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

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

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

1001 Tips for Military Families – Tip #445


When You Get Back Box – Tip #445

My husband is about to leave again for at least 2 months there are some news things that we are going to give a try.  They aren’t going to make time go faster or change the fact that he is going to leave a big hole that we won’t be able to fill but it may help us with the re-integration and give us a chance to focus on thinking on something positive.  There are often times when my husband is away and we will sit at the dinner table and talk about all the things we will do when he is back.  Many of these are good ideas but also slip our minds as the weeks pass by.  We have decided to make a “When You Are Back” box.  It is going to be set up in the kitchen with cards/paper beside it and when we think of something that we want to do when he is back, we write it on the card.  When he is back he can draw cards and choose things that he wants to do with everyone.  It will be a great way for everyone to reconnect and take some of the pressure off of having to come up with ideas when he is back and life is in full swing.  By also setting a limit of 1-2 to draw a week it will not overwhelm my husband either and make him feel as though he has to make up over 8 weeks of time all of a sudden and be all things to all people instantly.

When You Are Back Box

When You Are Back Ideas:

* Go hiking

* Read ___________ together

* See the movie _________________ together

* Take a dance class together

* Play latest version of ______________

* Go for a bike ride

* Make all our favourite foods type dinner

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

1001 Tips for Military Families – Tip #443


Carve Out Time – Tip #443

Maketime

Each year I make the resolution that I am going to get in shape and lose weight. This past year was the first time that December arrived and I was ending a year lighter than I started and didn’t wheeze going up a flight of stairs (not exactly what I wanted but a definite step forward). My kids could still out run me without even breaking a sweat but I am getting out and making a point of being active – not something I had managed to consistently do in previous years. But as I approached 2013 I began to ask myself what made 2012 different from the past 25 years that I had made the same resolution (yes, I had the same resolution for the last 25 years!). I still have an incredibly busy life, we are still a military family and take on all the crazy ups and downs that come with it, we still have trouble not spending money we don’t have, my kids are as self centred as ever and I still have all the demands that family life brings.

I have come to the conclusion that in 2012 I made myself a priority. This is my 2013 resolution too – I will continue to carve out time for myself. I will make time to get the groceries that I need, make time to eat good meals rather than ones on the fly, make time to exercise, make time to get to bed earlier (it sounds silly but that is also time that I wasn’t making for myself), make time to do things that I enjoy doing and take the time to decide what I need to do, want to do and should say no to doing. This has made me a happier, lighter and a healthier person and I am hopeful that this will be the key to losing the next 40Lbs. Carving out time for yourself consistently is going to be met with resistance by some so be prepared. You are going to have to get comfortable with the word “no”, risk have some people think your selfish, annoy your children at times and leave your friends and family to do things for themselves at times and perhaps solve their own problems. This is not easy but the rewards are too great for me not to continue and make this my new resolution for the next 25 years.  Military life is always busy and there will always be reasons to not make time for yourself – this year challenge yourself to make time for yourself to feel better. 

Tips:

* Look at what foods you eat when you are in a hurry and how they make you feel

* Re-assess your schedule and find out where you are spending time 

* Categorize your time into MUST DO, NEED TO DO, GOOD TO DO, CAN MANAGE WITHOUT

* Let people know why you are making time for yourself

* Stick to it – show everyone what consistently looks like and feels like.  Don’t give in to the demands of others automatically

* Try to plan a time when you can go grocery shopping without running down the aisles in a mad panic

* Find a time in the day to exercise that is going to be the least interupted (for me, sadly, this is 5:45am)

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

1001 Tips for Military Families – # 436


Back to School – Tip # 436

It is hard enough but trying to get your kids ready for heading back to school but when one of you is away, you have been posted, they are starting a new school, etc. it can be even rougher and tougher. Whether your children are 6 or 16, there are feelings (good and bad), anxieties, fears, excitement, nerves and many stresses that come with the start of any school year.  It is also an expensive time of year for parents and that can be an additional stress for everyone.  Below are some tips that will help you and your child(ren) to survive the transition from the lazy days of summer to the routines of the school year.

Tips:

* Check with your child’s school (call or visit their school website or the school board website) and see what things are actually required. Often when my children tell me they have to have it for school it can be translated to they want to have it. It helps to know in advance what are needs and what are wants.

* If your budget is tight and you aren’t able to get information about what your child will need,  put a note in their bag, to their teacher, on the first day of school asking them to send you home a list of things that they will need and that way you won’t be blindly buying things that may go unused or be wasted. Buy what you can and let the school know that finances are tight.

* If you have the luxury of knowing, in advance, that a family member is going to be away during this time, shop in advance and hide it all in a bucket until they need it. Your absent family member could leave a note in the bucket giving their best pieces of advice for the first day of school or something funny that happened to them at school when they were younger.

* Before leaving to go shopping ask they to make a list with three columns – Must Have/Would Make Life Easier/Luxuries. This will give them and you some perspective.

* Let your children know well in advance what stores you intend on going to and what the budget is.

* If you want to avoid taking your children, ask a friend to trade with you. You’ll take their kids while they go and they’ll take yours while you go. It will be faster, you’ll get what they need and you can even take a few moments to wonder around the store in peace and quiet.

* Let the school know of up-coming, current or lengthy absences of a significant family member. It will also be important to let the school know how your child handles stress and absence. It is also extremely important that you let the teachers and school know about when your family member is returning as that can bring change and stress too.

* Know your child’s teachers – whether your children are in Kindergarten, middle school or high school you should make a point of knowing the names and contact information of your child(ren)’s teachers. Your kids need to know that you can get in touch with them easily and it will be important for you to keep them up to date with what is happening in your household (ex. absences, deployments, re-integration, moves, etc.).

* When you have an absent family member contact information also needs to be changed at the school (One of my children was hurt of the play ground and it took them over 20mins to get in touch with me as they had been trying to get in touch with my husband – he was in Afghanistan!). Ask someone to be the second contact while your family member is away and then send in a letter to the school with that information.

* There are also excellent books for younger students that you can read in advance of school starting to help reduce the anxiety (The Kissing Hand and The Invisible String).

* If you are starting a new school and your child has additional medical needs or academic information that it would be helpful for the school to have, make a copy and drop it off the week before school starts (all school offices are open one week prior to the first day of school)

* If your child has allergies or medication that will potentially need to be administered at the school, go online and get the forms you will need and ensure you have the right people signing and authorizing them (schools often need a family doctor to sign off on them)

There is something magical about the beginning of the school year and the ‘back to school frenzy’ although it can be an exhausting ride. Ask for help and try to make it as fun and stress free as possible for everyone. Check with your military resource or your base social workers to see what they are offering in terms of support and/or resources too.

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

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