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Monday, February 9, 2015

I'm an FRG Leader... Now what? Getting Started as an FRG Leader

Note: Some of this information is sourced from the U.S. Army FRG Leader's handbook. For other branches, please refer to their respective guidelines.


Congratulations! You've decided to become a Family Readiness Group Leader (FRGL). It's likely you stepped into this role from at least one of five ways:

  • You're a service member's spouse who cares very much about the families' support and well-being, and want to lead the FRG. You stepped into the role willingly.
  • You're the commanding officer's spouse. You stepped into the role with feelings of obligation.
  • You're a service member's spouse who was recognized by the commanding officer or by other FRG members for your warmth, friendliness, and organizational traits. You were voted-in or selected by the commanding officer to become the FRGL. You stepped into the role with mixed feelings of obligation and wanting to help the families.
  • You're a service member of the unit you're leading. You stepped into the role with mixed feelings of obligation and wanting to help the families.
  • You're an extended family member or another member of the community who cares very much about our service members and their families, and want to lead the organization. You also stepped into the role willingly.

If you're the commanding officer's spouse or were voted/selected into the position, I venture to say that you feel obligated to step up, but have no idea where to begin. Even if you're a seasoned spouse/service member, having attended dozens of meetings over the years, you may still not know where to start as a first-time FRG Leader. Here, I've broken down basic, generalized steps to help get you started as an FRG Leader.

Let me start by telling you that if you're feeling obligatory, and/or lack the time to lead the FRG, you do not have to be the FRG Leader. I've met many leaders whose personality doesn't bode well as an effective FRG Leader. For a list of six personality traits for effective leadership, refer to this article at Military.com. It's ok to say no if you feel this role doesn't fit your personality type. If you want to help the FRG without leading, consider becoming a Key Caller, treasurer, secretary, or newsletter writer. Those roles are valuable building blocks toward an effective FRG, and your time in another role will be equally helpful and gratifying. It is immensely rewarding to give back to the military community, and any role you choose within the FRG will impact our service members and their families in a very big way.

If you take nothing away from this article but one thing, I hope to impart on you this: Your role in the FRG is what you make of it. You can be as active or inactive as you wish. While the most effective FRG Leaders remain vigilantly active in their FRGs by leading meetings, hosting fundraisers, and maintaining constant communication with every member of her FRG, you still have the ability to do what works best for you, your personality, your volunteers, and FRG members. But you have to start somewhere, and these steps will steer you onto the right path.


So let's begin. Here's how to get started:


1.) Take the classroom FRG Leader training.

This is an absolute must even if you're on the fence about whether or not to fully lead the FRG. This class gives you invaluable resources such as a CD Rom with all (or most) of the official documents that are required by command. The classroom setting is also the best way to get immediate answers to questions from tenured FRG instructors without having to research the answers online. Classroom training is not as bad as it sounds. If you have young children, some installations will cover the cost of childcare at CYS (Child and Youth Services). Call your base MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recognition) - or the branch equivalent - to find the phone number or website to schedule the free training. At the end of the training, you should receive a certificate of completion that must be included in your FRG Continuity Book*. The best part is that this certification never expires and can be used for decades as proof of completing the training.

* For what to include in your FRG Continuity Book, click here.


2.) Take the online FRG Leader training.

Yep, more training. If your branch supports it, I highly suggest taking the online version in addition to the classroom training. In my experience, the online training offers a greater depth of knowledge on how to be a successful leader, manager, and volunteer. I recommend taking this training in addition to the classroom training because the online version covers topics that are not included in the classroom training, and visa versa. This course delves deeper into how to manage your volunteers and how to adequately handle different personality types during meetings. The greatest aspect of this instruction is that you can work at your own pace by saving your progress, and you also receive certification that stays with you through your PCS moves.

For Army FRG Leaders, check out My Army OneSource for the online training.


3.) Sit down with the commander to discuss the plan for the FRG's growth and to establish the FRG mission statement.

For some branches, this is the commander's official organization, and her/his FRG will be reviewed on her/his OER (Officer Evaluation Report.) Therefore, its best to sit down with the commander to discuss ideas and plans because those plans may differ from what you have in mind. Usually, the commander will say, "Have at it," and you'll be able to do what you want. For other branches/units, the FRG is not an official organization, but you can still start your FRG. And in this case, you'll have free reign to lead the group as you wish. The mission statement that you come up with in this early stage will be the foundation for every decision you make on behalf of the FRG.

My FRG mission statement was To provide support and resources for Solider and Family growth and well-being. See? Short and to the point, but powerful nonetheless. From there, I broke the mission statement down into attainable goals. These included:
  • Build Solider and family cohesion and morale
  • Prepare Soldiers and families for separations during field exercises
  • Reduce Soldier and family stress
  • Help Soldiers focus on his/her mission during field exercises by helping families become more self-sufficient
  • Provide timely and accurate information
  • Promote better use of base and community resources
If you have writer's block when establishing your own mission statement and goals, feel free to use mine. No one will know that you copied these from another FRG, and you'll look like you have your head on straight. But please remember to adapt the wording according to branch. If you use the term Soldiers to describe your group of Airmen, Seamen, or Marines, then you'll look like you definitely don't have your head on straight.


