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Life Hacks: How to Survive the Holidays Away

 Posted by on December 7, 2015 at 08:00
Dec 072015


Shhh…(read this in a whispering, nature-show-host Australian accent). Right over there — look between the hobby-store shelves — you’ll see the first Nordic land elves tending to candy cane fields and rows of evergreens. Crikey — I witnessed those elves frolicking in the hobby stores this August! That is just too soon. I can’t deal with it. I savor the holidays with my family, and seeing the decor so early in the year makes it seem like it’s an everyday occurrence. Military families don’t always get to spend holidays with one another or their extended families.

With each new deployment date announcement, my mind raced through the calendar to see which holidays we were losing. I’m not typically such a negative nelly, but spending birthdays, anniversaries, federal and religious holidays alone is a big deal, especially when you are stationed overseas or across the country from your extended family. It’s something you have to prepare for mentally and plan out to make it through without falling into the pit of depression. For those of you who’ve been there, you know I’m not being melodramatic. It really is a big deal and it is best to face it head on.

Unwrap it

From experience, I can tell you that the best place to start is in your own mind. Whether you are the one leaving on deployment or the one left behind, you both need to readjust your thinking and expectations of the holiday. Take a moment to whine and complain to one another and get it out of your system. It isn’t what you want, but you can’t change the situation, so change how you think about it. It will be tough, but you can make the holiday special if you work together and plan ahead.

Reframe it

Focusing on what you can do to make the holiday special within your current circumstances is the best use of your time and efforts (verses wallowing in the pit of gloom). It will be tough, but with planning, you can make it memorable and fun. Whichever holiday(s) you are planning for, you can use the following life hacks and just tweak them to fit your situation.

Keep traditions

Brainstorm (or make a list, for all you fellow type A’s) with your family about what traditions really make the holiday for each of you. Include food, drinks, games, songs, events, etc. Then look through the list and have everyone pick out at least one thing they can’t live without. That will be the basis for your plans. Find ways to keep or observe and share those key family traditions wherever you are located.

  • Take pictures, voice memos or videos to send to one another (including family and friends).
  • Email pictures, voice memos, videos, letters and eCards to stay connected and involved.
  • Mail picture, voice memo, videos, letters, cards, baked goods or wrapped gifts early.
  • Purchase, wrap or pack gifts with deployed member before they leave.
  • Set up a contact near home and in the service unit to help you surprise your spouse on holidays.
  • Use real-time video call applications to watch each other open gifts or be part of some activities.
Add new

Just like you learn to distract a toddler from an impending tantrum, you have to distract your mind a bit — or at least give it something new to look forward to. One way our family has found to do that is to introduce something new into our holidays each year (kudos to my uncle for the idea). This started out with adding a new dish to our family meal and morphed into trying new activities for the day.

  • Play a white elephant gift exchange (Google it for the rules). The gifts tend to be anything from gag gifts to useful or just fun. Some gag gifts (we call them bombs) continue to turn up year after year. We adopted this during Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it works for any occasion.
  • Invite others without local family to your holiday table and activities. Be the family and support that your friends need. Include them in your activities and involve their favorite traditions too. This is really where the military community is at its best, when we look out for one another.
  • Arrange a progressive dinner with other military families. Brunch and parade watching at one house, then everyone travels to the next house for a late dinner and football or board games, and later, everyone heads to the last house for dessert and enjoys a group game like white elephant.
  • Adopt new traditions from your host country if you are living in a foreign land. Do a little research about the particular holiday, and try out one of the customs. For the American-specific holidays, you can still include customs or recipes specific to the country in general. Change it up!
  • Go to events and volunteer before, during and after the holiday. Make a week of celebrations and helping others instead of focusing only on the one day. Take in a movie, parade, concerts, and serve at the food bank, homeless shelter, animal shelter or other community organization.
  • Create your own activities if there aren’t any around that suit your tastes. An ugly sweater party, board game night and silly games you see on late-night comedy shows that you turn into neighborhood tournaments should help jump start your creative ideas for entertainment.

Embrace the change. You’ll be surprised at what you enjoy and will want to continue to do year after year. We’ve adopted some of the new food and activities into our family traditions. Holidays away from family can be tough, but with planning, you can have memorable and fun-filled celebrations that connect you across the miles.

