Guest Post: 10 Tips for Helping Your Children cope with Deployment #military

I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine. I deployed with Lindsay to Afghanistan several years ago and have stayed in touch ever since. We’re both mommies now and military spouses, so there’s always lots to talk about. Like me, Lindsay has been on both sides of the military- the deployed service member and the loved one waiting back home. She agreed to share with us her top ten tips for helping your little ones cope with deployment when their mom or dad is away. -Elisebet

Family members and friends gather around as they anxiously wait for their loved ones to return from a seven-month deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Photo by Sgt. Rick Nelson/RELEASED

1. Talk:

Sit your children down before the deployment and explain in an age-appropriate way what is happening to the deploying parent, how long the deploying parent will be gone, and ways that you can keep in touch during deployment.

2. Set a routine:

Children (and adults) need a routine. So the deployed parent is gone…okay, who says the rest of the family can’t come up with a fun routine! Routines help people stay organized and make daily transitions go smoothly (or as smooth as they can be).

3. Get thoughtful:

Let your kids design a card or make a drawing for their deployed parent. Sometimes we as the parents get stuck in the rut and are quick to buy a birthday or a special occasion card, but why not let your child design something special for their parent.

4. Respect the transition:

We all cope with things in different ways. Some people handle stressful situations better than others, but when you stop and think how do the children cope with the separation of a parent, it may be a lot more challenging than expected. Children are already transitioning through different stages of their childhood which is stressful enough, now add on a parent being gone for a year or longer, and that really throws everything off.

5. Curiosity:

If you are a parent, and have a child over the age of, oh, let’s just say one years old…then you know children are curious. Prepare yourself for your child/children to have questions about the deployed parent; such as where the location is, what does he/she do while deployed, how long will the parent be gone, how old will the child be when the parent returns.

6. Have fun!

Just because there was a major change in the life of your family, doesn’t make it okay to just sit around and mope because your military member is gone. Get out, or just plain get creative and have some fun! I personally introduced myself to Groupon and started searching for cheap things to do around our town to get the kids out and having a good time. Just happened to get a great rate to a local museum of science and technology for the entire family, and I made an effort to at least try to take the kiddos about twice a month….if not more!

7. Express yourself:

Find different ways to let the children express their feelings about their deployed parent being gone. If you don’t provide or allow your child(ren) to express how they feel in a positive way, then chances are in time they will express their emotions in a negative way.

8. Start a group:

Sounds silly I know, but in today’s social media frenzy way of life, groups that are created are actually quite productive! You can start a group in your community, your church, on social media or even just online. You can create a group to be whatever you decide it to be; either a group for military moms, families, spouses in general…..the beauty of it is that you can choose what type of group it should be, probably based off of what is the growing trend in your area (ie. At your local church, there are over 15 military wives; therefore you decide to start a military wife group that meets every Monday at the church). Having a group can help other to connect and vocalize their feelings and what they are going through during the deployed service members’ time away. So many times, spouses and families feel abandoned during the deployment and do not know or want to reach out and ask for help. A group setting though can encourage the families to desire having a friendship with others that are going through a similar experience.

9. Let the countdown begin:

Decide with your family a fun way of counting down the time till your deployed service member is home. Children especially will love the fact that they have an idea of when they will see their deployed parent, and letting them get involved in the process is a lot of fun also! Of course, be sure to keep it simple, start a calendar towards the last few months or even major milestones like the end of each month, have your child put something to represent another month that is over and that much sooner to seeing their parent again!

10. Stay positive:

No matter what role you play in having a loved one that is serving overseas, stay positive in the fact that yes, they are gone (or will leave), but they will also return. Never make a promise to children that they will see their loved one in however many months, because reality can happen, and you never want to promise something that you cannot be for sure of. Sorry to add that, but unfortunately bad things happen. However try to not dwell on anything negative but instead stay positive, surround yourself with positive people, and make every effort to keep yourself and your family happy and supportive! Time goes by so much more quickly if you stay positive and keep an upbeat attitude on life!

Trust me when I say, I wish that I could claim that I followed my own advice during my husband’s one year long deployment…because I most certainly did not! But that is why I was able to muster up this list of advice for others that will or are going through a deployment of a loved one. Consider this as my life lessons learned and hopefully helpful advice for you! I only wish I would have incorporated all of the points mentioned above into my time with my children while my husband was gone, and if the day comes again that my husband will ever need to leave for a deployment, I vow to my family that I will do what I advise so many others that are going through a similar situation to do.

About the Author:

Lindsay and sonsI live in a family of four consisting of myself, my husband Wilson (who we call Willie), and our two sons, Joshua and Gabriel. I would say to sum up my title, I am a full-time everything! I work full time, used to go to school full time but needed to put that on the back burner ’til hubby returned from his deployment to Afghanistan, and most importantly I am a full time…all the time mother (that is my fav job of all). I am for sure kept busy and even more so this past year since I am went solo on this mommy thing, but life couldn’t get any better or chaotic, and that is my little family!!

