Category Archives: Military Families

Check Yourself Before You Deck Yourself: Stress Free Holiday Decorating Tips

Are you ready to deck the halls? I’m not. For me, this means heading to the storage closet and playing Russian roulette with the 10 boxes I’ve yet to unpack from my move 6 months ago. Is the Christmas tree in THIS “Holiday stuff” box? Or did I put the Christmas stuff in the OTHER “Decorations” box?

I swore last year would be the year I’d reorganize everything into clear bins, and properly mark everything so that this year would be easier. But then I told myself, “No, you’ll remember that Halloween decorations are in the “Decorations” box, and the Christmas ornaments are in the “Holiday stuff” box. And that garbage bag over there isn’t trash, it’s the wreath for the front door—you know, because I didn’t want it to get smooshed in a box.

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This year, I’m actually getting it together. Maybe you’re in the same boat? If so, let me share some tips that helped me get my holiday decorating game in check:

  1. Declutter all the things. The holidays can be a minimalist’s worst nightmare, and if that’s you, don’t try to take on all the decluttering and purging alone. Get the rest of the family involved in donating and trashing so it gets done before NEXT Christmas. Separate things into categories for quick decision-making; try Donate, Keep, or Trash.
  2. Clean all the things. My mom insisted on cleaning what seemed like the entire house before we could start decorating for the holidays. To knock it out in an instant, we all divvied up the chores to get them done quickly, so the fun decorating party could begin. Someone can dust, while another vacuums, and boom. Everything is clean.
  3. Reorganize before it’s time to repack. Whatever you didn’t donate or trash will have to find its place somewhere after the holidays are over. Will you (like me) need a wreath storage box? Or dividers for all the tree ornaments? Take advantage of holiday sales to buy clear plastic bins, baskets, and other organization essentials. That way, everything has a perfect, little home and you won’t be playing Russian roulette with the boxes next year.
  4. Reduce stress levels one drop at a time. The stress of the holidays rarely leaves any stone unturned, and military families are no exception. Between the holiday leave request getting denied, or the last minute holiday party at your kids’ school, this time of year is a hotbed for emotional fireworks. To ease some of the stress, I put a few drops of an essential oil called Winter Dream into my Venta Airwasher (love!) and my house starts to fill with cinnamon and citrus—a perfect way to calm my nerves and reinvigorate the air in my home.

As a military family, moving boxes become decorations in their own right—a coffee table here, and bookshelf there. And if it doesn’t work with your new house after a PCS move, just shove them into storage…holiday decorations included. This year, try a few of these tips to reduce the stress of decorating and disorganization and savor the season.

What’s your go-to tip for stress-free holiday decorating?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

When You #OptOutside, You Change on the Inside

Recently, I left my home on the sunny beaches of Florida, and headed for the Pennsylvania mountains for a few days. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself “outdoorsy,” but maybe I could change? This trip to the mountains was unlike any other I’ve experienced. And there were 30 people meeting me there who’d change my perspective in a matter of hours.

You see, I was headed to NMFA’s Operation Purple Healing Adventures® retreat, a free three-day experience for wounded, ill, injured, medically separated, or medically retired military families. At Healing Adventures, families use outdoor exploration, like hiking and canoeing, to encourage each family member’s growth on their new journey post-injury.

I met and chatted with some of the families as they arrived to the Pocono Environmental Education Center—where we’d be camping for the next few days. Some of us connected over our outdoor skills (or lack thereof), and we shared an excitement for the days ahead.

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I went hiking with a Navy veteran, who injured his back during a deployment training exercise, and listened to his family’s story of resiliency. He shared how it felt helpless to rely on his wife to do things for him, and how devastating it was to tell his crying daughter that he couldn’t pick her up to console her because his back couldn’t support them both. Talking to them, I found out it wasn’t just the service member who had to recover after an injury—the family also has to find a ‘new normal.’ After a few more miles, we made it to the summit of the mountain, and I snapped a photo of them to celebrate the moment. They’d been the through peaks and valleys of military life, but when they stood by each other, no obstacle was unconquerable.