Give it Back: A Lesson in Paying it Forward

 Posted by on November 26, 2015 at 22:42
Nov 262015


Somewhere around four years and three states ago, my son lost that breathtaking excitement a child gets out of something as simple as a cardboard box. Maybe all the moving has desensitized him to cardboard, who knows? At age 2, my daughter still has it. She gasped so long after opening a care package from her Nana and Papa that I had to remind her to take a breath, and this was before she even knew what was wrapped up in the packing paper.

As their mom, I knew it was on me to deliver an attitude adjustment (or, in my daughter’s case, bad attitude prevention). Teaching graciousness, thankfulness and respect is my job and my husband’s job. It’s definitely not the job of a cartoon character or a teacher (trust me, teachers’ plates are full without adding this to the lesson plan). So, last holiday season I decided to take action against:

  • Tantrums brought on by the word, “no”
  • Stand-offs because I gave my kid the red straw when he was clearly (silently, in his own head) envisioning sipping his milk through the blue straw
  • Whining
  • Complaints of boredom
  • Complaints that all of our toys are boring
  • The sense of entitlement
  • Selfishness
  • Dinnertime protests against anything unprocessed or covered in cheese
Not-so-random acts of kindness

My plan was to get the kids involved in giving back. For 25 days, we worked together to help others, give instead of receive and make our community an all-around better place for everyone. Every day, for 25 days, the kids opened an envelope to find their act of kindness mission for the day. Here’s what we did:

  1. Hold the door open for 10 people.
  2. Hide five $1 bills around store shelves for shoppers to find.
  3. Leave stamps in the stamp machine at the post office.
  4. Donate supplies to the animal shelter.
  5. Send cookies to work with daddy.
  6. Donate change to the Salvation Army.
  7. Drop off lunch for firefighters.
  8. Pay the tab for the car behind us at the drive-thru.
  9. Donate canned goods to a holiday food drive.
  10. Mail letters to loved ones.
  11. Donate stuffed animals to the police station to comfort children in traumatic situations.
  12. Take cookies to hard-working teachers before their holiday break.
  13. Clean up trash around the neighborhood. For safety, the kids wore gloves, and anything especially gross was mommy’s job to clean up.
  14. Deliver flowers to a nursing home, and ask that they be given to the resident who most needs them.
  15. Compliment three people.
  16. Donate clothes, toys and books we’ve outgrown.
  17. Mail a care package to a service member spending the holidays overseas.
  18. Leave money with a parking lot attendant at the airport to cover the fees for the next driver. (I initially wanted to do this at the hospital parking garage, but the parking was free. I figured stressed holiday travelers could use a little kindness too. The attendant was so excited to be a part of this act of kindness that you would’ve thought I’d given her a check for a million dollars!)
  19. Give Santa a present at the mall — the kids drew him pictures.
  20. Leave a stack of pennies next to a fountain with a note that says, “For wishes.”
  21. Deliver breakfast or coffee to the gate guards.
  22. Drop off crayons and coloring books to a hospital waiting room.
  23. Leave bus fare on bus benches around town.
  24. Pack and deliver chemo care packages to the cancer center.
  25. Donate a toy to Toys For Tots.

Some of these will be back this holiday season, but I’ve been busily brainstorming a few new ideas to throw in the mix:

  1. Corral shopping carts left around a parking lot.
  2. Deliver holiday treats to our neighbors.
  3. Cheer on runners at a race.
  4. Please and thank you day — say them all day when you ask for something or receive something.
  5. Plant a tree.
  6. Leave homemade bookmarks with kind messages inside books at the library.
  7. Let someone go ahead of us in line.
  8. Donate school supplies — pencils and paper aren’t usually on anyone’s mind after August, but those supplies run out, and teachers often dip into their own pockets to provide for their students.
  9. Clean up a neighborhood park.
Make it work for your family

My kids are pretty young, so, for now, the acts of kindness are fairly simple with lots of parent involvement (which I didn’t mind because even grown-ups need reminders once in a while). If you have older kids, you might find success in volunteering time or giving your teenagers the reins to come up with ideas of their own.

This is a tradition that I absolutely fell in love with last year, and I can’t wait to get started on the acts of kindness this holiday season. However small, my kids are making a difference and they’re seeing the value in that. These gestures can turn someone’s crummy day around (even our own). They can offer a little hope in a hopeless situation. They offer thanks to someone in an otherwise thankless job. They can cause a chain reaction of kindness. A little kindness goes a long way, and that’s a lesson worth teaching at any age.

