blog news, Military

Some practical things that the last nine years of living in Germany have taught me…

Lately, I’ve noticed I’ve been getting lots of hits from the United States on this blog. Many of the hits land on my posts about the differences between life in Germany with the US military versus military contractor life. There must be many recent retirees or other people who have left the military thinking about taking the European plunge.

In early August of this year, Bill and I celebrated our ninth year of military contractor life in Germany. A lot has happened since our arrival in 2014, and this blog is full of those stories. Over the years, I’ve added updates to my military vs contractor series. Those posts are easy to find on this blog, although please bear in mind that until 2019, this blog was hosted by Blogspot. I did move the old posts to this blog, but they are formatted somewhat differently. Moving the old posts was very labor intensive, and I’m not even sure I got everything fixed properly! The job took several weeks!

I moved the blog to WordPress in the summer of that year, due to a very bizarre situation that arose. I’m not sorry I moved the blog, but that weird situation did change the way I do things and significantly reduced my readership. I also learned a lot from that situation, which I’ll explain more about later in this post.

As I survey the past nine years, I realize that I’ve learned a lot of stuff. Some of what I’ve learned has been very practical, and it will probably serve me well for the rest of my life, no matter where I live. Some of it has been unfortunate and kind of disheartening. The rest of it is stuff I might have learned anywhere.

Since there are so many people hitting the soldier vs. contractor posts, I thought maybe I’d share some wisdom I’ve picked up over the past nine years. Maybe it help some people… or maybe some will be entertained or amused. I will issue a caveat that some of what I’ve learned is a little disturbing, but it’s part of our story… and I like to be straightforward as much as possible. So here goes.

  • Citric acid is your friend

I’ll start with a relatively benign thing. Before I lived in Germany, I had no idea that citric acid would be something I’d want to keep in my house. Aside from when I was a kid in rural Virginia drinking well water, I didn’t have to deal with the insane hard water that Germany has. It was pretty bad when I lived in Stuttgart, but it’s even worse in Wiesbaden.

Citric acid is cheap, and it’s essential for getting rid of hard water stains and limescale. Vinegar is also good for cleaning glass and descaling things, but I’ve found citric acid to be much more effective. So now, I always keep it in the house… and I expect that won’t change if and when we move back to the States. Mix it with hot water and let it soak. It’ll really help get rid of that chalky stuff. Here’s a link to the brand I usually buy from, but you can also get it in local stores.

  • Adequate insurance is a MUST

I’ve written about this a few times, but I’m going to write about it again. Get insured. If you’re coming here as a contractor and could be here awhile, I highly recommend buying German insurance policies, rather than relying on USAA or another US based company.

Chances are good you won’t need your German policies, and I do understand not wanting to get into German contracts, which can be hard to break without sufficient notice. BUT… I’m here to tell you, German insurance policies are usually fairly cheap, and they can save your ass.

I recommend having a liability policy, at the very least. This is a policy that covers situations like when when you accidentally break another person’s property. If you have pets, you should definitely get pet liability insurance, which covers any damage or accidents caused by your pets (accidents caused by them will not be covered by personal liability insurance). You may also want to consider purchasing legal insurance, though that’s not as essential. All three of these products have been useful to us.

My husband and I had an unfortunate incident involving an awning at our rental house when we lived in Stuttgart. It was an old awning, and in poor repair. One windy day, it collapsed. Our landlady insisted that it was my fault that the wind blew down the awning. She wanted us to buy her a brand new one. We happened to have a German liability insurance policy, which gave her a very low settlement. She wasn’t happy about the settlement, but it was good that we had it, even though she still tried to rip off our security deposit to pay for a new awning. Which leads me to my next point…

  • Join the Mieterverein!!!!!

This is the German tenants union, and it can be very useful if you have a dispute with your landlord/landlady. It’s very inexpensive to join. We are members, although in our situation with our former landlady, we ended up using our German legal insurance policy instead of the Mieterverein. Still, I highly recommend that anyone renting a home on the German economy become a member of the Mieterverein at the very least. The above link will take you to the general site, where you can find the Mieterbund in the area where you will live.

I mentioned above that when we moved out of our last house, our former landlady tried to illegally seize our “Kaution” (security deposit), because she was upset about the low settlement she got for her awning. She didn’t directly charge us for the awning, since she had accepted a settlement for it. But she did make up lots of little charges that would amount to what she said she would pay for a new awning.

We used our German legal insurance to get advice from German lawyers, and we ultimately ended up suing her. It turned out she did a lot of things wrong, to include never doing an “protocol” when we moved in and out of her house, and never reconciling the Nebenkosten (other costs paid for things like trash). In Germany, it is the law that landlords reconcile the Nebenkosten every year. She didn’t do it for the four years we were in her rental house. Consequently, we had the right to ask her to return ALL of the Nebenkosten we paid for the whole four years we were in her house. It totaled thousands of euros.

Now, we didn’t end up demanding that she return the Nebenkosten, but it did help us build our successful case against her. There were other issues, too. Like, she also falsely accused us of theft, and charged us ridiculous fees, for things she couldn’t prove we did, on old stuff that needed to be replaced, anyway. She ended up having to return most of the Kaution she illegally withheld, plus she had to pay for court costs, her lawyer, and our lawyer… though I’m sure she had German legal insurance, too.

Moral of the story is… Make sure you are insured adequately! And if there is the slightest hint that there will be an issue when you move out, get the legal insurance ASAP. It won’t cover pre-existing issues, and there’s also a waiting period before you can use it. But… if you don’t want to get German legal insurance, you should at least join the Mieterverein. Sometimes, the memberships even include legal insurance for landlord issues. Also… don’t be afraid to use the German legal system to fight for your rights. It’s not that hard, especially if you have legal insurance. Unfortunately, there are landlords here who WILL prey on the fact that you aren’t a local.

  • Don’t be too quick to accept a house

I actually had a bad feeling about our ex landlady when I met her. I wish I’d listened to my gut. It might have spared us some grief. But, I did enjoy living where we lived, and dealing with ex landlady was educational on many levels. I wouldn’t recommend learning lessons the way I did, though. It’s very stressful.

