Eating Overseas as a MilFam

Oct 24 2014

A great benefit to being a milfam is that we were able to live overseas and experience many different countries and cultures. For us, it was important to take advantage of being in a foreign country and to assimilate our kids into their cultures (Japan and Germany).

So, we put our kids in the local public schools (we lived in Bann, just outside of Landstuhl), signed them up to play sports for the village teams, and tried to visit as many festivals as we could. Little did I know that there was a term for how we were living – living those countries through the backdoor, as the travel author Rick Steves calls it (on an aside, he writes the best travel books by far: readable, affordable, and directs people to the non-touristy path).

One of the outcomes of our military life overseas was being able to eat a lot of local cuisine. We had a favorite izakaya we frequented in Okinawa (Toki’s) and a neighborhood gausthaus in Bann we went to on a weekly basis (Schneider’s). It was great to have friendly owners serving delicious, fresh, and reasonably priced food – which, I’m sorry to say, we don’t find in the U.S.

Here, if the food is fresh, the restaurant is expensive. If the restaurant is affordable, the food is frozen and reheated. One of the joys of our German gausthaus was listening to the pork cutlets being pounded in the kitchen while my beer was being poured at the prescribed time of 7 minutes for a proper beer (or so the owner’s wife told me).

horse_sushiSometimes, we did pull an Anthony Bourdain and Parts Unknown, and experienced some odd foods. In Okinawa, we had fish eyes, sea urchin, horse sushi (with a slice of lard, of course – what’s horse sushi without a good slice of lard), and chicken – chicken liver, chicken hearts, chicken raw skin, and chicken “all over” (the only way our waitress could explain what we just put in our mouths). In Germany, we had fewer exotic foods, but blood sausage made up for the lack of choices. I shudder as I write that.

As we, as Americans, would look askew at some foreign foods, I would wonder what American foods foreigners would see as strange. It seems like American food is so non-exotic that who could complain. Well, my question has been answered. The website trove.com has listed 17 “All American’ foods that disgust foreigners“.

I have to say, I do agree with some of the choices. But others…well, compared to the offerings overseas, I don’t quite see how their choices can be seen as disgusting. For instance, grits. I don’t like them, but they’re pretty tame. And American bacon? Come on – I’ve had bacon overseas and nothing comes close to our bacon. Oh, and meatloaf! I don’t think people who eat blood sausage have a leg to stand on complaining about meatloaf.

Other items include cereal, sno-cones, Hershey’s chocolate (okay, after eating chocolate across Europe, I do see where foreigners are coming from with this choice), and bread (which, after eating bread in Europe, I will concede). But bacon?! I hate to bring it up again, and I’m not a bacon-is-good-in-anything type of guy, but how can anyone not like good ole U.S. of A bacon?

Anyway, go the link and see what you think? Do you agree with any of the foreigners’ disgusts? Or, have you had some disgusting food overseas?

 

Photo credit: “Horse-meat” by IgorbergerOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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Fun Mil News Roundup

Oct 16 2014

Published by under roadside adventures

This week, how about some fun military related news:

Battle with the Koreans
Well, not physical, but with drums (playing, not throwing). Watch this video as the III Marine Expeditionary Force band battles a Korean military band. We’ll rate it a tie for diplomatic reasons.

Army leaders ARE supporting milfams
Secretary of the Army John McHugh, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler are all fighting budget and sequestration cuts. Good for them!

Can we hear the same confirmation from the other services’ leaders? Maybe they would speak at a MOAA forum. Perhaps these leaders can read this from MOAA.

MilKid singing on NBC’s The Voice
How about this Army officer’s daughter making it on The Voice! Her father is stationed at Scott Air Force Base. Seventeen years old and she sings like she’s a seasoned pro.

Air Force Milkid nominated for Grammy as Best New Artist with Top 10 Chartbuster – Throwback Thursday
Not to take anything away from Gwen, but let’s recall another famous (Air Force) milkid who was a great singer. As opposed to getting a start via national TV, Katrina Leskanich had to get earn her stripes playing in bars and O’Clubs while her Air Force officer dad was stationed in England. You might remember her band: Katrina and the Waves, and their song Walking on Sunshine. (Did I mention she was an Air Force milkid?)

One of my favorite songs and video: fun, lots of energy, and love the sneakers.

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Weighing In On Halloween

Oct 14 2014

Halloween is fast approaching. That means it’s time for the annual update on Halloween and our culture.

