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Sisterhood* of the Traveling Parents

 Posted by on July 28, 2016 at 08:00
Jul 282016
 
Julie

Julie

*Brotherhood of the traveling parents, too. I’m not trying to leave out the dads, just referring to sisterhood from personal experience.

Shrink your world and expand your village. That’s the Alice-from-Wonderland effect that military life can have on your childhood concepts of an enormous world and small network of friends. I grew up in the civilian world where my family stayed in the same house and went to the same schools. I always had family and friends around me for support and never considered that life would be any different than that. And then it was. I’ve got five tips to share that helped me find and form a sisterhood among the other PCSing parents and thrive in military life no matter where we lived.

Tip #1: Participate in events.

When we PCS’d to Sicily, Italy (leaving all the family and friends I’d known), I was nervous that I’d be completely alone when my husband deployed. That’s when I started to notice the magic of the military community. From the day we landed in Catania and met our Navy sponsor we began to form bonds with people in our new community. This trend continued through the indoctrination course that brought us up to speed on local customs, etiquette, conversational Italian with key phrases and hand gestures, as well as earning an Italian driver’s license.

We made a great connection with a group of people in that class when we went on a “get lost trip” to Syracuse, Sicily. The assignment put our group on an adventure where we had to dive into a culture and language we didn’t know, arrive to the city in one mode of transportation, find assigned items along the way and return home by a different form of transportation. We created great memories as we worked our way to and through Syracuse and back home. We must have been a sight with our halting and butchered Italian, wild gestures, animated facial expressions, but we managed to get directions, buy tickets, and tour the ruins in the city —oh and made good friends in the process.

Tip #2: Drop the labels.

The nature of friendships you make while in the military tend to be a bit different than in the civilian world. You make friends quickly in the military community…it’s almost like speed dating for friendship, because you only have two to three years in that one location. Don’t start out by labeling people and prejudging them. Get to know who they are. Continue to make many acquaintances while you get to know people a bit better. It won’t take long before you develop a close circle of support.

My village began to expand even more as we took advantage of opportunities to meet other people.  We attended local festivals, on-base events (airshows, Morale, Welfare and Recreation sponsored family events and holiday celebrations), mom’s groups, and house parties with co-workers and neighbors in order to meet more people. The more people you meet, the more likely you are to find good friends. We all find ourselves labeling people from time to time. But, now’s the time to recognize it and stop labeling people. I would have missed some amazing friends had I put people in a box and moved on before getting to know them.

Tip #3: Nurture your friendships.

In both our duty stations of Sicily and Virginia Beach, the friends I made — a few different groups of moms (and their families) — became my sisters by choice. We stood by one another through pregnancies, adoptions, illnesses, deployments, births and deaths. We helped each other through the day-to-day difficulties of long deployments by helping each other with cleaning chores, yard work and making dinner for one another. Exploring landmarks and community novelties with the kids or planning girls’ night out were some of the ways we got each other out of the house and kept something special on the calendar to look forward to in between deployment mile markers.

These women were wonderful examples to me of the kind of mom I wanted to be and I took lessons from each of them. They also taught me a lot about how to be a good friend. Sometimes, when you’re struggling through a deployment, you don’t know what help you need. But caring friends pay attention to things like that and act when they notice something that needs to be done or when you need to chat.

Tip #4: Respect family time.

Military spouses understand that when the service member comes home from a deployment, the family forms a bit of a cocoon while they reintegrate and get used to being a family again. Always be understanding and respectful of that. Our job as friends is to support one another. Sometimes the best way to be a friend is to step back and give them space.

Not everyone cocoons. Some people prefer to be with friends to welcome home the deployed spouse. Whatever your friends prefer, be ready to support. During deployments I’d be in touch with some friends every day, some every week and others a few times a month. Remember to be flexible. Not everyone needs the same amount of support or attention.

Tip #5: Bloom where transplanted.

Going through large life transitions together (PCSing, learning a new culture and language by immersion, living through deployments, becoming parents, etc.), creates a lifelong bond of friendship. One of the great traits of military friends, and good friends in general, is that even after you move away, and even with years between visits, it’s like no time passed and you pick up your conversation right where it left off.

There’s a respect and an understanding between military friends where you know you both must bloom where you are transplanted. This means that with each move the initial focus has to be on expanding your village of support at the new location. You both do this while enjoying the friendships you’ve made over the years.

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11 Mythbusters for Soon-to-Be Milspouses

 Posted by on June 20, 2016 at 15:38
Jun 202016
 
Kristi

Kristi

Congratulations on your engagement to the military — err, your fiancé. Actually, you know what, it’s best that we lose the sugarcoating sooner rather than later: You really are marrying your fiancé and the military. And while we’re clearing things up, the military wears the pants in this matrimony.

I remember being a military girlfriend before I was a military spouse — there was a whole world I didn’t know about. I didn’t even know the right questions to ask, because there were answers I didn’t even know I needed.

But ever since that saber slap to the rear, I’ve never been the same. I learned quickly that military plans trump my plans and that the best way to figure something out is to ask the real experts, fellow military spouses. So, as my wedding gift to you, here are some military-life myths that are so busted.

Myth 1: Your service member’s salary increases with every new dependent.

Yes and no. You are a salary increase (unless your soon-to-be spouse is already a parent), but any future, adorable kids won’t get your spouse a raise. It’s a one-and-done situation.

Myth 2: Someone, somewhere will tell you everything you need to know.

