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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): September 2008

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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Overseas Spouses - FREE College for You

I've been amiss at posting the last few days. I have actually started working....yes, at a real job and a real desk...and after 12 years of not having a paid, regular job too. I'll be blogging sometime in the future about the experience and unfortunately, won't have much time to blog on the issues that I find important...gosh darn it. So please forgive me if there are gaping holes in my blog in the next few years! I wanted to tell you about a program, just for overseas spouses, that pays for your undergraduate education. I have a few ladies in my units that already took advantage. One only has six more class to go in her undergraduate degree. Here's how to take advantage of this great program.

Apparently, Army Emergency Relief (AER) has such a huge surplus of funds...imagine that...that they decided to pay for Army spouses overseas to go to school and earn their degrees. Now it's only for undergraduate studies, so no Master's Degree for me or you, but please do check it out! There's no saying how long the program will continue, so don't dilly-dally!

Overseas Spouse Education Assistance Program (OSEAP)

If any of my readers have experience with this program, please post below. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ask VMW: My Husband Has Shut Me Out!

I received this heart-wrenching email the other day. I post it not to be voyeuristic, but as informational, in that this could very well happen to any spouse you know. If you don't know the resources to help yourself, you could potentially flounder in helplessness and self-doubt. Here's how to get help.

Here's the post:

It seems my son quickly married, and then was deployed to Afghanistan. He got the pay increase and then returned to his duty station in Europe. He has been telling his new wife that he would send for her where she could join him there. In the meanwhile though, she has access to his bank account which he always completely empties. He has not given her any money. Initially when he first returned he gave her some money, but now not any. Then he kept telling her just two more weeks. He told her to sell her car and quit her job because she was coming. She did this and now she is left jobless and carless, and he won't give her any money. She is living with relatives at the moment. This has been going on since July? She is 19 years old. What can she do?

It seems that there are certainly a lot of things going on here....much of it not good. Their marriage definitely needs some help that I am totally not qualified to give, BUT she does have some pressing issues that need to be addressed...and immediately. As the legal wife of a servicemember, she does have some rights and privileges. I would start looking for help at the lowest level, her husband's commander and then work her way up if she does not get any resolution or movement in the right direction.

  • Contact her husband's company commander (the Captain usually) first by phone and also in writing. Explain exactly what is going on and see what he says. Then, if you get no response or attention, try his battalion commander(typically a Lieutenant Colonel). Give the commander a chance to fix what is wrong. Many don't know much about their soldier's private lives at all. If you strike out again....
  • Notify your Congressman and do what's called a Congressional Inquiry. This thing is high powered and obviously if a Congressman gets involved, you can bet some heads are going to roll! When I was a commander, you had to respond to a Congressional within a certain timeframe...think it was something like 48 hours...and you'd better have a good answer why things are the way they are. I've seen many things resolved very quickly this way. I've also seen totally frivolous things as well that had nothing to do with the soldier. Use your best judgment here obviously. Even though you may be adverse to the contents of this site I'm going to send you to, it does have some good information on how to contact your congressman to file a complaint.
There are also a variety of places on the internet to read about your entitlements and benefits as a spouse. A good place that has all the links and sites in one spot is Military

Does anyone else have any advice for this young lady besides to stay positive and that this too shall pass?

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Bag Craze

If you've spent any amount of time in Germany, you know the bag craze. There is a bag, purse, box or container for everything. You see them everyday...the little old ladies walking down the streets with bags on wheels, bigger than themselves, dragging their daily purchases behind them. Germany is basically a society with very little wasteful plastic bags and a place where people shop almost daily for their groceries. My God, if you want a bag in a store, they will provide them...but you'll have to pay extra for it. We could learn something here. I know in the States, some of the bigger chains, such as Walmart, are jumping on the bandwagon and are providing these cloth recylable bags. Even the commissary and PX have gotten into the game. But what if you think these bags are ugly? What if you don't want to carry a traditional wicker basket, such as many of the Germans do. Do something different and be the first on your block (unless you are already in Germany and have seen these)....

When I first came to Germany, I noticed these canvas high-tech looking colorful baskets that collapsed when not in use. You could store one under the seat of your car or in your trunk, laid flat and then pop it up when you needed it. They look very fashionable, come in a variety of colors and can even be purchased with a lid, so not everyone can peek inside to see what you bought. I started seeing more and more young German women with these things and many Americans over here have taken the plunge as well.

I was at the annual Ramstein Air Base Bazaar over the weekend. They had about 140 vendors with all kinds of pottery (yes, I saw two booths of Polish pottery), linens, leather bags, shoes, rugs, antique and new furniture....all the things you expect to see at a bazaar. I also saw a small display of these collapsible bags and finally figured out that only one company makes these, Reisenthel. They were priced at $49.95. Gee, that's a lot for a shopping bag...but it is very sturdy...and does collapse in such a neat way...I DO want one. But I held off. I was proud of myself. I had planned to check German eBay and online. Much to my surprise, they were selling like hotcakes on German eBay...wait, surprise is the wrong word....disappointed and crestfallen is more like it. I looked around online some was the same price at many online German stores when I included the postage. I was beginning to feel sorry I didn't buy one to begin with, until I found ReusableBags. What a neat site, not only did they have these Carryall Bags I was interested in, but also lots of other neat things. I ended up buying the wrap and mat sandwich thing, cause I always did hate wasting all those plastic sandwich bags for the kids lunches and mine. I used my advice here and also got 20% off with the coupon code. That brought my new shopping bag to just under $32. Isn't it much more fun to get something at a good price than to pay top dollar for it?

