No Life Like It! – Resources for the Canadian Military Family

Home for now

Home for Now.

Enjoying the Military Family life in spite of all the ups and downs. This Blog is part of my Social Media Program through Algonquin College. I have been around the block a few times and there is so much that needs to be shared.  Resources, Information and Friendship.   I feel that there is strength in numbers – Military Sisterhood and advocacy are my themes.  Please view it for what it was intended.  A journey of sharing and learning.

It’s no fun to feel alone.

Cheers!

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Algonquin College Social Media Certificate Program

Strong Mother’s – Strong Daughters

As Mother’s Day approaches I have to ask myself: When you follow your spouse, can you be a good mentor and role model for your own daughter?
Photo copyright 2009, Caroline Philips, The Ottawa Citizen

Photo copyright 2009, Caroline Philips, The Ottawa Citizen

Last year I was lucky enough to attend an event where Maureen McTeer and her daughter Catherine Clark were speaking about Gender Equity in Canada. (Maureen McTeer is a highly esteemed women’s advocacy Lawyer, author of several books, and the wife of former Prime Minister Joe Clark. Catherine Clark is a speaker and television journalist.) The conversation was exceptional. How far we’ve come, the fight for equal rights and how far we have left to go. As women. As people.

As I sat in the audience I watched the interaction between these two fascinating women. Maureen McTeer exudes strength.  She is strong, exceptionally intelligent, well spoken and fearless.  Her daughter Catherine is not only strikingly beautiful, but also exceptionally intelligent, eloquent, and confident.  What struck me was the tenderness between the two them. Catherine clearly looked up to her mother, and Ms. McTeer often looked out at the audience to her daughter for affirmation about the ‘youth’ perspective.  She looked out at her with great respect.

This blog isn’t about Gender Equality in Canada. This blog is about mentorship and what we teach our girls by how we live our lives. Catherine Clark is a likely a strong woman because of, in part, her exceptional Mother. Ms. McTeer has shown by example that leadership, advocacy, and strength are qualities that make a woman beautiful.

I follow my husband around the country in a 1950’s construct.  I have long ago given up my own career.  Moves every two years to follow the army have made that virtually impossible. I am ok with this. I think I am ok with this. We have a strong nuclear family.  I am involved in my community, I volunteer, I advocate for my kids, and I support, but I also wonder…  Am I showing my daughter that she can be all that she can be since I am ‘just a housewife’?

Since that day I have done a lot of self-reflection. I had a very strong Mother. She was a strong and exceptional career woman, I was proud to be around her and admired the choices she made. I do think that being a mentor to your daughter means different things to different people.  I do not have a big career (or any for that matter) but I do try to show my daughter what it means to be a strong, confident woman, as my mother showed me.Mom and I

Leadership, advocacy, support are all exceptional qualities that Military spouses adopt in their daily lives. I think we can be good mentors even without that career that we have given up. I can only hope that one day, my daughter will look up to me as I did to my Mother and it appears that Catherine Clark looks up to hers.

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Posted to Ottawa this Summer? Deep breath.

Posted to Ottawa this summer?

Why is Ottawa a different posting for military families?

I am good at this moving thing. I don’t always like it, but I have done it enough to know that the kids are going to fight and drive me crazy over the summer but once they go back to school they will likely find their new friends in pretty short order. My husband will slide into his new job with ease and excitement. I also know that it will take me 6 – 9 months to find my people and feel like the new place is home.

I just need to find my groove.

This was the first time we were posted to Ottawa. It was  interesting. We have always lived on close-knit army bases and Ottawa is big and spread out. There are Messes, but they are far away, and parking is expensive. The people your spouse works with may live across town. There is an MFRC, but it is across the city and in traffic – not really accessible for me. The civilians  in my neighbourhood are lovely but they are ‘full’. They have their families, their friends, their people, and don’t really need anybody new in their lives.

When you live on a base you meet people quickly. There is a very good chance there were at least two moving trucks on your street on the day you moved into your home…  You also likely know at least a couple people in your community and will be able to tap into their friendship networks. Your spouse will go to work and meet people, and there will certainly be some sort of meet and greet at your Mess. It’s like fishing, you cast your net and eventually you will find your people.  6 – 9 months.