So, as you’re wondering what to dress as (maybe an iPhone 6 or an Energizer Bunny perhaps), consider that for a poor or recovering economy there’s a lot of money being spent on Halloween. The National Retail Federation estimates Americans will spend $2.8 billion on Halloween costumes. Here’s the breakdown:

  • file000768461509$1 billion on kids’ costumes
  • $1.4 billion on adult costumes (so much money on so little costume)
  • $350 million on pet costumes (doesn’t Fido look cute as a hot dog?)

Taking into account all Halloween spending (decor, candy, etc.), the amount goes to $7.4 billion, with the average person spending $77.52 on these items. What happened to recycling old costumes and decor?

How about how costumes reflect our culture? Well, we have kids’ costumes such as Phat Pimp Child Costume, Baby Cigarette, Major Flirt, Police Officer (not a bad idea, but why does it need to come with fishnet stockings), or Sexy Ho. All I can ask is: why? You can see these at today.com.

(When looking for a kids’ costume, I think a good rule of thumb is to avoid anything prefaced by “sexy” or “naughty” – Nurse, General, Waitress, Priest, Legislator, Kennedy, and even Ho.)

Finally: a topic I’ve seen in blogs is when is someone too old to trick or treat? Now, I do think there is an age where teens move from being cute and adorable to being seen as begging, extortionists, threatening, etc. At this point, if they want to dress up they can go to a haunted house, start handing out candy at home, chaperone little ones, or even, just a thought now so bear with me, do homework!

But, some cities are setting age limits, usually 12. Twelve does seems young. I think around the time a kid is a sophomore or junior in high school is about when he or she should start transitioning out of trick or treating. However, if they do go out at that age or older: dress up with some thought and effort.

Wearing street clothes and claiming “I’m a ho” (that happened at our door one year), or wearing a baseball hat and cap to be a ball player just doesn’t cut it at 16 or 17. I read of one parent who gives ramen noodles, shampoo samples, or teabags to these type of trick or treaters. That seems appropriate for the level of effort put out. I’d be too scared of the eggs later in the evening though.

On the other end, there should be the question of whether the kids are too young to trick or treat. A couple of rules of thumb here might be can the kid can actually say “trick or treat,” or, can the kid can actually walk up to the door?

While I’m being a curmudgeon on this, let’s also throw our a rule for parents: stop driving kids door to door to trick or treat. Or even block to block. Let the kids get some exercise. Seeing idling vans and SUVs at every other house just takes away from the spirit of the night.

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College Admissions for MilKids

Oct 09 2014

Published by under school is in session

I read where a pair of Derek Jeter’s used socks, yes used, were put on sale. Mr. Jeter retired this year after a career with the New York Yankees. So, the $2.5 billion New York Yankees apparently need a few more bucks for their coffee fund because they are selling 19 pairs of the used socks at $409.99 each.

I don’t know what is worse: the Yankees getting every last drop of blood out of their fans (they possibly could have given these to a charity and let the charity sell the socks); or, the people who will put up $409.99 for a pair of used socks (by the way, what survey showed the Yanks that a $410 price point would drive away buyers).

So, along the lines of purchases to consider, let’s tie in the topic of college prepping and college searches for milkids. As readers know from past columns, and your own personal experience, getting your milkid set up to apply for and get into colleges is a lot of work. One route to take is to do your own leg work (which I can tell you is very tiring): you research the web; talk to parents whose kids have been through the process; read columns on the topic; talk to school counselors; etc.

Another option for parents though is to work with a college counselor. These counselors work with families to help them navigate the college application and admission process. And, depending when you start with the counselor (9th grade, 10th grade, etc.), he or she can help you in a numbers of ways: developing the right academic plan for your milkid; charting activities and volunteer work; riting the write essay (did you catch that?); finding the right college fit for your milkid; prepping for the SAT and ACT; filling out the required financial forms like FAFSA to determine the parent’s expected family contribution (known as the EFC – yes, there is excessive acronym usage outside of the military); and many other areas.

Heck, there’s even one counselor who will guarantee your kid a spot at an Ivy or Top 100 school – for a price. He’s charging $600,000 to get your child into an Ivy of their choice (money back guarantee). Read about him here. It’s an interesting article.

But counselors should be certified (organizations such as NACAC, OACAC, or IECA – what did I tell you about the acronym usage). And they charge varying prices obviously. But be careful if they start offering financial advice, such as stashing assets into an annuity to shelter assets from the school’s financial review (I’m not referring to college savings programs, such as 529s).

