Aug 28, 2009

Double Chin

Today, I was grabbing a few things at the commissary. Of course they were out of 2% milk. My choices were a) pay double for the organic 2% b) buy whole milk or c) pick up the 1%. I chose c. But enough with the milk.

I left the dairy section and moved on through the freezer aisle when I somehow ended up in the ice cream section. I was perusing the fabulous flavors available to me when one of the labels caught my attention: "double chin". What? there is an ice cream called double chin? That is just wrong.
Oh no, silly me, it said "double CHURN".
For a moment I thought about how I haven't worked out in 2 months and how horrible my eating habits have been. My shorts are getting tight and I might just be on my way to a double chin . . . but when I realized it said churn not chin, I bought some ice cream anyway.

Aug 23, 2009

Balloon Fest

I found an ad in the newspaper a few days ago with pictures of hot air balloons and the word "fest" so I decided to look it up. Naturally, the website was in German, but I have mastered Google Translate and after a few clicks of the mouse I was reading about this little festival in Ladenberg (not far from here) that involved a hot air balloon race.
I was so excited because I have always wanted to see a hot air balloon race! We headed off to this adorable little town. It was so cute and really empty. I felt like I was walking around on a movie set. We made our way down to the field and watched as 20 or so vehicles pulled in with trailers toting their balloon. We watched them lay out the balloons and get everything ready for the launch.
I honestly don't get the "race" aspect of it because it wasn't like anyone ever said "eins, zwei, drei, go", but at any rate it was a really great site to see.
Before the big pretend race started we had a chance to walk inside one of the balloons. It was laying on its side and a big super fan was keeping it halfway blown up. It was so huge. I was amazed at just how big this things are and I was also jealous of that fan - I could seriously use that at home.
As the balloons started taking off I initiated a conversation with Matt about how these things fly.
C: So, is it the carbon monoxide let off by the burning fuel that inflates the balloon?
(I was feeling really proud of myself for knowing the word carbon monoxide - however I'm still not actually sure that it was used correctly in a sentence).
M: no, it is the heat. Get it HOT AIR balloon?
C: Oh.
So, I guess the flame shooting up into the balloon heats the air and the hot air rises blah blah blah, wish I would have paid a little more attention during physics.
The kids, Matt and I had a such a great evening at the Balloon Fest. It wasn't like the Weinheim Fest at all. This one was in a quiet field with picnics and such. It was a beautiful night.
In order to ensure that I'm not the only one looking silly in this story, I should mention that on our way back to the car Matt fell off the curb. I realize this has nothing to do with hot air balloons but it was so funny. He didn't face plant or anything but the sound of him falling off the curb was Hilarious and kept me doubled over laughing all the way back to the car. Matt kept insisting that it wasn't that funny but later on that night as I was laying in bed reflecting on the evening the sound of him falling off that curb popped back in my head and I couldn't stop laughing . . . again. I wish I had a little video of that trip.

Aug 22, 2009

(A)musings

Lately, I find myself easily amused. It could be that I live in a tiny house with empty white walls, white sheets covering the stinky borrowed furniture, and the only escape from said white, emptiness is fully dependent on how far my youngest's feet will travel. Or maybe, I'm just one of those people who is easily amused.
So, I ordered some way over-priced tea towels on-line the other day. I won't tell you how much they are because I'm a little embarrassed, but I'm justifying this purchase because they are more of a decorative element in my kitchen than actual clean-off-the-counter tea towels. After days of trying to find something else more reasonable I caved and bought the towels. In response to my order I received an email that read:
Thanks so much for your order. It was shipped today via Canada Post and should arrive within 23 to 33 business days.
23 - 33 business days? Is the Royal Canadian Post still using horses?

