Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mold: buckles the floors and warps the doors

I wrote earlier how it is not uncommon for houses to have mold problems here. At a break during a meeting, I was talking to a colleague who had some horrible mold problems in her brand new house that she had rented (again, I don't understand why Germans don't come up with updated building techniques that help mitigate mold). She had a horrible episode with mold: she took a trip back to the States for three weeks and wasn't home to air out the home daily as recommended. She had informed her landlord of the trip and wanted to take tenancy of the house after the trip, but he really wanted her in there (and her rent money) before she left and said the house should be fine.

Imagine her horror when she came home from the trip and found the floors and wood trim buckled from humidity and covered in mold! It was absolutely horrible. If I remember correctly, this didn't even happen during the summer; I believe that she said it was in November.

Another person has also had continued mold problems that even required extensive renovations of the bathroom. She hasn't been feeling well on and off and has developed allergies; she believes it could be because of the mold. I cautioned her about it because I personally know one person who almost died from exposure to black mold. It's a very serious matter, for sure, and it's very hard to get rid of it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

An evening of freedom, and what do I do? Eat the sweet potatoooo!

My car arrived, as promised, 50 days after it was shipped via boat, and I successfully picked it up, which took 3/4 of the day, including taking the driver's test.

After all of that, I was really exhausted, for some reason. It didn't help that my sleep schedule is off because I was super naughty and took a long nap on Sunday and am still out of sorts. I think I was also really stressed out about passing the driver's test for my military driver's license (which will allow me to drive my car here; the other option was to get a German driver's license and the procedures to get it are very stringent and it's super costly). I passed the test with a 90%; an 85% is required to get the license, so I was fine there. I know that I got the questions wrong on how long one's license will be suspended if one drives drunk. I didn't study that part adequately because I don't plan to drink and drive here; the laws are super stringent and a person could have trouble after drinking just two drinks.

Anyway, I am very happy to have my car. I have been building it up in my head all the awesome things I can do with the car. Do I envision a trip to France? Do I see a trip to Baden Baden to enjoy the spa?

No, my longings are as such: I want to take a trip to Globus, which is just in town (but many bus transfers between the east and west sides of town, with buses that don't run super often, so taking the bus there would take a good portion of the evening). I want to buy black olives and insulated leggings (those two purchases are not related). I look forward to returning some glass bottles to the store to help someone out. I want to stop by one of the bases and register for German classes. I might even go all-out crazy and even take a cake decorating class. Such aspirations, eh?

I thought that I would start on some of those adventures tonight after work, but I was just too tired. Instead, I thought I'd go hog-wild and shop at the Commissary at a very leisurely pace. Since I wouldn't be walking back with my purchases, I could buy something totally extravagant and somewhat heavy (at least for the purposes of walking long distances): a case of Diet A&W root beer (*swoon*). I might even lose my mind and buy some kitty litter, which also is heavy and not fun to cart around. I happily drove up there only to be reminded by closed doors that it's not open today. D'oh.

Still feeling wild and crazy (but also exhausted), I did party hard by driving to check my mail and then stop by the restaurant on base. I was cold and tired and wanted something warm and cooked to eat (vs. either a cold can of lentil soup or hummus on a pita that was waiting for me at the hotel). Sweet potatoes were on the menu, and that sounded so good and somewhat healthy. I then saw that the sweet potatoes were the kind that had marshmallows on top. What?? That seems so unGerman but since this was on base and geared toward Americans, I shouldn't have been so surprised that the chefs tried out an American recipe. I have always been totally grossed out by sweet potatoes that have the unmelted marshmallows on them, but these marshmallows were melted, and didn't look too bad, so I thought I'd give it a try. I was thinking that the melted marshmallows were just a garnish and the whole thing wouldn't be super sweet.

What I actually ordered, it turned out, was more of dessert. I kid you not - I think that there was lots of sugar, brown sugar, butter, and maybe even pineapple juice dumped into it. It was somewhat good - but then it was also cloyingly sweet. I'm not attributing this to the German chefs; I'm quite sure that this is all American. I know that Southerners eat junk like this - but is it this ridiculous? And, how stupid am I? I order a root vegetable covered in melted marshmallows, and I think it's not going to be sickeningly sweet. Smooth move.

