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Deployment Countdowns: Why They Matter

January 19, 2018

When you’re in the midst of a deployment, it can feel like you will never reach the end. Day after day goes by and homecoming doesn’t seem any closer. The time ahead stretches out in front of you and you may feel a little hopeless. But then you look at your deployment countdown and realize you’ve hit a milestone. 

Maybe you’re under 100 days. Maybe you’re under a month. Maybe you’re under a week!

Then you remember just how far you’ve come and suddenly it seems like you may survive after all. If you’ve made through this many days, you can make it through the days ahead.

I am a huge believer that deployment countdowns make deployments easier for those on the home front.  There is something so incredibly satisfying about crossing another day off the calendar or ripping a paper chain link down. Maybe it’s just me, but I always view that moment as a little bit of a middle finger to deployment: I made it one more day, even after everything you threw at me.

Deployment countdowns matter because…

…you need to celebrate how far you’ve come, even if it’s just since yesterday.

…they help little ones understand the concept of deployment and the passing of time.

…they can add a fun twist to the end (or start) of each deployment day.

…they are a visual and physical reminder that time is, in fact, passing.

…they make even the worst deployment day a little better because ultimately, it’s over.

#Deployment countdowns are absolutely vital to surviving the long days, weeks and months of separation. Click To Tweet

Deployments are so hard and anything that makes them even the slightest bit easier is worth doing. Countdowns do just that, offering a simple reminder that each day that passes brings you one day closer to homecoming. Whether you like paper chains or chalkboards, there is a deployment countdown method for everyone’s unique situation.

Are you getting ready to have a deployment countdown of your own? I have some really great deployment countdown craft ideas saved on Pinterest. I also have a chalkboard deployment countdown frame available in my shop that is the perfect way to keep track of the deployment days going on. 

Need care package ideas? I’m giving away 165+ ideas (plus what to put in them) here.

Care Packages

Care Package Shipping Tips

January 17, 2018

I talk a lot about decorating care packages and what to put in them, but that’s really only half the battle! All of the decorations and fun contents mean nothing if your care package never makes it to your loved or is ruined when it finally does arrive. While you can never be 100% sure that a care package will make it on time and intact, there are definitely a few care package shipping tips you should follow to give yourself the best chance.

Disclaimer: at some point, you are at the mercy of both the USPS and the US military so I can’t guarantee that these tips will be 100% successful 100% of the time.  But I’ve yet to have a care package come back to me or get really lost en route to my husband.

Care Package Shipping Tips

Secure all the seams on your box.

It goes without saying that you should double or triple tape the seams that hold the box together, but I highly suggest taping ALL of the seams shut. It’s not completely unheard of for bugs or rats to get into care packages and the extra tape offers a little more protection. Use heavy duty clear packing tape and add multiple layers!

Follow the rules on what can and cannot be shipped.

Honestly, if you follow only one of my care package shipping tips, please have it be this one. I know it can be tempting to send your loved one something they really miss, but if they aren’t allowed to have it per the country’s rules or per the USPS’s rules, please don’t take the risk.

The biggest one that gets brought up a lot is alcohol and it’s just not worth sending for a variety of different reasons. It’s illegal to send alcohol via the regular mail (which is how you ship a flat rate box). A lot of countries where US troops are deployed don’t allow alcohol period and when service members are deployed, they’re not supposed to drink.  If you do take the risk, your loved one can get into serious trouble as a result. Just don’t do it.

The USPS has a list of prohibited items that apply at all times, both domestically and internationally. If you’re not sure about an item, check there first. Another good resource is your FRG (or the equivalent in your branch) as they often have a list of banned items for the country in which your loved one is deployed.

Put liquids in plastic baggies. Do the same thing with scented objects. 

Liquids are a risky thing to ship: the pressure changes during shipping can cause things to explode, ruining everything that’s in the box. Additionally, they could get crushed or broken during the journey (never send glass bottles) and arrive as a giant mess. If you have to send liquids like shampoo or lotion, consider getting the travel-sized items instead. If they do explode, they won’t create as big of a mess and they are designed to withstand pressure changes a bit better. Put them in plastic baggies so that any leakage stays contained.

