Thursday, September 27, 2012

Space A Travel Tips

So sorry for the brief blogging hiatus. This crew has been dog-tired, jetlagged, and busy getting back into the swing of things.   We clearly made it home, and it was oddly uneventful especially in comparison to our adventures getting stateside.  I realize this was our first (and second) travel excursion using Space A, but I think we learned quite a bit from our experiences so I wanted to provide some tips for those of our friends that are thinking they might want to try it. 

Overall, the Space A experience for us was pretty good. I know, that's hard to believe, but there were definitely some factors at play that were completely independent of the typical Space A process that caused us some issues, namely a flat tire and a loooong train ride.  Looking back on the whole experience though, it was actually pretty successful as far as Space A travel can go. Was it worth the monetary savings?  We certainly think so.  Factoring in the train ride, the hotel room in Ramstein, and the rental car home, we spent about $300 total (a portion of that we would have obviously saved had our car not needed a pit stop in Schweinfurt for repairs).  For the three of us to have made that flight to New York on the cheapest flights we found (and we looked a lot, constantly tempting ourselves away from trying the Space A craziness), the cost would have been between $2,300-2,700.  From our perspective, that's quite a good deal of savings!  So, yeah, it was definitely worth it.

For what it's worth, here are some tips that I hope to remember when we do this again.  And yes, I think we probably will!

Tip #1:  Be patient and be flexible.  We knew this was going to be a huge factor for making our Space A travel a success.  You need to expect the unexpected. If you think about it, travel is like this no matter what. Flights are notoriously delayed or cancelled for a variety of reasons, especially during peak travel seasons. I think we just get a false sense of security from having a ticket in our hand and a schedule departure.  Don't get me wrong, these are two things that could never be overrated in my book.  One comforting thing about traveling Space A is that you are with a group of people that are traveling the same way you are.  The comradery you feel and the friendships you can make during the process can be awesome.  Use that to fuel your patience.  If you are traveling with little ones, you can also be comfortable knowing that most of the passenger terminals have some sort of family room for the kids to play.  Ramstein is a huge playground - we were super thankful.

Tip #2:  Get on the list as soon as possible.  If you are a CAT III, which basically means you are active duty or a dependent accompanying an active duty member, you can get on the "list" as soon as your leave starts.  Most of the passenger terminals will take an email with the required documents and information attached.  Do this at midnight of your leave start.  If you have the extra leave (which many military folks do), take an extra day before you actually want to leave so you can get on the list earlier.  Also, sign up at those passenger terminals where you want to leave out of to come home before you actually leave.  This will often give you a few weeks to a month to move up the list.  Be sure to remember to sign up for flights inside the US as well.  Sometimes you can get on a flight that will stop once or twice before getting to your final destination.  For example, when we were at McGuire trying to come home, the C-5 broke and there were only a dozen seats available home that evening.  Had we not made that flight, we were going to head to BWI to catch the Patriot Express home.  There was a flight in the morning from McGuire to BWI that we could have easily taken to get there instead of driving.  

If you are a CAT V or VI, you can request to be put on the list up to 60 days before you leave. That's a lot of time!  We had CAT VI people on every flight we took, so don't think it won't work out.  

Tip #3: Try not to travel during high travel season, i.e. school breaks, PCS season, holidays.  I realize this is easier said than done, but you'll have a much better chance at getting on a flight if your name is higher on the list.  We flew during a low travel time, and being high enough on the list was only an issue when we were trying to get on a flight with only 5 seats available.  If you do want to fly during summer break or at Christmas, it's doable, but it will take a lot more patience and flexibility.  

Tip #4:  Follow the flight schedules for a couple months beforehand but don't over-depend on them.  You can "like" most of the passenger terminals on Facebook, and many of them typically provide a 72-hour schedule.  This schedule is tentative at best.  Not only are flights subject to change, but you can count on it.  Sometimes it's just a couple hours, sometimes it's an entire day, or like it was for our flight to the US, it can be 12 hours early!  Be prepared for everything.  One other thing we weren't prepared for is that the C-5s are ALWAYS broken. It's a running joke with the flight crew.  Those darn planes are constantly getting a leak or breaking a fuel line or Lord only knows what else.  Unfortunately, the C-5s are typically the most scheduled flights and they tend to be able to hold the most passengers.  We were depending on this far too much. The flights we were hoping to leave on out of Ramstein were C-5s and they were all a mess.  In fact, when we left McGuire to come home, the C-5 that we "thought" we'd be on flying home never left the ground that day and we instead caught a flight on a C-17 scheduled later that evening. 

