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Memorial Day: Pause, Remember, Be Thankful

It's not about you.

It's not about barbecue or days off of work or sales in the linen aisle.

Every year Memorial Day seems to stir up some confusion.

For families who have never served or been touched by the hell of war, the three-day weekend is a time to picnic, celebrate and vacation.

For some young service members, they seem to think the weekend is in honor of their service.

The retail industry sees it as a weekend for huge discounts and large sales.

It is none of these.

It is the most somber of American holidays.

This weekend is when we as a nation have chosen to stop what we are doing and pay homage to the our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who have fallen in battle. It is our time to thank these men and women for our freedom.

They died so that we may live.

And in honor of that, modern Americans have skipped heading to the cemeteries with flowers and thanks in hand and instead hit the beaches, shopping malls and liquor stores.

I get it. A three-day weekend is a big deal. After a winter with record snows people are at their breaking point and ready for a long weekend of sun and fun.

But please, if nothing else, before you dig into that grilled smorgasbord, call for a moment of silence and ask your party-goers to take a moment and say thank you to the men and women in uniform who gave their lives on the field of battle so that you could gather and party today.

Or, suggest to your crowd that before you feast, you gather at the cemetery across town and make a small gesture of thanks. Thousands of veterans' graves go unmarked, unrecognized every year. They are easy to find and even easier to stop at, and simply place a small flag. 

I will be at our local veterans' cemetery bright and early with my five children in tow. We will be placing flags on the graves of men and women who fell in the Revolution and every war after. My children will salute each one.

And I will remind them of one of my favorite quotes, spoken by General George Patton, "It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived."

Absolutely.

Children's Imaginations Fill In Gaps When They Don't Know Where Daddy Deploys

We were getting ready for dinner when my 2-year-old stopped me.

“Mama!” she cried.  “Mama! Where’s Daddy’s food?”

I stopped, puzzled.  My husband has been deployed for months and months.  He hasn’t eaten a meal here in even longer.  I hadn’t set a place for him in ages, let alone made him up a plate of food like the rest of the family.

But my toddler kept on going.

“Mama!  Daddy’s food! What Daddy eatin’?”

She was pleading with me for an answer.

We did a few more rounds of asking about where her father’s food was located before I realized she was asking me if and when her father was eating.

If he sat down and had breakfast and lunch and dinner, even though he was far, far away and under the water in a submarine.

I assured her that Daddy had food on the boat, and he ate it down there when he wasn’t working.

She was happy enough with this answer and sat down to her own spaghetti and meatballs.

But of course I couldn’t let it go.

After telling my husband in an e-mail about the hilarious but taxing convo I had with our current youngest, I really thought some more.

My kids have always accepted that Daddy works on a boat.  And that quite often, that boat goes away, underwater like the little toy submarine they have in their bathtub.  He works on the boat to make sure we have a house and food and toys, and his job helps keep us and everyone else around us safe.


That’s their little world.  That they get.

But due to security clearances and very specific rules involving Ohio-class submarines, my kids’ reality is still only theoretical for them.

They have never seen where Daddy works.  Not even in pictures.  They never will. 

Even when they are old enough to tour the submarine, they won’t be allowed where he does his specific job.  It could be Neverland, for all they know.

They’ve never seen where he eats, showers or sleeps.

They know he does these things on the boat.  Just ask my 4-year-old.  Both my girls could say “Daddy’s on his boat” long before they could string together other words.

But what does it mean for them?

When they say it, what do they picture?

I honestly have no idea.

I hope they imagine their father in some boat festooned like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  I hope they envision him chowing down on cupcakes and pizza and all their favorite things.  I hope they think he takes pink-soap bubble baths and sleeps in a Princess Elsa sleeping bag.

In other words, I hope the unknown doesn’t scare them.

Because truth be told, sometimes that very same unknown is exactly what scares me.

PCSing? Attend a Job Fair in Your New Hometown

PCSing? Need a new job at the new duty station?

One of the first items on your ‘to do’ list then should be to attend a job fair.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation hosts job fairs specifically for military spouses and retiring military members. These events are held across the nation, all year long.

Employers there know the value of employees who have military experience, both as soldiers and spouses, and are there to hire military family members.

So dust off that resume, make lots of copies and dress to impress. Your new job is out there waiting for you.

