10 Reasons Parents Happily Say Goodbye to Summer!

School is back in session. You can’t see me, but my arm is raised with a fist pump! It’s been a great but loooooooooooonnnng summer. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve been looking forward to this day since mid-July. Of course, having the kids home for almost three months has given us a chance to sleep in, extra snuggles and tickles, parent-child bonding, travel and adventures. I love them so much my heart wants to burst, but my house has been bursting with kids, noise and stuff all summer. There are a few reasons I’m happy summer is in my rear-view mirror.

9-6-swingset

  1. Rediscovering the foreign sound of silence.
  2. Not doing other children’s laundry. Yeah, that’s right. The random socks, t-shirts, shorts that are left over after an all day of play or sleepovers. It was cute in June…annoying by August.
  3. Cereal boxes opened by a T-Rex. The cardboard box top is ripped to shreds, the plastic bag that holds the cereal has a hole where one should not exist, and there is more cereal on the floor and the counter than in the bowl. I’m attributing this chaos to the unfortunate small arms of the cereal eating T-Rex that lives sight-unseen in my home.
  4. Finishing a sentence. This one needs little explanation.
  5. The appearance of my mud room/entry way. For most of the summer it looked like the shoe department in a thrift store that just had their red tag sale.
  6. The daily clean up of unfinished art projects. Seriously, it’s like my daughter leaves a trail of art supplies and paper all over the house from morning to night. If I can’t find her, I follow the endless art droppings around the house to find her napping with crayons still in her grip.
  7. My living room strangely resembled a frat party or a cheap KOA campsite this summer. By the end of the day there are multiple blankets, solo cups, plates, bits of food, books, games, clothes and strange inventions. I pick it up at night, only to return to the same party site again the next day.
  8. Talking on the phone without interruptions. All summer my work and personal phone conversations have been interrupted for emergencies such as, “He looked at me,” or “She touched me,” or “Can I have your lipstick because I can’t find my red marker?” and the true emergency of, “I’m bored.”
  9. Finding juice boxes and freeze pop wrappers in sneaky, lazy places like in between my couch cushions, under my planters outside or just “near” the trashcan. Over it.
  10. The daily fly massacre with my most lethal and accurate fly swatter at 6 pm nightly when I finally discover what door was left open all day.

Actually, I’m going to miss my kids after a few weeks of being by myself again. Grown ups will be too serious, and my job will begin to pick up intensity again. The silence will grow too long, the house will be too clean, the quietness will be too much for a busy mom who loves her children and their friends. I’ll miss being the Kool-Aid house where everyone is welcome to stop by, grab a treat, get a hug and play until it’s time to find their way home – some just stay.

But, until it does, I’m going to bathe in the stillness of my house with my coffee in hand while alone watching the school bus drive away. Next year, we will PCS again, so this was our last summer with friends from the neighborhood. I’m really going to miss the summer….sometime near the October.

What do you rejoice about when school starts again? Share it with us!

stacy-huismanPosted by Stacy Allsbrook Huisman, National Military Family Association Volunteer

Preparing our Military Kid (and Our Bank Accounts) for College

This month, my family will reach a milestone: our last first day of school with two kids at home. Although it’s hard for me to believe, our oldest will be a senior in high school and this time next year we will (hopefully) be preparing to send him off to college. Like rising seniors across the country, he is already busy completing the Common Application, working on his essay, and researching colleges. Meanwhile, his dad and I are trying to figure out how to pay for it.

It’s not that we haven’t saved for our kids’ college education – we have. In fact, we’ve been contributing to our state 529 plan for years and have accumulated what we thought was a good-sized nest egg for each of our two kids. It’s just that college costs are going up faster than we can save. According to the College Board, a “moderate” budget at a private college averages $47,831 annually. Multiply that by four years and two kids and you arrive at a figure that exceeds some people’s mortgages.

9-1-college-move-in-day

Luckily for us and other families, there are options to make college more affordable. One is to attend school in a state where we qualify for in-state tuition. Because my husband is still active duty, our kids will be eligible for in-state tuition in the state where he is stationed, as well as the state where we maintain our permanent residence. In-state tuition at public colleges is often less than half of what is charged at private schools, making it a great option for many families.

