Saturday, January 31, 2004

Space-A Warrior Woman reporting here. Greetings from . . . San Antonio!!! I can't believe we made it, but we did.

I really want this to be a long post, filled with every detail of our experience (like the luggage that almost didn't make it on the plane!), but I'm simply too tired. So I'll post just the highlights instead.

Our plane turned out to be a C-17 bound for Pope AFB, North Carolina. We were supposed to have been 3 of only 6 passengers on this particular flight, but just after the door closed in preparation for take-off, it opened up again. A C-5 had broken down and we were going to take on their passenger load as well. Our other passengers turned out to be about 50 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division who were on their way home from Iraq. You can't buy that kind of experience, and we got to do it for free!

The flight crew let us and the other 3 space-a passengers hang out in the cockpit to stay warm while they reconfigured the aircraft to accommodate the extra people. Finally, we went back to our seats, the soldiers trooped on, and the door closed once again.

When the plane took off, the soldiers cheered. The one who was sitting across from me held up a finger and mouthed "One year." They were going home, and boy were they ever excited!

After the seatbelt sign went off, people started to make themselves comfortable. Some soldiers pulled their hats over their eyes and curled up on the floor under poncho liners; a few settled down atop the pallets that held their rucksacks; some stretched out across the seats left empty by the floor- and pallet-sleepers.

Mike and Annabelle slept the first couple of hours in their seats. When they stirred, I made a bed for Mike on the floor, and Annabelle stretched out across me and our 2 other seats. With a little help from our good friends Dramamine (Mike) and Benadryl (Annabelle), they were able to sleep for a good part of the trip. The plane was loud, but the kids were real troopers:

When it was time to get ready for landing, the soldiers started primping. One guy whipped off his shirt and smeared on some fresh deodorant, while others slapped on cologne or headed for the bathroom to brush their teeth. I thought it was so sweet that they wanted to smell good for their homecoming!

It seemed strange to be surrounded by so many people with guns, especially on an airplane! Here's a shot of the guys who sat across from us:

By the time we got a cab to the Fayetteville Airport to pick up our rental car, it was almost 11 p.m. My original plan had been to drive a few hours Wednesday night, a super-long day on Thursday, and then a few final hours Friday morning. I was just too mentally fried though to face a 22-hour drive. So instead we drove up to Raleigh, got a hotel for the night, and caught a Delta plane the next morning.

So we're here, we're fine, and we're having a blast. Those of you who had your fingers crossed for us can uncross them now. Would you mind though re-crossing them sometime next weekend though and thinking happy thoughts about the C-5s heading to Germany the following week?

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Wednesday, January 28, 2004

I'm blogging at you this morning from Rhein-Main AFB in Frankfurt. Late last night, I got a rumor of a 777 direct to Dallas-Ft. Worth that would be leaving at the crack of dawn today. So the kids and I drove up in the snow (very scary, though the Autobahn was mostly clear) to check it out.

Turns out that it's a troop transport and they can't accept passengers. But there are several flights this morning to Charleston and Pope AFB, so we're going to try and get on one of those. Cross fingers for us!

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Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Oh, gak--I feel positively ill. I've been watching for a week, waiting to get us on a C5 on its way home to TX. I call Ramstein (no point calling Rhein-Main--their C5 got cancelled last week) every day 5 or 6 times and ask for the latest. First it was going to be Saturday, and then it was going to be Sunday. Then it looked like Monday, and yesterday they said today. And now it looks like my precious plane actually left yesterday carrying no passengers.

Of course, we are now into the next week, and there is another C5 at Ramstein that should be going home at the end of the week, and maybe one went to Rhein-Main this week as well. But my experience of the last week has not exactly inspired my confidence in the C5. So now the question becomes what to do?

There is a Patriot Express flight to Atlanta on Thursday. It's nonstop, if you don't count stopping in the Azores and Baltimore along the way (and who knows how the crappy weather back in the States might affect the Baltimore leg of the journey). But then we get to Atlanta and I'm still looking at a 16 hour drive to Texas. I wish, wish, WISH I had just taken the Patriot Express to Atlanta last week!