For the most dependable flights, look to the Patriot Express flights going through BWI to Ramstein and Aviano.  Those are chartered flights with a relatively fixed scheduled that are flown by United.  It's not as cool as flying on a military plane, but if you are looking for a little more dependency, that'll be the way to go. There are also nearly always over 100 seats available on those flights so there's close to a guarantee you'll get on one.

Tip 5:  If you are leaving out of Ramstein, book a room.  Ramstein lodging allows you to cancel pretty far up to the last minute. I think we could have canceled as late as 5 a.m.  Things would have been much easier for us if we'd had a room to go to that first night.  Since everyone was in the same boat, we can to shuffle quite a bit and pay more than we wanted to for a place to shower and sleep.  

Tip 6:  Drive your car to the terminal.  Our flat tire really did us in.  That was a horrible way to start our adventure.  In hindsight, we probably should have tossed the towel in and stayed with a friend that night.  As it turned out, we would have likely been on the same flight to the U.S. The train works, and it's very doable to Ramstein (and not terribly expensive), but it is nice to have a place to store your things and escape when you need a break from the terminal.  We didn't realize how much carrying all of our things was adding stress until we didn't have them in our possession anymore.

Tip #7: Be prepared for flying on the cargo planes.  Flying on a military cargo plane is super cool.  We loved that part of our experience.  In many ways it was a parent's haven.  The planes are loud, distracting, and cold.  It keeps the kids quiet or puts them to sleep, and quite frankly, if it doesn't, not a soul will hear them anyhow!  But they can get very cold, especially the C-17, and this is the case no matter what time of year it is.  We packed warm jackets, hats, gloves, and scarves, and I was so glad we did this!
We were bundled up for our flight - this is when we landed, it was cold!
Also, if you have the space, bring blankets or a sleeping bag, and even pillows. You get two checked bags up to 70 lbs. and a carryon.  That's plenty of space especially if you have a backpack that you can attach a sleeping bag and other things to.  If you get to ride on a C-17, they let you lie down on the floor once you hit a safe altitude.  (Even though you are basically staring at your checked cargo the entire flight, they won't allow you to access it.)  This is a really awesome thing EXCEPT the floor is REALLY cold and it only gets colder the longer you are on the flight.  I was wishing we had sleeping bags and floor mats like several other folks brought with them.  We managed, but we certainly could have been more comfortable.
Many folks were prepared for a C-17 flight with sleeping bags!
We cuddled up to stay warm
Another view of the C-17 as folks were starting to wake up before we landed.

Tip #8:  Bring food or cash.  We are starting to get accustomed to this even on commercial flights these days, but there truly is no food on these flights unless you plan ahead.  Bring snacks, a cooler, or pack things in your carryon.  Many of the flights will offer "box" lunches that you can purchase for $4.55/piece.  Totally worth it. It's not gourmet or anything fancy, but it will give you a sandwich, a couple snacks, a soda, and a water.  Believe it or not, it's actually a fair amount of food. 

Tip #9:  Have fun and try to enjoy the free ride.  The Air Force cargo transport team is crazy cool.  They handle amazing operations every day.  While we were waiting to get out of Ramstein, the US Ambassador to Libya was killed.  As our government responded to this emergency situation in the middle east, the airport was hopping.  Flights were changing and moving all over the place.  You can meet some really interesting people and get to observe our military at work on the ground.  It can be a really exciting experience.  

So, for what's it's worth, these are my tips for flying Space A.  If you are heading stateside from Germany and you have a little flexibility in your schedule, I can't recommend it enough.  It's very doable with a dose of patience.  In fact, if your parents are veterans, you should strongly encourage them to use it as well.  I couldn't believe the number of retired folks we saw that fly Space A all the time.  We even had an older couple, by that I mean in their 80's (he was a WWII veteran!), fly home to Germany with us.  They had been flying Space A all the way from Travis Air Force Base, which sits just south of Sacramento, California.  Both of them had walkers and needed quite a bit of assistance.  The flight crew was awesome and ready to assist.  It was phenomenal to watch them adapt to the passengers' needs.  All I have to say is, I really hope when Big R and I are in our 80's, we're even half as adventurous as these folks were.  

