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Man cannot live by bread alone (Cookies, yes).  That’s where we need meat. Meat is my favorite form of protein and it’s going to be a long, dull pandemic/apocalypse/hurricane if you haven’t got any.  There are a jillion choices out there but most meat options are going to be available in a can. There’s everything from Spam to roast beef to tuna fish (why do we not just call it tuna? Is there some other kind of tuna I’m not aware of? Tuna milk? Tuna cake?)  You can pick what you like.

I know what some of you are thinking: “there is no way i’m eating meat from a can!”  Settle down, sister; it’s not as bad as you think.  You might not want to empty a can of canned beef onto a plate and hand it to your kids, but canned meat tastes just fine in soups and casseroles and things like that.  And just in case your freezer goes out, the stores are empty and you’re still hungry, canned turkey breast is going to sound like a gift from Heaven.

I was at Costco a couple of months ago and they were making quesadillas with canned roast beef and you know, it was really, really good. Not just edible but delicious. So I bought a 4-pack.  Costco remains my favorite and most affordable place to buy canned meat because this stuff ain’t cheap anywhere.  But if you rarely–or never–go to Costco, then just pick some up at Satan’s Store Walmart or your local grocery place.

The point here is to get stuff that is shelf-stable. If you want to throw in a big bag of frozen chicken breasts, then be my guest. But you want to have a supply of food that doesn’t need refrigeration and can be easily thrown in a backpack in case you need to get out of Dodge in a hurry. We’ve all been in a situation where the power has been out for quite a while. It’s stressful. And starving, whining kids aren’t going to help anyone feel better. Get some meat!

I’m not going to tell you how much to buy because these packs won’t take up a ton of room (especially those pouches of tuna), but they will take a bite out of your grocery budget. So buy a little more than you feel comfortable with. Yeah, if you aren’t feeling slightly weird then you aren’t getting enough meat.

So, did you have a nice break from worrying about food storage? Let’s get back down to business here. You will most likely be traveling this summer at some point so let’s have this be preparedness every-other-week for the next few weeks. On the off-weeks you can catch up with any items you might have missed before.

pasta

This week let’s concentrate on pasta and noodles. Pasta is fantastic because it’s one of those comfort foods that can be served a million different ways. Dress it up with a homemade marinara sauce that’s been simmering all day, or throw a box of mac and cheese together when you’re too tired to manage anything else. Pasta is always perfect. (Unless you’re eating paleo. But let’s not go there today.) It’s also cheap! Yay for filling, cheap food!

The sky’s the limit this week. Whether you prefer spaghetti, egg noodles, macaroni or some of everything, this is your chance to stock up. I like to buy one pound bags and store several in jumbo ziplocs to keep out the weevils. Weevils just adore pasta.

I would recommend between 3-5 bags of pasta per person. That’s about 25 bags for us. It seems like a lot but you just can’t go wrong with pasta. If you need gluten free then you might want to chip away at this since that’s a little pricier. Don’t forget asian glass noodles! They’re a great gluten-free option too!

I originally wrote this series of blog posts as a “look what we did” sort of thing. But I keep having people ask questions about our trip because they’ll be doing something similar and want some advice. So I’ve decided to make these posts heavy on details. I know most of you won’t care and you’re welcome to skim all the wordiness. But I am a fan of details when I travel so I will give you my opinions and knowledge and you can gloss over what you don’t care about.

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Because India is graduating this year and York is graduating next year, Mister and I decided to do a combined graduation trip and take both of them to London and Paris. Those poor kids have never been anywhere. (Oh wait, they did get that ultra-luxurious road trip around the South in my minivan last summer.) As any parent knows, the end of the school year is a complete joke and nothing happens in High School once all the AP and standardized testing has finished. May is also the perfect month to go to Europe since it’s not horrifically crowded and the weather is generally pleasant. Mister is in grad school and this ended up being the best time for him to take a little break too.

So off we went. Mister used to live in London (both on a church mission and as a student) and it is his favorite city in the whole world. It’s a great place to start a foreign trip because it’s different but not too different. You can get your feet wet with international travel without becoming overwhelmed.

We rented a flat through HomeAway instead of getting a hotel because we like a little breathing room. Also, it gets incredibly expensive to eat out for every meal, so we wanted a kitchen so we could at least make breakfast. And we wanted a washing machine (if you pack light you have to be able to wash clothes!). India and York weren’t about to share a bed so we needed at least three beds (one king-sized because there is a rule when I am asleep that I cannot be touched. I need as much space as possible. You have no idea how hard it is to find a king-sized bed in Europe.) and renting a flat can be cheaper than getting two hotel rooms. We found a great place in Bloomsbury (halfway between the British Museum and Kings Cross station). It was in a less-touristy area that had lots of shopping nearby and a tube stop a couple of blocks away. It looked like an old Victorian hospital. Maybe it used to be; I don’t know.

