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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): January 2011

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.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Let's help a Chaotic Mom out!

I wanted to take the time to share a project to and from military wives....all of us, that a fellow blogger, Chaotic Mom, is working on.  Wouldn't it be awesome to be a part of this project?  She is looking for wives across the services (Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines), regardless of your husband's rank.

I've already joined her in her ambition here, and if you want to be a part of military wives helping other military wives, read below.

Here's the gist of what she needs:

If you are interested in sharing your military spouse experiences, please prepare and submit your essay to her by March 15, 2011 to be considered for inclusion into her book. Please include a personal biography (up to 90 words) and any photographs you would like to be considered for publication. The photographs could include a personal headshot, creative gift ideas, etc. For more information, send an email to: Information is also being posted on the Facebook page “Military Spouse Books”.  Please share this essay call-out with as many spouses as possible. We all have something special to share with other spouses. Don’t worry about what to write, just WRITE. All accepted essays will be edited with the submitters’ approval before publication.

The deadline for submissions is March 15, 2011.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Who told you about the lightbulbs?

Don't you absolutely hate it when you move somewhere, and everyone else knows some simple little helpful thing, except you?  It's not something you talk about or even discuss...just expected to know.  Here's a tip to know before moving to Europe that can save you from buying new light fixtures and lamps.

Most people moving over here, get the information that electricity is different over here than in the US...not just the plugs but also the power with which that stuff shoots thru the walls.  Plug in your 110 volt US appliance and scare yourself as it literally blows smoke (and typically a spark) along with tripping the breakers.....and then kills your appliance....forever!  Even I fried a computer after we arrived....not because I didn't know, but because desktops have a SWITCH in the back that you must switch from 110 volt to 220 volt (unlike the laptops I had been using all summer that switch automatically between the two voltages....ooops).

Anyway, when you go into the PX or commissary over here, they will have TONS of light bulbs that are meant for 110 volts (they say 120 volt on them)....why?  I don't know....not every post in Europe has on post housing with dual voltages where you could actually use these bulbs...and as far as I know, none in Belgium do...go figure.  I never figured out why they would sell all these 110 volt appliances either, especially when I noticed my Chi dryer and straightening iron I bought in the US can be used in EITHER voltage....come on AAFES....sell something USEFUL!  There I go getting off on a tangent again...don't get me started on AAFES overseas..

If you are bringing your nice lamps from the US, all you have to do is purchase a 220 volt lightbulb (they do have some at AAFES and the commissary, just check that it says 240 volt on the box somewhere).  Then use a round European prong adapter so it'll connect in the wall, and you're done.  You are now using your US need to rewire or do anything else with it...and yes, you can buy those lamps at the PX, even if they say 120 volt.

Can you think of anything else like this, that everyone just expected you to know coming over here?

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Join Household6Diva's Blizzard Bloghop with Me!

Blizzard  Bloghop 2010 hosted by Household 6 Diva
I'm actually not sure what a Blizzard Bloghop is, but I guess I am going to find out!  Since Household6Diva, another military wife blogger, can't make it to the big blogger conference in the US (and I can't either), she thought we would do one online, so here I am!

I live and breathe Army because I know nothing else.  I was born into an Army family, served in it myself as an Engineer officer and then married into it, because I just couldn't stay away.  I am dating myself here, but I have over 40 years now of military life lessons.....I love to share things so you don't have to trip up and make the mistakes yourself.  Since I am not an expert in everything, I also repeat lessons that other wives have shared with big happy military family!

Please come by and visit my blog, as I write about my experiences (which are very close to your experiences I think or at least I hope)...being a mother, military wife and just good citizen!  I am currently located in Belgium, my husband's latest duty assignment.  Before that, we were in Germany and then all points in the US and in between.  As you can see from my blog, I love to travel and try new things....and share.  Looking forward to meeting some of you, and feel free to ask me any question you can think of on my "Ask Veteran Military Wife" link on my blog's homepage...I also welcome all comments (both positive and negative) on my blogposts.  I do moderate them first, so you won't see them immediately but still very soon!

Hope to see you soon and thanks for YOUR service, as our military men (or women) would not be where they are today without your strong backbone and character...thank you for that!


What is the deal with tipping in Europe!

Europeans LOVE Americans when it comes to tipping!  If you are planning on coming over to Europe, here's how to blend in and do the tipping thing may surprise you.

I can mostly speak for Belgium and Germany, as I have lived in both places...the rest of Europe, I can only comment on as a visitor and observer:-)

Believe it or not, as a whole, Americans OVER-TIP on this side of the big pond!  FYI, if you are a European, please don't spam me....I am just being honest here....although bottom line, for extraordinary service, throw all guidelines out the window and tip away as you see fit, regardless of what country you are from!

On the flipside, why do American waiters and waitresses HATE serving Europeans?  Cause they tip poorly and in fact, sometimes leaving nothing extra on the, why is there a disconnect here?

I think to answer that, you have to understand that in Europe, being a waiter or waitress is actually considered a career.  Yes, you go to school and get certificates and degrees in waitressing....even salesmanship (working in a store, or in a bakery) and you can't just hang out a shingle and be a butcher, as an example.  There are strict guidelines and rules and people take their training seriously....very seriously for the most part!  I am not kidding!

