Tag Archives: volunteers

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.

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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!

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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.

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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

Dear New Teacher, It’s My Military Child’s First Day of School

Dear New Teacher,

Today my child enters your classroom for the first time in a new school. It might be the first day of the school year, or it might be inconveniently smack-dab in the middle of a grading period. He likely knows no one in his homeroom class, likely no other children in the school.

Every child has a story to tell, and mine is no different. I am hoping to share a bit of his story with you since you will be with him, teaching and guiding him, this year. His story includes attending preschools in three different states. He will be in second grade next year. And he will be preparing to move again to a new school, his third elementary school since Kindergarten.

His daddy deployed to a combat zone when he was very young, and has been home for the past few years. But my son knows what soldiers do. He knows that someday his daddy will likely deploy again to a place he can’t yet find on a map for more days than he can count, for reasons nearly impossible for a child to understand.

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He didn’t choose this life.

But I asked him if he ever wishes that he weren’t a military kid, and he said, “No, why? What would Daddy do if he weren’t in the Army?” You see, this is the only life he knows. He is a happy, resilient, funny, sweet kiddo. I’m so proud of each obstacle he has overcome.

We do have bad days, though. He misses his old friends, our old home, our old church, and our old routines. He occasionally asks when we can go visit our old houses, and the restaurants and parks in a town we used to live in. To be honest, military life is downright difficult sometimes. But this is one thing I’ve learned: military children are so very strong. And so very brave. Military children are resilient. They simply don’t know how to be anything less.

Please keep in contact with me and let me know if he has any difficulties in school during (and after) this transition. The purpose of this letter is not only to inform you of my son’s background but to affirm our family’s commitment to support him, and you, his teacher.

Thank you for answering the call to educate the children of our great nation. What a truly noble and worthy profession you have chosen! Thank you for loving children who aren’t your own, and shaping their lives forever. And thank you for supporting our military-connected child, during yet another transition for him. Because of your support at school and the support of our community, my spouse is able to commit fully to his own calling: serving our country.

Sincerely,
Mama of a Military Child

What would you tell your child’s new teacher? 

teresa-bannerPosted by Teresa Banner, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

Survive and Thrive: NAS Corpus Christi, Texas

Crank up the AC, you’re heading to Corpus! Which, so early in this blog post, brings us to rule number one:

The locals call it “Corpus.” Earn 10 points right off the bat by dropping the “Christi.” While we’re at it, we also call North Padre Island, “The Island.” And the area where the bulk of the shopping, dining and new construction is located is known as “The Southside.” It’s also commutable to NAS Kingsville.

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This installation is a little more near and dear to my heart than any other because it’s my hometown, and I had the opportunity to return as a grown up, so — after 22+3 years — I feel like I can offer you a pretty well-rounded synopsis:

Repel the mosquitos. If you have an itchy welt on your arm, you’ve encountered the unofficial Texas State Bird, the mosquito. The bad news is that they run free from sunset to sunrise anytime it’s not freezing (which I’ll get to in a second). The good news is that they’re humungous, which means they’re easy to swat.

Exercise caution: Winter is a week, not a season. Pack up your coats, you won’t need them here. Instead, double up on sunscreen, swimsuits, and shorts. South Texas has two seasons: summer and winter, but summer is basically 11 months long, and you’ll get roughly four weeks of winter — no guarantee they’ll be consecutive. Shade and hydration are your friends.

Meet humidity. Someone at a grocery store in North Carolina once complained about the humidity there, and I laughed in her face. Nothing compares to Corpus humidity. Frizzy-haired gals, prepare — you’ve trained your whole life for this.

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Park on the beach. I’ve lived on every coast in the United States, and never have I found another place that lets you drive on the beach. With this privilege comes a little responsibility. Make sure you know how to drive on sand. Follow tire tracks. If you don’t have 4-wheel drive, avoid loose sand. Mind the tides. Don’t be afraid to accept help if you get stuck — it happens to the best of us. And, make sure you purchase your beach parking permit before your first beach day.

TexMex

Try a “taco stand.” Newbies won’t understand that you don’t need to know the name of the closest taqueria. Just find the one closest to you. Learn your favorite breakfast burrito (my decade-long streak with the potato, egg, and cheese with a lemonade has never done me wrong). And, while we’re talking food, branch out into Texas BBQ and Tex-Mex — trust me.

