Jo, My Gosh! - Stories & advice that feel like coming home
You're a military spouse or significant other looking for support for our crazy beautiful, messy awesome life. Stories & advice that feel like coming home. Relationships (including long distance and military), care packages, DIYs, recipes, & the things that matter.
This is a sponsored conversation on behalf of Holt’s Cigar Company via SoFluential Media. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Father’s Day can be an emotional time for both kids and their dads during deployment. And of course, not all things can be solved with a care package during deployment, but I do think that the act of creating something special and sending it to someone you love for their enjoyment can be very cathartic and help loved ones feel a little closer.
Creating a care package is easy because it’s all about the person receiving it and the person (or people) putting it together. If you need a few ideas for how to get started, don’t worry: you’ve come to the right place.
Here’s a quick primer on how to start creating care packages:
Now, let’s get to what to actually put into this Father’s Day care package!
1. Beef Jerky
Especially if your significant other is overseas, beef jerky is a great way to send something flavorful that will keep in the heat or without refrigeration. If you want to send something extra special, go local or gourmet and send meats or flavors that you normally wouldn’t send like buffalo or Cajun.
2. Trail mix
If you have kiddos, this is a lovely way to get them in on the action. Have them brainstorm what Dad’s favorite snacks and foods are and then create a trail mix from them. Think outside the box. If Dad loves Oreos, why not include minis in the trail mix? Patriotic mixes of candies can be found this time of year–so jazz it up with a bit of color. And, Dad loves healthier options, a health food store often has exotic nuts and dried fruits that will be fun to include too. If it’s not exactly what regular trail mix is like, who cares? It will still be fun and tasty.
3. Handmade gifts
It’s always lovely to send things made by the kids on Father’s Day. If Dad is deployed, just make sure that any precious pieces of artwork or creativity can either come safely home or the creators (and parents) are okay with them not making it back. Consider having the kids make pieces of disposable art– or decorating the inside and outside of the care package itself.
Send a USB drive with a special Father’s Day message. If the kids are too young to talk into your phone or video camera, taping special–or simply ordinary–moments can be a lovely way for Dad to connect with his children. Just remember: never videotape or photograph and send anything that you would be uncomfortable with strangers seeing.
Get some of those pictures on your phone printed and into this care package. Many dads have access to the internet during deployment and can see the photos you upload to social media or send through email… but there’s nothing like holding a physical picture of your kids and spouse or significant other.
Sure, it’s old school and a little cliche, but sending a booklet of coupons or rain checks for Dad to cash in with his kids once deployment is over is still one of those pull-on-your-heatstrings kinds of gifts. If the kids are old enough, ask them to come up with the ideas– you (and Dad) might just be surprised by the kinds of things they want to do and miss while he’s away.
Just because it’s Father’s Day doesn’t mean that Dad doesn’t need the basic staples you usually send to him. Whatever that is– razors, socks, juice boxes–make sure that you include those in this box too so he doesn’t go without. (You can always include a note to let him know the celebration will happen when he’s home.)
This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of 1 Natural Way, a TRICARE breast pump provider. All opinions are entirely my own.
“I thought deployment on my own was hard,” one of my friends said to me one day. “But deployment with kids? It feels impossible.”
She had been battling an raft of on-going kid illnesses– the flu, fevers, colds, earaches. The list didn’t seem to end. Throw in sleepless nights and children who didn’t want to stay in their own beds, and she was frazzled. More than frazzled, if we’re going to be really honest.
That’s not uncommon in the military community. Military life throws a heck of a lot at just one person. Then add a spouse… and a kid… or two… or three… and it can get hectic and frustrating fast.
The good news? If you’re feeling a little frazzled (or completely in over your head, that’s okay, too!), there are a lot of parenting programs, websites, and apps out there to help. They’ve been made with military families in mind… not as an afterthought! And the cost of absolutely free is definitely a bonus.
Let’s talk about free stuff
Thanks to 1 Natural Way for sponsoring this post and allowing me to bring you these wonderful parenting resources. 1 Natural Way is a TRICARE breast pump provider that works to make sure you are able to take advantage of your TRICARE benefits as easily and painlessly as possible and all at no (or very, very little) cost to you. In stock at 1 Natural way are high-quality products like Kiinde, Medela, and Spectra. Simply fill out the insurance information form found here, choose the breast pump model you like (they’re all TRICARE-covered), enroll in 1 Natural Way’s Resupply program to get supplies and products sent to you monthly, and upload your prescription. Everything ships directly to your door. (Woohoo!)
1 Natural Way makes breast pumps and accessories easy and hassle-free so you can spend your time on the things you love: your kids. And that’s why you’re here–because you want parenting resources for military families. So let’s get to it!
