Friday, March 29, 2013

Ways He Makes My Day During Deployment

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Five little things he does that make my day during deployment:

1) Sends a postcard with a quick hello to his girls.

2) Asks how I'm doing first thing in a conversation.

3) Calls at 2:45 AM his time because he knows Clementine is just getting out of school and I will be standing at the gate waiting for her.

4) Gives me that sheepish, shy, "hey there's the girl I love" smile when we first get on Skype. So cute!

5) Sends a handsome photo of himself, in full gear, standing somewhere picturesque -- even better if he's smiling.

These are little things, but they sure make my day when he is far away and has been gone for so long. How I love him, pray for him and send him my best every day.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Gift of Boxes of Scarves

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I'm pretty sure Mr. Hart has bought and sent home about 100 scarves for Clementine and me without realizing how many he's bought. Every time he's sent home anything, there has been most of one 12" x 12" box packed with scarves. We do wear a lot of scarves around here at night when it gets humid and cool to keep my and Clementine's necks warm so they are a good gift. Especially since our current collection has begun to show some wear and tear.

There are silk scarves, pashminas, long rectangles, squares, stripes, animal prints, bold patterns...oh so many scarves. It's understood that he'll use some as gifts going forward (which I'm thrilled about), but seriously we have boxes and boxes of scarves. And for some reason they always arrive smelling strongly of diesel fuel and have to be aired out for some time. Some of the scarves I have immediately fallen in love with and some I wouldn't wear. He always picks out beautiful blue ones for me to go with my eyes. When we received the first box full, while I sat staring at them in surprise, wondering what we were going to do with all those scarves, I was inspired with a thought that has carried me through receiving more and more scarves with a smile.

I just remind myself that every one of those scarves represents moments when he was thinking of us, wanting to show us his love and wanting to feel connected to home. If spending money on those scarves made him feel good, feel love, feel happy even for just a few minutes in the warzone, then I am all for it, even if they never get worn. Those tons of scarves are really about so much more than something around the neck. They are really intended to wrap our hearts in his love until the day he returns to us and beyond. How I treasure those scarves, even the ugly smelly ones.

Have you found yourself receiving gifts you weren't quite sure what to do with? Share your love-filled slightly silly story below in the comments. We love hearing your stories.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Overpowering Emotions Of The Uniform

One day not long after Mr. Hart left on deployment I was walking down the street in our neighborhood and towards me came a man in military camos. My entire soul lit up and I greeted him with the most emphatically cheerful, excited hello he's probably ever gotten from a complete stranger. Bizarre of me and totally embarrassing.

Now I need to clarify that we live nowhere near a base. But we do have a small Army Reserve post nearby. In more than a decade I've seen a man in uniform in our neighborhood probably five times. We actually have a huge VA near our home, but that brings more sad, homeless wanderers than men in uniform to our streets.

There is something about seeing anyone in uniform when you're missing your man in uniform that is a little overpowering. Clementine and I have shed a few tears when we walk into the food court of our naval base and are surrounded by uniforms and men who remind us so much of our Daddy. In the past he was always with us when we had lunch or dinner there. It's hard to watch other military men eat with their families, girlfriends and buddies without deeply missing ours.

I always adore the uniformed men who go out of their way on base to hold doors for us and call me "Ma'am" in a respectful way that makes me actually appreciate being called "Ma'am." This is very unlike how I feel when a soul-less cashier who doesn't even look up at me calls me that. I think most women hate being called "Ma'am" but when a strapping young buck waits for you, holds the door for you and is so polite with his southern drawl, it's a whole different story. Gentlemanly manners do still live and in uniform they are ridiculously handsome.

There is something about those uniforms in all their varieties, purposes, fabrics and fits that become a real part of a military family. For years I've washed them, ironed them (no easy feat!), and hung them proudly on hangers. I have appreciated the hub's broad shoulders and fit back side in those tan desert khakis like a good wife should. For an entire year, except during R&R, the uniform is the only clothing we've seen our Daddy wear on Skype. That uniform is what he is wearing when he goes away from us for a while. That is what he was wearing when he arrived home to us for R and R. The next time we see him he will be in that uniform.

The uniform is definitely a source of pride and connection. I hope to get through the rest of our deployment before I start throwing my arms around any man in uniform. I'm kidding, really I'm kidding.

*This post is linked up with Walkabout Wednesdays. If you like Military blogs hop over and check out some others.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tell Me, No Don't Tell Me..Okay Tell Me

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It seems just about everything to do with the military is attached to some pretty strong loves and hates. Hate the goodbyes, love the hellos. Hate the red tape, love the benefits. Love the tough guys, hate how they won't talk or show affection in public. Love the adventure, hate the moves. Love the uniform, hate all the gear all over the house. You love that he's a warrior but hate that he has to leave and train or fight all the time.

One of my love/hate situations is knowing what he's doing. This includes everything to do with the military, not just during deployment times. There is always some news about something coming up that needs to be scheduled into your lives, some new change that is going to potentially change how you do things, or some challenge he is facing. Any information he passes on, you know is going to turn your life topsy-turvy somehow and you find part of yourself wanting to know immediately so you can start your plan of attack and another side of you pleading, "Don't tell me anything that will stress me out until we reach a time when the actual action needs to be taken or said information will affect me."

During deployment this ratchets up a few notches. I know almost nothing of what he does every day and for my sanity, I am a pretty big believer in ignorance is bliss. But I do know enough to recognized the subtle changes that suggest he's going out. Going out are key words for "I'm going on a mission of some sort and will talk to you when I get back." That might be in a few minutes, a few hours or a few days. He usually leaves some clues about the time frame.

Part of me likes knowing that so I know not to expect to hear from him. It gives me a little wiggle room not to feel tied down to the phone or computer unnecessarily. But the hate part of this is that I usually pick up on these hints at the beginning of his day, which is the end of my day. That means I get this information and then get in bed and know he's doing something dangerous and I think about it and think about it even when I'm trying to do something else. There's still that little knot in my stomach that gnaws at me. Those are usually the nights I can't fall asleep, I have weird dreams, I wake up for no reason at four in the morning and don't go back to sleep.

