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Parking Ticket & Missing Licence Plates

March 19, 2014

veterans licence plateIn 2005, we moved from Quebec City to Toronto. My husband decided to get semi-custom “veterans” licence plates for our vehicle. When we moved to Montreal in 2006, we registered the vehicle in Quebec. The veterans licence plates were still registered to us but “unattached” to a vehicle. We figured we would use them when we moved back to Ontario.

In 2009, we returned to Ontario. Because my husband was in Afghanistan at the time, I had to register our vehicle in my name. Because I am not a veteran, I could not use the veterans licence plates. However, we kept them because we figured with 2 teenagers, sooner or later we’d need a second car. However, we did not purchase a second car and in 2013 we sold the one car we did have, and moved to England.

Fast-forward to March 2014. We received a letter from the City of Belleville stating that we had not paid a parking violation on February 6, 2014. Since we were not in Belleville on February 6, we assumed it was a clerical error.

I called (phone via Skype) the City of Belleville and spoke to a very nice woman. After I explained that we were a military family who had moved to England in July of 2013, she cancelled the traffic ticket. She also commented that it was a veterans licence plate that had the parking violation so she figured it was a military family.

That was when I started to panic! I looked through several bins in our storage area and I COULD NOT FIND THE LICENCE PLATES!! I called the Ontario Provincial Police (Quinte West Detachment) to report the licence plates as stolen or missing. They provided me with a report number to give to the Ontario Ministry of Transport.

I phoned (thank goodness for Skype) the Ministry of Transport and they sent an email with the documentation to make a report for the missing licence plates. The report has been sent to the Ministry and they have confirmed that they have received it.

Learn from my experience:

  • Always return licence plates to the province of origin by registered mail so they are guaranteed to arrive. Keep the documentation until you’re sure the Ministry of Transport has received them.
  • If you do decide to keep old licence plates, be sure to keep them in a safe place such as a locked filing cabinet.
  • If licence plates go “missing”, report them “lost or stolen” to the police at the address they were last seen or to the provincial police in the province to which they belong as well as that province’s Ministry of Transport. For example, if we had Quebec licence plates that went missing from our Ontario address, we would report to the Quebec police as well as the SAAQ (Société d’assurance d’automobile de Québec).
  • If you ever find licence plates, DO NOT USE THEM!!! Return them to the Ministry of Transport or the provincial police.

And to the person/people driving around with our old licence plates:
The police are looking for you!!!

Retirement Postings & Mr. Leslie

February 17, 2014
retirement on beach

Photo Credit: Kym McLeod

The military likes to post soon-to-be-retired members in the area in which they wish to retire. This allows the member to become settled in his/her new neighbourhood. However, not all military members can be posted to their preferred place of retirement. For example, a naval engineer may wish to retire near his/her adult children in Saskatoon. There are no jobs for a naval engineer in Saskatoon. Therefore, his/her final posting may be to Victoria then on retirement, the military would pay for his/her retirement move to Saskatoon.

Our family is not yet at the retirement stage yet but we have discussed in what city/town we would like to retire.

During our final posting we would make the decision on whether or not we would stay in that city, in that neighbourhood, or whether we would make our final home somewhere else. Factors to consider in our retirement will include:

  • Employment: Will either of us choose second careers? If so, what and where?
  • Children: Where will our kids be attending school? Where will they settle down?
  • Extended Family: Will we need to be care-givers to our parents or other relatives?
  • Travel: Do we need to be near airports/train lines to meet family or other obligations? Will we become world travellers?
  • Finances: What can we afford in terms of housing? What is the cost of living in the area we wish to retire? Could we easily resell our house if we decided to move?
  • Leisure: Does the area we wish to retire offer leisure activities to suit us?
  • Health: Does the area have sufficient health services for our needs as we age?
  • Aging: Does the area have sufficient long-term care facilities should we require that?
  • Culture: Can we create a community of friends, colleagues in our new area? Will we be accepted there?