Does anyone else use these market bags? Are you happy with it? Do you use recycleable shopping bags? How do you feel about plastic bags? To be honest, the only reason I even take some home from the comissary and PX is because they do make great dog poopy bags..but that's another story for another day.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Why Bother to Volunteer?

I brought up this topic yesterday. I realized in the last 12 years, my waking hours were many times volunteer hours. I volunteer with everything from my husband's unit Family Readiness Group (FRG) to the kids' school to church, Scouts and the community. People always know to call me when something needs to get done....and all without earning a red cent! Does that bother me? Why do I do it? I'll attempt to explain my reasoning.

Growing up, I had visions of my mom in a Red Cross uniform, volunteering her time. She didn't have an official job that paid her money while she was an Army wife and mom. She thought it was more important to focus on us, the children and raising us the way she wanted us raised. I honestly believe that no daycare provider can substitute that. She did these volunteer things because they kept her busy when she wasn't dealing with us, plus it gave her the flexibility to do what and when she wanted. She enjoyed being around people and learning new things and volunteering made her feel good. I find I am volunteering for some of the exact same reasons.

I volunteer because:

  • I can choose when and how much. If I decide to take a shopping trip to the outlet malls one day, I go ahead and do that. Volunteering does not have the same commitment level as a job. I can also say no if I absolutely don't want to do something.
  • I can try new things without being pressured to perform. I've learned how to work a printing press, camped in beautiful locations, met powerful people and celebrities, worked other expensive equipment, driven antique vehicles, farmed, led meetings, given speeches, worn silly outfits, been on TV and radio and in the process, I've gotten lots and lots of free goodies..... all without the pressure of having to do it. I never would've done these things on my own!
  • It's fun and keeps me busy, and I am helping getting things done. This is the most important reason I volunteer. I've met some of my best friends through volunteering! It feels good to be doing something and helping others. I think that's just human nature coming through. As an added bonus, when my husband deploys, I am so busy, I don't have time to wallow in my pity and think about him not being there.
  • The awards, ceremonies, luncheons and dinners. This is also not why I volunteer, but just an added bonus, like the Tootsie roll in the middle of a Tootsie Pop. It also makes you feel special to be awarded, especially in front of a large group. Where else could you ever be deemed the guest of honor? I once had the Secretary of State and his wife come up to me, shake my hand and sincerely thank me for my service. You certainly won't get this kind of recognition in your job unless you are some kind of high-powered CEO! It's also nice to get free food...gosh I am so food oriented....and again, meet new people or connect with your friends who also volunteer.
  • I can use it on my job resume. The Army makes it even easier now. If you sign up under their Volunteer Management Information System, you can find volunteer positions in your area, apply for them and then track your volunteer hours. These positions and volunteers hours can even be printed off later, on a Department of Army form, to use on your resume and in your job interviews, should you decide to apply for a money-making job. I used mine, and I think it's great the way it outlines your positions, duties and responsibilities, just like a job. I think it's great that the Army is starting to look at volunteer work as almost equal to paid work. Good for them....and for you. I'll be sure to discuss this in depth at a later date, so stay tuned.
  • Trips and tours. I can't tell you the countless free local trips and outings I've been privy to as a volunteer. We have a volunteer in our unit going to a one week paid seminar next week in Orlando Florida, all at government expense. These types of things come up often and only for volunteers a lot of the time. Another added bonus, sometimes the training costs thousands of dollars (so, typically not something you would pay for on your own) and can be something you can later put on your resume.
  • Your brain is forced to stay active. You know if you don't use your brain cells regularly, they die. It's as simple as that...don't dumb yourself down by staying at home and staring at the wall. I think that's why I have a few friends who are constantly taking online courses or local university stay sharp and smart, not just for their resume! I've learned so many new skill sets volunteering, and I honestly believe it's made me a better and more confident person...that's all good, isn't it?
I thought I'd ask here, do you volunteer? If so, why do you do it? I'm also curious. If you don't volunteer, would you like to share that as well? We are all in learning mode here and would love everyone's input:-))

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Double the Trouble for Army Working Wives

This topic does come up quite a bit when I talk to other military wives. We lament to ourselves about the job situation and all the moving around. Today, I have a guest author, Kelly Kilpatrick, who has blogged on this issue. I may not agree with all her finer points, but I thought I would put the article out there, and let you make your comments. I'll add mine below as well. With that being said, I think it's an important topic, and I do know there are organizations and individual women, who are trying to make a difference and affect some kind of changes in how things are done.

It’s not enough that their husbands have to fight wars that they may not believe in for the sake of their country; it’s not enough that they have to constantly live with the fear of that final knock on the door that signals the worst; it’s not enough that their children grow up without their fathers for most of their lives; what adds to the misery is that they’re penalized for having careers of their own. Military wives are not your run-of-the-mill women – they have the fortitude and courage to take on a life with a man they know is in a dangerous and dicey occupation and the strength and determination to make their lives and that of their children as wonderful as can be without the presence of an adult male. But then, when they’re punished for having lives of their own, it’s unfairness in the worst possible way.

