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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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Location: United States

After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bye, Bye Blogger....

Like an old boyfriend, I am discarding you, sorry!  You couldn't give me what I needed, so I think it's best we part ways.  I don't want to "try to be friends" nor do I want to "stay in touch"....clean break, okay?  And to my readers, if things go know where to find me on Facebook to let me know the errors of my ways (cause you know that's how I learn)!

I thought I would post a warning here first.  I'm not smart enough to investigate how to transfer over any subscriptions or RSS feeds and am sorry to say that if you are still interested in hearing what I have to say (or do), please rejoin me at the new site which you should be redirected to in the next few days as I plod my way through this with a little apprehension and the wringing of the hands.

This is LLMW signing out for the last time on was wonderful while it lasted and thank you for all the good memories, because there really were some!  Wordpress, looking forward to our first date and a hopefully lasting relationship where we can both learn and grow together...not necessarily in that order.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Six travel mistakes I've made this summer

In Oslo's Vigeland Park
I know.  LLMW does not make mistakes...aghast...but she really does...and bad ones sometimes too.  Just because you have a lot of knowledge does not mean you know, you sometimes forget or are lazy or just don't know any better.  I made this site not only to help others but to have others help me!  So before you laugh and get a kick out of that, see what I did that was less than perfect as we all tend to do.

I planned and arranged a trip to Oslo.  Because this city will make even the richest person feel poor and have an empty wallet before it's over, I thought I would save and get a hotel outside the city center.  That part was just fine...we saved literally THOUSANDS of euro, and it was a luxury hotel to boot, mysteriously being upgraded to a business suite with two rooms, two bathrooms and a wonderful buffet breakfast (boy, did I score brownie points for that one).

Sure, I saw that it was on the main metro ring with connections every minute and only six stops from downtown, and certainly wasn't worried about us getting around.  I planned how easily we would get there (no problems actually), but I got LAZY and just assumed I would do the same thing on the way back for our early Ryanair airport bus.  Imagine that sinking feeling you get, when you get down to the metro platform at 0610 and see the first train comes only at 0649, only 11 minutes before you have to catch your paid-for bus back to the airport to catch that flight.  Oops, it was a Saturday with less metro connections.  Can you say "oh sh*t?!"

After a nanosecond, we raced back up to the hotel, had them call a taxi (which arrived in less than 5 minutes) and arrived in plenty of time for the bus.....but $40 poorer.  Lesson #1 learned, follow thru from beginning to end in trip planning, especially if you absolutely have to be somewhere at a certain time!  Also watch time schedules on holidays (know what they are for that country) and on weekends!

This summer I also had an ambitious notion that we would relax in a wonderful country cottage in the peaceful countryside in Normandy.  I had visions of us seeing the sites during the day and then viewing some wonderful countryside vistas driving back to our wonderful retreat.  I carefully researched many, many cottages, B&Bs and even a few chateaus.  Since my plan was VERY ambitious and it involved going in exactly two different directions (St Malo and the famous Mont St Michel vs. the Normandy Beaches), I thought I would split the difference and try to find something in between.  I found the ideal place in the most idyllic setting...on paper.  The first day was peaceful and relaxing after we finally arrived (that'll be my third mistake below).  Once we started visiting the sites, I realized my mistake.  Yes, it looked like only x amount of miles from this destination to that one on Google...but try to actually drive the winding and narrow country roads and you quickly realize it takes MUCH longer to drive them in person.  After two days of it taking us two hours to get somewhere and then two hours to get back at the end of the day, with me in a nauseous stupor, I came to the conclusion that we needed to pick one area OR the other and leave our pastoral place.

I chose a wonderful historic hotel near my beloved sites in Normandy (our main goal to see) and was then happy for the rest of the trip.  Even though the WWII battle sites and of course the many other sites along that part of the coast were spread out, we still spent no more than 45 minutes driving to any one site for the rest of the trip.  Don't remind me that I forfeited the rest of the money we had paid for the country cottage (I try not to think about that) and then had to shell out another 70 euros a day for our nice hotel room with no cooking facilities...but you know what?  I was happy and we all know what happens when momma isn't happy.  What's the lesson here?  There's Lesson #2.  Take the time to see what kinds of roads there are at your destination.  Take the time to really see how long it'll take you to drive everyday to see what you want to see and prioritize which direction you want to travel in!  You can't see everything!

Of course, also on this trip, our home had a slight issue that needed immediate attention.  Of course, it needed attention on the morning we were due to leave for our trip.  Doesn't it always happen this way?  After finally getting things taken care of, we hit the road at 0900.  I know I have mentioned before to check the German school holiday site and stau situation.  I also know the Belgian schedule from living here.  Why oh why did I not check the French schedule?  Can you say "bank holiday"?   I don't know.  I'm still wondering about that.  All I know is that we waited anywhere from 20 minutes to ONE HOUR at EVERY SINGLE TOLL BOOTH going thru France along our route.  It wouldn't have mattered if we had a "fast pass" either (which many Brits rent or buy to allow them to breeze thru the auto lanes).  The traffic was well backed up before all the lanes even decided to split.  This turned a four hour drive into an EIGHT HOUR drive!!!  Lesson #3, ALWAYS, ALWAYS...and then again...check the school holiday schedules for the countries you will be traveling through and to!

