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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): December 2007

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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Location: United States

After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Resolutions in Reality

Here we go again...New Year's resolutions. Along with sending out New Year's Greetings instead of Christmas ones this year, I decided I was going to continue that trend with my New Year's resolutions. My resolutions this that I won't have any resolutions. Yes, that's my resolution. I refuse to beat myself up over these things, so this year, I specifically won't have any. That doesn't mean I won't have any goals. You gotta have goals...they just won't be called resolutions...and I don't have to get them done by the end of this year either. If you do decide to take the plunge and write up some resolutions, keep these thoughts in mind:

  • Be realistic. If you are 50 lbs overweight or dream of being an astronaut, make sure your goals are attainable in a year...or else you are just setting yourself up for failure and a blow to your self esteem.
  • Think outside the box and be specific. Let's not hear the usual "lose weight", "be a better person" or "stop drinking myself into a stupor". These are all noble goals but require more than a resolution. They require a plan and a LIFESTYLE CHANGE. If you are not willing to change your lifestyle, then you are just wasting paper writing this stuff down. Let's hear about more specific goals you can really wrap your arms around...or sink your teeth into...such as "take a college course in x" or "finish a 15km run" or "volunteer at my church doing x".
Got some ideas now that are fresh and exciting? Okay, then go for it! Care to share?


Friday, December 28, 2007

I Am What I Choose to Become

Life is all about choices, isn't it? We can choose to be happy, and we can choose to be miserable and we can choose to let things stress us out. Carl Jung said, "I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become". You've surely heard the phrase, "the glass is half full not half empty". It is our perception of things that gets us through the day and makes our life full of health, happiness and fulfillment. Here's how to grab your share.

  • Let go of the garbage. I'm not saying your daily commitments and your responsibilities. Get rid of all that negative energy and carrying other people's problems around on your heart and in your head. Have you recently had a falling out with a friend? Just call and apologize and move on. Don't hold a grudge. Get things out in the open and deal with them and move on. You also can't worry about every little thing that is wrong with the world today either. You have to have faith that God or a higher power is taking care of things, in a way that we can't even begin to understand and that this is just a small part of our journey. You'll never figure it all out. Let it go.
  • Take it step by step. You've heard this before. If you are faced with a monumentous task or there is some project that just seems daunting, identify the steps you need to do to get it done. Focus on the first task. When you're done with that, go on to the next step. This will break any mountain down into a molehill and make it more manageable to complete.
  • You are the star in your life, so act like it. You are not a bystander in your life. Be the "do-er" and not the"do-ee". Don't let things happen to you. You make them happen. You take the initiative before someone else does.
  • You need to reward yourself. Life is not all work, and you do deserve a break, okay? Do something you like to do and not what everyone else likes to do. Go out to a movie or to a restaurant of your choosing. Do something you find fun. It'll re-energize you.
  • Is this really going to matter when I die? What I mean by this is, are you giving certain things more importance than they should be getting? Does it really matter in the big scope of things? Think about it before you stress over it.
  • Stop what you're doing and take a break. Just put everything down and walk outside, get a breathe of fresh air or take a walk down the hallway. Do something different and then go back to the task at hand.
  • Set time aside to wind down. Work at whatever it is you have to do, but do set time aside in your schedule to unwind before you start the next big task or get to bed. You want a clear head and a fresh outlook. Make this a part of your daily ritual, like brushing your teeth. Some folks exercise, others meditate or take in their favorite TV show. Obviously, doing something physical can be very rewarding in more ways than one, but as you see, there are choices here. When was the last time you worked on your favorite craft project?
  • Don't let housework define you. This is mostly for you stay-at-home moms. Before I became enlightened, I didn't allow myself to relax or have a lot of fun because there was always some chore around the house that needed to be done. As soon as I realized that housework was not something to get done but something to get managed, a whole new world opened up to me. I chose to be more than "just a housewife and a mom". Find out more on how to do this in Housework doesn't always equaly drudgery.
Hopefully, I've given you some ideas to get you started. Think about these things from the moment you get up. You can choose to be in a foul or stressed out mood or you can choose not to. You are a person with countless potential, and I want you to succeed in life. If you don't see yourself as such, take the opportunity now, to close that book from the past and just start a new one..on a fresh page. You are worthy, and this is your life!

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Being Inducted Into the Somewhat Big Boys' Club

Even though my hubby is a Lieutenant Colonel now, in social circles, we were always able to fly under the radar. We are not social butterflies, although my husband does like his beer and does like being around people...where I could easily drop either of those. I am an introvert and my idea of a good time is curling up on the couch with a good book. Well, the Christmas cards have rolled in. It was nice to read and see photos of some of our old friends and their children. Like many military couples who've been through countless duty station moves, our only contact with old friends is through our Christmas mail. As I started to sort through the incoming cards, I noticed a card from a former Brigade Commander of my husband, who is now a General. The next day, another one came? And then another. Huh?

That's when it dawned on me. My husband has just crossed a bridge only a small percentage are allowed to cross every year. I am guessing because he will be a battalion commander, he somehow ended up on a few movers and shakers' Christmas card lists this year. Oh woe is me! I was already stressing a bit about the upcoming duty station and my responsibilities as his wife. Now, this has just clinched it for me! I guess there is no turning back now....better sit back and take some of my own advice.

Have you ever been thrust w-a-y out of your comfort zone? What did you do to deal with it? Looking back, was it as big a deal as you originally thought? Maybe you were a civilian who was thrown into the military life when you married a soldier? Or maybe when your husband got promoted, some of your friends stopped talking to you? How did you handle it?


