Turning Pages When Turning Corners: Using Books to Start Conversations With Kids

I can’t stand the smell of cardboard boxes. Or saying goodbye to friends. Or living out of a suitcase. However, moving is an inevitable part of military life, and preparing my kids for our move later on this year is coming up on my mom-radar. When facing several pivotal childhood moments, like potty training, making friends, and starting elementary school, my husband and I enlist the help of children’s books to help us begin conversations. As we prepare to turn another corner and encounter our next relocation, these are the children’s books that we’re reading at my house:

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Boomer’s Big Day by Constance W. McGeorge

My son loves this book about Boomer and his big move to a new house, as told through a the eyes of a dog. One day Boomer suddenly realizes all of his favorite toys are packed up in boxes. He’s not quite sure what to think of the boxes and movers. When he arrives to the new home, he learns that lots of new friends are waiting to meet him!

The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Who doesn’t love the classic Berenstain Bear family? Brother and Sister are moving to a new house, and don’t know quite what to expect. The Berenstain family says goodbye to old friends, watches the movers load their household goods, and then finds new, exciting experiences waiting for them at their new home.

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

Chester’s nervous about starting school, and his mama, Mrs. Raccoon, shares the perfect remedy to assuage his fears. Together, they find a routine that helps both raccoons cope as Chester starts attending a new school. Hands-down, this is my favorite new school book! I think The Kissing Hand is perfect for talking about first day jitters.

My Very Exciting, Sorta Scary Move by Lori Attanasio Woodring

The title was the first thing that drew me to order this book. Written by a licensed psychologist, the ideas in this collection of activities are carefully developed with knowledge of how to help small minds through transitions. This book provides several parent-child conversation starters and the pages are filled with activities to help children and parents understand change and emotions.

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney

Though Guess How Much I Love You does not necessarily relate to moving, it’s a sweet book that I find myself reading to my kiddos regularly, especially during times of transition. Its reassuring message offers parents an opportunity to start meaningful, reassuring conversations with their children.

Though PCSing is difficult, but moving to a new community brings new beginnings, new friends, and new opportunities. Best wishes for your next PCS!

Do you use books to help your child through milestones or transitions? Which ones would you recommend?

teresa-bannerPosted by Teresa Banner, National Military Family Association Volunteer

Mascara, Money, and the Military

It was August 2014, and I was working to find balance as a mother and military spouse during my husband’s second deployment. He had been gone 7 months. Any military spouse knows this is a challenging role that requires flexibility and patience while leaving little room for your own career path. My days consisted of the ‘usual’ military spouse duties; raising our daughter during the terrible twos, keeping up with the housework, and wondering when my husband would call next.

One evening as I was scrolling through Facebook, I saw a fellow Army wife post about a new mascara. I wasn’t a big makeup wearer (and still am not), but I’ve always loved a good mascara and was intrigued.

I was happy to support my friend and purchased the mascara.  As soon as I tried it, I knew I had to tell all of my girlfriends about it. My husband made me promise I’d never “do one of those direct sales companies again,” as I had tried several in the past with little to no success. But I just had a feeling this was going to be different. The cost to sign up was minimal and there were no monthly fees or quotas, so I figured it was worth a shot.

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The days and months that immediately followed my decision to join Younique filled my life with much more than money and makeup. Don’t get me wrong…I am proud to be a mother and military spouse; these will always be my favorite “jobs,” but this little makeup business gave me a PURPOSE outside of “mom” and “wife.” This was something for ME, and I soon realized that I could help change the lives of other women.

Twenty-two months have gone by and it’s hard to imagine my life without this business. The success I’ve had, the relationships I’ve built, and the customer base I’ve created, has been more fulfilling than I can express. I am now a Top Leader in Younique with a team of 1,708 amazing women. I am proud to live and share our mission every day, “To uplift, empower, validate, and ultimately build self-esteem in women around the world through high-quality products that encourage both inner and outer beauty and spiritual enlightenment while also providing opportunities for personal growth and financial reward.”

We have PCS’d twice since December 2014, and I am so grateful I haven’t had to worry about finding a job, or child care, with each move. In fact, the military lifestyle has allowed me to expand my network with each new station. I work my business 99% through Facebook on my iPhone, and I can work whenever and wherever I want. I am able to coach, mentor and build my team around the world, all while providing stability and balance to my family. It’s a dream come true!

