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!): February 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.

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.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Hilarious "history lesson" on explaining difference between UK, Great Britain, England and More

I absolutely love this "tongue-in-cheek" history lesson on the British Isles.  If you didn't understand it before, you sure will understand it now!


Living in a World War Battlefield

Sometimes it's easy to get lulled into the daily comings and goings of our routine life.  I do this, until I see the British battlefield tour bus coming down the street or I take a walk by a beautiful commemorative marker in front of our house, always bejeweled with faux wreaths and banners.  You see, our house sits smack dab in the middle of a battlefield.  We didn't even realize it until the day we moved in and saw the first of many British tour buses pull up and a group of elderly gentlemen with matching polo shirts all crowd around our front door as the movers tried to move in our stuff!

We did know that our house was a cafe before the Great War.  The previous renter did tell us that.  I remember walking through the front entry, imagining the tables and cafe chairs that must have been there.  I wondered what those rings and metal things were, sticking out of the bricks in the front...for horses maybe?  I also envisioned how our kitchen building, attached to the side of the house, must have been a bustling place for the lunchtime crowd.

Walking around inside our house, it's hard to envision what it must have looked like though, as it has been totally renovated.  We have freshly painted white walls, gleaming marble tile, parquet floors that don't squeak, modern bathrooms....the only clue of our home's age, other than the outside, are the wonderful architectural details scattered throughout the home and the marble fireplace which we fell in love with from the first moment we stepped into the living room.

So, living in the middle of all this history, I have decided to make myself, especially our children, more aware of what happened around us.  Belgium is not just chocolate, beer and chateaus.  Being such a small country and kind of in between so many others, Belgium many times was a speed bump for conquering armies...or rather armies that just used Belgium as a stepping stone to get somewhere else.  I say Belgium...yeah, I know Belgium has barely been around 100 years...when I say Belgium, I'm talking about this whole Lowland Area.

Once I started reading a bit, I realized that there were soldiers from this area who fought bravely...and God, the Battle of Waterloo that caused Napoleon to race back to Paris with his tail between his legs took place a mere half an hour from our house...and it shames me that we haven't even been there yet.

Although I never did New Year's resolutions...I am doing one now or a semblance visit and honor some of these hallowed places and the men (and sometimes women) who fought there.  Waterloo is already on the calendar.  The kids and I are also signed up to do a commemorative walk near Bastogne to honor the men of the 17th Airborne....looking forward to that one and hoping to meet some veterans as well.  I've got a bead on the battles of Ypres, which we passed on our way to the Belgian beaches last summer....the first place the Germans used poison gas with disastrous results....and of course, thanks Marisa for the wonderful chateau recommendation near Mont St Michel and Normandy for a wonderful trip we have planned there this summer.  I am looking forward to the ghost stories from the duke and just getting a wonderful overview of the area.  The times I've spent in Normandy before were always way too short and filled with Army stuff while I was on active duty.  I'm looking forward to going there as pure tourist!

As a last point, for those of you about to come on your overseas tour...or maybe you are already here.  Use those weekends and just go....go and see the history that surrounds you at every turn.  I've seen many a time, military folks (including myself), scrambling to try to cram in those last few trips before PCSing....start your traveling bits and pieces, so you can get a good cross section of what is out there.  Don't be afraid to explore and just go without a set itinerary.  City and town information bureaus are a great help in finding you a place to stay last minute, or use or to find something before you go.  Many places can also be reached by daytrip.  Get ideas from the books "Never a Dull Moment" and "All Aboard...Europe!".  The first book is a collection of places to go recommended by tons of military spouses and families....and the other, an account of a military wife who traveled all over Europe with her very young children in tow.

If anyone wants to post their most memorable trip below or wants to share any of their travel tips, please do.  I would love to hear!

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pizza for everyone!

I want to thank whoever it was on Facebook's "SHAPE Families" who posted this.  To think that even here in Belgium we can order our pizza online...we are coming out of the Dark Ages, baby.  Even in my small town, there was one!

Check it out here.

In the area where you live, is there also a database of more than one restaurant, where you can order take out or delivery?


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Car & renter's insurance overseas

This is a never-ending debate around Germany and everywhere overseas in Europe.  Do you go with a trusted name you know....from the US, or do you pick one of the many discount companies that line up and down the streets accessing our bases and posts?  I'll throw some things out there to help you decide.

We all know that USAA is a very popular company with us military peeps...not just banking, credit card and investments but also with renter's and car insurance.  Yes, I said renter's....don't get lulled into a false sense of security thinking the military, or should I say, moving company will pay you the full value of your stuff.  Plus, you'll need insurance should someone break into your home and take your stuff or God forbid you suffer through a fire.  Renter's insurance is peace of mind, and you'd be a fool not to have that...especially when it is relatively in-expensive.  Just IMO.

