Christmas in the Military: They Answered the Call

A few years back, my husband, Dave, was on a deployment rotation where he was deployed for 4 months and then home for 4 months. This cycle continued for 2 years. During this time, he missed a lot of special days, including some holidays. I wrote this poem to reflect the Christmas holiday for families with a deployed family member. I have never shared it, but this year I decided to share it in support of all of our military that are serving and are away from their families this Christmas.

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Christmas in the Military

Another year has gone by and we cannot wait,
Christmas time is coming; time to celebrate.

Mommy told me Christmas will be different this year,
As I looked at her face, I saw one lonely tear.

She says Daddy cannot come home, he will not be here,
All I can do is look at her with sadness and fear.

My Daddy is a hero, for everyone to see,
He’s fighting the war for our proud military.

I am sad at first, but I think for a while,
And finally I am able to show a bright smile.

If Daddy can’t be here, it is perfectly clear:
We take Christmas to Daddy and fill him with cheer.

Mommy smiles a big smile to show she understands,
She says let’s get busy and start making our plans.

First things first, we start writing our list,
Double checking it twice, to make sure nothing is missed.

Off to the store to buy our supplies,
So many great things brings wonder to my eyes.

Back at the house, let the projects begin,
Can we finish in time? That would be a blessed win!

We mark the calendar, December 10th is the date,
If we cannot finish, Daddy’s gifts will be late.

First, we make a collage with pictures of us,
Will he love seeing my first day of school on the bus?

Next, we pack a shoe box with all of his needs,
Soap, deodorant, shaving supplies, and books that he reads.

Moving on to a special gift for Daddy from me,
Drawing is ‘our thing,’ I give him a lot to see.

Our next gift is all of Daddy’s favorite treats and more,
Cookies, candy canes, brownies, and movies galore.

The last gift is the most special you see,
A video is made by mommy and me.

We tell him how much we miss him, can’t wait until he is back,
And hopefully all of his gifts will fit in that great big, green pack.

Finally, I wrap all the gifts and place a bow on each one,
To the post office we go, our job is almost done.

At the counter, we prepare to ship our box,
I’m very nervous, shaking in my socks.

The postman, replies, “I will do all that I can,”
I answer, “Thank you sir, my Daddy’s a very special man!”

“Twas the Night Before Christmas,” Daddy would always recite,
But this year we read it and it took all of our might.

Christmas morning we wake up and go downstairs,
Santa has been here, but still nothing compares.

What happens next, is the best gift of the day,
The computer screen comes on and I hear my Daddy say,

“Merry Christmas, son, thank you for the gift,”
“You and mommy are my world,” and I feel my little heart lift.

We talk on the computer for a long while,
And all we can do is smile and smile.

Daddy says he has to go, but tells us each day he loves us more and more,
Only two more months and he will be through with this tour.

As the computer goes off, Mommy and I look at each other,
You can feel the love between a son and his mother.

We open our gifts and Mommy says she is so proud of me,
Giving Daddy a special Christmas has been an amazing journey.

Later that night, she kisses me and tucks me into bed,
As I drift off to sleep with happy thoughts in my head.

Remember, children everywhere, and listen with care,
Because I have something very important to share.

If your Mommy or Daddy cannot be home on a special day,
Take the special day to them and do it your own way.

Even when they are gone, they love you through and through,
You are their pride, you are their hero, too!

Merry Christmas, happy holidays to all,
Our military is where they need to be; they answered the call!

Posted by Sonserae Martinez, Marine Spouse

10 Things to do with Your MilKid on a Snow Day!

This winter has been a little warmer than most, so there haven’t been many snow days in our neck of the woods, but that doesn’t stop me from hoping the cold weather comes soon! Maybe you’ve already has a few snow days where you live? It’s tough keeping kids occupied when they’re not in school, or sports and activities are cancelled because of the weather. Don’t worry, I’ve got a few ideas that will make any snow day one for the books!

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1. Bake
What kid doesn’t love making cookies and eating them, too? Baking with your kiddos is also a great opportunity to practice reading out loud and working through those pesky fractions.

2. Craft
Who doesn’t have a few empty toilet paper rolls lying around? If you don’t, start saving them. There are a ton of cute crafts that require little more than that hollow tube.

3. Clean
Yeah, yeah…I know: who wants to clean on a snow day? No one. But hey, it is a free day with the kids stuck home, so why not teach them this simple method to conquer the dreaded task of cleaning their room? Dusting rags for all!