I do like knowing to pray a little extra hard for him. I do like knowing he's probably doing something he enjoys a little more than sitting at a desk doing some unbearably uninspiring paperwork at a computer screen. But there's a little part of me that wishes I could stay in my ignorant bliss and not know he was going out. That is the weak woman in me. The strong woman wants to know everything I possibly can, be totally informed, read every scary news article and be prepared for anything.

I may have another military love/hate going on with myself. I probably love/hate these two sides of me doing battle, one not wanting to hear or know anything and the other insistent on knowing everything possible. There's no way for those two gals to peacefully co-exist and I know the curious side will always win because there's no way I'm not going to hear stuff anyway. End of story.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Deployment Blessings: Friends

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One of the sweetest blessings we have enjoyed this year is the supreme care of friends. Many of the people I hold most near and dear to my heart today are people who were acquaintances before we started deployment. These are the people who stop me, look right into my eyes and sincerely asked "How are you doing? What can I do for you guys?" and let me know they are praying for our family every day.

Some have brought sweet little surprise gifts to our daughter. Many participated in a huge service project to send two dozen care packages to my husband and the troops he serves with. They baked goodies, bought packaged snacks, gathered magazines & books, wrote letters and packed boxes. Their enthusiasm was powerful and overflowing.

I know many of these people have reached out because they can't imagine surviving a year without their spouses. Some have military family members and know what our life is like right now. Others have a soft spot for my husband and want to stand guard for him while he is away.

Friends and neighbors have been so kind and thoughtful to us and I treasure the relationships we have built together. I realize, sadly that things will change a little bit once we are no longer in deployment but I sure hope all those great relationships we've enjoyed will continue to grow and be a source of happiness, mutual support and love as the years pass by.

Feeling the love, care and service of others is probably the best blessing I see in our deployment. It has taught me to let people in more openly, to appreciate with more gratitude, and going forward to be more mindful of others. I hope I can busy myself with service to others when inspired in ways I can help, just as others have done for us this year. I am so grateful for these good people and will treasure their memory as a bright spot in our deployment year. I hope they are richly blessed for their kindness in the same ways I feel the riches of their love and generosity.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

As They Stand, Let Us Kneel

Heard some very sad news about a likely service member suicide last night. That broke my heart. This was not someone I know but I know people who loved him dearly. Heard today that this week is the beginning of the fighting season in Afghanistan. That worried me. I look at completing our deployment assignment and what will come after. That concerns me. What can I do about all these things? Precious little other than love and watch out for every member of our military family as if they were my own brothers and sisters. But there is another who is all-powerful who we can turn to for comfort and to hear our prayers. Kneeling down for those who stand in front to protect us is the most powerful thing we can do.

In your every day, please don't miss an opportunity to reach out in love to our service members. It breaks my heart to know so many are suffering and feel so alone and helpless. This should not be. The programs are in place, the help is there. But we're not connecting the dots quickly enough to save them. There are people in the military who are still too harsh and cruel when generosity and support are desperately needed. Pray for change and do all you can to help. God bless our dear sweet service members and their families. I will kneel for each one of them and their families tonight.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Pre-R&R Nerves

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I can't believe it's already been a couple of months since Mr. Hart went back to deployment after R&R. When we began the deployment it seemed like it was so far away and now it's over and we're looking at a homecoming in not so long.

As I looked forward to R&R I read a lot of articles by other military spouses about their experience with it. I saw a comment by one woman who said her husband said he wasn't coming home for R&R. It obviously hurt her. I could relate to both of them.

There was a part of me that thought it might be easier not to see Mr. Hart in the middle of deployment. It sounded way too torturous to have him come home and then have him ripped away from us again. Thinking in those dramatic terms it does sound pretty awful. I never brought that up to him because I wanted him to decide how he wanted to spend that time. But at the same time I would've been crushed if Mr. Hart had said he didn't want to see us. I knew deep down that nothing other than seeing him was really an option I could accept. There really was no question.

We talked about R&R for several months. He put in for dates as soon as he was able which was just a few weeks after he got there. It seemed so far away then. For a while we talked about meeting in some other country. Then for a time he wanted me to plan a trip to Hawaii. But I couldn't imagine putting him on a plane for another 12 hours in that two week time span plus costs were double because it was during the holidays. 

Once Thanksgiving came, it somehow opened the holiday "You're coming for R and R soon!" floodgates. Suddenly he was his now unfamiliar cheery, romantic self. It was obvious he was letting himself think about home and that he, who hides his excitement so well, was getting excited to come home, to see us, to see me. There was a lot more smiling and flirtiness in the usually business like, task-oriented and information-relaying phone calls and Skype sessions -- and they were more frequent too. The honeymoon before R and R was awesome.

I was watching Married To The Army: Alaska on OWN and saw that the wives all kept going to through security to meet their husbands. I had to google that to find out if that was just something they worked out for the wives on that show or if it was for the military in general. Here's the lowdown from the website. When I found out just a couple of weeks before our R and R that we could do this, I made sure to plan on it and then didn't tell Mr. Hart, so that we could surprise him at the gate.

Then there was the big "what to wear" dilemma. That went on for many days and in the end I wore a bright coral striped tunic, black pencil skirt and heels. He ended up calling us two days early and telling us that he would be home in five hours. Boy were we scrambling. I had taken care of a long list of things that needed to be done before he came, but I learned a big lesson. Don't save the housecleaning for the last two days in case they come early. I had a huge stack of papers on his desk that I needed to sort and file and a few other chores that I had not accomplished that I was expecting to take care of those last two days so I wouldn't be twiddling my thumbs waiting for him.

He assured me multiple times that at the earliest he might be half a day early. But two full days early really screwed me up and left me in a lurch. Not that we weren't thrilled to get him back, but the house didn't look as nice as I had planned and that was a bummer. I learned my lesson to get the housework done at least a week in advance, especially because you're just worn our by all the excitement the closer it gets. You have less energy the last couple of days before he gets back. I would've rather been running around town doing small errands those days than doing the housework. We sacrificed a bit of the housecleaning to shower and get pretty for his arrival. That was a must after all. 

