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

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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.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Your Own Personal City Guide

Having worked in the tour industry over here, I can see how expensive tourguides can be for those ubiquitous city tours. In my last job, we paid anywhere from 40 to 200 Euro to pay a guide for 1-2 hours for a nice little tour through their city or town. What if you, as an average tourist, had this luxury (without the great expense) your pocket no less.

On my own travels, I will frequently look for audioguides I can download to my mp3 player. Any mp3 player will do, although I am still partial to my Zune player. Google the name of the city and "mp3" or "audioguide" or try some of these sites below:

    I've also found that my Garmin Navigation device will let me download Points of Interest (POIs) along with photos of sites you are passing and the corresponding audio. Neat stuff. You can find some below:

    Alternatively, many of the more tourist-visited cities have regular tours throughout the day, that either meet at their tourist bureau, their main train station or some other central location. These can really be lowcost at around 5 euro per head. Google the name of the city and "tourist" to find their tourist bureau website, and then follow the links for "individual tours" or "city tours". Typically you show up at certain times of day at a designated location and then pay your guide after the tour is over.

    Which city tour has been your favorite and where have you found lowcost tours?

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    Tuesday, July 27, 2010

    Organizing Storage Place in a Home with No Storage

    I am absolutely NOT looking forward to examining our storage situation when we move in.  Most European houses do not have closets, and ours will be no exception.  Our basement is so small, only a gnome can walk upright....well, maybe a 6 year old child.  None of the rooms have closets (not even a coat closet), and I plan on talking my way into the greatest number of CMFO (loaner) furniture from the military we can get....damn the ugly choices.  So, here I am.....wondering how to maximize stuffing the maximum amount of clothes in a minimum amount of space.  How about this?

    After reading the article from Woman's Day, I immediately thought of being able to stuff twice as many t-shirts into a drawer....and continuing along that thread....I'm thinking I can do this with shorts, underthings and a few other items?  I believe every person in the family is authorized a wall locker and a dresser from the military, but that's about it other than couches, chairs and tables. 

    Other lowcost thoughts:

    • Underbed storage containers
    • Baskets
    • Inexpensive wire hardware store type shelves hidden behind an expandable shower curtain rod and shower curtain
    • Pretty thriftshop hatboxes on top of those ugly CFMO wardrobes
    • Storage items to be found at the monthly SHAPE fleamarkets, civilian fleamarkets and what I can find at the thrift shop on Chievres Air Base.
    • Buy items on sale at IKEA and then sell them again when we leave.
    • Tell my husband that we can get lowcost antiques (which is true) and find some items with hidden storage space that we can take back to the US.
    Any other ideas?


    Sunday, July 25, 2010

    Discoveries My First Month in Belgium

    Now that I've been here a month, I think I can offer some insight on life as a new Belgian resident.  I say resident, because any day now, I should have a policeman going by our house (hope it's after we move in), to check that I exist, and then I'm on my way of becoming a Belgian resident with Belgian resident perks.  My husband, who is US military stationed here, cannot be a Belgian resident...that's why all the bills will come in my name.  Huh?  Anyway, after being here a month, I think I am an expert in my opinion and can offer the following observations.

    In no particular order:

    • Even though everyone says that it is dreary, rainy and cold here (even the Belgians say this), I have found this summer superhot, mostly in the 80s and 90s with only four days of some rain.
    • At least with the French (which is 20 minutes away), never say "Gesundheit" or "Bless You".  Apparently, you don't say that after someone sneezes....still waiting to hear a Belgian sneeze so I can test this out.
    • If you plan on bringing your pet with you on this assignment (at least in the SHAPE/Chievres area), and you are staying on post at the are coming in on the weekend, make note that the kennel closes at 1500.
    • I would not bring a super nice car here as the roads are bad to worse and winters put a real toll on it too.  This is probably why the Belgian government does yearly inspections of cars older than four years old (at about 50 euro a pop).  If your vehicle does not have a rear foglight, then get one before coming here.  I'll post more later on the inspection and registration process and what steps you have to complete in getting a foglight installed as well as a pre-inspection.
    • Remember that as a SHAPIAN as you are called, you are allowed only ONE vehicle tax-free.  Make sure this is your vehicle with the BIGGEST engine.  If you buy a second car, like a little roadrunner with a small engine, you'll end up paying a yearly roadtax (think it's yearly) on the bigger one you have being shipped over if you buy and register your little car first.  For a big minivan, expect to pay around 1000 euro down to 250 euro for a small vehicle.
    • You REALLY have to follow the priority from the right rule.  This means if you come to an intersection that does not show that you have priority (start learning the signs now), you must yield to vehicles coming from the right, even if it is a goatpath!  Pay close attention here!
    • In a restaurant, do not signal the waiter by yelling "Garcon" (which means BOY).  It is rude.
    • If you are going to a restaurant outside of the "big city" and not on the strip between Chievres Air Base and SHAPE, don't expect lunch (unless it specifically says so) and don't expect dinner service until 1830 in the evening.  We went through three country restaurants before we figured this out.
    • If you like fleamarketing and antique hunting, you will be in heaven here!  I will post about this on a later date too.
    • Shopping in France is much cheaper.  Drive South of Mons for 20 minutes and there you are.
    • Veggies and fruits are fresher and cheaper on the economy.  Take advantage of all the farmers' markets.
    • I was thrilled to find quite a few stores such as supermarkets and bakeries open on Sunday (even if it is for limited hours).
    • Train travel is cheap compared to Germany and you can be in Paris in two hours, Brussels in 45 minutes and London in 4-1/2.
    • Paris is only 2-1/2 hours away by car.  Many people drive there, park outside the city and take public transportation in.
    • We have discovered some amazing beaches on the North Sea with wide sandy beaches, sand dunes, boardwalks, amusement parks and trails galore.  It is only 1-1/2 hours away.  I'll have to write more about this wonderful area around De Panne.
    • We are in the middle of farmland, so you will see tractors and farm equipment on the roads, and I have heard during sugarbeet season, you will be amazed at what rolls off the trucks.
    • Speaking of trucks, you will have more windshield cracks and dings here than anywhere else.
    • Since USAA has to go through another company here, their insurance quotes are expensive.  Check Geico outside the frontgate and others.
    • For car rentals, check out the clunker agency across from the flags outside the gate at SHAPE HQ.  You'll pay half of what you would typically pay to the big car rental agencies.
    • If you come in the summer, none of the off post hotels have AC.  Stick with Chievres Lodge which is new, modern and has AC.
    • Don't bring your basic appliances.  In the Spring, Summer and Fall, you will find large fleamarkets on SHAPE, as well as the thrift shop on Chievres (and not to mention civilian fleamarkets).  If you use your 110 volt appliances from the US, you can buy transformers (which also can be found at these sales) to step down the 220 volt European voltage.  Your US alarm clocks and other appliances that cycle will not work accurately.  If you have an expensive standmixer, leave it in the US as the motor can easily get burned out and ruin your machine.
    • Bring a fuel efficient vehicle, as you are limited by what you get fuel-wise (more so than in Germany and dependent on engine size).
    • Brush up on your French.  They speak French here and no, not a lot of people speak English away from post (except maybe in Brussels and larger cities).
    • Be sure to read my housing article.
    • Realize that utilities bills are much, much higher than in the US.  Start watching your water usage and turn off lights when not in use.  After you arrive and move in, be sure to unplug your transformers completely, as they can still draw power when turned off.
    • As part of your housing contract you can negotiate with your landlord (with assistance from the housing office), do the following.  If your home doesn't have one, get a day/night electric meter installed which gives you huge discounts on electricity after 10 pm at night and on the weekends.
    Do you have any tips to share?  I'll add more as I think of them!


