Friday, June 16, 2017

Adventures in internet grocery shopping.


As mentioned in a previous post, I am lazy and unwilling to make multiple trips on foot or rent a vehicle in order to get my groceries. As my last two attempts ended in tragedy, I decided to forego a third order on Peapod and try a different service.

Enter Amazon Fresh.

I did not actually order ice cream in this order, which I immediately regretted once I received it. Unlike the Peapod order (which arrived in plastic grocery bags devoid of cold packs/dry ice pack for refrigerated items) there were plenty of ice packs (and dry ice packs) to keep the produce and frozen foods cold. They also used cold bags to further insulate anything cold.



 There was only one problem with the order- and that was how they packed the chemicals:


While I don't think anything leaked out onto the produce in that bag, it easily could have been the opposite. I did tell Amazon as much in the follow up email I sent them about my order. Costs for items in this order were on par (sometimes lower) than local grocers offering a similar service. Even with the treatment of chemicals in this order, I would probably order again from Amazon. I don't think I would do this (or other delivery services) if we were actually living here. Mainly because:

  •  we'd have a car if that were the case
  • I prefer shopping for produce and meats in person
  • selection is still not as wide as what you'd find in-store
  • there are still some things that show up cheaper in store due to sales,coupons,etc.
But, while we are here for training, I will probably keep using the service for big orders. And I would totally trust them delivering non-liquid ice cream. I would definitely recommend the service for folks PCSing and getting their groceries dropped off on day 1 of home leave. In that regard, it is a lot easier than placing a grocery order online (which a lot of grocers, and Walmart offer now) only to pick it up in store while you and the family are in full-on zombie jetlag PCS mode. If you decide to use this service, make sure it is offered in your area, because they are not offering the service everywhere in CONUS yet.

Happy internet grocery shopping!


Friday, June 9, 2017

Way Station



After spending a lovely 30 days in Florida that seemed (like it always does) to go by faster than it should, we now find ourselves in D.C..

I'm not complaining, mind you. This is an extended stay in the U.S. for training before we head off to the new post. If it were a tour here, I would probably be complaining because D.C. isn't cheap. But we're not, so hooray for that. So far we've had the chance to spend time with friends from other posts since arriving, and visit the museums. As both kids enjoy walking, we are taking advantage of that fact because it is easy to walk wherever you need to go. And if it's too far to walk, there's the metro. Which the kids love to take because 'TRAIN'!

The only thing which has been a bit troublesome is grocery shopping. In the before times, I used to look at grocery shopping as something easily completed in one trip, at one store. Now, after a number of years shopping for groceries on the local economy overseas, I have come to the realization that maybe (just maybe) that memory of one-stop shopping was wrong. Because since we arrived I have visited a number of stores (and ordered online) to get everything we were looking for. Also, and this might be in part due to age and lack of a car, I have no desire to make multiple trips lugging my groceries (while wrangling two very active children) on foot from the nearest grocer to our apartment. Now before you say, "You can rent a Zipcar!" or other similar service- I know. I have an account with Zipcar. But the cost of renting a car by the hour (where the hourly cost begins as soon as you rent it):

finding said rented car
installing the car seats
getting the kids in
getting to the store
shopping
getting out with everything (including kids!)
getting back to the apartment
hauling it up to the apartment
getting the car seats out
driving the car back

is greater than what it would cost to just buy your large order of groceries online and have them deliver it to you for a fee significantly cheaper than the total cost of the rental. Which is about ten bucks (at most, before tip from Peapod), in case you were wondering.

So that's what I did. I know, I'm lazy. First world problems. But then I realized something once I got that order. Not everything should be ordered online. Like fruit. Or deli meats. OR ICE CREAM*. Learn from my mistakes people!

*Pro tip: You might want to buy your Ben & Jerry's (or for that matter ANY ice cream) in person, because it's going to arrive in liquid format if you order it online with your groceries. Just saying.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Filler

Hi there.



I actually (surprise!) have stuff to write about, but not the time at the moment. I know, sad maybe for the handful of people reading. Until the next post of substance, I leave you with this YouTube video clip which aptly conveys my feelings about being back in the USA.



