This Page

has been moved to new address

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

Sorry for inconvenience...

Redirection provided by Blogger to WordPress Migration Service
Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): October 2010

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.

My Photo
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, October 30, 2010

A Better Use for those Rubber Bracelets
I don't know about you, but I have a whole drawerful of those darn rubber  know the thing Lance Armstrong started with those "Live Strong" it seems like every cause has a different colored bracelet, each with their own message stamped on there.  My neighbor's daughter actually collected the things, and she used to rotate through her stock and wear them half up both arms!  So, before I threw mine away because seriously...when are you going to wear them all...I brainstormed what else I could do with them?  I don't like to throw away or waste I came up with this....

BEER BANDS!  Hey, why not?  They are rubber...they stretch...and they fit around different size beer bottles.  Now you can have a party, give everyone a different more mixing up more confusion as to which bottle to spit in and which to drink out get the idea.  I love it when I get a new much you wanna bet though someone has already capitalized on this and is selling them as actual beer bands.  I was tempted to look...but didn't.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ask VMW: Help, I am not on my husband's military orders...don't I get to come too?

I am catching up with some questions from readers.  Here is one that I've answered often through email, so I thought I would blog about it:

"Help, my husband just got orders to Germany and me and the kids are not on it!  I thought families could automatically go with their soldier to Germany?  We don't want to be left behind!  Please help!"

First....take a deep breath.  Not being on orders can be standard.  The first thing you need to find out is if your Army spouse is serving an accompanied tour (typically three years) or an unaccompanied tour (two years).  An accompanied tour means he is authorized to bring his family with him on the government's dime...meaning, the Army will fly them all over, and they'll get supported over there with special passports authorizing them to stay beyond the traditional tourist 90 days (a SOFA stamped passport) and of course healthcare, schools and all the other support they'd normally get, same as if the servicemember was stationed in the US.

You and your children (the dependents) will get an EFMP screening.  This is a formality where medical professionals will look at your medical records and also interview you to see if you have any special medical needs.  PLEASE do this as soon as your military member finds out his new assignment, because without this screening, he will NOT get his orders!  The military want to make sure there are facilities near the new duty station (whether military or civilian) that can care for your medical problem.  Some things that come to mind are asthma, hearing loss, special physical therapy needs and other medical issues that may require special care.  Just because you or your dependents are enrolled in EFMP does not mean you cannot come along.  Germany is a very modern country with good healthcare facilities, so chances are high this will not be an issue for your family.

The first step for your spouse is to attend the levy briefing on his current post.  This is where he will learn how to ship his household goods, cars and all the other information he will need to move.  I suggest you go with him if you can....two sets of ears are always better than one.  On some posts, it is even a requirement for spouses to go too (as much as they can require...okay, highly encouraged then).  This briefing is given by your outgoing transportation office on your post.  The personnel people on your post will actually be "typing up" your spouse's orders, depending on what his assignment instructions coming down from the Department of the Army say (such as what unit he will be going to or if he will be going to a centralized location like a Replacement Detachment and then further assigned to a gaining unit AFTER arrival in country).  Remember that there may be beaucoup duty positions for a wheeled vehicle mechanice in the rank of Private or Specialist...not so many slots for let's say a Lieutenant Colonel in the Infantry...chances are the private will be sent to the Replacement Detachment in the country you are moving to, while the LTC has a pinpoint assignment of his exact duty station and job...that's just the way it is, the higher up in rank you go.  What goes on the orders also depends on which overseas duty location your spouse will be stationed in.  Some duty stations have longer waiting lists for housing, so orders are automatically noted as "non-concurrent travel" for dependents, meaning the military spouse travels first, then the spouse and children later.  This is done to save the military money and when you think about it, it may be cheaper and less stressful for you too.

When deciding whether to travel with your spouse, take these points into account, and if they don't cause extra financial hardship or stress for you, then go for it!  Otherwise, you may be better off waiting until your military spouse is settled and has housing.