  • Professionals like teachers, doctors and lawyers who move from state to state or country to country with their husbands are forced to adapt to the local laws that govern their respective professions. This means that they must sit for further exams to reinforce their qualifications even though it’s not totally necessary. New licenses are not only time-consuming and taxing, they’re also expensive because of the fees involved. If there’s even a smidgen of a chance that they may move back to the place they’re transferred from, they must pay through their noses to maintain multiple licenses in as many states.
  • Since they work full time, they face a tough task in finding suitable child care options each time they’re forced to move.
  • If they’re pursuing an education, they are forced to pay extremely high fees when they don’t move with their husbands or forced to forego credits if they do move. Not many institutions offer concessions to military wives who must move and uproot their lives to keep their families together.
  • Businesswomen are some of the worst hit – they must close shop in one place and open up again at a completely new location, often having to conform to local laws and regulations and apply for permits as well.
  • Having to move often means that military families don’t put down good money on a home of your own. While this naturally means that they don’t have the advantage of owning equity, there’s another downside – they don’t get to itemize deductions on their tax returns and so do not get back the money they spend on preparing for various licensure exams.
  • Most organizations are hesitant to employ military wives since they know they’re liable to up and leave any time.
Unless these and other issues are resolved to some degree of satisfaction, there’s always going to some form of grumbling and antimony directed at the government from military families.

This post was contributed by Kelly Kilpatrick, who writes on the subject of the best online dating service. She invites your feedback at kellykilpatrick24 at gmail dot com. Of course I'm going to add my two cents in here. We have moved about a dozen times in my husband's Army career. In that time, I have thrown myself into volunteer work at my husband's unit, in the form of the Family Readiness Group (FRG), in our community, both civilian and military, as well as my childrens' schools. I was happy with that throughout the years.

Now that our kids are somewhat self-sufficient at 9 and 11, I am venturing back out into the working world. I decided to start out part time, because I am still involved very heavily in volunteering and do enjoy that. I interviewed and got a job in a field I love, travel and customer know how I like to help people:-)) I think I got the job in large part, because I have done so much with my volunteer service and not just because of my job resume before I had my babies.

Now, I have friends, who ALWAYS find a job, wherever they are stationed. They look forward to the challenges and different work environments wherever they go. They are for the most part....happy. Even here, overseas, it is fairly easy to find "just a job".

Now when we start talking careers, that's where it may get a bit sticky. Yes, I have friends who are nurses, teachers and one is a physician's assistant, another a lawyer. Every time they move, they have to shell out more cash to get their licenses and requirements taken care of in their new location. They have all spent thousands of dollars out of pocket, getting geared up to work. Not to mention finding a job, which in some military locations, can be limited, especially overseas and in small towns.

My neighbor, who is a nurse, and a very good one at that, is unable to find a job here overseas. Her only option was working on post at our health clinic, being a school nurse or doing mundane physicals for some of the civilian American companies working on post. To keep up some of her licensing requirements and training, she has opted to volunteer for the Red Cross and ended up doing the same work as some of the paid nurses at the clinic, side-by-side. How's that for your ego?

I do know there are military spouses out there trying to affect a change. Read Laura Dempsey's article The Military vs. Marriage. Laura is a lawyer and details her career frustrations as well as some of the points already brought up above.

Please weigh in and share your experiences. What do you think can be done to help military wives in their careers? Do you think these issues are affecting soldiers and their willingness to stay in the military? Let's hear it!

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Overheard and Overseen

Have you ever walked by a conversation and heard a snippet that made your brain skip a few beats? Or that gave you a good laugh. How about finding a piece of paper blowing around. I know I recently found a little piece of notepaper stuck to my car was a windy day, and it was just plastered there. You know, I couldn't just crumple it up without looking at what it said. It was just a note that someone had put on someone's car to call them...nothing earth shattering. What is it about the human condition that we are so nosy. I'm just going to admit it right here. I honestly can't help myself sometimes. If you tend to overhear conversations in passing or look at little notes that cross your path, you're going to enjoy the time wasters below!

Overheard in New York - Now I haven't been to New York since I was a very little girl, so I have no memory of what it must be like. I envision this metropolitan place, where you can get just about anything, and be confronted with a sea of humanity from all over the world. This blog absolutely cracks me up...some of it can be raunchy, but some of it is downright funny.

Post Secret - This blog is actually quite depressing, so I don't visit it too often. The gist is that people send postcards to this blogger with their deepest...and sometimes, darkest...thoughts and confessions. It just makes me feel sorry for people mostly, although you can find some lighter fare too. This guy has also made a ton of money putting these postcards into books.

Found: The Best, Lost, Tossed & Forgotten - This is a book, although I think it stemmed from a magazine. These guys just started collecting notes that were cast off, whether on purpose or not. lists, love notes, notes on people's doors or cars and that kind of thing. Some are truly bizarre. I remember one note that had a typical laundry list of things to do, and oh BTW, one of the things on the list was also to kill someone...huh? There is amazingly enough a second book too.

Do you know of any other books or websites that follow along with this theme?

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

German Toilets and the Display Shelf

Did you know American toilets use anywhere from two to three gallons of water for each flush? Do you know how much a gallon is? Do you realize that is a few bathtubs full at the end of the week depending on how many are in your family! That's nuts! No wonder Americans are known as the resource wasters of the world...and rightly so. Now here in Germany, you gotta love the ingenious way they are designed to save water. I am equally impressed with the industrial strength vacuum that accompanies every flush. But the one thing I am having the hardest time dealing with and teaching our children, is the added work of the display shelf.

There just is no other way to describe it. Almost every German toilet has a bend in the porcelain, where "things" can get "caught up", leaving a little bit behind if you know what I mean. And it's right there for all the world who uses your toilet to see. If my little ones could only throw down a perfectly square piece of kleenex, the toilet would at least look clean, after every time they have to do their duty.

But my older one insists that a "pre-flush" will do the trick. Well, why don't you do it then? He is all talk. I could just see him and his friends discussing German bathroom issues on the playground at school. Anyway, I have decided that THEY will clean their own toilet the next time. Maybe then they'll be more inclined to be a little neater. Are girls any neater with this kind of thing?

For those of you in Germany, what other quirky things have you seen?


