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

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ask VMW: Freaking out about our overseas move!

Here is a question for the day:

"We are PCSing to Germany with the Army and I am freaking out! I am reading your blog everyday in between my kids naps. I have a few questions for you. We are told we won't have housing available so we are to find a home on the "Economy" any tips of what to look for? I have heard people say that things like toilets/cupboards are not always included? Basically what do I need to know so I don't get screwed over by a German landlord?"

Thanks for your question!  Many German homes in the American housing office system for each area, have already been "Americanized"...what I mean by that, is that many will come with kitchens (most Germans renting will put in their own), and you'll have toilets, baths may have to spring to install some light fixtures and will get Army wallockers if there are no closets (see my blogpost on the subject) for lights, many rooms may just have outlets and not even a connection for a light to hang...newer houses will have'll find old and new construction.  Many new homes have electric heat...easy to manage, set and take care of but very have to weigh the benefits/negatives of just about anything.  You'll get tips from your housing office too, and they'll make sure the contract is in order to protect you as well.  Don't go looking for an agent unless you get authorization in hand that the US govt will pay for that's typically two months rent so nothing to sniff your nose at!  And the person renting pays this, not the landlord, so I caution you with "hiring" one of them if/when you get frustrated w/the housing office.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Podcast #3 - I'm Overseas, Now What? (4/28/2011)

I know your sensory inputs are exploding just about now!  You've just flown overseas to a new country you've never been in before (maybe), and you have had a chance to look at your German surroundings.  Maybe you've been on base a few times and got some food at the commissary (yes, they have chitlins and Mexican food) and looked to see what the overseas PX, or the Exchange as they now call it, has.  So now what?

Listen to Podcast #3  then.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Podcast #2 - Arriving Overseas (4/26/2011)

Congratulations!  You have arrived overseas!

Be sure to find out what happens next!

Podcast #2 - Arriving Overseas (4/26/2011)

I'll be talking about how to choose your hotel and what you need to be doing before and after arrival:-)


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ask VMW: I didn't account for this long overseas hotel stay before we get housing, help!

Sometimes there is a reason why soldiers get deferments on having their families join them overseas initially.  This just means that the servicemember goes overseas first and then his family joins him once he gets housing.  I received a question the other day regarding the long hotel stay in Germany and the isolation being felt as a newcomer.

"We have been over here for a month in the hotel and were told that it could be another 1-2 months before housing has an opening. Also that since my DH is enlisted we cannot live off post. About a year ago it changed is what we were told. So since there isn't any on-post housing available and we aren't "allowed" to live off post, we are stuck in the hotel. Do you know anything about the housing situation?  Is this normal?  I feel isolated and do you have any advice on where I can go with my baby to connect with other wives?  No one has welcomed me either from our Family Readiness Group.  Please help."

You are absolutely correct.  We were still in Germany when this policy came into effect of not allowing E-5s (Sergeants) and below to live off-post.  This is why orders are automatically deferred to assignments in Germany for the most you see why this can be such a problem...being in a hotel months on end with family is not a fun deal.  Unfortunately, since you are already there, you may have to stay in the hotel for a bit longer.  But with that being said, here is what I would do in the same situation cause I would try my darndest to make lemonade out of those lemons I was dealt.

  • Contact the housing office and get a better idea of where you are on the waitlist.  A two month wait is not unusual.  We were in the hotel for five weeks, and we even had designated command quarters.  I have friends who waited two to three months, so this is absolutely in the normal range.  During the summer months, the wait could be even longer, especially now as they shift the officers off-post.  The reason being given is that they can afford the higher cost of off-post living (this article explains the new policy).  Officers are not being asked to move, it's just that enlisted personnel who are incoming will take that housing instead of another officer.  Obviously, there is much debate among servicemembers in Germany on whether this is right or wrong...there may be no one correct answer.

  • I would not have my DH go to his 1SG or commander unless the stress is starting to affect his working ability.  Most leaders don't know what their soldiers are doing in their home life and how things are going...but they should.  At one point, someone in the command should've sat down with the soldier, just to find out how inprocessing is going and how the adjustment is going...if not, he should ask to talk to his command...just don't whine.

  • Many posts have temporary housing when there is a long wait for regular housing...ask about that if you don't mind moving to looks just like the regular stairwell housing, may not be renovated yet, but everything is in there furniture-wise with loaner furniture.  You can get loaner dishes/cutlery, baby stuff like highchairs, etc from the lending closet at your on-post Army Community Service (ACS) or equivalent for free.

  • Speaking of ACS, you should go there and just see what programs they have.  They should have a lead into baby/mommy mornings...most ACSs have this...most also have a trip where they take you on the you how to use local transportation and a familiarization class off-post, even basic language and your DH can sign up together.  They may have other free programs as well....even job search assistance and resume classes.

  • See if there is a MOPS is religious based but non-denominational.  Check with your on post chapel to see if there is one there. This was a lifesaver for me, as it's a place for mommies and their little ones to get together....moms do fun things and crafts and eat while someone does fun stuff with the little gives moms a much needed break, and you will find more and more of these chapters overseas on military posts.