Monday, December 24, 2007

Traditions to Reflect Upon On This Christmas Eve

Perhaps you already have some nice Christmas traditions in your family. I was talking to a young mother the other day at the post office. Yes, I did wait til the last minute on a few things...I guess none of us can be perfect! Since the line was a bit long, I chatted with a young girl in front of me. Even though she had her hands full with a toddler, and a baby, she still managed to balance a package and some envelopes. I offered to hold either one of her children or package, and she gave up the package. So, we talked.

This was her first Christmas alone. Her parents were on the opposite coast...of the US that is, not Florida. Her grandparents just recently passed away in her small hometown in Louisiana. And to top it all off, her boyfriend had recently left her. But, she was determined to make this Christmas extra special for her two kids. I think she must've noticed my "deer in the headlights look". You see, just that afternoon, I had ordered a few copies of the Cajun Night Before Christmas, a very special book in our family, as it was one of the first Christmas books my children enjoyed, loving the way you can read it, with Cajun accent and all. We spent a few years stationed at Ft Polk, Louisiana, and that is where we stumbled upon this book. I had miscalculated my Amazon order for giving to family and friends and had an extra copy..and I happened to have it in the car!

After we got through the line, we walked out to my car, and I gave her the book. She leafed through it....and cried. The words are written in a way that a Cajun would speak them and were very familiar to her. Not to mention, Santa Claus is hilarious out there in the swamp with his alligator reindeer! Before we parted, she said that she won't forget this, and that this was something she can do with her kids every Christmas from here on out. She can read them this story and share with them some of their Louisiana heritage....and she can at least do it with a real Cajun accent!

Wouldn't you know this got me thinking. What traditions do I have in my family? What do I do that my parents and grandparents did? What about my husband's family? What ideas have we started up on our own, or read about or heard about?

Here are some of ours:

  • We like to get out the Christmas decorations and decorate the tree the weekend after Thanksgiving.
  • Almost every year, we get a family photo done. We like to do this ourselves or get my stepmom, who is a professional photographer to do one for us. This ends up on our family Christmas card.
  • When I do remember, we like to celebrate St Nicholas Day, which happens on the 6th of December. The kids put out their little shoes and get rewarded with goodies.
  • We like to buy a new ornament every year that signifies something we did that year as a family. We also like to buy an ornament from a trip to a foreign country if we've been to one that year.
  • I bake a slew of Christmas cookies in the weeks before Christmas. I always make the old favorites and every year, I try at least one new recipe.
  • When we set up the tree, we set up our Lionel Train Set around the base. The boys just love playing with it!
  • We have a cloth advent calendar and move the pieces as each day goes along. We also like to get the German chocolate advent calendars - a new chocolate for every day!
  • I bake the traditional family recipe for German Christmas Stollen, a yummy treat! We eat it on Christmas morning.
  • To celebrate our German heritage, we like to open up one gift each on Christmas Eve (like they do in Germany with all their gifts) and save the rest for Christmas Day.
  • Christmas Eve usually means smoked salmon, Christmas Day is a delicious prime rib and the roasted duck gets saved for New Year's Day.
  • On New Year's Eve, my husband also insists on his pickled herring for good luck, another German tradition from up North.
What traditions do you have? What traditions have been carried down through the years? Which ones have you started up on your own in your family?


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Why We Don't Follow Through Disciplining Our Kids and What We Can Do About It

We've all heard it before. We've seen it on Dr. Phil and it in books and magazines. When it comes to child rearing...yes "child rearing" and not " corn", we hear the same advice over and over again - consistency. Whatever child disciplining methodology we follow or have made up ourselves, if you don't do it consistently, it falls apart. Since no one likes to fail, but does learn from failure, perhaps we should identify the top 10 reasons we don't always follow through and what we can do about it.What excuses have you used in the past? What techniques can you recommend for the rest of us?
Here are my favorite...I mean, excuses I shouldn't be using:

  1. I'm just SOOOOO tired (or maybe it's just laziness or distraction) and don't want to investigate what they are up to, so I will just let it go.
  2. I'll let my husband take care of it and then scream his name a few times in a row til he answers....or doesn't.
  3. I'm busy with hands are full of cake flour, soap, dirt, _____(insert your own word here).
  4. I forgot I already punished them for doing whatever they did and don't say a word when they turn on the TV, play Gameboy, go to their friends' house (or whatever you punished them for).
  5. I'll try yelling at them again....I know it didn't help the last time....but maybe just this once it will so they'll never disobey again.
  6. Get over here so I can spank your butt and then later I'll get mad at you because you ran after the cat trying to whip it with the stick.
  7. It might be too embarrassing in public, and it'll make us stand out. I need to get my shopping done. Just go ahead....get as much candy as you want...I'll deal with you later...and don't.
  8. Look at little Johnny....he doesn't do have no idea what little Johnny does at his home.
  9. When your father comes home...
  10. And my personal favorite.....after listening to five minutes of the kids saying, "he did it!", "no, she did it!", giving up and going back to going about my business.
So the next time you try to use one of these excuses, know that you're not the only one! It takes a concerted effort to take that extra step to let your child know what they did was wrong...and not to do it again. I'm getting better at it. I like to remind myself of the following things:

  1. It is absolute human nature for a child to consistently test his boundaries, and I should be aware of this.
  2. Our children look to us for love and direction. If we fail on both counts, it will have a negative impact on our children they could carry around for the rest of their lives. Kids actually want to be hugged, kissed, acknowledged and given their boundaries. It shows you care about them, and that you feel they are VALUED.
  3. Consistency and swiftness are the key. When your kid screws up, react then...not later and don't push it off on your spouse. Timeouts work best for the little ones. For the older ones, take those privileges away. Be specific. Give a time limit. The key is to remember what you took away and what the time limit was. This is my weakness!
  4. Take special note of the times they are well behaved and do the right thing. It is so important you PRAISE them for that. Don't say, "I am proud of you because you are a good boy". Say "I am so proud you put all your toys away without asking and for sitting quietly at Miss Sarah's house"...and give them a hug. It IS a big deal!
  5. Don't devalue your kids by constantly praising them either...just for being a kid and doing ordinary bodily function things (although potty training is different). You know, the parents who are constantly telling their kids how great THEY are and how pretty THEY are..praising them for just existing. Those are the kids who end up being maladjusted and screwed up as adults....don't set them up for that. Praise the action, not the kid.
  6. Get down at your kid's level and tell them what they did wrong or what you didn't appreciate they just did. Look them in the eye and hold them firmly. Let them know you are serious. It's okay to get their feedback before you come up with a punishment (yes, parents do make mistakes), but once you decide what that will be..stand firm.
  7. Yes, stand firm! If "something comes along" for them to do...well, they just won't be able to do it. The ONLY exception I make is if someone is counting on their attendance, and it would affect a whole lot of people if they didn't show up, such as a championship ball game or a birthday party already RSVPed. Not showing up or canceling would just be rude. Explain this to your child why they are allowed to go and then get right back on track when they get home.

What excuses have you used in the past? What discipline techniques do you use?


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Craft: The Snowman Family

I am not going to admit I came up with this idea myself. I did not. But, I figured this would be something you could somewhat easily put together for your family and friends. They can make great inexpensive gifts that will be treasured rather than thrown away. I bought this item at a craft show a few years ago. The man selling them, had a line 10 deep to get at these things! It was unbelievable! Here's what you need to know to make them yourself at home.

Obviously, look at the pictures carefully. I've taken photos at a few different angles to help you out. I am not going to take apart my small treasure, but I will walk you through how I think it's put together.

  • Each snowman is made individually in different heights and sizes. The craft guy had all kinds with different faces, scarves and clothing, all in holiday colors - adult male, adult female, male child, adult child, dog and cat. The scarves, hats, clothing and pet ears were hot glued on. The people also originally all had carrot-like orange wooden noses. Some of the hats also have white pom-poms glued on top.
  • The figures are made out of white felt, sewn into a cylinder, the bottoms filled with sand and then cotton batting on top to fill up the inside. The tops are gathered into a knot and sewed up. The small dog and cat have white yarn looped out of the top of them.
  • The eyes are drawn on (not with a regular marker that would bleed, more like a paint).
  • The dog has a big nose drawn on, the cat has whiskers and his mouth made with black yarn.
  • Each figure has a wooden painted nameplate. These were blank, already attached to each figure and the crafter had each customer fill out their order form with the names of each person. We browsed around the rest of the fair while we waited for our order to be completed. These names are written in black marker.
  • The Christmas tree is one of those standard little 13" trees you get in craft stores. Instead of the burlap on the bottom, it has Christmas colored cloth tied around it instead.
  • The wooden nameplate on top of the Christmas tree is hot glued on, as are all the others.
  • Depending on how many are in your family or whether you want the tree or not, the crafter can stage the figures in whatever order he decides looks best. Most had the small figures in front and large in back. I also saw some with all of them in a line. All figures and the tree are hot glued together.
  • We got one for grandmom too, and hers has all the grandkids in a line and her tree nameplate says "My Grandkids"; you can be as creative as you want
Here are a few more photos from other angles:

Please do send me a photo if you decide to do this craft! I would love to collect them all and upload them to my site (I can remove your names if you like, or take a photo before you put the names on).

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Use Movies to Teach Your Children the Lessons of Life

I know our kids watch a lot of movie and TV junk. Remember the old days when we used to play outside from sun-up til sundown and didn't even have to check in with our parents? I remember movies being a treat rather than the norm back then. As much as I hate to complain about all the TV and movie watching, I like to find a silver lining in whatever we do. You might as well use the movies as teaching lessons for your kids.

When we adults go see a movie, inevitably, we stand around the water cooler and discuss it. We talk about the parts we loved or hated. We also like to discuss what the characters experienced, saw and how they dealt with the issues and ordeals they faced. Of course we also like to talk about the bad acting and the impossibility of whatever happened. It only stands to reason that your kids think through some of the same things and with your careful listening and prodding, you can make help your child make some big strides in their development and maturity.

They may be asking:

  • How did the characters deal with their situation?
  • Was the choice right, wrong or indifferent? What if he had chosen differently, and how would that have changed things around him?
  • What things did that character have no control over? Was there divine intervention or just dumb luck?
  • Is that person a hero or someone I could ever imagine being? What about the bad guy and why did he do what he did?
With it being the Christmas Season, we recently watched A Christmas Story, which is chock full of lessons on life. After watching it, we discussed:

  • Did you ever want something so badly too? What did you do about it?
  • Does your family have something like the "leg lamp" in the movie? Is there something someone loves and everyone else hates?
  • What caused Ralphie to get the courage to confront Scott and beat him up? What made him so angry?
  • What's a bad word? Are you allowed to say bad words? What do you think of getting your mouth washed out with soap for saying a bad word? Would that keep you from saying it again? If not, what would?
  • Do you know any bullies like Scott? What would you do if a bully confronted you?
  • Back then, people listened to radio rather than TV. Explain why. Is there a show you like to watch a lot too? Why that show?
  • Did Ralphie do the right thing by blaming his friend?
  • Ralphie was disappointed with Santa. Have you ever been disappointed?
  • Did you ever get a gift you didn't like? What was the worst gift you ever got?
  • Talk about when you were young and if you ever got something you wished for. Talk about Ralphie dreaming about something which ended up being better as a dream than reality. Why do things like that happen, and explain if it ever happened to you.
Be sure to let your child do most of the talking and ask open ended questions such as these. While you are discussing, make sure you repeat the main lessons you want to get across from the movie. Don't criticize your child for saying perhaps the "wrong" thing, but instead answer back with "Another way you can look at it" or "Another way he could have done that, is". This will really open up your child's mind and get them thinking more outside the box.