4.) Start recruiting your team of volunteers.

The best way to start recruiting is to facilitate your first meeting or host a casual social to get your spouses together. This does two things: The spouses put a name to a face and thus builds trust in you and your mission. It's also a quick way to give you access to several spouses at once. Personally, I hosted my first meeting at a large rental hall that had a full-size indoor playground for all the kids to play while the adults did the meet and greet. You can recreate that atmosphere by having your social at a local park.

Preparing and facilitating your first FRG meeting is a comprehensive topic that I'll go into detail later this month. If you're interested in being the first to read about running an FRG meeting, or about military life in general, please sign-up for email alerts through the Follow by Email box located in the right sidebar.

While you're shaking hands and kissing babies, pass out flyers of your open volunteer positions. Since I had power-point capability at my first meeting, I simply had all of the open volunteer positions up on the screen and then if spouses wanted to get more info., they grabbed a flyer on their way out. Also, make sure you have several copies of all the necessary documents (that you have already gathered off the CD Rom from your classroom training) with you for your new volunteers to fill out on the spot. It's a hassle to go back and get a forgotten signature. First impressions are important, so make it a good one. Chances are that you'll land yourself at least one new volunteer at your first meeting.

Additionally, if you meet a spouse who you really connect with, or better yet, has some interest in volunteering but isn't ready to commit to a position, grab her contact info. and connect with her a couple of days later. Maybe go into more detail in email and ask her what she's good at in order to help place her in a position that she'll thrive in. The online FRG Leader training does a fantastic job at teaching you how to make the volunteer experience an amazing opportunity for them. They are willing to devote their time and energy to the FRG in which you're leading, but this is their experience in which can be used on their professional resume. If you really get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each volunteer and place them in positions based on those skills, you'll have an all-star team.

In my experience, Key Callers are the most valuable volunteers you'll have. Try to fill those positions first. I told my 4 Key Callers time and time again, I would not be able to do my job without you. The reason why filling your Key Caller slots is so important is because they are the front lines of your FRG. Since my objective was to reach every single spouse, I had to have my Key Callers in place so that I could hear from everyone in the 140+ person FRG. I placed one Key Caller in charge of one platoon. Each platoon had around 15-20 spouses. If you're lucky, you'll have even more Key Callers and the number of spouses that they'll be responsible for will be fewer, which makes contacting a little easier; each Key Caller is in charge of contacting the spouses. In today's world, most people choose to be contacted through email or text, but they're still called Key Callers even though they may not be doing much calling.

If you're not successful in signing on new volunteers at your first FRG meeting or social, don't get discouraged. Just as it took you time to think about how you were going to fit volunteering into your already busy schedule, they need time to think it though, too. Remain active in your recruiting by continuing to make it known that you're looking for volunteers. For me, one of the most effective ways of recruiting was to simply ask. I had 7 volunteers, and I had to be proactive by seeking out 6 of them by asking them to volunteer. If I met a spouse who I knew would fit perfectly in a particular role in our FRG, I would send her an email with the position description for her to look over and help her decide if she would like to join the team. The worst thing that can happen from blatantly asking is that she says no. The best thing that can happen is that you get a person whose personality traits perfectly fit the position, and then you're well on your way to having an all-star team.


Once you've taken the necessary training, lead your first meeting, and recruited your first group of volunteers, you officially have the ball rolling as a first-time FRG Leader. Pour yourself a glass of wine and celebrate the hard work you've already put in. You're in it and there's no turning back now.

But the real hard work is still ahead. So where do you go from here? That answer lies in the FRG mission statement you developed earlier. For example, to start crossing goals off your list, you may want to sit down with the commander and your brand new volunteers to discuss what activities and events would work well for the entire FRG. You may decide to plan a fundraiser to off-set the cost of an upcoming ball. Perhaps you will want to start a unit/company newsletter to provide families with base and community resources. Or maybe you'll want to organize a Family Day at a local bowling alley to promote service member and family cohesion and to boost morale. If you have deployed service members, maybe you'll want to organize weekly spouse and children activities to help reduce family stress. The possibilities are nearly limitless to how you carry out your mission statement.

To connect with a wonderful group of FRG Leaders, I suggest adding yourself to the FRG Leaders Facebook page. All branches are welcome, and tenured and new leaders are readily available to answer your questions. The best part about the group is that there are dozens of shared files that you can use to empower you and your members. If your installation doesn't support classroom training or your branch doesn't offer online training, you may find what you're looking for by asking the commander or the FRG Leaders Facebook group.


As a first-time FRG Leader, what are you most afraid of? Share your comments below.


