Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bing Crosby Would Be Singing

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas... just like the ones I used to know"

I've never seen such a sight. Growing up in central Virginia, we got snow. But not like the snow I've seen these past 3 weeks. Josh has absolutely loved it, since until now, his only experience with snow was the stuff that's already fallen. At 7 years old, he's finally been able to watch the snow fall from the sky, in all kinds of wonderful shapes and sizes. He's missed 2 days of school already and had 2-hour delays on several other days. As for me, I think it's beautiful, but I don't like driving in it one bit.

Just yesterday afternoon, we received about 6 inches of snow in a matter of hours. And that was on top of the other snow that has been building these past few weeks. The pics below are from one of the earlier snowstorms. They don't give any justice to the true amount of snow we currently have, but they give an idea of what a snowy evening in Landstuhl, Germany looks like.


The Streets of Landstuhl


Advertisement for an upcoming event


Neighborhood Grocery Store


Local Train Station


Sascha's Restaurant - a favorite of ours


Landstuhl Town Hall Christmas Tree


Pedestrian Crossing Zone


Steeple in Sepia-like Tone

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New German Wheels: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Nicki posted a bit back about having to register our new vehicle, but didn't go much into details about the how, what, where, and when.

First, as a DOD employee, I am eligible (as are my dependents of legal age) to obtain a drivers license here in Germany, after taking a 3-hour "Driver's Orientation" course and then passing a 100 question test. The test is comprised of 75 multiple choice questions followed by a section entirely comprised of German road signs. It's not an easy test. Passing score is an 85, and many of the questions are worded in a manner to confuse and frustrate the test taker. And some of the German signs are strictly in German, so the test does require some preparation and studying for us non-German speakers. I took the past in mid-November, and fortunately passed it (barely) on my first go. This helped us tremendously, because it took the burden off of my sponsor, who until then was driving us pretty much everywhere. After getting the license, I rented a sporty little BMW, which was fun to drive and a good test of my road skills in Europe. Anyway, back to the car buying story...

Must have been around late November, we bought a 2006 Volvo V70 station wagon. It all started when my sponsor was helping me navigate the entire Kaiserslautern Military Community (KMC) through dozens of used car lots to find a reasonably decent vehicle at a good price. Typical of any military community, there are all kinds of car dealerships around the KMC, selling Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and the rest of your typical German made autos. They carry new or used, German-specs or US-specs, manual or automatic transmission... anything you could possibly want.

After looking at a few vehicles around the local area, my sponsor offered to research some comps online and brought in the resulting matches the next day. One of the comps was the Volvo we ended up buying. It only had one prior owner, a doctor. And the car is fully loaded - GPS (programed for all of Western Europe), heated seats, sensor windshield wipers that automatically turn on when the windshield gets wet enough, a timer that heats the car at a specified time so that you don't have to warm it up in the morning while you wait, etc. It's also automatic transmission - a necessity for Nicki - and a diesel, which will be good for fuel efficiency when we're cruising the autobahn.

Once we bought the vehicle, I had to get it inspected (for free) on nearby Kapaun Air Station and then registered as a KMC military community personnel vehicle - registration is different than the typical German registration process. Seems like a simple matter... and it should be, except that Mother Nature had her own plans. The week that we bought the car was filled with snow, which at times closed the Kapaun Inspection Office, making it difficult for me to get the vehicle over to them. On my third try, they finally were open for business. Great news, until they found a few problems with the car; two dead light bulbs and a component needing replacement in the steering column. Then I had to coordinate with the seller to get the repairs done at his Volvo dealership, which he did rather quickly (during my lunch break the following day). Then, I ran the vehicle back to the inspection office, where the car passed the inspection with flying colors. Unfortunately, it was late in the day and I had to pick Josh up at school. So I had to wait to register the vehicle until the following day. The line at the registration office was similar to a California DMV - I must have been in there for an hour before reaching the first of three service desks. First they had to verify my eligibility status, vehicle history, insurance info, etc. and confirm that I filled the form in correctly. At the second window, I was issued plates for the car. At the third window, I paid the registration fee before finally becoming official registered vehicle owners in Germany.

One tip for future PCS'ers to Germany, if you have access to USAA and are eligible for car insurance through them, BUY IT. I'll be honest, I didn't search around for the best prices on auto insurance here in Germany, but the insurance we got through USAA is top notch. It covers us not only throughout Germany, but within a long list of other countries over here. And if we run into trouble on the road, there's an international toll free number we can call and USAA will send a driver out to tow our vehicle - all covered. Best of all, when I set up the insurance, USAA automatically sent our new insurance info directly to the registration office on base. So when I went in to register my vehicle, they didn't even have to ask me for my insurance card. It was already in the system on their computers.

Another tip for PCS'ers to Germany, if you happen to move here during one of the snowiest winters in a decade. Make sure your vehicle has winter windshield wiper fluid, and not the diluted stuff. Make sure it's the concentrate (good until -60 degrees C). For the first few days in our new ride, I thought the wiper fluid pump was bad, until I figured out that the fluid was just frozen. After pouring in a few rounds of concentrate, it melted and now is working like a champ. And the fluid is worth its weight in gold while driving in winter conditions, as the windshield dirties up in a hurry on the autobahn with all the wetness, salt, and dirt being thrown around.

