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Write it all down

When I was pregnant with twins, stuck at home and trying to find things I was allowed to do, I ended up working on our "Navy Notebook," an idea I had after a completely hectic move where paperwork was everywhere and information scarce when I needed it. Moving from Hawaii, we had a moment-- hours-- of panic when we realized my husband's medical records were missing. Since he is in the STA-21 program and was on his way to NSI in Rhode Island, we were exceptionally concerned that if we didn't find the records, he would be thrown out of the program. While he was on the phone with the moving company negotiating prices to unpack then repack boxes already nailed into crates, I tore through our six overweight duffel bags until I eventually did find the medical records.

The idea of the Navy Notebook, or Move Notebook, is that all our information is organized in one place. I won't be arriving at the housing office missing Power of Attorneys or social security numbers. There will be no moments of panic when I realize passports are packed with our household goods, nor will I be kicking myself when I'm paying for overweight bags at the terminal because our orders are MIA. I won't be Google searching past pediatricians to provide addresses or names for new pediatricians or scouring old emails for passwords to websites when my husband is unreachable. I will have the answers at my fingertips.

Here is how it is organized. I bought a large, sturdy 3-inch notebook, no zip fronts or soft tops. Inside I have colored tabs labeled: Family, Local, Passwords, and Move. These tabs are on sturdy paper dividers that I can write notes on. Behind those tabs, I have another set of tabs labeled: Orders, Vehicle 1, Vehicle 2, and Documents. The second set of tabs are on plastic dividers that have pockets on the front and back. Let's begin with the tabs.