Even though I am cheap, I do not skimp on insurance.  I know from experience and the experiences of people I know, that if I file a claim with USAA, it'll be processed quickly, no questions asked, and I don't have to have serious documentation on every shred I own....I also know they have great customer service, speak very good English and will be there for me should I get in an accident.  Of course, our insurance here in Belgium is about 4x what it was in Germany (I believe because they have to go thru a third party company)...and that Germany was more expensive than what we paid in the States....I don't care....I want peace of mind again and am therefore willing to pay the higher premium.

Many also use Geico for insurance.  They are available at most bases in both Germany and Belgium too.  I don't know how good they are on claims (you might want to research that), but they are cheaper than the rates you would get thru USAA.

Now there are also about four local companies here in Belgium that offer insurance....also in Germany you'll see quite a few choices....most outside the frontgate, although here, I saw a portable building on SHAPE that housed one of them....don't ask me how they were able to finaggle that one.

I can tell you though that I spoke with two people who had local Belgian insurance and both of them had terrible claim experiences....that dragged on for longer than you would think.  Another who posted on a message board said he had recently switched from USAA due to the cost difference and was so sorry he did, as he had to jump through hoops to get any value back for the stuff that was stolen from him in a robbery....they cleaned him out, and he had almost nothing left, even taking furniture.  He said that if he didn't have a receipt for it, they weren't going to pay him for it and that the process was just dragging on and difficult.

Now I don't want to spread any gloom and doom here....and I bet each person's experience will be different...but what I want to get across in this post is for you to check out the company you want to hire....not just what they charge but research their claim process.  How quickly is their claim turnaround?  What is the process?  Go with whatever company, local or otherwise, that answers all the questions and gives you a warm fuzzy.

Do you have any overseas insurance stories to share?

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The surprising thing about USAREUR overseas libraries

In case you haven't been to your overseas library....please go and check it out!  Yes, you can check out not only books (and they are not the old dusty things that were here in the 1970s)....yes, bestsellers too...but also DVDs (at our local SHAPE Library, you can rent both European and US region DVDs), Blu-rays and many games for whatever gaming system you have at home, including the Nintendo DS.  We are also lucky to have a nice library at Chievres Air Base as well, and the best part is that you can check out things from both and return them to either library, regardless of which one you got it from.  But wait...there's more....

Bring your ID card to get signed into the system...both Chievres and SHAPE (and all USAREUR libraries) are on the same system and card catalog online.  You'll get a username and password and can access the card catalog at home as well as many online databases and resources.  You can even request items through Inter Library Loan (ILL), where they will send the items from any of the USAREUR libraries, to include the ones as far away as our Italy base and post  USAREUR also does not skimp on the latest'll find those too.  You'll have the ability to put all these items on hold and then get email notifications when they come in (and which library, Chievres or SHAPE, you'd like to pick them up from).  Of course you'll also get an email when your items are late, and they make it really easy to renew those items on line.  Best of all, there are NO LATE FEES, and the worst that can happen is you won't be allowed to PCS or move without clearing your debts from the library.  I hate to admit it myself, but we lost a DVD at our last USAREUR location, and all I had to do was provide a receipt from Amazon where I had re-ordered the exact same DVD with the library's mailing address as the intended recipient (great idea actually).  My husband never let me live that one down, but if that's the worst thing I lose.....then I think I'm doing okay.

One thing that I have also discovered online, is the Army Digital Media Library and also Netlibrary from within the USAREUR library catalog.  It sounds like a great can rent DRM protected audiobooks, videos and ebooks....great idea...but the collection absolutely SUCKS! 

I hate to say that, but I hope that they think about getting a wider selection of items.  On the one hand, I watched a great documentary of a unit that fought at Normandy, but in the same shopping cart, I downloaded a horror movie that has got to be the campiest thing I ever saw about a group of folks traveling thru Texas who stay in a B&B in the middle of a killing spree freakshow basically....maybe it had some kind of artistic value...I don't people died in some awfully interesting ways....or should I say were killed.  You can also download the items to mp3 players and ebook readers, as long as they can read the formats listed for the items in the digital library. 

All you need is your library username and password and choose "Europe" on the dropdown menu to make sure you access the correct system.  Once your rental period is up (up to 21 days) the items will magically disappear from your computer, so make sure you read them...and also keep them in a wishlist on the site as there is no record (at least that I could see) of what you checked out before.  I had a hard time finding a book title I didn't get to finish.