Don’t forget to click on the link for the job fair you want to attend and register asap. Slots fill up early and you won’t necessarily get in if you show up that day without registering.

 

June 3

Fort Bliss, Texas

http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/fort-bliss-hiring-fair

 

June 5

San Juan, Puerto Rico 

http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/san-juan-hiring-fair

 

June 8

Yokosuka, Japan

http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/virtual-job-fair-yokosuka-transition-summit

 

June 16

Columbia, SC

http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/columbia-hiring-fair

 

June 18

Buffalo, NY

http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/buffalo-hiring-fair

 

Nashville, TN

http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/nashville-hiring-fair

 

June 27

New York City

http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/greater-new-york-city-hiring-fair

 

July 10

Cleveland, Ohio

http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/cleveland-hiring-fair

 

Home Appraisal, One of the Trickiest Steps in Home Buying

By Mandy Rebmann

When I heard the voicemail left by my real estate agent, a chill ran through me.  We knew the VA appraisal had been completed, and were waiting to hear if there were any major issues.  Anyone who has been through the home-buying process knows the appraisal step can often go wrong.

Thankfully for us, the news was good.  The appraisal came in “at value,” meaning the appraiser concluded the value matched the purchase price, and only required one small repair.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  Having a background in mortgages while applying for one has to be a little like becoming sick when you’re a doctor.  You have so much more knowledge of what can go wrong.

A VA appraisal serves two major purposes- to ensure the house is worth what you’re buying it for (and what the bank is lending you), and to make sure the house is sound, safe and immediately livable.

When you enter into a contract to purchase a house, you and the seller are agreeing on how much the house is worth.  An appraisal makes sure that number is accurate.  There are generally two methods of determining a house’s value: a Sales Comparison and a Cost-Based Approach.  A Sales Comparison looks at the price similar houses in your home’s area have sold for within the last 12 months, and determines value based on their sales prices and features.  A Cost-Based Approach determines land value and how much it would cost to build your home from scratch.  A VA appraiser uses the former approach, and adds or subtracts value by taking a closer look at the differences between the nearby, comparable homes.

An appraisal will rarely deem the house more valuable than the sales price; however, an appraiser may value it lower.  This can be a major problem in the process and may even kill the deal.  Let’s say the purchase price of your home is $150,000 and the appraisal comes in at $140,000.  The bank will only lend based on and up to the appraised value.  This means either the seller would have to agree to lower the sales price, or you would have to come up with the extra $10,000.  Often, neither of these options can be agreed upon and the contract is voided. 

Our appraisal is requiring a handrail be installed on the main staircase; this was expected and minor.  Unlike an appraisal for a conventional loan, a VA appraisal may require certain repairs be made to the property prior to closing.  The appraiser ensures the overall safety and soundness of the property.  It’s why you’ll never see a home advertised as a “handyman’s special” able to get VA financing.  Rotting wood may have to be replaced, or older, peeling paint, possibly containing lead, may need to be scraped and repainted.  A heating system may need to be completely replaced.  Extensive repairs may also spell trouble for the deal.  A seller may not be willing to complete the expensive repairs, even if it means the house the house will go back on the market.  Another purchaser may be able to pay cash or use a different type of loan that may not have the same repair requirements.  This is one reason why it’s a good idea to work with a real estate agent familiar with VA loans; they may be able to steer you away from any properties that the VA would find issue with.

It’s important to remember, even though you pay for the appraisal, it actually belongs to the bank and the VA, and protects their interest in the transaction.  A home inspection, although not required, is strongly recommended for your own benefit.  The home inspection we ordered was much more detailed about the structure and systems of the house, reducing the risk something unexpected and costly will occur. 

Now that the appraisal is done, we’re one step and one PCS move closer to our first house!

10 Quick Tips to Nailing Your Video Job Interview

It can be tough for spouses who are PCSing to be at a job interview in their new location before they have packed up at their current duty station. Especially if the two bases are across country, or even overseas.

Luckily, technology is making it easier for employers to conduct interviews with potential hires via internet and video cameras. No traveling. No sitting nervously in the lobby. The weather outside won’t touch that perfect hair and makeup after you’ve left the mirror. And, no heels to wear!

But, before you get too excited about not having to get dressed and leave home, consider this scenario:

You sit down in front of your computer, thinking everything is in place to make your best impression. But, as soon as the interviewer asks the first question, you notice that your notecards are not within reach. Fortunately, the interviewer seems pretty laid back and she has no problem with your stepping away to grab them. Unfortunately, however, as soon as you hear her gasp, you realize that wearing your pajama bottoms with your suit jacket wasn't such a great idea after all.

