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!): May 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, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day in Flanders Field

I will make this short and sweet today and want to wish everyone a safe and wonderful Memorial Day!  We took the time to honor our fallen at Flanders Field American Military Cemetery in Belgium.  I had never attended a Memorial Day remembrance at any military cemetery, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.

I was humbled by the care and precision that went into the ceremony and touched by the local townspeople and even a representative from the King of Belgium (yes, we have one of those) who took time out of their weekend to honor Americans.  Please click on the video below for a short tour of the highlights and consider going to a ceremony in your area today:-)


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Podcast #8 - Visiting Fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle (5/28/2011)

Okay, stay with me here....someone gave me an idea to talk about visiting a variety of sites around Europe.  You know how when you go somewhere...and then come say to yourself....I wish I had known that before we went....or, you spent too much money or whatever....I'm going to try to make trip planning EASY for you.  If you've never been or want to know more about a location, then listen to one of these podcasts.

Today I'm going to be talking about Neuschwanstein, probably one of the most visited sites in Germany and the inspiration of Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle.  Listen in on Podcast #8 to learn more.

Of course, since this is my first podcast on visiting a site, I forgot to mention a few things, plus let me expand on a few more!

  • Photography or videotaping is not allowed at all in either Hohenschwangau or Neuschwanstein castle.  Every time I go there, some foreigner (never seen a German do it) will either take photos openly, acting like they didn't hear the guide or will sneak photos.  In my opinion, this is just disrespectful.  Buy the interior postcards and follow the rules.  Again, just my advice and in the end, do what you are comfortable with.

  • The other two King Ludwig castles nearby I mentioned are Linderhof, which is between Garmisch and Neuschwantstein.  This is a wonderful castle to visit and just the gardens alone are fantastic.  Kids also love the Grotto (which is man-made by the way but looks just like a real one).  The other castle most folks have never heard of.  It is called King's House on the Schachen, and is King Ludwig's former hunting lodge.  It can only be reached by about a three hour hike and most visitors overnight there at the nearby lodge.  It is a great experience I highly recommend!

  • >If you have the time, a few years ago, I also wrote a blogpost on Neuschwanstein, so check that out too!  If anyone else has any tips to share on visiting any of the King Ludwig castles, please post here.  We'd love to hear them!

    Labels: ,

    Thursday, May 26, 2011

    What I Wish I Knew a Year Ago...

    Do you ever wonder like I do....what if I knew a year ago what I know now....what would that be?  Not the "machts nichts" unimportant stuff that goes in one end of your brain and out the other...I'm talking about the good stuff...the stuff that is going to help you again and again....what is that stuff?  Are you willing to share?  Here are some that came to the front of the line in my life at the moment...

  • Horse sausage has a distinct smell, look and feel to it....and even though I was suckered into eating a donkey sausage and a monkey sausage in Paris....I think I would fall over if I ate a horse sausage...just...can'

  • Realized that European banking is WAY more secure than what we have stateside and I wonder all the time, why our system hasn't changed to the European system.  Not only do I need a username and password on my banking website, but I have to use a little electronic PIN generator for EACH transaction.  The flipside, is that without this PIN generator, that churns out a unique really long number for each transaction you want to complete, your online account is worthless to pay bills.  Don't head back to the US or on a trip without it if you need to pay bills while you are gone (or set up a future payment instead).

  • That I can survive without buying more Polish pottery.  Yes, I was a junkie.  I used the excuse that my tour job had me going back to Boleslawiec, Poland again and again...and I had to take the free pottery and also buy a few more pieces here and again there.  I haven't bought a piece since last Spring...and haven't missed it.  Moderation in anything is key, and you CAN stop yourself from overspending/buying!

  • I am glad I did not buy a new car coming to Belgium.  One word, the roads SUCK...okay, they suck badly!  I've never seen so many ruts, potholes and deep ditches in my life.  No wonder most cars (older than a few years) are required to have yearly inspections by the Belgians at their inspection (CT) stations around the country.

  • Belgium is more expensive than Germany and France.  I love how the hoards of Belgiums cross over into France to do their grocery shopping here.  We are about 20 minutes from the border and 30 minutes from shopping heaven...that is much cheaper than here.  Of course, get stopped by the police, and you could end up paying for the privilege.

  • As I suspected, being 2-1/2 hours to Paris is a real treat!  I've got it all figured out ways by train and car from this direction and where to stay around the city supercheap:-)  Even day trips can be done very easily.  Or how about taking a ferry or the Chunnel to Dover and shopping at the big favorite, TESCO...the British version of their Walmart.  Who said Belgium was a speedbump?  It is more of a gateway!

  • I know more about Estonia, Poland, Finland and a few other countries I've never been to.  It's great being stationed here with all the internationals....learning about their home countries...visiting them and their families and getting ideas on lodging and what to see and do that not every tourist knows about!  Ten thumbs up!

  • Belgian fashion is not known for it''ve honestly seen some of the dumpiest fashions right here.....I don't know if it's because we don't live in a metropolitan or hip area....or if Belgians just don't like dressing like nonsense?  Maybe I am missing something or our stores don't have much.  I end up shopping at the German and British branded stores we have in the area...C&A and H&M are my favorites:-)  Is H&M British?  I don't know...but I like it.

  • Like Germans know their crepes and pastries, Belgians know their waffles and pastries.  The pastries are not as good as the Germans'....but they sure are fact, the food is prettier...where the Germans go for quantity...the Belgians go for....prettiness.  Just look at all the Michelin starred restaurants Belgium has compared to Germany AND France....hmmm...but I hope you are not a big eater and just like pretty food. It is tasty though.  Just memorize the word for horse, ie "cheval" and you'll be okay.

  • Do you have any enlightenment you'd like to share?


    Wednesday, May 25, 2011

    Final Push for Votes!

    I feel like I am running for office...I never realized how hard it would be to garner peoples' support!  The voting ends today at 5 pm PST, and I thought I would ask for a final push for votes on Circle of Military Moms!  I am still hoping to end up in the Top 25 Military Family blogs when all the dust settles.  If you have time time, please stop by and click the "thumbs up"!


    Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    Feeling the History in Bastogne, Belgium

    This post is in honor and remembrance of the fallen.  Please take the time to check out commemorative events in your area to pay your respects and give thanks!

    The birds were singing beautifully, and they knew it.  As we observed a moment of silence for the fallen men of the 17th Airborne in WWII, I wished they were here to listen to the sounds too.  This was going to be our first WWII commemorative walk.  Apparently, there are quite a few, the largest in Belgium being the big event in Bastogne held every December.  This particular march, only in its third season, was to remember those who fought so bravely during the Battle of the Bulge with the 17th Airborne, 101st Division.

    The mayor of the town of Flamierge, which lies only 20 min from Bastogne, stepped up to thank the Americans for saving the town, and as I scanned the crowd of hikers, walkers, a few families with children and the large number of WWII re-enactors I realized that before the march was over, the men who had fought here were going to leave a mark on all of our lives.  The guest of honor was a veteran of this battle, Robert Patterson, who right before the march, signed autographs like a rockstar and then did a pass and review of the re-enactors; inspecting weapons, uniforms, shaking hands and patting the men on their backs.  Even though I could see he was getting tired, he posed endlessly with anyone who asked and was very gracious and kind to anyone who spoke to him.  A grandson of a veteran, also a US Army soldier, was in attendance.  

    After the solemn ceremony and the wreath laying, we lined up for the march.  We were given a sheet of the unit history, a bio of Robert Patterson and a map with our route clearly marked.  Anyone could sign up for the march ahead of time and pay the 5 euro per person fee.  This is what we did via Belgian bank draft.  We also noticed that many participants showed up on site and paid then.  We could go either 6 or 16 km. The fee covered organizer costs, a completion certificate and a drink.

    The march started off quickly, as everyone was anxious to get started, especially the three dogs who were pulling at their leashes.  As we settled into a rhythm, the two columns started to spread out and everyone seemed to enjoy the rare Belgian sunshine and blueskies.  We passed by farmers' fields and old stone homes that must have been here during the battle and were showing their age.  As we turned the first corner (and marker) and headed uphill, some of our lot started to slow down, but that was okay.  We had two Army medic re-enactors bringing up the rear.  It was amazing to see the authenticity of the uniforms and equipment and the great care that was put into the details.  One three-man team even carried a 30 caliber machine gun with its tripod and barrel - a real team effort.  There was also a re-enactor who was a military photographer as it said on his helmet, looking the part with his high speed camera.  I personally liked the family of five, fully dressed the part including a different weapon for each person in the family.  This was serious business.

    After the walk and feeling exhilarated, we spoke with some of the other walkers.  There was an American family of four that was also stationed in Europe.  I believe we were one of only a few Americans present this year.  Mostly, I talked to French and Belgian families who felt it was important to never forget what the Americans did.  I was humbled when an older man came over wanting to shake my hand and to thank me and my country for what we did for them that day.  In a reflective mood, and with our certificates in hand, we decided to visit some of the other military highlights in the Bastogne area.  

    To highlight the ones you absolutely should not miss, read on.  As you travel through nearby Bastogne, you can already see Mardassone Monument, rising out of the trees on the eastside of town.  Standing on top of this five-pointed granite monument, listing all the Allied units that fought, as well as all the US states listed across the top, you have an absolutely expansive view of the town of Bastogne below.  This is the closest the Germans would ever come to capturing the town.  There is also the Bastogne Historical Center right next door, but keep in mind it is closed for the next year and a half for renovations sorry to say.  You can visit the special exhibit "I was 20 in 45" in town if you have time or follow this route below.

    Using a map or GPS, follow the small road from the Mardassone monument East towards Bizory.  Once you get to this small hamlet, turn West towards Foy.  About halfway between the two, on this one lane road, slow down.  Right after you cross the bikepath, you will see a monument on the left side of the road, commemorating Easy Company, 506th Infantry Regiment (from "Band of Brothers" fame) and all those who died from the unit during the Battle of the Bulge.  One soldier listed was killed afterwards, but since there is no commemorative plaque, he was included in this one.  This used to be a railroad line and railstop and was a major part of Easy Company's fight.  Continue on towards Foy.  You'll see a forest road off to your left with an open area in front of the trees, probably full of mud.  Stop here and walk into the woods on the westside of the forest road.  Those depressions you see in the earth under the trees are Easy Company's foxholes, or what is left of them after time and scavengers have gotten ahold of them.  You get a real sense of emotion standing in one of these holes and reflecting on the quiet-as-a-church forest with its carpet of pine needles.  

    As you drive on towards Foy, you'll see some buildings with pockmarks and bullet holes, and you will swear that nothing here has changed.  This was also a major engagement for Easy Company.  Cross the N30 towards Recogne and turn on the first road to your right.  You'll immediately see the marker that shows where the Allies buried our fallen heroes from the Battle of the Bulge.  

    They have all since been relocated to other cemeteries now, but the site is still sacred.  If you go down the road towards Recogne and the interesting bison farm there, you'll see a German military cemetery to your left.  Be sure to stop and take a look.  

    Since we absolutely wanted to see more, to include memorabilia and items from the battle to make our visit complete, we traveled the 20 minutes cross-country on forest roads to the wonderful town of La Roche-en-Ardenne, which sits down in a valley, surrounded by cliffs with a river running through it.  There is even an imposing 9th century fortress overlooking the quaint storybook buildings that were all but destroyed by the end of the war.  

    Stop at the Battle of the Ardennes Museum which has three floors of wonderful dioramas of both Allied and German soldiers, vehicles and all their belongings tastefully and thoughtfully presented.  Especially popular are the metal artifacts dug up from the battlefield, from both armies, as well as a room filled with weapons and the hard-to-find German Enigma code machine.
    Coming home that evening, we certainly had a new insight into the battle and also enjoyed some of the what the Ardennes Region has to offer, only a short two hour drive from SHAPE.  If you like the outdoors and want to experience history beyond the dusty pages of a book, then these commemorative marches  and the Ardennes are for you!  The Stars & Stripes will frequently list these events, as well as the veterans' association pages of the units who fought there.

