August 29, 2014

Be a Great Sponsor: Welcome Baskets

When we first moved to Germany, I was so overwhelmed I barely knew up from down. We were without a car, without phones, without a home, and in a foreign country where we didn't know the language. We were exhausted, dealing with a cranky dog and our own jet lag. I feel especially bad for people traveling with kids, I can't even imagine your stress levels!

Luckily, we were blessed with some great people upon our arrival in Germany. Our sponsors made a HUGE difference for us, and we were very lucky to have such wonderful people to show us around. They didn't just help with basic in-processing, they also lent us a vehicle, took us to the grocery store, showed us the local area, and gave us a beautiful welcome basket in our new home. 

I think it's especially important to pay these things forward. All of us find ourselves in unfamiliar situations like this at some point in time, yes? Having caring people to help you adjust is an absolute lifesaver. So if you find yourself in the position to help someone else, please do! Remember how you felt moving to a foreign place, and how uncertain you were of everything around you. Have compassion. Try to do what you can to make that transition easier. Hopefully, the person you help will help someone else down the line.

So with that in mind, here are some ideas to be a great sponsor and provide newcomers with a cool "Welcome To…. (fill in the blank!) Basket". Don't feel obligated to do/buy all of these things. You can do as much or as little as you are comfortable with. This is simply a list of ideas to help you along the way, should you be interested, ok? I've divided the list into two parts: Part 1 includes items that are perfect upon arriving at your hotel. Part 2 includes items that are great when finally moving into housing. 

Here goes! 

Hotel Welcome Basket:

1.  Bus and Shuttle Schedules - Being without a vehicle is an extremely limiting experience. Some people choose to rent a car, others purchase a new vehicle right away. We were lucky enough to borrow a car from our sponsors, but I don't think this happens very often. Help out the new arrivals by including the public transportation schedules when you can. For example, we have an on-post shuttle, as well as one that runs off-post. Using the public transportation for a bit gives people time to settle in and determine what their real needs are, without spending a ton of money. Moving has enough expenses without adding unnecessary ones, don't you agree? Hubs and I managed to survive until our car arrived, with help. This saved us a ton, which therefore allowed us more freedom to set up our household. Lower stress levels also equal better productivity! And, if your newbies can learn to use transportation, then you won't be schlepping them all over the place either. As a sponsor, you can only do so much. 

2. Adapters - Some people may be smart and bring their own adapters with them, but others will not. It's super nice to include one in a welcome basket, just in case. If they are pricey at your location, check your local thrift shop for bargains. You could also add this to the basket as an "on loan" item. Include a cute notecard in the basket that says: 

"These are yours to use for a time,
Until you are settled, 
and then again they'll be mine… 

Others arrive who need these things too,
So please return promptly
And pay forward what's due 

Thanks in advance for your consideration,
It's definitely appreciated
By the newbies at this station!" 

3. Bottled Water & Snacks - Often, us newbies arrive late at night, well after the commissary and restaurants have closed. If you're really unlucky, you arrive during a holiday when everything is shut down for the weekend. How then are you supposed to eat?? Arriving to your hotel room and finding that your sponsor left some snacks and drinks… this is amazing. The long overseas journey can really mess with your schedule, so you often find yourself hungry at bizarre hours. Basic items include things like granola bars, crackers, sandwich fixings (like PB&J, especially if there are kids involved).

4. Phone Numbers - Include a simple list that contains your number as the sponsor, the office phone number, chain of command, etc. This way, if your newbies have questions or get stranded or whatever, they have a handy list to reference for their needs. 

5. Map of Post - This is ever so useful to a newbie! No matter how small the post is, or how easy you think it is to get around, this can be difficult for some people. Like me, ahem. A small, printed map can make an enormous difference. Highlight and label the areas that will be especially helpful the first week: Bank, commissary, fast food, shoppette, ACS, work buildings, housing, offices for internet and phone services. Also helpful, locations of ATMs on post. I know that we travelled with some American money, but we didn't have any euros upon arrival. Point out on the map where cash can be taken out in euros versus American dollars.

6. On Post Facilities - It's possible ACS will have a list you can use, but you can also create one if necessary. Include a list of the most common businesses (like ACS, commissary, PX, etc.), along with their hours of operation. If you've marked these on the map (mentioned above), that's even better! Having come from a much larger post, it was surprising to find a commissary that closed by 6:00 PM. Your newbies might not expect this either.

