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5 Tips for Planning a Last Minute Road Trip

 Posted by on September 2, 2015 at 12:52
Sep 022015
 
Dani

Dani

Wanderlust for the last-minute traveler seems to be the way of life for many milspouses. My husband’s schedule changes all the time. As you may remember from my previous posts, however, I’m a fan of road trips. Whether it be with your long-distance partner or just with your pet, it’s always a fun, budget-friendly way to get out of your town for a bit!

This past Mother’s Day also fell on the same day as my birthday and our baby’s six-month birthday. To celebrate the trio of events, my husband and I decided to take a last-minute road trip and make it a weekend getaway. Although being spontaneous is part of the fun, it still requires a bit of planning to set the time away off right. Here are some pointers we figured out along the way to have an awesome weekend out of town — last minute!

1. Be flexible. The key is be as flexible as possible. If you can’t be too flexible with your dates, be flexible with your location. Travel within your means, both financially and distance-wise. If you have a longer amount of time to get away for, you may not mind driving further to your destination. If you only have a long weekend, you’ll probably want to stay a little closer to home.

For our trip, we couldn’t leave until after work on a Friday afternoon and planned to return home Sunday evening to maximize our time away. We chose to visit Asheville, North Carolina, which was about a six-hour drive for us. For some, this might be too far to travel for such a short time. But being the road trip warriors that we are, six hours was half the distance we are accustomed to traveling to get anywhere near our family, friends and hometowns. It was within our means and a destination we were itching to travel to — hello, Smokey Mountains!

2. Pack only the essentials. There’s no need to go overboard with packing for a last-minute getaway. That sometimes takes the fun out of it. Keep the season and climate in mind and pack according to the type of fun you plan to have. A nice dinner out? A casual stroll downtown? A hike in the mountains? Bring a few basics that you can mix and match. And don’t forget a comfortable pair of tennis shoes or sandals!

Having a premade packing list always works for us. I made up a basic list that I printed out and laminated, so every time I travel I can just check off what I need with a dry erase marker and reuse it the next trip. Now that we have the baby, our list has gotten a lot longer. But we’re still able to save some room in the car. I called ahead to the hotel in Asheville before we arrived and found out they had cribs they could bring to the rooms, so we just used theirs and only had to pack the linens.

3. Get directions. Timing is everything, as is the amount of time it takes you to get there. Check the estimated travel time (and the best route, as well as alternate routes in case of traffic or accidents) through your phone’s map app, a portable GPS or an in-car navigation system. And of course, there’s always good old fashioned maps and driving directions you can print from a computer. Once you have the directions, you can plan your route and get an idea of restaurants, attractions and rest areas along the way.

We pretty much use our phones to navigate everywhere, and that also comes in handy when reading reviews on the go. Once we find a place we want to go to, we read a few reviews and visit the location’s website for their address and local directions. This helped us find a great hotel, good eats, a brewery tour and parking at the Biltmore!

4. Think like a foodie. Food. Yum. The biggest expenses when traveling always seem to be where you’re staying, how you’ll get there and what you’re eating. If your destination is known for its cuisine, as Asheville is, plan accordingly! We chose to eat at our hotel for breakfast, get something easy and light for lunch, and go to a hot or popular locale for dinner. This is also helpful if you have food allergies. For example, I’m allergic to gluten, so I was able to plan out several different restaurants with gluten-free menus so that I knew I’d be good to go at meal time!

We also like to take healthy munchies for the car ride. We always take a cooler with waters, sandwiches, granola bars and veggies. That way we don’t have to stop as frequently along our route! It also helps to keep a few nonperishable snacks in your purse or diaper bag for in between meals once you’re there.

5. Prep your car. Aside from filling the tank with gas, make sure your car is in travel-ready shape. Nothing will ruin a road trip quicker than car trouble! Check your oil levels, tires, windshield wipers, etc. Also, pack some cleanup supplies. A roll of paper towels, wet wipes and a trash bag go a long way. We usually bring a stash of grocery bags so we can toss the trash at each rest stop. And never be without hand sanitizer!

However you go about it, try not to get caught up in too much planning. Sometimes driving just an hour outside of town for a change in scenery is enough of a getaway. You might find a perfect mini-vacation somewhere small and low-key. Hopefully these tips will help you manage a fun, inexpensive, last-minute trip full great memories with your crew.

Oh, and one more last-minute tip: Don’t forget the camera!

Sunscreen Your Wallet for Summer Fun on a Budget

 Posted by on June 23, 2015 at 07:00
Jun 232015
 

Coat the kids with sunscreen and then slap some on your wallet too. Summer activities can burn the budget unless you sift through the flashier camps and theme parks to the nuts-and-bolts activities right in your backyard, town and base.