    Labels: ,

    Sunday, May 22, 2011

    Make and Take a Meal

    You know, I still have a very fond memory, of when I had our first little one...and the tater tot casserole someone brought over to me after my son was born.  I don't think I'd ever heard of tater tots before I had kids...seriously, I am telling you the truth!  I remember being so entranced with the dish and how everything was in there....I want to say all the food groups or should I say all levels of the pyramid...I don't know, that sounds dumb but you know what I am driving at.  Anyway, our unit used to rally up whenever someone had a baby.  A schedule was put together, and the mom had meals taken care of at least for the first few weeks after coming was great.  I enjoyed it, and I tried to make sure that happened in every unit I was in after that!

    Do you do something similar in your unit?  Would you like to share what you do?  I know you can make this as easy or as time consuming as you want it to be.  There was a time where I would have a homemade dessert, maindish, homemade bread, salad and even drinks.  Now, it's more like a maindish that'll have leftovers, still homemade bread and salad....but mostly storebought desserts.  I've found that it's great to add some kids' drinks and grown-up of the items most likely not to be found in the house of a new baby.....along with toilet paper, papertowels, wipes and diapers.  Of course it was like that in our house!  Always running out of the staples!

    I think I have some good recipes that deliver well in my Cooking section.  Keep in mind that casseroles and lasagnas work best.  Try to find out what they had the time before.  It'll work even better if one spouse volunteers to maintain a list of volunteers and what they are bringing...and when.  I sometimes even assemble the casserole, and if I come over early enough, I leave heating instructions.  There's something to be said about a home with the smells of home cooking as it gets closer to mealtime!  I also recommend using disposable dishes....tin and tinfoil for the hot stuff and those plastic containers for everything else.  Even something as simple as pork chops baked in Campbell's mushroom soup and a container full of mashed potatoes can be filling and appreciated.  You don't always have time to make a meal from scratch, but I can tell you, any meal will be's the thought that counts most of the time and speaking for myself...I'll eat almost anything if I don't have the time to cook it myself.  I am not picky and seasoning powder and salt can do wonders for just about anything!

    Nostalgia aside, if you have any great recipes to share that are perfect for taking over to someone's house, I would love to hear them!


    Friday, May 20, 2011

    Podcast #7 - Tricare Dental & Security (5/20/2011)

    Ooops, should've said this was the seventh podcast and not the sixth.  I didn't realize I've been blabbing so much on here!

    Listen in as I talk about Tricare Dental overseas and how to get dental care.  Listen in to Podcast #7.  You'll get information on the Tricare Dental Program.  I had received an email from a brand new military spouse who wasn't sure how to get care overseas.  Of course, I neglected to talk about her husband, because she asked about that too.  To add to the podcast, her husband will automatically get care on post.  Our servicemember spouses actually get a status rating on the health of their teeth and mouth!  You can actually be in a non-deployable status if your mouth needs some work, so don't worry about him and his care!  The military is already on that!

    I also talk about OPSEC and some things you may not have thought of when it comes to making sure our spouses stay safe and you don't get yourself in a heap of trouble!


    Wednesday, May 18, 2011

    Confessions of a European Hotelroom

    I don't think I'll ever forget this one customer I had once....who had an absolute FIT when he went to his room and saw his double bed....woe is me did I get a tongue lashing...the front desk too!  Before you blow a few steam valves or just get surprised, check these things out.

    The bed or should I say double bed.  If you stay at an American branded chain like Marriott or Hilton (more money), you'll typically see queen sized beds...there are even a few kings to be found.  Otherwise, you are looking at two twins pushed together with a crack down the middle.  In fact, you let your hotel know if it's two singles or a couple, and they will pull them apart or push them together.  It's a European thing, so don't fight it and accept it.

    Sink in room.  Many of the older style hotel rooms will have a sink in the room rather than in the bathroom.  You'll even find some houses that still have the sink in the's just different.  So go do your thing in the toilet located in the "water closet" (WC) and then come out and wash your hands or brush your teeth.

  • Smaller rooms.  Most newer construction has smaller rooms.  Check out the Tune Hotel chain (from the Far East), with their first hotel in London....can you say shoebox?  Let's see if it catches on.

  • Continental breakfast.  Look, most hotels will not have big American buffets or even English or Irish breakfasts....but if they do, they will advertise it!  I've seen "continental" mean anything from a day old roll w/some butter, jelly and nicer spreads with fresh breads & rolls, meats, cheeses, fruits, sausage links and hardboiled eggs.  Some of these hotels you can find on Trip Advisor, so be sure to see what they say....or read the description carefully or just ask.  Most hotels serve something in between what I mentioned.  Always check to see if breakfast is included.  Many times it is not.

  • What the heck is a bidet?  It sort of looks like a toilet and it IS in the bathroom.  Many Americans think it is for feet washing...and it can be...but really, it for washing should I say....privates....get refreshed without having to take a shower.  Believe it or not, not all Europeans bathe or shower every day...or even use deodorant.  Get used to it and move on and wash yourself in the bidet if you are so inclined.

  • Porn channels. No, there are no blocks and you might come back to your little ones surfing the porn channels.  You don't get charged til you've been on one for a certain amount of conceivably, your little ones could be very slick and just surf from one porn channel to another.  The Europeans are more "free" with body image and looking at nakedness.  You'll see kids running around naked at the community swimming pool or watering hole...sometimes women topless...even tv shows during prime time and commercials show the occasional winky or boob.  It's just not a big deal over here.

  • No AC.  Honestly, it's going to be pretty rare to see a hotel with it...although more seem to be getting it.  Even some of the nicer ones don't have it.  Germany is not known for hot summers...but ask any American living overseas, and they'll tell you otherwise!

