Living It – Week Three


Get Organized – Tip #1

I was one of the most disorganized people I knew as a child and teenager.  Now, my only little act of rebellion is that I always have a pile of clothes somewhere in my room that needs cleaning, sorting or putting away and I never make my bed.  I am not sure what the exact events were that caused me to begin to organize myself but I know that since having children and being a military wife it is one of the main things that saves my sanity (to be clear, it is sometimes temporarily lost no matter what I do…).  One of the things that I advised people to do was create a ‘year box’ and put birthday, anniversary cards, etc. in it by month… okay, I have never done that… My mother did it and was always so thoughtful about sending family and friends cards and little notes (it is where I stole the idea from).  I always feel a little sense of disappointment when I get a birthday reminder on Facebook (or just remember the date when it arrives or has passed) that I couldn’t get my act together enough to send a card and then I post a Facebook message which feels like cheating.  I always have good intentions but they don’t lead to actual action.  So…  this week I went on a card shopping expedition and have organized a year of birthday cards (get ready friends and family!).  What I realized is that if I am going to really follow through on this I am also going to end a good selection of stamps too… regular trips to a post office aren’t going to happen! So, I have confessed what I wasn’t doing but below are my organization tips that I do actually follow through with…

Our latest selection of cards

Our family’s latest selection of cards

1) I keep a weekly calendar for meals and activities that is on our fridge.  Each Sunday night I do one for the week. We don’t always stick to all the meals but it is there as a guide when I don’t want to think.
2) A weekend a month and on holidays I carve out some time to bake and cook. I always double or triple recipes and freeze them so they are available during busy weeks.
3) Mornings are not pretty for our family so anything that reduces time and energy in the mornings seems to work. We sort out what we wear the night before. This small thing reduced time in the morning and thinking that often led to arguments.
4) We have a calendar in the kitchen that has all important dates and activities marked in advance and everyone can add to it. It is also in our high traffic area so no one can say they didn’t see it. Once a month we all sit down and go over what the month looks like (it isn’t as if anyone remembers the discussion but they all feel consulted and I have a chance to hear what they are and are not looking forward to – I can prepare for battle!)
5) There is less wasted time, fewer arguments and everyone feels calmer when bedrooms are clean and organized. Once every two weeks rooms are sorted out. Once every 6 months we go through their clothes (our kids grow like weeds).
6) We have a divided box for mail, magazines, coupons and bills. It helps us not to lose mail and other things that we need to action. Before doing this there were 10 different places to find things and it used to send me over the edge more than getting the actual bill!
7) We used chalkboard paint and made a chalkboard above the phone in the kitchen. It keeps phone messages and my grocery list. Before I go grocery shopping I take a picture of the list on my phone.

Our kitchen information area!

Our kitchen information area!

 

Being more organized has really given me more time – time to sleep more, time to relax, time to make better choices or do something selfish (today I went and had a massage and it was an hour of magic!). It is also one of the main reasons that I am still able to get up in the mornings and function despite deployments, exercises, IR, work, children’s sports/school/social calendars, laundry, the dog ,meals and life in general.  You don’t have to be an ‘organizing fanatic’ but doing a few small things ahead of time can make military and family life so much easier.

For more information about my tips, resources or books go to:  www.whileyouwereaway.org