  • Many times, there is no hotel or lodging on post/base, and you'll be staying at some civilian establishment.  Typically, your sponsor will guide you into where you should make a reservation or will do it for you.  You'll get travel pay to cover food and lodging, but that does not mean you can stay at the fanciest places and eat out for every meal (don't laugh...I've seen it done).  Know what your cap is ahead of time per day versus what it will cost for hotel and estimated food for you and your'll be rank dependent.  Many overseas hotels have favorable government rates.  Read reviews on Trip Advisor and  See what other hotels are available in the area.  See how far they are from the post.  Walking distance?  Bus/metro routes?  Free breakfast or other freebies, like parking (if you get a rental car), amenities, etc.  The more they throw into the room price, the more travel money is left over for you.
  • Do you have children?  Can you get adjoining rooms, ie two rooms?  Are there bathtubs (my kids like baths)?  Many European business hotels only have showerstalls.  Will you PCS during the summer during school break?  If not, do you have a plan to get them registered into school quickly?  Which school (if there is more than one US Department of Defense school)?  Is there busing from the hotel?  Will your child be able to change schools if your eventual home is in another zone (Stuttgart has three different elementary schools, and they are all not the same quality unfortunately...just like anywhere else).  Is it easier for your children to stay where they are now, especially if family is nearby?  Can they handle the change of moving multiple times from hotels to a home when you find it with sometimes temporary housing in between? 
  • How will your pets handle being in a hotel for a longer timeframe?  Plan in being in a hotel for one to three months.  Sometimes, you can get temporary housing, which is basically apartment living, until you find a house or onpost housing is available.  You'd have temporary furniture and live there in the interim.  It all depends on what is available at the post when your husband signs in.  You'll get on the housing list as soon as he inprocesses after earlier.  Is your dog a barker?  Is he not house broken or does he not do well under stress?  Even though European countries are very pet friendly, there are going to be times you can't take him along.  Will he be okay in his crate?  Is he crate trained?  Will he bark and growl at the cleaning staff?  Make sure you let your sponsor know you have a pet and make sure your lodging accepts pets and is tolerant of possible pet problems.  The Marriott in Sindelfingen, Germany (Stuttgart area) is one of the better places in Stuttgart to go if you have pets.
  • Find out if your hotel has a microwave or a refrigerator.  Our last PCS hotel had a refrigerator that was barely cold, so no milk storage.  We also did not have a microwave, so we ate out alot, plus a lot of sandwiches.  Read my post here about being creative on a budget when it comes to mealtime.
  • As long as you don't eat out every night, most people can make some money on their travel pay.....meaning, they give out less money than the Army pays them for travel expenses.  The average cost of a good restaurant meal in Germany, per person is anywhere from 15-20 euro, which includes drinks.
  • Are you going to spring for a rental car to get you around?  The Army does not pay for a rental car, so ship your car from stateside....early, to get it sooner rather than later.  Rental car = more money going out.  Who will have the car most days?  Your spouse or you?
  • Your spouse will most likely have to inprocess and also spend time at work.  You'll spend a lot of time bored (if you let yourself be) and alone.  Are you a self-starter enough that you can keep yourself busy?  Are you brave enough to at least venture out on your own?  If you choose to stay in the hotel, will you go stir crazy after days on end?  What about your children?  Hopefully, your spouse has a good sponsor, whose wife will come get you now and again.  Or, perhaps the Family Readiness Group is established enough to welcome newcomers and give a helping hand. We gave out welcome kits and visited the new spouse as soon as possible.  I think the Air Force even has folks (the sponsor or their version of the Family Readiness Group) who will fill your lodging refrigerator for you!  How about that!
With all that being said, I think it totally depends on your personality and how independent you are, whether you travel with your military spouse or not.  Just be well informed and make the best decision you can make for your particular family.  If you're worried about flying with multiple children and pets, many times, the spouse can take off work to come back to the US to help you fly over.  I've flown over with two babies on my own...but my personality was able to handle that.  You have to know yourself what you are capable of and use the power of positive thinking while you're at it!  What other advice would you add?

Labels: ,

Monday, October 25, 2010

CopyKated Food....mmmmm....

I have a handful of cooking blogs that I like to read.  I'm one of those people who says they like to cook, and every so often, I'll turn out a fantastic meal.  But, for the most part, I secretly get excited when I realize a dinner meal will create some leftovers.  I'd never tell anyone that, face-to-face of course.  Just here.  So, I am ALWAYS on the search for that perfect recipe.  You know the one...the one that you don't have to have written down cause it'll be so easy to remember.  It's always the one you can substitute a few different main ingredients, to make it taste just different enough that everyone thinks it's something different.  And lastly, one that your family just loves and requests again and again.  Honestly, I am still searching for this Holy Grail, but in the meantime, I just recently tried some recipes from these blogs...and they turned out PERFECT and tasted GREAT...those are two big milestones to reach!  So here they are!

I've blogged before how I like Steamy Kitchen's sassy persona.  And, the food photos are to die for because she just has the talent for getting her creations to look so juicy in print.  But the best part, is that her recipes are easy!  I made her Teriyaki Mushroom Sauce with Grilled Salmon.  I made it exactly as described, with her fresh ingredients, and it turned out perfect!  We love to eat salmon, and as an added bonus, I learned that teriyaki sauce is not something that comes in a bottle but is something that you can make, from scratch...very easily!

This next blog, I think I just stumbled onto by accident looking for wives who are overseas.  This ever changing wife is in Turkey with her Air Force hubby.  I like her blog.  Since it's the season for that kind of thing, and I recently had a coffee I needed to bring something to, I blindly baked her Pumpkin Bread and Cinnamon Honey Butter  and whipped up the accompanying honey butter the morning of the coffee (how's that for guts of glory?).  I did like she said, slicing it beforehand and saving the two end pieces for myself...and of course feeding my kids another few slices for breakfast...but the rest DID make it to the coffee.  I came home with an empty basket.  I was a little awestruck.  I think this is the first time I went to a coffee and brought NOTHING back home with me!  So, that night, I snuck downstairs and in the light of the refrigerator, I slathered the last two slices with honey butter and giddily wolfed them one was the wiser, except maybe my waistline and the cat...sigh.

I also recently discovered a fellow American blogging over here in Belgium.  She does share some hilarious stories.  She blogs a lot lately about being pregnant, which I can't relate to right now...but doesn't everyone who is pregnant, so it is truly okay, and she is forgiven:-)    I found some beef-stew-looking meat at the Belgian grocery store labeled Carbonnade and thought of this recipe I had just investigated on her blog that morning (beef + beer) must be karma I thought, so I bought the meat and then printed out her recipe.  The author accompanies the recipe with step-by-step photos, which I really liked too, including a photo of her two little ones wreaking havoc in the other room as she cooks (they're cute).  The best part was the heavenly smells wafting through my house all afternoon.  Everyone kept asking what in the world was I cooking and could they stay for dinner.  In the end, my husband said that he didn't like the sweet flavor, and if I ever cooked it again, I'd buy less fatty cuts of meat..too much fat my kids said...and my gravy was lumpy....BUT, it tasted like it was supposed to taste, and I personally thought it was great.  This IS Beef Carbonnade I wanted to shout, and Beef Carbonnade you get in the restaurant tastes EXACTLY like this!  If I ever make it again, I'd make it for company with a smoother gravy (how do you do that with those hunks of bread she puts in there?) and better cuts of meat.  Of course, I also served it with spaetzle cause of the German in me and not fries like most Belgians do.  They eat fries with everything here...YES, they taste fantastic, but you can only eat so many fries I would think!

