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PCSing With Your Dog: Mind Your Mutt’s Manners

 Posted by on August 22, 2016 at 07:00
Aug 222016


Moves happen all the time in the military community. There’s that span of time, as your neighbors are moving in, where you hold your breath waiting to see if they’ll be good neighbors (respectful, kind and friendly) or the kind that make you count the days until your next PCS. Your dog’s behaviors escalate the risks of the latter. Here are a few ways to make sure you and your four-legged fur-amily members are a welcomed addition to the neighborhood.

Avoid bad-neighbor status

When you’re are running or walking through your neighborhood and you see THAT pet owner with their uncontrolled dog on the leash coming toward you — your muscles start to clench and you sweat a bit more from that underlying fear that this time the dog will lunge and take a chunk out of your leg. Don’t be that neighbor everyone dreads passing. Here are the behaviors that give your dog (and you) a bad name:

  • Pulling on leash and lunging at strangers
  • Jumping on visitors
  • Growling and barking at visitors
  • Hiding in fear of visitors
  • Barking excessively
  • Stealing food from the counter or people’s plates or hands
  • Behaving aggressively with other dogs
  • Refusing to come when called
  • Neglecting to clean up after your dog when he voids outside of your yard
  • Roaming around unattended outside your yard

Choose to raise a well-mannered fur-amily member

Every family parents pets differently. There’s nothing wrong with doing things your own way, but make sure your fur babies know how to behave in a way that keeps them, other people, dogs and property safe, because it’s your responsibility. Choose to be proactive with your pet. Decide how you want to train your dog to behave. There are numerous ways to train your canine, including:

  • Private classes (you and your dog with the instructor)
  • Group classes (you and your dog with other pet-owner couples and an instructor)
  • Camp training (dog goes away with the trainer for a few weeks and comes back trained)
  • Do-it-yourself training from a book, the internet or prior knowledge

I’ve tried the do-it-yourself method from a book and it worked, but I’ve always had the best and quickest results when I attended group or private classes and practiced at home. Half of training your dog is training yourself to understand your dog (how she thinks, what motivates her, and how you become and remain a trusted pack leader). I highly recommend a training course where your dog is exposed to other dogs and people. Socialization, learning to interact well with others, is a huge part of being a good neighbor.


You can teach any dog manners

Whether your dog is a puppy, a geriatric, stubborn, or a complete klutz (I’ve had a few that chase balls right into walls, doors and fences), they are trainable. You may need to reach out to your veterinarian, a licensed dog trainer or an animal behaviorist to help you if your dog is excessively fearful or aggressive. There’s hope for all pets, they just need the right instruction and consistent practice.

After our fur-child of 14 years, Faith, died earlier this year, we decided to adopt another dog from the local shelter. After a few visits, we found our sweet Coco, a 2-year-old special, and realized we had a lot of energy on our hands. We quickly learned to take her on a walk or play fetch with her multiple times a day so she could run out her energy and curb her night crazies a bit.

We also started taking her to private lessons from a trainer, worked with her at home and then went to Canine Good Citizen training course through our veterinarian’s office. The training and test cover the basics of good behavior for dogs. Dogs that can perform the 10 skills on the test are truly a pleasure. Here are the 10 good-behavior goals for your dog:

  1. Accept a stranger (shows no signs of fear or aggression and not leave your side to greet them)
  2. Sit for petting (doesn’t move from sitting position and allows stranger to pet them)
  3. Tolerate grooming (lets stranger groom and touch paws, tail, ears)
  4. Walk on loose leash (no pulling, is attentive to owner and follows where they lead)
  5. Walk through a crowd (no pulling on leash, no signs of fear or aggression while following owner)
  6. Stay in sit or down position (remains in stay when owner walks 20 feet away and back)
  7. Come when called (immediately returns to owner when called)
  8. Be polite around dogs (shows casual interest in other dogs walking by, no pulling toward them)
  9. Remain confident when distracted (shows confidence, not panic with loud sounds or visual distractions)
  10. Stay calm when separated (can be left with another person for brief time and maintains manners)

Sometimes we get so busy with work and life that we forget to get involved with our animals beyond the couch cuddles and feeding time. Invest in your dog as you do your children. OK. So maybe your dog doesn’t need tap dance or soccer lessons, but remember that your dog needs some interaction and a purpose or job to do each day too. You can do obedience training, teach your dog tricks or jobs around the house, train for agility trials, practice fetch with Frisbees, learn therapy dog skills or just go on daily walks. Your dog will love every moment of that time with you, and you and your dog will earn a welcomed spot in the neighborhood.