On one of our trips to a country with a different currency, a certain someone in my family suggested to use the rest of that currency to pay part of the hotel bill.  I hesitated...well, what if there is an emergency and we need some quick change?  Luckily, a last minute taxi ride that was NOT planned was payable by credit card.  I even tried to tip the driver in Euro, our home currency in Belgium, but he would not take it and kept telling us not to worry and to catch our flight.  He was such a nice man.  The amount I used in that foreign currency to pay part of the hotel bill would have paid the taxi driver almost EXACTLY...with enough left over for coffee...which I desperately needed at the airport and couldn't buy because I didn't have a foreign coin to my name.  Lesson #4, I think the peace-of-mind is worth it to keep at least some bills in that foreign least enough to pay a taxi or some other quick emergency!  With so many military families traveling all over, you can sell your currency, especially if you have bills, at a later date.

This summer has been unusually cold and rainy, from start to finish.  Yes, we packed plenty of shorts and swimsuits we didn't get to use, at least when we were outside for the most part.  We brought rain and cold weather to each of the four countries we vacationed in this summer.  We had more rain days than sun days.  You think I would've learned by the third trip at least to bring more warm clothing.  No, I was determined to pack pretty much the exact same things I had packed previously.  I ended up recycling my fleece pretty much every day and found out that the combo of fleece and a rainjacket on top can be pretty toasty.  Me and my fashion sense were non-existent.  Lesson #5, even in summer always have raingear AND something warm to wear...doubled...unless you don't mind wearing the same thing over and over again.  The good thing about fleece is that it rolls up very nicely in your suitcase and is very lightweight to boot!

In Amsterdam, we were in this wonderful little restaurant.  Now, you know that Europeans don't do doggie bags like we do doggie bags.  In fact, if it wasn't for the Americans running around in Europe, there would be NO doggie bags.  Europeans don't do them!  I always prepare myself for the errant look I get when asking if I can take my leftovers home.  I've been given newspaper, waxpaper and butcher paper to wrap my stuff up.  I've had stuff leak thru those flimsy wrappings, and it is not pretty.  My to ALWAYS carry a few ziploc bags of a few sizes...of the freezer variety due to their sturdiness.  I'm not going to tell you to do it, but if you want to make your kid...or you and the family a little sandwich from the breakfast buffet for later...I'm not going to tell you not to do it either.  Well, in making my list for the trip, I thought I'd be slick and download an Iphone app specifically for packing....I missed a key item in the transfer from paper to app....ziploc bags.  Not only did I not have it for my leftovers but I also didn't have it for the wet swimsuits or the opened bag of goldfish that wanted to jump out all inside my purse nor for the pile of receipts I like to keep in order til I get home.  Crap.  Lesson #6, travel with a few ziploc bags of various sizes.  You won't know what you will use them for ahead of time, but somewhere and somehow, you WILL end up needing them!

Of course I learned a few other lessons, but they are not worth the paper I would write them on, so I will end here.  Do you have any lessons learned from this summer?  Any summer?


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Video: A Visit to Bavaria, Germany

I was recently running around in Bavaria….Oberammergau and Garmisch area in Germany.  As usual, I'm all over the place throwing out tips and advice….take it or leave it! 

I love to hear from my readers, which means you gotta post below about your own adventures and advice! This blog is made possible by all the great tips and advice shared by you...yes YOU!

On this particular video, you’ll hear me talk about food….more food…hiking, things to see and do down here and tips for saving money of course like always!

I hope this has inspired you to get out and ENJOY your current duty station, wherever that may be! There is ALWAYS a hidden gem and fun is what you make of it!


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Podcast #9 - Travel Tips in Germany (Oberammergau)

Join me as I walk down the mountain along a babbling brook.  Rounding the bend in our two hour hike just outside of Oberammergau, Germany, I thought I needed something to keep me going those last few minutes...hence, the podcast!  I share a few tips that are all over the map...literally!

Some of the things I mention in this latest audio podcast:

  • Shopping tips on vacation

  • Visiting the town tourist bureaus

  • What is a "Ferienwohnung" and why you should know this

  • Getting money from German bank ATMs (Sidenote:  You can access many of these foyers by sliding your ATM card thru the card reader at the door after hours)

  • Money Tips Overseas

  • Pool Rules

  • What is FKK?

  • Eating Out Tips

  • How to pay our restaurant bill

  • Why is the butcher so important?

  • The Laberbergbhahn (gondola) in Oberammergau

  • What is a Kurkarte, and why do I need one?

  • The Edelweiss Lodge in Garmisch

  • Random musings I know, but hopefully you can take something out of it!