Do you remember that wonderful smell at the carnival?  No, not that one...the other one of onions, sausage and potato.  I have renamed this next recipe Carnival or State Fair Sausage and Potatoes.  It brings back good memories and was so easy to make!  I threw it all in the baking pan (even mixed it in there) and baked it uncovered in our oven as my family and I sat down to watch a movie over the weekend (yeah, I didn't miss the beginning of a movie for once).  It was a wonderful cozy smell that I confess we still smelled the next morning (so what?)....and we had no leftovers....darn.  Where did I find this recipe?  Over at A Few Short Cuts, where Amanda tells me this recipe only costs just over a $1 per frugal too!

So, those were the highlights of my  Do you have any to-die-for recipes you found on someone's blog you are willing to share?


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Shave a Few Euros off Your Electric Bill

Living in Belgium has caused me to dread our next electric bill.  Electricity is EXPENSIVE in Europe....period.  It's not unusual to pay $200-500 a month for your gas/electric bill (and not even counting your other bills such as water, phone &  internet)...we don't even have air conditioners!  So, I dug through my stash of knowledge and discovered these non-traditional tips below.  No matter where you live....glance over the list for a moment, and see if you are tracking along.  Can you believe doing these things will put a big dent in your bill?


  • Don't Preheat: Roasting turkey is a long, slow process, so no preheating is needed. Except for breads or pastries, there's usually no need to preheat the oven! 

  • Don't open the oven door: Resist the temptation to peek. Instead, turn on the light and look through the oven window. Opening the door lowers the temperature by as much as 25 degrees, increasing cooking time and wasting energy. 

  • Use other appliances: Microwaves use about 50 percent less energy than conventional ovens. The microwave is more efficient for small items such as baking yams or steaming vegetables. I also use mine to melt chocolate instead of a double boiler on the stove.

  • Cook items together: Bake several items together if there is enough space for heat to circulate.  Of course I'll have trouble with this one, as my Belgian oven is SO small, I can't even fit a regular size cookie pan in there!!!

  • Cover pots and pans: Use lids while cooking to retain heat and cook faster. 

    • Fridge tips: Keep doors closed as much as possible. However, keeping the door open for a longer time while taking out items is more efficient than opening and closing it several times. Don't keep fridge too cold: 37F to 40F is recommended for the fridge and 5% for the freezer. Separate freezers should be kept at 0F.  Get a thermometer to stick in your refrigerator from your local PX.

    • In cold climates, use unheated garages to store items such as drinks and pies to keep them cool and to allow more room in your fridge!  It's too bad we don't have a garage, but our landlord did just agree to get us a storage shed for our bikes and yard tools (I'm excited about that apparently).

    •  Turn off lights when you leave a room.  This is the hardest thing for my kids, especially after living in government housing, where you are not paying for it!

    • For overseas, don't keep transformers on or plugged in unless you are actively using it.  Transformers draw an amazing amount of electricity, even when turned off and just plugged in.

    • What tips do you have to share for around the house?


      Friday, October 22, 2010

      Recent books that refuse to leave my mind

      Have you ever read a book...and couldn't put it down.....greedily turning the pages to get to the end so you can finally figure it out....and then closing it and just you just don't know what else to say or think and wishing you hadn't read it that fast cause now it's over?  That doesn't happen to me too often.  I like to read the free books on my son's Kindle (yes, I took it for myself) or the library (USAREUR library overseas has a great online catalog where you can get all kinds of books put on hold, even new bestsellers).....usually, I pick the wrong books....useless drivel I can barely turn the pages of, much less read...but every once in awhile...there is a hidden gem...that I even end up buying a lot of the time, cause I think it's that good.  And my family rolls their eyes as I try to get everyone and everyone they know to read it too.  So here are a few of those treasured books I hope you choose to encounter!

      Hey, I know we all like to read different kinds of books.  My favorites are books that have some kind of mystery going on...either a who-dunnit or some big thing that needs to be solved.  In addition to that, I like books that are in some kind of historical setting.  I like authors who like to stay true to whatever time period they are writing about and who take the time to really study and get it right....what was it like for those characters in the book in their day-to-day life?  It's even better if the author weaves some historical event into the story that really did happen.  Even though they sometimes slather it on thick like peanut butter, it gets me to the next step to actually research the event myself, and many times, I am surprised that it did happen the way it was described.

      Anyway, in no particular order, here are my current favorites:

      • "Berlin: A Novel" by Pierre Frei.  Now I must confess again before YOU roll your eyes.  I LOVE the city of Berlin and would move there tomorrow if you told me there was a spot for me there.  There is just something magical about a city that changes more than any other city in the world.  So, I was googling Berlin and came up with this the reviews, and got it from my library.  It is fiction but in a historical setting of right before and immediately after the Fall of Berlin in WWII.  The author I later found out was very true to what life was like for the average Berliner in the American zone (those in the Russian zone did not have the same tale to tell...if you want to read about that, read the anonymous diary "A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City", which left me chilled to my bones and incredibly sad).  You'll follow snapshots into the lives of a half dozen different women...with a glimpse of their murder and then back into their lives right before the war.  Some of these women are fascinating in what they accomplished and others are everyday people that one of us might've been....all woven together and connected by this one killer.  The entire journey through this book, you are trying to figure out who is brutally killing these women.  You meet other characters along the way... those who are introduced and those you really grow to like...all there, during the occupation of Berlin.  You'll get clues along the way, and the ending was a little of a surprise for me.  It was not who I thought it was, and when you close the book, you get a true sense of the lost lives of each of those women.  I think I actually mourned one of them I thought it was such a great loss to humanity (man, do I really get into some books).  I still can't get it out of my head.
      • "Eleanor's Story: An American Girl's Story in Hitler's Germany".  Okay, so this one happens to be from the same era and place, Berlin...but only because we were getting ready to go to Berlin and like a good mother, I wanted them to "experience it".  So I somehow stumbled upon it.  Any tween on up who likes to read will enjoy it.  My 11 year old was fascinated by the it twice through...and then had some deep discussions with me on the subject.  What a great book!  This is the story of a young lady, again in Berlin, and what a typical and happy life she had before the war, just like many teens today with all the challenges and highlights of teenage life.  I read the book too and felt like I could pass for a Berliner in the 1930s, as the book is very descriptive of daily life.  You then become horrified and scared for Eleanor and her family during the bombing raids and destruction, get hunger pangs reading about the their food forays, standing in long lines...and are sad with all that happens to them and their extended family...and again, wow, when you finish the book.
      • "The Bone Garden" by Tess Gerritson.  I wanted to cry when I finished this book, because I knew it was over, and I didn't want it to be.  I carried this book around with me for four days and tried to catch a sneak read whenever I could.  This book starts out like a typical murder mystery, old bones found in a backyard of an old home a divorced woman just buys.  Pretty soon, you are transported back to the 1830s and the life of a woman in Boston....poor Irish immigrant..and into the lives of high society and what it meant to be a doctor (men only).  My God, the state of healthcare and the process of childbirth...brutal, macabre, and it's a wonder any woman survived.  You also realize how you take things for granted in the healthcare industry today and what we know today...and didn't know then.  This was the era of doctors bleeding their patients and not washing hands, much less keeping things clean...eye opening!  It's a wonder anyone survived.  Tess then weaves these two unlikely stories together in the most intricate way, throws an amazing love interest into the mix that somehow seems to pop up in the present day, which I am still trying to digest and figure's a lovely story, with some sadness thrown in from a few different directions.  I bet you'll like it too.
      •   Any of the books in the Outlander series from Diana Gabaldon.  A friend introduced me to this series and thought I was nuts that I had never heard of it.  Sometimes, I can just be so sheltered.  Every woman loves a good love story, and this is it.  It spans time like nothing I've ever read before.  You are immediately intrigued by this couple's visit to a B&B in Scotland and an encounter with a ring of magical stones....time travel, but like nothing you've ever read about...and her encounters and blossoming love story with a gallant, handsome young Scottish gentlemen (yes he wears a kilt with nothing underneath!).  And the best part for me was the weaving in and out of actual historical events, that made the story seem even more real.  I can see myself actually seeing this Claire Randall in person one day...she is that real.  This'll keep you up more nights than you want to be...but do it anyway!
      • Clive Cussler books.  I am probably the ONLY woman who likes his books and who will freely admit it in a public forum.  Yes, they are full of greatly impossible deeds that no human alive could ever accomplish and male egos and machoism about the size of New York City.  I mean, the heroes and heroines of this book do things that put James Bond to shame...BUT, Clive does an amazing job of taking a historical event and weaving a mystery into it.  He takes his characters to some exotic locales, and when he describes his characters, and what they drive, look like and where they live (even what they eat)...I'm sure it's all his fantasies of how he would like to be....but I would like to be that too!  His characters see and do some amazing things, and you can kind of live vicariously through them...and if you're a girl, you can discreetly read this stuff and no one will give you a hard time.  There's always an adventure in more ways than one.
      Do you have any books you'd like to recommend?


      Thursday, October 21, 2010

      Get 21% off the next time you go shopping!

      Why 21% off....because we are military people stationed in Belgium, or so my husband is.  This is one privilege for us over here (in Germany it is 19%)....see how high the salex tax is over here in Europe?!  We would croak if that ever happened in the US!  Here's how to get that tax money back.  In Germany, the process was purchased these VAT (value added tax) forms and handed them out like candy at ANY store where you bought a good or service.  My threshold for doing that was if I spent anything over 50 was then worth my time and the money I spent on my VAT form to get some chump change back (and more if I spent more).  Here in Belgium, not everything is tax-exempt and the process involves jumping through more hoops.

      Why is our process so different from Germany?  I always like to joke it is because the guy who negotiated the Belgian part of the SOFA after the war was not as diligent as the guy who negotiated our SOFA in Germany...that's the only way I can explain getting a raw deal over here in Belgium!  Unless you are buying furniture, electronics and whatever items the VAT folks wave their magic wand over, you don't get tax relief and your 21% back.  
      Like I said, anything over 50 euro (even here) is worth my while, so here's how to go about getting your money back.

      After you make your purchase, take your receipt and head over to the store's customer service desk.  Have at least an idea of what goods are covered by VAT by checking with the SHAPE VAT office.  It is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 0900-1200 and Thursday from 0900-1300.

      Step by step (using IKEA as an example):

    • The customer service desk is located to the right after the cash registers if you go to the Anderlecht IKEA outlet.  You'll see a ticketing machine instead of standing in line.  Push the button that says B - "Fakture".  When your number pops up on the display, head over to that counter.

    • Hand over your receipt and ask for a "Fakture" and saying "diplomatic forms" helps too (cause tourists can get tax back too once they get home).  I'm not familiar with that process, but there are many websites out there that detail how to get your tax money back.

    • They will get on their computer and type in your name and address.  IMPORTANT:  the Fakture MUST be in the sponsor's name (don't give them your name).  If you come to the VAT office with the receipt in your name, they will turn you away, and you'll have to go back to the store and get another receipt.

    • They will print out a Fakture and hand it to you.

    • Be sure to ask for the self addressed IKEA envelope with the "Demande de Remboursement" sheet inside (a colorful red form).


    • On the colorful red form, you will fill out your bank information.  Unlike Germany, where you will immediately get your cash back, in Belgium, you will see the tax amount show up on your bank statement one to two months later.  That's how you know you have been reimbursed.  Hang onto this form for now after you fill it out.

