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May 272016


Being consistent with technology-free family time is a challenge. Everywhere we turn, we are attached to some sort of technology. Breaking that bond, even for a short period of time, isn’t easy to begin with, but once you do, watch out. Also, be careful what you ask for, or should I say parents be PREPARED for what you ask for. Can you handle technology-free family time?

Congratulations, You’re Still Homeowners

 Posted by on May 23, 2016 at 11:18
May 232016


That sparkly American dream saw us coming from a mile away. My Marine and I got married, got orders and got right into homeownership in North Carolina in 2009. If you know anything about the housing market at that time, you’ll recall it was a “buyer’s market.”

With rock-bottom home prices, a new neighborhood popping up on every block and a VA home loan burning a hole in our pocket, we bought what we now only semi-affectionately call our “cookie-cutter” starter home — because it was the textbook 3-bedroom, 2-bath floorplan that looked just like the house next door…and the house across the street…and you get the picture. What could possibly go wrong?

If you’re reading this and thinking that I’m telling your story, then you know exactly what went wrong: We all had the same idea. When we received orders three years after signing our mortgage on the dotted line, selling our house was hardly a viable option. If — and that is the most hypothetical “if” I’ve ever tossed into the internet — we were able to sell our home in a timeframe that didn’t leave us strapped paying for housing in two places on one basic housing allowance, we were going to take a major financial loss on the deal.

Not fans of losing hard-earned cash, we opted to hang onto our house as an “income property” — I’ll get to the seemingly unnecessary quotation marks in a second — until the new construction calmed itself down and we stood a chance of at least breaking even on our investment.

Renting for beginners

Between the two of us, my husband and I knew only one thing about managing a rental property from thousands of miles away: We couldn’t do it on our own. Some military property owners can successfully manage property across state lines and time zones; let me take a minute to give you a slow clap because that is impressive. Instead, we hired a property management company to manage our house and our business — because that’s truly what it is, a business.

If you’re considering using a property management company, you should expect a reputable company to:

  • Advise you on price and lease terms
  • Advertise your property
  • Find renters and run credit and background checks before agreeing to lease to them
  • Serve as the liaison between you, the property owner, and your renters
  • Handle rent collection and deposit to the account you name
  • Take a cut — in the ballpark of 10 percent (in North Carolina, anyway)
  • Inspect your home on an annual, semi-annual, quarterly or monthly basis depending on your lease terms
  • Alert you to issues with your home that require your attention (and your cash), like broken appliances, leaks, etc.
  • Handle turnover to new tenants, including walk-throughs, deposits and readvertising
  • Communicate openly and respond promptly to your concerns

The absolute best way to find a good management company is to ask around for recommendations, but remember that it’s a big job. You’re putting a lot of trust in one company to care for your biggest investment, so get input from more than one person and check with the Better Business Bureau before you sign anything.

The anti-income property

You’ll recall those quotation marks around “income property” a few paragraphs ago. That was to indicate that our home brings us very little income. Currently, I’d say we make about $25 a month on our house. But, I did get an email that our garbage disposal cracked last week, so that will probably wipe out our “profit” from that last year — there I go with those quotes again.

For a while, I found this lack of extra income incredibly discouraging. Why wasn’t I looking more like the Monopoly guy? Perhaps we impulsively took Baltic Avenue under our wing with false hopes that it would magically transform to Park Place overnight. But, something adjusted my expectations in a big way.

Just before the holidays two years ago we found out that our perfect renters were breaking their lease six months early, penalty-free (thanks to their military clause — which you should absolutely use to your advantage every time). If you know anything about renting, you know that it’s typically easier to rent in the summer months, so smack-dab in the middle of the holidays is not ideal. Our house was empty for almost six months. For six months we drained the account dedicated to receiving rent and paying the mortgage — luckily we actually were profiting during their lease term or we would’ve been in serious hot water.

We were forced to lower the rent, and at that time we finally landed a qualified renter. It was when my husband and I were wrestling with whether or not to lower the rent to a cost that would no longer cover the mortgage payment that we concluded: Getting some of our payment covered was better than fronting all of it ourselves.

So, for almost a year we actually paid $25 each month to our mortgage payment in addition to the rent we collected, and only now that the rates have shifted for 2016 are we making a few adorable little dollars each month.

Why selling wasn’t for us

In the military community, we don’t have the luxury of hanging around until the house sells. When we have to go, we have to go. This was our primary reason for renting instead of selling. If we could’ve hung around a few more years updating and upgrading things, I might be telling a different story now. We hope that when our current renters move out in another year, we will be in a better position to sell. The uncertainty, the monthly gamble of it is not our idea of fun — or a lucrative side business.