I hope this is helpful for those of you that think you might want to try flying Space A in the future.  Feel free to contact me if you want to ask more questions.  I talked to so many people before we left because I was clueless about what to expect. You hear nothing but horror stories, and I knew that couldn't be all that was out there.  It's not too much of a nightmare if you know what to expect and you are prepared.    

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Great Trip with Friends and Family

What can I say?  We had a fantastic trip stateside.  Green Mountains, family and friends, VLS, apple picking, hiking, birthday parties, date night... It was a very full trip with nonstop activity, and we loved every minute of it.

After our crazy adventure getting here, we made our way up to our home away from home - Vermont!  We have missed Vermont so very much, and Vermont Law School has and will always share a special place in our hearts.  We couldn't wait to pull into campus and see old friends and explore our old stomping grounds.  Big R's parents so kindly took care of little r for us so that we could enjoy our reunion without the worry or distraction, and that was an amazing treat.  Little r did make a debut for the Reunion BBQ, though, so that friends could see him, and he made his usual impression on everyone.  The school recognized us playfully for having come the farthest to attend the reunion.  To others it seemed a little crazy that we came all the way from Germany for a simple gathering.  To us, though, we wouldn't miss it for the world, and we are hoping to always attend our reunions in the future as well.

We didn't keep the camera handy much when we were socializing at events with friends, so sadly we got very few pictures of the reunion itself, but we did remember to bring the camera on our hike up to Kent's Ledge.  This hike originates in South Royalton, and we hiked at least the lower portion of it daily while we attended law school.  Here are some of the pictures we captured from our hike.
View from Kent's Ledge
Big R and me :) 
More pretty views
It was a great reunion weekend with friends.  I loved seeing everyone and being able to talk with professors that have become great friends over the years.  Our connection with VLS seems to only get stronger with time.  But alas, the weekend had to come to an end.  After a busy weekend and some very late nights, we had a relaxing day in Vermont on Sunday.  Big R and I enjoyed a run through the hills before we visited the Grafton store for cheese and maple syrup, and little r enjoyed visiting the petting zoo.  We finished off the day apple picking including a fun ride touring around the apple orchards by a couple of Percherons.  It was a beautiful day.
little r made me promise him we would own a goat one day
the donkey was his favorite
fuzzy cows!
bonding time with Grandpa Pete
we really enjoyed our ride through the orchard
I love this man
he wanted to take a bite out of every apple!
little r had a blast picking apples - there were so many to pick right at his height
mommy helped reach for some of the higher ones
Time finally came for us to say good-bye to Vermont.  We finished off our visit with a stroll around Brattleboro browsing through all the boutiques full of natural goods and organics.  The new co-op in town was enough to make this mommy giddy.  I keep telling Big R, we might just have to move to southern Vermont afterall.

Our time in Connecticut was full of family time and visits with old friends.  This was invaluable time that we were so glad we were able to fit into our visit.  There were so many friends we didn't have time to see though, and that makes us infinitely sad.  This is definitely the hardest part about living so far away.

And I can't forget the awesome birthday party we had for little r.  I think the whole family was here, and little r loved every single minute of it!  It's so fun when your kids reach the age when they understand things like birthdays.  He has been so excited to eat cake and open all of his presents!

little r couldn't wait to blow out his candles
playing with daddy
the birthday boy and his daddy!
eating the icing off of the candles - yum!
birthday kisses
so much fun!
little r got the best gifts from everyone!
sharing his gifts with the cousins
 Our visit ended with a perfect date night with the hubby.  We got dressed up and went to a fancy French restaurant as a belated anniversary celebration. It was a perfect night out.
date night!
The time has come for us to make our way home.  The Space A adventure awaits! Stay tuned for updates on our trip home.  There is no doubt there will be at least a few stories to tell.  Hopefully the next time you hear from me we'll be back in Germany in the comforts of our home. Our fingers are crossed we have a little less adventure getting home.

Friday, September 14, 2012

We made it! And other amusing stories...

Holy bananas! This week has been a crazy ride.  We did finally make it to Connecticut, and our Space A adventure was actually a fairly good success.  Our thoughts might have been slightly different after spending 24 hours in the Ramstein passenger terminal, but in hindsight, it all worked out for us.

It is true, we did spend literally the entire day at the passenger terminal.  Our luck was paper thin, and a normally busy and bustling terminal with often 2-3 flights to the US daily, had only 1 flight to Bangor, Maine, with a mere 5 seats available. Our odds weren't the best, but we were trying to remain optimistic.  We were also hoping the C-5 heading to McGuire would automatically start working and that they'd want to get it off the ground pronto.  Yeah, that didn't happen either.  So, we kept thinking about getting out to Maine and how we'd use that to get to an optimal destination.  Rental cars were reasonably cheap and we were hoping to get an unexpected overnight with friends that live in Maine.