    Thursday, August 4, 2011

    Space A Magic

    Visit for more Space A information!
    I know for many of us, flying Space A is a big unknown.  I've only flown twice myself, as a military dependent many years ago.  We waited many days in Dover, Delaware trying to catch that perfect flight to Germany to visit my grandparents.  It's clear in my mind that we went to the terminal every day, only to be told there was no flight that day or that a previously scheduled flight was cancelled.  We made the best of it, enjoying the shore and some beach time and luckily, my parents had budgeted to stay in a hotel off post nearby.  We waited just about a week.  The flight we ended up taking was a military craft with the seats suspended inside.  So this is what the guts of a plane looks like I remember thinking.  But what sticks out the most in my mind was a mid-air refueling training mission (yes, they did warn us), and WOW, it was enough to make you think you were riding a roller coaster...up and down...up and down...enough to make you blow your lunch which the air crew handed out in little boxes a few hours before.  One of our readers, Jo recently flew Space A and offers these tips for us below.

  • The first and most important thing to remember is that Space-A is a privilege, not a right. If you aren't on an open schedule (meaning, come and go as you please) then it's VERY important to have a back-up plan).

  • Where are you trying to go? What is your closest AF Base that can get you there or somewhere you can transfer from? Some bases have regularly scheduled flights (ex: On Monday, Wednesday and Saturday there is a flight departing XX base, and it stops at YY and ZZ).

  • Visit this link to get an idea of where some of the bases' frequent stops are located.

  • Have all your valid and required paperwork to travel. Are you flying with or as a servicemember? They/You will need to be on leave before they can even 'register' for Space A. If you're flying and your spouse is currently deployed, you will need a letter from his CoC stating you are allowed to fly Space A while the servicemember is out in theater. This letter needs to include your information, along with any traveling dependents and your spouse's information as well.  You will also need to bring proof that you are command sponsored, meaning that you were included on his orders to his current duty station.  The S-1 or admin folks of your husband's unit can type that up for you.

  • REGISTER - Once you have an idea of where you would like to go, register with the bases that you may be flying out of. You can register in person, by fax or via email. Sign-Up email addresses can be found here.

  • If a servicemember is traveling, they CANNOT register until they are ON leave. The email you send needs to include leave start and end date. If you are traveling sans SM, scan and email a copy of your CoC issued travel letter. Email any and every base you may be using. Better to be safe than sorry. Registering early is important because if there are three Active Duty (AD) Category 3 personnel on leave trying to fly, the person who registered FIRST gets priority. Once you register, it is active for 90 days (or 60 days, so double check) so you won't need to register every single time you fly so long as it's within that timeframe.

  • You should receive a confirmation letting you know that you are registered. If you don't receive it in 24 hours, call the base. It's possible that they may have an incorrect email listed. Be proactive and don't make assumptions. Again, it's better to be safe than sorry.

  • All that squared away? Great! Now you're probably wondering "well, how do I know when the flight is?". Most bases do not provide a flight schedule earlier than 72 hours out. Some have automated answering services that give you a destination and how many tentative seats there are and a "showtime". Showtime is when you need to be checked in by. Continue to call everyday within that 72 hour gap to make sure the flight info is accurate. They are subject to change (this happened to us) and you could get stranded somewhere you didn't intend on staying.

  • Please pack a sweater or blanket in your carryon, especially if you are flying overnight. You won't know what type of aircraft you'll be on and a C-17 can get very cold. We shivered our entire trip to the east coast. Lesson learned for us.

  • Show up! Make sure you have your proper IDs, Passport (if going overseas), and bring your CoC issued letter or Leave form. Although you may have submitted it, keep it on you. I'd also print out a copy of any confirmation messages or emails you may have received showing your 'registration' date. Once you arrive at the AMC Terminal you will mark yourself' present' so they know you would like to take a flight out. Afterward, you'll wait until they call your name. This is done by category. If you are flying with an Active Duty (AD) servicemember, then you'll be category 3 and for the most part, you're at the head of the line. The only categories flying ahead of you are Emergency Leave or those on PCS orders.

  • Have a safe flight! flying Space-A may not be the most convenient in terms of time, secured seats or comfort but it's free! I'll deal with all of that vs paying an outwards of 1000K for a flight overseas.

  • Thanks so much Jo for your input.  Stay tuned where Jo will talk about her family's personal experience in an upcoming blogpost.  The only think I would add...and try to pound in your head, you absolutely have to be flexible and need to have the time to do this.  If you want to try to use it during the summer, I would definitely re-think that.  It is the heaviest PCS travel season, and you could be trying to get on a flight for days.  If you have the time and patience, go for it....if not, find an alternate means of travel.  I believe MAC flights also only take you to the first point of entry in the US.  You need to keep that in mind when planning the rest of your transportation to your final destination.  Will you grab a commercial flight the rest of the way?  Rent a car?  Have family come get you?  Have it all planned out including alternate ideas.  MAC flights may only get you so close, and the rest of the plan is yours to figure out.

