January budget challenge

I'd love to say that I will come up with a challenge for each month but I know better than to do that. However, I'm giving myself a challenge for the month of January: to spend 1/2 of my normal food budget for the month. In a normal month, I budget $400 for our family of 4. That includes any and all paper products, hygiene products, groceries, and eating out. My goal for the month of January is to slash that in half.

To be honest, this might not be much of a challenge, per se, given the amount of leftovers and pantry stocks I currently have on hand. It's the tail-end of the holidays and, as usual, I have plenty of extra food. As I type this, I have a 12-pound turkey roasting in my oven (mind you, it's December 27th...) because we wound up not needing it as part of our holiday meals (good thing it was dirt cheap!). I have a large container of leftover ham sitting in my fridge along with a bunch of other assorted holiday leftovers. In addition to using up some of what I have on hand (I'll post a list below...though it won't be comprehensive because I'm not motivated enough to list EVERYTHING I have in my pantry), I am planning to use Money Saving Mom's menu suggestions in her article, "Is It Possible to Survive on a $30 Per Week Grocery Budget?"

My freezer is pretty well stocked at this point:
- 2 gallon-sized bags of homemade minestrone soup
- 5 slabs of ham (from a free Hormel ham I received when I bought the dirt-cheap turkey)
- 1.5 boxes beef taquitoes
- 1 loaf Rhoades bread dough
- ice cream
- bag of bagels
- turkey sausage (about 6 links)
- 4 small tilapia fillets
- 1# beef cubes for stew
- bag chicken nuggets
- 1 package frozen ravioli
- frozen veggies x 4
- 1/3 of a bag of tater tots
- 1/2 of a bag of curly fries
- meat from the turkey in my oven (coming soon!)
- 1 block cream cheese
- 1/2 cup homemade butter (unsalted)
- 4 juice concentrates
- 1 gallon ziploc of frozen strawberries (bought when they were in season and on sale)

The fridge is pretty full as well:
- leftover ham from Christmas
- 7 eggs
- 3 pie crusts
- 2 pumpkin cheesecakes (we never got around to eating them on Christmas!)
- container of cool whip (for the cheesecakes...)
- milk
- yogurts
- fruit
- salad fixings
- sauces and condiments

And the pantry is doing its best to keep up:
- 1 pkg mini raviolis
- 1 box spaghetti
- egg noodles
- assorted other pastas
- bisquick
- rice (probably 4# worth)
- oatmeal
- 3 cans pumpkin
- 1 pkg Shake & Bake
- 1 box stuffing (yep...didn't eat it either)
- 2 cans chili
- taco shells
- 5 spare boxes cereal (yay coupons and sales!)
- 1 box mac & cheese (don't judge)
- canned fruit
- 4 cans black beans (no idea why...think they were on sale)
- snacks
- PB&J
- condiments, sauces, spices, etc.

*** Whoops! I totally forgot to include the contents of the deli drawer. BIG oversight! Add to the list 2 packages of deli meat (ham, turkey), 10 slices American 'square' cheese, 3 blocks of regular cheese (Colby/Jack, Sharp Cheddar, and Mozz), 0.5# bacon). ***

Like I said, we're pretty well stocked. I didn't list the snacky items we have because a.) there aren't many and b.) what we do have tends to go pretty quickly. I do have a good stockpile of baking goods so I'm going to aim to make the majority of our sweet snacks at home this month. But every once in a while, I get a hankerin' for double-stuffed Oreos that cannot be satisfied by anything else. So there's that.

My plan is to sit down in the next day or so and, using the week's ads from the local grocery stores, map out a menu for the upcoming week. I'm thinking that, for the next week at a minimum, all I'm going to need to buy is:

- 1 bag frozen chicken breasts ($7ish)
- milk (we buy raw from a local dairy) ($8)
- fruit (may not even need any...we still have plenty of apples left over) ($5)
- fresh veggies ($10)
- eggs (from the KSU dairy mart - locally raised, cage free, grass fed!) ($3.50)
- maybe a loaf of bread from the bread outlet store ($1.50)

I may also buy a bag of dry beans and an onion to make homemade refried beans for a meal or three.

I'll post my menu for the upcoming week in the next few days and then post what I spend at the grocery store. Whatever money I have left over at the end of the month will go 1/2 into savings and 1/2 toward a credit card bill. This will also help us lighten our load if and when the time comes to move.

I don't do resolutions but this challenge should be fun. Besides rent and our credit card payments, our food budget is our biggest budgetary expense. I'm looking forward to downsizing it a bit! What about you? What challenges are you looking to tackle as we ring in the new year?


- hfs

Christmas recap

Katy over at the Non-Consumer Advocate asks, "What did you give? What did you get?" as part of her Christmas wrap-up. Seemed like a good way to recap things so I'll see if I can line it out here. (I'm sure I've left things off this list. I'm running off the top of my head which is rarely a good idea.)

- bike repair stand - (paid for using an Amazon.com gift card that I earned by cashing in all of our spare change)
- stocking stuffers

The Girl:
- Legos
- assorted art supplies
- watch
- books
- recurve bow
- Christmas eve jammies
- stocking stuffers

The Boy:
- Legos
- Nerf gun (I knew I had forgotten something!)
- books
- watch
- Christmas eve jammies
- stocking stuffers

My mom:
- homemade apple pumpkin butter
- chocolate covered cherries
- gift card
- Camaro/Bumblebee transformer (in all fairness, she bought this from us several months ago and I just now got around to mailing it to her...I'm a slacker...)

- homemade body scrub
- necklace
- hand-blown glass earrings
- handmade coasters
- Christmas ornament from the local archaeological society
- Macy's gift card
- stocking stuffers

- antique corkscrew
- antique transistor radio
- gift card
- stocking stuffers

Local friends:
- homemade gingersnaps
- homemade body scrubs

The bulk of the kids' gifts came from Amazon.com, thanks to the gift cards I had purchased as part of my budget throughout the year as well as the gift cards I've earned through SwagBucks.com. All told, the only thing that went on a credit card was the recurve bow but I had already 'pre-paid' my credit card to accommodate the charge using money I had set aside as part of my Christmas budget earlier in the year.

As for what I received :
- shotgun
- Sur la Table baker
- mosaic plate from Jerusalem
- SBUX gift card (!)
- beaded bracelet (that matches PERFECTLY with a washer necklace my son made for me the week before Christmas...it's like he and my MIL coordinated)
- two Tupperware colanders (there's a story behind those that is forthcoming)
- glass sea star/paperweight
- mason jar with Hawaii beach sand and shells in water
- a delicious pecan pie
- lots of homemade goodies

All in all, it was a great Christmas though it would have been better had the majority of our family not been scattered all over the country and the world. Such is the lament of a military family.We were blessed this Christmas that MacGyver's parents were able to visit and that both my mom and my brother were able to come for visits throughout the year. I am also grateful that we were able to give our children not only what they needed for the holidays but also some of what they wanted while staying UNDER budget and OFF the credit cards.

More importantly, I am grateful that we had room in our budget to be able to bless others this holiday season and I am grateful that my children get more excited about shopping for others - even people they don't know - than they do making up their wish lists. Our church offers several opportunities to share our blessings with others - via an 'angel tree' of sorts (for a local children's foster care program) and gift baskets (literally, laundry baskets that you can take and fill with household items and holiday goodies) for people in the area that need some help. And we were able to set aside some of our budget to drop in the Salvation Army buckets and to tithe a little extra this holiday season. It's great to see my children really take to heart the joys of giving to others over receiving themselves.

