3 Year-Round At-Home Date Ideas for Military Couples!

Valentine’s Day is around the corner, but that doesn’t mean the romantic, heartfelt, jubilant love gets taken down a notch the rest of the year. In fact, many military spouses I’ve talked to say they do little things all year round to keep the magic alive in their relationships—even with kids running around.

But what if you’re not a two-income family with no kids and extra travel money to spend on that vacation to Bora Bora? What if you’re a caregiver to a brave injured service member? Dates don’t have to be expensive, and they certainly don’t need to leave the country (wouldn’t it be nice if that were a thing?). In fact, some of the best dates are the ones that take little money and planning.

In the spirit of Lovers Day, here are three awesome at-home date ideas for you to try soon:

Date Night At Home

Find your inner kid, again!
It’s time to bust out your no-holds-barred inner child; grab all the sheets in the house, maybe an air mattress, and lots of pillow, and build a living room fort! Pull the chairs out from the dining room, and maybe dig through those just-put-away Christmas decorations to find a string of lights. Bonus points for setting up your tent around the television so you can snuggle and binge watch some Netflix. Super bonus points if you make s’mores and sleep in the tent. Get some great ideas here:


Work up a sweat…if you know what I mean
Try a couple’s fitness routine together! Build trust and muscle at the same time. Let your honey take the lead and use their military skills to show you some heart-racing exercises and stretches. Or just enjoy the eye candy while you burn off those S’Mores! Bonus points if you do a workout in the living room fort! (What? Crunches in the fort while watching a movie don’t sound fun?!) Want fitness ideas to do together?


Get a little competitive
Maybe it’s only been a year since you got married? Maybe it’s been 25 years? However long you’ve been together, there’s nothing funnier than testing out your relationship knowledge with the Newlywed Game! See if you both remember your first kiss! Once you’ve taken a stroll down memory lane, why not play some other games suited for two? Get some ideas here:


Romance, dates, and little acts of love aren’t just for February 14th. Check out our Military Romance Pinterest board for more inspiration and ideas and try out some free, at-home dates with your spouse or significant other.

What are your go-to at-home date ideas? Share it with us in the comments!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Bloom Where You’re Planted…With Little Commitment!

During my 10+ year journey as a military spouse, I have tried to keep the old adage, “bloom where you’re planted,” as my personal motto. And believe me, I have been planted in some places I never thought I would be. As a girl from the Pacific Northwest, it can be pretty crazy to try to set down roots in Central Texas, Southern Oklahoma, or most recently, Western Louisiana.

What has been the most surprising is how trying to bloom where we’re planted has provided experiences and opportunities I never would have dreamed about. I have learned the only way to really flourish in a place that is foreign to me is to put myself out there and get to know the area AND the people who are there with us.

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My journey as a military spouse truly began when I joined my husband in Ft. Hood when he redeployed from Iraq. We had been married for over a year and a half, but it was the first time we were going to be able to start our life together.

However, I had no experience with the military lifestyle, so I did what I knew how to do: I got a job and established a routine with my husband. I wasn’t involved with an FRG, any unit functions, or anything having to do with the Army at all. I was very isolated from the people and things that were part of my husband’s career.

After another deployment to Iraq, we found ourselves in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I left my job to move, we had a baby on the way, and I had NO IDEA what to do. I realized if we were really going to do this ‘military thing’ for the rest of our lives, I better learn more about it. I started taking classes at Army Community Services (ACS), and when the classes were over, I realized I liked the ladies who worked there so much, I started to volunteer. I joined the Spouses’ Club, because some of the spouses I met volunteering at ACS were members, too. I started attending fitness classes on Post, and once my son was born, I went to every playgroup I could find.

A lot of the same people were popping up in many of the groups I was involved with; people who were going through the same thing I was–trying to build a life on this crazy military journey. And sometimes we don’t have the time or opportunity to work outside the home, but we still crave the personal connection with other adults. During our almost four years at Fort Sill, I met some of the most wonderful people I have ever known and truly created life-long friendships.

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We left Fort Sill for Washington D.C., where my husband spent almost 4 years between Capitol Hill and the Pentagon. We were not in a traditional unit and did not live on any of the Posts in the area. We found ourselves very separated from military life…again. After welcoming our daughter, it was time to find some connection with our military life. I decided to go to work at a non-profit supporting military families. That job gave me the personal relationships and friendships I had been missing. And luckily, I was able to work with a few other military wives who gave me the connection to military life I had been missing.

