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PCS Checklist: Unpack, Take the Bar Exam

Elizabeth Jamison has taken the bar exam twice in two different states. And now, she’s preparing to take it again, in a third state. Each time, she has aced it.

Three bar exams? The extra pressure, study time and cost – crazy you say? It’s the life of a dedicated military spouse who is also a dedicated attorney.

Jamison, a Navy wife and the communications director of Military Spouse JD Network (www.msjdn.com) is just one of the 41 percent of its members who have taken two or more bar exams, usually due to the demands of the military lifestyles.

MSJDN was founded to advocate for military spouses who want to maintain their legal careers in spite of the challenges that frequent military relocations present. Many of these spouses have student loan balances of more than $80,000 and have families to care for, on top of juggling the duties of being a military spouse.

Since attorneys are required to be licensed in the state in which they practice, the time and cost to become licensed in a new state is an uphill battle every two or three years. Recent legislation has allowed many licensed occupations to have reciprocity in different states to accommodate their military moves - but not attorneys.

The highest court in each state governs their licenses, meaning they have to retest every time they PCS. MSJDN is currently working with states to make accommodations for military spouses and has succeeded in nine states.

 “Our primary goal is to get these rule changes into effect so that military families can stay together and military spouses can support their families,” Jamison said. “We’re working with each state to address their concerns and the rules in each state reflect the needs of that legal community. For example, some states that have enacted rules allow spouses to become members of that state’s bar permanently, while others permit it for the length of the service member’s orders.”

MSJDN also has an extensive membership of about 1,000 military spouses. The network provides resources for networking, support and job postings. The postings also include non-licensed legal jobs as well. A 

“We have so many people say they thought they were the only military spouse trying to pursue a legal career and they are so happy to find our group with like-minded spouses. It’s a very active group and a fantastic perk for those who join MSJDN,” Jamison said.

MSJDN has also partnered with In Gear Career to co-host the program, Homefront Rising, and provide non-partisan political action training to military spouses. This program encourages military spouses to become active in the political process and teaches the entire spectrum of political involvement from the local school board to state-wide Senate races.

MSJDN also assists military families with their pro bono program, Justice for Military Families. Partnering with TAPS, (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors), and funded by Newman’s Own Foundation, this program not only provides a way for military spouse attorneys to stay current on the law while serving their community, but connects military family survivors with pro bono legal help as they navigate the often difficult legal challenges that may arise after a military member is killed in action.

 “We’re really proud of Justice for Military Families,” Jamison said. “It allows military spouse attorneys to use their talents for the benefit of the military community and fills the justice gap for these families in need of legal assistance.”

MSJDN is currently working on providing continuing education through their website, as well.

Maintaining a legal career as a military spouse can be difficult and expensive, but MSJDN provides a wealth of information and support to help connect spouses and continue to do the work they love, all while navigating the demands of the military lifestyle.

Take this to do list and shove it

I got nothing.

Ever go to work, school, extracurricular activities, heck, even visits with friends and think, yep, I am just a giant blob of unproductive exhaustion.

Military spouses tend to fly through their days at 150 miles per hour, tending to house, kids, husband, school, job and all the little tasks each of those items requires. Eventually, you try to slow down but a body in motion, well, it stays in motion. And when it stops, everything flying at warp speed behind it, keeps going.

Until it crashes into you. Leaving you in a heap of to do lists, unfinished class projects, piles of summer camp laundry, school supplies to label and boxes that still have not been unpacked from your PCS – last year.

You know it is all sitting there. You know it isn’t going away. But still, you just can’t.

Motivation and even any care you had to finish it, is gone.

Ya got nothing.

It’s ok. We get it. It’s that time of year, when summer boredom kicks in for the kids, summer frustration sets in for you as you try to entertain them and still get things done, PCS is either over or dragging out just too long and the start of school is right around the corner. Hooray for school! Only after all the shopping, labeling, arguing over dress codes and paying for books, labs and sports gear has faded into memory.

It’s ok. Take a day. Collapse onto the couch and watch a day’s worth of mindless, recorded television while the kids scream and make a giant mess.

Then tomorrow, get back up and tackle it all, piece by piece. Because, you got something.

You’re talented, smart and ready to take on the world. You just needed a moment to mourn how little you thought you had in order to see how much you are.

You’ve got everything. Now, make the most of it. 

