Friday, May 31, 2013

Jen's Music Selections

This week, we're having a red, white, and blue spangled celebration! I'm feeling particularly joyful and rah-rah-go-America since John will be home soon. But, because he'll be home soon, I've got tons of things that need to be done-- including quite a few trips across four states over the next two weeks. 

Of course, I didn't want to leave my wonderful readers and friends high and dry  I've got some amazing bloggers for you to meet! They're all awesome at what they do-- whether it's crafting, baking, cooking, creating-- and I'm positive you're going to love them!

Check out all of the Made in America Week posts here.

When it comes to Patriotism, America does everything but fall short from proudly showing our support for our troops, their families and our ever infamous Red, White and Blue American Flag. Tunes blare loudly across the country that thank our Military, boast about our freedom and gives so many a form of encouragement and way to express emotions based off what is or has taken place in their own lives.

Hi friends!! I'm Jen!! I blog over at Marine Wife, Mommy & Life. I have an addiction, one that has been with me for as long as I can remember. Music. All genres of music. From Opera to HipHop, Rock to Country, my CD collection is ginormous and my iPod could play for well over a month straight without ever repeating the same song.

Over a year ago I blogged about music that reminds me of our Military, their loved ones and patriotic tunes in general that you can view HERE.

Of course there are so many more, including several that I sadly forgot to mention and numerous new wonderful tunes that have been released since then!

My new favorite, Little Soldiers by: David Kroll (can read about him HERE) that is about our Military, their wives and their "Little Soldiers" while their loved one is off defending our Nation. Yes, I cried the first time I heard it, as hits home so well with my husband's impending deployment later this year.

Another favorite of mine isn't really a song, but a poem, written by a US Marine, SSGT Lawrence E. Dean II, after the attacks on our Nation on 11 Sept 01. A VERY strong message that never gets old listening to.

What Songs remind you of our Amazing Military Members, their loved ones and the Land of the Free & Home of the Brave?

Here are a few more of my personal Favorites. I hope you enjoy!

 God Bless Our Troops and those that Stand Beside Them!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Jess's American Flag Seven-Layer Dip

This week, we're having a red, white, and blue spangled celebration! I'm feeling particularly joyful and rah-rah-go-America since John will be home soon. But, because he'll be home soon, I've got tons of things that need to be done-- including quite a few trips across four states over the next two weeks. 

Of course, I didn't want to leave my wonderful readers and friends high and dry  I've got some amazing bloggers for you to meet! They're all awesome at what they do-- whether it's crafting, baking, cooking, creating-- and I'm positive you're going to love them!

Check out all of the Made in America Week posts here.

Hi Jo, My Gosh readers! My name is Jess and I blog over at Flying on Jess Fuel. I'm a foodie, home cook, and proud Navy wife, and I've been reading Jo's blog ever since I first spotted one of her adorable care package ideas on Pinterest! I've always loved cooking, and on my blog I share my recipes and adventures in the kitchen. Jo asked me to share a patriotic recipe with her readers today and I was really excited to share one of my favorites! American Flag 7-Layer Dip from

 I love any excuse to make fun themed food (holidays!), but I find that most of the ideas floating around the internet are dessert ideas. I love dessert more than most people, but sometimes I want to find something more unique to make. I came up with the idea for this dip after eating many berry flag cakes. Blueberries and strawberries make good stars and stripes, so why not tomatoes and beans!? I made this recipe for the 4th of July last year, but it would also be great at homecoming parties or any other patriotic event! I hope you enjoy the recipe and come check out my blog for more delicious food including another patriotic idea: Revolutionary Berries.

American Flag 7-Layer Dip

You'll Need:
  • 1 (16 oz) can refried beans
  • 2 cups shredded white cheddar cheese, divided
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1 (2.25 oz) can sliced olives (optional)
  • 1 (16 oz) jar salsa
  • 1 (16 oz) container sour cream
  • 1/4 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 pint grape tomatoes, halved

Spread the refried beans on the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking pan or casserole dish. Sprinkle 1 1/2 cups of the cheese, the scallions and olives on top. Then spread a layer of salsa over top, then a layer of sour cream.
Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup cheese on top. Carefully decorate the surface as a flag, using the black beans and tomatoes. Serve cold or hot (pop in the oven at 375 degrees until the top is bubbly) with tortilla chips!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Julie's Patriotic Bread

This week, we're having a red, white, and blue spangled celebration! I'm feeling particularly joyful and rah-rah-go-America since John will be home soon. But, because he'll be home soon, I've got tons of things that need to be done-- including quite a few trips across four states over the next two weeks. 

