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


  • 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

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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


* 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

1001 Tips for Military Families – Tip #450

Patience… with yourself! - Tip #450


For our family, the toughest part of the deployments is when my husband comes back.  It wasn’t because we weren’t happy to see each other (we were) or that he hadn’t been missed (he had been very missed) but almost everything had changed – we had changed, routines had changed, the kids had changed, likes and dislikes were different, and he had changed and had experienced things we couldn’t understand and vise versa.  There were big gaps to fill, some changes to be made (once again) and some things couldn’t go back to the way they were before.  This made our relationship and our family life challenging for longer than I would have expected (I thought we would be back in the swing of things in a few months, it actually takes us just over six!).

Being patient with others sometimes is much easier than with yourself.  We can often forgive others for things we have never considered forgiving ourselves for.  When your family member comes home it is once again another change and adjustments need to be made.  Many families think that it should just easily flip back to the way things once were but it can’t because a lot of has happened and not only have things changed in the home, you have all changed.  You have learned things about yourself, discovered different ways of doing things and had experiences and feelings that others have not.

Tips for taking care of yourself:

* When you are angry, frustrated or annoyed with yourself – ask “Would I be this way if it was someone else?”

* Take time each day for yourself, to be honest with yourself and how you are feeling and forgive yourself if they are not the nicest of thoughts (we all have them)

* Don’t respond to people or demands immediately – take at least a few minutes to think about whether or not it is something you want to do, need to do or could say ‘no’ to

* Before you even get up in the morning tell yourself that it is okay if you make mistakes, get frustrated, angry or annoyed – you are human and everyone feels these things

* Ask others for help and don’t let people assume that all is well because your family member is home.  Share the frustrations and other emotions you are experiencing.

* Teach your family to be patient by talking about your feelings, reactions and how you are learning to be patient with yourself

* Time does heal all wounds but it will take until the end of time if you don’t practice patience with yourself and with the other people re-adjusting too


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

1001 Tips for Military Families – #449

Read to your children – Tip #449


Being an educator and mother, I am a avid reader and especially of children’s books.  They don’t have to say the words deployment or military to be well suited to military families, educators or support personnel.  I am not suggesting that you go out and spend a lot of money and buy all of these but most of them will be in your children’s schools or at your local library.  I highly recommend ending each day with a book as there are some strong and important messages that you can give to your children through these books – one of the most important is the message you will pass onto them when you drop everything for them and take the time to enjoy a good book.  Here are my top choices…

Great books for reading and recording onto your computer, IPOD or CD by a family member who is leaving:

* Gregory, the Terrible Eater – Mitchell Sharmat

- It tells the story of a goat that loves healthy, human food and his parents aren’t happy.  If you have a fussy eater this is a perfect read!

* I Love You Stinky Face – Lisa McCourt

- A book that teaches children about unconditional love.  You could finish it off with telling them that there is nothing they could do or be that you would stop loving them for and time or distance won’t change it.

* The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies – Stan and Jan Berenstain

- A timeless classic of shopping with your children.  A good one to remind them about appropriate behaviour even when you are away.

* Some Things Are Scary (No Matter How Old You Are) – Florence Parry Heide

- A great book to talk about everyone having fears and it would be a good chance for you to share what you do when you are worried or scared.

*  I Love You, Little One – Nancy Tafuri

- It is the perfect book to tell your child you love them and why

Great Books for Reading to Them At Night to remind them of their own strength and courage:

* Oh, the Paces You’ll Go – Dr. Seuss

- This book will remind your child that even though they haven’t left home they are on their own journey

* The Giving Tree – Shel Silverstein

- This book demonstrates how the gift of giving can affect people and things

* Today I Will Fly – Mo Willems

- It is a good book for teaching your child about never giving up and persevering even when you don’t do things the way you’d planned.

* Little Beaver and The Echo – Amy MacDonald and Sarah Fox-Davies

- It tells the story of a lonely beaver who finds friends when he is looking for someone that doesn’t exist

* Imagine A Place – Sarah L. Thomson

- This book is perfect for sitting and looking at together and talking about what  you see and why or why not it could be possible or impossible.

* David Gets in Trouble – David Shannon

- He has written an easy to read book about admitting when you have done something wrong and being loved anyway.