Oh, if only there was an appointed military spouse fairy godmother — unfortunately, there’s not (told you we weren’t sugarcoating anything). You’ll spend a lot of time tracking down your own answers, and sometimes different people will give you different answers to the same questions. Talk about fun!

Myth 3: Homecomings are the stuff of dreams.                     

Chances are you’ll look forward to a homecoming just as much as your wedding day — and rightfully so. But it’s important to wrap your mind around the idea that it only needs to be perfect for you and your spouse; it will never seem perfect to anyone else. My husband’s first homecoming was delayed two days. All the plans I made to welcome him home were foiled. And he finally came home in the middle of one freezing, cold night. There was no brass band. There was no ceremonial flyover. It wasn’t what I expected, but it is still one of the best days of my life.

Myth 4: Give it time; you’ll get the hang of it. See also: It will all make sense in a few years.

No, some things will never make sense. Other things will start to make sense, then those things will change. Do other spouses a favor: If you make sense of a part of military life, share it with your peers. Write a blog. Write a book. Post it on Facebook.

Myth 5: It’s hard to make new friends after each move.

The military community is a welcoming one! Once you make some friends after your first PCS, you’re golden. After that, you’ll always have a friend of a friend somewhere. And military spouses who came before us would envy the existence of social media groups, our addition to the typical clubs and mandatory fun “opportunities.”

Myth 6: Uniforms are always irresistible.

There’s still nothing like seeing my Marine in his uniform (any one of them). But the enchantment fades ever so slightly when you smell your first overripe flight suit or you have to start budgeting extra time in your morning routine to assist with buttoning, pinning, rolling, creasing and tucking.

Myth 7: Moving is a pain.

Moving has actually become my favorite part of military life. Sure, I’m a little jealous of my friends who’ve settled into their dream houses, but our time is coming. We just have to go see the world first — and that’s pretty awesome.

Myth 8: Everything is free!

There’s no easy way to tell you that you do have to pay for your groceries…and vacations…and your spouse’s uniforms. Military families get a few awesome benefits, like basic medical and dental needs, rentals from Morale, Welfare and Recreation, and…umm…your ID card is free. Commissary groceries are up to 30 percent cheaper than the supermarket down the street, and you can avoid tax by shopping on base. Housing will also cost you your basic housing allowance (sometimes more), so house hunt wisely.

Myth 9: Only the outgoing spouses make it in the military.

Type A, type B — it doesn’t matter as long as you have a healthy amount of love for your service member, a side of flexibility and a fine-tuned sense of humor.

Myth 10: Military kids are “brats.”

I lived in the same town for 22 years, so I had no idea how to help my kids who move every 2-3 years. But they’re great! My son is social. My daughter goes with the flow. They are resilient. They are patriotic. They are respectful. They both love the moving adventure, and I always make a point to tell my kids how lucky they are. They’ll learn about the Grand Canyon, the Golden Gate Bridge, etc. at school, and they’ve been there. They’ve seen them firsthand.

Myth 11: You can kiss your career goodbye.

I’ll be honest, moving and involuntarily catering to your service member’s career makes your own career progression a bigger challenge than it is for some people. But, military spouses — I believe — have some advantages. We have access to educational benefits, like the GI Bill. Programs like the Military Spouse Employment Partnership and Spouse Education and Career Opportunities are making strides to keep spouses military spouses employed. These days, we also have telecommuting in our back pocket. I’ve worked remotely for nearly 7 years. And, if you’re still not convinced, military life actually led me down a career path I never expected. It didn’t break my career; it made it.

Jun 162016
 
Julie

Julie

If your morning shuffle makes you look like a zombie actor’s stunt double and your brain is so foggy you put the milk in the pantry and the cereal in the fridge, you might be a new parent. Parenting takes a lot out of you, and the transition into parenthood is tough physically and mentally. Becoming the stay-at-home parent adds another level of transition into the mix, even more so if your partner is on active duty and deploying.

 

While that may sound, and occasionally look apocalyptic, it is very doable and one of the toughest and most rewarding jobs I’ve ever done. But how do you go through this full-time parenting gig without losing yourself along the way? I’ve got five tips to help you get through the zombie zone and into that sweet spot of family life.

 

 

  1. Nurture yourself first, so you’ll have something to give to your family. Schedule some of what makes you happy into every day or at least once a week. Whatever your passion (music lessons, art, crafting, golf, reading, cooking, pursing an education, etc.), you need to actively pursue it. Schedule it when you can — during naps, after kids are in bed, get a sitter or wait until your partner is home to tag-team kid duties — but find time for you.

 

Kids make life richer; they aren’t an excuse to stop doing the things you love. It took me years to earn my degree, but I continued to attend college as a young parent because it fed my soul. When we were stationed in Sicily, I was able to work part-time for MWR to earn enough money for a babysitter on the nights I had class (when hubby was deployed or on duty). I applied for scholarships and took college classes on base.

 

  1. Live in the moment so you don’t multitask your life away. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day juggling of feeding, changing diapers, slaying the laundry monster, and the rest of your to-do list. Actively engage in what you are doing, and you’ll find yourself completing tasks instead of spinning your wheels on 10 different things. When you are feeding the baby, relax and enjoy the interaction and closeness, because this time won’t last very long. When you are deliberate with your actions you get more done and appreciate life a bit more.

 

Adjust your priorities. It’s OK to let the house go a little and focus on the basics. Rest, food, bathe, oh — and breathe. Breathing is good.