Graduation Day DO’s and DON’Ts

I know a lot of things. 

Seriously. Like, a lot of things. I know how to make lasagna without a recipe, how to tile a bathroom floor and how to be in a tactical aircraft landing without puking. My knowledge is pretty diverse, to be honest.

Recently, however, I found out that there was something about which I was absolutely ignorant: I had no idea how to graduate from college. 

Don’t get me wrong . . . I understand the cap-gown-walk-handshake-smile procedure. That part is not difficult. Neither was showing my ID at the student store to pick up my cap and gown, which I managed to time during book buyback, and not standing in that line from hell gave me an extra sense of glee.  

The cards that the school mailed gave a pretty detailed set of instructions, which made things much easier. Logistically, things were very easy to navigate. Emotionally, however, well, that is a different story. A good friend of mine looked at the recyclable, gorgeous blue tent and hat set that I was to wear, and asked what I was going to do with my mortar board. My super educated and classy response was something along the lines of “what the hell is that?”

To make a long story slightly shorter, I learned the following things about graduating community college:

  1.  Figure out where you are supposed to line up before you do anything else. How do I know this?  Because at the last second, I looked like a really confused maniac trying to find my spot.
  2. Wear comfortable shoes. I know many of us may be tempted to wear super cute heels. Don’t do that. I promise. The accordion-style walk to and from the auditorium and across the stage can be full of obstacles designed to take you down. This is your day! Don’t eat it while reaching for the fake diploma. Remember, they just read your name and major, so everyone there has the opportunity to YouTube your demise.
  3. Take pictures! You may feel silly at the time, but you’ll want them later and so will your family.
  4. Try to sneak in a Red Bull. Or two. Because that ceremony not only lasts approximately forever, indoor venues get ridiculously hot, particularly when you’re wearing the recyclable tent and sitting shoulder to shoulder with some sweaty stranger.

Number five is possibly the most important tip of all:

   5.  Do not comment in a loud and amazed manner that all of the professors are dressed like they work at Hogwarts. 

So, all you graduating spouses out there, CONGRATULATIONS!  You earned it, now go rock your recyclable gown and mortar board! 

Quarters Sweet Quarters: Taking a Time Out

So, I’ve had my mandatory meltdown. My negativity and frustration with the entire move process has probably scared away almost every positive friend I have as I retreat into a corner to rock back and forth - but wait.

It’s time for a time-out for mom. And with a snap of my fingers, I took one.

During the first week of karate camp, I made a conscious decision to take time away from the unpacking, the hanging of pictures and the general decision making that comes with setting up housekeeping for the sixth time in 12 years.

After not putting my running shoes on my feet in two months, I laced up with my soldier and went down to the river to run a couple of times. The rushing water and the lovers’ locks were just what my soul needed. I stood there for a few minutes, took a few deep breaths and realize that things could be a lot worse. But on a side note, that runner’s high that people feel, I didn’t feel it. I felt thick and heavy. I felt tired and a little defeated.    

But, I ran. I got out there and did something over which I had complete control that didn’t affect anyone else. That’s the part that felt good. It made me feel human. It gave me back my grip on myself.

This week, it has been back to the grind of getting organized and getting ready for school to start.

If you are losing your grip or you feel your rolodex begin to spin, I encourage you to take a time-out. Do something for yourself, over which you have complete control and does not affect anyone else.

But sweet friends, it is almost the end of the summer! Hold on! School starts soon!

May the moving gods smile upon you and may only the things that you don’t like get broken … sby

We Have Orders

It’s funny how a simple text message can change … well, everything.
We’ve known for a couple months that we were moving, and even where to, but there’s something about that little official paper that says, ‘Hey, stuff just got real.’

If you’ve been following along with us, you know that we’re foster parents, and we’ve had our little girl just over nine months now, which makes the timing of this PCS pretty terrifying. You might also know that there’s zero chance I’m leaving Fort Drum until her legal situation is settled.

But with the promise we’ve made to fight for our family and keep her with us, a lot goes into the prep. We’re making decisions without all the information, trying to plan for every scenario, to include the ones we can’t imagine, but have to. And we’re starting small, if you call packing up and selling a house, small.

My first thought? Where did all this stuff come from?

My second thought? We are way over our weight allowance. We did a DITY move from Rucker to Drum four years ago, which means we haven’t actually had our stuff weighed in six years. Yeah, our house is one fat mamajahamba, and we need to make her svelte in the next two months.