    Something interesting I have found when friends have traveled from Germany, is that every plane can be different.  Do you know the G5s have space sometimes?  Yes, I know it's a $50 million aircraft!  Yes, I recently read about a military wife who rode a G5 plane from Korea to the US....plush leather seats and personal service usually reserved for generals. How she snagged that, I don't know.  I owuld post the link with her happy smiling child...but I can't find it, sorry!  Coming out of Ramstein, be prepared for flights loaded with wounded going back stateside...some in fairly grave condition.  I had a friend who passed on one of those flights, because she was afraid to expose her children to so many injured soldiers.  I am not saying that was right or wrong, just something to think about when accepting a flight or not.  You may even have a flight with NO SEATS.  Yes, I had a friend fly on a military craft that didn't have any, and there must have been many veteran Space Aers on the flight, as they rolled out their sleeping bags and hung out using their pillows as luggage!

    One more resource to throw your way, be sure to check out the AMC's Space A Facebook page.  It's a great resource and what a great way to get your questions answered should you have any.  If anyone has any other sites or stories to share, please do so below.  I would love to hear them!

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    Wednesday, July 27, 2011

    The Ubiquitous German Stau and what to do about it!

    After this past weekend, I realized I am spoiled.  I am spoiled because I live in a semi-rural area in Belgium where the biggest gridlock I see is trying to get into the front gate of the base....or perhaps on the dumb occasion I decide to drive to Brussels on the ringroad during rush hour.  Imagine my dismay when I saw the brake lights this past week on a German autobahn going South.  Oh crap, how could I totally forget the life of a German autobahn driver?   Ooops, I used to be so on top of this stuff when I lived here...out of sight out of mind I guess!  I read in this month's ADAC magazine (ADAC runs something similar to the American AAA motorists' program) that in 2010 there were 185,000 staus with a total length of 400,000 kilometer.  To put that in perspective, this length would get you to the moon at least!  And why all this stau stuff and what can you do to help yourself?

    First of all, like many places in the world, we are building more cars than we have the capacity to handle.  Go to any Chinese city these days and see hosts of shiny blue BMWs and sleek Mercedes not moving instead of the ubiquotous bicycles that fanned across the nation just a few years ago.  The same is going on in Europe, in particular Germany that sits in the middle of everything.  There just isn't enough autobahn capacity to handle all the car traffic, period.  I also read that the German authorities are looking at widening the autobahn lanes, not by building yet another lane, but by using what's already there...the break down lanes.  Believe it or not, there are cameras all up and down the autobahns, and those folks watching these cameras can immediately see if there is a breakdown or other hinderance in that lane, and if it's clear for a certain stretch, lights would flash, letting drivers know that this is now an open lane.  Yes, that's the plan, and yes, they'd have to install that light system.  I have no idea when and if it will be implemented, so don't ask me.  I am just parroting what I just read the plan seems to be.  Of course they gave it a good solid German name too these "new lanes", "Temporaraere Seitenstreifenfreigabe" or just TSF for short.

    So here we are back to the problem.  What can you do about these staus?  Honestly, there are a few things you can do before you ever hit the road. 

    -Check Schulferien before you travel!  This site lists the various school holidays of German schoolkids by region.  The German states try to stagger their vacation time, so that not all German kids are streaming South or wherever they are going, all at the same time.  Nifty, huh?  Now instead of millions, you may only have thousands...but still, it's too many.  Please don't even think of traveling on a German autobahn at the front or back end of these holidays...just don't torture yourself like that or even your family.

    -Try not to leave on a Friday or come back on a Sunday or vice versa.  Try to stagger your own holiday if you can and leave during the week, the closer you can to Wednesday is best.  I realize some vacation rentals are not set up for that, so find another one that is.

    -Consider leaving in the middle of the night.  Believe it or not, there really is less traffic at those times.

    -Check Staumeldungen with up-to-the minute traffic updates.  Keep your German radio on.  You will hear some God awful airhorn noise through the radio every hour on the hour, which actually will interrupt a CD or even cassette tape you are playing (at least in a German car) and give you the latest stau information via a person quickly running through all the German staus of note (for that radio station's region).  Many times, this person will talk incredibly fast for English speakers, but listen to key cities and also the autobahn designations, such as A8, A81 or the like...they won't say North or South like I blogged about before, but they will tell you which direction by signifying a city direction.  So they'll say "A8 Richtung Stuttgart" which means on the A8 Autobahn going North if you haven't hit Stuttgart yet, as the A8 comes from the direction of Munich....they'll even tell you how long the stau is and sometimes you'll hear the word "zwischen" which means between or "Kreuzung" which means a crossing of one autobahn over another...listen to what cities or towns they mention...those are the exits.  It may take some practice, but you'll get the hang of it.  

    -If you have a smartphone, then download the Stau Mobil App, which is free.  You'll see what's going on without having to wait for anyone to tell you.  

    -AFN radio also tries to mention the major ones when they hear about them, plus I think they encourage their listeners to call in.  Of course if you have a GPS that handles gridlock for you, by all means use it and its bypass recommendations.  ADAC Magazine also mentions that the majority of the time, you are better of staying on the autobahn rather than leaving it...unless it's a really bad one, such as after an accident that closes down all lanes...sometimes in both directions!

