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Retirement Bliss Awaits, Be Aware of the Unexpected Reality Checks

The retirement process can be a tricky one, between all the paperwork, figuring out your finances, looking for a job and finding a place to live.

Most of the basic information is covered in the transition briefs that service members are required to attend, and, with a little digging, other basic facts can be found on the internet.

But just like anything else in life, there are bound to be some unexpected reality checks. I polled some of my already-retired friends and asked them: “What are the most surprising things about military retirement ... from a spouse's point of view?”

Here are their top five answers:

  1. Taxes – Several spouses noted that they owed way more federal income taxes than expected, especially in the first year after retirement. Remember that a good chunk of active duty pay – specifically housing allowances, cost of living allowances and combat pay – are tax free. Obviously this will vary, but if you have retirement pay, plus a good-paying civilian job, you might find yourself in a higher tax bracket than when you were active duty. That tax rate could skyrocket if you retire in the middle of a year and your W2 has some months of active duty pay on it, combined with your retirement pay and civilian pay. Not to mention that a spouse who didn’t work before might have a job and income as well. Many also pointed out that they assumed the same deductions they claimed on their active-duty LES would carry over to retirement pay, but they did not. Bottom line: Check the deductions on your first retirement paycheck and adjust accordingly, and calculate your estimated taxes to make sure you are having enough taken out or are putting enough money aside to pay them.
  2. The job hunt – Again, many assumptions were made here. All of us know people who have jumped right from their active-duty job to a similar GS position, or contractor job. The reality is apparently more difficult than it looks. A couple of my spouse friends mentioned that it can be hard, if not impossible, to get a GS job if the retiree does not have a VA disability rating. We haven’t gone through the job search process yet so I have no idea how widespread that is, but it is something to think about if you are banking on that option. Others also noted that military job descriptions don’t always translate well to the civilian world, that jobs might not be available in your dream location to live, or that it can take as long as a year to be hired. Bottom line: Network. Getting a job is all about who you know
  3. Insurance – Whether on Tricare Prime or Standard, retirees have to pay a portion of their healthcare costs. The same is true for dental – while active duty families pay a monthly fee of $34.68 for dental insurance, the cost to retirees can be triple that or more depending on where you live. Life insurance is another high-ticket item, whether you choose something private or opt in to the military’s Survivor Benefit Plan. One spouse also mentioned that the level of services provided to her special needs child dropped dramatically after retirement, meaning a gap in care and more money out of pocket for her family. Bottom line: Research insurance costs carefully. If you have a civilian job, compare prices and coverage of what your employer may offer versus what is available to military retirees.
  4. Missing the life – Active-duty life has its ups and downs, but most of us thrive. We love the challenges, the opportunities and the adventures that come with it. But what we might love most is the camaraderie. In military-land, there is a new best friend waiting at every duty station. In the real world, not so much. Bottom line: It takes time to adapt. Find something you are interested in – be it a paid job, volunteer work or some other activity – asap at your new location.
  5. The uniform – There’s nothing like a man (or woman) in uniform. You’ll no longer see your service member looking good, strong and proud in their uniform. Instead, it might be business casual or an occasional suit. Definitely not the same. Bottom line: Try to get on base every once in a while and steal a glance at those lucky enough to still be wearing the uniforms of our country’s armed forces. Your heart will skip a few beats, guaranteed!
How to turn your life upsidedown, in one easy lesson

By Amy Nielsen

I am not quite sure how many times I will be speechless with this new job. Where to begin this week’s post? I returned home from Colorado with a new understanding of my role in this business adventure. I am taking on a much larger role than I had intended. This is a terrific development. It means this is a career not just a fun amusement for a few months.

After the festival I ran last weekend, I now understand the nature of this business and the nature of this industry much better. I have bitten off a lot here and it is going to be hard to make sure not to choke. We have settled on the majority of a good team and we have one more position to fill. I know we will fill that position quickly. At least I hope we do. We need them in place - yesterday. The team as it stands is diverse yet cohesive and has the resources to build a strong foundation and get some amazing funding. It will take time and polish, but we can get there.