    • Go to the VAT office on SHAPE in the main inprocessing building.  Show them your fakture, and they will check mark which items I said, the magic wand gets waved.

    • If you are American, go to the little white building behind the inprocessing building (where you get your passports renewed, etc), and they will fill out another computer printed form for you and stamp it and note the number of items that qualify for tax-free.  Other country members, go to your own country's processing office on SHAPE.

    • Take all the papers back to the VAT office.  They will in turn fill out some more information and give you a stack of papers.

    • Make copies of all the papers for your records in case something gets lost!

    • Put the originals of all the forms, including your "Demande de Remboursement" into the provided IKEA envelope.


    • Go to the Belgian post office (one in the HQ building and there is another one in the GB Supermarket...also off post obviously).  Mail in your packet and wait....and then wait some more...

    • Keep checking your bank account statements (or access online) to see if it got deposited.  If three months or so go by, and you get no money, stop by the VAT office to check it out.

    • Does anyone else want to share their VAT experience (Germany or Belgium or perhaps how they do it in the UK and Italy....if they have it?....also, as a tourist?).

      Labels: ,

      Monday, October 18, 2010

      Getting Stationed Overseas?

      One of my favorite shops in Berlin
      Congratulations on your upcoming assignment!  I bet you immediately had dreams of Paris, Rome...and everywhere in between!  Here are a few quick tips to get you thinking and mentally prepared for what's ahead!

      Just some things to think about if you have never lived Europe (I can only speak for places I've lived in) :

    • Europe will not be the US, and it's best to not compare EVERYTHING.  Even I struggle with this and now living in Belgium, I struggle and want to compare everything to the very efficient Germany....stop it...each country has its own customs and flavors so to speak!

    • You may be required to live onpost, as some communities have plenty of on-post housing.  Just check and see, so you won't be disappointed or want to compare everything to the US again.  Many housing offices are online now.  For example, to get an idea of what the Stuttgart community has (and what is typical in Germany) visit this site.

    • Along with that last one, know what your Overseas Housing Allowance is for your spouse's rank; that way you know what price range you should be looking at...the farther out, the cheaper it'll be (or if it's close by, be prepared for living in a little box!).

    • With that all being said, sometimes, as a first timer over here, it is easier living on post.  You won't have bills (other than cable tv, internet and phone).  Maintenance people will come fairly quickly if something goes wrong.  You have the security of living on-post and a close support network of neighbors.  Off post, especially if you do not speak the language can be challenging, and you have to be ready to work a little harder and spend a little more money.

    • European houses for the most part, do not have plan to buy some (either new, antique or used ones that you can sell when you leave again).  On post living is mostly what we call "stairwell living" or apartments, anywhere from 700-2000 square feet as the norm.  Some communities, such as Grafenwoehr and Vilseck have newer onpost duplex housing now.  You'll also see contracted housing off post as well.

    • Know the Euro one Euro bills, but one Euro and two Euro coins to which many Americans have trouble getting used to.

    • Fast driving and priority to the driver coming from the right.

    • Limited shopping hours; many times everything is closed on Sunday and some restaurants on Monday too.

    • If you purchase a vehicle with European specs, don't plan on taking it stateside, as it won't pass inspection and would need expensive upgrades.  Many have the military ship their American car over for free...and then buy a second hooptie or clunker they can get around town in and sell again when they leave.

    • For the most part, no doggie bags in restaurants.  I insist sometimes, and it's been interesting some of the butcher paper and other things waiters have brought out for me....I sometimes am a total American and bring a tupperware-type container!

    • Look at your household may not need it all over here...houses and apartments are typically smaller with chopped up rooms (not many with great rooms and high ceilings)....although, I have friends who have homes in both Germany and Belgium with two master suites, tons of bathrooms and six and seven bedrooms...but this is not the norm!  The military will pay to store items you designate as your "storage shipment".  I honestly could not tell you off the top of my head what is in my storage shipment, and I bet I'll get surprised when we finally go back stateside!

    • Make sure all the adults have valid stateside drivers' licenses or else you can't get one over here without paying for an expensive driving course.  If you have teenagers, get them their licenses if you can, before you move.

    • Depending on which country you are going to, contact the onpost driver's testing facility if you have a motorcycle, It is my understanding that without a valid stateside license, you can at least forget it in Belgium...not sure about Germany or the other duty stations.

    • Your fuel for your vehicle is a rationed item (and so is coffee and cigarettes...hard liquor too).  You'll get a ration card and can only get that amount every month.  For some reason, we get less fuel rations in Belgium than in Germany.  It depends here on the size of your vehicle/engine what you will get, and you only get fuel for one vehicle (if you have two, you have to share rations unless the other spouse works and can get extra rations).  Rationed fuel is priced less than what the posted price is...fuel is VERY expensive in Europe, and we should NEVER complain about our American prices!  In Belgium, our government has a deal to get our fuel from the Total gas station Germany, it's Esso...not sure of the others.  Of course you are always welcome to buy any fuel you want at any gas station on the economy at the same price the locals pay.

    • Stock up on some of your favorite non-perishable items, if you think you are going to miss them while over here.  The commissary does have some case lot sales now and then....and you can order from the US, but then you pay shipping....and European stores just don't sell the stuff in bulk like we do at Sam's Club or Costco.  I see there is one store here in Belgium doing it, Colyrut...but it is a shadow of our big box stores in the US.

    • You will find IKEA over here (just not in Southern Europe yet), so no need to stock up on that stuff, plus, the prices are comparable...they even have the same products.

    • Start learning some basic phrases of the local language.  It's always more polite to at least TRY to speak their language, and you'd be amazed at how the locals open up to you more if you at least try.