The time came for us to move on to new orders. We left Washington D.C., and I left my job and friends to move to Fort Polk, Louisiana; a new place, with new people. I will need to really push myself, put myself out there to meet some other moms, spouses, and friends to connect with. I am going to use what I learned during our time at Fort Sill to try to find the people who I mesh with.

I have met a few ladies from our unit and talk to the other moms at our daughter’s gymnastics class. I plan on joining the Spouses’ Club, too. With my husband preparing to join a unit already in Afghanistan, I know my ability to get involved with a lot of things will have to wait, but I am going to grab the little moments in daily life to try to bloom where I have been planted.

How do you get involved with military life without much commitment? Share it with us in the comments!

mandy-culverPosted by Mandy Culver, Army Spouse and National Military Family Association Volunteer

How the “Talking Doctor” Helped my Military Kids Cope with Deployment

My in-laws have a fantasy with how  they view my family.

Their assumption is we have the perfect family. We only enjoy the benefits that the military offers dependents. We get to travel. We visit exotic cities like Norfolk, VA. Our medical care is almost free and we save money shopping at the commissary. It seems we literally have the best quality of life.

Recently, they visited us. We showed them where the kids go to school and where their ballet studio is located. We showed them our local library, where the girls check out their books and attend story time. We also pointed out their pediatrician’s office, and where they attend sessions with their “talking doctor.”

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“What’s a talking doctor?” My in-laws were deeply puzzled.

I explained to them that once a month, my children attend therapy with a licensed child psychologist. My in-laws were horrified to realize their granddaughters attend therapy on a monthly basis, and without reservation.

“Why? What horrible thing has happened to them that they need to see a psychologist?” they demanded to know.

I politely explained that my children have rarely seen their father in the last four years. He’s unwillingly missed four consecutive birthdays of both children. He has missed big holidays like Christmas, Easter and New Year’s Eve. Worst, he was never able to send them to school on their first day, attend parent-teacher conferences, and wasn’t home to congratulate them when they finished the school year. He has been on two consecutive deployments, several underway missions, and works long hours, since he has been on his department-head tour.

I told my in-laws that despite sending them cute pictures of us smiling, we experienced many sleepless nights with the girls crying for their dad. There were many school nights where the girls refused to do their homework because they missed their dad. And there have been many times when we all went to emergency room, spending several hours waiting for medical care because one of us was sick, and I didn’t have a sitter or a friend to help me watch the other.

 

Life for the military dependent is down right hard, but for many of us, we refuse to give up the mission. And we won’t give up hope and help provided to us.

I tried, on my own, to make our daughters lives a little brighter. After many trials and errors, I built a community where I thought my kids felt welcomed. When my daughters didn’t feel like they fit in at their school, I looked for options to transfer them to an institution where they felt they could learn in a supportive environment.

No matter how many people I forced to visit us, how many friends we forged, or how many expensive places I took the girls, none of it mattered. They still missed their father.

Despite all my efforts, I realized my daughters’ anxieties were multiplying. I finally scheduled an appointment with a therapist. It took a while but we found the right therapist that understood our complicated plight.

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Our typical military dependent plight:

“Dad is still married to Mom and loves her. Mom loves Dad. Dad loves the girls and works very hard to support the family financially but Dad is not physically seen or present.”

In the civilian world, at least the breadwinner has some flexibility in his or her working hours, but it’s not the same in the military. My in-laws encouraged us not to tell many people that we see a psychologist. They lectured us that people might take it that something is severely wrong with us. I told them there is no shame in receiving help, especially when it comes to my children’s health.

Since we have seen a therapist, my daughters are much happier. They needed to hear from a medical professional that their daddy is safe. The work he does will not necessarily kill him. We also discussed how to manage situations that are out of our control. We learned to how to effectively communicate as a family. I learned that just because I can handle the deployment, doesn’t mean my kids will follow my lead as their mother.

I thank TRICARE for allowing us to utilize resources, like our therapist, to help us understand each other and how to control our fears and loneliness. The girls learned in therapy that even though “deployment” means Dad might enter a war zone, it doesn’t mean he’s actually going to war or will have to shoot guns at anyone. It was a huge revelation for all of us; I think my girls know about modern-day politics and the constant possible wars we are engaging.

