Saturday, November 10, 2018

Happy 243rd Birthday, Marines!

If you have lots of friends who are Marines, then your social media feed is probably being blown up with "Happy Birthday, Marines!" memes. If you haven't had the honor and privilege to be associated with our awesome legacy, then it is probably annoying to you, and you're probably rolling your eyes at the sight of every Marine Corps meme you encounter.

If you ask most military members that are not Marines when their branch's birthday is, they probably can't tell you without doing a quick google search first. I have friends in all branches of the military, and they always seem to be attending random balls throughout the year celebrating random things. For instance, I have noticed a lot of the other branches do separate balls based on the birth of their units or MOS's (Ranger ball, engineer ball, etc. etc. etc.). Not the Marine Corps. We ALL celebrate the birth of our Corps on November 10th of every single year. The thing I love most about being a Marine is that no matter what our jobs are, at the end of the day, we are all Marines. I've never met a Marine recon guy (our special forces) introduce themselves like, "hey, I'm recon in the Marines." It's always just, "I'm a Marine." But you bet your ass when you meet an Army Ranger, the first thing they mention is, "I'm an Army Ranger." I get it, theres a lot of pride in being an elite Ranger in the Army. I think it's cool that the entire Marine Corps sees themselves as being elite by just being a Marine.

Nick and I celebrated the Marine Corps Birthday this past Thursday here in Yuma. It was our first ball here, and Nick's first ball outside of 1st Marine Division! He is officially part of Marine Aircraft Group 13. It was held at the Civic Center on a baseball field! It was our first outdoor ball, and it was HUGE. There were roughly 2800 people there to celebrate the Marine Corps Birthday! This time of year in Yuma is GORGEOUS, so the thought of an outdoor ball wasn't surprising to me. However, being a "desert newbie", I forgot that the evenings in the desert can get pretty chilly. I chose to go with a short dress this year instead of a long gown because it was an outdoor ball.

The dress I wore is a Nha Khanh, and I'll definitely be wearing her more!
Her dresses are stunning.
I'm also pretty impressed with my arms. 
I've been on a new workout plan since we moved here, and I'm seeing some pretty awesome results!

And you can't go wrong with a dress that has pockets...

And we always have to do a "Gig 'em" photo.

The eagle, globe, and anchors (on his collar) that Nick is wearing on his blues actually belonged to an artillery officer that fought in Okinawa during World War II.
They were gifted to him by my former Ordnance Officer, Capt Najmulski.

Like I mentioned, 2800 people. 
It was packed.

The birthday cake.
It is tradition that the guest of honors gets the first piece of cake, the oldest Marine present gets the second piece of cake, then the oldest Marine gives the youngest Marine a piece of cake to symbolize the passing down of experience and knowledge.
This part always makes me feel old.
The youngest Marine at our ball this year was born in 1999.
1999, y'all.
I was a freaking freshman in high school.

Nick and David.
They went to The Basic School Together and Ground Supply Officer school together!

Nick and the Guest of Honor, Brigadier General Borgschulte.
We even got the General to throw up a Gig 'em!

What a fun night to celebrate our amazing legacy. Each year during this time, I am humbled that I got to have a small part in it. I am grateful for those Marines who have gone before me, and those who will go after me.

Happy 243rd Birthday, Marines!

Monday, October 29, 2018

My Love Story

I love meeting new people and hearing their stories. As a Marine family, we have a unique opportunity to meet people from all over the world. Since we've moved to Yuma, we've started to meet new people, and have had people over at our house twice already for dinner. I feel like food and wine is the best way to bring a new group of people together. I love hearing people's stories about how they grew up, where they grew up, and how they ended up where they are now.

The question that Nick and I get ALL. THE. TIME. when we meet new people is, "How did y'all meet?" (or if they're not from the south, "How did you guys meet?"). I think people are intrigued because we didn't meet in college, we are from two completely different states, and because I was a Marine. In his former life, Nick was an artilleryman (an MOS that was, at the time, only males). So people get curious to know how this chick from the airwing landed her this sexy artilleryman. So I thought I'd share our "love story", because it's my favorite (duh).

Also, if you already know us really well and know how we met, you can totally skip this blog post, cause it's long.

SO....Here. We. Go.

