Vacationing Like an Adult: Financial Transparency in a World Full of Influencers

Vacations are dreamy.

You get to leave behind waking up early, commuting, crowded communal fridges with questionable smells, and the exhaustion of irritated clients who seem to get more nasty in their behavior and word choices every day.

Vacations are the kind of magic grown ups get. We traded in beliefs that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy exist for a world of rooms that seemingly clean themselves (thank you to all the tireless janitorial and maid staff). Our child selves who once craved to be a new profession every day revel in our adult escape from our true professions. Maybe we are underpaid, under appreciated, or overworked. Or all three. Any way, we get to abandon that worker identity for a set period of time. After all, how many people ask you on vacation What do you do? None, right?! It’s a bit magical to move about in your private albeit borrowed space enjoying your extra sleep, the views and food, and literally being waited on. The pampering is worth the cost.

So why do so many influencers stay quiet about the funds it takes to get to some of the places they visit? Maybe it’s their way to avoid dimming the magic of the trips they go on but shedding some of that mystery has a real purpose. You can inspire people to save up for their dreams by showing them some of these amazing venues are less out of reach than they might imagine.

Today I will provide the behind-the-scenes look at our recent California vacation. We stayed at Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, a place we’ve never visited before. Although we were in California to participate in the WB Studio Tour and check out Wizarding World at Universal Studios, we choose to stay here for the ocean views and the food choices. An added bonus is the entire resort campus is non-smoking. People could not smoke tobacco products or vape either. My personal belief is a lot of public accommodations need to adopt an entirely smoke free environment.

My only struggle with the resort was the amount of staff members eager to greet my husband’s service dog. The resort is exceptionally dog-friendly and staff often missed the fact Gregor should be left alone even though he was wearing his gear identifying him as a service animal (not a requirement, by the way). Here is a peek at their resort policies on dogs and the resort fees I’ll share about later.

As the costs of many things rise in Arizona, we also realized planning for this trip meant planning for California prices. The allure of AirBnB’s has dimmed in our eyes based on the amount of extra cleaning fees being tacked on for stays even though you clean up before you leave, so staying in California meant planning for the aforementioned resort fees, parking costs we might incur, and pre-made meals that add up for a family of three. Of the on-site restaurant options, we grabbed drinks and a light breakfast at Sea Beans; our casual dinner was at Catalina Kitchen followed by a breakfast buffet there; but Bashi was the all-around favorite for us. We went here for New Year’s Eve and now I kind of wish we had done our second dinner there, too.

Bashi won out both for the amount of dairy free dishes (more on that in a minute) and the portion size. The wok fried garlic noodles ($18) I enjoyed was substantial enough to be my dinner, a small side for my husband, and our breakfast the next morning paired with the bit of leftover Peking duck from his dinner ($75). In all fairness, I forgot what our daughter ordered for dinner, but we all left satisfied with our meals, the two Americanos and one Ramune strawberry soda, plus the leftovers and the to go orders of mochi and a slice of vegan meyer lemon cheesecake. This one meal, $210 with tip, represents the bulk of what we spent on dining at the resort. Our resort savings on food is all courtesy of being Amex members; travel is something we want to enjoy more so it made sense for us to explore rewards options, but this blog post is not sponsored by any of the businesses mentioned today. We set aside our own funds over a few months to make this New Year’s Eve trip possible. For others looking to replicate the experience, their timeframe to save may be shorter or longer.

My personal failing over choosing Catalina Kitchen is centered on not looking at the menu earlier. Nearly everything had butter or some sort of cheese. I do bring lactase enzyme tablets with me in case there are dishes that might have accidentally been prepared wrong when I ask for a dairy alternative. The medication is not always helpful so the safer thing to do is hunt for other menu items. At Catalina Kitchen, I requested the sautéed spinach be prepared with olive oil over butter and I paired my $9 side dish with $22 tuna tartare. I also requested the avocado be removed because that fruit started to make me sick back in 2014. If you want to look at how poorly I prepared for the weekend, check out their menu. It’s a dairy heaven for some and nightmare for someone like me trying to avoid it.

I will take a moment to mention we’ve cut back on ordering alcohol when we dine out. Looking over the lobby bar’s menu, if I had decided to buy something, I probably would have picked the Holiday Fashion ($16), made with Bulleit rye, the Fireside ($20) made with Woodford Reserve bourbon, or the Shunka Shuto ‘Four Seasons’ whiskey flight ($40). Notice a theme? Or two. Or three. I love trying out holiday and season inspired drinks. Even more, I love trying out bourbon and whiskey drinks. Better yet, is saving money for something that matters more. As drink prices creep up to the same as entree prices, we choose to pair back on social drinks. The small bottle of wine in our room was enough to celebrate our NYE holiday weekend. The bottle of Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Valley 2019 pinot noir paired well with our evening of partially watching Robert Pattinson in “The Batman”. We fell asleep before ten and I was awakened by revelers outside screaming Happy New Year’s at midnight.

Now that I’ve gushed a bit about food and drink options, here’s what really brings people to this resort.

The pandemic made us hold off on travel for so long, it is only natural to want to make up for the lost time. Doing so with an eye on the budget did not dampen the experience at all. Granted, California was more rainy than what we hoped for when we planned the trip. We watched the wind take over the area, witnessed streets littered with palm fronds, and waited out pockets of rain to enjoy what I share with you today.


My love for the show “Gilmore Girls” is why I wanted to do the WB Studio Tour over the holidays. This show was my go-to entertainment during my separation from the Marine Corps and has remained one of my favorite shows to this day. Walking through the set was more fun than popping into the Friends Central Perk set up; I loved “Friends” growing up (still do), but the show does not have the same energy the way “Gilmore Girls” steals my heart. Sookie is my favorite main character; I love how she always creates something fabulous (with the exception of when she was pregnant and did not know it yet!). Her love for other people really shines in her cooking; I love seeing how what she makes for individuals in her life represents them so well. If there was someone who taught me that cooking is a craft, it is her.

There wasn’t a way to pop into Luke’s Diner, so we got 3 orders of tator tots ($19.84) from Al’s Pancake World and sought refuge in the church from the wind and possibility of more rain.

(These photos are a small collection of my overall experience. Ones like my family photo in front of Luke’s Diner will remain private to respect my husband’s and daughter’s privacy.)

