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May 052016


I have so many friends who recently received orders for overseas duty stations. Some are headed to Europe and other exciting locales. But most people I know are headed to Japan, which is weight restricted for some branches of service as far as household goods are concerned. I won’t get into the nitty gritty of all of that, but usually folks are looking at being able to take 25 percent of their maximum allowable weight or in plain English, about 2,500-4.500 pounds of their “stuff.” If you want to get into the nitty gritty, check your spouse’s orders or visit for the current weight allowance charts.

While only taking a fraction of your stuff may cause you to panic, remember that there is loaner furniture available to you during your tour. It will not be extravagant or Pinterest-worthy, but it’s furniture. A question I keep getting repeatedly is what folks should take to fill that maximum allowed. I am not going to tell you about taking the obvious stuff such as clothes, kitchen items, silverware, etc. Instead, here is my list of things I wish I had brought or was so glad that I did.

Items to consider:

  • Holiday decorations. I was soooooooo glad I brought one tote of Christmas items. It made the holidays feel more “real” to me having my familiar favorites. Also, I liked not having to fight the good fight over the last package of generic-colored ornament balls.
  • Hostess and serving pieces. I have no idea what I was thinking by not taking extra dishes, extra serving trays, party supplies etc. Being overseas is so much fun because everyone becomes your family, and that means you are always at someone’s home or your own having a big feast, especially at holidays. I am now back in America with double of all my hostess items since I couldn’t go 3 years without hosting people for dinner.
  • Home décor. I foolishly followed advice to leave all home décor at home. I wish I had brought a few framed art pieces or mirrors, a few throw pillows or SOMETHING that would have made our little bunker feel more like home without having to repurchase items once we got there. Please don’t bring your whole house full of décor, but a few neutral pieces that can work anywhere are advised.
  • Personal pictures. I took all of our photo albums to my parents to store while we were overseas. I wish I had taken at least one or two albums to peruse during our three-year tour. Call me cheesy, but I missed thumbing through our wedding album every year on our anniversary. I also wished I had pictures of our families.
  • Craft/hobby supplies. I am an avid sewist and wish I had brought tons more fabric. Yes, you can more than likely get craft supplies in your new location or you will be able to order them, but sometimes I just wish I had more of the basics already on hand. So if you have a specific hobby, consider bringing along extra of whatever it is you may use most.
  • Your bed. Yeah, yeah, I know I mentioned you will be given loaner furniture during your tour, but the government beds aren’t exactly dual pillow-top memory foam if you are catching what I am saying. So if a comfortable bed is important to you, pack it up and ship it over! No need to send the whole matching solid wood bedroom suite over. Just the mattress and rails. No all your furniture won’t match, but that’s part of the charm of overseas living.
  • Clothes for another climate. If you are going to Guam you may think you can ditch the winter coats and snow gear at home. But what happens if you go back to America during the winter and your family lives in Billings, Montana where there is likely snow on the ground. You don’t want to arrive in flip flops now do you? Many folks I know, took vacations up to snowy and cold Sapparo, Japan and needed their winter coats. So don’t take a whole wardrobe of winter gear, but a few outfits, just in case.

Remember, no matter what you take or leave behind, it isn’t forever. No one expects matching plates, silverware, home décor or furniture when you are living overseas. We all “get it,” so don’t stress it. Spend more time out their exploring your new home instead of worrying about what you left behind!

Mar 182015




We just recently PCSed back to America from being stationed overseas in Okinawa, Japan. I fondly remember all the emotions from three years ago when we were making the “big move across the Pacific,” as we called it. I remember being nervous, scared, stressed and excited. Of course these are all normal reactions to moving to a foreign country that you have never visited and know little about. However, no one told me that it would be just as nervous, scary, stressful and exciting to move back to the states. Here are seven things that surprised me about moving back:

  1. American stores can be overwhelming. The first time we walked into a big box store upon returning I took a picture because I had forgotten how vast American stores can be. And the malls, y’all, so many stores under one roof. Which leads to….
  2. Selection overload, my goodness. Did you know there are whole entire refrigerated sections devoted to yogurt? Just yogurt. And that you can buy virtually any type of fruit or vegetable, no matter the season, at the grocery store? We discovered flavor combinations and brands of cookies, cereal, yogurt, chips and drinks that we had never heard of because they haven’t made their way over to Japan yet. Our first shopping trip was about two and a half hours long, and we left with hardly anything because there was just too much to choose from that I needed to revise my game plan. It is still actually tough having so many things to choose from and I find myself missing the days of choosing between item A or item B (and sometimes just item A because B is out of stock).
  3. The technology will amaze you. I am not sure about other overseas duty stations, but Okinawa ironically isn’t up to date with the cutting edge technology. When we walked into the electronics store to get a new TV we were hit with so many selections of 4K/Ultra HD, 3-D, surround sound, etc. We had to get a lesson in what everything was. Also with cell phones, we forgot what “normal” was. (Note: I hear that the cell phone systems in Okinawa changed right when we left so these statements may no longer be accurate, but they sure were for us while we lived there.)
  4. It is so strange to head out in town and not have to check how much foreign currency I have on me. I had a “yen coin” holder that was always in my purse. I will admit it was a sad day when I retired my special blue yen holder, but there is freedom in only depending on one type of currency and knowing that your debit card will work everywhere.
  5. You don’t need to plan for holidays, birthdays and other festivities months in advance. No more checking to see if a company ships to APO/FPO addresses or if they use USPS Priority verses the other delivery services. I still find myself online shopping and thinking, “Oh bummer, their stuff comes by the ‘slow boat.’” Then I have the “duh” moment of “Oh yeah, everything arrives fast here.”
  6. You can leave hoarders anonymous behind. Overseas I had what I called “two syndrome.” Virtually everything I bought I put two in the cart. Closer to Thanksgiving I found myself with copious amounts of pumpkin pie filling, crescent rolls and pie crust. I must remind myself when shopping now that there is absolutely no reason to hoard items. I don’t need to have a supply of black beans to feed an army. I can come back any day of the week and the store will have what I need.
  7. American driving is so fast. With typical speed limits starting at 65 plus miles per hour and relearning to drive on the right-hand side of the road, I am pretty sure I still have a white-knuckle death grip on the steering wheel. We have been home for a few months and I still find myself flipping my windshield wipers on instead of my turn signal or getting into the passenger side of the car thinking that it is the driver’s side. My husband has to remind me that the speed limit is 65 miles per hour and most people would prefer I go at least 55 verses my new default speed of 45. Why is everyone in such a hurry anyhow?

All in all, I will say that moving back to America after living overseas was surprisingly difficult. Before we PCSed back it never occurred to me that we might encounter some of the challenges and surprises we did. So if you are living overseas and have a PCS back to America on the horizon, don’t forget to mentally prepare. Adjusting isn’t necessarily without hiccups just because this is what you grew up. In the end, this is home and we are glad to be back. Now excuse me as I go aimlessly walk the aisles at my favorite store, in person and not online, just because I can.

Nov 192014

Blogger Biography: Ingrid McCullough is a play-at-home mom, business owner and survivor of six PCS moves, 14 homes, one overseas birth and two deployments. She is also a proud military spouse for five years and counting!


In the best of times, PCSing is chaotic, exciting, busy and, let’s face it, exhausting. But this time you have an infant and you are moving overseas. That was me last summer. I gave birth to my son in the sweltering July heat in Boeblingen, Germany and three weeks later I herded my husband, baby, two cats and three carry-on items for other people on to a plane for an eight-hour flight. There were many things that I wish I had known before the move that would have made it easier, less daunting and even – dare I say it? – fun. So grab a refreshing beverage, prop up your (swollen?) feet, read these tips and prepare for your best PCS to date!


One of the best decisions my husband and I made was to pack out our house two months early. We worked with the housing office to secure temporary quarters on base. Often there are vacancies in on-base housing and, so long as there is not a waitlist and the move is at no cost to the government, the housing office can approve short-term use of quarters. Once we had temporary quarters secured, we packed out our house which turned out to be very wise. First, by the time I was eight months pregnant, I was already pretty useless in monitoring the packers – and this would not have improved with time. Second, it is far easier to pack out without a newborn. Third, if you pack out early enough, your things should be at your destination by the time you arrive which will make settling in a breeze.


Get a direct flight so that you only have to get settled on to one plane and, perhaps more importantly, you are not trying to wrangle your baby, carry-on bags, car seat, stroller and various other accoutrements through a busy airport as you rush to your next gate.


If your infant is old enough to have developed a nap schedule, plan your flights around baby’s nap. My son is a champion flier; at 11 months old he has already been on nine flights and everyone always comments on how great he is. My secret (well one of them) is a well-timed flight. I always choose a flight which takes off around the time my son would normally go down for a nap. This way, he falls asleep at the start of the flight. If your infant is too little to have developed a nap schedule, have no fear! Infants sleep so much that I guarantee your wee one will be lulled into dreamland by the abundant white noise.