When we moved back to Stuttgart in 2014, we were dealing with some pretty major life issues that made us want to settle into a house quickly. We also had memories of the housing shortage that existed in 2007, during our first Germany stint. Finding housing isn’t as hard as it was in 2007, though; so learn from us, and take the time to find a decent place that you’ll like, with a landlord/landlady who doesn’t make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.

  • Don’t get too involved in the Facebook group dramas

This was an unfortunate mistake I made in 2014. I joined a ton of local groups in Stuttgart, and got too sucked into the dramas of the groups. I’m not saying you can’t make good friends that way, or that being in the groups isn’t useful, informative, or entertaining. But those groups can lead to bizarre situations that can make your time in Germany more stressful and stupid than it needs to be. I could write about several of those that personally affected me, but that would make this post even longer than it already is.

I learned from our Stuttgart experience regarding Facebook groups. When we moved to Wiesbaden, I only joined the local pets group and continued to maintain the wine and food group I started when we lived in Stuttgart. I didn’t join any other groups. My life has been much more peaceful as a result, and I’ve gotten to know more locals. Your mileage may vary, of course. I’ve just seen a lot of drama erupt over social media, and was involved in way too much of it, especially in Stuttgart. So I recommend proceeding with caution and limiting the number of groups you join. Besides, those groups can eat up precious time that you could be spending on exploring Europe.

  • If you bring a car, consider joining ADAC or another auto club

Both times we’ve spent in Germany, we’ve had occasion to use our ADAC policy. One time, we went on a Baltic cruise and came back to find our battery dead. We called ADAC and they sent us a guy with a battery. He fixed our car on the spot, and we were on our way.

Another time, we were in France and some jackass deliberately popped our tire, hopping to rob us. He didn’t succeed, but he caused quite an issue for us. ADAC was a lifesaver there, too, helping us to get new tires and report the crime to the French police. There are other auto clubs besides ADAC, so do some research and choose one that works best for your budget and lifestyle.

  • Enjoy yourself!

I know not everyone likes living outside of the United States. We’ve seen a lot of people come and go, and some people are happy to go when their time over here is finished. Unfortunately, being a military contractor can be stressful, because contracts are won and lost all the time. When we lived in Stuttgart, Bill’s first company lost its contract. The new company hired him, but the next year, his job was turned into a GS position. In fact, that’s why we moved to Wiesbaden. Wiesbaden, by the way, seems to be much friendlier to contractors than Stuttgart was, at least when we were there.

Having now lived in both places for a total of nine years, I can honestly say that both have their pluses and minuses, and you really can’t go wrong moving to either place, as long as you manage your expectations and keep your eyes open. One thing that we have tried to focus on is ENJOYING our time here, and seeing places. And when you see places, don’t forget to explore locally. We missed a lot of really awesome local stuff when we lived in Stuttgart the first time, because we were so focused on seeing the rest of Europe. We also had to leave a year early, which sucked.

If you care at all about living in Europe for the experience, rather than just the job, then I urge you to make the most of your weekends and holidays. Go see Paris and Rome, but don’t forget about Stuttgart and Wiesbaden… and Mainz, Frankfurt, Tübingen, the Black Forest, the Rheingau… and any of the other really cool little places near where you live. Nagold is one town we completely missed the first time we were in Stuttgart and ended up loving when we came back. So I recommend going out to explore locally, and soaking up the culture. You may not have another chance… On the other hand, you may end up like me, and seem destined for European life indefinitely.

If there’s any interest in more posts like this, I’ll be happy to write them. Feel free to leave a comment or a question, because there’s definitely more I could share.

Now… time to write something for the main blog. See you next post!

housekeeping tips, Military, rants

Repost: Launderette etiquette… dryer hogs!

I wrote this piece for my original OH blog on August 9, 2014. That means this post is exactly NINE years old! I’m leaving it “as/is”, so whatever’s in it was accurate as of 2014. I’m really glad I don’t have this problem anymore. Fair warning… there is minor profanity in this post. It was written when I still lived in Stuttgart.

One thing I have noticed that hasn’t changed in the years since we last lived as Americans in Stuttgart is that when it comes to laundry, people can be incredibly inconsiderate.  When we first moved here in 2007, doing laundry was an unpleasant weekly ritual.  In those days, Panzer didn’t have the huge hotel that it now has; they were building it as we were leaving in 2009.  Now that Panzer has a hotel and it has its own laundry room, the launderette doesn’t get quite as busy as it did pre 2010 or so.  But last time we were here, it was not uncommon for people to do tons of laundry during peak times, hogging washers and especially dryers, and holding up everyone else.

This morning, Bill and I took a trip to Panzer Kaserne to get our laundry done.  We had two small plastic bags full of laundry that needed doing.  I dreaded going to the launderette, because I spent way too much time there during our first tour.  The laundry room on Panzer has about 12 washing machines and, generally speaking, it’s no problem to get one or two of them without any waiting.  But there are only eight dryers and one or two of them are always broken.  That was true in 2007 and it’s still true today (there were two down this morning).  So that means there are only six dryers that can be used.

You get someone who needs to do a shitload of laundry– people who are stuck in local hotels or people who have a bunch of kids and need to knock out that little chore… and even people who have a place to live, but just want to avail themselves of a larger washer/dryer.  German machines are smaller and take longer to get through a cycle than American machines do.  All of these folks come to the launderette on a Saturday morning, the one day that most everyone has off from work.  They do a mass load of laundry, then proceed to use more than one dryer to dry their clothes, blankets, and whatever else they have.

This morning, I witnessed a man load up four dryers.  That’s four out of the six dryers that were operating.  I couldn’t believe my eyes or that man’s nerve.  I honestly couldn’t believe he thought that was okay.  Obviously, he’d never had to wait for a lone dryer to free up, right?