As a military spouse and stay-at-home-mom, it is empowering to be able to financially contribute to our family. I love to support fellow military spouses in Network Marketing and truly believe it is the perfect opportunity for us. I am so grateful for the freedom and confidence that Younique and Network Marketing have provided to me and so many women. We have a saying in our company, “so much more than mascara”… There really couldn’t be truer words spoken for myself and my family.

Posted by Tracey Greene, military spouse, and Exclusive Black Status Leader with Younique

Survive and Thrive: Monterey, California!

People come here, to Monterey, California, on vacation–I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stopped on my morning run on the rec trail to take a picture for someone who was struggling with a selfie. There are certainly worse places to spend a year or three, but with so much to do, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of tourists and chased back home by that pesky fog. Here are some tips to survive and thrive, should your military family find yourself here at some point:

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Think like a local.
I’ll tell you: all the houses are circa 1950, small, and insanely expensive. Now that we’ve cleared that up, get used to being on a vacation from your dual sinks and walk-in closet. And lets talk central air conditioning. This south Texas native broke out into a nervous sweat when I was told my AC was just to “open the windows.” But I survived the Indian summer without incident. In fact, while I was confused the first time our heater kicked on in June, my cold toes were definitely appreciative.

Like any savvy local, you’ll need a parking pass as soon as you roll into town. It’s $10 for the year, and it gets you two free hours of parking at three lots in town. It’s saved us oodles of cash in parallel parking and parking at the Fisherman’s Wharf (where I jump on the coastal rec trail for a jog). Annual passes to popular attractions are well worth the money if you can swing it. And finally, thinking like a local means avoiding the crowds. Skip the beach on holiday weekends, and hike instead. Outsmart the line for the aquarium that wraps around the block by showing up right after lunch (that’s when the field trips are loading back on to the buses). But, crowds or not, you need to see the whales, see the greens of Pebble Beach, and visit the world-famous aquarium.

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Go green.
Monthly power outages will remind you in the most inopportune times that electricity is a luxury. Stock up on flashlights, candles, and don’t count out that generator just yet. You’ll also want to collect reusable shopping bags since much of the area charges for bags. And, there’s no better motivation to kick your family’s recycling up a notch like the teeny little trash can you’ll find on your curb.

And since we already know that your abode will be on the small side, you might as well get outside whenever possible. There are hiking trails and beaches everywhere. I can literally use the same parking lot for the beach and the grocery store. Between the redwoods, waterfalls, beaches, sea cliffs, and valleys, you have too much to see to just spend Saturday at the movies. Make sure you have your free (for military) America the Beautiful national park pass, and, if you know you’ll be a frequent visitor, consider a California park pass.

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Ignore the weather.
The sea fog outsmarts me more than I care to admit. Some days it hangs around until after lunchtime, and just when this work-from-home mom has committed to a day of sweatpants, the sun breaks out, shining down rays of guilt for not being more productive and/or adventurous for the day. Other times our outdoor plans are dampened by cold drizzle. We know better now — we throw on raincoats and hike anyway. You can also expect to be cold 11 months of the year — coats are beachwear.

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Branch out.
Fun Monterey fact: It’s the language capital of the world. Embrace it! Learn something new. Befriend an international student.

And, in an attempt to squeeze two meanings into this last ambiguous instruction, “branch out,” as in get out and explore the state — there are some big-ticket bucket list items just up (or down) the road!

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Have you lived in Monterey? What tips would you add?

Posted by Kristi Stolzenberg, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

My Date with Michelle Obama and the Star Trek Cast

Despite just having a few weeks under my belt at the National Military Family Association, I was lucky enough to receive an invitation of a lifetime this week.

My husband and I got to tag along with four coworkers for an early screening of Star Trek Beyond at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House.

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The screening, hosted by none other than First Lady Michelle Obama and members of the cast, was part of Joining Forces, The First Lady’s initiative which helps connect service members, veterans and their families to employment, education and wellness resources. Joining Forces also host events (like this one) to show appreciation for service.