7. Cell Phone Vendor List - Getting a new cell phone number and service are a high priority when you move overseas. You need to be able to contact people, and have them contact you in return. Include in the welcome basket a list of local cell phone providers, their locations, and a price list (if possible). Often, these companies have pamphlets you can use for this purpose. Mark locations on the map you provided (mentioned above)

8. Helpful Websites - I've gotten some of my best information from local Facebook pages, seriously. Not just ACS or Garrison pages, but also spouse pages, local yardsale pages, etc. Include a list of these in your welcome basket, they're amazingly useful! Also, if your post or FRG does a monthly newsletter, please include the email address so new spouses can get signed up right away. 

9. Local Events / ACS Classes - Taking the "Hallo Hohenfels" class after I arrived in Germany was one of the smartest things I did. Not only did I meet some great ladies, but I learned a lot about my local area. The instructor really took the time to help us acclimate to our new environment. If you can, stop by ACS and include their monthly calendar in your welcome baskets. If there are any other local events, add them too! 

Housing Welcome Basket:

1. Recycling Guide, Bags, & Schedule - I was so, so confused about recycling when I arrived in Germany. Seriously, you can ask our sponsor's wife... I was a total disaster! I don't know why, but getting this right was really important to me. It felt like the world would end if I messed up and put a plastic bottle in the wrong bag. Ridiculous, I know. But I felt that way just the same. So help a girl out and include a recycling guide (ACS offers one here), and some recycling bags (we use yellow and green ones here, and they are free at self help), and the trash pick-up schedule (also available at self help). This may seem small, but could make a huge difference to someone as neurotic as me!

2. Local Snacks - It's always fun to include some local flair. For example, being that we're stationed in Germany, I would likely include some of the famous German chocolates and gummy candies. This gives the new arrivals a little taste of what their life will include now. If you know them well, and know they wouldn't oppose it, including a local beer is fun too.

3. New Home Necessities - Once you're actually moving into housing, there are lots of things you probably need and don't even realize. As a sponsor, take the time and introduce your newbies to the lending closet. This is huge!! Furniture, dishes, pots and pans… all at your disposal. There are other items that no one tells you about when you're living in a foreign country. For example, did you know that our dishwashers here require a special kind of salt, in addition to the regular dishwasher tabs?? Yep, I didn't know either. Luckily, our sponsors were awesome and provided a container of the special salt at our new home, and then explained to us what it was for. 

So, if you know about all these odd, little things… tell your new arrivals! If you don't want to purchase those items, you certainly don't have to. Perhaps give them a list instead, and take the time to show them around at the local store.

4. GPS Addresses - Keep a list of handy GPS addresses for each housing area. For example, what is the closest grocery store, hardware store, churches, and restaurants? Possibly include your favorite shopping areas and clothing stores as well. And don't forget the address for the closest train station!

5. Take Out Menus - A small packet of menus is invaluable when you first move into housing. Especially when you've moved overseas and don't have any of your household goods available to you. Of course, you can always go to the lending closet and borrow items. But it's nice not to cook once in a while. In our town, we have both a Chinese place and a Greek restaurant that offer pick-up for takeout food.

6. Local Contacts - If there are people from the same unit in the same housing area, introduce everyone. Swap contact information. It's nice to have someone close by, like a neighbor, to ask for help when you need it. Let's be there for each other!

7. Self Help List - After you move into overseas housing, self help is your best friend. They have lawn tools, light bulbs, drills, and so much more. It took a long time for us to learn what was offered there. A handy list would have been beyond helpful. Since the items at self help can change often based on funding, make a note that not all items may be available (this helps curb disappointment). 

Do you have suggestions or additions for these welcome baskets? What have you included in the past, or what do you wish had been included in yours? Feel free to comment below with your ideas and suggestions. Until next time, my friends!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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August 28, 2014

DIY Taco Seasoning

Have you ever looked at the back of a taco seasoning packet? Like, specifically at the ingredient list? It isn't pretty, my friends.

The ingredients list varies greatly depending on what brand you choose. The one on the left (above) is Old El Paso brand, and the one on the right is McCormick's. As you can see, they are very different. This is why it's so important to read your labels. Or, just make your own!

The Hubs and I are slowly eliminating processed foods from our life. Yes, I do most of the work, but the Hubs is on board. I want to know what is in my food. I don't want artificial flavors or chemicals or any other crazy ingredients. It is very hard to change your whole life overnight. So instead, we pick one thing and change that. After we've mastered one new thing, we add another.

This week it was taco seasoning. Death to pre-packaged seasoning mixes!

The ingredients 

This might look like a lot of ingredients, but it's all spices you probably have in your cabinet anyway. I tested this by asking my pal Michelle, and she had everything except the cornstarch. Honestly, the cornstarch is used only as a thickening agent so you can do without if necessary.