Take or leave the local festivities. I grew up attending the local fireworks display, but I never took my own kids when we were stationed there. I, to date, have never attended Buc Days (it’ll ring a bell after you’ve arrived). These free local events are very popular, which translates to very crowded. If you’re up for a crowd, give it a go. If you’re a homebody, count it out.

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Prepare for extremes. Depending on when you arrive and whether it’s an El Nino or La Nina weather pattern, you could find yourself in the middle of a drought, a flood, or a hurricane warning. Do yourself a favor and brush up on the local weather. For drought water restrictions, check the city’s website. For flood and hurricane warnings and otherwise inclement weather, check the local forecast — in can change in the blink of an eye. Make sure you’re up to speed on where boards are for your windows before hurricane season starts (June 1-Nov. 30), and be clear on your insurance policies. As a side note, it’s always, always windy.

Take a trip. When you’re in Corpus, you’ll think that you can day-trip all over the state (unless you’re from the great state, of course). But, after your first trip to San Antonio, you’ll realize that you are hours away from a bigger city, and there’s a whole lot of nothing in between. So, as long as you’re up for a longer road trip, you can be in San Antonio in two hours, Houston in three and a half, Austin in four, and Dallas in a whopping eight hours. You east-coasters will wonder why you haven’t crossed at least three state lines in that time! That being said, you have a lot to see within the Texas borders — see the sites while you can. And if you can’t get out of town, see the local attractions: the beach, USS Lexington, Texas State Aquarium, and the iconic orange and white burger joint.

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You will be uncomfortably hot. You will develop a sudden fondness for Texas Country (it is a thing, look it up if you haven’t already). And, if you live it right, it could be one of your favorite duty stations. Enjoy your stay, and I hope my hometown treats you right!

Have you been stationed in Corpus Christi? What are your tips?

Posted by Kristi Stolzenberg, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

Survive and Thrive: Monterey, California!

People come here, to Monterey, California, on vacation–I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stopped on my morning run on the rec trail to take a picture for someone who was struggling with a selfie. There are certainly worse places to spend a year or three, but with so much to do, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of tourists and chased back home by that pesky fog. Here are some tips to survive and thrive, should your military family find yourself here at some point:

MontereyS&T-CoatsOnTheCoast

Think like a local.
I’ll tell you: all the houses are circa 1950, small, and insanely expensive. Now that we’ve cleared that up, get used to being on a vacation from your dual sinks and walk-in closet. And lets talk central air conditioning. This south Texas native broke out into a nervous sweat when I was told my AC was just to “open the windows.” But I survived the Indian summer without incident. In fact, while I was confused the first time our heater kicked on in June, my cold toes were definitely appreciative.

Like any savvy local, you’ll need a parking pass as soon as you roll into town. It’s $10 for the year, and it gets you two free hours of parking at three lots in town. It’s saved us oodles of cash in parallel parking and parking at the Fisherman’s Wharf (where I jump on the coastal rec trail for a jog). Annual passes to popular attractions are well worth the money if you can swing it. And finally, thinking like a local means avoiding the crowds. Skip the beach on holiday weekends, and hike instead. Outsmart the line for the aquarium that wraps around the block by showing up right after lunch (that’s when the field trips are loading back on to the buses). But, crowds or not, you need to see the whales, see the greens of Pebble Beach, and visit the world-famous aquarium.

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Go green.
Monthly power outages will remind you in the most inopportune times that electricity is a luxury. Stock up on flashlights, candles, and don’t count out that generator just yet. You’ll also want to collect reusable shopping bags since much of the area charges for bags. And, there’s no better motivation to kick your family’s recycling up a notch like the teeny little trash can you’ll find on your curb.

And since we already know that your abode will be on the small side, you might as well get outside whenever possible. There are hiking trails and beaches everywhere. I can literally use the same parking lot for the beach and the grocery store. Between the redwoods, waterfalls, beaches, sea cliffs, and valleys, you have too much to see to just spend Saturday at the movies. Make sure you have your free (for military) America the Beautiful national park pass, and, if you know you’ll be a frequent visitor, consider a California park pass.