    If you are an ADAC member, you can look for ADAC yellow marked vehicles....the autobahn angels I call them.  I've seen them pull all kinds of spare parts out of their hatches!  Did you know they also have fun stuff for kids, food and water too for ADAC members?  If you are really stuck, don't hesitate to call them if you have ADAC roadside asssistance, even if it is to request any of these routine-sounding items.  You are paying for the service.

    Do you have any tips you'd like to share about avoiding staus and also how to deal with one when you're in it?  Honestly, I have great memories of a pick-up frisbee game on a stau to Austria many years ago...I think we were at a standstill for about four hours, but I got to know my fellow stau companions and had a great time while we dealt with the delay.  If that would happen today, with all the hurry up and wait we do these days, I don't know if I could handle that.  It ended up being a rockslide, and thankfully no one was hurt.  Let's hear your stories!

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    Monday, July 18, 2011

    Flying your pet to Europe using a military rotator (MAC) flight

    You have heard me blog about flying pets overseas and the prep involved.  But earlier this year, I had a reader contact me about flying overseas on a military rotator flight with their doggie and what did I know about that.  I didn't admit I was a total neophyte, nor did I give her any information she could use about pets and military flights.....honestly, I didn't think pets could even fly on MAC flights, PCS or no PCS.  Glad I kept my mouth shut, because thanks to Lee, she got back to me as promised with how the experience went for her and her cute little pug. Here is Reggie's story and how you can use the military to fly your pet to Germany.

    As promised, I wanted to get back to you about our experience flying our dog overseas to Germany via the Patriot Express (the AMC Rotator).  We left BWI airport the night Sunday, 10 July, and arrived at Ramstein AB at noon on Monday, 11 July.  We're now settled in at our new duty location and I'm relieved to say everything went well!  However, there are a few things I would recommend to others preparing to PCS overseas with a pet:

    * Plan ahead - way ahead.  As I wrote to you before, my husband scheduled our flight on the Patriot Express roughly 10 weeks prior to our PCS date, and we got the
    very last pet slot on the plane.  I believe there are ten pet slots per rotator flight (not counting pets that can travel in cabin under the seat), and during heavy PCS seasons (like summer), they book out quickly.  So once you get orders, one of your first priorities should be working with TMO (or your branch's counterpart) to initiate your reservation and request a pet slot.

    * If you are taking the Patriot Express during heat or cold with a snub-nosed dog (pug, boston terrier, etc.) consider alternatives to connecting flights.  If time allows and the distance is not too great, consider driving or taking a train.  We PCSed from the panhandle of Florida which is very hot and humid in July.  Our dog, Reggie, is a nine year old pug, and we could not find any commercial carrier in our area that would be willing to transport him.  Most have an embargo on snub-nosed breeds during summer months and extreme cold temperatures, and some carriers no longer take any dogs at all in the summer.  The Patriot Express does not have these embargoes, as the pets are in a climate controlled area, but getting Reggie to BWI was becoming
    very problematic.  However, since we have family nearby, we opted to drive up and stay with family along the way, and then we shipped our car directly from the Port of Baltimore.  It was a lot of time in the car, but it was much easier than the hassle of flying him in the summer.

    * Go through a military veterinary clinic if at all possible for your International Health Certificate (the one you can get up to four months out) and your Health Certificate (the one you must get within 10 days of flight).  If a military veterinarian signs off on the forms, you are exempt from getting the USDA stamps on your documentation, which saves a lot of time and hassle.  However, when you make your appointment, be sure to confirm there is an active duty veterinarian on site who can sign the form.  Because whenwe left our AFB in Florida greater than ten days before our flight out, we had to get Reggie seen by a military vet en route.  Four weeks before we left, I called several military installations in the Baltimore/Washington area, thinking they could see him - but they couldn't.  Most did not have an active duty veterinarian on site (they are frequently deployed during times of combat to serve as public health officers), and those that did had very limited clinic days/hours.  Fortunately, I was able to get him in at the Shaw AFB vet clinic, and although it meant four hours round trip in the car, it was still faster and easier than taking him to a civilian vet and dealing with the USDA stamp process.

    * Make sure all signatures are in a color other than black.  Military veterinarians generally know this, but civilian vets might not.  After I obtained the International Health Certificate, I had to go back to my civilian vet and get a new rabies certificate and immunization record because they were signed in black ink.  Had I known, I could have requested this from the start and saved myself a trip. (Note from LLMW, I did not know this....something I need to follow up on).

    * Make sure your pet's microchip number is on your rabies certificate and immunization record.  It does not have to be printed on the paperwork - you can hand-write it in if necessary (I did, without any problems).

    * Check - and double check - your pet's documentation before you leave the clinic.  I cannot stress this enough - if there are any errors with the paperwork, your pet can be refused on the flight.  When I obtained our health certificate, I noticed that the batch number of the rabies vaccine was incorrectly entered, and date of the certificate was in MM/DD/YY format but my dog's birthdate was in DD/MM/YY format.  I pointed this out and requested that they reprint the certificate with the correct batch number and write out both dates (i.e., 5 July 2011 and 10 November 2001) in order to cut down on any confusion.  I know the clerk thought I was being anal-retentive and wasn't too happy with me, but these are the kind of small errors that can cause a real problem later.