Many military families are also able to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill to help pay for their kids’ college tuition. The GI Bill provides up to 36 months’ tuition at the in-state rate, as well as a stipend to cover housing and books. It’s an incredibly valuable benefit that has the added bonus of being transferable to a spouse and/or kids. There are strict rules covering transferability, so it’s important to read the fine print and make sure you meet all the requirements. Most significantly, the service member must have been in the military for at least 6 years before transferring the benefit and must agree to serve an additional 4 years. Service members can transfer all or part of the benefit and can divide the benefit among a spouse and children. Just remember the service member cannot transfer the benefit after leaving the military and transferring the benefit does incur an additional service commitment.

If you are using the GI Bill to pay for your child’s education, it’s important to know it covers tuition at the in-state rate. That’s great if your child is attending a state school in a state where you qualify for in-state tuition. If not, you may be in for some sticker shock. My son, at one point, considered applying to a school in North Carolina. However, the GI Bill will only cover the in-state tuition rate, leaving us to cover the difference between the much higher out-of-state rate – in our case, that would have amounted to more than $25,000!

If your child’s heart is set on an out-of-state or private school and you are using the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you should know about the Yellow Ribbon Program. Under the Yellow Ribbon program, schools award additional funds to help offset the difference between tuition and what the GI Bill will pay. Those funds are matched by the VA. Not every school participates in the Yellow Ribbon program, and the number of awards and the amount awarded varies by school.

9-1-college-student

In addition, the Veterans’ Access, Choice and Accountability (Choice) Act, passed in 2014, mandated that public colleges and universities charge in-state tuition to “covered individuals” using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. However, the law defines “covered individual” as a veteran or dependent using the benefit within three years of the veteran leaving the military. That means currently serving families are not covered by this law; nor are those using their GI Bill benefits more than three years after transitioning out of the military.

Of course, there are other ways to make college more affordable. Your child may be eligible for loans or grants from his or her college. In order to be considered for financial aid, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Even if you think your student will not qualify for financial aid, experts advise completing and submitting the FAFSA.

Finally, there are dozens of scholarships available to military kids heading to college. Many local spouses’ clubs offer scholarships. The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) operates the Scholarships for Military Children Program, which awards hundreds of grants annually. You can find a partial list of scholarships available for military children at Military OneSource. While the amounts of individual scholarships may seem small, they add up quickly and every little bit helps!

The process of applying to (and paying for) college can be overwhelming at times, at least to this stressed-out mom! There are so many details to manage and forms to fill out. With luck and a little perseverance, though, I’m hopeful the effort will pay off and my son will be able to attend the college of his choice.

Have you sent your military kid to college? How is your family paying for it? Share your stories and tips below!

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

What does a lobster, a job and MyCAA have in common?

I came upon a career in the legal field by accident. We had returned from an overseas PCS, the house was empty awaiting arrival of our household goods, and I was living 8 hours away in the meantime. In celebration of our third wedding anniversary, I drove to meet my husband for dinner at Red Lobster (a HUGE splurge on our meager family budget). Our waitress asked what we were celebrating, and after a little conversation and learning we were new to the area, she asked what type of job I was looking for. She mentioned this was her second job, and she was a legal secretary at a Little Rock law firm. They had a legal secretary position open.

I sent my resume in right away and was hired the next weekend. Little did I know, a career was born. I continued to seek legal secretary positions over the next decade, albeit in different parts of the country every three or four years due to PCS moves.

8-31-legal-docs

When we received orders to Goodfellow AFB, in San Angelo, Texas, the job search was slim pickings in the legal field. After three months of fruitless searching and taking an administrative assistant position, I landed the only legal secretary position advertised. The job was not busy, or as fulfilling, compared to other positions I had held, however staying within my chosen field was really important to me.

I searched for additional things to keep my mind busy, especially since my husband had just deployed. After I finished all of the filing and shredding, I took two online refresher courses, neither that provided school credits. But I knew I wanted to keep learning. A portable career was, and still is, a top priority for me, so I chose to pursue my Associate’s degree in Paralegal Studies.

I was not prepared for the cost of education, but found an online school I felt our family might be able to afford, and I applied. After acceptance, my school counselor mentioned all of the possible grants and tucked neatly within them was My Career Advancement Account, or better known by many as MyCAA.

I wasn’t sure whether online school would be covered, as it looked like most spouses were using their monies for certificate programs. So I first needed to confirm that my chosen school and degree program met their covered criteria. Lucky for me, it was covered!

Although it seems silly now, I honestly wasn’t sure whether I could go to class or if I would be up for the homework. At that point, the thought of going to college for the first time when I was 32 years old was quite scary. I had two children in high school and one in elementary – what would that be like? Could I really do this?

