January 25, 2013

Themed Care Packages: Valentine's Day

We all love to send care packages, and themed ones are my special favorite! If you haven't sent a Valentine package to your soldier yet, there's still time... and I have some helpful ideas to get you started (of course!).

Most of these ideas (heck, probably all of them) are great at home too, not just for care packages. I also shared some fun ideas for budget-friendly, romantic notions several months ago on my anniversary. I am all about saving those pennies! Plus, homemade gifts are the best, yes?

Now, onward to the most famous of all love holidays...

Valentine's Day Care Package Ideas:

1. Decorate the Box - If you're mailing a care package, then a box is a necessity. Why not make it fun by decorating the inside of your box? There are so many ways to do this. You can use stickers or wrapping paper. You can line the box with "100 reasons why I love you..." Be creative!

This doesn't need to be the least bit expensive. If you're crafty, transform bits of old scrapbook paper, ribbon, etc. If you're like me (with none of those items lying around), then utilize places like the Dollar Store. I decorated the Hubs' boxes this year with items I found for $1 or less.

Also, for the remainder of this post, there shall be no comments or snickering at my lack of DIY skills, kay? Just humor me and pretend this looks professional.

I love you guys.

2. The Happy Jar - Last week, I gave you a sneak peak into this post with the Happy Jar. If you haven't read it yet, then do it now, peeps!

The Happy Jar is exactly what it sounds like: a jar full of happy. And who doesn't need one of those in their life?? The link (above) even provides you with the downloadable PDF to use my fun and funky poem.

3. Sweets and Treats - Candy, candy, candy! Valentine's Day is practically synonymous with chocolate and sugar. Choose your soldier's favorite candies and load them up! Have fun creating lollipop bouquets, or using only pink and red candies. For a special treat, send along a cup of dipping chocolate and some marshmallows.

Another fun idea is to package the candy yourself. Search through the dollar store for cute boxes and bags to package the candy in, like these:

Personalizing candy is one of my favorite ways to say 'I love you' in a care package. You can do this inexpensively, or you can splurge. Search great sites like Pinterest for inspiration:

On the left: Bubbles and Hershey kisses. Tag reads: Blowing you a kiss!
Top right: Gummy fish candies. Tags read: You O 'FISH'ally have my heart and 'I'm hooked on you'
Bottom right: Jar of pistachios Tag reads: I'm nuts about you!

I made these tags with two different colors of cardstock (about $0.50 each). With one piece of paper per color, I could easily have made ten or more tags.

If you're willing to spend a bit more money, you can also personalize just about anything, including M&Ms! 

The choices here are endless. Choose your colors, phrases, and even photos. Of course, be sure to order these with enough time to ensure delivery.

4. Fun and Games - Again, this is a category where you can be typical or sentimental, budget-friendly or extravagant. The bookstore sells plenty of puzzle books, like soduko or crosswords.

If you're sticking with a color theme, look for books in either red or pink.

You can also send your Hubs computer games or video games. Since the menfolk tend to be more into macho games, sticking to your valentine theme may be a bit more difficult. However, you can always wrap those types of games in Valentine themed tissue paper or wrapping paper!

For the more economical in this group (um, ME!), you can print many personalized puzzles right off the internet. My favorite site is : Discovery Education Puzzlemaker. Not only is it free, but they offer a large variety of puzzles.

The best part is that your puzzles can be all about you and your Hubs. It only takes a few minutes to create a basic puzzle. For other puzzles, use my favorite friend: Google. It works!!

5. Photos - Everyone loves to get photographs! Print out a dozen, or choose only one. Create themed borders or picture frames. There are great websites, such as Snapfish and Shutterfly, which offer countless photography services. Everything from photo books to blankets (made from your pictures) can be found on sites such as these.

One of my personal favorites are table-top panels. These photos are printed on a hard surface, so there is no need for frame or glass. Plus, they are durable enough to handle the rough conditions our soldiers are in.

As with other personalized gifts, check your timetables and order in advance.

6. Handmade Gifts from Your Children - Gifts from your kids are treasured keepsakes. Paintings and drawings are easy and fun to send. Many craft stores offer simple, inexpensive kits that are a great way to spend a rainy day... and then you can pass them on to your hubs!

I found this foam love puppy kit for $1 at our local store. Keep your eyes peeled for the good deals, and pick up when you can.

Other gifts can be made at home with basic supplies you probably already have. How about sending a bear hug to your spouse?

