Originally posted on TriVienna:
Before the second week of July. Because that’s when we pack out!
Every time we move, we end up tossing a really embarrassing amount of food. It really bothers me. I mean really, you would think since we know months in advance when we are leaving, that we could clean out the cupboards a little better. I’ve done this, what, a dozen times by now?
So today, while a carrot cake was in the oven (walnuts, check), I did a little inventory of the kitchen. Looks like we have some creative cookery ahead of us in the next few weeks, because I am determined to use at least most of this stuff!
Here’s the thing: I was always kind of a stock-up shopper to begin with. Add the
insane high prices in Vienna, and a little Amazon Prime, and all of a sudden we have six-packs of everything that isn’t liquid or perishable lying around.
I take the blame for the baking ingredients. I may have a slight King Arthur Flour addiction.
And here’s another thing: my husband likes to cook. And shop for groceries. And he’s what you might call an impulse buyer. Which is how we ended up with seven different kids of curry mixes and pastes.
Oh, and my daughter has been living with us, and she likes to cook Asian food. So, we have all these Oriental spices and sauces that she needed two teaspoons of for one recipe six months ago.
On the positive side, I did find a bottle of maple syrup and three bags of pancake mix. I think we can take care of that, no problem.
If you know me personally, or even if you follow this blog, you know that I have been ranting about getting information online for family members pretty much ever since the Internet was invented. (I won’t repeat my latest monologue, but you can read it here if you are in the mood.)
It is now 2014, which makes it even more ridiculous than it was in 2013 that I can’t join a Facebook group or log into a community website at our next post! Never mind while bidding. Sigh.
So, together with my partner in crime here in Vienna, Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel, I’ve written up a manual for getting a post online, quickly, easily, and for free. More information here (and many thanks to AAFSW for sponsoring our project).
Download it. Read it. Put up a free website or just start a Facebook group.
Seriously, just do it. Before we all die of old age.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I had been asked to talk at a CLO coffee about freelancing. I made up a list of resources for that event before it was cancelled. Here it is, with some bloggy commentary, of course!
When I first started working from home, I had physical file folders with client information, and I backed up my digital information on a portable hard drive. Over the years, I have gradually moved everything to digital format. The few items that I still receive on paper are instantly scanned and tossed. I do all my editing onscreen (though I find it does help to print a final draft to catch the last few typos).
With the exception of a small bookshelf with a few software manuals and editing aids, everything is now on my computer and in the cloud. I always hated filing. Always. I love my tidy physical work space and would never go back to messy stacks of paper. Especially at packout time!
www.paypal.com > Request Money > Send Invoice
You can receive payment by PayPal or request a check and just use PayPal to track payments.
I do it this way in order to avoid the PayPal processing fee. However, in the past, I had several clients who preferred to pay me by credit card. PayPal made that a lot easier. I felt it was worth paying the fee in order to receive payments promptly, especially given the time factor involved in mailing checks back and forth from a pouch-only post!
A free time-tracking website. Download a desktop widget and track time spent on various projects or billed to different clients. There is an upgrade version available with more features.
I am on salary now, and don’t actually have to track my time. But I like to do it anyway. I find that it helps me organize my time more efficiently. It will also be nice to have a report on how much time I spend on the job if my employer ever asks for it, or if I move on and we need to hire a replacement.
I use both of these for work. On the calendar, I set deadlines, color-code them so they stand out from my personal calendar (I could have a separate work calendar but my life is just not that complicated right now) and set email reminders to myself.
On the flip side, you can get a Gadget (Settings > Labs) for Gmail that lets you create a calendar event out of any email. I use that feature more for personal events than for business. If my job involved a lot of meetings, however, that Gadget would be extremely handy.
I use Tasks as more of a daily to-do list. I really don’t like using email as an organizational system! If I have a bunch of work emails piled up, I’ll sift through them, add items to the Task list, and then systematically check them off and delete the related emails as I complete them. Since I am in charge of adding and removing events on our website, when I post a new event, I frequently add a Task reminding myself to take it down after it has occurred.
Side benefit: it is very satisfying to check off Tasks! And if I look at Completed Tasks, I have a record of which dates items were completed.
Google Drive (AKA Google Docs)
Free online document/spreadsheet creation and cloud storage. Use with Google Sync to keep work files backed up and accessible from any computer.
I also use Google Drive to collaborate on projects by sharing them with other users online. For example, on a recent writing project, I kept notes on a shared doc with my co-editor. It was much better than a bunch of emails flying around.