8-31-pin-mycaa-military-spouse

Knowing that the MyCAA investment was available gave me the encouragement I needed to take the leap into my education. The process of approval for payments was seamless. I only needed to ensure I gave myself, and MyCAA, enough time to approve and process the upcoming class for payment.

You might ask yourself whether going back to school is worth it. Do we really learn anything by getting a degree? Does it help you in your career? My answer to all three is a resounding YES! My career and family has been changed for the better. My degree has made it easier to find a position and transition to a new job with a corresponding salary range over each PCS move. None of which would have happened without the help of MyCAA.

I am so grateful to MyCAA for supporting military spouses all across the globe.  For me and our little family, a seemingly small contribution from MyCAA put a fire into me and gave me the motivation I needed. It went way beyond the monetary value. Knowing somewhere, someone believed in me was enough to kick start my education.

If you meet the eligibility requirements, I would highly recommend looking into MyCAA-approved programs. A 6-week course could change the trajectory of your professional future. It is truly possible to have a career, be a supportive military spouse, mother, and full-time student. You only must begin, take the first step, have faith in yourself and you, fellow spouses, will FLY!

Have you used the MyCAA scholarship program to go back to school? What was your experience?

Posted by April May Hackleton, Military spouse

Adventures of an Outlaw in South Dakota

Located in the Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota, surrounded by trees, mountains and beauty, lies Outlaw Ranch. The Ranch held nine weeks of summer camp, but had the honor of closing out their camp season by hosting their first Operation Purple® Camp. But even better: I got to be there.

Being a kid isn’t always easy, especially when you’re a military kid. But the spirit of the campers was strong. There were multiple campers who came from a dual-deployment family–where both parents deployed. For a week, they got to go to camp for FREE and build lasting friendships with other military kids that are facing the same challenges.

I wanted to get the full camp experience since I never attended an overnight camp as a child. I fully immersed myself in the activities, from hiking and kitchen parties to field games and campfire songs, the fun never stopped! National S’mores Day happened right in the middle of the camp week, so of course, I let the camp staff know that a great holiday was upon us. We all celebrated it over an authentic campfire with the most amazing people…and S’mores.

8-29-opc-hike

So, why camp?

“I have never seen anything that is able to transform people’s lives in a short amount of time, both staff as well as campers,” said Camp Director Matt Rusch. As I looked around at the kids braiding each other’s hair, helping each other out with their variety show acts, playing field games and horseback riding, I knew these were experiences the campers would never forget.

I asked a few of the campers what their favorite day was, and the consensus was Military Day. That was no surprise because it was my favorite day as well. Soldiers from, the South Dakota National Guard and Ellsworth Air Force Base came out to coordinate fun activities with the children. There was an inflatable obstacle course, face painting and zorb ball—zorb ball definitely topped the list of the favorite activity.

8-29-zorb-ball-opc

“Camp is the perfect place to learn the most about people, improve your personality and experience another world, said Camp Counselor Orsi.

I definitely experienced another world here. If you asked me two weeks ago if I would ever make it to South Dakota, see Mt. Rushmore, go hiking in the Black Hills, it would have been a NO. And for many of the kids, it would have been the same.

On the last night at camp, the children played a game in which they described camp in one word. The top five answers were: fun, awesome, cool, exciting and adventure. I think those answers sum up my experience as well.

I am now thinking about going to camp every summer. Why, well why not?

Has your child attended an Operation Purple Camp? What was their favorite memory?

ivoryPosted by Ivory Smith, Graphic Designer

I’ve Known You For Five Minutes: Will You Be My Emergency Contact?

It’s almost the first day of school and I’m faced with a stack of registration forms. I have my smartphone with me and slips of paper tucked into my purse with names and addresses. Truth be told, I even need to look up my own mailing address because we just moved and the old address 3,000 miles away is what I recall.

I feel pretty on-top-of-it for putting our new address and phone number into my cell phone. That’s a win. Thankfully, I remembered to print out the pediatrician’s contact information. I have a copy of my son’s birth certificate and feel, for a moment, I’m rocking filling out these registration forms.

Then, comes the tough request: Please provide the name, address and phone number of two local emergency contacts. The emergency contact must be within 25 miles of the school.

Oh, dear. Beads of sweat form above my brow. I nervously glance around the school office and watch the other parents filling out their child’s forms. I look for the tell-tale sign of another military spouse, parent – someone who appears to be stressed by the requirements for a local emergency contact. I’ve only been in town a week. I can’t navigate myself around the base let alone have I had time to meet anyone who might be willing to let me add their name to a form as my child’s emergency contact?