Im not sure exactly where I first saw this idea, but it's a great one. Plus, your kids will get a kick out of it!

Tape together pieces of computer paper, and then outline each other with your hands outstretched (hugging position). Label with the family member's name, and perhaps add some doodling or coloring. The Kid and I added a poem to ours. I found a basic one on the net which we adapted for our purposes. Feel free to use it yourself:

I'd give you a big hug,
Every day if I could,
Along with some kisses,
You know I would!

So I hope you like this,
What I made for you.... 
Kisses when needed,
                    And a giant BEAR HUG too!!                     

7. The Basics - You can still send all of the basic items to your spouse. You know... snacks, toiletries, etc.  Wrap them in red paper, or look for packaging that's already colored to match your theme:

This way, you're sending a themed package, but still including items your spouse will use regularly.

8. DIY Fortune Cookies - This is another way to send inspiring/loving messages. I discovered them on Pinterest, and eventually followed this tutorial: DIY Fortune Cookie Tutorial.

Since you can write your own fortunes, the cookies are easily made personal. Some ideas for romantic fortune sayings?
      1. It isn't where you go in life, it is who you have beside you that counts.
      2. You are cherished
      3. Only you can make my heart tremble
      4. If love is great, and there are no greater things, then what I feel for you must be the greatest
      5. To the world, you might be one person; but to me, you are the world

9. Other Doodads and Doohickies - There is no way I could possibly cover all the great Valentine's gifts you can send your hubs. BUT, here's a list I've received from readers, friends, family, and OF COURSE... Pinterest.

          1. Stuffed animals
          2. Love coupons (either purchased or handmade)
          3. Coffee mugs (and coffee)
         4. Message in a bottle
         5. Deck of cards with 52 Reasons Why I Love You (found on Pinterest)
         6. Article of clothing with your perfume on it (sealed in a ziploc bag)
         7. Romantic movies
         8. A mixed CD
         9. The "To Do" List: A list of all the things you will do together when your Hubs returns home
        10. Socks, underwear, new pillowcases (these make great packing material!)

10. Cards and Letters - Always remember to include a note to your soldier in the box! You can make your own or buy one that sings and dances, but don't forget. The little touches are what really make a care package special.

And that's all for now, folks! I'd love to hear your ideas, even share your photos with fellow readers. What have you made or purchased for your Valentine's boxes? What items does your soldier request? What do your kids like to send?

Until then, I hope this gave you some fun ideas. Happy packing, my friends!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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January 22, 2013

The Meaning of 'Fakemas'

I know this post is coming quite a while past the holidays.... but, that's kind of the point.

Being a military family, we don't always have the opportunity to spend holidays with our respective families. Everyone has their own timetable and schedule. Add in the Army (and deployments, PCS moves, etc), and you've got way more pressure on top of the normal Christmas chaos.

To counter this, my family has started a new tradition. We love our new tradition, because there's no set date to complete it. No specific time everyone must be together. We make our own rules, and we like it.

We're rebels around here!

See, we even create our own 'Fakemas' cards (and since we're mostly girls around here, Fakemas cards include a sexy model on the cover)!

So, what is the meaning of Fakemas? It means we can have Christmas whenever we want, because what's important is that we're together. It means we create memories together, we laugh together, and sometimes even cry together. It doesn't even matter if we're in the same state, we can have Fakemas via Skype or phone call. We can meet in Las Vegas, or back home in July.

I know this sounds silly and a little ridiculous, but it's part of who we are. I love spending time with my sisters, whenever we can get it, not just because it's Christmas. As we grow older, get married, and move on with our own lives... it's harder to visit at the same time, year after year, on a specific day.

So we improvise.

This year, we were scattered as per the usual. But it didn't matter. We still had the love and laughter, just on a different day and in a different way. Instead of presents from 'Santa', we had presents from 'Sant'...

Say what??! I guess the Fakemas elves were sleepy when addressing packages, hahaha!

Of course, we were opening our gifts several weeks after much of the world celebrated Christmas, Chanukah, etc. But who really cares?

Not us!

Instead, we enjoyed an excellent dinner at The Melting Pot , where our waitress surely thought us a wee bit nutty. We opened gifts from the mysterious figure 'Sant', and we recorded video messages to those who couldn't be with us.

And then we passed out from exhaustion, because we crammed weeks of holiday celebrations into a few hours. Totally worth it. We even managed breakfast together before the party had to end.