5 Things You Get When You Move Off Cycle

 Posted by on August 15, 2016 at 07:00
Aug 152016


All the boxes — I’ll take all the boxes. That’s my thought every time I see a post on our community’s Facebook page from yet another new neighbor that advertises “boxes and packing paper free on the porch.”

There’s nothing like the smell of cardboard in the summer in a military-heavy neighborhood, but it’s hard to get in the spirit of moving season when you watch new faces settle in as you scramble to get your kid ready for kindergarten while simultaneously filling out paperwork for a mid-year transfer on the complete opposite side of the country — 2,869 miles to be exact.

This is my first move off cycle, and so far I can describe it as having our invitation to the party lost in the mail.

#1: School breaks never, repeat never, align.

A summer PCS takes advantage of a season-long vacation from school, but moving literally any other time in the year means pulling kids out of one school and dropping them in another mid-year.

This leaves parents like me doing crazy real-life word problems like, “Student A starts spring break in California on March 20 and has two weeks off. His family leaves to move across the country on March 31. He arrives at his new home on April 8. His new school takes spring break from April 10-17. How many weeks of school will he miss?” Four — the answer is roughly one month out of school. Widen your eyes just a little more, and you’ll be at my level of amazement.

What’s a parent to do? We do our homework — lots and lots of homework — to make sure every little detail is attended to (enrollment paperwork, grade transfers and school physicals), so that all we have to do is show up and be the new kid (and we hope that doesn’t become an issue all its own). So far, the school liaison at our future installation has been amazing. Make this lifeline your first point of contact every time.

#2: Weaving a vacation into an off-cycle PCS is tricky.

Our summer move to California was the stuff of dreams. We could have been the spokesmodels for the great American road trip. State by state, we checked items off our bucket lists. Naturally, I wanted to replicate this grand cross-country trip (the optimist in me thinks this might be our last time driving all the way across), but we planned to take a northern route. Funny thing about the north in early spring: It’s frozen. I’ve already axed the Yellowstone adventure and glamping in Montana. We’ll hit Seattle, Mount Rushmore, Chicago and hope we aren’t racing a late blizzard.

#3: Rental houses hibernate in the winter.

If you’re ever bored (or you’re just a premature house hunter, like me), take a peek at rental listings during the summer. Our future duty station currently has pages and pages of options within our housing allowance. I have serious concerns that we’ll be dealing with a skeleton crew when we start our search after the holidays. Maybe I’m wrong — I hope I’m wrong — but from my experience as a landlord, I know that pickings tend to be slim outside of the summer months.

#4: We mean it when we insist on no gifts for the holidays.

Oh, Grandma and Nana — and you too, Uncle K, with your tradition of gifting gigantic stuffed animals — the months leading up to a move are traditionally the purging months in this house. If I’m not running things to the dump or the donation bin, I’m probably hosting a yard sale in which everything must go. The last thing I need is one more thing to pack and unpack. What I won’t say no to are some things that could be helpful during the move — maybe a road trip game, a book, a movie, travel funding, etc. We are all in agreement that we want the kids to have a memorable holiday, and believe me, they will — we’re planning a trip instead of focusing on gifts. And, if that’s not enough, just wait until you see their faces light up as they unpack everything that’s been in storage for two years, “And you get a kitchen set. And you get a trampoline. How about a TV for the playroom?”

#5: “One [really] is the loneliest number.”

No one throws around Facebook “likes” like I do in the summer — moving boxes, moving trucks, PCS vacations, saying goodbye to old friends and embracing new friends. Like, like, love, sad face, like — I really get in the moving season spirit. But it’s bittersweet when you watch all the friends you’ve made at a duty station pack up and leave without you. We’ve already said goodbye to friends here, and there’s another wave coming just before the holidays. We’ll be holding down the fort here on the block all by ourselves for three months after our friends have moved on.

