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

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

1001 Tips for Military Families - Tip #444

Surviving Car Trips  - Tip #444

Surviving car trips is an art form and particularly if you are doing it alone.  As a military wife, I am often “flying solo” and refuse to let life pass us by or not go on trips until my husband is home (we could be waiting for months).  Having said this, I don’t go away without some planning and prep time to ensure everyone’s survival.   It is this planning that often saves my sanity and allows my kids to see their next birthday! 

My basic must brings:  snacks, wetnaps, klennex, books, map (for them to use), pencils, markers, paper, neck pillows, tic tacs (play game of seeing who can make theirs last the longest), change (in case of toll booths), IDs and travel permissions, bottles of water, first aid kit, emergency car kit, blanket, stories on CD, music, fruit/veggies (not always easy or cheap along the way), chargers, flashlight, games, plastic bags, extra pair of shoes and socks, box of ziplock bags and camera. 

When my husband is away I also make a habit of having the kids take pictures of silly things along the way.  When we are on a trip we often get the big moments but they aren’t always the most memorable so by taking silly things along the way we can connect with their Dad in a fun way too.  When we are going on long trips we also take a poster board size picture of Dad and insert him into our pictures for fun.  It is another silly way of us keeping him a little closer.

I am also not a parent that loves to constantly just turn on a movie or have them play with their gaming systems for hours on end.  I remember car trips with my family as a time that we would talk, argue, laugh and discover different things about each other and the world (by actually looking out the window).  When I do give in the “electronic pleas” from the back seat I give a time limit or say that they can do it until we reach a certain point.  It doesn’t stop them from asking for more time but this is when I pull out the travel bingo.  It is the one game we can all agree on.  It gets them looking out the window, laughing, talking and time flies by.  Now that they are older they make their own cards too.  If car bingo doesn’t work then just find something your family can agree on and have fun with it.  The idea is really to find things to do to make time pass that don’t always include electronics. 

Until I was a parent and military wife, I never knew how exhausting going on a vacation could be! It is always worth it in the end and the memories we create are priceless but the preparation and planning are what ultimately saves me and my children!

Car Bingo

For more information about our tips, books and resources go to: www.whileyouwereaway.org  (I will also post the full sized bingo sheet)

1001 Tips for Military Families - Tip #442

To Do Wreath - Tip #442

Whenever my children tell me all the things that they love about the holidays there is very little talk about presents or things that they can’t wait to get or want.  Most of their talk is around what we do over the season - the time we spend together, the traditions or holiday events that we always take part in.  It got me to thinking that perhaps we could do a holiday countdown for the month of December and put down all the traditions and events we love doing and then do a couple a day.  Then I thought about it…  my husband is away a lot at the moment, I work full time and have to do a lot of the running of the house, taking the kids to events, sports, etc.  I decided that we would write down a list of all the things that we love to do and then rank our top 25 (of course I carefully edged them away from things that were incredibly time consuming or overwhelming to complete and tried to have a balance of short and longer time committments).  Once we had the list, we ranked them and chose our top 25.  Each day we will do one until the holidays.

I made some cards…

To Do Wreath 1

Made a wreath (coat hanger, spray painted clothes pegs, red beads and a bit of ribbon)

To Do Wreath 2

Then put the cards on the wreath for us to take off each day and do

To Do Wreath 3

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday with family and friends and get the gift of time together to relax and have some fun. 


Megan & the While You Were Away team


1001 Tips for Military Families - Tip #441

Before the Year is Over - Tip #441

Rather than waiting for another new years eve to set some goals, try doing some right now.  On your own or with your family take a look back at the year so far, things you accomplished and didn’t get to.  Use the next 6 weeks to re-evaluate what you want to accomplish before saying good-bye to 2012.  Create a fun list of things you want to do before the year is through.  Create a challenge a day or one a week and ask others to support or join you.  We can often get caught up in the chaos of Christmas and the holidays and forget to do things for ourselves each day that will bring us happiness, relaxation and a sense of accomplishment.  Some ideas could include; take a different way to work each day for a week, exercise 5 days a week for the next 6 weeks, listen to music you don’t normally like, learn all the words to __________’s favourite song, try cooking a new recipe each week, etc.

