Archive for Homefront Six

Getting out – Part 2

So your time as a military family is drawing to a close. As was suggested in the first part of this series, you’ve bulked up your emergency fund, paid down your unsecured debt as best you could, considered additional sources of income, dusted off and updated your resume, and done what you could to increase your job skills. Excellent work! Now it’s time to consider a few details that are often overlooked in the transition out of military life. I like mnemonics so we’re going to stick with the ‘vowels of transition’ here: A, E, I, O, U…and sometimes Y.

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Getting out


The drawdown in Iraq is pretty much complete and the withdrawal in Afghanistan is getting started. After 10 years of war, many of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are coming home. But they are coming home to a decidedly smaller military force and some will be coming home to the military’s equivalent of a pink slip. Promotion rates are dwindling and the number of servicemembers being shown the proverbial door is rising.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve operated under the assumption that you’d be a military family until YOU decided (or your spouse decided) that you were done but that’s not how it is anymore. There is a LOT of uncertainty in the military these days. This is the first of a two-part look at getting out whether it’s by choice or not. First, we’ll look at how you can prepare for a possible separation. Even if it’s unlikely, it’s still a really good idea to be prepared.

Here are some steps you can take:

1. Establish or bulk up your emergency fund. Financial advisers will suggest that you have at least 3 months’ living expenses in your emergency fund. Given the current economic situation in this country, I’d recommend 6 months. That doesn’t mean that you have to have it tomorrow. Let’s say you have $1,000 in your savings account right now and you don’t regularly set savings aside. When the next pay period rolls around, see if you can set aside $100 or even $50. Sometimes the hardest part about anything is taking that first step.

2. Pay down any unsecured debt you may have. This is actually tied for #1. It doesn’t make any sense to earn 2% on the money you have sitting in your savings account if your $5,000 balance on your Visa is sucking 15% interest out of your checking account. Sell some things (Craigslist! eBay! Yard sale!), revisit your budget and cut back on the things you can stand to give up (cable TV, 1 dinner out per month, unlimited data on your cell phone), look into other sources of income (side jobs, babysitting, etc.) and do what you can to ditch that debt as quickly as possible.

3. Add income. As I mentioned in the point above, bringing in extra income is a great way to help pay down debt and add to your emergency fund. As we faced the possibility of my husband getting out of the Army, he and I both started looking for ways to bring in extra monies: watching a friend’s children (me), doing some basic editing on written works (me), doing basic maintenance on friends’ cars (him), recovering data from a failed hard drive (him), selling plasma (us), picking up odd jobs at our church (us). Many times, it’s just a matter of talking to people and seeing what they need and then offering your services. Maybe you like to sew and someone has a few pairs of jeans that need repair – I’d be willing to pay $20 to have my jeans fixed! You can sell stuff too – is there a bookstore in your area that buys used books? I’ve made anywhere from $20 to $65 selling off some of our old books and homeschool curricula.

4. Increase your job skills. Is there a local class you can take to learn how to use Excel (often libraries and community centers will offer these. And there’s always the Education Center on post.) or other computer programs? Does the community college in your area offer low-cost classes in areas that you or your spouse might be interested? If so, you might want to consider taking one. The skills and connections you make now may make the transition easier down the road.

5. Dust off that resume. Even if you’re not really facing the possibility of getting out, it’s a good idea (for you as well as your spouse) to keep your resume up to date. You or your spouse may not need it for a while but it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. The education center will often have people that can help retool a resume. Other spouses in your area might also be able to help get a resume in working order. The internet is always a wonderful resource and there are plenty of free websites out there with helpful information.

The best thing you can do in these uncertain times is to be proactive. Don’t wait for bad news to hit to get things in order. Do it now while you have the time and you’ll save yourself headaches down the road.

Next up: You’re getting out…now what?

Military Spouse Resolutions

I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions – we all know what is said about good intentions. But I’ve been doing some serious self-assessment and taking a good, hard look at the last 14 years of my life as a military spouse and I have a few things I think it might be wise to address. So here goes:

1. Less Facebook and more face-to-face.

I’m an introvert by nature but I fake extrovertedness (is that a word?) pretty well. However, given the choice, I’d much rather stay home where I’m comfortable rather
than head to FRG functions, military social events, or anything having to do with my husband’s work. Part of it is a self-defense tactic – it’s easier to move multiple times
if you have fewer connections at a duty station. Regardless, it’s not the best way to go about ‘blooming where you’re planted’ (a goal of mine) so it’s time to step out of
my comfort zone and get involved.