Now it's time to start planning for NEXT Christmas! What did *you* get this year?


- hfs


Double standard much?

It's ok to publish the names and ADDRESSES of gun owners but it's unconstitutional to do the same for registered sex offenders? Good grief do we need to get our priorities straight in this country.


- hfs


Newtown, Connecticut

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world." 
-- Mister Rogers

As a good friend of mine pointed out (though I'm switching this around a bit), as surely as monsters walk among us, so do heroes.

My heart is broken for these families, for Connecticut, and for us all.


- hfs


Sometimes it sucks to be right

Big lies and small lies...but they all prove that my gut instinct was correct.

Obama, Clinton, their foreign policy advisors and the people involved in this agenda intend to start a war that will make Afghanistan and Iraq look like a small police action by comparison. They are going to start a war that will likely grow from a regional war to a global war, or WW III.  Afghanistan ‘imploded’ when attacked, as did Iraq. Syria will not, it will explode. Do the American people understand this?
Until now, everyone has been focused on the ‘little lies.’ The security, the misidentification of the CIA compound, the timeline, and on and on. They want us to focus on the little lies so they can pull off the BIG LIE. The big lie being told is that the U.S. is merely providing minimal support, including humanitarian aid to the Syrians so they can defend themselves from Assad. That’s the big lie that covers up what they are really doing in the region.

Tie it to this news blip and you'll see that it's already headed that direction.

President Barack Obama, in a speech at the National Defense University on Monday, pointedly warned Syrian President Bashar Assad not to use his arsenal.
"Today I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command: The world is watching," Obama said. "The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable."

I hate it when I'm right. Yet another upside to MacGyver getting out of the Army...


- hfs


I just need 5 minutes...

in a room with the President. And this article sums up what I would ask him. Because, Lord knows, the press sure as hell isn't asking the right questions. Actually, they really aren't asking any at all.



- hfs

Budgeting for Christmas

I probably should hold off on posting this until AFTER Christmas when people are starting to line their budget plans out for the following year. But my brain seems to resemble a sieve these days and I'm pretty sure the holes are big enough to drive a Mack truck through them so I'm going to post this here and now before the thought skitters away like that $20 I had in my wallet last week.

Obviously, our budget has been pretty tight these past three years - the uncertainty of MacGyver's work situation has really forced us to cut back on unnecessary spending. We're not *quite* to an austerity budget but we really pared things down and tried our best to focus on what was truly important to us as a family. There's no better place to see that than our Christmas budget. In the past, our budget really wasn't a budget at all. We just kind of bought whatever we felt like buying - slapping it on the credit card and not really worrying about how much we were spending.

We're paying for that now. Dave Ramsey calls it "stupid tax". Yup.

This year, we knew that we really needed to put some limits in place. Not so that we can necessarily save money but so that our children don't have to feel the sting of our tight finances on Christmas Day. I have no problem explaining to them that we will wait for a movie to come out on DVD, rather than see it in the theatre because there are other things to do on any given day other than drop $50 (on TICKETS!) at the movies. But Christmas Day...there's something about Christmas Day and we want to preserve that as much as possible.

Most importantly, we wanted to maintain our tithing and our ability to give gifts to those that are facing tough times. There is nothing better in this life than sharing our abundance. And even in the midst of a tight budget, we are still so abundantly blessed and we feel called to share that with others. Now that our children are older, they grasp the joy and the blessings behind giving to those that would otherwise not have any gifts and I love that we are still able to do that.

Our children really only get 3 gifts from us - that's what Jesus received so that is good enough for our family. There are stocking stuffers and gifts aplenty from extended family and friends so we feel no need to over-indulge our children. That has helped our budget this year. However, our extended family extended significantly with the addition of a niece and a nephew. So we made the decision that gifts for extended family members would be confined to nieces and nephews. I'll probably include a tin of homemade cookies or apple-pumpkin butter or body scrub for the adults in the family but the main gifts will be for the kids.

We will buy for our parents, although none of them have given us anything that resembles a wish list or an idea of their preferences and likes so it's possible that their gifts will contain the words "Hanes" or "Jockey".

We've also decided not to send Christmas cards this year. The postage alone for our list was between $35 and $50, in addition to the cost of the cards, pictures, and/or letter to go along. Besides, in a few months, I'll be sending out 'change of address' cards so we'll count those as Christmas cards. And no real Christmas tree for us this year, either. We'll use our trusty old hand-me-down fakey tree that we bought from friends in Alaska back when MacGyver was a brand new E4, 14 years ago. I may supplement the tree with some cuttings of real trees if I can find some but it's so dry here that I worry about the fire danger. Growing up, I never noticed if our tree was particularly special - I noticed the ornaments. I know no one else cares if my tree is real, fake, pre-lit, or Charlie-Brownish. With the lights on it, it will look beautiful.

As for how we actually budgeted for the holidays this year, my attack was multi-pronged:

1. Amazon gift cards
2. SwagBucks
3. plasma donation
4. spare change
5. budgeted savings

1. Amazon gift cards - Our local grocery store offers fuel points for every dollar you spend at the store. When you buy gift cards, you can earn up to 4x the amount in fuel points. Each month, I budgeted $50 for Christmas and used that to buy gift cards. $50 x 4 = 200 points = $0.20/gallon savings.

2. SwagBucks - For every 450 points I earn on SwagBucks, I can cash in and earn a $5 Amazon gift card. Doesn't sound like much but I earned about $100 this year doing just that! Most of my points these days come from referrals, so feel free to click THIS LINK and join. Basically, you earn points randomly by using their search engine (powered by Google) to search the internet. No cost to join, no commitment. Easy peasy!

3. Plasma donation - This one took me a while. I can't stand needles. And it seemed kind of...skeevy. But I looked into it, read up on what is involved and what the company (CSL) does with the plasma, and decided to check the local CSL out. I was impressed  by how clean and efficient the place was. The phlebotomists and techs are all really nice and I'm usually in and out in under 2 hours. I usually earn $15 - $20 (it's based on weight) and I can't beat getting paid to sit and read! The only side effects I've felt is that I'm usually kind of tired afterward but I'm not sure that's the plasma donation or my insomnia.

4. Spare change - I don't usually spend change. I'll break a $1 bill or a $5 bill before I spend change. Then I come home and dump it in my glass jar (there's something satisfying about that 'clink!'). When that is full, I take it to the local grocery store and dump it into their machine and walk away with my Amazon gift card (no fee if you choose this option!). MacGyver and I started doing this when we were starving college students as a way to afford our anniversary dinner. Yay for good habits! My goal is to get to the point where I'm saving $1 bills too.

5. Budgeted savings - In addition to the money I budget for the Amazon gift cards, I also budgeted directly for Christmas cash savings. When we moved from Hawaii to Kansas, we took advantage of the Army's 'interest-free pay advance'. Basically, you can take an advance on your base pay and then you have 12 months to pay it off (they take it directly out of your paycheck) with zero percent interest. We used that to knock down a small bill that the pay advance would cover. Once the repayment was done, I simply diverted that amount directly into savings each month. I ear-marked it specifically for the holidays - whether it is needed for Christmas gifts, food, giving something like the Angel Tree...it's there and I don't have to tap into another part of our budget if a need arises. Should we get to the end of the holidays and I find I've not spent it all, it will either sit in savings or I'll throw it at the credit card balance (see "Stupid Tax" above).