I flew back on the red eye from Colorado to be home for exactly one week. In that week I have to acquire an RV, or something to live in on the road. That something has to be able to tow a big utility trailer with our kitchen in it. I have to then turn around and drive that rig back to Colorado to fill it with the kitchen and festival booth equipment in a week. Then turn around and drive it to Iowa for our first road festival of the tour.

To say the turn-around is fast is an understatement. We have a lot of work to do to get this booth running like the clock work that is possible. We are a bit short on equipment and time to get new equipment. We have a stock issue in the town we will hit first as there are no large box membership stores within a reasonable driving distance for us to purchase our perishable products. The health inspector is already calling me asking if I know exactly what oven unit will be delivered for his inspection. I haven’t ordered it yet.

Back on the homefront as it were, I also have to organize and plan much more of the school year for our homeschooled girls. My husband is excited to take on the challenge of being the lead teacher. We had already chosen a specific box curriculum for our older daughter, but have not chosen for our kindergartener. This is the perfect opportunity for him to choose what he wants to teach her within the parameters we have already set up. It’s a huge step for him as a parent. Until this point it has always been me at home while he deployed.

The hardest part is knowing that I won’t get to see everyone I want to see before I disappear over the hill until the new year. I have been gone a lot lately which hasn’t been the case for me for the last 10 years. This new set of friends is used to me being home and extremely active in our daily tribe life. I have worked hard to build this particular tribe. They get me. They get us. Leaving them knowing that my kids and husband will be well cared for and checked in on is a huge relief.

Honestly without that knowledge this wouldn’t be happening. I trust my husband, but I also know what it takes a tribe to raise kids these days.

Tomorrow I go pick up my new road home. She is a 21-foot motorhome that I will be sharing with my best friend and now business partner. I spent the last day searching thrift stores and my home for stuff to outfit her with in the most economical way possible. I have a 2-hour lesson planned in how to operate everything about this rig. I have never even stayed overnight in a motorhome much less owned one. I have driven large trucks for a living so I am not daunted by her size. In fact she is a full 5 feet shorter than my last big rig.

Here’s to speedy new adventures!

August Job Fairs

If you PCS’d this summer you’ve probably unpacked your boxes and settled into your new quarters.

Why not start looking for a new job?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation continues to host hiring fairs across the country every month that are open only to military members and their spouses.

These companies know the skills that military spouses grow over their many moves and career changes and are looking to have them join their companies, even if for just a short while.

So, dig out that resume and your best outfit. You may just find the perfect job.

Don’t forget to click on the links and register. Day of walk-ins are usually not accepted.

Good luck!


Aug. 2

Columbia, SC


Aug. 9

Washington D.C.


Aug. 10

Omaha, NE


Aug. 18

Kansas City, KS


Aug. 25

New Orleans, LA


Aug. 30

Cincinnati, OH


Sept. 1

Minneapolis, MN

New Job, New Life – Bring it!

By Amy Nielsen

I am rarely speechless. It is almost unfathomable to try to describe what has just happened in my life. The best way I can think to describe it is: paradigm shift.

I honestly thought this blog would be the easiest thing in the world to write. It's turning out to be the hardest thing I have written yet. I can’t focus on any one aspect because every single aspect of my life has changed. Every. Single. One.

I spent this past weekend, at the job interview for my dream job. It was halfway across the country and it was, in the end, the most amazing experience.  I will not, nay, I cannot go into the details as I could fill a million pages. Honestly some things are better just left as experienced and never told.

I can say that to plan a three-month traveling internship with a chef has turned into something much more earth shattering and amazing. There are a lot of moving parts, which seems to be par for the course. I feel somewhat like I am hurtling towards the inevitable and the universe is trying to make all of my dreams come true. Like all at once.

