4 Tips to Stay Connected Through Deployment

Guest Post and Photos From United Through Reading

UTR 2

At United Through Reading, we work with military families who are doing their best to tough their way through deployments, annual training periods, or mobilizations — whatever pulls their service members away from home for a while. They are checking off days on the calendar and counting down the days until their loved ones are with them again. They know that for their service members it’s important to focus on routines and to stay a part of family daily life, as much as possible, while they are away. Here are a few tips on how to keep your military spouse connected with family at home.

UTR 1

 

  1. Leave a keepsake at home
    Before your service member leaves home, have them pick a few special articles of clothing, a favorite book, movie, or CD, for the entire family to hold onto while they are away. Reading their favorite book or listening to their favorite song while holding on to that favorite sweatshirt will help the kids feel like they have an important piece of mom or dad at home; that can help the distance seem a little less far, for them and for you.
  2. Share calendars
    Your spouse is away, but that doesn’t’ mean they have miss out on soccer games, piano practices and important test days. Help them keep tabs on the family calendar, and stay a part of the routine from far away so they can check in on all that’s going on while you’re apart. Likewise, when family at home is as aware of the service member’s day-to-day schedule (as much as OPSEC will allow), you will stay more in sync and involved in each other’s lives, even while you are separated.
  3. Stay United Through Reading
    United Through Reading offers service members who are away for their families for deployed, trainings or other assignments the opportunity to be video-recorded reading children’s books to kids at home. By taking advantage of the service United Through Reading provides, families can keep up bedtime story routines even while mom or dad (or an aunt, uncle, or sibling) is away. The program gives family and kids at home the privilege of seeing the service member and hearing his/her voice whenever they are needed the most. Learn more about United Through Reading by watching this video ― and then visit org to get started and record a story for your family! Though it is not available yet, UTR recently announced plans to develop a mobile app which will allow military parents pre-record books, or read together over life video chat with the book on each user’s screen. Learn more about the coming UTR app here.
  4. Encourage your family to keep up the family traditions
    If Sunday night’s game night at home, and now a member of the family is deployed, don’t quit! Keep it up. Creating a sense of routine and normalcy for kids who are without one parent for a the length of a deployment, will help to reassure them that everything is okay, and that their parent who is away is safe and sound, and will be home before they know it to rejoin them for game night. Keep up the tradition and encourage your deployed spouse, or family member, to call home and ask who won last night’s game night!

Guest Post By Taylor Monaco
Director of Communications

United Through Reading

Posted in military family, No Nonsense Parenting, Product Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On The Road Again- Moving tips

As a military family, we have moved homes 11 times, so many people assume, and feel free to comment, that we “get used to it.”

We don’t.

The 12th move might be easier in terms of the fact that we know what to expect, but it is not easier in any other way.  It’s just as hard to organize our belongings, just as hard to know what to get rid of/donate/throw away, and just as hard to separate the items into the different shipment categories.  It will also be just as difficult and overwhelming to unpack on the other end.

We are three weeks out from our departure to Beijing.  The movers will show up to work their magic in less than two weeks.  Coincidentally, Horatio will be out of the country for the 3 days of packing.  I’m certainly not the first, and definitely not the only, military (or other) spouse dealing with a pack-out/move on her own, but it’s as much of a formidable task as it sounds:

Two teams of movers for two shipments: one by air and one by sea; three days of packing; and I should probably mention that the movers will not speak English.  While my Mandarin is adequate, the language barrier definitely adds an element of challenge and angst to the process.

10383952_10203119019629100_5277165328912695483_n

In the weeks leading up to the pack-out, there are many things to do to prepare.  Since we have two shipments, as well as about a dozen suitcases full of things we will hand carry, we will label everything to indicate how each item will get from point A to point B.  As the movers won’t speak or read English, the labels have to be creative and very clear.  I am opting for color-coded post-its: Yellow for the sea shipment, purple for the air shipment and orange for the hand-carry items.