Yes, I know. Children under two can sit on the lap of their parents, but this is a reimbursable expense, so get them a seat. You are going to need to sleep on your long flight and the last thing you will want to do is sit up holding your baby in sheer terror that you will fall asleep and accidentally drop him on his head. Get him a seat so you can lay him down.


If you have purchased a seat for your baby, bring his car seat on to the plane. Some flights offer one seat in front where a bassinet can be snapped into the bulkhead. While this option does allow you to safely set baby down, I personally do not recommend using it because it is hard to shield baby from light and air in the bassinet. If you use your car seat though, you can use the sun shade to block some of the light and drape a nursing cover or a pashmina over the front to block the rest.


Pack a change of clothes for all travelers. Everyone thinks to pack an extra infant outfit or three. After all, babies go through a LOT of clothing in a day. But the often overlooked achievement is packing an extra T-shirt for each adult traveler in case baby uses your clothing as a spit-up rag or diaper (knowing nod).


A good, rolling carry-on bag will help contain all of the extra stuff you must now travel with. I like the ones with four wheels so I can move it easily while juggling the baby. Items to ensure you have in this bag include: diapers, wipes, a nursing cover or long pashmina, toys and snacks if your infant is old enough, a baby blanket, warm clothes, a bottle and a pacifier. Now, I know not everyone supports the use of bottles or pacis, but I find they are a must on flights. My son does breastfeed, but it was nearly impossible for him to get a good latch on those tiny airplane seats, particularly in his first six weeks of life. Bottles are much easier to use; just pop it or the paci in baby’s mouth as the plane takes off and lands to help him clear his ears.


A baby carrier allows you to safely hold your wee one while you maneuver on to the plane, stow your carry-ons and get everything you need arranged in your seat-back pocket. It also is quite handy when using the restroom onboard when you have no one else to watch your baby.


Yes! I said it. Relax and have fun! You CAN do this. With a little extra planning on your part, PCSing overseas with a baby can be your best, most exciting PCS yet.

PCS Withdrawal

 Posted by on April 29, 2014 at 18:04
Apr 292014


I am currently operating in “Pending PCS mode.” It’s that wonderful period of time about one to two months before your spouse is due for orders when you start mentally and physically prepping for the upheaval of your life as you know it. I have noticed that my current “Pending PCS mode” is in much higher gear than normal since we will be moving back to the U.S. from overseas.

I have already started “Operation: Clear the pantry.” I know we all do this! You know where you start eating random meals out of your freezer and pantry instead of grocery shopping for a few weeks. If you don’t do this, please don’t tell my husband. I have assured him it is totally normal to eat grilled chicken breasts and waffles with a side of corn. He thinks I am being a little too premature; I think I am being precautious.

I have also started the obligatory “purging” process. Anything that hasn’t been used this duty station will be exiting our home either via yard sale or donation. I am still scratching my head at how we moved overseas with under 3,000 pounds to our name (the rest is in storage) and somehow have amassed all of this STUFF over the past 2 ½ years. Seriously…how does this happen every, single PCS!?

On top of the usual “Pending PCS” behaviors, I have noticed a pattern. When I know that a PCS is on the horizon, I start to “check out” of our current duty station. It starts with the realization that you probably won’t be around for your favorite annual event or festival next year. Then you realize that all your friends that arrived around the same time as you did are starting to get their PCS orders and moving. This is about the time that I start my own mental “PCS checkout sheet” by not making plans too far in advance (“Sorry friend, I have no idea if we will be at the annual Fourth of July cookout!”), or not committing to anything long term. (“Sorry, I would love to volunteer here, but I can’t commit for long, so I better not.”) You get the idea.

It really hit me the other day when I was meeting up with some new friends. I remember a small voice in the back of my head telling me, “Don’t get too close, you are leaving.” That is when I realized that I have been doing this PCS withdrawal cycle each time we have PCSed. Does this sound familiar to you? My theory is that the less connected we are to our duty station, our friends or our lives, we think it will make leaving “easier.” I am not sure if this theory has merit, but I have talked to other military friends and they have experienced the same thing.

Sometimes it feels like the military controls so much of our lives with regard to deployment schedules, moving and holding down a career for ourselves, that I decided that I no longer want to miss out on that chunk of time trying to make leaving “easier.” We all know that withdrawing early truly doesn’t help when it is time to drive away. Instead, I am going to fill my time with memories, friends and adventures.