Granted, when the dryer hog loaded the dryers, I was still waiting for my washer to finish the last of its cycle.  But there were at least two people ahead of me who also needed a dryer.  One was a guy who ended up just leaving, seemingly in disgust.  The other was a nice couple here in Stuttgart on vacation.  As we were waiting for Mr. Inconsiderate to get a clue, another lady came in to do her wash, as did one who obviously just needed to use a dryer and left when she saw there was a line.  And then two or three other folks arrived and the launderette was soon very busy.

I admit, I got rather bitchy and more than a little passive aggressive, loudly commenting that I only needed one dryer to get my stuff dry.  The dryer hog, to his credit, did eventually get a clue and start freeing up machines for other folks who were waiting.  I did hear him say, though, as he was unloading and folding his laundry one machine at a time, “I know folks are waiting, but I’ve only got two hands!”

Dude… take your shit out of the machines and fold your clothes after they’re out so other people can get started!  Are you really that situationally unaware and/or rude?!  Jeez! 

The dryer hog did appear to have a number of friends, which makes me think he must otherwise be a nice person.  And I’m sure he thought he could get away with hogging the dryers on a Saturday morning.  I would say that if you’re at the launderette in the wee hours of the morning and you need four dryers, knock yourself out.  But on a Saturday after 9:00am, you need to be more considerate of other people who are also trying to get that one little pesky chore done.  We all want clean underwear and I’m willing to fight for the right to stain and stench free drawers!

It’s bad enough when people leave their clothes in a machine forever… don’t even get me started on the ones who do that with washing machines when there aren’t other others available for use.  But hogging a bunch of dryers just because you think no one else needs them is just a shitty thing to do.  If there are other people doing laundry, they are very likely going to need access to a dryer, unless they are fortunate enough to have access to a clothesline.  It takes longer to dry clothes than it does to wash them.  So when you hog four machines out of six, you really are screwing over your fellow Americans at the Panzer Launderette!

Bill was walking the dogs while I was waiting for a dryer and then my clothes to get done.  We weren’t held up too much and, unlike the cute couple I chatted with while we were waiting, I wasn’t wasting precious vacation time.  With any luck, we will get to move into a one room apartment for the next few weeks while we look for a more permanent place to live and then this issue will be a non-issue for me once again. 

anecdotes, Military

Funny repost… “German fork language”

I don’t usually put reposts on my travel blog, because it’s a place for me to write about living in Germany and our travel adventures. But I just ran across this funny post from the Blogspot version of my original Overeducated Housewife blog, and I thought it might make a funny entry for this blog. So here it is, written September 7, 2014, and appearing here “as/is”. Please be advised that the language is a bit rawer than usual, because it was written for the original blog, and I tend to curse more there. I hope some of you enjoy it!

A few weeks ago, I ranted on my travel blog about Stuttgart Friends, which is a Facebook group dedicated to people in the Stuttgart area who are somehow affiliated with the US government.  I’m pretty sure there are some Germans and other European folks on that site, too.  While Stuttgart Friends and its many spinoff groups are generally very helpful, I notice that some folks get a bit uppity sometimes.

For instance, today someone posted a very interesting article about dining in Germany.  Given that a lot of Americans are not familiar with dining in Europe, it was good reading.  Many of us need to learn more about the local customs here.  Some people were commenting about things they had or had not experienced while dining in German restaurants. 

One person brought up how if you place your fork a certain way on your plate, it’s a signal to the server that you’re finished eating.  I usually put my knife and fork at about 3 or 4 o’clock on the plate and, sure enough, the server takes my plate.  Another person in the group dubbed this practice as “fork language”.

Well, I noticed that another person wrote a lengthy post about European table etiquette and how Americans are “backward” because, in general, we don’t eat the way Europeans do, with our knives in the right hand.  Her initial post was somewhat interesting, though it bordered just slightly on snob territory.  A couple more people, myself included, posted about so-called “fork language” and used that impromptu expression.  I thought it was kind of a clever term, even if it’s not necessarily official. It sounds almost sexy, though the possibilities of what one might do while communicating with fork language are endless and potentially horrifying.

An old video I recently watched about table manners… They mention not having to hold silverware the “European way”. Funnily enough, Bill holds his silverware like a European does.

Our resident European etiquette expert came back and wrote how she was taught proper table etiquette, not “fork language”.  She added a winky smiley, possibly to soften the blow of her holier than thou-ness.  How awesome indeed! 

Naturally, her comment annoyed me, because I’m not usually impressed by people who presume to school other adults in such a condescending manner.  Moreover, if she was really an expert in etiquette, she’d know that it’s rude to try to chastise and correct people in that way.  I mean, isn’t etiquette ultimately all about being graceful and making other people comfortable?  And before anyone brings this up, I do not claim to be an etiquette expert.  In fact, I delight in making certain people uncomfortable.  

But really, I’ve always thought being polite and showing proper etiquette was about being charming, civil, gracious, and kind, not making other people feel like boorish twits because they don’t know how to position their forks when they want their plate cleared at a restaurant or they decide to refer to table etiquette as “fork language”.  I mean, jeez!

So, being the smartass I am, I wrote, “Pin a rose on your nose…”  😉  (special thanks to Stephanie Tanner of Full House for that stale one liner…)     

I mean, big fucking deal…  So the proper term is “table etiquette”; that doesn’t mean the terminology can’t evolve and people can’t come up with new or creative ways to express themselves.  That person needs to get over herself. 


Health, Military

A stem to stern skin exam… German style…

I don’t have anything to report travel wise this week, as Bill is away on another business trip. He left for Bavaria on Thursday and will be gone until this Friday. I hate it when he travels without me, but at least we have a trip upcoming. I’ve been trying to make the best of my alone time by sprucing up the garden furniture. Yesterday, I put teak oil on it, and I have plans to add a sealant. However, it looks like it’s going to rain, so maybe it’s just as well that Bill isn’t home.

Before Bill left for his trip to Bavaria, he visited a doctor in Mainz. Several months ago, I noticed a spot on his skin that looked weird. He showed it to his military doc, and she referred him to a dermatologist. Or, she told him to go see one. He had to find one on his own, since he’s retired from the military.