4. Wanna build a snowman?
Get outside and breathe in the fresh air. Build a snowman, a fort, or have a snowball fight. Just wait until you see their faces when you throw the first snowball! You can even build your own snowman kit as a craft project. No snow?Aren’t you lucky?! Go for a walk around the neighborhood instead.

5. Read
Make some hot cocoa, grab a book and a blanket, and read together in front of the fireplace. Or download one of these free children’s books to read together.

6. Color
Pull out the markers, crayons, colored pencils, your stash of coloring books, and color! Can’t find your coloring books, no problem. There are free printables online for both kids AND adults.


7. Play Board Games
Clear off the dining room table and grab a couple of your favorite board games. Not sure what games your kids might like, check out these top 10 family board games. They are sure to like at least one.

8. Put on a Fashion Show
Play some music, lay down a sheet in the hallway, set up a few folding chairs and put on a fashion show. Get creative. And if you’re brave, you could even make the clothes and let them use your jewelry and makeup!

9. Learn the Cha Cha
Get up and get moving! Learn the Cha Cha.

10. Science Projects
Every kid loves to experiment. Check out these science projects with everyday household ingredients.

What fun snow day ideas have you tried with your kids? Share them with us in the comments!

Lyndy-RohePosted by Lyndy Rohe, Communications Assistant

Christmas in Senegal: Paper Trees and Mandarin Oranges

As a young child celebrating Christmas, I associated the holidays with cold weather and the hope for snow. We would be among the first to buy our freshly cut Christmas tree and decorate it with lights and ornaments. My mom made fancy Christmas dresses for our special candlelight Christmas Eve service. Christmas Day, we would bundle up and trek over to my grandparents for food and presents. For years, these memories were as familiar and comfortable as my favorite winter coat.

When I turned 13, my holiday experience changed in a big way. My parents and I moved to West Africa to do mission work. Little was familiar and I would soon be learning to appreciate holiday memories in a new way.

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I remember our first holiday season in Africa, like it was yesterday. It was a balmy 104 degrees, and instead of a Christmas tree, we had a paper tree plastered on the wall. In place of a fancy dress, I wore shorts and a tank top.  It was Christmas-time, but everything in me resisted the change.

I cried a lot that first Christmas. Maybe it was the sad paper tree, or maybe it was because I wasn’t around my siblings, grandparents, and extended family. Maybe it was because I just wanted peanut M&Ms that didn’t arrive half-eaten by rats. I simply missed the comforts of home.

But even though it didn’t feel like what I thought the holidays should feel like, I came to embrace my new “holiday” normal. With my brother, sister, and our entire extended family on the other side of the world, my parents and I created new and different holiday traditions. Families that didn’t fly state-side for the holidays, came together and merged into one, big “family” unit comprised of friends and stragglers. We didn’t have snow, but we had the beach. And I was actually starting to enjoy this!

My favorite past-time during the holidays became sunbathing on our empty school campus in Dakar, Senegal, while reading through Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and eating mandarin oranges by the dozens. To this day, mandarin oranges are the #1 thing I think of during Christmas-time.

Military families often have to adjust their holiday traditions because of PCS moves or deployments, and I know it can be hard. Even though the latter part of my childhood was spent overseas away from family, I am so grateful for the experience and hope to give my own children the same opportunity. Who knew paper trees and mandarin oranges could create such a special holiday memory?

What’s your favorite holiday memory? Have you had to adjust any traditions because of a military move?

hannahPosted by Hannah Pike, Communications Deputy Director

Meeting Your Significant Other’s Family: 5 Tips to Nail It This Holiday Season

It’s new. It’s scary.

No, I’m not talking about that new fancy TV remote control your boyfriend has with all those buttons that you aren’t really sure what to do with. I’m talking about when you make it to the point in your relationship when spending the holidays with your significant other’s (SO) family becomes a reality.

For my boyfriend and I made the decision to start splitting holidays two years ago. We spend Thanksgiving down south with my parents, and the land of delicious snacks for the winter holidays with his folks. So far, so good, but I would be lying if I didn’t say there have been some growing pains along the way.

Navigating other families’ holiday traditions while not feeling like an outsider can take some time. But I’ve picked up a few nuggets of wisdom that may help ease the transition so you don’t feel like you need to reach for that extra glass of eggnog, or whiskey…or eggnog whiskey.

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Don’t show up empty handed
My mom taught me this from a young age, and I think it should apply to any visit you make. Sometimes money can be tight though, so don’t forget about the appeal of homemade gift (cookies can go a long way!). If you have a few extra bucks to spend, but don’t know what to get, think local. A bag of coffee from a local coffee house where you live, or maybe a beer or wine that they can’t get where they live. Try hitting up your local farmers or flea market to find something unique. The more thoughtful you are with your gift, the more meaningful it will be to your SO’s parents, especially if it’s the first time you are meeting.