How do you like your library at your location?  Do you have any library tips to share?

Labels: , ,

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Closet Issue

If you are not going to be moving on post and will live on the economy...anywhere in're going to see one glaring omission in most closets....yes, no closets.  Sometimes you won't see light fixtures or kitchens either.  When renting a home or buying one from someone else, these things are not included.  I never researched why this is the case, cause doesn't it just seem to make more sense to have that already included so you have less stuff to move from house to house or apartment?  I bet there is some rational there, but for once, as a half European, I don't get it.  I guess that's where I am more true to my American side....I love closets!  So what do folks do about it?

Thankfully, if you are over here with the US military or government, you'll be issued wallockers.  Yes, they are the same kind you saw in basic training, minus the mirror:-) This is what they look like.

In Belgium, we are authorized one wallocker per person in your family (although at one time, the military member had two).  As soon as you sign the contract for your rental home, you can arrange delivery along with your other loaner CFMO furniture items.  Please keep in mind that everything other than the wallockers are to be used temporarily, until your household goods shipment comes in.  I know even recently, we were able to keep all this stuff, the duration of our tour.  Now, I think they are trying to keep costs down and loan them out as originally intended...temporarily.  So, they'll bring in those wallockers, slap the pieces together and there you have it.  I've found that I can only keep one season's worth of clothes in there at most and of course my husband refuses to give his up...I know, shocker.  Lately, the off-season clothes, I've been putting away in one of my large old suitcases and then switch when I need to.

Now what else can you use to store your clothes?  One of my favorites is to go Trocing to find that hidden gem.  I just recently bought a wonderful wardrobe for about 100 euro with an antique mirror on the front (see pic at beginning of blogpost) it!  I tried to buy one the size of our wallocker, in hopes that it'll make it through the multiple moves we still have in store for our family.  I also see wonderful 10 foot high and heavily carved pieces ala Louis XV style...many with double doors...but alas, I just can't bring myself to buy one just case it won't fit into a future home.  These Troc stores also have modern stuff, and I even found an IKEA bartable and chairs at one...exactly what I was looking for.  Go to the main Troc site (they also have stores in France, Germany, Netherlands and elsewhere...and don't laugh...many Shapians know which Trocs specialize in what type of furniture or knick knacks and antiques).  You can then narrow the results down by store or by type of piece (wardrobe, dresser, etc)....all in English too.  The one up near Antwerp is a heavy favorite around here.

Of course many of us also love IKEA.  The closest branch is about 40 minutes away in Anderlecht, a suburb of Brussels.  In fact, I know some young mothers who also use the IKEA as a break from their kids....they go on a weekday (cause weekends are too crazy and full)..drop their kids off in the play area and then have a chance to just hang out, have a coffee....lunch or just take a break from the kids...Oh, I said that already:-)

We do have a few other popular furniture stores here.  Here are a few that people seem to like and recommend.  As a sidenote, Europeans have different bed sizes than our traditional American sizes (twin, full, queen & king)...check before you buy.  For example, the furniture stores in St. Vith do have American sizes.  They also gear things towards Americans with high prices, heavy sales tactics....although you do get the VAT tax off and military discounts.  Just ask....some people love those stores because you can get quality stuff of what you really want...and others, think it is still priced too high.  Go check it out for can at least tour the Battle of the Bulge area while you are there and make your trip worthwhile.


Belot Furniture, 27-31 Chemin de Nivelles, Soignies 7060

Weba in Mons

MK Mobel
Hunningen, 48
4780 St. Vith, Belgium
Tel:  080/22 84 77
Fax:  080/22 67 29
Hours:  Tuesday-Friday 8am-6pm
Saturday 9am-6pm
Sunday 10am-6pm
Closed Monday (except American Holidays)

Moebel Center in St Vith

Of course, if you are as cheap as I're going to hang onto a few wardrobe boxes the movers brought your stuff know, the ones like these.

Ours are tucked away in a very back hallway and labeled, so should we ever need them, we can find our formalwear and things we don't have the guts to get rid of just yet.....they are dust-free and out of sight.

How do you deal with your clothing storage?


Friday, February 18, 2011

Ask VMW: Need information on bringing my motorcycle overseas

Someone recently asked quite a few questions about bringing their motorcycles overseas.  Since I know very little about motorcycles over here, I thought I would ask an expert....a soldier who not only rides street and dirt bikes but who is also a motorcycle instructor on post.  Read on to find out more about it.

I've cut and pasted the answers below.  Remember that these are Belgium specific, but I do remember that Germany has similar rules for our military folks overseas.