 

  1. Schedule your day so you can be spontaneous. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but trust me on this. Once you establish a schedule that works for you and your baby (or children), you will know your windows of active time and naptime and can take advantage of them. You need to get out of the house — sometimes to preserve your own sanity and other times to do the necessary shopping. Schedules help you do that and keep the kids happier.

 

When we were stationed at NAS Sigonella in Sicily, I stayed cooped up in the apartment for a while until I figured out that planning outings around my infant’s schedule made both our days better. Sometimes I planned for her to nap on the bus or in the car. Other days I found a quiet place for her to nap in the stroller, and we still had plenty of days where she napped in her crib. Manipulating the place of the feeding or nap, while sticking to the schedule, gave me newfound freedom to get things done or go to an impromptu lunch with friends.

 

 

  1. Wear your clothes, so you can connect with adults. I know that sounds silly to say, but if you are in the trenches, you know there will be days when you feel like managing to get a shower is an award-winning accomplishment. Pajamas or sweats are easier to roll with, but you still need to put yourself together so you won’t be in hermit mode every day. Once you’re dressed, with shoes on, you’ll find you are more productive and more sociable.

 

You have options in your day if you are dressed at the beginning of it. You can find and build a support network of friends that are in the same situation as you. Our second home in Sicily was farther away from base, so to find other moms I got involved with the local playgroup. We explored our little town of Santa Maria La Stella, went site seeing, hosted lunch play dates and watched each other’s kids when needed. That did my soul good and wore out my toddler so she napped like a champ, which in turn left me with a bit more me time.

 

 

  1. Date your partner. Between parenting, housework, career and the other activities of your life, it is easy to let exhaustion be an excuse to push off date night. Don’t let that happen. It’s important to reconnect with your partner daily and to have a regular date night each week. You don’t always have to go out of the house, but you do need to have regular time together and away from the kids.

 

You can have fabulous date nights on a budget. Check out your local Morale, Welfare and Recreation center for inexpensive and adventurous date ideas. Remember, your base usually has discount movies and you’ll find military discounts on different tickets at your ITT office. Be creative and surprise each other. Caring for one another as partners will make your parenting teamwork easier and more natural.

 

All parents go through this zombie stage. Pull yourself out of it with help from those who have been there. The friends I made while parenting my young children hold a special place in my heart. Those mothers helped me find myself when my zombie days blurred into one another. They reminded me that the best parts of life begin in parenthood. You have unique talents, knowledge, experiences and dreams you need to continue to nurture, because that is the well you draw from when you raise your children, solve problems and care for your family.

 

Picture This: 366-Day Photography Challenge

 Posted by on April 13, 2016 at 11:19
Apr 132016
 
Kristi

Kristi

I’d like to apologize to anyone who follows me on Instagram — it’s been nothing but crickets on there since the first of the year. My smartphone camera hasn’t gotten much use lately because I’ve been busy clicking away on my fancy — that is absolutely the technical jargon — camera that I got as a gift a few years back.

I’ve used the camera for blog pictures here and there, and I even managed to take newborn pictures of my daughter — gasp — three years ago, but adjusting the settings on manual mode took me an embarrassingly long time. My best photography subjects were inanimate objects because any living, breathing thing was long gone by the time I got my white balance, aperture, ISO and shutter speed balanced.

April Photo Challenge

Anyone who’s ever tried to document the precious, fleeting moments of their kid’s childhood knows that time for adjustment and do-over shots is not an actual option. So, it’s no wonder the masses are OK with smartphone photographer status:

  • The viewfinder is huge.
  • It’s a one-button operation.
  • We can kick any picture up a notch by masking it in sepia.
  • It takes only seconds to upload our prized works of art or hilarious kid videos to social media.

But I wanted to challenge myself and capture more than dust with that DSLR camera. Never underestimate a blogger with a little extra time and a case of writer’s block — I came up with 366 photography assignments (2016 is a leap year, after all). I would take one photo of a different theme each day for a year in hopes of wrapping up 2016 a better photographer than I was on the first of the year. To keep myself honest and on track, I started posting photos in a special album on Facebook, and I even talked some fellow moms with cameras into participating in the challenge right along with me.

105223081984884.gy8yOU0SYHtVVWeZHjaC_height640By the end of the year, I hope to have 366 photos that will help me and my family remember little details that made 2016 special to us:

  • Favorite spots in our (current) city
  • Favorite pieces of our (current) home
  • Major accomplishments for the year — no shortage there between a promotion, graduate-school acceptance and a soon-to-be kindergartener
  • Vacations
  • Friends and family
  • Holidays and birthdays
  • Day-to-day details

I have big plans for printing all of these photos in a coffee-table photo book. And, if I get really ambitious, I could do this every year…forever.

Whoa, slow down. One day at a time, Kristi.

Getting back to this year, I planned out a year’s worth of daily assignments before the first of the year, and I tried to pick themes relevant to the time of year and ones that were open to interpretation, like:

  • Something fluffy
  • Something cold
  • A photo I’ve been meaning to take
  • A mess
  • Something red

105223081984888.NMWej7rAt7CItDv652xM_height640To stay on track, I like to look ahead a couple of days to start brainstorming ideas for upcoming themes. Sometimes the plans play out, and other times something just presents itself at the right time. Challenges like this are all over the Internet, so you won’t have trouble finding themes if you want them. You could do a yearly challenge, a monthly challenge or your own interpretation of the challenge, like one photo a week or one photo per day without the pressure of a theme.