  • Elevators.  Not many to be found in the smaller hotels.  It is not unusual to walk up three flights of stairs to get to your light!  Small hotels will also use every available space, so don't be surprised if you are on the top floor, under the eaves and having to duck down to get to your bed.

  • No top sheet.  Europeans sleep with duvets.  I use these at home cause I hate tucking in sheets.  Of course Marriott and some of the others will have duvets AND top sheets!

  • No internet.  More and more hotels are trying to catch up with offering this.  Many who do offer it will only offer it in the lobby...some wifi signals just won't get to the top floors or through some of the thick walls if it's supposedly hotel-wide.  Try to find your hotel on Tripadvisor to find out.

  • A different level of customer service.  Or maybe I should just say different.... period.  Many times Americans want to call Europeans rude (and don't get me wrong, there are some rude people over here) but being ignored at the desk and not being asked 20x if you need anything or is everything okay is mostly the norm here.

  • Parking can be an issue.  When I book a hotel, knowing I'm driving there, I always check out their parking situation.  If it's too expensive for our tastes, I'll look elsewhere nearby for public parking.  I do this all online before we go...I calculate it into our room cost, cause who wants a cheap room and then have to pay out the wazoo for parking?  Some of the garages may also have trouble accomondating big American cars, so we usually travel with our second little zip-zip Eurocar.

  •  Bathroom/toilet down the hall or strangely located.  Check that price for that hotel room.  Some of the smaller hotels and hostels will have one or the other down the share with other hotel guests.  If you've ever shared a toilet with a guy...and you are a least for me...that is just NOT going to happen with anyone but my husband.  I recently learned what a "hero dump" was and never want to repeat that experience again!  Please also remember that hostels and B&Bs nowadays sometimes DO have the facilities in the carefully or ask!  What do I mean by strangely located?  We once stayed in this wonderful old villa in Berlin....the landlady had lived there since before the war...the place was full of Persian carpets and beautiful furniture....wonderful high ceilings and a mezzanine...our room....great, except for the one piece shower that was two steps from one side of the looked so out of place, and I tripped over it more than once on the way to the toilet at night, which was down the hall.

  • Thankfully, over the years traveling throughout Europe, I've grown my collection of nice hotel rooms, B&Bs and hostels.  But, I am always up for adventure, so always comparison-shop on my two favorite sites, and  I love that they both have honest reviews and that only people who have stayed at those hotels can write up a review.  Don't take one review at face value but try to read a few of them to paint an overall picture.  For the reviews not in English, use Google Translate to get the gist of the message, especially if it's a negative one.

    All in all, you are going to experience some amazing hotels and their owners and learn a few tricks and tips along the way.  You may even stay in some dives and dumps and have some great pics to show for it!  If you'd like to share any of your gems with my fellow readers, please post them below!  You know me and funny stories/photos....would love to hear/see those too!

    Labels: ,

    These people took NO BAGGAGE on their 90 day trip around the world!

    I've blogged before about my favorite vest but check out this couple who went around the world without a single piece of luggage....nothing...nothing at all!

    It's interesting to listen to what they have to say about their experience and some tips to help the rest of us in keeping from overpacking!  If you want to check out all the different pants, short, shirts, jackets, coats and even hats and underwear with multiple pockets and secret places to squirrel away your stuff, be sure to check here!


    Monday, May 16, 2011

    Podcast #6 - Top Ten Travel Secrets (5/16/2011)

    As we start getting into the height of travel season, I thought I'd talk about my favorite travel secrets.

    Of course there are many ways to have a successful trip, but this are the Top 10 thoughts that came to my head first.

    Podcast #6

    Please add any of your own below if you like!


    Saturday, May 14, 2011

    Visiting Bruges, Belgium

    I thought I would share a few tips about visiting Bruges, Belgium, one of the top tourist highlights in Belgium.  Even people outside of Belgium have heard of this beautiful almost untouched Flemish city.  Okay, so wait, in Dutch/Flemish your going to call it Brugge.  Yeah, simple right...the French say it one way, the Flemish another...easy when it sounds and looks almost the same.  Try that with the city we live in, known as Mons in French and Bergen for the Flemish.  It always cracks me up that as soon as you cross the border from Wallonia (French) to Flanders (Flemish), even the billboard governmental highway signs...exact same drunk driving photo or "be careful driving" graphic, immediately have a different language as soon as you cross over.  But I am getting WAY off topic today.  I wanted to share a few easy tips in getting to and getting around this top favorite of mine!

    If you're coming from the direction of the SHAPE NATO base near Mons, it'll only take you about 1-1/2 hours, pretty much all highway driving....yes, bumpy....that's Belgium, so watch the potholes and construction.  At this time in April 2011, they were still building that monumental traffic circle right before you hit the city, which caused traffic to back up onto the highway to a standstill.  Please try to arrive at least before 10 on the weekdays and by 9 on the weekends or you will have missed the chance for smooth sailing.  I always take the first turn off that traffic circle into the city....easier to get to the trainstation, which is where we are going.  Watch the video below for tips on where to park for dirt cheap AND how to get free roundtrip bus tickets for everyone in your car.  Now of course, I can't stop you from buying all the neat chocolates, beer and lace....but I can at least save you some in the transportation department.

    I'm going to caution you to not go on high peak travel times...Spring and Fall are best, but if you MUST go in the summer, go ahead and go on the weekdays.  The city is just PACKED with tons of tourists on the weekends, and they come from all over, not just Belgium and the surrounding area.  While I was there on a weekend before Easter, I saw tons of river cruise tourist folks walking around....interesting.