But--I keep telling myself--the whole point of this trip is to figure out the system. It's hard to keep that in mind though when, every time I get off the phone, I'm faced with the kids eagerly asking "What time did they say? Is it going?" They worked their tails off last week on photo projects of the places we've been to share with their friends back in Texas. This is so depressing!

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Sunday, January 25, 2004

Care to see a little video footage of today's sledding adventure? Just click here. Note: this could take a while to load!

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As most of you know first-hand, patience and serenity are not exactly my strong suits. I want what I want, and I want it yesterday, if not sooner. This is exactly the sort of personality that is the natural enemy of the military space-available travel system.

It seemed so simple in the planning. Two C5s go from Kelly Annex in San Antonio to Ramstein, Germany, every week. They continue on to Uzbekistan before turning around and heading home via the same route. How hard could it be to snag 3 seats on one of these birdies?

Well, if the birdies would freakin' FLY, it might not be so hard! This past week though, only one of the C5s made the trip in the first place. It then spent well over 100 hours sitting broken in Ramstein. It should have been heading home to the States by Friday or Saturday. Instead, it is only NOW heading off to Uzbekistan (we hope) tomorrow, so the earliest it could leave for Texas is Tuesday. Needless to say, I'm rapidly working my way toward a nervous breakdown.

Skipping this trip is NOT an option. The kids are so excited about seeing their friends in Texas that we will make it if I have to row us there in a canoe. Or take a flight to Charleston or Atlanta and drive from there. Personally, I'd prefer the canoe.

We have tried to make the most of our extra weekend here in Germany though, and we have had a pretty good time. Yesterday we drove up to Darmstadt for the day. The kids enjoyed exploring the Frankenstein (yup, that very one) castle:

They also thought the Russian wedding chapel was pretty neat:

Last night we got a couple inches of snow, which they made good use of this morning before it all melted away. They and their friend Rebecca made a rainbow-haired snow-Chia (it's a neopet) in Rebecca's backyard:

Afterwards, they looked like a couple of drowned rats:

Once our snow had melted away in the rain, we hooked up with Rebecca's family and drove into the Odenwald for an afternoon of sledding. Here's Fred preparing to launch Rebecca, Annabelle, and Mike down the hill:

The hill was crawling with kids making full use of their sleds and toboggans. Some, however, chose more artistic endeavors. I liked these kids with their snow bunnies:

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Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Ack! I just realized that I left out one of my message-board friends whom I have managed to meet IRL! How could I have overlooked Juliet? She took this family portrait of us, which is our most treasured remembrance of San Antonio:

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Tuesday, January 20, 2004

One of my favorite things to do online is to hang out on the Positive Discipline message board on AOL. In fact, at many points over the past 4 years, that message board has been the only thing that has inspired me to remain an AOL subscriber. I've developed a terrific bond with my "invisible friends" and count on them to keep me sane.

I've been fortunate enough to have met a few of these friends IRL (In Real Life). I met Tess and her family at the Honolulu airport; we all went to see Monsters, Inc. in South Carolina with Kelly and her kids. I drove to Ft. Worth to spend the night with Gretchyn when she was there on business, and the kids and I got to meet Stephanie and her son at a park in Tampa when we were in town for a family reunion.

My most recent IRL meet was with Claire, shortly before the kids and I left Florida to come to Germany. We were really pushed for time, but Claire was sweet enough to agree to meet me at the Van's skatepark in Orlando. She and I got a chance to visit while my mom and Annabelle wandered the adjacent mall and Mike hit the ramps with my sister's fiance.

Today when I picked up the pictures from the disposable cameras Mike took to Klondike, I was surprised and delighted to find a picture of me with Claire that day:

So now Claire, who reads the blog faithfully, is also IN the blog!

