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 #461

Dividing Time 

Taking a few days off to camp with Dad and eat bacon!

Taking a few days off to camp with Dad and eat bacon!

My husband came home for 3 weeks after being away for 8 months.  My kids had lists of things that they wanted to do with him that couldn’t humanly be accomplished in 21 days unless he chose not to sleep or eat.  I was quickly reminded of a phrase that I live by - What is fair, isn’t always equal.  I had spoken to my husband ahead of time to warn him that he and I would have little time together given the needs (and wants) of our kids on his time and that there was only three weeks.  We also said no to a lot of other visits and family time - I am not sure we were overly popular with this but it was the right thing to do. I think it was helpful to talk about all of this ahead of time but it was still a 3 week long juggling act!

 We decided to base our time decisions around three things:

* Is it important to our kids?

* Will it happen again at a later date when we have more time?

* Will it be time well spent together and fun?

Of course, there were things we couldn’t do and wanted to but in three weeks a lot of fun was had.  In the end, it was three weeks of trying to do things the kids had been dreaming of doing with their Dad in 8 long months.  Of course there was a list a mile long of things we needed to get down around the house, papers signed, bills, etc. but in the end we have no regrets as our kids got the only thing they ever really want - our time.  Don’t get me wrong, now that he is gone again I can often be heard muttering around the house about the things that should have been done or feel frustrated that I didn’t ask about one thing or another.  There is no perfect answer to these quick breaks but I think we came close as our kids were a lot happier for it.

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



Living It - Week 26

Make a Calendar Together - Tip #65

Our latest deployment calendar

Our latest deployment calendar

We are now past the halfway mark of this deployment and even though I have the deployment candy jar marking down time, the kids are older and I think need to see it on an actual calendar.  We have a calendar of events that happen each week but I thought it would be helpful to make a calendar of fun!  This week we made a calendar for the next three months so that we can begin to see a  see all the good things that are going to happen in between and after my husband gets back.  We do not have a specific return date so we are just highlighting the possible weeks for now.


* Complete the calendar together (so you can also discover the events coming up that are important to them)

* Put it in a high traffic area so that everyone can reference it

* Add fun events, activities and holidays

* Mark birthdays and milestones and identify which month your family member is likely return

* Add things that you want to do at the top and reminders

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

Living It - Week 15

Listen - Tip #41

Using your ears!

Using your ears!

Active listening is a skill.  Some people are born with it, some people have to work hard on it and some people may never get it.  I am hopeful that I fall under the category of having to work on it rather than never getting it.  Having said that I am often shocked at how many people don’t really listen or give their 100% attention when people speak.  They are either thinking about what they are going to say next, thinking about all the things they have to do, or simply just watching the person’s lips move!

A few months ago I was stressed out, busy with work and trying to prepare for this deployment.  I found myself getting caught into the trap of not listening to my kids properly at least 75% of the time and multi-tasking when I should just been listening!  I began to realize that they were taking this to mean that I didn’t care.  Their Dad is a great listener so I always had him to fall back on if I was too tired or busy with work but now that he is deployed, I have made a commitment to be a much better listener and follow my own advice.


* I have set aside time just to be with the kids uninterrupted (dinner time).

* I don’t answer the phone or even have it close by throughout dinner

* The TV and all devices are off

* I no longer multi-task the same way - even when I am making dinner I stop to listen more

My new tip for listening is also to try to be less reactive to what they are saying.  By doing this, I think that they are sharing more with me.  They are less and less worried about what my reaction is and more concerned with getting it off their chest.  I believe it is crucial that we know what is happening in our kid’s lives - the good, the bad and the ugly.  Our reactions determine whether they tell us more and things later on.

For more information on our tips, resources and books: www.whileyouwereaway.org

Living It - Week 12

Computer Time - Tip #58


There is no arguing that computers and electronics are useful tools.  For most of us, we are using electronics of some kind throughout the day to do business, connect with people and check in on what is happening in the world.  I am old enough to remember when the internet was introduced and we were doing this fabulous thing called “email” that saved me the hassle of buying a stamp and getting the letter to the mailbox - not to mention how quick it was!  Now, jumping ahead over 20 years I use it for almost everything and when there is a power failure I tend to miss my computer/electronics more than having light or a working fridge.