Since we’re part of the millife, there is a milspouse who provides college counseling, and focusses on milfams (so she would understand the unique qualities a millife that can be an asset for milkid applying to colleges). That’s a lot of milwords, isn’t it?

Her name is Kerri Beckert, and she is an Army spouse (isn’t that cool?). She has posted on here and at the MOAA Spouse page before. Her company is called Anchor Collegiate and you can visit her website to see the extent of services college counselors offer.

Sometimes I wish I had employed this strategy, because there is a lot to the college admission process, and I’m sure I’m missing something. Right now, I’m trying to help my oldest finish up his essay detailing his journey from Okinawa, to Germany, to RVing for 18 months, to now, as he faces his college choice. And I am tired.

Also, help in getting into a good college is more important now than when I was looking (and wondering which school had the best kegs – aka, beer party). In the current economy, with so many grads un- or under-employed, the contacts one makes at a chosen college and the reputation of that college can be a big help to a milkid in his or her career.

Wow, I actually covered two pertinent topics: milkids and college admission AND milspouses keeping a career while on the move.

Time for lunch then. Please post any questions or college admission tips below!

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Milkids & High School Senior Year Prep for College Applications

Oct 06 2014

Published by under school is in session

studentsFor those of you with seniors in high school, it is a busy time trying to sort out the college search and application process. So, I am continuing my topic of milkids and the college search with some tips on what you and the student should be doing at this stage in preparation for college applications:

Applications
These should be being worked on. And, the final list of schools to apply to should be completed. The list should have some schools that are a reach, some safe bets, and some that are hopefuls but not a complete stretch for admission.

And, are any of the schools going to be an early decision (if the milkid is accepted by the school, he or she accepts the offer)? What is the deadline for that? Actually, it is a good idea to make a list of all schools and all deadlines.

Scholarships
Treat this like a part-time job and keep searching. Websites such as fastweb.com are great places to search. Also, look for local scholarships (clubs such as Rotary, Lion’s, VFW, Spouses’ Clubs, etc.)

Common App
This should be completed. If your student is stuck on what to include in the various sections (i.e. Additional Information, Honors, Activities, etc.), then Google the questions – it is easy to find resources on the web.

Double check the list of schools to see if any require completing their own app.

Essays
There will be one for the Common App – it should have been started and revisions being worked on  (even pass it by the milkid’s teacher or counselor for a review). Then let the people who are writing Letters of Recommendation have a copy so that their letter will be more complete.

As for essay content, milkids should think back about the millife experiences they had that will demonstrate dealing with adversity and adjustment. Milkids have great backstories for schools to know about.

Check the schools being applied to and see if they require supplemental apps.

Letters of Recommendation
Who will be approached? Get the request to them – the more time they have to complete the letter, the better.

Finally, keep a timeline and a file of the schools, deadlines, requirements, etc. It will help the process.

If anyone has additional tips, please share them.  Getting our milkid into college is a tough job, but if we can help each other then all the better!

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TRICARE for Milkids

Sep 26 2014

Published by under the logistics train

I read an article in the Military Times titled “Tricare ‘meeting the needs’ of children, with some caveats.” It is an interesting article, although the title is a bit misleading. As the article starts out: “A recent Defense Department report finds that the military health system is meeting the needs of its youngest beneficiaries…” and, later:

“[The military health system] is meeting the needs of the children in its care, including those with special needs,” wrote members of the DoD working group that compiled the report. “The data confirm that the MHS provides comprehensive and high-quality health benefit programs for all children.”

doctor_visitHowever, the group behind the study did identify “several issues — including DoD’s lack of a centralized health data system — that make it difficult to draw direct, complete comparisons between care across the services or in military hospitals or clinics versus private care.”

I don’t know what the caveats are other than the lack of a centralized health data system. I would be curious to know. Obviously, the centralized system would be nice, but it seems normal that the services would only have a data system for their own members.

Now, this could lead to another caveat – have the medical services under one roof to improve service. Then there would be one data system, as well as a lot of money saved through such things as one surgeon general, one surgeon general’s staff, etc. I don’t know why Congress doesn’t focus on this option when discussing the budget as opposed to finding ways to have servicemembers shoulder the crisis through caps on raises or cutting back the retirement program.

Back to the military health care system and milkids; personally, we have had great experiences – from Japan, to D.C., to Germany. Currently, all of our kids see providers at the Air Force Academy clinic and our positive experiences continue. I like the mil system for a number of reasons: appointments are easily made; the TRICARE appointment reps are very friendly and helpful; the providers are very good; appointments run on a timely basis; all of the records are online; and, needed referrals (x-rays, pharmacy, etc.) are steps away from the provider’s office. Oh, and we never feel rushed at appointments.

