Making the Most of Your Thanksgiving No Matter Where You Are

We had just made a huge cross country move from Washington State to Virginia. All of our friends and family were on the west coast, and we knew absolutely no one in Virginia yet.

Many boxes still needed to be unpacked and main furniture pieces still needed to be purchased. We mastered the ‘old-box-as-a-dining-room-table’ skill early on, but I knew that wouldn’t handle the Thanksgiving dinner that was just around the corner. Money was a little tight from that move and we were alone on the east coast. We didn’t have things set up in our home, but despite all of that, we made it work somehow and tried to see the glass half full; we had our health, my husband’s job, a roof over our heads, and our family.

A co-worker of my husband told him the USO gave Soldiers and their families Thanksgiving meals, and urged him to go grab one. He managed to get a box, and inside were all the sides we would need for a Thanksgiving dinner, and a gift card to purchase our turkey from a grocery store. We felt so thankful that we were able to be blessed during this time. I had been feeling a little down knowing we’d be alone during the holidays, without friends and family to share it with. Getting adjusted to such a big move and change isn’t easy. All I wanted was to make sure my family was happy (just being a typical mom).

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We got the biggest turkey we could get, and I cooked up everything that was inside that USO box. We had such a feast for our family! We even managed to find a great deal on a dining room table from Craigslist, just in time for Thanksgiving.

It just goes to show you–it doesn’t matter where you are, if you keep a positive outlook on life and have a thankful heart, things just fall into place sometimes. It’s been wonderful to look back and see how everything came together, and it will be one Thanksgiving we will never forget.

How do you deal with holidays away from extended family?

amber-budzynski-headshotPosted by Amber Budzynski, NMFA Volunteer and military spouse

“Tis the Season to Spend Money, fa, la, la, la la…”

In case you missed it, the holiday season is upon us! Cue the cookies, carols, decorations, and, unfortunately, the long list of family and friends to buy gifts for. If you are like me, the idea of spending hundreds of dollars for just one day might bring on a sudden onset of hives. But, save the antihistamine and follow a few key tips to keep your holiday spending in check and maybe even have enough left over for a trip to the Class Six before the in-laws arrive!

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2016 study, American consumers plan to spend an average $935.58 during the holiday shopping season this year. However, that just covers gifts and not the typical other costs such as travel, parties, and other indulgences (like a Venti peppermint mocha with lots of whipped cream).

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Here are a few ideas to come out debt-free in the New Year!

  1. Set limits and budget based on your own finances. Now is not the time to keep up with the Jones’. True friends and family will understand that your financial security is more important than a $300 game system. To help visualize your own holiday budget, check out this free calculator.
  2. Santa brings gifts so you don’t have to. Parents, kids, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, hair-dresser, babysitter, post man, bus driver, oh my! The list goes on and on! Or, does it have to? Is it really necessary to provide gifts for every single person and end up in debt in the process? Perhaps your family will consider drawing names; they may be struggling with holiday spending too!
  3. Shop Smarter. Spread your shopping throughout the year and not just during the peak season (we keep an Excel sheet of what gifts were bought so that we won’t forget). Look for special “savings days” at your favorite retail stores. Use coupons from your newspaper, online or in-store. At the store, use your phone to see if you can get a better price elsewhere. If your favorite store has a price-match policy, you can cash in on savings right there. FYI, the base/post exchange will price-match AND you won’t pay tax (see store for exclusions). Plan your shopping trips by making a list and sticking to it to avoid impulse spending. Buying gift cards? Watch for fees or terms of usage that could erode the value of the gift. Buy directly from the store as bulk gift cards tend to be targets for scammers. Coordinate family gifts for the kids, so you don’t have to do it all yourself.
  4. Go online. Search for coupon codes. Take advantage of free shipping with coupon codes. Speaking of free shipping, December 16 is free shipping day at participating retailers. So make sure to ask if the store you’re shopping will honor that savings. What’s better than free shipping is that the gift is sent directly to your loved one! It will save on wrapping paper and shipping costs. But, you might want to let them know that a gift is on the way so that they can keep an eye out for it and not open it until the big day.
  5. Channel your inner Martha Stewart. Pinterest has TONS of great DIY tutorials that would be sure to please your loved ones. Homemade shows that you took the time to really create something that they would enjoy.
  6. Shop small. Support small businesses to include your fellow military spouses. Watch out for Small Business Saturday that comes the day after Black Friday for even more savings.
  7. Earn some green with credit card rewards. Utilize your credit card for extra rewards during the holiday season. Just remember to stick to your budget and pay the bill on time! Our family saves our rewards for the year and exchange them for cash and gift cards for travel and other unexpected expenses used for the holidays.
  8. Put aside money throughout the year. See if you can send automatic saving withdrawals to a separate savings account each month. Most accounts with online management will let you start a separate account with no changes or fees. Take your budget and divide it by 12. Save that money and, next year, you will be more than prepared to tackle holiday spending!

