Tuesday, August 20, 2013

5 Tips for Managing your First PCS

So, the original purpose of the blog was to document some aspects of my family's military life. I'm sure many of my readers have discovered that Army families are not all that different from "normal" American families. There are some things that are vastly different though (deployments and frequent moves especially). Today, I'll be sharing some tips I've picked up from the four major moves we've made. Hopefully, this information will be helpful to spouses embarking upon their first PCS.

1. Research the area you will be moving to.

Thinking back on my family's first PCS, I was excited! I was 18 with a new husband and infant, I was going to leave a lot of my family and friends behind, move to a new state, and face new challenges as a military family. Who am I kidding? I was mostly scared and I made the mistake of not researching the area we were moving to. In today's internet culture it is easier than ever to find all kinds of information about the areas you'll be moving to. A trend for military installations is to have an "underground" message board where spouses can talk about anything they want. These sites are excellent sources for business reviews, community resources, and neighborhood information. A word of caution: Most (if not all) of these sites are viewable by the public. There are few privacy options, so use common sense when posting. Unfortunately, these sites can also be quite dramatic, and depending on the site's moderators, you might find some questionable language and content. Try searching (name of installation)underground. Some other sources of information are:
  • the installation's main website, MWR page, and Facebook page
  • post housing's website and Facebook page
  • "Mommy" sites like cafemom
  • if you have unit information, see if they have a Facebook page

2. Know your housing options.

If this is your first move, it's probably not a good idea to jump right into a mortgage. Of course, this is a personal choice, but make sure you do plenty of research before buying. Check out this article on military.com about buying vs. renting. If your Soldier's orders say that the family is allowed to come too, then you are authorized to live in on post housing. Most (if not all) military housing is now privatized. This means that the military no longer oversees the housing on post. Private companies are now in charge of leases and maintenance. Visit your new installation's housing website to find information on housing eligibility (which neighborhoods and how large of a house you are permitted) and waitlist times. Some posts allow you to get on the list before you arrive as long as you have orders. Others require you to wait until you get there. This can be unnerving when you see a waitlist of 3-6 months or longer. It's important to know that because families are constantly moving, the wait times can be a lot shorter than the estimate, sometimes taking as little as one week after arrival. Consult your housing office for their advice on interim housing options. Month to month leases off post offer flexibility so that when a home on post is available, you won't have to break a lease (and pay a fine) to move. These can be more expensive than year or six month long leases. A word on temporary lodging: Some posts will only reimburse your lodging expenses upon arrival if you stay in the on post hotel. There are exceptions to the rule for pets and statements of unavailability. This policy can vary, so call post lodging to be sure.

3. The military will move your household goods.

Your Soldier should visit the transportation office to schedule pickup for your household goods and vehicle (if you plan to fly). A member of the team will make an appointment to assess how much will be moved. You'll then get a moving date. Movers will arrive and box up all of your possessions, so if there are things you'll need during the move, put them in a separate place, such as a closet, that is clearly marked as untouchable. There will be a lot of paperwork involved so that each item or box is tracked and ends up in your new destination. Sometimes, the moving company will arrive before you do. In these cases, the company will store your goods until you arrive then bring them to you when you are ready to move into your new home. If you end up needing to move off post while waiting for on post housing, the movers will bring your stuff there, then come back out to pack you up and move you on post when housing is available. This policy can vary from post to post, and with the sequestration we are experiencing now, big changes could be in our future. The best sources of current information are the transportation office and the housing office. Here's a brief list of items you might want to keep off the moving truck to make your PCS more comfortable. Depending on how much space you have during the move, you might consider doing a partial DITY move. (This is where you move some of your belongings and get paid to do so. Consult the transportation office for details.)
  • air mattress, pump, sheets/blankets
  • paper plates, cups, napkins
  • cooking utensils, pot/pan
  • cleaning supplies (most of which cannot be transported on the moving truck anyway)
  • towels and clothes
  • important documents
  • toiletries
  • electronics and chargers
  • medications
  • a few toys and things to keep the kids occupied on the trip
If you decide to let transportation take all of your household goods, when you get to your new installation, you can visit the lending closet if your post has one. This is where you can borrow household goods to use until yours arrives. This can also be used when you are leaving an installation, after transportation has taken your stuff but before you leave.

