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

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Ubiquitous German Stau and what to do about it!

After this past weekend, I realized I am spoiled.  I am spoiled because I live in a semi-rural area in Belgium where the biggest gridlock I see is trying to get into the front gate of the base....or perhaps on the dumb occasion I decide to drive to Brussels on the ringroad during rush hour.  Imagine my dismay when I saw the brake lights this past week on a German autobahn going South.  Oh crap, how could I totally forget the life of a German autobahn driver?   Ooops, I used to be so on top of this stuff when I lived here...out of sight out of mind I guess!  I read in this month's ADAC magazine (ADAC runs something similar to the American AAA motorists' program) that in 2010 there were 185,000 staus with a total length of 400,000 kilometer.  To put that in perspective, this length would get you to the moon at least!  And why all this stau stuff and what can you do to help yourself?

First of all, like many places in the world, we are building more cars than we have the capacity to handle.  Go to any Chinese city these days and see hosts of shiny blue BMWs and sleek Mercedes not moving instead of the ubiquotous bicycles that fanned across the nation just a few years ago.  The same is going on in Europe, in particular Germany that sits in the middle of everything.  There just isn't enough autobahn capacity to handle all the car traffic, period.  I also read that the German authorities are looking at widening the autobahn lanes, not by building yet another lane, but by using what's already there...the break down lanes.  Believe it or not, there are cameras all up and down the autobahns, and those folks watching these cameras can immediately see if there is a breakdown or other hinderance in that lane, and if it's clear for a certain stretch, lights would flash, letting drivers know that this is now an open lane.  Yes, that's the plan, and yes, they'd have to install that light system.  I have no idea when and if it will be implemented, so don't ask me.  I am just parroting what I just read the plan seems to be.  Of course they gave it a good solid German name too these "new lanes", "Temporaraere Seitenstreifenfreigabe" or just TSF for short.

So here we are back to the problem.  What can you do about these staus?  Honestly, there are a few things you can do before you ever hit the road. 

-Check Schulferien before you travel!  This site lists the various school holidays of German schoolkids by region.  The German states try to stagger their vacation time, so that not all German kids are streaming South or wherever they are going, all at the same time.  Nifty, huh?  Now instead of millions, you may only have thousands...but still, it's too many.  Please don't even think of traveling on a German autobahn at the front or back end of these holidays...just don't torture yourself like that or even your family.

-Try not to leave on a Friday or come back on a Sunday or vice versa.  Try to stagger your own holiday if you can and leave during the week, the closer you can to Wednesday is best.  I realize some vacation rentals are not set up for that, so find another one that is.

-Consider leaving in the middle of the night.  Believe it or not, there really is less traffic at those times.

-Check Staumeldungen with up-to-the minute traffic updates.  Keep your German radio on.  You will hear some God awful airhorn noise through the radio every hour on the hour, which actually will interrupt a CD or even cassette tape you are playing (at least in a German car) and give you the latest stau information via a person quickly running through all the German staus of note (for that radio station's region).  Many times, this person will talk incredibly fast for English speakers, but listen to key cities and also the autobahn designations, such as A8, A81 or the like...they won't say North or South like I blogged about before, but they will tell you which direction by signifying a city direction.  So they'll say "A8 Richtung Stuttgart" which means on the A8 Autobahn going North if you haven't hit Stuttgart yet, as the A8 comes from the direction of Munich....they'll even tell you how long the stau is and sometimes you'll hear the word "zwischen" which means between or "Kreuzung" which means a crossing of one autobahn over another...listen to what cities or towns they mention...those are the exits.  It may take some practice, but you'll get the hang of it.  

-If you have a smartphone, then download the Stau Mobil App, which is free.  You'll see what's going on without having to wait for anyone to tell you.  