Our sour luck continued though, and with only 5 seats available, when they called our name, they only had 2 seats left. Back to the drawing board.  There were three scheduled flights bound for the US the following day, so we felt pretty good that we'd be getting out.  Only time would tell!  One thing we knew was that we weren't going anywhere that night, so we took all of our baggage (ugh!), which we were dead sick of dragging around, and headed across the street to pray for lodging somewhere.  With the three US bound flights the next day, the lodging options were slim because everyone else was also planning ahead.  After much griping and mild cussing (hey, we were getting really tired and irritable at this point, and little r was beyond done), we finally found a place to stay for the evening.  It was quite a bit more expensive than military lodging, but it was close and we needed a shower and a comfortable bed like no other.

Through this process we happened to meet some pretty incredible people.  There are both active duty and retirees that put themselves through this Space A experience quite regularly (crazy souls), and we all enjoyed talking, sharing experiences, and learning more about some amazing people.  One couple in particular, Col. and Mrs. Hullinger, were incredible and some of the nicest people we had ever met.  They knew we were having a rough go at the whole experience, starting with the car trouble, and missing out on the first flight to the US that morning, and they were extremely helpful.  They allowed us to store our bags in their hotel room while we ate dinner and tried to find some lodging for the night.  We didn't realize how much lugging all those things around was affecting our mood.  Even little r lightened up a lot when we left all our baggage behind.  THEN they bought us a drink and appetizer at dinner (Macaroni Grill - we were at Ramstein, which in all intents and purposes is a little America).  After all of this wonderful show of friendship, and they then offered to take us to our hotel so that we didn't need to hire a taxi.  We bought them a card in thanks, and I feel that was such a small token of the gratitude we felt.  Col. Hullinger, if you and your wife are reading this, we really can't thank you enough and we hope that our lives cross paths again!

We got to the cute little hotel, and the hostess could not have been more friendly giving us a discount because we'd miss breakfast and calling a taxi for our ridiculously early leave time of 3:45 a.m.!  We showered and literally fell into bed.  And this is where the fun started...

I woke up before my alarm (what is wrong with me?!), and realized something wasn't right.  We had NO power. None, whatsoever.  Luckily we had laid out all of our clothes and our bags were pretty much ready to go because trying to get out the door quickly with all our stuff and a zombie toddler was a crazy challenge at 3:30 in the morning. By the lights of our cell phones, we packed up, dressed little r, and got all our things out to the taxi, which was prompt and ready to go just as we had asked.  Not 10 minutes before we reached the terminal and Big R noted that they changed that freaking C-5 flight to McGuire again from 4:10 a.m. to later that morning at 7:30 a.m.  Seems cruel somehow, doesn't it?

Upon checking in "present" at the passenger terminal, we got wind of information that the Dover-Westover flight scheduled for later that afternoon was anxious to get home, and they were leaving as soon as possible.  FINALLY something was going our way.  We were the second name on the list during roll call, and before we knew it, we were walking through security, showing every form of ID we had about 10 different times in a dozen different ways.  We took a bus across tarmac to this HUGE C-5.  It was surreal to say the least.  We climbed some sky stairs to the first level, and then a metal ladder to the second story of the plane where we found our seating.

We were exhausted, and luckily they only allowed a dozen passengers even though there were seats available for 60 of us.  That meant once we made altitude, we all got a row of seating to ourselves.  The whole plane slept nearly the entire flight.  Pretty awesome.  Little r didn't even last through the plane taxing to the runway and slept through the entire dramatic takeoff.
So, what's it like to ride on a C-5?  Man, is it super freaking cool.  All we kept thinking was, the whole process was worth the wait to take that flight across the ocean.  We all loved it.  I'm not sure why it was so great, and maybe we were just so thankful to finally be on the plane heading to the U.S., but we definitely gave the whole flight end of the process a big thumbs up.

You sit in regular passenger seats up on the second story of the plane above the cargo.  The seats sit facing backward, so it is a trip when the plane takes off and lands.  The seats are anything but luxurious.  They are ancient and randomly comfortable.  Falling apart all around you and yet they provided comfortable places to sleep.  I never realized how stuffy commercial flights can be.  Military flights have a whole different feel to them.  The people expect less, the flight crew is awesome, and we all have a common bond (and most likely have gone through a long waiting process together).  The rules are more lax, so you can get up and walk around, spread out, stretch, without having a flight attendant breathe down your neck.  Of course it helps that you have a ton more leg room and the aisles are much wider.

