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Understanding a branch in the military is kind of like learning a new language: all the acronyms, job-specific lingo and ranks can be really confusing at first. But you’ll get them down eventually. And then your loved one heads to a joint command and you have to start all over again.

Why you ask?

Because each branch is so dang different! They may all be part of the military umbrella and have a similar overarching mission, but that’s about where the similarities end. While it may seem a bit overwhelming, it’s actually a good thing because you can use these differences to your advantage and put together a branch-themed care package!

A branch-themed care package allows you to celebrate all the best parts of your branch: slogans, unique aspects and even a little bit of branch-related sarcasm. First up on the branch-themed care package list is the Army, which has so many fun care package ideas!

For most branches, you can make use of the military alphabet to add some fun to your design, especially if you’re spelling out certain words that indicate how you really feel about deployment.

OneTwoThreeFour

For an Army-themed care package, you can make great use of pre-printed camouflage scrapbook paper. There are many different patterns out there and you may be able to find one that mimics your loved one’s uniform, but don’t worry if it doesn’t match exactly!

Army Care Package Themes

The Army makes frequent use of “Army strong” as a slogan and you should totally take advantage of that for your care package. Other slogans include:

  • Soldier boy (girl) so brave and fine, I’m so glad you’re mine
  • Soldier boy (girl) so brave and fine, won’t you be my Valentine?
  • Hooah!
  • I want YOU back home soon! (A play on recruiting posters from the early 1900s)
  • I heart my soldier
  • Stay safe, sleep with a soldier
  • My heart belongs to someone in the Army
What to put in an Army care package?

In addition to many of the care package staples, you could add a few items specific to your loved one’s branch. Things like uniform items or branch PT gear would be fun additions to the box. You could also add an Army-themed movie or book to the box. Last, but not least, consider sending items from military-owned or affiliated businesses.

Want to send your own Army-themed care package to your loved one? I can help you with that! This design is in my shop and is a great way to simplify your next care package.

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

The post How to send an Army-themed care package appeared first on Countdowns and Cupcakes.

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I think there’s some sort of magic that takes place when you become a part of the military lifestyle: suddenly you become acutely aware of every single patriotic item in stores. I can’t eat M&M’s, but you can bet I notice when the 4th of July bags make their appearance on shelves. I may not need it, but I definitely check out all the patriotic paper at the craft store. With that kind of eye for the red, white and blue, it’s easy to understand why I’m a huge fan of patriotic care packages.

There’s really no shortage of ideas for patriotic care packages, probably because care packages and the military go hand-in-hand. Whether you’re into fun puns or sentimental sayings, there’s truly a design to brighten every service member’s day.

Look for a design that speaks to you and your service member; even something as standard as a red, white and blue box can be customized for your loved one.

Bonus: Want to send a fun (but mini) version of a 4th of July care package? Check out this post.

Decorating patriotic care packages

Design ideas
One of the best parts of patriotic care packages is that the theme is pretty much done for you. Over the years, I’ve put together quite a few care packages with patriotic themes. They all have a few things in common: a red, white and blue color scheme, stars and stripes imagery and a few fireworks.

This one is a play on the National Anthem lyric and is simple, but exceptionally cute! Choosing a more subtle background paper lets the text really pop. You could customize this design even further by adding photos of the brave individual in your life.

In addition to referring to the anthem, this patriotic care package also hints at the US flag with the stars and stripes. You could do any variation of this design with just a few items from the store: red and white striped paper, blue paper, silver letters and silver star stickers.

I really liked working on this design because it had such a unique and fun spin to it: the “cause baby you’re a firework!” lyrics aren’t necessarily meant to be patriotic, but they fit a 4th of July theme perfectly. The theme was carried out a bit more with the addition of the sparkly fireworks. Since you can’t actually include true fireworks in your patriotic care packages, these cut outs are a solid substitute.

When and where to shop for supplies
Craft stores are an excellent source of supplies for your patriotic care packages. Most of them actually have pre-printed patriotic paper or stickers all year long so you can stock up whenever there is a sale. Some larger stores make stock these items seasonally so definitely keep an eye on shelves beginning shortly after Easter.

