target today. We still could not meet all our needs shopping in-person. Our situation required buying toilet paper online and after our box arrived, I learned the company, Reel, is now sold out like many other retailers.

It is still weird to see toilet paper completely gone from the shelves. I could find toilet paper  with few concerns on my 2004 deployment in our port-a-johns and shower trailers although a wonderful woman named Alice from Operation Sand Flea mailed out a package of Charmin for me, because it was something I asked for.

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Stepping a slight step away from the topic of food, when preparing for our meals on deployment, we also regularly practiced hand washing. Our service members would clear their weapons into weapons barrels, walking up in a relatively orderly line to hand washing stations and dispose of paper hand towels properly after washing our hands. I never imagined how often I’d hear the news inform people to wash their hands, but I’m loving the memes coming out left and right. We could all use a little extra humor in our lives right now.Screen Shot 2020-03-21 at 7.16.32 AM

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On the next compare/contrast, let’s talk about workspaces.

My work from home situation is not relatively new as it is for numerous Americans. I’ve worked from home most days for almost two years. In our old house, my desk was set up in our spare bedroom. In our current home, one desk is set up in our spare bedroom and this desk at the top of our staircase. I don’t mind that the arrangement is not fancy, although over time, I plan on spreading our remaining collection of books, collectibles, and photo albums into other more permanent spaces in our home. It’s just not a priority right now. As a sign of the times we are in right now, on the lower left of the bookcase is a small stack of books borrowed from the public library. Our local library is shutdown to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, so there has not been a need to renew my books currently.

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I recently finished this book and the author’s journey of subsisting on multiple forms of government assistance is something some Americans are also finding themselves in during this crisis.

Again, I am repeating things people who have followed my journey for years know about me. I am not saying these things to undermine how people feel in their current strife whether it’s temporarily having to switch toilet paper brands, paying more for groceries, or finding a tiny closet to work from home. I am writing because I want to add to the conversation.

I was prepared to work in an austere war environments and yet, I never expected something as odd and equally devastating as COVID-19 to upend our way of life in the States. This situation is putting a lot of strain on medical personnel who will and are facing traumatic situations like they have never known. Businesses are constrained in their operational capacities and many individuals are finding themselves at risk for job loss, severe illness, and perhaps, premature death. This is one area where our military members and veterans have an advantage because we can reassure others we will stand by each other and also perhaps feel additional stress because it brings up difficult parts of their past. For me, I got used to being in a persistently dangerous environment and I knew my time in Iraq was stressful for my family back in the States. Now, the situation is reversed, minus the combat zone.

I am not unique in the fact I have family members who are considered more vulnerable to COVID-19. Some are older and some have underlying health conditions. I will be sitting on the sidelines of this situation much like they were all years ago when I served in Iraq. They waited for news from me that I was in good health and in relatively good spirits and now I do the same every day. Not surprisingly, we are again mostly communicating over social media and over the phone. Instead of Myspace and using an AT&T phone center, I now touch base over Facebook, Instagram, text messages, and probably a day here soon, video chat using FaceTime. Social distancing does not mean isolation in the truest sense of the world. My family is not alone in this battle and I want to remind you, neither are you.

 

 

 

 

 

Leaping Into a New Year of Money Decisions

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It’s almost my birthday and I was good at Target today by not purchasing a full size cake!!!

Leap year presents us with an extra day to “enjoy” a myriad of opportunities. For me, it also tosses an extra day in right before my birthday. I am ready for my 35th year to close. It (has almost) ended on a high note, better than it started. Those closest to me know I was extremely nervous to enter my 35th year. My mom died in the same month she would have turned 35 and as the years crept closer to this milestone year, I felt my dread increasing.

It turned out I had less to fear than I imagined. My health continued to stay high. Although my mother and her mother both passed away from lung cancer, my body remains untouched by that disease. I also made the decision years ago to never take up tobacco products, so I have taken a monumental step in my overall health habits to reduce the likelihood this disease will take root in my body.