I’m pretty independent, so I’ll be OK (aside from missing them dearly, of course). But I think about my kids starting to lose their friends months before their move. That’s a long timeline of emotion for such tender hearts. I also think about how — even on the days we weren’t purposely spending time together — our neighbors and friends were just part of our lives here, and that even simple things, like checking the mail or taking out the garbage, will be a little different without them.

It’s not all bad

Like any other part of military life, we can’t change the fact that we may once (please) or twice (hopefully not) have to move off cycle. So, we can wallow in the unfortunate timing or dig through that packing paper for a silver lining. Some perks of moving off cycle, include:

  • All the gently used packing paper and boxes we can handle
  • Cooler temps on moving day (in theory, anyway)
  • Built-in child care on moving day (unless your kids happen to be on a school break)
  • Lower home prices (also in theory — homeowners that didn’t sell or rent their places in the summer may lower the price to entice buyers or renters)

I am sure when it’s all said and done, I’ll have a whole new blog to write about “what not to do during an off-cycle move,” but I’m going to roll with it for now and try to get my 5-year old to keep his enthusiasm for his month-long spring break at a minimum.

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!

12 Mistakes to Avoid When Getting Ready for Your PCS

 Posted by on March 23, 2016 at 08:00
Mar 232016


Moving in the military is very much a learn-as-you-go process. Which, I have to admit, totally stinks because that means you’re basically gambling for success while using your stuff and your family’s comfort as collateral. Talk about high stakes — no pressure, right?

My first move as a military spouse was textbook disaster. A PCS was described to me (by my brand new husband) as a piece of cake. “People come in and do everything for you,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about a thing,” he said.

So, I headed off to a full day of teaching seventh graders without a care in the world. Long story short, we lost the deposit on our apartment for lack of cleaning — which, by the way, I will still contest as my expensive, custom bleach trays were lost forever, and I unpacked a trashcan full of trash in North Carolina. Those were just some of the highlights.

Lessons learned, right? I would never again be so trusting. The helicoptering, micromanaging mover was born. Our next PCS was with a dog…and a kid. So, obviously the challenges changed. Our stuff arrived accounted for and in one piece, but I was teetering on the brink of lunacy strategizing what toys and snacks to pack in the car. We ended up packing two full cars (and full is not an exaggeration). And I completely spaced on the logistics of pit stops with a dog. Obviously, we couldn’t all spend an afternoon experiencing a museum or taking an hour to venture into an actual restaurant instead of fast food because there was a dog in the car. And hotels — I learned an important lesson: pet-friendly hotels fill up quickly during PCS season.

Then there’s the most recent move. Things were broken. Things were lost forever. A half-eaten sandwich that we bought for our movers was packed in a box along with my office supplies — we found them when we unpacked a month later. I’ll never eat another roast beef sandwich as long as I live.

There are mistakes to make and lessons to learn, but, luckily, I’ve made enough PCS mistakes to teach us all a little something:

  1. Never assume anyone cares about your stuff as much as you do. Movers work against the clock. They start rocking and rolling, and when quitting time rolls around, they’ve been known to roll anything in sight into the last box. Keep your eyes peeled for haphazard packing, and speak up for your stuff.
  2. Always buy lunch and water for the movers. I used to feel like this was a matter of preference, but I’ve changed my mind. Failure to provide food and drinks can mean your heavy lifters take off for a 2-hour lunch. Your one-day job might just turn into a two-day job. That being said, offer to take their trash. That’s the best way to ensure that leftovers don’t move with you.
  3. Always purge clutter and toys, books and clothes you’ve outgrown before the move. If I had a nickel for every time I asked myself why in the world we moved “blank,” I wouldn’t be writing this blog right now because I would be independently wealthy. If you don’t like something now, you won’t magically fall in love with it in a new place. Kick it to the curb — better yet, kick it to a donation bin.
  4. Always isolate items that you plan to hand carry on the move. Hide your keys. Hide your purse. Hide your phone charger. Lock up the dog food. For any other suggestions, see a full list of items to hand carry. If you will need it, lock it up — no exceptions.
  5. Always handle utility hookups and cutoffs in advance. Waiting until the last second could make you the lucky recipient of double utility payments, cancellation fees or a week without Internet at your new place (oh, the horror).
  6. Always clean. Clean after the truck is loaded. Clean before the truck arrives. It might just save your deposit at point A and your health at point B.
  7. Never wait for “them” to call you. It doesn’t matter if “them” means the moving company, your landlord or even the monitor while you wait for orders. Be proactive and be impressed with how efficiently stuff gets done.
  8. Always factor travel expenses into your moving budget. Hotels, gas, airline tickets and food add up during a move. Sure, there’s an allowance, but don’t always count on getting that on the front end of the move. Make sure to save any receipts you’ll need as documentation for reimbursement.
  9. Always scout out pet-friendly hotels on your route. Your fur babies can make it tough to stop for the night, so give yourself some options.
  10. Never be so preoccupied by the destination that you forget the journey. Even the speediest of moves leave a little time for sightseeing. Break up your trip and see something new or someone you haven’t seen in a while.
  11. Always use your network to learn about your new home. Get to know that friend of a friend of a friend at your new duty station. Blast private Facebook groups in your new area with questions. Word of mouth is a great way to learn about neighborhoods, schools, physicians, dentists, activities for the kids and more.
  12. Always, always take pictures of damaged items. If you expect anyone to care about your dented ironing board or your whale statue that is now tail-less, take pictures before you trash them or glue them back together.

Yes, there’s always something to learn with each PCS, but my face-palm moments don’t have to only teach me. Hopefully you’ll walk away less likely to find a fuzzy sandwich while you unpack.

Jul 272015

Dear Maddie,

We recently PCSed after 3 years at our last duty station where we had a great circle of friends. We currently do not have children and I am finding it difficult to make friends. I feel like all the moms think that I don’t want to be friends with them because we don’t have children ourselves and that just isn’t true. How do I crack the code and make friends here?



Dear Kara,

I have been on both sides of this equation, so I understand completely where you are coming from. And kids or not, it is hard to make friends after a move, especially if you have a great, established circle of friends back at your old duty station. Moms may seem like they have the advantage with the bus stop chatter, play groups and sports teams, but sometimes moms want friends outside of their kids’ circle. I think the standard rules of making friends apply whenever you move. Regardless of your kid status, you will also build up a great network of friends at your new installation with a little bit of elbow grease and some old school methods. Just like dating, you need to find an activity or hobby you are interested in and pursue it in your new community. Obviously solo, anti-social activities do not apply, but let’s be real, you can even make a love of reading books into a social activity with book clubs. If you are racking your brain trying to figure out a hobby, then consider the old cliché of volunteering in the meantime. It’s cliché because it works. I have yet to leave a volunteer activity without at least one new friend. It may take a few attempts before you hit it off with someone and other times you may hit it off with someone immediately. Not sure where to start? Consider a program on your installation (where volunteers are always needed) or a passion in your local community (dog walkers at your community pet shelter anyone?). There you will find like-minded people and it will already lay the groundwork for a friendship. Also, why not put yourself out there? If you are a foodie and dying to check out a new restaurant, post in a spouse group on social media to see if others want to plan a meet up. Same thing goes with a movie you want to see or activity you want to check out. Of course it goes without saying to use caution when meeting people for the first time, so make sure it’s a public place and let others know your plans for the day. I believe your friend circle will soon be growing regardless of the “mom status” of you or your new friends!


Dear Maddie,

We just got to our new duty station and to sum it up, I hate it. How do I survive the time we have left here?



Dear Brandee,

I know you want to pack your bags and head out of town and tell your spouse you will see them on the flip side, but put the suitcase down. Most spouses have been in your shoes and have lived to tell the tale! I promise I am not going to sit here and tell you that you will learn to love it, or ask what is wrong with you. I firmly believe that it is OK to not like where you live. We are all meant to thrive in different parts of the world. However, I will tell you to bloom where you are planted. That phrase used to be nails on a chalkboard to me, so I modified it to fit my situation. Sure. I will bloom where I am planted, but only short, sustainable roots that can easily be picked up and moved to another location to thrive.” I made the choice to power on by finding the good things about our new location. I also had to psych myself up with daily positive affirmations about the benefits of living in that particular place. Literally, I would publicly share on my Facebook page something positive. It was a bit of a mind trick and it got me through. I got really involved in social activities and volunteering and before I knew it I had some of the best friends I had ever met and suddenly our time was up! I was sad to leave! Sad! Can you believe it? Not so much because of the duty station itself, but because of the friends we made. Since you mentioned that you just got to your new home, might I suggest my rule of thumb? I make sure not to make a decision on a duty station before we have lived there six months. That gives me enough time to experience a few season changes, get to know my way around, and get settled. If at the end of the six months I still don’t like it, I allow myself to be OK with that, but still find ways to thrive. I am willing to bet you too will find the positive in your new place and grow your roots to fit your situation. Best wishes!