You can also take all the work out of decorating your patriotic care packages by purchasing one of my pre-decorated care package flap sets. This year’s 4th of July design just debuted in my shop and it’s the perfect combination of patriotism and sweet sentiment.

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

The post Perfect Patriotic Care Packages appeared first on Countdowns and Cupcakes.

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Even though they may seem insignificant, little victories matter and are worth celebrating. They say you’re on the right track, you’re getting closer to your end goal, you’re making progress. This is true for business, life, fitness and, most certainly, deployment.

Time during deployment can feel like it’s barely moving. Days feel like weeks. Weeks feel like months. Y’all have been there, you know. I struggled with that feeling of time standing still during my first deployment as a military girlfriend, but I quickly realized there was a way to speed up time.

Well, sort of.

We all know you can’t speed up time, although if someone was to invent that technology, I’d put money on it being a military spouse tired of waiting. In the meantime, I’ve found that breaking the long months of deployment into shorter chunks and celebrating the passing of those mini milestones really helps!

#Deployment tip: break the long months in chunks and celebrate the passing of each mini milestone.
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A milestone can be just about anything you want it to be: vacations, events at work, a girl’s night out, a message for yourself or even a holiday. The only requirement is that they happen on a set day and you know about them in advance. Holidays can sometimes be the best ones because they come so quickly. Think about it: 55 days of deployment may seem impossible, but the 55 days between Halloween and Christmas? Those bad boys fly by!

You can have one milestone a month, or two, or three or however many you want. Before deployment, brainstorm all the different kind of milestones and put them in chronological order in some sort of list format. I make my milestone list on my phone and then check them off as they pass.

For example, my last deployment’s milestone list looked something like this:
Business trip
4th of July
Our dating anniversary
Work event
Husband’s birthday
Work event
Halloween
Work event

And that was it. An almost five-month deployment boiled down to just eight milestones and they happened so quickly. I even included special occasions that would have ordinarily been spent with my husband so that I still looked forward to them arriving.

Mini milestones are important to celebrate during #deployment, for those at home and those overseas.
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Getting to each of those milestones not only helped me make the time apart more manageable, but it also helped me share that time ticking down with my husband. It can be easy to forget that time sometimes drags for the deployed service member. They are also anxious to come home. When you can share that there are only X number of days left or just one more milestone until they come home, that’s encouraging for them too!

“Knowing that someone at home is counting down the days for #deployment to end matters to us. It means someone is just as anxious for us to be home as we are.”

-My husband

Next time you find yourself facing a seemingly impossible long deployment, consider breaking it into smaller chunks. Those milestones can really help you and your loved one feel like you’re making progress through deployment.

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

The post Deployment Tip: Celebrate Mini Milestones appeared first on Countdowns and Cupcakes.

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Loving someone in the military comes with an exceptionally steep learning curve. Between ranks and abbreviations, you learn a brand new language. Between PCS, deployments and TDYs, you learn a brand new lifestyle. There is no such thing as dipping a toe in and taking things slow; you have to jump right into the deep end.

That’s why learning from other members of this lifestyle is so exceptionally important. When I first entered into this life, I read and read and read. I asked questions. I followed seasoned spouses on social media and tried to pick up as many tips as I possibly could.

As I started experiencing military life in person, I began learning what did and what didn’t work for me. Each TDY, each deployment brought with them a lifetime of lessons and strategies that helped me handle the next one. Over the course of four deployments and probably 20 TDYs in 6 years, I have definitely begun to gather some of the wisdom I so admired in others.

What Got Me Through Deployment

Countdowns and Mini Milestones
Perhaps this is the organizational freak in me, but countdowns and mini milestones are huge for surviving deployment!

Each deployment, I’d use my countdown frame and an app on my phone to keep track of how many days until homecoming. Seeing the pie chart change color and writing a smaller number each night was like a tiny victory at the end of a long day.

But after my first deployment, I took it one step further. I broke the deployment up into mini deployments, punctuated by a work or life event that I could use as a milestone. Maybe it was a friend’s wedding or a holiday or an event for my day job; making it to each of those moments helped mark time. It made the entire deployment seem more manageable because it didn’t stretch on endlessly.