    Monday, July 19, 2010

    Living in Chievres Lodge (Designer Bathtubs?)

    Okay, so it took me two weeks to notice a signature on the rim of our bathtub at the lodge.  This immediately made me wonder if that makes it a designer tub, and if so....the military paid for designer tubs in here?  With taxpayer money?  Or....

    I started to all Belgian bathtubs have signatures?  And whose signature anyway?  German tubs, at least the ones I've seen, don't.  Hmmmmmmm.

    Other things you'll find at the lodge that may be more useful to you and your family:

    • A nice Continental breakfast is included in your stay.
    • I believe those PCSing in and out have priority.
    • There are some grills out back, along with a new playground with rubberized surfaces.
    • The only benches around the whole grounds are those at the playground....strange.
    • There are three free computers connected to the internet for your use in the business center.  There is also a printer attached.
    • You'll also find a DSN phone in the business center (really a small room).
    • Did you know you can get a dial tone in the US from calling any DSN phone to dial 1-800 numbers or to use your calling cards?  Call 809-463-3376 and then dial your toll free number.
    • There is a binder in the lobby listing items for sale that people have posted.
    • There is a shuttle bus stop right out front that will take you to SHAPE and Brussels Airport.  I think you have to make reservations though to get to the airport.
    • The lodge has storage rooms that can be used for free on a case available basis.  Just keep asking at the front desk.
    • The front desk is very helpful in giving you ideas on what to do in your spare time.
    • If you are looking for a neat Belgian grocery store close by and the back gate is open, try the Champions store there.  It even has limited hours on Sunday.
    • Don't forget that most eating choices are closed on Monday, although the Patriot Club next to the gym does serve lunch on Mondays.
    • Yes, the longterm rooms and suites do have kitchen facilities, but they are meager at best.  There are two burners with no exhaust fan, plus a small microwave that I believe you can use in a convection/browning way too confusing for me to figure out.  The dishwasher is also half the size of a regular one.
    • If you are looking for something to read, the thrift shop, Grandma's Attic maintains a bookcase on the third floor of the lodge with free hardcover and softcover books for you to borrow, including childrens' books.
    • Speaking of Grandma's Attic, it is worth a visit and right next to the commissary.
    • Washers and dryers are in a laundry room on each floor.  Access it with your roomkey.  Doing laundry is FREE and many times there is extra detergent to use as well.  Only use half of your American washing liquid as the washers can overflow if you use too much.
    • The wailing and scary bird noises you hear behind the parking lot are not peacocks....but pheasants!  Look for them in the bushes, and watch them fly out right in front of you.
    If you have any more tips to share, please add them below!


    Sunday, July 18, 2010

    PCSing (Moving) to Belgium: Finding Housing

    It's always at the forefront of our minds, isn't it....where are we going to live? Many overseas duty stations do have on post housing, but many times you are faced with finding housing on the economy, or off post. This experience can be as stressful as you can imagine it, but with keeping these tips in mind, you can make the search less daunting.

    Please keep in mind that my tips are relevant to the Chievres Air Base/SHAPE area, but some of these tips can be applied to many overseas locations, as you will find housing offices on post that will assist you in your search and also help in negotiating your lease. I am also expressing my opinions and how I approached our own housing search.  Also, keep in mind there is some on post housing (SHAPE Village) and also government leased housing off post.  You are authorized number of bedrooms by the number of dependents you have and the wait time can be one to six months.  All government leased housing off post is enlisted only but SHAPE Village does allow officers.