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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Surviving Deployment or TDY: Tips For Resiliency



We've all been there: Our service member is away for deployment or TDY (temporary duty) and something major (of even semi-major) happens, and we're left to fix it and continue on with our lives like it's no big deal. That's what it means to be resilient. Let me just say that I used to cringe when someone would tell me that I needed to be resilient. I would mentally throw a dart at their face for considering that I try to "do it all" while my insides were writhing with having my husband in the Deadliest Place on Earth. I would think, "Yeah, I would love to see you try to do this all on your own while the eminent threat of danger lingers on your little family..." Over time, I had to learn the hard way of the value in learning to stay resilient. It's important for your well-being, your own goals and career to be able to pick up and carry on when catastrophe strikes. That's why I’m offering you 3 ways to stay sane while the stress, craziness, and feelings of overwhelm arise during your service member's deployment or TDY.

1.) Let go of “doing it all”

Break free from the rigid to-do list. Now is not the time to be the “warrior spouse” by doing it all. Instead, take a step back to appreciate what you have accomplished rather than focus on what still needs to be done. For example, if you’re unable to send your kids off with a homemade class treat, try thinking about the clothes that were washed and put away or the fridge you stocked from last weekend’s Farmer’s Market trip. Focusing on small accomplishments relieves the stress of what didn’t get done.

Also, ask for help. It’s sometimes easier said than done because vulnerability can be difficult. Call up friends who are in the same situation and organize a casual potluck dinner. Ask a neighbor to help mow the lawn. Ask a friend to babysit-swap so each of you get a night off. Seeking help from friends and fellow military spouses in a challenging time eliminates feelings of isolation and strengthens female relationships. In the words of Gloria Steinem, “Superwoman is the adversary of the woman’s movement.”

2.) Practice healthy coping

Free yourself from overindulgence with food, alcohol, and spending as those tend to increase feelings of depression. Instead, keep your thoughts focused on lighthearted tasks to help you unwind. For instance, get in deep with a classic novel or a Netflix series. Try the Pinterest recipe or craft you’ve been meaning to create. Expunge your feelings of stress onto the pages of a journal. Or, relax with a single glass of wine and a hot bath.

One of the fastest ways to lift your mood is through exercise. Even a brisk neighborhood dog walk can increase endorphins and send your brain into a meditative state. Endorphins are chemicals in the body that, when interacting with receptors in the brain, “reduce stress, ward off anxiety and feelings of depression, boost self-esteem and improve sleep,” says WebMD.com. If you look at this month as a time for “you,” you’re likely to feel refreshed, not stressed, come November.

3.) Claim your demand-free time

A married single parent (a parent who is raising children alone while the her spouse is away) has a great deal of daily demands placed on her while the service member is away. Give yourself permission to be alone. And try not to feel guilty about it. Make it a priority to set aside time to be demand-free from children, work, and the daily have-tos.

There are several ways to be kid-free. The DOD just launched a website designed for you to "see child care anywhere in the world" called MilitaryChildCare.com. Keep in mind that since this site is new, many fantastic child care providers have yet to register with the site, making it a hit-or-miss in finding care in your location. However, I believe the potential assistance this site offers is invaluable. 

Additionally, SitterCity.com, my personal favorite child care seeking option, offers free access into their database of reliable, local babysitters with a valid DOD registration. You can even request a background check to verify an identity. Also, the Child Development Centers (CDCs) on many military installations provide hourly care with some offering alternating Saturday care. You may even want to try contacting your local YMCA for a babysitter referral. “Call them for names and phone numbers of reliable sitters who live in your neighborhood to cut down on travel time. If you can afford a helper, consider having a high school student come occasionally to play with younger kids while you help with homework or just have some time to catch up on errands or housework,” suggests Healthy Exchange, a Dartmouth College publication specializing in health and wellness. 

Healthy Exchange goes on to suggest setting realistic boundaries inside and outside the home. To prevent burnout at work, try setting your hours and the amount of responsibility you feel comfortable taking. Sheryl Sandberg notes in her book, Lean In, that many employers won’t stop making demands on their employees’ time. It’s up to us to know when to draw the line and determine how many hours we work in a day. In other words, the best way to make room for demand-free time is to make the choice deliberately.

To feel free from deployment or TDY ho-hum, drop the to-do list, do more of what you love, and claim your demand-free time. The long training schedule the guys are on can be tough on the families, but this circumstance shouldn’t rob you of your happiness – of which you’re 100% in control.


EB Butterfly Free Signature 2 

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Laura-Ashley Story: Using Empathy to Establish Friendships as a Military Spouse

Recently, I went to my hair salon for my monthly root touch-up just like I had done for the last 2 years while living in El Paso, TX. At first, everything was pretty typical about this visit, except this time I had news to share with my stylist, Brenda.

Brenda is a native to Mexico. She resides in El Paso while attending college at the University of Texas at El Paso to become a secondary education teacher. She colors hair on nights and weekends as means of paying for costs not covered by her generous scholarship. Her boyfriend, mother, father, sister, brother, uncles, aunts, cousins, and nieces all live in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. She has a few close friends in America whom she also refers to as family. Brenda makes the 30 minute commute over the border on her time-off from school and work to visit her biological family "back home." She was the very first cosmetologist I saw when arriving to El Paso, and we built such a fast, gratifying relationship that I remained with her ever since.