We actually caught up on some much needed sleep on our trans-Atlantic flight.  The landing was memorable - these planes are amazing pieces of machinery! We were greeted with a flight crew in Dover, and we made our way to the tiny terminal to wait for the second leg of the flight.  Here are some pictures we took of the plane while we were waiting in the bus on the tarmac to be driven to the terminal.  It was impressive to come off that plane and realize where we were sitting.  So freaking cool... that's all I have to say!

Not only did we need to go through customs (the EASIEST customs check I've ever had), but the flight crew informed us that they are never sure if the plane will be able to take off again. HA! These C-5 are super reliable, can you tell?!  I'll admit I was a tad bit nervous that we were in for another adventure or a drive up to CT from Dover, but it all worked out for us.  The three of us were the only ones on the plane to Westover.  That was pretty awesome in and of itself!

The flight to Westover was quick and painless. We could tell the plane left much of its cargo behind in Dover because it was much lighter and more maneuverable.  The local flight crew met us in Westover and helped us get to a meeting place to find Big R's mom.  The rest of the story is history!  We are all signed up at several passenger terminals for our trip home.  We have no doubt the adventure will be equally as fun on the other end.

p.s. The C-5 to McGuire STILL has not left Ramstein.  HA!   

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Planes, trains and automobiles?!

This family can't get enough adventure. It's almost as if we seek it out intentionally the way it finds us like a child finds a playground. We already put on our patience gear and were prepared for a long-haul with the whole Space A experience, but the universe thought that wouldn't be quite enough fun. Oh yay for us!

We pulled out of Bamberg much later than we had originally planned, but the extra time in the office ensured Big R that he could leave the laptop and work behind for this trip. I suppose that's a pretty good reason for leaving late :). We left right as some nasty storms hit the Bamberg area, so the autobahn was slick and slow-moving. We weren't 20 minutes away from home and a car spun out just two cars in front of us because he was going too fast and hydroplaned across the lanes. Scary, to say the least, especially since we pulled over and just prayed the upcoming cars would see the accident and stop in time. After making the emergency call announcing the accident to the polizei, we saw that several other Germans were helping out, and we felt comfortable leaving the accident behind.

Not 10 minutes later and 3 hours from Ramstein (according to the GPS), and the "brain" in our car was telling us we had low pressure in our rear tire. Our system is always malfunctioning, but this felt different somehow. The car was ever so politely telling me to find a safe place to pull over - whoa! Red flag was going off, so I slowed way down and drove another 5 km to the next autohof (rest area).

I rolled up to the air hose at the gas station and it didn't take long for us to see the huge screw in our tire. It was losing air so quickly you could hear the hissing. We were so completely screwed... I ran inside hoping to find someone to assist. We couldn't have stopped at a more unhelpful station. I got brave and decided to ask the polizei for help. My German is so miserable, but we were able to get information to each other, and I walked out of the station with a phone number and personal contact name for ADAC (think AAA). Despite several friends telling me that ADAC membership is a must here, I have failed miserably in acquiring it. They will still help, but it will cost some serious cash. Needless to say, I will be getting us signed up with ADAC membership as soon as we get home.

The ADAC mechanic was dispatched to us and he called to see how he could help. At this point it was about 8:30 p.m., so the mechanic made it painfully clear that the tire would not be getting fixed until the start of business the following day. I hung up the phone and tried to carefully brace myself for Big R's reaction to the horrible news. I suggested putting the doughnut on the car and driving to a tire repair shop, and then calling our friend, Meg, in the hopes we could crash with her. This, of course, would cause us to miss the 4:10 a.m. roll call for a flight to McGuire, which, at the time, was looking pretty darn good.

If my husband is one thing, he's not a quitter. His brain started working on overdrive after he released some unavoidable frustration. I was so amazed at our luck that I think I was laughing. How does this happen? With the wheels churning, Big R figured out we had one hour until the next train could take us to Kaiserslautern where we could easily hop a cab to Ramstein. Meg met us on Post in Schweinfurt. I suppose we were lucky we got the flat so conveniently close to friends and an army post. Bringing the car back to Bamberg was hardly an option being that the tow would cost close to 500€, and the distance back and a drive on the autobahn are neither good ideas with a "doughnut" on your car.

