1001 Tips for Military Families - Tip #471

Making Time

As the holidays draw closer and closer for many of us there seems like an endless list of things to do, buy, wrap, make, go to, etc.  It tires me out just thinking about it (and then I flop down and watch a couple of hours of Netflix and accomplish nothing)!  This time of year I always try hard not to get caught up in the gifts and things but more in the time with friends and family, doing things with the people I love and letting them know how I feel.  This is always easier said than done, however, here are the tips that I have followed for the last few years and they have really helped me to retain my sanity and have a lot of fun too.

Holiday Sanity Savers -

  1. Bake easy things - I looked through my cookbooks and chose cookies and desserts that are easy to bake and not going to require a ton of steps or days of planning and prep.
  2. Hire a wrapper (not rapper) - My teenager did the majority of the wrapping and this alone gave me hours of additional time!  It also forced me to carefully sort through everything so I knew exactly what I had.
  3. Shopped for it all in one weekend -  In the past my shopping has been spread out over a couple of months.  I think that I spent more (forgot what I had already bought) and wasted a lot of time going back and forth.
  4. Electronic Christmas letter and photo - I know that some people really prefer paper so I did 10 of those and everyone else is getting the electronic version.  It saves money and a lot of time but I am still able to keep in touch with people and share our year.
  5. Made a meal plan for the week of Christmas - this way there is little thinking or prep to do and more time to be spent having fun with the kids
  6. Combining Events - Rather than having 2, 3 or 4 dinners we have invited people to one.  This way we get to see all the people that are important to us but also aren’t cooking and cleaning the holiday away but have time to do other things with our kids and just relax together.
  7. Reality Break - Our kids are in competitive sports and while it is wonderful for them and they love it the holidays are a good time to take a break for all of us.  Even though we aren’t going away, we are going to behave like we are and mark ourselves as busy for two weeks.  Everyone needs a break from reality (and from being a taxi service).  I have put an auto message on my email and stepped away from work until the new year (I know everyone is not as lucky as I am to have 2 weeks off but step away for the time you do have).
  8. Nothing Day - Over the holidays have a day scheduled and planned where no one has to do a thing.  There are no commitments or obligations - no one even has to get out of pyjamas or brush their hair.  Eat leftovers and only do things that you want to do.
  9. Make a list - Everyone makes a list of things that they really want to do, must do and really don’t want to do.  This way we get a sense of what is important, can prioritize as a family and let go of some things that no one wanted to do in the first place.  Having said this - a large portion of my family would love not to have to decorate the tree.  As a parent, give yourself veto power so you get the tree you want and everyone slaps a smile on their faces as they decorate it!
  10. Take Photos - On Christmas day, to make your life easier, use your phone to take photos of gifts & the tag so that you remember who gave what to you and your family members.


Happy Holidays!  From my family to yours. 

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

Tips for Military Families - Tip #1001

Take Your Own Advice - Tip #1001

I am taking some of my own advice for the next two weeks….  I am making time for family, prioritizing, being adventurous and trying new things, eating well (perhaps too well), getting out and doing some exercise, appreciating that this Christmas we are all together and making the most of it and taking a holiday away from the day to day routine.   I spend enough time dishing out my tips and advice (as many of us gladly do) that I thought it was a perfect time to follow it.  We will often tell people all the things that they ought to be doing to feel better, take better care of themselves, or do for someone else but (I am bad for this too) don’t often treat ourselves with the same kindnesses!

I will not be back writing tips until January 9th - I will be doing all of the above mentioned.  Until that time please feel free to read the over 300 tips that I have posted in the last two years, send feedback or your own tips or do what I am doing and step away from the computer and jump head first into the holidays.

I would like to take this time to say thank-you for your support, reading my tips, writing to me, sending me information or tips of your own.  I love being able to write for so many people and appreciate that you all have busy lives too so am especially honored that some your precious time each week  is spent reading what I have to say.

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

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

More Tips for Military Families - #167

Family Holidays - Tip #167

Part of a holiday or vacation is when my husband is with us to buy a bunch of groceries we didn’t need but will enjoy, play games with us, inspire us to get on our bikes and all go out for a ride together or just get out of the house and do something that we wouldn’t have done if he wasn’t there.  It is difficult to feel like celebrating or honouring family traditions when we are not all together as a family.  I find it really tough when my husband is on exercises or deployed thorugh long weekends or special holidays.  Even though it is tough, I think it is important that we don’t forget to celebrate and acknowledge special days.  Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do it all (I did that and it wasn’t fun),  just bring out some of the decorations or try baking one of your family’s favourites.  It will help your family to find some enjoyment in a holiday even when not everyone is there to celebrate.  Your family needs to know that life doesn’t stop happening during an absence or stressful time - as we all know life is full of stress and frustrations and through honouring special occasions or celebrating holidays, even in the absence of others, we are teaching our children, family and/or friends how to be resilient.


* Create a new tradition if the old ones seem like too much or overwhelms you

* Invite friends and family together so that there is a sense of togetherness

* Make a video when everyone is together talking about what they miss about your loved one

* Don’t try doing all of the decorating, baking, cooking, and activities - choose a few things to do that are manageable

* Have everyone complete the sentence, “I wish you were here because…” and then write all of the responses down on a card and send it

* Ask others to bring things so that you are not left with all of the work

* Celebrate at someone else’s house and offer to take turns from year to year

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

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

More Tips for the Tips for Families #131

Record The Entire Season - Tip #131

For many of us, this is a holiday season.  There are a number of events and family traditions that take place over the entire month.  Your absent family member will have memories of hurried Christmas shopping, baking, parties, people visiting, dinners, wrapping, hiding gifts, etc.  We don’t tend to forget to take pictures at the big events but we do not capture any of the other moments that often make the holiday season fun, frustrating and eventful.  This year record it all - the crowded mall, the full parking lot, the annoyed faces of your children doing some task they don’t want to, the putting up of decorations, food preparation, etc.  Give them a full play by play.  It is a great way to connect with your absent family member about the things you are doing on a day to day basis to make it a special time.  Your insights and commentary around this busy season will be one of the best videos you send over!


* Ask your teens or friends to take portions of the video so that it isn’t all on your shoulders

* Make sure that you or the person doing the video is actually in it too

* Ask friends and family, that you won’t be seeing, to make their own and send them

* Keep the video camera in your purse or in a high traffic area so it is always around and ready to be used

* Get an inexpensive tripod so that you can set it up and chat away while you do other things (this way you’ll be in the video more too)

* End the video with everyone saying one thing about why they miss your absent family member

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

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

Don’t forget to get some good video of trying to park anywhere at this time of year!!!


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