Most of the furniture in our house is provided by the government, so it stays in the house.  Beds will have to be moved around on moving day, though, since we brought our own king sized mattress from the US, and it sits atop two government issued twin box springs and bed frames.  A queen bed will have to be moved from Bob’s room to Horatio’s and my room, and the twin beds will go into Bob’s room and Harold’s room.  Harold currently has bunk beds we shipped from the US, and they will get packed up, but the mattresses are government issued, so they stay.  This weekend, Horatio will dismantle the bunk beds and bundle all of the parts, segregating the hardware in a ziploc back, to ensure that all elements of the beds make it to the other side.  It’s a task he undertakes with each move and it’s worth the effort.

We must inventory every item in the house so that we can account for everything on the other end.  Since we are moving from one country to another, we have to consider customs issues.  As the movers carry the boxes from the house, they will place each one on a scale and note the weight.  We have a strict weight limit and will be financially responsible for each pound our shipment is overweight.

10322822_10203119016109012_4234940307117138711_n

Here are the key tips I can offer after my years of experience:

  1. Hand carry anything that you want to have immediately upon arrival at your new home.  For us, a set of sheets for each bed is a comfort for which I’m happy to sacrifice suitcase space.  Also, the boys each carry a video game console and a laptop in their carry-on baggage.  Other items we take on the plane are:
    • Essentials for the dog
    • Swimming gear and toys
    • Medical Records
    • School Records
    • Medication
    • Thermometer
    • Family Calendar
    • Umbrellas
    • Lots of clothes
  2. Air Shipment Items
    • Remaining Bed Linens
    • Towels
    • Bathmats
    • Laundry baskets
    • Laundry hamper
    • Computers
    • TV (if small enough, since the air shipment has strict size restrictions)
    • Favorite items for the kids
  3. Sea Shipment Organization
    • Organize by room
    • Put like items with like items
    • Supervise to be sure fragile items are well packed
    • All small parts should be put in ziploc bags before the movers arrive

Most important…  If you don’t want the movers to pack something, isolate it in an area the movers won’t encounter.  Seriously.  I’ve heard stories of many odd items that have accidentally gotten packed:  trash, mouth retainers, a sandwich, a book someone was reading, and worst of all…. PASSPORTS!

Posted in Living abroad, military family | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Military Kids- Definitely Not Brats – Post 1

The oldest of our Homefront sons graduated from high school last month.  It’s been a long and winding road.  He attended preschool in three different states: Hawaii, two different schools in Missouri, and Washington State.  He spent Kindergarten in Kansas, grades one and two in Northern Virginia, grades three through five in Beijing, grades six though ten at elementary, middle and high schools in Northern Virginia and finished strong in grades 11 and 12 in Taipei.  Using my fingers to add them all up, I count 11 schools.

Eleven schools.

My stomach sinks a little when I say it out loud, but my heart swells with pride.  Zack has Asperger’s Syndrome, so change is more challenging for him than most kids.  Each move brought the potential for major setbacks, but Zack not only overcame adversity but also managed to triumph.  Like his brothers, Zack has always known that moving is just a part of the life we live.  His dad does important work, and to do so, we all must move around the world where the job takes him.

Changing schools in the middle of high school is a challenge for any kid; for Zack, moving not only schools, but countries, two years ago, for his Junior and Senior years, was a potential disaster.  In fact, the school administrators didn’t want to admit him.  They feared that the timing, combined with Zack’s learning and social challenges, was a recipe for disaster and would set him up for failure.  I know my kid though, so I used my mama bear instincts and sleuthing skills to score him an interview, and he won them over.  He hit the ground running with a heavy load of AP and Honors classes and active involvement in the theater department.

Zack applied to and got into college and will attend his top choice school, with an academic scholarship.   But first, he will take a gap year.  He will move with us this summer and take advantage of the opportunity to learn a new language and explore another country.  Zack is poised and ready to take on the world.  He has taken positive elements from every school he attended and left the rest behind.  I can see that he will do the same as he moves forward.