In recent news, Nicki just passed the drivers test, so she has started to drive a bit also. With all the snow we're facing, and her general lack of driving experience in these conditions, she hasn't really been able to practice as much as she'd like. But she's doing great nonetheless.

Tomorrow, I'm scheduled to go with my sponsor over to the German city hall in Kaiserslautern to request my International Drivers License. We're within about 3-hours of several other European countries from our spot here in Germany, so it's a must. I think we can get to France in under an hour, so maybe we'll celebrate my obtaining the Int'l license by going to one of the French border cities.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Winter Market in Landstuhl

It has been a couple of weeks since we posted (gasp!) anything to the blog, so I took the liberty of backdating this post to Dec 11, though it's actually Dec 21. I have a lot to post about, so I'll break it up chronologically as best as I can remember.

At the end of November, Landstuhl village engaged in a weekend-long Winter Market (not the official name, but not quite a Christmas Market either). Since our temporary quarters are nestled right in the heart of Landstuhl, it was an easy walk for us... in fact, the street in front of our temp apartment was closed off to vehicle traffic, so that pedestrians could take over and enjoy the small shops and food vendors abound.

These photos are primarily from Nov 27, but we took part in the market activities in some form or another pretty much every day of the event. They had rides for the kids, food and drinks for all, and all kinds of knick knacks for sale, including Christmas ornaments and random household items. We were particularly fond of the kinderpunsch (or child punch) and Gl├╝hwein (adult punch... heated wine). Josh and Sam enjoyed riding in circles on the various merry-go-round style rides. And of course, we ate bratwurst. And we liked it...










Friday, December 3, 2010

No License... But My Hair Looks Good

We are discovering that it’s taking much longer to get settled in here than it took just about any other place we’ve been. Because we were not given lodging on base (there simply was no room for us) and the snow has come early, it’s been even more difficult to get things done. To get a license here, I have to go to an orientation session and then take a test. I think I’m pretty set for the test. The trouble is finding a time I can go alone. A two year old really hinders that! Before arriving, I had initially planned on just sending him to the Child Development Center (CDC) on post. Come to find out, I have to have him up-to-date on his immunizations. I think in a previous blog post, I noted why I was negligent with that. To call and make an appointment with the US Hospital for immunizations, I call in the morning to see if there are 20 open slots available. If there are 20 open slots available, then I can make an appointment. If there are not, I need to call at around 10AM to see if they can take me same day. I can only make an appointment the same day. These are the requirements for a pay patient. These rules aren’t just for immunizations, but also sick appointments as well. I’m not sure why these rules are in place. At the Navy hospital, we didn’t have these rules. From what I understand, it’s much better for us to make appointments off base and have a primary physician /pediatrician off base/post which doesn’t really seem to be bad at all. In fact, I hear that many of the German doctors are great. Once I get Sam’s immunizations updated, I can then start trying to make appointments with the CDC. Apparently when I call, it has to be a month out and then with a little luck, I can get an appointment. So, it may be in my best interest to look for childcare outside the gates as well. The CDC business is just what I hear through the grapevine… not fact. I’ll have to post an update then.

The great news is that Mike has a license. At least one of us has a little freedom. Unfortunately, because only one of us has a license, only one of us can run all the errands. Usually errands are my job. Because of the snow and ice it literally makes it pretty impossible for me to run all the errands that need to get done. Mike even has to pick up Joshua from school. Joshua then has to stay with Mike at work or wherever he needs to run around to, until everything closes at around 5:00. I’ve tried hiking up “cardiac hill” in the ice, and although I’d do it by myself no problem, slipping and sliding up a hill, two year old in tow, scares me a little bit. Unfortunately the weather and the two year old are major hurdles. Here’s an example:

Mike needed to register our vehicle. He’s had the dealer's plates on now for a week. Something he was planning on getting done in one day. He picked up the car, then had to pick up Joshua from school at 3:00 and run several other errands (not to mention working somewhere in the middle), so the vehicle inspection had to wait. No problem, he would just do it first thing in the morning. We woke up to snow and a 2 hour delay for Joshua’s school. So, with nowhere for Joshua to go but work with dad (remember, I can’t walk anywhere without slipping everywhere and pushing an umbrella stroller through the snow), off they went. He drove to the inspection office only to find out they where closed until further notice. Day 3, inspection is open and after lunch, he plans to go. In my infinite wisdom and chomping the bit to help out, I hike up cardiac hill slipping and sliding the whole way to bring Mike some food to eat. The whole week he had come home telling me he didn’t have time to eat (this is when I realize that never again would I go up that hill in the ice with a child). I called him once I reached the top to tell him I was there and he was excited to show me our car (which I hadn’t seen yet). We got in the car and he decided we’d all head to the inspection together. I hadn’t planned for this. Sam and I hadn’t eaten so we stopped at the drive-thru for a bite to eat. We made it to the inspection office only to find out that we were missing the insurance booklet that the dealer should have supplied us. We called the dealer and drove to pick up the booklet. We initially planned to go right back to inspection office but at that point, we didn’t have enough time between having to pick Joshua up from school, having to return the rental car, and having Mike return to his work obligations. Mike dropped me off at the hospital so I could try and get the flu vaccine for Samuel and then I walked to pick up Joshua. Then I walked back to the hospital to get Joshua’s flu vaccine just in time for Mike to be done at work (and the inspection office to be closed). Day 4 was another weather delay. Mike was able to get the car in again only to find out it didn’t pass inspection (because of two burned out light bulbs and a busted minor part in the steering column). We called the dealer again to arrange for the vehicle to be fixed. Day 5 (today) the dealer fixed everything and we now have a registered car. HOORAY! Something that should have taken 1 day took 5. This is just one example.

