A MilKid Goes to the Prom

Apr 17 2014

Published by under roadside adventures

PromCoupleWe have a break from the college search – it is prom season. And my son, who is a junior in high school, decided to ask someone to the prom. He did – and she accepted (she better have accepted – who could turn down my adorable son? That’s a joke son, in case you read this.).

My goal for the prom is to have him keep within the national spending average. According to Visa, prom spending last year averaged $1,139 per family! I’ll give you a minute to wipe up your spilled coffee.

It appears that the prom has become a “keeping up with the Kardashians” type of competition. We did some initial checking into costs and we have $75 for the two tickets (dinner included); corsage for $30; and about $120 for the tux rental. We’re still about a thousand dollars away from the national average. What are parents spending this money on?

In my mind, these levels of spending are in part due to some parents escalating their kids’ youthful rites of passage into levels that used to be reserved for their older ages: from third graders getting iPhones to parents renting limos for middle school “winter formals” (thus making middle school dances the equivalent of what high school proms used to be – next up will be middle school proms).

This spending at the younger years has to naturally lead to more extravagant spending in later years -  “That limo was so middle school mom and dad! I need a Hummer limo for high school.” (And a helicopter for the wedding – just a natural progression.)

I’m happy my kid is keeping a good perspective on things like the prom – seeing it as a fun time, and not a life defining moment whose memory will last forever (ohhhh). Heck, Joe only spent $11 on flowers for when he asked his date to go to the prom. Which leads me to another annoying prom trend – when did asking girls to a dance have to be so elaborate? I read that one young man gave his date a baby chick when he asked her – and this was in a suburb, not the country (where do you think this chick ends up in a few weeks when she becomes an egg laying chicken?).

But, times change. I just wish the change didn’t effect pocketbooks so much.

Speaking of annoying prom trends, I’ll end with what might be the most annoying new one: the KFC Chicken Corsage. Seriously:

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Celebrating Milkids and the College Search: Lesson for MilFams

Apr 07 2014

MonthoftheMilChildTileApril is designated as the Month of the Milkid (or, the “Military Child” as it is officially known as – I happen to like the sound of “Milkid”). MOAA talks about it here, and I think we all appreciate what a milkid goes through as his mom or dad (or both) proudly serve their country. The milkid may move 6, 7, 8 times (or more) – changing schools, friends, etc.

These moves are especially tough in the later years when kids have to step into a middle or high school where relationships and friendships have been formed. Or, in the case of my oldest, we put him into German public schools and on the village soccer team. At least the school had a couple of other Americans, but he was the only American and English speaking kid on the soccer team (and the only one with no soccer experience). Looking back, I am impressed how he handled both the soccer team experience and some of things the other kids put the “Ami” through.

Joe really adapted and adjusted well. Which leads me to the connection between college searches and the Month of the Milkid (sounds like a B-horror movie title: Revenge of the Milkids!).

One of the things Joe and I learned on our college tour last week was that a lot of colleges are looking for applicants with diverse backgrounds who have demonstrated adaptability in their lives and the ability to adjust to whatever life has thrown them. Man, does this fits milkids to the proverbial T: from changing schools, friends, and cities numerous times; or, moving overseas and adjusting to living and traveling in a foreign culture.

The lesson here for military families is that milkids spend their lives adjusting and adapting – be it multiple stateside moves or living and traveling in a foreign country. And these experiences can pay off for our kids in their college searches: Milkids grow up living one of the important factors that colleges look for in their applicants. And these changes make great material for a college essay and are experiences that most of their civilian peers don’t have.

Also, for those of you who are raising, or have raised your kids overseas, consider this: some civilian parents pay thousands of dollars to give their kids a summer foreign cultural experience to help pad the college resume. Heck, milkids get that for free – and it is a lot longer than a one-week trip overseas.

So, celebrate the month of the milkid! And celebrate too that if he or she is about to apply to colleges, especially selective schools, your military life has helped set them up to be competitive (given good grades and tests scores obviously, but that’s another story).