Moving around to different cities and different schools has given Zack the opportunity to see what he likes and doesn’t like about each environment.  As he moves into adulthood, he is well prepared to make decisions about his career path and destinations.  Sure, it would have been simpler to stay in one place; be friends with the same kids; live in the same house; for his whole childhood.  But, I think the perspective he gained from the vast experiences he has had in his 17 years will serve him well, long term.

A childhood as a military kid, third culture kid, whatever label you want to use, has helped shape Zack into the emotionally intelligent, well spoken, worldly young man that he is.

 

 

Posted in Autism, military family, No Nonsense Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Focus on PTSD- Wounded Warrior and the Dog Who Saved Him

LCM headshot

Luis Carlos Montalvan is a 17-year veteran of the US Army who served multiple tours abroad. His decorations include two Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal for Valor, and the Combat Action Badge. In addition to these accomplishments, Luis is the New York Times bestselling author of his 2011 memoir, Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him and travels the country with his amazing service dog, Tuesday, speaking and advocating for veterans. This week, to celebrate Flag Day, Luis has released a children’s book called Tuesday Takes Me There: The Healing Journey of a Veteran and His Service Dog.

This charming book, meant for kids ages 3 – 8, details the daily activities of Luis, who has PTSD, and his service dog, Tuesday, who looks after him so carefully. From helping Luis to get his shoes, to bringing his medicine and his cane to him, Tuesday is there to help Luis every step of the way. When Luis came back from war, everything was different. Luckily he had Tuesday to help him find his way.

In addition to speaking on behalf of veterans suffering from PTSD, as well as their friends and families, Luis has worked with Senator Al Fraken to help with legislation to provide service animals to those individuals. As a part of our community, he’s helped to make strides to take care of his fellow veterans and to help them to re-acclimate to their environments when they return home. Tuesday Takes Me There furthers Luis’s mission to help others by offering a tool to help to explain to children what it means to be a veteran who deals with PTSD. The book is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble; you can learn more about Luis http://www.tuesdaytakesmethere.com/.

Tuesday Takes Me There hi-res

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Tuesday-Takes-Me-There-Healing/dp/168261106X
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/mobile/w/tuesday-takes-me-there-luis-carlos-montalvan/1123479262?ean=9781682611067

Posted in military family, Military news | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Military Families Have Grit

Repost:

Long after Horatio returned from his most recent 20+ month deployment, people still say they don’t know how we did it.

Horatio gets looks of pity for having been away from his family for so long, and friends and acquaintances alike ask me how I made it through such a long time parenting solo, where I found the strength to endure the hard times.  They feel sad for what Horatio missed, but they often appear dumbfounded by how we made it through back home, the boys and I, without him.  I frequently get asked how I found the strength, and I’ll admit, sometimes it was hard to find, but when I think of those times, the moments I myself wondered how we’d make it to the end of the deployment, I say, I’m a woman, strength found me.

We casually went about our daily routines most of the time.  Going through the motions was pretty easy most days but it would only take a small blip in the system to upset the rhythm of our weeks.  Illness, homework projects, storm damage, excessive snow, a broken appliance, any of these could easily upset the apple cart and throw our life into applecartchaos.  An occasional night of labored breathing episodes for Bob or Harold, both of whom have Reactive Airway Disease, or a stomach virus that set in at midnight, would lead to a series of sleep deprived days and lower my tolerance for everything else, especially anything out of the ordinary.  Weeks like those were more than a challenge and at times I thought I might collapse under the pressure of it all, but somehow, as I said, strength found me when I thought I was clean out of it.