AND, their salaries....yes, I said SALARIES reflect that.  Unlike in the US, where our waitstaff works BELOW minimum wage and is expected to live off their tips....the waitstaff in Europe is paid a salary they CAN survive on.  That's why sometimes you have to seriously take off your shirt and wave it to get the waiter's attention....they are not particularly concerned with serving you.....except for the ones who know you are American and hope you don't know about this tipping thing.  I have a few Italian waiter friends down in Italy, and they will fight over who serves the American.

In Germany, as an example, it is recommended to "round up" your bill.  My German grandfather used to "round down" believe it or not...but always got the evil eye, so please don't be like him.  For example, if the bill is 33,40 euro (so 33 euro and 40 cents), when you hand over the money, say 35 euro (although some Germans will say 34....but I like to go a euro higher...that's just me).  Or you can say "das stimmt"....which means, "that is so".  You usually don't leave the money on the table.

To see what a typical tip should consist of, check Rick Steve's guide which is spot on.  Also know who you tip.  Here in Belgium, my hairdresser looked at me like I was crazy when I tried to give her a 10 euro bill as a I just rounded up the cents.  You'd be hard pressed here also to give money to your hotel shuttle driver, as they don't hold out their hand for tips, and I've never seen anyone tip them.

Does anyone have any European tipping tales to share?


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ask VMW: When exactly do I get my ID card as a new military spouse?

I thought I would answer this question today:

My husband just enlisted in the air force and we are currently waiting on his job assignment and the date he leaves for BMT. I do have a question and was hoping maybe you would know because my husbands recruiter has never dealt with a married recruit before. But do you know when I will be eliglble to get my dependent id card and be able to get on base? Will it be after BMT, or AIT or during one of those? Thanks so much for any help!!

And my answer:

Congrats to you!  Yes, you have a lot going on, don't you?  Once your hubby ships off to basic, he will go through a multitude of insurance, will, power of attorney, military stuff and a host of other inprocessing items...all in the first few weeks.  He'll enroll you in a computer system called DEERS....send you some paperwork, and then you with the paperwork and your documentation you provide, go to your nearest military base to get your ID card.  Once you are in DEERS, you can access the post/base, shop there, get healthcare, access to dental thru Tricare/Concordia Dental, etc...without it, you can do nothing, which I am sure you have figured out!

You can help by gathering all your important documents such as certified copies of your marriage certificate and birth certificate.

You can also find some pertinent information in this blogpost.

Good luck and welcome to the club!


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Free French Lessons (and other languages)....ABSOLUTELY, yes, free!

So I've been here in the French-speaking part of Belgium for 6 MONTHS and still can't speak the French fluently...I say speak, cause I can muddle my way through something in writing and if I listen ever so closely, I can at least catch the gist of the conversation.  As soon as someone parles though....I freeze up like a deer in the headlights!  Maybe I should start drinking, because I read once that when you drink, all inhibitions go out the window and regardless of what garble comes out, at least you are trying to speak the language.  With all that in mind, I've collected some FREE French lessons from a variety of sources.  It would help if I studied every day (I do not)...and also not to compare my French to my German, which I learned as a small child and can speak fluently (Note to parents:  Start YOUNG with WHATEVER other language you speak or the grandparents is invaluable, will help their brains ....GROW and will make your children seem incredibly smart when they are adults).  Let me know if you progress faster than me, so I have someone to compare myself with.

If you or your spouse is in the Army, you know that Rosetta Stone language training online is available to you for something like 30 different languages.  You can sign in only with the active duty member's AKO account information.

If you don't have access to that or want to try something else (or in addition), try these below.  Many of these sites also have opportunities to learn other languages as well.

  • Life Mocha is the poor person's language program and site, because it tries to mimic what Rosetta Stone is trying to do.  Their very basic lessons are free.  You can also connect with other learners, and they really try to foster a sense of community.  I have fun with it every now and again still.
  • Coffee Break French is great, because you can download each lesson to your MP3 player or Ipod.  I like that the lessons are short, hence the name "coffee break".  They are already into their third season of lessons!  No need to purchase them if you don't mind clicking on each set of lessons, then on each individual lesson to download.
  • The University of Texas first year French program is online and is FREE too, regardless if you are a student or not.  You can download the individual chapters and exercises, wordlists and videos directly to your computer.  I am a third of the way through the program, and I am astounded at the quality of the materials.  I printed all the chapters, and put them in a binder.  I even make myself do some homework.  
  • This site recommended by my French teacher at the Language Center on SHAPE has been a big help, especially in my listening skills.  It is very interactive and allows you to take a test as well.  Try it out!
  • "My" French Language Course on Wikimedia Commons is just as good as any other French learning coursebook.  It's a PDF file, and you can download it for free.....all 222 pages of it!
  • Your local library also has DVDs and may even have old cassette tapes lying around.  Ours here in SHAPE must have at least 15 different French programs to choose from.  While I am using the program, I download the lessons to my computer and MP3 player for ease of us.  A few of the programs I noticed cost hundreds of dollars online, so it's worth it to check them out.  If your local library does not have the resources, you can try inter-library loan (ILL).  Almost all libraries do this now...just get the CDs or DVDs from another library:-)
 As a sidenote, in addition to the language courses on SHAPE, which cost about 100 euro for newcomers (in the first 6 months after arrival), you can also check your local Belgian commune, where night courses cost about 50 euro for learning French.  