Do you know how much stuff you can acquire in six years? Let me tell you, it’s not pretty. Nope. Does it help that I emotionally attach to things? Not in the least bit.
    
“Start getting rid of it,” sounds a lot easier than it is. I could seriously give you an excuse to keep every item in my house or tell you the plans I have for it a decade from now. Usually my response starts with, “Oh, but I meant to… (Enter craft here that’s just never realistically going to happen).”

Do I seriously need the newspaper articles on Jason’s squadron from his first deployment? Um, no, especially since I’m pretty sure they’re in a giant rubber box that also includes old, expired Sunday coupons. Will I make him drag them with us back to Colorado? Probably.

But I have to draw those lines, unless I want to end up on an episode of Hoarders. Then again, if they showed up to clean out my attic and garage loft, it may be worth it.

This is our most logical first step of this PCS: cleaning out our house to sell it and getting those tiny projects done so we can move forward. But it’s also the first home we’ve ever owned, and while we’re over here trying to be under weight, I’m arguing about keeping the piano, and, could we please take the closet door with us? The one we’ve used to mark the kids heights for years? Yes, I just made the leap from cleaning out the house to taking actual pieces of the house with us.

Well, maybe this isn’t going to be the easiest process.

I feel all defensive when I look at the amount of stuff we’ve acquired, and think, “Hey, we have six kids living here, of course we have that many beds.” Or, “I’m an author, of course I have a book obsession.” Instead of finding ways to clear it out, I’m arguing the stuff’s validity.

No, I’m not ditching the beds, but that spare dresser in the back hallway? The one that houses their Boy Scout uniforms and extra gear for sports they no longer play? Yeah, that needs to go.

Part of PCS’ing is leaving the extra baggage here, both the physical and the mental, and now that orders are in hand, it’s time to start doing that.

As for the other decisions: how long we’ll stay? When to go? And trying to figure out how long we’ll be separated until we’re a whole family again or even if we will be a whole family if our daughter is not allowed to travel with us. Those decisions are too big to decide without all the information we need. And when I look at how daunting all of that is? Well, cleaning out the attic and getting rid of the clutter doesn’t seem so hard. No, it’s really the easy part in all of this.

Reading that text that says, “We’ve got orders,” means we’re sitting down to a huge pie, full of complex pieces. How are we going to handle it with everything we have going on? The same way we always do – one bite at a time. And the first piece should probably be a yard sale.

But I am taking that closet door with us.

 

Post it Notes: Here’s how to start (and continue) a good, online class discussion

“Publish or perish!” used to be the lament of academia in the pre-digital age. While the delivery system may be different, students and instructors still make their grades with the written word. As an online student, that means crafting discussion posts that are thoughtful and grammatically correct.

When it comes to starting and creating a good online discussion, preparation and an early start are critical, said Brandy McDonough, associate dean of instruction at Bryant & Stratton College Online.

“Once you’ve identified the discussion questions or directions, then you can go back to your reading you’ve been assigned for the week to pull some ideas,” she said, adding that extra research online or in the virtual library is helpful. “By doing that, they’re going to be able to get information that’s more academic in nature that will support their own statements.”

Most initial posts are due by Tuesday, but the sooner you get a post rolling, the better, she said. The initial post will require more time up front if you take the initiative to do independent research. After that, about an hour a day should be enough time for you to catch up on posts and come up with questions to further the dialog, she said.

“As you post, go in and take a look at some peers’ discussion posts, respond to maybe a couple of posts that day,” McDonough said. “Then log in the next day and look to see if anybody’s responded to your posts. That way you can provide feedback to them.”

This doesn’t have to be a particularly time-consuming process, but it’s not something you can save for just one day, she said. Break it up over the course of the week to better manage your time and plan your responses.

“It doesn’t take too much time to go in and look at what others have shared, but it’s a great way to remain actively engage in that week’s discussion and see some of the feedback the instructor has provided,” McDonough said.

Be sure you also check back to see what the instructor adds.

“The instructor is the content expert,” she said. “You may find (instructor’s remarks) interesting and relevant to your own career path that might be helpful, or it might spark some different ideas and/or discussions that you might want to continue to have throughout the week.”


