Friday, February 25, 2011

I can finally hold my diploma!

Today I received something very exciting in the mail: my diploma from the University of Maryland University College with the words "Master in Business Administration" printed on it! I was SOOO excited! I completed the program in December, and have been waiting since then for it to be "official" with the diploma. Now I can truly breathe a sigh of relief-- I'm DONE! Not done with learning, of course, but done with formal education, at least for many years. I like school and love learning, so I'm open to pursuing a Ph.D... someday. If I have a reason to. Right now I am just basking in the fact that I finally completed my Master's, and am a lot more employable than before!
I signed up for the program 3 years ago, when I was pregnant with my 1st child. Now, 3 years later, and on the 3rd pregnancy, what a journey it has been! I chose the University of Maryland on-line program because of the school's strong reputation, and the convenience of classes. Honestly, I had planned to pursue a Master's in Education, because I wanted to teach high school students. But 2 things changed my mind. 1) I started working with high schoolers at church, and it was exhausting! 2) even with a B.A. in English, the new program wanted me to take several undergrad literature courses to align with their degree, and I was not willing to invest an additional year and the money to meet those requirements. Business Administration seemed more likely to get me a job down the road, and since I was already working in an office setting, it would have been a great transition. Unfortunately we moved (my husband got a new duty station) after only 3 classes. Then there was a pregnancy, then a deployment, now another pregnancy and another deployment! So it will be at least a year before I look for a job. We will probably wait until at least the 2 oldest are in school before I can be serious about a career. So it's not a decision I have to make now, and I can relax a bit knowing the degree is completed and available for my resume whenever/if ever I need it.

The best part is, we did not have to take out any loans to fund this. I want my followers to know about some education options available to them, because it can make a HUGE difference. First, many employers will match or completely cover costs for "job-related educational classes." I was working as a secretary at Northrop Grumman, but they paid $8,000 for 2 of my classes, in the hopes that I could transition into lower-level management in a few years. All I had to do was ask! When I became a stay-at-home mom, we had to look at scholarship options. The military has many great awards you can apply to. Most require an essay and some recommendations, which can be a hassle, but could be worth $1,000. There is also a great military program called MyCAA, which covers $6,000 in educational expenses for military spouses. The program was new last year, and is currently under DOD review, so there may be some changes coming up. But it covered another 1.5 of my classes at a time we really needed it. The rest we had to scrounge up out of pocket. Not easy, and it drained our savings, but it was worth it! Now instead of saving for my education, we can focus on saving for the kids! What a great day!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My toddler is growing up!

Sophia will be 3 in May, so she is at that in-between age: not yet a pre-schooler, but not exactly a toddler either. Today we tried for the first time to attend story-time at the local library. The librarian runs a great toddler program! The kids sit close to her on carpet squares, and she greets everyone by name, and leads them in singing and dancing. Sophia was shy at first, then jumped right in doing the wiggle dance, and imitating every hand gesture the leader made. I was surprised to see her so attentive and able to follow multiple actions in a brand new setting! The songs were new to her, and she can't read the lyrics on the screen like I can, so it's impressive that she caught on so quickly! Of course, when it was time for them to settle on their square and read a book, she was less interested. But once the next song started she was up and dancing again! After about 20 minutes of songs, activities, and stories, they brought out some boxes of toys for free play. And she didn't ask me to play with her or beside her like she usually does. She seemed quite happy exploring on her own, and sharing, and sitting inside the play tunnel. It was like watching her in a pre-school class, and she was doing well.

Which is why I am now feeling badly that I don't think she will be able to start pre-school in the fall. She will be 3 by then, and there are some programs around here for that age, but with my husband deployed and a new baby coming at the end of September, I just don't think starting school 2-3 times a week will be possible. We will probably spend a few months inside hardly going anywhere! But I will continue teaching her letters and numbers and colors, and doing some art projects with her. And once I am used to life with 3 little ones, she will go back to socializing with kids through play group and daycare. Do you think this is a suitable replacement for pre-school? What age did your child start school?

Sam's Club: a love/hate relationship

Today I once again survived a trip to Sam's Club! And I realized there are some things I love about the store, and others that drive me crazy! Because everything is in such large quantities there, we only go about once a month. But this means the cart total is pretty high each trip, usually around $200!
What we love:
1. The snack bar! If we go around lunch time, we can get hot dogs or pizza for the kids, and a salad for me, for around $5 total. It's nice to fill them up before doing the shopping.
2. The savings. We do save a lot there, especially on things like diapers, cleaning supplies, and canned/dry goods (and my husband's tobacco).
3. The selection. The produce and meat departments have much greater variety than the commissary or Food Lion, so I like to get something out-of-the-ordinary. Today we got mangoes!
4. The free samples. Especially at lunch time, it helps keep everyone happy.
5. The potties. Sophia like the "family restroom" because it has a toddler-sized toilet next to the regular size one. I think this is the highlight of her trip. She also likes how the super-fast hand dryers make her brother cry. Yeah, she can be mean.

And, what drives me crazy:
1. The huge sizes. I understand it's a warehouse, but who really needs a gallon jar of pickles? I want something bigger than the grocery store, or maybe a multi-pack. But I don't have a walk-in fridge at home!
2. No bags. There's no point to bagging, since everything is so big. But this makes me dread unloading the groceries by myself, since I have to make 10 trips to the car to carry it all.
3. The selection. I know, this was under the love list above. But sometimes there are no flavors or varieties to choose from. There is especially a lack of low-fat options. Also, many products are good deals, but only because the food is high quality. You can get better prices on a store-band elsewhere if you're just cooking something simple.
4. They don't take coupons or WIC vouchers. Granted, the products don't typically match the sizes listed on a coupon, but even if you find one that would apply, they don't accept ANYTHING. So I sometimes feel like I am missing out on good deals elsewhere.
5. I can't do all my shopping there. So we still have to make a short trip to a regular grocery store even when we've just been to Sam's. This feels counter-productive.

Anyway, we got our membership a year ago, and the #20 annual fee certainly seems to be worth it. So I will keep going every month. Just curious, do you shop around for good grocery deals? Or do you get everything in one place?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Taxes, oh yeah!

It's that time of year again: tax season! But since we had a deployment last year, this time taxes were almost funny. Any income earned while on an overseas deployment is tax-free. As in, it's not even recorded on your W-2. So according to the official record, we supported our family of 4 on a whopping $13,000 this year! Pretty impressive, right? Obviously, since we are not living in a cardboard box, there was much more income available than that. But it is funny/frustrating to think how little my husband earns for the demanding job that he has. Sure, the military does give us some great perks. You can't beat the job security and the guaranteed housing right now. And the health care has been good for us so far, though no one in my family has had any severe health issues. And as the kids get older, on-base education will be very important to us. So I don't want to complain about the pretty comfortable lifestyle we enjoy right now.
But... at the same time, it occurs to me that these guys are seriously underpaid for what they put their bodies (and their families) through each year. And every time I hear the President or Congress discussing cutting back on military spending, I am astounded. Yes, wars are really expensive. But at a time when the government is funding a lot of other ridiculous programs and projects, how can anyone object to the limited benefits active duty military and veterans receive?