Monday, October 31, 2011

What a freaking day!

Do you ever feel like you are having one of those days where the devil is messing with you?  I mean seriously, Murphy is barking up your tree and you can't even get frustrated enough to cry?  That was my morning.  Big R has a busy week in court and of course not a single day in court is here, so today was my day to have the car.  I wanted to be productive and take care of things that got way-laid last week.

Let me back up... when I attended my awesome PEP course a couple weeks ago, I found out that we really shouldn't be traveling outside of Germany right now because we are missing two critical pieces of information.  One, very, VERY critical piece is a tourist passport for little r.  Don't even get me started on that one.  Yes, of course he has a passport, but it is what the Army likes to call a "no fee" passport, which is apparently akin to a VISA.  Tells the German government that we are living here and not just passing through on a "visit."  When I went through the process of obtaining a "no fee" passport for little r and myself, I was told explicitly NOT to get a tourist passport.  Misinformation is too much fun, isn't it?  Luckily, Big R and I have our tourist passports, so this only involves little r.  Yeah, I say "only" like it's a no biggie deal and who cares if the polizia in Italy could have put him in containment for not legally traveling. YIKES! Yes, I consider this a VERY big deal, and I'm not taking any chances leaving Germany until we get this issue resolved no matter how many people tell me passports won't be checked.  You're talking about my kid here, so I'm playing it safe...

The other critical piece of information I became aware of is that Big R and I need an International Driver's License to drive outside of Germany.  Well, let me clarify that...we need the international license to drive in non-USEURA countries, which includes all but Germany, Italy, and Belgium.  Whoops! There we go again breaking the rules (albeit unintentionally, but breaking them nonetheless) when we did our big trip to Italy.  Needless to say, at least one of us needs to be legal if we plan on driving outside of Germany.  It would help keep us out of trouble...

Ok, so back to my crazy day.  I had plans to get these things taken care of. You see, the Army operates on its own language, and by that I'm not necessarily referring to the acronyms (although that IS a language in and of itself), but instead I'm referring to this nonchalant language and attitude that life is easy, that office is located just next door, go talk to so and so and it'll be taken care of, just see the blankety blank office and you'll get that ID, blah blah.  I swear, it's NEVER as easy as they say it is.  Let me clarify, it really IS easy, but there are multiple steps, required documents, office and walk in hours that are only posted in the office, websites that are not user friendly, and "just next door" or "right across the street" is typically at least a quarter mile away.  (Man, am I complaining today or what?!)

So, last week I tried to get these processes taken care of.  What I did instead was get them started.  First, I got the needed passport pictures for little r and me, mine for the license and his for his passport.  At least that was one requirement that I was given a heads up on.  Next, I was informed that I go to the Drivers license office on Post and they will issue my license.  It's true, they START the process, but then you fill out a form in German, get it signed by the representative, then take that signed form to downtown Bamberg, find the room for your license, fill out more paperwork and provide your license, passport, a passport photo, oh and PROOF OF YOUR RESIDENCE (seriously people, no one ever tells you everything you need).  Luckily I had a bill from our internet company (that leads us to the bigger reason my day was crazy), and the representative kindly took that as proof even though it didn't have my name anywhere on the bill.  The lady hated me, too, because little r decided this was an appropriate place to have a complete meltdown.  She was annoyed with me and irritated that I couldn't speak German.  Sorry lady... little r was having a rough day, too, and this is why...

We dropped Big R off at the office and I headed to the bank to get some information. Apparently the bank information that we provided to Kabel Deutschland did not work for the first two months, and we received a 7-day notice from them that if we didn't pay TODAY they were halting our service for a huge fee.  ugh.  They don't use personal checks here in Germany.  Not sure why that is, just trust me on this one, but instead, you give your bank information to everyone or set up automatic payments.  I found out it takes 3-5 business days for the bank to send the payment.  double ugh.  Armed with the proper routing number, I headed to the activity center to use the computers and let little r play.  He did great, mostly because he found a buddy right away and was having a ball.  The computer effort failed.  The company website still didn't like the number, so I was going to have to call them and muddle through my horrible German to pray they don't turn our service off (especially knowing the bank wouldn't get payment to them until the end of the week) - this quickly became my only option.