I returned from Iraq at the end of 2007. I had just been promoted to Sgt in Iraq, and on my second enlistment. I knew that if I wanted to be promoted to SSgt before my 8 year mark hit, I would need to do a special duty assignment (recruiting duty, drill instructor duty, embassy duty). Recruiting duty was almost a guaranteed pathway to SSgt because it is considered one of the most difficult assignments, so I volunteered to go on recruiting. This was a big deal, because no one volunteers for recruiting. No one wants to put themselves through that hell.

My request for recruiting duty was quickly approved (before I could change my mind), and I had orders to report to recruiters school at MCRD San Diego in April of 2008. One of the prerequisites for a Sgt to get promoted to SSgt is to attend Sgts Course (an intense, month long leadership course). Since I would not be able to attend Sgts Course while on recruiting duty, my command let me go in February of 2008. I met a guy in my class that ended up liking me more than I liked him.  My birthday is in March, and I had zero plans. Another female Marine that I worked with agreed to go out with me to a bar called Hennessey's in Dana Point, CA to celebrate my birthday with me (and the guy I met in Sgts Course). He had practically invited himself when he found out I was going out. The night sucked, because the guy was being a jerk to me, and I just wanted him to leave. He was super jealous and possessive, and that wasn't ok with me. I made me decision that night that whatever "thing" I had going on with this guy needed to end ASAP.  I did my best to keep my distance and avoid him all night. I ran into a friend at that bar who was hanging out with two of his friends. I told him about my frustrations with this guy that had crashed my birthday, and he let me hang out with him for a little bit. Nick happened to be one of his friends. He was wearing an American Eagle polo shirt and his Alabama hat (boo!) slightly crooked on his head. I had been drinking, and was a little drunk, and all I remember is taking his hat off his head and flirting with him. We didn't exchange phone numbers or anything, and our meeting was brief at the bar. The night ended, and I remember leaving the bar in tears because of the jerky guy that ruined the night for me. The cute guy I met at the bar in the Alabama hat was just a distant memory. I didn't expect to ever see him again.

That following Monday, I was scheduled to go to the rifle range for the week for my annual rifle qualification. My unit always shot at a range called Wilcox range, but they were having shooting matches there that week. I was switched to go shoot at Edson Range where Marine recruits who are attending boot camp at MCRD San Diego shoot. The first week of rifle qualification is called "snap in" week. Snap in week is when Marines just get refamiliarized with the shooting positions for qualification, and make sure our weapons shoot straight. We basically just lay around in the grass for hours at a time shooting pretend bullets at pretend targets painted on a barrel. (see below)

I was bored, and counting down the hours when we could turn our weapons back into the armory. When the time came, I eagerly got up, adjusted the sling on my rifle, and started to get my things together to turn my rifle in. That's when this tall Marine walked up to me, and asked, "Were you at Hennessey's this past weekend?"

I looked up and realized it was "Mr. Alabama hat"! I was mortified that he was seeing me in my hot mess state....dirty cammies, probably a little smelly, sweaty, no make up....oh my Lord. 
We struck up a short conversation, and he left. I found out he was a drill instructor, and he was also qualifying on the same range as me because this was one of the only times he had time to qualify. His recruits were at Camp Pendleton for the month for "2nd phase", when recruits are bussed from MCRD San Diego to Camp Pendleton to do field training and rifle qualification. 

That week, Nick always chose to snap in next to me. He always walked back to the armory with me. What's funny is that he was a SSgt at the time, and I was a Sgt. Because he was a SNCO, he was allowed to drive his weapon in his personal vehicle to the armory to turn his weapon in. The walk to the armory from the range was long (especially after a long, hot day in the sun), and I thought it was so weird he was choosing to walk. I asked him why he didn't just drive, and his response was, "because I want to show all these other SNCO's that they're weak." I later found out that he was only walking because he wanted to spend time with me. 

Those two weeks on the rifle range, we became friends. As one of the only females on the entire range, he thought it was hilarious watching every single male range coach try and "coach" me into being a better shooter. We became MySpace friends. Yes, we are old, and MySpace was a thing when we met. I remember messaging him back and forth on MySpace after a long day of shooting. I wish I still had my account so I could read those messages. I don't know why, but I vividly remember one message I wrote him asking what he was up to. His reply was, "I just came home from a run, and I'm eating an apple and watching the sun set." I don't know why that message sticks out in my head, but it does.