MontereyS&T-WhaleWatching

Ignore the weather.
The sea fog outsmarts me more than I care to admit. Some days it hangs around until after lunchtime, and just when this work-from-home mom has committed to a day of sweatpants, the sun breaks out, shining down rays of guilt for not being more productive and/or adventurous for the day. Other times our outdoor plans are dampened by cold drizzle. We know better now — we throw on raincoats and hike anyway. You can also expect to be cold 11 months of the year — coats are beachwear.

MontereyS&T-FishermansWharf

Branch out.
Fun Monterey fact: It’s the language capital of the world. Embrace it! Learn something new. Befriend an international student.

And, in an attempt to squeeze two meanings into this last ambiguous instruction, “branch out,” as in get out and explore the state — there are some big-ticket bucket list items just up (or down) the road!

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Have you lived in Monterey? What tips would you add?

Posted by Kristi Stolzenberg, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

The Struggles of a New Military Spouse: I Signed Up For This

I became a military spouse 2 years ago, and I am still learning the “ways” of this new life! I thought I knew what I was in for–I grew up with my brother-in-law in the service, and saw all the things my sister did and experienced. Despite having that perspective, I was still in for a rude awakening! Yes, having some background knowledge was helpful, but it certainly didn’t give me everything I needed.

I think one of the biggest hurdles I still face is that my husband and I waited to get married until we were older. I was 34. Sometimes I feel like people think I know everything, or assume that I have been through enough moves or changes that I am a pro at this. That is so far from true!

This life is different, and not only am I not a pro, but I am just as scared and freaked out as the rest of the new spouses. I often find myself wondering where to find my “New Military Spouse” handbook?

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Sometimes I even ask myself, “What the heck did I get myself into?”

I dove right in at my first base, though. I became a Key Spouse and was very involved in unit activities. I always felt up-to-date on what was going on, and what was coming up, and found that I fit in with my new military family very well! Then, out of the blue (or what felt like out of the blue to me), we got our first PCS orders as a family! We headed to a joint base, with very little Air Force family and no unit, and I found myself lost and out of place.

This year, I am learning what it’s like to live on a joint base where I am surrounded by families from other services, instead of being immersed in our own branch of service. This is a very different experience for me, and one that has already taught me quite a bit in a short period of time!

For example, I am learning all the Army words for the equivalent offices, or buildings, I used a lot at our last base–PX instead of BX, Family and MWR instead of Family Readiness Center. I am still overcoming the “not part of a family” feeling and being in the dark about activities, either on this base or with my husbands office; he is not part of a unit, per se, so I don’t have the option to be part of anything.

Despite these challenges and the constant feelings of discomfort, I remind myself that we are on this wild ride as a family. I am privileged to be able to see so many new and wonderful places, and my children get to grow up with such a diverse culture around them. I have an amazing neighbor and friend that I am more than thankful for, and without her I would truly be lost. I remind myself (and I sometimes remind friends and family) that this IS the life I signed up for, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

How do you deal with feeling out of place in the military community?

Posted by Joleen Sickbert, Air Force spouse and National Military Family Association Volunteer

Join the NMFA Volunteer Corps and Volunteer Virtually!

The National Military Family Association is fortunate to have Volunteers in communities worldwide. NMFA Volunteers participate in a variety of projects locally, and virtually, and their work has a lasting impact. And not all volunteering has to be in-person. Here are some of the ways our Volunteers are working to improve the lives of military families around the globe, in person and virtually:

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  • Conference Calls. NMFA Volunteers participate in all kinds of conference calls; from new Volunteer conference calls, to team conference calls, and even calls with our Government Relations department. Our conference calls help educate, connect, and further our advocacy efforts on behalf of military families.
  • Branching Out. Our Volunteers have added their voice and writing talents to this blog! They share stories about moving, saving money, PCSing with pets, and inspire other military families to share their stories and be informed.
  • Operation Purple® Camps. This year, nine Volunteers wrote letters to Senators and members of Congress inviting them to visit one of our Operation Purple Camps, and meet some of our youngest heroes! We also have Volunteers packing their backpacks and lacing up their hiking boots to visit an Operation Purple Camp for the day. Each of our Operation Purple Camp visitors visit a camp to observe our curriculum, meet with the camp staff, interact with the campers, and make sure campers are having a true Operation Purple Camp experience. They will probably taste s’mores, too!
  • Local Events. NMFA Volunteers are the face, voice, eyes, and ears of NMFA in their local communities! They are busy hosting information tables all over the globe, attending town hall meetings, Yellow Ribbon Events, and participating in patient advisory councils at local Military Treatment Facilities and clinics. Why is this local outreach so important? Because it helps military families better understand who NMFA is, and it helps us understand what military families are experiencing on a real-life, day-to-day level.
  • Advocacy. Our Volunteers are the heart of our advocacy efforts. Because of the information we receive from our Volunteers and our social media networks, we’ve been able to defeat the proposed ER Misuse fee, and tell Congress how important the Commissary benefit is to our nation’s military families. Currently, we are asking Congress to be thoughtful about TRICARE reforms.
  • Scholarships. This year, our NMFA Volunteers worked tirelessly supporting our Joanne H. Patton Military Spouse Scholarship program. Eighty Volunteers judged 4,726 scholarships! These Volunteers donated an equivalent of $65,000 to military spouse education!

So what do all of these projects have in common? Each of these projects happen in local communities, and in some cases the comfort of your own home. Our scholarship judging project is a virtual project. Volunteers choose the events and meetings they attend, and conference calls happen at differing times to accommodate multiple time zones and schedules. Do any of these opportunities sound like something you are interested in?

Do you want to help your own military family and the military families in your community? Then join our Volunteer Corps

Ann HPosted by Ann Hamilton, Volunteer & Community Outreach Manager

Military Housing: An Experience of Then and Now

As a child, I remember the days when military housing was run by the installation. We had to make sure the grass was cut regularly, and there were self-help centers where you could go to get supplies to make sure it happened. There were sports leagues, like softball and volleyball, grouped by neighborhood communities, and the pride that came with winning the neighborhood trophy was contagious. Each neighborhood had Mayors who had administrative responsibilities, and assisted with relaying information to residents.

Those days are long gone.

Now, as a military spouse, I can tell you: housing has changed. The majority of military installations have privatized housing, which means, for the most part, a private housing company is in charge of handling the day in and day out responsibilities of housing.

Once we received orders to North Carolina, I went to the housing website I was given by our current installation. On the website, I had to fill out an application and a provide a copy of our orders. That seemed pretty easy…so far so good. We were sent housing options and floor plans, and were given options based on my husband’s rank and our family size. Because we received our orders early, we were able to choose a more desirable neighborhood, but it had a longer wait list. Once we received our final clearance from our current installation, we were all set to head to North Carolina.

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The day finally came for us to go to the welcome center on our new base. We went straight to housing with all of our required paperwork, and toured the neighborhood we would be living in. There was a neighborhood center, with rooms to rent for birthday parties, Bunco nights, or whatever else, which was very different from what I was used to as a child.

And no cutting the grass, either. They’d have the grass cut for us. And gone are the days of self-help centers. Oh, my husband was super happy about that one! Instead, now maintenance workers would come to my house to fix any crazy problems that we may have. There were monthly activities that we could attend as a family, too. I could really enjoy this new privatized housing thing!

But what about the housing from my childhood?

We could definitely get used to not having to cut our own grass, but as an option, we were told we could cut our own grass, and we would be added to a “do not cut” list.

“That’s okay!” we said and laughed!

“What about the neighborhood sports leagues?”

They’re are none.

“So, what about the Mayors?” I asked. Another no.

“How will we get information?”

Now, there are monthly newsletters delivered by the housing staff. We could even read them on the neighborhood website.

To stay positive, I would give this new type of housing a chance, and not be stuck on what I remembered as a military child.

Although I do miss the neighborhood sports teams and the Mayor, my first experience with privatized housing has been a great experience! There have been definite upgrades to what I remember as a child. I don’t know if I can say that privatized military housing is better, but I can say, for my family, we enjoyed our first experience.

Did you enjoy your first experience with privatized military housing?  Do you have any tips to help others with a smooth transition?

Posted by Elizabeth H., military spouse and National Military Family Association Volunteer