    I can recommend:

    • Just walking around the city center.  There are some cute shops, albeit touristy, but nice things to windowshop.  There are also so many historic buildings, and who ever saw so many buildings dressed in gold except maybe in Istanbul?
    • Checking out all the canals.  They make their way in rings around the city....reminds me a lot of Strasbourg, not so much like Venice....very nice.
    • Chocostory.  This was a great kid thing.  The story itself wasn't that exciting, except I did enjoy the 18th century hot chocolate pots and appreciated that women were hired just to make hot chocolate for the was a noble drink and not for the masses til much later.  The best part is of course sampling the stuff after watching the test kitchen chocolatier explaining what he was doing step-by-step when he made some beautiful and tasty chocolates with hazelnut center.....perfectly understandable in French, English and Dutch.  The best part is that the place smelled of chocolate...not only from the kitchen but also from the larger-than-life chocolate statues adorning the halls....mmmmmm.  Kids gave it a thumbs up.
    • Going up in the belfry.  But only if you are not cheap like me.  I had to ask someone else about the's 200+ steps, which would've been okay, but I wasn't paying 5 euro for that, but I encourage you to.  I bet there is  a nice view.
    • Lace shops.  Just be careful.  85% of the stuff is Made in China, and the good shopkeepers will tell you which ones...but by the time you hit your second lace shop, you'll know yourself by looking at the price.  If you're not paying 30 euro for a hankie, then it's not genuine Belgian lace.  I'm not knocking the unGodly amount of hours goes into each piece, so if you were to pay that lacemaker per hour, your are getting her (or him) dirt cheap at that 30 euros.
    • Sitting in a Cafe in the mainsquare.  My favorite part....and everyone seems to love those chocolate cubes you get on a stick and then stick it in your hot milk to make chocolate....another mmmmm.  Try to go at an off hour...not at lunch time, and I like the snack place down the side from the old post office...on the but good fries and excellent view.
    • the City Tour folks.  It's a little bit like a hop on hop off bus but not quite.  It is a large colorful van that makes a circuit in 50 minutes and stops at all the major points...great if you don't or can't walk the distance.  It's priced right also at 14,50 euro for adults and 8,50 euro for kids.
    • Favored goodie store.  My husband, the beer expert, almost died when he walked into 2be shop with their 780 types of Belgian beer mind you in their cellar, along with every chocolate, goodie and everything else you can stick in your mouth!
    Now why did I not recommend one of the many boatrides?  Cause all it takes is one look at those low-in-the-water overloaded boats where they pack you in like sardines....nope, not for's also cooler and I have a better view sitting on the stone railings.  There is also a french fry museum and a diamond museum that has one demonstration a day around noon.  If your time is limited skip all that.  Diamond museums and demonstrations are a better deal in Amsterdam and Atnwerp...the grandmother and grandfather of them all.

    You'll find many guidebooks out there about Bruges.  But Bruges will be bundled together most likely with Brussels and possibly Antwerp.  That's's hard to fill an entire guidebook with it.  We mostly get done what we want to get done in a half day and then leisurely drive back to Mons with the car packed of chocolates and beer.  If you want to stay, please find something outside the city limits.  Bruges is a prized Flemish possession and the prices to stay overnight inside the city reflect that.  There are PLENTY of nice B&Bs outside the fact, you are only 20 km or so from the coast at this point, so if you are planning to stay overnight, how about finding something in between Bruges and the coast?  Again, use my favorite lodging planners hostelworld and booking.

    Oh, last tip.  My husband always likes to buy beers from pretty much everywhere we go in Europe.  You'll see beer in half the tourist stores in the city and then some.  Take your time on the way home and plug the nearest grocery store into your GPS, as you get away from the city center.  That's where you should buy your beer (and even chocolates, as long as they are not gourmet) from the local grocery store where the locals buy their stuff.  Oh, and the beer labes?  He is working on a huge collection of beer labels, plus he just likes to drink beer.  At a later point, or maybe when we start the project, I'll have to say what we are going to do with those'll be a fun reminder of our latest European tour I'm sure.

    If you have any tips to share on this wonderful city, please be my guest below!

    Labels: ,

    Thursday, May 12, 2011

    Ask VMW: What's it like on a US Army post?

    I've gotten this question a few times and thought I'd better answer it now.  It's nice to see that some blog readers are not affiliated with the military and are interested to know more about what goes on here.

    "Hi, I watch Army Wives every week and I always wonder what life is like behind the big fence.  Could you tell me what can be found on an Army base?"

    Ahhh...the sounds of the bugle playing reveille in the morning, retreat being played at 5 pm as the American flag is lowered, taps at "bedtime" and the etiquette that goes with it....that sure brings back memories for me (We are on a NATO base right now, so none of that!).  That's the first thing that came to mind!  Thanks so much for your question!  Life behind the gate can certainly be different than civilian life...but then again, you'll see a lot of similarities.  I think everyone who has ever lived, worked or visited there knows this.  I'd like to clear up that Army posts are called "posts".  You'll only find bases in the Navy and Air Force...and of course the few Marine bases.  There is some historical reason for this......just know that it's different.

    Army posts are scattered all throughout the US...I believe every one of our 50 states has at least one Army post.  Just ask your Congressman or Senator...they are always fighting to keep bases and posts from being closed....every few years, our government goes through a Base Closure & Re-alignment dance, and all the states usually sweat it out before it's all said and done...overseas too!  Bases beef up the economy and bring jobs and money into the areas they lie.  No one wants to have their bases or posts closed.

    A base or post is like a small city.  The mayor is actually the base officer in the rank of Colonel usually to even a General for some of the super-size bases, changing every few years.  He or she is charged with running the infrastructure of the base and keeping in touch with the local civilian community and government...providing a link between the two and making sure he is being supportive in the decisions he makes.

    Almost all posts, or in the case of overseas, a collection of small posts in an area, will have basic services to keep things running smoothly.  The military provides legal and administrative services on post through some of its military units.  For example, a large post will actually have an Army Finance Battalion (a few hundred soldiers) providing financial and pay services for their military members.  A smaller post may only have a company-sized unit there.  As far as non-military units, you'll also find a commissary, run by DECA, which has commissaries world-wide providing the food and supermarket products we are familiar with.  I always joke about some of the "special aisles" we have in the commissary.  If we have an aisle with ethnic foods, like German or is because servicemembers married a lot of spouses from those's not racist, just true.