The first section of tabs, Family, Local, Passwords, and Move, are where I collect information. I can write on each of the dividers and only keep flat sheets of paper in these sections.
  • Family: on the front of this divider, I wrote down each of our moves with the Navy and for how long we lived there. On the bottom of the divider, I jotted down notes as to what is in this tab, "Emergency contacts, personal information, shot records."
    • Inside I have a clear sheet protector with a checklist of documents I need in the notebook for each move: "Important Document Checklist: social security cards, marriage and birth certificates, Husband's medical records, children's shot records, vet and shot records, passports." These are documents that I do not want packed in the household goods, that are difficult to replace, and that I may need during the move.
    • Following the sheet protector, I printed off sheets of paper that have bold titles across the front. These are my resources during our  moves, where I compile the information I may need when my computer is inaccessible or my husband is underways, such as "Emergency Contacts" or "Insurance Information," where I list the insurance agents and phone numbers we have used in each state. You may want to have a list of all the banks you keep money at or your spouse's driver's license number. These aren't things that you must keep in the notebook at all times. These are reminders of the information you will want to compile before an underway or move.
  • Local: on the front of this divider, I have written down, "local contacts."
    • The first thing is, again, the clear sheet protector, this time with a table of contents inside. It lists "Local Information": doctor, pediatrician, dentist, veterinarian, church, and other services. This lets me know what local information I can expect to find inside this section.
    • I printed off sheets of paper with large, bold titles across the front. Underneath, using my Word Processor, I included a table that takes up the rest of the page. For each of my family members, I have a "Medical Information" page. On these pages is where I write down each of the doctors and specialists that we used in the area. So, I have the clinic on base listed and the OB out in town for our time in New Hampshire. For my oldest, I have every pediatrician he has seen and the pediatric surgeon he goes to for his umbilical hernia that never went away. My husband, since his medical records are all in a folder, I have a sheet of paper reminding me, "Do not forget to carry his medical record!" I have another sheet of paper listing the dentists the family has used, the veterinarians we have gone to, the churches we went to, and a page for local services. This is where I write down hair salons I liked or great tailors. When a wife asks me, "Where did you get your hair done when you lived in North Carolina?" I can give her the name of the salon and stylist.
  • Passwords: on the front of this divider, I have written down, "Addresses to change for move and password information." This section is used to compile websites, magazines, stores, and registries that we need to change our address with when we move. Instead of frantically trying to remember every move ("Why am I not getting Buy Buy Baby coupons? Did I not change our address? And my Amazon orders... are they going to the old place?"), I can flip open my notebook and look at the list of frequently services and know who I need to change my address with. As far as writing down passwords, having that information on hand will be most useful when your husband is underway or deployed, times when you can't get ahold of him to ask what the password to Netflix is or the password to your cable site. You may just want to keep a list of sites you have passwords to and consider writing them down when an underway is approaching. That way you are not racking your brain last minute for information you may possibly need. Note: Change your address as soon as you can with magazines you subscribe to. It can take up to 6-months, half a years worth of subscriptions, to process your address change because they print their mailing labels in advance.
    • The clear sheet protector for this section just says, "Passwords and Websites."
    • I, again, printed off sheets of paper with large, bold titles with tables underneath. The "Change our address with..." is a sheet where I record places we regularly get mail from, magazines or stores I receive coupons from, or big places, such as the bank, cell phone company, and insurance company. The "Customer loyalty" page records all the companies I have a customer loyalty program through and my customer loyalty number, printed on the back of the key chain tag, along with the phone number to the corporate office. I like to know who I have a loyalty card with because some of these places I may need to change my address with, such as Best Buy that mails out coupons, or I only used in certain regions. The rest of the section are reminders, such as the "Frequently used websites" sheet where I list sites we use, like Netflix, that I might want the passwords to when my husband is away.
  • Move: The "Passwords" section is the smallest section. This is the largest. The note on this section says, "Move checklist, household goods move, walk-throughs, incoming move paperwork, and Navy information." This is where I will file all those pieces of paper that come my way during the move. I wrote an encouraging verse inside the divider to keep spirits high even when I feel overwhelmed or frustrated. "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of the God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:4-7
    • This section consists mainly of clear sheet dividers, places that I can slide documents in that come my way. I have a couple sheets of paper with large, bold titles and tables underneath them. One is a "Move Checklist" that I am perfecting, listing what I need to do each move (get vet and shot records, put all important documents in the notebook, update power of attorneys, etc). Another sheet lists "Military contact numbers." These are numbers that I may need during a move, before, after, or during, such as DEERS, Express Scripts, TRICare, or the local housing office. I have several copies of the sheet "Outgoing Move Checklist," which will serve as a checklist for that particular move, for instance, our next move to South Carolina. The last sheet is "Incoming Move Checklist," which will be things I need to do in our new area. I haven't made up my mind whether or not I want to divide the move, leaving an area and arriving into an area, but I like the idea of having organized lists.
    • For the clear dividers, I have a title sheet inside, stating what needs to go inside each of these dividers. In the move section I have: Application for Shipment and/or Storage of Personal Property, Household Goods Inventory, Final Walk-Through, Flight Information, Vet Records for Cat and Dog (must have to fly with animals), Lease, Initial Walk-Through, Move-in Paperwork (Receiving HHG's, etc). Now, after a certain amount of time passes, you no longer need the final walk-through from your old place and, of course, you wouldn't store your new lease forever in this notebook. However, during the move, it is nice to have a place to store the lease, know where it is, and be able to access it.
  • Power of Attorney: a military wife's best friend, the good ol' POA. Inside this section I have Philippians 2:14-15, "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe..." I highly recommend always, always having a durable unlimited power of attorney on hand. During our move to Hawaii, the VIN was written incorrectly on the POA for our Jeep. They refused to give me the Jeep (my husband underway, me with an infant, no vehicle). Thankfully I had my durable unlimited POA and was able to leave with my Jeep that day. I used it when we moved to North Carolina to sign our lease. That being said, you should still make sure to get specific power of attorneys during each of your moves as well. You can never be too prepared.
    • This section consists entirely of clear sheet protectors with title pages, serving as a reminder of which power of attorneys I still need or which power of attorneys I have. It also makes it extremely easy to find a specific power of attorney. I have a slot for: Power of Attorney (Durable Unlimited), POA for HHG's, POA for Vehicle 1, POA for Vehicle 2, POA to Ship Vehicles, and POA to register vehicles.
Photo courtesy of Combat Index
This moves us on to our second set of tabs. These tabs consist of colored, plastic dividers that have pockets on the front and back. They came in a pack of eight, though I only have four labeled. I have the entire pack in the binder because you never know if you will need them!
  • Orders: I use a clear sheet protector with a sheet of paper slipped inside with the word "Orders." The pockets on the divider may come in handy with information handed out at FRG meetings or to keep notes from FRG meetings on travelling with orders (do not pay for overweight bags when travelling on orders!).
  • Shipping Vehicle 1: I have clear sheet protectors with a sheet of paper inside, giving me places to file the important documents when shipping a vehicle: Vehicle Shipping Order, Vehicle Inspection (Drop off and Pick up), Picking up the Vehicle, Title and Registration. The POA for shipping the vehicle is kept in the POA section of the notebook.
  • Shipping Vehicle 2: This section is identical to the one before, just for our second vehicle.
  • Documents: I have a lot of clear sheet protectors in this section, none with a sheet of paper inside labelling. Some of these documents, like a passport, would not sit well in a sheet protector. Instead, I have a checklist inside a sheet protector titled "Important Document Checklist:" birth certificates, marriage license, social security cards, passports, health care power of attorney, last will and testament. I have another checklist earlier in the notebook, but this is where I file some of these documents. It is extremely important, as a spouse of a military member, to make sure your health care power of attorney and wills are up-to-date before travel or deployments. Always carry important documents with you during a move, never pack them in your household goods where they could be lost or stolen.
To store important documents that I need to travel with, I put a large plastic pouch at the beginning of the notebook that seals closed. I can slide awkward documents in there, such as passports, or small important documents, like social security cards and folded birth certificates. Following the plastic pouch, I have a three-hole punched folder with pockets inside to put papers I may acquire. After this folder is my first set of tabs, followed by the second set of tabs. At the back of the notebook I have a clear sheet protector with a sheet of paper slid inside titled "Move Receipts." There are several extra sheet protectors after the "Move Receipt" paper. If I need extra sheet protectors for another section, I have them already in my notebook or I can store my more receipts in them. It is always good to hold on to move receipts because, in many cases, you are compensated for your travelling expenses. The notebook ends with two three-hole punched colored folders.

