Tag Archives: holidays

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).

11-17-thanksgiving-dinner

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).

11-16-military-money-matters-holiday-spending

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

Be “On-Point” for Gold Star Families This Memorial Day

May 30th—Memorial Day—marks a unique opportunity for every American to remember and honor those who lost their lives in service to this country for the freedoms we enjoy.

Memorial Day is designated as the last Monday in May each year to honor U. S. military service men and women who died while serving their country. The day is especially poignant for Gold Star Families, those family members who have lost a loved one serving in the military.

Memorial Day is different from Veterans Day, which is always celebrated on November 11, and honors all military veterans. The tradition of Memorial Day in America started during the Civil War, first called Declaration Day. After World War I, Declaration Day became a unifying event for the country, officially celebrated on May 30th. In 1968, Congress established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May, and declared it as a federal holiday.

The National Moment of Remembrance Resolution, passed in 2000, set a moment of remembrance to be held at 3 p.m., local time, on Memorial Day.

In 1936, the United States government designated the last Sunday in September as Gold Star Mother’s Day. And Gold Star Wives was founded during WWII. Today, the federal government recognizes Gold Star Family Members—mothers, fathers, spouse, children and siblings of those who died in military service.

5-30-memorial-day-flag-cemetery
Memorial Day was always a special day when I was on active duty. Celebrating the holiday with friends and families of our unit served to strengthen the bond between all of us that endures to this very day.

My family’s fondest memories of Memorial Day were during our six years in the 82nd Airborne Division, stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Division began the Memorial Day celebration the Monday before with a week of sports competitions, memorial services, and alumni events. On Memorial Day, Fort Bragg celebrated with a concert and a spectacular fireworks display.

Serving almost three decades in the military, including command during two deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan, I was separated from my family frequently and for extended periods of time. So now, our family celebrates Memorial Day together. We share a meal and share memories of our time in service with some of the most remarkable and selfless people we have ever known. We thank God for blessing us with the opportunity to experience life to its fullest, with a mission that was larger than ourselves. We reflect on the unthinkable sacrifice so many endure through the loss of their fallen warrior, and we pray for those Gold Star Family Members.

Now, as a veteran, I have the privilege of serving as director of Point 27. Point 27 partners with military units and other nonprofit organizations to strengthen and encourage members of the Armed Forces, veterans, military families, first responders, athletes, and chronically ill people. Our primary means of encouragement is through jewelry engraved with scripture called Shields of Strength. Shields of Strength serve as a physical reminder of God’s Word, His promises and His unconditional love.

This Memorial Day, Point 27 is teaming with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), another nonprofit, to give more than 2,000 Gold Star Family Members a specially-designed necklace. Each pendant is a replica of a folded American flag like those presented during military funerals and engraved with the words from John 15:13.

The Folded Flag Necklace is a lifetime keepsake, an acknowledgement of the families’ enduring sacrifice, and an assurance that we have not forgotten their loved one.

On Memorial Day, military members, veterans and their families can take significant roles in educating civilians about the sacrifices of military service. Volunteer to speak or help coordinate an honor guard for Memorial Day celebrations and community gatherings. Make a special effort to locate and reach out to Gold Star Family Members, and engage your community in honoring them and supporting nonprofit organizations that focus on Gold Star Families.

We can all be on-point this Memorial Day to make sure America honors and never forgets the fallen and their families.

Posted by Retired Army Colonel David Dodd, Director of Point 27 Ministries, a nonprofit founded by Shields of Strength.

Easy Valentine’s Day Crafts for Military Kids!

Valentine’s Day is a few days away, and if you haven’t already snagged Valentines for your child’s class, you know you’re left to rush to the store and fend off the other last minute moms and dads who forgot, too.

Valentine Craft Pinterest PIN Cambria Heart Text Overlay

But if you’re not into that, don’t worry, homemade Valentines are just as awesome. In fact, there are tons of awesome Valentines crafts in the black hole–I mean, Pinterest. Plenty for kids of all ages. What’s better, these are the perfect crafts to create with love and send to your deployed service member to share a little love on this year’s Day of Love.

I’ve done the hard work for you (Pinterest is tiring, y’all), and here are some of the most awesome, and easy, Valentines Day crafts for military kids! For more ideas, check out our Holiday Crafts for Military Kids Pinterest board!

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/262968065720041375/






https://www.pinterest.com/pin/262968065720041368/

Have any fun crafts of your own? Leave us a link in the comments! Don’t forget to tag us in your Instagram pics, @militaryfamily!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

3 Year-Round At-Home Date Ideas for Military Couples!

Valentine’s Day is around the corner, but that doesn’t mean the romantic, heartfelt, jubilant love gets taken down a notch the rest of the year. In fact, many military spouses I’ve talked to say they do little things all year round to keep the magic alive in their relationships—even with kids running around.