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Food Court Addiction

I can't believe it. That makes two days in a row. I am using today as an excuse, because I just picked up my MIL at the airport. Why the food court? Because our food court in Germany has a German Sehne Bakery!

Because my waistline and my self-imposed allowance won't allow it, I try to only go once a week. When we first arrived and paid $7 for a burger value meal or $6 for a slice of pizza and a soda, we vowed never to complain again about the relatively low prices in the States for eating out fast food. The German bakery is an oasis in the food court of greasy burgers, pizza and generally heart attack worthy foods...a place where you can have a yummy homemade and wholesome sandwich for only a few dollars, paid in Euros. Of course, the eye and palate pleasing pastries are nothing to turn your nose up at either. I also now keep sodas and Capri-Suns in the car, so we never have to throw money away on drinks wherever we go. This is where restaurants and fast food places make their biggest profit...drinks. The Germans don't serve drinks with ice anyway, so what are you paying for other than the smile they are giving you as they hand you that drink? Most times, they are lukewarm anyway. My MIL already asked if we are going back tomorrow. I mumbled a response then told her she'd better take a quick nap now, while I think of an excuse not to go.

Do you spend too much time at your food court? Especially overseas? What do you gals do in the States for food as you are toodling around town?


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Loaner Furniture For General Officers Only

I just had to share this. A friend of mine's husband has been commuting long distances to work lately. They got orders for his new position here, but there has been a wait for housing. Imagine that. So, she's been bringing him the two hours up here, dropping him off, getting errands done and then going back home to her idyllic life on Lake Constance. This is repeated every week he is not TDY, ie out of town on business. Well, it is finally getting close to the time they are supposed to move, so she thought she would make some arrangements. Luckily for them, there will be housing available for a door-to-door move, and right across the street from me! Right now, there is an unaccompanied General Officer living in their quarters. He would've gotten a nice house when he first arrived, that they reserve for generals only, but since he was here without his family, he thought it wouldn't be right for him to take up a whole he is in stairwell living with the rest of us drones. My friend left most of their belongings in the States, so she has to rely on government loaner furniture mostly. So here's the kicker.

She made arrangements with the housing office's furnishings department, to coordinate this loaner furniture. She was able to find out what was already in the apartment.....obviously the man had everything loaned to him, as he traveled light all by himself. The furnishings lady kept saying, you'd have to make an appointment to first pick up the furniture, and then have the furniture you want delivered. But...she said....isn't that a waste of time and the government's money? Can't I just keep the things I want? No, this is not how we do things here. Okay then, how about you leave the bed, the coffee table and the dining room table and chairs. The furnishings lady replied that oh no...we absolutely can't do see....the dining room table is for general officers only. Well, I'll be..... Now I have it in my mind to peek in his window, just to see what that stuff looks like and how different it is from my loaner dining room table. But I think I'll hold off...I don't want to get arrested for being a peeping Tom. I can just see the arrest report on my husband's desk tomorrow morning!


Monday, September 15, 2008

That Different Kind of Thank -You Card

I just read a great blog article on being creative on writing thank you cards. For those of you who know me, you know that I am pretty much fanatical on how important the writing of thank-you cards can be. Our eldest just had a birthday, and as every year, he racks his brain trying to think of a way to thank those who thought of him that year. We always live far away from family, so that means any greetings always have to travel through the mail. The boy knows, without question, that he must acknowledge those gifts, so might as well make it fun. He's been dragging his feet this year, til I gave him this idea.

How about using one of those Word Search Puzzle Makers? Use their little form and come up with all the words you can think of concerning your gifts and the people who sent them. He even got creative and threw in some German words...par for the course being over here I would say. At the top he wrote "Thank you for all the birthday gifts" and "these are my thoughts as I think of my gifts!", then the word search...and he chose to have the words printed at the bottom. You can also have them printed separately...perhaps put them inside the card and put the puzzle on the cover. The whole image printed off 8-1/2" x 11" size. We then shrunk it and pasted it to the front of a half-fold blank greeting card. Now all he has to do is sign the inside, address the envelopes, and mom will mail them off for him tomorrow:-))

Now that your creative brain is working, do you have any other thank you card ideas to share?


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Looking Yet Again for that Unique Gift

Here I am again...same day, different year...for the last....let's see...5 years. My dad got remarried and his beautiful young wife likes things that are unusual and pretty. She is also a professional photographer, so has an eye for things that are different and unique. So once again, here I am on my quest to find something I think she would like.

I contemplated sending her flowers....but since I don't like flowers myself...don't get me's not the flowers themselves I don't like, but the watching them die, and at what cost and also the clean up of the vase and moldy petals....I decided not to go that route this year. So I then started googling "unique gifts", even "stepmom gifts" and whatever phrases I could think of. I just couldn't come up with anything.

Then I stumbled upon a site called Etsy. It's the place toted as "your place to buy and sell all things handmade"...hmmmm...intruiging it was. It reminded me of eBay but without the auction part. Not only are there jewelry categories, but everything from baked goods to baskets to pet products, gadgets, paper goods and even seasonal items. There were all kinds of sellers on there, selling all kinds of unique things. Some of the things were obviously trash...sorry...I am not an artist, and I can put together some of that stuff, but hey, beauty in art is in the eye of the beholder...but other stuff, makes you, that is something very different! I ended up buying her a necklace with the image of a vintage Hasselblad camera. For those of you who don't know....Hasselblad is THE ueber camera manufaturer to have and to hold...a very high end many thousand dollar camera they make. My stepmom happened to get one for Christmas a few years ago. I didn't even know of the name before then, and I thought it would be neat to have a necklace as such. I'll let you know how it goes.