Care Packages
Ok, I know what you’re thinking:

“Duh, Rachel. Of course care packages helped you through deployment. You’re creative and like doing them. I am not!”

Here’s the thing: it’s not the decorations that make a care package. It’s the care package itself. Care packages helped me feel connected to my husband when he was away; especially when I was younger and our relationship was still in the baby stage. Having the constant presence of his care package on my to-do list (decorate, shop, fill, ship…repeat) kept him as a constant presence in my mind.

When I shopped for his care package, I felt more connected to him because there he was present in an everyday thing. When I worked on decorating his box, I felt more connected to him because I spent time considering what would make him smile. It was the tangible link between the two of us: we both touched it.

Projects and Setting Goals
There’s some controversy in the whole “staying busy makes the time go faster” advice so many military spouses hear regularly. In fact, time does not go faster if you’re busy. Six months is six months. A year is a year. But what staying busy does make possible is the illusion of time passing more quickly. When you’re busy, your mind is elsewhere. When you’re busy, the days without your loved one are filled with something other than missing them. That’s good for you.

During my husband’s deployments, I always had a few projects I wanted to finish. Maybe it was painting the entryway or running a half-marathon or starting my own business. The project itself wasn’t as important as what the project accomplished: for those minutes, hours, days, I wasn’t solely focused on him not being there. I was focused on things I could do on my own. I was focused on me.

My Dogs
This one may seem a bit silly, but trust me, it’s not meant to be funny! Every night, I would come home after a busy day of work and life and the house would be quiet. Too quiet. Sad quiet. Lonely quiet.

The dogs changed that. Their wagging tails, their ever-present warmth, their ever-ready lick brought a little life into the otherwise quiet house each night.

Without the laughter they brought and the love they gave, I would have been so much lonelier each night. I probably would have gotten through it, but it would have been so much harder.

What are some things that have helped you get through deployment?

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

The post 4 Things That Get Me Through Deployment appeared first on Countdowns and Cupcakes.

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During deployment, there’s a lot on your plate. Taking care of everything at home can be exhausting and sometimes extras seem like more trouble than they’re worth. Unfortunately, care packages sometimes fall squarely in this “extra” category, but they don’t need to take a lot of time.

Luckily, I’ve gotten care package shopping down almost to a science and, by following a few tips, you can too!

Care Package Shopping Tips

Make a list
I am notorious for browsing the aisles at large stores (Target, Costco, etc.) and coming across a whole bunch of must-haves that I didn’t know I needed to have. I mean when you can get 4 pounds of chocolate chips for like $10, how can you say no to that?

Spoiler: if you’re me, you can’t.

This impulse purchasing is exactly why I have to make a list when I go shopping for my husband’s care packages. As soon as I enter a store without one, who the heck knows what I’ll come home with. A list keeps me organized; it forces me to think through what will fit in the box and what he actually needs or wants.

If you need help starting your shopping list, grab this free PDF. It has a few care package content suggestions plus room for you to add your own items. Print as many as you need for deployment!

Have a budget in mind
You know what else a list helps you do? It helps you stick to a budget! Care packages can get expensive and one of the best ways to save money on them is to plan how much you want to spend and stick to it.

When you’re setting a care package budget, keep in mind that you’ll also need to pay to ship and decorate the box. It also helps to think through how many care packages you plan to send: 1 a month? 1 every 3 months? Doing that math (and seeing how much the entire deployment’s care packages adds up to) may cause you to rethink how much you’d like to spend on each box.

Shop those sales!
You can definitely decorate your care package off the sale rack and fill it from there too! Keep an eye on your local grocery store ads for favorite items to go on sale. Sales are also a great time to try new products: different brands or flavors help mix up the box’s contents and keeps things from getting boring.

Don’t forget to make use of coupons or rewards programs when shopping – the savings for each trip may be small, but they will add up over time!

Buy in bulk when appropriate
Occasionally, sales work best when you buy in bulk (buy one, get one sales for example). If that’s the case, it’s a great time to stock up on a certain product for use in more than one care package. Make sure to follow these tips when shopping bulk to maximize the benefits.

