Three of my Family’s Simple Traditions – and How They Support our “Mission Capability” as a USMC Family

Three of my Family’s Simple Traditions – and How They Support our “Mission Capability” as a USMC Family

Okay, now stop. Stop what you’re thinking. Do not envision any magazine photo – any curated image – any glossy smiley photo of a happy family being awesome and content. Erase from your mind the vision of what you believe a FAMILY TRADITION to be.

In my home there is no fine china and there is no linen table cloth. There are no quaffed children pulling up to eat Christmas dinner with holiday clothes that are perfectly new, clean and pressed. There is no toast, no speech. I’m not in a fabulous outfit refilling drinks, and my husband is not chuckling in a fatherly way as he carves any turkey.

Hell no.

If you’re a perfectionist, and you like a good production, I’m sorry to have to disappoint you – but real, authentic family time will never look like a magazine cover. Not the good stuff, anyway. Not the stuff that’s really going to build bonds of trust and foster resiliency.

I posted my Top 3 Tips on starting family traditions a couple days ago. You can read that article here:

Almost every day, someone asks me “How I do it”.

  • How I’m raising seven children in the middle of our transient military lifestyle.
  • How I relocated and settled my family so quickly after Hurricane Florence.
  • How I honor my own individuality and set clear boundaries for my family in military culture and communities.
  • How I continue to build my own career in the upheaval.
  • How I can, after all the above, continue to support my husband’s career and bravely agree to keep moving – keep changing – keep relocating.

My answer is complex, and it’s taken many years to “figure myself out”, but ONE THING that I repeatedly encourage other families to do – is set simple family traditions, then stick with them.

Below are my family’s traditions. I hope you can see by reading them, that they are not fancy. They are simple. They are sustainable. They are inexpensive, and they can be “pulled off” anywhere – even in the middle of a PCS or a crisis.

1: Friday Pizza Movie Night

Hands down, the favorite family tradition in our home. Friday night is ALWAYS pizza/movie night at our house. It’s fun, it’s easy, and it’s a welcome reprieve from the school and work pressures we face. We usually watch a classic 80’s movie. Our favorites include:

  • Back to the Future
  • ET
  • Goonies
  • Ghostbusters
  • Indiana Jones
  • Red Dawn
  • Gremlins
  • Flight of the Navigator

Non 80’s movies that we love are: Jaws, Harry Potter, All Star Wars movies, Lord of the Rings, Home Alone…..and just about any family movie that you can think of. Actually, if you have any suggestions, we are always looking for new flicks!

As you can see, I have a list of movies we enjoy, but it does not have to be exhaustive – as repeats are part of my method. Over the years, we have become so familiar with plot lines, funny references and one-liners – that we can make inside family jokes – where everyone “gets it” and is welcome to chime in. That’s a huge part of team building!

Of course, making homemade pizza is part of the fun, but it’s not mandatory. Sometimes we order pizza. Sometimes we make simple mini-pizzas. Over the years my go-to pizza recipes have evolved – from the whole-wheat stage, to the vegan kick, to the Italian pizzaria delightfulness, to the low-carb keto pizza that I currently enjoy. I’m currently curating a list of all our ‘go to’ recipes from over 20 years of pizza making. They will be in my upcoming book on Family Traditions!

You don’t have to wait for my book to get started. Just commit. Order pizza. Or try my Olive Oil Pizza Crust. Make a date with your family.

It’s never perfect. Someone always steals someone else’s place on the sofa. A dog steals pizza. Someone is always too loud and we’re saying “shhhh…shhhhh”. Someone’s always bitching about the movie choice. But it’s good. It’s a tradition that sustains us through all seasons.

You don’t need a fancy TV, or a fancy living room set. Here in Kentucky, we have second hand sofas and a $100 tv from walmart. Our farmhouse does not have internet, so we get movies from the library.

Once you really connect with your people, and you really start to count on each other and the strength of your relationships to sustain a tradition, things like furniture and TV’s don’t matter. Perfection doesn’t matter. Even things like location, health and age don’t matter. We come as we are, in all our stages of being, to do what we do.

2: Steak Night Saturday

This tradition came to be after our fifth child was born, and I was sick and tired of going to restaurants to get a good steak. Over the years, many recipes have evolved, but our favorite one continues to be Grilled Ribeye with Compound Butter.