If you are posted to Ottawa this summer, find your people. Start with the Facebook communities. It doesn’t matter where you live in the city; Orleans, Barrhaven, Gatineau, Kanata,  or Carleton Place. Your friends will tell you must live in any one of these areas. That just tells me you can’t make a wrong decision.  It is a beautiful city  with lots to offer.

You just need to find your tribe. Reach out. Find your groove.

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The Paris Attacks – What it means to Canada

paris for peaceLike everybody I watched the Paris attacks on November 13th, 2015 in utter horror. I had spent a lovely day with my family and suddenly I was glued to the news. These people in Paris… they could be me. Sitting in a cafe having a beer, watching a soccer game…  why?  how? …  I am still filled with abject sadness. It sits there like a brick in my soul.

I just don’t understand. I’m reading everything I can get my hands on and the more I read, the more confused I become. I’m embarrassed to say but before this week I had no idea what NATO’S article 5 meant. Before this week, I didn’t know the difference between ISIS and ISIL and Daesh? What the hell is going on in Syria?  The Refugees… oh the Refugees. President Hollande stated that the events of November 13th were an ‘act of war.’ Are those politically strategic words or are they words born out of anger and anguish?  I am just a hippie from BC… I have too many questions.

These are the things I have learned:

Syria.  

Vox does some great videos explaining the history.  5 minutes that explains just how complicated the whole thing is.

Article 5. To understand this, one needs to go back a step and understand that NATO was set up in the aftermath of WWII to assist with transatlantic security. This allowed economic stabilization to occur and for Europe to rebuild. The important thing to know is that Article 5 states “an attack against one Ally is considered an attack against all Allies” (source). Canada is a part of NATO so does this mean we will be “boots on the ground” soon? What does this mean for our Military Family.

The Refugees. 

If you follow ‘Humans of New York‘ on Facebook you have seen the humanity of Syria captured in photos. Recently a man named Rav Vadgama posted an album showcasing where Syrian children sleep at night. The album is beautiful, poignant and heartbreaking. (click here for the album).  How can we turn a blind eye? The faces, people like you and me… Living their regular lives before all this chaos. Canada has promised to bring in 25,000 refugees before year’s end. This is a huge undertaking. Where will they all go?  These questions have not yet been answered.

ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.  These are all the same organization.

  • ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) was born out of ‘Al Qaeda in Iraq’.
  • ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant) I find it interesting that Al Jazeera is exclusively using this term, David Cameron and Barack Obama have also started using this term.  Levant is a broader term that includes Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan. (source)
  • Daesh – President Hollande used this term when addressing the media after the attacks.  Secretary of State John Kerry also uses the term.  It is the Arabic abbreviation of ISIS but is also used as an insult and removes the legitimacy of ‘statehood’ and removes ‘Islam’ from their name. (source)

What about the peaceful Muslims? Are they going to be ok?  The burning of the mosque in Peterborough… The assault on the young Muslim woman taking her children to an elementary school in Toronto…  How can this be happening in my country?  And if this is happening… haven’t the terrorists won?  Making this an “Us vs Them” world?  Surely people understand that this isn’t representative of Islam?  Where is our world going?

 

Finally, I think The Wall Street Journal has written a great piece about the Long War on Terrorism.

I am absolutely heartbroken for the people of Paris.  Their loss, their families and their pain. That could be us. I’m scared for the future – that could be here in Canada, and I am concerned what this might mean for my military family.  I know they will do what is asked of them and I will be proud. But my stomach is still twisting.

To end my fumbling, awkward and rambling blog:  Fear and violence for political gain. That is the definition of Terrorism.

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Canadian Military Wives Choir

In May 2015 I had the immense pleasure of being asked to take photos for the Canadian Military Wives Choir’s trip to Hamilton for the International Tattoo. What a treat.

Finale Photo for 2015 International Hamilton Tattoo.

Finale Photo for 2015 International Hamilton Tattoo.

The History

In 2010 the Military Wives Choir began in the United Kingdom as a way of support for spouses of husbands serving in Afghanistan as well as for serving female members. This phenomenon quickly spread across the UK and there are currently 77 different choirs set up in many places that the British Armed Forces serves across the globe.

In 2013 one member of one choir moved to Canada as her husband transferred from the UK Army Air Corps to the Royal Canadian Airforce.  Sue Palmer was determined to set up a choir in Ottawa to replicate what was so successful in the UK.

