6 Honest Tips for Surviving a PCS

The late spring/summer is traditionally PCS season for the military community. For those unfamiliar, PCS refers to Permanent Change of Station aka moving. There are hidden expenses that always seem to pop up along the way, but for the most part, we’re not financially responsible for the move but we are responsible for coordinating the process.  Seeing as how psychologists routinely state that moving is considered one of life’s most stressful situations, it’s absolutely imperative that military families develop a system to help schlep their worldly processions from Point A to Point B.

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This past summer, our packers told us that our framed Billy Joel concert poster is the whitest thing they’ve packed yet. True story.

This blog post will not be an article about the need to put together an important documents binder, nor will it advocate for developing a color-coded system for boxes to assist in the deployment of said boxes into the new house. This blog post will not talk about the best resources for researching schools, veterinarians, and hair stylists. And this blog post will not discuss the importance of documenting high-value and moderate-value items is because stuff will inevitably break during the moving process.  This blog post is going to talk about the really important stuff when it comes to PCSing.

6 Honest Tips for Surviving a PCS

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1. Keep a Winged Butterfly Corkscrew Near You at All Times

Rumor has it that there are a few unicorns out there who are able to resist alcohol during PCS season. I am not one of them. It doesn’t matter if you’re calling preschools begging for a slot or searching for the cast iron skillet that you’ll eventually find in the box marked ‘Downstairs BATHE towls’, it is imperative that you keep a winged butterfly corkscrew near you at all times. Not only will it open bottles of wine, it can assist with the opening of an assortment of beers and mini-bottles. It can also be used as a box-cutter and while not preferable, the arms can be used to spread peanut butter. And in a fit of desperation, it can also be a toy. It wasn’t my proudest parenting moment but once, I gave my then three-year-old daughter a winged butterfly corkscrew and told her it was a metal doll in order to keep her occupied as I frantically opened boxes searching for her prized pink elephant that had somehow managed to be packed earlier that day. The winged butterfly corkscrew was all I had within reach.

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2. Don’t Forward Your Mail to Relatives with the Same Last Name

Learn from our mistake and you will avoid a lifetime of political mailers and AARP membership requests. Many moves ago, we had a transition period of about 30 days before officially reporting to another installation 2000 miles away. Obviously, we took advantage of this ‘free’ time and traveled our little hearts out. Because of this, we had the not-so-smart idea of forwarding our mail to my husband’s parents. It has been 6 years since that particular move and all parties involved are still suffering from the consequences of our ill-informed decision. When it came time to forward our mail to our new duty station a few states away, all of my in-laws mail somehow ended up at our new place. For months. And months. And we have lived in three different states since that particular move and yet we still receive the occasional piece of junk mail addressed to my in-laws. On the positive side, we always have something to use to start a fire. #glasshalffull

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3.  There Will Always Be Someone Who Hates Where The Military Is Sending You Next

Facebook and other forms of social media are invaluable tools during PCS season. Yes, there is a seedy underbelly in the world of military-related Facebook groups and there are some that certainly #leanin into the military spouse stereotypes. I’ve even personally witnessed a close friend get hit with the ban stick because she accidentally posted something twice that was deemed self-promotional (it wasn’t). And being the great friend that I am, I didn’t take a stand and leave the group in solidarity because it really is a great source for information. The joke is on the all-knowing administrators though because I sometimes post questions on behalf of my shunned friend. Muwhahaha.

When I accepted my husband’s marriage proposal (which involved a plaid fold-out couch and a satirical book – try not to be jealous ladies), it didn’t take me long to learn that in addition to raving about favorite assignments and duty stations, people love to complain about the places they’ve hated with the burning passion of a thousand fiery suns. You may be excited that you have orders to Hawaii but there will always be a Debbie Downer who chimes in with school data, traffic patterns, and the threat of nuclear holocaust. Delighted about going to Germany? Negative Nelly will likely talk about the gray skies, ridiculous recycling standards, and the abundance of wursts. No matter where you are going, there will always be someone who hated that installation/assignment. It’s best to ignore them and not let them get you down. On the flip side, you will also find people who loved assignments that are traditionally looked down upon. So for every person you meet who despised Italy, you’ll someone who really enjoyed their time at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Keep that in mind.

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4. Make Sure The Truck Driver Locks the Back Door of the Truck

The load-out from when we PCSed from Washington DC to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas was quite disastrous but we emerged with an important PCS lesson – always make sure that the truck driver locks the back door of the truck before driving off. On the night of that pack out – around 11:05 pm, my husband and I sat on the front steps of our townhome and watched the truck holding all of our worldly possessions drive away. And at 11:06pm, my husband took off running toward the truck to alert the blissfully unaware driver that the back door flew open (pictured above). The driver’s response? “Oh, it’s been doing that a lot lately.” We’ve moved two times since then and have incorporated checking the lock of the truck as part of our move-out process. You should probably do the same.

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5. Ziploc Everything!

While unpacking kitchen boxes after having the military move us for the first time, I was absolutely aghast at the amount of packing paper that was used to wrap a fondue fork. Four (!) large sheets to wrap one teeny tiny fondue fork. We have 16 fondue forks (I like fondue – don’t judge!). You do the math. From that move on, I learned to dump the contents of every drawer in the house into corresponding ziploc bags. My schedule may not be as demanding as Renata Klein’s (any other Big Little Lies fans out there?) but I am not going to spend the time it takes to unwrap every single wine cork I’ve saved over the years (trophies of my accomplishments) or each magnet from our travels. It’s not good for the Earth and it is not good for my sanity. Ziploc anything and everything that can be bagged. Toys? Sure! They have large ziploc bags available now – they even come in 3-gallon sizes. Office supplies? Bag ’em up! Clothes? Fold ’em and bag ’em. I recommend zip-ties as well. You may look like Dexter checking out with your haul but at least you’ll be prepared for your PCS.

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6. Flatten Packing Paper as you Unwrap and Unpack

Life is so much easier if you flatten packing paper as you unwrap and unpack the Target and IKEA showroom that is your house. Of course you can always request the movers to unpack for you but HAHAHAHAHAHA. We have moved 10 times in the last 13 years and it didn’t take me long to realize that shoving crumbled up pieces of packing paper into garbage bags was the least efficient method of packing paper removal. Perhaps you will be assigned the fabled moving company that will return at a later date to pick up your boxes and packing paper but if you’re like most of us plebeians, you’ll be at the mercy of your town’s recycling program and people ISO of packing supplies on Facebook. Make your life easier and flatten paper as you go so it can be smacked, whacked, and stacked to the max (oh dear – I’m now quoting Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown – this is what my life has become).

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So there you have it – my six tips for surviving a PCS and doing so with grace and aplomb (ha!). I’ve been a part of this rodeo for over 13 years now and I’ve learned that no matter how stressful the uncertainty, the planning, the execution, and the settling into a new life feels – it all works out in the end. Life has a funny way of doing that. A sense of humor is a crucial ingredient of the military lifestyle. Without it, life just isn’t much fun.

So what are you some of your tips for surviving PCS season? How do you handle PCS envy? How do you tell the kids – do you keep them informed of the process from the beginning or do you not break the news until orders are in hand? How do you say ‘see you later!’? And most important – what drink of choice is in your hand while tackling everything like a boss? Bottoms up!

Victory Brewing Company

In 1996, childhood friends Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski founded Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown, Pennsylvania in an old Pepperidge Farm factory. Over the years, Victory has grown into an award-winning brewery with distribution in 34 states and 9 countries. With three locations – Downingtown (the flagship brewery), Parkesburg (capacity of ten 200-barrel brews per day), and Kennett Square (produces unique beers that are available only in the on-site brewpub) – Victory Brewing Company is showing no signs of slowing down.

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When I was up in Pennsylvania with the kids last weekend, my sister and I decided that a trip to Parkesburg was in order because it was en route to Old Windmill Farm. Clay and I have been to the original Downingtown location many times during out visits to the area over the years but this was my first visit to the Parkesburg location (opened late 2015). I have yet to go to the Kennett Square location, which is a tad ironic because that is where I went to high school. Next visit – I’ll be sure to hit it up, hopefully with Clay in tow.