-AFN radio also tries to mention the major ones when they hear about them, plus I think they encourage their listeners to call in.  Of course if you have a GPS that handles gridlock for you, by all means use it and its bypass recommendations.  ADAC Magazine also mentions that the majority of the time, you are better of staying on the autobahn rather than leaving it...unless it's a really bad one, such as after an accident that closes down all lanes...sometimes in both directions!

If you are an ADAC member, you can look for ADAC yellow marked vehicles....the autobahn angels I call them.  I've seen them pull all kinds of spare parts out of their hatches!  Did you know they also have fun stuff for kids, food and water too for ADAC members?  If you are really stuck, don't hesitate to call them if you have ADAC roadside asssistance, even if it is to request any of these routine-sounding items.  You are paying for the service.

Do you have any tips you'd like to share about avoiding staus and also how to deal with one when you're in it?  Honestly, I have great memories of a pick-up frisbee game on a stau to Austria many years ago...I think we were at a standstill for about four hours, but I got to know my fellow stau companions and had a great time while we dealt with the delay.  If that would happen today, with all the hurry up and wait we do these days, I don't know if I could handle that.  It ended up being a rockslide, and thankfully no one was hurt.  Let's hear your stories!

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Flying your pet to Europe using a military rotator (MAC) flight

You have heard me blog about flying pets overseas and the prep involved.  But earlier this year, I had a reader contact me about flying overseas on a military rotator flight with their doggie and what did I know about that.  I didn't admit I was a total neophyte, nor did I give her any information she could use about pets and military flights.....honestly, I didn't think pets could even fly on MAC flights, PCS or no PCS.  Glad I kept my mouth shut, because thanks to Lee, she got back to me as promised with how the experience went for her and her cute little pug. Here is Reggie's story and how you can use the military to fly your pet to Germany.

As promised, I wanted to get back to you about our experience flying our dog overseas to Germany via the Patriot Express (the AMC Rotator).  We left BWI airport the night Sunday, 10 July, and arrived at Ramstein AB at noon on Monday, 11 July.  We're now settled in at our new duty location and I'm relieved to say everything went well!  However, there are a few things I would recommend to others preparing to PCS overseas with a pet:

* Plan ahead - way ahead.  As I wrote to you before, my husband scheduled our flight on the Patriot Express roughly 10 weeks prior to our PCS date, and we got the
very last pet slot on the plane.  I believe there are ten pet slots per rotator flight (not counting pets that can travel in cabin under the seat), and during heavy PCS seasons (like summer), they book out quickly.  So once you get orders, one of your first priorities should be working with TMO (or your branch's counterpart) to initiate your reservation and request a pet slot.

* If you are taking the Patriot Express during heat or cold with a snub-nosed dog (pug, boston terrier, etc.) consider alternatives to connecting flights.  If time allows and the distance is not too great, consider driving or taking a train.  We PCSed from the panhandle of Florida which is very hot and humid in July.  Our dog, Reggie, is a nine year old pug, and we could not find any commercial carrier in our area that would be willing to transport him.  Most have an embargo on snub-nosed breeds during summer months and extreme cold temperatures, and some carriers no longer take any dogs at all in the summer.  The Patriot Express does not have these embargoes, as the pets are in a climate controlled area, but getting Reggie to BWI was becoming
very problematic.  However, since we have family nearby, we opted to drive up and stay with family along the way, and then we shipped our car directly from the Port of Baltimore.  It was a lot of time in the car, but it was much easier than the hassle of flying him in the summer.

* Go through a military veterinary clinic if at all possible for your International Health Certificate (the one you can get up to four months out) and your Health Certificate (the one you must get within 10 days of flight).  If a military veterinarian signs off on the forms, you are exempt from getting the USDA stamps on your documentation, which saves a lot of time and hassle.  However, when you make your appointment, be sure to confirm there is an active duty veterinarian on site who can sign the form.  Because whenwe left our AFB in Florida greater than ten days before our flight out, we had to get Reggie seen by a military vet en route.  Four weeks before we left, I called several military installations in the Baltimore/Washington area, thinking they could see him - but they couldn't.  Most did not have an active duty veterinarian on site (they are frequently deployed during times of combat to serve as public health officers), and those that did had very limited clinic days/hours.  Fortunately, I was able to get him in at the Shaw AFB vet clinic, and although it meant four hours round trip in the car, it was still faster and easier than taking him to a civilian vet and dealing with the USDA stamp process.

