And Then We Laughed

A blog about going places and doing things

Yesterday morning I had coffee with a dear friend who knows me – really knows me. We can talk about anything and everything and one of my favorite aspects of our relationship is that we’re not afraid to dive into heavy topics and as a result, we’ve formed what I consider to be a deep bond over the years. And as I was driving back to the preschool to pick up my daughter, I was comforted by the fact that I have people beyond my husband who really get me. And they don’t run away when they get beyond my hard candy shell.

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I first started blogging years ago as my husband, Clay, was preparing for his first deployment and I was facing a brutal winter in Fort Drum, New York. I hadn’t landed a job yet beyond substitute teaching and I hadn’t formed the type of friendships that are vital to surviving such an experience. I was alone, I was cold, and I was scared that I’d be a widow at 22-years-old. So I created a blog and I wrote. I didn’t write about anything particularly meaningful – I just wrote. Since then, I’ve blogged on and off over the years at a variety of venues but I never considered myself a writer. I witnessed the blogging landscape change and what was once a fun outlet became a cesspool of sponsored posts and basket of words that lacked the authenticity that made blogging so great in the early years.

Last month, I declared 2018 as the Year of Intention. In full disclosure, one of my intentions this year is to dust off my previous blogs and really try to give this blogging thing a go once and for all. Analytics (yet another thing that wasn’t commonplace in the early days – bah hum bug) tell me that I have quite a few new readers beyond my immediate family and close friends so a good place to start is by answering some questions I’ve received over the past few weeks.

Getting To Know Me

Where do you live? Clay is currently assigned to an obnoxiously large office building in the Washington DC area. Because we’re priced out of most of the chic Washington DC neighborhoods that offer trendy restaurants and hip watering holes within walking distance of well-performing schools, we currently call Northern Virginia home. There’s a Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and two Starbucks within a 2 mile radius of our house so it’s pretty safe to assume that we’re living the suburban dream. Whenever we want to escape the land of infinite Targets and Mattress Firms, we drive five minutes to the nearest metro station and pretend we belong to the city that 535 members of Congress call home for at least part of the year.

If a movie was made of your life what genre would it be and who would play you? Because I think that You’ve Got Mail is pretty much the most perfect movie ever made, I like to think that my life would lend itself to frothy light-hearted romantic comedy in the genre of a Nora Ephron or Nancy Meyers movie. Although – I just watched Baby Driver and would love to see my life choreographed to music with the help of Edgar Wright. As far as who would play me? Claire Danes because we both can rock some pretty stellar ugly-cry faces. And we both have large noses {btw Claire – I say that with love and admiration!}.

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What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten? I’ve had both alligator and rattle snake, which I feel like most people have had at least once so I don’t consider those very  strange. I’ve also had salt & vinegar fried crickets, which were surprisingly tasty. However, the strangest thing I’ve attempted to eat was deep friend chicken feet in Chinatown in Montreal. There was a miscommunication while ordering and I was quite disgusted by the plate that was placed in front of me. I ate what I could (which wasn’t much) and then accidentally swallowed a bunch of tien tsin peppers. Let’s just say it wasn’t my favorite meal.

How do you like your steak cooked? I know I should say medium rare because I consider myself a lover of food but I can’t help it – I’m pretty sure I best like my steak medium (ducks under chair).

Do you really love 80’s/early-90s era Tom Selleck? Short answer? Yes. Long answer? What originally began as a silly conversation starter has grown over the years into quite the appreciation for the guy. You see, growing up one of my favorite movies was Three Men and a Little Lady. My 10-year-old self thought that Peter was the most dashing architect in New York City. I would imagine myself as Nancy Travis in a puffy-sleeved wedding gown, marrying Peter in a remote English village with Waiting for a Star to Fall by Boy Meets Girl piping through the church. Then Tom Selleck showed up on Friends as Richard and by that time I was a teenager and the damage was done – I was 100% all-in on Tom Selleck. Once I got to college, I would share stories about my teenage lust for Tom Selleck over beers and the rest is history – I became known for my fondness for the mustached Romeo.