1001 Tips for Military Families – Tip #448


Back to School List for Parents – Tip #448

First day

For many of us in North America this is the time for our kids to return or start school.  If you haven’t already noticed, I am big on goal setting, lists and being prepared – I believe that some weeks it is all that keeps me sane.  I believe that these things set, not only you but, your child up for success throughout the school year.  Parents are often less resilient, open to change and flexible than even our most stubborn of children.  For most kids, the back to school adjustment takes less than 10 days. It is twice the time for adults.  We often believe our kids won’t handle something and then wonder what it was we were worried about (of course they always teach you a lesson by being thrown off (completely) by something that you didn’t foresee as being an issue at all too but we can’t predict it all!).  If a family pet can sense when we are anxious, sad or stressed then isn’t it not too far of a leap to think that our children can sense it too.  Here are my tips for not only helping your children feel better about starting school but for you too.
Tips for parents:
1) Begin to discuss with your children the changes that are coming by asking them what they are excited about first, focus on the positive and do not share your worries or concerns. Asking them if they are worried makes them think there is something to be worried about…they know nothing about the harsh realities of our world
2) Highlight what you think they will enjoy most and tell them about all the new things they have to look forward to. Show them pictures and read “Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten” or other kinder like books that will get them asking questions and excited about school
3) Take them to the school yard over the holidays and let them play without the crowds and just get comfortable using the space – this will make you more comfortable too
4) Drive, walk or bike their route to school and point out interesting things on the route
5) Adjust school sleeping routines at least a week before heading to school so there isn’t the added stress of being tired
6) Do lunch practice – teach them how to open containers, what to eat for snack, what to eat for lunch and what to throw out by doing a week (at least) of the lunch kit before school starts
7) Read “The Invisible String” and give them a piece of string for their pocket or backpack (“The Kissing Hand” is another great one too)
8) Know about the school your child is going to – go to their website, visit the school and/or get a school handbook
9) On the first day… show no fear. Be upbeat and confident. By being confident, your child will be more comfortable and develop a trusting relationship with staff much quicker (this will help with the tears and clinging to you for dear life).  Being confident means that you leave quickly (regardless of begging, tears, screaming, etc.).  When you leave, you are telling your child that you trust who they are with to look after them.  When you hesitate, given in and stay you are telling them that you don’t know if they are safe, aren’t sure they will be okay and don’t believe that they can manage.
10) Before leaving them at school (this is good for all kids – no matter what the age), tell your child when you will specifically see them again (eg. ‘Have a great day, I will see you at dinner and we will…’, ‘I will be at the bus stop by our house’)

Below are some books I recommend for ages 3-8 year olds.  For more information about my tips, books or resources go to:  www.whileyouwereaway.org

 

Another great read if you or your child are anxious.  All you will need afterwards is a piece of string!

Another great read if you or your child are anxious. All you will need afterwards is a piece of string!

A good book for helping to ease separation anxiety

A good book for helping to ease separation anxiety

MissBindergarten

Living It – Week Two


Short Term Goals – Tip #4

I am a list maker. I always have been. When I was a tween I wrote lists about boys I liked, things I wanted to buy, movie stars I thought I should at least date and things I wanted to do when I was older (own a Mini, eat chocolate every day and have lots of money – wasn’t the most interesting or focused tween). As a teenager the only way my, constantly on the go, brain could get anything accomplished was to write ‘to do’ lists. I can’t say that I ever spent a lot of time going back and referencing them but there was something about getting it all down on paper that helped me. Since the teen years I have used lists to set realistic goals and help me to stay positive and on track and sometimes just to look at and remind myself of why I am so tired all the time! They are mostly on scrap, on my iPhone or posted on the fridge – but they have all helped me to not only stay organized but have things to look forward to and feel good about what I juggle and can manage in a month.

This week I decided to follow my own advice from “101 Tips for When They’re Back”.  I wrote it to help families with the difficulties that come from reuniting after an absence but the truth is that short term goals have really helped us through a potentially boring and long summer, a difficult year at school, absences of their Dad, etc.

This summer my kids and I sat down and made a summer to do list.  We had a lot of expensive repairs to do on our home and couldn’t afford a vacation and their Dad ended up on a month long exercise on the other side of the world so it was a ‘staycation’ and an absence for us!  This list has been great for us.  I was determined to make the most of where we lived and not have any of us sitting at home feeling sorry for ourselves or glued to a screen (Minecraft is addiction!).

Short term goals for the summer

Short term goals for the summer

We have now completed 67/101 things and I really don’t feel any pressure to complete the list (if you would have that compulsion then I suggest making a smaller list as the last thing you want is to stress yourself out more).  I have also reminded myself that summer doesn’t officially end for us until September 21 so there is still time!  When making the list I ensured that there were a mix of easy to do, things we would do anyway and things we have talked about doing but never got around to.

I am going to continue to do this with the kids now.  With only 4 months left of 2014, I have decided to make the next one… “101 Things to Do Before 2015″.  Since their Dad is going to be away Monday to Friday, it will be a great way to keep us active and not focusing on what we are missing but on all the things we can do.