For the meet at the airport we were able to get gate passes, but know that both times this took a good ten minutes or more. Much longer than it takes for a person to check in. One of the more senior agents helped us. The more senior people seem to know how that all works. We got our gate passes and just talking to the agent I was already getting teary-eyed. Our little one had not seen her dad for six months and she was so excited and a little teary too. And she wanted me to hold her every minute. She's tall and weighed almost 60 lbs. Craziness.

It's pretty rare to see military personnel in our airport since we don't have any major bases nearby, but because it was just before the holidays then entire place was full of military personnel trying to get home for Christmas. We talked to a few of them headed in all sorts of directions. It seems like we waited at the gate for a very long time. Then his plane arrived and it seemed like it took them an eternity to park the dang thing. Then military guys and civilians started pouring out of the plane. We waited and waited and waited. Uniforms would appear and we'd check the face to see if it was our Daddy. There must've been at least 20 military personnel who got off and still no Mr. Hart. Just when it seemed there couldn't be too many more people on the plane, he came out and the little one ran straight over to her Daddy and jumped into his arms. It was so fun to see them smother each other with kisses.

I waited and watched and let them gobble each other up with love. It was so darling. They he walked over to me and we stole a kiss over her shoulder. She was in his arms and not about to let go. So we group hugged.There was a lot of hugging that went on for a while. Then we all walked hand in hand to the baggage claim. While we waited for his bags we took a few photos. A young military guy, who kept calling my husband "Sir" offered to take some photos for us. About this time, everything became a fast moving whirlwind. He was home with us and that was all that mattered. You can read more about our R and R here.

So long story short, there are lots of things to spend your time fretting about before R and R comes. But enjoy all that fun frenzy in the weeks leading up to his return. It's very much a cute courtship period and it helps reconnect you after a few months of very often feeling disconnected. Things will take care of themselves in the end and then he's home and the time goes by so fast and then it's time to let him go again. You can read about our goodbye here.

If you are planning for your first R and R ask for advice from other people who've been through it. They will have great suggestions and calm your worries. Let your military loved one choose how they want to spend their R and R. Don't plan too much because they will be on a totally whacked sleep schedule when they get back and the first few days they'll sleep all afternoon and evening and be awake while you're asleep, so plan for that. Know that they will be exhausted from the deployment itself and all the travel they've done to get to you. Go easy on them.

For those of you looking forward to R and R if you have any questions, just hit me up in the comments below or send an email or DM tweet. If I can help I surely want to. Hope your R and R is as fantastic as ours was.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Finding Myself Again

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I didn't imagine I would have bouts of difficulty sleeping, battle feelings of overwhelming stress and bits of depression. I definitely didn't realize that it would take me some time to recover from the major stresses we had been through the past couple of years and then the three weeks Mr. Hart had at home to get ready to deploy. Once he left, I realized I was a shell of my former self after all that stress and it took me months before I felt like me again. In those first few months I had days I never got dressed, many nights I slept on the couch, had to just sit and do nothing useful and shed a few tears.

I wasn't in a bad funk, I wasn't lost, but I knew I was exhausted, mentally, physically and emotionally wrung out. I had lost some of myself over time, over the many months he had been coming and going every few weeks, family situations that were causing grief and over the building stresses of deployment and all the fears that come with that.

So I let myself go through it. Little by little I started feeding my soul things it craved. I journaled, I slept whenever I could which was still rarely enough. I took myself out to pretty places. I talked with friends. I started doing more creative projects. I put happy music on. I gardened a little. I bought small bouquets of fresh flowers for the house.

I visited my sister and went shopping with her and got highlights and a great haircut. Instead of just wandering past the clothing racks I tried on lots of things and tried new things, updated my look. I found amazing bras that I liked and that fit perfectly. I bought new shoes. I started making resolves and standing up for myself more. I looked back at the ways I had failed myself by not taking care of myself and vowed not to do that again. I gave myself more care, made myself more of a priority.

Then I started hacking things out of my life. I cut back all the things I thought I could accomplish by half. And then I realized I still significantly overestimated what was possible to get done in a day, a week, a year. I began looking at ways to cut that back again. I strongly attached myself to the realization that if I was going to live my life to the fullest I had to break it down to the simplest, most important tasks only.

Those tasks, for me, I identified as:

1) Caring for and strengthening myself. Number one most important life responsibility. There is no beauty or greatness in giving up on yourself to care for others. I can do more and do better when I am at my best. That means enough sleep, very healthy diet, time to make myself look and feel pretty and having a wardrobe that makes me feel like my best self. It also meant cultivating my mind and soul with inspirational study and prayers for inspiration.

2) Taking care of my husband and child. That means being healthy enough myself that I can joyfully love them, not tiresomely resent them. Taking care of them means providing a warm and welcoming home, letting them see my face light up when they walk into the room, feeding them healthy, vibrant foods, making time to have fun with them, always receiving their love.

3) Taking care of home and hearth. Keeping home a sane, organized place is a huge amount of work. But since it is where we spend most of our time, I want it to feel good to be here. Keeping it looking nice does require work, but it also requires teaching and encouraging others to help. That is a lot of work too.

4) Serving others. Doing for others is one of the best ways to feel happy and wonderful. In my extended family, my church and my neighborhood, I want people to know that I care about them and am happy to help them when they need it.

5) Developing my talents and doing creative projects. This is one area that I have been cutting back on. I likely do 2-4 creative projects a month. But if I has my way I would be doing them 24/7. I feel good being very thoughtful about how I use my time in this area and how I spend money. It's easy to get caught up buying tons of "crafty toys" and it can get very expensive. Often they end up just sitting in drawers most of the time after the first project or two. I want to maximize my enjoyment and my productivity at the same time. These things make me happy so it is important that I find creative outlets on a regular basis.

It's amazing in the time I've given myself to heal and return to my center I continue to feel more and more whole, more and more my authentic self. It's a continual process but just being mindful of myself and my needs and making sure those are met is living my best life. When I really took a look at all I was trying to do, it was too much for two or three people to do in a day. Having very realistic expectations was a challenging place to get to because I kept having to cut back. I know I can do a lot in a day but that doesn't leave me in a good place at the end.