  • As for the Family Readiness Group, see if there is a monthly FRG meeting at your husband's unit.  There should be one.  It is mandated by Army regulations.  Both you and your husband should attend at least one (coerce him if you have's important for the both of you....many guys just don't like to go).  Many FRGs have welcome gifts and introduce new people.  Some FRGs are stronger than others.  It's a shame really, as it is a commander's program and the commander dictates how active/important this organization is.  We looked out for each other at every duty station I've been to and helped the new folks adjust.  Find out who the other wives are in your husband's squad and of them should be reaching out to you...and if not, get DH to get your contact info to the ladies or vice versa and just call one of them and ask to meet them at the foodcourt...say you are new.  Sometimes, you just have to take the initiative to get the floodgates open.  I know it's not easy, especially when you are new, but some wives have honestly forgotten how difficult it may have been for them when they arrived.  I know when things are rough, my brain sometimes tends to forget too.  Go into it, knowing you have done all you could to try to connect with others, and I know something will come out of your efforts!

  • Please continue to get support from your friends back home, your family and also the many wonderful Facebook pages and message boards online.  I have met a few of my readers in my travels, as well as here in Belgium, and I count many of them as my friends.  It's all about helping each other out and extending out that Army family.  My favorite saying that I wish the Army would adopt somehow is "Keep the family, then keep the soldier".  It is SO important these days that the Army realizes that if they don't care or provide for the needs of a soldier's family, he will eventually get out of the military, and the military will lose a valuable asset they might have kept had they done this in the first place.  Sorry to get on my high little vent in the big picture of things!  I'd like to welcome you to our Army family and feel free to stop back by and let us know how it is going if you like!

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    Saturday, April 23, 2011

    Podcast #1 - Moving Overseas (4/23/2011)

    I'm giving this a try, so bear with me.  This is my first podcast, and I am hoping to do more.  I've received lots of email from folks who are getting ready to PCS (move) overseas the next few months, so I thought I would leave you with some tips!

    Podcast #1

    If there are any other subjects you'd like to hear, please let me know!  I don't know what you'd like to hear if I don't hear from you:-)


    Friday, April 22, 2011

    What's the deal with the European shopping carts?

    Ever notice how nice and orderly a European parking lot is when it come to their carts?  Find out why that is!

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    Wednesday, April 20, 2011

    My teenager said she is NOT moving overseas! Now what!

    Obviously you have a typical teenager!  I can't think of any teen who was happy about moving!  Think about what it was like for you at that age....obstinate, feeling like you are the only one feeling this way and still believing you should be the center of all attention.  Honestly, that's what I was like as a teen, and you'd be hard pressed to find many teens who don't exhibit at least some of that behavior or mentality.  So what do you do?

    Many overseas schools now have a sponsorship program called, S2S (Student 2 Student).  Email or the call the new school and find out more about it.  Not all DODEA (overseas and a few stateside) have this program in place, but it is worth it to ask.  If they have it, they will assign a sponsor to your child...someone they can correspond with of their own age.  They may also send you some local materials if you ask.  Be sure your husband contacts his own sponsor and asks for some local tourist brochures too.  My kids loved leafing through them before our arrival.

    Since I am over here in Europe, I'm going to talk mainly about Europe.  Europe is not such an overprotective society like in the are more free to do the things they go out with friends on the metro and drink can drink beer at 16 over here...maybe not things you want to hear as a parent, and you still have to set your own ground rules of what you are comfortable with....but while I was in Stuttgart, many teens there would take the trains downtown and hang out in the cafes and beer gardens and go shopping on their own.  They just had more freedom...maybe that will get her interested?  Plus, the schools have so many programs where you can travel all over Europe with other kids...whether it is for sports, a club or just during the school holidays, where Morale, Welfare & Recreation (MWR) or the schools will plan chaperoned trips to exotic locations....all this can not be done in the US.

    Yes, she will miss her friends.  We all miss our friends at every duty station.  But look at the opportunity of meeting MORE new friends....friends you can correspond with for life on Facebook, Skype, through email or however!  It took my boys this last duty station to recognize it.  They are in 6th and 8th grade and have had some amazing experiences this last duty station (we've been here almost a year).  They also have new best friends here and Facebook with their friends from Germany and even our last duty station before that, in Florida.  One great thing about being with the military, kids at every duty station are in the exact same boat as your children and will be more receptive to making and accepting new friends.

    My boys made friends mostly at school, during the school day...and then inviting their friends over to the house as we don't live near any Americans.  If your child plays an instrument or is in a club or plays a sport, there are even more opportunities there.  We have a weekly group that meets at the chapel that has some great fun and games...and they get fed.  Our sports teams also go all over, even flying to the UK for games, so lots of moments for bonding and creating new friendships.  We even had a group going to the United Nations in the Hague for a week to do their own mini United Nations and meet some of our current United Nations personnel.  It was very interesting and empowering I was told.

    All in all, you've gotta convince your child to "give it a try", just like you tell them that when they get a plateful of food they don't want to eat.  Our policy there has always been to try one bite, and if you don't like it, you don't have to eat the rest...but rest assured, once you get them on the continent and through some growing pains, your kids will surprise you.

    Oh, and one last thing that will help.....try to get on summer PCS rotations.  I know we started out on a winter rotation before we had kids and quickly realized this made life so much harder in the end.  We were able to extend at one duty station to get us on a summer rotation cycle, and the rest of our tours moved along like clockwork.  Yeah, you compete with moving companies, leisure plane travel and everything else, but to me, it's worth the less hassle and stress when it comes to my family!

    If you have any moving tips to share for teenagers, let's hear them!


    Monday, April 18, 2011

    Joining Real Military Wives TV!

    Woo hoo!  I am excited to be joining Susanna, Crystal and others at Real Military Wives TV.  Forget Army Wives on TV (okay, maybe don't forget it), but this is REAL military wives TV for and about military wives.  So, if you are just curious what we do everyday or you want to join us with your own musings, come join us!