Now, let’s talk about more free stuff!
The USO offers a whole-family mini day retreat called EmPaCt. Kids get the opportunity to lead parents through play-based exploration and fun.
2. Sesame Street For Military Families
Sesame Street has an entire website (and an app too) dedicated to supporting military families, kids, and their providers (like doctors) dealing with all of the joys and obstacles that military life has. From informational videos for adults to fun videos (that also teach) for kids, to experiential games, to printables and conversation starters for families, there is so much research-based information available for families through Sesame Street. And that doesn’t even include their in-person live events through the USO.
The Armed Services YMCA offers a variety of opportunities for parents and children, which sometimes can include parenting help and classes. If you need a break, most ASYMCA’s offer respite child care for infants through tweens and safe places for children through classes and programs.
4. Army Community Service Programs
Some Army posts provide parenting programs through Army Community Services. For example, Fort Carson has a beloved Nurturing program which includes child care, classes for parents on topics like potty-training, and play groups for children. Fort Riley offers a New Parent Support Group headed by nurses and social workers, with classes and a play time offered as well.
5. Visiting Nurse Program
The Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society provides a visiting nurse program to families with newborns. The nurses check on the baby’s general health and provide health checks. They can also answer parent questions and educate caregivers on a variety of child-related topics as well as help assuage new parent worries.
6. The Military Birth Resource Network
MBRN’s mission is “to enable continuity of care by providing the necessary community, network, resources and awareness to our military families stateside and those stationed overseas.” You can find out more about the network and the services they offer for military spouses and families who are ready to give birth or who have just welcomed a new baby into their family here.
On- or off-base, libraries can provide a wealth of programming for parents and children. Check your local one to see if they have any parenting groups that meet.
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Morgan K. Nall/Released
8. Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program
At some installation’s USOs, there are in-person reading groups for parents and young children through the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program. Some of these programs include craft time, others are focused on particular topics, like deployment.
9. New Parent Support Program
Many installations offer the DoD’s New Parent Support Program. The program covers a wide range of topics that are are military-specific and more general to new or expecting parents. To find the closest offerings to you, search here by clicking the drop down menu and selecting “New Parent Support Program.”
10. Real Warriors
Real Warriors provides a wealth of knowledge and articles for military couples who are becoming (or have just become) new parents. Check out their library of articles here.
11. Babies on the Homefront
This app, from the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, keeps information and help close to parents at all times including information about play time, behavior, and self-care. You can also visit their website for videos and articles with information specific to military families.
12. VA’s Parenting Course
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs has a six-module parenting class available for your use online. Login whenever you’re able and learn more about topics like age-appropriate behaviors, positive discipline, and how to manage emotions as a parent. The course is meant to serve military and veteran families and broaches military-affiliated parenting topics.
13. Military OneSource
Oh yes, of course Military OneSource is on the list! This governmental website has become a lot more user-friendly in recent years. With articles and videos that cover nearly every military community topic under the sun, it’s probably no surprise they have a bevy of parenting articles available for military families too.
14. Parent to Parent Workshops
Provided by the Military Child Education Coalition, the Parent to Parent workshops are designed to help parents learn how to advocate on their child’s behalf when it comes to their education. You can learn more about this program here.
Photo: U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin A. Flinn/RELEASED
15. Zero to Three
Zero to Three provides parenting resources for families regardless of military status; however, they also have a subpage on their website dedicated strictly to military families and resources for those families. It includes article series, children’s book recommendations, and videos. Check it out here.
The Department of Education has a website dedicated to help parents of military kids with special needs navigate some of the challenges and difficulties that may arise. Take a look here.
It’s 2:30 AM, and you’re saying goodbye to your spouse leaving on deployment. It’s dark and your eyes hurt from crying. The six months or nine months or twelve months stretch out in front of you. You hug them and know that you’ll have to leave go and have to walk away.
It’s 6 AM, and the kids are already cranky. Your spouse is already gone for the day, and you’ve already helped to uncover a PT belt from the cavern under the bed that seems to eat all of the things they always need last minute.
It’s 9:15 AM and you’re scrolling through employment sites trying to find a job that fits your family’s needs… and that you maybe won’t have to leave when you PCS in two–maybe three–years.
It’s 11:32 AM, and you’re standing in your empty house, saying goodbye to the walls, to the places where your child stood up for the first time, where you and your spouse ate pizza sitting on the floor because the furniture hadn’t been moved in yet, where your sister and her family talked for hours when they were able to visit that one time.
It’s 3:47 PM, and you’re picking up the kids, hurdling through the Commissary, driving the speed limit on base (of course!), and trying to make it home so your complete, little family can spend a few precious hours together before your spouse leaves (again) for training.