It's amazing how much happier I feel about my life and how much calmer I feel. I enjoy the simple every day activities more and feel like I am living much more in the present moment. Rather than looking at making dinner as a necessary evil, I am looking at it was a way to express my care and love for my family and creativity. Sure makes the tasks a lot more enjoyable. Even cleaning house is more enjoyable when you are focused on the end results for you and for your family.

In some ways I have found the old me and in many ways I have created a new me who is enjoying life more and feeling more calm and peaceful every day. This is progress and I am so glad I pushed my through the hard days to get here.

Did you ever feel you lost yourself for a time during deployment? What did you do? What worked, what didn't?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Inability To Sleep: A Major Milso Complaint

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Every night on social media I see MILSOs talking about how they can't sleep. I have been in the same boat many times during the past months of deployment. I thought I would share some of the ways I help myself get to sleep.

1) Give yourself plenty of time to wind down. It often takes a couple of hours for your body to shut down if you have been busy all day.

2) Before bedtime try to avoid TV, computer, phone -- electronics in general which tend to mess up your mind's ability to calm itself down.

3) Put on calming instrumental music before you get ready for bedtime. No emotional love songs that will bring you down. Just simple religious, spiritual or mediational types of music.

4) Meditate and calm yourself with downloadable meditations. There are tons of great ones on iTunes. I have mediations for centering myself, energizing myself, sleep, relaxation, weight loss and relationships. It's great to have another voice in your head besides your own, saying positive things.

5) Exercise early in the day. Working out late at night can bump up your energy and make it hard for your body to wind down.

6) Avoid sugars, caffeine and spicy food in the evenings. They can rev up your energy levels or mess with your stomach just as you're trying to sleep.

7) Read a book. That will usually put me to sleep pretty quickly...unless it's an amazing book and then I'll just stay up all night to finish it. But that means the next day you'll be exhausted and probably go to bed early...that's sleep, right?

8) Wake up early and keep a regular sleep schedule. Don't sleep late or take long naps that will confuse your body. Try to do the same thing every day as much as possible. Then your body will know to get tired at your chosen bedtime and help regulate itself to sleep.

Hope these simple little tips help. I find we all basically know this good stuff but sometimes it helps to just hear it from someone else. Now get to sleep! Wink.

Friday, March 15, 2013

God's Miracle Pocket Dial

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This morning I was reminded of a really sweet story I wanted to share here. It's a touch sentimental and a little gift for all the MILSOs out there. The night before my husband left for deployment last summer we had our BIG goodbye phone call and said all the things you say before your most important person goes off to a war zone or you leave your family and homeland for a war zone.

I knew it would be a few days before I heard him again as he made his way, zig-zagging across the planet to his final destination. So I hunkered down and prepared myself for the waiting game and tried not to worry. The next morning I tried to sleep in, which wasn't hard because I wasn't sleeping well. About nine in the morning my cell phone rang, and it was HIS ring. I ran for the phone.

"Hello? Babes?"
(rustling noises)

It took me a moment to realize he wasn't on the line and it seemed like he had somehow pocket dialed me. I tried to call his name out when his voice got a little louder and it seemed like he was near his phone, but he didn't hear me. I didn't have the heart to hang up, so I stayed on the line and just tried to hold onto him by listening to him moving around and talking with the other folks he was traveling with.

Pretty soon I realized he was going through a farewell ceremony and I could hear him going down a line of people saying "Thank you, thank you..thank you." As each one wished them well, shook their hands and sent them off I could hear the same thank yous from the men behind him and in front of him as they walked to the plane. It was such a sweet moment to hear the appreciation and love I wanted to be giving to him in that moment being given to him by others. My heart swelled a bit.

Then I heard them get on the plane and there was lots of joking around and loud rustling as they all found their seats and got settled. Then I listened to him just goofing around with everyone for a while. Then I heard the chaplain stand up and offer a prayer.

I sat and cried while I listened to that prayer. Oh, the depth and meaningfulness of prayers in our most dire moments. I loved hearing him pray for our service members on that plane. And then he said the words that caught my ear, melted into my heart and will stay with me forever. He prayed at some length for the families of those service members that they would be watched over, protected, cared for and loved. That they would return to find them well when their deployment was over.

I realized at that moment that while we are praying for them with all our hearts, their chief concern is us, their loved ones at home. They are so far away and can do so little to help in times of trouble. That is very hard for a warrior heart! Feeling helpless is something they do not well. They are problem solvers and caretakers, take-charge types who like to attack problems and get them solved PRONTO. You can imagine how hard it must be for them to be so far away, so out of touch with things at home. They worry about us. They pray for us.

So with all those prayers being offered collectively and individually for us by our service members, we should take care and comfort on the homefront that their prayers are just as powerful and plentiful as ours. We are prayed for and watched over too.

I stayed with him, on the phone for about an hour until I realized they were preparing for takeoff. It was hard to hang up knowing it would be the last time I talked to him on his cell. But my heart was full and I knew it was time. Later when I did talk to him, I told him what had happened. He was much more surprised than I imagined. He said I am so happy you were there! It was so amazing, there was a huge crowd of people there sending us off. It was really special. I am so glad you got to hear all of that and to hear the Chaplain's Prayer!

My husband has pocket dialed me maybe twice in five years. I know that accidental pocket dial was no accident in the big picture, but rather a miraculous gift. I treasure the blessing of that day.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

10 Tips For Writing To Deployed Loved Ones

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I wanted to put together a follow up to my post yesterday about the importance of snail mail in minimizing the symptoms of PTSD. I thought I would share all the quick tips I've used to make it easy to whip up a letter and get it in the mail quickly.

1) Create a letter writing kit. I have been using an old box from his combat boots. I keep everything in one place including all the things I will list below. So it's easy to pull out the box, whip out some letters, put it all in the box and put the box away. I don't spend any time looking for paper, pens, stamps, envelopes, etc.