The actual logistics of the whole thing are going to be easy compared to the new family dynamic we are tossing ourselves into. However, as always with third culture families, we can step up to a difficult task, use logic and plan. I already have vast experience living with groups of unrelated people that become a very tight knit structured family unit and that will make this transition easier. All of us are formerly connected with the military and have travelled the world as such. All of us have travelled with performing groups for a living. All of us have worked in jobs that have a very strictly defined hierarchy. That said, with the exception of one, everyone has had significant time outside of the structured group life and in their own spaces. That has made us all appreciate our personal space and time. Something we are all very aware of.

The dynamics of road life with a small group of families is vastly different than all of us have experienced before. Not that we will be bringing our children on the road immediately, but my husband and I have discussed this option for our life many times. This new job of mine will eventually allow us to do just that. And keep our newly made, yet deep and cherished roots, planted where we have chosen to make our home - before the universe opened up a black hole and swallowed me, then spit me out a worm hole into this new paradigm.

So what the blooming, dickens does any of this have to do with herbology or integrative nutrition? Well, I burned the snot out of my typing thumb and index finger in the kitchen and was able to find a local herbalist who had what I needed to help the very deep burn. As for nutrition, I think I am supposed to work on healing my body now that I have healed my spirit.

I am exhausted to the bone. I am physically battered; scared even, for sure. I cannot feel my toes from the standing I have done. I have a planned 35-hour day tomorrow and I could not be happier, more terrified, more exhilarated or more ready to move forward. After feeling so stuck for so long, I really hope everyone can hang on for the ride. I intend to be graceful in this process. I intend to be trusting. I intend to take no - oh the sky is just so amazing out here in the west.

None of us in the core team can do this without the others, we have seen that in spades. Now we need to make the vision happen. It will be a roller coaster for sure.

Lessons Learned from Military Wifehood

I was young when I married my soldier, a week before my 23nd birthday. I would also say that I was confident, positive, energetic, and just a little clueless. I loved life and couldn’t wait to grab it by the horns.

Not much has changed about me since then, or at least I like to think. But there are a few important lessons I learned along the way that helped me build on who I was and become who I am.

The ten most important lessons I’ve learned as a military spouse, in no particular order:

10. Command hooks are your friend – Those little suckers can be used to hold everything from curtains to coats to toilet paper. Military housing, rental properties or even a home you own is always only temporary. No need to muck up the walls when these little miracles of engineering exist.

9. Good manners and a smile go a long way – Or, as I also like to say, kill them with kindness. There is no point in being rude to the lady at the housing office, or getting into an argument with your neighbor. It takes much more energy to be negative than it does to be positive, and life is so much better when seen through a positive attitude.

8. There really is an exception to every rule – Seriously. Even military regulations. You just have to find that one person in the office/command/team who is willing to make things happen. For an even better chance of making this happen, see #9.

7. What kind of house you live in doesn’t really matter - Neither does what kind of car you drive, or what kind of clothes you wear. No one is looking at you, or judging you, or talking about you. Well, maybe occasionally they are, but who cares?

6. Stuff is just stuff – Again, seriously. We all have a few sentimental objects that we would be sad to lose, but overall furniture and dishes and tchotchkes are just things. They don’t really matter. Don’t buy things that are so expensive or hold so much “power” over you that you would be devastated if they were lost or broken. And don’t hate the movers. For the most part, they do their best.

5. My husband is awesome – He really is. He is my hero. And whether your spouse is a seasoned war veteran brand new PFC, they are awesome, too.

4. Tomorrow is another day – Whatever mistakes were made today, whatever harsh words were spoken, whatever mishaps occurred … the sun will come up tomorrow and we can start all over.

3. Don’t talk politics – We all have our opinions, but a hail and farewell or happy hour on the patio is not the place to share them.