The directions for this are so easy, even the Hubs can do it! You just mix all your spices together, and viola! Instant taco seasoning. We use 2 tablespoons of chili powder, ½ teaspoon garlic powder, ½ teaspoon onion powder, 1 ½ teaspoons paprika, 1 tablespoon cumin, 1 teaspoon of sea salt, ½ teaspoon oregano, 1 teaspoon coriander, a pinch of cayenne pepper (more if you like things spicier), and 1 teaspoon cornstarch.

When you make your taco beef, add 5 tablespoons of this seasoning mix for every pound of meat, along with ¾ cup of water. Simmer until the sauce thickens and the water is gone. Just like the kind you buy at the store!

This recipe makes enough for 2lbs of ground beef. The Hubs and I like leftovers, so I always use a whole batch. OR, I double (sometimes triple!) the recipe, and I keep it tightly sealed in an empty spice container. Then I don't have to make it every time we want tacos, I just grab it out of the cabinet.

Give it a try yourselves, peeps. Change up the mix, adding more of what you like or less of what you don't. And let me know how it goes for you.

Until next time, happy cooking!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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The Standard Form:

Taco Seasoning


2 tablespoons chili powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
1 ½ teaspoons paprika
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon coriander
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cornstarch


Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Store tightly covered in an empty spice jar.  5 tablespoons of seasoning is used for each pound of ground beef. Brown your meat, drain the fat, and then add the 5 tablespoons of seasoning along with ¾ cup of water. Stir to combine. Allow to simmer until sauce thickens and clings to meat. Add more seasoning for a spicier dish, and less for a milder dish.

August 26, 2014

Keep Calm and Go To Paris, Part 4

Yep, this is a Part 4. Have you been keeping up on this Paris series? No?? That's ok. You can catch up if you want, with Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. We've visited the Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame, and Versailles, and so much more! With only two days left in Paris, we decided to leave the city for a bit and head out into the country to Giverny, home of Claude Monet.

Monet's gardens

This may not be of interest to you if you're not an art lover. I am, so off we went. I was pleasantly surprised to find the Hubs enjoyed this day trip as well. My mum loved it, of course, but The Kid could have taken it or left it. Every once in a while, I gotta push a little culture on her, ya know?

There are many ways to reach Giverny from Paris, if you don't have a car. We chose to take the train. It was quite confusing in the beginning, and there are only so many trains per day. The train doesn't actually go directly to Giverny. Rather, it stops in a small town called Vernon. You must take the train from Saint-Lazare Paris station. We purchased our tickets the morning of, and the price was about 30 euros each for the 45-minute round trip.

After the train stops in Vernon, you must then hop on a shuttle bus to Giverny. Seats on this are limited, and you must pay in cash at the door of the bus (4 euros each way). I know this sounds a bit complicated, but I promise it was a lot easier than it sounds!

The gardens were worth it to me. You'll have to decide for yourself if they hold the same value to you.

Water lily, in Monet's gardens

Seeing the spot where Water Lilies was painted literally made my heart flutter a bit. The same way I felt when I finally viewed Starry Night. We waited a while to take our pictures on the bridge in the water garden. People were crowded around, so it took quite a while. And then I waited to take a picture of the bridge with no one on it.

No photography was allowed inside the actual house, or I would post them here for you. It was a fairly ordinary home to me, except… one of the rooms was filled with paintings, all Monet's. I could have spent hours in there, it was fantastic. Tummies were rumbling, however. The Hubs doesn't do so hot without food, so we took a break for lunch before wandering the quaint town.

I gotta forewarn you about one thing. We took the next to last train back to Paris. We wanted to return early enough to visit the Arc di Triomphe before bedtime. Our train was so full, this is what happened:

The train was cramped, people everywhere. We sat on the stairs, and on the floor. We sat in each other's laps. And at every stop on the way, more people piled on. Just when you thought the car would surely burst at the seems… someone else slipped in.

You've been warned. We were so happy to get off that train.

Rather than taking public transport again, we chose to walk to the Arc di Triomphe. This was included on our museum pass, and I wanted to make the most of them. The pass allowed us to skip the ticket lines, always a bonus. The Arc is in the middle of a traffic circle. So how do you get there?

Well, don't run out into traffic people!! You can access the Arc from the underground station. There are signs pointing the way, though it was a bit confusing at first.

You can climb to the top of the Arc if you'd like to see the beautiful panoramic views. My mum didn't quite feel up to the task though, after asking the guard how many flights the climb was… so he let her take the elevator!

I had no idea there was an elevator here (there isn't one at Notre Dame). Thanks to the nice attendant, my mum enjoyed the views too.