Bill scheduled a visit with a doctor in Mainz, but she had to cancel his appointment because she was sick. I believe the original appointment was supposed to happen in March. The appointment was rescheduled for May 3, and Bill dutifully went in on Wednesday morning. He said the waiting room was full of people.

When he made his appointment, he was advised that he could either pay 50 euros for a spot check, or pay 120 euros for a full exam, complete with high resolution photos. As Bill is a very white guy who’s of a certain age, he went with the 120 euro option. Bill described the procedure to me after it was all done.

He went in, met the doctor and showed her the spots that were questionable. She had him strip completely naked (though I don’t know if he had to keep wearing a face mask). She stayed in the room while he disrobed. Then, she methodically checked his entire body, to include all of the places the sun doesn’t shine– between his toes, on his gums, under his balls, and probably between his ass crack, too.

She took photos of four or five places, then had him get dressed, again while she was in the room. The whole thing took about an hour. Afterwards, she said the questionable spots were not of concern, but she had noticed that he had fungus on his feet. Bill probably blushed and said, “Yes, I have a problem with athlete’s foot.”

“I’ll prescribe you something for that. You must apply it three times a day until the fungus is gone, and wash your socks in hot water.” I think he should just get new socks, if you ask me.

After the appointment, he paid the 120 euros, then went to a nearby pharmacy and got the foot medicine. That was another 17 euros. He’ll file the bill with our insurance and probably get the money back. Still, I thought that was pretty affordable for such a thorough exam. I probably should visit her myself, given that I’m as white as he is. I don’t like doctors, though.

It was a lucky thing that he had enough euros on him, though, because the doctor’s office only takes EC credit cards (European). Our cards are American. I tried to get Bill to open a German bank account so we could get local cards, but he ignored my advice. Of course, now German banks don’t like messing with Americans, thanks to our crazy ass tax reporting laws.

Anyway, I’m glad his skin is healthy, for now. I ordered him a couple of new Irish flat caps to help keep his scalp skin cancer free. I’m sure they’ll come in handy on our trip next month. He sure can rock a flat cap! The ones in the photos are summer weight, as opposed to the wool tweed one he usually wears in cold weather. Aran Sweater Market for the win.


My first time out of the neighborhood since March 14th…

Bill and I had to go on post today. We both needed to get our vision tested for new driver’s licenses and I needed passport photos for a renewal. So, for the first time since March 14th, I rode in the car. This time, it was with face masks I bought from They’re the surgical kind, since they were the easiest to get my hands on quickly. I bought a pack of ten.

As we passed the entrance to our neighborhood, I was reminded of a month ago, when the dog we had hoped to adopt escaped his pet transport and got hit by a car. We live very close to Autobahn 3 and Autobahn 66. A3 is literally right next to our neighborhood. I felt a little sick thinking about that poor dog disoriented, terrified, and lost as he ran away from what could have been the lap of luxury for him. He was so close… And it will probably be a while before we can get our next dog.

Maybe it’s for the best, since it’s hard to get the routine services we need. Bill needs to get new rear tires for his car, since we had snow tires put on them in France back in December. I need to get my car serviced. Arran, Bill, and I all need dental cleanings, which means a vet visit for Arran and the dentist for Bill and me. Germany is starting to loosen up some restrictions, but everyone has to wear masks now in any place where social distancing isn’t easy.

We did decide to order take out again last night. Our local Italian joint/sportsplatz, La Fonte, had pizza and pasta on offer. Bill said the family that runs the restaurant was sitting outside drinking wine as they handed over the orders. They were doing a good business. We’ll probably get more take out tonight, since I’m tired of Bill’s cooking and we want to support local businesses. I’m kidding, actually. Bill has turned into a great cook. But I do want to give some business to the restaurants, since they have provided me with content for so long.

The drive to post was even quicker than usual, since there wasn’t so much traffic. We got to the gate and a uniformed guy in a mask asked us the three important questions about whether or not we had been exposed to COVID-19, whether or not we had symptoms, and if we were ordered to be quarantined by a medical officer. We both said no to all three questions, then presented our IDs to be scanned touchlessly.

This is probably a European eye test as opposed to an American one. It’s probably harder to cheat on it, since it’s not letters. I remember doing one in Armenia that was different, too. It was a Russian eye test.

The PX opened for regular folks (as opposed to high risk folks) at 11:00am. We needed the optical shop. A sergeant was standing there in his mask, enforcing the wait time. Finally, at 11:00, we all washed our hands, donned our masks, and went in. Taking the eye exam was weird. It was a German style test, which meant telling the examiner where the openings were. I had trouble with my left eye until I realized that the steam from behind the mask was fogging up the lens. Once I let the steam dissipate, I could read everything properly.

After the eye test, we found the passport photo booth, where I got new pictures done for my passport. I was actually quite pleased with them, since the photo I’ve had since 2011 is horrible. In that picture, I look fat, hungover, and my hair is a yucky shade of dark brown. I gave up hair color several years ago, because the hard German water mixed with dye was turning it into straw. So now I’m back to my original blonde with silvery hints. And the new pictures done by a machine are prettier and have more natural light, even if I still look fat. The weird thing is, it’s just like taking a selfie with your phone. You think you’re going to look like you do on the monitor, but your image is reversed. But for some reason, it looks less ridiculous taken by the machine.

We went into the PX to pick up a few things… I got a new hairbrush, conditioner, and lotion for my horribly dry skin. I think I have eczema on my boobs, which is not very pleasant. The hard water and constant washing has turned my skin into leather. Edited to add: my German friend says there is soft water in parts of Germany, however in all of the places I’ve lived, it’s been very hard by American standards. It’s been hardest of all in Wiesbaden, where there was so much chalk on our taps when we moved in that we couldn’t turn one of them on and had to get it replaced. We also have to use salt in the dishwasher or else our dishes look terrible. Vinegar is useful for getting rid of some of the Kalk, but it’s an ongoing battle.