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#CollegeSearchOdyssey and Milkids, Continued

Mar 25 2014

A helpful college search idea is to visit campuses. These visits help students see if the school fits them – be it a big city based school or a school in a “college town”; the size of the school; the weather; etc. The personal visits are best when school is in session (otherwise, the school’s virtual tour will do), and meeting with faculty in desired programs is a big help. Also, I have had students and faculty tell Joe that a lot of the choice is based on his gut feeling when he visits the school. One student told Joe he’d know in the first 10 minutes.

Well, right now, Joe’s gut is feeling cold. We are in Ithaca, NY visiting Cornell University on the start of a spring break trip through the northeast to visit colleges.

Joe really likes the programs he’s heard discussed at Cornell (from ecology and evolutionary biology, to environmental science and sustainability, to international relations) – he just doesn’t know if these wouldn’t be nicer to study in a warmer climate.


The visits have been a great source of information. The faculty have been generous with their time and input, and graciously answered all of my “dad” type questions about careers, jobs, etc. Also, Joe has really learned a lot about Cornell as well as about the areas of study he’d like to consider (although the areas seem to be growing instead of narrowing).

Additionally, college visits and meetings with faculty are both good points to bring up in a college essay. By including this information in the essay, the student lets the admissions committee know that he or she is serious about that school, which is something schools look at in determining acceptance.

Plus, the visits are a great opportunity to spend time with your milkid – walk around the campus, meet some faculty and students, buy a sweatshirt, have a beer (you, not your child), etc.

So, if you and your milkid are in the #CollegeSearchOdyssey, plan a few visits. The visits are a vital part of the decision making process.

Image taken by Claude-Étienne Armingaud – Claudé via Wikimedia Commons.

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MilLife Training: Life and Death

Mar 20 2014

holdinghands_WEBI feel that a benefit of my wife’s military career and the military community life that is part of that career is that it helped prepare our family for a lot of what life throws at us. I can find my way around any subway system in any language. My kids have learned to be adaptable to change and find themselves comfortable in any new setting they are thrown in to – a new school, a German soccer team where no one speaks English, running for school senate where they only know two or three other kids, etc.

There is one aspect of life though that we didn’t get much preparation for, and one that we have had to deal with recently: the death of friend – specifically one of our children’s friends. My son Joe lost a friend last week, AJ, due to a motocross racing accident. He was put into an induced coma, but passed away early last Friday morning. AJ was part of Joe’s school life – same lunch group, they played soccer together, etc. Plus AJ was an outgoing, smiling kid who knew everyone. I remember his many “Hi, Mr. Wahl” greetings at soccer practice and games – one of the few kids to do so I might add.

As a dad we try to prep ourselves for dealing with possible parental issues. However, this is one I hadn’t really thought about encountering. I feel fortunate though that our kids are in the school environment that they are.  Joe and Anna go to a small Catholic high school in Colorado Springs. So while Joe’s class size of 80 makes an impact like this even more severe, the smallness of the school also helps bring everyone together.

When the school announced the news of AJ’s passing to the students in the school gym, they also led a Rosary for all. Since this was at 9:30, upcoming class work was put aside, and teachers took the students for walks or had discussions. They also gave parents the option of having their kids go home. Joe and a couple of buddies asked if they could go to lunch instead of home, and then on to track practice. That weekend, 5 of his buddies came up after a track meet and spent the night. Today there is no school so that the kids can attend the mass and funeral for AJ.

I don’t think Joe anticipated the impact AJ’s death would have. But being able to be with his friends helped all of them pull through. As a parent, I talked to him about my experience with death – from my mom’s, to the unexpected passing of a good friend due to cancer. As a Catholic family, we also talked about how our faith can help provide a support to help accept death. As a dad, it’s hard to find the right words to  console or explain an event like this – but you try and hope it helps.