5 Ways to Get Back on Track After the Holidays

 Posted by on January 30, 2015 at 15:12
Jan 302015

Eek! It’s January and the bills for our holiday purchases are coming in. It’s easy to get caught up in the festive holiday spirit, and before we know it, we’ve spent more than we should have on presents for those we love. On top of that, sometimes unexpected things happen during the holidays that put us even further over our budgets. So it’s not so surprising to find ourselves in a post-holiday financial panic.



Last November, my mother had an emergency quadruple bypass, and my four brothers, sister and I all went back home to be with her. We got to reminisce about old times (we hadn’t all been together in 27 years!), and all of that closeness brought out the mama bear in me. None of them have significant others in their lives right now, and I wanted to make sure they each had gifts to open on Christmas day. So I purchased several gifts for each of them, on top of the gifts I purchased for my own family. Needless to say, I overspent. Now that the bills are piling in, I have to figure out a way to get back on track. Fortunately, my 20 years of experience living on an enlisted soldier’s pay while staying home to raise our three wonderful children has gifted me with several tried-and-true tactics to get expenses back under control.

  1. Find things you can sell.

Start decluttering your house and sell what you can on a classified ad site. It’s quick, easy and free. You’d be surprised how many people will clamber for that unused treadmill sitting in the corner collecting dust (and laundry).

  1. Stick to your budget.

If you don’t already have a budget, make one—now. If you do have one, stick to it for the rest of the year. In fact, go one step further and make a commitment to cut something out this month, say eating out or buying new clothes, and use the money you’ve saved to pay off one of your holiday bills.

  1. Use up the food in your freezer.

Before you go out and buy pork chops for dinner, find out what’s in your freezer and use it. Add the money you save to your bill payments. And instead of throwing out leftovers, have them for lunch or dinner again the next night, or use leftover ingredients in a new recipe for the next meal. Like grandma used to say, “Waste not, want not.”

  1. Get extra work.

If you are in a profession where you can make some extra money on the side, do it. For example, if you’re an English teacher, you might be able to do some tutoring or freelance editing. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, see if anyone needs your babysitting services while they run errands or have a date night. As a young military family stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia (home to the Basic Officer Leaders Course for Armor and Infantry), I would type up officers’ end-of-course papers for a fee.

  1. Start saving for the next holiday season.

There’s no time like the present, right? Start saving now for the holidays this year. It doesn’t have to be a lot; even saving your change in a jar can add up. If you can afford it, save as much as you spent this year. Just add up the amount you spent, divide it by 11 and then save that much each month. You’ll have holiday money when you need it, without using your credit cards.

Paying down your holiday debt won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Paying the minimum amount on your credit card can take years to pay off, so taking care of that debt as soon as possible is especially crucial. Developing a plan and sticking to it – while also allowing yourself to have a little fun – is the best way to get back on track after your holiday spending spree.



Roads Trips in The Winter

 Posted by on December 24, 2014 at 12:23
Dec 242014

Traveling at any time is thrilling, exciting and rejuvenating, except when it’s not. Traveling in the winter is all those things but also treacherous, exhausting and often miserable. Here are my solutions to winter travel blues and how to make it exciting.



Being a military family we often traveled “home” for the holidays. We either lived on one coast or the other and our families are right in the middle in Texas. Either direction we had a 22- to 25-hour drive and, with a large family and presents, flying was not an option.

Enter the military-infused bloodline I come from. My personal mission was Operation “get home for the holidays” and I was in charge.

The winter weather brought on new challenges that our summer trips did not. I would start with a plan, or some might call it an ORM (operation risk management) only I did it Kelli style, usually yelling out orders from a chair or couch while trying to shove as many clothes into a space bag as possible. Think of what could go wrong and have things in place to address any potential problems along the way. That is ORM.

Plan out your route with alternatives

Make sure you are planning the safest route possible. Sadly, it’s not always the shortest. Take into consideration the conditions you’ll be traveling in and which roads will be maintained sooner than others in the event of a winter storm. Be aware of alternate routes you can take in the event a road is closed.

Weather reports

My dad was our weather guy. He would track our road trips, call us along the way and report what we were heading into. Enter the cell phones of today and all the fabulous weather apps. Now we have a weather guy on the road with us. Someone tracks the storms and reports what’s ahead. It’s usually boring stuff in July on I10, but during December you might see some action.