Deploying After a PCS

 Posted by on June 3, 2015 at 12:53
Jun 032015


So you found out you have PCS orders. Maybe your husband brought home flowers when he broke the news. Maybe that got your spidey senses up. Hmm, flowers? We have been doing this for a hot minute, you don’t need to soften



PCS orders with flowers, dude. Maybe it’s because your spouse also wanted to tell you that in addition to moving, his new unit will be deploying within six months of arriving and the dreaded “work-ups” start immediately. Has this happened to you? You are not alone. In fact, I often think that PCS classes and deployment readiness workshops should be given in conjunction.

While I will admit moving to an unfamiliar area and not having an in-place support system can be stressful, it’s also a chance to find out what you are made of. Here are a few ways to build up your military spouse tool box and help you prepare for the double whammy — the PCS followed by the deployment.

Before your move

Visit MilitaryInstallations — and I’m totally not just saying that because this is a Military OneSource blog. It really is full of lots of useful, great and accurate information. Once you have a baseline feel for your new duty station, hit up Google, hard and often. Scope out the neighborhoods you might want to live in, check out base housing and decide on a safe location to live. Also take this as a chance to scope out your new city and start a list of things to see, activities for your kiddos, possible job opportunities and recon the daycare or school options. Search social media for groups pertaining to your new duty station. Then lurk. That’s what I do. I look at current conversations, check out previous conversations and really get a feel for our new home. If we are going to be “doing the deployment thing” immediately I want to hit the ground running without trial and error, such as picking the wrong dance center for ballet classes… oh, the horror.

And seriously, start mentally preparing. Life is going to be a little chaotic. Know that in advance and embrace it. I know that I personally handle stressful situations when I know in advance that it’s going to be stressful and remind myself that “Hey, I can deal with chaos for a few months. I can do this. Totes. Seriously. I’ve got this.”


After your move, before deployment

Go to the briefs and spouse workshops. Yes, even if you have been a million times before. Use it as a chance to network with other spouses. Not only will you be holding down the home front with these spouses, but chances are there are a few that have been in the area a while and can help you get connected. You might even be surprised and learn something new since the last time your spouse deployed, such as access to local services to help families of deployed service members.

Also, don’t forget to get your kids settled as quickly as possible after the move. Military life is a roller coaster but you can help by doing the normal things you do after a PCS such as unpacking their rooms first, enrolling them in clubs or sports and helping them build up their own support network to help deal while their parent is deployed.

While being left to establish your family in a new place while your spouse is deployed isn’t ideal, it isn’t the end of the world. With a positive attitude and preparation you can add another gold star to your “awesome things I accomplished while my spouse deployed” list.

May 132015

I love a good, organized plan. Color-coded pens, highlighters, sticky notes, binder tabs, maps, timelines — be still my heart. So when my husband and I decided our best plan of action was to weave a family vacation into our upcoming permanent change of station move, I got goosebumps — like, “I’d like to thank the academy” goosebumps.



My husband cautioned that it was going to take a lot of planning. At that moment of caution, if my thoughts could have materialized into one of those little comic book thought bubbles, you would have seen me imagining myself as the lesser-known super hero, Organization Girl — hands on my hips, cape and perfectly-styled hair blowing in the breeze.

The ink hadn’t even dried on our web orders (yeah, I know they don’t require actual ink — just run with the picture I’m painting), and I was already using the Internet to map routes, calculate miles, divvy up the hours between travel days and pick points of interest along the route.