Needless to say again, things have just taken longer. But, some of the easier unimportant things are taken care of, like my hair! I hadn’t gotten my hair done is 3 months. Thanks to my mother-in-law, I was able to get an appointment with her stylist to get my bangs cut before we left Virginia but I was in some serious need of a major visit! Because of my recent dye job, it highlighted my mangley gray hair when it started growing in. I looked online and found a place in downtown Landstuhl: Hair Adventures by Sven. It was easy for me to make an appointment a week out with Julia, and she was great. Even though our conversation was limited, I got a nice trim and a more reddish tint to my hair. I’m slowly going to go a little lighter and redder. Not so much blonde, as closer to my original color with a little more red probably and then work on growing it out again. Slowly slowly slowly. I didn’t tip after because… well, I wasn’t sure what I should have done. I honestly should have looked it up before going but it was something I overlooked. Here in Germany it seems as though 10% is normal (same as restaurants here), so after the snow let up (2 days later), I walked in with an envelope for her with a little more than that and a note thanking her and apologizing for not giving her the tip then and there.

A positive ending to what may seem to some as a “venting” entry. Just remember, getting a hair appointment is easy. It’s all the necessities that are hard!

Monday, November 29, 2010

I Feel Like Schnitzel Tonight!

Although my cooking utensils are limited, I have been enjoying going to the grocery store and figuring out what to make each night for dinner. After all, one can only have so much Duner before they turn into one! The other night, I cooked Frankfurts and tonight, I’m going for Schnitzel!

I had conveniently forgotten that Schnitzel just happens to be a popular dish here in Germany. Coincidentally, it’s a very popular dish in Israel, only they don’t use pork but chicken. During my confirmation visit to Israel, we had had so much of the stuff, we all started calling it sh*tzel. Well, that was at the age of 15 and although I won’t give you a number, that was quite a long time ago and I feel I am now ready to venture down the Schnitzel path again. Only this time, sin of all sins… I’m going pork. GASP! I am Jewish, but I’m not kosher.

The main reason that I try to cook new things every once in a while is to be able to get out of the apartment. There aren’t many child-friendly places to go in downtown Landstuhl. The only children that I’ve seen around town are older. Weird… For some reason I do see people at the grocery store with little ones. After all, parents gotta eat sometime right? I also don’t have my drivers license yet. And here’s why:

  • I have to wait to get my license until I can put Samuel in childcare to go to the orientation and take the test.
  • I can’t register him for child care until I update him on all of his immunizations.
  • I can’t update him on his immunizations until we are able to set and go to our appointment at the hospital.
  • To do that our sponsor has to make the appointment. Right now, we are a little bit glued up with other priorities.

Honestly, I should have updated his immunizations Stateside… bad mommy! bad mommy! That is a bit of a complicated story as well. Our insurance in California for some reason really SUCKED! I have a bunch of choice words for our insurance company and the administration in most of these pediatricians’ offices but I will leave that for another (private) time.

I’m sure most readers out there are just skimming the blog entry wondering when I will get back to what I was cooking. In real life, I have diarrhea of the mouth. I absolutely love to talk to anyone that will listen. I will then most likely ramble off as I go and before I know it, I’ve forgotten what I set out to say in the first place . I wasn’t this talkative before I had kids and I’m sure it has to do with my excitement over an opportunity to talk to a grown audience. I suppose my little idiocies carry on into my writings.

I'll start again from here. I walk to the grocery store with Sam to get out of the apartment mainly. Today it’s been snowing just about nonstop. I imagine that in Germany this is just a part of life. Time is not halted because of white flakes and icy roads. As I’ve heard some Germans say, “It’s November after all.” Because I’m a newbie to all of this snow business, I decided to still tough it out and walk to the store on the slippery icy side walk. I learned very fast that I need a set of good snow boots. Samuel was in my Beco carrier (if you are expecting, please buy one. They are fabulous. Like the Ergo but better looking and made in the USA) in the front and I was navigating the icy sidewalk. Slipping and sliding the whole way to the store. It was alright though. I’m sure that it worked my core and was a nice little calorie burner. What I conveniently didn’t think about is that snow melts wherever it lands making your hair… wet. Duh. Samuel should have had his hat on and I should have had my hood on. Next time I will remember this.

At the store, I (of course )got the car cart for Samuel (If I knew where we were going to be living, Santa would definitely be dropping off a Power Wheels. He is OBSESSED with driving cars). I had to dry off and warm up so we took it slow going down the aisles. I walked down the gravy mix/spice aisle and saw a package of Schnitzel and that’s when the idea popped into my head. It’s looks easy enough and it’s German. Since I’m going to be making Brisket and potato latkes tomorrow night for Hanukkah, I wanted something easy tonight. The package is Yellow and Red. The brand is Maggi, which is a Nestle brand… the package strangely looks like a cross between package for Lipton soup mix and Knolls Spinach dip. I’m sure it’s the same concept. With the help of babel fish, I think I know what I need to do to make this happen.