Guest Blog: The Adventures of a Foreign National Spouse

 Posted by on September 13, 2013 at 15:54
Sep 132013


Blogger Biography: Isabella is a Brazilian-German college girl with passions for traveling, fashion and animals (especially her two rescue dogs Jake, a Eurasier-wolf hybrid and Yuri, a Finnish spitz). One day she met a handsome man in Germany and little did she know this fascinating foreigner would become her husband and turn her life upside down. She tries to balance between the German and American ways of life and after over three years of thinking she had the hang of it, the Army life. After surviving the extremely long and difficult journey of getting a green card, it is now time for her to finish her career goals of pursuing a job at the CIA and living the American Dream while supporting her husband as best she can.

Military personnel live in countries all over the world, and it is just natural that some start relationships with local nationals. This is exactly what happened to me. I am a Brazilian-German national and lived a normal life in Germany until I met my husband. Spouses in the same situation know that this can be quite the exciting adventure: You have this handsome foreign boyfriend who doesn’t speak your language (luckily you’ve learned enough in school that you guys don’t have to sit there and not say a word), who talks in weird acronyms that you have never heard, and who tells you facts about tanks and all kinds of different weapons and how to take them apart and put them back together. It is something new; something you have never experienced. I was weirded out at first – in Germany, we don’t get involved with guns unless one of our parents works with them. Weapons are something dangerous, and something you want to stay as far away from as possible. And now this becomes a part of your life. You adjust and you get used to it, and you live your happy, lovey-dovey life together. However, there is this big black cloud on the horizon called PCS. You know your handsome, exotic boyfriend won’t be in your country forever. You know it, but you ignore it…until the day he gets his new orders back to the United States. It happens to everyone, and you have to decide what to do. Are you going with him? Will you have a long distance relationship?

I was going the long distance relationship path. A lot of people do it nowadays, and it’s perfectly normal. You love your partner, and you trust him. Distance is not easy but manageable. However, I changed my mind and decided to follow him to the United States. I had been there before on vacation and as an exchange student; I knew what I was getting into. Or did I?

My boyfriend left for his new duty station, Fort Hood, TX in late August 2010. The evening before he left, I hopped on a train to the airport to tell him goodbye, but it was not long before I was on my way to Texas. Though I had been to the United States countless times, I had never been to Texas and yes, I had the typical cliché thinking; I even greeted the immigration officer at the airport with an enthusiastic “Howdy!”. Unfortunately I had to go through immigration and customs during my first layover in Atlanta, GA and the officer was a little bit confused by this tired, jet lagged but happy German girl in front of him.

I was in the United States, and after a short flight from Atlanta, GA to Killeen, TX, I was with my boyfriend again. And a few months later, my boyfriend became my husband. You might think that this is the sweet happy end. It would have been, if the bureaucracy didn’t exist. A lot of people think that as soon as you marry a United States citizen, you get your visa or green card. This is not the case. We were overwhelmed with information. People put so many stones in our way just because I did not have a Social Security number and could not apply for one. Even on post in Fort Hood, we had several problems that ranged from them not accepting my passport as identification because the date used European format (DD/MM/YYYY) instead of the usual United States format, to me not being able to change my last name to the new one. When it was time to apply for the green card, there were more problems. The biggest being that my husband was deploying. I was in a foreign country with a different culture and language, my family thousands of miles away, my husband deployed and me – “out of status,” a nice way for the immigration agencies to tell you that you can legally stay in the country until your green card might be approved, but you cannot leave the country or the entire application process will be void. And let me tell you, we paid roughly $5,000, so leaving and voiding the application was absolutely not an option. Luckily, we had amazing help from a law firm in Dallas who made the process so much easier for me during the deployment mess. My biggest fear was that my husband would not be in the country in time for the immigration interview where they want to see if your marriage is legit. I worried this would give a bad impression to the authorities. Prior to the interview, we were told that the deployment would last only six months, until they closed down everything in Iraq, so there was enough time left for the interview. This was the case, just not for my husband’s unit. While everyone came home around Christmas, they were extended another six months. Again, I was happy for the help from our lawyers.

Shortly after my husband came home, we headed to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in San Antonio for the interview, and my green card was approved right away. After almost two years, I wasn’t out of status anymore; I was a legal permanent resident of the United States of America. I had a Social Security number and a driver’s license – I was finally like everyone else. All the money, all the panic and most of all, all the hate towards our marriage (“You just married for the green card”) was forgotten.

Everything seemed just right and perfect. And the Army surprised us with another great thing: My husband got orders to PCS to Germany. After three long years when I wasn’t allowed to leave the country, I was finally able to go home and see my family again.