Keep your loved one in mind
Ultimately, the most important thing for you to remember when shopping for your care package is the person who you’re sending the box to! If your loved one has specific likes or dislikes, incorporate those requests into your shopping list. Don’t send an entire box filled with beef jerky if your loved one has decided to go vegan during deployment. You know them best!

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

The post How To Shop For A Care Package appeared first on Countdowns and Cupcakes.

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It can be hard to come up with new and exciting things to put in a care package. After all, there are only so many snack foods out there and one person only needs but so many photos of the dog. So yes, the contents may be limited, but they don’t have to be the same all the time. One of the best ways to do that is to get out of the grocery store or your usual shopping spots and hit the internet. There are so many goodies from military-owned companies that would be perfect care package contents!

I love the idea of shopping for care package contents from military-owned companies. It gives you the chance to support this community twice while helping you send your loved one new and different items in their care packages.  

For the most part, you’ll need to shop these products online, but next time you’re in the store, keep an eye out for these brands. They may pop up! 

Military-affiliated Care Package Contents

One of the best parts of shopping for care package contents from military-owned companies is the great diversity in the number of products they make. From lotions to snacks to socks, there truly is a little something for everyone! 

Face WashGrenade SoapArmpit ArmorBody Lotion

Keeping your loved one smelling fresh isn’t easy when they’re overseas and working odd hours, but these toiletries may make a difference! I love the natural deodorant, but the name of the soap (Whiskey and Bad Decisions) may be my favorite. How many service members have a story that involves those two things? 

TeaBlack Rifle CoffeeCall Sign Coffee

Show me a deployed service member not in need of some extra caffeine and I’ll show you a unicorn. Sending coffee from companies owned by veterans is a fun way to keep your loved one and their co-workers awake during the long nights. If your loved one isn’t into coffee, don’t worry! There are military-owned tea companies too. 

Before sending any of these items make sure that your service member has access to a coffee maker or tea kettle! 

Snack BarJerky Sampler PackPopcornFoxhole Fire Jerky

Snack foods and care packages go hand-in-hand so it only makes sense that military-owned companies would get in on the game! Jerky is a very popular care package staple and sending a variety of different flavors would be a great way to mix it up. When you’re sending food from small companies, just make sure that they are truly shelf-stable and will ship overseas well.   

Embrace the Suck CardDog Tags Card

Y’all know that a care package isn’t complete without a love note, at least in my world. These cards would be great additions to your next care package! 

SocksFit DeckNavy Rack Packs

But care package contents from military-owned companies don’t stop at consumable goods! Things like socks are the perfect fun item to include in a box. I’m also a huge fan of these FitDecks as a space-saving workout alternative. 

So much so that I included one in my must-have list for a fitness care package. Next time you’re getting to ready to fill a care package, get out of the big box stores and shop military-owned companies! 

For my fellow Navy significant others, check out these Navy Rack Packs! If your loved one is on a ship, these are a must-have and would be so functional, both as storage and privacy.

Next time you’re getting to ready to fill a care package, get out of the big box stores and shop military-owned companies! 

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

The post Military-Affiliated Care Package Contents appeared first on Countdowns and Cupcakes.

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Can you feel that? Warmer temperatures, longer days, chirping birds…spring is springing as we speak! Well, it may not be springing as much as it is slowly slowly slowly coming to the surface. But that still means that I’m all about the spring care package!

I’ve shared some spring care package content ideas in the past, but pulling off a spring care package theme involves decorating the box too! Luckily there are so many fun themes you can use.

Spring Care Package Themes
  • Some bunny loves you
  • I can’t wait to hop into your arms
  • To one of my favorite peeps
  • Spring is in the air
  • April showers bring May flowers
  • From your favorite peeps
  • This chick misses you
  • I’m egg-cited to see you soon
  • This chick loves you
  • You make my heart hoppy
  • Bunny kisses and Easter wishes

Each of these themes would make for a fun care package design and you can use things like pastel colors, bunnies, flowers and baby chicks to decorate the box.