Before you get embarrassed by a mishap you could have prevented, use these quick tips to nail your next online video job interview.

1. Get completely and appropriately dressed just as you would for an in-person interview. Wearing business attire will make you feel more professional and come across as more confident.

2. Keep hair and make up simple. Wear solid dark colors or shades of blue to look your best on camera. With the high-quality technology we have today, you don’t want to create visual distractions or look unflattering on screen.

3. Prior to the interview turn on your camera and record a few minutes of footage. Play it back to examine the surroundings your interviewer will see. Make sure your lighting isn’t causing glares or shadows. Remove clutter and items not related to work. Straighten crooked mirrors, photos and certificates on the wall.

4. Make sure everything you need is within reach and organized so you won’t have to search for your resume, cover letter, notecards, pen, etc. And keep the number of items to a minimum.

5. Eliminate audio distractions. This includes people (who may also photo bomb your session), pets, cell phones, house phones, computer notifications, televisions and radios.

6. Practice with a relative or friend and record the session so you will have feedback and see for yourself, how you really look and sound on camera. Take note:  you will look more natural by looking at the camera and not at the interviewer.

7. Set up the equipment a day or two in advance. Download any software you will need. Plug in your computer and fully charge your battery. Purchase a microphone instead of using your computer’s mic. Invite a tech-savvy friend to be on standby to help if you need it. This won’t look like you are not proficient in technology; it will show that you plan ahead for success.

8. Have a professional username and email address, preferably your first and last name. If your name appears on the screen during the interview, it will help the person remember your name during and after the session.

9. While waiting for the interview to begin, mute the sound and place a post-it note over the camera. Once the interview ends make sure all equipment is turned completely off. In both cases, you don't want comments or movements to be unintentionally heard or seen.

10. Be engaging. Smile and focus on the conversation. It's okay to nod a bit and move your hands slightly. You want to look natural, not as if you are flailing around and definitely not too stiff.

You are the producer, actor and director, so take charge of your video interview and create a masterpiece!

 

School’s Out! Now, Where to Send the Kids?

The summer panic is starting to set in.

For some families with a stay-at-home parent this means finding ways to entertain the kids for eight long weeks.

For others, like mine, it means finding affordable, fulltime day care, for eight long weeks. In our family that weekly dollar amount is multiplied by five. And the resulting number is twice what I actually make on the job for the week.

Uggggggh.

So, I’m playing a dangerous game of enrolling each kid in various camps throughout the eight weeks that require me to pick up during lunch, drop off during breaks and use perfectly timed personal days to fill in the gaps.

It’s expensive. It’s stressful. It’s exhausting. And I’m one of the lucky ones.

I have a job that pays me enough to afford at least some fulltime day care for the summer months. I work at a business where my boss not only understands the struggle but allows some wiggle room as myself and the other employees take turns leaving to drop and pick up our kids.

For many people, this is not the case. Nine to five means, nine to five. No breaks. No kid pickups. No bringing your child to work when the daycare provider is sick. For many, it is easier, and less expensive, to not work.

Local museums, art clubs and even school districts know there is a desperate need for summer childcare. They provide it. And sometimes, they charge an outrageous amount for it. Summer dance camp for my 4-year-old, for one week, 9 a.m. to noon, is $200. Art camp for the preteen is $250. Drama club camp is another, cool, $150 a week.

None of these camps last past noon, serve food or provide any extras. But these are the ones that are advertised on slick, glossy paper, sent home in our kids’ book bags that they beg us to attend.

No. Not happening.

If you live near a base, look there first. The military has also noticed a desperate need for summer childcare. And finally, they are responding. Many bases are now offering summer day camp. Many start as early as 7 a.m. and last until 6 at night.

The kids play, nap, run, do crafts and eat. They are safe, they are entertained and most importantly, the parents don’t have to run from camp to camp, wad of money in hand, to keep their children safe and taken care of for eight weeks.

The summer childcare struggle is just that, a struggle. And it is very real. Hang in there moms and dads. The first day of school will be here before you know it.

College is Expensive, Here’s a Few Ways You Can Attend for Free

Dude. College is expensive. If you’re anything like me, you’re broke after buying books, pens, paper, binders, backpacks, software, ridiculously expensive calculators … oh yeah, and paying tuition.