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What job would you be absolutely terrible at? Anything that required extensive phone use. I’m not a millennial (actually – I think I am) but I recoil at the idea of having the schedule appointments on the phone. When I find a doctor or a dentist that utilize online scheduling software, I hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Handel’s Messiah.

What is the worst ingredient to fill a burrito with? Rice. When did that start becoming a thing? Ugh. Rice?!?

What is an embarrassing moments you’re willing to share? Back in 9th grade, I inadvertently asked my math teacher how long his “thingy” was…   ::dead::

Do you like having a husband in the Army? I met Clay two days before September 11th. He was a 2nd year ROTC cadet and I was an impressionable college freshman living in the same dorm. During our time as college sweethearts, we grew up together knowing that war would be an inevitable piece of our story. I was lucky enough to have pinned him when he commissioned and pin on his new rank during his subsequent promotions. While Clay didn’t originally set out to make the military his career, I’ve been with him since almost the beginning so the majority of decisions regarding his career, we have made together. Over the years, he has done a tremendous job at making feel like a valued partner and that my input matters. While we have gone through some really awful things that accompany war and death, I believe we’re both better versions of ourselves than if he didn’t choose this path for himself. I also like him in uniform – especially his Mess Dress. 😍

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Do you have any reoccurring nightmares? Yes! About one a month, I dream that it is finals week and I discover that I’ve been unknowingly enrolled in a class the entire semester and the final is in 30 minutes. I frantically try to cram the material but I have yet to make it far enough in the dream to actually take the final. Interestingly, the subject matter changes – one night it’s biology and another it’s French. One time, I even dreamed that it was a hydraulics class, which is especially puzzling because I studied political science and economics. Any amateur dream sleuths want to take a stab at that one?

What about you? 

I’d love to know more about you! Please feel free to answer one of the questions (or all!) or ask another question for someone else to answer. Do you have a reoccurring nightmare? How do you like your coffee? Are you more of a pancake or waffle person? What is your all-time favorite television show? Why do you read blogs?

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The late spring/summer is traditionally PCS season for the military community. For those unfamiliar, PCS refers to Permanent Change of Station aka moving. There are hidden expenses that always seem to pop up along the way, but for the most part, we’re not financially responsible for the move but we are responsible for coordinating the process.  Seeing as how psychologists routinely state that moving is considered one of life’s most stressful situations, it’s absolutely imperative that military families develop a system to help schlep their worldly processions from Point A to Point B.

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This past summer, our packers told us that our framed Billy Joel concert poster is the whitest thing they’ve packed yet. True story.

This blog post will not be an article about the need to put together an important documents binder, nor will it advocate for developing a color-coded system for boxes to assist in the deployment of said boxes into the new house. This blog post will not talk about the best resources for researching schools, veterinarians, and hair stylists. And this blog post will not discuss the importance of documenting high-value and moderate-value items is because stuff will inevitably break during the moving process.  This blog post is going to talk about the really important stuff when it comes to PCSing.

6 Honest Tips for Surviving a PCS

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1. Keep a Winged Butterfly Corkscrew Near You at All Times

Rumor has it that there are a few unicorns out there who are able to resist alcohol during PCS season. I am not one of them. It doesn’t matter if you’re calling preschools begging for a slot or searching for the cast iron skillet that you’ll eventually find in the box marked ‘Downstairs BATHE towls’, it is imperative that you keep a winged butterfly corkscrew near you at all times. Not only will it open bottles of wine, it can assist with the opening of an assortment of beers and mini-bottles. It can also be used as a box-cutter and while not preferable, the arms can be used to spread peanut butter. And in a fit of desperation, it can also be a toy. It wasn’t my proudest parenting moment but once, I gave my then three-year-old daughter a winged butterfly corkscrew and told her it was a metal doll in order to keep her occupied as I frantically opened boxes searching for her prized pink elephant that had somehow managed to be packed earlier that day. The winged butterfly corkscrew was all I had within reach.