You know, I bet there are many more sites out there...hidden under all the outward fluff.  We just have to find them!  If anyone has come across any free language sites, please post them here for all to enjoy!

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

A checked bag mistake on the airplane

I just recently traveled from Belgium to the US and almost made a big boo-boo with my carry-on, which quickly became a valet-checked bag at the gate right before I boarded.  Why?  Cause I was getting ready to get on a commuter jet for my second leg and anything larger than a doughnut had to get checked gateside.  It turned out alright for me....not so good for "the other lady".  Here's what happened.

You know that when you buy a ticket on an airline, you are in effect signing your life away?  You are basically giving your consent to all their quirky baggage rules and regulations among other things as soon as you hit the purchase button.

Did you know that if the airline loses your luggage, there is a cap, or maximum amount you MAY get back that might not cover your collection of UGG boots you had packed in there?  Did you know that if there is pretty much anything but clothing in a camera, jewelry, anything electronic or whatever, you can kiss it good-bye just about when it leaves your sight?

Here's what United says on their "Contract of Carriage" as it is called.  All airlines have similar statements.

United will not be liable for loss of money, jewelry, cameras, negotiable papers/securities, electronic/video/photographic equipment, heirlooms, antiques, artifacts, works of art, silverware, irreplaceable books/publications/manuscripts/business documents, precious metals and other similar valuable and commercial effects. United prohibits the foregoing items being placed in checked baggage for travel wholly between points in the U.S. as well as for international transportation.

Most if not all airlines will only reimburse you for the value or perceived value of clothing that was in your suitcase.  It looks like most carriers only give about $3,000 at most back, and you'd better be ready to prove the value of what was in there to squeeze that out of them.  Again, it probably wouldn't cover those Chanel dresses you just bought in Paris.  I know I've blogged before about taking a photo of what's in your suitcase.  Also along with that, keep receipts of higher priced clothing items too....easier to do if you just bought them.

Back to the other lady....she had to gate-check her bag too and momentarily had a brain fart at the gate.  You know how they hustle you thru there right before boarding.  She left her very expensive camera inside its case in her, what was supposed to be, carry-on bag.  The commuter jet didn't have the room for larger carry-on bags.  After she got to her location, she did not open the bag right away (in hindsight, she should have).  When she got home and unpacked everything, she opened up her camera case and saw that her camera was missing.  She surmised it only could have gone missing between that gate check and when she got it back immediately after the flight, as she had the camera out at the security checkpoint at her departure location.  She tried to fight the airline to get her money back for that pricey camera...unfortunately, no luck.  She was out thousands of dollars:-(

I, not thinking either, had a larger size carry-on bag too, but quickly stepped off to the side and took out my Flip video camera, a digital camera, an MP3 player, a netbook and a case with an external drive in it.  Since I didn't have another smaller bag, I was lucky that each item had its own small case....obviously embarrassing, walking on the plane with wriststraps and loops hanging off every appendage, but I didn't want that stuff out of my sight and rightly so after hearing her story.  My hands were so full, I could not even bring all my reading material and was just thankful it was only an hour long flight.

I know one of these bags would have come in SO handy....

I usually have one in my purse, but I cleaned it out before traveling....never again not prepared!

Do you have any tips that others could use to prep themselves before getting on that flight?


Wednesday, January 19, 2011


I know most of us have been schooled in keeping our good stuff, ie valuables, out of sight and know how to not look like an obvious tourist.....BUT, I thought I'd share two stories of two friends who were robbed last year in broad daylight in Brussels.  And to leave you with a smile, I'll tell you what a former coworker did in Rome to thwart thieves there, one of the most high-powered theft areas in Europe!

I had a friend who traveled around Brussels by car.  You feel pretty safe in a car, don't you?  I know I did til I talked to her.  She was in the passenger seat of an average-looking European vehicle, digging through her purse, looking for some gum.  Before she even knew what was happening at that red light, some thief had ripped open her door and took off with her purse.  It was so shocking and brazen, that by the time her husband pulled over and gave chase, the thief was long gone.  She lost all her ID and of course all their money, as she was carrying ALL of it (Tip #1 & 2:  Split up your money and keep cars doors locked from the moment you get into your car).

The other theft happened over the holidays.  The victim boarded a city bus with her two young daughters, only to be separated from her girls as they got on first.  Two ladies were physically blocking her way, and she was so focused about being separated from her children and trying to get to the back of the bus to them, she ignored the jostling at the door.  As the bus driver prodded them all on (they were blocking the aisle), the two ladies suddenly jumped off the bus right before it left the stop.  As the victim made it to the back of the bus, she noticed that her wallet was missing from her purse.  Her purse had snaps and not a zipper.  She chose this purse earlier in the day, because it looked cute with her boots.  It was not so cute after she lost her wallet (Tip #3:  Never use a purse that doesn't zip smartly shut;  keep your purse close to your body with the zipper facing the front).

Even though the police were called in both instances, no stolen items were recovered.  The police were very kind up there in Brussels and helped as best they could, so that was nice to hear.  The police actually told my one friend that the ladies on the bus were probably gypsies, who are experts in this type of scam....but don't get lured into thinking that only people who look like thieves are the ones doing the robbing.  I saw a stylishly dressed man in a business suit try to reach into another man's pocket once on a bus but quickly pretended he was scratching his crotch when I made eye contact with him.  Many of these thieves also work in two and three person teams, so the chips area already stacked against you to begin with!

