I know it’s been quiet over here for a couple of weeks, but life has been moving at breakneck speed, leaving me very little time to blog anything for a bit. I’ve got another post coming on Thursday where I’ll talk a little about PCSing with my cats (which is always the most stressful part of moving but I’ve also gotten fairly practiced at it) but in the meantime how about a life update?

Because I have NEWS.

As of last week, I am officially signed with 50/50 Press to publish my debut novel, Threadwalkers. Yay!!

I don’t have any more details just yet as I still need to go through the editing process, not to mention formatting and cover design and all kinds of things I probably haven’t thought of yet, much less setting a publication date, but trust me that I will keep you posted.

I know.

A little about the book: Threadwalkers is a YA science-fiction time travel story, told from the point of view of a 16 year old girl whose life starts to unravel around her as small changes in her past have big implications in the present. And that’s all I’ll say for now! There will be more as I can share it, I promise.

I’m excited to share this story with all of you, and hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.

ALSO check out this AMAZING family portrait by my friend Em Somerville!
Volavka family portrait by Em SomervilleI love it so much! It’s now the featured photo on my “About” page. She even included my dinosaur necklace. ^_^ Thanks, Emma!!

One of the difficult things about being a military spouse is finding the balance between “his job” and “our military career.” It’s not my career. It’s his. But because of the nature of military life, it’s also “ours” together. Where we live, when we come and go, what kind of place we live, what my job options are, are all directly tied to the fact that my spouse is an active duty service member.

I get frustrated with the people who wear their spouse’s rank/career on their sleeves and act like they are the ones actually doing the work, and I want to be clear that this isn’t what I mean when I refer to “us” or say that “we applied for orders.” Physically my spouse is the one applying for orders. But we make the decisions together as a team because that is how we function but also because the things that happen in his career also happen to me.

It’s important to keep in mind the myriad of ways that we have to negotiate life from both the civilian and the military worlds and try to find a balance in between. Part of walking that line is establishing some clear (if only mental) guidelines to tell the difference.

These are the types of mindsets that have helped me:

  • It’s “our” career but “his” job. The big picture stuff is ours together but the actual job? That’s all him.
  • Big Career Decisions are jointly made because Big Career Decisions directly impact us both.
  • “Military spouse” isn’t the toughest job in the military, despite what the stickers/tshirts/coffee mugs say. It’s no walk in the park but I’m not making life and death decisions.
  • We live in a civilian house; the navy doesn’t live here. Once he walks through the door, military rules (mostly*) don’t apply.
  • I hold no rank (and I’m pleased as punch about it). I don’t have any clout because of who my spouse is, nor do I have any restriction on who my friends are.
  • I don’t have to impress anybody because, as mentioned, I hold no rank. I can just be me.
  • His job is his job just like a plumber has a job and a lawyer has a job. This is just his job. I try to take it as seriously as I would take any job my spouse had, but not really more than that. It’s just his job.

At the end of the day it’s really what works best for you, but I find having a little perspective is good, too. Hopefully this helps you gain a little of that, too. As always, this is what works for us (and for me as a navigate this not-so-simple life) and your mileage may vary.

Got other tips? Share them below. 🙂 

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*Obviously we keep OPSEC things in mind no matter where we are and other common sense things.

The thing about applying for orders is that you spend months and months trying to figure out how the process is going to work and where the options might be and people ask you where the options might be (and you spend a lot of time explaining that you don’t actually know until you can see) and then you CAN see the options and even if there are options you like it’s nerve wracking because THEN what happens if you don’t get the one you want, or if there’s an even better one coming next month that you can’t see yet but also you want it to just hurry up and be over.

So then you apply for orders and then it’s a whole lot of waiting.

And more waiting.

And then you either get the billet or you don’t and the process is either over or you start again next month. Either way, it marks the beginning of the end of your time at the current location.

From a spouse’s perspective this is frustrating beyond reason and you feel like you have even less control over it because it’s not actually your job. We have the kind of relationship where choosing orders is a joint endeavor but there are a lot of cases where it’s not, or where for whatever reason there’s no negotiation window and you wind up just going wherever the Navy says you’re going to go. That’s stressful, too, but in a different way. But I refer to this process with a “we” because for us it’s a discussion and a thing that affects both our lives. “We” do this.