Do you have any favorite movies that have great lessons for kids? Please list them here so we can check them out too!

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Make Any House Your Home

Other than throwing out the welcome mat out front, what do you do to make your home really feel like home? Have you ever thought about it or do you just pull it off somehow and there it is? We are scheduled to move overseas next year, and while I am dreading the move with pets, kit and kaboodle, I am amazingly already thinking about how we are going to make our small stairwell apartment feel like home. Here are some thoughts to consider.

Along with the obligatory welcome mat, I've been thinking of what I've done here in this home and hope to carry some of these ideas over with me.

I am a BIG family photo person. Not only do I have framed photos all over the walls and a few tables, since I am a genealogy freak, I also have an entire wall with photos from my family tree! It might be overkill for some people, but, you gotta personalize, so have at least a few nice framed photographs on display.

Since we will have hardwood floors....nice huh....I can never get used to a completely "no carpeting" zone, so I will bring my one Persian rug and perhaps a few more area rugs to make it feel cozy and secure.

I love the look of nature, and I love plants...but I somehow kill every single one of them along the way. So, I will continue with my few silk plants I have here. It'll be nice walking around my new home and seeing my lighted palm tree, the ficuses and the smaller plant arrangements around the apartment. Speaking of lighted palm tree, those small white Christmas lights draped over a faux ficus tree can look homey too. I won't even begin to think about the electricity issues yet, since Germany has 220 volt and you have to use these big heavy and loud transformers to plug in your American 110 volt stuff. It's a good thing Christmas tree lights are lowcost in Germany too. Guess I will have to pick up a few.

We all have some kind of collectibles, right? Don't forget to display what you love. Well, not only do I have a few of my own, I inherited Oma's things as well as my mom's after she passed away. I group like items together to make it more orderly. Here are some suggestions on how to group your things. You can really go overboard with the knick knacks, and if you have tons of this stuff, may I also suggest...for your sanity in dusting duty and sense of order...rotate what you got. My favorites are my grandmother's old kitchen implements and my mom's Russian laquerboxes. You can also dress up your displays with strategically placed scarves or doilies, just like you see in the museums. It also helps to have some of the smaller stuff under glass. You can get shadowboxes now with hinged glass fronts, curio cabinets and those small glassed-in tables. Be sure to look for them second hand. Don't buy them new!

With the holidays underway, keep costs down, as well as all the junk we haul from duty station to duty station and think about decorating only one room to the hilt. Or how about your front door area and just the tree? There are many ways to make your house feel like home over the holidays too, and just because each of us doesn't have a whole Victorian gingerbread house we can decorate to overflowing, doesn't mean we can't enjoy what we have!

Here are a few other sites to peruse:

Make Your House Feel More Like Home

When a House Feels Like Home

Make Your House a Unique Cozy Home

10 Ways to Make Your Home a Haven

What do you do to make your house or apartment feel like home?

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Friday, December 14, 2007

A Prison Can Be a Place to Shop

Do you like hand crafted items? Are you a big fan of wrought iron and homemade wooden furniture? What about jewelry, pottery and personalized items? Now put that thought aside for a minute. Do you ever wonder what prisoners do in our prisons each day? I've lived near prisons in the past, where prisoners hobbled shoes, fixed furniture and made license plates. What if you could put our love of hand crafted decorative and gift items together with keeping prisoners busy and teaching them something in the process? Well, someone has already thought of that, and if you are a military ID card holder, you can walk away with HUGE savings with up to 80% off retail from my estimates.

When I was at Ft Leavenworth, I had the chance to go by the Disciplinary Barracks Store. They actually have a store, showcasing the prisoner's work. Do you know all those wrought iron Longaberger basket-type decorative items you are familiar with? I saw the exact same shelves, tiered items, pot racks and basket holders I am familiar with. I am just using Longaberger as an example here. I also saw beautiful furniture, chandeliers and decorative items. Even though you will find some oak in their furniture, for the most part, you'll see quality hardwoods just beautifully done. Our little group of ladies who visited the joint where just entranced by the bench that folds into a picnic table and kept folding it over and over again. That was pretty ingenious...and we had to do a double take at the price it was that low. If your husband is the carpenter type, they'll even sell you the hardware and ship you the plans, so you can use your own wood and put it together yourself.

When you browse through the store, you have a hard time believing a prisoner made some of these wonderful jewelry pieces, pots, artwork. A lot of care and talent can be found here. I was humbly impressed to say the least.

I made a note to tell my husband, that they also do embroidery, screen printed products and engraving. The display cases were loaded down with wooden boxes, plaques, glass and crystal mementos and even handy display shelves for your husband's ubiquitous military coin collection. All of these items can be personalized as well.