After about twenty minutes with the mask, I was ready to get the hell out of the PX. It wasn’t as stifling as I feared it would be, but the thing kept going into my eyes, requiring me to touch it to adjust it, which you shouldn’t do. Anyway… since this was a momentous occasion, I did get some photos…

Anyway… I’m glad to have that chore done with for now. I’ve been bugging Bill about our driver’s licenses and my passport for ages. We should have done it before this coronavirus mess started. Hindsight, unlike my eyesight, is 20/20.


Another chore done…

This morning, Bill and I went to get my German driver’s license renewed. After five years, your license expires. We’ve been here since August 2014, so it was time to get this chore accomplished. Because we’re here on SOFA status, our driver’s license procedure is different than it would be if we were ordinary residents. We have to go to an office on an installation, in this case, Clay Kaserne, fill out paperwork, take an eye test, and pay $20. Technically, my stateside license is what makes me legal to drive here, but we have to have one issued by the military installation, too.

License renewal is pretty easy, since it doesn’t require taking a test. In 2007 and 2014, I had to take the driver’s license test. I was able to pass on the first try both times, although not everyone does. I think both times, I took a class directly before the exam was given, although the class is now available online. I don’t think it’s a hard test, but it does take time to get it done. I still have the first German license that was issued to me in 2007. I turned my license from 2014 in today and should get a new one in the mail in a few weeks.

The guy who helped me this morning was a delightful German fellow who was cracking jokes the whole time. I found him very amusing, and could tell that he shares a love of sweets with me. He had a jar of cookies, a candy jar full of gummi fish, and another box of cookies on his desk. When he noticed we’d moved up here from Stuttgart, he was extolling the virtues of Wiesbaden versus Stuttgart. To be honest, I think I like living up here more, although there are a few things I miss about Stuttgart. Stuttgart is a lot more familiar to me and I think the surrounding area is prettier… there’s a lot more nature and pretty buildings that weren’t destroyed in World War II. But the people up here seem more relaxed about almost everything, which makes life easier for me.

After we filled out my paperwork, the guy helpfully explained how I can get an international driver’s license. We’ve been here five years and I never bothered to get one. I don’t drive very often. Bill wants to get me one now, though, because they’re good to have in case something happens to him while we’re out of the country. Also, it’s a lot easier to get the international license up here. In Stuttgart, we had to go to a German government office to get one. It took a couple of hours because there were many people waiting and not enough people working. Up here, we can get the international license on post, and the same guy would be helping us. And… he even explained how we can expedite things even more. Very helpful guy… and very friendly! Edited to add: Bill says we still have to go to a government office to get the international license, but it’s a very large office, so it only takes a few minutes as opposed to hours.

I had occasion to use the restroom while we were renewing my license. I was amused by the wall o’ PSAs in the ladies room. There were instructions on everything from how to wash your hands to how to prevent the spread of flu. And there were tons of directives– turn off the lights, report all leaks, and dammit, wash your hands! The ladies room also had, not just a chair, but a full couch! I don’t know how many people hang out in the restroom, but if you wanted to on Clay Kaserne, you certainly could. Maybe the couch was intended for nursing moms, but I noticed they had a nursing room, too.

Seriously, you could spend ten minutes reading all of this crap on the walls. I get a kick out of military installations, because there is never a shortage of reading material. Every bulletin board is chock full of information, and the walls are full of instructions on what to do in any situation. They especially like to put stuff on the stall doors so you can read while you’re taking a dump.

As someone who could have been a public health practitioner, I do appreciate the pictorial on how to wash your hands properly… but somehow, I think those who need the sign the most probably would not take the time to read it. One would hope this would be a home taught skill, anyway. But, on the other hand, you’d likely be surprised by how many people don’t wash their hands after they go to the bathroom.

I’m just glad I didn’t see anything like this in the restroom…

I’m staying the hell away from Kansas City!

This post is proof positive that I can find something to write about every day, if I put my mind to it.


Almost three years of contractor life…

In August, should we last that long, Bill and I will have spent three years living in Germany for the second time.  As I explained in my first article about about the difference between Army life and contractor life, there are significant differences between living in Germany with the military and living here as “hired guns” for government contractors.  For the most part, Bill and I have enjoyed our time here with him as a civilian.  We’ve made an effort to see and do a lot more locally, have made some friends, and even attempted to learn more of the language.  This time, we feel very comfortable in Germany and it’s feeling more like home.  Which is probably why the developments of this week seem especially cruel.

Just this week, Bill told me that his company lost the contract he was working on.  Chances are good that the incoming company will offer Bill a job, but there is no guarantee that will happen.  Consequently, this week has been rather stressful, since the contract Bill works on will expire this summer.  We were definitely not planning to leave and even have a cruise planned.  I’m going to be super bummed if we have to cancel, although I did buy “cancel for any reason” travel insurance strictly because I knew this could happen.

I try to be philosophical and realize that Easter is a time of renewal and rebirth.  It could turn out that this event will lead to good things.  But right now, we’re dealing with the uncertainty of what comes next when a company loses a contract.  It’s especially stressful when you’re thousands of miles from “home” and will probably have to come up with the money to move back there should that become necessary.

So, this is yet another aspect of living the contractor life that can be worrying and stressful.  Bill and I would like to stick around for a couple more years, mainly because we moved six times within the last seven years of his time in the Army.  We have been here two and a half years and it’s finally starting to feel somewhat familiar.

And yet… although I have been to almost all of the European capital cities, I still have yet to see Berlin beyond the airport.  There’s still a lot I want to see and do and neither Bill nor I have any desire to go back to the States anytime soon.  At the very least, we definitely need to see Berlin.