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The score for today, ladies and gentlemen, is Bonnie: 1; AAFES: big fat honkin' ZERO. As you may recall, I'm feeling none to fondly toward the powers-that-be at the Post Exchange (PX) for their recent inflexibility in dealing with our lemon of a TV.

Today I went to the PX to purchase a larger memory card for my little digital camera. I searched the display and finally found what I was looking for: a 256 mb Compact Flash card advertised at $45.95. Imagine my chagrin when it rang up at $81.95! The cashier called back to the electronics department for a price check and was told that no, the higher price was the correct one.

I finished the transaction and then hightailed it back to electronics to see for myself. As I got there, a young sales clerk was walking away from the display, crinkling a small piece of paper between his fingers.

"Excuse me," I called. "Did you just take that tag off of that display?"

Why, yes, as a matter of fact he did. I got him to hand over the tag, and we began comparing it to the numbers on the back of my new memory card.

"See!" he said triumphantly. "It's not even for THAT card."

"Why, you're right," I answered. "It's for the 512 mb card that you're now selling for $165!!!"

I took the crumpled tag to customer service and explained the problem to the cashier. She didn't have the authority to help me but was only too happy to get me a manager. The manager asked, "Was that tag hanging on what she bought?" The cashier and I nodded vigorously. "Well, heck," he said, "give it to her at that price then!" I Snoopy-danced all the way to my car.


Prepare for a random onslaught of pictures. You folks who are on dial-up connections might want to go make a cup of coffee or take a nap while this loads.

I feel so guilty--I've been neglecting my film camera in favor of my digital one, so it took me a couple of months to burn through my most recent roll of film. What can I say? I am all about immediate gratification.

Here are a couple of pictures from our ice skating afternoon in Garmisch back before Thanksgiving. The girl in the middle of my kids is their friend Rebecca. We have a good thing going with her family: the dads work together, the kids play together, and the moms shop and go to Paris together.

Remember the Playmobil exhibit that we went to last month in Speyer? Well, here are my photos of the opera house. I had to use the regular camera, as I don't know how to suppress the flash on the digital. Flash was a no-go, because the whole thing was surrounded by glass walls. Anyway, note the teeny tiny phantom in the boat under the opera house in the second shot:

Here's a street performer we saw that evening:

And here are a couple of German kids whose photo I took because they were just too darn cute to ignore:

This is a picture of me with my new honey in a museum in Trier. Notice the sweater. Selbstgestrickt!

And here are a couple of shots of the most recent generation of pretties to grace my windowsill. I've had to branch out to using the front window as well as the back, since my bulb-buying tendencies are becoming almost compulsive in nature. Everywhere we go, I'm sure to come home with a small pot of something.

Now I'm off to Walmart to pick up Mike's photos from Klondike (and maybe a pot of tulips). Stay tuned!

Monday, January 19, 2004

Just a quickie post here to let you know that Mike arrived home safe and sound today from the Boys Scouts' Klondike Derby in Switzerland. He had a fantastic time! We're going out tomorrow to get his photos developed, so hopefully he'll have some good shots to post here soon.

Also, we have SNOW today! It wasn't in the forecast (naturally--no weather we get ever is), but I looked out the window at mid-morning and there it was. It kept up for most of the day, though the temperature seemed to spike shortly after sunset (go figure) and a lot of it has melted. The kids and I have got our fingers crossed for more snow tomorrow.

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Sunday, January 18, 2004

I survived the USO bus trip to Paris! When our pottery-buying expedition to Poland got cancelled, my friend Amy and I decided to head west instead. We got on the bus at around 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning and started for France.

We made a breakfast stop from 6:30 to 7:30 and arrived at our first stop in Paris (Notre Dame) at 8:30. I've been to Notre Dame before but never so early in the morning. It was quite nice--more like a church and less like Grand Central Station at rush hour.

We spent the next 2 hours on an orientation tour of the city. Finally, the bus dropped us off at the Eiffel Tower at 11:30, and we had the next 8 hours free to ourselves.

