October 30, 2012

Fall is in the Air...

Fall is in the air! This is the Hubs' favorite time of year (and mine!). He loves everything about it, especially Halloween and all the festivities that go along with it (more about that coming soon). I love the crisp bite in the wind, and the smell of autumn. We pack our fall dates full of as much fun as we can. Haunted houses (ugh!), pumpkin patches, hiking, apple picking... the list is endless.

However, we've made a few dicoveries along the way. Where we are stationed can determine our fall activities. Apple picking in the desert? Not so much.

Over the years, we've learned to adjust to our surroundings. The leaves don't change colors when there aren't many tress. Adaptation: Drive a few hours into the mountains, or take a long weekend away (check out our recent adventure to the Santa Fe National Forest)  No apple picking? Adaptation: purchase store apples and make apple cider at home.

You get the picture, yes? Bloom where you're planted!

In recent years, we've devolped a new tradition, one I know we'll miss when we're restationed again. We've grown to love our outings to the Mesilla Valley Corn Maze.


This outing is MUCH more than a maze... there are games, contests, and rides. Pumpkin and gourd picking, fresh food, and of course, the maze itself.

We've gone as a couple, and we've gone with our friends. I have to say, the bigger the group, the better! This year, we introduced my good friend Abby, and her husband Paul, to the maze. I'm sure you remember Abby, yes? Not only is she awesome in every way possible, but she writes an excellent outdoorswoman blog. It's all coming back to you, isn't it?



There we all are! Ok, so I'm behind the camera, but I'm there too. Technically.
 
Since the Hubs and I stop here each year, we already know our favorite pasttimes (Big Wheel Racing!). But Abby and her hubs have yet to explore. Sometimes I miss out on all the other games, since the Hubs and I make a beeline for the race track. It was great exploring with some newbies! We saw all our favorite things, and we experienced all the games we sometimes forget. We started at the beginning, wandering through the entrance and stopping at each attaction along the way.
 
First stop?
 
 
 
A giant tic-tac-toe board, using tires... I mean, what else would it be?!
 
I know it seems simple, but we really got into this old-fashioned pastime. I mean, REALLY got into it. As in, we all played several games apiece.
 
No, we're not OCD (except for me, ha). The real reason we played so much is because nobody could beat this guy:

 
 
Yes, Paul is the champ. But I think he cheated. (Is that even possible in tic-tac-toe??) Regardless, we all lost miserably, or else we tied The Man. Of course, I'm used to losing at these types of competitions, since the Hubs regularly kicks my butt in all things game-related. It's sad, but true.
 
Moving forward, I was looking for a little activity. Something that required a little less strategy. Something I could hope to win.
 
Something like... Giant hamster wheels for humans.
 
YES.
 
 

 
 
Turns out, giant hamster wheels are AWESOME! Especially when you're racing. The Hubs and I raced too, but I'm on vacation as I write this post, and I'm completely scatterbrained. The end result is I left those pictures halfway across the country, so this is all you get. I'll be posting the complete set of photos to my Facebook page as soon as I get home, I swear.
 
Except the ones that make me look like an idiot.
 
But you can see all the rest! (Or, you can check out Abby's blog post from the same day and see my silliness).
 
Needless to say, we spent quite a lot of time on the hamster wheels. Boys will be boys, and when it comes to toys, the men are still little boys. They raced, climbed, and jumped. The tried different techniques, and compared wind speed. The womenfolk (me and Abby), shouted words of encouragement and then words of caution. We played too, but mostly with our cameras! It was an exhilerating half hour. Seriously.
 
After all that spinning, we were feeling a little goofy. We relaxed with a few more candid pictures of each other...
 

 
(See, I was there, for reals!) We meandered around, enjoying the day and the atmosphere. Of course, the boys found plenty to keep them amused:
 

 
I just shake my head and repeat my mantra, boys will be boys. Apparently, being a boy involves riding a miniature tricycle, but what do I know?
 