5 Ways to Spark Fun in Your Relationship

 Posted by on May 18, 2016 at 11:08
May 182016


Our lives get really busy, and with frequent separations as military spouses, it can be easy to fall into a rut and stop investing time in your relationship. Here are five easy ways to get those sparks flying!

  1. Recreate your first date. How fun does this sound? Our first date was several states away from where we are now, but I already have some great ideas as to how I can make this happen. Find a similar place, wear similar clothes, plan similar activities. Such a great way to bring back that initial spark! If your first date was less than stellar, there’s no harm in switching things up a bit. Have fun with it!
  2. Make a bucket list together. Sit down and work together to create a list of things you want to do either together or as a family. This gets you talking about things you’ve always wanted to do and puts you both on the same page, while giving you something to work for as a couple. It can be a life-long bucket list, a list of things you want to explore or visit in your current area, or even little things. Going to a bar or bookstore together, cooking dinner together once a week, or finding a new place to watch the sunrise are just as worthy and sometimes more attainable.
  3. Disrupt your routine. Taking a break from the day-to-day monotony always stirs things up a bit. Discuss something you would like to change within your daily regimen, such as waking up early to have a cup of coffee together. Or, get a little crazy and plan a date night with friends instead of just the two of you. Seeing other people also helps to switch things up and it’s fun to spend time out with other couples!
  4. See a counselor. I get that this scares some people, but it’s also a great tool to reignite that spark! Even if you don’t have any major issues, it’s helpful to talk about things and be proactive in creating and maintaining a meaningful and joyful relationship with your spouse. My husband and I see a counselor to discuss how we communicate with each other, and we always leave our sessions feeling empowered and enlightened. Whether you go weekly, monthly or every three to six months (as we tend to do), it helps to have that little checkup to keep your relationship strong.
  5. Laugh together. They say laughter is the best medicine, so make that extra effort to get some laughs in! Plan a date to a comedy club or to see a comedian, rent a funny DVD so you can laugh as loud as you want on your couch at home, or make a list together of your funniest memories or things your kids say. When needed, refer to your list. You could even learn a silly new joke to share. Sometimes the more goofy it is, the more funny it seems!

Whether your relationship needs a little pick-me-up or a serious wakeup call, taking a little time to invest in your marriage is key to maintaining a lasting, loving relationship. By nurturing, encouraging, and investing time and effort into it, you can keep that spark going or reignite it when needed.

May 132016
Blog Brigade 21-Day Challenge


I’m contemplating how I’m going to define success in this 21-Day Technology-Free Family-Time challenge, because right now I feel like I’m I the middle of a deployment when the days are long and the nights are longer. I wonder why my family can’t figure out how important this is. It’s always darkest before the dawn, and I’ve been through enough early morning anxiety attacks to have a small sliver of faith that, in the end, these last few days will have been worth the experience.



May 052016


I have so many friends who recently received orders for overseas duty stations. Some are headed to Europe and other exciting locales. But most people I know are headed to Japan, which is weight restricted for some branches of service as far as household goods are concerned. I won’t get into the nitty gritty of all of that, but usually folks are looking at being able to take 25 percent of their maximum allowable weight or in plain English, about 2,500-4.500 pounds of their “stuff.” If you want to get into the nitty gritty, check your spouse’s orders or visit for the current weight allowance charts.

While only taking a fraction of your stuff may cause you to panic, remember that there is loaner furniture available to you during your tour. It will not be extravagant or Pinterest-worthy, but it’s furniture. A question I keep getting repeatedly is what folks should take to fill that maximum allowed. I am not going to tell you about taking the obvious stuff such as clothes, kitchen items, silverware, etc. Instead, here is my list of things I wish I had brought or was so glad that I did.

Items to consider:

  • Holiday decorations. I was soooooooo glad I brought one tote of Christmas items. It made the holidays feel more “real” to me having my familiar favorites. Also, I liked not having to fight the good fight over the last package of generic-colored ornament balls.
  • Hostess and serving pieces. I have no idea what I was thinking by not taking extra dishes, extra serving trays, party supplies etc. Being overseas is so much fun because everyone becomes your family, and that means you are always at someone’s home or your own having a big feast, especially at holidays. I am now back in America with double of all my hostess items since I couldn’t go 3 years without hosting people for dinner.
  • Home décor. I foolishly followed advice to leave all home décor at home. I wish I had brought a few framed art pieces or mirrors, a few throw pillows or SOMETHING that would have made our little bunker feel more like home without having to repurchase items once we got there. Please don’t bring your whole house full of décor, but a few neutral pieces that can work anywhere are advised.
  • Personal pictures. I took all of our photo albums to my parents to store while we were overseas. I wish I had taken at least one or two albums to peruse during our three-year tour. Call me cheesy, but I missed thumbing through our wedding album every year on our anniversary. I also wished I had pictures of our families.
  • Craft/hobby supplies. I am an avid sewist and wish I had brought tons more fabric. Yes, you can more than likely get craft supplies in your new location or you will be able to order them, but sometimes I just wish I had more of the basics already on hand. So if you have a specific hobby, consider bringing along extra of whatever it is you may use most.
  • Your bed. Yeah, yeah, I know I mentioned you will be given loaner furniture during your tour, but the government beds aren’t exactly dual pillow-top memory foam if you are catching what I am saying. So if a comfortable bed is important to you, pack it up and ship it over! No need to send the whole matching solid wood bedroom suite over. Just the mattress and rails. No all your furniture won’t match, but that’s part of the charm of overseas living.
  • Clothes for another climate. If you are going to Guam you may think you can ditch the winter coats and snow gear at home. But what happens if you go back to America during the winter and your family lives in Billings, Montana where there is likely snow on the ground. You don’t want to arrive in flip flops now do you? Many folks I know, took vacations up to snowy and cold Sapparo, Japan and needed their winter coats. So don’t take a whole wardrobe of winter gear, but a few outfits, just in case.

Remember, no matter what you take or leave behind, it isn’t forever. No one expects matching plates, silverware, home décor or furniture when you are living overseas. We all “get it,” so don’t stress it. Spend more time out their exploring your new home instead of worrying about what you left behind!

6 Reasons We Should All Be Volunteering

 Posted by on May 2, 2016 at 21:53
May 022016


It hit me when I was pinning gold leaves on my husband’s collar one unusually hot February afternoon: I’m not the “new spouse” anymore. But, I didn’t feel ready to be a spouse with answers; I still had a whole mess of unanswered questions. I still use names like, the Jack Nicolson and the wedding one to describe my husband’s uniforms. I know they have real names. I know I should probably know what they are after nearly eight years, but I can only fit so many penguins on my iceberg — I have to leave room for school pick-up and drop-off times, my own phone number and, of course, my sponsor’s social.

We are all learning as we go. We all went through that “stupid question” phase. If we’re being honest, we’re all still going through that phase because the minute we have something figured out, someone changes it.

My purpose in showing my military spouse age is not to invite comments about how I don’t look a day older than my first deployment brief or how I am wise beyond my military spouse years. Although, if you feel compelled, who am I to stop you? Really, my point is to spike participation in…well…everything.

Lack of volunteerism among military spouses is an ongoing issue — go figure, it’s the one thing that never changes from installation to installation. Don’t misunderstand — there are always, always a handful of ladies and gentlemen who do the work of many with just a few of their own hours to work with. I know, for myself at least, I’ve always put off getting involved until my kids were older and I had a better handle on this whole military spouse thing. Realizing I’m no longer new at this made that new-spouse expiration date hard to ignore.

We are all busy; we are all perpetually the new kid after each move. We all have our kids, fur babies, jobs or school that vie for our time, and we couldn’t possibly add anything else into the mix. But there’s a cyclical stigma with volunteering: People avoid it because they don’t want it to take over their agendas, but because most people are hesitant to get involved, five people do the work of 500. The cycle continues with that, “If I don’t make eye contact, you won’t call on me,” mindset — because we don’t want to have another thing to do at the end of an exhausting day. But volunteering doesn’t have to swallow up our time, and it shouldn’t. If everyone in the military community found something to do once a month there wouldn’t be so much work to pile on the regular volunteers.

Volunteering somehow, somewhere in the military community is worth our time because we can:

  1. Support military-community programs that support us and incoming military families
  2. Learn on the job
  3. Make new friends
  4. Network with other spouses
  5. Add some community involvement skills to our resumes
  6. Be a part of decisions that shape the military community

You don’t have to do it all, but we all just have to do something. So, the next time you get an invitation in your inbox or your service member comes home with spotty details about something you could do (you know, if you want), get the details before you number off the reasons you can’t do it (believe me, no one is guiltier of this than I am). Chances are all we’ll have to do is give two or three hours of our day — that’s pretty harmless. And carving out a little time now will ensure that popular programs and services are around for the next round of incoming military spouses and service members.

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