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Living It – Week 29

Tip # 445 – When They’re Back Box

When You Are Back Box

It is now at the point where my kids can see the light at the end of the incredibly long tunnel. They are beginning to talk about plans and what they want to do when Dad gets home. I will admit that I have started a list of things that I can’t wait to hand over. But… I also have had to remind the kids (and myself) that my husband was working long hours, was away from all the comforts of home for a long time, didn’t get holidays or weekends and will be tired.  We have decided to take my own advice and we have dusted off the When You’re Back box.  We have used it a few times with great success and we also take the cards when we have done them and put them all up on the wall for awhile to see what we have accomplished.

The idea is that the box sits out on the kitchen table with cards beside it and a couple of markers.  When I or the kids think of something that they want to do when their Dad gets back they write it on the card and stick it in the box.  Then when my husband gets home he randomly chooses a few cards at a time and they set times to do some of them in the week.  This way the kids get things to look forward to and my husband doesn’t feel like he has to do it all the very week he comes home.  We also try to think of a lot of things that have no cost associated with them and mean we will get to just spend time together.  I have already thrown a few boring ones from me of things I have been dying to get down around the house!

Our ‘When You’re Back’ ideas so far:

* Go hiking with the dog

* Read Lord of the Rings together

* See the Matrix movies together

* Go camping

* Play chess

* Go for a bike ride

* Make a big Thai dinner together

* Do a 3km run each week together

* Sign up for an adventure race

* Go out for breakfast together and then drive us to school

* Make a fort in the backyard

* Set up a movie in the backyard

* Have an unChristmas party

* Clean out garage (Mom’s)

* Have a chocolate fondue

* Have a picnic at the park

* Go for ice cream

* Play a round of mini golf

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


Living It – Week 27

Tip #99 – Be Organized


When I wrote “101 Tips for When They’re Back” I had a fair number of suggestions for making life easier for their return by being organized.  Since we are in the final 60 day stretch I decided that it may be good to start going through the reunion book and living some of my own advice from there too.  I still stand by all of what I said and truly believe that there is a certain loss of control that I have to be willing to give up again.  For the most part, I have been the one making the decisions about what we eat, what things we do in the evenings, where we go, when we go to sleep and so on and so on.  Now I am going to have to readjust to sharing those decisions with someone else.  Being organized will help me feel less out of control (yes, I am one of those people that finds coming home to a clean house one of the greatest feelings in the world – EVERYTHING REALLY DOES HAVE A PLACE!  Despite what my husband and kids say…).

By the time he gets home I will have…

* Cleaned out the areas of the house that were my husband’s and make them ready for him to invade again (or… to make a mess of and frustrate me but everyone has to have a space to do what they want with)

* Organize the fridge and freezer so that I not only know what we have but that I know we have things he likes too – it will also take the guess work out of meals and make life easier

* Do some bulk shopping for boring things like toilet paper, soaps, etc. – less time in the stores and less hastle

* Sort through and prioritize the mail that is stuffed into a box the door (this has not been a good example but with so much to deal with, if it was addressed to my husband and didn’t look like a bill or urgent, it got shoved into a box)

* Try to get some work done ahead of time so that I can take a few days when he gets back and not feel overwhelmed with a long list of things to do on top of getting used to having to go back to sleeping on my side of the bed!

* Go through the calendar and see what things are going to be happening and try to do things in advance to help reduce the amount of running around when he first gets home (I am going to buy some birthday cards in advance, get some birthday presents and wrap and label them, get postage stamps, etc.)

* Send a copy of our calendar to my husband so that he knows some of what he is coming home to as well

* Write ahead of time and ask what things he is missing the most (besides his favourite wife and kids).  This way I can pick them up when I have time rather than dashing around in the last few days

Regardless of whether or not I am totally organized or a complete mess, reunions are hard.  I really believe that being organized will only help with a smoother reintegration for everyone.  People often tell me that it must be so hard to have my husband away so much – it is but…  it is very hard to get used to sharing a life again after a long deployment too and many times for us, it has been the hardest part.  My husband has been at home with us for a total of 67 days in 2 years.  Getting used to life together again is going to be something I need to begin preparing for and living my own advice!

For more information about our tips, books or resources go to: www.whileyouwereaway.org or join our Facebook page While You Were Away

Living It – Week 21

Tip # 58 Create a Pillow Case

T-shirt pillow

In “101 Tips for Military Families Experiencing Absence or Deployment” I suggested making a pillowcase that they could lay their head on every night that would be comforting.  When I wrote it I was thinking that you could put a picture of your loved one and some comforting things to help your children.  Since I decided to “Live it” this week I took some time to think about what would be fun to do and practical (I always love it when these two combine!).