    The PX or "the Exchange" as it's now called is run by AAFES.  You will find them on all the bases too.  They used to provide products at great prices, back when we didn't have the big box stores and Walmart...but these days, especially overseas, I see them carrying expensive Coach purses (yes, they are discounted some) and higher end stuff, when I want the comfort things from home and just highly consumable simple products like printer paper!  They can never seem to keep that stuff in stock or deliver it to a PX location near me.  Some PXs will also have a gas station attached to their shopette...a kind of 24-hour convenience store.  An interesting fact, is that their gas prices stateside must be in line with what is being offered outside the gate.  Overseas, they use a formula to give us discounted prices less than what the Europeans are paying...much less.

    In the US, where segregation was an issue in our country's history, you'll still find schools onpost...mostly elementary schools.  All overseas posts or collections of posts in a geographical area will have schools from Kindergarten to 12th grade in order to provide an American education.  These are run by DODEA (used to be called DODDs).  BTW, DODEA teachers overseas get some great pay...easily 4x what most stateside teachers get paid.  If you are a teacher and looking for work, be sure to check it out but please don't just do it for your "European vacation"....we have a few teachers who do it for that reason rather than the kids and education unfortunately.

    You'll see gyms and fitness centers....many state-of-the-art....even some indoor/outdoor pools.  They are all mostly free.  I've only ever had to pay for aerobics classics and signing up for organized sports.  Sports teams, competitions and sports programs for children of every sport you can think of have some registration fees involved but are many times affordable.

    Youth Centers on post are very popular with tons of programs for kids along with after school and summer programs at reasonable rates...these are not free, although spouses of deployed soldiers can get some costs reduced.  The childcare center on post also allows for this too.  It is called the Child Development Center.  Here is an example of one of the larger ones.  We do have many dual military couples with children who get priority for their children at the CDC but others use it as well.  Many times unfortunately, there is a waiting list and some take their children for off-post care or they use one of the home daycare providers that are licensed by the government who live onpost and sometimes off-post (FCC providers).  Some spouses make extra money by running this out of their home.  Yes, it involves lots of inspections and some say it's not worth the trouble, but just as many enjoy doing it and like that they can always find work wherever they are stationed.  There is ALWAYS a childcare shortage on post I have found.  It is one of the top issues complained about by Army families every year.

    Many posts will have a movie theater run by AAFES...not first-run but in today's age, they do show movies a few weeks after they hit the civilian megaplexes at a lower cost.  Of course bowling alleys along with their short order kitchens are plentiful on military posts....and don't forget the foodcourt, also managed by AAFES.  I always found it strange that I can find a Burger King, Anthony's Pizza or even Frank's Franks pretty much worldwide at any AAFES foodcourt.  Remember, eating at the foodcourt and buying at AAFES is tax-free.  The commissary is tax-free as well, but they do put a small surcharge on your total which goes back in to maintain their system.

    Ask any retiree about golf courses, and you'll see some of those.  Not on every post...but many do have them.  In the old days, you had the Officer's Club and the Enlisted Club....they used to socialize separately.  I still remember going with my parents to once-a-week Happy Hour at the O'Club, loading up on the free appetizers and snacks every Thursday and then playing on the playground while they hit the slots (yes, they had slot machines...some still do) or socialized with their friends.  Nowadays it's called a Community Club and all military and civilians and their guests are welcome.  They typically have a bar there...a snackbar and fine dining and a variety of special events throughout the year.  I don't know if they still do stateside, but sometimes there was a cash cage where you could cash checks.  BTW, the PX will cash personal checks for you too. 

    Overseas, you'll also find a Car Care Center.  It's usually small, but you'll find some of your favorite stateside car care products and also some parts.  They have mechanics that can work on your vehicle...sometimes the wait can be long for an appointment, but I am thankful they do offer that, especially if you come over with an American car that is difficult to service on the economy.  Yes, they have American dealers & service centers over here but many times they are not familiar with our American I've had to have some parts shipped from stateside for my Honda the few times I took it to a German Honda dealer.  Where would we be without the internet and APO shipping overseas?  And if you are mechanically inclined yourself, you'll find an auto craft shop where you can work on cars with maintenance bays and tools provided...very handy!  I even had one of the shop personnel, many years ago, show me how to change the oil in my car...they do things like that.

    Of course don't forget our religious service centers...used to just be called chapels.  We have military chaplains of every denomination on post and if they don't for some reason, the chaplains there will provide you with the resources and equipment you need to follow your faith.  At my basic training post, we did not have any chaplains of the Muslim faith, but they made arrangements for our soldiers to visit with their civilian counterparts and also provided a room, Korans and prayer rugs...whatever they needed.  You'll find multiple services on post as well of all the major faiths.  They also have a variety of programs for single soldiers, families, religious education and fun kids' programs...whatever you can think of!

    Now what did I leave out?  Oh, laundromats...most posts have them....sometimes car washes too...plenty of parks and running/walking trails, playgrounds too.  I've even been on posts that have stables and lakes with picnic/camping facilities, boat rentals and fishing possibilities.  Of course you'll see onpost lodging, used mostly by people moving in our out of the post...but also soldiers and civilians on temporary duty there and some vacationers.  Many of these lodging facilities have been nicely renovated or are new and are much lower in cost than their civilian counterparts...imagine staying close to Disney World in Florida, or Key West, Hawaii or in the foothills of the Alps in a military lodging facility....yes, you'll find those.  And, I almost forgot the on-post housing areas scattered around the post.  Most of the administration of these are contracted out and many can be small and cramped...but other than your phone and cable bill, you don't have to worry about utility bills (although this has been changing), maintenance costs...but do have to worry about keeping your grass cut and keeping your area neat.  Just ask the highest ranking officer of your neighborhood, who has been appointed as a "mayor" of your housing area.