I could talk so much more about my family life, but then I would be writing a novel…that would never end, so if you are interested in my insanity, come follow me on Facebook, Lindsay Carrasquillo (yeah, I am the only white girl with that last name so you should have no problem finding me)! 

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Guest Post: Fun Activities for a Girls’ Sleepover

Girls Sleepovers: Positive Activities

If you’re like me and have a pre-teen daughter you know that sleepovers are inevitable. They’re going to happen whether you want them to or not. Which, why wouldn’t you want them to happen? They’re a wonderful bonding experience for your daughter and her friends (I’m just gonna write like everyone has just one daughter).

However, in my experience, it’s important to make sure that the time spent before they go to sleep (which is always a little later than it should be) is spent productively. If it were up to my husband, he would have them go rake leaves, clean out the gutters, or mow the lawn. But I don’t mean put them to work. Make the sleepover more than just a chance for your daughter and her friends to hang out, make it an occasion to remember with fun, bonding activities.

Here are a couple of activities that I’ve organized for my daughter’s numerous sleepovers that have had great success (I only wish I had thought to take pictures):

1) Board Game Night!

Okay, whoa, whoa, before you completely dismiss the idea of a “boring” board game night, hear me out. And really, a board game night is appropriate for a family night, boys sleep over, or any kind of family or friends gathering.

Board games are a great way to teach and enforce good behavior for children. Interested now? I bet you are. Think about it: board games force the players to be patient and take turns, focus, follow strict rules to the letter, problem solve, and think creatively.

Now, I don’t suggest games like Monopoly, Clue, or Scrabble- too boring for children (and most adults, too). There are a lot of games that aren’t the classics that are really exciting and different. More importantly, the board games that I’m about to suggest are fun for everyone in the family. Board games are a family investment (family game night anyone?).

Here are my family’s favorite board games:

  • Ticket to Ride: building railroads across America.
  • Settlers of Catan: building settlements on the fictional island of Catan.
  • Forbidden Island: cooperative treasure hunting game. Get off the island before it sinks! Either everyone wins or everyone loses.
  • Alhambra: build the biggest and most diverse palace using tiles.

2) Jewelry Making!

Unlike board games, a jewelry making party is specifically geared towards girls. Most sites will suggest making paper bead bracelets or necklaces, but I would suggest making real metal jewelry that will last the rest of the girls’ lives.

This activity boosts creativity and hand-eye coordination. They also have lasting value after the sleepover ends because the girls will be able to wear the jewelry, show it off at school, or give it as a gift (maybe even for Mother’s Day, yay!).

There are some great jewelry pliers that you can get that can help with the jewelry making process that don’t leave dents or mars, which is especially useful for working with wire. Jewelry making supplies can be purchased at your local craft/fabric store, usually.

Here are some of my favorite jewelry creations:

  • Friendship bracelets: after they’ve been made, your daughter and her friends can trade amongst themselves.
  • Dangly earrings: mostly because I’ve found that my daughter and her friends think they’re fun to wear.
  • Necklaces: they’re the easiest to make really.
  • Anklets: I suppose they could be friendship anklets, but just normal decorated anklets will do.

Exercising Through Videogames

This is one of my favorites because girls usually don’t play videogames as much as boys, but they love the interactive games that get you moving. Fortunately, there are a lot of systems that offer a lot of different exercise-related games: Wii Games, Xbox Kinect, Playstation Move, etc.

Dance games work out the best when I’ve organized sleep overs. The girls can compete to get the best scores, or dance together in some of the newer games. They’re moving and having fun and getting exhausted. There are few things better than that during a sleepover.

When I asked a couple of my girlfriends what they did during sleepovers there was a recurring answer of “ate LOTS of ice cream.” Eating ice cream at a sleepover is not a bad thing, but if the girls exercise before they eat “LOTS” of ice cream, they’ll be all the better for it.

As you’ve probably determined, none of these activities take all night, so mix and match! I hope that these suggestions for activities help you out when organizing your daughter’s next sleepover! If you have any other suggestions, leave a comment below!

About the Author:

Claire ThomasMy name’s Claire. I’m a writer, crafter, and mother (and a little bit of geek).I have two fabulous daughters who are always getting themselves in trouble. When I’m not making my own jewelry, I go to see slam poetry at the local Nebraska coffee shops.


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Guest Post: Simple Roasted Chicken- Weeknight Comfort Food

If you were to look at a catalogue of my family’s dinner menu over the last year, you wouldn’t find many meals appearing more than twice. Generally, I make something once, and if we don’t absolutely love it, I don’t make it again; if the dish is fantastic and we couldn’t get enough of it, I’ll make it again, but after that second time, I’m usually already on the prowl for the next new thing I never knew I was missing, and the aforementioned meal is promptly tossed aside and forgotten somewhere in the shadow of a newer, more exotic dish.