Now four months into the photography challenge, I can see a difference in the quality of my pictures, and I am definitely faster behind the camera — it takes me just seconds to adjust settings. And the challenge is, so far, producing the kinds of pictures I was looking for: significant details about my family at the moment and our time in California.

But I’m also discovering that I’m connecting more with my kids — quite possibly the best side effect of any challenge, ever. Any good child photographer will tell you that it’s important to get down to the child’s level. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing, and it’s gotten this busy mom back in the habit of getting down on the floor to play trains or climbing through playground equipment to catch the joy on my kids’ faces. My kids are getting into the challenge as well. They know that mommy has homework every day, and they are always asking what it is and what we get to do for the day to get the perfect shot. So far, we’ve:

  • Hiked, hiked and hiked some more
  • Whipped up homemade milkshakes
  • Painted outside
  • Hidden in the library
  • Popped in a candy store for cotton candy
  • Covered daddy in stickers
  • Played dress up
  • Spent countless hours on the beach
  • Had an ice cream date
  • Had a picnic (or five)
  • Gone for a walk (or 20)
  • Gone tidal pooling
  • Done impromptu science experiments in the back yard

Enthusiasm from the kids is motivating me to keep pressing forward with this challenge even though real life sometimes puts me behind. I’ve played catch up a few times which — if we’re being honest — technically means that I’m not sticking to the one photo per day rules, but the point to me is to have 366 meaningful photos at the end of the challenge. I don’t want to take a picture just for the sake of taking a picture. I want pictures that my entire family can glance back at fondly. I want my kids to see the highlights of this window in their childhood and recall what a fun year we spent together.

Making It Happen: A Real Life MilSpouse Entrepreneur

 Posted by on February 29, 2016 at 12:06
Feb 292016
 
Dani

Dani

You know those times when you meet someone new, and he or she is really awesome, and you think to yourself, “How on earth does she do it all?” That’s the way I felt when I first met Shiang-Ling, a real-life supermom.

Shiang-Ling is a military wife, a mother of four children under the age of 7, a visionary and an entrepreneur. She believes that if you want something enough, you can push past your fears and go for it.

For Shiang-Ling, the entrepreneurial spirit has always been a part of her. She first started a photography business seven years ago, covering several niches like wedding and family portraits, before realizing her love for boudoir photography. Her passion is photographing women, empowering them and helping them find themselves again. She recently started a second small business, The Hive & Co., which is a resource blog with marketing and managing services like branding, design, web hosting and social media, specifically for small businesses.

Shiang-Ling

The driving force behind Shiang-Ling is her belief that she is more than just a mother and a wife. While she loves both dearly, she also feels the need to grow personally while teaching her children to aspire for greatness. She enjoys being busy and hopes to teach them that’s how to be successful in life. I don’t see any way she could fail at this with her current track record!

Shiang-Ling is also a strong advocate for the military community. Not only does her business blog offer tips, advice and insight for new small business owners and entrepreneurs, it covers everything from business planning to management. Most of her clients and patrons are current or former military spouses. A plan is also in the works to create a network/referral service that connects business owners to military spouses and work-from-home moms. She and her business partner have many ideas and plans to empower and connect the military community.

After struggling with loneliness when starting her businesses, Shiang-Ling’s advice for other milspouses looking to do the same is to find a network of other spouses that are in the same boat as you, either running a businesses or aspiring to it. If she were doing it all over again, she would have first found a network or community so she didn’t feel like she was trying to maneuver the ins and out of entrepreneurship on her own. She also shares that she would have been more patient, feeling that she was too eager and rushed into purchases, decisions and sharing knowledge that she actually needed more time to develop. Patience really is a virtue!

Her biggest struggle today is balance. She shares, “I am very good at accomplishing many things, but it isn’t a walk in the park trying to do it all. I’ve learned that time management was and is very important to the management and growth of a business and my sanity.”

I can certainly relate to her on this subject! And although she admits it is hard work, and sometimes she does feel overwhelmed, she wouldn’t give it up for almost anything.

Moving forward, Shiang-Ling has a plan. In five years, she sees herself with a leading blog full of information, resources and contributions from other leaders in the business world (especially military spouses and work-from-home moms); with published eBooks, webinars and workshops; as a regular event speaker; managing a small business grant program and most importantly, she will be just as happy (if not more) to do what she loves with the drive to continue to grow and help others. “It’s just a small list,” she teases.

Finding Your Passion Through Entrepreneurship

 Posted by on February 18, 2016 at 15:38
Feb 182016
 

Blogger Biography: Dana Lofties Reeder, CEO of Reeder Consulting: College & Career Guidance, is an education advocate helping individuals determine their natural abilities for college and career success through proven assessments. Dana created her company to help people “Proceed with Confidence” on the path of life.

The journey to finding your passion, when starting your own venture, is often times a struggle. For some  individuals, entrepreneurship may be a lifelong dream. For me, I got frustrated and that’s where my story begins.

Throughout my entire professional life, I’ve believed “You must give to receive.” It’s my personal motto. Giving of my time and talents led me to get a master’s in guidance and counseling. I began working at a university at 21, instilling leadership and volunteer development skills in college students. It’s always been who I naturally was. Living the military life and moving to locations where I wasn’t able to continue my career due to country agreements, I began the slippery slope of losing my professional path. Like many other spouses, I never saw it coming.