It’s at moments like these that I hope our military life has added support – Joe has had to deal with changes and adversity (though lesser forms). He also knows of death though as a result of being in a military community. As a result, he knows that life is a roller coaster. The military life has also shown us how belonging to a strong community allows us to help one another. Here, our school has given support, as have his buddies who came for an overnight stay.

Joe has shown a lot of maturity and strength, and I am proud of that. He has continued with life’s usual activities and rituals – track practice, debate tournaments, homework, etc. and I think that has been good. Next week, we are off to the northeast to visit some colleges during his spring break. He’ll see that life does get back to normal.

As a dad, we don’t have a how-to manual for parenting. This is especially true in dealing with the death of a child’s friend. As parents, we do the best we can to support our children, and hope it is effective. I guess that would be a section for the “how to” manual: do the best you can, be supportive, and be there for your kids.

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Don’t Tax Military People First

Mar 10 2014

If you haven’t heard, MOAA was active in getting the proposed cut in retirement pay eliminated. Excellent!

Now however, and I don’t know how I missed these, but we’ve got other service member benefits being used in order for the Pentagon to shave costs. I don’t know why they keep attacking member benefits. Well, I do know why – we’re not a corporation lobbying, wining, and dining elected representatives.  I’m glad though we have MOAA lobbying for the individual servicemembers.

Anyway, these proposals include a cap on the military pay raise, reduced housing allowance, smaller commissary subsidies, and increases in TRICARE copays and deductibles. The attached chart shows the proposed TRICARE increases, but to see all the proposed battles in the budget, go to: http://www.moaa.org/budgetbattle/

At the bottom of that page, you can follow the link provided to “Take Action Now” and let your legislator know your thoughts about: “Don’t Tax Military People First.” This is a great tool MOAA provides us – you have the names of your legislators, contact info, and even a template with wording that addresses all of the budget battles and the impact on service members (you can edit the wording if you desire). And all is online and can be sent off to D.C. with the click of a link.

If the MOAA info isn’t enough to get you to take action, consider this comment from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said on Wednesday during a congressional hearing: “Troops will gripe but accept benefit cuts.” Very thoughtful comment toward the troops – and very timely given the events in Ukraine.

Of course at the General’s rank, these cuts will have minimal impact (see this article: Some top military brass making more in pension than pay).

So go to www.moaa.org/BudgetBattle, and let your legislators know what you think and that they shouldn’t tax military people first.


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MilKid Begins #CollegeSearchOdyssey

Feb 28 2014

ET0511My son Joe, a junior in high school, is driving 2 hours today from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins to visit the Warner School of Natural Resources at Colorado State University (CSU). He’ll meet with one of the department heads and the director of undergraduate programs for school. One of Joe’s possible career and area of study interests is wildlife biology, and we’re fortunate to have what some consider to be the top program for this just 2 hours from our home at CSU.

We arranged the visit – okay, I arranged the visit – to help spur Joe into the next phase of what I like to call the #collegesearchodyssey. He’s doing all of the initial efforts necessary to have college options (and ROTC options) – working hard for good grades; activities; leadership positions; applying to college programs for junior summer sessions; etc. But I’m hoping he takes the next step and starts thinking of wanting to visit some schools and do more research into colleges and the majors that interest him. Fortunately, a visit to the Air Force Academy will be easy. However, a trip to Cornell, or Cal, or Deep Springs College (a really interesting 2-year program in the high desert of California) will take some logistics to work out.

Joe’s other interest of study is international relations (he’d like to study and work overseas: seems logical from a milkid who spent half his life overseas and went to other countries’ public schools). I know these two majors aren’t the usual business or lawyer route that our parents ingrained into us (and aren’t the guarantees for good jobs and salaries anymore). But I’ve told Joe to follow his passion – get a job where he wakes up looking forward to going to work. Life is too short to waste 80 hours a week in the drudgery of work one doesn’t like. Of course I’m a humanities major, so what do I know.