I just finished up on Amazon.com. I went through eBates to buy on Amazon, earning about 4% of my purchase in cash back. I didn't score any 'killer deals' (there wasn't a single thing advertised for Black Friday this year that made it worth my time to get out of bed at that hour, go out in the cold, and deal with stupid people...) but the prices on Amazon.com beat the prices I'd researched elsewhere (i.e. Lego.com) and the free shipping (yay Amazon Prime!) and cash back via eBates really helped keep me under budget. I still have a few bucks left in my gift card balance so those will hang out until next Christmas or I'll use them to buy school stuff.

This will be the first year since I turned 18 that I will not use my credit card to purchase Christmas gifts. It feels pretty good. It will feel even better when I pay those infernal things off and cut them up. I can't wait to call into Dave Ramsey and scream "FREEDOM!!!".

How did you budget for Christmas? Did you scale back? Or is this year a 'good year' for you? I'm hoping that next year, our budget will be a bit more relaxed. We'll see.


- hfs


A missed opportunity

If you google Lindsey Stone, you'll get a pretty good idea as to who she is and what she did. I'm not going to link to any stories or put up any pictures because her actions at Arlington turn my stomach. They are disrespectful and disheartening. I have friends there. My family has friends there. It is hallowed ground. It represents the sacrifice of the best that this country will ever have to offer. And this woman disrespected it. Publicly.

The picture - taken about a month ago - went viral this week and the reaction from the military community was swift and brutal. The reaction was not just directed at Ms. Stone - it was directed at her employer as well (she was in D.C. on the company dime) and they paid the price for their employee's actions. People called for her to be fired, to be physically assaulted, etc.

Most people who know me would expect that I would support those calling for this woman's head on a platter. Some might even expect me to lead the charge.

I do not.

I find the reaction of the military community to be sad. We blew it. We missed a golden opportunity to show this woman - and the rest of the population who are watching - what we are about; to educate her as to the sacrifices our servicemembers and their families make; and to extend grace in an ugly situation.  And we failed. Instead, we lashed out and launched vitriol at her, her employer, and anyone who didn't call for her head on said platter.

Another friend of mine posted a reaction that made me smile because he gets it:

Update on the disrespectful Arlington Cemetery picture - the woman has made a public apology. Her name is Lindsay Stone. Ms. Stone, I don't know if you will ever see this post from me - but I would like to offer to take you through Arlington National Cemetery myself and tell you some stories about the Heroes buried there. I would also like for you to meet some of the amazing families I have met
 in Section 60. People who come and spend the entire day with their Hero buried there - little kids who have their pictures taken next to their daddy that they never even had a chance to see. I would also like to teach you something that I live by everyday - "Always do the right thing even if you are the only one doing it" and that means doing the right thing when nobody is watching too ma'am. Semper Fi, Luke

Luke gets it.

Instead, the reaction from the military community probably solidified this woman's opinion (as well as those of millions of others) and pretty much guaranteed that she will fall solidly in the 'military hater' camp for a good, long time.

Sad. Just sad.

Someone elsewhere asked what Lex might have to say about it all. I suspect he might have some snark to throw down but I also suspect he'd be just as disappointed in the reaction as I am.


- hfs


Tin foil hat still firmly in place

Victor Davis Hanson gets close but not close enough.

In many ways. First, pre-election, the U.S media had decided that Libya was taboo. Those who dissented were immediately blasted as politicizing a national tragedy or, in Romney’s case, using national disaster as a cheap campaign ploy. The prurient sexual matter inadvertently directed media attention to the CIA director — who also happens to be the most renowned American soldier since Matthew Ridgway — and by extension to Benghazi. The administration’s narrative about the Petraeus resignation, like its Benghazi narrative, simply asks the American people to believe something that they cannot suppose to be true.

Sadly, Mr. Hanson never really goes beyond the surface on this one and never really gets into the meat of the matter. He starts off with the supposition that General Petraeus actually had an affair, thereby skewing the rest of his hypothesis. But you all know my take on that.

A better take on the whole thing comes from Debbie Schlussel - an angle I've not seen addressed anywhere else - that Jill Kelly helped Muslim nations infiltrate CENTCOM. Something about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer? Seems we may have taken that a wee bit too far. The whole story is like an onion - the layers just keep going.

"Kelley, who is part of the soap opera that the Petraeus scandal spawned, was in charge ofhosting parties and social events to push the Islamic agenda of Middle Eastern countries. She was seen by Muslim Mid-East nations, especially Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, as the “go to” woman to push their agenda on top American generals. She was a lobbyist for their cause and, yet, wasn’t required to register as a lobbyist, like all others who host lavish parties for top American officials, like she did, in an attempt to influence U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Kelley, a dhimmi Christian Arab of Lebanese descent, was well known in the Muslim Arab embassies of Washington for doing their bidding and hosting their parties at and near MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, where our nation’s top generals are based. It’s where Central Command–the U.S. Armed Forces’ leadership over wars and military personnel Middle East–is headquartered."

Layers. Going back to Hanson's story, his closing paragraph rings true:

 Where does all this lead?
I think nowhere. Unlike in the cases of Watergate and Iran-Contra, there is no investigative press, given the media’s worry about endangering the second-term agenda of a progressive president. There is no special prosecutor salivating after a government official, as there was with Scooter Libby. “The fog of war” and accusations of “Conspiracy theory!” should be enough to bury the scandal and discredit those who seek the truth. Modifying a CIA analysis for political purposes is probably no crime. Quid pro quos are simply the polite, everyday — and legal — Washington version of blackmail. In the end, the only casualties in this sordid tale were the sterling career of David Petraeus — and four murdered Americans whose deaths were preventable.

Sadly, I think he's right.


- hfs


A few more questions

I've said, time and time again, I'm not particularly smart. And maybe it's naievete on my part to think that the people running entities such as the CIA would know that email communication is not safe from the prying eyes of the Federal government...even if you use the Tom Clancy supersecretsquirrelspy trick of leaving your communication in the draft folder of your 'anonymous' email account for the other person to read.

But really...if *I* know that, wouldn't it stand to reason that the head of the freaking CIA would know that and find...I don't know...some other way to communicate with the woman with whom he was having an affair and divulging state secrets? Because I know *I* would. And I'm not running the CIA.

Ghostery.com put up an article today from MakeUseOf regarding the 3 Most Secure and Encrypted Email Providers. Timely, no? I had heard of one and am making note of the other two, but like the article says, even those won't protect you from a court order. You can take your chances with the 5th Amendment but I hope you have the name of a good lawyer.

But it all comes back to this: if *I* can figure this stuff out, then the man running the CIfreakingA can figure this stuff out. When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Man, I wish I were a fly on the wall in those hearings today.


- hfs

p.s. I'll be updating as more questions come to mind. Feel free to post yours in the comments.


Something's rotten in the state of Denmark

I've held my peace thus far on the Petraeus debacle. However, with the news yesterday of General John Allen facing investigation, I can hold my thoughts no longer. I have my theories as to what is possibly going on but I'll get to that in a moment. 