One of several views from the
Arc di Triomphe

After walking back down, we were all ready for a quiet meal at our apartment and a good night's sleep. The next day, we had a train to catch back to Germany. But we still had some time to visit the Louvre! Stay tuned, peeps.

Until next time, happy travels!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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August 23, 2014

Doggie Days

It's a beautiful Saturday in Bavaria… the Hubs and I decided we should get outside today and enjoy the weather! We thought about taking a hike with our pup Lucy, but then we saw a flyer on post for a Pet Show.

Sure, why not?

So off we went! We've entered Lucy in fun contests before, like swimming races, when we were stationed at Fort Bliss.

Lucy takes 1st place in the
doggie paddle swim race! 

It's always a good time. You get to meet other pet owners, hang out, and let the puppies play. Today, our PX had a contest for smartest and cutest pets. Keep an eye out for these events at your base. This particular contest was announced on the radio, on the garrison Facebook page, and there were fliers posted around base. Kinda hard to miss.

Lucy takes 1st place in the smartest dog category!! 

Lots of people came with their pets, both cats and dogs alike. They were all so completely cute, and way smart! Everyone performed their tricks, and showcased their obedience. There was cake and coffee to be had, and great conversation. We were so excited for Lucy to win first place in the Smartest Dog category! I feel like a proud mama today.

I'll add her certificate to her trophies, and keep the gift card for myself, ha.

Just kidding, just kidding!! We'll be using our gift card for some new dog toys and treats. Lucy is super excited about it, can't you tell?

Relaxing after the win… 
So, how are you spending your Saturday? I hope it' beautiful and you're having fun. Until next time, my friends!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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August 21, 2014

Keep Calm and Go To Paris, Part 3

After our adventure to the top of the Eiffel Tower, the Fam and I set off on Day 3 in Paris. We were excited to travel a bit out of the city. Beautiful Versailles awaited us!

Outside the Palace of Versailles

Because we had the Paris Museum Pass, we were able to "skip" the line… what they don't tell you is that everyone else was smart enough to buy this pass as well, so we still waited in a fairly long line to gain entrance (about 45 minutes). The line was shorter than it would have been for sure, but don't expect to just walk right in. This way, you won't be disappointed.

Of course, we found ways to entertain ourselves in line…

Pay no attention to those crazy people.

Upon clearing through security at the entrance, we made our way into the labyrinth of rooms in the palace. Be forewarned, Versailles was extremely crowded. As in nose-to-nose with the person next to you. This could vary based on when you visit, but at least you'll know the large crowds are possible. Because of this, we didn't enjoy this visit as much as we might have otherwise. We skipped quickly through most of the rooms. I did love the ceilings though! In fact, I waited several times just to get a picture of the magnificent artwork above us.

The gardens were much more relaxing than the inside tour. We wandered freely for an hour, enjoying the fresh air and magnificent flowers.

Versailles gardens

After the garden tour though, we were ready to eat lunch and head back to the city. Hopes were high that we would return in time to visit Notre Dame and climb to the top. There are several restaurants grouped together near the train station, so all you have to do is pick one. We chose a creperie, yum!

Lunch (and dessert!)
Even with a leisurely lunch and some shopping, we returned with plenty of time to climb the towers of Notre Dame. The hike up 387 stairs is not for everyone! Keep in mind that there is no elevator, so I don't suggest this for anyone not in good physical condition. If you're up for it though, the view at the top is 100% worth the wait and the climb.

We even heard the bells ring! It was pretty loud, but also way cool. I had a sudden, almost irresistible urge to watch Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame  (the video below is the bells ringing on the tower, it may take a moment to load).

We shopped our way back to the apartment… ok, we did that every night! But it's always fun to window shop, right? And maybe pick up a few souvenirs. And some treats to take back to our puppy, of course. And some croissants for breakfast the next morning.

This is important stuff, peeps.

A good night of rest was in order, because the next morning we were off to Giverny, home of Claude Monet. Stay tuned, my friends.

Until next time, happy travels!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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August 20, 2014

Spicy Shrimp Stuffed Avocados

Writing about our recent trip to Paris has made me crave some of the foods we enjoyed whilst there. On our first night, after our tour of Montmartre, we were cold and tired and hungry. Luckily, there were dozens of restaurants near our apartment. We chose one at random (I wish I remembered the name), and had a great meal.

But it was our appetizer that really stuck in my brain and just won't get out. It was creamy, a little bit spicy, and absolutely de-lish. Of course I had to recreate it!

Nom nom nom nom nom!