Organizational and cloud storage utility. Very handy for the digital office. Keep notes on projects and clients and access them from any device (PC, laptop, cell phone, etc.)
I actually use Evernote more for personal reasons (recipes, knitting patterns, genealogy notes, etc.) than for work. I prefer the Google Drive interface for organizing content for monthly newsletters. Folders make more visual sense to me for that purpose than Evernote’s “notebooks” do. But depending on the type of work you are doing, Evernote could be more suitable.
WordPress is free blogging service with very professional looking templates so you easily create a business home page.
I do not have a business home page at the moment, but if I did, I would definitely use WordPress to create it. It has a slightly steeper learning curve than more basic services such as Blogger, but you can create professional-looking sites very easily once you get the hang of it. And it’s fun! I like it so much I co-wrote a guide to creating community sites with WordPress. Download it here and use it to get started developing a business home page for yourself.
Family Liaison Office (FLO) Home-Based Business Guide
This booklet answers all the question you may have about operating a business at an overseas post and/or out of your embassy housing.
IRS Self-Employment Tax Center
IRS Foreign Earned Income Exclusion Information
The tax situation as far as freelancing while overseas is not actually that complicated. We are able to file our own taxes without an accountant. The main thing to remember is that it does not matter whether or not your employer is in the U.S. What matters is where you perform the work. And, you must be physically overseas for 330 out of 365 days during the tax year. Just let TurboTax walk you through it, and you’ll be OK, I promise
Resources and Groups
I do not have much to offer when it comes to soliciting new clients. I acquired nearly all my clients through word of mouth, primarily in the Foreign Service community. But if you can recommend a website for advertising freelance services, please feel to add it in the comments!
AAFSW’s Articles and Advice section on Working and Volunteering Overseas
Includes several articles on home businesses, freelancing, and telecommuting.
EFM Business Owners on Facebook
Closed Foreign Service community Facebook group for sharing information and ideas about freelancing and telecommuting of all kinds. Click “Join Group” and message one of the group admins telling them your affiliation with the U.S. Foreign Service.
That’s what I have to offer! Self-employment has been a good solution for me over the years. I always like to encourage other Foreign Service family members to at least consider the option. As you can see, with all the free tools available, it does not have to cost much to get started.
For my community website.
Originally posted on TriVienna:
On this cold, gray, drizzly winter day, I visited the Westlicht “Showplace for Photography” in Josefstadt. What a cool little museum!
The exhibits, all of which are labeled in English as well as German, are about 1/3 devoted to the history of photography. There are several cases with interesting old cameras, and a few newer ones designed to be used in space, for example. I liked the spy cameras best.
A couple of weeks ago I was asked by our CLO to give a talk on freelancing/telecommuting while overseas. I thought about the topic and made up a short list of useful tools to print out and hand around. Then the talk was cancelled. Oh well. It did get me thinking about the pros and cons of my work situation.
First, some background. I work part time as content manager for a non-profit organization. I’ve been doing this job (or variations on it) for several years.
Before that, I was a website designer in a small way. I pretty much fell into that. I got started messing around with a personal website on Geocities in the late 90s. A friend saw it and asked if I would like to manage her organization’s website. So, I thought, why not? And learned on the job.
In those pre-WordPress days, there was a steeper learning curve to producing a website. So, people were happy to pay me to do it for them. Pretty good money, all considered. But I never really liked it, and as websites got to be more and more complicated, I liked it less and less. Too much time fiddling with code, not enough fun making things pretty!
In the year preceding our move to Vienna, I politely let most of my clients go, and continued to work as content manager for the most reliable and profitable one, with the help of a new (and much more skilled) webmaster. But I still like to keep my hand in, playing around with three blogs of my own (this one and two family history sites) and co-developing TriVienna.
Before my website design days, I edited newsletters at three overseas posts. Around the same time, I joined an online writer’s group and learned quite a few things about both writing and editing. (Much later, I took a couple of online classes that further improved those skills.) I’ve also sold a few articles as a freelance writer and edited a book.
There’s a pattern here: I like working part-time! Or, you could say, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Fortunately, thanks to my husband’s unusual (and rather demanding) career choice, I don’t have to.
Now to some pros and cons to my work-at-home, part-time career.
Pro #1: I never have to quit my job. This is pretty huge, actually. I’ve seen fellow spouses get hired for Eligible Family Member positions overseas and then wait a year or MORE for a security clearance before they can start working. My employment history, on the other hand, is without any gaps going back fifteen years or more. I can work from anywhere with an Internet connection. I love that I can spend my time actually working, rather than constantly trying to get a job, or waiting around to start one.