Fickle as I may be, everyone has a few meals to which they just keep coming back. Reasons may vary, whether they be convenience, taste, or tradition, but I am no different in that I have a fallback meal that I make once a week, almost without fail, and its simplicity may be surprising to those of you who know me and my predilection for non-American, non-European fare. It may sound downright boring, but my ideal quick weeknight meal is nothing more than roasted chicken on a bed of roasted vegetables. Sure, it may see dozens of iterations in my oven, whether it be a decidedly French preparation of chicken on a bed of tiny potatoes, slathered in compound butter, or a Moroccan twist with roasted chickpeas tossed in cumin, coriander, and harissa, but more often than not, it’s a simply seasoned bird on simply seasoned vegetables that takes almost no effort to make and can be on the table in an hour. To me, it’s the epitome of comfort food, and on days like today when I am on day three of having two sick children and a sick husband on his way home from work, it’s great to have a back-pocket dish that everyone loves that will still leave me time to tend to my family’s needs and keep my sanity intact.

And yes, you read that correctly: succulent, burnished roasted chicken with schmaltzy* roasted vegetables, on your table in an hour. While the French may like to raise the art of roasting a perfect chicken to the culinary equivalent of walking on water, it isn’t as difficult as they would like you to think. Roasting a bird in its original shape is fairly straightforward, but it tends to freak people out a little bit, and a lot of people end up with dry breast meat because they want to be sure that the legs and thighs are thoroughly cooked and end up cooking it longer than necessary. That, combined with the fact that a bird in its original shape doesn’t cook very quickly, is why I prefer to spatchcock my bird before cooking it. You’ve probably seen this done before under the name “butterflying,” but telling your guest that you spatchcocked the chicken makes for a much more interesting ice breaker, so we’ll go with that. Essentially, all you are doing is removing the chicken’s backbone and flattening the bird out so that the legs, thighs, and wings surround the breast meat. The increased surface area means that your bird will cook more quickly, and the dark meat takes the brunt of the heat while the breast meat is relatively protected. For maximum flavor and juiciness, it is good to use the best bird you can afford, but this isn’t meant to be a splurge, so buy what is comfortable for your budget.

If you are planning to spatchcock chicken on a regular basis, I would recommend purchasing a pair of poultry shears. They’re inexpensive and make quick work of removing the backbone- I have actually done this with shears in one hand while holding a baby in the other arm on more than one occasion- but if you don’t want to buy shears, then a sharp knife will do. Simply use your knife or shears to cut the backbone out of the bird, then flip the bird over and flip the leg quarters up so they are against the bird. Tuck the wings under if you want, and there you go: a spatchcocked chicken. If you think a visual aid would help, here you go.

Now, grab whatever root vegetables you’ve got and peel them, then cut them into pieces the size of medium-large baby carrots. Lately, I’ve also been taking ten or twelve cloves of garlic and peeling them, then tossing them in with the vegetables, because little nuggets of sweet, caramelized garlic are fantastic. Toss the veggies with a touch of olive oil and salt, then spread into a single layer in a cast iron skillet (or whatever roasting pan you normally use) and plop the chicken on top, breast side up. If you want to maximize caramelization for the vegetables, put the chicken in the pan first and then snuggle the vegetables into the pan around the chicken. That way, nothing is hiding under the chicken and all your veggies get the appropriate exposure to caramelize. Sprinkle the chicken generously with salt, then pop it into a 450 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour. You’ll know the bird is done when you pierce the thickest part of the thigh and the juices run almost clear, though once you’ve done it enough, you’ll be able to tell just by nudging the leg and seeing how it feels at the joint or by seeing how much resistance the meat gives when you lightly press it. Once the bird is done, remove it from the oven and let it rest for fifteen minutes or so before cutting into it. Just like eggs, meat continues to cook once the heat source is removed, so let that carryover heat do its job. Resting also helps ensure a juicy bird, so don’t skimp here. Generally, I take the bird out of the oven and put it on the table with a simple salad on the side, usually something with a sharp vinaigrette to cut through the richness of the chicken. By the time everyone is at the table with plates, knives, and cups in place and we have prayed, enough time has passed to start eating.

Simple Roasted Chicken

Once you can confidently roast a chicken, the variations on the theme are infinite, but however you season it, not much tops a perfectly roasted chicken. My husband and daughter look forward to seeing what incarnation our chicken has taken each week, but we are all just as happy when I make it as described above- simple enough to let you get it in the oven and then get on with all of the other things pulling you in different directions. Happy cooking!

*“schmaltz”= chicken fat

About the Chef:

Nicole Muvundamina at The Fresh Kitchen teaches in-home cooking classes in the Hampton Roads area. She works with home cooks of all levels, but has a soft spot for moms who feel completely clueless in the kitchen. Her goal is to take the intimidation out of cooking and make it fun and approachable for newbies, and to get people who already know their way around the kitchen to step out of their culinary comfort zones and try something new! Follow The Fresh Kitchen on Twitter @TheFreshKitchen and Facebook: TheFreshKitchen.

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