Bloomsbury flat

Our flight was on British Airways. They have nonstop service from Austin to London so the flight was only about nine hours. It makes such a difference, not having a connection! Because the tickets were el cheapo, we had the teensiest seats on the entire plane. It almost made me weep, walking by those spacious first class chaises longues. But when you consider that I could have bought a decent little car for the same amount of money as four first-class tickets, I wasn’t so sad. I can put up with all sorts of nonsense for nine hours. It was a new plane, which had all the bells and whistles like a USB port at every seat and tons of free movies and TV shows on our own personal little screens. (No wifi, though, which is beyond strange.)  Also the windows didn’t have shades that went up and down. They had dimmers, so the whole window got darker or brighter with the push of a button. It was a nice concept but felt really weird and didn’t work so well.

Anyway, we got to London bedraggled and cross, as is usually the case when you have to sleep sitting up. I tried out a new neck rest thingy called the Sky Siesta and I really liked it. I can’t stand those neck pillows that feel like somebody is choking me, so I tried this one. It worked a million times better than a traditional travel pillow or a wadded up sweater. I brought along ear plugs and fuzzy socks to make it a little better. I only got four hours of sleep but I think that’s about the best I can hope for.

Sky Siesta

We took the tube to our flat (it was on the same Underground line as Heathrow airport so we didn’t have to switch trains or anything. Phew). We bought Oyster cards at Heathrow Airport that were for one week of unlimited travel in zones 1-2 (which is where all the touristy stuff is). We added on one trip into London (about 45 minutes away). If you were flying out of Heathrow, you might need to add on another trip back. We left via the chunnel which is in the middle of London (close enough for us to walk to, actually) so we were set with just our travelcards. There are several electronic ticket kiosks at Heathrow where you can buy Underground tickets; however I didn’t want to buy the wrong thing so I opted to talk to a human at the huge ticket office (we were in Terminal 5. Not sure how it is in other terminals).

I was a little weirded out riding the Tube with my suitcase but tourists are a fact of life in London and people are always coming or going. There’s always somebody with a suitcase riding the tube. Nobody thinks much of it. And carrying a suitcase in the Tube is a good reason to pack light! European subways are not wheel-friendly. Whether you’ve got a suitcase, baby stroller or are in a wheelchair, good luck! The Underground was built over 100 years ago back when they didn’t give a thought about accessibility so lots of stations are completely unequipped for anything requiring wheels. There are stairs and escalators at every stop. Try to get everything in a carry-on. It really is possible!

While we were at Heathrow we got money out of the ATM. We landed with not a smidge of foreign currency on us (some people like a bit of money ahead of time. We figured that we were going to London, not Mars, so we’d get some currency when we arrived. That ended up being fine in London. Notsofine in Paris).  The worst exchange rates are at airports UNLESS you use the ATM (try to use an ATM associated with a bank. Travelex is notorious for having terrible exchange rates at their ATMs even at airports) . You will probably be charged a fee for using the ATM overseas but you’re going to be charged a fee to change your currency too, and the ATM fees are usually more reasonable.  Here is something I’ll explain in more detail in another post, but chances are your American credit card won’t work over there. 90% of the time they only take credit cards with a computer chip in them. Those are really rare in the U.S. (if you have one, you’ll know). However, your regular old American ATM card will work just fine for using at an ATM overseas but NOT for making purchases (and remember to tell your bank that you’ll be traveling overseas so they don’t wig out and suspend your card.)

Once we got settled into our flat we had lunch at a little Farmer’s Market that was going on nearby. I knew we’d be exhausted and figured a tour might keep us occupied and on our best behavior since Mister and I tend to quarrel when we’re dead-dog tired (or most anytime, really). So I arranged a sightseeing tour with London Black Taxi Tours. (Just to clarify, I booked all these tours months ago. The best tours book up fast.  Tripadvisor is really the most fantastic resource on finding things to do and whether they’re worthwhile or not.) Our driver was named Michael Churchill and he drove us around all afternoon in his honest-to-goodness black taxi.

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Mr. Churchill knows everything about everything and we knocked out a bunch of sights in a few hours. It was very interesting and he was a great guide. I particularly wanted to see lots of sights to cross off of our “been there” list that I knew we wouldn’t have time to visit in-depth (like St. Paul’s, Big Ben, Tower of London, etc).

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The weather, as you might have guessed, was rainy, cold and blustery. Spring in England is always anyone’s guess. At the last minute I threw a sweater in my bag as we were packing and I’m glad I did because I wore it–along with my unlined rain coat. Brrr!–for three days straight.

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(I was going to photoshop my face because I look a bit frightful but then I realized that I’d been up for about a million hours and had zero makeup on. So I’m just going to keep it real.)

York was particularly thrilled to count all the Bentleys and Aston-Martins around town. There were dozens! We even saw a couple of Maybachs. I don’t know how all these people have so much money, but they do. I was particularly impressed with the sweet Mercedes minivans they have over there. Why can’t we get those in the U.S.? Then maybe those snooty SUV girls wouldn’t be turning up their noses at us lowly minivan people.

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This here below is Leadenhall Market. It’s one of the earliest covered shopping areas and was where the entrance to Diagon Alley was shot in Harry Potter. We saw lots of Harry Potter sights but as I haven’t seen most of the movies, I really couldn’t appreciate them.

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One thing that makes me truly sad about churches nowadays (especially in America) is that they never have bells. Church bells are one of my favorite sounds ever. I was very thrilled to hear so many church bells in London. This is St. Clement Danes church. I wish there hadn’t been so many green trees; you can barely see the church which was quite lovely.

 

We ended up our evening in Covent Garden which is an interesting but very touristy area. It was freezing and raining and we were starving. We had dinner in a little pub which was OK, but nothing great. We were exhausted enough that we barely cared. The tube station was closed so we caught a taxi back to our flat and fell asleep quite instantly.

Let me take a moment to talk about public transportation. The London Underground (known by Americans as the subway but British people always call it the Tube) is really the best in the world. It’s super easy to navigate and figure out. When we first came to England back in the 90′s we took the Tube exclusively. As a result I really never got my bearings and had no idea where things were in relation to each other. Buses were incredibly confusing and intimidating and Mister could hardly ever get me on one. We ended up lost a lot of the time when we took them so I gave up. Back in the day you had to use this huge confusing map and I just hated it. It’s too bad because buses are usually a lot more convenient than riding on subways. And buses are great for sightseeing and getting a feel for the city you’re in. With the London Travelcard, buses and the Tube are all included in the fee (of course, you have to stay in the zones you agreed to). And once you’ve got a great app on your phone to keep you from getting lost, you’re good to go anywhere in London!

Now we are in the era of the iphone and public transportation has never been easier. There are quite a few apps to help you figure out buses and subways. My favorite, hands down, is Citymapper. It can be used in London, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, New York and Washington DC. You download the city you’re in and enter where you’re starting and where you want to end up (you don’t need actual addresses either. You can just put “the British Museum” and Citymapper will figure it out for you). Citymapper tells you exactly how to get there. You can decide whether you want to walk, take a bus, the subway or a taxi and how long (and how expensive) each option will be. It lists when the next bus/train will arrive and which way to walk to get to the stop. It takes all guesswork out of riding public transportation! And the best part is, Citymapper is free!  (You’ll need a data plan for overseas. It ain’t cheap but you absolutely, positively must be able to use your smartphone if for no other reason than to keep from getting lost.)

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Do you guys remember this skit on Sesame Street? I seriously remember this one. You don’t want to end up like Luis, do you? Crawling across a barren soundstage in search of water?  Of course you don’t. In case you didn’t already know this, water is THE most important item in your food storage.  You can survive for quite a while without food (I’m not saying you’ll be in a good mood, but you won’t be dead), but you can only make it about three days before you keel over from dehydration.

It’s so easy to be complacent about water. We just turn on a faucet and voilà, there it is all clean and sparkly.  But only a dummy thinks things will always be thus. Water supplies can get contaminated and cut off  incredibly easily. It doesn’t even need to be the zombie apocalypse! Water shortages and improper filtration are problems that happen in America all the time. Texas is always in a drought. Maybe this summer will get bad enough to ration our drinking water, who knows?

All I’m saying is that water is so very important.

So get at least a dozen water bottles per person in your family. If you can swing it, storage-wise, get a flat of 36 water bottles per person. You will not regret it!

The good news is that water is cheap and you definitely won’t be breaking the bank this week.

Our food storage item this week is the bean.

No, not that kind (although I do love that kind. He’s hugely popular chez moi.)     This kind:

In case you are thinking “what the heck do I want a bunch of beans for? I never eat them!” then I have just the thing for you. I got this great book on amazon. All you ever wanted to know about beans, featuring some yummy recipes. All for about $20. It’s no good having a bunch of stuff that you don’t know how to cook in your food storage.