(I should add, before any grandparents start turning over in their grave about his choices, being an Air force doctor is another option he’s thinking about.)

Hopefully his next college visit will be to a school with a good program in international studies. I’ll let you know as he continues the #collegesearchodyssey (try to imagine soap opera music as you read that hashtag).

For now, I’ll look forward to hearing about today’s visit. I’ll have to wait until tomorrow though, because he’s staying the night with a good friend from his Scout troop who is studying forestry at CSU. So I don’t know what I am most anxious about: his 4 hour round trip drive by himself; his visit and what is discussed; or the fact that a 17 year old will be spending the night on a college campus.

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MilKids and College Admission

Feb 24 2014

SATtestIn line with the other columns about milkids and college admission, I thought I’d share some information for parents who also have high school kids thinking of college. With two kids of my own in high school, and with high expectations for college choices, this is a topic near and dear to me (and that I try to keep on top of).

We all know there are a lot of factors our kids need to develop in order to be in good shape for a shot at college admission and a good chance for those elusive scholarships (so, if desired, they have choices beyond the state schools – always good to have choices).

The first area we parents think of are tests scores and GPA. These should be good (like, duh), but they don’t have to be perfect – even for Ivy schools. Here’s a chart that shows the distribution of SAT scores at the Ivies.

Obviously, it is a high range, but not a range that is unattainable with some practice tests and prep. Also, you can look at this graph showing the range of GPAs and SAT test scores accepted at Cornell.

They are high, but not all of the accepted students are 4.0 GPA and 2400 SAT scores. One accepted student had about a 3.4 and 1800 SAT.

So, in terms of GPAs and test scores, tell your kids to work hard. But, don’t be afraid to apply if the scores and GPA aren’t perfect. There are other areas that schools consider where milkids can excel in that will make up for a less than perfect GPA or test score. I’ll go into that next column (and there is one area where our milkids have a great advantage).

In the meantime, if any readers have ideas, tips, or experiences to share, please do. “By helping each other, each of us can help each other” – now, how is that for a philosophical statement? Sorry, I didn’t have anything deeper come to mind.

Photo via Flickr by user Butz.2013. Some rights reserved.

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MilFams Sharing Info

Feb 04 2014

Published by under lessons learned

ET1087A great thing about the military community is how everyone helps each other by sharing information. For instance, when we PCS, the info we get from other military families is invaluable in helping to get settled in a new community: schools, where to live, good parks for the kids, etc.

In fact, the notion of sharing was a primary reason for my last entry, and it has already gotten some responses. I wrote about trying to find opportunities to get scholarships to the summer programs that universities offer for high school students still in high schools.

These are helpful programs for high school kids to attend – for the academics, to experience the school, and for the kids to be able to list them on their college applications. Yet, many military families fall between aid for low income and being able to write a check for the tuition. My question for the reader was: are there scholarship programs for milkids who want to attend these pre-college summer programs (similar to the gracious programs available to milkids for college costs)?

The response so far has been great. There have been some tweets with links to aid for college costs, a milmom with two kids in college offered to share her experiences in the college search, and I’ve heard from another family in the same situation.

I’ll collect that info in a future entry to share with MOAA readers. Maybe an organization providing scholarship money for the college tuition of milkds might create a new category of funds and help high school milkids attend these important summer programs. Or, maybe a military friendly university will team up with MOAA and provide some funding opportunities to milkids in the goal of increasing the diversity of the high school summer program student bodies.

Having said the above about sharing information, I have a link from Twin Cities Public Television asking veterans to contribute their input on how they share their stories:

Twin Cities Public Television is is beginning a project on veterans and how they are sharing their military service experiences. Whether it’s through community centers or online there are an overwhelming amount of outlets for a person to share their stories.

Do you share your military experiences anywhere on the Internet? What subject surrounding service men and women do you find yourself discussing the most?

This is a chance to ensure that a story about military members has a lot of input from military members. And, MOAA members should remember to include MOAA as a place where they share their stories, problems, and questions: from job hunting to letting Congress know the facts about military life.