It’s 5:17 PM, and it’s a drill weekend, and everything is breaking, and you are just. So. Over. It.
It’s 7:58 PM, and you’re a brand new spouse with zero friends in the area, your spouse is working all the time, and you are just… you.
And maybe, somewhere in a very dark, little part of your brain, you definitely, definitely, definitely don’t feel appreciated. You don’t get awards. There’s no one to see you in the middle of the night when you wake up, reach for your spouse, and there’s only an empty space next to you. There’s no cheering when you’re at an IEP meeting alone, trying to figure the new school system out (again). Or when you’re packing another care package and writing out another customs form. Or when you can’t listen to another second of the news.
It can be rough when people don’t know what to say or what to do. When your spouse is deployed to another country that most folks don’t even know we have a military presence in. When you are tired and sick and can’t get seen by your PCM fast enough. When you feel like everyone else gets the kudos, but you showed up to work with your shirt on backwards and living in fear that you’ll miss a precious call from your spouse. When you just feel so damn lonely.
You are loved.
You are amazing.
You are enough.
Repeat that to yourself:
You are loved.
You are amazing.
You are enough.
And believe it.
You might not have an award. Military Spouse Appreciation Day may pass with little fanfare. Most people might not understand what you do or what your life is like. You might not even hear from your spouse for weeks on end.
Maybe that’s your life today. Maybe you’re feeling just a little annoyed or frustrated or tired or underappreciated. Maybe you’re tired of feeling left out. Or ignored. Or forgotten. Maybe you feel like life is passing you by while your spouse gets the accolades and thanks.
But what you do and who you are is important.
You are a PCS warrior who packs up your home and travels across the country or world to create a new home out of just a few boxes, often without your spouse.
You are a multitasking maven who learns and relearns and re-relearns new school systems and teachers after each move so that your kids get the best education you can give them.
You are the foundation of your family, unmoving in a life that is constantly rocked by announcements and deployments and trainings and fears.
You are a task-master who keeps the wheels moving. When you’re not sure that you can do it all, you somehow do.
And even when you are none of those things, even when you are curled up on the couch with a quart of ice cream, wearing a shirt that hasn’t been washed since– you’re not sure– and missing your spouse and your parents more than your heart can bear, you are enough.
Remember that you are part of a vast group, stretching back for thousands of years, of women and men who have loved someone in the military, who have waited, who have watched, who have prayed and worried and waited again. That what you do is invaluable. You love your family. You care for your family. And you do it through moves and deployments and frustrations and career changes and unemployment and uncertainty and births and deaths.
Thanks to Katie for this great guest post! This is not a sponsored post.
Homemade Mother’s Day cards are thoughtful, personalized artifacts that mom can cherish for many years to come. While store bought cards are sweet, DIY cards show you spent the time crafting something special that is guaranteed to make her smile! That’s why Personal Creations has made a step-by-step guide on how to make a pop up card. Following six simple steps, you’ll have an adorable Mother’s Day card in no time.
Pop Up Card How-To
2 pieces of cardstock or construction paper
Pop up card printables
Craft materials to decorate with ie. glitter, watercolors, markers, crayons
Step 2: Cut slits at the center of the card. With the folded side facing you, cut two 1.5 inch slits. The paper that is between each of the slits will create a tab used for the pop up art. Tab size can differ based on what kind of art you choose. You can create multiple tabs if you are planning to add pop up art along the width of the card.
Step 5: Fold the second piece of paper in half. This will be the outside of your final pop up card. Be sure to glue the outside of the first piece of paper. Then place the first piece of paper inside of the second piece of paper and press together, hiding the tab cutouts.
Instructions: This pop up card is a little different from the others. Rather than cutting slits into the construction paper, fold each of the pieces along the dotted lines.
Glue the tail-side to the back of the card and secure the feet to the bottom of the card.
Glue the folded white section on one side of the rectangle. Attach to the the back side of the card overlapping with the back legs.
Glue the front legs to the other side of the rectangle and attach the front feet to the bottom of the card.
Glue on the head, and your puppy or kitten card is complete!
You’re the best doggone mom around!
Raise the woof! It’s Mother’s Day!
How’d I get such a pawsome mom like you?
You’re purrfect in every way.
I wuf you a lot.
Plant Pop Up Card
For the green thumb mom, this card is a great way to show someone how much she’s helped you grow. There’s no shortage of gardening or succulent puns—choose your favorite to celebrate this Mother’s Day!
Open When letters are one of my favorite ways to show people I care about them. With a little planning and preparation, they’re the perfect way to keep in touch and give encouragement when it’s needed the most. Simply write a letter for each topic, and then enclose it in an envelope with the instructions to “Open When…” on the outside. Ta-da!