Believe it or not, the plan worked. We made the train, which took 4.5 hours and included two hurried train changes with our all our luggage, a car seat, and an exhausted toddler. It was awesome. But we made some friends along the way hoping to get on the same flight to McGuire, so we split the cab and saved some change. Cool. Sometimes smiling at strangers and making friends with other folks can be a huge help.

Little r finally fell asleep on the second leg of our train trip
For a family accustomed to traveling light, this was a lot if luggage to schlep around - oy!
We arrived in Ramstein around 2 a.m. The terminal doesn't open until 4 a.m., so we walked across the street to the Ramstein hotel, which is attached to a huge Mall. We found a spot to park our things to wait out the rest of the morning. We weren't there 10 minutes, and Big R came walking to be with his face sour and he said, "our flight to McGuire is gone - they took it off the schedule." Yikes! I'll have to be honest that I seriously thought he was joking. Sadly, it was anything but a joke, ah well...

Trying to catch some sleep - this even caught the attention of a pilot offering to let us use his room to rest
We had hoped maybe the schedule would be miraculously changed by the time the terminal opened. Unfortunately it had not. The first flight to the US today is at 5 p.m. and it's going to Bangor, Maine. Craziness! That is literally the only US bound flight scheduled today. Our luck is not working out for us. We always expected the problem to be trying to get on planes NOT that flights would just not be available to head Stateside.

So, here we are in the Ramstein terminal. I have to say though, as airports go, this place rocks! It's obviously designed to keep you comfortable and entertained (children included) when you are caught in the Space A madness. Little r has also been the greatest trooper. I guess the universe thought it would be even too much for us to throw all this mayhem our way AND have a screaming toddler. I think it helps that Big R is here. If I were alone, guaranteed my sanity would be gone and little r would be a wild man!

Sneaking some zzzz's in the terminal
Comfortable observation area with free wireless
We really can't complain about the views - so cool!
I'm confident we'll get out - hopefully it'll be today, even if we have to fly to Maine. Hey, why not?! Keep Those fingers crossed for us. We could really use some good karma right about now. I'll keep you posted.



Monday, September 10, 2012

Flying outside our comfort zone

Our next adventure begins at some point tomorrow, and we are literally flying outside our comfort zone on this trip. Apparently flying to New England for our law school reunion was not enough adventure for us, so we decided to save some money and fly Space A. When I said our adventure begins "at some point tomorrow" I meant that quite literally. We actually don't really know when we will be able to leave Bamberg, when we'll get to Ramstein, and then we have no clue which flight we'll get on or where we'll land stateside. Yes, we are embarking on a true adventure. Are we completely out of our minds?!

So, what is this whole Space A deal anyhow? For my non-military friends and family, Space A is short for "space available." The military flies its planes all over the world to deliver supplies, tanks and equipment, emergency rescues or evacuations, to name a few. When they fly into an air force base, they often have room, or space available, for additional passengers. The program has been around for decades. In fact, my stepfather used to use Space A to fly his family home every year from places like Germany and the Philippines.

If you get on a Space A flight, it's usually completely free (some flights have taxes and usage fees, but they are minimal). Sounds pretty amazing, right? What's the catch? Well, it's about the most unreliable method for air travel. The schedule is released, if it's even released, only 72 hours prior to the flight. All flights can and do change without notice, and there are often flights that go through the air base that were never scheduled. On top of that, there is a priority system for who gets on the flights, and there is a first-come-first-served list arranged according to that priority. We have heard nightmares of folks taking three days to a week to get on a flight, but if you fly outside of school holidays, it's often a bit easier.

Because Big R is active duty, we'll be in Category III, which is typically the best category to be in to ensure a flight. But then, the flight needs to be schedule, and seats need to be open on that flight. Oh boy, this is going to be fun! Big R can put us on the list as soon as his "leave" officially starts. Then we hope we are in a high position on the list.

The next level of adventure is that we will be flying on a military aircraft. How cool is that?! Based on the airports we are hoping to fly into and out of, we will most likely be riding on a C-17 or C-5. Maybe we'll be lucky enough to travel across the ocean with a few tanks! HA! The seats could be jumpseats along the sides of the aircraft. Often during the flight, the folks accustomed to this sorts of travel lay sleeping bags and pillows across the cargo and sleep for the entire flight. The air temperature in the aircraft can be super cold because it's often not well heated and the air is frigid at altitude, so we'll be bringing our winter coats along to stay warm.

