A collage of all of the Halloween snacks: cake pops, charcuterie, casper cookies, and witches broom cheese.

My Favorite Halloween Treats

Holidays are important to me. Growing up my mom always went out of her way to make holidays special for me and my brother. She had hand-painted décor for some holidays, hand-painted shirts for me to wear, and of course little homemade treats too. Every Easter she made a cute bunny cake and I still loved eating it even when I was in high school. When my son was born on Halloween, I knew that I had to go big on that holiday. So, I’m always looking for new treats to make and spooky healthy alternatives too. I’d love to share a few of my favorites throughout the years and a new one too!

  1. The Casper Classic. I feel like this is the easiest go-to Halloween sweet treat ever. It takes no time at all and only needs three ingredients. All it takes is a package of Nutter Butter cookies, almond bark to melt and mini chocolate chips for eyes. Boom, then it’s done. The extra bonus with this one is it’s an easy clean-up. In the past, I’ve always dipped the whole cookie to coat the entire top part, but this time I only dipped three quarters of it, and I think it’s a bit cuter. These cookies also last several days, and you don’t need to refrigerate them.
  2. Wicked Witch’s Broom. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any easier, these two-ingredient snacks are here to steal “The Best After-School Snack in October” title. The best part (besides only needing two ingredients) is it’s very likely you already have the ingredients you need for these. Pretzel sticks and string cheese. I will say there is a certain technique to the assembly. If you push the pretzels too far, it breaks the cheese apart. It only takes a couple to figure it out. Then you simply cut slits into the string cheese to create the broom. Viola! A simple, quick, healthy Halloween snack.
  3. Simple Halloween Cake Pops. These are made with the sugar cookies you pick up at the grocery store. Toss the cookies in a KitchenAid with the paddle attachment and destroy them. Then, add a block of cream cheese. I didn’t have any on hand so I improvised with one block of melted Almond Bark, and it worked great. Once the mixture holds together, form into balls, put the stick in and put them in the freezer to freeze. I left them overnight and the next morning, I melted some orange chocolate and dipped them in. Next, I created a sprinkle station and decorated them. I will say the melting chocolate dries fast, so for the sprinkles to stick well you have to do it quickly. The only step left is to enjoy them with friends and family!
  4. Icky Ice Water. Back to the simple treats, all you need for icky water is a creepy mold or ice tray. I sprinkle bits of raspberries inside a worm mold and pour water over it. Once frozen, I drop them into a glass of water. The ice melts quickly, so the raspberry bits sink to the bottom, making it look even creepier. In the past, I have used a rubber or latex glove to pour water inside and freeze. Once frozen, just pop it out and add the floating ice hand into a punch bowl. The ice/fruit combinations are endless! And bonus, it has no sugar (unless you count the fruit bits)!
  5. Creepy Charcuterie. This one is totally customizable. Last year we put this out for a football party on Halloween. It was a big hit. All you need is a few smaller Halloween decorations and your favorite charcuterie snacks! You can also spy some witch brooms in mine!

Do you make homemade holiday snacks? If so, what is your favorite?

A child’s drawing of a house with the family standing on the outside

Settling Into a New Home

We are constantly shifting. Sometimes it feels like the dust barely settles before we are picking up all our things and transitioning again. A home means something else entirely when your surroundings rotate so often. It has to. If we can’t feel rooted where we are, what makes a house feel like a home?

I asked every member of my family this question, and we all had different answers. My 10-year-old daughter said once all our things are unpacked and put away then it feels like home for her. She dislikes the limbo and the moving process. It unsettles her. She feels better when her new home is set up. My husband said it’s just the people. The family being together settles him. He isn’t the type to get attached to places or things. My 5-year-old son said it’s the calm. When things feel calm, he feels at home. A safe place for him to unleash all his exuberance is what feels like home to him. I have to agree with all of them, and I love their answers.