4. Plan some fun along the way.

PCS trips can be stressful and drawn out. Be flexible with your lodging plans along the way, and try to plan some fun as you go. I'm not talking about hitting every theme park from point A to B or trekking 500 miles out of the way to see Texas' biggest ball of string. Picnics at rest areas are easy things to do that allow your kids to get out of the car and run around a bit. Pack some bubbles or a ball for a good diversion. Many rest areas have historic markers and offer you a chance to expose your kids to some interesting facts about the state you're in. When mapping your route, see if there are any local attractions or noteworthy eateries along the way. You'd be amazed by all the great things this country has to offer within 5 miles of the interstate.


5. Plan to connect with your new FRG.

See my post here about the value of the FRG (Family Readiness Group). If you are a new spouse, you will undoubtedly have questions about your new home that websites just can't answer. When your Soldier gets signed into his new unit, ask him/her to give your email address and/or phone number to the FRSA (Family Readiness Support Assistant). The FRSA should contact you and welcome you into the Battalion or Brigade (depending on the level he or she is located at) and give your information to your company FRG leader. Some units are painfully low on volunteerism, so it might take a little while for them to contact you. Be patient, but plan to reach out if you haven't heard anything by the end of the first month. Your FRG was established to provide you with training and information that will prove helpful when your Soldier deploys. In addition to the Readiness aspect, they are a great way to make lasting friendships and learn more about your new community. It's important to remember that the quality of your friendships is more important than the quantity of your friendships. You are not expected to be best friends with every spouse in the FRG, but everyone is expected to respect one another.

If you're a seasoned traveler or can offer advice for PCSing overseas, please leave a comment or message me. I'm always looking for new material, and as I don't have experience with every facet of Army life (and other branches), I welcome your submissions!

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Value of Your FRG

Do you know the value and potential of your Family Readiness Group? To find out, take the self test below and choose the statements that you identify with most. Keep track of your answers and I'll meet up with you at the end so we can evaluate your FRG savvy!

The FRG's main purpose is to...

A) be a social group where I can meet other spouses.
B) provide me with training and information so that I am better able to take care of myself and my family during my Soldier's extended absence.
C) fundraise, gossip, and provide a source of income for 'direct sales' representatives.

In FRG meetings, its ok for me to...

A) complain about the war, military benefits, my Soldier's pay, and the people who wouldn't promote him/her.
B) listen to the information and participate by asking questions, making suggestions, and talking to the other spouses.
C) be suspicious of the other spouses' intentions, refuse to make eye contact or speak to anyone, and run for the door as soon as the meeting is over.

All FRG leaders and volunteers are...

A) independently wealthy, so they can loan me money until payday.
B) fabulous like mine! Wait, it's impossible for them to ALL be alike. Change my answer to human.
C) rank pulling, gossip mongering, and backstabbing so I shouldn't give any of them a chance.

If I have a problem with another spouse in the FRG, I should...

A) call my Soldier's command and try to get the offending spouse's Soldier demoted or otherwise in trouble.
B) discuss the issue like adults with the offending spouse privately.
C) put the FRG on blast for harboring foul individuals like that.

If my FRG is not being run in a professional manner, I should...

A) complain every chance I get. Someone, somewhere is bound to do something, eventually.
B) bring my concerns to the commander and FRSA along with ideas on how to get back on track and a willingness to either volunteer to make changes, or support the people who will.
C) stop going, convince others to do the same, warn newcomers, and never attend another unit function again. Anywhere. Ever.

During a deployment, I can count on my FRG to...

A) babysit my kids, mow my lawn, fix my car, and make sure I can talk to my Soldier while he/she is deployed.
B) alert me to activities my kids and I might be interested in so that the time will pass quicker, fundraise just a little so that they can pay for some of those activities, and update me, as information is available, on my Soldier's return.
C) pester me about getting involved and then talk about me behind my back when I refuse.

I volunteer with my FRG so I am entitled to...

A) certain privileged information and respect from the other spouses because I am an integral part of the unit.
B) nothing, other than the respect due to other human beings.
C) nothing. I don't volunteer.