One day I decided to write a letter to Dr. Jill Biden. I thought the experience I had was something someone should hear about. I have always admired Dr. Biden because she kept her own identity during her husband’s career. Never really thinking I would hear back, I actually did. Well, sort of. Rosemary Williams, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Military Community and Family Policy sent me a wonderful letter, which I still have today. But that’s not where it ended. A month later, my phone rang and it was Ms. Williams. A letter and a call — that’s impressive! Anyone who has had the wonderful opportunity to get to know her will understand her communication is always done with approachability and compassion, not to mention great humor. She signs her monthly newsletters with “Yours in the Fight” because she genuinely cares about military families. How can you not adore her? But in that conversation about the struggles of professional paths for career spouses, she asked me if I had ever thought about starting my own business because of the wealth of experience I had. That resonated with me, and for the first time, I took my husband’s advice and decided to begin my own company.

Taking Charge of Your Own Destiny:

1. Determine your passion: When I first started my company, because my background is so diverse, I struggled to be “focused.” Find one thing you are really great at and focus. In the middle of the night, I literally woke up and knew, without a shadow of a doubt, what my concept was going to be. It was 1) needed, 2) low competition, 3) and had a mission of changing lives. When you lay in bed waiting for the morning to come, you know you’ve picked the right path. Many times I don’t wait for the sun to come up — just ask my husband.

2. Use the available resources: Almost every university has a small business development center with the sole purpose to help you! Don’t be afraid to reach out and have them help you begin the process. They help you fill out paperwork, guide you to other resources and plug you into the massive amounts of networking opportunities. Getting an LLC costs about $300 and that is good for the lifetime of your company. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to begin a business with today’s technological world. Reach out and take advantage of getting free certifications, which provide you access to city, state and federal contracts, if that’s your market. In addition, connect with organizations that offer expert business mentors. There are also companies that put on numerous free webinars targeted at small businesses. Quality feedback, experienced guidance and hard-to-hear advice from mentors is critical! Pick wisely.

3. Volunteer in your communities, not just on base: This is such an important piece of maintaining a balanced professional life. Most importantly, it helps grow your personal and company brand while giving back to our military cities. But do it only if you are truly interested in the mission. While volunteering to help a business do some marketing, I met a man who was part of the local Chamber of Commerce. Before I knew it, I expressed my interest to be involved and within two months became the Chairman for the Chamber of Commerce. Because of volunteering, I was given an incredible opportunity for an even larger volunteer opportunity.

4. Network, network, network: There is nothing more debilitating than walking into a professional networking event without knowing a soul — but it matters. You want people to put your face with your company. I try to attend as many of these events as I can, however, I’m also an extrovert. My favorite event is “Speed Networking.” It’s an opportunity to sit down and pitch your business in a speed dating kind of format. You learn about them and they about you, and then you exchange business cards. In addition, I talk to professionals, individuals and groups about using social media for professional networking. Many people who aren’t proponents of social media often confuse the different platforms. Bottom line: they are not all equal. Use the ones that are 100 percent professional or you are wasting free marketing by not engaging, not to mention you are missing out on connecting with great individuals.

5. Keep learning: The journey of owning your business means you must stay up to speed on industry standards, changing trends, technology, and social marketing. I always say, “Learning never ends!” Make time to create your own professional development institute whether it’s online courses, formal classroom options through continuing education departments at universities or within school districts, one-on-one methods with industry experts, or reading books. Don’t get so busy you forget to feed your own professional soul and curiosity. I think of my business model as a footstool. One-third of my time is on the business, one-third is on networking and volunteering, and one-third is spent on education.

My company motto is “Proceed with Confidence” because I absolutely believe when you are pursuing your natural gift in life; you do just that — have confidence. It exudes from your pores. You walk taller, you speak more compassionately and you view the world clearer. And those qualities are the best gifts you can give yourself and your customers.

Disclaimer: Publication on the Blog Brigade does not constitute official endorsement of personal blogs or websites on behalf of the Department of Defense.

*If you are interested in starting your own business as a military spouse, reserve your seat for the 2016 entrepreneurship webinar series.

 

How to Make New Year’s Goals More Obtainable

 Posted by on January 25, 2016 at 11:31
Jan 252016
 
Kelli

Kelli

Setting goals is a yearly occurrence for me. Failing to reach goals is also a yearly occurrence for me. So it’s no surprise as the New Year approached and people talked about their New Year’s goals that I died a little inside; nothing like feeling like a failure before actually failing. I have reviewed my past history in detail and introspectively examined my short comings and weaknesses. That was fun. I ditched the data and decided, “What the heck — let’s give goal setting another try,” but this year I adjusted a bit.

Don’t take on everything.

The years I’ve decided to lose weight, spend less money, learn to knit, be nicer to my family, save money, volunteer more, read a book a month, cook from scratch and run the Marine Corps Marathon have not gone well. I can tell you the marathon, learning to knit and being nicer fell off the wagon by the end of January. This year, I’ve consolidated, kept them general and have not mentioned specifics in the overall goal statement. I call them my triple F goal: food, fitness and finances. So when people ask if I have set goals, I whip out my three Fs and move on without further explanation. OH, and I HAVE NOT posted them on social media. I can’t think of a better way to set myself up for failure than to announce I’m getting fit on social media. There’s always that one friend that posts a less-than-encouraging comment come the Fourth of July photo album where I’m not in a bikini.

Involve everyone.