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While some may grumble at the changing culture of craft-breweries, I am #allin at bring children along to the increasingly family-friendly environments. Germans don’t bat an eye at families in biergartens and a lot even have playgrounds (I must live in Germany at some point in my life) so it is nice to see a shift over on this side of the pond as well. We ate lunch and then took the self-guided tour upstairs.

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We were very impressed with the self-guided tour. While not very long, it held the interest of the kids and adults alike. While we obviously don’t allow our children to drink beer, we don’t hide the fact that we enjoy it. We appreciate the history and craft – how water sources can affect flavor, how different grains impact balance, and the science of brewing. Our hope is that as our children age they don’t view alcohol as simply a vehicle to get drunk, but rather develop respect for beer, wine, and spirits and enjoy the nuances that consuming such beverages provide.

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All of the kids enjoyed the hopsniff.

It was like getting pelted in the face with the essence of an IPA.

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We were there on a Saturday so we weren’t able to see the production in action but it was still very interesting so have somewhat of a bird’s eye view on how the beer is made.

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According to the Victory Brewing Company website, the Parkesburg location “features a German-built ROLEC brewhouse with a production capacity of ten 200-barrel brews per day or a total daily capacity of 2,000 barrels (6,200 gallons). In one year we can brew 500,000+ barrels. Best-in-class brewing systems and installations allow for efficient use of energy and maximal hygiene throughout the process.

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Oh how I wish the bottling area was up and running. I started to sing the Laverne and Shirley theme song and my children, nephew, and niece proved that their side-eye game was strong that day.

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The Victory Brewing Company’s Parkesburg Taproom is located at 3127 Lower Valley Road, Parkesburg, PA 19365. If you ever find yourself in southeastern Pennsylvania, check it out. Bring the kids! Eat, drink, and take a self-guided tour. And don’t forget – Go Eagles!

Daydreaming on National Plan for Vacation Day

Did you know that today is National Plan for Vacation Day? I didn’t either until two days ago (thanks Sarah!). According to Project: Time Off, “individuals who plan are more likely to use all of their time off, take more vacation days at once, and report greater levels of happiness in every category measured.” I know that I am happiest when traveling and thankfully, my adventure-mates are too! Looking back, we’ve had some wonderful trips and even those that we deemed busts at the time make for some great stories after the fact. Over the years, we’ve dined on chicken feet with Chinese mobsters (we think…) in Montreal, gotten sick on the Staten Island Ferry, hiked to secluded beaches in St. John, ate reindeer in Alaska, been woken up by drunk groomsman in kilts in a remote village in Scotland, caught lobsters off the coast of Maine, and so much more.

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Unfortunately, Clay’s current position prevents him from taking more than a week of leave this summer but as of yesterday, Clay blocked out his leave so we can partake in National Plan for Vacation Day – hip hip hooray! He won’t be around much until then so we want to make sure that this vacation hits the spot without breaking the bank.

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We’re 99% positive that we will not be moving this summer, which will make it the first summer in four years that we haven’t had to plan a trip around a PCS. This is cause for celebration in itself. Woohoo! We’re currently trying to determine the magic number of what we can reasonably afford for our big vacation in addition to our smaller trips planned thus far. While we’ve never regretted spending money on vacations, the reality is that Clay is the military, I don’t work full-time, and we’re not independently wealthy so a trip to Fiji is simply out of the budget. However, some places that we’ve tossed around this year include…

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Acadia National Park, Maine. Four years ago, we took a 10-day vacation to Newport, Rhode Island, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Ogunquit, Maine. We look back fondly on our little tour of coastal New England. We were unable to squeeze in a trip up to Acadia National Park that year and we’ve been talking about going there ever since. Perhaps we could combine our time in the park with a trip to Mount Washington, New Hampshire or Boston or take the car ferry over to Canada. A plus is that we’d be able to drive, which will help keep the cost of the trip more reasonable.

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London, England. We asked the kids where they’d like to visit this summer and Weston was quick to say London. He has been wanting to go for years and to be honest, the rest of us want to go as well. Unfortunately, it just isn’t in the budget for the four of us to go to London this year. Sorry kiddo!

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Disney World. Violet’s contribution to the conversation was Disney World. While we had an absolutely fantastic three days at Disneyland last spring, Clay and I have no desire to go to Disney World during the summer months. There is something about being in Orlando in July that sounds utterly unappealing. Therefore, Disney World will not be happening this summer. Sorry baby girl!

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St. Thomas and St. John. When Clay and I spent a week in the USVI a few years ago, we left the kids with my parents. We’ve been wanting to go back with the kids and I love the idea of putting money back into the economy after the destruction that Hurricanes Irma and Maria left in their wakes. I’ve been following updates about the progress of the repair and restorations on the islands and time will tell if this is the year that we go back with the kids.

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Nova Scotia, Canada. The CAT runs from Portland, Maine to Nova Scotia in 5.5 hours so we could spend the day in one of our favorite New England cities before setting sail. Clay and I have always wanted to travel to Nova Scotia by sea and perhaps this is the summer to do it! We could also hit up Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. Once in Nova Scotia, we could spend our days whale watching, hiking in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, kayaking in the North River, catching lobsters, and more.

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Colorado. Even though we haven’t spent a ton of time in Colorado, every time we visit, Clay and I leave feeling like we belong there. It’s far too early for us to think about where we want to settle post-Army life (we change our minds way too much) and the thought of putting down roots somewhere is absolutely terrifying. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up in the mountains of Colorado. Perhaps we should vacation there this summer. Boulder? Breckenridge? Ouray? Estes Park? The possibilities feel endless when it comes to vacationing in Colorado.

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British Columbia. Sigh. Have I ever mentioned how much I love Canada? Clay and I spent a lot of time there during our Fort Drum days and we’ve been wanting to visit British Columbia every since. We could spend time in Vancouver and then head to the mountains. The Canadian Rockies are consistently on Most Beautiful Places in the World lists – maybe this will be the summer we finally get to experience their grandeur in person.

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Where are you going this summer?  Please share so we can all travel vicariously through your adventures! Are you celebrating National Plan for Vacation Day? While I think we do a fairly good job at vacationing on a budget, I am always open to tips and tricks of the trade so feel free to pass them along.

Old Windmill Farm

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if the kids have a school holiday when Clay is TDY or deployed, we’re happiest taking advantage of the break and getting out of town if our schedule allows.  So when I realized that the kids has off Friday and Monday and Clay was going to be TDY, I made plans to visit my sister, Megan, outside of Philadelphia. We brainstormed outings and when we learned that the Herrs Factory did not give tours on Saturdays (boo!), Megan suggested Amish County and came across Old Windmill Farm after a simple Google search. My sister communicated with Jesse, the owner of the farm, via email to coordinate our visit so when we arrived at 1:00pm, he was waiting and ready to give us a tour of his family’s working farm.

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Lancaster County is known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The rolling hills are peppered with horse and buggies and non-electric working farms. The Pennsylvania Amish of Lancaster County are the oldest Amish settlement in America and the area is known as a destination for visitors wanting to step back in time and experience a slower pace of life.

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Seeing as how it is January, the landscape wasn’t as lush as it may be for those who tour the farm during the other three seasons, but we still throughly enjoyed our visit learning more about the Amish way of life.

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Daisy, a pygmy goat, followed us around for the duration of the tour, much the delight (and terror!) of the kids.

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Jesse was the perfect tour guide, maintaining a low-key presence and answering all of the questions we had about his farm. The amount of work that goes into maintaining the land and his family’s way of life is astonishing and the tour gave us real appreciation for their dedication and astonishing work-ethic.

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We held roosters.

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We milked cows.

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We held 10-day old piglets.

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We collected eggs.

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We visit turkeys.

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And we chilled with some horses.

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This farm is totally worth a visit and after experiencing it ourselves, it is obvious why it is so highly rated on Trip Advisor and Yelp. Whether you’re local, driving through, or visiting Amish Country, be sure to check out Old Windmill Farm. It’s a great family-friendly activity that gives you a glimpse into the Amish way of life. And you may leave wanting a pygmy goat. Like me.

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