Abby and I didn't ride the tricycles, but that's because we're smart enough to know they were for children, and we let each of ours run ahead to play, haha! We did have fun recording their silliness (By the way, doesn't it just make you smile to see your hubs so happy? I know it totally gets me).
 
There are so many fun activities here, it's hard to keep track. But, I know we hit up the store for snacks and drinks, the food booths for lunch (Omg, the corn on the cob was to die for!), the big sack slides, Scotty's Scoopers (playing in the dirt, great for the boys!), Paver Mazes, and all the photo ops.
 
The BEST part though??
 
The Jo-Jo-A-Rama Speedway!
 
 
Two tracks, side by side, armed with grown-up Big Wheels for racing!
 
So comletely cool.
 
Of course, we had to race. Several times, in fact, both against each other and sometimes just for fun. I gotta say, this track is hard work! After a few laps, you find yourself wearing down, ready to man the camera for a while instead.
 
We all had a turn, on the track and as the photographer:
 
 
 
The best race, though, was between the Hubs and Paul.
 
The Hubs was just a little too cocky... laughing as he rounded the corners, cackling when he pulled ahead...
 
He was in the lead as they screamed around the last curve (easily doing 3mph, hahaha)...
 
AND THEN.
 
 
 
The Hubs looked behind him and laughed... and then he CRASHED. Paul raced into the lead at the last moment, fist pumping as he crossed the finish line.
 
Don't worry, the Hubs' ego was more bruised than anything else. And this picture was priceless, yes? Totally worth it.
 
ANYWAY, I know you're wondering by now where the actual 'maze' is at the Mesilla Valley Corn Maze. There really is a corn field, with a fun maze cut into it. Actually, the shape of the maze changes every year... this way, you never know from one year to the next how to get through it.
 
I'm not sure that knowing ahead of time would have helped us at all...
 
 
 Which way do we go???? No one knows.
 
The boys braved out the entire maze, determined to complete the whole thing. But Abby and I dipped out early when we passed close to the beginning again. The pumpkin patch was calling our names!
 

 
Granted, we didn't actually pick any pumpkins. We took the hayride just for the photographs and the spin around the fields!
 
For normal people, the patch offers not only pumpkin picking, but also gourd and squash picking too. If you're not into the whole pick-it-yourself adventure, Pumpkin Junction has a great selection of already harvested pumpkins (and gourds, etc.).
 
By this time, the boys had worked their way through the maze, and they were tuckered out. Plus, Abby and I were a bit sleepy ourselves!
 
The Mesilla maze has been a tradition with the Hubs and I since our first year at this particular duty station. I think we've now converted Abby and Paul into avid maze goers as well.. If you're ever in the area, be sure to check it out, and don't forget a spin around the Jo-Jo-A-Rama Speedway!
 
The Facebook photo album will be coming soon, with even more pictures for your viewing enjoyment. Until then, happy Fall to you... make the most of it before the winter comes!
 
 
 
 Thanks for reading, everyone!
Follow me on Facebook @ OurArmyLifeAccordingToTheWife
or on Pinterest, my newest obsession @ ArmyLifeFromTheWife
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


October 24, 2012

Candy Corn Butterfingers

Every fall I stock up on candy corn, for some insanely bizarre reason. Why so bizarre? Because I don't eat it! I don't even like it much, truth be told. Why buy it then? I have no idea. 

I get this odd compulsion when I see the bags stacked on grocery store shelves... Buy me, the candy corn whispers, You know you want to.

Does anyone else listen to those voices in their heads?! No? Just me? How about we forget I said anything, ok?

ANYWAY.

The Hubs...  now he can plow through a bag of candy corn in a couple hours. After, he's sick and moaning and complaining, and I rue the day I ever tossed those bags of candy into my grocery cart. And every year, I swear I'm not going to buy it again.

And then I do.

Something must be done to stop the cycle!