Oh mein Gott, Nana!

I was shopping at H&M when a teen, completely enamored with a t-shirt, picked it up, showed it to her grandmother, and exclaimed, "Oh mein Gott, Nana!" plus a stream of other happy German that I didn't understand. I had to walk away quickly to hide my giggles. It was really cute.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Oh thank the handy heavens...

for coworkers who are reasonably fluent in German. My cell phone's voicemail box menu was all in German. My coworker, within a few seconds, successfully changed it to English. The British chap who reads the menu items has a super creepy voice, but at least I could understand everything he said. Now I just need to listen to prompts on how to delete messages, etc.

There is something here where people can basically page you using the cell phone, too. It's one of the options when people get to the voicemail box. I'm quite sure that many US phones do that too, but I don't ever recall anyone using that function. In Germany, it seems that so many more people use prepaid or pay as you go phones so maybe people do it to save money on sending/receiving voicemails.

That brings me to mention this further: I found that so many of the people on base are using pay as you go phones. Many people just use them for emergencies or short calls, which was surprising to me because I had just come the States, where many people use them to heavily supplement or replace their home phone. Many of my coworkers don't use a lot of data, if any, on their phones. This also was different for me. When I heard that some of the IT guys even had pay as you go phones, I realized that I had better pursue them more heavily.

I had considered buying a phone with a contract but found out that it is basically not possible to get out of a cell phone contract here. You're stuck in it for the full two years without the availability of an early termination fee option. Also, you must give the company a lot of notice that you want to end the contract way before it does end or else the company will re-up the contract without your consent. I have heard reports that 3-6 months' notice must be given; I'm sure it depends on the carrier. Since we are all somewhat transitory here (at least in the long run), I am not surprised that many people are hesitant to sign a contract. Even getting moved to another country for work usually won't get one out of a contract.

Armed with this knowledge, I went and bought a pay as you go phone. I bought a Motorola Android smartphone for 139 EUR and the phone is completely unlocked. The current carrier is Telekom (aka T-Mobile) but the nice thing is that if I decide I don't like their service, I can buy a (pay as you go) SIM card from another carrier, insert it in the phone, and change carriers that simply. My current plan is 10 EUR per month and I get decent internet but not a huge amount of minutes for calling. However, I don't call people often and incoming calls are free anyway. Some new friends told me about WhatsApp, an app free for the first year where you can send texts using the data plan (more like IMing someone) so I can avoid texting fees that way, too.

One option to save money with the cell phone is that people here also do use their home phone lines a bit more. It can be a lot cheaper to make phone calls that way; there are different rates to call landlines vs. mobile lines. Also, with VOIP phones, it can be cheap or even no additional charge to call the US. Of course, many people also use Skype to chat via the computer for free too.

I am on the fence if I'll have a home phone or not. I haven't had one for five years but if one comes super cheap with internet once I finally find an apartment to rent, I might get it if it has free/cheap calls to the US.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

This weekend in review: party time, spending way more than is just on transport, with a side of lamesauce

This is how it starts.

He is not that literate so I would like to know why he feels the need to do this.

Now this is just uncalled for!

This weekend really featured a variety of events for me: some new, and others the same old daily grind.

On Friday night, I was lame and stayed in with Moo. I was tired and wanted to relax, as well as catch up on some newspaper reading and "computering," as I put it.

Saturday found me up bright and early in order to catch the bus to town. I had an appointment to look at some apartments. The first apartment in the building was totally depressing; the walls had been stripped bare of wallpaper, some of the flooring was missing, and oh yeah, the whole kitchen was gone (which is not unusual in German apartments; many are empty and the tenant must buy her own). The second apartment in the building at least had complete flooring and painted walls but I just don't want to deal with not having a kitchen.

The real estate agent had me cracking up, though. She told me (in half English, half German) that it was good that the toilet was separate from the shower area in the apartment because "mein Mann" could take a shower and even if he was taking forever, I could still at least use the toilet. My solution is just not to have a Mann period and I can use whatever I like, when I want to ;) Of course, I don't have enough German to tell her that.