Why am I bothering to tell you this and most of us don't even live there? Because they ship! Most items they ship via FEDEX or UPS I was told. If you are interested in some of the heavy wrought iron stuff, how about getting together with your neighborhood girlfriends? If you fill a pallet with stuff, it only costs $150 to truck that pallet to you. If you put five items on there, you are already well ahead of the game and are still getting the items at a steal.

Be sure to stop by their site and see what they have to offer. If you have picked out some items, just send them an email, and they will give you a shipping quote. Again, only US military ID card holders may order. Check their website for any exceptions to that, as there are some. BTW, if you don't find something in the right dimensions, they will even build it to your specifications. Just ask! With all this being said, do you have a civilian prison in your area? Perhaps check out what they have to offer. They may have a similar program. Ft Leavenworth calls these things "vocational products".

Let me know what you order from the prison store! I myself really liked the three tiered pie stand, and my husband has so many coins...those display shelves would look nice too....hmmm, I still have some time before Christmas...

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Camouflage Your Voice

Last week, I heard from a military spouse who was interested in giving spouses an anonymous voice and outlet for their feelings and thoughts. She feels so strongly about this and has already started up a new website.

Join Kasey (her pen name) and other included, share what is on their minds. The beauty of that no one knows it's you. Sometimes we just need an outlet to get things off our chest and maybe by reading what others have written, we can gain more insight into ourselves.

Here are some examples of small blurbs already posted at Camouflage Voices:

* I tell everyone I run into that my husband is a soldier, it couldn't make me more proud. - Carrie Ann

* Sometimes I fall asleep crying, wishing he were back at home where he belongs. - Amy

* My FRG is ran by a bunch of wives trying to wear their husbands rank. - Sarah M.

* My kids think their mom is like Wonder Woman. She can do it all. - Mark S.

* I think what you are doing is fantastic. Its about time we have a source to turn to so we can finally be heard.

* Sometimes our voices as spouses of lower enlisted aren't as loud as higher are. I think it's important to continue to be there and support the group no matter what. Eventually we will all go up in rank and make any organization better with our experience. Make it better than it was for you, for that other lower enlisted spouse. Make them feel welcome no matter their spouses rank. We are all spouses, bound together by the same cause. Harvey's Wife

Please be sure to stop by and add some of your own! While you are thinking about it, I am always looking for guest writers here at this site. Maybe you don't have time to blog yourself, or you don't want to maintain one. If you feel strongly about something and would like to be heard, please do contact me at this site. Even if you have something light hearted to say, please consider writing about it. Again, any thoughts or messages you'd like to pass on to other military spouses, can have a home at "Life Lesssons of a Military Wife".


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Running out of Gift Ideas?

How is your Christmas shopping coming along? Done yet? Have you totally run out of ideas? If you are tired of looking for "stuff", how about putting these nice gifts together yourself?

  • Nice basket with food items and homemade gift certificates are a great gift for new parents or the elderly. I buy my baskets at yardsales and Goodwill. It's amazing what nice baskets you can find!
  • Nice pot or set of small pots with some herb seeds, wrapped up in cellophane and tied with a pretty bow. I like to get those huge rolls of cellophane on eBay and sometimes Sam's Club sells them inexpensively. The craft stores also sell smaller rolls.
  • A decorative holiday plate with cookies and wrapped baked quick breads in foil. Again, use the cellophane and tie with a bow. I like to check Goodwill throughout the year for this stuff, and I recently saw that Kohl's had some on sale already. The closer you get to Christmas, the better chance you have of finding this stuff discounted. Or better yet, shop for it right after Christmas for next year.
  • A Mason jar filled with brownie or cookie mix and a tag with instructions. You can find many recipes on line. One version is called sand art brownies.
  • A basket filled with a few food items (spaghetti sauce and pasta with Parmesan cheese as an example), and then some coupons rolled up and tied with ribbon. Wrap it up with cellophane and a bow. I like to buy those coupons when I can get a $25 restaurant coupon for $3 or less. Get on their mailing list to get notified of these sales.
  • Think about functional gifts. For a college student, a brand new laundry bag with detergent works well.
  • Forget about the ties or fruitcakes. Men have so many ties already, and it's such a cliche and shows you have no thought or effort...don't do it. I think only 5% of the population likes fruitcakes, so unless you know someone who really likes this stuff...don't pass on those bricks please.
  • For retired people, get supportive gifts. Don't get them any more knick knacks! No kitch, liquor or music boxes. Most already have so much of this junk. Start thinking about a stack of greeting cards with stamps nicely tied up with ribbon, fruit or food baskets (you can make them up yourself, you know), grocery store and restaurant gift cards (you can dress these up by putting them in a basket with some edible stuff) or magazine subscriptions (make sure they read or like it first).
  • A nice professionally done photo book telling a story. Many of you can print something like this at home if you have a nice printer. You can go to Kinko's or your local print center and get it bound. Use really nice paper to make it special. All the photo processing sites online also do photo books. Have your book tell a story...use those captions. Your story can be a timeline or revolve around a theme.
  • A new item for their collection. If someone does collect something, then it is okay to get them a new treasure for it.
  • A stamp pad with their return address and a stack of cards and envelopes. This works great for someone elderly too. Not everyone gets those free return address labels through the mail.
  • A copy of a favorite recipe with a kitchen implement or towel attached. Just make sure it is a fabulous recipe or something the person complimented you on once. Make sure the person likes to cook too!
  • Think about gifting an experience, rather than a "thing". How about a balloon flight or a ride with a WWI flying ace? Or be a horse trainer, beer brewer or whatever occupation you can think of....just for a weekend with no strings attached at Vocation Vacation. Keep down the costs by finding a job in your area. The sky is the limit! If that's a little too expensive for you, how about a manicure, pedicure or massage? How about a trip to the local day spa?
  • For you favorite teenager who has an MP3 player, how about music downloads? Get a giftcard from a download center online. I like's download center. Package the card or certificate in a small basket with some edible goodies.
There are also some resources online to get you thinking. Here are some of the ones I've visited recently:

Perfect Present Picker

Gift Wizard Ideas

MSN Shopping Wizard

I also like Amazon's Gift Organizer. When I missed my niece's birthday last year, I sat down the next day and entered everyone's birthday and anniversary into the Gift Organizer in my Amazon account. Now I get emails a few weeks out, reminding me of those important dates. I've yet to forget again! The Organizer also keeps you organized and keeps track of your gifts given. Very handy, so you don't give the same thing twice!

What nifty gifts have you recently given? What are you giving this year? Any new ideas or things you can pass on?

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"No Recipe" Meals That Work in a Pinch

I always envied people who could cook a meal without a recipe in sight. I still haven't figured out how they do that, but I can tell you, I do have a few meals under my belt that can literally be thrown together at the last minute, with no thought or preparation needed. As much as some of us like to plan out our life, sometimes life itself gets in the way of that. Be sure to have these ideas in mind the next time you have no clue and before your kids start the "what's for dinner" chant.

Here are some of the favorite meals our family has thrown together at the last minute with ingredients typically on hand. No recipe needed!

  • Breakfast for dinner. If you have kids, they're gonna love this. Mine like for me to make pancakes (the kind where you just add water), bacon or sausage and scrambled eggs or omelets. To cut down on grease splattering and the mess, I make our bacon in the oven.
  • Instant shepherd's pie. Mix some cream of mushroom soup with a bit of water and mix in ground beef and frozen veggies. Top with prepared mashed potatoes and bake for about 20 minutes on 350 degrees. My kids also like grated cheese sprinkled on top the last few minutes of baking time.
  • Pasta with Sauce. Always keep a few jars of spaghetti, vodka or white sauce on hand. What could be simpler than boiling some noodles and then adding sauce? Sometimes, I don't even heat the one has ever noticed.
  • Soup and Sandwiches. The old standy. My kids like their sandwiches grilled in the toaster oven (open face and before you add the lettuce and tomato and such), or if we have grilled cheese, I'll do that on the stove in a pan in olive oil. Mix it up with using whatever cheese you have on hand. No one says you have to use American except for the Kraft people. Or, you can layer a few different kinds depending what you have on hand. We also doctor up canned creamed soups by frying up some small onions in either olive oil or....God husband's favorite...some bacon grease! Then add the soup. It gives it a nice homemade flavor.
  • Spinach Shrimp with Pasta. Make your pasta, then steam or cook your frozen shrimp. Drain everything, and add it together with part of your spinach dip you didn't finish from the grocery store. I microwave the dip beforehand, to make it nice and creamy before adding. You can also add some more spices, such as garlic powder.
  • Baked Potato with Chili and Cheese. Microwave some potatoes or sometimes, if I plan a bit ahead, I will bake them on about 350 for about an hour or so. Use canned chili and your favorite shredded cheese.
  • Pork Chops with Cream of Mushroom over rice. Do this dish in the pan or oven, and serve over cooked rice. I make rice by boiling 2x salted water of the amount of rice you need (ie, boil 2 cups water for 1 cup dried rice for a family of four). When water is at a rolling boil, pour in dried rice, stir, cover and turn down to low. Leave pot alone for 20 min. I always try to set a timer so I won't forget. Do this first, then work on the chops. There are also some dishes out there where you mix dry rice, soup, water and uncooked chops. These are even easier, as you just throw everything into a dish and then bake it.
What do you do at home for last minute meals?


Monday, December 10, 2007

Voyeuristic Menu Planning Monday

We already talked about menu planning once before. If you totally don't have any creative juices flowing this week, how about seeing what other people are up to? Go ahead and peek into someone else's kitchen!

Visit the pages below. Not only can you see what bloggers are making this week for dinner, many have links to the actual recipes and sometimes visitors can add their own links too. So, if you are already stuck this week, be sure to stop by for a visit!

Menu Planning Monday

Too Many Recipes

If you don't want to use your brain this week, there are a few sites that do everything but the cooking for you! Get menu plans by email or on their sites, get tailored recipes and a shopping list to print off. Basic menu planning is free on most of these sites. They make their money by mostly tailoring menu plans for those of us who want more control or who are pickier by nature or perhaps they send no ad sponsored emails to those who pay. Either way, take advantage of someone doing the work for you this week!

Menus 4 Moms

Woven Fare (thanks Organizing Junkie for posting about this site)'s Weekly Menu Planner

Dinner Planner (this is a paid site but worth a quick visit)

Some other things to consider while you are thinking about what to cook:

  • Actually sit down and think about it; who has sports practice and who has a late meeting? Am I going to be late one day and not be able to cook? You may want to plan for leftovers or soup and sandwiches that day. Stay tuned for tomorrow's blog for more ideas!
  • Always have a few easy pantry meals onhand, meaning ingredients that are always there and that don't take a lot of effort to prepare. Many pasta dishes work well in this category.
  • How about doubling your meals when you cook? Either serve leftovers the next day or freeze the other half for another day.
  • Make extra ground beef, chicken, pasta or potatoes or anything that can be used in another dish. I've made tacos, chicken salad, soup, potato salad or a different pasta dish with those leftovers. No need to serve the exact same thing twice. Mix it up.
Would you like to share your ideas or recipes? What makes your menu planning easier?