Monday, April 17, 2017

Crossing the Rubicon

A clear day.

Pack out. It is part time capsule, and part  'this is your life'. It's a weird thing, and I don't think you ever get used to it. Mainly because our default response (when sedentary) is to just keep all these things you accumulate. The things we keep settle like layers of sediment around us, in our living environment. We don't address this accumulated stuff- and if we do, we put off for another day.

 When you enter the FSLife, you can no longer do that. You have a finite amount of total weight, split between your storage, your HHE, and your UAB. Every pound counts.  Keep or toss. Store or send onward. Nothing escapes review. When they came to do the pre-packout survey, they told us we were either at, or over our maximum*. Two weekends ago we were sifting through the last bits of junk before the packers arrived. Bye bye old Christmas tree, toddler bed, crib, clothes, and all manner of junk we haven't used or looked at for the last two years. Or longer. Last week, our house was full of boxes. Today, the house is empty save for our suitcases and a pile of stuff set aside for UAB.

 Since we have a moving scale, we've weighed out our UAB items and they are also well under the total weight for UAB. Which is good because I still have a few souvenirs to pick up before we leave Sarajevo that are not going in a suitcase because they are too damn heavy.

* Our total weight for HHE, it turns out, was under the maximum. Which means we can get some HHE stuff sent from Florida to Mexico because we have the weight to do so. 

.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Tutorial: Repairing the dust cover on your furniture or box spring bed.



Do you have a pet or small child that has trashed the underside of your Drexel or bed? Are you nearing your PCS and looking to fix the damage before somebody comes by to inspect your furniture for damage and bill you accordingly?
Then today's tutorial is for you! This is a pretty easy repair to perform on your furniture, and the materials you will be using are inexpensive. All you need are the supplies, time and patience. Let's begin.

What you will need:

staple gun and staples
scissors
flat head screwdriver
Sharpie or similar permanent marker
needle nosed pliers
material for the dust cover- you can use the internet and get yourself Cambric Uphol Fabric, or you can use black landscaping fabric, which gardeners use to line their flower bed (and protect plants from weeds) if you have a local supplier at post. .



As you can see from the photo above, this ottoman's dust cover has met with an unfortunate fate. In this shot I have already removed two of the legs from the ottoman. This particular Drexel piece has legs that screw off (see photo below), so if you have this Drexel, and need to repair the dust cover, know that it is very easy to take the legs off. Other Drexel pieces might require a little more work (and tools) so keep that in mind before starting on your project and plan accordingly.


All I had to do was twist the legs off and voila, no extra impediments to removing the damaged cover!


For the next step, you will need your flat head screwdriver and needle-nose pliers. You are going to remove all the staples holding down the edges of the dust cover. These staples are going to be darker than the staples holding the upholstery down- they will be black. This is going to sound dumb and unnecessary, but I am going to say it anyway. Only remove the staples holding the dust cover to the bottom of the furniture. DO NOT REMOVE THE STAPLES HOLDING THE UPHOLSTERY TO THE FRAME! Leave them alone. If you remove these staples you will damage the upholstery. These staples (unlike the staples holding down the dust cover) will be silver. You will not see these staples until you remove the dust cover, so just leave them where they are and move on.

Small black staples!
You will be using the flat head to pry out the staples, and the pliers to remove the stubborn ones, or the staples that break. When you are done, you should see the exposed frame of the furniture and the raw upholstery fabric edges that have been stapled down to the frame.

Ottoman sans dust cover

If you find that you are having a hard time getting the staples out (like I did with this ottoman), you can also attempt to pull off the ruined dust cover, which will leave the staples behind. These staples won't be seen once you put the new dust cover on, but you will need to make sure you don't staple in the same place they are when you begin stapling. Also, you will likely be removing the Drexel tag attached to the bottom of your furniture, if one is present. This tag will be stapled back onto the frame (in this example, on the side) where you found it in the first place.

The next step is to cut your fabric. Get your fabric and drape it over the piece. Be generous- let the fabric drape over the sides when possible (may be less when the width of your fabric off the roll is equal to or less than the width of the furniture). This will ensure you have enough fabric to make a folded over, professional looking edge around the bottom of the furniture where the cover ends and the visible upholstery begins.