* Make sure all signatures are in a color other than black.  Military veterinarians generally know this, but civilian vets might not.  After I obtained the International Health Certificate, I had to go back to my civilian vet and get a new rabies certificate and immunization record because they were signed in black ink.  Had I known, I could have requested this from the start and saved myself a trip. (Note from LLMW, I did not know this....something I need to follow up on).

* Make sure your pet's microchip number is on your rabies certificate and immunization record.  It does not have to be printed on the paperwork - you can hand-write it in if necessary (I did, without any problems).

* Check - and double check - your pet's documentation before you leave the clinic.  I cannot stress this enough - if there are any errors with the paperwork, your pet can be refused on the flight.  When I obtained our health certificate, I noticed that the batch number of the rabies vaccine was incorrectly entered, and date of the certificate was in MM/DD/YY format but my dog's birthdate was in DD/MM/YY format.  I pointed this out and requested that they reprint the certificate with the correct batch number and write out both dates (i.e., 5 July 2011 and 10 November 2001) in order to cut down on any confusion.  I know the clerk thought I was being anal-retentive and wasn't too happy with me, but these are the kind of small errors that can cause a real problem later.

* Bring multiple copies of your pet's documentation (health certificates, rabies certificate, immunization record, etc.).  I had to give a copy to the agent at BWI as well as the German customs officer at Ramstein AB, and a copy was taped to Reggie's crate.  Had we had connecting flights, I'm sure each carrier would have needed copies as well.  By having multiple copies with me, it saved time (agents didn't have to make copies) and I was able to keep the originals with me at all times.

* Get your pet a properly-sized crate in advance and let your him/her use it.  There are strict rules about crates for international flights (size, ventilation, etc.), so measure your pet carefully to make sure you get the right size.  (I used the following site for information on measurements and crate requirements.  I'm not endorsing them as a vendor, as I didn't buy my crate from them, but the info is helpful.)  Consider having your pet sleep in the crate for a week or two prior to the flight, so s/he can get used to it.  Flying is stressful for pets, so getting them used to their crate means they will at least have a familiar place to stay during the flight.  You may also want to include something like an old shirt or blanket that you've used and that smells like you - this may also be comforting for them.  We also bought a clip-on fan to help with ventilation, since Reggie is a pug.  I don't know if it helped him, but it reduced MY anxiety knowing he had it!  :)

There's a nice brochure about the Patriot Express at this web site:  (click on "Patriot Express Brochure"), and one about shipping your pet here.  I would definitely recommend reviewing these prior to the flight.

Throughout the process, I told my friends and family that getting Reggie to Germany was more complicated and time-consuming than it was for my children - and I wasn't really joking either.  However, if you start early and are proactive and organized, it makes for smooth traveling later.  I hope your readers find this information helpful, and as always, thanks for the service you provide us military spouses.  Were it not for your blog, I would not have been
nearly as well prepared for our move, and I am so grateful I discovered it!

Thank you Lee for taking the time to report back on your experience!  If any of my other readers would like to share any experiences, pet or otherwise, just let me know!  My goal is always to share information here, whether it comes from me or one of our fellow readers!


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Have you joined me on Facebook yet?

In front of Linderhof Schloss yesterday.
Hello all....well, I've discarded yet another new blog design.  My father keeps telling me to take the time now to make sure it's exactly what I want...but of course I want things....NOW...or yesterday.  You know how it goes.  So, in the meantime, while I dicker around with something I don't know much about and drive myself more into some kind of newfound frustration when I should be on vacation...and now Oh Lord, I'm rhyming...never a good sign....I'll have to leave you with something in the interim!  I wanted to ask if you are on Facebook?