Don’t forget that pre-printed paper can do the majority of the work for you, especially with such colorful and intricate designs. You can buy individual pieces or purchase a pad of paper and swap with friends.

Spring into your armsSome bunny loves youFrom your favorite peepsThis chick loves you

What I love about all these inspiration photos is how bright and colorful they are: it really is like sending spring in a box! Oh and the puns. Spring care packages seem to have the best pun potential.

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

The post Spring Care Package Themes appeared first on Countdowns and Cupcakes.

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I’ve always been a big fan of birthdays: they’re like your own personal holiday. It’s the one day of the year where the world CAN revolve around you and celebrations are highly encouraged. Of course, if your loved one is deployed, they can’t necessarily celebrate 50 Cent-style (no sippin bub in the club), but the day can still be fun!

Of course, the best way to celebrate a birthday is to be with the ones you love, but you can send pieces of home in a birthday care package that will help your loved one feel special. You can also celebrate again when you’re reunited. I mean who doesn’t want MORE cake?!

Birthday Care Package Themes

If you’re going to celebrate a birthday via care package, I highly recommend decorating that box as festively as possible! Most craft stores have quite a few pre-printed birthday papers that you can choose from and incorporate into your design. There are also so many birthday stickers to choose from; if you have little ones, it would be a great activity for them to help you with.

Birthday Care Package Themes:
You could do a decade-themed box that highlights all the fun aspects of your loved one’s childhood. I did an 80’s themed-box for my husband’s birthday and he loved it! My favorite option would definitely be a “party in a box” theme: you’d decorate the box with balloons, party hats, streamers, presents, confetti, cake and candles. Brightly colored paper would be a great background for all of those fun things!

Want a little help in decorating your birthday care package? Check out my guest post for The Military Wife and Mom or order one of my birthday care package flap sets.

Birthday Care Package Contents BannerHatsButtonMug CakeQuest BarsGumOreos

What’s a birthday party without a few decorations and cake? There are so many great birthday decorations available at fairly reasonable prices that you could send enough for your loved one to truly have a little mini party (or at least decorate their room). Sending an entire cake may be out of the question, but sending birthday cake-flavored items is totally doable! Choose one or two snack items that your loved one will like and add them to your box.

Other items you can include are birthday cards (especially if you collect them from family and friends) and a present or two. You could also have friends and family record video messages wishing your loved one happy birthday (or singing!) and include a thumb drive with them in the box.

I’m always a fan of wrapping the items in a care package, but definitely encourage it even more with a birthday care package! That little touch can make your loved one feel like it’s truly their birthday and extends the fun a bit more.

No matter where your loved one is on their birthday, they can still celebrate and have fun on their own personal holiday. A birthday care package is the perfect way to bring the party to them!

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

The post Celebrating Birthdays During Deployment appeared first on Countdowns and Cupcakes.

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Have you ever seen a photo or video online of a couple fiercely embracing? Maybe one of them is wearing camo and the other one is crying a little bit. Maybe it’s in an airplane hangar or at an airport or at a dock. Maybe there are little ones hanging onto clothing or a leg. Maybe it’s just the two of them.

You’ve probably seen that deployment homecoming photo or video quite a few times. You’ve probably teared up a little bit and maybe ached to hug your loved one. But what you probably haven’t realized is that what you’re seeing is the “after”. You’ve probably never thought about the moments that happened before someone hit record. You’ve probably never considered the “before”.

You've probably seen that deployment homecoming photo or video quite a few times. But what you probably haven't done too often is thought about the moments that happened before someone hit record.
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You probably haven’t thought much about the days, weeks, months of waiting that went into that reunion. You probably haven’t thought much about the tears shed, the care packages sent, the lonely nights or the days of worry. You probably haven’t thought much about missed birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, soccer games or school plays. You probably haven’t thought much about what happened before that reunion.

You probably haven’t thought much about it, but the people bringing tears to your eyes during a lunch break certainly have. They have scratched and clawed their way through it, fighting both for this country and their relationship. They’ve battled enemies overseas and Murphy’s Law at home. They’ve endured infrequent and unsatisfying communication. They’ve faced hardships on their own, while trying to support their loved one thousands of miles away. Those moments will stay with them long after that first hug and even longer after you’ve navigated away from the page.