I did a little math. Notice that I said “a little”, because I do not do big math. I added up my tuition for eight semesters at a community college: $19,488.96.

Yes, you read that correctly. It cost me just shy of $20k to get an associate’s degree. And that number is for in-state tuition, and after federal student aid (FAFSA) payments. A number this big might deter a lot of people from enrolling in secondary education. Not us, though. Not military spouses. We are strong, we are committed, and we are offered a huge amount of scholarship and grant opportunities.

(Insert record scratch sound here.) Wait, what? Free school money?

Yes! And I bet you’d like to know where that money is, too. Well, you know I love a good list, so here are a few (there are a ton more out there, too!):

  • The most effective tool I’ve found (no joke) is Googling the phrase “scholarships for military spouses”. Give it a whirl, and you’re welcome in advance.
  • Thanks USA Scholarship Program - Accessible to all dependent children, age 24 and under, and all spouses of Active-Duty U.S. military Service Members are eligible to apply for scholarships.

      www.thanksusa.org/scholarship-program.html

  • Army Scholarship Foundation – Twelve, one-year (renewable) financial        scholarships awarded on the basis of academic record and participation in school and community activities.

      www.armyscholarshipfoundation.org/scholarships.html

  • The Council of College and Military Educators (CCME) offers $1,000        scholarships each year to United States Service members (active duty/veterans) and spouses of Service members who are working towards the completion of higher education degrees.

      http://www.ccmeonline.org/scholarships

  • Bryant & Stratton Salute to Spouses Scholarship – The school, which offers degree programs both online and on traditional campuses around the nation, offers $6,000 scholarships to military spouses.

http://online.bryantstratton.edu/salute/

Federal Programs

  • Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) - is the application used by       nearly all colleges and universities to determine eligibility for federal, state, and    college-sponsored financial aid, including grants, educational loans, and work-        study programs.

                  https://fafsa.ed.gov 

  • Federal Pell Grant Program (U.S. Department of Education) - Provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain post-baccalaureate students to promote access to postsecondary education. Grants may be used at any one of approximately 5,400 participating postsecondary institutions, and is determined by review of your FAFSA.

      http://www2.ed.gov/programs/fpg/index.html

  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

      Provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate students to promote       access to postsecondary education. Students can receive these grants at any one of         approximately 4,000 participating postsecondary institutions.

      https://www2.ed.gov/programs/fseog/index.html

Like I mentioned previously, these are only a few of the available scholarship and grant opportunities available to military spouses. So crack your knuckles, grab your computer, and start finding some organizations that want to invest in your academic awesomeness!

Blogs We Love: Free Stuff for Military Families!

May marks Military Appreciation Month across the nation.

Restaurants, theme parks, cruise lines, car dealerships and dozens of other businesses have posted discounts for military members (reserve, active duty and retired) on their websites.

There are several websites that do a great job of listing most of the deals that can be found at larger retailers. We've listed some of our favorites below.

Don't forget to look for discounts locally too, especially in areas located near large bases. Those businesses thrive because of the military population and they are often happy to offer that small discount that keeps the large crowds of military families coming back again and again.

Happy Military Appreciation Month! Thank you for your service!

http://www.military.com/military-appreciation-month/military-appreciation-month-discounts.html

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/armed-forces-vacation-club-honors-military-appreciation-month-and-armed-forces-day-with-299-week-long-resort-stays-300082124.html

http://www.military.com/discounts

http://www.bradsdeals.com/blog/military-discounts

http://www.rather-be-shopping.com/blog/2014/05/29/veteran-military-discounts/

http://www.militaryconnection.com/deals

Military Spousehood: You Can Never Really Be Fully Prepared

It’s been a full-moon, thunderstorm kind of month around here.

If it can go wrong, it has.  And normally all at the same time.

It’s also not just me.  My fellow military spouses are experiencing some real low lows this spring, too.

Broken appliances.  Speeding tickets.  Family emergencies.  Car accidents.  Power outages.  Sick kids.  Migraines.  Houses that seem to keep getting messier.

They are plaguing everyone.

And it was at one such desperate coffee date with friends – our kids milling about and tossing God knows what at each other, but who cares because they were happy – that we all discussed it.

 

How downright bad it had been.