    One of my favorite places to go though when moving to a new location is Army Community Service (here is an example of an ACS).  The other services also have equivalent offices by different names (yet another thing you will learn...they all name things differently a lot of the time and with more and more posts/bases having all four services stationed there....being called "Purple Communities", know that you can go to ACS or whatever regardless of what your husband's service is - Army, AF, Marines or Navy..even Coast Guard).  ACS has new daddy and mommy programs...can get you in to see the WIC nurse, has mommy/child playmornings, a variety of free classes, programs and events...even job and resume training.  They also have a lending closet where you can get pots  pans and the things you need right after arrival....lots of newcomer resources and counselors through their Military Family Life Consultants who are free and don't keep any records...but help you get pointed in the right lots of friendly faces.

    Sometimes, you get the feeling you are part of a special club, especially when you hand over that ID card as you enter the facility and leave the civilian world behind.  Going "on post" is like "coming home" at least for me.  I know what to expect once I go through that gate and know exactly where to go for what I need!

    Lastly, you'll find the buildings housing the military units who are actually stationed on that post.  They'll have their own infrastructure to an extent...also single soldier barracks and facilities for them, such as community rooms and kitchens.  You could find rows of motorpools if the unit has lots of vehicles.  Military police units are on each post, providing their services....yes, they have the right to search your vehicle on post, and you can get a speeding ticket from them...they do the same things civilian policemen do, just on post.  If you have pets, there is usually a vet clinc...yes, the military vets are also tasked with food inspection and taking care of any military working dogs and other animals on post (don't laugh, some units have mascots)...but they can also provide lowcost care on a space available basis (here's an example).

    I'm sure I've forgotten the banks that have a contract to be on post and the Red Cross, which you will find on every post or even the community thrift shops (like Goodwill)...even the housing office which manages the onpost housing or helps you find off-post housing, but those are the highlights.  I realize there are a lot of them......I have unfortunately droned on about this topic, haven't I, but if I did forget something, please post it below:-)

    Labels: ,

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    Podcast #5 - Autobahns & Schnitzels (5/10/2011)

    I'm back to my email inbox again today!  I've gotten some questions about the autobahns and driving, schnitzels and shopping and of course where to wash your clothes before you have your own place.  You'll find the answers and a few more tidbits....


    Podcast #5


    Sunday, May 8, 2011

    Ask VMW: with jetlag overseas!

    Can you share what you do to get adjusted to time changes below?  I received not one but THREE questions last week addressing jet lag.  I'll share what I do, and then it would be great if my readers shared what they did:-)

    "I am pulling my hair out!  I have a 10 year old, a 6 year old and a cat.  The kids are driving me crazy, waking up at night and not getting rest.  I dread every night since we moved to Germany.  How do you handle jet lag??

    Ohhh...those time changes and jet get a taste of what flight attendants go through but worse if you have kids in tow!  Going from West to East is always the worst, as you are going backwards in time.  Most planes arriving in Germany from the West arrive early in the morning between 0600 and 0800...and then you have your whole day ahead of you, fighting the sleep monster.  Your best bet, once you get to your final destination (which usually involves a busride, a car ride where hopefully your sponsor picked you up, or even a train ride) is to STAY AWAKE until early afternoon.  I do this by staying outdoors....walking around to get familiarized....even if it is just on post....fight the urge to go lie down in the bed and "rest" cause in seconds you will be sound asleep and definitely snoring from your exhaustion.  Once you have been up and eaten some lunch, take a 2-3 hour nap at most.  Set your alarm to wake yourself up!  If you let yourself sleep until you wake up naturally, you'll wake up right before bedtime and then fight the vicious cycle for the next few weeks of waking up in the middle of the night...often..., not being able to get yourself to sleep and just generally being in a bad mood from lack of proper sleep.

    If you do it this way, you may have only one or two restless nights as opposed to weeks of it!  As for your children, that's a bit harder to control.  Let them take a nap as soon as they fall asleep but don't let them sleep all day.  Take them out to a playground or to the foodcourt play area if it's not nice a bunch of small meals and snacks rather than big ones.  Make sure you have a bedtime routine at the usual bedtime, and if they do wake up at can sit with them but make it absolutely BORING and keep lights off and interaction low....this can be difficult but a few nights of difficulty will make many weeks of blissful nighttime sleeping!  Resist the urge to be a nightowl or let them go wild!  As for the cat, if he's like ours, he's nocturnal and will figure it out.  I've actually kept our cat awake during the day by waking him up when he takes his little catnaps...and then playing with him.  That helped us.  Oh, and welcome to Germany!

    Labels: , ,

    Friday, May 6, 2011

    Podcast #4 - Newbie Questions about Moving Overseas (5/6/2011)

    Okay I have an admission to make.  I am one of those anal retentive people who needs a clean email inbox.  I get a little stressed when I have not "done something" with an email...either read and filed it or answered back.  Somehow, I let the email questions get stacked up...I usually like to answer them as soon as I can...but lately, haven't done a good job of it.  I thought I would use the podcast to answer some.  I unfortunately only got to a few questions before my time was up, but at least now I know how long-winded I am and can only answer a few "on the air"!  Without further delay then.

    Please click on Podcat #4.  I tried to answer questions newcomers might have coming over, so there you have it.  Please do continue to send your questions.  I don't always think of things that people might be interested in, and I would love to help.


    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    Would anyone have the time to vote for me?

    Hello all,

    I was hoping you could find the time to vote for me, if you think I belong here!  It would be for the Top 25 Military Family Blogs:-)

    I would LOVE to be included in this group!


    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    Ask VMW: How does overseas banking work?

    I don't think I've ever walked anyone through the process...the things we take for granted!  Here's the question:

    "I LOVE your blog and can't wait to come over.  I don't understand though how we are supposed to do your banking if we get paid in dollars and then have to pay bills in euros?  This is stressing me out!"

    Thank-you!  You may have to get a cup of coffee to machete your way through my answer.  Rest assured, once you have been here a few months, this will all become second nature, so bear with me as I try to explain!