Be sure to check out the site when you get a chance. If you know of any other unique shopping websites out there, please do share them!


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Things to Buy BEFORE Moving/PCSing Overseas

It goes against the grain. When moving overseas, you should be getting rid of things, not buying more stuff! Well, I wish I had bought more stuff. I realized this the first day I walked into our PX and was faced with empty shelves, or the store clerk saying, "We don't carry that". I even tried a few German stores, but either the price chased me out the door, or they just didn't have it either. So now what? What gets to me the most right now, is our stupid cat, tracking litter and filth up and down the hallway. We are on our second litterbox....and have again struck out. Only a top entry litterbox will do for him apparently and much to my dismay, every store that sells these Clevercat litterboxes in the States does not ship to the APO because of its large size. I thought about trying the service, but the litterbox is already oversize and items shipped through them must still follow the USPS guidelines. But, this is only an example of one of the many things I wish I had brought over. Here are some more.

  • Our bed. Not the mattresses but the actual bedframe. We got rid of our rickety one right before we moved and thought we would look for one here. One, the German beds are a different size. Two, our selection at our PX furniture store is VERY limited and VERY pricey for beds.
  • Little replacement doodads, clips and hardware. Yes, the PX has the basic supply of nails, screws and such. I've even had success at the German hardware store with some things. But try finding those special clips for my sideboard and entertainment center over here.
  • Sheets, comforters and blankets. If your old ones are raggedy, then plan to buy these on sale before you move. Again, the PX is overpriced with such things and rarely do they go on sale, and I just hate paying all those shipping costs when I don't need to. I won't even begin to go into the poor selection of choices either.
  • Any special pet products you may need. Here they are either not available at the PX or too expensive on the German economy. If your pet takes a prescription, try to get as much of it filled before you come. The onpost vet has very limited space, and you can forget it if your pet has an emergency. Ours books appointments two months out and first come first served. If you need to go to a German vet, you will pay through the nose. Yet another thing to budget for if you are bringing a pet overseas.
  • Your favorite 110v appliance. The PX has a limited supply, and depending on the size and weight of your item, should you buy it while over here, it may be too cost prohibitive to ship or be over the USPS requirements for size and/or weight.
I'd say half of our neighbors traveled over here like minimalists. Most of their things are in storage. Many of them wish most of their things were not in storage. I got rid of all our kids' old bedroom furniture, and thought we would have a shopping spree at IKEA...but up til now, I've only had to buy them a workstation-desktype contraption. The furniture you can borrow from the government, at least where I am, is newer, lighter wood and IKEA-like, so it fit in perfectly with their decor. The only old piece of 1950s dark-wood furniture we have is our loaner coffee table, and it seems to fit in just fine with our antiques. For those living off-post, the biggest furniture hurdle seems to be no closet space. German closets are not built in with the house....neither is the kitchen...but that is another story for another day.

Anyway, those are the hightlights anyway...if I had to do things differently, that's my list. You learn from your experiences...and every one else's if you can.

What do you wish you had brought with you?

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Should We Live On or Off Post?

Before every move, this is something that I ponder. You probably do too. Should we live off post this time? Are we allowed to? Do we have to live on post, as there is plenty of housing or maybe my spouse's job requires it? What are we going to do this time around? I seem to agonize over it more than most. So how do we eventually decide? We use these pros and cons and actually make a list of the positive and the negative and then pick from there. It's worked like a charm every time, and we've never regretted the decision either way.

Let's look at some of the things to think about when living on-post:

  • First of all, is it available? Is there even housing for you WHEN you move and not months later. You may be just fine waiting months (and even a year) for a home to become available on post....and then again, you may not. I'm the kind of person, once we move...that's it, we're not moving again til we vacate the area.
  • Shorter commute. I used to have visions of my husband coming home for lunch and casually getting up in the morning. What we got instead was long hours at the office, cause hey, he's the guy who lives closest...let the guys who live far away go home first...and guess who they call when there is an emergency and need someone immediately?
  • More secure and gated. Since almost all military installations are gated and have security, you at least feel safe. That's not to say you won't have hoodlums running around getting into things, but I still think it's safer than your average neighborhood off post.
  • Save wear and tear on your car and be closer to tax-free shopping. You'll find you're not filling up your gas tank every week, and you're more inclined to shop at the PX and commissary. I know, I know, the PX doesn't have the greatest prices, but they do price match and it IS tax free.
  • You tend to get more involved in on-post activities. I was a member of half of the clubs on post, and my kids participated in all kinds of free and great programs. When we lived off-post, we tended to do our own thing in the area we lived in.
  • You don't pay rent, unless it is privatized housing. Then you'll get a BAH and utility allowance to cover your rent. It personally took me about two years to stop leaving the lights on in every room after we got married. As a military brat we were always in on-post housing, and we tended to not be as careful as we should with energy conservation.
  • Kids can interact with others in similar situations. The kids at school and on the playground can relate to your kid and his daddy being gone all the time. We've been in civilian schools and not only do the kids not have a clue but neither do the teachers. We had some rough waters before we had smooth sailing a few times.
  • Living on post, you can't always pick what you want. They're going to show you a home where others of your husband's rank lives...that can be good or bad...and you'll be limited to the number of bedrooms you're offered, again depending on rank. Most military housing is also smaller and rarely has garage space for even two vehicles. Many posts give you just three chances to refuse a place and then you are placed back at the bottom of the housing waiting list and must wait your turn again. I've been shown some dumps in my lifetime, believe me.
  • You may be living close to people who do not share your values and noise exceptance levels. I've had neighbors let their toddlers run free with no supervision and also loud partying neighbors where we rarely got some sound sleep. You just never know what you are going to get.
  • You'll have to maintain certain levels of cleanliness and tidiness. You'll need to get permission to paint and make "improvements". Someone might even tell you what you can and can't plant in your yard as well as what can be in your yard or driveway, if you even have one. If you're not a tidy person, you may have some problems with the rules. Heck, I am tidy, and I even had a problem with a few of the rules.
  • Everyone will know your business no matter how careful you are. Ahhh, stairwell living. I can tell you how many times a week our neighbors do the deed, flush the toilet, use the toilet, yell at each know, that kind of thing. Even if you are living in duplexes (the Army has a lot of those) or multiplexes (and even more of those), you tend to hear AND see more than you would like of your neighbors.
Now what about living off-post? Think about this:

  • If you are lucky enough to have your rent and utilities LESS than what the military gives you for BAH, you can pocket the difference. Alternatively, if it's the other way around, you'll have to come up with the shortfall. Here is Germany, I know a few folks who were making money, only to see oil heating costs shoot through the roof, literally, and now they are paying out of pocket and their BAH does not cover their expenses.
  • You obviously have more choices of what kind of home you will live in. You have the opportunity for a bigger or nicer yard, more square footage, more bedrooms and any of the other things on your wish list.
  • It's easier to separate your family life from your job. You can "turn it off" more than someone living on-post.
  • You get to interact with others more who are outside the military. Some of our best duty stations were those where we lived off post. We have some great civilian friends who we still keep in touch with today.
  • You get to decide whether you want to rent or buy. Let me caution you, that if you are looking at buying, you'd better make sure you have enough time to build up enough equity in the house, so you won't lose money when you have to sell. With today's housing market, this is easier said than done. If you rent, make sure your lease has a military clause, should your spouse get orders and have to move. This'll get you out of the lease early. If your post has a housing office, go through them before you sign anything.
And now that you've looked at some of the pros and cons, here are a few other tidbits to consider:

  • Absolutely look at the credentials and scores of the school and school district of the home you are considering. If you have kids, you want to have them in the best possible school district. Be sure to look at bus rides and how long it'll take them to get to school in the morning and back home. If you are buying and don't have kids, you'd still better look at school districts, because it'll increase the resale value of your home. When we lived in Colorado Springs, our neighborhood's homes routinely went for $50-75k more than the one right next to us. Why? Because the other school district next door was that bad.
  • Visit the neighborhood your home is in at different times of the day. It may be peaceful now, but watch out later. You also want to drive there during rush hour or end of day commute. Get a better feel of what it would be like to live there. Also, take a walk through the neighborhood! I am amazed at what I see and hear. You'll never catch that stuff...both good and bad, driving through.
  • If you're looking on-post, has the housing been renovated, how thin are the walls? Take another walk and look around and talk to people hanging outside. People tend to be very honest when you ask them how they like it there.
My favorite sites in researching places to live are listed below:

  • Zillow. This is a good all around site to see what houses are valued at (not always accurate depending on what data they use for that county), but it also shows you what's for sale and the best the maps and bird's eye view. Look to see what the area looks like from above and see that water treatment plant or railroad track not to far from where you are looking.
  • OneStop Army Mil. This site supposedly lists all the on-post housing. I say supposedly, because sometimes you don't get a full representation of what is available. For example, here in Stuttgart, there are houses and apartments anywhere from under 1000 sq ft to just over 2500 sq ft. You don't see them all listed on the site. But, you do get a general idea and sometimes even photos of the inside and outside of the homes. It's worth a visit.
Do you have any tips to share on housing and how you choose?

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Hard-Wired to be Negative - Go Against Human Nature

When I woke up this morning, this quote was just sitting there, in my head, something along the lines of most of the stuff we worry about never happens. I think it's a quote from Mark Twain. Isn't it true though? So I just did some research. We have about 60,000 thoughts a day, which comes out to one thought about every second while we are awake. Of those 60,000 thoughts, close to 95% are the same thoughts we had....yesterday...and the day before....and even before that! And guess what? Most of them are negative! Is our brain wired to automatically think negative thoughts? Is this something that maybe helped our ancestors survive? What about now? Let's look into it then.

Think about some of the things you think about during the day. I know as a mom, I consider myself a worry wart. I am always wondering "what if" and worry about my kids' well being. It's as if I can't control it. Instead of thinking about all the wonderful things they must be doing today, I am thinking about all the things they are doing to get in trouble or things that may hurt them!

What about all those times you interact with other people? Strangers, friends and family. Rack your brain right now and think about some of the things that were said...the negative thoughts pop right out don't they? Did someone criticize your work or something you were wearing or something that you did? I bet someone did give you a complement somewhere in there....again on something you did or something you were wearing....but you just don't remember it, do you? Or it doesn't immediately come to mind.

Do you know it is possible not to dwell on the negative? Do you know dwelling on the negative could have adverse effects on your health? Negativity could get bad enough to cause you to sink into depression or can even give you anxiety issues that would preclude you from behaving somewhat normally. Who wants another medical condition they have to treat or take care of? I know I don't.

So, I've vowed....from today catch those negative thoughts AS I think of them. I will realize it is a negative thought...and immediately see if there is another way of looking at it. For example, instead of worrying about my husband on his next deployment....I've worried myself sick in the past, and that is not an understatement.....I am going to be thinking about some of the POSITIVE things that he is doing while he is there. I am going to talk to my husband ahead of time, and get a feel for what he will be accomplishing there within the realm of not revealing classified or sensitive data. Your husband can tell you, basically anyway, what he will be doing. When those negative thoughts then enter your brain, you can flip the switch and start thinking of those children who will be safe on their way to school now, or the new programs and ideas your husband is bringing with him....move the thinking in another direction.