Rations. When I think of rations, I think it means putting a limit on the number of items a person can buy so every person can have a little instead of a few people getting a lot. Here in Germany there are coffee rations. There is a ton of coffee on the shelves and yet it is rationed? Its a good coffee selection too, Seattle's Best, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Millhouse, you name it, it is there - every time. However, there is no milk ration and there is never any milk. We have special milk here. The brand is US Forces Europe - not Lucerne, Crystal, or Marva Maid. Is there a pasture somewhere with US Forces Europe cows? Anyway, I have been to the commissary on numerous occasions and there is no milk. The Army's reasoning behind rationing coffee is so that we don't resell it on the black market (a coffee black market? This reminds me of a Hogan's Heroes episode) but they seem to have no concern for our milk shortage. Maybe people are selling that Armed Forces Europe milk on that black market and that is why we don't have any. Hmm?

Aug 20, 2009

Blame it on the Pirates.

It is amazing how many stories are in the news about pirates boarding ships and taking treasures. So much for the visual image of a sword yielding pirate with a patch on his eye and bird on his shoulders, now we have Africans toting semi-automatic weapons and driving high powered speed boats.
So, it has been 65 days since our house was boxed up. Those boxes were put into a big crates, and those crates were supposed to be loaded onto a ship in Baltimore. With no word of when we will actually get our stuff, I'm beginning to wonder if the pirates got it. I haven't heard of any pirate activity in the shipping lanes between the US and Europe, but maybe that is just because nobody has reported it yet. Until I get my stuff, I'm blaming the pirates.

Aug 19, 2009

The Bee Sting

Today it was 1000 degrees in our house so I took the boys outside to one of the playgrounds to burn some energy and enjoy the breeze. 1000 degrees is a little cooler when the wind blows.
We headed to the "triangle" playground. There are so many playgrounds here that the boys nick-name them in order to keep track. Today, I chose the playground based on how shady the parental seating area was - triangle won.
As I sat in the shade reading a book, sipping on a Coke Zero (yeah, they sell it at the commissary)and eating sunflower seeds, I could hear the sweet sound of the boys playing together nicely in the background.
The next thing I know I heard Gabe say "ou"
then Eli responded with "Gabe are you OK?"
"Yeah"
There was no crying, screaming or the sound of anything breaking so I figured Gabe tripped or something minor. A moment later Gabe walked up to me calmly and said "that bee stung me".
I couldn't believe it. A bee sting would surely stir up much more excitement. I checked out the alleged sting site, and interrogated Gabe to get the whole scoop.
It looked like a little bee sting all right, and this was Gabe's explanation:
"It WAS a bee. I know it. He was flying right by my ear looking for a good place to sting me".
I was quite amused by Gabe's response to the sting. His calmness surprised me, but more than that I am always intrigued by Gabe's little 4 (nearly 5)year old philosophy. That bee was just flying around looking for the perfect place to sting him. Gabe sees things differently and I like to hear his perspective. I think bees are flying around looking for food, and then accidentally happen upon a human and can't figure out what to do, so they sting. To Gabe, all that hovering and buzzing is just a part of the process of deciding which spot on this little guy would be the best?
The other day we were discussing how the earth is spinning but we don't feel it. Gabe had a big realization. He said "oh so that is why you guys are always upside down when I look at you".
I told you, he sees things differently.

Aug 17, 2009

At the Movies

Last night I went to our little post theater and watched My Life in Ruins.
Matt dropped me off because it was blazing hot and I didn't want to walk. Upon arrival I bought popcorn and Gatorade, that is what you buy when you are going into a theater without air conditioning.
Before I left I told Matt I was hoping to be the only one in the theater. I didn't want to see anyone, I just wanted to watch a movie. I almost got my wish. Four other ladies were there and one guy with two small kids -that one is a mystery.
I sat down and spilled my popcorn all over and then when I tried to get my Gatorade out of the drink holder it got stuck. I finally freed it and it spilled all over me too. Things were not starting off well.
We all stood to listen to the National Anthem (they do this at all post theaters) and then the lights went dim. The spilled popcorn and red Gatorade stain on my pants were no longer visible, I couldn't see anyone else in the theater, and I went to Greece.
The thing about movie theaters is that they allow you to escape from reality for 120 minutes. The theater looks the same night or day, California or Virginia. While in the theater you don't know what time it is or where you are.
For nearly 2 hours last night I was just in a movie theater enjoying a decent movie without any other care in the world. Just me, a seat, popcorn and Gatorade watching a movie. It was nice.