The next day, I watched an Army National Guard veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder share a loving moment with his two adolescent sons as they worked together to coax an ember into a burning fire. When the flame took, the sons high-fived, and like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the father looked transformed with pride as he glanced at his wife, who stood next to me, watching. She was nearly in tears when she shared that her family rarely did anything outdoors together because of her husband’s injury. I watched as she encouraged her boys to gently flame the fire, and celebrated with them when it grew in size. Something told me they’d be an outdoorsy family now.

As I shared Thanksgiving dinner with my own family yesterday, I thought about the millions of people who’d be hitting the pavement to take part in the Black Friday hustle and bustle. Waiting in lines and braving the crowds for stuff wasn’t for me. I wanted to #OptOutside.

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Today, REI, parks, nonprofits, companies and communities are all coming together to get more people outdoors on Black Friday instead of standing in line. And we want you to go outside with us! Whether your family takes a walk together to a playground nearby, go for a bike ride, or rock climb on the Appalachian Trial, we know being outside does something good for the soul.

I decided to take my dog on a long walk in the bright Florida sunshine, because being inside on a 75 degree day seemed unjust. While walking, I remembered those two military families from Healing Adventures camp. Being “outdoorsy” together brought them closer, without distraction, without crowds, and without the need for ‘stuff.’

That trip to Healing Adventures, and meeting those families, was the perfect reminder that despite my lack of outdoorsy-ness, when you decided to #OptOutside, you change on the inside.

Join in the #OptOutside movement by simply walking out your front door! When you do, share it with the world using the #OptOutside hashtag!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Alone for Thanksgiving? Think Again!

My husband left to a remote location for an entire year. I knew this was going to be extremely hard for me; I was all alone, with two children, in a place that was not home to me. To top it all off, the holidays were coming. I had never really been alone for the holidays. Money was tight and we even welcomed a baby just a couple of weeks earlier. I had to decide if I really wanted to stay where I was, or go home for the holidays.

This place, I called it, this miserable and awful place.  I was lonely, depressed, and downright stressed out. Let’s not forget exhausted! Don’t get me wrong, the military base where we were stationed was nice, and the military families were very friendly, but it still didn’t feel like home. I hoped my family would fly out and rescue me but no one could make it–not my mom or my in-laws.

I guess I was staying there for Thanksgiving. My kids wouldn’t know it was a holiday, right? What do they know about Thanksgiving, anyway? I thought to myself, “I will just make a TV dinner and call it a day.” Wrong! My four year old asked, “Mommy, when are we getting the turkey?” I responded with, “Not this year, sweetie.”

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The look on his face was like I killed his puppy. So, I had to change that answer with, “First thing tomorrow morning!” Great, so now I have to buy a turkey, cook it and eat the turkey! I wondered how a four year old knew anything about Thanksgiving. But it was clear: he learned from school, and the TV. In his preschool, they made a turkey out of construction paper. When he watched television, they constantly advertised about Thanksgiving. My four year old won and I would be making a turkey that he would probably barely eat.

The next day, I am in the commissary shopping for the turkey, and I see my neighbor. I quickly say hello and continue shopping. “So, what are you guys doing for the holidays?” she asked, all chipper.

Do I lie, and pretend I have plans?

“I am doing nothing,” I said.

Wait…is she giving me the face? You know, the I-feel-sorry-for-you face. Before, I could tell her not to feel bad for me, she came really close, leaned in and whispered, “I’m alone, my husband is gone, and I’m stuck doing absolutely nothing, too.”

Now, I’m giving her the face, right back. We just started laughing, and after a minute, she said to me, “Hey! Why don’t we have dinner together?”

Now that sounds like a great plan.

We invited more military spouses, who were spending Thanksgiving alone, too. Everyone made their own side dish and I cooked the turkey, of course. As we sat down and ate, I thought, to myself, “My husband isn’t here, but I do have my military family.”

If you are feeling alone for the holidays, talk to your fellow military spouses. You never know, you could be buying and cooking the turkey this year, after all!

Do you have a memorable holiday spent with fellow military families? Share it with us!