I love avocado anything, so this totally appealed to me. Shrimp salad stuffed inside an avocado? Heck yes! The nice thing is that you could serve this as an appetizer, but it makes a great main dish as well. The Hubs and I ate it for dinner.

I will forewarn you: This recipe is complicated. BUT, you can take some shortcuts that actually make the recipe extremely simple. For example, you can buy your shrimp already cooked. And you can use regular mayonnaise and simply add the spice to it, rather than making your own. So don't be scared, ok?

Ok, let's get this party started!

Cooking the shrimp

We'll begin by cooking the shrimp. If you choose, you can buy your shrimp pre-cooked and skip this step. I think they taste better when you do it yourself, though.

So, add 1 thinly sliced lemon, ½ thinly sliced sweet onion, and 2 tablespoons of Old Bay seasoning to a large pot of water. Bring it to a boil. Allow to boil for 5 minutes, then add 2 pounds of uncooked shrimp with the shells on (cooking with the shells adds extra flavor). Continue to boil for 4-6 minutes, until the shrimp are done. Then immediately plunge the shrimp into an ice bath. This stops the cooking process. You don't want your shrimp to become overcooked and rubbery.

When the shrimp have cooled sufficiently, you can peel them and set them aside for later use.

Next, we'll make our mayo. Again, you could purchase regular mayo and add seasoning to it rather than making your own. But it won't taste quite the same. And this isn't as hard as you think it is, I promise! Here's what you need:

Spicy mayonnaise ingredients 

As usual, I forgot an ingredient in the picture. Whoopsie! (You also need 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce). I highly recommend the use of a food processor for this task. You can make this with an immersion blender as well, or the really brave can whisk by hand. But that adds unnecessary difficulties to your life.

To your food processor add 1 teaspoon of paprika, ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 chipotle pepper in adobo, 1 large egg (at room temperature, very important!), 2 egg yolks (also at room temperature), ½ teaspoon dijon mustard, ¼ teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. Whirl it all around until the mixture is nice and creamy.

Here is my best advice for making mayo… first, make sure your ingredients are as fresh as possible. Don't use old eggs. Second, make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature before you begin. And third, when you begin adding the oil (next step), do it as slowly as possible.

Like, it's ok if this next step takes you 5 minutes or more.

With your food processor whirring away, slowly slowly drizzle in 1 ½ cups of canola oil. Begin by barely dripping the oil into the mixture. If the oil doesn't properly incorporate, then your mayonnaise will break. That is no good, my friends. As you drizzle in the oil, you'll notice your mixture thickening. This is good! Once you've added all of the oil, your mayo will look something like this:

Spicy mayonnaise
Yum! Again, you could always spice up the mayo you already have in your fridge. But once you try this, you'll see how easy it really is and you'll never go back. The depth of flavor is worth it.

You're almost done now… Add 1 cup of the spicy mayo to your shrimp. The mayo actually yields about 1 ¾ cups, so I save the extra and use it on sandwiches during the week. You can also drizzle a bit extra over your dish once it's complete, if you'd like a little more sauce. Also stir in 1 diced bell pepper, 2 stalks of diced celery, and 1 finely minced shallot.

The rest is all assembly. Cut your avocados in half and remove the pits, then gently scoop out the pulp in one piece. I totally should have taken pictures of this process, but I was so excited to eat that I forgot! Luckily, Real Simple has an easy tutorial you can follow.

Fill the hole left by the pit in your avocado with the shrimp salad. Put a big old heaping scoop in there! Sprinkle a little cilantro on top, and serve with a salad on the side. My salad contained some spring mix, grape tomatoes, and radishes. Add a lemon wedge to the plate too.

Mmmmmm….. you're all ready to eat! Slice up your avocado and eat with the salad, squeezing the lemon wedge over the top of everything.

I'm so happy I can take myself back to Paris with just a bite of this dish. As always, the standard recipe is below. I'll be back soon with more tales of our adventures in the City of Lights. Until next time, happy cooking!

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Spicy Shrimp Stuffed Avocados


For the shrimp:
2  lbs. uncooked shrimp, shell on
1 lemon, thinly sliced
½ sweet onion, sliced
2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 small shallot, minced
1 red pepper, finely diced

For the spicy mayo: (all ingredients must be at room temperature)
1 teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 chipotle pepper in adobo
1 large egg
2 egg yolks
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
2  tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 ½ cups organic canola oil

To serve:
4 avocados
2 pints grape tomatoes
Spring mix
1 lemon, cut into 8 wedges
1 bunch radishes, julienned
4 tablespoons cilantro, for garnish


To cook the shrimp: Add 1 lemon (thinly sliced), ½ sweet onion (thinly sliced), and 2 tablespoons of Old Bay seasoning to a large pot of water. Bring water to a rolling boil. Allow to boil 5 minutes, then add the shrimp to the pot. Boil for 4-6 minutes, until the shrimp are done. Remove immediately and plunge into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Once the shrimp has cooled, peel and set aside for later use.