Here's a picture I took of Amy with the tower in the background:

And here's another one I took that I call "Self-Portrait at the Tower." (When you say the title, kind of push it out your nose so it sounds French-y. Also, be sure to admire my snazzy new scarf!)

We walked from the tower to Invalides, stopping along the way to admire the horses at some muckety-muck riding school whose name escapes me:

From there we took the metro up to the arch and walked down the Champs-Elysees in search of food and the six dollar soda. We found both and then continued on by metro back to Notre Dame. We did some souvenir shopping (AB wanted a stuffed dalmatian wearing a beret, which I did manage to find) and then did some exploring of the Latin Quarter.

We ate an early supper in the Latin Quarter, mostly as an excuse to get off our poor, aching feet for a while. Then we walked along the Seine in the direction of the Louvre to meet up with the rest of our group. We were too early though, so we passed the final hour in a cafe. Our group congregated at the pyramid in front of the Louvre at 7:15, and we were on the road shortly after 7:30. We arrived in Mannheim around 2 a.m. today, and I slept until almost 1:00 this afternoon.

Mike arrives home from Switzerland tomorrow, and we start getting ready for our next adventure: a trip back to San Antonio using the military's space-available flight system. I have my hopes pinned on a couple of C5 flights from here to Kelly Annex right there in SATX. If we can get on one of those (and if the birdie takes off again from Dover), we will be golden. My last-ditch option though is a flight from here to Atlanta on Friday afternoon, which would then require me to spend the weekend driving to Texas. Bleah.

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Thursday, January 15, 2004

It's funny how languages change over time. Sometimes it takes hundreds and hundreds of years, but occasionally you can see a marked shift in a relatively short time period.

Take the concept of how Americans profess their "love" for everything. "I love chocolate. I love those jeans. I just love puppies." When I was in college, I was taught that the German verb for "to love"--lieben--was to be reserved for romantic love only. So unless you were planning on getting kinky with chocolate, jeans, or puppies, you should opt for the gefallen mir--"pleasing to me"--construction instead.

Recently I overheard Mike saying "Ich liebe something-or-other," so naturally I corrected him. And in typical Mike fashion, he argued with me. "But, Mom," he said, "that's how we learned it at Sprachschule. And what about the McDonalds ad campaign: Ich liebe es! They don't say Es gefällt mir!"

Fine, I said. If you want to get romantic with french fries, be my guest.

But then the other night in Findet Nemo, we heard Dory the fish say Ich liebe Parties! Mike gave me a sharp poke in the ribs with his elbow. It hurt, but it prompted me to do some investigating.

So this morning at my bread-making class at the USO, I decided to pick my teacher's brain while we were waiting for our dough to rise. She nodded vigorously in agreement with my position that gefallen mir is the appropriate construction. "But," she said of this new use for lieben, "it's an Americanization of German, and it's popular with the young people." From the look on her face, she had either just tasted something very sour or considered this as evidence that her mother tongue is headed south in the proverbial handbasket.

The other day I got an email from a writer friend of mine who wanted to know how German teens say "cool." The only word I could summon from my days of studying German in college was toll, but that seemed somewhat dated. I found a list of German kiddy-speak on the web, and it suggested the following terms:

Absolut super!

As I read down the list, I did a double-take at geil. According to my dictionary, geil does have a secondary meaning of "awesome," but its primary definition is "horny." And Affen means "monkeys" or "apes." Mega-monkey horny?!

Tonight at Brownies, I asked one of the German moms about how kids today say "cool." "Well," she said, lowering her voice, "there is this one word that they say even in first grade, but I don't let my daughter say it." I had a feeling I knew what was coming, and sure enough she continued: "It's geil."

"But doesn't that mean 'horny'?" I asked, feigning amazement.

"Exactly!" she said, nodding her head vigorously. "It sounds terrible, but they all say it." I didn't have the nerve to ask her about Megaaffengeil.

Now how, you are probably asking yourself, did Bonnie know that geil means "horny"? Well, I found that one out right after I found out that German slang for "testicles" is Eier. And I learned that one on the ski slopes of Austria!