The choir has been going for two full years now.  They have over 60 members and have sung at many events including the Governor General’s residence, Parliament, as well as in the Senate for the families of fallen soldiers.  New choirs are popping up across Canada in Edmonton, Comox and now Petawawa.

The Passion

Prior to the trip to Hamilton I thought the choir was a cool phenomenon.  I am not musical at all but I appreciated how it brought support to a bunch of great ladies.  What I didn’t really understand is how special it actually is.  These women come from all different backgrounds.  Army, Navy, Airforce.  Most have lived through multiple deployments and moves, most are far away from any family support.  As I looked at these lovely ladies I felt magic. The music and the closeness seemed to temporarily melt away their burdens. Women recovering from breast cancer, women that have recently lost loved ones, women with aging parents, women dealing with young children and another upcoming deployment… and yet.. when they get together and sing it seems to melt away.   Even for the moment.

On our final night we all met in the pub to raise a glass to a lot of hard work.  They sang, I listened.  They really are stronger together.

It is all about the sisterhood:

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Social Media and My Military Family

My husband is a soldier. Our married life has consisted of 20 years, 10 moves, 2 kids, 6 school jurisdictions, multiple Individual Education Plans,and MANY long absences.  Our family is resilient, strong and unbroken.  My children did not ask to be a part of this life that my husband and I have chosen, but I believe in some ways we are stronger as a family because of it.

The Canadian Military has been busy.  Since 1991 Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen/women have been involved in ever present conflicts across the globe. These deployments are coming at increasing frequency, intensity and duration. This also means increasing pressures on Military Families as they deal with an ever changing family situation. Recurring relocations, spousal unemployment, separations and deployments continue to be top stressors for military families*. (*2009 – Quality of Life Among Military Families)

Social Media has completely changed the military family landscape. My husband’s first deployment yielded one 5-minute phone call every week if you were lucky.  (We once went six weeks without speaking during a time when the Serbian General emphatically stated on CNN that he was going to send the boys home in body bags.)   The call would come at any time of the day or night and if you missed it… you missed it.  Life in the military most often means that you are far from your family and the support that you are used to.  When I joined Facebook in 2007 my world changed. People that live far from traditional family and friend support are turning to their local Facebook group sites for that support and assistance.  Personal Facebook pages are connecting families and children back home so they still feel connected in spite of the vast distances. Facebook means community and within the military context this eases the strings of a stressful lifestyle.

Welcome to my blog. I intend to share and showcase resources that are available to military families as well as inviting discussion about our unique lifestyle.

A much safer Kandahar (this one in Saskatchewan). On the move from Edmonton to Toronto.

A much safer Kandahar (this one in Saskatchewan). On the move from Edmonton to Toronto.

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House Purchase in a Day?

house

Have you ever purchased a house in a day? Have you ever purchased a house in a few hours? How about in a city that you have never lived in? What if your employer insisted you move to a place where you couldn’t purchase a home (ie. overseas) but then also insisted that you pay to break your existing mortgage.

When we came on our House Hunting Trip to Ottawa (a city in which we had never lived) we had no choice about when we could come. My husband was teaching a course and we could only come during Easter Break. The problem with this is that we lost the Friday and Monday due to the holidays. The bank was not open on either day to complete the transaction so the house had to be found and the paperwork completed within four days. (Remember that this was a city with which we were only vaguely familiar.)

Question-Mark

Where to begin? … First:

With a map of the city. We knew that as much as we loved the downtown core, it was not financially feasible. We ended up settling on the West End of Ottawa because of the proposed Military move to Nortel. Next:

With a Fraser Institute listing of schools. You have to start somewhere!  As with most military families, the kids schools are one of the most important factors in any move. They already seem to have the deck stacked against them with regards to education. The least we can do is try to find a good school for them. Next:

Build a Binder: My binder is always bright and obnoxious in colour. It has tabs!  It has maps! By the time we come on the house hunting trip, I have looked up all the schools. I know each of their boundaries. My husband has mapped out the express bus routes with a firm understanding of how long it is going to take to get to work. We have been watching the market for a few weeks prior to our arrival and have print out of the houses that we are interested in.  (there is always one that is beautiful on the MLS that I have my heart set on and it always seems to be JUNK in person)  Finally:

Finding a home that isn’t too expensive: We were moving from the United States (where we were not permitted to buy) but had come from New Brunswick prior to that. The online MLS listings prove invaluable and allow you to get a sense of the area before you get there.  The housing market in Ottawa is vastly different than the housing market in NB. A $260,000 in Gagetown could easily cost $500,000 in Ottawa. Many military families are also losing a spousal income.

