The True Meaning of Christmas: Military Mom Writes Novel Dedicated to Marine Corps Son

For Mary Alice Monroe, supporting the military, and the families who stand behind them, is a cause close to her heart. Her son, Zachary, is a retired Marine. And her husband’s great grandfather was Rear Admiral Spencer S. Wood, a United States Navy officer who served our country from 1882-1921.

So it’s no surprise that Monroe’s inspiration for her new novel, A Lowcountry Christmas, came directly from her encounters and experience supporting military service members. She tapped into the feeling she had as a mother with a deployed son in the Marine Corps, and while doing research for her book series at the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, Florida, Monroe had the opportunity to do volunteer work with the Wounded Warrior Project, where she met a veteran who left an impression on her.

“It was unexpected but fateful because I worked with several veterans suffering from PTSD,” Monroe shared. “One veteran, in particular, had a service dog, and he explained to me how important his dog was to him. He said, ‘I love my wife. But I need my dog.’ It was inspiring!”

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Photo courtesy of Mary Alice Monroe

Monroe shared with NMFA that she hopes her novel will educate people about the effects of PTSD and it’s effects on the entire famly, not just the service member.

“It is a journey. One that requires love, patience, understanding and support,” she said.

A Lowcountry Christmas is the story of a wounded warrior, Taylor McClellan, who returns home for Christmas. It’s his first visit since being injured in Afghanistan. His external wounds have healed, but his mother quickly realizes that something is different about her son. The Taylor she knew had not come home. Her son called himself ‘damaged goods.’

Monroe tells the family’s story through multiple perspectives—Taylor’s, his younger brother’s, and their mother’s—so the reader can see how PTSD affects every family member. Through the miraculous donation of a service dog, the family is led on a healing journey to discover the true spirit of Christmas.

Since writing this novel, Monroe says she’s had some unexpected memorable moments. One in particular was a phone call from her son, to whom A LowCountry Christmas is dedicated.

“It was an emotional and heartwarming phone conversation,” she recalled. “And I think it’s the first time he’s actually read one of my novels!”

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But another memorable moment came during a book tour she was on with other military mothers and wives. Monroe said she heard stories from wives of Vietnam War veterans, whose husbands returned with PTSD.

“Back then, they didn’t call PTSD,” she said. “I felt such camaraderie with all these women–strangers–yet we were our own group of comrades, bound together by our connection to the military as mothers or wives.”

It was those connections that had Monroe thinking about a scene from A Lowcountry Christmas where the mother, Jenny, reflects on her son’s deployment and says, ‘I did what mothers of soldiers have done for centuries. I prayed. … I clung to my faith, believing my prayers were heard. What else could I do when I felt so helpless?’

A Lowcountry Christmas is a timeless novel truly built upon a foundation of hope, forgiveness, rebirth, and love, and is the 5th installment in Monroe’s nationally bestselling Lowcountry Series.

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

 

Recruiting Duty Dutch Apple Pie: Try It Out!

In 2012, while my husband was stationed in Twin Falls, Idaho on a recruiting assignment, I decided to make my first homemade apple pie for a Thanksgiving dinner we would be hosting. I knew the pie was something my husband and my father-in-law would really enjoy. My husband and I also invited over other recruiting families who couldn’t go home for the holidays.

Since I was away from my family and I didn’t know where to start with a homemade apple pie, I called my Aunt to ask about her recipe because I remembered it being a favorite growing up. I found out it was actually my Grandmother’s recipe. Not only that, it had won many blue ribbons at the county fair.

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When it came time to make the pie, I made the recipe my own by mixing ingredients from my Grandmother’s blue ribbon pie recipe and Emeril Lagasse’s pie crust recipe. To this day, my husband says it’s the best Dutch apple pie he’s ever had! It also happens to be a favorite of my father-in-law. Winning!

Every year since 2012, my husband and I make this pie for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m not very good at rolling out pie dough, so the dough rolling is his responsibility. He also helps with adding the apple filling and baking of the pie. I feel fortunate to have a husband who actually loves to be in the kitchen! Our holiday meals are mainly made by him. My holiday meal cooking contribution consists of two pies–the Dutch apple pie and another family favorite.