To make the spicy mayo: Add all the ingredients except the oil to a food processor. Blend until smooth. With the food processor running, very slowly drizzle in the oil. It should take at least 5 minutes to drizzle in all of the oil. If this is done too quickly, then the mayo will not emulsify and it will break. Whir in the food processor until creamy.

For the shrimp salad: Mix the cooked and cooled shrimp with one cup of the spicy mayonnaise (save the remainder of the mayonnaise for use on sandwiches, etc). Stir in the red bell pepper, celery, and shallot. Set aside.

To assemble: Slice the avocados in half and remove the pit. Gently run a spoon around the edges of the avocado and scoop out the pulp in one solid piece. Place on a plate and fill the hole in the avocado with shrimp salad to overflowing. Sprinkle cilantro on top of the shrimp salad. Garnish the plate with a small salad of spring mix, grape tomatoes, and radish. Serve with a lemon wedge (this should be squeezed over the avocado and salad. They should be eaten together). 

August 19, 2014

Keep Calm and Go To Paris, Part 2

If you've been keeping up, then you've already read Part 1 of this series…

I'll just assume we're on the same page here, shall I?

Th next morning dawned bright and early. And rainy. The Fam and I enjoyed an easy breakfast in our apartment, fresh fruit and cheese and bread and jam. This is the good life, peeps! Our plans included a free walking tour of Paris, and (this is the best part) a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower

Waking up with a cappuccino 

We slowly made our way to the tour meeting point, window shopping along the way. The weather was dreary. Paris is well-known for it's drizzly rain. Rather than be sad, we rejoiced that we were getting a "real" Paris experience. And we stopped for a cappuccino to warm us up. That always helps. 

Here's a tip for cafes in Paris that you may not know: Often, the price of your espresso or cappuccino (or whatever) is based on where you order the item. For example, the price will be significantly cheaper if you order at the bar (standing) versus sitting and ordering from the cafe tables outside. If you're looking to save a bit of cash, this is handy! 

Waiting for walking tour 
I'd taken the free walking tour once before, during my 12 hour whirlwind trip, and I loved it! The tour includes a lot of the major sights like Notre Dame, the Louvre, the love lock bridge, and much more. Usually the guides are humorous and have plenty of local color that adds to the tour.

Sadly, my second go round with this tour was not nearly as good as the first. In fact, it was pretty boring. I was honestly surprised since I've taken many of the Sandemans tours in other cities and never had this problem. I'm hoping it was just a fluke (and I'm pretty sure it was). The Fam and I tagged along with the tour for a while, but eventually left and did our own wandering.

Notre Dame
Love Lock Bridge (aka: Pont des Arts bridge)
Just before our visit, the "love lock" bridge actually lost a few sections of railing where the weight of the locks is causing decay and crumbling. Parisian officials are now encouraging people to take "selfies" versus the popular locks. In fact, there is a whole website now dedicated to Love Without Locks.

Crumbling railings 
There is no punishment for the continuation of the love lock tradition, but I suspect that someday soon this will no longer be allowed. 

In our wanderings we headed toward the Eiffel Tower, stopping for lunch at a great little cafe. Here's another tip for any of you visiting the city: Cafe tables and chairs must leave a certain amount of available space on the sidewalk. This often means that chairs are side by side, instead of facing each other across the table. Whatever you do, don't move the chairs around unless you want to be fussed at by an irate employee. 

Sitting side by side for lunch

Also, don't order "French" onion soup in Paris. Ahem… it's just onion soup there, peeps. 

No one is to talk about how I made this mistake, ok? Learn from me, my friends. It was pretty embarrassing when the waiter says to me (in perfect English), "You mean the onion soup?"


After lunch, it was almost time for our tour to the top of the Eiffel Tower! 

Under the Eiffel Tower, about to go up! 

You can order tickets online in advance, but we chose to do a tour for this visit. We used Easy Pass Tours, and we weren't disappointed. The price is definitely higher than a regular ticket. I had several reasons for this purchase. First, there were no tickets left online when I tried to book in advance (biggest reason, ha!). Second, I thought The Kid would enjoy hearing the history of the tower, and a description of what you see from the top. Our guide was very friendly, and the tour included some great information. Best of all, he was willing to take pictures of us together at the top! 