1.  First and foremost am I authorized to register two motorcycles as well as the family van and a hoopty?
A.  You are authorized to register both motorcycles as well as your van and hoopty as long as you have proof of insurance for all vehicles you are registering to license for street use.  Your van or hoopty which...ever gets the worst gas mileage will be tax free then you will pay taxes annually on the other vehicles that you register for street use.

2.  The motorcycles (both) will be shipped as part of my household goods, shouldn't be a problem with the weight since we learned our lesson from our first tour and will sell a lot of stuff for the move.
A.  You are correct; motorcycles are considered part of your household goods.  The movers should build crates for your motorcycles to be shipped in.

3.  I will have to show my motorcycle license and riders course completion at vehicle registration, but I am not sure if additional motorcycle only testing will be required.
A.  If you have a motorcycle endorsement on your valid driver’s license from the US, then a motorcycle endorsement will be on your Belgium license once you have passed the written Belgium Drivers license test.

4.  I will have to register both bikes and pay registration fees.
A.  There is no registration fee for bikes or cars, only the annual tax on licensed street driven vehicles.  You only have to register bikes that are going to be licensed for street use.  If you have a bike or bikes that will be used for competition, racing, or off road use ONLY, they don't need to be registered.

5.  I will have to pay roadtax on a 1 liter and a 1.3 liter bike, not sure how much that will be.

A.  Road use tax only needs to be paid on motorcycles that are registered and licensed.  The taxes are not extreme, around 100 Euros for a 1.4 liter bike.

6.  I am not sure if I will have to get the bikes inspected, this might be an issue for my track bike as it is very modified.
A.  Your van and hoopty will need to be inspected but there are no motorcycle inspections.

7.  Since one of my bikes is semi used for track purposes can I claim it as an off road vehicle and not register it at all?
A.  Only motorcycles that are going to be used for street use need to be registered and licensed.  If the motorcycle is ONLY going to be used for off road track use it does not need to be registered.

8.  I understand space in Belgium households is a premium.  Do most homes in Belgium have garages and will they fit two motorcycles?
A.  There are plenty of homes with garages.  Finding a garage for your van and hoopty may be a problem.  Finding a garage for two bikes will not be a problem.

9.  Does your husband or any friends ride?
A.  Yes.  There are many motorcycle riders in SHAPE.  There are street riders, motocross riders, and competition road racers.  I do not know of any drag racing tracks, but there is a small track (I've seen quads on it) along the canal between Obourg and Nimy.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ask VMW: My bank said I can't bring my car over to Germany?

Not only did I have this question emailed to me, but I had a similar comment on one of my blogposts.  I guess people are starting to receive orders now to come overseas.  I thought this is an important thing to address and catches many off guard:

"I was all set to ship my new car over to Germany.  I didn't even think this would be a problem.  I didn't have my title because I bought the car last year.  I was told by the military shipping people that all I needed was a letter from the finance company.  I was shocked to find out that they refused to supply that letter!  I can't believe that here I am serving my country, and I can't take my car with me because of this stupid thing!  What am I going to do?"

Believe it or not, this same thing happened to my then young soldier husband on one of his first overseas tours.  His finance company refused to supply the certified letter or letter of release as it is called.  I'm sorry I'm not going to provide the answer you want, but you basically have two choices here.  You can either pay off the remainder of the loan to get the original title (or I believe certified copy) or you can leave your vehicle with a trusted person in the US.  My husband ended up leaving his car with my dad who drove it a few times a month.  The good news was that his insurance was superlow in that timeframe.  After that lesson, we only buy cars with cash now....we don't ever want anyone ever again telling us what we can and can't do with our cars.

But, before you do any of that.....try to negotiate with the finance company.  Send a nice letter, addressed to the boss of that finance company....address him by name and not "Dear Sir"....send it certified.  Make comments in there about being a career soldier, what your specialty other words, make yourself look like a responsible military person who is not going to lose their job anytime soon.  End the letter with some good contact information and something along the lines that you respectfully wait for his response.  Offer to pay the loan down if that doesn't work...not completely, but just down.  Believe it or not, I have seen some of these finance companies cave where military members were VERY persistent and VERY confident.  Be firm but don't be an a**hole.  Remember, the company has a larger stake than you do in that car...and honestly, I don't blame them for being cautious where as an example, you may have only paid $2k on a car worth $30k.  Can you imagine if you stopped paying on your loan and the major expense that finance company would have trying to reposses the car?.......the more leverage you have, the better it will be to get what you want!

One more thing....backing up here...I have heard but cannot confirm that car loans thru USAA and other military affiliated credit unions and banks "may" be more accomodating with taking vehicles overseas.  This would be a great question to ask before you purchase your vehicle and choose your finance company!