8-25-kids-at-school

Why can’t I add my mom’s cell phone number and skip the address part? Because, the receptionist politely handed back the forms to me and said, she understood I may be new to town, however, the school has had more than one occasion where neither parent has been available and they needed to contact someone local – not someone several states away- who could immediately pick up a child. Other well-meaning parents had provided contacts out of the local area and the kid was sent to child protective services.

Fast forward three schools later and I’ve become a pro at spotting a potential emergency contact. Before we move, I check with my network of friends and ask who is the area or knows someone in the area. I exchange emails, Facebook messages, and text messages with people who I have never met screening them as potential emergency contacts. If there is a school event, such as a registration day, I chat nervously with folks in line and try to find someone in my situation – another non-local eager to make friends and willing to be an emergency contact for my child in exchange for me being a contact for her child.

The key, I’ve found, is offering to be a contact for someone else.

I know it can be nerve-wracking to ask a near stranger to be an emergency contact. I find that most moms are relieved when I offer to be a contact for their child as well. After I establish a network in the area, I update the registration emergency contact information. I keep a list in my smartphone and on a virtual drive and make sure each emergency contact has a copy of my list and specific information related to my child. If I’m listed as an emergency contact, I ask the parent for contact information and specifics about their child, just in case.

I remain cordial with emergency contacts and several have become great friends. It turned out there was a flash flood in our local area and another parent couldn’t make it to the school in time to pick up her child. Her spouse was deployed and she didn’t have anyone else in the area. I told her not to worry; I was listed as her emergency contact and my path to the school wasn’t washed out by the flash flood. I was happy to help and she was relieved she didn’t have to worry about her child’s safety.

In our mobile lifestyles, it isn’t uncommon to ask a near stranger to be an emergency contact. What other tips would you offer to military families?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issue Strategist

The Post-9/11 GI Bill: What Can Spouses Actually Use?

I know, I know. Shouldn’t you save the Post-9/11 GI bill for your kids? Or your spouse? I can’t help you get over the guilt of using your service member’s Post-9/11 GI bill (that’s a private convo for you two to have), but I can tell you how the benefit works if you decided to use it.

There is a lot of confusion about what the benefit provides if a service member is using it, or a veteran, or a spouse, or a child. Remember, the rules vary depending on two factors: (1) who is receiving the benefit and (2) the service member’s active duty status when the benefit is being used (i.e. is your service member on active duty or a veteran?).

How Does it Work?

For a spouse to use a transferred benefit a service member must:

  • Have 6 years of service and agree to serve 4 more;
  • Complete a “Transfer of Education” benefit form; and
  • Be on active duty. (There are no exceptions to this rule.)

The benefits a spouse will receive when using a transferred benefit will depend on whether the spouse uses the benefit while a service member is on active duty or in veteran status.

Spouse beneftis table

A spouse can access the benefit while the service member is on active duty for up to 15 years after service member leaves service. Tuition and fees are covered at the in-state tuition rate at public schools, or a maximum cap at private schools. The private school maximum cap is adjusted annual and as of August 1, 2016 is $21,970.46. A spouse is also eligible to receive a $1,000 book stipend prorated based on enrollment. Keep in mind – if you do not attend full time, you won’t receive the entire $1,000 book stipend.

A new law to be aware of is the Choice Act. Under the Choice Act, public schools may only charge in-state tuition and fees (not the out-of-state rate) to a veteran spouse using the benefit within 3 years of service member leaving active duty. While the Choice Act does not apply to active duty spouses, a spouse of an active duty service member can receive in-state tuition where the service member resides or is permanently stationed, regardless of whether they are using the GI bill.

8-24-man-using-computer

The housing allowance is for a veteran spouse only. You can’t access this stipend when the service member is on active duty because the service member already receives a basic allowance for housing. The housing rate is paid at an E-5 with dependents rate for your school’s zip code. To receive the full rate, you must attend more than 50% of the time, and in-person. If you attend online the housing allowance is a flat rate of about $800 per month for the 2016 academic year.

The Yellow Ribbon Program is only open to veteran spouses and is used by select private schools. Schools that participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program agree to pay additional funds to help buy-down the cost of tuition at private schools. This means a student receiving Yellow Ribbon funds, would receive funding beyond the annual private school cap. There are several nuances with the Yellow Ribbon Program. Ask early and ask often – there may only be a limited number of Yellow Ribbon spots. Spots vary by school and degree program. For example, a school may only have 5 graduate student spots, but an unlimited number of undergrad Yellow Ribbon seats.