2. It’s OK to ask for help – Chances are there are people all around ready and willing to help. It’s a hard lesson learned, but asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It just means you are strong enough to know when to call in back up.

1.Count to three – Before you speak, before you react, before you complain. About anything or to anyone.

Job Performance Reviews: Control Your Conversations, Control Your Career

Does your stomach sink at the thought of getting through your annual performance appraisal? Well, you may soon be in for relief.

In December 2015, the Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology announced the top ten work place trends for 2016. Coming in at number four, according to more than 700 members of the organization, is the changing nature of performance management and development.

“More and more organizations are changing the way they approach performance management, moving from forced distributions and ranking systems to processes focused on continuous improvement that truly fosters the development of employees, rather than competition between them,” they predicted. “Performance management is no longer an event-driven process where conversations are held once or twice a year, but is becoming an ongoing conversation between manager and employee that encourages performance development.”

What's driving the change? Janelle Brittain, a performance management consultant, trainer and speaker, believes there are three main drivers.   

“We have the most educated workforce ever; therefore, they have the highest expectations,” she said. “There is low unemployment so people can change jobs whenever they want to. And, the younger generation expects to be more empowered and have their ideas listened to.”

But this change won’t happen overnight and it won’t be perfect, considering the facts that form-focused evaluators tend to have a ‘let’s-get-it-done-put-it-in-the-file-and-get-back-to-work’ attitude. And, even if people-focused, not all evaluators have great conversation skills.

So, whether you are subjected to form-focused performance reviews or treated to people-focused ones, take control of the conversation so you can have the best outcomes.

Brittain, co-author of How to Say It: Performance Reviews. Phrases and Strategies for Painless and Productive Performance Reviews, offers these tips:

·         Ask for interim conversations, rather than saving all your accomplishments until the end of the year. Otherwise, you’ll only gloss over the past year and end up focusing on the past two weeks' accomplishments.

·         Complete the assessment form yourself or write out your successes if there isn’t one. Be fair and realistic about your accomplishments and missteps. Include training you completed that enabled you to do a new task or improve one.

·         Look at your last performance review. Figure out whether your responsibilities have changed since then and document how so. Have many been added, but none taken away, or vice versa? If so, how should your priorities be re-set? If you were your boss, what new goals would you set for yourself?

·         Work into the conversation what you would like your next career step to be. Ask your manager what it would take for you to get there.

·         Finally, step back and evaluate whether you have enough documentation to frame a request for more money, a promotion or an official change in your level of responsibility.

To find out SIOP’s other top work place trends for 2016, visit


By Amy Nielsen


This is unexpected and out of the blue. This particular job is not just any job either. It is a logistical nightmare in the making – just the way us military spouses like it.

Within the next three weeks I have to go on a weeklong business trip, have several medical tests and procedures, sort out a nanny for my daughters, and figure out how to get a new pair of riding boots to match my kilts before August first.

Boots! In July! Are you kidding me!?

Now how does this new job, on the road for the next three months, fit in with my current newly started studies? Well, in a word, it doesn’t. At all. Except that knowledge never goes to waste and it is stuff I have wanted to know for a long time. If this gig goes south I still have my original pre job-bombshell career in the works.

As a military family, recently retired, we have a unique opportunity here to be in opposite positions for the first time ever. I will in essence be TDY CONUS for three months, while my husband gets the role of fulltime working spouse, AKA Murphy’s new best friend. It has been fascinating watching us pull together, in almost muscle memory precision, the slightly, rusty pre-deployment plan. In my career as a Navy spouse, I was a peer to peer spouse mentor for Navy life. I taught the pre-deployment cycle and the deployment cycle classes. I know how to make slick work of a short notice set of orders. Except this time I’m the one who is going.

So many people ask how it is that my husband is letting me pursue this job. He is clear to point out that he is doing all he can to make this happen for me. He understood going into our relationship that if, after he retired, I was ever given the chance to go return to my career that we would do everything we could to make it work.