The rank structure within the FRG spouses goes like this...

A) CO, FRG leader, then whoever is next in line based on highest rank.
B) There is no rank structure, because spouses don't have rank. Volunteers are equal partners in the success of the FRG.
C) There is no rank structure, because spouses don't have rank. But someone should tell that to the other FRG members.

So, how'd you do?

If you got mostly A's, it's likely that you will experience unnecessary hardship during the next deployment or extended training exercise. The main focus of the FRG is providing you with the opportunity to learn skills that will help your family to be self sufficient. There is a time and place to accept help from others, but expecting it as a foregone conclusion will get you into a lot of trouble. FRG's are to be seen as a RESOURCE not a RESCUE. You will do your Service Member a big favor if you allow him/her to leave without worrying that you, your family, and your finances will completely fall apart without them. With that comes a great deal of responsibility. Ask for help when you need it, but don't be surprised when your FRG leader tells you that your SM can't be recalled for one reason or another, or if she directs you to an Army or community program when the money runs out before the month does.

If you got mostly B's, you recognize the value of your FRG the way it was intended to be. Members like you are the backbone of the FRG and are what make it a good experience for the other spouses in your unit. You've probably made many lasting friendships. You and your family are more likely to be ready for anything when it comes time for your Soldier to deploy. You don't survive deployments, training exercises, and PCS's you thrive during them!

If you got mostly C's, your mistrust of the FRG program puts you at risk of missing out on many aspects of the Army community. Occasionally, seasoned spouses choose to avoid the FRG because they feel the information is a lot of "been there, done that" kind of stuff. If you wish the topics covered were done so differently, you might try presenting the information at your next FRG meeting rather than sitting in the audience. If the crux of your problem lies with gossipy, drama prone spouses, then a breath of fresh air might be just what your FRG needs. Suggest changes and offer solutions. Be creative, and know that eventually, we all PCS. Jump in when you can or support the folks who make positive changes. A well timed note of encouragement to volunteers who make a positive impact can mean the world! Most important of all, please stop bad mouthing the FRG program. Each group is as different as the people who make them up. Just because you had a bad experience once, doesn't mean you will again. It also doesn't mean that your group can't change when new people come in. Give newcomers a chance to form their own conclusions about the group before you scare them off. When relocating to a new duty station, it can be hard to find friends who understand the nuances of military life. There is nothing more frightening than being a new Soldier's wife in a new place without any familiar faces. Give these newbies a chance to form friendships and gain the skills you have without trial and error.

Maybe you're somewhere in the middle of it all. If you have a group of terrific friends and have a resource for all of the Army programs and community events, then you're likely a very resourceful person who makes friends easily in everyday situations. This is to be commended! However, you probably don't see much value in the FRG since you have other valuable avenues of support. Go ahead and do your own thing, but please remember to be respectful towards the spouses who value the FRG.

So, do you have a good grasp on the value of your FRG? Will you give yours a chance if you're a C?


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

STOP! Don't toss those veggies!

The other day I picked the leaves off the Swiss chard and spinach that is bolting in the garden. I gathered enough to almost fill a gallon size planting bucket I had on hand. Something else caught my attention and I forgot that the bucket was sitting there so it stayed out all night and most of the next day before I went looking for it. By the time I got around to it, the leaves were awful puny. They were limp and lifeless, no doubt unsuitable for a salad. Rather than toss those valuable greens onto the compost heap, I grabbed a few bowls and some really cold water and went to work reviving them. You may not have ever left your greens in the hot sun all day, but maybe you've let them hang out in the crisper a tad too long. I'm here to tell you there is hope for those wilted green goodies. Here, I'll show you what to do to make them almost as good as new. The really good news? This technique also works for celery and carrots. Give it a try for fresh green beans too. I've tried reviving julienned bell peppers, but unfortunately, they stayed soft. For best results, make sure the water is extra cold, as in, throw a few ice cubes in for good measure.

(I'm pretty sure we all know the difference between wilted and rotting. But just in case, you should know this isn't a miracle solution. If it's fuzzy, slimy, or a bit, shall we say, "aromatic," then it's better off in the compost bin.)