The moral of this story? Enjoy your loved ones when you can, while you can. Don't get so caught up in the way you think it 'should' be. Instead, make the most of what it is. 

Merry Fakemas, my friends! I hope you cherish every second, and make the most of every opportunity.

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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January 21, 2013

Valentine's Sneak Peek

Later this week I'll be posting my ideas for a Valentine's Day care package, but I wanted to give you a sneak preview of my Happy Jar!

The Happy Jar is pretty self-explanatory (especially if you read my poem, ha! No judging my rhyming abilities though, ok?).

I think this is a great thing for deployment, but it can also be fun even when your spouse is safe at home with you. I LOVE the idea of keeping one of these on my counter, for whenever one of us has a bad day.

The idea is to fill the jar with little notes which will lift the spirits of the reader, or make them smile. But don't let that restrict you! You could print tiny pictures of yourself or your kids. You could write out knock-knock jokes. You could cut the comics from your Sunday paper and use those. Whatever makes you HAPPY.

Because that's the name of the jar, yes?

And now I'll make you happy by telling you how to make your own! I bought this jar at my local Walmart...

... for around $3. BARGAIN!

I wrote all my notes on basic card stock, but plain white paper works just as well. I just happened to have the card stock leftover from another project. Also a bargain!

The hardest part of this project was thinking of all the things to write, seriously. It's not as easy as it sounds. I finally realized the best way was to write a little each day. The whole jar took about a week or so for me to fill.

Once full, I peeled off the label and added my own. Feel free to use mine if you like! I've included the PDF here. Keep in mind, you might need to resize the poem to fit your jar if you're using a different size.

And viola! A simple, inexpensive (and romantic!) gift that your spouse can enjoy everyday.

If you're like me and have trouble coming up with things to say, try out some of these ideas in your own jar: 

1. I love you because           (fill in the blank)         

2. I can't wait until               (fill in the blank)

3. Comics from your local paper

4. Bible verses

5. Inspirational quotes (Google is a great tool for this one!)

6. Small photos (printed on plain paper) of you, the kids, family, friends

7. Notes from other family members

8. Knock-knock jokes (or other regular jokes)

9. Favorite memories, vacations, etc.

10. Love notes. For example: No matter how far apart we may be, you are always in my heart. 

Above all else, fill your jar with HAPPY!!

Happy creating, my friends... the rest of the Valentine's Day post will be here at the end of the week!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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January 18, 2013

Care Packages 201: Mailing Tips and Tricks

Fact #1 - Soldiers love to receive mail.

Fact #2 - Spouses, family, and friends love to send their soldiers mail. 

Fact #3 - Sending a care package is often a daunting task for one reason or another. 

I know I was completely freaked out by the idea of mailing stuff overseas. Am I the only one?? I wasn't sure what to send or how to address the label... and don't even get me started on customs forms! The whole process was unknown to me. 

So, being me, I did the only thing I could. I hounded the Hubs for ideas, and I made a basic list of what to send. Then, I moved on to the poor postal workers. 

Yep, I was that lady in line in front of you, holding things up for a good 20 minutes while I interrogated  the mailman about customs forms. I have no shame.

BUT, I'm going to pass all that knowledge on to you, because I love y'all best!

1. Boxes - Once you've decided what to send your soldier, and you've purchased everything, it's time to pack the box. You can use any type of box, but I prefer using priority mail boxes (like the ones pictured above). The post office provides the boxes to you at no cost, and the mailing rate is discounted when you're shipping to an APO address.

And bonus, you can order the supplies you need online for FREE! Here's the link for getting the boxes shipped directly to you at no cost: Priority Mail Free Supplies

2. Packing - How you package your soldier's boxes is super important. Since I'm all about sharing, here are some of the tips and tricks I've learned:
                  a. Pack items as tightly as possible. If you have too much extra space, items will shift and possibly break. You can use simple                              things to fill the empty spaces, like newspaper or plastic bags.
                   b. Distribute weight evenly. If more weight is on one side of the box, then it's more likely to fall or shift during transport, and it's a                            pain in the butt to carry it.
                   c. Use bubble wrap for anything you worry will break! (Common sense, yes?)
                   d. Follow the USPS guide for APO/FPO/DPO prohibited items, and the basic content restrictions.
                   e. Don't package toiletries or household products with food items!
                   f. Check the weather, because chocolate melts, seriously.
                   g. Don't package minty flavored items with food either (like gum). Otherwise, all the food items will taste like mint by the time your                          soldier receives his package.
                   h. Ziploc anything that may burst, melt, or leak during transport. A few examples would be: shampoo, deodorant, or chocolate. If                            you're unsure, then pack it in a bag! If you're really unsure, then double-bag it.
Once everything is packaged properly inside the box, it's time to seal that baby up! If you're using priority mail boxes, then the box must close flat. If the box isn't a perfect square, then you will be charged differently, and may have to re-package everything. Save yourself the trouble and do it right the first time.