First, let me say this: I do not believe that General David Petraeus had an affair. Not for a minute. One of the things I have learned in my life is to trust my gut. And my gut is screaming at me that he did not have an affair. The little I know of the man - snippets of information gleaned from people who know him and have known him since his early years in the military and before - paint a picture of a man so focused on his career path that I find it shocking that he's even married. He married the daughter of the superintendent of West Point - HIS college! If that doesn't scream "good for my career", I don't know what does (I'm not speculating on the nature of their marriage nor the motivations behind it). The idea that he would derail his career - what he's worked for all his life - over some starry-eyed fanfic author, twenty years his junior - is about as ludicrous as...well, I can't even come up with something that ludicrous. I just don't see it. And everything I read abouther friends' impressions of Mrs. Broadwell indicates the same. It doesn't fit with their character.

Second, I don't believe in coincidence. There is no such thing. And this...the circumstances surrounding this are so incredibly conveniently coincidental that it reeks. REEKS. Something is definitely rotten in the state of Denmark. 

Instead of swallowing the news story hook, line, and sinker, I like to actually think for myself - something that many of my friends in the milblogosphere and outside of it seem to have failed to do this time around. I am appalled at the fact that so many of my friends - people I've always considered to be smarter than the average bear - have jumped on the "I'm so disappointed in General Petraeus!" bandwagon without so much as a tilt of the head to consider how ridiculously convenient this all is. THINK, PEOPLE! Use your brains for something other than keeping your skulls from caving in! What motivation(s) would the White House have for sidelining General Petraeus? And why now? 


When the news broke late Monday night about General John Allen's involvement in this mess, the scent of smelly rat increased ten-fold. Can you say 'scorched earth policy'? What is the connection between General Allen and General Petraeus? Why go after both of them? What is to be gained and by whom? 

One of the blogs I read on a regular basis, The DiploMad 2.0, is getting closer - and actually using his brain. But I think he's just scratching the surface. Here's my hypothesis:

1. January, 2009 - Newly-installed President Obama issued Executive Order 13491. This EO ensures 'lawful interrogation' and basically does away with detaining prisoners in locations other than Guantanamo Bay or other United States' facilities. Can you say 'extraordinary rendition'? Good. 

2. August 15, 2012 - An emergency meeting is convened by the US Mission in Benghazi and word is sent to Washington that the Mission felt that the Consulate could not adequately protect against a 'coordinated attack'. (Source: Fox News)

** and before anyone jumps on the whole "But it's FoxNews!" whine...shut up. For the most part, they are the ONLY major news outlet to have followed the Benghazi atrocity from the beginning. Had CNN or MSNBC or HuffPo or any other non-FoxNews outlet been on this, I'd use THEM. But they haven't. So I won't. So shut up. **

3. August 16, 2012 - A 'SECRET' cable is sent to the Office of the Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, indicating that the Regional Security Officer does not believe "that the consulate can be defended in the event of a coordinated attack due to limited manpower, security measures, weapons capability, host nation support, and the overall size of the compound." (Source: Fox News) The cable also explained that the mission in Benghazi would be formally requesting additional help (security upgrades and staffing) from the US Embassy in Tripoli.

None was sent. Why?

4. September 11, 2012 - Ambassador Stevens sends a 3-page cable outlining his growing concerns over security issues and his belief that the security forces and Libyan police were too weak to keep the country secure. Weeks after the attack, evidence of Stevens' opinions - sensitive documents and Stevens' own diary were found by the FBI and a Washington Post reporter in the wreckage of the consulate. (Source: NY Times) We still have yet to understand the reason(s) why Ambassador Stevens was IN Benghazi in the first place. Later that night, Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans would die in an attack on the consulate in Benghazi. For one of the most detailed timelines I've seen of the attack in Benghazi, you can go to FactCheck.org and look at theirs. But it all leads you back to the question of WHY? Why did the State Department and the White House ignore the repeated warnings by the US Mission and the Ambassador himself as to the growing threat of attack on the facility in Benghazi? Why was there a growing threat in the first place? What was it that was being held at the Benghazi facility that led so many insurgents to its location? Why, after repeated requests for help of ANY kind, were they given none? And why, in the middle of the attack - that the President and his staff WATCHED while sitting in the Situation Room (there was at least one drone flying over the chaos, streaming video) - did no one lift a single finger to help those people? WHY? What is being hidden? 

5. October 26, 2012 - To answer that question, I direct you to Paula Broadwell's speech at the University of Denver.

Specifically, this:
"Now, I don’t know if a lot of you heard this, but the CIA annex had actually, um, had taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back. So that’s still being vetted.
The challenging thing for General Petraeus is that in his new position, he’s not allowed to communicate with the press. So he’s known all of this — they had correspondence with the CIA station chief in, in Libya. Within 24 hours they kind of knew what was happening." (Source: Washington Post Blog)

So the CIA had taken prisoners in Libya (WHY?) and was holding them at this facility (WHY?). I now direct you back to point #1 - Executive Order 13491. If the President knew that prisoners were being held by CIA staff at a US consulate, he has directly violated his own Executive Order. And if this administration has knowledge of, or is complicit in, the holding of prisoners at CIA facilities in Libya, what OTHER countries does it have knowledge of the same? How MANY times has this President violated his OWN Executive Order?

What wasn't Extremis in Force used? The excuse that we did not have assets in place to respond in a timely matter doesn't hold water. Not when we have these capabilities available in most regions throughout the world. The battle in Benghazi went on for SEVEN HOURS. There's no way a QRF or an Extremis in Force could not be deployed. Why weren't they? What is it that this administration was afraid of exposing? And what is the penalty for a President that violates an Executive Order (does he get the double booby prize if it's his own?)?

I don't usually don a tinfoil hat. It's not my style and I truly believe that most people are not smart enough to engage in a complicated, convoluted cover-up of any kind. We, as human beings, tend toward the easier solutions rather than the complicated ones. Hence, Occam's Razor. But this one? This one STINKS to high heaven. I'm sure Shakespeare agrees. The Petraeus/Allen sideshow is nothing more than a diversion. Sadly, it's working. 


- hfs


Thirty Days of Thankful

Many of my friends on Facebook are into the whole 'Thirty days of thankful' thing (say that ten times fast) and are posting the things in their lives for which they are thankful. And it's all wonderful and sweet and whatnot but I have red hair and I like to be different. A rebel, if you will. So I'm going to skip the typical 30 things for which I am thankful and have some fun with this. The people and things in my life for which I am most thankful (hopefully...if I'm doing things right) receive my thanks more often than just in November. So here's my list - in no particular order...

1. central air and heat - We saw heat indicies as high as 114°F this summer and (supposed) lows of -20°F (maybe that's with a wind chill...), central air and heat are pretty much required in these here parts. Otherwise, I'd move back to Hawaii and MacGyver would be a sad panda.

2. chai - Because coffee is gross but caffeine is nectar from heaven.

3. the internet - It's where all of my friends live!

4. the mechanical skillz of MacGyver - Otherwise, I'd never be able to leave my house and I'd go crazy and kill us all. I drive a 14 year old car with 125K miles on it. It has issues. Actually, it doesn't have issues...it has the entire damn subscription. He just finished replacing the thermostat housing (again) that was leaking coolant and  some other part that was leaking oil and has a new radiator on order because that's toast too. Reverse is being a stinker (a common issue for this make/model of car). She needs a new hood/front left quarter panel and a paint job. She probably will need new tires before the end of 2013. The alignment needs to be adjusted. The bushings on the sway bars need to be replaced, as do the bushings on the driver's side front door. See? Subscription.