Car preparations

Depending on where you are going, make sure the car is prepared for the conditions you will be traveling through. Lucky for us we never needed to purchase snow tires or chains, but if you’re heading far north, budget that in. Oil changes and routine maintenance should be scheduled out in advance to catch any bigger unexpected mechanical concerns. I was really great about this, except when I might have forgotten to do it. Last minute oil changes and a quick review of the tires, belts and fluids at the very minimum should definitely be done before you hit the highway.

Blankets, food and water

These are typical needs on any long trip, but the colder weather makes the food and blankets a little more important than a spring break drive home. The thought of breaking down on Interstate 20 in December somewhere in Tennessee made me a little nervous so I made sure we could survive for three days in our SUV. OK, so maybe I have issues, but we would stay warm and eat like kings!


With the electronics of today, this is almost too easy. Might I suggest a throwback to before media was so portable? I read books out loud on the drive. If you are prone to motion sickness try the book on CD version. There’s just something about the whole family listening to a story together. However, don’t think I don’t see the value in everyone having their own headset and going into their own world for an hour or two.

The bottom line is if you are prepared, do your part in making sure you know what you are headed into and keep a cool head when the unexpected pops up, you are going to have a fabulous winter trip. Oh and when the unexpected does happen, add it to your after action report for consideration in planning Operation “get home for the holidays” next year.

If you have any unique tips or adventures share in the comments below. We’d love to hear how you make those long trips home an exciting adventure!

How to Get Your Family to Go for Healthy Holiday Recipes

 Posted by on December 23, 2014 at 16:51
Dec 232014


My sweet little family has a stereotypical Texas palate — burgers, brisket, sausage, bacon and butter. Every holiday meal has a giant, greased-up bird or beast surrounded by five desserts and every casserole dish from grandma’s, mama’s and my kitchen, and they’re all full of something loaded in either sugar, fat or both.

Every year, everyone asks the same question, “Why did we make so much food?” This is the mystery of the universe — unsolved to this day.

But, after the military moved me away from home, and back again, the holidays are a little different for me. While I was out of the barbeque capital for three years, I gave up red meat, I learned to cut way back on sugar and fat without sacrificing the foods and flavors I really love and I realized the difference between a full dinner plate and a portion size.

Getting selective about food was easy for me, it is all my kids know and my husband is a supporter as long as I occasionally buy him a brisket and let him eat the occasional bag of fast food without a guilt trip. But, introducing my healthy changes to my extended family has been a struggle — mostly because it happens so infrequently, like only around the holidays. You know the old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” No, Dad, I’m not calling you an old dog; I’m just saying that it’s tough to change when you’re facing off against holiday tradition…and grandma. HolidayRecipesKS2

But, I promise you, it can be done! You can cut an entire stick of butter or shortening out of a recipe, you can make simple lower fat choices and you can cut way down on that holiday sugar rush (and crash) by taking it easy on the sprinkle cookies (ahem, Santa).

Unlike grandma’s super-secret pie recipe, I’m sharing my secrets to a healthier holiday with you, and sending you into the kitchen equipped with the tools to turn your biggest critics into believers:

  1. Start small, but start somewhere. If your family is a long, traditional line of indulgers, you don’t want to send them into a holiday panic. For example, swapping the holiday spread for a green salad or the cookies for celery sticks could cause your kinfolk to turn on you. Take it slow — remember you’re working against recipes that go back for generations. Use great-great-grandma’s recipe, but sub equal parts of unsweetened applesauce for some of the butter or use whole grain rolls instead of the basic white dinner roll. Even small changes can make big differences.
  2. Go undercover. Shh — bring it in real close now. You know your family will like the flavorful, healthy makeover you found of one of their favorite dishes. They just don’t know that you know that they’ll like it…or something. Anyway, the point is. You can be a little sneaky. The only way I can get my husband to eat butternut squash is by mixing a puree into my homemade macaroni and cheese. Sneak in the healthy stuff, and just sit back and listen to them rave about your cooking. Your secret is safe with me.
  3. Come clean. Once you’re sure your family loves your healthy alternative recipe, spill the beans — not literally, I could see how that could be confusing when we’re talking about food. You have to eventually tell them about the secret ingredients, though, so that they are no longer afraid of the healthy. Keeping them in the dark forever will only keep them closed off from healthy changes.
  4. Accept constructive criticism. You are introducing new healthy alternatives with the expectation that your family will embrace change. You have to be willing to do the same. If you make something that was a major flop, admit it. If you made a healthy substitution that completely ruined the flavor or consistency, head back to the drawing board. Eventually, you’ll strike a balance that will keep you and your family satisfied and ready to accept a new holiday recipe into the fold.HolidayRecipesKS3
Dec 222014