So here's the before pic. You can see my setup pretty well. I've got a bowl for rinsing and two bowls of really cold water. See how sad and droopy the chard looks?

If you've left them outside fresh after picking, they'll need a bit of a rinse before tossing them into the cold water. I'm trying to be vigilant about our water waste, so I just used a bowl of cool water and changed it as needed rather than run the tap.

Then, put the leaves in the cold water. As you add more in, you'll gently press down so that they are all submerged.

This is a pic of a leaf just before going in.

Here, after about 10 minutes sitting in the water.

And 30 minutes...


And here after about an hour long bath. Nice and crunchy again! I'll give these a thorough wash now and use them or store them in the crisper. Remember, the longer veggies are off their root system and out of your tummy, the more nutrients they lose. So use them quick!

The thing is, we're not a big fan of chard in our salads. Instead, I add them to soups and stews so they give a nice punch of color and vitamins. Well, when I throw them in the hot broth, they wilt again. But... these will store nicely for a day or so in the fridge until I'm ready to use them.

And there you have it! Do you have any kitchen tips to share? Leave a comment below and let us hear it.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Long Walks on the Beach

By now, my friends and family on Facebook have figured out that I have fallen in love with the town of Long Beach, WA. If you remember back in August, a friend and I went camping with our kids and had a great time. So it only makes sense that when my mom asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I basically shouted "All I want for Christmas is another trip to Long Beach!" Thanks to my thoughtful camping friend, I was able to point Mama Dearest to a fantastic deal on Groupon. It was for two nights at the Adrift Hotel in Long Beach with the option to upgrade. When making the reservations, we upgraded once, then they called to upgrade us again so they could make room for a group at no additional charge. So, for just $40 out of our pocket (Thanks, Mom!) we were in an ocean view suite. Sweet!

Where to Stay: Adrift Hotel

The Adrift Hotel is a weather beaten gem on the shores of Long Beach. From their website:
"on the ocean, in the heart of long beach you will find a modern and unique eighty room hotel. with a focus on value and sustainability, we provide each and every traveler with a different and exciting experience we hope you will not soon forget."
True to their word, T2 and I will not soon forget our weekend stay with them. Unfortunately, I lack a decorator's vocabulary, so forgive me if "modern, beachy feel" does not adequately describe the interior. The important thing is that we felt very comfortable in our surroundings. The lobby has some snacks and drinks sourced from locally owned businesses available to purchase. Expect to be greeted by rows of shiny beach cruisers and a real key to be handed to you on check in. The hotel offers movies and board games for use in your room and the beach cruisers are free to borrow when you go on your beach adventure. They also have a mini shuffleboard game and foosball. We tried out The Pickled Fish for dinner our first night there. We were a bit disappointed by the limited menu, but soon came to understand that it is more of an "appetizers and drinks" kind of place than a dinner destination. Portions are small, but priced right. The atmosphere is warm and the staff are pleasant.

Our room was on the 3rd floor and faced the ocean. A picture's worth a thousand words, so take a listen...
The living room

The Bedroom

The Ocean view

Think this one speaks for itself...

Where to eat: Laurie's Homestead Breakfast and Chico's Pizza

T2 and I in Laurie's for breakfast.
Check out these huge portions! I got the Hawaiian Omelette and T2 got the biscuits and gravy. Now, if memory serves me correctly, he requested 2 instead of one thinking he would get something similar to those you find in a can. Um... no. These are massive! Expect the plates to be on the pricey side, but when you consider that he and I could have eaten off of one plate and still had leftovers, it's well worth it. It was a Saturday morning in March, and we were seated right away. I've heard though that it can get a little crowded, so plan ahead for the weather as guests are asked to wait for seating outside.

We didn't take any pictures of Chico's or the pizza we got, but boy oh boy was it good! Chico's is a very spacious restaurant. They offer a salad bar and will put just about anything you desire on a pizza. The price was reasonable and the staff were very friendly.

What to do: Window/ Souvenir shopping, Antiquing, Funland Arcade, Hike to Cape Disappointment lighthouse

I've said it before, but Long Beach, WA is a very tourist friendly place. There is free parking everywhere, and even though a lot of the businesses had closed up shop for the off season, the ones that were open were really cute and offered some pretty neat things. T2 and I wandered the main strip popping into little souvenir shops here and there and found some nice treasures for our kids. Here are a couple pics we took on our stroll through town.

