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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): September 2007

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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Location: United States

After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The True Benefits of Being a Military Spouse

Okay, so you're married to the military. You go tax-free shopping at the PX and the commissary, but have you ever really thought about what REAL benefits you have besides the tax-free shopping? Here are some things to think about.

Have you ever sat and thought about what you like about being a military wife? I know we all complain...hey, it's human nature, so that's acceptable. But, there must be something you like about it. If someone asked you today what you like about your military nomadic life, what would you say? Here's what I would say:

  • I love when my husband returns from his deployment, and we get to have a honeymoon all over again!
  • I love to travel all over the world, live in new places, experience new cultures..and when I am tired of that one, I know I will soon be moving on to the next one (this even includes places in good ole' US of A, because "down in the Bayou" is much different than "living in the Big Apple"
  • The military discounts available at theme parks, restaurants and shopping are great
  • The sense of independence, adventure, maturity and flexibility I am instilling in my children will last them a lifetime
  • I love the sense of pride and patriotism that comes out in me, because you just can't help it with your surroundings
  • It's great to have the many discounted and free programs and opportunities available to the military through organizations on post such as Army Community Service
  • I love the ease of making friends with other military wives and families, because we all tend to do this automatically with all the moving around we do
  • The educational opportunities for me and my husband, most times free and low cost, are a nice thing to have
  • The opportunities for us to network in our jobs, so we can find our rightful place after the military are plentiful
  • The free healthcare most Americans are struggling to pay or can't pay at all may be reason enough right there (and from personal experience, the quality of care can be quite good, depending on where you are)
  • The job security my husband has knowing he won't ever be fired (you'd have to screw up badly to be "let go"; never say never, but I am comparing his work to let's say someone who works in some mindless corporation somewhere; they disappear and fold up everyday; if the Army folds up, we are in trouble as a nation)
  • The guaranteed pension plan (the day the military makes the pension plan go away completely is the day the country will truly be broke; you see Fortune 500 companies all the time doing away with their pensions; the government will surely be the last to go this route)
  • The interesting shopping booty from exotic locales at reduced prices and before they hit popularity in the States; Polish Pottery and Czech crystal immediately come to mind
  • The unexpected sight of my husband when he comes home early from work or gets an unexpected day off; even though he works long hours, it's nice to see him getting some free time when least expected (and the kids are in school)
What do you see as the benefits?


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Faux Painting - a Leap of Faith

I am not handy, and I am not creative. We bought our first home seven years ago, and I was too chicken back then to do anything with the white walls. Growing up in the military, being in the military and finally marrying into the military, you get used to seeing white walls in your quarters or wherever you happen to be living at the time. I decided at this last duty station, things were going to be different.

Within days of buying our house, I already had a plan of how, what and when I was going to paint. My husband just shrugged his shoulders and said he had a TDY trip coming up. Well, I got tons of books on the subject at my local library. I took numerous trips to Lowes and Home Depot and shuttled countless paint samples back and forth. The people there knew me by name.

I finally decided what color was going to be my dominant color throughout the house, and yes, I picked a neutral color as recommended by every real estate agent and person interested in resale value. I thought I would do something different in the dining room, a nice cranberry color, and our master bedroom, which I wanted to have a nice rustic Italian villa look.

I have NEVER painted before..other than stick figures on posterboard as a child. I kid you not. I won't bore you with the details that it took me over two weeks to paint my house, not including the bedroom. I also won't bore you with the six coats plus primer it took to paint that cranberry red, and why did no one tell me that this is the case with certain darker colors?

After reading and watching a few faux painting tutorials online, I realized I didn't have the guts to dab newspaper or rags or anything else for that matter. I wanted it instant and I wanted it as simple as I could get it. At this point, I had paint in my hair, under my fingernails, somehow in my one armpit and had cleaned countless drips, pans and brushes. The master bedroom would be the "piece de resistance" for me. So....I cheated. I bought a Wall Magic Designer Series Kit. It even came with a video and tons of yea-sayers, saying it works. That did it for me.

I had a few days break waiting for it to arrive... a much needed break...the house was a mess, and I didn't want my husband to come back to a I ended up unpacking the rest of the boxes and getting most things put away...or at least made it look like they were put away.

After the box arrived, I watched the video. Wow, made it look easy. I already had my paint picked out and the guy at Lowe's assured me the colors would blend in well together. I really do not have an eye for color...when I held the samples up to the light..I kept getting this "that's not it" feeling...but in the end, I trusted him, as I didn't have any better solutions and brought the paint home. Do remember, if you're military and you're shopping at Lowe's or Home Depot, be sure to ask for the military discount.

Since I already had the area prepped, it was no trouble pouring the paints in the tray. That was the easy part. I hesitated...but only for a few minutes. I figured if it turned out badly, I could always use my leftover cans of the neutral one would know I had failed at this. Well, I was nicely surprised. The kit actually is a photo of the proof.

What am I trying to say with all this? Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and try it, whatever it is....try something new. It's a good "pick me up" and a great confidence builder when you do succeed. Even though I am not an artist, I consider this a monumental work of art...for me. I'm just comparing myself with me and not with someone like Picasso, anyone on the Home & Garden Network or anything like that.

Have you been thinking of trying something new but are just afraid to give it a try? Just try it....nudge yourself. You may just surprise even yourself. And if it doesn't work out, you've learned a valuable lesson in the process and know thyself just a little bit better. So, give it a try, and let me know how it goes!


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My Silly Little Purchase Paid Off

I finally figured out a way to save a little extra money. My idea has paid off...three times over now...and I just giggle thinking about how I am fooling my kids...well actually, since they are older, I'm not really fooling them, but the novelty of this is so great, they are just happily going along with it.

After checking and watching prices for those cereal know the ones you sometimes see in hotels in their breakfast area...I finally found one on sale and with free shipping. I paid about $20 total for it. I eagerly waited for it in the mail. I was just hoping it wasn't a piece of junk, like most things you see in a catalog...I did wish it was made out of glass, but even though it was plastic, it was a tough plastic and I figured it would be acceptable. It came, and I was right (thank God).

Of course, the kids wanted to set it up right away. They even wanted to go to the store right away and get the cereal. I told them, no more premium boxed cereals. I steered them towards the big bins of the cereal in plastic know, the Malt-O-Meals and the like. I had never looked there. I would not admit to looking there. In fact, I had always turned up my nose at such stuff. Well, now I had an excuse to fill a "cool dispenser", so it was okay to pick a few bags out. The kids of course love Cocoa Puffs and wouldn't you know, there was something similar called "CocoRoos"...and to top it off, it was on sale. The CocoRoos ended up being 9.5 cents per ounce, compared to the Cocoa Puffs which were 33.8 cents per ounce. Quite a big difference!

We ended up loading our cart with all the CocoRoos they had. I threw in a few bags of something that look suspiciously like Cap'n Crunch. I don't know what the lady thought at checkout, but I also loaded up my cart with plenty of fruits and veggies. I didn't want her to think I fed my children solely cold cereal! Yes, we have it for dinner sometimes, but that's beside the point!

We raced home and put one of each cereal in each dispenser. It actually came with two dispensers. It even matches my countertops and looks a little stylish there in the corner by the coffemaker. I stepped back, turned around and both my boys were standing there with bowls and spoons in hand. We hadn't even finished putting away the groceries yet, we were that distracted with this new gadget!

Well, I let them at it. They proceeded to turn the handle. It came out okay...although a few pieces were a bit crunched, for a lack of a better word....but they didn't care. They loved it! The novelty of the device cancelled out any disappointment that it has a tendency to chop up larger sized cereal pieces AND that they were eating a no-name brand cereal here.