Therapy has been heaven-sent, helping us relieve the heavy burden we were all carrying mentally.

Have you ever done something rewarding for your family that others didn’t agree with? How did you handle it?

Posted by Katie M., Military Spouse and Mother

5 Tips for the Military Significant Other

You’re dating a service member.

I know, I know–the uniform really helps. But now that you’ve met your special someone, what can you expect from military life? You don’t have a military ID (and can’t get on to most bases), you aren’t the next-of-kin to get info during deployments, and you’re not getting the warmest welcome from the spouses of your significant other’s co-workers. How can you support your significant other when the military doesn’t recognize you as anyone important?

Well, for starters, you are important! Every military spouse started where you did, and for every salty spouse who doesn’t extend the warmest welcome, there are plenty more who’d love to get to know you and answer questions you might have. Your service member needs your unwavering support while they focus on their mission!

But sometimes it’s hard to get involved with military life when you’re not really “allowed…” (I’ve been there, I know how it feels). What do you do next?

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Here are some tips:

Have your service member talk to his or her command Family Readiness Officer, Ombudsman, or FRG Leader. It’s often common for significant others to be added to email lists while a unit is deployed. Your significant other can ask to have you added to those phone trees and email lists. They can sometimes have you attend pre-deployment briefings, too. You may even receive the same materials at the deployment briefing that the spouses receive. The only difference between you and a spouse is a ring and a marriage certificate; you both support the mission and the service member.

Find a support group online. One of my closest MilSpouse friends, Dani, found herself alone and unsure of what to do next when her boyfriend (now husband) was deployed to Afghanistan. She lived in a town where there wasn’t a huge military community, and she didn’t have access to any other military spouses to guide her. Looking for advice, comfort, and support, she found groups on Facebook, started blogging, and found other military spouse bloggers (like me!) to connect with. Don’t underestimate social media, but beware of the haters–they will be waiting…

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Accept that military life will never make 100% sense all the time…and it certainly won’t be fair. I hated hearing people say I was “issued” to my significant other, and I either needed to get on board and roll with the punches, or hit the road. I quickly learned that missed birthdays, 24 hour watch billets, barracks checks, and new orders weren’t exactly going to make my relationship easier. But as soon as I accepted that military life isn’t always fair, it allowed me to start appreciating the time with my service member more than I had before.

Find great information from military family support organizations! I might be tooting my own horn here, but the National Military Family Association prides itself on strengthening the ones who stand behind the uniform. And yes, that’s you, significant other. Our team of experts is here to provide you with news, information, and guidance on issues surrounding military life. Everything you might want to know–from TRICARE to Post-9/11 GI bill info to PCS moves–can be found on our website, MilitaryFamily.org.

Subscribe to this blog! You’ll get all the important information about the in’s and out’s of issues affecting military families from our website, but if you want the real-deal, nitty-gritty stories from the homefront, this blog is where you want to be. We’ve got advice on how to Survive and Thrive at specific military bases, how to win at Military Balls, and even how to fill out a US Postal Service customs form to send your love a care package. If it’s anything about your military life, it’s here!

Being a military boyfriend or girlfriend is a special time and a special honor. It’s something your civilian friends just don’t fully understand; but there are plenty of ways to connect, learn about military life, and be as supportive as any spouse. If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment, or engage with us on our social media channels!

Are you a military significant other? What has been the hardest thing for you to overcome?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

I Used My Spouse’s Post-9/11 GI Bill…and I Don’t Feel Guilty

I have a confession to make. I used my husband’s Post-9/11 GI bill for myself instead of saving it for our kids.

Gasp!

Do I feel guilty? No, I don’t.

First of all, the Post-9/11 GI bill is my husband’s benefit – not mine. When I decided to go to grad school, he offered to transfer it to me. I said, “Don’t you want to use it?” He knew he would have additional educational opportunities through the military and at that point in time he wasn’t interested in further education post-military service.

“What about our kids,” I asked? “Should we save it for them?”

“You want to go to school now. Our kids are in diapers.”