Comically bad, in fact.

And we got to thinking.

On submarines, our sailors earn “fish,” or “dolphins.”  Basically, it’s their submarine warfare pin that tells everyone they did a bunch of work and evaluations and went before a board and were deemed submarine-warfare qualified.  It makes sure they are ready to do the work that lies ahead of them.

But no one makes sure the spouses are qualified for this life.  No one tests us, preps us for what the years of coming and going and little to no contact will look like.

Can you imagine some poor new Navy wife, nervously perched in front of a board of seasoned spouses, sweating profusely as they fired off questions like, "It’s 2 a.m., and you hear a loud bang. Another appliance has exploded.  Just then your 3-year-old, startled by the noise, climbs into bed and vomits on you. What is your next step?”

Or “Your new baby has a crucial doctor’s appointment on the Navy base, and you turn around to realize your dog has eaten your power of attorney and your military ID.  Your ombudsman is out of town and can’t be reached.  Who do you contact next?”


I’m frankly not sure I could pass that kind of board, even after all these years of fighting some of those same fights.

In fact, I’m not sure there’s any real way to train for this life.
It’s true trial by fire.  And too bad, too.

And even if I had some kind of military spouse warfare pin on my stained Mom T-shirt, it probably wouldn’t mean much.

Stuff would still break; kids would still vomit, and deployments would still suck.

So here’s to hoping that some months are better than others.
 

Unemployed? Hit the Campaign Trail

As presidential candidates step forward in the coming months, state and local politicians will be preparing for elections too. Rather than following the races via media, participating as a campaign volunteer  can be a great way to not only gain work skills, but also use your newfound expertise to secure a permanent position.  
 

Since campaigns have such a broad range of positions and budgets, you can focus on one particular area of skills working with many others in a national or state campaign, or, in local campaigns where there may be fewer volunteers. You also may be able to work  in several different areas of the campaign, picking up multiple skills to add to your resume.

“A national campaign is a great way to gain experience, but when you get into local campaign work, the budgets aren’t nearly as big, sometimes non-existent. This where your creativity really has to shine, “ said Ted Hughes, former County Commissioner. “A local campaign usually has a smaller staff, so you may be writing marketing or mailing pieces one minute and making phone calls the next. You can wear many different hats.”

Hughes, a longtime cattle farmer and former Navy sailor, also mentioned passion as a valuable tool you can gain from volunteer work in politics.

“It’s one thing to just work for a campaign, but to work towards electing someone you truly believe in and give them your time and energy, because you’re not getting paid, is something you may already have when you begin to volunteer but can also pick up from those around you. Really believing in that person not only helps you get the job done, but makes you more marketable potential future employee” Hughes said.

Campaign volunteering can also get you out of your comfort zone. Besides meeting and connecting with other volunteers who are working toward the same goal, you will encounter meetings, rallies, and forums, which are just a few of the great opportunities to talk with others, highlighting the advantages of voting for your candidate. You can also learn how to persuade others to become involved, as well as get some experience working as a team member.

Each of these scenarios will help to develop skills you can add to your resume.

“People skills are so important," Hughes said.

Organization is another important job skill you can acquire on the campaign trail. The grueling work of making phone calls to potential voters is one likely job you will do, but you may also schedule the candidates' appearances, interviews and photo sessions. This type of calendar juggling can prepare you for a variety of future positions. You may even get the chance to delegate chores during those long hours of preparing mailers, posting signs and poring over registered voter lists.  

In times of higher unemployment rates, the job market has become increasingly more competitive. Just doing some volunteer work can really give you the extra boost your resume may need to put you at the top of an employer’s list.

“These days, there are always multiple candidates for a job,” Hughes said. “Anyone who has the desire and the skill to be successful in campaign work would be able to convert their energy and skill into most any job. And the skills learned from this type of volunteer work could very well be the type of person an employer would choose over other candidates for the position. Organizational skills, the ability to work as a team member, the ability to express your opinion to others in a manner that causes them to consider supporting your candidate, honing your writing skills and the ability to persuade people to get involved in government and civic endeavors ... these are all things that would be valuable to an employer. These could increase anyone’s chance of finding a job, or even moving a few steps up the ladder of success at their current job.”

Even though there’s no extra money to be made, some political volunteer hours in the next few months may give you the competitive edge you need to enhance your resume, and maybe even make a change for the better in your job situation.

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