COM0014 – Blog Post #2 – Personal Bio

“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 the International Women’s Club of Ottawa 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 years ago I was an RN working in palliative care, but as soon as I tell you that I 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 an advocate that has moved every two years for as long as I can remember.  I help my family start over each time we move.  I am a champion for my children and the vastly different school systems that exist within multiple provinces and one state. I buy, renovate and sell homes, frequently.  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.  I volunteer.  I have taught English as a Second language, I have been a classroom helper, I have been on the parent teacher boards, and I have facilitated a Beaver Colony as well as well as a Guide Troop.  I have helped support other military spouses through extremely difficult times. I have also started a Facebook group that has more than 400 other spouse members. I host events for the members including speakers, large pub and games nights as well as hosting a knitting group. I write a blog to outline resources available to the Canadian Military Family. I am about to be a single parent again as my husband continues to serve as a soldier. I have lived in 4 Canadian provinces and one American State.

What do I do?  I am a Military Spouse.

COM0014 – Blog Post #1 – What I did on my Vacation

ON_-_Algonquin_Provincial_Park

Canoe Camping?

When I first met my husband we were polar opposites with regards to leisure time.  My idea of roughing it was no bar at the hotel pool.  My husband on the other hand had dreams of ‘One Man, One Pack’, ‘Leave No Trace Camping’ and ‘Make sure you bring the bear spray’…

We have been married for 20 years and both of us have capitulated in many ways, but especially with regards to camping.  Instead of the 4-season (good-for-winter-camping) tent that he wanted or a room at the Hilton that I wanted we are the proud owners of a tent trailer.  We have slowly moved from camp sites with hot showers to sites without electricity…  Not often.

Last summer my husband cunningly suggested that we canoe camp in Algonquin Park.  I do love canoeing and driving in the park and think that it is one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited.  We would only be gone for a few days and he assured me that although there was a portage that it was only 75 metres.

We borrowed the kit that we required.  We already had a Kayak for the kids to paddle and a few hiking ruck sacks, but the rest came from friends.

The first obstacle was the amount of stuff that we had.

Clampets

Off to Algonquin we headed and with much trepidation we arrived at Achray Lake.  For those of you that haven’t been through Algonquin Park it truly is one of the most beautiful places in Canada. We loaded all the gear (minus the rocking chair) into the boats.

Born Again Back Woods Camper!

Wow!  What a surprise! I loved it! The vistas are beautiful, the peace and quiet was soulful, and the family time amazing – I even managed the ‘thunder box’ toilets. My husband was so right (don’t tell him I told you).  I am not sure I will ever go back to the tent trailer.

I can’t wait to go again next year!

 

 

A Sad Day in Ottawa

Itomb-of-the-unknown-soldiert’s been a year.  One year from that tragic day in Ottawa. Although the fear of that day has passed the feeling of vulnerability hasn’t completely gone away.

On October 20, 2014, a supporter of ISIL deliberately targeted two Canadian soldiers in uniform in Quebec killing Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and injuring one other.

Two days later on October 22, 2014 another gunman shot and killed a uniformed Cpl Nathan Cirillo while he was guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the War Memorial in downtown Ottawa. The gunman then stormed Parliament before he was killed by security.

These two incidents came on the heels of an audio recording released by ISIS specifically targeting western nations including Canada. (Global News)  What made these difficult days for military families was the pandemonium, lack of information on the news as well as mis-information on the news. How many gunmen were there? Were they specifically targeting soldiers? Were our spouses at risk? What would happen tomorrow? As a culture we are pretty adept at weathering and coping with deployed spouses but this was different. This was at home.

Facebook helped.

Our local military spousal site proved to be a very useful resource on this day. The site is typically a positive environment where people posted to Ottawa gather to ask questions and meet new friends. On this day the buildings downtown were in lock-down while the authorities attempted to determine how many gunmen there were and who they were targeting. Many of our spouses wear their uniforms to work making them easy to identify.

Sharing of information proved invaluable. Some of the spouses on the site had husbands who had access to phones while others did not. All the while, the media spoke of multiple gunmen with unknown whereabouts. The people on our site rallied around each other and reassured each other with real information. Offers were made to pick up children from childcare as many of the spouses do not have family support and have only been in the community for a short time.

Cpl Nathan Cirillo and WO Patrice Vincent

Cpl Nathan Cirillo and WO Patrice Vincent

That day was terrible. The loss of two young soldiers is tragic. Families are affected forever.  Many civilians were also affected by that day, as the downtown core turned into a ghost town while people waited. I can only imagine how the workers in the Parliament buildings managed to get through such a horrifying experience.

On October 22, 2015 a ceremony took place at the War Memorial in Ottawa. As we approach Remembrance Day, I am thinking of so many families on this one year anniversary, and thanking them for their sacrifice for their loved one’s service.

Education Advocacy – The Big Bad Binder and the Army Brat

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My daughter went into Grade 5 in her fifth school.  My son entered Grade 7 in his sixth school.  Each of these schools was in a different school jurisdiction in a different province with a different curriculum.  Being a child in today’s society is hard enough but it is even more difficult if you are a Military Brat.

Many families have kids with IEP’s (Individual Education Plans).  When we lived in New Brunswick my son’s grade 5 class had 27 kids with 13 IEP’s.   It is a fact of today’s education system that unless you have an IEP you seem to be unable to get accommodation.

So, how do you advocate for your child  when you move so much?  Each school means another meeting with another principal, classroom teacher, and resource teacher.  Often the curriculum doesn’t even match up when you move from one place to another. Different school boards have different amounts of money for resource support.  A child can struggle in one system and be a rock star in another depending on the expectations in the classroom.