And here we are. Our PCS went surprisingly smooth—mostly due to the fact that my husband already knew the area and had already PCSed once, and because I had experience living in different countries and moving my stuff from continent to continent. We have the best of both worlds, and I wouldn’t trade it. Together, with our two rescue dogs from Texas, we are a strong American-German-Brazilian family just waiting for the next adventure.

Mar 132013


Blogger Biography: Krystel has been married to her husband for four years, and they have three children together. They recently got orders to move overseas and are preparing to make their first PCS with an infant, a toddler and a preschooler in tow. Krystel has enjoyed the challenge of going to school full-time while staying at home with the wiggly wee ones and is looking forward to the upcoming overseas adventure with her little family.

“So, where do you want to move?” my husband asked me in between contractions. I was 38 weeks pregnant with our baby girl, our third child in as many years of marriage. “Well, I guess Europe would be nice,” I panted.

It was an easy delivery. But even an easy labor is tiring, and waking frequently to tend to a newborn is exhausting. I slept fitfully in the unfamiliar hospital setting. The phone rang many times the morning after I gave birth, but I needed to rest and ignored my calls.

Shortly before lunch I answered the phone. My husband told me that he had been worrying about me; I had not answered his calls. He understood I was tired, but he had important news. He had just received orders to England.

I was upset at first. I had just given birth the day before, and my children had yet to meet their new sister. I still needed to potty train my middle child. How could I thrust so much change on them so suddenly? England would be different from Florida. I would feel lonely and depressed; I was sure to have a mental breakdown when we arrived.

When I first discovered that I was pregnant for the third time, I cried. Of course I was happy about having another baby with my beloved, but what about my two sons? They were still babies! Would I be able to give them all the attention they deserved? Would I be able to provide for them? Would I ever sleep again?

My youngest is 8 months old now. She and her brothers love one another very much, and I love each of them. They have everything they need. They are happy and healthy, and all growing and learning at lightening speed. I do wake up many times each night to attend to them, but it has become my routine, and I don’t mind it.

I think that this PCS move from Florida to England will bring many changes. Right now we are going through a period of adjustment, not dissimilar to the watching and waiting that happens throughout a pregnancy. I think I will find, eight or nine months from now, that life in England will feel natural and good—as meant to be as any of my babies.

Moving with Pets: A Go-To Guide

 Posted by on March 4, 2013 at 14:00
Mar 042013
Staff Blogger Melissa


Like many of you, our pets have full-fledged, card-carrying membership in our family. We call them our kids and consider ourselves a family of four. Heck, we even sign our holiday cards with our pets’ names! So naturally, whenever we get PCS orders we are sure to include them in our moving plans.  When I found out we were moving overseas, my first thought was about our dog, Regis (yes, he is loosely named after the celebrity). I thought, “Should we charter a boat so he doesn’t have to fly?” My husband quickly brought me back to reality, and I started making serious, concrete plans to have a successful outside the continental United States move with our furbabies. Whether you are moving to the next state or across an ocean, here are some tips from my experience.

WHEN: As soon as you have orders


  • Gather your pet’s medical information from your veterinarian.
  • Start researching pet friendly hotels to use while in transit. A simple Internet search should yield plenty of results. Plus, you may find a national chain to assist you along your entire route.
  • If you have a restricted breed pet, check with the housing office at your new installation to see if your pet is exempt.


  • Research quarantine requirements for your OCONUS location. Some locations require a series of vaccinations and a FAVN test, which is a blood serum rabies test.
  • Microchip your pet with the universal 15 digit microchip, unless your new location requires a different chip. Check with your veterinarian about any special requirements for your new installation.
  • Gather your pet’s medical information from your veterinarian and purchase an expandable file folder to hold all of your pet’s information.

WHEN: One – three months out


  • If you know your travel dates, book your pet friendly hotel rooms.
  • Start checking out pet friendly housing in your new location so you have an idea of what to expect.


  • Make pet arrangements at your new installation with a pet friendly hotel room, a kennel or a pet sitter. The earlier you make your reservations, the better.
  • Check with your incoming country to see if there is any advance notification required for your pet to enter the country.
  • Confirm your pet’s reservation with each airline. Write down the name of the person you spoke with, the date and time of the phone call in case there is a problem.
  • Check out airline travel requirements for your pet’s kennel. Airlines require specific kennels depending on a pet’s size and whether your pet will be traveling below the plane or in the cabin.

WHEN: One – two weeks out


  • If you think you are going to live off your installation, make appropriate appointments with property managers or realtors to find a pet friendly home.


