Monday, January 31, 2011

my new favorite G R I L L E D cheese

Fresh mozzarella. I'm not sure where I've been all my life. The same part of me that wonders why I had to discover how wonderful pedicures are {in my 30's} is trying to figure out why I've waited until now to taste fresh mozzarella. There really is no substitute. I'm not a huge cheese fan. On sandwiches, or tacos or lasagne... yes, it's a necessity. But to just eat a piece of cheese- I've never been able to- until now. I am in love with this stuff. I know I have seen it at the grocery store but always thought it was a little on the expensive side, so I was never really even tempted. Here, it's actually quite affordable { I think the one thing we've noticed is cheaper...} so, I decided to try it... one taste and I'm hooked.
Last summer, my sister/bro-in-law introduced us to crackers with basil, tomato, mozzarella and a vinegarette. YUM! We have them at least once a week {or more} with whatever we're having for dinner. While putting together grilled cheese last week for dinner, I decided instead to make mine with the basil, tomato and fresh mozzarella. On my fresh German crusty bread it was wonderful. The gooey cheese, freshness of the basil and sweetness of the tomato was a perfect match. Definitely a repeat meal!   

Not the best photo, the lighting in our house is extremely poor... but, you get the idea!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

ich L I E B E es

I'm lovin' it! We finally cracked. After more than three months without McDonalds, we stopped in for lunch. There are just a few slight differences here, but overall it tasted exactly the same... grease and all. The menu was all in German, but easy enough to translate. Having the worker speak English helped as well- we were able to order and be understood.

The few little things we noticed to be different...
* the McChickens normally come with a chili sauce {I think maybe just ketchup} and no mayo... I think ketchup is their condiment of choice, maybe?
* when you're done, garbage goes on a tray {cups separate} rather than in a big garbage bin...{I'd hate to be the one sorting that garbage to get it in the right trash bag}
* there were a couple different menu items... I noticed a vege burger
* there was a McCafe inside, next to the main counter that you order with coffee and lots of desserts to purchase... didn't look like McDonald's food at all

I figure we probably could have eaten a nice lunch at a nice restaurant {Benihanas came to mind...} for the same price- it was that expensive. We surely won't be frequent customers but it was a nice treat for the boys who have so have felt just a little deprived. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

burg LICHTENBERG {Kusel Castle}

We've heard over {& over & over & over} since we've been here... those who most enjoy their stay here in Germany are the ones who get out and actually see {and experience} Germany. Since we're here, we've decided to make the most of it with no regrets. Our goal is to see and do as much as we possibly can to experience Germany and Europe as a whole while we are here. Today, we took a quick trip to a town called Kusel- about a 20-minute drive from our house. Our destination was the Burg Lichtenberg or Kusel Castle. The ruins date back as early as the 11th century- pretty cool to see especially being a hop and skip away from our house.

While it was a clear, beautiful, sunny day, the wind was freezing cold- reminding us of Kansas. {No, I didn't cry...} Even being winter, it was a beautiful drive winding up and down hills, through quaint villages and taking in amazing views. I was prepared- dressed in four layers {long-sleeve shirt, hoody, coat liner, coat} plus mittens and super warm poly-pro socks. My fingers and toes still managed to freeze and turn white from lack of circulation {thanks, mom}. Knowing it was around 30 degrees outside, I made the boys bring coats {& hats & gloves} as well. As soon as Caden realized Justin and Ty were only wearing their hoodies, he complained {again} that it was so unfair that we didn't make them put their coats on. {He already HATES that they get to stay up later than he does... why doesn't he realize he's only 5.. Justin's 17?} W h a t e v e r - as much as he'd never admit it, he was cold but took his coat off to be just like Justin. I'm learning to pick my battles...  We enjoyed walking around and exploring with very few people there, which was nice. The view was beautiful- pictures don't do it justice. There is also a nice restauraunt and a museum on site, both of which we plan to visit on our next trip this Spring or Summer. We'll definitely be back to visit once our world turns green.

** click on photos to enlarge them, I know they're small...I just take too many, can't help it!
The boys found this little spot to jump off of... burned some energy and about 30 minutes watching them jump {& catch a little air}. They were happy... we were happy!

Friday, January 28, 2011

caring {&} loving {&} giving

We have a rather lengthy bedtime routine {for Coleman and Caden} in our house. While I love my little guys dearly, I dread bedtime. After dinner, baths, brushing teeth and jammies we read. Jim initiates baths while I finish up dishes. He usually asks which I'd prefer; I generally opt for dishes. Reading is the one part of bedtime that I really do enjoy- I love books and I love to read to them. Then, it's {another} drink of water and lights out. Since we never figured out how to get these two to sleep {and ruined them as babies} we lay with them until they fall asleep then slip out of their bedroom on tip toes as to not wake them up. I'm sure we do everything exactly how Supernanny and every other child expert says NOT to put children to bed. We know this, but it works for us.