This was the very end of March, and by April I was in recruiters' school at MCRD San Diego, and to say our relationship moved fast would be an understatement. Our first official date, he invited me over to his apartment for dinner. He tried to make me grilled chicken, but his propane tank ran out before the chicken cooked all the way. He also served me country crock, microwaveable mashed potatoes, and frozen vegetables that he heat up in a pan. Because he knew I enjoyed wine, he even splurged on a nice red. Ok, it was Lambrusco, and it's like $6.99 for a huge bottle. It's overly sweet, and it's not good. Either way, I thought he was sweet, and gave him an A for effort. We watched Top Gun after he made me watch the Michael Jackson Thriller video. I still laugh when I hear Thriller on the radio or see the video pop up somewhere. It was just so random that he would want to show me this random Michael Jackson video from the 80's. We were in love...after only officially dating for like 2 weeks. 

At a recruiters' school class BBQ.
Yes, that's an Ed Hardy tank top I am wearing (it was very trendy then), and yes, Nick is wearing an Alabama hat). 

Meanwhile, in recruiters' school, we were preparing to find out our duty station assignments (where we would be recruiting at). I was a solid candidate to end up in San Diego, because I had volunteered for this duty. Volunteers usually get priority when it comes to duty station choice for recruiting duty. I had already gone and spoken to the recruiter instructor for San Diego, and they had already let the schoolhouse know that they wanted me. On the day we were to find out our assignments, I was told I was going to Duluth freaking Georgia. WHAT?! CLEARLY, this has to be a mix up. This is not possible. I marched my butt into my instructor's office, and basically said, "WTF?!" He then explained that the recruiting station in Georgia was in desperate need of a Korean speaking recruiter, because of the heavy Korean population there. There was one other Korean speaking recruiter in recruiters' school with me at the time, and my first thought was, "why me, and why not him?" He had not volunteered for this assignment. He was forced to be here. Then my instructor told me it was because he was married, and owned a home in San Diego county. What??? I'm being punished for being single and not owning a home? Stop it. I'm pretty sure I cried.

I went to Nick's apartment that evening, and we started talking about a long distance relationship....coast to coast. I was so upset, and angry that the Marine who didn't choose this duty got what he wanted because he was married and owned a home. After a few days of letting that news simmer in my head, I finally just blurted out, "We should get married. They have a year to put us within 100 miles of each other if we're a dual active duty couple. They'll have to send me back to California since the closest recruit training base to Duluth is Parris Island (300 miles away)." The details after I blurted that out are fuzzy, but Nick didn't hesitate to say, "ok, let's do it." We booked a round trip flight to Vegas that Friday and returning Saturday. We weren't going to Vegas to party or gamble. We were going there to get married...oh, and we didn't tell anyone. Not our parents, not our friends, and not our commands.

After Nick and I got off work on Friday (May 31, 2008), and we both headed to the airport together. We stopped at a mall jewelry store to buy two cheap wedding bands, and boarded our flight to Vegas. We checked into a super seedy motel, and headed to the Hooters hotel to have dinner (we were super classy people). We had dinner. I drank key lime pie martinis, and Nick drank Newcastle beer. 

Photo of us at the bar at Hooters.
I wore a tube top from Express, express boot cut jeans, wedges, and had my Louis Vuitton on my arm!

 We grabbed a cab (this was before Uber and Lyft), and asked the cabdriver to take us to the courthouse. The courthouse in Vegas is open 24 hours a day. We got there probably around 10 in the evening, and stood in line with a bunch of inebriated people getting their marriage licenses to get married. In fact, the couple in front of us in line told us that they had just met that night, and were getting married. They were extremely drunk. I thought to myself, "I can't believe I am doing this here." After getting our marriage license, we headed back to our cab, and asked the driver to take us to any chapel that does weddings "on the go". He took us to "the Little White Chapel", where Nick and I were married by a Japanese man named "Alejandro". I think we laughed through the entire "ceremony", because of how absurd this entire thing was. 