Offer to help
In the kitchen, with any last minute decorating, etc. Although you may feel uncomfortable leaving your SO’s side, put yourself out there and offer to help clean up the dishes, or set the table. You never know when something so small could mean so much. You’re a guest in their home, and it may feel weird for them to have someone new there, so be sure to offer to help. And use it as a chance to chit chat and get to know each other! But keep this next tip in mind…

Avoid controversial topics
As with the first two points, this is also something good to keep in mind all the time–not just a trip to your SO’s hometown. This doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion, but try to avoid any political or religious debates during your visit. The holidays should be a time for happiness and togetherness, not time for you and Uncle Jerry to get into a spitting match over why so-and-so is a moron (even if said so-and-so probably is).

Befriend the pets
Any pets they may have are a part of their family, so you can help win your way to their heart by making friends. If, for some reason, you aren’t the biggest fan of pets, don’t sweat it, just be kind and courteous, and never be rude. Talk to your SO beforehand, too, in case you have allergies. Dying of anaphylactic shock upon your first meeting will definitely be memorable–but we don’t want that for you.

Talk to your SO beforehand
If you are having any anxiety about visiting for the holidays, have a conversation with your partner about what is causing the anxiety. Is it just being somewhere new? Are you worried about small talk? Ask for advice on things to talk about before you get there to help avoid any awkward silences. And if they happen, embrace them. They are probably just as nervous as you, so take a breath, enjoy, and don’t take yourself too seriously. We’re human, after all.

Happy Holidays!

What are your tips for meeting your significant other’s family? Have a crazy ‘first-meeting’ story? Leave us a comment and share!

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager

Military Spouse Scholarships are Waiting for YOU!

“I’m waking up and realized I did not have a dream! I always told myself ‘It’s ok, I don’t need to go to school,’ because I never wanted to take money away from the things my family needed.” –Emily Yancey, NMFA Military Spouse Scholarship Recipient

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Emily Yancey and family receiving her scholarship from NMFA Executive Director Joyce Raezer

At the National Military Family Association, we meet so many military families from all walks of life. We hear their stories and, whenever we are able, we try to make their family’s military journey a little easier.

Since 2004, NMFA has awarded $3.3 million in scholarships to more than 3,500 military spouses. Emily Yancey was not one of those 3,500 recipients, yet, she still wanted to make a difference through NMFA. Earlier this year, Emily helped NMFA secure a grant to assist local military spouses as they pursue their career and education dreams.

Emily’s dream is to pursue a certification in culinary arts, which will allow her to contribute to her family, lifestyle, and community. She says cooking as a family has helped them heal after their lives changed when Emily’s husband was medically retired two years ago.

In Emily’s NMFA scholarship essay, she wrote, “It is important that military spouses pursue their education and career goals because it is important to keep personal identity. I personally know how quickly and easily personal dreams and aspirations can get put on the back burner. My husband is 100% disabled and it has taken me over two years to truly understand a little time for yourself will go a long way. It is not necessarily a negative thing but, it is important to stay true to you. My husband has always been my biggest supporter to get to school but following through on my part is another story. Being a military spouse means traveling to new duty stations, quickly adapting, and most importantly being the glue that sticks the family together. It’s a tough but rewarding job to help encourage and support the ranking military spouse but it is also that important to follow through for yourself.”

NMFA is thrilled to award Emily with $2,500 scholarship to help her pursue her culinary dreams. But then, an anonymous donor heard the Yancey’s story and was so inspired they decided to surprise Emily and her family with a scholarship that will allow her to finish her degree!

As you can imagine, Emily was surprised and graciously shared her feelings with us. “Words cannot say loud enough how thankful I am for each person that made this happen for me. Thank you!”

Are you a military spouse pursuing an educational or career licensure or certification? NMFA’s military spouse scholarship application is open until January 31, 2016, and we’re ready to help you achieve your goals! Apply now!

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager

Let NMFA’s Spouse Scholarships Help You ‘Reinvent’ Yourself for Success!

Are you ready to reinvent yourself? Feel stuck in your career? I felt that way several years ago. There I was, a women in mid-life with, what felt like, no responsibilities because the kids are raised and mostly on their own, a husband who had a career going well–both civilian and Air Force Reservist duty–and me…working, but unfulfilled. I was in a black hole and not sure how to get out of it. But because of the support given to me by the National Military Family Association, my story has a happy ending. Yours can, too.