Holidays are notoriously stressful, we all know that. Along with all the financial stressors there’s also the shopping, wrapping, mailing, etc. that goes along with it. How can you avoid being stressed? It’s all a matter of recognizing the signs so you can find ways to calm down and take care of yourself. As the wife of a former soldier, I know a little something about stress. For instance, as a brand new military spouse, I had one pretty stressful holiday. Maybe my situation — and response to it — will help you in your quest to de-stress over the holidays.

Back in 1990, we were new to the military and had two little girls — one was 3 ½ years old and the other was 18 months old — and assigned to our first duty station in Nuremburg, Germany. It was at a time, before the post-Gulf War drawdown, when housing was scarce. It took my husband more than six months to find housing for us, so the girls and I remained in the United States while he lived in the barracks. When my husband finally found a place, it was a cramped attic apartment about 26 kilometers from the military post. And it was three weeks before Christmas. And my husband was leaving for the Gulf War in two weeks. Yes, it was stressful. Not only did I have to pass my driver’s test so I could drive in a foreign country, but I also had to figure out how to find my way around, including maneuvering the Autobahn. I was despondent over the situation so I told my husband, “I don’t think I’ll even celebrate Christmas this year.” My husband said something that has resonated with me throughout my life. He said, “You’ve got to do it for the girls. You’ve got to make the best of any situation you’re in.” That advice has served me well over the years. I have made it a point to look on the positive side and be happy wherever I am. I’ve taught this same concept to my children and I believe they’re happier because of it. I recommend everyone try to do this, especially during the holidays when stress can sometimes get the best of you.

Beating the mayhem associated with the holidays lies with recognizing the signs that you’re under stress. By identifying the triggers of your holiday blues, you may find new ways to cope. Here are some signs of stress that should be easy to identify in yourself:

  • Tiredness that cannot be fixed with sleep
  • Low energy
  • Irritability
  • Sensitivity to normal actions or criticisms
  • Can’t remember things like you used to
  • Negative feelings
  • Feeling down or depressed

Now that you can identify when you’re becoming stressed, let’s look at some ways to cope. I found these tips in a Military OneSource article and wanted to share them with you:

  • Focus on what’s really important — cherishing family, creating memories and having fun.
  • Simplify your commitments and traditions. Have a family discussion about what’s important and realize that you may have to re-evaluate past traditions — where you spend the holiday, gift giving or how you manage your blended family.
  • If possible, try something new for the holidays, like planning a vacation with your family or friends.
  • Spend time with people who care about you.
  • Volunteer your time to help others.
  • Reflect on the spiritual significance of the holiday.
  • Understand that your feelings of sadness or loneliness may not go away just because it’s the time to be jolly. Try to live in the moment and find joy in the good things in your life.
  • Exercise and eat healthy, balanced meals.

Start planning now for a revamped, stress-free holiday season. You’ll save yourself a lot of grief and learn to revel in this joyous time.

How to Budget for Holiday Gifts

 Posted by on February 26, 2014 at 15:00
Feb 262014

How to Budget for Holiday Gifts


This week is dedicated to promoting financial readiness among service members and military families, and highlighting the Defense Department’s resources dedicated to keeping you fiscally fit. Here on the Blog Brigade, we’re dipping into our archives to share some of our favorite posts about budgeting, particularly those related to cash budgeting. Feel free to leave a comment or share this post if you enjoy it!



Welcome Holiday Shopping Madness 2013! Consider this your reminder that overspending in December leads to buyer’s remorse in January. Do not get caught up in the hype. Put down that scarf that you are thinking about getting for your sister’s husband’s aunt’s daughter. Return that (insert name of this season’s “must have” toy) back to the shelf and exit the mall stage left. It is time to go home and make a battle plan for your holiday spending. Trust me, a little planning now will lead to a happier new year.