Con #1: I do not make that much money. Now, that said, my hourly wage is not bad. And my income is consistent, with no breaks due to waiting for security clearances or whatever. When I was juggling several clients back in the States, I brought home pretty good money. Nowadays, I do not make so much. That’s OK, because it is by choice, and we are overseas in a free apartment. When we go back to the States permanently, I will need to either find a job that pays more, or add new clients. This should not be a problem.
Pro #2: My job does not cost me much. Aside from an up-to-date computer and the fastest Internet connection available (which we would pay for anyway) I spend almost nothing to work. My employer buys my software. All the training I need is available for free online. I have never had child care costs of any significance. I don’t pay to commute. I don’t have to maintain a working wardrobe.
Con #2: There isn’t one! There is no downside to not spending money as far as I can see. And I like being able to write a slick computer off my taxes every few years.
Pro #3: I never have to dress up for work. Well, OK, sometimes I need to up my game to “business casual” for a meeting. But I never have to wear heels, or pantyhose, or anything else I don’t want to wear. I like this.
Con #3: I never have to dress for work. Especially in the winter, I can get stuck in a rut, wearing yoga pants for days at a time. I need to remind myself sometimes to wear actual clothes, even if the only people who will see them on that particular day are the cashiers at the grocery store or my family members.
Pro #4: I can be very, very flexible. This is great when your spouse has a job that is not very flexible, that requires a lot of business travel, and involves the occasional unaccompanied tour. When my husband had to travel for a couple of weeks, even when the kids were little, it was no big deal. I just ordered a bit more takeout food. When he was gone for an entire year, I did not need to scramble for extra babysitting, chauffeurs for my kids, or anything, really. I was very (very!) busy, but I could get it all done. It wasn’t a crisis.
Con #4: My family takes me for granted. Let’s face it, they do. I am the default person for every doctor’s appointment, trip to the vet, wait for the plumber, and so on. Now, I can do this, no problem. But sometimes, especially when the kids were little, I wondered what a shock it might be for my husband to actually have to take off work when a kid was sick, or to drag one of them to the doctor with an ear infection.
Pro #5: I could be there for my kids. I was never a true PTA mom, but I could be there when needed to chaperone school trips, work a bake sale, or drive them to soccer practice. This was nice. It gave them opportunities that I did not have when I was their age.
Con #5: I was always there for my kids. My parents both worked full-time and there is no doubt that my brother and I learned a few life skills earlier than my own kids did. This is not a deal-breaker: it is never too late to learn how to make a quick dinner or unstop a toilet. But without those “Oh geez, there is no one here but me to fix this” situations, the learning curve is definitely longer.
Pro #6: I never have to leave the house. This is more true now that my kids are older. For many years I was out playing chauffeur every day. Now my daughter is an adult, and my son takes the U-Bahn. It’s handy to be able to easily get the laundry done, bake some bread, put some dinner on the stove. We are able to live our lives at a fairly relaxed pace because I am around to do these things. Even without the need for constant child care, our quality of life is definitely higher because of my unorthodox work arrangement. And I personally do not miss commuting.
Con #6: But what if I want to leave the house? One thing is for certain: I would never be able to do my job full-time because then I really would be stuck at home. So, that is a limitation to freelancing or telecommuting, in my opinion.
But, working part-time, I can find lots of activities to get a little social or out-of-the-house time in nearly every day. In previous years, these activities were largely child-centered. Now they are for ME. I took German lessons three times a week for the first two years of our tour here. I coordinate a weekly craft group at post, and have often taken art classes when they are available. I participate in activities with the local women’s group: tours of local museums and businesses and history walks. I take yoga classes, work out at the gym, and walk for exercise nearly every day. And yes, I go to some of those often-mocked embassy spouse coffees. (What, you don’t go out for coffee at your job?)
So, while there have been some liabilities to working at home, and the routine of my day has changed a lot over the years, on balance I am still happy with the arrangement.
But I don’t actually wear bunny slippers. That would be silly. Fuzzy house socks are more my thing.
Sounds like a great HBO miniseries! Spoiler alert: the street cleaners win.
Last night Vienna endured what has become an annual tradition. The Austrian Freedom Party, also known as neo-Nazis, hosted their “Akademiker Ball” at the Hofburg Palace in central Vienna. It blows my mind what kind of obnoxious people would want to attend such an event, but they do, every year.
