Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Final Year

We are just days away from being a year out from the end of our time here. Which means Oliver can start looking at orders very soon. He's also going to be negotiating a reenlistment contract. I'm trying to ignore  the pit of dread in my stomach.

Last time we did this, I was excited and thought it would be kind of fun to consider all the possibilities. Later, after slogging through months of uncertainty, a list of duty stations that included almost nothing we'd wanted, and then a budget impasse in Congress (sound familiar - clearly, that bunch will never learn) that left us with only three months to put together an international move, the excitement factor is definitely gone.

This time around, we have a list again, but it's a lot shorter due to submarine platforms, where I would like to weather deployments, and where the online homeschooling program I've decided to use with the boys is free (20 states have it available as part of the public school system - the cost otherwise is about 5k per child). Washington actually meets two of those criteria, and so I'm trying desperately to talk myself into being open to returning as I know it is going to be on the list. I'm hoping we won't have to, however. That would be really frustrating.

So, we shall see how it all turns out. Maybe we'll know by the end of the year. Or maybe they'll keep us hanging until June, like last time. Either way, it will be settled by this time next year. In the mean time, we'll try to make the most of our last year here.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Rice Krispies, Anyone?

While planning dinner tonight, once again last minute (it's pretty tough to meal plan when you aren't sure what veggies the store will be carrying that week). I've got some pinto beans in the freezer, onions and potatoes, mushrooms (a rare treat around here!), and even some frozen corn (which is also pretty hit or miss). So, we're gonna have a bean and corn chowder tonight.

I went online to find a recipe for something to go with it, because I'm getting tired of biscuits, and I discovered this recipe for breadsticks. It looks good, takes only 40 min, and I'm excited to try them as soon as I get done typing this.

I did, however, make the mistake of spending some time looking at all the recipes. Sigh. It's sad to look at recipes, find one that looks awesome, and realize there is almost no chance of getting all the ingredients at the same time. I'm good at substitution, but some things you just can't change, nor would you want to. Like a decent cut of meat.

We eat almost no meat these days. Sometimes I buy it in Florida and trek it home, then we make it last for months (and we're talking about two small coolers, full - not a huge amount). Occasionally, I buy it in the store here, but it tends to be only ground turkey or ham because everything else is crazy expensive. In truth, I've never been a huge meat eater, and the less we eat of it, the less I want it, but sometimes, with the right dish, it's pretty good.

What's worse are the recipes that require fresh vegetables, however. Especially things that ask for fresh herbs (the bugs keep killing mine and the store doesn't sell them due to how our food is shipped in) or other slightly off the beaten path veggies like beets (my fam is probably happy about this, but I really love them). I finally had to just close out the blog and stop thinking about all the food I will have to wait to try until we move back to the States.

Ironically, we probably eat a lot better here than we did when we lived there. We've cut almost all processed food out of our diet. I'd been trying to do this before we moved, but coming here forced big changes just because of the cost of everything. Cereal was the best change, actually. For the life of me, I could not kick the cereal habit. It was just too easy, and we are not morning people. Plus, we could get it for two bucks at the commissary.

Then we moved here. There is no such thing as a sale or couponing here (not that I ever couponed, ha!). You pay the price or you don't buy it. Cold cereal is about five dollars a box. Eggs are less than two dollars for a dozen. Yeah, that one was a no-brainer. We now eat eggs and toast most morning, with pancakes, oatmeal, and muffins thrown into rotation. The best thing about it has been that I no longer have whining boys an hour after they eat. Turns out, cold cereal doesn't last too long. The other stuff gets them through to lunch. Definitely better for Wyatt because he's at school now.

There is, however, one cereal I really miss. Rice Krispies. Not for breakfast, because we never ate it that way, but because sometimes I really want to make Rice Krispy treats. Which brings me back to that blog I linked. It had an interesting recipe for peanut butter chocolate Rice Krispy treats. That was pretty much the last recipe I looked at. Maybe I'll have to cram a box into our bags this Christmas when we take the boys to Legoland. We'll see.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Early Retirement....is actually possible!

I'm sitting here waiting for the stock exchange to open. And I've been doing this for a couple of weeks now. I've got a shopping list of stocks, and prices that I'm willing to buy them at.

Why all the investing mania, you might ask? Well, when the stock market took it's latest fall back in August, I watched the news intently. I've been thinking about doing more than just dumping money into retirement accounts, where it mostly sits in index funds, for quite some time. I haven't, however been all that inspired to take the plunge and learn enough about it.

That all changed, though, when I ran across this blog. Basically, it's written by a guy named Jacob who saved 70-90% of his income for five years, became financially independent at 30, and quit his job for real at 33 when it was no longer fun for him. Now, he's not some millionaire, and, among other things, lives in an RV in order to keep his expenses down enough to live on his investment income, plus he doesn't have kids (and is married to a spouse who is still working and covers her own expenses), so I don't see his story as completely possible for us.

However, it really has got me thinking. The most helpful thing I got from his story is the idea that when planning for retirement, you can't spend all your time looking at your money and wondering how big it needs to be (does anyone else hate those calculators that tell you you are going to need a million bucks by the time you are 65?). Instead, you need to calculate how much it costs to live today, and then figure out how much you need in order to keep that standard of living. When I looked at it that way, I was surprised to realize we could easily save more than half Oliver's pay if we put our minds to it. And it wouldn't even hurt.

So, since I am well aware that most frivolous spending in our house comes from me, I'm refocusing, and sending all the extra money to a new, taxable account (since most of our retirement accounts are fully funded, and I want a better diversity of accounts in case we manage to meet our goal of retirement in our early 40's). I've got an investment strategy, after spending more than a week reading everything I could get my hands on about investing (and still reading, just not as avidly). I don't know how this will play out, but for us, this is just another step on a path we took long ago when we decided to only have one car because it would accelerate our debt payments. Then, we just kept it up when it was all paid off because we'd gotten used to it and now we were saving all that debt money.

There's now way we'll be able to do what Jacob did, due to having kids, being a one-income household, and past mistakes, but we've come up with a plan that is comfortable for us. The biggest surprise is for me is that it's actually possible to make early retirement happen, as evidenced not only by this blog, but all the other people who comment on it and share their stories. Crazy stuff. You should read it.

And now back to the stock exchange, which has finally started trading.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Has It Really Been Ten Years?

I haven't been able to get myself to sit down and write this before now. Both the net and TV have been flooded with 9/11 stories and remembrances. Every time I see one, it's like being punched in the gut again. I'm blown away at long it's actually been since it happened. It still feels so recent to me.

And yet, it occurred to me while looking at my oldest that neither of my boys have any idea what happened that day. Neither of them were even born, and in fact I remember thinking how glad I was that I hadn't married or had kids yet because the world seemed like it was falling apart. A year later, I met Oliver.

The other reason I've hesitated? I know I don't really have anything new to add. My own reactions were personal and intense, but I didn't know anyone there. I mourned for our nation, but not for family or friends. I also think we're all flooded with this stuff and sometimes it's too much. So, if you want to quit reading, feel free. I am not going to care.

I was living in Rhode Island at the time, about two hours from New York City. I went to work that morning, and was sitting at my desk when the first plane hit. People started running around the office saying something about a building. I really didn't know what they were talking about, so I ignored it at first.

Eventually, curiosity got the better of me, and I joined the conversation. Before long, my boss had hooked up a TV in his office, and the rest of us crowded in there to watch. I saw the second plane hit, and watched the towers fall on live TV. I remember standing there after the South Tower fell, praying like mad that the North would stand long enough for everyone else in there to get out. I just could not believe that I was watching New York implode at the heart.

At lunch time, I left the office and found another, out of the normal, situation. I worked in a large shopping complex. Our offices were upstairs from retail stores, and there was a grocery store anchoring the place. It had a huge parking lot that was nearly always busy. That day, however, I was struck by the silence. Everyone was sitting still, and the only noise I could hear were car radios, tuned to news reports.

It was more of the same in the grocery store when I went to buy my food. I found myself walking around in a bit of a daze, picking stuff up and not really caring what I was looking at.

After returning to the office, I went back to the TV, as did nearly everyone else. It was like that for the rest of the week, and I'm amazed my boss tolerated it. He was a rather gruff type, and didn't like to see people standing around. But he let us watch, and I'm grateful.

The news coverage ran pretty much 24/7, it seemed. I didn't have cable at the time, but it didn't matter - the networks weren't playing anything else, including commercials. The first time I saw a commercial, I remember thinking it was really weird. It was also a sign that real life had to keep going.

I think one of the reasons it had such a large impact on me was how close geographically I was to it. I can remember evacuations of tall building in Providence, a city I spent a lot of time due to work. Logan International in Boston, where the planes came from, was an airport I occasionally flew out of. A lot of people who worked at the site in the days following the attacks came from our area, due to the proximity. Our office got together and pooled some money together to buy masks and things they had asked for to send on a truck that was heading to NYC to support the relief operation. It felt good to do something, even if that was so small.

I had one co-worker who seemed to come a little unglued over it all. She was the one who spearheaded the campaign to buy supplies, and I went with her to buy them. Soon after, though, she stopped showing up for work, or would come in late. I was in charge of tracking vacation and sick leave as part of my job, and when she came to ask me where she was at, she was shocked to realized that she'd been out so much. Soon after, she quit, and last I heard was planning on a new career as a fireman.

As for me, I tried to join the Air Force in early 2002. Granted, it was a career path I'd considered at 18, but had figured was out of the picture after I went to college instead. But 9/11 got me thinking, and I tried again. A past medical issue ultimately kept me out, which was disappointing, but I met Oliver soon after and ended up chasing the military life in another way.

I don't really have anything particularly profound to add (which is sort of why I hesitated), but I know I need to tell my story to my own children today. I know I have to find a way to explain to them what happened and why. I'm not ready to start that conversation yet, and am happy to indulge in their ignorance for a few more years. It will happen, however.

Maybe when we go back to the States, we'll take them there. I'd like to see the memorial. I flew over NY in early October to visit a friend in Seattle (I did not fly out of Logan). The ground was still smoking, and I could see the plumes of smoke hovering over the city. A year later, I visited with Oliver and some Navy friends of ours. We walked around the site, which was pretty much a giant construction site at that point. I don't even think I took any pictures because there wasn't much to see. We stood in front of a chain link fence keeping us out of the area, and talked about it. One of the guys we were with said this was the whole reason he was in the Navy. I understood what he was talking about.

I've been looking at pictures of the memorial online. It looks beautiful. My deepest hope is that we will remember - and try to build something else that is equally beautiful as we try to live with other people in our world. Sometimes, I wonder if that is even possible. I still have hope, however, that it might be someday.