I know there may be a few of you (like I used to be) resistant to even be on Facebook.  Others may not have ventured that way.  In the interest of continuing what we talk about here...and discuss...we have some tips being bantered back and forth on the Life Lessons of a Military Wife Facebook page.  How much should you be tipping in Germany?  Especially hairdressers?  How about using those VAT forms to get huge discounts on your lodging, not just on your travels later but also after your fresh arrival in Germany.  It's extra money in your pocket!  A friend is also having trouble registering her car now that she's stateside...find out an easy way to avoid this on the Facebook page.

And the best part?  Is in the bottom left, you should see all the other great military spouse, travel and other interesting Facebook Groups I have subscribed to.  There are some really great support groups and groups that can help you with any question you may have under the sun.  There are even pages supported by the different military support elements as well, so get an official answer without messing with email and putting your personal information out there.  Even the military paycheck people, DFAS, have a Facebook page.

Anyway, thought I would throw that out there!  We are still "vacationing" down in Bavaria with an internet connection that is more fickle than I ever was when I was younger....yes, it's that bad...and frustrating!  I'm working on a map of fun things to do in the Garmisch/Oberammergau area..not the typical stuff that the Edelweiss giftshop/tour people recommend but other stuff too...I'll let you know when that's online.  The kids are determined to swim in every Alpine Lake in the, typical mom holds her breath as they dive down and don't appear for awhile...some of these lakes are DEEP and murky.  Many do have nice beaches and docks, along with cafes and restaurants....entry to the swimming area for nominal fees, so it's not like you are totally out there in the wilderness!  There are also plenty of hiking and biking trails radiating out in all directions...something for everyone!

I hope everyone is able to take some time off this summer and is enjoying family time as well!  See you next week when I have a better connection online and look for me to hopefully say something useful next week over at Military Moms Talk Radio!


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bringing your iphone (or android) to Europe

It was inevitable.  Either you are pegged to go on a business trip somewhere in Europe, moving overseas or will be taking a little vacation across the big pond.  I've gotten a bit of mail from folks asking if they should bring their iphone or not and what pitfalls there might be.  First, you might want to read my general article on cell phones overseas in Europe.  There are quite a few differences from being stateside.  The biggest being that we use SIM cards over here, so if your iphone is CDMA technology, you are hosed...partly....although you should still be able to use it in the wi-fi mode, along with any ipod touch you may bring along.  Note to self, in today's global economy, don't bother getting a CDMA cell phone as the Americans are the only major players still using it!  Here are some things on making the transition smooth with your iphone when coming over here.

Check with your provider and find out what the roaming charges are.  If you are only coming over for awhile, then you'll keep your cell phone plan at home....literally.  Most providers have outrageous international roaming charges, but to do your due diligence, just find out what they are.  We've all heard about the lady with the almost $40,000 roaming cell phone charge and don't want to be in her shoes!

  • Make sure you TURN OFF the roaming feature before you even begin your journey and get on that plane!  Even if you don't use the phone, you may be still charged data fees (which are higher) when your apps decide to do their updating and background work.
  • The next step would be to put it in "Airplane Mode" and only switch that off when you plan to use it.  It's an extra safety net.  It will basically turn your iphone into an itouch and allow you to use any nearby wi-fi networks.
  • Turn "Fetch New Data" OFF in all your apps.  You also don't want your email and contacts to constantly try to sync.  To turn off the Auto-Check functionality tap on Settings, then Fetch New Data, change Push to “OFF” and Select to Fetch Manually.
  • You might want to reset your Usage Tracker to Zero tap on Settings.  Then General, Usage and then Reset.  This way, you'll be able to track your exact usage.

If for some reason, let's say you are coming from the UK and your carrier has some kind of partnership or lower roaming fees with a certain provider on the mainland, turn off the automatic feature setting when searching for a Carrier, under your iphone Settings Menu.  That way, if there are multiple carriers operating in an area, you can choose which one you want to connect to.