I believe that the downside to all of our technological advancements is that it is replacing the face to face communication which in turn can leave us feeling alone or isolated and not even realize it.  Being able to see or hear people is important and often devalued by many (including myself at times).  About 6 months ago I couldn’t seem to carve out the time to actually get together with people in person - at least that is what I thought.  It is definitely easier to text, email or get onto Facebook than take the time to have the more personal and meaningful interaction with others especially when you are already feeling overwhelmed and sleep deprived.  I started taking a good look at my schedule and the time I was “saving” by connecting over the internet or by texting and started to take my own advice.  I committed to being off the computer by 6pm and to spending time with my kids in the evenings (at least until they were tucked up in bed), I started plugging in my phone and putting it out of sight, I told colleagues that if there were work emergencies to call my home line, I made a promise to myself to meet up with friends once every month, I stopped taking out my phone when I was walking the dog and deleted a bunch of games on my phone that I played mindlessly.  I am not saying I am perfect but I am now more aware of the world around me and am part of the Look Up movement (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7dLU6fk9QY).  I also discovered that I had more time than I thought.  I really had no sense of how much of my valuable time was being put into the world wide web rather than where I needed it to be.

While I am not saying completely ditch technology (I would never survive), I am saying that there needs to be a balance and I think many of us struggle with that.  I still play some games while watching TV with my family or friends (sometimes the shows are scary and I just need a distraction and sometimes they just aren’t interesting enough!).  We need time to disconnect from electronics and reconnect with the people that make us laugh, love us and understand us even when we don’t always understand ourselves.  The bottom line is that military life can be exhausting, life consuming and frustrating on a good day but I just don’t think that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. are going to support and energize you the way being with or talking on the phone to a humanbeing can.  Take up the challenge - disconnect more from electronics and spend more time with people face to face.  I haven’t regretted a moment of the time I have stepped away from my cell phone or computer but definitely regret it when I spend excessive amounts of my time on my phone or computer!

Disconnect to reconnect

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

1001 Tips for Military Families - Tip #443

Carve Out Time - Tip #443


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. 


* 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 - Tip #401

To Don’t List - Tip #401

I am a person that writes ‘to do’ lists.  I need them to remind me of pretty much everything.  I don’t obsessively reference back to them but they help me to organize my thoughts.  When I do finally get back to looking at my list it always feels so good when I tick something off  it.  I feel as though I have accomplished something and another weight is lifted off my shoulders.  I was lucky enough to attend a conference with Daniel Pink (author) and he really got me thinking about a ‘To Don’t’ list, creativity and motivation (I sometimes really lack it!).  The idea is that you write down all of the things you don’t want to spend your precious time doing.  As military families we can get caught up in a lot of those ‘could a, should a, would a’ as military family life throws a lot of different curve balls.  These to don’ts are usually the time wasters that keep us from doing the things that will make our lives more interesting, enjoyable and productive.  I think his thinking (and my hope) is that if you write down the ‘to don’t’ things you will be more aware of them and less likely to spend a lot of time on them, your to do list will have more things that benefits others and yourself, you’ll be less stressed, it will be easier to say no as you know what you don’t want and your priorities will be clear.

To Don’t Suggestions:

* Don’t get lost surfing the internet for hours (you can spend way more time than you need or want to)

* Don’t eat while doing other things (you can consume 3x as many calories that you may not need)

* Don’t spend more than 30mins getting ready to go anywhere

* Don’t use the ‘to don’t’ list as an excuse not to see family or friends or avoid doing things that are important to you

* Don’t put off having a difficult conversation with ______________ as it takes up a lot of your thinking time

* Don’t spend hours on Facebook reading about what your ‘Facebook Friends’ are doing

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

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


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