    Follow the link below and be sure to leave a comment on my own recorded video.  You know how I am about video...not a big fan to see my mug on film...but I am learning and forcing myself to try to be a ham in front of the camera.

    I would love for you to join us with your own video...and if you have a blog or website, please be sure to add the graphic below to your site and link back to Real Military Wives TV to spread the word! 
    Tell us what you think and stay tuned for more happenings and ideas that will come rolling out of that site!!!!


    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    Ask VMW: I have questions about the German radiators, heating and some other things

    I recently received a question from an American renting a home in Germany.

    I have a couple questions about saving energy in German homes. I’ve asked my landlord this, but there may have been a language barrier,and she didn’t quite answer my questions, so maybe you can help.  Underneath my kitchen sink, there’s a little tank and a water heater. I keep it on all the time. Is there much savings to shutting it off when I’m not home during the day? Should I be shutting it off when we’re on vacation? Also, during this time of year, I shut off our home heat during the day, and turn it on in the evenings.  Also, each radiator has a dial that starts with a snowflake, then 1-5, an infinitely symbol, then a 0 (zero). What’s the difference between the snowflake and the 0? And if we want to take a vacation during the winter, what setting should it be on so the pipes don’t freeze, but yet we’re not wasting energy?

    And here's my answer...

    Thanks for your questions!  Yes, you can still find German homes with the separate water tanks wherever you need the hot water!  I remember being at my German grandparents'  home and turning on the big water heater to the tub about four hours before you wanted to take a you had to plan ahead...forget to do that, then no bath.  Of course this only filled up the tub halfway...used to hate that.  Anyway, yes, they do draw electricity when you don't need them.  If it's a small tank, I'd go ahead and leave it on during the day.  Yes, it'll take some money to heat it, but in my opinion it would be worth it.  As you can see, it can be a hassle turning it on and off all the time and just remembering to do it before you need it.  Is it just the regular tank or one of those instant on tanks?  I am assuming regular.  If it's an instant-on, go ahead and turn it off.  Those will have hot water immediately as soon as you turn it on, or some have a setting where it won't draw electricity until you use it.  Otherwise, if it's not, you'll be sitting there, waiting for the water to heat up before you do dishes or whatever.

    Onto your house heat.  Make sure your house thermostat is set at a reasonable amount.  Germans like to keep their homes cooler, by closing off doors and wearing sweaters in the winter inside...that's how they save.  You'll notice electricity is much more expensive over here.  And, if you have oil or natural gas, that can be pricey as well.  Americans living in Germany tend to have higher heating bills, cause we crank up the heat, leave doors open and walk around in shorts and flip-flops inside in winter.  Many Europeans will shut off their radiators , or rather set it to the snowflake setting at night and also when they leave the house.  This is too much work for me, so I just keep mine at 2 or 3 unless I am in the room, where it'll be at a 4 at most if we are really cold.  The difference between "0" and the snowflake setting on your radiator, is that there is still a small amount of circulation on the snowflake setting...just enough so no pipes freeze.  NEVER turn off ALL the heat in your home in winter.  There is too much potential for pipes to freeze and then bursting.  Your landlord will have a fit if that happens, and you'll end up paying for that damage I'm sure.  If you decide to close off some rooms you won't use in winter, then keep them on the snowflake setting as well.

    I hope this answers your questions!  BTW, the heat registers are called "Heizkoerper" in German.  If you feel like playing with Google Translate (or whatever you like to use), here's a site that talks about energy saving,


    Friday, April 15, 2011

    You mean I'm in the WRONG Frankfurt??????

    The townhall of the "other" Frankfurt
    I am only telling this story because it has happened to at least two of my friends and it is worth mentioning, because not only were they terribly embarrassed...they lost a lot of money when they missed their flight and were in the wrong city. How could this happen you wonder?  It helps to explain how the Germans name their towns and cities.

    You know how in the US, you might have a Springfield in Ohio and another one in Virginia and so on?  The Simpsons TV family is always making jokes as to where the actual Springfield from the show is located.  We usually don't get confused when someone mentions Portland or Richmond or Arlington, because we typically say the name of the city and then the there is absolutely no doubt.

    Well, Germany is split up into "Laender" or lands...kind of their version of states, but they don't say Stuttgart, fact, since Germany is barely over 100 years old, they didn't even have that as an option back then when you had all these dukes and princes with their own little territories.  So, how did a person know exactly which city they were referring to?

    Simple....the Germans attach the name of the river that goes through the town to distinguish it from another town with the same name and a different river going through it.  Back to our story.....I had a friend taking a plane out of Frankfurt.  Hey everyone knows Frankfurt, right?  Well....most Americans are familiar with Frankfurt am Main...that's the Frankfurt on the Main River.  That's where we had the big American airbase and where MOST flights arrive internationally.  Now Ryanair flies out of Frankfurt, but they fly out of Frankfurt-Hahn.  Now it's not named after a river, but I want to point out my friend drove to Frankfurt am Main to try to catch her plane, when she should've driven to Frankfurt-Hahn...Ryanair has a way of naming the two-bit airports they fly out of after major airports "nearby" this case, I think over 100 kilometers away!  Obviously, she missed her flight and her vacation.  So why did I mention this?  Because she also could've driven to Frankfurt an der Oder....which is in the former East Germany on the Oder River.  So you see, look carefully at the town name....we see it here in Belgium too, although they don't use rivers a lot of the time but regions, such as La Roche-en-Ardenne, showing this particular town lies in the Ardennes Region of Belgium.