The last story involves a co-worker who went to Rome.  Now Rome I think is known as the pickpocket capital of the world!  You could probably write a book on the methods crooks use there to separate you from your valuables!  Well, my friend thought he would be funny (I don't recommend this) and purchased 10, yes 10 wallets at the dollar store.  He loaded them all up with paper to make them look like they contained the motherload.  He placed them at various points in his jacket, pants, shirt...wherever there was a pocket or crevice, there was a wallet....he even had one in his sock!  He spent a few hours riding public transportation and moving through crowds.  At the end of the day, he ONLY HAD TWO WALLETS LEFT!  That's right.....if you can do basic math like I think I can, that means eight were stolen!  He tried to think back and remember when it could've happened, and he could only seriously think of two instances where he actually "felt something".....all he could say was, boy, were they good.  He wanted to try it again with the two remaining wallets, with his teenage son providing overwatch, so they could "catch someone in the act".  Of course his wife put a stop to that game, and that was the end of that experiment.  Of course, around the same time, acquaintances of ours were driving in Rome and left an Ipod on the backseat of their vehicle (blame it on the teenager in the family)....they woke up to a broken-in car window and no Ipod or anything else of value left in the car  (Tips #4 & 5:  Don't try to go head-to-head with professional crooks, as things can go wrong AND don't leave valuables visibly out, or better yet, secure them in a safer location).

Do you have any anti-pickpocket tips to share?


Monday, January 17, 2011

And here are the goodies we eat

I know each country sometimes makes its mark by what foods are their national dishes....or what everyone likes to eat.  Well, Belgium is no different!  After someone finally convinced me that Belgium and not the French invented the French fries....actually, all it took was me trying a bite with one of the two dozen sauces each "frite" (fry) stand offers.....mmmmm....and then to see Belgians in a frenzied rush to eat mussels and fries two times a year....with signs and posters all over the countryside announcing their arrival, like they were the king and his entourage or something.  Anyway....enjoy the video.

Here are plenty of reasons to come visit!


Saturday, January 15, 2011

My man Mike Rowe and the letter

I got a crush on this guy when I first saw Dirty Jobs.  My whole family used to watch the show, cause this Mike Rowe is such a character, and the stuff they did was just...dirty...and gross.  You know, like boy stuff.  My boys also used to be in Scouting....I like some of the things scouting teaches young boys about being responsible for yourself and life lessons.  What do the two have to do with each other and why is it so important?  If you have kids, read on.

To understand "the letter", you have to know a little bit about Mike Rowe.  I thought he was just some wise-cracking actor at first...quick-witted, but there are other quick-witted actors out there, right?  Well, come to find out that this six foot something actor....stop the drooling.... is also a classically trained opera singer, among other things.........and a father of a scout asked him to send words of encouragement to his son to continue with Scouting, specifically, becoming an Eagle Scout.  Below is Mike's response...even if you are not into Scouting, it'll give you something to think about, and we've kept the letter and when the chips are they will be at one time or another, we'll get it out and read it again....take what you want from it for your own situation.


Your Dad asked me to drop you a line and say something inspirational that might persuade you to dig down deep and find the determination to make the rank of Eagle Scout. It's a reasonable request, from a father who obviously wants to see his son succeed. But here’s the thing - The Eagle Award is not really meant for people who need to be dragged across the finish line. It’s meant for a select few, and I have no idea if you have the guts to see it through. Statistically, I suspect you do not. Only one out of a hundred Scouts make Eagle, so if you fail, there will be lots of other people with whom you can share excuses. Quitting now might disappoint your Dad, but I doubt that he or anyone else will be overly surprised. Anytime 99 out of 100 people do the same thing, it’s not exactly a shock. I’m not trying to be cute with a bunch of reverse psychology. When I was 15, there was nothing that anyone could have said to me that would have inspired me to do something I didn't want to do, especially a stranger with a TV show. So I’m not going to assume you’re any different, or pretend that I have some influence or insight that you haven’t already heard from a dozen other people who actually know and care about you. I’ll just tell you straight up, that doing something extraordinary can be very lonely, and most people simply aren’t cut out for it. Being an Eagle Scout requires you to be different than most everyone around you, and being different is really, really hard. That’s why the award is called “an accomplishment.” Personally, and for whatever it’s worth, the best decisions I've made in my own life, are those decisions that put me on the outside of being cool. Singing in the Opera, working in home shopping, staring in the school play when the entire football team laughed at me, and especially earning my Eagle, were all choices that required sacrifice, hard work, and delayed gratification. I have no idea if you possess those qualities, or even envy them. But I can tell you for certain, that NOT getting your Eagle, will be one of the easiest things you’ve ever done. Anyway, I have no idea if you would prefer an easy life of predictability and mediocrity, or if have [you] the passion to follow the road less traveled. Only you get to decide that. 

Good luck,

What do you think?


Thursday, January 13, 2011

If you are moving to SHAPE, Belgium...

I just wanted to post a link from another Shapian on how to connect with other folks in the SHAPE, Belgium area.

