Thursday, August 28, 2003

I'm sitting home this morning, waiting for the maintenance man to arrive. Heady stuff, this living on post. Things that we as homeowners would be required to handle, we just pick up the phone and put in work order. Sticky sliding doors, stove that only halfway works--not my problem, beyond arranging to be here to let the workers in. There's a place here called Self Help, where they provide everything you need to keep the house in working order, such as lightbulbs, recycling bins, etc.

Yesterday's adventure was a field trip to Speyer with the JAG office from Heidelberg. We walked around town for a bit and then met some friends for lunch at the Biergarten. Our new plan for handling meals out to eat is to get three different things and plan on sharing. That way if one meal turns out to be a loser, no one diner suffers disproportionately. Annabelle is on the Spaghetti-Bolognese tour of Europe, but as there was none at the restaurant yesterday, she nibbled on a pretzel instead.

Last night, I went to the signup for the German American Women's Club. They had all sorts of activities to choose from, and I'm afraid I took the Golden-Corral-mega-bar approach. My name is now on lists for: the Diners' Group (couples going out to eat); the Stammtisch (women going out to eat); Mothers With Children (activities for kids such as swimming pools and nature hikes--chances for the kids to meet German children); Conversation Group; and Women's Evening Book Circle (where the members read books in both German and English and then compare notes).

We're facing our first 4-day weekend. We are torn between wanting to go away and wanting to stay right here in this house, especially since we've only been here for only one week! Our compromise is to go away for Saturday and Sunday (heading south, perhaps to Freiburg?) but be at home for Friday and Monday.

First order of business for Friday will be to buy me a bike. I haven't had one in 20 years, and I'm a little nervous about getting back on one now. But there are so many amazing bike paths just outside our neighborhood, and it's very hard to keep up with kids on bikes when one is huffing and puffing along on foot!

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Wednesday, August 27, 2003

[Added as a blog entry on January 30, 2005]

Today we went to Speyer where we joined the Heidelberg JAGs for their Organization Day. We had fun wandering around the city, seeing the cathedral, and having lunch at the Biergarten of the Domhof Brauerei.

We had planned to visit Sea Life Speyer or the technical museum, but we ran out of time. Fortunately, Speyer is only about a half hour away from us, so we'll be sure to visit there again!

Here's a shot of the cathedral in the middle of town:

And here it is from another angle:

Mike took the opportunity to touch base with a VERY old friend:

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Monday, August 25, 2003

The kids and I set out on our own this morning. First we walked to the PX, which is just about a mile from our house. That's one thing I really like about being here: everywhere else I've lived, walking a mile just gets you a mile down the road; it doesn't really take you anyplace you'd especially care to go. Here we can walk a mile and get to so many different places: the commissary, the PX, the skatepark, the library. Even the stop for the Straßenbahn (streetcar) is just this side of the PX. That opens up all of Mannheim and beyond to us.

After much debate this summer, we decided to go ahead and ship both vehicles over. Fred has had his Blazer pretty much since he got here, and my van is due to arrive in Bremerhaven in mid-September. I am going to get my USAREUR drivers license if only to drive to the commissary and such and to get us closer to the Straß in bad weather. Aside from that though, I honestly have no huge designs on driving. I don't know which appeals less to me: driving in town or driving on the Autobahn. In the former scenario, I see my poor minivan flattened by a streetcar and in the latter, I see it receiving a BMW suppository.

Mike has been anxious to meet other kids, and today seems to be his lucky day. Two boys (one our next-door neighbor) just stopped by to ask him to come out and shoot hoops.

Kids seem to have a lot of freedom here, which I think will be good for Mike though scary for me. When we went to the library today to get our cards, the librarian asked if I wanted Mike to be able to check out videos on his card. It had honestly never occurred to me that he might go to the library one day without me!

Poor Annabelle was absolutely devastated to find that she is not old enough to have a library card here. The minimum age is 10. Her eyes filled with tears and her chin quivered and she said, "But, Mom-D.W. got one when she was only FIVE!!!!!" Yes, dear, but D.W. didn't live in Army-land.

We stopped by the USO to sign up for tomorrow's tour of Weinheim, but the tour has been cancelled. I'm afraid we will have to suck it up and make our own tour, as I can't wait a week for the next one before having a look around. I'm sure this sounds ridiculous, but things that I would gladly do all by myself (e.g., figuring out how the streetcar system works) seem daunting to me when I have the kids along.

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Sunday, August 24, 2003

Yesterday we celebrated Annabelle's 8th birthday by going to Legoland, which is halfway between Stuttgart and Munich. We had a fantastic time, and I hope to have my pictures posted by the end of the week.

It's interesting to watch the kids reactions as they settle into a foreign culture and especially to see them grapple with a foreign language. AB was greatly impressed by my ability to order her spaghetti for lunch yesterday with the sauce on the side. She says she wants to learn how to say "everything in German, so I won't feel left out." Mike tried out his first German, saying goodbye to the gate attendant at the end of the day.