I try really hard with German, I really, really do, but it's still horrible.  I was going to give it a go and pray that something that came out of my mouth would give the rep on the phone a clue as to what I needed.  I was on hold for over 20 minutes and decided this was a task for the naptime hour.  So, we headed to the passport office, which, by the way, is only open from 10-1145 a.m. each day and only on a walk-in basis.  I needed just general information that the computer told me I could only get from the passport guy.  The wait was a minimum of 40 minutes. ugh. We would never last in a hallway waiting for that long... A nasty dirty diaper later, and we were out the door.  I was determined to get something taken care of today, so that's when we ended up at the Landstamt in downtown Bamberg to get my license.  Despite the lady hating me, I somehow left the Landstamt with my international drivers license. Oh yay, I'm finally legal...

License in hand, and little r happily munching on a tasty roll from a nearby market, and I decided to try the passport office again.  Glad I did because there wasn't a soul there.  We got the information we needed, and I made a note to myself to bring Big R back for the final paperwork (all parents have to be present for a minor's passport, fun, eh?) right before closing time.

Tossed the kid back in the car, made him go straight to a nap (he's still pissed at me), and started writing out translations in an attempt to speak to someone at Kabel Deutschland.  Numerous attempts of me butchering the German language, and then 40 minutes on hold, and I finally talked to the right representative that at least understood not only what I needed but that an English speaking rep would be far more useful.  Not 5 minutes later and I was on the phone with a wonderful woman that speaks excellent English.  Our account is fixed, our internet is not going to be shut off, and we just gave a German company free access to our bank account (and this is something I'm elated about, what is the world coming to?!).

The afternoon promises to be full of fun, little ones in cute costumes, and lots of candy.  Now I just have to come up with a cute costume for little r before he wakes up and get chilli on the stove so that we have something to eat when we all get home tonight.  All in all, the day might just end up ok, but holy mackerel, right now all I need is yoga, comfort food, and a glass of wine.  It could be worse, it could be snowing right now :)


Saturday, October 29, 2011

More cow bell...

Our trip to Garmisch was just as everyone had promised it would be.  It truly is a beautiful place.  Hard to believe this was technically a TDY trip for Big R.  The Army's resort, Edelweiss, is a great hotel that really makes us crazy Americans feel at home (as if we need any help in that category).  It was a bizarre feeling to be in this characteristically German town and be paying in dollars and surrounded by Americans speaking English and talking slang. Even though Edelweiss didn't have the German charm that would have come with staying at a Zimmer or Gasthaus in town, there was a small comfort in staying there mostly because we were surrounded by families - translation: small children all running around and screaming and yelling.  Made us feel less like we were standing out, I suppose.  Not that little r is all that bad, but it does always feel like the German children are ridiculously well-behaved. I have to admit though that little r is becoming quite the little traveler and despite a couple of meltdowns, he was really great for us on this trip (it helped that one of those days I was able to put him into daycare on the post and enjoy some mommy-time.  I was feeling really guilty about it until I picked him up and realized he had a great day as well.)

To me, the best part about Garmisch was the scenery.  The town is nestled in the Alps and surrounded by beautiful mountains including the Zugspitz, which is the tallest peak in Germany.

This is a picture of our hotel and the view from our balcony...

And when the town is quiet (which, frankly, is a majority of the time), you can hear the sound of cow bells... right behind the resort is a cow farm and the cows all proudly wear their cow bells.  It is such a cool sound...