  • RECONFIRM with your airlines, hotels and kennels that your pet’s reservation is still intact. If there is a problem, this is where that information you wrote down earlier comes in handy.
  • Have your pet seen by a veterinarian for a health certificate before flying. Most are only good for 10 days, so try to do this as close as possible to your travel date. While there, have them scan your pet’s microchip to make sure it is still intact.
  • Make copies of all pet paperwork!
  • Do a last minute check of airline kennel supplies. Most airlines require a blanket or puppy pad in the bottom of the kennel, as well as a food and water source fastened to the cage.
  • If you have a nervous pet, consider purchasing what I equate to a puppy swaddle vest for the flight. They are designed to fit snuggly and help your pet feel safe in scary conditions. Try it on a few days beforehand to make sure it fits well!


  • If your pet is on any preventative medication or has any ongoing treatments, ensure you have enough to last until you are fully settled into your duty station.
  • If your pet doesn’t like to travel, check with your veterinarian for suggestions. I was convinced that Regis would need an IV of “sleepy meds” to get him through the long flights, but our veterinarian highly discouraged it, and Regis braved the flights like a champ!
  • Have your pet’s travel kennel out so your pet can check it out before traveling.
  • Pick up your pet’s veterinarian records.

WHEN: 1 – 2 days out


  • In your carryon bag, pack a small baggie of food, treats, waste bags, daily medications and an extra puppy pad for each stop you make. You may also wish to consider packing pet wipes in case your pet uses the bathroom in the kennel.


  • Pack your pet’s travel bag! Include food, treats, toys, a pet bed and other items that your pet will need as you travel and before your household goods shipment arrives. If you have a cat, consider purchasing disposable litter boxes. It’s a lot easier than toting around an actual litter box and a container of litter!

WHEN: Travel time!


  • Make sure your pet is comfortable and safe inside your vehicle. It is best not to let your pet roam in your car while driving; it can be dangerous for all of you.
  • Make frequent stops so your pet can stretch, use the bathroom and have some food and water.
  • Do not EVER leave your pet unattended in the car.


  • Don’t forget your file folder of your pet’s paperwork!
  • Place a t-shirt or similar item of yours in your pet’s kennel to make your pet feel safe.
  • Do a last minute check of your pet’s supplies and fill up the kennel’s food and water bowls. (Tip: Place ice cubes in the water portion so that the water isn’t sloshing around during loading, but melts afterwards to provide drinking water.)
  • Carry your pet’s leash with YOU after your pet is in the kennel!
  • Arrive at the airport early so you have time to fix any problems.
  • Take your pet outside one last time before your flight and give your pet a final hug and kiss. (Yes, I was the dramatic mom that cried the whole trip.)
  • Make sure your airline gives you confirmation that your pet is on board before takeoff.

If you haven’t already figured it out, I am one of those neurotic pet parents that people probably make cartoons about. I am happy to report that both of our furbabies can now add a successful OCONUS move to their resume! Flying barely phased them. In fact, Regis was wagging his tail when we collected him. With the proper planning, moving with pets can be a breeze!

Nov 062012

You Know You’re a Military Spouse Living Overseas When…

Staff Blogger Melissa


I noticed that when I was a new military spouse that I had a lot to learn and there were certain quirks to our new life like avoiding the commissary on pay day, knowing your spouse’s social security number better than you know your own (I know I am not the only one that had to pause and think when I was asked for *MY* social security number) and stopping for morning and evening colors, among other things.

Now that we are living overseas I have noticed certain oddities to life outside of America. I can’t help but laugh at the sometimes funny and entertaining quirks that come with living overseas.

You Know You’re a Military Spouse Living Overseas When…

  • You start planning for birthdays, holidays and anniversaries a minimum of three months in advance to ensure you can get party supplies, food, presents, etc. on the installation and to allow enough time for items you may need to order.
  • You have purchased your Thanksgiving turkey in September when it was still available.
  • You have ordered your military ball gown online because you didn’t want to have the same one as everyone else.
  • Getting lost somewhere is the perfect afternoon adventure!
  • You know exactly what time it is, whenever asked, where your parents live, your best friend lives and in every time zone in between.
  • You have wanted to pick up the phone and share exciting news with a loved one, only to stop yourself when you realize it is only three in the morning where they are.
  • You have become an online shopping expert. You know which stores ship quickly, who has free shipping and which ones put your orders on the “slow boat.”
  • Getting a package notification slip in your mailbox is the highlight of your day. *happy dance*
  • You have somehow managed to seamlessly integrate words and phrases from your host nation’s language into conversations causing much confusion for your family and friends in the states.  I think at this point that everyone I talk to now knows that “Hai” means “yes” and “arrigato” means “thank you” in Japanese.
  • You have walked into a local establishment and immediately walked back out because you realized that it wasn’t a restaurant, store or whatever you were looking for. (It turns out that I don’t know the character symbols for “noodles” after all!)
  • You can accurately estimate the daily currency conversion rate in your head and you know if it is better to pay for something in United States dollars or local currency.
  • You groan when someone says the current exchange rate has dropped to 76, and then smile at yourself because you finally figured out what that *really* means. With this, you know all the currency exchange shops with the best rate so you can get the most “bang for your buck.”
  • You carry around two types of cash and it doesn’t faze you: United States dollars and your host country’s currency.
  • You have had to change up your grocery list on the fly to accommodate for a shipment of food that didn’t make it to your local commissary.
  • You have ordered something from a restaurant and had absolutely no idea what you were eating.
  • You have explained custom forms to family members that want to mail you packages, and also assured them that any letters they send only need one stamp.

