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Credit: Peter Colin Murray
The Way We Eat

After Moving 12 Times in 12 Years, This Family Can Make Anywhere Feel Like Home

updated Sep 18, 2020
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Name: Mallory
Location: Ft. Benning, GA
How many people eat together in your home? 5. Mallory, her husband, their 6-year-old daughter, 4-year-old son, and 2-year-old son.
Avoidances: None.

Not to sugarcoat it, but Mallory, a military spouse and mom of three kids under six, makes moving look like a piece of cake (when in reality, it’s very much the opposite). In the 12 years that Mallory and her husband have been married, they’ve moved 12 times. Of those 12 moves, 10 of them have been official PCS (Permanent Change of Station), in which they’re subject to military orders on where/and when they’re moving within the continental U.S. for an assignment of a specific length. Along the way, the couple added three kids to the mix, making criss-crossing the country all the more interesting.

After more than a decade of annual moves, Mallory and her trusty sidekicks have the DITY (Do It Yourself) moving process down to a science — so much so that Mallory has an entire blog dedicated to helping others in the same boat, er, U-Haul. We caught up with Mallory to talk about their recent move from Kansas to Georgia in the middle of a pandemic, the first thing she unpacks in a new place, the very best car snacks, and how their family manages to make everywhere they live feel like home.

Credit: Peter Colin Murray

Congrats on getting your family settled (again!) How did your recent move go?
It went well! We’ve moved 12 times in 12 years to 10 different states. We moved in May from Kansas but didn’t get to move into our home on post until two weeks ago. The home was not ready so we were displaced for two months which is common, but this time we weren’t expecting it.

And the fact that you’re moving during a pandemic doesn’t make it any easier, I imagine.
Oh yes, we were like, “Let’s just add this to the stress!”

How do you stay sane while moving so often?
No matter how many times you do it, moving is hard. It comes with the territory of being in the military. Of course, it’s not normal to move this often, but that’s part of my husband’s job. I definitely have learned a lot from it. I try to keep the perspective like, there’s so much opportunity, different ways to grow, and learn, and meet new people. That’s the part that keeps me excited about going to the next place. But it’s never easy.

Credit: Peter Colin Murray

Is your next move already planned?
We move again next summer. And hopefully after that we’ll be somewhere for a few years. This will be our last back-to-back move. This year was our 7th in seven years. After that, it hopefully slows down. As our kids get older, that’s my hope.

What’s the hardest part?
Right now, it’s our children. Our oldest daughter started school recently and now they’re starting to get it and fully understand all the emotions that come with moving. Leaving community and relationships you’ve built to start over again is the hardest part. It’s hard to make friends. I try to get involved and go all in right away. Thankfully the military makes it so that you have a connection with someone everywhere you go. At the same time, there are a lot of perks. We get to meet people from all over and essentially have friends all over the world. We don’t travel or go on vacation places— we just move to them.

Credit: Peter Colin Murray

Of all of the places you’ve lived, do you have a favorite kitchen?
I’ve loved little things about each, there’s not just one that sticks out. Post housing is usually pretty standard with basic kitchens. But when we lived off-post in Alabama, that was probably my favorite. It was really big, lots of storage, a decent sized sink, and a window. A lot of our kitchens haven’t had windows and it makes such a big difference. One thing I forgot to mention is we never see our home before we move in. It’s always a surprise. The current home we’re in is significantly smaller than we were expecting. It’s hard to pick and choose which items to unpack! We don’t get rid of anything because they might fit in the next home.

Tell me about that! What are the things you unpack right away?
I call them my “open-first” boxes, things that are packed with essentials I’m going to need right away. Most are kitchen items, actually. I always have my slow cooker, Instant Pot, and a pan easily accessible. Especially for on-the-move cooking or in-transition cooking, it’s best to have one-pan (or appliance) meals. Since I don’t always have all my gear at my fingertips, I have to get creative. I also pack utensils, paper towels, measuring spoons and cups, a pair of scissors, and my husband’s coffee stuff somewhere I can easily grab. I’ve never had a sip of coffee in my life, but that stuff is very important to him. We also pack a few pantry items in “open-first” so I can make a quick meal if need-be the first night we’re there.