But what if you’re not a two-income family with no kids and extra travel money to spend on that vacation to Bora Bora? What if you’re a caregiver to a brave injured service member? Dates don’t have to be expensive, and they certainly don’t need to leave the country (wouldn’t it be nice if that were a thing?). In fact, some of the best dates are the ones that take little money and planning.

In the spirit of Lovers Day, here are three awesome at-home date ideas for you to try soon:

Date Night At Home

Find your inner kid, again!
It’s time to bust out your no-holds-barred inner child; grab all the sheets in the house, maybe an air mattress, and lots of pillow, and build a living room fort! Pull the chairs out from the dining room, and maybe dig through those just-put-away Christmas decorations to find a string of lights. Bonus points for setting up your tent around the television so you can snuggle and binge watch some Netflix. Super bonus points if you make s’mores and sleep in the tent. Get some great ideas here:

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/262968065719995188/
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/262968065720038637/

Work up a sweat…if you know what I mean
Try a couple’s fitness routine together! Build trust and muscle at the same time. Let your honey take the lead and use their military skills to show you some heart-racing exercises and stretches. Or just enjoy the eye candy while you burn off those S’Mores! Bonus points if you do a workout in the living room fort! (What? Crunches in the fort while watching a movie don’t sound fun?!) Want fitness ideas to do together?

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/262968065719995193/
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/262968065720038666/

Get a little competitive
Maybe it’s only been a year since you got married? Maybe it’s been 25 years? However long you’ve been together, there’s nothing funnier than testing out your relationship knowledge with the Newlywed Game! See if you both remember your first kiss! Once you’ve taken a stroll down memory lane, why not play some other games suited for two? Get some ideas here:

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/262968065720030023/
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/262968065719995434/

Romance, dates, and little acts of love aren’t just for February 14th. Check out our Military Romance Pinterest board for more inspiration and ideas and try out some free, at-home dates with your spouse or significant other.

What are your go-to at-home date ideas? Share it with us in the comments!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

4 Tips to Get Back on Track After New Year’s Resolution Failures

Studies show that by January 20th, most New Year’s Resolutions are busted. So, if we’re science-ing and being technical, my 2016 is ruined and my life is over because I ate rice crispy treats for dinner last night, instead of a salad. If we’re being honest, I also haven’t exercised every day, like I said I would in my New Year’s resolution Facebook post.

Let’s be real: who’s got time to eat all the salads and run all the marathons? Not me.

How can we get this resolutions train back on track without feeling like a complete rice-crispy-filled failure?

get-on-track-after-new-years-resolution-failures

I’ve got four tips:

Redefine your definition of success. And be okay with it. Expectations are the fastest way to kill your momentum when it comes to keeping those New Year’s resolutions. No matter what your focus is, you’re bound to find someone doing it better on social media. But that doesn’t have to kill your vibe. Instead, redefine success.

Basketball Hall of Fame inductee and 27-year UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, coined his own definition of success as, “Peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction and knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable.”

Success = doing the best you can.

Pick new resolutions. I know, it seems like quitting. But it’s not. Did you do your best to keep your resolutions? If not, go back to tip #1. If you did give it your best, and couldn’t succeed, consider getting real with yourself; take a good look at the resolutions you made January 1st. Think about other goals you’re bound to achieve when you give it your best—maybe even something you can achieve multiple times, and maybe even by tomorrow. Pick attainable goals, keep your expectations in check, and you’ll be on the path to keeping your resolution longer.

Celebrate every single win. Once you redefine success, or maybe lighten your resolution load, you’ll find yourself meeting and exceeding your goals (#winning). Resist the urge to devalue yourself and your achievement for any reason—instead, stand in that awesomeness, own it, and celebrate that win. For extra self-satisfaction, write your successes on a Post-It and stick those bad boys some where you’ll see it all the time!

Appreciate each failure, and try again. Unless your resolution is to eat a rice crispy treat every day (and yay for leap years—366 rice crispy treats!), failure is bound to happen. Some may not face it, but many of us will. And the only way we keep from feeling like a lump of a human being with no ability to succeed, is to try again. Being able to appreciate a failure, no matter how unsettling, is hard. But getting up, dusting yourself off, and trying again is both necessary and powerful.

Consider this quote (one of my personal favorites) from President Teddy Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming… who at the best, knows…the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

Success isn’t always winning, it’s found in the wanting, the trying, and the kick-butt ability to keep going, even when you fail.

So what if it’s only January 20th and your resolutions are shot? You get to start over and try again. You faced the arena, tried your best, and came up short…and that’s okay. The key is refusing to define yourself based on a stupid resolution or failure. You are not your failures.