    I can only tell you how we do it and what I recommend.  Hopefully, some spouses over here will chime in with what they do.  We always keep our stateside bank where my DH's paycheck goes...NEVER mess with that account is my first tidbit of advice as Army Finance is notorious for screwing things up, so try to mess with it the least you can!  How many times has someone told you their pay is screwed up?  It just took us months to get our corrected W-2....that's just the way it is for whatever reason.  Those finance folks work hard but sometimes their systems even they don't like to deal with...or can't....not their fault a lot of the time.

    We always open up a local bank account, even in the US...this is mostly for ATM access and having a "friendly face" in the neighborhood where you can do transactions in person (that's just me).  Overseas, you'll deal in euros except on post.  The PX and commissary will be just like stateside with stateside products (and the usual international commissary aisles).  The  PX will have some local candy/chocolate, a German gift section and some 220 volt appliances...don't get me started on can use your US credit cards, checks and cash.  AAFES even has their own credit card, the Military Star Card.  Back at customer service, you can even cash personal checks and get the money in Euros or Dollars.  In Germany, Bank of America (Community Bank, they call it) has the current contract for however many years...meaning, they are the Dept of Defense bank overseas for least in Germany (here in Belgium, on the NATO base, a different bank won the contract and it is a European bank).  Banks bid every few years (5 or 10?) to get that contract to be on our overseas posts and bases.  I've forgotten...anyway, it is NOT the same bank as in the US as my MIL found out.  She still had to pay ATM fees for using her stateside Bank of American ATM card, but somehow went there in person and got the charges taken off...she's like that.    Even though it says Bank of America out front, it is somehow a different bank...maybe someone else can explain it.

    But anyway, there is always a credit union on post too, but I've found they have less services and it's not as easy to transfer back and forth euro to dollars and vice versa.  One example is Andrews Federal Credit Union.  As with any credit union, I think their loans are cheaper.  We used Bank of America for ease of use and their online banking choices.  We would write a check from our stateside account and deposit those dollars into our account there.  Then we would pay our German bills from Bank of America.  When I got my bills in the mail from the German company (cable tv/phone, cause we were living in housing, so no rent, but this is also where your rent money should come from)...I would take the little orange payment slip to the bank, fill it out along with a withdrawal slip like any US bank...go to the counter.  They would then tell me what the current $/euro rate is and would say okay for your 60 euro bill, that's x amount of dollars.  I would have them add the fee (think it was $2 per bill to be paid), so I would have ONE transfer out of that account OR one check to write in dollars.  They would do the bill paying for us, which typically took a few days to get to the don't wait til the due date.  Get it done before that!

    Now here in Belgium, since we pay rent, we also chose the bank with the current contract on's an Italian bank operating in Belgium.  They have online access and a little pin # generating every month, I write a check from my stateside account, go to the military finance cash cage, get the dollars in cash (for example $3k, which is the max you can cash per week)...hand carry the stupid cash to our Italian bank which is on the other side of the base and deposit it.  We chose this bank because it is NATO friendly and it didn't charge any fees.  Most Belgian banks charge fees for anything they do for you.  You can see it is a bit more of a hassle here, but that's what we chose to do.

    Let me remind you NOT to get euros from the military cash cage.  Why?  Because their exchange rate is typically lower than what Belgian banks will give you.  You can deposit dollars at your Belgian bank...they will give you the dollar to euro rate and 100% of the time, it is a better rate than the cash cage.

    Then, to pay our bills I go online at my convenience and before it's due and pay from our euro bank account...I can also set up automatic payments and recurring payments.  The European banking system is much more secure than ours and for each transaction, after signing into your account w/your user name and password, you also have to use your electronic pin generator (it looks like a small calculator) to generate a pin for that ONE can only use one pin one time.  Without the pin generator, you can't pay bills online, so if you go back stateside on vacation and need to pay a bill, you've got to take that with you...strange huh?  I can also make any payments in any country that is a member of the European Union (EC) with no additional fees.  So, go ahead and book that French villa you've been wanting to book (we did) and pay your deposit with no hassles!  And speaking of fees, I can use ANY bank's ATM in Belgium to access our Euro account with no ATM fees!  So far, in France and Ireland, we also did not have any ATM fees...from either bank.  Don't you wish you could say that for the US too?

    So, that's how we do it.  Some people get euros directly from the cash cage and go to the company that generated the bill to pay or the landlord's bank....but, that's even more hassle IMO, plus the local banks have BETTER euro rates than the military cash cage as I mentioned before.

    You'll figure out what works best for you...I just didn't want to be tied down to payday and have to pay bills then, cause the lines can be extra long at both the banks on post and the cash cages, so I write my checks and deposit our monthly money whenever I have the time and am going that just can't forget to keep replenishing your local account!  It's easy to check that online of course.

    In both Belgium and Germany, there is one other way to pay your bills...the local post office!  Yes, even the post office has accounts you can open and use....or, you can take a copy of the orange billpaying slip and your euros to the post office, and they'll take care of paying the bill for you.

    Last note...keep EVERY SINGLE receipt and scrap of paper from your bills and bank!  It is not unheard of before you PCS, while outprocessing, to hear from a biller saying you did not pay such-and-such bill...without that receipt, you might as well have never paid, and you won't be allowed to outprocess without showing proof OR paying it again...uggghhh.

    Do you have any banking or bill paying tips to share?

    Labels: ,

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    The one and ultimate moving list that supercedes all previous lists

    When we moved from Germany to Belgium last summer, I revamped my "to-do" list to make it less stressful.  I think I finally hit the nail on the head and got something together that worked.  My big worry was not did I get something done before the due date, I had my regular pocketbook calendar for bigger worry was, "did I forget something really, really important?".  Here's something that will help you make sure nothing falls through the cracks!

    Please see the attachment and adjust what's on there for your own family's needs!  If you'd like to share your own, please click on the "Ask Veteran Military Wife" (on my homepage, middle left column) to send it my way.

    Oh, and can you believe I had someone send a virus attachment to me a few weeks ago?  Thankfully, I have software that scans all my email attachments.  Just want to throw that out careful with any email attachments, even from trusted sources and either invest in an email program that scans that stuff OR a stand alone program that does it for you.  Thanks again all for your added content!