Credit: Peter Colin Murray

Wow, so there’s definitely a system here! How do you make each living situation feel like home?
No matter how long we’re in a home, I unpack, hang pictures on the wall, and make it our home. I let my kids do their bedrooms and bring out all those familiar items. They love to put together their rooms — it helps to make it feel like their safe space. For our family, it’s worth it. If we were always in the mindset of “why do that if we’re moving again,” then it will never feel like home. When I have all my boxes unpacked, decorate, and all the familiar things are out for our children, it feels like home and we can invest in our community. It’s a mindset. Seeing those familiar things brings peace to our home.

Has moving around so often changed your family’s eating habits?
I don’t put any stress on myself, like “Oh we have to eat perfectly” when we’re moving, but that’s something I’ve learned over time. Eating healthy is something that’s important to our family, especially my husband who is very structured. But we’ve come to learn that with every move, we have to accept that there will be lots of going out to eat, fast food, pantry meals, and eating whatever we have when we arrive. We have to pick the best option available to us.

Credit: Peter Colin Murray

Would love your expert opinion on the very best travel snacks
It’s funny, I obviously try to bring whatever is left in our pantry that we already have. I’ll hard-boil all our eggs, make sandwiches. But since our kids are going through a transition, we also try to make it fun for them. When we moved from Georgia to Washington, all the way across the country, I got fruit snacks, lots of Goldfish, things I wouldn’t normally get. We also love fruit like cut-up strawberries, and my kids are obsessed with these spinach muffins that I made. Our last move though, we didn’t have a lot of time to make a lot of stuff. If we see a Chick-fil-A, we have to pull over. Our goal when we’re on the road is to DIY breakfast and lunch, and then dinner we will go out to eat. We can’t go out three meals a day.

What does a “normal” dinner look like for your family?
Since we moved a few weeks ago, we’re not in our normal days yet. I’m prioritizing — am I going to make a big, huge, fancy meal or get a few more boxes unpacked so I have more I can cook with? Right now, I’m making anything that’s easy. One=pan meals, tacos, taco salad, Instant Pot spaghetti. I love the Instant Pot. I’m always like, “How did I live without this?” It’s so quick for hard-boiling eggs, defrosting chicken, making soups. I love that I can sauté in it too, if I don’t have a skillet unpacked.

Credit: Peter Colin Murray

Since you’ve probably visited them all, do you have a favorite grocery store in the country?
Some towns we’ve lived in don’t even have a grocery store! But all military bases have a commissary which is usually my default. When we lived in New Jersey, we walked into a Wegmans and it was so magical. It was fun to see what the fuss was all about. And when we lived in Washington, I got big into Trader Joe’s. Another interesting thing is how much food prices change across the country. So at the commissary, they try to keep prices level for everyone moving around.

What’s always on your list?
Always eggs, fruit, deli turkey, sweet potatoes, and spinach. I always buy spinach for those spinach muffins. It’s so funny, they’re lime green and my kids love them.

What does back to school look like for your family?
We are officially a new homeschool family. With all the back and forth with my husband’s upcoming deployment, we thought it was best to homeschool and keep some consistency in their lives so there’s no back and forth. It was really hard for my oldest being in school, having to leave because of COVID, and then moving and not getting to say goodbye. I will be the teacher now! I have no idea what I’m doing but I’m optimistic.

Credit: Peter Colin Murray

The general vibe I’m getting from you is CALM. How do you do it?
It’s funny, I hear that all the time and I’m like, “Really? That’s great.” The calmness comes from experience and looking back to where I can draw strength. I guess I just have peace knowing that it’s going to work out. It might not look the way I want it to look, but I have to shift my perspective and expectations on what our lives are going to look like. That’s what I tell myself. It’s going to work out. We’ve moved in such stressful stages of life: When I was 34 weeks pregnant, with newborns (across country), within three weeks’ notice. And it always works out, we get it done. I look back and am so thankful for the times we’ve had and the people we’ve met. Even if it feels terrible at first, things work out the way they need to.

Thanks for sharing, Mallory! Follow her on Instagram here.

The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you, about how they feed themselves and their families.We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.