Over the past years, I’ve published 102+ Open When Letter Topics and 55 Open When Letter Topics and they’ve been wildly popular. I love those topics and their versatility, but the Open When letters I’m sharing with you in this post are a bit different: they’re focused on new moms. Whether you’re a civilian or part of the military community, you’re bound to know a new mom who needs a little support, encouragement, and love using these Open When letters.
At their core, Open When letters are all about personalization and showing the recipient that you care about them. When John was deployed, I used 30 of my Open When letter topics to write notes that he could tell were made by me, just for him. As you read the list below, be inspired by my topics and letter suggestions, but get creative, silly, and sincere to make the Open When letter fit the new mom who’s opening it.
Most of these topics will work perfectly with just a note, but on some, you’ll notice I’ve given you some suggestions for small gifts to include with a letter. (If you include them, you’ll need envelopes of all different sizes–how fun! What an intriguing baby shower gift that would make!)
…you’ve gotten home from the hospital. You know what to do here: share your deepest congrats and honest words of encouragement. Let New Momma know she’s loved.
…you can’t stop staring at your new baby! Include a decorated paper picture frame mat that New Momma can hold over Baby’s face “…because I’m picture perfect!”
…breastfeeding isn’t as easy as you hoped it would be. Share a note reminding New Momma that breastfeeding is hard and takes time when it works. She’s a champ for trying! Include a small sample of nipple cream, if you’d like.
…you feel badly about not breastfeeding. Write a note that breastfeeding doesn’t work for everyone and it does not mean she’s a failure.
…you’re feeling sad. Include a note to remind New Momma that feelings of sadness are valid and normal. Write down your phone number (even if it’s programmed into her cell) to remind her that you’ve got a listening ear.
…you haven’t slept for 24 hours. Put a cute sleep mask in the envelope.
…the bags under your eyes have bags. Write a note reminding her she’s beautiful and include a small sampler of an eye-soothing product.
…you had a crappy public breastfeeding experience. Write a short note to help New Momma move through the experience. Remind her that no matter what anyone else says or does, she’s caring for Baby and you’re so proud of her for it!
…your breast milk (or formula) went everywhere but baby’s mouth. If New Momma will find it funny, give her a note of encouragement and a travel poncho. Not her kind of humor? Stick to an encouraging note.
…you stepped on a toy and hurt your foot. Write a note card with a bunch of silly swears, like Butterscotch Biscuits! or Flatulent Farkle! or Oh, Mylanta! The sillier the better.
…you. are. ex.haus.ted. Write a simple note like, “Put Baby to bed and take a nap. You are a human. Humans need sleep.”
…there’s no way you’re going to keep your eyelids open much longer. Write a note and tell her to rest and rejuvenate! (If you’re feeling cutesie, include these lotions perfect for restingand rejuvenating.)
…you’re pretty sure you’re not cut out for this “mom” thing. Remind her how awesome she is and that she’s doing a great job.
…something goes perfectly right! Celebrate along in your note!
…you know you love your kid, but you’re not entirely sure if you like your kid today. Drop some words of encouragement. Let her know it’s okay to have ‘off’ days.
…you forgot to pick up diapers and need an emergency diaper STAT! Stick a diaper in the envelope.
…you used the other emergency diaper. (Seriously, you need to go get some more after this one. There are no more in here!) Stick another diaper in the envelope.
…you’re feeling alone. Write a note and include your phone number.
…you’re missing your partner. Include a note written by New Momma’s partner.
…you watched your baby hit a milestone without your partner there to witness it. Include a small note pad for New Momma to write down every detail.
I have to admit it: Before I was a military spouse, I had no idea what military life was like. I had gone to school with a few kids who had parents in the National Guard–some who had even been deployed after September 11–but I didn’t really know what military life was like.
I didn’t know about the sacrifices. I didn’t know about the frequent moves. Even as a fiance, I really didn’t think about what I was giving up– earning power, benefits, a long-term career. I didn’t get it because I hadn’t lived it and I didn’t know anyone very well who had.
So… when I started getting a taste of military life, when I started realizing what it meant for my life, it felt like I was experiencing everything by myself. Like I was the first person that deployments suck (yes, yes, they do!) or that John’s military commitment had profound impacts on my career.
I just didn’t know.
And a lot of people don’t know. I see it in my inbox every, single day. Girlfriends, fiances, and wives (sorry, no emails from dudes yet!) email me asking for advice and wondering if what they feel is normal or if they’re just alone. I see it in comments when readers say things like, “Oh, my gosh! I feel this way too!” or “I didn’t know I wasn’t the only one!”