There is nothing worse than trying to improve your life and having a bunch of people who are supposed to be your support network doing just the opposite. As a consequence my husband and I found something we could both do together, and because the children living in our home ARE LIVING IN OUR HOME, they are coming along for the ride. It’s not going to hurt them to each work on the three Fs, modified for age of course. Having everyone on board, at least for now, is setting me up to hopefully make it a little further this year towards my goals!

Set milestones.

Reaching a mini goal is more attainable, reasonable and motivating than saying you want to lose 30 pounds. In fact, we don’t even speak in pounds in this house. The mentality is getting fit. For me, as a grandmother of three, mother of six, full-time employee and closer to death than I was yesterday, my milestone is going to look very different than my 11-, 13- and 16-year-old sons. My milestone may be a commitment to walking three days a week for a minimum of 30 minutes. My 16 year old’s milestone might be beating his personal record in a 5K. Nowhere in my goal this year is the term 5K. I literally have to walk before I run.

Celebrate those milestones!

I’m not sure what that will look like for us this year. I want my family to have input there, as well. I don’t mean huge expensive celebrations, but something to recognize our effort. I’m thinking if we make it through the first week we need to commemorate it somehow. NOT WITH CAKE!

Be realistic.

My goals used to be all over the place, sometimes even contradicting each other. I made sure this year my goals complemented each other. Food and fitness is a no brainer. The finance comes in because I looked at our budget, and the amount of money we spend on convenience food was staggering. Even though my actual grocery bill is going to go up, the savings in the long run will be significant. If that is my focus and I happen to go down a pant size and have more energy, well that’s just a bonus and reward for being disciplined and making time to start cooking again. Surprise! You have to go clothes shopping in three months! (Oh the things that motivate us.) And this brings me to my last little nugget of hard-learned wisdom.

Don’t compare your goals to someone else.

I have the most amazing friends. One in particular can cook anything, anytime with any ingredients in her kitchen, and it will always be delicious. She has always done this and sometimes on a budget that is so unbelievable. I’m not talking a big budget; I’m talking a dollar amount that doesn’t even rate being called a budget. So my goal of just cooking again and not eating out looks ridiculous next to how she lives, but I’m not her, and I will never obtain any goal if I look outside myself. We are all unique in our talents and our challenges. Make your friends a source of support and a valuable resource. If I start to lose my stride and want to drive through a window to feed my family, then a quick text to my talented friend yields a simple, yet delicious recipe on my phone I can prepare.

Life happens, be flexible.

Somewhere in the middle of the year you may have to manage your expectation of what success looks like. Hear me now, THAT IS OKAY. After all, we adapt and overcome on a regular basis and life is about meeting it head on, not dictating the way ahead.

Finally, at the very heart of reaching your goal is the reason for making that goal to begin with. Don’t forget what it was. Post it, review it and refer to it often. My reasons walk through the front door every afternoon and evening. Set it and get it. Bring it on, New Year!

 

6 Ways to Win at Speed Friend Dating

 Posted by on October 19, 2015 at 15:10
Oct 192015
 
Kristi

Kristi

Boxes unpacked — check.

New routines — check.

Kids enrolled in school — check.

Found the grocery store and a go-to pizza place — check.

New friends…

My inner elementary school student is rolling her eyes. She was under the impression that making friends was something she only had to do over lunchroom trades or under the monkey bars at recess. Making friends was awkward and — at times — terrifying back then (maybe that’s just this introvert’s opinion), but I got through it thanks to parental promises like, “It won’t always be that hard.”

Oh yeah, Mom? Unless we already know someone at our new duty station, we have to friend date. Scratch that — we have to speed friend date, and it’s every bit as tedious and awkward as it sounds. We have our tried-and-true locales for friend picking:

  • Our service member’s connection
  • Our service member’s unit
  • Our job
  • Our kids’ activities
  • Our neighborhood
  • Our church
  • The gym

And it’s not like our new home is a ghost town. There are people everywhere, but we’re looking for quality, not quantity — this isn’t a Myspace friend-count contest. We have to weed through acquaintances to find “our people.” The people who aren’t going to judge our sweat pants at the early-morning school drop off. We need people who can relate to our venting (story toppers need not apply). We don’t have the time or the energy (or babysitting funding) to show up for things that don’t really interest us. We want to cut to the chase and find instant best buds.

But here’s the catch: We have to speed friend date without seeming too aggressive. Nobody likes a clinger. How do we do it? Well, we can’t very well walk up to a potential BFF and say, “Hi, I’m Kristi. Do you want to be my friend?” That’s a play from my 4-year old’s playbook (except he uses his own name…now). He has a 90 percent success rate with that direct approach, but I doubt very seriously that anyone over the age of 8 could match that feat. Instead:

  • Get busy doing what you love, and make your own routines. There’s no point in delaying your family’s rhythm in a new place only to find a friend who doesn’t mesh with it. This could be anything from clashing nap times to work schedules that never cross paths.
  • Use social media groups (carefully). Check Facebook for closed groups for your new installation, neighborhood or special interest groups (like play groups or exercise clubs). The closed group status is really important here because you don’t want information about your location or your plans for the day to be public information. These groups can be great ways to find a last-minute pet sitter or a life-long friend.
  • Add a friend to make a friend. Nothing helps friend-making cut to the chase like becoming friends or followers on social media. You can skip right over “Where are you from,” “How old are your kids” and “How long have you been here?”
  • Extend invitations without counting on company. Being inclusive is being a good friend. I tell my kids that, and it’s true for adults. You can say something as casual as, “We’re going to the park after lunch. You should stop by if you aren’t busy.” Don’t get bent out of shape if your friend is a no-show. Everyone has a routine, and a meetup isn’t always possible. The important thing is that inclusion is contagious. If you extend an invite, a new acquaintance is likely to return the favor.
  • Use your kids. That sounds awful, but there’s really no way to sweeten it up. If you focus on setting playdates with your kids or hauling them to one practice or the other, you’ll get to know the other parents. Maybe you’ll find a friend, maybe you won’t, but kids absorb the awkwardness. They fill awkward silence with things like, “I GOT NEW SHOES, SEE?!” And when you’re ready to wrap it up, you can usually count on your amazing little child to need to use the potty “real bad.”
  • Be you. Just like we prefer not to waste our time on activities that rank below spending Friday night on the couch, we don’t need to waste our time putting on an act. This doesn’t mean you need to say everything that runs through your head, it just means that if you aren’t meshing with someone, move along. It’s OK not to get along with everyone, and you’ll probably both be happier in acquaintance land.
Aug 132015
 

Blogger Biography: James Hinton is an Army veteran who hangs his cowboy hat in Idaho. He spends his time writing on veteran’s issues and attempting to teach his four daughters to call cadence while walking to the bus stop.

 

I made a mistake. I made it for reasons that made sense at the time, but it was a mistake. I’m hoping my story will help you avoid making it as well.

I enlisted in the Army back in 1998. At the time, I was looking for work and for training I could take back with me to the civilian world. I found, to my surprise, that the military was what I needed. I’d found myself in a place where I knew my role and purpose, my needs were met, and most importantly, I was part of something far larger than myself.

After my six was up, I reenlisted, intending to make a career of it. I’d already had two combat tours under my belt, so I knew the bad as well as the good. For me it was worth it. This was the life for me. I was going the full 20, and possibly even 30.

The mistake                                                                                                                  

It didn’t happen. Just as I was looking to get my E-7, a doctor at Darnall informed me I was done. My third combat tour had left me with permanent respiratory and back damage. I was no longer medically fit for service. Within a few months I was wearing civvies and wondering what in the world I was supposed to do. The monthly check I was getting for my disability was nice, but I couldn’t live on it, even if I wanted to just sit around at home (I didn’t).

I had a problem. While I had great Army skills, I was coming up short on the skills needed for the civilian world. Sure, I had been a non-commissioned officer, or NCO. I had demonstrated leadership skills. But leadership in what? The civilian world didn’t need armament dogs. In my job search I kept encountering the same thing. Unless I wanted to start a job in unskilled labor, I needed to go back to school.

The Army had, for years, been providing me the opportunity to pursue an education. I’d earned a few college credits that helped in my pursuit of rank, but it had never been a serious pursuit by me. Now I was finding that people really wanted someone with a college degree and that I was well removed from their expectations. It took three years for me to make up for that mistake, working what barely survivable jobs I could while studying late into the night for exams and writing papers.

Don’t make my mistake

If you happen to be like I was, an enlisted soldier, marine, sailor or airman planning to go all the way, it’s very tempting to make the same mistake I did. It’s easy to assume that life will be accommodating and let us make it to that 20-year letter. We’re young, we’re strong, it’ll happen.

Only, it might not happen. You could find yourself injured as a result of combat, an illness or even just a silly little accident. If it does, you need to be prepared.

There are no excuses to avoid being prepared. These days a large number of accredited and respected institutions are offering classes online that can be taken whenever, wherever. If you are thinking you can’t take classes because you could be deployed overseas in a month, wrong. If you have a laptop and a chance at Internet access you can take the classes with you without an interruption. You can attend class from your home, your barracks, your hooch, or the Morale, Welfare and Recreation tent — better known as MWR tent — of a forward operating base.

Some programs seem obvious when considering what online offerings might work well for a deployed, enlisted soldier. Norwich University offers programs in Military History, for example. NCOs with a bent for leadership can prepare for a civilian career in management with an MBA from the University of Alabama. Many vets, and not just 31Bs, consider going into law enforcement. The University of Cincinnati has an online degree for that.

Officers aren’t exempt from this. Sure, you already have a degree, but how well will that degree set you up for the future? If you suddenly find yourself out in the civilian world, will your education help you stand out, or simply make you another run-of-the-mill candidate? Set yourself apart by continuing your education with advanced degrees.

Maryville University offers online degrees in nursing perfect for an officer, with 66 series of military occupational specialties. It might seem like this would be an impossible degree to achieve online, but so long as you are working in a clinical setting (such as a field hospital in Afghanistan or at a clinic stateside), you can qualify to participate in the program. A 67E can easily transition into a civilian pharmacy career through the University of Florida. Having a master’s in medication therapy management will put you right at the top of the list for employers who need to comply with Medicare Part D requirements.

Be prepared

I failed to be prepared. Though I had the drive and leadership skills that makes a veteran desirable to employers, I did not have the degree that got me interviews. My “trade” was not applicable to the civilian world, and so I found myself in a position where I was a trained leader, but didn’t have skills to lead in a civilian job. It took three years to overcome that lack.

You can avoid my mistake. You may believe nothing can stop you from that 20-year letter, but things happen. Just like the Army requires people to have a will prepared for the worst, you should be prepared for an early and unexpected discharge. Don’t be like me, only finally able to find work three years after my expiration term of service. Get schooled, get a job and soldier on.