We've had it for a few months now. They still use it..almost every morning. Even our exchange student, husband and myself use the thing. Money well spent. The thing is still in one piece...a rarity around here...we are still buying the no-name cereal, although we realized we should continue to purchase small bite size Shredded Mini Wheat clones for this would give a new meaning to shredded. Keep that in mind if you decide to get one. Plus, it has paid itself off....about three times over, if my calculations are correct, and I am no longer a slave to Kellog's, General Mills or any big box name!

There you have it. Have you made any purchases lately that have saved you money? Let's hear about it!
See this article and many others on family life at Real Life.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Free Credit Check Four Times a Year

You've heard it a million times...check your credit report. It seems that for every big purchase or major life change, our credit is getting checked before we even make our first move. If it comes back less than stellar, we literally end up paying for it..and many times directly through our noses. I'm sure you've heard by now, how you can check your credit for free online. By law, you are entitled to do this once a year. Here's how you can do it at no cost to you, four times a year and some of the other steps you should be taking in the process.

Visit Annual Credit Report. Yes, you are going to fill in personal information, including your social security number. Yes, it is okay, and this is a secure site. You may be asked some identifying information. Once all that is entered, you will be asked to go to one of the three credit bureau agency sites. Pick only one credit bureau. You will then be whisked away to their site and see your credit report, minus your actual credit score. You don't think the credit reporting agencies would just comply with this law without giving them their freebie, do you? Their catch, is them trying to get you to fork over $8 to get you to ask for your credit score. This credit score kind of sums up your entire credit report. This is the number lenders and everyone else uses to check your credit. Unless you are about to make a big purchase, such as a car or home or about to rent an apartment, you do not need this score. So go ahead and bypass that, and just check the block for your credit report.

Go ahead and print out your report. I know, it's many pages, but you are going to quietly go through each page and circle any abnormal entries or something you are not familiar with. If you have no clue how to interpret or even read your report, visit "How to Read and Understand your Credit Report". Again, it is not really necessary to get all three credit bureau reports, unless you are about to hand over some big money. I know this article says to do it anyway, but these days, the credit bureaus do a better job of sharing information, so if it's going to be on one report, chances are, it'll be on the others too.

Obviously, if you have any errors, you are going to go about correcting them. Clean up your credit report. This is the part no one likes to do, but even small corrections could help your score tremendously, and I am all for a higher score. You should be too. If you want to really get into the shenanigans of how the agencies figure out your credit score, read How Credit Scores Work and My FICO - What's in Your Score. You can then get a good idea of what can negatively impact your credit report and score and go about fixing that...or at least changing things to be in your favor.

In four months, you are going to go right back to Annual Credit Report, and request a report from the next agency on the list...and again in four months for the last one. Repeat again next year. Make sure you also do this for your husband. I've also heard to check your kid's records, because you know there are folks out there who like to steal their identities most of all...because not many will notice. Believe it or not, most times, it's a relative who steals a child's information and not a stranger. Anyway, the credit bureaus ask that you request a child's credit report by mail. I tried accessing one of my children's records online, and since it didn't come up, I figured (and I hope rightly so), that there was no record to be found. If you still feel you need to contact the bureaus, you can do so through their snail mail addresses. You will have to provide proof you are the parent, such as a birth certificate and identifying information for you, such as a driver's license. Contact each credit bureau separately for more information.

What stories can you share about requesting your credit report? Any tips you'd like to share in improving your score and credit record?

Added 5/8/2008:

If you are a Georgia resident, instead of the one free credit check a year, your state law allows you to have you can double the credit reports I mentioned above...if you like.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Circle of Military Spouses

Of course I'm not the only one. I started this blog in hopes of connecting with other military hopefully, share some of the joys and challenges of a military life. Since then, I have connected with literally an Army of other military wives. Many of them have their own blogs. I wanted to take today to showcase some of their work....just in case you haven't found them yet on your own. Please be sure to stop by their sites and say "hello", and see what they have to say!

Here are the blogs in no particular, random order:

Spouse Buzz - where military spouses connect. Conversations and thoughts of a group of military wives.

Standing By - a blog by St Petersburg Times reporter, Jan Wesner, whose husband is currently deployed. If you watch Army Wives, Jan's readers also chat here about it.

My Life as a Military Spouse - shared thoughts and opinions from a military wife on military issues.

Military Chaplain's Wife - many thoughts and photos of a chaplain's wife. See things from her perspective.

Army Wife Toddler Mom - the title says it all.

Homefront Six - an Army wife shares her thoughts.

Hooah Wife & Friends - musings of another veteran military wife of over 20 years.

Jill ARMY - a military brat who is now a military spouse.

Julia Anna Infantry Wife - an infantry wife sharing her inner side.

A Cup of Tea with Friends - an Army officer's wife centered on a cup of tea.

Army Blogger Wife - posts on military life, deployments, children and supporting her soldier.

Dragonfly: Random Thoughts from a Marine Wife - just what it says.

Learning to Life - a military wife's deployment journal.

Life with my Soldier - a post-deployment blog.

Beside my Soldier - another post-deployment blog.

Sgt and Mrs. Hub - a young Air Force wife and her family.

My Life - ramblings of a National Guard wife.

Loving a Soldier - Tara Crooks and her many resources and articles.

Trifles and Tribulations - the scoop on a variety of issues, many affecting military wives.

Spouse Calls - military brat and wife of a soldier who also happens to be a reporter for the Stars & Stripes.

If you are a military wife, and you've found us here, and I somehow missed your current blog, please post it below! Thanks again!


Friday, September 21, 2007

Yet Another Military Move and Change of Duty Station Coming Up

I've been dreading even talking about it. We've known now for a few months that we are going to be moving next year..another permanent change of station (PCS). It's a duty assignment we really wanted....Germany, but, this time we are moving with two inquisitive kids, a cat and a 100 lb dog! Since this move next summer deals with a few more logistical challenges, I thought I would put together my thoughts and start planning now, so I can stop being a worry wart about it! Here's what I've come up with so far.

If you are renting, check your lease and make sure you give advanced notice of your departure (I wouldn't do this until I physically had orders in hand...less chance of plans being changed and you having to move prematurely); if your lease has a military clause, regardless of the timeframe before you move, you can get out of your lease early (remember that the next time you rent; ask for a military clause)

To make things easier, there are some things that can be done at this early stage. I've already started below. I keep the following information in a lightweight binder or notebook which will go with me when we move (I just recycled it from the last move):

  • Make a list of accounts with phone number and addresses that are going to be stopped when we move, such as telephone, electric, cable, and the newspaper
  • Make another list of accounts where you will forward the mail, such as your mobile phone, any magazine subscriptions, insurance, mortgages, investments, credit cards and bank accounts
I also recommend doing the following:

  • Try to find out as early as possible who your sponsor will be at your next duty station; they can send you housing and school information, maps and brochures; feel free to ask about hotels and also restrictions for pets and any other requirements you may have
  • Get a forwarding address you can use; it's usually the headquarters address for your new unit; verify this with your sponsor; you will use this address when you fill out your forwarding mail form at the post office before you move
  • If you have pets, start researching the requirements online; what shots and health records are needed and are there any quarantine requirements; if your pet has never been in a crate, I suggest getting them used to it now; most pets love the safety and security of a crate if they get used to it beforehand; read about crate training so you do it right
  • If you have other pets, such as fish or houseplants or anything else living you will not be taking with you, start giving away or selling that stuff earlier rather than later
  • Take stock of what you have in your pantry and freezer; the last time we moved, it took us over 6 months to eat all the residual stuff; I know you can move with canned and boxed food items, but it just seems unappetizing to me, knowing the stuff was moved in an uncontrolled environment where heat, bugs, moisture and who knows what else could get to it; start eating it now
  • If you own your house and will be keeping it, start advertising on the sites below about 6 months out; as it gets closer to your move date, start advertising in the newspaper and other avenues you can think of; identify who you are going to have manage your property; so far, we've had good luck with neighbors watching over our home for a more economical fee than if you hired a realtor (with ulterior motives) or a property management company (which typically charges 10% of the rent); just make sure they are handy and can work a hammer and such
  • If you are selling your home, now is the perfect time to start decluttering it and getting it ready to show; start asking around for referrals to find a good realtor
  • Make a list of furniture and stuff you want to get rid of and at least start getting rid of it now; we have the added fancy of deciding what to put in long term storage and what to take with us since we are going overseas; "long term storage" is just your stuff roped off in a big warehouse with other servicemembers' stuff who also went overseas; I have heard countless stories of things being misplaced or lost; if you have family heirlooms or special items you don't want to take overseas, make arrangements with a close relative to keep them for you while you are gone
  • Try to get the kids excited about the new duty station; focus on the positive; go online and look at photos and travel sites; contact the travel bureau there and request brochures and activities for the kids through the mail
  • If you are going overseas, make sure everyone's passport is current or will be when you move; check everyone's shot record too
  • Don't forget collecting your childrens' school reports and any other records they may need
Since I am somewhat a stickler of small details, I keep a few other things in my binder. I have dividers on:

  • Orders and Moving Information (keep a handful of copies of your orders in here as well as the moving paperwork from your movers and any other paperwork dealing with your move)
  • Housing Info (housing info and contacts at your new duty station; if you are buying a house, that kind of stuff goes in here)
  • To Do Lists (I have a generic cleaning and check-out list I use every time we move; I just download it from the computer after adding any pertinent new things from this last location; if it's a checklist, it's in here)
  • Moving Expenses (Keep all receipts for food, lodging and travel in here; I know the military pays for our move, but I like to keep track of what we are spending)
  • Home Repairs (if you own your own home, any home repairs or maintenance needing to be done go here)
  • Rental (if you are going to rent out your home, keep a move-in checklist here, as well as your rental contract and any other renter paperwork)
  • Schools (anything that has to do with the old school or new school goes in here)
  • Car Packing List (yes, I even have a list of what we take with us; since we are going overseas this time, this list will be very short; if you must take things with you that won't go on the plane, box it up a few days before you fly and get someone to ship it to you or use the forwarding address you got from your sponsor)
There are a few more things to think about...I am not done yet! When you collect up all your medical records before you leave, just put them in a big envelope with a clasp. It'll probably be the size of a big telephone book, so plan for that.

If you are going overseas, you are also going to have to think about your vehicles. Will you sell one or put it in storage? You are authorized to ship one vehicle over to most duty stations (in other words, the military pays for it). Identify an early date when you want to start trying to sell that extra vehicle. I know in Germany, almost everyone's second vehicle, if they have one, is one of the many junkers being passed on from one soldier to the next. Unless you have some kind of collector vehicle, I don't suggest keeping it in storage. A vehicle needs to be driven to be maintained, it will lose its value, you will incur costs and the negatives outweigh the positives. Get rid of it.

We already talked a bit about pets. Before you leave, you are going to decide on your route of travel. If by car, you can get a good idea of where you will stay overnight. Collect names and numbers of hotels and call them directly to find out if they take pets. If you are going overseas, try to drive to the shortest point of air travel, which will mean a shorter and less stressful trip for the little doggie or kittie. It also has the added benefit of most likely having a port nearby where you can ship your car from. If you have a pet, find out from your transportation office where your nearest ports are and start researching airports and airlines nearby. Once you narrow that down, see if there are non-stop or flights with less stops to your destination. I've already done some asking around, and there is an overwhelming positive response using United Airlines for pet shipping. Keep that in mind.

Be sure to check out these other military moving resources below:

It's Your Move booklet

Military Moves

Military Travel (PCS) Move Entitlements

Shipping Your Privately Owned Vehicle pamphlet

The Do It Yourself (DITY) Move

Well, I think I've covered most of the bases. Get organized now, and your move will be amazingly less stressful! What tips would you like to share on moving?

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Furniture for Pennies on the Dollar

I will never, ever, ever buy brand new furniture in a big box store ever again. Repeat this mantra a few times and then read on. There are too many ways out there to get really nice furniture at bargain basement prices without taking the unnecessary hit to your pocketbook. Let me tell you how.

Some of these resources will lead you to brand new furniture. Others will get you something gently used, and for the history buffs like myself, many of you will agree that the nicest stuff is some of the vintage and antique offerings out there.

If you are in the market for nice furniture, first of all, get it out of your head that you are going to get it RIGHT NOW and yesterday. Get out of the NOW mentality...success to those who wait is the lesson being learned here.

Your first stop is going to be a neighboring garage sale. Scan the newspaper listings and concentrate on the listings with "moving", "everything must go", "combining households" and those listing furniture. Your best bet is always your local newspaper, but there are also some online garage sale sites such as Garage Sale Hunter. If you are familiar with your area, it may even pay off to drive a loop around your neighborhood, hitting all the cross streets. Many advertise their sales only with signs. Be sure to bargain and never offer the advertised price. If their stuff is overpriced, you can drop back at the end of the day, and most will gladly want to get rid of it for next to nothing.

Did you ever wonder what happened to that nice model furniture down at the model home? It gets sold...and at bargain prices too! There is a store near us in Orlando selling model furniture and their stock changes daily. I found Gently Touched Furniture in Orlando by googling the city and "model furniture". Also use "used furniture" and "second hand" furniture. Many of these stores and businesses advertise in your newspaper in the classifieds...or by garage sale type signs out on your local streets. Keep a look out! The lady who did my blinds for my house found a beautiful bombe dresser, with an original price tag of $800 for under $200 there.

Check consignment shops. Again, find them through google or your phone book. You can find quality stuff at lower prices than at the big box store down the street.

Check Craig's List. This has the added benefit of being local, so you can actually go see, touch and feel the furniture before buying it. Just check your local city's Craig's List. I would only recommend eBay for furniture from a reputable seller with TONS of positive feedback, good item descriptions and photos AND reasonable and upfront shipping costs. Many people get burned on eBay with furniture if they do not follow these simple steps. Read the bottom of the article, furniture buying guide to get the confidence you need to buy on eBay. Other eBay furniture guides are located here.

Believe it or not, sometimes those rent-to-own places will have gently used merchandise for sale, such as stuff that was recently repossessed. Go look in the back or ask for it. They usually would like to get rid of that's bad for their image of everything new and squeaky clean. Walk in there with cash and walk out with a bargain.

Last stop but also a goodie is your local antique or used goods auction. I know Florida has a website listing all the auction houses. Again, google "auction", your city and state and see what comes up. Many of these auction houses advertise in your newspaper classified section. I've gotten anywhere from new furniture to furniture and clocks hundreds of years old....and at bargain prices. Antique dealers love these auctions. This is where they get their stash, mark up the price and then pass that on to you at their antique shop. Why not go where they go? Many auction houses allow you to come ahead of time and preview the items. I typically go, write down and take photos of things I am interested in, then come home and research those items on the internet. Be an informed buyer and know the bidding process when you go back for the sale. When figuring your final cost, figure in not only the sold price under the hammer, but also the sales tax, buyer's premium and any transportation costs if you didn't bring your cousin Earl and other cousin Earl to help you load that stuff up! Read here to learn how auctions work. They do typically give you a few days to come get your stuff, but find out the process before the auction starts!