Just trying to grab a shot of the statues. The building in the background is not The Adrift Hotel.

We battled each other in the Funland arcade. Games are reasonably priced and powered by a fun card rather than tokens. Tickets are bar codes printed on thin strips of paper. I was able to get a pretty little shell necklace with most of the tickets we won that day. They have a variety of games that include old favorites and exciting new ones too.

Fort Canby state park

Without our kiddos in tow, we were able to browse antique shops and mini museums and not have to swat at grabby little hands. Later, we went out to the Lewis and Clark Center at Cape Disappointment and saw all the exhibits. This time though, we walked around Fort Canby and hiked up to the light house. On the way up to the lighthouse, we were treated to a view of Dead Man's Cove. It's a secluded little beach that is both romantic and spooky at the same time. The next time we go out there, we might try to get down to the beach.

Dead Man's Cove

All along the coast in Long Beach there are various outdoor exhibits like the one below. I still haven't gotten over to see the Gray Whale bones.

love birds...

Hammer (blue) and Flo (pink) Hermit crabs for the kids.

We had a fantastic weekend spending couple time together in this cozy seaside town. We were given the opportunity to reconnect after our long separation and spend some quality time getting to know each other again.

Have you ever gone away with your sweetheart for a day or two? What's your favorite part about quality time for just the two of you?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Green Acres

Well, the view has changed tremendously since my last posting. Let's start with the view around my dining room table. My better half returned home from a (loooooong) 9 month deployment in February. Hooray! We've been spending time as a family getting reacquainted and falling back into a normal rhythm. Block leave was amazing even if we didn't go anywhere. It was great just having him home every day. Every time he leaves for a deployment, I tell him that I can't wait to trip over his boots again. I was able to spend 20 precious days tripping over them again (he leaves them all over the house!!) and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

The view in my living room has changed as well. Luke is still waiting to find his matching kidney, but while we wait, we'll start him on peritoneal dialysis. We've been going to trainings in Seattle to learn how to operate the machine at home and how to care for his catheter. How has this changed my living room? I now have a mountain of boxes of PD supplies to contend with. T3 and Luke have been competing with each other to see who can climb the highest before Mom notices... Still, we are nervous and excited that he'll be starting at home dialysis soon. Hopefully, we can get this little guy to grow a little quicker!

The view in my kitchen has changed right along with everything else. As the weather warms, tiny seedlings have sprouted in my window sills. We are anticipating the arrival of long sunny days and have started our garden. Last year, I tilled the ground on fort Lewis in a rented patch of the community garden. This year, I've got about 1/3 of an acre around my home that is all mine to cultivate. We've started a compost system of sorts, and as it progresses, I'll keep you updated. Here's a list of all the yummies I plan to grow this year:

Swiss Chard (Because it did so well last year!)
Egg Plant
Jalapeno Peppers
Bell Peppers
Yellow squash
Green beans

Whew! What a harvest it will be. It will be a lot of hard work, but in the end, knowing where our food came from will be all the reward I need.

So now you've gotten a glimpse at my green acres. Let's hear about yours! I'm hoping to make this a weekly feature on the blog now that the Vitamin D has lifted my spirits a little. Here's to sunny days, sweet tea, all the little things, and a glorious spring...

Catch you later!

Join us for Gratituesday at Heavenly Homemakers!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Skipping Santa (Part 2)

How on earth do we make it work?

Well, it's not easy, I can tell you that. Especially when we are battling well meaning teachers and child care workers who love to insist to our kids that Santa is real. And it's not just at school or daycare, I am somewhat surprised at the "Santa education" that goes on in church. Everything from coloring pages to Santa appearances at parties and asking the children what was on their Christmas list. In the grand scheme of things, those few activities may seem completely innocent, but when you are trying to lay a groundwork of faith and trust in a child, there is little room for out right lies just to encourage a little imagination.