Eiffel Tower

Despite the rain and the fog, we loved our visit to this iconic monument. The official tour was 2 hours long. But we stayed quite a bit longer. There were vendors and gift shops to explore, and even champagne available for purchase. I found the champagne to be highly overpriced, but we enjoyed a nice hot chocolate that went perfect with the cool weather. 

View from the Eiffel Tower 

The next morning we had a planned excursion to Versailles. After another lovely meal in Paris, it was back to bed for a bit of sleep before a new adventure. 

I'll be back soon with the next installment in this series. Until then, happy travels! 

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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August 18, 2014

OCONUS PCS: Packing Your Carry-On Bags

I spent months thinking about, worrying about, and stressing over what I needed to pack (and where) for our PCS to Germany. I really wished there was an available list that gave me all the possibilities, and I could simply check off what I needed. But I never found a comprehensive one.

I don't want anyone else to struggle with the same issues I had. So naturally (you know me!), I had to create a list for you. I began with my post about Unaccompanied Baggage. And now we'll work on your carry-on luggage. Soon, I'll talk about your regular luggage. Ready? Cool, let's get started…

There are many things you need to hand-carry with you on a move, not just an OCONUS move. For this post though, I'm going to focus on the overseas aspect of moving. However, most of these remain true for a regular PCS too! This list encompasses as many things as I can think of. If you have additional ideas, please comment below and I'll add to the list, ok? As always, I've included a printable for you. If you're like me, then you like to physically check stuff off as you do it.

Here goes:

Carry-On Packing List (OCONUS Move)

1. Snacks - Yes, the flight will likely provide a meal and snacks. But what if you (or more importantly, your kids) don't like what the airline provides? Also, you don't know what will be available after you land. What if the stores aren't open? Or the restaurants? Your system will be all wonky from the time change too. I woke up starving at 1 AM the first few nights... it drove me nuts! I'm so glad we had extra snacks packed that were easily accessible. You may also wish to bring an empty water bottle. We each carried a reusable Camelbak water bottle. You can fill these after you've passed through security at the airport, using water fountains if necessary.

2. Paperwork - This is one of the most important things that you keep track of. So many documents need to be hand-carried when you travel. I traveled with my Everything Book. This kept all our documentation in one place. I added a few extra folders for the items that were specific to our PCS. This list is long, and hopefully comprehensive: All military IDs, several copies of orders (we travelled with 10), passports (both official and travel) social security cards, drivers' licenses, marriage certificates, divorce decrees (from any previous marriages), custody papers (for kids of divorced parents), all power of attorneys, wills, medical records, school records, insurance documents (including proof of insurance for shipped vehicles), car titles, all documentation for your household goods and car shipment, and any paperwork received from transportation. We also carried any receipts for high dollar items, in case we needed them to claim damages after our HHG arrived. And don't forget your car keys!

3. Finance - I suggest carrying a bit of cash, as well as your checkbook, ATM cards and credit cards. You may want to carry some Euros with you as well (or you could use an ATM after landing in Europe). Hand carry a copy of each bill you pay, as listed in the Everything Book.

4. Pet Documentation & Needs - When traveling with a pet, they also require documentation. You should have their health certificates, a copy of all their medical records and training certificates, microchip information, and the paperwork received when boarding them on the plane. I also included a photograph of my dog, with a description, and the contact information for her vet in the States. We carried 60 days worth of her medications as well (this allowed us some time to find a new vet after arriving). Pack travel sized dishes, enough pet food for several days, and perhaps some treats or a favorite toy. I packaged my dog's food in ziploc bags, already pre-measured per meal. I brought 2 days worth in my carry-on, and another two days worth in our suitcases. This was especially helpful when we couldn't go to our commissary for several days after arriving.

5. Contact Information - I carried this in my phone, as well as in a printed list (what if my phone died??). The list should include any contacts you might need during the trip and the first week after arriving. For example, the information for your sponsor, the unit, staff duty, and the MPs (both at the new station and the old). In this way, you always have the information at your fingertips in case something unexpected happens.

6. Medication and Vitamins - This is especially important if you have any medication or supplements that you take everyday. Don't trust this to your regular luggage! Also consider bringing your vitamins, aspirin, motion sickness pills, a small first aid kit, etc.

7. Valuables - This encompasses a lot of items. But the best rule of thumb is this: Don't trust anything you really, really care about to the luggage under the plane. For example, we carried on our laptops, iPads, iPods, external hard drives, and camera equipment. I even purchased a special suitcase for all of these items that contained extra padding and protection. Don't forget your cords and cables either! Consider hand-carrying any electronics, jewelry, and sentimental items.