If the discussion starts to wander, you can kindly guide it back on topic. McDonough suggests you find a common interest with the poster who’s off track – a career goal, a similar experience – and ask that person a question that loops the dialog back into the central theme.

“You just have to be careful to do it in a respectful way and not call it out as ‘You guys are off topic,’” she said.

Other points McDonough suggests you keep in mind:

1.    Make sure your responses actually do something to further the conversation. “Great point, Susie!” and the like really don’t cut it.

2.    Don’t use all caps. It comes off as very abrupt and can be considered shouting.

3.    If you use a different font color in your replies, don’t choose red.

4.    Be very careful about grammar and how you write. Remember to capitalize “I” appropriately. McDonough recommends reading a post aloud to catch as many errors as possible.  

“These are things that can come off to others as perhaps not academic in nature and you may not get as many responses from classmates,” she said.

 

Lose Job Due to PCS? File for Unemployment

During PCS you move away from friends, lose your favorite hair salon and sometimes, have to walk away from a job you love.

The sting cuts deeper because you lose a career you may have loved, as well as the income that comes with it. The Military Officers Association of America reports that military spouses lose six to nine months of income after a PCS move as they search for another job.

In years past, military spouses were not eligible for unemployment payments because the rules dictated that they made a choice to leave. Military spouses cried foul, legislators reacted and many states began to recognize that no, we did not choose, Uncle Sam told us to leave.

Only a handful of states offered unemployment benefits to PCSing military spouses at first. Now, 45 states and the District of Columbia grant the benefits to military spouses who leave on military orders.

States who continue to deny these benefits are: Idaho, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio and Vermont.

Now, there is no sweeping national law or benefit. Each state has enacted its own set of rules regarding unemployment for military spouses.

To learn the specifics for your state, visit the website for the National Conference of State Legislators at http://www.ncsl.org/research/military-and-veterans-affairs/military-veterans-affairs-state-leg-database.aspx

In their search box type: spousal employment issues

You will find information about your individual’s state’s unemployment rules as well as a trove of information regarding the rights of military families and state laws.

You can also visit MOAA’s site for more information: http://moaablogs.org/spouse/2012/03/forty-states-provide-military-spouses-eligibility-for-unemployment-compensation/

The organization does a great job of following legislative issues that impact military families.

The Tough Military Life Equals Happy Memories

Military life is a roller coaster. Most days I can’t imagine our life any other way. I feel so positive about the next 12 years (until retirement) but other days I daydream about a so-called normal life (whatever that may be) and curse the military for all the sacrifices we make.  

Lately, I feel like the later has been happening more and more. TDYs, long hours, budget cuts, Tricare issues . . . the list can go on and on. Luckily, when these feelings start to take over, something usually happens that reminds me just how lucky we are to be a military family.

One recent weekend we planned to get together with my husband’s aunt and uncle who were vacationing near our home in North Carolina. We haven’t seen them since our last PCS so we were very excited to catch up with them and reintroduce our boys to more of our extended family.  My husband’s uncle happens to be a retired Marine who served for 30 years. I have always enjoyed their company and look up to them as mentors in this crazy lifestyle. Even though Matt and his uncle took different paths in the Marines (officer and enlisted), it is comforting to have them as a resource and we greatly value their experience and opinions. 

Uncle Jim invited us to their rental, beach house for a BBQ along with some other military families they knew in the area. When we arrived, I was surprised to see such a variety of ages among the crowd. I expected to see people much older than us but there were current, active duty Marines only 10 years ahead of us too.

There were some retired Marines, like my husband’s uncle, some close to retirement and some who were marching on towards 30 years of service. We were the youngest of the group but felt like we were at just another military function. Lines like “Hey you work with so and so? We deployed together in 2010” and “We have friends in that neighborhood, do you know the Smiths?” were being thrown around. We were reminded what a small world our Marine Corps was and how connected everyone is to each other.

My husband spent time with his uncle when he was younger on Marine bases but this was my first time seeing my husband’s family in a military setting. I sat back and listened to stories of Uncle Jim as a drill instructor and learned how many of the Marines visiting him today were young privates when they first met him. He shaped their career and helped make them who they were today.

The wives talked about their children and asked how families were. Friendships that started 25 years ago picked up where they left off. They talked about their tours overseas, PCS and debated over the best duty stations. All of the wives had gone from stay at home mom’s to having their own careers near the end of their husband’s career. Everyone was settling in at our current duty station as their forever home. There was not one single negative comment about military hardships.