We're waiting to have our DSL connection hooked up, and I've heard horror stories about it taking months. Fortunately, this morning I figured out how to use a dialup connection to log onto my AOL account. I have no idea how much it's costing, and it's slow as can be, so I'll only do it twice a day. At least this way, I can keep up with my email!

Fred took Thursday and Friday off to help us settle in, but he goes back to work tomorrow. First thing in the morning, the kids and I are going to find our way (on foot! no van or USAREUR drivers license yet!) to the PX to get a haircut for Mike and new sneakers for poor Annabelle, who outgrew hers on Friday night and wound up walking around Legoland for most of the day in her socks. Then we're going to the USO to see about signing up for a tour they're offering on Tuesday of one of the nearby little towns.

Our big accomplishments for today were (1) getting the trampoline put up and (2) eating a real dinner (shrimp scampi) at home. Fred says he'll be fine if he doesn't eat restaurant food for at least another month.

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Saturday, August 23, 2003

[Added as a post on January 30, 2005. I don't know it yet, but wow, will my life ever be different then.]

We arrived in Germany on the morning of Thursday, August 21. That Saturday we set out for our first trip away from our new home: to Legoland Deutschland! We normally would have taken that first weekend to relax and sleep, but it was Annabelle's eighth birthday, and we wanted to do something special.

Here's the birthday girl, getting ready to pull us both up Legoland's Tower of Power. Thanks to Annabelle's amazing strength, I was able to sit back and just enjoy the ride:

Fred and I took advantage of a sleepy tourist made out of Lego to display a T-shirt from Habaneros--our most fervently missed restaurant back in Texas. Please send nachos!

Fred, Annabelle, and Mike enjoyed a tasty, cool treat at the end of a long, hot day:

This photo and the one below it are just a couple of the amazing creations we saw that day:

Here is the Reichstag. According to my handy-dandy guidebook, it took almost 2,000 hours to build and is constructed of 1,069,937 Lego blocks. That's a lot of Lego!

We shall end our photo-tour of Legoland Deutschland with a puzzle. Can you spot the geniuses in the next photo? HINT: There are three of them:

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Friday, August 22, 2003

We're here in Deutschland!!! The flight itself wasn't so bad (Mike says over my shoulder, "What a joke--the ride was horrible."), but none of us slept until the last couple of hours. So yesterday evening we were hurting pretty bad. Fred says that last night I sat bolt upright in bed, looked at him, and demanded: "Who are you and where do you live?" This morning is much better, though I was startled awake at 0630 this morning by troops running and calling cadence through our neighborhood! Just one of the charms of living on post, I guess. Fortunately, that particular charm happens only two Fridays a month.