So this year, after giving into the compulsion, I yet again found myself with candy corn in my pantry. This time I took precautions against the Hubs and his compulsion to consume all things sugar. No matter the cost, I wanted to avoid the bellyache I knew he'd contract. So I buried the candy in the far recesses of my pantry, next to some rice cakes, ha! No way he would ever look there.

I'd long heard of a mythical recipe, where candy corn could be morphed into tasty Butterfingers. I heart Butterfingers, seriously. I knew I could use the candy corn for good instead of evil, simply by testing this recipe.

So that's exactly what I did.



And it worked!

Why it works, I can't tell you. I'm guessing it has something to do with the chemical composition of the dreaded candy corn, but who cares? These are delicious, and they taste just like the real thing. Best part? There are only 4 ingredients! Naturally, I forgot to include one of them in the picture.


You need a 16 ounce bag of candy corn, and equal amount of peanut butter (16 oz), 3 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips, and 1 tablespoon of shortening.

If you think the ingredient list is easy, wait until you realize how simple these are to make!

I put my candy corn in a pot over medium heat, foolishly thinking this was a great way to melt the candy.

DON'T BE LIKE ME! 

You see, candy corn is sticky. And it will stick to your pot. Instead of repeating my foolish mistakes, learn from them. Melt your candy corn in a microwave-safe bowl instead. I suggest nuking in 30 second intervals, stirring after each, until the candy is melted.

Once I realized the candy corn would quickly ruin my pot, I threw the peanut butter right in. This step saved me and my pot. So, these pictures are from what I did, but let me repeat...

DON'T BE LIKE ME! 


Once your microwaved candy corn is all gooey and melty, then stir in your peanut butter. It will resemble the bottom photo at that point.

Next? Line a pan with wax paper. I used an 8x8 pan, but I think my candy bars were a bit on the thick side. A 9x13 pan might be a tad too thin. Use your own judgement here, and go with what works for you.

Spread the candy corn/peanut butter mix into your lined pan, like so:


Set the pan in your fridge for about 30 minutes. You don't want the candy to be rock solid, because then it will crack when you slice it. Shoot for a firm texture.

While the candy is in the fridge, do two things. First, line a cookie sheet with wax paper and keep it handy. Second, melt down your chocolate chips. Add them, along with your shortening, to a double boiler (if you don't have a double boiler, you can create one by placing a bowl atop a barely simmering pot of water). Stir continuously until the chocolate is smooth.

When the candy is chilled, pull your pan out of the fridge and slice into bars. Or whatever shape you prefer. But for the sake of argument, I'm going to use the word 'bars' from here on out.

Piece by piece, dip your bars into the melted chocolate. You can use a candy dipper set, or you can be like me and just use a fork. Shake off any excess chocolate, then set the bars onto your wax paper-lined cookie sheet. Repeat until all your bars are covered in chocolate.


Place the bars back into your refrigerator to help the chocolate harden. This shouldn't take long, maybe 20 or 30 minutes.

And then eat! And realize that I am right... these taste just like real Butterfingers!



But try not too eat too many at once, ok? The Hubs can verify: too much sugar all at once will send you high, and then send you crashing back down.

So my friends, what have we learned today? I think the lesson is that my candy corn purchasing compulsion isn't an all bad thing! No, you don't agree? That's ok, we can agree to disagree on this.

However, when you find you've given in to the same compulsion, and don't know what to do with all that leftover candy corn, remember this recipe. It's an excellent way to take care of that problem for you.

Happy cooking!


Thanks for reading, everyone! 
Follow me on Facebook @ OurArmyLifeAccordingToTheWife
or on Pinterest, my newest obsession ArmyLifeFromTheWife



The Standard Form:


Candy Corn Butterfingers

Ingredients:

16 ounces candy corn
16 ounces creamy peanut butter
3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon shortening (like Crisco)

Directions:

Melt your candy corn in a microwave safe bowl at 30 second intervals. Stir every 30 seconds until the candy corn is melted and smooth. While it’s still warm, stir in the peanut butter until combined.