Of course, I didn't want to leave my wonderful readers and friends high and dry  I've got some amazing bloggers for you to meet! They're all awesome at what they do-- whether it's crafting, baking, cooking, creating-- and I'm positive you're going to love them!

Check out all of the Made in America Week posts here.

Julie Moore is a wife (married for 12 1/2 years) and mother of 3 (ages 10, 9 and 2). She is also the author of Natural and Free, which provides allergy-friendly recipes and helpful information for those who suffer from or care for those suffering from one to all of the top 8 allergens. She also authors Fibro, Fit and Fab! where she chronicles her journey to becoming fit and fabulous in all aspects of her life despite having Fibromyalgia. Posts about her life in general and topics she is passionate about pop up there, too.

Hello, all!  I am so thrilled to be a guest on Jo, My Gosh! and share a patriotic recipe with you today!

When I thought about what type of recipe I could share with you that fit the patriotic theme Jo asked for, I have to admit that at first I was stumped.  I wanted to keep with my theme (allergy-friendly food), and most of the patriotic foods I had seen in the past were not so allergy-friendly.  I thought about modifying some of those recipes, but then I realized they would end up being more than a little complex, and I really wanted to share a simple recipe with y'all, because what good is a recipe unless you're going to try it, right?  Right. :)

It was then that I remembered an ultra simple recipe that I have on my blog called Blueberry Bread that could easily be modified to fit the patriotic-theme!  I already had the blue in the blueberries, I could add strawberries for the red and use white whole wheat flour for the white and walla!  Delish, allergy-friendly (it is soy-free if you use all soy-free ingredients, fish/seafood, egg and tree nut/peanut-free, and can be wheat and milk-free (see variations below)) Patriotic Bread was born!

This recipe is beyond easy and so, so good!  I mean, it has a streusel top and strawberry and blueberry goodness inside, people!  What's not to love!?!?

Though you can't see the red, white and blue throughout it (it kinda gives off a brownish-purple vibe), I hope that you will enjoy the spirit of the recipe and that it becomes a tradition for your patriotic holiday meals! :)

Patriotic Bread

You'll Need: 
  • ½ Cup salted, full-fat butter
  •  1 Cup white sugar 
  • 1 ½ Cups soy-free flour
  • (I recommend using a white wheat flour such as King Arthur brand but all-purpose is fine.) 
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda 
  • ½ - 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cinnamon 
  • 1/2 to 3/4 Cups mashed blueberries
  • (This is about 1 to 1 1/2 Cups blueberries before you mash them.) 
  • 1/2 to 3/4 Cups mashed strawberries
  • (This is about 1 to 1 1/2 Cups strawberries before you mash them.)
Streusel topping:
  • 1/4 Cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 Tablespoons soy-free flour (use the same type you use in the bread)
  • 2 Tablespoons salted, full-fat butter, softened 
  • 2 Tablespoons soy-free rolled oats (I use quick cooking)