The Kissing Hand – Audrey Penn

- I challenge you to find a better book to read to your children before their first day of school.  I have been reading this book to my children every year since Kindergarten.  It is about a mother raccoon and her child having to be separated but only physically. If there was any book in this list to buy…  this is it!

Books to Discuss Friend Or Self Esteem Issues:

* The Ordinary Princess – M.M. Kaye

- A book that teaches the reader that there is no such thing as ordinary

* The English Roses – Madonna

- A story about accepting and having friends not only for the things you have in common but the things that make you different

* My Secret Bully – Trudy Ludwig

- In my opinion, the best book published that talks about the ways girl’s bullying and treat eachother.

* Just Kidding – Trudy Ludwig

- In my opinion, the best book for boys about the way they treat each other and then call it a ‘joke’.

* The Dot – Peter H. Reynolds

- The story of a boy that learns from his teacher that he is capable of anything if he just tries.

* Scaredy Squirrel Makes A Friend – Melanie Watt

- There is a bunch of these Scaredy Squirrel books now and they all deal with overcoming your fears so that you can discover the world.  They do it with humour and fun.

I hope you enjoy all of these as much as I have and would welcome your recommendations too.

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

Adjusting – Tip #447

Getting Another Groove: Adjusting To Their Return – Tip #447

My husband has just returned from being away for over 2 months. In 2 months I have created new systems and/or routines – I don’t trip over rucksacks and combat boots left right at the door, the butter knife is not lying in the sink rather than being put in the dishwasher and I happily moved to sleeping in the middle of the bed to name just a few subtle changes! In previous years the adjustment back to life together has been challenging at times. I usually blamed it on him being away and then wanting things to go back to how he wanted them or my being incredibly resentful that he got a break from everyday life (although I would not call what he is doing a “break”). This time I thought this through a little more (for those who know me, this is not my strong point). I decided to be pro-active and get things in the house ready for change (and hopefully myself too). They were little things but I have decided that they made a big difference.  The last thing you want is to have your family member returning home and feeling unwelcome and unwanted.



* If you moved where the mail or where something else goes, move it back (they will probably move whatever it is back anyway!)

* Clear an area by the door for them to put their combats/gear (for you to trip over when you come through the door) :)

* Make a welcome back sign and post it up (I left this for my kids to do)

* A couple of nights before he/she returns, start sleeping on your side of the bed again

* Get some of their favourite things to eat and drink and put them in the fridge and cupboards

* Leave the calendar as empty as possible for the first week back so they can fill it with you

* Print a few good pictures from your phone or camera of things that you did while he/she was away so you can fill them in

* Make a list of all the things you missed about them and post it on the fridge

* If you were using a space that was considered “theirs” tidy it up and let it be reclaimed

* Get out all the bathroom things that you put away while they were gone

* Clean up the bedroom of your clutter and make it a welcoming place (despite your sadness that you cannot take up the whole bed anymore)

* If you were letting a pet sleep on the bed, begin at least a week in advance, training them to sleep elsewhere


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


Tip #446 – Summer to Do’s


Summer Goals – Tip #446

Summer fun

With the exception of my readers living on the other side of the globe (in this case make it winter goals), summer is coming up fast. One of the ways we make time pass in a fun way rather than a “when is he going to ever come home” way is by setting some fun “Summer To Do’s”. These short term goals give our family things to look forward to, things to work towards and do together. In the past, we have discovered that the summer has come and gone before we have even remembered all the things we promised we’d do. Here is our list below to inspire you…

Before the end of the summer we will…
* Go on a road trip for good ice cream
* Play mini golf
* Go swimming at least once a week
* Learn a new sport
* Do a bargain shopping day
* Play baseball
* Have a backyard BBQ party
* Read 10 books
* Go to the movies
* Have a picnic
* Ride our bikes (at least once a week)
* Visit __________
* Clean out our rooms
* Go hiking
* Do a scavenger hunt
* Go camping
* Go on a canoe camping trip
* Make spider hot dogs
* Roast marshmellows
* Play tennis
* Have a sleepover with friends in the backyard
* Go to 10 different parks in the city
* Find a good outdoor pool to go to
* Make a summer song mix
* Go on a scavenger hunt
* Try a new sport
* Go canoeing
* Re-do our rooms

For more tips, ideas and resources go to: www.whileyouwereaway.org


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