Please be sure you also read my article on why Why Zero Down is a Big Fat Zero for You, if you are considering one of those "no money down, 0% furniture payment plans".
What resources do you use to find nice furniture?


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Top 5 Uses for Google

I just realized I use Google for one thing or another every day! Have you ever thought to use Google for the uses below?

I would say, other than the basic searches, when you are looking for information or websites on one thing or another, google this:

  • Google yourself. You'd be amazed what comes up. Yet another reason to NEVER and I mean NEVER use your real name online! It is really okay to use a screen name or some variation of your name or a different name altogether. If your name is so common and millions of pages come up or more than you can wade through, put in some other kind of identifying information such as your city, school or professional/job information.
  • Google your address. Do you know I googled a friend's address a few years ago, and we found a newspaper article detailing a serious crime that was committed at her house! This may be information you don't want to know, but it falls under something you should know.
  • Google any item you plan to buy over $50...or over a dollar amount you decide ahead of time. With the internet today, it is a crime for you to go to Best Buy or anywhere else and buy something without researching prices and reading some reviews. I google the name of the item and "review". I then go to companion Froogle and see all the sites come up listing the item for sale. I rank order the list by price, page forward through the accessories and get to the item itself. Be sure to read my article on Cycle of an Online Deal.
  • Google images if you are needing a photo or picture. If you are looking for a photo for your website or some personal document you are working on (such as your kid's school project), use Google Images to find that perfect picture. I've even been able to find cruise cabin staterooms this way. It's helpful to see a cabin or room before you book it. If you are using the photo for commercial or public use, be sure to follow the copyright laws and ask to use permission.
  • Don't bother with the phonebook or sites with phone listings. Just type in "phonebook:", then last name and the two letter abbreviation for the state. Don't forget the colon. You can also add a city or first name to narrow it down. Use "rphonebook:" for residential and "bphonebook:" for business. Have the phone number and need the name? Typing "phonebook:" xxx-xxx-xxxx should get you the number. The listing even gives you a map of the location.
Are you familiar with some of the Google hacks out there? These are nifty ways to get the information you want, without wading through all that junk! Try 7 Clever Google Tricks to get you started. I also found Google Tricks to be pretty interesting. I have a feeling that's just the tip of iceberg. Do you have any google tricks to share?


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Just Married a Soldier...Now What?

I just received an email from a young lady about to get married to a soldier. You know.... there aren't a lot of resources out there on what to do next. What paperwork needs to be done? How do I go about moving in with my hubby? Where do I go? What do I do when I get there? Being an Army brat and being in the military myself, I honestly never thought about these lingering questions...and lingering questions cause stress...a state of mind we would all rather not be in. Let's go over some of the things you should be thinking about.

You've got your marriage certificate in hand and are wondering what to do next? If you haven't gotten that far yet, read here about military weddings and the steps you need to take beforehand. The first step after tying the knot, should be for your new soldier husband to get MANY copies of that certified marriage certificate. He is going to bring it to his personnel office on post and do the required paperwork. Until that is done, frankly, the military unfortunately views you as a nobody. I don't like it either, but that's the honest truth, and I'm all for being honest here. Your husband is going to enroll you in something called DEERS (basically a computer database) and get you an ID card, which becomes your magic ticket. This will give you access to all military programs and benefits, not to mention access getting on post.

If you are in another location, your soldier hubby is going to have to pay for your move out of pocket. If you get married BEFORE he is due to move to his next duty station, the military will pay to move you there too.

This New Military Spouse Checklist does a good job of detailing the paperwork steps you need to take to integrate yourself into military life. The article does say to update your will and power of attorney. I know at a young age, I didn't have either of those. So, don't fret. When you get on post, you'll be able to make an appointment at the post legal office and get all that done for free.

Here are some of the links mentioned in the article:

Social Security Administration Name Changes

SGLI Insurance (every soldier is required to sign up or decline in writing this life insurance; cheap insurance and highly recommended as peace of mind); also read my article on more insurance options

Tricare (the military healthcare system; your husband will take you to the Tricare office on post, but you can read more about the benefits and how the system works at this site)

United Concordia (your dental care provider; again your husband will sign you up for this when he signs you up for your health insurance)

Read the quick blurb, A New Military Spouse's Orientation Guide to the Military Way of Life. One of the first things you'll notice, is that this not civilian life! There is a certain sense of order, tradition and way of doing things in the military...not to mention all the acronyms! It is possible to speak a whole sentence without using a single word out of the English dictionary. Honestly, you may be overwhelmed at first, but it helps to know that every General or Colonel's wife started out right where you are...clueless to how things are done in the military. They didn't just wake up one morning knowing all this stuff! So keep that in mind as you go along.

With that being said, when you first get to your military post, visit your Army Community Service (ACS) office. Not only will they have newcomer classes, they even have resources for working spouses, classes on everything from being a new mom to learning about military lingo and procedures through their Army Family Team Building (AFTB) classes...see, I told you about the acronyms.

The National Army Community Service website, has TONS of information for family members and spouses. It also has links to all the other important resource websites you should become familiar with. Military One Source is one you should visit and also Family Readiness Group.

Okay, your are probably thoroughly overwhelmed at this point! Since I was a company commander's wife back in the day, I knew a lot of new Army wives. The best way to get a feel of Army life, to understand what your husband goes through every day and to meet others just like you, you have to have faith and just jump in! Visit your local Army Community Service. Go to the monthly meetings of your husband's family readiness group. Being a single soldier, he probably didn't have much contact with that organization. This group is just a way for your husband's boss to keep you, the spouse informed, plus it's a great way to meet the other wives and children of your husband's coworkers. Some of the meetings will be informative, others will be fun with potlucks, classes, crafts and outings. It's important to make connections with others in your shoes, as well as with the seasoned veteran wives who are mostly happy to help.

Sign up for the latest round of Army Family Team Building (AFTB) classes at your Army Community Service (ACS). You'll feel more comfortable knowing what all those acronyms are, plus the classes can be fun finding out why the Army does things the way it does. Again, another chance to connect with others.

If you have kids, go by Child Youth Services (CYS). Not only do they have low-cost after school programs and services, but they have tons of activities, sports and other events for kids! I have fond memories of taking my little ones to play soccer there and to do the annual Easter Egg Hunt.

In talking with other wives, there is one book that always comes recommended. It's called The Homefront Club by Jacey Eckhardt. She talks about living the "happy military life". It's not so much a "how to" book, and it does give the viewpoint of an officer's wife rather than an enlisted wife, but it's more of a "what to expect as a spouse" type of read. Good reading and worth a look.

Oh, the young lady who wrote me the nice email did ask about her medical and dental records and mentioned she had just had all her check-ups done. Just bring those records with you. You won't need to have exams right away that I know of, but I would hang onto your civilian records for future reference. Don't turn them into the military healthcare system or they will become property of the military, and you'll have a hassle getting them back if you should need them somewhere down the road. Or, you can always make copies for your records if they're not too thick and you still want to hand them over. Again, as far as I know, there is no requirement to get any health check ups before or after getting married to a soldier.

In the military healthcare system, you schedule a yearly PAP and if you are over a certain age (I believe 40 or if you are high risk), a mammogram. Eye exams are yearly. You also get a physical every five years, where they do bloodwork and a general "once over". I know I get reminders in the mail when I am due to make an appointment. As for dentalwork, you are authorized cleanings and check ups every six months. You track that on your own. I have never gotten a reminder, and I unfortunately do have Army wife friends who only go to the dentist if there is a problem. Hey, if it's not costing you anything and preventative medicine is the way to go, then just go and get it done. You'll be a happier person for it!

If you have any tips you could pass on to new Army or military wives, please do share them! I know I mentioned mostly Army resources above, but each service has similar resources. I believe the Navy calls their family readiness office the Fleet and Family Support Center (here's an office in Hampton Roads, VA). The Air Force calls theirs Airman and Family Readiness Flight (Randolph AFB in Texas). The Force Health Protection and Readiness site has grouped all the websites together for all the services, so take a look there if you are not finding what you are looking for.

Added 3/7/2008, thanks Spousebuzz: Be sure to register for Military One Source. Once on the site, do a search for "army spouse guide", click on the guide. It is a wonderful resource for ALL new military wives, not just Army. It also comes in a handy PDF file for you to download and print. The guide goes over many of the things I mentioned here in this post, just in more detail and with pretty pictures!


Monday, September 17, 2007

What's In Your Purse?

I was digging in my purse this morning. Honestly, I was looking for a Lego character my son had hidden in there during our weekend shopping forays. Yes, I did have a few crumbs and did they get in there? I honestly do wonder about that sometimes. I decided I might as well clean it out while I was in know, take stock of things...and suddenly I realized my purse is my lifeline when I am out of the house! Keep your purse well stocked, and you'll never be in a clueless or helpless situation ever again.

People do make fun of my purse. It does look like luggage, and to be honest with you, when I go out for a night on the town or someplace "fun", I do pare it down and bring something smaller and more elegant. For the most part though, I do carry my piece of luggage and am always prepared!

I prefer a purse with a few large compartments. It's gotta have a small zippered compartment and another larger zippered compartment too. You don't want a purse with just snaps and folds. This is for security purposes of course. Get one with strong handles and a thick outer shell, again along those lines of needing to be secure.

In one of the outer pockets, you are going to keep your day planner, cause you really do need to keep track of your appointments, "to do" lists and phone book. I'll have to go more in detail at a later date what should be in your planner. Also keep a small spiral notebook. Anytime you need to write something down, write it in here. No scraps of paper and backs of receipts needed!

In your large zippered compartment, you are going to keep your wallet and your checkbook. This is the safest place in your purse. Only take your checkbook along if you are going to use it. In the smaller zippered compartment, you are going to have:

  • a small container (get these at a local drugstore) and fill it with pain pills, stomach ache pills even allergy pills...whatever you could be needing. You know yourself best. You can write on the outside what's inside
  • I carry another pillbox for my kids, with their medicine separate from mine; I even confess to having a small digital thermometer in there
  • "Tide to Go Stick"; this thing actually works on stains; I saved my husband's designer shirt using this darn stick; it really works
  • Extra hairbands for when your hair looks like a bird's nest
  • Extra tampons cause if you carry them, you won't desperately need them
  • A small container of No Doz and Dramamine (I only carry this when I travel, just in case) cause you're either going to get sick or fall asleep when you don't need to be doing that
I also like to carry at least three pens. You know you are either going to lose one or someone is going to ask to borrow one and never return it. I used to carry a calculator until my phone happened to have one. It's nice also to have a purse with an exterior compartment for your cell phone, or get a cell phone clip and clip your phone to the top edge of your purse. I used to wonder why no one called me until I realized my cell phone was always buried in the deepest depths of my purse. I never heard the thing ringing!

What else do I carry in my purse? Well, you gotta have a small pack of Kleenex. I can't tell you the number of times one of little ones presented me with a package from their nose as we were shopping and running around. This is another reason to keep a tissue box in your car. Of course keep a travel size bottle of lotion and another of hand sanitizer in your purse. You're gonna need both of those, especially if you are running around with little kids.

What's the most unusual thing I carry in there? I would have to say it's my small tape measure. I can't tell you the countless times I have had to measure something at the store! I remember laying out a carpet on one trip to see if it would fit in my foyer. Well, it wasn't marked, so I had to do it, right? The salesman was about to have a fit! He thought I was setting up shop or something.

So, that's what I have in mine. What do you have in yours?

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Best Seats and Best Airfare All Around

I don't have to fly too often, but when I do, I like to try to get the best fare and the best seat! In the past, I used to spend hours on the internet, looking at all the reservation sites and hoping I got the best deal after I checked them all...or thought I did. I would also randomly pick a seat...always an aisle seat, and hope it was okay. Well, things are different now. I've got to fly to Chicago in a few weeks, and this time I actually used more of my brain and less of my fingers...and time...finding the right fit.

You're definitely going to want to check what the fares typically are to where you are going. The best place to get that done is

  • Farecast - See if the lowest fare is dropping or rising over the next seven days. You'll also get to see what the fare has been in the last 90 days.
  • Check Fare Compare - If you want to compare the different airlines, alternate destination airports and dates. All in one glance, this is your next best bet.
  • Your next step should be Kayak - This site compares 100+ travel sites and their fares. You can't purchase the tickets here, but you can get the price and then the contact information for travel agencies or the airline directly.
  • I typically take this next step, although it can be tedious. Many airlines have advertised cheap specials, but only on their websites! I will go to my local airport's website, see what airlines fly to my destination city, and then visit the airlines' sites, one by one. Again, this is tedious, but I once found an airline, that does mostly cargo flights but did have one flight a week to my destination. I would've never known this had I not looked!
  • If you want to look even deeper, check out air travel consolidators. Just google it, and you'll see quite a few listed. They purchase blocks of seats, and in the old days, before all these cool websites, you could always find a better deal through's worth a quick look.
  • If there's an airline you regularly fly, get on their email list. Southwest is notorious for sending out deals...sometimes only good for their subscribers.
Now that you've got your flight and price picked out, you're gonna need a seat. I don't think I have to harp on the possibilities of seating partners...I really don't...we've all been there, right? So, let's go on to a site that will help you find the best seat to park your backside. The last time I flew, I was able to find such a nice seat with lots of legroom in an exit row.

  • Visit Seat Guru to find that perfect seat! Here you can see tons of uploaded schematics of different airlines and their planes and find just the right seat...and the ones to stay away from.
All in all, a happy day! I was able to find a nice ticket for right around $100 for my next trip to Chicago...not bad at all! Now if only someone could invent a way to get to your destination without the hassle of actually getting up at oh dark thirty, driving to the airport, dealing with airport security and everything else at the airport AND the stress of flying...well, I guess that's something for the next century...but something I can still dream about!

What are your tips?

Read this article and other travel articles at Travelminx's Carnival of Travel #8.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Backward Planning is not just for Military People

For those of us whose spouses are in the military, have you ever heard your hubby say he had to backwards plan something? Did you know what that meant when he said it? Some of us already do this to an extent, but let me tell you exactly what it is and how it can make your life so much more efficient and stress free!

As you have probably already guessed, a military operation has to be planned out and then synchronized. You can't go to war if Beetle Bailey didn't arrive with the truckload of bullets and actually arrived before the war started. Along those same lines, you would not leave the house without the diapers for the baby and a plan to get you where you are going on time and with your sanity intact.

Let's say that "hit time" for you is tomorrow morning. You are going to take your whole brood on a trip to the National Park nearby. You are going to now backwards plan the trip:

  • What time does the park open or what time do you want to be there? You say 9 am.
  • You know it takes you two hours to drive there, that means you should leave the house at 7 am
  • You don't go anywhere without your hair done and the kids fed and dressed. Since that takes you an hour, you set wake-up time at 5 am (ouch)
  • Since the kids need 9 hours of sleep, you realize you must put them to bed at 8 pm
  • That means the bedtime routine of bath and stories must begin at 7 pm
I think you get the idea! If you have to be somewhere at a certain time, backwards plan from the time you have to be there to figure out how long you need from start to finish. Make your little checklist as you plan and briefly look over it before you actually head out the door. It's amazing how you can forget a package of babywipes and still have everything else with REALLY need those babywipes....