And yes, I have a favorite boyfriend. Rory’s boyfriend, Logan, will remain my favorite. For all his flaws, I think if the show had gone on to show how he matured after some early adult personal failures, others would love him as much as I do. I am still hoping he’s Rory’s baby daddy.


Our trip to Universal Studios was more expensive than the WB Studio Tour and being a person terrified of roller coasters, it was not the best use of my money. Seeing Wizarding World was neat though and my lunch at the Jurassic Cafe was as great second choice (my first choice was the harvest stew in a bread bowl). The citrus glazed chicken ($17.99) was served with a cranberry chimichurri, papaya slaw (clearly mine was missing!), and rice and beans. I do wish more places were required to list ingredients in full, so it’s easier to find out what has allergens. I took a lactase enzyme in case there was dairy in my meal; you can never be too careful!

To walk around this area, it is best to explain you are wandering around one of the prettiest shopping centers. I would have loved for it to have more of the feel we experienced at WB so the Warner Brothers Studio Tour London The Making of Harry Potter is something I think we should save up to do one of these years.

NOTE: I ordered the frozen butter beer non-dairy. With the cold California weather, I should have looked into heading into the Three Broomsticks to order the hot version. Whether you order it frozen, hot, or original, the drink is $8 before tax.

Below is the rundown of our categories. I will say I tried to over budget ahead of the trip. I assumed gas would be $5 a gallon, but it varied from about $3.39 or so up to around $4.29. We saved a little on resort fees, but I cannot recall if the credits we had for that are also part of our travel rewards. I should get better about budgeting for parking; I said this last year, too, after our 2021 trip to San Francisco. There was a $15 charge for parking at WB Studio and I feel that should be rolled into the ticket. Our decision to valet the car at Universal Studios costs $50 plus the $5 tip. We still stayed under budget for the whole trip which is what really matters.

RESORT FEES$150.00$135.00
$565.00 ***$314.00
ROAD FOOD/PARK SELECTIONScombined with previous$155.69
WB STUDIO TOUR$207.00$207.00
PARKING (ended up with 1 reg, 1 valet)$0.00$70.00
TIPS (out of personal cash; room/luggage)$0.00$9.00
SOUVENIR BUDGET *Our daughter bought other souvenirs with her money.$95.00$91.40

I bundled up for New Year’s, but the jacket was a perfect outfit addition.

Wishing you all a great start to 2023.


The Mild Side of Halloween

I LOVE Halloween. Absolutely love it. The kid who knew stranger danger a little too much and yet, Halloween has an opposite effect on me; sure I’ll go out and beg for candy at a stranger’s house. That’s not odd at all. As a kid, I remember dressing up as an angel and at some point, my cardboard wings got ensnared in a neighbor’s faux spider webbing. That was probably more terrifying than greeting strangers in our neighborhood and I don’t know why. We had a young girl who lived in our neighborhood who was abducted (and sadly, killed). I feel, in the interest of protecting that family’s privacy, it would be important to not share her name and possibly bring up painful memories for them. I was so young when it happened in 1991, I do not recall the neighbor although she was someone who attended my elementary school. There are ground rules in my home now though that are directly tied to this tragic event, but still, Halloween is one of those occasions I drop my guard around strangers.

Both my family growing up permitted us to trick or treat and for awhile, my husband and I allowed our daughter to trick or treat. One of the things I’ve enjoyed seeing over the years is the concept of “trunk or treating” since it is easier to supervise kids (both from possible predators and being hit by cars who don’t see kids in dark costumes as they cross the street). Trick of treating is a fond memory from my childhood and I like that in different ways, we’ve provided some semblance of that experience for our own child. My siblings and I used to take our haul and set up shop in our bedroom, perusing each other’s stash. Deciding the value of fun size snickers versus a fun size bag of M&M’s or a few Tootsie Rolls exemplified our biggest decisions to make each year. Being an only child, our daughter does not get that same experience, but we find ways to make the holiday special. This year, in lieu of trick or treating herself, she is passing out the goods (with our supervision, of course). We may not have candies set up for kids with food allergies, but we crafted some goody bags with bubbles and stickers as a safe alternative–also making sure to nab a teal faux pumpkin to place on the porch so those allergy prone kiddos know we have something other than snacks to offer.

I wanted to share today I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a milder version of Halloween. I was willing to watch (or as much as possible) scary movies like “Poltergist” and “Cudo” as a kid, but the adult me likes mild, like I like my taco seasoning. Surprises don’t sit well with me. I don’t want the faux blood and mannequins, the witch that pops up when you walk by, and I absolutely don’t want to see the fake entrails falling out onto the floor. I powered through as much of “The Northman” recently that I could–drawing the line at the point where a guy is shown on screen with numerous organs cascading everywhere. I was DONE. My kid-like Halloween festivities are zen inspiring (mostly). A lot of my decor screams I’ve read all the Marie Kondo books I could get my hands on and found the things that spark joy, and only joy. My mild side is also budget mindful.

The past few months we’ve paid an additional $700 per month towards the mortgage principal and if I go too Halloween decor crazy, I sacrifice a larger goal for a short term experience. To make up for the modest spending, I am soaking in all the Instagram love for the fun side of Halloween I can. Lately, I’ve found a number of amusing ghost posts. These two are pretty great finds:

This past month, I’ve thought a lot about how I wanted to tackle new Halloween purchases. We lost our youngest dog, Radar, last month to what is still an unexplained illness and the big thing that was off-limits to me based on how I’ve been feeling was avoiding the growing popularity of pet skeleton Halloween decor. I have some yogi skeletons so if I stumbled upon a new one, I was still willing to purchase that kind of skeleton. We are deviating a little from avoiding the pet skeleton idea as our daughter found these things called MeeMeows and one is a skeleton cat; it is a sugar skull concept design and that one plus the ghost cat and the werewolf cat are joining the growing zoo of stuffed animals. If you want to buy some Halloween cats, you can check out the site at (No affiliate or sponsored post here; these are just things that ended up being purchased for our home.)
Muted colors are becoming evident as our preferred Halloween decor and this blend of neutrals was not entirely planned. I started off originally picking up faux white pumpkins because I like how little touches of white make a home look. Choosing faux versus real was an easy choice; real pumpkins start to rot, but faux pumpkins only require some gentle dusting and occasionally wiping down as the dog gets slobber everywhere and on everything. The two paper mache pumpkins hail from Target, setting me back only $5 and they look so nice as is our other decor choices, I won’t bother painting them. When I previously bought the larger yogi skeletons from Michael’s, a gold option was available. The store had sold this size for about $12 and I believe I got them on sale for $6 (Note: I did not find these on the shelves again this year, ruining my plan to get a different posed skeleton.) By the way, Trader Joe’s does not seem to have its yogi skeleton air plants in stock either. The slight detour in design choice was my Cute and Spoopy framed print by Jame Zolo through Society6. (Again, not a sponsored post. In case you need a reminder.) I love it a lot though and might add other ghost prints in years to come.