Thanks Edith!  Follow this link here.  Also be sure to read her other blogposts, as she has many posts on living in Belgium as well as traveling all over Europe:-)


Email and Billboards

I want to mention something that's been on my mind, because the issue was brought up at a recent spouses' meeting.  Apparently, this is not common it is....

We were given a briefing by our local police department on security...not just home security but also other kinds of security and the conversation moved on to internet security.

Did you know that whatever you post in a regular un-encrypted email is like writing something on a billboard?  Did you know that any email that you send out can be easily intercepted and read?  You know how your mother always told you not to say anything bad about anyone to anyone unless you want to broadcast ito the world?

Well,  If you post your husband's deployment date and any other OPSEC information in emails back to family and friends, it is now common knowledge, and you've got your own Wikileaks going on.  Remember when Hurricane Katrina was in its infancy and Homeland Security staffers were joking and making inappropriate comments in their emails?  The ones that were posted all over the internet?

Did you know that if you send your credit card number, expiration date and other identifying information in your email, it can also be easily intercepted?  The few times I had to send sensitive information, I would always put it in two or three emails, with the numbers and information split up.  I don't know if that's good enough, but I probably shouldn't even do that I think.

Bottom line....don't write anything in an email you wouldn't mind having someone else read.  Many of you already know about not posting sensitive information on Facebook and other networking sites but sometimes, email etiquette security gets lost in the shuffle.

If you have anything you want to add, please add it below.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Absolute VERY last minute travel tip

Being in the military somehow baptizes you into the life of a world traveler.  You pick up some tips along the way, especially after you misstep here and there along the way.  The learning curve can be steep initially.  I've posted before about travel Travel Category is full of them....but if you are short on time or want to know the most important last minute travel tips, here goes...

How about some last minute random thoughts before you head out the door?

I can't stand to "destroy" a book...just photocopy the pages you will need and take those along.  I've turned a rubberbin at home into my travel library.  Each destination has its own labeled gallon ziploc bag filled with brochures, tourist maps, great informative articles and of course my photocopied guidebook pages....all in the bin by geographic region (please don't roll your eyes at me, I know).  Your local library is full of travel need to buy!  Start building your own resources now (I also frequently loan them out).

Separate your money..have your partner carry some too...don't carry it all with you.  Hide some in your sock, bra or waistband in addition to that...not all in your wallet...I keep most of my money "under wraps" so to speak.  I have this thing I also wear around my neck that can be hidden under a layer of clothes.

Call your credit card company ahead of time and let them know you will be out of the country.  I've seen people's credit cards get denied...and then they wondered card fraud departments can be extra vigilant these days.  I recently didn't take my own advice thinking my credit card companies are used to me charging stuff all over the world....well, even I got flagged by making a large laptop purchase in the US.....guess that didn't follow my pattern and thankfully, the store let me call the company where I loudly announced that it was just a misunderstanding and a routine fraud alert!

Take a photo of what is in your suitcase...if it gets lost with the airline, they always want to know what's in there...pretty much exactly what's in may help with your claim too and get you maximum dollars back.  Don't put valuables in there..but you already know that.  Even something as inconspicuous as a computer external drive you got for Christmas and already copied all your files to...should not go in there  I won't tell you who made that mistake, but it wasn't me or my was quickly corrected of course before the suitcase got out of sight!

Write that one last checklist.  You know, the one that says passport, tickets, did you turn off the water to the washer, lock the backdoor....that kind of thing....keep it fairly short and last minute and look at it right before you head out the door.

What are some of your last minute travel tips?


Monday, January 10, 2011

Things that struck me coming back to the US

Okay, so don't make fun of me, but I hadn't been back to the US in 2-1/2 years.  I know, that's not really long when you look at it, but apparently, as I stood there like an idiot in the aisles of the point of the salesperson actually grabbing my arm and steadying me, asking if I was embarrassing.  I think he thought I was going to faint.  Honestly, I think I might've been ready to, and I honestly think the worst part for me...was that  my mouth was hanging open in awe and my eyes must've been somewhat glazed over.  Sensory overload!  So after a week, I thought I would sit down and write a list of the things that struck me, being back "home"...and made me realize, boy, I've been gone longer than I realize!

First, let me say, my mantra over here was always, "I am going to enjoy Europe to its fullest and will go back when we're ready to move back" and "if people want to visit and grandparents want to see the grandkids, they'll just have to come over here...that's why we got a big house"...I know, cruel and selfish, but that was my thinking.  Of course, dangle a free ticket home, courtesy of the US goverment before my eyes and guaranteed seats and tickets no less....that shifted my thinking long enough to make arrangements for all of us....deployable hubby go home for the holidays.

I mentioned before that we almost didn't make it due to the big snow.  Our flight day was the first day flights were flying...and later that evening, the airport was shut down to the SECOND big snow, and we would've been stuck well after Christmas Day.  Thankfully, everything worked out for us this time around.