Here are a few simple things that I like to do to help make a space feel like home:

  1. Find something positive about the new house and appreciate it. We all get to experience so many living spaces. We get familiar with making it work with whatever we have to work with. No doubt you have a mental list of all the things you hated or loved about all your previous houses. There is always something different. We are currently settling in a new duty station, and we have so much storage space. I’m literally so excited about all the linen closets because I actually have a place to put all our sheets, pillows and blankets. Even though this seems simple, finding something to appreciate starts your new relationship with your house on positive terms.
  2. Find your new routine. I like to evaluate what our routines were like in the “old house” and make some adjustments. It’s like a New Year’s resolution every PCS. We are changing the rules about screen time and focusing on cooking more in our new house. We also evaluate how the extracurriculars were working for our kids in our last place and changing that up as needed. It’s fun for them to try new things and get excited about pursuing new passions. It also makes our life feel fresh where we are. Like we are curating our own stories in a new place, instead of living Groundhog Day every day and every duty station.
  3. Start building a community outside your home. At the end of the day, connections and relationships are what mean more than belongings and to-do lists. A sense of belonging inside of a community is what can make us feel rooted during constant transition. But it is by far the hardest thing to accomplish. It takes courage, energy and confidence. We all have negative experiences that can bring more fear into a new space. But every place is a new beginning. For me, it seems like the longer we stay in the Army, the smaller it gets. I always think a fun way to start is pursuing a new hobby or exploring your new area with the intent to find all your new spots. In theory, it is a simple concept, but this step always takes me the longest.

In conclusion, feeling grounded is a process. We each have a priority of what it takes to feel settled. There are some simple things we can do to aid us in feeling at home in our new space.

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Preparing for the Final PCS

Preparing for retirement

Leaving the military happens on a different timeline for each individual. Some families have more advance notice to plan, while others feel “forced” to retire after being passed over for a promotion. Either way, many retired service members recommend planning for retirement at least one year before your final service date. Many will advise you to begin even earlier — two years in advance!

What can you do during this time? The service member and spouse can attend a Transition Assistance Program, or TAP, seminar on base to discuss all the major decisions that must be made around retirement. These include financial options, medical benefits, life and health insurance, employment tracks and education. You can attend the seminar more than once, so if you schedule it more than a year before retirement, you can take a “refresher” in your final year of service.

During the final year, the service member should begin making medical appointments for any service-connected injury or illness, so there is an ongoing record of the complaint. The family should start building up their emergency savings so there are additional funds to use during the transition period. And of course, you’ll need to discuss where you want to live!

 Deciding where to live

Yes, for the first time in your service member’s career, the family actually gets to choose where they want to live! While this is certainly exciting and a freeing experience, it also means the family has to sit down and weigh the reasons for moving to different locations. Some families choose to settle near their final duty station, especially if children are already enrolled in schools there. Others want to move back to their home state and live close to family. And some choose a brand-new state with employment opportunities and new adventures.

For any location, it’s important to consider employment options for both the service member and the spouse, as well as school options for all family members. You will also want to weigh factors like state taxes on military retirement or disability pay (each state has different rules) and things like nearby medical facilities.

 What’s different about the final PCS?

The final move for retirement may feel like any other PCS move, but there are several unique details that will be different. First, here are some things that are the same:

  • The military will cover the move for your household goods and all dependent family members, using the same rank-based weight allowances.
  • You can still choose to do either a military move or a Personally Procured Move, or PPM, with the typical reimbursements.
  • You still need to wait for orders before making any move arrangements. Don’t rent a moving truck before you have orders, otherwise it may not be reimbursed!

But the final move before retirement is different from other PCSes because the military is not telling you where you have to move, or when exactly you have to do it. There are also some entitlements that are not covered. Here are the ways the final move is different:

  1. Different timeline. You can move your household goods and family anytime from the moment your orders are approved up until one year after the retirement date. Some families move ahead of the service member by several months to settle into schools or new jobs. Others put their goods in storage and rent a place for almost a year while they job hunt and house hunt. You can request an extension in specific circumstances.
  2. Different destination. You can move anywhere in the United States, or even overseas! However, depending on the distance of your move, it may not be fully covered. The military will pay to move your family and dependents for the travel distance to your home of record. (This is typically the address where the service member lived when joining the military). They will pay to send your household goods the distance to your home of selection (this is a specific address, preferably where you will live after the military). If you move overseas, they will only cover a portion of the costs.
  3. Storage options. The military will cover storage costs at your destination for up to 90 days, OR you can choose storage at your current location for up to 180 days. If you are building a home or have an uncertain housing timeline, go for the longer option.
  4. Missing entitlements. During the final move, the military does pay travel costs to include mileage and per diem on the travel days. However, they do not pay temporary lodging or dislocation allowances. So, if you check into a hotel while clearing the base, you will pay out of pocket.

Your final move can be exciting, confusing and intimidating at the same time! Take your time to sort through all the choices, so you can be well prepared for the next chapter of your lives.

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