    • Take a look at your household goods and do an honest assessment of want you want to take overseas. If you are pushing the top limit of your weight allowance, you will most likely not have room for all your stuff, so plan to put some things in storage. Top suspects for storage include excessive outdoor furniture and equipment such as riding mowers and 110 volt appliances, especially your washer and dryer. Since you can also use basic loaner furniture overseas, keep that in mind. They have things such as nightstands, beds (twins and doubles), wardrobes (because European houses do not have closets), dining room tables and chairs, couches, easy chairs and coffee tables. SHAPE does not have a wide range of things to pick from, just the basics above.
    • Know what your overseas housing allowance is for your rank. This is the most the military will give you for housing. You can rent a home more expensive, but the overage will come from your own pay. If you find a place cheaper, you will get that amount only, regardless if your max is higher. You can also find out what your amount will be for paying your utilities. This in contrast is exactly what you get per month, regardless of what your utility bill will be (higher or lower). You will also get a moving in allowance (MIHA) that will help offset some moving in expenses.
    • Start looking online on Immoweb (Hainaut province) and Vlan.  Get personalized searches sent to your email address. The rent amounts here are typically a bit lower than the homes advertised through the onpost housing offices. Remember that these rents don't include monies to maintain your heating systems, insurance, water softeners, etc.  The housing office rents do. Use Google Maps to see driving times to SHAPE. Make sure you know if you will work on SHAPE or Chievres Air Base, as there are a few offices that have people working on both posts. Since the commissary and PX are on Chievres, you also don't want to be too far way in the wrong direction!
    • After arrival, your first stop should be Building 210 on SHAPE for inprocessing (after checking in with your unit). Nothing happens around here without a SHAPE ID card. You can't even enter the post with just your military ID, so park at the entrance visitor parking lot (follow the signs) to get your temporary pass for yourselves and your vehicle. Once you have your SHAPE ID, you can visit both housing offices. The International Housing Office is in the same building and posts their listings on the wall, as well as online. Their entire system is computerized, to include putting in your option for a house you like and managing those options.
    • The American Housing Office in the building next door, also has their listings on the wall, by number of bedrooms, but everything here is done manually. They have a housing briefing every weekday morning at 0830. Only when you complete this can you see, visit and bid for homes.
    • See one of the American Housing Office staff immediately if you see a house you like. They will make the appointment for you and then put your option down. You have a week to see the house and let them know if you are interested. If you are #1 on that house's list, you get first right of refusal for that week's timeframe. If you are #2, you have to wait for #1's option to expire or for them to remove themselves from the option list for that particular house or if they like the house and take it right from under you!  Listen carefully to how the housing office explains this to you, and be aware when your option expires (which will be at 0900 that morning if no one else is ahead of you expiring on the same day).
    • The International Housing Office uses their automated computer system to rank order options for each of their homes. Log into one of their computers after you register there (you'll need a letter from the American Housing Office allowing you to do this - only a formality). Put your option down for a house. You can only put options down for a limited number of homes at one time at either office. When you print off a home you put an option on, you will see where you are rank ordered and who is ahead of you, as well as when your option expires (and when everyone else's options expires). Our option on a home expired the same day as two others, so starting from 0900, each of use could exercise our option in 15 minute increments (#1 drops off if he doesn't exercise his option and #2 moves to #1 and so on, every 15 minutes).
    • You can get the American Housing Office to make the viewing appointments for you on listings from either office or if you find something on your own.
    • Be prepared to make concessions. You will not find a perfect house. You may settle for a three bedroom when you wanted four. Many homes only have one bathroom. Many do have an extra little toilet room. Some have no yards but cobblestoned or bricked courtyards. Some are on very busy roads. Many of the newer homes have tiny bedrooms (and remember, the military gives you wardrobes, which take up a lot of room). Older homes can be full of character and awesome old home features, but many of them have not been renovated lately, so you'll have to decide if you can live with an older kitchen or bathroom or both!
    • The big difference between the American and International Housing offices is the standards of the homes. It used to be one big housing office until the American office was stood up. They offer more customer service and homes listed through them have to meet higher standards. That is not to say that the International Housing does not have standards. They do as well and landlords renting through either have to be willing to do a special SHAPE lease and be willing to upgrade their homes to our standards. Some examples are double pane windows, installed security systems and bathroom ventilation.
