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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): January 2008

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.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Exercise Without Exercising

You can actually get some exercising done without setting time aside and without going to the gym or wherever. You can even lose pounds and inches and not even realize it. I'm not talking about some kind of miracle mumbo jumbo, just an alternate way of doing things in your daily life. Here's the scoop.

Plan ahead a bit...and get on the road to a "new you" with minimum hassle and a just a bit of planning:

  • Park at the end of the parking lot. Stop looking for spaces right at the entrance. There is also the added benefit of keeping down the number of possible door dings to your car, and most likely, you won't have to hunt for parking either.
  • Keep it parked far away. If you are in a place with errand running in one area....just keep your car where it is!
  • Take the stairs. Stay away from elevators and escalators and anything mechanical. You really can get a great workout, even if it's only for a few minutes, walking up a flight of stairs...or two.
  • Do two things at once. This may seem silly, but go ahead and do squats or toe lifts while on the phone or brushing your hair or teeth. Let the person on the other end think what they may.
  • Dance while dusting. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit it, but I jump around to music when I have to dust or even vacuum...what a workout!
  • Play outside with your kids. We went to the park this past weekend and played catch, hit the baseball and had a great time. Burn calories, burn baby!
  • Walk the longest route. Don't walk the most direct route if you are walking somewhere. Plan ahead so you have the time to do this. You may find something interesting and worthwhile going the other way.
  • Take a dance class. Our YMCA offers low-cost dance classes. In light of "Dancing with the Stars" and some of the other shows out you listen to the interviews with some of those ladies? They always talk about how much weight they lost and how fit they feel (and look). Granted, there can be a steep learning curve for some of those steps...but hey, if you are at your local YMCA or community center, who cares? You're moving and you're grooving.
  • Do some yoga or some other Eastern kind of meditating. You're not physically jumping around and feeling like you're exercising (ie torturing yourself)...but you are exercising AND losing weight AND getting fit AND doing something for your brain too in the process.
  • Set something up with your friends. I don't know about you, but when I gossip with my friends, I don't even realize how the time flies. Imagine walking while you are doing this. You'll walk two miles before you even realize what happened and how you got there. You also have the added benefit of keeping each other accountable. No one likes to disappoint a friend, and most of us would show up to walk, rather than call a friend and make excuses why we couldn't make it.
  • Do some yardwork. Yardwork can build some serious muscle! Your lawn and garden will also be the envy of the neighborhood. No need to know what you're doing! I get library books for tips, and we even have a county extention program that offers classes from composting, to building a rain barrel to maintaining your lawn.
  • Chair aerobics. Even if you are sitting, hold in your gut...then let it umpteen repetitions of that. Leg lifts work great from a chair. You can also squeeze a tennis ball at your desk. What a stress reliever to boot!
  • Housework. I know you didn't want to hear this one...but listen, two weeks ago, I actually scrubbed our tile floor. I realized they are actually supposed to be lighter in color than they were....ooops. It felt good, and I got something else done in the process.
What do you do to get more out of your day?


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

These people are going to need a very big shovel!

As many of you know, I am a big fan of financial guru, Ric Edelman. His advice is timely, and he doesn't mess around! He gives great all-around financial advice, and when it comes to smashing debt, he is blunt enough to make you cry! When I get a chance, I like to watch CNBC's "The Millionaire Inside". They like to get a panel of experts together and have at it. I was absolutely ASTOUNDED by the trouble these folks are in...and I mean trouble. It got me wondering...

How in the world did they let it get that far? What did their parents teach them and what effect, good or bad, did it have on these people? Do I see a bit of myself in any of these people? What is the country's future if we keep going on this path? How do they get started fixing this mess? Are they going to take the advice of the experts on the show?

Anyway, if you didn't catch the episode last night, I think they will eventually post it here. In the meantime, read some of the good advice and points these experts bring up there on the site. Please don't hit the back button on your browser. This is important stuff we all need to know, and at the very least, just take a look. I'm thinking your curiosity will get the best of I said, this was jaw-dropping stuff. Let me know what you think!


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Non-stick Pans and Canaries - Urban Legend?

I'm sure you've already heard about the lady with the canaries who killed them off by using non-stick, sometimes known by its brand name Teflon, cookware. I know that's why I haven't bought any. If it could kill a bird, what could it do to me and my family? I know birds are sensitive, but I just couldn't get over that minor detail. I happened to do some reading here and there..more here than there lately, and found out there are some myths and things are not totally what they appear to be.

The bottom line is that, yes....non-stick cookware can be dangerous, BUT only if used improperly. Good Housekeeping ran some tests and found out that the coating of these non-stick pans tends to disintegrate at a certain temperature. So, for those of you who like to fry or cook on high heat...nay, nay...don't do that. In their tests, safe temperatures ranged from about 200 deg F to about 470 deg F. When you start getting hotter than that, things start to go badly and the chemicals that can kill birds get leached out and create hazardous polymer fumes...among other things. This is harmful stuff to humans too, not just to Tweetie Bird and his friends.

To eliminate these hazards, keep these things in mind if you plan to continue using non-stick cookware:

  • Don't use Teflon (or other non-stick coating) surfaced pots or pans on all! Even an empty pan with or without oil will heat up to over 500 deg F at high heat in under two minutes!
  • Don't pre-heat an empty pan.
  • Choose a heavier pan over a lighter one.
  • Don't use damaged or chipped pans. Throwing them out equals peace of mind.
  • Keep the airflow going in the kitchen with either a fan or open window.
To read more about non-stick cookware and the latest research, please visit here.


Monday, January 28, 2008

The Only Salad Dressing You'll Ever Need - No More Storebought!

How many of those packaged salad dressings and bottles do you go through a year? You probably get complacent and think you have to get these things. They are convenient. They are tasty...or at least you convince yourself of this. Do you know, you can have a better, cheaper and more satisfying dressing that can be changed many different ways to match your meal? My German oma taught me this goody a long time ago, and it is my most requested item from everyone who eats a meal out of my kitchen.

This vinaigrette is versatile and EASY. The basic ingredients are as follows:

  • Olive or salad oil
  • Vinegar (apple cider, red wine or balsamic)
  • Sugar
  • Salt
And those are just the basic ingredients. You always want to remember to do about three parts oil to one or two parts vinegar. For a medium bowl full of salad, I use about three TBS of oil and 2 TBS vinegar. I add a few shakes of sugar and a dash more salt. That would be about 1/2 tsp to 3/4 tsp of each. Go ahead and taste it. You'll see what it needs. I recommend using olive oil, although regular salad oil works well too.

I also like to add:

  • Fresh parsley (you can use dried too)
  • Onions (and the key trick here, is to cut it up very, very small; use about 4 TBS total)
  • Grated Parmesan Cheese (I put this on after I put the dressing, then lettuce in the bowl and before tossing)
  • Chives (optional; I use it if I have it)
To dress up the dressing and to make it different you can add:
  • Heavy cream or creme fraiche (just a small amount)
  • Experiment around with different herbs and minced garlic
  • Substitute a fresh walnut or hazelnut oil for some of the olive oil
When I just make a cucumber salad, I add 1/4 cup heavy cream (or yogurt), 3 TBS olive oil, 1 TBS vinegar and some dill and freshly ground pepper. Try adding mint instead of dill for a bit of a different flavor.

What homemade condiments or dressings do you make?


Friday, January 25, 2008

New Car Dream Wish List With Technology Available Today

Every once in awhile, I catch myself day dreaming about my car of the future...near future of course. Forget that I refuse to pay full price for a brand new car and forget that I just got a new car a few years ago, hence the refusal to ever pay for a brand new car again. But, that's what dreams are for, right? I mean, why don't most cars have the things on this list? The technology, for the most part IS available today, or at the very latest...tomorrow. Cost shouldn't be an issue, cause if the cars had all this stuff, more people would buy the thing! In light of my latest interest and car troubles, here is my list.

Okay, the car, or probably a van or SUV-type vehicle, cause a car is just too small, would need to have:

  • Some kind of microchip in the key FOB so you will never lock your keys in the car again. Somehow, that darn key would know that it's sitting on the floor or carseat somewhere, INSIDE the car and not allow you to manually lock the car doors.
  • Self inflating tires. I already told you about my run in with my no flat tires on my Honda Odyssey. Now I am so turned off by the price of those darn tires, I don't even want to talk about it anymore. How about, instead, having some kind of compressed air thing that would shoot some kind of goo and air into a tire, filling it back up and sealing it in the process? It would then give you enough time to safely get off the road and to somewhere where that tire can be replaced.
  • System similar to OnStar that can't spy on you. Did you know that an OnStar operator can turn on your system and eavesdrop on your conversations? How's that for Big Brother? I read of a police department that actually used the system to listen in on someone...great for catching criminals..not so great when it comes to your civil liberties. Let's have some kind of OnStar thing that can only be turned on by someone in the vehicle and/or that is activated by a crash and no other way. Let's make it inexpensive enough to put it in every car and then have the cost of maintenance figured into every car's price.
  • A GPS system with voice control. Our van has a GPS, but I have almost run off the road twice inputting data or looking for a hotel's phone number. Let's make all the commands voice activated. Of course, this probably means memorizing a list of commands..and no, I haven't memorized my Odyssey's list of commands, cause it does have voice control...but I don't need a voice control for "fan on" or what is the "time"...just the GPS please.
  • Swivel seats in the middle and a little table. Oops, it's already being done in the new Chrysler isn't it? Let's see it in all minivans and SUVs.
  • Have the middle row seats stow into the floor along with the rear seats. I know, I know...I had a Ford guy tell me that the stowaway seats are not as sturdy and as safe as those that do fold flat...but, in light of the superlight and strong materials they use these days, there must be some way to do it? Many vans already have storage compartments in the middle under the floor, don't they?
  • Universal holders and chargers for cell phone and all your electronic devices. I read, that in the near future, there will be a "charging pad" that will be plugged in (this is for in-home use). You then put whatever device on top of this pad to's all universal and no cords are ever needed again...isn't that something? Let's see it in the car too.
  • A Stereo headjack in the stereo system. Plug in your MP3 player or even your laptop, and play all your music, podcasts and stuff through your car stereo system. Right now, there really are no other options for the rest of us, other than those FM transmitters, that don't really work and headphones...a big no-no in the car... and possibly mini speakers.
  • Dirt resistant paint on the exterior and interior seating and carpets. Look, I know there are some compounds that let dirt slide ride off. Wouldn't it be neat to have road dirt not collect on your vehicle? That it would just slide right off Same goes for the inside. No more spots and stains!
  • Storage, storage and more storage. I know we have little bins and things in many of our cars already...umpteen cupholders too. But, I am talking about storage where you can store things you might not use everyday, such as the mini Yellow Pages you get in the mail, road hazard stuff, extra jackets...and you know if you have kids, it's always best to have an extra outfit and/or jacket for everyone. It looks so unsightly seeing all this stuff sitting out and getting thrown around. Let's get it all stowed away.
  • A built-in dustbuster. Just a little one that folds into the wall or something. Of course, it needs to be recharging there too. I hate getting out the big vacuum, and this would allow you to do a little crumb sucking during downtimes you just happen to be in your car. Waiting in my kids' school car line would be an ideal time for me. I usually run out of reading materials and radio shows by the time it's my turn at the front of the line.
  • A display on the front window. You read it right. Just a quick blurb giving your speed and gas situation. That way, you don't have to constantly look down.
  • Safety foam. This may actually be way off in the future, but I bet they are working on it. How about a foam that sets within seconds and will shoot out from all angles in a severe crash. I guess it would have to be forgiving enough not to crush you and still allow you to breathe! I don't think this request is totally science fiction, so I will add it to my list. I bet airbags had the same rap when they first came out.
What things would you like to see in your next vehicle of the future?


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cooking for a LARGE Group - aka "The Soccerteam Dinner"

After offering all this time to help, I was finally asked to cook a meal for our exchange student's soccer team. I immediately said yes, then panicked about it immediately afterwards. While I was racking my brain, I could not think of an instance where I cooked for more than 10 people...and these were big strapping boys....over 20 of them. Am I nuts? What was I going to make that would be easy, filling, smell good and would be easy to transport? Be sure to hang onto these two recipes. I ended up making the first one - to rave reviews. The second recipe would've worked out as well I think. I always make the second one when making a meal for someone homebound and unable to cook. It also works fantastic for a leftover.

I knew I wasn't going to be home all day, so that threw out the chicken and rice recipe. That one you have to start almost three hours ahead of time. It's mostly baking time, but still, if you're not home, it's obviously not going to work. Where's my crockpot? Where's my other crockpot? I ended up doubling the Southern Pulled Pork Recipe into two crockpots. I knew that other crockpot would come in handy someday. The beauty of this recipe is that it only requires a little advance planning and almost no prep time. You throw the ingredients in there in the morning, the house fills up with the smell of good cooking, and it's just a matter of bringing however many dozen buns and serving utensils with you when you grab the crockpots and go. This is the ultimate home cooked food that smells heavenly and stays HOT for the trip to wherever you have to go.
Crockpot Southern Pulled Pork On Buns

1 TBS minced dried onions
1/2 TBS minced dried garlic
1/4 TBS chili powder
1 bottle tomato based chili sauce (find this next to the BBQ sauces in grocery store)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 TBS Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp liquid smoke (also next to the BBQ sauces)
1 boneless pork shoulder (2-3 lbs)
4-10 hamburger buns

Place roast in crockpot. Add all ingredients (except buns) and cook on low for 10-12 hours or high for 6 hours til falling apart. Shred meat with two forks and mix up well before serving. Serve with the hamburger buns.

So that was one idea. The other idea I actually had first, but in light of having to start it three hours before it's ready, it wasn't going to work with me not being home this time. Once you get it in the oven, it is low maintenance though. Bake it in one of those disposable tin baking pans and make clean up even easier. You can keep the dish on warm in the oven for awhile if you need to (just add a little more water), but for the most part, the bacon keeps it very moist. Wrap the tray (or trays in this case) with heavy bathtowels, and you are ready to grab and go. I had planned on tripling this (three pans) for the boys.

Chicken and Bacon Rice Bake
6-10 frozen chicken tenderloins
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1-3/4 cup water
1/2 to 1 lb bacon
2 boxes long grain and wild rice
1 seasoning packet from rice

Bake bacon on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees F and save the grease (my husband uses some of the bacon grease to doctor up canned cream soup). Or cook bacon in the microwave on paper towels, pouring some of the grease in your 9x13 baking dish. Put dry rice on top. Put frozen chicken on top. Mix soup with 1-3/4 cup water and pour over chicken. Sprinkle with rice seasoning packet. Cover with foil. Bake about 1-1/2 hour at 400deg. When dish is done, it will look a little runny. Let sit before serving. While it's sitting, I like to take a big serving spoon, cut all the chicken pieces into chunks, and then mix everything up.

The other two moms provided a bagged salad with some prepared dressing and croutons and a hashbrown cheese casserole that the mom swears is easy to make as well. We followed up the meal with pre-packaged cookies from the supermarket bakery, and the boys were happy as clams. Even my two little ones joined into the feast. As I drove home, I was already mentally making notes of what else I could make, should I get called again...hmmm, lasagna or maybe a pasta dish with chicken? I guess the possibilities are limitless. What meals have you made for a big crowd? What travels well and makes large quantities with minimum fuss? Please do share your ideas!


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Shallow End Was Over Four Feet Deep

Yesterday, I listened to a travel writer peddling her new website. Did we really need yet another travel website? According to her, we did. She recently went on a vacation where she had some pool troubles.

You see, she had booked this resort that touted itself as family friendly and then she got into the much anticipated pool to find the shallow end was over four feet deep. I guess normally, this would not be a problem, but on this trip, she had two little toddlers with her. The poor dears ended up clinging to her the entire vacation time she was in the water. She couldn't swim. She couldn't relax and the pool, which was supposed to be the highlight of the trip, became a big headache for her.

Did this ruin her trip? No, it did not, because she, like the rest of us, made do with the resources she had...BUT, perhaps she wouldn't have picked that particular resort had she known about the pool. How many times has something similar happened to you and your family? I personally can remember repeatedly, carrying a stroller up and down, four flights of stairs in a hotel in elevator...and also running all over a cruise ship in the Caribbean, looking for that slide and kiddie pool...right cruise line, wrong ship!

Now instead of being let down by these vacation hiccups, because they are hiccups...annoying or inconvenient things..just enough not to ruin your vacation...but just enough to get under your skin and not allow you to totally relax and have fun....what if you could foresee some of these hiccups and pick a vacation place by having a bit more information?

This new site apparently picks up the slack where the glitzy brochures and websites leave off. We've seen travel recommendation sites for adults (My favorite, Lonely Planet), detailing the nitty gritty of what it is really like, but we really haven't seen an all inclusive site that talks about it from the kiddie angle.

At the site below, you'll find out the details of what you need to know and sort through the fluff to the good stuff. Read what other parents have to say about the place before you book it. I warn you, it is a fledgling new site, but it's got merit and really is a great idea. If they can tone down some of the advertising and get more meat and potatoes there, it just might work. The site also has the good name of Frommer's stamp of approval. So, if that's any indication of a success rate, then the site will probably grow and flourish. Let me know what you think.

Just Got Back


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Wounded Soldier of Today

Most of us still remember the scandals and the outright mess that was happening within the Army healthcare system, particularly at Walter Reed Hospital. We heard wounded soldiers, some severely disabled seemingly thrown out with the trash. I know that sounds harsh, but that's what it amounted to. I remembered is the military going to clean up this mess? How are they going to revamp a way to care for these soldiers..sometimes indefinitely? Why am I even talking about it? I think that every military spouse should be familiar with the system. It is actually comforting to see what is being done now to change it...which you won't find in the news unfortunately. We also need to get with the program because we, that's you and your military spouse, may find yourself confronted with the system some time in the near future. No one likes to talk about it, but it is a reality, and the more you know, the easier you'll find to deal with it should it happen to your family.

The Army has taken a genuine interest in improving care for our soldiers. There have already been some significant changes. The following are some of the new changes out there, as I have heard them discussed.

  • As with any soldier, wounded soldiers now have a mission only, "to get well". Before, they were in a kind of a medical hold with no mission, direction, motivation or supervision. Now they have all four. This means there will be accountability and responsibility, both from the soldier and his now new chain of command, which now includes squad and platoon leaders. These leaders will be getting special duty pay, more in the line with what recruiters, drill sergeants and other soldiers in intense jobs get. I think the aim here is to get soldiers to look at a tour at Walter Reed or any other Army hospital in one of these "wounded warrior" units as a positive career move and something that stellar and above-average soldiers apply for.
  • The military healthcare system, when it comes to moving soldiers from the battlefield, to the various stops and hospitals in between, has turned into some kind of movement tracking system, like FEDEX or the US post office...or at least this is the ultimate plan! At any given time, doctors can check where a patient is, what has been done, the status of the patient and maybe even what he had for lunch...I don't know...and pass this information on to the family.
  • The military even makes provisions and handles the bureaucratic red tape, should family members want to visit their soldier overseas, such as at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany. Only a set number of family members can travel at government expenses (it may only be four). You've never seen paperwork processed that fast. With that being said, I would personally make sure I always had a current and valid passport, just for that reason should you ever need to make such a, it's good to be ready should your husband spring a Caribbean vacation on you. Your husband can get you one on post or get the paperwork at your nearest post office that has a passport office.
  • All the paperwork places and appointment places soldiers have to go are now consolidated in one place. Before, soldiers didn't know where to go, how to get there and many had to navigate long walks on crutches and deal with weird office hours, traipsing all over the compound to find what they were looking for.
  • Family members are met at the airport (I think even in a limousine) and taken where they need to go. Family members, or whomever the soldier wants to be a part of his care team (even a girlfriend) can participate in the recovery plan.
  • Family members are given a handbook with every reference, resource and every tidbit of information they need to know. No more will the soldier's family be left in the dark and not know what to do, who to call or where to go. Everything will now be at their fingertips.
  • Patient care and accountability have become more stream-lined and efficient with more changes to come.
  • I believe patients can choose which military hospital they want to recover in. This would be great if you have family near a certain base or post.
  • Wounded soldiers can choose to go back to the unit they came from, after they recover. Before, they were just assigned wherever. This can be a significant negative emotional and even physical event. Research has shown, many soldiers want to go back to their old units. This will be a motivation for them and aid in their recovery.
  • More than 50%, I think even approaching 80% of soldiers are returned to duty. That is great news and important to keep in mind. Not all wounded warriors are totally disabled and leave the military. Many can do their same jobs and others can be reclassified into other jobs.
  • There is now a better dialogue and sharing of information between the VA and the military medical system. This means things move much faster in establishing any aftercare and benefits.
What have you heard? What have you experienced? Good or bad? Let's hear it!


Friday, January 18, 2008

Do I Want It or Need It?

Remember when you were a kid and said, "But mom, I NEED that!"...Funny, we still do this today. I can't tell you the countless times I've told my husband I have to go to the store because I NEED should be because I WANT something. So how do you really distinguish what you need or want besides running through the basic food and shelter thing or the list of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, at least the basic ones?

Follow these steps before making a purchase, and you'll get a better clue if you really need it...want it...have the money for it...can really use it...or are you throwing your money away or worse, getting deeper into debt? Let me tell you, it was pretty disheartening watching the news this morning. I think I counted the word "recession" at least 20 times in a one hour newscast. Our houses are full of junk and stuff we don't need or want. We Americans have let this "credit monster" gain such control of us....that we are starting to flounder...but alas, that's another story all together. So, here's what you do:

  • You and your husband decide a purchase amount where you must consult each other. At what point do you NOT buy something without discussing it first?
  • Set an amount in your own mind when you will refuse to buy it....sleep on it. Is it going to be $50, $100 or more?
  • When I see something I like, I write down the specifics, including the price (in my little spiral notebook I carry in my purse), and then LEAVE.
  • I sleep on it at least a day...thinking about if I really need the item. Is it replacing something that has gone bad? Is it something I always wanted and will help me complete some task faster or more efficiently? Is it really a bargain at that price? If it's clothing you're interested in, most stores will hold it for you for 24 hours too...just ask.
  • Go online, and research prices and read what folks have to say about it. I like Amazon and Epinions best for that. But you can also google whatever product it is and "review" and more opinions should come up. I almost bought this nifty looking steam vac the other day. Thank God I went home and read about it online. No wonder the darn thing was on sale. What a piece of crap!
  • If the thing is not on sale, set aside a certain amount of money every week, which you will use to buy that item once you decide it is something you can really get some use out of. More times than not, once you have the money saved up, the thing comes on sale! I've had this happen more times than I can count.
  • And don't use the excuse, "they only had three left"...there will ALWAYS be another thing, whether it's at that store, another store or on the internet. Unless you are looking at an antique or a work of art...this excuse doesn't hold any water...sorry.
  • While you are looking online, you may also find it at a cheaper price. Be sure you check out the retailer first, to make sure they are legitimate AND stand behind their products AND ship promptly and efficiently.
  • As a sidenote, if you pay with a credit card, be sure you can pay off your credit card bill at the end of the month. It makes no sense to get a good bargain, then not pay off your bill and pay 12 or 24% (whatever your credit card rate is) of whatever amount it was, again the next month.
I personally have been looking for an external computer hard drive. I have the Black Friday prices in my book, as well as the prices currently online. I have even been watching our local Compusa store, which is going out of business. But so far, they only have the thing at 20% off. I can get this particular model I am looking cheaper at Circuit City...but that is still not good enough for me. As of this morning, I still haven't bought anything. I continue to watch and wait and use my smaller back-up drive in the interim.

What techniques do you use to decide when you are going to buy something? Do you save up the money or do you put it on a credit card? Are you impulsive or are you more wary? Please share your ideas!


Thursday, January 17, 2008

An Elusive Travel Website for Military - Big Savings!

As many of you know, I have a relative, Arno, who works for one of the airlines. He has been to every continent on our green earth and is pretty close to visiting four or five dozen countries by now. He manages to get around. I guess that's one of the perks you deal with when you have passengers screaming at you and lost luggage and flights that don't want to leave on time. Speaking of perks...

He did tell me about one site that caters to airline employees. They get discounts on travel packages, hotels, rental cars...every time I turn around, he is telling me of a new place that gives him a discount...including and some other shopping sites....hey....what about the rest of us?

I was pleasantly surprised the other day, when he told me about a site that gives huge discounts to travel industry personnel AND those in the military. Of course I checked it out right away. A 7 day cruise in Tahiti for around $500 per person? Was that a misprint? The discounts are deep. So, before planning your next vacation, be sure to check it out at:

Perx - Airline Employee Discount Travel (and military too)

If anyone does decide to book through them for the next vacation, please do let me know! There is one other site that I hear military folks talking about...but mostly, I see timeshare deals...which in some cases don't turn out to be deals when you read the fine print about meals..and then figure in your airfare. But, I did have a friend who rented a cabin in Rocky Mountain National Park through the site, and she said it was a steal. If you know of any other military specific sites, please do share:-))

Armed Forces Vacation Club

And for our wounded warriors and their families, a group of folks in Florida are offering up their beach homes...for free. And now it looks like a property management company in Orlando is doing the same.

Beach Homes for the Brave- Palm Islanf, FL

Vacation Homes for the Brave - Orlando

Be sure to bookmark these sites and pass on the word!

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Welcome a New Neighbor Tomorrow

I can still remember the day we sat in our new house, with no furniture, exhausted from cleaning, when the doorbell rang. There was my neighbor holding a large plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies! We made our introductions, exchanged some phone numbers. She offered to be of assistance whenever we needed anything and went on her way. I was literally changed by this event. It is now many years later...and I still look back fondly on that day...and won't ever forget it.

I was cleaning, up to my eyeballs in dirt and was just tired as all get out. My kids were getting on my nerves and my hubby was already at work. I kept more thing, one more thing. The kids were so hungry, but I didn't want to stop just yet...and they were little back then too. And then my neighbor appeared.

Through the years, we exchanged cookies on holidays, waved to each other in the driveway, called upon one another when we needed help. But for the most part, we didn't interact on a daily basis. During those long deployments and getting locked out of my house in a rainstorm, she was there for us. And to me, that was the clincher. Just knowing that someone is there for you...that they can help you in a your house while you are gone, that you feel comfortable enough calling them and asking for help. Isn't that what neighbors should be all about? I was so touched and affected by her service...because that's what it was more than a friendship, I vowed to do the same.

Start off the new year by welcoming your new neighbor. It doesn't take much. It'll make you feel good, and you'll be rewarded back, because that's how life usually works itself out.

Before you say...but I'm too busy...or, I don't know how to bake! Hey, even with the worst cook in the kitchen, this can be done. Here are some ideas of what you can bring over. And no need to put a lot of fancy thought in packaging! Get a nice disposable or plastic plate from the dollar store and get some colored cellophane wrap. I've even gotten the heavy duty cellophane basket wrap stuff (get it in bulk on eBay instead of your local craft store), and I've tied up everything from baskets of food items, toiletry items, stuffed name it....anything looks pretty tied up in this stuff with a nice ribbon and bow attached.

So, here are some ideas:

  • Buy some ready-made cookie dough, bake as per directed and arrange (slightly cooled) on on a nice plate covered with some colored cellophane.
  • A loaf of bread machine bread wrapped the same way. I sometimes put this in a basket with some teas and jams and a decorative spreader.
  • A basket of candies, gum and a bundle of local sightseeing attractions and stuff from your local Chamber of Commerce.
  • A large bag of popcorn nicely packaged with the names and phone numbers of local businesses you recommend attached on a card (such as your plumber, electrician, yard guy and such).
  • A nice potted plant, something they can put at their door or eventually plant in their yard.
  • If it's a hot summer and their stuff hasn't gotten here yet, how about a tub of cold drinks and water on ice.
Whatever you bring over, be sure to include a smile, a friendly handshake, an introduction to you and who is in your family, a bit about the neighborhood, any phone numbers and resources you'd like to share and just a big welcome.

What ideas do you have to share?


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

S-t-r-e-t-c-h Your $$$ in 2008

There's something about a new year that causes you to be motivated...kind of like starting out on a clean slate. I like to start off the year....every year, with a brainstorm of money saving ideas. I add a few new ones every year. It's kind of become a game for me, and the neat thing about it, is that you're saving oodles of money here!

As you start 2008, see if you can implement any of these strategies:

  • Try to stay away from processed foods. Processed foods and ready-made foods carry a higher price tag. You can easily find recipes on line that replicate some of those cream soups, bread coatings, snacks and cookies...just about anything out there. What is the trade off? Obviously....time. But, with that being said, pick one or two expensive processed foods you eat...and cut them out. You'll find you probably won't miss them.
  • Pick one "luxury item" to try to go without this year. Just try it for a may never miss it. Think about stopping cable TV, movie rentals, top-of-the-line phone service or a lawn service are some things you can try.
  • Take your lunch to work and stop buying those sodas, coffees, newspapers and donuts every morning. Do you know about the latte factor? Just cutting that out and bringing your stuff from home could make you a millionaire by retirement...yes, it can.
  • Eat out less. Cutting out one day a week can save you THOUSANDS a year.
  • Before buying something over a set dollar amount, sleep on it. Decide ahead of time what that amount will be...$100, $200 or more?
  • Look at car insurance rates online. When was the last time you checked what you pay for insurance versus what the going rate is online? Many companies and websites allow you to compare coverage.
  • Look at consolidating your car and home insurance if you haven't already. The more you have through one company, the more potential for savings.
  • Stop buying soda and packaged drinks. This alone can save you thousands a year as well, plus you'll instantly lose weight. Try ordering water instead of a soda when you go out. Use the frozen juice cans to make juice. I like to add an extra can or two of water beyond what the directions say. You'll find the juice actually tastes better this way, plus you are stretching out consumption.
  • Go out to the movies 25% less this year. I think you already have an idea of how much you'll save here. Just try to wait for the next great movie to come out on DVD instead.
  • Add another week or two...or three, between hairdressing appointments, pedicures, manicures, spa appointments or whatever. Last year, I saved over $400 by doing this!
  • Compare the latest cell phone plans. I did this two years ago, with my current company. They had a special, and I ended up getting 200 more minutes for $10 less than I was paying before. Just watch your service obligations when you switch. It will increase your contract length, but if you plan to stay put and like your carrier, there is no need to worry about that. There are also online sites where you can swap plans with other people and not incur penalties.
  • Maximize your library visits. Our local library has an amazing collection of DVDs and new bestsellers. You can even go online and put these things on hold...even if the things aren't physically at your library yet and are still on order. I don't mind waiting a month or two for the latest.
  • Before looking to buy furniture, check here.
  • Ask on freecycle for items you are looking to buy. I have a friend in a big city who recently got a free two year old stove, a nice bookshelf and a painting by a well known painter on freecycle.
  • Vow to put 2 items on Ebay this month....or week. Even with the busiest of schedules, this can be accomplished. We all have things around the house we no longer want or need. Stop looking at it or tripping over it. To cut down on packaging costs, I use the free Priority Mail boxes and dumpster dive behind our local gift store. The manager told me to have at it. I also use my USAA discount on FEDEX to ship the heavy stuff.
  • Network and barter. Let your neighbors and friends know what projects you are working on. I've actually gotten free plumbing and yardwork done this way. In exchange, I made up a nice genealogy chart for someone. Everyone has some kind of talent they can barter.
  • It's okay to have some secondhand clothes. My kids have lucked out with older nephews who like the latest styles. I've also found nice dresses, many with the tags still on them, at my local Goodwill. Just take a look and see what they have. Every store is different.
  • Vow to plan ahead this year. Doing things last minute or not at all costs lots of $$$$. Think ahead in your meal planning, errand running, buying trips, bill paying, family trips. I have a small 3x5 planner I carry in my purse. I don't know where I'd be without it.
  • Buy your household staples in bulk. I make a trip every other month to my Costco and get the staples, such as toilet paper, papertowels, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, liquid soap...whatever I am starting to run low on. You'd also be amazed how much less stressful grocery shopping trips become with less stuff to lug around on a weekly basis.
  • Take a look at your bank fees. If you're paying for checking, you need to get with the program and go to another bank. This is a no brainer. Some checking accounts even earn free interest or have free online billpay. You can compare many of the national banks online, but don't forget your local banks, especially your credit unions, which tend to be more economical. Don't forget to check for overdraft protection on your checking account. Our credit union offers it free and the rates are so low when you do use it, plus it gives you peace of mind that you won't ever accidentally bounce a check.
  • If your credit cards have high interest rates, get rid of them. Go pull out your latest statement now. The credit card company can change your rate AT WILL and AT THEIR DISCRETION. You may not even have noticed. They have to provide NO WARNING when they do this. If you carry a balance, this applies to you! Compare rates online and also vow to come up with a plan to pay those balances. Try the debt snowball that Dave Ramsey talks about. Don't pay $300 for a sweater you originally got on sale for $30 because you paid by credit card and then didn't pay off your bill every month! Are you nuts?! It's not worth it!
  • Start building a $1,000 emergency fund now. Take the money you use every week to buy your latte and bagel and set it aside in a savings account. It'll grow faster than you'll realize, plus you won't be in a pinch next time your car breaks down or you need a new stove. This'll also help with the next tip.
  • Increase your insurance deductibles. This will lower your insurance premiums. Think about it. You know yourself and your tendencies. How many accidents and claims have you had the last few years? If it is relatively low, think about how you could've had raised deductibles and socked away the money you would've paid in higher insurance premiums. You see what I'm getting at? No, this is not's being cost effective and weighing risks versus benefits. The insurance companies do can do it too at your level.
And that's how I'm going to save money in 2008. What ideas would you like to share? How do you save that extra little something? Are you saving for a short term goal, such as a vacation or are you socking away stuff for retirement or your kids' college. Please share your tips and stories.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Gonna Be a Commander's Wife?

We've all had an encounter with at least one - a higher ranking NCO or officer's wife who literally wore her husband's rank. She was the one who came waltzing into the office, expecting all the soldiers to jump. She also comes to every function and interjects herself in about five different ways. She is someone you obviously don't need to emulate, lest you become the most disliked or talked about couple in the unit, because yes, it will reflect negatively on your husband and his time in command.

Remember, you and your husband will be under the microscope..the higher the command, the bigger the magnifying glass! Even if your spouse is about to take a squad or platoon, it would be good sense to follow these tips. This is your chance to have a positive impact on peoples' lives, to do good and to be remembered. I still remember myself, and can actually say some of these ladies have influenced my lives...that's some heady stuff.

Be prepared, don't go into this blind and make a positive impact. Follow these tips:

  • Focus on people and building relationships; everything else will follow, including the paperwork, because people will be more inclined to participate if they know you are genuine and WANT to get to know them.
  • Do what you are good at and delegate the rest; You've heard this a million time...can't do it all by yourself, and you shouldn't want to.
  • Be a team together with your Command Sergeant Major's wife; again, don't work alone; CSMs wives have for the most part, been with the Army forever and they can be a great friend, sounding board and just a shoulder to lean on when you are clueless or things start getting tough.
  • Get the commander's and Command Sergeant Majors couples together once a month or quarter, preferably, in your home (have a dinner and a small gift for each if you like); this will build camaraderie.
  • Let the ladies in your unit know that you don't have your "stuff" 100% together; no one does; tell them "I need you"; use me and I'll use you; stand "with them" rather than "above them".
  • Share responsibility, and you'll get more participation and willingness to help.

For your Family Readiness Group (FRG) events:

  • Invite higher ups to come to events; most love coming to visit, and it gives you a chance to set up a connection with that higher-up spouse who can be a wealth of information and also will support you when you need help.
  • Pull in as many enlisted spouses as you can; have events that aren't so stuffy, like coffees; include the kids or provide for babysitting (which can be arranged free at most CDCs on post). They have to realize you put on your pants the same way they do.
  • Realize that some of these spouses will be worn out, so give them some grace; don't pester them but do check up on them to see how they are doing and to see if they need anything. We will all need a break now and then, and just know that THIS IS OKAY.
  • Be sure the spouses know when you are available; many of us work, homeschool or have young children; if you let them know the best times to call you or stop by, they'll be more inclined to do so at those times; you don't want to constantly hear the phone ringing; it interrupts your day, you'll get resentful, which is bad...and get nothing done in the process.
Some other things to keep in mind and maybe share with your commander or Command Sergeant Major husband:

  • The command team sets the tone for the unit; Stress family time, being home for dinner and time with family on weekends (soldiers will watch what the command does, and if they constantly stay late at the office, they will feel obligated to do that too...this breeds resentment); I had a high ranking general tell me that if things weren't getting done during the workday, then you are doing things wrong; obviously, there are exceptions here and there, especially right before a deployment, but we have to remember the old rules of the Army are gone; focusing on family along with unit readiness are the top priorities.
While we were at the command prep course at Ft Leavenworth, we had a commanding general share a story of him telling the Chief of Staff of the Army, that he was going to leave a conference early to go back home and trick-or-treat with his kids. It was that important to him, and the chief did not bat an eyelash...just told him to go back and do what he needed to get done. That took some heart...I guess that's why he is a general I'm thinking. This general also said, get about 70% done and let the other 30% go. You have to find a balance in life. It's easy to train, train, train, but if you don't have a balance between your family and your really have nothing. I thought that was well said and hope to run into more commanders who feel this way!

If you have any stories or tips to share, please post them!


Friday, January 11, 2008

Free Music Online...That's Perfectly Legal

I got a "trial by fire" so to speak when I got my Microsoft Zune for Christmas. I like to listen to a few podcasts...the financial gurus Dave Ramsey and Ric Edelman being my favorites. I guess my husband saw me wasting too much time on the computer listening in, so now I can get their latest talk shows and listen to them on my outings around town...very handy. And then when I saw the hubby had uploaded all my favorite hits from the 80s and 90s! What a great feeling to listen to all that old stuff. Now my kids happen to get Zunes too from Santa. They,for the most part, don't like to listen to that "old lady stuff", so we looked at alternatives to get them their favorite songs. They have been diehard XM Radio Top 20 listeners for about 6 months now. It's funny to see the "almost tweenies" get into the latest songs and artists and such, mouthing the wrong words and keeping just a step behind the beat.

After dutifully downloading a few songs from the Zune Marketplace, as well as Amazon and a few other places...we started running out of allowances and chump change. So I put on my thinking cap. Remember in the very old least for us....recording songs off the radio with your cassette player? I figured there had to be something just as nifty now. After a few days online, here are a few alternatives I have found...all are legal, and your conscience won't beat you up about it either.

  • Broadclip MediaCatcher. Let me say, I loved the idea. The software searches for you on hundreds of internet radio stations. You check back periodically to see what it found and then download the songs as MP3s to your computer. I say I loved the idea, because I had software issues and couldn't quite get it to work right.
  • Freecorder. This is a nifty little browser tool with record, stop, play, etc buttons at the top of your browser. You can go to one of the many sites that plays songs in streaming audio (I like Yahoo Music and CNet Downloads, which also has some free songs), hit "record", then "stop" when it's over. Freecorder will then prompt you for a song name and where you want to store it. You can customize some other options too. I have a folder I named "My Recordings" and made sure the Zune was able to find it.

Of course, when you record songs, you do have to fill in the Album, Artist and other info. The Zune automatically searches for album art and plugs that in. There are also some programs you can use to find album art and fix tags. I tried out Fixtunes . It fixes all your tags automatically, but gives you the chance to check them over first too. I had a few album covers that were just plain wrong. You can do 50 free with the shareware version, to buy, it's $24.95, but if you use coupon code 3eba623620, it drops the price to $9.95. It was a handy program, and it worked well for me. After a few hours, early one morning, I fixed all the old tags from my husband's music. It was funny to see him go to bed last night, scrolling through all the old album art from his heydey on his own little Sansa MP3 player.

I also tried out MP3 Tag, which is more labor intensive, but it allows you to search online databases to fix individual album art as well. I liked how it organized all the artist folders, so you could see what was in each one, without clicking on it. We had some songs stored in the wrong folders, which we would've never noticed otherwise. I guess that's my being uptight by things that aren't quite so orderly. Anyway, it's another program I recommend.

Do you have an MP3 player? When do you use it? Where do you get your music?


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Free Personalized Menu and Fitness Plans

Normally, I like to stay away from processed foods. For the most part, they do have a lot of additives (ie junk that makes them smell and look good) and then they sock you with a higher price on top of that indignity. But, with that being said, you know I'm going to point out a silver lining here. I found a site that has been a big help in my menu planning, and now, they also have a daily fitness plan to get you moving and keep you on track.

I'm talking about Kraft Foods. I signed up for their seasonal magazine, which is full of recipes, menu and snack ideas, plus what's new at Kraft. The magazine comes in my mailbox five times a year. I rip out the pages of recipes I want to try, and dutifully keep track of these recipes like this. I know, I know...a few pages are marketing fluff, but for the most part, I've been pleasantly surprised.

One of Kraft Foods updated features, is their customizable Meal and Fitness Plan. You get recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, desserts and snacks depending on your level of caloric intake. You'll also get a blurb on what to do to burn some calories that day. Be sure to check it out and let me know how it works out for you.

What do you do to get menu ideas? How do you go about planning your menus? Do you have a fitness plan or something you like to do to stay active? Please do share your ideas.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

My Run In with the "No Flat Tires" - PAX System Michelin Energy LX4s

It looked good on paper. It really did. When I splurged a few years ago and bought my top-of-the-line Honda Odyssey Touring Van, I think I added every gadget there was to add....including those nifty tires that never go flat. The gist is that you can get a "flat tire" but still keep driving on these babies...up to 50 MPH for something like 50 to 100 miles.

Even though I do know how to change a tire...and I can even do basic car maintenance such as changing the oil...I always had this unnatural fear of having to change a tire under pressure. Maybe it is my introverted personality and not wanting to be judged in public, but I used to really fear having to stop in traffic with a van full of young children, and in a dress or worse, looking like a slob (my neighbor takes her kid to school in a bathrobe), having to change a flat tire with everyone speeding by and no one stopping.

So, when I saw this particular option, I didn't think twice about adding it on. In fact, I think with the Odyssey I bought,these were included in the price. Well wasn't that was nice....for about two years until yesterday, when my little tire pressure monitor display (yes, it has that too), told me the air in my one tire was a little low. I dutifully filled it back up and thought that was it. The next morning...same thing. In fact, not only did the monitor say I had low said I was running the "no run flat" on that side with a big exclamation point and warning about keeping under 50 MPH.

Uh oh....I had never had that warning before. Since my van does talk to me when prompted...I decided to ask it a few questions...absolutely no answer...but the dashboard was still screaming that same message. Of course the husband was out of town, and I did have to pick up the kids from school that afternoon...actually a van full, not just mine.

Since I had to get some stuff mailed, I proceeded to the post office...and then on to the pharmacy...the dry cleaner too...they were all on the way, okay?...and then finally, on to the car place. I was patting myself on the back at this point...look how great these tires are...I can get it fixed on my time and still get all my errands 'bout them peaches?

Three hours and $680 later...I had my answer. After the initial shock wore off. I realized what a stupid choice these tires were. I ended up having to replace two of them. With that $680, I could have realistically bought a whole new set of four regular tires, a tow and a weekend getaway for me and my husband. Don't you hate when you make a dumb decision? You think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread,and then much later, realize how stupid you've really been?

As I humbly got back in my van and drove to go get in line to get the kids....cause I didn't have the heart or energy to do anything else...I vowed to spend more brain power on my next large purchase..whatever that may be. I was not seeing the forest because of the darn trees. You gotta look at the details and not just the big picture. You pay now or you really pay later, right?

What have you bought recently that you regretted buying? I don't care if it's a toaster or a house...let's hear it. We could all learn from each other's mistakes!

Please be sure to read my two follow up articles below:

My Odyssey with the Honda Odyssey Minivan and Michelin

Honda and Michelin Both Win the "Nightmare of the Year" Award


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Thrifty Travel Is Within Your Reach

Now is the season for cheap airfare, hotels and even cruises. I have a friend who always does their yearly Disney cruise this month, just for that reason. You can't get it any cheaper in any other month. How do you usually go about shopping for your next vacation? If you've got some time on your hands, it will pay off to take a few extra steps.

  • Be your own travel agent. As you find new hotel, airfare, rental car and travel destination websites, bookmark them. Be sure to watch the travel section in your newspaper and keep a small notebook of company names, deals and trends.
  • Don't forget about your club memberships. I'm talking AAA, the warehouse membership stores (Sam's and Costcos as an example), AARP and other organizations you are a member of, including some of your service clubs and professional clubs.
  • Check the airfare trends. Get a good idea ahead of time what prices typically are at the time you want to travel.
  • Read up on reviews so you don't pick the dirty hotel or cheesy part of the beach. Check and Lonely Planet. These sites have lots in one place and are worth a visit
  • Be sure to check the airline's or hotel chain's websites. Some only put the best deals on their sites. A perfect example is Southwest Airlines. You will not find their fares on the mass market travel websites. Sign up for email mailing lists. I've seen many last minute low prices, only available through email.
  • Check nearby airports coming and going. It CAN make a difference in price. See what other airports are close by and compare prices.
  • If your time is flexible, play the "bump game". Book a flight that is almost always sold out, typically the last flight of the day to a certain location. When they ask for volunteers to get off the plane, raise your hand. You can easily get a $$$ voucher or a free airline ticket out of it. My husband does this all the time on business trips where he doesn't have to be back right away.
  • Save money on parking by parking at a local hotel. Just make sure the hotel has a shuttle. If you are going to be gone for an extended period, it may even be cheaper to get a hotel room, leave your car at the hotel and take the shuttle in.
  • Compare the cost of driving vs. flying. Sometimes this can make a real difference! Also look into Amtrak or if you can stomach it, the bus, such as Greyhound.
  • See if you have any friends who work for an airline, hotel chain or amusement park. These employees can get free and low cost passes they can give to family and friends. It doesn't hurt to ask if they can help you out.
Added 5/8/2008:

Don't forget to visit these websites as well!

Better Bidding

Bidding for Travel




Monday, January 7, 2008

Roasting a Chicken IS Therapy

There is a very short connection between your brain and your nose, if you haven't noticed this already. Remember when the smell of bacon and eggs used to rouse you out of bed? Freshly baked cookies remind me of my childhood. Did you know roasting a chicken can bring instant therapy and healing?

This is actually an excerpt from Jacey Eckhardt's book, The Homefront Club, a book written by a military spouse with lots of light hearted stories and advice.

"Having a really wish-we-never-moved-hate-this-stupid place kind of day? Then roast a chicken. I always do. It's better than Prozac for the unsettled soul. And a roasted chicken takes no culinary talent whatsoever. Rinse the bird off. Dig out its entrails. Stuff the cavity with an onion or a cut lemon and some rosemary and thyme. Add a little salt and pepper. Roast at 325 deg for 25 min per lb. Baste. Because as you go about your chores, as you dig away your life, the scent of Roast Chicken Love will fill your house. It smells so promising, so cozy. So darn homey, you can't help but feel your spirits lift. And it's good for at least two meals."

I can't help but agree! I like to get a small bowl and make a mix of salt, pepper, thyme, minced garlic and rosemary and take a wooden spoon handle and slide some of that mix between the skin and the meat of the chicken. Then, I rub the chicken in olive oil before putting it in a preheated oven. Round out the meal with a pot of fresh steamed green beans and a box of instant potatoes (or fresh if you are so inclined). If you don't know how to make gravy, use a chicken gravy packet. If you want to go the extra step and make it from scratch, after the chicken is done (use a meat thermometer to double check; those thermometers that instantly give you temperatures from your roast or chicken via a cord make GREAT gifts for people who have to cook), put the pan drippings in a pot. I then add two teaspoons of chicken granules and 1-3/4 cups water. When that starts to boil, I take 1/4 cup cold water stirred up with 2 TBS flour, and put that in the pot. Stir and mix and bring to a boil...instant homemade gravy!

As far as leftovers, roast chicken makes great chicken salad or I will use the chicken pieces in a rice casserole the next day (any casserole with instant rice and a cream soup mix)! To make the chicken salad, I take all the chicken off the bone, shred it with two forks, add some mayo and chopped up celery, and that's it. It probably doesn't need any other seasonings either, although sometimes I'll put in whatever herb we have growing in the garden. I've never had a batch of anything-other-than-tasty chicken salad!

What do you cook that relaxes you as it cooks or bakes? What smells bring home childhood memories and good times in your house?

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Friday, January 4, 2008

No More Cereal for Breakfast

My family is in a breakfast cereal rut. On weekends, I do play a little Martha Stewart and make eggs to order or a breakfast casserole, but during the weekdays, it just ain't happenin! There really are some other quick and healthy and breakfast ideas that your kids can really sink their teeth into. Here are a few ideas:

  • Toasted bagels with cream cheese. For some reason, my son wants these things every morning for the last week. We went to a nice breakfast at a friend's house, and that's what they happened to have. Go figure.
  • Hard boiled eggs. Boil a dozen before you go to bed and then refrigerate. My kids like to take the egg slicer, slice 'em up and put them on a piece of toasted bread spread with a thin layer of mayo.
  • Fruit salad. Make a bowl the night before. This one's more for me than the kids, but it's refreshing and eye-opening eating a bowl of fruit with a dollop of vanilla yogurt in the morning. I use mostly strawberries, grapes, pineapples, kiwi and then add sliced banana in the morning. Apples and blueberries work well too (just use a spritz of lemon on the apples to keep them fresh). Sprinkle with granola for some crunch.
  • Ready-to-blend smoothie. I like a glass of milk mixed with a handful of frozen berries and a few tablespoons of yogurt. Put it in the refrigerator overnight. Blend it up in the morning and enjoy.
  • Muffins. There are so many recipes of wonderful muffins out there. You can even hide veggies like shredded zucchini and carrots in them. They freeze well. The night before, I take however many I'll need and put them in the refrigerator and give them a quick toast in the morning before serving. They taste great with margarine or cream cheese.
  • Oatmeal. Yes, we all know the instant oatmeal packets. How about a crockpot full of oatmeal that smells heavenly and requires no fuss in the morning? Here are some crockpot oatmeal recipes.
  • A banana wrapped with a pita or wrap. Spread the wrap with some peanut butter, put the banana inside and wrap it up. A perfect portable breakfast!


Thursday, January 3, 2008

The New Military Brat

Since I am one myself and raising two, I consider myself somewhat of an expert. Ha, got you there, didn't I! I am no expert, but I do know at least a little bit about the subject. So, of course I started thinking again...not too dangerously, just enough to wonder how things have changed and how this vagabond but structured lifestyle is going to affect our two boys.

Don't ask me what got me looking, but somehow, I found a library book entitled, Military Brats by Mary Edwards Wertsch. I put it on hold and got it last week. I did a double take when the librarian handed me the's heavier than a dictionary! My first thought was, "Man, how can there be so much be written on the subject?" and my second thought was "Oh God, this stuff must really be dry". Well, much of the stuff is psycho analyzing bullsh*t in there and yes, it is dry, but it got me thinking about my own life. On a positive note, the book has many stories and quotes from military brats, and it made me look back fondly on my own time as one.

I was born in Germany, shortly before my dad deployed to Vietnam. He ended up spending two separate tours there, once as a tanker (cavalry) and then again as a helicopter pilot (Air Cav). Obviously, I don't remember much about those early years, other than poking around at some little salamanders in the stream behind my German grandparents' house. Our first military move was to the US, where the only language I spoke was German at 6 years old. I also promptly got lost my first time in a big department store in New York City no less. If it wasn't for the little old Jewish man, who marveled at my German and helped me find my mom, Lord knows where I would be today!

My mom and I dutifully moved with my dad. I distinctly remember being dropped off at the CDC, or whatever it was called back in those days. We used to have lots of "quiet time" on mats when the hours dragged on. When I was older, my little brother joined me there too. I guess my parents liked to go out a lot. The "old Army" had lots of parties, drinking opportunities and official events, as mentioned in this Army Brats book. The Army had a different mentality back then...not all good, but it was a more grand and social thing than it is today.

As I got even older, I found that even though I knew I would miss my friends, I would get antsy about being in a place too long. I would get excited about experiencing and seeing new things. Even though I am an introvert, I looked forward to making new friends, and I know if I wasn't thrust into new situations like I was, I probably would not have been as successful in life, knowing my true personality.