2. Choosing to be ‘better’, not ‘bitter’.

There are many aspects of military life that are complaint-worthy. You know it. I know it. Everyone who lives this life knows it. So what good does it do to
whine about the separations, the long hours, the pay fiascos, and the unrelenting goodbyes? It’s preaching to the choir. And what a depressing choir that can be. Some
people are bitter by nature. Some people are bitter by habit. It’s time to kick that ‘i’ to the curb and choose a new vowel – ‘e’…as in bEtter. Yes, separations are rotten.
But what can you do to thrive while your spouse is gone? The goodbyes are awful but the hellos can be wonderful if you let them. Most of the time, it’s perspective that
makes the difference. And that perspective is a conscious choice…sometimes daily and sometimes hourly.

3. Become ‘visible’ again.

There has been a lot of talk of late about the ‘invisible military spouse’ – how we, as spouses, tend to get lost in the shadows of our military member. The attention
is lavished on them. The homecomings are about them. The worries over mental health are about them. And, while I’m not downplaying the sacrifices my husband
and the rest of our servicemembers make, it’s apparent that no one is going to advocate for us. So we’re going to have to do it ourselves. So it’s time to step out of
those shadows. It’s time to turn a bit of that focus on to ourselves and our health and wellness. I’m not advocating leaving the kids at home for hours on end so you
can spend the day shopping and hanging out at the spa all the time (though that does sound lovely, doesn’t it?). But there’s a lot to be said for eating right, getting
some exercise, trying to get a good night’s sleep, seeing the doctor when necessary, and finding a moment here and there where you can just relax. For some of us,
that moment might be after the kids are in bed, before you tackle the dishes or the laundry. For others of us, it might be asking a friend to swap childcare duties one
day per week so you can grocery shop in peace or grab a coffee and read a magazine. Whatever it is that affords you a moment of peace (as long as it’s legal and healthy!) then do it! Taking care of ourselves means that we are better equipped to take care of those around us. And if you need help – whether it’s the help of a friend or family
member or that of a medical professional, there is NO shame in asking. There is strength in recognizing that need and there is strength in asking for that help.

Those are my top 3 ‘resolutions’ this year. Each of them will require a conscious decision on my part EVERY DAY. And there will be days I fail. That’s ok – no one is
perfect. Not even the General’s wife. Happy 2013!

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Homeschooling in the Military

Homeschooling is quickly becoming a viable alternative for many military families. Additionally, homeschooling is becoming more ‘mainstream’ in the civilian world, adding to its viability as an option for military families. Military families move an average of once every 2 to 3 years, often in the middle of a school year, and that instability is what compels many military families to opt for schooling their children at home.

Take a walk down the aisles at either your local library or your local bookstore and the section on education and homeschooling can be a bit overwhelming. So where do you begin? Here are some suggestions and resources to help get you started.

First, you need to consider why it is your family is choosing to homeschool. When we made our decision to start homeschooling, the first thing I did (because I am a big list maker/writer-downer/journaler) is to write out not only my reasons WHY we were choosing to homeschool as well as a few goals. Our list of goals is actually quite fluid, changing not only from year to year, but also subject to subject and even unit to unit. You’ll find that your goals will actually help you choose what path to take with regard to curricula.

In addition to your reasons and goals for homeschooling, you need to look into your state and local homeschooling requirements. Some states regulate homeschooling more stringently than others. The Homeschooling Legal Defense Association (www.hslda.org) is a wonderful resource for this information. You do not need to become a member of HSLDA – though I would recommend it – in order to access this information on their website. You can also look up your state’s department of education and search for homeschooling laws and policies. Following the state’s guidelines for homeschooling is very important and should be one of your first steps.

Now it’s time to look at curriculum. Once I had a good idea of our goals, I sat down and really thought about the ways in which my children learn best. I have one child that absolutely loves to read and often times needs to be reminded to pull her nose out of whatever book it is that she is buried in to join the rest of the world. Because of that, I knew that whatever curricula we chose should rely heavily on literature and give her ample opportunities to read as part of her learning. My other child is much more of a kinesthetic learner, preferring to “do it” as opposed to simply reading about it. Therefore the curricula we chose for him needed to have plenty of hands-on learning.