    Are you confused?  I hope not.  I just want you to be sure and look carefully at any itineraries, hotel reservations and tickets before you head out that way or really, before you even book it.  It could save you some money and disappointment.  Do you have any stories to share?


    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    The European way of giving directions

    You know how you can be anywhere on the East Coast in the US, and say "go South on I95" and depending on where you are when they say that, you know exactly which way you are going and pretty much when you will get there?    There are also those familiar red, white and blue I95 signs that even glow in the dark...guiding you along the way, North or South.  Try that in Europe, and you'll be eternally confused as route markers change as much as you change your mind.  Ask someone where to get to route this-and-that going South, and you'll get hit with a blank stare.  You see, they give directions here totally differently.  Here's some enlightenment along those lines.

    Way back when people didn't travel much and pretty much stayed around their villages, they would get infrequent visitors passing through who knew they needed to follow a goatpath or semblance of a road...but al ot of times didn't know which direction.  So, they would ask which way.  The villager would point and respond to take THIS road in the direction of Paris....cause he knew that this trade route eventually got to Paris, and this is the way everyone went to get there.

    Nowadays, it's the exact same thing.  Even here in Mons, Belgium, if I want to tell someone how to go to the Mons Mall, I say get on the autoroute (our version of the highway) towards Paris and take the second exit.  There is no North, South or anything else...and everyone knows what you are talking about.  If I want to go to Cologne, I'll say go on the autoroute towards Brussels and after Charleroi, head towards Aachen.

    How's that for a trial by fire in European geography?  It's like this in every European country.  You'd better know which cities lie in which direction and don't worry about the cardinal directions.  You won't use them here!  And when you get out into the sticks into some of these small villages, I hope you are familiar with the larger towns around them.  Yes, you've got your GPS, but the GPS sometimes takes you on some other-than-worldly goatpaths that sometimes end in dead ends or are so narrow, you can stick your hand out one side window and the other and span the entire width of the road.  I won't even talk about the 6 foot roadway ditches and farm machinery you see at every turn.

    As a small caveat, I think I know where we got our US route and highway system from, as some areas in northern Europe and England WILL have major autoroutes clearly marked.  But, that is not how the majority rolls over here.  Be sure to study your maps and memorize which big cities lie where in Europe!  If anyone has any driving stories to share that involve directions, I would love to hear them!


    Sunday, April 10, 2011

    Ask VMW: How many cars can I ship overseas? Fuelcards?

    I don't think I've ever gotten a question about shipping cars and fuelcards....definitely something you need to know if you are moving overseas!

     I was wondering does the military ship one or two vehicles and I read something about a fuel card how does that work?

    The military will only ship one vehicle on its dime.  Some folks do ship a second vehicle, which would cost anywhere from 500-1000 euro typically.  You have to make all those arrangements on your own though.  Most folks buy a second beater-type car to get around in instead.  Each post usually has a lemon lot, and in the summer it'll be full of vehicles...everything from American cars to European-spec cars that can only be driven in Europe.  Most of the little cars are stick-shift, so if you haven't learned, it's about time that you do:-)  It'll broaden your options.  And no, it's not called a lemon lot because there are lemons's just called that.

    You get authorized a certain # of liters of fuel for one vehicle.  This just means that you can buy a special fuelcard at a special price on post.  You can also buy more fuel, but it will be at regular off-post fuel prices.  Fuel in Europe is priced very high (which is why I don't even fret over American fuel prices...they are so low in comparison!).  I believe it is because fuel is taxed very high here.  Here in Belgium on post, you can buy 200 liters of regular unleaded for about 140 euro...actually the prices have gone up since I bought a fuelcard, so it is probably a bit more.  I buy one every few months unless we travel a lot by car.  Remember, in Europe it's priced in liters.  In the US, we pay per gallon, so to figure out the price difference, you have to do a little math.  We also can only use the fuel card at the Belgian Total gas stations.  As I said, you can buy gas anywhere, it's just that we have the contract with Total for our fuel rations. 

    You get a fuel ration card, typed up on cardstock paper when you inprocess.  For us, we get 400 liters max a month.  If you have a gas guzzler and use it to drive around a could run out and then have to buy gas on the economy.  You bring your ration card with you to the rationed items store on post to buy your fuel card...regular, super or diesel is available.  You can also buy these fuel cards from the PX.  If your non-military spouse also works full-time, you can request to get more fuel rations if you need them.  Once you use up that particular fuelcard, you have to buy another one.

    If you travel into France and other European countries, your fuelcard is useless, and you will pay regular fuel prices like everyone else.  If you have a leave form, you can visit the MP station in Germany and get a fuelcard to use in Germany....I believe also in the Netherlands and Italy....possibly Spain....all the countries where we have bases.  It's an extra hassle, but if you spend a lot of time in that other country and have the time to stop by one of our bases there, it may save you lots of money.

    If you are PCSing to Germany, the process is a bit different, but you will still have a fuelcard.  They don't use fuel coupons anymore.  Your fuelcard is tied to that particular vehicle, so your buddy in another car will not be able to use it.  In Germany, you'll have more rations as well.  I have never run out while stationed there!  Super is the only available gas choice if you buy gas from AAFES, as many AAFES stores have their own gas stations (at the shopette).  You just pay with your regular American dollars.  Diesel is only available off post.  If you get a Military Star card (AAFES version of their credit card), you'll get 5% back on your purchases.  You can obviously also use your own choice of credit card with its own collection of bonuses and incentives.  If you want to gas up off post, you can use your fuelcard at Esso gas stations only IF you put a money advance onto your fuelcard.  So for example, you can put $100 on your fuelcard and then fuel up at Esso.  You won't pay the going rate posted on the pump, but our special discounted rate.  Once you get your receipt, you'll see how many liters you have left to pump on your advance, and you can also check this online.  Add money as needed.  It's kind of a pain to keep track of, and at any time if you pump OVER the amount on your fuelcard, you will pay the full fuel price for your entire transaction.  What I like here in Belgium, is that you can never go OVER what is on your fuelcard. Once it's done, it's done....and you have to buy another fuelcard.