Upon reflection, it’s easy to see the hand of a higher power in our life.  Harold had an accident a few days before Horatio departed for the start of the deployment.  After dinner, one night in early December 2010, he tumbled, backward, down the stairs and hit his head on the corner of the baseboard.  After a few moments of quiet, he wailed, then drifted off to sleep, awoke and vomited- clear indicators of a concussion.  I rushed him to the hospital where doctors examined him and observed him for four hours.  Horatio held down the fort at home.  I was extremely grateful that if it had to happen, it happened before Horatio left.  The presence higher powerof a second parent was essential at that moment, not just logistically, but emotionally as well.  I wondered what I’d do if it happened when I was parenting solo.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to find out what I would do because, thank G-d, we had no ER visits during the more than year and a half I was alone at the helm- a fact that seemed out of the realm of possibilities back then, when I thought about our house full of boys, surviving during a period of nearly two years.  I know I have many dear friends I could have called upon in a moment of need, but I am happy that I did not have to ask for the help.  Knowing the help was there was enough to sustain my sanity during the hard times of lonely deployment.

Home

Home is Where The Navy Sends Us.

We lived in the Washington DC area longer than we’ve lived anywhere else during our 20 years of marriage.  We put down roots and became part of our great community.  We have dear friends- some of whom are now our chosen family, we made our house a home.  We love it there.  Home is where the Navy sends us, though, and now we are half a world away in Asia.  Times can be tough and the road is not always smooth, we face earthquakes, typhoons, illness, power outages, food shortages and more, but strength finds me and we all get through it.  I don’t dwell on the negative, there’s no point.  I sometimes find myself momentarily stuck in a sludge of self pity, but then strength finds me.  As the Commander in Chief at home, it’s my job to not just survive, but thrive.  Sometimes I have to wait a bit longer than others, but strength always finds me.

Erin Henderschedt Bio-1

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Making a Missing Ingredient

Spinach lasagna is a family favorite dinner.  I make it with cottage cheese and mozzarella cheese.  I knew, from living in China, that cheese is expensive in Asia, but I was prepared to pay the price.  Finding the ingredients in Taipei proved to be more difficult than I anticipated.  I found cottage cheese at the American Club, but at about $30 US, for a small container, I couldn’t bring myself to buy it.  I soon found ricotta cheese at Costco.  It was still expensive, but not outrageous, so, I decided to use it as a substitute in our favorite dish, and it was richly delicious. I regularly found the ricotta at Costco for the first month we lived in Taipei.  Lasagna noodles were harder to find, and also expensive, so I ordered a case of no-boil lasagna noodles from Amazon.  Then, at my next trip to Costco- the ricotta shelf was bare.  The ricotta stayed missing from the shelves for about 10 months before reappearing.  I bought several containers, which we used over the next two months.  Then, when I went to restock… No ricotta.  No ricotta for over a year… Friends told me that making ricotta cheese is not complicated, but once they started talking about cheese cloth, my eyes blurred over and I ruled out homemade cheese as an option. As we near our move from post to post, I eyed the pile of lasagna noodle boxes, in the kitchen cabinet, with a cloud of frustration and annoyance.  Drastic measures were in order.  After hearing Lian Dolan describe, on my favorite podcast The Satellite Sisters, the simplicity of throwing a bunch of dairy products into a big pot to make ricotta, I decided that I’d give it a try. Actually, I decided to ask my fantastic household helper, Rica, to help me with the process.  She loves to cook and appreciates chances to try new things.  I, in turn, appreciate her very much, especially because I don’t enjoy cooking.  We talked about the process, debated how to find cheesecloth, and then set to work; and by that I mean Rica went to the store to find cheesecloth, for which she substituted Chinese dumpling cloth.  I printed out a recipe and Rica made the magic happen. 61ifaJ8QX9L._SL1000_ The process is simple and not even too time consuming.  The recipe is below. 5841888311_a80351a90b Finished Product IMG_0160 Homemade Ricotta Cheese Makes 2 cups What You Need Ingredients 1/2 gallon whole milk 1/3 cup distilled white vinegar 1 teaspoon salt, optional Equipment 4-quart pot Instant read thermometer or candy thermometer Measuring spoons Cheese cloth Strainer Mixing bowl Slotted spoon Instructions

  1. Warm the milk to 200°F: Pour the milk into a 4-quart pot and set it over medium heat. Let it warm gradually to 200°F, monitoring the temperature with an instant read thermometer. The milk will get foamy and start to steam; remove it from heat if it starts to boil.
  2. Add the vinegar and salt: Remove the milk from heat. Pour in the vinegar (or citric acid) and the salt. Stir gently to combine.
  3. Let the milk sit for 10 minutes: Let the pot of milk sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. After this time, the milk should have separated into clumps of milky white curds and thin, watery, yellow-colored whey — dip your slotted spoon into the mix to check. If you still see a lot of un-separated milk, add another tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar and wait a few more minutes.
  4. Strain the curds: Set a strainer over a bowl and line the strainer with cheese cloth. Scoop the big curds out of the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the strainer. Pour the remaining curds and the whey through the strainer. (Removing the big curds first helps keep them from splashing and making a mess as you pour.)
  5. Drain the curds for 10 to 60 minutes: Let the ricotta drain for 10 to 60 minutes, depending on how wet or dry you prefer your ricotta. If the ricotta becomes too dry, you can also stir some of the whey back in before using or storing it.
  6. Use or store the ricotta: Fresh ricotta can be used right away or refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week.

 

Posted in Living abroad | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Great Gear from Grunt Style for your Guy on Father’s Day

I want to introduce you to Grunt Style, a veteran-owned, and operated, company specializing in warrior-inspired, patriotic gear for men and women. Grunt Style is based in Chicago with 100+ employees, the majority of whom are veterans.

This Father’s Day, they have a great line-up of gear for a Dad who has served, or is serving, — to wear with pride.  They sent me some samples to try and as soon as they arrived, the boys tried them on.  Grunt Style has a variety of messages on their gear; some are less appropriate for a family friendly blog, but they are fun, nonetheless.  The quality of materials and printing is very high.

Support a Veteran owned business and visit their site to buy a Father’s Day gift for the grunt in your life!

Right now, you can get 20% off all graphic tees with the code: GRAPHICTEE

Here are Dwight and Bob, modeling the new gear.

An alternative to the "Don't Tread on Me" slogan

An alternative to the “Don’t Tread on Me” slogan

 

Very cool hat Dwight hasn't taken off since it arrived.

Very cool hat Dwight hasn’t taken off since it arrived.

They even have nice work out gear!

23b90541a95c58e28abbf6872a8cb464_large

Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads who serve or have served our great country!

Posted in military family, Product Review, veterans | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All In A Week of This Expat’s Life

What a week.

Zack graduated from high school.  Upon counting, I realized that he attended 11 schools from age two to 17.  He not only got through it, he got an academic scholarship to his top choice university!

_DSF1212

On Tuesday, we were hit by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake.  Earthquakes are frequent here, but it’s not often that your kid comes home from taking a final exam to tell you that he had to take shelter under his desk during the test.  After two years at the high pressure international school, Dwight was quick to think on is feet.  He took his final exam paper and pencil under the desk with him and continued to work through the quake!

Yesterday I celebrated the end of the year with Harold’s second grade class.  His great teacher created a great game. The kids wrote clues about themselves, which were read by other students, and then the class guessed which kid the clues described.  Everyone in the room laughed when child after child read, as their first clue, “Lives in Taipei.”  They really giggled when one child read, “has black hair.”  There were face palms and one child said, “doesn’t everyone here have black hair?”  to which some of the kids called out, in response, the handful of names of students who do not.

IMG_0006

The boys are showing signs that the emotional magnitude of another overseas move is hitting them hard.  The sadness shows up in different ways for each of them, but it’s clearly present for us all.  This morning, the last day of school, Bob sat on the edge of his bed and said, “I’m not going to get out of bed, because when I do, it’s the beginning of the end.”