 I have always been more of the talker in social situations but here, I was completely content sitting back and taking it all in. I felt like I was watching my own life, but fast forward 10-20 years in our future: reminiscing with our friends whom we have met along the way, and being able to finish a conversation now that our kids have grown, settling down in our dream home and finding a career for myself.

I saw it - there was hope! This would all work out, the hard days and sacrifices would all be worth it. Normalcy! It may be a long, rough road there but eventually we would get there. It reminded me to slow down, time goes by fast. One day we will make a forever home, there will come a time to focus on a career for myself. Right now, I need to enjoy this journey for what it is - an adventure, and continue to make the best of it.

Websites We Love: Dogs on Deployment

On Monday, we introduced you to the staff of Dogs on Deployment in an article about helping pets cope with military deployment and reunion. And quite frankly, we think we didn’t say enough about this incredible organization.

This nationwide non-profit steps in to help match service members with volunteers who will care for their pets while they are away on duty. They also advocate for military pet owners’ rights and offer financial assistance in emergencies.

The civilian sector has a hard time understanding how difficult military life can be for families. And something as simple as owning a beloved dog can become an extremely difficult as service members deploy, PCS and, unfortunately, are injured. The work and dedication of Dogs on Deployment helps is so important because military pets are definitely the last consideration for other military non-profits. We dare say, pets are considered disposable in times of crisis for military families. That should not be allowed.

Military families love their pets and want to be dedicated, life-long owners. Military life makes that difficult. Dogs on Deployment makes it possible.

Check out their site at www.dogsondeployment.org where you can ask for assistance as well as give assistance to other military families. The site also features a list of animal rescue organizations and businesses who support military pet owners.

Broken AC During Deployment? Get In Touch With Your Inner Repairman

I was cutting corners on the grocery bill while I talked to my mom on the phone one night.

“Things are tight right now,” I said. “I have to replenish our savings while he’s deployed, so I have to be extremely frugal.”

I despise money, finances, budgets.

But it’s been a crazy year, and the rest looks to be just as taxing. So while my husband is gone, I’m trying to tighten up the purse string.

My mother, of course, expressed concern.

I promised her we were fine, but if, say, the air-conditioner went out, we would be in a real pickle.

And then the next morning, as I padded to the kitchen, with two girls in tow, I heard it.

There was a trickle of water coming through the air-conditioning vent.

I immediately began to breathe heavily, as if I knew that we were on the precipice of surviving a Georgia summer without cool air.

And then I began to panic.

I tossed some toast and peanut butter at my kids and proceeded to climb in the tiny closet that houses the indoor portion of our AC unit.

Knowing more about almost any other topic on Earth than heating and cooling houses, I was clearly not the best choice for this task.

But I was the only person I could afford.

So there I was, standing in a puddle - a puddle of water that had seemingly appeared from the bottom of my air-conditioner.

With one hand I began downloading AC manuals on my iPad, and with the other, I texted friends and canceled our plans.

I bribed my kids with cartoons and started reading.

None of it made sense. It was worse than reading a different language. And the girl who avoided the physical sciences her entire life started to get bored one paragraph in.

I was in serious trouble.

Ironically enough, my husband is an expert in heating and cooling and the transfer of fluids. It’s what he does on submarines. Which is why, as I read AC manuals, a few tears escaped to join the puddle below me.

Home repairs are extremely stressful. I had no idea if I should keep going or throw in the towel, bust out a credit card and call a weekend repairman. And I had no one to talk the idea out with, either.

It took me until the next day to find a random YouTube video that opened up a world for me.

What had happened to the AC involved a condensate pipe, which meant nothing to me. Hours of reading manual had taught me where it was and what it did, and when I traced it back up to our second story, I realized I’d found the problem.

And then I knew I could fix it.

And I did. My house is cool. My AC is no longer leaking. I even know now that a cup of bleach or vinegar can prevent this problem from happening again.

And I did it all without my heating-and-cooling expert sitting next to me. And without a penny spent.

It was single-handedly one of my proudest Navy-wife moments. I may have even gloated a little in the e-mail to my husband that night.

But it was also one the most terrifying. Which is why I never want to do it again.

I am capable of a lot. Deployments are nothing if not proof of that.

But if I had the choice, I’d hand the reigns over to my heating-and-cooling expert any day.

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