Army spouse Shakira Patterson has always loved celebrating big moments and events. But she knows from experience that military families may not always be together during holidays, so she encourages families to make every day and ordinary occasions memorable.
Patterson met her husband, Army Capt. Mark Patterson, while in graduate school at Radford University in Virginia. Since marrying almost 10 years ago, military orders have taken them to Germany; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and currently, Monterey, California.
Traditions are big in the Patterson house — from first day of school pancakes to gingerbread house decorating.
Their three children — Raegan, 6, Zarie, 4 and Xander, 1 — are a big part of that.
“I’ve always loved traditions,” she said.
To share some of those traditions, Patterson started her blog, Occasions By Shakira, in 2018, right before her husband deployed.
“It was a way to deal with deployment,” she said. “At that point, I had two young girls, and so, after they were in bed, I poured myself into the blog at night.”
The blog started as a way to showcase creative things she and her kids were doing to pass the time while Mark was away.
“I’d stay up and write and gather photos and come up with ways to make the time special for my kids. Especially since it was just us.”
It wasn’t long before she and her girls were finding plenty of reasons to celebrate, Patterson says.
“I love to celebrate and make the big moments in life really big and really special, but I think my larger focus is to create magic in everyday occasions.”
For Patterson, that might include making snack time extra special, having breakfast for dinner, making s’mores “just because” or planning a themed stay-at-home movie night.
“Especially as a military family, a lot of times we miss the big things,” she said. “Sometimes dad isn’t home for Christmas or has to miss the school play, the piano recital or trick-or-treating. That’s why it’s important to celebrate the little moments too.”
After all, with a lifestyle that includes TDYs, deployments and often long work days, even while at home … “if you wait for the big things to happen, you’ll be waiting a lot,” she added.
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For those families who may find themselves without their service members this holiday season, Patterson can relate.
“I was once a really young second lieutenant wife who was alone for Christmas,” Patterson recalled.
Patterson says she’s surprised by how many people have reached out to her.
“I get messages that blow me away,” she said. “I’m so glad I can help make things easier for fellow parents, whether it’s a dinner idea or a fun craft. My goal is to take some of the work out of making everyday moments more magical.
“When I started the blog, I thought I’d have this little dot-com with some crafts and recipes and family traditions for family and friends or whoever stumbled upon it — but I never anticipated so many people would follow along.”
Patterson’s “little dot-com” has blossomed into a huge community.
She credits her “Occasions Bins” for much of that success.
“It’s wild to see what I created all over Pinterest and Instagram and amazing to see people putting their own spin on it,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Occasions Bin 101: A how-to with Shakira Patterson
What exactly is an Occasions Bin?
An Occasions Bin is a bin that I keep on my kitchen counter full of seasonal items to make daily meals or snacks a bit more magical. I love stocking the bin with cute paper plates and napkins, cupcake liners, straws, sprinkles — you name it.
I used to hoard all of those seasonal things, saving them for a ‘special’ occasion or event. Now I intentionally place it all out so that we use those items to make things like movie night or snack time a special occasion. Think cheesy goldfish, but in a festive Santa snack cup. Or favorite drinks, but with silly, seasonal straws.
How do you make an Occasions Bin?
Snag a bin, a basket or any type of container. My basket is from Target, but I’ve seen people get them from all over. Check places like Dollar Tree, Michaels, HomeGoods, etc. to grab yours.
When it comes to filling the bin, there are zero rules. Put in whatever fun, festive items bring you joy and feel free to swap them out seasonally or as often as you like. Here are a few staples you’ll usually find in my bin:
- Coffee Stirrers
- Cookie Cutters (perfect for jazzing up sandwiches and fruit slices)
- Festive picks (think cupcake toppers)
Shakira’s 5 ways to make the holiday season more special
1. Make the little moments the big moments
Try to turn up the magic on everyday moments like breakfast or snack time. Simple things like adding red/green food coloring to pancakes you were already planning to make, serving up cereal in a snowman bowl or using cookie cutters to make sandwiches look like Santa hats. It’s all in the small details.
2. Create together
Get in the kitchen and try a new recipe. I would be lying if I said that having kiddos in the kitchen wasn’t harder … it absolutely is, but I think if you mentally prepare for it, you can make sweet memories and try new things together. Some of the best, silliest and most candid conversations I’ve had with my daughters have been while trying to keep eggshells out of the cookie batter. Whether it’s crafting, baking or wrapping gifts, be intentional in inviting the family to help.
3. Celebrate gratefulness
The holidays can get hectic. It’s easy to lose focus on the true reason for the season, and being intentional in our gratefulness is important for our family. We go around the dinner table, and everyone shares something they’re grateful for. Sometimes the kids are grateful for their Legos, but other nights, they say they’re thankful Daddy is home with us or they’re grateful for a yummy dinner. It’s such an easy way to put things into perspective and make the season feel more special.
4. Pour into your community
Giving back never ceases to fill my cup and remind me of the magnitude of good in our community. Teaching stewardship and service to our kids is a priority, so we focus on community and giving during the holidays. What could be more special than baking cookies and delivering them to the neighbors or involving kids in coming up with thoughtful teacher gifts?
Big or small, old or new, traditions make the holidays that much sweeter. It’s those fun family activities, movies and matching pajamas that we look forward to each year. It might be baking up grandma’s legendary cookie recipe or checking out the annual holiday event happening at your new duty station; consider trying and creating a new tradition this year.
For more ideas, visit occasionsbyshakira.com or follow Shakira on Instagram @occasions.byshakira.