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As my husband and I raised our two daughters, I was always employed.  Throughout my more than 35 years of working, all of my jobs have been challenging and rewarding, including the 12 years I was self-employed. I don’t have a formal 4-year college education, but always enjoyed learning. Not having a degree has never held me back with jobs I pursued. My core skill set is in Human Resources.

I found myself in the ‘black hole’ when I took a lateral move with my company into an Administrative Assistant position. There are several reasons why I did this, including the opportunity to get a security clearance. We had recently moved to the Washington D.C. area, and it was pretty obvious when we moved here that I would need a security clearance to remain marketable. My clearance came through very quickly, and I thought “Great! I have all this HR experience and now I have a clearance!”

However, looking for this new job did not work out in my favor. Maybe it’s because my resume now said Administrative Assistant? I didn’t want to be that anymore–I considered myself an HR Professional. My resume and experience validates this. Why was I getting nowhere in finding a new job? Sure, I had interviews and call backs, but not the great HR job I thought I was entitled to.

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During this several-year process of getting nowhere, and drowning in my abyss, I realized if I wanted to be taken seriously, I needed a professional certification–a PHR certification, which stands for Professional in Human Resources. I was going to put a stake in the ground and declare, “Yes, I am an HR Professional!”  Never mind the pass rate is 57% or that the cost of the books is $750 dollars, and the test is $400. I had no choice. This was my way out.

Once I made this decision, I felt a great weight had lifted. I had a plan and felt confident this was the answer. I also became aware of the scholarships offered to spouses of military members through the National Military Family Association.   I created my profile and went through the application process. I was asked to complete several essays on why it was important to me to pursue my education, particularly as a military spouse.

Several months went by and I received an email that my application had been chosen! I was so honored! Again, this was a validation that I had made a good decision by pursuing the PHR. I was given $500 by a very generous donor.

Within days of passing the test, I was getting call after call for HR opportunities.  I am thrilled to report that I am now a very happy HR Generalist for a government contractor. My day consists of engaging problem solving issues with my client base. I have the job of my dreams. I encourage you to use the benefits National Military Family Association has to offer; if only just for the support and encouragement they give us. And it’s never too late to reinvent yourself.

Are you a military spouse ‘reinventing’ yourself by going to back school or pursuing a certification? Apply for NMFA’s scholarships now through January 31, 2016!

Posted by Tracey Stringfellow, PHR, National Military Family Association Scholarship Recipient

New Orders, New House, New Holiday Traditions

The military is steeped with traditions, and honoring the traditions is one of the aspects of military life my family enjoys the most.

We also enjoy celebrating holiday traditions–military-style. For us, our holiday “traditions” are not always the same. We try for common themes; yet we don’t worry about small details because spending time with family or friends is more important than getting the holiday tradition right.

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This is our son’s fifth Christmas, and third Christmas in a new house. Ever since he was born, I’ve made it a point to decorate for the holidays. He loves it. He loves looking at the calendar and planning out what event or holiday is next. He likes to create art projects and proudly display the handmade creations on our walls. With a military lifestyle, it can be difficult to replicate the same traditions each year.

This year, my son wanted to have a small Christmas tree in his room. My gut reaction was to say no; I don’t need another item to set-up, store, or take down. But before I said no, I thought about his request. At age five, he wants to be involved in holiday traditions and have some ownership and traditions that are uniquely his own. With another new house, I thought, why not?

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Here are my tips for honoring holiday traditions…military-style:

  1. Be Flexible. In military life, holiday celebrations are constantly changing. One year you may be able to celebrate with family and the next year your service member may be deployed. Your traditional family meal or outing may have to be swapped for something that is convenient and fits the moment. Pizza for Christmas dinner? Sure!

  2. Ban “Perfect” from your Vocabulary. 
    I have to remind myself of this often. It doesn’t have to be perfect. When my one year old and five year old had finished decorating the tree in my son’s room, I wasn’t thrilled that all of the ornaments were clumped together, or hanging from bookshelves and stuffed animals, but they were happy and proud of their work. I sometimes find them playing Santa, and having a tree they can play with keeps them busy and makes them feel involved.
  3. Redefine your family traditions. What makes something a tradition? Is it an event or ritual repeated each year? Maybe you aren’t located in an area where you can find a fresh tree or attend a tree lighting ceremony. Check out the local events and try a new tradition, like sledding down sand or watching a holiday movie while floating in a pool!

Whatever holiday traditions your family likes to honor (or not), remember what becomes a tradition is up to you.

Does your military family honor holiday traditions?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issue Strategist