I’ve become a little braver. From specifying what color candles I need on our advent ("rot, lila, lila, lila") wreath to the florist all the way down to deciphering cooking instructions.

I haven’t done it yet but it seems fairly simple. Wish me luck!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Burg Nanstein

Somehow I forgot to write about last weekend's hike to Burg Nanstein (Nanstein Castle). After a full week of rain, we woke up on Sunday morning, 14 Nov, with blue skies and downright balmy weather here in Landstuhl. Sam had been a while without a nap, so Nicki kicked Joshua and me out of the apartment around noon so she could put Sam down to rest in peace and quiet. Josh and I decided to take a walk towards the castle, Nanstein Castle, that is perched over this fine city.

We started through town and made our way towards a residential area before finding the trail head leading towards the castle. The hike wasn't so bad - gravel and dirt marked the trail nicely and the ascent was gradual. After a half hour or less, we made it to the castle grounds, paid our fare, and walked throughout. Some pictures from our journey:















In our quest to find fun signs from
around the world, I present this one, entitled
"If you bring your dog, tell him to hold it in"

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Temper tantrums & First Food Impressions

During the last several days it’s been cold. Luckily it hasn’t rained. Although I suspect that if it rained at night it would snow. Of course I could be totally wrong but, that’s how cold it is to me. The high today I read was 46F.

At any rate, it’s given me an opportunity to type something up about the food I’ve been eating. There are a couple of links to things here so, enjoy.

Thankfully during my town explorations here I’ve been able to find the local grocery store. The shopping carts are a little different here on and of base/post. To get a cart one must deposit 1 euro or, on base a quarter to free up a cart. Placing a coin in the designated spot (usually the handle) of the cart will unlock the “key”. To get the coin back, one must return the cart, insert the “key” and that will release the coin. It’s a shame that they have to resort to this to get people to return their carts but, I’d say in more urban areas of the US it might be helpful. (Considering our neighborhood always had a rogue cart hanging out.) The great thing about the German grocery store that I went to is that they have the little car carts (the cart with the car in front). I can’t go to the store with Samuel and not expect to use that cart. Edeka is located about a 5 minute walk away from our hotel.

There I can find just about anything that I might need. Some things are more expensive but other things are about right on par when it comes to what I was paying in California. There are a few differences though. There’s a small area in front with a machine that I think is for recycling glass bottles. I’m not sure yet. There are definitely more pickles (and pickled things), yogurt, sausages & cured meat, and chocolate. I need to emphasize the amount of chocolate. There are aisles and aisles of chocolate. I have been buying Ritter chocolate bars and have not come home with the same flavor yet. One even had cornflakes in it. They do have kinder eggs here, which are chocolate hollow eggs. Inside is a small toy/puzzle for kids.

If I’m going to buy produce, like a bell pepper, I need to go over to the scale, type in the veggie code (which is the number that is next to the price), and place the pepper on the scale. A bar code label will then print out of the scale. I then need to stick the label on to the pepper. This lets the cashier know the price/what to ring it up as.

Eiscafe or, the Ice Cream parlor needs a section all it’s own. From what I understand, Eiscafe’s are popular. They also serve coffee, tea, and crepes. Sometimes they serve sandwiches as well. The Ice cream that is served is really really yummy. Not as smooth as a gelato but the flavors are very similar. They even serve something called spaghetti eis which I believe is ice cream that’s been pressed through a sieve and made to look like spaghetti. There is even one served that truly does look like a plate of spaghetti. For the kids they have several ice cream treats that are made to look like things. Joshua got a bumble bee the other night two scoops of ice cream, M & M treats for the eyes and wafer cookies for the wings. The stripes were drizzles of chocolate syrup. Just a scoop of ice cream on a cone is about 79 euro (about $1). Not too bad?

The pizza is good although when we’ve gotten take out, they don’t slice the pizza for us… so we’ve been left sawing at it when we get home. Most places that serve pizza also serve middle eastern type food. I say this loosely because if it is categorized as this, I’m not sure what area of the middle east it’s from. It’s really popular with the 3AM crowd. The hottest item seems to be Duner (I believe it’s pronounced Doo-ner). It consists of Pita bread, thinly sliced meat, veggies and a creamy dressing. Most times also with a slice of white mild cheese. The pita bread is almost like a thin foccacia, the veggies are red cabbage, tomato, carrots, and lettuce, the white cheese looks similar to a slice of feta but is very mild, and the meat... is anyone's guess! Actually it’s probably chicken or turkey (I’m assuming most of these establishments don’t serve pork). In Israel, I had Shwarma which was similar to this. I’m sure that different countries have different variations. It’s really out of this world good. Joshua had one all to himself and pretty much finished it. Mike and I shared one. It was so good we had it two nights in a row. This definition I found might be worthless as like everything it's on Wiki! Turns out it's Turkish.

One might ask if I’ve had any German food yet? Well, I’ve had danishes… does that count? Actually the closest thing that I’ve had that’s German is probably the Frankfurts that I cooked last night with onion and potatoes. According to the package they were “The Original Franfurt!”