Make sure you have the Free Wi-fi finder app on your iphone and also have the offline database already uploaded on your iphone ahead of time, so you can check it out offline.  It doesn't list all the free wi-fi hotspots in Europe but many of them are there.  More keep getting added from folks like me who discover free wi-fi in our travels.  Also know that many coffee shops, parks in Paris, hotel lobbies and other public places have free wi-fi.  I don't know if it's standard Europe-wide but every McDonald's I've been in has free wi-fi.  Don't discount hospitals and other public buildings either.  I even went to a comedy show in Amsterdam, Boom Chicago...granted, the free wi-fi was for us to use Facebook and Twitter as we were waiting for the show to start...and during the show to make fun of some guy's Facebook page they had singled out of the audience, but hey, I could still check my stuff while I was in there!  I've even found free wi-fi in some stores, especially bookstores.

Most of the US bases or posts, even the NATO bases have wi-fi hotspots. All over Germany, in a pinch, I've paid the $5 for access at the onpost foodcourts, which is good for one week typically at that price (credit card needed).  Many of the USOs will have free wi-fi.  Be sure you note which communities have them (not all do unfortunately).  Here in SHAPE, Belgium you'll find free wi-fi at the SHAPE Library, the Rendezvous Cafe next to the GB Shopping Center and also at the SHAPE Club.  Be sure to also look online at locations you'll be visiting and see if you can locate any that way.  As long as the wi-fi is free, you can use your iphone or itouch for free at those hotspots.  Now what if you want more options when it comes to wi-fi?

There is an alternative out there if you strictly want to use your iphone with wi-fi...ANYWHERE in Europe..anywhere with cell phone tower access that is.  Even if your phone is still locked, you should be able to use it in wi-fi mode.  There's a little device you can rent, and if you are over here for a longer period, it will pay for itself many times over!  It's called Tep Pocket Wifi and provides wireless internet wherever you go.   They can even deliver it to your hotel or wherever you'll be on the mainland.  It works just like a wi-fi hotspot, but it's personal and fits in your pocket. Not only can you use it with your smartphone but also with your laptop and tablet PC.  Up to five devices can share the hotspot and you get reliable 3G coverage where available.  Who said Europe was backwards when it comes to technology?  Hey, we've got the high speed Germans who like to be at or near the forefront, so you know we are going to have good options.

Be sure to download the app TextPlus.  This app will give you a free stateside phone number where you will be able to send and receive FREE text messages.  With the free version, you can send up to 20 free texts a day.  If you want to send more or would like to do group texts (oh that sounds dirty doesn't it?) where you can send one text out to multiple people, then upgrade for around a dollar or so to the Silver or Gold version.  Please remember that many of the apps I'm mentioning are available in the android market too!

When I first bought my iphone, second-hand mind you...I used it for an entire week just via wi-fi while I waited for my SIM card to arrive.  One great thing about being around soldiers...a lot of soldiers have been looking to upgrade to the iphone 4, so want to get rid of their 3s...I can see the same thing happening when the next version comes, if you are near a barracks or some soldiers, get the word out that you have QUICK CASH for their used iphones!

Now, if you are coming over here for a longer time period and would like to use the cell phone part of your iphone or handy as it's called over here, you're going to need it to be unlocked.  If you are under contract in the US with a carrier there, they are obligated by law to unlock your phone at the two year mark.  It's funny, but most cell phones over here, to include the iphone are sold UNLOCKED.  We don't have all these issues of AT&T and other carriers hogging all the prime cell phones and iphones.  We are also a few years ahead of the US in general with cell phone technology.  Why that is, I just don't know.  Maybe one of you can explain it to me, cause I'd sure like to's been that way ever since I can remember...the newest models always come to Europe first...then the US...hmmmmm.