5. Heated mattress pads - See #1. Best Christmas present EVAR.

6. Indoor plumbing - See #1 again. Oh, and I smell good. And so does everyone else in this house.

7. My APUSHistory teacher - Because those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Mr. Marshall was one of the best teachers I've ever had the privilege of having and no one who went through that class should find themselves repeating history. He was THAT good.

8. My Government teacher - He taught us to THINK. And he held our attention. And he stood up for what was RIGHT. And he found you a date for prom if you didn't have one. And he gave a damn.

9. My red hair.

10. Pinterest - Better than a cookbook and a craft fair all rolled up in one!

11. Elf on the Shelf - Clyde is our elf and he's a mischevious little bugger. But he's fun and we all really get into it. This year, MacGyver will be home and can help come up with some trouble for Clyde to get into.

12. Amazon - How else would I keep track of what to get everyone for Christmas, what books to read, and the best prices on organic coconut oil? And FREE SHIPPING! And free streaming videos!

13. My smart phone - I don't need a TomTom or a Garmin or a dictionary or a calculator or a phone book or a watch. I have my PHONE! And I can play Scrabble on it so life is good, even when I'm stuck in line at the commissary. And sometimes I WIN.

14. Homeschooling - The school bus rolls past my house about 0715...or so I hear. I've not seen it because, at that hour, I'm STILL ASLEEP.

15. Being FROM SoCal - It's a fantastic place to be FROM. Never want to live there again. I just go back from time to time for my In-N-Out fix.

16. Being from SoCal - Beach, mountains, desert...all within a day's drive. In-N-Out, real Mexican food, food of 79 different cultures, pretty much every shopping experience, outdoor experience, live performance, and activity you can think of...all in one crazy location. Oh, and 115 million of your closest friends. And smog. And crime. And gangs. See #15.

17. Manual transmissions - Because dropping it into 3rd gear to shoot past some moron in the fast lane going 60 is FUN. And I don't have to wait for an automatic tranny to catch up with my thought process.

18. Chocolate - Do I really have to explain this? If I do...you won't get it.

19. Starbucks - because they have chai. See #2.

20. My iPad - Best babysitter money can buy.

21. Melatonin - Because insomnia SUCKS.

22. Fleece - It's like wearing a cloud. And see #1. Again.

23. Dennis Miller - he gives voice to the thoughts in my head. Only he gets paid for it.

24. Team Rubicon - www.teamrubiconusa.org

I cannot watch this video without crying. Which is impressive for a redhead who has no soul. I love TR more than I can express with words. If you have an extra $5 and a few minutes, go donate. Not only are the helping the people on the east coast after Hurricane Sandy, they are helping people like Harry realize that they have SO much still to offer this country and this world.

25. Cereal - It's not just for breakfast.

26. Waffles - Because drinking maple syrup straight from the container is rude.

27. Spaghetti - Who doesn't like spaghetti? And with our crazy schedule on some nights, this has been a LIFESAVER (and budget saver) for us recently.

28. PX brand bandaids - See #4. All of that mechanical work comes with a price. Often, MacGyver will come in from the garage, bleeding. I'll ask, "What did you DO to yourself?" and he will say, "I have no idea." The PX brand Strong Strips are wonderful - tough and they stay on forever (I think I've yanked a few freckles off when trying to take these bandaids off). We buy them in bulk and not being able to buy them anymore is one of the saddest things about MacGvyer's Army career coming to an end. Thankfully, we'll have 2 years of commissary/PX benefits after he gets out.

29. Neosporin with the painkiller stuff - See #28. Also, I have children. And a very low pain tolerance. Hangnails are EVIL!

30. Blogger - Because where else would I be able to put stuff like this up? Blogger has kept me sane for eight YEARS now.

So, for what are YOU thankful? And don't give me some pat, namby-pamby answer.


- hfs


Just Keep Swimming

I've been trying to get my feet under me after this move and I just can't seem to gain any traction. I got hit with a cold during the move (I wouldn't recommend this) and managed to recover enough to not die on our 12th or 13th trip between houses. And I managed to survive getting things either unpacked or stuffed into storage and make the new house at least livable.

And then I managed to come down with a second cold. I usually get one major cold per year - usually when the seasons are changing. It knocks me down, takes my voice, and moves on. This year, I seem to have been caught with a one-two punch. The first cold was icky but not quite as brutal as my colds usually are. I should have known something was up. This second cold is kicking my butt. I sound like I've been smoking since I was 12 and I cough like a coal-miner. Right now, I'm living on a diet of Mucinex, Sudafed, motrin, Vitamin C (along with the other vitamins I usually take), echinacea, and NyQuil at night. I have no appetite even though I am HUNGRY so I am sucking down orange juice like there is no tomorrow. I'm surprised my nose hasn't turned orange.

And, while I'm fighting to get my immune system back on track, MacGyver's busier than a 1-legged man in a butt-kicking contest (he came home at 4pm yesterday and it was shocking to see him home while the sun was up) and the kids' activities (and mine) are still going full-force. No rest for the wicked, it seems. Keeps me out of trouble, I suppose. And, if I'm being honest with myself, I did this TO myself. I'm that mom that gets excited over all of the opportunities at the beginning of the school year. Flag football! Swimming! Archery! Awana! Art classes! FUN! It doesn't dawn on me until later - how am I going to fit all of this into our schedule. I used to do the same thing when I was in college - the classes all sounded like fun. And when I realized I had signed up for 21 credits, I about fell over. But I did it and wound up on the Dean's honor roll that semester so, apparently, I thrive under pressure.

In the midst of all of this, the job hunt continues. We have a few promising leads but nothing solid just yet. I doubt we'll have anything solid until after the holidays. And that is fine. I'm not panicking...yet. Talk to me after the holidays and you might see a different scene.

The school year is chugging along. The Boy is enjoying learning cursive and has moved into 4th grade math (not bad for an 8 year old) and The Girl is starting to really gain traction with fractions (hey! I'm a poet and didn't know it!) and is loving the switch we made for Language. We switched to Total Language Plus and it's literature-based so she's really enjoying it. The Boy is as well since I read aloud to him for the most part. And we are all enjoying science (anatomy) and all of the hands-on stuff that we get to do.

Other than that, life is a big waiting game. Waiting to see how this upcoming election goes (I've held off posting anything political but I have a post forming about Ambassador Stevens' murder in Benghazi). Waiting to see what jobs pan out and where we go next. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Fun times (says the impatient redhead)!


- hfs


John Hancocks

I'm trying to remember how many times we've moved since we've been married. Last time I counted, it was eight times. Eight times that we've changed our address with the USPS since we've been married. If you count the times MacGyver and I have each moved after graduating from high school (including marriage), that number heads up into the 20s.

Twenty times (or more) that he and I have had to change our address with the USPS. More than twenty signatures on more than twenty different change of address forms, and never a problem.

Until now.

We started packing out our old house on 1OCT. I wasn't sure when we'd actually wind up sleeping at the new house so I held off on submitting our change of address form until we were sure. It went in the mail on Thursday, 4OCT and was set to go into effect on Tuesday, 9OCT. Yet we stopped receiving mail on 1OCT. At first, I didn't really think about it until I received a notification that a check that had been mailed to me (yay for consignment sales!) had been returned as 'undeliverable'. And then we found out that MacGyver's absentee ballot had been returned as 'undeliverable' - all before the change of address was even put in the mail.

Originally, I had gone online to do our change of address that way but decided against that as they wanted my credit card for verification of identification and they wanted to charge me $1 for the processing. I balked at that idea - I don't trust the USPS to maintain security of my credit card number AND I see no point in paying $1 when I can walk the change of address form down to my mail box or drop it off at the local post office for FREE.