For three days straight I had no less than 12 browser tabs open online while I connected the dots between travel reviews, popular attractions, lunch stops, maps, national parks, free fun for the kids and military lodging options. After hours of Internet research and more math than I ever wanted to voluntarily take on, I capped my pink highlighter and confidently dropped it to the desk.

The plan takes us from south Texas up the eastern shore to visit with family before heading west to the Pacific coast. I ended up with a grand total of:

  • 5,271 miles
  • 25 states checked off of my kids’ bucket list (and 25 cheesy, obligatory state welcome sign pictures)
  • More than 20 family members visited
  • 11 days of driving
  • At least five national park visits
  • Three U.S. coasts
  • Two or more Blue Star Museum stops (depending on timing)
  • One family photo shoot
  • One wedding
  • Infinite cups of coffee
  • As much patience as we can stuff in the car

I’ve typically been a pedal-to-the-floor type mover. But with this move, I was overcome with the feeling to stretch out the trip and shape it into a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. Maybe the whole YOLO thing is finally sinking in, or maybe I’ve just accepted that no amount of my planning can make our name move to the top of the base housing list any faster — base housing, yet another first for this move.

For the distance of this trip and all that our kids haven’t seen — even things my husband and I have never seen, like the Grand Canyon — it made sense to us to see a little bit of everything. I like the idea of picking out a good balance of stops that will help the kids burn excess energy and give us all a little taste of what each state is all about — history, culture, local favorites and such.

If you too are planning a PCS vacation:

  • Consider how much ground you have to cover.
  • Pick out points of interest between point A and point B, and be open to a slight detour for something really cool. The Flight 93 Memorial is a little out of our way, but what a precious piece of recent history to see.
  • Calculate how much time you can spend en route.
  • Poll your family (if your kids are old enough for a vote). We skipped this step, since my son would have just voted for eight days at LEGOLAND. Instead, we made a plan and just started talking it up to the kids.
  • Research how your military ID can be your all-access pass to summer fun. Use it for ticket and travel discounts through your Travel and Leisure Office. Show it at the gate of a national park for your America the Beautiful park pass (free admission to all national parks for one year). Search for participating Blue Star Museums on your route and enjoy free admission between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
  • Use all of your resources. Military families make up this insane web of information. I polled a spouse’s group on Facebook for family fun ideas in cities along our route. That’s where I got roughly 75 percent of our itinerary activities.
  • Make a plan B. As beautiful as my color-coded timeline is, I’m expecting deviations from the itinerary. In fact, I’ve planned for them (come on, it’s me we’re talking about). For our road trip, I’ve listed the top three hotels in the cities we’re likely to stop and a city or two before that in case we run behind. I am forgoing advanced reservations, except for military lodging which fills up quickly. If your plans include outdoor activities, don’t forget to flex for bad weather.

Are we a little crazy? Probably, but I didn’t need an epic road trip to confirm that. It will be the absolute longest trip any of us has ever taken — that’s including my husband’s deployment “adventures.” But, this PCS is our chance to take on a trip like this. When else would we have the time or the reason? Embrace the PCS vacation.

So Little Hurry, So Much Wait

 Posted by on April 21, 2015 at 14:32
Apr 212015

I never outgrew the impatience of childhood. Are we there yet? Why is this taking so long? Just pick one, already. I’ll just do it myself. If I were a talking doll, these would be the phrases that repeat every time a child squeezed my hand — hours of fun for the whole family.



Imagine how the hair on the back of my neck stands up when I hear the word “wait.” It’s like nails on a chalkboard. My brain doesn’t take breaks, and if I’m forced to wait (which, let’s be honest, I’m a military spouse — it happens daily), I have no choice but to research unlikely what-if scenarios, shop, redecorate or DIY something.

We have orders to move to California in May, and I’m in that awful purgatory: hurry up and wait. I’ve researched everything from housing to where I’ll take the kids on Tuesday mornings from 9 to 10 a.m. I prepared an entire cross-country travel itinerary, complete with timelines and scheduled stops. We’re on the housing list. The movers are scheduled. We’ve decided what will stay with us and what will be spending a tour in storage. And, it should go without saying that I’ve already jumped the gun on our full-service move and started boxing a few things myself.