  1. Preheat oven to 325oF.
  2. Grease 8x4 or 9x5 inch loaf pan.
  3. In a large bowl, cream the 1/2 Cup butter and white sugar.
  4. Add the 1 1/2 Cups flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Mix well. (Note: The amount of salt and cinnamon is based on personal preference.  I find that 1/2 teaspoon of salt is plenty.  I enjoy the flavor of cinnamon, so I use the full teaspoon. If you do not, use the 1/2 teaspoon or leave it out entirely.)
  5. Blend in mashed blueberries and strawberries. (I like to use a potato masher.) (Note: You can use frozen berries if you thaw them, just make sure you drain off any excess liquid before mashing them. Amount of mashed berries you use depends on personal preference and how liquidity your mashed berries are.)
  6. Pour/scoop into prepared pan.
  7. Prepare the streusel topping in a small bowl, by mixing 1/4 Cup brown sugar with 2 Tablespoons flour, then stir in 2 Tablespoons butter with a fork until crumbly before adding the 2 Tablespoons oats.
  8. Sprinkle streusel topping onto bread.
  9. Bake for 60 to 75 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Variations (Please remember to keep your particular allergen needs in mind when using substitutions!):
  • Gluten/Wheat-Free Version: Substitute Gluten-Free (Such as King Arthur Brand) flour for the flour. You may also have to add up to 1/2 teaspoon ground flax seed or xanthan gum to the mix as well for texture issues.
  • Milk-Free Version:Substitute olive, corn or canola oil or dairy-free butter (like Earth Balance) for the butter in the bread and grease the pan with olive, corn or canola oil or dairy-free butter. It works wonderfully! You will have to use a dairy-free butter in the streusel or leave it off, as well.
  • Berry Bread: Use any type of berry (i.e. raspberries, blackberries, cherries) in place of the blueberries and strawberries, or use any mix of berries that you wish, just do not exceed 1 1/2 Cups total of mashed berries.
  • Mix In Fruit/Nuts: You can always add some dried or fresh berries/ cherries and/or nuts to the bread, too, but no more than 1 Cup total mix-ins. Make sure that any fruit is either dried or fresh, though. Extra frozen berries/cherries make a mush mess!
  • Less/No Streusel: If you are not fond of streusel, just leave it off. If you like it but think the amount is too much, reduce the ingredients in the streusel by 1/2 and make as directed.
  • Patriotic Muffins: This recipe would be great as muffins! Just divide the batter equally among 12 to 18 paper-lined muffin cups, top batter with streusel topping and bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the center muffins comes out clean.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Stacey's Patriotic Trifle Bowl

This week, we're having a red, white, and blue spangled celebration! I'm feeling particularly joyful and rah-rah-go-America since John will be home soon. But, because he'll be home soon, I've got tons of things that need to be done-- including quite a few trips across four states over the next two weeks. 

Of course, I didn't want to leave my wonderful readers and friends high and dry  I've got some amazing bloggers for you to meet! They're all awesome at what they do-- whether it's crafting, baking, cooking, creating-- and I'm positive you're going to love them!

Check out all of the Made in America Week posts here.

Hi, everybody! {waving}

Let me introduce myself!

I'm Stacey and I blog over at Glued To My Crafts. I'm an Air Force wife & mother to a two year boy. We currently live in Wyoming. I'm so happy to be guest posting here today. While Jo is heading towards the end of a deployment (YAY!) I'm entering the beginning of one. So when you visit my blog you might see stories of military life & deployment woes. But I like to keep it positive with crafty things, yummy foods and reviews. I hope you come check it out! But not until you check out the recipe I'm sharing today. Ready to drool?

When Jo asked me to share a post today, I automatically envisioned a Trifle Bowl. By far, it's my favorite dessert to make AND eat.

But I admit it, the original recipe didn't start as a "Patriotic" themed recipe. But after looking at it, it surely fit the role. It's got red, white & blue colors going on and YES, it's DELICIOUS! It's perfect for any summer gathering. You will be sure to "wow" your guests.

Ready to hear the recipe? Let's grab our ingredients.

Patriotic Trifle Bowl

You'll Need: 

  • 1 cup cold milk
  • 1 8 ounce container sour cream
  • 1 package 3.4 ounce instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated orange peel
  • 2 cups heavy whipped cream, whipped
  • 8 cups cubed angel food cake (or pound cake)
  • 2 packages of fresh strawberries, sliced
  • 2 packages of fresh blueberries


1. Whip your whipping cream until light & fluffy. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, beat your milk, sour cream, pudding mix and orange peel on low speed until thickened. Fold in your prepared whipped cream.

3. Now you will want to make layers of cake, pudding mix & fruit-until you fill your trifle up completely.

4. Chill in refrigerator for about 2 hours before serving. Enjoy!

What do you think? Looks delicious, right? 
And you don't necessarily have to use vanilla pudding for this recipe. You can easily substitute with any flavor of pudding you like or substitute the fruit as you like. I'm sure it will still taste delicious no matter what you decide to throw in with the pudding mixture.

A big thank you to Jo for letting me stop by today. I hope you all enjoyed the recipe I shared today.

For other crafty ideas come check out my blog Glued To My Crafts. You can also catch me on Twitter, find me on Facebook or see me pinning away on Pinterest.

*waving* Bye, friends!

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Blog Hop and Special Announcement!