I don’t wish to make this blog entry a downer. I am happy to be turning 36 years old tomorrow. This past year has taught me each year–regardless of how I feel about the particular age I am turning–there will be some lows and there will be some highs. The amount of extra work I piled on last year exacerbated some of the things that caused me stress, but I persevered to make the year something to be proud of, knowing that not everyone has the chance to grow old. When we put our home on the market and it greeted shortly thereafter with three offers, I felt the year had a silver lining.

Our finances needed a strong push in the right direction.

When the proceeds hit our bank account, I felt in spite of our many money mistakes, the roots of some strategic decisions paid off big. The home sale allowed us to pay off two debts and fully fund our emergency fund.

January provided a great start to the next leg of our financial journey. Again, our roles in society as military veterans provided a leverage opportunity. My husband’s VA home loan was tapped to move into our second home when we decided against closing early on our first home. If we had closed early, we could have used my VA home loan eligibility again and would have avoided the VA funding fee. It is ok though that not all things line up to maximize our benefits. That’s just life. We didn’t feel comfortable with all the actions necessary in addition to the short timeframe to make use of my VA home loan again, this time with the funding fee removed.

Our ability to finally have a true emergency fund–not just the basic $1,000 Dave Ramsey Baby Step 1 amount–feels like a greater victory than either of the two graduate degrees I’ve completed. This sort of brings me to what I realized when listening to Michelle Jackson’s podcast episode, How to Change YOUR Role in YOUR Story. I felt like a failure in many regards because my transformation story after separating from the Marine Corps in 2007 was littered with things going awry, especially our finances.

One of the most important things I have to share with you on the matter is that had I stayed in, I would have retired in 2023. Seriously, 2023!!! That’s only three years away. It’s insane to think I am nearing the traditional military retirement age. There’s something even more important to mention. If we look solely at my work based income, it took me until nearly/just after 2017 to surpass what I made in the Marine Corps. 

Talk about something else that really made me feel like a money failure.

But Michelle is right. How we talk about ourselves has a great impact on our lived experiences.

I know I am not a money failure. I would be a money failure if I never tried to improve my situation. The truth is that I have tried to improve our financial situation well before I left the Marine Corps.

Here’s just a small snippet of things:

-While on terminal leave, I job hunted.

-While pregnant, I purchased numerous things secondhand.

-While drowning in debt, I listened to the advice of good friends and attended Financial Peace University (this is how I was introduced to Dave Ramsey).

-While broke after being let go from a job, I emptied out my retirement savings from said job to support our family because the state of Arizona was so far behind on unemployment compensation I could not qualify.

-While working my first job in higher education, I started using the remainder of my VA education benefits and finished the last bit of entitlement at my second institution of higher learning. This included a few day of the Chapter 30 Montgomery GI Bill and 12 months of the Chapter 33 Post-9/11 GI Bill.

For a long time now, I’ve needed to give myself grace for not “succeeding” with Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Step process. I was tired of the process feeling like a crash diet. Some big life events came and went and I felt like the person always showing up to birthday party having to decline a piece of cake because it didn’t fit into “the plan.”

Turning 36 is a reminder that I am not beholden to any process or way of being. I am reassembling the baby steps Dave Ramsey preaches with some of the knowledge gained by the financial independence community. Taking care of our family is more important than expediting our debt repayments, so this is why I made sure to fully fund the emergency fund than to pay off my remaining portion of student loans. The same goes for why I will set aside money this year for a vacation. I do not think it is a terrible thing to occasionally prioritize a vacation over making additional debt payments. Whenever I do die, no one will care that I (let’s say) paid off my student loans in five years but they would care about the vacation we shared together.

Without throwing any numbers out there, with our discretionary money this year, here are our top priorities:

  1. Save for a Hawaii vacation and attend a vow renewal.
    1. Reduce cost by grocery shopping more while on vacation.
    2. Coordinate with friends for recommendations.
    3. Also look at reducing monthly dining out to carve out additional savings.
  2. Make additional debt payments.
    1. My highest student loan is 6.8% and the lowest is 4.5%.
    2. The amount of payments I intend to make given our current income should pay off about 64% of the first of the four loans.
  3. Set aside additional retirement contributions.
  4. Move emergency fund over to a high yield savings account.