For more information go to: www.whileyouwereaway.org

A Year of Following My Own Advice – Week One


Living It – Week One 

Tip #43  – A Photo A Day

This past year I survived the first year of being on IR (Impose Restricted – my husband lives and works in one city and I live and work in another with the kids – we see each other on weekends when he isn’t on course, training or deployed).  It wasn’t a difficult decision for us as I have given up jobs I have loved for years and didn’t want to again, many of my closest friends and family are here and the kids really wanted to stay put too.  So… the decision was easy but living it was another story.  Now we are experiencing another absence (he is on a longish exercise half way across the world) and we are about to head into year two of IR, I got to thinking that it would be good to reflect on my own advice and some that others have given me along the way.

People often write to me asking if I actually do the things I write about in my books and blogs.  So I thought that I would share my experiences and continue to provide tips along the way.  The tip I took on this week was to take a photo a day (from my 101 Tips for When They’re Back book).  This one may be of the easiest of my tips to do that has a one of the largest impacts.  There are seemingly insignificant, small and big things that happen in a day.  Capturing them is helpful to not only remind you of the funny, interesting, frustrating, irritating or crazy things that happen each day but also to keep a connection going with your absent family member – they want to know about the little things too as sometimes they end up being the ones that mattered.  For me, it was a quick and easy way to keep my husband up to date with the goings on in our worlds.  Now the kids are older they will often point out things we should take pictures of too.  

Our world this week…

Selfie on our deck

Selfie on our deck

photo 1 (1)

His first ever frosted mug root beer

photo 1

Taking a day off to go to Canadian Open.

photo 2

Never happier than on a horse!

photo 2 (1)

Riding the ferry to Wolfe Island

photo 3 (1)

 

photo 3

Of course… the appliances stop working the day he leaves!

For more information or tips go to: www.whileyouwereaway.org

 

 

1001 Tips for Military Families – Tip #487


 

Instruction Manual – Tip #487

When I was teaching I asked students to all write an instruction manual for themselves at the beginning of the school year.  They had to come up with instructions on how others should operate around them, their best features, all the things you get from having them in your life and what others need to do to support them in functioning to the best of their abilities.  Basically, students create a ‘how to’ manual for others to follow, a guide to help you ‘maintain’ their health!

I got to thinking about when we have a family member absent or deployed there are often a lot of new people that come into your family’s lives or family members that aren’t around as much for the day to day operations and they don’t always know things that would be helpful and make life easier for everyone.  I also realized that I probably don’t ask enough what things my kids think I need to do to support them.  Before an absence or deployment I think that this would be an ideal activity to do so that other people looking after your children or working with your children know more and you would have insights directly from the source that could be invaluable.

Instruction manual

Tips for Creating An Instruction Manual:

* Create a fancy cover with a recent photo

* Give basic information on the first page – full name, date of birth, address, phone numbers, siblings

* Things to Keep Me Running Smoothly – list things that they like to do

* Things to feed me – favourites, foods to avoid, etc.

*Things I would fail to function without – essentials that they sleep with, take on trips, etc.

* Favourite People – a list of people they know and trust (this will also remind them of what their support system is and let you know if you need to create a bigger circle)

* My operating routine – daily things that need to be done, should be done and would be a bonus if they were done.

* What to do when there is a system failure – when there are bad days or things go wrong what will help?  What will make it worse?  What do you need?

The more fun you make it, the more likely they are to buy into it.  Keep it out on a coffee table or on the fridge so that people can reference it, your kids can add to it, etc.  Make one for yourself too.  It is not only an important way to reflect on what you need but a great way to tell your family that you need handling with care instructions.

For more information on our books, resources or tips please go to: www.whileyouwereaway.org

1001 Tips for Military Families – Tip # 451


The Gift of Undivided Time – Tip #451

Most 21st Century kids are used to talking, texting and doing something else all at the same time.  In actual fact, doing only three things at once is rare for kids.  We now live in a world where everyone is multitasking (driving while texting and listening to the radio, eating lunch while talking on the phone and emailing someone at the same time, etc.  The downside of this multitasking life is that your children, friends, co-workers and significant other can all feel as though they are not important enough or not really being heard and/or understood.  How many of us can really say that we make the people most important to us know they are important by giving them 100% of our attention for even 20mins a day?