Last week I sat down in her chair and delivered the news: I'm moving to the Washington D.C. area in 2 months due to my husband's PCS move. She was as shocked and excited as I was when I first realized that this move was actually happening. Brenda and I then shared stories about how different our lives were growing up "back home" and how more confident and adaptable to change we have become by moving away; experiencing different cultures and communities. Then a story was shared that ultimately rocked my world. It lit a fire so strong beneath me that I felt the emotional effects long after leaving the salon that day.

Brenda told me about a client that came in to the salon a few weeks prior to get a perm from another cosmetologist at the salon. This co-worker cosmetologist, Laura, is a military spouse. The client asking for the perm, Ashley, is also a military spouse.

Laura asked Ashley to have a seat to discuss the perming process since this was her first time at the salon. Right away, Ashley had a chip on her shoulder because she had to wait in the lounge a little longer than expected. Laura advised that she'd take Ashley to the sink to perform a special rinse which preps the hair for the chemicals needed to perm. This was a regular procedure at this salon for this hair treatment. Ashley told Laura that she already performed the pre-rinse at home and that it wouldn't be necessary, and to move onto the next step. Laura told Ashley that she'll need to do the rinse herself since this is her first time working with the client, that this was just a typical step in the process, and that nothing bad will happen by rinsing again. Ashley then responded, "You obviously don't know what you're doing, and no matter what, you're going to mess up my hair. You're incompetent." She went on to declare that no one could ever do her hair like the stylist back home. "It was my husband's fault for bringing me all the way out here," she sobbed.

In response, Laura also got defensive and shot back everything else she advised earlier. With both women at odds, Laura ran to the back room crying uncontrollably to her manager and store owner, Carlos.

Carlos then marched out to confront Ashley.

He said to her, "Why did you make my stylist cry like that? We will not be performing the perm on your hair today because no matter what we do, it's not going to be good enough for you. I will do a cut and color myself, but you'll need to reschedule the perm for another day. You need to grow up and deal with moving away from home for the first time. As a military spouse you need to be strong. This is what you signed up for..."

Completely stunned at how Ashley was treated by the owner, I asked Brenda, Then what happened?

"She just sat there crying in the chair for awhile, then she left without getting a treatment."

Well, did she come back another day to get the perm? I ventured.

"No."

What happened to Laura?

"She was totally pissed that Ashley treated her like that - for calling her incompetent."

What are your thoughts about what happened?

"We were all shocked that this woman acted like that. Like, just get over it. The pre-rinse is what we normally do before a perm. I dunno... I guess we just don't understand what it's like to be a military spouse..."

Well, Laura is a military spouse. She understands what it's like to move away from her family and close friends back home for the very first time, and to find a new job, a new house, a new gym, new friends, and a new salon for the first time. Why do you think she didn't try to comfort or empathize with Ashley? The whole situation could have ended very differently...

*******


I left the salon that evening with fabulous new roots, but I also left feeling really upset for Ashley. I know exactly how she felt that day when she tried to get her perm - and no one, not even a fellow military spouse, looked her in the eye and said that it's going to be ok. Or perhaps didn't say anything; just wrapped their arms around her and given her a warm, comforting hug. Instead, she left the salon feeling even more isolated than when she arrived.

Let me make this clear: I do believe that Ashley must take responsibility for her words and actions. Even if a person brings anger and resentment to a neutral situation, I don't think it's right to take anger out on someone else, let alone to a complete stranger. However, I still feel like Ashley could have left the salon with a new perm and perspective on change.

In the fall of 2007, I was giddy with excitement over moving away from home for the first time to be with my then-fiance, and to finally start our lives together. I was born and raised in Phoenix, AZ and ended up attending an in-state university. The most traveling I did before then was to California to go to Disneyland, or up to Washington state to see my grandparents. So when Brandon said that he was being stationed in Colorado Springs, CO, I was super stoked. MySpace was more popular than Facebook at the time, and I remember changing my MySpace background to a photo of the snow-covered, woodsy Rocky Mountains. I would sit staring at the photo and could almost feel the crisp Colorado air hitting my lungs. I was so happy. I could not wait to move.

Within weeks after my big move from Arizona to Colorado, the enormity of moving away from home for the first time finally began settling in. I was not mentally prepared for all the change that was happening to me. I knew before hand that I was going to have to find new friends and learn how to drive through a blizzard, but actually doing those things was very difficult at first.

I began feeling really depressed. I cried a lot. I felt isolated from the family back home but also from the people I encountered in Colorado Springs. I got my hair done at a hip salon called Toni & Guy, and I was never able to build a relationship with a single stylist at that salon. In fact, each stylist I was scheduled with seemed so impersonal that when they asked if I was "from here" (meaning native to Colorado Springs... there are a lot of Colorado Springs natives...) and I answered no - that I was a military spouse originally from Arizona, they all dismissed me. None of them seemed remotely interested in getting to know me and my story, let alone empathize with what I was going through at the time.