While scented items may not explode, they can leak scent to all of your other items, especially if temperatures are high. This goes for air fresheners and soaps. If you seal them in a separate plastic baggie, the scent will stay trapped.

Keep items in their original containers if possible.

You know who feels bad when an entire package of crackers shows up as dust because you took the sleeves out of their original box? Yeah, you do. While the extra layer of cardboard doesn’t guarantee that things will sty intact, it offers one more layer of protection. It can also help keep contents fresher longer.

Ship early.

Mail service while deployed can be questionable, even during the best of circumstances, but circumstances are rarely the best in locations where service members are deployed. I’ve seen shipping times range from 7 to 10 days all the way up to a month. You will never really now for sure, but give yourself as much time as possible if you want your care package to arrive for a certain occasion. This is especially true around the holidays when mail volume goes up significantly.

Avoid items that melt. 

No matter what you do to chocolate, it is going to melt after a two-week journey to the Middle East in July. That’s just fact. If you do send it, make sure to put it in baggies so it doesn’t ruin your entire box.

Chocolate is not the only item that could melt: candles, gel air fresheners and a lot of candy could also create a melty, gooey mess. Avoid these items entirely if you can or find non-melting alternatives. For example, you could replace a gel air freshener with the kind that hang on your rearview mirror.

Fill out your customs form properly.

When I sent my first care package, I had literally never seen a customs form before and had no idea what I was doing. Luckily, a very kind postal worker took me through it step by step and I’ve been rolling ever since.

Care Package Shipping Tips

  1. Your information. I have always been told to include a phone number or email address in addition to my physical address.
  2. Your loved one’s name and rank (if required).
  3. Your loved one’s address, including unit, platoon, company, etc. This is the main chunk of your loved one’s address.
  4. APO/FPO AE/AP/AA and the zip code.
  5. List of the box’s contents, quantity and value. I don’t add weights in this section. Keep your contents specific, but vague. I will never advocate for shipping expensive items, but I know that a lot of folks do.  If you’re shipping something that’s pricey (and would be a potential target for theft), don’t put it on your customs form, but do get the additional insurance that will cover the cost if it doesn’t make it.
  6. Select “Gift”.
  7. Add a total value.
  8. Sign and date here.
  9. Choose “Return to Sender”.

Hopefully this customs form tutorial helped, but keep in mind that you may need to tweak my example a little bit to fit your loved one’s address. I have found that writing it similar to an American address works fine. If you’re unsure, ask at the post office when you go to ship you care package.

Shipping a care package can be a little overwhelming, especially if it’s the first time. But if you follow my care package shipping tips, the process will be a little smoother for you!

Want even more care package ideas? I’m giving away 165+ ideas (plus what to put in them) here.

Care Packages Countdowns & Cupcakes Store

What To Include A Fitness Care Package

January 15, 2018
Fitness care package ideas

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

What is it about a deployment that drives people to the gym? I think it’s probably part boredom, part stress relief, but every time my husband is deployed, he goes all out with a workout routine and his co-workers are often right there with him. Between the popularity of working out while deployed and the military’s fitness requirements, a fitness care package could easily be part of every deployment. But what do you put in a fitness care package?

After all, standard care package items like candy or processed snack foods probably aren’t going to cut it if your loved one is trying to shed a few pounds. But you can’t really ship fresh fruit and vegetables, now can you? (Please don’t try and ship fresh produce – it will spoil and in some places, it’s actually illegal.) Just like with most care packages, creativity is the answer to this problem.

Squeezable fruit pouches are probably best known as a snack for children, but they make them for adults too! Before purchasing, make sure to do some research to determine which brand best fits your loved one’s dietary needs or taste preferences. You can likely buy them in bulk online, but you may want to buy individual pouches just to make sure they’re a hit with your loved one.  It’s very important that you put these pouches in plastic baggies or leave them in the original box to protect them during shipping.

Another healthy snack item is beef jerky, depending on which brand you purchase. I bought these Epic strips on a whim during my husband’s last deployment and he absolutely loved them.  I ended up buying them multiple times and he loved having them as a post-workout snack.  An additional option would be tuna in a pouch – my husband really liked albacore tuna packaged in just water.  They are really nice for care packages because they take up so little space!