 Right before we got married.
If you can see behind us, those are pews.
Tiny Vegas chapel!

 Afterwards, we went back to the Hooters hotel to their country bar, had a drink, danced to one song, told a random couple that we just got married, and headed back to our motel. We were flying back to San Diego Saturday morning. We woke up early Saturday, and flew back to San Diego as a married couple, and Nick went into work.

That following Monday, I announced to my instructor that I got married. I'll never forget the look on his face when I broke the news to him. I was about to raise some hell in recruiters' school. By me getting married, they were almost forced to switch my orders to San Diego, and send the other Korean speaking Marine to Georgia. The SgtMaj of the schoolhouse called me into his office, and yelled at me. Other students in my class were giving me major shade. "How could you screw over that other guy?" When in reality, I hadn't screwed him over. He screwed me over. People told us our marriage was fraudulent because they assumed we only got married so that I could remain in San Diego. I didn't really care though. I loved Nick, and I was going to get to be with him (oh, and recruit where I originally wanted to recruit at).  Oh, and we still hadn't told our families.

I checked into RS San Diego in June, where the CO yelled at me for causing such a ruckus in recruiters school. She was so scary, and I'm pretty sure she made me cry. I'm pretty sure she hated me. She transferred me to Orange County, just 45 minutes north of San Diego (praise the Lord) where I spent my time as a recruiter. Nick and I got a tiny 800 sq ft apartment in San Clemente filled with IKEA furniture, and were the happiest we had ever been.

The story of telling our families deserves its' own blog post, so I'll have to share that some other time. We have been happily married for 10 years, and have lived in 6 addresses between 4 states. We have added two awesome kids to our family. To this day, we don't regret our decision to elope. We have been asked many times by my family to have a big wedding, and we always kindly decline. We love our story, and its' humble beginnings. I love that we don't have the conventional love story that most people have. We knew each about 2 months before getting married. For some reason, I always tell people we only knew each other a month, but now that I've typed this story out, I realize it's actually 2 months. Either way, it was a pretty whirlwind romance, and I wouldn't have it any other way.     

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Church Shopping

One of the many struggles that we face as a family when we move is finding a home church. You can actually read about our struggles of finding a home church when we were stationed in New England here. If you are a believer, then you understand the importance of finding a place of worship that you can call "home". For me personally, I need a place to go to every week where my soul can be fed and nurtured. I want my kid's faith to grow, and I want them to enjoy going to church every week.

I grew up hating to go to church. When I was old enough to stay home by myself, I faked being sick more times than I remember so that I wouldn't have to go. Looking back, I realize I hated going, because the church my family attended did not fulfill my spiritual needs. It was a Korean Presbyterian church. My parents are Korean immigrants, so it was the right fit for them. They were among other Korean speaking believers. But as a first generation American born child, going to "Sunday school" every week with the extremely small group of youth who were also first generation Americans just wasn't right for me. I wanted to go to the "normal" English speaking churches that all my friends from school attended. I wanted to attend youth group with my friends from school. I oftentimes felt left out because our church simply did not have the programs that the bigger American churches offered. I have used my past experience as a learning tool as a mom. When we look for a home church, one of the first things I want to know about is the children's ministry. I grill my kids about their experience in kids church. I don't want them growing up hating church because Nick and I choose a church that only we like.

I have put off trying out a new church since moving here with the excuse that "we are still settling in".  When it reality, I am just anxious about being the "new guy" at a new church. I finally told myself yesterday that I had beaten a dead horse with that excuse, and committed to testing out our first church here in Yuma. I found a southern baptist church on Google that was only 5 minutes away from our house. Their facebook page and their website looked promising. From their website, it looked like a contemporary church with a great children's ministry.