    • Most onpost housing has 110 and 220 volt outlets.  You can use American 110 volt appliances over here if your onpost housing has it OR you purchase transformers that you can scatter throughout your home and plug your stuff into.  To figure out if your transformer is heavy duty enough to plug in your appliance, you have to check the amps of your appliance (or multiple ones you plan to plug in) and make sure it doesn't exceed your max amps on your tranformer...they come in different sizes of course...higher amps means they are more expensive.  It's best to get second hand ones at your thrift shop rather than the PX, although the PX does sell fuses for transformers if you blow one out.

    • Only GSM cell phones will work over here...many American cell phones are different technology. Read up on that.  Most Americans do the prepaid phones over here to save money.  Contracts are hard to get out of, and if you lose your contract will pay through the nose!

    • Be sure to read my other tips and to read my moving articles on this blog.  Do you have anything to add?


      Saturday, October 16, 2010

      Where to fleamarket close by?

      Of course we've got the SHAPE flea markets on base during the summer months and the big flea market in Waterloo everyone recommends, as it is one of the larger ones in the area.  Almost every Sunday, there is a mid-size fleamarket near the mall by the marina in Nimy.  But what if you just want to do something different or visit a specialty flea market, like one that just has childrens' items (yep, there is one of those).

      Be sure to visit

      Choose "Chercher une brocante" link up top after you enter the site (you have to click French or Flemish on bottom first).

      From dropdown menu, choose either of the two "Hainaut" area code regions.

      Then choose a theme if you want or keep that blank.

      Lastly, either plug in a date or choose today, during the week or weekend.

      You'll get the specifics of what kinds of markets, locations and hours for the markets in your area.  I haven't gotten the nerve up to sell items at these  markets, but perhaps another day.  I did a few markets in Germany and sold out of my American products typically within the first few hours!  Plus, it was a lot of fun.

      Labels: ,

      Thursday, October 14, 2010

      Hidden in the back hallway

      I rarely talk about my hubby...he likes to stay low-key...but then again, he's an overachiever too.  So, in the back hallway, where we parked some bookcases before you go up into the attic, he's stashed his military coin collection, if I can call it that.  You know the one...the oodles of coins of all shapes and sizes that most men will put into a display case...or be proud of.  You see what my husband's looks like?  I mean...these are supposed to be special.  Something given to you by "an important person or organization" as an atta-boy or a pat on the back for a job well done.  My goodness, some of these are even numbered!  That means the general, or in one case, the Secretary of State handed it out...and somewhere (his aide probably) maintains a list of who got each coin...yes, they really do that.  If they are supposed to be this treasured, then why are they sitting in a jumbled mess?
      Read more »


      Tuesday, October 12, 2010

      Brain Fodder for Newcomers & Visitors (Germany & Belgium)

      So, I've never really been a newcomer in Europe, being born in Germany and all....BUT, I am still an American and feel like I have an inkling of what my friends are going through.  You know when you move to a foreign country, you wish someone had just told you some of these nuggets of information?  Life would be WWAAAY easier I would think.  Here are some quick tricks and tips that are always being mentioned...or what I think of when I try to rack my brain as to what surprises most Americans who come over.  Please be sure to add your own surprises as well!

      In no particular order:

    • Always have grocery bags in your vehicle when you travel; European stores do not hand out free bags.  You must pay for them if you want one of theirs.  We like to carry a variety of cheap plastic throwaway bags and some nicer cloth or synthetic bags with us in our car.  Reisenthel (my favorite) makes some cute little packaged bags (I have two of these in my purse).

    • Always have change for parking meters.  Parking meters here are not next to your space....but are nearby.  Look for a big automated metal box.  Put in your money, watch the time change on the little monitor, typically 50 Euro cents = 30 minutes.  Then press the green button.  The ticket that comes out needs to be put in your windshield or it's useless.  Keep track of when it expires!

    • Many restaurants have their rest day on Mondays, so aren't open then.  Some stores, especially out in the country, close at 6 or 7 pm and are closed on Sundays and holidays and early on Saturday...not a problem in the big cities but could be everywhere else.  Restaurants in Belgium (not in big cities) don't serve dinner until 6 or 6:30 pm and many do not serve lunch.  Know before you sit down and order your drinks!  "Durchgehende Kueche" on a German restaurant's sign means they are open thru lunch and dinner and serve at those in-between times.  I haven't seen the equivalent in Belgium except for in the big cities and near NATO/US military bases.

    • Learn at least a few basic phrases, thank-you and please in whatever country you'll be in.  Americans have a horrible reputation for thinking the world centers around them and English...don't add to the misnomer.

    • Shopping carts are chained together here...have a 50 cent Euro piece or 1 euro to stick in the slot on the cart, and then return the cart to get your money back.

    • Bring change for public money, no tinkle...this is actually a good thing, because most restrooms are very clean (unfortunately, you won't see this in any of the Southern European countries or even'll see dirty restrooms for the most part...and they are free).  You'll get charged 30 to 50 Euro cents and some automated entrances don't give change for 1 or 2 Euro coins, so always have the little change with you.

    • Always have some kind of raingear with you...with the Gulfstream...or is it Jet Stream?...European weather can be variable...and all in the same day.  Belgium can have five weather changes in a day.  Germany, not so much except perhaps up in the Northern areas or in the mountains.  Just be prepared.

    • Europeans are NOT rude for the most part...they just do things differently over here and Americans many times view that as being rude.  They are just honest and forthright and will not beat around the bush and will truly tell you what they your face.  Also, the German language can be very heavy on the consonants, and I've had Americans tell me that just scares them and makes the language sound harsher than it really is.  A German saying "I love you" sounds like they are about to give the other person a whipping I've been told by other Americans!