Things to do, before the year is through!






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

1001 Tips for Military Families - #430

PreDeployment: When & What To Tell - Tip #430

It is hard to know how soon and how much to tell your family and friends that someone they love and care about is going to be away for a long time, without a definite return date and to a place where they are going to be potentially in danger on a regular basis.  There is no right or wrong answer but there are a few tips to breaking the news that you may find helpful.


Don’t be in a rush or distracted when you decide to tell others about the deployment

Be as positive as possible about the deployment before telling anyone else

Don’t share too much all at once. This will give them time to process the absence before thinking about all the other worries and concerns

Give the news during a period of time when you know you are going to be spending a lot of time together

If you have not been given a lot of time don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to give information as quickly as possible and as much as possible. Present the absence and answer their questions first

Have strategies for coping with the absence in place before talking about it (Mom is going away for the next 6 months for work but we are going to be able to write to her everyday or we are really going to miss her but one way we are going to be able to stay in touch is…)

Begin to talk about what your family member is going to miss (Christmas, birthdays, etc.) and how you going to celebrate these things in their absence

Answer questions honestly and calmly (they will know when you are lying and if you aren’t calm, they won’t be either)

Listen to what they are saying, repeat back to them what you think they are saying and then don’t offer a lot of solutions. Sometimes your family just wants to feel heard and they will often say more when you aren’t jumping to find solutions.

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

1001 Tips for Military Families - #429

Pre-Deployment Pampering - Tip #429

If you are one of the primary care givers in your relationships and family then you are often so busy making check lists, running around trying to cram in special events, lasts of everything and anything, and preparing family and friends for their departure that you probably forget to take care of yourselves and before you know it, they are deployed and there is no time to take care of you. Self care is undervalued and we often put ourselves last. This is a mistake as when we are feeling better, more rested and sane, those we look after will be the same. We will have more patience, attend to things faster and more efficiently and have a more positive outlook which rubs off on others.

Things to do for yourself before they’re deployed:

Go out to dinner or lunch with a group of friends

Get a pedicure or manicure

Go to someone else’s house for dinner

Get take out that you like

Sign up for a course you’ve always wanted to take

Go to the movies and maybe stay for another one afterwards

Have a long bath and take a book or magazine with you, put a sign that says “Only disturb if you see blood or vomit”

Call friends or family members and have a good long chat

Take a personal day or book a day off and do nothing but put your feet up

Go through photos or other piles you have been dying to get to

The bottom line is that you need to take time before they leave to pamper, renew and treat yourself as a deployment is filled with doing a lot of things for other people and you will be better for everyone around you if you are somewhat rested heading into it.

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

1001 Tips for Military Families - Tip #426

Keeping Yourself Busy - Tip #426

Many people who have written or spoken to me about this.  They have a lot to say about my tip #7 - “Keep Busy” from my book.  Of course, I should have written “Keep Busy With the Things That You Love or Make You Feel Better About Life In General”.  Most of us have no problem being busy (there are always things like; laundry, dishes, phone calls, appointments, work, birthdays, etc.) but it is what we are filling our time with that we need to be mindful of.  Keeping busy doesn’t mean watching TV for hours on end (living someone’s real or imaginary life), doing piles of laundry or running errands for other people.

The point is that you find something that you really enjoy and go for it.  Surf the internet for ideas and suggestions and then look to see what is offered in your area.  Make sure it is easy to get to and works with your schedule.  Keep busy with things that you enjoy doing as well as all the other things that life throws your way.