Our family got up this morning bright and early, and got ready for church. As soon as we pulled into the parking lot, Nick didn't hesitate to say, "I don't think you're gonna like it here." I don't know why he got that vibe, but I tried to stay positive and told everyone that we were just gonna try it out. As soon as we walked in, I realized that 90% of the congregation were senior citizens. I felt like I was walking into my grandparent's church. Then we were informed that there was no Sunday school for our kids. They do Sunday school an entire hour earlier than the regular service, so my kids were going to have to sit through an adult service with me. I told my kids before walking in that we were just trying this church out, and that if we didn't like it, we'd try another church next Sunday. My sweet, sweet son blurted out to the door greeter (a sweet old granny), "My mom said we are just trying this church out, and that if we don't like it, we would go to another church next Sunday." (Insert nervous chuckle from me and a face palm). Anyway, our family took seats in the back of the church, and after sitting there awkwardly for 5 minutes, we just walked out. Actually, Nick had taken Mattis outside to look at a water fountain they had, and Dannika and I basically ran out. I tried not to make eye contact with anyone, and literally rushed out so fast. It was extremely uncomfortable and extremely awkward. I am praying no one recognizes me at the grocery store from that church and silently judges me.

So church #1 was a big fail. I'm sure it is a lovely little church, but I am a strong believer that we need to do fellowship with at least a few people in the same stage of life as us. The people at that church were about 3 to 4 decades ahead of our family. My sister found a few churches for us via Google search, and we have a little list of potential maybes for next Sunday. Please pray for our family as we continue to find a church that we can call home!

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Friday, October 19, 2018

Desert Dwelling

We made it to Yuma! I know it's been a hot minute since I've posted on here. I do so much life sharing on Instagram (@semperag_blog) that I sometimes feel this blog is unnecessary. But then I get the itch to write, so I guess my little corner of the web shall remain as is.

Our move from College Station to Yuma was pretty smooth. Nick and my son made a father/son road trip out of the move, and towed my car on the back of a trailer with his truck. Dannika and I chose to fly, and we made it out here a day after the boys did. Our stuff arrived mostly undamaged, and we are so grateful for that. I had been reading all sorts of horror stories about military moves this year. I guess this has been one of the worst PCS seasons for many military families. Lots of families missing furniture, receiving their things grossly damaged, and the list goes on. We are in the minority I guess when it came to PCS season this year (praise Jesus!).

Yuma is a small desert town located between the California and Mexico border.

It's mostly a military/retirement community. There are lots of "snowbirds" down here (retirees that move here from colder climates just for the winter to escape the cold). As a Marine, I have been here before for training, and from what I remember (before moving Here) is that this place is full of bad chain restaurants catered for its' young military population and older retirement population (still true). Since actually moving here, I have realized that there is a lot more to Yuma than I realized. I can't say that I LOVE it here yet, but God has shown me glimpses of how great life will be here for us.

We decided to buy a house out here. Our house is one of the things that I LOVE about this place. I will have to do a separate house tour post soon. But I am in love with our house. It has so much character, and it is definitely a place that I am going to really enjoy my time at. Nick also promised me a pool, so I'll keep y'all updated on that situation. Hey, if you're gonna drag me out to Yuma, Arizona, you betta get yo girl a pool!

Our kids school is ok. We came from such a top tier school district that we knew coming here, it'd be unfair to try and compare the school here to the one we came from. BUT...Arizona has some of the lowest paid teachers in the entire nation, and when you invest so little into your educators, the quality of education goes down. Not because the quality of teachers, but because of the lack of resources and funding that teachers here get to do their jobs. It's sad really. I have already been disappointed by the school here, and we have put our kids on waiting lists for a public charter school here and also a private school. We are hoping we only have to deal with public schools here for this school year only.

Anyway, I'll give more updates on our life here. I just wanted to give everyone an update about our short two weeks here so far! I am so grateful to finally be together as a family, and there truly is nothing better than that (even in Yuma!).

Thursday, September 6, 2018

3 Tips on Making Solo Parenting Doable

It's officially September, and in 8 days, our family will be whole again! By the time Nick comes home, we will have officially lived separately for 354 very long days. Looking back on the last year, I truly appreciate the sacrifice that Nick made when he agreed to the decision to go on with his training without his family with him. I'm not saying that it was easy for me (or my children), but it was definitely harder for Nick. I know boredom, and missing out on our lives for past year has really been rough for Nick. It's been tough on our kids to not have their dad around every day too. I pray that one day, they can look back at this year we got to spend in good ole College Station, and truly appreciate the extra time we got to spend here.