When little r and I first arrived on Wednesday, the weather was overcast and chilly.  So we just stayed inside and enjoyed some dinner with Big R and other officers and spouses.  It was a lovely evening.  Big R got a much needed massage, and then took little r up to the room so that I could enjoy an evening out. The next morning came much too fast, but I had a big day planned and there's nothing like a toddler to get you moving first thing.  I had reservations for little r to spend the day at the daycare while I got to enjoy a massage and some time sans toddler walking through the town.  I know, my life is rough... The weather was amazing, and I spent much of the afternoon walking through town with a new buddy and her sweet little 6-week old girl.  We had a nice time taking in the sights.  Here are some pictures from around Garmisch.

The best part of our trip, by far, was the last day.  The crew finished up the conference before lunch, so we spent the afternoon on the mountain.  The Zugspitz is apparently the place to go, but the price was a little high for our blood (35 EUR or $70/person - OUCH), and we got advice to do another mountain. That proved to be the greatest advice we had gotten all week.  We went with some friends (including my new buddy) and headed up the Alpspitz, which sits right behind the Edelweiss resort.  There is a Garmisch Classic package you can by for 24 EUR/person (that's more like it), that includes three separate gondola rides up, across, and then down the mountain.
little r thought he was riding on a train.

We went WAY up there.  Felt like we just kept climbing...

Here we are at the top.  Little r looks cold but it was actually very warm when we were there.

Walking up to the lookout bridge - Big R didn't go much farther than this... Turns out little r shares his Daddy's fear of heights.

Snow on the mountain.

Yummy German lunch that would make any vegetarian squeemish...
 After lunch we took the second gondola ride across the mountain.  From there it was a short hike down the trail to our next Gondola ride that would take us to the bottom.  At this point, little r was exhausted and we tried all we could to get him to take a snooze.

Turned out the only thing that worked was letting him fall asleep in my arms. He hasn't done that in over a year.

Here are some more pictures we took on our brief hike to our final gondola decent back to Garmisch.

The afternoon could not have gone better.  The scenery was breathtaking and the weather was perfect.  Unfortunately, we got stuck in hellish traffic heading home.  Seems everyone in Munich was heading out of town yesterday, and we were sitting in bumper to bumper traffic for a couple hours.  Not fun.  Even in Germany sitting in traffic sucks.  We took note of that and will try to avoid that area like the plague on a Friday afternoon heading home.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Floor it!

Ahhhhhh, here we are in beautiful Garmisch. I haven't had a chance to see much of it yet. In fact, at this very moment I'm sitting on the floor of my dark hotel room thankful that my iPhone is working for a change while little r gets some much needed zzzzz's. The weather is wet and cold and the mountains are fogged in, so I won't complain too much about my current predicament. Hey, I'm at Edelweiss and literally started to relax the minute I walked through the door.

I think one of the most exciting things about being here is that I drove here - no GPS, no map, and no getting lost. It's a freaking miracle! The autobahn is insanity. Just putting that out there. Have any of you driven 100 mph before?! Holy crap! It's AWESOME! There's no autopilot or cruise control in Germany. You gotta watch where you're going and get out of the way or floor it. It sounds even faster in kilometers at 160 - woo freaking hoo! I really never thought I'd like the fast driving but it ain't so bad when it's legal.

The autobahn is fast but it's also temperamental. It's not uncommon to be flooring it at 160 kph and then slam on your brakes for a 120 kph speed zone. Man, 80 mph feels reeeeeallly slow… it was also raining today and tons of construction, so we had to bring down the speed for a majority of the trip.

The section we drove through Munich was madness. You take this winding road through downtown to link up with another autobahn. Big R had warned me in advance to be careful. I spent a good hour last night studying the map and watched signs like a hawk. It felt like driving through downtown NYC only the drivers would actually let you in and the signage is helpful.

