Tag Archives: mail

…the Annual Foreign Service Swap

I missed last years swap, as I was transiting between Florida and Dhaka, but I signed up for this one after my great experience meeting Becky a couple of years ago. This time I was matched with the Red Menace Abroad and she sent me a box I’ll dub “A Taste of Nicaragua.”

Panda baby will wear the little red dress because some aggressive laundering shrank it a bit, and we’ll try a punch mix tonight with our taco dinner, but I have no idea how we’ll use the cigars. Perhaps we’ll hand them out to strangers in the hospital after Panda’s birth, like a 1950’s movie dad.

Very fun again, I hope next year’s swap is just as entertaining!

( The previous swap box I got: https://adventuresin.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/swap-boxes/ )
– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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…Dehydration

Adventures in dehydration? No, I’m not referring to heat exhaustion or IV drips, though my last few posts may make you think I’m fascinated with such things, but to dehydrated foods, aka items you can easily have sent through the diplomatic mail or pouch and which make you the hippest homemaker on the block.

My first adventure in dehydration was not, to my youthful chagrin, with astronaut ice cream (too expensive for stingy younger me), but with dehydrated retried beans from the coop in C-ville. They came in cool flavors, even black bean and lime. I used them in all sorts of recipes, bean loafs, brownies, etc.

When my doctor advised trying a GF diet, I craved Mac n Cheese, but thought buying a box and tossing out the noodles was a bit extravagant, not that I didn’t do that a few times. And, it was then that I discovered Barry Farms, home of everything dehydrated, and then some.

They have dehydrated cheddar by the pound for use in Mac-n-cheese, soup, on popcorn, etc. They have some freeze dried fruits so you can rehydrate and make re-fresh smoothies, mix-ins for yogurt, pie filling…. Freeze dried veggie powder, which has become a baby food option for us (even powdered asparagus, or beet!), beans, potato…. Spices. You name it, they’ve dried it. And it’s cheap, and light to ship.

Currently, veggie powder is making up a large portion of Neko’s diet, along with frozen veggies cooked and blended in our Beaba. For a more portable option, we have NurturMe packages which are good for on the go, and have some flavors which BarryFarm doesn’t.

On the fruit front, there’s an even better option. If I’d known about it before, I’d have ordered something i’ve been drooling over on Costco.com, but which is probably too big for the DPO, a set of freeze dried berries in 1 gallon cans, perfect for pies.

One interesting thing about all these dehydrated things is that you can add interesting flavors to foods without weird textures. You’re all familiar with onion and garlic powder, but carrot powder is cool too!

Oh, goodness, I see that the freeze dried fruit company sells individual cans too, those would totally make it through the DPO or pouch. Yum… freeze-dried cherry pie.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

…Reading

Not surprisingly, there aren’t a whole lot o’bookstores in Bangladesh. You can buy school books, blank books, and paper at the stationary stores, and there are some guys that walk between the cars selling books in English, but the selection of 7-10 books usually isn’t what I’m looking for.

So, I had a Kindle. And I read a LOT of books. A lot of free and bad books, and a lot of cheap, bad books, and a few good books that I paid a bit for. (With Kindle, there are no used books stores offering steep discounts on paperbacks.)

But then, one day, the Kindle broke. The screen just went all streaky and weird. But, luckily, the Kindle was under warranty, and Amazon would send me a new one to replace it.

I waited.

I waited some more.

Finally, I wondered what happened.

My Kindle had ended up in the not-lost-but-not-going-to-ever-make-it-to-Dhaka hell of the regulations on DPO, pouch and other mail. It was eventually sent back to Amazon, but I’d lost my chance on the free replacement. They credited me some random amount of money (Kindle cost – use cost?), and said I could buy another. So I did… and got it here, a different way, a legal one, but one that Amazon doesn’t recognize due to the vagaries of the DPO’s ever changing regulations.