And how can you blame anyone for not knowing what military life is like. First of all, it is so different depending on branch, rank, MOS, location, and family situation. Then, there’s really not that many people who serve in the military–not when you consider the entire population of the United States.
So often people in the military community lambaste the civilian one for not knowing. They chide the civilian divide. They wonder why people don’t know what we go through. But the truth is, it’s a two-way street. We have to be willing to talk about the issues that affect us, too.
There’s an easy way to do that (and it doesn’t involve knocking on a stranger’s door in an effort to bridge the gap)! All you need is your computer and a little bit of time. I’m talking about the Blue Star Families annual survey. Before you shake your head, I promise you that this survey actually matters. To start with, it’s compiled by Blue Star Families which is a large military family advocacy nonprofit. They’ve partnered with Syracuse University for the survey and research part– that means it’s a legit research tool, not just a random poll.
The Blue Star Families annual survey is respected by many people–conservatives and progressives, politicians and nonprofits, civilians and military folks. It’s used on Capitol Hill (and in the previous administration, even in the White House) to help understand what military and veterans’ families are feeling and going through. It’s helped to drive policy in the past and you can often see the numbers from the survey cited as reasoning behind legislation.
Simply put, it’s a survey that really matters to the community. And your voice matters in it. Make sure you take the Blue Star Families annual survey from April 24 to May 25 if you’re part of the active duty, Reserve, National Guard, or veteran communities. Help civilians understand what they haven’t experienced. It takes just a little bit of time and all answers are anonymous. Make your voice heard.
I looked out my window last week and saw snow. Snow! In mid-April! (And it hasn’t gotten much warmer since.) I love winter as much as the next gal, but this seemingly endless winter’s got me dreaming of warmer weather. Reading a guilty pleasure book on a sandy beach under an umbrella shading me from the toasty sun… That divine scene makes me think it might be time to plan a trip to Florida!
Whether you’re booking a family vacation, looking to get away with your significant other, or dreaming of summer adventures, military folk have lots of options in the Sunshine State. Check out this list of 13 Florida attractions with awesome discounts for service members and let me know if you have any to add to the list.
Through the Waves of Honor program, active-duty service members, reservists, and National Guardsmen and up to three dependents are eligible to receive one complimentary admission annually to Busch Gardens Tampa (or SeaWorld or Sesame Place.) The offer is only valid for one visit at one park, so plan accordingly.
Looking for a less lethal alternative to Jurassic Park? Check out Dinosaur World in Plant City where you’ll find outdoor and indoor dino displays along with interactive exhibits for kids. You’ll also find a great deal for service members and their families. With a valid ID, active duty military members receive free admission to Dinosaur World and their dependents receive $1 off admission to the park.
Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys boasts a marina, lagoon, a variety of outdoor adventure experiences, and an annual Salute to Heroes. Active duty military and veterans receive a special discounted room rate. (Check the website for details on this year’s offer.) If you can’t visit during the Salute to Heroes, military personnel with a valid military ID receive 20% off accommodations year round.
Service members visiting the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex can receive $4 off general admission tickets with a valid military ID at the ticket window or by using the ID.me portal to purchase online tickets. Reservists, retirees, and active duty can also get their discount through a MWR/ITT travel office. Previously, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has offered complimentary admission to active duty, veterans, retired, and reserve service members plus 50% off admission for up to three guests on Veterans Day, so keep an eye on their website for a 2018 offer.
Build some colorful memories at Legoland Florida Resort and Water Park. All U.S. service members receive free admission to Legoland by bringing a valid military ID to a Legoland Florida Resort ticket window. Non-active duty, family members, and veterans can get discounted tickets at their base’s ITT office for a free second day admission, or receive 10% off daily tickets at the gate with a valid military ID. Legoland Resort also offers a 10% military discount on Legoland Hotel reservations booked online and with a valid military ID.
Want to dive with dolphins or party with penguins? Maybe you’d rather roam through a reef or swim with a seal? Find your way to the Miami Seaquarium. It offers active military personnel free admission, as well as 50% off general admission for up to 5 guests. Be sure to provide your valid military ID at the gate to receive this awesome offer!
Through the Waves of Honor program, any active duty military, reservist, or National Guardsman can receive one complimentary admission and up to three complimentary admissions for his or her dependants annually. The complimentary tickets can be requested for one visit to SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, or Sesame Place. A military ID must be provided for the benefit and verified with TroopID via ID.me. Additional tickets can be purchased at a base MWR office.
Interested in seeing a show while in Tampa? The Starz Center for the Performing Arts has you covered. Military members with a valid ID can receive two specially priced tickets for selected shows at Starz Center. These tickets are subject to availability and cannot be combined with other offers, so be sure to call the ticket sales office (813-229-7827) for up-to-date offers and additional details.