So, after some shopping trips and a few trips just driving around, visiting a few old friends from high school no less, I sat down to make my list.  In no perfect order, these are the things that stood out in my mind, coming back to America after being gone for a bit:

  • The huge portions when we went out to GOD...I had forgotten how much they put on the plates!  This goes along with my second observation below.
  • The high numbers of people I saw who were truly obese.  Yes, there are overweight people here in Europe and yes, I can stand to lose some weight myself...I can't use the "just had babies" excuse anymore....but there were gobs and gobs of people just struggling to walk around, get out of their cars, and I remember stores having one or two of those electric carts in the past...not five or six!
  • The all-you-can-eat buffets.  European buffets are much different, and they have no clue what a REAL buffet is....I honestly went straight to bed both days we ate buffet food.  My eyes and stomach did not know how to handle it and couldn't tell me when I was full.  I paid for that with an overstretched stomach that just plain HURT.
  • The hovering in stores by salespeople...can I help you, can I help you?  I know this is a theft deterrent, but you'd be hard pressed to even chase down a customer service person in a store over fact, customer service is almost unknown in Belgium and Germany.  The products are supposedly so well made, they speak for themselves!
  • How many women are wearing's rare you see them here, except on other Americans you meet. I even saw a dry cleaner that had a sign out that said "Yes, we dry clean your UGGs"....WOW!
  • The LOW, LOW prices!  I almost fell over when I saw a sign at NYC area airport that advertised a drink for $1.99.  We just paid 3,50 EURO for the same size drink at Brussels Airport!  Of course, I forgot all about the sales tax being added at the register, so I promptly gave my son only $2.  It didn't even click when he came back and asked me for 17 cents...I said, for what?  Then matter, the lady took pity on him as an international no doubt and gave him the soda anyway.  I even saw many, many things that were much cheaper than our PX overseas as well, where everything is priced in dollars too....hmmmmm.
  • The drinking...and I don't mean alcohol.  I mean the Starbucks coffees and lattes and the superbig Gulps from 7-Eleven and everything in between.  Americans are always drinking, wherever they go, on-the-go, and those drinks are filled up to the top and if it's a cold will have loads of ice.  You'll be lucky to get a little sippy cup size over here and forget the ice!
  • The hustle and bustle, especially shopping.  I got run over a few times...of course this was the holiday season...but everything is just much....faster in the US.
  • Everyone drives everywhere.  I saw very little biking and walking, unless we went to the local park, which we did once.  Here in Belgium, people ride their bikes to go shopping or wherever, in all kinds of weather.  You also see a lot of little old ladies doing their shopping, pulling their little cart behind them.  I saw no such carts in the US.
  • Much is open much of the time.  It was such a thrill to go shopping at 1 am and to go grab a burger after the ball dropped on New Year's Eve....all things you can forget over here with the strict shop opening hours, as well as restaurant hours...except for places like Berlin and London....even parts of Paris shut down before midnight.
  • All the TV channels!  My dad had over 1,000 channels!  I channel-surfed through them a few times...every time my dad asking me what in the world was I doing? answering, I just want to see what's on....him responding, then just use the channel guide function...huh?  Who knew there was a Scream Channel and a "We only show women with big titties" channel or whatever it was called...since when were there so many channels?
And, so that's what struck me, both the good and the bad.  We all of course thoroughly enjoyed ourselves...the highlight of course being with family but without shame, I will tell you that we shipped home to Belgium....a total of SEVEN boxes and had our suitcases stuffed to the maximum.  Thankfully, each of us had a suitcase up to 50 lbs we could take home with us at no charge...whew.

Have you been gone for awhile?  How do you feel about going back?  I guess there is a thing such as reverse culture shock?  I believe it now although I wouldn't have last month:-)


    Saturday, January 8, 2011

    Why I have changed my mind about Twitter (and you should too!)

    I like to keep most things simple.  My dad had been hounding me for well over a year to make the move to Twitter.  I kept saying NO...I mean, yet another site you have to go check and keep track of passwords and just stuff in general?  No-uh....didn't want to do it.  He had already pulled me kicking and screaming to Facebook...and at the time, that was enough for me!  Well, I have changed my mind...and you might be surprised why.

    My first wall of resistance with Twitter, other than what I mentioned above was being overseas with a prepaid phone where you pay for EACH text message.  I knew messages come in every few seconds if you follow more than a dozen different people or "Twitter feeds", so obviously cost prohibitive if you wanted to monkey around with this thing.  The second thing I thought of was why would I want to read the musings of some random people around the world...stuff that I would never need...mostly....either that or more stuff to waste my time over....reading and musing over!

    Well, a few weeks ago, we were scheduled to fly out of Brussels Airport back to the US...and then the big snow of 2010 hit Europe, paralyzing half a dozen countries and wreaking all kinds of havoc.  I signed on the usual news channels was slow incoming, and if I hadn't had Facebook and a local Facebook group I joined (SHAPE Families), I wouldn't have known what the roads were like nearby.  But next biggest concern was our flight when I heard on the Belgian news that flight operations were being affected by this monstrous storm....but no real details, especially in the days the days we were supposed to make our way by train up to Brussels

    So, I signed up for Twitter and immediately found @eurocontrol and @BrusselsAirport to follow and WOW...up-to-the-second information on exactly what was going on at not just our Brussels Airport but all the European airports...not just text updates but uploaded photos and real-time information only seconds old.  Twitter was also the first place I read about the shortage of icing fluid because there was a ban on all heavy trucks in Belgium and northern France, where those shipments were coming from.  I was also able to see and hear which flights were leaving and what the terminal looked like.  I even was able to find some local Twitterers here in Belgium and found our current road conditions on our local highways and other local delays, as well as what trains were running behind....the news sites didn't pick up that information til later...much later, and posted their information then.  It's also when I realized I bet some of these news outlets actually follow Twitter to get their most current news.  You just have to know who to follow to make it work for you.