What holiday shopping tips do you swear by? Share them with us!

robyn_headshotPosted by Robyn Alama Mroszczyk, AFC, NMFA Volunteer

From Corporate to Cul de Sac: Transitioning from an In-Office Job to Working from Home

Three years ago I left my first post-grad job to move to Fort Hood, Texas. After working a retail job for a few months, I found a job at the corporate headquarters of a global technology company. I spent the first few months of the job commuting an hour to and from our home and then, with a deployment looming, we moved closer to my job. The next two years I worked every day in the corporate office, networking, building relationships and getting to know the city.

Then we got the PCS news. Unfortunately for me, my job is not traditionally a remote role. There are very few exceptions made for employees that “need” or “want” to work remotely, and the most recent requests had been denied. I had to make sure my remote request was timed perfectly.

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I set out my objectives and planned. I needed to:

  1. Get my manager/leadership on board to advocate on my behalf for remote work. Every military spouse with career aspirations should have an advocate and mentor within their current job, as well as in their network, to provide career advice.
  2. Write a detailed business case. I referenced Joining Forces, which my company is a part of, as well as the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, DoD rules regarding “Geo-bachelor” moves, and blogs written by my own company giving accolades to the benefits of remote work. These resources helped bring the importance of military spouse employment into the forefront.
  3. Research work from home jobs on FlexJobs.com as well as jobs local to our new location as a back-up plan. Military spouses registered with NMFA get 70% off a one-year subscription to FlexJobs!
  4. Decide if working from home is the best option for me and my career.

There are obvious benefits  to remaining gainfully employed every time you PCS, like the financial benefits. But there are downsides, too. Because my job isn’t traditionally remote, promotions would be difficult and moving from an in office role to a remote role, I would lose a lot of that valuable face time necessary to grow my career. I talked to people in my office who had done a work from home “pilot” program, and the reviews were mixed. Some thought working remotely was saying goodbye to any career growth. Others thought there was no way people could be productive while working remotely. And some thought it would be great and knew their productivity would surge if they could work from home.

Two weeks after we moved, I was still working in the corporate office to finish out the quarter. My manager and director called me in to let me know that I was approved to work from home based on my performance, and they set the guidelines and expectations for working remotely.

I decided to take the work from home opportunity and continue developing myself at my company. I have been working from home for 3 months and overall I am happy with my decision. My productivity has increased tremendously, my day is still structured like a regular work day, and I attend meetings virtually. Thankfully, I had over 2 years to form relationships with my teammates and build my network. Sometimes I do feel isolated being at home all day so I would encourage anyone considering work from home opportunities to get out and get involved in the community, as well as build a network at your new duty station.

Have you ever gone from a corporate office to the cul-de-sac to work remotely? What are the pros and cons you experienced?

Posted by Lesley Boatright, NMFA Volunteer and Army spouse, Fort Benning, GA

Renowned World War II Photographer and Vet Honors Military Families

At the age of 94, when most are settled down, Michael A. “Tony” Vaccaro is out snapping pictures. And not just any pictures—photos that change the way we see the world around us. Growing up between Italy and New York, Tony recalled a trip to the New York World’s Fair in 1939 as “the most amazing and spectacular event” of his youth. Shortly after that, he was introduced to photography by a teacher at his high school.

In 1944, after joining the US Army a year prior, Tony was sent to England, and later went on to serve as a front line infantryman in World War II. During this time, he shot thousands of photographs of the war, from the mundane to the explosive, and everything in between, including a renowned photograph called “The Kiss of Liberation,” which President Eisenhower called his favorite.