To explain we haven’t gone out for Beer and Brauts, I might have to admit to some blame. Sam is very very difficult to take out to eat. Most Germans are understanding of little ones, but really, I’m unsure how understanding they can be. Samuel is the type of kid someone might drop off with their 16 year old sister so she could have a little lesson on birth control. He is the temper tantrum king. I was in a store the other day looking for a hat to get for him. There were balloons throughout the store and he wanted one. I wasn’t sure if they were for the kids, so I didn’t give him one. He started screaming so high and loud, he probably beached some whales down in the Mediterranean with his sonar capabilities. Old German women were coming up to him to try and calm him down and he started screaming “NO! NO! NO!” at them and stomping his feet. They quickly ran off. I paid as quickly as I could and scooped him up only to find out in the end that the balloons were for the kids. I was so embarrassed. It’s one thing for my kids to throw a temper tantrum in American surroundings. I kind of know what to expect in that environment. If some preachy know it all wants to tell me how annoying my child is I can quickly tell them where to stick it… however, when it’s now a foreign country, it adds a whole new level of shame and embarrassment. Like it or not, I’m a representative of America. If my child acts that way it’s not only a reflection of me and my child but also a reflection of all of American mothers and their children. This could just mean I’m a nervous nelly and have no real confidence in my mothering capabilities... GUILTY! Aren’t we all? I mean, I don’t think that I’ve met a mother, or parent for that matter, who has smugly stated they are completely confident in how they are raising their children (unless of course they are a first time parent to a really good kid… I think I fell under this one with Joshua, but I didn’t know it at the time) or a pregnant woman who hasn’t had her child and doesn’t know any better. I really am so nervous about taking out my little volcano of a toddler that I avoid certain places… like restaurants... for everyone’s sake. I don’t want to have to hover over my kid wondering when he’s going to erupt. I can’t enjoy my meal that way. More importantly, I’m sure that the young twenty year olds with no kids out on a date want to hear my precious screaming mimi. Honestly, I’ll just save everyone the trouble. My only saving grace during this shopping trip was that I couldn’t understand what they were saying in German about me or my kid. Beer and brauts have been around forever… they’ll still be here when my kid becomes more palatable.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Just Starting Out

So here we are starting off our second week in Germany. This entry may be a long one but I hope it’s an informative one for any civilians out there contemplating a tour in Germany.

Sometimes it seems as though we’ve gotten nothing done. Being able to stop and take a glance back at the last few days has helped me that we actually have accomplished a lot. There are some small hurdles to overcome. Saturdays and Sundays are pretty much "lay back and relax" days. As one blogger so eloquently stated, ’for my capitalist mind this is a very difficult concept to grasp’ - such is the case for me as well. For those that are settled, it’s a nice feeling to just sit back and have fun during the weekend. For newcomers it can be frustrating.

From Sacramento, we came from a department that was not DOD (Department of Defense). Because of this, it’s taking a little longer to transfer all of our information into the system. It’s also difficult for some personnel in DOD to understand. We are a bit of an unusual case. So getting our official non-guest passes has taken a while. The positive end of this is that it’s forced us to get out into town to find necessities. Also another fortunate was that our sponsor took us to the BX and commissary to get other things. Although from an objective perspective, it may not have been necessary, being able to buy things from the Commissary (sandwich bread, milk, eggs, veggies, cold cuts, meat, etc.) takes the stress away just a little. Food things that were convenient for our family to have immediately:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Bacon
  • Cereal
  • Cold cuts
  • Sandwich bread
  • Mayo
  • Mustard
  • Peanut butter (OK yes, SO AMERICAN but truly needed in our family!)
  • Jelly/Jam
  • Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Carrots
  • Grapes
  • Apples
  • Cheese
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Chicken Broth
  • Orange Juice
  • Macaroni and Cheese

Some things that I should have thought of:

  • Tupperware
  • Zip-loc bags
  • Brown paper bags (for lunches and ripening things like avocados)

At the BX I bought some things that really came in handy. Like a swiffer vacuum sweeper thingy. With the laminate and tile floors in our hotel, it is coming in real handy. I should have bought more cleaning pads to go on it though as the vacuum starter kit only comes with 2. I bought some corningware so that I could use the oven. That night I was able to cook a home cooked meal. This was something that was truly missed in our family. Nothing fancy just roasted chicken with potatoes, onions, garlic, and carrots but boy it was good. One thing I should have bought was baking pans.

The hotel that we are renting is out in town. We did not get base lodging this time. The hotel qualifies more as an apartment. I’d say it’s between 500-800 square feet. It has one bedroom and one bathroom. The bathroom has a shower, washer and dryer. A small victory for me was learning how to operate the washer and dryer. Here are the translations I came up for most of the commands on the washer:

Baumwolle-Cotton

1-Mit Vorwasche- with pre wash

4-ohneVorwasche- with out pre wash

5-Kurz-Briefly

A-Spulen + Schleudern – Heat + Spinning

Pflegeleicht- Wash and wear

2-Mit Vorwasche- with pre wash

4-OhneVorwasche without pre wash

7-Kurz-Briefly

B-Schleudern-Spinning

Feinwasche-Finewash

3-Mit Vorwasche-with pre wash

8-ohneVorwasche-with out prewash

9-Wolle-Wool

10-Seide-Silk

C-Abpumpen- Evacuate

Intensiv- Intensively

Spulen-Heat

Spul-Spin

D-Stopp-DUH! Stop

I selected “2” and then pushed start. It went to 2 skipped over 3,4,5,6 stopped at 7 and filled up with water moved to 8 and spun then moved to 10 and spun. I also found out that if I push a button marked ‘Intensiv Spulen’ the machine would spin the wet clothing much faster to take more moisture out of it. Leaving it to dry just a little faster in the dryer.