Once you have draped your fabric, take your scissors and poke a hole through the fabric where your furniture legs screw in. Once you have finished, make the holes in the fabric neater. You are doing this so the hardware (in this example, the legs) does not pull on or tug at the dust cover and possible warp the fabric when reattached. If you have something like the ottoman that is laying flat on the ground, you can put the legs back on after.


These legs made it easier to expand the initial hole so I could trim it to the right size.
What it should look like after cutting to hardware opening.
Once you finish with the hardware, you can cut the edges, following the general shape of the furniture. In this case, I left about 1.5 inches hang over the edge of the ottoman when trimming the fabric down.





Fold!

After you trim the fabric, you are going to take the excess hanging over the edge and fold it under, so that the new edge covers the upholstery staples and stops short of the edge. At this stage you are going to want to put one staple at the center of each side. While this fabric isn't really thick, or in need of serious stretching (as you would do when stretching your own canvas), you still need to do it so the tension on the fabric as you staple the edge is even and you avoid any rippling/folds in the 'stretched' fabric.

Folded edge

Fabric ready for stapling!

Stapled corner!
When you staple the edge, try to staple at the same space interval, about 1" between each staple. This will further distribute the tension evenly. Also, staple at a slight angle around the edge.


Stapled and re-tagged!
Once you have finished stapling the new dust cover to the bottom of your furniture, you have one last thing to do- magic marker those shiny new staples! Recolor the staples with a Sharpie or similar marker and once you finish, that's it. Your repairs are done!


From silver to black!

All done!

Time for the next ottoman!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Zen and the art of Drexel maintenance.


As we near the end of our time here in Sarajevo, the urgency of 'getting stuff done before packout' has increased. One of those things would be the furniture we don't own, but have to take care of while we're at post.

The Drexel.

So, if you are getting ready for you first post, already at your first post, or an old hand at this but looking for other ideas to make your life easier (and take less of a hit on your pocketbook at the end of a tour), keep reading.

 I like saving money, and I don't like to spend it on things I don't have to (like damages to furniture I don't own), so I try to keep embassy furniture as clean as possible over the course of a tour. This is no easy feat because the furniture has a tendency to wear easily (poor fabric, weak seams, poorly designed casters, etc.). But when you add kids, you are pretty much guaranteed stains, all the time. That you will need to clean, all the time. So, this week has been solely focused on fixing the Drexel. Not that I haven't been cleaning it all along (I have!), but the less time we have here, the less time I have to fix anything before we pack out and no longer have access to tools that would help. For the purposes of this post, I am going to cover upholstered furniture, wood furniture, and lamps.* If this is your first post, or you are headed to your first post, I will add that you should go and document any damage you see on the furniture in your home on the list of items that GSO will give you when you arrive at post. Also, take photos of said damage. Do this before you turn the list back into GSO and make sure they are aware of this damage because you don't want to end up at the end of a 2-3 year tour paying for something you are not responsible for.

NOTE: Yes, you could probably find someone locally to perform the cleaning and or repairs. I get that. So this post might not be for everyone. But at some posts contracting the work to someone on the economy is more costly than others (Western Europe for example) or you may not have the language skills to arrange for the work to be done. Or you know, you just want to do it yourself or not spend the money. To each their own.

UPHOLSTERED FURNITURE

 Unless you want to clean your furniture by hand, all the time, you should probably get a combination carpet cleaner/upholstery cleaner. Sure, you can get slipcovers for your sofa, but that doesn't stop liquids and children from getting to the sofa underneath that slipcover. Also, not every piece of Drexel can be easily slip covered with a off-the-shelf slipcover. Unless you are crafty, and even then your slipcover is not going to stop a determined kid or pet. You can see our handy-dandy carpet and upholstery cleaner (1) (pictured in the photo at the top of this post). That thing has pretty much paid for itself already, because it has managed to clean our GSO issued carpets and the upholstery more times than I can count. It is not 220, however it does just fine on a transformer. If you are at post, have DPO, have kids or pets, and you have time to order one so it arrives before you leave, you should get one. Total time saver.