When I see my El Paso stylist, Brenda, I truly feel like I'm going to see an old friend even though we've never hung out together outside of the salon. Being vulnerable by opening myself up to others, and also listening to what someone has to say goes a long, long way.

This is what bothered me so much with the Laura - Ashley story. It's two-fold:

Laura knows what it's like to move away from home for the first time. And yet, she didn't extend a hand to a sister military spouse. On the other side of the same coin, though, Ashley wasn't vulnerable, allowing herself to open up and describe - in a healthy manner - what she was going through. I believe that Ashley could have let her walls come down to become more vulnerable with Laura if she didn't feel so threatened. I mean, the store owner marched out to basically tell her shape up or ship out. And she did. She never returned to the salon.

I began wondering why there's this invisible barrier up between spouses, hindering our ability to support one another and build friendships. I believe it's due in part by the better-than you / less-than-you approach to military relationships. In my experience, I notice that there are spouses who take a pompous approach to their military spouse title. Likewise, I have seen spouses shy away from getting to know a seasoned spouse because she feels inferior for no other reason than because of her husband's job. I have attended seminars that emphasize the fact that spouses do not retain their husband's job or rank. Experts, who are often seasoned military spouses, advise to "get over yourself - this is your husband's job, not yours." They suggest to find your own niche and reach your own accomplishments that you can be proud of and toot your horn with. Perhaps if we begin to look past the in-house hierarchy of what our husbands do for a living and view other spouses with a competently neutral slate - after all, isn't that how you meet people on the street or at your place of work anyway? - that maybe we can begin to build closer relationships and establish mutual support with fellow spouses.

I also want to note that we should be sensitive to the fact that many people who have never been in nor raised in the military truly don't know what we're going through. And they're likely to unintentionally say things that are hurtful such as, "You have to be strong. This is what you signed up for..." What an incredibly high expectation to put on someone who knows not what she's getting herself into nor how to "be strong." But that's the very reason why we need to open up and share our stories. Likewise, for my civilian readers, listening to our stories will help you to, in the words of Brenda, "understand what it's like to be a military spouse." Assuming that we are strong enough to handle anything does the exact opposite. Not being able to confide in someone because they placed us in the solid-as-a-rock category makes us feel weak and isolated. These are the very walls that must be lowered in order for us to build lasting relationships.

The hurdles we must jump with regard to in-house support might never fully come down in my lifetime. But if I accomplish only one thing with being a military spouse activist in my community, it's to shout from the rooftops of sistering-on. Support one another. Listen to one another. Be vulnerable and open up to those who know what you're going through. After all, we're sisters in this thing together.


Postscript:

For about a week I struggled with some unanswered questions about this story. I knew who I needed to speak with, but I was reluctant because being vulnerable is oftentimes hard. I eventually contacted Laura because I was writing about vulnerability - about military spouses opening up and sharing stories in order to connect. I knew that I had to take the step forward to talk with Laura about why she didn't give Ashley the big warm hug or even try to calm her down by using empathy. She helped fill in some blanks and validated the story I'd heard from Brenda. She also confessed that she was dealing with her own walls of isolation from the local community as well as from other military spouse clients of hers.

She states, "Most of the customers I had (at the salon) were quick to judge me." She goes on to admit that her clients native to El Paso and Mexico were wary of her ability due to racial favoritism. Moreover, she writes that she didn't get many military wives in her chair, but the few she did get came with what I described above as the better-than-you / less-that-you attitude (oftentimes expressed through fear.)

Laura further states, "I do feel for (Ashley) because I understand what it feels to be uprooted from everyone and everything that makes you, you. I've lived in Rhode Island, Georgia, and now here in Texas. I miss home every day, and although my husband is my home away from home, he is often busy, leaving me to try and put myself together in a strange place. I barely know my nephews. My grandmother is loosing her memory. And my parents look 10 years older every time I see them. I have one friend and I've been here a year. This has been the hardest location so far."

Oh, to dream what the outcome of the Laura-Ashley story would have been if Laura would have said this exact thing to her in the moment. They could have really bonded and become friends on common ground.


When have you felt supported or unsupported by a sister military spouse? 
How has that experience changed the way you interact with other spouses?

EB Butterfly Free Signature 2
Erin Bettis


(*Some of the names in this post have been changed to protect identities.)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Valentine's Day GoGo Squeez Free Printable


I made these gift tags for Whitney's pre-kindergarten class last year. The kids loved them! Print on bright white card stock, hole punch the top, and attach a pretty little ribbon. I decided to have the tie in the back for easy twist off of the cap.