It arrived today. I am very excited to load up some of those books that I had already bought but never got to read, and to search out some new ones to fill these summer nights in Dhaka.

Thank goodness I didn’t have to fly back to the US just to pick it up. Because you know I would have, eventually.

…Mail

When my friend was in the Peace Corps, we would send her care packages from the states, addressed to a box in a small town in Central America. Mail was slow, someone sent her cookies in the Fall, and she received crumbs in the Spring. Mail was insecure, if you sent something that the postal worker was interested in, she might get an empty box, or something noticeably lighter than the postage claimed. Mail was also expensive, particularly in those days of life just after college, where $10 seems like a lot of money. I remember thinking about how much bang for the weight-buck I could send her, with lightweight things. (Like the bag of chicory to make Nescafe a little more like Cafe Du Monde).

Here, in Dhaka, we’d probably suffer the same tortures, but for the kindness of the government in providing us the the “Diplomatic Post Office,” a mail program like that which sends letters and parcels to the Military via APO. The DPO treats us like we’re still at home in the states, domestic postage rates apply, even though the item is sent here to Dhaka.

That means we can order stuff from Amazon, eBay or Etsy, and not have to pay crazy international fees. Of course, there are many restrictions on the DPO, we can’t send items over a certain size, or containing certain specific items (liquids, batteries, etc). We can, however, get a 5 pound box of orange slice candy, vitamins, colored pencils, and other things that are not available on the local market.

We can also get care packages. In the last few months, we’ve been blessed with an abundance of care packages, and getting that mail is one of the most exciting parts of my week. (The mail doesn’t come every day.) They’ve been silly things, serious things, foods and treats, games…. all in flat rate boxes. They’ve made living here more possible, and it’s with very heartfelt gratitude that I want to thank you all for sending them. It means so much to me!

…Swap Boxes

You may remember that I was paired up with Becky at SmallBitsFS for the 2011 Foreign Service Swap Box exchange. She received my Bangladesh care package about a week ago, and gave me overmuch love on her blog post Valentine’s Day…

The box she sent me from Mexico arrived yesterday, slightly worse for wear, complete with the regulation holes and extra tape that many of our DPO shipments arrive with, but everything inside was fine, wrapped in bubble wrap and labeled with informative post-its.

She’d obviously read my blog, because she included a variety of strange candies for me to try, including some mysterious “fruit seasoning,” which looks like it’s just made for a tropical climate. Breadfruit, jackfruit and mangoes, WATCH OUT!

She also included some things for our china cabinet, where we currently display some rather questionable pieces of art. To replace those, we have a cool handpainted plate, a metal star and a pewter flower plate. And, of course, no box from Mexico would be complete without a dancing gourd animal. We can’t decide if this one is an armadillo, a deer-pig, a street dog (it looks like the local street dogs, but better fed), or the mythical cousin of the jackelope. However, he’s a cutie, and destined to sit in Mr. A’s birthday present from me, a display shelf for little critters and statues.

There was also a beautiful glass jar that will be perfect for a candle, especially since we’ve got so many here, but not much to put them in!

All in all, a pretty amazing box, and full of a cool variety things… candy experiments, house decorating, and even somethings for the husband. I am so glad I participated in the Swap!

What a haul, it's amazing you can fit all of that in a flat-rate box.

…Pen Pals

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the 2011 FS Swap, an opportunity for FS bloggers to get to know each other and get mail (the highlight of my week here, and a very sad week when nothing comes).

I was paired up with Becky, who is stationed waaaaaaayyyyyy over on the other side of the world, meaning she’s much closer to home than I am, but her experiences of life in the Western Hemisphere can be just as full of craziness (if not more) than mine here in Dhaka.

Her blog, SmallBits is at: http://smallbitsfs.blogspot.com/ and I am adding her to my blogroll. She set herself a resolution to post every day, and there are some great pics and anecdotes that she’s used to fulfill that goal. She’s also been a host of the RoundUp (including the massive round-up which was featured a couple of weeks ago), and does a lot to make the circle of FS bloggers feel like a community, by making comments and sending helpful notes.

I packed up a special box for her, and am sending it out in the mail. I can’t tell you what’s in it yet, because it’s a surprise, but it’s a little bit o’ Dhaka, without the traffic or the spitting (In case she was worried).

…FS Swap

I’m going to be participating in this incarnation of the FS Swap, and you should too! You don’t have to be a blogger, but that is how many of us are finding each other. It should be a good chance to meet someone new, support others who are living this peripatetic lifestyle, and get actual mail! You have until January 15th to sign up.

Here’s the real info on the Swap, hosted by the clever lady over at Crafty Foreign Service:

…Ordering Online

Recently I got a subscription to Amazon Prime (it was free for students). And… true to its intent, I have been ordering more of my necessary stuff online, since the shipping is free and easy. However, my last two deliveries have been misdirected! The first one only arrived a day after the estimated date after wandering around in central Virginia for an extra day or two. The second one, which was supposed to be delivered yesterday (and was even “on the delivery truck” in my neighborhood), somehow ended up in central Pennsylvania by late evening. It’s now on the way back to NoVa, but now it won’t get here until Monday! Three days late. *Shakes hand threateningly at UPS*

I guess I am just getting a taste of what life will be like in an APO system, no more online package tracking.

And, in case you’re wondering why I am following this particular package so closely, it’s my new 3rd generation 3G Kindle. I recently sold nearly ever book I own online through bookscouter.com and am really looking forward to downloading all the free titles available online (and a few paid ones).

…mail forwarding

After some debate, we finally decided on the features of a mail-forwarding service that we like. Mail-forwarding? What? Well, since we don’t really have a permanent address (i.e. a house we own, or something similar), we need an address that can receive our more irregular mail and write on our tax forms and the like. Some FS-folk prefer a mail forwarding service that is close to Dulles, as that is where all the pouch and APO/DPO mail gets forwarded through. However, we really wanted a place that did scanning rather than forwarding everything on a set schedule, so we opted for a place in California….

With two added benefits:
1. California is our state of residence, so now it will be easier to demonstrate that with a local address. This benefit we considered in choosing a service.
2. Our new address is in sunny southern California, and once we’ve transferred our DMV address, we’ll get into Disneyland at the locals’ rate. This is an added bonus that we recognized only after we signed up. And, it’s not like we’re Disney-freaks or anything, but it made us smile nevertheless.

So, this particular mail forwarding service will scan all our envelopes as they arrive, and put them onto a web-based database and send us an email notification. Then, we can opt to have individual items opened and scanned, or forwarded to us abroad, or recycled. Some services forward everything, some scan the contents of everything (even junk mail!), and some scan only envelopes. There are also services that deal only in packages, not regular mail, and seem oriented toward the non-US consumer who wants to buy US goods over the internet. Some services will also deposit checks you receive, if you are a member at one of the big banks.

Our service did a little of everything, and offered a price point that matched how much mail we actually receive (most of our billing stuff is done online). If we want to send a domestic letter quickly, they’ll also take an emailed document and print it and send it to whomever we designate, which could be useful in dealing with some companies that insist on that.

In case you want to do mail forwarding, here’s a list of the places that do it for individual accounts: EarthClassMail (popular, various “local” addresses, established business but somewhat expensive), virtualpostmail.com (only one address, various price options), Maillink (cheapest, but seems somewhat shady), St. Brendan’s forwarding (predominantly serving the cruise and RV industry, but breaking into the ex-pat online community). There are also some services that have not yet arrived in the internet age, and do mail forwarding on-demand only via phone requests, like Nato Mail. MyUS.com does packages only. If you have a local US address and want your mail scanned and sent by email rather than receive it physically, you could consider zumbox, which does exactly that and offers to electronically pay your bills even to those companies that don’t do on-line payments.