 For those of you at a pouch-only post, and in desperate need of a way to clean upholstery (but you have no access to an upholstery cleaner or carpet cleaner), this is a very basic formula for spot cleaning your carpet or upholstery:

DIY spot cleaning carpet or upholstery recipe

¼ cup of white vinegar
¾ cup of warm water
½ tablespoon of dish liquid soap



Directions:
Mix all the ingredients in a plastic spray bottle to make a cleaning solution. Spray the mixture onto the soiled fabric and scrub the area in a circular motion. Repeat the process until your sofa is clean. Clean your cloth with warm water and use it to remove the excess soap from the fabric. Blot the cleaned area with a dry cloth to remove the moisture. Let it dry.(2)
Also, you can machine wash (COLD) the cushion covers on Drexel sofas and chairs. You just need to remember three things when you do so:

1. Close the zippers before you was them.
2. Wash them on the cold cycle.
3. You can let them air dry, or you can let them dry on the low heat/delicate cycle briefly - maybe ten minutes maximum. Any longer than that, and you risk shrinking the cover. It will still be damp, but you can put the cushion back in and the cover can finish drying that way.

Once all this stuff is dry, I plan on getting to work repairing the seams that have gone wonky on the furniture and accompanying pillows. I have upholstery needles (3) for that purpose because while a normal needle would work with the pillows, it would be a pain in the ass and not very successful to work on the furniture with a regular needle. For those of you who are not sewing savvy, the internet has tons of videos (4) on upholstery repair and stitching hidden stitches (5) (which is what you are going for when stitching upholstery).

WOODEN FURNITURE

Hidden or removed knobs (glass in door frame for inspection).
I am leaving any issues with wooden furniture last, because we really don't have anything that stands out as serious damage. As my kids are the kind to repeatedly open and close the doors on buffets and media centers, I have already reversed or removed all the handles on these doors, and removed the glass so that it can't get damaged or cracked.

Door pull moved to interior of door.
Any food-related debris or 'mystery debris' comes off easily with warm water and a rag. Always start with a mix of warm water/dish soap and a rag when cleaning your wooden furniture. It is the easiest way to determine what is actual damage versus food junk/mystery/junk/dust/whatever on the surface. For actual damage to the wood, I have wood putty sticks (6) that help with the smaller stuff, like minor scratches. If you are not able to get wood putty, you can use a walnut (7) to fill in minor scratches on your furniture. Or a crayon. Whichever is handy. Short of hiring someone to fix seriously damaged wooden furniture, if you are in need of help for something more serious that light scratches (but not as severe as a broken media cabinet door), there are a lot of resources online showing you how to repair damage to wood. (8) However, there is one wood repair DIY you should know about if you have kids and/or pets, and that is what to do if someone decides to gnaw on or claw something made out of wood. Which you can find here, as a step by step guide.

LAMPS

Whether you like them, hate them, or are indifferent, you may find yourself in need of instruction on how to repair those Drexel lamps. To repair the electrics, go here. And another how to on repairing the electrics, courtesy of The Guardian, can be found here. For a guide on how to repair lampshades, go here.

Happy Repairs!

*You may or may not receive carpets as part of your furniture at post. If you do, know that addressing any stains when they happen combined with use of a carpet cleaner will keep those boring beige area carpets looking brand new (and fluffy) for your entire 2-3 year tour.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Modo dictu



 As mentioned in an earlier post, we went home on R&R to Florida for the holidays. It was awesome, and the weather was pretty amazing our entire time there. We did it for the usual reasons (family, friends...holiday at home!). Getting a break from the air pollution (which was horrible our first year at post in the winter) was a goal as well. We also went back for medical checkups. You might be saying to yourself, "Why would anybody go home on R&R and get routine medical exams done?"

  Maybe you've never run into this problem before at a post during your FSLife, yet. I know how it sounds. I have thought the exact same thing, word for word, in response to someone else saying it to me. It's ok if you think i'm just a crazy crank who is never happy and or paranoid after reading that. I have some days when I think that, too. But for those of you who don't know or have not guessed it yet, the answer is because post does not have local providers on the economy capable of handling routine checkups. This was the situation I found myself in last November, during my yearly wellness visit, when I was told flat out by MED that I would have to go home for a pap smear, and a mammogram.