For the three years we were in Twin Falls, Idaho, we shared Thanksgiving with the same recruiting family. This year I made the pie while we were living in Chattanooga, Tennessee (my husband’s second recruiting assignment). We were lucky to share the holiday with a different recruiting family this year and we shared this pie with them. This pie is really simple to make even though it’s a little time consuming, it’s so worth it! I wanted to share the recipe for others to enjoy.

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Dodge’s Dutch Apple Pie

Pie Crust Ingredients:
Follow Emeril Lagasse’s recipe

Pie Filling Ingredients and Steps:
4 large Granny Smith apples peeled and thinly sliced
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and pour into pie crust

Crumb Topping Ingredients and Steps:
½ cup sugar
¾ cup flour
1/3 cup butter (cut into chunks)

Crumble together to resemble coarse crumbs. I use my hands to mix.
Sprinkle on top of apple filling in pie crust.

Place tinfoil around the edge of the pie crust so it doesn’t burn while waiting for the crumb topping to brown.

Bake pie at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake until crust browns (about 20 minutes).

Bon Appetit!

Do you have a holiday recipe with holiday memories? Share those memories with us in the comments below.

rdodge-headshotPosted by Rachael Dodge, NMFA Volunteer

Is Volunteering on Your New Year’s Resolutions List?

Ah, the holidays. Parties, gifts, food, and friends. It’s the season of giving and goodwill. And then there are New Year resolutions–read more, exercise more, and try to get eight hours of sleep a night.

But is volunteering on your resolution list?

What?! As military spouses, our lives ebb and flow with change. We’re “Semper Gumby” even when we don’t want to be. We give to our families, the military, and everyone else who needs a piece of us every day. The last thing to put on our list is giving more time to others.

But did you know volunteering to help others is actually good for YOUR health?

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If I can be healthier and not have to hit the gym as often, I’m already happier!  Studies show that helping others makes us feel better. A 2013 report showed volunteering helps you feel less stressed, more engaged, and connected to your community.

Volunteering really does make a difference. It makes a difference for you and your health. It makes a difference to those who you’ve served. And it makes a difference in the lives of the people who you directly touched.

So this holiday, please consider adding volunteering to your New Year’s resolution list. Need help finding somewhere to volunteer? Well, there’s NMFA! And if you’re looking for something the whole family can do, check out your local volunteer program or resources like generationOn and VolunteerMatch.

Get healthy in 2017! Volunteer!

christinaPosted by Christina Jumper, Volunteer & Community Outreach Director

The 3 Most Important Tips for Military Families Struggling During the Holidays

The holidays can be a tough time for many families, especially military families. Parties, dinner guest, out-of-town relatives visiting, and countless other factors make this time of year a little hard to manage. Add in alcohol, PTSD, or reintegration issues, and it’s a recipe for disaster—and not just for the service member.

Military spouses face their fair share of difficulties, like the stress of living up to Pinterest-level perfection during the holidays. Others find themselves arguing with their spouse over trivial things that wouldn’t matter any other time of year. How do we deal with it all?

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Our friends at The Real Warriors Campaign have 3 important tips that will help, not just around the holidays, but all the time.

  1. Strive for progress, not perfection. Real life isn’t a Pinterest photo, and comparison will ruin any good holiday cheer. It’s important for all members of the family to remember that progress is the goal…not perfection. And some days, progress will stall. That’s okay. Strive to move forward at your own ATTAINABLE pace, not perfection’s ridiculous unattainable pace.
  2. Seek care early. If something feels off, it probably is. Letting internal battles fester only creates longer lasting, more difficult obstacles to overcome. Talk with your spouse about what factors would have to be present to get care, and figure out what ‘care looks like. Mental, physical, and emotional care are available for all members of the family.
  3. Ask for help when needed. And know there is NO shame in doing it. Military spouses and children often face higher levels of anxiety than their civilian counterparts, and can easily find counselors through the Military Health System or on-base counseling center to help work through mental anguish. Service members have the same options, and a plethora of other resources, like The Real Warriors Campaign. Getting help, even if it’s just someone to listen to a gripe, is accessible and can be life-saving.