Until recently, I had always thought of myself as someone who really wasn’t a big hobby person.  I had tried scrap booking, stamp collecting, coin collecting, making various crafts, etc. all without being able to really stick with it for very long.  I have now realized that I just hadn’t found something that I was passionate about.  I now realize that most people who have a hobby, whether it is flying mini-planes, mountain climbing, going to air shows, are into car racing or comic book conventions, scrap booking, etc. are passionate about it.  They got lost in time and in the moment and really enjoy it.  I have fallen in love with pottery and two hours each week will go by without me thinking about my work, issues with the kids, lunches for the next day, appointments, laundry, the overgrown lawn, etc.  It is the place where I lose myself and it feels so good.  Everyone needs to keep busy by being lost in something for at least a part of their week if not a part of their day.  So… think about all the things that you have an interest in or at one point in time have thought that it would be a great thing to try, list them and then make some time to get out there and try them.  On many bases there are facilities just waiting to be used and if there isn’t pop into the nearest city or town over and get to their community centre, library, or post office and find out where and how you can keep busy doing something you enjoy and are passionate about.

Some Ideas To Consider:

Rock climbing

Stamp or coin Collecting

Scrap booking



Sketching/ Art classes


Scuba Diving




Walking Club

Book Club


Jewelery making

Music lessons

Stained glass




Car resortation




Just to name a few…

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

To submit a tip of your own write to: [email protected]

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: [email protected]

1001 Tips for Military Families - #421

PTSD: What to Avoid - Tip #421

There is a lot of information out there about what PTSD looks like, feels like and strategies for how a person with it can try to cope but there isn’t a lot for family members, friends and colleagues who are trying to support a loved one.  Here are my top ten tips to try to avoid.  They are easy pitfalls and I really believe just knowing what they are will help you.

1) Avoid criticizing - it may be constructive but they hear judgment, lack of understanding and dissatisfaction

2) Avoid making a joke out of it or labeling - doing this will only cause them to be further withdrawn or disconnected with you.  Even if they are laughing at the time this is not a reflection of how they are truly feeling.  Nothing about PTSD is funny when you are going through it.  Find things in other areas of your lives to laugh about.

3) Don’t compare - each person experiences PTSD in very different ways and for different reasons.  Comparing will only lead to frustration.

4) Don’t try to be a doctor and work it all out.  Your job is to offer encouragement and support - don’t try to tell them what you think is wrong with them.  Would you want someone sitting down with you and pointing out all of your issues, faults or problems?

5) Avoid setting time limits - Everyone will have a different pace to their recovery and they need to be able to set it themselves and not feel pressured or held to a particular date and time.  It will only sabotage their progress.

6) Don’t be bossy - This one is in my nature and a tough one but it doesn’t help!  They have been coming from a setting where they had very little they could control and need a chance to feel in control of their lives and in the driver’s seat.  If you are always telling them what to do they never have a chance to establish a new sense of control.

7) Don’t Push or Pressure - If they tell you that they aren’t ready, it will not help if you keeping asking or demand it of them.  Give them an out, time to think and accept decisions that wouldn’t be the ones you would make or that you think are right. They will do things when they are ready.

8) Don’t agree when you really don’t - Placating or telling someone something that they want to hear isn’t going to help either.  You need to be you, stick to what you believe and be honest.  No one wants to live or be a in relationship with someone (for long) that isn’t honest or just says what they want to hear and you won’t be able to keep it up for long either!   Be who you are so that you are able to give them time to recover and be who they want to be.

9) Never give up - Avoid doing things like raising your hands in the air and walking out, leaving for awhile, avoiding them, etc.  When you are willing to stick it out you will also teach them the same thing.  Your perseverance will one day be theirs.

10) Talk about your problems too - Your life doesn’t stop because you are living with, working with or loving someone who has PTSD.  One of the best ways to engage them back into your world is to share your worries, stresses and strains.  Don’t avoid talking about your life because their life is hard and this should also be a motto they follow too!

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


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