One last thing we do before they fade off to sleep is tell a story- something that Coleman reminds us to do every, single night. Jim is the expert- making up the most creative stories usually re-capping something that happened in our day. Caden likes horse stories {of course} and Coleman is all about StarWars. He LOVES StarWars- the movies, the light sabers, the thousands of little Legos that he puts together on a daily basis. Building perfectly symmetrical ships are his absolute obsession these days. The other night, we started telling a story and Caden screamed, "I told you I don't ever want to hear a StarWars story again and that's it." When it something that he doesn't want- he throws a fit {still} and makes it be known. He is one strong-willed little spirit who is teaching me patience. Beyond frustrated, I said {trying not to raise my voice and cause a complete meltdown} to Caden, "This is not about you. The world is not about Caden ALL the time." Surprisingly, he didn't respond but Coleman did.

I will never forget what he said in the calmest, most matter-of-fact tone as if he'd read it in a book.

"Caden- this world is about caring and loving and giving. That's all."

Oh, our sweet little guy- how did we get so lucky? Four boys with four totally different {and very distinct} personalities that we love.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

the U L T I M A T E cheesecake

It's been a long week with lots of studying {for tests} around here. Coleman had his weekly spelling test. After three years of being exempt from final exams, Justin and Ty were introduced to real life and finals week. In Mulvane, if you carry A's and B's and only use your one personal day off you don't have to take finals. Such an awesome incentive- neither of them ever wanted to miss school and didn't unless they were gravely ill. Luckily, both of them are great test takers {unlike their mama}, so the stress was still fairly minimal.
Jim also had a big week of testing. On Wednesday, he tested for his next rank-  a huge test that he's been studying hard for. He's pretty sure even if he passed with a high score, he won't be promoted until next year at the earliest. They weigh things like your time in service and time in rank making it a little tougher for promotion. He still really wanted to do well. This morning, he had his PT {physical training} test including a 1.5 mile run, push-ups, sit-ups and taping his waist. He's been hitting the gym before work every mornng before work, so he was prepared. Mostly, he's been watching what he eats so his waist would be as small as possible giving him more points for his overall score. If you pass with a 90 or higher, you no longer have to test twice a year, but yearly instead. Much nicer! He did it- scored a 91.9, a huge relief for him.
All week, he's been dying for cheesecake with plans of indulging tonight! We have what we think is the absolute best cheesecake recipe. Problem is, the last two that I made were lumpy instead of smooth- not good at all. I decided to stay out of the kitchen {never make one again- EVER} and let either Jim or Justin make them since theirs are always perfect. This morning, Caden and I decided to surprise him by making it. We beat it and beat it and beat it... it better be smooth- a definite labor of love.  I absolutely LOVE to bake and always have- cookies are my thing. I especially love having fresh-baked cookies ready for my boys as they come home from school. Warm cookies and cold milk- yum! Here, I've been less excited and therefore have not baked a single thing {other than a frozen pie that I just popped in the oven} in the two months we've been here- it's just difficult.
** With next to no counter space, I've easily gotten frustrated. I like space.
** The power thing here is a little tricky, which will be an entire post in itself. Jim's already blown up five power strips causing me to be totally scared to plug anything in. Basically, Germany uses 220 Watt {or volt... can't remember which} and the US is on 110. The plugs don't fit without a converter. Appliances with heating elements {iron, rice cooker, my Chi flat iron that I LOVE, wok, hair dryer...} can't even be used unless they are made for 220.

Larger appliances including my mixer can be used but you have to use a transformer to do it. There are different sizes of transformers.... yes, it's a little complicated... So, I had to unplug the transformer from the tv to use the chopper {to blend up graham crackers } and the mixer. One more thing to fit on the kitchen counter without space.
On top of that, are the dishes, which I've never minded until now- that lack of space thing again. Throw in Caden as my little helper and it's become quite a chore. All I can say is this one better have turned out good... he better LOVE it {or at least fake that he does...}!

The Ultimate Cheesecake (from Tyler Florence)
2 cups finely ground graham crackers
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 stick melted butter

2 blocks soft cream cheese
3 eggs
1 C sugar
1 pint sour cream
1 lemon (zest)
1 dash vanilla
Preheat the oven to 325 {yes, I had to look this up too... and now have taped the F to C chart on my fridge... it's 160C}
Combine crust ingredients. Lightly coat an 8" springform pan with Pam. Pour crums into the pan and press down evenly and up the sides. Stick in fridge while you make the filling so it firms up.