It seems like this kind of thing always happens just when I pay off my credit cards, too.  Last time we lived here, I got really close to paying USAA all I owed them.  I think I was within $300 of having a zero credit card balance.  Then, Bill was unexpectedly called back to the States to take an assignment in Georgia at a post that was due to close less than two years after our arrival.  We moved, and were faced with the prospect of having to sleep on the floor for a month while we waited for our furniture to arrive.  We also moved into a house that had no refrigerator.  Before I knew it, I was whipping out the credit card to buy all the stuff we needed.  I know some people are fine with a month on an air mattress, but I’m no longer willing to put up with charley horses and sore backs.  I had a big credit card bill again in no time.

Last month, I finally paid off USAA and now have zero credit card debt.  I also came up with a plan to eliminate my student loans within the next two years.  Sure enough, weeks later, we find out we might end up having to move.  Maybe the end lesson is that I shouldn’t try so hard to pay off debt!

I guess I’ll just try to keep the faith.

Ah Stuttgart… please don’t tell me it’s the end…


On not finding what we need at AAFES…

In a couple of weeks, Bill and I will be traveling to Scotland and taking a cruise on Hebridean Princess.  We have cruised on this ship before, back in November 2012.  We were celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary.  It was actually a rather bittersweet journey because one of our dogs got very sick while we were gone.  Despite MacGregor’s sickness, we had a wonderful time in Scotland and especially on Hebridean Princess.  Scotland felt very comfortable to me, probably because a number of my ancestors were Scots and my earliest memories are of living in England.

Anyway, when we took that first cruise, Bill brought his dress blues and wore them for the galas on the ship.  These are special meals where haggis is served.  The men wear tuxedoes and the women wear cocktail dresses.  Bill made many people, including the ship’s officers, stop dead in the their tracks when he showed up wearing his uniform.  The Brits love it when people dress smartly for a special occasion.  It was one of a few times when it seemed like Bill was so much prettier than me.  Lots of people congratulated him for looking so sharp.

I hope we can get a nicer shot on this upcoming trip…  Yes, we were a little hammered.  We needed some Scotch courage to try the haggis.


As it happens when guys get older and retire from the Army, Bill has gained a little weight.  Although I have been nagging him for weeks about trying on the uniform, he finally did it today.  And he found out that his uniform no longer fits him properly.  It’s enough that he needed to invest in a new shirt and jacket.  We went to Panzer today to shop for uniform essentials so he’ll be all spiffy on our cruise.  He lucked into the last jacket in his new size and found a shirt with no problem.  Sadly, clothing sales was missing the piping that he needed for the jacket sleeves and no one there could help him.  He’ll either have to get the piping off of his older jacket or go on a crash diet for the next two weeks.  Maybe he’ll find someone who can help him before we take off in a couple of weeks.

While he was buying the jacket and shirt, I took note of some “fresh fruit” being offered for sale…

I think it might be time for banana bread…  Also, at least one of those apples has seen better days.


We stopped by the PX for a potty break and to pick up some feminine hygiene essentials, then we went to the Auld Rogue for a late lunch/early dinner.  Bill tried the chili, which was pretty good but not very spicy.

I might be persuaded to order this sometime, though my chili is much better.  I’m not a big fan of lots of heat, but this was pretty bland for chili.  I liked the cheese.


This was pretty good, as usual.  I couldn’t finish it all, though.


After we ate and had a few rounds of Guinness, we went to Patch to pick up a couple of things from the Shoppette.  I took the opportunity to use the bathroom because I knew that if I didn’t, I’d really regret it on the way home.  Folks, I’m here to tell you that despite AAFES’ promises of a clean restroom that is inspected every hour, the potty in the Shoppette was even grosser than usual today.  It looked like someone’s abnormally large turd was stuck in the commode.  And there was also no toilet paper.  It’s a good thing I had some Kleenex with me.

Clean restroom promise… HA!

I have ranted about the nasty bathrooms before, but I just figured today’s experiences represented an unusually high level of suckitude.  It truly makes me sad.  I’ve seen some really gross toilets in my day, but they were in developing countries.  I think we should be able to do better in a place like Germany, where there is plenty of running water, people get paid regularly, and detergent is affordable.

Oh well…  Somehow, we’ll get Bill in his uniform so he can be stunning to our friends the Brits.  I’ll try to keep up with his natural beauty.

anecdotes, Military

On being a young American kid in Europe…

My very first passport photo before we moved to England.  I was about three years old and two feet ten inches tall.   I was born in Hampton, Virginia and my parents moved us back to that area when I was eight.  I grew up in Virginia and it’s now “home”, but I don’t miss it that much. 

As I was watching the dogs outside this morning, I had a sudden thought about being an American kid in Europe.  I spent part of my early childhood in England at Mildenhall Air Force Base.  We lived on the base, but I went to a British school instead of the American school.  My sisters went to the American schools.  At the time, living in England was perfectly normal to me.

I didn’t know I was in a foreign country, although I do remember my mom and sisters explaining to me that we were Americans living in England and that it was a “different country” than where we came from.  At that time, I didn’t have a concept of countries, though.  England was simply “home”.  I still have vivid memories of the primary school where I attended kindergarten with British and a few other American kids.  My mom told me she sent me there because the school day was longer and it kept me out of her hair.

Our backyard in England on Mildenhall Air Force Base bordered a big field with cows in it.  I was fascinated by them.  To this day, I still hate wearing shoes… and I love livestock.

We moved back to the States in 1978, when I was six years old.  At that point, I had spent half my life in England and it was really the only place I remembered.  I have only the vaguest of memories of our time at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Even though I’m American and was finally back in the United States after three years abroad, it didn’t really feel like my home.  It felt like a foreign country.  The time I spent as a small child in England changed me somehow, even though I am very much an American.  I guess living in England made me more aware of the world around me.  It definitely gave me a perspective that a lot of my peers didn’t have, although quite a lot of my peers were also military brats and a few of them had also lived abroad.


Me and my mom going to high tea at the Swan Hotel in Lavenham, England.  This photo was so fascinating to me that I used Google Earth to figure out where we were.  This hotel is still open and there’s a chance Bill and I might book a room there in March.  It depends on how nervous he is about getting us to the airport on Easter morning.