Over the last year, I've really had to readjust my life to parenting "solo". I never use the word "single parent" in my case, because I'm not a "single parent". I have a loving and supportive partner who more than provides for our family financially and emotionally. There is no child support or child custody arrangement involved (which many single parents deal with). Before Nick left, I was used to having a lot of help with our kids. Nick does A LOT for me around the home when he can. He cooks, does dishes, cleans the house, bathes the kids, gets them ready for bed, and always remembers to pour me a glass of wine. It was also nice to have another person to share carpool duties with. On days I had a lot going on, just having Nick to pick up D from gymnastics, and grab Mattis from school was so helpful. When Nick left, I had to figure life out alone, and there was definitely an adjustment period.

I thought I'd give y'all 3 tips on how I "solo parent" to make my life a little less stressful. These things really help me to "sail my ship smoothly"!

1. Structure. I'm a former Marine (of 10 years), and married to a still active duty Marine who just happens to be a former drill instructor. We love structure in our lives! No, we don't run our home like a boot camp, but there is definitely a lot of structure. When Nick is gone, I go into overdrive when it comes to structure. I schedule everything in our home down to the last minute.

For example, in the mornings, I am up at 5am no matter what. I need that extra hour before my kids get up for some "me" time. I throw on my favorite podcast (will blog about that soon) while I pack my kids' lunches, write them notes, get dressed, and go through their folders to see if I need to sign anything. This takes about 20-25 mins. I spend the last 30 minutes of my morning alone reading a devotional. My kids are up by 5:50am (it gives them 10 minutes to get up out of bed), and by 6:20, they've had their breakfast. They know if they're not done by 6:20, mama isn't happy, and I'm not messing around. I don't let them watch TV while eating breakfast or have screen time (because that distracts them). Their sole purpose in life is to eat. By 6:35, they've brushed their teeth and gotten dressed. I brush their hair, pack their backpacks, and make sure they're ready. This gives us a good 30 minutes to relax before we need to be out the door. I let them watch a TV show, or play a game on their tablet. Our mornings are stress free and calmer because we are not rushing to get out the door to make it to school on time. No one is yelling to "Put your shoes on!" or "Where are your socks?!?" or whatever other phrase I have oftentimes yelled at my kids when we are rushing to get out the door. 

Out the door with plenty of time to take photos on our way to school!

Because I am doing this alone, having this structure keeps us all on task, and it helps me keep my sanity in tact. I don't have Nick here to help me with the load, so having a tight schedule really helps me make sure everything that needs to be done, gets done!

2. Me Time. I can't tell you how much I used to love days when I'd tell Nick, "you got the kids for a few hours. I just want to roam around Target." Being a solo parent gives you less alone time. The first few months Nick was gone, I realized I was starting to go a little crazy. One particular day, my kids were being the complete opposite of the angels that I knew them to be (hahahaha!), and I had lost my screaming at my kids like a crazy banshee. I sat on the floor of my closet with the doors shut, in the dark, with a glass of wine, and cried sobbed. I realized that I hadn't done anything for myself since Nick had left. I booked a baby sitter, texted all my friends, and planned a girls night. I try to make a genuine effort to hire a sitter, and go out with my friends for dinner every once in a while.

Me and my friends on our last "girls night out".
Also, I go the gym every. single. day. I don't skip days. Some days, I go twice a day. But that time in the gym is my favorite time of the day. It's where I do my thinking, and just let all my frustrations out.

This is my gym fam. They really are like family! 

3. Pray. You know that 30 minutes I have to myself in the early mornings?  I read a devotional, and I pray. It really sets the tone for my day, and having some one on one time with God gives me a lot of peace. I often get stressed and anxious about everything that I need to do alone with my kids for the day. It's nice to get the reassurance from God that "I'm going to be ok", because He's handling it for me. I don't believe in that phrase, "God will never give you more than you can handle." That is lie. This past year has been WAY more than I could handle. However, through prayer and through His grace and mercy (lots of mercy), I have figured out how to handle this life that I've been chosen to live. I have fallen apart multiple times throughout this past year, and have questioned my life choices (more than once). Every time, God has found a way to show me that "this too shall pass".

There a several other ways that I have found to make solo parenting doable for me. I'll continue to write about it as I think about them. Everyone knows that I am a hot mess, so if I can do this, anyone can. It's just a matter of finding YOUR balance, and what works best for your family!