Speaking of living on post, I think it's going to be great! First of all, the house is MUCH nicer looking in person than it is in the pictures on the DPW website. I'm very glad though that Fred was able to get one of the perimeter houses that backs up to the fields. I don't think I'd like living smack dab in the middle of everything. Second, there are tons of kids all over the place.

~~~Mini-wave in celebration of Fred~~~ He has done just an awesome job of getting things ready for us! All the furniture is assembled and in place. The beds are all made. Clothing unpacked. Tons of toys unpacked. Kitchen unpacked.

Today we are going to go run a bunch of errands, including visiting (hooray!) our nearby Walmart Super Center. Also need to get the kids officially registered as homeschoolers. Maybe tonight we can get the schnitzel we were too tired to care about yesterday.

The cat did great on the flights! I drugged him in Florida and again in Atlanta. He was quiet though he did try to play with my toes through his soft-sided carrier several times later on in our transatlantic flight. He managed to stay dry the whole 19 hours, but he was delighted to see his litterbox set up and waiting for him (again, thanks to Fred!).

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Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Tomorrow is the big day! The bags are packed, and I spent over $150 at the post office today shipping the stuff that wouldn't fit inside the luggage. Jenny and Jeff came over for one last hurrah (and one last Belly Buster's sandwich!), and we had a nice visit. Annabelle got very sad at the end though when it was time for them to leave, which in turn made my mother get very sad. I dread the airport scene tomorrow.

On a happier note, we got some exciting news today. Some of our friends from San Antonio are moving to Denmark! When I told my dad, he sang: "I've got friends in cold places" (to the tune of "Friends in Low Places.")

Look out Germany--here we come!!

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Monday, August 18, 2003

STRESS!!!!! I hate to whine too much about my stress level, when poor Fred has single-handedly taken care of the delivery of all of our stuff, the assembly (and disassembly and reassembly) of most of our furniture, and the unpacking of at least half of our boxes. But these past few days have totally kicked my butt, so whine I must.

It all started on Friday when I took the cat to the vet for his health check for the flight. I have been unable to get a coherent answer from any one source as to exactly what one needs to transport an animal to Germany. Most websites (for airlines, the Army, and such) tend to say things like "Make sure you find out what is required to take your pet to Europe." Gee, thanks.

I made two phonecalls to my mom's vet to set up a well-kitty check for Eddie, and both times the staff seemed fairly clueless on the process. In fact, I was once again admonished to make sure I knew what I needed. Thanks to google, I managed to find a link from the German consulate in Hong Kong that said a rabies certificate in German and English is all that is needed. I also found a US government form for a general health certificate in English, French, and German. Fred confirmed with the military vet in Mannheim that, indeed, these were the documents I needed.

So we arrived at the vet's Friday morning only to be greeted with--surprise!!!--a 6-page carbon-copy form from the USDA. And--surprise again!!!--I was instructed to overnight this form to the USDA with sufficient postage for them to overnight it back to me after embossing it with their special seal. Ha ha--and make it back in time for my flight on Wednesday? I don't think so.

I called the USDA to find out if I really, really, REALLY needed this form, and the woman remained steadfast: "Germany requires it." I was very close to driving two hours up to the nearest USDA office (Gainesville, FL) to have this done, but first I talked to Fred on the phone. His advice: "CALL the German embassy." Both the German consulate and the embassy (left multiple voicemail messages) insist that all Germany requires is a particular German-English rabies form (of course not the form I found on the Hong Kong website). So I got that form and took it back to the vet, but the receptionist continued to assure me that "the United States requires the USDA form."

I am leaving here on Wednesday with two German-English rabies forms, one health certificate approved by the military vet, NO stupid USDA form, and (I hope) one cat. If I get Eddie into Germany without anyone wanting the USDA form, I intend to devote at least two hours of my time to raising hell with the USDA for putting me through this in the first place.

Today was spent in car hell. Took the van to have it washed, waxed, and detailed before taking it to Jacksonville tomorrow to get it shipped over. Due to a brain-fart that occurred when I was busy putting out multiple fires, I came very close to missing closing time at the "auto spa." Fortunately, Jenny and Jeff were here to rush me right over to pick up the van. After Jeff's high-performance driving exhibition on the way there, Jenny informs me that I no longer have the title of "Dumb and Dumber" driver for this family.

Upon arriving home with my freshly detailed car, I went to print out my dock receipt and the email giving me directions to the port. Come to find out, the lady at the shipping company has sent me directions to--get this!--the port in freaking Baltimore!!!!! All I could do is laugh (and have a Tom Collins . . . and another Tom Collins). Obviously, I won't be getting as early a start tomorrow as I had planned. Instead, I'll be waiting until 9 so I can call her and see if perhaps I could get directions to the JACKSONVILLE port instead!!! (And here all along I was wondering how on earth I could have driven through Jax so many times and totally missed the Fort McHenry tunnel!)

I've also been stressing over how much junk I should mail versus how much I can stuff in my suitcases. Tonight I had an epiphany: I'm mailing just about everything I can that isn't clothing. I don't care what it costs. I don't care how many boxes that is. I just want all of this STUFF out from under my nose, and I want to get us all to Germany without me having a nervous breakdown. All else is gravy.

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Thursday, August 14, 2003

As of today, all our stuff has officially arrived! Fred reports that we had minimal damage (a dent or two), which is always a relief. So far we have been remarkably lucky with our moves.

The one snag we thought we might hit turned out to be nothing. As the packers are taking apart things like tables and bunk beds, we have them put all the hardware (along with an index card identifying what furniture they go to) in ziplock storage bags. All the baggies go into a small box that we mail (or hand carry) to the next duty station. The parts box arrived in Germany today, proving Fred's closely held belief that "it's better to be lucky than good!"

This time next week, the kids and I (and the cat, God help me) will be somewhere over the Atlantic. There's so much to get done over the next few days: cat to the vet for his health certificate, car to the carwash for a good scrubbing before I drop it off at the port in Jacksonville on Monday, boxes to the post office.

Anybody ever flown for 10 hours with a cat stuffed under the seat in front of you? If you have any tips, I'd love to have them!

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Saturday, August 09, 2003

Things are clicking right along for us! Fred is in the process of getting our house in Mannheim. This will be our first time living on post. We're all excited about it but for different reasons. It will be nice for Fred to be so close to work for a change. The kids are excited about living in a neighborhood with tons of kids. And personally I'm looking forward to being surrounded by people who are as rootless and transient as we are. Digging into the local civilian community and making friends just to leave in two years is getting harder and harder.

If you click here, you can see some photos of our housing area. See the duplex in the photo at the top left, the one with the car parked in front? The right-hand side is going to be our new home! See the aerial shot just below? Notice how the houses at the bottom of the photo back up to fields. One of those is ours--I think it's the third one from the left.

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Thursday, August 07, 2003

This is a test of the emergency blogging system. With any luck, this will provide a forum for us (the Taylors, but probably mostly Bonnie) to keep you (our friends and family) up to date on our latest adventures as we move from San Antonio, TX, to Mannheim, Germany. We plan on keeping very busy over these next two years, so check back often to see what we're up to.

Fred is currently in Mannheim, but the kids and I (and the cat) are hanging out with my folks in FL. Fred will be signing for our house this Friday, and then all of our household goods arrive next week. We will go over on August 20, just in time for Annabelle's birthday on August 23. Current plans for AB's birthday: Legoland Deutschland!

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