We were set. We arrived on the Saturday, excited about the next adventure. Sunday we met our Realtor and tried to get oriented. We started looking at houses. A lot of houses. A military house hunting trip is precise operation. In an ideal world you should find your new home in the first 24-48 hours. This is important because you have to get the inspection done and the extensive paperwork through the bank. Not to mention signing the kids up for their new schools.

stress

We started at a specific price point and ended up $100,000 more than we had originally expected to spend. On Monday we continued to look at homes of increasing value. Tuesday morning we put an offer in on a home that we could fit into, had good schools, and that we could sell in a couple of years if required. We purchased this house subject to the usual conditions. Tuesday afternoon we had a bit of a chance to check out schools and to take a break. The house inspectors are very busy during this time and we couldn’t get our inspector in until Wednesday afternoon. By that evening we had discovered that the entire deal had fallen through and that we had to start over again. We re-looked at what was on the market and in our price range and it was becoming very evident that we were going to have to make some incredible concessions. I threw out all of our school plans and by Thursday afternoon we found a back up home. Fortunately our house inspector was willing to come out on the weekend and were able to expedite the paperwork before we had to return to our home in the States.

Do I like the home?  It’s ok. We fit into it. Are the kids schools good? They are ok. Is this a home I would choose if I had more time?  Absolutely not.

If you are a long service member of the Canadian Armed Forces you are entitled to a ‘retirement’ move. Often this allows a person who ends a career in Ottawa to move back to Newfoundland if that is what they would like. It also, however, allowed people who purchased a home in the frenetic manner described above to move into a place that they actually like. In October 2014 it was reported that General Andrew Leslie submitted a retirement moving claim for $72,000. While I understand that this is an excessive bill for the Canadian tax payer to pay, I also believe that a final move to a house you like, in an city that you know, after a lifetime of service and sacrifice, isn’t unreasonable. Unfortunately after the media sensation in October the Federal Government changed the rules and we are no longer allowed to take that final move within the city in which we are currently living.

This feels like a stone in my shoe.

Have you purchased a home? What was the process like? Do you think that the government should foot the final move bill for long service military members? Would you support this if there were a monetary cap on the benefit?

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Military Sister Wives

When we were posted to Edmonton my husband deployed to Afghanistan. This tour was different than the ones that had come previously. It was early days and this one felt sour from the beginning.

There are several things that a Military Spouse is awesome at (or at least does begrudgingly):

  1. Pick up a home and move it across the country – most often with only a few months notice.
  2. Is capable of meeting new friends quickly – forming deep bonds in an unnatural time frame.
  3. Supports chaos at home (new schools, new friends, deployed parent).

But there is one thing that has always astounded me. The military spouse seems to cope with an inner voice at the back of her head that says ‘at least I am not her‘. In the military there is always somebody within an arms reach that has more children, less family support, an illness, a worse location, a husband deployed longer or worst of all (in my mind)… a husband outside the wire patrolling villages or disarming IED’s.

Back to that posting in Edmonton:

I was a Beaver Leader for my son’s Beaver Colony. Each week we would pass through the halls of the local Military Family Resource Centre to reach the community room that played host to 14 very active little boys. The kids would race past reception with their little beaver hats and their little beaver tails oblivious to the table with a condolence book. Someone’s lost Dad, a photo, a book and a pit in my stomach. The next week there were 3 lost Dads, 3 photos, and 3 books. The following week seven…

Military friends are different. They get you through things that only another military spouse would ever understand. The joys are wonderful, the shared pregnancies and births, celebrations, book clubs and lots of wine. The agony of leaving those friends when you embark on a new adventure is enormous. The bonds are so deep and precious and there is a strength and resiliency that is difficult to break. My military friends are more than my friends. They are my sisters.

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I’m Just a Spouse

“So what do you do?…”

That dreaded question…  Cocktail parties… Dinner out with new people… it always comes up. Everybody asks it… How does a person define oneself when they don’t have a pat answer?