You can get this train back on track! And if all else fails, the rice crispy treat thing is a great option.

How are you doing with your resolutions? Are you starting over? Tell us in the comments!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Survive and Thrive: Making New Year’s Resolution in DC!

As we start off 2016, many of us have set up our own resolutions for how we plan to survive and thrive, wherever we may be, in the New Year. I thought about my own goals for the year ahead, and I couldn’t help but think back to 2015 and the ways I have grown and changed in the last year.

Among other things, I’ve learned my way around the Washington DC area and can even navigate the beltway without fear. I’ve also discovered new places and things I love. I’ve accomplished things I’m proud of and that I want to build upon in 2016. I’ve looked closely at myself and started to identify things I’m not happy about and genuinely want to change in the year ahead. So here they are, both my resolutions and what I want to enjoy more of in this New Year in while living in Northern Virginia.

jogging-in-the-district

I resolve to run a half marathon.
Back in my late 20’s, I ran a half marathon, but when I moved to the DC area a little over a year ago from Fort Campbell, I weighed nearly 25 pounds more than I do today, and could barely run a half mile. After undergoing two major surgeries at the end of 2014 and in early 2015, I had to recognize I was not healthy. Stress was causing my body to fail me from the inside.

In 2015, I started running again. Fortunately, the DC area offers an array of opportunities to get fit–more than previous places I’ve lived– and I have participated in several local runs. A great source for military spouses is your local installation’s Directorate of Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR). Fort Belvoir offers multiple, low-cost runs throughout the year, and even has a Health and Fitness Expo coming up later this month. Most of my training occurred on the multiple trails that exist in the Northern Virginia area, like Holmes Run trail in Alexandria, 4-mile Run Trail in Arlington and the Mount Vernon Trail. These trails are free for you to walk/run/bike! I’m up to 8 miles, so this year it is my goal to train for and run another half marathon (and beat my time from my late 20s!)

I resolve to be more positive.
I am a naturally pessimistic person, and have been known to perpetually plan for the worst case scenario. Although this has occasionally been helpful when the worst case did occur, I’ve realized I’ve spent entirely too much time stressing myself out and in many cases not enjoying life, which surely contributed to my health problems in the last year. My resolution this year is to change my way of thinking and become a more positive person. Among other things, I’ve signed up for a free course on Positive Psychology, and am trying to focus more on things that I’m grateful for, and on spending more time enjoying the little things.

For me, a big source of enjoyment is both cooking and eating food. Fortunately, distance running burns the calories I gain from my source of enjoyment. This year, I found a number of restaurants I really love in the DC area, like Teddy & the Bully Bar near DuPont Circle (where I discovered a true passion for Brussel Sprouts), District Taco (a DC area chain with the best fish tacos and yummy salsa bar), Sugar Shack (Maple Bacon doughnuts!), the Mediterranean Bakery & Café in Alexandria (great pastries and a fab olive selection), German Gourmet in the Bailey’s Crossroads Area (I traveled to Germany this year for the first time and am obsessed with all things German—the sandwiches at this place don’t disappoint), and Pho14 near the Columbia Heights Metro Station in DC, where I discovered the Bahn Mi sandwich (the Pho is excellent as well). I’ve also come to love the Alexandria Farmers Market at Market Square on Saturday mornings, especially the excellent offerings (butter lemon cake!) from Alexandria’s Bread and Water Company. I’m always looking for more positive dining experiences in 2016, please feel free share your favorite DC area restaurants in the comments!

I resolve to spend money on experiences and not things.
This past year, I had the opportunity to travel to Germany for work, and really enjoyed the experiences I had in our off hours (especially exploring the Christmas markets, where I tried local treats like Dampnudlen and Gluhwein), and we also enjoyed a trip to see fall colors on a cruise of the East Coast of the U.S. and Canada. But, especially in the DC area, experiences don’t have to be expensive.

One thing I’ve really enjoyed is attending Washington Nationals baseball games (last year they even offered free tickets to active duty military and their families on Military Appreciation Day), and attending free concerts put on by the US Army Band. In fact, free tickets for events at Constitution Hall and the Kennedy Center are offered around the holidays, and there are free concerts on Ft Myer all year round. Another source of entertainment for me is spending time outdoors at our National Parks. There are tons in the DC area and a free annual pass is available for US military. Just show your CAC or military ID any Federal recreation sites. My local favorites: Harpers Ferry and the C&O Canal National Historic Park near Great Falls. So this year, I resolve to do more of what I love, make new memories and enjoy life.

What are your resolutions for 2016?

Laura-Yates-headshotPosted by Laura Yates,  National Military Family Association Volunteer