Follow these steps and you'll never rush or forget something again!.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Before You Buy Your Next Car

How many times have you gone car shopping and gotten totally intimidated by the salesman? Or have you ever bought a car and felt a twinge of regret, somehow knowing you did not get it at the right price? Sooner or later, most of us need to go through the wringer of purchasing a vehicle. Follow these tips to get the best deal and walk out of there knowing you got the best deal around.

  • Narrow it down to what type and kind of vehicle you want. Have a few choices in mind. Be realistic and think about what you will use the car for. It makes no sense to get a four wheel drive SUV if you live in Florida, travel mostly by highway and park in tight parking spots at your job.
  • Once you have a few choices (don't get dead set on just one model), you are going to research price online. When I say price, I mean you are going to write down what the dealer pays the manufacturer for that vehicle. With the internet, this amount can easily be found . Check a site such as Edmunds or Kelly Blue Book. You are going to note the invoice price and not the MSRP. Again, the invoice is what the dealer pays the manufacturer. They all pay the same thing.
  • Stop by your credit union or bank and get car loan pre-approval. Be sure to check Bankrate to see what the best rates are. If you find a bank, with good ratings on Bankrate, you can also go through them.
  • Once your loan is approved, you can finally negotiate from a position of strength, because you are absolutely not going to walk into that car dealership and let the salesman bully you into buying something at HIS price. Wait a are still not ready to visit the car lot at this point! If you have a vehicle you will be replacing, you will need to find its value. Again, check Kelly Blue Book.
  • Most times, you can get a better deal actually selling your vehicle rather than trading it in. Realistically, not everyone can do this, unless you are able to use a spouse's car or didn't need your car on a daily basis. If you do decide to sell it yourself, be sure to use Kelly Blue Book again to find the best sale price. Make sure your vehicle gets good exposure by advertising it and parking it in a prominent LEGAL spot. Most military installations have a used car lot. You'll most likely need a permit which costs only a few dollars. Check with your installation's Auto Crafts Shop for more information. They'll lead you in the right direction.
  • Keep in mind, if you're going to use your vehicle as a trade-in, negotiate the price for that AFTER you negotiate the price for your new vehicle.
  • Now you are ready to go the car dealership. Double check the Better Business Bureau to find out the level of complaints against that dealer before you go. Many complaints = possible trouble.
  • If you are looking at used vehicles, you will obviously get a better deal. A new car loses a significant amount of value as soon as you drive it off the lot. Its value continues to drop the longer you have it. It's best to buy a used car with low miles AND one with a service record you can look at. It's worth it to use Carfax to check the VIN number on the used vehicle. Salvagers actually do a pretty good job of making that piece of junk look like new, even if the car has been previously damaged...even submerged! Find out your car's history before buying it!
  • Another thing to keep in mind when looking at used cars, don't discount vehicles of a different make than what the dealership sells. These are typically trade-ins, and the dealer doesn't want them hanging around for the most part.
  • When looking at used cars, bring a magnet and a flashlight with you and don't wear your Sunday best. has a good article on how to evaluate a used car.
  • I know someone here will ask about eBay Motors. This can be an option IF you have someone who can help you who knows everything about cars. You're going to want to do all the checks, test drive it and possibly even get it checked out by a mechanic if you can. A car with no service records, I would immediately pass on. I had a relative last month who barely survived his boat sinking! It cracked down the middle and went down in the Gulf of Mexico. He had bought it on Ebay Motors. You can read about the ordeal here.
  • If you live near a large population of retirees, it pays off to investigate what is being sold privately, without the help of a dealer. It's amazing the number of retirees who trade up to a new model of the same thing. You can get a luxury vehicle with low miles at a very low price. Some places that come to mind are Ft Lauderdale and Sarasota, but any retiree population will do.
  • If you insist it must be new, be sure to go car shopping at the end of the month or year and don't insist on getting this year's latest model sitting on the showroom floor. Dealers have to move inventory, and they will care less on the price if the vehicle is overdue to be moved out!
  • If you absolutely don't have the time but would still like to take part in the savings, try Carmax. This is a way to buy used and new vehicles online. Someone else does all the work for you. The other sites mentioned above can also match you up with a dealer or seller. As long as you have your loan pre-approval, you are the lead negotiater and not them.
  • Your dealer is going to try to make a buck on the back end so to speak by trying to sell you rust-proofing and other unnecessary options. You'll also get offered upgraded radios, electronic devices, GPS units and high speed carmats. All these items can be added after market, meaning you can take your time, shopping around at the many locations that add on these add-ons. Just check your local Yellow Pages and again, check the Better Business Bureau. I ended up buying heavy duty rubber floormats for my van on eBay that were 40% cheaper than what my dealership offered me. The seller was a high volume dealer in another state but had some of his stuff up there on eBay. Just be sure to check brands and quality before buying.
Follow these tips, and you can't go wrong. I've heard a woman should never go car shopping alone and to always bring a guy along for the ride...preferably a big burly one. What a sexist thing to say, and I don't like that advice. If you do the research, which will make you more confident, you can get a good deal if you approach the deal as something you'd be willing to walk away from. Most salesman will bend over backwards to accomodate you, knowing that you already have financing in hand and would rather give you some concessions than lose the deal completely. Sometimes, the dealer will even throw in incentives and other discounts if you use their financing company instead. That's fine, just be sure to compare apples to apples and look at the bottom line price, rather than what you will pay each month. So many people focus on the individual monthly payments and miss out what the final cost will be to them in the end. Don't not see the forest for the trees as they say. Stand your ground! Happy hunting and let me know how it goes.

Please share your stories.

View this article and other frugal tips at Festival of Frugality #92.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Why Zero Down is a Big Fat Zero for You

We've all read them. Those "zero down" promotions for furniture and consumer goods. It sounds like a good deal up front, doesn't it? Here's why you should not fall for this train wreck in the making.

Keep in mind, that there's no such thing as a "free lunch". There really isn't. You are always giving up something for something else, whether it's money, your credit and even your dignity in some cases. Most times, it is not even a "one for one" exchange either.

Here is how they hose you, to use a term from my youth. Yes, I'm old but not quite that old. Let's take as an example a trip to your local big box furniture store. You walk in there and that pushy salesman talks you into buying that fancy dining room set, which you have just determined somehow that you actually, want.

Because you walked in there without cash, you have already made your first mistake. You have lost all power to negotiate, and you are at the whim of the salesman to set the price. Do you know that people who are rich ALWAYS negotiate for what they want? Why can they do this? Because they can pay the cash and are almost always ready to walk away from the transaction if they don't get the deal they want. In our Credit World society, the art of negotiating has gone the way of the Dodo Bird for the average middle class consumer. Don't for an instance think that bartering and negotiating is somehow a "dirty" or lower class way of doing things! Any person with money will tell you it's the way of the upper class, and it's done every day. Start thinking...preferably today.... of negotiating as something positive and not negative.

Another reason why this "no payments for 12 months" will hurt you, because yes, it will hurt you where it with your credit score. You and me and everybody knows that to do anything around here and to do it well, you need a good credit score. All of us have been affected by our credit score, whether it was buying a house, renting, buying a car, even getting a job! Do you know some employers will check your credit score and if it's below a certain level, they can deny you that job! Now that's some power!

These financing companies who finance these loans are given a lesser weighted value on your credit score. Less value than let's say your mortgage loan company. Yes, they are looked down upon. Your credit WILL go down if you use a financing company that writes these types of loans. Don't let something like a piece of furniture bring you down like that, and then possibly affect any financial decisions you make after that.