2) Make you own free stationery. If you are writing frequently, paper is going to get expensive. I have used ink stamps, our daughter's markers, sticker and Sharpie's to create fun, lively stationery. I have used 8X11 inch copy paper for my letters for the most part so that they can be easily compiled for our family history when he returns. I also only write on the front side so the letters are easy to read.

2) Chose a standard size envelope. I decided to just go with #10 business size envelopes because I could fit a little more in them and then they would be very easy for him to keep organized in a box over there. I do still send cards & other things occasionally, but I thought it would be easiest for him to keep track of them all if them were all pretty much standard.

3) Keep a supply of different stamps on hand. First thing to know is that letters to international U.S. military bases are postaged according to the same rates for mail in the U.S. No additional postage is necessary for basic letters. I keep three different books of stamps in my letter writing kit. I keep a book or two of the standard First Class Letter stamps, a book of 20 cent stamps and a book of postcard stamps. The First Class stamps cover most of my letter writing needs.

If I include an article or extra papers with my letter it may be over limit. When I know my letter is a little bulkier than normal, I slap a 20 cent stamp on to pay for the extra weight. This is much cheaper than using a second first class stamp. That wasted 20+ cents can really add up over time. Then I use the post card stamps for our daughter to send frequent little notes to her Daddy and for when we're traveling to send him a postcard from whatever places we visit. The cheesier the post card the better. My favorite was a glitter-covered one from Las Vegas. My husband detests glitter.

4) Create a stockpile of funny and inspiring articles. When you run across an article in a newspaper, magazine or from a website that you think he would enjoy, make a copy and put it in your box. I went to a few favorite websites and printed out inspiring articles for an hour or so and then just stockpiled them in the bottom of my letter writing box. I added to it as I went along and have always had a nice stack of things to choose from. Now I always have something to pop in the mail to him with a quick note attached for those days when I can't write a longer letter or don't have anything that seems very interesting to say. While typed letters may be faster to write and easier to read, there is something much more personal about a handwritten letter from a loved one so I write by hand.

5) Embarrass him by decorating your envelopes. As I mentioned in my previous post, my husband once made a comment about how embarrassing my brightly colored envelope drawings, especially with hearts, are. I'm all for embarrassing people with outpourings of love. Just avoid anything too embarrassing or that might get them into hot water.

6) Number your letters and the outside envelopes too. Chances are several letters may arrive to them on the same day. By numbering them they know what order to open and read the letters. This is also great for later when you are saving all those letters for family history, which we absolutely are! Easy to organize the envelopes when they are numbered on the outside. I number mine in the bottom left hand corner every time for consistency and ease.

7) Write a few letters at a time and then mail them throughout the week. Sometimes I have put together three to five letters on a Sunday and mailed them throughout the week. The first letters may have most recent news in them. Then I will write a few notes with fun or inspiring articles in them and a couple of more generic letters with things I have wanted to talk to him about that are not time sensitive. Once I have them all numbered I can drop one in the mailbox each day on my way out of the building.

8) If you have kids (or even nieces & nephews) get them involved. It's easiest to take some time over the weekend and have our daughter write three letters to her dad that we can mail through the week. I usually try to do two post cards and one letter on paper in an envelope. She will write a few sentences on the post cards.

Now she writes most of her letters too, but at the beginning when she couldn't write full sentences and sometimes now if I can see she is getting tired I have her tell me what to say and I write the words on paper for her. Having her draw pictures is easy with a one line note. On postcards she will often draw a tiny picture and then just a sentence about how dad is the most wonderful dad in the entire world and then a LOT of XOXOXOXOs all over the page. They she can mail them throughout the week on her way out the door to go to school. I think Daddy actually likes these letters best.

9) Keep your letters upbeat and cheerful. Don't make your letters a depressing sob fest of I miss yous and I can't live without yous. Not encouraging or helpful to a guy stuck somewhere far away. Be upbeat, tell him about all the great things you are doing and that you are taking care of yourself well. Keep it light and loving. Keep him excited to receive your letters.

10) Consider what is most supportive for your loved one and do that. I read about a wife that wrote her husband a letter every day and how much he loved that. Well, I learned fairly quickly that a letter a day was more than my husband had time to even look at and the letters started stockpiling and getting a little overwhelming to him. So I cut back and that worked better for us. Don't worry about what anyone else is doing. Listen to your loved one and figure out what is best for him. But as I mentioned in my previous post, if they act like they don't need snail mail TLC, don't believe it. Keep writing!

Whatever you do during deployment you can never go wrong by consistently reassuring your loved one of your support and love. Snail mail is one of the most powerful, visual, tactile ways you can do that. So grab a pen, create a letter writing kit and make use of the U.S. Postal System.

If you have any other tips, please share them in the comments below. I am all for learning new tricks for mailing letters to deployed loved ones.

P.S. You can check out a little write up on not sending those letters and emails you write when you are hoping mad right here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Minimizing PTSD Symptoms With Snail Mail

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In our pre-deployment phase and the beginning weeks of our deployment I read everything I could get my hands on about helping families thrive through deployment. I learned a lot and I would encourage anyone facing deployment or struggling with it to turn to all the amazing books, blogs and programs designed to help support military families. There is no reason to suffer in silence.

After what I had read, I decided I was going to be one of those women who wrote their other half every day. I printed out inspiring articles from magazines and websites that I could include with a short note. Some days I wrote details about how things were going here and other days just notes of appreciate to him about him. I soon began to realize that this was more mail than my husband could keep up with. The letters were stacking up and frankly I think it overwhelmed him.

So I cut back to about three per week. That seems workable. I began to notice that he always seemed to kept a couple unopened after receiving them. I figured out why. I think they were life rafts for him and he always wanted to have a couple spares in his room if things got bad or he got really down. 

After he came for R and R, he said several times not to worry about sending him letters. He started encouraging me not to write, not to send care packages, etc. It was all for very practical purposes in his mind: time for me to focus on other things, save time, money, etc. He felt he was fine, didn't need the fuss, etc.

So I slowed down on the letter writing. I started writing once or twice a week. Life got significantly busier after he was here for R and R and we started talking on Skype and via telephone almost every day, sometimes a couple of times a day. 