Anyway, my point is there’s a whole lot of anxiety leading up to applying for orders and waiting to get results.

And then the fun stuff begins. In our house we say that anything from the military is “written in Jello.” That is to say it could change at any time and with little or no warning.

So in our case, for instance, J got selected for a certain set of orders. Yay! But that set of orders is for someone his current rank. If he gets promoted in the next six months, he might not be able to fill that billet after all and we may find out in, say, September or October that we aren’t going to the place we thought we were going, but are going to another place entirely.

A whole new level of anxiety unfolds.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the whole process is only the best guess we have at any given time and until the time when we arrive at the next location and J checks into his command is anything finalized. Or at least as finalized as anything is in military life.

But yes: we got orders and, if nothing changes between now and December, we’re headed back to the west coast. Wooo!

Over the years, I’ve accumulated a fairly good repertoire of things that improve our lives between frequent moves to new cities and staying on a tight budget. Here are some of my resources, and feel free to share with whomever needs it, or to suggest more in the comments!

1. The USO 
The USO has made a HUGE difference for us while stationed in Illinois. They not only have really awesome airport lounges (often with free snacks and drinks, wifi, and maybe even places to nap!) but they provide access to all kinds of opportunities for entertainment thanks to donated tickets. In the last year alone we’ve been to a Bulls game, an illusionist, and a jazz concert. They are also, of course, famous for bringing entertainment to military bases for free shows (think Bing Crosby in WW2), but they do so much more than that. Search for your local USO chapter and sign up for their mailing list– you won’t be disappointed.

2. VetTix
Similar to the USO, except way more options offered on a lottery system, VetTix allows for individuals or groups to donate tickets (or just funding to fulfill wishes through the Hero’s Wish program) that military service members can apply for via lottery. If your lottery entry is selected, you pay a service fee (like you would on Ticketmaster to transfer tickets to your own account) and can go to all kinds of events for a low price. Again, sign up for your local mailing list!

3. Military Travel Agents and Accommodations 
Most bases have an ITT (Information, Tickets, Travel) office (or look up your “Military Leisure” office), but some are partnered with people who can actually help you plan your vacations. We did this when we were stationed in Hawaii, and were able to take some fantastic trips. There are also military-only hotels including Shades of Green at Disney World. AND there is a military campground inside Volcano National Park, not to mention cabins you can rent on all kinds of military bases (I love a good cabin!). Many bases have hotels that are available for leisure/recreation use, and a lot of them are right on beaches (so right at the top of my list).

4. MWR Rentals
MWR (Morale, Wellness, and Recreation) is the Military’s Parks and Rec department. They have tons of things you can rent for free or cheap, ranging from popcorn machines to kayaks to bounce houses. Do your research and make sure you know how to operate whatever equipment you’re borrowing, but if you want to take a boat for a spin without buying one yourself, it’s not a bad way to go. They even offer classes for a wide range of things.

5. COMPASS
This one is Navy-specific, but there are versions for other branches. COMPASS is a program for brand new Navy spouses to help them do things like read their spouse’s LES, navigate military life, etc. I only found out about it after I’d figured all this stuff out the hard way, so wanted to include it in case I can catch anyone in time to take advantage of it!

6. National Parks
Here’s a cool thing: military personnel and their dependents get free National Parks passes! You can find out more info on their FAQ page, but the summary is that if you or your sponsor is active duty (or reserve) then just bring your military ID to a National Park Office where they sell America the Beautiful passes and they’ll give you one! They’re good for a year, so be sure you’re up to date when traveling, but this make national parking SUPER easy and affordable! We love visiting as many national parks as possible, and it’s usually pretty affordable to stay (or camp!) in the parks, too!

Anything I forgot, or something you want to share? Comment below! 

So I have now been a “military spouse” for over a decade and there are some things I wish I’d known when this whole thing started that would make life a little easier. In case you might be a new military spouse, here are some things that I learned the hard way. As always, your mileage may vary.