Sunken Gardens is the urban oasis you need. This “living museum” is a botanical garden filled with tropical flora and fauna in the middle of St. Petersburg. While an everyday military discount is not available, the city of St. Petersburg has offered free admission to active duty and veterans on Veterans Days in past years. Be sure to check out the website for this year’s offer.
If you’re looking for skyhigh fun with rock bottom rates, Treetop Trek in Melbourne might be the thrill you seek. At the self-guided outdoor adventure park, service members can present a current and valid ID to get $5 off a variety of aerial adventure courses including the Canopy, Challenge Reloaded, Black Diamond, and Zip Only.
Check out the specially priced tickets for Universal Orlando Resort available at your LTO or MWR. (Check the website for participating bases.) Whether you want base 1-park, 2-park, or 3-park tickets, you can get discounted tickets for one to five days at Universal Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida, or Universal’s Volcano Bay. If you’re active duty, your military ID at the front gate ticket window entitles you to discounted ticket rates at Universal Orlando Resort.
Looking for something more all-inclusive? Universal Orlando created a vacation package just for service members. The package gives you hotel accomodations for three nights, early admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal Volcano Bay, and a three-park park-to-park pass good for four days. You can choose from a variety of resort accomodations, starting at $129. Check out all the options here.
If you’re looking to head to Walt Disney World Resort, be sure to check out this offer for military personnel. Purchase your admission before December 15, 2018 and get up to six 4-day passes for $226 each or six 5-day passes for $246 each. You can even add the Park Hopper Plus option for only $40 per person and the Memory Maker product for $98. Valid military IDs are required for pass purchase and use. This deal does have a few more important details than some of the others in this list, so be sure to check out all the fine print here or contact your U.S. military base’s ticket office.
Weeki Wachee Spring State Park is known for its live mermaids, but it should be known for its military discounts, too. Retired and active military service members receive 25% off annual passes (available for $60) and give the passholder free admission to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Buccaneer Bay Waterpark, Mermaid Shows, Wildlife Animal Shows, and River Boat cruises, plus free admission to all Florida State Parks. Any person with a service-connected disability can receive a free annual pass.
Spring is in the air… and so are taxes… and so is PCS season. And with all of those things often come a little bit of financial anxiety. There’s the general stress and frustration of taxes, the new activities and vacations that are hallmarks of spring and summer, and then of course, the extra burden of PCSing. There are quite a few things that military families can do now to help with spring cleaning your finances. Most of them take little time and are pretty painless. All of them can make a difference in your budget and your savings.
Get rid of what you don’t need
Unless you are on a bare-bones budget, chances are you have a few areas where you’re needlessly spending money. Maybe there’s a gym membership you never use that keeps auto-billing. If you have subscription boxes, magazines, digital downloads or apps that auto-bill, you also want to think about removing or downgrading them so you can save money on subscriptions. Maybe you’re spending money on a storage unit that’s only half-full and could be moved to a smaller, cheaper one. Or maybe there’s that dance class your kid really isn’t into, but you’ve been too nervous to quit. Take a look at what’s going out of your budget and what you can do without. Then–snip, snip–make the cut.
Grab your phone
Once you’ve taken a look at–and gotten rid of–what you don’t need, you’ll want to focus on what you do need. Many services and products can be negotiated, and taking some time at least once a year to do that can make a big difference. Consider re-upping a contract for a longer time at a lower rate, asking for a military discount, or seeing if you can downgrade certain services that you don’t use all of the time for significant savings.
Take a look at your accounts
If you have multiple savings and checking accounts, you might want to diversify or consolidate, depending on the specials and interest rates that are available. Navy Federal Credit Union often runs fantastic specials on short-term Certificates with comparatively high rates.(Why not let your money work for you?) You want to make sure that you can do without that chunk of cash while it’s earning in the CD, since you can’t access the funds until after it matures.
Host a yard sale
Spring is a fantastic time to haul the stuff out of your garage and sell or donate it. In-person yard sales–especially community ones– can be an easy way to make a little extra money and ensure that you’re a little closer to being PCS-ready. (And remember, getting rid of stuff now doesn’t just mean a little extra in your pocket; it also means you’re less likely to be charged for overages when you have to weigh your stuff when you move.) If you sell online, make sure that you’re doing it safely–never meet someone by yourself or at your house. Always have a neutral meeting point in a brightly lit, well-populated area and make sure that other people know where you’re going. Sometimes local police stations allow for online sales transactions to happen in their parking lot. Check with your precinct to see if this is a service offered in your area.
Put aside an evening
I know it’s tough, but try to put aside an evening in the spring where you and your spouse can focus on your annual budget. Take some time to review it… and be honest. You want your budget to be honest and something that you can actually use.