Now we have just a a few months left of deployment and I am realizing that in a few weeks we will just stop sending mail all together. So I was thinking things were really winding down. Until last weekend.

I remembered like a bolt of lightening this post on Spousebuzz about how the more snail mail a soldier receives from home the fewer symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) he will have. There is something about having mail from home handed to you that affects people differently than an email or skype call. If there is any time we want to really fight the effects of PTSD it's while he's worn out, sick of deployment and dragging his butt to the finish line these last few months.

And you know what I have to say to my husband's suggestions that we don't really need to write much anymore? To hell with that! I am cranking up the letter writing machine again and he will be deluged with letters from now until the day he leaves. We will not forget about him and I'm surely not going to let his burdens, his fears and the stress of deployment get the best of him now when we are so close to the end.

Men so often say, "Oh, I'm okay. I don't need anything. I'm fine. Don't waste all that time, effort, money doing stuff for me." But even though they think they don't really need it, they do. Even when they think they are too tough for it, they need to be swarmed with love, caring, compassion and tenderness. They often want to just shut down their hearts and be numb during deployment and that is probably the worst thing that can happen. Care packages and letters mean the world to them once they have them in their hands and feel the love and caring they are filled with. I think real mail stabilizes hearts, opens up emotions and reminds our beloved soldiers to feel and keep their hearts open.

He used to make comments about how my letters were covered in hearts & flowers and art all over the envelopes. I know he hates standing out in a crowd and I know my letters were bright, bold and frequent. But you know what, I know he loved getting those letters. And that was as much for his coworkers as for him. I wanted him and them to know that my man was adored and missed at home. I wanted every one of them to be a little jealous. I wanted him to feel special. I wanted him to have the embarrassment of getting so many care packages and letters. 

Thankfully so many wonderful friends from our church congregation has jumped in since Christmas. The men began a letter writing campaign and I think getting letters from supportive  brothers has been a great gift to him. Our church has also sent three shipments of care packages for him to share with his church congregation and coworkers over there.

I have no idea what he's been through the past months and I know coming home is not going to be easy either. I am going to do all I can to help fight the PTSD and anything else causing him stress. 
While there is so little I can control during deployment, I can do all I can to help fight the effects of PTSD and support my man. I don't care what he says. We're going to love him up right up until the end and every day after he comes home. I have two letters to mail to him right now. One has an inspiring religious quote in it and another has a sport injury treatment idea he will like.

I'll do another post soon about letter writing & how I made it super easy for us. I will fill it with all the practical tips that make it easy to swarm them with mail.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Giving Yourself Love

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If there is one thing you should plan, schedule and budget for during deployment is is taking care of yourself. It's so easy to get lost in the stresses of deployment, caring for home and family. No matter where you are in your life there will always be more to do than there is time and energy for. So don't let it take over your life, wear you down and take away your joy.

Here are 10 things you can to do give yourself a little time and tender loving care today;

1) Get a massage, pedicure, manicure or all of the above. Budget this into your monthly spending, even if it's just a 10 minute chair massage. It will help you stay healthy in body and mind.

2) Take a 15-minute break for yourself. Step away from family, TV, computers, cell phones and find a quiet place to sit back with a cup of tea or other beverage and just be. Breathe deeply, take in the sunset, relax your body from your feet right to the top of your head.

3) Take a walk. Get your blood flowing, look at nature, get some fresh air in your lungs. You'll start reconnecting with yourself as you look up to enjoy all the world has to offer you.

4) Meditate. There are so many awesome guided meditation podcasts you can download from iTunes or other sites. There are mediations to get you energized, relax you, help you sleep, let go of hurts and anger and many more topics. They are free and will give you a chance to relax and to tune your mind to a higher frequency.

5) Take a bath. Hot water, eyes closed. Heavenly. I like this philosophy about the power of bathing.

6) Meet up with a friend. Spending even just a few minutes on the phone with an inspired, fun friend can get your energies focused in a positive, cheerful direction quickly. It's good to laugh together, share frustrations, laughs and goals.

7) Read a book. Whether it's a juicy romance or a silly comedy, reading is a great way to focus your energies on one task and give yourself a new world to escape into.

8) Wander somewhere new. Whether it a park you've never been to or a shop you've always wanted to visit, new places can revive your soul and give you fun new ideas and inspirations.

9) Take yourself to lunch. Sitting in the sun, eating something you didn't have to dig out of your own fridge can be fantastically joyful. Bring a book or a magazine and enjoy food you didn't have to make.

10) Buy yourself a little treat. It doesn't have to be expensive, it can be a new pair of earrings, a favorite magazine, a new pair of running socks. Spending money can be a very dangerous way to get through deployment, note I didn't say buy yourself a new wardrobe or roomful of furniture. But an occasional little treat won't kill the budget and it's fun!

Hope these ideas help you plan to give yourself a little more love, more time and more care. You deserve it!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Wake Up Call: My Volunteer Work Is At Home

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When I was making lists of what I would do to help this deployment year go by quickly, one thing I really wanted to do was get involved in some military volunteer organizations. I imagined myself at our local airport USO caring for traveling military members and families, or the VA hospital just up the road from our home. I wanted to adopt a soldier, send care packages to soldiers, do whatever I could to support the troops.

I learned fairly quickly that taking care of our deployed family was going to be all I could handle and more and that I needed to learn to be okay with that. Like so many things on my list of things I would do during deployment to help pass the months, I realized I already had my hands full taking care of myself and our little one and most importantly our Daddy. I had no idea the additional stresses we would face as a family and that I would face as a wife, how I would be sick more often than normal and what caring for our little one full-time alone would be like.

I hadn't thought about that fact that not only would she be growing taller while Dad was gone, but she would go through all sorts of changes in behavior, knowledge and more that I would have to learn to adapt to and parent for. I didn't account enough for how much more of me she would need with Daddy gone. I realized recently that all the discipline tools that her Dad and I have used so effectively over the past three or four years are suddenly obsolete because she has suddenly gone from little kid, to big kid. Major quick learning curve for me to hurdle.