Where does that leave the Military Brat?  (ie. the strong-resilient-amazing-resourceful-dragged-from-pillar-to-post child).  Not only are they often dealing with long and potentially dangerous absences of a parent, but are frequently dealing with the stressors of being the ‘new kid’.

Whether you have a kid with a learning issue or not, every military family should have a Big Bad Binder for each child.  It is an essential and simple tool that every parent should use to keep their child’s education documents in one place and helps the parent to transition to the new posting.  It is also a great way to feel empowered.  Walking into a school meeting with many education professionals can be a daunting experience.  Having all your documents at your fingertips allows you to fight for what you had in your previous school.

In fact the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario recommends creating a binder with all of the following tabs: (Advocacy Binder)

  1. Developmental
  2. Psychological/Emotional
  3. Family and Homelife
  4. Medical and Educational Information
  5. Directory of professionals (Therapists, Doctors, Counselors, Psychologists, Specialists) Including date seen.
  6. Including large envelopes to store documents.

My binder is a little simpler and has these tabs:

  1. Report Cards
  2. IEP’s
  3. Assessments (Psycho-educational assessments, Speech, Occupational Therapy)
  4. Medical (vaccination Record)
  5. Letters (From Teachers, to Teachers, and even one to the Minister of Education)
  6. Communication Log (Dates and times of all communication with schools)
  7. Achievements (special essays written, certificates etc.)

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I’ve had this version of a binder since my kids were in second grade.  Generally I enjoy a collaborative approach with the schools, however there have been times when I have felt that the system has tried to push me around and isn’t interested in what I have to say. When I flip to the tab with the suggestions from the last professional, I feel that I am able to fight for my child’s needs, that my voice is heard and that the ‘System’ seems to take me more seriously.

As we are now approaching a time when my big kid will be heading to university, the binder has all his assessments and recommendations.  I will be able to give him the Big Bad Binder and let him Self Advocate!  What a beautiful thing!

The Future

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 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 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?

Too Many Friends?

FriendsWe’ve all been there. You run into an old acquaintance at Costco, you speak to them for a little while, you say good bye and then come home to find a friend request on your Facebook page.

How many friends do you have on Facebook? 50? 150? 450? When I first joined Facebook I had a couple of dozen ‘friends’. I had a family circle, a college circle and my neighbourhood circle. In 2008 we were posted across the country, and I met a new circle of friends. At this point my ‘friends’ list grew and approached 100. For some reason this really concerned me as I couldn’t imagine that I even liked more than 99 people. I desperately began culling folks from our previous posting location trying to keep the friend list to the arbitrary two digit limit I had created for myself. Who gets cut? Who stays? Will they know that I have un-friended them? Will they be offended if I ignore their friend request?

And then we were posted again…

290 Friends

I have recently discovered the most amazing setting on Facebook. The ‘Acquaintance’ setting is highly underutilized and many people don’t even know that it exists. If you feel that you can’t ignore the Costco ‘friend’ and have accepted their request – you can make them an acquaintance. Simply go into your friends list and click on the box beside their name and select ‘Acquaintances’. Their information will rarely show up in your news feed and you can restrict what they see on your own page.


Acquaintances

The next time you want to add a status update to your Facebook page you simply select ‘Friends except Acquaintances’ in the drop down menu.

Friends Except Acquaintances

I have used this extensively in an attempt to stay connected but to also manage my privacy. Do you use this feature? Do you have too many friends?

Under Threat – The Role of Facebook in Times of Uncertainty

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

On October 20, 2014, a supporter of ISIL deliberately targeted two Canadian soldiers in uniform in Quebec killing Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and injuring one other.

Two Days later on October 22, 2014 another gunman shot and killed a uniformed Cpl Nathan Cirillo while he was guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the War Memorial in downtown Ottawa. The gunman then stormed Parliament before he was killed by security.

These two incidents came on the heels of an audio recording released by ISIS specifically targeting western nations including Canada. (http://globalnews.ca/news/1575601/france-is-has-threatened-coalition-civilians/)  What made October 22 a difficult day for military families was the pandemonium, lack of information on the news as well as mis-information on the news. How many gunmen were there? Were they specifically targeting soldiers? Were our spouses at risk? What would happen tomorrow? As a culture we are pretty adept at weathering and coping with deployed spouses but this was different. This was at home.

Our local military family Facebook support site proved to be a very useful resource on this day. The site is typically a positive environment where people posted to Ottawa gather to ask questions and meet new friends. On this day the buildings downtown were in lock-down while the authorities attempted to determine how many gunmen there were and who they were targeting. Many of our spouses wear their uniforms to work making them easy to identify.

Sharing of information proved invaluable. Some of the spouses on the site had husbands who had access to phones while others did not. All the while, the media spoke of multiple gunmen with unknown whereabouts. The people on our site rallied around each other and reassured each other with real information. Offers were made to pick up children from childcare as many of our spouses do not have family support and have only been in the community for a short time.

Cpl Nathan Cirillo and WO Patrice Vincent

Cpl Nathan Cirillo and WO Patrice Vincent

That day was terrible and the loss of two young soldiers is tragic. Many civilians were also affected by that day, as the downtown core turned into a ghost town while people waited. I can only imagine how the workers in the Parliament buildings managed to get through such a horrifying experience.

Where were you during that day? Did you use social media to help you through it?

COMM0011 – My Military Family

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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 in the military context this eases the strings of a stressful lifestyle.

Move - Kandahar Sask 2

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