After looking at the apartments, I walked to downtown Kaiserslautern to do some window shopping, visit the farmers' market, and hang out before a group hike I was going to join. I found some interesting products at the supermarket, but I'll write about those more later. 

I was supposed to meet a group for a hike in the woods just outside of town, but by that point I was tired and cold so I caught a bus home and slept for a while.  Upon waking, I grabbed a bus back to town (after spending much time on studying maps and timetables), ate dinner at a local Mexican restaurant (it had been too long -- a month, since I had Mexican food), and attempted to catch a bus to a party I planned to attend. After spending a cold period of time trying to get the bus, as well as some false starts, I gave up and hailed a taxi. A taxi is really a last resort for me; I'm frugal (cheap??), stubborn, really like public transport, and am not adverse to walking. At that point, I was cold, tired, frustrated, and just wanted to get to the party and avoid waiting another 45 minutes for the bus, so the taxi was a wise (though somewhat costly) idea. 

That's a misconception about this area (or even many parts of Europe?): that there is always plentiful public transportation. That is not always the case. Even in Kaiserslautern, which is not by any means a small city (there are about 100,000 people in the area), it is not always easy or timely to get to the edges of town. Rural areas or industrial areas might require a car to effectively travel.

I did enjoy the party and met some very nice new people. Following the party, I took an expensive taxi ride home with a very pleasant driver who called me "nice lady" and told me how lovely the area is and how he enjoys taking his dog for a walk in the woods, so at least I received some interesting commentary by a friendly local.

What I have learned about getting things done on base

When one becomes involved with a military base, whether to work there, live there, or whatever, there are many official "chores," so to speak, that must be completed. These chores include getting one's ID card, receiving a background check if working there, etc.

What I have learned in the last month from completing these chores is this:

-it is generally not straightforward nor excessively easy to get many of them done;
-it is not uncommon to have a difficult time finding the correct office to visit, either because it's been moved, closed, or consolidated in one fashion or another;
-offices might be closed for US or local holidays;
-staff might not know the correct office to visit so you'll have to talk to multiple people/departments;
-you might be told different things by different staff and those things may be in conflict and have to explore all options to find out what is the correct way of accomplishing your chore.

Here are some hints for dealing with these problems:

-always call the office you want to visit before you go there to make sure that they're open/available to help you when you plan to be there and take note of their closures for lunch breaks;
-make sure that you are prepared and have all necessary documentation for what you are trying to accomplish; check both online and ask people working there when you call to check the hours (and if the two sources conflict, err on the side of caution and bring everything that both sources recommend);
-write down the dates, times, and names of the employee you talk with regarding your situation;
-don't be shy about POLITELY explaining to a staff member what you've heard from a conflicting source and quote it if it's official to work through the problem;
-approach the chores with a hopeful attitude that things will go smoothly but with the realistic thought that they probably won't and have a back-up plan;

-don't abuse the staff working at the offices; there is a good chance that they are just as frustrated as you are but their hands are often tied because of staff cuts or administrative requirements -- being nice to them might just help you get some extra help or consideration; and
-bring something to amuse yourself while you wait...and wait...and wait in the office for your appointment; also bring your cell phone in case you need to call someone to confirm information during the meeting (i.e., calling your sponsor to ask what your official department is, etc.).

Here is an example of trying to do one simple thing that turned into a major chore: I was trying to find out where to pick up my ration card, which I am entitled to as a civilian employee. I looked online and noted that the office was at a particular building. However, upon talking to people within my own department, I learned that it probably had moved. I called someone in another department. He gave me information about what I had to do to get the ration card, but he also didn't know the new location of the department (which is very odd because he deals a lot with that department). He asked me to update him when I found out where it is (which I did, after this ordeal). We finally heard through word of mouth the possible location of it. When we showed up to the base and building where it was supposed to be, it wasn't there. We asked one office and they had no clue. We stopped by another office and they said that it was in the first location, where we had unsuccessfully already visited. After some conversation with staff in that office, we realized that we all knew a mutual acquaintance who had just received his ration card, so the staff there was kind enough to call him for us and ask the correct building number. The ironic thing is that this person works in the same building that we do, but we hadn't run into him to ask him ahead of time. He gave us the correct building number and once we arrived I had my ration card within a few minutes. The ridiculous thing was that we spent probably about 45 minutes trying to figure out where to go.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Dumb at the gym, and I don't mean dumbbells

I swear, either the jet lag or culture shock of moving here is making me stupid. Well, that is my excuse, any way.