Julie

Julie

Summer is all about freedom — at least from the kids’ perspective. No more homework, tests or projects and they can bask in the glory of doing nothing and spontaneously change course without missing a beat. I miss that part of being a kid.

When my sailor’s deployments overlapped the summer months, I remember feeling a bit lost and, frankly, trapped. What was I going to do with the kids all summer? We wanted to save money for a family vacation after the deployment, so how was I going to entertain the kids for two and a half months and still save money?

That’s when my girlfriends stepped in and gave me the keys to summer freedom. With a little research now, you can have a list of low-cost activities to choose from on any given day and the list itself can allow you to be spontaneous. I know that sounds impossible when you are the one wrangling the kids and pets, cleaning house, managing the yardwork and bills, but this plan will give you a bit of freedom and some extra cash on hand.
The keys
• Research on-base and community events and activities in the local newspaper and online.
• Make a calendar of the information you find for quick access.
• Find coupons and discounts using your military ID, online, newspaper and the base ITT office.
The plan
It’s all about the preparation — planning allows you to be spontaneous later. You know how summers go. The kids are all excited the first few days and then the days seem to grown in length due to rain, heat or boredom. Having options keeps things fresh.

Disclaimer: Just to be clear, I am not saying that parents should be entertaining their kids all day, every day. I am a firm believer in children helping around the house with chores, learning to play on their own and with others and using their creativity instead of claiming boredom, but I’m also realistic. The summer is long, so breaking up the weeks with at least one event you don’t do very often, makes it easier to fill in the other days with lower-key options to keep everyone engaged and less sloth-like.

Special events and locations
Explore and discover what your local area base and surrounding community have to offer for events or activities. Look for family discounts, day or night specials, ITT special rates or military discounts for all of your summer activities. The following ideas can be for your once-a-week adventures.

Story time at a book store.• Kids’ night at restaurants
• Fairs and festivals
• Museums or historical sites
• Libraries and bookstores
• Water, nature, community or amusement parks
• Camps and playgroups

Create your own adventure

• Scavenger hunt – Help your family get to know your city or base better by creating your own scavenger hunt.
• Area parks – Bring a Frisbee, football, kite, whiffle ball, etc. to add to the fun of the playground or open meadow.
• Playgrounds –Visit each playground in your area and have the kids rate each one. Revisit the favorite ones.

Boredom busters and budget savers
When it isn’t safe to dance in the rain or the heat is too much to bear, use these ideas to break the cabin fever.

Imagination station
My mom always had a cabinet filled with craft scraps and supplies that kept my sister and I occupied for hours. Here’s a brief list of some great starter supplies for your craft stash:

• Construction paper, brown paper lunch bags, coloring books
• Googly eyes, pipe cleaners, yarn, ribbon, cloth remnants, brads
• Scissors, glue, crayons, colored pencils, markers, paint, brushes, chalk, glitter
• Popsicle sticks, clothes pins, shoe boxes, oatmeal containers, empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls, empty egg cartons, buttons, single socks without a mate, cereal boxes

Fun food

• Fried jelly sandwiches – These are the perfect rainy day treat.
• Designer food – Make something fun like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cut with cookie cutters, ants on a log or create something new with fruit and veggies and name it.
• Opposite meals – Have spaghetti tacos for breakfast and waffles for dinner or some other crazy combination of food that makes your kids laugh.

Activities

• Hot lava (The floor is lava, so you have to use the furniture and pillows to make it around the room without burning your feet off -please tell me you remember this game).
• Cat’s cradle, paper football or other camp games
• Build a fort
• Create a board game

Movies

• Borrow movies from your local library.
• Rent low-cost movies from vending machines or through your TV carrier.
• Attend the base theater for movies as they offer low-cost tickets.
• Check out the local movie theater for their summer movie programs (free or dollar movies).

One more thing — keep a jar by the front door where you deposit pocket change. This makes for the perfect grab-and-dash money supply you need in case the ice cream truck makes its rounds. If the ice cream truck doesn’t have a route near you, take the jar to your favorite ice cream shop as a nice surprise treat for the family. Planning gives you freedom to enjoy summer activities with your kids while keeping your budget and hair intact.

May 132015
 

I love a good, organized plan. Color-coded pens, highlighters, sticky notes, binder tabs, maps, timelines — be still my heart. So when my husband and I decided our best plan of action was to weave a family vacation into our upcoming permanent change of station move, I got goosebumps — like, “I’d like to thank the academy” goosebumps.