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2. Don’t Forward Your Mail to Relatives with the Same Last Name

Learn from our mistake and you will avoid a lifetime of political mailers and AARP membership requests. Many moves ago, we had a transition period of about 30 days before officially reporting to another installation 2000 miles away. Obviously, we took advantage of this ‘free’ time and traveled our little hearts out. Because of this, we had the not-so-smart idea of forwarding our mail to my husband’s parents. It has been 6 years since that particular move and all parties involved are still suffering from the consequences of our ill-informed decision. When it came time to forward our mail to our new duty station a few states away, all of my in-laws mail somehow ended up at our new place. For months. And months. And we have lived in three different states since that particular move and yet we still receive the occasional piece of junk mail addressed to my in-laws. On the positive side, we always have something to use to start a fire. #glasshalffull

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3.  There Will Always Be Someone Who Hates Where The Military Is Sending You Next

Facebook and other forms of social media are invaluable tools during PCS season. Yes, there is a seedy underbelly in the world of military-related Facebook groups and there are some that certainly #leanin into the military spouse stereotypes. I’ve even personally witnessed a close friend get hit with the ban stick because she accidentally posted something twice that was deemed self-promotional (it wasn’t). And being the great friend that I am, I didn’t take a stand and leave the group in solidarity because it really is a great source for information. The joke is on the all-knowing administrators though because I sometimes post questions on behalf of my shunned friend. Muwhahaha.

When I accepted my husband’s marriage proposal (which involved a plaid fold-out couch and a satirical book – try not to be jealous ladies), it didn’t take me long to learn that in addition to raving about favorite assignments and duty stations, people love to complain about the places they’ve hated with the burning passion of a thousand fiery suns. You may be excited that you have orders to Hawaii but there will always be a Debbie Downer who chimes in with school data, traffic patterns, and the threat of nuclear holocaust. Delighted about going to Germany? Negative Nelly will likely talk about the gray skies, ridiculous recycling standards, and the abundance of wursts. No matter where you are going, there will always be someone who hated that installation/assignment. It’s best to ignore them and not let them get you down. On the flip side, you will also find people who loved assignments that are traditionally looked down upon. So for every person you meet who despised Italy, you’ll someone who really enjoyed their time at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Keep that in mind.

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4. Make Sure The Truck Driver Locks the Back Door of the Truck

The load-out from when we PCSed from Washington DC to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas was quite disastrous but we emerged with an important PCS lesson – always make sure that the truck driver locks the back door of the truck before driving off. On the night of that pack out – around 11:05 pm, my husband and I sat on the front steps of our townhome and watched the truck holding all of our worldly possessions drive away. And at 11:06pm, my husband took off running toward the truck to alert the blissfully unaware driver that the back door flew open (pictured above). The driver’s response? “Oh, it’s been doing that a lot lately.” We’ve moved two times since then and have incorporated checking the lock of the truck as part of our move-out process. You should probably do the same.

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5. Ziploc Everything!

While unpacking kitchen boxes after having the military move us for the first time, I was absolutely aghast at the amount of packing paper that was used to wrap a fondue fork. Four (!) large sheets to wrap one teeny tiny fondue fork. We have 16 fondue forks (I like fondue – don’t judge!). You do the math. From that move on, I learned to dump the contents of every drawer in the house into corresponding ziploc bags. My schedule may not be as demanding as Renata Klein’s (any other Big Little Lies fans out there?) but I am not going to spend the time it takes to unwrap every single wine cork I’ve saved over the years (trophies of my accomplishments) or each magnet from our travels. It’s not good for the Earth and it is not good for my sanity. Ziploc anything and everything that can be bagged. Toys? Sure! They have large ziploc bags available now – they even come in 3-gallon sizes. Office supplies? Bag ’em up! Clothes? Fold ’em and bag ’em. I recommend zip-ties as well. You may look like Dexter checking out with your haul but at least you’ll be prepared for your PCS.

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6. Flatten Packing Paper as you Unwrap and Unpack

Life is so much easier if you flatten packing paper as you unwrap and unpack the Target and IKEA showroom that is your house. Of course you can always request the movers to unpack for you but HAHAHAHAHAHA. We have moved 10 times in the last 13 years and it didn’t take me long to realize that shoving crumbled up pieces of packing paper into garbage bags was the least efficient method of packing paper removal. Perhaps you will be assigned the fabled moving company that will return at a later date to pick up your boxes and packing paper but if you’re like most of us plebeians, you’ll be at the mercy of your town’s recycling program and people ISO of packing supplies on Facebook. Make your life easier and flatten paper as you go so it can be smacked, whacked, and stacked to the max (oh dear – I’m now quoting Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown – this is what my life has become).