I was recently at a luncheon for an International Women’s Club and that question came up.  As soon as I mentioned I was a military spouse the lady assumed that I had nothing relevant to offer and moved on to her next victim.

I am a Military Spouse.  Defining yourself in relation to your spouse’s occupation is something that is never done in today’s society.  It feels like something out of A Mad Men Episode.  I could tell you that many years ago I was an RN working in palliative care, but as soon as I tell you that I would have to follow with the fact that I haven’t nursed in 20 years.  So if I am not an occupation.  What am I?

I am fierce advocate that has moved every two years for as long as I can remember.  I am able to adapt at the last minute and manage projects as we move to yet a different province, or a different country with different health care and a different school system. I help my family start over each time we relocate.  I am a champion for my children and the vastly different school systems that exist within multiple provinces and one state. I am a researcher; I buy, renovate and sell homes, frequently.  I am an event planner and team player; I find venues for large groups of spouses so they can connect. I manage a single household income (because who will hire somebody that is going to leave soon). I hold my family together through difficult deployments to conflict areas around the world. I often watch the news very carefully because decisions made in Parliament today can affect my dinner plans tomorrow.  I re-invent myself every two years, and because of this I am a master networker. I have lived in 4 Canadian provinces and one American State. I volunteer, and I am about to be a single parent again as my husband continues to serve as a soldier.

What do I do?  I am a Military Spouse.

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Dependent Education Benefits – Who Knew?

Free Tutoring?  Really?…

Black Cropped Wordle

Moves can be devastating for our children.  School.  Friends. Homelife.  Stress. Anxiety……

When my son was five we moved from Gagetown to Edmonton. We showed him the brochure of the West Edmonton Mall and he was all in!  Pirate ship in the mall?!!!  Are you kidding?!! AWESOME, LET’S GO!

Unfortunately the promise of pirate ships no longer works when they are teenagers, and that ‘awesome’ wears a little thin.

When we were in Gagetown a neighbour told me about Dependent Education tutoring….. (say what?!!!)  How is it possible that we had been living this army life for 15 years and didn’t know about it.  I asked hubby to ask the orderly room about it and they hadn’t heard about it either.  (Chief Clerks are God’s in my opinion – if they don’t know about it then nobody does!)  After a little digging we found out that it does exist.

This is such a raw subject for me.  My very bright child needed to go back a year in school based on the deficiencies of one province’s education.  (enter Mama Bear).  I even have a lovely lame letter from the Minister of Education of that province thanking me for my concerns and that he was sorry for my son’s issues. (my son’s issues? – they did no science, social studies, reading or writing from January to June, just conversational french… How is this a recipe for success?)

Enter Children’s Education ManagementThis is a department that falls under DCBA (Director Compensation and Benefits Administration) who’s sole purpose is to assist military families navigate their child’s education.  Most of their benefits are for OUTCAN postings but there is help for In-Canada issues.  There are even two guidance counselors that are more than willing to help you with any issues that you might have.  (Andrea Smith assists families with last names from A-K, and Carolle Coulombe is the counselor for L-Z)

So here is the summary:

If you move your child from one province to another and there is a deficit in their education due to that move and they are falling below provincial expectations – there is money for you.  It must be a deficiency related to a change in the curriculum from one province to the next (and can not be because of a program change, sadly this excludes french immersion programs).

In order to access this money you must do a few things.

  1. Get a letter from the current principal stating the following:
    1. That the student’s deficiency is related to the curriculum change
    2. Include a recommendation of the number of hours that the principal believes are required per week to get the student up to the Provincial average
  2. You must get three quotes from qualified teachers with teaching certificates.  They will reimburse the average of these three quotes.
  3. Bring these things to the Orderly Room and quote CBI (Compensation and Benefits Instruction) Chapter 12 Article 12.1.03 (4)

And that’s it….  No kidding!!!  The benefit has been there all along!

But Wait!  There’s More!!!

If your child is in grade 11 or 12 and is gutted that you are moving to a new province, Dependent Education will pay for his room and board as well as two return trips back to the family.  Even within Canada!

The 2014/2015 benefit was $1680.37 per month for lodging and $634.13 per month for board (with receipts).

Nobody wants to leave their children behind during these critical years but it is good to know that if you do get posted there are options.

Did you know about this benefit?  Do you think you will take advantage of it the next time you move?

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