For some reason, I was thinking about kids who are born abroad and spend their formative years in another country.  They go to school with host country nationals, probably learn to speak the local language.  It’s “home” to them.  Then they move back to the country where they’re really from and it somehow feels “foreign” to them.  Even though they are among their people, they are different.  They were different when they were abroad, too.  They weren’t locals and weren’t likely to stay there longer than a few years, but they were mingling among the locals and got to see things through their eyes.

I think sometimes the first place you remember as a child is a place that really leaves an imprint.  I have always been kind of fascinated by England, though I haven’t spent a lot of time there since we moved back to the States in 1978.  We went to London in 2009 and I remember being questioned by the customs people.  They wanted to know if I’d ever been there before.  I told them I used to live in England.  That piqued their interest, until I told them I lived there as a young child in the 1970s.  Then it was okay.  I suspect there are a lot of Americans like me, people who lived abroad when they were kids and kind of feel like their childhood home is actually “home”.  I think my mom thought of England as home, too.  She said she cried all the way back to the States when we had to move.

My parents kept in touch with my dad’s British secretary from when we lived in England.  Before my dad died in 2014, they went back to visit her a few times.  She visited them, too, and even became friends with my Granny.  In fact, I saw her right before Bill and I got married.  I remember her fondly.  Before we left England, she asked me when I’d be back to visit.  I told her I wasn’t coming back until they built a bridge across the Atlantic Ocean.  She reminded me of that when I saw her last.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve flown across the Atlantic Ocean since 1978… or really, 1995.  I never took another trip abroad until I joined the Peace Corps.

My sisters cautioned me against marrying a military guy.  They saw my mom’s life as an Air Force wife and how it didn’t make her very happy.  I mostly enjoyed being an Army wife until Bill retired in 2014.  The lifestyle took me in a direction I wasn’t expecting, but I’ve been around the military my whole life.  It’s kind of second nature to me.  I didn’t have the globe trotting experience my sisters had because my dad retired from the Air Force when I was six years old.  But I definitely made up for that as an Army wife.  I eventually had roots when my dad retired, but now I’m not sure if I’ll root anywhere else.

Hebridean Princess in November 2012.  We’ll be back aboard in March.

In March, Bill and I will be going to Glasgow, Scotland to catch a cruise through the Hebrides.  We have decided that after the cruise, we will visit my old childhood stomping grounds, possibly with a stop in Stoke On Trent so we can catch a performance of Avenue Q.  If we do make it to Suffolk, Bill will probably have to acquaint himself with British driving.  I know it makes him nervous, but I feel confident he can do it.  If my parents could do it, he certainly can.  And who knows?  We may even move to England at some point.  The expat life definitely suits us.

I spotted this sign in Edinburgh.  My maiden name is Tolley.  My married name is Crossen.  Seems like a clue from the past.

I always thought I’d put down roots somewhere and raise a family.  That lifestyle is apparently not in the cards for me.  My expat career started with my being a very little kid in England and mingling among Brits.  Then I went to Armenia as a young woman and worked with others who also later became expats.  Seriously, a lot of my old Peace Corps friends are living abroad.  Now I’m on a second Germany tour.  I have no burning desire to move back to the United States anytime soon.  If I could, I think I’d stay abroad for the rest of my life.  We’ll see what happens.

For now, I’m really looking forward to going back to England and seeing somewhere other than London.  London is amazing; don’t get me wrong.  But it’s not what I remember about the first childhood home I actually remember.  Besides, England, Ireland, Scotland, and even Germany is where my people were from in the first place.

We lived in England when this happened…  

anecdotes, Military

The difference between Army life and contractor life in Germany

I was going to wait until we got settled to write this post, but the mood is striking now.  So here goes…

In September 2007, Bill and I moved from Fort Belvoir, Virginia to Stuttgart, Germany, courtesy of the United States Army.  Because it was an Army move, we were allowed to ship about 17,000 pounds of our personal items and store what we didn’t send.  We were allowed to ship one car at government expense and unaccompanied baggage.  When we arrived in Stuttgart, we were given money for sixty days of temporary living expenses.  The housing office, such as it is, was able to help us find a home and negotiate the rental contract.  And we were able to access medical and dental services at Patch Barracks.  Fortunately, I only required a contact lens exam and a dental cleaning and small filling (and I was actually very impressed by the services at Patch).  If we’d had kids, we could have sent them to the schools offered on the military installations for free.

In August 2014, we moved from San Antonio, Texas to Stuttgart, Germany, courtesy of a government contractor.  We had very little time to plan for this move.  When we moved with the Army, we found out in November 2006.  In January 2007, Bill deployed for six months; then when he came back, we had six weeks to get everything together and move to Germany.  We knew well ahead of time, though, so I was able to do things like train our dogs to use their carriers and get started sorting out all of the red tape.  This time, Bill got an informal job offer in late June and a formal one on July 8th… three weeks before we had to vacate our rental house in Texas.  It was a lot more of a rush to get stuff taken care of so we could make the move.

Part of the reason Bill got hired is because there was a recent mass exodus of contractors, due to the work being taken over by a new company that severely underbid all the other contractors.  It meant that the previous contractors were going to be paid about $20,000 less for their work, mainly because the new contractor wasn’t offering an education benefit to contractors with kids.  Contractors have to pay for their kids to go to school, while military and DoD employees don’t.

We were given enough money to ship 5000 pounds of our belongings.  Fortunately, the Army pays for storage for the recently retired;  it’s only for a year, though.  Then Bill gets the government rate on storage.  Because there are only two of us, it’s no big deal that we only got 5000 pounds.  Most of the stuff I really wanted to bring, I could.  However, we did have to get rid of a lot of stuff and a lot went into storage.  If we’d had kids, that 5000 pound limit would have cramped our style a lot more.  Of course, we were also lucky because the guy that packed us for our move to Germany was just plain awesome.  Wish I could say the same about the folks who packed our stuff for storage.