    • When you are paying for something in Belgium, do not put money in the cashier's is considered rude.  Put the money on the space provided in front of you....or the conveyor belt.  They'll hand you back the change the same way.  And instead of saying thank-you (merci), you say please when you fork over your "si'l vous plait"....French do it the opposite!  Those darn French...or Belgiums..however you want to look at it.

    • When eating out in Germany, it is customary to start eating as soon as your own plate of food arrives (that is considered good manners, as the others don't want YOUR food to get cold).  In Belgium, you should wait for everyone's food to arrive and waitstaff will typically try to time everyone's food arrival at the same time.  Isn't it funny how they can be so opposite?

    • You'll probably find more pickpockets here than in the US (except maybe for New York City?)....treat your valuables accordingly and keep them close to your body and not in your pockets or purse.  Try not to look like a tourist.  You can peg an American by their tennis shoes and jeans.

    • A GPS is invaluable here, especially in Belgium.  I have lost count of the number of times I have come to an intersection with NO street markings, especially out in the country.  At least in Germany, streets are labeled fairly regularly.  

    • Instead of getting on highways and seeing signs that tell you, you are going North or South like in the US, you'll see signs listing the next major whichever direction....all over Europe (and sometimes not in the country you are in, if you are near a border).  So, you need to know which cities are in the direction you want to go in, or else you will go the wrong way!  As soon as I get on the highway near our house, I see the sign that says "Paris"....only 2-1/2 hours away!  It always gets me dreaming...until I have to get off before I actually reach Paris.

    • You won't see a lot of McDonalds and other fast food places (except maybe near military bases and in the big cities), but you will see many friteries in Belgium!  This fast food kind of place is cheap and EVERYTHING is fried....everything...even dessert if they offer it.  Everything is laid out like at a butcher and since much of it is battered, you won't know what's in that thing unless you can read the sign (so learn the favorites and have a small dictionary with you in your purse, and especially memorize the word for horse in French, "cheval").  The nicest fritterie I ever went to was on the Belgian coast in a wonderful seaside town.  In addition to the fried fish and anything else you wanted fried, they had colorful salads with some of the best tomatoes I've ever tasted....sad to say I haven't found anything like that around here!  McDonalds are a dime a dozen in Germany, and you will see them all over.  There they also have "Imbisses" and what I miss the most as we don't see it everywhere, Donar Kebaps.

    • Please be sure to share your favorites below!

      Labels: ,

      Sunday, October 10, 2010

      What's so awesome about being part of the NATO crowd?

      I still remember when my husband told me that his next assignment would be a NATO assignment.  I had visions of us going to unit events with everyone laughing, dancing and singing kumbaya or attending embassy-like parties like they used to have in "the old days", pre 1990 (I am REALLY dating myself)!  Now that I've been here a few months, has it really been that way?

      Not exactly....but things have certainly been interesting...and aren't too far off from that ideal:

    • Every month I can go to a spouse's luncheon hosted by a different nationality...this  month....Germany...with authentic food, fun and entertainment.
    • I can now say basic phrases in five different languages and make gestures in three.

    • Seeing a soldier with stars on his rank does not mean he is a general.  You should see all the different combinations and colors of uniforms, boots and hats!

    • The Silver Spoon in the HQ building is a neat place to eat, as there are always dishes being offered from the different NATO countries.

    • I like that I can take an Italian cooking class, bank at an Italian bank, shop at a Belgian store (or an American one) and check out library books in about eight different languages.

    • I can have friends from around the world.....right here where I live.

    • My kids come home and throw out curse words languages (okay, maybe this...I don't like).

    • My one son's soccer coach really knows something about soccer...he's Argentinian BTW.

    • Where else can kids say they will be taking a field trip to the Louvre in Paris?

    • We get to celebrate (and have time off) for all the European holidays, which are typically longer than American holiday breaks...more time to travel.... (yes, Turkey Day is a work day....but imagine all the Americans bringing in their turkeys to grill at work and families joining their military spouses too....sounds like good times to me).

    • Shopping the international second hand goodies at the Spring and Summer monthly flea markets and community thrift shops. 

    • The wide selection of crafts, antiques and goodies at our international bazaars.

    • The lowcost language classes....some are even free!

    • Tax free shoppping of European products...just like at the airport.

    • Learning that sometimes things just are the way they the movement of each NATO country's flag in the order of display so that no one flag will be first....or last....every Sunday at midnight like clockwork (wonder who has that duty?).

    • Labels: ,

      Friday, October 8, 2010

      Ask VMW: Where are the English Speaking Churches near SHAPE?

      I recently received this question:

      Are there any off base American/English speaking Christian churches outside SHAPE or Chievres? 

      Of course!  You've already found the chapels affiliated with SHAPE and Chievres by googling them I hope:-)  They also have a facebook page, so be sure to link up with them there.

      There are other ones in the area that many Shapians attend.  My sons are doing a lock-in at a chateau with our church next week....that is something different!

      We've got:

      International Baptist Church in Jurbise

      Calvary Baptist Church

      And there is also an English speaking church in Waterloo, about 30-40 minutes away (depending on where you live) that has proved popular, Christian Center.

      Please know that wherever you are stationed, the religious center on your post will maintain a list of local churches.  You can always contact them, and they'll send you the list as well.

      Labels: ,

      Wednesday, October 6, 2010

      More Overseas Expat Blogs

      If you're like me, you like to read other blogs of Americans or expats living overseas here in Europe.  I've recently been emailed a link of some more blogs...and Life Lessons made the top list, along with some of my favorites (and some I haven't visited yet)...yeah!

      Please be sure to stop by and visit Go Overseas!


      Monday, October 4, 2010

      Finally ventured onto Facebook....