As an aside, this applies to any overseas location!  I've had someone tell me this happened to them going to Belgium and also Hawaii believe it or not.  Do your research before you are "stuck".  If anyone has any other tips on how they tackled this issue, please do post below.

Labels: ,

Monday, February 14, 2011

What is this road conditions thing?

Did you ever wonder how the overseas military posts determine the road conditions here in Europe?  Winter is not over sure to check it out!

Military communites over here follow the steps in this video, not just Stuttgart.


And why do you care what the road conditions are?  Well, if you've got kids, the school buses will roll according to the road conditions.  You could have a two hour delay or possibly canceled school.  It's been amazing how many school days we've already had canceled this year!  This site lists all the military communities in Europe and what the current weather and road conditions are.  There is also a phone number listed to get a recorded message as such and AFN Radio also reports the road conditions and school closures.  Or you'll need to know if the PX or commissary is open or even if your work is shut down or not (although your office should also have a system to notify everyone of the plan).  Sometimes it even gets bad enough for a base to completely shut down, where people won't be allowed to go on or off.  I've only seen that happen once though.Bottom line...winter is not over yet!

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ask VMW: Can I use my Kindle Overseas?

Last week I received a very simple question...and I sent back a very simple answer...wish life could be just as simple.

"I will be moving to Germany, and I am very worried about being able to use my Kindle.  It is my lifeline and I do all my reading on there!  Can I download books overseas?  Is there the same selection?  They don't have Kindles over there do they?"

And to worries at all.  We have Kindles, and after a few hiccups and realizing that having it on wireless and automatically downloading books, was not free using their Whisper download delivery thing...even though it says zero charge on each eBook's download page, I tried to backpedal a bit with customer service.  Amazon was VERY nice and gave me all those fees back for the 20 books we a onetime courtesy of course (how's that for customer service?).  They must've chalked it up to me being a dumb*ss customer who didn't know any least that's how I portrayed myself to be.

Speaking of the Amazon site, you'll be happy to know that with your APO overseas military address, you can order almost anything from the same "" site you order from in the US.  I say almost, because Amazon has this weird feature where many electronics and household appliances cannot be shipped overseas to APO.  They mention something about this warranty thing as the reason behind this....I guess meaning, that if they ship me a coffeemaker, and there is a warranty issue, the company wouldn't honor it cause the thing went overseas?  I don't know...sounds like lots of legalese to me.

When you find something on Amazon that you want to download to your Kindle, whether it's a free item or not, there are a few extra steps you have to complete to get it to your Kindle.  Hey, I check that free list almost daily and sign up for a Kindle blog that lists free books too BTW.  Most of my books for my cheap self are free (even some bestsellers that stay free for like...a few just have to catch them).

Step 1:  Before you click on "Buy Now", look at the drop-down menu underneath.  You are going to choose "Transfer to Computer" under the "Deliver to:" heading.

Step 2:  Click "Buy Now"

Step 3:  The next page will say "please choose which Kindle you plan to transfer your purchase to via USB:"

Step 4:  Pick the intended Kindle from the drop-down list (if your family has more than one Kindle, don't worry, you can later download the eBook to the other Kindles the next time you connect them via USB).

Step 5:  Click "Continue", and it'll go to the next page.  The Kindle book file ending in .azw format will download to your designated downloaded folder.  If at anytime you don't know where your computer downloads go, you can just do a search from the Start Menu.  Just use the name of the title to find it.

Step 6:  Connect your Kindle via USB.  Being overseas, this is also how I charge my Kindle.  I don't even use a wallsocket.  In fact, I don't even know what the voltage is and don't care...we always have plenty of laptops, DVD players or whatever with USB connections to fire up any USB-connected device.  BTW, you can connect any kind of voltage item (220, 110 or whatever) to a USB connection in your electronics device, regardless of where you are in the world.  It'll obviously charge slower than directly from the wall at it's designed voltage (I think something like 9 volts comes out of the USB outlet), but I think it's safer that way.  It avoids you having to figure out what can get plugged into where!

Step 7:  Once you connect your Kindle, your computer should recognize it and open the folders on the Kindle or ask you to do that.  Open it up, and you'll see a bunch of directories.  Copy and paste your new Kindle book (with .azw format) into the "Documents" folder.  BTW, if you are using the military's free online library site (I'll blog about that later), you can put those DRM-protected loaner eBooks into your Audible file folder in your Kindle, if they are in .pdf format.  You can read those books on your Kindle too.