Granted, we will continue to have negative thoughts....but at least now, if you are aware of them, you can realize what you are doing. Awareness is the key here. After you complete this exercise for a few days, you will realize you are a happier and healthier person. It just seems to work out that way.

You might want to check out these resources too:

20 Simple Tips to Overcome Negative Thoughts

Stop Negative Thoughts

How to Squash Negative Thought Patterns

Do you have anything to add?


Friday, September 5, 2008

Honest-to-God-Minimal-Fuss Crusty French Bread..and I'm NOT a Baker!

I used to love baking things in my breadmachine, and the kids love eating homemade bread, especially when I get up the gumption to make French Toast, but alas...I am not a REAL baker and only a neophyte who cheats with a breadmachine. You know the kind of real baker I mean. The one who can take some flour, water, yeast and maybe a pinch of salt, no recipe and make a nice crusty loaf of French bread that can be slathered with a good helping of butter and devoured almost whole in one sitting. That just tastes divine.

Believe it or not, we don't have a bakery directly close by. I had visions of walking to the local German bakery every morning. It ain't happenin' here...too far of a walk. Breakfast would be long over by the time I got back. So, I racked my brain thinking of what else I could do. Our commissary has a poor selection of breads. You'd be lucky to get an old bag of Wonder white bread over, all the loaves are half the size they are in the States. I haven't quite figured out why that is they way it is.

Here we were in our new apartment, with only our ACS loaner kitchen stuff and not much else. The oven did come with these wonderfully large cookie sheets. Why I can't find cookie sheets like this in the States? I don't know, but here they are. Perfect...let's make some French bread. So I trolled around online, looking for a good French bread from scratch recipe and found one here.

Here it is again...

Crusty French Bread

2 loaves (change servings and units)



  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water (110 degrees) and sugar in large bowl; allow yeast to proof or foam (about 10 minutes).

  2. Add salt, oil, and 3 cups flour; beat for 2 minutes.

  3. Stir in 2 cups flour to make a stiff dough.

  4. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.

  5. Place in oiled bowl, turn dough to coat all sides, cover and let rise until doubled.

  6. Punch down and divide in half.

  7. Shape dough into two long slender loaves.

  8. Grease and sprinkle with cornmeal either a french bread pan or large cookie sheet.

  9. Place loaves in pan and cut diagonal gashes on top of each loaf (I use scissors).

  10. Cover and let rise until doubled.

  11. Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes.

  12. Note: You can sprinkle or spray water on the loaves during baking if you want a really crunchy crust.
My only change to this recipe, getting an extra helping of flour on the work surface as I formed each loaf. You want to have some visible flour on the outside of the loaf. It just makes it look more artisan. looked easy enough. I understood every step, and I didn't need a lot of implements or ingredients. I also had a friend....a long time ago, who was a baker, who would never show me anything much to my dismay...I wanted to learn so badly, but we just never got around to it...but I DID remember something I saw her do once. After you heat up the oven and put the risen loaves in there, splash a quarter cup of water into the bottom of the oven and quickly close the door. Now, I've only tried this with an electric stove, but it creates a nice steam effect which is essential for crisp, crusty and chewy French bread. Then, halfway through baking time, do it again. I ended up with two honest-to-God French bread loaves...and the kicker, is that I've been able to repeat it again and again! We had wonderful submarine sandwiches five days in a row the first week we were in the apartment. My kids were so happy.

So the point of this story...even if you've failed trying something before, just try it again. You might surprise yourself. Also, use what you have and again surprise yourself, that yummy things can be made with minimal ingredients and fuss.

Do you have any similar stories to share?


Thursday, September 4, 2008

What are your kids doing online?

You've probably already had it drilled into your head....know what your kids are doing online. We do have software on our computer, watching over things....our kids are not savvy enough to have figured out how to bypass it just yet. I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. We do follow some other basic rules, such as having our computer in a central location, as well as letting the kids know that they are to never post their real names, location, address, phone number, school, birthdays or any other personal information online. Just like those trolling online for kids, they have mastered the "fake persona" on mom-approved sites and webpages. Even their church plugs into some faith-based message board, where kids from around the world connect. As positive a site as it is, I still don't allow them to use real information. But what else can you do to keep your kids safe?

I recently read the book, What in the World are Your Kids Doing Online by Barbara Melton and Susan Shankle. Now it's a pretty hefty book, and if you get a chance, do get it from your local library

My favorite recommendations from the book include:

  • Never say anything in email or instant message that you wouldn't say in pretty much everyone...everything you type on that computer can be tracked, either from your computer or your internet provider's servers...nothing is ever truly deleted.
  • Realize that there is such a thing as internet addiction and know that many young kids are heavily getting into internet gambling. I saw an expose a few months ago where they tracked students at some Midwest high school, and you'd think these kids were on drugs...they weren't...they were just addicted to gambling online. Not only was their school work suffering, but their physical and emotional health, not to mention all the credit cards and money they had stolen from family and friends...what a downhill spiral!
  • If you choose to allow your child to have a My Space page or any other social networking page, get added as a friend there and frequently check in. Let your child know that what they post online, including pictures that may seem harmless now, can come back to haunt them later, especially when they try to get a job. Make sure they know that ANYTHING they put online will be permanent, even if they choose to erase it later. Let them know there are servers out there that archive the web, one being, and that nothing undone is truly undone.
  • Cyber-bullying is real and can be very harmful. Keep lines of communication open with your child. Discuss what they see and do online and don't chastise them or make them feel shameful when they happen to see things online they maybe shouldn' it through.
  • What does your child do when you walk by the screen? Do they turn it off? Do they act "funny"? Are there multiple tabs on the bottom of the screen?
What tips do you have to share that you use to keep your kids safe online?