Are you a military spouse or veteran spouse using the Post-9/11 GI Bill? What other tips would you share with families?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issue Strategist

Survive and Thrive: San Diego

San Diego, California is America’s amusement park–filled with trails to hike, beaches open to camping enthusiasts, and a fun nightlife. Don’t trust anyone who said they were bored in San Diego because this city will keep you on your toes.

It is one of the few military stations where landlords are willing to negotiate the rent, and rightfully so. San Diego can be expensive, but as long as you know how to budget, this city can be yours.

san diego

Here’s a few tips  about living in San Diego:

Negotiate.
Can’t negotiate or refuse to negotiate? I suggest you tighten your belt and ask your future landlord to negotiate the rent. You must quickly move on from landlords who refuse to budge on the rental. San Diego has a 1% sales market. This means the city has few houses available for sale, making it a rental market.

I was able to negotiate  lower rent with lawn service included! What’s the secret to negotiating? Smile when you bid low. As a renter, the options for rent can be vast, depending on what you’re looking for.

Groceries.
Who needs community supported agriculture when you have community conscious grocery stores like Sprouts, who support local farms with their affordable, abundant and the freshest fruits, vegetables, herbs and legumes.

For my pantry, I shop at the commissary. The commissary has the best quality and prices on their selected meats, poultry and fish. Their birthday cakes are delicious. The best part of the commissary is that they routinely offer bulk items so my pantry was always stocked with the best.

Love ethnic food? San Diego offers the best ethnic grocery stores supporting cuisines from Iran, Korea, Vietnam, India, Japan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Italy, and many more. San Diego’s international grocery stores are the the United Nations of grocery stores!

San Diego is the queen of consignment shops.
You will soon realize that most people in San Diego are fashion forward. Don’t fret if you don’t have the cash to keep up. Just graze the local thrift shops, like Amvet, Goodwill, and independent consignment shops, to see what you can find! I bought all of my swanky ball gowns at the consignment shops on Spring Street in La Mesa.

Side note: get your hair and makeup done at the many salons that cater to Quinceañeras and weddings. You’ll be the envy of the ball!

MWR is the key to the city.
Want to see a play? Concert? Ride the roller coasters? A panda is pregnant at the San Diego Zoo and you like to witness the birth? Want to take a selfie with your favorite princess at Disney? Maybe your team is playing in San Diego? A museum that needs your viewing? Want to tour the wineries in Temecula?

Visit MWR for all of your recreational activities. They have the best deals to movies, plays, concerts, museums, zoo entrance, theme parks and tours. I suggest you also cross reference with the places you like to visit to see who offers the best deal.

Don’t forget to ask everyone about their military discount. Don’t be shy!

san diego zoo

Weather.
Chuck that raincoat. Break the umbrella. Pin all the ways your galoshes can be beautiful planters.

Say hello to constant sunshine. Just like winter, constant sunshine can become depressive, too. To combat depression, make sure you find a healthy activity to keep your mind and body refreshed. I suggest spinning on the beach at the Hotel Del Coronado, yoga at Mountain Hawk Park in Chula Vista, or paddle boarding around Mission Bay’s shore.

Make sure you have extra hats, sunscreen, rash guards and light long-sleeved cardigans to shield yourself and your family from the sun.

Social clubs.
San Diego is very social. Voted the best place to host conventions, San Diego thrives on all kinds of enthusiasts, from hikers, to bikers, and Comic Con cos-players. There’s a club to cater your hobby. Check meetup.com to find your new best friend.

hotel-del-coronado-74079_1920

Beaches.
There are several beaches. The best are on the military installations in the San Diego area. My favorite beach was Breakers Beach on Coronado in the North Island Naval base. Breakers offers us a private beach, allowing my kids to roam freely without fearing strangers stealing our stuff or bothering us.

You can camp on Camp Pendleton’s beach, or rent their beach cabins. You can rent boats, paddle boards, and  kayaks at the Marine Corp Recruiting Depot in Point Loma.

I can truly go on forever about all the activities in San Diego but it’s best for me to allow you to explore for yourself. You know you’re home in San Diego when you find your favorite taco and craft beer.

Have you been stationed in San Diego? What did you love about it?

Posted by Fari Bearman, National Military Family Association Volunteer