Kristi

Kristi

My husband cautioned that it was going to take a lot of planning. At that moment of caution, if my thoughts could have materialized into one of those little comic book thought bubbles, you would have seen me imagining myself as the lesser-known super hero, Organization Girl — hands on my hips, cape and perfectly-styled hair blowing in the breeze.

The ink hadn’t even dried on our web orders (yeah, I know they don’t require actual ink — just run with the picture I’m painting), and I was already using the Internet to map routes, calculate miles, divvy up the hours between travel days and pick points of interest along the route.

For three days straight I had no less than 12 browser tabs open online while I connected the dots between travel reviews, popular attractions, lunch stops, maps, national parks, free fun for the kids and military lodging options. After hours of Internet research and more math than I ever wanted to voluntarily take on, I capped my pink highlighter and confidently dropped it to the desk.

The plan takes us from south Texas up the eastern shore to visit with family before heading west to the Pacific coast. I ended up with a grand total of:

  • 5,271 miles
  • 25 states checked off of my kids’ bucket list (and 25 cheesy, obligatory state welcome sign pictures)
  • More than 20 family members visited
  • 11 days of driving
  • At least five national park visits
  • Three U.S. coasts
  • Two or more Blue Star Museum stops (depending on timing)
  • One family photo shoot
  • One wedding
  • Infinite cups of coffee
  • As much patience as we can stuff in the car

I’ve typically been a pedal-to-the-floor type mover. But with this move, I was overcome with the feeling to stretch out the trip and shape it into a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. Maybe the whole YOLO thing is finally sinking in, or maybe I’ve just accepted that no amount of my planning can make our name move to the top of the base housing list any faster — base housing, yet another first for this move.

For the distance of this trip and all that our kids haven’t seen — even things my husband and I have never seen, like the Grand Canyon — it made sense to us to see a little bit of everything. I like the idea of picking out a good balance of stops that will help the kids burn excess energy and give us all a little taste of what each state is all about — history, culture, local favorites and such.

If you too are planning a PCS vacation:

  • Consider how much ground you have to cover.
  • Pick out points of interest between point A and point B, and be open to a slight detour for something really cool. The Flight 93 Memorial is a little out of our way, but what a precious piece of recent history to see.
  • Calculate how much time you can spend en route.
  • Poll your family (if your kids are old enough for a vote). We skipped this step, since my son would have just voted for eight days at LEGOLAND. Instead, we made a plan and just started talking it up to the kids.
  • Research how your military ID can be your all-access pass to summer fun. Use it for ticket and travel discounts through your Travel and Leisure Office. Show it at the gate of a national park for your America the Beautiful park pass (free admission to all national parks for one year). Search for participating Blue Star Museums on your route and enjoy free admission between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
  • Use all of your resources. Military families make up this insane web of information. I polled a spouse’s group on Facebook for family fun ideas in cities along our route. That’s where I got roughly 75 percent of our itinerary activities.
  • Make a plan B. As beautiful as my color-coded timeline is, I’m expecting deviations from the itinerary. In fact, I’ve planned for them (come on, it’s me we’re talking about). For our road trip, I’ve listed the top three hotels in the cities we’re likely to stop and a city or two before that in case we run behind. I am forgoing advanced reservations, except for military lodging which fills up quickly. If your plans include outdoor activities, don’t forget to flex for bad weather.

Are we a little crazy? Probably, but I didn’t need an epic road trip to confirm that. It will be the absolute longest trip any of us has ever taken — that’s including my husband’s deployment “adventures.” But, this PCS is our chance to take on a trip like this. When else would we have the time or the reason? Embrace the PCS vacation.

Roads Trips in The Winter

 Posted by on December 24, 2014 at 12:23
Dec 242014
 

Traveling at any time is thrilling, exciting and rejuvenating, except when it’s not. Traveling in the winter is all those things but also treacherous, exhausting and often miserable. Here are my solutions to winter travel blues and how to make it exciting.

Kelli

Kelli

Being a military family we often traveled “home” for the holidays. We either lived on one coast or the other and our families are right in the middle in Texas. Either direction we had a 22- to 25-hour drive and, with a large family and presents, flying was not an option.

Enter the military-infused bloodline I come from. My personal mission was Operation “get home for the holidays” and I was in charge.

The winter weather brought on new challenges that our summer trips did not. I would start with a plan, or some might call it an ORM (operation risk management) only I did it Kelli style, usually yelling out orders from a chair or couch while trying to shove as many clothes into a space bag as possible. Think of what could go wrong and have things in place to address any potential problems along the way. That is ORM.