If you have a few minutes, follow the link and provide your voice to their project.

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MilKids and College Searches

Feb 03 2014

I woke up to about 6 inches of snow and wishing I was in Atlanta – everything would have been shut down for 3 days based on how they handle 2 inches of snow. In any event, we in Colorado can handle the snow – the kids got a 2 hour delay (we’re not unreasonable about these things). Not that the snow item has anything to do with my topic – I just wanted to point out my amusement that 2 inches shuts down a huge city.

Anyway, my oldest son Joe is a junior in high school and is doing pretty well: solid grades, good extracurricular activities, senate, debate. He’s doing well enough that he’s on the radar of some pretty good colleges. These schools keep sending him emails and letters extolling the virtues of their school. Of course they don’t extoll the virtues of their tuition.

Some of these schools also send applications for their summer programs for rising seniors. These courses look really interesting, and I’m sure attendance and acceptance would look really good on a college application. Again, the problem comes with the cost. We, like most military families I’m sure, fall between not having a low enough income to qualify for financial aid, and not making enough to write a check for a summer program (and transportation).

This predicament puts military families in a bind. We have quality milkids who would do well in these programs and be helped by attending them in terms of their applications to colleges. But it just isn’t feasible in terms of family budgets.

Not only is this bad for the milkids, but it does a disservice to the kids who can afford to attend – they would do well to hang out with milkds and hear about their experiences. Milkids go through life dealing with adversity and having to be adaptable as part of the military experience (moves, changing schools, parents being away, etc.).  To have milkids mingle with civilian kids would be a good learning experience for these civilian kids and give them a first hand insight into the life of a military family.

StanfordBrochureHaving written that, I wish there were funding opportunities for milkids who are between their junior and senior years to attend these programs. Schools such as Cornell, Stanford, Cal, etc. look for diversity and having a few milkids around would add to the diversity they look for.

Maybe I’ll find something – if I do, I’ll post it here. In fact, I’ll go ahead and start posting the various tidbits of info I come across in our college search for Joe.

In turn, hopefully other readers will reply and share their advice and experience. Between all of us, we can do our utmost to get our milkids the best chance possible to get into the college of their choice.

Image via Flickr user calmenda. Some rights reserved.

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Who Will Share the Throne in Sochi?

Jan 23 2014

Published by under roadside adventures

tweet_jpg_largeIn the midst of the irritating news from D.C. about the budget cuts to military pensions, I thought I’d bring a lighter side of the news. The Winter Olympics are coming up in Russia and the most amusing news out of Sochi is, well besides the fact that it doesn’t snow there.

Okay, maybe the third most amusing item after knowing that because there is no snow, the organizers took 710,000 cubic meters of snow from the mountains last winter and have been keeping it in storage.

This brings us to the third most amusing news: dueling toilets. A BBC reporter, Steve Rosenberg, was in Sochi and went to use the men’s bathroom at the cross-country skiing facility. To his surprise, he found one stall, but two toilets (see his photo from Twitter to the right).

I commented earlier on a similar arrangement I found at a golf course in southern Colorado. To me, it seemed to be taking the bro-mance trend a little too far. But in Russia, given the recent terrorist threats, perhaps the second unit is for security protection in even the most private areas (no pun intended).

Or, it could be an attempt by Russia to invigorate friendly discussions between attendees from different countries – the arrangement could spur interesting cultural questions, such as “do you normally roll your toilet paper toward you or away from you?” or “so the water really does flush the other way where you come from?” or “can you pass the sports section?”

However, a Russian news agency editor tweeted that this tandem arrangement is actually normal for soccer stadiums in Russia. And other Russians have responded with photos of similar setups in courthouses and cafes. Call me old fashioned and patriotic, but I’ll take good old American bathroom stalls anytime.

P.S. Do you notice in the photo how far the toilet paper is from the toilets themselves? This seems like a bit of distance to have to cover.

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