Let me remind you that no matter who you are, or what your bank account looks like, you must set a budget for your holiday spending. Once that budget is decided, it MUST be set in stone. No upping the limit because “OMG! I can’t believe that the ‘Super Frazzle Dazzle Thingamajig’ that I never knew I wanted is HALF OFF!” In order to add some permanency to your budget, go to the ATM or bank and withdraw your entire spending budget in cash.  There!  Did that hurt a little watching your bank account balance drop? Good. Remember that feeling so you aren’t tempted to withdraw more money or use a charge card that will accumulate debt that you have to pay off in the upcoming year.

Next, with your budget in hand, take the time to sit down (preferably with your spouse) and write down EVERYONE you need to buy gifts for. And I mean EVERYONE. Aside from the obvious such as your family, plan for the teacher, the mailman, your distant cousin Sue, your work’s secret Santa exchange, etc. You get the idea. Then assign a dollar amount to each person, BUT do NOT go over your already determined upon budget. Coming up short? Too bad. Go back to the drawing board and tweak your numbers until your gift amounts equal your total budget. As you can imagine, it is best to do this step in pencil and have an eraser handy.

Now you need to organize your shopping list and your cash budget. There are many ways to do this. You can do the boring ol’ “envelope ” system where you have an envelope for each person on your list with the pre-determined amount of cash inside. Then as you shop, keep a running total on the outside of the envelope by subtracting each purchase. Or you could do the medium grade tech savvy way by collecting your receipts that you spend, going home and inputting the totals into a spreadsheet or another computer program. OR you can be an ultra tech nerd like me and use one of the numerous smart phone apps that allows you to track your gift spending by doing all the adding, subtracting and organizing for you. All you need to do is enter your purchases and assign each one to a person. The choice is yours on how you want to stay on track, but the one choice you don’t have is to skip this step.

Now that you are armed with a budget and the tools to get your holiday shopping done, don’t fall into these common holiday traps.

  • Avoid those impulse “stocking stuffer” buys and “door buster” sales. If you didn’t plan on buying it when you walked in, walk away or take it out of your budget.
  • If you are at a store and buying a gift on your list as well as a personal item, it is perfectly OK to do two transactions to keep your receipts and totals straight.
  • Do not feel the need to buy a gift for everyone that buys you one if you did not budget for it. A sincere thank you will suffice. Just think: If you reciprocate, you could be setting yourself up for “perceived mandatory gift exchanging” for years to come.
  • Do not buy “just one more toy” because you do not think the number of your kids’ presents is equal. If you set the same budget for each child, the number of gifts WILL be different. Especially if you are buying your teenager the latest tech gadget and your toddler the cuddly life-like baby doll. If questions arise, this is a good teaching point for your kids about budgeting.

OK! Now that you are armed with knowledge, cash and a list that’s set in stone, it is time to hit the stores! You can go out there with confidence knowing that you are rocking this holiday season and that your January will be remorse-free since you are making good December decisions!

Making Health a Holiday Tradition

 Posted by on December 17, 2013 at 15:49
Dec 172013


The word “tradition” gets tacked onto holiday festivities year after year because – well – it’s tradition. We dump two sticks of butter and some marshmallows into a perfectly simple bowl of mashed sweet potatoes – or candied yams, another tradition alert – in order to make them taste just like mom’s sweet potatoes. We take our plates – which we shamelessly wiped clean of crumbs and brown gravy with our last bite of dinner roll – back for seconds because it’s tradition to stuff ourselves during big holiday feasts. And, then, we unbutton that top button on our pants that fit fine just minutes earlier to lounge around groaning and watching football (or holiday parades for those of you who don’t know the difference between a first and fourth down) until we doze off because that’s just the American way.

At the risk of raising eyebrows during this season of indulging, you are allowed to make a healthier version of the sweet potatoes. You can exercise restraint when faced with five dozen varieties of holiday cookies. You can remove mayonnaise-based “salads” from your holiday spread, and – stick with me on the last one – you CAN move around before and after holiday dinners instead of taking up residence on the couch or in front of the pumpkin pie.

I know what you’re thinking, “You’re crazy, Kristi. You obviously don’t know my family, Kristi.” And you’d be right. Wait – only on the second accusation. Anyway, I do know my family, and I feel like we’re a fairly traditional bunch. So much so that when my brother and parents came to visit me one holiday season while my husband was deployed, I tried to substitute ground turkey breast in my favorite chili recipe. I felt it was an easy trade and that my steak-loving family wouldn’t know the difference. My brother took one bite, asked what the heck I was trying to do to him and then asked to borrow my car so he could drive to the fried chicken place to pick up some dinner. I offered to make the same dish the following year, and my dad respectfully said that he and my mom would just eat at the airport before I picked them up.