And, every year, protesters besiege the Hofburg. Everyone from the Green Party to Austrian student groups to those roaming bands of European professional anarchists who seem to make a career out of protesting events like this.
If I were Austrian, I’d be really embarrassed if no one protested this event. Someone certainly should. We are talking Nazis, after all. But it does get a bit out of hand. And Austrians really don’t like that.
I live right downtown, so I saw a lot of the preparations for the protests, and the aftermath. Austrian cops are Bad Ass. They are big, well-protected, well-armed, and they have some pretty fancy riot control gear, too. We saw portable water cannons and tank-like riot vehicles headed downtown earlier in the week.
About half of what is called the “Innere Stadt” was blocked off by later afternoon yesterday, and about 2,000 cops were deployed. Even journalists were not supposed to enter the cordoned-off area, for their own “protection.” I am sure this had nothing to do with the pepper spray and batons the cops were carrying. Nope.
The police announced that it would be illegal for anyone to wear, or even carry, a hat, scarf, hoodie, or anything else that could be used to cover the face in the cordoned-off area from yesterday afternoon until today. (I inadvertently violated that ordinance myself–but give me a break, it was like 25 degrees out there.) Of course, thousands of young Austrians promptly posted photos of themselves with crazy headgear on Facebook, Tumblr and other forums. God bless the young’uns.
In the end, according to a local news website, about one million Euro in property damage occurred, mostly to shops and cars parked on the street. Only 15 people were arrested, which seems odd to me, but my German is not very good, so I may not have grasped every detail of the local reporting.
The truly amazing thing is that by about 10 AM this morning, when I went out for my daily walk, there was almost no sign that anything had happened! Barricades were tidily stacked out of the way, streets were swept clean, damaged cars had been driven or towed away, and shop windows were either already repaired or in the process thereof. I mean, these people get it done.
So, Vienna street cleaners for the win, once again.
About six months before every move, without fail, the Packout Dreams start.
Surely, I am not the only one who has these? Basically, my subconscious comes up with every possible thing that could go wrong with a move and then runs it all as Technicolor movies while I sleep. It sounds like more fun than it actually is.
The odd thing is that I am not the most uptight person about my stuff. We don’t own very much that is very fragile or valuable. I’m not a “collector” of much of anything. We are always underweight with our household effects shipment (HHE). Way underweight.
We never even use the extra luggage allowance. I arrived in Vienna with one small rolling suitcase and a cat. I wore the same five outfits for a month. We really do believe in traveling light.
Or, at least I don’t think I am uptight about my stuff. Maybe I actually am! Or maybe I am just really bad with transitions.
Anyway, the latest dream involved my husband insisting on packing all of our audio-visual equipment in our luggage. TVs, stereo, speakers, you name it. Which, if you think about it, is not actually impossible.
Other scenarios my subconscious has sprung on me have included:
Chasing travel-crazed cats through airports.
Our shipment ending up in Australia instead of Austria. This could happen, you know. I bet it already has, to some unlucky family.
All our worldly goods sinking with a boat in the North Sea. I have mixed feelings about this particular scenario…
Finding a dead body when we unpack our HHE. I probably read too many murder mysteries. But it is not technically impossible that it could happen. I’m just saying.
Getting on a plane for a post I want to go to and landing up in a very different, and much less desirable, country. Surprise!
Maybe this is a mild form of PTSD. I hope that it is a healthy, if slightly weird, outlet for all the anxiety that moving can produce. It’s been going on for twenty-five years and about ten moves (the last time I counted on my fingers) so it seems that I am stuck with it, regardless.
That reminds me: time to get started on that inventory. If my stuff ends up sleeping with the fishes, I want to at least get some money for it.
Just posted to our community website.
Originally posted on TriVienna:
While the Sunday in question wasn’t technically gray, it was chilly and windy. A good day to cross another item off of our Bucket List!
Since we had annual passes to the Kunsthistoriches museums that were expiring soon, we decided it was a good day to finally check out the Imperial Carriage Museum at Schloss Schönnbrunn. We are not really that into carriages. But with the KHM annual pass, admission is free. If you are new to Vienna, and want to check out a bunch of museums at a reasonable price, this pass is a great deal. Details here.
But first, a stop for lunch at the Residenz Café. This restaurant (owned by Café Landtmann), though a bit touristy due to its location at the palace, manages to remain a nice stop for lunch or a yummy dessert.