The media is all up in arms right now because LGen.(ret’d) Leslie moved within the same city on his retirement posting. I’ve met Mr. Leslie briefly a couple of times at military functions. He is a smart, level-headed guy. I’m sure that he and his family discussed all of the points above (and maybe more) prior to their decision to stay in Ottawa. Why would they move within the same city? Mr. Leslie states they were moving to a small home which is eminently reasonable. Many people downsize on retirement. As well, he would no longer need an (almost) entire room in his home to store his military gear. (Yes, it really does take up that much space!)

Mr. Leslie was ENTITLED to this move. Just as all military members are entitled to their retirement moves. After going through 8 military moves myself, I can assure readers that it is almost impossible to cheat the system. In some ways it is difficult to even know what benefits you are entitled to claim! It is almost impossible for the member to know how much was actually spent on the move. In the 8 moves we’ve done, I have no idea how much was paid out to the moving companies that packed, loaded and transported our HG&E.

I will tell this to all my readers: If you think the system of moving military members is broken, the best person to fix it is someone who has LIVED IT.

Note to Mr. Leslie:
In 2011 the military moved us a total distance of 3km, from one PMQ to another. It was a full-service move for our family of four and 5000kg of HG&E. The media didn’t seem to care what it cost…but then again we’re not in politics.

Home Inventory – Today’s Necessity

February 8, 2014

Last year at this time we received our screening message to be posted to the UK. If I’d known then, what I know now, I would have started my home inventory as soon as the screening message arrived. If you have received a screening message for an OUTCAN posting in 2014 – START YOUR HOME INVENTORY NOW. Please learn from my mistakes!

Why do I have to do a home inventory?

If you’re going OUTCAN, you are required to provide a detailed inventory of the furniture and household goods you are bringing into the host country as well as the fair market value of the goods.

What if I’m not going on an OUTCAN posting?

Do a complete household inventory anyway. It is useful to determine the amount of insurance you need as well as provide details to your insurance company should something awful happen (theft, fire, moving truck crash, etc.)

Do I need to do an inventory of things I am leaving in storage?

YES! You should have a complete detailed list, with photographs, of everything that you leave in storage in Canada. You should retain a copy of the list and leave the list with someone you trust in Canada. Many items go “missing” from storage lockers. Your inventory will allow you to make claims on your insurance more easily.

Additionally, you will be able to refer back to the list of your items in storage to help you remember what you own and you don’t inadvertently buy another of the same thing.

How do I do a home inventory?

There are many different types of software applications that can help you do a detailed inventory, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

These include:

Do I need to do buy one of these programs to do a detailed inventory for my OUTCAN posting?

Not really. You can use a simple Excel spreadsheet (download here .xls). Many of the programs listed above will export the required information and these programs will also allow you to store photos with the description of the item. The spreadsheet will not allow you to do that. It all depends on how much time you’ve got to do the inventory and how detailed you want to be.

I don’t remember how much I paid for items and some were gifts. How do I find the fair market value?

The value can be determined by finding the equivalent item online. For example, if you bought a shelving unit from Canadian Tire, look on their website to see what the cost would be for that model. If they do not have that model available, quote the price for an equivalent model. Please note that you CANNOT artificially inflate the value of what you own. Other places to look for equivalent pricing are kijji and ebay.

What about my valuables? Do I list them?

You must list all items, including high value items on your home inventory. The moving company will advise how to pack them. High value artwork, (paintings, sculptures, etc.) will be specially packed and labelled by the moving company. Some items such as jewellery, you should carry with you. If high value items have serial numbers, record them in a safe place. You should include serial numbers in the  “Item Description” field on the spreadsheet.

What do I do with the list once completed?

Your HG&E will not leave the country until you have provided a copy of the list to Base Traffic/Movements section along with copies of your passports and visas. You will also need to have a paper copy with you when you arrive at customs of the host country. If you’re flying to your destination, make sure a copy is in your carry-on luggage. To be safe, we also kept an electronic copy in the “cloud” so that if we were separated from our suitcases for any reason, we could still access a copy and have it printed.