Beat cream cheese, add eggs then sugar and beat until creamy {1-2 minutes... or 5 if you're me and want to make extra sure there isn't a lump...}
Add sour cream, lemon zest and vanilla. Mix well but don't overbeat. Pour into crust.
Set the cheesecake pan on a large piece of foil and fold up sides around it. Place pan in a large roasting pan, pour boiling water around it until halfway up the sides. Bake 1 hour - 1 hour 15 minutes. The cheesecake should still jiggle, so be careful not to overcook.

Let cool in pan for 30 minutes. Chill in fridge for at least 4 hours (we like it super cold- overnight is better). Fruit topping is good too, or we like it plain. Yummy!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

a little more to S H O V E L

Feels like winter should just about be coming to an end! Jim said this last weekend, "If we don't get any more snow this winter, I'd be fine. I'm tired of it." This is my husband who also says he'd love to move back to Alaska. Sounds a little like a contradiction to me being that the snow in Alaska falls harder and lasts longer than just about any place! I loved his schedule in Alaska- working 12-hour shifts made for lots of days off. It was nice being close to G'pa and G'ma as well. But, long winters and super short, cool summers- I think I've done my time! What in the world is he thinking? Crazy man... Tyler's right along side him- missing Alaska as well. Definitely count me out!

As much as Caden loves to shovel, he even said this morning, "When is it going to be summer?" I'm still trying to explain to him that the swimming pool here is inside. I remember moving to Kansas from Alaska- so excited for Justin and Ty to enjoy swimming in the outdoor pool. It's funny to me that swimming outside with the warmth of the hot sun overhead is all the little guys know {and love}. Good thing today is that it's already melting... just a sloppy, wet mess!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

looking for a B I L L to pay

I really hate rudeness. I don't think there's any place for it- ever. Might just be one of my biggest pet peeves- why can't everyone just be nice? I'm a fan of direct communication and have no problem with directness... but, rude and condescending- no way. I've already complained about the Internet jerk we had to deal with earlier this month. Today, it was the English-speaking American at the VAT office here on base. I feel STRONGLY that anyone working in these offices dealing with people like us {who have just moved to this foreign country} should have to pass a customer-friendly test before ever being hired. Seriously, I'm sure they can see the shock and confusion in our faces all the way down the hallway- help us out. All we need is a little understanding. She would have failed my test.

Because we are living off base, we get to deal with paying our own utilities- which means dealing with  German companies and receiving coorespondence all in German. Each landlord has it set up differently- written out once you have a contract. In ours, we pay an estimated amount each month for electricity, gas and water. Thankfully, we are in a newer house and don't have to pay for oil. They read the meters, then estimate our monthly usage based on what the previous renters used. At the end of the cycle, they let you know what you've gone over {and owe} or under and pay you back. I could only hope we'd be lucky enough to overestimate our monthly payments and get the difference refunded. Pretty sure- that's not going to happen. Easy enough, not much of a difference from utilitiy bills in the states. Here's where the difference comes in to play. Germans pay a tax on everything- about 19%. That's a lot of money in tax. Makes a 7% sales tax in Kansas seem like nothing and no sales tax in Alaska heavenly. {Oh no... did I just use Alaska and heavenly in the same sentence?} Here, being an American working on the base, we get a break and can use a VAT {Value Added Tax} relief form at places that accept it to waive the tax. There is a Utility Tax Avoidance program set up, but the rules vary among utillity companies. For our electric and water, the VAT office deals directly with the companies- we just have to take our first bills in and they process it- whatever it is that they do, I still haven't figured it out. 
In our house for two months now, we finally received what looked like an electric bill. We haven't paid a dime yet for any utilities and are a bit worried since we know it's adding up. Today, I went on base to figure out where the bills are so we can pay. Isn't that crazy... having to look for a bill? Jim's dealt with them twice already, I was trying to relieve some of the burden so we could cross this off our never-ending to-do list. We were told when we arrived that many here don't pay enough monthly, then end up with a huge bill {thousands of dollars} at the end of the year {or their time here} which causes huge problems.

Back to my rude encounter... I handed her the pile of papers we had received and told her I thought there was a bill in it. She waded through it, pulled out the bill, highlighted a few things then handed it back to me. She said something about August, then our money would be paid the 15th of each month. Done. What just happened? I asked, "Would you please repeat what you just said about August?" thinking maybe she would be reminded that I'm still new and haven't really figured it out. The end of the year {reconciliation} is in August- got it. I was ready to leave, but once again asked her if I was good to go... the payment would come out. "No," she said with quite flippantly "you still have to do that." I wanted to ask her what in the world she did to help me but, I held back as difficult as it was. Come to find out, I still had to go to the bank and set up the direct withdrawl myself. Right then and there, I should have known to be finished with her but... no, I had to ask another question. Did she think 170 Euro a month {about $231 USD} was low/high/average to pay for electric. After telling her there were six in our family, I volunteered that we keep the heat pretty low- somewhere between 1 & 2 on the dial. Oh, that was it. I was officially stupid now {along with taking up her time} and she let me know. We were talking electric not gas. Lights not heat. I know that and knew it- just got them confused for a split second as I have with just about everything here!