Save that tax refund
It might not be realistic for your family to save all of your tax refund, but you want to try to save at least a portion of it. It’s even better if you can take some of that refund and put it into a high yield CD or savings account to help you prepare for transition or retirement from the military. At the very least, refrain from making a big, unnecessary purchase–no matter how fun it might be–with your tax refund. If you really want that super fun thing, consider purchasing it in the summer so that it’s not an impulse buy.
Review your processes
It’s easy to get into habits… and they’re hard to break out of. This spring, save money by taking a deep dive into where you spend your money. For many military spouses, buying at the Exchange and Commissary are easy and close… but do they actually have great deals? The answer completely depends on where you live, how far you’d have to drive to other stores, the price of gas, how much convenience is worth to you, and the prices and specials at the stores themselves. If you do a lot of Amazon shopping, consider using a program like Honey to help you price check and find the cheapest deals on line… because Amazon does not always have the lowest prices. If you constantly are throwing away perfectly good food because you don’t eat it in time, consider reevaluating your meal plans. You may need to stop buying so much, find a better way to utilize leftovers, or refrain from eating out. It might even actually make financial sense for you to have food delivered to you through a grocery service or subscription box service so you don’t overbuy.
This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of 1 Natural Way, a TRICARE breast pump provider. All opinions are entirely my own.
It seems a little counter-intuitive that the military would be a welcoming place for kids. But the the truth is, military service affects everyone in the service member’s family–from the military spouse to the tiniest kiddo. And the military is often progressive in its social stances when it comes to families, often keeping up with innovative ideas like parental leave policies. It’s not just a nice thing to do– it’s something that the DoD knows it must do to keep retention rates of currently serving troops and to entice others to sign up.
The military community also understands that taking care of the whole family–not just the service member–is really important. I’ve shared with you a lot of fantastic resources for military families over the years from the DoD and non-profit organizations. If you haven’t checked out this list of free stuff for military moms and moms-to-be, you definitely should.
But what happens after you have the baby? Here are some fantastic baby-friendly activities and places that military families can enjoy (and many of them are free or have military discounts)!
Thanks to 1 Natural Way for sponsoring this post… and giving me the opportunity to bring you these fantastic events and opportunities. 1 Natural Way is a TRICARE breast pump provider that works to make sure you are able to take advantage of your TRICARE benefits as easily and painlessly as possible and all at no (or very, very little) cost to you. In stock at 1 Natural way are high-quality products like Kiinde, Medela, and Spectra. Simply fill out the insurance information form found here, choose the breast pump model you like (they’re all TRICARE-covered), enroll in 1 Natural Way’s Resupply program to get supplies and products sent to you monthly, and upload your prescription. Everything ships directly to your door.
1 Natural Way simplifies the process and gives you back time so you can go check out these baby-friendly activities and places with your family:
1. Blue Star Museums
Need an inexpensive way to get the kids out of the house for a bit? Check out Blue Star Museums, a program run by Blue Star Families in partnership with the NEA. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, thousands of museums around the country allow active duty military, National Guard, Reservists, and their families free admission. Many of these museums are kid-friendly like expERIEnce Children’s Museum in Erie, PA, the New Children’s Museum in San Diego, CA, and The Hermitage Museum and Gardens in Norfolk, VA. Because admission is free, you can stay as long as you’re able and see the things that interest your family without feeling guilty.
2. Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program
The USO’s Bob Hope Legacy Reading program brings books to military kids in a variety of ways. At some installation’s USOs, there are in-person reading groups for parents and young children. Some of these programs include craft time, others are focused on particular topics, like deployment.
Another program through the USO, EmPaCt is a whole-family mini day retreat where kids lead parents through play-based exploration and fun.
4. National Parks
If you live close to a National Park, Historic Site, Battlefield, Seashore, or other federal park (and chances are you do), take the kids out for a picnic or a walk. Many national sites run by the National Park Service are free; for those that aren’t, there’s the America the Beautiful pass– a free annual pass available to active duty, Reserves, and National Guard families. Many of these sites also provide child- and family-friendly activities that are structured (like storytelling walks or craft-based activities) or learn-on-your-own opportunities (like the Junior Ranger Program).
5. Sesame Street
Sesame Street has a close partnership with the USO and provides many resources–both online and in-person–for military families with young children. The USO often works with Sesame Street Live! to bring the kid-focused program on bases for military families for free. Keep your eyes peeled at your base; tour dates are often announced for a whole year and include OCONUS and CONUS sites.
6. Military Campgrounds
If you need a weekend break, check out the military campgrounds on or close to your base. There are all levels of campgrounds–from RV parks, to tenting sites, to cabins. You may have to schedule in advance, but the MWR rates make it reasonable and worthwhile.