When I realized that there was an issue with our mail (we're now down 3 checks, 2 absentee ballots, three items I ordered online that have been returned as 'undeliverable' and a bunch of other things I do not know about), I went online and filed a request for an investigation. The woman that called me back was kind but basically told me I have to go into the local post office and talk to the postmaster to sort it out. Gee, thanks. Apparently, there's no way to check this situation out electronically. Guess I should have spent the $1 to do it online.

Then, today, in our mailbox at our NEW location, I get a notice from the USPS that our change of address request has been denied because "it did not bear a legible signature". I'm sorry...a 'legible signature'? Isn't that an oxymoron? Like 'jumbo shrimp' or 'military intelligence'? Who has a 'legible signature'? Isn't that why most places ask that you PRINT your name in addition to signing? And, if they can't accept our change of address request, WHY are we getting this notice in our NEW mailbox? It's not like either of our signatures have changed over the past 20 years. They both pretty much look the same as they did when we were signing our marriage license. These signatures were good enough to be accepted on no fewer than eight change of address requests over the past fifteen years but now they are unacceptable?

I have a feeling this is a tactic being employed by the USPS to force customers to fork over the $1 for the "privilege" of changing an address online. What if we don't have a credit card? Then what?

Needless to say, MacGyver will be in the post office tomorrow, raising a stink. I want to know where my ballot is. I want my checks. And I want to know WHO authorized the cessation of my mail service before I even submitted my change of address request...with the illegible signature.

And the USPS is raising postage rates...lovely.


- hfs



We made it. We survived a full DITY. It all fit...kind of. Mostly.

We're exhausted but glad to be done with that move. Now we have a few months to get things truly organized, boxed up, and ready for the next move. Whenever that may be. To where ever that might be.

We like the new neighborhood. In the first week, a handful of kids showed up at the front door with Nerf guns in hand, wanting to know if The Boy and The Girl could play. Add that to the fact that we are no longer driving 20+ miles each way to our activities every day and you have a happy family. And if you believe the folks around here that say that THIS winter is going to be a mean one...because last winter really wasn't a winter at all. We'll see. All I know is this...if Murphy is still hanging around for the next move, he'll bring lots of snow with him. Because that's how we roll.

In the meantime, MacGyver should have more time to get things organized and ready for this move as he is no longer slotted to take the F-model class. As disappointing as that news was (trust me, foul language was employed on my part), it makes sense from a financial standpoint. No sense in spending the money to train him if he's going to be gone 3 months later. We're looking forward to a work schedule that resembles something a little more normal in the weeks to come and he's planning to use that time to follow up on job leads.

So that's that. We're still here, buried in cardboard boxes. Have I mentioned lately how much I HATE cardboard boxes? Yeah...that.

Still working on tracking down information on the whole involuntary separation pay thing with regard to a full-time National Guard slot...and still accepting leads on CH-47 pilot employment (or any other aviation employment where MacGyver could train up on the airframe). Thanks!


- hfs


Moving with Murphy

DITY ('do it yourself') moves never go smoothly. They just don't. Otherwise EVERYONE would do a DITY move and the moving companies would go out of business. So I knew this move would have its glitches. Apparently, Murphy (as in Murphy's law...) has decided to tag along on this one. Lovely.

First, the good news: we are on schedule. Actually, we might be ahead of schedule but there is all of the minutiae in the rooms that we've packed and loaded so I'm not quite so how far ahead of schedule we actually are. The Boy and The Girl have been great helpers. It's much easier to move with an 11 year old and an 8.5 year old than it is to move with a 5 and 2.5 year old like we did the last time we had this hare-brained idea. And MacGyver's command gave him a pass rather than having him take leave (in addition to the upcoming 4-day holiday weekend) so that saves us beaucoup dinero. And we might have help this coming weekend if there is anything heavy left to move so that's wonderful as well. And the place we are renting has FAR more storage than we were led to believe (we saw a model unit, not the actual unit/floorplan we are moving into) so that has been a godsend.

However, it seems Murphy has decided to tag along on this move. The trailer we planned to borrow from our church (I love our church) was too much for MacGyver's old truck. In addition to the fact that it was uber windy on Monday here, it's too wide and a bit too heavy for his truck to handle safely. Thankfully, our church also has a shorter trailer that we were able to borrow. It means more trips but it's safer so that's good. 

Then, the first day we were packing/loading, a glass jug full of milk decided to fall out of the fridge and shatter all over my kitchen floor. Yikes. Thankfully, MacGyver was not injured, nor was anyone else. We grabbed beach towels to soak up the milk and, without thinking, I tossed them into the washing machine once we had things cleaned up. That shredded the pump on the washing machine. Dangit. We caught the leak early enough to prevent a problem but now my washer is down for the count until we get a new pump and install it. 

And, because moving isn't stressful enough, I have a wicked head cold topped off with a fantastic panic attack last night and I am about tapped out. But we still have 2/3 of a house to move. And I still need to clean before I hand keys over. So Sudafed and ibuprofen are my lifelines right now. And The Girl woke up last night with an upset tummy and we had NO toilet paper in the house (new house...it didn't get packed in that first load). Thankfully, my emergency kit in the car had a roll. Yay for preparedness! She and I are both feeling the effects of a lack of sleep. I think I managed to rack up about 4 but those were in small, dozing bursts. Might need to employ some NyQuil therapy tonight but I hate the hangover it leaves me with in the AM.

Hopefully, as I sit here at swim practice (trying NOT to watch because it's torture to be stuck up here in the stands and not down on deck, coaching) MacGyver is gathering up the last of the minutiae from the rooms we've already packed and loaded (kids', bathrooms, MBR, kitchen, dining room) and we can start on the living room and school area tomorrow. Hopefully. He has to work on Thursday so we'll spend that day cleaning the empty rooms, packing like maniacs, and running stuff to Goodwill in preparation for the final push on Friday/Saturday. 

Right now, it feels like my head is going to explode. I'd pay someone large quantities of money to take a drill and drill holes directly above and below my eye sockets to help relieve this pressure. Or I'll just take more Sudafed...

And we get to do this all again in a few months...yippee skippee...


- hfs



Do you ever find yourself wondering, "Where am I and how in the world did I get here?" That was me today. Standing in the middle of a soggy football field in the middle of the country, watching my son run for a touchdown, I wondered how in the world I wound up here?

When we first moved to Alaska, MacGyver and I would randomly stop and look at each other and remark, "We're in Alaska...!". And when we moved to Hawaii, it was the same way. The shock of both of those moves didn't wear off for a very long time. And some days, it feels like our time in both of those states was a dream. We've been here a year and I still stop and wonder at the fact that we live where we live. I never envisioned this. Then again, I'm not one to envision much of my future. So this shouldn't surprise me, I suppose.

We move in a week. We're moving a little closer to town (hopefully this will ease some of the strain on my gas budget) and into a smaller place (hopefully this, too, will ease some of the strain on my budget) and I am looking forward to it. Less space to keep up after, less space in which to lose people. A lot of our belongings will be packed and will remain packed until we figure out where we go next. No sense in unpacking camping gear if we're going to be gone before it gets warm enough to camp again. Same goes for the fine china, the American Girls dolls, the scuba gear, and so on. Thankfully, our new place has lots of storage so we can just keep it tucked away. Maybe that will appease my minimal(ish)™ tendencies. Maybe. We've culled a lot. Let me rephrase that, *I* have culled a lot. MacGyver has simply unloaded most of what he has 'acquired' since we arrived here. I'm coming to the conclusion that is why he acquires so much stuff...so that, when I go on one of my minimal(ish)™ tears, he isn't forced to truly get rid of anything substantial. Getting rid of the stuff he's acquired recently makes it *look* like he's getting rid of substance. But he's not.

I'm on to him.

But this time, we are moving ourselves. And MacGyver will be doing the majority of the heavy lifting so I'm hoping this helps him appreciate my point of view...that we have ENTIRELY too much stuff. We'll see. 

And in the midst of this DITY move, we will be attempting to keep up with our regular, punishing schedule of swim team, football, PE/art, Awana, and archery. Thankfully, two of those activities are fairly short-lived and they'll be over soon. We've enjoyed them but I'm pretty sure my 'okole is growing roots into the seat of my car. 

No news on where we're heading next. I keep reminding myself that it's the end of the fiscal year so things are very quiet. We have heard back from a few places and several of them are waiting on word regarding contracts. We'll see how all of that pans out. I've not heard a peep from any of the National Guard jobs I've applied MacGyver for but I suspect that will change next month. And no news is good news - at least they've not yet eliminated him as a candidate. So there's that.

He gets to start the transition process here soon. I'm sure I'll have lots to blog about once that process gets started. I'm hoping our experiences with the VA aren't the horror show that I've witnessed others contend with. We'll see. He has a few things that will count toward a disability rating so it's time I read up on all of that. In the meantime, we wait, we pray, we wait some more. 

One question I *DO* need answered is this: MacGyver will get 'involuntary separation pay'. Basically, it's a payment in lieu of his pension that he would have earned had he stayed in to 20 years. If he accepts a state-funded National Guard position that allows him to continue to work toward his 20-year pension (but doing so in the National Guard, NOT through a federal position), is he then required to pay back the involuntary separation pay? I understand he would be obligated to do so if he took a job with, say the FAA or Forest Service, but the NG is state-funded and their retirement is a different animal than the US Army's retirement system. So I'm stumped. I have a few feelers out with some friends but no one has come back to me with any solid information. Let me know if you can answer this one for me!

I'm out. Time to pick up The Boy and The Girl. I should paint my car yellow and slap a "TAXI" sign on top!


- hfs

Minimal(ish)™ vs. stockpiling

I've been busting my butt trying to bring our food budget (and our overall budget) down and I found myself incredibly stressed out but I couldn't put my finger on WHY. It wasn't the process of couponing or searching for those amazing deals. If anything, that process was exciting! But the concept of stockpiling foodstuffs really left me feeling anxious and stressed and I just couldn't figure out what my deal was.
And then I was flipping through my Google Reader list and it hit me. In the process of searching for great deals, I've subscribed to several blogs and websites that alert me when there are AMAZING!!!!1!!! deals to be had. Quick! toilet paper is on sale for 21 cents per roll if you stack a store coupon with a manufacturer's coupon and are one of the first 500 through the door to grab this deal! And so, because TP is on sale for such an AMAZING !!!!!!1!!!1!!! price, you feel like you should be buying dozens of rolls. Which, in a long-term outlook, makes sense if 21 cents per roll is a great price. Everyone uses TP, right? Well, those of us in civilized countries do. 

However, this minimal(ish)™ mindset I've been adopting really runs smack in the face of the "oh-my-goodness-I-must-buy-eleventy-seven-of-these-items-because-this-is-such-a-great-deal" mentality. It's tough to balance the idea of having eleventy-seven of something when really, all I need is ONE. Yes, I will need another one in a short while but RIGHT NOW I need ONE. 

Just one. 

So where is the balance? I don't know yet. 

Currently, I have twenty-six boxes of different kinds of cereal in my house. Twenty-six. I didn't pay more than $2 per box for any of them and most of them actually cost closer to $1 each. And we WILL eat all of that cereal. We eat cereal for breakfast, for snack, for lunch and dinner at times. It comes with us to our sports practices, to church, on hikes and bike rides, and so on. It will be eaten. But we are also getting ready to move from a 3,000+ square foot house into a condo about 1/2 that size. I am not going to have the room for twenty-six boxes of cereal. See my quandry?

I just cleaned out my closet. Right now, there are 3 giant lawn-and-leaf-sized trash bags full of clothes sitting in my bedroom. Once I haul all of my clothes that I have not worn in a year off their hangers, I'll probably have two more trash bags' full. Plus several pairs of shoes. Just pulling the bags out of the closet and moving them into the bedroom was liberating! My closet seems so OPEN! It is great. I don't spend much time worrying about what to wear on a regular basis (not that a stay-at-home-mom really needs to be worrying about what to wear...'Is it clean?' really is the most important issue at hand for me on a regular basis) but even on Sunday mornings or on the rare occasion that we go out, I don't spend much time. I have a few items that I know look good on me and I simply choose from them. Easy peasy. 

But then I'm back to reading the blogs and the websites and I come across great deals on shoes or books or school supplies or whatever and that urge to buybuyBUY kicks in and I have to restrain myself. Yes, 27 cents for a composition book is a good price. But we already have several brand new ones left over from last year so I do not NEED any more, regardless of how wonderful the price is. But I have to keep reminding myself of this because the buybuyBUY pressure is constant. It's a tough balance to strike - having enough, paying as little as possible, but not having too much. 

How do you strike the balance?


- hfs


Father Mychal Judge - 00001

This is a repost from several years back. I see no need to change anything.

Never forget. 

My life has two parts to it. The part up through September 10, 2001 and the part from September 11, 2001 to the present. A defining moment. My life as an Army wife also has two parts. The first part was where the biggest drawback or downside of military life was a hardship tour to Korea. The second part is life as I know it right now.

The morning of September 11, 2001 I was 10 months pregnant and 5 days from my due date. I had 4 days left to go as a teacher before going on maternity leave and was only working half days so I didn't need to be in until 11am that day. MacGyver had a 7am work call and was in the shower when my alarm went off. I remember smacking the snooze button on the radio and through the haze of sleep, I heard the DJ say "a plane has hit the Pentagon.".

I woke up. Quickly.

I turned the radio back on and sat bolt upright in bed as I listened. It took me a minute to wrap my brain around what I was hearing. In that time, MacGyver finished his shower and turned off the water. I got up and out of bed as fast as my pregnant belly would let me and knocked on the door. He answered and I told him he needed to go downstairs and turn on the TV.

How many people uttered those words that day?

Everyone I talk to, every story I hear involves those words. "You need to go and turn on the TV."

We went downstairs and stood, gaping, at the television. We couldn't even cry. We were too shocked. I think the first tower fell while we were watching and that must have sparked MacGvyer to move. He bolted upstairs, threw on his BDUs, grabbed his overnight bag and some food, kissed me goodbye, and left. Still, there were no tears. I didn't know if I would see him again. In my mind, he would deploy. I don't know where I thought he was going or what I expected him to be doing but I did not expect him to come home. Mentally I was trying to steel myself to have this baby alone. And I was ok with that. Hell, after thinking about what the people in New York, DC, and Pennsylvania were going through, having a baby on my own was nothing compared to that.

Still, there were no tears.

I went to school. It was chaos and sadness all at the same time. We didn't get anything done that day (or for a few days after). We all sat and watched TV. And talked. And worried. And prayed. Yes, we prayed in a public school. Seemed like the thing to do at the time.