SURPRISE! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Happy Birthday, indeed.

  So, the choice to go home was also a convenient one because it meant I could go home to my doctors and get everything taken care of without a language barrier, and (relatively) fewer delays in insurance paying for stuff. Even if it was all taking place during the holidays. It also meant we could take the kids to their pediatrician and maybe get something to help with the cough they'd had for eight months. And a trip to the dentist for both kids. And a trip to the eye doctor for the whole family, and anything else that might be necessary. Fun times!

  Thankfully for us, we have a place in South Florida to go home to (from the before-times) for R&R, home leave, etc. Having a car back home also helps. It makes things a little easier for us since all we have to do is switch on the power, have a cleaning service stop by, and get the internet/cable hooked up.

  But this is certainly not the case for everybody in the foreign service. So, here is my very simple post-it note sized list anybody could use if they found themselves in this very position. I have not included any doctors on this list because while I could point someone towards doctors in Florida**, most people already have that covered wherever they call home in their home state. The last section is totally comprised of Florida things* (because hey, if you have to go back home for R&R and medical stuff, why not do it in a place with warm weather and beaches), so feel free to alter the last section to suit your own personal needs. Or just plan a trip to Florida. Whatever works for you.

THE LIST OF STUFF TO MAKE YOUR R&R/'MEDICAL TRIP' EASIER***

HOUSING

Execustay - While we don't need to secure housing for R&R or home leave right now, I have used this service to arrange for lodging during OB medevac and home leave for our family. They handle arranging for everything so you don't have to- internet, phone, furnishings, etc. Additionally, they also take pets, and you earn Marriott points. You can even get housekeeping and additional services if you want.  Execustay is very responsive about addressing problems with your rental during your stay, and finding you a new unit if (for whatever reason) they can't correct the problem with the original property.

National Corporate Housing - We have used NCH for our time in DC when training is required before heading to post. They are also quick and responsive, and non-intrusive. A good choice if you can't get what you're looking for with Execustay.

TRANSPORTATION

Super Shuttle - Do you have a pile of luggage, a kid (or more) and pets that all need to fit into the same transport to and from the airport? Super Shuttle is your friend. Drivers are hit and miss, but this is probably the best service for getting everything in one vehicle to and from the airport.

Execucar - Also a good option to get everything in the van to and from the airport. Their vans are fancier than Super Shuttle.

If you know where you are going, when, and you have your arrival and departure dates already, you can always compare car rental prices (and get a better deal than last minute probably) at car rentals dot com for the full run of your trip. If not, you are probably better off visiting car rental sites directly.

*FUN STUFF

Biscayne National Park

Everglades National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park

Big Cypress National Park

Fairchild Tropical Gardens

Fruit and Spice park

Robert is Here

Tate's Comics

Mai Kai

Miami Metrozoo

The Jungle Queen!

Bonnet House

Parrot Jungle

Monkey Jungle

Coral Castle

Drift diving off the coast of South Florida

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Any of the Florida Keys

Kennedy Space Center

Lion Country Safari


(SOME) DOCTORS THAT TAKE FSBP IN FLORIDA  **

Femcare - For all your OBGYN needs. Dr. Bass is pretty much the only reason I am not dead. As such, I cannot recommend him enough, ever.

Worldwide Pediatrics - Dr. Millon is awesome, as is pretty much everybody at Worldwide Pediatrics. Although I have not used the service, this pediatric office also offers adoption services.

Cardiology Consultants of West Broward - They don't have a website, sadly, but they are great if you need any cardiology work done.

Pembroke Pink Imaging

Super Smiles - Dentistry for the kids (and probably adults)! Pediatric Dentistry / Family Dentistry / Orthodontics

South Florida Oncology & Hematology - Also no website, but a great office if you need an oncologist or hematologist.

*By their very nature, most of the really quirky attractions to see in South Florida are tourist traps. You have been warned!

** I know I said I didn't list any, but then I decided to anyway.

*** Not a very complete list, kind of bare bones.