I contrast this with my medical appointments off-base and the appointments I take my 92 year-old dad to once a month or so. Too many times the provider rushes through the appointment. And, after filling out 3 to 4 pages of information (most of it repeated on each page, and don’t get me started on the outdated requests for full social security numbers – I try to tell them that TRICARE is more advanced than their office is but the staffs don’t listen), we typically have 15 to 30 minute waiting times.

But the off-base providers sometimes sneak around this wait time – they call you in for vitals at the appointed time, making you think things are progressing – however you then sit on the treatment table for the usual wait time (why is this called a “table” by the way?) with a stack of out of date magazines from a publisher who writes about their advertisers.

Anyway, what are your experiences? We’d like to hear. MOAA Spouse is asking at their Facebook page. So go vent or compliment.

And, while at their page, you can post a question about why are they showing an adult military sniper at a Facebook post on care for kids. Maybe the guy is a bad shot and he is hunting with his kids. But he doesn’t look like Dick Cheney.

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Helicopters, Milkids, and Parents

Sep 18 2014

Published by under lessons learned

I like to read news on the Internet. My Facebook page is set up to “like” a few periodicals. And I also have my home page set to Google News with some preselected news topics that give me the latest info on those topics (I still try to keep up with Okinawan issues, even though it makes me long to go back there).

Based on recent trends (for whatever reason), I’ve been seeing a few articles on helicopter parents. I agree with the concern, especially when I hear stories from other faculty about the moms of college kids calling the teacher to inquire about junior’s poor grade on his last paper. (I’m sure the mom took it personally since she probably wrote it: “Why was I graded, I mean why was junior graded so poorly?”)

However, I think the term is applied too broadly. In some cases, experts say things like “leave your kids alone during homework.” However, I have read, and believe, that having kids do well in school means taking an interest in their homework and schoolwork. This doesn’t mean actually doing the homework, of course. But, there are benefits in helping one’s kids study for a test, in looking over homework they struggle with, or asking about what they are studying. And, with schools posting grades on the school websites, it helps to keep track of grade trends before they get too far on the downward slope (and that is the only way I hear about grades anyway – my kids don’t share this info).

So, I’m going to keep helping my kids with their homework. I might also politely email a teacher about progress. But I won’t be doing what I see as true helicoptering around my kids’ school efforts. What does that encompass, you ask? Well, I’ll end here and provide you a link to a Top 5 of Helicopter Parent Stories. These are really funny!

Do you have a parenting tip or helicopter example to share?

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Still at War But Congress Sends Other Message with Proposed 1% Raise Cap

Sep 05 2014

Published by under military matters

I was browsing the MOAA Spouse Facebook page and came across a link to MOAA president Vice Adm. Norb Ryan’s column on the proposed 1% pay raise for our military.  Just like the proposed retirement changes, this pay cap has repercussions beyond solving budget troubles.

The 1% cap is .8% below the growth of the private sector, which the military raises are supposed to be tied to.  Yet, this is the second year in a row that we could see the 1% cap. This is not good for retention. The powers that be seem to think that the military members are happy and content with whatever Congress gives them – that members don’t worry about raises or promised retirement programs. What’s going to happen is Congress will find out they do care when they need the military at some point and find out they’re short of being ready.

And, Vice Adm. Ryan brings up a really good point about what this cap says to our military members. We have operations going on in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq (again), and other places. As Ryan says: “This is an extremely poor message to send to our men and women in uniform who are sacrificing the most for the remaining 99 percent of Americans.”

It would be one thing if the cap was proposed in peacetime, but we have men and women on the front lines.  And more likely to join them. Doesn’t Congress see the effect on morale here? With this cap, along with the talk of a lesser retirement program, the closing of commissaries, etc., at some point the members will get tired of the lack of appreciation and get out when their time is up. Then retention and readiness will become a big issue.

There are other ways to solve the budget without putting the brunt of the actions on the shoulders of those serving and who have served – and who will be serving.

Do you have a thought on this? Post it below or go to the MOAA Spouse Facebook page and get involved in the discussion.