Oh well, now to figure our propane bill and wait for a water bill. The office on base doesn't have a contract with our propane company, so we're on our own. We have a contract that we even signed... not knowing what it all says. Probably not the smartest thing to have done. To us, it's pretty much all small print... no clue what's in it. They could be taking our first-born son for all we know. Now, we just have to figure out how to pay them. We knew our garbage was added to the top of our rent, but for some reason we were still waiting for that bill until Rosa showed up about a week ago to let us know we hadn't paid it yet. Oops... made that change to our monthly rent {set up on direct payment} adding in the garbage- an additional $40 USD per month just for collection. What a headache. I'm headed in tomorrow to see if the man who did the newcomer orientation will help me out. I'm sure he'll remember me- the one crying just having to state my name and how long we are stationed here. I just looked up his email address and see his title is: Cultural Adaptation Liaison Officer. He's German but speaks very clear English- I'm pretty sure he's exactly who I need to help me figure this out. {I'll try to hold back the tears this time.} Hopefully, this is another one of those areas that we'll laugh about later. This learning curve is about killing me.

Monday, January 24, 2011

one E M P T Y basket

I do a ton of laundry. We've tried to cut back {to save on the water bill} but, with six of us lots of laundry is inevitable. I'm trying to figure out why it's so hard for dirty laundry to actually make it in to the hamper. I've noticed lately that I consistently have a pile {or a nice little trail} of laundry leading up to the empty basket. I'm not asking them to wash them, fold them or even sort them between colors and whites. Just make it to the basket. Maybe I need to attach a hoop to the basket... Or better yet, a laundry chute from the third-floor bedrooms to the bottom-floor laundry room to completely cut out the step of gathering and hauling it down stairs. I think having a laundry room on the main floor as far away as it can be from the bedrooms is one of the worst layouts for any house- EVER. Makes no sense. The one who started putting laundry rooms on the main level was genius {maybe a mom doing lots of laundry?}. Even better, I like the new master bedrooms with the laundry room as a separate closet right there in the bedroom. I think I must have seen that on HGTV- likely one of the million-dollar houses. Really, how hard would it be to put it in- I'm sure my handy hubby could make it work, right? I can dream, can't I?
**for the record... this laundry is a combination of all four boys... the big guys like to blame it on the little guys... but, they're just as guilty...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

the P A N T R Y

what a wreck...
It's Sunday- family day here in Germany and we will not be working today. I would have been happy to have a day of rest yesterday as well but, that would have been pushing it with my super-motivated, project-oriented husband. Oftentimes, I'm not quite on board and would rather relax, but this is a quality of his that I do love. He gets things done!

much better...

Yesterday, we worked on our laundry room. Who needs a big kitchen {or cupboards even} when you can turn your laundry room in to a walk-in pantry? We have a sauna as well in the laundry room which for us, makes a nice storage unit. Don't think we really want to use any more of this expensive German electricity than is absolutely necessary. Works for us. Jim gave up one of his garage shelving units and while it's a tad long, fits great and is now home for the pots, pans and everything else that is supposed to be in the kitchen. I feel strongly that a cluttered area makes for a cluttered mind... slowly, the clutter is starting to find a place and my mind is becoming a little more clear. I should get a new picture up of the little guy's room since I posted that horrible, messy one last week. Typically, as soon as it's clean Caden manages to turn it upside down within a day.

Exhausted after dinner last night, I decided to let the dishes sit until this morning. Jim wanted to just get them done {of course}. We went back and forth {laughing, not really arguing} while I worked to convince Jim to just let it go. We ended up heading up to put the little guys to bed {dirty dishes in the sink}. What a surprise to discover that Ty cleaned up the kitchen... no prompting necessary! Hearing our {arguing} he decided to take charge. Great kid, happy mom. 
even space left on the shelves... how did that work out?