Those before moments affect a relationship in significant (and often unseen) ways. Not every couple comes through a deployment stronger than they went it; many face a relationship very much in need of repair. The hardship isn’t over when they reunite: for many, it’s just starting. Reconnecting and rebuilding takes time; that first hug captured on film is a baby step towards being a family again.

The moments before that photo are so incredibly hard. They test the will of everyone involved. They bend you so far that you feel certain you’ll break. Sometimes they do break you.

But here’s something else you may not know about the moments before that video: they have made the people you’re watching so incredibly strong. Yes, they may be a bit bruised and battered, maybe a little cracked here and there. But they are so strong.

In that moment of reunion you catch on Facebook, you may see pure happiness, but there is so much more than just that. It’s relief. It’s being able to breathe again. It’s the weight of the moments before that day being lifted off their shoulders.

It’s the after.

The post The Moments Before appeared first on Countdowns and Cupcakes.

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What makes a care package special may surprise you: it’s not the snacks or the magazines. It’s the smaller, more personal items that do the trick: the photos of a favorite vacation, the hand-written encouraging note, the drawing from a little one. They make the service member feel closer to home and brighten up dreary days and walls. Care package crafts made by hand are a great addition to your box and are valuable keepsakes that will mean so much to your loved one.

Care Package Craft Tips

Shop for supplies on sale.
I’ve shared quite a few tips on saving money on care packages and many of them apply to care package crafts as well. The biggest one is to always buy your craft supplies on sale and take advantage of as many coupons as possible! Most craft stores also offer a military discount so be sure to double up as much as possible. Of course, being able to shop sales requires a little bit of pre-planning so as you plan out your care package themes, think about which crafts you may want to include.

Keep them small.
Space is limited in a care package so your craft will need to fit in the box you’ll ship overseas, without getting damaged. Keeping it small will help your craft fit, plus it ensures that it won’t take up too much space in your loved one’s living quarters which are notoriously small. Flat items, like drawings or paintings, are great craft ideas that take up very little space.

Read more: Space-Saving Care Packages

Don’t worry about perfection.
Pinterest is both the best and worst thing to ever happen to the crafting industry. There are so many wonderful ideas at your fingertips, but there is a lot of comparison inherent in using the site. When it comes to care package crafts, I want you to leave all that comparison behind, especially if little ones are joining in on the fun. The finished product may not look exactly like the inspiration picture, but that’s ok. It will be perfect to your loved one!

Have fun.
As with all things care package-related, care package crafts should be fun, not a dreaded chore. If they begin to feel that way, step back and look for alternatives. Skip the craft entirely, buy pre-made elements that you can assemble or consider letting your children handle the crafting on their own. There’s enough on your plate during deployment: don’t let extra things like crafts stress you out!

There's enough on your plate during deployment: don't let extra things like crafts stress you out!
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Care Package Crafts Perfect for Kids Sources: 123

Kids and crafts go hand-in-hand, especially for deployment care packages! There are so many great ideas out there, both for holiday care packages and across the board. Not every craft is appropriate for all ages, but the three I’ve highlighted here would work for just about any little one. You could also do the first two with a pet or all of them yourself!

Valentine’s Heart Tree
I know this says it’s for Valentine’s Day, but you really could send it anytime of the year. I love that the little hearts are made from overlapping fingerprints; you could have everyone do their fingerprint heart on the same page or send multiple versions.

Patriotic Handprint
The good thing about military care packages is that patriotic themes and crafts are always appropriate! I like the idea of sending handprint or fingerprint art from little ones because it’s so personal and captures a moment in time that your loved one may have missed. If you send this kind of art regularly over the course of a long deployment, your loved one will have tangible evidence of their little one growing.

Send a Hug
A good hug is probably the thing that I miss most during deployment and while this craft can’t really replace that, it can be a nice reminder that hugs are waiting at home. I like the version that you trace because it can be decorated by a little one or you. Here’s another version that uses ribbon and handprints instead.

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

The post Care Package Crafts appeared first on Countdowns and Cupcakes.

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