The next two weeks are going to be insanely busy for me, so I've brought in some help-- my wonderful, wonderful blogging friends! Starting Sunday, you'll be treated to my first-ever Made in America Week! Check back every day to see what star-spangled treats and crafts are being shared from some of the most wonderful women in the blogosphere! 

Until then, enjoy the Weekend Social Mix Blog Hop and have a safe, happy Memorial Day!
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Friday, May 24, 2013

6 Songs for a Homecoming Playlist

Remember my very last care package? In that post, I mentioned that I sent John a CD with a homecoming mix on it. It was titled, "Welcome Home, Now Let's Get Married." Here are the homecoming-themed songs that I put on it. I'm going to keep the love songs just between John and me, but feel free to enjoy the homecoming songs!

1. Hello Goodbye- The Beatles

2. Beyond the Sea- Bobby Darrin

3. A** Back Home- Gym Class Heroes

4. Kiss Me When You Come Home - Hanson

5. I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time- The Andrews Sisters

6. I'm Coming Home- Diddy-Dirty Money

photo credit: robin ... via photopin cc
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Thursday, May 23, 2013

3 Programs to Use During Deployment

There are tons of programs run by nonprofits, businesses, and organizations that are specifically designed to support and help deployed service members and their families during deployment.

Today, I'm highlighting the three that John and I found.  I didn't really use many programs or organizations while John was deployed. In fact, these were the only three that we purposefully sought out and utilized. All three of them were absolutely wonderful and helpful.

If you're looking for more programs than these three, there are many more online and on Pinterest. These, however, are top-notch programs that I can vouch for.

1. StarKist's "Tuna for Soldiers" Program.   As you may have gleaned from how much tuna I've sent John over the past year, he really, really likes it.  If you haven't seen them yet, StarKist makes single-serving, ready-to-eat, flavored tuna packets. They're not very expensive, but it does add up if you're buying them for a year. I emailed StarKist to see if they would throw some coupons my way. Instead, I received this email: 
"StarKist proudly salutes and supports the United States Troops. We appreciate your thinking of us and are gratified to know that our troops enjoy and use our products.We do have a "Tuna for Soldiers" program in which units that request it are sent StarKist Tuna pouch products. Product can only be sent to an APO or FPO Address. Please provide complete APO/FPO address information by email below....Thank you for your interest in StarKist and especially thanks for your bravery and support during these difficult times. Just know that all of us here at StarKist appreciate the efforts of our men and women in uniform."

Jackie, StarKist Consumer Affairs

I submitted John's name and address and forgot about it. About two months later, John emailed me and said he had received a giant box of tuna packets from StarKist. I can't tell you how much we both appreciated this exceptionally generous program. Pretty cool.

2. Free Photo Book from the USO and RocketLife. When I saw this pop on (where else?) Pinterest, I was skeptical. I was sure the the offer had probably expired or that I wouldn't be able to run the application on my elderly laptop. I tried it out on the off chance that it might work and created a photo book of all of our engagement photos (which John hadn't seen yet). The website was easy to navigate and it was just as easy to put the book together. It took about 2-3 weeks for John to receive it. And yes, it was completely, utterly free. Click here to go to the site.

3. Cup of Joe for a Joe. If you have someone serving overseas (it doesn't need to be in a war-zone), encourage them to sign up for the Green Beans Cafe's Cup of Joe for a Joe program. The program matches micro-donations from civilians in the States of cups of coffee and bags of coffee (and personal notes of encouragement) to deployed members of the military. John signed up for the program at the beginning of his year and has been treated to quite a few cups of coffee from kind folks during his deployment.
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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Very, Very, Very Last Care Package!

I know, I know. When I posted the Harry Potter Care Package, I made the announcement that it was the last one.

At the time, I was pretty sure it was.

It wasn't.

I couldn't help sending one more, especially since the mail only takes 5-7 days for John to receive it.

This box was one that I had been thinking about for quite some time, actually since the Halfway There Box. I had immortalized Bon Jovi with that one, and then Bruce Springsteen with the Born to Run Box. But really, The Beatles are where it's at. And the lyrics of "Hello Goodbye" fit perfectly for the end of a deployment-- John is saying goodbye to the people he worked with over there... and I will be saying hello to him again! Yay!