sauna... aka storage

Saturday, January 22, 2011

number sixty eight

I know football is long over... I just found these pictures on the school's Web site {} and thought I'd post them. In receiving orders to Germany we were told Jim had to report no later than November 30th. As sad as I was having to move, I was relieved to know we could stay in Kansas long enough to make it through Justin's football season. They ended their season on a fabulous note as district champs, then bi-district champs in the next round. It was a very emotional time {still is for me} having to leave this amazing football program with outstanding coaches, strong kids and wonderful parents who will remain life-long friends of ours. We were sucked in to the small town of Mulvane which made it all the harder to move our family. After their last game, Justin's coach gave him a helmet {signed by all the players and coaches} and let him keep his #68 jersey- both will be treasured forever.  As we were driving away from our house and from Kansas, Justin's best friend Chris texted him to let him know he was named honorable mention for the league in offense. So exciting to see rewards come in after so many hours {years} of hard work, sweat and even a few tears. Such a proud parent moment. We feel so lucky to have such amazing boys- each working hard and doing some really great things.
I wish I had the drive, dedication and passion to working out that my son has. He is most at home in the weight room and loves just about anything to do with fitness and working out. I think it's been the best stress relief for him as we've transitioned over here. He's been working out on his lunch hour {Ty has started as well} and now stays after school three days a week to lift. This morning, he is working out with Jim. Yes- he set his alarm for 8:15 on a Saturday morning to go run with his dad. Jim has his PT test this week, so he's been a little more dedicated in preparing for it. He's never failed one or even come close, he just likes to score as high as he can. They test them on push-ups and sit-ups {one minute time limit for each}, a mile and a half run and then tape their waist. {I personally think they should take broad shoulders and muscle in to consideration... just my opinion.} While he runs just fine, he'd much rather lift weights. The push ups are easy for him, the run a little more of a challenge to get his time down. I know he'll do just fine. Maybe one of these days, I'll get motivated and run with them... I just wish the passion was contagious!

He was a left tackle... as strong as he is, he needs to put on some weight going up against much bigger guys!

Friday, January 21, 2011

our P A T C H of grass

We have our daddy back- everything is much better now. I'm the first to admit, I know I'm a bit spoiled having him home and quite the baby when he's gone. I manage to hold things together when has to travel, I just really love having him home. I like seeing his toothbrush next to mine. I love that he kisses me every morning as he leaves and every evening as he returns home. I sleep better knowing he's next to me.
Caden went with me to the train station and to my surprise we made it just fine- no run ins with the police, thankfully. I even found the parking garage adjacent to the train station. Only problem we had was getting out. We swiped our parking ticket, then credit card but the arm just wouldn't let us out of the garage. After having to back up {quite irritating to those behind us, I'm sure} Jim went and asked the attendant for help. He paid at an ATM-looking box next to the office. I guess you're supposed to pay before you get to the point of the exit, then when you exit and swipe your ticket it lets you out. Still, not sure where or how this works...

An aerial view (from Justin's bedroom window) of our back area... the "garden" as it is referred to here
There are a lot of people in Germany. I think something like 81 million people in this country, the size of the state of Montana. Montana's population is about 975,000 people. Quite a contrast. Germany also has the third most immigrants in the world- lots of people from everywhere. I think part of the reason for so many rules is the fact that there are so many people living so close together. I'm tryng to be objective... and positive!
We live a little ways out in what feels like the country. Tractors frequently drive past, sheep are across the road on the hillside, cow and horses are everywhere much to mine and Caden's delight. To others, it might seems as though we have a huge yard- yes, our little patch of grass and slab of concrete. At first, we thought the yard went all the way back to the brook. We quickly realized the German neighbors have a pie-shaped piece of land with the whole back as their yard. {the white fence at the end of the concrete is it} Then, Johannes has nicely sectioned off his rental properties to leave the land behind for him. A lot of houses simply have no yard at all, so we feel lucky. As much mowing as we've done in the last three years, this will be a quick weed wack and it's done. It also feels somewhat private at least without neighbors behind us. I love to listen to the brook babbling especially after a long rain when it's full. Very calming. As green as it is now, I can't wait to see the trees fill in and green up. Spring and Summer can't come fast enough!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

