Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Help from a MilWife

Hey there!  Let me start by introducing myself.  My name is Cat, of The Cat's Pajamas.  I am by no means an expert, but I've mailed hundreds (yes, really) of packages to The Husband and our squadron while on deployments.  I'm going to help out a little by giving a few tips for what to send and instructions for those pesky customs forms that seem to be such a bother...

Lets start with your package itself.  
My greatest success is found when using one of those cheap Ziplock Snap and Seal containers that measure about 12" x 6" x 4".  Line the bottom of the container with 2-3 sheets of folded paper towels or napkins.  Inside the fold that is going to be closest to the cookies, tuck a few pieces of apple peel.  This is an old throwback to the days when Granddad was fighting in WWII and my grandmama would send goodies to him.  I've tried the bread before and have received reports from "over there" that the bread has molded.  Of course, that doesn't stop the men from eating what's under the molded bread... but let's try and prevent that from happening.  Mmm, kay?  We wouldn't want all your selfless, hard work to go to waste!  Layer the cookies in a single layer, take another paper towel, fold it in half and tuck another little apple peel into the fold, repeat until you get to the top.  At the top fold another 2-3 paper towels, again with a small piece of apple peel in the fold closest to the cookies.  Tape the container shut, these boxes get thrown... so if you go through the paper towel trick and then tape the container shut, you're cookies are pretty much guaranteed to arrive safely.

On to cookies:
Make a cookie that makes you think of home.  They don't need to be fancy: just simple, sweet and home baked.  The JarHead Brother prefers chocolate chip, along with most of the guys in his MEU.  I mail all sorts of cookies to The Husband, as I don't want him to get bored.  I tend to sway away from hard, crunchy cookies because the cookies loose a little oomph when mailed already.  So- very simply, make a cookie that when you smell it... you think "home."  Oh! and use real butter if you can afford it.

If you're interested in filling a box of just plain old goodies here are a few suggestions:
Granola, home made or purchased
Trail mix
Packaged tuna
Candy, things like Sweet Tarts, Mentos, Skittles, etc. (chocolate and gummies will melt)
BEEF Jerky (absolutely NO pork products)
Canned foods (no PORK and beans though)
Crystal Light or Kool-Aide single serving packets

If you have questions about something you'd like to send and you're not sure about it... email me at cats (dot) pajamas08 (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll help you out.

Finally, that pesky customs form the Post Office likes to confuse us with...

Here's the form...

In Section 1, Sender's Information: fill out your own information.  You need to put your real name and address in that box because the Post Office will require you to sign the form.
In Section 2, Recipient Information: fill in the destination.  
First line is the name of of the person or unit/squadron you're shipping to.
Second line is the funny little unit label and box number.
Third line is where the APO, FPO, etc. goes along with the zip code.

MSgt Gomer Pyle   -- person, unit or squadron
CMR 123, Box 456  -- unit code, squadron code and box number
APO, AE 12345       -- this is the city/state/zip for the military installation it goes to
"AA" stands for Armed Forces America (meaning they're stateside)
"AE" stands for Armed Forces Europe (meaning they're stationed in Europe)
"AP" stands for Armed Forces Pacific (meaning they're stationed in the Pacific)

In Section 3, Contents: list the contents of your package (the whole box if you put more than cookies in there)  It doesn't have to be detailed, you can fill the box with cookies, candy, postcards, etc and simply state on the form: Homemade Cookies, Candy, Postcard.  You don't have to individually list these items... just a general "tada!" of what's to be expected.  If you don't fill this out (I'd be surprised if the mail clerk would let you go) they'll have to open and inspect the box.  You don't want this to happen because it can delay the delivery of your box upwards of months.  

Check Airmail/Priority 

Check Gift

In Section 4, Quantity/Weight: You don't have to list 31 cookies, 22 mints, 1 chapstick.  I usually just leave this blank and they don't mind.  The mail clerk will fill in the weight on the bottom of the form, so don't bother yourself with the weight either.

In Section 5, Value:  If you purchased items to go into your box, just write down what you spent.  

In Section 6, Total Value:  Just add up section 5.  I usually declare about $15.  Anything over $500 they'll ask you to purchase insurance.

In Section 7, Senders Request: Check the box that you want.  I usually check "Treat as Abandoned" because there's usually just goodies in there and I don't necessarily need them back.  If you want your box returned to you if your buddy/unit for some reason cannot accept it, simply check "return to sender," you'll be charged for return postage though.

Sign and Date the bottom.

It's simple.  I promise.  I usually grab a pile of customs forms at the post office and fill them out at home because I'm a Type A who has to have all my things together.  If you want to fill it out at the post office, or online... feel free. 

Occasionally, I've been asked to fill out a little green form (it's about 3"x 3") but not always.  This is the same information as what goes on the other form... just not as much info is required.  The green form is not used in lieu of that train wreck above, but in addition to.

Some important things to note:
The men over there really want a connection to home, meaning the States.  Grab a couple postcards from your local city/state.  Drop a line or two on the back of the postcard, maybe write your web address so the soldier/airmen/marine/seaman can check up on you and drop you a thank you.  They like to say thanks.  You can always write a few lines about yourself, why you felt compelled to send them cookies or just say thanks for their service.  

**Please, please, please do not send pork products (pork won't make it there, as this is an insult to the country these men are probably in).

I hope this helps!  If you have questions, please don't hesitate to ask me.  I'd be more than happy to help.  Thanks for doing this for our men and women.  You just don't know how this touches their hearts.  

~The Cat's Pajamas


Is that how you spell it?? Nevermind then.

I have been getting SO many responses to this you wouldn't even BELIEVE it. I am beyond touched, beyond overwhelmed.

Yes, we will be doing this again and again, and yes, I know many of you are just finding out about Round One. It isn't too late! really, it isn't! Why? Because you still have tonight/tomorrow morning to get something made for the first big Thank You Post on my blog, She's Becoming DoughMessTic, but there will be another Thank You Post on Saturday, and again the first part of next week. All you need to do to get in on Round One is email me at bakingGALS@gmail.com and I will send you the address. Just let me know if you are going to try to make your goody for the Wednesday post, the Weekend Post or the Next Week Post so that I can MAKE SURE no one is left behind!!

Everyone who has written, THANK YOU. This is by far the most amazing thing I have come across...and the feeling gets deeper everytime I open my mail.

Please feel free to grab the logo picture from the first post (below) and repost it on your own site. The word is getting spread fast and furious, and this is the best way I know to get it spread to others!!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Huge Response & A Little Info...

WOW!! Thanks to everyone who is taking the time to help out with this event! I never expected such a turn out!!

There have been lots of questions about what to send, how to pack...etc...and a very thoughtful Baking GAL supplied me with some of her research. Thanks Teanna of Spork or Foon? for her wealth of info!

http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=24758- Here is a link for shipping- It's offering a package of free packing materials, including 10 boxes, 10 customs forms with envelopes, 10 "Mili-Pac" shipping envelopes, which are specially printed to reflect the complexities of military mailing addresses, and a roll of Priority Mail tape.

http://www.treatthetroops.org/tips.htm- here is a helpful website from "The Cookie Lady", who, as of a year ago, had already baked over 150,000 cookies to help the troops!

http://www.operationmilitarypride.org/packages.html - here you can type in the zip code in which you are sending care package items and it will let you know what is restricted for the location.

Also, if you have sent me an email to let me know you are interested in participating, PLEASE don't be put off that your name isn't yet on the Link List. It WILL BE, I promise!

Since I am a newbie to this as well, I wanted you to know what NOT to do. Or at least what I should not have done. DO NOT vacuum seal fresh baked SOFT cookies. It may taste good later on, but they looked gross to me. They squished nearly FLAT! It worked much better with a hard cookie!! (Thank Goodness!)

And one last piece of info - I just returned from the Post Office and got the largest APO Priority Mail Flat Rate Box (It's HUGE!) and the shipping is $10.95. There are smaller Flat Rate Boxes as well, but do ask for an APO Box, as it is less expensive!

Thanks everyone!!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Operation Baking GALS...

Welcome!! I am so happy that you dropped by to check out this site...and hopefully you will want to join us!

What started out with a single email to a few friends and fellow Foodie Bloggers has had an overwhelming response in just a couple of days!

Here's how it all began in my email:

I have a cousin (though more like a brother since we grew up together) in the Army JAG Corp. He and his wife tried for a long time to have a baby, and finally did in January. The thing is, Daddy got shipped to Iraq in March for 15 months. I have been getting emails from him, all sad, all missing his wife and baby so much. He’s been reading my blog and knows that I bake now and has been hinting that he and the other members of his division could really use some sweet treats to “boost morale.” (Apparently, the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders didn’t do a good enough job there last week.)

Now, I fully intended to make a care package and load it as full as possible. The problem is, I simply don’t have enough hours in the day to bake 5 or 6 things for the troops, the CafĂ©, go to work, feed my family AND do chores. I can get one thing done, but how pathetic of a care package would that be?

So, I am looking for some volunteers. Could you maybe bake one thing, seal it up and ship it to him? If we all do this on the same day, maybe he’ll get them all about the same time. Imagine how happy all those homesick troops will be to have homemade goodies!! You can make anything you want, and you really only need to wrap it in plastic and then a freezer bag (with a piece of bread to soak up moisture) or, if you have a vacuum sealer, that would be great. It takes about 7 days for them to get packages, so bear that in mind when choosing something to bake. Cookies of all kinds, bars, even things like trail mix would work well.

If you would please let me know that you are up for the task by emailing me, I would SOOO appreciate it. I would hope that we could all get our packages ready by Tuesday & Wednesday yes, July 29 & 30). Then if you would be willing to take a picture of the baked good and email it to me, what I will do is make a big post on my blog linking your site and your sweet contribution next Wednesday. I think I will call it Operation Baking GALS (Give A Little Support) – and if it works out as well as I hope, perhaps we could continue sending things to different troops, especially to anyone who has a special family member serving our country.

Again, please just shoot me a quick email back ASAP letting me know if you are up for this (I really hope you are, I chose my favorite friends and bloggers – and hey – get the kids in on it too – maybe they will get a patriotic boost from it!)
Once I hear from you, I will shoot you an email with the address to send the goodies.

Thanks for taking the time to hear me out. I really do appreciate it. And while we may not be Cheerleaders, I think this could be a really great morale boosting endeavor…don’t you??

What happened?? Well, within an hour I had 10 people email me wanting to do anything they could. I had fellow bloggers reposting the info on their own sites. I had large groups offer to post on their homepages...it's been amazing!

SO, from now on, Operation Baking GALS will be supporting our troops every month, once a month, and instead of our soldiers getting deodorant and soap, they'll be getting the one thing they can't get from the canteen - Homemade goodies made with LOVE. We will be assigning a different soldier to certain sub-groups of bakers each month so that we spread the love, and that way, a homesick troop will have a package with HIS name on it, filled with goodies to share. Now, doesn't that sound like something you could get into??

If so, please shoot me an email at bakingGALS (at) gmail (dot) com and we will get you onboard!!

Thanks again!