So while dreams of serving the military masses have melted away, I am much more realistic about life and what's required of me right now. There are many more people who can help the troops and I am the only one who can be the best mommy and wife for our house right now. I'll have time to do more things outside our home later, but for now, my best and brightest volunteer service is to my own family.

Friday, March 8, 2013

I Like Having No Communications Expectations

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One of the best things we have done during deployment and so many other separations is not set a long-term prescribed time for phone or Skype calls. He may say, "I'll call you tonight about 10p." but we have never set things up so that he calls every day or on exact days and specific times. I also like that he doesn't call every day and it's not that I don't want to talk to him every day. But creating a routine can cause a lot of unnecessary stress in these situations.

Not knowing exactly when or how often he will call has actually been a big blessing to me, despite how comforting it seems like it would be to know exactly when he's going to call. Here's why. When a girl expects a call and doesn't get one, that starts a whole hamster wheel of frustration and anxiety that I just don't need or want. The conversation in girls' heads go something like this:

 He didn't call. Is he okay? Maybe something happened? Maybe he's dead and they just haven't notified me yet? They could be knocking on my door any moment! Maybe I/we don't matter to him that much. Maybe he's forgetting about me/us. Maybe he doesn't love me/us anymore? Maybe he's having an affair and he's with her right now! He's a jerk! I hate him. I want him to call so I can yell at him and tell him what a jerk he is. Now I won't be able to sleep all night. This relationship is ruining my life.

If you watch much reality TV or follow many military significant others on social media, you know I am not really exaggerating the above thought pattern much. More than likely the reality is that he is traveling, working overtime, is totally exhausted or something has happened that has created a communications blackout. Remember there are no days off on deployment, it's seven days a week, long hours every day. I have noticed when women expect to hear from their men every day, at certain times or intervals and they don't get that communication they immediately start freaking out.

For me, when I get a call I'm thrilled because I'm not already mad that it didn't happen according to my pre-set expectations. We are grateful for every chance he does have to call. I get butterflies when I'm running errands in the afternoon and he surprises me with a call. Plus that means I don't have to share phone time with anyone because the little one is at school. I laugh when he Skypes us before the alarm has gone off in the morning and I know my hair looks like Medusa. I know he calls because he is thinking of home. When I don't have expectations about how communication with him must happen I can much more easily enjoy every bit of contact we get.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Sad Loss: Our Favorite Family Restaurant

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The first few weeks after Mr. Hart deployed were a little traumatic due to sickness, inability to sleep, nightmares, a very sudden and very stressful family situation and the usual adjustments at the beginning of deployment. So on a Saturday a few weeks after he left, Clementine and I decided to go to our "family restaurant." This was the place where we most likely went out for dinner, Daddy's favorite restaurant, a gorgeous place to eat outside under tall buildings and a big blue sky.

We had been going to this restaurant since Clementine was too tiny to fit on the chairs there. The staff all knew us and when they started a "frequent diners club card" program they told us they weren't giving us a card because we'd already been getting the discount and everyone there knew us. When we walked in the door they asked us how we'd been and we always felt welcome.

So Clementine and I felt like this would be one of the best places for us to go to feel close to Daddy. Our excitement built as we walked from the parking lot around the corner to the restaurant. We turned the corner near the front door and stopped dead still in our tracks. Our restaurant was not there. It was all boarded up.

Clementine and I, both still feeling the bottled up anxiety and stresses of recent deployment stood there, in the middle of throngs of people and broke down in tears. Our Daddy has been taken from us and now one of our favorite connections to him was gone too. The world felt like it was swirling around us. So we sat down and cried for a few minutes as privately as possible. Clementine kept asking "What happened to our family restaurant? We can't ever go there again?" Her questions were painfully unbearable and there were no good answers.

Even worse was thinking about telling Mr. Hart his favorite restaurant had gone out of business. I knew he was already looking forward to his first meal there when he got home. Just months ago the restaurant owners had been planning to open a second location in a neighboring upscale shopping area.

Clementine and I went to another cafe just steps away that we had been to a few times. Our second favorite spot in the neighborhood. But it wasn't the same and we were still saddened and in shock. Our family restaurant was gone. Another little piece of our family history was taken from us. Little did we know that in the coming months more of our favorite places to go with Daddy would go out of business.

And so we wait for our Daddy to come home so that we can find a new favorite family restaurant and start building new traditions. The old landscape of our life, in many ways will be gone, but we have to remember there will be new memories and new favorite restaurants and places to go. I'll be keeping my eye out until he returns for new places to add to the list. But we will forever miss our family restaurant, a place we built many happy memories over the years.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Working "The One Thing Dad Asked of YOU" Speech

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Again as if in a scene from a "deployed military family" TV show/movie I acted out a real classic a few days ago. The tired mommy/wife lecture scene. You know the one, the "The one thing, the only thing, your dad asked you to do while he was away on deployment was to help me around the house. Do you have any idea how much I do every day? How much I have to do for you, for the house, the cars, your dad, our family, plus work every day? You could help out a little bit more, clean up your underwear off the floor, walk your dishes to the sink without being asked five times, put trash in the actual trash can instead of dropping near the trash can....."

I performed mine with a rousing outpouring of crocodile tears at the end for good effect. When I started crying, which I was not planning on, I knew it would only be seconds before she started crying too. By the time I was walking out of the room she was sobbing. "When you cry it makes me cry." I could hear her saying, then a few giant sobs came from her room by the time I reached the living room. My little one is quite a bit younger than Miss Emmalin Holden, but you get the picture, right?

What a cliche I've become. I swear every show about a military family has a scene that has come from my real life or one that will undoubtedly happen within two weeks tops. I've been re-watching Army Wives on Netflix and I swear to you every serious conversation that happens on that show between any of the couples is one this couple has had in real life. It's like they're following us or writing the script of where we're headed. The same thing with Married To The Army: Alaska. The couples in that show, each episode, were literally just weeks ahead of us in the deployment process. I learned everything I needed to know about R and R from those ladies.

I'll tell you that my speech, which I never want to use again, was incredibly effective. The rest of the evening went quite smoothly. We'll see how things go, going forward. And yes, Dad got an email detailing the events, so he can encourage a little more effort on some things the next time they talk. Just because we're apart doesn't mean we're not still totally on the same page with the parenting.