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Cheap Eats on the German Economy

I had my first rude awakening when we paid for our first German meal. We had a few schnitzels, fries, okay a couple of good German beers and walked out 80 Euro poorer. That's about $115 dollars folks. We had to find a cheaper way of eating, especially knowing we'd be in the hotel for at least a month.

We've been here for just over a month now....we still don't have our stuff, but at least we moved up in the world and just got our stairwell apartment with borrowed government furniture and a loaner trunk full of kitchen supplies from the ACS lending closet. I have perfected about five meals I can cook that only require minimal utensils, a few pots and some salt and pepper. I refuse to buy more spices with my extensive collection on the way. That's how I ended up with three containers of paprika in the first place.

But I'm jumping ahead. While in the fancy Marriot Hotel, we did have a small refrigerator, where we dutifully moved out all the overpriced minibar minis, and put in our own stash of snacks, juice and milk. The "growing-boys-always-hungry" ate a lot of cereal in those four weeks. For lunch....easy...we ate German rolls with butter, meats and cheeses and some fruit and chips. For dinner, sometimes the same and sometimes a restaurant meal.

Restaurant meals were costing us anywhere from the Euro equivalant of $80-120 for a family of four. That's a big ouch in the wallet. We were visiting the ATM more often than I would've liked....but mom, we love schnitzel and a Swaebisch specialty called Maultaschen....and even Schweinehaxen (pork knuckes)...strange fare they never would've eaten in the US! So what's a mom to do with two very growing boys....eerrr actually three including DH....who liked their meat?

After two weeks of snooping around the economy with my frugal glasses on, I finally found some cheap eats that didn't mean a trip to the on-post bowling alley to eat greasy hamburgers or chicken strips or a visit to the Popeye's at the AAFES food court, plus these choices were a lot healthier for us anyway. Granted, these eating establishments are in the Stuttgart area, but there are similar choices all throughout Germany, you just have to know where to look.

Be sure to try these options...and yes, a lot of these I found just by following where the older crowds went to's just like in the States...the retired folks know where to get the most bang for their buck or should I say Euro.

  • The local Donerkebab Stand. You see them everywhere. Ask the hotel where your nearest one is. You can get a Gyro or kebab, spit roasted meat...yes it's greasy....but they add tons of fresh veggies and tatziki sauce. Get it all with a drink for about $5.
  • Your nearest IKEA store. Yes, this is the same Swedish furniture and household store they have in the States. Go upstairs to their sit-down restaurant and get a nice cafeteria-style meal with a salad and drink (free refills) for a family of four only paying 20 to 30 Euro! You can guess we came here often.
  • The ubiquitous REAL Superstore. This is the German version of Wal-mart and this is why Wal-mart was dead in the water before they ever tried to take over Germany...yes, they tried. All REAL stores have a nice cafeteria with regional specialties, and you can get a nice schnitzel meal for about 8 Euro. Many of the other mega superstores also have cafeterias. REAL just happens to have a stronghold in our area, so we go there often.
  • The cafeteria on the second floor of Sindelfingen's BreuningerLand. I absolutely love the industrial architecture in this place! They have all the food stations laid out, where you can really see what's on the menu. They have the best salads, with ingredients you don't see in the States, plus stirfry sections where you pick out what you want grilled in the wok and get your fare freshly prepared, right in front of you. I had a huge meal that I shared with my two boys one afternoon for about 6 Euros. There are Breuningerlands throughout Germany.
  • Werner's Biergarten. This place happens to be in Sindelfingen, but many German locales have such a place. It is kind of like a greasy spoon where you order and then go get your goodies at a pick up window when your order is called, but they did have some fresh stuff, and since it was summertime, it was nice to sit out in their Biergarten (of course the beer flows freely). My Frikadelle (meatpatty) with potato salad and a drink was about 6 Euro.
  • A local Volksmarch. Read more about the favorite German pasttime of Volksmarching in every Thursday's issue of the Stars and Stripes newspaper. There you'll find out where all the Volksmarches are for that upcoming weekend. You walk a designated route (5 to 20km) at your own pace, and get a prize at the end. You can also join the IVV and collect points and kilometers (this has become a real family outing for us). The best part is the local ladies who cook up a storm of vittles that is both inexpensive and filling. You can many times enjoy this feast with a local oompah band and hobknobbing opportunities with the locals. I've paid as little as 4 Euro for a plate of homemade potato salad, two slices of pork roast with gravy and a crisp green salad.
  • The latest local Fest. The Germans have a Fest for anything and everything...better excuse to relax, kick back and have a beer than just sitting around at home. On any given week, there is at least one Fest in a 50 mile radius of where you are in Germany. Check your local USO or Thursday's Stars and Stripes again for Fests in your area. We went to the Hamburger Fischfest in downtown Stuttgart, and it was almost criminal, the plates full of fresh fish from Hamburg that we ingested for pennies on the dollar.
  • The Le Rose Restaurant on Patch Barracks. This is an old stand-by for us. The Italian food is inexpensive compared to what you would pay on the economy for something similar, plus it is very close and convenient.
  • The top floor restaurant of the chain department stores. Next time you are downtown, instead of stopping in a restaurant, go to the top floor of one of the major department stores. You'll be pleasantly surprised to find a fairly inexpensive cafeteria-style restaurant. Even if we don't eat lunch here, we like to pop in and have dessert once in awhile.
Do you have any cheap eats?