As you gather with family, friends, and loved ones this holiday season, prepare yourself for situations that might be uncomfortable. Team up with your spouse and tackle boundaries that need to be set, and know that these 3 simple tips can help. Just ask SFC David Parish.

How does your family deal with the stress of the holidays?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Military Money Matters: 5 Simple Financial Goals for the New Year

Ringing in the New Year is a great time to set financial goals and reflect on how you managed your money last year. It’s not always a “fun” task, but it’s a vital one. This year, relax and have a “financial readiness” date night to focus on a few specific goals for 2017. Here are a few to get you started:

Spend Less: We all have essential monthly expenses we focus on, like rent, mortgages, car payments, groceries, child care, and others. But, how much are we spending on these items? If your budget requires more than 50% spending in this category, it’s time to set a goal to reduce these expenses. How do we make that happen when some of these expenses are “fixed?” Clip more grocery coupons, turn your thermostat down a few degrees to lower the bill, ask for discounts on cell phone plans, and bring your lunch to work. These small changes add up, and over time, can bring these regular expenses below that 50% mark!

Save More: Once we’ve reviewed our expenses, the next step is to set a goal to save more. Often times, we look at saving money in a pretty unorganized way–like simply committing to put an extra $50 in the bank here and there. But this often yields unorganized results. So, take a look at your budget and commit to a monthly or bi-monthly savings goal that works for you and your family. Don’t set a goal that’s too strict or large to stick to, simply focus on one that works within your budget and schedule regular automatic transfers from your checking account into the retirement or savings account you select. If you don’t see it, you’re much less likely to spend it!

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Pay Down Debt: Most of us have a variety of debt, like student loans, car loans and credit-card balances. Don’t get overwhelmed as you make your monthly payments on these, and commit to a new debt payment goal for 2017. Simply start with the debt payment with the highest interest rate first. Attacking that will pay dividends because it will save you precious dollars in interest each month!

Set Aside Money for Emergencies: This goal sounds straight forward, but many of us fail to plan for flat tires, broken water heaters, and larger, unplanned emergencies. Commit to setting aside money for emergencies each month and aim for a cash reserve that covers three to six months of expenses. It sounds like a large chunk of change now, but if you chip away at it by saving money each paycheck, it will add up quickly!

Create a Budget and Stick to it: Navigating your finances without a budget is like finding your way to a new duty station without a GPS. Prevent a series of financial wrong turns by creating a financial roadmap that works for you. Analyzing every penny isn’t necessary, so just focus on essential spending (housing, groceries, etc.), savings, and debt reduction. That’ll give you a great start and over the course of the year you’ll build some confidence in your budgeting savvy too!

No matter where 2017 takes you, your financial goals should come along, so taking the time to create ones that work for you is truly priceless!

Are you planning to tackle your finances in 2017? What tips do you use?

meredithPosted by Meredith M. Lozar MHR, AFC, Youth Initiatives Director

 

There’s No Place Like Home: Military Edition! [And a GIVEAWAY!]

If you’re one of the lucky ones who are PCSing during the holidays, we salute you and we’re glad it’s not us! If you’re staying put, but are having trouble getting into the holiday spirit because of other challenges—like a deployed loved one—we have a few tips to make your home a cozy and welcoming space that’s perfect for the holidays, and beyond.

Make it personalized.
Some on-post housing won’t allow you to paint rooms, or make other big changes to make your home feel more yours. But you can easily personalize your space to give it a warm, inviting, and lived-in vibe. Frame your kids’ artwork (we know you keep it all) or those love letters from boot camp for an extra special touch. For the holidays, easy-to-create garland, or DIY candy cane wreaths will bring the Christmas spirit to any room…unless you let the kids use glitter—then the Christmas spirit will be in all rooms…forever.

Make it smell good.
We’ve all been there: a new house with a smell that we didn’t bring with us. Lingering animal dander, or the charming smell of an old home leave us catching our breath and opening the nearest window. That’s where the Venta Airwasher comes in. It’s a one-of-a-kind 2-in-1 humidifier and purifier that cleans the air in any room, leaving behind crisp, healthy, and breathable air for your family. Throw in some essential oils, like their Winter Dream Aromatherapy, and let cinnamon and citrus fill the air and cozy up your home for the holidays. Even pet odors are no match for the Airwasher–my dog loves the cool air it puts out!