Changing the way you eat is no picnic – especially when you try to justify it to the people who raised you and think they know you better than you know yourself, but you can make a few healthy decisions and swaps that can keep family traditions alive and well, and keep you from getting booted to the kids’ table or uninvited to that yummy cookie exchange. And, who knows, maybe your healthy – or at least, healthier – suggestions will encourage some new traditions.

A healthy holiday doesn’t have to mean drastic changes; try one or a few of the following to “healthify” your family’s holiday celebrations:

Make some substitutions when preparing some of the traditional holiday recipes. One of my favorite substitutions is unsweetened applesauce in place of butter, oil or eggs in sweeter dishes, like holiday cookies and quick breads. It also works beautifully in my family’s tried and true sweet potato soufflé. Non-fat Greek yogurt is another simple solution for ingredients like mayonnaise, cream cheese or sour cream. Both applesauce and Greek yogurt are equal substitutions.

Balance your plate. I’m not insisting you perform circus tricks at the family table; balance your plate nutritionally speaking. According to, half of your plate should be reserved for fruits and vegetables – bonus points for any fruits and veggies not slathered in gravy, creamy sauces or covered in sugar.

Skip your second helping and have small portions of leftovers instead. Sometimes the leftovers are better than the dinner itself – just throwing that out there.

Get active before or after dinner. Sign up for a holiday race, take a brisk walk with your family or head to the backyard for a little family football game.

Give yourself a break. If you live a healthy lifestyle 364 other days out of the year, understand that indulging one day won’t undo all of your hard work. You have waited all year for these dishes and treats, so you should enjoy them! As long as you’re responsible with your portion size you should have nothing to worry about!

Make the holidays about family, not food. True story, you don’t have to eat a crumb to be thankful for what you have or enjoy the company you’re in, which is what holidays are all about. Whether you’re celebrating with family you haven’t seen in years, a few close relatives or your military family, make the focus of your holidays about enjoying the company of people special to you.

As this year winds down, remember how much we all have to be thankful for. Enjoy your family, friends, great food and a little fun and fitness. Happy Holidays!

To DIY or Not

 Posted by on December 12, 2013 at 18:29
Dec 122013


I am a Pinterest addict, and I am not ashamed to admit it. I love crafts and do-it-yourself, or DIY, projects. In a perfect world, I would have a craft room with access to unlimited supplies and endless time to be creative.  However, the reality is that I live in a tiny base housing home on the other side of the world with two weeks standing between my mailbox and my favorite stores to get craft supplies.  Do I let this stop me from creating DIY holiday gifts? Absolutely not.  If you are a self-proclaimed craft addict like me, you have probably already finished your DIY for this year. If you are new to the DIY scene, don’t worry! It isn’t too late to throw together some fabulous DIY gifts for your gift list!

If your gift list includes ornament exchanges, secret pal swaps, unit family readiness parties and teacher gifts, in addition to your regular gift list, it might be time to check out some DIY ideas! Need ideas or inspiration for your DIY holiday gift list? Look no further than Pinterest. There are more ideas than you will ever be able to sift through…and not all of them involve mason jars (fellow Pinterest addicts will appreciate that humor!). Seriously though, there is literally something for everyone on your list and for every level of crafter.

Before you make your decision on “To DIY or NOT DIY” ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this project a budget buster or is it budget-friendly?
  • Do I REALISTICALLY have the time and skills needed to see this project through from start to finish?
  • Will completing this project cause me joy or stress?
  • Will the recipient appreciate a DIY gift?

To help answer these questions consider the following:

Warning: DIY does NOT always equal budget-friendly. One year I decided that I wanted to make our own Christmas cards because some pretty ribbon caught my eye and had my creative juices flowing. So I purchased card stock, envelopes, ribbon, paper punches and all the other goodies to bring my creative masterpiece to fruition. Once the project was over, I could have saved myself about $40 and an entire Saturday by purchasing premade cards. Lesson learned. Sure I had fun being creative, but that $40 and free time could have gone toward something else more productive.

On the flip side of the coin, DIY does not always mean more expensive. For example, depending on prices where you live, you can make your own homemade gourmet vanilla to give as a gift for well under $7 per bottle. Talk about an original gift that your baking friends would love! Plus this gift can be made in large quantities to wipe out a good chunk of your gift list! Lesson: If you look for crafts that you can easily create multiples of, you will not only save time, but money.