    * Bring multiple copies of your pet's documentation (health certificates, rabies certificate, immunization record, etc.).  I had to give a copy to the agent at BWI as well as the German customs officer at Ramstein AB, and a copy was taped to Reggie's crate.  Had we had connecting flights, I'm sure each carrier would have needed copies as well.  By having multiple copies with me, it saved time (agents didn't have to make copies) and I was able to keep the originals with me at all times.

    * Get your pet a properly-sized crate in advance and let your him/her use it.  There are strict rules about crates for international flights (size, ventilation, etc.), so measure your pet carefully to make sure you get the right size.  (I used the following site for information on measurements and crate requirements.  I'm not endorsing them as a vendor, as I didn't buy my crate from them, but the info is helpful.)  Consider having your pet sleep in the crate for a week or two prior to the flight, so s/he can get used to it.  Flying is stressful for pets, so getting them used to their crate means they will at least have a familiar place to stay during the flight.  You may also want to include something like an old shirt or blanket that you've used and that smells like you - this may also be comforting for them.  We also bought a clip-on fan to help with ventilation, since Reggie is a pug.  I don't know if it helped him, but it reduced MY anxiety knowing he had it!  :)

    There's a nice brochure about the Patriot Express at this web site:  (click on "Patriot Express Brochure"), and one about shipping your pet here.  I would definitely recommend reviewing these prior to the flight.

    Throughout the process, I told my friends and family that getting Reggie to Germany was more complicated and time-consuming than it was for my children - and I wasn't really joking either.  However, if you start early and are proactive and organized, it makes for smooth traveling later.  I hope your readers find this information helpful, and as always, thanks for the service you provide us military spouses.  Were it not for your blog, I would not have been
    nearly as well prepared for our move, and I am so grateful I discovered it!

    Thank you Lee for taking the time to report back on your experience!  If any of my other readers would like to share any experiences, pet or otherwise, just let me know!  My goal is always to share information here, whether it comes from me or one of our fellow readers!


    Tuesday, July 12, 2011

    Have you joined me on Facebook yet?

    In front of Linderhof Schloss yesterday.
    Hello all....well, I've discarded yet another new blog design.  My father keeps telling me to take the time now to make sure it's exactly what I want...but of course I want things....NOW...or yesterday.  You know how it goes.  So, in the meantime, while I dicker around with something I don't know much about and drive myself more into some kind of newfound frustration when I should be on vacation...and now Oh Lord, I'm rhyming...never a good sign....I'll have to leave you with something in the interim!  I wanted to ask if you are on Facebook?

    I know there may be a few of you (like I used to be) resistant to even be on Facebook.  Others may not have ventured that way.  In the interest of continuing what we talk about here...and discuss...we have some tips being bantered back and forth on the Life Lessons of a Military Wife Facebook page.  How much should you be tipping in Germany?  Especially hairdressers?  How about using those VAT forms to get huge discounts on your lodging, not just on your travels later but also after your fresh arrival in Germany.  It's extra money in your pocket!  A friend is also having trouble registering her car now that she's stateside...find out an easy way to avoid this on the Facebook page.

    And the best part?  Is in the bottom left, you should see all the other great military spouse, travel and other interesting Facebook Groups I have subscribed to.  There are some really great support groups and groups that can help you with any question you may have under the sun.  There are even pages supported by the different military support elements as well, so get an official answer without messing with email and putting your personal information out there.  Even the military paycheck people, DFAS, have a Facebook page.

    Anyway, thought I would throw that out there!  We are still "vacationing" down in Bavaria with an internet connection that is more fickle than I ever was when I was younger....yes, it's that bad...and frustrating!  I'm working on a map of fun things to do in the Garmisch/Oberammergau area..not the typical stuff that the Edelweiss giftshop/tour people recommend but other stuff too...I'll let you know when that's online.  The kids are determined to swim in every Alpine Lake in the, typical mom holds her breath as they dive down and don't appear for awhile...some of these lakes are DEEP and murky.  Many do have nice beaches and docks, along with cafes and restaurants....entry to the swimming area for nominal fees, so it's not like you are totally out there in the wilderness!  There are also plenty of hiking and biking trails radiating out in all directions...something for everyone!

    I hope everyone is able to take some time off this summer and is enjoying family time as well!  See you next week when I have a better connection online and look for me to hopefully say something useful next week over at Military Moms Talk Radio!


    Saturday, July 9, 2011

    Bringing your iphone (or android) to Europe

    It was inevitable.  Either you are pegged to go on a business trip somewhere in Europe, moving overseas or will be taking a little vacation across the big pond.  I've gotten a bit of mail from folks asking if they should bring their iphone or not and what pitfalls there might be.  First, you might want to read my general article on cell phones overseas in Europe.  There are quite a few differences from being stateside.  The biggest being that we use SIM cards over here, so if your iphone is CDMA technology, you are hosed...partly....although you should still be able to use it in the wi-fi mode, along with any ipod touch you may bring along.  Note to self, in today's global economy, don't bother getting a CDMA cell phone as the Americans are the only major players still using it!  Here are some things on making the transition smooth with your iphone when coming over here.