These options are our notion of having the best combination of Dave Ramsey/financial independence/how we know we live now because we never know what truly lies ahead.

What I do know from all the turmoil I’ve felt in various financial situations is I should work more to become confident in my financial decisions and sharing my story. I recently applied for ChooseFi’s FI Households Documentary series for this particular reason and I hope I can encourage others, regardless of where you currently are in your journey, to share some portion of your progress with at least one other person today.

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Walking Towards FIRE: Selling Our First Home

Today’s entry is another discussion on my walk towards FIRE. While the term is usually reserved for “Financial Independence, Retire Early” my journey will be “Retire Eventually” like others who aren’t as keen on retiring early. Given that I’ll only be 36 in March, it’s hard to imagine spending my days either not working and focusing solely on leisure activities or working hard as an entrepreneur. The latter doesn’t strike my fancy and given the stability my family has here in the Phoenix valley, I can’t go trot the globe on my own. That would be too awkward.

My family’s next adventure is a pretty great one, although it is locally focused. With just a little over three and a half years under us, we sold our first home. This is the next step for us in walking towards FIRE. Some might find it amusing, but when we purchased the home, it was bought solely in my name. We didn’t think it was much of a big deal but in the state of Arizona if you try to purchase a home without your spouse, the spouse has to sign documentation agreeing to this decision. For us this route was necessary in order to qualify for the home. My husband’s mounting student loan debt would have count against us and this avenue helped us reduce our overall monthly expenses. By moving from renting to holding a mortgage, we easily saved $300 a month on home expenses.

I must take a moment though to mention our choice to use a VA home loan is something that Dave Ramsey (the creator of Financial Peace University) is opposed to and while I can understand his viewpoint, the volatility of housing markets also provides a solid reason for us to use a VA home loan. This option allowed us to purchase a home without a downpayment, allowing us to move sooner on a home purchase in an area that is still plagued by rising rent costs.

That is not to say there wasn’t any money we had to bring to the table to close. It was just over $3,000 of closing costs for us in 2016 and we were able to build up that portion of funds based on our combined use of VA education benefits, which shows yet again how much our decision to serve has had some positive snowball effects we weren’t expecting to see when we both separated.

I am not a financial advisor so I am not providing any advice on how one should enter the housing market for home ownership or investment purposes, but it was a calculated risk we took. If the housing market had taken another dip like it did between 2008 to 2011, we were comfortable staying in this location based on other community attributes. 

We downsized from a rental that was approximately 1,500 square feet with a good size yard to the home shown below that comes in under 1,300 square feet with a patio approximately 11′ by 17′. It was a no frills property; the prior owner did not do anything to change up the builder grade finishes. While I would have liked to undo more of the vanilla qualities of the home, I am happy with the things we accomplished (other than my poor quality interior paint job). I am most happy that I advocated for two things for this property, the removal of a heinously oversized tree and painting the home in a dramatic color scheme, specifically fighting the HOA on my choice to paint the brick.

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MLS Photo from 2011 although we purchased this home in 2016. By then, the tree on the left had grown quite a bit.

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Since the tree was planted in the front yard, it was the responsibility of the HOA to maintain. The tree eventually posed a risk to our property and the neighbors’ home, so I requested the HOA pay for its removal and eventually the HOA tended to the matter.

For people who don’t live in HOA neighborhoods, a homeowners association acts like a quasi-government. Since we paid $80 a month for community maintenance, I am not sorry the HOA was on the hook to remove the tree. We were not the only home and people impacted by the unsightly tree. It became the roost for the bulk of the pigeons living in the neighborhood and the sidewalk was constantly littered with bird poop and tree debris.

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The landscaping crew hired by the HOA did not clean the sidewalk each week to deal with the pigeon waste, so on some occasions we were dealing with it directly and the water cost was ridiculous.

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Post-tree removal 2019

I won’t say we were excited about the HOA’s demand letter to paint our home last year, but I was excited we didn’t have another neighbor with the same adventurous spirit we do when it comes to paint colors. We eyeballed these colors awhile ago and kept hoping no one would beat us to the combination. The job costs us $2,000 but it was money well spent, and I only wish we had time to get my poorly done interior paint job/the poor paint job by the builder tended to before the home went on the market last year. The interior problems did not dissuade the next home owner, but I wish it was something we could have done for the next family.

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I am happy to share this journey with you all because I recognize owning a home is still, for many, part of the American dream and when it comes to financial success, one opportunity for financial diversification. On a personal level, it is quite meaningful for me. After being unemployed in 2012 and again in 2013 I started to feel like home ownership would take an extremely long time to accomplish. In spite of our setbacks, our first dabble into real estate went well.

I couldn’t do a perfect “before” and “after” as I didn’t properly photograph all spaces before/shortly after moving into this place and making our mark on it, but here are some transformations.

I believe we paid approximately $400-$500 for the island. We had a coupon for American Furniture Warehouse, but current retail shows it selling for $688. The island was sold with the property along with the Samsung fridge we brought with us to the property.

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In 2017, the yard underwent a little makeover with wood panels from IKEA and the addition of artificial turf to replace some of the gravel. In 2019, the space was further enhanced with a fresh coat of paint.

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We went with components from IKEA’s ALGOT storage to make the laundry space more functional. This storage system was also added to our hallway closet and the master bedroom closet.

The master bedroom has not seen much a transformation other than the improvement to the closet. We learned this year, after getting the home ready to show, the space looked better with the curtains taken down. We originally added blackout curtains to improve our sleep as the master is an east facing room, but the home doesn’t have a lot of square footage and an easy way to improve its feel was to remove items on the walls.

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And just some fun things I’ve learned about myself along the way…

I suck at painting. I love the deep color, but I struggled with different types of painters tape trying to get it to adhere to the textured walls and baseboards. Another mistake I learned along the way is to buy all the paint you need together. I forgot the type of sheen I needed and so our office has two different sheens. This past year, I also learned the original sheen was no longer available for the paint. Thankfully, we still had a small sample of it and used it to clean up the areas where Gregor dented some of the walls, both from his body and from running into the gate that subsequently scrapped a significant portion of lower wall facing the bottom of the staircase. Pet parenthood is a fun experience….sometimes.

And in case you didn’t notice it, the home originally did not have a peep hole. We had a good laugh at ourselves for not noticing it when we originally purchased the home.

Upstairs Hall 2016

So, here’s to saying goodbye to our first big project and one of our biggest financial risks that paid off.

We are truly blessed and I’m excited for what the next chapter holds.

The End of a Decade

Tonight is both one of my favorite and least favorite nights of the year. For years, I loved what New Year’s Eve represented. I loved ending a year, reflecting on everything that transpired while also brainstorming resolutions to make the next year even better. For the longest time, I also loved the fireworks. It was fun seeing large scale fireworks displays on television and the ball drop in Times Square. I still loved the idea of fireworks after Iraq, but after dealing with mortar attacks, the displays are enjoyable now from a distance.

The past few days we’ve started to have a trickle of fireworks in our surrounding area again and I’m trying to keep my anxiety under control with these unexpected bursts of energy and sound. Rather than fret excessively about it, I am trying to remember in a few days the chaos of holiday festivities will abate as people start to focus on their resolutions to lose weight, eat better, and so forth as they remind themselves they have 365 days to be better versions of the persons they are today. I will not set resolutions for the year ahead because I know it’s more important for me to focus in the present and I just don’t do that when I start hoarding goals and get frustrated when they take longer to accomplish than expected. (I guess that objective is sort of a resolution in a way, isn’t it? )

I am fortunate to have an unexpected day off from work today, so I do want to thank you for taking the time to drop in today as we close out the year.

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2019 has been a brutal year for our nation based on the significant amount of violence we’ve encountered that have taken our students in their education settings and community members as they shop, celebrate their faith, and go about doing mundane tasks and leisure activities like shopping and social activities. The high volume of violence impacted my year as it did many others. I was disgusted by the assailants who have not taken other courses of actions to rectify the issues in their lives and instead used their frustration, anger, or resentment to cut short the lives of innocent bystanders and leave others with wounds they will carry for the rest of their lives. I never expected violence to be such an “everyday” sort of experience after leaving Iraq the first time back in 2005.

It is for this reason, I wanted to write as a means of gratitude. I often forget to show appreciation for the days I’ve been given. I know better than most the value of my days, but I get caught up in seeing the wealth of opportunities around me and wonder why certain experiences are out of my reach and/or taken me longer than my counterparts. Too often I expect life to be like an algebraic equation where one side of the equation matches the other in the fact  x amount of effort=equal amount of reward. It’s just not true and I must make a reminder to not be critical of my capabilities for what does not transpire.

For those that have stuck around a bit, you know 2019 was chock full of some monumental achievements like completing my second graduate program of study, but I wanted to trace back the decade to show how far I’ve truly come and hopefully inspire others (and me!) to enjoy the beauty of the next ten years that lay before us.

2009: Adopting a New Name, Mom

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2010: Learning to Love a Brand New Person

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2011: Taking a Risk

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2012: Starting Over Somewhere New (Arizona)

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2013: Experiencing a Stay Cation for the First Time

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2014: Stepping Up and Out of My Comfort Zone

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2015: Stepping Back into History

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2016: The Year We All Graduated School Together and Found Our First Home

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2017: The Year My Parents Paid Us a Surprise Visit at Disneyland

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2018: Finding My Tribe

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2019: The Year of Reconnecting and Celebrating All of Life’s Moments

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Sometimes it is too easy to see the ways each year has brought some sort of trauma into my life, but as I look back over these photos, I can see how much hope and support I’ve also had along the way.

I don’t know where the trajectory of this blog will go as we enter the next decade, but I want to thank not only those who have been with me since the start, but everyone who has taken the time to follow my journey. When I started sharing my thoughts back in 2014, I know I was quite dismayed about the portrayal of female veterans and the attention we receive (and don’t) for our military service. My thoughts were often shared without much curating, and even now, on a busy day, I write with abandon, which I understand results in some grammatical and typographical errors. On the days I’ve written from a negative perspective, I hope others see my vulnerability and desire to figure out life. On the days I’ve written from a positive perspective, I hope others see inspiration comes from many different facets of life, but that my joy is not ever meant to make another feel bad for missing out on certain milestones or taking longer to accomplish certain objectives.

Turning 35 this year and ending the decade on a high note by completing my graduate studies; seeing both my husband’s family and my own plus dear friends of ours; and being in the process of selling our first home remind me that living is a slow journey. We are forever transforming and while it does not appear as such on a daily basis, a quick glance at the physical evidence demonstrated in our photographs and memories serves proof of our evolution.

As we end 2019, I wish you all the best tonight and for the 365 ahead. Feel free to set or not set resolutions. Remember to grant yourself grace when you make mistakes. Don’t sell yourself short when you encounter obstacles in your path. And most of all, have fun.

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And if you want to talk about New Year’s Eve plans, feel free to tell you what you’re up to today on Instagram. I’m enjoying the evening in the comfort of our home with lots of goodies from Trader Joe’s and some bourbon mixed with sparkling blush cider and maybe a glass of Pacific Coast Pink to toast to the end of 2019.

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In case you were wondering about the cider and bourbon, I found a drink online for a cider sour, but opted to simplify drinks for tonight.

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I enjoyed last year’s appetizer New Year’s choices, so it seemed logical to repeat again.

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See you all again in 2020.

~Cheryl