I used a tie-dyed plastic tablecloth from Walmart  for the background of the box. It was 99 cents, and actually cheaper than the  tie-dyed scrapbook paper I found.

The box is a small Priority Mail box. I filled it with snacks for the plane (yogurt fruit snacks, wasabi soy roasted almonds, and an Oreo brownie.) I fit in some reading material for the plane-- All My Friends are Still Dead. The first book made John laugh until he cried, and even though it will take him about 90 seconds to read the whole thing, I figure it'll keep him laughing for hours. I also included bride and groom stress balls that I had gotten (for free) at a bridal show. I just thought they were cute and would make John smile.  There was a mixed CD ("Welcome Home, Let's Get Married!") to listen to on the trip home and the letters that I had written John but couldn't send anymore because they'd arrive after he left.

See? You really can jam a lot into small Priority boxes!

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And in other news, I was selected as the Mystery Host for the Wednesday Walkabout. I've gotten to know a lot of the bloggers who participate (and have sponsored or been sponsored by them). They're a great bunch! Check 'em out!!

What is a Walkabout? It's a blog link-up party, every week here and with our co-hosts! Simply put your blog address or a specific post in the linky, visit some other people, and make some friends. Easy at that! I can't wait to talk to everyone!
PS: You only have to link up with ONE of the co-hosts!
The Rules:
1. Please follow at least ONE hostess, and let us know you're a new follower and how to follow you! To be entered as next week's Mystery Host, follow all hosts from this week. 
Mystery Host Jo- Jo, My Gosh!
Chantal- Scattered Shells
Jane- Poppiness
2. Try to visit 3-4 blogs that interest you. Take some time and let them know where you came from.
3. Grab the button and spread the word! (Not required, but just cool if you do). The more, the merrier.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

5 MORE Ways to Save on Care Packages (Without Sacrificing Quality!)

Yesterday, I posted my first five tips for how to save on care packages. Today, here are my final five tips for saving money on care packages during deployment.  I hope they work for you! 

1. Use packaging that matters. No matter how skilled you are at Tetris-ing your care package, you will probably have nooks and crannies and extra space in your care package. Even if it's small, use that space to your advantage. John appreciates when I use plastic shopping bags as packing material-- he can reuse the bags and is always in need of them. Can't fit the whole box of granola bars in intact? Open the box up and slip individual bars in the cracks between the other items. Write a whole slew of letters and wedge them into small spaces.  Make sure that what packing material you do use either makes your recipient smile or is useful-- don't just send wadded up newspaper.

2. Get friendly with dollar stores, dollar sections, and clearance shelves. Face it-- most of what you're sending in care packages will either be consumed, thrown away, ruined, or left behind when your recipient comes home. Choose your expensive items carefully. If you're looking for items that are disposable, check out discount stores. My five-and-ten of choice is Five Below (they always seem to have the funkiest, most interesting stuff), but I've also found helpful items at The Dollar Tree. Check the ends of the shelving rows at Michael's and Staples-- usually they will hide their heavily discounted clearance items there. Target and Michael's also have pretty awesome dollar sections that have both raw crafting materials and gift items. (Watch the coupons for Michael's-- they will sometimes have coupons that can be used for total purchases, as well as their standard 40%-off one item. Michael's also has a 15% teacher's discount, if you are one.) 

3. Use free materials. If you haven't heard yet, the USPS will deliver care package supplies right to your door!  They'll ship you different sizes of the boxes and customs forms (which you can also pick up for free at any post office); however, their Care Package Kit also includes free packing tape. Packing tape is expensive. Spend three minutes on the phone and save yourself some dough. Click here for more information.

4. Send homemade! Don't be afraid of sending homemade goodies-- both edible and otherwise. I sent John homemade Christmas ornaments, an origami picture frame, a picture-a-day calendar, hand warmers, not to mention the dozens of granola bars and cookies I've shipped.

5. Avoid single-serving foods when possible. Since single-serving products are almost patently more expensive than bulk ones, this is a great place to save money. Depending on the situation, this can be tough. John was in a situation where I could send him whole boxes of cereal and packages of cookies and crackers because he had a place to store them. I also made my own single-serving foods by measuring out the serving sizes and bagging them in small Ziploc sandwich bags. 

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Welcome to the first week of Link Up Tuesday's Blog Hop! Be sure to come back and join us every Tuesday to link up your Blog, Bloglovin', Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Interested in co-hosting? Contact me at crazycraftiness [at] gmail [com]. For the time being co-host spots are free, so be sure to take advantage of it!

This is a great way to find other blogs to follow and find exposure for yours. 


1. Follow your host and co-hosts
2. Grab the blog hop button and post on your sidebar or blog hop page to help promote this hop. The more people who join the better!
Crafty Craziness & Living the Hooah Life
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3. If you're new, leave a comment and we will return the favor :)
4. Tweet, Facebook, Pin about this hop. The more people who know, the more exposure your blog gets! <not required but would be nice :)

Meet your lovely co-hosts!

Jo @ Jo, My Gosh! 
Christine @ I Dig Pinterest

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Monday, May 20, 2013

5 Ways to Save on Care Packages (Without Sacrificing Quality!)

Care packages can be expensive. Really expensive. Shipping, even with Priority Boxes is pricey... and then you still need to fill them.  

I will be very honest:  I was pretty bad at staying in a budget while shopping for John's care packages, although I know I didn't spend as much as other people do. Depending on the box and what I sent, I spent between $20-40 on large boxes (not including postage).  That adds up quickly!

It's not that I began the deployment wanting to blow the bank; in fact, I tried very hard to be thrifty (and generally speaking, I really watch my spending). Those darn emotions got in the way, quite a bit. Every time I saw something that I knew John would like-- ooh, organic coffee from the gently shaded side of a mystical mountain in Uganda!-- I wanted to buy it. After all, we weren't able to spend time together and he was in a dangerous, monotonous place far from home-- I was guilty for being at safe and comfy, homesick for John, and worried about him. I

The more I tried, the better got at being cost effective as the months wore on. I was able to buy and ship more for less and I reigned in the exceptionally emotional spending of the first two or three months. I hope you can use these to help maximize your budget (and the goodies for your lucky recipient)! 

1. Learn how to play Tetris.  And then apply those skills to filling your care package to the max. Over the past year, I've become pretty good at being able to jam-- I mean, artfully fit-- a ton of stuff into whatever Priority Box I'm mailing so that I don't have to use too much, if any, packaging material. Remember, Priority Boxes are flat-rate; it makes more sense to try to fit in 25 items in your box than fitting in only 20 items and filling the rest with useless packaging. 

2. Shop after-holiday sales. I know that not everyone has the luxury of time to plan before a deployment, but if you know that one is coming up and will be long, start stocking up on the items that you know you'll be including in packages later.  I shopped after-Christmas, -Valentine's Day, and -Easter sales last year (and saved anywhere between 75-90% off the original price). I put the items away and kept a list of what I had bought so that I knew what I had to work with later.

3. Buy in bulk and then split it up. I found an amazing, amazing sale on wasabi soy almonds a few months ago. (I spent about $25 on merchandise that would have cost $70 regularly.) Naturally, I bought every package. I could lay my hands on. Even though I wanted to (because I know how much John likes them), I didn't send them all at once. Instead, I sent them a little at a time. That way, John always had some of the foods that he really liked and I wasn't tempted to buy more when they weren't on sale.

4. Buy only what you've planned. I did a really poor job of this at the beginning of the deployment. Because I felt so powerless, I ended up buying insane quantities of things that I still don't have use for. I have too much scrapbook paper, stickers, colored tape, and miscellaneous gift items that I (likely) won't use.  I wish I would have bought single sheets of scrapbook paper instead of the tear-out books. I wish I would have also bought stickers as I needed them, rather than binge buying them, just because they were cute. Towards the end of the deployment, I made lists of exactly what I needed for each box, which gave me less room to overbuy and overspend. 

5. Send smaller boxes to supplement the big ones. At the beginning of the deployment, I sent a lot of the large Priority Boxes. John didn't need the stuff I was sending-- it was cutesy and adorable, but it didn't really do anything. A lot of it wasn't food or practical entertainment or staples that he needed (see: basically everything in the Olympics care package). Instead, I was filling the need to make sure that he was taken care of and receiving mail on a regular basis. Looking back, I should have used more of the small Priority Boxes to supplement the weeks when I wasn't sending a giant package. The small boxes still can hold a lot if you pack them well. (I used small Priority Boxes for the Sushi Care Package, Halfway There Care Package, and Honey, I Shrunk the Box Care Package.)

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Friday, May 17, 2013

5 Things I'm Glad I Did During Deployment

It is very difficult for me to look at this past year and find good from John's deployment. I'm a very optimistic person, but this deployment has infuriated me for political reasons as well as personal ones. Acknowledging positive outcomes from this year actually feels a little like a betrayal to those feelings and myself. However, when I look back at the last year, there are a lot of things I did that I ended up being really happy about. I collected the top five for you.

I'm glad that during this deployment, I...

1. ...wrote 365 letters to John. Well, okay. I don't have 365 letters written... yet. But I certainly will by the time this deployment is history. I wrote John a letter every day (and on the days that I missed, I wrote make-up letters), starting with the first day he was gone. It's romantic, maybe a little indulgent and goofy, and something we're both going to treasure throughout our lives. If you're going to do this, I'd suggest numbering the envelopes so they can be read in order. It also helps if the letters get lost-- at least one time, one of the letters I sent John had a nice, sunny, half-year vacation in Cuba before finally making it to Afghanistan. 

2. ...liked John's command's Facebook page. This is so simple, but was (and continues to be) so meaningful. John's command mainly posts articles and albums of happenings on base, so it's a great way to get news that would most likely not be reported on anywhere else. Seeing a photo of John show up randomly in my newsfeed (even if it's just part of his ear or the back of his head) gives me butterflies, and has been one of the best randomly occurring surprises in this deployment. I really started missing seeing John as a person with more than just a chest, neck, and head about three months into the deployment. Skype is a miracle of modern technology, but there is something awesome about seeing him standing somewhere, or running a 5K on base, or participating in a ceremony. And, of course, there's the added bonus of sharing the photos on Facebook and being generally obnoxious about how amazing John is.

3. ...connected with others online.
I don't live near John's base, which puts me very far away from large groups of people going through deployment too. I also don't come from a military family, so everything military has been completely new. Especially at the beginning of the deployment, I found it really helpful to connect with other people a few different ways online.

First of all, I started this blog-- and it's been awesome meeting people from all walks of life. It might be a little dorky, but I'm glad that I chronicled the last year this way.

There's also a thriving community of military significant others on Twitter. Many of them choose to be anonymous, but I've gained a lot from the friendships I've forged with people who are not "anons." While some people have found that there's a lot of online "drama," I've found a lot of support and kindness.

Finally, I found a lot wonderful online resources that were very helpful in figuring out what the heck to expect and how other people cope with so much uncertainty. I hesitate to list anyone here for fear of missing a blog (and if I missed you, I am so sorry!), but if you are looking specifically for deployment help, these blogs and websites are fantastic (and their authors are, too):

NextGen MilSpouse (An online magazine that is down-to-earth and covers a wide range of topics relating to military life.)
Dear Deployment
SassBritches (Formerly Deployment Problems and the Military Life)
Hurry Up & Wait
Love From Home
Army Wife Housewife (Formerly Army Wife & Co.)

4. ...bought two 16 GB SD cards. 
Costco had an amazing deal on SD cards a week or so after John deployed. I bought two and used them to videotape things that I know John wanted to see--  the Blue Band's pregame and halftimes, the reception of one of his best friend's weddings, driving through his hometown, a thunderstorm, and a lot of dorky commentary by yours truly. You get the idea. I sent it to him at the halfway mark and he said he watched the entire card in one sitting. Do this. You will not regret it.

5. ...checked off items on my 100 in 365 list . Most likely, I won't get through my entire list by the time that August rolls around, but I've done an awful lot on it. There's just something about checking things off a list that makes things more manageable and more exciting. (I know, I know: I'm a geek.)
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Thursday, May 16, 2013

5 Things Better Left Unsaid During Deployment

Over the past year, I've fielded a lot of questions and comments from people when they find out that John is deployed to Afghanistan. As with my previous post ("The Five Best Things People Said During Deployment) I've found that these questions and comments almost always fall into the same categories.

Before you begin reading, let me say without hesitation, that these less-than-helpful comments always come from acquaintances and people who I'm just meeting for the first or second time. I'm not sure what it is about meeting someone that makes people say these things-- I don't think it is malice or any ill-intent. I think people are just unsure of what to say. Let me also note that these kinds of comments are probably only 5% (if that) of all of the conversations I've had surrounding John, his deployment, and the military, and that I am so grateful for all of the kindness that has been shown to John and me over the past year.

I'm also not offering these to ridicule anyone and I'm not writing this with an ounce of anger, frustration, or hurt. I'm simply offering the examples from my life in case you're not sure what's okay or not to say to someone dealing with deployment. This is my take.

(If you want to know what to say to someone who is dealing with deployment, check out my very happy, very optimistic post, "The Five Best Things People Said During Deployment.")

Category 1, Political Commentary and Assumptions: "We shouldn't be pulling out of Afghanistan." When people find out I'm an inner city school teacher, they often opine about what is right/wrong, good/bad, efficient/sloppy about public education, so I'm used to unsolicited political commentary and assumptions based on what I do. However, when I began dating John, and then when he deployed, a whole new set of  political questions and assumptions began cropping up.

I know that sounds ridiculous since most of this blog is about his deployment, but honestly, his role in the military is just a small part of who he is and who we are together. It always throws me off that, when people hear that John's deployed, they often feel the need to discuss politics with me. What's worse, many people feel the need to either educate me ("The military's budget takes up blah, blah, blah.") or assume that my opinion-- especially when it is conservative-- is their opinion. That has made for some fairly uncomfortable moments. I don't want to hear people railing either about how pro-war, pro-military they are or about how wrong the war in Afghanistan is. Talking politics, especially about Afghanistan, doesn't really get me anywhere-- it doesn't bring John home any faster and it doesn't make him any safer. .

Category 2, Timeline: "This year is going to go by so quickly for you."  Any statement about how fast time is going to fly is well-intentioned, and I completely understand it. It's a kind sentiment. But time does not seem to go by quickly when you're waiting and worrying about someone who is 7,000 miles away. It just doesn't. Waiting through deployment is different that waiting for someone who has gone on an extended business trip, has an internship, or is abroad for education. (Before people bristle at this, I'm not saying it's better or worse. It's just different.) This has been the longest year of my life-- even longer than my first year of teaching in Baltimore, and that year was a doozy. I would give anything for it to have flown by, but now, I am just tired and I desperately want it to be over. (Exception: People who have been through a deployment or are currently going through a deployment. They've been there, done that, and know exactly what it's like.)

Category 3, Romantic Advice: "I don't know how I'd let my fiance go over there with all of those people away from their spouses. You'd better watch out." Yes, someone actually said that to me... in a professional meeting... in front of my colleagues. While that was the most blatant, pointed statement anyone has directed at me during this deployment, other people have asked me what I would do if John left me or cheated on me, or if I had ever thought about cheating on him. Let me make it very clear: I have complete faith and trust in John, his judgment, and his morals. I have never worried that he would cheat on me, so the comments from acquaintances don't shake our relationship-- more than anything, they just make me seethe. And even if I was worried about our relationship, that's between the two of us. It's certainly not up for discussion with anyone else.

Category 4, Questions I Can't (or Don't Want to) Answer: "Does he have a good chance of coming back?" People have a morbid fascination with war, and I've been asked various iterations of this question. I do not know what I would do if John died, and I'm definitely not going to discuss it with anyone. I also don't know how many times his base has been hit with mortar fire or how "safe" it actually is. Most of the things that people ask in this category, I just don't want to think about and have spent most of the year trying hard not to dwell on. Please don't make me think about those things-- Lord knows I've thought about them without anyone else's nudging more than enough this year.

Category 5, Military Stuff: "So how does homecoming [or other military procedure] work?" This category isn't annoying or upsetting at all, it's just one that I have so very limited knowledge about, I have little to say. (And usually, if I know something, it either is subject to change or can't be divulged due to OPSEC.) It is really nice when people want to know what's going to happen next during the deployment, but seeing as this is my first one, I'm just about as clueless as they come. I also am not 100%-sure how PCS-ing will work, I can't remember the names of the awards and medals John's received over there, and I'm really unsure about anything having to do with the chains of command . Also, please don't ask me what John's pay grade is or how it works. Usually this is a precursor to a discussion about how much (or how little) people in the military are paid (see Category 1, Political Commentary and Assumptions.).  I have no problem trying to answer the questions you have about the military, but if you want information that isn't vague and actually might be correct, you should probably ask someone else about that stuff.

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