Spread the candy corn/peanut butter mixture into a baking pan lined with wax paper. If using an 8x8 pan, the final candy will be thicker, a 9x13 pan and the candy will be much thinner.

Chill candy in the refrigerator about 30 minutes.

Once chilled, remove the candy from the fridge and cut into the desired size and shape. Bars are popular.

Add your chocolate chips to the top of a double-boiler along with the shortening. Melt over low heat until, stirring constantly, until smooth.

Line a cookie sheet with wax paper. Dip your candy bars into the chocolate, shake off the excess, then lay onto the wax paper. Repeat with all the bars. Place in fridge until chocolate hardens and cools.

Eat!  







October 17, 2012

Balloon Bust: A Weekend Gone Awry

This was the plan: celebrate our anniversary and our birthdays in one fun, combo weekend. See, the Hubs and I have back-to-back celebrations, as his birthday falls one month, our anniversary the very next month, and then my birthday the month after that. We try to celebrate them all at once for a couple of reasons. But mostly, we like a mini-vacation together versus the whole gift-giving concept. We're all about creating those memories!

Several years ago, we attended the International Balloon Fiesta as our weekend celebration. It was such a blast!

Balloon Festival 2009 
So why not go again? Albuquerque is a beautiful city, and the festival is a great time. We plotted and planned (ok, so we all know I did the plotting and planning while the Hubs watched TV, haha!). We agreed on a fancy dinner our first night in town, followed by a full Saturday at the festival, and then a sightseeing drive on the way home Sunday. 

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry... sigh. Our weekend began with no glitches. It didn't finish that way, but we did start off on the right foot: 



For our first night in town, we had a reservation at my favorite place, the Melting Pot. These restaurants are few and far between, so we eat there whenever we get the chance. If you've never been, go now! You won't be disappointed. 

Fondue is one of my ultimate favorite foods. Most people hear the word and automatically think of chocolate. And hooboy, the chocolate is delicious! But chocolate isn't the only way to enjoy fondue... at the restaurant, you start with a cheese course, followed by a salad, then a main course, and lastly, the chocolate. 

Of course, I started with a drink.... 




The Ying Yang is impossible for me to resist. The restaurant offers a wide selection of adult beverages, including beer and wine flights, along with an impressive list of specialty drinks.

But this is my nirvana. 

Godiva white chocolate liqueur (that's what gets me!), blended with Stoli vanilla vodka, ice cream, and chocolate shavings. 

Ohhhhhh, my....  

Yes, please!

I only have the one, because it is a sweet drink, and I have that whole 'chocolate' thing to look forward to at the end of the meal. I don't know if I've ever been to a Melting Pot without ordering this drink.


Once the drinks are served, it's time to pick out your starter course, the cheese fondue!

The menu offers a wide variety of options. If you're particular or have allergies, it's easy to remove ingredients from any fondue, since your waiter makes it right at your table. 

Want things a little spicier? No problem. Your waiter will sprinkle in more. Want a little less wine? No worries. It's simple to pour in less.

The Hubs and I chose this month's specialty, the Boston Lager Cheddar Cheese Fondue. Starting with Sam Adams beer, cheddar and Emmenthaler cheeses are added, followed by applewood-smoked bacon, onion, dijon mustard, tabasco, and scallions.

Dipper varieties include several types of bread, vegetables, and green apples. Nom nom nom nom...
Technically, the next course is a salad course, which is also delicious. but I forgot to take a picture, whoops!


Somehow, I bet you're not at all surprised that I forgot a picture. One of these days, I'm going to nip that bad habit in the bud!

After the salad, the main course begins. Many people have never eaten a 'main' course fondue before. I hadn't either, until I discovered the Melting Pot. What makes fondue unique is the fact that you actually cook the meat yourself!