meet J O H A N N E S

I was bitter, quite bitter when we first arrived. House hunting is a little stressful here {putting it gently}. Because of the wait list on base- everyone is looking for a house. Given orders out of cycle, there is even less available. Most moves are in the summer- makes sense with kids out of school. We decided we wanted to find something in the Ramstein school district and as close as we could get to base. Add four kids plus a dog and it was quite the undertaking. There is a Web site set up with available houses along with phone numbers to call landlords and set up appointments. German- speaking landlords. I had to gear myself up for each phone call not knowing what I would end up with on the other end of the line. "Sprechen Sie Englisch?" was always a good place to start. With Johannes, there was no English spoken which forced me to pull the German out of my head from high school twenty years ago. Not good. The big boys don't understand how I took four years of German and can't remember it all. I tell them- don't use it, you lose it. Somehow, we ended up setting our appointment up for the next morning at 8am. I let him know we had four boys and a dog. "No problem, no problem" was his response. Once we walked through and decided it would work, we followed him back to his house to meet Rosa- his wife. Rosa decided to raise our rent price from the listing price {about $150 more per month- this is where the bitterness comes in} and unfortunately, housing allowed them to do it. She also said we had to sign the contract the next day {and pay the rest of November- about $400} or no contract. All we wanted was to move in December 1st when knew we would have temporary stuff to use. We signed and decided to be done with it. We then found out they are Russians who have been in Germany 20 years. Maybe a double whammy? Here, {some} landlords take advantage of the Americans because they can- they have the cards in their hand. Welcome to Germany.
I'm not one to hold a grudge too long, but this one has been tough. I'm starting to come around- especially as I get to see Johannes just about every day. Yesterday, he replaced a door so I got a chance to talk to him a little bit. With his complete lack of English, we converse in my broken German with a little sign language mixed in. I found out he was bitten by a dog when he was little which is why he's so terribly afraid of Lady. Also, I asked if I could hang pictures on the walls. He explained something to me... not sure what, but said, "tap, tap, tap..." so I'm assuming it's all good. Oh well, they're going up.
As someone who really likes to communicate- a language barrier is rough. It's a helpless feeling not being able to explain myself or even worse the lack of understanding.
In our three plex {that they own}, he has our small yards fenced off. Behind our little yard on the rest of his property he has chickens, yard and his work space. Rain, snow or shine he's out there working-same routine every single day without fail. He shows up early, leaves for quiet hours between 1-3 and is back for a couple hours before dinner. Most of his time is spent pulling nails out of his old wood pile or chopping wood. He feeds his chickens and collects the eggs. I don't quite understand it. He has a fire going the whole time he's out there- so it's kind of a wash, right? Chopping wood just to burn it? Just something do to- his place out of the house and away from Rosa, maybe? The more I watch him I see an active, peaceful older man just doing his own thing singing as he goes along. How can I not like him?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

blue S K Y

I'm working really hard to focus on the blue skies today rather than the dark clouds headed our way. Overall, things are starting to calm down and get a little easier as we're starting to get in to a groove here in Deutschland. 
** I don't have to think quite so long before throwing trash away {in our four separate garbage cans} however, I make C E R T A I N not to miss a single trash day. The first thing I still look for outside when I open the rolladens in the morning is trash and if any neighbors have it out on the sidewalk. With collection every two weeks {every four weeks for glass} I still haven't figured it out since it's a separate pick up for paper, gelb, glass and regular trash. I still try to shove as much stuff down the drain in the kitchen sink since we don't have a garbage disposal... is that bad?
** Driving is becoming a lot easier as long as I stay on my little route... over the river and through the woods between our house and the base. I'm no longer intimidated by round-a-bouts and the impatient Germans on my tail {constantly- no matter how fast you drive} don't bother me one bit.  The narrow roads {about 1 1/2 lanes with two-way traffic} don't cause panic any more unless I see a bus heading my direction. I think I'm doing pretty good. Jim's brother just him how driving over here was going. Jim promptly said... "Oh, it's easy." That was Sunday. Monday, we drove to Kaiserslautern {a real city}. Actually, I drove, Jim rode since I was dropping him off at the train station. We did alright getting to the train station- ended up driving right up to the door. I felt a little proud for finding our way until... I saw a police marching {quickly} straight at me. I rolled my window down. As he approached, I said in my most timid voice... "I'm in the wrong place, aren't I?" He didn't hold back one bit raising his voice to me... "YES, YOU ARE IN THE WRONG PLACE and you ENTERED IN THE WRONG DIRECTION." All I could say was, "Sorry.... I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry." I've been reading way too many books with wrongful imprisonment in foreign lands... didn't know what this angry German police was going to do to me but I was nervous, I can admit it. All I did was drive in the area for busses and pedestrians only but he was furious. A BIG oops. About that time, Jim returned to the van to grab his suitcase. He could tell I was freaked out, gave me a quick kiss and grabbed his bag. He said I about drove off with the door open... I think that's the first time he's ever left that I haven't cried, I was too focused on getting the heck out of there. I think when I pick him up, I'll let him drive home since it's so easy!
** I'm also finally starting to make a little progress on our house with fewer and fewer boxes each day. I even put the first couple pictures up on the wall this morning. Oh, we still have boxes and piles everywhere with things I just don't know what to do with {I really miss my linen closet} but, it's starting to get a bit more comfortable and feel like a home. In time...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

kind of a B I G international deal

Hotel is tall building on the right side

Sunday evening as we were winding down, Justin said to his dad, "You better get to sleep, you have a hard day ahead of you tomorrow." I said, "A hard day? Dad has an easy day ahead... I'm the one with Caden this week..." Justin quickly jumped to his defense. I knew all Jim was doing was catching the train, then checking in to his hotel- probably nice food in between- no stress. His meetings didn't start until today. I have really tried to teach my kids compassion {and understanding} but I was sort of taken back that Justin was so much on his dad's side. What I was missing was... the part about him being alone in {another} new country, new responsibility big city... We're all here, he's on his own missing his family, which I get.