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Breakfast at Tiffany's Themed Bridal Shower on a Budget


When my sister’s wedding approached, I knew that a Breakfast at Tiffany’s themed bridal shower was the perfect way to celebrate sending her off into marriage. Its fun, sophisticated style speaks across generations and I knew that I’d feel confidant throwing this type of party for guests ranging in ages 25 – 65. If you’re looking to throw a stellar Breakfast at Tiffany’s themed bridal shower this year, here are some party planning ideas to help make your event exciting and memorable while remaining under budget.


Before I began making any purchases, I had to put together a formal party budget. In doing so, I was able to stay under the threshold and enjoy the party planning process without the panicky feeling of overspending due to unaccounted for costs or overindulgence.

My youngest sister, Jessica, and I decided on a $600 budget for 27 guests including the bride and hostesses. With 6 months to plan this event, myself, Jessica, and our mother, Patricia, were able to save $200 each toward the cost of the party.


I used an Excel spreadsheet to organize every single party detail. From cost to seating charts, this spreadsheet had everything I needed to pull off this affair. It was so unbelievably helpful, that I highly recommend using it for your own event. Download your copy of this Excel spreadsheet here.

Here's an example of our food and beverage cost.


My food and beverage budget ate up over half of the total party budget. When I first started planning, I was excited to buy all kinds of pretty Breakfast at Tiffany’s party favors and decorations, but after breaking down the dollars and cents, I had to re-think my whole vision for the party. After more consideration, I realized that if I fed my guests good food and gave them delicious cocktails, they should really enjoy themselves. However, while I had several decadent breakfast danishes and croissants, my guests were not big drinkers. When planning your own budget, consider the audience. If your bride/guests drink like fish, account for enough alcohol. Likewise, if your bride/guests are more into appearances than food, or if your party will be a light meal (think afternoon tea), your budget won’t require as much attention to the food and drink section of the overall budget. Once I took control of the budget, I was then able to think about planning the cake, decorations, and games.

For weeks I went back-and-forth about whether to do a cupcake tower or a cake. A cupcake tower is significantly cheaper and very popular right now, but I really wanted to impress the bride with a Tiffany’s box cake. We used Jessica’s personal connections to get an impressive discount on a beautiful Tiffany-inspired cake from a prestigious local bakery. Don’t shy away from using your own or someone else’s contacts to help make your event magical. It doesn't look cheap. You look like you got your shit together.

Photo credit: Jessica B.

To add drama, height, and to clear counter space at the food display, I DIYed three 3-tiered stands using silver platters and crystal-looking candle holders found at my local dollar store. I found the inspiration for this project at Shelterness.


Photo credit: Jessica B.

Those blue boxes on the food table? Yeah. Those are emptied, old, square tissue boxes elegantly wrapped in blue gift-wrap paper I found at WrapAndRevel. To finish the look, tie them up with white satin ribbon.

DIY bottle labels were found at Michael's craft store:

Photo credit: Jessica B.

Photo credit: Jessica B.

I also made these simple little guys: Labels for wine glasses and champagne flutes. Just print the sheet out on signature Tiffany-blue card stock and cut. Don't forget to cut a slit so that it can slide on to the base of the glass.




The decorations were simple and elegant with a black and white damask design with splashes of Tiffany blue.

Photo credit: Jessica B.
The center pieces were silk Tiffany blue and white daisies found at the local discount craft store. Recycled square vases and planter rocks were used to save money.
Photo credit: Jessica B.
To let guests know where they can hashtag their photos so that the bride can see all her images in one place from the Shower, I used a frame recycled from my own wedding and just replaced the photo with an 8.5"x11" sign I created in Microsoft Word.

Photo credit: Jessica B.

Want this unique sign for your next event?



The party favors were Tiffany-inspired boxes filled with a strand of faux peals found at the local dollar store in the party section.


We played a few games and passed out gift bags filled with spa items to each winner.




Need an idea for a game? We played He Said, She Said. Just ask the Bride and Groom your questions separately. Make a game sheet with several answers mixed at random. The guests have to guess who made each statement. The guest with the most correct statement pairings wins a prize. Of course the racier, juicer the answers, the more entertaining the game...




I downloaded a free game card from Everyday Dishes. Get yours here.

There you have it. A beautiful and memorable Breakfast at Tiffany's themed Bridal Shower on a Budget. If you're diligent in your search for freebies and you reuse items from past parties, you can pull off an air of sophistication that this theme calls for. If you're lucky, you might even find brand new or gently used favors and other decor at Recycle Your Wedding. For more Tiffany themed party inspiration, check out my Breakfast at Tiffany's Bridal Shower on a Budget Pinterest page.

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Quick list of all the printables in this post:


EB Butterfly Free Signature 2 

Friday, June 13, 2014

I Survived My First Year as a School Mom

I’ve been walking a tight rope strung between two high rise buildings in the middle of New York city. Too much weight on one side and I could’ve slipped, free-falling 72 floors to my premature death. For the last 10 months, I tried meticulously to find balance in my first year as a mom of a school-aged child.

As I reflect on this first year, I’m relieved it’s over and scared out of my pants for what kindergarten will bring. Yes, she just completed PRE-kindergarten. Her curriculum was fast-paced, yet fair. Many outsiders believed the day was only filled with play; however, her teacher had a steady program that did involve play, but mirrored that of full-day kindergarten.