Now that I’ve arrived in my host country and unpacked I can get rid of the inventory, right?

NOOOOOOO!! As long as you have an accessible, working electronic copy of the inventory you can shred any paper copies. You will need to prepare another complete inventory prior to coming home. Keep the electronic copy as a starting point for your inventory to return to Canada.

The Lemon Juice Dilemma

December 14, 2013

bottle lemon juice In Canada I always had a bottle lemon juice in the fridge. My favourite was the 75omL (25oz) bottle of ReaLemon lemon juice. I use lemon juice for making sauces for fish and chicken, making salad dressing, lemonade and iced tea. Some people say that bottled lemon juice isn’t as good as freshly squeezed juice but I don’t notice a difference.

When we arrived in England and I did my first trip to the grocery store to stock the fridge, I wanted to buy a bottle of lemon juice. I couldn’t find any. I looked in the juice aisle figuring that, since it was juice, made from a fruit, it might be there. It was not. I looked in the condiments aisle figuring that since people put it on their “fish & chips” it would be with the ketchup and mustard. It was not there either. So I gave up looking and bought fresh lemons.

Then, lo and behold, the other day while shopping for ready-made cake icing, I found the bottled lemon juice – in the BAKERY section. Because everybody knows the reason you use bottled lemon juice is to make lemon cake.

I bought the largest bottle they had, 250mL (8oz).

Weird Things in England

December 13, 2013

Screens
The windows have no screens. Bugs fly in. They have mosquitoes here but they’re pretty lame-ass compared to the bird-sized, blood-sucking mosquitoes in Canada.

Plumbing
The water pipes are all outside, attached to the house – incoming & outgoing water. Toilets & bathtubs empty into sewers that are underground.

This photo looks into our laundry room.

view into laundry room

View into Laundry Room

The white pipe is the drain from my washing machine & laundry tub. It empties into the same drain as the downspout from the roof. The blackish steel pipe above that is the water main coming into our house.

It’s no wonder that when the temperature drops below zero they all freak out. Nothing is designed for below freezing.

Wild Life

  • They don’t have any skunks here. The closest relative to a skunk is a badger. Badgers are ALL OVER the place and they spread tuberculosis to cattle. A lot of cattle farmers want the badger cull to proceed. Animal rights activists don’t. The two groups argue a a lot.
  • They have @$$h01€ squirrels here. Magpies, pigeons & mourning doves are aplenty and I consider them avian squirrels to be equally hated.
  • Hedgehogs end up as roadkill which is sad because they are really quite cute.
  • England has 3 species of snakes and one of them is venomous (adder).
  • Rabies is almost non-existent.

Berries
Raspberries and blackberries grow all over the place in our area and the season is rather long. We picked berries from August until almost October.

Day-to-Day Life in England

December 8, 2013

Here’s what day-to-day life is like in England.

Environment

The days are very short. Sunrise is about 8:00 and sunset is around 16:00. Most of the time it is cloudy. It rains. Everything is damp. As for winter, there is none. The weather is still similar to the beginning of October. There is frost at night. Most of the trees still have their leaves. I might have to cut my lawn before the Christmas holidays. I’m having a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit without the cold and snow.

On the plus side, I can ride my bike most days. I haven’t had to wear any winter clothes yet nor have I had to shovel the driveway.

I didn’t realize what important “triggers” I used to predict the seasons. Geese and ducks. Flocks of them in typical V formation flying south. They don’t have that here. I miss that.

toyota_versa

Our Toyota Versa

Transportation

We bought a small car, a Toyota Versa, when we arrived. They don’t even have this model in North America. It is quite low to the ground and I don’t think it would get through the snow in Canadian winters. It is fuel-efficient and gets about 5L/100km in the city (46 miles per US gallon). Gas (petrol) costs about £1.30/litre which works out to about $2.10 CDN/L or about $8.00USD/gallon. Because the weather is so nice here, we ride our bikes almost all the time. It’s a pain to find parking (and expensive) and there is limited traffic on bicycles compared to cars. Also, because we have a left-hand drive car, I’m pretty much useless at trying to parallel park in these tiny car park spaces.