MOPS is open to mothers of any stripe, looking for the support of other moms. Meetings take place in person–babies and children are welcome– and vary from local group to group; many installations have chapters on base or are very close to the gates. MOPS International is an evangelical non-profit Christian group which requires local chapters to agree to their founding religious principles. There is an annual membership fee.
8. Armed Services YMCA
The Armed Services YMCA offers a variety of opportunities for parents and children. If you need a break, most ASYMCA’s offer respite child care for infants through tweens. Other programs like organized rec time and Operation Hero (an afterschool program) provide safe places for older children.
9. Moms Run This Town
Moms Run This Town is a fitness group that has chapters all over the country. (And there are a few chapters across the world, including Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan.) Mothers can run individually or with strollers– it’s up to what works for you. You can search for your nearest chapter here.
10. Stroller Warriors
Founded by a military spouse and located only on OCONUS and CONUS installations, Stroller Warriors is specifically for military spouses and their kiddos. There’s a focus on safe running and workouts; for the workout portion of the meet-up, children have supervised activities or playground time. Membership is free.
11. Zoos and aquariums
If you’re located close to a zoo, check it out! Not only are zoos, aquariums, petting zoos, and other animal-focused events and attractions usually kid-friendly, may offer military discounts, too.
Local parks–whether on- or off-base– are perfect, low-key, and low-stress places to take the kids, especially as you’re getting used to another new human being in your family.
When the weather’s nice (or blazingly hot, you know, whatever happens where you live), check out the pool. Some on-base pools are free, while others may have fees, but they’re all kid-friendly. If your base pool has adult swim, make sure that you check those times so you’re not stuck sitting on hot pavement with your children, waiting for the hour to end.
14. The library
Libraries–whether they’re on- or off-base–often offer weekly or monthly play dates and reading events for parents and young children, including babies. Check with your local libraries to see what they have in store!
15. Fitness trails
Check out the fitness trails and playgrounds on base and in the surrounding area. These are perfect places to take the kids and get a little bit of fresh air.
16. Community boards and the MWR
Every installation has special events and opportunities for people of all ages, including the littlest dependents. Check your on-base and off-base announcements regularly for kid-friendly activities.
After three-and-a-half years of living in Virginia at two different major installations–Virginia Beach and Quantico–John and I… never actually explored the amusement parks that Virginia has to offer. We had every plan to. We drove by King’s Dominion every time we drove down or up 95 when we lived in the Norfolk area. We spent some staycations at Yorktown and at Williamsburg. We enjoyed checking out Charlottesville and Washington, DC. We loved living in Fredericksburg. And we had every intention to check out Busch Gardens or Massanutten or King’s Dominion.
After two PCSes in Virginia and plenty of time there, when we packed our bags finally, we still had yet to check off any of the amusement parks in the state. Honestly, I still wish we had. It would have been a lot of fun had we made the time for it.
If you’re stationed in or near Virginia, here’s a list of amusement parks that have military discounts available:
Memories and money-saving discounts await active-duty military members at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. To cash in on these offers, you must log in with your Troop ID via ID.me on Busch Garden’s website; these deals aren’t offered at the ticket booth. Once you’re logged in and verified, grab a military pass. This gives active duty service members and their dependants unlimited park visits and free parking, plus admission to Christmas Town at the holidays.
Through the Waves of Honor program, active-duty service members and three dependents are eligible to receive one complimentary admission annually to Busch Gardens and up to six discounted tickets. (If you prefer, this perk can use at SeaWorld or Sesame Place instead.) Veterans are also eligible for the discounted ticket offer.
Great news! Water Country USA is covered by Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s military pass and its perks for unlimited visits and free general parking!
As a member of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, the Waves of Honor program at Water Country USA allows active-duty service members to purchase up to six discounted tickets. Veterans registered through ID.me can also purchase discounted tickets for Water Country USA. (Complimentary tickets are not eligible for this park.)
Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg offers the Howling Heroes discount to active, retired, and veteran military members. By using the online promo code HEROES and presenting a valid ID at check-in, service members can get up to 30% off suite rental in the lodge. And bonus: water park passes are included in the lodging price!
Free alert! On Memorial Day weekend and during the July 4th weekend’s Star Spangled Celebration, Kings Dominion gives free admission to active and retired military holding valid IDs. During the rest of the season, active and retired military with valid valid IDs can buy up to six discounted single day general admission park passes.
At Ocean Breeze Waterpark, service members with a valid military ID can receive $15 off a regular all-day admission ticket. These can be purchased online and printed at home, or purchased at the box office with a coupon printed from the website.