We had to pay to ship our cars– it was about $4000.  It would have been less, had we been able to drive the cars to Houston and pick them up in Bremerhaven.  But the logistics of doing that weren’t feasible for us.  We have to repay Bill’s company for the plane tickets to fly to Germany.  We pay for our temporary housing before we move into our permanent digs.  We get a housing allowance, but it’s paid quarterly instead of monthly; it’s plenty for the type of house we wanted (and ultimately got).  We did have to find the house and negotiate the rental contract ourselves; fortunately, we’re inheriting a house from a military couple and our new landlords seem to be pretty used to dealing with Americans.  Special thanks to the Facebook Stuttgart Friends and Moving to Stuttgart groups for turning me on to Stuttgart Bookoo.  None of these things existed when we were here last time.

Bill’s salary is somewhat comparable to what he earned as a lieutenant colonel– the difference is that it’s kind of split between a base salary and the quarterly housing allowance.  He doesn’t have to pay as much in taxes as he would in the United States and he also gets retirement pay, though part of that is temporarily being withheld because he had a brief lapse in service in the 90s and has to repay a bonus he received back then.  In about 18 months, we’ll be getting the full retirement pay, which should make things pretty nice.  He gets medical, dental, and vision benefits, along with the usual retiree medical benefits, too.

And healthcare and dental care, for me at least, will be strictly on the economy.  Bill was able to score an appointment to see a doc at Patch, but I don’t know if that’s going to be something he can do the whole time we’re here.  We will also have to buy our own major appliances, whereas when we were still Army, we got to borrow them from the government.

Here’s another weird thing that happened.  Last month, I got a new ID made because Bill retired.  This month, I got another one made because we’re overseas.  The overseas ID is only for use in Germany.  The other one is for use in the USA.

We do get to use most of the services available to the military.  For example, we get an APO box, which allows mail to be sent and received at US rates, although no one could get us a box before we came.  Consequently, the boxes we sent here general delivery may or may not be on the way back to Texas.  We get to use the PX/BX, commissary, hotel, and gas ration cards (allows us to get gas at prices closer to what we’d pay in the US).  We get a USAEUR driver’s license good for Germany.  We both have SOFA cards (last time, they were stamps).  But life as a contractor as opposed to being a government or military employee is a bit more bare bones.

When it comes time to leave Germany, there is no telling what will happen.  It’s my understanding that contractors win and lose contracts all the time.  So it could turn out that Bill’s current company loses its contract and he’ll be out of a job.  Or the next company may decide to hire him.  In fact, I’ve heard that happens fairly often because it’s cheaper and easier to hire talent that is already local.  For that reason, we could be in Germany for awhile.  Or we could end up leaving next year.  Bill says the contractor he’s working for now really bid low, though, so the chances of them losing the contract are pretty low.  This probably means the company will keep the contract and we’ll end up staying.

We love Germany and hate job hunting… and I doubt the company will want to lose Bill now that he’s here.  Not everyone can afford to spend as much money as we did just to relocate for a job.  We know of some people who turned down positions with this contractor because of the somewhat stingy relocation package.  If government contractors can’t afford to pay employees enough to move and take care of their families, they won’t want to come to Germany.  If they do come, they probably won’t stay as long as they might.  We don’t have kids and don’t need as much money to survive.  We just have dogs and a serious case of wanderlust.  Fortunately, Bill gets three weeks of paid leave a year and major holidays off!

It used to be that the Department of Defense offered contractors enough money that moving with them was more like a military move.  But since the government is cutting back on the military, there is less money to go around and contractors are the first ones to feel the cuts.  On the up side, it appears that there’s plenty of work to be done.  Bill says he and his new work buddies are being kept very busy with stuff that normally would be handled by people in the military.  Apparently, fewer military folks are being sent to Europe– again, due to downsizing.  So guys like Bill are picking up the slack and, perhaps, ending up doing some work that may not be in their job descriptions.  Of course, Bill has done this kind of work before and still has his Army work ethic, so he’s able to get the job done.

So why did we come here if it was such an expensive logistical hassle?  Simple.  No one in Texas seemed eager to give Bill a job.  We had a choice of moving to Germany or taking our chances in Texas, where there were no job offers on the table and we were in a rental house with property managers we absolutely hated.  Since we love Germany and Bill knew he could do the work and would enjoy it, the choice was easy, despite all that went into the move.

There have been some positives to our move, too.  One thing I’m glad I didn’t have to do this time was get a physical, even though I could probably use one.  I also didn’t have to go through EFMP screening since as civilians, EFMP doesn’t apply to us.  I didn’t have to get an official passport, not that that was such a huge deal.  It was just a pain to have to keep up with two of them.

Since we are ultimately paying for our transportation over here, we were allowed to choose which airline we wanted to use.  In most cases, if you are flying on government funds, you have to use the cheapest American carrier for as long as possible.  This wouldn’t have been an issue for us if we weren’t bringing dogs.  A lot of American airlines don’t fly pets in the summer or require them to be flown via cargo services which can be very expensive.  We flew Lufthansa, which allows pets to be flown as baggage, yet keeps them in a safe area.  Instead of paying over $1000 to bring our dogs, we only had to pay $400 and they were there at baggage claim waiting for us when we arrived.

Also, because we aren’t here with the military, we aren’t forced to live in an apartment on a military installation, nor are we forced to use military lodging.  Military lodging is fine if you want to use it, but we prefer being on the economy.  Because we’ve been here before, the culture shock is not that much for us.  Things haven’t changed a whole lot in the almost five years we’ve been gone.  It probably helps that we’ve visited Germany twice in the five years since we left!

I am grateful that we got to move back to Germany.  Hell, I’m grateful Bill has a job at all– especially in Germany, which was our favorite of all our duty stations with the Army.  The beauty of this arrangement is that we could end up living here for a lot longer than the barely two years we got last time.  We aren’t subject to the government’s whims quite as directly as we were before.

I’m sure I’ll have more to write about this experience once we’ve been here a bit longer and have settled into our new house.  For now, all I can say is that it helps to have been here before, because when you come here as a contractor, there’s less support and you have to figure more things out for yourself.