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So there you have it – my six tips for surviving a PCS and doing so with grace and aplomb (ha!). I’ve been a part of this rodeo for over 13 years now and I’ve learned that no matter how stressful the uncertainty, the planning, the execution, and the settling into a new life feels – it all works out in the end. Life has a funny way of doing that. A sense of humor is a crucial ingredient of the military lifestyle. Without it, life just isn’t much fun.

So what are you some of your tips for surviving PCS season? How do you handle PCS envy? How do you tell the kids – do you keep them informed of the process from the beginning or do you not break the news until orders are in hand? How do you say ‘see you later!’? And most important – what drink of choice is in your hand while tackling everything like a boss? Bottoms up!

In 1996, childhood friends Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski founded Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown, Pennsylvania in an old Pepperidge Farm factory. Over the years, Victory has grown into an award-winning brewery with distribution in 34 states and 9 countries. With three locations – Downingtown (the flagship brewery), Parkesburg (capacity of ten 200-barrel brews per day), and Kennett Square (produces unique beers that are available only in the on-site brewpub) – Victory Brewing Company is showing no signs of slowing down.

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When I was up in Pennsylvania with the kids last weekend, my sister and I decided that a trip to Parkesburg was in order because it was en route to Old Windmill Farm. Clay and I have been to the original Downingtown location many times during out visits to the area over the years but this was my first visit to the Parkesburg location (opened late 2015). I have yet to go to the Kennett Square location, which is a tad ironic because that is where I went to high school. Next visit – I’ll be sure to hit it up, hopefully with Clay in tow.

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While some may grumble at the changing culture of craft-breweries, I am #allin at bring children along to the increasingly family-friendly environments. Germans don’t bat an eye at families in biergartens and a lot even have playgrounds (I must live in Germany at some point in my life) so it is nice to see a shift over on this side of the pond as well. We ate lunch and then took the self-guided tour upstairs.

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We were very impressed with the self-guided tour. While not very long, it held the interest of the kids and adults alike. While we obviously don’t allow our children to drink beer, we don’t hide the fact that we enjoy it. We appreciate the history and craft – how water sources can affect flavor, how different grains impact balance, and the science of brewing. Our hope is that as our children age they don’t view alcohol as simply a vehicle to get drunk, but rather develop respect for beer, wine, and spirits and enjoy the nuances that consuming such beverages provide.

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All of the kids enjoyed the hopsniff.

It was like getting pelted in the face with the essence of an IPA.

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We were there on a Saturday so we weren’t able to see the production in action but it was still very interesting so have somewhat of a bird’s eye view on how the beer is made.

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According to the Victory Brewing Company website, the Parkesburg location “features a German-built ROLEC brewhouse with a production capacity of ten 200-barrel brews per day or a total daily capacity of 2,000 barrels (6,200 gallons). In one year we can brew 500,000+ barrels. Best-in-class brewing systems and installations allow for efficient use of energy and maximal hygiene throughout the process.

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Oh how I wish the bottling area was up and running. I started to sing the Laverne and Shirley theme song and my children, nephew, and niece proved that their side-eye game was strong that day.

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The Victory Brewing Company’s Parkesburg Taproom is located at 3127 Lower Valley Road, Parkesburg, PA 19365. If you ever find yourself in southeastern Pennsylvania, check it out. Bring the kids! Eat, drink, and take a self-guided tour. And don’t forget – Go Eagles!