But what can you send in a fitness care package beyond just food? There are a variety of magazines, books and DVDs out there that can be helpful to anyone working on their fitness, but they may not always be a great fit for your loved one overseas.  Maybe they don’t have a way to play the DVD or don’t have the time to read about working out. Take your loved one’s unique situation into account when you’re planning out your fitness care package.

Other items that fit the theme include a water bottle (I love the Hydroflask), protein powder, a protein shaker and wireless headphones. Wireless headphones are super helpful for working out both at home and during deployment, especially if your loved one likes high intensity workouts. They don’t take up a lot of space and will get a lot of use, even long after deployment is over.

You could also send workout clothing or shoes. They tend to take up a lot of space in your box so think ahead when you’re purchasing items. I usually end up sending workout shorts, shirts and lots of extra socks as those tend to get worn out the fastest.  I wouldn’t purchase any terribly expensive workout apparel for a variety of reasons. For example, the water where my husband was two deployments ago absolutely destroyed his clothes. We ended up throwing most of them away because they were so beat up. Cheaper pieces (check out places like Wal-Mart, Target or TJ Maxx) will serve your loved one just fine and

A large part of a fitness care package is, of course, the design! I’ve just added a fitness care package to my shop that will be the perfect addition to all of the great contents. It features a fun color scheme, puns and even a little extra sass on the bottom paper.  It’s available now and ships for free!

Want even more care package ideas? I’m giving away 165+ ideas (plus what to put in them) here.

Care Packages

Unique Ways To Send Photos

January 12, 2018

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know that I’m a huge fan of putting photos in care packages. I add them to almost every single one of my husband’s care packages and always recommend them for just about any care package theme. Why photos? First off, they get you as close to your loved one as possible when he or she is away from home and give your loved one something physical to hold onto when they miss you the most. They’re small, easily packed and fairly inexpensive. But more than anything else, I love how creative you can get when you ship photos. There are so many unique ways to send pictures!

There are a lot of websites that sell photo products, but I’ve primarily used Shutterfly for my photo projects.  Shop around as most sites have frequent coupon codes or sales going on that can help you save money. With custom photo projects, shipping time can be a bit longer than regular prints so I would definitely plan to shop early.

Unique ways to send photos

As a calendar: time can tick by slowly during a deployment so help your loved one mark off the days with a photo calendar.  You could get as creative as you want for this: staging photos for each month that represent a major holiday or theme or using photos from the same month/day in previous years. Or you could just randomly pick some of your favorite photos to use. No matter which method you choose, make sure you think through any space limitations your loved one may have and whether or not it will fit in your care package.

As a magnet: as someone who knew absolutely NOTHING about the military prior to my husband, you can imagine my surprise when I learned that sometimes the walls are made of metal during a deployment. Mind blown. But as weird as that sounds to a civilian, it actually offers a unique opportunity for photos: as a magnet! You can do a collage of different photos on a magnet backing so your loved one can display them.

As a keychain: if you need to keep space-saving care packages in mind, then a photo keychain could be a great way to go. It’s small enough that your loved one could probably carry it with them on a daily basis. Plus this item is useful even after they return home. Your photo will be small, so pick just one to use.

As a “day in the life” book: while there’s nothing wrong with the traditional photo book at all, a “day in the life” book can be a little more fun. My husband often says that he misses the little moments the most while deployed so I’ve taken photos of me doing all the normal stuff throughout the day and compiled them into a small book.  He loved it! You could do this with a special occasion (like Christmas or a child’s birthday/first day of school) or maybe with a family trip that your loved one is missing.

As a puzzle: not every deployment is action-packed 24 hours a day and there aren’t a whole lot of distractions depending on where your loved one is located. A photo puzzle could be a lot of fun for your loved one to put together to pass the time, especially if you used a collage of different photos. Odds are the box the puzzle comes in will be a bit bulky so if it doesn’t fit in your care package, empty the pieces into a plastic baggie and ship that instead.