I also grew up to love traveling and trying new things, and my best friend became whatever big novel I could get my hands on. I think all this moving around directly influenced my love of reading. As far as school and grades, I guess I am one of the lucky ones. It can be difficult, but the experience can make you more flexible and determined, all which will help you out later in life. I did have friends who had trouble adjusting, or their grades didn't carry over well or especially in high school, they sometimes had different class requirements at their new school and had to double up. But, most were able to get through this phase and many went on to some of the best colleges around. Many military folks do try to have one duty station during the high school years to even the playing field...sometimes it is doable and the Army does try very hard to accomondate soldiers with high school juniors.

For those of you who did not grow up in the military, do you remember how hard it can be to make new friends? Many military brats move where there are other military brats and just like our parents, we make friends quickly when thrown into that situation. People going through the same transitions tend to gravitate towards each other anyway. And gravitate we each duty station. I made some of my best friends during those years.

Now let's get to some things to consider with you and your kids:

  • All the experiences you and your children have such as the above will make your children flexible, stronger, well read, well traveled, more thoughtful and for the most part, smarter and more worldly adults
  • There will be kids who have some difficulty. Get help EARLY. Check with your mental health counselors on post as well as at your school. Counseling and early intervention can work wonders. The man who wrote the introduction for Military Brats was the author of the famous The Great Santini, which is a story of everything that can go wrong in a military family. It was later made into a movie and is well worth watching if you have children.
  • What American kid knows where the Tiergarten or La Celle St. Cloud is or something just as exotic? Who can speak a few words in a few different languages? Only a military kid.
  • Who can easily navigate trains, buses and a variety of means of transportation? That's your kid too.
  • With exposure to many different cultures and people, your kid will have their own sense of style...which can be a good thing, and they will eventually be more sensitive to others and where they are coming from...this will be a BIG plus when they are all grown up.
  • Military kids tend to be more aware of world events and history. It's embarrassing, as a culture, that we Americans are seen as a laughing stock by other countries whose kids consistently outdo us in this arena.

So what has changed from when I was a brat?

  • Less moving around for the most part, especially if your military spouse is enlisted. This enables us to grow bigger roots, which can be both good and bad (possible inflexibility but ability to form lasting and more growing relationships).
  • More opportunities to meet non-military folks. A lot of us live off-post now.
  • More exposure to what our military mommy or daddy does. Most units have family day and parents talk about their job to their kids. In the old days, this was not so and many kids knew only that their parent wore a certain outfit and was gone a lot. If there wasn't a strong mother or father who stayed behind, the kids would suffer for it. I see a lot more kids happily running around at the playground with their mini camouflage uniform on, proudly proclaiming what their daddy does for a living.
  • Less structured home life. I'm not sure what this phenomenon was, but before my time, most military families were run with a real sense of order and discipline...when I was younger and fact, it's sometimes the opposite! I can think this had a lot to do with my mother's influence, as she had a strong personality.
  • Free healthcare, subsidized food and lodging til the military cuts you off, typically after you graduate from college. Most civilian kids lose most of these privileges right after high school.
  • Less tolerance of alcohol abuse. The old military did revolve somewhat around alcohol and even drugs in the 1970s. My father told me of pulling staff duty and having to actually have a loaded pistol on you. I had teenage friends who couldn't stay away from the sauce either, as a direct result of what their parents "taught" them. The Army has changed along with society and alcohol and drug abuse. Spousal abuse is also not accepted, ignored or encouraged behavior. That's a good thing of course.
As I mentioned before, the Army is even continuing to change now...even as I write this. There has been a huge shift towards the importance of the family, and to tell you the truth, I look forward to it! If you've read this far, then you know it must be something worthwhile. If you or your spouse are thinking of joining, yes the Army is stretched thin right now...but there are great things to come. Read some of these reasons why I love Army life!

Do you have anything you'd like to add?

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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Quest for a Great Hair Cut

Thank-you Tootie for this article! I think we all can totally relate!

Somehow I managed to survive our recent military move, including the packing, the sale of our home (finally!), and even navigating around our new base. But, there's only one thing that I've dreaded more than anything else: finding a new hairstylist.

Not just any hairstylist – a great hairstylist. The irony is that I hardly spend any time doing my hair. In fact, aside for a quick blow dry in the morning, I almost completely neglect my hair altogether. But, I know a great hairstylist can do great things cutting my hair – and thus cutting my number of bad hair days, at least in half.

It took me a couple years at our last base to find a great hairstylist. For a while, I went to a lady who gave a pretty darn good hair cut, but I had to endure an hour of painful conversation to get it, which made me lukewarm about the whole ordeal. Then, at a friend's recommendation, I went to another lady and finally found the Holy Grail of hairstylists: a woman (also a military spouse) who gave an amazing haircut at a bargain price, plus provided some very pleasant and enjoyable conversation in the process. And, if her enthusiasm and expertise weren't impressive enough, then her list of past clients (that includes Heather Locklear) was. I know that I won't find anyone here who is quite as amazing as she is, but I'm hoping to find someone that still will do a great job.

There is hope for us – and our hair – surviving each move, and here is what I've learned so far:

  • Get your hair cut with your favorite stylist right before you move. You better believe I saw the Holy Grail of hairstylists before we left our last base. It gave me at least a little time before I had to rush and find one at our new place. Plus, I needed a cut anyway.

  • Start looking for a hairstylist early. I know it might not rank on the top of your to-do list when you move. But, if you wait too long, you might get desperate for a cut and go on impulse to the first stylist you can find. I did this once, in Georgia, and got a hair cut so bad that it warranted this comment from a co-worker: "With all due respect, what did you do to your hair???

  • Ask other ladies in the area for recommendations. Getting a suggestion for a good hairstylist cuts out a lot of the uncertainty, and it offers you much better odds than walking into an unknown salon. If you don't know anyone in the area yet, ask a woman that you see who has a particularly great hair cut. I'm sure she'll be flattered that you like her cut, and she'll probably be happy to share the name of her stylist. It doesn't hurt to get more than one recommendation, especially if the first person you ask is anything like the woman I asked last week in my yoga class at the base gym. Her response was an enthusiastic: "I cut my own hair!" (Hmm…)

I know that I have many more moves and hairstylists in my future. But hopefully with the right recommendations (and some good luck), I'll get some good cuts. If not, I'll be the one in yoga class with my hair secured in a perpetual pony tail.


Life Lessons for Military Wives, Carnival #5

Thanks to my two diehards who sent in their articles this month. They were enlightening and fact finding, and I enjoyed reading them. I would love to have more people participate if possible! Please consider sending in links to your blog articles...they are worthy! I am also considering starting a podcast...a bit more light hearted, maybe? If anyone has any tips or advice, please do drop me a line.

As usual, I ate too much, and partied...not so much, but glad to be back home and back to the routine! Stop by and read the carnival articles below:

Welcome to the January 1, 2008 edition of Life Lessons of a Military Wife.


Wenchypoo presents Revised: Cheap Eating with Cost-Per-Serving posted at Wisdom From Wenchypoo's Mental Wastebasket, saying, "Re: food finances and how to truly stretch your food dollar."

Wenchypoo presents The Beginning Frugalite Coupon Primer posted at Wisdom From Wenchypoo's Mental Wastebasket, saying, "Great advice for ANY wife, not just military ones--even unmarried people who are interested in better coupon use and saving a little more money. For many, this will be the first economic downturn they've experienced, and don't know how to deal with it. Here's one way."


poetloverrebelspy presents Killing Time on the Road posted at Less Than a Shoestring, saying, "You’ve got seven hours ahead of you on this trip — seven hours where you feel you should be doing something, seven hours where you’ve got to keep yourself, maybe your spouse, maybe your van full of kids entertained and busy. My suggestions in this post."

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of Life Lessons of a Military Wife using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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