After going through some real deal security checks, we made it inside a building that houses a majority of offices for White House staff. We took our seats next to a mix of service members, veterans and their families, and waited (what seemed like forever) until Chris Pine, Simon Pegg and Karl Urban showed up. The trio explained how their involvement in the Star Trek series allowed them to better understand the military. Fun fact: The last installment was even dedicated to post-9/11 veterans and even featured four vets in one of the movie scenes.

I’ll be honest. Although I won’t ever turn down an opportunity to stand next to Chris Pine, my husband is the real Trekkie in the family. While he was pumped to see Kirk, Bones and Scotty, I’d been counting down until the First Lady graced us with her presence. After a sincere thank you, the actors introduced her and basically made my life.

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There we all are in the third row!

Sadly, no #FLOTUS selfies came of our visit, but the First Lady talked about Joining Forces and the last seven and a half years she’s spent using her platform to promote appreciation for our military families. I especially loved her focus on military kids’ sacrifices and spouse employment. Afterwards, she introduced the movie we’d all been waiting for with a comical, “May the force be with you.”

FLOTUS has jokes, in case you didn’t know.

I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but if you like action movies it’s one to add to your list. After the screening, we got a chance to cheese it up before heading out.

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My husband is partial to Next Generation, but still geeked out when introduced to Simon Pegg, Chris Pine and Karl Urban after the film. He never smiles for pictures, but there he is grinning like a kid in a candy store.

It was an amazing night and one I’ll be forever thankful for. I’m definitely going to take the First Lady’s advice and “lord this event over my friends.”

No shame. Now to work on that #FLOTUS selfie.

margaritaPosted by Margarita Cambest, Staff Writer

Defining a Community: Most Veterans Don’t “Snap” Because of PTSD

The headlines are all too familiar to military and veteran families. It’s gotten to the point where the moment you hear that the shooter is former military the connections start to be made immediately: “Shooter suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from his military service.” Boom. There it is.

Both the shooters in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Dallas, Texas were military veterans. Both, according to news reports, potentially have PTSD. Our community is once again in the spotlight, furthering societal perceptions that our service members are all damaged, broken and ready to snap at any moment.

This is far from accurate.

I’m a clinical psychologist. My specialty is trauma and PTSD. I have worked in that space for over a decade now with both military and civilian populations. Given my experience, I can tell you that by and large, the majority of veterans who suffer from PTSD do not “snap.” They are more likely to turn inward, to isolate. When there are outward signs, it affects family life more than anything else.

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Many suffer in silence. Others get treatment and actually get better. It’s not all doom and gloom. PTSD is a complex diagnosis and can even be a misdiagnosis with many actually suffering from depression, anxiety, adjustment disorders or even personality disorders, which can mimic many of the symptoms of PTSD.

Also important to note is that carrying a diagnosis of PTSD does not cause violence. Anger and irritability could be a symptom, along with experiencing nightmares, feelings of detachment, hypervigilance, sleep disturbance and more. Just like diagnoses are complex so are people. Life experiences shape all of us. We’ll never know what exactly caused these two men to commit the acts of violence that they did—the truth is it’s probably a combination of factors—but  making a direct link from one to the other is a big problem.

Making that leap and splashing sensationalistic headlines causes a lot of harm to our community that has far-reaching ramifications. The immediate connection that is often made in the press about these types of situations perpetuates the stereotype of a veteran waiting to snap. This can (and often does) affect hiring decisions, interpersonal relationships and overall perceptions of our community.

To change perceptions we need to start talking more openly and honestly about mental illness. The good, the bad and everything in between. Yes, our service members struggle, but there are also success stories of the overwhelming majority who do get better. We need to challenge the stereotypes that only serve to further damage our community with open and honest dialogue. A realistic viewpoint can go a long way. Incidents like these do not define us as a community.

ingridPosetd by Ingrid Herrera-Yee, Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Pipeline Project Manager

Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum: A Diverse Meeting of the Minds

I had the privilege of attending the 2016 United Health Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum a few weeks ago. I was in a room with 100 of the best and the brightest upcoming health professionals in the country. The whole forum buzzed with passion and innovative ideas. The multi-cultural event had attendees representing nine different non-profit or civic organizations focused on minority groups. Everyone in attendance was working or hoped to work in the healthcare field. The wide variety of backgrounds, cultural representation, and world experiences led to amazingly critical and thoughtful discussions. The whole experience was a truly collaborative meeting of the minds.