This holiday season I would suggest that the largest gift that you can give your children is to them your 100% focus and attention for part of the day each day.  This would mean watching a movie and only watching the movie (no answering calls, emails or texting).  It would also mean that when you had a meal together that your cell phone was no where in sight and the TV and computer were both off.  We are losing the art form of connecting meaningfully with others and this means that people are feeling less and less connected and important to others.  I find myself often realizing that I am having a face to face conversation with someone and I haven’t even looked them in the face!  The challenge I put to you is that this holiday season, give the biggest gift of all – your complete and undivided attention for at least 20mins a day to those that matter to you.  This is a gift that will also give back.  Your kids, husband, friends, co-workers, etc. will feel the benefits of your undivided time and if you are really lucky, give it back to you and other people that are important to them.

Cell phone

Tips:

  • Spend an hour a day uncomplete disconnected from technology – ignore the emails, texts, calls etc.
  • No screens when eating meals
  • Decide what is urgent and an emergency – there are few things that you truly need to be reached immediately.  Remind yourself of what an actual emergency is – we have forgotten.
  • Let family, friends and work know that you are going to be “unplugging” at certain times in the day
  • Take the phone out of your bedroom at night
  • Pay for a messaging service and record a message that will let people know who else they can reach and how to contact you in an emergency so you don’t feel that you have to talk to everyone right that minute

This tip will truly benefit you as much as it will benefit those that need you, care about you and just want to spend time with you.  “Unplugging” will give you freedom, perspective and time that counts with the people that matter.

Undivided Attention

For more information about our tips, resources and books go to: www.whileyouwereaway.org

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1001 Tips for Military Families – Tip #551


Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Everything In Between – Tip #551

Balancing my life without holidays is a daily challenge.  When you throw in holidays it can often send me over the edge.  I was blessed to have had a childhood filled with happy holiday memories – there would be parties, baking, family board game nights, and lots of laughter.  I want all of this for my children too but am trying desperately not to lose my mind or go bankrupt trying to do it.  As a child I had no idea that this required so much effort, in fact, I don’t think I gave it much thought at all until I was a parent!  Now that I am a parent, have a career and a husband that is now away Sunday night to Friday night, I realize that their holiday accomplishments were nothing short of miraculous!  For the next few months I am sure that all of us are going to be scrambling (even if you have a calm demeanor on the outside it can’t possibly be that way on the inside if you are part of a military family or any family for that matter).  Then add in that we struggle with our finances (like so many of us do) and always end up spending more than we have.  This makes for the perfect ‘stress storm’ which runs the risk of spoiling special occasions and holidays.  Last year I tried a few things to try to combat stress and over spending and they worked so I thought I would share them.

Holiday insanity

Tips:

* Do all holiday shopping in one day (per event).  Buy all Christmas presents in one weekend (it was exhausting but worth it). What happens is we get things at different times and then pick up more along the way and forget what we have and over spend.

* Get storage buckets for each holiday and only keep what you can fit into the bucket – this makes it easy to get out and easy to put away

* Wrap presents at least three weeks in advance – that means that you can be worry free and enjoy family gatherings

* Make family “To Do” lists and post them on the fridge – this way everyone sees and knows what needs to be done and who you want to do it

* Make ‘Holiday Bucket Lists’ – This will give you a sense of what is important to everyone in your family and prioritize what you all want to do

* User the “Saver” app on your phone.  Put in a budget and track all of your spending.  Stop when it says you stop so that when the holiday is over you are paying for it for months

* Make a “Jib Jab” holiday ecard for everyone – it is quick, easy and gives everyone a good laugh (JibJab.com)

* Do a weekend baking session – tell everyone (that will be helpful) to dedicate a weekend to baking and helping and get all the baking done and out of the way with a lot of helping hands

For me, the key to any holiday success is a lot of organization and planning well in advance.  Once I got into the habit of being better organized and prepared it meant that I could relax and enjoy the holiday more too.  I am not going to pretend that all stress disappears (it doesn’t), that I now stay right on budget (I don’t) or that I don’t have a good old fashioned meltdown at times (I do) but doing these things means I get more than a few seconds to see everyone else enjoying themselves and don’t end the holiday panicked about how we are going to pay for and survive the next one.

For more information about our tips, resources and books go to: www.whileyouwereaway.org

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