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Friday, December 7, 2007

Put Your Received Christmas Cards to Good Use

I used to dutifully save all the Christmas cards and letters I was sent by friends and family. I even put them all in a baggie and labeled the bag with the year! How a.n.a.l. is that? Now I've found a better use for these cards, and it makes me happy and hopefully, someone else happy too.

I typically take a string or long piece of dental floss and hang it up between two points on a wall. The Christmas cards we get in the mail, get parked on the string. It really makes a room festive. Try'll like it.

Now, don't do what I used to do after the holidays with your cards. This year, put the cards in a little basket. Every few days, next year, take out one of the cards, see who it's from and have your family pray for that family. Then, you are going to cut the card in half. Take the side with the pretty artwork...hopefully the back is still white. If not, get a large label and cover the writing. Draw a line down the middle. You are going to turn this into a postcard! Write the recipient's address and stamp on the right side, and write a nice "thinking of you" message on the left side. Don't forget to mail it. Now isn't that a much nicer thing to do with the cards than letting them gather dust somewhere?

What do you do with all your old cards?


Thursday, December 6, 2007

How About a Cookie or Ornament Exchange?

Still in the holiday mood? You've probably been invited to a party at work and maybe at a neighbor's or friend's house. But you know...sometimes those shindings can be incredibly BORING. If that's not enough to get you in the spirit, or you want to do something different this year, how about hosting a cookie or ornament exchange?

I've done both in the past. If you're apprehensive about doing it by yourself, enlist a friend to co-host it with you. A cookie exchange is more labor intensive and for those who like to bake and fuss over the holidays, it's a perfect way to try new cookies and goodies. Everyone will come away with many containers of a variety of cookies. Here's how to set one up. You can also request the recipes beforehand and make copies for everyone to take home to try for themselves at a later time.

If you really don't want to or don't have the time or intensity for that, how about an ornament exchange? You can do this with a group of neighbors, friends, church group, wives get together group, Cub Scout pack...for just about any group you might belong to. Have each person bring an inexpensive wrapped ornament. Be sure to set a dollar limit. Have each family or person also bring a covered dish, or to make it even easier, just a dessert or appetizer. That means all you have to do is provide the drinks and eating implements, some festive music and you're good to go!

In an ornament exchange, you set all the pretty packages on a table. Have each person pick a number out of a hat. The person with the lowest number goes first and so on. Each picks out a gift, unwraps it and watches everyone ooh and aaah over it. The next person can either choose to take that ornament away...hey, you have to have some extra kind of excitement....or they can unwrap another gift of their choosing. The next person up can take either of those two unwrapped ornaments or choose to open up a new one. An ornament can only be "stolen" three times. After that, it stays with that person. I've seen some serious ornament exchanging going on, always in good fun, and it just amazes me at the diversity of ornaments that gets unwrapped!

Do you have any ideas for holiday fun or parties?


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Free Thrills Around Town

I know with the holiday season already started in full swing, the kids are already itching to go out and do some fun things. Many of use have already budgeted our money towards holiday gifts and may not have a lot left over for too much fun stuff. If you know where to look, you can always find something FREE to impress the kids and get the whole family into the spirit of the season.

Check these out:

  • Drive around and look at holiday lights; we like to get some mugs of hot chocolate and a CD of Christmas music, pack up the dog and drive around our town; some newspapers also print some of the more stellar lighted displays
  • Check your local churches; many have events for the public; our favorites are always the "walk through Bethlehem" tours, and many churches go all out with animals, costumes and elaborate displays
  • Don't forget to check your local Chamber of Commerce; they usually maintain a list of events around your city
  • Museums, zoos and botanical gardens typically have one day free; some do this once a week, month or even seasonally
  • Find a nearby "pick your own fruit" or Christmas tree farm; we've gone on hay rides, petted the animals, watched cane syrup production with a mule press and ridden ponies, had biscuits with gravy, all free at our local farm
  • Check your local military bases; they sometimes have public events, such as airshows or holiday shows
  • Libraries can also have events; ours doesn't do just story hour but also learning events, craft days, clowns and magicians; the holidays can be extra special
  • Chain book stores want you in the giving away your money that is...but if you can resist the temptation, these events can be fun too
  • It may be too cold for a picnic or bike ride, depending on where you live, but we've had some of our best family events, packing everyone up and heading out to our national and state parks for a nice hike; some parks also let you chop down your own Christmas tree with a permit; check their offices for more information
Do you have any ideas to share?

Find other frugal ideas at this week's Festival of Frugality #103.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Life Lessons for Military Wives, Carnival #4

Thank-you to all who sent links to their articles. I enjoyed reading them and hope our readers stop by for a visit too.

Daily Life

Warren Wong presents How To Feel Better And Be Happier posted at Personal Development for INTJs, saying, "Some practical tips you can use now to feel better and be happier."


Dimes presents How to avoid getting ripped off by your landlord posted at Dimes to Dollars- a military wife's guide to personal finance, saying, "This article is relevant to pretty much any military family that finds themselves in a tenant situation. A lot of landlords try to take advantage when they can."

Wenchypoo presents I've just come back from the fastest dental appointment I ever had... posted at Wisdom From Wenchypoo's Mental Wastebasket, saying, "From an ex-navy wife re: saving money and time on dental care."


Lucy Baldwin presents 5 Things I Learned From Moving 17 Times posted at Moving Help Central, saying, "Former Army brat tells the lessons learned from many moves."