    So my advice to you:

    • Find some Twitterers or maybe it's Tweeters who talk about the things that interest you...and sign up for those feeds only.  
    • If you've got a contract phone with FREE text messaging, then link those feeds to your phone.  If not, you're going to have to rely on checking Twitter on your computer.
    • Many stores post short specials and discounts ONLY on their Twitter feeds, and if you monitor your favorite store there, you can catch the discount before it disappears.  I just saw one that was good for one day only, and the info was ONLY posted on the store's Twitter feed....hmmmm.
    • Connect with your favorite celebrity...I'm not saying I'm a big fan of Ivanka Trump, but it was neat hearing about her adventures on her two day backpacking journey in Patagonia (and I was astounded she had coverage there!).
    • If you have a favorite blogger you can't wait to read, many who use Twitter will announce on their Twitter feed when they have a new blogpost up.  It beats having to check your newsfeeds through RSS or visiting each blog, one by one.
    • You can also get last minute traffic updates as well as weather, as it for the ones in your area.
    • If you have a topic you are interested in, you can also look at trends and follow those to get the latest information.  Each trend (look at your mainpage on Twitter), has a "#" sign to signify that it's a trend.  I see people following the Royal Wedding plans and others talking about their 2011 New Year's resolutions.
    Do you use Twitter?  If so, why do you think it's useful?  If not, why are you staying away?  Be honest:-)


      Thursday, January 6, 2011

      Ask VMW: What do I bring as a hostess gift?

      I've received this question a few times, so I thought I'd better answer it.  At one time or another, you'll be invited to go to the commander's wife's house or somewhere else.  Here's the question:

      "What do you bring as a hostess gift to a general's wife's luncheon at her home? The luncheon is intended for component commander's wives. She is VERY old school with the "rules" so I want to ensure I bring something. This is in Germany so European suggestions are welcome."

      I have a general rule that some commanders' wives may not like...but when I am the invited guest, I NEVER come empty-handed.  Many times invitations will say "no gifts", but I consider a "small token"  not a gift, so I get away with it I think most of the, it's the right thing to do....I know they are trying not to collect junk and don't want you spending money on junk, so that's how I interpret it and do it anyway.

      Now, being a former commander's wife....twice....I can tell you, I got a lot of knick knacks and things I could not possibly use.  It always made me feel bad, because I knew that some thought and money must've gone into the gift, so you accept it for what it is....thoughtfulness, genorosity and good manners.

      Being in Germany you say and near a chocolate factory I see, how about a nicely wrapped box of premium chocolates from your local factory store?  Amazingly enough, here in Belgium, I am near yet another chocolate factory...I'm not complaining and MANY wives here will go there and buy huge boxes of chocolates in different flavors (cause you can only get one flavor per large non-descript box at this particular place).  They then buy cute little giftboxes and paper with all the trimmings and mix and match the chocolates in these boxes to give away as gifts.  If you don't have a lot of giving to do, then just buy a box or two....package them in smaller lots...and then eat the rest.  No one can ever have too many chocolates!  I saw a lot of this going on over the holidays up in this area.

      As a hostess, I also enjoy a bottle of wine....something different, like a Riesling or a "died-and-gone-to-heaven" Eiswein....I recently bought some wonderful South African wines for 3 Euros from our local Lidl here in Belgium.  I know they are priced the same in Germany.  I also like to see these items prettily wrapped and am always amazed at how creative ladies can be.  I say this, because I'm not.  Flowers are always safe, as long as they are not of the funeral or love variety....each country may have different customs, so check that you're bringing appropriate flowers and mixed-priced bouquets work best.  I once got a really pretty small notebook, which I loved and ended up carrying in my purse for my constant notetaking.  I also had a guest make me five handmade notecards with my initials on there....I could tell alot of work went into these things, and I was really touched by that.  Of course the hard part was using them and then giving them away...but that's another story really.

      Things to stay away from.....I would say books (cause interests are so different, and you don't want to risk offending anyone) knick knacks that gather dust, although I once got a very interesting Christmas ornament at a holiday gathering that the giftgiver handmade.  I still have it, and it is a reminder of our command time in an international environment.  Another time I got a very nicely wrapped basket of walnuts that came out of someone's yard....I think that is okay because it was homemade and genuine....but most careful...someone may be allergic or just not like it...for example, eating pickled herring brings good luck, but I just wouldn't bring it as a gift.  As much as I like scarves and shawls, don't bring those or clothing either....again, too much of a risk of someone not liking what you bring and then what?  Or, they may feel bad, thinking you spent a lot of money, even though you swear up and down that it was nothing.  I have a mink stole I received....yes, it was from someone hailing from a Nordic country....but I feel guilty that I got it, and it was a bit awkward in front of the other ladies as well.

      Now that I've given you some ideas, I bet you just came up with another dozen!  If anyone wants to share what they like to bring or what they like receiving, please post below!