Plan out your route with alternatives

Make sure you are planning the safest route possible. Sadly, it’s not always the shortest. Take into consideration the conditions you’ll be traveling in and which roads will be maintained sooner than others in the event of a winter storm. Be aware of alternate routes you can take in the event a road is closed.

Weather reports

My dad was our weather guy. He would track our road trips, call us along the way and report what we were heading into. Enter the cell phones of today and all the fabulous weather apps. Now we have a weather guy on the road with us. Someone tracks the storms and reports what’s ahead. It’s usually boring stuff in July on I10, but during December you might see some action.

Car preparations

Depending on where you are going, make sure the car is prepared for the conditions you will be traveling through. Lucky for us we never needed to purchase snow tires or chains, but if you’re heading far north, budget that in. Oil changes and routine maintenance should be scheduled out in advance to catch any bigger unexpected mechanical concerns. I was really great about this, except when I might have forgotten to do it. Last minute oil changes and a quick review of the tires, belts and fluids at the very minimum should definitely be done before you hit the highway.

Blankets, food and water

These are typical needs on any long trip, but the colder weather makes the food and blankets a little more important than a spring break drive home. The thought of breaking down on Interstate 20 in December somewhere in Tennessee made me a little nervous so I made sure we could survive for three days in our SUV. OK, so maybe I have issues, but we would stay warm and eat like kings!

Entertainment

With the electronics of today, this is almost too easy. Might I suggest a throwback to before media was so portable? I read books out loud on the drive. If you are prone to motion sickness try the book on CD version. There’s just something about the whole family listening to a story together. However, don’t think I don’t see the value in everyone having their own headset and going into their own world for an hour or two.

The bottom line is if you are prepared, do your part in making sure you know what you are headed into and keep a cool head when the unexpected pops up, you are going to have a fabulous winter trip. Oh and when the unexpected does happen, add it to your after action report for consideration in planning Operation “get home for the holidays” next year.

If you have any unique tips or adventures share in the comments below. We’d love to hear how you make those long trips home an exciting adventure!

Hitting the Road in Summer Heat

 Posted by on July 23, 2014 at 15:11
Jul 232014
 
Kristi

Kristi

Ah, the summer road trip. It’s right up there next to baseball and apple pie – an American classic. If your childhood was anything like mine, you weren’t unfamiliar with phrases like, “Stay on your side,” “You should’ve gone before we left the house” and, my personal favorite, “Are we there yet?” But, my summer road trips had another constant, the mirage. I grew up in south Texas where summer is eternal, November is autumn, December is winter and if we’re lucky, January is a mild spring before diving back into another endless summer.

So if you want tips for traveling in the heat, I’m your girl. This is the blog I was born to write.

Get an early start

As a child, I had big plans of a career as a weather girl. Those dreams fizzled when I discovered you need an education heavy in math and science, but it doesn’t take a meteorologist to know that temperatures are cooler before the sun comes up. You don’t have to drive in the dark for this to work; just make an effort to leave early. It’s much more comfortable for everyone if your trip doesn’t start by climbing into a steamy, 115-degree car.

Whether you load up the car at sunrise or high noon, take a minute or two to blast the air conditioner and open the doors or windows before everyone climbs inside. This is habitual for me whether we’re driving across the state or just driving around the corner.

Hydrate

My car might be powered by gasoline, but this road-tripper runs on caffeine. While caffeinated beverages, like coffee, tea and the occasional soda can offer a quick pick-me-up on the road, it’s important not to ignore our old pal, H20. The appeal of caffeine combined with my personal mission to minimize potty breaks can lead to a little dehydration. To make sure I drink water throughout the day, I generally have caffeine in the car, but I stick to water anytime we stop for food. Find a system that forces you to drink water, and stick to it. And, if you’re traveling with children, remember that they can dehydrate quickly, so maintain or increase their usual water intake (even if that means more frequent pit stops).

Carrying an ice chest with chilled waters, fresh fruits and vegetables or even baby food for little ones can keep everyone hydrated, fueled and refreshed anywhere between point A and point B. Just be sure to refill ice or refreeze ice packs when you stop for the evening.

Timeout

I once sat in an airplane seat for eight hours from Dallas to Honolulu, which really has nothing to do with driving in the heat, but I mention it to illustrate that it’s a bad idea to sit still that long. Whether you’re traveling alone or with a carload of passengers, you need to take breaks for your health and your sanity. Many traveling tips suggest stopping at parks to let the kids or pets run around, and that’s a cute idea, but what do you do when the heat index is 110 degrees? You get creative.

First of all, when you stop anywhere, find shade. Then, park under said shade. It may be fleeting and it may only cover half of your car, but take what you can get.

Next, and this is by far the most important tip I’ll give you, never, under any circumstances should you leave anyone (four-legged family members included) in a parked car. It doesn’t matter if you crack the windows. It doesn’t matter if you’re only going to be gone for a second. It’s dangerous. Let me hop off of my soapbox and continue.

When stretching your legs out in the sunshine isn’t an option, research some other options on your route and plan your stops accordingly. Here are some fun suggestions:

  • Walk around a shopping mall.
  • Explore a museum or aquarium.
  • Unleash the kids on an indoor playground.
  • Splash around a splash park, water park, pool, lake, river or beach. Definitely plan ahead for this option and pack towels, dry clothes and sunscreen for everyone.
  • Break for ice cream or smoothies.
  • Walk your pets in the shade, and offer plenty of water at stops if you are traveling with animals.

A word on car maintenance

Beyond refilling gas and wiper fluid, car maintenance is out of my realm of expertise, so I’ll just say that regular maintenance is important. Have your tires and fluid levels checked and address any wear and tear or potential problems before you travel.

So, whether your next adventure is a cross-country move or just a summer day trip, stay safe and cool even when it’s “hot tamales” outside – as my son and I say. Find detailed information to help you plan your next cool summer move or vacation on Military OneSource.

Staying Fit on the Road

 Posted by on August 12, 2013 at 16:00
Aug 122013
 
Kelli

Kelli

When you have six children and multiple dogs, you don’t typically fly when you travel. Instead you shove as many people, backpacks and dogs as you can into one vehicle, sometimes two, and you hit the road. Traveling is not always pleasant or kind to your waistline. Sitting in a vehicle, spending hours on the road with nothing to do but chew can make a serious dent in your resolve to be healthy. We often set aside our healthy habits because we think we can’t maintain them while traveling. The reality is that is just not true. With a little forethought and preplanning, you can make healthy choices all along the way!

Meals

Driving a long distance? Instead of getting burgers and sodas at convenient fast food places that dot America’s highways, plan on stopping at a location that has a grocery store with a salad bar or whole foods where you can pull together a quick healthy meal. More and more travel complexes are hosting these healthy choices.

Want to save money AND your figure? Plan lunch at a rest stop or historical marker. Even with our load of bodies, backpacks and personal entertainment devices, we manage to fit in a cooler and picnic lunches or dinners. It doesn’t always have to be sandwiches and potato chips either. There are alternatives to the traditional sandwich. Flat breads, pitas and wraps are all tasty and travel well. Rotisserie chickens are a wonderful alternative to luncheon meat, which can be high in sodium and over processed. The chicken also provides protein to keep your motor running.

Eat small amounts throughout the day, and make your “meals” light as well. Packing healthy snacks and spreading out your day’s caloric intake will signal your brain that food is plentiful and you’ll maintain a better level of energy. Healthy snacks that travel well are raw fruit, vegetables and nuts. Consuming a large meal in the middle of your travel day will make those last hours of driving arduous and unpleasant, leaving you begging for a nap.

Drink plenty of water. Forgo those sugary sips and instead get your family hooked on water. There are lots of flavoring options on the market these days that make water more inviting and exponentially less expensive. It will require an extra bathroom break or two, but staying hydrated will make your vacation far more pleasant in the long run. Summer’s heat zaps us, and the last thing you want to deal with is tired, lethargic, dehydrated family members.

Heading to the overindulgent grandma’s house? Well, since I am the overindulgent grandparent, you could TRY to ask your family to help support you in your quest for healthy eating, but if you just can’t fight the grandmother effect, it’s okay. A few extra sit-ups will burn off those calories you consume and your kids are smart enough to know the difference between what’s okay at grandma’s house and what isn’t going to happen once you get back home. However, these days many grannies have on their tennis shoes and sweat bands. Don’t be surprised if grandma sets up the 5K family color run!

Exercise

Most hotels these days have a fitness center. Pack your workout clothes, and make a point to hit the gym. Your body will thank you for it after a long car ride. The added advantage to incorporating vacation exercise is a better chance for a good night’s sleep—something that isn’t always easy to achieve in unfamiliar surroundings and on hotel or guest room beds.

No hotel gym? Not a problem. Get out and walk. The great outdoors is just waiting for you to run, jump or do pushups. This is another great reason to schedule rest stops at actual “rest stops.” We have been that family running amuck in the fields surrounding a lonely highway rest stop. Sometimes when there just isn’t enough available space to safely run around on the side of the highway, the kids do pushups, sit-ups and jumping jacks platoon style in whatever out of the way spot we can find. A few ninja jumps and wind sprints and we’re ready to pile back in, fold in arms, legs and tails and set off again.

So when you’re planning your next road trip, do so with a healthy point of view. You’ll be surprised at how much fun you’ll have and how much money you’ll save!

Guest Blog: Taking Some Time Together

 Posted by on May 29, 2013 at 14:40
May 292013
 
Melody

Blogger Biography: Melody identifies herself as an adult third culture kid having been raised in the United Kingdom as a missionary kid.  She maintains a pretty good grasp of French and German, some Spanish and a word or two of Hungarian from her past life as a teacher of languages and a traveler of Europe.  Her present life as a stay-at-home military spouse is beautifully rewarding as she raises her sons to be military angels.  Melody enjoys blogging about a variety of interests from controversial topics such as religion to more light-hearted topics like what to feed her toddler, recipes for special occasions or how preciously sweet children are.  She enjoys reading other military spouses’ blogs and enjoys writing about her own experience of this unique life.

I had a few bad days and nights with the little one recently, and with the heat of Vegas, it was getting to be too much.  I feel like I’ve hit a wall in the deployment stages; I miss my husband, and I can’t see the end of it all.

I clear my schedule whenever I feel like this, and today I was going to have a lazy day in the house doing very little, when I saw that the Bellagio Art Gallery had its discount for locals tonight.  My son could do with things to keep him busy too, and this would be a treat and education for both of us.

So when he ate a cooked lunch and fell asleep for his nap early, I rejoiced and packed his supper, so we could go enjoy the fountains and walk around a bit.  When he woke early, we played a bit at home, I had a coffee, then I packed us in the truck and left to leisurely drive down Las Vegas Boulevard towards the Bellagio.  We parked, did the bathroom break, walked around the seasonal display and I took some photos. Then I pushed the stroller out to the big fountains, taking time to let little one run around the smaller fountain in front of the hotel.

Oh my, he loved that!  With my help he stood on the rim around the fountain and poked his finger in the little stream coming out of a shell made out of stone, discovering that stopping the flow makes one wet.  So he tried again a few times and giggled every time; he was surprised to get wet in the face.

We watched the Bellagio fountains to some Italian opera, walked back through the casino to the art gallery, and once inside, little guy was beautifully behaved for the most part, laying his head on my shoulder and letting me and other adults enjoy the Impressionist paintings.

My son was honestly more interested in my phone-thing than the paintings, and did eventually discover that the acoustics were great for small shrieks, so we left about the time he livened up, with some chuckles from other patrons.  After letting him run around at the entrance to the pool area and explore a bit, I took us to the Paris Casino to get some food for myself.  Then after some good walking, we headed home.

What could have been another evening in the house watching television and letting my son play on his own became an exciting memory that will never be forgotten (by me at least).

Not everyone in the military has the option of going downtown in a famous city, but there is always something unique about the regions in which we are placed.  Somehow, it makes a difference to me and is healing to explore the areas in which I find myself living.  My child will have a unique experience and a different life from me, and I want to encourage his uniqueness too.

Today, I explored my cultural side, listened to French and German music and conversation, and reminded myself that deployment is not all there is.  Maybe tomorrow will be another mundane, even boring, endless day just waiting for my hubby to return safely.  But today was a vacation from a lot of the stress and frustration, and I needed that.

Fall Activities that Won’t Break the Bank

 Posted by on October 26, 2012 at 08:00
Oct 262012
 

Fall Activities that Won’t Break the Bank

Dani

Dani

Cheer up! Summer may be over, but there’s plenty to look forward to this fall! From picking the perfect pumpkin, to staying in for a cozy evening of football or choosing a festive Halloween costume, this season is full of fun and affordable activities. Here are a few possibilities to get you started.

For “Singles.” As military families know, sometimes our service members are gone for seasons at a time. Whether you’re on your own due to a deployment, training or just living in separate places, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy this time of year. For starters, fall is a great season to focus on fitness! The heavy heat of summer has lifted, and colorful leaves are falling from the trees, just begging to be crunched beneath your running sneakers or stroller wheels!

Another classic fall pastime is football. If you can get out to an actual game, by all means— go! But if you’re on a budget, call a few friends up and host “game night” at your house. It’s also a great time to try out new “game food” recipes like taco dips, roasted pumpkin seeds, or homemade potato chips! I always test out my crazy new recipes when my hubby is away… that way, if they stink, he won’t know what a terrible cook I really am!