Kindergarten scares me because I haven’t found the right balance of finding the right way to parent a school-aged child. Last August when school began, I wasn't prepared for the journey on which it took me. My maturity grew in ways I didn’t know needed maturing. This year constantly challenged me to find a balance I wasn’t in tune with.

Several days before Spirit Week we were given a flyer announcing what outlandish costumes she had to wear each day. Up first, Monday = Pajama Day. You’d think that would've been the easy one for me, but remembering my own school days, I never wore pajamas on Pajama Day. Back when I was in school you almost had to show that you were too cool for Spirit Week and show your coolness (aka extreme insecurity) by not wearing pajamas. Yeah, that was me. Going against the system when I so desperately just wanted to wear pajamas.

Fast forward to Whitney’s very first Spirit Week ever. Monday Pajama Day. I decided not to put her in pajamas. My school insecurities surfaced in a suffocating cloud and I panicked and put her regular clothes. I didn’t want her to be the only one wearing pajamas. I didn’t want her to feel insecure or the odd-girl out for doing what the “system” asked her to do. Like the goody-toe-shoes who always does as she’s asked. I figured, when in doubt, go with plain ‘ol regular school clothes to “feel out” this Spirit Week thing.

I was wrong.

Everyone and their principal was wearing pajamas.

As we walked up to the school the feeling of Parent Fail washed over me. It’s the same feeling as shame. Whitney looked up at me with those beautiful blue worrisome eyes and said, “Mom, I’m suppose to be wearing pjs today! Why didn’t you put me in pjs?!!” She was reluctant to get lined up for class and I could tell that she was feeling like the odd-girl out – the very thing I didn’t want her to feel. All the other little kids were showing their dinosaur pajama bottoms and Disney Princess tops. It was like the Annual Pre-k Pajama Day Fashion Show and Whitney had no pjs to showoff. For a 5-year-old, that is the worst day of her life. So I went full throttle for the fun day, Crazy Hair Day. But, this day proved worse than Pajama Day and sent me spiraling back into Parent Fail.

For Crazy Hair Day, I went all out. I had been planning this masterpiece in my mind all week. I was going to style her hair like a Who from Whoville, and it was going to be best crazy hair that trumped all Crazy Hair Days. If Pajama Day was like a fashion show, I just knew that Crazy Hair Day was going to be the same.

I was wrong.

Everyone played crazy hair day totally chill like they didn’t want to do what the “system’ asked them to do.





When Whitney got to school, all the kids stared at her in… I don’t know… my hope was amazement, but I don’t think that’s what they were really thinking. When kids walk by with gapping jaws and eyes the size of walnuts, they’re probably not thinking, “Wow! That’s the BEST crazy hair that trumps all Crazy Hair Days!”

I left the school in tears. I began Spirit Week not doing enough, and I ended it doing too much. What’s more, I let my own suppressed school insecurities surface and dictate how I responded as an adult. I was heart broken and sitting in major Parent Fail muck.

As the school year continued, I found it challenging to stay in balance – never overstepping into I’m-the-crazy-mom-and-my-daughter-is-going-to-have-best-fill-in-the-blank mode - nor into I’m-super-lazy-and-don’t-feel-like-doing-anything-for-the-class mom.

In honesty, it's difficult making parenting decisions on my own as a married single parent. My husband was in field training exercises nearly half the school year, leaving me to have school-related dialog with myself. “Should we buy the yearbook?” “Well, she’s going to have class pictures taken soon, and that’s all we really want memories of, anyway, plus, she’s in pre-k. It’s not like she had multiple teachers or was in clubs or anything…” No, I did not buy the yearbook, but I did buy the class picture. A meticulous balance to preserving pre-k memories.

I learned a lot this year about myself, and yet, I wasn’t the one in school. I had to learn to let her go and be a kid. I had to learn to guide her own decision making while teaching her empathy. I learned that I need to go with the flow more often while staying on an organized schedule. Always in balance.

And so, even though I wobbled quite a bit on that tight rope, taking each step cautiously while desperately clinging to the long pole of stability, I made it to the other side. I survived my first year as a school mom. On to kindergarten we go.

Some first and last day pre-k memories...

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IMG_3561
Last day of Pre_k 01
Last day of Pre_k 02
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Congratulations to Big E, the winner of the Lady Bird Press Father’s Day Coupon Book. Your coupon book will arrive in your email box by the end of today. Although I had only two entries, the winner was chosen by random.org:

True Random Number Generator: Result:1 Powered by RANDOM.ORG

Friday, June 6, 2014

10 Dignified Father’s Day Gifts Under $10



Father’s Day is June 14th and if you’re like me, you’ve had the date penciled on your mental calendar only for May to flip to June and you’re suddenly left feeling panicked because you haven’t yet planned a gift for that special father in your life. Children’s artwork gifts can melt those burly, fatherly hearts. They are meaningful, inexpensive, and can be completed at the last minute. However, after years of construction paper ties and little hand prints painted to look like farm animals, the idea of kids crafts as gifts begins faring low on the uniqueness scale. If you’d like to stray from the traditional handmade presents of years’ past by giving that special man a gift that is elegant, useful, and that doesn’t break the bank, then check out this list of 10 dignified father’s day gifts that cost you under $10.