My plan this year had been to dress like Jessie from Pokemon this year. Will I go through with it? I don’t know. I might need to look for one of her vacation outfits to recreate the look and I’m still wondering how to craft that crazy long hair (and how to keep it in place). For now though, I leave you with a photo of me dressed up in high school with two of my siblings. I wanted to find a few little kid Halloween costume photos I know exist, but those must still be at my parents’ house. And before I forget, a little thank you to my current readers. My choice to deviate from talking about student loan forgiveness this month is entirely related to the fact nothing has happened at this point. I’ll treat you all to a discussion on what my student loan forgiveness looks like when it actually happens. Let’s hope it actually happens and is a treat, less a trick. I don’t care for pranks.

Starting New Chapters: Personal Expression and Confidence

Good morning, everyone.

I was quite eager to do a “2007 versus 2017” series post and I had the fun surprise of looking back into my old journal entries only to discover I didn’t write a single post in June 2007!

I will give you a comparable 2007 versus 2017 substitute.

I have a good entry from May 2007 about my feelings regarding leaving the Marine Corps.  The timing works well because I started my new position in higher education.  I still work serving a military affiliated student population but I made the dramatic shift from being student facing to a non student facing opportunity.  Last week was my first week in my new role and I am just floored by the welcoming company culture.  As a veteran, I do find I get somewhat skittish that I’ll be judged for my visible tattoo (although I frequently wear long sleeves since office environments tend to be colder than I like), my preference for ponytails versus fully done up hair, and my sporadic use of makeup.

Society judges women heavily and it hasn’t seemed to matter at what age or in what industry.  The rules are written and unwritten.  The looks for stepping outside those “norms” feel the same.  Any time I’ve changed my working environment I question what will my peer treatment look like, what will my supervisor’s rules look like, and what infringement will the company place on my personal expression.  My desire to be more myself was a key part of leaving the Marine Corps.  Over the years, I’ve come to see pushing and prodding to adhere to desired female beauty standards and thankfully last week I was rewarded by the visual confirmation my new company permits a lot of personal expression.  Some female peers have full sleeve tattoos, others enjoy wearing shorts and jeans (as permitted by their departments), and makeup is worn from the slight touch of lip color and mascara to a fully done face with false lashes.

I feel more at home than I expected I would as a new employee.  I am quite happy and I feel once I get the hang of my work responsibilities this happiness will only magnify.  I don’t feel like the lost person I felt I was in May 2007.

Below is one of two entries I wrote for May 23, 2007.  I am not sharing the earlier one as I  included some personally identifying information for family friends and I don’t want to worry about anyone having that person’s address.  (By the way, anyone who knows how I feel about fireworks might laugh that back then I still thought I’d enjoy them!)

Take care and have a great weekend.

2007 Entry

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Money Talks & The Good Life: Part 2 of 2

In probably the last year or two I’ve started to recognize the term “side hustle” on a number of the sites I frequent.  It’s become quite popular, in fact.

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So what exactly are we talking about when we say ‘side hustle’?

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A side hustle is a fancy term for a [insert whatever amount of time commitment] job.  My top frustration with the talk of a ‘side hustle’ is how it’s being toted, in some places, as an easy commitment of your time to make additional money.  I think this misunderstanding drives a lot of people away from the idea of taking on additional work because they think it must be boring, unskilled tasks that no one would otherwise want to take on for ‘real work.’  (Note: Again, not everyone sells a side hustle as this sort of labor, but I see it and I’m sure I’m not the only one.)

There are some stories of pretty great side hustles.  The ones I notice most are when people take on a side job that interests them (writing, baking, etc.).  There also doesn’t seem to be a limit on available side job opportunities.  If you are lost for ideas you can do what I did and Google “Side jobs for [insert an interest, profession, or skill].”

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If you need or want to make extra money, opportunities are out there but it will take a commitment of your time and energy.

Yesterday, I spoke about my relatively low income and how it’s become more of a frustration for me.  Like Erin Lowry and her article How I Went From Making $23K to $100K in Just 4 Years I, too, get sick of scrapping by.  For this reason, I wanted to share the end results of my “side hustle” aka getting paid to go to school to compensate for the low pay at my current position.  However, before delving into my current finances, I know it helps to share my background as well.  Different areas of employment offer different incentives and pay; those occupations also require different educational backgrounds and skills.  These factors cannot be overlooked in any conversation regarding money.

2003 to 2007: United States Marine Corps

I’m using numbers from the DFAS website as I cannot get Marine Online to view my historical pay and I no longer have the bank accounts I had back then.  There are numerous allowances one can receive: basic allowance for subsistence, basic allowance for housing, clothing allowance, hazardous duty pay, etc. which is why I just wanted to focus on just basic pay numbers.

  • 2003 E-1 w/less than 4 months of service= $1,064.70/month
    • Joined in July: Approximate basic pay for 5.5 months $5,855.85
  • 2007 E-4 over 3 years of service=$1,883.10/month
    • Left the Marine Corps in July: Approximate pay for 6.5 $12,240.50

2007-2009: Kay Jewelers

  • $10.50 an hour/typical hours worked: 30
    • Annual pay $16,000

2011: Unpaid internship with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service

  • $0.00 (16 hour a week commitment/10 weeks)

2013: Working for Public Health

  • $48,942 is the listed annual salary
  • I worked there for 6 months so my salary was $24,471 (40 hr week commitment)

2013-2017: Working at a 4-yr Institution of Higher Learning

  • 2013 ($15.63 hour/$32,500 annual)
    • Approximate 2 months worked=$5,000
  • 1st pay increase ($15.94 hour/$33,155 annual)
  • 2nd pay increase ($16.31 hour/$33,924 annual)

As you can see my pay has not been substantial.  My side hustle of using GI Bill benefits, by comparison, has greatly provided for my family and I.  Below are the numbers from my direct payments.  I received 36 months of the Montgomery GI Bill that was enhanced by paying into the $600 Buy Up program and having the Marine Corps College Fund.  I’ve also already received most of my 12 months of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

It’s important to keep in mind the Montgomery GI Bill is paid to students and students still make their tuition payments to their respective institutions.  The Post-9/11 GI Bill pays out tuition and fees, a book stipend, and a housing allowance for eligible persons.  Percentages vary from 40% to 100%.  (By the way, if I made a mistake about the two January 2011 payments my apologies.  I cannot open up eBenefits to ensure I didn’t make a transcribing error when I downloaded information from the site and entered it into Excel. It’s quite a long time ago and I no longer have the same bank account my GI Bill benefits went to at that time.)