Annabelle and I were working at the bottom of the slope with Rudy, our snowboard instructor (think Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure). The after-ski bar was just below us, and we could hear the music blaring out. Suddenly I heard the sound of Johnny Cash's "Burning Ring of Fire." But wait! It was in German.

So I hollered over to Rudy, "Hey, isn't that 'Burning Ring of Fire'?"

"Let me get her started," he shouted back, gesturing toward Annabelle, "and I'll tell you." He gave Annabelle a gentle push and then glided over to me. "No," he said in a low voice, "it's Ich hab' einen Ring um meine Eier." I looked at him blankly (ring? eggs?), and he continued: "It means 'I have a ring around my balls.'" Oh.

So, of course, when we arrived back home at the end of the weekend, the first thing I did was download the MP3 and the second thing I did was print out the lyrics. And there it was, smack dab in the second verse:

Ich bin dauern geil,
kein Genital bleibt bei mir heil.
Ich liebe Piercing an meinem Sack,
denn das bringt mich erst so auf Zack.

Pulling out my trusty yellow pocket dictionary, I quickly discovered not only the meaning of geil but also that heil means "intact" and Zack refers to a climax. Oh, look, and there's that new-fangled ich liebe construction!

Email me if you want a copy of the MP3. It's mega-monkey horny.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2004

I took the kids to the movies last night to see Findet Nemo. It was fun seeing a movie that we were already acquainted with (unlike Pippi in Taka Tuka Land, which I forced them to sit through in the fall).

The movie theater up at the mall is very nice and new. When you buy your tickets, the cashier shows you a theater plan and you get to approve your seats. Your tickets are for those particular seats, and the cashier in our case seemed to favor assigning seats in the nosebleed section. Everybody in our movie was tucked into the last 4 rows!

I was concerned that I might not enjoy the movie with different people doing the voices, but I needn't have worried. They really do an excellent job with dubbing here (with the exception of Marge in die Simpsons, who sounds too much like her sisters in the American version, and Ross in Friends, who just sounds like a doof). In Nemo, it sounded like they had the original cast go through the script one more time, this time in German.

Don't believe me? Check out the trailer. Be patient though--it takes a while to load!

In other news from over here, Mike is busy getting ready for the Klondike Derby with the Boy Scouts this weekend in Kandersteg, Switzerland. He leaves on Friday and comes home on Monday. Here are some photos that we found on the web from another troop that went to Klondike last year.

My friend Amy and I had signed up to go on a pottery-buying trip to Poland for Friday and Saturday, but unfortunately the tour got cancelled. We had already gotten our husbands and girls psyched for daddy-daughter time this weekend though, so we have decided to make ourselves scarce by going to Paris instead.

In still other news from Mannheim, Fred now has a tentative date for the beginning of his vacation in the sandbox: May 21. We've known it would be May or June for the past few weeks, but something about there being an actual date (even if, like everything else in the army, it is firmly carved in Jello) really hit me hard. Not that the 21st is somehow better or worse than the 20th or the 22d or any other day, but it just makes it feel so real this way.

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Monday, January 12, 2004

Technology hates me these days. Last week, I lost count of the number of times our DSL connection went out, as well as the number of times I had to call the TKS help number as a result.

Finally on Friday, they sent out a technician who insisted that the problem is in my router rather than something in their system. So now I have a 15-foot cable snaking across my dining room, as I have temporarily taken my beloved wireless router out of the equation. Honestly, I almost hope that it IS a problem with the router--I am convinced that it would be easier to get the router fixed or replaced than to get TKS to help me out.

I just went out for lunch though and came home to find the DSL connection out once more. When, I asked the kids, did it go out? Mike's answer: "Right after TKS called and I told them it was working." Lovely.