It Can Wait
You’re going to spend a lot of time thinking that if you don’t do that thing Right Now then it will never happen. Whatever that thing is, it can wait. This is doubly true for Big Life Decisions. I see a lot of people getting married Right Now, Really Quickly Before Deployment! for instance, and that just isn’t always necessary. If you are panicking because you aren’t sure how you’ll LIVE for six to twelve months without a ring on your hand… maybe think twice. The ring isn’t the thing that will make it stick.

Don’t Wait on Everything
I promise this isn’t counter-intuitive. That first one is about big decisions (like getting married just because of a deployment!), but there are other things where the timing is never going to be perfect because, y’know, NAVY, so you may as well just go for it and then make things work around, y’know, NAVY. This could include college or grad school, picking up a new hobby, travel, anything really. If you try to time everything around deployments and PCSing, you’ll never find a window of opportunity. Sometimes you’ve just got to go for it. (Example: schools are more and more online– so just pick a program and get started!)

Volunteering to count humpback whales in 2011

Have Your Own Hobbies
This may seem self-explanatory, but you really need to go in with the assumption that you’ll be spending at least some time on your own. Whether it’s a once-a-month duty night where you’re fending for yourself come dinner time or a year of an IA, there will probably come a time in your relationship where you’ll be on your own. If you don’t have your own Thing to do, this can get a little overwhelming. Personally, I look forward to random duty nights as my chance to watch what I want on TV without having to discuss it and ordering a pizza with the toppings I like.

End of deployments are often in the local papers!

Keep the Clippings
Was your military service member in the base newspaper? Was the deployment covered by local press? If you can get a physical copy, keep it! And get multiples. This is the type of thing that will be interesting to look at twenty years from now. It’s also the kind of thing that extended family will find interesting.

Invest in Communication
The hardest thing about any relationship, military or otherwise, is communication. Investing in communication ability can make all the difference in the world. This can look different for different people, but for us it means we’ve got iPads so we can FaceTime (when that’s available where he is) and (granted, this is a little old, but the overall idea still applies) getting smart phones so you never miss an email. Early on, I felt chained to my computer in case I might hear from him while he was underway, but getting a smart phone made a 1000% improvement in my quality of life. Take the email with you.

Morning in the Philippines, 2013

Travel, Travel, Travel
Deployments are the perfect time to travel! What’s so awesome about traveling alone? Everything costs half as much! Only one set of airfare, only one thing to pay for per meal, only one ticket to buy for that tour! Team up with a friend or go and visit family or whatever you need to do, but take advantage of a much more flexible schedule. Note: if you have kids or other family members, your mileage may, again, vary, but this still applies– having something AWESOME and EXCITING to look forward to DURING deployments, it can make the time go by faster, and keep the experience from being a negative. Turn it into something positive!

Good friends make all the difference

Choose Your Friends Wisely
This goes back to the What I Should Have Learned in Kindergarten, but the best way to get through deployments is by having a solid group of friends that you can trust. These might or might not be fellow military spouses. Proximity doesn’t always breed the best friendships. I don’t mean this to sound negative, but if you are looking for friendships, the best place to find them is in spaces where you have things in common, like volunteer jobs, hobbies, church, etc. This also goes back to the thing about having your own hobbies. It’s important.

Friendships can last despite the miles between you.

You Are Not Alone
Even if your fellow military spouses aren’t going to be your best friends, they know better than anyone what you’re going through, so don’t be afraid to reach out to them. There are spaces online to meet people, clubs and events, all kinds of ways to get connected, and there is value to just being able to be like “UGH THAT STUPID BOAT IS GONE AGAIN” and have someone nod and pour you another glass of wine without you having to explain more.

That being said, some of my closest friends over the years have come from the military community. We usually have something else in common than “Well, here we are at this military function together,” and having them to vent/drink wine with has made a huge difference. One of my favorite traditions at a particular base was a weekly dinner party with rotating hosts. We never had much of a plan beyond “show up at this time and I’ll feed you, and bring wine” (yes, I know, it’s a recurring theme, but trust me on this one) but those dinners were invaluable.

Plan fun things for when your service member is home, too!