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My Post-9/11 GI Bill provided greatly for me.  The amount of housing I’ve received alone make a monumental difference in allowing me to stay in my current place of employment as long as I have.

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The amount paid to Arizona State University is as follows:

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To make it easier to consume together, here’s my significant “side hustle” from 2008 to 2012 and 2014 to 2016.

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The reason I’m ok calling my education a side hustle is there are plenty of service members and veterans who end up not using their GI Bill entitlement.  It’s the same thing from a payment perspective as not taking any other sort of odd job you are qualified to do but choose not to do.  You are not taking advantageous of an opportunity to get paid for your time and effort.  (For my veterans reading this article, you have 15 years from separating from active duty to use your Post-9/11 GI Bill.  Do not let it go to waste.)

The money I’ve received from my paycheck versus my GI Bill entitlement is more important in the fact I pay into the Arizona State Retirement System.  Over 11% of my income is taken out for retirement and while my employer also pays the same amount, it’s hard to have this much money taken out as the only regular income my family receives.  When I worked for the Public Health and was later not offered full-time employment, I had to make the hard decision to withdraw my money and pay the penalties for early withdrawal.  At the time, the state’s unemployment system was three months behind and after already coping with a yearlong deployment my savings account was not sufficient to survive the second bout of unemployment.  Ironically, I gained employment again at the time I was finally eligible for unemployment benefits.

In a short while, I will find myself ending my journey in my current place of employment.  At this time, I need more freedom in my take home pay which can only be offered by a company that utilizes a 401(k) and I also want a work environment that lets me be more flexible in my hours.  My daughter is still young so working around her school commitment is a high priority in my life.   The reality of our family situation is also why I’m being a bit more honest about my pay.  I recognized the hard way your traditional job does not easily pay the bills (and for the wants that naturally we all have as people).  I used a great tool available to me and was paid to attend school.  Thankfully, I enjoy learning so my side hustle wasn’t a chore although completing papers late into the night after working all day wasn’t fun.

My diligence paid off.  My side hustle earned me a total of three degrees and gave me extra money in the bank at the times I needed it most.  The best part is my GI Bill benefits, as opposed to my income, is also non-taxable.

Down the road I know I will become better at advocating for myself and hopefully in sharing my story today, others feel inspired to assess their current situation and future goals.  Money is an important part of that personal assessment.

We shouldn’t be afraid to ask for financial compensation but also be willing to take steps to accomplish our end goals when traditional routes just don’t cut it.







Pre- and Post-Deployment Health Assessments: Modern Deployment Exposures and Experiences From an Iraq Veteran Perspective


Last week, I heard back from the VA.  Yet again, they don’t consider my chest pains to be service-connected.   This reality kind of floored me.  I actually opened up to them in my December 2016 claim and while it might sound silly to say such a thing, in 2007, I kept things simple.

I didn’t tell them about Captain Brock dying.  I didn’t tell them about my kind of work.  I didn’t emphasize my exposure to mortars, although that information was part of what I listed in my records about different types of exposures while in the Marine Corps.  Back then, I was dealing with chest pains and I knew I didn’t have them before I served.  They started at the tail end of my first deployment, continued after I returned, and remained a part of my life through separation.  I just needed the VA to understand at my point of separation the chest pains were still ongoing and I felt they were related to my service in Iraq in OIF 2-2.

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If I had realized what a miserable experience it is dealing with the VA on the disability compensation side of the house, I think I would have pushed harder to find the right medical support while I was in.  For the few times I was willing to subject myself to medical about this condition, every person wrote ‘non cardiac origin’ for the pains but no one wrote in a diagnosis or suggested getting additional feedback on my situation.  What’s more infuriating is the parts where it reads ‘exercise induced stitch.’  Seriously, in the twelve years I’ve dealt with these pains only the primary care provider I’ve dealt with most recently has delved further into this issue and offered different suggestions because the pains were getting to the point they were destroying my quality of life during waking hours and would interrupt my sleep.

For over a year now I’ve wanted to have a conversation with you all about the Pre-and Post-Deployment Health Assessments and I think with this other VA encounter, I have the right foundation for this discussion.

The VA does not know our deployments the way we do and part of the problem is also the way the system requires ticking off boxes, ineffectually asking and not asking the right questions.  The forms we complete do not necessarily represent the types of situations we may encounter; let’s be honest here, the VA will never have records from the Marine Corps and/or the US government that 175 United States service members died during my deployment and these numbers best represent the information I was feed every day as part of my work in our operations center. I only know this information because I was determined to find a way to discuss my deployment, to shed light on other aspects of war no one seems to look closely at but is an important job all the same. I am only privileged to know this much of the extent of my deployment thanks to Military Times data.

In cases like mine my work was classified secret so how was I suppose to honestly fill out the forms?  As well, even if I could be honest, there also is not a sense of privacy to complete the forms properly not that I would have trusted completely it in full disclosure.  On my first deployment, I was the only woman on my team so I felt implied pressure to not be the “weak link” and during the second deployment a lot of stress from the first deployment crept up that I was not willing to discuss with my command.  Nor was my situation helped by the fact my chest pains occurred on deployment and yet again, no real resolution came out of getting them checked out.

My apologies I currently do not have snapshots of my first deployment paperwork.  eBenefits is being quite a disappointment and again not allowing me access to my military records.  The next time it’s available, I’ll try to download all my copies so I can share those details with you.  For now though, we can press forward using information from my second deployment documentation, the pre-and post-deployment health assessments.