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So, I started to do some research on how I could financially support my family with an advanced degree. The Department of Labor reports “few things affect people’s earnings power more than their level of education. In general, more education means more dollars earned.” There are several reports with lots of data confirming that lifetime earnings increase as education levels increase. The Department of Labor also reports in 2014 the median weekly earnings for full-time workers were:

  • $488 with less than a high school diploma
  • $668 with a high school diploma and no college
  • $1,101 with a Bachelor’s degree
  • $1,386 with an Advanced degree

Wow – that is a $898 weekly difference!

What does all of this data mean for me? It means by using my husband’s Post-9/11 GI bill to obtain an advanced degree I have a better chance of supporting my family financially over the long term. It also means, with careful planning we’ll be able to set aside money to send our kids to college.

Another consideration for our family was to gauge whether the Post-9/11 GI bill would be available for our children. Recent proposals include reducing the Post-9/11 GI benefit for dependent children by removing the housing stipend for dependents receiving a transferred benefit. This proposal wasn’t approved by Congress last year; however no one can accurately predict what the future benefit will look like.

The idea that the Post-9/11 GI bill might not be available by the time my children are old enough to use it is scary. And knowing that I could provide more financial stability for my family sooner than my kids would be able to use the benefit made the choice easier for us to make.

So yes, I’m guilty as charged: I used my husband’s Post-9/11 GI bill benefit. And if it’s the right choice for your family, you should consider it, too.

If the Post-9/11 GI bill isn’t an option for your family, consider applying for one of NMFA’s many military spouse scholarships! There’s something for everyone, and even partner colleges and universities who have incentives on top of our scholarships! Apply by January 31, 2016!

If you’ve used your spouse’s Post-9/11 GI bill, how did you family decide on this? Tell us about it in the comments.

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issues Strategist

Best Songs for Deployments: And the Award Goes to…

I’ve heard that music is both deeply healing and personal to some people. I’d agree with that, especially because I’m one of those people. I associate songs with memorable times in my life, and frequently use music to change my mood. My favorite songs come from the best times in my life. And I’m not embarrassed to say most of them are from the late 90’s and early 2000’s. I’ll admit it: I probably peaked in high school.

I’ve had music playlists for just about everything; working out, road trips, driving to the beach, driving home from the beach, girls night out, breakups, being in love, getting hyped before a game. You name it, I’d make a playlist. Then I’d turn them into CD’s, which I still play in my car to this day. (Take that, technology!)

No surprise, the playlists continued into military life. A few years ago, I had a pretty fun little playlist to get me through my husband’s deployment. I still love most of those songs, but I’ve got a different perspective now, and a better song selection, I think. And I’ve put them into a few categories that might speak to your life as you face a deployment of your own.

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Best song to play during Week One of deployment: “Soldier,” by Gavin DeGraw
It’s ironic that Gavin DeGraw sings this song in the rain, because that’s basically what week one of deployment is like for many military spouses: lots of face rain (crying). Let this song remind you to be strong for your service member and your family. It’s okay to be sad, but know you’re going to get through it.

Keep this lyric handy: My aim is so true, I wanna show you, I’ll try forever. I’m never gonna say ‘surrender.’

Best song to sing while drinking wine with your deployment buddy: “Hold On,” by Wilson Phillips
Sometimes, we just need to take it back to the 90’s girl band awesomeness. Sing your little heart out with your deployment bestie and pat yourself on the back for being one more day closer to your spouse coming home. Just hold on for one more day (see what I did there?). And because I feel like it’s a crime not to mention these two, honorable mention goes to “Tell It To My Heart,” by Taylor Dayne, and “Say My Name,” by Destiny’s Child.

Keep this lyric handy: Yeah, I know that there is pain, but you hold on for one more day, and you break free, break from the chains.

Best song to send to your service member: “Bring It On Home,” by Little Big Town
Your loved one needs your unconditional encouragement and support during every moment of their deployment. Some days, they might be homesick. Other days, they’re mission-focused and distant. This song is the perfect way to say “I love you and support you. I’m keeping the home-fire burning.” Cue all the feels.

Keep this lyric handy: When your long day is over, and you can barely drag your feet. The weight of the world is on your shoulders, I know what you need. Bring it on home to me.

Best song to blast when you’re sick of this deployment: “Riot,” by Three Days Grace
I know we’ve all had those moments when we’d give anything to bring our spouse home RIGHT NOW. The kids are out of control, the dryer just broke, and we can’t clone ourselves. Channel that frustration and blast this in your minivan. Just don’t actually start a riot, and maybe cover your kids’ ears when you listen to this song.