    Check with your provider and find out what the roaming charges are.  If you are only coming over for awhile, then you'll keep your cell phone plan at home....literally.  Most providers have outrageous international roaming charges, but to do your due diligence, just find out what they are.  We've all heard about the lady with the almost $40,000 roaming cell phone charge and don't want to be in her shoes!

    • Make sure you TURN OFF the roaming feature before you even begin your journey and get on that plane!  Even if you don't use the phone, you may be still charged data fees (which are higher) when your apps decide to do their updating and background work.
    • The next step would be to put it in "Airplane Mode" and only switch that off when you plan to use it.  It's an extra safety net.  It will basically turn your iphone into an itouch and allow you to use any nearby wi-fi networks.
    • Turn "Fetch New Data" OFF in all your apps.  You also don't want your email and contacts to constantly try to sync.  To turn off the Auto-Check functionality tap on Settings, then Fetch New Data, change Push to “OFF” and Select to Fetch Manually.
    • You might want to reset your Usage Tracker to Zero tap on Settings.  Then General, Usage and then Reset.  This way, you'll be able to track your exact usage.

    If for some reason, let's say you are coming from the UK and your carrier has some kind of partnership or lower roaming fees with a certain provider on the mainland, turn off the automatic feature setting when searching for a Carrier, under your iphone Settings Menu.  That way, if there are multiple carriers operating in an area, you can choose which one you want to connect to.

    Make sure you have the Free Wi-fi finder app on your iphone and also have the offline database already uploaded on your iphone ahead of time, so you can check it out offline.  It doesn't list all the free wi-fi hotspots in Europe but many of them are there.  More keep getting added from folks like me who discover free wi-fi in our travels.  Also know that many coffee shops, parks in Paris, hotel lobbies and other public places have free wi-fi.  I don't know if it's standard Europe-wide but every McDonald's I've been in has free wi-fi.  Don't discount hospitals and other public buildings either.  I even went to a comedy show in Amsterdam, Boom Chicago...granted, the free wi-fi was for us to use Facebook and Twitter as we were waiting for the show to start...and during the show to make fun of some guy's Facebook page they had singled out of the audience, but hey, I could still check my stuff while I was in there!  I've even found free wi-fi in some stores, especially bookstores.

    Most of the US bases or posts, even the NATO bases have wi-fi hotspots. All over Germany, in a pinch, I've paid the $5 for access at the onpost foodcourts, which is good for one week typically at that price (credit card needed).  Many of the USOs will have free wi-fi.  Be sure you note which communities have them (not all do unfortunately).  Here in SHAPE, Belgium you'll find free wi-fi at the SHAPE Library, the Rendezvous Cafe next to the GB Shopping Center and also at the SHAPE Club.  Be sure to also look online at locations you'll be visiting and see if you can locate any that way.  As long as the wi-fi is free, you can use your iphone or itouch for free at those hotspots.  Now what if you want more options when it comes to wi-fi?

    There is an alternative out there if you strictly want to use your iphone with wi-fi...ANYWHERE in Europe..anywhere with cell phone tower access that is.  Even if your phone is still locked, you should be able to use it in wi-fi mode.  There's a little device you can rent, and if you are over here for a longer period, it will pay for itself many times over!  It's called Tep Pocket Wifi and provides wireless internet wherever you go.   They can even deliver it to your hotel or wherever you'll be on the mainland.  It works just like a wi-fi hotspot, but it's personal and fits in your pocket. Not only can you use it with your smartphone but also with your laptop and tablet PC.  Up to five devices can share the hotspot and you get reliable 3G coverage where available.  Who said Europe was backwards when it comes to technology?  Hey, we've got the high speed Germans who like to be at or near the forefront, so you know we are going to have good options.

    Be sure to download the app TextPlus.  This app will give you a free stateside phone number where you will be able to send and receive FREE text messages.  With the free version, you can send up to 20 free texts a day.  If you want to send more or would like to do group texts (oh that sounds dirty doesn't it?) where you can send one text out to multiple people, then upgrade for around a dollar or so to the Silver or Gold version.  Please remember that many of the apps I'm mentioning are available in the android market too!

    When I first bought my iphone, second-hand mind you...I used it for an entire week just via wi-fi while I waited for my SIM card to arrive.  One great thing about being around soldiers...a lot of soldiers have been looking to upgrade to the iphone 4, so want to get rid of their 3s...I can see the same thing happening when the next version comes, if you are near a barracks or some soldiers, get the word out that you have QUICK CASH for their used iphones!

    Now, if you are coming over here for a longer time period and would like to use the cell phone part of your iphone or handy as it's called over here, you're going to need it to be unlocked.  If you are under contract in the US with a carrier there, they are obligated by law to unlock your phone at the two year mark.  It's funny, but most cell phones over here, to include the iphone are sold UNLOCKED.  We don't have all these issues of AT&T and other carriers hogging all the prime cell phones and iphones.  We are also a few years ahead of the US in general with cell phone technology.  Why that is, I just don't know.  Maybe one of you can explain it to me, cause I'd sure like to's been that way ever since I can remember...the newest models always come to Europe first...then the US...hmmmmm.