Did you know that today is National Plan for Vacation Day? I didn’t either until two days ago (thanks Sarah!). According to Project: Time Off, “individuals who plan are more likely to use all of their time off, take more vacation days at once, and report greater levels of happiness in every category measured.” I know that I am happiest when traveling and thankfully, my adventure-mates are too! Looking back, we’ve had some wonderful trips and even those that we deemed busts at the time make for some great stories after the fact. Over the years, we’ve dined on chicken feet with Chinese mobsters (we think…) in Montreal, gotten sick on the Staten Island Ferry, hiked to secluded beaches in St. John, ate reindeer in Alaska, been woken up by drunk groomsman in kilts in a remote village in Scotland, caught lobsters off the coast of Maine, and so much more.

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Unfortunately, Clay’s current position prevents him from taking more than a week of leave this summer but as of yesterday, Clay blocked out his leave so we can partake in National Plan for Vacation Day – hip hip hooray! He won’t be around much until then so we want to make sure that this vacation hits the spot without breaking the bank.

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We’re 99% positive that we will not be moving this summer, which will make it the first summer in four years that we haven’t had to plan a trip around a PCS. This is cause for celebration in itself. Woohoo! We’re currently trying to determine the magic number of what we can reasonably afford for our big vacation in addition to our smaller trips planned thus far. While we’ve never regretted spending money on vacations, the reality is that Clay is the military, I don’t work full-time, and we’re not independently wealthy so a trip to Fiji is simply out of the budget. However, some places that we’ve tossed around this year include…

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Acadia National Park, Maine. Four years ago, we took a 10-day vacation to Newport, Rhode Island, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Ogunquit, Maine. We look back fondly on our little tour of coastal New England. We were unable to squeeze in a trip up to Acadia National Park that year and we’ve been talking about going there ever since. Perhaps we could combine our time in the park with a trip to Mount Washington, New Hampshire or Boston or take the car ferry over to Canada. A plus is that we’d be able to drive, which will help keep the cost of the trip more reasonable.

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London, England. We asked the kids where they’d like to visit this summer and Weston was quick to say London. He has been wanting to go for years and to be honest, the rest of us want to go as well. Unfortunately, it just isn’t in the budget for the four of us to go to London this year. Sorry kiddo!

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Disney World. Violet’s contribution to the conversation was Disney World. While we had an absolutely fantastic three days at Disneyland last spring, Clay and I have no desire to go to Disney World during the summer months. There is something about being in Orlando in July that sounds utterly unappealing. Therefore, Disney World will not be happening this summer. Sorry baby girl!

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St. Thomas and St. John. When Clay and I spent a week in the USVI a few years ago, we left the kids with my parents. We’ve been wanting to go back with the kids and I love the idea of putting money back into the economy after the destruction that Hurricanes Irma and Maria left in their wakes. I’ve been following updates about the progress of the repair and restorations on the islands and time will tell if this is the year that we go back with the kids.

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Nova Scotia, Canada. The CAT runs from Portland, Maine to Nova Scotia in 5.5 hours so we could spend the day in one of our favorite New England cities before setting sail. Clay and I have always wanted to travel to Nova Scotia by sea and perhaps this is the summer to do it! We could also hit up Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. Once in Nova Scotia, we could spend our days whale watching, hiking in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, kayaking in the North River, catching lobsters, and more.

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Colorado. Even though we haven’t spent a ton of time in Colorado, every time we visit, Clay and I leave feeling like we belong there. It’s far too early for us to think about where we want to settle post-Army life (we change our minds way too much) and the thought of putting down roots somewhere is absolutely terrifying. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up in the mountains of Colorado. Perhaps we should vacation there this summer. Boulder? Breckenridge? Ouray? Estes Park? The possibilities feel endless when it comes to vacationing in Colorado.

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British Columbia. Sigh. Have I ever mentioned how much I love Canada? Clay and I spent a lot of time there during our Fort Drum days and we’ve been wanting to visit British Columbia every since. We could spend time in Vancouver and then head to the mountains. The Canadian Rockies are consistently on Most Beautiful Places in the World lists – maybe this will be the summer we finally get to experience their grandeur in person.