      Monday, January 3, 2011

      The trash situation over here

      Most places you least either pay for a trash service from one of the trash companies servicing your area (like we did in Colorado) or your property taxes pay for it (like in Florida) or perhaps something else in between?  The Germans and the Belgians do things a bit differently.....and it takes some getting used to for Americans!

      In Germany, if you live off post, your local municipality will run trash collection.  In Germany, you had better have at least a college diploma to figure out how to sort your garbage or risk them not picking it up!  Most German localities will get you to purchase these special stickers, which you stick on each of your trashcans.  You mean there is more than one?  Yes, sometimes.....Germans are avid recyclers, and you will quickly get in the game or be shunned by the neighbors.  And these trashcans are regulation can't just buy ANY trashcan!

      I remember living in the Vilseck area and having a HUGE plastic trashcan with a fliptop and wheels where we could ONLY put biodegradables.....that means, your meal leftovers, potato peels, coffee grounds and other organic substances.  I don't need to tell you that this thing smelled riper than the roses after just a few days.  I hated dealing with this thing and you can imagine what the inside looked couldn't put a bag in there, and it was always a race to see how fast you could close the lid after opening it.  So, I looked to see what my neighbors were doing, and other than the urinal my next door neighbor had mounted to the back of his house in full view of our back yard.....I noticed a pile in the far back corner of his was a compost pile I figured out after I moseyed on over there and poked it with a stick....yes, it was towards our side and not the other side...thanks.  I saw his wife dumping their stuff there.  Of course, I decided right then and there to make one too.  I added our kitchen junk and our grass clippings and all the overripe apples that fell into our yard.  I even started a garden, but I just couldn't bring myself to dig into that pile other than to turn it, as I had read somewhere, which just involved sticking a shovel in there and turning portions of keep it fresh?

      We also had to sort out paper, glass and plastic.  After doing this for a few years, we moved back stateside and promptly forgot everything, other than the paper sorting for some reason.  Our next big stint in Germany was on post.  We had big dumpsters down the street.  We had three for paper, two for plastic, a funny contraption for glass and the "other" dumpster.  Honestly, I was ashamed to be an American by the filth that my neighbors made at the dumpster.  Don't wing it over the fence and hope your load makes it in...especially if it was doggie-doo...hey, let's at least CLOSE the bag....I guess I should've been happy they even picked it up, another problem for another blogpost perhaps...the trials and tribulations of living on post!

      Many times I'd go out and also see perfectly good furniture sitting out there.  We had this German guy with a trailer, regularly making the rounds of all the dumpsters, picking out treasures to take home.  Inevitably, he'd come while I was out there, and I'd always avert my eyes....I was embarrassed by the mess!  Over the weekend was obviously the worst!

      On a positive note, many of my fellow Americans neighbors did not know that many of the items they buy in their German stores come packaged in returnable bottles, so we would regularly load up a crate and fill it with yogurt glasses, soda plastic bottles and of course beer bottles and the occasional rack of beer.  If the container says "Pfand" on the label somewhere, it is worth something (although you won't find that sticker on beer's just assumed those get turned in).  We found so much of that stuff, that my husband was able to support and pay for his beer habit just by turning in these misdirected bottles and jars!  I am totally being serious here! 

      The Germans do bottle turn-in so high tech go to your local store and look for a machine where people are putting their bottles in. You put the bottles in one at a time or by the rack, and the machine will scan the bottle and determine how much it is worth.  It keeps adding up the money, and when you are done, push the green button and get a ticket.  This ticket has a euro amount on it, and you can turn it in at check-out to either get the money back or get that amount off your next purchase.  It's very simple, and honestly, I wish more would use it instead of throwing money away. 
      Just to give you an idea, this group of guys returned 140 CASES of beer!  I included the link to show you what the machine typically looks like and how easy it is.  Look for a sign that says "Pfand Rueckgabe".

      Here in Belgium, we have less recycling going on...the Belgians are not as diligent as the Germans unfortunately....but, that does translate into less work.  What makes it so ingenious I think, is that each municipality or area charges you by the BAG.  So the more trash you have, the more you personally will pay for that privilege.  You go to a local grocery store and buy either the white "everything can go in there" bag (you buy a pack which costs over 8 euro) or the blue recyclable bags that take plastic and metal basically.  As you can probably tell, the blue bags are much cheaper.  Of course, that means we try to stuff as much as we can into the blue bags which get picked up every other week.  Paper, doesn't go into any bag but also gets picked up every other week, rotating with the plastic.  You just have to stack it neatly by the curb.  The white bags get picked up once a week, and like I said....anything goes in there, although I like to take non-recyclable bottles (which are almost all bottles except for beer bottles) to the local recycling center...each community has can also take bulk and yard trash there, as there is only one pick up a year for that kind of stuff.  Many also use the recycling center on SHAPE which is open every weekday (closed for lunch).  I've noticed some REALLY cheap people using the "everything" dumpster over there for their regular everyday garbage...I guess the DH goes to work every day with the trash in tow as part of his routine....I've seen people do it in Germany too when they didn't want to buy the stickers for living off-post. I don't know...I do a lot to save money...but that's a bit excessive if you ask me...and probably wrong!

      And that about wraps up the garbage!  Funny, how no one ever talks about it....but everybody has it and deals with it on a daily basis.  If there is another place that has an interesting trash collection method, I'd love to hear's been that kind of day!

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