Adapt or Transform

When attempting to use US appliances in Europe you must decide if you need to adapt or transform.
An adapter is $4. It is about the size of a night light. You plug it into the wall and then plug your charger, computer, razor, or stereo into it and all is well.
A transformer ranges in size depending on how much transformation needs to take place. It can be the size of a big Yankee jar candle up to the size of a shoe box. You plug the transformer into the wall and then it may have multiple spots to plug in appliances like a flat-iron, aerobed pump, and wireless router.
So how do you know whether adapt or transform? Just read the label. Most things are clear about their power range. If it says "110-220" or anything above 220 - adapt. If it only says 110 or "110-180" transform.
I think this is a metaphor for my life. Sometimes I just need to adapt my plans or goals, other times they need to be transformed.

Aug 16, 2009

Today.

I'm missing California today.
I left home 12 years ago. During that time I have missed birthday's, plays, holidays, lots of "firsts" and minor family trials. I've missed a few big events like my grandparents' 50th anniversary party and a few family reunions, however, I have made it back for the birth of both of my nieces, my parent's 50th birthday parties, Matt's sister's wedding, my dad's retirement and some family vacations.
Today, I'm missing big events in both of my nieces lives, and I'm sad.
Galatians 3:27 "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." Throughout the New Testament we find records of people deciding to follow Christ and then shortly thereafter being baptized.
Today, my niece Makenna is being baptized, and I'm not there to witness it or celebrate with her. Makenna accepted Christ as her savior a few years ago, and is now following the tradition of the early church by being baptized. She is such a beautiful girl, inside and out, and I am so proud of who she has become. She is self-confident, creative, intelligent and a truly wonderful young lady. We are so proud of her and her choices!
Also making news today is my niece Kaia. She has her first gymnastics meet today. She has been in gymnastics since she was 3 and just recently made her gym's competitive team. She has worked hard all summer (12 hours a week) getting ready for today. I'm so excited and nervous for her. I wish I could cheer her on and give her flowers when she is done.
Unrelated to my beautiful nieces, I'm also missing California because it is hot here and I don't have a/c, I can't find nail polish remover to save my life, and trying find shower curtain's and bath rugs that match by looking at pictures on-line is proving to be insanely tedious.

Aug 12, 2009

Strategiry

Two of my all-time favorite Bushisms are "strategiry" and "decider-in-chief". I love the Bushisms so much that Mika bought me the page-a-day Bushisms calender two years in a row. One day when I was watching a press conference, I heard Bush claim that he was the "decider-in-chief". I was so excited that I actually witnessed one of the Bushisms for the following year's page-a-day!
As much as I enjoy "decider-in-chief", strategiry is the topic of my post today.

I almost didn't ship anything in my unaccompanied baggage shipment because according to information given to me at the JPPSO (shipping office), both the unaccompanied baggage shipment and the household goods shipment were due to arrive within a day of each other. Now, why would I go through the hassle of sorting out things that needed to go into each of these shipments if both were going to the same place and arriving at the same time? Strategiry.
I went ahead and set aside some items for the unaccompanied baggage shipment just in case. I am so glad I did and I'm pretty darn proud of what I included in the shipment!
2 sleeping bags
1 set of queen size sheets
4 small blankets
2 bath towels
1 Aero Bed
1 large box of toys
and our computer.
There were some other things in there too but these were the ones we needed most.
We have borrowed furniture, kitchen items, and linens so our basic needs are met. However, the rock hard bed and sandpaper sheets we were sleeping on caused long sleepless nights. The aero bed, my nice soft sheets, and big fuzzy blanket were a dream come true! The boys' are still on the rock hard bed but we put the sleeping bags down on top of them for extra padding. When we broke open the box of toys, the kids went crazy. They stayed in their jammies all day and just played. All is well.
Ways that I was not strategic:
I failed to include pillows and curtains.