Anyway, SIM cards are sold like candy over here.  You can find them at most electronic stores, bookstores and even convenience stores.  Many of us over here don't have cell phone plans but buy minutes as we need them.  Cell phone plans tend to be a lot more expensive over here and are hard to get out of.  The average European will have whatever cell phone, which they bought unlocked and then buy the SIM card w/minutes separately.  I have SIM cards for every European country I typically travel to (along with their in country cell phone numbers).  Again, you can only exercise this option if your cell phone is UNLOCKED!

I've noticed in Germany, not all carriers reach all towns for some reason, so I always recommend people check their new area as well as what carrier their spouse might have for their military issued cell phone.  Many military units have iphones and blackberries they give to their key leaders.  If you use your own personal cell phone, most folks will then add minutes online through their carrier or buy the little tickets at the checkout.  These tickets will give them a code on their store receipt, which they then punch into their cell phone to reflect the new purchased amount.  You have a whole year to use up those purchased minutes.  These minutes cover voice and text messaging.  Many will even let you upload minutes thru Paypal or your local bank account too.

Now for those who want a bit more, then buy a SIM card through a carrier that offers it with data....usually 2 GB limit per month.  Here in Belgium, I use Mobile Vikings.  How do you know you went over your data limit?  Just by a gentle reminder.  Like everything here in Belgium, things are slow and not taken too seriously.  The only catch with this is that voice calls are more expensive than usual.  In that case, I mostly end up text messaging and using the data portion.  It offers roaming throughout the continent, but since those fees are a bit higher (even when receiving calls which are typically free with options, not data), I end up using my supercheap prepaid regular phone for use outside of Belgium for my voice calls.  Now, I still access free wi-fi on my iphone where available and end up carrying both with me on my travels.  Or, I'll just switch out the SIM card for an in-country one....I hope that makes sense!

If you will be in Germany at least 30 days and want a SIM card (and its respective German cell phone number) that will handle data and the use of your smartphone, check out FYVE and Smartmobil where you can get these services without a contract.  You will need a German address for these choices though and will need an UNLOCKED device.

If you have extra money to throw away and the thought of purchasing a SIM card in a foreign country scares you....or maybe you are one of those people who likes to travel but have everything set in place before you go, then go with Smart Free to purchase a European SIM card.  It's expensive, I'm not going to lie...more than I would pay, but again, it gives peace of mind BEFORE you leave.  That's why I am mentioning it here!  I've also known a few business people who were happy with Telestial.

One more thing...there is one more option for you if you like to fly by the seat of your pants...okay, so the other end of the spectrum then!  As long as you are tech savvy or know someone who is, then this is for you!  I've found yet again, that there are many soldiers out there who have mastered the art of jailbreaking iphones, and just getting the word out that you have one that you want jailbroken, can really free up your choices in Europe if your phone is NOT unlocked.  To indulge in all these goodies, your iphone has to be both UNLOCKED and JAILBROKEN.  Read this article here for the how-to on using your iphone in Europe after the jailbreaking process.

So now what?  Well, there are a whole lot of apps that can be a huge help in your travels throughout Europe.  But, since I'm done for today, I will end here and blog more about those choices later!

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Gifting a Word Collage

Here's a great idea from Tiffany...something that I've never thought of.  Read on...

Recently, my husband celebrated a (rather) milestone birthday and I wanted to commemorate with family and friends - but with everyone around the world, I was stuck.

Then I stumbled upon word collages - what a great gift for a writer to give her husband. And a great way to incorporate love from everyone. I had family and friends send me a word (the total equaled his number of years) to describe him or their relationship with him. He was touched.

Word collages are great for our military spouse life because they are inexpensive, special and unique. Imagine you have a retirement to attend. What do you give the retiree, or the spouse, to commemorate such service - and not spend an arm and a leg? Or spouse club going away parties? Or little morale gifts?