I digress…for those of you wondering how it is I have this amazing life, we are on the same page. There is actually a military base, a very tiny one in Garmisch, Germany, and they built a swanky hotel here for the Soldiers and their families to relax, enjoy, conference, and retreat. We will be doing a little of each. The crazy little bear just woke up and I better go before he breaks the hotel room phone!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Deutsch Kindergarten

The moment we found out we were being stationed in Germany I knew that I wanted to enroll little r into German Kindergarten.  Nothing necessarily against little r attending an American pre-school on the Post, but I really want him to have the cultural experiences of living in Germany.  My parents were stationed in Germany when I was about the same age, and I attended a German Kindergarten from ages 3 to 6.   Even though I was young, I have some fond memories of kindergarten (too bad the German language didn't stick with me).  You hear all sorts of stories from various sources and people about how to get your kids into kindergarten here and how old they need to be, etc.  One of my friends said that everyone she has talked to has had varying experiences with it, both because the school's are different but also because the kids are, as she put it, "wildly" different.  I can easily see now how that can be the case.

We have two kindergartens here in our local town, and I was hopeful that little r would be attending one next year.  My mom's memory was that kindergarten started when the child turns three and I had heard that from several others as well, so I had that age in mind and just assumed little r would start school after his third birthday next year.  Either way, it's advisable to look into the schools and get on a list in the hopes that when they do come of age, they hopefully have a school to go to.

Last week while I was attending the PEP class, little r was able to spend the entire time in the daycare on Post.  He absolutely loved it.  I think he missed being around other kids and having the structure that school can bring to your day.  This encouraged me to look into these kindergartens more seriously.  I spent some time translating the websites, and then one afternoon last week I built up the courage to go visit one in town.  It was pretty late in the day, so only a few teachers and kids were left in the building, but one of the teachers spoke English fairly well and she gave me the business card for the Director of the school and told me to call to set up an appointment.

Instead of making a fool out of myself calling the school (and let's face it, probably dialing the wrong number AGAIN), I drafted and translated an email to the Kindergartenleiterin (Kindergarten Head), and before I knew it I had an appointment set up this week to see the school and meet with her. My new German neighbor (and friend) kindly offered to go with me to help translate.  The Kindergartenleiterin spoke about as much English as I know German, so I was very relieved to have my friend with me.  Although she was convinced I would have been fine on my own. HA! Muddling through it would not have been much fun for either of us.  

This kindergarten is really amazing.  This particular school will accept children into the kindergarten when they are 2.5 years old AND they do NOT have to be potty trained. YAY! (little r might be potty trained by then, but it's nice not to have the pressure - I'm sure he appreciates that as well.)  My timing was good and they happen to have a slot available for him.  We filled out all the paperwork (thank you again to my lovely German friend), so little r is registered and will start school on 1 February.  I feel very lucky that everything worked out so well. I'll most likely write greater details about the school once he starts in a few months, but what I initially saw of it was fantastic.  The school has three separate groups of children ages 3 to 6.  Each group has about 25 children and they are of all different ages, in other words, they don't separate the kids based on their age.  This gives the kids a chance to socialize with both older and younger friends.  Very cool.  The school seems to be centered around teaching the children important social skills and responsibility.  They learn how to play together, follow rules, and be independent.  Every day they have Brotzeit (or late breakfast) and the kids wash the dishes and clean up afterwards.  They even get to cook their Brotzeit once a week!  They have these kitchens that are "mini" so the kids can easily reach the sinks.  Too much fun.  They also allow the children to go outside and play every day despite the weather.  The kids don't have to go out, but apparently most do and they all love it.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that little r will love going to school, especially this particular kindergarten.  We can walk there in 5 minutes from our house and make it a fun morning routine with the puppy.  School starts around 8:30 a.m. and goes until 12:30 p.m. (or later if we wish).  And it is ridiculously affordable at only 85 EUR/month.  (I'm having one of those "pinch me" moments again...)

My mom asked if I took any pictures, but of course, that's a fabulous idea that never occurred to me.  Instead, here is a link to the website if you are interested in checking out little r's new school:

Military Man's Promise

I saw this posted on a friend's Facebook wall today, and I needed to share it with others.  It  effectively sums up what so many Soldier's must feel and so many Soldiers' spouses experience...