And what about imagination? 
The biggest concern that is expressed to me regarding our choice to skip Santa is that my children will not be able to develop a healthy imagination. Let me assure you, they are not hindered in that at all. My children love to play dress up and pretend with their toys, and we've even had visits from two imaginary friends when my daughter was two (a rabbit and a baby grob (frog) haha) While we're talking about Santa, I may as well let you know that we skip the Easter Bunny too for the same reasons. We do however play around with the idea of the tooth fairy and have some fun with her, and I have been reading up on Mini Mocha's idea of a Christmas Mouse to spice up our Christmas tradition. I love having fun with my kids, but I really think that allowing them to play with a story I have just read (extend it, act it out, etc) is a better way to cultivate their imagination.

Well how do you avoid Santa?
Now this is a tough one. The most obvious way we avoid Santa is by not allowing our children to sit on his lap in the mall or at Christmas parties. I'm not completely blind. I've seen the way our kids look when they wish they could go sit on his lap, and it breaks my heart. But I also know that it has a lot to do with wanting to be like everyone else. Here's the thing though, we've got to be careful how much we encourage fitting in, and how much we encourage standing out. I don't want to be a contradiction; one day my kids will notice. Like most families, we display a nativity scene in our home, but I go one step further and do not put out traditional images of Santa. My one Santa indulgence is on mine and my husband's stockings. His is a Woodland Santa, like this, and mine is a White Christmas stocking like this. I feel like these two images give us a chance to tell our children about who Santa, the man, really was.

But Saint Nicholas WAS real!
A wonderful part of our family tradition is discussing who Saint Nicholas actually was. I like to refer to the Saint Nicholas Center  and other resources for the real story on this treasured part of human history. I choose a few age appropriate facts and tell my kids that he lived at one time and did many good things for adults and children. Some of that involved giving gifts. But the fact is, just like any other human, he lived and he died. Now to keep his memory alive, parents tell stories to their children about him and people like to pretend that he is real. Then I ask them why we celebrate Christmas and go into the story of Jesus' birth. I feel it is my responsibility to be careful not to attribute eternal life to any man other than Jesus. Teaching my children to believe in magic as anything other than an optical illusion or interesting diversion is a slippery slope as well. Here is a list of children's books that talk about who Santa actually was. I have not reviewed them all, so it would be wise for you to do so before you read one of them to your children.

Your kids are missing out on childhood memories!
Maybe one or two, but that really depends on what age they are when they discover that Santa is not real. Frankly, my only memories of Santa are making a couple of lists, opening a few presents, and finally when I found out the truth. He wasn't a BIG part of my childhood as I recall, and if he was, it happened before the youngest age I can remember. So I don't really see this as being a problem for my kids. Besides, we create many other lasting memories for our kids that are just as sweet. One more thing about this particular protest; would someone ask the same thing of a Jewish family or one who celebrates Kwanza instead? Few seem to be worried about them missing out on Santa... or Jesus for that matter.

But finding out the truth is a Rite of Passage!
Seriously? Now that's just cruel. I don't have much to say about this one because I am not terribly interested in watching my kids' childhood beliefs get crushed by some older kid or crazy uncle for sport.

What if your grandkids are taught to believe in him?
First off, that is far too many years away to be worried about it now. Secondly, my grand kids will not be my kids. I will share responsibility for their spiritual up bringing with my children, but in the end, their parents are the ones who get to make this decision the same way my parents have graciously allowed me to make this decision now. Finally, no, I will not be a grinch and dash their hopes and dreams about Santa. Instead, the focus when they come to my house will be right on Christ where it belongs. I promise you, I am not trying to single handedly kill Santa. I couldn't do it even if I wanted to. However, it's important to note that folks got on just fine celebrating Jesus' birth before Saint Nicholas came along.

In the end, the reality is we spend way too much time criticizing people for their choice in Christmas traditions. We are called to be fishers of men, not Santa's helpers. There are so many people who need God's comfort and we should be focusing on reaching them with love and compassion all year, not just at Christmas.

So there's my two cents, and for what it's worth, I hope it maybe got you to thinking about ways that you can shift the focus of Christmas away from Santa and presents and back onto Jesus who really is the reason for the season.


Here's what you missed!