Posted by LaTanya Roldan, NMFA Volunteer and military spouse, Mountain Home, Idaho

4 Reasons I’m Thankful for my Military Life

I have known one thing my entire life and it is the military lifestyle. I was born into a Navy family where my dad served for 20 years. When I was 19-years-old, I married an Army soldier and moved to another country. And that move was hard at first. Everything and everyone I loved felt worlds away from me. But even that first move taught me about being grateful. I would love to share with you why I am thankful for this amazing life-long experience.

 Traveling. As a military spouse, I serve my country by supporting my husband and the community we live in. One of the many perks of military life is moving! Don’t get me wrong; moving has its own challenges and craziness, but sometimes a move is awesome, and takes you to the most amazing destinations in the world. Thanks to the military I have been able to explore Europe and many places throughout the United States.

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Relationships. Have you ever heard a Soldier or their spouse refer to their friends as their military family? It is a term I use daily. My husband has served for several years, and throughout the years we have added to our family everywhere we have lived. The friends I met in Germany in 2004 are now a few minutes down the road from us. My daughter refers to them as Auntie and Uncle. Throughout the distance, we have talked and FaceTimed. For now at least, I can go over for dinner and be with my military family.

I am extremely grateful for all the love and time I get with these amazing individuals in the military. With deployment after deployment, missions, and schools my blood family cannot always be there for us, but I have my military family.

Support. Since becoming a military spouse, I have seen amazing support for the Soldiers and their families from post to post. And as I mentioned earlier, I was married at 19, and immediately moved to Germany. My husband was going off to war soon, and there I was standing at the Frankfurt airport scared out of my mind. I did not know what to expect as I looked around me. However, I remember how the unit Family Readiness Group, the USO, and Army Community Service reached out to me. I was not alone because of these organizations on post. They were absolutely amazing with support for new and experienced military families.

New traditions. While living in Europe, I was introduced to a lot of new-to-us traditions. In our travels, we took some old traditions and added them to our must-do’s each year! In Germany, we would visit many Christmas markets, which I miss more than anything else. In Texas, we added Bluebonnet pictures each season. Now we are in Kansas, and I cannot wait to add another tradition to the Richardson family. What traditions have you added to your family?

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With everything in life, you have pros and cons; however, I focus on the positive aspects to keep me going and moving forward. I think looking at things from a positive perspective allows me to be thankful and appreciate this unique lifestyle.

Are you a military family? What are you most thankful for?

jrichardsonPosted by Jessica Richardson, NMFA Volunteer and Army spouse

Dear President-Elect Trump,

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On November 8, 2016, Americans took to the polls to cast their votes in what many call as historic Presidential election. As results trickled in Tuesday evening, candidates Donald J. Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton were neck in neck for the White House.

After a long, sometimes catty and upsetting year watching the campaigns unfold, Americans have chosen Donald Trump to be the 45th President-Elect of the United States of America.

Now that the votes are in, military families have some things they want President-Elect Trump to know.

See what they’re concerned about, and read the letter to President-Elect Trump.

When Waiting Gets Old

It’s no secret that military family life involves a whole lot of hurry-up-and-wait. Quickly: pack up, prepare, make decisions, fill out paperwork, unpack…then, wait.

Oh, how many things there are to wait for!

Maybe you’re waiting on orders; it’s so easy to wonder why receiving PCS orders can take so long. We think, “If we could just get that Request For Orders, then I can start researching housing and schools and preschool ballet classes and whether the PX is any good.” Until then, you can only wonder, “Are we going overseas or staying in the US? Should I stock up on warm winter clothes for the kids because we might go to Alaska, or should I invest in lots of shorts because we’re moving to Florida?”

Or maybe you are so very tired of waiting for the delivery of your household goods in the middle of a move. Paper plates and creative adaptations of take-out are just not cutting it anymore. It’s been weeks since you slept in your own bed. You need some flatware, picture frames, and the calm of knowing every important box made it to the next location.

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Even after you’ve settled into a new community, you might still be living life in limbo, waiting for a return to normalcy. Maybe you are tired of waiting for that perfect job to come available near your new home. Or, perhaps you find yourself waiting to make the group of friends that you’ve hoped for. You’ve hung up that “Welcome Home” sign, but it just doesn’t feel like home yet. So you wait.