The two words Jim has used most frequently to describe his two days in Paris have been expensive and old. He's staying at two different hotels this week. In this photo, his hotel one of the buildings on the right. Both are supposedly a stones throw to the Eifel Tower as he's in downtown Paris. The hotel he's staying at now is 200 Euro ($270 USD) or so per night. The breakfast buffet is 32 Euro each- that's about $43 for breakfast for one person. We'd be broke with all six of us eating breakfast at that price!  Since we no longer have cell phones and our happy {cheap} family plan, we assumed there would be wireless Internet and we could just Skype. There is, but at a cost of course! They charge you by the hour to use the Internet (he took his own laptop) or for 24 hours, it was an additional $20.
I just looked up more information on the Paris Air Show {for the first time} and discovered it really is a BIG deal. I knew it was the largest show in the world, but didn't realize it was quite this huge. I assumed it was something on the scale of the Elmendorf air shows- wrong. Their site says it has 2,000 international exhibitors, 3,000 journalists, 200 official delegations and over 140 aircrafts present including flying displays. Pretty amazing- from June 20-26 and... Jim's the ground boss. I have to assume Justin was looking ahead to all the stress his dad would be shouldering with this new job... I now understand. Oh, he's going to get some compassion... I'm expecting a stressed-out husband in the next couple months, rightfully so... he's got a big job ahead of him. But, I also know he'll do great.

Here is their site:

Monday, January 17, 2011

i miss him {already}

It was a rather L O N G  day just knowing my husband is out of town. He made it safely to Paris and we've already Skyped a couple times. Believe it or not, I used to be the super independent one who did just fine on my own. Then, we met and my walls came tumbling down. Some couples do well with time apart. We prefer to be together if at all possible. I don't know what I'll ever do if Jim has a long deployment- I really just like him around all the time! Being gone at work is long enough for me. Times like these that he's gone for just a couple days are a reminder of how much I really love having him around and a reminder to me that when our whole family isn't home, it just doesn't feel right.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

he's L E A V I N G me (for only a little bit)

It was a quick weekend, I'm not ready for the new week {yet}. We had an invite for dinner yesterday and had a wonderful time with some new friends- Sam and Martha. Fabulous food {ribs, pulled pork, slaw, beans, cornbread, brownies...}and great company- all of it was so enjoyed! They went way out of their way for us... it was a great afternoon/evening! We discovered we were actually stationed in Alaska at the same time and left about the same time as well.  {I guess I was kind of stationed in Alaska my whole life... }They have a little girl who is just three days younger than Caden- born at the same hospital. How crazy is that to meet up in Germany of all places, five years later knowing our paths certainly must have crossed? I'm just sure we were sitting in the same waiting room waiting for our babies to come! Pretty cool. 
Some exciting news... just this last week, Jim was hooked up by his boss with an extra {quite cool} assignment. He's the ground boss of an upcoming air show which happens to be in P A R I S in June. It's the biggest air show in the world- quite an awesome opportunity. He's getting excited, but at the same time he knows it's going to be a huge task. So... he's heading for his first trip to Paris this week for a site survey and meet & greet. Different from all other work-related trips, the dress clothes and ties packed. Not a touch of fatigues in the suitcase- this is Europe for sure. His train {according to their Web site} travels up to 300 kph- that's about 186 miles per hour! The trip is approximately 2 1/2 hours straight from here to Paris. We're definitely planning to join him and make a family trip out of it in June- something to look forward to. He'll be working 12-14 hour days the weekend of the show, so the boys and I will have to have fun. I'll be sure to post updats on his travels this week...

Friday, January 14, 2011

sleeping is B O R I N G

Last night, Caden told Jim, "sleeping is boring and you never let me do anything at bedtime."  Poor kid has so much energy he doesn't know what to do with himself! Life is just too exciting to sleep in his opinion. If it's boring to him- forget about it. The alphabet is one of those things on the "not so exciting" side of things. He knows his letters but really would rather not work on them. But, he can tell you just about every NFL team in the league just looking at their mascot. If only football players wore letters instead of numbers... he'd be set. He runs circles around me every day, oh... school is going to be so much fun... his poor teacher! I have a feeling I'll be helping out in his classroom a LOT.