      As usual, I don't know what I am doing....but somehow, I made a page for my blog here. I'd be happy to get one friend or like, I think? I've got time on my hands today, as my landlord is very hard at work...he's singing "Sole Mio" to keep himself entertained as he paints...he's not even Italian!

      Life Lessons on Facebook


      In the land of the apple pickin'

      I honestly thought we were in the middle of nowhere...the road kept getting narrower and narrower, and then our two vehicle caravan entered a forest....and you know us Americans with our minivans and SUVs in Belgium (or Europe for that matter) got tighter and tighter....and just when I wondered how I was going to turn around or back up, there it was!  A big apple painted on a tree!...and cars coming in from all directions....we had made it!  Here in Belgium, we are surrounded by farms of all kinds and today, we discovered an apple farm with apples just waiting to be picked and eaten....

      The first thing my 11 year old said he meant it.  Rows and rows of different types of apples all neatly labeled.  I am no apple connoisseur, but what in blazes are suntan apples?  Booskop...ahhh, I recognize that one.....I've forgotten all the other names as I had never heard of them before, but one yellow/red apple was half the size of my son's head!  I am using two of those right now to bake a wonderful Pearl's Apple Crisp.  Since I am lazy when it comes to piecrust and the packaged stuff just doesn't taste homemade, I make this crisp instead with its rich and thick buttery crunchy can't be beat and tastes great with ice cream!

      Here's the recipe:

      Pearl's Apple Crisp

      2 lage apples (enough to cover a pieplate; I use a glass one)
      1/2 cup white sugar
      2 TBS lemon juice
      1 cup flour
      sprinkling of cinnamon
      1/2 cup brown sugar
      1/2 cup butter (1 stick), partially melted

      Preheat oven to 325 deg F.  Clean and cut up the fruit into pieplate.  Stir in white sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon.  Combine flour and brown sugar; cut in butter until it is nice and crumbly.  Place mixture over fruit and pat down.  Bake until golden brown, about 50 minutes.  Serve by itself or with vanilla ice cream!

      Back to the farm.  You take your bag or crate (bring your own), and walk (or if you have boys.....RUN)....up and down the rows and start picking and packing it in.  When you are done, go see the nice lady in the barn and put your bag on the scale.  I spent about five Euros for around six kilos of apples....there will be a lot of apple eating in this house the rest of the week!

      To find this place, if you are coming from the SHAPE/Casteau area, start heading on the main route towards Braine-le-Comte and Soignes or else your your GPS will take you off on some serious goatpaths!

      The farm is called "Culture Fruitiere du Pont du Jour", 7090 Henripont, Belgium. The farm is off Chemin du Servoir to help your GPS find it, but by then, you should see the cars and signs:-)

      I'm not sure what their hours are, but we went on a Sunday afternoon, and I do know they are open Saturdays too. Thanks Nicole for taking us there! We enjoyed the afternoon!


      Saturday, October 2, 2010

      Where Can I See Movies in English?

      Being overseas, we're allowed to crave our American TV and movies.  Believe it or not, there are quite a handful of theatres, and I bet not too far from your overseas location that play English.  I still remember watching "Avatar" on one of the largest 3-D screens in Europe, in English.  How did I know which theater and which showing to attend?

      Simple....just google the name of your nearest decent-sized city (whether you are in Germany, Belgium or wherever)...and type the name for movies ("kino" in German as an example).  You should see some pop up in your area.  Go to their website (and use Google Translator if you need to navigate around at first and find the actual moving listings, dates and times).

      After you see the title of the movie listed, look for the initials "OV", which means "original version" (or "Version Originale" in French).  So if it's an American or US-made movie, it'll be shown in English, for those showtimes that list "OV" or "VO".  Obviously, if it's a movie made in Spain, it'll be in Spanish.  You get the drill.

      Here in Belgium, many of my fellow Shapians go up to the Kinepolis Imagibraine (or even the one up in Brussels if you want to make a day of it at (and visit the Antonium and other sites in that area).  You will also see the movie with subtitles while you are watching your American movie (French or German subtitles respectively), but guess what?  This should help you learn the it's all good in the end!

      For a movie that's REALLY popular ala "Edward & Bella, the Movie", and some of the 3D premiere showings, you can even reserve your seats and pay for your tickets online (if you have online banking).  You can do this months ahead of time for peace of, if you are really itching to see something that is coming up soon....keep your eyes PEELED.  I like to get the daily podcast, New Movie Trailers to keep up on the latest movies coming down the pipeline.  Get them daily on your IPOD or other MP3 player.

      Of course, let me also plug AAFES and your local AAFES movie theater.  We don't have to wait as long for new releases as we used to wait, and they do try to keep the prices down for us folks overseas.....not fond of the censorship on which movies they will and will not play here (such as the new Pat Tilman movie which did not make the overseas line-up)....but I guess that's a topic for another day for someone else's blog.

      Labels: ,

      Friday, October 1, 2010

      No standing in line at Eiffel Tower, Anne Frank House and others

      Come on now....I talked to someone just yesterday who had a wonderful trip to Paris...and then wasted hours standing in line to get into the Eiffel Tower....don't do this.....

      Get your tickets for the Eiffel Tower ONLINE,and put the ticket on your cell phone or handy.  FYI, before you travel....ALWAYS check online, as many museums and other attractions do offer tickets online.....sometimes even discounted.  Doing a little research before your trip will pay off in the long run.

      Oops, almost forgot one  more Eiffel Tower tip....going up to the second level is just as fascinating as going to the top!  Save money, time and don't feel cheated on the view if you choose only the second level up (rather than to the top).  It gets pretty windy up there (hold on to your stuff!), and if you do want to go up high, check the weather first before all you see is clouds.

      And before I close this blog post, here are the online ticket sales for the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

      Do you have any similar tips to share?