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Make it organized.
Cleaning and purging before or after a move is common for most military families. In fact, when it comes to organizing, military families probably take the cake. So it’s no wonder our homes feel the most ‘homey’ when everything is finally unpacked and the last box is on the curb. Hit up Pinterest for some new ways to organize your space—after all, your home is a living space, not a storage space! While you’re unpacking the holiday decorations, throw out or donate what you can live without, and think about buying clear bins or wreath storage boxes to make storage a breeze.

Make it stress-free.
Military life is stressful enough, and most military families will agree that their house is a sacred, safe place where they try to leave the stresses of work and the military at the door. Creating a space that is clean, healthy, and comfortable is essential to stress-free home. We know the stress that comes with sickness, interrupted sleep, and even anxiety or other mental health issues. The Venta Airwasher is the perfect solution to all of these stressors. It keeps allergens at bay, catches bacteria before you do, adds moisture into the air for optimal breathing, and with the optional 100% all-natural Aromatherapy oils, will help sooth restless sleepers and calm anxiety.

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Moving to a new house every 3-4 years is nothing new in the military lifestyle. The tough part comes after the move: settling in and making a house a home. And our friends at Venta want to help you do just that. NMFA and Venta are teaming up to give one military family their own Airwasher system, complete with a bottle of Water Treatment Additive, a bottle of Venta Cleaner, and a 3-pack of Venta Aromatherapy of the winner’s choice.

Enter to win December 12, 2016-December 16th

Don’t feel like entering, but want your own Airwasher? To show their appreciation and support of military families, Venta is giving military families a 20% discount on any size or number of Airwashers purchased. This discount will run Monday, December 12th-Wednesday, December 21th at 11:59pm EST. Use this code at checkout: nmfa2016.

To check out more tips on how to make your military home the perfect retreat no matter the circumstance, visit Venta’s blog post or check them out on Facebook!

How do you make your home cozy and inviting at the holidays?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Military Family Holiday Memories: No Two Are the Same

Ahhh, the holidays are upon us. Visions of sugar cookies, crackling fires, and peaceful family gatherings swirl in my dreams. I’ve often wondered how different life would be enjoying the holidays in exactly the same way every year.

Those idyllic scenes of returning home to grandma’s, posing for pictures in front of the same porch, enjoying the same meals, year after year after year. No chaos, no planning, no surprises. Then I wake up, laugh to myself, and return to the life I actually live. A wild but wonderful, unpredictable but rewarding, chaotic and crazy military kind of life!

Steady, constant, and calm have never been in our vocabulary. Early years of marriage brought us overseas where Christkindl Markts, warm mugs of gluhwein, and a small, budget-restricted return home to grandma. An old photo of the two of us, our dog on our lap, and a Charlie Brown Christmas tree in the background is a happy, but quiet, reminder that we were not surrounded by family that first year, nor some others that followed.

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Our holiday photo collection has become an eclectic range of locales from snow-capped mountains to sunny beaches to European cities. In many photos, we’re surrounded by family who visited that year, while in others, we’re surrounded by friends and neighbors. A nostalgic one captured our family in a horse drawn carriage, while more somber ones captured the kids opening presents in front of a computer screen with dad on the other end.

This year will be our idyllic return home to both sets of grandmas. No deployment this year, our family unit will be whole. The old photo of the two of us with a dog has since morphed to five of us with a cat. I’m still secretly dreaming of those peaceful family gatherings, the steady and the calm. But who am I kidding? We have been fortunate that the years of celebrating together outnumber the ones spent apart, not one year repeating the previous, not one memory the same as the last.

This holiday season please keep our military families in your thoughts and prayers. Reach out to those who may be separated from loved ones with a simple, “How are you?” Consider inviting a military family who may be dealing with a deployment to join your holiday celebrations, or open your home to a single service member. The most memorable gifts often happen out of the blue and the most cherished ones are surrounded by families and friends who understand.

Are you a military family? What are your most cherished holiday memories?

Posted by Pikkwan Boston, Volunteer & Community Outreach Region Manager