Skipping Santa

Monday, December 3, 2012

Skipping Santa

6 Reasons why Santa Skips our House:

I realize going into this post that not everyone will agree with me. However, bear with me and know that I do not pass any type of judgement on folks who do allow Santa down their chimney. In fact, I rather enjoy all the Elf on the Shelf pictures that I see on Facebook. It's amazing how creative us moms can get when it comes to our kiddos! I was a kid once and I remember looking forward to Christmas and Santa Claus like many other children all over the world, my husband too. This list is not written from any traumatic childhood memories of the creepy mall Santa or when I found out that he was hiring my dad to do all the shopping... this comes from a conversation my husband and I had before our oldest daughter's first Christmas. I will say that it is certainly unconventional in our circle of friends, and we've drawn some funny looks from family, but hey, this works for us. And guys, remember this is an opinion piece, K? Thanks!!

                           Excuse Miq's messy face. I'm almost positive chocolate was involved...

6) A case of mistaken identity-

 The very first comment out of my husband's mouth when we discussed this was, "My hard earned money is not going toward gifts with some other guy's name on them." At the time, this seemed to be his number one definitive reason, but the more we talked about it, we realized there are other more important reasons to skip Santa...

 5) Be good or else-

Santa, along with his little Elf on the Shelf, are the ultimate bribe for good behavior. T2 and I would like to think that we are teaching our children about the importance of good behavior and how it builds character. Not to mention, that the absence of Santa teaches our kids a very important lesson about our belief in Christ. If good behavior won't get you into Heaven, try explaining that to a child who thinks good behavior will get him everything on his Christmas list and then some.

4) Thankfulness above all else-

My husband and I strive to teach our children that a thankful heart is a happy heart. I will be the first to admit that our kids have way too many toys. I intend to fix this problem this year before they add more to their collection. And it really is just that, a collection. I would venture to say that 75% of the toys they own have become curios from sitting in the bottom of their toy boxes. When this whole "kids in the nest" stage has ended, I'd like to have produced adults who are thankful for what they have and do not expect anything more based solely on what national holiday it is.

3) Following the Example-

 Christmas is all about giving right? Well, that depends on your point of view. If you are a child, 'getting' is likely what's on your mind when you write out your list and then go sit on Santa's knee. We've already discussed your motivation for good behavior... While it's true that the Christ child received gifts from the 3 Wise men, it's also true that their gifts foretold of coming events in the King's life. Their gifts to Him also model the way in which we are supposed to offer our hearts to the Lord. God gave us Jesus as a free gift, so removing gift giving from Christmas all together would be a tragic injustice to our children. There is no need however, to focus on jolly old Saint Nick as the ultimate gift giver. That title was reserved hundreds of years before he was even a twinkle in his mother's eye.

 2) Only slightly off the beaten path-

 We're all a little off- every single one of us. There are times in our lives when we decide to bust out with a solo when everyone else is drudging along singing the same old tune. Will Santa ever get too old to saddle up his reindeer? Probably not, but I could also ask the same thing about the Super Bowl and April Fool's Day... The reason these things live on is because of our traditions. New things pop up and we follow them for a little while, maybe try to incorporate them into the other activities (like Elf on the Shelf). We really can't be faulted for skipping Santa. He just doesn't work for us. Instead, we follow our family traditions and make really great memories while doing so. We do the normal Christmas movies, driving around looking at lights, and decorating the tree, but we also eat Chinese food on Christmas day rather than a huge dinner. In fact, we've decided that a big Christmas breakfast is more our speed followed by a restful day enjoying our family.

 1) Focus, people-

In the end, it all boils down to our focus. Every Christmas, I hear or see "Jesus is the reason for the season." I really love that because it is so catchy, but looking around, I begin to question if that's really the case. Everywhere I look, I see mass consumerism but at the same time, homeless people doing without. Parents who feel inadequate because they cannot provide their children with the same level of "love" the other kids in class receive. Some of us go into debt that will require many months of credit card payments. And for what?? A bunch of stuff that loses its novelty after a day or two. If we want to instill these radical ideas into our children's hearts,we're going to have to do it in a radical way. Instead of Santa, my family chooses to place our focus on the gift of our Savior and how we can help others do the same. In the end, we want to celebrate Christ, not Christmas.


Don't miss:

Skipping Santa (Part 2)