Watching the clock tick day after day is almost never as annoying and stressful as when waiting for a deployed spouse to come home. Homecoming feels so far away sometimes. During deployment we find ourselves waiting for the chance to relax again, breathe again, sleep well at night again, and feel whole again…which only happens when they finally make it home.

It’s easy to be discouraged when waiting gets old. It’s exhausting and frustrating. So much of our lives as military spouses are outside our own control.

It is the waiting that often connects the seasons of our lives, drawing bridges between what was, what is now, and what will be. One thing I know for sure: though waiting is uncomfortable, it somehow has the capacity to make us stronger, and more resilient. It can be irritating, but it can also be challenging. And waiting can help fuel anticipation for new chapters of our lives.

To the military spouses who are waiting for something, know this: waiting is itself a season, and seasons change. Hang in there. That RFO, your household goods, great new friends, and the day that you call a new place, “home,” are just around the corner!

How do you get through the waiting seasons? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

teresa-bannerPosted by Teresa Banner, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

When Separating From the Military Unexpectedly Becomes Your Reality

When a service member separates from, or even considers a life outside of the military, it affects the entire family. Regardless if it is by choice, or because of the “up or out” policies of the military, it still can take a major toll on everyone involved.

Just a few months ago our family was anxiously awaiting the results of the most recent promotion boards. My husband has always planned on making the Air Force his first career, and I was anxiously awaiting my first opportunity to “pin on” his next rank (the last time he promoted was during a deployment). Then the day finally came when the promotion list was released.

My husband’s name was not on the list. The military had thrown us another curve ball and I found myself flooded with a range of emotions.

I felt angry, frustrated, and confused. My husband and I both knew there was a chance he wouldn’t make the next rank due to an incident that happened nearly eight years prior. But I had convinced myself that him being worried about not making it was just his normal way of underestimating himself. I never once thought he wouldn’t be on the promotion list.

It didn’t take long for those first emotions to take a back burner to fear. I found myself worried about everything. When people would ask how my husband was holding up after the news, I always said, “You know him, just getting his ducks in a row and giving work 110 percent like always.”

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I tried to play it off like this setback was no big deal. Then a close friend asked how I was feeling about all of it. I tried to act like it didn’t really effect me–since it was happening to my husband, not me. But my friend saw right through it. She pointed out that if he did separate, it would impact all of us.

When I left my job to put my husband’s career first, I put faith in the notion that my husband’s career could support our growing family. But now with his career in question, I was suddenly overwhelmed with feelings of what comes next? And you know the worst part? I didn’t want to share my fears with my husband, because I didn’t want to make him feel any worse than he already did.

I know if he does separate in the near future he will find a job he loves, he will find a new way to serve the military and our family will keep moving forward. We’ll adjust, like we always do, but that doesn’t make it any less scary.

In fact, it’s actually had the opposite effect. How are we supposed to know what to do next with our lives? We always figured we wouldn’t have much say in our path until my husband reached that magical number of 20 years, so when we talked about having a “normal” life, it always seem so far away.

Even as I say it, the idea of a normal non-active duty military lifestyle sounds terrifying. You would think I would love the idea of no more TDYs, or last minute PCSs. I would embrace the fact that our last deployment could very well be our last deployment.

But instead of being excited about these prospects, I find myself a little lost and confused. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have my husband around and out of war zones, but I know how much he loves to serve. And I would never wish for that to no longer be an option.

In the last couple of months, my husband and I have began working together to tackle all the emotions and concerns that come along with the idea of possibly separating from the military. We’ve made list after list of places we could live, ways he could still serve (i.e. Guard or Reserves), civilian jobs he might be interested in. We’ve researched and discussed each option in depth about what it would mean for both his career and our family. And even though we might not know what will come next, we are a lot more prepared than we’ve ever been in the past.

For all you spouses that find yourself in a similar situation, I have just a few words of advice. Don’t pretend it isn’t affecting you, don’t say you’re okay if you aren’t. Talk openly with your spouse. The first couple of conversations may be tough, but opening the lines of communication will save you many sleepless nights.

Has your service member ever separated unexpectedly from the military? How did your family handle the change?

Posted by Tara O’Meara, NMFA Volunteer and military spouse