Main course - the Fondue Fusion 

First, you choose your meats. The Hubs and I picked out a variety platter called Fondue Fusion (I think this might be seasonal), which included lobster tail, angus sirloin, Old Bay shrimp, buffalo chicken, Memphis-style BBQ pork tenderloin, and wild mushroom sacchetti.

From there, you pick your cooking style, or broth. There are several different broths, but we chose the Coq au Vin. It was delish! Your server prepares the broth, including a variety of vegetables. Next, he explains how to cook your meal. Each type of meat requires a certain amount of cooking time, between 1 and 2 minutes each.

And then you dig in! Spear your meat, plop it in the broth, then eat... and SMILE with satisfaction. The meal also includes a variety of dipping sauces and glazes, so no two bites taste the same.

Though the meal mostly consists of small bites, it is surprisingly filling. After the main course, I was content, but I still had room for the amazing chocolate!



The dessert course offers a variety of flavors, but I was on a Ying Yang kick (white and dark chocolate combo). Your choices range anywhere from the basic milk chocolate to a Flaming Turtle, which is flambĂ©ed table side.

Along with the pot of chocolate, a variety of dippers is provided (naturally), some of them as decadent as the fondue itself! Cheesecake, strawberries, poundcake, marshmallows, brownie bites, rice crispie treats... and the list goes on.

Cool fact for your night out? If you don't like one of the dippers, or if you have a special fondness for another one, just ask your server for more. It's included, no extra cost at all. The same goes for all the dippers throughout each course, with the exception of the meat.

They might have to roll you out of the restaurant after the meal, but trust me on this... it's worth it. Maybe fondue isn't your normal style, but I urge you to test it out just once. You'll never look at fondue the same way again!

Sooooo, as you can see, our weekend away definitely started off on the right foot! Fat and happy, the Hubs and I headed back to our hotel, looking forward to a little beauty sleep before attending the festival the following morning.

Alas, this was not to be.

Oh, we woke up early. Like, 3:00 a.m. early! And we made the trek to the park-n-ride. And we took the bus to the park. There, we stood around for several hours, freezing our tooshies off, anxiously waiting for the balloons to fly.

Unpacked balloon 


Yep. That didn't happen. Mother Nature didn't cooperate with our weekend plans. Instead, the winds picked up speed, making it unsafe for the balloons to fly. The festival goes on for two weeks, but the Hubs and I only had the weekend.

Of course, we were disappointed.

Luckily, Albuquerque and the surrounding areas offer lots of variety in terms of entertainment. Rather than dwell on the unfortunate circumstances, the Hubs and I decided to make the most of our weekend. What mattered most was that we were together, enjoying each other.

So, as we stood in line for the bus back, I quickly Googled Albuquerque and the surrounding areas (I love having a smartphone). Santa Fe is a mere hour away, and the fall leaves were changing! We've been stationed in the desert for a while now, and I definitely miss the color of fall. So, off to Santa Fe we went...



Our drive took us through the Santa Fe National Forest, where the aspen trees were at peak color. The Hubs and I quickly forgot our disappointment over the balloons when we breathed in that fresh mountain air. I think sometimes our plans don't work out for good reason... if the fiesta hadn't been cancelled, I never would have seen any of this:



(For my iPhone and iPad friends, I've discovered a trick for you! You can download the free Puffin App, which allows you to view slideshows, movies, etc. in Flash. Also, more photos from this trip will be coming soon to the Army Wife facebook page).

There is a certain peacefulness in the mountains that a still camera simply can't capture. The wind in the trees, leaves drifting down from graceful branches... it's a magical place. I tried to capture a bit of that for you here (don't forget to turn up your volume!):



After a several mile hike, plus the drive up and down the mountain, the Hubs and I were starving! Santa Fe is well known for its cuisine, so we opted to test out the local flavor.

Oh boy, oh boy...

It was gooooooooood. 

We stopped in town, right on the square, at a little place called Rooftop Pizzeria. I admit, we did get a little confused in the elevator, but we managed to find it eventually! The restaurant offers a variety of specialty pizza and pastas.