I seal my boxes on ALL sides, like so:

Any little piece that is unsealed or sticking out gets taped down. These boxes have a looooooong way to go, so you want them as protected as possible.

3. Address - Your spouse or his unit should provide you with an APO address. The things you need to remember when addressing the package are:
                a. Always include soldier's full name, rank, and unit
                b. Only use the APO address; DO NOT include the city or country. The APO and zip code are enough.
                c. Don't forget to include a return address. If, for any reason, your package cannot be mailed, then a valid return address is required.                    If no such address is supplied, then the package will be opened and the items inside donated to local charities.
                d. Properly fill out a customs form to include with your package.

And now comes the really hard part!! Customs forms, eeeeeeeeekkk!

4. Customs Forms - There are several different types of customs forms (apparently), but this is the one you'll need to use if your soldier is at an overseas APO address: 

This is PS Form 2976-A. You can have these shipped to you, along with your free boxes, or they can be picked up at your local post office.

The front of the form contains a list of instructions. You're encouraged to read them, but it was mostly Greek to me. That's why I spent so long with my very tolerant postal worker!

I want to show you what the good mailman told me. If you're shipping to anywhere other than an APO, then these directions will not work for you. Please check with your local post office for any questions you have. Also, the post office could change these directions at anytime, or your local one may ask for different things. I honestly don't know. But, this is what I was told, and how I've shipped my boxes to the Hubs while he is away (from several different post offices, so I'm assuming this is all correct!). I hope it helps you with any confusion you're experiencing.

The first blocks on the form are easy peasy, since they're looking for your name and address:

No problems here, right?

The second set of blocks is for your soldier's address, which poses more of a problem. I don't want to use a specific address as an example, but feel free to email me any questions you may have if this tutorial is still unclear (please don't leave your soldier's address in the comments, try to remember OPSEC!).

1 & 2 - The first line includes your soldier's rank and last name, and the second includes his/her first name. For example, if your soldier's name is John Doe and his rank was Private First Class, then your first line would read like this:  PFC Doe
And the second line would read: John

3 - For the address, you can use both the line for 'Business' and the 'Address' line. This area should include everything except the APO and the zipcode.

4 - Fill in the APO and either AE (Armed Forces Europe), AA (Armed Forces America), or AP (Armed Forces Pacific). For soldier's deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, this would read: APOAE followed by the zip code.

DO NOT include a city, state, or country in this section. Leave those areas blank. The address and zip code are how the package finds your soldier. If you include any of those items, your package could accidentally be placed in the international mail system instead of staying within the military mail system. This could cause delays, or even mean that your soldier wouldn't receive his/her package.

The next section is for a 'Detailed Description of Contents':

Though the directions say 'Enter one item per line', this is not the case! You may enter as many items as you can fit on one line, separating them with a slash mark ( / ). Also, you do not need to write in between the provided lines; therefore, you can fit more items onto a single line.

Tips for item description: You cannot simply write 'toiletries' or 'food stuffs'. You must be as specific as possible! As you'll note in the example, I've written 'Deodorant / Toothbrush / Shampoo'. If you do not provide specific descriptions, then your box may be opened or even rejected by customs.

Next to the description are several sections, including Qty., Lbs., Oz., and Value.

You only need to fill in the quantities! For example, if I had two deodorants in my box, one toothbrush, and two shampoo bottles, then my form would look like the one above: 2 / 1 / 2

Use slashes ( / ) to separate your quantities, just as you used them to list your items.

You do not need to fill in the weights or dollar values in this section, though you will see them later.

The final sections are easy to fill out, whew! The areas marked out with Xs can be left blank. The highlighted areas are what you (or the post office) still need to fill in.

Item # 5 (above) - Check a box. For your care packages, you should check the box marked 'Gift'.