    • I advise you to visit BOTH housing offices multiple times a day and especially when they first open. Someone can PCS here AFTER you and happen to be in either housing office when a home is posted. They can then get an option on it before you even knew the home existed. I've seen homes posted at different times of the day and sometimes days can go by with no new postings. You have to be persistent and keep coming back to check. It will be frustrating and emotionally draining, but if you prepare yourself for this, you will get through it.
    • You are also required to see a certain number of homes per week, so no rest for the weary! If you don't or if you refuse a home using one of their reasons the housing offices say are not legitimate, you will forfeit your Temporary Lodging Allowance (TLA) payments which are used to pay for your lodging and food! Some of the reasons you cannot use to refuse a house are rooms being too small or the landlord doesn't allow pets.
    • Speaking of pets, before you make an appointment to see a home, check the listing to see if the landlord allows pets. Many do not. Some are negotiable. Make sure the staff member helping you make a viewing appointment asks the landlord if pets are allowed. Get them to write it on the home's spec sheet. Many of the listings say pets are negotiable.
    • Do not rely ONLY on both housing office listings! Check with local realtors (See Century 21 offices nearby). Real estate agents will only show you their listings, so check around. I know someone who found a carriage house of a local chateau this way (in fact, I know three people living in beautiful carriage houses that look like castles, with full access to chateau grounds).  This area of Belgium is full of chateaus and estates, just beautiful!  Also call and email the Immoweb listing contact information and when viewing the home, ask if they will accept the SHAPE lease. Information in French can be found on the International Housing website that explains all the benefits and the process of renting through them. A landlord can typically charge higher rents (more than renting to a Belgian or local), plus the military will pay for certain improvements, such as security systems.
    • If you look at a home with no security system or outdoor lighting, certain types of locks, etc, don't fret, especially if you found the house on your own. Get with the security desk at the American Housing Office, as you can pay for a security system or upgrades up to a certain cost and be reimbursed by the military.
    • If you find a home on your own, and you want to rent it, the housing office will need to send an inspector out to make sure it passes muster, and the landlord must be willing to do a SHAPE lease.
    • NETWORK, NETWORK and more NETWORK with your servicemember's new office where he will be working. Many homes change hands from an outgoing person to an incoming person and his family. The nicer homes tend to go that route. I know the Canadians have a certain reputation for "keeping their homes in the family". Hey, you're looking out for your peeps....that's a good thing, no?
    • NETWORK also at breakfast at the lodge and all around. I personally found three possible homes that way from people who were PCSing out. Talk to everyone you meet! Sometimes the landlords have not gotten the home back into the system, allowing you to rent the home without the stress of the roulette game!
    • The American Housing will tell you their standard is to get each family housed...I can't remember if it was within 30 or 60 days. I've talked to plenty of people who took much longer, especially in the non-summer months. Be prepared for that, and if you have pets, be prepared for large bills to either the kennel or the lodge for the pet fee.
    • Stay positive and don't give up, and keep at it until you find a home for you and your family! It is easy to become negative and to be guarded around the new people you meet....I struggled myself with how much good advice or information to share with another new person, not having found a house yet.  Stay focused and keep your eye on the prize!
    • You will see some gorgeous brick homes, well kept yards and flowers, carriage houses, barns and farmhouses with courtyards....fancy fountains and gardens, beautiful chandeliers and modern (but smaller) homes, all fairly sturdily built, mostly out of attractive red brick.....two hundred year old homes that have been mish mash put together but many renovated....also apartments of various sizes, mostly up to three bedrooms...some nice villas, I know of a few within steps to the cathedral in Mons that Americans are renting....and you will see inglorious dumps, especially in the lower rent ranges.
    • If you are lower enlisted, you won't have the luxury of paying higher rents, so you will have less to choose from. My advice here is to insist on living on post or in government leased quarters. I know someone who was in temporary quarters for about six months, and the housing office found them an acceptable place off post after they raised their voices to be heard. I don't know if this is the norm or not, but speak up and insist you get more personalized help and don't hesitate to go "the official route" to get help outside your organization (such as IG) if you feel you are not getting the service you deserve. SHAPE is top-heavy with higher ranking officers and sometimes you can get lost in the shuffle!
    Once we did find a house and our option was exercised (after two weeks of looking at about 10 houses), what a relief and weight lifted off my shoulders! I see the same thing in every spouse's eyes at breakfast AFTER they find a home. That is the start of the downward stress level. Even though I had to concede some things, such as a big yard and large kitchen, I got things in return, such as a cool and large old home that was once a cafe before and during the war, which is completely renovated inside, next to a canal with many trails and close to a trainstop where I can reach all of Europe without ever having to get in my car! To me, that was worth it. You may find too that you will also have to give up something on your list, so just be prepared. You can be happy with your decision once you make it. It's all a great adventure, isn't it?