The Hubs would pick basic pepperoni, but I wanted something unique. We managed to compromise on the roasted duck pizza. 

Roasted Duck Pizza  
I promise, it was as good as it looks! 

After dinner, we left Santa Fe exhausted, but happy. A weekend gone awry actually turned out to be a wonderful adventure. A good nights' sleep later, our plan was back on track with a scenic drive home. We made a few stops on the way, including a visit to the Very Large Array. Maybe you remember it from the movie Contact, starring Jodie Foster?




The site has been in several other movies as well, including Independence Day, with Will Smith. It also appeared in 2010Terminator Salvation, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Naturally, this are doesn't exist solely for Hollywood's purposes. They actually do scientific stuff too! The VLA is a radio astronomy observatory, meaning these dishes are sort of like telescopes, but they aren't visual. Instead, they use radio frequencies to construct images.

The Hubs and I have long wanted to visit, so on this trip we did! Although, we almost didn't make it, because GPS thinks it doesn't exist (Anyone besides me have this problem? My GPS is possessed, I swear). If you want to visit sometime, this video will give you the directions we used. We got there in one piece, so hopefully it helps you do the same (don't mind my silly commentary, I can't help myself).


From the Large Array, we wandered to the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Preserve. It was beautiful there, and well worth the quick trip. The preserve is located just a few minutes off the main highway.

I really want to talk a lot about the refuge, but this post is extraordinarily long! I'm going to leave you with a slideshow of images instead. A picture is worth a thousand words, right?



Pretty, yes? (A complete album will be coming to the Army Wife Facebook page later this week).

The Hubs and I enjoyed a great weekend together, despite the glitches in our way. Next time your plans go awry, try to make the best of it. Maybe the universe wants you doing something new and different!

As always....


Thanks for reading, everyone! 
Follow me on Facebook @ OurArmyLifeAccordingToTheWife
or on Pinterest, my newest obsession ArmyLifeFromTheWife




October 3, 2012

Care Packages 101

If you're a military spouse, then chances are you've sent a few care packages in your time. Whether away at school, in the field, on staff duty, or during a deployment, our menfolk (or womenfolk!) can use a little TLC.

Care packages vary greatly. If the Hubs is headed out to the field, I usually gather a few snacks and treats for him, but nothing that he wouldn't want to carry around with him. For a long overnighter at the staff duty desk, I pack up a grocery bag of goodies including snacks, movies, and games.

However, deployment care packages are the Big Kahuna. They take time and thought to put together, and our soldiers especially need those reminders from home when they are half a world away. Depending on your location, the items you include in a care package will differ. For example, you don't want to send chocolate in the summer or to a hotter climate. Sometimes, the military prohibits certain items as well. You definitely don't want to get your soldier in trouble, so check with your FRG about any prohibited items before sending your package out.

There are all kinds of care packages. And there are many fun ways to get creative. Today, I'm going to focus on the basics, but keep a lookout for Care Packages 201, where I'll give you some cool inspiration for holidays, birthdays, and other fun events.

Getting started, you need the basics: a mailing box, labels, and tape.



I like to use the USPS Priority boxes for a couple reasons:
      a. If it fits, it ships!  This is a great advantage if you're shipping heavy items.
      b. Free box. No hunting for a box and worrying whether it will hold up. These boxes are free at your local post office.
      c. Discount! The rate for an APO/FPO box is currently $13.45, regardless of weight, which is $2 less than the regular rate for the same size box.

When you pick up empty boxes, also grab a handful of customs forms. It is much easier to fill these out at home, trust me. You're required to fill one out when shipping overseas, so don't forget! When filling out shipping labels, remember that you can no longer ship to "Any Soldier". The DoD requires that all packages be addressed to someone specific. If you're looking to help a soldier in need, but don't personally know any, there are many organizations you can work through. Check out this list of links on Military.com.