Keep this lyric handy: If you feel so angry, so ripped up, so stepped on, you’re not the only one refusing to back down. You’re not the only one.

Best song when you’re missing your love: “Fall,” by Clay Walker
It’s bound to happen: your heart is aching and you just want to roll over in bed and put your arm around your bae. Nothing would make the day better than to be wrapped up in their arms, safe from the world. This song is the perfect reminder that marriage is a partnership, and even though deployment is tough, you can get through it by leaning on each other for strength.

Keep this lyric handy: Go on and fall apart, fall into these arms of mine. I’ll catch you every time you fall. Go on and lose it all, every doubt, every fear, every worry, every tear. I’m right here, baby fall.

Best song to remind you why you stand behind the uniform: “Star Spangled Banner,” sang by Whitney Houston at Super Bowl XXV, 1991
Some spouses may be decades into military life, others may not even be married yet, but it’s easy to forget why we support our significant others. Day-to-day schedules overwhelm us, and commissaries, base gate checks, and long waits at the pharmacies just don’t give you the warm and fuzzies of American pride. But let me tell you: when you need a gut check, Whitney Houston delivers. And this emotionally charged version of the National Anthem will renew your drive to be proud and supportive during the rest of this deployment.

What are some of your favorite songs to get you through a deployment? Share them with us!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Should I Renew My Nursing License?

My career path has been less than straight. About a million years ago, when I first started college, I was a political science major. I thought I would be a lawyer, and maybe end up in DC working in the field of foreign relations. Then I married a service member, and before long I was following him to Korea, changing all my plans in the name of love.

At our next duty station, I went back to school, and this time, found a distance social science program. It wasn’t quite what I had wanted to do, but any degree was better than no degree.

One thing lead to another, and we got divorced. I had two small children, with very little to my name. I was a year away from my bachelor’s degree, and I panicked. I needed steady income NOW.

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After some research, I decided to enter a nursing program. Nursing seemed like the best job for a single mom; my hours would be flexible and I could work swings or nights to make the most of my time with my kids. I would be able to find work just about anywhere, and for the time investment, the return in pay would be good.

For the next fourteen months, I kept my head down, and worked and worked. I was a nursing student during the day and waited tables on the nights and weekends. In any free time I had, I continued to work on my bachelors degree in the distance program (because I couldn’t stomach walking away from a degree when I only had a year to go).

It was, hands down, the hardest period of my life. Money was short, time was short. I was so sleep deprived. I took out a huge amount of money in student loans (regretting that instantly).

I pulled it off, and graduated from both programs in the spring of 2010. I studied for the NCLEX (the nursing licensing exam) and passed on the first try. I was hired into the first position I applied for. I married a wonderful man, and had another child.

Not long after, my family received orders to Germany, where I was unable to find work as an English speaking nurse. Our plans changed, and I started my own business, and began to do other things.

Fast forward six years later: here I am. We are back in the States and I am working in a field that has nothing to do with nursing. I am about to start a graduate program that also has nothing to do with nursing. Other than a short period of time when I first had my license, I have not worked as a nurse.

What’s a girl to do? Do I renew my California nursing license, even though I’m in the DC area and it won’t help me here? Do I renew it even though my educational and career choices are taking me farther and farther away from the field of nursing? Do I let the license go, despite still owing a considerable amount of money on my student loans? Do I commit to never nursing again even though I am well aware of how quickly plans can change?

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When I really stop to think about it, the one thing holding me back is the cost. I could renew my license, but there will be an additional fee every two years to keep it active. There will be more fees to start working in a new state. Then I will have to pay to keep THAT license up. There are continuing education requirements. It gets expensive quickly.

I’m not ready to let it go. I like knowing I have it there, sitting in my wallet, in case I ever need to fall back on it. I am employable in more than one field, and that’s okay. I earned the right to call myself a nurse, and even if I am not practicing, I don’t want to let all the time and money I spent on learning the trade to go completely to waste.

If you are struggling to make the decision to renew a professional license, and are worried about the costs of renewing or transferring it, don’t forget NMFA has professional funds you can use to help pay for continuing education, fees and other license related expenses.

Apply today!

Have you considered letting a professional license go because of expense or some other reason? How did you decide?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager