We Don’t Negotiate with Potty Trainers (Yeah, Right.)

Add this to the list of things I never thought I would say to my husband: “You’ve got to see these tinkles!”

I remember watching Vince Vaughn talk about potty training his daughter on Ellen. He said something about everything going out of the window in order to potty train: his daughter, who had only been allowed to have green smoothies for breakfast, was now being bribed with bags and bags of M&Ms to use the toilet.

I have read all the articles out there on different ways to potty train your child. From studying their eyes and stance to potty parties (decorating your bathroom like a party to celebrate this milestone), but none of them seemed right for Charlotte. We’re currently experimenting with a princess sticker chart.

I’d love to say that we are using a sticker chart because I don’t want to use food as a reward…but that’s not it. I didn’t have any candy in the house when Charlotte first said she wanted to use her potty, so we have a sticker chart.

Last night, she told me that she needed to use the potty, but when she sat down, “it wasn’t working.” I knew she needed to go, so I tried to bribe her with leftover Valentine’s Day candy.

Mom: “If you go, you can have TWO stickers and a chocolate heart!”
Child: “It’s still not working!”
Mom: “That’s okay then, we can try later.”
Child: “Where’s my chocolate?”

A few things ran through my mind in this split second: (1) do I explain cause and effect to my almost three-year-old? or (2)….well, I didn’t have time to get there because she started stomping around like a T-Rex, demanding her chocolate.

My husband somehow summoned the strength to turn his blood shot eyes away from the House of Cards bender he was on all weekend to say, “We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

“Potty Trainers.” I corrected. By this time the T-Rex was in full-blown meltdown mode, after fighting through her nap time earlier. I knew I couldn’t give her the chocolate. She would win. So what did I do?

I broke. (Feel free to judge.) I gave her the chocolate and watched her rip the foil off like a gremlin that was fed after midnight. Her face covered in chocolate, laughing hysterically as she came closer and said, “Mommy. You smell that?” and pointed at her diaper.

It could have been worse. It could have been like Friday night: she made it through the entire day dry (!!!!) and was ready for her bath. I jumped in the shower while Craig gave Charlotte her bath and I almost had a heart attack when he started yelling in panic from the bathtub area.

Dad: “AUGH! She pooped! In the tub!”
Mom: “Take her out!”
Child: “Help! Mommy!”

So, DD/MD families, please, please God, help me. I’m a week into 21 Day Fix and can’t drink. ;)  What worked for your kiddos?

Keeping the Love Alive All Year Long (Guest Blog)

“Distance between two hearts is not an obstacle…rather a beautiful reminder of just how strong true love can be.”
– Unknown

Let’s address the elephant in the room…deployment sucks! There is no getting around that first punch-to-the-gut sensation when you hear the words, “We found out when we deploy.”

Deployment can put a lot of strain on a family. Our service members miss a lot of things. For our last deployment, our oldest was just ten months old – my husband missed a lot his “firsts.” Now, he’s going to be 4, and his baby brother is only six months old, so Daddy will miss all the firsts again.

It’s not just about keeping the love alive in your relationship for you and your spouse; you need to keep it alive for your children as well. We adults understand why our service member has to leave, but the kids just know that Mommy or Daddy is gone. My husband has been gone for the past few weeks and every day our son tells me he misses Daddy, or he asks where Daddy is. If I am on the phone with my mom and I say something about my husband, our son will start yelling, “Nana! Daddy is on his ship!”

Believe it or not, this will be our fifth deployment. I can tell you that the first one was like a crash course in what not to do! We fought like crazy and we let every little issue get under our skins, driving a wedge between us. You CANNOT do that! You have to call a time out. If you are fighting in real time or even in email, tell each other to take a break, reevaluate the situation on your own, and then talk again. Fighting won’t do anyone any good, and, honestly, it’ll just make you feel more alone and disconnected from each other.

To help us stay connected, my husband and I keep deployment journals. Communications can go down at any time, and this way we can still keep each other up-to-date with our day. My husband and I each have a journal, and when he returns home we switch books and let the other read what we’ve written. Sometimes those journals are our way of saying things we aren’t sure the other one wants to hear when we’re apart.

Another fun way to stay connected is to do “couples questions.” Each person asks and answers a question. It can create a really good discussion and you just might learn more about your spouse! Silly or serious, there are no stupid questions :) Click here for some great questions to get started! (http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/list-100-questions-ask-your-partner-date-nights.html)

To help keep your kids connected to Mom or Dad, create a deployment wall. I love this one! (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/254523816414281289/) Pinterest has SO many ideas. Keep pictures your kids’ rooms so they can see Mommy or Daddy during the day. Set up a “mailbox” (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/254523816415816067/) for them to fill with pictures or letters they’ve created, and then add those to a care package or make a special trip to the mailbox or post office. The most important thing to remember is to keep your children involved. If they cry, cry with them. They are experiencing emotions that they don’t know how to express, and if they see that you are feeling the same, it may make it easier for them to talk things out with you. Answer their questions as best you can (but don’t throw too much information at them).

Deployment is hard on everyone. No matter how many you’ve been through, it’s hard. Your life feels upside down and sometimes everything goes wrong at once – Murphy’s Law indeed! It’s up to us to keep it all together. It may seem like a lot of pressure, but we are what will keep the love alive for our heroes. Ultimately, you are the support for your service member but they are your support, too. You’re never really alone; you are always under the same sky.

Angela and Dwight

Angela and her Sailor, Dwight, are high school sweethearts. After graduation, Dwight enlisted in the Navy and said “I do” to Angela soon after. Two adorable boys (Michael and Joey) and four deployments later (with #5 coming up next month), the Martins are rocking and rolling along. Originally from San Diego, they currently call Virginia their home and have fallen in love with it – “this state is beyond beautiful!”

It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

I’ve been meaning to write this blog entry for weeks. And yet, as I sit here and type, I can’t swallow the lump in my throat.

As military spouses, we say good bye lots of times: to our family and friends back home, to our spouses, and to the military friends that we make along this crazy journey. Two weeks ago, my best milspouse friend moved away. I’ve said goodbye to lots of good friends, but this one is different.

Beth and I have spent our entire time as military spouses together. We married our husbands within two months of each other; we’ve been stationed at every base together for the past seven years. Our dogs are best friends. My almost three-year-old idolizes her almost five-year-old.

I had a rough semester of teaching when Craig first deployed. One of my more complicated students wrote some threatening things in his journal, was suspended indefinitely, then somehow was cleared to return to school the next morning, knowing that I had turned his threats in. The crazy thing was: no one thought to tell me this. All my students knew Craig was gone; I was home alone with little protection (that has since changed) and I was terrified that this student, with a history of psychotic and violent behavior, could pose a real threat. I was allowed to leave school early that day, but I didn’t go home. I went to Beth’s house. Her husband was gone on a training detachment at the time, and I spent the entire day there, holding her baby, as we chatted about everything else in the world. I went home with a sense of calm that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. That’s the type of friend Beth is.

I’m sure you all have friends like Beth: you go to their house, or they show up at yours, with coffee, dogs, and kids in tow, and play on the floor, discussing everything that happened in The Real Housewives, and laughing at silly stories (like when one’s husband went grocery shopping and didn’t know that green bananas were hard as bricks because they weren’t ripe). The type of friend that, when you have a seemingly major health scare, will drop everything to babysit your child all day, one week before their moving date.

They certainly didn’t move far away, only a few states, but I’m scared that we’ll drift apart. I have said goodbye to military friends in the past and we always plan on staying close, but most of the time that doesn’t happen. Life happens. New friendships happen. I’m not ready for this one to end.

What do you do to stay close to your friends?

(Our dogs seriously are best friends. This is after a day of playing together.) ;)

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I’m sure you all can relate when I say that, as a military spouse living far away from family, I have missed a LOT of important events. I’ve missed weddings and funerals, graduations and showers…the list goes on and on. Normally, I can find a way to justify missing something:
“I’m nine months pregnant and can’t travel.”
“I’ll just send a really good wedding gift.”
“I write better than I speak, so I’ll send a sympathy card.”

But that was before this most recent death. My husband was on a training detachment, and I found myself on the other end of one of “those” calls. The ones that everyone dreads. My dad saying, “Well, Grandma called this morning. Aunt Mary passed away last night. The services are Saturday.” Immediately, a thousand different thoughts went through my head, but I pushed them aside to go into Survival Mode. You all know this feeling: your spouse is gone and you have to take care of something important, so you shut off your emotions to solve the problem.

The first thing to do was book a flight. I called Southwest and they got us on a flight out the next day at a ridiculously low military fare. Contacted the dog trainer to pick up our dog. Started laundry and packing. By the time we sat down for dinner, I was exhausted, and frustrated that all of this was happening while Craig was gone. Perhaps the most difficult thing was canceling on a luncheon scheduled for the same day as the services. I was to be honored at a luncheon that had been on the books for six months. It was also the first event that my mom was going to be able to attend, we were going to debut our newest book (stay tuned!) and I could not have been more excited. However, I knew that if I stayed I wouldn’t be at my best. I would be worrying about my Grandma, my dad, and the rest of my family.

My Aunt Mary was one of those ladies that would do anything for anyone. When I was in elementary school, if I needed to go home sick and the school couldn’t reach my mom, they would call Aunt Mary and Aunt Ginger (sisters) to pick me up. I would lie on the couch, watching The Price is Right, eating fruit Mentos. One day when my throat was particularly sore, I was given a bell to ring if I needed anything. :) She could only see the good in people and this was never more evident, or entertaining, than a few years ago when my Aunt Marg and I walked her out as Aunt Ginger went to bring the car around. Aunt Mary proclaimed that “Ginger really is the best driver” as she backed over my Aunt Marg’s beautiful flower bed. She will be missed. And I needed to be there to say goodbye.

Have you lost someone important to you while you were living away from home? Did you stay, or did you go?

The EASIEST Slow Cooker Chicken Ever. Seriously. Ever.

This is the meal that every person who has ever helped us with a PCS has enjoyed. It’s delicious, takes mere minutes to prepare, and tastes like you put a lot of hard work into making. ;)

Slow Cooker BBQ Chicken

1 bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce (Weber has really good ones that do NOT contain high fructose corn syrup)
1 pound (or more) of skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 package buns
Sliced cheese (optional)
Cole slaw (optional)

Drop the chicken breasts into the bottom of a slow cooker. Pour half a bottle of BBQ sauce of top. Slow cook on low for 4-5 hours. That’s it. It will naturally pull apart as it cooks! When you’re ready to eat, simply place the chicken on a bun, then top with extra sauce, sliced cheese, and/or coleslaw. It’s amazing.

I usually bake up some Alexia organic fries with this. :)

“Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

Those are the words my dad would say to me any time I had a falling out with one of my “friends” in high school. Until one time I came home from school, my senior year, crying because one of my best friends called me fat. My dad listened, and when I was finished I waited for him to say “Can’t we all just get along?” with a snide smile. Instead he replied: “Why don’t you go to school tomorrow and tell her that you can lose weight, but she’ll always be ugly?” Before I could pick my jaw up from the ground, he came back with some of the best advice I’ve ever been given: “Do you think she’s at home crying over this too?” No. No she wasn’t. So I splashed my cold water on my face and got over it.

I thought I was done with mean girls after high school, until I married Craig and was introduced to the world of military spouses. Don’t get me wrong, the true friends I have in this world are unparalleled; they’re there through thick and thin. There’s a reason why I refer to my good friends as my “military family.” But beyond that, there are lots of mean girl military spouses. Not in the military? Here’s an example: a few years ago, I went to a party hosted by one of the families in Craig’s new squadron. He had been in the squadron for a little while, but it was the first event I had been able to attend. When we walked into the room there was a group of maybe eight senior military wives talking together. As if out of a movie, they all looked at me, then immediately turned to each other and began gossiping about me…within an arm’s reach. Ouch.

Until recently, I had (happily) never heard the term “Dependapotamus.” Yikes. While I’ve heard horror stories of spouses cheating during a deployment, the way this term is used to describe wives in general is pretty sad. Yesterday, I was reading through a well-meaning Facebook post promoting the Military Spouse of the Year nominations, and references to Dependas were rampant. Graphics were posted, people were tossing insults and all I don’t think my eyes could have opened any wider. (One said something along the lines of: “I could give you some tips on that, but you’d probably just sugar coat them and eat them!” First of all, that’s incredibly clever. Secondly, it would have been hurtful if the person she replied to had been dealing with body image issues.)

Listen, it’s the start of a new year, and I think we should stop being so hard on each other. Let’s not judge one another on who works too much, too little, doesn’t spend enough time with their kids (in our outsider opinions), etc. I’m guilty of it in the past, but I am making a promise to myself that I won’t be that way ever again. Y’all with me?!

And to those that may be feeling badly, consider this: anyone can be brave behind a computer. If you are a good person and your family is happy, you should sleep well tonight. And remember, those mean girls aren’t at home crying, so you shouldn’t be either. You are loved! :)

Twenty Minute Meals: Chicken Tostadas

I modified this recipe for Chicken Tostadas from the most recent issue of Parents magazine. It took 20 minutes to prepare, was super tasty, and very filling (my husband could only eat two!).

8 6-inch corn tortillas
1 tbs. olive oil
1 can refried beans (or homemade, if you have some stored!)
1 1/2 cups shredded chicken (I had a leftover spicy chicken breast in the fridge that I shredded)
1/2 head shredded iceberg lettuce (or romaine)
1 large tomato, chopped
1 avocado, chopped
Lime wedges (optional)
Shredded cheddar (optional)
Sour cream (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush tortillas lightly with olive oil, then bake for 10 minutes (flip once, halfway through).
2. Warm beans and chicken
3. Build! We spread the beans on the tortillas first, then added everything else. Squeeze a lime on top for a fun zest of flavor.
4. Enjoy. My husband said they tasted like “the biggest, best, crispy nachos.”

Helping During the Holidays

A question that I’m often asked is “What can I do to help?” (a family currently going through a deployment). Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Care packages: we sent weekly care packages to Craig, but he was only able to send, say, two to us. People often want to send care packages to deployed troops, but forget about the families back home. (Not that either is more deserving.) My parents would send care packages to the baby and me (like a lot of parents do during college years) of homemade breads, funny movies, things I can’t get here that remind me of home; likewise, one of my good friends sent cookies from my favorite restaurant in Grand Rapids, MI.

2. Ask your friends and family if they are close with any military families going through a deployment and offer to help, or ask around your neighborhood:
–I was teaching during Craig’s first deployment and every week one of my neighbors would bring my trash can up to the door. It wasn’t the act of bringing it up that was difficult or time-consuming, it was knowing that someone was thinking of me every week. I have another friend whose family hired a lawn service to come mow for her twice a month (she has two young boys and it was always hard to do).
–There are cute ways to help families stay connected too: one thing I have done for friends with older children is buy two set of the same unique stationary. The child keeps one set, the deploying parent takes the other, and when they both get their mail they know immediately there’s an important letter for them when they see the special envelope.
–If your close friend/family member is going through a deployment, see if you can plan something fun. One of my best friends planned a trip out to Raleigh and I counted down to it for WEEKS. The weather was terrible, but it was the best weekend of the entire deployment: lying in bed, watching movies and eating chocolate with my bestie.

3. If you’re a considerable stranger, there are many sites that will send care packages overseas to deployed units (many are tax deductible!). (Shameless plug) We’re running a Deployment Angels Book Sponsorship drive where families/businesses can sponsor books specifically for families with a deployed spouse this holiday season. We’ve been working on it for a little over a month and we’re already at 200+ books sponsored. If you’d like to sponsor a family, please go to http://www.daddysdeployed.com/pages/faq and click on the Donate button at the bottom of the screen. A $40 donation covers a hardcover book for a family.

4. There are sites that provide other cool services that I could have used in the past. Bake Me a Wish (http://www.bakemeawish.com/operation-birthday-cake.php) ships cakes to deployed service-members for $15. They can choose where it goes, or you can request to have them sent to a specific person. We sent a couple to Craig during his deployments and they somehow made it without a scratch. :) We also adore the folks at Lock ‘N Load Java and their option to send coffee direct to troops: http://www.locknloadjava.com/product/deployed-troop-package.html

Do you have any additional suggestions for well-meaning folks out there? Please leave them below!