Keep in mind that shipping rules are constantly changing. You can check out the USPS restrictions here. For example, as of right now, lithium batteries are a prohibited item for international shipping.

Alternatively, some online stores will ship directly to APO/FPO addresses. Amazon can be a great resource. You can check out their restrictions here.

Once you've picked up your box and you know who you're shipping to, it's time to get busy with the goodies! Not all of the items here will be appropriate for every soldier, but it will provide a basic idea list.

Snacks: 

 Everyone loves food gifts! Here are some popular requested items...

1. Pudding cups
2. Beef jerky / Slim Jims
3. Sunflowers seeds / Pumpkin seeds
4. Pretzels / Chips, like Pringles (bubble wrap to prevent crushing)
5. Soup cups / Ramen noodles (if canned, check for pull tabs)
6. Dried fruit / freeze-dried vegetables
7. Trail mix / Nuts
8. Pop Tarts
9. Chewing Gum (look for gum not packaged in foil to help prevent melting)
10. Snack Cakes (keep an eye on expiration dates! Packages can take up to 4 weeks to arrive)
11.  Gatorade / Kool Aid / Crystal Light / Mio
12. Cookies (bubble wrap to prevent crushing, check expiration date)
13. Candy (that doesn't melt!)
14. Cheez-its / Cheese crackers
15. Coffee (pre-ground)
16. Canned fruit (check for pull tab!)
17. Spaghetti-Os / Canned Ravioli, etc. (get the pull tab kind!)
18. Granola bars / Protein bars
19. Peanut butter / Nutella
20. Tuna (in pouches)
21. Hot chocolate packets
22. Spices (salt, pepper, etc)
23. Popcorn
24. Gummy snacks
25. Applesauce

This is not by any means a complete list, but hopefully it gets your creative juices flowing. Check with your soldier about their accommodations. This will help determine what items you can send. Does he have a microwave? Coffee pot? Can opener? These are important questions to ask.

A few tips? Stock up on your soldier's favorite items when you see them on sale. I keep a cabinet of 'deployment goodies'. Another great place is the Dollar Tree, especially for candy items. Be careful when packing your boxes... if you buy mint-flavored gum, then the whole box will be minty fresh by the time it reaches your soldier. No one likes mint-flavored jerky! A good way to avoid this is to separate your goodie boxes into categories. Maybe pack your mint items in with a toiletries box, instead of with the rest of the food.

One of my "goodie" drawers

Hygiene & Toiletries: 

These items will be super important for your service member. You never know what type of facilities they can expect, so it's better if they are prepared.

1. BABY WIPES - I'm putting this first and in capital letters for a reason. This is one of the number one most requested items. No running water? It's all good when you've got baby wipes.
2. Tissues
3. Deodorant
4. Toothbrush / Toothpaste
5. Dental floss
6. Razors / Shaving cream (must be in tubes, no cans)
7. Loofah (find a manly color, don't send your Hubs a bright pink one!)
8. Foot powder
9. Hand sanitizer
10. Eye drops
11. Dryer sheets (dirty clothes? Dryer sheets help everything smell better until laundry day)
12. Scope
13. Q-tips
14. Chapstick / Lip balm
15. Sunscreen
16. All-in-one shampoo and body wash
17. Dry Skin lotion
18. Cough drops
19. Aspirin
20. Manicure kit (nail clippers, etc)
21. Shoe inserts
22. Vitamins
23. Air fresheners
24. Cold Medication

Your soldier may have other items they need/want. Ask them before they leave. Ship these items before they are requested. If your soldier calls to say he is out of deodorant, it can take weeks before your package will arrive. Be smart, keep these items on a regular schedule.  Ziploc anything that may break or spill! Double-bag if necessary.

Entertainment: 

Although some of these items may seem frivolous, remember that our soldiers are away from home, pretty much working all the time. Any relief and entertainment they get is well deserved.