From there, I started researching curriculum. I researched not only by reading books about curricula but also by talking to other homeschooling parents and asking them what worked for them and why it worked. This part of the process can be incredibly overwhelming as there are literally hundreds of choices for each subject. Do not let yourself become overwhelmed! Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint race. Do your best to find what works for your child(ren) but also give yourself the leeway to change curriculum if need be. Case in point: we started off with what I thought would be a fantastic language curriculum only to get about halfway through the year and then realize that it was horribly dry and boring. So we switched! I purchased the curriculum used and was able to sell it for about what I paid for it so I really wasn’t out much money and we found something that worked much better for us.

Your local library should have books on homeschooling as do most mainstream bookstores; and there is always the internet. My top recommendations for resources are the following:

1. The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Baue

2. 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum

by Cathy Duffy

3. The Read-Aloud Handbook: Sixth Edition

by Jim Trelease

There are hundreds and hundreds of methods and curriculum options out there. Some people prefer to go with an all-encompassing curriculum choice, such as Sonlight or Abeka. Some people prefer to piece things together, choosing different publishers for language, math, history, science, etc. And some people eschew the idea of structured school all together and, instead, opt for a more relaxed approach to education and learning via the ‘unschooling’ route. Every family is different. Every circumstance is different. The key is knowing both your children’s learning styles and what your goals are for them. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint!

 

Image Credit: Abandoned Art School 66 by xshamethestrongx, on Flickr

Unpacking the boxes

We’ve moved five times in our 13 years of military life. Some moves were easier than others. This last one was rotten. We were coming from a place we LOVED and had been for six years to a place we weren’t so sure of. Leaving our home of six years was rough. Saying goodbye to people with whom we had weathered a deployment, multiple TDYs, a few personal crises, and life was rough. Our children had never really known anywhere other than that location, having moved there when they were 3 and 1, respectively.

Ten months later, we’re still settling in. It doesn’t feel like home and I’m not sure it ever will. We went back to visit friends at our old duty station and a friend of mine gave me the book, “After the Boxes are Unpacked” by Susan Miller. It’s a Christian book but even if you are not a Christian, this book holds some wonderful insights and encouragement into the whole “bloom where you’re planted” mindset.

The book is divided into three parts: “Let Go”, “Start Over”, and “Move Ahead”. Each section and each chapter includes stories about people – mostly women – who have dealt with the trauma that is moving. While this book is not aimed at military spouses (the author’s husband is in the hotel industry), many of the situations are similar to what we, as military spouses, face.

There is a lot of validation in the “Let Go” section. The author recognizes that moving is one of the most traumatic experiences a person endures in life and that it takes time, and EFFORT, to make it through that trauma. Miller delves into the psychology behind the trauma, identifying why it affects us the way it does and how we can counter the effects of leaving all that we know behind.

In the “Start Over” section, Miller encourages the reader to take baby steps toward settling in. For us as military spouses, those baby steps might not happen as slowly as Miller sets out in her book – we all know our time in any one location is quite limited so we tend to hit the ‘fast-forward’ button on that process. She addresses the loneliness factor – something I’m sure most of us have dealt with, even in the best of duty locations. And she offers practical advice on how to strengthen your marriage in the midst of all of the chaos that is a move. I don’t know about you but my marriage can suffer under the strain of all of my emotions following a move, combined with the fact that my husband is now my sole social outlet until I find friends in our new location. It’s tough for him to handle all of that on top of settling into a new work environment.

“Moving Ahead” encourages the reader to look not for ‘happiness’ in their circumstances but contentment instead. Happiness is fleeting but contentment endures. Miller points out that a move is a chance to shed the things that had been weighing us down at our last duty station and focus on the things that make us shine. Toward the end, Miller offers up twenty additional tips from women who have moved. Most are applicable to military spouses but I’m curious to know what tips you would offer if you had been asked to contribute to this book? How would you encourage a military spouse who is in the middle of a PCS or just settling in to her new location?

You can find the book on Amazon.