    Update:  The American Housing Office now has their home offerings online at AHRN.  You must have a .mil or account though to search any OCONUS (non-US) listings.

    If you have any housing tips to share, please post below!


    Saturday, July 17, 2010

    PCSing (Moving) to Belgium

    It's that time again...the military is moving us again after two years....this time to SHAPE (near Mons), Belgium. My first impressions are that this is certainly not Germany.....In fact, coming from Germany, you expect everything to be just like Germany! If Flanders and Wallonia (the French speaking Southern part) were to split into two separate countries, Wallonia would be the second poorest European country just ahead of Albania! But with that being said and after meeting some of the friendliest people I've EVER met in Europe, here are some tips to make your move more successful.

    This was one of the rarest moves for us, moving from one overseas location to another with a vehicle rather than flying. We made the mistake of piling up things throughout our home, here....and there...and saying, "oh, it'll fit in the van". In the end, it did not all fit in the van, necessitating another trip down to Germany to pick up the rest of our junk at a later date. It didn't help that we also had an extra large dogcrate for our behemoth of a canine. Be sure to set aside ALL your items that will go in your car in one place, and make sure it all fits in your vehicle BEFORE the movers leave.

    If you are coming from Germany, add a small fire extinguisher to your vehicle. It is required by Belgium law in addition to your first aid kit, warning triangle and the orange safety vest. Make sure you bring a vehicle in good working order, as the roads are rough...many, the size of goatpaths with tons of potholes and black ice in the winter rather than loads of snow. Keep this in mind when thinking about bringing a super-nice vehicle! Come prepared! Also, vehicles must have rear fog lights and all vehicles under 5 years old must have an official yearly inspection that is no joke! It is very thorough, so let me recommend you get it pre-inspected before going to the official inspection station. The autoshop on SHAPE can do that for you and that along with a foglight installation will set you back just over 100 euros.

    Be sure to get your vehicle inspected at the official CT inspection station in Braine-le-Comte, about 20 minutes from SHAPE. This is my own recommendation....there are many other inspection stations as well, but I found this one was not as heavily frequented.  Go right after lunch, midweek, and you'll have a much shorter wait than at the one in Mons. We were in and out of there in 30 minutes. You'll also find some of their technicians speaking English and the experience costs just over 50 euros. After speaking to the technician, he said most Americans who fail the inspection fail because of misaligned headlights and improperly installed foglights.

    Av. Du Marouset 103
    7090 Braine-le-Comte

    You can also make an appointment at this particular station, and here are the other stations in Belgium in case you decide to check out another one.