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Back to School Days

Aug 28 2014

Published by under school is in session

Well, that time is upon us – the kids are getting ready for back to school. This year we have a 7th, 10th, and 12th grader.  The whole scenario of getting the kids ready made me think fondly of when I was their ages and my mom was getting me prepared for back to school. I sat there, thinking of similar moments for me – then I realized that there weren’t any. And it struck me too that we’ve hit another cultural transition from when our kids went to German public schools because American school is a lot different. Let’s take a look at a couple of things:

lockerLockers as a Budgeting Lesson?

Unlike when I went to school, or when our kids went to school in Germany, where you showed up on the first day, we were able to take Sam’s books to school a couple of days early and put them in his locker. Great, good change – I like that schools offer this opportunity. However, the next surprise was the locker decoration! Sam was easy, all he had were a couple of magnets to put on the inside of his locker door. But others! Oh my word – some girls and moms appeared to be decorating their college dorm room – wallpaper, stickers, fancy shelving, photos.

As an example of how far this trend has come, stores now sell back to school locker decorating supplies: tiny rugs, disco balls (I hope these come with little disco dancers in white suits for display), chandeliers, and curtains.

Some people are spending over $100 to decorate little Suzy’s locker. And if you are wondering if it is the girls who are the market for this, go to the website LockerLookz (what is it with “z” as designating plural?) and tell me this trend isn’t marketed to girls. And LockerLookz slogan is: “Your locker. Your look.” “Now Available…Our 2014 Collection” – please, someone stop this madness!

Finally, you know it’s bad when you see articles on teaching kids about budgeting and it includes spending on locker decorations as an item to discuss.

Where is my Fonz Lunch box?

I recall lunch boxes and paper sacks. Sandwiches were PB&J or egg salad with Miracle Whip (I put my foot down on the egg salad though when a popular girl incredulously asked “what is that smell” when she walked by the closet with my lunch sack in it).

In Germany, it was just as simple as when I was a kid – paper sacks, and give the kids a euro for a stop at the bakery on the walk to school to pick up a snack (we won’t touch on them being able to walk to school).

Now it is bento boxes or monogrammed thermal lunch boxes and water bottles. And an allergy and health alert asking not to bring certain foods. Could the schools just require Whole Foods as a sole supplier of food?

Speaking of health, my kids’ middle school used to have donut day – kids in senate would walk around the classrooms selling donuts for a dollar. I found out it was cancelled because of health safety violations. I don’t know if safety refers to middle school kids handling food with bare hands; or if health refers to the sugar and chocolate products that were being sold (probably both).

The donuts were nothing compared to what the school kids in Germany buy at the bakeries on their way to school – both for the sweetness content and the 2 or 3 little bees flying around the food for sale.

Finally, I could go into school supplies, but talking about a list that ran more pages than the syllabus I hand to my college students is too much to tackle at the moment. Instead, I think I’ll finish this up, go put on some Bee Gees and make myself an egg salad sandwich with Miracle Whip (and not worry about the popular girl being annoyed with a troubling smell).

For a humorous comparison of going back to school today versus the 70s, go read this.

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More Attacks on Military Benefits

Aug 14 2014

Published by under the logistics train

It’s happening again – more arguments against military benefits to save money instead of looking at spending waste or spending decisions. Adm. Norb Ryan, CEO of MOAA, addressed this in a letter to the Washington Post in response to Walter Pincus’s column “Time to look at military personnel costs“.

Adm Ryan makes a strong counter that “those in uniform are not the problem,” and that there shouldn’t be a trade off between buying an F-16 squadron and continuing the promised benefits to military members (which is what Mr. Pincus claims). As Adm. Ryan states, this is a false choice. These benefits are part of the promises made to our military. These promises led to people agreeing to be deployed, move every couple of years, etc., in return for benefits that were different from civilian jobs that offered safety and stability.

But Mr. Pincus wants the 1% bump for retirees eliminated, along with implementing higher TRICARE fees and revamping the “ancient” retirement program so that it reflects “private industry” (why not the government’s civilian program I wonder) and doesn’t start at 20 years. Because, if we don’t do these things, we’ll be losing a squadron of F16s, or not adding troops, or not sending a fleet to the Mediterranean for 2 months.

I would like to end with the thought that if these changes are made, particularly to the retirement program, we’re not going to have enough pilots to fly those F-16s that are purchased or recruit those extra troops Mr. Pincus talks about.

F-16

An airman from the 113th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron prepares an F-16 Fighting Falcon for flight, April 3, 2012, at Joint Base Andrews, Md. The 113th Wing provides air sovereignty forces to defend the nation’s capital, and also provides fighter, airlift and support forces capable of local, national and global employment. Photo courtesy of DVIDS.

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