So, what was I doing there?

I am a white female and acknowledge the privilege that has inherently come with that. I consider myself middle-class from a middle-class background. However, this year the Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum included a new group of attendees: military spouses. In this capacity I am a minority, an anomaly even. Only a small group of Americans hold the distinct honor, and bare the hardships of being a military spouse.

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The National Military Family Association (NMFA) awarded me a scholarship to assist with the financial burden of continuing education and the clinical supervision required for my profession as a clinical social worker. It was because of NMFA’s support for military spouses that I had the pleasure of attending the United Health Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum.

Throughout the Forum there was a strong focus on professional networking, branding, and advocacy. We heard from experienced members of the healthcare industry, participated in interactive panel discussions with experts, and had the opportunity to converse with members of congress on Capitol Hill. The chance to ask Congressmen and Senators questions about healthcare policy, in an open environment, was an invaluable experience.

During every aspect of the Forum we were engaged in meaningful conversations about the future of our country’s health. The important issues that healthcare professionals face were entrenched in everything. From policy to ethics, to standards of care; we tried to consider the “big stuff.” Being surrounded by such a diverse and brilliant crowd was nothing short of inspirational.

I left this year’s Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum feeling like I had taken a deep breath of fresh air. It left me feeling like a change is not only possible, but necessary. I am more sure than ever that this generation’s critical minds are up for the challenge.

Posted by Katie J. Haynes, MSW, LCSWA, military spouse and NMFA Scholarship Recipient 

Need Bonding Time With Your Spouse and Kids? Operation Purple Healing Adventures Brings the Magic!

Not long ago, I worked at one of our many Operation Purple Healing Adventures®. This retreat is for wounded service members and their families to celebrate rediscovering family-fun and togetherness after an injury.

As I met and registered the families for the retreat, it was clear to me how some families seemed disconnected, while others seemed excited with anticipation. It reminded me of my own joys and pains of being left behind during deployments with a young child. I was worried about my service member, yet upset he was leaving me with all of the responsibilities that I didn’t create alone.

Once everyone was registered and settled into their rooms, dinner was served! The parents were quiet and tired from traveling, and I assumed they were also probably nervous about the weekend ahead of them. But the kids were enjoying meeting one another, playing with the therapy dogs, chatting about the nature hikes, climbing the indoor rock wall, riding the giant swing, flying over the water on the zip line tower, canoeing and kayaking, eating s’mores at the campfire, arts and crafts, watching movies, and the numerous carnival games to come.

I’d be looking forward to a good night’s sleep, too, if I were those parents!

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At breakfast the next morning, the parents looked rested, and the kids were ready for all the activities. I could see the parents watching, taking pictures and videos, and talking amongst one another while the kids took on the activities, and I hoped they’d eventually join in the fun together as a family.

Then the magic happened: one father challenged his child to a zip line race, and one mother bonded with her child by seeing who could scream the loudest on the giant swing. And the next thing I knew, parents were bonding with their children by participating in all the activities, no matter what their injury.

After working up an appetite and eating an awesome lunch, the parents took part in the Operation Purple FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress™) Parent Groups. This allowed time for them to work together, with support, to enhance their relationships through communication activities aimed at building connections and family closeness.

During the FOCUS Parent Groups, the kids did more activities outside supervised by an amazing camp staff. At first, the parents were quiet, listening to the Operation Purple and FOCUS staff do all the talking. But one woman spoke up, sharing a personal story that many others could relate to, and pretty soon, all joined in, sharing their own experiences.

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At dinner, parents were busy talking about what went on during the Parent Group, while the kids continued to tire themselves out with more activities. I could see a difference in the families from the previous day, where most seemed to be at Healing Adventures for their kids, rather than themselves. But the next day, the parents found themselves again as husband and wife through togetherness, smiles, and hand-holding.

And on the last day, guess what? The parents realized for all the fun, food, and lodging, all they spent was time.

If you are a military family with a service member who is wounded, ill, injured, medically separated, or medically retired, and want to join us on an Operation Purple Healing Adventures, check out our website to see if a camp will be near you.

We can’t wait to see you!

nataliePosted by Natalie Mizell, Youth Initiatives Program Coordinator