    Other quick tips that come to mind:

    • If you are staying at the lodge on Chievres Air Base, try to get a suite, which will have a kitchenette with a microwave, refrigerator, dishwasher and hotplates. Don't bother bringing a toaster or crockpot, as they are not allowed. There are toasters down in the lobby in the breakfast area for your use.
    • If you want to stay off post, you can only do that if you get a statement of non-availability from the lodge, meaning they have no more rooms left. There are other hotels closer to SHAPE (Chievres is a 30 minute drive away by car or you can use the shuttle). If you are coming in the summertime, in 2010, we had a HUGE heatwave and you won't find AC in off-post hotels.
    • If you have a pet, make a reservation as EARLY as you can at the lodge, as they only have seven pet rooms and only a few are designated for long-term stays. There is a kennel on Chievres a few hundred meters from the lodge, but availability is limited, so make reservations EARLY. Also be mindful of your arrival time and opening/closing hours of the kennel or you could be stuck with closed doors and no place for your pet.
    • Breakfast is included in your room charge at the lodge. It is a simple breakfast of various cereals, yogurts, fruitcups, hardboiled eggs, bagels with jellies and cream cheese, orange and apple juice and a coffee machine that puts out a variety of different cups of coffees and hot chocolates. One of the local churches was also nice enough to have a barbecue once a month for hotel guests during the summer.
    • Near the lodge and all within walking distance, you'll find the PX with a food court, the PXtra (like a large shopette), a library, commissary and a gym. The PX and commissary are closed on Mondays, so you do have to prepare ahead of time for your food options that day.
    • There are car rental agencies outside SHAPE and one on Chievres. Some people do take the shuttle from Brussels Airport to Chievres Lodge. Do remember that the military does not reimburse you for care rental charges, so ship your car EARLY and rent a vehicle in the States, where it is much cheaper. We saw some folks who had their cars three and four days after arrival due to shipping vehicles early.
    • Expect to be in the lodge or hotel from one to three months. The housing shuffle here is more stressful than anywhere I have been so far. Most people are not authorized on post housing or the waits are long, so you will be competing for housing off post. I will write more about the housing dance, which reminded me of the NBA draft, at a later date. I will leave you with this thought, if you can rent the home of your predecessor who works here and is PCSing out, that is ideal and much less stressful. Many offices and sections keep homes out of the housing roulette game and into the hands of their incoming personnel by doing this. It is allowed, and you are not required to only rent houses that are advertised by either the American or International SHAPE housing offices.
    • If you are so inclined and you can trust your hubby to pick a nice house for you (he can always email you pics), I would stay in the States rather than dragging kids out of school and pets along to spend months in a hotel in a foreign country....just my opinion!
    • If you are bringing children and plan to register them in school on SHAPE, you can print out all the forms online. Be sure to also have an updated shot record for your child, sealed records from their previous school and a current school physical. I made sure we did brand new physicals before leaving Germany, so we didn't have to stress out about waiting on appointments or the designated physical exam days at the clinic here. Bring another copy if you want to register your kids at Youth Services. Almost all sports programs are run through them (rather than the schools) and your local Belgian communes where you live also have programs. Some parents enroll their children in local Belgian schools or one of the other SHAPE schools, such as with the Canadians, Germans or British to name a few. I believe there is a school for each NATO country here on SHAPE, all located together around a central shared area. Here, eighth graders are part of the high school rather than the elementary school for administrative ease.
    We are looking forward to this assignment and have already visited some of the beautiful chateaus, parks and museums in our local area! The Mons area used to be one of the richest areas of Belgium due to its coal mining industry that no longer exists. The beautiful rolling hills and mounds full of trees and greenery were once piled up black "trash" from the coal mines. You would never know it now...just beautiful!  This area also has a rich Italian history with all the Italian immigrants and their descendants who emigrated here during the coal boom. I've found some awesome stone oven baked pizzas already! If you speak Italian, you'll also be that much ahead as many in this area do speak the language! How great is that? All in all, we are centrally located to visit all over Europe and quick access to Belgium's awesome train transit network. By car it's also only about two hours to Paris and many Shapians, as they are called, travel to Paris for the day...hey, the schools even take field trips to the Louvre and the Cathedral in Cologne! If you have any tips to share on moving to Belgium, please post them below!