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Where are you going this summer?  Please share so we can all travel vicariously through your adventures! Are you celebrating National Plan for Vacation Day? While I think we do a fairly good job at vacationing on a budget, I am always open to tips and tricks of the trade so feel free to pass them along.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if the kids have a school holiday when Clay is TDY or deployed, we’re happiest taking advantage of the break and getting out of town if our schedule allows.  So when I realized that the kids has off Friday and Monday and Clay was going to be TDY, I made plans to visit my sister, Megan, outside of Philadelphia. We brainstormed outings and when we learned that the Herrs Factory did not give tours on Saturdays (boo!), Megan suggested Amish County and came across Old Windmill Farm after a simple Google search. My sister communicated with Jesse, the owner of the farm, via email to coordinate our visit so when we arrived at 1:00pm, he was waiting and ready to give us a tour of his family’s working farm.

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Lancaster County is known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The rolling hills are peppered with horse and buggies and non-electric working farms. The Pennsylvania Amish of Lancaster County are the oldest Amish settlement in America and the area is known as a destination for visitors wanting to step back in time and experience a slower pace of life.

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Seeing as how it is January, the landscape wasn’t as lush as it may be for those who tour the farm during the other three seasons, but we still throughly enjoyed our visit learning more about the Amish way of life.

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Daisy, a pygmy goat, followed us around for the duration of the tour, much the delight (and terror!) of the kids.

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Jesse was the perfect tour guide, maintaining a low-key presence and answering all of the questions we had about his farm. The amount of work that goes into maintaining the land and his family’s way of life is astonishing and the tour gave us real appreciation for their dedication and astonishing work-ethic.

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We held roosters.

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We milked cows.

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We held 10-day old piglets.

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We collected eggs.

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We visit turkeys.

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And we chilled with some horses.

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This farm is totally worth a visit and after experiencing it ourselves, it is obvious why it is so highly rated on Trip Advisor and Yelp. Whether you’re local, driving through, or visiting Amish Country, be sure to check out Old Windmill Farm. It’s a great family-friendly activity that gives you a glimpse into the Amish way of life. And you may leave wanting a pygmy goat. Like me.

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We often joke that we know a lot about the home buying process and very little about selling a home. Since that cold evening thirteen years ago, when we publicly declared ’till death do us part in front of our family and friends, we’ve shared ten addresses together (I’d like to offer my apologies now to said family and friends who constantly have to update their address books on our behalf). Of our homes over the years, the majority we have rented, one was on post, and two were homes that we own. And still own to this day. Because life sure is a lot more fun with two mortgages <insert eye-rolling emoji>

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We bought our first home in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina when Clay ETS’ed from the Army when we were in our mid-20s. This house is what we thought we wanted – a suburban life in a new construction house with four bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms. We lived in an apartment during our time at Fort Drum, New York and logged many House Hunters hours. We knew what we wanted. At least, we thought we did. Our Raleigh home is a lovely house but we quickly learned that we wanted something different out of life than what we were experiencing at that point in time in Raleigh.

Long story short (and boy – is it a doozy of a story!), Clay became active again soon after we bought this home. Clay deployed to Afghanistan for a year shortly after our son was born and when he returned, it was time to move again. While we didn’t purchase this home at the top of the market, the odds weren’t in our favor when it came time to sell it. We put it on the market briefly but when people began to ask if it was available for rent, we crunched some numbers, and quickly realized that it made better financial sense to put this home on the rental market.

And here we are seven years later with no plans to sell because it has become a great investment over the years. It helps that we have a fantastic property manager and the Raleigh market is booming once again. It is doubtful that we will ever call this house home again, but it will likely be a part of our lives for quite some time.

Oklahoma House

We also own a home in Lawton, Oklahoma. We didn’t love our time in Oklahoma, but we absolutely love this house. It was built in 1983 and is on a large corner lot with trees, which are a precious commodity in southwest Oklahoma. We love ranch homes and the floor plan is everything we want in a house – it isn’t large by any means but at 2000 square feet, it is more than enough room for us. We had only lived in it for 8 (!) months until we were given surprise orders to Washington, DC, so it was in our best interest to rent it out when we left. Additionally, when we were looking to buy a home in Lawton, we did so with the idea that it would eventually become a rental property so we looked for certain features. We just didn’t think it would be so soon after buying the house!

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The backyard even has the most adorable playhouse, which makes this place perfect for young family. Sigh – I really do love this house. Our experience with being landlords to this house hasn’t been as positive as our Raleigh house (older home = more things need attention) but we are not losing money on it, so we can’t really complain. We’d like to sell this house in the near future because we’d like to eventually buy another investment property elsewhere and we’re just not comfortable owning three homes at this point in our lives. Unfortunately, we’re not that baller. Like at all.

When people discover that we own multiple properties (neither of which we actually live in), we are often met with a handful of questions regarding our situation, such as…

Did you use a VA loan to purchase both houses? No. We used a conventional loan for our Raleigh house and paid points to knock the interest rate down. We had the money for a sizable down payment and we could get a better rate with a conventional loan. We did use a VA loan for our Lawton house because we purchased it when rates were extremely low and the rate the VA offered was competitive with the conventional loan market. However, we do not have near as much equity in the Lawton house and looking back, I wished we put more down initially. But alas – shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Do you plan on living in either house again? Short answer? No. Long answer? I’ve learned over the years to never say never. However, both homes are in locations that we would never choose to live again ourselves but who knows what Uncle Sam has in store for us down the line.

Why don’t you sell your Raleigh house since the market is booming again there? Our mortgage is low, we are able to charge a nice amount for rent, and years ago we refinanced to a lower-year mortgage so the house will paid off well before we hit our golden years. In the future, we may revaluate but as of right now, we’re happy keeping it as a rental.

Are you going to sell the Lawton house? Eventually. The market is more volatile there so we are considering our options. Ideally, we’d like at least a week or two to spend there between the tenant moving out and putting it on the market. There are some projects we didn’t get around to before leaving that we’d like to do before making the listing live. If you know of a great Lawton real estate agent that is willing to explore some options, let me know!

What sort of issues have you dealt with over the years? Thankfully, nothing major. We’ve had plumbing issues, fence replacements, air conditioner repairs, furnace repairs, painting that need to be done as well as re-staining of the deck, an oven door fell off and shattered, an over-the-range microwave exploded, and little small jobs that a handyman addressed. Some years are better than others and there are many months where we don’t clear a profit due to maintenance issues. But that is all part of the home ownership game.

Will you buy a home where you PCS next? No. It is very unlikely that we will buy a home (instead of renting or living on post) as long as Clay is active duty for the simple fact that we won’t live in a place for more than 1-2 years from here on out. Some military paths offer more stability in one place but that is not in our cards, which we are totally okay with…because if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be doing this whole military thing and would likely be living in one of our two homes! Ha.

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Wichita Wildlife Refuge – Lawton, Oklahoma

Who else out there consider themselves to be accidental landlords? We didn’t plan on this when beginning our home-buying journey as young twenty-somethings but like most things in life – it’s best to keep an open-mind and see where the road takes you. After all, I never would have thought I’d live among buffalo and longhorn steers in the prairie, let alone own a house there. We’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way and I’m not going to lie – sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming to have such a large chuck of our assets tied up in real estate. But what in life is worth doing without at least a little bit of risk? Now if you excuse me, I have to answer an email that just arrived from one of our property managers (not even kidding!).

Last Sunday I found myself cheering for the Jacksonville Jaguars over the New England Patriots – not because they’re my favorite expansion team nor because of #deflategate. I was emotionally invested in a Jacksonville win solely because of Jason Mendoza.

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The Good Place is the best and most clever comedy on television right now. Hands down. Additionally, the show is literally filling the Parks and Recreation-sized void within me by featuring insanely smart writing, thought-provoking philosophical questions, and some of the best visual humor on television. Not to mention the seemingly limitless supply of food puns.

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Currently in it’s second season, the best way to describe The Good Place without revealing major spoilers is that is a sitcom about the afterlife – specifically about the adventures of the four characters below. Ted Danson is absolutely hilarious, Kristen Bell as adorkable as always, and D’Arcy Carden as Bad Janet is everything I don’t want my daughter to become. Like most Michael Shur comedies, there are astute observations about the irritating nuances of existence and no shortage of pop-culture references. And yes, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback, Blake Bortles, is heavily referenced. BORTLES!

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My love for The Good Place leads me to excitedly talk about it whenever I’m asked about what I am currently watching. I’m not a fan of the traditional comedies currently on television (e.g. Big Bang Theory, Modern Family) so I’m thrilled that The Good Place continues to gain a following. Everything about the show is well executed and every episode seems to feature at least one shocking admission or mind-bending twist.

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So if you’re not watching The Good Place, you’re missing out. It is absolutely crucial that you start at the beginning, rather than jump right in with the current season. Netflix and Hulu both currently have the first season available for streaming. Embrace the weirdness of the pilot and stick with it. It pays off, I promise. So grab yourself an Arkansas bagel, some frozen yogurt, and watch The Good Place. You may even end up with your own Derek!

In the hours leading up to the government shutdown, the majority of the 24-hour news outlets had some variation of a ‘Shutdown Countdown’. It was impossible not to draw references from the countdown we experienced just a few weeks prior. Except this time, non-New Yorkers didn’t fill the streets of Times Square, Anderson Cooper reported from the comfort of a studio, and King Julien’s didn’t have a kid-friendly version of the countdown on Netflix. This countdown was different. This countdown was personal.

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Government shutdowns are nothing new. It seems like every fall, the threat of a shutdown looms. Our congressional leaders’ inability to pass a budget is up there with pumpkin-spiced lattes, crunchy leaves, and North Face fleece jackets as a sign that harvest season is upon our nation. The legislative branch of government might as well lean in and wear leggings, flannels, and Uggs as they cater to their special interests while publicly declaring their tireless crusade for justice and liberty for all.

My husband arrived home from TDY overseas last Thursday and received word that his TDY the following morning was postponed due to the impending shutdown. The kids (and myself) were thrilled to have him home for the weekend but we knew it came with a price. Non-essential government workers are furloughed and essential personnel will continue to serve this country without pay. As of this morning, Congress has yet to reapprove the 2013 bill that allows military members to receive paychecks during the shutdown – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell objected the motion brought forth by Senator Claire McCaskill in the early morning hours on Friday by stating “My hope is that we can restore funding for the entire government before this becomes necessary. I’m going to object for tonight but we’ll discuss again tomorrow.” According to news outlets, it was not discussed the following day (it is noted that as I write this post, this topic is being discussed on the Senate floor).

We’re currently teaching our eight-year-old-son the game of chess. For whatever reason, he has trouble remembering that while pawns can move in a forward direction, they can only capture diagonally. He is constantly questioning why the pawns aren’t offered the same advantages as the knights or the rooks. And we’re forced to answer, “That’s just the way it is. That’s the way the game is played.” And the fact that we have to respond the same way when he asks “Why do you still have to wear your uniform and go to work, Daddy?” is absolutely infuritating. He hasn’t made the connection that military members are being used as pawns but I’m sure he will in due time – he’s a smart kid.

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There are about 1,292,000 million active duty members of the military (about 800,000 serve in the seven different reserve components) who reported to work this morning despite the shutdown. The roughly 0.4 percent of our population who swore to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, will continue to do so even though without the assurance that they’ll be able to support themselves and their families. Right now, there are Americans on dangerous missions – some known, some unknown – risking their lives and upholding their oath. It shouldn’t be too much to ask the government to uphold their end of the bargain. The families of the two soldiers killed in the Apache helicopter crash on Saturday morning will not receive the death benefit entitlement until Congress passes a bill to appropriate such funds. Why is this acceptable?

Military members are no strangers to being used as pawns in the legislative process. In fact, last time we were stationed here in the nation’s capital, there was a shutdown. But that doesn’t mean we need to accept it. The majority of Americans voice support for the military – they’ll applause when uniformed members unveil the flag during a sporting event and they’ll shake the hand of a returning vet and thank them for their service – but does that really count? But I can’t help wonder how many of the fans who cheered the loudest during the pre-game ceremonies at Gillette Stadium and Lincoln Financial Field yesterday are contacting their legislative representatives today and demanding action on behalf of the military and behalf of our broken nation.

This morning, my husband laced up his boots, kissed me goodbye, and left for work before sunrise. He is going to continue to do his job, despite Congress not being able to do theirs.