This form was filled out on July 11, 2006

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It’s kind of funny I still had my maiden name on my pre-deployment health assessment.  I was already married by then.

I’ve cut off segments of the documentation as my copies contain my Social Security Number but for greater clarity on this issue, below are fuller snapshots of the pre-deployment health assessment form that existed during my period of service.

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Below is the updated version of the Pre-Deployment Health Assessment Form:

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The revamp of the Post-Deployment Health Assessment is also of great concern to me, and I think all veterans of this era should consider how the inadequacies of the earlier form shape what sort of service/deployment experience is considered valuable, dangerous, and potentially traumatic.  The forum in which service members were offered to complete their forms is equally as important.  I can remember completing the first form in a classroom with a number of guys, classroom style as though we were taking an examination for a grade.  It was really a matter of “everyone’s got to do it”.  You fill out your form by hand and turn it back in.  You don’t want to get called out for your answers and you just want to make it back home.

I don’t recall completing the Post-Deployment Health Assessment at the end of my second deployment but most of the handwriting is distinctly mine; there are only a few segments where the medical personnel filled in information.  Coming home was very rushed that time.  I can remember meeting my husband and his mother and sister at the Sheridan, Wyoming airport but I cannot remember who picked me up in California.  I remember having issues with my military gear being stuck on the conveyer belt and an older gentlemen picking up my pack like it was nothing, hoisting it up so I could tuck my arms into the shoulder pads and settle it on my back.  (To everyone who was part of my transition home, I do not make this statement about not remembering your support lightly.  Coming home was that much of a blur.  I didn’t have a moment to catch my breath and will still say that process didn’t start until I left 3rd MAW in late May 2007 for terminal leave.)

My chest pains are the only thing I shared with the VA as a serious issue in 2007 and again, I am making the choice to share so much personal information because I don’t necessarily see our system getting better if there is a significant gap between what people expect their service to be like and the reality of the experience.  I hope by cracking open an issue like poorly constructed pre-and post-deployment health assessments provides a lenses for organizations like the VA to understand where they must also take a step back and learn from veterans what deployments are like.  I also hope current service members look at their needs before the needs of the organization they serve; at some point, we all leave the service and our personal health cannot take a back seat because we didn’t want to look like malingers/didn’t want to lose camaraderie/didn’t want to let down the team when a medical issue should have prevented us from deploying.

When I also decided to share with the VA this go around the fact I’ve dealt with tinnitus in the last few years and for a shorter duration, moments of hearing loss, I expected to have them listen.  I thought it was fairly reasonable to be ‘heard’ since I have recorded mortar exposure in my records but never sought treatment because I didn’t notice anything wrong at the time.

Right now my hearing is not to the point where I’ve lost full functionality and I sincerely hope it doesn’t degrade further but the hearing loss does scare me. (The tinnitus, on the other, is mostly annoying and only occasionally causes pain.)  These issues make me realize I cannot continue to take my hearing for granted and I should plan more for down the road if it degrades to the point where hearing aids might be needed.  For now though, I am pretty good about asking people to repeat themselves when I need them to and I remind my daughter to come into the same room if she wants to talk to me.  (She tries to yell from upstairs but I’m going to miss a lot of what she’s jabbering about so I make her come down and talk to me anyways.)


I am already past my bedtime (Seriously, it’s 10:45 pm!!!) but in closing, take a moment to look at the October 2015 form.  It is much more inclusive.  (Please excuse the fact I cannot obtain a good snapshot that shows on each page the form is not to be handwritten.)

I will continue my saga with the VA another day.

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America In Times of Conflict: Creating Peace From Conflict


Yesterday, I volunteered with a handful of other veterans to be part of a local community collaboration sharing our stories interwoven with pieces of The Odyssey for Odyssey Home: A Veteran Performance.  The Chandler Public Library held this event called Creating Peace From Conflict at the Chandler Center For the Arts in partnership with Arizona State University and Veterans For Peace.  We also had Veteran Vision Project photos on site for attendance goers to see along with the individual narratives associated with each photograph.  Once the footage is available, I’ll provide the link.

This collaboration starting off with group drumming and continued with our storytelling mixed with selections from The Odyssey.  A few musical pieces were played by Guitars for Vets and another veteran, Ahmad Daniels was there as a representative for Veterans For Peace, also sharing his story.  I know the event was scheduled to conclude with audience engagement, sort of a Q&A opportunity.  I only stayed for the Odyssey performance as I had another engagement in the afternoon and with today being my daughter’s birthday, I wanted to make headway Saturday on some other issues I’ve currently slacked on.

The theme of the performance was homecoming and I am quite thankful the event started with the group drumming.  While I did not choose to drum (I am embarrassed by my lack of rhythm) the sounds that filled the room reminded me of the wonderful performance given by citizens of Sao Vicente when I visited Cape Verde in high school.  My peers, teachers, and I landed to a beautiful musical performance at the airport that reminds me still music is a thread shared globally; we may not always understand each other’s words and actions but music binds us in such a spiritual way.

I loved being reminded of a place that was my home for a short period of my life.  Three weeks may not be an eternity but it’s sufficient time to be welcomed as a stranger, treated like a daughter, and remembered as a friend.  I am forever grateful for that experience and everyone who welcomed us into their country, their homes, and let us savor their culture that we might never have experienced in our lives had our paths not crossed.

Cape Verde airport
The airport in Sao Vicente

I think I was better able to embrace my role as a participant yesterday feeling like I was welcomed to this group much like how I was welcomed into Cape Verdean life.

My cohort of veterans included an ASU professor, my close friend and fellow ASU student, and a future student.  For our individual tales, we provided the audience a better glimpse of ‘homecoming’ as experiences shaped by individual perception and built a bridge that homecoming is not exactly a single finite moment in time, but a process.  I focused on the more immediate aspects of coming home to family tragedies and feeling like I did not fit into my life stateside.

I think a vital part of the construction of this storytelling was how well Robin Rio and her students shaped the music performance.  I met Robin back in the fall of 2014 when I started my graduate degree at ASU.  She is an Associate Professor with the School of Music and the Director of ASU’s Music Therapy Clinic.  I interviewed her to gain a better understanding of ASU’s chapter of Guitars for Vets.