Let's say you don't care and it don't matter what I just said. Okay, let's go onto the next thing. How about you sign the papers, it's a done deal and you get that furniture delivered. You're enjoying it, showing it off to your friends and family...maybe have a dinner or two on the new table. You find that it even makes a good place to hold all your clutter. Then, all of a sudden, your world changes for the worst because you or your spouse lost your job, got ill or had some other kind of crisis that hits you in the money pockets, not to mention emotionally and everything else as well. Now all of a sudden, you have no money to pay that bill. If you have a crisis and cannot pay, the finance company is not a forgiving entity and will hound you like there is no tomorrow (and kill your credit in the process). So, not only do you have to deal with your crisis but also this ball and chain that is now around your neck instead of just your foot.

You say, nawwwww...that can't happen to me! I have a good job, and I never get sick. Well, thank your lucky stars if that has never happened to you and you never have to go through something like that! But, have you ever considered why the furniture stores are even offering deals like this? How can they give something away for free for 12 months like that? They know that the MAJORITY of people who go for these zero down financing deals do not pay the money back OR they pay late or only the minimum and get hit with HUGE finance and late charges. Finance and late charges are the "bread and butter" of any company that gives out credit. It's as simple as that. The same principle applies to your credit card company. These second tier financing companies that give out these loans...cause that's essentially what they are, charge you interest from the time you purchased the item, not when the money is due. Plus, their interest rates are typically much higher than your average credit card.

With all that being said, we all like nice furniture and like to be surrounded by "pretty things". It's okay to like "pretty things". Just be sure when you buy these "pretty things" you keep these tips in mind. Look to buy appreciating items and not items that will lose value. That's what the rich do. Yes, they will buy an antique table before they buy something from a furniture store that's shoddily put together. If no antique, they will at least buy something that is well constructed. Do a search on the internet on how to recognize well made furniture...there are ways to immediately see the difference and use those tools when buying!

Do you have any tips you can share on buying consumer goods? Would you like to share a story of a negotiation that saved you money?

View this article and many like it in this week's edition of Carnival of Personal Finance.
Photo by usaarm

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Tent Camping with the Scouts at Ft Desoto Beach

My boys are both in Cub Scouts. This past weekend, my 10 year old and I braved the mosquitos and some other kind of strange biting insect to camp at Ft Desoto Beach with his group of Webelos (yes, a kind of Scout). It was a long but fun packed and informative weekend and since Mom is not a camper and rarely sees the inside of a tent, I had to follow some camping protocol to get my butt in gear....literally.

Early last week, I did get a Rubbermaid bin together with all the basic camping necessities. I figured this wouldn't be the last trip, so I wanted to at least make the prep as painless as possible and be able to just re-use the container full of stuff at a later date...and I know there will be a later date, at least as far as the Scouts are concerned. I packed the container with:

  • A dishpan (yes, I even washed dishes); our leader had an impressive three dishpan arrangement. One bin had hot soapy water, the next had hot water and the third had cold water. Each pan also had a splash of bleach mixed in. This was how we were supposed to clean the dishes and keep down the paper plate and garbage waste.
  • I did have (warning, here's the boring but necessary stuff) coffee/teapot, some cooking implements, papertowels, toilet paper, can opener, condiments (salt/pepper, onion flakes and garlic), matches, vinyl tablecloth, plastic flatware and some plastic plates, camping mugs (the kind that you can throw and not break), duct tape, heavy duty aluminum foil, potholders, box cutter, pocket knife, mallet (not for self defense but pounding down tent stakes), trashbags and ziploc bags and small containers of syrup and dishwashing liquid in the bin
  • I also threw in a few scrub sponges, dishrags, a container of anti-bacterial wipes, a firestarter log, a few bungee cords and a container of medium clip binders and safety pins
  • Don't forget your first aid kit, with your basic necessities. Throw in kid's Tylenol (and stuff for you), something for sore throats, Benadryl (pill and cream), bug spray, sunscreen and a thermometer.
  • A cheap two burner gas camping stove (I think I paid $20 for ours) does work just fine; Everyone complains about them saying they only cook at one temperature...high, but I was able to get mine to cook everything from pancakes to boiling water; don't forget two small propane containers and something to light the stove with
Believe it or not, all that fit into one bin (except the stove and propane). Get a smaller bin for all the dry food you will be bringing and then a cooler for your stuff that needs to stay cold. It helps to also have a water cooler filled with mostly ice and then some water to stay hydrated. Ours stayed cool the whole weekend. Of course, don't forget the tent, the stakes, rainfly and a tarp!

Some other observations and things I would keep in mind the next time we camp, because I know this won't be our last one:

  • Have a critter-proof plan to keep those critters out of your food and stuff. I heard some serious raccoon stories! We had bungee cords and big rocks to keep the coolers shut and ended up keeping everything that couldn't be tied down in the bathroom (yes, this wasn't totally primitive camping, you know; the youth group camping site at Ft Desoto Park was very nice and secluded, right by the water; we ended up using the handicap one person bathroom as the storage area)
  • Do bring extra tent stakes; we had a person forget theirs
  • Check with the campsite office beforehand; some don't allow you to collect firewood and you may have to bring some from home; there may also be other restrictions
  • Do bring some raingear and check the weather report for the area beforehand; have all the emergency/camp office/ranger numbers handy
  • Bring a fully charged cell phone
  • Know where your car keys are at all times
  • A camping trip is not complete without Smores; bring all the fixins' and long-handled implements (I actually bought some long forks that look like coathangers)
  • Bring an individual air mattress for each camper instead of a double or queen sized one; you'll sleep easier not getting tossed around when your bedmate decides to move; the twin size mattresses are easier to move around, blow up and don't hog up all your tent space; don't forget the battery operated air pump (bring extra batteries)
  • Bring a bag of charcoal; even if you don't have grills; you can easily make the two recipes below in any firepit and it's easier if you have coals
Since I did travel with some seasoned campers, I was fortunate enough to try these tasty dishes, because really, I didn't come up with them on my own...well, actually I pigged out on them, if I want to be totally honest with you:

Dinner Foil Packets

frozen hamburger patty (which is already partially thawed from being in your cooler)

handful frozen green beans
handful frozen corn
chunks of potato cut with an apple sectioner (you know what I'm talking about?)
Dash of salt and pepper
a few splashes of Italian salad dressing

Put all ingredients into a double layer packet of heavy duty foil. Make sure the foil is folded into a bag, double creasing the open ends. Lay on a bed of coals (when they are grey and glowing). I think ours took like 45 minutes to cook. The food is done when you can easily pierce the potatoes with a fork. You can also make this recipe with canned veggies, and it'll also cook quicker.


large can of fruit filling (we had cherry one night and then peach the next)
box of yellow or white cake mix


You are going to need a camping cast iron dutch oven for this one. Dump in the fruit filling. Dump in the box of cake mix. Put pats of butter on top. Close lid and put in firepit. Arrange coal around the outsides and on lid. In about a half hour, you'll have a steaming cobbler that just melts in your mouth!

The cobbler was an even bigger treat than expected, because one of our moms had the sense of mind to bring little containers of vanilla ice cream. She had packed it in ice that afternoon, and the ice cream was just at the right consistency to eat with the cobbler...yum!

Since our leader had her act together, the kids had a full two days of activites planned. Saturday, the kids participated in an interactive nature walk at the ranger station. Also at the station, they were able to see displays of fossils, jars in specimens (which were "way cool" the kids said), photos, shells and a variety of other interesting "hands on" items. Of course, visiting the fort and exploring its underground cavernous rooms was a real highlight. The views from the top of the fort were just "awesome". Bring a pair of binoculars to get the full effect.