Even my typically less enthusiastic husband is jumping on the crazy train for this move. It was his suggestion that we tape off the dimensions of our new house and rearrange the furniture to see if it would fit. If you’re picturing me with those little cartoon hearts bursting overhead at the moment he said that, you’re picturing that situation accurately. Best…date night…ever. I made a spreadsheet — I’m not even embarrassed to admit it.

But if I keep prepping at this rate, I am going to reach that embarrassment soon. My grandma, who packs for a weekend trip three weeks in advance, has already started teasing me. “Are you all packed yet?” she pokes sarcastically. “You’ve got time,” she says. “What’s the rush?” she questions.

Surely, I’m not the only antsy military spouse trying to grab a hold of anything move-related that I can control right now. I’m doing my best to occupy my time by:

  • Cleaning out cabinets, closets and junk drawers (again)
  • Working
  • Blogging
  • Teaching my almost 2-year-old her ABCs and 123s
  • Creating a pre-k and kindergarten homeschool curriculum from scratch
  • Creating a west coast travel bucket list

But even all that isn’t distraction enough. I actually pulled out my expired teaching certificates yesterday and toyed with renewing them. Why would I do that? I have no plans to get back into teaching — there I go trying to find something to control, even if it’s completely unnecessary.

So, the new batch of distraction I’m working with is as follows:

  • Plan birthday festivities for my daughter and husband. Their birthdays are five days apart — even that is hurry up and wait.
  • Review washers and driers (since we’ll have to buy a set when we arrive).
  • Find or create recipes that use up the random assortment of staples in the pantry, like two tubs of oatmeal, a weird amount of apple cider vinegar (I always think I’m out and buy more) and a rainbow of unopened salad dressings.
  • Refinish some furniture that I’ve been meaning to tackle (might as well, since we can’t bring those cans of stain and paint with us).
  • Replace the dead batteries in my watches (yes, plural).
  • Work through the inventory in our craft supply closet (construction paper, markers, stickers and such).
  • Get a grasp on the TRICARE situation at our new duty station — on or off base medical and dental care.
  • Potty train our daughter to avoid moving diapers and a changing table across state lines.

And that’s pretty much all I’ve got right now. I’m hoping that will hold me for a while (at least until it’s more socially acceptable for our home to resemble the inside of a storage unit).


Pre-orders Conversations

 Posted by on August 25, 2014 at 15:58
Aug 252014


I regularly tease my husband about living in a little place I like to call Hypothetical Land. I justifiably tease him because I’ll be in the middle of cooking dinner, loading the dishwasher and answering work emails with a baby on my hip when he decides he’d like to discuss the floor plan of our currently non-existent retirement house. Teasing is definitely in order.

So, it’s a little out of my realm of comfort to dive into those deep and often hypothetical conversations that happen before orders are cut, before the wish list is written or before even meeting with the monitor.

This is the time for voicing opinions. It’s the time for supporting your spouse’s career. But it’s also the one and only slightly influential moment you have to be the advocate for your family and your own needs (understanding, of course, that we may or may not get what we want when orders are cut).

We’ve talked the issue to death recently, and for once I’m just kind of neutral. I’m up for an adventure, but I won’t be upset with the same old thing. Maybe I’m finally ready for my Semper Gumby merit badge.

Whatever the Marine Corps decides is in store for us this go-round, I know that I’ve made my points. My husband has made his, and we’re ready for the next chapter, whatever it may be.

As you and your family gear up for these hypothetical conversations, I encourage you to focus on the following:

  1. What is best for your family? My husband is a true family man. I’m proud that he considers his family’s needs and not just his own career aspirations. As you approach these conversations about your family’s future, make sure that topics like your kids’ education, safety and family time are taken into account.
  2. What is best for your service member’s career? Especially for the service member in it for the long haul, consider the move that is career-advancing. It may not always be the most glamorous or the most ideal in the short run, but sometimes a sacrifice is due to get you (or your service member) to the end result in mind.
  3. What is best for your own career? Military spouses are a diverse bunch with goals of our own. While it’s next to impossible to call the shots during the hurry up and wait period, you can contribute your two cents as it affects your career. Would a certain location help you advance? Are you indifferent? Either way, make it known to help your service member better understand what your expectations are.
  4. What would be new and exciting? Old and familiar is safe, but it isn’t necessarily exciting. We’ve moved from my hometown in Texas to North Carolina and back to my hometown. As much as I would welcome another trip to Carolina, I’m also open to an adventure! It’s important to realize that this is a chance to experience world culture for our families and ourselves. Ideas that are initially intimidating can lead to some of the most memorable stories for your family and priceless experiences for your kids.