The rest of the apartment consisted of a living room with a couch, fold out futon, two chairs, bookshelf, coffee table and TV. We were thankful to have our portable DVD player as the apartment did not come with a DVD player. The TV had cable that had several English language channels. Joshua really got a kick out of watching Spongebob Squarepants in German. We were also thankful that there were attachments to plug in several of our electronics. It’s very important to check the electric current requirement on the device before plugging it in. Our laptop was OK but Joshua’s Nintendo DS was not. We had to purchase a new charger plug for that.

From the living room, there was a small inlet where a full size bed was. We put Joshua in this bed. Samuel is in the Pack n’ Play at the foot of Joshua’s bed. Away from the inlet was the kitchen. This is where the table for eating is. The kitchen had a microwave, oven, stove top, refrigerator but no freezer, and of course a coffee maker (This is Germany after all!). There was a good amount of storage, dishes, silverware, glasses and cooking utensils.

The heat is supplied by radiators through out the apartment. We are unable to control the heat. I imagine the landlord had many a guests who would jack it up way too high, sending his power bill in exactly the same direction! The windows let in a lot of light which is nice during the cold days when it seems so dreary. There are pull down shutters that resemble the storm shutters that we had in Japan. It’s nice because it keeps out the light well. I understand that this is important during the Summer months when the sun stays out very long. There is no central air of any kind so it’s important to leave a window cracked. The window handle can be turned so that a window can open as a door or, be cracked open from the top.

Also supplied was an iron and ironing board. I really wish there would have been a hair dryer supplied. That was a tough one for me and just about our first purchase out in town!

Hope that this was helpful to anyone facing an upcoming move to Germany and also helps our family paint a more vivid picture of what we’ve been doing the past several days.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Finally!

We thought the day would never come... heck even our cat was here before us. And, even though it was hard to say goodbye, we are now in Landstuhl.

The flight went fairly smooth. In the almost 8 hours we were in the air, I actually had time to get a little shut eye and, believe it or not, so did my 2 year old. I even got complements on how well he behaved on the flight... REALLY. The boy who cried the whole flight from Japan to California has possibly turned over a new leaf. At least for a little while.

Our sponsor and one of Mike's military coworkers picked us up at the airport in a maxi van. I have to say, here in Germany the "maxi" van is about double the size of a "maxi" van in Japan. It was great, though, and exactly what we needed for the 4 carry-ons and 7 check-in pieces of luggage that we had. That's right... 11 pieces of luggage.

The closest airport to us is in Frankfurt. From Frankfurt, it's about an hour and 30 minute drive to downtown Landstuhl. We were unable to get an apartment/temporary lodging on base so we are staying at Cafe Sander's in downtown Landstuhl. I was very apprehensive about this before arriving. I equated a hotel out on the economy as a small hotel room, and for an extended stay with children, that is a struggle. But I was very pleasantly surprised. The apartments are very nice. Similar to a large one bedroom apartment: there's a living room, kitchen, dining area, patio, bathroom with clothes washing machine, and master bedroom. The patio opens up to give a view of downtown and of Nanstein Castle.

Our sponsor was great and understanding of Sam. After the drive from the airport to our lodging, he took us to "breakfast" on the ground floor of Cafe Sander's. We were worn out and so after breakfast, our sponsor left us to settle in and get some shuteye. He returned in the afternoon to take Mike to the Ramstein Commissary, to get a few necessities for our stay. And that was it for our first day in Germany. Once Mike returned from the Commissary, we stayed in and rested.

The remainder of the week has been mostly getting settled into our new little town of Landstuhl, finding the local convenience stores, grocery stores, and specialty stores. Mike has been doing all the necessary in-processing paperwork and orientation meetings needed to get the ball rolling in his new duties. And we're slowly adjusting to the new time zone.

Joshua on our Apartment Balcony


View of Nanstein Castle from Landstuhl


Rooftops in Landstuhl


We saw this house during a walk through town


The boys near a local restaurant

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Passport Saga

Just when we thought that every little thing would be alright, our passports dealt us a low blow... by not showing up during the 4-6 week period that was initially told to us. We were scheduled to move to Germany on Oct 26, but when our passports didn't arrive by Oct 21, I had to push back our flight to Nov 1. The good news is that we got to spend Halloween with family and we got to see my good buddy's '80s cover band perform, a couple unexpected bits of fun before the flight. The bad news, I was stuck between employers... officially still on the books at my old job (but physically located 3,000 miles away in Virginia), and unable to get to my new job without the official passports in hand. My vacation time dried up altogether during our stay in Virginia, and I was destined to use "Leave Without Pay" in order to avoid a gap in my civil service, which creates all kinds of logistical problems.

Pumpkin Pickin' at the Patch


All Dressed Up for Halloween


Nicki and me cheering on "The Reflex"

By the way, if you live near the DC area, you should check out "The Reflex", a great '80s cover band who are not only fun to watch, but are very musically talented. Anyway, now back to my story...