I was extremely pleased to learn that there is a gym that is free to use very close to my office. I took a tour of the gym and noted the locker room, complete with showers and complimentary towels. I was thrilled; I could work up a good sweat on my lunch break, shower, and be back in time to get back to those reports.

The first time I used the gym, I ran a bit on the treadmill and happily trotted off to the locker rooms, grabbed a clean towel, and took a shower. When I was ready to leave the shower, I realized my dilemma: the towels are not full-sized towels. Dang it. Germans are not so prissy about nudity, but this gym wasn't for the Germans; it was my fellow country(wo)men. Luckily enough for me, no one else was in the locker room so I was able to sprint to get dressed.

Lesson learned: bring your own towel to the gym.

Working for the military vs. working for other employers

With my new job, I am finding a totally different experience from working for educational or local government employers. Some ways that working for the military is different from my previous job:

-I have to not only watch out for cars when I go walking around my office, but for tanks also.
-There are budget cutbacks, so many of the sidewalks and parking lots had not been cleared of snow which has devolved into ice. It's almost safer to walk in the road and just dodge tanks than it is to walk on the sidewalks.
-I can buy groceries (American products at American prices with American dollars), get my hair cut, workout, open a bank account, and even eat some German food (if I wanted to) all within a short (ish) walk from my office, which is, from what I understand, considered American soil (on top of the German, or at least, that's my own belief ;)
-I have a background investigation being done on me just so I can use the computers at work.
-Armed guards greet me (and my ID) with a smile every morning.
-We receive handy magazines at work that detail how to fix our tanks and HUMVEEs (though our office doesn't have any of those)/
-Recycling is no joke; there is not much that we throw away vs. recycle (this is more a function of working in Germany than it is working for the military).
-There are many acronyms here; half the time, I don't know if I want to be a SME or something else. I petitioned to be called a SQUEEGEE but I think we need to move it up the COC for that one.
-When I send work emails, the subject lines automatically get the annotation "Unclassified" added to the subject lines.
-Bad Things Will Happen to Me if I try to plug in an MP3 player or flash drive in my computer at work. It is verboten.
-The scenery on base is fantastic, and I ain't talkin' about the woods here, folks.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Someone's not getting it, and it's me

I have been searching for a permanent place to live, and I have not been enjoying it. Since this is a bigger city where I'm living, I would have thought that there would be more apartments available. What I didn't take into consideration is that it's a bigger city with a university and is also surrounded by lots of military bases with not enough room for all their personnel. So apartments, especially decent ones, get snatched up very quickly.

I have tried calling some real estate agents because it's very difficult to find an apartment here that is provisionfrei, or without a real estate agent's commission. Unlike the US, where the property owner would normally pay the commission, here the renter would pay it and it's usually between 1-3 months' rent. Ouch.

Calling the real estate agents to view properties was not that easy. Reception on my phone was horrible and there was the language barrier to work through, which is even more difficult when the conversation is not face to face. I felt very bad to offer spotty reception and lack of German.

And then there's just my stupidity. One real estate agent was more than happy to show me the property but we had a tough time finding a time that would work. He only wanted to show the property during the day. I told him that I couldn't do that because I had to work. I asked if I could come at night. He said no, because I couldn't see the property. I told him that it was okay if I couldn't see the outside of the property that well; I was sure that the streetlights would illuminate it.

He finally was able to get it through my head that I wouldn't be able to see inside the apartment. The light bulb (har har) finally went on inside my head, at least. I had forgotten that it is not uncommon for many German apartments not to include what Americans would take for granted: light fixtures and other built-ins and appliances (such as kitchen cabinets, ovens, etc.). There is a good possibility that the previous tenants took the light fixtures they had bought. The other possibility is that the electric had been in their name and when they moved, it was turned off.  We did manage to work out a time on the weekend that would allow us to see within the apartment itself.