8. Entertainment - Your flight may provide movies. But then again, it may not. You might intend to sleep, but you just never know. I found I couldn't sleep at all on our flight. So pack some entertainment peeps, it's a long way to go. Plus, you will definitely want things to keep you occupied even after arrival. Trust me. Fill up your tablets with pre-loaded movies, books, and games. And make sure those games don't require the internet to function! Bring magazines, books, crossword puzzles, coloring books and crayons. Load your iPods with your favorite tunes. And don't forget those headphones! Hubs and I used a headphone splitter so we could both watch the same movie on the iPad at the same time (and at different volumes).

9. International Adapters - It's a good idea to have several electric adapters with you for the journey. The locations you stop at (your hotel room, the plane, airports, etc) may use European plugs. Some of the hotel rooms on post might use American plugs, but you can't be sure that all facilities will. For example, as I sit blogging at our Java Cafe there are no American plugs. However, before you plug into these outlets make sure that your device can handle the electricity differences! You can find this information online. If it can't then you will blow up whatever you plug in.

10. Tobacco & Coffee Products - If you have a nicotine or caffeine addiction, I suggest bringing a little extra of these items in your carry on bag. You won't be able to purchase these on post until you've received your ration card. Generally, you will get your ration card within the first few days of in-processing. However, there could be holidays or unforeseen circumstances that prevent this from happening right away. So if you feel a need for it, then bring a small supply of these items with you.

11. Pillows & Blankets - Being an international flight, the airline will likely have these items. But they'll be airline issued, and not nearly as comfortable as having your own. The neck pillows are especially nice to have. Consider too an eye mask or earplugs. These will come in handy if you've got a crying baby on board! We brought what I consider "house socks" (the kind with the rubber grips on the bottom), and some flip flops. With such a long flight, it's nice to remove your shoes and still be able to walk the aisles of the plane.

12. Toiletries - I always carry some small toiletry items on the plane with us. Remember, this is a long flight and will be an equally long day. Maybe several days if you have any issues en route. Trust me, you will want to freshen up at some point. Carry the essentials, like: disposable toothbrushes or a regular toothbrush and toothpaste, compact hairbrush, make-up, deodorant, baby powder, small shampoos, wet wipes, a fingernail file (no metal ones, they won't go through security), and feminine products like tampons. If you wear contacts, bring solution, eye drops, and don't forget your glasses. Anything that was liquid, we secured in ziploc bags before placing in our carry-on (helps prevent spills).

13. Clothing - I don't think it's necessary to pack a ton of clothing in your carry-on, but you should pack a few key items. I'd suggest a full change of clothes per person to include: socks, undergarments, pants, and a top. Also consider bringing a pashmina (for the ladies). Honestly, I always include a couple extra pairs of underwear. You just never know! Your luggage could be lost, you could spill a drink on yourself, or you could be delayed and really want a chance to change and freshen up. Another good idea is to pack pajamas for your kids, and let them change in the bathroom on the plane. They'll be more likely to settle down and sleep if you keep them as close to their routine as possible. Heck, I usually bring a pair of pajama pants for myself! Or failing that, at least a pair of pants with a comfortable waist band. You can totally change in the bathroom too, and then switch back just before the flight lands. (Extra tip: Use ziploc space saver bags to pack clothing in your carry on. They make a special travel size suited just for this purpose).

14. Seasonal Items - When we left Texas, it was still 100 degrees everyday. Germany's weather was a whole different story. I packed gloves and hats in our carry on, just in case our luggage didn't arrive with us. Also, you won't be able to open and access your luggage right away. Even if you can, it's a pain. So be prepared for cooler or warmer temps at your new location, and add a few small items to your carry on that can help with that transition.

15. For Infants - I've got to admit, I don't have a lot of experience in this area at all. So please add your suggestions in the comments, ok? I'll do my best though. Babies require a lot more stuff than anyone else. Don't forget baby wipes, diapers, baby powder, diaper rash ointment, extra pacifiers, formula, bottles, solid food (if they're using it), travel plates and utensils, extra clothing, special toys or blankets.

I hope you've found at least some of the items on this list useful, my friends. Not every item will apply to every person. If you have ideas for additional items, don't forget to add them in the comments. I'll leave you with one more tip: If possible, get your mailing address prior to moving and mail larger items to yourself. Your APO is a US address no matter where you are moving to, so the rates will be the same as the US postal rates (as in, no international mail charges). The Hubs and I mailed ourselves two big boxes a week or two prior to our move. We included some sheets, blankets, extra shoes, a couple winter jackets, and some dog toys/supplies. This was beyond useful. 

May your OCONUS move be smooth and non-eventful! Until next time, my friends…

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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