Here are my tips for word collages in the military life:
- Incorporate jargon. You know those silly acronyms and words that somehow become part of our vocabulary. Word collages are a great place to celebrate the weird language we have learned - and the intricacies of a field or specialty.
- Don't forget to include some of the jokes, quotes, rules and overused phrases among the guys or girls in your community. I would avoid anything too offensive, but those slightly off-color jokes can bring back lots of memories.
- If you are commemorating a whole career, make sure you think back to the early days. Were there special schools or trainings? Deployments? Include words from all his or experiences. (You might need a spouse to help with this one!)
- Include a list of duty stations, zip codes or bases in the collage. (My friend made one of all the street names of their former addresses. Too cute.)
- The best word collages have a whole mix of words. Use names of tools, uniforms or equipment. Use verbs regarding tactics or missions. Use commands and lyrics. Use places and addresses. Use adjectives or adverbs to describe certain experiences.

If you want more tips, come on over to my website.  I have lots of ideas!

Have you ever created a word collage? How was it received?

Thanks Tiffanie for the neat idea!

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Settling in to our Bavarian Cottage this 4th of July

Finally made it...two hours after we intented due to numerous detours around mountains and also a lake to get to our destination in Bavaria.  I think every Bavarian town in our direction was having a fest or parade as we tried to make our way down here.  After a full night's rest, we are enjoying the brilliant sunshine and getting used to the slight slant in the floor of our cottage.  It's funny how your brain tells you one thing, and your feet are acting like they are DRUNK!  But it is also funny how your brain compensates or overcompensates and makes your brain think right side up again in spite of what you are seeing.  I even stopped putting things on the window ledge in the kitchen, knowing that they will roll right off of there!

Coming back to Germany, the place of my birth...and the place we lived before moving to Belgium...I feel like I came home.  After our big Bavarian meal of schnitzels, dumplings, Schweinehaxen (pigs' knuckles) and veal cutlets with mushrooms in a creamy sauce, we think we all died and went somewhere otherwordly last night!  The food is that good!  It's even cheaper than eating out in Belgium, with hefty portions...but alas, we obviously can't do this every day, cause for a family of four, you're still going to pay about 65 euros for a meal
(gulp, about $95) and have to grow another stomach to accomodate the big loads going in!

Before we made it down here though, a wonderful friend of mine offered up her home to us in Stuttgart, to kind of break up the's about six hours driving comfortably and taking into account a few German staus (gridlock) on the autobahns, we made it the second day...boy, had I forgotten that little deal about driving in Germany...the staus!!!  Big tip here, if you are driving for a longer distance on any of the autobahns, please check the German school calendar for your region of is almost impossible to get anywhere on the autobahn when those periods start and end, so be mindful of those dates...also the big German holidays too are listed on that site too (unfortunately, that's the only part in English right now).

Anyway, so we spent a day of being nostalgic and driving by and checking out all our old haunts in Stuttgart.  As we walked into the building where I used to work, my younger son said, "yep, it smells the same".  The commissary on Patch looks exactly the same...a bit rundown as always...the big talked about foodcourt on Patch is still non-existent, although they say it is planned to open in July (isn't after many construction delays.  Over on Panzer, we noticed that the foodcourt there has been spiffed up a bit, and in addition to Charley's Steakhouse, Popeye's, Anthony's Pizza and Sehne Bakery, they have added a Burger King.  Most of the small mall shops (there are only a handful) are still the same, although it looks like there is some kind of t-shirt or clothing shop that wasn't there before at the PX entrance.  The PX has revamped its image a bit, and I love that they expanded the electronics and book sections, although the clothes still look like the same tired old fashion they had before....we'll take the change in small bites though, right?

So, not much else on the agenda at the moment.  We'll do a little sightseeing but mostly relaxing and enjoying the mountain air...maybe do some of the two gorges in the area, we have not ever hiked.  The kids are glad we brought the cat, and I can already see where he has picked out his spot, right by the window where he can see that bird's nest and the fountain out back.  He seems to have no problems with the lean at all.