1. Books
2. Magazines
3. Newspapers
4. Movies
5. Hand-held game systems / games
6. Batteries (AA, AAA, and 9 volt are popular)
7. Sudoku / Crossword puzzles / Word Finds (puzzle books)
8. Disposable cameras or new memory cards
9. Dice
10. Playing cards
11. Board games
12. Footballs / Frisbees
13. Hacky sack
14. Dominoes
15. Gag gifts (water balloons/guns, whoopie cushions, silly string)
16. Pens / pencils/ markers
17. Notebooks / Journals
18.  Headphones
19. Holiday decorations
20. iTunes gift cards
21. Visa gift cards
22. Amazon gift cards
23. Phone cards
24. Dog treats (for strays)
25. Cards and letters (blank cards are great too, so they can send them to family)
26. Stamps
27. Videos of family / friends with messages
28. Stress balls
29. Candles
30. Flags
31. Posters
32. Cigars / Cigarrettes (check regulations on these items!)
33. PHOTOS (your soldier needs to feel involved in your life at home; send photos often!)

This is by no means an all-inclusive list, just suggestions. I'll talk more about sentimental items and special holiday items in coming posts. You can really be creative, think of things that are special to you and your soldier.

Sentimental gift - an engraved compass

Miscellaneous: 

Some items may need only be sent once, or only occasionally. For example, inflatable furniture can be a nice addition to any room, but you certainly don't need to send a new piece in every care package.

1. Sewing kits
2. Hairbrushes
3. Sheets / Pillows / Blankets
4. Extra socks / underwear / t-shirts
5. Bandanas (black, brown, or army green)
6. Backscratcher
7. Ziploc bags
8. iPod
9. Laptop
10. Bible
11. Paper plates / bowls/ napkins
12. Inflatable chairs / pillows, or butterfly chairs
13. Candles / matches
14. Flashlight
15. Cups
16. Good towels
17. Handmade items
18. WebCam

Your soldier may need other items that aren't listed. Always ask! What do you need? What do you want? What are you craving? These are all good questions.

TIPS & Tricks:

I'll leave you with a few helpful tips and tricks. If you have anything to add to these lists, or any suggestions, please comment below. Your ideas are important to me! I'll be back again soon with another Care Package post, this time focusing on making each package special and unique.

1. Keep it personal and upbeat! Your soldier wants to hear from you. He doesn't just want a box full of snacks. Always include a note or letter. Try to stay positive in your messages, your care package is supposed to be a bright spot in his day, not a sad one.

2. Don't send chocolate if it's going to melt! Try a few fun alternatives. M&Ms generally hold up well, as does chocolate syrup. Just be sure to package properly so any leaks don't ruin your whole box.

3. Check expiration dates, and assume your package will take at least six weeks to reach your soldier.

4. Pack items tightly and carefully! Don't leave too much empty space for things to roll around. If it might be crushed or broken, invest in bubble wrap.

5. Listen to what your soldier has to say. Does he need shaving cream? Food? Does he want more photos? Pay attention, and try to send him what he needs.

6. Consider what facilities your soldier may have access to... i.e. don't send microwave popcorn if there is no microwave.

7.  If you're worried about a scent permeating your box (or if you want to send something that smells of your perfume), consider a vacuum sealer.

8. Think about including an extra mailing label in the box. If your package is damaged, or the label can't be read, then it can still be sent if the label on the inside is intact.

9. Check all your labels before sending. Ensure all is correct!

10.  Consider sending extra boxes to your soldier that he can share with others.

Deployments are never fun, but do your best to keep the relationship strong. A care package can mean everything to a soldier. Remember that they are away from home, and you both need this type of contact. Send your soldier empty cards and stamps, so he can send you letters in return. Love one another, and know that this separation is temporary.

An army spouse can do anything, even this! Care Packages 201 will be coming soon. Please share your ideas, tips, and tricks in the comments below.




Thanks for reading, everyone! 
Follow me on Facebook @ OurArmyLifeAccordingToTheWife
or on Pinterest, my newest obsession ArmyLifeFromTheWife