 

 

How to Be a Good Landlord in the Military

 Posted by on June 26, 2015 at 12:30
Jun 262015
 

Even after renting from landlords and being a landlord, I still have this completely cliché picture of what a landlord does. I just can’t seem to let go of this fictional image of a guy in overalls with a utility belt, who comes to the rescue at 3 a.m. when the kitchen faucet springs a leak or the toilet overflows.

Kristi

Kristi

This is not only false, but just downright comical — I mean, who wears overalls at 3 a.m.? And while we’re clearing up landlord myths, is “landlord” not a widely used term anymore? My spell check is insisting that the right term is “property owner.” Agree to disagree, squiggly blue line.

My husband and I became landlords when we couldn’t sell our little starter home in North Carolina. Our first move was to hire a property manager. What was our reasoning? Simple, we have:

  • No knowledge of drafting contracts
  • No knowledge of real estate (aside from buying a house once)
  • No time to learn either of the above
  • Little to no time to research repairmen, painters and carpet cleaners
  • Thousands of miles and a handful of time zones between our rental property and our current home

Right about now you’re either raising your hands to the sky, thanking the universe that someone gets the need for property managers, or you’re rolling your eyes and elbowing the person closest to you to announce disagreement with our decision to hire a property manager.

Well, you say “potato” and I say “potato.” OK, so some things don’t translate well to print, but you get it. There are two very strong sides to the property manager versus no property manager debate. Neither side is in the right, neither is crazy…or wrong…or misinformed. It’s gray, not black and white.

Heated debate aside, you can be an awful landlord with or without a property manager. And you can also be a really fantastic landlord either way.

What makes a good military landlord?

Trustworthy military family seeks a three bedroom, two-bath home with a yard and a good landlord.

  1. Communicate well.

If you’re doing a walk-through next week, tell your tenant. If your tenant calls three times and leaves three voice mails, something is probably up. Don’t wait three days to call back.

  1. Fix things when they’re broken.

We once moved into a house with all kinds of problems. We picked our battles: rusty dishwasher baskets. After two months of waiting, I was expecting a delivery any day. Instead I got a text message saying our landlord had some unexpected car expenses, so the dishwasher baskets had to wait. Say what, now?

We’ve also dealt with:

  • Humming toilets
  • Rotten exterior walls
  • A play set that looked like a death trap
  • A kitchen faucet held together with tape
  • A front-loading washing machine that I can only assume was used in a mildew-growing science experiment
  • Dead, thorny vines covering our patio
  • A water heater that flooded our garage
  • An air conditioner that just blew around hot Texas air
  • Light fixtures that don’t light on one side
  • Carpet covered in holes and stains
  • Carpet with puddles and stale laundry smell after a flood — this was especially fun two weeks before our move out. Instead of checking for damage or mold, our landlord simply hoped the rain would end soon.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, girl, that’s your fault for not telling your landlord.” We were upfront, open, honest and punctual with all updates. Unfortunately, we can’t control how our landlord reacts to that information.

  1. Don’t complain about a tight budget.

Back to the dishwasher debacle of 2012 — if I’m paying full basic allowance for housing to live in your house, please don’t tell me you can’t front the money to fix a situation. Landlords have to just make it work — we’re all working with BAH and unexpected expenses. As someone who has a middleman (aka property manager), if our dishwasher had rusty baskets, the baskets would be fixed ASAP, and it would’ve come out of our monthly check. You’re in charge of someone else’s quality of life; don’t take it lightly.

  1. Understand the definitions of “turnover” and “normal wear and tear.”

When we moved into our current rental, we picked up our keys from the previous renters on their way out. There was obviously no final walk-through, let alone cleaning of any kind. Sure, the worn-out carpet was steamed, but that was like putting a bandage on a broken bone — it did nothing.

Take time for turnover — clean, fix, touch up and update. If you can’t see your property in person between renters because you’re stationed out of state, get your property manager, neighbor or friend to share pictures of the house.

  1. Recognize time zones.

If your renter is calling you at 4 a.m. your time, it’s probably a big deal. You should probably answer it. If you’re a landlord texting at 11 p.m. in your renter’s time zone, it better be important.

  1. Be professional.

The neighbor — who just happens to be the landlord’s buddy — is not a neutral, third-party individual capable of performing a final walk-through.

  1. Recognize inconvenience. Our current landlord is trying to sell the house after we leave. This creates a triangle of chaos between the renter, landlord and realtor. It’s not ideal for any party, but I might argue that the renter is the most inconvenienced. The renter reaps no benefit from the sale. The renter is the one getting kicked out of their house (sometimes with 15-minutes notice…with kids…and work).

I’ve heard rumors of landlords who discount rent or drop gift cards in the mail as an incentive to cooperate during the home-sale process. It doesn’t have to be a huge monetary gesture — just a little something to say, “Hey, I know this is a pain in the you-know-what, but thanks for cooperating.” And, if you’re lucky enough to have cooperative renters, don’t take advantage of a good relationship.

  1. Let renters “live” in the house. I’m a control freak, so this is hard to say: landlords have to let go. Even though it isn’t home forever, renters need to feel at home for a while. You don’t have to cave on everything, just keep an open mind about paint colors, pets, landscaping.

The whole landlord-renter relationship is weird isn’t it? Technically, renters are houseguests in a landlord’s home, but renters pay landlords. So — landlords work for their houseguests? Maybe this is a golden rule scenario: Just treat everybody the way you want to be treated. And the same goes for how to treat a house.

All materials copyright Military OneSource, 2012. Blog content held jointly by writer and Military OneSource, with shared rights to republish with appropriate attribution.