Families

Most British military families send their children to boarding school as soon as they get to the Jr. High level. This allows them to have a consistent education as well as minimize stress in changing schools with every military move. Consequently our children are the only teens in our neighbourhood. This is a benefit because they are also the only babysitters in the neighbourhood and they are both booked almost every weekend!

Communication

Everybody has a cell phone or as they call them here, mobile phone. Why? Because phone plans are dirt-cheap compared to Canada. With an unlocked phone you can get a pay-as-you-go plan from £15/month (about $25CDN). That includes 3000 texts, 300 talk minutes and UNLIMITED data – yes UNLIMITED!

I get text messages from courier companies telling me the delivery time for my parcels, I get text messages from the school to remind me to support my children in an upcoming test or project. Many businesses are on Facebook and Twitter. Actually even the UK military housing agency has a Twitter account.

Economics

Most payments are direct debit, credit card or cash. Cheques will be phased out in Britain in 2018. Our bank (HSBC) didn’t even offer us cheques with our account because they are so seldom used. Most billing is electronic even at “in-person” stores. You can opt to have the receipt for payment sent directly to your email account.

The sales tax, called the VAT (value added tax) is 20%. As foreign military, we are allowed to claim back a portion of the VAT we paid on certain goods so we need to save all of our receipts and prepare a report every quarter.

Groceries

inside of fridge

Inside Our Fridge

I order my groceries online and they come directly to my house. It is wonderful. The store has nutritional details about each product on the website so I can make informed choices. The personal shoppers do a good job of picking top quality produce and I haven’t had any problems with rotting veggies showing up at the door.

If products I purchased are not available, they will substitute similar products and I will be charged the lower price. So far, they’ve only brought a few things that I don’t like including a “leek soup mix” instead of “vegetable soup mix” and they substituted Blue Cheese for Camembert. If I don’t like the substitutions the drive will take them back and reverse the charges. They have brought a few things that we really do like too. The “dessert pears” are very good as are the satsumas. We’ve also tried every brand of Brie they sell and we have decided on our favourite.

The funniest thing of all is the package sizes. The largest bag of flour I can buy is 1.5kg (about 3 lbs). Margarine, yoghurt, sugar, and cereal…they all come in small packages. It is a good thing they do because refrigerators are very small here compared to back home. This means I have to shop more often but that’s okay because I have it delivered!!

FYI: Dairy products are less expensive in England than in Canada (relatively speaking) but meat is a little more expensive. With fruits and vegetables the price depends on the season so it is hard to compare.

Overall

I am totally enjoying the experience of living in a new country!

Remembrance Day 2013

November 11, 2013
British & Canadian Poppies, French Cornflower

British & Canadian Poppies, French Cornflower

This is my first post in ages and it falls at the close of a very important day: Remembrance Day.

This is my first Remembrance Day outside of Canada. It was thrilling to see everyone in England wearing poppies. With my husband being in an international unit I learned that not all nations commemorate by wearing red poppies. The French celebrate by wear le Bleuet de France (Cornflower).

I also learned that the Dutch celebrate their Remembrance Day (Dodenherdenking) on May 4th, the day that the Canadian, Polish and French liberated Netherlands from the occupation in World War II. It is thanks to the Netherlands that Ottawa enjoys such a lovely tulip festival in the spring.

I had to go shopping this morning so I set the alarm on my phone to alert me to take 2 minutes of silence at 11h00. I happened to be in a department store when the alarm sounded. At that moment, a voice came over the loud speaker to announce that all store staff would be observing 2 minutes of silence and the tills would be closed during that time. NO ONE in the store moved. No one spoke. Not staff, not customers. All you could hear was the escalator running.

Two minutes. Once a year. It never seems like it’s enough.

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