Military Man's Promise: 

I cannot promise you every night of my life. I cannot promise to be beside you for every difficult moment, every trial, and every hardship. In truth, I can promise you that I will not be with you for most. I will leave you at inconvenient times. Any special date to us may be tainted with the anniversary of the death of one of my friends. I will ask you to take over whatever life we have built together for months and years at a time. And will then crash back into that life that you have used your sweat, your tears and your heartache to keep together, and try to take it back as I knew it before. I will shut you out at times because it will be the best way for me to hold it together at that moment. I will lie to you. I will tell you I don't know things when I do. I will not always tell you where I am going, when I will be back, or who I am with. I may not call you for weeks and months and you will not be able to call me. You will ask questions that I won't answer. You will know answers to questions that you will hope you never need. I will share things with my brothers that you will never understand. They will know things about me that you never will. They will be a support to me in some things that you cannot be. I will miss birthdays. I will miss anniversaries. I may need time to process things that seem natural to everyone else. It will seem that someone - or something - will always take precedence over you. You may lose me long before you ever thought possible. I will uproot you and ask you to re-establish our family anywhere in the world, in any season, at any time - over and over again. Sand and mud will be tracked through your halls from the boots I am too tired to take off. I will leave you when you beg me not to. I will stand at attention while you cry beside me. I will not turn my head and I will walk away. I will knowingly break your heart. And I will do it again - and again. I cannot promise you all of me. I cannot promise you much of anything. But if you will have me, I can promise that as I march away from you, it is not without sharing your heartache. I promise you that every time I break your heart I will be breaking mine. Every time that I cannot answer you I will be protecting you. Whenever you want to call and you have no number to dial, I will be wanting to do the same. I will protect everything that we have created together with every fiber of my being while you do the same back at home. I will honor you in everything - every moment that we are apart and every moment that I am with you. I will fight harder and push further knowing that I do so for you. And I will carry you with me in everything, until my sandy boots once again sit just inside our door
- quote from Steven Odell Corpening

Friday, October 21, 2011

And the walls came down...

This has been an exceptional week for me.  I participated in a "class" called People Encouraging People, or PEP, which is a week long orientation for Soldiers' spouses to introduce them to the area, the Post, the Army, and living in Germany.  The class was an amazing experience, and I couldn't be more thankful for the opportunity.

The PEP is put together by the Army Community Service.  They paid for a week of daycare (which was freaking awesome) and they had a combination of host speakers, tours, lunches, shopping... Obviously they can't tell you all you need to know in one week, but that wasn't from a lack in trying. 

The past couple months I tried to embrace my life in this foreign country, yet I still felt the walls around me - walls of intimidation maybe?  I wasn't quite sure why, but I knew I hadn't really felt quite at home yet.  I knew it would come, all in good time, of course, just needed to find some patience.  Big R was required to do a short class called "Head Start" when he first arrived here (no juice boxes were distributed) where he was given a rough introduction to German culture, a little language, and a short tour downtown.  Although it was helpful, it left many questions unanswered. In many ways, you get into a place where you don't even realize that you had a question, if that makes any sense.

Oh, I had many questions, which is now much more clear.  What a cool week.  Not only did I meet some incredible new friends, but I now have a new found appreciation for where we live and how many resources are here for us.  Things are different in Germany, I don't think there's any mystery in that, and it feels great to not only embrace those differences but to also recognize the many similarities.