Not only discussing these topics, but giving them weight can help you narrow down what is best for your family. Maybe your kids aren’t in school yet, so education isn’t a huge factor. Maybe you’re coming up on a crucial period for your service member’s career, so career may have more weight in the discussion.

No matter where we land next, we know it’s temporary, so it’s worth it to approach each duty station with an open mind. Welcome new experiences and unexpected adventures. I hope that the next place the military sends you will be a place you’ll one day speak of fondly. After all, it was home for a little while.

Jun 122014


Blogger Biography: Jodi is a proud Navy wife and mom, as well as a coffee addict, a slow runner and a passionate volunteer. Racing between her three kids’ activities and her own family readiness group meetings and COMPASS classes on base makes life interesting, but finding time to give back and quiet moments to write about it all keeps her sane in a world that is really anything but!

My family was stationed in the Pacific Northwest 3 ½ years ago. On day eight of our stay, in the midst of a widespread power outage and moments after our SUV slid through an icy intersection and stopped just inches from a brick wall, I screamed at my husband, “I hate it here! I want to go HOME!”

I’d like to say this was just an emotional response to a scary situation. I wish I could tell you that things got much better after that, but they didn’t. I decided right then and there that Washington was the worst, and I spent the next three years working hard to prove it. It wasn’t until earlier this year when a good friend said, “Oh, Jodi, we ALL know how much YOU hate it here!” that I realized just how much time and energy I’d wasted hating this duty station. In that moment I realized I’d been so focused on the negatives that I’d been missing out on so much that Washington has to offer.

Sadly, it never really had to be that way. There are ways to learn to love the duty station you hate, but it’s up to you to try!

1. Create a home base that you love. In hating everything about Washington, I subconsciously decided that our house was just temporary and never really spent a lot of energy creating a real home. These days, as I hang family photos and dust our favorite bric-a-brac, I realize that creating a home base is the foundation for loving any place because even when everything outside is new and weird and scary, home is like a security blanket of familiarity and good memories.

2. Form a support network. You need people. You need friends and family members that you can go to for support. I found it early on in a playgroup and in our command’s family readiness group, but I also rely heavily on daily conversations with my sister. She lives over a thousand miles away, but through the magic of the Internet, she’s been “with me” the whole time. It could never be said better than that old ditty, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, and the other gold.”

3. Keep up with your favorite hobbies or maybe even try something new! I tried to keep up with dance classes for a while, but even though I found a great studio, it just wasn’t the same as my old clogging group. Instead I took up running. Running is so popular here that there’s always a new themed 5K race to enjoy. Running had never been on my bucket list at any of our other duty stations, so I never might have jogged those first few steps if we hadn’t moved here. Now I can’t imagine not having a race on my calendar to look forward to!

4. It’s hard not to compare, but give your new home a fair shake. I’ve been known to complain, “I’m so surrounded by these stupid mountains I feel claustrophobic! I miss my ocean views!” I do have a special love of the ocean, but those “stupid” mountains just happen to include no less than Mount Rainier, still considered an active volcano and visited by nearly 2 million people every year! When I finally allowed myself to admit it, the mountain views in Washington are spectacular! I still love and miss the ocean, but when I stopped comparing the two, I realized I could be amazed by and love them both!

5. Search for the good stuff. There are hidden gems everywhere! I spent far too much time missing the great pizza and fun activities of New England in my first few years here. Nowadays I’m adventuring my way around the Kitsap Peninsula and finding a treasure trove of mom and pop eateries, beautiful parks and quirky shops that I can’t believe I’ve missed out on for so long!

Believe it or not, in a year when new orders are imminent and the uncertainty of a new duty station is setting in, I am learning to love this crazy, rainy state! No, it still isn’t my favorite duty station, and yes, I still miss my ocean views, but instead of dwelling on homesickness, I am fully focused on experiencing the beauty and quirkiness that defines Washington, this place that, at least temporarily, I now call home.

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