And that's about it.  As usual, my answer is usual...I'm going to end this answer abruptly.  Oh, before I do, if you want to put that book on another Kindle, you can cut and paste that file into the same directory in the other Kindle OR you can go to your mainpage for Kindle on the Amazon site and see the list of ALL the books you have downloaded...find the one you want and go thru the steps again to download it...easy squeezy.

Oh, one more thing....since they aren't selling Kindles yet over here, or at least not that I have noticed, it's always fun to show a European what you have...especially if you are beachside in the bright sun, and they notice you can still read all the type (they all think it's some kind of computer)...of course, this was before the IPad came out....guessing I wouldn't quite get that reaction now!


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Perceived Guy Gifts

I think that most of us are beyond the tie and sock gifts....or the powertools and such...but with some "guy birthdays" approaching in my extended family, I thought I'd better run through some ideas.  Hopefully, some guy on here will see them and advise me on any perceived corrections.  And then I will perceive as to whether I will change my mind or what.

Here are the types of things I am giving the once over:

  • Music giftcards.  Do most guys buy music or do they listen to what you are listening to?

  • Fleece is always good, and I like that I can find it on sale most of the time just about anywhere.

  • Camelbacks for the active guy who likes to hike or run...but only the real thing or else he'll look like a poser...ditto if he doesn't do a lot of physical activity.

  • Books....all my guys read military history books...the gist is to get them one they haven't read yet.  My husband also likes to drink beer, and when I got him this large book (that just came out last year), he thought he had died and gone to heaven!  I told him he can take the star stickers and put a sticker on each pages/beer that he's tried:-) He just gave me a blank stare and drank another beer on the list.  Guess I've been working at the school a wee bit too long now. 

  • Sports massage....all guys want it I think (cause all girls do), but we don't want to buy it for ourselves...or at least I don't....I feel like I am being vain if I do it for myself (cause it's not like I'm some Olympic-level athlete or anything)....but maybe a guy feels different?

  • Sport jerseys...but, you do have to know their favorite sport, team and size...that's a lot to try to figure out, but I see guys over here wearing soccer jerseys and of course in the US, you'd be hard pressed to find a guy without a basketball, hockey or football jersey!  Again, don't get the fake or non-authentic stuff.

  • And cigars...I don't like to promote things that are bad for your health, although I thought the guy smoking the cigar did look pretty sexy...ah well.  Do you have any ideas you are willing to share?


    Tuesday, February 8, 2011

    The proof is in the vinegar

    Did you catch that UGLY photo?  That is a photo of the sink faucet in our master bathroom in our rental home here in Belgium.  The water that tries to force itself out of there is the same water we put into our mouth when we brush our teeth and wash our faces.  Many of you know our water is HARD here in Europe...well, here in Belgium, you can almost chip the stuff, like taking an icepick to a piece of ice!  Even your glass of water will have these calcium "floaters" in there.  How do you get rid of THAT on any surface in your house without scrubbing or using harsh chemicals?  Read on for the easy 2-step method and also a photo of my faucet...during and after getting "treated"!

    First things first, vinegar basically EATS calcium and mineral deposits.  Since vinegar will evaporate and become ineffective, when I treat showerheads and faucets, I get a papertowel sopping wet with vinegar.  Wrap the offending piece in the papertowel.  Then wrap that papertowel with plastic wrap, being careful to cover all openings so the vinegar doesn't evaporate.  Let it soak and do it's thing for about 24 hours.

    After 24 hours is up, unwrap and just wipe with a rough sponge or a toothbrush (not yours or DH's either).  All the calcium will come off, and you'll actually SEE the faucet itself, and look, I can see the aerator even!  For messy showerheads, I have also used Ziploc baggies filled with vinegar and then tied them off with tape.  No need to take the showerheads down to soak them in vinegar...don't do an extra step that you really don't need to do!

    Now I know at least one of you is going to say, ewwwww....your faucet still has rust on it....well, that I can see the DOES have rust!  I didn't get a chance to see that before, okay.  We do have a lot of iron coming out of the faucet too (can you tell I don't drink faucet water directly here?)....hence, the rust.  Of course you can get rust off with an acidic based rust cleaner, or to scour it off...but the only way to keep it off completely is to keep that area dry (not gonna happen here) or rub it with oil (also not gonna happen), I'll monitor it, and if it gets too much out of control, I'll splurge and get a new faucethead.  Can you tell I am cheaper than cheap?

    Oh, and FYI, while we are talking about can use it to clean and disinfect just about anything, but please do not use it on your tile floors.  Yes, it works great on the tile part, but over time, it'll eat through your grout!