So, I decided to go through my husband’s closet and use some of his older t-shirts to make a pillow case out of.  The older t-shirts are soft, my husband has dropped 60Lbs and all his older t-shirts are too big so I wasn’t worried about him freaking out about their repurposing!  If you have any doubt, lay them out, take a picture and send it to your loved one asking if there any you can use.  Look through your own too and see if there are any that would work for this.

My kids have a lot of happy memories attached to some of those shirts and they realized that their Dad would too so we actually made 3 pillowcases and sent one over to him so that he could have something comforting too!  This gave our family comfort, something to do together as a family and something we can treasure.

Here is a link for a no sew pillow if you just want something easy and fun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1EZPhRpCMA

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

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 – #427

Four Ways to Stay in Touch – Tip #427

 Guest Post By: Heather Smith

As a military family you are used to the nomadic lifestyle and with each move it seems to get harder. You tend to make friends and build bonds that you did not intend. Once you know it’s time to go, you start to prepare for your move. Have no worries there are 4 ways you can keep in contact with your loved ones after the move:

Skype: Probably the most entertaining and easy way to keep in contact with your friends and family is the online video chat. Signing up for an account is fast and easy. You can pay for a premium account to get pay less on international calls or stick to the free version which makes free phone calls to other Skype users. All you need to do is to get your friends and family to sign up too. The video and voice is very clear and easy to work. This is the next best thing to sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee with them in their living room.

Facebook: With over 800 million users it’s no wonder that Facebook is the number one social media program for the world. Facebook is like your online scrapbook. Posting pictures and posting updates will keep your family and friends connected to you at all times. You are able to read and see everything they are doing, so that you never feel left out.

Blog: Blogging is very good for the soul. It is a wonderful way to voice your feelings and relive your uncertainties. Not only can bogging be very therapeutic but it is a great form of communication for your past loved ones living in different cities. Your readers and fans are able to view your posts and comment on them. Instead of calling 6 of your closest friends about the most recent news you can blog and share with your friends.

Letters: When is the last time you sat down to write a handwritten letter, place it in an envelope, address it and lick a stamp? Believe it or not snail mail is making a comeback in communication. There is something healing and nostalgic about writing letters as your form of correspondence. That feeling of anticipation of receiving a response letter can be exciting! So grab a pen and paper and start writing, it’s guaranteed you will get hooked.

As hard as it can be to leave friends and family more frequently then you want too, thank goodness we live in a world where technology thrives and the old fashioned ways still exist. So log on or pick up a pen and keep in touch. It can be hard but also fun when you find a new way to keep connected to your loved ones!

Author Bio

Heather Smith is an ex-nanny. Passionate about thought leadership and writing, Heather regularly contributes to various career, social media, public relations, branding, and parenting blogs/websites. She also provides value to nanny service by giving advice on site design as well as the features and functionality to provide more and more value to nannies and families across the U.S. and Canada. She can be available at H.smith7295 [at] gmail.com.

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

To submit a tip of your own or ask a question, write to: Megan@whileyouwereaway.org

1001 Tips for Military Families – Tip # 422

Resiliency & PTSD – Tip #422

It is easy to get consumed with our own lives, I do it constantly.  I forget that everyone has their own challenges, dramas and stresses. This is much the same when you or someone you love is struggling with PTSD.  I am not, for a minute, suggesting that you take on other people’s stresses and drama.  I am, however, suggesting that one of the best ways to make yourself feel better is to do a few small things each day for other people.  There are a lot of people and organizations talking a lot about resiliency but I believe that you can become more resilient by reaching out to others, losing yourself (if only for a few minutes) in some small task, feeling good about something you can accomplish for someone else and just getting outside of your own world.  My challenge to you all is to take the list below and over the next 7 days complete as many as you can.  Challenge your family and friends to complete the list as well.


* Clean up someone’s mess

* Leave a note for someone telling them how great you think they are

* Hide a little money in the pocket of someone you love

* Buy or make a fancy dessert

* Take someone, who is having a rough time, a coffee

* Send an email to someone that you have been out of touch with and tell them you missed them

* Give an anonymous donation

* Volunteer an hour of your time

* Take a neighbor’s garbage out/in

* Be the first to apologize

* Compliment a stranger

* Tell a parent or child why they are so important to you

* Make someone laugh until they are nearly crying

* Donate to a charity

* Go for a bike ride or walk with someone

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

To submit a tip of your own or suggest a tip, write to: Megan@whileyouwereaway.org