Our first day was information overload.  We were given countless amounts of handouts and briefings to guide us through our stay in Germany. The rest of our week included a bus ride and quick walking tour through some of the amazing sights in Bamberg.  We had dinner at a fabulous Gasthous that I'd been dying to check out, and learned a little bit of essential German in the process.  The following day we got a tour of the big industrial area in Bamberg. To those of you back home, I'm sure you are thinking what I was when we were told this was part of our class. Why would I want to see the industrial area?  Here in Germany, or at least in Bavaria, they don't mess around with their shopping.  Unlike us, mini malls are for shopping indoors.  They focus on making the inside look inviting where you spend all your time, and leave the outside to look...industrious.  They have entire industrial areas with oodles of stores and mini malls, so that it's all together.  Zoning at its finest...  From the outside, it looks uninteresting and definitely uninviting.  Taking a peek on the inside opened my eyes to the material and consumer side of Germany.  I have been trying desperately the past couple of years to veer away from being a mass consumer, but let's face it, sometimes you just need "stuff"...

Our final day was a train trip to Erlangen, which is another university town between Bamberg and Nurnberg.  The trip was primarily to show us a German-style shopping mall, and also to familiarize us with using the train system (which is ridiculously easy and very cheap).  For the first time in a long time, I spent a huge part of a day shopping with a good friend without the worries of a little munchkin.  We embraced the European fashion and spent some of our hubbies' hard earned money, but mostly we just had a great time.

Overall it was a great week for me.  I finally have a good sense of where things are in town and I can find them again WITHOUT GETTING LOST - woohoo!!!!  We all know this is HUGE for me.  It was nice to have a week to myself, and I know little r enjoyed his time in daycare with the other kiddos.  (He was enjoying it so much in fact that I started the process to get him enrolled into a German Kindergarten.) This weekend we'll be recovering from our busy week and doing a little shopping for the house (now that I finally know where to find things!).       


Monday, October 17, 2011

First frost of the season

The first frost of the season arrived here this weekend.  We woke up Saturday morning to a beautiful sight.   

It almost looked like snow in the field by our house.

We bundled up and headed into the Gruner Markt and warmed up with a couple cafe lattes at our new favorite Italian place for breakfast on Saturday mornings. Little r got to sit in the big boy seat with daddy and he was beyond thrilled! It was an elevated bench seat and I sat on a stool.  Little r kept saying, "up here with Daddy!"  Ah, it's always that little things that make you smile :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wild fun on a Sunday

Little r has been battling a nasty cold all week, and last night wasn't a restful night for him.  Needless to say, he woke up a crankpot.  Normally this would mean snuggling up and enjoying some downtime, but we'd been doing that quite a bit this week, and all I wanted to do was get little r out of the house.  He (and I) needed some stimulation.  A hike was out of the question, the boy needed some serious distractions from the fact that he wasn't feeling great.  A friend of mine here had just gone to what sounded like the perfect place for our Sunday madness:  Wildpark Schloss Tambach.

It's a wild animal park that sits behind a palace in the country just north of us.  It was a quick 30 minute drive, and I still think one of the best parts of the place was that it was dog friendly, so we were able to bring the whole family.  That made for one very happy dog.  Have you ever seen a dog around exotic wild animals?  It's a hoot!

We were dressed for the cold, but it ended up being an absolutely gorgeous day.  Good thing because this hat didn't last long.  (I'm hoping he cooperates with his hat more when it starts to get really cold this winter.)

Staring out into the elk herd....

Little r quickly made friends with a sweet little elk...

 Off we go to find some other cool animals..

Like moose...

Wild pigs...

Sweet little ponies...

Crazy racoons... this raccoon is literally growling at Rani in this picture.

A lynx hiding up in a tree...

and a pack of wolves (Big R's personal favorite)...

The wild animal park sits behind a beautiful palace.  You can see a herd of deer lurking about in the fields.

We decided to join the herd....

Rani had to stand back to avoid scaring off the deer.

Turns out it was little r that was the one we needed to worry about...

The deer eventually got used to the crazy bear and came over to say "hello".

More pictures of the Schloss Tambach.  Big R wants to live there - haha.

Overall it was a successful trip.  It was a sweet little park on a beautiful day.  We got out of the house despite all feeling a little under the weather, and the puppy got to come, too.  This is one tired pooch!  And little r slept for three hours until we woke him up for dinner.  We're very quickly deciding that might not have been the best idea.