He is exceptionally supportive and willing to step into the role of keeper of the homefront. To him it is a chance to see a side of life he has missed out on for the last 20 years of his career. He finally gets to be the primary parent. We pride ourselves on having a very equal relationship, but there is definitely a primary parent and a primary working spouse in our family. Since we homeschool, and will continue to do so while I am away, he will now step into a different role as parent and spouse.

Then they usually turn to me and ask if I know what it’s like living like that? I have plenty of experience on the road. This job is not a new endeavor for me. In fact, being a road warrior is an essential part of my career history. It is one of the things that made my relationship to the Navy and to my husband’s career much easier to deal with. While I was never a service member, I did spend many months at a time away from home with little to no communication, living in very tight quarters with a very small group of people, doing day in day out the same off the wall, never would use it in civilian life in a million years, expertise. I was a lighting designer and road technical manager for a national touring children’s theater production.

I have also spent 10 years and four, 12-month plus deployments with my husband’s Navy career. I understand he cannot possibly know exactly what the roller coaster before him looks like. Between exploding washing machines, flaming minivans, dying pets, vacations alone, and a few other sundry joyous experiences, I survived my visits with Murphy’s law and his sidekick Loki. At least my husband doesn’t have to give birth alone, twice.

Now we are working on a new childcare plan. This so far is turning out to be the hardest stumbling block. I have three weeks to find an appropriate nanny. We have several odd requirements for our nanny and while in an area with a large available pool, our particular situation is proving difficult to fill. The other difficulty is figuring out how much to pay for a rate since we live in the poorest county in our state, next to one of the richest and the rates vary as much as twenty dollars an hour. And let’s not even get started with nanny taxes.

I have a steep learning curve to make sure I get everything at home situated as much as possible so the transition will be as easy as possible. I know it will be rocky. I know it will be hard. I know we will be changed. My job is to make sure we are molded not shattered. I have such a special perspective on this situation. I am bringing all of my resources and talents to bear to make sure this job happens.



Follow the Papertrail to Retirement

As my husband gets closer and closer to his retirement date, and with our pack-out date looming just a little more than a month away, we have been going through and sorting all of our paperwork.

Mountains and mountains of paperwork.

While we casually go through things each time we move and get rid of things like utility bills and the newcomer’s packet we received upon arrival at our current duty station, we have never gone through everything this thoroughly.

The first step was the file cabinet, from which we purged vet records for the two cats who are no longer with us, 10-year-old vehicle registration receipts and 20-year-old mutual fund statements.

Next were the two boxes of “things to save for the scrapbooks” collected over the last two years. This is where we culled down kids’ artwork and school certificates, ticket stubs and airplane boarding passes.

Finally, we started on our lockbox, where all the really important need-to-keep-no-matter-what items are stored. I expected to find a lot in there that we could trash.

I assumed that by now we could shred or burn a good deal of what’s in the lockbox. My husband is retiring after 26 years of active duty service, so why does he still need a National Guard enlistment contract from 1988, or Army Reserve training records from 1990?

Well, guess what. He needed those exact papers as part of his retirement process.

After he pulled those out, we shut the lockbox and I decided not to purge anything from there after all.

We all have heard many times over that we should keep a paper trail of everything military-related. This is not an exaggeration. As much as I would like to clear out as much clutter as possible before we PCS, military-related paperwork is not the place to do it.

Adding to the problem is the paperwork that continues to accumulate as part of retirement. Just the other day we had to sign a half-dozen documents at the transition office on post. Plus we’ve got orders, leave requests, medical records, VA documents, life insurance forms … the list

goes on and on.