For Couples. Fall is the perfect season to cozy up with your honey and keep that spark alive in your relationship. Simple activities like picking a pumpkin together and carving it out at home tend to bring things back to the basics; especially in the chaotic, tech-savvy world we’re immersed in everyday. Doesn’t sharing a hot cup of apple cider and some cinnamon donuts sound romantic? Pack a thermos and picnic and take some time for just the two of you.

Another way to step away from the chaos is to get outside to breathe in the crisp fall air and take in the beautiful, changing foliage. Or consider hiking together! Physical activity helps to reduce stress, which can be great for any relationship. Hiking is a way to take a common goal and achieve it together, resulting in better communication and a shared passion. Better yet, pack a picnic for your hike to the pumpkin patch! Err… that’s a little ambitious. Just kidding.

For Little Ones. Aside from visiting a pumpkin patch, attending local fairs or festivals, going on hay rides or picking apples, fall offers even more activities for children. No need to go to a corn maze— make your own! When leaves cover the lawn, rake a twisting pathway through them and have your cuties find the right path out of it. Reward them with a special treat at the end, like a baked good or small toy.

If daddy or mommy is deployed, get creative and make a fall craft to send in a care package. An autumn leaf collage or some pressed flowers are sweet, thoughtful and basically free!

Have you ever stuffed a scarecrow? Use out an old shirt and overalls, and stuff them with leaves until they’re firm. Complete with a pumpkin head! Or, play an educational, outdoorsy game like “name that leaf.” Have your tot collect five unusual leaves. Back home, try to identify the trees they came from using guidebooks or the Internet.

If it’s too chilly for your little ones outside, consider “story time” at your local library. Many libraries offer story time for children, and the best part? Not only will it keep your child engaged, but it’s a great learning experience (and it’s indoors). If the weather is still that perfect temp outside, you could always check out a guidebook for the leaf game!

Whether you’re a parent, kidless or “single” for the season, take advantage of the many activities nature and your community offer. Fall is a beautiful, active and dynamic season. Don’t miss it!

Oven on Vacation: Summer Food without the Heat

 Posted by on July 25, 2012 at 08:00
Jul 252012
 

Oven on Vacation: Summer Food without the Heat

Staff Blogger Kristi

Kristi

So, how about this weather we’ve been having? Warm enough for you? I had a moment of crazy a few days ago and thought about taking a walk with my son. Before heading out the door I flipped over to a local weather forecast and, I kid you not, there was a red tinted map of the United States that just had the word “oppressive” spanning at least 2/3 of the country. Are you kidding me? Forget that walk around the neighborhood! Forget even walking to the mailbox in that kind of heat. Someone let me know when the first frost is forecasted and I’ll come out of hibernation.

The one and only thing that can give me chills this time of year is that dreaded question, “What’s for dinner?”

“Well, let’s see, it’s 112 degrees outside. I could really go for something warm and hardy that will feel like a brick in my stomach for the next six hours. And, oh, what I wouldn’t give to hover over a hot stove for an hour,” said no one… ever.

As much as I’d like to just close our kitchen for the season, we still have to eat no matter how high that mercury rises. You better believe I’ve found some loopholes, though. Summer cooking, to me anyway, is all about minimal time in the kitchen with the oven cranking out 450 degrees. Summer food at our house is all about fresh, simple food that can be served raw or cold whenever possible, grilled outside, or heated with an appliance that doesn’t raise the temperature of the whole kitchen (I’m talking to you, oven). Here are some of our favorite summer snacks, beverages, and meals.

Snacks and sides

  • Fresh fruit. Shop your commissary or local grocery store for in-season fruits; they taste great and you can usually find them at a good price. After washing everything thoroughly I keep it in accessible, bite-sized pieces in the fridge.
  • Raw vegetables. Serve on a veggie platter alone or with your dip of choice. Toss leafy greens together with other vegetables, fruits, nuts, and a little cheese for a side or entrée salad.
  • Dips. Throw together a simple homemade salsa or Pico de Gallo with diced tomatoes, onion, garlic, salt, cilantro, and peppers. For some cool homemade guacamole, mash a fresh avocado with a little lime juice, diced tomato and onion, garlic, and salt.
  • Popsicles.  Purée your favorite fruit with a splash of juice or water and pour into ice cube trays or popsicle molds. Insert a popsicle stick so it’s easy to handle, and freeze overnight. For a little variation, try dipping bananas in chocolate and freezing!
  • Frozen yogurt or ice cream. It may not be the healthiest option, but it sure tastes good on a hot summer afternoon!
  • Yogurt parfaits. Mix or layer your favorite yogurt with berries, dried fruit, and granola for a quick and refreshing snack. These are also perfect for breakfast!