    I do want to mention a quick word about American cars over here in Europe.  Most of us do have American brand cars that are not sold in the European market.  You'll see Ford and some others over here, but they'll have model names you never heard of and European car models are much smaller than ours across the board.  Keep this in mind when you are thinking of shipping your extended cab super-size truck over here!

    European roads are narrower.  Here in Belgium, they are absolute goatpaths unless you are on a major thoroughfare between major towns and cities.  I have a minivan and frequently have to stop or get over on country roads...and we have some big ditches along our roads!  Parking can be a pain.  Yes, the spots are a bit shorter, but worse, they are narrower.  I've had to squeeze out of my driver's side door, or go out the back and many times, I choose to park farther away so I have no other cars around.  Of course, practice your parallel parking, and when we drive downtown somewhere, we usually take my husband's little European specs car with us that fits in tight spaces.  Some parking garages will also be tight, not only in the spaces, but as you navigate around inside the lanes!

    Yes, I've heard Americans say they love the room of a large car and that's fine....just be prepared to deal with a few hiccups.  Be prepared to stand out too as an American.  In light of recent world events, we are no longer allowed to wear military uniforms off post, even if just going home.  A regular sized car would make our footprint not quite as big.  We made the decision to take our van over here because we had a huge dog at the time, kids and had lots of visitors we would take on our travels...that was our choice....and it works fine I think.  Anything bigger I would've felt uncomfortable having over here.  Do what you think is right for your family and your situation!

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    Friday, April 8, 2011

    Ask VMW: I have four dogs & a parrot and want to move overseas, advice?

    Today I received a question that deserved a really long on!

    Hi so I don't really know where to begin.  My husband is up for reenlistment and we have heard rumor of there being some openings for his MOS in the Netherlands, I think Schinnen or Germany.  We  have a baby, 4 dogs and a parrot all of which we could not part with.  We are unsure how this tour will affect us financially.  We both really want to go overseas but are not sure how this will affect us bringing our pets and vehicles.  Will I be able to take my pets?  My husband is an E4.

    Schinnen is actually a very nice place to be stationed...centrally located and a nice base in the NATO environment (which is a bit different than everyone else over here at US bases).  We are at a NATO base too and just love all the international interaction!

    Wow, you have your hands absolutely full and spilling over!  I'm going to be honest with you, as I don't beat around the bush.  I blame my German ancestry...again, there is never any right or wrong answer when I respond to people's requests.  Four dogs and a bird will be a HUGE challenge.

    Some things to think about....the will have to get them all health checked within 10 days of travel, and since only a certain # are allowed per plane, you gotta make sure they are listed in your flight record (I always recommend United Airlines) and if you fly in the summer you could be faced with travel restrictions.  You didn't mention the size of your'll need to purchase the correct crate size for EACH dog (that can get pricey if you don't already have them) and look at spending about 100-200 euro PER dog to travel.  You would be flying into Amsterdam (for the Netherlands) and could possibly face more fees, as sometimes people are charged for extra items, such as vet checks and "holding" the pet while they wait for the vet and that kind of you could be waiting around all day.  It usually doesn't happen, but I've seen it happen.  The good thing is that if you go to a military vet for the pets 10 day check up, it'll be free...otherwise, you'll pay for that.  Read my article on that whole process.  Also read this quick post on pets and being in the military.

    I''m not sure what the lodging facilities are like on Schinnen.  If they have onpost lodging they will probably not have pet rooms or will have limited pet rooms (our lodge only has six I believe and they book up fast).  On post, Army-wide, you are only authorized two pets, if you have anything over that, you'll be looking off post.  The Netherlands is a pricey country...housing is also the smallest out of any of the European, just so narrow with steep stairs and small yards.  As an E4, you could face some challenges finding something large enough, close enough to post (the farther out, the cheaper usually) AND finding a landlord that will accept that many pets.  Please visit Head Over Heel's blog.  The author chronicles her journey from Germany to the US in a PCS move with four large dogs.  She shipped three at once I believe and the fourth one at a later date.  She prepared herself as best she could and still hit quite a few roadblocks.  But, I think she was able to finally work something out where she and her dogs...and her soldier husband are happy.  So, it can be done if you are persistent and patient.  The Europeans, particularly the Dutch LOVE their dogs, and you'll see them just about everywhere, so that is a good thing!

    As for your parrot, I had a friend who had birds, and she would find a home for her bird before PCSing overseas.  Birds are just so sensitive and many don't handle the stress of going by plane.  Don't even get me started into talking about the baby birds they bring from outside the US to sell as pets...meaning the ones not hatched in the's criminal how many die on the journey.  I personally would not want to take that risk.  Your bird would also need the necessary health certificates, and you'd need to find an airline or pet shipping service that even handles birds.  You'd also have to check what the import requirements are for the Netherlands for birds.  I don't know them.  Obviously you can see I am biased on birds...sorry.

    Bottom line, you would have to have a lot of research and paperwork...and money set aside if you plan to take your animals!