And the next question becomes … what documents should you hand carry during your final PCS (especially when moving from overseas like we are)

After perusing several online discussions and thinking about our own past experiences, this is my list:

  • Copies of orders both to and from your current duty station.
  • Kids’ birth certificates.
  • Kids’ and adults’ social security cards.
  • Kids’ school records, specifically last report card and most recent standardized test scores, as well as documentation of any special services received.
  • Kids’ shot records and up-to-date school/sports physical.
  • Pets’ shot records and microchip number.
  • Inventory of household goods as provided by the moving company, as well inventory sheets for any items in storage.
  • Proof of vehicle insurance and ownership if your car is being shipped.
  • All paperwork signed during the retirement process.
  • Enlistment/initial service entry contract.
  • Servicemembers’ medical records.
  • Prescriptions for any medications taken on a regular basis.

If your household goods will be in storage long-term like ours will be, I would add the following:

  • Marriage certificate.
  • Divorce certificate if previously married.
  • Original mortgage papers if you own a house, as well as any other documents related to home ownership such as warranties or HOA contact information.
  • Adults’ birth certificates.
  • Most recent tax return.
  • All military service records.


Rainbows from the Sky

By Amy Nielsen

While away on vacation last weekend, in the middle of the craziness when I missed every deadline, the universe plopped an opportunity in my lap that I had to reach for.

They say that with great risk comes great reward and never clip your own wings and such right? So I sent out a resume. Well, not really a resume so much seeing as I haven’t written one of those in over 10 years. Rather, it was the most enthusiastic letter of curriculum vitae that I have ever written.

I have a pretty clear idea of what I want to do with the degree I am currently pursuing. I know that I want to open a practice mentoring people with their current special dietary needs to be able to fit those new needs more seamlessly into their lives. That plan is still on the table.

But, for now, I might get the chance to follow a lifelong dream doing something totally different yet oddly related. I met a mentor who could open up a world I have wanted to follow again for decades.

Therein lies the rub. Do I play it safe and just stick to what I am planning and plug forward to finish this certification and then follow on to a private practice, or, do I find a way to work the old plan in and around the new plan. Of course I have to hear back from the mentor first. But, let’s play with planning the new future for a while. If I do hear back favorably, there is a good chance I will have to move very quickly to jump on the opportunity.

I kind of feel a bit like a juggler on a ball with flaming knives. Trying to keep school, homework and home life together is already a bit crazy. To add in the changes that will need to happen for the new plan to not break us as a family is tough but not insurmountable. As a military family, we are semper gumby and can roll with the waves just fine. We just need to have a little bit of time to be able to put our support networks on notice.

I figure it is going to take the next week or two to shake the biggest bits of this out and get a clearer picture of whether I am going to stick with the original plan of mentoring or the new. A lot depends on another person right now and I cannot manage his timing. All I can do is wait and gather my ducks. Or, at least make sure my ducks are headed for the same pond.

Making phone calls, sending emails, and all of the what if’s might drive me crazy. But, I know that in order to follow this dream I have to make sure that everything else is totally, 100 percent as situated as our dear friend Murphy will allow. Which means planning for a deployment-like time period. Right.  Deployment., I, no, we’ve got this.

Your College Degree Will Net You a Job

Ever wondered if the money and time spent on a college degree is worth it?

It is.

A new report from the Center for Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University says most new jobs are going to college graduates, both those holding bachelor’s and associate’s degrees, CNN reports.

When the recession hit the U.S. between December, 2007 and January, 2010, 7.2 million jobs were lost.

Since the U.S. job market began recovering in 2010, 11.6 million jobs were created. More than half of those, 8.4 million, were given to college graduates.

Unfortunately, the report also points out that American workers who hold only a high school diploma still have not recovered from the cut into the labor force.

In the same time period that college graduates were being hired, only 1 percent of the 5.6 million workers who hold only a high school diploma and lost their job during the recession have found work.

Want to read the entire breakdown of the report? Visit

And, keep studying. It will pay off in the end.


For Military Spouses
Apply for the Salute to Spouses scholarship today and begin your education! You’ll be on the way to your dream career.