To burn some energy and get out of the house, we did a little shopping today. My good friend Traci told me in Kansas that she liked a store called Aldi. I found one in Wichita, but never made it there. I always wanted to, just didn't fit it in. But, they have it here and we went this afternoon. Nothing extraordinary, just a little supermarket but I really liked it.
No surprise, but shopping is a bit different over here. In my orientation last month, I learned {from the German man teaching the class} that shopping and socializing are two different things that the Germans keep totally separate. Walking in to the grocery stores feels the same to me as walking in to a library- not a peep. I've probably shopped in the German store 6-8 times now and still haven't even heard even a child or baby making any kind of noise. They don't smile or visit {not even a hello}, they do their business and get out of there. Makes sense, really but it's hard for me to not want to say hi to everyone I see. Just driving this moring, I waved at an older couple taking their walk. The lady {sort of} waved back but both just stared at me in a sort of perplexed way, probably wondering who the heck I was. When you live in the country- you just wave, that's what we do! I'm learning. Even upon checking out- you get a quick "halo" from the clerk, then how much your total is and an even quicker tschuss! That's it- no "how's your day?" or " nice weather" even... pay and get out of the way.  Everyone brings their own bags or baskets as well to shop. New bags every time you shop is quite wasteful, but still quite acceptable in the US. Here, recycling and conservation are the way they live- like it or not. I think you can buy plastic bags if you don't have any. Or, you just load up your arms. There are carts but you have to put a deposit in (usually 25 euro cents), then you get it when you return it. This is typical at all of the stores- even the BX on base.

Today, I was looking for bread and some apricot jam spread {that I am in love with} then thought to grab some cream. Nothing big, but still quite a treasure hunt. Never found the cream. Eggs are out on a shelf- not in the fridge, maybe it's that freshness factor, who knows? Straight from the chicken to the shelf?  I haven't seen any 18 or 24-pack eggs either, they'd probably laugh at me... here, they are all in little packages of 6. Guess when you shop every day {or only have 1 kid} you only need six at a time. Can't imagine the expression on their faces if they ever walked in to a Costco.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

it's R A I N I N G

Another rainy day here in Southern Europe. The kind of day that just calls for jammies and curling up with a good book under a warm blanket. All of our December snow is long gone making it a bit darker outside. Definitely more like the Pacific Northwest, more of what we anticipated. Even being winter, we have noticed how green everything is and probably remains all year long- super green from SO much rain! Even as the snow melted, you could see the patches of vibrant green grass underneath. 
Before moving here, {I can openly admit} I was a totally sucked in to my favorite {reality} tv shows. My favorites were Dancing with the Stars, The Bachelor, Biggest Loser, Ultimate Fighter and The Apprentice. We had our nights stacked filling every night with tv and used our DVR to make certain we didn't miss an episode. That's a lot of {wasted} time, but I couldn't seem to pull myself away from it. Of course, I had to watch the news every night as well. By the time the news was over and I'd go to read I'd fall asleep. It's no wonder I couldn't get through a book.
Now, we have TV, but it's not quite the same. Here it's called AFN {Armed Forces Network} with about ten channels. We bought a satellite box, had it hooked up and we're good to go- no monthly fees which is nice. We mainly got it because UFC fights are all free as opposed to $45 each on PPV in the states. Jim's not too much of a sports fan but loves his fighting. The shows they air are usually about a day delayed, but it's still nice to be able to have access. Justin can watch football and basketball as well- something we thought was important to ease the transition over here.
We have the box downstairs, which means only movies on the tv in our bedroom. As a result, I've gotten a lot more reading in and I've really enjoyed it! I've been reading recommendations from friends {I love} and picked a few others up on my own. I didn't plan it but, the last five books I've read all dealt with imprisonments- all really intriguing books which sucked me in. All helped to put this stage of my life in to a little better perspective- things just really aren't that bad.
The Hiding Place and Number the Stars both are about hiding Jewish refugees from the occupying Germans. Both quick reads, both full of history. What a horrible, horrible time. Amazing example of super strong women.
I'm always captivated by journalism-related stories, and happened to run across Euna Lee's book from her five months spent in a North Korean prison. I watched on tv as they returned home but I really wanted to hear their stories of what really happened during their captivity. After finishing her book, I read Laura Ling's book {written with her sister Lisa Ling}. The girls were kept apart for most of the time but experiences are similar. The World is Bigger Now and Somewhere Inside both kept my attention from start to finish. 

The last book I just finished made me most grateful for freedoms we enjoy. Between Two Worlds is Roxana Saberi's {another journalist} account of her life and time in prison {100 days} in Iran. Horrible conditions, terrible interrogations and absolutely no justice system. I get the crazy journalist mindset but even if I were single {without my kids}, I don't think I'd ever go as far as to live in one of these dangerous foreign countries- too, too risky for me!

Almost forgot... one more I just read in the last two weeks... she was in hiding during the Rwandan Holocaust and lived through it. Horrible, horrible, horrible. I can't even imagine. While stuck in this itty-bitty bathroom, she chose to spend her time learning English- pretty amazing. Reading this really helped give me a new, fresh outlook on life and made me so grateful for what I have.

I've moved on to the Hunger Games- Ty's been begging me to start the series. After this, I think next I'll go for a little lighter subject matter! Oh, I love to read... just had to take my tv away to remind me!