But still, no tears.

And then I came home. And I sat down and watched TV. And I saw this...

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And, for some reason, that image stuck with me. Moreso than any other image I saw that day or any other day. I had read about Father Mychal Judge a while back. I knew who he was. I remember reading about how he tended to the families of the victims of TWA flight 800 when it crashed off Long Island and thinking what an incredible man he was.

When I realized who it was that they were carrying out of the rubble, my heart broke.

And I cried.


Father Mike was so many things to so many people. A Catholic priest. A recovering alcoholic. A gay man. A friend to the firefighting community and a pillar of the community. Larger than life.

His funeral was reported to have the makings of one hell of a good joke. A priest, a lawyer, and an Irishman walk into a bar . . . Who else could have brought together a room full of people from every spectrum of life?

But his LIFE was so much more than how he died. His work as a priest and as a friend touched thousands of lives. He firmly believed in the concept of Alcoholics Anonymous, calling it "America's greatest contribution to spirituality." The day he died marked his 23rd year of sobriety. He believed that the creators of AA did more for humanity than even Mother Teresa.

He ministered to AIDS patients back in the 80s when society was terrified of the disease and those afflicted. He treated AIDS patients with the dignity that each of us deserves from our fellow humans. He was a shining example to us in that.

He ministered to the families of the victims of TWA flight 800 in 1996 when it exploded and crashed off the coast of Long Island.

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Father Mychal Judge would become a familiar presence among family members mourning lost passengers. He made the drive daily, for weeks, spending 12 hours a day consoling friends and families who had lost loved ones. He also celebrated Mass every other day, participated in counseling sessions for people of all denominations and organized ecumenical memorial prayer services for the victims' families and TWA personnel.

"When that call came through it was the Lord calling me somehow," he told a reporter during a visit to his third-floor room at the friary. "I went out there that night and I stayed there for all hours of the morning, talking to people from all over the country and all over the world."

Father Mychal helped to organize services on the beach for the Flight 800 families. A news photograph of him at one such service, wearing his brown robe and gazing out to sea, was distributed around the country.

"The water becomes sacred to them," he said of the families.

Those family members became part of his ever-expanding parish.

He remained involved in some of their lives until his death at the World Trade Center.

A Los Angeles Times reporter researching an article on support services for families of air crash victims interviewed Father Mychal in 2000, and he spoke of his efforts to be a healing presence for people whose lives had been torn apart.

"In seminary, you can get all the theology and Scripture in the world, and you land in your first parish, and you find out it's you-- the personality and the gifts that God gave you," said Mychal Judge.

"He was absolutely hands-on. Religion didn't make any difference for him-- he was the same toward everyone, regardless of their beliefs," said Hans Ephraimson-Abt, a New Jersey businessman and longtime advocate for families of air crash victims.

"The TWA families considered him a saint."

- from The Life of Father Mychal Judge

I sure would have loved to have had the privilege of meeting him in person. Guess I'm going to have to wait a bit.

At the memorial, McCourt told the mourners about his own fantasy. Judge, he says, dies and is momentarily disoriented, because after leading such a simple life, he suddenly finds himself in a place with large marble hallways. A figure approaches.

"Can I help you?"

"Well, I don't know where I am."

"What's your name?"

"Judge. First name Mychal."

"Really? Some people call me Judge, too."

"Oh? And what's your first name?"

"Almighty. What kind of work would you like here, Mychal?"

"I'd like to be someplace where there are fires."

"We don't have any fires here. The only one we know about is very far away, and that burns eternally, because all the firefighters are here, and we don't tell them about it, because otherwise they'd be down there fighting it."

"Well, could I go there and give some people a hand?"

"No, Mychal. Because if you go there, you have to be a sinner, you see? And you're a saint."

"Could I have a temporary pass to go there, then? Could I be an honorary sinner?"

"Yes. But please don't bring back any conservatives."

At that point, the crowd, already laughing, started to howl. McCourt paused to let everyone collect himself. "And away he goes," he finally said. "That's my fantasy about Mychal. He keeps working. He never stops. He's trying to get all of us out of hell."

- from The Fireman's Friar

Father Mychal Judge was so much more than the priest whose death certificate bears the number 00001 - the first official casualty of the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He was a man - flawed yet repentant - who did his best to serve God and his fellow man.

Learning more about him in the days and weeks that followed September 11 gave me hope in a time where hope was hard to find. Those of us who had babies right around that time I am sure had doubts as to what kind of world we were bringing our babies into. But knowing that a man such as Father Mike sits up in Heaven reassures me that there is hope and that we will be ok.

I will NEVER FORGET Father Mike. Never.

For a list of participants in the 2,996 project and their honorees, GO HERE.

Read. Remember.


- hfs



There are days where I seriously consider putting my children back in public school if for no other reason than to be able to maintain tidiness in this house for more than 13 minutes. If they were in school, I could tidy up and - for SEVEN GLORIOUS HOURS - this house would stay tidy. Let me tell you, it's an enticing prospect.

As we get closer to our move to the next town over, I feel my frustration levels ramping up. Short distance moves are a major pain in the katuchus. There's really no need to pack - you're just moving a few miles away. Toss stuff in a box, schlep it to the new location, put it right back on the shelf it was sitting on an hour ago. Easy peasy, right?


That's never how it works. You know this. I know this. And yet, we're three weeks from this move and I've not packed a single thing. And I can't say I plan to do so. Why bother? This is how I see it going:

- remove drawers from dresser (leave clothes IN the drawers)
- remove dresser from house
- load dresser on to trailer
- put drawers back into dresser
- drive 20 minutes to new location
- remove drawers from dresser
- unload dresser from trailer
- take dresser into new house
- put drawers back into dresser

Why do I need to pack? I can see packing the breakable stuff - dishes, glasswear, pictures, etc. But everything else? Nah.

In the meantime, I fight the never-ending battle with our stuff. I've come to the conclusion that one of the reasons I want to get rid of so much stuff is because it EXHAUSTS me. The constant battle of trying to keep a house clean while the other three people I live with undo pretty much any progress I make just wears on me. It would be infinitely easier if there was less STUFF with which to battle.

Less stuff = less stuff to put away = less exhaustion/frustration for me.

Or I could keep the stuff and get rid of the people which leads me back to my opening paragraph - I am halfway considering putting my children in public school just so I can have a 7 hour head start on them each day in terms of keeping this place neat. I think moving into a smaller house will help that issue significantly. It's harder to leave the messes when you're only living in 1,500sf as opposed to 3,400sf. In 3400sf, if there is a mess, you can just move to another part of the house where the mess is NOT.

And then make a mess THERE. And then move to another part of the house where the mess is not...it's like the book, "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie". But in a smaller house, if you make a mess, you won't have anywhere else to go and you'll either need to clean up your mess or sit on Legos while you try to play with your friends. Not particularly comfortable.

I am convinced that we, as a family, do NOT need anything larger than 2,500sf. Honestly, I'd be happier in 2,000sf - enough space to fit everything without having to get too creative with the storage solutions but not so big that you can leave messes in your wake like Hansel and Gretel and their stinking breadcrumbs! We'll see how that plays out and maybe, just maybe, I'll change my mind about sending my children off to public school.



- hfs


Wrote this six years ago. Nothing's changed.  One of my favorite movies is 'Bull Durham'. And one of my favorite scenes in ...