He's awesome that way. If there is one place we are super blessed to be totally on the same page it's in the parenting department. I know he has my back and he knows I have his. We are almost in ditto speak when it comes to what we want and think should be done in that department. Lucky there. And I have to say I love that every military dad I've ever crossed paths with, in real life or on TV, when talking to their kids before deployment has said "I expect you to help you mother while I'm gone." Good daddies!

So even if we are a total cliche military family in some ways, we're making it. We know we can do it. And we'll do whatever we have to do to thrive...even if it's a military wife/mom classic like "What was the one thing your dad asked you to do before he deployed" speech.

Okay mamas, have you used this speech? If so, how many times? Did it work?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Make A Love Board To Keep You Connected

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When your loved one is far away and communication is rugged at best it's easy to feel a strain in the relationship. You are at home taking care of all the problems, getting calls that are all business from the other side of the world. Water heaters need to be replaced, the brakes need repair, you need to mind the finances. Even when you are communicating often it can still be pretty unfulfilling.

It's way too easy to let the distance, lack of communication and resentment start to build up. I am sure I am not alone when I say it's easy to start believing that there is no way your relationship will last the deployment or beyond. It's doesn't take much for those negative feelings to creep in and for you to start forgetting about all the great reasons you have to celebrate your love, your other half and your future.

I came up with an idea a few months ago that has made a world of difference for me in how I stay connected to Mr. Hart, our love, our life, our history and our future. I created a Love Board. I put a small bulletin board on the wall in my bathroom right next to the vanity. This is somewhere I spend time every day, so it's a great spot with high visibility and yet still very private.

On this bulletin board I started pinning up things that remind me of his love for me. He is not a big love note writer, but when I started looking I realized I had a lot more than I thought. Here are the things on my love board:

  • The card from last year's Valentine's flowers when he was on the opposite coast in training
  • The note he left with the first gift he ever gave me
  • A poem he wrote me the week we met years ago
  • A couple of charming emails
  • A string of beads from our New Year 2013 celebrations when he was here on R and R
  • A bracelet he bought me on vacation last year
  • A couple of dried roses from a bouquet he sent
  • My favorite "cute couple" photos
  • The deeply heartfelt "in case I never see you again you need to know" text he sent me just before take off for deployment
  • The first key he gave me to his place years ago
  • Postcards & notes from deployment
I've added to my board little by little over time. Every time I see it, it reminds me that he loves me and has shown it for a long time. That we are solid, that we are strong, that we love, that we can make it, that we can  have a wonderful future together.

My Love Board is really one of the most powerful ways I have stayed connected to him during this long separation. If your loved one is gone a lot, you might like having a Love Board too. It sure helps keep the over-thinking, crazy lady behavior under control. haha. It's a great blessing to keep you strong and steady each day, focused on what's most important and what really matters to you.

Do you have a love board or something like that which keeps you connected to what's most important? I'd love to hear about it. Leave a comment below. I always like hearing from you.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Other Side Of The World

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It's funny how you read things about deployment and reintegration and think, I don't see that happening to us. My guy is different. Well, Mr. Hart, is very good about staying up to date on things, he's pretty perceptive, smart, etc. When he came back for R and R I didn't notice anything too weird with him.

It wasn't until just last week that I realized that he has been living on the other side of the world for a while now and he is really out of touch. He was telling me about things that I've known about for ages as if they were totally new to him. I am realizing more and more too how totally disconnected he is to what's going on here in our family, even though we Skype and talk several times a week. Those brief bits of contact still are in no way tying him into what our life is like or even who we are at this stage. It's a little shocking to say the least.

Even weirder is that he was just here two months ago. So it seems even more bizarre that this weirdness is at its apex right now. Lately when I talk to him it feels impossible to really explain anything to him because I'm building on factor after factor that he knows nothing about. It's like trying to explain an egg and a chicken to someone who has never seen either one. I know there will be no way to get him caught up on everything because I don't even know what he does and doesn't understand. I imagine we'll just have to iron it all out when he gets back because there's no fixing it at this point. Just another one of those things you hear about and can't imagine happening to you....and then it does.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Our Daddy Doll

image via Daddy Dolls

I don't remember how we first learned about Daddy Dolls but I am definitely a huge fan. Our Daddy Doll is in uniform, from a photo taken the last day he saw Clementine before he deployed. Our beloved Daddy Doll and Clementine have been fast friends since the day he arrived in the mail to us. She sleeps with Daddy under her arm every night, he always sits on the couch with her to watch kid shows or deployment videos. He rides in the car with us and some days she leaves him at home "because he needs to stand guard" while we're away.

Our doll even has a short 10-second voice recorder with a cheery message from Daddy to his little girl. We love hearing Daddy's voice, although it can be a little annoying when it gets bumped and starts playing out unexpectedly or a little scary when you hear a voice and can't figure out where it's coming from. But it's removable, so on those Sundays when Daddy Doll has gone to church with us, I've just popped the recorder out of the back of the doll before we go.

Daddy Dolls come in three sizes, 12", 17" and the more than three feet tall Big Daddy. We have the 17" doll, but there has been a serious campaign going on by a certain little person for the BIG one.

It was great fun to introduce Daddy to Daddy Doll during R and R. I'm sure it's a little weird for him. But we love our Daddy Doll. He often snuggles in bed with us in the early mornings when Clementine sneaks into my room. He travels with us. I have even been know to occasionally talk to him by myself, just a hello, or a "Wish you were here." Clementine will squeal in disgust if I pretent to flirt with Daddy Doll and give him a kiss on the lips. She's at that age where any adults kissing is completely scream-worthy. "Ewwwww! Dis-s-s-s-gusting!"

If you know a small child who is saying goodbye to a parent for a military deployment I can't recommend a Daddy or Mommy doll enough. Such comfort for young children and a great way for them to stay visually connected to their parent who is far away for a long time. We have received other deployment stuffed animals and dolls but this one stands head and shoulders above the rest - and he's so handsome too. Haha.