“The Kiss of Liberation”

When asked about the story behind “The Kiss of Liberation,” Vaccaro explained, “I was at St. Briac when it was early morning on August 14, 1944. No one was at the middle of the town, but at some point people started yelling, ‘We are liberated!’ Women and children ran to the middle of the town to celebrate. They started dancing and singing. I think the G.I. kissing the little girl is the most precious photograph I have ever taken.”

Because of his diligence to portraying the perils of war through photographs, Vaccaro was hailed as the “greatest war photographer of all time” by the BBC.

“When I was not on a night mission, I processed my films in four Army helmets and hung the wet negatives from tree branches to dry,” Vaccaro recalled of his time in the military.

Since his time in the Army, Vaccaro continued his art, photographing a number of subjects like John Fitzgerald Kennedy, The Eisenhower Family, Enzo Ferrari, Greta Garbo, Pablo Picasso, Federico Fellini, Jackson Pollock, Georgia O’ Keeffe, Maria Callas, General George S. Patton, Sophia Loren and many other celebrities of the second half of the twentieth century.

But Vaccaro’s fondness for the military has remained strong through the decades–including his support of military families.

General Patton, as photographed by Tony Vaccaro in 1945.

Tony Vacarro Studio has committed to donating 25% of sale proceeds to military support organizations, including NMFA. Among the items for sale are signed prints Vaccaro took of General Patton in 1945 Nuremberg, Germany, seen above.

We are grateful for Mr. Vaccaro’s continued legacy, and his support of organizations, like NMFA that make an impact on our nation’s families.

If you’d like to purchase one of these amazing prints—go to http://tonyvaccaro.studio/portfolio and email enquiry@tonyvaccaro.studio with the code “Veterans Support Vaccaro.” The code applies until Thanksgiving.

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

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

Our First OCONUS PCS: Lessons Learned

PHEW! We just finished another PCS season. Congratulations to those who moved this past summer! We made it! And for those lucky ones who stayed put, you know what I’m talking about.

Confession: I’ve been with my service member for almost nine years, but this was our first official PCS together since we got married. Oh, and it was overseas. I did NOT know what I was getting myself into.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with all the PCS checklists out there; believe me, I think I read most of them. I noticed a few to-do’s that were missing though. Below are a few things I learned on my own during our most recent international PCS.

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Throw a party!
Not at your own house though and schedule it far enough in advance of your actual move! We opted for a local watering hole that was convenient for us and many of our close friends who would be attending. We scheduled our going away party about two weeks before movers came so we could enjoy ourselves.

Drive cross country!
We had to drive cross country since we were PCSing overseas with our dog. Fun fact: no commercial airline can guarantee they will fly a short-nosed dog (Pugs, Shih Tzus, Boston Terriers, Pit Bulls, etc.) in August due to the heat. So we made an unforgettable trip–with our Boxer in tow–by driving from northern Virginia to Seattle to catch our Air Mobility Command (Space-A) flight to the Asia Pacific region. We gave ourselves almost two weeks to follow the Lewis and Clark trail. We first traveled to Ohio to visit family, played tourists in Minneapolis, then followed the trail by driving around Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the North Dakota badlands, hiking Montana’s Glacier National Park, following the Columbia River Gorge, and ending in Seattle. This affordable trip is highly recommended for those history buffs, families with pets, and outdoor enthusiasts.

Your pet is worth it!
Pets are part of the family. My dog is my everything, yes, I’m a dog mom! No, I don’t have children but I’m pretty sure it’s a lot harder to PCS with a pet overseas than with five kids. Despite the countless trips to the vet to prepare for the move, it was worth it. We were extremely organized, which made the flight very easy. Flying AMC was very stress-free and extremely helpful with the pet. At each layover, pet owners were able to walk their pets and give them water. Once we landed, customs took only a few minutes and we took our dog straight to the kennel. It was a great experience.

Have a meltdown!
It’s okay, we’ve all been there. Sometimes you just need to cry it out.

When OCONUS, immerse yourself in the culture!
You only have a couple years in country, so make the most of it. Take advantage of the base’s language and cultural course offerings. Travel as much as you can. Time will fly by!

What would you add to this list?

Posted by Nicole Russell, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Japan