Sunday, our leader had arranged a mini lifeguard session with Ft Desoto's lifeguards. The kids learned about what lifeguards do, heard some interesting stories and got their hands on a lot of the lifeguarding equipment, to include the swim boards and lifesaving equipment. While training in the water, they also saw a manatee lazily swimming by and a few stingrays going about their business. My recommendation for Scout leaders, even if there isn't an advertised program for kids or Scouts, just ask what they can offer for your group. You may be pleasantly surprised like we were!

If you've never been to Ft Desoto Beach and you get a chance to come to the St Petersburg/Tampa area, it is well worth a visit. Dr. Beach even gave North Beach at Ft Desoto the #1 Beach in America rating in 2005! The sand is a beautiful white powder, and the beach has a long sloping shelf, perfect for the kids to enjoy themselves without going off an immediate drop-off. There is even a large tidal pool to wade through and watch the fish. The scenery at the mouth of Tampa Bay and Anclote Key with its lighthouse are just breathtaking!

So, as with any other Cub Scout activity, it paid off to be prepared. We had a great weekend, and the only glitch or discomfort we experienced the entire time were those darn biting insects...even though we had bug spray...they still managed to get to us somehow...and still today, I'm not sure what they were.

Do you have any beach, camping or Scout stories to share? Let's hear them!

This article and others on family life can be found at "The Carnival of Family Life".

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Websites for Freaky Friday #2

I got so many emails about some of the websites I posted for the first Freaky Friday, I thought I would make this a regular topic. Here are the top picks for this week.

Check these out when you get a chance: - this lady will help you get organized in life, send you daily reminders and just keep you motivated. I do like some of her methods, and many of her fans swear by her methods to the point of saying Flylady saved their lives! Check her out!

Crooks & Henderson - a nice military wives forum.

Sgt Mom's - this site for military families has been on the internet forever it seems. It was one of the first sites I ever visited, and it is still active. Lots of links in one place. - If you are looking for a renter or buyer for your home, you can list it here. I've used it the two times we've moved with much success. Of course, you can also search through what is listed if you are looking yourself.

Automated Housing Referral Network - I believe this is an official site. You can post your house for rent or sale here and also look through the listings. This site is FREE to upload your house info and almost all the post/base housing offices use this site exclusively (as opposed to the books of listings housing offices used to maintain).

Exchange Homes and Home Exchange - If you want to save on your next vacation and actually live somewhere someone might want to visit! I have friends who travel the world and don't pay a dime for lodging, because they always trade accommodations.

Yahoo Computer Help and Discussion - If you've got a computer problem, stop by here first (join thru Yahoo Groups). The people here are so friendly and respond right away with all kinds of help and answers...all for free of course.

Tech Support Guy - Another great alternative for computer help.

What are your favorite sites?


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Do I get rid of it?

There really is a simple, no stress way to find out if you need it or not...this goes for clothes, gadgets, tools....basically anything you have laying around your house...or garage...or even yard. We're not talking about absolute trash. That's for another article. We are talking about items that have some kind of redeeming quality (or at least you think they do)...everything from the stuff you buy to things that may have been handed down to you or given to you as a gift. Here's how you can determine it's purpose in your life.

Let me suggest starting in one room, and then when you are done with this room, move to another one.

  • Get a large size box or storage bin. Start putting items you don't need (or think you don't need) or want into this box
    • To help yourself figure this out, ask yourself..."self, when was the last time I used this? Do I have an emotional attachment to this? What will happen if I get rid of this?"
  • Once the box is full, you will label it, "junk" with today's date
  • You will store this box in an out of the way place in your basement, garage or wherever it is out of sight
  • It is okay to retrieve items from the box, IF you should need that item; this gets the item a temporary reprieve until the next time you de-clutter a room
  • Depending on your personality, at the 6 month or year mark, whatever is left in that box gets taken to Goodwill or some other organization that recycles
Look, you didn't miss it in those 6 months, so you won't miss it afterwards either. If you are having trouble getting rid of gifts or items passed down from relatives, feel better about it, by finding out if perhaps another relative would like to have it. If it's something valuable and unique, think of donating it to a museum or other organization that would appreciate it. I am sure grandmom does not expect you to keep everything that she has ever owned. Pick out one or two pieces, and try to keep those in the family.

I had to clean out a whole house of my grandparents' things after they passed on, and after the initial panic wore off, I realized I could not and should not keep everything! I picked out a few pieces for myself to keep. I let relatives pick out what they wanted after that. A few items were sold to collectors who I knew would cherish those items and the rest was sold at auction. There were a few items I really loved, such as the 500 lb porcelain fireplace, but realistically, I knew I could not keep it, so I made sure to take plenty of photos of it, along with other things that were deemed valuable to me. I never regretted those decisions and allow myself to look at the photos to be reminded of my grandparents. It always does the trick!

So, follow these steps, and you'll never sit there and wonder what you are going to do with that thing. It's actually a freeing experience! Try it and let me know how it goes!


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Handle Your Mail Only Once

Are you one of those people who leaves a stack of mail on your dining room table until it falls over and gets dumped? Or do you automatically throw it all in the trash without even looking at it? I've got a good "in between" solution that follows the mantra "handle your mail only once".

I remember having a college roommate, who would pick up her mail, come in the dorm room, sit on her bed, and sort through her stack of mail. She would repeat that exercise every few hours, the next day and even later in the week...maybe open one or two here and get the picture...not a very efficient way of dealing with your mail!

Follow these steps, and you'll never waste your time again. The first thing you are going to do is follow the instructions in my Opt Out article.


  • Pick a comfortable chair, preferably with a trashcan and shredder nearby.
  • Go get your mail
  • Sit down in your chair and automatically sort out all the junkmail paper flyers and throw those in the trash (or put them in a recycle bin; you can have a small one in the house next to the paper trashcan). Let's say there is a sale flyer you want to refer back to. Fold it up and put it in your little notebook that lives in your purse.
  • Look at each know, the ones with the windows. If it is a bill, take out the actual bill, and throw away or recycle all the inserts and envelope (only throw the envelope out if you plan not to use it, like with online billpay). You are going to neatly stack these bills in a pile. If it is a statement or other important document, stack those also in your bill pile.
  • Take all the unsolicited envelopes, and take out all the paper that mentions your name and address or any other identifying information. These will get shredded. You'd be amazed what thieves can do with this paperwork. Recycle or throw away those envelopes.
  • You should be left with magazines and possibly a catalog or two. I like to leave magazines on our coffee table, where they will live for up to one month and then get recycled at our local library. I try to limit our household magazine subscriptions to only two (and they were free to begin with). If I want to really read a magazine, I'll just stop by the library. I keep a stack of catalogs in my night table drawer. I pull out pages of decorating ideas and also bookmark gift ideas for future reference. Darn it, I just like to look at catalogs. I make sure I toss out the old issues while I'm in there. If it is a catalog I no longer want, I call the # on the catalog right then and there. They are typically very good about complying.
  • Take your stack of bills and paperwork and put them in your inbox or post them on your bulletin board. I like to file the "no action needed" paperwork right away, just to get it out of sight. For the bills, I sit down that day (when I'm on the computer anyway) and schedule them through online billpay, to pay a week before they are due. Be sure to write the date to be paid, how you paid and also the confirmation # from your online account onto the statement. Be sure to post that it was paid on your billpaying checklist and file the bill in your filing cabinet following this method.
  • Don't forget the bank statements you are going to have to reconcile. You'd be surprised how banks can make mistakes! I keep mine in a neat stack next to the computer and every week or so, I will log onto Microsoft Money and reconcile them...then file them away.
Follow these steps...and you'll never waste another minute with your mail! What do you do to reduce your mail and time spent going through it?

Photo from