Item # 6 (above) - Another checkmark. You should choose 'Airmail'

Item # 8 (above) - The 'Total Gross Weight' of your package. The postal worker will weigh your box and fill in this area for you, yay!

Item # 9 (above) - 'Total Value US $' This is an estimate of how much everything inside your box is worth. Most of my care package run about $20 - $50. Remember, you don't want to send anything too valuable. If you're sending anything special (like electronics), then you should purchase the insurance offered by the postal service.

Item # 13 (above) - Your Signature and Date. This is an easy one too! Sign and date.

The left side of your form should now be complete! Luckily, there is only one box you need worry about on the right side of the form:

Item # 10 - If Non-Deliverable. What do you want to happen to your care package if it can't be delivered? There are three choices:
                  1. Treat as Abandoned: This means your box will be opened, and the contents donated to local shelters.
                  2. Return to Sender: The box will be returned to the address you provided on the left side of the form.
                  3. Redirect to Address Below: You can specify another address to send the box to if it's non-deliverable.

The choice is up to you! I usually pick 'Return to Sender' if the box contains anything sentimental. But if my care package is all food or toiletries, then I pick 'Treat as Abandoned'. You can check whatever works best for you.

SO, now that your customs forms are all filled out, you're ready to mail your box or boxes!! The best time to visit the post office is about 30-45 minutes after they've opened. The lines are (apparently) shorter at this time. I've also had good luck visiting after lunch, but before people leave from work (around 2:30 or so).

Your boxes should be sealed, addressed, and your customs forms ready. This helps speed the process along, for sure. Once your box is weighed, and your customs form stamped, you'll be provided with a receipt and a copy of your form.

Delivery time varies so greatly, I really don't want to make any guesses. Many factors can cause delays. USPS provides a handy FAQ sheet for military mail here that may answer some of your questions.

And, you're done!

Though mailing care packages can be intimidating, I hope this makes the process a bit easier. Our men and women overseas greatly appreciate all the support we send them, and they deserve every bit of it. If you don't have a loved one overseas, but you still want to show your support, check out some of these resources to help soldiers:

Any Soldier

Adopt A Platoon

Operation Shoebox

Operation Thank You

Thank you for Supporting our Troops! Happy mailing :) 

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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January 8, 2013

23 Ways to Combat the Deployment Blues

Even if your spouse has never deployed, we all know what the deployment blues are. Forming new routines isn't as easy as it sounds, and nothing ever really fills the spot where your spouse should be. On the surface, we military wives appear self-suffiecient and tough, right? Well, we are those things.

But we're also fragile.

No matter how strong we appear, tears are often just under the surface. A tv show or commercial, a song on the radio, a careless comment from a friend... all of those can drag us back into the blues.

It's up to us to keep the blues away. This list is by no means comprehensive, and not all of these ideas will work for you. Heck, maybe none of them will. But it never hurts to try! (Keep in mind: Sometimes the deployment blues can morph into full blown depression. I've listed some common warning signs at the end of this post. If you fall into that category, please seek counseling! All of us need a helping hand once in a while. If you don't know where to start, please check out Military One Source, they offer many options for those in need).

This list includes things I've tried myself, and others are suggestions from fellow military spouses. If you have an idea, please post in the comments and I'll continue to add onto this post.

Okee dokee, here goes! (And, let it be said, these are in no particular order)

1. Get involved with your FRG - I know a lot of wives that don't want to do this. And I even understand why, because I was once one of them. Lucky for me, I got involved (albeit reluctantly) with an FRG that is simply outstanding. And I was soooo happy that I did! The key here is to remember that not all FRGs are the same. Give yours a shot and see what happens. If you absolutely can't stand it, then just stop being so involved. No harm, no foul. Right?

2. Get outside! - Often when our spouses are gone, we tend to hibernate in our caves. We stick to what we know, and then we stagnate and fall into the blues. Get off your duff and step into the sunshine, peeps! Walk your dog, plant some flowers in the yard, visit the park... heck, visit the beach. Take your kids to a playground, or a local swimming pool. Whatever you do, soak up some vitamin D!

3. Think outside of yourself - As pathetic as we feel when our spouse is away, it really can help to think of others. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, or visit a retirement home. Perhaps take the time to visit soldiers in the hospital (though this one may be difficult emotionally). If you don't like meeting strangers, or doing the whole face-to-face thing, try a little spring cleaning and donate to charities like Red Cross or Goodwill. Try being involved with an organization like Operation Thank You... they distribute thank you cards to soldiers serving all over the world.