After pushing back my flight to Nov 1, I requested the contact info for the folks at the State Department, who process the official passports required for overseas government employees. They alerted me that the passport processing period was not 4-6 weeks, but more accurately is 6-8 weeks. Had I known that initially, we would have made drastic changes to our travel plans to prevent being stuck in limbo. After learning this info, I contacted my new command in Germany, who was able to contact some VIPs in Washington, DC.

Long story short, our passports were found in the passport machine and were eventually fully processed and redirected for my urgent pick-up in person in Arlington, VA. However, I had to reschedule (yet again) our flight during the passport search and rescue mission. New flight date... Nov 6... if the passports could be in my hand by Nov 3.

So early this morning after waking, I threw on some clothes, hopped in my dad's pickup, and drove the nearly 2 hour commute to Arlington - after first stopping at a nearby 7-Eleven for a much needed coffee and banana nut muffin. With passports in hand (and fully reviewed for any errors), I headed back to my parents' house a happy man.

Destination: Germany
Target departure date: Nov 6, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Is This Heaven?

It's Iowa.

One of my all-time favorite movies is Field of Dreams, the story of a hippie-turned-farmer (Kevin Costner) who plows up his corn field in Iowa to build a baseball field, because a mysterious voice told him to do so. Afterward, his neighbors think he's crazy, he almost loses the farm because he plowed through his most profitable crop to construct the baseball field, and then ghosts of former baseball greats begin showing up to play ball. Nicki doesn't quite understand my love for the film, but I think it's probably more suited for guys... not to sound sexist... but it's about a man's attempt to come to terms with a failed relationship he had with his now deceased father. You know, typical guy stuff.

Anyway, back to the point. After all of the wonderfully American family-oriented things we have been doing on this journey back east, I requested that we stop by Dyersville, Iowa, so that I could get a glimpse of the film's location. Nicki wasn't thrilled, but she was agreeable to the slight change of course. After waking up in Sioux Falls, SD, we made fairly good time across I-90 through southern Minnesota, then dipped down I-35 South into Iowa. We exited the main highway and took the state highways towards Dyersville, arriving around 5:30PM. We were lucky, as once we arrived we saw that the attraction closes at 6:00PM.

I ran around like a mad man, trying to take as many photos as I could before closing time and before the sun completely set over the field. Nicki obliged in taking a few photos of me and the boys. All in all, it was a fun 30 minutes. The only bummer... all the corn in the cornfield was cut within hours of our arrival. The photos would have been a little better with corn in the field, but I was still overjoyed to see the site.





Sam absolutely loved climbing the bleacher along the first base line of the field. Couldn't help but remind me of the movie scene where the daughter of Kevin Costner's character fell off the back of that very same bleacher and choked on a piece of hot dog. Fortunately, Nicki was there to catch Sam on his way off the back, and spared him from a similar fall.

As for the shot of me, Joshua gets credit for the photographic work. He's a budding photographer and he offered to shoot that one of me holding the very limp remains of a corn stalk, one of the few long stalks remaining. Good for Josh - I'm completely in focus!

And as for the off-the-beaten-track detour we took through most of Iowa today... Did I mention that Nicki is awesome? She is.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse

Rapid City, South Dakota, has been a really good experience so far. Never would I have ever thought that the area near Mt. Rushmore would be so family friendly. Just about every hotel has an indoor pool and there are attractions for the whole family to enjoy. Our hotel (the AmericInn, Rapid City) has a indoor pool, hot tub and water slide. We aren’t talking some little kiddy slide with a small stair case that goes into the pool. I’m talking about a tube slide that twists down all the way from the second story... Water park style! Joshua was so excited during the whole drive until we got here. He climbed up the staircase with Mike and peered down the dark entry. He could tell that the slide would be pitch black going down. He sat at the top shaking and said that he was a little scared. Mike went first and hollered all the way down then told Joshua to go. He came down, did a little smile and said that he liked it. Then promptly told us he didn’t want to go again. Mike is really the king when it comes to encouragement and before long, Joshua couldn’t stop sliding down and yelling, “THIS….IS…..SO…..AWESOME!!!”

After a fun night at the pool and an awesome pizza buffet at a nearby restaurant, waking up on a brisk Sunday morning wasn't very easy. But the plans were worth it. After hitting the complimentary breakfast buffet our hotel offered, we packed up our minivan and headed towards Mt. Rushmore. About 45 minutes southwest of Rapid City, through Black Hills National Forest, we arrived at the famous monument. In a word - Spectacular! We arrived at Mt. Rushmore early enough in the morning and late enough in the season that we didn't have to compete with other tourists for parking or the view of the famed sculptured stone mountain. We spent about an hour on the grounds, including letting Sam walk his way through pretty much the entire visitors area. For the record, in the picture below of Josh, he's not actually playing his Nintendo DS at the monument, he's setting it to camera mode to take a photo.