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You ought to get a mixture of dried and canned beans. Get a variety or just stick with the kinds you always eat.  This is a great excuse to try some varieties that you’ve never used before. For today let’s consider lentils to be beans too, even though they’re technically legumes. Maybe get some chickpeas to try your hand at homemade hummus (ridiculously easy! But you need a can of tahini for that as well.)

Get one bag of dried beans or three cans per person (or a combination of the two) in your family

My youngest four kids have all outgrown their bathing suits so I had to do some suimsuit shopping before we left for Spring Break. Being in Texas I take swimwear very seriously; in the Summertime the kids practically live in it. If the kids want to play outside when the heat gets oppressive (round about May-September), the only way it’s going to work is if there’s water involved.

You probably disagree with me but I find little girls in bikinis completely appalling (hey, pedophiles, check out my sexy 5-year-old!). A naked jaybird frolicking in the waves somehow seems less sexual than a child wearing a bikini. Don’t ask me why I feel this way, I just do. Especially for the older girls. I like a nice one-piece for my daughters (or a modest tankini) and lucky me I get to dress them however I like.

I’m seriously in the minority when it comes to preferring one-pieces so that means I have to get most of the girls’ swimwear online (one-pieces are like the red-headed stepchild of the swimsuit world). Unlike the rest of the year when I wait for deals, when it comes to swimwear I just bite the bullet and pay full price. Especially this year since we needed them at the beginning of March. Swimsuits sell out fast and with all the wear and tear they get, I feel like we get our money’s worth.

In the past we’ve been let down by the quality of swimsuits from the Gap. They have never made it a whole season without losing their stretch so I avoid them if possible.  Target bathing suits aren’t the best in quality but they’re cheap and pretty much available year-round so we always end up with at least one. They also do quite a lot of one-pieces. Arabella settled on a stripey Target bathing suit and a flowery one from Land’s End. Land’s End really makes the best quality suits. They’ll easily give you two years of wear, although it’s rare to have kids that will stay the same size that long. This year they dropped the ball and of all the suits Arabella liked, none were available at the beginning of March. She really had her heart set this flowery one so we ordered it just recently.

We did pretty well at Mini Boden this year. They always have plenty of one-pieces. Ada loves red and she fell in love with this suit:

 

Ada also went gaga over this suit from Children’s Place. It has a cute matching rash guard too. I love rash guards because kids with sunburns are the biggest babies of all time. If it’s between 11-3:00 my kids have got to have a rashguard on. Of course they’re slathered with sunscreen too, but rashguards keep sun exposure from getting out of hand.

 

And then there are the swimsuits for teenage girls. Good grief. India is pretty cool about wearing a modest bathing suit. She is not they type who: 1) cares about wearing the same exact thing as everyone else, and 2)doesn’t have that insecure teen-girl need to wear as little clothing as possible (I swear they’re thinking, “If I dress like a hooker maybe boys will like me more!”) The good news is that every year it seems like there are more and more tankinis in the Juniors department. I’m hoping this means that not every teenage girl wants to look like a skeeze. We wound up with a couple of cute tankinis from Kohl’s. Easy Peasy.

(Obviously modesty and good posture do not go hand in hand.)

As for me, I’ve been sporting the same bathing suits for the last four years. The thought of swimsuit shopping is enough to send me reaching for the Valium. I can barely handle trying on pants these days. My weight loss isn’t coming along as well as I’d hoped; I’m thinking of moving on to more drastic measures. Which do you think would work better: a tapeworm or tuberculosis?

Happy almost-swimsuit season!

 

 

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We finally made it to Arizona. I love this place. Even though the weather is similar to Texas (they are the same temperature at this exact moment), Arizona–especially where my in-laws are–looks so different. People here take great pains to make it look all lush and gorgeous: palm trees and flowers everywhere and grass that is so obnoxiously green. In Texas we treat winter like it’s winter. Nobody overseeds their lawns because that would mean watering and mowing all winter long. Flowers are relegated to the spring when wildflower season starts (in a week or two. It’s so gorgeous!)

The drive was actually pretty great. Even though I had seven kids with me there was pretty much no fighting. When I was young my parents would give us five or ten dollars at the start of every drive. Each time we fought or sassed my parents we’d get 25¢ taken away. We sure tried to stay in line, although I’d usually lose half of my money. I told my kids we’d be doing this and they moaned and groaned. But I only ended up taking a quarter from three of them. So now I have to pay $70 for nothing. York told me yesterday that I didn’t need to pay him anything because he already has enough money. What a sweetheart!  (In case you didn’t know, raising kids when money is tight and letting them know that money is tight is actually very beneficial. They are so grateful for anything they are given and are completely missing that spoiled sense of entitlement that many of their friends have.)

In case you’re wondering there are about five gas stations in all of west Texas. It took me a while to learn the law of the frontier: if you see a gas station, fill up! I’m glad I brought lots of snacks because restaurants were even fewer and far betweener. We stopped at a Taco Bell at one point that was closed on a Saturday night because they ran out of food. Yikes! Especially because you know what that means: McDonalds. Now that the kids aren’t in extra-curricular activities we rarely eat on the go. I can’t say that I have missed eating there.

But we didn’t starve to death or run out of gas. We made it OK, despite a two hour traffic jam in El Paso. I spent most of the day yesterday shopping and settling in. So today is my first genuinely lazy day. Here it is 9:30 am and I’ve only gotten out of bed once (and that was just to turn on the pool heater and get a yogurt).  And, gloriously enough, there is cable TV. I’ve watched about a jillion episodes of Pawn Stars and Duck Dynasty. It’s been pretty fantastic.

I don’t know why I wasn’t born as a 18th century aristocrat. This kind of do-nothing life really suits me.

 

Our Spring Break is officially underway! York is at track practice and India’s taking the SAT but soon all the kids will be FREE! For the first time ever we will actually be going somewhere over Spring Break. Just to Grandma and Grandpa’s vacation house in Arizona, so it’s not terribly fancy. The grandparents won’t be there so it’s just us. Well, Mister can’t get away from work so by “us” I mean “the kids and I”. And India’s friend, Summer. She only has one sibling so her head might just explode after spending the week amidst our noisy chaos. (Mister’s brother and his wife will be showing up at some point too, with a bunch of their friends.)

Oh yeah, I should also mention that we will be driving. We never drive anywhere. We do little day trips all the time but as for driving more than three hours in a row? Hasn’t happened since we moved to Texas, lo these many years ago. I’m a little nervous but I think we have enough ipads and electronic gadgets to make sure that there is as little interpersonal involvement as possible.

The temperatures look great next week so my days will consist of sleeping in, lying by the pool (in the shade! Don’t want to lose that vampirish pallor), taking naps and watching lots of TV (There is cable! Such a luxury for us!). I might cook some food. Or we might just eat quite a lot of cereal.

Right now I’m hollering at the kids to keep cleaning out the car. One is Windexing the inside of the windows, one is vaccuming, and one is on petrified-chicken-nugget patrol. I suppose I should think about packing. What am I talking about? I’ve got two new pairs of yoga pants and my bathing suit. I’m totally set!

Snacks for the drive are already parceled out. Yes, I do this myself rather than buying prepackaged snack-sized stuff; What do you think I am, made of money? Pretty much everything is totally sugar-y. I’m quite a mastermind and have decided to pump the kids full of sugar while keeping them confined to an incredibly small space in close proximity to the people they fight with the most in the entire world. Brilliant plan, no? Wish us all well!

 

I know you’re expecting me to tell you about that mascara or lipstick that you simply must have. Here’s the absolute most important thing you need:

Sunscreen

Yep. Every single day. Winter, summer, even if you live in Oregon and the sun hasn’t come out in days. If you can see without a flashlight, your skin is getting bombarded with UV rays. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this truck driver who spent decades with only one side of his face exposed to the sun. And this is through a window! It’s not even full-on sun exposure!

If you’re under 30 you may think, “meh, I’ll worry about my skin when I’m older.” No, no, no, no, no. If you worry about your skin now, you’ll thank yourself each and every day.

You’re never too old to start wearing sunscreen. Take it from someone who is 41 and has no wrinkles. I wear sunscreen (both in my lotion–28 SPF–and in my foundation–15 SPF) and moisturize ever single day.

If you’re one of those people who insists they look so much better tan, yes. Yes, I’m sure you do. We all look better tan. But when you get tan you’re choosing wrinkles. It’s as simple as that. So if you’re OK with that then tan away.

You’ll never meet a 50 year old who wished she laid out a lot more as a teenager. But you’ll meet a ton of 50-year-olds who wished they took better care of their skin. I’m just telling you what you already know, right? So do it. Buy some skincare products with sunscreen. You can thank me in ten years.

I’m over at Segullah today talking about trials and experiences we’ve had. Would you go back and have a do-over if you could? Would you change what’s happened to you? Come on over and chime in!