    Anyway, SIM cards are sold like candy over here.  You can find them at most electronic stores, bookstores and even convenience stores.  Many of us over here don't have cell phone plans but buy minutes as we need them.  Cell phone plans tend to be a lot more expensive over here and are hard to get out of.  The average European will have whatever cell phone, which they bought unlocked and then buy the SIM card w/minutes separately.  I have SIM cards for every European country I typically travel to (along with their in country cell phone numbers).  Again, you can only exercise this option if your cell phone is UNLOCKED!

    I've noticed in Germany, not all carriers reach all towns for some reason, so I always recommend people check their new area as well as what carrier their spouse might have for their military issued cell phone.  Many military units have iphones and blackberries they give to their key leaders.  If you use your own personal cell phone, most folks will then add minutes online through their carrier or buy the little tickets at the checkout.  These tickets will give them a code on their store receipt, which they then punch into their cell phone to reflect the new purchased amount.  You have a whole year to use up those purchased minutes.  These minutes cover voice and text messaging.  Many will even let you upload minutes thru Paypal or your local bank account too.

    Now for those who want a bit more, then buy a SIM card through a carrier that offers it with data....usually 2 GB limit per month.  Here in Belgium, I use Mobile Vikings.  How do you know you went over your data limit?  Just by a gentle reminder.  Like everything here in Belgium, things are slow and not taken too seriously.  The only catch with this is that voice calls are more expensive than usual.  In that case, I mostly end up text messaging and using the data portion.  It offers roaming throughout the continent, but since those fees are a bit higher (even when receiving calls which are typically free with options, not data), I end up using my supercheap prepaid regular phone for use outside of Belgium for my voice calls.  Now, I still access free wi-fi on my iphone where available and end up carrying both with me on my travels.  Or, I'll just switch out the SIM card for an in-country one....I hope that makes sense!

    If you will be in Germany at least 30 days and want a SIM card (and its respective German cell phone number) that will handle data and the use of your smartphone, check out FYVE and Smartmobil where you can get these services without a contract.  You will need a German address for these choices though and will need an UNLOCKED device.

    If you have extra money to throw away and the thought of purchasing a SIM card in a foreign country scares you....or maybe you are one of those people who likes to travel but have everything set in place before you go, then go with Smart Free to purchase a European SIM card.  It's expensive, I'm not going to lie...more than I would pay, but again, it gives peace of mind BEFORE you leave.  That's why I am mentioning it here!  I've also known a few business people who were happy with Telestial.

    One more thing...there is one more option for you if you like to fly by the seat of your pants...okay, so the other end of the spectrum then!  As long as you are tech savvy or know someone who is, then this is for you!  I've found yet again, that there are many soldiers out there who have mastered the art of jailbreaking iphones, and just getting the word out that you have one that you want jailbroken, can really free up your choices in Europe if your phone is NOT unlocked.  To indulge in all these goodies, your iphone has to be both UNLOCKED and JAILBROKEN.  Read this article here for the how-to on using your iphone in Europe after the jailbreaking process.

    So now what?  Well, there are a whole lot of apps that can be a huge help in your travels throughout Europe.  But, since I'm done for today, I will end here and blog more about those choices later!

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    Thursday, July 7, 2011

    Gifting a Word Collage

    Here's a great idea from Tiffany...something that I've never thought of.  Read on...

    Recently, my husband celebrated a (rather) milestone birthday and I wanted to commemorate with family and friends - but with everyone around the world, I was stuck.

    Then I stumbled upon word collages - what a great gift for a writer to give her husband. And a great way to incorporate love from everyone. I had family and friends send me a word (the total equaled his number of years) to describe him or their relationship with him. He was touched.

    Word collages are great for our military spouse life because they are inexpensive, special and unique. Imagine you have a retirement to attend. What do you give the retiree, or the spouse, to commemorate such service - and not spend an arm and a leg? Or spouse club going away parties? Or little morale gifts?

    Here are my tips for word collages in the military life:
    - Incorporate jargon. You know those silly acronyms and words that somehow become part of our vocabulary. Word collages are a great place to celebrate the weird language we have learned - and the intricacies of a field or specialty.
    - Don't forget to include some of the jokes, quotes, rules and overused phrases among the guys or girls in your community. I would avoid anything too offensive, but those slightly off-color jokes can bring back lots of memories.
    - If you are commemorating a whole career, make sure you think back to the early days. Were there special schools or trainings? Deployments? Include words from all his or experiences. (You might need a spouse to help with this one!)
    - Include a list of duty stations, zip codes or bases in the collage. (My friend made one of all the street names of their former addresses. Too cute.)
    - The best word collages have a whole mix of words. Use names of tools, uniforms or equipment. Use verbs regarding tactics or missions. Use commands and lyrics. Use places and addresses. Use adjectives or adverbs to describe certain experiences.

    If you want more tips, come on over to my website.  I have lots of ideas!

    Have you ever created a word collage? How was it received?

    Thanks Tiffanie for the neat idea!

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