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Home of North Hudson military family decorated for Christmas

Bridget Relander stands in front of her North Hudson home while a five-person crew from Christmas Décor of River Falls decorates it. Relander cried when she got the call saying her family had been selected for the company's Decorated Family program.

Bridget Relander cried when she got the phone call.

Melissa Crayford of Christmas Décor was on the other end of the line, telling Relander that her family had been picked for the company's Decorated Families program.

A crew from the River Falls business would be coming to the Relanders' North Hudson home and decorating the exterior with Christmas lights if Bridget wanted them to. It was Christmas Décor's way of saying thank you to a military family for its sacrifices on behalf of the country.

Bridget's husband, Petty Officer 1st Class Bryan Relander, won't be home this Christmas. A 16-year Navy veteran, Relander's reserve unit was called to active duty in October.

He's been in training since then, and is expected to ship out to Kuwait this week.

Bridget is stoical, but her eyes grew misty when she was asked how long her husband would be gone. Bryan won't return home until July.

"I get used to it. It's not the first time he's been gone," she said.

The Relanders have two boys, Edward, 10, a student at North Hudson Elementary, and Johnathan, 3.

Bridget also takes care of her late sister Amanda Neff's three children much of the time.

Amanda, a decorated veteran of the Air Force, died March 30, 2011, of Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Her husband, Terry Neff Jr. of Hudson, is a pilot with the Air National Guard. His service frequently takes him away from Hudson, and the Neff children -- Hannah, 10, Nathan, 9, and Lauren, 8 -- stay with the Relanders when he is gone. The Neff children attend Trinity Academy in Hudson.

Besides taking care of her own and her sister's children, Bridget runs a small daycare and is taking night classes to become a massage therapist.

"I stay quite busy between the kids, daycare, school and my husband being gone," she said.

Bridget's sister Sabrina Beottcher and mother, Marie Loughlin, both of the Cushing area, help take care of the children when she is at school.

Also a photographer, Bridget recently donated her time to take pictures of Edward's classmates at North Hudson Elementary.

In addition, she's the ombudsman for her husband's reserve unit, helping the spouses and families of the sailors deal with the deployment.

"It's hard for me to receive, because usually I'm on the other end. I like to give," Bridget said as the crew from Christmas Décor strung lights and hung wreaths, garland and big red bows on her house last Friday.

"This is amazing and very humbling. I'm very grateful," she said.

Crayford, executive director of Christmas Décor's River Falls office, was overseeing the operation.

"We're pretty pumped up and excited about it," Crayford said.

This is the fifth year that Christmas Décor of River Falls has been involved in the Decorated Families program.

The company provides all the lights and trimmings, and comes and takes them down after the holidays have passed.

The lights outlining the roof of the Relanders' house are red, green and white -- the peppermint-stick design. Christmas Décor also lit up a spruce tree in the front lawn.