You Know You’re a Military Spouse Living in Okinawa (also true for other host nation’s) When…

  • You splurge on buying that $25 watermelon (or $14 bag of potatoes) because it just isn’t summer (or Christmas dinner) without it.
  • You slip off your shoes before entering most buildings without a second thought anymore (and toilet shoes no longer make you giggle; you understand their purpose).
  • It no longer feels awkward to “bow” out of respect to strangers.
  • You accept the fact that there will be no pumpkin carving on Halloween or sparklers on the 4th of July.
  • You have had to explain numerous times that you live nowhere near Tokyo, and you aren’t even located on the main island of Japan.
  • Driving on the “wrong” side of the road suddenly seems normal.
  • You have tried to brush off getting into the passenger side of your car thinking it was the driver’s side by putting your purse in the seat like you meant to do that in case anyone is watching you.
  • You have gone back to the states to visit and wondered why everyone was driving SOOOO fast! (Top speed limit in Okinawa is 49.71 mph/80 kph on the expressway!)
  • You have been through so many typhoons that you don’t remember their names, or when an earthquake strikes you no longer feel the need to post it to Facebook.

If you have lived overseas before, what would you add?

Overseas Adventures: Absentee Voting

 Posted by on September 6, 2012 at 07:09
Sep 062012

Overseas Adventures: Absentee Voting

Staff Blogger Melissa


It’s that time of year again! You have probably noticed that there are political ads running during every commercial spot on TV, every other story on the news is about one presidential candidate or another, and, if you live anywhere in America, you probably drive past yards filled with candidate support signs. Ahhh, yes! These are the signs of American Democracy in action and I LOVE IT!

My parents instilled in me the importance of voting at a very young age. They would always take me with them to their polling place when I was growing up because it was a learning experience…. or maybe because it was conveniently located at my school. Regardless, I remember standing behind my dad as he went into the booth and being jealous that I was too young to cast a ballot. Even as a young girl I wanted my voice to be heard, AND I wanted the “I Voted” sticker!

In school, we always held mock debates and elections before the real presidential election. It was a great teachable moment: we as individuals had the right to vote for whoever we wanted and we didn’t have to tell anyone who we voted for. What an amazing right that we sometimes take for granted. Our only responsibility during these mock elections was to research the candidate and see which one was a better fit for our future. This set the foundation on how to be a responsible voter when we came of voting age. Then in high school during the required Government class, I remember learning all about the structure of our American government system. I was fascinated as I came to understand that who we elect to put in office, no matter the position, is extremely important.

It probably comes as no surprise that I have voted in EVERY single election since I turned eighteen, even the small local elections. I even dragged myself to my polling place after a long day at work, an even longer commute, and in the pouring rain because voting is THAT important to me. No matter where the military has moved us I have always registered to vote and learned all about the local candidates so that I could make the best decisions. Since we have moved overseas in the past year, I was worried about how I would be able to vote in this year’s upcoming presidential election. After a little research, I discovered The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP). It helps overseas service members and their families exercise their right to vote while temporarily outside of the country.

The FVAP website is extremely easy to navigate. They have state guidelines and requirements, resources, and everything in between. You simply log on and go through the questionnaire to request your ballot.  When I went to request my ballot I had a few questions because I am registered to vote at our last duty station. I made sure to call because I wanted to be certain that my ballot would arrive at our overseas address and not our old address. Their customer service representative was extremely helpful and very friendly and answered all my questions. He helped me walk through the website. If I had been more patient, I would have found that my last address just helps determine my voting jurisdiction.  There is a page on the site for providing my current mailing address. My ballot should be arriving in the mail any day now!