As though this weren't bad enough, our almost-brand-new multi-system TV that we bought back in September so we could watch German TV is also having problems. The buttons that change the channel up and down no longer work. Now, if it had sprouted this problem before December 19th, we could just take it back to the PX and exchange it for a new one. But nooooooo . . . we are outside the 90-day return window, so we have to send it in to be serviced. It's under warranty, which is nice, but the chick at customer service says we can expect to be without it for at least 6 to 8 weeks.

I honestly don't know whom I despise more: AAFES or TKS.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Please, somebody tell me it hasn't really been a week since I last updated the blog. Please? I'm sitting here scratching my head, wondering what we've done in the past week.

On Saturday we took a day trip out to Trier, oldest city in Germany and at one point second most important city in the Roman empire. Here are the kids standing in front of the Porta Nigra, which was built around the end of the second century:

And here they are, joined by Fred, in front of the palace:

And here is Fred, showing off his rock-hard abs:

We ate lunch at Zum Domstein, where they had the best Glühwein I've had thus far (and I have consumed more than a few cups of this amazing liquid). I think they must have made it themselves rather than following my recipe: open bottle; pour; nuke.

The best part about Zum Domstein though was our waitress. Frequently, I will start a conversation in German with a local, and he or she will immediately switch into English. Not this lady though--she stayed with me the whole way! And I know she spoke English, 'cause I overheard her using it with the Asian family who came in after us. Anyway, she totally made my day!

As I was paying our admission into the treasury at the cathedral, I happened to fumble my change, sending euros skittering across the counter. "Whoopsa-daisy!" I said to the cashier as I chased my coins.

"Mom!" Mike admonished me. "You don't say whoopsa-daisy in Germany. You say Scheiße!"

After our day of tromping around Trier, we decided to go to Luxembourg for cake and coffee. After all, according to our guidebook, Luxembourg was only 6 miles further down the road! Well, yes, LuxembOURG the country is indeed 6 miles beyond Trier. LuxembURG the city, however, is a good 30 miles beyond that. We were on a mission though, so we drove all the way to the city. Fred and I marvelled to each other that this was something you would never, ever do in the States. Can you imagine purposely heading into downtown Atlanta for a snack?

As it turned out, most of the cafes were closing down for the night, so we had to make do with coffee, hot chocolate, Sprite, and hard rolls. But at least we added another country to our list!

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Thursday, January 01, 2004

My New Year's resolution is to work extra hard on my German skills. We've hardly even unpacked, and I feel like our time here is speeding by too fast. When we arrived here, I thought I'd be much further along in my language skills by this point.

I bought myself a little New Year's present to help me with this resolution: Langenscheidt's Sprachkalender 2004: A Joke a Day. Three hundred sixty-five jokes set out in both English and in German! I figure if I keep up with my calendar, I'll be dazzlingly funny in both English and German in just one year.

Here's today's gem:

Eine Frau ruft ihren Mann auf der Arbeit an, um mit ihm zu plaudern. „Entschuldige, Liebling“, sagte er, „ich bin im Moment wirklich beschäftigt. Ich habe keine Zeit zum Reden.“

„Oh, es wird nicht lange dauern. Ich wollte dir nur sagen, dass ich gute und schlechte Nachritchten habe.“

„Sieh mal“, sagte er noch einmal, „ich habe wirklich zu tun. Erzähle mir doch nur die gute Nachricht.“

„Also“, sagte sie, „der Airbag funktioniert.“

And in English:

A woman phoned her husband at work for a chat. "Sorry, darling," he said, "'m really busy at the moment. I haven't got time to talk."

"Oh, this won't take long. It's just that I've got some good news and bad news."

"Look," he repeated, "I really am busy. Just give me the good news."

"Well," she said, "the air bag works."

Three hundred sixty-four days to a funnier, more fluent me!

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Happy New Year!! Looks like a pretty good year so far, but it's only 20 minutes old, so it's kind of hard to tell.

Wow, are the Germans ever into New Year celebrations! Across the fields behind our house, Gartenstadt and Käfertal are going crazy with fireworks. It's a good thing we didn't try to break with tradition and go to bed early--it would have been a most rude awakening.

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