I feel I should remind everyone that if you do not know how to sew, now is not the time to learn so that you can make your brother a quilt out of his favorite old t-shirts. Make that a goal for NEXT year after a few sewing lessons! Same applies to every “skilled” craft genre. There are some skilled crafts that can be learned quickly, but you know your own personal skill level; don’t stress yourself out this close to the holidays.

Consider your own hectic schedule. Do you have the time between your seven million other commitments as an adult, parent, spouse, employee, etc.? If you are already pulling your hair out trying to determine how you are going to make time to go grocery shopping, now is not the time to take on an extensive DIY holiday gift project (or maybe it is just the therapeutic stress relief you need — only you know the answer to that). To add to your stress, you don’t need a pile of craft supplies taunting you on the kitchen table reminding you of a task that you are not completing. The goal of DIY holiday gifts isn’t to compete with others or to try to keep up with the Stepford Wives in your neighborhood. The idea of making your own gifts is to give the recipient something thoughtful from your heart that you truly enjoy making. If you are doing it for the wrong reasons, it isn’t worth it. Skip the craft store and hit up the mall.

Think about the recipient of the gift too. For example, your 7-year-old niece may not appreciate a shadow box artfully made up of her newborn keepsakes. You will save yourself the hurt and the time by buying your niece something she will appreciate now instead of later. However, maybe that shadow box would be a good gift for your sister! Know your recipient and make your decision based upon their appreciation.

After you answer these questions and consider these tips, you will know if you’ll be having a DIY holiday gift afternoon or hitting up the stores in order to complete your gift list! Happy crafting…or shopping!

Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions

 Posted by on January 9, 2013 at 12:00
Jan 092013
Staff Blogger Melissa


Some of the best advice I have ever heard was “It takes 14 days to make a habit, good or bad.” How relevant this is at the start of a new year when so many of us are trying our best to keep our resolutions. I think January starts out as “Power Month” for resolutions because we are amped, excited, stoked to be making positive changes in our lives. For me, the “newness” wears off after about a week, and I wonder what I was thinking setting such lofty goals. Throughout the years I have discovered little ways to meet my goals and keep my resolutions. So regardless of whether your resolution is to get fit, learn a new skill, add something to your life or remove something from your life, here are six quick tips to help along the way.

Write your resolutions down. Put them somewhere prominent where you will see them every day. Maybe on your bathroom mirror or refrigerator? It will help you “keep your eye on the prize.”

Share your resolutions. Let your family and friends know what you are working on and ask for their support. I happen to be married to one of those lucky men who can eat anything he wants and as much as he wants and he never gain an ounce. If I think about a cookie I gain weight. I let my husband know that I want to work on my eating habits so there will be more chicken in our diet and less junk food in the house and that I need him to help me by not suggesting that we have buttery popcorn while watching TV.

Have an accountability buddy. Like the majority of us, most of my resolutions are related to fitness. My resolution is to work out six days a week.  I also have a friend that shares the same goal. We keep each other in check with quick texts when we complete our workouts. This helps on days when I don’t want to pull my sneakers on, but I know my friend has already done her workouts so I better get hopping so I don’t let her down!

Be realistic. Don’t expect to quit caffeine cold turkey in a day, master a foreign language in a month or lose 20 pounds in a week. If you set realistic, achievable goals you actually have a higher chance of succeeding because they will seem attainable.

Set benchmarks. If your resolution is a big one, set some benchmarks for yourself and keep track of your progress. If you aren’t meeting your goals, it is time to reevaluate and re-strategize so that you don’t get discouraged and give up.

Pat yourself on the back. When the light at the end of the tunnel seems soooooooo far away, keep yourself motivated by celebrating even small successes as you reach your mini milestones!  Your treat doesn’t have to be elaborate; it just has to make you feel rewarded. Think things like a pedicure, a copy of that book you have been wanting or even hiring a babysitter to have a night out on the town!

Remember that earlier tidbit of advice I shared. The first 14 days of starting a new habit are the hardest. So give it your all for those two weeks and, before you know it, your resolutions will be second nature! Good luck! You got this! Here is to an even better YOU in 2013!

All materials copyright Military OneSource, 2012. Blog content held jointly by writer and Military OneSource, with shared rights to republish with appropriate attribution.