Looking back, I did not ask great interview questions, but I think we all have moments like that in our lives where our place as students does not necessarily provide us a sufficient lenses to see and understand the larger context of our community because we are also shortsighted about more immediate concerns like passing a class, juggling work, and testing our fit with fellow students.  Seeing Guitars for Vets on campus though did inspire me to get out of my comfort zone about trying a musical instrument.  I purchased a Taylor guitar awhile back and now, with my reduced commute, can commit more to my goal of learning the acoustic guitar.  (Maybe I’ll be able to play a song before the year ends!)

This talented bunch just wow me; there’s so much musical talent in this group. I cannot wait to share the performance so you can understand how beautifully they play.


America in Times of Conflict: She Went to War

Good afternoon, everyone.  The video for the Chandler Public Library’s America in Times of Conflict: She Went to War panel I served on March 11th is now posted.  I consider myself still somewhat of a beginner when it comes to public speaking and as such, have not watched the video yet.  I think if I do and see how nervous I was, I might not be willing to share it with you all today.  (I love written storytelling but I am dipping my toe into the territory of oral histories.)

I agreed to be a panelist to show support for my dear friend, Nancy Dallett.  She is the Assistant Director of the Office of Veteran and Military Academic Engagement at Arizona State University and she is quite passionate about oral histories.  She knew a past misstep with another oral history project left me somewhat reluctant to take on another but the way this project was shaped is what changed my opinion on the matter.  What I do like about a panel is the interpretative distance the moderator plays with the panelists.  She directs the conversation and keeps it in check, but her influence on what is stated via certain questions is tempered by the panelists.

I am quite proud of the types of questions asked of my fellow panelists and I.  Often times, I feel it is hard for us as women to be asked truly valuable questions outside the context of victimization.  I get stuck with questions that tiptoe around or center on the issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault within the military service branches and while I think it is important not to minimize those social problems, I think it is quite valuable our society continues to also see the professional opportunities for women in military service and the opportunities they can have post-servicing to enhance their lives and their family legacies.  Situations like the recent nude photo sharing being discussed in the news   can impact the willingness of women to join and/or to have their families’ support when considering service in one of our military branches.  (The ‘Marines United’ nude photo sharing scandal came up as one of the questions asked by our audience.)  As a female veteran, I want people who hear and participate in these conversations to understand any person (man, woman, or child) can be victimized at any point in his or her lifetime; it is more imperative we look for ways to make our society safer through education and awareness for everyone, not just groups of people or individual persons, and to instill appropriate punishments on the perpetrators so as to give the best measure of justice to the victim(s) of heinous deviant acts like this photo scandal.

Again, I want to reiterate the questions asked were quite considerate so as to not give you the wrong impression the panel was skewed far to the victimization spectrum of women’s issues.  General themes included our motivations for service, expectations of what Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam were prior to serving overseas, the reality of our living/working situations abroad, and concern over whether we thought our service had a positive impact in our lives.

Fair warning, the video is lengthy.  At almost two hours, you might want to set aside time to listen to it in its entirety or skip around for shorter conversations.  My daughter asked a question of me near the tail end of the audience Q& A section (proud Momma moment here!) so I hope you her piece of the presentation.  I didn’t expect she would actually have something to ask although she did ask before the panel began if it was necessary.

Take care and enjoy.

(If you have any tips on how to improve my presence as a panelist, I’d love to hear back from you.)





Unwritten Policies and Terrible Service

I write to you all tonight about an issue of privilege: going out to eat with friends and family.  These are some first world problems so please don’t scoff that I am taking up a tiny space of the internet to talk about a local establishment and a local veteran.  As my usual followers know, I try to talk about some larger social issues but a local veteran I know shared an article about a fellow Iraq veteran being refused access into the newly opened Dierks Bentley Whiskey Row in Gilbert.  This local issue is something I don’t believe I should gloss over just because there are some bigger ticket issues happening on a daily basis.  Thanks for your patience for my views on this matter and my experience at the restaurant.

I am a Dierks Bentley fan and have, for quite some time, been excited about his new restaurant opening in my town.  I did not want to be like fellow veterans and decide to not to check out this establishment without actually taking the time to check out the business to form my own opinion.  There are always parts of any interaction that are not necessarily brought to light in subsequent tellings and the reasons behind these exclusions may be a matter of time, space, privacy, cultural sensitivity, personal bias, and so on.

The East Valley Tribune wrote yesterday about Marine veteran Brandon Andrus being denied admittance into Whiskey Row because he has neck tattoos , including a highly noticeable “22” discussed in the article.  I don’t expect everyone to know about how problematic suicide is within the veteran community but the “22” is a mark to promote awareness about the high veteran suicide rate in our nation.  This veteran though was moved enough by the issue he made a choice to wear this cause on his body for the remainder of his life.  (I would recommend anyone interested in learning more about bringing awareness to veteran suicide, check out Mission 22.)

A veteran is at the center of the story but this conversation is larger than one veteran being inconvenienced and embarrassed.  Our society is constantly changing and cultural attitudes regarding tattoos are anything but consistent.  I was quite curious to see if there was a publicized policy at Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row regarding neck tattoos.  After all, it’s easy enough to find communication at many establishments reading “No shirt, no shoes, no service”, “We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to Anyone”and “Firearms Not Allowed” but no such communication is shown on the doors.  (Additionally, the “No Firearms” sign is not posted on the door but sat atop the hostess station. I am making an assumption here it’s posted there so as to not ruin the look of these beautiful doors.)

Whiskey Row Gilbert, Arizona

Now I also wanted to look at the second layer of the situation discussed in yesterday’s article: tattoos themselves.  My concern was whether the restaurant is opposed to tattoos generally, visible tattoos, or neck tattoos as expressed in the article.  It was possible the Tribune staff writer Jim Walsh was not privy to all information about the company’s policy.  His article does not discuss if the policy is consistent among all locations or what police department recommended the policy.  I am not criticizing him because I do not know what constraints were placed on his article but if we are looking critically at society, we should ask, Where do the rules come from?  How consistently are the rules applied?  What evidence do we have that supports these rules “work”?