4. Develop a New Hobby (or perfect an old one) - Always had a yen to knit? Well, now is that time! Deployment can leave us with a lot of empty moments in our day. For me, I run great up until 5:00, which is when the Hubs would generally return home. But after that, I'm at a loss how to entertain myself. Filling those moments with a hobby is a constructive way to work through what could be hours of loneliness.

5. Pick up Extra Hours at Work - I want to preface this tip by saying: Don't work yourself sick! The solution to the deployment blues is NOT an 80 hour work week. However, this is a good one in moderation. Maybe you're only working 25 hours a week... then it's ok to pick up an extra shift or two. Not only are you filling in some time, but you're making extra money, and you're also out of the house for a while. Maybe that extra shift will even lead to other activities, like coffee dates with some co-workers.

6. Do Special Things for Your Spouse - I know this may sound counterproductive, but it really works! Often, spouses drift apart because communicating can be so difficult during deployment. Help bridge that gap by sending your spouse a special care package, or a daily email. Send photos of everyday life, or create a funny video like 'A Day in the Life Of... (fill in the blank)'. All of these help you feel close to your spouse, and hopefully they will reciprocate in whatever way they can. Granted, I doubt a deployed spouse can make a video production, but many would respond to the email system.

7. Get Involved with Your Kids - I know you're likely already involved with your kids. And during deployment, you might feel overwhelmed by being the sole parent. So, this tactic may not work for you. But for some, this could help. Try being the soccer coach, starting a playgroup, or joining MOPS (and other organizations like it). Maybe you start a special 'date' night with your kids. The best part is that these are all things you and your spouse can do together upon his return.

8. Prayer - I understand that not all people are people of faith. But if you are, prayer can be a great comfort. If you're not, are you looking to be? Try out different churches, see what feels right for you. Go with a friend, or go by yourself. If you already have a church home, seek out your pastor, priest, minister, or leader. Join bible studies, or the choir. Look for ways to be involved. (If you're not interested at all, feel free to skip this one, but please don't knock the people who lean on their God)

9. Hit up the Gym - Exercise is a great stress reliever. Even a few minutes a day can be a great help. If you're not into the gym scene, try walking your dog that extra mile or working out in your home. Run up and down the stairs a few minutes, or take up yoga. Many people use weight loss as a major goal during deployment. This can be great, but as with everything, don't overdo.

10. Do Something for Yourself - Treat yourself once in a while. Have a pedicure, go to the spa, or go to the mall. Whip up a batch of brownies, or grab a milkshake from your favorite place. Buy a new outfit, or a great pair of shoes. Of course, don't blow all your deployment money on major shopping sprees! Make this a once in a while kind of thing.

11. Schedule a Day of Nothing - Sometimes you just want a day to sit around and do a whole lot of nothing. And that's ok! (as long as it's not a habit). Pick a day, maybe once a month, that's completely dedicated to nothing. Hang out in your pajamas, watch movies, build tent forts with your kids. Eat breakfast for dinner, and pizza for breakfast. Whatever you want goes. And, if you really want to make it fun, invite all your friends to join the pajama party!

12. Use Your Support System - Don't be afraid to call on your family and friends for support when you need it. Often, we have people around who are willing to help, but we forget to ask for it. Have a battle buddy, someone you can call whenever for whatever. Then use them!

13. Girls' Night Out - Everyone needs a night to cut loose once in a while. Hanging out with your gal pals is a great way to do that, whether you're partying in or having a night out on the town. If you've got kids, make the effort to get a sitter once in a while so you can have an evening of grown-up girl time. And always be sure to pick a DD for your night of fun!

14. Make an Effort to Find Friends - (especially ones in a similar situation as you!) New friends won't just knock on your door, you've got to put yourself out there. Look into your FRG, join a book club, check out the spouse's clubs on post. People find friends online, at church, even in the checkout line at the grocery store! Don't be afraid to say hello to someone new... they might be in need of a friend too.

15. Take a Vacation -  This doesn't mean you need to fly off to Europe or something extravagant (though that would be awesome). Even mini-breaks are an excellent way to decompress a bit. Visit your family, or have your family visit you. Enjoy a weekend away with your kids, or visit other military friends that have been re-stationed.