1.) Photo Cufflinks $8.00 (Originally $28) by Jerseymaids
Whether your guy wears French cuff dress shirts regularly or not, this gift is like your Mother’s Day pearl necklace. He may not wear them every day, but they’re special to own for that rare occasion when the crisp, white, French shirt comes off the hanger. This cufflink set comes with a polaroid heart image and can be customized with your own photo for a fee. For only $8, this price cannot be beat.
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2.) Personalized Loving Heart Pocket Token$7.95 (Oiginally $9.95) from Personalization Mall
I love this idea for our military fathers – especially those deployed or on TDY. He can carry this heartfelt message with him in his uniform pocket and be reminded of his loving family. This pocket token can be customized with any name followed by 3 lines and an ending message. Show that special father your love in a small yet meaningful way.
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3.) Handcrafted Walnut iPad Stand$10.80 (Originally $12.00) by btrWoodWorks
So... this may be $0.80 over, but I can’t resist adding this gift to the list. This hand-carved, finished walnut iPad stand is perfect for the chef or desk-working dad. Got a guy who watches a lot of movies or plays games on his iPad? This stand will definitely come in handy. Imagine your guy whipping out delicious meals from recipes on his iPad easily in the kitchen with an upright iPad – and for only $10.80! What’s more? It’s an inexpensive, dignified gift that is sure to get a lot of use.
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4.) Maple Business Card Holder $5.40 (Originally 6.00) by btrWoodWorks
This spalted maple business card holder, made by the same company, is yet another gift idea for the hard-working business man in your life. It is a simple way to beef up an otherwise boring office desk. It holds 15-20 cards and is rubbed with orange oil and beeswax.
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5.) 5x7 Photo Book – From $9.99 by Walgreens
Another wonderful idea for the deployed and TDY dads. This is such a meaningful, yet affordable gift that he will treasure. If your guy isn’t deployed, get creative by designing a recipe book instead. Or, perhaps, celebrate Grandpa this Father’s Day with a photo book of his grandchildren that is sure to bring out a smile.
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6.) Guitar Pick Keychain $8.00 by PickMyPick
This item made the list because of its endearing message displayed in a super cool way. For only $8 you can customize one side of the keychain for Dad to always carry a note from his children.
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7.) Father’s Day Coupon Book – Instant PDF Download ***$5.00 by LadybirdPress
With an instant download from Lady Bird Press, you can have this gift in a hurry. The download provides 12 pre-made coupons, book cover, and 1 sheet of blanks for you to create your own ideas. What a sweet way to show dad he is king for a day.

*** Lady Bird Press is giving away one FREE download of their Father's Day coupon book. Comment below telling me how your guy goes over and beyond as a dad. Giveaway ends Thursday, June 12th at 9pm MST. Winner will be announced here Friday, June 13th and on my Facebook page. Prize will be sent to your email address.
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8.)  State Map Wall Art – Instant PDF Download $2.50 (Originally $5.00) by RedJuanPrintables
For the man always on the move, this timeless state map wall art is sure to win hearts. What a wonderful way to honor his home state and his or his children’s birthplace. Each state comes in your choice of 3 different layouts and sizes ranging from 5x7 up to 20x30. The frame is sold separately.
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9.) Natural Shaving Soap For Men $7.00 by HomeBrewedSoaps
Our military dads need to keep a clean face. Why not make a splash with this all natural face soap made of lavish oakmoss, cedarwood, and beer? The beer is homemade and the product packaging is created out of recycled materials. This soap uniquely brings a manly aroma into the bathroom – in a good way.
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10.) Hawaiian Coffee Fire Starters$7.50 by doublebrush
For the gourmet cook and BBQing dad, these coffee-smelling fire starters are a conversation piece sure to heat things up. Chemical-free, they provide a healthier way to outdoor cooking. If your special dad isn’t into cooking or grilling, use them for a night of entertaining around a fireplaces or a relaxing around a fire pit.
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Military fathers are special because they’re not only a major source of support for our family, but for all the families around the world. Our guys have a love of country that often requires them to be away on holidays including Father’s Day. Although we may tell our special dads we love them often, Father’s Day is reserved not only for expressing love, but showing sincere gratitude for being a beaming light of heroic inspiration in the hearts of our children, and the hearts of children everywhere.

*** Lady Bird Press is giving away one FREE download of their Father's Day coupon book. Comment below telling me how your guy goes over and beyond as a dad. Giveaway ends Thursday, June 12th at 9pm MST. Winner will be announced here Friday, June 13th and on my Facebook page. Prize will be sent to your email address.







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