As a coffee mug/water bottle: another functional item both overseas and at home is a coffee mug or water bottle. I highly suggest getting a travel mug so it won’t break during shipping, but you should be ok with just about any water bottle that you choose. An insulated one that keeps things extra cold, especially during the hot summer, would probably be much appreciated by your loved one.

As a deck of cards: another way to pass any free time while deployed is to play cards, which you can also put photos on! I’m telling you, photos go with everything!

These are just a few unique ways to send photos in your next care package, but let your imagination run wild! Whether it’s a photo book, an envelope full of prints or life size poster version of yourself, photos bring a little piece of home to your loved one no matter where they are.  They are one of the easiest things to send and one of the things your loved one will enjoy the most.  How do you like to send photos in care packages?

Want even more care package ideas? I’m giving away 165+ ideas (plus what to put in them) here.


Fresh Start Lessons From A Military Spouse

January 10, 2018

We put a lot of emphasis on the new year and the possibility it holds. For some people, the pressure of the year ahead actually becomes a littler overwhelming. For others, it’s the best time of the year and they are pumped to see what the days ahead hold.  I get why there are two extremes: a new year represents a fresh start and they can be a little scary, especially if you want to make big changes in your life. Think about starting a new job or moving to a different town or striking out on your own for the first time. All of these fresh starts are scary, partially because they don’t happen all that often. But for a military spouse, it’s a completely different story!

Military spouses are the kings and queens of fresh starts. Don’t like where you’re living/what you’re doing/who you’re around? Don’t worry, the military will change all of that.  Love your town/job/neighbors? Don’t worry, the military will change that too.  Fresh starts happen all the time in the military and not just on January 1st! Whether it’s a PCS, a deployment or just run-of-the-mill move across town, the military forces entire families to get used to fresh starts, even if they’re not entirely ready.

As you get ready for whatever fresh start the year holds for you, there’s a lot you can learn from military spouses. We’ve been there, done that and got the t-shirt from just about every type of fresh start you can imagine.

Lesson #1: Make a plan.

You do not move an entire family, household and life all the way across the country (more than once) without learning the importance of a plan. To make the most of your fresh start, you need to know what you want to happen. Whether you write a detailed action plan complete with goals and deadlines or have a few ideas floating around in your head, put some thought into what you want your year to look like. It can be whatever you want it to be, so dream big!

Lesson #2: Roll with the punches.

Do you have your plan all figured out? Are you happy with it? Excited about it? Good. Now throw it away and roll with the punches. Military spouses roll with punch after ever-loving punch. You can plan until you’re blue in the face, but there’s no way to be ready for your husband to deploy right after a cross-country PCS when you have no job, no friends and no furniture. Life is going to throw at lot of unknown at you and when you make a fresh start, you need to accept a lot of fresh unknowns.

Lesson #3: Be open to new things.

Sometimes the best things come from the most unexpected places. That’s why military spouses know it’s important to be open to new things when you are facing a fresh start. Having a fresh start means you can take advantage of new things, even if the old you would have avoided them. Eat the weird food, read the new book, try the different hobby. When you’re more adventurous, you are like a sponge soaking up every last bit of that fresh start.

Lesson #4: Feel free to make changes, but stay true to yourself.

Any time you have the opportunity to start over in any aspect of life, it can be tempting to try and change everything you’ve ever remotely disliked about yourself all at once. But it’s not a good idea! Even if your changes are good ones, too much at once can totally burn you out. Instead of losing 20 pounds, running a marathon, starting a new job, buying a new house and learning to play the guitar all at the same time, maybe focus on one or two things.

A single change can also be bad if it goes against who you truly are; forcing something on yourself just because you think you should be doing it doesn’t actually do you any good.  Military spouses have the ability to be anyone they want each time they PCS, but going against their true nature never works out well (or lasts very long).  Make changes in order to become the best version of yourself, not a different version of yourself.

Whether it’s the start of a new job, a cross country move or even just a new week, we all have many opportunities to begin again.  Military spouses get a lot of practice with making fresh starts and know that there are ways to make the most of them.  How have you made the most of your fresh start?