    As far as being an E4 living overseas....sometimes it can be daunting at NATO bases, because most tend to cater to higher ranking officers and E4s sometimes get lost in the shuffle!  But, that doesn't mean we don't have any.  I have a few friends whose husbands are is struggling a is not.  It is much more difficult to find housing off post in your price range, that is a fact.  Check Schinnen's housing office online and see if E4s can automatically live on post, and if they even have on post housing and also what is the wait time to get into housing.  You need to know this stuff before you and the rest of the family comes over.  Deferred orders may be better.  He could come with half of your animals, while you come later, when he finds a house and gets settled in with the other half as an example.  If you live on post and only have two animals, perhaps there is a trusted friend or relative who could watch the other half while you are overseas.  Overseas assignments don't come as often as they used to, and they can be such an enriching part of your life...I would obviously do it over and over again if given the chance:-)

    I just checked and an E4 would get 1250 euro per month max for housing.  Go to and using a .mil email address, see if Schinnen lists their rental housing...I know our area here at SHAPE just went online there.  You will get an idea of what is even out there.  You'll get 613 euro for utilities, which will mostly go to cover gas/oil, water & electric.  That should be enough if you get an energy efficient house.

    Sorry I couldn't give you an easy answer, but you are on the right track, researching and asking questions ahead of time!  We need more military spouses willing to take responsibility to look out for themselves and their family!  Good luck in whatever you choose to do!  Talk it over with her hubby, and see what will work best for you!

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    Thursday, April 7, 2011

    First Impressions of Dublin & Ireland

    You always hear people talking about wanting to make a trip to lovely, green Ireland...especially Americans...something about going back to the homeland.  About 10% of American men can claim Irish ancestry...little less for women.  Anyway, I have no Irish ancestors that I know of....mostly German and "other".  No one ever guesses, so I keep them guessing for too.  But I am SO off topic.  So, I book the tickets thru Ryanair, cause I just can't resist those cheap seats.  And from that point on, after people ask me where we're going, and I say Dublin..they say, "oh, Dublin is ugly.  Nothing to see there."  How's that for encouragement?  Of course, I don't listen as always and go about my merry way, researching and dutifully putting an itinerary together for my family.

    Well, I am back.  We were there a week before the craziness of St Paddy's Day.  We are back happy, refreshed and wanting to see more.  Here's what I have to say about what we saw and did.

    • They don't do Pounds in Ireland, even though it is next to the UK.  If you didn't see this, you may be as confused as I was.  Come prepared for Euros.  I almost planned for the wrong thing.  Many Irish sites online will have things priced in Pounds, and now I realize they do this because their big market is the UK...not because their currency is in Pounds!
    • They drive on the "wrong" side of the road...of course I knew that...but the hardest part for me was not driving but the looking RIGHT before crossing the busy streets!
    • I was happy I had my vest and found myself taking many more pictures than ever before.
    • Found out that Dublin=Guinness and vice versa, and there isn't one without the other.
    • Kids loved the FREE Paddywagon day tour which came with our apartment rental in the Temple Bar District (center of the action).   I found it and it's review on Hostelworld of course!  There were no gimmicks, just pure fun and learning and not only historical stuff but one of our favorite things to do, to scout out movie locations.  In this case, we saw scenery from "Braveheart" and "PS I Love You", as well as a few others within Dublin (even in Kilmainham Jail).
    • Speaking of the jail, it is a MUST see, and if you MUST bypass some of the cheesy tourist stuff to get there, then do it.  Learn what the connection is with Abraham Lincoln and our American history too.
    • I learned (cause I had forgotten) that potatoes don't come from Ireland.
    • Maybe cause it was before the holiday, but I believe I saw some leprechauns, and I could've sworn that TONS of people (not just tourists) were wearing kelly green!  In fact, I read some article while I was there that said that leprechauns were being paid up to 1,000 euros A DAY to come and be a pub fixture.
    • As always, I recommend the hop on/hop off bus...either company has the same price and similar schedules...this can take up a whole day of hopping on and off and visiting some of your favorite sites (because you can't get to all of them I'm going to tell you right now).  The companies' tickets are also good for TWO days instead of the usual one day you see in most European cities (or 24 hours).
    • Dublin has some of the CLEANEST European streets I've EVER seen.  Not because us tourists and locals are clean, especially in March.  It's because they have a HUGE army of automated street sweepers and people cleaning the streets and sidewalks at all hours.  On the morning we left, as the sun was coming up, we saw some broken bottles and random trash but that was about it!  I think I only saw one pile of doggy crap the entire time...highly unusual for Europe!
    • The Irish are some of the proudest and friendliest people I have EVER met over here.  I felt totally safe, although I never ventured to the Northside (opposite of most cities, as most have the Southside as being the rougher side).  This is why Colin Farrell likes to say he comes from the Northside to bolster his bad-boy image (and you thought he came from the Southside didn't you?).
    • Loved that the National Museum of Ireland is free.  It was worth it, but I had a nightmare of the bogmen (yes, they were dug up) in the Archeology Museum.  The architecture of the building itself was impressive, and you gotta like the Viking stuff there too...did you know Dublin was founded by Vikings?  If you have Viking fever, the company that dug up one of the earliest Viking settlements around, set up its own exhibit, so check that out (I guess they had to do something to keep on building, huh?).
    • Go to pubs for food (cheaper) and get away from Temple Bar area for shopping, pubs and food (again, cheaper).
    • Check out the iWalk Tours on Dublin Tourist Bureau's website...they have about 12 of them in all parts of town.  Follow along in their guide as you listen to the podcast. My favorites are of course the Guinness Walk and the walk with the Georgian doors.  I think I took photos of about 20 different Georgian doors.
    • Speaking of Georgian, don't miss the House #29.  If you want to see what a rich family lived like in this era, stop here.  Too bad there wasn't a slum to view to see how the other 97% lived in those times.
    • Kids were ecstatic to be coming to an English speaking place with English bookstores.  Yes, the Eason's chain is the biggest in Ireland I think, but we loved Chapters, cause the entire top floor was ALL second hand books. We had to beat feet before we spent an entire day in there!
    • Kids and hubby flipped over an all-you-can-eat Indian/Italian/Chinese place for 7,95 euro a plate....yes, there is such a thing and yes, you'll find it in Dublin on the corner of Henry Place and Moore Lane near O'Connell Street.  There is also a nice foodmarket in that area...actually there are markets all over the city on the weekends.  You can find some other cheap eats here.  There is a famous Paddyjack sandwich I read about here and here (also info on the markets), but by the time we got there in the late afternoon, he just had horsemeat left and was selling them as Paddyjack on a spit and not a sandwich!
    • Do bring your raingear.  It rained/drizzled the entire time we were there, plus it was windy!  Wait, we did have sun for a few hours when we were out in the countryside and Kilkenny, but it was brief.
    • I regretted not seeing the ocean, or should I say Irish Sea.  It's not like you can walk down along the river and see it.  It's quite a distance from downtown Dublin and the actual port area is ugly with big container buildings and crane, but there is bus service out to Howth Cliffs.  There are hiking trails and beautiful ocean views to see....sigh.
    Now that we've gotten a taste of what Dublin has to offer, we would love to go back and spend some quality time in the countryside.  We only got a day's taste of that which only makes us want to come back for another trip!  The Irish countryside is just beautiful, and we drove miles before we would see another car at one point.  Even in winter, we got a real sense of the green and beautiful landscape.  Of course, I promised the kids we'd get to Scotland before we go back up many destinations and so little time!  If you are on your way to a European tour, let me suggest you start sooner rather than later to visit all these wonderful locations!