Strategiry will be required in another, more important, area of our lives in the next few years: finances.
If you withdraw euros from the banks on post you pay more for them than a bank off post. I don't know if everyone on post knows this or not, but they should put a memo out. Matt withdrew euros off-post two times and on-post two times. Both times that he withdrew on-post the atm did not use the actual current exchange rate. It was off by a few points. A few points, what does that matter? $9. That is how much more it cost us to get euros out on post compared to off-post. It is a cryin' shame.
Another very important aspect of shopping with the euro is the VAT form. Germans pay 19% sales tax on everything. It is actually included in the posted price so there are no surprises. Since we are not residents of Germany we don't have to pay the VAT. So, we go on post and purchase a VAT form for $4. Then when we make a purchase off-post using the euro we turn in the VAT form to the retailer and they either take off the VAT and then charge us our price or they charge us and then we take the VAT to a special desk and they give us our money back. What happens if you don't have a VAT form? You pay the VAT. I think you can save your receipt and take a VAT form and get your money back somewhere, but that isn't the preferred way.
Finally, Mastercard charges 1% currency conversion rate, while Amex charges 2+% and Visa charges 3%. So, IF the retailer accepts credit (the IF is big) then you get a good exchange rate because it is the actual current exchange, but you get charged an exchange fee.
This is where strategiry comes in.
1. keep VAT form in car.
2. get money off post.
3. pay in cash.
Problem solved. A little bit of planning will save us a ton of money in the long run.

That my friends sums up today's lesson on "strategiry".

Aug 6, 2009

Pitchin' Tents and Building Altars

When God gave Abraham his version of Pcs (permanant change of station) orders, Abraham loaded up his family, gathered his animals and did a DITY (do it yourself) move.
And what did he do when he reached his new post?
He pitched a tent and built and altar.
When we were visiting my parent's church on leave, Pastor Greg spoke about Abraham and what he did when he was told to relocate. There was actually a bigger point to the sermon, but the part I remember is the tent and altar.
So, he pitched a tent. He established his home. He did this by physically getting that tent up and by establishing foundations for his family.
He built an altar. He praised God for what He did in Abraham's life and gave himself back to God to be used as He needed.

Yesterday, we pitched our tent. We signed for our apartment. We took some time last night to restablish with our family what are foundations will be. As for our household we will serve the Lord.
And we built an altar. As we sat on the rental couch in an otherwise empty apartment we raised up our family to God, thanked Him for His many blessings getting us to this new "tent" and offered ourselves back to him. We prayed that our home would be filled with love and joy, and that we would serve God and love Him more. We all took turns praying over someone else in the family and offering special requests. Gabe prayed for neighbors (we'll add friends to that), Eli prayed that we would all have better attitudes (moving has been stressful) and we prayed that Matt would be a strong leader at work and that I would be a patient teacher with Gabe during his homeschool.
I think the last part of Abraham's moving tradition was to go forth.
So, here we go.

These Boots are Made for Walkin'

Who walks 1 ½ miles down the road with a mop, a bag of groceries, and a bucket of fried chicken? Who actually removes those grocery carts from the parking lot?

Me.

Okay, so I didn’t remove the cart from the parking lot but I really, really wanted to.

We don’t have a car yet, therefore we have to either beg our super helpful generous pal Mandi to give us a ride everywhere or we have to hoof it.

We have got some rides from Mandi but when traveling short distances to pick up linens from the hotel, curtain hooks from the self-help shop, or a mop from the PX, we walk and walk and walk.

I keep humming that 90’s tune “I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more just to get a mop and pine sol from the darn PX stoooore. Duh duh duhta duh duh duhta . . .”.