We've been watching the tentative flight schedules through the air bases' Facebook pages. Our luck isn't shaking least not yet. Despite some fairly regular flights to our more favorable destinations, this week has become an anomaly. Normally there are about 2-3 flights a week each to where we want to go. in the past three days, we have seen twice that number going to both of those air bases. What does that mean?! It means they aren't going when we need them to on Wednesday. Figures, right? Timing is only everything... Big R is trying to move some things around in the hopes we can escape and catch the last flight out tomorrow, but we're not holding our breath. It looks like if we manage to get on the ONLY flight out on Wednesday, it's going to place us about 4.5 hours away from Big R's home in Connecticut. Huge bummer.

The theme of the game is flexibility. We knew this would be an adventure when we made the decision, and let me tell you, we have thought and rethought the whole process. We're hoping our attitudes will be in the right place, that we'll somehow find patience we normally do not have, and that we relax and have fun with the whole deal. I'm actually pretty excited and anxious all at the same time!!!

We'll be in New England for a little over a week (we're actually not quite sure yet which flights will be available to take home), and I'm really looking forward to visiting with friends and seeing our old law school stomping grounds. It's also going to be fabulous to connect with family and friends in and near New England. I'm just sad we don't have the time or money to see everyone this time.

I promise to return with details from our adventures, especially our flights!



Saturday, September 8, 2012

Hot headed red totty

Holy mackerel - little r had a colossal meltdown of epic proportions today. It was truly a sight to behold. I wish you all could have been there to witness it.

We are, quite frankly, pushing little r's limits these days. Traveling somewhere every couple of weeks with hardly a routine to be found is even wearing us adults out. But he has been doing exceptionally well being adaptable and even cooperative for the most part.

The occasional meltdown occurs, but it has been awhile since we experienced one that turns heads. And boy, did my hot headed toddler turn heads today...

We met up with some friends at the market this morning for breakfast and to pick up produce and some other fun items - our favorite "usual" Saturday morning routine. Little r was extremely well behaved during breakfast and got only a little antsy walking around the market. Nothing too out of the norm.

We decided to go to the Müller (think Target) to explore the fun toys. Our little man has a birthday coming up soon, so we were looking for good ideas. Little r is typically not that kid that falls apart in toy stores. He does really well understanding he can't have all the toys, but is cute about identifying all the things he wishes we would buy him. In fact, it's one of our favorite things to do with him because he's so darned cute.

The hot wheels were crazy cheap, so we told him he could pick out two. Guess that was my first mistake. His understanding of numbers is fairly elementary. After at least 30 minutes of incredible and darn right cute behavior in the store and the monster was unleashed.

Here it came bellowing from the depths within his tiny tummy. There was no turning back...the meltdown began. He was super tired, probably hungry, and outright pissed at us for telling him only two cars were coming home. Wow, such unappreciative behavior - ha! I'm no idiot (or maybe I am?) and knew this was not behavior to be rewarded. The hot wheels were put back on the shelves and out we went...

My little hot headed monster kicked, screamed, yelled, thrashed, and cried his heart out as we worked our way out of the store. Then he continued into the market thrashing around. It was un-freaking-believable. The last time he did this was when we were in Venice, and I lost it and utterly broke down.

I was randomly calm today. This calm was mostly likely brought about because Big R somehow stayed completely put together. It's sad to say, but we were almost laughing at the scene. Shaking our heads and passing looks at each other. This must be a survival tool we develop as parents to avoid going insane.

I hardly noticed all the eyes on us until this elder woman decided she needed to talk to us in German and broken English. I suppose we did appear as though we were in great need of assistance. The lady was actually quite nice and sympathetic and she was clearly feeling our pain. But then I looked around and noticed everyone staring. Somehow I had taught myself not to see or feel this to avoid sheer embarrassment, but there was no avoiding it today.

I looked around and felt like eyes were boring into our heads. Jaws were dropping, hands were covering people's mouths, and woman were gasping. I mean really, people, is a toddler meltdown really that extreme to you? There is no way German children never go through this. I found myself just hoping people could see we weren't hurting him. The last thing we wanted was for anyone to think calling the polizei was necessary.

We remained randomly calm when we should have been in tears, and we fought our screaming toddler until we made it to our bikes where it took another 15 minutes to chill him out enough for the bike ride home. It was fantastic! What a crazy mess.