16. Cook a Real Meal - Often when our spouses are gone, we revert to take-out dinners. It's hard to cook for one! Even with kids, sometimes you just don't want to cook, especially when you're already doing the job of two parents. Sadly, McDonalds and ice cream do not a balanced meal make. To counter that, try starting a dinner club with your pals. Once a week, you all have dinner together, rotating houses and cooks as you progress. For example, you cook for the group Week One. The next person on the list cooks Week Two, and so on and so forth.

Each week, you eat a home-cooked meal, but you only have to do the cooking/cleanup once every few weeks. It's win/win for everyone!

My Secret Ingredient Chili

17. Pick a Project - With Pinterest the newest craze, it's easy to find a DIY project. Paint your bedroom furniture, or try new recipes everyday. Build a headboard, or a coffee table. Try out a new painting technique, or crochet a new pattern. Whatever you choose, your project helps pass the time and gives you a sense of accomplishment.

18. Start a New Routine - When your spouse is home, you have a certain routine. For example, the Hubs walks the dog when he wakes up, then I walk her later that afternoon. The Hubs takes out the trash, and I do the dishes. We eat dinner around 6:30, and we watch TV around 7:00.

However, when the Hubs is gone, our whole routine goes to crap. Trying to maintain that routine is often depressing, because I notice his absence even more. So instead, I start new routines. The dog and I walk two miles in the morning before breakfast. I eat dinner earlier, and I got to bed earlier. Little things can make a big difference.

19. Seek Counseling - Not everyone needs professional counseling during a deployment, and the odds are you won't. But if you do, don't be afraid. You definitely aren't alone. Being a military wife is hard enough as it is, and deployment magnifies that exponentially. Get the help you need.

Also, not all counseling comes in psychologist form. Sometimes we just need to talk it out because the day has been too much too handle. Speak with your friends, family, and your spiritual guides. Reach out when you need to, I think you'll be surprised at how many helping hands are waiting.

20. Do All the Things You Never Have Time For - This is a big one for me. Use that extra time alone to catch up on all the stuff that builds up. Organize your photos, clear out the garage, or spring clean your closet. There are so many projects that get placed on the back burner... use those extra hours alone to your advantage!

21. A Date with Yourself - Now, I don't mean this in some crazy, weird way, ok? Just take a little time for yourself. Read a good book, have a cup of coffee, or see a movie. Heck, buy yourself flowers! Though it may sound bizarre (and I'll probably regret saying this), I often buy flowers for myself when the Hubs is gone. First of all, it gets me out of the house (to buy them), and then they're so bright and cheerful on my countertop. As an added bonus, I have to keep the window shades open (so the flowers don't wither in less than a day, which has been known to happen to me), so lots of natural light floods into my space, which makes me happy.

Don't judge folks... I dare you to try it just once! You'll be buying flowers all the time, I bet.

22. Plan the Homecoming - Planning out your soldier's return can really give you something to look forward to, especially near the end when you're so antsy that time slows to a crawl. You all know what I'm talking about, right? Yep, you do.

So instead, focus on the positive. Will you have a photographer? Make banners? Plan his favorite meal?  Go for it, have fun with it, and (if you're anything like me) make copious use of Pinterest.

23. CRY WHEN YOU NEED TO - This is the biggest one of all. Don't try to hold all your emotions inside, because it will come spilling out somewhere. Cry if you need to. Let it out. WE ALL DO IT.

I really hope this list helps you past some rough spots. There are plenty of moments when I need to make a conscious effort to move forward, particularly when all I want to do is pity myself. Trust me, we've all been there at one time or another.

Of course, there are some things that the above list won't help at all. If you find yourself experiencing any of the following depression symptoms, PLEASE seek counseling right away. We all face depression at some point in our life, and everyone needs a boost once in a while. Don't hesitate!

1. Withdrawing from social activities
2. Isolating yourself from family and friends
3. Feeling empty, overwhelmed, anxious, worthless, guilty
4. Lack of energy
5. Unusual weight gain or loss
6. Lack of appetite or overeating problems
7. Difficulty getting out of bed
8. Extreme Fatigue
9. Increased angry or irritability
10. No desire for physical activity
11. Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
12. Insomnia or excessive sleeping
13. Headaches or body aches
13. Desire to hurt yourself or others

That's all for now, peeps! As always, thanks for reading... I genuinely appreciate each and every one of you, and I'm so glad that we can stick together like the military spouses we are. I have never found a stronger group of women than those I've met through the Army. Love to you all!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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