Afterward, we headed deeper into the Black Hills to visit the equally impressive Crazy Horse Monument, which has yet to be completely sculpted, but still manages to impress observers with its significance. I guess the story goes, that in the late 1930's, Chief Henry Standing Bear sought a sculptor to create a memorial similar to the one constructed at Mt. Rushmore. In a letter to the eventual sculptor (named Korczak Ziolkowski), Chief Henry Standing Bear stated in part "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too." Ziolkowski died in 1982, before completing the project, but his wife and 10 children continue to push for the completion of the monument. When completed, the monument will be the world's largest sculpture. It is well worth the drive, if you are ever visiting Mt. Rushmore.


During our trip, we’ve been well stocked with workbooks and other road trip activities. Joshua has been working on his school workbooks, math flashcards, and writing in his journal. More often then not though, Joshua has been playing with his DS. We also have a DVD player and loads of kid music. I think back to the times that our parents had to go on road trips with us and am really thankful that we have all this technology. Of course some folks question the quality of sticking children in front of a box but I have to say that during a 6 hour drive it helps our sanity so much!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Entry into the Midwest

Living out of a car (including suitcases and motels) for a week with limited sleep and a screaming toddler has its benefits. Really, I’m not just saying that. Because we are driving, we can stop for potty breaks when needed, we aren’t disturbing anyone else except for our own family, and the time changes happen gradually.

Here we are now a couple days into our trip. Our first stop was Elko, Nevada. I was a little weary about staying in Elko. After reading some of the reviews on the hotels there, I was expecting a ghost town of what once was a popular gambling town in the 50’s. I was pleasantly surprised to find our accommodations at the Inn very nice. Two rooms is always good to have with children so that we can put some space between us. If anyone has been to Laughlin, Elko is comparatively a sister town. Although Nevada has some great tourist attractions (namely gambling and... other things), I was happy to get through it and on to our next destination.

Once we got about an hour into Idaho from Nevada, the scenery started to change. Gone were the salt flats and signs for gambling. There were many more signs of life. Farm houses, corn & potato fields, and small towns dotted the scenery and it was a nice drive. The kids were getting fed up near the last leg of the trip, so we found a school playground to stop at and let them burn off some energy.


Out of northeast Idaho and into the bottom toe of Montana. Our hotel, the Kelly Inn at West Yellowstone, was in a small town right outside the entrance to Yellowstone. Across the street was a McDonald's and an IMAX theater. It (the hotel) had a pool and hot tub as well. Joshua was absolutely chomping at the bit to get into the pool so I took him downstairs while Mike got Samuel down to sleep.

I didn’t realize how excited Mike was about Yellowstone until the next morning at 4:45AM when I heard the shower running. I hit the snooze button in my brain and went back to sleep only to be awoken again by the smell of coffee at around 6:00AM. Yes, Mike had been up since 4:45 in the morning (which was actually 3:45AM California time) He told me the whole night he had been tossing and turning with excitement awaiting our big Yellowstone Park adventure. My hair was cloaked in eau de chlorine from the pool the night before, so I hopped in the shower myself.

Washed and fed, we made it out the door by 8:45AM. The park entrance fee was $25 for a car. The Ranger was very helpful and informed us that there was only one road closure, which for this time of year is strange. Usually by this time there is two feet of snow on the ground. It’s been unusually warm this October. About 2 miles into our drive, we happened upon a herd of Elk. It was absolutely spectacular, to watch as they were grazing and trotting through the water. Joshua was so excited and said, “that was so awesome!”

Little did we know that we were in for an even bigger treat. As we drove along a little further, a small group of cars was slowing down the road. As we crept closer, we saw something in the road. At first, we thought it was a bear, but it wasn’t. It was a rogue male buffalo trotting down the center line. We stopped and took more pictures. Literally, this great beast got within five feet or less from our car. Joshua said, “my heart was beating so fast, dad!” I think all of ours were. These animals are absolutely huge up close. I’d say at least 7-8 feet tall.
Buffalo seemed to be the common sighting through out the day. We were even able to experience another “crossing”. My favorite sight was a small cinnamon colored calf running with its mother.

The park itself takes about 3 hours to drive through, without stopping for all the amazing views along the way. It’s about 100 miles across, but because of the speed limits (35 MPH is most areas) it takes longer. We started at around 8:45AM and finished up at around 4:00PM. I’d say we had a pretty good tour of the park. We also stopped at the new visitor’s center that was just finished in August. It provides a glorious indoor view of Old Faithful.

Just as many religions have a migration destination (for Muslims, Mecca; for Jews, Israel; for Catholics, Rome), Americans should all aspire to visit Yellowstone. The animals, education, breathtaking views, and natural wonders just shouldn’t be missed. It was truly one of the most amazing displays of nature I have ever seen. Sadly, we only had one day to see it all.






Our next stop was in Cody, Wyoming. The name Cody comes from world famous Buffalo Bill. This is where he laid down his roots. The town has a very large museum and there is a large rodeo arena. Cody reminds me of a place we only read about it books these days. It has a Main Street and that’s about it. It’s the kind of place where many people dream about raising their children. Where Friday night means everyone is out at the High School football game... and I mean everyone. This town has less Americans attached to it than the Yokosuka military base in Japan. Folks slow down a little bit more and still hold doors open for women. I liked it here. I tend to like small towns. After living overseas for such a long time I sort of got used to it. A small trivia fact: Wyoming as a whole has just over 500,000 inhabitants. It’s estimated that there is more cattle than people that reside here.

Stay tuned to more news from the road... and click on any of the photos to enlarge them.