Wenchypoo presents Annual Rerun: Why We Skip The Holidays Altogether posted at Wisdom From Wenchypoo's Mental Wastebasket, saying, "Life lesson from a former navy wife."

blue skelton presents Stop Loss on the Production Blog posted at Blue Skelton Publications, saying, "Ryan Philippe has come a long way since Cruel Intentions. His new film, Stop Loss covers a very relevant and important issue, regardless of what side of the Iraq War issue that you are on. Is it fair to ask a soldier to continue fighting after their contractual obligation to the United States has been fulfilled? It is a tough question. I'm not sure if this post fits your carnival but I thought that it might be something interesting to your audience. Thank you for your consideration."


Fred Black presents Dust Off Your Tutu! posted at Fred Black: Internet Business Blog., saying, "Hi; I doubt this fits with what you're looking for, however it may. I'm more interested in getting bloggers to mention my wife's site than my blog, but this post on my blog talks about creating her DVD. Thank you very much. Fred Black"


poetloverrebelspy presents Getting Across Germany Cheaply, Part One posted at Less Than a Shoestring, saying, "For the ladies stationed abroad! If you're trying to get across Germany by train (or help family and friends do so), this post contains many useful tips for getting the best ticket prices."

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of Life Lessons of a Military Wife using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Monday, December 3, 2007

The Transforming Army

That's what they kept telling us. The Army is transforming. The new priority is actually FAMILY. I just got back from the Battalion and Brigade Command Team Course. Yes, the Army actually offers the opportunity to prepare you for command...not just the one wearing the camouflage but the wife too! I was pleasantly surprised that I was not the only wife there. We even had one Battalion Command Sergeant Major's wife in attendance. The Army transformation is enlightening.

Believe it or not...or as much as I wanted to complain, because we know how we like to complain about how the Army does things....I was doing little of that here. I actually LEARNED something! In fact, I learned so much, I won't be able to talk about it in just one post! I even had to shift around some of my undies and socks to make room for some of the materials they loaded us down with. Not only did we get materials to help us out, but we got stuff for our family readiness group leaders, company commander's wives, wives interested in being part of the team and even resources for wives who don't want to be part of the unit scene.

Yes, the days were very structured. We had lecture after lecture, but we also had small group sessions with lots of feedback from each other. It was a big plus to have commanders and their wives there who already had their battalion command and were back for some more learning for their brigade command. I found myself being surrounded by some of the best and brightest the Army has to offer. I furiously scribbled notes whenever one of them had something to say...the information was that good.

So, what does this mean for all the rest of us wives and soldiers? It means the Army does actually prepare folks at this level. It also means they ask for their input. Our course actually changed from the last one...and the one before it too. My God, they actually listened to what WE had to say and will change the course as needed as it goes along.

At the other end of the spectrum, we had every general and leader of today's Army come and talk with us. I was amazed that the Chief of Staff of the Army...and his wife, the school commander and his wife, the Command Sergeant Major of the Army, as well as countless leaders of agencies such as Army Emergency Relief, the head Public Affairs Officer and even the guy who made heads rolls when he revamped Walter Reed and our broke medical system came to talk with us. The speakers were very generous with their time and encouraged us to speak....a rarity in the Army I knew before.

And those were just the joint sessions with our husbands. I know they had even more top level briefings and classes than we had. It was nice to see that wives were valued and included in many of the talks. Of course, the wives did have a big class in protocol taught by proper ladies in their best suits, and even with me being an Army brat and in the Army myself, I learned a few things. We took the Myers Briggs Personality Test, as well as two leadership tests. I learned I like to avoid conflict, but that I am somewhat flexible...tell me something I don't know, it was that scary that I can instantly be pegged like that. At one point, I thought I was eyeing for a degree in psychology with the sessions on dealing with conflict, group development, situational leadership, choices and challenges. Legal came and talked about all the "no-no's" and things to watch out for, as well as how to deal with the media. I was floored to find out that "no comment" is no longer encouraged. If you have something positive to say, and you know the facts keeping OPSEC in mind, you were encouraged to open your big mouth and spill the beans first, before the general media got wind of it and put their spin on!

We even had necessary talks that weren't any fun. I can tell you I shed a tear or two when we reviewed the procedures for a trauma in the unit and learned how dignified Army Casualty and Memorial Affairs goes about their business. The head of the Army Medical Action Plan was able to distract us from the sorrow at Walter Reed and with our wounded soldiers by talking about the sauce they put on you during ultrasounds and the sanitary napkin that has been a first aid kit for soldiers for many decades now among other things. What a dynamic speaker he was. The new first aid kit actually has some useful stuff in it..including a "stick" for the tourniquet, since you won't find that in any desert.

And this was just the official stuff. Many of us came without the kiddies, and even though the days were exhausting...who would've thought sitting on your butt all day would exhaust husband and I had lunch together every day and when class was out, we spent lots of time together...just me and often does that happen?! So, for those of you who are heading to command with your spouse..go to the course. We even had one male spouse join us ladies, so that is no excuse not to go. The course is valuable and will help you prepare. For those of you not going, you will still benefit if your commander's wife goes along too. Also breathe a sigh of relief , that even though the Army realizes it is stretched thin, the one thing I heard over, and over and over that the family is the #1 priority. Yes, the mission is important, but if we lose the families, we lose the soldier...period. And we can't allow that to happen. Many Army programs and systems have already made some changes to put family first...again, this is not the Army I knew....and look forward to more positive and family-friendly changes coming thru the pipeline in the future.