I seriously hope to avoid such a meltdown again, but I know this was one of many more to come. It's nice to recognize that we have at least learned to take them in stride.

What do you do to survive the ultimate toddler tantrum in a public place?


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


Thursday, September 6, 2012

What do you do to memorialize your trips?

Big R and I absolutely love to travel. Long before we even found out we were moving to Germany, we were jetsetters and tried to travel and see the world - or at least the small part of it we could afford. From talking with other people that also enjoy traveling, I've noted that so many of them collect things from their travels to memorialize them. Do you do this as well? My sister and her husband collect magnets, which I thought was such a cute idea. And our friends, Meg and Robert, send post cards to their families each time they take a trip somewhere. Some people enjoy picking up little souvenirs - the cornier the better. When I went backpacking in Europe for a month with my best friend after college, she was certain to collect shot glasses from a Hard Rock Hotel from every city we visited because her brother-in-law collected them. It was kind of fun because it ensured an adventure at every stop.

It might seem a little strange, but Big R and I have never really collected things from our trips. More than anything else, I think our pictures hold our memories. Big R is so good with his camera, that it seems he is always searching for that perfect photograph, and I have to say, he often gets pretty close to perfection! It has been fun to see how much his skills (and cameras) have improved over the years as well. We have promised that in addition to recording our memories in this blog, we will also create some photo books to hold our favorites that we can easily share with friends at dinner parties or pull out and look at over the years to remember all the places we have been.

I used to collect all of my tickets - bus tickets, plane tickets, train tickets, theater tickets, museum tickets - and create a scrapbook from them with the pictures I took with my camera. This practice has sadly gone by the wayside. I still can't seem to throw many of those things away, so we now have a basket where I keep these items along with our guide books, brochures and maps that we bring home from each location.

I did start to notice that we do tend to pick up something nice from nearly most of the places we visit. Our tastes have exceeded corny souvenirs though, and now we try to bring back something we can use or admire.

We entered adulthood and bought our first oil painting in Rome, and I was finally able to get the canvas stretched so we could hang it on our living room wall. We bought the expensive piece for next to nothing, and we were almost giddy about our sophisticated purchase (yes, occasionally Big R can be a dork right along with me - haha).

Our new oil painting of Tuscany purchased while we were in Rome
In Prague, Big R bought me a handmade canvas bag from a vendor at the Easter Market. The man was making the items at the weaving wheel next to the booth as we shopped. I fell in love with it right away, and was happy to bring it home.

Handmade satchel from the Easter Market in Prague
When we went to Fussen, we came back with our cuckoo clock. As corny as it is, I really love that clock (although, I'll confess, we have the cuckoo function of the clock turned off most of the time). I really never thought we'd buy one, but I'm now glad that we did. It'll mean a lot to us later in our lives to remember the time we spent here in Germany (especially when our lederhosen and dirndls no longer fit us!).

Our traditional German cuckoo clock purchased in Fussen
Our trip to Sweden sent us home with many different things, mostly as gifts for Big R's family so they could feel connected to their relatives. Big R was sure though to bring back one of the traditional Dalecarlian or Dala horse statues for our collection. The Dala horse is a wooden statuette of a horse that was traditionally used as a toy for children. It's now more commonly known as a symbol of Dala and Sweden. Big R grew up seeing these in his grandmother's house, so our new item was purchased with quite a bit of pride.

Traditional Swedish Dalecarian horse, which is now often the symbol of Sweden
And one of my favorite purchases from our adventures is our latest from Mallorca. I absolutely fell in love with the mosaics and the pottery from the region. One store in particular, I felt we could have purchased nearly everything we saw. As much as I really like Polish pottery and I'm hopeful we'll be able to return to the States with a nice collection, there is something about the Spanish style pottery that really draws me in. Despite having very little space in our bags to bring anything home, Big R encouraged me to buy a pitcher and glassware set that I couldn't take my eyes off of. If we had had more room, I fear we would have left with an entire plate and bowl set as well!

Beautiful pottery we purchased in Port de Soller in Mallorca
So, I suppose in a way, we do have a small tradition of collecting precious items from places we visit. We can't really afford to get something nice from everywhere that we go, especially since we've been blessed with the opportunity to see so much while we are stationed here in Germany. I do think I'd like to develop a small tradition, something we can do on every trip, as long as it keeps things fun and doesn't result in the unnecessary collection of random trinkets in the house.

Do you have a tradition you enjoy doing to memorialize your adventures and trips abroad? I would love to hear about them :)