In an effort to maintain some element of coolness I have opted to wear shoes that match my outfit which would be flip flops, sandals or cute flats instead of a sensible shoe like my running shoes. Not smart. My feet hurt so bad.

Our challenge is that we need all these items to get our house put together (curtains, loaner dishes, loaner linens, groceries) and we don’t mind walking to get them, but walking back with them is a whole different thing.

Thankfully, we received the best phone call ever today. Our van is parked right across the street just waiting for us to be reunited. The only minor problem is that we cannot go get it until we have a US Forces license. We can’t get that until we take the test, can’t take the test until we take a class, and can’t take a class until Tuesday. I can’t get my license until I take the class the following week because . . . I can’t take the class with the kids, can’t leave the kids at the free childcare until I go to the orientation, can’t go to the orientation until they are registered with CYS and can’t register with CYS until this Tuesday.

I’m hooping. That is jumping through a whole lot of hoops.

Aug 4, 2009

Strassenbahn

Yesterday at the Strassenbahn the boys and I were waiting for our train to post when a lady walked up to me and asked me in German something like "Is this the train to Mannheim". I'm assuming that is what she said because I heard "Mannheim".
I apologized that I didn't speak German sent her down the line to ask someone else. I don't know why I didn't answer her. I knew this was the train to Mannheim, but I was afraid she would ask more questions and I wouldn't be able to answer or maybe she was actually asking me something else entirely about Mannheim.
Anyway, I was sorry that I couldn't help her but at the same time I felt really good. I look like I belong here! I was so worried I would stand out and scream "I"m an American" based on the way I dress or act, but of all the people waiting for the Strass, she picked me.
This afternoon I was riding the Strass on my own, the boys and Matt had gone on ahead while I registered Eli for school on post. I only have to go one stop to get from post to our hotel and the entire trip takes about 5 minutes. Everything was humming along just fine, we were approaching the Vivoli stop when suddenly the brakes on the Strass started to grab and our smooth ride was coming to a very quick and bumpy stop. Everyone that was standing fell, a cell phone nearly took out my eye, and when the train finally came to a full and complete stop the driver was yelling at us.
Panic hit me. What was happening? Why is the driver yelling at us? Did someone in the back pull an emergency brake of some type? Why didn't I study German more so I could understand what was happening?
After 30 seconds or so of confusion and retrieval of personal belongings on the train, we noticed a group of 6 or 7 people crossing the tracks. I'm not sure if they ignored the "no crossing" signs or if the signs didn't work, but short of an actual translation of the chatter in German, we almost hit that flock of people. After they cleared the tracks, the driver moved forward to our intended stop.
I think all that yelling from the driver was her asking if anyone was hurt. At one point I heard someone in the back call up to her and say "nein". I know nein means "no" because I watched a movie where the guy told his lady friend "nine" for the alarm clock but she thought he meant "nein" as in "I don't want an alarm clock".
Anyway, we all survived but the people on the platform waiting to board had a look of horror on their face, people getting off were getting their land legs back and chattering about the incident, and I was just thankful that little Strasse adventure ended the way it did.

Aug 3, 2009

Why I don't have a dog.