    How's the water where you are?  Do you have rust or hard water problems?  Do YOU drink out of the faucet where you are?


    Monday, February 7, 2011

    Off post OCONUS Housing Rentals can be found online

    I already posted this on my Twitter page, but I know many of my readers don't use have found in the past, that some OCONUS duty locations managed their own housing websites, with rental listings for their area.  Now, I see more and more are putting up their listings on AHRN.  If you are moving to a new overseas location, be sure to stop by and get a jump on what's available for housing off post.  Of course, you won't be able to bid for homes, but at least you know what will be awaiting you:-)

    Labels: ,

    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    Imagine renting a horse caravan through Ireland...

    I've been meaning to write about a book recently written by a fellow military wife I knew while stationed in Germany.  She used to come and see us where I worked with these amazing stories of where she went....all accomplished with three kids under the age of eight at the time!  She had the most brazen and interesting travel ideas, most initiated right after her husband got home from work for the weekend....piling all the kiddos and their gear into their faithful minivan.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book and recommend it to others who have young children especially.  Here are some adventures she gives her itineraries for.

    Enjoy some of these ideas:

    • a caravan through the beautiful countryside of Southern Ireland for a week, with you navigating the route, caring for your horse (you get a class first of course) and sleeping in the caravan.  Some of the author's favorite moments included reading the kids' bedtime stories by gaslight with the soft sounds of nature and the horse munching on his hay and oats!  Here is a family that blogged about their experience.  And if you are already hooked, book your next trip with Clissman's Farm or check the Wicklow County Tourist Bureau in Ireland.
    • A weekend trip through France's Loire Valley with all the chateaus and castles doting the countryside.  Stay in an honest-to-goodness chateau and visit a local chocolate factory to see their production (and of course to taste), not to mention all the quaint villages along the way.
    • Exploring Naples and the Amalfi Coast, staying in a military campground situated in an extinct volcano crater, visiting Pompeii and discovering some ancient temples and hidden grottoes.
    She includes many more itineraries, as well as points of interest with notes and their websites/contact information.  This is not your typical travel book, and we are all thankful that Dorothy finally listened to everyone's prodding and wrote this book to share.  Be sure to check it out as it is well worth it!

    Dorothy, I haven't seen you since we moved of course, but if you stop by this blog, be sure to drop me a line!  Order her book, "All Aboard...Europe" by Dorothy MacKenzie, here.


    Friday, February 4, 2011

    Things that make Belgium "different"

    I know before you arrive in Belgium, you're probably telling yourself not to compare it to the US or its citizens....your family and how you do for me....I had in my mind that I wasn't going to compare it to Germany.  Now, seven months later....I have to laugh at these differences, because if I don't....I'm just gonna cry!  Read below and tell me what you think and keep in mind that I am talking about the Wallonian region and not Flanders...which might as well be a different country, but we're all not supposed to NOT talk about the elephant in the room....but a bit of trivia, we are now the European country that holds the record for the MOST DAYS without an elected government!

    In no particular order or sense of organization:

    • Belgian bureaucrats love the words "possible" and "not possible" and will use them interchangeably!  Customer service Belgian-style is not as customer friendly as American-style.  In fact, I was told by a Belgian that the product or service is supposed to speak for itself, so no customer service is needed (I must say the Germans feel this way too).
    • Belgium truly is the land of great French fries (frites), and I have NEVER in my life seen so many different toppings (at least 10 at the last friterie I went to)...the favorite topping still being mayo:-)
    • Priority from the right while driving...always, unless specially marked...even if the road coming from the right is a little goatpath.  If it's deemed "a road", it has priority.
    • High percentage of windshield dings and other road mishaps.  Lots of turnip trailers and tractors in Wallonia and potholes as big as kingsized beds, especially now that winter has taken hold.  Not sure where all these road taxes are going that everyone must pay (although Shapians are exempt from paying this tax for their first vehicle).
    • The customer is NOT king....although, I must say, Wallonians are some of the friendliest Europeans I have ever met.  Go back to my comment on customer service.
    • Grown men, not just little boys, peeing along the side of the road.  I've also noticed that public toilets aren't so easy to find and many stores just don't have toilets.
    • Some cars so small, they can fit SIDEWAYS into the smallest parking space.
    • McDonald's serving beer (all over Europe actually).
    • Grown men hugging and kissing each other (ditto in many other areas..mostly down South).
    • The hundreds, maybe thousands....of different Belgian beer varieties to choose from.  My DH is continuing his beer label collection here in Belgium.
    • That if you buy a hunk of cheese or bottle of beer or whatever food item that says it comes from a monastery, it'll be at least twice as expensive as the normal brands.
    • People buy baguettes around here like Americans buy donuts.
    • The small serving sizes for anything you'd like to drink....unless you are going to Starbucks, you can forget a big glass or mug of anything (except maybe beer in some cases).  And forget asking for ice.
    • The small serving sizes in restaurants and the resistance I have found in Chinese restaurants to refill the darn plain white rice dish!
    • Bringing your grocery bags with you shopping, or being prepared to buy some.
    • Your vehicle MUST have a fire extinguisher and if it is older than 5 years, you'd better have that rear foglight installed.
    • My surprise at how little people speak English language around SHAPE (in Wallonia)....must be a Wallonian thing as NATO Brussels and Brussels in general is mostly bilingual...must be a Flemish thing.
    • Almost everything shuts down on a Sunday.
    • The slowness of getting anything done.  It took us about seven months to get our day/night electric meter installed...which was part of our home rental's like work is drawn out, because you don't want to finish everything at once.  You'll see this a lot with your landlord too....again, most are supernice, but you gotta give them time and lots of it.
    • Don't mess with a Wallonian's vacation or time off or give him a more efficient way to do his ends promptly at whatever time it is scheduled to end.....vacation time is sacred here....I've heard bureaucrats who have lived and worked in other European countries tell me they had to actually slow down at work or else they'd finish all their work in two days and twiddle their fingers the rest of the week.....pacing yourself apparently is the idea here.
    • Relaxed rules.  I had a Dutch farmer in Wallonia tell me that they moved the whole family, cows and everything down here from their family farm in the Netherlands....not to Flanders where they also speak Dutch....but down here, the land of the French-speaking land was cheap when they came and the rules can be interpreted a dozen different ways...which is why in the same day you can get the "possible" and "not possible" answer referring back to the first item on my list.
    • What Wallonian or Belgian-isms do you have to add?


    Wednesday, February 2, 2011

    Ask VMW: We are moving & our child is EFMP

    I get this question or a variant of it about every few months.  I know it weighs heavily, especially on moms.  I don't know if I can help but here goes.

    The question:

    "My husband got orders for Germany.  They are for 36 months which I understand includes dependents. We are very happy because we wanted to go to Germany. On the other hand, once I started reading about the command sponsorship I became very concerned with the idea of us not being able to go. Our oldest son is enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). My first concern was if they have the special need resources at the school over there.  My question is, do you have a self-contained room for special ed? Do you know what happens if you don't have the services my son requires? Do they just cancel the orders, change them or they just send my husband alone for those 36 months?"

    My response:

    Please take a deep breath....and step back a bit.  I applaud you for taking the time to research your new duty station! I wish more wives would take the time to do this.

    Now....the EFMP screening which you and your family will do, will determine if there are services for your son available at your husband's projected new duty station.  Right now, your husband only has assignment instructions....orders for his actual duty station will be cut (made) locally, once he and his family meets all the requirements, the most important being EFMP screening.

    I can obviously not tell you what the doctors and administrators at this screening will'll be in a room with a few doctors and administrators with your health records...they will also ask you questions.  I personally do not know if your projected duty station in Germany is equipped to handle your son's disability, and the American Disabilities Act requires that disabled students be integrated into the classroom as much as possible...this is not just military-wide but US wide.  There are some students with dedicated para-educators who are with them at EVERY moment of the school day.  They may take some small group or individualized instruction in the special education room/facilities and as their disability allows, be integrated throughout the day in the mainstream classrooms with a para-educator by their side, if needed.

    If for some reason, the staff at the EFMP screening determines there will not be sufficient services for your son in this duty location (I have no way of knowing), then your husband's assignment instructions will be rescinded and others will be issued for another location.  I don't know if he'll be given the opportunity for an unaccompanied tour (2 years) either.  This will in no way hurt his career.  That is one of the reasons why the EFMP system was developed.

    Please don't worry too much about this, as right now, there is really nothing you can do about this process that all overseas bound families must go through.  You can try to see if there are other wives on the Army Wives Forum and ask if anyone is in EFMP in your projected area.  There are many wives on that forum who are overseas. 

    Unfortunately, many of the Army hospitals and posts have closed in Germany. The only REAL hospital is up in Landstuhl...the closest Army base or collection of bases would be in Kaiserslautern, still a very big military community. Ramstein Air Base is also nearby. The rest of the bases and posts, both AF and Army rely on US military health clinics and off-post care on the economy.  German healthcare is very comparable to ours and in many ways more advanced, so no worries there.  Yes, sometimes there are language barriers, but for the most part, many doctors and some staff do speak some English.

    Good luck to you!

    Labels: , ,