I did not photograph the staff because it would be inappropriate to do so without their permission but it’s apparent the company is not opposed to hiring personnel with tattoos. During the course of my experience (waiting for a table, eating my meal, and waiting for the check) I checked out nearly every staff member I could recognize.  While the security staff and bussers wore Whiskey Row shirts, the servers and hosts did not so it was imperative to look for other behavioral cues clusters of females were staff and not customers loitering around waiting for tables.  I saw tattoos large and small.  Staff members had back pieces, leg pieces, and arm pieces, but not a single neck or face tattoo.  I was not seated at the bar to evaluate whether the bartenders had limitations on the placement of tattoos or tattoos at all.

By comparison, Whiskey Row highly sanitized their Instagram.  The page for Gilbert does not have a lot of photographs yet but selling tattoo free bodies, like the photograph below, is already becoming the message being presented by the company.  If the Gilbert Instagram takes lessons from the Scottsdale Whiskey Row, it will be more about selling traditional female sex appeal (heavy imagery of cleavage, midriffs, and short shorts) for its particular bar scene.  We do have a college crowd because of the local community colleges and Arizona State University but I have high doubts businessmen thought about the fact we do not have Mill Avenue like Tempe.

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In comparison, look at how the East Valley Tribune portrayed Brandon Andrus and his son:


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Which comes across as more offensive?!

After today’s visit, I don’t think Brandon is missing out on much.  My outing was unsuccessful in my eyes for reasons that 100% had nothing to do with a highly visible tattoo.  For my newbies, you can learn more about my third tattoo here.  I don’t think the right management is in place nor is there the right mindset for customer service.

There are a lot of wonderful bar establishments in the Gilbert/Queen Creek area the management can learn from if they want Whiskey Row to be successful.  Thirsty Lion is one of the newest additions and while it lacks the faux outdoor space created in Whiskey Row (Sorry, I couldn’t get a photo of it) the drink prices are better and the quality of food is fantastic.  Additionally, since it is located in the San Tan Village mall, you can get any necessary gift or personal shopping done before or after your meal/drinks. Postino’s, also located in Downtown Gilbert, has $5 wine and beer prices seven days a week from 11am to 5pm.  One of their staff members was so kind to bring out some grilled chicken for my husband’s service dog one day, and while I’ve never expected that kind of service the attitude there sets a bar that is not easily surpassed.  Bar Vinedo in Queen Creek offers a quieter bar scene but they also have live music nights, a wine club, and a cigar menu if that’s your thing.  I don’t smoke but I know some friends who love having a cigar now and then.  This place has my favorite fries, too!!!

I am also more critical when people fail at meeting customer service expectations.  I’ve worked in customer service since I was sixteen so it’s easy to spot those who do it well and those who are just collecting a paycheck.  If you want a great customer service experience (and I’m not talking bar food here) in Gilbert, you can learn from the staff at other places like Snooze and Liberty Market. FYI, check out the tattoos on their staff, too. Romeo’s Euro Cafe is additionally one of the top contenders for food quality and excellent customer service.  We grabbed our dessert tonight from Romeo’s because we would not wait for what we presumed would be a mediocre dessert at Whiskey Row.  (I’ve loved every cake at Romeo’s so far and I love whiskey so this cake hit the spot after our poor dinner experience.)


My family and I waited for an hour and 15 minutes for a table at Whiskey Row.  What was really pathetic is we noticed these particular booths behind us (plus the one we were later somewhat reluctantly given when our time came up) sat empty for the duration of our wait time until 5:30 pm.  A restaurant knowingly preferred not to seat smaller parties in this area and was willing to lose a profit for approximately 2 hours!!!  Mind you, these also were not the only empty areas in the restaurant.  My husband and I noticed 7 different seating arrangements sat empty for similar durations of time meanwhile a small squad of hostesses informed restaurant patrons wait times would be between one hour and 15 minutes and an hour and 30 minutes.  You should have seen the looks on some people’s faces, particularly individuals older than us.


The food wasn’t even worth the unnecessary wait.  My husband received a small portion of chicken and one waffle that set us back $14.  Furthermore, our server did not pay good attention to our orders and added on two beers for him although the first beer he choose was not available nor did she ever ask if we wanted additional beers during the almost hour long dinner we had there.  (Please know I don’t jump on sites like Yelp because I don’t want to be known as someone who complains about food service and I implore you to check out my Instagram so you know I like encouraging others to find great tasting food options.)

I will end my rant for the day but I just needed to say something.  I don’t want anyone to go to our local Whiskey Row and think it is representative of our larger restaurant community.  A lot of places get things right both in terms of food quality and quality of service.  A lot of places are veteran friendly.  A lot of places don’t have ridiculous unwritten policies for tattoos.   Whiskey Row has a lot of expections to live up to and it will fail if it does not consider the community in which it is placed.


Overpriced chicken, anyone?


Turning 33

My Mini Me and I Out at Dinner Tonight

Good evening, everyone.

My entry will be quite short.  I am currently in the middle of crafting a post about recently going back through the disability claims process with the Department of Veterans Affairs but it is appropriate to take a break to share that today is my 33rd birthday.

I am very blessed to make it to 33 years of age.  I came home from Iraq the first time on my 21st birthday and my birthday has taken on a different meaning since that important transition.

Like my 2005 birthday, I did indulge in some alcohol.  Back then it was beer and cranberry vodka shots (Not a good idea…I repeat a horrible freaking idea…don’t repeat my mistake…seriously, do not make this mistake…you’ll puke a lot) and tonight I enjoyed a new Chardonnay at one of my favorite places, Bar Vinedo.  I made the adult decision to stop at reasonable point, made easier by the fact I’m completing the Fighter Diet and have a horrible ability to tolerate alcohol right now.


I like to keep my birthday festivities to quiet small gatherings.  My daughter changed my plans further today when she asked (last night to her dad) about hanging out with me for the day in lieu of attending school.  How do I say no to such a cute request?! I threw out plans I had today to enjoy being a hermit while she and my husband were in school, completing my lower body workout and cardio routine, reading from Mind Over Money: The Psychology of Money and How to Use It Better, and taking a nap.  Yes, I had great ambitions as an adult for birthday indulgences!!!

I still kept to my Fighter Diet workout routine, mostly because I wanted to not feel guilty about indulging for dinner (dessert was not planned at all!).  I like working out.  Do I always want to work out? No.  However, it is great seeing the progress I’ve made and I know I’ll continue to make progress with mostly healthy eating habits and sticking to a solid workout routine.