Drinks

  • Smoothies. Use fresh or frozen fruit or berries with a little milk, yogurt, or fruit juice. Throw (figuratively, of course) a little ice in the blender and pulse until smooth. Don’t forget the straw and little umbrella!
  • Flavored water. Of course we need to stay hydrated in the summer heat, but let’s face it: water isn’t the most exciting beverage around. Add a little cucumber, watermelon, citrus, berries, or herbs, like mint, basil, or rosemary, to your water for that little somethin’ extra.

Entrées

  • Grilled meals. Burgers, hotdogs, kabobs, fajitas, pizza, and grilled veggies, the possibilities are endless! I know, it seems crazy to me to stand outside in the heat and fire up the grill, but there isn’t a heat wave out there that could keep my husband from his grill (that is not a challenge, Mother Nature).
  • Slow cooker meals. I love my slow cooker for many reasons, but when the air conditioner is working overtime in the summer, I love it because it can make an entire meal without heating up the whole house.
  • Sushi. I’ll be honest, I’ve never actually made this myself, but it’s a nice takeout option in a pinch.

I wish I could do something about the temperature outside, but nothing has worked so far. The best I can do is help you keep the temperature inside your kitchen at a comfortable level by keeping the oven off for the season!

If you need recipe inspiration, check out the commissaries website for healthy recipes for every palate and a list of items on sale at your installation.

Summer Fun: Party of One

 Posted by on July 12, 2012 at 09:16
Jul 122012
 

Summer Fun: Party of One

Dani

Dani

Thinking back to the times my husband told me he would be deploying, I remember going through an array of emotions—as many of us do when we receive that ever-dreaded but always-expected news. I can remember experiencing all of these feelings in under five seconds. First, fear. Followed by panic. Then pride. Lastly, I remember thinking, “Well, if he’s going to deploy, I really hope he deploys during the summer!”

Sounds crazy, right? I feel crazy for thinking it. I have my reasoning. You see, deployment in the fall or winter would mean he would miss all the big holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, etc. As a person who gets overly excited about holidays (we’re talking decorating, party planning, sending cards, all the works), I just could not fathom having him gone for all those big ones.

On his first deployment, he missed every one of them, as well as a couple birthdays, our anniversary, and three or so weddings. I can tell you how I dealt with that, but we’ll save it for another season. On his second one, I guess you could say I got my wish. The longest stretch of his deployment would be over the summer.

For the record—I love spending the summer with my husband. I love barbecuing, I love road trips, I love hosting parties and going on vacations with our closest friends, I love the longer days. Our summers are always so full, and that’s why I love them. From June to August, there is rarely a weekend when we’re home without plans.

And that is why the busier I am and the more plans I have, the faster the deployment will go. Instead of sitting inside during the dead of winter or moping around wondering how to pass the time, my schedule is full. I have places to go, people to visit, fun to be had. Yes, it’s still difficult not having my husband with me. And I have had my share of cry-fests while worrying about him and feeling guilty about doing things without him, trust me. But when you look at the glass half full instead of half empty, it gets you through even the toughest phases of deployment.

I think that during deployments, many of us spouses turn into goal-driven creatures. We have a date in mind and an end in sight for when we will be reunited with our other half, and we start to plan so much around that. 137 days until he gets home, 2 more weeks until he gets my care package, 9 more hours until I get a phone call, 12 more pounds to lose for my homecoming outfit, 3 more months to get the house organized. Have you ever thought any of these things?

I have. Sometimes, the countdowns drive me mad. Other times, they’re all that get me through it. A fun way I found to avoid the countdown meltdown and to keep living life (and enjoying summer to its fullest) is to create a “Summer Bucket List.” Why a bucket list, you may ask?

Well, typically a bucket list is a list of things that you are going to do before you die… but in my scenario, it’s just a list of things to do before the end of summer! Creating a bucket list is one of the best ways to make sure that you use your time and resources as best you can in order to accomplish and experience what you really want out of life.

I find that creating a summer bucket list, especially when the spouse is deployed, is a great way to make goals and work toward reaching them without thinking about the numbers. Is there a place you want to travel to, or a project you want to complete? Add it to the bucket list. A new workout you want to try, or a recipe you’ve been meaning to make? Bucket list.

Save your sanity, fill up your schedule, and always look at the glass half full—that is how I got through previous deployments, and how I hope to get through those in the future! Good luck and enjoy your summers!

All materials copyright Military OneSource, 2012. Blog content held jointly by writer and Military OneSource, with shared rights to republish with appropriate attribution.