The things that stay constant:

  • We always grill out, unless it’s VERY cold and icy – in which case, rack of lamb broiled is very nice.
  • There’s a wide variety of charcuterie (meats, cheeses, pickles, etc)
  • There is always wine.
  • We sit outside if we can.
  • We spend hours and hours eating, talking and laughing.
  • Children play around us.
  • There may be a bonfire.
  • This is a family event, but (good) friends are invited if we wish.
  • The little kids like hotdogs and hamburgers, but the big kids love a steak and are included in the “grown up” talk, as the little kids play.
  • Our teens especially like the good food, and the feeling of being included with the grown ups. And by “grown up talk” I don’t mean: “So, tell me what your plans for the future are, son”. I mean: “There once was a man from Nantucket…..”
  • If there’s a birthday near any particular Saturday, this is turned into a birthday dinner. We include cake and presents. Usually, it’s a family-only birthday party, but if we have some good friends in our lives at that particular duty station, they are invited too.

Gosh I think steak night is my favorite. It’s definitely more “adult” than pizza movie night, but the kids enjoy it too! This tradition is very good for is, in that it forces us to slow down, talk, and eat in a slow, Mediterranean way. We use paper plates, and other than the steak, wine and cheese, nothing’s very fancy. This tradition is a great way to socialize with friends – that’s still in a kid-friendly environment.

This tradition has turned some of the most stressful years of our lives into ‘not-so-bad’, and “well, at least we have steak night!” . Tonight is steak night, actually! I can’t wait!

3: Weekend “Appreciation” Brunch

This is one of our newer additions. As you can see, our traditions are all weekend events, as our family is so busy, and my husband’s job is so …. uh… intense. Also, however, making plans with our FAMILY over the weekend force us to say “no” to other invitations. While well-meaning and gracious – invites and social demands quickly mount in our lifestyle, and “just this once”, “it’s only for a few hours” can seriously derail our true MISSION, which is to grow and bond as a family unit.

Really, I use “brunch” in a loose sense. Basically, it’s breakfast, late – because we slept in. We all need breakfast, so why not stay away from the TV, sit at the table?

We call it an “appreciation” brunch, because each week, we have one guest of honor. One of us is designated as the “honoree”, and they come prepared with an essay that they have written, naming every family member and stating why they appreciate that person. In turn, after the essay is read, each member of the family gives a GENUINE complement to the honoree. So, the honoree is showered with genuine comments of appreciation, after their essay has been read. It’s not a time of grievances. It’s a brunch of APPRECIATION.

Look, this shit’s gold, okay? Over the months of our “Appreciation Brunches” my family has softened, become more able to give and receive complements, and become apt at seeing the GOOD in each other, as opposed to the annoying/frustrating/crazy-making.

Typical brunch fare includes:

  • Vavich Family Buttermilk Pancakes (usually made by my oldest daughters).
  • Fruit
  • Eggs
  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Quiche (if I have the time)
  • cinnamon rolls
  • a box of bagels from Dunkin – if we have no time, and no groceries in the house, we just grab bagels.

Got sports? Got no time? No problem!! We’ve had “appreciation brunches” in our van, driving to and from sports events. The key here is consistency, and the promise of family bonding and SOCIAL SAFETY, where there will be no sarcasm, no “roasts”, but genuine compliments.

This has been life-changing. Absolutely life-changing.

If you’re brand new to this, I recommend starting with pizza movie night. Don’t do an ‘appreciation brunch” until you’ve bonded for a few years consistently with no-pressure events. The “appreciation brunch” is the Special Forces of family traditions. It requires bonds of trust to ALREADY be in place.

Some other no-load events you may want to consider:

-Family board game night. Get a box of chicken or order Chinese. Keep it simple. Laugh at your kids’ jokes. Let them win (most of the time).

-Sunday evening walk or bike ride. Bring water and a first aid kit.

-Go out for ice cream. Pile into the van, drive to the ice cream shop listening to your favorite music. This is a good way to introduce them to YOUR music. They won’t complain too much because they get ice cream after the torture.

-Weeknight meal plan. Taco Tuesday. Nacho Thursday. Soup and sandwich Wednesday. Attaching a type of meal to each weekday is a great way to give consistency, and have (almost) a mini party. My kids especially love a meal plan, and they love knowing “what’s for dinner” as they go about their school days.

Thanks so much for reading this post. We’re planning a low-key Christmas. Christmas is always low key at our house. I think all our consistency with traditions adds up, and fills our children with a kind of contentment. They are not looking to Christmas to fulfill that need. And mom gets a rest. Thank goodness.

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