Instead of hanging out with my fellow Marines in the barracks drinking horrible drink concoctions, my husband, daughter and I went out to dinner after I spent the day in my daughter’s company doing kid friendly things (splitting lunch and a cookies and cream monsoon, hanging out at the playground, and completing homemade craft projects).

Cookies and cream monsoon with coffee from the Agritopia Coffee Shop.

I am very grateful I took today off from work.  My birthday is one of those days I quite enjoy a quiet respite from my typical hectic pace.  This year, I enjoyed it even more since I stayed up late watching an few episodes of Gilmore Girls with my family and additionally, my daughter camped out on the couch with me depriving me of a full night’s sleep.

My day ended with a fabulous grilled cheese and prosciutto sandwich, some of my favorite french fries, and this delicious dessert which I’ve been hesitant to order before because it has banana ice cream. Chocolate Mousse+pecan crust+chocolate ganache+ brûlée banana ice cream covered in salted caramel + chocolate drizzle on the side=How did I not order this item earlier? (Yes, my fear that it would be too banana flavored.)

Good night, everyone.  I hope your day turned out as well as mine and when your birthday rolls around, it’s just as wonderful.  I owe many thanks to everyone who loves me and wished me a happy birthday in text message, Facebook posts, voice mails, emails,and so on.

I have a great support system.


Pecan Chocolate Torte ($7)….It’s better than birthday cake.




2007 Versus 2017: Goals, Goals, Goals

Hello, everyone.  I know New Year’s treated you well.  I spent my three-day weekend at home and enjoyed a slight decrease (much to my appreciation) in fireworks exposure.  My new neighbors don’t seem to go quite as crazy as the ones I had in the Willows neighborhood in Gilbert.  If you like fireworks, you might enjoy a stroll through this neighborhood on the 4th of July or New Year’s Eve; I anticipate in a neighborhood of 586 houses so long as the Town of Gilbert permits fireworks, people will set up small fireworks shows just outside their front doors.  For today though, I’ll like to start my first 2007 versus 2017 post.

2007 was important for me because I completed my active duty service with the Marine Corps and started to explore what life beyond the Corps would look and feel like, my taste of adult freedom if you will.  I won’t say I made smart money moves back then so as we begin this new journey looking back and discussing my future in 2017, please know I will likely discuss money a lot.  My financial needs were met very well on active duty; Thomas and I did not have any kids while I was serving and we both collected a housing allowance.  Since we both served, we received one full housing allowance and the other received a partial housing allowance.  I do apologize that I do not recall the actual monetary amounts because I understand this knowledge aids our conversation greatly.  All too often, a young service member will complain about not having sufficient pay for food, housing, etc.  but for our household size and relative expenses, we always came out ahead even after I separated until we moved to Wyoming in 2009.  Stories for another day I know, but the short version is that many of our expenses, fixed and variable, remained the same and our housing allowance decreased significantly.

In 2007, I had some lofty wedding reception ambitions, as you can see from my journal entry below.  While we never ended up having our wedding reception the reality is I spent a significant amount of time planning for a costly one-day event.  On the skinny spending side, I think we were looking at $8,000 to $10,000 for the venue, a photographer, hotel rooms, travel, food, etc.  The dream was dropped before anything was booked but not until after I purchased my wedding gown (we got married through the Justice of the Peace in 2006) and picked up some small wedding related items.


My desire to control my personal finances did not truly begin until we moved to Wyoming. Our crash course in the broke life lead us to Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.  Being introduced to Dave Ramsey’s program through friends and their church, we made headway towards undoing the financial damage.  It’s not fun, but without the substantial housing allowance we received in California, we had to take a serious look at our finances. Throughout the years, we’ve still struggled to stay on the Dave Ramsey path so I still refer back to the books and resources.  My in-laws also added more Dave Ramsey resources to our collection.  Additionally, I kept my Financial Planning notebook from my undergraduate studies because I want to ensure I update our financial goals (i.e. retirement planning, life insurance planning, etc.) as our family needs change over time.

With my husband still in school, 2017 does not wear the carefree face our lives did in 2007.  We just don’t have that same amount of money to play with on a daily basis.  Thankfully, he has one semester of Post-9/11 GI Bill® benefits to help cover expenses this semester but law school is one of those endeavors where we are bringing student loan debt into our lives.  This decision obviously strays from Dave Ramsey’s teachings.  We take steps towards self-improvement and I would prefer to not be shamed for student loan debt; I do not make enough money to fully fund law school.  We considered ASU’s Employee Reduced Tuition but the reality is 100% of that tuition reduction is taxed for graduate programs and I am already working on a tight single income, the last thing I need is more money taken out of my paycheck at this time.  Now that we have a more transparent conversation (thanks for not judging me or keeping your opinion to yourself) I would like to share personal goals for the year.

My goals are broadly categorized under personal achievements, family activities, and home improvement.  Financial planning is important to each one of these endeavors.  I am in a place to either spend money for the results or I am saving money to complete the goal.    Although I am not outlining these as SMART (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-based) for your respective purposes as the reader, these qualities are important whenever you desire to see a goal through completion and I’m keeping these factors in mind for each goal.

In lieu of resolutions, here are my planning goals for 2017:

  1. Finish Pauline Nordine’s Butt Bible Challenge to restore fitness discipline into my life (Challenge runs January to March).
  2. Attend an adoption education event, free other than cost to get there.
  3. Add $1,000 to my daughter’s savings before the close of 2017.
  4. Pay for a one recipient’s scholarship for the Rising Stars, Desert Nights Writing Conference.
  5. Close a credit card account.
  6. Finish painting my master’s bathroom (February).
  7. Complete a family vacation (no visiting extending family).
  8. Attend a family member’s wedding.
  9. Add additional money to our emergency fund (i.e. amount will vary depending on overtime worked and additional income received this year).
  10. Finish first draft of memoir by October.
  11. Set up college fund accounts for nieces and my nephew to be born this year in lieu of gifts and clothes for Christmas.
  12. Visit family who have not seen my daughter since 2011.
  13. Set aside money for an adoption home study (approximately $1,200 to $1,800) before the end of the year. (Goal is to adopt in 2019)
  14. Replace our large bookcase with wall shelves (May/June).
  15. Purchase (1) PAX wardrobe for master bedroom (September/October).
  16. Put in Astroturf and extend patio slab (March/April).