There are numerous reasons why I don't have a dog and never intend to get one, however 30 minutes at a friend's house added two more reasons to avoid welcoming a dog into our home.
1. Injury. Gabe is not really comfortable around dogs and generally avoids close contact. Saturday night at our friends' house Gabe was sitting on the ottoman next to me and the two dogs were on the couch behind us (what is wrong with this picture? Dogs on couch, people on ottoman). The dogs were playing and then got into a little curfuffle and next thing I know the dogs are "yelling" at each other, Gabe freaks out and tries to get away but in the moment of shock and horror he tumbles off of the ottoman and launches into the solid wood TV stand. As he was trying to further escape the situation he gets up and stumbles on the stereo speakers and manages to knock the wii sensor off the top of the TV. He was crying out of fear and pain. I looked at his back and noticed that he had an instant bruise where he hit the TV stand. I was finally able to calm him down, comfort his little heart and numb the pain of the injury.
2. Gum. Apparently sorbitol is a death sentence for dogs and it is the number one ingredient in sugar-free gum. Shortly after Gabe's fall, we headed down to the pavilion to bbq some hot dogs for dinner. About 5 minutes after we left the house, Matt went back up to get something we forgot. When he came down he told us that the dogs got into my purse. Suddenly Mandi, the dogs owner and our gracious host, was horrified to hear that the dogs were eating gum. The incident that followed is horrible, sad, and disgusting. Mandi changed her clothes and then prepared a turkey baster and peroxide. She held down the dogs, I forced the peroxide treatment into their throats and we sat back and waited for them to barf. And then they barfed, and vomited, and hurled, yacked, and heaved for the next 15 minutes. It was clear which one ate the most gum.
That is a lot of dog incident for such a short period of time. I doubt we'll be invited back for a visit any time soon and surely we'll never be asked to dog-sit.

Aug 1, 2009

Things I think about when I should be sleeping.

In Army life, you hear the term “on-post” quite regularly. It simply means “within the boundaries of an Army installation. Sometimes, the post is split by a road and people will say “North Post” or “South Post” or the airfield is across the street from main post and then you would refer to that location by the airfield name such as Davison AAF. It is a pretty easy concept to grasp. However, here in Mannheim “on-post” is not a simple definition. “Post” is actually a bunch of little posts. They are called “barracks, villages, and who knows what else, and travel is required to get from one to the next. It may be just across the street or 5 - 10 miles away but you have to leave one and then go back through security to get to the next. This is a challenge because the facilities available to us are spread out on all of these little posts. The commissary is on one, PX on another, PXtra still on another. No one stop shopping here.


Magic shades. Our hotel is equip with these fabulous little shades on each of the windows. They are basically little roll-up garage doors for each of the windows and they completely block out the light - any light. It can be high noon and if you lock down all these shades, you will be in a pitch black house. I guess that can be spooky, but when you want to sleep in, it is fabulous! We don’t have them on our apartment, but we’ll enjoy them while we are here.


They don’t have Coke Zero here. This could have helped me kick the habit except they have something called Coca Cola light which is neither diet coke or coke zero but it only has one calorie and it tastes pretty good.


I blew through the commissary today. I didn’t take the time to really look at the selection but I can tell you this, they don’t have Tillimook cheese, Kosher fat free hot dogs, or Coke Zero. They have a pretty small section of local German food, breads, cheese, and OK every section is pretty small. The only thing they ration that will affect us is coffee. Seriously? A coffee ration.


We can use 100 gallons of gas a month per car priced at the US rate (currently $2.99/gallon). After the ration amount we have to purchase gas on the economy which is going for about $7 a gallon. This should be plenty of gas for us unless we decide to drive somewhere in which case we will have to take this little gas situation into account.


Cell Phones. Cell fees here are very different than in the US. All incoming calls are free but you pay 30 cents a minute for outgoing calls UNLESS you are calling someone that has the same cell carrier in which case you pay 30 cents for the first minute and then the rest of the call is free. Now all I have to do is get this little fact in my head. Call from home unless I’m calling someone else’s cell phone in which case I need to use my cell but make it short and sweet unless the person I’m calling has t-mobile. Sure, I’ll remember all that. I had to ask Matt to explain it to me about 5 times now, and that was just since I started this post.


All in all, I think I’m OK with the differences and challenges life here in Germany will bring. The apartment is sooo small, but aside from the single toilet, shared laundry room in the basement, and no garbage disposal, it has everything we need. We were so lucky to get a ground floor, end unit apartment. We only share one wall with our neighbor and that is the kitchen wall. As long as the people above us are not stomping around, we might occasionally forget that we live in an apartment.


As soon as we get a license and a car we will be able to venture out a little more and learn more about this place. In the meantime I lay awake at night thinking about things like how cool the shades are, how slow the internet is and how much fun I'm going to have making the apartment our own.