As a distraction, as their friends all depart for their summers in their home countries; before we make our move, we will embark on a short adventure to Osaka, Japan next week. Taking in castles, museums, memorials and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, as a family, should help dull the pain.  At least that’s our hope.

 

Posted in Living abroad, military family | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vet Tix Awards 2 Million Event Tickets to U.S. Military Community

Vet Tix reached a major milestone, earlier this month, in its support of the U.S. military community. It has now provided 2 million free event tickets, over eight years, to currently serving members of the military, veterans and family members of those killed in action. This is the equivalent of donating enough tickets to fill Madison Square Garden to capacity more than 100 times.

366137

Vet Tix is a nonprofit organization that provides free event tickets to sporting events, concerts, performing arts, and family activities to help members of the military, and veterans, reduce stress through entertainment, strengthen family bonds, build life-long memories, and encourage service members to stay engaged with American life.

Founder and CEO, Mike Focareto came upon the idea for Vet Tix when he noticed how many empty seats there were at a football game. He started thinking that veterans would relish the opportunity to attend these ‘All American’ events with their families.

As a U.S. Navy veteran, Focareto also recognized that with the average cost of taking a family of four to a concert reaching $500, events can often be an unaffordable luxury for members of the military community and veterans. He created Vet Tix to overcome this challenge and honor the service of the troops.

 

Thanks to Vet Tix, millions of members of the military community and veterans have been able to enjoy a baseball game with their children (many for the first time), or take their spouse to a concert. Focareto has also heard from countless Vet Tixers about the critical role attending these events play for military service members returning from deployment and re-entering civilian life. Attending events helps to smooth the transition home, and helps them re-connect with their family, friends and local communities.

Vet Tix supports all branches of the military in all 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C. It offers tickets from many college and professional sports teams within the MLB, NBA, WNBA, NFL, and NHL, in addition to NASCAR, concerts and other entertainment events. All event tickets are donated to Vet Tix from individuals, companies and venues.

To learn more about how members of the military community and veterans can access free event tickets via Vet Tix, or to donate tickets, please visit www.vettix.org.

 

 

Posted in Giveaway, military family, Military news | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Snakes and a Language Lesson

Last Thursday was a day to remember.  I saw not only one snake, but two, and they were both cobras!  Neither snake was long for this world.  The first was lying, injured, on the road, and the second was a chosen meal for a lucky bird in our back yard.

Malayan Night Heron catching and eating a baby cobra. Photo by RickRovakPhotography.com

Malayan Night Heron catching and eating a baby cobra in our backyard. Photo by RickRovakPhotography.com

Later that day, exterminators came to our house to inspect, outside, for termites.  I felt obliged to warn them to beware of snakes in the backyard, as we’ve now encountered two cobras.  The look I got in response to my warning, in Mandarin, was one of confusion, so I tried again, using Chinglish and gestures.  I got my message across, and after closing the door, I looked up the Chinese word for snake, at which point, I realized I’d accidentally told the men to beware of shoes (Mandarin word xié, ), rather than snakes (Mandarin word shé, 蛇.) (Click the links to hear the subtle difference.)

Oops.  That explains the blank looks.

So, my language needs a little work.  Maybe some lessons are in order… Probably not.  There’s not much need for wildlife vocabulary where we are headed, and my survival and shopping Chinese is pretty good.

Upon hearing about the possible presence of snakes in the yard, the two termite inspectors left the house.  I wondered, for a moment, if they decided it wasn’t worth the risk.  A few minutes later, however, they returned, suited up and armed for snake catching, just in case.

The men inspected the perimeter of the house, found nothing suspicious, and went on their way, leaving the birds, and us, and Westley the 3 Legged Wonder Dog, to fend for ourselves against the snakes.

Posted in Living abroad, military family | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment