Friday, March 29, 2013

Arizona Adventures Part 2!

Happy Friday!

It's the last Friday of March, so I've decided that I'm going to share my last trip to Arizona!  It was also the last time I saw my soldier before we got married (lots of lasts!).  I flew out of NYC after work Wednesday night and landed midnight at Phoenix on Thanksgiving day.  We stayed the night at a hotel close to the airport, so we can easily wake-up early to drive south to Sierra Vista, where Fort Huachuca is located.  We decided to have our Thanksgiving dinner at the dining facility with other families.  They had a special spread for soldiers and their families for only about 8 bucks.  I'm a bit bummed because I didn't take any pictures of the food displays.  I was obviously focused on eating as much food as possible!

The next day, we decided to hike through Ramsey Canyon Preserve again.  We briefly hiked through the trails when my soldier and I PCSed to Arizona.  The area was closing and we only had a half an hour to look around - not really much time to absorb all the beautiful sights.  This time, we spent hours going through all the trails and even decided to hike up the summit!  The summit we hiked is called Miller Peak, the highest peak in the Huachuca Mountains.  We climbed up as much as we could before we got too tired because we realized we needed to save our energy for the way down too.  It was actually difficult to go down!  All the pictures I have from the hike definitely doesn't give the scenery justice.  The area is gorgeous and the mountains were so lush and vivid!

My husband planned a trip out to Tombstone the following day.  The city is only 20 miles away from Sierra Vista, which makes it an easy drive.  As we were driving, I saw a tumbleweed, so...

 ...I made my husband stop and I took a picture.  I don't see those very often, especially driving down a residential area!  :-)  When we arrived at Tombstone, it was like a blast from the past.  The town kept true to their "western" roots and the locals even dressed the part!  There were horses "parked" at the sides of the street as if their rider is in one of the nearby saloons.

Despite Arizona taking away my husband because of training, I was able to have a good time with him.  It gave me an opportunity to experience new things that I wouldn't have had the chance to do otherwise - and it made it extra special because I was with my husband.  Of course, at the time, we were just engaged!  :-)  A lot has happened since my last time in Arizona!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

TroopSwap Guest Blog Post: Smart Ways to Utilize Your Tax Refund

If you've got a refund coming your way, April is looking mighty fine despite this lingering winter weather. But with today's economy, being smart about that check is more important than ever. At TroopSwap and Troop ID, our sales force is composed of proud military spouses and veterans sourcing military discounts all around the country. We asked proud Navy Spouse, financial whiz, and TroopSwap's National Sales manager Caitlin Horn to share the best ways to use your refund to lasting effect.

First, we've got to ask, is a refund really a good thing? In a word, no. That fat check from Uncle Sam may seem like free money, but it's really your money that you've over-paid to the government during the past year. If you received more than $1,000 back, it may be a good time to revisit your W4 to see if you can adjust your withholding. While it's nice to get a check in April, what you're really doing is giving the government an interest-free loan all year long. A bank or government agency wouldn't give you an interest-free loan, so why should you extend that generous act to the IRS?

But let's say that this year, you do have a big tax refund coming your way. How should you spend the cash? Here are 5 smart ways to utilize your refund:

1. If You Have Debt, Pay it Down!

Paying down debt may not be the most exciting way to use your tax refund, but if you've got high-interest loans it's the smartest. With today's incredibly low return rates on investments, the most financially savvy thing you can do is to get debt-free—especially when it comes to credit cards, which often carry APRs as high as 15%. If you don't have credit card debt, look to your mortgage loan. Making an extra mortgage payment can help shorten your payback time and save you both principal and interest. By making just one additional payment on a 30 year mortgage each year, you can have the mortgage paid off in about 17 years and save thousands of dollars in interest over that time.

2. If You Don't Have Debt, Check Out Savings Plans 

Members of the military have some great options for saving for retirement. Contribute your refund Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), a traditional 401(k), or IRA/Roth IRA. Make sure to check if to see if your employer provides 401 (k) matching for these kinds of accounts to boost your retirement funds. If you qualify for the Savers Credit, you can make a $2,000 IRA contribution (if filing jointly), get a $1,000 additional tax refund and save an additional $300 or so on your 2013 taxes. By contributing $2,000 to an IRA, you could receive $1,300 in tax refunds! Dollar-for-dollar, this is the most valuable financial move for those who qualify.

3. If You're Maxed Out on Saving, Invest...In Yourself!

Retirement accounts and TSP accounts have maximum amounts that you can contribute each year. So if you're all set with savings in 2013, turn your tax return into an investment in a sure-fire winner: you! Have you been wanting to take a class to expand your marketability? Now's the time to do it! Add to your education or job skills to take your career and earning potential to the next level. Sign up for a college or graduate class in your field. Attend an industry conference and get in some good networking. Even taking a non-work related class like painting or photography can expand your thinking and brighten your mood. Another way to invest in yourself is to focus on health. After all, your health is your greatest asset. Use your tax refund to invest in a gym or yoga studio membership, a personal trainer, or some great new workout gear from Under Armour (at a 10% discount with Troop ID!). Investing in yourself is sure to pay returns in happiness and well being, making 2013 your best year yet.

4. Invest in Your Kids

If you have children, help prepare for their future with a 529 college savings account. You’ll be able to use the money tax-free for college bills, and you could get a state income-tax deduction for your contribution.There are two types of 529 plans: pre-paid tuition plans and college savings plans. All fifty states and the District of Columbia sponsor at least one type of 529 plan. Pre-paid tuition plans allow college savers to purchase units or credits at participating colleges and universities for future tuition and, in some cases, room and board. Most prepaid tuition plans are sponsored by state governments and have residency requirements. College savings plans allow parents to establish an account for a student to cover eligible college expenses. An account holder may typically choose among several investment options, which the college savings plan invests on behalf of the account holder. Investment options often include stock mutual funds, bond mutual funds, and money market funds, as well as, age-based portfolios that automatically shift toward more conservative investments as the beneficiary gets closer to college age.

5. Plan a Splurge! 

OK, you've paid down your credit card bills, invested in your retirement, and now you want to treat yourself to something special. Opt for splurges that will create memories with friends and families, not just things. While a new purse is always welcome, the memories you'll carry with you from a great vacation are a lot longer lasting. Check out military discounts on getaways at TroopSwap for some ideas to get you started.

Caitlin Horn is a proud Navy Spouse who serves as the National Sales Manager for Caitlin earned her B.S. in Accounting from the College of Charleston, and prior to joining TroopSwap, checked the books at Deloitte & Touche, LLP where she specialized in Audit and Enterprise Risk Services.

About TroopSwap and Troop ID: Founded by two Army Rangers, our team is dedicated to working with reputable, military-friendly businesses to bring special deals and everyday discounts to verified active service members, veterans, and their families. TroopSwap provides hand-selected daily deals and military discounts for businesses near you. Troop ID is the first technology platform that verifies military or veteran status online, enabling top brands to securely deliver benefits and discounts to the military community through e-commerce. Troop ID’s Single Sign On allows members of the military community to access discounts, veteran skill training vouchers, and government benefits safely and securely online.


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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Soldier and I featured at "A Military Story"

I'm so honored that my story is featured at A Military Story!

A Military Story is a very special blog that focuses on the stories of military members and their loved ones.  From couples engagement photos to homecoming ceremonies, this blog covers it all!  Not only does it highlight inspiring and adorable photography, it also provides information for couples.  It's a great resource if you're hoping to get ideas, etc. for military-related photography!

I actually came across this blog as I was doing research for my formal wedding.  My soldier and I hope to incorporate some military traditions to our ceremony.  Anyway, I noticed that the blog also featured other subjects and thought that we would be a good fit.  One of my best friends acted as our photographer at our civil ceremony (can't ever thank you enough Steph!).  We also managed to take photographs around town while my hubby donned his uniform!

Here is my husband and I's fabulous post!

Thank you Layla for sharing my special day with your readers!  I'm very much looking forward to my formal wedding when my soldier returns in 2014 - and to hopefully share that day with you too!!

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Tuition Assistance is Back for Military Members

It's funny how things work out.  I originally wrote a piece for MilPages that encouraged military family members to sign a couple of petitions floating around the Internet to reinstate tuition assistance.  One petition is on the official government petition site called "We the People" and another is on  To me, this is awesome because now we immediate (and easy to access!) ways to voice our opinion, especially on the topics that are important to us.  My argument was that is we sign the petition and stress the importance of certain programs, it would motivate government officials to see how we feel. 

As I was waiting for my story to run on the site, breaking news happened - the tuition assistance program was voted to be saved by Congress!  It was the best news of the week!  I thought about the piece I wrote and decided to rework it.  Of course, what I wrote the first time around is now a moot point!

It's reassuring to know that our voice is heard.  The senators that lobbied for the program recognized how critical it is and worked within Congress to make a difference.

Read more about it on MilPages!

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

My Love Letter to My Husband

It's been a bit difficult lately because my husband got a detail that took him to the field for the next couple of weeks. We were trying to shoot for his leave to be in June, which is about in the middle of his tour, but we're sort of at a standstill. The more time passes, the odds of things getting approved on time goes down. What makes things worse is that we have to coordinate with my schedule too! I can't just leave the office whenever I like. We may have an important event or there might be a particular time frame that is critical for a client. I think that's the most challenging thing out of all this. We're trying to arrange something convenient for both of us.  You can only imagine what this stress is doing to my type-a personality...AHHH!

Hopefully, when his training ends we can really get down to business about his leave. I sure as hell still want to plan a cruise and it WILL happen if I have anything to do with it.

I was cleaning out my Google drive when I came across the love letter I wrote my soldier when we were in our marriage preparation class. As cheesy as this may sound, our three month wedding anniversary is tomorrow (can't help it, we're still newlyweds!).

Anyway, I wanted to share the letter I wrote to my husband on October 4, 2012. Hopefully my husband will read this where ever he is now and remember I'm not always a crazy wife.  :-)

To my dearest, 

You are amazing. 

My whole life, I’ve been taught to be independent and that’s a trait I take pride in myself. In my past, boys would come and go - and I wouldn’t be phased by it. Nobody that came my way accepted me for me - (and impressed me too!). But then, you came along and took me "as is." I can be myself and and are not threatened by my determined spirit. 

Your mysterious personality caught my attention and I learn something new from you constantly. I’ve also learned that you compliment me. We balance each other and provide support in any way possible. Now, I can’t see my life without you in it. You have completed a part of me that is beyond words to explain. I always thought I had it all, but you proved me wrong. There was something more out there - and that’s your unconditional love. I can trust you with anything and everything. We share a connection that surpasses friendship. 

When we are together, it is the most comforting feeling I’ve ever experienced. And when we are apart, I think of you fondly and look forward to being in your arms again. I may have some difficulty with distance or time a part, but no matter how much my heart aches when you are not grows a hundred times bigger when I see you next. I will wait for you always - having your love means more to me than distance. 

Please know that I am yours forever and look forward to growing old with you. You’ve made me feel so special that you chose me to spend the rest of your life with - and you have me wholeheartedly today and every day of forever. I’m proud to call you mine and hope you feel the same way. It has been such an incredible journey so far and can’t wait for what the world has in store for us - my partner in life, my love for eternity. Thank you for showing me what love is capable of doing and giving me the opportunity to love you back. 

Yours in this world and the next, 
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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Mesothelioma Combat Guide for Veterans

Last week, I received an email from Emily, the Community Outreach Director at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.  She shared with me some interesting news that I thought is worth passing along to the milspouse community.  I didn't realize that mesothelioma affected so many military members - about 30% of all mesothelioma cases are veterans!

The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance provides a wealth of information for everyone to learn more about the risk of asbestos exposure.  They've recently put together special guide for the veteran community.  "The Mesothelioma Combat Guide for Veterans" is now available online.  The combat guide actually outlines the risks by each branch of service and what your next steps should be when you think you've been exposed.  Please check it out and share with your loved one.

Thanks Emily for bringing to my attention the importance of knowing more about this hidden danger for our military members.  It's critical to detect mesothelioma early, so if you believe you've been exposed, contact a veteran treatment center asap!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Blog Facelift Courtesy of Jane Whitney Designs

I'm SO excited that my new blog design went live tonight!  I can't thank Jane from Jane Whitney Designs enough for her fabulous work.  Check out her awesome stuff here.

She also blogs at Taingamala, so stop by her blog to see her work in action too!

I felt like we were in tune with the development of the design.  Jane listened very carefully with my comments and was able to make my vision a reality with minimal instructions.  When I had comments, she made her modifications in a very timely manner!  It was such a pleasure to work with her!

Thanks so much Jane!  I'm a very happy customer - and would recommend your work to other bloggers that are in the market for a blog facelift!  You are the BEST!

I have a confession...

...I've been watching Army Wives for the last couple hours - and I think I'm addicted.

It's been a lazy Sunday for me.  I was very productive in the morning.  I went to Zumba toning class with a friend and had a nice brunch.  Afterwards, I came back home, put my pajamas on after a nice warm shower.  Once I got real comfy and had Netflix playing, I thought I would watch the first episode of Army Wives.  Season One is on Netflix and I've been seeing a lot of stuff floating around the Internet about the start of Season Seven, so I thought it would be good to see what all the fuss is about.

Before I became an Army wife myself, I was an Air Force brat.  I'm very familiar with military lifestyle and even with that, I was never interested in watching the show.  I always thought it would be an over the top dramatization of military life.  Now that I'm following a lot of Army spouse-related sites and blogs, I'm hearing all about the all-new season.  I figured I should at least watch the first-ever episode.

Well, four episodes in, I think I'm officially hooked.  It will be awhile till I catch up to season seven, but now I feel compelled to watch! 

The show does tend to highlight a lot of the really dramatic components, but there are a lot of relatable elements - and that's what I think is drawing me in!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

St. Patrick's Day is officially tomorrow, but the big New York City parade was this morning.  It's usually on March 17th, unless it falls on a Sunday, then it is scheduled the Saturday before.  Anyway, I'm a big fan of St. Patty's Day!  I'm actually a portion Irish, although, you would never tell.  My mother is Filipino and my father is mostly Italian, so those genes totally dominated over any Irish traits.  It's okay though because I live out my Irish-ness.  I love Guinness and I enjoy drunk a little bit of whiskey every once in a while. 

I was able to drag out a friend of mine to see the parade.  It's always fallen during the work week, so I've had to miss it - and last year, when it did fall on a Saturday, I went to visit my husband upstate instead.  This year, I made sure I went!  At the start of the parade, they had a whole contingent of military members.  I was very excited to see people in uniform.  We were also able to see lots of NYPD and FDNY march.

My friend and I stayed at 59th and Fifth Avenue.  The Plaza is caddy cornered to our location and you'll actually see the building in all of my pictures.  It was a very cold morning and it actually began to snow as we were watching the parade.  We couldn't even last very long and left after we saw the big group of FDNY.
 The start of the parade!
 Soldiers take the lead!
The Army band.

 The horses wore knitted bonnets!
 The FDNY pipe band.

NYPD group!

More FDNY!

My awesome friend, Carmen and I shivering, but enjoying the parade!

Here's an Irish blessing from me to you:

May love and laughter light your days, 
and warm your heart and home. 
May good and faithful friends be yours, 
wherever you may roam. 
May peace and plenty bless your world 
with joy that long endures. 
May all life's passing seasons 
bring the best to you and yours!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon (AZ Trip 1!)

My husband and I made the best of it during his TDY in Arizona.  We wanted to spend our time together exploring and taking in as much as we could from what Arizona had to offer.  I haven't spent a lot of time in the state (just passing through and I went to Phoenix before when I was much younger), so we had HUGE plans. We managed to schedule in two trips for me to fly down.  The first long weekend that I was able to visit was Columbus Day.

We focused our time exploring Northern Arizona during this time around.  I flew into Phoenix late Friday night.  Early morning on Saturday, we drove north towards Flagstaff.  Our first stop was Montezuma Castle National Park, located in Camp Verde, AZ.  The park was just a 30 minute drive from our next stop at the Verde Canyon Railroad at Clarkdale, AZ.

Montezuma Castle was fascinating. It's a cave dwelling that is elevated from the ground and practically chiseled in the rock.  The term Montezuma Castle is actually incorrectly named because Montezuma had nothing to do with the particular tribe that lived in the area.  When it was first discovered, that was the name it was given and it just stuck.  It was actually created by the Sinagua people and they lived in the vicinity for over 300 years.  From what I learned, we actually don't even know what happened to the people, they just seemed to disappear. 

What boggles my mind is that they managed to live elevated off the ground like that for so long!  It's incredible to even chisel a home out of rock and to top it off, live in a dwelling with lots of other people!

After checking out the welcome center at Montezuma Castle, we were ready to continue on to our train ride through Verde Canyon with the Verde Canyon Railroad.  It was pretty cool timing because it happened to be "Octoberfest: Ales on Rails" when we went.  Before the scheduled train departure, they had a bunch of booths set up with locally brewed beers.  It was the perfect opportunity for us to tryout some local drinks.

The trains had open air canopy cars and fully covered traditional train cars for the passengers to enjoy the sights, you can either stay inside or go outside.  My husband and I pretty much stayed in the open air car the whole time.  It was awesome to be on a train that allowed you to get the full-on sensory experience as you're riding along.  We were able to see some truly amazing sights on the train ride.  It's a great way to get to see parts of the canyon that you wouldn't otherwise get to see in a car.

We continued our drive north and settled in Flagstaff for the evening.  We had to rest up because we had another exciting day ahead of us!  The next day, we got our day started early and kept driving north to the Grand Canyon!  My husband and I have never been before this trip and we were both utterly excited.  Before settling in for the night in Flagstaff, we went to the store and stocked up on water and granola bars for our hike through the Grand Canyon National Park.

Once we got there, I could hardly contain my excitement.  It was breathtaking to finally see it in person!  What was also surprising is how many foreigners that have traveled from all over the world to see it too!  I felt like never left New York City hearing countless different languages spoken around me.  Really, I believe that everyone should take the time to visit this unbelievable place.  It's an incredible natural wonder of the world and it's right in here in America! 

Being able to experience everything that my husband and I did on this trip just made up for the fact the Army separated us for four months.  I wouldn't have had an excuse to visit Arizona again and who knows when I would have found the time to go on this awesome adventure!

My second trip to Arizona was during Thanksgiving in 2012 - and I spend most of my time in Southern Arizona in Sierra Vista, AZ where Fort Huachuca is located.  We were able to get a lot of exploring done there too and I'll be sure to share soon!  Till next time....
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