Moo just wants a permanent place to rest his Moo-face.

It's not bad, it's clean!

I am using Google translate to look at apartment ads. One ad's headline read as "Bad news." I thought, who would put THAT as a headline, so I moused over the text, which actually said Neues Bad, which means that it has a new (renovated) bathroom. That was some Germish (like Engrish).

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Snowblowers with brushes!

It hasn't been snowing much when I first arrived here, but since then, we've received some snowfall. Germans, and really, German law, are very adamant about keeping sidewalks clear of snow (people can be sued if someone slips on their part of the sidewalk because it wasn't cleared - just like in the US). I've seen residents and businesses use several different methods to clear the snow: shoveling, brooming (erm, I mean, sweeping with a broom!), and using a snowblower that has a brush attachment.

You read me right: a snowblower with a brush attachment! I had never seen such a thing before and was quite chuffed with it. Since I come from a place that is very accustomed to snow, I thought that I knew snow removing implements; apparently I don't know the international ones! When I was leaving the hotel, I saw someone pushing a snowblower. Since there was only about a quarter inch of snow on the ground, I was wondering how that would work since there wasn't enough to kick up. My questions were answered when I saw that the snowblower had a brush attachment that rotated to brush aside the snow.

I just reread that and thought: this girl needs to get a life, which is spot-on, but I have also been this way for a long time. I once was extremely excited/pleased when I was allowed to use giant squeegees on the tennis courts after a rainstorm when I was playing tennis in high school.

This is a tractor version with a brush on the front to move snow!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

In Which I Return (Covertly) the German Stare

Moo works on his German stare...WITH LASER BEAM eyes! File this picture also under Places in Which Moo Really Doesn't Belong but He Goes Anyway.

Across the expat in Germany universe, there are continued reports of the German Stare. It really throws some expats off-kilter. What happens is that Germans, probably quite curious, are very direct in staring at those who have reported it. One might instantly think: is the person receiving the Stare behaving in an odd manner to warrant the stare? Is the person out of line? Those reporting the Stare say that they were just going about their business, such as walking or driving down the street, and locals stop dead in their tracks to give a good look.

Some expats find it very disconcerting. One gentleman, fed up with the Stare, took matters into his own hands. He was driving down the street when a local was staring at him quite adamantly. The expat, not able to contain himself, stopped his car, backed up, and stared back. It might not have been the most mature thing to do, but he did feel a bit better. I have to admit, I giggled furiously over this story.

I spoke to another expat, and she made note of the staring, too, and found it a bit disconcerting. She is from the UK, so we had a little bit of US-UK bonding over how this is new to us. I suggested that she wear some of those googly-eyed glasses to better return the Stare and report on how that went.

I actually took part in some staring myself on Saturday. I was going to meet her at the store, and I wanted to do some "anthropological research." In other words, I needed to do something to occupy my time before meeting because I was early. Also, I wanted to observe the locals to get a feel for how people dress and act here. I'd like to fit in a little bit better so I thought it might be helpful. Of course, I'm not a totally rare bird in this area because there are 50,000 or so Americans already living here.

Anyway, as I waited, I observed the locals as they ran their errands. To be honest, I felt like a major creeper! No one seemed to give me much of a second glance (haha, no German staring at me!) as I took covert peeks at what people were doing. Maybe people thought it wasn't weird to have someone staring or maybe I didn't look that threatening. Who knows.

From this experience, this is what I gathered about this area, or, at least, what people shopping at this ALDI were doing:

-I saw a lot of people wearing jeans. Phew! In many European countries, people tend to dress up a bit more, even while running errands. I was glad that I could run errands in something more casual.

-It was so casual, in fact, that one gentleman was wearing plaid pants. They weren't even suit style pants; they might have even been the more pajama-y type kind or the ones like Skidz from the early 90s. Remember those? File those under the Oh, My! category.

-I saw more women with brightly hued hair. Locals seem to really enjoy maroon, for some reason. This is one area that I will not modify to fit in. However, the younger ladies don't seem to do this; it's more of the pensioner age damen.

-I tried to watch people inside the store return their Pfand bottles; that is, the ones that have a deposit. I was curious about what was returnable. I have heard rumors that even some yogurt containers are returnable. This warrants further research because I felt that I couldn't watch people inside the store too closely because that felt really creepy.

My question is: do Germans stare at each other, too, or is it only reserved for the foreigners?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Ich verstehe nicht

I do not understand the following:

there is a big problem with mold in houses here. There are handouts and directives on how to properly air out one's home to prevent mold. Literature about mold prevention notes that the mold occurs because of the way the houses are constructed. One has to open windows in a succession and it's advised to even air out one's comforter daily.

I can understand that this would happen in old houses. After all, there are houses here that are older than the country from which I hail.

I believe that the mold can happen in new houses, too. Here is the part that I do not understand: the Germans are great at engineering things. With new houses, why on earth wouldn't they change building techniques to minimize or avoid mold?! Why keep doing the same thing that doesn't work? I wonder what I am missing here.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


To many English speakers, German may sound like a very harsh or guttural language. Especially if the speaker is issuing a command or making a speech, he may sound harsh to our ears.

I have been working to learn German, and I am finding that it's not as harsh as one would think when it's spoken. First of all, most Germans tend to speak a bit more softly. We Americans are LOUD. Really, we are (I count myself in that category and really must work on that). Our German friends are not so much. They use softer tones and aren't so obnoxious.

Secondly, the German language borrows quite a bit from French, which itself is a "softer" language and has more of a musical tone to it.

So, give German a chance. It's difficult in many ways to learn, but it's worth it and plus it's a great mental exercise to try to work through the three genders and four cases.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Deutsche Damen (German Ladies) & their hair

I have witnessed some very interesting choices in hair dye from the ladies here. I have seen some middle aged damen (ladies) enjoy some bright or unnatural dyes. I have seen many different shades of maroon as well as other unnatural colors. One woman even had (natural) white hair with a maroon and a pink streak. I am curious why this is popular.

Praise delicious cheeses! I have an ID card now!

As I was lamenting earlier,

I did not have the necessary ID card yet because I was not yet entered in the system. I called the office daily since Monday to ask them if I were in the system. It was starting to be silly. The guy manning the phone would say that he wasn't available to see if I was in the system, please call back in 13 minutes. I'd give him an extra minute and he'd say to call back at the end of the day.

I finally had GREAT SUCCESS with the call today and my sponsor took me to the base to get the ID. We waited an hour, which was not at all bad; I've heard that people have waited 3 hours or more and even missed getting their ID because the office closed before their wait was up. It only took about 10 minutes and the staff person made my ID immediately.

I then had to get the ID activated in the next room. After that, we had to get the SOFA card for my passport, which acts basically like a visa to allow me to live here, except that I don't have to get a visa. It should also keep me from avoiding having to get my passport stamped after each time that I return to Germany after leaving.

Of course, nothing is very easy/simple here, so we couldn't go immediately to get the SOFA card because their office was closed for lunch. We waited until after lunch then waited about another hour in line. The SOFA card took about 5 minutes once I was in the office for my appointment.

So, it took the majority of the day to get my ID card and SOFA stamp, but I'm starting to feel as if I'm existing as a "real" person in the eyes of the bases now because I can enter the base on my own, buy food at the commissary, and begin the process to have computer access for work. Thank goodness.

For those who are moving here, be sure to get your ID card as soon as possible. Keep pestering people to see if you're in the system yet.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

In Which Moo Becomes Famous & I Cement My Status as the Crazy Cat Lady

Moo, chillin' like a villian at the hotel & ready to use his laser beam eyes.

Many people now know of Moo the Cat. Of course, he does come up a lot in conversation since there were so many things to do to get him here. Also, I don't have a lot of other things to talk about in small talk currently except for Moo, the frustrations of not having an ID card, and the work of in-processing. I will very much look forward to the time when I'm settled in have other things to think and talk about.

I visited staff in other offices in our department to meet them and talk about my time here. When I met the coworker of one of my sponsors, he smiled and said, "oh! You're the one with Moo, the huge cat!"

Oh, dear! First of all, I told him that he's going to hurt the cat's little Moo feelings by calling him huge. Everyone seems to think he's big, which is strange to me. However, I'm around him all the time, so I guess I don't think about it. He is a 14 pound cat but he's also quite long. He's not really fat or anything like that.

Secondly: oh no! I'm going to be the Crazy Cat Lady of the base, I'm sure.

Even writing about this is not good because it further cements it. Sigh.

In Which the Author Does Not Have an ID and Therefore Cannot Do Anything

For people who are stationed at or are an employee of, the bases here, the ID card (or as it is called, the Common Access Card or CAC card) is very important. It's mandatory for so many things, from entering the base, to shopping at most of the stores on base, to even using one's work computer. It's very difficult, if not impossible, to do anything without the ID.

Guess who doesn't have her ID yet? Yep, that would be me. I arrived Thursday and as far as I know, I'm not even in the system yet so I can't even make an appointment to get the ID. In fact, I cannot even seem to get an answer if I'm in the system or not; I called the office three times today to ask if I'm in it and I was asked to call back later each time to find out.

My coworkers must sign me in each time we go to a base, which has been a lot lately. I can't sign up for the work email for my institution. That email is required to access many of the mandatory training modules I must complete. I can't do any work, period, on my computer. I can't buy items at the commissary on my own, but at least I am very lucky and have kind coworkers who take me over to buy things.

It can take a week to 10 days to get the card. I'm not sure why, but my guess would be it's because there are so many people in-processing through here (there are about 50,000 of us in the area) and many of the offices here seem short-staffed. I will be very thankful when I have the ID, that's for sure!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Adventure Level Rating: Moderate

When I announced that I was moving to Germany, many folks commented on how adventurous they felt that the feat would be. Sure, there's always adventure in moving somewhere new, even if it's to a new town in one's own country, and a bit more so when moving abroad.

However, I feel as if I need to give this disclaimer on my move to Kaiserslautern area: please know that on the adventure scale, it's totally cheating to be here :) I don't personally have to go through any of the German red tape for residency status since my job is taking care of that; I have great coworkers who are taking me to work and official appointments (and they even made the appointments for me!); I have a database of approved rentals to consult; I can shop at the Commissary and buy American products at American prices (basically) if I want; and I have spoken very little German since I've gotten here (but will continue to work on that one). 

Heck, looking at the broader picture, I can say that I'm even spoiled because it is a very Western culture here with very few major culture shocks. Some people might say, hey, having to be a good citizen and sorting my trash correctly IS a culture shock, but be realistic. Things are not hugely different here; we share the same alphabet (basically) and some of the same cultural norms. It's not as if I moved to an Asian country, for example, where there would be a different alphabet and I'd be the tallest person for miles (unless there were other foreigners around).

Having said that, though, I do have to make clear that I hope to experience the adventures that DO await here and enjoy (and yes, I will admit, be occasionally frustrated by) the differences here.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Moo & I made it to Germany

I made it to Germany without incident! 

Everything went smoothly with the flight to Germany for my PCS. At the airport, I carried Moo the Cat through security in my arms. It is required that the animal is leashed in some manner as he passes through security. I bought the TSA Fast Pass harness and leash for him, which didn't have metal, so we didn't set off the alarm. The TSA agents helped me push my bins of items through security and once I was through, the agent wanted to do additional screening. He wiped some sort of fabric over my hand and then sent me on my merry way. Moo was good when I carried him; he was definitely curious about being out of his carrier but didn't freak out, which was great. Then again, he's a reasonably mellow and very nice kitty.

Once I was through security, I had several hours to pass. I stopped by one of the airport stores and ended up letting the staff there pet him since they were animal lovers too. Moo stuck his head out of the carrier and they mauled him - too cute! He takes "maulings" very well.

The flight was uneventful, though I only got about 5 minutes of sleep at a time. Moo was quite good in his carrier; for the most part, he didn't complain. Toward the end of the flight, he meowed intermittently. I had been worried that if he meowed, it would bother other passengers. However, the noise from the flight was loud enough that his non-insistent meows weren't really noticeable. Phew!

When I arrived at the destination airport, Frankfurt, I had my veterinary paperwork in order for Moo as well as my orders for my PCS/to work in Germany. I was all set to be grilled about my plans but almost fell over in shock when the immigration agent just waved me through after I answered his asking why I was here with "I am coming to work at the military base." I bet he gets so many people coming through here for that reason that it's no surprise. I didn't even have to submit Moo's paperwork.

Moo and I were super tired after our flight, so I dropped him off at the hotel where I'm staying. Lucky Moo got to nap but I was off to begin my in-processing on base.

It's very tiring to "Moove" to Germany!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Some last hurrahs: nachos, great family & friends, and even some bacon

It's been a very busy December as I've wrapped things up in the US and prepared for my move to Germany. Also, it's been a very fun December with lots of parties and well wishes.

Some folks don't want a fuss made over them and would decline having a going away party. I love festivities and enjoy the company of people who are important to me, so I didn't shy away from the parties. I hope that people don't think I'm an attention hog but it's great to celebrate and enjoy positivity; we don't do that nearly often enough in life!

At our work holiday party, my boss gave a very nice farewell speech. I was surprised because I was just planning for a holiday party (heck, I helped PLAN the holiday party itself!). I teased her as she began the speech and told her I hoped it wouldn't be a roast because I didn't bring a spit. It was such a nice speech and she said many kind things. I'm glad that I avoided crying, but just barely. It has been enjoyable working with her and we've had a great partnership at work.

My coworkers at the office threw a really fun potluck lunch for me. Many people find it funny (for some reason - I don't get it!) that I am usually vegan, sometimes vegetarian, and even more seldomly, horrible, and I will eat bacon, which is probably one of the most unhealthful meats out there. The coworkers are no exception and threw me a bacon-centric party. There was delicious homemade BLT pizza, 5 cheese macaroni and cheese with bacon, hummus and vegetables (another favorite!), salad, and of course, a basket o' bacon to add to any of the dishes. The basket o' bacon was from my coworker's husband, which was very sweet of him. There was even a cookie bar dessert. I half expected to see some bacon on it, but the cook did exercise some restraint on that one :)  To top it off, we had diet A&W root beer, which is my favorite.

I even was presented by a prestigious award! I was presented with the Golden Star Award for Knowing Things as well as a gold star pin to proudly wear. I laughed so hard. It's a long story, but basically, folks I work with think that I "know things" and often ask me questions about strange topics. Why they think I'd know the answer is beyond me, but it's funny. It was awesome that they put a lot of work and thought into the party and we had a good time with a lot of laughter. It definitely made me feel special.

On my last day of work, my coworkers also brought some root beer floats for us to enjoy. How sweet!

To round out the celebrations, I booked a dinner at the local Mexican restaurant in town. Some of my local friends had wanted to get together so I thought it would be a good way to do so. I called the party "The Last Hurrah...and Some Nachos." About 18 people came out, including coworkers, local friends, my cousins (how sweet - they drove 1.5 hours each way!),  a family friend whom I call my "non-blood sister" and her family, as well as my parents and brother. They even brought Arnie's cake from my hometown! We had a lot of laughs and well wishes and guests ate many nachos. It was fantastic!

After the party, my mom commented that she couldn't believe how many animal lovers were there. In fact, everyone had at least one pet and many guests had multiple pets, including horses, dogs, cats, etc. I come from a family of animal lovers and find that I have the most in common with other people who love animals, too -- especially horses. There's something very positive that can be said for people who have compassion for animals.

Following all that partying, I am definitely pounds heavier from bacon, nachos, and root beer floats, but I'm also so happy to have spent time with people I care about. They were so kind to send me off the way they did. I'll definitely miss them!

Prague Black Light Theater

From March 25, 2010

saw and enjoyed Faust @ the black light theatre: it was like Cats, Avenue Q, Michael Jackson, and classical literature combined. Yeah, it was that weird.