I also took the time to visit my husband’s Federal Voting Assistance Officer and his assistant in the unit. They are there to assist service members AND families with navigating the overseas absentee ballot process. In my husband’s unit, a stop at their office is a part of his check in process so there should be no excuses for the service member. Their office encourages service members to inform their spouses of what they learned about how to vote overseas and they welcome questions from spouses. Your spouse’s unit should also have the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot Form with an attached pre-paid envelope (if mailed within the United States, APO/FPO, or Diplomatic Pouch system) if you prefer that method. If you have questions about your state or other specific questions, give FVAP a call or a visit the FAQ section on their website. Their contact us page provides international toll-free dialing information and even an option for live chat!

With the presidential election fast approaching, NOW is the time to register or request your ballot if you are stationed overseas! Take advantage of your right to vote. This is the easiest way to make your voice heard. Remember the saying:  You can’t complain if you didn’t vote. As for me, I am still holding out hope that my ballot comes with an “I Voted” sticker, because I will proudly rock it!

Overseas Adventures: How to Help Your Spouse Grieve

 Posted by on August 30, 2012 at 08:00
Aug 302012

Overseas Adventures: How to Help Your Spouse Grieve

Staff Blogger Melissa


Well, a few months ago we got a major dose of reality from the other side of the world.  It started with a phone call in the middle of our afternoon in Okinawa, which meant is was the middle of the night in America. My heart sunk, because I knew this couldn’t be a good phone call. It was my husband’s sister calling. My husband’s father had suffered a heart attack and things didn’t look good.

Anyone who has ever lived overseas understands that this type of phone call is your worst nightmare. We couldn’t just drop what we were doing and be home within a matter of hours like we wanted to. Instead, we were looking at a twenty-four-hour plane ride in addition to waiting to get all the approvals needed to leave the island. In the end, we were able to make the journey back to the states before my father-in-law passed away.

No one is ever prepared for a loved one to pass away, especially a parent. I had no idea how to support my husband emotionally during this time. The possibility of dealing with this, especially at our age, had never even entered my mind. But alas, this was our reality and I wanted to be there for my husband in every way that I could.

The days immediately surrounding a funeral are such a blur that reality doesn’t really hit until you are back in your normal routine. I learned that the days and weeks after the funeral are when grief really comes.  It was, and still is, a “learn as we go process.”  I did learn some valuable lessons these past few months that I hope will help you help your spouse deal with the passing of a loved one.

Silence is golden (at first). I was able to gauge my husband’s reaction and knew that he didn’t want to talk about his feelings right away, and he didn’t want to hear all the clichés like, “It will get better with time.” My physical presence was what he needed, not my words.

Check in.  My husband is a typical military guy:  tough exterior and seldom rattled. So his way of coping was to jump straight back into work and make life as normal as possible. I totally respect his way of dealing, but I also want to make sure he is ok. I will often “check in” with him during a quiet moment. I want to let him know that I am here if he wants to talk about anything, but I know to never force it. He will talk when he is ready and needs to.

Don’t “tip-toe”… help keep the memory alive.  In the days after my father-in-law’s death, I was hesitant to bring anything up about him or even say his name for fear that it would be upsetting.  One evening we were reminiscing about my father-in-law and sharing funny stories, and I saw how good it was for my husband. Laughter and good memories are great medicine for dealing with grief.

Offer encouragement. Now that we are back in Okinawa, I know it is hard on my husband being so far from his family. He wants to be there for them and help them grieve, too. Encourage these relationships, and offer support and help where you can.

Advocate. It is normal for the first weeks and months for your spouse to be upset. If after a few months you feel that your spouse isn’t coping with the grief well, it is time to encourage outside help. Gently, offer up the idea of attending a local support group of peers that are going through the grief process. If you feel your spouse needs more help, it might also help for him or her to speak with a professional. Know that resources are available on your installation, and if you do not know where to find them, Military OneSource can point you in the right direction. You can also call and speak with a non-medical counselor at Military OneSource by calling 1-800-342-9647. Now is the time to advocate for your spouse and make sure he or she gets the assistance needed to work through the grief process.

Unfortunately, dealing with the death of a loved one is something we all experience. It is important to remember that everyone grieves differently and no article or advice is one size fits all. Grieving is a lifetime process that does not follow someone else’s time schedule. Follow your spouse’s lead. Your heart will immediately tell you what you need to do.

All materials copyright Military OneSource, 2012. Blog content held jointly by writer and Military OneSource, with shared rights to republish with appropriate attribution.