    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Ask VMW: Is it easy to get a job overseas?

    Here's a question I recently received:

    I have been reading the blogs about Germany and I appreciate all of the insight! I am a newly married military wife, and we just found out our next assignment will be to Germany.  We are ecstatic to say the least but besides the bagillion questions, I have one really important for spouses, are there any? I am beginning to feel that knot in my stomach known as "anxiety" so any insight you might have would be greatly appreciated.

     Jobs....not as easy as in the US, but if you are persistent, you'll find something...eventually...the easiest to get are AAFES retail and commissary baggers/cashiers and jobs are a bit harder.  Your first stop should be Army Community Service (ACS) at your new post, as they have the leads for all kinds of jobs in your area, to include contractor jobs and those obscure jobs that aren't really listed anywhere that you would find them.  Since you will fall under the SOFA agreement, which was made between the US and Germany after the war, there will only be certain jobs on post you are eligible for and no jobs off post if you are a US citizen (unless you get hired by a company from stateside).  I did have a friend who worked under the table in a German restaurant, working back in the kitchen.  She loved it, because she learned how to cook German dishes, except for the special sauces they made...they made those before the hired help came in!  Another friend who had a horse taught lessons to American kids at a local stable.  ACS will also help you with your resume and get you in the system to look for jobs...many people think there are just government jobs, but you'd be surprised what you'll see offered.  I know the government is trying to get rid of some of these contractor jobs, as many get paid beaucoup bucks when they could pay a government worker much less.  Good for the country, not so good for the worker....but, I still see a lot of them out there, and if you have a security clearance, you will move to the head of the line.  As a sidenote, I got a job once by volunteering.  I always volunteer anyway, but had I not volunteered, I would not even have been offered this job.  The amazing thing is that the agency went through the process of doing other interviews, but since they were so happy with my work and I was known entity, I got the job in the end....right or wrong, it pays off to volunteer and network I think.  Good luck in your search!

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    Sunday, April 3, 2011

    Reading between the lines...

    I'm a big fan of reading travel reviews.  I read them on airlines, hotels, destinations, cruise ships...let's see...even destinations within a destination, such as major tourist attractions.  I'd read one on myself if I could...might make me a better person.  Funny, you get some that are just about as negative as you can get....then you get the ones that are so glowing, it makes you wonder if someone's grandmother wrote it about their own place.  Then you get the fluff in between.  Here are some recent reviews I've read and my own translation of what they really meant.

    For a hotel:
    • Centrally located and in the middle of all the action.  Noisy and you won't get any sleep if you are a light sleeper.  There will also probably be college age drunk kids running around.
    • Close to public transportation.  The buses/trams run REALLY early...and late, and you'll hear every one of them, as they go by.
    • Staff doesn't intrude and is seen only when called.  You'll be hard pressed to get maid service or a late night snack.  I've actually wandered the halls of such a place, looking for someone who could find me an extra blanket...yes, it was late, but there was a night desk and no one to be found.  I never did figure that one out.
    • Quaint farm B&B.  You'd better have a car, because it'll be close to absolutely nothing.  If you don't mind bugs, cats howling as they hump each other all night and cows and roosters playing alarm clock, then this won't bother you at all.  We recently stayed at a B&B, that had all of the above.
    On the beach: 
    • Invigorating surf.  Yeah...invigorating it was all the riptides tried to carry us out to sea.  We ended up playing it safe on the sand.  Research what kind of beach area it really is.  With kids, I just like having lifeguards nearby too...interesting thing in Europe, you are mostly held responsible for your own kids' safety while in water.  You will find many hotels without any kind of lifeguards as well.  Know before you go.
    • No frills or fuss and efficient.  This was about Ryanair....and they weren't lying either.  This basically means bare bones.  Let the nickel and diming begin!
    • Friendly and knowledgeable.  Have you ever had a tourguide who gave you a headache?  Knowing everything about everything is great, but you have to balance the talking with just letting the people drink in the scenery.  He was also overbearing to the point that I would run the other way if he headed my way during our rest breaks.  His wearing of the lederhosen also scared the children and for some reason formulated some disturbing images in my mind...maybe it was his knobby legs and not the lederhosen...per se...I digress.
    Rental Cars:

    • Super fuel-efficient.  That and the size of a shoebox.  Tall people need not apply.  Even the kids had to stuff themselves into the backseat.  Always know the model make and name beforehand...specifically.  There is a reason why that shiny rental car you saw on the website is so cheap...."objects on screen are smaller than they appear" or something to that effect.
    • Other: 
    • Wonderful back-to-nature hike with a mountaintop picnic with champagne and all the hearty offerings.  Well, once we hiked up the big hill, not mountain, we did get champagne, but also day old bread with some old stinky cheese, bubbly water and when we weren't swatting the little bugs (or eating them), we did take some fascinating photos.  Take note that a European picnic lunch is not what we envision as an American picnic lunch.....always have plenty of water (the still kind if you so desire), and if you don't do the European thing and drink fizzy water like 99% of them do, write that down again for future reference.  It's also good to have snacks along if you are not going to indulge yourself in the local sausage, pate or whatever.
      What about you?  Do you have any reviews to share?


    Friday, April 1, 2011

    The Money Hazards of Living in Belgium

    On the one hand, Belgium is a land of rules that don't get followed.  Why?  Look at all the different rulers they have had through the years....all with their own set of rules and laws...constantly changing.  They've had Austrians, the Spanish, Germans, the Dutch and the list goes on.  It's no wonder that not until 1967 did you need a driver's license to drive here or that a Belgian official will tell you "it's not possible" and the next day it is.  Today I'd like to talk about how to save yourself thousands of Euros or from making a dumb mistake.

    For one thing, Belgium and the US have a different Status of Forces (SOFA) agreement with Belgium than we do with Germany.  Germany is very generous when it comes to exempting us from sales tax, other taxes and giving us certain privileges.  In Germany, you can buy a stack of VAT forms and use them for ANY purchases, which pays off on total purchases over 50 euro.  I used to love getting that tax back in cold hard cash at the Real (like a Super Walmart) customer service counter.  Not so in Belgium.  Remember, Belgium didn't lose like Germany did, so of course they didn't have to give a lot of concessions.  I will touch on a few ways that have lost people money.

    As a sidenote, these rules do not apply to all Americans in Belgium or expats.  These rules only apply to American (possibly NATO) military personnel or civilian personnel assigned to NATO or American Forces in Belgium.

    For example, only certain items are sales tax exempt, such as furniture.  The process is also a little more complicated, at least on SHAPE, where you have to get a receipt or bill of lading of the item/items you are buying, then take that to the VAT office, and the Community Services Center on SHAPE.  Many stores, like IKEA, don't give you the money back right away, but request that you fill out some paperwork, including providing your local bank account number, and then a few months later, you'll see the amount show up in your bank account.  As in typical Belgian fashion, you may see one person asking for the VAT from the VAT office get tax relief, whereas another person wanting to purchase the same item, does not get it.  I don't have an answer for that one.  I've just seen it happen.  Read here for my step-by-step process of getting your VAT back.

    Also, be careful how you register your vehicles!  You have one vehicle that is exempt from Belgian road taxes...only one.  Road taxes can be expensive, depending on how large the engine is in your vehicle.  This is why you should register the vehicle with the largest engine first.  Vehicles with larger engines can run you over 1,000 euro a year.  Vehicles like my husband's little diesel that gets 50 MPG only costs just under 200 euro a year, so you can see the big savings.  We registered our minivan first.  I talked to one person who, while waiting for their vehicle to ship from the States, bought a second vehicle, which they registered first.  Now they are faced with owing roadtax on their larger vehicle that has not yet arrived.  I don't know if they worked it out or not, but I just caution you to check it out.  We received our roadtax bill, through my husband's work address about two months after he purchased the vehicle.  You can then pay the bill at your local Belgian post office or through your local bank account.  I will talk later about recommendations on getting a bank account over here, as most of your bills and purchases will be in Euros and not Dollars.

    Be careful about buying a vehicle from a non-Shapian (a person without a SHAPE ID card).  You will end up paying sales tax.  Again, I overheard a person in the inprocessing building lamenting that he had to pay a few thousand euro tax on a vehicle he purchased for 10,000 euro.  He said if he had known this ahead of time, he would've never done it!  I'm guessing that's why you don't see all the car lots around post like you do at any German US Army base or post.

    My point with this post is to advise you to be careful and research things thoroughly before you do them....the consequences can be costly!  Please also do not take my advice as the Gospel.  Some of what I have written may be inaccurate, as I have not checked the laws and regulations myself, and like I said, sometimes it is not crystal clear what the law even is.  I am only speaking from my own experience and the experiences of the people around me.  Take it for what it's worth to you!  Do you have any Belgian experiences that are related to this post?