I just saw the new banner for my blog re-design and am so happy with it!  I did tell the designer (okay, so she is my stepmom, but she does do this professionally) to flesh out my cartoon character a bit, cause right now, if I were to turn sideways, I would disappear.  I am NOT that skinny, and I need to have some reality going on here!  If any of you have ever migrated a blog from blogger to a wordpress platform and a new site, I would love to hear what your biggest trip up was..and NO, not to laugh at you but to LEARN from you! I am a bit worried when it will come to migrating the old posts...isn't it funny how attached we get to stuff that isn't even real?!!

As I sit here thinking about the 4th of July and what it means, I am a bit sad...I read an article yesterday about this lady.  And it made me sad.....although she seems to have a great support network, no one knows the outright terror and worry that she goes through on a daily basis.  Sometimes the fear of the unknown can be worse than any known fear.  Haven't you noticed that before? she will sit...and wait....and keep herself busy, cause that is what you do so you don't dwell on things.  If you are currently going through a deployment and need some encouragement, please make sure you read this.

I know my military readers will think about their loved ones in harm's way this 4th of July, just because their communities are so deeply immersed in the thick of this deployment stuff.  If you are civilian, I appreciate you coming by this blog and hopefully others and thinking of a deeper meaning of today too.  I am thinking too of all the friends we currently have in harm's way and will pray for their safety today and also pray today that they get a good taste of Americana....whether it is an American flag gently flying in the breeze...a slew of sparklers being lit tonight and reminding them of their childhood back in the USA...or perhaps a hearty slice of American apple pie with ice cream.  I don't know...I don't know what they will all do downrange today, but I will be thinking of them more than myself today...I'm going to make a point of it...and will send some positive email downrange to let them know I am thinking of them on this special day.  If you've got the time, please do the same.  Yes, it's great to celebrate with family and friends, and I personally have some awesome 4th of July BBQ and fun memories, but let's remember why we are even able to freely celebrate as we do.

Well, let me get going.  I thought I'd run to the bakery down the street to give everyone a choice of fresh rolls and pastries this morning.  Mind you, this will not happen every morning...although many German families do their bakery shopping EVERY morning...this family does not (again, thinking of the money and weight factors).....and then we'll see what else the day will bring.  What will you be doing today?


Friday, July 1, 2011

What's this jewelry swap business?

Hmmm...I received this interesting invite, and my first thought was WOWWWW, what a great idea!  I get to go shopping for cool jewelry without any money...and have fun....and meet new people....and have fun.....oh, I said that already.  Here's an idea for you and your friends, especially if you are tired of BUNCO or old chips &; dip nights or forays to the movie together.  Check this out....

So I had this friend who sent me this invite:

"Are you like me…do you have a drawer full of costume or silver jewelry and accessories that seemed like a good idea at the time?  Well, you know the saying…one woman’s clutter is another woman’s treasure!

Discover new favorites at our First Annual Jewelry and Accessory Swap and Get Together!!!

For each item you bring in you will receive one token allowing you to choose from among the treasures of the other guests.  Any items remaining will be donated to a local thrift store.

Just to clarify, all remaining items will be donated.  Dollar value of items will not be taken into consideration.  It will be a one-for-one swap.  It is possible you will leave with fewer items than you brought.  This swap is for fun!"

I've seen this concept done for kids toys (all in great condition) but never for jewelry.  Participants were also supposed to bring a dish to share.  That is up my alley too...minimal prep and food-making for the host, everyone gets to be a part of it....sounds like a winner.

Here is the list of swappable items my friend listed:

*Reading glasses you’ve “outgrown”
*all kinds of sturdy jewelry

So did I go?  Not this time around due to another commitment, but I had to agonize and hear about all the great things others picked up at this's that for feeling left out?  You can bet I'll be first at the door for the next see, I am partial to scarves and necklaces and those two items are the first things I look for in my travels and when discovering a new shop around here.

Do you have any great ideas of similar ideas or things that can be fun for a group of ladies?