This, Too, Shall Pass
It feels like it’s taking forever. The ship/squadron/platoon/plane/whatever has been gone for weeks or months and time is dragging by and you’re stuck in a rut because it feels like you’re back to being single, and work is boring, and you just can’t watch any more Supernatural on TV no matter how cute those Winchester brothers are, but you know what? Time is still passing. You’re getting there. Set small interval goals to look forward to (see the previous Travel!) and it will help break up the marathon into easier-to-run sprints. You can do this.

Got any other tips for military spouse survival? Leave them below! 

Oh hey, it’s March! Around the middle of this month, we enter the “9 month window” for transfer where we get to look at possible orders that J could get. Do I know what they are yet? Nope! But that’s okay. We’ve got another week or so. I’m anxious…but trying not to think about it too hard.

It’s been interesting the last couple of weeks, looking back at my older posts from our first PCS together, to Hawaii. I actually haven’t written much about “navy life” since then, as it became kind of routine for me, though those first couple of years in Hawaii were something else entirely. “Adjustment” is the understatement. We moved to a whole new culture, both in terms of Hawaii itself and in terms of suddenly living on base and being part of a sea-going command. J’s first command in Italy was mostly always in port, even though they were “at sea”– repair stations are different beasts– and then he was on shore duty and at school, so it was a pretty big shift for both of us.

Anyway, there were all kinds of lessons to learn, from how to deal with military housing, to finding my footing in the middle of a LOT of other military spouses, to just getting around places. Maybe it’s time to revisit some of those older experiences and respond to myself with the Things I Know Now.

I guess I don’t have much else to say except that I felt the need to check in and record where my mind is leading up to this next PCS. The slightly weird thing is that at this point we’ve been to enough places that there’s about a 50% chance we’ll be going “back to” someplace, which is both reassuring and…not. Friends aren’t necessarily in those places anymore so in a sense, it’ll be starting from scratch regardless. In another sense, I now know the housing markets, etc, in those places, which would make it a lot easier.

I’m going to wrap things up for now. If there’s anything you specifically want to know about this process, please feel free to ask! I’m not always sure what’s of interest and am just rambling for now. Heh.

So I mentioned in my post last week that we are 10 months out from our next move with the US Navy, but what does that mean? Why is 10 months significant?

Well, in a sense, it’s not. This is the last deep breath before things start to “matter” I suppose. And now that this is going up, it’s even less than 10 months for us.

In our specific case (active duty, enlisted, Navy), it means that J comes into his “negotiation window” 9 months from his PRD. (Remember “PRD” from my Glossary of Terms? No? Here you go.)

Next month, J gets to log onto the Navy’s most recent iteration of their automated job-matching program and see what billets are going to be open when it’s time for us to move. I’m not kidding about the automated part– there used to be individual detailers (people whose job is to match the needs of commands with the available sailors/service member of your branch’s flavor) we’d talk to, and there still are detailers who ultimately process this stuff, but in the ongoing effort by the military to move everything online, now there’s a form thing to fill out. I’m getting off track.

My point is, J can look at what’s going to be available, and then he and I discuss (because hey, I have to go live there, too), and then he submits the choices in order of preference. And what happens next is why we refer to it as “negotiating” orders. Once he submits, the Navy comes back and says “well, you can have your # 3 choice” or “actually none of those are available after all” or whatever version of that may happen.

Sometimes there’s nothing either of us likes, and we can wait another month to see what else might come up. It’s a gamble, though, especially if there is an option we might like already on the table. But we navigate it as it comes, and will see how things go.

I know this may sound confusing, and I probably won’t document the exact instances as they happen, but I’ll try to explain as we go through it. You’ll probably mostly get my frustration while we wait to hear back and then wait some more and then wait some more….

Oh, and the most asked question I get about this is “Do you have any idea where you’ll wind up next?” and the answer is always “NOPE.” We won’t know until J hits that 9 month window and we can actually see. But the list of Navy bases is relatively small, and the list of those that are surface ships (as opposed to submarines or naval air stations) is even smaller, so there you go. Those are the best guess I have. Sorry it’s not more specific, but that’s part of the process, too.