Photo courtesy of Undersea Warfare
Another great idea for the travelling military wife, is a recipe notebook. I recently purchased a medium-sized notebook from Target. Inside I wrote down all of our favorite family recipes. The notebook is great for several reasons. The first is that I no longer need to flip through old Real Simple magazines to find one of my favorite recipes or jump on the Internet to find that feta tzatziki sauce recipe that we've become hooked on. All my favorite recipes are now in one place, which translates to less things to pack (no bulky cookbooks in your luggage). Another big motivator, for me, was to preserve the foods that my children have been enjoying. This way they will be able to share their favorite recipes with their families, just the way I made them. My grandmother passed down recipes to me. Most of them consist of "a pinch of this" or "enough flour so its, you know, gravy." As hard as I try, I cannot duplicate her recipes and so I always look forward to trips home where I can have my favorite meals. Which brings me to my last point, no matter where you are, you will able to make foods that taste of home. If you are living out of the Navy Lodge for a month, you can make your favorite comfort foods. I really like the idea of having our favorite meals move with us. Throughout the notebook I made little notes and pasted pictures of our family. Since there are many more pages in the book, I look forward to filling it up with meals we have enjoyed together. Even now, when I taste my granny's pretzel salad, a recipe several of my friends have integrated into their families traditions, I feel like I'm 9-years old again, having a pool party in my backyard. I can hear the sounds of the pool, smell the chlorine, taste the sweet cream cheese and salty pretzels... I'm looking forward to sharing these recipes with my children's families. One day. For now, I want to cherish these precious years that we all live under one roof.


Thank you, thank you, thank you for this! I am a new Navy wife, about to move for our first duty station states away, alone, with three kids, while my husband is away at Officer training. I am nervous, stressed and lets face it, a little scared... but this is an awesome idea and I'm getting started on it right away! :)
Kimber said…
Good luck! I have unpacked our HHG's 3 times by myself, 2 of those times with a little guy in tow. Here in North Carolina, we moved across town twice, bringing the number of times my husband has helped us move to 2. :P Please email me at I'd love to explain any questions you may have about the move notebook or if you just want to chat! :)

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